Today will be just like yesterday. Tomorrow will be exactly like today.
Those words were beaten into us during SPO selection. It reminds us that repetition builds skill and monotony would become our career. Most people want the excitement and adventure that they read about in stories as children. They never make it through SPO qualification. When the hard work doesn’t live up to the fantasy, they start dropping out in groups. I don’t love the daily grind, but I can handle it for the opportunity to blow shit up with my friends.
The morning begins with an hour of physical training. We start with running in a chamber that mimics the Ralgoth homeworld. The gravity in the room is adjusted to three times standard and the room is pumped with a higher concentration of oxygen. The extra O2 feels like a blessing at first, until you get light headed and pass out. I always get a kick out of watching the new team members trying to fight through the overdose of oxygen. Earning your place in a squad doesn’t end at selection graduation. If you can’t figure out how to slow your breathing and use up all the oxygen you inhaled before taking in more, you are useless to the group. You get busted back to the fleet with a nice story of how you were “basically a Special Protection Operator” but you were thrown out because you were too stupid to learn how to inhale and exhale.
As enjoyable as the mornings can be, the middays are insufferable. They are filled with hours of lectures on Ralgoth ship tactics, Ralgoth personal combat strategy, and Ralgoth anatomy. I know more about these things than they know about themselves. Surprisingly, their anatomy is similar to ours’. They have organs that perform the same basic functions, just in different places and to different extents. The distinctive difference is they carry about three times the mass of Rendez and their skin is more like human bone than flesh. Evolution was also kind enough to give them fangs instead of blunt teeth, and hair sharper than the razor I use to shave every morning.
During the afternoon we fire fake rounds at fake enemies then go back to our quarters hoping that one day we will actually get to use what we learn. Cargo Bay Two was remodeled into our shooting range. Ralgoth holograms skip across the room like horror light shows while we lay into them with lasers instead of real weapons. At times, the station feels more like a child’s arcade than a military instillation. Every day the frustration of delaying combat builds inside me. I sure as hell didn’t join the program for the glory, but I wasn’t expecting to have to acquire a doctorate in Ralgoth anthropology in the process.
Twenty four members of the program have been assigned to Portway. All six four-man teams have been waiting in our briefing room for the last twenty minutes. Some groups are playing cards, some are still talking about their off-duty activities, and the rest are trying to catch up on lost sleep. As soon I consider bowing out of the game I’m playing with Rogers to take my own nap, Lieutenant Jacobs enters the room from his small office in the back. This would normally be a cause for a formal jump to attention, salutes, and all the ass-kissing that you usually see in the rest of the service. With us, he is unlikely to get more than a “What’s up, LT?”. Officers train and serve beside the rest of us in the squads, so we don’t waste much time or effort on unnecessary formalities.
Accompanying the LT is Tagerbon or Tagonoff or whatever weird name that was given to the Chaplin by his cruel parents. Tagerone has no doubt come to pray for us. It’s a meaningless tradition left over from a time when humans needed to ask a higher power to give them courage, strength, and harder dicks. I’ve always seemed to do well enough on my own.
“Listen up!” Jacobs’ voice is different than usual. He gets this way every month when the Chaplin blesses us with his presence.
“We are doing things a little different today.” Different is good. “An expert on Ralgoth sociology has arrived at the station today to give you all a lecture.”
“So, not really that different, LT.” Rendez says.
Rendez, you asshole. Can’t you tell Jacobs isn’t messing around today?
“Forgive me, Rendez. Did you have something else planned for today? Are you under the impression that I’m giving you a fucking choice?”
“No, sir.” Rendez responds sheepishly.
“Doctor Jutras is one of the lead Ralgoth experts. You will sit through this lecture, and you will learn, and you will sit quietly with a smile on your face while you learn. Is that understood?”
“Yes, sir!” We all say in unison.
Lieutenant Jacobs must have just remembered that Tagalune was in the room because his face softened a bit as he turned to him.
“Sorry about that, Si.”
“It’s quite alright, Lieutenant. Let us pray.” The Chaplin lowers his head in reverence.
As the Chaplin recites his prayer, I allow my mind to wander. I start with what I have planned with Tina tonight. I wish she were okay with adding another woman into the mix. Every time I bring it up, she gets upset. Maybe if I threaten to end our relationship, she will offer up the threesome out of desperation.
The Chaplin continues his prayer with a plea for his gods to “protect us from our enemies.” I chuckle under my breath with the thought that these fake deities would show up on the battlefield with an extra magazine or grenade in hand. When humans made it through the wormhole and realized that we weren’t alone in the darkness, everyone agreed someone had been lying a few thousand years ago. This new religion was a hodgepodge of everything that humanity brought with them. It is as meaningless to me as the gods the Hycain’s worship.
Before the prayer concludes, I lift my head up and see Smittie giving Rendez a hard slap across the back of his head. Rendez’s eyes explode open and his face becomes blood red with anger. They proceed to deliver punches and elbows to each other’s ribs in an attempt to make the other shout in pain. The idiots don’t see the LT staring directly at them. We’ll have an extra ten klicks in PT tomorrow.
I’m relying on these men to have my back in battle. I may actually need to start praying.