Author's Note: Robin Sachs was announced dead yesterday. I had the thought of a few titles for Zaeed-central fics, but I hadn't really put together any ideas for what to write. The few Zaeed fics I've seen here on ff have all been Normandy-era, and while I do intend to get there by the end, the start of this fic is his earlier life - pre Shanxi. Zaeed's old enough to be in Hackett's generation, and while the wikia timeline doesn't list a birthday for him, I'm assuming he was born the same year as Anderson, 2137.

April 4, 2155

"I, Zaeed Massani, hereby pledge to support the Systems Alliance. I will support and defend the Constitution, the citizens of the Alliance, and obey the lawful orders of Parliament and the officers appointed over me." The scrawny hand was held aloft in a cool Sydney morning, the sharp tang of salt air wafting over the park and the newly refurbished opera house. News cameras floated and flashed and broadcast the images across several solar systems.

"Today, the Alliance marks a new era in human expansion in the galaxy. Arcturus station is being constructed to hold a true center for humanity, freed from the shackles of the past, building our path to a greater tomorrow." Prime Minister Oswald droned on, while Zaeed and the other two hundred recruits from AusZealand stood and swayed slightly at their best attempt at attention. I wish this moron would shut his goddamn mouth, he thought, feeling his stomach rumbling. We've already been out here for three goddamn hours. Send us to basic training, already. At least then we'll get to eat!

It took another forty-five minutes, with two other politicians speaking before some cranky-looking admiral finally wrapped things up. "All right recruits, form it up! Fifty of you to each bus. Last bus filled has a hundred pushups before chow time!" Their recruiter shouted, her voice shrill, and the media cameras got plenty more shots of the men and women, dressed in recruit jumpsuits, as they all turned and ran in formation to the waiting vehicles.

Simple MREs were distributed on the vehicles as they trundled along slowly to the airport, and they all scarfed their food before their instructor could remember the thread of PT. Once there, they boarded a plane, spending a painfully long seven hours in flight before landing in North America. They disembarked, milling around uncertainly while their instructors vanished to confer.

Zaeed took in the landscape. Flat plans, with mountains just barely visible on opposite sides. The smell of shit was heavy in the air, and he could see what looked like corn fields off in one direction. "What a shithole," he muttered.

"You can say that again," one of the other recruits said, and he glanced at the asian guy. "I'm Jimmy. From Brisbane."

"Zaeed, Sydney." He hawked and spat into one of the padeyes on the flight line. "I thought my neighborhood in the slums smelled bad."

Jimmy cracked a smile. "You can say that again. Why'd you join up? I just can't wait to get off Earth, and this seemed like the best way."

"It beats sitting and squatting on unemployment like the rest of the goddamn losers in my neighborhood. Nobody wants to hire a kid who's half sand nigger," he growled, letting some of his frustration show.

Raising an eyebrow, the other man waved a hand as he sought for the right words. "Half Arabic, huh? I don't suppose you're, ah,"

"Religious? Fanatical? Allahu fucking akbar and all that crap?" He spat again. "Do I look like a goddamn religious nut to you?"

"When it comes to your rifle, you had better fucking believe in God, Massani!" the shout from right behind his ear was enough to make him, and Jimmy (who'd seen the instructor approaching), jump. "Because if He's not looking out for you, I will make you fucking eat your rifle and beg for seconds!" Their instructor, whose nametag read Kahoku, pointed a fierce finger in the young man's face. "Fall the fuck in, recruits! That means five fucking minutes ago, you maggots!"

Once everyone was in formation, they did pushups, jumping jacks, situps, more pushups, and finally sprinted the mile-long runway before being marched through the base to their barracks. Unlike the balmy fall day, it was already over 40C, and the entire company was drenched in sweat when they arrived. "When you hear your name called by your barracks leader, you will fall in, strip, and shower! There will be ten minutes from the last name called to be showered, dressed, and ready for instructions! Do you fucking understand me?"

"Sir, yes sir!" came the unanimous if ragged response, and the names were rattled off fast and furious. Zaeed wasted no time, jogging past his assigned instructor and into the open bay. Bunk beds, stacked three tall, had name stencils taped to their feet, and he stopped at his long enough to pull out a towel and the flip-flops. The barracks were segregated by gender, ain't that a goddamn pity, and he wasn't going to waste time being flustered in front of forty utter strangers.

He wasn't the first one out of the showers and dressed, but he was far from the last. When their ten minutes was up, several people were still in the showers. Being the military, they were then forced to do more exercise for every person and every minute they were past the deadline. Some grumbling could already be heard aimed at the slow ones. They'd better unfuck themselves right goddamn quick, he thought, meeting Jimmy's eyes across the aisle.

"Alright, listen up! This is Charlie barracks! When you hear an order for Charlie barracks, you obey right the fuck away. Charlie barracks is part of Golden battalion! When you hear an order for Golden battalion, you obey how?"

"Sir, right the fuck away sir!" Zaeed's voice carried louder than anyone else in the room, and he watched his instructor, Carroway, march her petite self right up to him.

"Massani! Why'd you join my Alliance Marines?" she shouted up at his face.

"Sir, because I'm not a goddamn loser, sir!" he replied quickly.

"Right now, Massani, you are a goddamn loser! What you have is the potential to be a genuine asskicking Alliance Marine! How are you going to do that?"

"Sir, by doing everything you tell me to, sir!" he responded again.

"Good job, Massani. Everyone else, give me one pushup." He watched as the rest of his barracks dropped, did a single nose-to-the-deck pushup, and popped back to their feet. "When I get the right fucking answer out of you, it's one pushup. When I get the wrong answer," she whirled away and stalked over to another recruit, "how many pushups will you be doing, Snipes?"

"Sir, fifty pushups, sir?" he replied, nervously. Goddamn idiot, there is no right answer to that question, Zaeed thought miserably.

"Fifty pushups! You trying to one-up Massani? Trying to prove you deserve to get your balls back on the first day of recruit training?" She scowled at him, daring an answer, before moving back to the far end of the bay. "No answer is a wrong answer, Snipes! Fifty pushups for everyone!" Keeping his groan purely mental, Zaeed did another fifty pushups, though his arms were already trembling and burning. "What time is it right now?"

Jimmy beat him to the punch. "Sir, current time is 1437, sir!"

"Right answer, Jia. One pushup! You will all take an inventory of your lockers. At 1500, I will be walking through with another instructor and inspecting your lockers. If one item is out of place … stand by." Without another word, Carroway straight-armed the door open, vanishing into the office at the rear of the bay.

"Three months of this?" Jimmy said, sotto voce.

"Piece of cake," Zaeed replied. He glanced at the other two men sharing his rack of bunk beds, then bent down to open the locker underneath the mattress. He'd do a solid year of this if he had to, for a steady paycheck, regular meals, and the chance to learn some real skills.