Legs braced, I leaned into the bulkhead of the dropships’ deployment bay; pounding the empty equipment racks systematically with my mailed left fist as I gritted my teeth against surging frustration. I muted the comm. channel between The Pilot and I as I screamed in fury, an attempt to purge this bullshit from my system; I needed to focus. I’d be setting my boots on the line in less than five; the time had long since come to stow these erroneous sentiments. ‘I am here’. I seethed internally.
Out to the left and far below, in my peripheral vision; the warm bright ambience of the desert coastline danced seductively. Temperate air surged violently through the cabin, whipping safety netting, scrim and loose harnesses about with fervour as I brooded pre-deployment.
I was being inserted on forward recon. I knew the coordinates of the LZ, and the relative-local-ETA; that was it. My orders were to be pinged to me by tight-burst transmission on a secure high-bandwidth channel directly from the supercarrier ‘Falling Hammer’; as soon as my boots hit the ground. The ’carrier was maintaining high geosynchronous orbit for one pass only, to deliver these orders and retrieve the bird that I was presently stood-aboard, before jumping out of the system and leaving me here; alone. One being on a vast, supposedly empty world; with naught but an ambiguous objective to keep me company. Perfect.
The world itself was something of a paradox. It was supposedly classified as a desert-world, but there were two primary continents, separated through the middle by a narrow sea, and surrounded on all sides by a vast body of water. It held no perceivable strategic value whatsoever, nor did the greater star system of which it formed a part. As far as I was aware it didn’t even have a name. Just a reference marker. It was habitable, obviously; but vacant of life regardless, and eerily beautiful. I was permeated by a strange familiarity as I glanced out the bay-doors at the surround, but I shook it off. I’d been on plenty of worlds like this. I was being deployed unto a shallow bay on the mainland, near an archipelago in the south-east of the primary (north-western) landmass.
None of that phased me. All I could think about was her. The girl from ‘Luna-Primaris’. I’d encountered her on leave before being summoned away urgently for this deployment. It turns out I’d met her somewhere a long time before, or so she believed; but I doubted it. I’ve been around for a long time now, miraculously. I couldn’t recall any longer what had come before, but I remembered the start of this war (though my memory was surely corrupt, and I’d rather forget what remained); and there were few I’d encountered who could make such a claim.
So how was it that she had begun to consume nearly all my waking thought? More importantly, why? I’d never see her again. Attachment was folly for someone of my condition.
‘Dammit.’ I smashed the equipment-racks again. ‘Get out of my head.’
‘I don’t know what the hell this girl did to provoke your tantrum, but there’s nothing I can conceive of that justifies your treatment of mine. Save it for the surface, and The Enemy; would you? Not that I can imagine either, why they would be out here.’ came The Pilot’s voice through my helmet.
I couldn’t help but grin. He was one of the aforementioned few who had been a good friend of mine for a reasonable length of time now. One of my scarce exceptions to the rule of remaining aloof. His name was Al’hyn, for the most part his friends called him ‘Al’, but operating off of a long-standing personal joke; I tended to refer to him as ‘Pilot’ or ‘The Pilot’. If you heard me address him by name, it was usually an indicator either of dire, or mischievous circumstances. It was uncanny that he’d survived as long as he had, considering some of the scenarios we’d ended up in. We were deployed together with strange frequency, something for which I was most grateful.
‘She did nothing. But if the enemy’s out here, I’ll make the fuckers pay; irrespective of the fact.’ I responded.
‘Get your game face on brother, we’re 60 seconds out and closing.’ The time for chatter was past.
I pulled an extra mag from the weapons cache before me, jammed it home into my precision rifle with a satisfying click; set the weapon to three-round-burst and flicked the safety off.
Rifle toted right-hand, I used my left to manoeuvre down the overhead safety grips, toward the gaping bay door, the shallow waters beneath the bird were thrown into turbulent chaos as The Pilot bought the dropship to bare, aft-toward-coast. He would only bring me within a metre and a half of the thigh-deep waters’ surface, before hightailing it for the RV in orbit. In spite of our apparent lack of company, this was being treated as a combat drop.
‘LZ looks green, prepare to drop. Green light in five, four, three, two, one. Give ’em hell.’
The light above ‘the maw’ switched from crimson to emerald.
I grinned behind a darkened visor, as I leapt from the ship. The sensors in my sealed armour conveyed artificially, that the water was as balmy as the afternoon air. Thanks to the suit however, I would be quite comfortable in this arid paradise.
‘Two-Five is on the deck, boots-wet. Preceding to secure the LZ.’ I relayed abroad over the tactical network.
‘Whiskey Five-Five copies, going into burn. Falling Hammer, package delivered, en route to RV point, ETA two minutes.’ Came The Pilots’ reply across the same channel.
‘Hammer-Actual copies all.’ Was all we received in response from command.
As I moved through the shallows toward shore, rifle shouldered, eye-in-sight, sweeping the surround for signs of The Enemy; a notification and download status bar appeared on the right hand side of my helmets’ HUD.
My orders were being transmitted.
I whistled to myself, musing internally that this planet was absurdly gorgeous, and was again struck by the sense that there was something; eerie, about this place, that I couldn’t put a finger on. It felt like, home.
I restored focus as the download completed.
Making it to shore, I scanned the tree-line, then referred to my sensor suite, as I ordered the suit to do a resonance sweep of the surface, and a simultaneous seismic scan, of the area a kilometre or so square from my position. Manually scrutinising everything within my enhanced field of vision, in a slow three-hundred-and sixty degree arc as I awaited the reports; both of which came back green. Motion tracker was clear. I was alone.
I dropped to one knee, attached my weapon to a magnetic stow-point on my chest-plate, and accessed the package transmitted from the ’Hammer. Tactical data and a pre-recorded video feed rendering a soul few mortals have ever seen, let alone been addressed by; began to spill across my HUD.
What the hell was going on here?