Chorus S-710e High Orbit, Aboard USS Comanche Destroyer
0300 Hours, December 13
Kael and the others stood at attention before Sergeant Major Velasquez. A crisp, manufactured breeze knifed through Kael's loose-fitting, general purpose JAW-062 combat armor. She closed the vacuum seals and cast a sideward glance through the rest of Velasquez Company. Miranda shook where she stood, and John uneasily shifted from one foot to another. Most of the trainees were stunned, and few had trembling lips, but no one cried or tried to leave.
"In the name of our lord," Sergeant Major Velasquez led.
"In the name of our lord", Velasquez company echoed.
"On the blood of our fathers and mothers, we shall stand with boundless sanctity and perseverance. We shall not fear, we shall stand united, and we shall triumph."
Kael realized she'd been holding her breath unconsciously and quietly exhaled; the last thing anyone needed was a coward to lead the others. As the starship's manufactured air chilled her lungs, she ran her mind over what had just happened.
An hour ago, the door to their room slid open. A ring of hard faces wrenched them out of bed, brought them to Base H-122's armory, then they issued everyone new equipment. Kael had thought it was one of Velasquez's shock drills--when he randomly summoned them for calisthenics.
She held the belief until she saw how distressed he was, too.
"Velasquez Company", the Sergeant Major, unusually frank, announced. "I know how you must feel, but your fellow colonists on Chiron need you. There is a great deal of hardship on the road ahead, but protect your allies, and they will do the same.
Cold dread coiled in Kael's gut. Speculation was one thing, but confirmation of the news spoke volumes. Something bad had happened, and it had to be really bad if anyone was sending boots to the ground at all.
"Take your seats," Velasquez pointed at the crash seats in the cargo bay. "Subspace jump in five minutes."
Three soldiers led the unit: Privates Arya, Chitra, and Adam. They were the best marksmen in the unit, and unlike everyone else wore the JAW-180 suits with optical camouflage. Each carried a coil gun sniper rifle on their backs. They were the force multipliers here, and would easily make or break the company's success.
After they were all secured in their harnesses, Velasquez continued his briefing.
"What we understand is Athernis and all major economic centers on Chiron are under siege by the disenfranchised populations from all over the system, colloquially known as Ghosts. They're worse than the uprising from twenty years ago; they now have access and the means to disable most of our technological advantage."
"The enemy is now unified and organized, and we speculate they are now working under Cyril Reigns. You will join a pack of Armorclads who are currently clearing a forward operating base near the Athernis outskirts and provide flanking support."
A few hesitant murmurs passed before anyone acknowledged.
Velasquez then did something no one expected: he saluted them first. They were now conscripts, they really were being deployed with only half their training complete.
Towards the back of the company, someone sobbed. There was a look of worry in his eyes, but the man stifled whatever emotion he felt. He saluted again, then walked away to meet his superiors on the decks above.
For the longest moment each one of them remained silent, rifle held close, alone with their fears. No one spoke, and only metal squeaks sounded while Arya began to tweak her sniper rifle's scope. Of the entire unit, only she wasn't surprised. Everyone watched her, and only her.
"I'd point that eye elsewhere," Arya said to Kael without looking. "I might rip it from its socket."
"Save the tough chick act for the front lines," Kael snapped. "Or when you're dying and bleeding on a gurney."
Arya glanced over Kael, thoughtful, then smiled. "Looks like you aren't awake yet. Does that mean I have to worry about you getting killed?"
"I'm alright," Kael shrugged. "How about you? Should we worry about the all-powerful Arya?"
"On second thought, even in that sorry state you just might live."
"You know what? I don't hate you after all," Kael shot back. "Your rampant temerity is rather admirable."
"Likewise. Especially if you're still asleep."
Kael had nothing to say to that. All she wanted was to crush the smug grin she knew was on Arya's face...but she also knew she couldn't win.
The only reason she'd never backed down from anything is because she always had some sort of answer to almost any person or situation. For the first time in her life, she had no answer--not a damned clue--against someone like Arya, and had no answer to the very real prospect of being killed in action.
Kael turned away from this confrontation and faced Miranda, and then John. Despite their individual differences, they now had to act as a team and sat next to each other. Kael hoped they'd both stop trembling soon--shaky hands can't aim a gun. For the moment, the rest of the company watched the rest of Team One.
Once finished adjusting his sights, Chitra and Adam mounted the charge capacitors to their standard issue SAW-62 rifles. They gave the muzzle brake a forward tug and then a light twirl, dismounting it, and then began inspection. Sit, watch, mimic. They all repeated the procedure while the starship crossed the near six hundred light-minutes toward planet Chiron.
At five minutes to mission start, Velasquez company boarded their Raven drop ship. Bent metal stubs stood where the steel seats and flight harnesses should be; the crash seats had been sheared away to make room for their bulkier combat armor. Kael stood by the loading ramp and grabbed on the steel cables on the roof. Across the cargo bay, the soldiers in Johnson and Branick company also boarded their drop ships.
A minute later, the Raven's engines roared to life and pounded pressure into the steel floor. The transports then disembarked from the USS Comanche in high orbit, out into the dark and plunged toward the increasingly thick atmosphere.