Chapter 3 - Hard Landing

I was sure that the little craft wasn't supposed to be shaking this much, but no one but me seemed concerned. In fact, snores were coming from Walsh's helmet. I on the other hand was sitting tense on the edge of the fold-out, metal bench, grabbing my harness tightly and trying my hardest not to puke inside my helmet.

"Hey Rook, you constipated or something?"

I spun my head to see Avery's smug grin through the transluscent triangular visor.

"Mmmphh." I could only grunt in response, I didn't trust my breakfast to stay down if I opened my mouth.

"You're sounding denser than usual. I didn't even think it was possible." Walsh had evidently woken up during mine and Avery's exchange, and he was now rumbling with a low laughter.

"You make it too easy for her, Private." Came McAndrew's voice. "You've got to toughen up." I accepted this without comment. For one, the shaking had gotten distinctly rougher and more erratic. But I also knew that I had a distinct people problem. I worked much better on my own, and I was chosen for the Shadowheart Program for that reason.

I was once just a regular grunt. I signed up like any other Joe and got sent out on my first assignment: peacekeeping on Mars. It was supposed to be a fairly standard manuever, fly in with lots of big looking weapons and cannons, make a big show of shooting them over the rioter's heads and then use tear-gas on the more determined ones.

Of course, we didn't expect them to have taken the main garrison.

As we went about our display of power, our commanding officer was pinned down by heavy sniper fire, captured and then executed in front of a cheering crowd. Morale amongst our troops quickly folded, and many joined the rebels.

My squad was registered for one of the first few CASEVAC (Casualty Evacuation) flights off Mars. At the time, I thought it was a blessing, but in my relief I forgot the whole issue of the garrison, and all it's anti-air weaponry, still being in the hands of bloodthirsty rebels.

We were shot down over the middle of Mars' biggest jungle about 5 minutes after taking off. After pulling myself from the wreckage, I thought I was the only one left. If I wasn't, I certainly didn't find anyone else in the 4 months I spent in the jungle.

When I emerged, things were very, very different. The Martian revolt had been crushed, and every 1st Sector world had been overtaken by the Navy.

"Hey, y'alright there Rook?" I was shaken from my recollection by Walsh's bassy tones.

"What? Oh, yeah." I blinked, the shaking had stopped. "Where are we?"

It was McAndrew that answered me. "We're about 100 klicks from the landing site. I reccomend you check your weapons, if you haven't already." His eyes never left the instrument panel.

"What're you packin, Avery?" Asked Walsh. In response, she span a long barrelled energy pistol into her hand. Her hands practically danced over the weapon, before stowing it perfectly at her hip, and withdrawing the filament blade I'd seen her with earlier.

"You?" She said, nodding to Walsh. He wasn't graceful, but he gestured a large laser cannon at his feet with look of such deadly purpose I was suddenly scared to be in such confined conditions with him. When I looked back to Avery, she was staring pointedly in my direction. "What about you, Rook? Or did you decide it would be better if you didn't bring anything?" she sneered.

I pulled a large automatic rifle from above my head. It had been previously hidden from her by my pack. The rifle itself was quite old, but still looked in fine condition. There was a large scar in the metal, along the forward handguard, and a large bowie knife attached to the barrel.

"What, you're not packing energy weapons?" This was Walsh. His tone was of disbelief, with a slight hint of contempt.

"I prefer projectiles. They're a lot less tempermental than the new laser rigs." I guestured vaguely towards his cannon.

"He's got a point." Avery surprised me with this remark. "I wouldn't trust him with a laser rifle, either." Walsh answered with a long, deep laugh.

I sighed desparingly.

"Leave him alone, Avery, we don't want him in tears when the dirt starts flying."

"Yes, sir."

At least there was that. I was needed, at least for some function.

"After all, he can't read maps if his helmet's full of tears."

Great. I had been trained in bleeding edge tactics, given top-tier armour, assigned to a veteran special forces unit and shot half way across the universe, deep into Entity territory, to read the map.

"Don't look so hurt, Rookie. We'll let you shoot one or two of the bad guys."

"Cut the intercom chat, we land in 45 seconds."

Saved by the bell.

"Hold on, something's coming up on the scanner. Wait, is that a-"

Suddenly, the ship seemed to be sideways. Red lights began blinking quickly, and a klaxon began to sound.

"Overlord, this is Bravo 1. LZ is hot, I repeat, LZ is hot. We're hit and going in hard - 5 klicks from LZ1. Copy my last? Over. Overlord, do you copy? We are going down ha- Holy... Squad, assume crash landing positions!"

The cabin jumped again, and I had the uncanny feeling of both spinning and falling at the same time. Oddly, a calm had descended over me, and the memories from Mars were flooding back in droves.

There was a deafening bang, followed by a horrific tearing noise which drowned out all other sound, and then, quiet.

I opened my eyes, although I couldn't remember closing them, and looked up at the shifting canopy. How pretty it seemed, as blackness slowly descended, how pretty the phantoms taking me into unconciousness were.

The End

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