As it turned out, only Walsh could fly the craft due to his immense size. Although I found it odd that he knew how to read the instruments and readings on the display, I didn't mention it. There was still a lot I didn't know about my new team.
And a lot they didn't know about me.
The interior of the craft itself seemed quite roomy, probably because it was designed to house soldiers with much larger bodies than my own. Oddly, Walsh sill looked big sitting in the pilot's seat. Maybe only the soldiers were incredibly big. Or not all Entity soldiers were as large as the ones I'd seen (and killed) so far.
The cabin had no windows apart from the front cockpit, and had a strange disinfectant-like smell, which reminded me of weeks spent in hospital after particularly rough tours.
Avery was standing at the back of Walsh's chair, leaning over the backrest and conversing rapidly with him in a subdued tone. I couldn't make out any of the words, so I paid it no attention and slumped against the side of the cabin, pulled my boots up onto the bench opposite, linked my hands behind my head and closed my eyes.
The engines came to life slowly and took on a deep, low-pitched hum, not at all like the splutter-roar engagement of Navy troop ships. Likewise, the take-off was so steady and quiet that I had trouble realising it until I opened my eyes and saw treetops whizzing by the cockpit window. It had gotten wider since take-off, and was now open from above Walsh's head to where it met the armoured hull which protected the instrument panel from weapons fire.
The view was pretty spectacular, with the different shades of green flying by at an impressive rate. Flying this close to the forest canopy was more difficult, but much less dangerous when compared with flying high enough to be caught on their SADAR systems. (SAtellite Detection And Ranging)
Sergeant Walsh spoke after a few minutes. "To think a planet this beautiful can house a bunch o' guys so evil."
"I'm sure they thought the same when they destroyed nearly every world of the third sector." Responded Avery.
"Point taken, Corporal. But it is pretty."
"I'm a Shadow, not a tourist. Sir."
"It doesn't hurt to have a broader view, Avery."
The Sergeant was right though, it definitely was beautiful. Mars was a brutal, both to the eye and the body. Odo 5 was almost perfect. Its horizon wasn't dotted with huge gouts of black smog, or giant imposing sky-scrapers. The trees were uniform, and of a fascinating hue.
"I've uploaded the navigation files from this here ship to the Squad Interlink. It has stuff on the planet, although our cipher isn't complete enough for a full translation of the data. The maps are still fine though, and a lot more detailed than ours," So Walsh had had a map the whole time? Typical. "also, we've now got the locations of three facilities not too far North of here, and the location of SADAR coverage in the vicinity. They evidently didn't expect it to be so easy to hack into their mainframe."
"What's the plan, Sarge?"
"We're going to search each facility until we find the Lieutenant."
"Sir, with all due respect, that could take weeks. Weeks we don't really have."
"We're doing each facility individually. That way, we can get it done much faster and get the hell out sooner. Unless you have any better ideas?" Walsh's challenge was spoken harshly. It was evident he'd rather not split the team but, like him, I could see no other way to find McAndrew.
I decided to pipe up anyway. "Do we have any leads, sir?"
"This is our lead. You'll be dropped first Private, at the facility furthest North. We'll have to loop around the planet to avoid most of the satellite coverage, so we'll fly in from over the north pole. ETA at drop point one is roughly 18 hours, so get some sleep while you can."
"How far away are the facilities from each other?" This was Avery.
"Drop point 2 is roughly 200 k's from drop point 1, and 3 is another 400 k's on top of that."
So I'd be, at best, 200km from any help if things went wrong. Avery hummed assent, then sat down at the co-pilots chair. Her legs extended gracefully in a cat-like stretch, then came to rest upon the secondary instrument panel.
It was evident from the tension emanating from Walsh that our chances of surviving weren't great, but what else could we do? McAndrew had the mission critical intel, and Mission Command was under orders not to respond to any comm traffic unless it was accompanied by the Emergency Frequency Algorithm, which the Lieutenant also had.
When I thought about it, it didn't seem like such a good idea to give it to just one person.
"I'm gonna turn off the cabin lighting now, so y'all can get some sleeping done."
I wasn't going to argue.
It might be the last few uninterrupted hours I got.