Private first class Colcheck was exhausted. No, he was beyond exhausted. He lay in his bunk, gasping for air in short raggedy gulps. No man should ever have to do this, he thought. Chemical augmentations be screwed, his body was not designed for this. Fifteen mile run with thick packs loaded with twenty kilograms of rocks, then running back and doing sixty push ups just for doing his orders! Then came the two laps with the rock packs on, each lap was a kilometre. Then came in half an hour of shooting practise, which due to his fatigue and exhaustion, he did quite badly at earning him more bull crap from the sarge. Now they had an hour of break time before more exercises and practises. Colcheck felt like throwing up, or crying. Maybe both actually. It was all he could do to keep himself from falling asleep and never waking up, but if he did that it would assure him definitely getting hammered more by sarge. He groaned, he was only half-way through the day and he was almost dead. He doubted he could survive much longer. He didn’t want to be here. He was a city kid, a rich kid, a spoiled kid. He wasn’t a brat really, but he came from quite a wealthy family. His father had been an assistant city administrator for Quintle, one of the big cities on New Rome, one of the confederations bigger CITY worlds. He had joined because of influence actually, influence from Vidgames. He had always loved shooter games, from the old classics of the twenty first centaury like Halo, to the newest hot releases like Star Sigmus. He was always playing as the galactic hero, the saviour of the galaxy from some evil marauding alien race. So when the League invaded, he figured he could have a chance of being the hero and crushing the alien scum against his metal combat boots. So it made perfect sense when he turned eighteen he went to enlist, and promptly failed the physical examination. So then he left back for home to work out and try to bulk up some muscles to the requirements. But before he could head back, he started to hear the horror stories about the war. How the Thrals destroyed the ESC fleets and then set the planets atmosphere alight with their advanced weaponry, reducing them to burning balls of interstellar slag and glass.
This made him more cautious, a little more reluctant to run over to the recruiting office. Then he saw some helmet cam feed from an unknown marine during the siege for Seigmas. It was a lot different from the Vidgames. The scenes of violence, watching the sadistic aliens blow holes through defending marines and then tear them apart in bloody feeding frenzies; convinced him maybe the Marine Corps was not the life for him. But unfortunately the draft caught up to him. He found himself forcibly taken from his nice house to the boot camp, where they did pushups, running, shooting, saluting, driving, and more pushups. And now he found himself here, on what was soon to be the frontline of a major battle, or so the barracks rumours said. He groaned again, fifteen minutes until they would be called back again. He sighed, and slowly sat up in his bunk. He reached in his pocket for the item he’d bought at the store. The store was a little shop selling the troop’s things like candies, chips, soft drinks, tobacco, smokes and other little conveniences to make life easier. An adrenaline/simulative, like a hyped up power drink on steroids. A little glass contained, filled with bright yellow liquid. It looked a lot like snake poison then anything beneficial. He grimaced in anticipation at what he had to do, and then he popped open the little drawer bodies his bunk and pulled out the injector. He stuck the needle into the contained and let the little machine suck up half the subscription, the maximum safety dose. He closed the container and put it away. He took a deep breath, steadying himself and relaxed his muscles. He placed the injector against his skin, winced a little, and then pulled the trigger.
There was a stab of pain as the needle shot forward and punctured his bicep, followed by a cool flowing sensation as the liquid streamed into his blood vessel. He watched as the yellow liquid quickly drained, then he pulled it out. The tiny dribble of blood showed where the needle hand punctured, and other than that he was normal outwardly. But inwardly, he was much different. For one he felt better, a lot better. As the drugs coursed through his bodies and gave him strength and wiped away his fatigue he could feel the power coursing through him. But his fatigue wasn’t exactly wiped away. It was still there, somewhere back in the far crevices of his consciousness, he could feel it, and after six hours or so it would return, stronger than ever. But in six hours, he would be able to turn for the night. He sat up straighter, stretched his ever-strengthening frame, and reached into the small box-fridge beside his bunk for a drink. He popped open the magnetically sealed door and browsed inside for the correct flavour. His finger landed on a lime flavoured soft-drink which he pulled from its holder, out of the fridge and shut the little door. He cracked open the tab, heard the delicious hiss as the CO2 fizzled away at the surface. He twisted off the tab, and dropped it in the drink, causing the fizz to flare up a little more. He raised it to his lips, and tipped the canister. The delightfully tangy liquid hit his taste buds, exploding them with flavour. The sugary liquid slid down his tongue and into his throat. He pulled the rim away, took a breath of air and started to raise it to his mouth again when, about six inches from his head, an alarm rung. This upset his heart beat and his hands, causing his arm to lurch forward hitting himself in the head and spilling fuzzy liquid all over his face. He slammed the can down, muttering off curses at the pain from his head, the blaring klaxon by his head and the sticky juice all over his face. He grabbed a little towel and wiped his face off, all while the alarm kept blaring in his ear. Dang it Sarge! He raged in his head. Can’t a man get a moment of rest here without you setting us off on some goose-hunt or surprise drills? He was seriously mad now. He just wanted to have his hour of rest, but nope. Sarge was making sure nobody here got it, setting off alarms and whatnot. He crawled over to the door to his quarters and popped it open. He stuck his legs out, rested them on the ladder rungs and then moved the rest of himself out.
Gripping the rungs with his feet and a hand, he slammed the door shut and roughly shoved himself down the rungs. He let go and dropped the last six feet and landed. He absorbed the impact and turned around to see quite a scene. Personal and marines were running all over the place like chickens with their heads cut off. In corners, people were manning consoles and terminals and checking over data pads. Now Colcheck was more confused than mad or angry. This wasn’t one of the sarges usual routines. The last thing he ever wanted was a bunch of techies running around the parade ground. He frowned, no something was up here. The personal and servicemen all had grim looks plastered on their faces, as if they knew something bad was about to happen. This gave an air of inevitability, but inevitability of what? Colcheck wasn’t sure, but whatever it was it couldn’t be good. He ran over to the nearest technician, who was pouring over a datapad covered with flashing numbers and symbols, god alone knew what they meant. He ran over and tapped him on his shoulder. The man stopped and whipped around, startled. He saw who it was and calmed down a bit.
“Sorry marine, brasses have been all over me for the last little while. Thought you were one of them. You got a problem soldier?”
“Yeah, you mind telling me what’s going on? What’s with the alarms and such? You guys all seem pretty upset over something and I wanna know what that is?” The technician looked at him, perplexed.
“What, haven’t you heard? The admiral’s flagship was just attacked by a cloaked League boarding craft. We figure they’re trying to take our Commander and flagship, to demoralize and disorientate us and all that. Brass figure it’s all a prelude to massive assault. We’ve got our hands full, trying to coordinate the evacuations faster now. FTL drives are being placed on the rest of the shooting stars and everything else is being packed up. Now if you don’t mind, I’ve got work to do.” With this, the technician turned around and continued on his way. Colcheck was almost stunned. He wasn’t really surprised, everyone the League were coming soon, why with all the evacuations and preparations and whatnot you’d have to be an idiot not to. But they’d never expected them so soon. Then again, you never expect an alien invasion ‘soon.’ It was always expected tomorrow and never today. But now it appeared that tomorrow had come, like it or now better or for worse. Out of the corner of his eye he saw more movement, quicker and more professional. He turned and there was Lieutenant Parker and Staff Sergeant Mackenzie heading toward him. He quickly snapped to attention and saluted. The two saluted and then brushed past him. He turned around and saw all of the other marines all out and about, milling around and completely confused. He saw the officers stop, Mackenzie marched forward, wheeled around and saluted the Lieutenant. Colcheck realized what was about to happen, and he started to run for the other marines.
“Attention!” Mackenzie yelled out in a strong, authorative voice. The other platoon members immediately whipped around and ran forward into place, Colcheck was among them. He reached a position in line, wheeled around and snapped to attention. The other soldiers quickly followed suite and soon all sixty marines stood deathly quiet and still. Parker was wasting no time on formalities today and went straight to business.
“Men, some of you may already know this but most of you do not, so I’m going to cut right to the chase. At 01234 hours today, Admiral Scott Kings flagship the ESC Stalingrad was attacked. The attacker was a modified League gunship which immediately cloaked upon entering the system. It was lost on trackers and moved in close to the flagship. Upon reaching its target, it immediately fired a fentonic torpedo which penetrated the hull due to the shields were offline for repairs. Once the hull was breached, the ship moved forward and sealed off and pressurized the breach and started dispatching large amounts of special operations Thrals into the ship. We believe the purpose of this suicide attack is to destroy our commander, flagship and our moral, plus destabilizing our command. We have concluded that this is the prelude to an imminent attack on Esoteria and evacuations and preparations have quadrupled. The admiral has decided to remain here with the fleet to engage the Thrals and allow the evacuations to complete. He has also dictated that a large portion of the land force will remain to under see the success of the evacuation, and if time remains, to escape.” Here his voice turned stiff and his face blanked out. “Our division has orders to assist in defending the evacuations.”
Colchecks heart nearly stopped. There it was. A death sentence. Parker knew it, the Sarge knew it, and every marine knew it. A suicide mission. There was no way in gods black space that the navy would risk valuable ships for the lives of some marines. His hands were cold; he brought them to his mouth and breathed on them, trying to warm them up. He suddenly cringed, expecting a reprimand from the sarge, but he was silent. Colcheck looked, and Mackenzie’s face was slightly pale, and rock hard. Colcheck craned his head, almost everyone’s face, including the lieutenants had the same, pale look. Colcheck realized he had that look on his face too. Parker broke the dead silence.
“Report back here at 1300 hours in armour. Dismissed.” He saluted Mackenzie who saluted back, wheeled around and walked away. Sarge did likewise, and the marines all broke up, heading back to their quarters. Colcheck climbed the rungs to his quarters, popped open the door and crawled in and onto his bunk. He lay down, dumbly staring at the ceiling with empty eyes. Why me? He wondered, as did every man in the platoon.