Sci-fi story inspired by Halo and Starship Troopers [work in progress]
|The last stand.
I never liked the jungle battlegrounds, they were too distracting with all their flies, animals and sounds. But worst of all was the oppressing heat. It was impossible to stay dry, the moisture in the air was enough to soak you down to your johns. Then there were the sudden rain… attacks –there was no other word for rain of this magnitude. It had gotten morale down to the lowest low I have ever seen, and I’ve been in a few tough spots before. But the jungle of Natau was the worst battleground if ever I’ve seen one.
And the reason we were sent there was nothing we could find faith and strength in either, we were just going in to clear out a jungle fortress. We were given two squads, standard equipment and hardly any intel. We were flying blind, all we knew was where to look for the fortress. So we set out, spread thin so we could never be taken out at the same time by a single explosive. That kind of thinking was typical for the entire mission; we expected to die at all times. Behind every tree could be a soldier, every plant could be hiding a jumper mine, every fruit could be a camouflaged shrieker. In the thick foliage on the ground and over our heads, it would have been easy to hide more explosives than would have fitted in our transport.
Base camp was set up on a clearing we had made by burning down the trees. I had advised against it, because the smoke plume would be visible for many miles but Commander Therson had been adamant about it. So as he ordered the pyrofuel canisters were placed on the edges of the camp radius and detonated. They burned the trees away, all right. But as soon as they had ignited we heard the sounds of people running through the foliage away from our location. We had just lost the element of surprise, if we had ever had it.
The very next day, as camp was all set up and the power generators were projecting the force fields around the perimeter, I was finally able to talk to the fellow members of my squad, something the work of the previous day had prevented. A few of my squadmates were sitting in a circle around a glowlamp, it’s light casting eerie shadows behind them. “Hey guys, what ‘s up?”
They turned around to look at me, and I thought I saw a look of fear in their eyes. “Hiya Brawn, have a stump and join us. We were just talking about the fools who sent us into this deathtrap.” I looked at the one who had spoken, a redheaded woman with her rifle at her side, her hair in a short ponytail under her cap.
“Monroe, you’d better watch what you’re saying, if Therson hears you say things like that he’ll have you shot for treason of the High Lords. They’re being increasingly paranoid since Ayir IX.”
All grimaced at the mentioning of the ninth planet of the Ayir system, the planet where 2 whole battalions had been left to perish because they had been accused of treason. They had destroyed the automaton factory like they were ordered, but they did not completely blow up the central core because a dropship delivering the explosives was shot down. The turmoil and miscommunications made command believe it had arrived as planned. But the ground forces lacked the explosives to fully destroy the core, so they left it intact, they just ensured it would take one hell of a job to reactivate it, planning to have an orbital bombardment take care of it and proceeded to their evacuation rendezvous. When central command found out, they ordered the carrier that had put them down to leave orbit and return home without them. They were left on the planet. The planet was fusion-bombed later to ensure the factory, and the “traitor” battalions were erased from being.
“Gee thanks, you sure know how to crank up morale, Brawn!” Monroe exclaimed before standing up, slinging her rifle over her shoulder and leaving the circle. “I’m going to see if there’s a place where I can relax a bit.” The others looked at her, some looked surprised, but those who knew her from earlier missions grinned: When Munroe talked of relaxation it usually meant that she was off to vent her frustration on some part of the landscape. Something the higher ranks disapproved of very fiercely, but it was impossible to hold her in check at all times and she seemingly escaped their watchful eyes each time.
For reasons I didn’t understand myself I got up and walked after her, my own rifle strapped to my back. I guess I might have thought I could use some things to vent on myself, but I didn’t even have to draw the rifle at all that night. She walked into the forest, looked for a small clearing, where the trees were grouped less thick and sat down against one of them, her head bowed. When I came closer I heard a thing that I had never heard coming from anywhere near Munroe; crying.
I was appalled, Munroe was the tough-as-nails, tacks-for-snacks kind of marine. The only emotions I had ever seen her utter were anger, hate, fear at very rare occasions, but never sadness. Not once. Not when her entire world was set aflame, not when her brother died in her arms, covered in pyrofuel burns from top to toe. Not even when she was shot in the liver, the medic saying she would not survive. This was so unlike her that I didn’t know what to do, but it turned out I didn’t have to as I stepped on a twig that snapped quite loudly.
She looked up, startled, with a deer-in-headlights stare. Her face was stained by tears, her eyes red and swollen. “Brawn? What are you doing here?! Don’t tell anyone about this you hear!” she wiped her eyes on her sleeve and got to her feet, grabbing the rifle that had slipped off her shoulder. “Hold just a second, Monroe. What was that all about? I’ve never, ever seen you cry before. Not when your world was blasted to mush, not when your brother was torched, not when you were shot and declared dead. What is this about? I’m still your squad leader, and I need you to be at your best. I can’t have you all emotional and distressed. So spill it.”
I had never imagined that the answer I would get would be so…. Straightforwardly honest.
“Brawn, cut the bullshit. You know nothing ever stopped me from giving it my all, and I’m not going to let this be a change. But if you so dearly wish to know, here.”
She threw me a small holo-letter. When I activated it the seal of the CAT Navy appeared, then the entwined cross that was the symbol of the Necropolis world of Talgar. It could mean only one thing; this was an obituary.
“Go on, play it further.” I had forgotten they paused at the symbol, in case you didn’t want to read it with others present. I pressed the resume button. A number of holographic lines of words appeared in front of my eyes;
‘Private First Class Lisanna Munroe, 20th expeditionary force, 5th UWSC marine corps.
We regret to inform you that Ensign Lidyia Emastal was killed in the line of duty while conducting combat operations orbiting Mardal VI. She was a fine pilot, and took many of the enemy with her before she succumbed to wounds she had sustained when a shredder missile impacted with her craft, injuring her greatly. She ignored the order to dock and took down the craft threatening her carrier. It could get away because of her sacrifice.
Our deepest sympathy, General Durion, 3rd SF Corp.’
There was an appendix that played at the very end of the message; ‘Body located at 2-F 1458320238, Military Crypt, Mortis continent, Talgar.’
Seeing it made me feel sad, but things like this were nothing special; millions died each day for the CAT. Munroe saw her share of them, hell, caused more than her share of them. So why should this one be so important that it drove the hardest, meanest soldier I had ever seen to tears? My mind could not fathom the answer. “I’m sorry, Monroe. But I have to ask, who was she? I mean, there are thousands dying each day. You get your share of obituaries, like we all do. But you just read them, throw them away while making a note of their location and vowing to visit them when this is all over. What’s different about this one?”
I think I knew the answer before she opened her mouth, the look in her eyes was all the answer I needed. “You’re right. Thousands die, hundreds of them forgotten, without anyone left alive to send the obituaries to. Whole families rest thousands of miles apart from each other because even if they die at the same time, the corpses are piling up faster than the death-fleets can be offloaded. Dozens of their obituaries pass through my hands and I don’t even bat an eye at them. What makes this one different is that fact that I don’t love all those others. I don’t care if they live or die, if they pile the bodies higher than the skyscrapers of Terra, if their biomass is more than comes out of the food processing plants of Mars.
I just don’t care, they’re nameless dead. This one was, to me, not nameless. You know Brawn, you ever consider getting married? Leaving the corps, settle down on Brandol Secundus or some other rural world and hang up your rifle, never to use it again?”
I gave her a look of surprise, but before I could speak she went on again. “Yeah, I know, sounds odd huh? One lives or dies with the corps. But I was so close to leaving it all behind. Just this mission, this was my last. I would have left, deserted, if need be. I would have met up with her on Terra, and travel to Brandol Prime. We’d get married on the beach, then move to Brandol Secundus, and live out our lives, come what may. Well, none of that’s happening now, that’s for sure. If you’ll excuse me, Brawn, I have to get some shut-eye. No good if I die during my assignment, now is it.”
The way in which she said that convinced me she would welcome to opportunity to die on the job. But I also knew her pride would stop her from just giving her up like a meek lamb. I didn’t know what else to say so I watched her walk away, duck into one of the shelters, the door closing.
I walked back to the group, who demanded to know what was going on, why Munroe was already off to bed. I didn’t answer them, just told them if they wanted to know they should ask her and went to bed myself as well.
I was roughly wakened when a shrieker went off next to my shelter. I was lucky that the wall was made to filter the brunt of the sound waves or my brains would have overloaded, my entire sensory system taken out. Still, my eardrums were buffeted, leaving me strangely deafened. It wasn’t even that bad, I couldn’t hear the sounds outside very well, but when I opened the door I saw that several shriekers had landed throughout the camp. There were men and woman on the ground, writhing in agony. I knew what had happened to them, what they were going through; they had lost their hearing, sight, taste, smell and touch all at the same time. They were alive, but to them it was like being frozen solid. I looked around and saw Monroe standing on a stump with one foot, her rifle shouldered, snapping off rounds at a few shadowy figures in the distance with an expression of pure hatred. I’m not talking about the ordinary-run-of-the-mill kind of hatred, but pure, angry burning hatred.
I grabbed my own rifle and started running towards the edge of the perimeter. “Monroe! Cover me! AP Delta 45-Charlie!” I knew she heard me, and when I jumped through the one-way forcefield I saw the man standing in front of me drop dead. A bullet had taken off half his head, his brains leaking out over his spiked boots. The next man that died was the one standing on his left flank, the one on right was next. It created a triangle of free ground.
My own rifle was unleashing deadly bolts of adamantium as more and more of them fell to the combined fire of the now rallying marines. The remaining enemies turned tail and ran away, one or two were cut down but most of the fleeing men got away. Their dead were disintegrating fast, nothing but puddles of black, steaming muck remaining of them or their gear. Disintegrators were a covert-ops trinket, that made sure that the moment their pulse stopped their bodies and everything on it would vaporize. All that was left behind was a puddle of carbon. It meant that families never got the chance to bury their dead, so it was a real sacrifice to join the covert-ops in a society that was very family orientated.
The forcefield powered down long enough for the ones who had ventured outside of it to get back in, then it powered up again, this time instead of glowing a faint blue, a nasty crimson. New generators mounted on antennas were put into place, sealing the forcefield bubble. Our enemy had found the weakness in our defences with ease, they has just lopped in a few shriekers to take us off guard, waiting for us to come out and take us down. Fortunately few had been in a condition to do so, and the forcefields stopped all their bullets and attempts to enter.
I remember I thanked the engineering corps of the navy, for making sure the things were the latest of the line. The older models could be broken through when you ran into or shot them a couple times. I’m sure those covert-ops thought we had the old ones, or they wouldn’t have engaged in such a suicidal mission. And the new ones could be supercharged, making them searingly hot to the touch. On the downside, that also made the inside of the bubble very, very hot. Combined with the temperature of the planet itself it made me feel like I was being cooked alive. The water purifiers were working at maximum and wasting even a single drop became a reason to be punished, just to make sure there was enough water for us while we prepared to attack.
In the raid last night we had lost six men. Two were dead, the other 4 no longer had any sensory input. They were put in a special shelter, the dead were put on the side of the camp, covered in liquid plasteel to preserve them for when we would leave the planet. The rest of us were finally called into action by Commander Therson. He told us we were going to make this a simple and direct strike at an enemy target. Our group would split up into three different prongs, which would come from different directions respectively. My squad would come from the west side, taking out the guard towers aimed towards the south and the fortress entrance. The squad on the east side would do the same, clearing the way for the final squad to place their charges on the gates.
As soon as the gates opened we would rush inside, clear every nook and cranny of it, leave a fusion bomb in the centre and leave the planet pronto. It sounded easy enough, and I was sure we could pull it off. Then again, I had been sure I could hit up potential shags with ease. That turned out to be a rude awakening, so it made me doubt my earlier judgement just a little bit.