Bell recovered her composure and tried to find a way to refocus. Music always had a calming and directive effect for her so she tried to conjure a song to get her mind off of the churning in her gut. She reached up and rubbed the back of her left ear. She felt the inaudible click of the audio player trigger on and mouthed the word “Flollo”. She quietly said, “low volume” and the sound level adjusted, low enough to be heard over the drumming of the ships engines without being too loud to hear the Commander if he issued her an order. The soothing, almost hypnotic sounds of the song began a single play through. This particular piece always conjured images of standing on a hilltop as she envisioned it would have been back on old Earth, watching the sun crawl across the sky. Clouds of silver, gold and platinum cascaded through the deepening azure like mercury on a sheet of molded blue glass. Envisioning the setting of night, shooting stars flitted out across the black bringing the melody to fruition. She steadied herself and moved back to the flight deck, her stomach calming. Her legs were beginning to steady and her vision had cleared. She hadn’t taken particular notice of how her head had been swimming until it stopped. Her equilibrium regained, she took her seat next to Knyghte.
She steadied herself and moved back to the flight deck, her stomach calming. Her legs were beginning to steady and her vision had cleared. She hadn’t taken particular notice of how her head had been swimming until it stopped. Her equilibrium regained, she took her seat next to Knyghte.
“It is a mess back there. No one appeared injured though. Well honestly I was just trying to stand up on my own and not throw up so I didn’t do a very thorough scan.” She said with a slight blush, averting her eyes from him.
“Deckard never took his eyes off the window in front of him, “Can’t say I am surprised at the condition of the hold,” he chuckled, “As far as you go, you’ll get your legs eventually, and those maneuvers won’t even faze you.”
He toggled up a larger vid screen and slid his finger up the side of it zooming in. The picture enlarged and there was a clear scene of battle. It took Bell a moment to realize it was the scene of the rendezvous point ahead of them. There was a sizable force of UEE ships engaged with an even larger group of Vanduul, and it did not appear the UEE was faring very well. She glanced over at Knyghte’s face; his brow was furrowed, his eyes looked troubled, and his jaw was clenched. He pushed against the already maxed out throttle but it had nowhere else to go.
“Wuh de tyen ah”, he muttered under his breath, “get back there and tell those men we are headed into a real mess here, get themselves ready for an even rougher ride and be ready to push out hard and fast.”
Bell ran to the back and flung open the door, “Get your men ready for a rough ride and fast exit, Lieutenant. The UEE is not doing so good up ahead.”
He nodded at her and stood up making his voice heard, “You heard her people! Time for the 27th to show the rest of the UEE how marines do their job! Time to turn the tables on some Vand!”
“HOOAH!” the marines voiced their approval in unison, with Bell joining in.
She hightailed it back to her seat and strapped in, the magnification screen stowed as there was no further need for an enhanced view of the fight. They were quickly becoming part of it. Deckard was already taking action to avoid getting hit with errant shots from both sides.
He flipped on the comm panel and hit global send, “UEE Command this is troop transport 47449 in bound from Earth with troops. Over.”
The comm channel buzzed and popped with the sounds of heavy fire, “47449, this is Command, we read you. Over.”
“Command I am recalculating vector for entry to a planetside landing and dustoff. I am sending you my fighter escort, Over.”
“Negative 47449, take you fighter escort to the planet with you. Over.”
“That is a negative Command. I am sending them to you, I can manage the drop point and they don’t do anyone any good when they are grounded. Over.”
“Copy that, Knyghte. I will defer to that tactical perspective…. This one time. Take it in safe and come back out alive, old friend. Over.”
“Confirmed, Knyghte out.” Deckard switched the comms over to address his escort and sent them into the heat of battle with explicit orders to form up on UEE Command, the Bengal Carrier UEES “Topher Allen”.
As the fighters moved off, the heavy fire began. She couldn’t tell which ships were firing on them but the impacts were starboard and aft. The shields held; the one thing troop transports had was heavy shielding. The ship rocked and reeled as the impacts continued and Deckard shifted his trajectory to a nearly direct approach with the planet. Bell calculated that he would pull back the nose when they started to heat up, otherwise they would burn up in the atmosphere.
The nose began a slow smolder as they impacted the atmosphere. The ship shuddered from both the entry and the shelling they were taking. She looked over and noticed that Deckard had a look on his face; it was disturbing to see in some ways, like a child opening a much desired present on Christmas day or a madman seeing his future unaware he was in a straightjacket, like the one she had seen in that old Earth film, ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’.“Deckard flipped on the in-ship comms, “Attention Marines, we are about to go in hot, it will not be a smooth ride. Make sure you are buckled in tight. Not being buckled in will result in death. Please return your seat backs and tray tables to their original upright positions. Thank you for flying air boulder.” And with that tidbit of pleasurable information he toggled off the comms.
Blasting rocked the ship repeatedly from behind. The aft shields held, but without even looking at the readouts she knew they were weakening and wouldn’t take much more.“Its going to be a little hotter than I anticipated,” he chuckled, “hold on to the arms of the seat and don’t hit the stick, throttle or pedals.” Knyghte pushed down on the nose of the ship. The angle was far too steep for a ship this size; it would burn up quickly at this speed and angle, but she kept her hands and feet in tight and watched him work.
Deckard cranked back on the throttle and brought the ships rear thrusters offline. The port and starboard thrusters could be heard firing up full blast, throwing wisps of plasma past the front windows and the fore thrusters blazed so brightly the light was almost blinding in her peripheral vision. The front windows polarized to block out the glare and the blazing light of the entry. The hull creaked and groaned like a man being torn limb from limb and sounded like it would tear apart at any moment. Deckard jerked back on the stick, visibly having to muscle it back. If the ship’s thrusters got too hot in this descent they would lock up and he would never get the ship leveled back out. She wasn’t certain, but it seemed the shots behind them had stopped.
Still he levered the stick back and the ship began to nose up. The heat was beginning to burn her face as the nose visibly turned orange, then red and eventually started to turn white. Deckard toggled his flight panel and shifted all of the ships shields to the nose and belly, leaving the rest of it uncovered. Even a stray shot could tear them to shreds like this, but he just kept pulling back on the yoke. He diverted all remaining power to the shields and maneuvering thrusters and the nose continued to steadily arc back. Sweat ran off his face and his flight suit was visibly soaked through. It was then that she noticed her suit was too. Her face felt baked, like being caught in the backwash of an X72 LAM. Up the nose drifted, shifting from white back to red. Still Deckard pulled back on the yoke.
“Hold onto yer boots, this is about to get ugly,” Deckard smirked that crooked smile of his.
“Ugly”, she exclaimed, “it hasn’t already gotten ugly!?”
He began toggling the shield back to full ship coverage and reactivated the main thrusters, though he kept them idling. The ship cleared the cloud cover; the nose was now just a brilliant smoking orange. The windows stabilized and cleared. Below them the ground was a pock marked nightmare, black and scarred. The ship continued to groan under the pressure of what remained a descent that was too fast. The nose edged up a small bit more and then without warning Deckard fired the main thrusters at maximum velocity. And the ship plowed forward like a herd of spooked cattle. Oddly that was also how it sounded, high pitched groans and so much structural strain that you might have thought a stampede was coming down the hall from cargo hold.
In spite of the incredible strain on the ship, it held together and even leveled out; flying as smooth as any civ transport back on Earth. The ride was nice for a short time. She looked out the window at the husk of a planet. The surface resembled hewn marble, grey and black, unpolished, almost tranquil from here. Periodic spots of sienna and carnelian dotted the landscape: Beautiful in all its destructive glory. Those colorful dots were fires and explosions, they were death, and her mood changed from relaxed to agitated. She felt the blood pumping through her veins. Her mind wandered to the idea that she and many of her companions would soon be trod into the ground; their blood mingled with the blood of Vanduul soldiers and the mud of a war torn planet cloaked in ash.
Deckard keyed up the comms again, “Get ready folks, the landing is less than one minute out.”
He keyed the comms off again and began a rapid descent, though not nearly as rapid as the one that brought them through the atmosphere. Ahead she saw the battle front in all its horror. The flames of countless bombings on both sides, the arc of missiles launching into the horizon, the flares of laser fire flitting brilliantly across a void of hewn bodies in what was once a shallow valley, quickly becoming a small hill. She was sealed into the ship tight and secure, but in her mind she could hear the screams of men and women dying with holes punched through their torsos, arms and legs. She thought she could almost feel the splatter of blood from the men and women on the field as their blood coated and covered everything nearby. The ship came to a heavy rest on the outskirts of the base camp and Knyghte opened the side hatches and marines poured out of them and mustered to the camp for orders.
He looked at Bell, and for the first time in this trip his face wasn’t lackadaisical or smiling or sarcastic; it was somber and grim.
“Watch your back, Háizi. Come back alive.” It was all he said, then he turned his head away from her and powered up the lift thrusters for a quick liftoff.
Bell gathered her gun and pack and headed quickly out the doors. She had barely gotten her back leg out of the portal when the doors slid shut and the shuttle revved for a lift off. She quickly scurried out of the way and the ship bolted upward. She never would have thought a ship that size could lift off so fast, but it did. Maybe it was just that fast or maybe the pilot inside just knew how to make to move like that. She looked up and watched him go. She took a deep breath inhaling the scent of death, reached up and toggled her ear implant to active comms channel, and then bolted to the base camp to face her destiny.