In David’s office, he and Peyton were relaxing in chairs, talking and enjoying their drinks.
“So what’s the desk like,” David asked, taking a swig of his drink, “Boring?!”
“Logistics isn’t the most exciting thing,” Peyton answered, “Have you ever made a choice and deeply regret it later.”
“All the time!” David laughed.
The answer made Peyton chuckle a little, “I’m talking about being on the battlefield, where lives matter. They depend on you.”
David leaned in, “My opinion,” he said to Peyton, “We all make choices. You just have to learn how to live with yours.”
Peyton nodded and stood. “Thanks for the drink. I must be going now. I’ve got a lot of catching up to do.” he said, leaving through the door and placing a hand on what looked like bits of data flowing across the wall. A node instantly absorbed the information. Peyton then used the node to display a hologram showing where his room was.
When Peyton got to his room, he used a monitor to call Elizabeth.
She answered after a few rings, an image of her head popped up on screen, “Hello…Peyton, where are you?” she said.
“Hi Elizabeth,” Peyton said, “Don’t wait up for me, I won’t be home tonight. Tell John I love him.”
“Why aren’t you coming home?” Elizabeth asked, frustrated.
“Simple pickup and extraction mission.” Peyton answered.
“Why you? Why not someone else if it’s simple?” Elizabeth asked.
“I guess they wanted to pull me away from the desk,” Peyton said.
“Bull!” Elizabeth said, “It’s Maj. Tom. Lemme talk to him.”
Peyton sighed lightly, “Hon, please don’t worry. The last thing I need is for you to worry.”
Elizabeth began sobbing, “It never fails. You were gonna quit this year and they dragged you back.” she said.
Peyton nodded in agreement, “I know, but like I said it’s just a pickup and extraction. If it makes you feel better I’ll retire after this one, ok?”
Elizabeth struggled to hold back her tears, “I love you.” she said.
“Love you too.” Peyton whispered back, before hanging up. He buried his head in his hands and thought of what life would be like after retirement.
Samantha walked calmly into the chow hall and got in line. The hall was full of Myrmidons eating. Two Myrmidons approached with one getting in front of her, cutting in line, while the other one snuck up behind.
“Hey, Sam,” the one behind said, “Heard you’re going out. Gonna rescue some kids again?”
“It’s not a kid.” Samantha said.
“What’s with you and all these pickups?” he said, “When are you gonna get a real mission?”
Samantha tried moving forward, but the Myrmidon in front was deliberately blocking her path. She didn’t say anything. After a second of thinking, she quickly hit the Myrmidon behind her in the groin area, bringing him to his knees, and smashing his face into the counter before breaking his arm at the elbow and holding on.
“You broke my arm!” the Myrmidon screamed, wincing in pain.
“Shut up, you’re a Myrmidon. It’ll heal before you know it,” Samantha said, then glaring at the other Myrmidon, “I really hate when people cut in line.”
The other Myrmidon, deciding not to fight, put his hands up and backed away. Samantha released the Myrmidon and got back in line only to get an apple, and go walk back to her room.
“Serves you right, trying to pick on her.” An old Myrmidon said to the one with a broken arm.
In her room, Samantha sat down at her desk and phased out a knife to cut up the apple, and feed it to her birds.
“Hungry?” Samantha asked, then, she held out her hand for a node to project files about the mission and began reading some reports, “What do you guys think? Easy, eh?”
There was a knock and beep at the door.
“Come in!” Samantha said.
Peyton stepped in, “Relax, Cpl.,” he said before Samantha could fully get out of her chair, “May I?” he asked, standing next to an empty seat near her.
“Please,” Samantha said, gesturing for Peyton to sit, “How can I help you?” she asked.
“It’s nothing really,” Peyton said, as he sat, “I know it’s a simple mission, but I’d like to get to know my second in command before a mission. A file can only tell you so much,” he pointed, “It didn’t mention anything about birds.”
Samantha looked and chuckled to herself, “You’re right,” she nodded, “I appreciate that.”
“I just need to know that you got my back,” Peyton said, “No matter what, and that you’ll follow my exact orders.”
“Of course, Sgt.,” Samantha replied, “Why wouldn’t I?”
“Just checking,” Peyton said, “I don’t want you second-guessing me.”
“As you say, sir.” Samantha assured.
“Good,” Peyton said, “Tell me a little about yourself.”
Jenny was in her room on her bed, with music playing from an overhead speaker. From a node on her hand, she projected an image of the omni-web or ‘o-web’ as it was famously called. It was much like our internet today, but this was interstellar. She used her fingers to interact with it and post a picture on a social site typing a message to her friends, before reading some posts and laughing. A messenger on the o-web beeped to let her know she received a message. She answered it to see a message from one of her cousins.
‘Hey Jenny, we’re having a family picnic at the park later 2nte. U coming?’ the message read.
Jenny was disappointed as she typed, ’Sorry, Can’t. Going on a mission soon. Not sure when I’ll get back.’
‘U can always go AWOL J/K’ came back the message.
‘Absent without leave,’ Jenny thought, before typing back, ‘Good thing ur joking, because I wouldn’t even if it were possible’
A message came back, ‘I know, ur a good soldier.’
Jenny typed back, ’Damn s8, tell evry1 I said hi.” then, closing the o-web. She went to her desk and phased out her diary to begin writing.
Anthony was in the rec room playing pool alone. He was bored and looked forward to the mission, he needed something to do. After pocketing the last ball, he placed the stick back and looked around for anything to do.
Another Myrmidon approached, “Hey, Anthony.” he said.
“Hi, Darryl,” Anthony said, “What’s up?”
“Not much,” Darryl replied, “Let’s go to a holosuite and practice sniping.”
“Yeah,” Anthony answered, “Should be better than this.”
Anthony followed Darryl into a holosuite; a large, empty, white room with a control console on the side.
“Computer, run simulation Darryl two,” Darryl said.
A complex of burned out buildings suddenly appeared amongst a vast open field. If Anthony didn’t know better, he’d have thought it was all real, but it was just a simulation, like virtual reality (VR).
There were two sniper rifles nearby. Darryl grabbed both and gave one to Anthony, “Come on. Let’s hurry inside.” Darryl said.
Inside one of the buildings, Darryl explained, “Ok, no suits. Pick a spot and shoot. Don’t worry about ammo, it’s infinite. Move around if you have to.
“What’s the objective?” Anthony asked.
“Obvious,” Darryl answered, as he walked away, “Stay alive and see who gets the highest kill count.”
Anthony went to the top and set up makeshift alarms so he’d know if anyone was coming.
“Anthony, you ready?” Darryl’s voice came, like it was on an intercom, “This is set up like the radios in our suits. Just call my name first if you wanna talk. Don’t worry, the simulations can’t hear or hurt us.”
“Darryl, ready.” Anthony replied.
Simulated enemies of various races with rifles began to swarm the buildings, followed by tanks. Anthony picked the soldiers off as fast as he could. When a soldier was ‘killed’ it digitally dematerialized. It didn’t take long for simulated bullets and explosions to start flying his way. It was hopeless, as enemies swarmed and entered the buildings. One of his alarms went off and before he knew it, he was fighting for his life.
“Anthony, this is, Darryl, I’m out.” he said.
Anthony ran into the next room and killed two soldiers there. His only way out was through a hole in the floor. He dove in, landing on his feet, and dispatched another soldier. He carefully made his way downstairs getting rid anyone in his way, until he reached the bottom.
Anthony went outside where a tank was waiting for him in the street. Soldiers were making their way down behind him. There was nowhere to go.
“Damn.” Anthony said, as the tank took aim and fired, ending the simulation.
“Beaten at my own game,” Darryl said, walking to Anthony, “Well, that’s a first.”
“Is there a way to take out these tanks?” Anthony asked, “These rifles won’t do.”
Darryl thought for a moment, “I don’t really know,” he answered, “The whole point is to see how long you can last, but I didn’t make a no-win scenario. No one has ever made it this far. Wanna try again and find out?”
“Maybe later,” Anthony said, “I’ve got to go get ready for a mission.”
In the armory, Peyton was busy getting his new suit.
A man handed it to him, “Here you go - Sgt. Hanson; SRS3, Phase type XIV / WAR variant. Good luck, sir.”
Peyton phased it in then, phased it on to make sure nothing was missing. Each suit was perfectly sealed, so if a part was missing, the suit knew and it would show on the HUD. He went through his inventory using his HUD and phased in extra ammo and MRE’s (Meal, Ready-to-Eat). When he was ready he stepped into an adjoining room, the teleporter room. Samantha and Jenny were waiting.
Samantha’s suit was mostly on; the only thing missing was her helmet.
Jenny was fully suited and ready to go. She was sitting quietly on a bench in front of a teleporter.
Anthony then walked in with dark clothing on, no suit in sight.
“Where’s your suit, PFC.?” Peyton asked.
“Me?” Anthony said, “Sorry, sir, I thought it was in my file that I’m a beta tester.”
“A what?” Peyton curiously asked.
“Beta tester, sir,” Anthony explained, “I test new suits before they come out. Go ahead shoot me one time with a pistol.”
“Shoot…” Peyton worriedly said.
Jenny suddenly stood, phased out her K14A rifle, and shot Anthony in the back.
Anthony’s shield flared up along with an outline of his suit.
Peyton was surprised.
“Jenny!” Anthony said, turning to her, “I said ‘pistol’. We’re lucky that didn’t go through, and why did you shoot me? I was talking to the Sgt.”
Jenny explained, “One; you’re alive. Two; you didn’t say who could shoot.”
Anthony turned back to Peyton, “Sorry, sir, as I was saying, I’m a beta tester. You all have a type XIV, series 3 or SRS3 generation. I’m wearing a type XV, cuatro or CTO generation. It’s sorta secret I guess which might explain your surprise. It’ll be available in a few months.”
“So you’re wearing a suit?” Peyton asked.
“Yes, sir.” Anthony said.
Peyton shrugged, “Ok with me, but once we land it’s your ass on the line. I don’t know if I could trust something I can’t see.”
Anthony smiled, “I’ll be fine, sir.”
Amy materialized in the room as David entered.
“We’re entering Zera IV’s orbit in stealth mode. Get ready.” Amy said.
Samantha phased on her helmet, with Peyton, Anthony, and her phasing out their rifles, and all four stepping on a teleporter.
“Ready.” Peyton said to Amy.
David began to countdown, “3…2…1.”
Amy activated the teleporters sending the Horsemen down. It was a terrifying experience to the uninitiated; the planet rushed at you, followed by the sky, and finally the ground. Of course, you didn’t have to see any of that and just close your eyes. The process only took a few seconds.
They each landed practically at the same time, rifles at the ready.
Taking cover behind a building, Peyton called quietly, “This is Sgt. Hanson. We’re here.”