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USD: The next day

Location: Planet Dedia, Hard entry, Tears of Fire Shuttle #1, ALT: 40,000m


 

Elis looked at the readout on the pilot’s monitor and tightened her grip on the seat’s armrest. The shuttle’s nose was pointed up at a thirty-degree angle and flames were licking up around it, casting the cockpit in various shades of orange and yellow. The whole craft shook like it was sitting on top of a moderately sized earthquake.

“Nameless, are you trying to murder me? This thing is going to fall apart!”

[Notice: Shuttlecraft is operating within normal parameters.]

“Normal my ass. Are you trying to make me piss myself?”

[Informative: MK4B combat suits are equipped with vacuum relief units, therefore such an event should pose no issue.]

“If you ever tried the shitter in one of these, you’d understand it’s not so simple.”

[Informative: This unit does not–]

“–require inefficient biological maintenance tasks, yeah yeah.”

Elis continued to hold on to her seat. Even with the power armor’s spine attached firmly to the seat’s magnetic lock, it still felt like she was being shaken like a mouse in a cat’s mouth. She couldn’t imagine what it’d be like to someone without the power armor’s internal cushioning. They’d probably be unconscious.

“Fuck. When we have passengers, they will not be able to take this.”

[Notice: Combat drones are fully capable of much higher g-force tolerance. Orbital entry parameters calculated for weakest failure point: Crewmember Elis.]

“Fuck off. I’m talking about when we have refugees!”

[Informative: Ascent does not require velocity bleeding S-turns. Expect a smoother experience.]

The air cooler inside her helmet flicked on as the cabin temperature continued to rise. The shuttle’s belly had turned a glowing orange as it absorbed the orbital entry’s heat.

“Better be, or it might be safer to leave the people on the ground!”

[Notice: Crewmember logical circuits might require repair, Rexxor advance makes statement extremely doubtful.]

“You’re not the one that’s going to have to be put back together on the ground!”

The descent’s intensity did slowly relax over the next few minutes, which Elis was grateful for. She’d been on orbital drops in training, and they had been higher impact but much shorter in intensity. The pods didn’t have to return to orbit.

A familiar voice chimed in on the shuttle’s comm system, patched into Elis’s suit.

“Elis? Do you read me? Bouncing this off encrypted high band. You’re over the angle limit for in-atmo laser comm unless we want to fry some transient wildlife.”

Elis bit back a laugh, “I think the local fauna is already pissed off at us enough as is. Signal is loud and clear.”

Alex’s voice piped back at her, “Great. I’m tracking your descent and called the locals; they are expecting you, and the local militia commander promised to roll out the welcome committee. They said they’ve been seeing more activity over the last two days but have had no big problems. Expect them to go into more detail once you are on site.”

“Roger that. Thanks for the update.”

The rest of the flight down toward cruising altitude was non-eventful, and as the shuttle dipped below the cloud cover in preparation for final approach, Elis got her first up close view of the countryside.

The settlement was nestled on top of a small group of foothills that sat below the towering rocky crags of a large mountain range. A large plain of grass slowly flattened out around it, while to the north she could spot the darker green tops of the forested area that surrounded Dedia Prime.

What Elis cared about were the foothills. They would give the Rexxor plenty of cover if they were smart about their approach, and from what she had seen, the predators were smart enough to use it.

She hadn’t quite agreed with Alex’s idea that the Rexxor were an ‘intelligent’ species, but with their biology and instincts they were still obviously a deadly enemy.

Whatever macabre god had combined elephants, ants and cheetahs with reptiles was a sick jokester.

The comms coming alive knocked Elis out of her musings.

“This is Tifara Air Traffic Control to Tears-OTG-S1/2, you are on my scope. You are cleared for automated approach and landing at A-5612A/B. Maintain VFR.”

Elis responded, “Tears-OTG-S1/2 to Tifara ATC, confirming two shuttles on approach and cleared for pads A-5612B and A-5612A. There are no pilots on board, so I’ll just sit pretty.”

“Ahh… confirmed Tears. You are the only flight on radar, so no worries. Just remind the AIP to keep above 4000m until final to avoid any spikes in your thrusters. ATC out.”

Spikes in their thrusters? Elis looked at the altitude display which was still reading 5 klicks AGL. What was more worrying to her was the revelation that the Rexxors could shoot at them at any altitude other than initial liftoff or landing. How the fuck did those spine shooter things target that accurately from so far away?

The shuttles were heavily armored, but minor damage would still likely be an issue that needed to be repaired before another drop. She was confident Nameless could service the craft, but that’d delay their trips, and from the simple math she’d done they were going to need a lot of trips.

If anything like the combat that was going on to the north arrived, they were going to be in deep shit.

 

USD: A short time later

Location: Planet Dedia, Central Continent, somewhere underground east of Tifara


 

Szizsielia clittered her feelers on the warm, spongy, semi-soft wall that surrounded her birthing chamber in annoyance. More of the loud booms of the soft-skins had erupted in the sky above as their flying metal carapaces came from the stars to do soft-skin things in their strange above ground nests.

She had long grown used to the soft-skin presence nearby her hive. They did not venture far from their nest, and their workers who did became practice for her hunters in the eternal game of hunt or be hunted. She had dined on several soft-skin offerings, and found their taste quite repugnant.

Szizsielia was sure that the cause of the loud noises was in relation to Shorrishia’s unending war screams. The soft-skins had tried to invade her mother’s great nest with great numbers and star-poison, and their fiery metal carapaces had carved great gashes into her hive as they left.

To have one’s nest damaged in such a way was incredibly painful, and her mother’s rage was inexhaustible. Such sounds had not been transmitted through the thought-realm in many, many turnings of the cycle. Since before the last freezing, even.

Szizsielia's clittering continued to intensify. Her mother’s actions were understandable, but were driving her nestlings far, far beyond their ranges. Some had entered her range and had clashed with her guardfangs. Her mother’s nestlings were much bigger and more dangerous than hers, and even Szizsielia’s older, more powerful children had suffered.

She did not like the idea of what would happen if her mother did not calm down and the larger spawns such as her mother’s massive triumvi began to roam widely.

Moving her nest now after it had been established for so many turnings of the cycle would be nearly impossible, so she had called her nestlings and other children in as tightly as she dared. Overcrowding would cause them to suffer and feed on each other as prey dwindled. It was the only choice she felt she had, and it would not have been the first storm of war her nest had weathered.

 

USD: After landing

Location: Planet Dedia, Tifara, Pad A-5612A


 

Elis hit the rear hatch release with the bottom of her fist. Gently.

The whirr of hydraulics came to life as the atmo shuttle’s rear bay door levered itself toward the concrete of the scorched landing pad that was still slightly smoldering from the craft’s vectoring thrusters.

The heat didn’t bother her in her MK4B combat suit, but some of the approaching militia soldiers had their hands raised in front of their faces. Briefly glancing at the insignias and shoulder coloring of their uniforms, Elis homed in on the man with the highest looking rank.

Despite the uniforms being totally foreign to her, the adage that the higher the rank, the more finery didn’t fail her. She studied the man leading the group carefully. He had a polished, clean-shaven look although a few wrinkles had her placing him on the higher end of his 40s, unless he had rejuv treatments which Elis doubted.

“Master-Sergeant, welcome to Tifara. I’m Lieutenant Colonel Wesley, acting commander of the Tifara militia force. We are glad to see you.”

He reached out and Elis shook his hand, careful not to crush it with her armor.

“Likewise. Glad we can assist. I’ve a bunch of toys for you. If you’re ready, I’ll start having it unloaded.”

“Ah, I was under the impression it was just yourself bringing the shuttles? I’ve got two loading crews ready to go. We have more men than weapons, and with the footage we’ve seen from Dedia Prime we’re all anxious to get everyone kitted out.”

“Won’t be necessary, although I imagine they’ll still be needed to sort out and distribute the equipment.”

Elis reached up and tapped the side of her helmet, “We are ready to unload. Send over Booper as well.”

[Affirmative: Beginning unloading process now.]

The dozen idle bots in both shuttles suddenly whirred to life, their small thrusters having to do extra work to hover in the planet’s gravity. The extra weight meant that it took two to unload each pallet instead of one, but they made quick work of the cargo.

Elis noted the surprise on Wesley and his men’s faces.

“FedTech drones and automation. Tears is probably the most advanced ship in the sector. Top brass didn’t tell you?”

“Being told, and seeing it in action, are two different things.” One of the Lieutenant Colonel’s aides responded.

Booper chose that moment to exit Shuttle B. Rather than hovering, it walked toward them on two bipedal legs, its arms surrendered in order to add two swivel-mount rotary eight-barrel 12mm miniguns on the sides.

The center chassis still had the original gauss rifle that Alex had upgraded it with, and the entire front of the bot had received thick armored plating the best that Nameless could produce with the ship’s facilities. The internal ammo compartment and feeders filled the rest of the chassis while a small micro fusion power plant was mounted on the back.

Alex had also painted flame decals all over the central chassis at some point.

All the men were silent as the robot walked up to join them.

Elis reached up and slapped Booper’s side. “This is your new best friend, meet Booper. Custom-design combat bot. He can relay telemetry to the Tears and call down fire missions on his own if needed.”

“Boop!”

“Lieutenant Colonel, once we’ve unloaded, I’d like to send the shuttles back up with the first group. I understand you have some wounded?”

The question grounded the man and knocked him back out of his head. He returned his eyes back to Elis and nodded before answering, “First group is ready, mainly comprising injured or sickly civilians. Some of the men are walking wounded and should be able to care for the others on the trip up.”

Elis nodded, “Let’s get things moving then. I’d like to see your maps of the perimeter. We’ll want to set up the SENTI-21Bs in optimal fire zones.”

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Next: Chapter 39 – Skirmish

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Erios909

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Bio: Still alive, yes.

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