“FIVE MINUTES” Sergeant Mellican bellowed as he flipped the toggle. Internal lighting switched from normal white-light to a red. The red lights give a strange pallor to everyone’s faces, eyes look…strange, especially when everyone is smeared in camouflage grease, and the “whites” look reddish, and the retinas glow with an eerie light of their own. I know it’s a reflection of the lights, but it is still unsettling. All gear strapped down. Anything shiny blackened or taped.
The antiquated Marauder bomber rattled and shook as the incoming flak started coming in. Seated in the webbing and alumilite frame bench seats along with the rest of the third and headquarters platoons of 1st Company, 75th Skopjian Rifles (Jump), I double-checked my lacing, snaps and buckles again for the fifth or sixth time. Absently I checked my dog-tags were around my neck, then leaned forward to check my boots to see if the extra tags he was issued were still affixed.
“Quit moving around” Trooper Fastig hissed from the seat across from me.
The troopers were packed in tightly, knees interlocked. With all the gear they carried it was going to be a miracle if they make it to the ground in one piece. Standard pack strapped to their chest with a quick-release buckle, gravity-chute strapped to their back, additional ammunition, rations, breathing gear, chemical protective suits, all strapped to them, including their weapon, strapped in a carrier bag on their leg. Your average trooper weighed in at maybe 185 pounds…his gear…125-185 pounds depending on his weapon and ammo load-out.
I kissed the Aquila pendant I wore with his taped-together dog tags, and then stuffed them both inside my tunic, under my body armor.
The Marauder banked sharply, and I felt like I was falling, I gripped my gear and looked to the other troopers, who before seemed stoic…now looking more and more shocked.
Sergeant Mellican stood and spoke with his vox-caster, “COMM CHECKS, BY PLATOON…NOW” he roared through the cramped compartment, over the whine of the overworked engines. The sounds of blasts and rumbles of artillery could be heard through the skin of the craft. Each platoon ran a com check, each trooper sounding off with their assigned number and “UP”.
“Red Two-Five Romeo UP” I called out through my micro bead as my turn came up.
I watched as Sergeant Mellican and Colonel Athelos both loaded and readied their weapons, adjusting their straps so they were handy upon landing…something that was against Imperial regulations: Weapons were to be unloaded and stowed in leg-bags for safety until arrival on the battlefield, IR-670-1. Trooper Davvis seemed to be a natural at soldiering…he followed suit, and prepped his weapon. I felt like doing the same, but didn’t want to do anything different from my comrades, stick out, and be different, so I did nothing.
Colonel Athelos was at the door, and he pulled it open with a twist of the control lever. All loose materials in the aircraft immediately were sucked out the open door, Colonel Athelos, standing in a balanced stance, hands bracing the door, looked out of the vessel and surveyed the area, looking for the landing zone. Sergeant Mellican handed the Colonel a tube of some sort, with a streamer flying from it…and the Colonel tossed it out the door. Raising his night vision optics, the Colonel watched the fall of the streamer. He threw out a few more before nodding back to Sergeant Mellican, who in turn called out “ONE MINUTE” over the vox bead.
Everyone on board shuffled a bit in anticipation. That’s when the first blast impacted the Marauder bomber. The vessel bucked, men were thrown forward when a small part of the tail section was blasted off by a bright explosion of green energy. Sergeant Mellican and the Colonel found their feet. Engines screamed metal on metal screeching and low-tones of metal stress could be heard throughout the cabin, the vessel banked again as the pilots attempted evasive maneuvers. I had an almost overwhelming urge to vomit the rations I ate prior to boarding.
“STAND UP” was the command given, and everyone struggled to get to their feet on both sides of the vessel, amidst the tightly packed troopers.
Colonel Athelos turned to us, and called in to his micro-bead:
“WE ARE GOING IN NOW, THE SHIP WON’T SURVIVE AT THIS ALTITUDE, I WILL SEE YOU ON THE GROUND, DO YOUR DUTY, THE EMPEROR PROTECTS!” and with that, he stepped right out the open door in to the night.
Sergeant Mellican was shouting “GO” to the troops, ushering them out the door. The ship bucked again, a trooper stumbled and fell at the door, Sergeant Mellican caught him, stood him up, checked his gear and tossed him out “GO YOU SLOW LAZY GOOD FOR NOTHING SONS OF WHORES” he bellowed. I couldn’t help but smile at that, Sergeant Mellican was like the father and mother to the Regiment. He was formerly a light infantry trooper who got pulled in to this regiment by the Colonel, who had wanted to give him a commission. Mellican’s only response had been “Sir, I’ll go to your fancy jump regiment, but I’m not taking any fancy officer rank. I’m a grunt sir; my place is among the troops” and so Sergeant Mellican came to this regiment, a decorated veteran of decades of service. Today was supposedly his 45th birthday.
Trooper Davvis, with his striking looks, block chin, good build will likely be a sergeant like him. Of all the Troopers that came from the replacement depot, Davvis has adapted the best. Where I’m average, he’s excellent, where I barely eek through, the sets a new standard. Am I jealous? Maybe a little. But then we are both merely doing our duty for the God-Emperor, and I should strive to do better. The Emperor hates a slovenly soldier. Davvis was a couple guys ahead of me, I could see him help out the other troopers, check their gear…where I had forgotten to in the chaos of the moment. I snapped back to reality.
“YOU HAVE A MALFUNCTION!” I heard from behind me.
“WHAT???” I screamed back.
Trooper Fastig called out again…”YOU HAVE A MALFUNCTION…YOUR STRAPS ARE TWISTED, YOU HAVE TO FIX YOUR STRAPS, ELSE YOU’LL BREAK YOUR FRIKKING NECK IN THE DROP”. I froze, looking back at Fastig, who was a trooper who was regularly in some sort of trouble, busted twice back down to Private-Trooper for insubordination, gambling, fighting, et cetera. His crooked sneer showed only derision. I don’t know why he had taken a dislike to me. I had only been with the unit for a month. He was like that with all the new guys though.
“SHATBAG! WHAT IS YOUR MAJOR MALFUNCTION?” Sergeant Mellican called over, I winced “FASTIG, I’M TALKING AT YOU!” Sergeant Mellican finished.
“IT’S NOT MY MALFUNCTION SARGE, IT’S THIS FRIKKING REPO, HIS KIT IS TWISTED” Fastig called back over the rumbling barrage.
“WELL STEP UP ON THE WEBSEATS, FIX THE MALFUNCTION THEN GET BACK IN LINE!” The sergeant waved on a couple more troops with the requisite “GO” bellowing with each.
I was jerked roughly backwards, up on to the webbing straps that served as seats on the Marauder. I could hear Fastig muttering behind me, nothing clear. A few quick tugs and then time abruptly came to a halt.
I was standing on the web straps, Fastig complaining and adjusting my kit. I saw Sergeant Mellican give a trooper a quick once-over, and give the “GO” command. Next Trooper up was Davvis; he was looking back at me. Good guy I remember thinking. Solid guy. The kind I want in the foxhole next to me. He looked back towards Sergeant Mellican and stood in the door. Mellican gave another quick glance and I saw him open his mouth to shout the expected “GO” when Davvis’ upper half simply vanished in a blue-green flash of super-heated plasma; a hole was blasted in a straight line where Davvis had been across the hull of the Marauder, and out the other side. In a flash, I saw a sleek ship of some unknown sort whiz by the open door and vanish, in a half a heartbeat.
The world twisted on its side. The lower-half of Davvis’ corpse fell out the open hatch. The look of shock briefly played upon the face of Sergeant Mellican, as men screamed and fell aside. For a millisecond I saw Sergeant Mellican grab the next trooper and toss him out the door as he screamed out impotently “EVERYONE OUT NOW”.
The rear of the Marauder buckled and as time began to start again…it simply tore away, Sergeant Mellican tumbling away in to the night. At this time, the rest of us started spilling out of the shattered Marauder. No order was left: the ship was going in to a spin and centrifugal force did the rest. Some men were tossed out in to the night; some like me got hung up on the rigging. Fastig screamed something unintelligible as he hung on to my kit falling towards the sheared off end of the aircraft. I tried to grab him, but he slipped away, his eyes crazy with horror. I saw the world twist and spin, a couple more men dropped from the craft, and then with a snap and crack I too fell in to the night sky.
Free fall. A moment of weightlessness. Floating in space, it almost seems unreal. Even the darting shapes and lines of brilliant energy seemed a fantasy as I tumbled through the air. As my body fell through space, my mind finally caught up to me…I have a malfunction.
I have a malfunction.
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