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Prosperity

July 7, 2013

I wrote this not too long ago, but I just don’t feel like it quite hit the mark.  It’s still interesting and enjoyable though.

 

The red and barren landscape was rushing by below him. A massive plain of dust and rocks, practically featureless given the distance between the ground and himself. Every so often, a large rocky outcropping would jut up from the great emptiness below. They didn’t reach for the great machine flying above them. They merely burst from the ground of their own accord, with their own disinterested agendas.

Shades of red as far as the eye could see.

Even the sky was a vague orange hue on this world.

A radio crackled within his helmet, and a bodiless voice spoke, no inflection, as barren as the land below him, “Control, this is Thunder-3. We’re underway. ETA is… a little over 3 minutes.”

His face turned away from the open door of the troop transport, leaving the empty world behind to look at the people that surrounded him.

They all looked the same.

The armored spacesuits had long ago become standard issue. Big bulky contraptions that rendered all of their wearers, regardless of gender, race, or religion, into rough humanoid shapes. With their oversized torsos and extremities compared to the helmets buried within the suit’s structure, they looked like the inverse of the famous homunculus.

Most of the unit already had the protective outer shell that doubled as a heads up display over their faces. Only one other member of the squad didn’t.

His name could just barely be read through the scratches that covered the metallic chest of the soldier’s armor. Rodriguez. Corporal Rodriguez. He returned the stare for a moment, not quite locking eyes. His pupils landed somewhere in the forehead region. Maybe it was the suit, or maybe it was the haircut beneath it, but Rodriguez looked like the same soldier that had been appearing in news reels, and movies for centuries. Strong jaw line ending in a stone like chin all graced with stubble, nose that was a little broad without being too big, skin tight, and eyes a little too tired for their age. With a simple nod, Rodriguez brought the protective outer shell over the clear face plate, becoming just another part of the unit.

He was alone in the transport again. Left with only the silence of his twin brothers and sisters to keep him company as he gazed upon the massive red expanse they were flying over. He could barely hear the roar of the engine through the hefty armor of the suit. The only thing that was there was the bodiless voice of the pilot.

The pilot was locked away in a separate part of the troop transport. Sealed for his own safety within a pressurized cabin that could launch off like an escape pod in case something happened to the large aircraft. His voice over the radio was the only thing that indicated he was there at all.

“Ninety seconds out. Repeat. Ninety seconds out.”

There was no more hiding from the rest of the unit for him anymore, with a flick of his hand he brought down the outer shell in front of his helmet, and looked out at the world.

No longer was he met with a bland red landscape but a world that was dotted with all manner of colors and symbols. Bright blues, greens, and reds danced before his eyes like a storm of neon. Small charts measuring his vitals, the vitals of people in his squad, his suit’s battery life, his oxygen levels, anything you could possibly think of was scrolling down the left side of his vision, stopping in place only when it detected his gaze lingering.

With the HUD’s activation, he was linked back into the full radio network, a chorus of voices suddenly filling his ears.

“…I hear it’s nice this time of year…”

“…it was supposed to be on my last trip home but then there was that storm.”

“Oh yeah I heard that screwed up furlough for a lot of folks…”

“Alright, everybody, shut the hell up,” one lone grizzled voice cut through the chatter and instantly it ceased.

“Thank you, Sergeant,” came the softer voice of the commanding officer. His tone was simple and professional. It was as if he could talk about war as easily as he could talk about a presentation for a client. “We’ll be above the battlefield in a minute, and at our target in roughly two minutes-thirty seconds. Our objective is to clear a residential unit that is being used by the enemy to shell our positions. We’ll be jumping out, activate landing procedures at one hundred meters. O’Shea you’ll be the first one out the door.”

O’Shea nodded his assent, not even looking at the commanding officer. Instead his gaze had returned to the red and orange landscape outside the transport door. Slowly but surely, patches of green could be seen across it, becoming more and more prevalent as the transport approached their target.

“Thunder-3, this is Control. LZ is hot. Repeat LZ is hot.” The voice on the other side of the radio was simple, mechanical.

“Control, this is Thunder-3, I am under two minutes from target not seeing any Alph-Alpha. Please advise.”

O’Shea could see the town beneath them now. The newer buildings on the outskirts of the settlement had long ago fallen to bombing campaigns and firefights. They would have been shoddier structures, built long after the terraforming had gotten underway. The dense downtown area of the colonial settlement was comprised of buildings that were interconnected with pressurized walkways, and had true airlocks between them and the harsh red world they were embedded into.

“Word from boots on the ground is that LZ is not fit for drop. Abort mission, Thunder-3. Repeat, abort mission.”

“Confirming, Control. Thunder-3 aborting mission.”

The whole transport shifted toward O’Shea’s right, angling downward as the great aircraft began to circle away from their objective. It was hard to spot, but O’Shea caught sight of a large cannon being wheeled out of the shadow of a residential compound. “Ack-Ack!” He suddenly screamed with all of his might, his oversized hand slamming into a panic button above him.

An alarm went off and the transport’s reinforced doors slammed shut just as the cannon exploded with force, launching its projectile into the air.

The blast rocked the transport, sending the unit teetering back and forth in their seats.

“Mayday, mayday, this is Thunder-3, we have been hit. Repeat, we have been hit. Going down. Control, this is Thunder-3, we are going down.”

“Get that door open. We’re dropping now whether we like it or not,” the CO’s voice was calm and clear over the radio.

O’Shea shook his head and took a deep breath as he unbuckled himself from his seat and rose up. The whole transport was spinning as it spiraled toward the ground. Heart rates were up across the board, several flashing in the red as they scrolled by his vision. Gripping onto a roll bar, O’Shea slammed his fist directly into the green button next to the door.

The transport’s side burst open to howling wind and a world that was spinning by at a dangerous speed. The word, ‘JUMP’ flashed across his vision in bright green, and his legs shoved him off of the air craft just as he had been trained to do.

Behind him a dozen more soldiers were doing the same.

An altimeter suddenly filled his vision. Information such as his position, wind speed, temperature, and more began to flash in front of his face, constantly changing as his altimeter continued to plunge downward. At one hundred meters exactly, he activated the landing procedure with a simple hard stare into the display. First, rockets fired off of his boots, pushing his body into a standing position as it raced toward the ground. A massive parachute fired out of his back, blossoming as it snagged him and slowed his descent. Finally, the extra rockets attached to his boots began to fire every few moments, counteracting his speedy descent.

O’Shea hit the ground hard, instantly gripping his carbine from where it had remained attached to his back. All over the street and nearby buildings, the rest of his unit was doing the same, their drop completely scattered by the transport’s erratic fall.

His head turned upward, tracking the falling aircraft as it crashed toward the ground over half a click away. His HUD quickly informed him that the pilot, the ghost voice of Thunder-3, had ejected shortly after the craft had been struck by the anti-air gun.

The suit’s computer was already combining municipal files with any new data it could get its hands on to determine where O’Shea was, and where the objective was. The first thing to light up though was the location of the AA gun. “O’Shea reporting in, landing was normal. Making my way to the anti-aircraft position. Uploading info to unit intranet.” Already the suit was connecting to several military satellites and networks in the region, causing data to continue to pour in.

His legs began pumping as he jogged down the street. The armor made his strides long and powerful, covering blocks in precious seconds. Once again, the red landscape seemed to be racing beneath him as his head was kept stable by the suit. Open windows and doorways were illuminated in red by the suit’s computer, identifying them as likely hiding holes for enemy soldiers. As they lit up, his muscles flexed and his carbine moved to cover them, cycling through the potential targets as he jogged by.

A warning alarm went off and suddenly O’Shea was being sent flying several meters forward. The second he hit the ground, his massive suit twisted. Leading with his gun, he scanned the street behind him for his attacker. Above him, atop one of the residential compounds, there was a handful of men in patched up suits. One held a long tube that could have fired the missile. The others opened fire with their outdated but reliable guns filling the thin atmosphere with a loud brat-brat-brat.

Red dust exploded around O’Shea as he got to his feet and began to return fire. His carbine fired in smooth, pressurized bursts, barely pressing against his heavily padded shoulder as he moved closer, trying to get a bead on the men above him.

Another warning flashed across his screen, and another explosion sent him flying.

This time they had poked the tube out of an airlock.

Now rebels were pouring out of it, the men on the roof providing cover fire. The rebels ducked into alleyways, dove behind the burning husks of old trucks, and flipped over public trash cans for cover.

O’Shea stood in the center of the street, fully exposed to nearly all of his attackers.

It was the exact sort of ambush the insurgents were becoming well known for. Tactics meant to take advantage of their numbers and lack of training. Tactics that were, in O’Shea’s opinion, cowardly. Instantly they began firing, most of their bullets going wide or pinging against O’Shea’s heavily protected chest, back, and shoulders. They bobbed up and out from their cover, pausing just long enough to release a burst before falling beneath it again like a rabbit in tall grass. A few of them didn’t even look where they were shooting, merely lifting their gun up and spraying bullets into the air. The suit’s computer took in the locations of the targets, and began to highlight them.

O’Shea counted the rhythm of their attacks while taking even, measured breaths. “One… two… three… four,” on the last number O’Shea snapped and turned, opening fire on the rebel to his right who was peaking out from behind a charred truck chassis. From there it was a snap of his arms, and a quick step. One burst into the center mass was enough to put the enemies down.

By the fifth man, the rhythm was lost because the rebels began to panic.

O’Shea burst into a quick sprint, and jumped, clearing the trash can one rebel was hiding behind with several meters to spare. Turning on heel, he lifted his left arm and clenched his fist. A double barreled shotgun exploded from his forearm, and sprayed buckshot into the insurgent. The man’s suit was torn to pieces, and blood slowly began seeping into the patched fabric.

There was a loud crumpling noise and suddenly O’Shea let out a scream before falling to the ground. Rolling over onto his back, he saw another rebel. Like the others he wore a patched and jury-rigged suit, but over the torso he had an exoskeleton. It was the same sort of models worn by construction workers or longshoreman for carrying heavy loads. In his hands was a sledgehammer.

He heaved it high over his head and brought it down on O’Shea’s other knee with blinding speed. The soldier screamed, and heaved his gun up to his assailant, slamming his finger down on the trigger. The rebel back pedaled away, a bullet winging his shoulder, and another hitting a metallic part of his helmet.

Bullets began to rain down around O’Shea. While many of them continued to ping against his armor, some were now striking more vulnerable parts of the suit’s structure. Equipment failure messages were flashing across his screen, and then another warning flashed.

An explosion erupted across his chest, and the HUD died instantly. His helmet was cracked in various places, painting the orange sky above him with a series of white lines. It almost reminded him of the clouds back home. The construction worker-turned rebel walked into his vision once more, the sledgehammer high above his head.


#

 

A surprisingly violent shake broke Paolo from the newscast he was watching. He looked up and found himself eye to eye with an angry looking middle aged woman. Her dull blue eyes narrowed, causing the skin about them to wrinkle. Her mouth opened wide and he could see her lips starting to form words.

With a twist of his thumb, Paolo quieted the news anchor, a grave man in a suit who was droning on about the continued fighting outside of Prosperity on the Martian colony. “Excuse me?” He asked the fuming woman, now that he could hear the world around him.

“I said that I would appreciate it if you didn’t watch something so violent while my son is sitting next to you.” The well-dressed woman gestured to the young boy seated between them, his eyes wandering around the train car, essentially looking anywhere but Paolo’s phone.

“Ma’am, it’s just the news.”

“Well, I personally disagree with the way they’re reporting about this… uprising on Mars. It’s too violent and I personally don’t want my young son to be exposed to such things.”

“Whatever, lady.” She continued to stare at him with disapproval until he heaved a sigh, and twisted the thin plane of glass in his hand. “OK,” with another flick of his thumb, Paolo switched out of the news program and connected to a music station. Twisting the small blue dial in the corner of the screen, he let pleasant instrumental music flow over him.

The woman next to him huffed, not even bothering to thank him for complying with her ridiculous request. Instead, she opened up her purse, and pulled out her own hand held device. Paolo watched out of the corner of his eye as she opened up a news feed, and began cycling through articles. Most of them about the fighting around Prosperity.

Paolo rolled his eyes as the train once more began moving along the track.

Twisting his thumb against the dial once more, Paolo let himself become lost in the music as the dark tunnel the train was in was replaced with the vastness of space. Suspended on a single track, the train sped away along the exterior of the massive L-5 Station, man’s first and largest space colony. In the black star-studded sea that surrounded them, Paolo watched the ships floating by.

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