Here’s a little something I wrote up to try to get published in one of the online scifi mags. It didn’t work. Though Tim Rodriguez over at Brooklyn Indie Games was kind enough to print a couple of my stories in his Pendragon Zine. If you don’t know Tim, you should check him out. He’s a brilliant game designer and game master and some of my best memories from various Fear the Cons include him. He was also kind enough to give me my first paid writing gig, creating scenarios for his awesome OmegaZone game.
Go to http://brooklynindiegames.com/ now and check him out..then come back and read this.
Colonel Murphy would never admit it to anyone but he found the lightshow created by a Orbital Insertion Pod drop beautiful. Even in the light of day, the pods left bright lines sweeping across the sky as the pods entered the atmosphere and the heat created by that entry converted to light.
He kept the pleasure he felt at seeing that beauty tightly contained, his face displaying no emotion. Joy was not an expression an officer of the Colonial Military should display while on duty. A few of the other observers were new to this and he even managed to hide his disdain as they flinched at the booms that occurred as the pods finished their plummets and struck the planet closer to the spectator bunker. Even with the braking jets and parachutes the impacts were fierce and more than one entrenched location had been destroyed by that collision even before the trooper contained within stepped out of the pod.
It was not too long after the streaks stopped lighting up the sky that the first of those troopers wandered into the rally zone. Half of them had a haunted look about their eyes and flinched at every noise and slightest motion around them. The other half were just as wide eyed and keyed up but had the frenetic expression of a satisfied daredevil about them. Every one of them was shaky and not a few of them stumbled as they entered the rally zone.
Murphy had seen enough of these training exercises that he no longer bothered being furious and offended that not a single one of them entered the area correctly. In fact, a shocking number of them did not have their weapons. None of them came in with their weapons up. Many of them jogged into the area instead of with the careful steps of a person expecting combat.
Only one out every handful of first drops had a person who remembered their combat training after the pods hit the ground. For that matter, he was not proud of the fact and was happy that no one knew that he had stumbled into the rally spot completely unarmed during his own egg drop. After all, it was a mental shock to everyone to be shot out of a dreadnought’s missile tube and into the upper atmosphere of a planet with nothing more than a few inches of carbon tube plating and heat resistant panels between a person and being incinerated in a fiery death.
Of course, most of the pods were insulated well enough that the occupants did not feel that heat. Those that did not have the appropriate insulation were repaired or retired long before it became and issue and less than one percent of troopers were cooked inside that high tech shell.
What was far more distressing to the average occupant of one of the pods were the motions they were subjected to. The atmosphere was not one homogenous thing but rather a swirling mass of ever moving gasses that were thicker and thinner at different points. Passing through it at faster than the speed of sound translated to a bone rattling, brain jarring ride that, even with being securely strapped in and pumped full of anti-motion sickness drugs often left a would be trooper vomiting violently on the way down or after he hit the ground. Those candidates washed out before they could wash up.
And there was a reason why Orbital Insertion Pods were often called the most expensive coffins in the galaxy. The interior space was uncomfortably small and tight, the occupant strapped in tightly so that the turbulence would not fling a hand, foot, or limb against one of the hard interior surfaces and leave the trooper with a broken finger or toe that would hinder his combat capabilities.
Add to that the fact that the interiors were dark as often and not. There were dim lights in the pod, but they often failed due to the rigors the pod undertook. Not a few potential troopers were left gibbering or shrieking idiots because of the extremely claustrophobic 15 minutes or so that it took a pod to fall through the atmosphere. And, the anti-nausea medication was the only thing they got. Early in the program, troopers had also been giving anti-anxiety drugs, but it was quickly determined that their combat effectiveness was reduced by the calm that the drugs imposed on the people under their influence.
The mere fact that the men gathered below were psychologically and physically tough enough to climb out of their pods and make their way to the rally point meant they were a rarity. The fact that they were also the best members of the various armed forces meant that it would not take their trainers long to hammer their combat training back into them until they were even better at being assault combatants than they were before they became drop troopers. They were not the best of the best yet, but it was Murphy and his fellow trainers’ job to ensure they would be soon enough.
And that was why the egg drop came so early in Orbital Insertion Pod training. Being elite didn’t mean a thing if a soldier could not successfully undergo the rigors of a drop. These men had only been here a week, just long enough for the trainers to make sure that they were actually good enough combatants to deserve the chance of becoming drop troopers and for them to learn the basics of the drop pods. Not a few of the men washed up before ever getting into a pod and it would be a waste to bother with any more training for those left if they could not perform a successful drop.
Some people thought it was called an “egg drop” because of the rounded teardrop shape of the pods. But all of the trainers were drop troopers themselves. They had as much faith in the pods as they did any piece of technology they used and little fear they would fail. In fact, the pods were more reliable than a lot of the other hardware the military was expected to depend upon. No, this inaugural landing was called an egg drop because they were seeing if the men inside those pods were going to crack.
Five minutes after the last candidate entered the rally point and that meant that it was time for them to go pick up the stragglers. Invariably, some of the potential troopers got lost or injured or trapped in their pods and very rarely, one died. Murphy’s stomach clenched as he noticed that Cragger was one of those stragglers.
The colonel could not remember the last time he’d seen a more promising candidate. Drop trooper trainers got too much tail to have anything left over to waste on a wet dream but if they did have them, Cragger would be one.
The man wasn’t the biggest of this group of candidates, but he was one of the strongest and was definitely the toughest. He’d let out not the smallest complaint about any of the rigorous training exercises the group had been put through and not a few of the men who were considered elite members of their military branches had fainted, quit or even broken down weeping from the physical and mental strain.
Cragger was one of the better marksmen and was easily the best hand to hand combatant. He’d demonstrated a savage efficiency when it came to injuring and killing his opponents. He was no mindless brute, though and while he was also no master strategist, his grasp of personal and small unit tactics was impressive.
Putting it in simplest terms, Cragger was a born soldier, a weapon r created by the hand of God and gifted to the Colonial Military to smite their enemies.
It would be just Murphy’s luck for the man to get a bad drop pod end up a scattered collection of vaporized molecules because of failed heat shielding or a smear across the countryside because of malfunctioning braking jets or parachutes. Hoping against all evidence that there was nothing wrong, the Colonel mounted up on the half track command vehicle waiting nearby with one of the other trainers and took a seat as the remaining trainers addressed the men who’d gathered in the rally zone below.
Of course, the fact that they all expected the men to come staggering into the rally point shell-shocked did not mean that they let it go. The lovely sounds of a sound dressing down filled Murphy’s ears as the private at the controls started the vehicle and they were soon humming along over the irregular countryside. Another private monitored the electronics that were in contact with the telemetry from the various pods. A multi-wheeled mini MASH unit followed in their wake, ready to provide first aid to any of the drop troopers who needed it.
Each of the Orbital Insertion Pods used during a training drop had a radio beacon in it. During a real insertion, there were almost no electronics in the pods. It reduced the chance of the enemy tracking the incoming pods and made it difficult to find them once they hit the ground. While it was hard to hide the pyrotechnics involved in a drop, it was almost impossible to hit one of the pods without electronic aid given how small they were and how fast they were moving.
It did not hurt the impressive psychological impact a drop had when the people it was being perpetrated on realized they could do little to stop it. After all, there was something inherently intimidating about facing a soldier who was willing to be dropped from orbit.
For a training drop, though, the beacons installed in every pod indicated where they were, whether or not it had opened, and any damage it had suffered in the drop. The satellite uplink between the hardware in the halftrack and the GPS sensors on the trainee’s uniforms also indicated whether or not the trooper assigned to any particular pod had made it to the rally point.
Murphy cast a glance over at the display, noting another of the little red numbers that corresponded to one of the troopers turn from red to green as the person arrived at the rally point. He was disappointed when he realized it was not Cragger’s number but rather belonged to one of the three women who’d made it this far. He wasn’t disappointed it was a woman, in fact McCoy was one of his best candidates. He was simply hoping that Craggers would show up at the rally point on his own power instead of them being forced to pry him out of his pod.
The small convoy worked their way out from the rally point to the closest pods that belonged to the individuals who had not made it, yet. The first pod they found had not opened at all, a malfunction keeping the door from unsealing.
The trooper inside showed impressive self control as one of the privates and a drill sergeant sprang the external, manual releases. His eyes were wide and starting but his cries for help were relatively controlled and followed the strictures given to them for just such emergencies. He simply repeated his name and the nature of his emergency. Those cries were pretty pointless, as the pods were all but sound proof, but it gave the troopers a way to counteract the helpless fear that would shake even the sturdiest of men and women when they realized they were trapped in a metal box. What they did didn’t help but at least it was something to do and had the weight of their trainers’ authority behind it.
The medics gave the man a cursory examination, quickly determining that there were no broken bones or damaged organs. The young man weathered his misfortune with such aplomb that he was able to ride in the open bed of the half-track instead of the MASH unit as they set out for the next pod. Murphy made a mental note to keep tabs on that one. A man who could keep his cool in an emergency like that was worth watching.
The next man was not quite so calm. The hatch of his pod had opened but the restraints had not released. He was thrashing wildly and howling, his face twisted with an animal fear. It was pointless, of course. Those restraints were essentially unbreakable. He would never get himself free. Much to his disgust, Murphy could see big, fat tears rolling down the man’s face.
That was not as bad as the next man. He had proved that his restraints actually weren’t unbreakable. Sometime during the descent they had failed. He was thankfully unconscious, knocked out from the pounding he took by being thrown around inside the pod. Murphy overheard the paramedics as they loaded him up in their MASH unit. Apparently, most of his bones were broken and he had a concussion.
The next pod was empty but the trooper was not at the rally point. The private altered the search parameters on his scanners and they found his GPS moving away from them.
To his credit, the candidate continued to jog, only casting a glance over his shoulder at them as they approached. Even when the half track drew up next to him, he kept his eyes forward and continued to jog.
“Goddammit, Tennyson, are you some kind of goddamn moron? The goddamn rally point is back that way,” Murphy shouted as he leaned out of the open side of the vehicle and jerked his thumb back the way they’d come.
“Sir! Yes, Sir!” Tennyson replied, gasping for breath. He turned smoothly and headed back in the correct direction.
Murphy got a little nervous as he realized that the last unopen pod was Cragger’s.
He grew more nervous as he noticed that the pod had not opened. They were supposed to spring open within moments after sensing impact but even if that mechanism did not work, there were internal manual fail safes. Either those had also malfunctioned or Cragger had been incapable of triggering them for some reason, whether physical or mental.
Murphy, in a very out of character gesture, approached the pod himself when they pulled up to it. He helped one of the privates trigger the outside locks.
Even as the pod opened like an enormous, strange flower, the colonel knew why Cragger had not made it to the rally point and was filled with disappointment.
The smell of vomit, urine and feces almost gagged him, telling him immediately that the man inside had lost control of his bodily functions.
The whimpers that came from the inside of the pod as light came into it told Murphy why he had lost control and he found himself surprisingly disappointed.
As the pod fully opened, Cragger’s whimpers turned into hoarse, terrified, maddened screams. His eyes were wide and goggling, rolling in their sockets wildly without seeing anything they passed over.
“Godammit,” Murphy muttered. Cool, calm and dangerous as Cragger might be with blood on his hands and bullets whipping past his head on the ground, it was obvious that the combination of tight space, radical motion and helplessness inherent in being a drop trooper was beyond his ability to cope.
“Get him out of there and off my training grounds,” the colonel growled in disgust, turning his back on the man in disappointment and stalking back to the halftrack.