The briefing room started to fill up, its dark, blue-lit walls blocked out by the black-clad individuals who lined up in front of the soft seats. The last six individuals to enter the room wore white, skin-tight suits with black lining, seemingly out of place; they took up seats at the back of the room, standing with the rest of the assembled persons.
The large screen at the front of the room flickered into life. It was grainy at first, but soon cleared itself up, revealing the face of a young yet scarred man with black hair, a neat goatee beard and a scar across his left cheek.
Everyone in the Federation of Humanity knew his story: a soldier in the FMC, he had been captured by the An’Petari soon after first contact was made. For reasons unknown the An’Petari did not kill him, and instead studied him. When they moved onto dissection he had made his escape, practically digging his way out of the Hive. Somehow he had made contact with the Federation; they had rescued him and subsequently destroyed the Hive.
After that he had made inexplicable progress in his career, reaching the rank of Commander-in-Chief in record time, and retaining that rank for the past decade; thirty was an admirable age for Lieutenant, let alone for Commander-in-Chief…
Eric gazed at the screen in awe. Rex was a role model to him; if he could be even marginally as successful as Rex, then he could die a happy man.
‘Hey, academy-boy,’ one his squadmates, Corporal James Smith, hissed. ‘Are you even listening to the boss?’
‘Shut it, both of you,’ the sergeant, Connor Scott, growled. He mouthed an apology at the screen, in case Rex had caught the exchange; he seemed not to.
‘This is a mission of paramount importance. One-hundred planets under our belt; approaching one hundred star systems…this will mark our place in the universe. We will prove our strength to our Runian allies; we will prove our intelligence to the Loromian; we will prove our unshakeable will to the Dranian,’ Rex announced. ‘And above all, we will have one more world from which to defend ourselves when the An’Petari come to visit.’ Rex was composed as he mentioned his former captors, though the distaste in his voice upon mentioning them was clear to Eric. ‘I commend Gamma Division for accepting this task, and Gamma-13 in particular for taking part.’
‘We weren’t given much choice,’ Andrew Carter, an outspoken, immature Private in the squad, muttered; his helmet further muffled his voice.
‘Shut it,’ Sergeant Scott hissed, glaring at the soldier.
‘I wish the squad luck in their mission,’ Rex continued. ‘I also wish luck to the future inhabitants of A100.2. Now, let’s get down there and make a name for the human race.’
Applause filled the room, Corporal Smith seemingly reluctant to join in; Eric tried to urge him to show some enthusiasm, but Smith blanked him completely.
As the sound of clapping died down Rex saluted the room. The military personnel saluted back, and then the screen went black. There was silence for a moment, and then a couple of people got to their feet – Sergeant Scott and another man who had been sitting at the front – moving to stand at the front of the room.
‘We all know how this is going to work,’ Scott said, addressing the room, ‘but for those of you who have neglected to look through the appropriate files, the mission is as follows: I will be taking the six-man team of Gamma-13 down to the planet. We will scout the planet, identify any threats, and then find an appropriate place for a colony to be established; once the location has been identified we will contact the ship, and the future Governor, Martin Groome here, will bring down the colonisation team.’ Scott broke into a rare smile. ‘It’s all frightfully simple, really.’
‘Thank you, sergeant.’ Groome stepped forward and looked around the room. ‘This next part applies only to the colonisation team…’ He looked to the back of the room, at Squad Gamma-13. ‘So I suggest our military friends get ready for their mission.’
Eric and the squad hesitantly got to their feet; Scott gave them a firm nod and then left the room. Smith shot a sharp, unfriendly look towards Groome, and Eric felt obliged to agree; what was so complicated about colonisation that military “grunts” wouldn’t understand? Surely an academy graduate would…
Once out of the room and into the grey corridor the door slid shut behind them; Carter paused at the door and tried to listen in, but was pulled away by George Gowon, the Lance Corporal.
‘Get away from that door, man!’ Gowon snapped, his dated yet vibrant African accent clearer than crystal. ‘That room is soundproofed, and even if it wasn’t, you have no business trying to overhear.’
‘To be fair,’ chipped in the soft, Hispanic voice of Anita Vasquez, Medical Officer First Class, ‘we shouldn’t be treated as though we know nothing. The future gobernador* treated us like idiots. I have countless qualifications from the Terran Medical Administration, and Private O’Neill has graduated from the Terran Military Academy and has a degree in Sociology.’
Eric was caught off-guard by the use of his surname and swallowed. The use of his surname was not what really grabbed his attention, though, nor was it the fact that Vasquez had been the one to use it; no, it was the fact that his qualifications were being rubbed in the faces of his squadmates. He wasn’t particularly popular amongst them already, with the possible exception of his learned comrade Vasquez, and even then only because they had both gone through advanced education.
‘You looked at my records?’ Eric asked, trying to avoid the subject as best he could, and also unintentionally taking focus off the briefing chamber.
‘I am the Medical Officer,’ Vasquez replied, cheerfully. ‘It’s important that I look through records to identify any issues.’
‘Oh…I see,’ Eric conceded.
‘Hate to interrupt this mother’s meeting, but we should be getting to the armoury,’ Smith snapped. Eric and his squadmates looked towards the dark-eyed, pale-skinned Corporal with some distaste, but followed regardless.
Since joining Squad Gamma-13 a month beforehand Eric had wondered why Smith was Corporal, not the more adept Gowon; Gowon was respected and knew how to treat the men, whilst Smith cared only for himself and his own success.
The thought playing with his mind once again, Eric almost failed to notice the squad reach the armoury. In fact, it was only the “nudge” from Carter as he turned the corner that shook Eric out of his thoughts and into the armoury, above the door of which was written, in blue, neon lettering, “GAMMA”.
Sergeant Scott was already wearing his armour; the skin-tight uniforms were a crucial part of it, laden with circulatory that helped with heat regulation and also connected to the armour to allow for increased comfort and manoeuvrability. Furthermore, the uniform was resistant to gunfire – to an extent – providing some extra protection if the main armour gave way.
The main armour was thick and heavy – hence the need for the uniforms – though did not necessarily restrict movement; it consisted of a breastplate, greaves and arm protection, all of which relayed technical information back to the uniform that, when the helmet was in place – Scott had his helmet in the crook of his arm – would appear on the visor.
As Eric started to pull on his gear from the cubicles marked “13”, he absently stared at the regulation helmets they were required to wear: if nothing else in the galaxy chilled him to the bone – though there was plenty that did – it was the featureless, emotionless, merciless appearance of the helmets; the mouthpiece resembled a metal surgical mask, and the visor was fixed in some kind of frown, the dull blue glow it emanated when on doing little to settle Eric’s nerves.
The fact that Carter never seemed to remove his helmet did little to settle him.
The last piece of equipment to put on was the backpack; it was laden with supplies for the mission, such as food, water, ammunition, medical kits (Vasquez had more medical supplies than ammunition) and a distress beacon. It also served as the means for carrying their weapons: all four of them.
Eric and Carter, as Privates, had no specialist weaponry. Rather, they carried the standard issue Rifle, Pistol, Grenades and Shotgun. Vasquez and Gowon had Sniper Rifles rather than Shotguns, whilst Smith and Scott carried much the same as Eric and Carter, though Eric would not have been surprised if their weaponry was of a higher standard.
‘Tell me Carter,’ Eric said, bringing up a subject that had perplexed him since joining the squad. ‘Why do you always wear your helmet?’
The other members of the squad sighed in response to the question, making their way out of the armoury. Carter simply chuckled and looked towards Eric. ‘Why? Let’s just say I want to keep my brains intact.’ He tapped the side of his helmet and then followed the other members of the squad.
They made their way to one of the many elevators on the ship and squeezed into it; it was quite cramped, and Eric felt himself pushed against Vasquez. He was thankful that he was wearing his helmet, otherwise the rushing of blood to his cheeks would have been noticed by all of his squadmates.
‘You’re flying us down there, Carter,’ Scott said, suddenly and without warning.
‘Wait…what?’ Carter exclaimed, trying to turn in the elevator but failing to do so.
‘You’re the only member of this squad qualified to pilot a dropship,’ Scott explained. ‘And we haven’t been able to…’
‘What? Get a proper pilot of our own?’ Carter interrupted.
‘Don’t forget your place, Private,’ Gowon muttered.
Carter took a deep breath. ‘Sorry, sir.’
‘All of the pilots available have been commissioned to help with the colonisation team,’ Scott replied. ‘So I’m afraid you’re going to have to suck it up and do your job.’
The elevator came to a sudden stop and the squad filed out – Eric was almost relieved – making their way into the hangar bay. It was an immense area, filled with various forms of spacecraft used by the FMC and the FCC (Federation Colonial Corp).
Carter hurried ahead of the squad, in the direction of a large, smooth-edged craft that was sitting, quite comfortably, to the side of the hangar. There were a couple of weapons on the craft, which looked to be effective at destroying…anything.
‘Tell me we’re taking this!’ Carter cried excitedly. ‘The FD-900 is one of the finest dropships available! Surely we’re using this!’
‘No,’ Scott replied, bluntly. ‘We’re taking this one.’ He pointed towards a box-like craft with recessed, panelled windows and a partially detached cockpit. ‘The FD-600.’
Carter turned quite suddenly. ‘The FD-600?’ he snapped. ‘You cannot be serious!’
‘I’m afraid I’m frightfully serious,’ Scott said calmly.
*gobernador = "governor" in Spanish