The dropship roiled and shook like it was moments away from tearing apart. Herod was told that this was normal.
She sat calmly in the dark, narrow pod, her shoulders pressed against the girls sitting next to her. There was precious little talking, probably because nobody could hear a thing over the incessant blare of a shrill siren. The noise made Herod angry enough to kill someone- which she supposed was the point..
Every so often, a cool woman’s voice would interrupt the roils with a time update. “Eight minutes to orbital entry. Seven minutes to orbital entry. Six minutes to orbital entry.” Herod could also have done without that.
About one minute after “one minute to orbital entry,” the rattling stopped and was replaced with a low whistling noise.
Captain Miriam, whose hair was the color of sapphires and had lips and cheekbones much too fine for the front lines, stood up. She was clad in the same armor that Herod wore, the Mark XIV Gawain Armored Exoskeleton Guided & Integrated Systems (AEGIS). The captain opted for the telescoping rifle and elbow-mounted grenade launcher over the improved pneumatic blade that Herod used. “Listen up,” she said, her voice a little too loud. “This isn’t a debutante ball, so get ready for a deep and heavy landing. I don’t want anyone pissing her panties out there, I wanna see stiff lips and firm backs. Capem?”
“Capem!” There were over twenty women in the craft, so Herod figured she could get away with just mouthing the words.
“Good. We’re second wave, first wave has already landed and gotten their stupid asses pinned by enemy fire. Our job is to take the pressure off ‘em. Carve our way into the landing ground, split Romeo’s attention, and leave it to the third wave to break ’em. Yes, Sergeant Asiya?”
A lanky and bug-eyed woman near the front of the dropship had her hand up. “What’s the biome of this planet?” she asked.
“Biome? It ain’t a pond behind grandma’s house! Kra-ki-wa’s an Earth-sized planet with rivers and deserts and mountains and swamps and oceans and salt flats. It’s got everything Mama Earth has, except instead of people, it’s got awful lizard folk.” Miriam grunted. “As for our landing, it’s in the red desert zone. Chain of fortresses built atop of a major rock formation. A defensive tower and a small citadel around it. The job for today’s to take it!”
“The fleet bombed the hell out of this place,” complained the bug-eyed sergeant. “But it sounds like all they did was muss the Neighbors’ hair and give them a warm kiss.”
“Yeah, fucked up ain’t it?” Miriam grinned darkly. “Bombardment concentrated their forces into this citadel, where their shields protected them. We can’t proceed until we’ve cleaned the place out, unless we want Romeo nibbling at our asses for the rest of our stay. Sergeant Yocheved, something to add?”
“Real quick, captain,” said another woman, this one squat and big-hipped. “How much resistance should we expect? I got a sweetie at home.”
“Tell your sweetie to keep the bed warm for you, because I don’t expect much. Eyes forward, stick to the book, and things oughta be fine.” The captain raised her eyes. “I see a few new faces here. Hopefully they’re not sending Proving Ground-fresh hatchlings into heavy combat and you all have some field experience. Raise your hand if you don’t.”
Slowly, Herod raised her hand. Nobody else did. “What’s the story, morning glory?” Miriam asked her.
Herod made eye contact. “This legionnaire has never been in a dropship outside of a sim before, ma’am,” she said.
“What’s your name again?”
“Private Herod Makkaba, ma’am.”
“And what is your green-as-goose-shit ass doing on my ship?”
“Participating in a landing, ma’am.”
“Princepa First Class Sethur, ma’am.”
Miriam stiffened her back. The princepa was so high above her rank that Herod may as well have been attached to her platoon by God. “You funning me, private?”
“No ma’am. I have ample simulation experience, ma’am.” Herod ignored the chortles of the more experienced girls. “And I come highly rated, ma’am. You won’t have any complaints, ma’am.”
“Fucking… just one ma’am would be enough. The last thing I need after Ambys is some goody-goody who thinks good written exam scores means good soldiering attached to my platoon.”
Herod glowered. Nothing the captain had said about her was remotely true. She had done poorly on all her writtens, she wasn’t fresh, and she certainly wasn’t a “goody-goody”. But there was no need to be confrontational either. “There’s no need for concern,” she said through gritted teeth. “I promise I won’t disappoint you… ma’am.”