BEACON #2

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Captain Miriam frowned at Herod- but then she was thrown to the side, and half the platoon with her, as the ship veered to the left. “Shit!” the pilot cried through the intercom. “They’ve got anti-orbital artillery!”

“Since when?!” Miriam disentangled herself from the wall. “First wave didn’t mention that! Ugh- helmets on and prepare to drop!”

Herod complied, pressing a button on the back of her neck to deploy her helmet. It was vaguely reminiscent of a knight’s helm but sleek and modern, with fins behind the temples. Like the rest of the AEGIS, the helmet was the midnight blue with shocking yellow trim of the 119th “Lightning” Legion. With it deployed, her entire body was covered.

The helmet augmented Herod’s sight with 360 degree vision, as well as options to access infrared and UV and several other frequencies, automatic ballistics computation for incoming projectiles, vitals readings and automatic diagnostics, battlefield analysis, targeting guidance, multilateral echolocation, superfine olfactory augmentation, spectrographic chemical composition, automatic imaging based off networked data from other AEGIS’s in the vicinity, and a direct line to the comm systems of every other AEGIS in a certain distance. The sensors in the helmet interfaced with her brain, allowing her to activate any of the hundred-plus gadgets in the suit with a thought.

Herod disliked wearing it: it was a huge amount of information to process and the addition of dozens of new senses was always jarring. It also made her face sweaty. She did however like the satisfying sound of the helmet hydraulically locking into place, its computers interfacing with the ones in the body armor.

The ship rocked again, but this time they were ready. Captain Miriam, now clad in her own helmet and tightly holding onto one of the handles hanging from the roof, spoke through the platoon’s shared communication channel. “Squads 1 and 2 will drop first, going left and right respectively. I’ve already painted the landing ground for you, get as close as you can but remember not to bunch together. Squads 3 and 4, wait for my signal- I’ll drop with 4. Remember not to deploy your retrorockets until you’re 100 meters away, I don’t wanna see any of you floating in the clouds while Romeo takes his time shooting you out of the sky. Capem?”

Capem!

Herod was Squad 2, although she didn’t know the name of anyone else in it. She had arrived just yesterday and hadn’t the opportunity to introduce herself.

The pod doors opened, revealing a sickly yellow sky with long, wispy clouds that reminded her of worms. As the most junior, Herod stood at the back, her right hand on the left shoulder of the pear-shaped private in front of her. The sergeant jumped, then the corporal, then the senior private, then the pear-shaped woman.

Then Herod.

Vibrant sky all around her except below. Down there was nothing but blasted desert and enemies in need of killing. A lumpy, malformed tower stood at the center of the battleground. BEACON legionnaires buzzed the skies or fought on at the tower’s base against tall, serpentine devils.

Herod tucked her head down until it was facing the rapidly-approaching ground, then locked her heels and pressed her arms to her side. No need to deploy her wings until she got lower. “I’ve got the orbital cannon,” cried someone in her earpiece. “It’s mounted on the tower’s side. It’s gonna fire!”

It did indeed, a screaming blue comet burst from the crooked gun and flew past them. There was no time to look back and see what it hit.

There was something eye-catching on the tower’s roof… long, fleshy spears attached to the floor. “Mounted guns,” Herod said, quickly syncing her view with the others so they would see it too. “Aimed at us.”

“Evasive action!” Herod had noticed a moment too late, because the guns were already surging death towards them. A silvery-blue round the size of a basketball came straight at her.

Herod twisted aside, but a second blast collided with the pear-shaped woman. Her Gawain AEGIS absorbed much of the impact, but her right side was still engulfed in smoke and flames. With a curse, the pear-shaped woman deployed her wings and veered to the side for an emergency landing.

Calculations complete,” the ballistics computer said in a discordantly calm woman’s voice. “Please follow these vectors to minimize risk of exposure to mounted gunfire.” Her vision lit up with crimson pathways. Herod selected one, swerving down and to the right, away from the plasma bolts.

“It’s a trap!” a woman from Squad 1 yelled. “We’ve got two down- shit! Three down!”
Herod thought quickly. Squad 1 was down to two girls. “Pull off and let us handle it,” she said. “I’m going to land on the rooftop.”

“Belay that!” the captain yelled. “We’re landing on the ground, not the tower! Stay on course!”

“Ma’am, the Neighbors are mounting a stiff resistance. We’ll be shredded if we continue.”

“What are you going to do about it, private?” Miriam’s voice was sarcastic, but Herod paid her no mind.

“I spot a hole in their coverage ma’am,” said Herod. “Big enough for one at most. Squad 1 is drawing their fire, I can get in through the opening.”

There was indeed a hole. The mounted guns on the rooftop provided excellent cover along the perimeter, but not the air directly over the roof. Someone very stupid could maybe get past the guns and land right in the middle of the enemy encampment.

Fortunately, Herod was very stupid.

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