Being out of contact with Earth while in space was nerve wracking. All the doomsday and horrible scenarios ran through ones head. None of the men had close family, but that didn't keep them from thinking about ex-girlfriends or their buddies left behind. With only a few feet of space above them they did what little exercise could be done in the micro-gravity environment.
The restroom was the size of a casket. Everyone was going there as little as possible and since all they had to eat was Noration and Vita-Water to drink, they didn't need to take a dump as often. To urinate one needed to roll to ones side, back to everyone else (as if modesty was important in this) open the several layered fly in the pressure suit and then stick the business in a suction cup. Not dignified at all.
Lt. Jackson even threatened to just let the piss fly. Although everyone laughed it off, Lowery was wondering how much of that was serious. This was a craft made mostly for orbital missions although it could reach the moon if necessary. Getting to Nemesis was not any more technologically challenging, it just took longer. Kim Lu-Hyun doubted the vessel had enough air for a return mission anyway.
Eventually pushing oneself down into the bedding with arms or feet on the “ceiling” started to seem very pointless. Bone or muscle density loss on such a short trip was very unlikely, but sitting still in a confine space was not to their liking. None of them were tankers or pilots. Lieutenant Jackson had done some diving from a submarine during Marine tactical insertion training, but he never claimed to be a SEAL.
Meanwhile the reddish world grew bigger in front of them. As they got closer it took on more brown and some wispy clouds were evident.
“The ice is melting and the clouds are coming back.” Kim Lu-Hyun said, “As the oceans thaw, they'll eventually become more blue. In the long term that world could become Earth-like, but I suppose the aliens are out of patience.”
“Are they really not going to stop us?” Sgt Gore asked.
Maybe it really was like the Doolittle raid against Japan. The Japanese really thought it could never happen, that their homeland was impervious. These aliens might think that humans were no real offensive threat to them. They had ignored probes and satellites, but the XSR-75 was a bit bigger than those.
“If they ignore us, they get what they deserve.” Senior Lieutenant Kerensky added, “They have some great technology while lacking in other areas. Except for the robot swarms, I do not see how they would have won. Although I would dread to see what the next might be.”
“Why didn't we just send nukes to Nemesis?” Gore asked.
“It would take weeks to prepare another stage for existing ICBM's and to reprogram them.” Lt Lowery answered.
The Sergeant shook his head. “I mean, they had this ship and rocket ready. Why not just the nukes there without sending us?”
“Oh, now you ask!” Lt. Jackson said, then laughed.
Lowery shook his head, “A random attack that hit nothing important would not make the right statement, would it?”
Lance Corporal James Arlen tapped a few symbols on the flat screen above him. “Looks like we will be in Nemesis orbit within a few hours.”
“Finally.” Gore grumbled. “We're starting to stink.”
“Then the computer will try to present the best options for our mission. Although Senior Lieutenant Kerensky has already found a good one.” Lowery explained. “The top of the plateau is large enough that we might be able to land there. If the city is underneath it, all the better for us.”
Nobody really thought it would be that easy. The original plan had called for several of these missions, but Lowery doubted there was another ship prepared. If the swarms were not stopped somehow, he feared for humanity's survival. The good news, at least at the time they left, was that the aliens had not put much into air power. Probably not a shock if they had lived underground for millennium, as seems likely.
“We are being captured by the planets gravity. I guess that makes it official.” Kerensky said, “Soon the vessel will make a small adjustment burn and we will be in orbit.”
Everyone was quiet for a while. Then the view outside changed as the ship turned itself around, and they could see Earth in the distance and the moon was a tiny light.
“Oorah!” Jackson and Gore shouted at the same time. They reached out to slap their fists together since they were closest, “Right on, brother. That's what we fighting for!”
If entering the alien world went wrong, this would be their last look at Earth. Royal Marine Lieutenant Peter Lowery hadn't expected the swelling emotion in his chest and eyes at this sight. He fought to keep a stiff upper lip, as the old saying went. Kim Lu-Hyun had closed in eyes out of reverence, biting his bottom lip. The Russian Senior Lieutenant stared at it, calmly studying it as if to commit it to memory. The Lance Corporal wiped his eyes.
When the ship turned back around Nemesis loomed large on side of their field of view.
“I have programmed a course for the plateau where the alien city is likely. It was also a launch point for many of the enemy vessels, so it is of military value.” Senior Lieutenant Igor Kerensky said, “I know how important it is for the human conscious to not be slaughtering civilians. As long as there is some military value, we can feel good about this.”
After a long pause Lance Corporal Arlen said, “I think that was supposed to be humor.”
“Yes, we Russians make the Germans look loosey goosey I guess.” The Russian joked.
If they were able to set down properly they would have to crawl to the stowage lockers and get their packs one by one and then exit the ship the same way. The Senior Lieutenant determined that Lt Jackson should exit first to provide cover in case of attack. Then Kim Lu-Hyun who would send several small drones aloft to scout the area. Then Sgt Gore and then the rest would follow in no particular order.
“Sounds fair. Two brothers getting to step on an alien planet before the first white guy almost makes up for Apollo.” Jackson joked.
“If there had been killer aliens on the moon, they would have sent some brothers.” Sgt Gore added.
Kim Lu-Hyun hook his head, “As always everyone forgets the Asian guy.”
“That's because you studied math all the way here.”
“Stereotypes.” Lu-Hyun said, pretending to be offended, “I guess the Astro-Dynamic interplay between spatial bodies probably did look like math.”
“I feel offended.” Sgt Gore joked. “I don't even know what he said.”
Finally the joking was over. “Everybody strap yourselves down, tight!” Kerensky ordered. “De-orbit burn in one minute.”
“I'm strapping in. I think you take this Senior Lieutenant thing a bit too seriously though, old chap.” Lowery said, pulling the straps as taught as he could.
Suddenly the craft shifted again and out the viewports was just space and stars. Suddenly the vibrations and the noise of the engines being fired shook them. The burn felt like it took forever, but it was really a little over a minute. Suddenly they could feel the ship starting to fall towards the planet below.
“Here we go.” James Arlen said.
“Where no one has gone before.” Lowery added, “I've always wanted to say that.”
The others groaned at that. Then the ship buffeted and shook as the atmosphere was met. They could soon see the result of this friction as a glowing red emanated from one side of the ship. It occurred to Lowery that some of them would be upside down when they landed, but he didn't remember where the winglets were or the hatch for the large para-glider wing.
Soon the front of the ship was a fiery red, the noise and vibration was too much for anyone to hear anything. Through the viewports they could only see the fire of the ablative shielding burning off. Lowery could tell by this which way was down, it looked like Sgt Gore would be facing down while Jackson would be that the eight o'clock position.
After several minutes, the fire cooking their ship ended. They could see the ground again and all the red and brown. A dead, thawing world that could someday be a lot like Earth, if it stuck around. The ship glided on the little stubby wings as the vessel slowed down in the thicker atmosphere.
“So, why was I never told I would have to see this upside down?” Gore asked.
Then they heard the noise of the large wing-shaped parachute being deployed and they felt the gravity when it filled the air and slowed down their descent. Now the computer could use the guide wires to the parachute to guide them toward the plateau.
Lowery saw the plateau in the distance, then he used the flat screen to zoom in on the dark areas. “Those cave-like areas are actually giant doors. They must move the rockets out of those. That means this plateau is far, far larger and taller than I ever expected.”
Kim Lu-Hyun tapped a few keys. “If the air is thinner, that means we'll need more room to land. We might be going too fast to stop in time.”
Senior Lieutenant Igor Kerensky was now furiously tapping away at his own terminal. “I think we can compensate for that. I don't think it's so high that we won't stop. Of course, this isn't Earth and this is all based on satellite data.”
“It's as big as New York City. If we slide off the side of that, it won't be pretty.” Lowery said, “Even with the chute, we'd probably crash into the side on the way down. Or we'd drift so far that it will take a long time to reach the target.”
“I hope someone remembered to pack the ammunition.” Jackson said.
“And the aspirins.” Gore added, from his upside down position. “If I get back to Earth, I am punching the person who designed this.”
“No aircraft at all. No radar signals. Nothing to indicate they ever thought about an aerial incursion.” Lt Kim Lu-Hyun said, checking his readings. They have spent thousands of years underground, perfecting some technologies while others were totally undeveloped. It was never necessary for them to have an air force or aircraft when the surface was deadly cold.
They could hear little from outside except the whistling air and the shudder of the giant parachute above them. Even though it looked to the eye as if they would miss the plateau completely, Kerensky and the computer assured them of a good glide-slope. Soon the desert-looking surface was rushing up at them and the landing struts on the ship extended.
“Brace for impact!” The Senior Lieutenant ordered them just before the ship first touched the ground and bounced up into the air. They were now heading straight and it looked like a landing aircraft, but they were moving fast. “Deploying auxiliary drag chute.”
This was a smaller round chute on the rear of the XSR-75 next to the rocket engines. It helped to slow their forward momentum. Soon enough the struts were hitting the ground more often and not bouncing as much. Finally, the hip slowed down and then stopped.
“All stop. We have arrived.” The Russian told them.
Lt Jackson unstrapped himself and found himself looking up at the stowage lockers and the hatch. Then he noticed that the hand holds could be used to climb up there.
The hatch opened. Lt Max “Action” Jackson poked his head out with his 50 caliber machine gun and scanned the area and the horizon. Then he reached inside and slapped a button and a big slide inflated from the hatch to the ground below. He stood on the hatch and then let himself fall to the inflated slide.
When he reached the bottom he turned in a complete circle. He saw nothing at all. Then he aw Kim Lu-Hyun poke his helmeted head out of the hatch and then reach toward the sky with both hands and four tiny drones lifted into the sky and then each went in a different direction. Then the Korean soldier slid down and joined the Marine.
Sgt Frank Gore joined them next. He didn't look too happy but he reached down and picked up a handful of the dirt and let the wind carry it away when he dropped it. “This freeze-dried planet came with a surprise and it wasn't a toy.”
Soon they all reached the ground carrying their gear. Kerensky and Lowery carried the two parts of the nuclear weapon. Both parts were pretty heavy, so they carried modified 50 cal rifles, like a sniper rifle but with shorter barrels and a bigger magazine. Kim Lu-Hyun would sling his gun and carry the M-32 grenade launcher. Lance Corporal Arlen had his own modified sniper weapon, but it was in the opposition direction than the ones carried by Lowery and the Russian.
“Now we need to get inside the plateau.” Igor told them.
“Whoa. Hang on, what?” Jackson asked. “We can't set it off up here?”
The Senior Lieutenant and Lowery both shook their heads. “No, that would cause very little damage to the underground city. It needs to be set off inside.” The Russian explained.
“We'll need to find a hatch or an air shaft or something.” Lowery said, looking at the Korean who seemed to be lost in space. He was looking at the drone feeds.
“I think we might have an air shaft two kilometers south.” Kim Lu-Hyun said.
“Time to march!” Jackson yelled.
“Oorah!” Gore, Arlen and the others shouted back, US Marine or not.
Go To Chapter Five
Go To Chapter Five
Ongoing story, I will be adding more parts. Please consider a small contribution through PayPal on the sidebar or buying a copy of New Arrivals or Oasis. It will help me out tremendously.