Erica pawed at her medikit, checking the contents and trying desperately to remember everything she’d learnt in her week in the infirmary. Following a disastrous drop and the loss of one of her team, she had taken a crash course in first aid to better support her unit. For a moment, as the drop ship jumped and rattled to the LZ, she filled her mind with all the new info she’d learnt rather than the memory of the Thorakitae’s sword that had punched a hole in her shoulder. The nerves, however, she couldn’t stop.
Nav-screens began blinking with potential drop sites, each one displaying the current military status of individual combatants. As the field medic, it was her job to look out for wounded, but as a Hellcat she was also tasked with supporting her fellow troopers who were famed for dropping into the thick of things. For a moment, she scanned her team mates, suppressing the pang she felt when she didn’t see Hermanos among them.
Sergeant Raptor calibrated his hacking device while synching it with the battlefield analysis system, his face a cold mask as he sought the best possible outcome. Big Bird loaded shells into his shotgun, and rubbed absently at his face; the scar running across his cheek was puckered and flared; a fresh mark of battle earned in the Serin Recon failure. Lastly, Phoenix checked his ammunition and loaded a magazine into his heavy machine gun, gritting his teeth as they prepared to drop. Erica slowly exhaled and promised herself that she wouldn’t lose any friends this time.
The dropship jolted hard, spilling Big Bird into the footwell, as anti-aircraft fire began popping around them. Raptor stopped, focused intently on his view screen, and tapped something into his device, before turning to the others. As he spoke, his voice seemed to lack the confident tone it usually did.
“Below us is an isolation lab surrounded by support facilities. We’ve been tasked to find and bring in one Emanuel Hawkins, a supposed merchant trader who moonlights as a high level informant for a local cartel. We’re to bring him in and make it clear to him that he steers clear of the area. I want us to drop in, grab him and get out; no need for a firefight today if we can avoid it.”
“Aye sir,” chimed the Hellcats, locking and loading weapons and moving to position by the dropship doors. Erica gulped down her fears and tried not to pay attention to the tingling sensation in her shoulder.
The display screens chimed an alert. Raptor raised a hand to stop the team and listened to the update. Erica counted silently, working out how far past the drop zone they were moving. Part of her secretly hoped that they were no longer needed. As she felt the dropship lurch and change course for re-entry, her stomach sank.
“Shit,” Raptor began, “Ghulam troops just murdered the informant and are closing in on our sniper’s position. Yuan Yuan mercs have downed his spotter and are closing in. Our mission objectives have now changed.” Ice flowed through her veins as he looked at her. “Hawk, you take Big Bird and Phoenix to support the sniper and evac his spotter. I’m going to drop a comms-beacon to intercept their cyber-traffic. Ready for drop in sixteen seconds, team. Good luck.”
With grim determination, he moved away to secure a beacon to take with him. For a moment, Erica suppressed her fears for his safety and focused on the mission. Her first experience as a field medic would be in the heat of engagement; she had to be ready. Big Bird and Phoenix moved to the doors and activated their drop-chutes. Big Bird shot her a look and a knowing nod before settling his visor into place.
The door slid open, revealing a white expanse of snow blanketed land with dotted patches of muddy rock-scape. In the distance, the outpost quickly moved toward them, with flashes of small-arms fire lighting up the hab-pods and walkways like eerie firework displays. Big Bird counted down, then threw himself out, closely followed by Phoenix. Erica launched herself shortly after.
During that first brief moment of weightlessness, Erica adjusted her descent to try and land as squarely as possible. As the ground hurtled towards her, triangulation statistics began to appear in her support system, supplied by the EVO unit “Crucible”. Smiling, Erica followed the projected trajectory, heading for the rooftop of a large hab-pod, it’s fresh grey walls spattered with mud and blood. There were seconds before impact, but every single one counted; she made note of five men circling the building and another advancing across the roof to their sniper’s position; Though she couldn’t visibly see him, her HUD indicated his presence. Lastly, she saw the Alguacil hacker lying in a pool of blood near a stairwell, and connected to the girls vitals feed; there wasn’t much time.
Big Bird hit first, darting towards cover and taking a shot at the figure on the roof. As the blast shredded into the target, it shimmered and disappeared, whilst another figure, exactly the same as the previous stepped out from a stack of crates. Erica heard Phoenix shout “Holos!” and watched as the figure gunned Big Bird down, the shots taking him high across the chest and pitching him to the floor.
She landed with a jolt and rolled behind a roof-top hab as the rifle-man on the roof trained his shots on her. Bullets hit the metal with shrill squeals, sending sparks flying. On the ground, she saw the other men, Ghulam infantry by their markings, make for a nearby ladder to intercept them. Ignoring the covering fire from the rooftop rifleman, she aimed and fired upon the Ghulam, feeling her combi-rifle kick into her shoulder and spray bullets in a tight burst. In the heat of the moment, she couldn’t see if her shot found a target, but she did watch as Phoenix opened up with his heavy machine gun, downing three of the the Ghulam in a roaring stacatto of fire before the remaining two retreated to cover. Her heart pounded in her ears and she struggled to see if she could reach Big Bird without the rooftop rifle man getting a clear shot at her.
A sudden snapping shot rang out, hitting a stack of crates and sending them tumbling across the rooftop The rifleman recoiled, cursing as he did, as the shot hit nearby, narrowly missing him. Erica watched in surprise as their sniper, the Intruder, Wolf, uncurled from behind a ladder and levelled his MULTI-rifle for another shot at the rooftop assailant who was keeping her suppressed. The hidden rifleman dived for cover, returning fire upon the Intruder and meeting his mark; Wolf pinwheeled and hit the floor with a wound to his pelvis. For a moment, as the rifleman swung to shoot at her, she felt pinned with fear, returning again to her first drop to Serin Prime when the Aleph had attacked. As they’d come through the zero visibility smoke, forms shimmering with ODD technology, she’d felt powerless to stop them, knowing that their coming meant death. That same fear paralysed her now.
The bark of Phoenix’s HMG rang out, cutting through her terror. The rifleman juddered backward, toppling over the rooftop as her team-mates shots punched into him. As she caught her breath, Phoenix dashed past, making for a stairway. “Wake up, Hawk; you’ve got wounded!” he cried as he hurried past, raining more shots down over the edge of the rooftop into the Ghulam infantry below.
There were three wounded to take care of; the original hacker, the Intruder sniper and Big Bird. Without a second thought, she rushed to her fallen teammate. He curled in a ball on the ground, hands gripping the cracked and ruined armour around his left shoulder as blood soaked through. She scurried to her knees next to him and tapped into his vitals; though his adrenaline was at shock levels, his pulse was strong. As she began to unpack her medikit, he reached up and gripped her wrist. “I’m okay,” he croaked, “I can wait.”
She nodded, moving to take a peek over at the fallen Intruder. Though he was sat against a crate, blood pooling at his waist, he gave her the thumbs up sign. After checking his vitals on her HUD, she moved to the Alguacil Hacker. As Phoenix continued to rain fire down at the troops on the ground, she cleared the girls wound, drew out the bullet and sprayed homeostatic gel over the hole to prevent any further bleeding. Her movements were mechanical and slow, but sure, her mind precisely focused on saving another life. While she cleared as much shrapnel as possible and applied the foaming gel, she made a promise to Hermanos that she wouldn’t let anyone else die. After a minute or two, she was done; the girl needed evac, but she’d bought her time.
“They’ve got a deployable!” cried Phoenix, dashing towards the stairway. Erica snatched up her combi-rifle and made to follow him, checking the area for target priority. He’d managed to down the fourth Ghulam, leaving one who had scurried around the other side of the stairs leading to the ground floor. “He’s moving under the stair-well,” he cried, his voice broken as he took the stairs three at a time,”If he deploys, they’ll rain air-support on our location!” Erica watched as he leapt the final few stairs and opened fire around the base of the stair case, the bullets rending metal but not finding their target. He fired from the hip while desperately running in a wide arc to get a clear shot at the Ghulam taking cover beneath the stairs, but with no luck.
The situation began to quickly unravel around them. Erica watched in slow motion, reaching the top of the stairwell just in time to see Phoenix shooting at the target directly below her. As he ran across open ground, spraying fire, she could see the target underneath her training his rifle for another shot, taking his time while Phoenix sprayed and prayed. Bullets ricocheted from the metal bracings and fixtures that supported the stairs, providing excellent cover for the shooter. It was only a matter of time before the Ghulam took the shot and she lost another teammate. It was like the first recon replaying itself in her mind.
I made a promise, Hermanos.
Taking a ragged breath, she vaulted the stairwell, dropping down atop of the Ghulam and firing her drop-chute as she did. As instincts kicked in, she slipped her knife into her hand and prepped for CQC. The Ghulam recoiled, raising his rifle too late; she kicked it away and pushed him back into the metal lattice of the staircase. Behind him, the deployable slowly uncurled itself, lights beginning to flash to show a connection being made. The enemy slid his own knife from a boot-sheath and tried to pick himself up off the floor. Erica pressed her advantage, stepping close and tangling the Ghulam’s arms before flipping him over her shoulder and landing atop of him, blade first. As he scrabbled at the knife, she drew her side-arm and opened fire at the deployable, not bothering to count her shots. As rounds ripped into it, destroying it utterly, she breathed out.
Phoenix dispatched the Ghulam cooly and calmly, handing back her knife as she took in what had just happened. Over the comm-link, the other Corregidor forces in the area chimed in their mission parameters. They had lost the informant, but gained valuable knowledge on the Haqq forces and caused them a staggering blow. Sergeant Geraldez had secured the Isolation lab. Raptor’s voice cut through the chatter, confirming the success of his mission. It woke Erica from her momentary reverie.
“Hawk, advise on the wounded?” he asked.
“All under control,” she replied more cooly than she felt, “We need a med-evac for one and the infirmary prepped for three. I’ll keep them alive until then.”
I made you a promise, Hermanos, she thought with sudden, newfound confidence, and I intend to keep it.