Through the porthole of the dragoon, Nizar could just make out the last flaming wrecks of the planetary defence fleet spiraling gracelessly through the upper stratosphere. the USN advance force had advanced so quickly the debris had not even had time to reach the surface.
Perhaps the AISN had pushed the boat out too far spearheading this deep into the system so far from their nearest outpost - a miscalculation? Human error? Whatever the reason, the commanders of the punitive force which had overrun the regular militia in the Lukather system had failed to track the deep scan telltales of the USN 33rd fleet running CSP down the treadway line. Within a day of the occupation, the 33rd bludgeoned its way in-system, sweeping aside even the antarean heavy cruisers in an orgy of firepower.
Commander Ibrahim Al-Imam Khan was furious. The rumors were that he was spacing the prisoners rather than look at an antarean face. He had grown up round here and he didn't like his hometown being invaded. Most of the 33rd had their roots round here somewhere, this rough and rowdy quarter of the district. Piracy and everyday life were almost interchangeable around the border systems between Sidemore and Cinnabar, the loose relations and scant law enforcement making it an appreciated blind spot for the less sophisticated entrepreneurs of the galaxy.
Nizar Hussein Al-Jamil was once himself of this particular breed, though perhaps not as coldhearted as some. the war had changed many things. His father Hussein had told him to protect only the thing of most value to him, and not to worry about the smaller things. When he had asked what that thing was, his father had simply smiled that squinting toothless grin and declared that at that moment, for him it was to protect his heaviest pocket.
Nizar held the memory close. he had not been a good father, but a pirate who took in his love-children at all was a cut above the rest. The beatings had indeed built Nizar's character as promised, and that character was put to good use on his father's team of mercenaries and other unsavouries. Nizar had been the only survivor of the raid on Esteban 3. The vox dei had found him cowering under an upturned cupboard, and sickened by his cowardice, had meted out all kinds of entertaining punishments before finally clearing him of any deeper involvement in the drugs ring they were investigating, and throwing him out of the nearest door.
Maybe he held a grudge against the MVD. Maybe that was why he'd signed with the 33rd. He had to come down somewhere - deal as big as this, it doesn't do to get caught in the middle. All he knew was that the life he had led involved killing and fighting and surviving. what flag he was under didn't seem to matter. The klaxon galvanized his pensive mind as the marshal hit the door release and the ozone-smell of fried air blasted in as the shields went down. the thick hull of the dragoon was pretty much soundproof after descent was over, and the sudden introduction of the noise of a full-scale planetary invasion into the muted apprehension of the dropship was like a baseball bat around the ears.
"PLATOON, STAND AND FILE... SOUND OFF..." the fifty men jolted to their feet and mechanically numbered themselves off as each fought his own private hell in his own mind... "PLATOON, ASSUME READY STANCE" - Nizar clipped his visor over his helmet, ran his wrist readout through the operational inits and grabbed the two solid yellow bars above his head...
"PLATOON, MAN A.I.V's"... each man pulled his legs up and into a 2 foot porch in the sides of the bay. each porch contained a AIV, an atmospheric insertion vehicle. essentially a missile whose warhead was a soldier. even through the grav dampers, an AIV could pull your lips back over your head at launch. and when you got to the target, the shell of the aiv would blow, leaving you to free-fall the last hundred yard or so before a particle chute deployed and braked you from a thousand miles per to walking speed. that was if you didn't graze a wingtip and end up as planet jam. and then you got to actually fight people. that made the marines who volunteered to join the airborne assault some of the craziest mothers around. they were the absolute tip of the infantry spear and this mission, like so many before, would place them very nearly at the epicenter of enemy activity with an impossible task. in this case, hack the city defense batteries of Santa Rito - capital of the system, to soften the way for the army grunts to follow.
Nazir's face slid up against the HUD of the AIV and through the plex he saw the target area, low and flat and covered in foliage with a million sparklers of tracer-fire zipping up towards him in that pretty way that they do. this was really going to hurt he decided. in the distance he could see the strike team of velius and ventura class mechs zipping about the city's generator blocks. they looked like tiny figurines miming out some ancient martial dance, lancing slivers of light from their fingertips and setting the ground ablaze.
the marshal's voice cracked in his ear, "PLATOON, AIV's ONLINE". he flicked the switches. the engine behind him began to bawl. every muscle tensed, Nazir eyed the ground below him. soon no more thinking. soon only fighting.
"PLATOON, LAUNCH" - momentary oblivion while the grav dampers powered up, and then the sensation of free-fall took him. the AIV jettisoned from the hull of the dropship, and nazir floated momentarily in the spangled stardust of anti-aircraft shells. then with a primal scream the engines kicked the world away and nazir and the other 50 of C platoon, 12th Planetary Assault, 33rd Fleet sped away like so many poison arrows towards the heart of the city.