Stanton is slowly rising in the distance. The centralized timing military units utilize to coordinate their operations states this is slightly before midnight, but from here? It looks just like dawn. A red one. The sun’s rays barely radiate over the horizon, sinking in the valley and piercing through dust as the wind lifts some strips from the orange ridges in front of us, gently eating their blanket away. Was it not for the armored platoon standing beside me, it would look just like a postcard.
“Dear Editor, kicking ass in outer space; wish you were here.”
I’m currently standing on Hurston with a security complement attached to the megacorporation. Their unit is about to launch an attack on a fortified outpost some remnants of a terrorist group set up after their last assault was halted by a combined effort of the UEE Navy and Civilian Defense Force, on the system’s outer rim. The place could have simply been bombed from orbit, but Hurston Dynamics wished for the buildings not to be completely obliterated, intending both to use them as a future settlement and to recover whatever data they might hold. Companies will be companies, and profits always come first.
“That’s why they chose to send the tanks instead,” the young Lieutenant of the deployed platoon ironically told me when I arrived, pointing to his Nova’s main dual cannon, an artillery piece so powerful it could wipe the complex’s main building with a single salvo from kilometers away. Even though I’m just an ad hoc war correspondent sent to replace a freelancer that was injured in the wake of the terrorist group’s attack on Stanton while covering the CDF’s final push, and that I thus understand very little about war machines, I still know just as much as the next person about the legendary tale of how merely three of these titanic vehicles held the line against an entire Tevarin strike team on Crion, back in 2605. Any war machine able to build and stand upon a three-hundred-years legacy has to be paid the utmost respects and fear, as far as I’m concerned, and the platoon’s Lieutenant has six of these gigantic war tools all ready for battle. Their mission is to open the way and encircle the outpost so another ground unit of about twenty soldiers can launch the assault on each of the three buildings, and clear them one by one. Such is the plan, I have been told.
The men are all growing tense as the ‘zero’ hour approaches, and even I can feel it. Well, who wouldn’t? A single ship has been intercepted taking off from the site, its crippled hull burning in the distance still, blued volutes of flames dancing above the scattered debris. The soldiers have no intel regarding what kind of resistance they must expect inside the buildings. Perhaps two to three fanatics, perhaps more. Their anxiety mingles with the fuel smell that permeates the air into an acid mix. A Nova gunner is shaving on top of his turret, clearing his razor’s blade inside an empty ammo box covered in dust like this day was no different than the last or next. Was it not for all the guns, it would look like a camping trip. A weird one for sure, but a camping trip nonetheless: shaving before the great unknown, the dry and rocky hills the sole witnesses of our passage. Overlooked by dawn, the last visible stars are going to sleep, high up in the sky.
A few dead silent minutes pass as Stanton floods the canyons with fresh morning light, a serene scene except for the task force commander who finishes to plan the operation with his superiors. He eventually comes out of his tank and bangs twice on its outer platting, signaling his men to get ready.
The final preparations are silent, efficient. Focused. Barely any word is spoken as weapons click on armors’ magnetic locks, magazines slide into their pouches and charging handles rack one more time. Designated marksmen take position while a medic checks his trauma kit once more, the red cross painted upon his helmet his sole distinctive sign from the army of pristine, shining black and yellow armors.
How do they even keep them so clean with all that dust?
I step aside and let them do their job, climbing on top of the small hill that has been designated as the platoon’s fallback position. My steps are clumsy, unused to the old and heavy kevlar rig that covers my chest with the “PRESS” word written in white capital letters on its front and back, widely visible. I eventually reach the top and stand next to one of Hurston’s weirdly looking gray plants, the brown and dry vegetation crushing under my feet. I raise my pair of binoculars toward the three buildings and vaguely spot a silhouette through a window.
Every involved player knows this is the time. The time to have an adrenaline rush for some, and to die for others. These people, inside the buildings far away in the distance, know they don’t stand a chance – they have to, at the mere sighting of six battle tanks cutting off their escape routes. And yet they won’t surrender, nor try another desperate run to flee. There has to be something more there, doesn’t it? Something more than simply a deathwish they could have pursued by joining the ever-thriving number of private security companies. What else then but an ideal, a cause seen just, could possibly fuel their actions? And still, they must surely know everyone on the planet sees them as terrorists – Hurston Dynamics made sure of it – so what is it that drives them, nonetheless? Why bother so much to put up a fight?
I would find no answer amongst the few unrecognizable bodies and gunpowder smell once the outpost was secured, its walls stained a crimson red oddly similar to the shades shined upon the planet at dawn, but that question still haunts sleepless nights. That thought forever lurks in the shadows, hidden out of fear and comforted by ignorance — fear of unveiling truths that might be best kept dormant.
There laid my next investigation, and with it, the hunt for answers. One, if any, has to be found, for men do not meet their end far from any home merely on a whim.
Light still had to be shed on where that next flight would lead, but its path stood clear. After all, a journalist’s job is to find answers always, isn’t it?
Zirmarg for Imperial Geographic, Stanton system