Long shadows claw desperately away from your dusty combat boots, fueled by the relentless sun of a late Texas afternoon. Shading your eyes against the glare, you squint for the thousandth time at the line of soldiers ahead of you. It stretches on endlessly across the rubble, disappearing at last into the cool shadows of a troop carrier. Soon you’ll walk up the ramp into the ship, climb into your one-man cocoon, tear through the interplanetary gateway, and smash down light-years away from the blowing sand and blasted ruins that surround the Dallas-Metro crater.
"What the hell is taking so long?!" you snarl, slamming the battered barrel of your side arm, the blaster, against your scarred palm. "I’ve waited long enough. Time to kick some Strogg ass…"
Slightly rocking back and forth under the sweltering August sun, you spit out of the side of your mouth, rub your eyes, and think back to the day when the wretched creatures first attacked. Like flaming meteors, their crafts pounded into the Earth and unbelievably, these bio-mechanical aliens… these hideous cyborgs… swarmed out while their ships still sizzled with reentry heat. They killed or captured anything that lived. We figured that the Strogg were after our planet’s resources: minerals, metals, and water: things like that. But their onboard storage facilities did little to disguise what they considered to be resources: fleshy limbs and organs for new cyborgs, and of course, food.
The line moves. And moves again. Into the cool shadows at last. The assembled armies branch off into new lines divided by corps and unit.
"I can’t deal with this shit – what’s the friggin’ hold-up?"
"Cool your jets, marine," Tokay mutters and smiles over his shoulder. "We’ll all get a few Strogg heads to take home as souvenirs. I promise you that."
"Yo, soldier, 3585." The medtech’s voice startles you. "You in or out?" Competent hands guide you into the coffin-like opening of your Mark 9A drop pod: sleek, dark, and invisible to the Stroggos defense systems. One of the techs begins to drop the reinforced pod door. "Sleep tight, soldier. You’ll see sunlight in less than six and a half hours. Not our sun, mind you…"
Pitch black except for the mild glow of your video readout system in front of you. You’ve done this a dozen times in the sim classes. No sweat. Just a few short hours to sleep, recharge, and then… the moment of glory. But this time it’s for real.
It’s also time to think. You recall your first official day of training, your unit commander discussing how these damn parasites made it to Earth and other nearby colonies in the first place. By employing our best satellites and long-range scanners, we learned how they traveled light years so quickly – the Strogg used these black hole-like gateways as their highway to heaven. We still don’t know if they created these rips in the fabric of space and time, or if they simply discovered them by accident. Either way… it’s just like opening the door to an all-you-can-eat restaurant for these bastards. In about two hours, we’ll be entering the same interstellar portals, to hit ‘em where it hurts… on their own turf.
You close your eyes and relish this thought. Eventually, you nod off to the low hypnotic hum of the troop carrier.
*Crackle* ... *fzzzz* ... "Greetings to the people of the Coalition. This is Flag Admiral Crockett, speaking to you from the bridge deck of Phobos. We are entering the outer orbits of Stroggos, the alien’s home system. As we had postulated, Stroggos’ atmosphere is harsh but breathable. We expect to make planetfall soon. Now is the time to switch on your debriefing panel if ya need it."
"Boomer?" the voice crackles through every soldier’s headset. "Drop X-ray squad in 30 on my mark. You copy?"
"Roger that!" In another pod, your sergeant snaps back. "OK boys and girls, you see the clock on your heads-up. Two demerits for anyone who up-chucks during bounce and roll!"
*Shthunk!!* Your drop pod is shot from the side of the carrier and hurtles downward. *Wheee-oooooo!* Incendiary atmosphere howls past the pod’s rapidly heating shell. *Ka-WHUMP! * The pod wall suddenly buckles to your right, but stays intact. Another pod must have clipped yours on its way in. ECM didn't indicate enemy fire. Shit. Thrusters and stabilizing gyros are fading. Based on the pings, the other pods are pulling away. Below you, the large alien city roars into focus on the screen. But where are the other pods? They were there a minute ago.
Suddenly, distorted radio chatter lights up, "Mayday! Mayday! Lost all power... shielding failed... missed dz... some kind of EMP is... kzzzt... us out. We're dropping like fli... zzzzkkkzzzt". Silence. Damn! If the Strogg have electromagnetic pulse defenses and we failed to detect them… all of us are in the shitter.
That HUGE blip has to be the Big Gun. You do a slow dogleg left as your navcomp finds a place to land when all of a sudden retros kick in and propel you south.
"What the...?" Before you know it you skip across the lip of a crater and slam into a structure, a good distance away from your target. Dazed and bleeding from a head cut you toggle open the labeled arsenal bins and reach for where your gear ought to be stowed. Damn. Nothing but your sidearm. Damn again.
You leap out the crushed pod door, alone, with blaster in hand, and tear off into the room with the bittersweet stench of vengeance coursing through your veins…