Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Chapter Forty-Two

Over the intercom, they heard, "We are about thirty minutes out."

Hyland stood up then. She had tired of sparring with Gotler. Gotler was convinced that only she knew what was going on and anyone who didn't listen to her had to be an idiot. She was too opinionated and too convinced of her own self-importance which explained why she thought that she could talk Major Webb into saving her from having to make planetfall with an infantry company.

Hyland realized that she had made a mistake. Gotler was going to be of no value and might turn out to be a real liability. She was ill-trained to make planetfall. There was no other way to look at it.

Turning her back on Gotler, Hyland raised her voice and said, "Squad leaders, you heard. Let's make sure we're ready to unass the craft when we touch down."

Four people, three men and one woman stood and began working through the aisles, checking the troops and their equipment. The platoon leader was standing in the center watching as the platoon sergeant checked the equipment pods. One of the shuttle crew members was unhooking the straps, preparing to shove the gear out the instant they landed and got the cargo door open.
Hyland then bent and pulled her pack from under her seat. She opened it only so that she would have something to occupy her time. She didn't want to have to talk to Gotler any more. She didn't even want to have to look at her.

"I'm not sure what I should have," said Gotler. "What I should have brought with me."

That seemed to be quite an admission. Hyland glanced up at her. "You went through basic training..."

"A year ago."

"And you've forgotten."

"Most of it."

"Well," said Hyland, "I guess you'd better concentrate on remembering." Then, feeling that was unduly harsh, and because they might be going into combat where Gotler could get killed, she said, "Let me see."

Gotler opened her pack and then stood back, away from it. "That's what we have stored in the office for emergency deployment."

"Then you haven't inspected it?"

"One of the sergeants looks at it every six months or so. That's his job."

Hyland took a deep breath and began to search through the pack carefully. Everything looked to be in good shape. None of the seals had been broken, the equipment was clean and it was all there.

"I would have looked at it myself," said Gotler, "but you didn't give me the time."

Hyland adjusted the gear and closed the flap on the pack. She hefted it by the straps. "That should be somewhat more comfortable to wear now."

Gotler was staring at the pack. Slowly she turned her attention to Hyland. "Thanks."

Hyland stood up and watched as the rest of the platoon worked. The men and women were more interested in their weapons than the gear in the packs. In the next few hours it would be the weapons that could save them. If they lost some of the gear, it could be replaced.

The platoon leader circulated among the troops, randomly inspecting the packs and weapons and asking quiet questions. Statisfied that everything was ready, she turned and walked over to Hyland.

"I think we're ready for the landing."

"I want the first squad out to secure the area around the shuttle. They are to deploy with nothing else to do until the shuttle is gone again. Then integrate them back into the operation."
"Yes, ma'am."

Hyland looked at her watch, surprised that nearly twenty minutes were gone. They were getting close. Then, almost as if to confirm what she had noticed, the intercom came on. "Ten minutes to touch down. We are in the planet's atmosphere."

The level of activity increased. The troops were lining up facing the exits in squad order. They were standing in the aisles, weapons at the ready, helmets on, the chin straps buckled and the visors down. Almost every square inch of skin was covered to prevent insect bite, sunburn, and laser weapon wounds.

"We'll go out after the second squad and before the third," said Hyland.

"Of course."

Hyland looked back at the soldiers in the shuttle. There was no question that they were ready. They were tense, standing there unable to see outside the shuttle. There was nothing for them to do but wait.

Over the intercom, the pilot announced, "The fighters are beginning to engage the Citadel. We are in the clear. No one seems interested in us."

"Good," said Gotler.

Hyland looked at the younger woman and then realized that she wasn't that much younger. Maybe a year or maybe just a couple of months. Age in the military was not related to how long you have been alive but on how long you had been in the service and what you had done. In other arenas the men and women on the shuttle would be considered boys and girls. Most of them were barely out of high school and their teens. Some of them hadn't reached their twentieth birthday yet. But in the military many of them were considered experienced old hands.

"Five minutes," said the pilot.

Hyland waited patiently, trying to keep her mind focused on the job at hand. What she would do the moment she set foot on the planet's surface. What she would do if the enemy fired at her, if they attacked, if they attacked in mass. Or what she would do if there was no reception.

"You scared?" asked Gotler.

Hyland thought about that and realized that she wasn't scared. She was going to be too busy to be scared. She had too much to do... besides, she was too well trained to be scared.

But to Gotler she said, "Everybody's scared."


Hyland let her fingers work their way along the side of her weapon, checking it again.

"Prepare to land," said the pilot.

Hyland yelled, "Let's get ready. No one fucks up. We do this by the book."

A second later she felt a slight bump as the shuttle touched down and the rear door sprang open. She didn't need to issue another order. They soldiers were getting out rapidly. Leaping from the rear of the shuttle.

And then she was out, on an alien planet, wondering just what the hell she was doing there.

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