“Nah it’s just recording. We’ll edit this out later.”
“Fine, let’s just get started then.”
“Please state your name for the record.”
“My name is Professor Mohammad bin Hukukk”
“What is your profession?”
“I am a professor of Xeno Culture at New Harvard University.”
“Was this your profession during the Texar-Hakara war?”
“No, no my profession was a Orbital Drop Trooper, Sergeant, First Terran Marines.”
“Can you give us an explanation of what your job entailed?”
“We drop in, we fight our way out.”
“You took part in the fighting?”
“During the assault on Rygel Nine, were you with the Marines?”
“Yes, yes I was.”
“Can you describe it for me?”
“Long. Muddly. Bloody.”
“Come on Professor Hukukk, you can do better.”
“You’re making a documentary?”
“Actually we’re making a movie. We want it to be as close to reality as possible. From what we’ve heard even the folks back at Galactic Studios won’t need to embellish much.”
“How much sway do you have with the studio?”
“I’m a Senior Producer.”
“That didn’t answer my question.”
annoyed sigh from off camera
“I have a lot of influence. I’m pretty much in charge of this production.”
“Then I want your personal assurance that the names and places I tell you won’t be changed. These men deserve that, and much more besides.”
“You have my word.”
“I want a copy of this transcript immediately after the interview.”
“Fine. Can we please move on to what I came here for?”
“Alright, ask away.”
“Professor, tell me about the lead up to, and the battle at, Rygel Nine.”
“As I said I was with the First Marines. Specifically with Third Company, Second Battalion.”
“The infamous Riley’s Rangers.”
“The very same. Our CO was Captain Hank Riley. Tough old bastard, like a father to every man in that Company. Underneath him were the three Lieutenants. Jacobs, Stern, and Gibbs. Gibbs was a First Lieutenant, second in command of the Company. I was transferred to them two weeks before drop. Just enough time to learn the names of the Captain and Lieutenants, get used to my unit, then suddenly we’re in orbit over Rygel Nine. Texar-Hakara world. The first of their original worlds we were invading. Earth was… she gone by that point. Burned by the bugs. Some of the men talked quietly about what their plans were for when they went home. Most considered that bad luck.
"I was sitting with my squad when Captain Riley gave us his speech. Hold on I brought a recording of it…”
a new voice enters the conversation, only the slightest hiss of static mars the audio file
“Men, today we’re dropping into enemy territory, real enemy territory. It’s fortified and they’re waiting for us. We have never dropped onto a world like this before. All Texar-Hakara are to be considered armed and dangerous until the local hive mind is taken out. That’s our job. We’re Riley’s Rangers for a reason. We drop into the meanest parts of enemy territory to do the most damage. That’s what we’re doing today. Stick together, work with your squad. You’ll come out of this just fine.”
the voice stops, as does the faint static
“When Marine Shock Troops drop into enemy held territory the CO sometimes plays some heavy metal or hard rock or something to get the men pumped up. It works too, wipes away some of the fear. Just enough so that the men can still function as they strap themselves into what is essentially a big bullet, that’s going to be fired out of an under powered railgun directly at the planet’s surface. Captain Riley always played Hard Corps . Old song, but damn good. The Captain came on, told us he’d see us on the other side.
"The Captain never made it down. Anti-air took out the command pod on the way down. Captain Riley and Lieutenants Jacobs and Stern were wiped. Never even heard a peep. Thankfully SOP said Gibbs had to be in a different pod, and he was.
"Lieutenant Gibbs took command. Good man, solid. Exactly the right guy to replace the Captain in combat. He got us up, armed, and organized, and he did it fast. My squad was on the far left flank with the rest of First Platoon. Our job was to hold the line and secure an exit line for Second Platoon, who would be handling the assault on the hive mind.”
“Is this where things started to go wrong?”
“Things started to go wrong when the goddamn brass decided that they wanted to drop us in the wrong place, at the wrong time, in the middle of a goddamn Texar-Hakara staging ground.”
“Damn straight. The first we realize that we’re in the middle of another grand cockup is when Third Platoon got hit by fifty Texar-Hakara warrior drones. They took sixty percent casualties in an hour. We were told to reinforce them and dig in while First Platoon scouted the area. First platoon got jumped two hundred meters out, every last one of them dead, including Lieutenant Gibbs. Now I’m in command of what we can only reasonably call ourselves an over-strength platoon. And we’re smack in the middle of a staging ground for the Third Hakaran Army.
"We radioed for support, and of course the nearest supporting elements were five klicks away. Through the largest concentration of Texar-Hakara on the continent. And we didn’t even have a direct line to them, because we were supposed to be linking up with another force twenty klicks to the north, and our communications were only keyed to Orbital Command and transmit a confirmatory ping to other Terran forces. Originally it was intended to keep us beneath the radar, so to speak. To allow us to get close to the hive mind without giving away our position. Instead what it did was effectively cut us off from the rest of the Army. Orbital was too busy to relay our messages for us.
"I was working with our tech guy, Corporal Swanson, to bypass the block on the radio when the first wave hit us. We knew the Texar-Hakara were out there, and we’d dug in feverishly. We weren’t equipped to hold the line against hundreds of enemies, but each soldier had been issued the standard anti-tunneling package. Slam a spike into the bottom of a foxhole, and the SATUFP, Strategic Anti-Tunneling Unit for Fixed Positions, shoots out thousands of nanomite cables throughout the ground, sets them firmly in place, connects them, and runs a million volt current through them. Try and tunnel into the foxhole, and you get an ugly zap. It had forced the bugs to engage us on the surface, and we set up a few some meters in front of our position. It was a good way of encouraging the bastards to come up in front of us.
"And holy mother of god did they come up in front of us. Hundreds of them came charging out of the forest, no warning, no sound except the clicking of their legs and their blasts of plasma. We had entrenched defenses, some light plasma machineguns, and the rest of us had laser carbines, plasma grenades, the usual outfit. It was a brutal fight, they kept coming even when they should have been dead. We mowed them down by the dozen, and they swarmed over the bodies of their dead. We started to take casualties as they got closer. Their accuracy was shit, but the hive mind keeps them on task, and their sheer weight of numbers often carries the day.
"It got to hand to hand at one point. They were just coming faster than we could shoot them. Vibroblades and Power Armor versus rock hard chitin and mandibles. Four Privates were MIA after that, just too ripped up to be positively IDed or POWs, the bugs were still taking prisoners at this point. Power Armor can stop a lot, plasma, lasers, bullets. Knives just bounce off. But bug mandibles have crushing force the likes of which our suits just can’t handle. I was hunkered down with Private Tulman and Corporal Swanson. We’re pouring fire into the bugs. Tulman’s Plasma MG is really what kept them off us. Then they swarmed over their corpses, and on top of us. Swanson got ripped apart. Three of them grabbed on and pulled. He was screaming and swearing and shooting to the last, but he died bloody. Tulman lit those three up the second Swanson’s vitals went flat. One of them jumped on me. These things are ugly up close. They look like short ants. Two main body pods instead of three, six big legs, six beady eyes, spikes everywhere, a plasma rifle attached to the underside of the head. I stabbed into the eyes with my combat knife. Despite what some idiot writers will tell you, a nanometer edge on your blade just makes it that much easier to break. It doesn’t matter if it can slide through titanium, in combat you’re not cutting titanium, you’re fighting a living being that is going to be moving, and when your edge breaks off, you’re dead.
"I was a Sergeant. I had a responsibility to be better than my men. Cleaner, smarter, tougher, meaner, and everything in between. Part of that is having your gear perfectly stashed and equipped. So when I say my knife had a perfect edge on it, not too thin not too dull, I’m not kidding. I stabbed straight through that bug’s eye and into its bug brain. And that bastard kept coming. So I shoved my plasma pistol up against it’s torn up eye and pumped six shots into the brain. It collapsed halfway through cutting my arm off. The connectors to my left arm were shot. My helmet’s HUD was flickering in and out and the faceplate was cracked. I was bleeding, not a lot but a little. And the bug had shredded my injury suppressants, so it hurt like hell.
"Most of my men weren’t much better. We couldn’t take another wave like that, but moving was damn risky. The way I saw it, the bugs knew we were here. It was only a matter of time until another force came by to wipe my three quarter strength company off the face of the universe. So we had two options. Stay and die, or leave and die when we ran into a bigger bug patrol. The men made their voices clear. They were prepared to die. And the way they saw it, they had a better chance of killing more bugs here than they did moving around. So we hunkered down. We piled up bug corpses to use as sandbags. We stripped the bodies of our comrades for parts and ammo. We envied the bastards actually.”
“We envied them. By this point in the war-”
“We traded the Yungling for it. Standard issue on every fleet ship. Upload your neural patterns, and when your body died you got a new one, right off the printer. Commercializing DNA sequencing, one thing the twenty first century did right. As soon as those bastards were confirmed KIA, they were regrown. A hour later they were safe and sound back up on the ship. Dying isn’t fun, I’ll tell you that. But there’s a certain peace that comes from knowing it isn’t final. More likely to throw yourself on a grenade and save your squad. More likely to hold the line against impossible odds, or volunteer for a suicide mission. Best thing to ever happen to the human war machine.
"We hunker down, shore up our defenses, and we kill another group of bugs that wanders by. Fifty odd insects in that one, all dead. Along with fourteen men. Quarter strength now, about fourteen of us total. We keep doing the same thing. Kill a few bugs, a few of us buy a ticket back up to the ship. It gets to the point where it’s just me and Tulman left, out of an entire company. But we’re surrounded by bug corpses. Must have been two hundred at least.”
“Four hundred thirty.”
“Official after action report says at this point it is estimated your Company had killed four hundred and thirty bugs.”
“Never read it.”
“It was declassified sixty years ago, when revival tech went public.”
“Wasn’t interested in reading it. Dying isn’t fun, and remembering death… it changes you.”
“I’m sorry, please continue.”
“Next wave is about a hundred of the six legged freaks. They come at us like bats out of hell. Tulman dies quick, plasma to the face. I’m left manning the plasma MG with one hand. It clicks dry, no more charge. I can’t change the ammo by myself. It’s made to be completely operable by one man, but one man with two working hands. I charge up four plasma grenades, prime them, slap them onto two ammo boxes for the plasma MG, and run full tilt at the bugs. I jump on top of one, and the box blows. Plasma everywhere, burning the hell out of everything and everyone. That’s when I died.
"I wake up on the UHS Washington DC. She was named after the battle in the old earth capitol, back when she represented the United… Statues I think it was.”
“That makes more sense. Anyways, that was my part in the Battle of Rygel Nine.”
“Nothing about the awards you received?”
“They were after the fact.”
“You received the Medal of Honor for recording the deaths of over twenty men. Without that they might not have been confirmed KIA, and never revived.”
“I did what any man there would have done for me.”
“Thank you Professor, that’s all I have.”
“Don’t forget these names, those men that were torn to shreds by the Texar-Hakara, the ones that were MIA? If you can’t be confirmed as KIA we can’t revive you, having two of the exact same person in the universe, the exact same memories, the exact same fingerprints and DNA. Same loved ones, same bank accounts. What do you tell the one that turns out to have been a POW for ten years. Sorry, there’s another one of you that’s been with your family the entire time? No, no we can’t do that. They were permed.”
“Permanently killed. Permadeath. Never revived. Privates Rodger P. Ackleman, Reginald Puller, George H. Killroy, and Yassah B. Hukukk.”