Stalwart Crest – Chapter 1

Working on a new project; very exciting.  Here’s chapter one.

 

Chapter One

When she landed the new post, Myra Cygnus jumped with excitement. She had spent years building a career that was worthy of study at the academy. Medals for bravery, ingenuity, and initiative adorned her uniform from top to bottom. When she requested a transfer, she feared her superiors would do anything within their power to stop the opportunity.

When the letter arrived informing her of her new post aboard the Stalwart Crest, she could hardly contain herself.

That letter arrived three months ago. Three months of hot-drops and containment missions later, she wished for the simplicity of an outer spiral arm terraform post.

The transport shuttle rattled as it broke through the atmosphere. No matter how many times she made this trip, she grabbed the arms of her chair as though they were the only things keeping her from flying into orbit.

The speakers overhead crackled to life.

“Quick briefing, folks,” Rafe Najinca, the crew’s leader started “this is Terraform Platform Seven. Emergency Beacon rose three hours ago. Now, Seven is known for hosting all sorts of big-bad things and is dotted with what the history books refer to as ‘trees’. It is, quite literally, a jungle out there. Mission priority one is to identify survivors. Two is to save data. Third, if needed, we eliminate whatever evolutionary oddity is making a bad day for our guys out there. Understood?”

“A few reminders,” Aki said from the head of the transport.

Aki was the ship’s number two. She ran the day-to-day for Rafe. From what Myra had seen, being number two meant running the briefings and processing supply requests. Not an enviable position, but anyone serving on the Stalwart Crest was the best-of-the-best, which meant Aki could push paper and successfully pull a planet-side laboratory out of danger at the same time.

“Platform Seven has a number of rivers around it. These guys get bigger around rivers, so we’re going in a bit heavier than usual. This is a fairly standard platform, like the ones we trained on. It’s older, but fully stocked with genetics and landscape material. If we have to shoot, aim please” Aki said in a bored tone. “You guys know this stuff, already. Let’s just do our thing and get home. Hudd is on dish duty, so I’m planning a really messy dinner”.

The crew laughed and Hudd feigned offense and shock.

“Careful now, Aki, I could program that stove of yours to not cook. Takes three seconds” Hudd taunted her.

Hudd was the technical expert among the crew. The others focused on combat strategy and logistics. They could identify the quickest route of escape or instantly identify an opponent’s weak points, but according to Hudd they could barely operate a motion activated toaster.

“You know, I’m going to do that for fun anyway” he continued and pressed a few buttons on his data pad. He wore it on his arm and rigged it with holographic displays that were frowned on by the Service, but again, because he was stationed aboard the Stalwart Crest, he was the best-of-the-best and had pretty free reign on what alterations he wanted to make to his gear.

“There, done. Good luck with dinner, Aki.” Hudd shot a smug smile at Aki.

“You know that means you don’t get to eat, right?” Aki asked, unsure he really thought through his actions.

“Of course” he said before tapping his data pad a few more times.

Myra suspected dinner would go on as planned that evening.

“Game faces, people. We’re going in pretty blind. Hudd, get me a satellite feed. Myra, get the goody bag ready. Aki, I need our drones up and running as soon as we hit the ground. We’re planetside in five.” Rafe’s voice came over the com-system and filled the room.

He was generally a pleasant person to work with. Hot drops into unknown situations on full platforms rattled him though. He liked his intelligence reports. Aki was the first person he brought onboard when he took over the Stalwart Crest. Aki could build a map in five minutes; identify paths and potential hot-spots in just as short a time. It was a skill he admired.

Myra smiled when she heard her task. The goody bag was all of the tools they would take into the Platform. The Stalwart Crest seldom went into a situation where a screwdriver could save their hides. They had to subdue creatures twice the size of the elephants Myra read about in history books. They had to stop laboratories from exploding and wiping out decades of terraform work. They were the first and last line safely re-building Earth. They had nice tools to choose from.

The transport shuttle shifted as Rafe took it in for landing on Platform Seven’s dock; another of Myra’s least favorite transport activities.

“Hang on, gang” Rafe said over the intercom.

The ship shook and jump before one final heavy thud upon landing.

The crew laughed wildly. Rafe was the pilot for the Stalwart Crest, which of course meant he was the best pilot, anywhere.

“You’ll get it next time, Rookie” Hudd taunted.

“We all mess up the first time around” Aki teased.

“Yeah, newb” Myra said.

Aki and Hudd stared at her with raised eyebrows. She was still getting the hang of the group’s trash talk style.

“Next time” she whispered to herself.

Lights above the bay door of the shuttle switched to yellow from red.

Rafe’s voice came back on the intercom “I should have gone straight to green, you ungrateful pests! Helmets on we’re out in two”.

The crew checked their gear and adorned their helmets. Myra loved the surge of adrenaline as the helmet’s display screen turned on. Maps, small range radar, object identification and distance charts filled her visor without disrupting her actual vision. When that visor lit up it was time for action and she loved every minute of it.

 

Hudd readied his satellite uplink station and Aki unboxed her drones. As soon as the light turned green and that bay door dropped the jokes stopped and work began.

“Thirty left” Rafe said entering the staging area where the others were readying themselves.

A non-descript shelf above cold gray lockers held Rafe’s two possessions in the world; his helmet, a scratched and dented dulled red bucket model that was decommissioned a decade prior, and a hand cannon affectionately called “Freddy”. Freddy was a short stock rifle won in a card game when Rafe was still at the Academy. Over the years of Rafe’s career it had developed a myth all its own. Every time Rafe pulled it off the shelf and charged it to ready status, Myra could only look on in awe.

When she was in the academy the rumor was Freddy put down an entire stampeding herd of Kraken Hogs, creatures eight meters tall and over 800 kilos heavy and known mostly for eating angry, with just one shot into the air. Rafe was good, but only Freddy could have accomplished that.

“Ten” Rafe started counting.

Myra checked her load-out and switched off the safety of her rifle.

Hudd set his footing to begin his dash.

Aki turned on her drones. Six flying discs outfitted with the best reconnaissance software the fleet could afford and then updated by Hudd.

“Four” Rafe’s countdown continued.

Rafe looked bored with the situation. It was his eighth year commanding the Stalwart Crest and his fifth visit to Platform Seven in that time. He clicked Freddy over to ready and the cannon whistled to life.

“Good girl” he said to his trusted weapon.

“Two” he said to the crew

Myra’s pulse raced.

“One” Rafe said.

The light turned green and the bay door fell.

 

Continue to Part 2

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