D-day + 2.2 hours
“Everybody down!” screamed Jarael prompting Romo and Arand to throw themselves into the soft sandy ground.
No sooner had the warning been given did they hear the roar of the weather monitoring station they had been assigned to capture detonating behind them. The heat of the explosion and the scream of sheared metal raced across the sky behind and over them; filling their view with debris that would pelt the land for miles.
Jarael and Romo were already back off the ground; dusting themselves off and sprinting; leaving Arand to slowly pull himself together. Whatever was left of the once simple yellow painted monitoring station was now a slab of concrete; burning brightly behind them.
Hold the station for as long as you can… If an evacuation order has to be given, remember to blow the station to prevent communications falling to the enemy and the enemy alone. If we’re going to have to fight deaf and blind; it’s better that they are too.
“What the hell are you waiting for? We’ve got to go” chastised Jarael to the emphatic agreement of Romo who waved for Arand’s attention.
In the wake of the explosion; Arand found himself lost in his own thoughts… They had followed their orders to the letter… So why did he have the darkest feeling at the pit of their stomach that something just wasn’t… right?
As Arand felt the grab of the massive Talz’s hairy arms pull him back onto his feet; his mind jogged itself and he remembered how everything had led to this point…
D-day -4 hours
“You just going to lie there all day bucket head?” joked the Talz as he gave the squad leader a quick tug bringing him back into a standing position.
“I was planning on it…” replied Arand as he quickly dusted his armor. The massive roggwark had landed a lucky last tail sweep at him, throwing him clear across the landscape.
“Are we sure it’s dead?” asked Kaz as he kept his rifle leveled firmly at the now still creature.
As if to answer, Exton casually drew his disruptor pistol and fired twice at the massive creature. It lurched to life for a moment and whatever spark and soul that was left in the once noble beast was quickly robbed as the painful wave of a energy crept across it. A low moan of pain escaped as its final gesture to the world before whatever was left of its form was converted into bright yellow and black embers that floated into the night sky.
“Well let’s not just stand around… Our kit was supposed to have been dropped just over that hill” motioned Jarael as everyone began moving towards the rocky mesa outcroppings ahead.
“No plan ever survives first contact…” grumbled Kaz as he gave the flare in his hand a quick twist before throwing it while in sprint. Exton was right beside him, the both of them sprinting across the desert like their armor and weapons weighed nothing at all. The stormtroopers corp had drilled their men from inception to fight, run, breathe, and survive in their armor; which was precisely what kept their breaths even despite the hectic run.
“We did our jobs and we got paid in advance because we knew how to do them; it’s not our gorram fault the rest of those yokels couldn’t pull themselves together” replied the nearly identical trooper who sprinted alongside him; their voices relayed from one to the other within their sealed helmet’s.
Another three hundred meters of silence passed as Exton drew a flare from his backpack. They were originally designed for the simple purpose of transmitting a single burst frequency to anyone who was actively listening in for it. Even through the thickest of these ion storms, the use of these flares could provide an electronic and visual reference for pilots.
“I don’t know about you… but I can’t wait to get off this rock” huffed the heavy weapons specialist as he jumped over a low boulder. The terrain was very quickly going from sand to rock; which the trooper was thankful for as it was much easier to run on.
“Rock? I’ve officially named this ‘planet retard’ for xendor’s sake…” replied Exton as he gave the flare a heavy throw at his feet. A moment later a thick green smoke began to pour out, reaching higher and higher into the sky.
The two troopers might’ve had a chance to discuss other things but a massive explosion rocked the sky behind them causing the both of them to stop and turn. The explosion was in the direction of the communication station that they had just been ordered to sprint away from…
For a moment, both troopers wondered the same thing. Did the explosives go off as planned or had something gone wrong?
Well… had something else gone wrong?
Exton was the first to come from the angle of reassurance, not entirely sure if he believed the words he heard himself.
“Our orders were to get to the landing platform as quick as we could. I’m sure they’ve just blown the center like they planned” reassured the sniper.
“Agreed… Lets rumble” replied Kaz as he squared his shoulders and started sprinting again.
Exton took one last look towards the source of the explosion. Both he and Kaz knew that the detonation wasn’t supposed to happen for at least another twenty minutes.
“Come on lads… We’re not out of this one yet” muttered the sniper to the men he couldn’t see before turning back to Kaz and picking up the pace.
D-day –3 hours
Doctor Jarael finished the last touches to his triage center; his equipment and necessary drugs arranged by alphabetical order for the next person who needed surgery. Unfortunately, that really only lasted an hour by which time Jarael was bored stiff and was wondering what the next five hours with these guys would be like.
Romo was busy trying to bring one of the battle droids back to life from its ionized state while the two rank and file stormtroopers wandered the perimeter setting up explosives around the center.
Arand however was doing something worthwhile; monitoring the transmissions across the planet now that the virus had been installed and was swiftly working to reroute all communications their way. It took a little bit of effort to tune the lines into something cohesive and usable; but the squad leader had succeeded into tapping the latest news networks with the goal of finding out if anyone was onto their invasion plans.
“Mr. Immer… Have you discovered anything interesting listening to the tabloids? Perhaps another celebrity dangling an infant out a window?” asked the doctor as he walked over to the other side of the center.
“Might as well… It’d be a lot more exciting than these debates I keep reading about” replied the squad leader, his voice betraying his boredom after finding nothing relating to even the slightest of hints that they suspected what was about to happen.
“Real debates are settled through logic and knowledge… It’s been a long time since I’ve heard of a real one that didn’t eventually degrade to mindless ignorant squabbling” replied the doctor as he took a seat at the console to listen in.
The idle banter continued in the background as Arand moved the communication lines from one channel to another. It might have felt wrong to dive into the private conversations of billions; but mercenaries who killed for money rarely had to think of such matters.
As the communication feeds switched from one conversation to another, interspersed with flashes of static, Jarael’s eyes narrowed and his hands shot out to quickly dial back the conversation.
“Heard something interesting?” asked Arand.
“Just… Something I was idly thinking about while setting up the triage center and looking at the reports on these monitors…” mumbled Jarael, his thoughts lost as he traced the conversations to the one he had just listened to…
“… And I’m telling you, we need to make plans for what the lack of a harvest season will do this year” sprang a voice filtered through the electronic speakers of the console. It was an economic forum.
Jarael’s eyes narrowed.
“Quickening or not, I do not believe your policies of taxing our farmers to be something that will help governor… All you’re going to do is exasperate the community to put a bandage on a temporary issue” came the reply from another stodgy local, much to the cries of support from several others.
“That’s what was so important? Screaming about this backwater world’s economy?” asked Arand, looking up from the console with a look of curiosity.
Jarael turned and marched over to one of the weather monitoring stations and began pulling up reports that floated into view in rapid fire. It was now Arand and Romo’s turn to walk over.
“Does he always do this?” asked Arand as he watched the white haired doctor flip from one chart to another without paying anyone a moment of attention.
“More than I can tell you… but it’s usually for a good reason” replied the Talz as he hunched his shoulders.
“Gentlemen… I think we’re in trouble” said the doctor finally, his voice calm and without even the slightest hint of anxiety. His hands had finally stopped moving and before everyone now was a big holographic image of the planet with various lines and colors drawn upon it.
“What’s going on in there? You guys seeing something on sensors?” asked Exton’s mechanically filtered voice.
“Not exactly… but reroute your visors through mine. Something’s up” replied Arand as he slipped on his helmet to activate the shared view. It took a second to establish the link, but soon Kaz and Exton were able to see everything that Arand was able to.
“I’m not sure if anyone bothered to read up on this planet, but it’s a farming world that generates its income through the production and harvest of gaseous energy that is used in products like energy packs, and common appliances” began the doctor.
The doctor paused for a moment to see if this would elicit a reaction, and when it didn’t do anything but gather some odd stares; he continued.
“Every year the planet undergoes something called ‘the quickening’. Farmers pull almost 85% of their annual income during this month long ion storm that blankets the planet in hurricane like conditions which make flight an absolute impossibility. Most people take refuge in the biosphere capital cities or retreat underground for the month until the winds die down”
“… You’re not about to tell me that the quickening is meant to happen this month, are you?” cut off the squad leader, his voice betraying the slightest hint of worry that was on everyone’s mind.
“Absolutely not… in fact, the quickening was meant to happen over two months ago”
“What do you mean, meant to happen?” asked Kaz over the comlink.
“That’s just it… The storm never hit so now the entire planet is wondering what to do. Based on their total GNP, the quickening represented over 65% of the planet’s national income and they’re now squabbling over what they can do to ensure that their economy doesn’t go out the airlock”
“… That’s the dire emergency? Sorry if I seem uninterested in something that has absolutely nothing to do with our operation here” replied Exton’s voice with more than a hint of sarcasm.
“It has everything to do with us jar head. Look, everyone on this planet seems to think that the storms aren’t going to happen because its two months late but I know they’re wrong” finished the doctor as his hand reached out to run a program that would begin running its weather simulation graphs based upon the new information Jarael had found.
The global hologram began to shift as the weather lines began converging, and cloud formations began to form and swirl across the planet. The time index at the bottom of the hologram began to accelerate and within a few moments, the cloud patterns began to blanket the entire planet in a furious series of swirls and circles.
“If this storm hits Jarael… And it hits as hard as your charts are projecting… We’re going to be stuck here for a month, aren’t we?” voiced Romo’s communicator which did so with absolutely no emotion or worry.
“When this storm hits… It’s going to be of a scale that hasn’t been seen in over half a decade of storm monitoring. We’re talking about winds so quick they’ll tear the flesh off a man’s arm, and electronic disturbances so thick that most electronic devices need to be stored in airtight containers to simply be usable again after the storm”
“How long do we have doctor?” asked Arand before Jarael could go on.
“… Based on my calculations… The storm will hit in less than twenty four hours with a 78% chance of it occurring within the next three”
There was a shared moment of silence within the weather monitoring station, now filled with the white noise chatter of the distant console and the occasional beep and grunt of processors emitted by the monitoring equipment.
It was with an odd sort of finality that Romo’s soulless translator was the first to speak after a long series of hoots and squeals.
“So… We’re humped”
“Definitely humped” thought Arand to himself as he squared his shoulders and stared into the night sky. The quickening was beginning, and the invasion had fallen apart after an accident at the central Komsta power grid took out half the city; forever branding the mercenaries as terrorists. Dicer had taken a bad hit and was now being forced to reroute to a separate landing platform a few kilometers away from them; which meant they had to sprint if they were going to help Dicer fix his ship and leave the planet before everything closed around them.
They had been asked to hold position at the communication center to assist with coordinating the retreat, but frankly it was their own fault they had wound up in that mess and Arand saw very little reason to endanger the men under his command for idiots.
It was not easy to make the choice of abandoning the remaining 40,000 mercenaries for his band of 5; but making the hard choices was an officer’s duty and Arand was not one to shrink away from such a call.
He had heard them begging and screaming for Omega squad to hold position but he simply dialed down the volume and left with the others. Thanks to Romo, they had rigged the station to only detonate within 30 minutes or if one of the salvaged droids detected any movement towards the doors. It had been a good idea, striking the best of both worlds as it allowed them to leave, while also guaranteeing the station would not fall into enemy hands.
He had hoped that in 30 minutes, vital information such as alternative transportation routes or navigating trapped forces away from dire road blocks could be accomplished through the communication uplink with the flagship up above.
Hope however had a funny way of changing things. Barely a minute had passed since they left the weather monitoring station when they noticed the familiar shape of a Roggwark marching towards the station; its massive lumbering shape advancing on the latest heat sources with a mild curiosity about it.
The creature had taken no more than two steps when the first of the massive explosions began to ignite, supported by the booby traps laid by the two troopers before hand. Fusion, fire, and bits of debris combined into a giant ball of light and heat as it pushed them to the ground.
The three stood in quiet reverence for a second, watching the station burn in the night sky. How many soldiers were now doomed to march down blockaded roads? How many would find themselves ambushing one another in a crazed attempt to cut their way to the transport? Would the transport even know when to leave or when to stay?
“Come on… I’m not planning on making this my home for the next month” said Arand simply as he broke out into a sprint with the other two close behind.