“I kinda thought we’d be taking the space elevator.” Penny said as she strapped herself in.
“Can’t.” Captain Niazi shrugged as she buckled her own harness. “Insurgents crippled it eight years ago. Now when we go from ship to surface, we take the fast lane.”
“Oh Yeah.” LC Amrah hollered. His eyes lit up like a kid on Christmas. “In the Marine Corps, we put the drop in ‘Dropship’.”
Penny resisted the urge to grip the harness tighter. She didn’t want to give the Jarheads the satisfaction of knowing she was nervous. It had been a long time since she had made planetfall like this.
The hum of the magnetic catapult warming caused a hush to fall upon the marines around her. Excited looks flicked between them and the entire ship, collectively, took a deep breath.
Captain Niazi bellowed “BOMBS AWAY!” and with a loud metallic ‘Clank’ the restraining claw released its grip on the dropship. The tension ignited. The voices of a platoon of marines became a single, unified roar as the dropship blasted down to Aloysius.
Penny suddenly didn’t give a care what they thought of her and squeezed the harness till her knuckles turned white.
She looked down at the vidwindow beneath their feet. The planet rushed up to meet them and the entire ship began to shudder violently as they broke atmosphere. Air rushed passed the ship so fast it ignited. Over the roar Captain Niazi yelled. “Activating energy shields.”
The orange glow that had overtaken the view through the vid-window turned white as the energy shield leapt forward to part the air before the heat could reach the drop-ship. The shuddering calmed a little and Penny forced herself to at least pretend to be relaxed.
After a handful of heart-pounding seconds they reached the lower atmosphere and fired the deceleration jets. The shuddering returned with a vengeance as engineering wrestled against gravity, until the ship slowed enough for the repulsor engines to take over and allow the dropship to hover. The vidwindow beneath their feet showed nothing but endless ocean, making it impossible to tell if they were five or fifty metres from the surface.
“Well.” Penny breathed. “That was something.”
From their place over a random stretch of ocean the dropship rose and rocketed off towards its destination. Captain Niazi unbuckled her harness and moved down to the floor of the craft.
“Ears peeled Marines. Let’s go over this again for our guest.”
Niazi clapped and a series of vidwindows appeared in the air before her marines. Penny saw the front of a prefabricated, two-storey, civilian house and a corresponding orbital image of the same, besides both of these was the computer map showing its street address.
“This, is our target. Intel has identified it as a safe-house of the Black Mask Society and our own OP has confirmed seeing BMS agents coming and going from it. Including our mystery woman.”
Captain Niazi added the image of the woman in the pageboy cut to the screens.
Penny brought her hand up to her chin and rubbed it thoughtfully.
Captain Niazi turned to her people. “I know it looks like a text-book takedown but I need everyone to be double and triple checking every detail on this one. Bravo team’s ordnance tech noticed nothing unusual, they went over the place from top to bottom and the whole thing went up like a truck full of roman candles. So stay focused people, your lives depend on it.”
Penny moved her hand from her chin. “Ain’t gonna to be worth it.”
Every pair of marine eyes turned towards her.
“You won’t find intel in there worth a tinker’s damn.”
Niazi narrowed her eyes at Penny. “Intel has seen a top-tier target like Rodgers’ assistant in the vicinity. High Command isn’t going to let this one go without us at least taking a look-see.”
“I get that.” Penny said. “But it’s a Trojan horse. One of my first assignments in the Rangers was to infiltrate behind enemy lines within major Periphery cities. We’d set up trap houses just like these and use them as waypoints as we returned to base. We’d wire up the place with enough explosives to blow a hole in the side of the world and then set up Rube Golderg-style booby traps, the kind that don’t show up on your disposal droid’s sensors. The last squad you sent into one of these likely bought it when they picked up a book with a string attached or opened the wrong cupboard in the study.”
Captain Niazi folded her arms. “Then what would you suggest we do?”
“Well if if it were up to me I’d requisition orbital support and turn the entire two-storey property into a vacant lot. But they ain’t gonna let you do that are they?”
Niazi shook her head. “They ain’t. Not on your word alone.”
Penny nodded. “Then I’ll make you a deal. Let me take your disposal droid out for a spin and I’ll get you and High Command all the proof they need that safehouse is nothing more than a death trap.”
For a moment Captain Niazi’s features took on a softness that seemed out of character for the gruff Marine commander, but she quickly smirked it back into its hiding place.
“Alright Ranger, you got a deal.”
Penny brushed a hand across the cold, dew-covered railing beside the worn brick steps leading up to
the safe house. The disposal droid’s hand reported the ambient temperature and noted the humidity, but otherwise no sensation of cold was transmitted to her.
Penny never liked controlling a droid by remote. The insulation from the real world made her numb. Even her eyes and ears felt duller somehow, despite the droid’s high-definition sensors.