A Heavy Burden
As the dropships appeared on the deck we all reluctantly looked back. The sun setting across the bay, as if it knew this was its last farewell to us. Looking at each other in complete silence, as if already mourning that which we had not yet done.
I could almost feel the sadness on each of our minds through our ironclad cycloptic helmets, devoid of expression. Finally, with hanging shoulders, in silence we boarded. Normally the Deck Commander would yell, everyone would fall in formation and board with a lot of clatter and noise... but not this time. Even he stared at his feet in anguish, knowing what burden had come to him on this day of duty.
We all sat, each of us a father to a son or daughter... husbands to wives and men. Knowing what had to be done today... we had our orders. Never have I felt so reluctant to do the bidding of the brass, though it seemed even they found it hard to give us our orders.
This morning at the briefing... god... what was he… Not even twenty-five by my guess. Hoisted into a suit of command, probably fresh of the academy, without any combat experience... There he stood with a flustered stare, full of dismay and disbelief.
He looked like he just clambered out of bed and hastily put on his uniform. Rushed to his office just in time to get the dossier on his desk, giving it one quick read through on his way to the briefing. Yet, in all his haste, he probably could not have really read the first few sentences.
Just in the nick of time, "punctually as any staff commander should", he arrived at the front of the meeting room. Here he would relay this message from the OPORD, pressed into a dossier on his desk from his higher-ups to us. After collecting his composure, he stood stumbling and uttering the words from his ill prepared dossier.
“T.t... today we received word that we’ve lost larger areas of the city... H... HQ wants “us” to retake the city blocks...” He paused, a dead giveaway that he hadn't read the full report before relaying it unto us. "HQ wants us to put the entire section too the torch…”
While reading, his eyebrows, already dripping with sweat from under his military cap, raised as if a big question mark was at the end of his sentence on paper. Reluctant of seeing us judging his every move he carried on, as if the way he spoke was on purpose. He clenched the dossier tighter than before with his shaky fists...
"The rate at which this infection spreads is at an all-time high and essential personnel has been pulled out of the area. An official quarantine has been in effect as of last night. Drone investigation pointed out enormous numbers of casualties, with the diseased running rampant across the streets, assaulting any non-infected individual and attacking the barriers of the quarantined zone.
So far the barriers have held, but every hour their attempt grows more and more ferocious. At this rate the barriers will crumble within a few days and nearby population centers will be overrun. Therefore, a team will be sent into the quarantined slums to assess the situation and locate the source of infection...
If said objective is not completed during operations at the end of the campaign, regardless of outcome, they are to place beacons in select locations for precision strike from orbit." The staff officer was still reading through the dossier, partly because of his ill prepared morning ritual, partly of his best efforts not trying to look the part.
"As commanding staff officers, you will instruct your men not to perform any attempts of safety and relief protocol. Every inhabitant of the slums is seen as a possible carrier and are therefore to be put down. See to it personally that this is a matter of silencing the populace and it is expected of you to leave no witnesses."
As he swallowed, a big chunk obstructing his throat, he raised his eyes off the paper and glanced into the briefing room. Squeamishly he redirected his eyes every half second, realizing what he just read.
"Junior", one of the grunts behind me said in a dark and sarcastic tone. While looking over my shoulder I saw that it was one of my squad members, Master Gunnery Cheval. An African man, former combatant from the Congolese army during the 3rd World War. A bear of a man, usually clad in heavy support armor out in the field. He has a physique that would scare the bravest of men. A jutting forehead implanted with synthplasty and scars in shapes that let you to ponder over how he had got them.
I knew though... Hell, it was me who dragged his lumbering carcass to the field hospital in those trenches with three other guys. Just so he could, at the next woken hour, be back and at 'em. Even though the man looked like a vicious brute, he was one of the more kindred souls of our band of misfits. Silent, calm, calculating and always reaching out a helping hand too those in need of one.
"Bon Dieu de merde!" Cheval shouted while punching down his fist breaking the small table he sat at. The staff officer sputtered like a child. "Watch your tone private or I’ll have you court-martialed. These are the orders given and you will show no restraint in following them to the letter! Do I make myself clear?!"
"Perfectly" answered Cheval while eyeing him up like he could pounce at any given moment. Then the staff officer addressed me. "Sergeant, I take it you will keep your men in check throughout this operation?" "Perfectly" I also replied, as if I didn’t actually was inclined to reply to his inquiry.
Cheval scoffed and murmured in a heavily sarcastic manner as if we were back in high school, trying to upset the teacher as a group of teens.
Later that afternoon we, a team of eight, stood prepped on the top of the large HQ building where the dropship would pick us up. Next to us stood another team of eight, probably with the same orders as we. Under the cover of dusk we were to land in the slums, infiltrate and carry out the burden that was beset on us so heavily.
On the flight there none of us spoke, grinding in our heads over and over again the madness we were to carry out... "Could those guys who oppose the GSA on the holo-news be correct?” asked one of the soldiers from the other team? "Shut your mouth. Even saying that openly is enough to put you behind bars" replied their sergeant. "There must be a bigger picture to this madness, the brass knows what they are doing!"
I kept my mouth shut, just to not make a spectacle of things. I’ve felt myself what it is to be on the inside of a federal penitentiary. Instead I looked out through the open hull door, staring down into the central city district. It was engulfed in the last light of the setting sun, gleaming against the well-lit mega structures and skyscrapers as we flew over it.
All those people down there unaware of what is soon to happen, destroying the lives they once knew... if only they knew... I've seen it all happen before on a cover-up back on the moon station Eclipse. Horrors of unspeakable questionable ethics, leaving you to wonder whether they are the monsters or we.
The things we fought there... If it’s true that they now have a foothold on Earth, the brass is correct to "put the torch" to the whole goddamned place. Not that I would say this openly towards my squad... They weren't there when it happened and would’ve openly disobeyed my orders if I had decided to side with the brass from the beginning.
They will see wisdom in the operation we are to pull off tonight eventually... They will... They weren't there...