Rough Landing


Alex cursed loudly as the Sabertooth shook even more violently than before. There was the sound of metal cracking, something the passengers of the dropship absolutely didn't want to hear. Luckily, the dropship remained intact for now.

Before Athena could take a breath of relief, the dropship suddenly began descending at a much more rapid speed than before.

"We are going down!" The voice of one of the pilots called out from the intercom. "Brace for impact!"

This time Athena almost wanted to join Alex in swearing.

Even as the dropship was going down, there was a voice calling out in the comms in her armor. It belonged to Sergeant Gregor, one of the platoon leaders in her company and one of the nicer sergeants in the unit.

"We have been hit! We are…"

And then the voice abruptly disappeared.

Perhaps there was an interruption in the comms, but given Athena could still hear the others, the more likely possibility was that the sergeant, and everyone on his dropship, were gone. 15 men and 2 pilots, most of whom had gone through years of training and fighting. Dead in seconds.

Before Athena could even react, her entire body suddenly jerked forward violently as the Sabertooth she was in finally made contact with the ground. It seemed like the pilots did a good job after all. The dropship didn't disintegrate in midair or hit the ground and explode. Instead, it landed. A rough landing, but a landing nonetheless.

As the dropship came to a stop, Athena coughed. Even with the protection of the armor, the anticipated impact still tossed her body forward against the leather safety belt. Luckily for her, the belt kept her body from flying forward and hitting Sato on the other side of the dropship. She was a little disoriented, but she was alive.

A fresh recruit might freeze in her seat for a few minutes and thank the gods, but Athena knew all too well that she was hardly safe yet. Without wasting another second, she turned in the direction of the cockpit.

"Pilots! Is it safe to exit? Pilots! Talk to me!"

There was no response. Perhaps the intercom system had been broken by the impact. Perhaps it was the pilots who were damaged. Regardless, Athena wasn't going to stay in this dropship and wait to see what would happen. They were sitting ducks in here.

"Get up!" She yelled at the others on the ship, many of whom were even more disoriented than her. Even as she spoke, she was removing the safety belt holding her in her seat. "Get off this ship!"

She quickly made her way to the rear door of the dropship. After a few seconds of work, the door opened, and Athena, with her rifle in her hand, was the first to get off the dropship.

As soon as she was out, Athena carefully scanned the surroundings for any threats. There was none. It seemed like they had landed quite far away from the main battlefields. The staging ground they were heading to, Section Lemma, was supposed to be an open field that could allow multiple Imperial transport ships to land and deploy reinforcements. Instead, right now they were in the middle of what seemed like…a farm?

"Where are we?" Adrianna was equally confused as she got off the dropship and saw the same thing Athena did. "I don't think the GPS systems are up yet."

"Let's hope the pilots know where the hell they took us." Athena turned to one of the troopers and pointed at the cockpit which was in a different part than the troop compartment. "Go see if the pilots are alive! If so, get them out!"

"Yes sir!"

One by one, the troops got off the dropship. Sato jumped off, followed by Alex and Lucius. As soon as he got off, Sato looked around before taking a number of steps away from the dropship and lifting his binoculars. He looked into the distance before pointing something out to Athena.

"Sir! There seem to be intense firefights in these two directions."

Athena made her way to Sato. The farm seemed to be built on high ground and allowed them quite the view. She frowned and took out a pair of binoculars of her own from a storage box in her armor and looked in that direction.

There were gunfire and explosions everywhere, but it was obvious the firefights in those two directions were the most intense. In one of the locations, Athena could distinctly see a large number of what looked like Imperial dropships heading for the ground. There were bright explosions going off all around the dropships.

"Is that Section Omega?" She realized and then turned to the left and looked. "Ok…that is Section Lemma. it seems like we are 20 kilometers away from where we should be, and if Section Omega is in that direction…the pilots must have deviated from our original path when evading the attacks and making the landing."

Honestly, despite the frown on her face, Athena was thrilled this was what happened. Just because Imperial forces made their way to the ground didn't mean they were safe. Even if the Decima forces didn't know where the landing points would be before, they would immediately deploy their armored and air units as soon as that became clear in an attempt to chase the Imperial forces off the planet. If she ended up at one of the landing points, her life would be under serious threat.

As of now, she was in the middle of nowhere, and it seemed like she was safe…

Almost immediately, a loud explosion went off from behind Athena. Athena felt something hitting her back, but luckily her armor wasn't breached. The Indominated class also protected her hearing from the close blast. She snapped around and realized that her fears were justified after all. The Sabertooth dropship, after surviving this long, had finally exploded. Most likely its fuel tank was breached, and something managed to set it off.

"Shit!" Sato took a few steps toward the burning dropship before pausing. They had nothing to put out the fire, not that it would matter much.

"Who was still inside the ship?" Athena raised her voice. She looked around. Adrianna and Alex were both by her side and were unharmed. So was Sato. Lucius was a bit closer, but he wasn't harmed either. "Lucius?"

"I think there were six men inside. They took too long with their weapons. Most of them were heavy weapon specialists." Lucius looked around at the survivors before turning in the direction of the cockpit. "Private Li was close to the cockpit. I don't think he or the two pilots made it."

Alex took a few steps closer to the cockpit before sighing. "Nope. They didn't make it."

Athena frowned. Seven dead. Eight left, including her and her four bodyguards. It was unfortunate, but there was little she could do about that. She turned around and tapped her earpiece.

"This is Captain Athena Dane of the 437th Company. Can anyone hear me?"

"Athena, I don't think the comms are working," Adrianna explained. She had been trying to contact the other units. "Maybe we're just too far from the others. Maybe the Decima forces are disrupting our comms."

"I guess bad news never come alone." Athena sighed before quickly making up a decision. "We can't stay here. We're too exposed here and the Decima forces may come looking for us."

She glanced at a building around 400 steps away from her. It looked like a barn, and it was likely occupied. If so she doubted the people inside didn't notice the dropship, especially after the explosion. She and the others could try to get them in time and hope no one from the Decima forces noticed the dropship and the explosion, but a much safer option would be to leave as soon as possible. Wasting even another minute here could mean running into a squad or a platoon of Decima soldiers.

"We should head for Section Lemma at once, sir." Lucius suddenly suggested. "We need to group up with the others and rejoin the fight."

Athena glanced at Lucius. A small smile climbed onto her face.

She had grown to know the people around her in the last few months. Lucius was likely one of the most loyal soldiers here. Adrianna's love for the Imperium was nearly nonexistent. Alex wasn't exactly loyal either. From what Athena learned, Alex joined the Imperial Army so she could send money back to her younger sisters back home and allow them to go to good schools and have a good life. Sato, despite his frequent praise of the Imperium, only joined the Army because he believed it would please his father. It didn't, but the Army wasn't something he could just back out of.

She didn't know the other troops well, but most likely none of them was as suicidal as Lucius. When it was obvious that Section Lemma was a slaughterhouse, any sane person would use this opportunity and stay away from there as long as possible. Only a real zealot to the Imperial cause like Lucius would be so eager to march toward a heavily defended enemy position with a handful of troops.

Usually, Athena would find herself in a difficult situation when dealing with loyalists like Lucius. She would have to put up an act, something she had done so many times before in the past months. Luckily for her, this time, things were a little different.

They were no longer on an Imperial planet where everything she did would be heavily monitored and she had no choice but to hide her Starcraft units. No…they were on a large, heavily-contested planet. One where both factions on it had their hands full with trying to kill each other. One where a handful of men and units would be a drop of water in the ocean.

"Very well." She nodded at Lucius before pointing at the surroundings. "We will be too exposed if we head to Section Lemma directly. The Decima forces are likely converging on that location as well. It will be safer if we reach the forests there first and then circle around."

Athena's decision to move through the forest might have cost the squad of eight a little more time, but it soon became clear that this was a small price to pay. Minutes after the eight Imperial soldiers went on the move, they spotted a pair of Decima Overwatch class gunships approaching rapidly from behind. It seemed like they had reached the farm where their dropship first crash-landed and noticed the survivors on their scanners. Not content with letting a single invader go free, these Decima soldiers decided to hunt the Imperials down to the last.

Luckily, by the time the gunships approached, the squad had already reached the cover of the dense forest. The terrain prevented the gunships from pursuing.

Even so, the Imperials had little time to relax. Before they could take a break, they realized the Decima troops weren't done with them yet. An unspecified number of Decima infantry soldiers had entered the forest and were tracking them, forcing the Imperials to get back on the move.

"How many of them are there?" Alex wondered as the squad of eight soldiers moved through the forest as quickly as their power armor could carry them.

"Too much for us to handle," Adrianna simply replied.

"We should stand and fight now," Lucius argued. He only wanted to fight and die for the Imperium. It didn't matter whether he did so here in the forest or at Section Lemma. "Bring as many of them down with us as possible!"

Athena glanced at Lucius. Now would be the perfect time for her to unleash her Terran forces. The only question was what would happen to the survivors in her squad. She wouldn't feel too bad about killing some of the common soldiers in her squad. Lucius could die as well for all she cared. But Sato and Alex…they had been working together for months, and they had served her well. She wouldn't trust them enough to let them in on her secret, but she hesitated to just betray and eliminate them.

Thankfully, she already had an idea, and the encroaching Decima forces gave her the perfect opportunity to slip away.

"Listen up men, here's what's gonna happen." She suddenly declared. "Adrianna and I will stay behind and slow them down. Sato, I want you to take the others to Section Lemma and do whatever you can to help our forces there."

"We can stay too, sir!" Sato protested. As Athena's bodyguard, he wasn't just going to let his captain sacrifice herself to save him. It should be the other way around.

"Once the shooting starts eight people wouldn't last much longer than two. Go! You will achieve more at Section Lemma!" Athena insisted. Whether that was true was honestly anyone's guess, but it was a good excuse. "That's an order! Do it!"

"I can also stay with you, sir!" Lucius protested. He was truly willing to die for the Imperium. If the old Athena was in his position, she would likely act similarly.

"Go!" Athena simply insisted.

The other members of the squad looked at each other, but they all knew there was no time to hesitate. Lucius, Sato, and Alex gave Athena a final respectful look before turning and leaving. Most captains were fine with sending their men to die, but few would sacrifice themselves to protect their troops. Of course, according to Imperial propaganda, this willingness for self-sacrifice was something every Imperial officer, soldier, and civilian alike should strive for. Athena's self-sacrifice wasn't too out of character given the act she had maintained in front of the others ever since she returned to Fort 127.

Without knowing her true motives, what was left of Athena's squad saw her as a true hero of the Imperium.

Athena turned back to Adrianna. She had specifically wanted Adrianna to stay because she was the only person Athena truly trusted. Even now, without knowing what Athena was planning to do, Adrianna didn't question the order that, as far as she could see, would lead to her death. She stayed, not because she loved the Imperium, but because Athena was staying.

"I told you I owed my life to you after what happened in Outpost Delta." The redhead simply stated as she readied her weapons. "Guess it's time I give it back."

Athena stared at Adrianna in silence for a few seconds. She had to admit she was moved. Many of her men had promised to give their lives at her command, but how many would truly do it when required?

"As a matter of fact," Athena said quietly as she prepared to finally summon the Starcraft units into battle again after so many months of being forced to hide them. "That will not be necessary."

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