And so it begins...

Forgive me the drama, but this is kind of a big deal for me. This is the jumping off point for a significant portion of the history of many of the stories that I have already started to write. This is a draft version of what could be called Chapter One... It needs work, but I feel that it is presentable in its current state. I meant to post this Sunday/Monday... but it wasn't ready on Sunday and well, after Monday, my heart wasn't in it.

If you have already read the Teaser, then think of this as a flash back. I intend to work on that some more and reintroduce it as an "official" part two.

Six hours ago...

"Attention, all hands this is the captain speaking. We've been ordered up to the front. All stations make secure for Transition Space Jump and report."

Corporal Huygens looked up from the weapons inspection to see the rest of the platoon spring into action, to which he quickly followed suit, quickly stowing the rifles in their transport cases.

"Alright you damned apes, you heard the Captain. Get that shit secure, I don’t want any of it bouncing around during the jump transition," their Platoon Sergeant shouted

Sergeant First Class Michael Nava. The beloved, yet feared Platoon Sergeant of third platoon, Echo Company. A nice guy actually once you got to know him… if he let you. He was standing now directing the chaos, directing what to stow where. Seeing that the his troops weren't quite moving as fast as he liked, he started with the mild threats.

"C'Mon, c'mon! Get the lead out of your ass or I'll put my boot in it. You know the drill, It ain't gotta be pretty, just get it stowed. You can sort it out after we get in the bubble."

The Bubble, CPL Huygens thought to himself. The Transitionary Space Effect was a concept that few could really comprehend. When he was a newbie, he was given a tour of the ship along with the other new arrivals. Their tour included the engineering section and the Chief Engineer tried to give them a layman's explanation of the systems. The Chief tried to keep it purely informational, but you could tell that it was a point of pride for him. He compared the differences between the common Civilian grade Mark 6 drive systems and the military grade Mark 7A systems their fleet had been upgraded to before the recent border skirmishes began. 'Almost as safe, but three times as fast,' he said. He missed part of what said next, hung up on his use of the word 'almost.'

As far as he could get before his head started hurting and gave up, was that it was a bizarre quantum exploitation of the eleven dimensional topology at the Planck scale, coupled with the secondary effects of Higgs Field Manipulation. The end result was that it allowed starships to traverse space at virtually superluminal speeds without actually reaching or surpassing the speed of light. The Chief told them that they didn't break the laws of physics, they just went around them.

Travel was safe and stable in a TSE Bubble, or so they said. Sure, maybe on other ships you could get up and walk about and go back to work, but here on the ships of E Co… The other guys kept telling him he was imagining things, but he could swear he felt the ship swaying in TSE. The Fleet C&C seemed have taken a liking to them and had kept them busy since the beginning of the recent border skirmishes. He knew that the Republic Senate wasn’t calling it TW Five yet, but it sure felt like it. E Co. had been sent into so many engagements that there was no time for reset and refurb. Thinking back to the last op he was on, a joint mission with some Britts… to use one of their words, the RSS Collins was knackered.

"Places everybody, places. If you are good to go, get a jump seat and strap in," SFC Nava called out.

Quickly surveying the Platoon's area, Sergeant Nava saw that everything was secure. He made a quick run down the line to double check the storage lockers. Satisfied, he secured himself in a jumpseat.

"This is Sergeant Nava, Third Platoon is secure," he said into his communicator device.

A few moments later, he felt the lurch of the ship as it executed the jump into the TSE. Most everyone that he spoke to described it differently. Some described it as feeling like 'the bottom fell out,' others described it as inexplicable vertigo. He on the other hand felt a rather disconcerting feeling of a disconnect between his vision, physical orientation and his inner ear… he even went to sickbay about it a couple times. The Doc told him that while it is decidedly not normal, he was actually fine. On his last visit the doctor confided in him that it really was the ship, that it was feedback in the tuning of the TSE and the HFM, though it was still well within acceptable limits. 'Really,' he had asked him, 'what can you expect from an overworked front line combat vessel? If it gets worse, if the nausea persists, come back and see me again.'

This jump felt better. The disconnect was still there, as was the momentary nausea, but it was better. Either he was getting used to it finally or the engineer worked his magic on the drive system.

"Attention all hands, Warning Order for Battle Stations, Combat briefing for key personnel in 10," the Captain announced once the transition to the TSE jump had stabilized.

"Alright Third Platoon," Sergeant Nava called out, "begin combat drop inspect and prep once the deck officer gets the ships into position. Squad leaders take charge, I'll be at the brief with the LT."

Just then, the giant gantry that ran the length of the drop deck lurched as it began moving the dropships into the prep positions. Four dropships, one for each of the squads of Third Platoon descended from the rafters where four more, the backups, were nestled.

The RSS Collins was colloquially known as a four-pack, meaning that it could release four dropships simultaneously. Unlike the singles that were operated by the Colonial Marines, packing only a single squad, the Collins could deliver an entire platoon to boots on ground. Three more ships, three more platoons, rounded out Echo Company Third Battalion of the 99th Aerospace Assault Regiment. The Collins, Sturgis, Bliss and Freeman flying in formation would simultaneously drop sixteen ships and put an entire company on the ground.

Once the dropships were in the prep position, the deck crew sprang into action. Fuel hoses were run out to top off the tanks that were normally kept three quarters full as the ordinance crews began opening hatches to the munitions magazines. Each of the squads started to move for their ships to prep their interiors for drop. His ship, Echo Three-One was up in the front of the lineup. There he met his squad leader, Staff Sergeant Peterson, at the foot of the ramp.

"Corporal Huygens, I want you to perform the inspection on the harnesses, then assist with the reserve ammo load up. If you finish that before I get back from the Armory, check and load up the reserve food and water," she said.

"Yes Sergeant," he said as she turned to leave.

He went through the interior of the drop ship checking and double checking the jump seats and then the restraint harnesses on the walls of the ship. Through the open door in the back, he could hear the sound of gas turbine engines of their Armored Personnel Carriers being started. Inwardly he hoped that they would be bringing them down with them. He wasn't opposed to a ruck march, but it was simply just easier having them around. Safer too, given their armor plating and large caliber cannons.

Satisfied with the inspection, he turned his attention to the ammunition. The ammo already loaded had been checked and more was being brought to the ship on hand carts. While he waited, he double checked the food and water reserves. The combat rations were shelf stable and could sit there on the ship for years, he merely needed visual verification that they had been loaded. Given the state of ready alert they had been under for the past few months, they already had. Under the ready alert, everything was at least half loaded. The primary and secondary water reserves checked out, both had been loaded and replenished within the past few days. Once the ammo arrived he helped to secure it in the ship, securing it away in every nook and cranny that wasn't already occupied with the food, water and field kits.

He heard voices outside and recognized them as Sergeants Nava and Peterson. Once they reached the ship, they dropped their previous conversation and boarded the ramp.

"Corporal, what's the load out status?" Sergeant Peterson asked.

"Nearly complete, once I get this last case locked in, we're done with the primary base load out," he replied.

"Outstanding Corporal, thanks," she returned, "Well Sergeant Nava, that's everyone, right?"

"Yep, as long as Fourth Squad quit it with the grab-assin', that's it. Corporal Huygens, Lieutenant Ahumada would like a word with you before the briefing. He's in his office," Sergeant Nava said.

"Yes Sergeant, moving out," he replied.

Odd, he thought to himself as he made his way to the Lieutenant's office. Rarely did the LT show direct interest in the troops outside of combat, with the exception of promotions and discipline… Soldier business was the Platoon Sergeant's job. He was expecting neither… his record was clean, he had made no violations of policy and his time in grade was not sufficient for promotion. He had only just made Corporal two months ago. Reaching his door, curious more than nervous, he knocked.

"Enter," a voice shouted within.

'Office' was a generous description for the room. It was used as such but it was a mere one and a half meter cubical adjacent to the LT's quarters. He entered and came to the position of attention in front of the LT's desk and saluted.

"Sir, Corporal Huygens, reporting as ordered."

"At ease Corporal," he said, retuning the salute and gesturing to the empty chair, "at ease and have a seat."

CPL Huygens took the chair facing him, even more curious as to the nature of the summons.

"I needed to talk to you about our coming mission Corporal and I wanted to do it off line. Our mission is on Piscium Four, the capitol is under attack. You're a Piscium native are you not?"

"Well, sir… after a fashion, you could say that is true. It is where I was born, though not raised."

"Yes, I know. The Fourth Territorial War left you orphaned after we drove the Consortium out of the system. You were placed into the Republic foster care system and sent back to Centauri Prime and later Earth. This could have been counted as a 'homecoming' of sorts.

"I need to know where you stand in this. Your thoughts and feelings… I usually keep my distance, but I thought this to be important enough to speak with you directly. Personally."

"You want to know if I will be a liability sir. Will the thoughts of revenge cloud my judgment as a soldier? Well, I don't think so. I was so young then, I have so very little recollection of that place. I dream of a valley sometimes, though that is the extent of it. Do I miss my parents? Again, I was a tiny child, I have no memory of them. There is a hole in my life that I do not know how to fill… or with what. It is perhaps the driving reason why I enlisted as soon as I was able.

"Do I want to see the Consortium crushed and driven from the stars? Of course I do sir. What soldier of the Republic doesn't? Do I want it for myself? No. I do it for the defense and security of citizens the Republic."

"Very astute of you Corporal, thank you. Selfless, spoken like a leader. Have you considered furthering that? You have potential."

"I don't know if pursue is the correct word for me, sir. I will strive to better myself the best I can, if that confers leadership, so be it."

"Well, I have more news for you. Your team leader is not getting out of the sickbay anytime soon and I need a new one. The captain signed your orders for your promotion this morning. You're taking over first squad's team two. I talked it over with sergeant Nava and your squad leader after I received the orders. We'll be promoting you just prior to the platoon briefing."

"Sergeant, sir?" he asked, not hiding his surprise, "Isn’t that a little quick?"

"There's a war on and rank often comes quick. Out here, it doesn't need a rubberstamp from the Senate for it to be one. They can call it intervention and police action all they want back at C-Prime, but out here, it's still war."

"Of course not sir."

"Any questions?"

"No sir," he said, standing.

"Very well. Thank you Sergeant, you are dismissed," the Lieutenant said, saluting.

After the hasty promotion ceremony, Lieutenant Ahumada began the briefing. Upon announcing that the engagement site was on Piscium Four, a few of the junior soldiers turned to see if there was a reaction from their newly minted Sergeant. Not seeing one, they refocused their attention on the Lieutenant.

"Alright guys, this one is fairly straight forward. As I said, there has been a Consortium incursion on the mining colony of Piscium Four and the capitol is under attack. Intel has reported that it is an approximately company sized element of light infantry, about 170, with a small element of anti-air mixed in. The Unit designation is unknown at this time, but it has presented itself as a common forward light infantry unit. Long range has picked up a Consort fleet inbound to the system with a current ETA of about sixteen hours. We'll be onsite long before that.

"So far, the Consorts seem to have focused their attention on the industrial sector, namely the refineries which they largely control now after the Colonial Marines withdrew. Delta Company of the Fourth Ranger Battalion has been deployed into the city to assist the Colonial Marines with defense. Last word is that they are holding the city and standing strong, but it is a stalemate. That's where Echo comes in."

The Lieutenant paused and activated the display map.

"This is going to be a kiss and go combat day drop. We'd all would rather it be a nighttime drop, but those boys and girls in Delta Four need our help. Weather they'd admit it or not, they're getting it. The fleet will drop out of TSE and enter a retrograde orbit, covering us while Echo's frigates punch down into atmo. We will separate at just about 30,000 meters at which point the frigates will boost back into orbit. Our DZ is here, near this river junction in Piscium Valley with fourth platoon. One and two will drop in over here on the other side of the valley. After drop off, the drop ships will remain grounded. We are to avoid engagement in route to our target area, the rear flank of the forces attacking the city.

"First and Second Platoons will form a line of assault here, outside the industrial areas," he said indicating the positions on the map, "We will take and form up on this series of hills here, providing cover fire and over watch for the assault. I've already designated the positions and sectors of fire I want each of the squads covering. Fourth will form up on our left covering the suburban residential area, as well as our rear flank.

"We will have the air cover of the drop ships and fighters flown off the carrier once we take out the antiaircraft batteries, in addition to orbital support every eighty minutes. Our arrival on the rear flanks is timed to coincide with the third completed orbit in order to have their support for the initial assault… and guys… I'm sorry about this one, but since we are the anchor point, we are going in heavy on this one. Sniper rifles, DMR's and light machine guns. Any questions at this time?"

"Transport sir?"

"No, we are going cross country, about 12K. Reasonable in four hours even under full combat load."

"How about nav, sir?"

"Piscium Four has a functional GPS network compatible with our combat systems and I have the hard copy maps right here. Everyone take a copy and use it… you know how I feel about that."

"Sir, how about the environment? What's the weather look like down there?" Sergeant Peterson asked.

"The planet is Earth nominal and DZ, the city and the valley as a whole lies in a temperate to sub tropical zone. It is the end of their Spring now and the forecast indicates clear weather for a the next few days. Perfect weather for kicking Consort ass," the Lieutenant joked as most of the juniors and a few of the noncoms laughed.

"LT, for the benefit of the troops that haven't though to ask this yet… what is the expected level of resistance?" SFC Nava asked.

"Thank you Sergeant. Intel suggests that it will be moderate at best. Intel and the operations planners have also reported that there have been some probes into the city via the suburbs on the other side of the river. It is anticipated that it is possible we might run into patrols as far out as 20K from the city… as I said we are under orders to not engage until we reach the city.

"On the map I have marked the areas that I would like to have our teams set up. I have also taken the liberty of outlining some potential attack vectors, cover areas and fall back points on the main tactical map… feel free to use them in your squad level planning or devise your own as you see fit. The left and right fire limits are, as you know, our left and right elements… Second and Fourth platoons.

"Any other questions? No? Alright, fall out into your squads to start your mission planning."

Staff Sergeant Peterson gathered her squad to the side of the platoon common area to begin the planning of her part in this.

"Sergeant Huygens? You feeling up to this?" She asked him.

Sergeant Woods, the Team Leader for Team One looked at her and jokingly scoffed.

"Nah, whachu talkin' 'bout sar'nt P? Huggy got dis," he said, clapping him on the shoulder.

Rolling her eyes, she returned her inquisitive gaze to Sergeant Huygens.

"I'm good. Sergeant Woods is right. I had a leg up being a Corporal for a bit… I did after all take charge when Sergeant Jensen almost ate it last week."

"OK then. Let's get down to business. Alright guys, I've had a look at the topo and the tac maps and the areas the LT outlined look good. Unless there are objections or better ideas, I say we use them.

"Team One, Sergeant Woods, I'm with you…"

"Aww, Yeah…" he drawled as a few of the squad members quietly laughed.

"Knock it off Woods, this ain't a night out on the town. Get your head outta your ass and back in the game."

"Sorry," he quickly exclaimed.

Sergeant Woods seemed put on a show, making a bit of a small deal about having a 'thing' for Staff Sergeant Peterson. None of the juniors were sure if he was just playing it up for laughs or if he was serious about the matter. He did kept it mostly professional in uniform… dropping in a wisecrack here and there on occasion. She wasn't unattractive or anything… she looked good in uniform and filled out her dress uniform nicely, choosing a skirt and pumps rather than slacks and flats. At company mass formations, a few of the guys in third even caught some from the other platoons checking her out.

What the juniors didn't know though, something that only a few noncoms in third platoon were privy to, was that during the last shore leave they had gotten a little more friendly with each other than they should have. Someone had apparently caught the two of them making out in the hall of the hotel where some of the guys in Third Platoon were staying. When caught, she quickly quashed it and he backed off and apologized… but it happened. There was the tiniest bit of chemistry between the two. To those who knew, it was like she was trying to forget about it and he was trying to catch her unawares so she didn't.

"Alright. We set down here, and double file march by teams on the way in. Once we reach this series of ridges, I want Team One on this one here," she said indicating the position on the map, "and Two, I want you up here on the next ridge over."

"Once we reach our defensive positions, Team One will set up here in this hollow here to the side of the hill and Two will set up on the other side of the saddle over here. Got it?" She asked, looking around the group.

"It is vitally important that you use caution in this area to the rear once we engage, this is one of the designated areas for orbital resupply drops, should we need them."

"Lastly, Sergeant Huygens I still want you on a sniper rifle for this. Sullivan, you will still be his spotter, but I'm going to need you to have your eyes out on the rest of the team. Back him up as Team Leader, got it? I want both the primary and secondary LMG's drawn and everyone else on DMR's. Questions?"

Looking around the group, she saw none were forth coming.

"Alright then. Five minutes to copy my notes to your map. Make sure you get the platoon and squad rally points down," she said, "They will be loaded into the tactical systems, but I want you to have a back up."

They spent the remaining time copying the notes and going over the path they would be taking from the DZ to the target area, carefully examining the terrain features they would be encountering. Satisfied that they had copied down the information and that there were no more additional questions, she directed them to pack it in.

"Alright, armor up and go draw weapons. Ready line in 10."

In the locker room the reality of the coming mission began to set in and members of the platoon started to get psyched up. After suiting up in their armor, many of them roughhoused with each other, punching their chest plates and banging their helmets together.

"Alright, knock that shit off, save that energy for the march," Sergeant Nava said as he finished suiting up.

After drawing weapons, Sergeant Huygens fell in on the ready line and started inspecting his team. When he finished, Sergeant Peterson arrived and checked her two team leaders and gave the thumbs up to Sergeant Nava, who then gave the thumbs up to the Lieutenant.

"We're good sir," he shouted.

"Thank you Sergeant," he said as he performed random spot inspections on the platoon as he walked the line.

"All hands, this is the bridge, thirty minute warning. Battle stations and final checks."

"All right Third Platoon, you heard it. MOUNT UP!" Lieutenant Ahumada shouted.

"DOGS OF WAR!" the platoon replied as they fell out and made for their dropships.

Once on board, Sergeant Huygens took his place at the front of the bay, the last of the side facing seats. To his right was Sergeant Peterson who as squad leader, had a rear facing seat next to the Lieutenant. After stowing his rifle and rucksack, he took his seat and strapped himself in.

"Hey, we good back there?" The pilot up on the flight deck called out.

"Yep, we're good Chief, go ahead and button her up," Lieutenant Ahumada replied.

"Roger that sir," he said as the rear door started to rise and the gantry picked up the dropships. Below, he could feel the landing gear retracting.