Boots on the Ground - part 1 of 4
An out of alignment fan blade on the right side of Baker’s helmet made an endless ticking. It caught, and the sound morphed to a high-pitched whine reminiscent of nails on a blackboard. Within moments she was breathing stale air laced with the scent of her own exertion.
Shifting her weapon into her right hand, she thumped the side of her helmet with her left. “Glitchy piece of shit.” The fan resumed—now the ticking sounded reassuring.
Following the green line projected on her heads up display, she continued on her patrol. Twisted metal pieces and spalled concrete slabs littering the ground forced her on a non-linear path. With each step her boots crunched on the debris-littered ground.
Tilting back at the waist, she gazed up. Skeletal black metal created geometric windows on the writhing sky above. The web of supports were all that remained of the dome that once kept the ammonia-laced atmosphere out. Outside winds now reached the once sheltered habitat.
Once this was the recreation dome of a colony numbering thirty-thousand—most of whom didn’t make it to safety the day it happened. This dome, along with the seven others, all failed simultaneously. Bad sealant, they said, but she doubted that was really what happened—especially now that they had sent her in. Soldiers like her were never sent in for just a ‘sealant’ issue.
She rounded a corner. Wreckage of an amusement park stretched out before her. Although only six months had passed since the dome opened to the atmosphere, the equipment appeared weathered over decades, or even a century. She took a picture and continued on.
A squeal of grinding metal drew her attention. She swung her weapon towards the sound’s origin and waited.
Her heads-up displays identified the crumpled contraption as a carousel. The original form of the ride appeared as a green line drawing on top of her view. Mythical creatures such as horses, giraffes, reindeer, pigs and even an orca once toured children in circles just for fun. She couldn’t imaging how riding in circles could be fun.
A gust of wind made the wreckage move, grinding the pieces together. That was the sound that had drawn her attention—nothing to worry about.
Emitting a grunt, she advanced forward. A dust devil twirled across her view, but she ignored it, her gaze fixed on a horse that might once have been brown.
The metal beast moved—just a shake. Once she reached it, she flipped it over exposing the dusty ground beneath. She stood and let out a long exhale.
“How did I end up with this shit job?” she said without activating her comms. “Was it because of my fight with Dodd? That oxygen thief deserved what he got.”
Movement in her peripheral vision drew her attention. Her augmented reaction time focused all her sensors in less than a millisecond. A person in a dingy white spacesuit skirted around the debris. It wasn’t top-end armour like hers, instead it was just an ordinary atmospheric suit.
“Stop!” Her helmet’s speakers amplified her shout.
The person ignored her order, breaking into a jog instead. They continued on before vanishing behind the dilapidated mass of a Ferris wheel.
Baker sprinted to catch up. As she circled to the other side of the decaying Ferris wheel, the figure paused and looked her her way. Baker slowed to a walk as she studied her target.
The person was short—well below the average height in this settlement. Their dark helmet faceplate kept her from seeing their eyes. She couldn’t confirm if they were a greenie or not. 87.6% of the original population were greenies, so assuming one stood before her seemed reasonable.
Once she reached ten metres away, she stopped and tried to appear less threatening—an impossible task in full combat armour.
“I’m here to help.” Baker hoped the person wouldn’t question her lie. Her orders were specific—sweep the settlement to identify the source of the signal. Helping survivors, especially when there shouldn’t be any, wasn’t on her list.
As soon as she spoke, the figure darted down the corridor leading out of the dome. It was large enough for small vehicles, suggesting it connected to the neighbouring dome.
Baker’s mind raced as she considered her options. She could ignore the survivor and finish her mission—what she’d been tasked to do. She could call her platoon leader and ask for direction. She bit her lower lip, asking lieutenant Oswiu on a comms line open to the rest of her platoon would make her look weak, asking to talk on a private line would look even worse. Or she could follow the survivor, maybe there was a whole group of survivors she could save. She could be the hero.
“The army didn’t hire me to question.” She brought up the patrol line. The green band extended away from where the survivor had vanished. She took one step and stopped.
The survivor’s space suit was crap. What if they’d been living in it since the domes failed? Pursing her lips, she waffled on what she should do. Her mission was scheduled to take a few hours, she had some time.
She turned off the patrol line and turned to the corridor.
“This better not turn into a wild goose chase.”
Baker suppressed an urge to growl as she followed the path the survivor had taken. At a jog, she entered the corridor. The other person was out of sight, but she didn’t want to scare them further by running at her armour’s maximum speed.
She carried on at a jog, her armour nearly silent despite its weight. The overhead lights were out, forcing her to rely on her heads-up display. Green lines traced the corridor ahead—the path was clear.
Halfway down the corridor, the floor gave way. Her augmented reflexes tried to stop the fall, but failed. She slammed into the ground and and her world went black.
The story continues here.
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