Short Story: Insertion

25 hours. The planet shines in the distance, cut out of the surrounding void, stains of white clouds over dirt marble. The ocular implant projects a map of the surrounding debris and drop pods, all falling toward the target along carefully planned trajectories. The big number just dropped below ninety thousands. Ninety double keys, ninety key-es. Fifteen thousands behind us, the big boom of the the dropship, now almost invisible, the gasses move faster than the debris, so they already dispersed to negligible densities. Our combat fleet backed off hours ago, deterred by damage that looked worse than it actually was. Smoke and mirrors, well, gases and mirrors, actually. The defenders hadn't sent orbital kill vehicles to end us, so it worked. The debris is small enough to burn in atmospheric entry, and too fast to stay in the orbit so they shouldn't bother shooting it down. Not like we can do much about it, twenty five hundred key-gee bolids with enough reaction mass to make the final braking before hitting the planet too hard to survive. Evasive maneuvers are not part of the plan.

23 hours. It's easy to space out while flying through the void at one kilometer per second when your brain is filled with synthetic neurotransmitters. No fear. No anxiety. No PTSD afterwards. Just enough care to avoid doing something stupid. No wonder once a while one of us gets inconsequentially philosophical during sub-lunar insertion. You can, you should actually, switch to sleep for at least a part of the flight but there will be time for that later. What are the alternatives with absolute radio silence? Play a game? Read a book? Dictate a book? Green Wife is actually writing xenobiological article about mating behavior of some toad-fungus or other shit. Black Boomer entertains himself modeling kinetic kill impact craters over the maps of our previous drops, to see how much could we screw the things if the insertion went awry. He often claims we would change things more failing, than we are succeeding. It would require us to fly much faster than we actually do—a big screw up in the early deployment phase could do that, but it's unlikely. It's his pass-time during the insertion, though. Let him have his fun.

20 hoursBoth of the local moons are going through a conjunction with a lovely nebula in the background. Of course it required a bit of coloring by the visual system, it would not look half that impressive to a naked eye. A cloud of hot stellar gases and dust, maybe a dwarf galaxy. Of course we are probably the only people in the universe to see it that way. From the planet the angle would be quite different.

19 hours. The debris and the pods form entrancing patterns on the tactical AR overlay. Running them backwards at great speeds show our dropship reassembling itself in the nothingness. A new batch of synthetic neurotransmitters is released by the metabolic editors to balance the effects of space hypnosis and avoid phasing out too much.

18 hoursThe plan is a variation around standard drop. We come in with drop ships and assault fleet big enough to give a decent fight, but not big enough for outright win. They intercept us. The dance of dodging and firing starts. We let them hit us a few times, let them get confident, but not without taking out some of their defenses. We blow the dropship during a maneuver, sending debris and pods toward the planet. Our fleet draws away and we fall down to the planet to disable their key infrastructure. Assuming enough of the company survives the flight to remain operational. The usual loses are between zero to four, due to orbital trash, mostly. We lost Blue Blue on the last drop. Mild sadness but no sorrow. There are synths for that.

15 hours. Our company is composed of a hundred and twenty seven folks. We operate below nominal strength of a hundred and fifty. Loses and transfers. A bunch of humans augmented with gene-adjustments, implants, and metabolic mods, stuffed into advanced smart combat armors, a mixed techno-organic filling for each drop pod. A rather unpleasant surprise, unless we get detected too early. Or if the enemy has, contrary to our intelligence reports, powered armors comparable to ours. We can tear through armored regiment generation behind us.

13 hours. The sweet spot. The universe is behind me. A world in front me. Companions around me. So close, and yet so far, beyond reach, beyond help. If anything goes wrong, each of us is on our own. Magnitude of universe humbles us, and yet at the moment you feel being one with the vastness of space. This moment could last forever...

12 hours. I think I'll go to sleep now. It's easy with all that technology inside making your body doing exactly what you want. No wait. Just an internal switch — sleeping now.

2 hours. Metabolic editors make awakening easy. No drowsiness, no disorientation. Only smooth passage from a dreamless lack of awareness to full cognition. Landing getting closer.

1 hour. The worst part incoming. Trash is the thickest in the lowest orbits. If we are going to lose someone, it will be in the last half an hour, maybe last ten minutes before braking. We can't really do anything about that without revealing ourselves in turning into sitting ducks. We haven't lost anyone yet. What will be will be.

10 minutes. Thermosphere. Pods open their back to extend cooling filaments. Soon it will get hot here. Near orbit is surprisingly clear. Little use of sats on their part? No orbital kill vehicles? No complaints from us for that.

1 minute. Outer layer burned away nicely. The pods open and fire braking torches. Sixty seconds of two gees of deceleration. If they paid attention to the debris, they see us now.

10 seconds. Slow fall. Light forest beneath us, blue-green sky above. The mountains across the horizon. Target arcology to the north-north-west.

T-Zero. The last layer of the pod opens. The comm silence ends, the data flow between units, the AR's update with the tactical information. The wait ended. Time to fight.

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