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Beachhead
(© Biswapriya Purkayastha)

Page 1

The invasion force came hurtling down from space.

The marines who formed the first shock wave dropped individually from orbit, riding down through the thickening layers of atmosphere, ready for action long before the armoured feet of their powered battle-suits hit the ground. They were fresh, rested, combat-hardened, ready for action, and the best troops in the known universe. They had been trained for every eventuality, knew how to handle any given situation. They had been given their task and they were more than capable of doing it.

They came from all over, from Earth and the colonies, and bore names like Rico, Ho, Dubois, MacArthur, Khan, Rasczak and Mtambe. They were tall or short, dark or fair, with the physiques of a dozen colony worlds. But all had been chiselled and scraped, cut and shaped until they fitted the mould, until they had left all their individuality behind, and had been formed, heart and body, mind and soul, into what they were, Marines of the Space Expeditionary Force.

They could rip apart enemies with their bare hands, these marines. They could survive a week alone in the desert with no tools but a knife and a trowel, no food but a bar of chocolate and whatever they could find, no water but the contents of cactuses and other succulents. They could find their way through the darkest night with nothing but the stars to navigate with. They could operate any vehicle the Space Expeditionary Force had in its inventory, and they could depend on each other utterly and completely.

Even in their physical structure, they were special. Their skin had been reinforced with bonded fibre mesh to make them resistant to penetrating injuries. Their muscles had been honed with chemicals until they could run forty kilometres in full combat gear without a break. Their eyes had been fitted with optics enabling them to see in the infra-red and ultra-violet. Their sexuality had been suppressed with hormones, because they had no need for sexual desire. Sexual desire was a distraction, an unwelcome one, for an SEF marine.

More formidable even than the marines themselves were the suits they wore. Each cost as much as an old-time battle-cruiser, and was far more capable. They were of alloys that could be heated to a thousand degrees Celsius without softening, let alone melting, and were proof against all blast damage. Mirror-polished to defeat laser beams, they had full protection against nuclear, chemical and biological agents as small as the tiniest viroids. The hulls of the suits were covered with bricks of explosive meant to detonate outwards and protect the underlying armour plating from damage from projectiles, and these were covered by a further alloy skin designed to defeat all forms of radar or other electronic detection.

Each suit was a world in itself. It carried enough food and water to sustain its occupant for a week, and its power pack could keep it going constantly for a fortnight without pause. Its interior had perfect micro-climate control, with breathable air being cycled constantly at the most comfortable temperature for the suit’s owner. Waste removal was immediate and completely efficient, with all excretions stored carefully for future disposal. The suit’s motors translated each movement of its occupant’s limbs into motion, delicate or strong as the need dictated, so it could, if required, manipulate a screw or jump ten metres in earth-normal gravity with equal felicity.

The suits bristled with weapons, too: heat-seeking missiles in backpacks, grenade throwers in shoulder batteries, quick-firing Gatling cannon at the wrists of the gauntlets. Each suit was capable of more destruction than an entire brigade of old-time soldiers with their machine guns and rocket-launchers, and all this destructive capability was directly keyed to the suit’s occupant’s mind. A marine only had to think, in a particular format, of a weapon in order to use it, and each weapon, each system, of the suit had failsafes and backups so a blown fuse or burnt microchip couldn’t possibly mean a major failure.

Marine and battle-suit, then, a perfect combination; more than enough to defeat almost any enemy one could imagine, anywhere in the known universe. And down through the atmosphere, riding cones of flickering white hot plasma, they came, an entire division of them, to set up a beachhead for the second and much larger wave of troops to follow.

[ Continue to page 2 ]

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Genre:Science Fiction
Type:Short story
Rating:7.2 / 10
Rated By:28 users
Comments: 1 user
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