(© Biswapriya Purkayastha)
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
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
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.
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