that. I should have put the windows all around on the sides, not one big one in the bottom like a glass-bottomed boat. I relayed the problem to Miklos, telling the pilot to be more careful and telling them all to dump fresh constructive nanites into the landing pod to effect repairs on the glass for the next trip. I didn’t want it losing pressure.
Then the doors disappeared, and the Centaurs didn’t need any kind of urging. They bounded out into the rainstorm like a herd of fleeing animals—except these animals were armed and were assaulting this world, not running from anything.
A few of them jostled me as their brown furry bodies zoomed past. They could really jump when they wanted too. I followed them out, checking my kit reflexively. All systems registered green and the power pack was full. The generator on my back hummed into life, and I had my projector in my hands, warmed up and humming. I was ready to rock and roll.
There’s no moment quite as exhilarating in a marine’s life as the first time his boots touch unknown ground in a combat zone. There’s so much noise, you’re blinded by fresh sights, even the smells assault your senses. It’s hard not to feel as if you are dreaming—but you aren’t, you’re really there. As a bonus, the unseen enemy is somewhere nearby, plotting your death.
We raced away from the landing pod, finding ourselves in an area of brilliantly green rolling hills. The grass was tall. Every blade was as wide as a man’s thumb and reached up past my waistline. A mile to my left was a forest of big, strange-looking lumpy growths—I suppose you could call them trees. They looked more like giant broccoli to me. Closer at hand on our right flank was a lake of icy blue water. Dead ahead the hills continued, a broad swathe of green. We were in a veritable river of tall grasses.
In the distance ahead, the grassy hills swept up to the edge of a trio of rocky mountain peaks. Those mountains were our destination. Somewhere behind them, the enemy had a major base. Marvin and the rest of our computers had calculated the odds, and they had determined this area to be the most likely location of an accessible Macro dome. As we couldn’t see the actual dome from space, it was assumed to be underground, or disguised in some fashion. Still, it had to be here. The machines kept marching in and out of this region, delivering raw supplies on a continuous basis.
All around my running company, more ships landed. They dropped their payloads then shot back up into space. We were among the first few thousand to come down.
“Head for the trees, we need cover!” I shouted.
After my orders were translated and relayed, the mass of the Centaurs wheeled left and bounded for the trees. I ran after them, but quickly had to take flight to keep up. They could run at a shocking pace, even with bulky kits on their backs. Under my boots the grass rattled and fluttered away from my suit’s repellers like green water.
I opened a channel to the Fleet people above. “Everyone in the first wave make it down okay?”
Miklos answered. He’d been catching up on current events for me while I was busy humping it after a hundred racing goat-troops.
“One pod had trouble Colonel—accidental weapons discharge,” Miklos reported.
“Six dead, ten wounded, sir.”
“That’s quite an accidental discharge!”
“We don’t even hint around about them lying sir—especially when we know they are. The Centaur Captain refused to let the transport take the dead and injured back up. They dumped their casualties on the grass and left them. They said something about serving the winds of—”
“Yeah, yeah,” I interrupted. “Sky, clouds, honor and all that. Well, I suppose they can at least enjoy dying here on their own planet. Any sign of incoming missiles?”
“Not yet sir, but it’s only a matter of time.”
Time. It was the one resource I never had enough of. The second wave was