This is my first mission. An atmosphere ship is transporting my squad’s ground vehicle, as well as five others, from one of the ships in orbit down to the surface of the planet. I am with a platoon sergeant who is training our squad leader and three other soldiers like myself. This is also my squad’s first mission as a whole.
“Remember our three goals,” I hear the sergeant say. “The first is to test native defenses against units. The second is to identify triggers and native reactions. The third is to identify and mark chemical, biological, and radiological hazards.” We know how the natives of the planet assault our ships and defend themselves. I have heard Command call the natives humans. Command wants data on how they fight small teams on the ground. Command also wants to know what the natives will defend, when they will not fight, and under what circumstances they will flee. I assume the data will be used so we can send teams to shut down hazardous systems: we do not want to pollute the planet more than it already is as we eradicate the natives.
The squad leader appears to have the need to contribute something and says, “Now is a good time to check your sensors. Command needs good data. We don’t want to fail to collect anything during maneuvers.” I perform one of many quick tests on the sensor. I bend one of my antennae until it hurts. One of the health indicators on the device turns on.
Our ground vehicle is dropped off in an urban center. The natives build structures from the ground up. They tend to be rectangular and separate, but very close together. There is a stone-like material that covers the ground. It might be used for their transportation. It covers everything.
The sergeant asks our cannoneer to destroy the inner columns of a nearby building. The cannoneer obeys and fires where our sensors indicate the most likely catastrophic structural failure. The sensor was correct: the building crumbles to the ground.
“Sergeant, there were natives in the building,” our gunner says.
“Correct,” the sergeant replies. Our gunner is concerned that there are injured natives inside the building, not just reporting a fact. I am concerned too.
“Pull back into stealth while we observe the native response,” the sergeant orders. I drive our ground vehicle away from the building. To avoid detection, I project an image of the scene behind us on the front of our vehicle. Native first responders arrive and do not notice us. All, but two, are unarmed. The two that are armed have weapons that fire small projectiles at a high velocity. Even without armor, the weapon is not always effective. It is a cruel way to end a life.
“Squad,” the sergeant says, “Command notified me that they have enough data on this scenario. We must now exit the vehicle and record a response to a squad assault.” The sergeant leads us out of the vehicle. We hear the natives shout, ‘WASP!’ We fire at the natives who scream. Our weapons end lives compassionately. When we hit them in their center, they are turned into a black powder. The powder makes the ground fertile.
Two natives fire their weapons at us. Our armor reacts automatically to high velocity projectiles. It stops them and they fall to the ground. Our armor used to deflect projectiles, but we found it hazardous not knowing where the projectile would go after it bounced off.
One of our soldiers hits a native’s limb instead of his center. The limb turns to powder and the native screams. The sergeant quickly shoots the native. “Thorax!” the sergeant scolds. “If you miss another thorax, you’re going back to repeat the entire weapons training and recertify.” As we fight, the sergeant reminds us that the natives do not feel pain unless you miss their center and hit a limb. Headshots are also unacceptable as the energy is not guaranteed to distribute entirely and turn them into powder. He says witnesses can be harmed psychologically, so we must be both effective and efficient when we secure an area.
Command wants us to clear a building that has chemical hazards. The sergeant asks our squad leader to take us into the building and shut down all of its systems manually. The building looks benign and the order seems more for training than to complete a necessary task. Regardless, we obey.
The sergeant rips the doors off the front of the building and tosses them aside. He scans the floor, sees it is clear, and motions us to go inside. We verify that the first floor is clear. Then, we find a stairwell. It only leads up. For convenience, we decide to clear the building first and then search for the systems to shut down.
We exit on the second floor. There are natives in the hall. They run and we pursue them. When we arrive at some open doors, other natives are waiting for us. It is an ambush. They use weapons that spray a flammable liquid. Our squad leader is hit. His armor does not protect him against the substance. The gel sticks to his body as it burns. Our squad leader dies from the effect of the burns.
The natives try to spray the rest of us, but the sergeant orders us to beat our wings. The wind we create keeps most of the flammable liquid off of us. We begin to retreat down the hall. More natives surprise us and attack from the side. With a heavy wood and steel object, they knock the weapons out of the legs of two of our soldiers. The rest of us try to aid them, but we are forced to defend ourselves from blunt force attacks and fire.
The sergeant flies up and breaks a hole through the ceiling. Three of us fly through the hole to the floor above us. We see two of our soldiers motionless on the floor below. The natives continue to attack them. We watch the scene framed by the hole the sergeant made for our escape. It horrifies me.
I am changed. Before this mission, I doubted the necessity of exterminating any living thing. I knew of their effect on the air quality of the planet, its ozone depletion, and its climate change. I had seen the scars they left on the surface and below the surface of the planet. I knew that they polluted their water. But their capacity for cruelty to other living things and to each other strengthens my resolve to do my duty. Such evil cannot be allowed to exist.
Three of us remain. The sergeant orders us to pull out of the building. We are out quickly, but we do not retreat. We fly to the roof and find an entrance. The sergeant rips the door off and throws it aside. Then, we work our way through the building clearing it one floor at a time. We do our job quickly since most natives are unarmed. They had set up their traps and defenses on the lowest floors.
When we arrive at the lower floors, the sergeant slows down and is cautious. I can see that he will not lose another soldier. He scans every room where we do not have a clear line of sight before we enter it. If he cannot tell whether the area is clear, he tosses a stunner into the room. After the bright flash and loud bang, we walk into the area. The natives are blinded and deaf. The sergeant quickly turns everyone to powder before the other soldier or I can shoot. Despite what happened earlier, the sergeant is calm and compassionate. I vow to myself that I will be compassionate no matter what I see. That is what makes us different.
As the atmosphere ship takes us back to orbit, I am saddened that we lost half of our squad. We did not even accomplish all of our objectives. We will not be allowed to operate on the field with only two in the unit, so our platoon leader will need to form a new squad. We will likely need to train harder before going back to the surface. The brutality of the natives makes us cautious. Every soldier is precious.