Remember the stories that father used to tell, young Milo? The stories of brave warriors clad in armour, aboard mighty starships that sailed the skies above... You don't remember your father, do you my boy?
But it's okay, because he remembers you. And one day those brave warriors will return, the skies will once again be filled with mighty starships. You will grow up to see it, young Milo. I know you will.
You just have to have faith.
Hold on to it... Even in the darkest days. Even when there is no light, no hope. You have your faith.
My son. I will return one day.
Aleksandr pressed his index finger upon the photograph of his son, Milo, one more time before placing the crumpled holo-imprint in his satchel. Clutching it as he pulled himself together, grabbing his rifle and slinging it over his shoulder.
A new day dawned. The Lorentian Sun was beautiful, casting her rays upon the atmosphere of the last remnant of humanity in the Aquarius system. For a moment, Aleksandr almost forgot about the turmoil of the system, the war and suffering. Just embrace the warmth he thought to himself, before being pulled back to reality by the sound of strike-craft roaring overhead.
He gazed to the sky, a delta of FE-86 Hornets - proud in Lorentian Navy colours - circled overhead, their charge a steadily descending Kite Dropship; her vertical thrusters throwing brilliant blue plasma streams down below her as she slowed to a halt over the landing dock's access bay. Beyond that, a mighty silohette that Aleksandr knew well, a symbol of his duty - and his home away from home. A Terran cruiser, the Blackheart Spacerunner. A light warship of the Farlease-class, but fast and sturdy.
It was time to return to duty.
Leave had been difficult for Aleksandr this cycle. Moreso than usual, in addition to the ever present regret of losing his son, he knew that as times pressed on - the chances of finding little Milo diminshed every day. But he wouldn't give up hope.
He's out there.
Gotta keep focused on the war, on duty. Can't let emotions cloud the mind. These were the thoughts the veteran had in his mind as he joined two dozen other marines boarding the Kite, which had come to a rest on the landing dock. He put on a smile, shaking hands and exchanging banter. These were his brothers in arms, they looked up to him, they needed him. Of course, everyone had their own loss. No one out here in this age hadn't lost something, but it is what makes us human - to have hope - even in the darkest times.
As the dropship accelerated into the atmopshere, flanked by her escort, Aleksandr gazed through an observation port as the orange-tinted cloud layers came and went, the air thinning as ice crystals began to form on the exterior of the porthole. The escorting Hornet fighters weaving from side to side as they followed their charge. It was almost graceful, yet he could only thing about one thing.
Don't think about it. Put your mind elsewhere, old man.
He clutched his rifle. An MX-12, model B. An older weapon, heavy, but had almost become a brother to the veteran. This was his rifle, almost the only constant he had... except for the last remaining picture of little Milo.
The dropship would soon dock with the Blackheart Spacerunner; mechanical clamps attaching around the hull of the corvette-sized troop transport as she entered the dorsal loading bay of the UTN-era warship. Her plating pock-marked with impacts and burns, the history of a thousand battles engraved into her hull.
He had done this so many times. It became a blur, falling in line with his comrades as he bunked down in the marine quarters of the old warship. He was here, he was ready, but his mind and soul were elsewhere - some place distant. With his son. The old man thought about the end as he closed his eyes to slumber. The mighty roar of the Spacerunner's drives flaring echoed around him as the cruiser left orbit. Leaving the beautiful world of Lorentis behind, into the darkness.
Most people suffered jump sickness at least once during a term on a space-faring warship. Even the most hardy officers and crew. Aleksander didn't even flinch as the Spacerunner engaged its Jump-Drive. External portholes darkened as blast-shields closed and the red-tinted running lights flicked on, replacing the warm orange glow of the standard lighting.
Open your eyes. Clutch your weapon. War is upon you.
Spacerunner's exit from Jump Space was hard, some distance between Lorentian Orbit and her destination in the Eridonia System, the vessel had tumbled out of subspace abruptly. Aleksandr knew the captain, a man named Ovrikt. A veteran of the Fall, like him. Something was wrong.
Red running lights pulsed as the ship-board alarm sounded. Battlestations. A tone Aleksandr knew all too well.
Shake it off, this is real. He thought, hurling himself from the bunk, gripping his rifle and grabbing what gear he could. Other marines did the same, looking to the veteran for leadership.
Keep it together.
He gave a firm nod and gestured to the bulkhead. Moments after, the ship-board computer sounded again. Marines to action-stations - prepare for boarding action. He was the brave warrior now.
Donning his tactical helmet, he flipped down the visor as the marines assembled in the boarding pod staging area. Data from the Combat Information Centre began to flood in. Read outs. Schematics.
Spacerunner was about to initiate boarding action on another vessel. Civilian in design, a starliner. A passenger ship. The deck shuddered with the sound of kinetic impacts. The marines grabbed the handlebars on the loading ramp as they waited for the pod to open. He had done this many times. Sweep and clear, hostage rescue. Pirates. Tigersharks.
They didn't always keep prisoners. The veteran had seen too many innocents executed at thier hands, often suffering until the very end. He took great pleasure in ending the lives of any pirate unfortunate enough to find himself between his crosshair.
The pod's pressure door engaged with a metalic hiss, opening in the process. The red light above the loading ramp flicked into a steady green as Aleksandr shouted to board, clipping each marine on the back as they rushed into the pod and took positions.
With the last of the 12-man team secure, the veteran pulled the ready lever as the bulkhead sealed behind them. Mechanical whirring and a thunderous roar shook the boarding pod as the kinetic projector loaded. Standby for launch.
Five seconds. The data on the marines' tactical visors counted down. 4 seconds.
Aleksandr's mind could only think of one thing. One thing that had been dawning on him. 3 seconds. Time slowed around him as the harness clicked into place, forcing the veteran and his marines into their seats. He clutched his rifle. Its cold metal was comforting.
You didn't feel much as the pod left the warship's gravity field. Emptiness. Weightlessness. The small craft had no gravity generator, but you could feel it moving, ever closer to its destination. Leaving Spacerunner behind, as kinetic battery fire rumbled through the exhaust cloud surrounding the boarding pod, forever reminding the veteran of his duty.
Impact. It was sudden, sharp, forceful. Like being in a car accident but the adrenalin wears off after your hundredth boarding. The Pod's shock absorbers kicked in as the Magneto Driver bored a hole into the side of the passenger craft. It didn't take long to reach the pressure hull, Aleksander was used to a longer transistion - through layers of hardened warship armour, not the thin iso-alloy skin of a luxury yacht.
What happens next is reflex. Muscle memory. A hundred times. The veteran readied his rifle as the harness forcefull disengaged, leading the team from the pierced hull insertion point and taking cover near a bulkhead, apparently leading into the main atrium hall of the spaceliner.
No contact. Aleksander gestured to the bulkead, his marines instinctively taking up positions covering all areas, their MX-12 rifles trained on the sealed security door. Data pinged over the tactical display on their visors. Hostages. A complex entry with many variables. You can't save everyone, you will watch some of them die. It's just how it is.
Forget it, old man. This is your duty.
Hold. Aleksandr raised his fist. Steady. The Spacerunner's electronic warfare system had already penetrated the yacht's ship-board computer. A perfectly timed entry, disengage the bulkead, enter and clear. Pick your targets and watch your fire. Hostages.
As the bulkhead raised, the veteran's finger pressed gently on the trigger of his rifle. There was screaming. He shouted to enter, two teams, six one side, six the other. Thermal vision helped but you can't check your targets. The first thing he saw was the greenish muzzleflash from a pre-fall era Fusion rifle, within moments the bulkhead was illuminated by impact sparks, smoke filling the air, ricochets. The MKIV Marine Armour could protect you from a glancing shot, but the rest was all up to you.
Crosshairs over the target. Press the trigger. The magneto action of the MX-12 marksman rifle cycled as a round went down-range, the veteran absorbing the recoil like he had done a thousand times before. The round found its mark, cracking the improvised helmet of the pirate, sending pressurised blood spraying upwards as the man recoiled backwards to the floor. One down.
Tactical display showed the positions of his team. A pincer movement, six aside, the veteran lead the charge; running close to the floor and slamming into an up-turned table in the middle of the atrium. The pirates had the upper hand, a raised platform in the centre of the atrium, improvised fortifications. They were expecting a battle.
They would get one. Aleksandr glanced either side, impact sparks flashing bright against the makeshift cover, penetrating on several sections. The marines' armour withstanding the lower velocity overpenetrating hits. Think quickly.
Two more pirates down. His men were trained well, semi-automatic fire. The pirates had almsot emptied their magazines. Time to move. Kicking the table aside, Aleksandr made a rush for the front of the improvised defensive line. Stray shots ricochetted everywhere as the spaceliner's emergency blast-shields lowered to the tone of a cabin pressure compromised alarm. Open observation windows and shoot-outs didn't mix well.
Forcing up against the makeshift barrier along with the five marines from his team, the old man signals to the second team. There was an elevated position across the bay, a vantage point. But time was already running out. The screams. You don't get used to it.
Pirates executing the hostages. Useless as bargaining tools now, in a final act of hatred they couldn't be left alive. Maybe 2 minutes. Or half that, that's all the time you have.
Think, old man.
No reasoning. You don't talk to Tigersharks. Direct assault and forceful approach is the only solution. The veteran got confirmation from the second team: they were in position. Targets in sights. Open fire.
As Kinetic rounds slammed into the distracted pirates, the veteran's first team vaulted the makeshift barrier, bringing their own rifles to bear. Squeeze the trigger. Another pirate put down, his salvaged armour doing nothing to stop the 12mm Tungsten Round from opening his chest cavity.
The hostages. Aleksandr glanced in the midst of battle as the final pirate fell, five people. Two on the floor, there is blood. Casualties. You can't save someone who was executed at point blank. Time to clean this up. Clutching his rifle in one hand, the veteran gestured to team two to secure the area, team one surrounded the hostages. Time to get these people out of here. Combat medic was already here, a good man. Seen too many dead civilians.
They all had.
The civilians were in distress. Two females and a child. The pirates had executed the males first. Survivors of the Cartel attack on Coron, no doubt. These people had been through hell. Aleksandr didn't stop to think about his own experience in Coron, where his own son was taken from him. His duty was all that mattered now, and getting these people to safety on the Spacerunner was the only outcome he would permit.
Flicking his visor up, he was the first friendly face these people had seen in cycles. Their saviour. They cried for their dead as they clutched the marines. Send word to the Spacerunner for emergency medical extraction. Another day.
Dad. It was the last word the old man thought he would hear, out in the fringes of space, surrounded by dead pirates.
Aleksandr dropped his rifle and fell to his knees. A man of countless battles, a war hero. A veteran, on his knees. His eyes filled with tears. His heart pounding with the force of every emotion of his being.
It was an Eventful Day indeed.