Hayden’s craft landed on Tek’Tu’Pat’s landing platform on the ocean. Tek was the wealthiest city of Nigramoto, and the landing platform was the largest on the entire planet. At a few hundred kilometers long and one hundred wide, it handled the entire off world transport. Every commercial, civilian, and military craft landed in different sections of the mega platform. It was the largest structure on the planet, and its silver sheen could be seen from orbit.
Freighters packed with the black decrand ore were lined in rows waiting for their military escorts for their trip into space. Frigates and squadrons of fighters flew in formation around each freighter. Since humans had spread to over three hundred systems, the energy requirements for human civilization required more energy than a star could produce. Decrand could generate one thousand times more power than solar panels could collect. The human race was powered by decrand, and Hayden was here to protect it.
Hayden was packed into a troop transport with several of his brothers-and-sisters-in-arms. A quick release belt kept him from being tossed from his seat when they dropped from orbit. His troop was a mean looking bunch with scars and the eyes of soldiers who had seen too much. Their power armor made them look larger than life. However, since they weren’t wearing their helmets, their heads looked small compared to their bodies. Sarge’s suit clanged against the metal floor as he stomped through the troops. Underneath the armor, Sarge was built, bald, and mean looking. He was almost more intimidating without the battle gear.
“Everybody suit up,” Sarge yelled. “You think you’re here for a vacation. We are here to work.”
Hayden fumbled for his helmet and wasn’t as quick to gear up. Sarge spotted his fumble, and put his face up to Hayden.
“What’s a matter babyface? You need your mom to help dress you?”
Everyone called Hayden babyface, partially because Hayden looked like he should be in a boy band, and also because he was the new guy. No one liked Hayden, but Hayden knew it was more because he hadn’t earned their respect yet. Until Hayden had a chance to prove himself, he would be the butt of their jokes.
“No sir.” Hayden said. “There is no excuse for this recruit to not be ready, sir.”
“Recruit?” Sarge laughed, “You’re still in boot camp? Last I heard you were a soldier.”
Sarge narrowed his eyes, and came so close to Hayden that he could smell the tobacco on his breath. Hayden didn’t flinch and looked Sarge in the eyes.
“So why don’t you act like a soldier?” Sarge said firmly.
“Yes sir, sir.”
Hayden put on his helmet. He connected the breathing tube in front to the filter mounted in the chest. The heads up display in his field of vision ran through the checks of the various ocular enhancements built into the eye pieces. After they were all in their power armor, they looked inhuman. They had large black eyes and a tube leading from their mouth like a gas mask from ancient times. Hayden understood why the other species called a soldier in his body armor Teristaques. They were a fierce group to behold.
The troop transport landed with a loud clank. Sarge screamed at them, and they all clicked the quick release of their belts and jumped to their feet. The hatch in the back opened, and they all ran down to the platform. The landing platform from the ground point of view was a large flat plane of metal in every direction. In the area around Hayden, there were swarms of troops, hover tanks, fighters, spider walkers, disc rovers, and every military equipment imaginable. The commercial and civilian part of the platform were too distant too see.
Sarge lined up the troops for inspection. His commanding officer, Colonel Dodgery, came shortly after and said, “At ease.”
The men and women of the squad relaxed, and the red haired officer with skin tone of a man who drank too much walked slowly through the ranks. He wasn’t wearing power armor, and was dwarfed by the suited soldiers around him. He pulled a tiny piece of decrand from his pocket. It was no larger than his finger tip, but Hayden could see his muscles straining to hold it up even though his face didn’t register the burden. “Can anyone tell me what this is?”
“Decrand, sir.” Hayden said. The other soldiers laughed.
“Did I say you could laugh?” Colonel Dodgery said, and the others became rigid. “Sure that’s what the lab coat jockies call it, but to us it is the heart of civilization. Every member of your family enjoys their lifestyle from this rock. Why are you here soldier?”
“To protect the decrand?”
“You are here to protect our way of life. This is not like the soft inner planets. Out here is the frontier, and you are the law. Have you ever seen a man bleed out?”
“Only in simulation, sir.”
“Yes sir,” Tomahawk said. He was nicknamed after a weapon he had in his bunk that he claimed could be traced all the way back to his ancestors on Earth. It was a reminder that he came from a long line of warriors. The military was the only life he had known, and the only life he cared about. After the Liberation Wars, he was given some property on Earth, and a retirement settlement to last him a lifetime. He reenlisted the next day.
“Have you ever seen a man bleed out?”
“Where did it happen?”
“A few clicks northeast of here.”
“What did you do?”
“Everything in my power to save him sir.”
“He died from his wounds, sir.”
“What did you do after that?
“My job, sir.”
“And what’s your job?”
“To protect our way of life.”
“This is not a simulation. We are not on a civilized planet. We are on the border of the Treaty Zone. You may feel like you’re at home when you are in the walls of Tek but rest assured, there are rebels, hostile aliens, and creatures that don’t care about us or the way of life we are trying to protect. We live on the edge so others don’t have too. We are not guarding your mother’s flower garden. We are protecting the most important ore in the universe. If a freighter doesn’t take off every hour, people will starve. I expect the best. I honor those better than that. Dismissed.”
The troop called out their honor cry. Sarge and Colonel Dodgery walked away. The troop began gathering their gear from the transport. Spider, the communications specialist, turned to Tomahawk , “Hey Tommy, you got his speech memorized yet? You certainly know your part.”
Tomahawk gave Spider a rude hand gesture and continued to pack the gear onto the floating platform.
Hayden turned to Spider, “Does he give the same speech every year?”
“Everyday more like it. Every squad of fools like us that ship in from off world.”
“How many times you’ve been here?”
“Since the war ended? I’d say five. With a year off here and there. I’m surprised I’ve made it home each time.”
“Is it really that bad?”
“Nigs make a good workforce, but they’re tough mothers. Power armor or not, you turn your back on one. Count yourself dead.”
“Noted,” Hayden said. He had heard similar stories, and read all the debriefs. The local intelligent species, the Nigramotoians, dwarfed humans outside of their power armor. They were broad shouldered, and strong. One Nigramotoian could flip a hover tank, and puncture power armor with a medieval weapon. They were a fierce species, and it was easy to see why. The gravity on Nigramoto was five times Earth’s gravity. Most planets had nickel and iron in their cores. Nigramoto had a decrand core. An unenhanced human outside their power armor would barely be able to move. Even with the standard issue muscle and bone enhancements each soldier received in boot camp, a human outside their armor was sluggish compared to a Nigramotoian.
They pushed the hover platform with their gear towards the edge of the landing strip. A group of battle mechs towered over them in formation. They were black with the United Planets of Earth colors. Each had a variety of missile, plasma, projectile, and laser weaponry. The mechs sat three people in the armored chest plate, one pilot, and two weapon specialists. They were deadly machines, but Hayden didn’t like cockpits. He didn’t like feeling restricted. While ground soldiers had the highest morality rate, he at least had the freedom a mech pilot could never have.
Hayden grew up in the cramped Los Angeles mega-city back on Earth. His father and three brothers all shared a four hundred square-foot modular apartment. The apartment would convert to whatever space they needed. Beds would descend from the walls at night. Showers would sprout in the morning. A living area rose during the day. A dining area shifted from the wall for meal time. Hayden’s life was regulated out of necessity. It was no wonder why three of the four children joined the military. Hayden’s oldest brother died in the Libration Wars. His frigate was caught in the path of a planetary bombardment, and his body burnt in the atmosphere of Sallax Prime. That left Hayden and his other brother Joshua, who avoided most of the conflict because he was a mechanic, and Hayden missed the conflict because he was too young. The war had ended by the time he could enlist.
Hayden’s brother back home, Paul, was an English teacher. He took care of their father who had retired from the desalinization plant after forty grueling years of labor. Most of the muscles and joints were replaced several times from the manual labor. If only his father had access to the enhancements available to military personnel, he could have had a less sedentary retirement. Either way, the arrangement worked out. Paul was never good at sports, and always was the odd brother out. It didn’t come as a surprise that most of the family would be light years away from the congested planet of Earth.
His group got to the edge of the platform, and Tek’Tu’Pat spread out before them. The city was alien in its architecture. Unlike humans, who built large vertical structures, the buildings were ziggurat shaped and communal. The buildings all connected more like growths, than like Earth buildings that were all separate. Various floating ships, vehicles, and hover discs were buzzing around the city like flies.
When humans first arrived on Nigramoto, the Nigramotoians were just entering their computer age. The cities were still really small with no more than ten million at the largest. Hayden even heard rumors that there were still Nigramotoians who lived in villages, living the lifestyle of their ancient ancestors. By comparison, there were pockets of humanity who still lived in tribes up until technology swept the planet, and began creating the first union governments, that marked the beginning of the end of tribal life.
The most breath taking sight was the wilderness around the city. There was actual uninhabited land unlike Earth, where uninhabited land was very scarce and almost always reserved for the ultra rich. Part of what inspired Hayden to sign up for the military was a trip to Colorado with his father and brothers as a boy. Parts of the Colorado Rockies were some of the few public places on Earth with natural wildlife. The parks were tightly regulated. They were monitored with satellite, and the passes to visit the park were so rare people had to wait years for a chance to visit, or have considerable wealth to buy out a person’s spot in line.
While the passes were only limited to one per family, nature reserve brokers facilitated the transfer of passes from families who ran into money trouble before their wait. Hayden’s father held fast to his pass. Despite the offers and the times where he nearly sold their one and only chance to see the wilderness, his father didn’t budge. The Colorado Rockies were the most memorable moment of his life. Years later, Hayden signed up for the foot patrol if only for the chance to see the wilderness again. Here on Nigramoto, as far from civilization as he could get, Hayden might get a chance to walk among the trees again. The time spent on lifeless rocks, and cramped spaces seemed worth it. The sight before his eyes was an endless expanse of forest.