Lone Star – Chapter 37

Morgan hadn’t been in the area around Chi-town since his first posting. He’d been sent to almost every major city in the Coalition States, and had served on a dozen different bases and outposts.  After all those years of fighting and serving his people, he was finally coming back home.  The CS military had a habit of posting troops away from the place they grew up, in an attempt to make them see all the people of the Coalition States as their friends and their people.  Normal troops didn’t get re-assigned too much, but Special Forces got shuffled all over the continent.

The ‘Burbs didn’t look any different from the air.  Crowding around the Chi-Town outer wall, the jumble of temporary buildings, tents of all sizes and colors, and burned-out vehicles formed the same labyrinth.  These slowly gave way to more permanent structures, small homes, medical clinics and artisan shops.  In some places there were larger, multi-family buildings and larger businesses, machine shops and small factories.  It stretched out almost four kilometers from the wall, the toughest environment Morgan had ever lived in- even after serving in the Special Forces.  Basic Training had been a breeze compared to the ‘Burbs.

He wondered, briefly, if he could still find his way around down there.  He’d spent the first 14 years of his life there, mostly on the west and south sides.  He thought he could see the old machine-shop his mother had worked at, all those years, waiting to be granted true citizenship and passage into the city.  He did recognize a few of the CS outposts that poked up here and there, like oases in a flood of garbage and decrepid buildings.  He smiled to himself, knowing that things would be very different if he ever did wander those streets and alleys again.  He couldn’t do it in uniform, he knew- he wouldn’t last 20 minutes.  But there wasn’t anything or anyone down there that he really wanted to visit.

The wall itself loomed ahead of them.  It looked like a polished white pearl, set in the center of the ‘Burbs like a sparkling jewel trapped in an ugly, base-metal ring.  It rose 400 meters above the ground, tapering back slightly as it reached the upper levels and looking like a single piece of carved white stone.  There were 40 levels of steel and concrete construction inside, enough living space for two million people.  The actual population was 60% of that- the CS government was very strict on who could move into their capital city.

Morgan turned to look at the other two power-armor units accompanying him.  Sergey’s unit was to the left of the Skylifter air transport they were escorting, and Connor’s new SuperSAMAS flew on the right wing.  Morgan couldn’t see their faces, but he could feel their relief.  This was home to Sergey as well, and getting here meant safety for all three of them.  They’d flown in silence for most of the trip, just glad to be away from Lone Star.  It almost seemed like their assignment there had been a bad dream, and Morgan was more than happy to wake up.

As they came closer, the openings in the upper part of the wall became visible.  There was no easy way into the city from the ground- people came and went by aerial transport, and the lowest landing platforms were 50 meters up.  Some were meant for public transportation and the use of private citizens, but the majority were dedicated to military use.

When they were a kilometer out, Morgan angled his SAMAS to the left, entering what he hoped was an acceptable holding pattern.  There were four squads of air units visible, all at much higher altitudes and none approaching him and his team.

“Think they’ve noticed us out here?” Connor asked.  Morgan had expected to have landing instructions before getting this close.

As if in answer, they were addressed on an open channel.  “Incoming SAMAS flight, maintain radio silence for now and approach Flight Deck 121 on the North side.”  It was a bland, male voice, a bored flight operator sitting at a console that could be literally anywhere inside the city’s wall.  Morgan’s computer immediately overlaid an aerial view of the city, marking his position and highlighting their destination.  Morgan shrugged, gaining some altitude- they were 70 meters lower than the flight deck they’d been ordered to- and continued to circle the city.  In two minutes, they had the flight deck in sight.  The three power armor units hovered in the air, watching the Skylifter set down first.  Those pilots obviously were getting their own orders on a secure channel.  Morgan watched their two friends disembark, accompanied by a trio of soldiers in Dead-Boy armor and carrying heavy weapons, as if they still expected someone from Lone Star to attack their charges at any moment.  For a moment, Morgan caught himself wondering how likely that was… Claval may be dead, but he wasn’t the only person that Lab Administration could send out to kill.

The scientists were ushered inside by a squad of soldiers, led by three people in ISS uniforms.  Once the group was inside, the deck crew began motioning to the Skylifter’s pilots, and the oversized hover-ship lifted off again, clearing the lip of the flight deck before descending 50 meters or so to another, larger deck below.

“SAMAS flight Shadow, you are cleared to land on Flight Deck 121,” a new voice called.  This one was female, just as bored and disconnected  as the first.  Morgan obeyed, gently setting the SAMAS unit down on the deck.  As soon as he landed, he noticed that he’d done it ‘manually’, instead of using the computer guidance.  He’d grown so used to landing in a dust storm that he’d forgotten what it was like to do the work himself.  Slipping back into old habits might be easier than he’d expected.

Apparently Connor had forgotten, too, because the SuperSAMAS hit the deck hard.  Morgan could feel the impact through his armored boots.  Sergey landed last.  The two smaller units turned to look at the SuperSAMAS, staring for a moment in silent, playful rebuke.

“This thing is almost twice as heavy as the 07,” Connor grumbled.  Morgan heard Sergey chuckle.

Once the air was clear, an entire platoon of Dead-Boy troops marched onto the deck, led by two very tall men in ISS uniforms.  It was windy this far off the ground, and the tails of the long, grey overcoats blew sideward.  In front of the procession was Lt. Colonel Bronson, in Dead-Boy armor but without her helmet.  She approached the trio with confidence, and a smile that Morgan had never expected to see on the face of anyone in Internal Security.

“Follow me, gentlemen,” she said, turning to lead the three through the blast doors and into the large hangar beyond.  Inside, and away from the wind, three teams of deck-hands rode on ordinance tractors toward them, towing mobile power-armor stations.  The regular soldiers went through another door and disappeared.  The deck-hands guided the three power armor pilots up onto the mobile stations, then began the disconnect/diagnostics routines.  When Morgan’s helmet came off, he took a deep breath.  No dust, he thought.

Lt. Colonel Bronson watched as the deck crew powered down his unit and began opening it up.  The other two ISS officers stood before Connor and Sergey, smiling the same way Bronson was.  When he was finally free of the armor, Bronson held up a hand, offering to help him step down to the concrete deck.  He accepted her help, smirking inwardly at the cognitive dissonance of a Lt. Colonel helping him out of his suit.

“Welcome to CS Chi-town, Captain,” she said, pleasantly.  “I’m afraid the nature of your departure from Lone Star has prompted ISS to assign a security officer to each of you for the time being.”

Morgan smiled, and nodded.  “Understandable.”  He’d feel better with a little company, anyway.

“Take a long shower, get some fresh uniforms, and we’ll get some food in you while we talk,” she said, leading him and the others toward the locker rooms.

“Yes, ma’am.”

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