A Military Science Fiction short in four parts.

I remember plenty.

Firefight after firefight, we chipped away at their defenses, taking out targets of opportunity on our way to the real objective. We fought in alleyways and shopping centers, across circular overpasses as we pushed into the mid-level highrises, through office spaces and penthouses until we could get a good overview of the battlefield.

In a well-appointed office with soft leather couches, Eli, our comm specialist, took point for a minute. He called in precision ordnance, clearing out pockets of resistance and easing the way ahead for the rest of our company, the 901st, so we could regroup. Most importantly, he called in the strike that split open the city’s surface enough to reveal the sprawling subterranean highway that ran beneath the city’s surface like veins beneath skin.

Lieutenant Shaw plopped himself down on one of the leather couches, ignoring the bullet holes riddling the back from where we’d just finished our latest firefight.

“Ah, maybe these bugs ain’t so bad. I haven’t been this comfortable since I left Andy’s mom’s place. That milf sure knew how to treat a man, didn’t she, boys?”

Lieutenant ‘Andy’ Andrews, the only soldier in my squad not physically present, pointed one of the myrmidon assault drones over towards Shaw and lifted one of the thing’s metal appendages in the same gesture I’d offered Handcock right before we’d touched down. A middle finger salute.

His voice piped in through the comm systems in our helmets. Full of piss and vinegar as always. “Fuck off, Shaw. Only reason you’re running your mouth is because you know I ain’t there to put you in your place.”

Shaw shrugged. “Whatever helps you sleep at night. You know what helps me sleep at night? This little photo I have of your mothe–”

Andy directed his myrmidon to kick the sofa over, spilling Shaw across the floor.

Laughing, Shaw sprang up and tackled the bot, and the two of them smashed to the ground, twisting and straining against one another to see who could beat the other. For all the advantages of the myrmidon’s metal frame that Andy enjoyed, Shaw’s own strength was just as superhuman as the rest of ours.

Our ambrosia-fed bodies stood on equal footing to the killing droids we fought alongside. Being conscripted into the Solarian Infantry came with some perks. I’ll admit, we did to see some pretty exotic places, and we certainly met plenty of xenos. Most of them were trying to kill us, but every career has its drawbacks. Can’t beat that Solarian health plan.

For my part, I leaned against an overturned desk and checked my equipment. Other sergeants might have told them to stow it and stay professional. Way I saw it, if my men were in good enough spirits to rough house and talk shit, the day was going well. It was when they got quiet that shit was getting bad. That was when they stopped talking shit and actually tried to kill one another for real, rather than play-fighting as they were now.

I’ve seen things get quiet. I preferred this.

Whilst Shaw and Andy were testing flesh against steel, the others sat back and watched. Our medic was the only one not smiling, since he knew he was going to have to patch Shaw up once it was over.

Testament to my lieutenants’ unconventional professionalism, the other two myrmidons still patrolled the office space around us, and the recon drones were still circling the building, scanning it for encroaching hostiles.

Dempsey unclipped his Chimaera cannon and smashed a glass coffee table to pieces setting it down. Casual as can be, he wandered over to the office’s amenities. Whichever Indigo executive called this place his workspace must’ve had a taste for the finer things in life, because he kept a well-stocked liquor station and a surround-sound speaker system.

A melody began playing, slow and lilting. The translation software in my helmet fought an uphill battle to keep up with the lyrics, spilling its best guess at a deeper meaning across the bottom of my HUD. The song spoke of a love lost but not forgotten. Of better days now far behind. Of the ghost of sweet promise that now haunted the empty days following some terrible tragedy.

I remember thinking, damn. Somebody broke this poor bug’s heart.

Whilst Eli coordinated with the destroyer in orbit, delivering death from on high and clearing the way for the fight to come, we leaned back and listened to the smoky tunes of some sultry Indigo singing about her lost lover. Hearing every word and understanding none of it.

In another time and in another place, I would hear this song again and understand it better. But on this day I paused the translation software with a thought and focused on what was right in front of me. The road ahead.

Fires burned across the city. The Indomitable sent a second wave of dropships down upon the city. Laden down with reinforcements, tanks, and heavier equipment. Everything we needed to secure our foothold on this planet and conquer it once and for all.

I turned my gaze towards the dome-shaped palace and pushed off the overturned desk.

“Break time’s over, ladies. Grab your shit and get moving!”


We linked up with the rest of the 901st and followed a heavy column down into the highway network. The Indigos had their own assault vehicles waiting for us, and they knew we were coming. Our tanks held them at bay while we flanked and maneuvered around their barricades, climbing back up onto street level, running and gunning our way through firefights we had no business being a part of, and eventually finding our way back down into those tunnels. Explosive charges cracked open the foundations and Dempsey used his Chimaera cannon to mow down the Indigos from the sides. A few rounds from our tanks, now advancing unopposed, took out the enemy technicals before they could round on us and avenge their fallen brethren.

I make it sound so bloodless, talking like this. The truth is always messier.

I leave out the scent of it all clinging to our nostrils even through the air scrubbers in our helmets, the crunch of our boots on their garden pathways, the crude jokes my men made about one thing or another.

I leave out the way war fucks with your sense of humor. The way one Indigo fell as it died reminded Dempsey of a meme he’d seen about some Solarian celebrity falling at an awards show because she was a little tipsy. It wasn’t funny, not really, but we laughed anyway. A splash of blood on a ripped up wall we passed had Shaw and Andy in a fit of hysterics, they treated it like a Rorschach test and kept asking what the other one saw. Their answers were each funnier than the last. I wish I remembered them better, honestly.

And of course, I’m glossing over the deaths.

Eli got hit during our surface crawl to flank the hostile armor. Flatlined, as we called it, to take away some of the sting of losing a friend. He was a big foodie, always talking about cuisine from all across the galaxy, but above all he loved desserts. His big plan was to open up a bakery on one of the distant colony worlds out on the bleeding edge of Solarian space. We’d tease him that he’d lose his ambrosia-given figure and get fat eating all his baked treats. He’d laugh and say he didn’t mind one bit, and he’d find a woman who liked her men husky and enjoyed the decadent meals he cooked for her. All that he was and might have ever been just got taken out by a sniper posted up in some unseen nest. One trigger-pull, and that bakery never got built. Some woman out there who had a thing for husky men who knew how to cook would have to live on without her soulmate. Poor girl.

Shaw used his recon drones to triangulate the bastard’s location. An Indigo sniper holed up in what remained of a broken skyrise. Andy spent one of his myrmidon droids drawing the sniper’s fire while he took the guy out with a well-placed shot. Friend avenged. Time to move on. Simple as.

Shaw… damn it. He got flatlined just a few blocks further on. When we got caught up in that firefight that wasn’t ours. I forget which company it was, all the numbers run together like lines of binary code drifting in and out of focus, but there was a bunch of our guys pinned down. Some heavy gun emplacement overlooking a fountain-laden square—which was more of a circle but you get the picture. I deviated from the mission plan just long enough to clear out the heavy gun. It cost us a friend but it spared dozens of our fellow Solarians. I think Shaw would’ve been okay with his part in that equation. I hope so anyway. Hard to ask a ghost much of anything.

We pushed onwards, leaving our dead mixed in with theirs. Burial would have to wait.

Down in the tunnels, stepping over the wreckage of their assault vehicles, we picked up two new squadmates to replace our fallen, and a spare myrmidon droid that Andy synced up to for the next phase.

Hitting the capitol from topside was a non-starter. The shield protecting it was rated for planetary bombardment. Our side had plenty of shit like that. For the Indigos, this was one of a kind. Poor schmucks never stood a chance.


Since we couldn’t rain death from above or push through from the surface, we got underneath it and dug our way up. Or at least that was the plan.

Our column got hit right as we neared one of the shield generators. An ambush not unlike the one topside where I’d flatlined the kid. Only this one was a few orders of magnitude worse, and it didn’t go our way.

A plume of fire erupted from one of our tanks, and my brain short-circuited. Those things were just as sturdy as the mythical lions they were named after. Built to survive damn near anything. I’d seen buildings dropped on one and still the thing just rumbled through the debris, practically unscathed. Not this time. Score one, Indigos.

Things got worse from there. More landmines went off. Some ripped up the ground beneath our feet and swallowed entire squads in a blinding flash. Some went off over our heads and dropped chunks of the tunnel roof down on top of us.

The streams of needle-thin incoming fire came at us from all sides. Those damn blue monkeys had positioned themselves well.

At first I ordered my men to stand their ground. We fought with our brothers and killed anything unlucky enough to find itself in our crosshairs. But, as the 901st drew closer to complete erasure, I saw the writing on the wall. This was to be our tomb if we did nothing.

My voice, uplifted through the comm network, fell on the deaf ears of my commanding officers. They shouted for us all to stand our ground and push them back, confident in the superiority of the Solarian Infantry.

They didn’t see what I saw.

I led my squad into the service tunnels. Another squad tried to follow us, but by then it was too late. I had enough time to grip Dempsey by the scruff of his armor and drag him through the doorway before the bloodbath entered its final moments.

Enemy fire threw up a plume of dust from the ground beneath our comrades’ feet. Their myrmidon droids clattered apart into a mess of broken pieces. Though his droids were the first to fall, somewhere in orbit sat the man linked up to them; the sole survivor of that squad. His organic counterparts survived for a moment longer as their sergeant expanded his advanced shielding unit to encompass his whole squad. A crackling blue dome sprang up around them, fending off incoming fire like an umbrella shedding raindrops. It kept them alive until the entire highway shook with a new explosion. The chunk of roof material that crushed them barely slowed as it impacted the weakened dome-shield, and crushed the sergeant flat along with all his men.

Dempsey let out a roar of rage, as did several of my men.

Fighting back the urge to lend my voice to their cry for vengeance, I instead focused my own advanced shielding unit in a single direction, warding off the doorway and concentrating all that energy into keeping my men alive.

The next explosion drained my shield battery down to a sliver. The entire 901st, aside from us, all flatlined at once. A DIY mass grave.

Yeah the Indigos lost, but they didn’t go down without a fight. I hate them for that. Always will. But I respect them all the more for it, too.

I think that, more than anything, is why I hate being called a hero.

I saved myself and three men. Plus two of Andy’s bots. And in turn an entire company was dead and buried. Just like that. If it’s all the same to you, I’ll gloss over some of those grisly details now, but you asked what I remember… I’ll remember that tunnel as long as I live.

There came a long moment once the dust was settled where the four of us, plus Andy, just sat in the dark and didn’t move. Like computers trying and failing to reboot after a crash. Brains throwing off error codes like a Chimaera cannon shedding spent casings.

Things were quiet now.

So many dead in mere seconds.

“What fresh hell is this?”

I shook myself. The dead were dead. I couldn’t change that. I needed to focus on the living, on the mission, and on what I could control. Right now that was a short list, so I took inventory.

When I stood up, their eyes tracked the movement. I cocked the lever-action on my Basilisk Carbine, swapping the still-cooling blaster coil out for a fresh one before it overheated and inspecting the weapon for damage. Nada. Those rifles were meant to be steady and reliable even in the toughest firefights. The dual cylinder mechanism meant if one coil overheated I could crank the lever-action to swap it out for a cool one and just keep on firing. Even if I pulled the trigger as fast as possible, that first cylinder would be cool by the time the second one overheated. Rinse and repeat until judgment day.

Letting the rifle dangle from my chest harness, I drew my Xiphos kinetic sidearm: a 21-round semi-automatic slug-throwing powerhouse. Sleek, sophisticated, vaguely reminiscent of an ancient Earth design called a 1911, and extremely lethal. The brochures used to sell these things to civilians would market it as a reimagined classic. Our instructors called it the lifeline.

By the time I re-holstered my Xiphos, my men were back on their feet and following suit. Inspecting their kit. Getting their game faces on. There would be time to process and grieve later. Call it a blessing or a curse, but that ambrosia treatment we all got would keep us alive and kicking a helluva long time if we survived that day. There would be plenty of time to grow old and remember the dead later. For now we had a mission. Nevermind how the fuck four men and two droids were supposed to storm the capital building. We had a mission. We’d either find a way or we’d join our brothers in the grave.