The Long Road Home – I

PROLOGUE

MISSION LOG 0340 HOURS

We’d lost Reco during our orbital insertion. Bull reported in from the crash site citing technical malfunctions due to adverse atmospheric conditions. Everything about this hell hole had been adverse so far. I contacted each remaining member of the team to meet at emergency checkpoint alpha one: Dervish, Goggles, Flint, and Maggie, who hated call signs so just used her own name, all had acknowledged the command. That was fifty minutes ago. When we signed on for Operation Frisbee, we were told it was going to be another walk in the park; grab the object, run back with the object. Of course, a park is typically envisioned as a lush field with clear skies, not a hot, humid, alien jungle with an atmosphere that wreaks havoc with all your electrical systems. I could barely maintain a signal planetside; contacting HQ offworld? Not a chance.

We’re on our own. It makes me glad I had demanded fifty percent payment up front for my people, especially given we’re working for a nameless employer with impressive, if not alarming, military contacts, but had I known then what I know now, I would’ve asked for triple to do this one. Of course, they always say hindsight is 20/20.

PERSONAL LOG 0341 HOURS

I fucking hate bugs. They ain’t natural with their creepin’n’crawlin’n’shit. What kinda fucked up God would make such little shits, with their fangs’n’venoms’n’bullshit. Fuck that Amarr shit right in their candy asses.

My name’s Amos Floyd, shit, I mean, Bull. Use your callsign, goddammed idiot. No wonder they’re always picking on your dumb Brutor ass. I’m all feverish’n’fucked up right now; can’t move my legs. Some goddamned motherfuckin’ centifucking thing crawled right up my boot when I wasn’t paying no mind. I felt it’s prickly legs up my pant, but by the time I looked down and said ‘What the fuck?’ the motherfucker had dug himself in for a snack. I unloaded a full mag into the motherfucking bitch whore. Between waking up every sneaky fuck predator in this jungle and announcing where I was, I nearly shot my own leg off. I hate this place. It’s fucking stank. Is making me sweat my balls off, which makes me smell like stank. Fuck the jungle, man. Seriously.

I got about five feet before my legs gave out, and down I went, cursing and screaming like an Amarr choir boy getting priestly mentoring. My comm ain’t picking up shit for static, and I would say it looks like I’m on my own except for the fact that about two dozen of those multi-legged fuckers have been crawling out from under every fucking thing and moving towards me. A few flares have kept them at bay for now, but I’ll be out of that shit soon, then I know I’m bug food. Fuck. What a way to go.

PERSONAL LOG 0342 HOURS

No visible moons beneath the dark electric storms, yet the predators don’t seem to mind the thunder and lightning. Interesting; must be a constant here to which they have adapted. Gravity feels lighter than 1g; should let me make use of some advanced acrobatics training I learned a few years back from an operative I hooked up with for a few months. She was good, and young. Young and good. Sounds like the lyrics to a good song. Comms are down and useless at this range. Will check again when 100m closer to the rendezvous point. Very hot and humid; my envirosuit says it has another 2 hours of charge left. I adjust it to the minimum setting to maximize its longevity, and my comfort.

Longevity, our vain pursuit;
To live immortal amongst the gods of man.
What wonders dost (doth, doest?) hath our eyes done seen,
Eer life to life, death to death?
Ashes to ashes, dust to dust?
I’ve lost where this was going. Ironic.

I hear the faint footsteps on the padded soil 15m to my left. I do not move. It’s big, feline. I can sense it settling into a crouch, digging the pads of its paws deeper into the ground for an optimal attack launch. I breathe in deeply, sharing in this moment of exhiliration; man vs beast vs man. To be alive, to be … alive. A live. Olive.

We both leap. The carnivourous cat tries to adjust its flight midair unsuccessfully. I land 6m above, on a firm, yet soft tree branch. The cat turns to pursue, not realizing I’ve already shot it between the eyes and that it is dead. Ah, now it understands.

I drop to the ground, and hold the mighty beast in my arms as a mother shushing its babe to sleep. Rest now, dear child. Carnivourous cat; that was some pretty good aliteration.

Hush little baby, don’t say a word,
Mama’s gonna buy you a mockingbird.
If that mockingbird don’t sing,

I look at my chrono and realize I’m late for the rendezvous.

PERSONAL LOG 0343 HOURS

You have to wonder why we bother making personal logs; I mean who is going to find them if we die? We’re mercs for crying out loud; who would send a rescue team? Alive, I’m credits on a job. Dead, I’m someone else’s cut. Besides, the governments keep track of us anyway. You know what I’m talking about; the chips they put in our brains when we’re born. You know, the ones that let the powers that be know who to keep in the slums, who to manipulate for gain, and who to quietly dispose of?

Not me, man; I carved that tech outta my head the first chance I got. Well, sure I didn’t actually find anything, but that’s because they’re hard wired to self destruct, disintegrate if exposed to air. They don’t want to leave a trace so you can prove they’re doing, right? Smart ones, but not as smart as me.

What is that smell? Oh man! I stepped in it. That’s disgusting. How am I going to get that off my boot? Sigh. I hate planet missions. Plug me in, upload me, let me get my cyber self on, that’s where I’m happiest, but money is money, you know what I’m saying?

Alright drone, let’s head to the rendezvous. Stop recording.

PERSONAL LOG 0344 HOURS

Maybe lighting my cigar with a flamer wasn’t my best idea. Sure, it worked, but the foliage surrounding me lit up dry in a flash. I’m kinda impressed how fast it spread; gives a new meaning to the term ‘wildfire’. Course, I’m trapped in my own oven, but what the hell, it’s a good cigar. Might be late for the rendezvous.

PERSONAL LOG 0348 HOURS

This team has been my life for the last eight months, since my husband was killed. He was a good man, in the sense that he knew who to fight for, but a bad man in the sense that he did terrible things to those whom were his enemies. It still amazes me to this day that he kept it all secret from me. Who am I kidding? I suspected something was up years ago, but didnt’ want to pry, didn’t want to ask, didn’t want to see the money disappear. The early years of our marriage had been hard financially, but when he started his new ‘job’, things started looking up. We had the sweet life. That we did. Then he was killed by a damned capsuleer who thought she would grace us with her ‘vision’ of what a better planet could be; essentially us working her factories for cheap, and we couldn’t exactly say no.

My husband led a group of rebels, and did quite a bit of damage both financially and to the morale of the capsuleer’s ground team, but it wasn’t enough. It never would’ve been enough. For a few ISK, nothing to an immortal god, one of my husband’s most trusted lieutenants sold him out. They were both hanged publically, to set an example.

I wipe a tear away from my eye.

The only example ever set was that the strong impose their will on the weak, and I had grown tired of being weak. I trained my mind and body hard, pushing myself further than even I knew was possible doing this job, and I was damned proud of the woman I had grown into. I hoped Jacob would be too.

Of course, given the nature of this work, I might get to ask him in person just soon enough. And maybe, just maybe, that’s why I do it. I miss you, honey.

TO BE CONTINUED IN: THE LONG ROAD HOME – II

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