Chapter 1

"Set condition two, LSRT." The 1MC came to life, "Set condition two, LSRT."

I ran to the armory onboard the RSS Concord and geared up, armor, ammo, and weapons. I wasn't entirely sure why we were getting ready for action, but it must have been something serious. We had been patrolling the Nihil systems for the past few months watching for pirate or slaver attacks, and every other time we've geared up it was a real threat.

It's amazing how fast your mindset can change under certain circumstances like this. Twenty minutes ago, I was standing watch up in the Combat Information Center, trying to keep myself from falling asleep. Now, I, along with the rest of the LSRT, or Landing, Security, and Recon Team, were gearing up for an operation.

I always thought our armor was a little uncomfortable, but I couldn't argue its effectiveness. It looked somewhat similar to what knights wore back in the middle ages of Earth. The only differences, really, were that we had lighter weight ceramic plates instead of steel armor, a lot more electronics, and our 'shields', or inertia barriers, are much more advanced.

"Alright guys, listen up!" the LTO, or Landing Team Officer, Lieutenant Junior Grade Pierce, ran up to the armory, the only female sailor on our team, "About twenty minutes ago, Settlement Charlie Five Nine on the planet Kinton activated a distress beacon and relayed on emergency channels that they were about to be attacked by a small band of Tameris slavers. Concord is going to intercept the slaver mother ship still in orbit, and with a little luck, our shuttle will intercept the slaver skiff planetside."

"Any intel on personnel? Weapons, things of that nature?" Security Tech Third Class Joshua Kimms asked, as he finished strapping his gear on.

"Yes, we know the raiding party will have at least eight personnel all armed with small arms and stun guns, no heavy weapons expected. The colonists on Kinton have a rudimentary militia, but they're definitely outgunned. We're heading there right now at flank speed, should be there in about an hour."

I wasn't nervous. This wasn't the first operation I'd ever been on. I knew I was properly trained and I knew what I was doing. If anything, I was the exact opposite, extremely calm, even serene.

We had been here in the Nihil systems for the past four months now. Four months, according to the GTI, or Galactic Time Index. It's going to be another month before we finally leave this sector of the galaxy, and I can't wait to go home.

I verified the seal on my helmet was secure. At no point during this operation were we planned to be exposed to the vacuum of space. But then again, anything could happen. The heads-up display in my helmet came to life, performed seal checks, and gave me a green light. I was good to go.

I walked up into the shuttle joining the rest of the team and sat down, securing myself to the seat with shoulder straps.

"Coxswain, prepare for departure!" the intercom in the shuttle came to life; I could clearly make out the voice of Boatswain's Mate Second Class Jon McShard.

"Prepare for departure, aye!" the coxswain replied. The hum of the engines grew louder, clearly activating. I watched as the coxswain started flipping switches and pushing buttons that I had no idea what were for.

"Coxswain, standby, launch door opening!" McShard said into the intercom again.

The RSS Concord opened her launch doors and our coxswain flew us out at semi-superluminal speed.

"Mother, this is Green Wolf, we are clear, over." Our coxswain said into our comms unit.

"Green Wolf, this is Concord, read you Lima Charlie, you are clear to carry out your orders, over."

"Roger Concord, read you same, carrying out orders, out."

A holographic marker appeared in the windshield of our shuttle, directing us to the settlement on Kinton. There was a second marker giving us the last known position of the slaver skiff. At this rate, we should be in Settlement Charlie Five Nine, or Vindea, about twenty minutes before the slavers.

I sat back in my chair and enjoyed the ride. I always liked being on the shuttle. I always had a feeling of freedom whenever I rode it. Maybe it was because I was away from the Concord, maybe it was going to a new place, I don't really know, but I had always thought it was fun.

We entered the atmosphere and sped towards the settlement. "Prepare to disembark!" the Coxswain yelled back behind us. We were closing in on our drop zone quickly.

The rear cargo door of the shuttle opened, and a countdown appeared on the HUD in my helmet, rapidly dropping from one thousand.

I prepped my weapons.

The countdown hit five hundred.

I double checked my ammunition.

The countdown hit zero.

The coxswain swooped down with accurate precision over the drop zone, going from hundreds of yards in the air to hovering just over a yard above ground in mere seconds, performing what we call a tactical drop.

"Go, go go!" he yelled.

Our shoulder straps released and we all jumped out the cargo door.

"Last man!" Security Tech First Class Mike Tuatega yelled as he jumped out.

On that order, the shuttle zoomed off to patrol the nearby airspace, ready to pick us up in a moment's notice.

A colonist ran up to us. "Hello!" he yelled excitedly, "I'm the governor here, Lim Olcto!"

LTJG Pierce ran out to meet him. "Hello sir, I'm Lieutenant Junior Grade Pierce, we hear you've got a slaver problem."

He nodded his head, clearly relieved we had gotten there first. "They sent us a warning a day ago that said we have to give up ten of our colonist and nobody will be harmed."

"Don't worry sir; nothing will happen to you or your people." Ms. Pierce turned to us and nodded. We knew what to do.

In situations like this, ninety-nine out of a hundred times the slavers will give up upon realizing Republic military have arrived before them, knowing their mother ship is probably been intercepted by a Republic ship. Still, we play it safe.

Tuatega left for the comms building in the settlement to publicly broadcast over the beacon that the Republic Navy had arrived and ordering the slavers to give up.

About twenty minutes later, we saw the slaver skiff approaching in the distance with flashing lights, the universal signal that they're not going to put up a fight.

The skiff landed right on the outskirts of the settlement in an open field, and six personnel exited, all human, hands raised.

"Take them, take them, take them!" I ordered.

Four of the LSRT stayed behind providing cover, while ten of us advanced on the slavers, quickly handcuffing them and searching the skiff for any more personnel.

Textbook counter-slavery operation.

BAM! BAM! BAM! BAM!

I felt like somebody had slammed me in my chest, once, twice, three times, then on the fourth one, it felt like a punch, then a stab.

I looked down in disbelief. Somebody shot me with something powerful enough to tear right through my inertia barrier, right through my ceramic plating, and into my chest, a high caliber weapon, probably an assault rifle or a sniper rifle.

Then there was yelling, screaming, people running every which way, but I couldn't focus on anything else, all I could focus on was my wound. I could feel my suit releasing stims and drugs into my body, deadening the pain, attempting to clot the wound, and fighting any infection that might occur.

I could hear yelling, I could hear gunfire, but I couldn't understand it. Everything was moving too fast. What do I do now?

I dropped to my knees, and then felt another blow into my shoulder which flew me backwards.

My HUD in my helmet told me that I had been shot in the shoulder but the armor integrity was still intact. It also told me that my inertia barrier generator was still recovering from the first few shots and would take another minute before it was completely operational again.

I reached for my pistol and regained my bearings. I was in the middle of the field, middle of the firefight, I had to get to cover.

Struggling to my feet, I stood and started running as fast as I could back towards the settlement shooting behind me with my handgun, looking for a rock, a building, anything I could hide behind for cover.

Something slammed into my back, the HUD notified me that I had been shot again and my inertia shield generator had been destroyed, along with a decent chunk of armor plating.

I fell to the dirt, and everything started to go dark. My vision closed in on itself and my hearing started to fade.

The last thing I thought was, I was dead.