Technology: -1 Atomic power
Environment: -1 Survivable world
Resources: +3 Multiple exports


  • "Everyone is here by choice"
  • Petrochemical seas
  • Proxy war in progress

Keller hit the ground running, making for the downed transport. His visor fogged with greasy smoke - the shale was still smoldering where their fellow transport had crashed, clouding the air with a petrochemical haze. Keller knew that if he opened his visor the air would smell like solvent and burnt oil - the whole planet did. He also knew he'd have the Hack for hours if he took a good lungful of the soupy haze.

He waved his squad forward. Gutman opened up with covering fire from the heavy gun. The enemy UAVs went to ground, hovering low. They were good, top notch tech, probably provided by the Albion Combine, or maybe Hyperion United. The big guys were getting involved more and more these days. It was looking less like a conflict and more like a war every day. Keller didn't like wars - they didn't pay well.

He ducked, flattening himself against the berm the transport had plowed up, opening up on one of the UAVs with his R-7. It sparked and tumbled to the ground. He didn't allow himself any satisfaction from downing an enemy - they had to hurry, and the UAVs were the least of their worries. If the wind picked up and blew sparks from the hulk up into the rubber plantation the the rubber trees would catch fire, and then this whole place would be an inferno.

Survivors began to crawl from the wreck of the transport in various states of injury. Some kept low and crawled for cover - they would be the ones who had worked merc contracts before. Others, greenhorns fresh from maintenance details on the Rigs, ran full out and got cut down by laser fire from the UAVs. Had to be Albion Combine, then, unless Hyperion had managed to cram enough batteries into the UAV to power a laser.

Keller's squad downed the last of the drones and began to fall back, dragging or carrying the wounded. They tumbled in to their transport and dusted off, medics already cracking armor with shears and giving injections, marking the worst with the "X" on their helmets that meant it was too late.

Keller cracked his helmet and took a breath. The air still smelled like solvent in here, but you could breathe it. It wasn't so different from the air in the Commons on Haldeman where he grew up. Except, he thought, except this air was free. He had a job he could walk from if he chose to - other combines would hire a man with his combat record in an instant - and a home back on the Rig he could move or improve if he saved enough funds. He chose what food he ate, watched the vids he wanted to watch, and slept with whoever he chose. He took orders from his commander, but he was free to think and speak as he chose when he was off duty. There were no political officers here. Hell, if he wanted to drop everything and go live up in the hills with the wildcats he could. It was his choice.

When he first got off the transport here Keller didn't understand that saying the veterans always threw around. Hell, after a few months of turning wrenches down in the guts of a Rig he didn't understand why anyone would want to stay here. But now, now he was starting to understand why they stayed, and what the saying meant.

The transports turbines whined, flinging it and it's doubled payload skyward. Below a muffled "whump" confirmed Keller's hunch that the rubber trees would catch fire. The blaze could not reach them, but the light from the inferno below blazed bright red through every viewport, illuminating the bay crowded with bloody, greasy, armored humanity. They were out of danger, ready to fight another day, and they were free. Keller smiled to himself and recited the mantra…

"Everyone is here by choice."

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