I never really wanted to be a soldier. If it wasn’t for my dad I would probably be teaching. I’ve just never been the type that charges into things. I’ve always sat back and watched the others play. When I was a child I used to sit on the old rusted playset and watch the other children play tag, or baseball, or another game that the normal child would play. I would study their moves and the language that their bodies created. It always intrigued me and I never thought I could ever compete. I watched the swing of the bat, the motion of the ball, the ways children used to escape each other, like sharp turns, using their ability to climb and various other tactics. The other kids would laugh at me as I sat their. They called me “loser” and “loner”. They said I had no friends and would be alone all my life. Children can be terrible. I still sat and watched though.
No, I never wanted to be a soldier; but I always wanted to be an Atmo Jumper. The feeling of falling and observing your surroundings: the G-forces forcing your heart into your throat. Space was just right there, it’s amazing. Just being able to watch the planet approaching and the battle around you as you fall has always blown my mind. You just sit their and marvel at human invention. Someone made us the ability to breath in a vacuum with no air in an environment that is seemingly designed to keep humans on their own planet. Having the possibility that you’ll be shot out of the sky adds another, more exhilarating element to the drop.
I joined the force to experience this jolt that I fell in love with as a kid. The Atmo troopers used to do training missions fifteen miles away from my house at the airbase. My mom and I would watch the yellow specks dropping from the New Mexican sky when my dad wasn’t around. When dad was around was a rare occasion. Those yellow sparks were brilliant and palpable to me. I couldn’t believe that they were made by humans. They inspired me and sent me on a headfirst charge to become a soldier.
. . .
The red lights started to spin like a lighthouse when the sirens for Imminent Combat sounded. My eyes were already open. I don’t usually sleep well before drops. Part out of sheer excitement and another of sheer terror.
“Lets go! Lets go!” The Sergeant sounded off as we spilled out of our bunks. I fell into the orderly line in front of the door and walked into the angular “A” shaped hall with the rest of the privates.
“Hey Jenkins!” one man yelled at another ahead of me.
“You ready to get into the fray?”
“Yeah!” the man in front responded.
“Ready to kick some ass?”
“Boy, I’m ready to tear this planet a new asshole!”
“That’s what I like to hear Hell Jumpers till a ghastly demise am-I-right?”
“Damn right and Hell Jumpers say what?”
The whole group responded with a whistle and a boom trying to imitate the noise of our pods entering the atmosphere and hitting the planet’s surface. It sounds more like a missile hitting a target than our pods hitting the ground. Our pods have more delayed rushing sound because of the jet breaks. I don’t like to spoil the mood though. The whole thing brings everyone’s spirits up and a smile to my face.
“HEY! Lets keep it down back there!” The Sergeant yelled trying to keep the peace. Everyone chuckled. We were rowdy but that’s the MO when you live your life not knowing if you’ll survive the next drop. When they say a ghastly demise they really mean a horrible, awful death. You have the chance to be blown to pieces by a missile intercepting you on your way to the planet below, you have a leak in-pod and suffocate to death, or your pod might malfunction leaving you without air breaks or parachute. When they get the pod back after an unsuccessful drop they usually find shinbones protruding through the Atmo’s shoulders and a puddle of blood and flesh at the bottom of the pod being the remains of the poor soul.
I try not to think about it too much. I finally reached the armory and found my locker. They issue us rifles and standard armor consisting of alloy integrated impact suits, a helmet and a bunch of armor plates that lock onto carbon fiber skin to protect vital organs. The helmet resembled Ancient Greek helms with the visors a little wider than their ancient counterparts. The armor looked like standard carbon fiber, steel diamonds on a lighter steel sheath, with patchy pieces of metal glued to it. Of course the light metal plates had saved my life plenty of times.
The only difference between the different men’s armor was paint they had applied themselves. The Sergeants tried to keep the decorations at a minimum. But with soldiers that have such a high-stress job the brass could give less than two shits about what their armor looked like, so long as it worked and the soldiers themselves didn’t lose their minds. Some of the designs included the normal skulls and toxic symbols that adorn vicious Space Marines. Others had quotes from movies and famous authors. Some of the more creative soldiers painted scenes of battle, heavenly choirs, or tribal symbols from their homes on their breastplates and shoulder pads.
Unlike most I wore the standard issue gunmetal grey armor with the number “13” scratched into my armor at the left shoulder, breast plate and left knee. Thirteen has always been a special number in my family. I was born on the thirteenth of December, my mom and dad were married on the thirteenth of January, and my dad died in action on the thirteenth of March. I also decided that I wanted to be an Atmo trooper on the thirteenth of November. I remember the day well.
On my thirteenth birthday my dad took me up in an old biplane one of the older fellows in our town rented out. It was green and had a World War II Spitfire design on the nose. The design gave it a wicked look that reminded me of a shark or some kind of sharp-toothed fish. Dad helped me up into the cockpit where I could only see over the rim about half a foot. He then strapped in and started the plane. One of the old guys spun the propeller to start the engine and we would be ready to fly.
“You ready kiddo?” He yelled at me.
“When am I not ready?” I retorted with a cocky smile
“You’ll be a pilot yet you little shit.”
He then checked his instruments, flipped a few switches and after being prompted by the runway personal started the plane down the airstrip. The wind rushed through my hair as we got up into the air. I always thought it was strange how after we got up into the air high enough the whole earth looked like someone grabbed a couple of cookie cutters and had gone hog wild on it. All the little farms were in straight rows and they all had their own outlines. My dad must’ve lost track of where we were, it’s hard to keep track with older instruments, because we had found our selves in restricted air space above the air base. A radio call came in from the base. My dad and the controller on the other end jabbered about something. I can’t remember what because I had just caught a glimpse of something above us. A bright ball of burning light was coming out of the sky and as the fire around it went out I saw what it was: a drop pod. Two more came down about a mile in front of us. The aft cockpit radio lit up and I picked it up.
“Hey buddy, so don’t panic but it seems that we’ve just flown into an Atmo Jumper practice exercise. I’m going to try to get us out of here but its gonna be a little bumpy.” As soon as he hung up the radio a flaming ball of fire breached the sky right in front of us. My father banked right to avoid it but it was too late and the air stream that came off of the meteoric ball of flame stalled us. The plane started to fall to the earth and my dad tried to regain control. Meanwhile I was in the back of the plane just watching the troopers fall to the earth from the sky. My dad gained control not far from the ground and we leveled out.
“Whoa, whoa, there we go. Whew, alright, we all good back there?” My dad exclaimed as he got the plane in control. I didn’t respond. He looked back to see if I was alright. I was still just watching the pods as they hit the ground. Large sand clouds shot up as the pods reached earth with a boom. My dad laughed to himself as he kept flying. I just kept on staring at the pods till they faded out of sight.
I grabbed my helmet as soon as I was done suiting up, gave one last look at the thirteen scratched into my breastplate and grabbed my rifle. I exited to the same angular hallway that stretched down the entire ship, now jogging at a brisk pace towards the launch bay. More privates joined me as I got closer to the bay. Our footsteps started to make a pounding that equated more to an ominous drumbeat than marching.
Metal doors opened revealing the pods. The angular space pods sat in their frames patiently waiting for us to occupy them. My weapon locked into place with a snap and a whirr as the pod absorbed it into a compartment. I stepped into the pod. It swayed in the rack seemingly teaming with energy to drop out of the orbiting spaceship. I sat down, put my helmet on my lap and checked my instruments. My path was set, coordinates were locked and all systems were green. A yellow button glowed on the wall to my right. I pressed it and the super hardened Plexiglas and metal door lowered. With a few clicks and a beep the pod notified me of being drop ready.
I buckled into my pod and dawned my helmet with its Hoplite shaped visor that glittered awake and then shaded when securely fastened. Statistics of angle, distance from planet and team status were displayed on the inside of the visor for only my eyes to see. Pre-flight check then initiated on my visor; checking for parachute status, jet brakes and double-checking the already green instruments. The outside lights then flickered red; the drop had commenced. A muffled periodic clicking came from outside as the chains of the rack circulated the pods for drop.
Butterflies burst from my stomach and flew to my fingertips as I grew anxious for the oncoming drop. It was like getting raised to the top of a roller coaster with a shorter trip up and a whole lot longer trip down. I closed my eyes and thought of the airplane flight. I thought of my amazement of the Atmo pods as they dropped during that New Mexican sunset on my thirteenth birthday. That quieted my anxiety. I opened my eyes to blinking lights and my pod coming to a halt above two large metal doors.
A long whining alarm went off loud and annoying in my pod. I punched the blinking red “LAUNCH” button on the left side of the pod and the doors into space opened beneath me. A latch let loose shot me into space. The stars and the ship were beautiful above in the void. I looked down to where friendly ships were battling the insurgents that we had come to combat. The rockets ignited. My pod lurched towards the earth with force more force. My body was plastered to the ship and a smile was plastered to my face. My heart pumped as the exhilaration of the drop injected adrenaline into my bloodstream.
I passed through the battle as an insurgent ship exploded underneath my pod; two jets dropped ordinance as cover to our pods. The thrusters increased. We went dark as we accelerated through the wreckage and came out on the other side of the ship. I looked back at the giant hole that laid where the bombs had blown it open for us. It seemed that the ship was trying to redirect us by blocking our path to the planet below to no success.
Another, now beeping, alarm went off to signal entrance into atmosphere. A loud rushing sound could be heard inside of the small pod. Outside a red glow burned as the heat shields reacted to the melting heat of breaking atmosphere. Clouds surrounded the pod outside shining bright as the pod cooled down. The scene in the sky was probably how some religions on earth would have described Heaven. Either way it was my heaven now. The rush of the pod, my senses heightened, I was quiet literally “on top of the world”.
I began to see a blanket of blue coming up towards me as we pierced the clouds. Little green dots showed as the readings on my visor showed the distance to the planet’s surface drop quickly. A short beep came from overhead and my helmet locked into the headrest of my seat. The ship then magnetically drew my other limbs into place. Jump jets activated slowing down the pod.
Flak passed over my now limited vision as we came in range of the enemy. Out of the side of my eye I saw another drop pod get hit by Flak and burst into flames. That man was probably gone but there was no time for him now. I had to think about my own problems; my parachute hadn’t gone off yet and I was approaching the surface. I pressed a button to release my right arm from its magnetic grip. A handle in a glass case on my chair that read “EMERGENCY PARACHUTE RELEASE” I broke the glass with my armored glove and pulled it. An explosion from the top of the pod sounded as the chute was released and I lurched to a slower fall. The parachutes were designed to keep us at an optimal drop speed and not to stop us completely. After all, stopping a pod in the middle of a drop would guarantee our deaths from flak.
I locked my arm back into place on the armrest. The trees were getting closer to my pod. The altimeter read two thousand feet, fifteen hundred feet, one thousand feet, five hundred feet. Another ever-present alarm sounded yelling “IMPACT IMMINENT” in my helmet. One hundred feet to impact. Then the sound that the men described on the ship started to whistle outside. The ground came up fast. The pod hit, the dirt rose explosively around me. I grabbed my gun out of its alcove, kicked my door out and charged into the fray.