Chapter Five: Dead Drop Pt1

Heller gritted his teeth and tightened his muscles as the drop ship began to leave the launch tube. The men inside bounced violently around in their harnesses as the shuddering grew louder and negative G''s pressed against them. Then came the momentary sensation of weightless freefall as the ship separated itself from its mother and began the long fall toward the glittering planet below. Heller could just see out the front cockpit past the pilots. There it was. The glittering world of Valois sat motionless, hundreds of miles below them. The world in need of their assistance. The enemy would feel the full force of the Emperors hammer this day, he could feel it.

"Emperors might" this is drop group one, we have cleared the ship and are en route to the DZ. Estimated arrival time is approximately eight minutes."

"Roger that drop group one, we will stand by overhead and wait for the all clear. Good hunting, and may the Emperor protect you."

"Thanks Might, I sure hope he does..."

Heller tightened his grip on the rifle in his hands and checked the charge for the dozenth time. He could feel his nerves rising. He hated flying, always had. He had never been involved in any air accidents; it was just that he felt helpless. He was a ground grunt, and that was where he excelled. Up in the air he could do absolutely nothing to save himself or his squad, it was all up to the pilots. Jans had made fun of him, saying that he was much more likely to be shot than crash... He also had a weak stomach when it came to flying, but he wasn't about to tell anyone that. Marshall Niekers voice crackled over the vox, interrupting his thoughts.

"All right men, here's the deal. Cultists are holding onto an outpost north of the main hive city. Retaking the planet will hinge on capturing the city, and to do that we need a place to land the heavy equipment. Enemy forces are entrenched, and it may take a bit of digging to get them out. Aerial pics show minimum armour support, hopefully to be taken out by our navy friends here. We are to concentrate on storming and holding the buildings and pushing the foot soldiers out of the base. Once we have secured an LZ "Might" will send down reinforcements and support vehicles. Heller, you take third squad and fourth squad to retake the buildings on the east side of the base. That includes a command bunker and a pair of anti-air emplacements. Disable those guns, and I and second squad will take care of the barracks on the west side. Once these positions are held, the enemy will be caught between us and we can force them out. Our friends will land at the south outskirts of the base and secure the landing zone tarmac. Any questions?"

Heller looked about at his friends, all of them bore the same grim expressions, "No sir Marshall, we'll do our part." The pilots voice rose over the din of the engines.

"We are entering the atmosphere at maximum speed, ETA to DZ is two minutes. Please remain seated, buckle your seatbelts, put your trays in the upright position, and turn off all electronic devices. Thank you for flying his holy Emperors naval airlines. I hope you all enjoyed your flight and that we see you again soon." The pilot chuckled to himself, "We'll go low enough for you to use drop lines out the rear and side doors. Good luck boys."

The engines noise grew to an almost unbearable and the compartment grew intensely hot as the drop ship pushed its way rapidly through the planets atmosphere. The cockpit screen glowed red, then yellow, then white hot as friction heated it. The bouncing, gone while they had been in space, returned with a vengeance, jolting them all about restrained only by the harness strapping them to their seat. This lasted about thirty seconds, and then the ship leveled out, still shrieking toward their destination but through with fighting the sudden atmospheric forces. Heller undid his harness straps and stood, turning to his men.

"Get up and get ready to drop! You heard our orders!" The men of third and fourth squads stood and clipped themselves to the safety rope, lining up in preparation to leap to their possible deaths.

The rear door began to hydraulically lower, the sound of air rushing past filing the area with booming noise. The side doors quickly joined it. The ground sped past underneath them, dirty grey and brown with sporadic growths of plant life.

"We are taking fire." Came the pilots voice over the comms, how he remained so calm was beyond Heller, "We should be able to handle it, its pretty primitive systems. All the shots are going wide to the sides... What are they aiming at?"

No sooner had the words left the pilots mouth than a white streak of flame shot through the bottom of the craft, piercing a soldier standing next to him through the middle. Blood sprayed over Heller as the man fell screaming to the floor, then was sucked backwards toward the door by the rushing air.

"SHIT SHIT SHIT!!! HYDRA FLAK TANKS!! Damn it!! They must have disguised 'em amongst the buildings!! Emperor damn those traitorous bastards!! They stole them from the FETHING PDF!!"

The bird began weaving violently from side to side as the pilots made a desperate effort to avoid the fire streaking up from the outpost ahead. Heller fell to the floor as the wounded man sped by and bashed into him, headed for the back hatch. He grabbed the mans jacket and scrambled for a handhold. There were none. Together they shot right out the door into the air and then were yanked by the safety cord clipped to their harness. Heller screamed into his vox bead, desperately clinging to the life line as he dangled hundreds of feet above the ground, speeding along at several hundred kilometers per hour.

"JANS!!?! SOMEBODY PULL US THE HELL IN !!! RIGHT NOW DAMN IT!!!" He could see the man he was clinging to go limp, the ragged red hole in his midsection still pouring blood into the air in a grotesque crimson trail behind them. He yanked his knife from his sheath. Better for one to die than both of them. He hesitated for a moment, then self preservation fully asserted itself and he began to saw through the tough line. The corpse dropped away below him, the first casualty of the day. The pilots performed another hard juke, apparently unaware of the dangling sergeant, and Heller was swung to the right, the engines jet wash stinging his eyes and threatening to tear him from the rope. He could see the men above him in the ship pulling with all their effort, inching him back towards the interior of the craft. He strained his arms against the force of the rushing air, attempting to pull himself closer. Damn it he hated flying! A brilliant explosion lit the air as a bright fireball sprang into existence to his left. Right where the marshals ship had been less than a second before. The bottom of his stomach felt like it dropped right out. They were leaderless. He snapped out of the trance as several strong hands took hold of him and hauled him back inside. He breathed heavily as he looked up at Jans.

"If I'm gonna have to keep saving your ass Mick I want some sort of damned medal and part of your pay chit." The corporal laughed, and then stopped as he caught the look in Hellers eyes.

"Niekers is dead."