As Emma finished securing her harness, she heard the pilot's voice come over the intercom. "Alright ladies and gents, this is your pilot speaking. Please make sure all luggage is properly secured and keep all hands, feet, and heads inside the aircraft at all times. Unless you want them to get shot."

The vibrations of the aircraft seemed to intensify in proportion to her heart rate. The two door gunners exchanged a well coordinated high-five choreography, that lasted about three seconds, before returning attention to their weapons. The attention of all passengers was suddenly drawn to the Dubois with a shout from the Petty Officer.

"The hell's going on now?"

Following the platoon leader's gaze out a window, Emma noticed two Troublemen running from dropship to dropship, franticly exclaiming things to the Loadmasters. Troublemen was the IMC Marine's slang term for IMC Police Action Protocol Legal Accountability Division Personnel. Lawyers who's job was to make sure all pre-combat parameters were being followed in accordance with International Law. Making sure certain types of weapons weren't being used, troops weren't deploying in restricted areas, etc. What was the problem this time was anyone's guess, since they had an aggravating tendency to appear right before deployments, which then fouled up mission schedules.

As the two lawyers made their way up to the dropship, the pair of gunners and the loadmaster gathered at the port side gun port. The loadmaster inquired with a "What's the deal?"

With the noise of the engines, Emma could barely comprehend the conversation. Luckily, the talking lawyer has conversing with his hands just as much as his mouth. A commanding point down towards the EM-4H, and a chopping motion across his neck gave enough clues. 'No go on the plasma machine-guns.'

The loadmaster crossed his arms. "No that was just Titanfall ROEs."

A few head shakes and some more words. 'Nope.'

The growing frustration was so blatantly apparent, the large goggles worn by the crewmen failed to conceal their gripes. One gunner begins his own inquisition. "We can't even hold them on the craft?"

Another round of head shakes.

A short string of profanities made their presence known over the engines. Before the two Troublemen made their way onto the next victim, they made sure to get the loadmaster's autograph. While the door gunners detached the weapons and handed them out to the waiting ground crew, while the loadmaster pulled two small crates down from the overhead racks.

As he pulled out two Mk. 1 Spitfire LMGs with a few spare magazines, he addressed the crew. "Bit of a handicap here boys, but not much we can do about it." He squeezed his collar and spoke, presumably, to the pilot. "Good to go Cap."

Since Emma's radio was set to her squad's local network, she only heard the one side of the conversation between crew and pilot. The pilot must have gotten the message, as a few seconds latter, the aircraft whirled back to life and, with a brief jolt, was in the air. The wind howled through the open gun ports, despite the fact that no one could really hear it past the ear protection. Emma took a quick glance to her wrist watch; 0709. It would be about eight to ten minutes until they reached the LZ, and with the only conversation currently being the wind, her squad mates took it upon themselves to start one up.

"So Danjou, what's this I hear about the IMC running out of money?" Emma still found it bizarre to hear the static riddled voices from people armlengths away come in right to her ear.

Danjou replied to the man after sliding up his face plate. "I have a friend in accounting who tells me many things. He says the IMC Domestic Product Market Team has all but been eviscerated. Much money has been reallocated to Security and defense contracts."

"I thought domestic was the main income source for them?"

That caught Emma off guard. 'Them'. Addressing the IMC, the corporation that they all worked for, as a separate entity from themselves. She filed that away to think about at a less stressful time.

"Yes and no," Dubois chimed in.

"Elaborate," someone asked.

Dubois put his faceplate up and responded. "Domestic has historically been a primary source of revenue for the IMC. However, defense contracts are more valuable in the long run since they are more reliable on income. They are also flexible on deadlines sometimes, which is useful considering that a lot of IMC resources are diverted to all this." He finished with a gesturing around himself.

"Which is why the IMC is pulling out of the domestic market and focusing on defense," Danjou came back. "It allows for income that they can use to pay people to get the resources in stock to fulfill the contracts, while they can temporally divert to... this."

Another someone joined the talk. "So why is the IMC still trying to recruit more of us? If they got the resources, why not build more bots?"

"Because," said Dubois, "the drones cost resources that are needed to fulfill the defense orders. People are much cheaper in regards to resources. Bullets and body armor compared to metal alloy skeletons with sophisticated software uplinks, all for something that doesn't perform with half the efectivness as one of us."

That last remark got a few cheers and laughs.


As the rest of the squad carried on with their various conversations, Emma leaned back in her seat, closed her eyes, and tuned out as much of the world as she could. She was brought back when the aircraft started a hard right bank, and pair of Phantoms dodged around the dropship. They sped ahead of the flight of Goblins, firewalling it towards the quickly approaching cityscape. Once the hard bank softened out, the pilots started to trade altitude for speed. Emma was surprised by this considering they were already under fifty meters above the water.

"What's this?" She asked.

It was Nishi who responded. "The Phantoms are pulling wild weasel, and we're following suit by going low and fast."

"Probably got ECMs working, too," someone else added. A few others supported this statement with nods.

"Wait, so... are we being tagged?"

A chorus of affirmatives was her answer.

That didn't sit well with her. The thought that she could be plucked out of the sky by a single man with a shoulder mounted missile launcher. Was this what it was like to be under an artillery barrage? Stuck where you are, while others targeted you from afar, with no way to fight back? And these pilots do this every mission?

"Don't worry, Keiko," said Nishi. "The Militia doesn't usually hit the first wave."

"Why?"

"Let's them hide their SAMs for the second wave."

Dubois added, "they can't control the main LZ, so they wait for the first waves to set up-"

"And then they can isolate those on the ground, and keep CAS at bay while they take out the pockets."

Emma took a second to process that. "So we're most likely safe until we're on the ground?"

Dubois made a face. "Well, I don't know if I'd-"

TINK TINK TINK TINK

The sound of metal hitting metal reverberated off the hull. It was answered by the quick by the rattling of the left-side door gunner. He was half leaning, half squatting in his position, seeming to hop left to right while sputtering out shots in short bursts. Emma had no idea if he was hitting what he was shooting at, but when a few more rounds bounced off the aircraft, she suspected he hadn't. It did look awkward manipulating a weapon that wasn't fixed to the aircraft, which the gunner was probably used to. Emma huffed and shook her head. That's why no one likes last minute changes.

When she did get a glance out, she saw a network of wharfs, piers, and docks with dozens of buildings lining the edges. The second thing she noticed was the smattering of muzzle flashes coming from the figures on the roofs and in the windows.

"Triple-A fire, gents," someone said.

"It'll die out once we get over populated areas," another commented.

As the final minutes of the trip came to a close, the gunfire seemed to dissipate, proving the soldier true.

"They're hiding out in the evacuation now," Nishi told her as he pulled his faceplate down. "Be on max alert, keep your head on a swivel."

When she looked around at the others, she noticed most, but not all, had also pulled their masks down. It was a continuing debate on the effectiveness of the IMCs standard CQC helmet. Plate up or down? While many pointed out the cutting of peripheral vision when down, and a delayed response time of helmet to internal visor to wearer and back, many still chose to wear it. The chief reason being not enhanced optics or NVG or IR, but simply face protection. Most estimates say that the plate reduces combat fatal head injuries by approximately twelve percent.

Many, like Emma herself, are also quick to point out that those who wear it are roughly fifteen percent more likely to get shot. At the end of the day, Emma chose sight.

"Alright," Dubois interrupted her thoughts. "Mr. Irish, can we get some Space Pope action before we all die?"

Kennedy was Irish but, what made his family the black sheep of their community, was also a practitioner of Eastern Orthodox. His Greek wife 'made' him convert from Roman Catholic when they got married, and he had been hassled for it ever since. Regardless of his current relation to the Vatican, he was still familiar with much of the Latin, and was therefore the de facto company clergyman.

"Probably shoulda done this back in the Peri, so we could take our helmets off," he mumbled as he stood and grabbed the overhead racks.

"Está bien," Hernandez shouted. "Jesús won't mind, Padre. We going to fight." That brought out a few chuckles.

The Irishman held up his hands to still the hold. "Alright everyone," he cleared his throat. He aired a crucifix, and several others followed suit making signum crucis' to themselves.

"Sancte Michael Archangele, defende nos in proelio…" he started. Despite the howl of the wind, the whine of the engines, and the rattling of the gunfire, he remained audible. As Emma listened in, the cacophony seemed to fade out for a second, allowing her to process her place for a moment.

She had signed up for the IMC thinking they would assign her to a security detail of some lithium mine or helium plant. She'd maybe trade fire with some upset locals, maybe participate in an eviction operation, and in a year, she'd be leading a security detail on an freighter. She'd spend three or four years in the IMC before getting a Defense Contract Citation, and get an early jump into the NATU Defense Department as a noncommissioned officer. She would be a Sergeant, or close to that, and spend six years doing the same work she did for the IMC, but either on the border with New Persia, or in the Cossack Regions.

What she hadn't thought about too much, was killing people.

One thing her father had always said was that all choices have consequences, and one must compare and contrast the benefits and detriments. Although he was just tobacco farmer on Mars, he had a passion for words (among other things), and was very carful with words when he was speaking of matters of importance. Consequences, by definition, simply meant a result of an action or condition. It wasn't an inherently negative term. Benefit and detriment were the words with inherent value of positive and negative respectively. One consequence of a good crop is you have a crop to sell, which is a benefit. Another consequence of a good crop is that now you have to compete with the other tobacco market contracts, which is a detriment.

But she hadn't considered the consequences of killing another human being. Wait, she thought. Isn't killing a consequence from being in the IMC?

before she could expand on that thought, she dropship lurched to one side, and her stomach dropped out. A loud pop came from the loading ramp as it unlocked and began to drop. They had arrived at their destination, as evidenced by the Loadmaster shuffling past Kennedy to unlatch the two supply crates.

Speaking of the impromptu Irish chaplain, he was just finishing up his prayer with a backdrop of rising building behind him. He held up his hand and repeated the motion he had started with at the beginning, finishing with the words, "In Nomine Patris, et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti. Amen."

Several of those in the hold with her made another signum crucis, while repeating an Amen of their own. Emma joined in this time as well, but remain silent. One person who took exception was Hernandez, who seemed to be having a stare down with Kennedy. "Qué? I'm Católico! I'm not taking prayers from some Greek orthodox sellout heretic!"

"Shut your trap you idolator!" Kennedy shot back.

The hold filled with laughter one last time before the Loadmaster kicked the two crates, which rolled out the back, fell the last few feet, and thumped on the ground. The dropship itself then slowed to a complete stop, but didn't fully touch down. It hovered about two feet off the ground, while everyone jumped out and established a perimeter two by two.

As Emma hit the ground second to last, followed by Nishi, she charged her rifle, engaged the safety, and turned to her team-mate. "We good, Boss?"

"We're solid, Keiko," he replied, adjusting the missile launcher harness over his shoulder. "Follow me. We're gonna set up over there." He pointed to a six story building that looked like it would have a good view of an intersection.

The position that Fourth Platoon had taken was an courtyard that sat between a few office buildings, restaurants, and a thirty-six story hotel. All positioned at an intersection between a major route to the tram station five blocks north-west, and a merging point of three sideroads into a three lane road coming from the east city. Most potential hostile activity was expected to come from everywhere except the tram station.

"The rest of the squad is setting up along Route 6, so we should be able to cover them to the west. But..." He tapped the button that turned on the closed radio in his helmet. "Dubbs, this is Nish. Can you have Kennedy move on the south side? Cover Route 6, over."

A few seconds later and the three men of Kennedy's HMG team had moved to their location. "You needed us, Boss?"

The TW Ordinance M2A2 general purpose machine-gun, more popularly referred to as the Snelheid, was a large caliber machine-gun designed in a relatively lightweight frame that could be quickly disassembled and reassembled for mobility purposes. It required two men to move it disassembled, plus an additional man for the tripod. With a fire rate of about 10000 rounds per minute, it was a fantastic anti-personnel weapon.

"Yeah, can you cover us from the street while we take out any armor that shows up?"

"Sure thing Boss."

The three men rushed off to find a good spot to set up.

"Alright Keiko, lets get this ball rolling, yeah?"

Emma pulled up her rifle, and nodded. "You got it Boss."


A/N

Alright, this took a little while. Really having a lot of fun writing this, in spite of the continuous real world things that keep getting in my way.

Any comments, questions, or concerns, just say so.

Also, anyone seen the movie Letters from Iwo Jima? Really good movie to see with The Great Raid.

END TRANSMITION