Chapter 01: Distress

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Despite the raw terror coursing through his veins like a straight dose of live-wire electricity, Eric's hands were steady.

"Any day now, Starck!" Sergeant Mathers called.

"Working on it," Eric replied tightly.

All around him, the world trembled and shook. Somewhere nearby, a mortar shell collided with the earth and a fine wave of dirt settled over him and the panel he was crouched in front of. Sighing, he leaned forward and blew the dirt out of the panel he was working on, cleaning it out to the best of his ability. If these were different circumstances, he would have taken the time to pull out and clean each piece and part individually. But there was zero time as it was. Mortar shells and other terrors were being rained down from above.

Behind him, he could hear the wild shouts of his companions, covering his ass while he worked to get the defense cannon back online. The situation looked pretty shitty. He and his squad had dropped into the city to keep the insurgents from taking it. It was important, a support colony for a shipyard in a crucial system. Things had been looking like shit from the start. The enemy had arrived in bulk and while the Galactic Alliance troops had better hardware, the People's Liberation Militia had more men and sometimes that was enough.

Eric and his squad had been forced back to a temporary outpost that had fallen and been left abandoned. With all the fighting going on and the hectic chaos that engulfed the colony as both sides fought for control, it was their best option for staying alive and creating some kind of resistance. But that wouldn't mean shit if he couldn't get this fucking cannon online. It would deal with the immediate threat and give them some breathing room. Unfortunately, it was malfunctioning and he was doing his damnedest to get it functional.

"Starck!?" Mathers called.

"Almost got it!" Eric yelled back, raising his voice to be heard over the screaming, furious psychosis of battle that surrounded them.

"Now, Starck!" Mathers snapped, real panic slipping into his voice.

Behind him, someone screamed, it sounding louder than all the others. Had to have been one of their own. Eric ignored everything else, blocking out the frenzied sounds of battle, focusing wholly on this singular task.

He tore out a loose circuit and grabbed a fresh one from his pack, fitting it into place. That should do it...he hit the activation button. Nothing happened. Eric felt his whole body go cold. If that wasn't the problem then he'd have to spend at least five minutes searching for another one and they didn't have five fucking minutes-

With a sharp, electric pop and surge of power, the display lit up.

"Got it!" Starck called, standing up and hitting the auto-fire button. That did it. Above him, he heard the almighty roar of triple chainguns spitting out a couple hundred rounds a minute, chewing up armor and flesh alike and, above that, the occasional deep thrum of a missile launching into the sky to collide with a mortar round and blow it up midair or to take down an enemy vessel. A series of cheers went up and Eric heard the men open fire with a renewed vigor. He snatched up his own rifle to join them and spun around.

The outpost was situated on a rise of land in someone's front yard. Overhead, the night sky was alive with a hazy pall of smoke and a thousand different lines of tracer fire, lit by a backdrop of constantly shifting and flaring bombs and mortars. He saw his squad and the stragglers they'd picked up situated at the barricade surrounding the cannon, holding off the incoming insurgents. Beside him, Mathers stood, a big, fearless grin on his face.

"Goddamn good work, Starck, now let's get to it!" he snapped.

It was the last thing he ever said.

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