Sortie On Karanda

Excellence Award in the 'Just Keep Writing 2019' competition

The support beams of the freighter released muffled groans against chilling winds outside. Metal plating fell from the ceiling and clattered against the frozen rock filling the hold. Booted footsteps jittered the decrepit rivets of the ship, reverberating all across the hull. Three youthful, jovial men reduced to silent, detached white figures. Their helmets obscured their faces, making them impossible to identify, their suits making their breath sound inhuman. The unbreathable atmosphere on this distant rock called a planet left no other choice for infantry. Either wear the helmets or asphyxiate. Despite the number of filters placed on their vision, infrared, night-vision, the three still saw the others as their brothers in arms.
Peterson strained against the valve on the hatch and dug his shoulder into the door. The grinding bolts on the hinges gave way to his onslaught and the squad exited out onto the port observation hall. Volanski wasted no time setting the crate down and unclipping the components for the auto-turret. Bronson was careful to watch the adjacent town. Automatic gunfire distantly echoed as the men prepared their ambush. Peterson checked his
ammunition, Bronson watched the east with his telescopics and Volanski assembled the pieces of the auto-turret. Contact with orbital command was jammed, so there was no satellite imaging available for the area. The crumple of frozen pavement under heavy steel treads alerted the three men, but it was too late.
From the northwest, the deep thud of the cannon firing shook the bones of the three men. Fire erupted from the end of the armoured car’s barrel, and the shell shredded the air ahead of it. Scarcely a millisecond passed as the projectile flew past Peterson’s head and collided with the hull. A raging inferno was released. The flash blinded Bronson, sparing him from seeing Peterson completely disintegrated, but did not protect him from the shockwave sending him backward into the rusted bulkhead, fracturing bones with a tremendous cracking sound. Volanski was sent flying by the blastwave. With a crushing sound he flipped over the side rail and fell to the icy surface below.
Bronson crawled along the deck to the railing and rolled overboard, crashing his battered body into the frozen rock, next to Volanski. The ringing in his ears subsided, but all that allowed him to hear was the constant staccato of bullets pinging off of the rusted hull above him. Bronson, breathing uneasily, grabbed Volanski’s limp arm and started to pull him away, around the side of the freighter.
The two of them were separated from the street by a traffic divider which had
prevented the armoured car from seeing them. Bronson’s laboured breath grew more troubled as he struggled to drag both Volanski and his own half destroyed body. The cracks in his helmet hissed and released his precious air out into the unforgiving atmosphere outside.
Volanski later died. Bronson crawled two kilometres with his comrade’s corpse. That was the end of the sortie on Karanda.