20:47, New Gilchrest City
A twilight red sun painted the sky, casting long shadows through the deserted city. A fine layer of dust blanketed the concrete streets and high rooftops, coated windows and billboards. Streetlights stood dormant, powerless against the encroaching darkness. A light rail transit car lay crippled on a track two stories above the streets, its doors pried open and windows smashed.
A gentle autumn breeze swept through the streets, carrying ghostly echoes from better times. Only a few decibels above the wind, three K203 armoured personnel carriers rolled along the old King Street. Then drove past a two hundred year old church, a school, a playground, and then into the city's old heart. Their large balloon tires barely placed a fraction of the pressure of a man's feet on the ground, allowing them to pass undetected over potential mines.
With a whisper the caravan came to a halt.
"Clear to deploy," the lead K203's engineer reported over the radio.
Corporal James King closed his eyes to stop his stomach from swirling. Inside the belly of a K203, he always felt a little queasy. It wasn't the motion so much as not being able to see outside that bugged him. That, and they were deep in Rhiorc territory now. It was just one more sweep. Gather the survivors, and pull out. He'd survived two dozen missions just like this one.
On the last one he watched, helpless, as Dusty's head got blown off.
"Two Platoon," Lieutenant Zettler's voice came over the radio, cold and firm. "Deploy."
King knew the drill pretty well by now. Sergeant Jill Randal, Two Squad's leader, was first out. The reinforced panel on the back end of the K203 quickly lowered, breaking an airtight seal. King held his viper gun at the ready, finger resting outside of the trigger guard loop, prepared to tap out that first shot.
Breaking into a sprint, the sergeant dashed out of the vehicle with her radio man at her side. By twos the twelve man squad followed them. King and his partner Grier were the last two out. The kid was slow, jogging behind King, dropping only into a kneeling position on the outside, rather than into a prone position like the rest of the soldiers.
Outside the vehicles, Two Platoon's three squads lay on the concrete, their weapons covering a full 360 degrees, ready to pop any Rhiorc threat that might show up. They paused only long enough for the doors on the K203s to close.
King scanned his arc of fire. There was an alley ahead of him, dumpster, and some residential homes with broken windows. Torn sun-bleached drapes danced in the dusty breeze. If there were Rhiorc warriors inside, they would have known by now. King didn't know a lot about the alien menace, but he knew they weren't they type to hold back from a fight.
Twelve blocks up. Twelve back.
"I don't know why we can't just do this from inside the Two Oh Threes," Grier whispered.
You could only see so much from a probe, or on a scanner. At some point you needed to send someone in to have a look – to be there.