The floor rumbled beneath, the vibrations spreading up the walls and across the roof. A bag of spanners rattled in a corner, some loose heavy bolter shells meandered across the floor. A hand descended, arresting the bolter rounds in their journey.
Drom sat back, threading the bolter shells into a chain belt. Gazing into space, Drom let his fingers carry out the repetitive task on their own. As the shells were slotted into the belt, he reached into a container of loose shells beside him and thought of the new vox operator in Trils Rhino.
Up at the front, Thorpe ran through a system check. Lights sprung into existence as the panel came to life. Lovingly he caressed the steering yoke as he kept an eye on the tell-tales.
A series of bangs made their way up the side of the Rhino, just audible over the external din. The top hatch squealed, as the locks were undone. The Rhino flooded with noise as the hatch was pulled back. Thorpe winced at the external noise surging into the small confined interior. The radio op, Friel, dropped down as the hatch clanged shut behind him and a semblance of silence was restored.
Thorpe looked up from his pre-checks “Well?”
Friel waved the package he was holding. Thorpe grunted and turned back to his checks.
Sliding into his seat next to Thorpe, Friel removed his peaked cap. Opening a compartment next to him he retrieved his combat helmet. His peaked cab was casually tossed inside as he shut the compartment with his elbow. He shook his helmet so the straps and cables tumbled out. Friel shuddered at the impending sensation. Steeling himself, he sat the combat helmet down over his close-cropped hair. The shock padding inside was cold and clammy. He let the chinstrap dangle unfastened, while he sorted out the vox cables.
Thorpe made a few notes in the logbook then turned to patiently watch as his 2IC/ Radio Op sort himself out. Thorpe was already fully dressed in his combat armour. Once the show was on the road, there would be no time for something as frivolous as donning armour.
Friel plugged his mike and earpiece into the voxcaster. Satisfied that all was as it should be, he powered up the set. While he waited for the voxcaster to run through its self-diagnostics, he opened his sealed package.
Removing the folder marked ‘VOX OP ONLY’ and laying it by his side, he handed the folder marked ‘VEHICLE COMMANDER ONLY’ over to Thorpe. Checking that nothing was left in the package, Friel crumpled it into a ball, half turned in his shock seat and threw it at Drom.
The crumpled ball bounced off the side of Droms face.
Drom bent down and picked up the ball. Jamming it in a corner out of the way, he continued with loading the bolter belt.
Tearing open his envelope, Thorpe pulled out his orders. As usual, they were highly detailed in their objectives and came with an equally high detailed map. He glanced at the map before laying it aside. He read through the mission statement twice. Not too memorise it, but to count the spelling mistakes. He laid it beside the map.
Friel glanced over “How many?”
“Only six this time.”
“They’re getting better.”
“I know. It’s a bit worrying, isn’t it? Can’t have them becoming competent.”
The pair of them smiled at the long running joke.
“That’s the current codes.” Friel handed the code sheet over to Thorpe. Thorpe memorized the numbers then handed the sheet back. Upon receipt, Friel destroyed the data sheet. The vox caster had warmed up and Friel entered the new codes.
“Hotel Alpha, this is Romeo Charlie three. Radio check over.”
Friel listened to the hiss of static, and then the acknowledgement came through. He turned the voxcaster to standby and looked at Thorpe.
“So far so good. What’s the cargo?”
“Woe joy! How come we never get the female medics?”
“What? After the last time?”
They both smiled at the memory.
In the back, Drom paused in his loading and smiled as well.
A Banging came from the rear of the Rhino. Drom reached up and released the locks then hit the door release.
The inside was swamped with noise again.
A corporal dodged out of the way of the rapidly descending tail door/ramp. He looked at Drom in askance.
“Is this Romeo Charlie three?”
Drom didn’t like the look of him and shook his head “No, next one over.”
“Okay.” The rifleman made to leave then noticed the Rhino identifier next to an additional, non-standard, marking of ‘Si hoc potes legere, traheam meam amisi’.
He glared at Drom who shrugged in reply and sat back. The corporal ushered his squad inside. Finishing off the ammunition belt, Drom secured it away and made room for their cargo.
Making sure that all his squad had boarded, the corporal followed them on.
The corporal was still standing upon the back door when Dorm hit the ‘close ramp’ button. The troop commander had to leap inside in an undignified hurry or risked being crushed. Dorm inwardly smiled to himself. A few of the infantry weren’t even being that subtle.
The infantry commander gave Dorm a sharp glance full of the promise of retribution as he made his way forward to the front.
Pulling out a thick sheaf of orders, the troop commander explained to Thorpe, in great detail, how he wanted the deployment to commence.
Thorpe listened politely while ignoring every word. As far as he was concerned, if they landed within a hundred clicks of their supposed LZ, then the Emperor had just furnished them with a miracle. Thorpe and his Rhino had survived to veteran status through the simple methodology of ‘land first, then take it from there’. Plans and missions lost their integrity as soon as the ink had dried.
The Rhino suddenly lost all gravity as the drop ship that held them parted from the transport craft. The troop commander sprawled across the floor as the drop ship stabilized and gravity returned. A can of oil rolled over the floor, bouncing off feet as it went, coming to a rest against the infantry commanders’ helmet. Drom picked up the oil can and dropped it into a cargo net secured to the bulkhead.
The guard commander picked himself up and strapped himself into the last remaining crash seat as he fumed quietly.
Thorpe tapped his fingertips against the steering yoke. There was nothing he could do now till they landed. The Rhino started to shake violently as the drop ship hit upper atmosphere and its resistance. The red light in front Thorpe changed from red to yellow. He flipped up the cover protecting the switch that activated the floor release clamps.
Light started to creep along the dim interior of the hold as the external doors started to open. The rush of superheated air blurred the view outside as it whipped past the drop ship.
A Rhino near the front was sucked out the opening door like a cork. Either the driver had released his clamps too early or they had failed. Thorpe ignored it, these things happened.
“Landing in fifteen” supplied Friel.
Thorpe nodded and counted off the seconds in his head. When he got to fourteen, he fired the release camps. Underneath the Rhino, the clamps that locked the Rhino to the dropship cargo hold floor, released and retracted.
The Rhino started to rock badly as it floated on its rising suspension.
Outside, the drop ship was coming in hard and fast, its thrusters spewing out downward force that ripped into the landscape, throwing detritus high into the air. The stabilizers impacted into the planets scorched surface absorbing some, but not all the force of the impact.
Further back in the dropships hold, a Rhino had not released its clamps in time. Securely attached to the deck, the force of the landing travelled all the way through. While the Rhino’s seats could absorb some of the impact, they had limitations. The shockwave raced through the Rhinos hull unimpeded by its locked suspension and broke the backs of all those on board.
Thorpe and his crew rode the bone jarring landing with experienced ease. Gunning his twin engines, Thorpe headed for the door. They had survived the first part, now they had to get away from what was in effect a very large bullet magnet.
Up till this moment, Thorpe’s life and future had rested in the ability of an unknown drop ship pilot. Now he was responsible for the safety of his life and that of his crew and passengers.
He split his attention between auspix and external views. Rhinos were accelerating away in every direction and a collision with another vehicle was a distinct possibility.
The gaps between the disembarking vehicles slowly increased as they cleared the drop zone. Steering his Rhino into a large space, Thorpe moved some of his attention to Friel.
“Right where are we?”
Friel did not look up from his map. “Not where we are supposed to be.”
“Well, there’s a surprise.”
Behind them, the drop ship was starting to climb, Rhinos still traversing the ramp even as it ponderously closed. The down thrust of its colossal engines stirred up a massive cloud of dust. Thorpe switched his view to the auspex as he visibility outside dropped to less than the Rhinos nose.