In the movies, the dying hero talks about how cold it feels. Right now, I'm just numb. It's a numbness reminding me how my time is almost up, and it has nothing to do with the alien terrain surrounding me or the rest of my squad. Death is immanent, and nothing about this mission makes me believe I deserve the title of hero.
Planetary entry is my favorite part of the job. It speaks to the child in me who somehow survived the harsh realities of war. Through the viewport of the dropship, it starts with a fiery streak. A corona of incandescent plasma surrounds the ship in the blink of an eye. The inky blackness of deep space turns into a canvas of vibrant colors; this is the violent reaction of the alien atmosphere as we descend to the surface.
We passed through endless layers of ethereal clouds, each with a unique shape and luminescence. Tendrils of iridescent gas curled around the dropship; I recorded it to share with you. After the clouds, the terrain of the alien environment reveals itself. Jagged mountain ranges, sprawling bioluminescent jungles, and vast oceans present themselves as a surreal dream. They appear familiar yet remain utterly unfamiliar.
The harsh environment runs at extreme temperatures depending on the time of day. The pilot maneuvered through uncertain air currents, employing controlled bursts through the thrusters. The planet's unique gravitational forces and atmospheric anomalies also factored into how the pilot called upon her considerable skills.
We geared up, doing a last check on armor and weapons. The sensation of the landing gear contacting alien ground served as our cue. The silent notion we were marching to our deaths hung in the air. Every time we deployed, we realized it might be our last time, but no one ever believed it. The bay door dropped, and we marched out into the unknown to carry out orders from someone who had never set foot outside an administrative office.
Thoughts are floating through my mind in slow motion. It grants me a sense of peace. I can pick everything I want to remember; that's the power of the cerebral implants we're issued when we enlist and are deployed off planet. Are the implants or my actual brain doing it? I can't tell anymore. Of all the memories I can relive as I fade away, I keep returning to you, Ann. You are all I miss about Earth.
I'm alone on this God-forsaken rock. Is it a habitable planet in a somewhat human-tolerant system? Sure. I guess you can say this holds true in the vaguest of terms. But everything here wants to kill us the way the body's immune system fights off an invading virus. We're not natural here; we never have been. Planet DC22 hates what we are and never wants us to return. It's hard to tell what's more dangerous: the aliens we're fighting or the planet's wildlife.
I'm wounded; it's terrible. The blood… I couldn't stop it from seeping out of my stomach. Their weapons pierced my armor. I tried; I'm too weak to keep fighting, and I'm so tired. Each breath takes so much out of me, and the drastic temperature drop isn't helping either. The pool of blood coming from my body is freezing on the jungle floor. The extremes on this planet are baffling. It goes from heated jungle to frozen jungle, and the life here adapted to it.
Ann. My lovely Ann. I wish I knew you could listen to these last thoughts of mine. I pray to God the transmission makes it from this damn implant in my head and to the ship in orbit and that somehow, you'll understand how much I love you with this message being sent through subspace channels. I never told you that enough, did I? I meant to. I meant to do a lot of things. I guess that's how we're supposed to feel at the end - never enough time.
The bastard shot me. Point blank. The weapons of the indigenous population on this world are like the firearms of the twentieth century on Earth. The material, however, isn't on our periodic table. Whatever they made the projectile bullet from cut clean through the exo-armor meant to save my ass.
I understood the risks of signing up. It was exciting; I admit it. See the stars! Travel through space! Conquer planets in the name of Earth! It became my duty, and I hope you truly understand that. First Contact - it was hard for all of us. The first extraterrestrial life any human encountered ended up being the bully we feared them to be. Half a continent lost in the blink of an eye. But we showed them, didn't we? Human resolve kicked in. Nothing can stop us when we unite for a cause. And look at us now! Earth has conquered 16 systems since the First Contact incident. When will it be enough? When will we ever stop seeing something different from us as a threat? We took it too far. Treasonous words, I know, but I'm dying, anyway. Sometimes, following orders isn't enough. You should ask why. I wish I had possessed the courage to ask that question sooner.
I guess the little sonuvabitch that shot me honored his form of duty as well. I mean, who wants to be conquered? He got the drop on me. I got sloppy, and he took advantage; the exo-armor made me careless. That little alien bastard! So here I'm dying on a planet so far from home – so far from you.
Others are dying around me. Turner lasted for as long as he could. I think he called the ship for air support. The ship should be in orbit above this position soon. Not a lot of time left. I wonder what will come first: death from this wound or death from the shitload of ordinance about to be dropped?
You looked so beautiful the day I left. I told you God and I - we are best buds, and you didn't have to worry. You did your best to laugh, being brave enough for everyone. Ann, you were always the rock. They're all going to need that. They'll all need your strength to carry them through what's coming.
I'm slipping away. It's funny. It's painful, but it's peaceful. Peace exists in this death. It's like when you experience the relief of finishing something hard. It becomes worth it if you hold out for as long as you're supposed to, and that's what I'm doing.
I'm sorry I won't be able to help your dad finish the garage. He was waiting for my sorry ass to return from my "space adventures" so he could show me how a real man builds things, but I won't have the pleasure. He was always such a hard ass and old school to the core. I remember when I asked his permission to marry you. I was so damn nervous, and he just sat in his favorite chair, looking at me like the battle-hardened vet. For a second, I thought he would say no, but he stood up, shook my hand, and gave me his blessing. Relief couldn't describe how this simple gesture eased my worry.
I can hear it coming in; there's no mistaking the sound of those missiles breaking through the atmosphere. I guess that answers my question. Nothing for miles will be left when those explosives drop. Us. Them. All gone. That's what the bastard gets for shooting me. He couldn't have gotten too far.
Oh God, they're here. It's so loud… I see the light moving toward me. It's warm… So hot… It's all I see now… And the noise…
Goodbye, Ann. I lov…
Ann laughed and conversed with her family for their weekly Sunday gathering when the transmission arrived from the orbiting relay station. She was grateful she listened to it alone in their bedroom; she had been tempted to play it as soon as it arrived for everyone since the entire family was over.
Her nephews and nieces laughed and played. Her dad argued with her brother about which football team would take the World Super Bowl this year. Her mother spoke on the holoscreen with her aunt about who would host Thanksgiving this year. The world kept going, but for Ann, at this moment, her world had frozen still.
About the Creator
I'm a Puerto Rican storyteller/filmmaker who uses lies to tell the truth; this is the essence of what I love about good stories. Author of Casino City and Distinction of Realms! Scifi, fantasy, horror, and thriller are among my favorite!