Author : TJMoore

Conrad latched his helmet and checked his seals. The adrenaline was pouring into his system as he fidgeted in line with the others waiting for the lock to cycle. He was about to face his first battle against the ice marauders.

Academy had been the hardest six weeks he’d ever endured, but now he was in the best physical condition of his life and he was top of his class in marksmanship. Still, the stories the veterans told of the ferocity and cunning of the bloodthirsty raiders from far side left him feeling a little edgy. Just stories he told himself. Something to keep us a little scared, a little more alert he thought.

The warning strobe began to flash and the outer doors slowly swung out into the harsh glare of lunar daylight. His unit pushed out in practiced formation and began the rhythmic hop across the dusty mare toward the ice pits. Visions of crazy eyed mad men frothing at the mouth crept across his mind as he searched the horizon for any sign of attack.

Silently and with almost no motion the faceplate of the cadet next to him dissolved in a haze of shards and the cadet tumbled slowly toward the ground. Conrad crouched as he hit the dust, wildly scanning the horizon and all the myriad shadows on the plane before him. The order to disperse was given and he turned to his assigned compass point and leaped into the sky. At the height of his assent, he had a clear view of the entire plane and he caught the smallest of movements from an outcropping about fifty meters ahead. Bringing his rifle up to the firing position, he took aim and squeezed off a round.

Behind the large rock a figure jerked and then drifted slowly to the right until it came to rest motionless on the ground. When he reached the downed raider he turned him over to see the grizzly face of a mad marauder. A boy no more than fifteen gazed back at him with dead eyes. Conrad searched for his weapon only to find a trenching tool in the dead boy’s gloved hand. The boys face was gaunt with dark circles under his eyes. With sudden horrible understanding, Conrad realized that the boy was dehydrated and withered like a dried twig. The mad marauders were just people like Conrad only suffering from lack of water. They were attacking out of desperation. He turned and doubled over and vomited violently into his face plate. The smell made him retch again and he spewed another stream into his helmet.

Back in the ward room Conrad sat on the ready bench and gazed blankly ahead. His sergeant noticed the dried puke in his hair and all over his helmet and laid an uncharacteristically gentle hand on his shoulder.

“We’re all scared the first time out soldier. You’ll do better next time” he consoled.

Conrad hung his head and quietly wept.

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