Bullets are cheap. It takes less than two ounces of nano-sludge to make one. Ask any TSA scientist. They'll tell you, practically radiating pride.
They're very cost-effective. For less than the cost of a day's rations, we can pack a military-grade six-by-eight crate full of bullets. The crate's made of the same stuff, of course.
Everything's efficient. Nanites build nanites that build nanites upon nanites. Half of these end up recycled, anyhow.
It's weird to think about it. The LMG in my hand may once have been some moonside farmer's tiller. Or just another soldier's weapon, buffered from the place he dropped it and recreated in the same form when death took him in its cold embrace.
I don't like to think about that possibility, though. I mean, under all the armor and the tech, I'm still only human. And such thoughts remind me of that fact.
We're all only human, and I don't think anyone else sitting in this composite steel and nanite crate has delusions to the contrary. That's what the dropship is. A flying crate. And we're the bullets, packed and loaded, whether we're ready or not.
The TSA's gotten desperate since our war started three generations ago. High mortality rates mean more active recruiting - jobs after service, provisions for families, and an ad campaign above and beyond the likes of any other. I guess it's worked, because I'm looking at plenty of nervous faces around me.
That's not to say I'm not shaking a little, myself. The whole reason for higher recruitment rates is the constant, urgent need for more fresh meat. As a result, we're pumped out of training in droves, and while our training is as good as - if not better than - that of the Frontiersmen before us, combat experience is a scarce resource. I think it's taken away some of our confidence, even though we've been given the best training around.
The dropship is descending into the atmosphere, so I guess we're almost there. I know, because I start to float above the seat a little, almost hovering. The weightlessness is only a fleeting sensation. The gravity regulators kick in before I feel anything more.
Across from me is the commander. He's got his hand on his communicator, and I can just make out the dulcet but clear voice of Arienne, the cute operator, probably updating him on planetside conditions.
Sometimes I think about her. I bet a lot of the guys here do. Only in passing, though. She probably doesn't know who's who. Once the armor goes on, we're all the same grunt to anyone on the outside.
The engines start singing a one-note hymn all around us. It sings to me, and I've paid enough attention in training to know that they're just warming up, and that when the engines really kick in, we'll either be speeding up or stopping.
The whine of the regulators powering up next tells me we're going faster. And that's fine by me, because the sooner I get out of this ship, the better I'll feel. I'm getting sick just looking at the bay door with its emotionless, steel face, mouth perpetually on the brink of a yawn that'll suck all of us into the unknown.
There's a loud thud that comes from nowhere and suddenly, the singing and the whining is cut short and replaced by groaning and creaking, a sound that cuts to the bone like nails on a chalkboard. It's the worst kind of noise you can hear on a dropship. It could be an impact, a loose part, or hull damage. Whatever it is, we're not going to be flying for much longer.
I know the next move. Two months of cargo hauling before the Frontiersmen might finally pay off as I grab the hand braces situated on the slanted wall above me, expecting the hard one-fifty turn.
It's a standard emergency technique. Pull a one-fifty-degree turn and fire the jets to stabilize the ship's spin and slow down the crash because once the ship starts turning like that, you know it's going to crash, and any pilot worth his wings knows that a head-on crash landing into anything but perfectly flat land will be a short one.
I won't lie. I'm nervous even as I reach for the brace, and it just so happens that our flight has ended before the pilots can pull off the turn. Everything's shot to hell in an instant, and the steady roar of our descent turns into a single, thundering crack. I know we've crashed into something hard, but I expect the regulators to keep running, even as I hold onto the brace.
I prop my legs against the seat while I can, holding myself in position while the several soldiers who didn't catch on surge out of their seats. Something slams into my back and white-hot fire courses through my wrist as my body moves forward while my hand is still wrapped around the brace. By the time I get my bearings, I'm on my back, looking up at the red caution light mounted by the bay door.
How the hell did I get over here?
I crane my neck and feel something pop. The commander's still in his seat, shouting something. I can't hear it. A couple other soldiers are still in their seats, but more have joined me on the floor. Imad's sprawled next to me, partially slumped against the door, bent at a painful angle with my arm under him. If his helmet hadn't been on, he would've been gone.
If there's any man in the squad I can call a friend, it's him. And I'm worried as hell for him, but the searing in my wrist won't shut up and let me think.
It hurts. It's bearable, but Imad in his armor weighs more than I do, and he's lying on top of my whole damn arm. I can't move it without shifting my dislocated wrist. At least, I hope it's dislocated. It could be fractured, or worse, shattered.
"Imad. Wake up. Get off my arm, man." That's what I want to say. Instead, I can only manage a choked grunt.
I've been in difficult places before, but nothing as unescapable as this. I hate it. I hate being trapped.
So frustration floods through my veins in place of pain - probably an effect of whatever chermical cocktail my armor's pumping into me. I clench my teeth and, against all the promises I made to myself, I start thinking about how much easier life would've been if I hadn't signed up for this. I start thinking about home.