Chapter 19
From One Battle to the Next
MCB Camp Kasuga, Laputa Region, Phobos, Martian Sphere
Date: Tue 04 Nov 122
Time: UST 1347

Major Knox entered the conference room where General Anbauer, Colonel Grozny and their respective staffs were waiting.
"Just the man we were looking for," General Anbauer said. "Take a seat and we can get started."
"Aye-aye, sir," Major Knox said.
He had barely sat down when Colonel Grozny asked him, "Major, what's your report?"
Not wasting any time, the Major promptly replied, "There were only thirteen stragglers on our last sweep, sir. I think we can safely say Phobos is clear of Shelly activity."
Satisfied with Major Knox's answer, Colonel Grozny turned to General Anbauer and said, "And there you have it, sir. With the naval battle having shifted away from the immediate vicinity, you're about as safe as you could hope to be."
"I could still use you boys to stabilize this place," the General said.
"I'm sure you've seen the orders from Fifth, sir," Colonel Grozny replied.
General Anbauer sighed.
"I have. They're sending you to Cydonia."
"It looks like they're making a play for the water mining operations up north. If we attack their forces in Cydonia now, it might spare Ortygia the brunt of their attack."
"I just hope they don't make another stab at us here once you go."
"We'd be happy to come back if you need us, sir," Colonel Grozny said, quickly adding, "once we help save the 90-some-odd million people of Ortygia, that is."
"Well, good luck to you, gentlemen. Let's hurry and wrap things up here so you can head out."
"Roger that, sir."

* * *

Date: Tue 04 Nov 122
Time: UST 1412

Miranda and the rest of First Platoon were double-checking their gear before loading into the Queen Bee. Though Mars had a much thinner atmosphere than Earth, insertion via drop pod was still far more dangerous than the more common drops on the moons out past the Belt. Of course, there was no such thing as a safe drop, but there was a mission to be executed.
"Damn, man," Maliki said to no one in particular, "I don't remember the last time I went planetside."
"This ain't a social call, Maliki," Fernandes chided.
"They gotta run outta Shellies sometime."
"Keep your head in the game, dammit," Comanescu growled. "You're gonna get your damn fool ass killed out there."
"Yours ain't the only damn fool ass that'll get killed either," Miranda added.
"Aw, c'mon, Gunny..." Maliki whined.
Miranda's NCO instincts urged her to keep on chewing him, but something made her relent.
"If nobody fucks up out there, the first round'll be on me once it's all over," she said.
"Watch it, Gunny," Comanescu said jokingly. "You spoil 'em and they won't be worth a damn thing."
They would have continued for a while longer, but the platoon's banter was cut short when Lieutenant Dixon approached.
"Attention on deck!" Miranda shouted and the platoon snapped to attention.
"As you were," the Lieutenant said. "Orders have come down. We're dropping in planetside."
They already knew that much, but Miranda was quick to move the conversation along before anyone could say something stupid in response.
"Where at, sir?"
"That's not far from Ortega," Maliki said.
"Ortega?" Lieutenant Dixon asked.
"'Ortega' is what most native Martians call Ortygia, sir," Martinez--a fellow Martian--explained.
Not too many people who were not from Mars would know that. That did not stop Maliki from assuming a little much when he asked the Lieutenant, "Are you an Earther or somethin', sir?"
"No, Maliki," the Lieutenant replied, "I'm from Atlas."
"You're an Arby, sir?" Comanescu asked. He paused for a moment while he did the math in his head. "That would mean..."
It would not click as readily for anyone under 25, but the mention of Atlas immediately resonated with an older Marine like Comanescu, just as it had for Miranda when she was first introduced to the Lieutenant and learned where he was from.
"Yes," the Lieutenant said, "I was five when it happened. That's why I know what's at stake here. The Shellies don't pull any punches for civilians. They just kill and destroy and what they don't kill, they take."
"And what they take, they turn right back against us," Miranda added grimly.
The others looked at her awkwardly. Perhaps it would have been better for her not to say anything, but they needed to remember that there were worse fates than death when it came to dealing with the Shellies.
She continued, "Our job is to deny them that, oorah?"
"Oorah!" the platoon shouted in unison.
Their spirit encouraged her and the Lieutenant was looking rather proud of them, too.
"We haven't lost anyone yet, First Platoon," he said. "Let's see that it stays that way down there."
First Platoon replied again with another hearty, "Oorah!"