The Galactic War was over half a year old and Caulvine Moorus, a young man from Killadante 6 was halfway across the Milky Way from his home. As he and his squad hurtled through the vacuum of space he thought of all he was leaving behind. He had abandoned his wife, his warm bed, his home, his comfortable job as an army instructor, and his familiar home to face a bleak and grim life where his life was always in danger and where nothing was completely safe to do. He didn't want to do it but he had to. So now he and three other men equally as brave, or crazy as he were headed for their destination: Lazarus 13 in the heart of the Blackout Sphere. Caulvine squirmed in his restraints and sweated in his tight fitting suit. He thought of how he had come here…
It was not six months ago that he first heard of an attack against Lazarus 13. Mere months later an entire sector of space, Sector 417 he thought it was, had been conquered by the stills. That robotic horde had moved frighteningly fast and severed all communications. Caulvine was working at a barracks when first contacted.
Caulvine had received Special Forces training for counter terrorism operations on Killadante 6 where insurgents constantly warred with the ruling governments and each other for land on which to grow cocaine. He was already trained to work undercover, in the wilderness alone, and carry out deadly missions under extreme conditions. He had been taught how to take and obey orders. He had endured a solid week's worth of intense physical exercise, he had graduated from the academy with 95 accuracy in shooting and had scored impressive hits with the MR-45 sniper rifle, using its magno-light scope to help him hit targets the size of flies at distances of up to 5 miles.
It was three months since Caulvine had been approached by the government of Killadantee 6 to take part in a secret operation which required only the best men from worlds all over the Milky Way. Caulvine had figured out what he was in for when he read a description of the training he would be given. He had accepted without a second thought. He'd been given command of a squad of three men from planets he'd never heard of. He had gone on a camping trip with them to form a bond before undergoing a terrible training program that involved working in complete darkness under unbelievable and curious conditions.
"Your objective is to navigate 10 miles across this wilderness without getting caught by our sensors. You must do so without communicating to each other in a way that would give you away as a human being" was one challenge he and his squad faced. They had been trained to walk like the dark gray robot infantry did and shown ways to conceal their "human" actions.
When he and his squad had finished they were allowed to invite their families over to the world where they trained on to say goodbye to them. Then he was shipped off to command post where he was given a suit that made him look like a KR-888 Mongol, the typical infantry robot. Then he and his squad was herded into a vast auditorium with thousands of other equally dressed, competent men who had gone through an ordeal just like theirs. A man in a splendid uniform took to the center of the auditorium and identified himself as sector commander Tsvaro Anunthuntitz. His speech still stuck in Caulvine's mine.
"You are the best humanity has" Tsvaro announced to the crowd. "Today you embark on a historical campaign for which you have trained long and hard for. You and your squad will be deployed onto one of the planets within the Blackout Sphere behind enemy lines to gather information on the enemy which you will send back to us aboard tiny probes with faster-than-light capabilities. I have full confidence in the abilities of all of you for I know that each of you bears the flame of a warrior in your spirit…" He prattled on about 'honor' and 'warrior's heart' for a few minutes. "I cannot guarantee that you will all come back home. But I can guarantee that from here on until we have won the war, that your names will be forever remembered. You are the best of humanity, our eyes and ears. Command has designated you the Blackout Troopers. But I say you are heroes…"
'Blackout Troopers' Caulvine thought as the tiny ship he was in drew nearer to Lazarus 13. 'Why name us after our zone of operations? Did Napoleon name his men the Europe Soldiers?' It didn't matter what he was called. All he was right now was a man dressed like a robot with gear at his disposal whose monetary value could outweigh the price of the best piece of real estate in the Milky Way.
'We've been flying through the stars for over a fucking month now'. They should be landing soon. Very soon their pod would deploy them to the surface of a hostile world where they would be on their own. The information they'd uncover could help turn the tide in humanity's favor.
Caulvine grimaced as he thought, for the thousandth time that he could not fail, that they could not fail, that the Blackout Troopers could not fail. They would uncover the secrets of the enemy or die trying.
The alarm in his ear announced that Lazarus 13 was in sight.
"Alright mates" Caulvine said. "We're approaching the target. Be sure to have your eyes out for the enemy so we can bugger out of here if the crossfire grows too pissy". Three other voices in the radio acknowledged him. On a small monitor at chest height, Caulvine sighted the world coming up Its atmosphere was clouded by an extremely sparse layer of robotic ships which were accompanied by tiny clouds of buzzing fighters.
"I hope they don't recognize our pod" someone whispered.
"Shut up" Caulvine whispered. "If the metal lads have scanners they could hear us speaking". He fell silent and hoped their crude ruse would work.
Caulvine held his breath and watched as the image of the planet grew closer until it was among the layer of robotic ships. Caulvine could see the portholes on the ships and the cockpits on the fighters.
'Their fighter craft have cockpits?' Caulvine wondered as the pod descended into the atmosphere. 'That means they have pilots. Robot pilots probably but why not just make the whole plane a robot?' Their pod was surrounded by an aura of heat. Any meteor that their pod resembled would burn up in these conditions. Since the Blackout Trooper pods were not real meteors they did nor burn up.
"Impact in five" read the screen as the pod fell to the earth at the edge of a costal city.
'Here we go' Caulvine thought. The pod shuddered as its subtle anti-grav jets fired. The pod shook violently and stopped.
"Impact" he said.