Legions of Sol
Book One

Chapter Six
August, 3530 - Galactic Calendar

Volko rested his head against his harness, helmet in his lap. He stared at the roof of the APC, head bouncing gently with the rumbling of the engine. The passenger bay was quiet and heavy, the only sounds the muted snoring of Boris Turanov and the occasional muffled radio chatter of the crew. The Decanus heard the quiet rustling of a chain from the other side of the bay, and glanced briefly at Turanova before returning his gaze to the ceiling.

The marksman sat hunched in her seat, eyes glued to the floor. She clutched Strand's ID tags tightly in her hands while her boots tapped a silent, anxious beat against the decking. She squeezed her fists tighter while the tags' chain dangled freely, clinking softly against her weapons. Volko screwed his eyes shut in a futile attempt to block out her agony. After a moment he gave up and sat forward in his harness, reaching for the command console next to him and flicking on the screen, casting the passenger bay in a dim white light.

He pulled up a map of the projected route and grunted. At their current speed it looked like they would arrive in Doleth in about an hour and a half. Right on cue the turret hatch slid open and Florensis popped her head out, eyeing the silent squad before addressing Volko.

"Decanus, I have Optio Sonso on the net. He wants all leaders patched in for briefing."

Volko nodded and pulled on a headset. He glanced around at his squad before keying the mic. "Two-Four, present."

There was a brief pause before Sonso's exhausted voice filtered through. "Alright folks, we're a little over an hour out from Doleth and I've received orders from Velthora Six. Monneran, your group is to rejoin with the Scouts and the 1st Infantry on the north side of the city. You'll be looking for Dagger Stadium on your map. Artillery, you've been assigned a series of parking structures around the center precinct. I'm marking them. Everyone else is with me to regroup with 2nd Infantry at the east gate. The city is currently under a massive Bayreen assault, so expect immediate combat assignments. Our approach is said to be clear. If you haven't eaten, do so now. Sonso out."

Volko tapped his fingers against his knee in a nervous beat. They'd finally see the Bayreen in person. Finally have a chance to exact some manner of vengeance. He wasn't looking forward to it. Turanova's quiet whisper brought his attention around.

"How do you do it, decanus? For as long as I've known you, you've been with Monneran. How do you deal with the constant agony you might experience at her loss?"

He dropped his gaze to the floor, hesitating in his response. "That's why we're not supposed to, Mila. We can't let it affect us, lest we compromise the mission and get our friends killed. I've been lucky for many years, but that could change in an instant. I've known others who went through exactly what you're feeling right now, and it destroyed them. Please, don't let it destroy you. We still need you."

She nodded, reaching for Sol next to her. The pair gently clasped hands, leaning their heads against each other. Volko took a long look at each member of his squad. They were, for the lack of a better word, exhausted. The apparent superiority of their enemy was taking its toll, with two of their own gone and not much to show for it. No hard fought battles, no glorious victories or pyrrhic losses. The Legionnaires hadn't rescued any of the thousands of civilians counting on them. Hell, they hadn't even found them until it was too late. The entire endeavor felt like a waste of time, and a waste of lives. The aliens appeared to be a lot smarter, or a lot more skilled, than the Dominion had expected. Maybe that was why so many planets had been lost.

The decanus tapped on the command screen in front of him, reactivating it. Pulling up the recent satellite images from Thi Trinh, he pored over the current situation in Doleth. Hundreds of small yellow circles marked out attacking groups of Bayreen, while red showed the defending Legionnaires. Buildings highlighted in white marked those that civilians had been ordered to shelter in. The entire city looked to be nearly surrounded by a sea of aliens, only about 45 degrees or so free of the invaders.

The 2nd Infantry Century, his unit, sat clustered around a series of personnel and vehicle gates set in the colony's eastern wall. Doing a quick scan of squad designations on the unit markers, Volko frowned. Two were missing. He bowed his head for a moment, giving a silent benediction for the fallen members. If the squad markers weren't present, then those units had been entirely destroyed. Another 20 Legionnaires lost, Volko presumed, in the defense of the city and her inhabitants. He only hoped it had been worth it, and that his brothers and sisters had sold their lives well.

A short burst on the interior radio brought his head up. Florensis' sharp tones cut through the thick atmosphere inside the APC, followed by those of her gunner, Samantha Wyrd.

"Contact, contact, contact, ten-o-clock. Four hundred meters."

"Tracking. Firing."

Rhythmic thumping reverberated through the hull as the Armadillo's autocannon opened fire. The squad gripped their weapons tighter, anxious to be within the walls.

"Pan left, two degrees."

"Copy, left two. Firing."

"Shots effective. Fuck! Contact rear, cover that Anthem!"

With a mechanical whine, the turret spun round. A hiss of ignition followed by a loud blast shook the roof of the passenger bay.

"TOW away."

Volko grabbed the command screen and switched views to the commander's camera. An Anthem heavy tank rumbled about 100 meters behind the APC, covered in a writhing mass of Bayreen. The coaxial machine gun sprayed the aliens nonstop, the barrel beginning to glow orange from the firing. An explosion just to the right of the tank threw a number of them clear, but it wasn't enough. The vehicle ground to a halt and metal plates were torn away. Blood sprayed free of the driver's and commander's hatches a second later. Florensis swore again.

"Light 'em up! Kill the bastards!"

A second anti-personnel missile launched and impacted on the front hull of the disabled vehicle, bathing the skirmishers in fire and shrapnel, scattering black ichor and pale body parts across the road. A series of explosions dotted the cluster of Bayreen trying to stand as the gunner peppered them with the autocannon, blowing apart those that remained. The second Anthem escorting the rear of the column rotated its main cannon and fired, blowing open the hull of its derelict cousin. The co-ax opened fire on the pursuing aliens, and the convoy rolled on.

Volko changed screens and tuned out the radio chatter from his vehicle's crew, focusing instead on the updating map in front of him. The convoy's opening was rapidly closing, advancing groups of skirmishers slowly cutting off their route. A trio of red triangles signifying fixed-wing fighter/bombers appeared just outside the city's western walls, in front of the vehicles. The roar of low-flying aircraft sounded through the hull and a series of explosions rocked the vehicle, the 7th Flight Century attempting to bomb the advancing Bayreen and keep them off the convoy. Yellow circles flickered out of existence only to be replaced by those advancing behind them.

A few long seconds later, the convoy was passing through the vehicle gate on the western wall. Small arms and cannon fire covered their retreat from the ramparts, mounted weapons carving into the front ranks of the alien horde. The Armadillo screeched to a halt inside the perimeter and the ramp dropped open, Volko and his squad storming into the morning sun. Sonso's voice filtered over his radio.

"Two-Three, Two-Four, remain here to defend the gate. Everyone else haul ass to your assigned positions."

The line of Fury Artillery Platforms in the center of the convoy pulled off to the side of the road, their cannons slowly swiveling around and raising to the sky. A Legionnaire jumped out of the commander's hatch of the lead vehicle, his radio in one hand and his sword held to his side. After a brief moment, he raised the weapon and shouted into the mic.