Bloody footsteps trailed up the grass-covered dune, power armor sinking into the sand beneath. Fire and smoke lit the horizon. The staccato crack of pulse rifles rent the air. Servos whining, Orlando crested the dune.
The sea stretched out in a great arc, on a beach littered with burnt drop-ships, half-burnt corpses mangled from the anti-spaceship emplacements. It was all about percentages, the command had explained. Some of them would make it, enough...enough to...
The water was grey-green as volcanic glass, surging gently despite the angry sky overhead. Radio traffic chittered, and Orlando turned it off, to listen to the deep surge of the water running against the beach, the tide slowly coming in. A few hours more and it would cover the hulls of the drop ships, drown anything that hadn't freed itself by that time.
No gulls wheeled to pick at the dead. Not yet. It was too soon, the noise had driven them off. Orlando's armor wheezed as it descended the dune, onto the beach itself. The sea...
In the briefing room, the sea had been a spit of blue pigment on a map. A globe-skirting forbidden zone. Power armor wasn't made for swimming. The techs even warned you about crossing rivers, falling into domestic swimming pools. Too heavy to float, and the seals could be damaged. Orlando had seen in training how once a coolant hose had come loose, and the operator had been stuck in the suit as the chilled water filled up their suit, unable to escape...even sweat and blood often puddled around the "boots," could make walking a slog. That's why Orlando always made sure to wear fresh socks, change them at every opportunity. To keep the foot-rot off.
Orlando sat, pulse rifle across the suit's knees as he watched the tide come in. He didn't dare come any closer. If he should get stuck in the water, in his armor, it could be a long, ugly death. Troopers didn't like that. Suicide was something all of them had considered, at some point. If you were already dead, there was no point in drawing it out. The officers didn't like that kind of talk, so the troopers kept it quiet, among themselves. What hoses you could cut, flood the compartment, black out quickly before you asphyxiate. Or the chemical agent in the heating pack for the rations, was toxic if swallowed - if you were lucky. Then there was the weak spot at the base of the helmet - if you could maneuver your plasma rifle to point at it. One clean shot, and that was it.
He saw some of the ones on the beach had tried a few of those things. The ones that had made it halfway out of their dropships, but too crushed and broken to move, crippled armor their metal alloy tombs. Orlando wondered if, in their last few moments, they too had desired the sea...
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