Chapter 1

        Wind howled from the south, whipping dust through the haze that obscured the marines’ vision. The lights from encampment offered the sole luminescence for miles, but even that light did little to improve their visibility, despite the enhanced vision offered by the power armor. Not that there was terribly much to see here, Saturn’s moon Titan had little to offer for scenery, just sand dune after sand dune. The first day or so, the marines of Seventh Platoon had taken to naming the dunes after what they were reminded of, but the steady, southern winds shifted after twelve hours, and they were completely new dunes within thirty-six.

        First Lieutenant Caden Santos knew better than to play that particular game with her men, as this was her third rotation through the United American Titan Training Facility. After her first rotation, she had seen mountains and valleys of sand move within the seventy-two hour survival drill that was the primary focus of these training missions. It was akin to the Crucible runs that all the marines had to undertake prior to graduating basic, but it was specifically done on Titan in an attempt to train the marines to survive in alien and hostile geographies. This trip was no different than the other two, and Santos and her platoon had twenty-eight hours left in this outing.

        Overall, the exercise was going well, as the marines had managed to trek through the dunes of Titan with relative ease so far. There had been a sleeting rain of ethane about ten hours into their journey back to base that had caused the issues, but it was only a minor setback that had detoured the group a clip as the valley they intended to move through filled with a slush of muddy ethane. They were confident that they had maintained the correct heading to return to base though, and the bright glow along the haze-filled horizon now suggested that they had been correct.

        “Sergeant Mathers.” Santos strode over to one of the many armored men standing about. There was nothing remarkable about how Mathers looked, sleek black power armor, emblazoned with the UAGDF logo over the left breast, sergeant arches on the bicep. With the helmet lowered due to the atmosphere conditions, there was little identifiable apart from the designation on Santos’ HUD. “Take Rendon and Bowe. Scout the next mile.”

        “Ma’am, yes, ma’am.” Mathers nodded before heading into the midst of the troops gathered. It did not take long before Mathers and two other marines left the encampment. Mathers would be a good lead for the recon, even if he was one of the resident gearsquicks. It was also his second survival training on Titan, so he was the best option to lead on the recon. If conditions did not deteriorate, they would have a path for the next few miles within the next hour.

        Santos wasted no time after the recon team left to turn her attention to the remainder of the troops. “Alright, marines,” her voice called out sharp and clear, despite the rebreather apparatus attached to the helmet, “The recon team is off to find the best path ahead. I need Charlie and Epsilon patrols to take the perimeter. The rest of you, cool your heels and get some rest. As soon as recon gives the clear, we’re moving again.”

        The men broke rank and began mingling amongst each other, the chatter of the radios taking over the air. Packs hit the ground, and the only thing that stopped the marines from making this meal time was because their suits were still sealed for their safety. Intravenous fluids hooked into their arms to ensure that they stayed hydrated and nourished during their survival run; it was not the ideal way of surviving, but a marine could subsist off the fluids for almost two weeks. There had been no real reports of anyone having to live as such, but that was what the docs insisted during every power suit fitting – and so far – Santos had not found it too hard to survive off the fluids during any of her prolonged survival trainings.

        The marines entertained themselves for the better part of the next hour, the chatter on the radio giving way to quiet as many of the men took the opportunity to catch a nap. Santos stood apart from the men, listening for the tell-tale sign from her recon team that they were uploading the next set of coordinates for the rest of the platoon to follow.  Nothing had come through yet, but it was just now nearing the end of the first hour – and it was altogether possible that the ethane storm had obstructed more than just the valley the other day. Still, Santos frowned, leaning against one of the sand dunes surrounding the camp. This was certainly putting them behind schedule if the recon team did not get back soon.

        A burst of white noise screamed in her radio suddenly, followed by alarmed shouts from several of the marines scrambling to their feet. Santos pulled herself back to attention, resisting the urge to bring about her rifle. “Report!”

        “Charlie, all clear!” Another burst of white noise emanated in the radios, much quieter this time, followed by a similar affirmation from Epsilon.

        Moving to the center of the encampment, Santos looked over at the marines, who were much more alert now, several clutching to the rifles belted to their waist. “Alright, men, stand down. We’re getting some interference over the radio. It’s nothing new. Saturn’s been known to screw with our receptions, as have some of the other moons. Just sit tight. We should be getting our coordinates from the recon team soon.”

        Weapons lowered back to resting positions, and the marines at least went back to the quiet murmur of chatter over their radios, while Santos went off towards the side. Pulling up her arm HUD, she pinged a signal off the nearby satellite for the position of the recon team. The screen flickered with a snowy feed briefly before the bright signal for Mathers’ lit. Except if the HUD was correct, Mathers and his squad were maybe a quarter of mile away from the encampment. Even with delays, they should have easily navigated the mile and reported their positions.

        “Mathers, report.” Another burst of static on the radio. “Rendon, Bowe. Report.”

        More static echoed in the radio.

Santos frowned, her gut gurgling in discontent. Whatever was going wrong, it made every hair on the back of her neck bristle. Her fingers tingled, as she held off grabbing her rifle and going off to investigate. She was the CO of this mission on the ground. She had to maintain control, maintain her cool, in order to keep order with her men.

Of course, just because she couldn’t run off to find out what was the delay, it didn’t mean she couldn’t send Bravo patrol. She spied them across their camp, probably chatting amongst themselves. Stalking across the sand, she saw their demeanors stiffen and assume a more ready position.



"Take the rest of Bravo and follow Mathers’ trail." She indicated the direction that they had left. "Make sure they’re fine, and report back to me. If communications fail, send a group of two back, and escort Mathers and his group to the appointed recon site."

"Yes, ma’am. Boys, let’s roll out!" He snapped a quick salute before he and his men lugged up their rifles and marched out of camp after the recon group.

If they didn’t hurry, they’d miss the designated rendezvous time. The Brass would certainly frown on that, but it was better that they be late than get lost. With the strange radio interference, Santos would not chance further equipment malfunctions. Their suits were only equipped for two weeks of oxygen and fluids. She could only assume the interference was two-ways, and that would bode poorly for a rescue op from the base. She was responsible for getting these men home.

She pinged the satellite again for locations, and watched as several dots lit on her HUD. Bravo’s lights shone brightly, blinking as they moved away from camp, but Mathers and his team were closer to camp than they had been. Were they returning back? Why would they all be returning if communications were down?

"Bravo, Mathers and his team are moving in your direction. Be ready to assist in whatever is needed."

"Ma---" The radio dissolved into noisy static that made Santos wince. Fuck, what was messing with their signals out here?

Swearing amongst the ranks of her men started to run rampant through the camp. Whatever was the source of the interference, it was bleeding over into all the headsets, regardless if the comm was active for long range communication.