Steve M. Benner
Copyright Steve M. Benner 2008
The anticipation was always the hardest part, the waiting. Cobb's mouth was so dry his tongue kept sticking to the roof of his mouth; he felt his heart beating in his temples in time with the rhythmic throbbing of the lander's engines passing up through his body. The belly of the lander was dimly lit and smelled of machine oil and perspiration. The ashen faces of the soldiers in stark contrast to their dark-brown uniforms and the dark bulkhead. Wisps of smoke floated through the lander’s interior like snakes on the wind. The low murmur of men in the squad talking, their words washed out by the sound of the motors and air rushing by the thin shell of the lander. He was sure that some of the new men were spouting the same macho crap that nervous soldiers have probably being saying since the beginnings of warfare. Other newbies sat with nervous eyes, wondering how the hell they ever got into this situation and wishing they were home with their mothers.
Cobb could tell the vets even in this poor lighting; they were the ones with emotionless faces, deep in thought. Cobb knew just what they were thinking. Do their job and get back to base for a warm shower and a cold beer; any thought of death was pushed to the backs of their minds. He knew because that was what he was thinking. He thought back to his first hot landing. Half his squad had been killed within ten minutes of landing; guys he'd spent over a year living, training, and drinking with, guys he'd grown closer to than anyone outside his family. Now, three years later, he could only recognize one other man in the squad from that original group. The rest were sent home because of wounds, sickness, or death, when there was enough left to ship home. Cobb hadn't even tried to keep track of their whereabouts. He didn't see the point anymore. This war was going to last forever, and eventually he'd join one of those three groups, most likely the latter. Getting blown to bits in some exotic location was one of the benefits of being in the military.