Click. Click click. Kaid put down the image translator and gazed towards the horizon. It had finally stopped raining. The upper atmosphere was still boiling from the shock of the ships coming in, the clouds showing a grey-black swirl that twisted this way and that like an animal in pain. In the far distance, the horizon showed several rising plumes of dust from missiles that had missed their targets. These were dwarfed by a much larger debris cloud which seemed to be nearer, probably an ammunition ship that had been hit on entry. Fortunately they were mostly drones, and command always reckoned on up to 50% losses in these drops anyway.
The horizon was still lit by occasional dirty yellow flashes, the last of the post-drop bombardment. Soon it would be time to move. He looked at his display and saw their partner unit just to the West of them, along their line of advance. The readout identified it as RZ-9476 but they all knew him as “Old Gray”. The fact that the initials matched up to some obscure cultural reference from the late 20th and early 21st century was amusing to the marines in an ironic sort of way.
Kaid dropped himself back into the turret and looked into his combat sight, nudging it to the right so that he could take a look at their colleague. As Autonomous Armour units went he was not that large, only about thirty meters long and ten or so high. His hull had once been a dark camouflage olive drab but years of near-misses and repairs had rendered it a mottled grey-green patchwork, broken only by hatch outlines and the occasional blackout beacon. Putting the sight on ten power Kaid double checked the range. It was five kilometers, a bit close but the drop spread hadn’t been optimal.
“I know you’re looking, Kaid.” The voice, perfectly modulated and with just the tiniest bit of a manufactured accent, intruded gently on his left ear. Yes of course Gray knew – his sensors were probably watching Kaid’s unit a thousand times a second. This of course was the reason one did not scope unidentified AA units. Or ANY AA unit for that matter, unless you were on good terms with them. One transponder error and you would end up a shade cooler than the surface of the sun.
“Why are you looking Kaid?” the voice continued, unoffended. “He” seemed rather garrulous. Not that he had any emotions. Any REAL emotions. Maybe he was running some sort of psychological experiment again, something to keep his massive tactical intellect amused before they went into action. “Um, I thought I’d check on you you know? Just see if anything came loose during the drop.” The answer came back after a brief pause. “Oh that’s a reasonable assertion. I thought you just liked looking at me.” Another pause. “Kaid, do you ever… miss home?”
Now that was a first. Maybe Gray really was getting old. Or maybe they all were. He looked into the scope again, wondering how that armored behemoth could possibly deduce his motivation for doing so. They had been together for over two standard years now. Six systems, thirteen drops. That was a long time away from Terra. He thought of all the responses he could give. The profound ones, the sarcastic ones, the funny ones, the reflective ones… and then the risky ones. The ones he had never been ready to give. And then it was too late, or too far.
A soft click sounded in his other ear, followed by a tone. Time to move. He made up his mind and keyed his comm-set. For some reason his pulse was racing all of a sudden… “Yeah I do Gray. Especially on days like this, when the rain stops. What about you?”