They came out fast, as they had drilled, but command had dropped them into daylight, which was definitely not the drill. He held himself together but could see the others stir in confusion at the unexpected light that shimmered through the flight bubble.
“Calibrate monocles,” he yelled, and noted flight time. He shook his head. It had far exceeded training sims. He turned to check his mates situated immediately around him: They were holding tight, but they were catching too much air, so wind shear was tearing at the bubble.
He caught someone drifting out of formation and towards the perimeter. “STAY CLOSE!” he shouted. He saw his mate struggling to maintain position, but then get torn away, whirling out of the bubble. The gap he left was noticeable. The outside air roared as it rushed past. He knew it would start to pull open their configuration. “Reset that boundary,” he yelled.
He checked the time again. “Bearings,” he barked. No answer. “Navigation!” Still no answer. He twisted around to check. Their tail was gone, no doubt torn off in the turbulence, and gone with it was Navigation. The turbulence was beginning to rattle the whole pod into pieces. “Shearing!” he shouted. “Stay in formation.”
They were getting antsy, the more excitable ones fidgeting to bail. He tried to stop the first one who pushed out of the pod, but then there was another, and then another. Training discipline was fading fast. A touch of doubt slipped into his head, and he wondered if the chief knew what trajectory he’d set them on.
He didn’t have time to ruminate on that because they were rapidly losing speed…and altitude. “BRACE FOR LANDING,” he commanded. With over 50 thousand pods, each holding a thousand drones, the losses would be even worse than estimates.
The landing was harder than expected. The pods blew open, scattering the drones upon a cold, smooth terrain. He rolled to a stop on the hard surface. Wincing, he hefted his dig kit and joined everyone else, quickly synchronizing his exoskeleton suit to his locomotive whip. The whip was a physical augmentation, issued at conception. Each was custom made, uniquely fitted for each body, although all of the drones were virtually identical. Tall and lanky, heads kept smooth, providing aerodynamic advantage. They kept themselves as such not by choice, but because they had been chosen. The others, the ones who hadn’t passed muster, had simply vanished. It was said they were stolen away, by amorphous ghosts that materialized from nowhere. They came for the unfit, silently swallowing them up and whisking then away, leaving only the ones who had kept their purpose. Their task…And the task was at hand.
He shrugged off the chill of the surroundings, staying low to the warm surface, and took stock of the surroundings. A large wedge lay ahead, light shining off the smooth, pale surface.
We’re way off, he muttered to himself. The surface was barely giving way to their digging. He knew they needed to breach a passage, so he ordered them forward: “Through that cleavage,” he yelled. And they moved…