_Fall of the Spaceport_ Kenneth King 03/26/04 The shuttle slowly came down toward the landing pad, extending its short and fragile-looking landing struts. Its wings folded sinuously back along the main body. It dropped onto the pad with an audible hiss of hydraulics as the landing struts compressed, taking up the load. The snub nose of the shuttle still had vapor trailing from its reaction control system thrusters as the gantry extended and connected with the shuttle. A few moments later a small panel on the hull next to the docking port blinked to life. -HARD DOCKED- shone from the panel in glowing green text. Two seemingly identical shuttles fell out of the sky, firing their thrusters to slow their descent as they touched down near the first. Lying near the horizon, the capitol city was connected to the spaceport by two electromagnetic rails running eastward. The transport engines for the newly arrived shuttles were being readied by technicians who were taking extra care to check the safety systems. Those on the shuttle were supposed to be high-ranking Federation officials. Inside the dimly lit shuttles, red light glinted off suits of hardened armor and visors. The sounds of magazines being loaded and bolts being retracted could be heard as weapons were readied. Above the city, a brilliant object was moving downward on a course for the city. The few who noticed it looked up, feeling both fear and curiosity, as it plummeted toward them. The missileís heat shield glowed iridescent yellow and orange as it accelerated through the air. It plowed through a skyscraper at the heart of the city, snapping support pillars and destroying an entire floor of the building. It lodged itself in the ground and detonated a few moments later, even as the skyscraper fell. A cold, brilliant white light bathed the gantry structures and shuttles in an eerie silence; the shadows of the incinerating buildings could be seen against the growing fireball. Moments later, the shock-compression wave reached the port destroying the communications antennas and less fragile structures. A series of metallic clunks issued forth from the airlocks on the shuttles as they moved aside, revealing three black holes. The hiss-crackle of radios could be heard as squad leaders barked orders and soldiers in powered armor poured through the gantry and into the spaceport. Moments later the crashing of gunfire and explosions could be heard; the stench of burnt powder and burning debris drifted through the shattered windows of the spaceport. The Federation officials that had come to meet the shuttles were the first to die. The assault unit moved down the hallway in turns, one man moving ahead of another. Occasionally they met personnel armed with pistols who were quickly cut in half by the intense fire laid down by the squad. As they reached a main intersection of the hallways, a thick fog began pouring from the vents near the ceiling; apparently, they had finally woken someone with military authority. They continued down the corridor ignoring the gas, passing men and women convulsing on the floor. Emerging from the corridor onto the main landing field, the mist rolled off their grey powered armor making them look like the ghosts of some inhuman machines. The landing field was a vast, open concrete slab with white lines that ran the length of breadth of it, only making sense from above. A few heavy cargo ships and grain freighters sat on the field looking like squat metallic mountains. They apparently had taken no notice of the small nuclear weapon detonated in the capitol city. The helmet of one of the men exploded into a million glittering pieces of metal and red gore as an armor-piercing round passed through it. Simultaneously the six surviving members of the unit leapt into the air, the jets on their Grasshopper Powered Armor suits firing a few feet above the ground pushing them high above the field and away from one another. A small sun flashed as one of the men was hit with a missile knocking his suit out and throwing him to the ground. The five others grounded and waited patiently while the squad commander located the enemy sniper team. The snipers were outlined in amber boxes in the monochrome world of the commander through his suitís visor. The pair lay on top of a cargo ship looking for the rest of the squad. He transmitted their locations to his team who opened fire with their rifles; the bullets climbed the side of the ship until they zeroed in and ripped the missileer apart. The resultant explosion from the launcher obliterated the two men and left a ragged hole in the ship. Thankfully the missiles had only been high explosive and not anti-armor. The man whose suit had been hit triggered the release mechanism that caused the disabled portion of his suit to drop away. Picking up the now heavy rifle he moved over to the dead man's suit and removed a small memory module which he tucked into a pocket. Waving to the other members of the unit, he ran back into the corridor toward the shuttles. The unit advanced in skirmish line toward the far side of the field where the transport trains lay in their berths. ----------------------------------------------------------------- In high orbit the massive shapes of starships appeared. Carriers, missile frigates, destroyers, and an entire fleet of support vessels could be seen. The great ventral bay doors of the carriers opened to release fighters; missiles slid out of the frigatesí silos, firing their engines and pushing them toward the planet below.