IC: Taylor [SPEHSS]
Staff Sergeant Taylor Gull, forty-seven years of age, closed his eyes and inhaled, and a biting tang of smoke and embers filled his lungs. The breeze felt painfully warm and thick enough to choke him, and it left his scars tingling and face sweaty as it passed. He wondered if he ought to put on his helmet, still swinging loosely from his right hand in the bitter draft, but his arm felt as stiff as iron and twice as heavy.
The ground shuddered beneath him, and even after it stopped, he felt like he was about to fall from the mountaintop, tumbling down to the city burning below.
From behind him came the soft footsteps of one of the Bullfrogs accompanying his platoon, and a gloved hand on his shoulder-
<<You doing okay back there, Gunny?>>
Gunnery Sergeant Taylor Gull, fifty-three and probably mostly sane, maybe, perhaps, clutched at the grips of his turret and thought hard about exactly what had just happened. Reach had been bad, yes, but hardly the first time he’d seen a city glassed- and more pertinently, while he’d had flashbacks before, they had never been so… distracting. Just a flash, nothing more. What in the world was this? Pre-op jitters? Zero-g nausea? Both? Probably both. He eyed his vitals dancing in his HUD and tried not to think about what deep space was doing to his circulatory system.
Wait. Question. Whoops. Taylor scowled and forced his breathing under control again. <<Well,>> he grunted, <<turret's still a bit sluggish, but other than that…>> He shrugged, then remembered his pilot couldn't exactly see him. <<Little worried my head’s not quite in the game. I’m hoping the shooting lets me take my mind off it all, but until then->>
Plasma flare. The Madrigal’s hull flashed as its main guns activated, and a shining bloom of pale fire began to chew its way through the asteroid field towards the pirate corvettes. Taylor winced as a burst of bright blue seared afterimages into his eyes in the fraction of a second it took for his visor to polarize (down in the mountain basin, the city of Manassas vanished in a swirling cloud of black smoke and blinding light), and then the bloom streaked past above and he twisted in his gunner’s perch to watch it land.
One of the trails of light flying beside him flashed as well, and a bolt of twisting energy emerged from its ventral cannon and lanced a dark shape in the distance. The Seraph’s shields popped and a blue gash blazed into existence along its hull, and it spun out of formation to trail fire into the endless night. First blood to Nikolai.
Taylor straightened, and suddenly the booster frame seemed so much sturdier beneath his boots, the turret so much lighter in his hands. He smiled thinly as his VISR began to feed him IFF markers; his smile widened two more frames pulled up beside Vasquez’s, and some of the markers vanished as quickly as they appeared, each disappearance perfectly synchronized with the death of a Banshee.
<<Never mind. I’m fine.>>
An acknowledgement marker flashed inside his helmet, coupled with a full-squad broadcast: <<I’ve got the leader.>> The booster frame shuddered beneath him, and another Banshee marker winked out of existence. Another broadcast followed: <<Splash one. I’m going in for guns.>>
Taylor sent his pilot a green marker of his own, already eyeing the wing of Banshees that had just lost their flight lead. Two broke off early on a direct intercept course, only to vanish in a quick salvo from a passing Broadsword; two more threw themselves into a wider turn, presumably trying to keep their distance until they could find a safer approach vector.
Taylor tapped the trigger of his M41 experimentally; the turret shuddered in its grip as a brief torrent of bullets sprayed out, but the barrel did a remarkable job of staying pointed exactly where he wanted it pointed at- everything he could have hoped for. He heaved the gun around and fired again, and one of the Banshees’ engines sputtered out as its flank disintegrated amidst a storm of depleted uranium shells. The other Banshee, cold and alone, wisely reversed directions and retreated.
<<Banshee down.>> Taylor spared Vasquez the quickest nod he could; she still couldn’t see it, of course, but it made him feel good. <<And still fine.>>