[NO LONGER UPDATING] Ceres's Chaos: A Tragic Space Opera
Ceres’s eyes were dead, staring ahead into nothingness. The blistering heat wave of the surface washed over him continuously, as it had been doing so for his entire life.
This was the daily environment that Ceres had to live through, though he had long acclimatized to it thanks to the mandatory gene serum.
He wished he could live a cushy life in the inner zones, which enjoyed cool air year-round in their spacious underground caverns, barely having to worry about the environment.
“How long more till this is over?” He wearily asked as he remained crouched below a window, gripping onto a rifle.
The town that he was in looked like a post-apocalyptic scene, with crumbling buildings all over.
It consisted of a sprawling suburb filled with low-level pre-fabricated houses that had been completely abandoned, in which Ceres was crouching with four others.
The local star was barely over the horizon, yet he could already feel its incoming heat searing the ground and air.
Athen was the first planet in the star system, counting from the local star, hence the high heat and radiation. In fact, the planet previously was unsuitable for human life, but terraforming along with atmospheric engineering had made it much more manageable.
However, it was still necessary to either have technology that could cool you down or take the mandatory gene serum that almost every outer did.
He and the team were wearing a standardized military uniform, which was dyed brown, camouflaging with the common colour of the soil that was common on the surface of the savannah-like Athen.
Nobody was wearing any serious metal armour, only fabric.
The town was within Zone 17, an outer zone which was on the planet’s surface. The blistering heat came in waves, temperatures ranging from 35 to 42 degrees despite being considering the early morning of the local day.
“Ceres, we only started five minutes ago!” Erik grunted as the rest of the team laughed, while Ceres still sighed heavily. “I know you want to be out there in the riots earning L-credits, but if we don’t do this, the Director is going to whip our asses, so just do it!”
“Alright, let’s see what we got.” Ceres finally came around, acting like the team leader he was supposed to be.
Or more like, the appointed one. Erik didn’t want to do it, and the three other younger teenagers were not allowed to be team leaders, which left him.
[Team Ceres, report in.] His multi blurted out a feminine voice, attached to his belt magnetically. “Roger, roger.” Ceres nonchalantly replied in his most robotic voice he could muster, earning snickers from the whole team.
[HEY! BE SERIOUS BEFORE I COME OVER AND FUCK YOU IN YOUR EARHOLE!] The voice on the multi roared out, reminding of Ceres who was on the other side of the call, causing him to sober up straight away.
He was not about to piss her off if he could help it, shuddering as he recalled their last meeting.
“Team Ceres, all accounted for, waiting for orders. In position D-19”. He replied stoically, before looking at the rest of the team.
[Confirmed, stand by for commencement of exercise.] The feminine voice cut off, leaving Ceres with the rest of his team.
It suddenly struck him that despite him spending the last fifteen minutes in a room with three complete strangers, he did not even know their names at all!
He had been too bored and disinterested to even pay attention.
“I’m Ceres, this is Erik. Names?” Ceres pointed at himself then at Erik. The three young teenagers whose military uniform didn’t seem to fit them looked at each other before introducing themselves.
“I’m Ardan, this is Desmond and Jil.” The youngest of them spoke. They all looked similar, having a military buzz cut.
The only difference was that Ardan’s skin was almost snow white, as though he had never been out in the sun before. He was also significantly shorter than everyone else, only being 1.3 meters tall.
The uniform looked slightly oversized on him, and it was quite a sight to see him try to wield the rifle like a little kid.
“What’s an inner doing here?” Ceres queried, as Erik also wanted to know the answer. Generally, all the people living in the outer zones like Zone 17 had tanned skin due to the local star continuously bearing down on them.
Inners had fairer and whiter skin, having lived underground for their whole life usually. Sometimes they even wore an air filter before venturing into the outer zones above ground!
“It’s a skin condition, and I grew up in Zone 17 as a local, thank you very much!” Ardan was obviously insulted at the implicit accusation, his young face puffing up in anger as he waved his rifle that was obviously comically oversized for him.
“Also, I’ll have you know that I’m 16 this year!” He could feel the suspicious eyes of Ceres and Erik, obviously judging his claim against his short height of 1.3 meters.
“Well, whatever. As long as you know what you’re doing. Don’t drag us down.” Ceres waved the grumpy short boy away, instead tapping a few buttons on his multi and laying it on the floor, depicting a holographic map of the town.
“Alright so the context. Enemy wants to control the town, we stop them. That’s it. Nobody knows how many hostiles, nor which direction they will be coming from. All we got to do is stop them from reaching the centre of the town.” Ceres pointed at the centre of the map.
The town was like a circle when viewed from above, with a 'cross' in the middle that was two roads intersecting in the centre.
In the middle was a roundabout, with a control point in that roundabout’s centre.
“How many of us are there?” Ardan asked. He wasn’t an orphan, but more like a local resident who had attended the school.
It was the only actual public funded school in the area, and also the only one that actually boasted a military syllabus, so anyone intending to join the military in any capacity would want to come here.
The military were always happy to welcome more low-level grunts to do the jobs nobody else wanted to do, which was a win-win. Ceres was slightly surprised someone would choose to send their kid to such a place.
“Should be about sixty of us, split into teams of five. We’ll cover the southern perimeter of the town with three other teams. The three of you, stick with Erik. I’ll split up alone. And remember, set for non-lethal energy beams only! Don’t you dare burn someone’s skin off too much, I can’t deal with the paperwork.” Ceres split off from the team, heading to another rooftop to get a better view.
In the Galactic Era, energy beams were the pre-dominant form of combat.
The rifles that Ceres’s team was currently using was a standardized training rifle developed by the military that could fire both lethal and non-lethal energy beams.
The energy beams were not lasers – rather they were an accelerated stream of particles moving at a percentage of the speed of light.
Since a single particle would only hit a single molecule of the target, the barrage of particles that was part of a stream would naturally carve a hole through anything, effectively disintegrating any material down into bits.
For the heavier molecules, they would be heated up, which is why the energy beams tended to burn things, especially when they were set to non-lethal.
A single shot from an energy beam is usually not enough to kill someone as the affected area was extremely tiny.
However, it was far more lightweight than carrying around bullets. A laser rifle was much lighter, but is much more expensive and difficult to achieve the same level of lethality.
There were other forms of rifles available such as gamma ray cannons which were practically invisible, but they were considered restricted weapons and only to be used against aliens rather than each other.
Humans had more rights than aliens after all. This was all taught to Ceres as part of the military syllabus.
The town was a continuous sea of houses and two storey buildings. Ceres waited on one of the two storey buildings, which was what was left of a supermarket.
He double checked his escape routes, which included the staircase leading down to the ground floor, as well as a ladder down into a side alleyway flanked by another two-storey building.
After a good five minutes though, the communications channel became extremely hectic, filled with useless chatter and banter. Everybody just tried to chat to pass the time while the temperature steadily climbed to its peak as the local star loomed overhead.
[When are they coming? I got to pee man.]
[Maybe they are testing our bladder capacity. I heard the bladder can expand up to 10 centimetres in diameter.]
[I’ll fucking expand your nuts to 10 centimetres.]
[Is this even going to be a combat drill or a waiting drill? Where are the enemies?]
[Come on guys, this is the military, you’re just hurrying up to wait. It’s a good thing.]
[If I had a choice I’ll surrender right now so I can go back to my bed.]
[RECRUITS OF ZONE 17 MILITARY ORPHANAGE NEVER SURRENDER!]
[SHUT THE FUCK UP BRATON!]
Ceres didn’t bother joining in the conversation, instead lying down to read his multi, browsing the latest exosuit news. He was invested in exosuit design and components, especially when they were closely related to his job.
“Oh? Looks like the New Saint enforcers are planning to reveal their new exosuit. The ‘Athen Defender’… sounds like some sort of superhero. Mass produced…”
Articles and events about the latest exosuit design popped out of the screen, showing test videos, demonstrations and real battle usage.
He laid down on his back, letting the clear blue sky be the backdrop for his multi by turning off the background on the screen, making it translucent as he watched an video.
Suddenly he noticed his multi had a few small sparks in the screen and was glitching. He tried slapping his multi, but the sparks weren’t going away though, and they looked to be getting larger. As Ceres put down his multi, he finally realized the sparks were not from his multi, they were coming down from the sky!
[CONTACT! CONTACT, ORBITAL DROP!] A voice on his multi screamed as he got up, holding his laser rifle up and aiming at the sky, using its inbuilt scope to get a better view.
Ceres didn’t bother shooting, knowing that the atmosphere of the planet would attenuate the rifle’s output till it dispersed at 500 meters, and that was if he aimed straight up.
On the ground level, it would only be about 200 meters effective range. He swapped to his earpiece instead of letting the shouts from the communications channel be blasted on the speaker of the multi.
Despite the distance, energy beams erupted from the town, from trigger-happy teenagers who obviously didn’t listen in class, hoping to take down one of the foreign objects diving towards them.
“Erik, where are they going to land?” Ceres pulled up the holographic map in front of him, which also simulated the falling objects. The sudden rapid change in pace did not faze him – it was all part of the exercise that he subconsciously already expected from the military.
“Ten objects, with three landing in the southern section of the outer ring just outside of the town, which should be near where we are. Let’s catch them before they get their bearings, whatever they are.” Erik replied.
“Alright, meet me at the southern entrance to the town, there’s one landing right there.” Ceres ended the call, but suddenly noticed one of the objects diverting, heading straight for him! All the objects suddenly changed course, aiming at the buildings rather than the open spaces outside.
Ceres grabbed his energy rifle and dashed off the rooftop, leaping to an adjacent building as his previous location was smashed into pieces by the falling objects, caving in the rooftop panels of the supermarket and creating a ballooning dust cloud.
“What the fuck was that?” Ceres swore as he landed roughly on the adjacent rooftop, suffering minor bruises and cuts.
He had done military drills and exercises in this makeshift town more times than he could count, but he had never seen anything like this. He could have died in that attack!
“Erik, what’s your status? I just had one land right next to me!”
“We had two land right next to us, Jil is unconscious from the impact. We’re evacuating her to another place, you’re on your own Ceres! We’ll come back ASAP!” Erik shouted back through the communications channel.
Just as he was about to curse under his breath for yet the second time, sounds of metallic clanking came from the supermarket, causing Ceres to ready his rifle, propping it on the barrier on the rooftop, aiming it down at the source of the noise.
His breath ragged from the strenuous jump he just performed, he held his aim while wondering what was in that falling object.
The sounds coming from the supermarket abruptly stopped, with a human figure walking out from the cloud of dust kicked up by the landing. As Ceres looked longer, a sign of realization dawned on his face as he recognized it!
“You got to be fucking kidding me. How am I supposed to stop that alone? This is Ceres, requesting backup from any nearby teams.” Ceres immediately pulled back his rifle and crouched low, not risking giving away his position to such a monstrosity while hoping to God that he wouldn’t have to fight it alone.
[Brother! I have your location, I am nearby, bringing my team over. ETA ten seconds.]
“Good shit Braton, I knew I could count on you.” Ceres didn’t care who was coming to help, only for someone to act as a shield or distraction while he racked his brain on how to take it down.
Pulling out his multi, he browsed the same set of articles he had seen of some of the latest exosuit design. “Can’t believe we’re the guinea pigs of the first test run!”
[Brother, I am here, where is the enem… Ceres, what the fuck is that?!] Braton was stunned, having never seen an exosuit like that.
The exosuit was coated dark blue and black with a patterned design, with full armour plates and a completely covered head. A rectangular visor that served as the main heads-up display for the pilot glowed light blue, while it had no weapons other than a riot shield and a pistol.
“The new enforcer exosuit model, Athen Defender! They are using us for the first test run!” Ceres continuously tried to scrounge up any information he could find on the exosuit.
Every exosuit had to have a weakness somewhere. It might not be a critical weakness, but Ceres needed every advantage in this if he wanted to not wake up in the hospital three days later with nothing to show for it other than broken limbs.
[Ceres, I’ve seen this before in the Gladius!] His multi spoke into his earpiece.
“Wow Braton, didn’t think you knew about this. Are you becoming an exosuit designer?” Ceres was amazed that Braton had become that much smarter after joining the Gladius. Should he try for a training contract too?
[This isn’t Braton, it’s Ardan!]
“You? How the hell are you from the Gladius? No way you can sign a training contract with them. You’re barely ten years old!”
[I’M SIXTEEN, AND DO YOU WANT TO HEAR IT OR NOT?]
“Yea yea go-ahead kid.” Ceres kept absolutely still, crouching low on the rooftop, not daring to make eye contact with the exosuit wearer.
The Athen Defender slowly scanned its surroundings, while Ceres prayed it could not see through walls or jump high.
[Well first and foremost, it’s an exosuit design for small scale battles on the ground, generally intended against rebels or rowdy criminal groups. As it must enter enclosed areas and root out entrenched hostiles, you should know that it has infrared vision and can see heat signatures through cover.]
“FUCK!” Ceres screamed as he instinctively rolled out of the way, while a non-lethal energy beam singed past his head.
The Athen Defender had already jumped on the half-broken rooftop of the supermarket, taking pot-shots at him with it’s pistol while he scrambled for sturdier cover.
Madly sliding down a ladder on the other side of his rooftop, he landed in the alleyway as he ran into the next building, smashing through a window as he leapt in.
Hiding in the room, Ceres heaved as he tried to catch his breath.
“Couldn’t you have said that earlier!? If they hadn’t set their beams to non-lethal, I might have been dead by now!”
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