Dancers (A Short Story)
James C. Rocks
Tension was high. Six men waited with a mix of nerves and impatience as The Greenwich Village dropped out of hyperspace and accelerated ponderously towards New London, the only inhabited planet in the system. It would take her almost an hour to reach launch position, some four hundred kilometres above the planet.
All six wore standard, lightly armoured, re-entry drop suits, protection against the rigours of a high-level atmospheric drop.
"Boiling to death," Marines were fond of saying, "as you're shot down into increasingly thick atmosphere, isn't a great deal of fun!"
"What is?" Davis and Alexis looked at Fells.
"When they discovered the planet." Fells sounded confident.
"Not true, my friend," Glen looked smug. "It was actually discovered in 2089, it just wasn't colonised until 2092."
"Same diff!" Fells confidence morphed into defensiveness.
"Bet they have some nightclubs." Random said wistfully.
"Of course, they've got nightclubs! New London's been colonised for nearly two hundred years, lots of colonists. Over a million immigrants, last I heard. With newborns and embryos, population's approaching ten mil. " Glen opened a pack and popped a tab in his mouth. "They've got some big, modern cities and they'll always have nightclubs."
"Maybe they'll give us R 'n R," Random was still wistful, "we could use a bit of R 'n R."
"We've hit high orbit," Victor had returned from talking to the pilot. "Drop ship release in five minutes. Make sure you've got everything and strap in."
Grumbling, the squad sorted themselves out but, as the two-minute mark passed, were properly secured in their seats, their equipment locked beside them.
"One minute." The youthful, female voice of the pilot echoed from their suit speakers.
"Ten! Five… four… three… two… one… drop!"
The squad's stomachs seemed to flip, each man dealing with it in his own way. The craft rotated slowly and through the ports they saw the huge bulk of The Village against New London's curve. The squad were slammed back in their seats as the small ship's rockets lit and it accelerated towards the planet. Catching glimpses of The Village, they saw the mothership diminish in size until it was little more than a glittering pinpoint, just one of millions sparkling against the blackness of space.
Entering the outer fringes of New London's atmosphere, the journey started to get rough. The ship shook noisily, bumping as it hit tenuous pockets of atmosphere at speed and vibrating crazily. No one was talking. No one could hold a coherent conversation over the insane tremors but, as the ship dropped below fifty thousand metres, the commotion faded, dropping to little more than a background rumble.
The men started to talk again, rehashing previous conversation and ribbing each other whenever they could but quietened whenever the pilot made her announcements.
"Coming up on drop! Five minutes!" As the talking started up again, Victor gestured for them to keep it low but was met with laughter.
"Helmets!" He growled, releasing his straps and stomping off to the forward end of the craft. For safety and survival, the men complied, but resumed chatting over their suit radios.
The talk died at a grinding vibration, the drop ship's doors opening. Random stared out of the now open rear, imagining the rushing sound of wind that could have sucked any of them into the near vacuum. The dark thoughts played on his mind and he almost missed the pilot's next announcement.
Victor returned to stare out at the glittering carpet of lights below, pointing out the cluster of light that was the planet's capital city, New London.
"New London, New London?" Davis observed, "An address and a half, innit?" Even Victor laughed at his quip, returning, "we should be dancing the night away before long."
"Thirty seconds until drop!"
"Stop the chatter. We need to concentrate on the show!" Victor ordered, as the pilot used the dropship's rockets to slow the ship to subsonic.
"Ah, nuts!", "Give it a break!" and "Can it!" were amongst the retorts. Only recently gaining the position of squad lead, Victor felt his authority slipping away.
"Drop! Drop! Drop!" The pilot's words were followed by a drawn-out beep as the squad threw themselves, as tight as any military squad, from the rear of the craft.
"Break a leg, guys!" The pilot's parting words resounded in their ears as her ship accelerated and quickly vanished from their instruments.
The squad fell rapidly, increasing speed, their sensors informing them their suits systems were fully functional and dealing easily with the alarming rise in external temperature. As the manual said, "Well within standard tolerances."
"Twenty-five thousand metres. Deploy drag 'chutes!" Victor's voice sounded apprehensive even as the small parachutes snapped out, stabilising the team and slowing them dramatically. "Pull in closer. I want this done fast, hard and tight!"
"Look over there! Those lights!" Beau's excited voice burst across the squad's radios as the team gazed at the cluster of lights, both ordinary and searching, several kilometres ahead.
"Our target!" Victor replied brusquely, then, "Fifteen thousand metres. Jettison 'chutes. Deploy vanes and wings."
One by one the squad's drag parachutes disappeared into the night sky behind them and their suits started to raise and lower flaps to give them a measure of control both on their speed of fall and direction of travel. The squad arrowed down at an oblique angle perfectly aimed at their target.
Searchlights continued probing the sky searching for the interlopers, now almost directly over their target.
"Deploy main chutes!" Victor ordered, a little surprised there were no more retorts.
One by one each of the squad released their main parachutes and, as the last one deployed, each changed the colour of his parachute. Davis to red, Alexis to green, Random to orange, Glen to purple, Fells to yellow and Victor to blue. Instantly each man was speared by a searchlight, their brightly coloured parachutes making them easy prey for the questing beams.
Landing perfectly on the central, and very brightly lit, flat area, each of the men hit buttons on their belts to retract their suits as the sounds of screams flooded across them. Music hit them, louder than anything they'd experienced so far, as the Builder, the Indian Chief, The Soldier, Cowboy and Biker start dancing.
Then Victor, resplendent in his Old American style Police uniform, started singing.
Young man, there's no need to feel down
I said, young man, pick yourself off the ground
I said, young man, 'cause you're in a new town
There's no need to be unhappy…