The pressure. My God, the pressure. Not just the weight of the oceans, but of the commanders to succeed. They wanted us to win this battle, but I couldn't see how. There were so few of us, and so much death. How could enough of us survive to make a dent in the enemy's defenses?
I didn't care because I didn't know. Our commanders knew, or at least I hoped they did. Right now all I cared about was the pressure, the immense pressure of the depths.
They never told us it would be like this. Simtraining was nothing compared to this, a cake walk compared to walking the plank into shark infested waters. How did I come to this place? Was it as simple as I remembered it? Had I actually joined the aquaforce of my own free will? Was I really a crusader? A hero?
No. I was scared shitless. And the pressure was crushing all sane thought from my mind.
I could only think of the depths, the deep green depths of the ocean through which I strode, a wraith on the sea floor scurrying for the sun. An alarm sounded in my suit. I jumped.
"Pressure overload, cervical joint right one." Oh how impersonal that tone was, how nonchalantly it discussed my ultimate doom. A pressure overload in any joint, much less a primary cervical joint, meant death at any serious depth. To be sure I keyed a secondary diagnostic. It repeated, "Pressure overload, cervical joint right one, now left two. Right two and left one pending maximum stress." I keyed diag a second time. "Recommend immediate environmental evacuation. Recommend immediate environmental evacuation."
Shit. I glanced fearfully overhead.
Waves distorted the orange sun of the Nadroc System. Through the crests I could see fusion blasts dominating the ocher sky, sending tangible waves of energy through the water strong enough to affect us even at this level.
"Pressure overload, abdominal one. Abdominal two. Abdominal three. Cervical malfunction!" CHRIST! "Cervical malfunction! Mandatory flood control imminent! Abdominal plate four nonfunctional. Clavicles due to implode. Air flooding to commence mark ten seconds."
I held my breath as I had been taught. I hugged my helmet eject strap and gripped the emergency evac handles provided. As long as my helmet was not ruptured I stood a fair chance of surviving to the surface.
Please, God, just this one favor. Just let my helmet hold. I swear I can deal with surface defenses, please don't sacrifice me to the fishes.
"Mark seven. Six. Five...".
A buddy of mine, name of Stevens, began floating to the surface. His anterior delta plates had burst. A flood of compressed air bubbles shrouded his body as he rose to the fatal surface, and I knew Stevens' evac procedures had responded to his suit failure. He was dying, no doubt about it.
I, on the other hand, was alive, and the pressure to survive was intense.
"Clinton. Spec Clinton, do you read?" My lieutenant sounded more scared than I was, if such a thing were possible. "What in hell are you waiting for?! Blow your fucking suit! Now!"
"I'm not sure I want to go, sir."
"What?! What are you talking about, Spec? Evac! Now! That's an order!"
"Aye, aye, sir," and I keyed my suit.
"Override activated. Bond. Bond."
I bonded with my helmet. My appendage quadrants blew. My torso cover disengaged. A hundred kilos of combat armor dropped away into the sparkling nothingness of Neptune's hellish domain. I watched as my boots slipped free of my feet and disappeared into the shadows of distance.
"Evacuation complete. Depth, one hundred twenty meters. One fifteen. One ten. One hundred. Eighty. Sixty. Forty. Fifteen..."
Now deadly fusion charges filled my view screen as they exploded. The surface was alive with death. I wished for the depths despite the pressure. At least there I stood a chance. With my suit blown I was nothing, less than nothing, I was useless, a burden. My comrades, some of them at least, would die trying to defend me and the rest of the casualties that were even now rising to the surface.
I was only five meters down when I found Stevens. His helmet was no longer intact, there was a dreadfully nasty crack running from his right temporal lobe to neck. His head cover had been shattered by a depth charge. Slowly he rolled over and presented his yet armored feet to the sky, then the remaining appendages of his aquasuit also exploded and the corpse bobbed upright beneath the semi-inflated helmet before it began its ultimate descent to the ocean bottom trailing a stream of bloody bubbles.
"All casualties to rendezvous for reassembly. All casualties to rendezvous for reassembly."
Christ, what did they think we were? Half the wounded had no helmets, and the half that did were too busy aiding their handicapped comrades to even consider rendezvous.