He hated atmospheric reentry.
The stress of never knowing whether this time would be the time his unit would experience critical failure and burn up via adiabatic compression always lingered in the back of Aaron's mind. The fact that he was piloting a prototype unit for the mission only made him feel worse about it. He'd piloted stolen Imperial suits into the atmosphere of hotter planets, but never something of his chief engineer's own making.
Aaron looked at the CH-23S Peacekeeper Custom powered armor suit before stepping into it. When the ursar stood next to it, it was easily twice as tall as him and was nearly as wide. Unlike previous generations, the suit had a pair of cameras mounted on the head instead of a single large lens, resembling eyes peering out through a helm. It's metal surface was polished clean, having never done more than a test flight. It's golden paint job was accentuated by splashes of lavender that the engineer had assured him was due to the molding process of the Ignitian ingots used in its production. The units body was lithe, making it light weight but costing it a great deal of physical armor. It suited Aaron just fine though.
He clambered into the cockpit and slid his feet into the legs of the unit. He could feel the mechanism in the boots shifting as they adjusted to his weight. They controlled the unit's flight unit and allowed the pilot to move the legs without requiring the strain necessary to move several tonnes of metal.
Aaron leaned his back against the inside and pulled the cockpit hatch closed. He could hear the hiss of air as the unit was sealed tight. A pair of fans turned on above him, blowing cool, fresh air as it was cycled throughout the unit and allowed him to breath comfortably.
The inside of the powered armor was pitch black until he flicked a switch next to the hatch. The walls lit up with a panoramic view of the ship's hanger as the cameras embedded into the head and in several hard points throughout the unit turned on. Aaron pressed a button on one of the monitors, and a touchscreen keyboard appeared on a panel that extended in front of him.
As Aaron began to type and work on diagnostics, a beep sounded as chief engineer Gunther Gloier came into view in a small window on the left monitor. The dwarf wore a pair of thick goggles that had a number of changing displays on it as he worked. A fiery red beard hung down over his chest, and the light from the hanger shone off his bald head.
“Attaching custom mana pistols now,” Gunther said as he pressed a few buttons.
Aaron could hear a whirring sound as the set of mechanical holsters on his unit's hips opened up. The bulky pistols folded their grips inwards and clicked into place. The Peacekeeper drooped momentarily before the operating system compensated for the added weight and lifted it back up again.
“Running driver diagnostics now,” Aaron replied, as if he'd performed the task hundreds of times before. His paw pads flew across the keyboard as the inputted his commands.
A screen appeared in the top right corner of his front monitor, with a rotating wireframe model of the pistols. While they were shaped like a hand gun, sized for the powered armor suit, it had a thick, flat section underneath the barrel, made of folded Ignitian metal to make it resistant to physical attacks. They were designed to help him parry attacks from enemy suits.
Beneath the image was a set of bars and circular meters. The top bar displayed the driver upload status, steadily climbing to 100%, while the two circles showed power flow from the unit to the pistol and the approximate number of shows remaining.
“Upload complete,” Aaron said once the meter filled. He typed in a few commands to check the power flow between the suit's main battery and the gauss rifles hidden in the unit's wrists. “Weapon status, all green. Begin loading of ballistic ammunition.”
“Roger that.” Gunther pressed a few more buttons.
Aaron watched through the side monitors as a pair of robotic arms carried a rack full of large, hollow point bullets. They slid the magazines into slots that opened up in the suits arms. Aaron's paws entered a new series of commands to confirm that everything had been loaded properly, then went back to checking the remaining armor systems.
“Mana Capacitor, fully charged. Communications and radar units, running normally. All diagnostic checks, completed. Peacekeeper Custom, ready for launch.” Aaron pulled his hands out of the unit's chest cavity and inserted them into the mechanical arms. His fingers slid into the leather padded gloves, and he could feel the thick buttons at the tips of his fingers. All it would take is a slight movement forward to press the buttons at the ends of the gloves, and he made sure to keep his hands away from them to ensure he didn't fire off his weaponry within the hanger.
There was a beep as a second communications line was opened. This one didn't display a video image, and merely had the words “Voice Only” on a black background.
“Chief Engineer Gloier,” the voice said over the line, “I want you to equip the Peacekeeper with equipment set F.”
“F? Captain, I don't need any positronic weaponry!” Aaron protested. “This is a retrieval mission, not an assault on a fortress or enemy starship.”
“This is not up for debate,” Captain's voice said. “Our intelligence reports suggest of a possible new unit being deployed to Altair that may make your job more difficult. We can't guarantee that your current armaments will be enough.”
“Why wouldn't they be?” Aaron asked. “The mana pistols are our latest and best weapons. We just finished them!”
“And they haven't been tested,” Gunther cut in. “I agree with the Captain. Unloading the Positron Rifle now.”
“Captain, if that's fired in the atmosphere, it could-”
“I understand your reservations, Aaron,” the Captain said, “But if I didn't think you'd need it, I wouldn't have you sent down to the surface with it.”
There was a click as the rifle was put into a socket on the rear hip of the unit, in a spot where Aaron could just reach around to get at the grip. Another pair of clicks echoed in the hanger as two clips of reserve particle cartridges were pressed into place. Each contained about twelve shots, and after that they would need to be charged on the ship.
The positron rifle was a bulky piece of metal, and even with the suit compensating for the added weight, Aaron could feel it as he moved to the launch pad. The rifle was big enough that it required both hands to hold it when the barrel was unfolded. The recoil was at times unbearable, even for the strongest of armor pilots.
A long silence followed, one that was broken only by the Captain's soothing, calm voice. “I know you don't like positron weapons, so I'm going to leave it up to you whether you want to use it or not. However-”
“Yeah, I know,” Aaron cut him off, “Better to have it and not need it, than to need it and not have it, as the minotaur saying goes.”
Aaron cut off the connection to Gunther's comm channel and said, “Are you sure about this mission, Captain? You know I wouldn't question you if I wasn't seriously doubting our objectives.” He pulled an arm out to scratch at an itch on his head, just behind his ear.
“It's just a retrieval mission, Aaron. All you need to do is extract our target from the base and eliminate any Imperial forces that might see you. We can't let the Rogarian's catch wind of our latest technology. Not until we've put everything into place.”
“And this technician is the final piece of your grand puzzle?” Aaron asked.
The Captain didn't answer him. “Just return safely with the technician. If you can't bring the super prototype with you, then make sure you at least have the data on it.” The comm line went dead.
Aaron sighed. He opened up his keyboard and typed in a few commands, dialing into the ship's central mainframe. “Oberon, are you listening?”
The robotic voice replied back, “I'm always listening, Aaron.” It sounded like a young man, possibly in his early thirties. Oberon was the state of the art AI built into the ship. It had connections to major networks across the Galrian Sphere and further into the solar system. Oberon was also able to provide tactical support to pilots in the field.
“What are your thoughts on the mission?” Aaron asked.
“I think that this mission is critical to the Cavaliers' success,” Oberon stated. “At least, that's what I've been programmed to believe.”
“You're an AI, you're supposed to think for yourself,” Aaron said, rolling his eyes. The computer had no emotions, but it seemed to enjoy digging into a person's wounds whenever it could.
“That I am, Aaron.” There was a hint of joy in Oberon's voice. “Regardless of my opinions, if our intel is correct, then the technology this Daniel Trussel has will provide us with the edge we need to finally mobilize against Rogust.”
“What kind of technology is it?” Aaron asked.
“I couldn't say,” Oberon replied. “But the Captain and his adviser believe that extracting Daniel is of the highest priority, and that he's worth the risk that the Empire may discover us.”
“I hope you're right.” Aaron cut the connection and went back to waiting for his launch time.