The surveillance equipment in Anna's binoculars picked up the landing craft before she saw it. She tracked its signal and homed in on the small atmospheric craft as it zoomed down from the clouds at high speed, its hull lit up by the distant, colorful flashes of the orbital bombardment.
Anna glanced to her right. Charles had set up his high-powered sniper rifle and had assumed a prone firing position. The weapon’s scope and Anna’s binoculars were linked so that she could spot and mark targets for him. She looked back at the landing craft.
“We have eyes on,” Anna said. Two voices on the other end confirmed--one was the targeting technician, the other the squad leader.
She watched as the strike team jumped from the landing craft, deployed ballistic shields, and carefully proceeded towards the ruins. The soldiers went from cover to cover; only half of them moved at any given time, while the rest kept their eyes on their surroundings, alert and weapons at the ready--a routine born out of years of extensive training and experience.
They were Clones, just as she was. She had suspected it when she had heard the squad leader’s voice--all Clones sound alike, but she was certain now she saw the team in operation. She felt a tinge of pride as she watched them. It was an irrational feeling: a sensation of being part of a greater, stronger whole and feeling better for it.
Her eyes found Charles. His metallic frame reflected the bombardment’s wide array of colors while he lay motionless in prone position, impervious to the sharp branches that poked him in the stomach and sides.
Did he experience anything akin to pride as he watched the strike team? Did he experience any emotion at all? Or was it all just ruthless efficiency?
"Eyes peeled, Vat Two-Twenty." Charles still peered through the scope of his rifle, as if he could feel her watching.
When she looked through the binoculars, the strike team had reached the smoldering ruins. Two men took position to each side of the half-collapsed entrance and covered a third as he scanned the interior of the pyramid. He then went in, followed by his two squad mates.
It took the strike team just under five minutes to survey the ruins and the surrounding area. When they were done, the soldiers reconvened in front of the ruined pyramid and huddled around the squad leader to discuss their findings. It was all standard procedure; she had seen it a hundred times before--yet, this time, something was off about it.
“Seems to be something going on,” she said, eyes still on the squad.
Charles didn’t respond.
A short beep indicated the com-link with the strike team opened. The squad leader’s voice came through with background static that was unusual for this type of connection.
"Forward team, can you confirm this station was manned?" Despite the static, Anna could hear hesitation in the squad leader’s voice.
"Confirmed," Anna replied.
"Three outside, inside unknown."
The other end of the com-link was silent. Anna looked sideways at Charles. He had not moved an inch since when she had last looked at him.
"Why?" She asked.
"There are no dead bodies here."