Christmas in Foxhole-Heaven by Dr. Philip Edward Kaldon Tuesday 25 December 2863 (Earth Relative Time) Battle Zone Three, Sector 17, Foxhole-H North Continent, Balencia IV The heat of the day hadn’t really cut in yet. But Corporal Trev Taylor was already too hot. PFC Andrea Yu’s fatigues wore dark stains around the neck and under the arms. Only Private Tony McConnell looked cool and relaxed hiding here in Foxhole-Heaven. He claimed it was Zen training, the others just assumed he was cold-blooded. Something resembling a large stinging insect landed on Taylor’s bare arm, which he swatted away. It fell on the damp ground by his feet -- a quick grind by the heel of his boot and it was gone. Or at least encased in several centimeters of mud for a while. This wasn’t what they’d signed up for. Fleet Marines dropped planetside in their armored suits and stopped the bad guys from doing bad things by dint of their overwhelming technology. But the SIG Cooperative on Balencia IV hadn’t read that part of the manual, apparently. It hadn’t been so much a matter of offering resistance to the Unified Star Fleet as a rout on the ground. So the four remaining Marines of Eagle Squad, 2011th Planetary Reconnaissance, lay hidden from view in a hastily dug out bunker -- Foxhole-H. Their armored fighting suits sat off to the side, empty and dormant. The SIG had fooled everyone, amassing thousands of mines and armor penetrating missiles all of which honed in on the E-M emissions of the armor. The Marines couldn’t move without attracting a hail of deadly fire. Nor could they abandon their powerful suits and weapons. It was a stalemate until Fleet could bring in enough tools to neutralize the mines and missiles. Their hidey hole brightened momentarily. Taylor snatched up his auto rifle, but then relaxed. It was Acting Sergeant Stu Hohn, back from creeping through the underbrush to Battalion. "What’s the news, Sarge?" Andrea asked. "Battalion’s got a new shipment of EETs. Should be clearing out the SIG’s homing weapons in our sector pretty soon." "Good. I’m tired of sleeping in an unpowered suit," Taylor said, getting up to check the seal of their trapdoor. "Gives you some protection if the SIGs come through that door," Stu pointed out. "Yeah, well I prefer the mission op where we have overwhelming force and restore peace and order in a matter of hours or days -- not weeks and months." "Cheer up. Brought a new round of ration packs." "Thanks," Taylor said, without much enthusiasm. The low-residue bars were designed not to give away their position. That pretty much ruled out any hint of taste. "Come on, it’s your Christmas dinner." "Christmas?" "It’s Christmas back on Earth -- as of 0517 hours local," Stu said. "You powered up to check?" Taylor got concerned. "Or did you get a datafeed at Battalion?" "Naw." He held up a wrist. "Great-great-great- grandfather’s Rolex Galaxy -- all mechanical. Dual calendars. Earth Relative Time as well as setting it for the local twenty-eight hour forty-seven point three minute day." "You’ve been holding out on us." "Just about Christmas. I’ve been tracking when that would come." "Well, then," Taylor said, sitting back down. "Merry Christmas, Sarge." "Yes, Merry Christmas," Andrea and Tony added. Halfway through their dry, tasteless ration bars, their quiet holiday celebration was interrupted by a vibration, which quickly evolved into a rhythmic shaking. "What the hell was that?" Taylor whispered as he geared up for battle. "Oh yeah, there was one more thing," Stu said, standing up unconcerned. "The 533rd is here with stealth non- electronic armor. They’ll give us cover and we can get out of here." "What? You bastard!" Taylor yelled. Stu mounted into his armor and powered it up, just as their cover was lifted up by a friendly armored Marine. "Merry Christmas, guys," Stu said. "Saddle up and move on out." Then the acting sergeant snapped his visor shut and left. The other three scrambled into their armor, cleared out their gear and followed him. Freedom. Daylight. It was the best Christmas present Trev Taylor had ever gotten.