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Fan Fiction

Helltroopers by Andres

Outlaw six: Prologue
Date: 13 March 2006, 8:20 am

0012, January 20, 2529 (UNSC Military Calendar)
Taurus System, UNSC Inner Colony Controlled Space
On the Orbit of Westwood

The evacuation protocol was, in a crude way, very simple. Each town, city or county was assigned an evacuation unit by the local ground commander. If by the time the pick up team had arrived the "Hotels" did not show up, they were left behind, and there was no coming back for you. Generally local commanders, Territorial Army personal and local police struggled to get those left behind out. But the idea was to get as many people evacuated from doomsday, day zero and Armageddon. Priority was given to people over five and under fifty, who had more potential to help the war effort. In a way, a horrible way, it was simple.
      Lieutenant Ricardo Nunez had with his own, terribly tired and stunned brown eyes seen how coldly children under five were kicked out and how elder people were left behind by the Marines when they evacuated Tormenta III the previous month.
      During the first attacks, now called "Glassings", Covenant ships would surprisingly arrive undetected, surprising and blasting the planet to flames and ice. When the UNSC raised the alert status and enabled local commanders to fire the nuclear batteries on the ground at will, Covenant ships got a nasty surprise they paid in blood. They adapted, changed their tactics and approach rapidly and adjusted to the new human doctrine unbelievably fast. Small ships would invade certain areas of the planet, where the silos and airfields where and destroy them using ground troops.
      During the first engagements both sides preformed at the same level of tactical proficiency, but the UNSC was heavily outgunned and outnumbered and by sheer attrition the Covenant would overwhelm the troops on the ground and destroy the defenses, glass the planet and move on to the next one.
      A bright man, unknown before the war, named Preston Cole created Task Force Guard Angel. Its name gave it justice to the task they were to perform time and again. While regular forces struggled to score a victory, TF Guard Angel would be on the ground extracting "Hotels". The highest number they managed to extract was seventy million on Tormenta Prime.
      The job of 1st Platoon, Echo Company, 4rd Squadron, Lima Operational Detachment of the ODST was to assist in holding key positions, covering the Marines extracting people and hitting targets of opportunity along the way in and out. For the Helljumpers the task was daunting, exhausting and unwanted. They had joined the unit to fight battles, storm enemy positions and wax tangos on a mud fight. So far they had no combat drops on the loved Human Entry Vehicles.
      Onboard the assault vessel UNSC Tierra Nostra Ricardo, with his back arched forward and his face buried on the screen carefully read a report that caught his black eyes. Two units from the Company were lost, somewhere around a village called Saint Paul, by Checkpoint Charlie during an escort mission for a Marine Heavy Equipment Transport Vehicle Task Organized Company. The neural interface detected his thought and the OPORD for Saint Paul flashed on the large screen.
Again, on the screen what he thought was displayed.

      He grunted, sighed and collapsed on the back of his comfortable chair. Stroking his Jarhead cut black hair he remembered times past. No, that isn't right. He grabbed a nearby phone, the sensors on his head picked up where he wanted to call and the black phone beeped twice.
      "Terra one-three-zero, copy over."
      "This is Lieutenant Ricardo Nunez out of Monterrey, requesting a SITREP on Outlaw elements on your area."
      There was a short pause. "uh.. they secured the package, contact was lost shortly after… oh damn… listed as Mike-India-Alpha."
      "Copy, thank you one-three-zero. Do you happen to know the status on the pick up?"
      "That is classified Monterrey," said a different voice, older and more thick, possibly the station chief, acting on protocol.
      "Copy one-three-zero. Over and out," he hung up the phone, grabbed his MA-5H, stood up and walked out the empty, small, and cosigns intelligence room of his Company. Took a right and walked down the featureless, gray and wide main corridor of the second level of the vessel.
      The uncommonly large ship, even for UNSC standards, was originally built to carry two complete Marine Expeditionary Forces, numbering around two hundred thousand troops, gear for five tank and mechanized battalions and the supporting aircraft. Under directive Guard Angel it had been modified to carry around five hundred thousand civilians, and no other but the troops necessary to supply them and maintain order. All weapons, including the Magnetic Accelerator Cannon and Archer Missile Batteries had been removed; a layer of Titanium armor and the maintenance facilities too had been scrapped. Basically a big juicy target for everything the Covenant fleet possessed.
      He reached the elevator at the end of the corridor, entered alone and pressed a red button only a few people could. His fingerprint was read immediately and the elevator moved to a floor that only authorized personal could enter, the Intelligence Center of the Ship.
      For the average Joe if you wanted certain info, you had to go to a certain someone who would burry you on paper work. But Ricardo wasn't the average Joe you will normally encounter requesting information. He was an intimidating man, in a stubby black Helljumper uniform that had a way with words. If that didn't work he knew the only attaché of the Office of Naval Intelligence in the vessel, thank you very much.
      He reached a door where two white dressed SPs stood guard. They were both tall and muscular and only one, a blond good looking fella carried a rifle. "First Lieutenant Ricardo Nunez here to see Lieutenant Junior Grade Marco Russo, he is expecting me," he took a more intimidating tone. "I suggest you do not waste my time and let me pass."
      Both snapped at attention immediately and the door opened. The room, by some reason Nuñez did not understood, was illuminated with a dull red light. Standing next an uncommonly large table in the center of the room in full blues a bold, black man waited for him.
      "I need a favor," said Nuñez with a faint smile on his face.
      "Figured as much."
      "Ye, I need you to dig up a couple of things for me. I need-"
      "No," Marco interrupted, the two sailors manning the console stopped their activities and listened like children at the interesting conversation. "I can't give you the evacuation specifics of both units in your Company; neither can I give you a satellite sweep over the area," there was a smile in his face. "Don't act surprised, we are ONI. We monitor anything and everything, plus I know you man. You have every right to feel like that."
      Still with his game face on, Nuñez crossed his thick arms and stared at the sailor manning a console nearby. "You will do it; it's not up to you my friend."
      "Listen," said Marco a little nervous. "I know you grew up on an orphanage and it will hit you emotionally."
      "Now," Ricardo, with anger noticeable on his voice, barked at Marco. "You will do this for me, you owe me."
      "This is out of my hands," the door opened, Ricardo turned around as a reflex, and the two SPs entered the room, one of the Sailors with a sidearm and a second with his ready-to-fire MA5A. "ONI is up to you, requesting a SITREP on cargo is a breach of security and, well, they found out. I tried to help you pal, but you got out of the rulebook."
      He was right. During the first massive evacuation allot of assets were diverted to rescue groups that were left behind by local commanders. It had been a symptom of one of the clauses, the age regulation and preference. Too many assets were diverted; too many people were killed by mistakes of communication, misplaced feelings and mercy for babies and old folks. It had been the right call by the brass, but if anything Ricardo did not believe in right calls by people who were not in hip deep on the cold shit.
Ricardo cynically smiled. "I suggest you tell your kids here to calm down and settle this like gentleman." In spite the warning one of the young men grabbed the elbow of the Helljumper, it was not the logical thing to do.
      Easy stuff, he was the one who trained his entire platoon on hand to hand combat. He was skilled in both knife and fist. But what he taught his man was most important was the killer instinct, that "thing" that took over when you were in the fight. He taught them that the real killers the tigers, lions, wolves and snakes before attacking were as still as a rock, did not move a hair. Waiting for that exact moment were every condition is met to attack a prey. And for two full seconds Ricardo did not move, just focused. Then it happened, he was no longer in control of his body.
      He raised his knee, and threw his hell on the man's knee cap, the boot and the sheer strength was sufficient. A crack was enough for Ricardo; the young sailor was effectively neutralized and dropped to the ground. The corner of his eye was something he was proud of, it did not miss a single thing, and together with his instincts it was as if the man had warned him what his move was.
      The butt of the blond sailor's rifle headed straight for Ricardo's back. The Helljumper threw his elbow back to the tall man's ribcage, the blonde sailor lost his balance and the blow missed. Ricardo then grabbed the butt of the stubby MA5A, pulled it and grabbed the grip tightly, removed the safety and then it happened.
      It turned off. His reflexes stopped and he, not his training and gut, was back in control. "Drop," and like a peon the blonde SP threw himself to the ground in pain, carefully protecting his ribcage. "You two, both to my right and left," the other two people in the room. Sailors manning the consoles, dropped like rocks to the caged, iron floor.       "On the ground, I want no guns."
      "Damn Rich, you really blew it," said Marco, both his hands raised.
      The muscular Helljumper lowered the rifle, thumbed the safety on, and shook his head. "Shit!" he looked at the two kids on the ground, both in agonizing pain. "See what you made me do?"
      "Just drop the gun Ricardo, more guys are provably coming."
      "Yes, they are," he walked to the door, and closed it; he waited until it slid close, and locked it. "Now you are going to get me what I want. Either way, you owe me and I am pointing a thick muzzle at your chest."
      Marco nodded. "OK, not that it will do you any good. Ron, Fitzgerald, get on it," both sailors stood and started to type on their consoles. A low beep, only heard my Ricardo, resonated on his neck and the intercom was on automatically.
      "What the fuck ell-tee?" the large black sergeant sounded like someone who was confused and pissed off.
      "Sorry Woods… I got to take care of some shit. Do you know where they are?"
      "Entering the elevator know. You don't think you are going to firefight our guys, right?"
      "Negative. Listen, ready the guys, as many as you can and get to our hangar, secure a DSV, I'll be there in ten."
      "Uh…" there was a short pause. "OK sir, will do. See ya then," for some reason, either by own will or by a simple mistake he left the mike transmiting. "That damn nutjob is goanna get me killed. Damn it shit and fucks. He always goes nuts at the worst possible time."
      He keyed off the radio and stared at Marco. "ONI can override any system of the ship, right?"
      "OK…" said Marco very worried at that point.
      "Then freeze the elevator, cancel the codes to this floor. Nobody to get in or out."
      Marco nodded. He wanted to help his old friend, who had every right to be troubled but was taking matters to the edge of sanity. "Listen Ricardo. There are provably at least a dozen guys already behind that door ready to blast in."
      "I know must be around seven pukes of the intelligence community with their sidearm. They will not burst in yet. Believe me I know."
      "Done," said Marco, pressing the ENTER button on his personal console.
      "Now I want you to turn of the ventilation system of this room."
      "You want me to vent the atmosphere out of this room?" the men on the ground snapped in sudden movements that the Lieutenant ignored, there was no way they were going to challenge him, and stared in disbelief at Ricardo.
      "No buddy. I want you cancel the air conditioning system so I can use the vents to get where I want."
      "Uh… ok," Marco noted. Not surprised at all.
      "So, my dear sailors. When will I get what I want?"
      "We are done sir," the older sailor, a chubby man, gently handed Lieutenant a data crystal. "It should work on your datapad sir."
      "OK, now where is that vent?" he said sarcastically. It was on the top of one of the consoles, two and a half meters over the metal floor. "Cover your ears ladies!" he thumbed the safety off and fired a short, controlled burst into the vent. The fan disintegrated and a fell of, revealing a large hole in the wall. "Now, I have to go. Sorry for the knee and the ribs and thank you for your troubles. Good bye."

He had to use every trick he knew to climb through the narrow vent a whole floor. Twenty meters in all, to get to the hard part of the insanity he was performing.
      "Outlaw six, copy?"
      "Yes sir."
      "I'm on one-foxtrot, in a vent. Status?"
      "We have secured the area, we are thirteen total. There were two ground crews in the hangar, we got 'em temporarily under our payroll, what can I do for you?"
      "Every Sierra Prince on the whole ship is looking for me right now. I need you to give me ten minutes, just that."
      "Yeah…" there was an awkward pause. "OK, got it. We are gearing up here. Where are we going?"
      "Negative on that right know, tell ya when I see ya."
      "Whatever, almost set. Move in fifteen seconds sir."
      "OK, I'm out."

      No Shore Patrolmen were in the carefully chosen path from the first floor to the third level of the Air Operations galley, simply a combination of unused Hangars refitted to receive hundreds of Pelicans at a time with thousand of refugees. The halls of the section of the ship, were different, worn out by constant use and grey, white and black stains on the iron walls were to be seen everywhere.
Yet, the sing ABLE SIX on top of a sliding door was a beautiful sight, despite been worn out by sheer usage. But, the excitement betrayed him as he for a second lowered his guard.
      "Hey pal!" screamed someone on his back. He turned around, and no thanks to him his hand was firmly on his rifle. Four fully armed Marines walked towards him, all packing a shooter. "What the hell happened?"
      "What the hell is this private?" he rehearsed this on his mind time and again for this situation. An intimidating face and officer small talk on Marines that were provably intimidated.
      "Oh sorry sir," the Marines stopped cold. Part one complete. "It's just one of you guys went nuts and dropped two guys at the intelligence room."
      "I heard. I'm busy anything else I can do for you?"
      "No, just wanted to know if you knew anything," the Marines saluted and turned around. Just as they did their radios came to life audible to everyone. "Net call, search for other Oscar Delta Sierra Tangos, be advised, suspect is armed and possibly derraigned."
      Oh crap, Ricardo thought. The four Marines turned around and stared at the now suspect. "Sorry sir, but I have to detain you."
      Ricardo, exalted took a more firm stand. "Sorry Marine, can't right now. I'm busy."
      "Please sir, it will just be for two minutes while we check who you are."
      "Fair enough," Lieutenant stated as a reflex while his brain computed possible solutions. He could try to drop all of them, no; they were wearing armor and were for sure better fighters than the poor shore patrolmen he dropped earlier. Talk his way out, maybe.
      "Please sir; I need you to hand me over that rifle, standard procedure."
      "Sure," he took of the sling from his back and handed over the rifle. He was flat on the cold floor after hearing the four muffled sounds. He was followed after by the numb bodies of the Marines.
      "C'mon sir gotta get the hell out of here," his name was Lance Corporal Igor Smertin, a short man from Little Ukraine, far away in the outer rim of UNSC controlled space. The guy took more risks than anyone, some times even more than Lieutenant Nuñez.
      "What did you use on them?"
      "The morphine and pentanol mix of our dear corpsman, poor bastards will be out for a while," he slammed two more of the pointy cartridges on the stubby handgun and led the way into the hangar, just a few feet away where fourteen men waited in the confined where the modified Pelican laid ready for takeoff. Around it thirteen men worked to get it underway, and a tall sergeant waited for Nuñez with a surprised expression on his black face his muscular arms corssed and an odd smile on his face. "Now you have some explaining to do," he joined his Lieutenant and walked together to the pilot checking the turbofans bellow the wings.
      "Of all the possible ways you could have solved this, this way is about the worst."
      "Yeah, I know. Let's get on the DSV, suit up and head out. I'll tell you on the way."
The Drop Support Vehicle, or DSV was just but a modified Pelican for the ODST. The only difference was the large rocket boosters beneath the ship, just a few thousand pounds of thrust to stop it from a long freefall from space. "Why not go with the HEV?"
      Ricardo raised his MA-5H, pulled charging handle rearward and checked the chamber, it was empty and without a single particle of dust. "I don't know if we have to abort." The squad stopped all movement, grouped outside the cockpit staring at their CO with odd expressions behind the greasepaint on their faces. "I guess you want to know what this is about."
      "Yes sir!" barked everyone at unison, surprising Nuñez who took a symbolic step backwards. "There is a place down there called Saint Paul, two of our units were sent down there to pick up some refugees, and are down."
      "We going to pick 'em up?" asked Woods, the large black man really excited.
      "That is part of our objective, but we are going to a place called Saint Paul Orphanage, there are at least one hundred kids that are going to be left behind plus, of course, the unqualified." The squad's reaction was exactly what he predicted after what they had seen the previous month.
      "Roger that men. No more bullshit protocol for us, we are going to do the right thing." Ironically no "Hooahs!" and shouts, but rather a quiet, warm combination of nods and looks confirmed the feeling of the entire group of fifteen troopers, two pilots and two ground crews who, with out room for doubt, had joined the party. In all, he had about the right amount of muscle he needed to get the job done.

The DSV's four rockets, for space maneuver, came to life inside the hangar and several thousand pounds of thrust pushed the ship forward. "Here we go." Warrant Officer Jon Pettit was the best pilot, in his former CO's opinion, in the ODST ASS, or Air Support Squadron. The pressurized hangar lat out air into space as the thick gray doors opened and the aircraft into a puzzle of gray ships floating on the black void over the white, brown, green and blue planet.
      "What do you think?" asked the Lieutenant kneeling between the bulky seats of the pilot and copilot, just at the center of the two rows of seats in the cramped cabin of the Drop Support Vehicle.
      "That this is fucking crazy." Everyone of the fifteen men, and woman, laughed. The Crew Chief, named Fiona, shook her head in aproval, with a silly grin on her face as she floated on by the rear door of the pelican.
      "Not that," said Ricardo with a chuckle. "I think we should come by the night side, nap of the earth. It is around down in that area."
      "Negative," said the Copilot, a Marine Sergeant smiling. "You could not have picked a worst spot Leftenant. Covenant has air stacked all over the place, from Seraphs to Banshees even a few thousand Phantoms there," the Sergeant showed the situation clearly on the crystalline MFD. The planet had only one hope of survival, the valiant Marines and soldiers standing by the nuclear silos and time, luck and ammo was running out.
      "Roger," said Ricardo. "So, what you reckon?"
      "Go straight in," said the Warrant officer. "Dive over town and hit the breaks right on the ball, hover, fast rope in and clear the hell out, if that is even possible."
      "Yeah," said Ricardo. "I don't think you will be able to get out."
      "Yes. Even if the battle with the boots on the ground is tight for the shitheads they control the air over the area."
      "Dash one-one, this is Homeplate, check in, over."
      Both flyboys turned to see the ell-tee. "That is a no-no."
      "Copy." The pilot thumbed the radio off and that was it, as always, the Helljumpers when on their own.
      "We could," said Ricardo speaking of the top of his head. "Fast rope on the church, check the building, blow up an LZ and dust off."
      "Yeah," said Woods gliding on the other side of the cabin, with a smile on his face as he flew on space. "And haul a hundred kids back to friggin' space."
      "That's why they have the LZ boss," said Di Cabello with his Italian accent.
      "This is a private conversation," noted the Lieutenant with a sarcastic chuckle.
      "One minute for entry, you better get strapped in," the Pilot rolled his right index finger between the seatbelt and his chest. "We are going to go ballistic on this one," he whispered to his copilot as he gripped tightly the U shaped rudder.
      The Lieutenant pulled and glided himself to the jumpseat just behind the pilot's seat and strapped on. Woods lobbed a helmet towards the Lieutenant that arrived slowly, placed it over his head and clipped the straps on his right eardrum. "Ok." Ricardo took a moment to look at his men who looked fearless behind their black armor. Some of them, maybe all, would not see another day, and yet they smiled, joked and talked. That was why he loved them.
      The troopers strapped themselves on the chairs by lowering large shoulder holders from above their sits and waited for that exact moment when the Helljumpers knew they started their mission. The bump, jump and shake of the atmospheric breach.
      "Rockets one through four are off."
      "Roger," said the pilot turning a knob over his head igniting the first turbofan. "One is on."
      "Two is on," said the copilot instantly. White contrails began to exit through the exhausts on the cold dawn of the planet. Warrant Officer Pettit lowered the nose of the Pelican to a nearly vertical dive.
      "Go, go, go," the craft jumped and accelerated towards the surface as several alarm sounds and light went of on the cockpit.
      "Triple A!"
      "Roger!" replied the pilot as he pushed the throttle forward. "Drop to five kay." The terrain began to grow clearer and nearer with intense detail as the aircraft descended. under the orange light of the sun. Then, when it was all calmed the bumpy ride began. The modified Pelican was surrounded by red and black explosions as several Shade turrets locked into it from their positions on the ground. "Hold on!"
      He pushed the elevator and dived the nose on a seventy five degree dive and after a few thousand feet a white contrail formed on the nose. "Target is two-nine-zero miles!" the craft jumped up and down as the pilot leveled it just above the white cloud cover dragging a pack of white puffs on the stern.
      "Contact!" screamed the copilot.
      "Got 'em," replied calmly the pilot at the same time as the troopers were pushed down on their seats by the pounds of gravity added by the barrel roll made by the pilot.
      "What damnit?" The answer came in form of blue lights flashing on the port side of the DSV.
"Banshees, to of them at seven o' clock!" For the Warrant Officer, it was a culminating moment. He never qualified for fighters because of his eyesight. Yet, he was as skilled as a Navy jock, and as he always wanted, it was his time to prove himself.
      "Get ready to hit rockets one and two."
"Copy," the copilot raised his left hand and grabbed the respective knobs.
      "Those are the rear ones righ-" Ricardo was interrupted by a sudden change of pressure on the cabin as the pelican did a loop leaving a hundred beams bellow the cockpit as Pettit made a last second miracle by pulling the elevator towards him.
      For the Covenant pilots, it was a sudden surprise. Somehow the Pelican was on their rear firing twin twenty millimiter cannons at them. The two ovals with skis bellow them turned into fireballs and disintegrated as they fell flamingly to the ground. "Kill!" screamed the pilot when there was a sudden bump on the ship.
      "Oh-oh," said Pettit as he pulled the FIRE lever on the top of his panel.
      "What? What?" shouted the Lieutenant in a way that clinched every member of the squad.
      "We are hit, but we are OK."
      "What do you mean by that?"
      "We are trailing smoke but we have nothing to worry about," he was interrupted by a sudden, violent bump in the air. "Damn it."
      "ETA to target is two-zero minutes."
      "Copy," said Ricardo grabbing the MA-5H that he had hanging on his chest. He stood up, grabbed the security rail above his head and looked at his watch. Full daylight was just a few moments away. "Igor."
      "Hooah," said the trooper standing by the rear door.
      "We'll fast rope in or on the Church, you and I will go first."
      "Thank you Lieutenant."
      Ricardo turned to the cockpit, placed his right hand on the pilot's left shoulder and gripped. "Talk to me."
      "We took a hit on the tail, a bit of rudder control loss but we are OK, as long as I don't have to engage a Seraph."
      Then, after eighteen tense minutes, the backwater town of Saint Paul came into view on the glass. The church laid like a giant beside the little houses, grocers and commerce buildings, little league fastball stadium and police station, if one could call that office one.
      "On the ball," said the Pilot as he clicked the rear door open. A gentle, deafening breeze entered the cabin and for a second, it was relaxing. Pinto, the machinegunner slowly walked to the rear ramp and carefully sat down one leg at time, leaving his feet hanging in the air. He raised his right hand and thumbed an OK as the aircraft began to pas over Saint Paul
      The sight was awful, as every man in the craft felt sick at the dear bodies on the streets, burnt cars and sacked buildings. "Good lord."
      For a second, all the worries of a mistaken choice were erasen from the mind of the Helljumper. He was glad to be down there in the shit, and not upstairs on a confortable bed having drinking alcohol in the afternoon. "Fuck that protocol bullshit."
      Every head turned around to see the Lieutenant who walked to the ramp with a desisive stand.
      "Over the target." The only place to fast rope, safely, in was the courtyard in front of the large, wooden, egg shaped door of the church. "Ropes!"
      The Lieutenant slightly crouched and jumped out before the tip of the black ropes touched the ground, he grabbed it in midair and slid down. For a second, even tough his armor denied the pleasure, he felt the cold air tingling across his rigid body and suddenly, he was on the ground with his rifle firmly gripped, slaved to his eyesight as he checked the surroundings.
      There was no gunfire, explosions or warnings. Lucky Strike if there was ever one. After eight men were on the ground, it then all went to hell. Unexpectedly the Pelican was spinning wildly in the air trailing black smoke as it disappeared out of sight behind the tall, stone walls of the courtyard.
      Just then, he caught the movement on the corner of his right eye. One of the troopers, the youn Hispanic Pinto, was covered on a white cloud as his Light Support Weapon of 6.8x51mm showered bullets on an unseen foe. "Jackals on the window!"
      "Mayday! Mayday!" called the pilot struggling with his bird somewhere over the town.
As one mind, body and soul the nine men on the ground engaged in the same battle drill. Private Commons aimed the greanade launcher bellow the barrel of his rifle on a window and pulled the trigger. Igor smoked the courtyard with a grenade and in teams of three against the eastern wall hiding from the Covenant return fire.
      Ricardo, just a few feet from the black fence that led into the courtyard, raised his right hand, closed his fist and twisted his wrist several times. The trooper behind him, Moore if he guessed correctly, stepped aside from the wall and threw a cylinder to the opposite side. The powerful flashbang blinded, deafened and stunned whatever was on the other side.
      The other six men passed by Ricardo and his two men and blitzed towards the street. The Lieutenant held fast as hundreds of rounds were discharged by his men by the far side of the wall.
      Suddenly, it was all over. "Clear!" called several voices at the same time.
      "Call in a SITREP!"
      "Clear," said Igor entering the courtyard again. "Ten Jackals or so," the trooper knelt by his CO and upholstered his sidearm. "All of them killed."
      "A hunting party."
      "Outlaw six, Dash one-one, we are going in. Setting her down outside the village, uploading location to your NAV set. Got in a scare up here, Sergeant Roberts is dead."
      "Copy," the Lieutenant grabbed with his left hand the datapad that was attached through a wire to his COM set on his right shoulder and located rapidly the location of the DSV. 782m SSW. "Roger that, hang tight."
      "Sir," called somebody on the other side. "We may have a working vehicle."
      "Roger that Dieter." Ricardo bowed his head and shook it, trying to wear of the nervousness that filled his temper. Woods, Zach and Hack were still on the bird, together with the pilot and the crew chief, and the Covenant certainly knew where they where.
      "Talk to me boss," said Igor. The Lieutenant turned his head to see the Lance Corporal in the eyes and then the stone Church and the LCp got the signal immediately.
"Robinson, Dimitri, Commons with me," the trooper stood up and upholstered his loved forty five and gently pulled the black slide back to find a silver hollow point in the chamber. "We have a church to check."
      Three on the DSV, four on the church, that left five on his squad, with only one heavy weapon at hand –Prado's Light Support Missile- that simply lacked the punch of a Jackhammer if shit got nasty. "Pinto," he said to the trooper packing the long, belt fed, machinegun with a bipod. "Set up so you can cover the courtyard."
      "Roger," the trooper behind Ricardo got up, lowered the muzzle of his weapon and passed the Lieutenant to the side and turned towards the street at the gate.
      "Eyeball. Get up the bell tower and get eyes on the town." The Lieutenant got up and smiled. "I have a hunch."

Outlaw six: Boots on the Ground
Date: 20 March 2006, 6:20 pm

2203h, August 18, 2505 (UNSC Military Calendar)
Pegassus System, UNSC Inner Colony Controlled Space
Twenty four years before

One day an old man hiked through the hills as he normally did on the cold afternoons on Westwood, a small Colonial planet of populace just two million. The modern technology had created wonders for partially disabled men, but for the Reverend his wooden staff was more than enough, in other words, to hell with robot-legs. At his elderly age and with a bad left knee from an old war injury he could make a young healthier man sweat to keep up.
      On a small prairie while stumbling with his walking stick he came across something very unusual. A milky-white baby, naked and with the bloody umbilical cordon still attached to his membrane covered body, laid on the humid grass. Using his monastery robes he cleaned the blood and membranes of the infant, wrapped the crying babe with his white scarf, threw his staff away and made his way through the hills as fast as his tired old legs could back to the town.
      After going to every hospital, police station and nursing home in the county and with no missing child claims filed he took the baby to the monastery with him. After twenty long years of raising unknown, abandoned and unwanted children the old man developed a certain talent to see raw gems in the kids that came.
      It only took weeks to see that the kid that none wanted was special. A sharp mind above all, and a body overactive for its age were just some of the raw characteristics of peculiar kid. The priest, amazed at the children's characteristics, did something he had never done before. He adopted the child as his own, took him into his home, a small apartment on the church, and molded him into the fine young men he was to become, someday.
      As a priest and former Marine the old man tried to teach the best of both contrasting lifestyles to the growing wonder. The compassion, dedication and spirituality of the Faith and the discipline, skills and risk taking talent only training and experience the Marines could harvest in young men. Eventually he came to a conclusion that a sharp mind like the one he cherished could only be oriented, not taught, like he would had wanted to do so.
      He named the child Ricardo as his own grandfather and several years later as age caught up with him the old man called the teenager into his bedroom. This moment was dreaded by both for a long time before, that moment when time finally came to an end for the old monk.
      "Ricardo," begun the tired elder. "I'm leaving for a new adventure soon."
      "Yes Father," Ricardo, sting at the edge of the bed replied.
      "I have a task for you," a loud cough interrupted the old man. "Take care of the boys, all of them."
      "I will," holding back the tingling feeling in his throat, Ricardo noted.
      "You are the son I have," as the teenager waited for his father to die the tears slowly skimmed his cheeks. "All the horrible things I had to suffer in my years no longer exist, thanks to you." The old man left the Material world with a small, sad sob and his only legacy left for mankind was a teenager. In all his dreams he never imagined the fate future had for the kid.
      The room, made of stones like old castles, slowly became crowded as every men and woman in town came to pay their respects to the dead priest on the queen bed. The love of nearly everyone in the town, at that point, was irrelevant. He wanted her to be with him in the time when everything he loved had changed.
      When the door opened and the girl entered the room, for a while, his worries and sorrows where washed a way as a recurring emptiness in his stomach came back again. She moved through the crowd gracefully, making everyone look opaque, and her black hair seemingly waved in the windless room.
      "Ricardo…" she said as she crouched next to him. "How do you feel?"
      "OK I guess."
      "Really?" Diana always knew exactly what Ricardo thought and what feelings burned inside him.
      "Could be better," now a small tone of crying hid in Ricardo's voice
      "I'm sure it could."
      "I mean it's not like the world in going to end."
      Diana smiled, and all her beauty was displayed on her prickly face and blue eyes. "Yours sure changed tonight."
      And just like that every repressed feeling came out. He burst into tears in a crowded room where everyone could see him. And just then the unthinkable happened. The wooden door opened and a tired old gentleman entered the room. He was the town's mayor. His right hand, tucked on his back, slightly trembled and a strange look on his brown eyes told a very interested Ricardo that something was really wrong.
      The Mayor grabbed an unknown man by the shoulder and whispered something gently in his ear. As soon as the other townsman heard whatever it was he became nervous and began to generically spreading the word. It only took a moment for all the strange faces to leave the room.
      The only one remaining behind was the Mayor. He stroked his gray beard, removed his cup hat and looked down as a gesture of his long-lasting friendship with the deceased. It took a full minute before the skinny, almost bonny, man to move.
      "Mr. Nunez," said the Mayor sympathetically, a strange vive could be felt on his voice. "How do you do?"
      Never in his life had Ricardo been called "Mister" by anyone, and the Mayor had certainly never would, until now. "Good I think, sir."
      "Well, I have some terrible news," the old man pulled a folded paper. By the stamps on it and the yellow color of the sheet it was by all means something official.
      The teenager turned to see Diana, who tightly grabbed his hand. He was left speechless. "What is it?" jumped Diana to the rescue of the mute kid by grabbing the sheet of paper and sat down next to the child again.

            UNSC Legislative Council
      Emergency Broadcast and information Minister

Galaxy wide mobilization

My fellow men and women across the void. Today, first of November of the year 2525 humanity's domain of all known space faces the gravest threat of all. The small rural Colony of Harvest has been attacked by brute forces of another race.

      "Do you know what the draft is?" asked the Mayor interrupting Ricardo who immediately looked at him, he nodded at the strange question.
      "Well war, is again, upon us," he sat down gently at the edge of the reverend's bed. "Big thing. Everyone is mobilizing," the Mayor sighed. "Even the orphanage."
      Ricardo snapped to his feet shaking off all the fellings that hindered him. "What exactly does that means?"
      "That means that some of the children here will help the war effort."
      "But how!" said Diana. "They are just children!"
      "I know," said the old man bowing his head and slowly shaking it from side to side. "It is awful. But everyone has to do their part and several of the orphans qualify for service," he turned to face Ricardo. "You are one of them."
      "No!" babbled Diana.
      "Yes, and I hate this as much as you do. A bus will arrive shortly to take you and the boys to fight."
      Ricardo, remaining completely immobile, stared at the old man. "Who else is coming?"
      "Quite a few, around seventy. Of your close friends, Mister Watson comes to mind."
      The son of the former man in charge of the orphans, who swore to protect them, chuckled. "Watson is only sixteen."
      "Still qualifies," the Mayor sat down by the two children with a smile on his face that provoked fear and anguish in the two youngsters. "This war," he removed his cup had and begun to play with the covers. "Is not like the ones before, when your dad and I fought rebels."
      "We'll see."
      "Misses Lopez, would you mind giving me a few minutes with young Ricardo?"
      Diana sobbed, and held Ricardo in her milky arms. "I will not leave him."
      On the cheeks of the boy a long the water flowed. The fatherless kid tightened his hug on the little girl and lat go of her. "Wait for me out there, I will find you."
      The girl exited the room through the wooden door glancing at both the cadaver and the love of her life. "I will wait for you."
      As soon as the egg shaped door closed, the Mayor extended his right arm completely. The Mayor unbuttoned his right wrist and pulled the shirt towards his shoulder. The youngster had seen only once the flaming skull and that made up word, it was tattooed on the right forearm of his dead father.
      "In the old days," said the Mayor sitting down on the edge of the bed where the remains of his best friend were tucked in the silk sheets. "We were called Force Recon Marines." The mayor contracted every muscle in his face, forming an odd mock, sighed and shook his head violently. He had also seen that happen, just once while talking to his father, who simply called it flashes from the past. "Your dad and I served together for nearly all our careers."
      Ricardo was dizzy by all the information that had suddenly been dropped on him. He simply nodded.
      "He was brave; he earned a few medals, all hidden in the dust somewhere in this church." The Mayor rolled his sleeve and buttoned it. "You will have to be brave."
      Ricardo shook his head together with a desperate sigh and closed his tanned eyes. "But-"
      "Diana," interrupted the mayor. "She is the only thing left in the world for you and the only thing you will think about when you are out there."
      "Yes," Ricardo sighed. "I have a proposition for you."

0804, January 20, 2529 (UNSC Military Calendar)
Taurus System, UNSC Inner Colony Controlled Space
Saint Paul

It still wasn't clear, for the Gunnery Sergeant, what had happened, exactly, with the DSV. The last thing he recalled was the sudden bump in the air the modified Pelican made, an interminable lateral spin as one of the turbofans went off, literally exploding for no apparent reason. Woods had never been in a crash, though in a few crash-landings and living again was awesome. The best part of the shit was the moments after it ends, when you realize you are alive and that a new opportunity had presented itself. Where in a civilian job could you experience that?
      Now, he was alone, stretching his body on some thick meadow. Still, he could move, but for some reason, he didn't want to. There was a real spectacle on the sky. Several suns had appeared out of nowhere, and that was something he had never experienced.
      For the first time in two months, he was completely alone. No asses to chew and no more orders to follow. Then, as he watched at the fiery red skies, the sudden, welcome calm came to an abrupt crash. The ground trembled and a loud echo expanded across the field. He was on his feet, careful enough to not pop his head over the grass –witch was only a meter tall- trying to find the source of the explosion, witch was terribly near the DSV.
      The Pelican's nose had dug itself on the ground leaving the tail slightly elevated, making the entire cabin a diagonal ramp. Easing over the airframe was a mantle of dirt and dust, witch descended from a collapsing file of rocketed ground.
      Something was zeroed in on the airframe. Gunny Peter Woods went for the holster belted on his right thigh and pulled a sidearm from it. He drew the black slide rearward and unmasking a forty-five cartridge on the chamber, allowed the slide to snap back and he was locked and loaded. Another plum of dirt rocketed skyward, this time nearer from the Pelican. Yet he saw the source of the blasts; a surreal green sphere, glowing in the mist of daylight. He backtracked the flight path of the shell and saw the little heads just above the lawn.
      Amongst the little heads was a small oval with a wide tube sticking out, popping slightly over the foliage with no visible shooter. It was what the geniuses at ONI called Fuel Rod Guns. Woods's mind cleared immediately and only one thought remained on his mind, that the next shot out of the muzzle of the gun would hit the Pelican; there was no way that a Covenant, or Grunt, would miss three times. He stood up, leaving the peak of the grass at his hip and stretched both his arms, grabbing tightly the grip of the pistol. He looked through the sights on the slide, aligning the tip of the barrel with the foliage just bellow the covenant weapon and pulled the trigger. The hyper-velocity AP rounds penetrated the skin of the Grunt and the small beast imploded. It was dead immediately. He dispatched two more beasts to their deaths and he dropped to his back, just in time to avoid the dozen plasma bolts that smeared on the air.

"Was that gunfire?" asked Igor, obviously rhetorical.
      "Forty-five, MA2, sidearm," said Ricardo with a broad smile. The squad had left Saint Paul, two hundred meters to the squad's six, brokenhearted. The only humans they found were butchered, slaughtered and mutilated and their only way out, the DSV had crashed and there were no sings of life, except a single shot from a sidearm and the clear sing of the enemy, two explosions, were bursting in the general direction of the downed Pelican. That suddenly changed, in an awful. PFC Leroy Zachary was the squad's feeler or pointman in the common tongue, his job was to detect, identify and locate possible threats as the team advanced. Somehow he failed to see the purple cloud that slowly drew near him.
      "Leroy!" screamed Pinto to no avail. The needles punctured the armor and skin on the soldier, who lat out an awful scream out, and his upper body disappeared almost immediately in a purple outburst.
      "Incoming!" hollered Ricardo, dropping to the mud in a heartbeat.
      "Ambush!" screamed Dieter. Suddenly hundreds of green and blue beams were flying in every direction.
      "Nine, eleven and two o'clock!" said Igor. "Sixty meters!"
      Ricardo went for his harness, pulled a cylindrical grenade and pulled the pin out of the safety lever. He threw it over his head just a couple of feet from his position. He and his men went for the pouches, witch hung by the belt on their pants, pulled the thermal goggles out and clicked them on the front of their helmets, giving them a clear advantage over the blinded enemy. "Hit the bastards back!"
      Suddenly dozens of muzzle blasts, together with the resonance of the detonations from the muzzles on the assault rifles; the bullets cut through the levees like a hot knife through butter. The effects of the barrage of APFSDS rounds were immediate as the Covenant plasma lost density and accuracy. "Attack!" ordered Ricardo who spontaneously was on his feet, eliminating the source of a string of green beams. The men next to him did the same, and with him, began to walk forward, maintaining a constant torrent on tungsten on the Covenant creatures.
      The Lieutenant had not finished his fifth step when three creatures soared out of the flora. He managed to shoot one of the Jackals at midair, breaking it's chest with an accurate three shot burst, it broke apart –thanks to the 6.8x51mm HVAP bullets- and landed somewhere on the ground. The two creatures landed right over him, knocking the MA-5H out of his hands with a very fast kick, and pushing him towards the ground.
      The claw of one of the creatures ripped through his face, from the forehead to the cheekbone in a single, aggressive move. Ricardo rear ended the Jackal with his knee –as he was on the ground- throwing the creature to the front and taking it away from him. The trooper rolled to his front, made a pushup and was crouching under a second. He went for the knife holstered on his right ankle, pulled it out and penetrated the back joint of the Jackal, all in under two seconds. He cracked the spinal cord of the biped which crumbled.
      The second creature was dead before it could creep up on him, with two slugs on his head thanks to a trooper with a forty-five on his hands. Igor made an OK sing -joining his right index finger and thumb- and turned around to keep the advance on. "Ugly scar thought."       He stood back up, with a chuckle, grabbed his rifle and pointed it towards the front. Move, Move he yielded to himself. "Frag' them asses!"
      The other seven men came to a sudden halt, pulled green spheres out of the belts of the AAP-3Lima battle harness and threw them smoking through the air and squatted. Several explosions shoot up fire and shrapnel in every direction taking out a whole pack of Grunts.
      "Red team," said Ricardo –now covered under the grass- ejecting one of the rectangular magazines out of the breech and slamming a new one in replacement. "Flank right." Three men stood up, turned to the northeast and ran on the open, showering with bullets the remaining enemy. They disappeared out of sight for a second and then gave an all clear.
      "Clear right!"
      "Clear left!"
      "All clear," said Ricardo slightly raising his body over the grass. Ricardo lowered a visor attached to his helmet to the level of his right eye socket. Displayed on the small rectangle was the digital map representing the area. A blue triangle represented the DSV and a red dot on the green, white, yellow and red map. Even if he wasn't completely sure of the Covenant strength in the area his position had been identified and Covenant were moving all their assets to frag him, at least with a small force. He had to move, find the DSV and exfil the survivors out. Yet, he could not move, or he would leave behind the only possible defensible position in the area behind, the town of Saint Paul witch was an island of structures on the grassy ocean. His choice was clear, but not wanted.

Scout snipers rarely fired more than one shot, that was the first thing the Flattops –drill instructors- told him and his training platoon in NAVSPECWAR in Reach. That had been his creed in all his combat deployments until he realized something. Those drill instructors had never faced any Covenant.
      The warm rubber cover of the thick scope felt so good on his right eye socket, as a glove to a hand. Inside his levee, stick and fabric gillie suit on the eternal field he was just as he wanted to be, a hunter, unseen to his enemies until the sudden thirty mike-mike blast.
"Eyeball," called the team leader. His nickname, Eyeball, had a tricky pas. Even he didn't knew exactly where it came, but he knew exactly where it didn't come, his eyesight. Before joining the Navy- six years earlier- he was as blind as a bat, at least as one of those on earth. It took a few laser surgeries, more than he wanted to admit, for him to achieve his now acute vision. "DSV three-two-seven, find it."
      "Roger that." Spaceman first class James Moore threw the long SRS-30M –witch was attached with a sling across his back and chesty- around his body and pulled the S-23 SMG out of the holster on his thigh. Two meters behind him, covering the one-eighty degrees of his rear, his spotter, Daniel Di Cabello, whistled at him and Moore began to move. His team covered the left flank of the squad, about fifty meters away.
      SMG shouldered and pointed towards the wall of grass right infront of him, he slightly rose to pop his head over the foliage. He caught a glimpse of a small head blazing through the grass; he automatically dropped to the ground, a move his spotter copied.
      He waited exactly five seconds, crouched and raised his head above the grass again. Nothing to be seen, but allot to be heard. The squad had reengaged the Covenant and a thunderous battle suddenly took place to their right. He resumed movement, still alert to his surroundings. Five minutes of walking towards the north-northwest brought a result he had been expecting. A sudden blip on his transponder, witch appeared on the miniscreen on his left eye socket.
      "Got it too," said the spotter reading James's mind.
      Eyeball nodded, breathed and slowly raised his head above the thick vegetation. The sudden raised chunk of dirt and grass was both a pleasant and worrisome surprise. The explosion was brown, black and red, in other words human. The initial bang was followed by a sudden chain of brown plumes a Speedball field away from the squad. It only took a millisecond of verify that the booms did not come from the squad, it came from a crew served weapon somewhere on the field. Ironically the overwhelming power of the 40mm shells triggered a large response of plasma fire.
      "Fire-fire-fire!" said the spotter immediately. Moore emptied an entire .40 cal magazine on the source of a needler. The action clicked and the moon shaped magazine felt on the muddy ground, the spotter lat loose too, taking down a Jackal with two shots. "Hit!"
      "Loading!" shouted Eyeball, as he slammed a fresh magazine forty seven Armor Piercing rounds, holstered the Machinegun and pulled out his long, silvery rifle.
      "Target, eleven o'clock," said Cabello, spotting through the x4 combat sight on his MA-5H.
      "Eyes on," replied Moore, already dreading for the shot on the blue armored Elite that accidentally sprinted away from the fainting brown cloud of dirt.
      "Fire, fire, fire," said calmly the spotter together with a loud bang from the chamber of the long rifle. The thirty millimeter Heavy Explosive Dual Purpose shell the energy shield by sheer momentum and left the lower part of the body walking towards the two troopers.
      Suddenly, Moore was flying on his back, and landed on the ground.

There had been too many coincidences and all at once. It all started when he saw the Elite approach with a bluish sword on his left hand as he had him cornered against the fuselage of the DSV, ready to land the final the blow when, by some miracle or not, one of the turbofans came to life, sucking the beast into the exhaust sending tissue and shrapnel in every direction, hitting a Grunt in the head who had a plasma grenade on his hand, which went off, killing nearly and entire squad.
      That, however, was not the oddity. It was when the pair of Hunters appeared that he thought he was finally on his way to either heaven on earth. After all, the Covenant might be sons of his lord Jesus. "Fuck that bullshit!" he screamed as he raised his sidearm at the creatures. The last he remembered after the first round left the muzzle was the sudden pull on his legs as he was dragged out the burning fuselage.
      As he and the other four survivors from Dash one-one were dumped into the cramped compartment of one of the Gator vehicles, it was providence, not coincidence what had led the two APCs towards the end.
      "We were getting dumped on by banshess," said the Corporal in charge of the group. "And your Pelican took them down in a remarkable maneuver."
      "Right," said Woods, drowsiness the only thing palpable on his voice. "Where are we going?"
      "Santo Domingo," said one of the soldiers in the cabin.
      "Well," said Woods. "Turn this dinosaur around."
It took only five minutes of driving for the enemy to pop again on the thick foliage, a turkey shot. With a single burst of the auto cannon the elderly corporal killed off a line of Grunts.
      Then Woods heard two sounds that made him slap the Corporal out of his stance in the turret to the ground. "Friendlies!" the SF Weapons Sergeant raised his right index finger, calling for silence, witch every intimidated men in the room complied.
      "What?" asked a nearby soldier.
      "That was a thirty mike," Woods grinned. "That is eyeball." The powerful black man from Mombassa grabbed the head of the Corporal vehicle commander, and pulled it towards him and somehow pressed the COM button. "Outlaw six, this is unmarked Gator vehicle in your vicinity."
      "I see two," replied Eyeball.
      "Oh right," said Woods placing the Corporal back to his seat in an effortless movement. "Find our Lieutenant."

Outlaw six: Mortars
Date: 15 April 2006, 9:08 pm

The air-raid alarms were invented to warn citizens in time for them to hide, if possible, in the event of an enemy strike. By the time the sirens went hollering, Sister Marie Natalia was shopping for fresh groceries in the town's market and it took only a few seconds for the entire place to come down in panic.
      What was once a warm, calm full evening became utter chaos in every possible way. She was tripped pushed, jumped and rolled over before she could reach the convent, orphanage and church. "They are coming!" shouted one of the children. But then, as chaos reached the breaking point, a miracle occurred. White plumes, contrails and hundreds of planes waved off the attackers, for the first time. As she watched the spectacle on the air –contrails and explosions- she arrived at the church with her strong heart pounding.
       Next, as she got into the church she went directly for the Orphanage where she was the headmistress. She, as a member of the territorial guard, divided the kids into two groups. One, the ones that could get evacuated which left in a hurry. Then she was left with the cubs, she knew of one place, only one where they would be safe; as soon as she hid them she exchanged her tunic for a jumpsuit, grabbed the MA5B she had carefully hidden in the attic and made her way into the airbase, fifteen miles away on a paved road where she saw a few Longswords crash-land on the countryside.
       In thundering move, ignoring all pre-flight protocol and crew chief, she hopped into the cockpit of the C705A interceptor, which the ground crew had already prepped, and rolled down the tarmac. "Control, this is panther five," she said as she made a right turn on the auxiliary runway towards the main strip. "Ready to take off."
      The nun pushed the throttle forward, pulled the elevator and the bird was on the air. She immediately joined the air battle where hundreds of aircrafts were flying in combat. To the naked eye they looked like a flock of crows flying without direction.
She had never seen Seraph, and, to be honest, it wasn't an impressive aerodynamic design. She waited for a good tone from the heat-seeker beneath her wings and shortly after said "Panther seven fox two!" The Ripper ASRAM struck the teardrop on the rear end, it caught fire and shortly after disappeared in a fireball.-
      If Marie thought that the ADF would win the battle, she was definitely wrong. Within two days her entire squadron, group and base were destroyed. "Today's mission," said the CO, "is an armed recon patrol over Saint Paul." The nun spine tingled, "One ODST unit went haywire and are mopping up Covenant up there."
      "Why?" asked Marie
      "Rescuing some orphans left behind," the sister smiled.

There was something mysterious in the fields that lay before Saint Paul. A small whizzing sound of some kind Ricardo had heard before. He raised his right palm up slowly, and when he lowered it, the six armed and armored men hid from view on the prairie, beneath the tall grass. They stopped all movement. Lieutenant Nunez turned his head and looked directly into the eyes of a Corporal. Both of them immediately identified the source of the sound.
      The Specter is the Covenant's heaviest vehicle, which ironically glides like a feather over the air. It sent an air wave that plated the field. Igor nodded, pulled out his last satchel charge and peered through the darkness with his tiger-like eyesight.
Ricardo gave a sudden no, hugged the mud and covered his head with both his hands, avoiding the traced bullets that smeared over the squad. The forty mike-mike bullets struck the ground several hundred times. One of the long twenty three millimeter arrows penetrated the turret of the transport vehicle, infighting the plasma generators and causing a massive explosion on the open field.
      "Who the fuck was that?" asked Igor rolling towards the Lieutenant.
The Elites jumped out of the flaming vehicles after their plasma generators came on fire from a 40mm round. The Specter blew up – in a haze of blue and red light- and sent hazardous beams skimming through the air, hitting the crater were the troopers were hidden.
      Igor crawled at his Lieutenant; rifle lazed at his arms, shouting something in his native tongue. "What's going on sir?"
      Ricardo shook his head, and popped it above the grass careful not to attract attention. "Seven o'clock! Jackhammer is the key!" he bellowed pointing at one trooper with a wide launcher hanging on his back who immediately armed and aimed it, popping his upper body over the grassfields.
      "Hold!" barked Igor just in time signaling a single finger with his right hand: friendlies.
The ODST turned to face the direction of the source of the 40mm rounds finding a single turret loitering over the grass; an APC for sure. Slowly jumping out like gators, their figures emerged over a slope show exhibiting several plasma hits on the sides. If Ricardo had a guess, they were part of some unit in charge of the invasion.
      The surprise came when the crew buttoned. On the vehicle commander's hatch was a large black man, as thick as though he could benchpress the cannon of a Wolf Tank.
      "Found us a ride Lieutenant," said Woods as the second vehicle came to a stop right next to the first vehicle. "Found Moore and De Cabello too."
      Ricardo frowned; finally hell had been replaced with a faint shred of hope. "Lets re-arm and regroup in the town," he said with anxiety on his voice.
      "Sir," said Woods helping the Lieutenant up to the hatch. "We saw something strange, a whole load of them dropships to the north."
      "Yes Lieutenant," said the mysterious trooper.
      "Take the shot and the spotter," the Lieutenant climbed into the vehicle, "and do your thing."

Seeing the two soldiers talking and sharing was something of an oddity. The Helljumper, of course, wore a thick and complex array of armor and vests with a sighted, compact weapon. The second soldier was younger, had no armor, a basic MA5B and a simple cap to wear. Yet the latter had been in hell and survived where hundreds of more prepared soldiers had not lived.
      "Seventy-eight Civil Affairs unit, right?" asked Ricardo, amazed to be the least.
      "That is correct," said the elderly corporal George Watson wearing a mauled uniform and a worn cap. Ricardo breathed while looking at one of the young soldiers, mud stained face and a mile long look that burned through the ODST's famous armor.
      "Since when did Civil Affairs get APCs?" said Woods standing on the Vehicle Commander's station just above the VC's station.
      "Since the invasion began," said one of the Privates of the 78th pulling security at the hatch, a draftee of only fifteen days of forced service.
      Ricardo nodded; "Its great then."
      "We are amber on ammunition," said Corporal Ambrose stroking his beard, referring to the low amount of ammo his team had.
      "There is ammo on the DSV," said Ricardo immediately one step ahead of everyone in the conversation.      "And there might remain something on the convoy." Suddenly a soldier chucked his head on the rear of the vehicle.
      "Sir, we have contact with the sniper team."
      Ricardo smirked at the timing. "We go there then."

Igor, a Lance Corporal, was the ranking member of the three men team. The task, simple. Reconnoiter the location from where at least a dozen horseshoe shaped craft had taken off. He was with scout snipers but man, did he had the best job.
      In a Helljumper assault team there were pounders, shooters, machinegunners and spotters. He was a spook just like he was before the war, a spy, an assassin of some sort for the office of Naval Intelligence.
      The small orchard provided a faint cover but decent concealment for the three men to watch over the enemy base, or the beginning of. Hundreds of bossed Grunts carried and hurled crates all along the eye-can-see.
Still his target of choice was an empty vehicle, a Specter, carefully parked alone in the open by the edge of the base. The Elite which operated the wheel less vehicle stood by it overwatching the Grunts that were setting up a Shade turret.
      "Sorry," said Igor screwing a silencer into the muzzle of his submachinegun. "No turrets for you then."
      "If we hit them and get discovered," noted Eyeball.
      "Any of you know how to operate a Specter?"
      Both men shook their heads. "Well I do."
      The sniper and spotter nodded, "Cool then."
      "Follow me in ten seconds, when you get out of the grosse wax the Elite," Igor pulled out his knife. "Put a hundred bullets on the mother."
      Igor exited the grove invisible thanks to the dull light that had replaced the fiery glow of the evening. His knife –custom made at Reach- was on his right hand, blade pointing downwards. Somehow his shiv had found a neck from a guard Grunt who walked clueless on the tree line.
Suddenly he felt the hizzes in the air. The MA-5Hs of the two troopers were going of killing the Elite's shield and taking its life. Igor pulled his silenced sidearm and made a run for the parked vehicle, bathed in purple blood. He took down three Grunts and jumped inside the vehicle and found himself on a hitch.
      How could operate the vehicle? Simple enough, it immediately lifted from the ground and he grabbed the T rudder. He turned right and accelerated to the grove, attracting attention from the aliens immediately. The two troopers jumped on in a hurry and the Specter turned to the good side at least for the time being.

The blue meteor flashed through the skies. The source of it, if they guessed it right, was a plasma mortar, the most powerful weapon known of the Covenant. The cheap alternative to a nuke.
      Ricardo already had a plan involving the Specter vehicle, the enemy base and three Elite corpses were part of it. "No wonder they had the thousand Apparitions flying around," said Woods.
      "They are going to get it hard between the buns though."
      One of the soldiers of the civil affair units, standing by the vehicle frowned as if he did not understood ¡. "That means we are going to fuck them."
      Pinto, Igor, Commons and Woods. The Lieutenant smiled. "Think anyone had tried this before?"
      "Nah," said Igor adjusting the carcass of the Elite on the drivers sit. "Woods would have heard about it."
      The black man chuckled. "A man likes his gossip."
      Ricardo got serious, "Clean, fast and hard."

Scout snipers from the squad were doing their job, over watching the checkpoint on the main road that led into the Covenant base. "One Grunt on the Shade," said De Cabello.
      "Roger," said Moore thumbing the safety off the silenced MA-5H and marking the range. "Gold team, go."

The Elite weighted easily the same as a race horse and Igor, who sat bellow the carcass, was very much uncomfortable. The Specter had three major seats, the driver, Igor, the passenger, Pinto and the rear end. In the cramped compartment were three troopers, Woods, Commons and Ricardo.
      "Gold team, go," Igor twisted the T shaped wheel and the vehicle raced forward. Ricardo had mapped the whole thing. There was a security checkpoint, two hundred meters of open terrain and then, the mortars. The massive, circular weapon stood on a tripod contracted three mechanic arms and formed a plasma bolt that rocketed away. They lay very well secured by Shade turrets. Easy stuff, infiltrating a Covenant base with a Covenant vehicle.
      The vehicle reached the checkpoint and a Grunt guard made his way into the vehicle. At first, they didn't realize the silent headshot on the Shade gunner. Ricardo jumped out and waxed immediately the guard.
      Several muffled sounds noised through the air and six Grunts were KIA. "Breach," said Ricardo into the radio headset strapped to his head. "Go." Suddenly two Gator vehicles opened up on the horizon on the base, creating a response of fire to the APCs. The Covenant infantry maneuvered towards the source of the fire a single vehicle approached the plasma mortars unnoticeable to the Shade turrets firing on the perimeter of the three things.
      "Go!" Ricardo pulled the pin of a smoke grenade and threw it just a few feet from the vehicle. The gray smoke formed a screen for the soldiers.
      Woods immediately jumped to the beam machinegun on the rear of the vehicle, aimed it at the unaware Shade gunner and opened fire. Immediately, kneeling next to Sergeant aimed the custom sight of the M-2342C grenade launcher on a second shade and pulled the trigger shattering the turret and Grunt.
      Amidst the chaos, it was all going very well. Ricardo nodded at Igor who threw a small oval shaped bomb on the nearby ground.

The variable geometry wings of the C-706A swung open, the bomb bay doors on them opened. The GBU-2212X bombs lowered with their pylons and the mission found a glitch. "Holy!" said the nun. The three mortars immediately went up in a single blast. "Command-Panther six, target on fire, over."
      "Good work, now get the hell out of there."
      "That's the problem we didn't do it, someone on the ground did."
      Ricardo immediately stopped running; he had heard two voices over the radio frequency on the SATCOM UNSC E-Band. It was Igor who pulled him inside the vehicle.
      "Any allied units this is Outlaw six!"
      "Oulaw six!" babbled someone on the radio frequency,
      "Copy, I got intel for you… oh no!"
      Suddenly Covenant soldiers fired hundreds of green, blue and red beams soared through the air, taking a chub out of the wing of the aircraft and it disappeared in a grove -after a loud explosion-.

Outlaw six: Countermove
Date: 18 May 2006, 12:21 am

1912h, January 21, 2529 (UNSC Military Calendar)
Taurus System, UNSC Inner Colony Controlled Space
On the town of Saint Paul, Westwood

The seventy-eight Civil Affairs Company had not a single member with a combat Military Occupation Specialty. They were mechanics, docs, drivers and techies. They could shoot and salute, by the lacked training. Yet, they had survived over a hundred hours of continuous operations against the Covenant.
      They were real heroes, but poor soldiers. Still, sitting randomly in the courtyard one could see that what they lacked in skill, they replaced it with pure, raw experience. They packed old MA5Bs, M-6Cs and near obsolete machineguns and little explosives. Overall, a good addition for the squad. Sitting against the wooden door of the convent was their leader, a Corporal that used to be a Colonel, chucked down a glut of rum from a small, square shaped metal bottle. "Its been a long week."
      Ricardo nodded, sitting right next to him. "I have been three times here, and I hate it."
      "It is not so bad, just dull" said the old man. "I live just by the corner."
      Ricardo turned his head violently to face the old man. "You live here? You where here during the evacuation?"
      "Yes," said Corporal Robert Ambrose.
      "Why didn't you said so in the first place."
      The Corporal turned puzzled to see him.
      "I'm looking for the orphans."
      "Well, they must have taken their chances on the wild," said the old man.
      "They can't be."
      "Hmm," the old man turned partially to his left, facing Ricardo. "There were rumors of a secret place inside the church, where kids used to play."
      Then, Ricardo remembered something of his times on the orphanage. The Lieutenant snapped to his feet, turned around the corner and breached into the chapel, where the communion was still there, the wine was missing.
He turned around and walked behind the altar where a hallway led him to a religiously decorated office fully carpeted with ornamented blue, with a red cross on the center. He knelt with his right knee and grabbed the thick knife holstered on his ankle. The Lieutenant had luckily spotted the irregular fold of the blue carpet at under the main table. Ironically he had been looking for it for the past fifteen minutes. He shoved the thick blade into the small opening between the carpets.
      He pushed the knife to the right and slowly the blue fabric begun to rise. Ricardo shoved his fingers between the small opening between the wooden trapdoor and the carpet and pulled upwards to a new room.
The Lieutenant placed the battered helmet on his head and turned on the Night Vision. There. On the corner of the empty room he spotted a figure, human undoubtedly. "It's OK."
      The figure disappeared in a dark hallway. "Wait!" before he realized he waked carefully down the path the figure had disappeared into the darkness. A bell rang and he was involuntarily on the ground.
      "You damn scum are not going to get pass me!"
      "Damn woman, I'm on your side."
      "Thou shall not cheat me with your tricks."
      The frying pan began to smash harmlessly against his armor as the crazed man began to attack again.
      "Hey listen!" again, this time against his head, painfully. That was it.
      The man collapsed after the kick to the foreleg and found a clod pair of gloves on his neck. "Calm down sir, its ok. My name is Ricardo Nunez; I'm a member of the UNSC Marines. I'm here to help you."
      "Oh my god!" the man cried out, literally. His eyes flickered on the night vision system as tears began to leave his emotionless eyes. "Is this true?"
      "Indeed," Ricardo released the grip of the fat fellow. "I was informed that around one hundred orphans were left here, I'm here to extract them to safety."
      "Oh, the orphans, yes, we have orphans. But they are not all here."
      The man was crazed out; at least that was the impression by the way he expressed himself. A symptom of being underground by far too long. "Where are them?"
      "Boyo, I don't know. We have some here, but not all. Come, I take you to the orphans," the man turned around and began to run. Surprisingly fast. "Hurry up sir."
      The fat, super quick man, led him to a door, or what remained of it. He knocked the door twice, then one more time and whistled.
      "Password, that is," he smiled.
      Why does he speak like that? Ricardo thought as the door slowly opened. A small figure appeared behind it.
      "Oh my god!" cried the nun.

A surprise attack was a sudden, quick and violent assault on unaware enemy forces. The Lieutenant had got it right but, as that law of physics dictated, to every action there is a reaction. The Covenant was reacting, forming up for an assault on the town itself and, even if the mission had been successful there was no time to celebrate.
      "Variable," said Ricardo into the black headset, connected to the SATCOM antenna by a curled wire. "Radio check, over."
      "It's no good sir," said Xu. "Until a satellite goes by we have no chance of getting a reply."
Ricardo looked at the cloudless sky. "Without clouds there is no chance of a lucky atmospheric bounce."
      "Sir," said Woods bursting into the room. "They are coming."
      Ricardo quickly left the room and before his eyes was the Covenant, forming up just beyond the eye-can-see. "Three hundred of them."
      "And two-five of us," finished Igor. "It's going to be a goddamned slug fest." Excited, the tall trooper saluted and left towards the inside of the room at the Church's balcony making everyone but Ricardo chuckle.
      "I got eleven Helljumpers and fourteen children, not only that but we have only six Jackhammer missiles."
      "Ever seen what plasma does to concrete?" asked Ambrose, joining the small group of soldiers. Ricardo nodded, slightly shaking his body after remembering Tormenta III. "It will be as bad for them as it will be for us."
      "I suppose it could get like a small piece of Hell."
      "Feet first!" called every trooper over the comm.
      "Why do we have to say feet first," said Commons. "I never land on my feet, but rather on my ass, never had an HEV drop with my feet first."
      "We stripped the vehicles down," said Woods referring to the two Gator LRVs. "We left the forty mil mounts on but stripped the 9.72mm Hotel-Mike-Gulf."
      "That is heavy machinegun for you none trooper types."
      "Right," said indifferently Woods, "and we rigged every building in the outskirts with Charles four."
      "Where did we get C-4?"
      "Hmm," Ricardo walked away down the stairs. "Right." He had formed an organic troop of soldiers and Helljumpers divided into groups of three. He had six groups and two heavy machineguns which were operated by two right over the end friendly lines.
      "Sir," called a random soldier. "Corporal Ambrose wants to talk to ya'."

Ricardo knew one thing, when regarding explosives –of any kind- Igor was a genius. He also was certain about a second thing, against the Covenant there is not, under any circumstances a first line of defense. All in all, it was the second and third line of defenses that counted, the rest, meat for the grinder.
      Regarding why he was in the tube of a sewer looking for a shaft with an ancient corporal, he was ignorant. He simply followed the old man, NVGs on, across a large pipeline beneath the city water tower. "You see," said the Corporal. "I used to be a plumber."
      "Correct," said Ambrose. "Two months ago, I went to Helix city to check a problem with the sewer system.
      "We have a way out, underground." The Corporal towards a small shaft, thirty centimeters wide just bellow the water treatment plant of the town.
      "I can't even fit my shoulders properly through there."
      "I know," said Ambrose, "but you do have explosives."
      Ricardo nodded, immediately comprehending the Corporal's master plan. "Everybody!" screamed the Lieutenant, "get your headsets on."
      Immediately ten Helljumpers, thirteen soldiers, a pilot and a crew chief pressed the ear-receiver tightly to their ears, from their positions around the village. "I'm goanna make this short, we have a way out for the orphans, its underground and nasty."
      "I'll go for that, like that place at Reach!" bellowed Commons.
      "Roger that," replied Woods, "now shut up."
      "It's a shaft, about thirty centimeters in diameter which leads to a sewer that goes to Saint Mary, five miles from Helix City."
      "With any luck it will be easy and the town is still in friendly hands," noted Ambrose.
      "Roger," replied one of the soldiers. "How do we know if it still is?"
      Ricardo nodded to himself, as he had waited for the question. "Helix City is the center of the highway network that connects every city in the continent. Saint Mary is still only two miles away from the closest highway," Ricardo took a deep breath. "Its easy."
"Gold team," the statement was immediately responded with a "Hurrah." Ricardo pointed at corporal Ambrose. "You are with him."
      "Sniper team, take a rooftop nearby the gutter we will be using, get eyes on."
      "Roger," the two-men-team nodded, turned around facing the long street and began a brisk walk.
      "Woods, take gold team and face the Covenant forming up on the north."
      "Roger that."
      "Igor, you have any spare explosives?"
      The Corporal nodded. "But I want to keep them for when the shit hits the fan."
      "No," replied the ell-tee. "We need to breach the shaft to form a tunnel."
      "Hurrah," replied Igor excited. "And where is this place?"
      "The far side of the town to the south, Corporal Ambrose will handle the transportation there."

Outlaw six: Escape
Date: 2 June 2006, 1:45 am

1912h, January 21, 2529 (UNSC Military Calendar)
Taurus System, UNSC Inner Colony Controlled Space
On the town of Saint Paul, Westwood

Igor, the irregular tall man, stretched the plastic explosive portion into the pentagon of Charlie-4 around the shaft, sweat pouring on his forehead. For the past hour he and two other soldiers had been preparing a volatile ring around a shaft to form a tunnel to help one hundred orphans to escape the grasp of the Covenant.
      To be grateful is to understand exactly what a person or persons did for you, to accept it, and embrace it. To be truly grateful one has to be mature; to be mature one has to experience certain things in order to learn to act wisely. The children were by far the grateful most refugees he had ever seen or met. It was not their kind words or small gestures of gratitude. It was the way they understood exactly what was going on.
      The filthy, tired, hungry children formed a column one after the other on the gray sidewalk seventy meters down the street from the opened gutter. Inside it was a disarmed soldier whose only job was to carry the infants inside and then to a long corridor-like sewer dully illuminated by lightsticks thrown in by the Helljumpers.
      "Sir," squawked Igor on his radio transmitter. "The bitch is ready to blow."
      "Roger," replied the Lieutenant somewhere above on the street. Igor stepped back and sighed, beautiful. The brown paste formed five perfect, straight lines of one meter each. If all was OK the tunnel would be long and wide enough for the children and his teammates to pass by.
      "Clear!" said Igor as he turned around dragging with him the two soldiers that held the detonators. He made a right turn shortly, entering the inside of a gutter where the Lieutenant was standing just above it.
      "Good to go?"
      Igor nodded, "Fire in the hole!" The strong concussion was not the defining factor, it was the dust and debris that showed the true power of the explosives.
      "Igor, what the fuck?" said the Lieutenant immobile but with his arched right arm exactly where he was before.
      "I got to see this," noted Igor, turning around and holding his thermal imager just in front of his eyes. "Oh yeah!"
      Ricardo smiled. "Go," he grabbed a chilled by the armpits swung it around and placed it in, "chup, chup little man." He visually ordered an idle soldier to help. "Lets go."

Scout snipers had two primary missions, all the time. One to be the eyes and two, if possible, to be the ears there forth Helljumper scout snipers are senses, not people. They are part of the greater being that is a platoon of Helljumpers.
      That, and only that, was the reason they crawled –whishing they had botton less shirts- up hill towards the ridge that overlooked main Covenant force, three miles away from the town. The aliens had set up camp so that when the time came they would be ready to strike.
      "Outlaw six," pronounced the sniper inside his ghillie suit on a ridge above camp. Unlike the basic UNSC Expeditionary Camp which had tents, fires and structures it simple stretched out with crates and equipment. "Eyes on the target." The spotter gave a thumbs up and pulled out of a pouch behind his semi-EVA suit a pair of binoculars with a bipod. He sat it over the grass and knobbed it on.
      "Eyeball, count off."
      "Roger," said Eyeball before he felt two taps on his right shoulder. "Aerial contacts!"

Ricardo looked at the picture stuck onto the inside of his black helmet and smiled, it was the that of Diana a beautiful young burnet serving somewhere with the UNSC, he let-out air and smiled. He immediately placed the helmet over his head, clicked the straps on and wiped the sweat out of his forehead.
      "Ricardo," said Woods walking to him on the near empty street by the farm on the outskirts of the town. "We have to doge."
      "Talk to me Gunny."
      "Moore and De Cabello have spotted about fifteen aerial contacts inbound." Ricardo frowned, "ETA is fifteen minutes."
      "OK," said Ricardo jumping inside the open troop compartment of one of the Gator APC. "We go east and you west," he pointed at the second vehicle. The plan was amazingly simple but tremendously dangerous. Ricardo and six other troopers were to drag the enemy away from the town, escaping into the woods and starting with sabotage missions. Hopefully the team would reach Saint Denis, six miles away and hide there until the heat wore off.
      It wouldn't be so easy, yet as Ricardo knew, it was the only option. The orphans had a way out, underground. Yet, if the Covenant suddenly assaulted the town, they would search every building, and beneath any stone to find the troublesome troopers. Once they found it, they would track down and overrun the troopers, soldiers and juniors.
      "Cool," said the young sergeant. "Corporal Ambrose?"
      "Yes sir," replied the old man through the radio.
      "You'll set?"
      "Yes sir," said the former Colonel as it were. "We are getting in the last of them now."
Ricardo smiled at his sergeant. "Lets go then."
      Commons shifted into first gear and the six wheels began to spin. The six men inside placed their rifles in the normal position, muzzle to the floor and buttstock to the ceiling and in the turret was Dieter. "OK guys, we pick up the snipers two clicks from here."
      "Hurrah," replied the squad immediately. The vehicle had covered half a mile of grassy terrain before it spun on the air, rolled twice over the ground, making the inside feel like a drycleaner, and landing halfways upside-down throwing the passengers as clothes.
      Ricardo did not know how close the Covenant had come until there was a sudden burst of 6.8x51mm . The compartment was full of red liquid and a coppery smell. Death and confusion was among him. "Right flank, right flank!"
      "Roger," replied a second trooper. "Frag out!"
Ricardo raised his head immediately, he was on the right sidewall of the troop compartment; he turned to face right and found two white pupils staring at him. His name was PFC Leroy Mendez, and he was from Earth. He, as a man, was no longer. The radioactive fuel road –that penetrated the hull- struck him directly and separated his body from the legs filling the entire compartment with red liquid. He had bleed to death and Ricardo had been out cold to help save him.
      The Lieutenant slowly stood up and he heard something crack. A rib, the same one the Elite had broken before. "Get it together," he said as he secured an MA-5H and stumbled out with his rifle shouldered. Three of his men standing using as cover the hull of the vehicle were the only defense he had against the enemy inbound, immediately one turned and saw the dizzied man exiting the doorway to their right.
      "Lieutenant!" bellowed Igor. "I thought you were dead."
      "Indeed," said Ricardo and stuck his back on the Gator. "I count three."
      "Leroy is K-I-A, Martini and Pullings are W-I-A!" he was interrupted by Pinot's LMG. "Pinto has no eyes on, we could be surrounded."
      "Roger," he pulled back the arming lever of his rifle revealing a slug on the chamber, he let go of it and pressed he intercom on his neck. "Outlaw six-two, copy over?"
      "How are things going your way?" asked Woods.
      "Tricky, we need backup and transport at 06043023."
      "Uh.. Ok… well be there in ten."
      "Outlaw six-twelve, copy over?"
      "Unable to reach pickup." There was no reply. "Go for checkpoint Baker on foot, we'll met you there."
      "Retreat," said Ricardo grabbing Pinto by the shoulder. "I will cover."
      "No way sir," said Pinto barking away his Light Machinegun. "We will go for this together."
      "OK," said Ricardo squeezing two rounds over the vehicle into nothingness hopping to suppress the incoming fire from the nearby forest or grove. "Igor, get in try to patch someone up, we will hold the fort." The trooper turned around, threw his SMG towards the ell-tee and made his way to the insides of the Gator. Ricardo slowly rose his head and immediately ducked as he saw a bunch of green beams heading towards him. He also spotted several small shades moving into the night and immediately identified it as threat. "I count three shooters, the rest are on maneuver to the right flank," Ricardo looked at pinto. "Hit it."
      Pinto lat loose and took down six figures before three yellow ovals appeared. "Jackals!" said Commons next to him.
      "Roger that," said the Lieutenant. "Keep them pinned. Igor, how you doing in there?"
      "Radio is out!"
      "Oh OK," replied the Lieutenant surprisingly calmed. "We are in a pickle aren't we?" then when the heart pounded as hard as it could and the sweat nearly covered his entire body he spotted the blue, flaming sphere in the air that slowly, it seemed, approached his position. It all seemed in black and white and every piece of air it consumed seemed like an eternity. It landed just next to him.

"I had it ell-tee," said Commons apparently unharmed, "Its been an honor." Ricardo sighed in diguist as he saw Commons covered in blood and tissue. His blurry vision had tricked him.
      "Sir," said Pinto standing just next to him firing over the left wall of the APC. "We need you and your gun with us."
      Ricardo looked one more time at lifeless Commons before standing up pushing himself against the APC. "Still firing blinds?"
      "Roger," said Igor. "But we got a couple of them."
"We have to blow out," barked Ricardo behind the sound of gunfire. "Pinto base of fire north, Igor, south."
He immediately grabbed a smoke grenade and pulled the pin out. "Can Martini and Pullings move?"
      "Yes sir," reported both wounded men, leaning against the APC.
      "OK," he said as the smoke covered him. "Go," Ricardo waited for a cloud of smoke to involve the troopers and then began to calmly walk to the cement grove that was Saint Paul. Holding the cloud former on his hand and his pistol on the other he led his men through enemy fire, until suddenly, "Oh my God!"
      It was Igor, plasma pistol straight through his armor and he was lying flat on the ground. "Shit!" said Ricardo throwing the smoke cylinder on the ground, and making his way past two of his men –who were shooting to the flanks- and slid right next to Igor.
      "I'm good," supposed the Ukrainian. Ricardo removed the hands from the leg of the wounded trooper and finding the opened thigh.
      "You look like shit," the Lieutenant whispered between the smoke. "Lets move." The troopers resumed the rehearsed movement-by-fire as the five men limped away towards the town.
      "Damn it," complained Igor dropping to the ground, taking the Lieutenant with him. "Leave me."
Ricardo exasperated, he had never left a man behind and he hated the idea of doing so. "Shut the fuck up." He grabbed the man by the vest, halfway turning his body to his right and grabbing the harness that stretched across the chest of the trooper and pulled him and himself up in a single movement, he put his shoulder on the trooper's hip and pulled his upper body up. "Go! Go! Go!"
      Suddenly a loud whistle thundered as it descended upon the field. The sound was recognized by all. "Longsword, Longsword," said Martini. The almost invisible boomerang passed overhead and two contrails left it's stubby wings. The rockets battered the Covenant infantry and their flaming bodies were thrown everywhere.
      Ricardo and his men went prone, immediately and turned on their IFF probes at the double. "Outlaw six, this is Outlaw five, come in over?"
      Her name was Lieutenant Commander Samantha O'Connor, commander of Task Force Helltear. "Stay put, we are clearing this house." There was the grinding noise of the gatling guns going off before absolute silence and the whistling sound of the Pelican's Engine. "All clear," she said as she fast roped in. She shouldered her rifle and went directly for the Lieutenant. "Its OK."

"Damn it!" said the Lieutenant as he woke up in the gray room looking for any means necessary for defense. There was none. Both his pistol and his BR were gone.
      "Calm down Lieutenant."
      "Not quite," said a gray haired, tall man with the faint previews of a beard, sitting right next to his chair. "Just me."
      "Preston Cole," said another man, younger but still old enough. "And I'm Rear Admiral Jonathan Romeo."
      "Oh sir, sorry about the whole thing but you see-" he was interrupted by an intense look.
      "Good job son," said Cole. "You are a fucking pride to the goddamn Marines."
      Ricardo was in shook, as if he had crashed to a wall, which he did metaphorically. "Excuse me?" Ricardo said looking directly into the blue eyes of the Fleet Commander, "sir."
      "Good job taking out three sailors, damaging a ship, trapping a entire squad of SPs in a elevator and escaping a fleet to enter Covenant held ground," Cole chuckled -irregularly loud- and slapped his own right knee.
      "Well if you say so sir," replied Ricardo confused.
      "You got the Orphans, right?"
      "They escaped underground."
      "A very fine move," said Romeo approaching the bed. "The Covenant trashed the place shortly after."
      "Sir, I know this is a Court Martialbe offense but-
      "A breach of protocol."
      "I invented the Protocol son," said Cole. "And if I say so it ain't breached."
      "Have the orphans reached Saint Denis?"
      "Not yet, though they are nearly there," replied Cole.
      "I want a team to be there to extract them." Ricardo remained silent, waiting for an order or a punishment for his actions. "There will be no medals for this one, just this," the Hero of the Battle of Harvest stretched his right arm and extended his hand. Ricardo, filled with thought, extended his arm and firmly gripped the milk-white hand. "Good job."
      "Tank you."
      "Excuse me."
      "Thank you," said the Lieutenant. He had been given the highest military award, yet it was visible to no one.
      "There is one more thing."
      "Yes sir," replied Ricardo straightening his back against the bed.
      "You ready for one more mission?"

Outlaw six: Libertad
Date: 9 June 2006, 12:18 am

Ricardo looked away from the picture of the burning village, every building and shop aflame. The Covenant had released their wrath on the town and glassed it to bare ash. In a second picture on the same folder, however, was the new target of Saint Denis halfway between the Covenant landing site and no-man's-land.
"We got to plan this right," said Ricardo staring at the satellite photo of the town. It was smaller that Saint Paul, granted, but more compressed that been, the town was a small cement maze. Around it were three Covenant shade guns together –forming an out of shape triangle around the village- with six parked Ghosts vehicles. On the bottom right, next to it was the time 0056h, twenty five minutes before.
"Platoon sized force," noted O'Connor the second team leader of the mission. "Easy enough."
"Yes ma'am," said the satellite Techie. "Infrared shows thirty Grunts, twelve Jackals and two Elites. I'm downloading an up-to-date frame now."
"We go by H-E-Vs, we land on their feet and kick them in the nuts."
"Copy," replied Lieutenant Commander Samantha of the Space Jumper Service, a ramification of the ODST. "Jackhammer the Shades fast."
"Uh… sir…" said the Satellite Officer. "You better check this out."
"Oh my god," said Sam. Right next to one of the Shades there was a large red force. "Turn it to optical."
Yes, all what they feared was right. "Hostages." The orphans sat on the grassy fields surrounded by Jackal guards and, if Ricardo thought it right, they were the evening meal for the carnivore birds.
Ricardo sighed. "I have an idea," he pointed at once of the Shade guns. " We divide the force by three, eight men per chalk, drop right on top of the Shades and nock them up but secure one," Ricardo smiled. "Guess which one."
"I concur," said Samantha. The room for planning the mission was not the most adequate, it was a closet right next to the armory. "We use it to pin the Covenant in the town while we move the orphans to safety, call for the Cavalry after we secure it and hold it until we can exfil the orphans." Lieutenant Commander removed her sweat dotted glasses and sighed. "We have no room for error."
Ricardo chuckled. "Helljumpers never have room for mistakes."
"Granted." They both left the room and made a right turn, landing immediately on the armory.

"Feet first!" men as Sam O'Connor and Ricardo entered the armory. Each wore a bubble style helmet, with a IR probe extending out the forehead, body armor –which resembled a lifejacket- brown, green and black fatigues and different kinds of arms.
The mission was special enough to avoid the luxuries of a briefing room. Instead the armory of the freighter UNSC Libertad was enough for the twenty five men to gather for a small overview of the mission at hand. They were divided into three squads of eight, and the plan was simple. Ricardo's squad was to go first, land and secure a hostile gun, maintain suppressive fire and wait for the reinforcements while keeping casualties to a minimum –getting the hostages away from the Covenant-.
"Indeed," said Samantha. "We are now part of operation Libertad, our job is to secure a Covenant held town, and extract a hundred orphans through two Albatross aircraft."
"Rules of engagement?" asked a random trooper whom Ricardo had never seen before.
"Fire at will," said Ricardo. "The town is hostile and enemy will be there in force."
Ricardo took a step forward looking at the new faces he was to lead, so young and inexperienced. He missed his men.
"And they shoot right on the dot," said Igor entering the room. Behind him were Martini and Commons, both patched up on the face and arms, a needle had gone of near them the day before. Ricardo shook his head and laughed, the universal gesture of understanding an inside joke. "No kidding."
"How is the leg?" said Ricardo walking to one of the racks and grabbing a BR by the upper receiver.
"Good," said Igor tapping with his right hand the holster belted on his right thigh. "To go that is."
"I need someone to fire a Jackhammer."
Igor smiled, "I love those suckers."
"Then good," said Ricardo pointing at one of the launchers on the south.
"Hey ell-tee," whispered Commons. "Is the Cole thing right?"
Ricardo raised his shoulders and nodded to his right.

To open the ceramic door of a Human entry vehicle was always easy. To close it, there it was the dilemma, as it may never open again. Ricardo sighed as he sat down on the leather chair of the vault. "Good luck sir," said the sailor who slowly swung the door close, and a digital screen on the door was left at head level.
"Right," he said placing the MA-5H between his legs. "A walk in the park."
"All Outlaw units," called O'Connor. "Jackhammer shooters sharp, gunners steady and shooters calmed," she warned. "Covenant is no joke."
"Now how do we do this?" asked Ricardo through the network.
"Feet first!"
"Feet first?" said Igor on the HEV right next to Ricardo's one. "Never landed on my feet on an HEV drop," there were chuckles over the COM channel, "flat out on my ass."
"You like that, don't ya," replied Commons. The HEVs lined up next to each other on the hull of the freighter, the troopers inside waiting, expecting for that exact moment where the orbit of the ship was right on top of the town itself. All knew exactly when. There was a thud and the entire team was dropped out of the galleon.
Then, there was silence; all troopers knew that for the next few seconds there would be peace in the cold void of space. That few seconds before the coffins penetrated the atmosphere. Ricardo snapped out of his day dreaming as soon as the Human Entry Vehicle jumped out in the atmospheric breach.
"ETA to Delta Zulu is three- five sierras," said an electronic voice on his helmet. Ricardo gripped his assault rifle and thumbed off the safety off on the receiver. Sweat began to pour through his front. The Human Entry Vehicle began to be covered by the intense heat of the atmosphere and the velocity too, thus creating a red wake as the twenty seven Single Occupant Exo-atmospheric Insertion Vehicles tore through.
"Triple A detected," suddenly the crafts began to jump upside down as red and blue fireballs envolved them.
It only took two seconds for Tango three-two, one of the HEV to disappear on a giant fireball. Ricardo gripped his assault rifle, by pulling it from between his legs, and pissed himself off. Another Kilo-India-Alpha to his belt.
"Touchdown in three-two-bang."
Compressed air propelled the large door outwards, landing it ten feet away, and Ricardo jumped out, landing on his knees. He checked his sectors –north, northeast and east- and found no targets in the grove. "Clear," he said as six of his men joined him forming a cocoon around him.
"Set timers," said Ricardo lowering the visor of his helmet. "Now," he tapped a button on his right forearm and nodded. "We have two-five mikes to pull this off and three miles to cover."

The path from the DZ had been a tense, silent one. No one had ever expected to perform such mission, hostage rescue, against the Covenant. Only a bad joke tried to change the ambient to no avail. It was too grim and dark for that.
From the inside of the tall-grass grove the form of the small, blue armored Grunts was perfectly visible in the dark night through the NVGs, so clear that the conducts of their breathing apparatus were delineated perfectly from their bodies. Range was about two hundred meters away and with the x4 sights it was a turkey shot.
The eight troopers knew one thing, timing was of the essence. The eight Grunts lay guard around the orphans unaware of what was coming towards them, that meaning, if a shot failed the survivor could harm the Hostages, which was unacceptable. "Left to right, Igor has priority on secondary target, the Shade."
The team acknowledged, by simple radio squeaks, the order and waited. Ricardo, using his left elbow as support waited for that millisecond when the aimpoint of the sight touched the face of the creature. It happened automatically, he pulled the trigger and the creature fell instantly. It happened eight times and the beasts lay limp on the ground. "Guards down, move."
Ricardo stood up and began a crouch walk towards the unaware hostages.
"Compromised!" shouted Igor almost immediately. Several Grunts, from the town, were making a run for it –the Shade that overlooked both the troopers and the hostages- and his chalk were already pounding on them. The Jackhammer shooter knelt waited a second for the lock and landed limp on the earth. "Shit! Man down!" he looked around to his men, all exposed in the open and grunted in anger and satisfaction, combined. The bipeds fell on their faces as small chunks of tissue, earth and grass were pulled out of their bodies and flora. It was a slaughter that placed the ratio 14:1. Good enough as far as he could tell.
Ricardo was the only one of them to see the Jackal running incredibly fast towards the tripod-mounted gun; it seemed in slow motion in spite the inhumane speed of the small, arched bird. It jumped and landed on the seat, swung the barrel, or whatever the trio of rectangles were, and aimed it on the panicking, scattering orphans. Ricardo centered the sight of his rifle on the creatures head and pulled the trigger. He got a simple click in response.
"Shit!" he bellowed. "Get that son-of-a-bitch now!" Out of the blue the creature's pointy head disappeared.
"Got you covered sir," called Eyeball. Ricardo's gut was filled with a nearly forgotten feeling, joy. One of his men, the ones he trained, was alive and well, he grunted in approval and made a turn around the battered HEV.
"Where are you James?"
"About a mile from where you are, good and ready, holding on covering pattern."
"Roger, get down here for extraction," Ricardo breathed deeply. "Chalk three, sound off."
"Five ready!"
"Six ready!"
"Seven ok!"
"Igor get on that Shade, the rest of you move the orphans towards the grove, fast." He made a quick equipment check of his men, visually, and ordered two men towards him. "Cover the Shade at all costs," he pointed at it. "Don't let the Jackals get near it."
The Jackal, still holding the triggers, laid headless on the sit. "Don't get yourself filthy on brains." Then, his troopers began to approach the orphans and group by group they started to fall out of formation.
"Winchester, Winchester, Winchester," said Ricardo into his headset calling the rest of the Helljumpers down. "Igor, hit the buildings." The Ukrainian kicked the Jackal of the seat and sat on the leather-looking chair. He pressed the two buttons on top of the pair of handles and red beams began to hit just short of the houses. He selected one of the houses and walked the beams towards it. The structure fell down to bits, one brick at a time.
Then, exactly timed as planned, on the sky several red dots began to glow downward from the sky, like a red shower of shooting stars, and slowly converted into red vaults. They were the rest of the platoon ready to reinforce. The vessels landed on the ground causing def thuds and brown dir clouds and within seconds for the first time since the mission started, there was gunfire.
"Chalk one, on the ground and engaged!"
"Chalk two, situation is same."
"Sir, hostages secure." Called SSG Diaz, by the edge of the grove where eight men maintained a perimeter around the Orphans. Still, missing were the soldiers of the seventy eight civil affairs. If anything was certain, they were still inside the town and phase two of the mission was about to begin, the problem at hand was, that phase two, consisted in destruction of the town and if they were in-town, dead or alive, they would stand luckless against the odds. "Igor," he calmly said over the town. "Base of fire on the town."
"Chalk three, hold position," he stood up and began to walk towards the town. "I have five minutes, if and only if I don't get out, bomb the shit out of it in five mikes." He was halfway towards the town when a plasma bolt smeared over his head, he dropped, looked up and identified the threat.
Jackal on a window, third on the right from the main road. He centered his sight on it and opened fire, killing the bird instantly. "Igor, base of fire."
He got back up on his feet, and resumed walking amidst the battle. He reached the town outskirts when Igor ceased fire, he choused the broken house to assault it, jumping over the debris and scanning the rubble for any survivors. Pinned under a stone was a blue armored Grunt, a rookie. He moved beside him and crouched –waiting for the beast to try to move- and saw it painfully squeak.
He pointed at his shoulder where a patch showed the UNSC sing, earth surrounded by stars, and circled his right index finger, a question the alien creature could not, not understand.
It tried to move but the stone kept it pinned, Ricardo stood and kicked it down breaking the leg of the inferior being. He pointed his rifle on the creature's shoulder and waited. It took three seconds for the beast to comply it pointed at the tallest building –a Hotel- and squeaked again. Ricardo smiled and turned around leaving an unpinned frag grenade on the ground.
"Igor," said Ricardo. "Tallest building, hold on it."
"Chalk one and two, got a location on Hostages, center building Hotel Saint Denis."
"Roger," called number one. "Advice?"
"Hold position, base of fire on the structure with small arms, I'll handle the pickup."
"Roger that," Ricardo leveled his rifle and began to walk over the rubble towards a second building which was intact. He cornered it, and took the main street –which lead to the Hotel- he began to cover, scanning the frames with his eyes and rifle. He covered it and made a right turn at the first corner.
He jumped-backtracked his way back after a dozen beams of a plasma rifle struck it. It was close, thought Ricardo. He pressed himself against the wall and peeked right, with his rifle shouldered, and opened suppressive fire. He waxed a Grunt.
"Chalk one, suppress the Hotel now," he took a small peek right and saw the top floor of the building being disintegrated, chunks landing on the street scattering the enemies that lay on it. He ducked, went prone and rolled to his right. He aimed at a running Jackal –which used it's shield as an umbrella- and killed it with two slugs. The rest of the creatures were crushed, smashed and broken apart by the large chunks of cement landing on the street that were ripped apart by the rounds from the two squads on the outskirts of the town.
Ricardo snapped to his feet, and ran across the avenue towards the Hotel. Still aiming his rifle at the doorway he crouched. Time to wait. One by one the Covenant began to pour out passing by the smoking ball at their feet.
The Lieutenant passed the carcasses by and entered the lobby of the hotel. There, eight men unconscious on the ground. "Chalk one; target is secure, requesting backup."
Ricardo shouldered his rifle and checked the fancy counter, stairways and elevators. There were no threats, He went for the oldest of the soldiers, an old man who used to be a Colonel and checked his pulse his index finger. The faint thuds on the skin indicated a weak pulse.
"Winchester, requesting MEDEVAC at Hotel Paradise," he chuckled at his own joke. "Soldiers are OK."
"This is Chalk one, we are on the main street, be there in two mikes taking fire from the top floor."
"Roger that," Ricardo walked to the entrance and leveled his rifle at his eye. The narrow cement corridor which could be called a street was clear, the problem, however, was the top floor. He could hear the plasma pistol shots from the upper levels.
"Chalks, this is one, cease fire."
"Negative taking fire from one's position."
"I'll handle it," said Ricardo. "You don't want to shoot me don't you?"
There was no reply. He turned around and headed for the wooden doorway that led to the stairs, he peeked in and it was clear. The trooper immediately burst inward scanning with his rifle the top flight.
He began to go one step at a time before getting to the half of it. He rechecked the down doorway, then the upwards. He covered the second flight of stairs with two jump-steps.
He kicked the door and a cement shot-up wall was revealed, he followed the sounds of the plasma rifle turning right and passing to doors which he checked, both were clear. Ricardo pulled a Heavy Explosive grenade out of his harness and rolled it into the third room of the corridor.
After the dust cleared he jumped inside and waxed the Elite cold with a single slug to his head. He breached in and called a "clear" over the radio. It was over. The last of the enemy had been wiped out and it was all OK; or so he thought.
"Damn," he said through the COM. "Loads of them, north by northwest."
"Roger that," called Chalk one. At least a Company of Grunts charged inward as a tidal wave over a small rock. "We are going to need air to take them out."
"Roger that Outlaw six, this is bravo two, on station," then he remembered. The two birds have been task to provide Close Air Support in case it all went to hell. "Moving into the town, two-niner-three," Ricardo watched both aircraft descend covered in contrails, dove down and drop two rockets on the formation. The two red mushroom clouds emanated at the center of the Covenant wave wiping them out.
Next targets began to pour out of everywhere, leaving him alone. "Shift target, zero-one-zero," he aimed his rifle and waited. "Range two hundred yards."
The crafts dove again and struck the Grunts. "Two-seven-zero," there comes a time in battle when all the training and experience comes to mind, when one can possibly perform any given mission. Now he was a Forward Air Controller, not a Lieutenant. There all his training would be consummated. "Approaching chalk two, three-three-three."
"Sir," said Gunnery Sergeant Smith, "Great job."
"Sure," said Ricardo. "What is your situation."
"Commander O'Connor is prepping for touchdown of the Albatross."
"Good, I'll keep the Covenant busy."

Outlaw six: Epilogue
Date: 13 June 2006, 12:27 am

"Advancing towards the town, bearing three-two-five, Lion six, hit it," he looked away before the company of Grunts was consumed in a giant fireball. The small creatures had formed a very tenacious advance towards the Landing Zone and the only thing keeping hell above them was the Lieutenant.
      "Good hit, Outlaw six?" Ricardo giggled on top of Saint Denis Hotel.
      "On the village, single shooter, a sniper, house, lasing," the Lieutenant leaned the barrel of his firearm on the railing and pointed at the house with the Laser Range Finder above the muzzle of his MA-5H. The house disappeared almost instantly in a gray, blurry, cloud that formed after a white contrail struck it. "Good kill!"
      "Sir," Ricardo turned around to face his caller. "We have to go." He was a Marine, not a trooper. He was well trained, equipped and understood tactical situations. Yet, he was no Helljumper thus, he lacked a certain six sense in battle.
      "Indeed we do," said Ricardo. "But we can't just quite yet."
      "How come sir?"
      "We need cover something that keeps them pinned as I've been doing for a while."
      "OK sir."
      Ricardo frowned. "Igor, are you guys ready to move down there?"
       "Hostages are secure, stabilized and on the stretchers."
       "Are you ready to move then?"
       "Yes sir."
       "Get on moving I'll keep them pinned as long as I can."
       "Roger that sir."
       "Outskirts, southwest, Jackals," the beasts advanced behind their shields on the grassy terrain fearless of the human weapons. They were tore apart by the one-zero-zero mike-mike rounds that formed a column of mushroom shaped clouds as the Longsword passed scratching the terrain.
       "Igor you better move, its getting real tricky to wax these bastards."

Igor led the nine men, including himself, over the grassy terrain as they crouch ran towards the Albatross. The massive aircraft was not for combat, it was a transport, rescue, multipurpose workhorse the Marines and, particularly, the ODST loved. The C-SAR team, twenty Marines formed a straight line from the LZ to the town itself, a path on a minefield, if one could say that. They opened fire to both flanks to keep the Covenant away.
      The folding stretchers were perfect for transport and it was all going really well until it all went to hell.

"Shit!" hollered Ricardo as the pair of Wraiths appeared out of nowhere. "Shifting priority, bearing one-three-three, two targets, armored, attack, attack, attack!"
      The only remaining missile on the bomb bay of the Longsword descended through the open doors until it was on the air the rocket at the rear began to pour hot air out and it streaked away into the enemy armor. It struck one dead center, destroying it immediately.
       "Good kill!" still there as the smoke clarified it remained clear that the second Wraith remained harmless. The cannon began to charge –aiming at the Albatross- when something miraculous happened. Several hundred sparks began to appear on the rear of the vehicle. Ricardo backtracked the path of the orange tracers and found the origin. "Woods!"
      One of the several hundred rounds found the plasma compartment and it ignited. It was a marvelous explosion.

He had been told their sacrifice would have been in vain, they, the ones that died, proved wrong the doubtful. The hundred orphans in the cabin proved them, the high rankers, that they were wrong. That hope was not to be left aside for desperation and that the UNSC had a shot. Not to destroy fleets or crush armies, but to save what humanity itself stood for. Hope, faith, freedom and courage.
      Ricardo, the one who started the all the movement, knew that a court-martial was waiting for him and, if all went OK, a few medals. Yet, all that mattered to him was the child that rested on his shoulder.
      All the innocence and hopelessness was washed away just as the immense battlefield was covered with white and gray clouds. All, the horrible feelings and moments, were left away. Everything that remained, the feelings of guilt and success, were left behind forever, yet, they would always remain.
       "I thought we would never see you again ell-tee." Said Woods.
       "Well," the third Wraith appeared out of nowhere and the last thing Ricardo felt was the intense heat as the plasma bolt approached.

The Lieutenant watched from the bridge of the freighter the last moments of Westwood, he had earned that awful right. The oceans, continents, everything made human and nature was gone, replaced by glass, ice and fire.
      The fleet had lost fifty six ships and hundreds of fighters, millions were lost. Nonetheless humanity had recuperated that one thing it craved for. Humanity itself. That philosophy that one good life was priceless. No more would Marines refuse help the elder or abandon the young, grateful for that humanity was to a young Lieutenant of no value named Ricardo Nunez.