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Fan Fiction

Recce by Zombie

Recce, Chapter One
Date: 22 July 2006, 6:22 am

United Nations Space Command (UNSC) Priority Transmission
Encryption Code: Black
From: Field Marshal Andrew Lars, Chief Executive Officer, UNSC Marine HQ
To: Sergeant Brian Dagmar, Special Reconnaissance Unit (Identification Number: 10141-026-SRB4695)
Subject: Orders for immediate deployment
Classification: Top-Secret (BGX Directive)

/start file/
Good evening Sarge,

      Glad I could get a hold of you through all this hell that's taken over the planet. Short and sweet mission I hope, we need something to be checked out.

      Twelve hours ago, Pelican Dropship Oscar 210 went down over Siberia. She was carrying a boatload of supplies headed for Moscow in an attempt to hold back the coming invasion. The supplies we aren't too worried about, it's what took that dropship down.

      Around the time of the attack, satellite imagery showed a massive burst of electronic interference in that region. The Western plains of Siberia are hell and there has never been a command post set up there. HQ thinks the Covenant have a new weapon, we need you to confirm this.

Simple mission primaries:
a) Investigate crash site at grid points:491, 922
b) Determine cause of the crash
c) Rescue/Retrieve any UNSC personnel and/or mission vital UNSC equipment
d) Remain undetected by enemy forces

      That last objective is crucial, if you are discovered, there won't be any help to recover you and yours. We simply can't risk it. It's getting cold again up there, though the snow hasn't quite hit. Should be a break from the constant urban and rural conflict you've been up too lately. Captain Savard of the 'Black Hawk' will help coordinate the mission and will need mission updates that will be passed on to me. For the most part, should be a walk in the park before the shit hits the fan.

Field Marshal Lars
/end file/

0200 Hours, October 14, 2552 (Military Calendar)
Siberia, Russia/ Western Siberian Plains

      "Contact, wait out." Sergeant Dagmar's eyes lifted up and away from the cold steel desk he sat at and slowly lingered to a computer screen. The monitor displayed a disorientated image, bathed in night vision and constantly moving. It was a direct feed to the personal camera on Corporal Scott's helmet, who at the moment was quite low in a field and staring straight at something in the woods beyond. Dagmar squinted and leaned forward, nearly pressing his nose against the computer to see what Scott was looking at. These damned screens were extremely inefficient and even after so many complaints; the Marine Corps were still using them. Dagmar gave up, his eyes beginning to irritate him and leaned back into his folding metal chair, waiting to hear what Scott saw.

      "2-1-Alpha, this is 2-1-Alpha-1, message, over," Scott's voice said in Dagmar's earpiece. The Sergeant held a finger to the headset and clicked the small button on the wire that was connected into his personal radio.

      "2-1-Alpha, send, over," Dagmar repeated, going by the regular radio voice commands taught to him in basic so many years ago.

      "2-1-Alpha-1, contact, grid; four-fife-niner, eight-tree-one. Dismounted infantry section in tree line, request ROEs, over," Scott reported in a silent whisper. Dagmar grabbed his map and located the intersection of the two grid points. Scott had made good timing, nearly half a kilometre away from their objective. He did a quick mental assessment of Scott's group; Privates Oliver, Murray and Victor; two battle rifles and a sniper. The enemy section most likely was 8-12 strong. Dagmar shook his head and pressed the send button again.

      "2-1-Alpha, ROEs: do not engage, proceed on alternate route to objective, confirm, over," Dagmar ordered into the microphone.

      "2-1-Alpha-1 confirmed ROEs, out," Scott answered. Dagmar glanced back up at the screen and could see Scott turn back to three shapes crouched in the grass. The Corporal gave them a series of hand signals and then the screen went extremely blurry as he lay down in the grass and began crawling.

      The tent flap opened behind Dagmar, who turned in his chair to see his second-in-command, Corporal Lauren walk in. She carried Dagmar's massive field radio, which was giving off a faint hiss of static. Lauren held out the message phone to Dagmar. "Command wants an update," she said.

      "Again?" Dagmar growled, standing and approaching Lauren. Dagmar had chosen Lauren over Scott as his 2IC because Lauren and Dagmar had gone through basic together and were close friends. And of course, Lauren was an extremely good looking blonde army chick, with shiny blue eyes that would melt a man's heart. She sniggered at her Sergeant.

      "Pretty vital mission Sarge," she said. Dagmar rolled his eyes and took the phone from Lauren's delicate hand.

      "Zero, this is 2-1-Alpha, send message, over," Dagmar said into the headset.

      "2-1-Alpha, this is Zero, send SIT REP, over," came an emotionless voice through the speaker. Dagmar glanced back at the screen, which had changed. Scott and his team were ghost walking through the forest.

      "2-1-Alpha, SIT REP: Contact at grid four-fife-niner, eight-tree-one. Dismounted infantry section, given ROEs; do not engage. 2-1-Alpha-1 on course to objective, ETA, five minutes, over," Dagmar responded. Situation reports were usually given at the end of a mission, but Captain Savard wanted one every ten minutes. Dagmar had no idea why, but as he said, in five minutes, he would find out.

      "Zero, roger, SIT REP confirmed, out." Dagmar looked at the headset and handed it back to Lauren.

      "Goodbye to you too," he muttered, turning back to his chair and staring at the screen with dangerous eyes. Reconnaissance was delicate, especially when Dagmar was in a situation like his; behind enemy lines, surrounded on all fronts and a small squad out there on their own with not a hope of backup. Lauren stood next to Dagmar and looked at the screen with him.

      "Everything all right Sarge?" she asked. Dagmar looked into her beautiful eyes, feeling a sense of calm. All of the constant situation reports were getting to him. The Captain was worried about the mission and if the Captain was worried, this meant that there was something down here that he was not telling Dagmar about.

      "Yeah, what's happening outside?" Dagmar inquired.

      "I have Thomson and Reynolds on full alert for the time being. We know the area to our six is friendly, so they've established an OP near the path. Provides them with full cover to enemy territory," Lauren explained. Dagmar listened to this and felt satisfied; Thomson and Reynolds were good guys.

      "Be sure to update the password and light recognition," he said. Lauren nodded.

      "Will do Sarge." Dagmar yawned. He felt his pocket and grabbed one of his Captain Black's cigars. Sighing, he stood up.

      "Take over for me Lauren, I need a break," he said finally. The beautiful Corporal sat down in Dagmar's chair and immediately, the Sergeant noted that Lauren was feeling bad about this mission just like he was. He could tell by the way she nodded at him and sat with a stiff and rigid posture to her perfect form. Dagmar exited the well camouflaged crew tent, checking his surroundings before stepping through the shin high grass and onto the firm ground. With not a cloud in the sky, the icy night air struck him instantly and he shivered. Dagmar could not wait for this mission to be over.

- - -

      Several kilometres away, Corporal Scott was not shivering at all but he sure wanted the mission to be over. The Corporal lay flat on his stomach, not a single muscle or limb moving as a small patrol of Covenant Jackals moved through the grass five feet to his front. The Jackals whispered in their alien tongues to one another and were cautious with their movement. As they passed, Scott moved his head a bit to see that the Jackals had their glowing shields up and were scanning their surroundings with intent eyes.

      This same cautious attitude was noted by Scott for all their encounters with the enemy. Something had the Covenant spooked and Scott was praying that this something was not their objective.

      As the Jackal's shimmering shields disappeared into the thick forest, Scott raised his head off the ground and patted his helmet with one gloved hand. Immediately, there was rustling movement around the Corporal as his team gathered in on him. Scott had his battle rifle up and leveled straight as he picked himself up off the ground and remained crouching in the damp soil. His eyes stung from beads of sweat that flowed into his eyes and his heart was racing. He turned to look at the dark, camouflage painted faces of his team.

      "Oliver, map. Victor, provide cover," Scott whispered quickly. Private Victor, one of the best snipers Scott had seen, moved five feet away and lay down in the grass, his camouflaged combat uniform blending him into the foliage perfectly. Oliver carefully retrieved their map, while Murray handed Scott his flashlight and then turned his back to them, scanning their rear for any movement. Oliver opened the map onto the ground and Scott clicked on the flashlight, moving the red beam to all the markings that he and Oliver had scribbled on.

      "Where did we make our last contact report?" Scott asked. Oliver traced a finger along the lines of longitude and latitude and then pointed to a dot, with an 'X' running through it. Scott nodded and quickly checked his compass. "Bearing of 0431," he muttered to himself, checking the map again. With a red tipped marker, he traced a line exactly one inch away from the dot and 'X'. Scott stared at his line, perplexed by what he'd discovered.

      "Orientate the map for me," Scott ordered Oliver, who took out his own compass and maneuvered the map so it pointed north. Scott did a quick check on his compass, to make sure that he wasn't following a back-bearing.

      "Same bearing I have Corporal," Oliver whispered to Scott, glancing up at his team leader.

      "This doesn't make any sense. Victor, do you see anything?" The sniper raised his head slightly and shook it twice before lowering it back into the grass. "Fuck, the objective should be right here," Scott growled, looking around him hopelessly.

      "What is the objective Corporal?" Murray asked.

      "Command thinks the Covies have a new weapon, a form of EMP. Knocked out a Pelican and it crashed basically right here, according to our given grid points," Scott explained.

      "Should we report in?" Oliver asked next, grabbing the phone to the radio strapped onto the back of his tactical vest.

      "Report on what? That an elite group of pathfinders are lost," Scott said, shaking his head. They had triple-checked the bearings, the grid points, the magnetic declination, everything that could possibly screw up a reconnaissance patrol. The coordinates given were four, nine one and nine, two, two. Scott glanced down at the map and sure enough, they were at the exact coordinates.

      "Corporal, contact," Victor suddenly whispered. Scott turned his head, and could already see the same patrol of seven Jackals moving towards them.

      "Shit, everyone get down," Scott growled, crawling forward and laying beside Victor. The Jackals were on the same path as before, and Scott noted that it took them less than five minutes to complete a full patrol. Their leader was keeping things tight, that way nothing slipped through.

      The lead Jackal held onto an Elite plasma rifle, odd weapon choice since the Jackals usually stuck with plasma pistols. But this Jackal had its pistol strapped to its side and seemed slightly more relaxed then its comrades who were moving slowly, ensuring that the ground they stepped on did not give away their position. That didn't matter too much since their shields were lit and were humming loudly. Stupid birds.

      Scott felt someone grab his boot and he turned his head around. Murray looked at him and pointed his hand to the team's 3 o'clock direction. Scott followed his hand and could see a single shadow moving towards the Jackals.

      "What the fuck," Scott barely said, his body freezing completely as the shape stopped. The Jackals were nearly past Scott and his team, but were approaching this motionless shape. The darkness was affecting Scott's vision and sure enough, he lost sight of the shape. What the hell was that?

      Without warning, the lead Jackal carrying the plasma rifle was grabbed by something above it and lifted into the trees. The Jackal screamed violently and its plasma rifle fired twice. However, the weapon dropped to the ground, followed closely by a blood-stained energy shield.

      The rest of the patrol raised their weapons towards the tree and fired randomly, screaming at one another in the process. Scott's mind was racing, but he and his team kept their heads down for the time being. The radio on Oliver's back was loud with static as Sergeant Dagmar no doubt requested a report. Scott motioned his hand across his neck to Oliver, who nodded, muttered 'Wait out' into the phone and then shut off the radio.

      The Jackals were backing away from the tree and one took control, ordering the rest to seize fire. Something shifted in the trees and suddenly, the mutilated body of the abducted Jackal fell to the ground. The Jackals glanced at one another, not knowing what to do. Scott suddenly saw the same shape he had seen before descend down a tree trunk and grab one of the Jackals by the neck. The Jackal's mouth was covered and blood suddenly exploded from its neck. As it fell, the other Jackals turned, but the shape was already behind them. There were three silent coughs and two more Jackals fell, their heads exploding like watermelons. A third Jackal spun around and a small, almost invisible bolt of plasma struck its shield.

      The remaining three Jackals turned to run, but the shape moved to intercept them. A brilliant beam of energy appeared out of the darkness and like a sword, cut the lead Jackal in half. The other two targeted the single energy sword, but it came down upon the next one's head, and then slashed across the final Jackal's neck. The two corpses collapsed and the sword remained high in the air as the Jackal's bodies began to erode and stink of death.

      Scott patted Victor's shoulder, pointing at the sword and then made a fist. Victor nodded and sighted the energy sword in his sniper rifle. Scott glanced back at Oliver and Murray and patted his helmet. The two privates cautiously advanced beside their team leader, who had his eyes on that sword. It wasn't moving; it remained high in the air. Scott turned back to Oliver and Murray and raised his arms out in front of him, the signal for an inverted 'V' formation. The two privates nodded and moved to a 45 and 145 degree angle off of Scott. The Corporal then raised his hand up and motioned to the sword.


      "Don't fucking move!" The trio stood and aimed their weapons at the sword. The brilliant light blinded Scott from seeing the rest of the body, but he knew something was there. He began moving forward, Oliver and Murray keeping pace with him.

      "Disengage the weapon and advance one to be recognized," Scott ordered. The sword did not move. Scott followed with basic challenge procedure.

      "Disengage your weapon and advance one to be recognized, this is your last warning," Scott repeated, flicking off the safety of his battle rifle. Once again, the sword did not move.

      "Oliver, Murray, provide cover," Scott ordered as he cocked his weapon. The two privates stepped out of their loose formation and flanked the sword. Scott fingered the trigger and peered down the sight of his weapon, preparing to fire.

      Without warning, the sword disappeared. Scott, Oliver and Murray fired, but missed the shape that moved away from them in a second. Scott crouched down, roaring for his team to regroup. Oliver screamed as something slammed into him. The private was propelled into the air, his body slamming into the trunk of a wide tree, the radio exploding in a cloud of white smoke.

      "Victor, take him out!" Scott ordered. Murray was firing randomly into the trees, and slowly moving towards Oliver's unconscious body. The beam sword suddenly reappeared behind the private. Murray turned and raised his rifle, but the sword slashed at his neck. Private Murray didn't even scream as his head rolled backwards in the grass and his body slumped forward.

      There was a loud crack from behind Scott as Victor sighted the sword and fired. The shape that held the sword roared like a bear and stumbled forward. Scott kept his weapon up, squinting into the light and trying to make out just what this thing was. It wasn't Covenant and it sure didn't sound human. Black blood was oozing from the bullet wound and the shape appeared to be on one knee. The sword was still slightly raised and Scott could feel the shape's unseen eyes staring at him.

      The sword was suddenly thrown like a javelin, right at Corporal Scott. The man only had time to gasp, just as it sunk into his chest and protruded out his back. A sensation like no other entered Scott's body and mind. He fell to his knees, registering nothing. No pain, just empty numbness. He could barely here Victor screaming and firing the rest of his ammo into the shape. Through blurry eyes, Scott could see something massive appear and collapse to the ground.

      Suddenly, his brain exploded with thoughts and memories. Scott saw his childhood, his parents consumed in fire from the invasion, his friends tortured and executed by the Covenant. He saw boot camp, he saw more friends destroyed by the war, he saw his true love taken away from him, and he saw himself dying. Anger, like he never felt before filled his mind; a burning fire that was growing in size. And while this happening, Scott could feel something take control of him. He was nothing anymore, just a thought, a memory. What was happening to him?

      Corporal Scott collapsed without a single other word…


Recce, Chapter Two
Date: 3 August 2006, 3:24 am

0350 Hours, October 14, 2552 (Military Calendar)
Siberia, Russia/ Western Siberian Plains

      Sergeant Dagmar had never run so fast in his entire military career. His sprint and five kilometre run timings were low in basic, but the moment Dagmar had heard screaming over his radio, something had took over him and he ran. The Sergeant now leaned against a large tree, weapon up and scanning around him. Corporal Lauren flanked him, her blond hair hidden under her helmet and her bright blue eyes observing the team's rear. Privates Thomson and Reynolds were ghost walking through the foliage ahead of Dagmar, searching for Corporal Scott and his team.

      "Try again," Dagmar heaved, his body still trying to recover from his sprint. Lauren looked up at him and then grabbed her radio phone.

      "2-1-Alpha-1, this is 2-1-Alpha, over," she said. As she released the send button, nothing but silence answered her. Dagmar looked away from Thomson and Reynolds briefly and stared at the phone held in Lauren's hand.

      "Again," he urged.

      "2-1-Alpha-1, this is 2-1-Alpha, please acknowledge my last, over." Again, there was not a single sound. Dagmar gave a low whistle and Thomson turned around. The Sergeant held up a fist and Thomson nodded, passing the signal to Reynolds and the two dropped to the ground slowly. Dagmar glanced over to Lauren.

      "What did the screen show before the screaming?" asked Dagmar.

      "The night vision was really screwing up the image, but I saw about six or seven Jackals. Then, I think Scott attacked them, because I could see tracers from plasma and bullet fire flash across the screen and I definitely saw a Jackal collapse to the ground," Lauren started to explain.

      "You think he engaged?" Dagmar interjected. Lauren hesitated, but then nodded. Dagmar swore and looked away, "Damnit, I told him his ROEs were to not engage."

      "I think the Jackals had backup though Sarge, I remember seeing a plasma sword just before the screaming started and Scott's camera went off," Lauren finished. Scott was a smart soldier; Dagmar knew he would never compromise himself or the lives of his men, especially in a hostile environment like the one he was in now. In leadership training, soldiers are allowed to think, since they're the ones giving orders, not following them. They were the team leaders now, everything was their responsibility.

      As Dagmar reflected on this, he reminded himself that he had four men missing and if he didn't discover their whereabouts, it would be his responsibility. Dagmar loved his troops though, they were family to him. He made sure they all came home, dead or alive. Sighing heavily, he nodded to Lauren and consulted his map.

      "We still have a few feet to cover before we reach Scott's last contact report position, let's move out," ordered the Sergeant. Thomson and Reynolds emerged from their cover and allowed Dagmar to take the lead of the column. They advanced at a quick-time pace, keeping their arms out to deflect swinging branches, but constantly observing their surroundings. Stealth wasn't much of an option if the Covenant already knew they were here and they had to get to Corporal Scott's team before more trouble found them.

      No sooner did Dagmar and the others step off further into the woods, gunfire erupted through the forest ahead of them. The line of soldiers immediately dived to the ground, searching for the source of the sudden commotion. Dagmar raised his head over a large boulder he lay behind and could see muzzle flashes just ahead, right around the projected area of Corporal Scott's last report.

      "Enemy front, my twelve, my twelve!" Dagmar reported to his troops. Thomson, Reynolds and Lauren crawled through the vegetation and positioned themselves in a scattered line facing the sudden commotion. They propped their weapons up on the rock and waited for further instructions. Dagmar kept his eyes on the battle ahead and could see shapes moving as bullets were fired. He cocked his weapon as the familiar sound of plasma bolts came after each gunshot.

      "Alpha team, centre of axis, fifty metres and closing, enemy section or platoon, watch and shoot! I repeat, watch and shoot!" Dagmar shouted over the turmoil that was getting louder. He heard battle rifles being cocked and the safeties being released as his troops got ready. Once the enemy could be seen, they wouldn't be standing anymore.

      Sergeant Dagmar peered through the scope of his rifle and could barely make out two shadows moving towards them. One appeared to be limping and the other was massive and didn't look human at all. The gunfire was coming from both shapes as they paused to fire back at the Covenant chasing them.

      A plasma grenade went off suddenly and the darkness around them disappeared for a brief moment. In that moment, Dagmar looked through his scope to see Private Victor and Private Oliver running through the forest. Private Oliver was covered in blood and had a limp in his run. Dagmar noted that the radio he was supposed to be carrying was gone and the entire backside of his uniform was burnt. Private Victor on the other hand appeared fine, but he carried Corporal Scott on his back, whose limbs bounced loosely as Victor tried to catch up with Oliver.

      "Hold fire!" Dagmar ordered quickly and stood up on his knees, waving his hands frantically at the members of his team. "Oliver! Victor!" Victor caught sight of Dagmar and shouted to Oliver, who rushed after his team mate. As the two got closer, Dagmar could see how terrified both privates appeared and he stood up completely. However, the two showed no signs of stopping.

      "Sergeant, we gotta go!" Victor yelled, not even stopping near Alpha team. Dagmar reached out and grabbed him however, holding him in place. Oliver paused behind them, wheezing and trying to catch his breath.

      "What the fuck is going on soldier?!" Dagmar shouted. Victor's eyes were wide and crazy as he looked at Dagmar and then in the direction he came from, as if something worse than the Covenant was chasing him.

      "There's no time, there could be more, it will kill us, we have to go!" he shouted.

      "Sarge, enemy spotted!" screamed Lauren, who was still with Thomson and Reynolds. Dagmar kept a firm grip on Victor's shaking body and glanced into the forest. Through the flashes of plasma bolts, he could make out the distinct silhouettes of Covenant Grunts and non-shielded Jackals.

      "Normal rate of fire, go on!" Dagmar ordered. Alpha team opened up on the approaching Covenant platoon with quick three round bursts. Several Grunts attempting to climb over a fallen log collapsed as multiple rounds slammed into their bodies and ripped apart their organs. Aqua blood and methane sprayed everywhere, but the Covenant did not stop. Two Jackals easily jumped over the same log and activated their personal shields. Thomson took one out with an accurate headshot, but the second quickly hid behind its shield and fired back at Alpha team, allowing additional reinforcements to climb over.

      Meanwhile, Sergeant Dagmar was still trying to talk to Victor: "Private, listen to me, what happened? Tell me what's going on here." The Sergeant kept his voice calm, trying to stop Victor from freaking out. But the usual silent sniper was alive with movement and noises. He whimpered and stamped his feet, almost on the verge of tears.

      "Don't you get it? It will kill everything if we don't go. It got Murray, it got Scott, and it'll get you too!" Victor screamed. Dagmar looked behind Victor at Oliver, who was motionless and staring at the ground, his eyes glazed over. There was a massive scar running from the left side of his jaw, across his eye and stopping just above the bridge of his nose. Dagmar could also see a bone sticking out of his left thigh, but the Private stood tall and still regardless.

      "Oliver, what is he talking about? What happened?" Dagmar demanded. Oliver looked up and his mouth opened to speak, when three plasma needles flew past Alpha team and stabbed into Oliver. The Private gasped and looked down, just when the needles exploded in his face, showering him with plasma shards. The deadly explosives ripped open Oliver's uniform and blood sprayed out like fountain water, staining the vegetation around him.

      Victor screamed and broke free of Dagmar's grasp, taking off into the forest. Sergeant Dagmar swore and grabbed Oliver's falling body, easing him slowly to the soil. His skin was deathly pale and his pulse was extremely weak. The Sergeant grabbed Oliver's shaking hand and held it tight while gripping the back of his bleeding cranium.

      "Damnit son, answer me, what happened?" Dagmar asked, holding up Oliver's head. His breathing was quick and troubled as blood began filling up his lungs. Oliver coughed, but his blood-shot eyes were locked with Dagmar's.

      "You-must-leave," Oliver whispered through a trembling mouth.

      "Why? What killed Murray and Scott?" Dagmar asked, holding Oliver close. Oliver's eyes rolled into the back of his head and he mumbled words to himself.

      "It's going to kill." Private Oliver went limp in Dagmar's arms. The Sergeant lowered his body and closed Oliver's eyes. However, his thoughts of sorrow were interrupted by more plasma bolts that flew past. He removed Oliver's tags and then glanced into the forest where Victor had disappeared. He had to find him before he got himself killed.

      "Sarge?" Lauren asked, reloading her battle rifle. The rest of Alpha team were still engaging the Covenant and Dagmar could see dozens of Covie soldiers emerging through the forest. They had stirred up a hornet's nest, meaning it was time to get out before they all got 'stung'.

      "Ozzy peel back to the camp, I will RV with you there, understood?" Dagmar yelled over the fighting. Corporal Lauren nodded and took command of Thomson and Reynolds. Dagmar fired a full magazine of 7.62mm ammo at the Covenant and then took off into the forest, searching for Victor.


Recce, Chapter Three
Date: 11 August 2006, 3:26 am

0400 Hours, October 14, 2552 (Military Calendar)
Siberia, Russia/ Western Siberian Plains

      The RV point was the camp that Sergeant Dagmar had set up when he and his team were first inserted into the forest. It looked secure, but Dagmar kicked himself for not properly tearing down the tent and doing a quick sweep of the area in case the enemy happened to stumble across the little camp. He moved out from his cover of shrubbery and cautiously advanced towards the camouflaged position.

      Dagmar's skills in tracking had been perfected thanks to the "Pathfinders" course he took to get where he was now. The moment he had left Corporal Lauren behind, he'd picked up the trail of Private Victor easily. Victor was carrying Corporal Scott and therefore his footprints were deep and often clustered as if he stumbled a bit. Dagmar had also found blood stained on leaves and the trail ended here at the RV point. Victor was around somewhere and Dagmar meant to find the crazed man.

      The Sergeant entered the small wooded area the camp was set up in, finger just off the trigger of his battle rifle. However, his need of caution was not needed. Private Victor lay on the grass, just outside Dagmar's command tent. His chest was heaving violently as he tried to catch his breath. Corporal Scott lay off to the side, sprawled out and completely motionless. As Dagmar approached Victor, the man stood up and brandished a knife at his Sergeant.

      "Stay away!" Victor screamed.

      "God damnit Victor, keep your voice down," growled Dagmar. Since his departure, Dagmar was unsure if the enemy was around or not and he sure didn't want Victor to compromise their position. One attacker was enough for the Sergeant to deal with, but an entire platoon of Covenant soldiers was another story. He scrutinized the knife, rolled his eyes and glared at Victor. "Son, put down the knife," he said calmly.

      "Fuck you! You aren't taking me, I'll kill you!" Victor shouted. The sniper's eyes were darting back and forth, looking around Dagmar as if there were ghosts surrounding them.

      "Private Victor you will comply with my orders and drop that knife!" Dagmar boomed, ignoring the fact that he was screaming as loud as Victor.

      "No! Never!" Victor was thrashing his arms out against an invisible enemy and grabbing his head as if he was suffering from a major migraine. Dagmar stepped forward, but Victor snapped up and lunged at the Sergeant. "Stay back you piece of shit!"

      "Who the fuck are you?" Dagmar demanded. Victor hesitated and stopped thrashing, looking up at his Sergeant.

      "Jonathan Victor," he answered quietly, still breathing heavily, his face bathed in a cold sweat.

      "What is your rank and serial code, meat?" Dagmar shouted, standing at the position of attention and addressing Victor like he was a mere trainee.

      "Private J. Victor, serial code Juliet-niner-zero, four-one-tree, eight-two-two," Victor shouted back, copying Dagmar's position of attention.

      "What is your godly call sign Private?" Dagmar continued. Victor hesitated, no doubt trying to figure out what was going on. But Dagmar didn't let him and stepped forward so that he was inches away from Victor's face. "Holy fuck boot, you just killed half your team by hesitating like that. When I ask a question, you better well fucking answer or else there will be something worse than hell to pay!"

      "Delta Pathfinders, Special Recon Unit!" answered Victor immediately.

      "And who is your commanding officer in this Special Recon Unit? Spit it out boy!"

      "Sergeant Dagmar!"

      "Then you will obey my command and give me that knife, Private," hissed Dagmar. Victor seemed to have snapped out of his insanity and was acting like he was back in basic training. He held out the knife and Dagmar walked forward. He grabbed Victor's whole hand and pulled Victor towards him, bringing up his other arm and smashing his fist into Victor's face. The man fell back onto the ground and did not get up.

      Dagmar pocketed the knife and knelt down beside the still body of Corporal Scott. There was a large stab wound through his chest, but not a single drop of blood had stained his uniform. As Dagmar examined the hole, he couldn't see any blood at all, just charred skin and bone. His face looked dead, eyes wide open and glazed, skin tone completely white. The Sergeant put two fingers on Scott's neck and his eyes widened. There was a pulse, a weak one, but Scott's heart and brain were still working. How a man could have survived a plasma sword through the body was beyond Dagmar, but he was determined to get the leader of Bravo team saved.

      As Dagmar knelt there between both the surviving soldiers, he remembered what he wanted to originally know from Victor. What had happened to them on their mission? Dagmar knew Victor was in no mood to talk, but the Sergeant gripped the sniper's helmet and carefully removed the personal field recorder. Dagmar had ensured that each member of his team had one. The video feed it captured, was transferred to the computer hub Dagmar had set up within the tent.

      The Sergeant stood, holding the video recorder in one hand and moved to his tent. The chair had been knocked over when Dagmar and Lauren heard Bravo team were in trouble and as he entered the tent again, he righted the chair and sat down in front of the computer monitor. Dagmar then took out several connecting wires from the side of the monitor and plugged them into the USB connections of the recorder. The screen came to life, showing tactical data at first.

UNSC Personal Field Recorder
Personnel: Private Victor, Jonathan (J90-413-822)
Dated: 14 – 10 – 2552
Timing: 0200-0345

Begin recording…

      Dagmar immediately hit the fast forward button, he didn't need to see Corporal Scott's mission briefing or the six halts Scott had given to call in contact reports and then continue sneaking through the forest. He knew his men were flawless and yet they had been nearly wiped out by something that Victor wouldn't explain and Oliver couldn't say. Dagmar intended to find out what that was.

      Dagmar pressed the play button and a patrol of Jackals could be seen moving across the screen, Victor following them with his sniper rifle. As the image rotated, Dagmar could make out a portion of Scott laying beside Victor, but looking away from the Jackals. The Sergeant could only assume he was talking to Oliver and Murray.

      Without warning, one of the Jackals was picked up by something in the trees. As chaos ensued among the Jackals, Dagmar searched the image for the intruder in the trees. It couldn't have been Murray or Oliver, for an ambush like that would've been perfect for Victor and Scott to open fire and neither one had discharged their weapons. The Jackals were confused, screaming at one another. Several more suddenly fell dead and then a plasma sword was ignited.

      The Covenant were killing each other? This sword sliced its way through the last three Jackals and then remained high in the air. Dagmar's mouth was open slightly as he stared at the screen. Plasma swords were carried by Covenant field commanders and assassins, namely Elites. This one seemed different however. Normal swords were double-bladed, yet this one was a single blade of glowing plasma. And the fact that it just destroyed a patrol of Jackals was bewildering. The image shifted as Victor looked at Scott, who gave him a series of hand signals. Victor brought up the sniper rifle and Dagmar had a view from inside the scope of the rifle. The targeting reticule was trained on the sword.

      Shadows moved across the scope and Victor re-positioned it slightly to watch Scott, Oliver and Murray approach the sword, weapons held to their shoulders. The three soldiers were trying to take this invisible assassin as a prisoner, but it wasn't moving. They flanked the sword and Scott gave his last warning.

      Suddenly, the sword disappeared. The night vision brightened as Scott, Oliver and Murray fired at nothing. The scope moved back and forth and Dagmar caught sight of a shape in the forest. It charged forward and slammed its transparent body into Oliver. The image shifted briefly to watch the Private slam into a tree and fall to the ground. There were more flashes across the screen as Murray opened fire into the trees and tried to get to Oliver. Dagmar gasped as the same shape appeared behind Murray and the plasma sword ignited again. Murray turned, but the sword easily cut off his head.

      The entire picture shook suddenly as Victor fired off a round at the sword. Dagmar could just see blood seeping out from a wound as the sword flailed around like a wounded animal. Scott stood nearby, his weapon still up. The sword was suddenly thrown like a spear and it implanted itself into Scott's chest. Victor immediately fired off the rest of his clip. Dagmar saw a blurred image of a tall, muscular creature appear and then fall to the ground, just as Victor stood up and ran to Scott's body.

      The rest of the video was Victor picking up Scott, waking up the wounded Oliver and making a run through the forest, just as Covenant reinforcements arrived. Dagmar hit the rewind button and paused the image as the sword was thrown into Scott again. He let it play a little bit and paused it again as Victor emptied his clip into the creature. He squinted at the blurred outline, confused. It didn't look like an Elite, much too muscular. Elites had powerful, broad shoulders and long arms. This creature looked humanoid, with an oddly shaped head. It was easily seven or eight feet tall, but beyond that, Dagmar couldn't see much else.

      The Sergeant leaned back in the chair, like he had done when he had been bored watching the mission unfold. It had fully unfolded into a complete disaster, something Dagmar would have to fix. He had two men down, one wounded and one unable to perform proper duties. There objectives were to find the downed Pelican, but from what he'd gathered, Corporal Scott had reached the desired coordinates and found nothing.

      He'd have to split what remained of his team. Dagmar would keep all of Alpha team with him and send Victor and Scott back to HQ or up to the Black Hawk, where perhaps Captain Savard could get some more information out of Dagmar's crazed sniper. Dagmar would then conduct his own patrol of the surrounding area to try and find this Pelican.

      Dagmar's field radio wouldn't be able to communicate with the Black Hawk, so he searched for a T22 land to air radio kit. Upon finding the massive radio, he set the frequency for UNSC Fleet COM and grabbed the radio headset. As soon as he did a preliminary inspection and activated the radio, he was swarmed with requests for acknowledgment by the emotionless radio operator from the Black Hawk. He clicked the send button, muting the operator and held the microphone to his mouth.

      "Zero, this is 2-1-Alpha, message, over," he said.

      "2-1-Alpha, this is Zero Sunlight, where the fuck have you been, over?" growled a harsh voice, ignoring proper radio voice procedures. Dagmar sighed; 'Zero Sunlight' meant that he was speaking to Captain Savard.

      "Zero Sunlight, SIT REP: Two KIA, two WIA. Request immediate extract for wounded personnel, over," explained Dagmar. There was a pause and Dagmar could hear gunshots off in the distance. Corporal Lauren was close.

      "2-1-Alpha, SIT REP acknowledged. Extraction to your position not possible. Move personnel to coordinates four-niner-four, seven-one-six for starlight and extract, over." Captain Savard was calmer now that he'd heard there were casualties in the field. He was a strong and proud leader, but he was compassionate for those that worked under him. It pained him as much as it pained Dagmar that two men were dead.

      "Zero Sunlight, coordinates confirmed, out." Dagmar shut off the radio and grabbed his battle rifle. The gunshots were few, but they were extremely close. The Sergeant quickly checked his map and could see that the extraction point given by the Captain was approximately a kilometre away, located within a valley just big enough for a Pelican. It was one of the few valleys located within this area of the forest. Dagmar left the map on the table and grabbed his battle rifle, cocking it and moving out of the tent.

      More gunshots echoed straight ahead of Dagmar, who moved to the edge of their camp, keeping his head low. Victor and Scott were both still unconscious on the ground, but Dagmar moved past them and crouched down behind a massive log. He raised his battle rifle to his face and peered into the scope. He targeted three fast moving shadows in the forest and switched on his night vision. The faces of Corporal Lauren, Private Thomson and Private Reynolds appeared in Dagmar's scope. The Sergeant quickly put down his rifle and pulled out a small signal flare. He ignited it, waved it twice in the air and then tossed it to the ground. Dagmar looked back into his scope and could see his three soldiers maneuvering themselves towards his position.

      Dagmar moved the rifle to the right and could make out a small group of Covenant chasing his team. Four Grunts, two Jackals and an Elite saw Dagmar's signal flare go off and followed Alpha team towards the Sergeant's position. Dagmar's current fire position was compromised with Lauren, Thomson and Reynolds advancing towards him. He repositioned himself behind a cluster of trees, five metres away from the flare and got a clear sight on the Covenant. Dagmar tapped the trigger of his rifle and sent bursts of ammo at the leading Grunts. The first two Grunts flipped over backwards in the air, sprawling out on the ground with aqua blood leaking from holes in their small heads. A third Grunt took several bullets to the chest. Its methane tank ruptured and exploded, blowing the Grunt into several pieces. The remaining Grunt watched its comrade erupt, turned and ran away, squealing in its odd language.

      Dagmar heard movement nearby and could see Alpha team positioning themselves by the log Dagmar had been at. They sprayed the battlefield with ammo, forcing the two charging Jackals to hide behind their personal energy shields. The Elite advanced behind them and tossed a plasma grenade. It landed on Thomson's helmet. Thomson calmly took off his head protection and tossed it back at the approaching Covenant. It exploded in the air, showering the Jackals with plasma. They halted and Dagmar ordered a rapid fire rate. Alpha team changed clips of ammo and fired at a constant rate of one bullet per second. The rounds overpowered both Jackals and eventually struck through their weak armour. As they collapsed, the Elite charged, firing its plasma rifle wildly. Thomson, who carried Alpha team's sniper rifle, unslung the powerful weapon from his back, cocked it and fired. The 14.5mm slug easily pierced the shields around the field commander's head, blowing out the back of its helmet and spraying brain matter and blood everywhere. The Elite fell to its knees and then toppled forward, dead.

      Dagmar switched on the safety on his rifle and turned to Lauren. She had ditched her helmet and had replaced it with a camouflage bandana. There was a large scar on her cheek and she was breathing heavily. She gave him a two-fingered salute regardless and smiled beautifully.

      "Reporting as ordered Sarge," she said. Dagmar looked over Thomson and Reynolds.

      Thomson was six foot five and could move so silently through a forest, it was like he wasn't even there. As a Special Reconnaissance unit, they were all scouts, but within the team, Dagmar used him often as a scout and would order him to advance ahead to report on what was there. In replace for Thomson's helmet, he covered his shaved head with black camouflage paint and looked good to go.

      Reynolds was two hundred pounds of pure muscle; his uniform bulged around the arms and chest. He wore a black toque and had a small limp in his step. Dagmar examined his legs and noticed plasma scaring on his thigh.

      "You get hit?" Dagmar asked. Reynolds shrugged.

      "Nothing to be worried about Sergeant," he said. Dagmar grinned. He'd seen Reynolds take three plasma bolts and keep on fighting before Dagmar ordered him off the field.

      "The Covenant are attacking in waves, small search and destroy parties of 10-15 troops. Any plans yet Sarge?" Lauren asked. Dagmar glanced over at the still bodies of Victor and Scott and nodded.

      "Thomson and Reynolds, secure this area for now, we'll be moving out soon. Lauren come with me," he quickly ordered. They dispersed and Corporal Lauren followed Sergeant Dagmar into the tent. As they entered, Dagmar pointed to the chair by the monitor and Lauren sat down. The image of the creature being shot by Victor was still frozen on the screen and Lauren stared at it, perplexed.

      "What the fuck is that?" she asked.

      "What killed Murray and wounded Scott," answered Dagmar, looking at his map. Lauren glanced over at her Sergeant's back.

      "Wounded Scott?" she repeated.

      "Yeah, he's still got a pulse. Don't know how though, he took a plasma sword through the chest," explained Dagmar. Lauren looked back at the screen.

      "Were they ambushed?" she asked.

      "Short version of the story: they watched a Jackal patrol get ambushed by that creature, tried to take it in as a prisoner and got fucked up," Dagmar said, looking at Lauren who raised one eyebrow.

      "Called it in?"

      "Yeah, extract is a kilometre south of here," explained Dagmar, "We need to move, get Scott and Victor on that Pelican and then I'll fill everyone in on what's happened." The Sergeant turned away from Corporal Lauren and began rolling up his map and stuffing it into his tactical vest.

      "Yes Sergeant," said Lauren, standing up from the table. She turned to the tent entrance, when it opened suddenly. Private Victor stepped inside, a battle rifle shouldered and his sniper rifle slung over his back. His one eye was swelled up badly, but his other looked calm and he scrutinized Dagmar and Lauren.

      "Sergeant Dagmar, permission to rejoin Delta Pathfinders," Victor said smartly. His voice seemed normal, no longer high-pitched and crazed like before. Dagmar had obviously knocked some sense into him. He crossed his arms and studied Victor carefully.

      "Corporal Lauren, pack up any essential equipment and help secure the perimeter. We'll be leaving soon," Dagmar ordered, not taking his eyes of Victor.

      "Sergeant," acknowledged Lauren, pushing past Victor and exiting the tent. Dagmar leaned against one of the tent poles and looked up at Victor.

      "Son, what do you remember?" he asked first.

      "My team members were being attacked by something we couldn't see and my mind snapped. I was crazy Sergeant," Victor immediately explained. Dagmar nodded.

      "You tried to kill me Private, and now you're asking me that you want back in?" Victor didn't answer and merely stood still at attention. Dagmar had seen men crack like that in the field before, even quiet ones like Victor. Those with troubled pasts often expressed their pent up emotions when bullets started to fly past their heads and kill people.

      "Victor, when this team first came together, you kept to yourself mostly. You rarely paid attention to teamwork. I know your past; I know teamwork has never been your forte," Dagmar went on, watching Victor's posture stiffen at the mention of his past, "But in this type of combat, something like trust can determine the fate of you, or the guy next to you. We need trust in order to survive and be an effective team." Victor remained silent; he knew he deserved this talk.

      "You broke that trust when you ran from battle and turned the knife on me. I've seen it happen before and most teams don't last a battle when one soldier goes crazy and leaves his team, his brothers and sisters. I can't have that happen here." Victor's solid expression was beginning to soften. Dagmar couldn't let him come back; soldiers like Victor needed counseling before they could go back to war.

      "This mission is delicate and so is your mind Victor. I can't let you rejoin the group. We're moving out to an extraction point and you'll evac with Scott. I'm sure Captain Savard will have some questions for you and you can explain what happened down here," Dagmar said, ending the conversation. Victor remained still, staring straight ahead. He suddenly checked his arms to the side and came properly to attention.

      "Yes Sergeant!" he yelled. Dagmar looked him over and nodded.

      "Dismissed, Private." Victor performed an about turn, marched three steps and then exited the tent. Dagmar watched him go and sighed. Another helping hand would've been great, but it was like Dagmar had said, trust was vital and he didn't know if he could trust Victor after the incident. Soldiers who cracked weren't to blame; they'd seen death so many times that it just got to their heads. But Dagmar didn't want to see more of his troops killed and not only was he perhaps saving lives by refusing Victor, but he was also saving Victor's life.

      Dagmar's thoughts were interrupted by gunfire and Lauren appeared in the tent again. "Enemy contact Sarge, it's now or never," she said quickly before going back into battle. Dagmar slammed on his Sergeant cap, cocked his battle rifle and exited the tent.

      "Pathfinders, rally on me, we're moving out!"


Recce, Chapter Four
Date: 18 August 2006, 7:17 am

0500 Hours, October 14, 2552 (Military Calendar)
Siberia, Russia/ Western Siberian Plains

      "Sentry to Alpha team, landing zone appears clear. I say again, landing zone appears clear, over."

      "Alpha to Sentry, roger, we are coming to you, out." The clusters of bushes and plants that formed a scattered circle around the desired location for the Pelican landing zone began moving erratically against the morning wind that was blasting through the forest. Sergeant Dagmar emerged with his team and they quickly crossed through the small valley, scanning left and right with their weapons for any enemy contact. Private Thomson had a good eye, but he only said that the landing zone appeared clear.

      Sergeant Dagmar dropped into a mound of tall grass and watched Corporal Lauren, Private Victor and Private Reynolds rush past him and form an all around defense on Dagmar. Reynolds carefully laid Corporal Scott onto the ground and checked for a pulse. He nodded to Dagmar. Scott looked like a mess however. His skin was mostly white, with random patches of a grey tone and odd coloured veins were pulsing out of his forehead and neck. They had to get him out of here quickly. Dagmar had handed the field radio to Private Thomson. He glanced to his right and patted his hand on his head. Thomson suddenly dropped down from a tree above Dagmar and took a knee beside the Sergeant, offering him the radio headset. Dagmar nodded his thanks and then put the receiver to his ear.

      "Zero, this is 2-1-Alpha, message, over," Dagmar whispered. A faint hiss of static could be heard, which lasted for thirty seconds before a different voice answered Dagmar.

      "2-1-Alpha, this is November 213, I am currently en route to coordinates: four-niner-four, seven-one-six, over," a Texas-accent voice answered. Dagmar recognized the call sign however and knew that it was their pick up.

      "November 213, roger that, 2-1-Alpha is at desired coordinates, awaiting starlight, over," said Dagmar, referring to medical personnel for Corporal Scott.

      "2-1-Alpha, ETA: five minutes, sit tight, over," the pilot of the Pelican dropship responded.

      "November 213, will do, out." Dagmar handed the headset back to Thomson and turned to look at his squad. Every leader knew that five minutes could be like five hours, depending on the situation. In this case, there was an unknown weapon in this area that had the ability to take out aircraft without any possibility of evasion. Not only that, but the Covenant could choose a precise moment during the five minutes to attack, forcing Dagmar and his troops to fight them off before the Pelican could land. He bit his lower lip and went through his options.

      "Alpha team, on me," he said suddenly. His small squad gathered around him in a tight circle, facing outwards and scanning the forest with their weapons. Dagmar looked at the back of their heads, knowing full well that half of their attention was directed towards him.

      "Here's the deal. We got a Pelican incoming in five minutes to evac Scott and Victor, but there's still a weapon in this forest that can take out aircraft easily, along with a couple thousand divisions of Covenant troops. So I'm thinking that five minutes could become longer. For the time being, I want a tight perimeter on me, watch and shoot. Once the Pelican comes and leaves, we will start where Bravo team left off and continue looking for this damned weapon. We clear?" explained Dagmar.

      Corporal Lauren answered for the rest of the team: "Understood Sarge." Dagmar nodded and watched his team disperse into the forest. They formed a spearhead perimeter around Dagmar. Lauren and Reynolds crouched in the grass to the left and right of the Sergeant, while Thomson posted himself directly to Dagmar's rear. He would most likely help defend Victor and Scott. The two men were near Dagmar, in the middle of the perimeter. Victor had not said a word since his Sergeant had spoken to him and calmly lay in the grass beside Corporal Scott. Dagmar had had Reynolds disarm Victor, but they allowed him to keep his sidearm, so long as it stayed in its holster until circumstances proved to be too difficult for Alpha team to handle. The sniper had complied and had seemed to have returned to his silent personality like before.

      Satisfied, Dagmar turned back around to cover the valley. Since the loss of Bravo team, the Sergeant's military thought process was split in two. On one side, he had an unknown creature that had killed half of Bravo team and critically wounded another. Dagmar remembered watching Victor's recorder, he saw the creature go down after Victor fired, but this didn't change the fact that Bravo team was down and that there could be more of those creatures.

      The other side of Dagmar's mind was focused on this weapon that had taken out the Pelican carrying advance forces and supplies for Moscow. This landing zone was not far off from where the Pelican had gone down. Alpha team had gone through the necessary reconnaissance steps; Corporal Lauren and Private Thomson had completed a full box clear out of this valley, searching for booby traps and/or hidden Covenant ambushes. Nothing could sneak up on them so easily. But this weapon clearly was able to wipe out targets from a large distance away. Dagmar bit his bottom lip. Although things were calm now, the situation was dire.

      "Possible contact, my twelve," Thomson whispered suddenly into his radio. Dagmar slowly turned his upper body around to see Thomson raise his rifle to his head and peer into the scope. The Sergeant glanced over at Lauren, put two fingers to his eyes and then pointed towards the valley. Lauren nodded and covered Dagmar's rear as he slowly lowered himself into the grass and 'leopard crawled' towards Thomson, picking his way carefully around sticks and leaves to prevent excessive noise.

      "Contact report," whispered Lauren over the radio. While they were within close proximity to each other, there was no need for formality over the radio.

      "Movement in the bushes Corporal," answered Thomson. Dagmar pulled himself up against a tree near Thomson and raised his head above the tall grass. His eyesight couldn't see anything out of place, so he raised his battle rifle and peered into the scope, zooming in and scanning left and right of where Thomson was looking. He still saw nothing and looked at the Private with a questioning look. Thomson shifted slightly and leaned in close to Dagmar

      "Two o'clock reference: intertwined tree trunks," he whispered, motioning to the distance. Dagmar moved his eyesight slightly right and searched the forest foreground and background until he found two trees that were twisted together as they rose towards the forest canopy.

      "Seen," confirmed Dagmar.

      "Three quarters left, patch of dark green shrubbery," Thomson continued, leaning away from his Sergeant. Dagmar looked into his scope, targeted the trees and slowly began moving to the left. A strong wind blew through the forest, shaking the bushes that were crossing through Dagmar's site. When the wind died out, several of the bushes were still moving when everything else had stopped. Dagmar nodded.

      "Confirm that possible contact, we have unknown movement in a patch of bushes two hundred metres to my two o'clock," Dagmar reported over the radio. He caught sight of Lauren and raised a fist at her. She nodded and passed the signal to hold position over to Reynolds.

      "Thomson, arm your sniper rifle. Let's make this a quick fire fight," explained the Sergeant. Thomson nodded and slowly lowered his battle rifle. The massive S2 AM sniper rifle was slung over Thomson's back. He dropped to the ground to prevent the vegetation around him from moving and took hold of the rifle, loading it carefully with a clip of four rounds and cocking it.

      Meanwhile, Dagmar kept his sight on the bushes. The movement had spread from the very middle, to the entire patch shifting and being pushed around by something advancing through them. The Sergeant fastened a silencer onto the end of his battle rifle and propped it against a low hanging branch. Thomson slowly crawled over to the right and sought cover among a cluster of tall grass. The Alpha team sniper wore a bush cap, covered in leaves and had his face covered in green, brown and black camouflage paint. He wouldn't be spotted easily and his accuracy would ensure that not a single enemy soldier would have a chance to look.

      As if on cue, the bushes parted finally and the glowing colours of yellow and blue Jackal personal shields greeted Sergeant Dagmar. He immediately sighted the lead Jackal, but watched a phalanx of Grunts appear behind them, with two Elites closely following. Dagmar's scope was dancing all over the place, so he forced himself to breath slowly and the reticule slowly centered itself on the lead Jackal's exposed body. They were relaxed, the shields hanging from their sides, weapons holstered. The Grunts behind the Jackals were chatting loudly in their odd language and Dagmar could make out the Elites' silently conversing with each other. Dagmar kept his battle rifle braced against the branch and moved his one hand to his radio.

      "Thomson, I want those Elites dead, out," whispered Dagmar, not expecting a response from the sniper. Dagmar put his hand back onto his rifle and got ready, focusing the optical sight on the Jackals. When Dagmar gave a command, his soldiers did everything possible to comply. Dagmar grinned as the sniper rifle near him fired.

      Two 14.5mm slugs pierced the morning air, traveling at light speed to their targets. The Elites had no time to react. The one on the right had just opened its mouth to speak when the first bullet entered its throat. The round easily punctured the body shield, rupturing through the flesh and exploding out the other side. A steady stream of blood poured out from the Elites' mouth as it stopped and fell backwards, its limbs twitching.

      The last Elite took the second round in the side of the head, as it turned to talk to its now dead partner. The combat helmet shattered and leaked blood and brain matter as the bullet lodged itself deep within the Elites' skull. The Field Commander spun around on the spot and then collapsed to the ground. All this happened so slowly to Dagmar's eyes, but as time sped up and the Jackals turned their unprotected backs to him, he snapped out of his trance and pressed down on the trigger.

      His battle rifle coughed, sending silenced three-round bursts of ammo at the ambushed Covenant patrol. Two Jackals immediately fell forwards as their heads were taken off by the accurate rounds of the rifle. Another Jackal was cut down as it spun around to search for the enemy. The remaining three ducked behind their shields, and Dagmar's rounds harmlessly bounced and ricocheted off of them, straight into the Grunts that scattered behind the Jackals.

      Sergeant Dagmar's ammo counter read zero and when he examined the bolt, he saw it was directly to the rear of the chamber. As Dagmar ejected the spent clip and grabbed a new one, Thomson fired a new clip of sniper rounds. Four rounds zoomed down range, smashed into the three confused Jackals and continued through into the remaining Grunts. As the bodies crumpled to the cold ground, three Grunts remained. Dagmar quickly disengaged the bolt catch and fired, hitting the first two Grunts in the head and the final one in the chest. Their methane tanks ruptured and sprayed the Grunts bodies as they fell, officially silenced by the Delta Pathfinders.

      Like always, the soldiers waited five minutes and listened carefully for any hint of counter-attack. Dagmar had his eyes glued to the surrounding vegetation and was just waiting for another Grunt or Jackal to stick their head out for him to pick off. He drummed his fingers lightly along the hand guards of his rifle and continued to survey the jungle.

      "Where you at mother fuckers, where you at?" he whispered softly. As if on cue, plasma fire erupted from behind the Sergeant.

      "Contact! Enemy at my twelve, my twelve!" Lauren screamed to her squad, dropping down to the prone position and firing off several rounds from her rifle. Dagmar turned and took a quick glance at the battle before dropping himself into the grass. A platoon size group of Covenant charged across the valley to the Pathfinder's position. Dagmar quickly ordered Thomson to suppress them, while he moved forward and took up position between Reynolds and Lauren.

      "Victor, cover our six!" the Sergeant roared as he flicked off his safety and fired off quick bursts at the fast approaching enemy. The Covenant lines were a mess; their field commanders had made no attempt to protect themselves or the Grunts with the shielded Jackals. They merely charged forward, firing their plasma weapons into the shrubbery. It gave Dagmar and his team easy targets, but they were vastly outnumbered.

      "Loading!" Reynolds announced beside Dagmar, tossing aside an empty magazine and quickly inspecting a new one before inserting it into the magazine feed port and cocking the weapon. Two Grunts flew backwards from a single sniper round from Thomson, and a Jackal was overwhelmed with bullets from Lauren and Dagmar. The Sergeant paused to reload, and as his ears stopped ringing, he could make out several Elites bark out orders to their troops. The Covenant slowly stopped their hasty assault and began to retreat into the vegetation, firing from behind cover. Dagmar cocked his weapon and peered into the battle sight. The valley was littered with Covenant bodies, but a vast majority of the platoon remained and was hiding behind boulders, trees, anything that could provide them with sufficient protection.

      "Sarge, we may have a problem. Reference your ten o'clock," Corporal Lauren said into the radio. Dagmar shifted his rifle to the left and squinted. In the foreground, several Grunts ignited plasma grenades and threw them into the air. Luckily, the grenades landed among the dead Covenant in the valley and erupted harmlessly. Dagmar however searched the background and could see something massive moving through the forest. Huge trees were being knocked down, which to Dagmar meant that the Covenant had vehicle support.

      "Thomson, hold fire and get over to me," the Sergeant immediately ordered into his radio. Seconds after he let go of his headset, Thomson crawled up beside Dagmar.

      "Sergeant," he acknowledged.

      "Give me the radio phone and get out your map, hurry, we need to call in a fire mission," said Dagmar anxiously, putting down his rifle, but keeping his eyes on the approaching Covenant vehicle. Thomson didn't waste any time; he zipped open his tactical vest and retrieved his map with one arm, while grabbing the radio phone with his other and giving it to his Sergeant. He then spread out the map on the grass for Dagmar. As Thomson resumed firing at the enemy, Sergeant Dagmar looked at the map and wrote down their grid location and the approximate location of the Covenant tank. He then put the radio phone to his ear and clicked the send button.

      "Zero, this is 2-1-Alpha, fire mission, over," Dagmar said.

      "2-1-Alpha, this is Zero, send request and we'll overlay to ground units, over," came the voice of one of the Black Hawk's tactical officers. The ground units were located all the way in Moscow, which had been outfitted with ten batteries of fast-firing artillery canons. Dagmar re-checked his figures and then spoke into the headset.

      "Fire mission, para-alpha: four-niner-four, seven-one-six. Bravo: 0875 mils, north-north east. Charlie: Covenant armoured support and infantry platoon. Delta: Eliminate for five minutes, repeat eliminate for five minutes, over," said Dagmar, slowly explaining the orders so the officer could write it down. He looked up to see several Covenant soldiers crawl aside as a Wraith mortar tank moved into the valley.

      "2-1-Alpha, say again Charlie, over," requested the Lieutenant. Dagmar swore and held the phone tight.

      "Zero, I say again charlie: Covenant armoured support unit and infantry platoon, over," he said carefully.

      "2-1-Alpha, confirmed fire mission request, relaying to November 3-2-Bravo, over," the Lieutenant responded immediately.

      "Zero, roger that, out." The Sergeant packed the phone back into Thomson's radio pack and then resumed firing his rifle at the Covenant attack force. The Wraith tank moved into the open, its large turret spiraling around, searching for a target. Twin plasma turrets mounted on its front turned and sprayed the area the Pathfinders were hiding in.

      "Get down!" Dagmar roared, flattening himself to the dirt. Thomson was putting the radio phone away over his back, when a plasma bolt exploded on his exposed shoulder. He grimaced, and immediately rolled over on his back, placing one hand over the burned wound and grabbing his field dressing from his vest with his injured arm. Reynolds' helmet flew off his head as another bolt slammed into it. The plasma began to melt the material and he quickly tossed it aside, keeping as low as possible. Any closer and they were all going to die. Dagmar could barely make out the firing turret pivot and aim at the tall grass he was hiding in. Where the hell was the artillery, why wasn't this area bathed in fire?

      The Wraith tank fired, but the plasma mortar flew over their heads and exploded behind their position, spraying plasma over Victor and the unconscious Corporal Scott. The ground shook like an earthquake and Dagmar's teeth rattled against each other as the mortar orb erupted. He reached into his vest and pulled out an M-69 fragmentation grenade.

      "Pathfinders, rapid rate of fire on centre of axis, go, go!" Dagmar ordered. Without hesitation, the three soldiers along side Dagmar raised their weapons back into the air and opened fire. As the plasma turrets turned to target them, Dagmar burst out from under his cover and rushed straight at the tank. The nearby Covenant attempted to get a shot, but Dagmar was too fast. In less than thirty seconds, he was climbing the enemy artillery vehicle, and pulling the pin on his grenade. With his left boot, he slammed the driver's hatch until one of the hinges broke and exposed a portion of the cockpit. Dagmar quickly inserted the grenade through the hole, turned and dove into the air. The grenade detonated, obliterating the Elite within and destroying vital controls. The plasma engine caught fire and exploded, blowing apart the armour that protected it.

      Dagmar tucked and rolled as he landed, his back partially scarred from the flame. He turned to see the plasma turrets on the Wraith swivel around and target him. Obviously, the grenade had not been as effective as the Sergeant had hoped. However, as he bolted back to his team, Dagmar heard the familiar whistle of artillery shells coming down through the air.

      "Arty, arty, arty!" screamed Corporal Lauren, covering her head. Dagmar once again dropped to the ground beside Thomson and lowered his head to the dirt.

      Colossal 155mm explosive shells slammed into the valley in front of the Pathfinders and detonated in massive fireballs that surrounded the area. Columns of fire rose into the sky, along with the screams of Covenant soldiers engulfed in the flame and utterly destroyed by the explosions. The heat was intense and Dagmar forced himself to push his head further into the ground.

      It was a scene out of hell, as if the ground had opened up and exposed the realm of fire and death. Shells continued to rain down from above, creating immense craters in the once smooth terrain and ripping apart the vegetation. One round penetrated the Wraith tank that had not moved and the resulting explosion split the vehicle in two, each half burning with plasma and ripped apart by additional shells. Unknown to the Pathfinders, there had been a second Wraith tank advancing to their position. However, as more shells came down, the artillery vehicle caught fire and its pilot immediately abandoned the cockpit, only to be ripped apart by the explosion of multiple shells around the tank.

      Five minutes passed and the whistling of incoming artillery shells ceased. Dagmar slowly raised his head and scanned his surroundings carefully. His ears were pounding with blood as adrenaline raced through his system, yet he kept his wits about him and brought up his weapon to his shoulder. The valley was lit up by fire and smoke billowed into the air. The once green forest was completely annihilated, becoming a barren and burning black wasteland. Siberia was the realm of ice and snow, but this was not present here. The Pathfinders were bathed in heat and even the trees had been wiped clean from the surface. There wasn't a single body lying around of the Covenant platoon that had been attacking them.

      Dagmar's first thoughts were that the rising black smog would be an excellent smoke signal for nearby Covenant troops. The counter on his battle rifle blinked twenty rounds, with one clip remaining in his vest. There was no way they could fend off another assault. His team gathered near him, keeping their weapons up and peering through the optical sights.

      "Cas rep!" Dagmar ordered. The team quickly examined their weapons kit, checking to see how many magazines and grenades they went through during the battle. Thomson grimaced as he finished taping up the wound he received on his shoulder and then spoke first.

      "Six plus four clips, one grenade, minor shoulder wound."

      "Eight clips, two grenades, all okay," Reynolds said next.

      "Eight clips, one grenade, all okay," finished Lauren. In total, Dagmar estimated that they had a total of four battle rifle magazines left and maybe half a sniper rifle clip. He sighed and wiped sweat from his brow. The pilot's promise of five minutes seemed like hours ago and as they stood in that burning valley, the hours kept getting larger.

      The distant sound of jet engines caught the Sergeant's attention and he looked up from the ground. Lauren and the others also looked to the sky, searching for the source of the sudden commotion. Dagmar stood, squinted through the burning trees and saw a black shape moving towards them.

      "Pelican inbound, let's get ready," Dagmar announced happily. Lauren and Reynolds grabbed smoke grenades from their tactical vests and pulled the pins, tossing them into the destroyed valley. As white smoke billowed from the two canisters, Thomson turned to where they had left Victor and Scott, but he froze.

      "Sergeant!" Thomson yelled. Dagmar turned away from the Pelican that was hovering above them and gasped. Victor lay twenty feet away, unconscious in the jungle vegetation. Corporal Scott however was awake and standing, looking at his team mates with an emotionless gaze.

      "Corporal Scott?" Lauren asked. He did not answer. Dagmar looked over Scott and could see that he had changed. His skin color had gone from a pale white to a dark grey. Along his arms, neck and the sides of his face were veins that were colored black and purple, as if he was on some sort of drug. The pupils of his eyes were completely black and during the time of his unconsciousness, he seemed to have grown an additional two feet. His muscles were even bigger than Reynolds. Something had happened to him, he did not look at all human. Thomson seemed to feel this too and he slowly reached for his sidearm.

      "No, Thomson!" yelled Dagmar, reaching out to the Private. The being that had been Scott saw this hostile movement and reacted. With incredible speed, it lunged forward and slammed its fist into Thomson's chest. The soldier flew ten feet backwards and skidded along the charred ground of the valley.

      Scott spun around and slammed his boot into the side of Sergeant Dagmar's face. The world spun as Dagmar flipped over backwards and landed on the ground, blood trickling from a gash on his head. Lauren and Reynolds raised their weapons and fired. Scott however disappeared from view momentarily, and then reappeared behind the two soldiers, his movements blurred by his incredible speed. He grabbed Lauren by the head and tossed her effortlessly into the wreckage of the destroyed Wraith tank.

      Scott went to grab Reynolds, but the big man reacted quickly by grabbing onto Scott's wrist. Scott bawled his other fist, but Reynolds grabbed that arm also. The two grappled with one another, trying to overpower each other. Scott suddenly broke free of Reynolds' grasp and lashed out quickly with two punches that struck Reynolds in the chest. He stumbled backwards, but was able to recover quickly and block two more punches with one arm; bringing the other around and slamming it into Scott's face. Reynolds suddenly screamed in pain as the knuckles on his hand broke. Scott's emotionless face suddenly grinned and he roundhouse kicked Reynolds backwards with so much force that the tree he slammed into cracked near the bottom and nearly fell over.

      Sergeant Dagmar meanwhile slowly sat up, shaking off the nausea that passed through his body. He saw that his team was down and turned to see Scott standing in the middle of the valley, looking up at the Pelican that was still attempting to land.

      Suddenly, white light appeared in Scott's left hand and grew to become a ball of pulsating energy the size of a basketball. Without warning, the radio equipment Dagmar still carried exploded with static and then went completely dead. The Pelican pilot's confused voice was cut off sharply by a hiss of interference. The Sergeant however paid no attention to this and stared at Scott with utter confusion. This was the source of the electromagnetic pulse that had taken down the Pelican? But how? Scott wasn't even here in the forest when that had happened.

      Dagmar's mind searched for answers. It was clearly electromagnetic energy coming from Scott since Dagmar's heads up display was flashing warning symbols and all of his radio gear had become non-serviceable. There couldn't be another cause or source, they had searched the forest thoroughly and found nothing else except for spooked Covenant.

      The eyes of Sergeant Dagmar suddenly widened as the realization hit him. There was something else besides Covenant soldiers: The creature that had ambushed the Jackal patrol and Dagmar's men. The Sergeant's memory played flashbacks in his head of the video recording of this thing attacking Murray and Oliver, and then tossing a sword at Scott. What had that sword been? It obviously didn't kill Corporal Scott, but it turned him into something that wasn't human.

      And this something suddenly raised the ball of energy in Scott's hand and shot it at the Pelican that was still trying to land safely in the valley. The EMP enveloped the Pelican like a shield, but as Dagmar looked on, he saw the engines explode, the cockpit collapse, and fire break out along the hull. The shield then collapsed with a violent shockwave that blasted Dagmar and his squad backwards, leaving plenty of room for the Pelican to come crashing to the ground.

      With no pilot and no engines, the dropship simply fell straight down and landed heavily on the destroyed ground. The twin wings exploded and the rear tail fin cracked in half. Small explosions dotted the hull as interior systems exploded and fires roared around the wreckage. While this was happening, Corporal Scott stood silently nearby, looking over the crash site. He suddenly smirked and then turned around, walking away into the forest. He took five steps, and then disappeared completely.