Recon, part 1
Date: 17 October 2008, 11:03 pm
HBOFF: You're Doing it Write
Celer, Silens, Mortalis
--Motto of the United States Marine Corps' 1st Reconnaisance Battalion. Later adopted by the UNSC Marine Corps' 1st ODST Recon Batallion. Translation: Swift, Silent, Deadly.
ODST Lieutenant-Colonel Brian Hendersen entered the UNSC Frigate Sundown's briefing room, and the battalion seated within snapped to attention. The commander of the 1st ODST Reconnaisance Battalion had, as always, a lit cuban cigar clamped in his mouth, its red tip making for a vivid contrast with his graying black hair. At his side, as always, was Sergeant-Major John Sharpe, the heavy-set NCO carrying his customary M7 SOPMOD submachine gun slung over his back. "As you were," said the battalion commander.
Lance Corporal Adrian Shephard, seated in the front row, did not hesitate to sit down, tucking his helmet between his legs. His squad leader, Sergeant James, collapsed next to him. "What do you think the short-bird has planned, Sir?" asked Shephard.
The Sergeant shook his head. "Damned if I know. And cut your bloody hair already."
Shephard ran a hand over the brown stubble on his skull; he normally kept himself cut bald: hair underneath a full-helmet was just annoying. "Yeah. Next thing you know, I'll be tripping over it, 'ey Sarge?"
James made no reply: the Lieutenant-Colonel had begun the briefing. "Helljumpers, as I'm sure you all know by now, the Covenant have invaded Earth. The 405th Infantry has been attempting to repel their landings at New Mombasa. They're...not doing so well." A trim-looking Staff Sergeant raised her hand. "Yes, Staff Sergeant?"
"Infantry casualties, Sir?"
"We don't know. Prowler Say My Name has been in contact with city's urban infrastructure AI, but hasn't been able to get anything useful. I think it's safe to assume that New Mombasa is fast falling under Covie control."
The same non-com who had spoken earlier leaned forward, an intent look on her face. "Why New Mombasa, Sir? Why not someplace important like New York, or Sydney?"
The Sergeant-Major shot a swift look at Hendersen, almost as if asking permission for something. Hendersen gave a minute shake of his head. "We don't know. We have our orders, and we're going to execute them. Oorah?"
The briefing hall sounded with the sound of the age-old battlecry, save for one person: the inquistive Staff Sergeant. "Sir, with all due respect, you haven't even told us our mission."
Shephard, intrigued by the outspoken senior NCO, took a closer look: young, about his age, probably late twenties. She had short-cut blonde hair, and high cheekbones that gave her a striking face. "Sarge, who is that?"
James slipped on his helmet to check the woman's IFF. "Never seen her before. Hang on...Staff Sergeant Heidi Brock...platoon sergeant, Delta Three. Hunh. That's our unit. In any case, why? Gonna go after someone so soon after that pilot...what was her name?"
"Hocus," grated Shephard. "Her name was Hocus."
The squad leader shrugged. "I---" A black shape loomed over James, cutting him off.
"You done yet?" asked Sergeant-Major Sharpe.
James' British mannerism's often became more pronounced after stress. "Aye aye, Sarn't-Major."
Lieutenant-Colonel Hendersen had a small half-smile on his face. "Done? Good. Our mission is to recon New Mombasa and set up forward outposts for the 405th to re-establish control of the city. Simple as that, easy as that, likely to get you killed as that. We're operating in squad formations for this one, the better to spread out and scout out the area. Drop in one hour, people, get your affects together. Good luck to all of you."
As they filed out of the briefing room, Shephard nudged James. "There's that Staff Sergeant again, whats-her-name...Brock. Can you get my gear together?"
"Semper fi, eh, mate?" replied James. "Good luck."
Shephard nodded, tucked his helmet under his arm, and moved in.
Like so many targets on the battlefield, Staff Sergeant Brock sensed him coming. "Can I help you, Lance Corporal?"
"No, Staff Sergeant, I just wanted to talk."
A wry smile twisted her face. "Really? What about?"
Shephard winced. "Nothing, really...I just wanted to talk to you before we go down there. You're my platoon sergeant, but I've never met you."
Brock rolled her eyes. "That's because we're normally deployed in nothing larger than a squad. Lance Corporal, not only is fraternization forbidden...but you're also going to have to improve your technique."
Shephard grimaced. "Aye aye, Staff Sergeant. Good luck down there."
For a second, her face almost seemed to soften, but it was so fleeting that Shephard was sure he had imagined it. "Go, Lance Corporal."
As Shephard headed for the drop bay, he heard a shout from behind him. "Lance Corporal!"
"Yes Staff Sergeant?"
Her face was almost pitying. "Good hunting down there."
"Yes, Staff Sergeant."
The HEV bay of the frigate Sundown was not nearly as loud as it had been an hour ago. Helljumpers stood at stiff attention in front of their pods as the Sergeant-Major stalked the isle, checking the men over, his face contorting from the force with which he spoke.
"Helljumpers, on this day, the wheel of history will turn! The UNSC's citizens are watching you! Admiral Hood is watching you! But more importantly, Colonel Hendersen...is watching. So make no mistake: there...will...be...NO fuckups!"
Adrian Shephard, standing in front of HEV #1138, shook his head. The Sergeant-Major's bombastic rhetoric normally made for a diverting amusement, but his mind was on his platoon sergeant. Sergeant James, standing next to him in pod 1137, nudged him. "You OK, lad?"
"Sorry, Sarge...just a little preoccupied."
James chuckled. "Don't worry, Lance Corporal. You're not the first, you won't be the last. She even shot me down once."
"Sucks for you, Sarge."
"Aye. That it does."
Sharpe's rant had come to an end, and it wasn't hard to see why: a Helljumper with his helmet on and M7 out was advancing down the isle. An eagle glinted on the upper-right portion of his chestplate.
"All right, Helljumpers," said Lieutenant-Colonel Hendersen. "Knock off the grabass, and get into your HEVs."
Shephard and Sergeant James shook hands, their standard pre-battle good-luck ritual, and stepped into their drop pods. Once inside, Shephard let out the breath he'd been unconciously holding, strapped himself in, and clicked online the drop pod's comm.
"OK, 1st Recon," came the voice of the Sundown's Captain. "All secure? Good. Drop in five."
"I ain't ready for this shit!" came a voice; young, high-pitched with the anxiety of someone on the verge of his first combat drop. "I ain't ready! Dammit, Sarge, lemme out of this thing---"
An abrupt burst of static sounded as someone mercifully squelched the Helljumper's helmet comm.
The frigate Captain came over the comm again: "Two...one...mark."
A series of dull thuds sounded through the HEV bay as the explosives bolts keeping the pods in place blew out. The sound came closer to Shephard's pod...then seemed to skip over him and resume on the other side.
Shephard keyed his helmet comm. "Captain Sulay, my pod has malfunctioned. HEV 1138. I'm still in the bay. Over."
1st Recon's frequencies were blaring with activity: "Wooo-HOOOOO!" "Cut the chatter, Private." "Colonel, is that a goddamn Assault Carrier over the city?" "Looks like it." "It's---holy shit, it's making a slipspace jump! That carrier is making a---"
The chatter cut out as Captain Sulay hooked into the circuit. "We got your pod all fixed up, Corporal. You're dropping now."
"Thank you, Sir," replied Shephard, and braced for the fall.
As it turned out, he didn't have long to wait: after a few seconds, there was a dull thud, and the floor fell out from beneath him. Shephard didn't switch on the HEV's viewscreen until he was in the atmosphere, and when he did, he truly wished he hadn't: his pod was hurtling towards a buliding facade at somewhere in the region of a bazillion miles per hour, in round numbers.
All Shephard could do was brace for impact. He did so, considered praying, then decided that he would feel better if his fate were in his own hands.
There was a crunching sound as the pod pierced the side of the building, and then there was another sound, louder, harsher, and an impact to go with. Shephard felt as if he had ten Brutes sitting on him, but he had to stay awake, had to get to his squad, had to---
Instead, he blacked out.
Shephard came to, and the first thing he realized was how much he didn't hurt.
His pod had taken most of the force of impact, and his armor had absorbed the rest. His body had managed to heal up the bruises as best it could whilst he was unconcious, no doubt with the aid of his armor's biofoam dispensers.
For that matter, Shephard had no idea how long he'd been unconcious. A quick check of his helmet's clock showed that he'd been out for six hours. For the first time since requesting that Captain Sulay drop his HEV, he spoke: "shit."
The ODST clicked on his helmet comm. "Sergeant James? Sergeant-Major? Does anyone copy?"
For a few seconds, nothing came over but static, then a signal, apparently sent out to all of 1st Recon, came through. The voice wasn't one known to Shephard, but its content was clear enough. "Forget about the 405th! We are cutting our losses and pulling out! Anyone left down there is on his own! Repeat, if you are not already on a Pelican, you are---" The signal dissolved in a burst of static.
"God damn it," was all Shephard could think to say. Now there was nothing left to do but try and sneak his way out of the city and reach an extraction point.
The HEV's viewscreen was still functional, showing no movement outside, though it was dark, and raining heavily. Muttering to himself, Shephard grabbed his M7 and its Special Operations Peculiar Modification (SOPMOD) kit from his weapons locker. He'd never been a fan of the SMG, he'd been trained and had fought with an MA5C, but the silencer/barrel extender and laser sight-equipped scope would give the weapon more use than it ordinarily would receive. Finally, Shephard shoved some extra ammo, grenades, medical supplies, and a backup comm headset into his pack, and got ready to move.
One last check on the viewscreen confirmed that the area was secured, and Shephard blew the pod's hatch.
The view from the M7's laser sight/scope could be patched through to his helmet HUD. Shephard, warily listening for any sound, did so, panning the weapon around the area. Nothing.
The Helljumper Lance Corporal jumped out of the pond, wincing at the loud splash his boots made as he landed on the metal floor. Looking around, he confirmed that he was the only being in the area, but he still yanked the charging lever of his M7 just to be safe.
Thunder boomed, and lightning lingered just an instant too long for the Lance Corporal's taste. Looking up, he was horrified to see his fears vindicated as a Phantom dropship hovered overhead, sweeping the ruined bulding's interior with a spotlight.
Shephard dodged to avoid the dropship's spotlight, and headed for the outside of the building, keeping an eye on the sky in case the Phantom spotted him. His helmet motion tracker suddenly beeped a warning, and Shephard froze.
Six Brutes, including two Stalkers and a Fuel Rod Gun-equipped Captain, were patrolling the streets. Swearing to himself, Shephard retreated into the shadows as the apes passed by.
The Stalkers and Minors passed by without any incident, but the Captain, cradling his FRG like it was a child, suddenly stopped to sniff the air.
Oh hell, thought Shephard. He's on to me. The Helljumper's finger tightened on his M7's trigger: if Shephard was going to die, he sure as hell was going to take a few of the alien bastards with him.
The Brute patrol leader stopped sniffing the air, let out a loud bark that left water vapor on the chill night air, and moved on.
Shephard, tracking the patrol with his M7, didn't notice the sign until it had been flashing for thirty seconds.
It was a billboard, of the sort typically utilized by a city's urban infrastructure AI to make announcements. It said, in clear, yellow letters against a red background, "Keep right." Next to it, another sign had flickered to life, displaying flashing green arrows pointing in the indicated direction.
Shephard looked to his left, concious of the still-visible Brute patrol. He then checked his right. Nothing.
A new message had flicked into existence on the first sign.
"Proceed with caution."
Fully intending to keep that message in mind, Shephard moved out.