They're Random, Baby!

Fan Fiction

Storm by Alan Seawright

Date: 06 June 2000, 7:12 am

Well, perhaps this new Captain wasn't going to be so bad after all. Most of the time, back during the war, a new officer would show up and, if they were good, they'd ask the troops what worked and what didn't. They'd take the time to get to know what had been working for their command, and then adapt it to their style. This Captain hadn't done that at all, he just came in and started changing things like he owned the place. That usually got good people killed. But this time, it had worked, and incredibly well at that.

Sgt. Bryan Rock was mulling over this as he and his squad took some well deserved down-time near an absolutely incredible looking waterfall that came cascading off of a lush cliff, into a sparkling pool below. He thought it strange that he could appreciate such a beautiful vista at this, after the slaughter that the Captain had just orchestrated.

* * *

"Rock, I want your squad to cross the river up here, and provide overwatch for the rest of the battalion as it moves up the valley towards our objective." Lieutenant Gustufson was going over his orders that he'd just received from the Captain, pointing at a holomap, and gesturing with his saber.

"We'll move your squad up there on a dropship, but since the woods are so dense by the river, you'll have to leave your vehicle with company. You shouldn't need it anyway, we expect you to find no resistance up there, intel says the cows are concentrating their patrols in the valley, and closer to the objective."

The objective was an installation that appeared to have been left here by the people who created the ring construct. This was the first major assault that our party had attempted, and it had to go smoothly, there weren't enough of us to have reinforcements, or even to attempt to regroup and attack if we were halted. We would have to retreat again.

"We'll cover your ass, Sir. Anything else?"

"No, just head over to armory and get your troops outfitted, we want you up there yesterday."

"Yes, Sir." Great, if intel says there aren't any cows, there's sure to be an entire division up there. But Rock went about his preparations anyway.

"Hey, Sarge! Do we get to kill some cows today?" That was Pvt. Anderson, the loudmouth of the squad, but Rock didn't mind too much, the kid had killed almost a dozen of the covenant, saving the squad from a sneak attack that came from behind their position during the last raid.

"We get to kill cows today, Private, but they'll probably get you this time. Fall in with the rest of the squad, we're movin' out." The squad had to move through the entire battalion's encampment because they were camped opposite the armory and makeshift landing field that the dropships were using. While passing the other squads and companies, Rock was wondering how many of them would die that day, how many friends and comrades would be left unburied, or unfound. They each loaded up with as much as their highly trained and conditioned bodies could carry, then loaded in the dropship.

"Okay, men, here's how it goes, after reaching the DZ here," Rock pulled out his command computer and brought up a holomap, centered on the Covenant held facility. "We hotfoot it 6 clicks North-East, and set up overwatch on this ridge. Anderson, I want you, Davies and Kidwell to do a recon up North of the bunker, and set up surveillance devices."

"Aw, man!" Anderson blurted out. "Why do I always have to do the shit-work, Sarge? You guys get to kill as many cows as you can find, but I..."

"Have to keep your mouth shut and don't attract any attention to yourself." Rock interrupted. "Once the rest of us get set up, I want zero radio emissions, got it, so shut off your personnel locators right now."

"One minute until insertion." The onboard computer announced in her monotone voice.

"All right men, let's button up."

2nd squad, Team Alpha, 53rd brigade covered the six kilometers to the cliff face in what must have been record time. For toting almost fifty kilos worth of gear and ammunition apiece anyway. The lush forest, which normally teemed with life, was strangely quiet that morning. The animals on this planet, which had never had reason to fear man or covenant, would usually walk right up to you; Anderson had even gotten one of the big ones to eat some plants right out of his hand. But today, they were nowhere to be seen.

They smelled it first, about a half-hour before the clouds started forming.

"Storm's coming Sarge, smell the ozone?" That was corporal Peters, his second in command. A thickly muscled fireplug of about 5 feet 6 inches, of course in their powered combat armor, the whole squad looked like body builders.

"Great, everybody perform a diagnostic on your visual gear, we'll probably need it, Anderson take your fire-team and get moving. Everybody else, lets get ready to mow some cows."

Peters and one of the 2 newbies, Johnson, started unpacking and assembling the heavy railgun, while Woo, Lee, and Allen started to ready their own weapons.

The squad had a mortar, a rocket launcher with anti-tank and anti-aircraft rockets, and Allen with his new sniper rifle. The thing was incredible really, an automatic feeding, variable velocity smoothbore that had a big enough barrel diameter to fit your hand in. It was also electronically dampened against kickback, so Allen, a highly trained sniper, could fire an aimed shot every 2 _ seconds.

Allen had packed in about 300 anti-personnel rounds, nasty little buggers that were armed by the acceleration forces of being fired, then detonated when it sensed a heat-source within 10 meters. He was also packing 40 armor piercing sabot rounds. After being fired, the round would discard its shell, revealing a fin-stabilized sabot of depleted Uranium. It would pierce almost any covenant armor, even their reactive stuff, up to fifteen inches thick. The really fun part is that it would decelerate through the armor to the point where it wouldn't exit out the other side, instead, it just bounced around inside like a deadly Ping-Pong ball, shredding covenant equipment and bodies alike.

Rock used the time to set up a direct laser communications link with another outpost that battalion had set up on their main line of advance. As it was a laser beam being fired, and not a radio emission, the Covenant couldn't try listening in on him, or even try to triangulate his position.

He received conformation of his transmission, and was told to sit tight. The assault would begin in one hour.

* * *

Pvt. Rueben Anderson reminded himself to keep his grumbling to himself; he didn't want to get shot because some cow had heard him cussing his Sergeant up and down. Which he was, but mentally. His fire-team, Ha, fire-team, more like absolutely no-fire-team, had been slogging through this crappy swamp for about twenty minutes since leaving the squad, and Anderson was sick of it. Hailing from Eastern Idaho, he was more accustomed to the wide open valleys, and towering mountains where he could stretch his 6' 5" frame to it's full height, and have room to breath. Here, he had to hunch over all the time and try to pull in his almost impossibly broad shoulders to keep from brushing too much under-growth, and making too much noise.

They had almost reached their final objective, the top of a high ridge about a half kilometer away from the back of the Covenant installation, when Anderson saw something. He held his hand up with his fist closed, signaling Davies and Kidwell to stop. He then pumped it up and down twice, telling them to get down in some cover, while he sank to his belly and began inching his way very carefully through a small stand of ferns.

After confirming his suspicions, he whistled softly to his men, and waited for them to join him. Douglas Davies was the first one there.

"Crap on a stick!" He exclaimed in a loud whisper. Parked below them was what looked like an entire division of Covenant soldiers. At least two dozen tanks, and probably twice that many speeders were parked in neat rows directly behind the compound. At least 600 Covenant troops were milling around, refueling, and rearming their war machines. Dark clouds began to form in the southeast, and the heard a distant peal of thunder echo up the valley from the approaching storm.

"Let's set up the last listening device and get outta here," Kidwell suggested. He had never been in battle until a month ago, when the Pillar of Autumn went down, and was still scared of it.

"Set it up, but hold on a minute, we've gotta think of something to do." Anderson sat back while the others unpacked the last sensor unit, and tried to think. A green bolt of lightning came flying in from off to the left, impacting Kidwell in the left shoulder blade, flinging him off his feet, and sending him tumbling off the cliff face. Anderson spun around, his small assault rifle at his shoulder. The cow patrol had either already gone to ground, or just disappeared, he thought, they were nowhere to be seen.

"The transmitter assembly went over with Jeff," Davies said, looking a little wild-eyed. "What are we going to do, the battalion will get eaten alive."

"Shhhh!" Anderson whispered. He had thought he heard something, not a rustle or snap as he expected, but sort of a whine. "Listen!" Nothing. He crouched there in shooter's position for what seemed like hours, but was probably only a few seconds.

"MOVE!" He shouted, and suited actions to words, leaping to his feet and sprinting eastward through the forest, not caring how much sound he made. An instant later, the spot where he had crouched erupted with a torrent of mud and foliage as a full barrage of energy weapon fire rained down from the same thing that had gotten Kidwell, a Covenant fighter. Davies was not far behind, and was counting his lucky stars that Anderson had such impervious battle awareness.

After covering about three hundred meters in a full-out sprint, Rueben found what he was looking for, a little sheltered trough that ran straight out to the cliff face. He dove in headlong, letting his armor absorb the impact. With a yell and a crash, Davies came in right on top of him.

"What're we gonna do man?" Davies asked, flustered. They're gonna kill us, and there ain't nothing we can do!"

"Calm down, we're fine, they can't hit us in here," I hope. "Lemme think of something." Ideas raced through his mind, and he analyzed the possibilities of each before discarding them, there were just too many unknown variables. Another peal of thunder rang through valley, echoing off the cliff and building compound. A faint whine.

What was that? Davies thought, then saw Anderson tighten up, then take off down the draw, headed straight for the cliff face.

"What the hell are you doing?" Davies screamed, then Anderson dove off the cliff. Davies stared in shock for a few seconds, and then he heard the sound again, much closer. Then Anderson came floating back up, seemingly standing on thin air. He grabbed his pistol, and fired it down into... the fighter! He dove onto a moving fighter from a 600-meter cliff! Anderson shot the pilot, gave a little wave, then dumped the cow's body unceremoniously from it's perch, and fell off as the fighter corkscrewed down and out from the cliff, having lost control without its pilot.

Anderson quickly calculated what would be necessary for him to intercept the spiraling fighter as he fell. Great, he thought, all it will take is a miracle. He began angling for the stricken aircraft anyway. He would only be able to reach it if he caught it on the outside of its spiral, closest to where he was falling, and that happened at the same time he was level with it. It was below him about five meters, but he was closing quickly, the armor that he was wearing decreased his wind resistance considerably. He realized that it would pass him by no more than 2 meters to his front. He was dead.

Suddenly, the fighter dropped its left wing, coming out of its corkscrew turn, and came rushing straight into Anderson, its wing colliding with his legs. He heard a loud crack and thought that one of his legs had broken, but he scrambled into the cockpit anyway, and searched frantically for some controls. He reached up to grab what looked like a handle over his right shoulder, but the instant he touched it, the entire craft seemed to come alive. He felt it, knew it, was one with it.

He mentally increased power and pulled out, starting a twisting climb that would bring him back up level with the cliff. It was then that he noticed he could see and hear everything better, he felt the airflow over his wings, the aircraft's wings. He realized there was no difference anymore, he was the fighter. It was then that he noticed Davies standing at the bottom of the draw, smiling, his rifle held in one hand at his hip. Anderson quickly felt through the plane and realized that there was minor structural damage to his left wing, out by the wingtip. Davies had shot the left wing, causing it to dip, and bring it around so that it would collide with Anderson.

Davies saw Anderson climb in, and wondered if he had just found a nice looking coffin to crash in, but then the fighter pulled up impossibly, scraping through the treetops below, showering severed leaves down. The fighter climbed up to face him at the top, and a strange alien voice said.

"Thanks Davies, there are no more Covenant troops between you and the rest of the squad, good hunting." With that, the fighter flew over his head, and turned right, heading east.

"Where are you going?" Davies yelled. Then, shrugging his shoulders, he started jogging back to the squad, hoping to at least get two kills so that he could one-up Anderson.

* * *

The firing had started about two minutes ago, artillery shells arcing up and coming down to destroy the covenant garrison in front of the alien structure. Sgt. Rock watched in satisfaction as the twenty or so cow troops scattered under the barrage. Soon, the mechanized infantry in their jeeps and the tanks would start rolling over the hill and out of the tree line. That was Rock's signal to open fire on the 9 tanks that he had in sight, as well as the 50 to 60 troops that they knew would be coming out of the compound.

"Squad ready." Rock ordered over the comnet, set to a localized frequency that shouldn't travel more than twenty meters, far enough to reach his troops, but not the Covenant listening posts. The clouds had raced up on their position, and were no more than 200 meters overhead, tossing forks of lightning, but no rain so far. The artillery barrage stopped, and the first jeep came out of the forest, spitting fire from both the large-bore machine gun mounted on it, and the passenger's seat, where a trooper was giving it all he had with an assault-rifle mounted grenade launcher. The Covenant forces reacted quickly, too quickly. The Jeep received simultaneous blasts from four of the tanks, exploding the fuel cell and turning it sideways. It's momentum carried it the rest of the way down the gentle slope, spinning and flipping crazily, throwing the driver high in the air, and crushing the gunner and passenger beneath.

"OPEN FIRE!" Rock yelled at the top of his lungs. He cut loose with a volley from his bipod mounted machine gun, and cut down a couple of cows that were charging up the tree line across the valley. Three more jeeps came out of the trees and all received death blows from the Covenant tanks. He saw a brilliant flash of light come from his left, but the thunder didn't sound right. He looked over and saw two covenant tanks burning, a third was nothing more than a crater in the ground, it's turret tumbling end over end and still climbing 20 meters off the ground.

"Ah, ha ha! Ya like that, suckers!" Johnson yelled out on the squad net.

"Keep this channel clear, and nice shooting." Mortar shells started falling among the tanks, doing almost no damage; the only ammunition they had brought was anti-personnel. The tanks began to come out from the trees, but the first three that emerged disintegrated under heavy fire. Too much fire. Rock looked up to the North and saw what looked like an entire division come pouring out from behind the compound. He swung his machine gun around and started to fire on the speeders, saving the tanks for the others. It started to rain.

Frank Allen had always wanted to be a sniper, ever since playing Virtual Team Fortress as a boy, he knew that he would be a sniper. He had entered sniper training right out of basic, then went to advanced training with Earth Security. He had been in combat only once before, and that was during a surprise attack. He hadn't even had a proper rifle; he'd had to use a standard assault rifle for heaven's sake. He still brought down a whole squad of cows, but it hadn't been fun.

This time he was ready. As soon as he heard the order to fire, he began taking targets out. Fire, the next bullet snapped in, line up, fire. Over and over, he killed seven targets milling around by the bunker, but that got boring. He found some cows that were retreating, and took them out, all four of them with one shot. This was too easy, Allen wanted a challenge.

Then he heard on the the command net, "All units retarget on the cows North of the compound!" All right, he thought, some distance! He sighted his laser range finder, and lined up on a speeder over two kilometers away. Fire, explosion. More troops came pouring out of what looked like an APC. Sitting ducks. Keep 'em coming!

* * *

The fighter made a quick circle of the entire area surrounding the compound, searching for any additional reinforcements, finding none, it decided to report back in on the command net.

"This is Fighter 13... this is Pvt. Anderson of 2nd squad, there is a large force, repeat, large force directly North of the objective. This force is a reinforced brigade or larger, over."

"Private, keep this channel clear." A pause, "Private this is command, authenticate."

"Authenticate Sierra Bravo."

"Affirmative, thanks, and what was that Fighter 13 crap?"

"I have commandeered a Covenant fighter sir."

"Good, bring it right back to..." The transmission was cut off as the fighter was hit by a blast fired from the covenant troops. They already know? Anderson thought, oh well, their loss. He rolled the fighter up on its right wing and cut back for the covenant soldiers. Just then, he noticed two more fighters bearing down on him, firing on full automatic at where he had been not two seconds before.

* * *

The human attack had faded from sight. Rock knew where they were headed thanks to his heads-up display. Most of the force was going around to the east, while a token was headed for a position a little North of him on the west side of the valley.

"Rock, this is Captain (garbled) of 53rd brigade, we need you to maintain your fire, and draw as many cows toward you as you can. No time for questions, just do it, the reason we sent you is because we know you're the best squad for the job. Out."

"Sir, wait, we can't..." Command net had just gone offline. Man, I hope he knows what he's doing.

"Maintain your fire." He broadcast to his squad, "kill anything that looks like it's gonna kill you, but just maintain your fire." Just then a covenant fighter came spinning out of the sky to crash into the side of the cliff.

* * *

He had less than a second to react, and, as fast as thought, he did. Anderson continued his roll all the way until he was on his left wing, then pulled back with all the might the fighter could muster. He brought his blaster online with a thought, and set it to low power, but rapid fire, and began to unleash hell. He didn't even attempt to line up, just pulled on a line straight through the oncoming fighters.

The lucky one saw the maneuver not a moment too soon, and rolled his wings perpendicular to the ground, energy bolts whistling past either side of his cockpit, shearing off a portion of his antenna. The other one kept flying right into the storm of energy, and had his right wing sliced neatly off as his reward. His fighter began a lazy spin from the imbalanced forces acting on it, and slammed into the cliff doing at least 300 kilometers an hour.

Anderson, meanwhile, had continued rolling after strafing the fighters, and dove straight for the forest and a waterfall that he saw cascading off the cliff face right behind the installation. The other covenant fighter followed him as he dove straight at the ground, rolled out and pulled up less than a meter off the forest floor. Branches were whipping by, shrubs and smaller plants were shredded in his wake as Anderson tried desperately to keep from flying into a tree trunk. Then he realized something, he reached out with his mind, using the aircraft's advanced sensor suite to feel his way into the forest and planned a route that would take him safely to the small lake at the bottom of the waterfall.

The other fighter was unable to keep up with Anderson's insane maneuvering down on the ground, so it slowed and pulled up above the canopy to wait for the foolish human to emerge, or for an exploding power cell to tell of his demise.

* * *

Davies hadn't even made it back halfway when the fighting began, he heard the gunfire and explosions, and worried that all the cows would be dead by the time he got there. He set his battle computer to engagement mode, and enabled the strength and sensory enhancements on his armor, and began to run for his pre-positioned rocket launcher at unbelievable speed. When he had almost reached the squad, he heard a squawking in his ear, then his HUD lit up with threats, to his right, about 30 meters from his squadmates. They were closing slowly, no doubt hoping to ambush his squad. Like hell. It's time to grind some cow meat!

He set his assault rifle in its cradle on his back, and pulled out his two silenced pistols, something his squadmates always made fun of him for. We'll see who laughs last. He thought. He slowed and let his computer sort the sensor signatures, discovering 12 cows evenly spaced about 3 meters apart, moving slowly. He crept up on the first one, and hit it with a bullet from each gun square in the head. The effect was not quite what he intended. Covenant soldiers have been bred to have redundant sympathetic brain functions, when shot through the head, they will not die silently, but they will instinctively fire most or all of their nerves at once. This causes them to scream, a chilling, blood-curdling sound that goes out on all frequencies they are capable of producing. The Covenant vocal cords cannot go very high in the human hearing spectrum, but they can emit low frequency sounds that no human would ever hear, and that travel for miles.

The other eleven cows in the squad suddenly stopped their advance as the one that Davies had shot screamed, and reflexively fired its weapon. Uh oh. Davies thought as he scrambled for the rest of the squad. At least I can warn them.

* * *

Fighter 13, or Anderson, though he was having a hard time remembering himself as that anymore, came skimming out over a lake that had begun to be stirred up by the storm and threatened to reach up and grab him out of the sky. He eased up just a tad, then cut left towards the waterfall a little over a kilometer away and increased his speed as much as he could. Twin fountains of boiling water and dead fish parts boiled out of the lake as the other fighter fired on him then descended to try to get a better shot. Jinking and weaving, Anderson headed right for the waterfall, and appeared ready to fly right into the wall; when he abruptly pulled up and flew through the cascading water at a steep upward angle; coming out behind the falls and continuing straight up towards where it launched off the top of the cliff.

Incredibly, the Covenant pilot stayed right on his tail the entire time, following his every move. When he had neared the top of the cliff, Anderson cut back through, and threw all his thrust into reverse, coming to a stop 5 meters out from the lip of the falls. The Covenant pilot was good, but couldn't have predicted Anderson's move, and came shooting out of the water at full speed, headed right back where Anderson wanted him, over the enemy reinforcements.

* * *

David Woo saw them first, a group of at least ten cows coming for the squad from behind. He had bent down to get another mortar shell, and looked up right into the face of a cow trooper, standing over him with his energy blade extended. Dang thing looks happy. He thought. He reached for his gun, but the cow was already swinging his blade, malice radiating from its glassy eyes. Four dull thumps, and he died. Woo looked up again to see the carcass toppling over on him. Somebody had shot it before it could finish its deathblow, but Woo hadn't heard the shots.

Kill number two, now I'm up for today, three more, and I'm up for the war, thought Davies. Just then, two cows turned to look at him in the tree, and began to raise their pistols. He leaped from the tree, and hit them both with three bullets, tucked, and hit the ground on his back, rolling up to a shooters' crouch, one knee on the ground, using his other to brace his arms while he fired another four bullets into the next cow. It wailed and depressed the trigger on its energy pistol as the bullet's impact threw it back, spraying energy bolts up into the leafy canopy overhead. Davies leaped up to go warn the Sergeant while Woo was moving down the line to tell Peters and Johnson at the railgun.

Allen was happily firing away, having killed two speeders and at least 20 troopers. He didn't even think to check behind him until it was almost too late. Fortunately, his armor's onboard sensors were able to detect the two cows coming up on his position while they were still about three meters away. He let go of his rifle with his left hand, and reached down to his hip where his pistol was strapped on. He selected a rear-facing thermal picture on his HUD, and didn't even unstrap his pistol. He just aimed and fired, hitting the cow in the left elbow, severing its shooting arm. The injured cow screamed its unearthly call, and the other one leaped the remaining two meters in a single bound, landing hard on Allen's back. Allen spun on the ground, causing the cow to lose its balance, and come crashing down on Allen's rifle, smashing the sighting apparatus. The cow struggled to stand, having hurt its arm, while Allen quickly did a backward somersault, coming into a crouch facing the nearly standing alien. As he brought his pistol to bear, he was dealt a crushing blow to the left temple, his helmet only absorbing a small portion of the tremendous impact. He rolled, dazed, right to the edge of the cliff, and looked up to see the cow with the missing arm attempting to pick up the pistol he had just dropped. It gave up quickly, realizing that its large digits were incapable of manipulating the relatively small and delicate human firearm; and instead charged straight for Allen. Reacting as quickly as he could in haze of a concussion, he swung both legs up to the charging alien's waist, and used the creature's momentum to carry it over him, and off the edge of the cliff. Even with his powered armor's assistance, the creature was incredibly heavy, the force of its passage over him caused his entire body to roll backward, and he rolled off the cliff, barely catching a small stone outcropping with his right hand.

The other cow came walking slowly up to Allen, peering down with what seemed a leering grin on its face. It sauntered up, and put its foot down lightly on Allen's hand, and slowly added pressure until its entire weight was grinding his hand into the stone. Allen could feel the bones in his palm begin to bow outward, and his fingers begin to slowly separate at the knuckles. The pain was unbelievable, but he was trained to have a high tolerance, which allowed him to do something critical, fight back. He reached around with his free hand to the back of his bandoleer, and brought out a high explosive grenade. He dialed it up to its maximum setting and pulled the pin with his teeth, then swung his legs up onto the top of the cliff. With the covenant trooper looking at him in confusion, he pulled himself up until his lower back rested on the edge of the cliff, then reached up with both legs, wrapping the cow in a vise like grip, and dragging it off. As it tumbled over him, he thrust the live grenade with the rest of his strength right into its mouth.

With its last thought before the grenade went off, the cow grabbed on to the wretched human's legs, and held on with all its might. But the foolish human practically melted off the cliff in his grasp anyway, the tiny things were so weak. Allen realized his mistake moments before the grenade went off; as they both tumbled out into midair, he knew this was the last view he would ever see. He looked off to his right as time seemed to slow down, the rain of fire and explosions became silent, he saw, in perfect slow motion, the sun break through the storm, illuminating a glorious waterfall that seemed to be frozen, not moving at all. A column of blazingly white birds broke from their perches, and fluttered upwards, through the shaft of light. There was a sudden blaze of light, then nothing.

"What?!" Rock yelled. A deafening roar had drowned out what Davies had said. That one was too close, Rock thought. The entire ridge had seemed to jump when that went off, but it hadn't sounded like an artillery shell.

"I said there is a squad of cows about 20 meters away, let's move!" The shock wave from the explosion knocked over a few small trees, and blew leaves in every direction.

"We have orders to keep fire on the cow reinforcements, get Lee and Woo, and clear that squad out, then report back on the double!" The situation was getting very bad, very fast. The large cow force had broken off its search for the brigade, and was concentrating fire on the squad up on the cliff. Rock wasn't sure, but it seemed as if the other squad below them had been killed. This idiot captain is going to kill us all.

Davies started back to the other members of his new fire team, and prayed, for the first time in his life. Lee was firing blissfully away at his targets, which had moved closer but seemed pinned down for the moment. Davies tapped him on the shoulder, and signaled to him what they were about to attempt. They both activated their close-range sensors, and moved to where the cows had clustered. Each soldier carried two grenades, which they dialed up to the highest setting; they then pulled the pins, counted to two, and lobbed them at their targets. The airborne grenades sensed the large grouping of hostiles and deployed guidance fins, each one communicating with the others so that all of their killzones would overlap.

Lee watched the grenades on his HUD, they tracked smoothly, and he dove for cover, knowing how bad the explosion would be. He never saw the lone cow break from the pack, and leap away, seconds before impact. The explosion tossed it from its feet, and sent it careening through the forest, where it crashed right into Lee. The brutal Covenant combat training had prepared the warrior for just such an event, and he recovered from the shock almost immediately, much quicker than the more frail human could. It immediately grabbed the human by its insect-like armored head, and twisted with all its might. Lee's head came away in the cow's hands, causing the creature to laugh, an eerie, low-pitched shuff-ing noise. It dropped the severed cranium, and grabbed its energy blade; ready for the next pitiful being that might decide to attack it.

Davies stared in horror as the cow tore his buddies' head off, then made some strange whoof noise, and extended its energy blade. Now it's getting nasty. Davies took careful aim, and shot the cow in the hand, the bullets not exploding on impact, but rather traveling through the thin flesh covering, and destroying the handle and power unit of the energy blade.

"All right, sucker. Come and get me!" Davies yelled as he holstered his pistols. He set his armor interface to its highest gain, and highest assist setting. He didn't want to give the cow too much of an advantage.

* * *

The enemy fighter swept away from the cliff, heading right for the backside of the reinforcement's assault on Anderson's squad's location. He could see each individual bullet as it left the cliff and arced gracefully downward towards the huge group of Covenant soldiers. So could the other fighter, as it began to transmit their positions to its commander. Anderson sprang into action, he fed his fighter full thrust, and dove on the enemy, which still hadn't spotted him. As quickly as thought, he opened fire, but the enemy fighter sensed the rain of death coming towards it just in the nick of time, and juked left. Anderson increased his rate of fire, and gave up trying to specifically target the fighter, instead, he blanketed the airspace around it with deadly energy. His ploy paid off; one bolt penetrated the fuel pod on the left wingtip, causing a massive explosion, which knocked the fighter sideways. It began tumbling end over end as the pilot tried to bail out of his stricken craft, to no avail. It fell right onto a huge APC, rupturing its other fuel cell, and setting the entire area ablaze. Anderson dove down to finish the job, strafing every troop, tank and speeder he could see. The cows reacted quickly, filling the sky with bright green energy bolts. He pulled up hard and leaned out to the left, hoping to escape the firestorm.

Miraculously, he emerged unscathed, when he heard a deafening roar erupt from the valley below.

* * *

Rock watched in awe as two cow fighter came flying down the valley, from somewhere behind the compound, he couldn't see through all the rain. The one in back started to fire on the frontrunner, eventually bringing it down despite a valiant effort from the lead. The second fighter then descended and began firing on the force, which was engaging him! The cows retargeted on the fighter, and then the incredible happened: The entire rear rank of Covenant troops, vehicles and all, erupted into the sky. The human forces which the captain had ordered into the trees, had emerged on the other side of the valley, and were unleashing hell on the entire cow regiment. Rock hollered for joy and opened up with his heavy caliber, confident that the cows wouldn't worry about finding him until much later.

Peters and Johnson saw the line of explosions and opened up as well, setting the railgun on full automatic, pumping a three pound shell at their attackers every second and a half. The railgun used sequential electro-magnets to propel the depleted uranium shells up to .87 light speed. They could theoretically punch through 2 kilometers of high-density poly-steel armor, so the few centimeters on the enemy tanks and other vehicles provided almost no impediment, and the soft bodies of the cows themselves usually vaporized when struck. The slaughter commenced, the rain strengthened.

The cow stood about three meters away, flexing its injured hand, and looking Davies up and down. Davies had assumed a standard fighter's stance, and was getting ready to attack the cow, when it suddenly moved with incredible speed. In two strides, it reached Davies, and reached out with both hands to grab him. He deftly spun to his left, catching the alien's right arm as he did so, letting its momentum carry it past. Davies brought the arm around behind it, ready to break it at the shoulder, but the cow's arm went straight up its back and came all the way around with no resistance. Davies quickly reacted and brought his booted foot down with all his strength on the alien's second knee. Nothing happened, the alien shrugged off the blow without so much as a stumble. It spun left, and backhanded Davies with its inside arm, striking him in the chest with so much force, it flung him 2 meters into a bush, where he landed, the wind knocked out of him.

Maybe this wasn't such a good idea. He reached behind him for a pistol, but the alien was already on him. It balled its massive fist and brought it down on his shoulder hard enough to dent the armor, and dislocate his shoulder. He scrambled to his feet, only to be grabbed by the throat and hoisted into the air. Davies tried to pry the hand off him, but to no avail. He lashed out, and kicked the cow as hard as he could, in the right hip. The cow screamed, and dropped him to the ground. I wonder what they have there, Davies thought. Maybe I got him in the goods. Davies' power armor kicked in and helped him as he hurtled into the alien, putting his good shoulder right into its chest. He picked it up off its feet, and kept on charging, slamming it into a tree. It sank to the ground, weakly resisting, but still reeling from taking that shot to its hip.

He began pummeling the alien, taking out all of the rage and frustration that he felt. The memory of his home planet burning, seeing so many of his friends in the corps dead, and dying, his parents, his brother, his girl, all gone. He was blind with rage; his fists flew, over and over, the power armor aiding him in his destruction. Several minutes later, Woo came up beside him.

"Hey man, its dead, they're all dead, we got em."

"What?" Davies asked weakly. He stopped the pounding, the rage clearing from his eyes. The cow was no longer recognizable; he had beaten it to a mushy, greenish goo. His entire body was covered with viscera, his faceplate almost obscured by the gore.

"The cows are almost all dead, the captain closed the net on them, and they're all gone." Davies sat back heavily, then tore off his helmet. His normally pale face was white, his dark hair heavily matted and soaked with sweat. The rain had stopped, a single tear spilled from the corner of Davies' eye.

* * *

700 Covenant killed, 65 tanks destroyed, 2 captured. 5 APCs destroyed, 35 speeders destroyed, 2 fighters destroyed. The death toll was enormous, considering that 150 poorly fed troops with morale in the basement had carried out the entire attack. That had all changed now though. There had been 19 human casualties, and only 7 deaths. The captain was a miracle worker; he had gone inside with the civilian science team to learn what he could about the alien structure. Some of the scientists had said that it could possibly hold the key to free humanity, win the war, save everyone.

Bryan Rock didn't care. He just wanted to keep doing what he had trained for his entire life, destroy the enemy. Anderson had gone to talk to the intelligence spooks, apparently, he was the hero of the day for capturing an enemy fighter and warning the captain about the reinforcements. Woo was off trying to show Johnson how to lure a scientist's daughter into bed, and Davies was sleeping down on the shore of the lake.

Rock set off to find Peters, there was always work to do, and he didn't feel tired, not too tired anyway. He looked at the falls again, marveling at their beauty. The clouds finally broke; sunlight streaming through the mist stirred up at the bottom of the falls. A rainbow appeared, Rock looked up at the sun, and saw the overwhelming curve of the Halo.