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Fan Fiction

UNSC Chronicles: Soldier Girl by Adam Stark

UNSC Chronicles: Soldier Girl, Book 1, Chapter 1
Date: 7 November 2007, 4:09 am

Chapter 1: Happy Birthday

She watched the clock closely as it ticked, tocked, ticked towards midnight. August the twenty-fourth was coming to a close. It was soon to be August the twenty-fifth, her birthday. The door to her home in Anchorage, Alaska, Earth, was still undisturbed, even though her father was supposed to be home hours ago. She sighed, he had promised that he would be home, but deep inside she knew he wouldn't make it back for another five, maybe six hours. It was typical of UNSC marines getting back from their Outer Colony posts. She hadn't seen him in over a year, since before her seventeenth birthday. Her mother walked into the room, dressed in a nightgown.

"Go to bed, honey. He'll be here in the morning." Melissa took notice of her mother, but did not like the words she had to say.

"He promised, mother. He promised he would be back by midnight."

"I know, sweetie, but sometimes this happens. Just go."

"Ugh, fine. I'll see you in the morning." She got up and left her chair that faced the door, passing her mother and entering her bedroom.

"Ok, good night."

"Night!" she shouted, as she was in her bed. Her mother shut off the lights in living room and went back into her own bedroom. Melissa turned off the lights in her room and drifted to sleep quickly; she had already been rather tired. She dreamt that night, but it was cloudy, she had little understanding of it.

The door was disturbed later that night, a man crept in through the door, the temporary silent alarm being triggered before he turned it off and rearmed it after closing the door. He carried in his left hand a plastic bag, and set it down on the server table in the foyer. He extracted a medium-sized box from the bag and proceeded down the hall to the bedroom of his daughter. The door was just barely ajar, so he easily pushed it open with a finger, the normally squeaky hinges remaining silent this night. The box was wrapped in a shiny foil wrapping paper, with ribbon tied around it. He placed it on the foot of her bed as she slept, before kissing her on the forehead and leaving, going to his own bed.

She shuffled late into the night, and was awakened suddenly as something heavy fell off of her bed and collided with a few things on the floor before coming to a rest on the carpet. She sat up, rubbing her eyes, before flicking on a bedside light. She looked around to see what the clatter was, and spotted the wrapped box lying on the ground. She moved over to the foot on the bed and reach down, picking up the box, which was oddly heavy. However, a present's a present, and she quickly tore through the wrapping to see what it was. But as she gazed upon the front, she stopped.

"For UNSC-Personnel Issue Only," it read in the top left corner, "WST Manufacturing" was printed in the top right. In the center, was printed "M/7 Caseless Submachine-gun." She couldn't believe what it was, this gift, was, unexpected. She snapped back to it and quickly removed the lid of the package, running her eyes over the black curves of the beautiful weapon. Her right hand delved into the box and grabbed the firearm by the pistol grip. It was pretty easy for her to lift. She then realized what this was truly about.
She had made her father, her family a promise. It was a tradition in their family, since the eighteenth century. The eldest son would serve in the armed forces. But after three tries, they had only daughters, and so, being the caring elder sister, she elected to serve in combat, to make sure her sisters would not have to. And now she knew her father was going to keep her to that. It would be her destiny.
She placed the gun back down in the box and closed it up. She set it on the nightstand and clicked off the light, trying to fall back asleep.
She woke the next morning, not by her own accord, but the person singing "Happy Birthday" to her as he walked in. It was her father, once more. She smiled, her eyes fluttering. She rose and jumped out of the bed, running over to hug her father, who had been gone for the longest of times. Her mother, unnoticed, watch from the hallway, as the two conversed. He brought up the M/7, and the service, fighting the Covenant, and Melissa listened. She made it her duty to listen. But just for this day, she wouldn't have to refer to her father as "Sir". She sat in bed, watching the news, and what colonies had fallen in the past weeks. Her father had left, and returned with a tray. Coming from the kitchen, he had brought her breakfast in bed. He hardly ever did it, if he had ever did, but he treated her like the daughter of a king, not the daughter of a military man. She ate, and enjoyed. It would be a good birthday.

UNSC Chronicles: Soldier Girl, Book 1, Chapter 2
Date: 12 November 2007, 10:55 pm

Chapter 2: Leaving Anchorage

Melissa watched the clock tick by carefully. It was almost noon, and she had a shuttle to catch to Mars at two. She had her bag packed, ready to go to the spaceport. A thousand thoughts ran through her head, and yet nothing. It was what she had been preparing for during the past two years, and she was totally unprepared. Her father had been gone since before her compulsory education ended, and she wished her could be there to comfort her. But deep down, she knew he wouldn't be in basic either. He was a staff sergeant, for fuck's sake.
Her mind had been drifting, and she noticed it was time to leave. She had said goodbye to her family in the morning, they were heading to Juneau to see relatives. So with all her things, her gift, and her pride, she stepped out the door and closed it behind her. She got into her vehicle, slinging the duffel in the back. No worries, her mom would pick up the car when she got back. So with that, she sped off to the spaceport.
She was early to arrive, by almost fifteen minutes. So she checked in, along with other recruits, none she really knew. She sat down and just stared, waiting for the shuttle to be ready. But that momentary peace was quickly broken by a young recruit who plopped down next to her.

"Heya soldier, you going to Olympus City also?" he questioned Melissa.

"Yeah,. Umm, who are you?" she replied.

"Sellings is the name, but you can call me Andy."

"Okay Andy. Ever fired a gun before?"

"Plenty, back when I blasted rats with my MA2 back home."

"Sounds like fun."

"Sure is. Although I could've better spent my time blasting grunts."


A crackle over the loudspeaker, it was time to go.

"Oh, gee, well, Andy, it was fun talking. I'm off to Mars. Maybe I'll see you around in a year or two."

"Oh, okay, good luck."

"Yeah, you too." She stood and collected her things, walking over to the gangway entrance. She walked down it, thinking but in a daze, these could very well be her last steps on Earth. Her shoes clapped lightly against the metal deck, descending down to where the Albatross hovered, ready to take off. She stepped inside the aircraft. Only a few had taken their seats, and the pilots were chatting about space operations somewhere in the outer colonies. The deck of the Albatross had been converted to seating only, with room for a whole platoon of soldiers. She took her seat and stowed her duffel in the racks at the front. She sat for a moment before taking her chatter from her pocket. She browsed the Chatter net briefly, going through the flight plans and information on the UNSC base she had been assigned to. The shuttle began to fill, and it became crowded, as all forty seats were filled. The UNSC really needed soldiers to fight and kill the Covenant.
The doors to the Albatross folded up, as the pilot came on the intercom.

"Welcome recruits to UNSC Albatross Mike-99. I'm Warrant Officer Perkins, and I'll be your captain for this flight. So buckle up and hang on. And one more thing, welcome to the Marine Corps." The recruits jostled in their seats, as the latches on the bay doors sealed shut, and air pressure began to crank on. They felt a lifting feeling as the thrusters pushed the craft into the air, before maneuvering to the liftoff zone. It gained height, before adjusting the thrusters and rocketing off to a UNSC Frigate that would take them to Mars.
"This is Mike-099, requesting permission to land."
"We see you Mike-099, permission granted. You are clear to land in Bay 04. Welcome to the Nautilus, sir."

"Good to be here." The Albatross flies in through space and descends down into the bay, the doors departing into the hull, allowing the craft to enter. It landed down on the deck, the landing gear popping out. A few exhaust pipes hissed before the doors of the craft descended, allowing the recruits to exit. Melissa stood and took her bag from the racks before leaving. A staff sergeant was standing with a datapad, reading over the manifest and passenger list. Once everyone was off, he began reading off names.







He read off the list, going down and checking it off. Everybody was here.

"Alright you scumbags, the Marine Corps has deemed you dumb enough to be allowed into my army, so listen up! For many of you, this will be your first Cryo sleep. So listen closely. It's a short trip to Mars, only about two days by Slipspace. However, as training, you all will be given a bronchial surfactant. Its put down your throat an you hock it up and swallow it when you get waked. Also, to prevent skin damage, you will be frozen naked. Am I clear meatwads!?"

A collective "Yes sir!" came from most of the recruits. They followed him into the cryo chambers, and several technicians were already there to prep each recruit. They were told to strip in line and put their clothes in their duffel bags. The recruits that refused would be thrown into the freezers with their clothes on. That would surely leave a few thousand blisters. Melissa was quick to follow orders, as with the rest of the soldiers. With their clothes off, her fingers were quickly turning blue. When she came up in the line, she handed the technician her bag and climbed into the cryo-chamber. She took the surfactant and closed her eyes, being put to sleep quickly.

Soldier Girl: Book 1, Chapters 3-5
Date: 21 November 2007, 7:11 am

Chapter 3: Olympus City

The UNSC Nautilus entered the Mars Orbit, a slipstream portal closing behind it. Many other stations and ships orbited the brother of Earth, a once red planet, now full of life. The naval vessel drifted momentarily before the engines flickered to life and steered it into geosynchronous orbit. The ship's Dumb AI began its standard processes, unfreezing essential personnel first, and then the nonessential crew. After that was done, the crew brought the recruits out of sleep, many of them enjoying their first time hacking up the surfactant and swallowing the nutrients. Melissa did so, and was handed her things, getting dressed once she exited. Recruits were then ordered to the docking bays, the Nautilus would be docking at the space elevator momentarily. She walked down, following the stream of clueless recruits, beginning to have a sneezing fit. It subsided after a few minutes; it was something she would later learn to be a small allergic reaction to the surfactant.
The Nautilus docked to the space elevator that towered up from Olympus City with a heavy clang. The recruits were quickly herded onto it, and it began its descent, hundreds of miles to the surface of the planet. Many of the recruits were conscripted soldiers, unlike Melissa, who volunteered. As a result of the conscription, all staff sergeants carried BR-55 Battle Rifles in order to make sure the recruits were kept in line. The car of the space elevator descended rapidly, rifling through the atmosphere towards the once lifeless surface of Mars. Its brakes held fast as it screeched to a halt when it touched down, carbon fiber cables rattling above. It was systematic, really. Transports were already waiting to drive the greenhorns down to the training facilities on the rim of the city, and they were loaded on with amazing speed. The UNSC could not afford to waste time in a war for the survival of humanity. They would see very little of the sprawling cityscape here for awhile, bullets and blood would be their new family.

Chapter 4: A New Home

They were pushed to the ground, one by one. The slow ones were tortured, the fast ones were tortured. Hell, all of them were tortured. That's what they were here for. Melissa climbed to her feet and grabbed her duffel that had been tossed onto her and sprinted for the barracks. On the way, it had been explained to them that there were only enough bunks for half of the group. The other half would have to sleep outside in the cold Martian night. Soldiers clamored around the door to the barracks, it was locked. She knew it was a trick, and looked around the side for another entrance. A ladder to the roof was what she found, and she slung her bag over her shoulder and climbed up. A ceiling panel was popped off, and she climbed in, tossing her stuff in first. A staff sergeant, Senior Drill Instructor Meehan, greeted her quickly, grasping and shaking her hand.

"Good work recruit. I suggest you let your fellow soldiers on in." She smiled and nodded.
"Yes sir." She set her duffel bag down on a top bunk and walked over to the door that the soldiers had almost beaten down. She twisted the deadbolt and waited for the recruits to realize it was open. It wasn't long, they poured in like ants out of a knocked down anthill. There was much pushing and shoving; beds were even knocked over. A loud whistle blew.

"RECRUITS, FALL THE FUCK IN!" Soldiers scrambled from their feed and stood at attention in line, many shirts rustled, bags torn, beds almost destroyed. Meehan walked the line, carrying an M90 CAWS shotgun.
"IF YOUR DUFFEL BAG IS ON A BED, THAT BED IS YOURS. IF IT'S ON THE FLOOR, GET THE FUCK OUTTA MY BARRACKS!" Staff sergeants worked faster than the recruits, picking them up and shoveling them out the doors. Melissa sat on her bed, organizing the things in her bag. She ignored the two fighting below, punching each other, which went on until a drill sergeant came in and beat both of them down with a baton before dragging them both out.
Once things got organized an hour or two later, the recruits, now only half-strength, fell in and stood at attention. He walked down the line, inspecting every soldier from head to toe, explaining the basics they would go through along the way. He went over drilling, wake up times, the crappiness of the food, and the exact pattern in which their heads will be shaved. It was already almost nine, and the recruits were ordered to bed. Tomorrow would be worse.

Chapter 5: A Covenant Invasion

Waves of red light shimmered across the concrete walls of the barracks. A lone red beacon in the middle of the room stirred the recruits. It was quickly followed by a loud siren, with the lights coming on, drill instructors flooded the room and once again threw soldiers out of there beds. The speaker came on in the barracks then.

"COVENANT FORCES ARE IN ORBIT. WE ARE UNDER ATTACK! ALL SOLDIERS REPORT TO THE ARMORY AT ONCE!" Soon, the barracks a mass of sleepiness, confusion, and fright. They had just arrived at basic, and the Covenant was already knocking. They were herded like cattle to get guns, and soon most of them hefted around MA5Bs, and were stocked with magazines. They lined up at the Pelican bays, before their drill instructor marched in front of them.

"Alright recruits, that was your first drill," he proclaimed, somewhat proud, somewhat angry. "Now, if you all perform like that six weeks from now, you should just lie down and make your death easier. Soon, you'll be begging to thrust yourself into the heat of battle." He signaled the other instructors, who entered, assistants to the senior drill instructor. Today they would learn the very basics, as if they were small children. He pulled out his data-pad and scrolled down the roster, looking for the recruit that had impressed him the day before.

"Sanderson, Melissa Krystyn. Step up." Melissa stepped up and stood at attention, her rifle at her side, as if she had been a veteran. This made Meehan chuckle a bit inside, but once glimpse of a smile would get a good driller fired. "At ease, maggot. You learn that shit from your father!?"

"Sir, yes sir!" she replied, in an equal shout.

"Has he been in combat before?"

"Sir, two tours in the outer colonies, sir!"
"How many times has he told you the stories!?"

"Sir, only once, sir!"

"Good, that means he isn't a fucking lying yellow-belly. Turn around and face the line, recruit!" She did has he ordered, still at ease.

"Now your kind recruit here has demonstrated the basic stance for at ease. Earlier, you saw her at a proper "attention" stance. When you return to the barracks, you will find all the materials you will need over the course of your stay at my lovely home on your cots. Also, we've already confiscated contraband and those items will be returned to you once you leave my lovely little camp. Am I clear, maggots?"

"Sir, yes sir!" came a loud reply from all the recruits.

"Good, now, here's how things will work out. For the next week, you will wake up at five am and drill until lunch. Then, you have classes until dinner time. After dinner is more drilling, and then bed whenever we say. So stay sharp, and you just might live here. We're done here, so head back to the barracks. Turn in your rifles to the instructors as you leave. Dismissed."
She flipped through the guide. Well, it wasn't really the guide, just two pages on instructions to running the guide program. She took the military-issued MI39 Data-pad and powered it on. She looked on the paper media and entered her service number into the box that prompted her to. The screen flickered and presented a welcoming page, which asked her to input miscellaneous information for her personal page. She was browsing through the UNSC database, checking out all the cool things only accessible to UNSC personnel. But a quick glance to her bag noticed it was open, things tossed about, but the box with her gun was gone. Damn, she thought, they took it. Her gift. As least she knew she would get it back in a couple of months. Behind her bag was her new foot locker. She set her data-pad down and opened the foot locker. Inside was another sheet, giving an inventory of the UNSC-issue clothing. Sweats, t-shirts, socks, underwear, among other things. All were colored the standard olive drab. In her eyes, it was oddly fashionable. Well, in the army, at least. She moved things from her duffel into the locker and closed it, the auto-lock clinking shut. She organized her things and moved back, beginning to read over the guide. Weapons schematics, instructions of organization of one's footlocker, down the millimeter specifications of location of ribbons and medals upon the dress uniform of a soldier were all in there. A soldier, she was not one yet. She set down the data-pad and looked around. A few recruits chatted; some threw a red ball down the hall back and forth. Was she being too into this? They all were so relaxed, maybe she was too serious. She sighed and picked up the data-pad, clicking into the training matrix to view her upcoming schedule.
"I have arrived safely at Olympus Mons Training Facility. Please do not send food or any bulky items. I will contact in three to five days via chatter mail with my new mailing address. Thank you for your support. Goodbye for now." She hung up the hard-line phone, something not many people saw nowadays. She backed away from the phone and moved back in line; another recruit took the phone and made their call. The line moved slowly, from the phones, to the chairs. Fibers, millions of fibers, grey, black, brown, red, blonde, surrounded the chairs. Standing over them were the marine barbers, shaving the head of every recruit. After every four or fifth recruit, one of them would vacuum up the hair that littered the deck. When it came to her turn, she sat willingly, staring into oblivion as a part of what made her Melissa was cut and removed with precision and agility. Afterwards, you would have found more hair on a lizard. She stood and moved on, rejoining the line once again. They were kept in a waiting area, standing around as the rest of the recruits made their calls and had their heads shaved. They were filed into classrooms and instructed on proper UNSC disciplines, codes of conduct, and the like. It would be the flavor of the days for the rest of the week. In the list of fun marine corp. activities was medical and dental examinations, limited hours of sleep, mediocre food, and combat conditioning whenever it could be fit in. To the DI's, it was known as "Immersion Week", but the recruits had their own name for it, "FUU Week", or Fuck U Up Week. It was like being taken, stripped down, thrown into a blender, and swirling around in the slosh but not getting cut by the blades. Nevertheless, everyone survived it, and the next week would be even better.

Soldier Girl: Book 1, Chapter 6
Date: 30 November 2007, 6:03 am

Chapter 6: Week After Week

She ran the edge of her fork along the innards of the bowl, scraping up every last bit. The red sauce, each little bleached noodle, the last and littlest piece of meat, the crumbs from the garlic bread. They had seven minutes to eat; she had done it in five. A full serving of spaghetti for each recruit that day. It was delicious, real, cooked food, not a K-ration, not a C-ration. Real, cooked food. Too bad it was all gone. She disposed of her tray and plate in the waste recovery unit near the end of the cafeteria line. She sat and waited, glancing around at the other recruits who tried to swallow their meals too quickly. The fastest ones were harassed by the drill instructors. The slowest ones were harassed by the drill instructors. At the end of the room, Senior Drill Instructor Meehan shouted.

"All recruits dispose of your food and swallow whatever is in your mouth. No more bites. Anyone seen taking another bite will be on head duty with only a bottle of cleaning solution and their tongue as their supplies. Fall in front of my once you are done!" Recruits scurried around and lined up. Meehan was oddly dressed for evening classes. However that was quickly explained.

"Tonight, instead of classes, there will be a fun run. Up Olympus Mons. The challenge is designed to test your true limits. Your goal is to jog to the top without stopping and while maintaining strict water discipline. You don't stop until you make it to the top, or you pass out. If you stop jogging, you will be forced to jog back down. Make it to the top and you get a ride back down. Pass out, and we'll cart you back. Anyone caught faking unconsciousness will have to jog it back down and up and down again. Now get moving or you won't be back until dawn."

The rest of the week was finished out with PT fun runs and combat conditioning. The first Olympus run would not be the last. It was almost daily, pushing everybody to their limits. It would be like this for the next week as well. Combat gear marches, pugil sticks, knife techniques, with classes on UNSC Law and UNSC History sprinkled tastefully in between. But it was Week Three that soldiers looked forward to.

Space Week. Each soldier would be oriented to UNSC Extra-Vehicular Activity Suits (EVA) that were top-rated for space maneuvering. Underground caverns, once filled with magma, were now reinforced and fitted with vacuum rooms and anti-gravity areas. Each soldier would soon become familiar with the gear, how to move in zero-gee, and how to operate a firearm in the cold of space. Then, the epitome of combat training, the ever-enjoyable Rifle Week.

She woke, four in the morning, Earth-relative time of course. Recruit Sanderson piled off the mattress and dressed out. Falling in, first of the platoon. The rest quickly followed. Recruits were happy, who wasn't? Many were there solely to fire a weapon, and even more were there to fire a weapon at a Grunt. It was even better out on the range.

"Squad leader, fall in. You're first to shoot. And try to set an example," barked the instructor. He shoved a BR-55 Battle Rifle into her hands. He didn't know what to expect. She had excelled in nearly every task he stuck her to, but she was still just a greenhorn. He wanted to be wrong, but he set his expectations rather low.

"You all have been instructed how to operate a standard-issue BR-55, now today you will be demonstrating what you have learned. Think of it as…a test. Recruit Sanderson, load one thirty-six round magazine into the weapon and fire at will. She took the BR magazine from the table at slapped it into the well. She slammed home the charging handle and assumed the prone position in order to accurately fire down range. She hit the safety and peered into the gleaming two-power scope. A silhouette of a Sanghelli, more affectionately known as Elite, emerged from the grasses. She aimed for the head and fired a round at the concentration of nerves and sensory organs known as the head. The round penetrated and embedded itself in the sand hill behind the range. The target glowed blue momentarily and then ducked back down. As the next one popped up, she fired a single round and the target retracted to the grasses. Each target, each silhouette a synch, like it was a game. She could not have predicted this to be so easy. Thirty-six targets for thirty-six.

"Recruit, where did you learn to shoot!?" shouted the drill instructor to her face. She was not daunted by his screaming one bit, for he was rather similar to her father at times.
"Sir, from my father, sir!" she replied.
"Good! Show me that again! This time it's for your medal!" he shouted back. Sanderson nodded, racked back the bolt and hit the magazine release on the rifle. The empty magazine fell to the dirt, clattering the ground as it had been expended. She picked up another full magazine from the table and inserted it into the rifle before she slammed the bolt back home. She brought the rifle to her eye, and spotted the first target, the same as before. She fired a single round that penetrated the target once again. The target retracted and she scanned for the next target. She put another bullet into it. The spent casing ejected from the rifle and was pulled to the dirt by gravity, landing among a pile of more spent casings. This piled was quickly filled with thirty-four more casings, many of them still giving off smoke from the minute explosion that occurred inside a weapon whenever it was fired. She racked back the bolt and pulled out the magazine. She set both the rifle and the magazine on the table.
"Congratulations, recruit! That is some of the finest shooting I've seen in awhile! With thirty-six for thirty-six, it is my honor to inform you that you have qualified for sniper school!" barked the instructor. He was damn proud of her; she had fleshed out to become one of his better recruits. Well, she was in the greatest of his favor. He had more skilled recruits, like Recruit Smyth, or Recruit Penkala. But none were more straight-forward and duty-ready than Sanderson. Smyth and Penkala needed to be straightened out a bit more, but it seemed as if Sanderson had already been on a tour of duty.
Only two other soldiers out of the whole platoon managed to match Sanderson's record, but to the drill instructor, their accuracy seemed to be more luck than hardened skill. The rest of the day would be finished out PT exercises, and would proceed like any other normal day. However, tomorrow would be just as much fun, qualifying with the MA5 class, the M6, and the M90. In two weeks, they would have the supreme privilege of firing the M19 Jackhammer as well as the M247 General Purpose Machine Gun, and the AIE 486-H Heavy Machine Gun.

Soldier Girl: Book 1, Chapter 7: The Breaking Wheel
Date: 29 January 2008, 6:22 am

Chapter 7: The Breaking Wheel

Three days, two hours of sleep, a final challenge. Together, these words perfectly described the UNSC Marine Corps. Collective Task Course, more commonly and appropriately known as "The Breaking Wheel." It consisted of roughly fifty-four hours of problem solving, miles and miles of foot travel, food deprivation, sleep deprivation, completion of multiple physical obstacles, and topped off with a twelve-hour "war-game", all done with full equipment and standard issue MA5 service rifle.
After four hundred or so years of terra-forming, Mars was almost no longer the red planet. Many square miles of land were covered with lush greenery than had begun with simple patches of algae and grown into hectare upon hectare of grass. Neither the former dusty deserts nor the green waves of grass would prove to be good for a soldier. She kept silent about these things that she thought, watching from the back door of the Pelican. Her team, it was her team to her, if only her, was spread out among the rest of the bird. She had been named squad leader for the CTC, but her team ran itself. She had been given a rare opportunity to select the soldiers for her squad, and she had picked the best. Recruit Penkala, he had his skills, but weaknesses at well. He was short and skinny, and had trouble navigating tough obstacles like walls or lifting heavy obstacles. She had guessed all the time he should have spent growing his body was spent growing his brain. He absorbed information like a sponge, and always had a solution. She had seen that he worked well with larger recruits, since he quickly solved problems and directed the rest to solutions.
It was these exact reasons as to why she had picked Recruit Andersson next. Six foot seven inches, two hundred and fifty pounds. He wasn't just big, he was fucking fast. He had taken third place in one of the obstacle course drills, and had good chemistry with Penkala. She made note of his lanky arms and blonde peach fuzz as he talked to the girl next to him. Recruit Brussel, her best friend. She had been bunking with Brussel since the second week. Brussel wasn't exactly bright or strong like Penkala or Andersson, but she was relentless. Give her a wall, she won't sleep 'till she's over it. Give her an unloaded rifle, a target down range, and a single bullet that's somewhere in a ten ton pile of sand and she'll put a hole in the target sooner or later. Recruit Jones, or Jonesy as everybody knew him, was fit for a position in a battalion S-2 office. He wasn't the best fit for field activity, but he had a certain knack for technology, and that made him valuable in this day and age. Some might question her selection of Jonesy, but then aga-
"Thirty seconds out, recruits," declared the crew chief, unknowingly interrupting Sanderson's thoughts. She looked to him and nodded, acknowledging that their tiny little part of "The Breaking Wheel" was about to begin. The view below had quickly transformed from the fields of grass to a simulated urban environment. It was no Olympus City, but rather an insta-crete jungle, like something out of a video game. She could see other squads working their way through this course, but wasn't really able to glean any other information. The Pelican descended down to the landing pad that was marked with red smoke, the roaring engines pushing away the crimson clouds. "Everybody out. Problem Solving Course A begins now." Recruit Sanderson signaled for her squad to exit, jumping out the back herself first. She looked down to her wrist. Her mission clock had already begun. With the rest following in suit, she arrived at the first task. An M12 Warthog idled in front of a small roadblock, with mine signs posted all around. Browsing through her files that she had downloaded, she found the briefing for this.
"Problem One, Course A. Your goal is to navigate this minefield and bring the Warthog through to the other side without sustaining significant damage that may incapacitate either a squad member or destroy the vehicle. You have no mine detecting equipment and no ways around. All mines are live, and live fire ammunition is permitted. Good luck." She grimaced at this problem. Only the first one, and it seemed unsolvable. Luckily, her squad had been browsing the information as well. Recruit Penkala quickly spoke up.
"I have a solution, Squad Leader."
"Well, what is it?" she asked, under the impression there must have been a trick or fault somewhere in the design.
"It's simple, really. Just clear the mines on the road with grenades and bullets, using the Warthog as cover." Everybody stared at him for a moment, before realizing what he meant. They felt rather stupid, since it was really just that simple.
"Good work, Penkala. Andersson on the LAAG gun, and Brussel, prep your frags. I want a wall of chain gun fire clearing a constant path with grenades every ten meters." The squad got to work. Andersson took a single step to get to the back of the Hog, checking the gun's breech, making sure it was loaded. Brussel slung her rifle onto her back and removed several grenades from a pouch. "Open fire, Andersson," commanded Sanderson, hoping this would work. The gun quickly began to spit out bullets at over five hundred rounds per minute. The rest of the soldiers took cover behind the warthog, with Penkala at the wheel. Two mines detonated, sending up columns of dirt. Brussel threw her first grenade, which detonated, destroying another three or four mines. Andersson continued to spray, and the warthog began to crawl forward, each inch a tiny victory for the squad.
A few hours and bruises later, they would come across the climax of the urban test course. This time, they were not facing the environment, or some obstacles, but a whole 'nother team. It was their duty to assault and capture a fixed and fortified position without heavy weapons. At a storage locker, they switched out live rounds for paint rounds and loaded their rifles. It was time for real action.
Melissa ran to a corner, parts of the concrete chipped from bullet fire, simulated or real, it did not really matter. She peered around it, and was greeted with a shower of concrete bits knocked loose by the hard-hitting paint rounds. Those things did not bode well for her team. Once more her eye scanned around the corner, before ducking back. Third floor, blue building.
"The gunner is in the third floor of the blue building at the end of the road. Probably has two riflemen on his sides. Alright, here's the plan. They got five people in that building, and they have the high ground. First, we gotta take down the gun, and then we infiltrate with flashbangs. Let's see…" she interrupted herself to peer back around the corner, minute globs of paint now dotting her helmet. No direct hit, though. "I'll deploy smoke in a creeping pattern so we can move up to the burnt out cars about half way down the road. Then Brussel and Penkala will be runners while the rest of us will cover them. We're sitting ducks here, so let's get moving." The squad nodded in agreement, for her plan was short, simple, and to the point. She pulled out a smoke grenade from a pouch and armed it. She tossed it around the corner, and listened as the metal canister clacked along as it rolled until the top burst open, releasing a cloud of white phosphorus smoke. It filled the street, creating a wall of impaired vision for the gunner. Sanderson prepared to run out, but those thoughts were quickly halted when a spray of paint rounds came through the screen. It let up for a moment, and she saw this as their opportunity. "Brussels, Penkala, go!" she whispered loudly. The two soldiers nodded and darted around the corner, crouching low and running hard. Sanderson gave the signal, and the rest ran into the smoke, and once more unto the breech. It was like flying through a layer of clouds as she sprinted through, no vision, no awareness. But that feeling would quickly diminish as she came out on the other side and quickly took cover by a concrete obstacle. She saw Penkala and Brussel crouched by a dumpster on the opposite side, and the other two were next to herself. She tossed another smoke canister in front of her position and waited for it to fill. Content that the screen was up, she rose and tossed her last smoke grenade down to the end of the street, so that it would detonate at the base of the building. "Go, go, go!" she shouted across the comm. channel. The runners leapt from their position and hauled ass down the road. Moving through the smoke once again, the shooters propped up their rifles on a burnt out car and opened fire on the building, unsure of what they were hitting, since the last smoke screen had covered the building's façade. Random paint rounds flew over their heads, before she ceased fire and ordered the rest to do so as well. He radio crackled as Penkala broadcasted to the squad.
"Enemy squad has been eliminated. Exfiltration Pelican is waiting half a klick out," he spoke, Sanderson hearing full confidence in his voice. The smoke began to clear, and the squad reunited in front of the building. There, she saw they certainly had done overkill. The opposing forces had been hit in the first fifteen or twenty shots. Sure was foolish of them all to put themselves in the windows. She scanned the faces of the other recruits they had just faced. She felt no sorrow for them, she knew she was the better one.
"Let's go," she ordered, looking to the path that led past the concrete structure and out of town. The squad moved at an airborne shuffle-pace, and made it out to the bird in little to no time. Making sure the rest of the team had boarded, she looked back to the concrete jungle once more, plumes of white smoke dissipating into the air. A small smile snuck across her face. She took a step back and sat down onto the door seat of the Pelican, looking out at the beauty of Mars as the D77 ascended into the sky and onward to their next task.

Next Chapter: Chapter 8: Full Scale, coming when it's done.

Thanks for all criticism, just be sure it is constructive. Also, I know I may have some military facts wrong but I try my best. After all, I'm not in the USMC.

Soldier Girl: Chapter 8
Date: 14 October 2008, 4:58 am

Chapter 8: Full Scale

       In the beginning, there were many who were like Melissa. All of the recruits had hopes and aspirations for the Marine Corps. Things changed over time, people lost faith, lost the will. The hopes that it would be fun, the thoughts that it would be glorious. All of those would soon dissolve into little more than the realization that there was no glamour in the Corps, no fun in living a life that was built for the poor. Only a select few of the remaining recruits still held on, and Melissa was one of them. Most recruits did just enough to get by, but she, she had something that only a few had, sense. War numbs the senses, kills hearing, blurs vision, and in the end, many lose touch with the universe. Many no longer hear anything more than a high pitched scream. Many are trained to see the galaxy through nothing more than a scope. To come out alive, to be able to see, to be able to hear, to feel, was something only true warriors were made of.

       Day Two, forty-four hours into The Breaking Wheel. The D77-TC Pelican landed down at base. Recruits tumbled out of the rear. Their muscles burned of lactic acid, their stomachs cried for food. Sanderson was the last out, her feet stressed as she jumped from the bay door to the soil below. They were herded like cattle through to several puzzle-solving exercises. It was not like the beginning, when they were rested and fed. Work is different when one is burnt out. The puzzles came one after another, and Sanderson made it her job to keep everybody awake. Unfortunately for her, Andersson had a rare ability to sleep with his eyes open. Finishing the puzzles would mean a short break and just a bit of food. It took thirty minutes to finish the problem-solving tasks, but every second was worth it for a small packet of food. Sanderson only ate a little bit and handed the rest to Andersson. He needed the food more than she did. At least by now they had finished 20 of the 36 stations, or "spokes" of the Breaking Wheel. After the short food break, they had the opportunity to sit down and rest. Well, timed assembly and disassembly of eight UNSC weapons was somewhat of a rest. Sanderson struggled slightly, having trouble getting the bolt into the receiver. Jones had already finished six of the weapons, she had only gotten through the M6D, the MA5C, the M19 SSM, and she was finishing up the BR-55. She got it done and set it aside. She picked up and disassembled an M/7, finishing it with ease. Every piece of that M/7 was like a memory. Maybe it was just her sleep-deprived state, but every bolt, every piece she put together her a flash back to her birthday. So full of memories, the gift, her hopes. She lost focus for a moment. Were they really her own hopes, or were they the hopes of her family?

       "Snap to it recruit, this ain't a daycare. Get it moving!" shouted a drill instructor, his strained words filled with disdain, as well as a bit of a southern accent. She finished up the M/7 and picked up the M247. It was a simple weapon, easy to take apart. She got that done, and finished just behind Jonesy. Andersson, Brussel, and Penkala all finished up, and the group checked in with the instructor. They were sent over to a rally area would they would meet up with the rest of the training platoon. For the next four hours that would finish out day two, there would be a night march for ten miles. They returned to the rally area six hours and twelve miles later. Instructors often enjoyed stretching things a bit. The training platoon organized and stood at attention in front of the Senior Drill Instructor. He walked down the rows of recruits before stopping in front of Recruit Jones.

       "Recruit Jones, contraband material was found in your foot locker during the night march. Pack up your gear and get moving, you're marching all twelve miles again. As for the rest of you, organize into your groups. You all have your assignments." His tone was not one of anger, but one of pity almost, something unusual for a drill instructor.

       Shit. Sanderson had just lost a vital team member for the next six hours. They'd be shorthanded for the rest of the Breaking Wheel. The senior drill sergeant dismissed the platoon, which scattered to get the stations done. Sanderson organized her group, which was now just Penkala, Brussel, Andersson, and herself. She worried for Jonesy, but only for a second. The little bastard almost deserved this for making her go shorthanded, but she was getting punished more than he was. Melissa pulled up the schedule, and saw they were due next for the second part of the Urban Assault Course. They hopped a Pelican down to the UAC insta-crete jungle and were dropped outside the building.

       She remembered this area; it was the first part of their CTC. She remembered how they stormed the building, how they defeated the opposing team. It was the same mission, but they were on defense this time. She briefly skimmed the station outline, before ordering the three other recruits into the building. They switched out for paint rounds once again at a locker. She noticed an M247 equipped with paint rounds in the locker.

       "Penkala, I want you on the M247. Go to the top floor. Andersson on ground floor, watch the door. Brussel and I will move around the second and third floor. Get to your positions now, we only got a few before a squad comes through. Go!" The squad dispersed, Penkala hefting the GPMG upstairs. She found a small corner with a knocked out window for a good view from the third floor. She propped her rifle up on a crate and waited. She saw movement, but it was quick and she wasn't sure. Penkala keyed his mic.

       "We got a quick check on the corner, looking for positions."

       "Hold your fire until you get a good shot on them; don't give away your position yet." She paused for a moment, taking a look at the barren street. She then looked through her scope, tuning it to pick off the first person who came around the corner. "Steady up guys, stay alert." She kept watching, the Martian wind blowing dust across the street. She looked up from her scope for a moment, and that's when it happened. A runner darted out from the corner, dodging the fire from Penkala as he zig-zagged down the street. She realized what was going on just then. "Penkala, watch the corner!" Penkala looked up from the sights just for a paint round to hit him square in the helmet.

       "Damnit, I'm hit," spoke Penkala softly over the mic. He wasn't angry so much as disappointed that he let the squad down. He slouched down and laid himself on the ground, indicating he was out. Sanderson was just as angry that she had so easily played into the bait. She zeroed in on the shooter at the corner, but he had already ducked back.

       "Runner is down," marked Brussel as she picked off the bait. "I'm out, reloading."

       "Brussel get up top on the MG," ordered Sanderson. She needed someone manning the heavy as fast as possible.

       "Roger that, on my way up," replied Brussel. She displaced and made her way upstairs, reaching the top floor to find Penkala faking death on the dusty concrete floor. She ignored the act and quickly got to the MG position. "I'm on it."

       "Good, watch for tho-" Sanderson was cut off as paint splattered around her window. The attacking force rushed out onto the street, rifles spitting paint round after paint round. "Displacing!" she quickly shouted over the mic, heading down to the first floor. Andersson was already down there, trying to nail the opposing force that had taken cover behind some burnt-out cars that were in the defilade of the MG. He kept firing, but quickly ran dry.

       "Reloading," he said as he swapped out magazines from behind cover. Sanderson quickly ducked down next to him, firing her rifle over her head. Andersson racked back the charging handle and resumed firing, managing to finally hit one of the opposing team members. "That's two down, Sanderson."

       "Keep putting in the rounds." She keyed her mic, a short buzz humming from it as it waited for her words that it would relay. "Bruseel, move down to the second floor, you'll be able to hit them from there. " She looked over the cover to see the enemy hop out from theirs. Why would they rush so stupidly like that?

       "Sanderson, I'm out." She looked to her left and saw Andersson with paint smeared across him.

       "Get your big head down and let me finish this." She sprayed them with paint, but nothing seemed to hit. They were quickly into the building and she backed up to the stairs. Her magazine ran dry as she was cornered. She couldn't believe herself, that she had been so easily defeated. She would have been cheerful were it not for her poor memory. Brussel jumped down the stairs, blazing paint from the MG that she fired from her hip. With all that airborne paint, the remaining three were quickly hit in succession, and with that, Brussel pulled out a victory for Sanderson.

       "Brussel," she spoke, exhausted from the battle, "I could kiss you right now."

       "I wouldn't mind seeing that," spoke Andersson, covered in paint and sitting up next to a wall.

       "It's a figure of speech your jackass," replied Sanderson, the words escaping with every heavy breath.

       "No shit. But in all serious, nice work Brussel," came the reply from Andersson.

       "Thanks guys, not sure why but I just felt like doing that once," spoke Brussel as she laughed slightly, a smile peeking out from under a normally grim face. The teams collected themselves and moved out to their next tasks. For Sanderson, it would be the last notable one. As the dust settled on that lonely makeshift street on Mars, the day would end and with that, graduation would come.

Soldier Girl: Part 9
Date: 29 May 2009, 5:21 am

Part 9: Home

The Albatross designated R-365 touched down with a bit of a hop, the soldiers inside jostled slightly. They'd been ready for it of course, most of them had seen much worse. They were still chatting as the doors opened, most of them bustling out in civilian clothing. However one had remained in uniform, and walked out prideful, carrying her duffel on her back. It was one of the less busy spaceports on the planet, yet it still crawled with activity, people pushing and shoving to get somewhere in a hurry. She moved almost robotically, as if she had been retrained how to walk, but she did so with a speed that signaled a peculiar motivation flowing within her. She made her way through the rather impersonal crowd out to the street, which was inching along with rush hour traffic. She drew her chatter from her bag, dialing the only number still saved in the database.

"Hey mom, I'm here. Where are you?"

"Christine took the car; you'll have to get a cab."

"Ok, thanks. I'll be home soon." She closed the conversation on the chatter before stowing it away back in the bag. She fretted. It had all been played out in her mind like the perfect movie. Her mom would step out, and they run to each other, a giant hug ensuing. She'd be lying if she said she hadn't missed her family. After all, everything she worked for was for them. Like a bipod to a sniper rifle, the support is absolutely necessary. She wasn't exactly certain who she missed more, her sisters, her mother, or her father. Well, that's an easy one actually. She loved her dad more than anybody. He was her inspiration, her icon, her model of excellence. Somebody forgot to tell her he was line infantry. That didn't matter to her; he was the Major General of the UNSC for all she cared. Her only father.
She flagged down a taxi and watched it stop in front of her on the side of the road. She opened the door, tossing her duffel in first before climbing in and closing the door behind her.

"3609 Truitina Avenue, Anchorage," she requested.

"You got it," was the solemn reply. The driver punched the address into his GPS device and peeled off from the idle position into the fast lane, catching up to speeds quickly, reaching the standard 150 km/h limit in no time. Sanderson looked out the window, looking for what had changed. A poor expectation, she hadn't been gone more than four months, but it had felt like years. It was an average Anchorage day, overcast sky, drizzling slightly. The windows were spattered with small droplets of water as the cab weaved in and out of traffic. The driver pulled off the expressway about an hour later, pulling into the outskirts of Anchorage. Low-income housing and suburbs, mostly. Perfect for soldiers and their families. The driver pulled onto Inigo Avenue, one of the main streets through the area. Heading down the road, the excitement began to build in her, the time was coming soon. Unexpectedly the driver pulled into back alley. Perplexed, she was about to speak up, but the driver answered her question.

"I'm supposed to kill you," he stated, his words crisp and concise. Nothing was misspoken, nothing could have been misheard.

"I take it you're an Innie. And I'm a soldier, makes sense. Usually the Innies got more guts than this and pull the trigger without hesitation."

"Well, it's my first time doing this."

"Fresh recruit, eh? Well, you're not doing to well." After hearing what he had to say, an air of calmness blew over her. If she played him right, this would be a piece of cake to get out of.

"Well, I knew I had to kill someone, but I just can't bring myself to kill the women and children."

"Then take me home, you're wasting our time."

"Yeah, ok." He back out of the alley and pulled onto the main drag once more, arriving quickly to her home. She tipped the man extra, before exiting the vehicle.

"Maybe you should rethink your career choice," she said to him closing the door behind her. Slinging the duffel over her shoulder, she waved to the cabbie before heading up the steps to the small home sandwiched between the rest of the buildings that lined the street. She raised her hand to knock on the door, but heard a voice shout from within.

"It's open!"

With a single finger, she pushed the door open, dropping the duffel to the floor inside the home. Her trained eyes scanned the room, and much was amiss. Objects were scattered on the floor, the entryway in general disarray.

"Mom?" Her voice trailed off, unable to process the possibilities that could have led to the current situation she was observing. Her mother quickly rushed into the room, her face devoid of a rather expected grin, or at the very least, some form of a smile. Her mom, quite a bit shorter than herself, hugged her tightly, before rushing off to get back to work, speaking as she walked away, fixing things up along the way.

"It's so good to have you back, dear. Things have been hectic since you left. I've missed the extra set of hands to keep the younger ones at bay while I clean. Please come in to the kitchen, dinner is almost ready," her mom rambled on so, to the point where between the walking from room to room, her speech was inaudible, a mere blend of phrases and noises. Melissa set her bag down on a chair and stepped quietly into the kitchen. Still the same as before. At the table, her youngest sister sat, talking with a friend on the chatter. Her sister pretended not to notice, but Melissa could sense the eyes flick from the device to herself every time she turned. She grabbed a cup from the cabinet and filled it with water from the faucet. Cold, but nothing close to icy. She set the cup down on the steel table, a clank resounding from the metallic surface. She was hoping her sister would attempt to initiate some form of contact, but the lack of conversation disturbed her in a way. She felt unappreciated for a moment, as if her sister had deemed a casual dialogue with a friend to be of greater importance than the long-awaited homecoming of a loved one. Or at least, she hoped it was long-awaited. She tried to make herself look busy in the kitchen, putting away used ingredients and loading sullied utensils and plates into the dishwasher. Her sister finished her little chat, setting the chatter aside and grabbing Melissa's water to drink.

"So how was it?" she asked rather bluntly, taking a sip of water. Melissa stopped for a moment, thinking about how to answer such a question. She searched her memories, trying to conjugate the entire experience into a simple sentence. When all attempts had failed, she could only bring herself to say one thing.

"It's not something you come back from and talk about freely. I think its something you should rather see for yourself than just hear about from someone." She turned to her sister, leaning on the counter. "Not that you would ever consider joining up. You'd never last."

"What makes you say that? For all you know, I could have been busy planning my military career while you were gone," retorted Melissa's sister, better known as Karen.

"Because you weren't. You were out with your friends trying to scam people out of ration coupons. Unless you quit running with those people, although it doesn't sound like it from the content of your conversation."

"All I wanted to know was how it was."

"I just told you." Sanderson sauntered to the table and swiped the cup from the hands of her younger sister. She downed the contents of the cup and tossed the cup into the sink with military precision.

The four women sat down at the dining room table to eat, a small celebration of the brief return of the elder sister. Their mother brought out the food to the table, steam rising off of it all. Melissa noted the portions, considerably less than when she had departed. The government must have cut back on ration coupons again. Happens every few months, the civilians getting less and less chow as the supplies are rerouted to some ship in space destined to be wasted by the Covenant in a short amount of time. The second oldest sister, Christine, doled out portions to the family, hogging a rather substantial amount of mashed potatoes. Melissa eyed her sister almost grudgingly, and in a response of sorts, grabbed most of the biscuits and deposited them onto her plate.

"Melissa, give some to your sister," her mother ordered, not even breaking her motions to command her daughter as she put her parental intuition on display. Melissa exhaled bluntly, tossing a biscuit onto her sister's plate, and began to eat. Her mother spoke up again however, rather inquisitive about basic. "So how was it?" she asked. Melissa glanced at her youngest sister, who was slightly smirking, before replying.

"I'd rather not talk about it right now," she stated before resuming consumption of her meal.

"It's ok; I didn't think you'd want to. Your father was the same way when he came back. Didn't talk for a couple of days. The only person he talked to was his father, your grandfather, rest his soul. The experience changes you sometimes, sweetie. That's what it's meant for. You're supposed to break down what you know as a civilian and build it back up as a soldier and a warrior…" her mother rambled on, explaining how basic work, a reiteration of facts and truths Melissa was already more than aware of.

"Mom, I know, I was just there. Relax, okay?"

"I know you know. Just making conversation." The family resumed eating. Melissa finished first, rather accustomed to the "meal sprints" from basic, or the rapid consumption of a full meal in a little less than five minutes. Feeling rather rude for devouring the course rather quickly, she sat and watched her family eat, only the hum of chewing and cutlery disturbing the silence. Her younger sister finished next, followed by her mother, and then Christine, who was still working on the heap of potatoes. The trio waited for the girl to finish, all of them exchanging glances. Christine finally set her fork down, wiping her mouth with her napkin. There was an unexpected period of silence, a moment of digestion, a moment of thought. But Christine would be quick to break it.

"So, uh, what's for dessert?" she asked, looking at her mother. She replied quite succinctly, standing to clear the table.

"I didn't have enough ration coupons to get any dessert. Sorry Melissa, I hope that's okay."

"It's alright, mom. This was more than enough anyways. I appreciate it." Melissa grabbed what her mother couldn't pick up from the table and took it to the kitchen. Just like before she left, cleaning up after her sisters.

She settled down in her old room, still uneasy in the hospitable environment. She tossed the duffel onto her bed, unzipping it to pull out a change of clothes for the next day. A second uniform pressed and still in mint condition. She also pulled out her M/7. She remembered the night she got it. The bow unraveled, the shiny paper torn. Seemed like ages ago. A glint caught her eye, a sliver on the floor. She knelt down to examine the shiny object, only to find a small piece of wrapping paper lying peacefully on the carpet. Gingerly, she grasped it between her thumb and index finger, reflecting the ceiling light off of it. It almost brought a tear to her eye. She remembered how much she missed her father at the moment. He felt so close through the piece of rubbish, yet at the same time so far away. It was both a heartwarming moment and a crushing feeling. She sat back on the floor, leaning against her bed, still holding the piece of silver wrapping paper. She ran her thumb across the reflective side, feeling the slick texture of the glossy surface. It dawned upon her then. Her mom hadn't touched her room since she'd left. And her mom was one hell of a neat freak. It was weird being home, definitely a break from what would be normal for her. She finally stood, placing the paper in the bottom of her duffel. She inspected her weapon before placing it back in the bag. She sat down next to it, disrobing from her uniform. She folded the clothes and placed them in her bag, which she set on the floor next to her mattress. She removed the hair band from her head, letting her dark auburn hair drop down to just past her shoulders, just shorter than Marine Corp. regulations. She pulled the crisp covers back and laid down, pulling them back snugly over her. For a few minutes, her mind wandered over the days ahead, the days past, her father, her mother, her sisters, her town, her life, before she found her mind at ease and drifted into slumber.

She erupted from sleep. Five in the morning. She was running late. She rushed from her room and turned the shower on, piping hot water rushing out from the metal pipe dangling from the ceiling. She stripped her underwear and jumped in, washing up as fast as she knew how. She'd gotten a decent shower to less than thirty seconds in basic, something she liked to think of as a "power-shower". She turned off the water jets and hopped out, grabbing a white towel from the rack and drying off with near-inhuman speeds. She retreated to her bedroom in a hurry, throwing the towel off and dressing in the fresh uniform she had set aside the previous night. Seven minutes from waking, she was ready to head out the door. She sat for a moment on her bed and glanced at the clock. 5:07. She didn't need to get to the spaceport for another two hours. Melissa sighed, resting her head in her palms. She removed the jacket of her uniform and set it neatly on the bed. She left the room and entered the kitchen, turning on the lights. Her mom entered shortly after while Melissa rummaged through the refrigerator trying to find a suitable breakfast.

"Melissa dear, what are you doing up so early?" her mother inquired, yawning as she spoke.

"Sorry, I just, just, I'm just used to waking up early. Well, at least I have time for breakfast."

With her lone piece of luggage packed, she said what could have been her final goodbyes, and entered the car. Her mother drove her to the spaceport, pulling up and stopping the car in the drop-off lane. As Melissa moved to exit the vehicle, her mother grabbed her wrist.

"Melissa, wait a moment. I just wanted to say…be careful. You mean a lot to your sisters, and even though they bug you, they've earned the right to keep you around. So come home safe, please." Her mother hugged her tightly in the car, an awkward hug that navigated the console between the front two seats and the armrests.

"Don't worry, I'll be back soon." Melissa opened the door and walked around to the rear of the vehicle, hoisting her duffel onto her shuffle from the trunk. She pushed the button to close the trunk and waved once more to her mother as she left the sidewalk and entered the bustling spaceport. She found her shuttle, the lone vessel that would be the first voyage on the path to her first tour of duty. She was ready. She boarded the craft.

Soldier Girl: Part 10 - This City Hasn't Slept in Years
Date: 5 June 2009, 6:55 am

Part 10: This City Hasn't Slept In Years

The D77-TC Pelican jolted its passengers as it broke through the atmosphere of Inigo. Private First Class Sanderson looked out the viewport in the rear of the transport, peering out as the ship descended to the ground with due haste. A glow slightly emanated from the hull of the ship, friction with the particulate and air from extreme speeds. The Pelican designated Hotel-Three-Eight-Zero banked sharply, the ship rattling as outside anti-aircraft shells began exploding around the vessel. Sanderson's head swiveled quickly to look as the hatch to the cockpit burst open, the crew chief holding onto the grabs that dotted the ceiling, trying to make his way to the back. He began shouting at the top of his lungs, speaking over the roar of the engines and the explosions outside.

"Touchdown in thirty, we're coming in hot! The base is getting shelled right now, so move your ass fast when the bird touches down. Welcome to Inigo, ladies and gents." He turned to enter the cockpit when the Pelican was rocked, throwing the crew chief to the deck, smashing his face on the edge of the hatch. One of the pilots turned to look back, trying to fly and deal with the problem simultaneously. He looked over at the other pilot, before shouting at the marines in a stressed tone.

"These bastards aren't letting up, hold on tight, we're taking evasive maneuvers!" On those words, the bird dipped quickly, flak exploding all around. It spiraled toward the dirt, before picking up and rising again. The bird neared its destination, the UNSC base on the outskirts of one of the main colonies on Inigo. It dropped in low, flying under radar, before slowing up and dropping to the surface, descending to a hover just over the landing pad. The pilot pulled the lever to open the doors, exposing the marines to the dusty winds kicking up from below. The grabbed their gear and jumped out quickly, running to cover as mortar rounds impacted the ground around the bird. Sanderson slung her duffel over her back and readied her BR-55 Battle Rifle, shouldering it as she jumped out. She stumbled as she hit the deck, falling to a knee before scrambling and sprinting to a nearby insta-crete bunker. She ducked inside under the low door, only to find the bunker already occupied by several marines. None from the bird though. These were vets who were already here, smoking and relaxing. The peculiar scene took a moment for her to process, before standing and dusting herself off. Outside, the shelling continued.

"Who's in charge here?" she inquired, looking to the relaxed men leaning back against the bunker wall. One of the marines looked up, clutching an M90A shotgun between his legs. His face was scarred, most likely results from numerous shrapnel-related incidents.

"Some Navy clown they sent down to run the base, he's in the command bunker," replied the soldier. Sanderson nodded, and was about to head out back into the fray before the marine added, "Hold up, sit back. The Innies just started their mortar barrage, give them a few minutes." Sanderson backed away from the entrance to the bunker, leaning back against the wall, her rifle still shouldered. A bead of sweat rolled down the side of her face, as doubt filled her mind. She wasn't sure what to do as doubt filled her mind. And she didn't like it; she had always felt she would be perfect when the time came to go into battle. She couldn't relax, and was anxious for the mortar rounds to stop falling. Several minutes passed. Still no let-up. She peered outside to see if the Pelican had gotten out, and all she could make out through the smoke and dust was the pilot running about the craft, desperately trying to fix it to get it out of there.

"Hey girl, take a chill, this is the easiest job in the entire Corps. Sit back, relax." A marine on the opposite wall of the bunker spoke up, his helmet an ashtray on the ground for the cigarette he had lit between his fingers. She glanced at the man before looking back outside. The mortar rounds had finally let up.

"Which way to the command tent?" she inquired once more, ready to get out of the bunker, which was not designed to hold more than four soldiers, let alone twelve. She got no verbal response, only a gesture of the hand from the smoking man. She nodded in thanks, and rushed out the door. The mortar barrage had charred the ground and spooled up dust clouds than now permeated the air in the base. She wandered around aimlessly through the complex, her only directions coming from a single digit. She walked into a tent, finding a table set up with multiple communications arrays and computers, cables dumped onto the floor like a big bowl of spaghetti that had been turned upside-down. Content that she wasn't in the right place, she turned to leave. Another body that of a much taller man, bumped into her knocking her back. Sanderson noticed the rank on his shoulders and was quick to salute.

"Private First Class Sanderson reporting for duty, sir." The officer stepped back, looking up and down the private. He returned the salute, and was quick to fire off the dire questions in his mind.

"Do you have your transfer orders, Private?" he asked, putting his hand out as a tray to receive the expected slip. She removed a folded order from her vest pocket and placed it in the extended hand. The officer took the paper and briefly glanced at it before stuffing it in a back pocket. "Private Sanderson, did you just get in on the Pelican?"

"Yes sir," was her reply, firm and precise, a phrase that had been drilled into her since she was four. It was how she always addressed her father. The officer was quick to talk, and wasted no time speaking or standing around.

"I'm Commander James Austin, your CO. Follow me." He gestured her for to follow him out of his tent as he toured the damage to the base, speaking along the way. "I got you in First Platoon, Bravo Company. This is the 114th Marine Infantry Battalion, but I'm sure you already knew that. You'll be in Staff Sergeant Venson's squad, so if you have any questions, go to him first." He stopped at an insta-crete shelter with the words "First Platoon" painted above the doorway. "This is your home from now on, the sergeant's inside. Any questions?"

"Yeah, what's our objective here?"

"They didn't tell you? Inigo is one of the unknown hubs for Insurrection activity. Yeah, Operation Trebuchet ended when the Covenants showed up on the front step, but these Innie bastards still choke up things on some of these otherwise quiet planets. Problem is the Innies here are ex-marines who broke off from a UNSC base that was stationed here. But yeah that's pretty much all you need to know. Good luck, soldier." Austin didn't bother to let Sanderson salute him as he simply walked off into the cloud that hovered within the base.

Sanderson peered into the bunker, much larger than the one she had taken shelter in when she first arrived. It was dug out, allowing for bunk beds up to the ceiling. Marines milled about inside, fixing gear, prepping weapons, nothing too important. One particular soldier noticed the greenhorn enter the room, and rose from his bunk that was only a foot from the ground. He crawled out from the bed and brushed his flak jacket off.
"You must be the new private we just got in. I'm Staff Sergeant Venson, your new SL." Venson pointed to another soldier, a short woman who was shaving her hair down to a peach fuzz opposite a mirror hanging from a bunk. "That's Sergeant Cantwell; she's the ASL and head of Fire Team 2. Our squad is divided into two teams, so you'll be under her." He pointed once more, this time to a bunk. "You sleep there. And if you have a problem, try to bother someone else, ok? Just don't go getting yourself killed, I hate getting replacements." With that stinging statement, the sergeant walked out of the bunker, disappearing around a corner. Sanderson, still somewhat confused, approached the designated cot, only to find a blood-stained mattress. She turned to look at Sergeant Cantwell, who stopped the shave for a moment to speak up.

"Don't worry about the stain; last guy accidentally shot himself in his sleep." Sanderson hesitantly heeded the advice and set her duffel onto the bunk. Underneath was a fingerprint-lock footlocker, one of many that had been placed for use by the marines. She found no print encoded into the lock, and so placed her thumb upon the pad, scanning it in to lock the case. She scanned her finger once more to unlock the locker. She unzipped her bag and began to transfer items from one to another, loading her spare uniform and personal effects into the locker, along with a few of the spare magazines she had for the M/7. With the bag empty, she folded it and placed it in the locker as well. She closed the case, the lock engaging the moment the lid latched.

Venson reentered the First Platoon bunker shortly after, carrying his datapad. He stopped in the center of the bunker, scanning the room, before making an announcement.

"Alright gents, listen up. We drew the short straw; we're on colony patrol tomorrow. Standard template, danger zones first, work our way out. Stay in your pairs and with your fire teams. Lieutenant Sanford is still on leave in town so Gunnery Sergeant Martin will coordinate routes. Nobody dies tomorrow, right marines?" A short raucous arose from the group, channeling what remaining morale they had into an audible form. "Sergeant Martin should be back within the hour so be back here by then for assignments. In the mean time, try not to get killed." As Venson finished his impromptu speech, many marines returned to the miscellaneous tasks they had at hand, while a few exited the bunker to travel elsewhere on base. Sanderson sat alone on her bunk, the occupants above her absent from their beds. Looking around, she spotted a lone corporal in the corner cleaning his MA5K. She was puzzled to see such a weapon in the hands of a regular marine, as the 5Ks were usually given to the Special Forces types. She sauntered over to him and plopped down beside him.

"I know what you're going to ask, where did I get this fine piece of weaponry? Every damn rook asks me that question. Every replacement feels that they must inquire about the origin of the rifle, and how I came to possess it. The grim truth? I took it off the dead body of an ODST. His head had been struck from his neck and there it was, lying there in his hands, blood running down the side, casings from spent rounds residing next to the weapon." The soldier removed the bolt from the weapon, running a cloth over it, making sure it was in working order, before returning the bolt to its housing. "Its amazing how many of you rooks come through here, asking about my gun, almost makes me want to leave this place. Of course, it'd be the same wherever. But hell, I would never leave this place. I love it here. Inigo is one of the greatest planets in this arm of the Milky Way Galaxy. It's an old-fashioned kind of planet, and I love it. I get to kill other people, I enjoy every day that I grease another person. Not too many places like this left in human society. It makes me think back to the good old days of warfare. You know what those days are?"

"Uh, no?"

"The days when only humans killed other humans. Shit's so complicated now, aliens this, Covenant that, it's so much simpler just to shoot the guy standing next to you and call it a night." The corporal looked over at Sanderson, glancing up and down her before speaking once more. "Listen rook, you seem like a smart kid, so I'm gonna trust you not to be an annoying pain. If you ever need to know anything, just ask. I like to think of myself as a repository of information." Sanderson remained silent for a moment, unsure what to say. She was still processing the impromptu monologue by the soldier, and only one real question came to mind.

"So, how'd the Insurrection start here?" she inquired, resting her head against the concrete wall of the bunker.

"Glad you asked, this is one of the more humorous conflicts to come out of the UNSC. So about seven years ago there's this colonel that get's assigned to the UNSC base here, guy's name is Garrigan. Well Garrigan was a hardcore religious nut, and would often go off on some odd tangent during a meeting. And believe me; you didn't want to be on his bad side. This guy was huge, six-foot six, and carried a shotgun around almost all the time. After about four months of this guy, The XO and some of the other officers get really tired of his shit and commit mutiny. Thing is, these officers were the ones that ran the nuclear missile storage facility located in the mountains, so they got a huge bargaining chip. Because of this, command is furious, and they transfer Garrigan to some no-name post on Mars. Well the officers still don't want to return, and they decide they'll join the insurrection along with the battalion they were able to recruit for their cause."

"So they've been slugging it out with a battalion for seven years?"

"Nah, see, the civvies started getting in the whole mess, and then more soldiers decided that it'd be a good idea to join their side. Next thing you know, they're at division-strength in the militarized side, with thousands more running terrorist ops in the city. "

"So how'd Commander Austin end up here? What's with that Navy clown, anyways?"

"Commander Austin? Rumor says he pissed off a commanding officer and got assigned down here as parting of 'training.' Last guy we had was assassinated in a convoy running through the city, so don't expect Austin to be here for long. This planet is a deathtrap for officers."

"You mean to tell me this all started over some idiot colonel?"

"He's a general now, and yes."

"The reasons to fight…."

"Ain't it hilarious? Listen, we got patrols tomorrow, so we'll buddy up for it, alright?"


The seven Transport Hogs rolled out of the base gates, just minutes from the city. As they pulled onto the road, dust kicked up in their wake, easily leaving trails of smoke. The vehicles pulled into the city through the main gates, but it looked like they were heading from one warzone to another. Many buildings were cracked and pockmarked from explosions; much of the road was torn up from improvised explosive devices. The Warthogs pulled to the side of the road further into the city, the soldiers disembarking from the rear of the vehicles. Sanderson jumped from the back only to step in a muddy puddle, soaking the bottom half of her combat boot in what was a questionable pooling of liquid. She looked down and shook it off before stepping onto the sidewalk, adjacent to the corporal. Acting Platoon Leader Gunnery Sergeant Martin jumped onto the hood of the lead vehicle, removing the helmet from his head to speak to the platoon.

"You all have your assignments, get out there, shift's over in eight hours. And remember, nobody dies today. Move it marines!" With that concise speech, he removed himself from the hood of the vehicle and replaced the cover on his head, grabbing his MA5C and cocking it. The platoon quickly dispersed into the surrounding area, one fire team per street. Sanderson and the corporal walked down the main road until they came to the intersection of Main and Snowdon Parkway. The pair began patrolling the right side of Snowdon Parkway, walking north along the way. On the opposite side were the fire team leader as well as a lance corporal, both strolling along at an eased pace. Sanderson avoided conversation with the corporal for awhile, unsure of what to say or talk about. All that would come to mind is what might happen on her first patrol. She tried to remember the corporal's name, but she then realized he had never even told her. Embarrassed, she turned her head to him as they walked.

"I just realized, I never even got your name."

"Oh, it's ok, don't worry about. The name's-"

A deafening noise, dust and debris filled the air. Sanderson found herself in the gutter of the road in a supine position, a distinct ringing in her ears. She tried to lift her head to see what happened, but her neck ached, her back stung, and she could only lie there, her Battle Rifle strung across her chest as she was covered in a thick blanket of ash and dust. Out of her peripheral vision she spotted a marine sprinting over to her, kneeling down at her side. She squinted through her cracked visor to realize it was Sergeant Cantwell. Muffled voices emanated from the sergeant, but Sanderson couldn't understand a word that was said. All she could attempt to do was read the Sergeant's lips, but what she saw made no sense. Wiggle…your…toes? She moved her legs, her knees popping as they bent. The sergeant grabbed her armor and pulled Sanderson to her feet, quickly trying to dust her off. Sanderson looked around as she was dragged out of the road and behind a bench on the sidewalk. The corporal's corpse lied motionless further out in the road, a mix of blood and debris surrounding the man. The bodies of several civilians hung out of the rubble of the storefront, what looked to have at one point been a small deli. Sanderson's hearing slowly returned as the sergeant continued to shout at her.

"Private, are you alright?!" she kept screaming, straining her voice every time. Sanderson had no verbal reply, and only nodded in response. "Good," replied the sergeant, "let's get the hell out of here before Innies start showing up to finish off what they started!" Sergeant Cantwell grabbed the armor of Sanderson once more and started darting back towards the Warthogs. Sanderson moved as fast as she could, only a bit speedier than a light jog, her legs trying to find their function again. As she kept going, Cantwell paused at the body of the corporal in the road. She darted into the street to grab the MA5K from the body. As she knelt down to remove the weapon from the corpse, several shots rang out in the street as bullets perforated the sergeant. Sanderson could only watch as Cantwell was gunned down, her body freezing up in horror. Sanderson backed against a wall, slouching down, her hands grasping her weapon but taking no action. An Innie ran out from a building across the way, carrying an MA3 with a BR-55 scope hastily affixed to the top. He slowed when he reached the bodies of the soldiers, stopping to scavenge their bodies for weapons and ammo. Sanderson's finger crept onto the trigger, and she slowly shouldered her weapon, taking aim down the sight. She exhaled, holding breath to steady herself. The man quickly looked up at her, a glance of a thousand miles, as he froze in his tracks. Sanderson hesitated from firing, seeing the man was no older than a teenager.

His shirt was stained with blood, holes ripped throughout. His body had piled itself to the bodies of the marines, an improvised memorial to seven years of strife, all thanks to a little help from the squad leader and his fire team The marines were cleaning up now, counting the dead, cordoning off the street for crews to come in and remove the bodies. A medic attended to Sanderson, checking her vitals.

"You got a mild concussion. Lucky for someone who was standing right next to a bomb. Get some rest, and don't go back out into the field until the headaches stop." The medic smiled and departed to help other soldiers. Sanderson's gloved hand rubbed her forehead, pain swelling in the frontal lobe. She couldn't shake the feeling of shock, but it was only her first experience. She would find herself on one of the first Warthogs back to base, and rested in the infirmary for several days before returning to the platoon for the next op.

Soldier Girl: Part 11 - Castle in the Hole
Date: 12 June 2009, 1:14 pm

Part 11: Castle in the Hole

Commander Austin peered over the charts, maps, the miscellaneous documents spread out among his desk. He'd been in his position now for a little over five months, and already felt the grooves in his face begin to set in, a certain grit building up on his skin. He had never gotten used to it, what it was like to be in planet-side combat for such an extended period of time. Slowly, miniature canyons were forming and shaping as they saw fit, wrinkles that were so pronounced they could have been mistaken for the scars of battle. And now he was just now realizing how fruitless the patrols and raids in the city were beginning to be. After all, the leadership of the Innies lied in the mountain, not in the town. He checked out the casualty reports for the previous week. Seven dead, nineteen wounded. There had to be a better way.

He unearthed a map of the mountains from the paper piles and grabbed his highlighter. He knew the highway that went through the mountains was lined with mines and explosives, so any direct route via road would be out of the question. The mountain in question, home to the nuclear missile facility, was the known base of operations for all of the Innies. Best way to reach the top would be to take a Pelican straight to the landing pad at the peak, where the freight elevator to the facility was located. Of course, the mountainside was chocked full of grunts with missile pods, so an air drop was easily out of the question. If only he had some ODSTs, he thought, he could drop a whole platoon on top of the facility without risking a single bird. But of course, the lone UNSC frigate in orbit was not equipped with the proper manpower to execute such a maneuver.

Between the base and the hill was only an open plain, about thirty kilometers in distance. If one could get the fastest vehicles with enough men across under cover of artillery, they could make it to the base and fight up to the top. The road up wasn't heavily guarded, only a few squads with rockets and support for those troopers. If you could get a good platoon in there and up the mountain, they could clear the way for the rest of the soldiers. Not the best plan, but he had to put an end to this battle before any more soldiers got killed, before he got killed. It was time to go.

The headaches had ceased a few days ago, but the bells wouldn't stop ringing. She laid there on her bunk, cold pack on her forehead, trying to shake the remaining shock of the blast. Bombs going off a few feet away never bode well for the workings of the inner ear. The ringing was still so audible to her that she couldn't hear the sergeant approaching her bunk. Venson crouched so he was at her level. He placed a hand on her shoulder and rocked her slightly, disturbing any rest she was trying to obtain.

"Hey kid, you alright?" spoke Venson, his words soft so as not to agitate her. She made no verbal reply, only opening an eye and nodding in response. Venson continued from there. "Alright listen, we've got an op tomorrow, high priority stuff, and I need everybody to be one-hundred percent out there. So are you with us, or should I find someone who isn't so concussed?" Sanderson's hand immediately snatched the cold pack from the top of her head, tossing it aside. She sat up slightly, to the point allowed by the narrow bunks, and opened both eyes.
"I'm good to go, sergeant. Just let me know when." She knew she wasn't feeling her best, but she'd be damned if she were left out of a fight. She had already felt slightly embarrassed to be wounded already without having squeezed off a single round in battle.

"Good then, we're heading out at 0600. Briefing's in a couple of hours."

She looked back. Several Hogs rumbled idly, raring to go. Marines mounted up, most of them hopping into the M836 Transport Hogs. She took the assigned driver's seat, keying the ignition to start the vehicle. Through the windshield, nothing but open plain. She was driving the lead vehicle in the assault. Another marine entered the vehicle's passenger seat while another climbed up onto the mounted chain gun behind her. Sanderson turned and glanced at the marine manning the weapon, before looking to her right, only to find Commander Austin himself taking the lead. He slouched slightly, his boot upon the dash, his assault rifle slung across his chest plate. He thumbed his datapad, browsing through maps and the like, but Melissa couldn't make out anything precisely from the minute screen. A moment of radio static came in on her helmet's headset, just before the announcement.

"Green light to engage, fire at will. All vehicles move out." Sanderson threw the vehicle in gear and peeled out of the motor pool. Her job was simple, really. Drive like a maniac and somehow make it to the base of the mountain. The rest of the cars followed suit, forming a staggered column so as to have room to avoid any potential incoming artillery rounds. For the first five minutes, the vehicles' tires tasted nothing but open plain, a dusty, somewhat desolate patch of land that was sandwiched by war. She could easily make out the mountains in the horizon now, towering beasts ready to become infernos.

Flashes in the distance alarmed the men. No sound yet. Several more lights winked at the army. No sound yet. Screams arose from the sky. They grew louder, louder, until then. Sanderson instinctively swerved at the last moment, dust and dirt exploding in the place she just was. Unfortunately, the blast caught the Hog just behind them, throwing the vehicle end over end, slinging the occupants in all directions.

"Don't look back, keep driving!" commanded Austin, peering over his shoulder to observe the damage. He removed his foot from the dash, grasping the roll cage of the Warthog, shouldering his weapon. Sanderson did as ordered; pressing the pedal down so hard it should have gone through the base of the vehicle. She swerved, dodging another impact. The gunner began firing, lighting up the face of the mountain with the machine gun, to no real effect though. Too few bullets for far too much surface area. One by one, vehicles dropped off the scope, pre-sighted rounds dropping all around the convoy. Another squeal from the sky, this one being particularly loud. The vehicle was thrown to its side, skidding along the dust.

Sanderson woke, shaken and stirred by Commander Austin. He pulled her from the wreckage and slapped her rifle into her hands. He pulled her over to an impact crater, taking cover in the shallow defilade. Sanderson looked back to the vehicle she once drove. Two wheels were MIA, and half of the gunner remained on the weapon. All in all, a smoldering mess. Austin pulled out his datapad, using the GPS to pinpoint their location.

"Damn, we're still a couple of kilometers out from the base. Looks like we've got to hoof it from here." Austin looked at Sanderson, who was still fixated on the flames emanating from the crashed Hog. "Private, do you want to get into this war or not?!" he exclaimed, trying to draw her shaken attention. She turned to Austin.

"Yes sir."

"Good, let's go find us a fight." The pair stepped out from the defilade and made a dash for the mountain.

The morning's lunch exited through her mouth, forming a yellowish pile of muck on the dirt. Running kilos in minutes had gassed both of them to the extent that nausea was not uncommon. Her head throbbed with pain, a screaming reminder of past events. She removed a couple of painkillers from a pouch and deposited them into her gullet, downing some water from her canteen immediately after. She sat up, wiping the leftover crud from her mouth, still trying to catch her breath.

"Nobody's on the comm., we've got to get up this mountain. Let's go." Austin exited the rocky ditch at the base of the mountain, expecting Sanderson to quickly follow. She struggled to get to her feet for a moment, resting on her knees. She thought about dying right here for a moment, breathless, and now without any warm chow in her belly. She thought about those who would find her, keeled over adjacent to a pool of vomit. She thought of her sisters, at the funeral. She didn't want to be remembered like this, she didn't want to die here.

She climbed from the ditch to find Austin peering through his binoculars, looking up to the apex of the mountain. In the distance, Sanderson couldn't make out the metal superstructure of the facility's access lift, precisely what Austin was viewing. He withdrew and stowed the binoculars, shouldering his assault rifle.

"You ready? Take the point, private. Let's go find some Innies." Austin waited for Sanderson, who took the lead, shouldering her battle rifle. Her M/7 clacked at her hip, beckoning to be fired. They rounded a bend in the ascent to find a pair of loitering corpses, covered in an egregious amount of blood, both lying next to outdated weaponry. "Innies," declared the commander boisterously. "Looks like someone beat us to the kill. At least that means someone might have made it. Let's keep going, private." The two continued their ascent, the road leading up to a small plateau, filled with the stench of combat. Overturned vehicles spewed smoke, bodies piled up amongst one another.

"Sir, I don't think those soldiers are alive anymore," stated Sanderson rather succinctly.
"Start searching, hopefully someone made it." Sanderson began checking every body, taking the tags, checking basic vitals. Both sides had been rather efficient. Rarely does one stumble across a dead battlefield. Almost no wounded. Austin sauntered over to one of the upended Warthogs. Several men had been crushed under the frame. Others were shot trying to take cover behind it.

"Hey, is someone up there? Help me out, I'm dying in here!" Perplexed, Austin looked around. No animated bodies in plain sight, that was for sure. He listened closer to the repeated cries for help and discerned someone had been trapped under the vehicle. He waved over Sanderson, and with one concerted effort, both were able to move the vehicle off of the soldier. Poor guy had taken cover in a hole and the vehicle had almost toppled right onto him.

"Thank you, sir. I really appreciate it."

"What's your name and rank, trooper?"

"Corporal Helldorfer, sir. Third squad, first platoon."

"What happened here?"

The corporal sat down, looking around for a second, before speaking. "Only about four vehicles made it through that shitstorm. We came up this road and to this opening when we were ambushed. Rockets took out two of the vehicles, and when the others tried to peel off, they ran into anti-vehicle mines. It was a drawn out fight after that. We took cover; they took cover, and we exchanged fire for a bit. Eventually both sides got whittled down to nothing."

"How'd you get trapped under there, corporal?"

"I was in the back of the Hog firing an M41 and almost got ripped apart by a rocket. Hopped out and into the hole right as the car got blown on top of me. Been there since."

"Alright, get your weapon, we're moving out."

"What, we're not retreating? We have nobody left?" said the corporal, obviously scared by the whole incident.

"I'm either going to die or get to the top of this mountain, corporal, and if you do not like that, then I'll just shoot you right here and deal with it later." The corporal nodded, tightening his grip on his battle rifle. Sanderson took the point once more as they moved out up the mountain road, this time with the corporal bringing up the six. The road was mostly deserted, pockmarked with divots and impact holes. They came to another clearing, finding an abandoned Cobra parked in artillery position. Shells were scattered among it, but there were no corpses to be seen

"Approach with caution," warned the commander. "Could be booby-trapped." Sanderson slowly inspected the piece, no signs of tampering or activated self-destruct sequences. She gave the all-clear signal, before glancing to road leading away from the pass and up the mountain. A rocket streaked passed her, causing her to stumble back into the Cobra. Two insurrectionists had posted up on the road, and were locked on to blow her away with a second shot. With a twist of luck, however, the tube jammed, giving Sanderson enough time to raise and fire her rifle, dispatching the pair with two bursts of bullets.

"Nice shooting," complimented the corporal, before receiving a glare from the commander. Not phased by the miniature ambush, they continued to the top, making it to the summit without any further bothering.

"Well, this is rather anticlimactic," muttered the commander, surprised at the lack of manpower that had been stationed on the road. "I'm going to radio for the rest of the troops to come in on the Pelicans." Austin took a knee and radio base, requesting the support.

The corporal slowly approached the blast doors that guarded the access lift to the facility, shouldering his battle rifle, peering down the scope. He came within yards of the door when they peeled open, revealing to him an entire platoon of insurrectionists armed to the teeth. They were as surprised as he was, but he was trigger-happy and unloaded into the soldier in front of him. The remaining thirty-nine opened fire, cutting down the corporal with precision and speed. The fire drew the attention of Sanderson and Austin, who were next in line for Innie target practice. Sanderson reacted, tackling Austin into a trench next to the landing pad, before drawing her rifle.

"How long until the back up gets here?!" she screamed, scared shitless, and at the same time, raring to fight.

"I don't know, but we've got to hold this position. Start fighting, soldier." Austin drew his rifle and began firing back, enemy rounds pinging off the dirt in front of and behind him, casings ejecting to his side. Sanderson poured on all she had, swapping out magazines as she went. She ducked down; too much fire headed their way. Austin quickly followed, removing the magazine from his MA5B and slapping in a fresh one. Sanderson clutched her rifle, bullets flying overhead. Not like this, not in this hole. She stood and fired back, hitting two Innies, then a few more. Nearly every round found its mark, as she fired and killed all she could. Bullets seemed to curve around her, like nothing could kill her. Sanderson's finger pulsed the trigger, unloading her magazine, until click, click, click. She hit the magazine release button, and two bullets struck her in the chest. She stumbled back, smoke coming from the two holes, followed by blood. She slouched down into the trench as she started coughing up blood, clear signs that the rounds had punctured her lungs. Austin looked over at the dying soldier, just as Pelicans flew over head. He looked out from his position, the nose guns on the birds raking the ground with fire and taking out the rest of the Innies. Two birds landed, soldiers rushing out from the troops bays.

Austin signaled over a corpsman, who hopped into the trench.

"How long ago?" inquired the man, who removed a syringe of biofoam from his kit and went to work.

"Just now," was the solemn reply from the commander.

"I don't think she'll make it, let's get her onto the Pelican," was the response from the corpsman.

"Neither do I," stated James.

Soldier Girl: Part 11.5 - Breach
Date: 19 June 2009, 9:26 am

Soldier Girl: Part 11.5 - Breach

He looked up as the engines rotated and ignited, propelling the Pelican towards the base. The entirety of first platoon was now dead, missing, or wounded, but now he had the high ground, and a fresh set of soldiers. First thing's first, though. Austin walked over to his XO, Major Antwone, who was the man in charge of intelligence and all that came with the field. The major saluted as the commander approached. James quickly returned the salute.

"Major Antwone, why did nobody inform us the Innies were in possession of heavy artillery pieces?"

"Sir, the last sweeps were made twenty-four hours ago, they could have been moved in s-"

"I'm not buying your bullshit, major. I'm demoting you to captain. You're relieved of your duties. Now get out of my sight, and send someone more capable on your way out."

"With all due respect sir, I don't think you have the authority to demote me, you being Navy."

"Did you not just hear me? Get the hell out of here you incompetent retard, don't you realize you just got an entire platoon wiped out? If I can't do it, someone else will. Now go." Antwone mumbled to himself as he turned and walked towards a captain who was making conversation with his men. Antwone said nothing, only pointing back to the commander. Finished here, the once major hopped on one of the remaining Pelicans and flew off, shrouded in disgrace and self-loathing.

Captain Ramirez double-timed it over to the commander, quickly saluting. Antwone returned it.

"Major Antwone told me to report to you, sir?" inquired Ramirez, his words soaked in a misty air of anxiety and hesitation.

"You're the new XO. Round up two squads and have them board the express elevator to hell." Ramirez nodded, understanding the slightly humorous reference to the freight shaft that descended to the facility. Ramirez organized the troops and ordered them to enter the elevator car. Well, it wasn't so much an elevator car as it was an open platform. It was a rather antiquated installation, constructed back in 2502, and signs of aging were already beginning to show on the shaft's structure. The platform squealed slightly as it was stressed under the weight of the soldiers, and Commander Austin was no help as he boarded behind them. Austin gave the signal, and the captain started up the lift. The squads gained speed quickly, rushing down the shaft of the installation, a hole hollowed out almost a mile below the planet's surface. The commander switched out magazines in his battle rifle, checking the weapon for any potential faults, before moving to the front of the platform.

"Alright men, listen up," shouted Austin at the top of his lungs, only somewhat audible over the rushing noise of the falling elevator. "When we hit the bottom clear out as fast as possible so we can get this platform back up to the surface and get more troops down here. I don't care if you gotta walk into a wall of bullets, just clear off the elevator. Understood?" The reply from the squads was a resounding "Oorah!" Austin nodded and checked his gear once more. No loose ends, no cracks in the armor. Just a battle waited.

The brakes on the elevator slammed tight, slowing the platform whilst showering the shaft with a storm of sparks. The occupants steadied themselves, bracing for a hard halt. Austin pulled a flashbang from his vest and pulled the pin, holding the spoon down, just waiting for the elevator to stop. It slowed, slowed, and then stopped, only to have the squads find themselves facing a blast door.

"Steady, steady!" shouted Austin, holding for the blast doors to open. When they did, it was an agonizing pace, the two halves pulling away from each other at a snail's pace. When the gap was wide enough, Austin tossed in the grenade, pulling back as the device detonated. He looked through and saw several Innies inside, disoriented from the blast, trying to shake it off. Austin shouldered his rifle and gave the command to fire at will. He squeezed the trigger, firing three rounds, dispatching the rebels he hit. He was the first through the doors, quickly taking cover behind a stack of crates. The Innies soon erupted in fire, picking off the second batch of troops to step out of the elevator. There just wasn't enough cover to be had in the corridor, and as a result, all but nine of the twenty got off of the platform alive.

Lead zinged overhead as Austin struggled to stay in cover, squeezed behind the boxes with several other troopers. He radioed the surface, telling them to call the platform back up. No response, they must have really been far underground for the radio to not reach the surface. He crawled on his back towards the platform, and kicked the control panel with his boot. No budge from the elevator. He kicked it once more, leaving a bootprint outlined in dirt on the wall. It worked the second time, and the platform began to rocket up the shaft, carrying the bodies of the fallen soldiers who didn't even have time to take a step forward. A dismembered forearm fell from the platform as it shot up, removed from the body as it had hung over the side of the platform. Austin couldn't help but stare. It seemed to be such an oddity in the moment, a clean slice through the skin and bone. The rounds zipping past him disturbed the mental freeze, and Austin focused once more.

He wasn't in the greatest of positions. No room to maneuver, and an easy target for a single hand grenade. They had to get moving before the next two squads came down or else it the end result would be something similar to what often happens to fish in barrels. He looked over at Captain Ramirez, who was grasping his arm, blood seeping through the cracks between his fingers. Ramirez looked back at Austin, shaking his head, squinting as more rounds flew overhead. For Austin, this position seemed eerily familiar.

Austin tossed a grenade down the corridor and listened for the blast. A shockwave hit them, but he shook it off and emerged from behind cover, unloading his rifle downrange. Innies ducked behind cover at the end of the corridor, hiding from the commander's bullets. The marines followed behind Austin, staggered in formation as they swept down the corridor, suppressing the rebels with a hail of gunfire. The lights flickered in the hall as the ceiling above rumbled, signs of explosions in the facility. They reached the end of the corridor, where it diverged into three different passages. Austin signaled for the marines to hold up there, and assessed the situation. Nine marines plus himself, and two of those soldiers were wounded.

"Ramirez, take that wounded corporal and head back to the elevator. Send the reinforcements down this way, and get yourself patched up. You've done well." Ramirez nodded, slightly wincing in pain as he tightened his grip on the M6C he held. With only seven marines now, Austin faced a dilemma. Attack now, catch the Innies while they prepare their second line of defense, or wait for backup and risk losing more men and women. No, he had to finish this now, even if it took his life to do so. "Gather ammo from the dead, we're pushing on to their command center." The soldiers broke position and rummaged supplies from the bodies of the dead rebels, finding mostly MA5 magazines and M/7 rounds. There was a surprising lack of hand grenades on the corpses, something which puzzled Austin briefly. But no need to focus on it, he had to get moving.

"Marines, form up on me!" he shouted with vim and vigor as he began moving down the corridor clearly marked "Control and Communications", an obvious choice for a headquarters. Austin raised his rifle, peering just over the scope as he crept down the corridor. It was quiet in the facility, only the hum of air scrubbers and rustling in the distance, no distinguishable noises. They turned a corner and found themselves at the blast door guarding the entrance to the communications hub. Austin tried the manual handle with no luck. He turned to the corporal behind him, who was obviously experienced in explosives, as he had a loose bundle of det. Cord hanging from his pack. "Corporal, get this door open."

"Yes commander," was the immediate reply as the corporal knelt in front of the door and mounted a spoofer on the lock. He punched in a few numbers on the keypad, but the door gave no response. "It's locked up pretty good, sir. It might have been welded on the other side; I'm going to have to blow the door."

"Go ahead, corporal. Do your thing. Marines, step back and take cover." The remainder of the squad pulled back in the hallway, around the bend of the corner as the corporal affixed every explosive he had to the blast door. He armed the bomb and pulled back, holding the detonator in his hand.

"Door's ready to blow, sir."

"Do it." The corporal hit the button and detonated the explosives. The ensuing blast rocked the base, and immediately clouded the corridors with debris and dust. The blast knocked Austin from his feet, and he struggled to get back up, still a bit dizzy from the blast. "You didn't tell me it was going to be that big, corporal."

"Sorry sir, it's a blast door, I used everything."

"Yeah, yeah. Get moving, into the breach!" Austin gathered his rifle and lead the team forward, only to find the blast door having been moved slightly. They would have to crawl through a small rupture in order to get to the other side. Austin tossed him rifle through and crawled through, finding himself in a wrecked room, papers loose throughout, electronics fried. The blast had really taken a toll on this side of the door. Two Innies entered the room, guns drawn, but hesitated for a moment, giving enough time for Austin to retrieve his weapon and fill the pair full of lead. They must not have seen him covered in dust on the ground, he mused. "Come on through" he yelled to the other side of the door, now that the room was clear. Too eager to wait, however, he pressed on, expecting the marines to quickly follow. He shouldered his weapon, aiming down the sight, proceeding with caution instead of speed. Two rebels jumped out, but were swiftly put down at the hands of the commander. He stepped passed the dying soldiers and entered the control room.

A lone man stood over a holographic projection table, viewing a depiction of the facility's layout. The room shook as Austin stepped forward quietly, dust falling from the concrete ceiling. Austin remembered his orders he was given when he first took the post on the planet, only months ago. Yet still, it had seemed like years of the same, monotonous fighting. But his orders stood. If anyone were to encounter the leader of the Insurrectionists on the planet, they were to terminate the leader with extreme and immediate prejudice. Austin was tired. His hands ached, his head pounded with every beat of his heart. He was done with fighting these rebels. James squeezed the trigger, removing significant portions of the man's head with three accurate bullets. It was done.

"Give it to me straight, Ramirez."

"First Platoon is done, and most of second was CasEvaced back to base from cleaning out the remainder of the facility. "

"What about that one girl?"

"What girl, commander?"

"The one from First Platoon."

"From what I saw, she had gone into cardiac arrest while they were loading her onto the Pelican. She won't make it."

"Yeah, and they also said the Insurrection would end when the Covenant came. Well, we're still fighting here, Ramirez. How's that arm doing?"

"Good, commander. Well, good for a bullet wound I suppose. Didn't hit the bone, just a quick in-and-out hit."

"I just got word in from Command; they want me back with the fleet. I guess finishing off these guys finally got me some attention."

"That's great, commander."

"Ramirez, I don't know who will take over the outpost here, but I've put in a recommendation for you."

"Thank you sir, it's an honor."

"And one more thing," said Austin as he removed his helmet, running his hand over his buzzed hair, "blow the facility. Command said it was obsolete anyways."

"After all of that fighting, sir?"

"Do it, Ramirez. Now. The people of this planet deserve a little fireworks show."

Soldier Girl Part 12: Improbabilities
Date: 25 December 2009, 7:53 am

Part 12: Improbabilities

      Scrubbed air now occupied the compartment of the D-77TC Pelican designated Golf Four-Two. Inside a marine was on his knees, hastily trying to scrub the blood stains off of the deck. That dark red, almost maroon grit that could not be brushed away plagued a majority of the plates, remnants of the crimson fluid still present in a few of the corners. The marine gave up, the cleaning solvent clearly incapable of wiping away the grime and residue of the human body. He grabbed a short broom and finished sweeping out the spent casings, the brass cartridges clacking on the floor below as they dropped off the back. He set the broom aside and grabbed the lone ammo drum occupying a seat to his left. He disengaged the empty drum from the M247 mounted on the roof of the compartment and tossed it aside, locking in the fresh one underneath the weapon. Collecting the items, he exited the rear of the vehicle, stashing away the cleaning materials in the maintenance closet and depositing the empty drum into a bin for discarded magazines and ammo containers. He looked back at the bird for a moment, noting the pockmarks scattering the bird. Each one simply equated to more words on a damage report.

      There was a surgery bay on the ship, only recently sterilized. The flash-cloning system was still cooling down, the floors scrubbed clean of blood, any and all drops mopped up in haste. Utensils were still disorganized, freshly cleaned, while some stands and chairs had been knocked over by previous occupants of the room. A hazardous waste bin was filled, cloth soaked with blood, empty transfusion packs that had been drained of every last ounce.

      In the Recovery Ward, few beds were occupied. Hers had a curtain drawn around it, as several machines kept her alive for the time being. A row of medals lined her pillow. Purple Heart, Navy Cross, United Nations Defense Service Medal, all speaking to her actions that day. The two bullets had pierced her armor and chest, one lodging in her sternum, the other puncturing her lung on one side before getting stuck in the organ. The surgeon was still unsure of how things would turn out. She had been comatose since she went into emergency surgery, and he could not tell for the life of himself if she would wake up anytime soon. She had lost about half of her blood, had one lung replaced and her sternum repaired. It would be awhile.

      The UNSC frigate FFG-802 Bavarian King maintained high orbit over Cairn, a fringe colony world. Colonized long ago, it was a relatively silent planet. Nothing important, just another place for people. Cairn was on the border of the Inner Colonies, and so a single frigate was posted in orbit, not for defense so much as for evacuation, for what little people that could be saved in the event of an attack. It had arrived on station not one month ago, a two-year rotation with several other frigates. The ship had made a brief stopover at Inigo, taking on a new captain, and a platoon of marines. The marines went planet-side, and the ship would find a new home above the land, next to the stars that decorated the night sky of the planet.

      It had been almost seven months since she had come to Cairn. Since her surgery she had begun intense physical therapy. The UNSC couldn't afford to lose any more soldiers, and she refused to give up. Her VO2 max was still shit, she could hardly keep pace while jogging, and her chest hurt nearly every day. Her home on Cairn was not on base, but near the rehabilitation facility in the city. Every day was jogging, more tests, more endurance of pain. She had cheated death really, and had multiple scars remind her throughout the weeks. She would often lie in bed at night, her fingertips feeling the scar tissue, an anomaly upon a surface of smooth skin. And other times she wondered if she was born for service, for dying, that it was her duty to be at the front. It was months of slipspace travel to the nearest colony world, and for all they knew, Earth was long gone. The human race could be all but over and she might not even hear about it for another year, if they heard about it at all.

      Therapy lasted over a year, but by the time her physical fitness had reached minimum marine standards, command on the planet would not activate her for duty with the marines stationed at the UNSC outpost. So in a hotel she would find herself, counting the days going by until she could either get off that rock or find her way back into combat.

      A shot rung out, she sprung up from her sleep. Unmistakable, the report of a shotgun, she knew it was definitely that. She leapt from the covers, over to the window of the hotel, peering outside. A military 'hog was parked outside of a bar across the street, marines surrounding the building. Her first thought was to reach for her rifle and join the fight, but she restrained herself. First things first. She threw on her fatigues, forgetting the armor. Not enough time. Time to go.

      The elevator descended at its own leisurely rate, obviously unaware of the urgency of Sanderson's situation. She resisted prying the doors open as it finally arrived at the bottom floor, instead opting to sprint across the hotel lobby and out the front door, catching the attention of the concierge, who stood there with little more than a puzzled face, wanting to know why a half battle-dressed marine was running through his hotel.

      She took up position by one of the granite columns that dotted the perimeter of the front entrance, peering around the corner to get a view of the fellow marines. She tried to signal them with her hand first, but none noticed, and so she broadcasted on all frequencies.

      "Heads up, marines." Not enough to signal her position to any hostiles around, but enough to get the other troopers looking. They spotted her, giving her the hand signal to turn her radio to channel four. She reached down and clicked it three notches, now listening to their chatter.

      "Marine, identify yourself," commanded the deep voice on the opposite end of the radio.

      "Private First Class Sanderson, on station." She peered around the corner, checking for any movement outside the establishment.

      "Alright private, we lost a man at the end of the road on the corner. Can you see him?"

      Sanderson peered around the column. Vehicles lined the roadside, obstructing any clear view of the fallen marine. "That's a negative, cars are in the way."
"Alright, make your way across the street and take cover behind those cars. We'll cover you."

      Sanderson looked out around the pillar once more. A good distance from here to the bar, but she needed to move fast. She slung her battle rifle on her back and drew her M/7, taking one last peek. "What are you waiting for private? Move it!" Sanderson took off across the street, expecting rounds to be landing around her feet left and right, expecting to catch a bullet in the leg any second now. Sanderson sighed as she pressed herself against the car parked next to the sidewalk. She bent down and looked underneath it to see the downed soldier. Only a sliver was visible, but she could make out a stream of blood running down the path and into the street. Its path winded down the side of the road and continued its way towards the storm drain. Radio chatter sparked up from the other marines as they moved into position around the building, slowly advancing towards the door, other covering the entrances to the alleys on the sides of the buildings, with one remaining by the Warthog they had used to get there.

      "Alright private, head around the side and cover the back, we're going to breach the front." Faceless orders came in to Sanderson, something she wasn't used to. Normally she knew who was telling her to put herself in harm's way, and to her, that was a sort of relief, especially if you trusted that person. But orders were orders, and she hopped over the hood and made her way to the corner of the building, where the soldier's body lied on the walk.

      She knelt down briefly, looking into the open and glazed-over eyes of the soldier. He was a private, no older than twenty, his blue eyes staring down the road into oblivion as blood continued to seep from the gaping wound in the middle of his chest. Most likely the result of a point-blank shotgun blast. Not even the armor of a marine could stop that. Easy kill for the gunman. Some greenhorn rookie skipping down the street, turning the corner and BAM! a hole in the torso big enough to pass your hand through. Her hand reached out to his eyes to close them, it was the least she could do the unknown marine.

      Memorial time is over, she thought. Time to go. She peeked around the edge of the building. Nobody there at first glance. Once more, this time longer, with her weapon poking its muzzle around the corner. All clear. She moved around the corner and found herself alongside a windowless wall, with no tangos in sight. Submachine gun shouldered now, she moved down adjacent to the wall, looking for the back entrance. She came to another corner now, this one for the alley at the rear of the building. Same maneuver as before, no baddies. She found the rear door just around the corner, and stood close, weapon pointed right at the head of the next person to walk out there. On the other side of the building, she heard two quick and successive bangs, before lots of screaming, but no shooting. Just then, a lone man burst out the back door, stumbling on his way down, avoiding the reactionary fire of Sanderson, who's M/7 peppered the wall down the alley.

      The man held his hands up, claiming innocence, and potentially feigning it. He didn't carry the look of an innocent bystander however. Ruffled light brown hair atop his head, crimson eyes staring back at her, no doubt an altercation and certainly not his natural eye color. He wore a jet black suit with a crimson insignia crested upon the lapel, but she could not in the brief moment discern its meaning. Her grip on the weapon tightened as she heard noises from the bar, and couldn't waste any more time staring him down.

      "You stay here," she commanded him as he lay on his back in the alley before she barged into the bar from the rear. Her eyes swept the room with haste, it was the store room for the place. Kegs of beer stacked along the walls, a swinging door led to the rest of the establishment. Looking to the door, she pushed it open slightly, creeping into the main area of the place. In the center of it, the marines stood, rifles raised, barrels pointed straight to her head. Realizing it was one of their own, they relaxed themselves, corralling the three detainees on the floor, hands zip-tied behind their backs.

      "Private, you see any go out the back?" inquired the man who appeared to be in charge, a master sergeant from the looks of the markings on his armor. He carried an M90 shotgun in his hands, the word RIGGS painted on the stock.

      "One in a suit. He wasn't armed though, I told him to stay put," was her somewhat succinct and informative reply.

      "Crimson lapel?"

      "Yeah, why?" The marines quickly ran out the back, blitzing past Sanderson and through the swinging door. Muted expletives arose from outside. Slowly the marines walked back in, a broken fire team of four. The master sergeant carried between his fingers a small paper business card, which he brought to his eyes to study it, as if it were a Shakespearean sonnet, every line begging to be analyzed, a deeper meaning hidden in every crevice.

      "Good job private, you just let the guy we came here for get away." That was the only initial statement from that sergeant. He sat upon a barstool in the room, staring at the card. His next statement was not of words. He raised his shotgun and put a round into the nearest detainee, detaching much of the man's left arm. While the man who had been shot squealed like a pig as he bled out on the floor, the other two screamed for their lives, causing quite a querulous racket. "We didn't need him anyways. Corporal Earindal, go see if the medic finally came in from base. Privates, load up the detainees into the vehicle. We're done here." With that, he walked out, into the overcast Cairn daylight. In leaving, he flicked away the card he had carried, letting it flutter to the floor of the bar. Sanderson walked over to pick it up. The man in the black suit had no doubt left the only trace of him. Engraved on the card was a single word, "Cocaine."

      She followed the sergeant outside, who sat in the driver's seat of the vehicle, relaxing with his canteen in one hand and a chocolate bar in the other, wrapper ripped apart, bites taken out of it. Sanderson walked up to him, with an inquisitive look about her.

      "Who are you, anyways?" asked the sergeant, still chewing the slowly melting chocolate in his mouth, most likely savoring the cocoa flavor. Melissa hesitated in her answer as her eyes scanned the man. His armor was standard-issue armor, but something didn't seem right about it. It didn't seem to fit the man. Not in the sense that he was too fat for the fit, but in the sense that he acted as if he was out of place in it.

      "Private First Class Sande-"

      "Yeah I know, but why are you here?"

      "I've been on IR for awhile now, came in with the marines off of Inigo. Took two to the chest, and I've been holed up in the hotel waiting for word from command since rehab." For a man she didn't know, that was more than she wanted to share, and she suddenly felt tense, second-guessing herself. Did she talk too much? And in that same moment, an even more hazardous question dwelled in the back of her mind, whatever happened to the person that killed that marine? Just then, a vehicle roared past her on the roadway, brandishing red crosses, signaling the corpsmen had arrived.

      "Then mount up private, seems I've got boots that need to be filled."

Soldier Girl Part 13: The Major
Date: 8 January 2010, 8:30 am

Part 13: The Major

      Private Sellings would receive a Marine's funeral, albeit a brief one. He had come in with Sanderson from Inigo, but she didn't even recognize his face, as the coffin closed, as it was lowered into the grave on Cairn. For the life of her she didn't even remember the kid, and he was in her platoon back on Inigo. She lamented her ignorance, even if she could not control the people she remembers.

      Cairn was different for a marine. A reserve station, Cairn was home to both marines and navy personnel. The base was run by a Marine Corps. Major, one Tycho Braihe. He was a paper-and-pen sort of fellow as far as she knew, and he liked his days like he liked his hamburgers. Plain, or so it seemed to most of the soldiers on base. Second in command was a naval ensign, Talitha Richardson. A peculiar type, especially for a naval officer stationed on the planet.

      Sanderson had not been settled in for longer than two days when she got the call to see Major Braihe. She entered and saluted to the man, one still in his forties, yet carried grey hairs atop his head. "Sir, Private Sanderson reporting as ordered." Braihe gave a casual salute in return, before grabbing his datapad with his right hand, which Sanderson had just then noticed was missing its ring finger.

      "Sit down private, and welcome to the UNSC base on Cairn, I might add."

      "Thank you, sir. Might I inquire as to why I've been requested, sir?"

      "A little anxious, private? Got a hot date tonight? Somewhere to get to?" said the major as he smirked, a slight grin beginning to appear as if what he said had actually been clever in any way.

      "Err, no sir."

      "Good, good then. Now to the business at hand…I took the liberty of perusing your records, private, and noted your medals earned and achievements in battle."

      "I would hardly call them achievements, sir, I was just trying to stay alive."

      "And in the process you helped free Inigo from the strain of the insurgency on the planet." The major set down his datapad, and now stared intensely into the eyes of the private, almost scaring her in a way. "I like to pride myself on being about to identify a talented soldier when I see one, and the scouting report on you is nothing but positive. Private First Class is hardly a befitting rank." Sanderson mentally recoiled at the idea the major sparked in her mind. His words talked of promotion and her endless talents she supposedly possessed. Melissa didn't completely agree, and neither did the scar on her chest. Someone so talented wouldn't have let death come so close.

      "So I have a proposal for you, Private Sanderson. As you encountered earlier, the streets of Cairn run amok with Marine Corps. firearms, and there is a source somewhere in my base. Someone smart, who is able to erase the security video from the memory arrays of our base A.I., Napoleon. And I need someone to work with me to stop this person from selling off our stocks." The major reached into his uniform's pocket and extracted something, running it between his fingers, yet Sanderson couldn't make out its exact form.

      "I need you to go undercover with me to find our source. Naturally, undercover work is above the pay grade of a private, so I am prepared with an offer." With those words, he tossed out the object in front of her, a pin of three chevrons, meant for a sergeant.

      "How about it Private Sanderson, interested?"

      Sanderson sat there, eyes fixed on the pin, the thought of undercover work was, how she could best put it, unforeseen. She was bothered by the almost certain deviation from UNSC and Marine Corps. protocol, and her feelings in regard to said deviation were feelings of anomie, like she didn't know what to say because she had never been taught by the Corps. how to respond to such a statement.

      "What's the work?" she asked, curious to know the details of the side mission so as to make an easier decision.

      "Does that mean you're in, Private?"

      "It means I want to know more, sir."

      "Classification of operation details comes with the territory of undercover work, Private. You should know that."

      The major's replies left her uneasy. If there was one thing she hated, it was her not knowing the details before jumping to a conclusion. The potential for endless and unpredictable possibilities was a somewhat disturbing concept to her, but her instincts told her to take the jump, into the fray, into the breach, the leap of faith.

      "Alright sir, let's do it. But one question, how would the paperwork get through to make me go straight from private to sergeant, sir?"

      "Do you question my power as ranking officer on this planet, Sanderson?"

      "No sir."

      "That's what I like to hear, Sergeant. Be at the motor pool at 1800 hours. Now get out of here." Sanderson stood and saluted before beginning to exit, before the major interrupted her exit. "Oh and Sanderson…"

      "Yes sir?"

      "Undercover work. So wear street clothes."

      1803 hours and they were heading out of the base and down the asphalt road that led from the base on the outskirts of the metropolis to the downtown area. Sanderson jostled in her seat on the pockmarked road, M/7 in her lap, with her battle rifle stowed in the rear of the Hog, which had been stripped of its machine gun turret. Along the way, Major Braihe began to explain the operation.

      "Alright, here's what's going down. I have two crates of rifles in the back with markers for tracking. I'll be making the deal, and I need you to run security. Should be a cakewalk, Sergeant. Got it?"

      "Got it, sir. Nobody messes with the deal."

      After a brief conversation between the pair, the Warthog pulled up in front of a warehouse, not two blocks from the bar Melissa had visited just a few days prior. Braihe and Sanderson hopped from their seats, the sergeant clipping her weapon to the belt around her waist that held three spare magazines for the weapon. Each of them grabbing a crate, they lugged them out of the back of the vehicle and set them on the curb. Braihe knocked on the towering steel doors to the warehouse, before a much smaller office door off to the side opened. Sanderson's hand went to her belt as two grunts walked out, picking up the crates and hauling them in the office door.

      "Stay out here, watch the door. I'll be back in five," whispered Braihe into the ear of Sanderson. As the door closed behind the three men, she took up her post, hand on her weapon, scanning the relatively quiet streets of Cairn City with her eyes. A light, cooling breeze blew down the street just then, causing her to relax slightly.

      Two shots rang out from inside the office. The report of an M6 sidearm, unmistakable to her. She drew her submachine gun and whipped open the door, aiming down the sights, weapon now brought to her shoulder. It was dark inside, a row of abandoned offices, with a distant light reflecting off the walls at the end. She clicked on the flashlight at the end of her gun and proceeded to move down the corridor, closing on the end from where screams emanated, words shouted that she could not yet make out due to the echo of the building's walls.

      She came upon the end, clicking off the light before taking a deep breath. She wheeled around the corner to the room, gun now pointed straight at the man in the black suit with the crimson lapel. A quick glance. Braihe on his knees, clutching his left hand under his right arm, his shoulder bleeding out from a bullet put through it. Behind the man in the suit stood four of his associates, the two grunts she had briefly seen earlier, as well as two others she did not recognize.

      There was a brief moment, each registering the situation they just now found themselves in. For Sanderson, she stared down five armed men, with a wounded officer to save in the middle of the room. The four associates had their handguns lowered, pointed at the ground, facing a trained marine with an automatic weapon. For the man in the black suit who had an M6 pointed at Braihe, he found himself in just another one of those situations.

      Sanderson fired first, unloading a stream of rounds before quickly rolling out into the middle of the room, spraying bullets in their direction. Several rounds found the torsos of two of the men behind the man in the suit, who had ducked down to avoid the fire, quickly taking cover behind the metal weapon crates. The other two men aimed their guns and fired, bullets missing Sanderson and Braihe and taking pieces of the floor and walls away as they whizzed by. She pulsed the trigger of the M/7, popping the one man in the kneecaps. The other man ran out of rounds in his M6G before throwing the gun at Sanderson, who swiftly dodged the flying metal object.

      The man drew a blade and closed the gap between the two, intent on stabbing her in the face. The bulky grunt charged and threw a right, knocking the weapon from Sanderson's hands before slashing her across the right arm with the blade in his left. She was knocked onto her back and faced the man as he brought his knife down towards her chest. She quickly parried, pulling the spare metal magazine from her belt and deflecting the attack away, before kicking the man away to her side. Spotting a moment to grab her weapon once more, she brought herself to her knees to grab the gun. In the seconds she had to spot it, she could not find it, before looking up and seeing it in the right hand of the major.

      "Move," he grunted.

      She lay flat as the major emptied the several remaining rounds into the man, taking out the threat. She confirmed the kill with a quick glance back, knowing the guy was incapacitated, she then remembered the man in the suit. She looked to the crates, but he was gone.

      "Major, where'd the last man go?" He didn't respond immediately, breathing heavily, blood soaking his shirt. He pulled his hand out from under his arm, looking at it. Braihe's four fingers had been shot off all at once, leaving him with nothing more than a thumb on the left hand, and three fingers and a thumb on the right.

      "Hewitt's a damn traitor, sergeant," he spoke, before slouching over to his side and resting on the floor. Realizing the major's death would be imminent soon if she couldn't find a doctor, she took the weapon from his hands and reloaded, holding it in one hand, before picking up the major in the unoccupied arm.

      "Let's go sir, it's not along walk to the car," she spoke softly, still looking around for the man in the black suit. She dragged him down the hall, half-conscious footsteps of his assisting her as she kept her gun drawn. Closer they got, almost to the door. Then steps from behind. She barely had time to turn before the man fired three rounds, two landing in the chest of Braihe, the third grazing his ear. A loud grunt showed the remainder of life in him, blood oozing from his chest and streaming down his pants. Sanderson sprayed down the hall before dragging Braihe out the door, loading him into the passenger seat as he continued to bleed out.

      Sanderson jumped across the hood and climbed into the driver's seat, starting the hydrogen-powered engine and peeling down the road. She looked over to the major, who was still alive, although now slouching in his chair, blood everywhere.

      "I'll get you to a doc, sir. Just hold on." He looked over at her, eyelids half-open, and she quickly caught his eyes too, if only to realize he wanted her to pull over. She stopped the vehicle on the side of the road, looking at the major.

      "What is it, sir?" she inquired, speaking as if it were to the dead. He coughed up a massive quantity of blood, clearing his lungs if only for a piece of a minute. He reached into his pant pocket and pulled out a data crystal chip.

      "Give this to the ensign; she'll know what to do. And sergeant, I'm sorry, there was no undercover op. I was dealing those guns…" his final words slurred as blood filled his lungs, as his heart came to a stop, signaling the death of Major Tycho Braihe.

Soldier Girl Part 14: Time to Go
Date: 12 February 2010, 4:02 am

Part 14: Time to Go

      There was a wave of mourning that had befallen the personnel of the UNSC base the next day. Rumors spread that commanding officer, Major Tycho Braihe, had been gunned down in the city by a gang of thugs. Not only that, the ensign had gone AWOL, leaving the chain of command at the base disorganized for the time being.

      Napoleon had something on his scope. He could not decipher it, and with no real officer to turn to for the time being, he kept the data to himself. A blip on the radar. Something, something was coming.

      The sun rose in the west early that morning on Cairn, silhouetting the base in the shadows of the mountains it stood near. Sergeant Sanderson sat in her quarters, cleaning her gear, a practice that had become routine while she had been disabled. But her gear was not on her mind that morning. Faces were. The faces of that kid who been killed at the bar. The major and his face, the one she saw as she watched him while his lungs filled with blood, the last remnants of air in his body gurgling in the crimson fluid that filled his mouth.

      For the time being, she wondered about their families, how they would receive this. Did that private have parents that his body would be delivered to, or did anybody really care about these fallen brothers in arms? She thought about her own family. Her sisters, her parents. She sighed. The only thing she hoped for now was that her sisters would never end up in the Corps. like she did. Family tradition, after all. To Melissa, everything she did, everyone she fought, was all for them.

      Having cleaned her battle rifle, she reassembled it, sliding the bold back into place, putting in the once removed screws, bringing the weapon together again. She inserted a magazine full of the 9.5x40mm KAT rounds, racking the charging handle back, checking the breath. Everything looked ok. She removed the magazine and racked it back again, the gun expending the unused round from the chamber.

      A klaxon sounded on base. Not the normal one, no. It was that one.

      They were here.

      She put on her armor first, and then threw her personal effects into her duffel bag, along with her M/7 and its ammunition. She would need that for later. Just before scattering out of the barracks along with the other few soldiers that milled about, she spotted the memory chip she had taken. Napoleon.

      She turned on her radio, and her ears were immediately filled with noise. Shouts, screams, and utter collapse of structure. No good. She grabbed the chip and ran to the terminal in the barracks, plugging it in. The screen came up, showing Napoleon was still online at the base. The lights flickered at the base, the barracks now almost empty. There she typed, talking to Napoleon.

      "Napoleon, where's the master sergeant?" A text response came back instantaneously.


      "Jump on the chip, Napoleon. I'll get you out of here."

      "//TRANSFERING…COMPLETE. YOU MAY NOW REMOVE HARDWARE.//" Sanderson removed the chip and plugged it into her datapad before throwing it into her drop pouch on her leg. From there, the A.I. communicated via a private radio connection.

      "Thanks for the assistance, Sergeant. The terminals were running at-half power, I could barely maintain myself. We need to leave now, head to the motor pool, a couple of transport vehicles are still here. All aerial transport on base has already departed, but the spaceport is still evacuating."

      "Thanks Napoleon, heading out now." Sanderson darted out of the barracks, running to the motor pool. Other soldiers were scrambling, knocking down one another to get into the M831 TTs. She noticed several men being trampled over, and pitied them, if only for the moment, knowing that she could not help them in this mad frenzy. She spotted a seat in one of the last vehicles and threw her gear in before anybody else could get into it. She climbed aboard right as it peeled off, making its way to the city and to the starport.

      The motorways were clogged as civilians from outlying settlements fled their homes to get to the city. For the time they spent between the base and the downtown area, there was little more than panic and dismay. Sanderson looked at the others in the car she occupied. She was surrounded by strangers, unknown marines. A glint in the sky caught her eye, and she looked up. Blue streaks cut through the clouds, Seraph bombers and Phantom transports raining down from above. Why they weren't already glassing the planet already was beyond her, but whatever kept them from doing so was alright with her.

      Soon the vehicle found its way into the city. The hog's driver took the alleyways, avoiding the disarray that contaminated the primary thoroughfares. The driver began to turn into an underground sewer tunnel that ran under the starport when the buildings around them began to explode, debris pounding the vehicle. Seraph bombers had begun strafing the city. A large chunk of concrete landed on top of the engine block, crushing the front end of the vehicle. With the hog inoperable, the soldiers bailed out over the sides.

      Sanderson had found her way into the tunnel as debris continued to rain down outside, the entrance eventually caving in for the most part. She found herself in the company of others, however. Three of the marines had made it in, and two civilians had already been walking in the tunnel, trying to escape as well. Through the small holes in the debris, Sanderson could see the Sanghelli drop pods beginning to rain down outside. She stepped back away as the elites spotted her and began firing their plasma rifles through the holes, slicing through the rubble that clogged the way with their plasma weapons. Melissa fired a couple of bursts from her BR-55, and then began running down the long, poorly lit tunnel with the rest of the party.

      The air was thick and moist with sewage, the smell nearly palpable. She pulled out her datapad, and Napoleon had taken the liberty of displaying city maps, particularly one showing the layout of the primary sewer access corridors. It was a full kilometer to the spaceport. The few no larger than a fire team took the moment to introduce themselves to each other, sudden friends found in the twilight of this human colony. The other marines were a Sergeant Mickey Nubel, and two corporals, Corporal Hassant and Corporal Svensson, along with the two civilians, a fellow who went by the name Randy and another man who looked to be a construction worker named Eldred.

      Names now in hand, the group began to traverse the dark tunnel. Every now and again the roof would shake, letting a layer of dirt lose, contaminating the air even more. Cracks in the tunnel also began to appear, a sign that the structures above were taking quite a beating. Time was of the essence however, and they began to move quickly.

      Closer and closer they became as they moved down the tunnel. Melissa's head perked up. Noises behind them. However, she wasn't sure if she was hearing distant voices, echoes, or if her mind was playing tricks. Luckily, they were able to reach the access door without incident. The took a breather then, and a civilian, the one named Randy, spoke up.

      "Hey, how do we know that the spaceport isn't already captured?" Sergeant Nubel replied swiftly in a deep, southern drawl.

      "That's a risk we'll have to take, son. Ain't no other way off this planet 'cept through hell itself." With that, he punched in a coke to open the doors. They quickly swung their rifles upside and looked to the entrance. They slowly slid open and…found themselves in an empty hangar. From the looks of it, it was most likely used to repair corvettes and the like.

      Sanderson pulled out her datapad. "Napoleon, get me a map of this place. I need to know where we are."

      "Certainly, just a moment," he replied a slightly Corsican accent influencing the pronunciation of his words. "Here you go. Cairn Spaceport maintenance outline, dated build date 2508. Minimal changes made."

      "Good. From the looks of it, we need to head north up to the main terminals. From there we should still be able to catch a transport out of here. We can take a walkway from here that goes over the tarmac to the Control Tower, and then to the terminal."

      Corporal Hassant spoke up. "That sounds fine, but only you and Nubel still have your weapons. Got any to spare?" Sanderson tossed the man her battle rifle, handing him her magazines. She pulled out her M/7 and its ammunition, one weapon she refused to give up. Nubel unzipped a pack he had and gave M6Cs to the other corporal and Eldred, a civilian.

      "Sorry boys, that's all the free stuff I got today. Hope you know how to use that, E."

      "Yeah, I know."

      Plan in hand, the party proceeded on through the vacated hangar to the skybridge fifteen stories high that was placed at the apex of the hangar, at the top of a multitude of stairs. As they moved over the bridge, they looked out through the glass windows to fully observe the height of the Covenant's conquest. The city lay in ruins, fires burning beneath the rubble emanating a pillar of smoke and smog and dust and haze, all slightly clouding the Covenant Cruiser than remained over the city. In the distance, Seraph Bombers and Banshees strafed various targets.

      "What the hell happened?" asked Sanderson rhetorically, staring out over the ruin of the downtown area. Almost nothing remained.

      "Guess the one ship couldn't hold off a fleet," was the reply from one of the corporals.

      "Then why haven't they glassed us yet?" she replied.

      "Maybe they're waiting for something, who knows?" posited Eldred. Nubel took a few steps down the skybridge before turning back.

      "Alright boys, then we shouldn't stick around to find out when it's going to happen. Let's go," beamed Nubel's deep voice. As the group turned to leave, a banshee zeroed in on the survivors in the skybridge. Sanderson took a few steps, before looking once more, when she spotted the enemy aircraft honing in on their location.

      "Move! Off the bridge!" Those were the only words that swiftly came to mind with an intense volume. She took off, trying to get to the other side as soon as possible. The banshees fired their fuel rod projectiles straight at the bridge.

      Impact. The group was thrown to their feet as the structure groaned under the sudden blast. They quickly got to their feet and made their way into the control tower. But as Randy tried to finish crossing, the structure buckled and he lost his footing. The tube that enclosed the bridge fell from its position, leaving Randy dangling from the tower by little more than a torn piece of steel girder. His grip was quickly slipping away, leaving only fractions of a second, just enough time to exchange glances with Sanderson. No times for words, but the man's eyes said enough. He lost his grip and fell from the gaping hole on the side of the control tower, dropping a hundred and fifty feet onto the rubble of the bridge that lay below.

      Sanderson flinched as she watched his body impact the jagged and wretched metal below, impaling itself on the bent supports. The survivors took a few steps back before turning away, heading to the central atrium of the control tower. It was a cylindrical shaft, with an elevator in the middle and spiraling stairs wrapped around it.

      While a few of the survivors took a breather for a moment, Melissa studied the shaft that ran from the ground to the control room at the top. The elevator had crashed to the bottom, leaving only the numerous flights of stairs as the sole path up or down. She shouldered her battle rifle and peered through its two-magnification scope, looking down at the bottom entrance.

      Covenant. If what she saw was true, they wouldn't have long. The aliens were still far down and were taking the stairs, but that was their only exit. Napoleon chimed in just then.

      "One hundred and fourty-seven feet to the ground floor, or roughly fourty-four meters. We don't have much time, Sergeant Sanderson." She looked up and could see that it was a much shorter trip to the tower's control center. Her mind hatching an idea, she turned to the group.

      "Idea. We can head up to the control room and call for pick-up. If I recall correctly, there's a landing pad on the roof, and we can get picked up there." The group members nodded in agreement. "Covies are on their way up, but it's a bit of a way up, so we have a few. If need be, we can hold them off. Let's go." With that, she began racing up the stairs.

      "Well you heard the lady, pick 'em up and put 'em down if you want to live!" shouted Nubel, who quickly followed in suit. When Sanderson reached the top, she watched as the last few workers hastily completed their remaining tasks and climbed up the ladder and out of the room, leaving the displays and control panels in disarray. She climbed up behind the last man. On the roof sat a Pelican, where the remaining man jumped on just as it took off.

      "Wait, hold up!" she shouted, standing at the top of the hatch. Ignoring her words, the bird flew away, leaving the group behind. Frustrated, Sanderson slid back down to the room, checking the consoles for a chip slot. She found it and plugged it in. Napoleon came up in the holotank display, looking thin and flushed.

      He spoke, the animated hologram stuttering as it attempted to keep its pace. "The power here is running on backup. We'd better make this quick. No wonder the elevator isn't work."

      "Can you go ahead and call a dropship?"

      "Good. I'll leave you in to monitor things until we have to bug out. In the meantime…" She then turned to the group, which was catching its breath from running up the ten floors worth of steps. "Procure any weapons you can. Check if there's a security locker in the storage closet." Melissa popped the magazine from her sub-machine gun. Still full. She knew that wouldn't last long, as the Covenant was hauling their way on up the tower.

      Melissa clipped the weapon to her hip and turned over a few tables, blocking up the double-door entrance to the control room. She hopped over the just-made barricade to check how much time they had left. They were already at the skybridge. She hopped back over and piled up more things with the assistance of Nubel. The group reassembled, taking cover behind the rows of seats and panels that occupied the room.

      "Keep your crosshairs on the door and don't waste bullets. Napoleon, ETA?"

      "Six minutes, Sergeant Sanderson."

            Noises, just then. They were coming closer. Not more than a few steps away. Sanderson peered down the sights, speaking up just once more.

      "They're here." The first few peeked over the barricade, and the group began putting in rounds. The first spray took out a grunt clean through the head, spattering purple residue out and down the shaft, throwing the grunt backwards. An Elite then stuck his plasma rifle out and sprayed plasma bolts into the room. Sanderson ducked down, one of the bolts nearly catching her in the face. The firing stopped, and now a second Elite showed up and began ramming the blockade with the first. Sergeant Nubel sprayed a full magazine from his MA5, his bullets deflecting off the energy shields. The civilian and Corporal Svensson unloaded their M6s. A few of the rounds penetrated the barrier and struck some grunts, while most ricocheted off and around the room.

      The two Elites together matched a blow and knocked aside the barricade. They continued to take rounds, but all were absorbed by their shields. They fired their plasma weapons, causing Nubel and Sanderson to dive aside, but Corporal Hassant was caught in the face by a plasma bolt, burning off his face. He fell back, writhing in pain, hands gripping his face which melted away from his skull. Svensson tried to get away, but another bolt took his arm off, sending him crashing into a wall in intense agony. Hassant still lied where he was shot, desperately trying to put his skin back on his face. The Elites let their rifles cool down, and then Sanderson took her chance.

      Sanderson jumped over the panels, sliding across while firing her M/7. She landed on her feet and kicked the elite in the chest, whose shield had been depleted by the gun. The elite stumbled back, allowing the civilian to put three rounds into the alien's head. The second one howled in rage before charging at Sanderson, who lay on the floor from dodging Eldred's bullets. Nubel gave it no chance to attack however as he put several rounds into the back of the sanghelli, its body falling back into a damaged electrical conduit, gasping for air as its body oozed purple blood.

      Still more Covenant came up, and Sanderson quickly ducked behind some panels. She reloaded her M/7, now firing blindly over her head, suppressing the attackers with a barrage of fire. Napoleon screamed loudly, so that she would hear him over the gunfire.

      "The transport is almost here! Go! Now!" he shouted, as he was reading the Pelican's transponder, the vehicle not fifty meters away. Sanderson extracted the chip from the console, Nubel quickly following behind her, both dodging a rain of blue, green, and purple plasma. Eldred began backing up but stumbled into the storage closet, falling down and kicking the door shut behind him. As the two soldiers climbed the ladder to the surface, he found himself in a dead end. It wouldn't be long. He checked the magazine on his pistol. Only a few bullets left. He took a spare M6 from the security locker and loaded both weapons, one in each hand. A satisfying feeling of being a hero for the man, if only for a second.

      Pounding on the door. It burst open, a tall red Elite standing there hunched over, plasma rifle in hand. Eldred fired from each gun. The bullets did not faze the major who discharged his weapon straight into the civilian's chest. He fell back, still firing off rounds before both guns ran dry. They were empty before he hit the floor. He was stilling pulling the triggers however, each time emanating a quiet "click!" A few more clicks from each gun, and the silence as the elite placed his hoof on Eldred's face and crushed it.

      Nubel and Sanderson ran out onto the landing pad, firing off rounds from their guns and waving their arms. The pilot of the Pelican brought it in slowly, waving from the cockpit.

      "Down here!" the two soldiers screamed for their lives, ready to get off this rock. The Pelican turned, the crew chief standing in the bay.

      "C'mon, let's go!" he shouted over the roar of the engines.

      The sergeants would only have time to take a single step forward before the two banshees streaked in and fired off their fuel rod cannons, shattering the cockpit canopy, sending the bird spiraling out of control to the ground, three hundred feet below.

      Sanderson fell to her knees in the center of the pad as the Covenant beat on the hatched the two had locked behind them. It wouldn't hold forever. The two banshees turned once more and targeted their plasma cannons for the two on the landing pad.

      A Longsword streaked in, unloading its 110mm cannons, decimating the banshees in a rain of fire, flying through their wreckage as it picked them out of the sky. Sanderson quickly clicked on her radio, broadcasting to the pilots and Nubel planted his big boot on the ladder hatch to keep it shut.

      "Unidentified Longsword, we're stranded down here on the pad and need immediate pick up!" The pilot responded over the channel.

      "Roger that, we're coming in, clear the landing pad, out." Melissa looked up, filled once again with hope and stepped back as the Longsword flew in heroically for a landing. It did not touch down but hovered slowly, the rear ramp lowering as a crew member stood at the edge, reaching out.

      "Let's go, ships in orbit are about to jump!" The two soldiers ran to the ramp and jumped on, grabbing tight as the ramp retracted into the ship. The pilot ignited the engines as the Covenant broke through the hatch, a grunt climbing up and running out with a fuel rod cannon. It fired several times, but all missed as the interceptor took off for orbit.

      Sanderson and Nubel sat down in the auxiliary seats, setting their bags aside, watching as they left the atmosphere of Cairn, only to find a massive battle being waged in orbit. The co-pilot shouted back to them to explain what had happened.

"The Covenant were about to glass the planet when Admiral Pajarvskiy's fleet arrived, tailing their cruisers. We've lost nine ships so far, including the original one that was stationed in orbit. As soon as we make it to the battlecruiser, we're jumping." With that in mind, the two soldiers strapped in as the Longsword dodged plasma streams, flying into the hanger of the Marathon-class cruiser UNSC Einherjar, coming to a fierce halt in the hangar just before the bay doors closed. The ship then jumped into slipspace, on a path with the remainder of the fleet towards a random destination, somewhere in space, per the guidelines of the Cole Protocol.

      The ramp lowered as the Longsword Interceptor's engines powered down, the two sergeants exiting onto the decks of the ship. They turned back before heading out of the hangar with the rest of the refugees, only to see the armor of the fighter scoured by plasma bolts.

      "We really cut it close there, Nubel," she said quite plainly with a tone that lacked both mirth and melancholy. Mickey Nubel replied with little more than a nod, before hoisting his single pack of luggage over his shoulder and leaving.

      Sanderson looked around, standing still in the middle of the flow of refugees out of the hangar. The sedate hum of the engines combined with the noise of the air scrubbers, and for a brief moment she felt relaxed. The crowd began to push her along, and she walked with them. All went to Cryo, were they would be frozen, not to be woken until they emerged from slipspace.

      As for Napoleon, he would find himself in the company of the ship's AI Horatio until he could be put to better use when the ship would come out of slipspace, wherever it came out of slipspace.

Soldier Girl: Part 15
Date: 14 May 2010, 7:12 am

Chapter 7: The Beginning of Things to Come

      Eight months, eight long months since UNSC Einherjar had broken out of slipspace and came crashing into the orbit of Mihai, a gas giant orbiting the star Alpha Forcanis A. The inhabitants of the near-derelict vessel should have considered themselves lucky, Alpha Forancis happened to be a star that was home to another planet, Macerr, a UNSC colony in existence for some years now. But in orbit around the closest planet to the star, and without much in the way of working systems, the battle-damaged cruiser, sat waiting, hoping for rescue from the colony.

      Cryo had shut down as well. Refugees, in the thousands now had to endure on limited supplies, and people began to slowly starve. The officers however had kept plenty of the rations for the marine contingencies that had been brought aboard, and soon, due to their decisions, an uprising began to form.

      Sanderson found herself bunking in quarters that were holding triple their normal capacity, and after being brought out of Cryo, she had lost track of Nubel. It was a fairly large ship, and he could be in any of the marine quarters. She slept on the floor, beside the bunks of two older marines, a Sergeant Dempsey and Corporal Jakobi, whom she found herself out with on impromptu patrols around the ship's corridors. They had no real weapons though, as the admiral had deemed it necessary to keep all weapons under lock and key to prevent any insurrection.

      It would be at meal time one day when it began. Sanderson stood watch at the entrance to the cafeteria, with orders to only allow marines and naval personnel in to eat, so that they would all have their fill before the civilians could. Around the time meals were beginning to be served, several 'fugees tried to talk their way through.

      "C'mon miss, we're starvin' out here, can't we just get some food?" a rather short one pleaded with her, with a rather ratty tone in his voice. Melissa's right hand dwindled on the grip of her unloaded rifle that was slung at her side, as she sensed a foreboding trouble coming.

      "The mess hall is off-limits to civilians until personnel have been served. Please step back and return the refugee quarters." A simple, automatic response she had drummed up in her head. She couldn't get too personal anyways. Melissa certainly didn't want them to hate her, it wasn't her decision to make, just order for her to follow. Noticing two marines coming in, she stepped aside, blocking the 'fugees from passing. A crowd of them formed now, shoving slightly, trying to get in.

      "Sergeant Sanderson requesting back-up at Deck Nine Mess Hall, potential riot," she whispered through her comm, hoping someone would show up. Despite the fact that she was equipped with a rifle, nobody would be scared; even they knew that it was unloaded. A taller man now moved through the crowd, and her grip tightened on the weapon at her side, left hand's fingers now repeatedly tapping the hilt of her combat knife that was resting in its sheath attached to her belt. The tall, somewhat fat man came to the front.

      "Move it, I gotta eat," he rumbled, his stomach sticking out slightly from under his undersized shirt. Sanderson took a step back.

      "The mess hall is off-limi-" a flying fist cut her off, forcing her to quickly duck to the ground. The lumbering man reached down to try to pick her up, but she swiftly unsheathed her knife and jammed it into the man's kneecap, twisting it before extraction. Just then a team of marines and naval personnel came through the door from behind, weapons drawn. Sergeant Dempsey was at the front.

      "All right now, you'll get your food later! Clear out of the corridor before we open fire!" he shouted over the now riled mob, which pushed and shoved against the marines to try to enter the mess. The fat man still writhed in pain on the floor, right leg immobilized as searing pain shot through his knee. A few stepped on him, but none cared, as the refugees started swinging. The swelling conglomerate of bodies began to force the marines into the cafeteria, drawing the attention of both the naval personnel as well as other soldiers in the mess hall. They quickly scrambled to their feet, joining the fray to fight back the frenetic civilians.

      "Marines, clear out!" shouted a booming man from the back of the mess hall. A naval officer, Commander Ludwig Sturm, along with three security officers, held M319 Grenade Launchers. As soon as the marines caught glimpse, they scattered from the doorway as the security officers unleashed several tear gas grenades towards the unruly mob. They attempted to disperse, but many stumbled and became seized up by the effects of the gas. The security detail soon donned gas masks and made their way through with zip-ties, detaining many of the inciters of the group. But in the middle, they did find the fat man, trampled and bled out on the floor. Beside him, Sanderson sat, eyes red and coughing a fit, mucus dribbling out of her nose. One of the officers knelt down and put a mask over her face, helping her up from the floor and extracting the marine from the still foggy cloud of gas.

      She found herself in the medical bay, being attended to by one of the marine corpsmen, shaking off the effects of the riot control agent. The corpsmen checked her eyes with a flashlight, gloved hand holding her head still.

      "Sergeant, are you feeling alright? You passed out for a moment on the way here," he inquired, kneeling slightly to steady himself at her height as she sat on a table.

      "Yeah, couldn't brea- ea-" she paused for a moment, coughing up more mucus. "Couldn't breath. I think I'll be ok."

      "Alright good, you better get back to your quarters, rumors talkin' 'bout an uprising that might start." An explosion rumbled the ship, knocking several medical instruments off tables, and causing the corpsmen to fall back onto his rear. Several shouts quickly arose as he shook his head. A voice boomed over the speakers of the ship.

      "This is Admiral James Austin. The ship is now on lockdown. All refugees report to the refugee quarters, all marines and naval personnel report to ready stations. Use of deadly force to contain riots has been authorized. I repeat, the ship is now on lockdown. Use of deadly force has been authorized." The voice, the name flickered in her head for a moment, but the frenzy quickly pushed it aside. The corpsmen drew her attention as he drew his M6.

      "Listen, I can't help you back. I have to stay here and guard the medical bay with the others; can you find your way?"

      "Yeah, I think so." Sanderson stood, knees cracking, grabbing her rifle as it leaned on the side of the table. Still no bullets, though. She moved to the doors of the bay, peering out. The corridors that were once packed with people were now desolate, only teams of marines and naval security moving about. As she was about to move out, two medics burst through, carrying a marine on a stretcher. His left arm had been blown in two, as he screamed in pain, despite the blockers that had been administered. She took another look, a cautious one, before shouldering her rifle. Two steps out, three lefts and then two rights to the quarters. Or was it two lefts, three rights? She shuddered at the realization that she wasn't particularly certain on the path back, but being one not to admit such an uncertainty, she proceeded with her instinct. Three lefts, two rights, and she came to a corridor. No quarters, but a team of marines, pinning several 'fugees on the ground, M6s to the skulls. She walked up to them as a corporal struggled to get one of the men's hands in the zip-ties.

      "Corporal, where are the deck nine quarters?" she asked, rifle pointed slightly at the arrested civilian.

      "Back down the other way and take a left. Now get back, these boys have been pretty jumpy today. They killed one of my squadmates." As he spoke that last line, he gestured over to a doorway, where shadows cloaked a motionless body, blood dripping down the side and running across the decks of the ship. She did not speak, but only acknowledged his assistance.

      She found herself back at the quarters, just in time to run into Dempsey and Jakobi. The latter sat on his bunk, reassembling his M90A shotgun. Next to him resided two boxes of ammo, one an eight-gauge buckshot, the other some riot beanbags. He loaded the eight-gauge, dumping the riot shells into a pouch on his belt. Dempsey sat below, bandaging his wrist, undoubtedly an injury sustained during the altercations in the cafeteria. She sat on the floor, next to an ammo trunk that had been opened for dispersal amongst the troops. She grabbed several magazines for her battle rifle, slotting them in the pouches on her gear. Dempsey stood, flexing his wrist.

      "You took a hard hit in that fight Melissa. Good to see you're sticking around for the big show," spoke Dempsey, sitting back down on his cot, looking out at the other soldiers in there as well.

      "What do you mean?"

      "Ship's losing orbit, some saboteur felt it necessary to destroy a significant portion of the starboard hull with a hell of a lot of shaped charge. They don't think it'll get patched up."

      "So what are we going to do?" At that moment, Jakobi chimed in.

      "I'm in for a turkey shoot; that is…if we're all going to die."

      Two hours later, the team was called up to guard the bridge. The doors were sealed, and security officers insisted on having some of the more conditioned non-commissioned officers standing guard. Gunfire echoed down the corridors, and despite the fact that the elevators were shut off, the riled refugees continued to move about via access passages.

      Radio contact came in.

      "This is checkpoint Alpha-Papa 17, mob overrunning position; we have lost the deck-eight armory! I repeat, deck-eight armory is in rebel hands!" The group holding the barricade in the corridor grew uneasy; that armory was just two decks away from the bridge, and the 'fugees were most likely headed for the bridge. Capturing the bridge meant control of vital systems, and even if they didn't know how to use them, it would be the end of everyone on the ship.

      A raucous stirred down the corridor, on the opposite side of the sealed blast doors that cut off the access corridors from the bridge.

      "Marines, eyes on the door! Shoot anything that comes through!" barked one of the security officers, a gruff lieutenant who wielded an M90A shotgun. Unexpectedly, the door slid open, and the marines immediately reacted with a quick barrage of rounds.

      "Cease-fire! Cease-fire!" he shouted, quickly realizing those coming through were stragglers from the checkpoint one deck up. Three of them had taken hits in the midst of the friendly fire, and struggled to get on the other side. A batch of naval personnel ran through, following behind, pistols in hand. They hopped the barricade, trying to catch their collective breaths.

      "The refugees are on their way here, and they are armed," he gasped out, sucking down air as Sanderson noticed the blood splatters on the back of his uniform. No holes in the back, must've been from another man. She looked back over the barricade, as the doors sealed themselves shut. But moments later, a banging began.

      It's time. She gazed down her rifle's scope, waiting for the doors to open. An onslaught would surely result, but it was them or her. She felt somewhat lucky though, having experience killing other humans. Most people joined up to take out the Covenant, and intra-species combat wasn't something they were interested in. Most of the wounded marines took up position alongside her and the sergeants, refusing to give up a fight until it's over. So they waited there, time ticking away until the doors would open.

      But a shockwave ripped through the corridor. An explosive tore the steel doors away from the corridor, bending back panels and knocking out electrical systems. Small fires now lit the hallway as those still conscious tried to get their bearings. Sanderson looked around, trying to hear anything, but all she could feel was the blood running from her ears. Flashes of light erupted in the dust that remained unsettled from the blast, but no sound. She grabbed the side of the barricade, pulling herself up. The marine next to her got hit. She got to her knees, shouldering her rifle. Lights flickered down the corridor, creating brief glimpses of the 'fugees that slugged forward down the hall. Several marines had clicked on the lights on their barrels, trying to pick their shots with their flashlights.

      Sanderson wiped the blood from the sides of her face and began firing, lighting the corridor with her muzzle flashes. A grenade took off several panels from the ceiling, rocking them further. The doors to the bridge opened, a fire team of ODSTs bursting through, spraying M/7s as they made their way past the barricade and down the corridor. Sanderson ducked down, letting them do their work. She looked as the doors opened again, the admiral stepping out, wielding an M6. She realized who he was that instant. That name, from the mountain.


      He didn't recognize her, squeezing off shots down the hallway as naval personnel set up floodlights to illuminate the passageway. Several of the ODSTs had been shot, and were in the process of retreating back, intermittent fire coming from the other side of the blown-out blast door. Melissa rested for a moment, resting her head back, a ringing now prevalent in her hearing, everything still muffled. She looked up once more.

      James staggered back, blood beginning to stain his naval uniform. He cracked off two more shots before being hit again, immediately being dragged back into the bridge. Several marines took his place, unloading downrange, beating back what was left of the refugees. With the lights set-up, they had no darkness to hide in, and scampered back to other decks.

      The battle would have likely continued for days had the UNSC Cossack arrived on station to bail out the dying cruiser. After they arrived, MPs quelled the uprising, and were evacuated before the cruiser Einherjar was set to be towed back to Macerr.

      On her way to Macerr, Sanderson felt something odd throughout the trip. She constantly peered out at the stars, sensing that she was like a pinball on some cosmic bally table. She didn't like it.