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Fan Fiction

Warrior's Fate by maxx

Warrior's Fate: Prologue- The Lucky Ones
Date: 16 March 2005, 7:41 AM

Viking Patrol, Task Force 152
*Overview of Operation Bear Trap: TF 152 to aid in capture of Covenant outpost (AgaC1), cease equipment/weapons/material, prisoners where possible.
Patrol Designation: Viking
Elements: Viking-1 (8), Viking-2 (8) fro. 3rd ODST Btn. SpecGru Bravo Co.
Objective: multiple ion cannons on moon surface impede full Task Force landing. ODST SpecGru patrols to a) effect covert drop to surface, b) locate and mark cannons for surgical strike, c) evade enemy contact and await main force landing.
Viking AO: Tango Blue Sector
Outcome: Failure
[Patrol mis-dropped...covert insertion compromised. Lost comm. Heavy contact.]
Casualties: 10 KIA, 3 MIA (presumed KIA), 2 WIA

      A soft tap on the shoulder pulled Daryl Tai out of his dark sleep. The nurse standing above his bed smiled down sympathetically at the young corporal.
      "I heard you yelling a bit in your sleep, Tai. When I came in, you were tossing back and forth...and breathing pretty hard too. Having more nightmares, eh?" she asked soothingly.
He blinked groggily as he tried to focus on her face. The vision in his new left eye was still somewhat blurry, and it itched a little. He tried to smile back as he replied. "Yeah, but its okay. I never remember the dreams after I wake up anyway."
      "That's probably a good thing," she commented as she adjusted the bed to a sitting up position. "Now lets take a look at that cloned eye." She examined it closely, instructing him to look in different directions. "Its healing good...so is your skin around the reconstructed cheekbone," she nodded with approval. "Looks nice. I bet the girls are gonna love it." She didn't sound too convinced of that, but he appreciated the effort.
      The nurse went on to examine his other injuries, intermittently stopping to comment on the great progress he was making in his recovery. Lastly, she paid particularly close attention to his prosthetic hand. Light glinted off the metallic hand as he moved it about. The fingers whirred with soft mechanical noises as he shifted and flexed them. "This is looking good also," she commented. "You won't be writing calligraphy or making clay sculptures with it, but its good enough to hold a rifle, isn't it?"
      "That's all an ODST jarhead needs," Daryl replied grimly.
      She was still bothered by the appearance of the mechanical prosthetic, which was attached where his hand had been blown off, from the forearm down.
      "Now kid, are you absolutely sure that you don't want to add a cosmetic layer over this thing? I guarantee that it'll match your skin tone."
      He shook his head, "I'm sure, ma'am. I don't like those rubber skins. They just don't look anything close to real. To me, they look a lot creepier than the naked metal."
      "Suit yourself, Marine," she nodded at him with compassionate eyes. "I know you probably wish we could've just put a cloned hand on you, but bottom line is that they take too long to heal, and the Marines need you combat functional again ASAP. Besides, they're expensive."
      "I know, ma'am. Its no big deal," he assured her. "The Corps can't pay, and I sure as hell can't spend that much of my own money right now."
      The nurse typed some updates into her data pad as she continued talking to him. "Well, everything looks good. So we'll be able to discharge you out of the hospital this afternoon, as scheduled. I also want to let you know that two other guys who were on the mission will be picking you up."
      He shot an urgent glance at her. "Really? Who is it? Who else made it out?" he asked excitedly.
      She looked down at her data pad again. "Um, let's see...one of them is a Master Gunnery Sergeant Crowe...and the other is a Sergeant Moran."
      "Is there anyone else? Did anyone else make it out?" he persisted.
      She looked at him apologetically. "I really don't know, son. I'm sorry." She gave him a maternal hug before leaving him alone in the room again.
      So Master Crowe and 'Moron' Moran had made it out, Daryl thought to himself. They had both been with Viking One. Daryl wanted urgently to know if anyone else from that eight-man chalk had survived. He himself had been with the second chalk, and was the sole survivor from his group. He spent the next hour watching the clock, anxiously anticipating Crowe and Moran's arrival...

      "There you are, kid!" Master Gunny Crowe bellowed as he walked in.
      "You backwater colony mutt, we're taking you back to base. And that means no more being pampered by nurses," came Moran's distinct London accent behind him.
      "Well I'd rather be escorted out by a couple jackals than two nasty helljumpers as ugly as you guys are," Daryl retorted with a grin. He felt a sudden wave of emotion sweep over him as two comrades he had thought dead now stood before him. He fought to stifle back a few tears, knowing that if Moran saw him cry he would never hear the end of it.
      Moran made a mock-disgusted face at him. "Well I'm happy to see you too, leatherneck. You're a sorry excuse for a Marine, you wanker!" They all chuckled for a moment.
      Anxious to have questions answered, Daryl shifted to a more serious line of conversation. "I thought you guys were dead, bro. No one told me anyone else made it out, until today. What happened to the others in your chalk? Ray, Legs, Yuri, and the rest...did anyone else make it out?"
      Moran's mood instantly changed, pain written in his eyes. "They're all dead, mate. We're sure of it."
      "Yuri, Legs, and Gaustad might still be listed as MIAs," Crowe jumped in, "but there's no chance they survived."
      "The same with the rest of my chalk," Daryl replied somberly.
      The three Marines fell silent for a few moments, their thoughts focused on thirteen lost comrades. What the hell had gone wrong?
      When Crowe broke the silence, it was as if in response to that unspoken question.
      "Look Tai, all three of us need answers. So you'll be glad to know that the colonel has agreed to meet with us in a private conference, before our official debriefing. He'll be returning to base tomorrow, and our meeting is scheduled for the morning after. I suggest you think back on everything that happened during the op, and come to the meeting prepared with every question that needs answering."
      Moran nodded sadly. "Yeah, and I think you ought to keep in mind that we're probably not going to like some of his explanations."
      "That was one blinding mess down there, Tai. I wish your first major op with the unit could've went better."
      Perhaps noticing that Daryl was hiding strong emotions, the Englishman reached down and took his good hand in a brotherly grip, locking eyes with him. "Just remember this, mate: it doesn't get any worse than what happened down there. But guess what? You're still alive! And that which does not kill us makes us stronger."
      Feeling at a loss for words, Daryl silently nodded his appreciation for the encouragement. Somehow he already knew that the events of their tragic mission would stay with him forever...

Warrior's Fate: Part 1- Going Feet First
Date: 17 March 2005, 3:16 AM

Quad Seven briefing room
UNSC Battle Cruiser Tecumseh
Agatha Sedona system
Six weeks ago

      Sixteen men sat waiting in the briefing room. At first glance, they might not have looked much different from the other Marines on ship. But these men were not average grunts. Most of them were older, and all of them exuded a more weathered and mature demeanor than typical Marine infantrymen. The insignia on their shoulders revealed that they were part of the celebrated ODST branch of the Marine Corps. But even within that universally respected unit, these guys were a cut above the rest. They were members of the ODST's elite wing of covert operatives. More precisely, they were from 2nd Platoon Bravo Company, Special Purpose Group, 3rd ODST Battalion. Statistically, only 30 percent of the infantrymen who volunteered to try out for the ODST passed the grueling standards and training necessary to earn the Helljumper badge. And amongst all the badged ODST troopers who tested for the SpecGroup, about four out of every hundred usually passed selection. In other words, the sixteen men waiting in the briefing room aboard the Tecumseh represented the very best that the Marine Corps had to offer.
      The youngest and least experienced operative in the group of battle-hardened career soldiers was 23-year-old Corporal Daryl Tai, who had been assigned to the platoon immediately after passing selection just two months prior. The ODST SpecGroup rarely accepted anyone under the age of 25 into their ranks. But with the high rate of wartime casualties, exceptions were occasionally made. Tai justly regarded his acceptance into the unit as the crowning achievement of his young life. His former platoon leader in the regular ODST had recommended him for an invitation to try out in SpecGroup selection, praising him as a 'prodigiously competent Marine'. But upon arrival to his new unit, the members of 2nd platoon had nicknamed him 'Superboy' with affectionate sarcasm. Although already a capable and battle proven Marine, he was still a rookie to them. Ever eager to prove himself, Daryl did not mind the bit of hazing they gave him. He knew he'd have to show them how capable he was in the field before they would ever truly accept him. Fortunately, he would soon get his chance. He was about to embark on his first high risk operation as a member of the unit.
      While the men from 2nd platoon waited for their company commander to show up, a veteran sergeant named Leiva babbled stories to Tai. He was recounting memories about his past sexual escapades with the beautiful local women of some Inner Colony planet. But Tai only pretended to pay attention. His mind was too focused on the job ahead of him. His heart swelled with pride and anticipation as he looked around at the great warriors surrounding him. They were the best of the best. To imagine that he had been accepted into their ranks, and was about to go deep behind enemy lines with them, made him feel intensely proud.
      But before Tai had the chance to think anymore self-congratulatory thoughts, and before Leiva could finish unloading his braggart's tale on deaf ears, Major Parstapos marched into the room to begin the briefing. Although an officer had just arrived on deck, none of the men stood to attention, nor did Parstapos expect them to. The Major knew better than to regard this as a sign of disrespect, though. He didn't need standard protocol to assure him that he commanded his men's respect. Under most circumstances, top tier operators like the boys in SpecGroup were not held to the same standards of rigid formality as normal military personnel were. Parstapos knew how good these Marines were. And regardless of rank, he viewed them as equals.
      "Afternoon boys," he greeted them. "How's everyone doing?"
      He waited for the murmur of replies before continuing. "Alright then let's get on with it. As you all know, Task Force 152's mission is to aid in the capture of a Covenant outpost located on C-planet's primary moon."
      The Major reached down to slip a data stick into the Holo-Monitor. A 3-D schematic of the moon flickered to life above the projector. Then a series of neon lines crisscrossed around the diagram, dividing it into labeled sections. "As you were informed, this started out as an Inter Colonial Guard operation. But as expected, the Guardies couldn't get the job done without a little Marine Corps intervention."
      There was a brief wave of laughter among the men. Parstapos allowed himself a few guffaws as well before continuing. "The bulk of the ICG battle group entered the atmosphere from here, in Area Foxtrot," he gestured. "Intel indicates that most of the Covenant forces have amassed near Foxtrot and in the space above it to repel them. So this leaves the enemy flank relatively unguarded here at Areas Tango and Lima," he again pointed on the schematic.
      "And that is where our task force will hit the dirt. If we establish a foothold in these areas, it will enable us to completely envelop the Covies and score an easy victory. I shouldn't have to tell you what the successful capture of this outpost will mean, but I'll remind you anyway: All sorts of Covenant weapons and equipment available for analysis. And if we're lucky, we'll get data archives for the ONI spooks to look at, as well as plenty of prisoners for them to interrogate. Rarely do we stumble upon lightly guarded Covenant installations such as this within our striking distance. We don't know why they're there, and we don't care. Whatever the case, this is a golden opportunity."
      "So what's our part in making this happen, sir?" asked Master Gunnery Sergeant Bradley Crowe, who was 2nd platoon's senior noncom.
      "I was about to get to that," continued Parstapos. "When those ICG fools began their attack and started sending their landing parties to the moon surface, they disregarded the potential threat of Covenant ground-to-air defenses. And it turned out that the Covies had multiple heavy ion cannons stationed all over the surface. As a result, the ICG assault forces took a pounding during their approach. Half of their ships were lost before they ever touched down. Another one-third was forced to retreat back to orbit."
      "What a disaster," someone muttered.
      "We are determined to ensure," the Major went on, "that Task Force 152 does not make the same fatal mistake. Unfortunately, the cannons are well hidden from sat-scans, which leaves us unable to pinpoint them for orbital bombing. Longswords and other attack craft don't have a chance of penetrating the atmosphere over Tango and Lima without being obliterated by Covenant defenses. In fact, the only ships that have any chance of slipping through the defense undetected are small Hummingbird stealth transport shuttles. But even for them, it'll be pretty dicey. And that is where you guys come into the picture."
      Most of the SpecGroup operators nodded knowingly, already understanding what the Major was about to propose.
      "We have been able to roughly triangulate the cannons to the individual sectors in which they are located. Our best bet is to covertly insert multiple patrols via cloaked pod drop into the outskirts of each sector. From there, each patrol will proceed deeper into their area of operations and do a thorough covert reconnaissance. There should be no more than one, or possibly a few cannons in each sector. Once you get a visual on the cannons, you will relay their positions up to us via your encrypted comm. channel. We will then be able to execute orbital strike, eliminating each one of them. Once we take them out, you are to evade enemy contact, find a good hide site, and just lay low until the main force can safely touch down in your sector. You'll be able to regroup with us upon our arrival. Any questions?" he scanned the room.
      "What kind of support can we expect, sir?" inquired Leiva.
      "I have four stealth shuttles that will maintain low orbit outside the atmosphere," Parstapos replied. "They will sneak past Covenant defenses to re-supply you if needed, and they will attempt to extract you in the event of a compromise or other emergency abort. Those four shuttles will support all patrols on the ground, and that's all the help you'll get."
      There were a few murmurs of disapproval, but they died down quickly. The men understood that in this profession, circumstances were never ideal. Adapting to adverse conditions was a key aspect of the job. Parstapos looked around for other questions before continuing.
      "Your patrol has been designated 'Viking'. The ground call sign for 1st squad's eight-man chalk will be Viking One. 2nd squad's will be Viking Two. Your area of operations will be Tango Blue sector," he gestured again at the schematic. "Viking-1 will be inserted at the southwest outskirts, and Viking-2 will be inserted to the southeast. You'll then commence your sweep headed north, with Viking-1 handling the west side and Viking-2 covering the east. Is everyone clear on that?"
      The Marines expressed affirmatives.
      "Alright then boys," the Major nodded his approval. "Then this is your official warning order for recon patrol mission Viking. Do your planning sessions and prep, and then submit your equipment requests ASAP. Your drop time is 0700 tomorrow night. Dismissed."
      The men from 2nd platoon immediately stood up, and began purposefully filing out of the briefing room. It was time to get down to business...

      In the narrow passages of the HEV drop bay, sixteen commandos from 2nd platoon SpecGroup Bravo Company stood fully dressed in standard ODST drop suits and custom tactical gear. The Marines were quickly loading equipment and weapons into their individual pods. Colonel Rudimar Fernando, commanding officer of the 3rd ODST battalion, swaggered into the drop bay along with Major Parstapos trailing behind. The burly colonel gestured for the two chalk leaders to approach him. Crowe and First Sergeant Olu stopped what they were doing and walked over.
      "I just came to see you boys off and wish you good luck," said the Colonel.
      "Thank you, sir."
      "We won't let you down, sir."
      Fernando nodded back curtly, slapped Olu on the back, and then did a quick about-face towards the exit.
      It was then Parstapos' turn to pull the team leaders aside. "Be sure to make all your status reports on schedule. If we lose contact with you, we will send a stealth shuttle to the designated emergency rendezvous. And if everything really goes to shit and all else fails, remember that you can burst transmit a distress call on your emergency beacons. The ICG guys will be able to receive your call on their guard net. Keep that in mind, but just make sure you stay out of trouble down there!"
      "Will do, Major," replied Crowe.
      Parstapos shook hands with both of them before they headed back to their pods.
      A warning siren suddenly blared in the drop bay, followed by an automated voice on the loudspeaker. "Troopers stand by for drop, three minutes and counting. All other personnel must clear the drop bay."
      Before Parstapos made his way to the exit, he saw each of the troopers' faces disappear behind dark visor covered masks, as they strapped on their drop suit helmets.
      Just as the pods sealed shut, Crowe's bellowing voice rang out over the helmet receivers. "HOW ARE WE GOING, GENTLEMEN?"
      "FEET FIRST!!" they yelled back in unison.

      Looking out the viewing port, Parstapos observed the HEVs being shot out of the Tecumseh's belly. Each exit was accompanied by a muffled boom and a slight tremor in the floor beneath his feet. The pods rapidly became smaller and smaller until the last one disappeared from view completely.
      "Godspeed," the ODST officer whispered.

Warrior's Fate: Part 2- Complications
Date: 17 March 2005, 3:32 AM

      The vulnerability, darkness, and claustrophobia of an HEV drop was something that Crowe could never get used to no matter how many times he went through it. The battle-hardened Marine would always experience a feeling of helpless dread, and an unfathomable yearning for solid ground beneath his feet. Some ODST commanders carried on the time-honored tradition of playing the militaristic and fiery Helljumpers' anthem over their team frequency during drops. However, Brad Crowe practiced a slightly different ritual. Shortly after connecting his data player to the freq, the calming melody of Flower Duet reverberated through each pod.
      "Arrrrgh!" Corpsman Mitchell's voice crackled over Crowe's receiver. "Didn't you promise me that you'd quit doing this?"
      "I lied."
      "Dammit, Master Guns!" This time it was Tahadi. "Turn this soft lullaby crap off before it completely saps my will to fight!"
      "Sorry devil-dogs," Crowe grinned to himself. "You're just gonna have to deal with it."
      He took a deep breath, and tried to let the music calm his nerves. He always regarded the song's warm tranquility as a therapeutic contrast to the hot turbulence and tension of an HEV drop. Crowe enjoyed Flower Duet quietly for a few more minutes until he noticed First Sergeant Olu hailing him over a private link.
      He keyed the comm. "You better not be complaining about the music, Olu."
      "Its not that, Brad," Olu responded.
      He sounded nervous, and that made Crowe a bit nervous as well. "Then what is it?" Crowe asked warily.
      "Take a look at your imager, and then trace the path of our current trajectory."
      "Alright Olu, I'm doing it."
      "Our LZs are supposed to be in the southern outskirts of the sector, where there shouldn't be any Covenant units to notice our landing."
      "No kidding," Crowe replied sarcastically.
      "Well look at the damn trajectory! That's not where we're headed. The way we're going, we'll end up somewhere near Tango Blue's center. That area's crawling with Covies, and it looks like we're gonna crash right in their backyard."
      Crowe examined closely, and realized that it was true. "Shit, you're right. So much for our freakin' covert insertion!" he fumed. "Some sloppy idiot in the tech house must've miscalculated our drop coordinates!"
      "How could that happen?" Olu asked in disbelief.
      "How the hell should I know?!"
      A cloaked drop was specially designed to be more covert in nature than a standard HEV combat drop. The cloaked pods did not show up on scanners as easily as normal ones. Their built-in dampeners also ensured that they would make relatively little noise as they entered an atmosphere. And especially during a nighttime drop, it was considerably difficult to visually spot the HEV entries from a fair distance away. That's why all the patrols were supposed to be dropped a safe distance away from the main enemy presence in their sectors. But to be dropped right on top of the Covenant forces, even cloaked pods would have little chance of arriving undetected. Furthermore, if the enemy were to swiftly mass a reaction force, the small reconnaissance patrol would almost surely be overwhelmed.
      Crowe felt a sick feeling rise in his stomach as he came to this realization. This op was definitely not off to a good start, he thought to himself.
      He got on the team freq. "Listen up, people. We're gonna have some major problems that you need to be aware of. First Sergeant Olu will explain it to you."
      Olu took the cue and started talking fast. In the meantime, Crowe opened the encrypted comm. channel link to the Tecumseh.
      "Godfather, this is Viking. Be advised, we are off course trajectory and headed into the hornet's nest. We may need immediate support as soon as we touch down. Stand by for possible mission abort. I say again, we have a mis-drop! Repeat, we have a mis-drop and are headed into the hornet's nest! Please acknowledge, over."
      There was no response.
      Crowe double-checked to make sure that he was properly set to the channel assigned to his patrol by 3rd Battalion's Communications officer, and then tried again. "Godfather, this is Viking. Acknowledge, over."
      Still no response came through. The Master Gunny tried a few more times without success, and then had Olu and a few others try as well. They all received no response. Crowe cursed out loud to himself in bitter frustration, feeling trapped within the dark and cramped confines of his pod. There was little the patrol commander could do, except pray for the best and prepare for the worst, as the HEVs continued to carry his team towards possible disaster.

Command Bridge
UNSC Battle Cruiser Tecumseh
Viking Deployment +00:08:34

      Rear Admiral Emerson Dyke, commander of Task Force 152, paced slowly around the center of his bridge as he looked out the main viewport. Three of his assault cruisers and several strike fighter groups had engaged in combat with a small contingent of Covenant ships. Onscreen, the battle looked far away. It appeared simply as a gathering of small shapes out in the distance, punctuated by sparks of light and dancing fireflies.
      "Sir," a junior lieutenant called out to him. "Captain Takeda aboard the Divine Mediterranean says he's still waiting for clearance to engage."
      "Tell him his fighters are clear to engage, but I want the Mediterranean to stay in holding pattern," Dyke replied without taking his eyes off the battle.
      "Yes sir."
      He heard boot steps approaching him from behind, and then turned around to come face-to-face with Marine Colonel Fernando. "Ah, Rudy. There you are."
      "Reporting as requested, Admiral," replied the strapping old Marine.
      "Good. I just needed to touch base with you on a few issues, Colonel. I think we should have a moment in private."
      Dyke gestured for Fernando to follow him out.
      "Commander Kraus, the bridge is yours," he nodded at one of his subordinates.
      "Aye aye, sir," acknowledged the young officer.

      They sat down across from each other in an empty officers' lounge. Dyke took a few sips from his coffee mug before speaking.
      "You know Rudy, it's really sad to see how seriously our friends from the Inter Colonial Guard have botched this operation up so far," he shook his head grimly.
      "Of course sir. They've lost a lot of..."
      "Sad for them, and the people they needlessly wasted," the Admiral cut him off, "but actually rather fortunate...for us."
      Dyke leaned forward in his seat, looking the taller man in the eye. "It is important for this operation to succeed, Colonel. There will be a lot of people paying attention to what happens here...and a lot of recognition will go to those responsible for the smooth achievement of the mission objectives. Wouldn't you think so?"
      Fernando nodded back slowly. "It's definitely not an opportunity we should squander, sir."
      "I'm glad you feel that way, Rudy," Dyke replied coldly. "And I think you're smart enough to know that there's always someone else waiting to jump on the horse...the moment you fall off. You understand what I'm saying?"
      "Perfectly, Admiral." Fernando caught his drift all too well. Dyke knew enough about him to realize how ambitious he was. And Dyke was just the sort of well-connected and influential commanding officer whose recommendation could either make or break a colonel's hope for ascension to the ranks of General.
      "Then I'm glad we see eye to eye," Dyke continued. "Because if we hope to accomplish our mission with the kind of speed and efficiency that will distinguish our command, then your 3rd ODST Battalion will be instrumental to our cause."
      "Sir, as we speak, my special ops teams are already reconnoitering the surface for those ion cannons," Fernando said with assurance.
      "The sooner we take care of those cannons, the sooner we can commence the ground assault. I hope your SpecGroup boys work fast."
      "We anticipate 90 percent of the cannons being eliminated within three days, Admiral."
      "That sounds fine, as long as you can back it up with results," replied Dyke.
      "I have complete faith in my men, sir."
      Dyke locked eyes with him in ominous silence for a moment before responding. "Okay Rudy. Then can I assume that you can take care of the cannons and spearhead the first wave of our ground assault swiftly, and without any setbacks?"
      "Absolutely," Fernando declared with as much conviction as he could muster.
      "Thank you Colonel. Then I'll let you go and concentrate on your task. In the meantime, I have a battle to attend to myself."
      The two men downed the rest of their coffee and got up to exit the lounge.
      "Remember Rudy...we're under a lot of scrutiny. We can't afford any mistakes," Dyke warned one last time.
      Fernando returned the Admiral's icy stare unflinchingly as he replied, "None, sir."

Warrior's Fate, Part 3: Hard Landing
Date: 6 April 2005, 9:12 AM

Viking-Two (in covert drop to moon surface)
D +00:09:07

      By the time they penetrated the atmosphere, Viking patrol's two chalks had split off from each other. As according to plan, Viking-One's trajectory took them westward while Viking-Two fell towards the east. However, both teams were still headed far north of their intended insertion points, dangerously close to Covenant forces. As the members of Viking-Two converged towards Olu's lead pod, the First Sergeant found himself silently praying that by some miracle they would land without rousing any attention. But his hope was shattered as soon as his scanner picked up the first signs of anti-air plasma fire. As the HEVs rapidly plummeted closer to the ground, the fire grew increasingly heavier. The tension was so unbearable that Olu's heart pounded like a jackhammer.
      Toryu Inoue's indicator light abruptly flickered out, as a fuel rod fired from a defense turret struck his pod dead center, instantly obliterating him. Olu clenched his teeth in helpless fury as Corporal Kravitch's indicator died barely a moment later. Both men probably never knew what had hit them.
      Soon after, a panicked voice sounded out on the team frequency. "I'm under heavy fire! I'm hit, I'm hit!" It was Tahadi. "Oh god, it's burning up in here!"
      "We're close to touchdown...hang in there, Tahadi!" someone yelled.
      "Yeah, you can make it!"
      "Negative! Negative! Systems are all fried and I've lost my chutes! I'm falling like a rock," Tahadi's voice crackled frantically over the comm.
      As soon as they heard that, they all knew he was as good as dead. The fate that awaited him was one of the worst a Helljumper could suffer.
      Olu closed his eyes in despair, and spoke softly into his mike, "Know that we're with you, brother. You're not alone." It was the only thing he could do for his teammate.
      When Tahadi responded, his voice carried the mournful and subdued tone of a man who knew he was about to die. "Kill a few of them for me, boys...good luck." It was the last thing Tahadi said before system's crash disabled his communications. Moments later, he was dead.

Charlie Alpha Moon surface (Tango Blue Sector)
D +00:10:41

      Crowe and Staff Sergeant Mal Horenstein had landed merely twenty meters away from each other. They were at the bottom of a canyon, surrounded by steep and rocky walls. Covenant patrols would likely be sweeping the area soon, so the two Marines immediately began moving away from the area they landed in. They were forced to leave most of their supplies behind, so as not to slow them down. The pair only loaded their packs and harnesses with the things they couldn't do without: mainly water, weapons, and ammo. Crowe double-checked his scanner as he and Horenstein began marching away at a brisk pace. Moran and Mitchell were the only other members of Viking-One to hit dirt close by. Adnan's pod had been taken out by anti-air. And in order to evade enemy fire, Ray, Yuri, and Gaustad were unable to orient towards Crowe's pod on their way down. The three had landed somewhere further north, and Crowe hadn't been able to establish communications with them yet.
      Crowe and Horenstein had been moving swiftly through the canyon for about five minutes when Crowe picked up Sgt. Moran's friend-or-foe tag moving towards their direction. Crowe spotted him ahead less than a minute later. He was bounding down a rocky slope, carefully maneuvering around jagged outcroppings.
      Moran unsealed and removed his helmet as he approached.
      "Christ, I needed some bloody fresh air," he grumbled. "I think Legs took fire as we landed. Damn, I hope he's okay."
      Crowe was already aware that Corpsman 'Legs' Mitchell's HEV had taken a grazing plasma shot just before the Marines had reached surface.
      "Yeah but as far as I can tell, his pod hit ground intact," Crowe replied. "So he should be okay. But we better get to him quick."
      "He's not responding to my comm. calls," Mal added worriedly. "But there can be a lot of reasons for that."
      "I've homed in on his pod," said Crowe. "Let's get moving."
      Horenstein took point as the men put their rifles at the ready and spread out in a single filed patrol march. They were armed with non-standard infantry weapons, from SpecGroup's custom armory. Moran and Horenstein both carried the Kramer Model Five Heavy Assault Rifle, or MKAR-5. Although the 'EmKar' had a slower rate of fire and was a little harder to handle than the newer and more common MA5B, it compensated with stronger penetration power and a five-shot direct fire grenade launcher attachment. Crowe's primary weapon was an S3-C sniper rifle. From the same family as the Corps favorite S2-AM, the S3 sacrificed some of the AM's penetration power and range in favor of a less bulky frame and a ten shot magazine capacity. For the strict purpose of long range sniping, the AM was more effective. But the S3-C was far better balanced for handling different situations.
      The trio crept across the cold canyon floor silently. Horenstein toggled the night optics on his visor as he meticulously scanned the area ahead of them. Following behind him, Crowe and Moran had their weapons raised high as they watched for activity up the steep dark slopes on either side of them. Crowe found himself deeply annoyed by the fact that they had landed in a canyon. If the Covies managed to ambush them from an elevated position, they'd be sitting ducks. Hopefully, they'd find a path out of the canyon soon. As they came to a sharp bend, Horenstein brought his rifle to bear and cautiously peeked around the corner. He then acknowledged to his companions that the path was clear. Following the signal from Mitchell's pod, Horenstein led them up a hill that gradually became a plateau. They trotted quickly across the top, and discovered that the plateau descended to a shallow and barren gorge on the other side. Horenstein was the first to notice the smoking hulk of Corpsman Mitchell's pod lying in the gorge. He stayed on top of the plateau to provide over-watch, while Crowe and Moran rushed down to investigate the pod.
      To his horror, Crowe discovered that Mitchell was stuck inside the smoldering ruin. He and Moran pried open the remnants of the exterior to find their comrade alive, but suffering from extensive burns. The corpsman was groaning in pain, barely conscious. The plasma had burned through several sections of his drop suit, revealing large patches of seared flesh. The right side of his helmet was virtually melted off. They carefully removed the broken headgear and sealed a medpatch over the burns on the right side of Mitchell's face and the top of his head.
      "Ah, Jesus Christ!" Moran exclaimed in shock as he noticed charred rib bones visible through one of the gaps in Mitchell's armor.
      Mitchell opened an eye and smiled weakly. "It's...about time you showed up," he whispered.
      "Better late than never, right?" Crowe tried to smile back. "Don't worry, Legs. We'll have you fixed up real soon," he said soothingly. He and Moran began bio-foaming and covering the wounds.
      "How's Legs?" Horenstein asked over the comm.
      "He's in a shit state...burned pretty bad," responded Moran. He then looked over at Crowe. "Listen mate, we better move right quick. Shouldn't stay out in the open too long."
      Crowe shook his head. "Legs won't be able to move anywhere. Not in his condition. We're gonna have to find a spot nearby where we can set him down and lay low for awhile."
      "Yeah, I thought we might," Horenstein crackled through the headset. "From up here I noticed a few openings in the side of that mountain across the gorge. At least one of them should lead into a small cave that we can use as a hide site," he suggested.
      "Slow down mate," Moran interjected. "If any of those Covie buggers come strolling through here, that may bloody well be the first place they look for us."
      "Or they may assume we kept moving and decide to pass this area by without a second glance," countered Horenstein.
      Crowe frowned to himself as he considered his teammates' suggestions. He found no easy answers, but knew he had to make a quick decision.
      "The Moron might be right, but we don't have much of a choice here. We have to find a cave to lie up in. Legs needs time to heal up and regain his strength."
      "What about Yuri, Ray, and the G-Man?" Moran reminded him.
      "We'll have to take care of ourselves for now. We'll try to re-establish comm. with them later, but we can't worry about regrouping until we take care of Legs."
      "You're the boss," Moran nodded. "But keep calling me 'Moron' and I'll kick you in the bollocks."
      "Don't want you guys to risk it. Leave me here," Mitchell mumbled.
      "Quit trying to be a hero," Crowe admonished him.
      "He's only saying that because he knows we won't do it," Moran laughed. "No one gets left behind, mate. You know how it goes."
      They gently hoisted Mitchell up and began moving across the gorge, when a familiar sound caught their attention. Horenstein, who'd been descending from his spot on the plateau, stopped in his tracks. The unmistakable staccato of rifle fire seemed to be coming from far away.
      "It's the others," Horenstein said over the comm. "Are you receiving them too?"
      "We're not receiving shit," replied Crowe.
      "They're in trouble. The signal's weak and it's coming through with a lot of static. There's probably too much interference between here and there. The only reason I'm receiving them at all is because I'm at an elevated position. Hold on a sec, and I'll relay the signal down to you guys."
      "Do it already!" Crowe snapped back. A moment later, the distorted and tinny transmission echoed through his receiver. He could barely make out Yuri Laranova's voice over the static and the sound of exchanging fire in the background.
      "Yuri, this is Mal. Do you read me?" Horenstein hailed them.
      "-Gaustad's dead! Too many of..." came the garbled response.
      "Say again. What's your position?" Mal persisted, to no avail.
      Yuri's voice was drowned out by the sound of rapid and chaotic fire. Crowe heard Yuri yell something about he and Ray being surrounded, but the signal was then abruptly cut off. The distant echo of the rifle fire stopped almost simultaneously. Only eerie silence remained. Crowe and Moran exchanged a haunted look. They had just listened to the rest of their squad die, and there wasn't a damn thing that they could do about it. Without a word, they silently continued to carry Mitchell across the gorge. As they began to realize how bad their situation was, neither of them had anything encouraging to say.

Warrior's Fate, Part 4: Forgotten One
Date: 19 April 2005, 9:26 PM

Command Chamber
Field Post of The Lesser Devout Vigilant, Quiet Wind Group

      Field Post Commander Ekha 'Akstamee reflected cynically upon recent events as he awaited one of his junior patrol leaders. The arrival of another group of human warships and the sudden appearance of their fire cocoons in his area would seem to indicate that the humans were indeed preparing to shift the offensive to this side of the moon. It was strange, however, that such a small number of cocoons would be dropped so foolishly close to a Covenant strong point alone. Ekha's light defense turrets had successfully destroyed three of the eight cocoons spotted in his sector before they were able to land. But Ekha was not as pleased with his inexperienced patrol leaders, who thus far seemed incapable of accomplishing the simple task of dealing with the five remaining humans. He ordered one of the young Elites to report the details of their failure to him face to face; as such incompetence required the most thorough attention. Although annoyed by the setback, a part of him still looked forward to seeing the arrogant fool grovel with humility before him. The few young Elites Ekha had under his lowly command made no secret of the fact that they regarded him with little respect, and abundant contempt. After all, Ekha 'Akstamee was one who had been cast down and stripped of all honor. He had once been a member of a revered Elite assassin clan, until the entire clan had been thrown into a thoughtlessly planned suicide mission. It came as no surprise to him that the clan had been utterly decimated in the process. He was among only several to have survived.
      But of course the shame of such failure was placed not on the shoulders of the prophet who had given them their mandate, but on the clan itself. In accordance with tradition, the clan name had been wiped from record, to be forever cast out of memory in disgrace. The only dishonor greater than dying in such a failure was to survive it. Thus, Ekha and his few remaining comrades had been separated from each other and banished to the fate of becoming 'forgotten ones'. For the rest of their lives they would serve in menial commands that were usually reserved for the young and the incompetent. It was considered blasphemous to the sacred laws for them to ever associate with each other, or to utter the name of their former clan again. For other Elites to even befriend one of them would be a taboo. Thus, they had become virtual outcasts. To be branded a Forgotten One was a miserable fate for any Elite, let alone one who had once held the high honor and respect that Ekha 'Akstamee had. At times, he secretly wondered where his few remaining clan mates had ended up. Unfortunately, he would never know. He was forbidden to even think about them, let alone inquire into their whereabouts.
      He stopped his contemplation as he saw the door across the chamber slide open. Even though the command chamber was dimly lit, Ekha could see shame in the younger Elite's slightly dejected demeanor as he walked through the entryway.
      Ekha clicked his mandibles to indicate his displeasure. "Enlighten me to your progress, or the lack thereof," he growled.
      Yzraa tried to mask his shame behind a defiant tone. "We have lost direct contact with the humans for the time being, but it is no matter. We are following their trail and will have them in our grasp again soon."
      "And how many did you kill in the initial contact?"
      "We cannot be sure," Yzraa chose his words carefully, "The exchange of fire created much confusion. I cannot say with certainty that we killed any."
      "And why is that? Were there more humans than you anticipated?" Ekha demanded.
      "We are only sure of the five that survived their descent in the cocoons."
      Ekha gave him a look of mild disgust. "I know that you are young, inexperienced, and embarrassingly untalented. But to let a few human trespassers in our territory inflict casualties upon your unit, and then allow them to slip away, is an outrageous blunder even for you!"
      "But they had prepared an ambush for my patrol," Yzraa stammered pathetically.
      "Explain this."
      "It began when they exploded a booby trap, killing three jackals at the front of my formation. Our Banshee scout immediately flew low to investigate the explosion, only to be hit by a rocket weapon, which forced him to crash land. Almost simultaneously, the humans popped up from behind cover and blazed their rifles at us aggressively. As we began to return fire, a few more booby traps suddenly exploded near the middle of our ranks, creating momentary confusion. In the midst of this chaos I saw several grunts ahead of me fall one by one. It then occurred to me that the humans had positioned a sniper somewhere further ahead. I looked through my viewing lens to locate the sniper, but he was positioned too far back for me to pinpoint in the darkness. But I did catch a glimpse of the other humans as they withdrew. From what I could see, they seemed to do it in a very disciplined manner, working in pairs with one firing and the other retreating. They moved with impressive speed and coordination. Their covering fire, combined with continued harassment from their sniper, slowed our advance just long enough for them to escape from our sight."
      Ekha snorted. "So you lost a banshee and a handful of my troops. Yet you have nothing to show for it."
      "I would have annihilated them myself had they stood their ground and fought," Yzraa replied defensively. "But their strategy was to hit and run."
      "An intelligent strategy which obviously got the best of you," Ekha laughed. "Are you so foolish to think that such a small force would dare engage us in a war of attrition? They obviously intend to survive using guerrilla tactics... something that the best human warriors are quite adept in."
      "Enough of this!" The younger Elite finally lost his composure. "Whether or not you are in command, I will NOT be mocked by a forgotten and discarded outcast such as you! You are beneath me!"
      "Believe what you will," Ekha brushed off his insult. "Your mistake was not simply in being caught in an ambush. A good ambush can be difficult to detect. Your real mistake was to give the humans enough time to prepare such an ambush. You were too slow in mobilizing your patrol. If you had been quicker to organize, you could have overwhelmed the humans before they had a chance to step out of their cocoons."
      "How could I have possibly assembled the patrol any faster?"
      "Is that meant to be funny?" Ekha hissed sarcastically. "Your response time was horrible! You also conducted your main approached from open terrain, allowing them to see you far ahead of time. You gave up any element of surprise you may have had. As you know, another eight human cocoons fell near the Dawn Storm Group's post. I received word that three of the humans that landed there have already been hunted down and killed. It seems that a more capable patrol leader was able to take a group out quickly enough to intercept those humans before they could set up any ambushes."
      Yzraa clenched his fists, anger emanating in his voice. "Enjoy this humiliation while you can, outcast," he replied menacingly, "for it will not last long. I will lead the effort to smash these humans, and all the others who will surely come."
      "Strong words for one who has never fought in a significant battle," Ekha snorted dismissively. "Unfortunately you will not be leading anything. These human castaways have already proven themselves to be far more formidable warriors than you, and I fear that they may only be the beginning of our problems. While you may regard the grunts and jackals as mere cannon fodder, they are my troops. I will not see you waste anymore of their lives under your incompetent field leadership."
      Ekha unholstered his energy sword emitter, letting the blade flicker to life. It glowed with deadly radiance in the dark chamber, reflecting off his armor. "It is time for me to personally assume direct command in the field."
      He took a moment to gaze upon the bright blade of energy and appreciate its unique beauty before returning his attention to Yzraa.
      "And it is time to show these cunning humans just how helpless they are against a true Elite warrior."

Warrior's Fate, Part 5: Back-up Plan
Date: 19 April 2005, 11:19 PM

Charlie-Alpha Moon surface (Tango Blue Sector)
D +11:26:44

      Tai slumped down tiredly, resting his back against a tree trunk as he unsealed and removed his helmet. He took a deep breath and doused his head with water before guzzling the rest of the bottle.
      Olu tapped him on the shoulder. "You may need to ration your supply. So try not to chug."
      Tai nodded back an affirmative as his squad leader took a more conservative swig from his own bottle. He looked around at his other squad mates, and found himself comforted by the fact that although they were all tired, no one looked on the verge of exhaustion. They had been running non-stop from the Covenant patrol for hours now. That the team had been able to keep up such a fast pace for a prolonged period of time was a testament to the rigorous physical training of the ODST SpecGroup. They had thrown the large Covenant unit into disarray with their ambush, and then broke contact and evaded with perfect tactical precision. Their effective execution and successful evasion thus far provided a much needed morale boost, especially after losing Kravitch, Inoue, and Tahadi during the inexplicable mis-drop.
      The team had retreated deep into a forest zone that was dense with foliage. Much of the strange flora and fauna now surrounding them glowed with slightly fluorescent purple and yellow tones unlike any earthly plant life. Luckily, the Helljumpers' Chameleon model combat drop suits were able to absorb the light around them and adjust color tone to blend in slightly. Although the effect was far from profound, it did provide at least some tactical advantage. The suits were favored for use in covert reconnaissance operations.
      Tai noticed Leiva wiping away blood from the side of his neck. "Hey, you okay there, Sergeant?" he asked worriedly.
      Leiva nodded back, although he seemed to grimace in pain. "Don't sweat it, Superboy. One of those bastards grazed me with a carbine shot, but it's just a scratch. No big deal."
      "Well we better make sure of that," Olu interjected. "Rigazzo, take a look at it."
      The Corpsman got up from where he was sitting and pulled a medi-kit out of his pack. "Can't we let him bleed to death instead? Nobody likes him anyway," he said jokingly.
      Leiva shook his head, giving him the finger. "Asshole."
      After a quick examination, Rigazzo wiped the wound clean and sprayed Leiva's neck with a bit of disinfectant seal. "You're right, old man. It's a pretty superficial scratch. Not even worth a drop of bio-foam, really. But you're lucky. A little to the left and it would've put a hole through your throat, or at least taken out your carotid artery."
      They heard a light ruffling of leaves and branches as Sergeant Ettish climbed down from the tree where he had been perched up high with his S2-AM. He made one final short jump down to the ground below, and walked a short distance over to rejoin his teammates.
      "So what do you have for me, E?" Olu asked him.
      Ettish propped his sniper rifle against a rock and unwrapped a food bar as he replied. "Well, it looks good. No trace of any pursuers. We've definitely shaken them off our tail, at least for now."
      "Good," Olu nodded with approval.
Ettish sighed as he bit into his food bar. "You know, I'm almost disappointed that a few didn't pop up on my scope while I was up there. I need to put down a lot more targets before the score's been settled for Tahadi, Inoue, and Kravitch."
      "Amen to that," Olu agreed bitterly.
      Hearing Ettish mention the names of the three fallen Marines, Leiva let out a grim chuckle. "Damn, Inoue still owed me a shitload of credits from our last few card games."
      "Maybe he'll have something for you in his will," shrugged Olu. "He was a pretty damn lousy card player though, wasn't he?"
      Everyone laughed in agreement except for Tai, who hadn't been with the unit long enough to know Inoue very well. Although the words and the laughter sounded casual and callous, Tai could feel repressed sorrow behind the grim humor.
      "Okay let's stop wasting time," Olu cut the reminiscing short. He knew it was not the right time or place to think about their fallen comrades. "We need to sort things out."
      "So here's the deal. Our encrypted link to the Tecumseh is a dud. So we can't call for any support, and we obviously can't do this job until communication can be reestablished."
      "This is just weird," Leiva shook his head in frustration. "I double verified that channel with the communications officer. It's our assigned channel, no doubt. And I know that Tahadi and Horenstein verified our drop coordinates before we left the ship. So how in the world we were mis-dropped is beyond me!"
      Olu waved his hand to dismiss that point. "Let's just concentrate on getting out of this shit for now. We can worry about how exactly we got into it in the first place later."
      "Okay, so what do we do now?" Tai piped in.
      "From here on, we'll have to revert to the lost comms contingency procedure," replied Olu.
      Standard operating procedure required the team to make a scheduled report back to command every two hours. The lost communications contingency procedure dictated that a ship would be sent out to meet the team at a pre-designated nighttime rendezvous, in the event that the team failed to make a report after twelve consecutive hours. Depending on how bad the circumstances were, the team would then either be given a new comlink set to continue with the mission, or be extracted.
      "They'll send a shuttle to the rendezvous tomorrow night," Olu continued. "I'm hoping that they'll bring us a comlink with a new channel prepared, because I still think we can finish the job between the five of us."
      "Yeah I don't want to leave without taking care of business either," Tai added his support. "Too much has already been lost for this to end in failure."
      The others nodded solemnly in agreement.
      "Okay then," Olu went on. "We have a few more hours until first light. That gives us a little time to find a good hide site to lie up in during the day. As soon as it gets dark tomorrow, we'll haul ass to the rendezvous point. We should be able to move fast enough to make it there by twenty-one hundred hours, provided that we don't run into any trouble. That sound good?"
      "Good to go."
      "Then let's get moving and find our hide site."
      The team immediately began picking up their gear and re-sealing their helmets. As Tai checked to make sure all his gear was strapped on tight, he began to feel better about the situation. Nothing could change the fact that they had been mis-dropped with no communications and had lost three good men. But they had fought the Covies off and managed a successful escape and evasion. Things were starting to get back under control. All they had to do now was to get a functional comm channel from the shuttle and then accomplish the task they had set out to do. With renewed determination, Tai followed his teammates as they continued moving through the alien forest.