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Soldier Girl Part 14: Time to Go
Posted By: Adam Stark<Xvash2@gmail.com>
Date: 12 February 2010, 4:02 am

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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.