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The Siege of Palatine: Part 2
Posted By: Arthur Wellesley<arthur_wellesly@hotmail.com>
Date: 13 October 2005, 10:56 am

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Author's Note: On my first entry I made the mistake of saying the date was October 15 when in fact the invasion of Earth was October 20. I have changed it for this entry but that does not mean that five days have passed since the last installment.

0020 Hours, October 20, 2552 (Military Calendar)/
Alpha Sierra System, Palatine II
Onboard Pelican A en route to surface

       "Indefatigable has entered slipspace, Lieutenant," the pilot at the helm of the descending Pelican said. "They're gone."

       "What's the status on the Covenant ships?" Lieutenant John Miller asked.

       "ETA four minutes, sir. Buggers are closing fast."

       Miller scratched his chin. The planetary defenders would have had only about twenty minutes warning once the Covenant made landfall – hardly time enough to organize a coordinated defense. Miller wondered if the added complication of a hundred Marines inbound on Pelicans would be more of a hindrance than a help, but he had to assume that Palatine II would need every little bit it could get.

       "Sir, we're receiving landing coordinates planetside," the pilot said as the craft descended violently into the lower atmosphere. "They want us near the bay, at the communications hub."

       "Alright, son, set 'er down," Miller said, clasping the man's shoulder. He was relieved that command had found a use for him and his men. Inner Colony defense systems were often capable of gross incompetence.

       Miller left the cabin and entered the hold. His men were strapped in, all carefully checking their weapons and calibrating their gear. They were nervous as Miller could well see, being one of the only men on the entire planet to have actually seen combat. There were only small things that gave them away. They breathed through their mouths with a little too much control, they yawned when they clearly were wide awake, their heel tapped ever so slightly on the steel deck. The thought that occurred to Miller before every engagement he had taken part in flitted briefly and distractingly through his mind: how many of these men will meet their end before the day is out?

       Miller decided he would give a small speech to these men, these kids, most of whom were little older than his own daughter of twenty years on the surface below. Normally he did not waste his time with such frivolous matters to professional soldiers, but this was different. They had received no order to go to this place, to fight a battle that would probably be lost. They had volunteered to fly into the jaws of death. It was a sacrifice Miller understood as well as respected. No medals would ever be conferred to these men; indeed, within a few months it was perfectly possible that no human institution would still exist to recognize anyone. They deserved something.

       "Marines," Miller began, and all eyes looked up to him. It had not occurred to him that anything other than the decision to make a speech was necessary, but now that it came to it, he could think of nothing to say that would not drip uselessly from his lips. He then caught the eye of a Marine on his right. He must have been at least eighteen, but his boyish features made him appear much younger. He sat there, his big black eyes staring with anxiety directly at him, focusing on him intensely so that he may forget what was to come. He had not yet lived a quarter of his life yet he was prepared to give everything for a cause of which me must have had only the vaguest notion. Miller suddenly found the words.

       "Marines, from the beginning of human history men have been called up to fight for their homes. Sometimes they chose to and sometimes they were forced to, yet in either case in the heat of battle they fought with zeal for they were fighting for what they believed in, even if that belief differed completely from the man next to him. But even they had a luxury you do not: they could turn and run. We cannot. We fight not just for our homes but for our right to existence. Never before have the stakes been so high, and they are on your shoulders this day. Fight hard, fight beyond your endurance, for you fight to keep the flame of humanity burning bright!"

       Somewhere a Marine banged the butt of his rifle twice against the deck and cried, "Hear hear!" From this a raucous cheer filled the hold as the anxious silence suddenly evaporated.

       "We've reached LZ," the pilot yelled back to the Marines. "Doors opening."

       A green light switched on in the hold and the pressure doors slid silently open. Stepping from the darkened hold of the Pelican into the city of Tarentum caused Miller's eyes to water. The sun was just setting casting an orange glow on the white courtyard over which the Pelican hovered. A thin layer of fog covered his surroundings, almost like a thin layer of gauze that accentuated and reflected the breathtaking light. Miller surveyed the surrounding as the rest of his men followed him onto the surface. The courtyard he had landed in was in front of a massive glass and metal building with satellite dishes and transmission towers perched on its roof. On the other side of the courtyard was a four-lane street and a row of two story commercial buildings built in the classical Roman style of colored limestone and terra cotta roofs.

       Miller's earpiece crackled to life with a transmission. "Captain Miller of the Indefatigable?" a woman's voice asked.

       "That's right," Miller responded.

       "We need your men to protect the southern entrance of this relay station. Past Covenant ground engagements suggest this will be a priority target so they can knock out our ability to call for reinforcements. Defend it at all cost."

       "Wait!" Miller said before she could close the channel. "What's the status of the Covenant fleet?"

       For a while he got no answer and he feared he'd lost her. At last she said, "Covenant carriers are have entered orbit. Stand by for enemy contact." With that she left him with silence.

       A sort of icy fear flooded quickly through Miller. They still had no confirmation that the Covenant would not simply glass the planet. It was a death Miller had been terrified of since its first practice at Harvest. But he had to work under the assumption that an invasion was imminent. He opened a channel to all his men. "Fire team alpha, take position in the relay building in case of any infiltration. Try and enable a firing position inside to cover us. Fire teams bravo and charlie, secure those buildings on the far side and take firing positions."

       Miller saw fifteen men run towards the relay station and the rest head across the street to the commercial buildings. He decided to accompany bravo and charlie teams since he guessed their position would be the toughest. Likely alpha team would see little action, because if the perimeter fell, the Covenant would level the building from a distance.

       It wasn't until Miller crossed the courtyard and reached the empty street that he began to notice the sounds of the city. Although the Marines already defending the station had taken the small care of blocking off both ends of this avenue, the rest of Tarentum was in disarray and chaos. Miller could hear the screams of thousands fill the air amid the accentuated noises of frantic traffic and the general cacophony that accompanies a city in panic. The realization of the slaughter that was to come didn't hit Miller until now. A Covenant force of over a hundred thousand was moments away from making landfall when crowds of untold numbers were still milling in the streets.

       Disheartened, he entered a building near the right end of the avenue. Inside was a small shop selling electronics and various recreational gadgets. He noticed five of his men standing disconsolately around a counter at the back. He walked over to see what they were looking at.

       "Christ," Miller muttered under his breath. For behind the counter, huddled miserably together, was a family of four. The father held his wife and his two children together protectively as if the Marines were the enemy he need worry about.

       "Jackson, get on the roof," Miller ordered quietly. "The rest of you upstairs." As they hurried to obey, Miller knelt down so he was on the level with the man. "Sir, I need you and your family to stay out of our way. You can't leave, but I don't even want to know that you're here. Understand?" The man gave a slow, deliberate nod. He didn't seem offended by Miller's curt tone, only surprised that this seemed to be happening. His children whimpered pitifully.

       Miller cursed again under his breath. It was a complication he really didn't need. Little could be done about it now, and he grimly set to work. He dragged a small display cabinet over to the entrance and propped it against the door. He smashed the front window and brought over a heavy wooden bookcase to provide some small cover. He lay out his four extra magazines on one of the ledges of the bookcase as well as his two grenades for quick access. He leaned back against the side wall, sweat now covering his face due to his exertions in the muggy heat. He glanced out the broken window. The fog had thickened precipitously and the sun was almost down; it would be bad fighting conditions for both sides. He brought down his visor from his helmet and switched heat vision on. He did not order his men to. He trusted they would know what to do from here.

       The fog seemed to usher dead silence. The fierce noises of the city seemed to be subdued by the oppressive mist and for the briefest moment Miller could hear nothing other than the sound of his own breathing. Then, without preamble, there was an explosion of noise. Arms fire and explosions erupted all around him, the fog playing with his senses. He stood up and scanned the street and courtyard through the scope of his A-16 Faulkner assault rifle. He saw no heat signatures.

       "Jackson, what do you see," he asked calmly but firmly on COM.

       Jackson, his squad's ace sniper that he had sent to the roof, reported coolly between the sharp cracks of his own rifle firing. "Couple of Phantoms just landed to the east, sir. Covies inbound our position. They'll be coming in from the left."

       As if to illustrate Jackson's commentary, three Phantoms flew overhead. They earned their names this day, appearing as a faint outline and a collection of purple hued lights floating eerily through the fog above. Miller heard three cracks from Jackson's rifle followed by the dull beating of automatic fire from the four Marines on the second floor. Miller leaned and peered far to the left. The enemy had arrived.

       At first Miller saw only what seemed like a blue tide flood into the courtyard: Grunts, with their super-cooled methane, always led the attack, absorbing enemy fire and distracting the enemy from the real threat of the Elites and Jackals. He opened fire into the flood of dark thermal signals indiscriminately, a constant stream of 6.62mm rounds that tore brutally through the Grunts' backs as they headed steadfastly towards the relay station. From the left approached three round warm spots: Jackals' shields. They set up in a line and appeared full circle, meaning they were pointed right at him. He ducked and rolled away from the window followed closely by a slew of plasma bolts that struck the limestone wall behind him. Molten rock flew in all directions, burning his face and hands. On the second floor he heard someone scream foully for about three seconds before it abruptly ceased. He glanced quickly at the family in the corner. They were shaken but unharmed. He returned to the window.

       Miller peeked from over the rim of the bookcase to survey the battle. Blue figures littered the street and courtyard, yet there remained a handful of Jackals and two Elites that were effectively pinning the Marines down, and a second wave of Grunts were joining the fray. He knelt back down and opened a channel to the men he had stationed in the relay station. "Men, there is minimal risk of infiltration. I need you to move from your position and flank the enemy at my position." He tapped a button on his vest that let out an electric pulse that could be picked up using thermal vision. "Move now, ASAP."

       The aliens picked up their rate of fire. Even Covenant small arms could devastate human infrastructure with startling quickness. Greenish-blue plasma rounds struck continuously on the outside of the shop building up a wave of heat so intense that his skin screamed in anguish. Another plasma bolt sailed through the broken window and struck the limestone behind him sending another spray of molten rock to scorch the back of his neck. He shrieked into his COM, all pretense of composure now gone. "Marines, I need you to get the fuck over here, now!"

       Even as he said it a fresh burst of automatic fire flooded Miller's senses. He peered over the edge again in time to see two of the Jackals get hit from behind by the flanking maneuver and three Grunts drop to the ground. The Jackals turned to face this new threat and as they did so Miller stood up, primed a grenade of his own and threw it at the formation of shielded aliens. Busy deflecting bullets from alpha team the explosion caught the remaining Jackals full in the back, blowing them bloodily into the air.

       The two Elites remained, however, behind a concrete barrier on the far side of the street. Miller called Jackson. "Corporal, I'm gonna get those bastards' attention. Get ready to take 'em out."

       "Roger that, sir," Jackson confirmed.

       Miller readied his second grenade and tossed it on the other side of the barrier. Both Elites sprang from their positions in opposite directions. Miller and the remaining two Marines above him fired at once on the Elite on the left in such volume that the alien never had time to recover and fire its weapon. It died under the withering fire of three assault rifles. Jackson was just as quick with the second. He fired three shots from his high caliber sniper rifle before the fourth penetrated its energy shield and brought it to its bloody end.

       Silence fell once more on the courtyard. Miller ran a hand roughly across the burns on his face, vaguely delighting in the pain, a sure sign he was still alive. Almost absentmindedly he opened a COM channel. "All teams, check in," he commanded, the exhaustion he felt creeping into his voice.

       All teams checked in, one after the other in a curiously leisurely fashion. The amazement that one always felt after combat to be alive affected them all. Miller sat down and leaned heavily against the wall, turning his head to check that the family that he now somehow felt responsible for was alright. Even the children had the expression of quiet fortitude and accomplishment even though they had not taken part in the fighting. It was an eternal mystery how killing was somehow a binding force.

       He strained to listen to the sounds of the city, but his ears rang from the clatter of battle and he could not discern any noise beyond a few feet from him. It hardly mattered; a few minutes later a General Ito rang through on universal COM declaring that the Covenant were retreating back to their fleet. It didn't even faze him when the general went on to say it was likely just a probing attack and to stay on high alert. A small victory had been claimed and they had sent the enemy running. A sort of haggard exultation swept through him. He had done something right today.

       And so he would keep on fighting, beyond endurance, beyond duty, beyond reason.