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The Opening Salvo - Rapier Team
Posted By: Delahunt<delirium.end@realityrefracted.com>
Date: 12 March 2011, 11:16 pm

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1414 Hours, 16 August 2552 (Military Calendar) --
UNSC Stone Cold -- Engaging Covenant forces in the Sinclaris System

The air of excitement about Melissa-G106 as she stored her gear and pulled herself into the SOEIV was palpable. The feeling that her very existence was about to be vindicated was hard to fight, and if not for the years of training, or the presence of the rest of her team, she didn't think she'd be able to maintain the air of professionalism expected of her.

The hatch of the HEV sealed itself and robbed Melissa of what little wiggle room she had had. The pods had been designed for ODST gear; not the SPI armor and extra equipment that Spartans carried. Thankfully, if her years on Onyx had taught her anything, it was just how much discomfort could be endured when a mission was on the line. By the time the pod had gone through its initial power cycle, she barely even noticed how cramped the space was.

"Listen up Rapier Team. I've just received the mission specs from the ship AI. Roughly ten minutes ago, the stolen UNSC Frigate Drop The Hammer had her engines disabled by a Covenant ship and crashed through the atmosphere of Sinclaris Five. It is the belief of the AI and Captain of this ship that the insurrectionist crew can not be trusted to maintain the Cole Protocol; so we are being sent in. We'll deploy with several squads of ODSTs, and our mission is simple: find the frigate, and destroy all navigation data on board. Questions?" On her heads up display, Melissa watched the four red acknowledgment lights flicker as everyone responded to Mark's briefing. "Good. Jamie, I want you scouting once we're on the ground, and giving us long range cover. Melissa, you're with Erik covering our rear. David, you're with me." Four green acknowledgment lights responded.

A buzz alerted Melissa to the imminent deployment The countdown timer appeared on her HUD: thirty seconds until drop. The Stone Cold's bottom bay doors pulled back, and lit the bay with the reflected light off the planet below. Fifteen seconds. The rack of pods lowered in preparation. The final safeties released with a loud mechanical clunk. Five seconds and Melissa firmly gripped the hand-holds in the pod. The inside of her pod chimed, and then, with a sound much like an assault rifle firing, the pods shot out of the ship.

As the pod cleared the bay, Melissa got her first view of the battle. The Stone Cold raced towards the three covenant craft, using its speed and emergency thrusters to avoid the worst of the incoming plasma. Two of the covenant ships moved to intercept the charging destroyer; the third positioned itself to deploy its own drop ships.

The Stone Cold rotated as it raced towards the Covenant ships. Melissa wondered what it was doing, but found the growing lights on the third Covenant vessel far more interesting. Her heart skipped a beat as realization sunk in. "Incoming fire! Brace yourselves!" The words were barely past her lips when the lance of plasma swept across the HEVs' flight path.

Melissa's hands moved on instinct. She pulled at the controls in a desperate attempt to maneuver. The teardrop shaped pod twisted and rolled in the atmosphere. The inside of the pod heated up from the air friction and near miss of plasma shot and the resulting turbulence sent the pod careening wildly out of control. Melissa was suddenly thankful for the lack of wiggle room; lodged as she was in the crash seat, she didn't have the room to be banged around too much. It kept her conscious long enough to see the Stone Cold return fire along the Covenant's drop path, effectively returning the favor while providing momentary cover.

"Pod 12, you're on a collision course! Break left!" The panicked words came through the pod's speakers a bare moment before Melissa felt the impact. She hadn't had time to grab the controls. With the pod bouncing and jumping in turbulence. She was powerless to do anything but hold on and hope the pod would hold out long enough to get her to the ground. Preferably in a single, still functioning piece.

"All pods away."

"Covenant deploying more drop ships."

"Emergency Thrusters at 75% and dropping."

"MAC at 100% Charge!"

That was the report Lauren had been waiting for. Power had had to be redirected from the MAC to rotate the ship fast enough and take out the first wave of Covenant drop ships. It hadn't been much power, but the thirty seconds it took the capacitors to recharge had been harrowing to say the least. They were almost in knife fighting range with the covenant. Not the best time to try for the main gun, but they needed to take out one of the three Covenant ships on this pass or it was all over.

"Mr. Merchison, I want a firing solution on the outside Covenant ship. Set the rounds to hit three seconds apart. Mr. Karas, prepare for port side emergency thrust. We're going to open a door."

"Aye, ma'am!" Both men replied in unison. Lauren took a cleansing breath as quietly as she could. Three-on-One was the odds that humanity seemed to need to even break even in a naval battle. Only Admiral Cole and Captain Keyes had ever won with less, and last Lauren had checked, she was neither of those men. All she could do was gamble on the ideas of those better than she, and do her best to maintain composure for her crew. She hoped none of them noticed the white knuckled grip she had on the captain's chair arm rests.

"Firing solution online."

"Seven seconds until we're passing the Covenant ships."

"Fire!" The destroyer shuddered as the two heavy slugs attained hyper velocity and left the ship. They were so close that the first round was on target before the second had even fully cleared the barrel. The Covenant shields crackled, sparked, and broke under the weight of the first shot. The second impacted seconds later, crushing and pulling part of the outer hull with it as it went in one end and out the other end. Combined, the impacts had more than enough force to over power the Covenant engines, and send it spiralling backwards.

"Impact in six seconds!" Karas's voice cracked with tension.

Lauren hesitated one more second. "Emergency thrust, now!" Everyone on the bridge lurched to one side as the chemical thrusters on the port side of the ship fired all at once. Lauren braced and waited for the sound of super-structure on super-structure that never came. They'd cleared the Covenant vessel. Several people on the bridge cheered as the revelation hit them; Lauren let out the breath she hadn't realized she'd been holding.

"Not to ruin the mood, dears, but the Covenant ship detected and neutralized the trailing nuke." Granny's voice, calm and cheery as it was, had never been more unwelcome.

"But without the nuke-" Merchison silenced himself with a sheepish glance towards the Captain's chair.

"Orders, Ma'am?"

Lauren sighed and stood up. She didn't have time for any other choice. "Mr. Karas, adjust course so we break orbit and wrap around the moon. Mr. Merchison, remove safeties on archer missile pods B, C, D, and E from rows seventeen to twenty five. Target both Covenant ships, fifty-fifty spread and fire as soon as you have the solution. Mr. Li, open a broadcast channel. Tell them that we are the students of Preston Cole. Tell them that we laugh at the ineffectiveness of their so called ships, and look forward to ripping them apart piece by piece. Tell them that unless they are ready to be slaughtered to a man, that they should leave this system immediately."

"Ma'am?" Li seemed confused.

"Do it Mr. Li, be as creative and insulting as you can be."

"Aye, ma'am." A few moments passed with only Karas and Merchison's acknowledgments and status updates to break the silence. "Message away."


"Ma'am, sensors show both Covenant vessels turning and taking up pursuit courses." Everett reported.

Lauren let out a breath and looked to the AI. Granny returned the look and gave a knowing nod. Good, Lauren could relax and focus on her ship and her crew. Granny would make sure what needed to be done was done. Lauren allowed herself a last look at the planet as it raced by. She hoped the Spartans were everything they'd been advertised to be.

1506 Hours, 16 August 2552 (Military Calendar) -- Sinclaris Five, Surface

David's eyes snapped open. He had always been quick to wake; a fact that had saved him from many a potentially embarrassing moment during training. This time however, as the pain suddenly settled across his entire body, he wasn't sure how much of a blessing it was. His mind raced as he tried to piece together where he was. He remembered the claxons, the briefing in the pods, and the excitement of the first mission. The light from the Covenant ship had been blinding, and the near miss his pod had taken had been enough to send him wildly off course. He'd watched as the second shot of plasma had neatly cut through several of the pods, outright destroying some and scattering the rest. Somehow he'd managed to survive. The pod had held, and brought him to the ground in one functional piece, if not completely intact.

David pulled the handle to blow the door. It barely moved in response; the near miss must have fried the circuits. With limited options, David shifted around as best he could inside the pod's cramped space, and set both feet against the door. He braced himself against the crash seat, and shoved with all of his might. The door resisted, creaked, and then popped open as the damaged seals gave way to augmented Spartan strength.

A minute later, and David was free of the pod with his gear re-shouldered. He took a moment to get his bearings in the hilly, dusty, and rocky terrain, while his suit finished running diagnostics. The photo-reactive lenses were still operational, as was the visor polarity. Comms were having a hard time connecting to anything; meaning they were either damaged or the planet was doing something wonky to them. Without comms, he didn't have navigation, and that meant he didn't know where he was. Which, ultimately, meant that his best bet was the plumes of smoke and dust off to the west.

The diagnostic done, David checked the rounds in his shotgun and pistol before activating the camouflage on his SPI armor. He didn't have any time to waste.

It wasn't the first time in her life that Melissa was glad she was as tall as she was. At just under 1.78 meters, she was tall for a female - especially considering her age, - and as a woman, she thought her height might pose a problem. As a Spartan, however, it came in handy more often than not. Like right now, where it meant she was tall enough to be able to climb back into her crashed HEV to reclaim her gear. She still didn't know how she'd ended up outside in the first place, just that she'd woken up on the ground with her armor's photo-reactive camouflage keeping her hidden, and her pod sticking out of what had been a sheer wall over head.

If she had to guess, she figured that part of her armor had caught on the door release lever and blown it open when the pod stopped moving. From there, gravity and luck broke the restraints and dropped her onto the ground. All things considered, she was lucky she was still breathing, let alone functional. Her luck continued to hold as she pulled herself back inside the pod, and pulled the bag containing her gear out. The bag, and more importantly the boxes inside, had come through the crash intact. She lowered, then dropped, the bag to the ground below. Next, she freed the MA5K Carbine from the clips inside the pod, and dropped down into a crouch over her gear.

As her feet touched the ground, Melissa froze; she wasn't alone. Melissa's thumb slowly and silently clicked the safety on the carbine off as she scanned the area around her. She stayed low, and moved as slow as she could. Fast movements could compromise the camouflage after all. A two-tone whistle sounded behind her, and Melissa relaxed. She repeated the tone in reverse and looked to her left as the other Spartan, David, came out of hiding.

Melissa shut her own cloak off, and drew two fingers across her visor in their version of a smile. David returned the gesture. "Are you hurt?" She asked despite already knowing the answer. Unless he wasn't functional David would say no, and if he wasn't functional he wouldn't be standing here with her. Still, it didn't hurt to ask.

"No," The expected answer came faster than she'd thought it would; a good sign.

Melissa turned back to the bag on the ground - David immediately went into overwatch - and opened it. She pulled an M7 sub-machine gun out of the bag, checked the magazine, and set it on the magnetic holster on her right thigh before giving the other packages a cursory once over. It wouldn't do to be carrying unsecured explosives.

"Don't suppose your comms are working any better than mine?" Melissa asked while shifting the packages around in the bag for a better arrangement. She re-secured the bag and set it against her back. A light clicked on her HUD as the armor made the proper connection to the bag's matching photo-reactive covering. David's light on her HUD clicked red, and she looked back up to him. Comms weren't broken, just heavily curtailed. "So, which way do we go then?" David jerked his thumb towards the west, and the rising plumes of smoke. Melissa nodded and reactivated her camouflage. The two Spartans headed west.

Once found, it was easy to follow the trail of the stolen frigate Drop The Hammer. The ship had dug a ravine, wide and scorched, as it skipped across the surface of the planet; and while Melissa still couldn't see the main body of the downed ship, it was reassuring to know they were on the right trail. Neither she nor David wanted their first mission to be a loss. Especially not with navigation data as the prize.

The Spartans had made good time from her crashed pod, but had had to slow down once they'd entered the debris field from the crashed ship. On the plus side, the debris provided a lot of cover as the Spartans moved through it. So far, none of the pieces, even the larger ones, had actually held anything resembling a memory bank, but they weren't taking chances. Everything got a quick visual scan as the two made their way through with the speed and grace of a hunting cat on the prowl.

The ground looked like a broken combination of a grave yard for space ships and a battlefield. Bodies littered the ground; insurrectionist crew members who had died on impact - or before - if they were lucky, and from having momentum and debris drag them along the rocky ground if they weren't.

With her back pressed against a piece of ship siding, Melissa was about to make her next move when David's blinking acknowledgment light stopped her. She looked to his last position, and he made a sharp gesture to help her find him despite the camouflage. With her eyes settled, she could make out the faint details of his outline and clicked her acknowledgment light. His hand moved up to his eyes, then he gestured the direction she was about to go before giving the sign for enemies. She clicked her acknowledgment light again, and prepared to move.

The sky suddenly became unnaturally bright. As if a second son had joined the first in illuminating the day. The source, a large blue comet of glowing plasma, wasn't hard to find. It took a second for Melissa to guess the trajectory and another to get moving out of the blast radius. "Incoming!" She dove over another piece of ship siding as the mortar hit behind her. The blast shook the ground, and the surge of energy played havoc with her camouflage, but other than that left her unharmed.

It wasn't until after she hit the ground that Melissa realized the danger. As she rolled over her shoulder and back onto to her feet, she came face to face with a surprised looking elite. The creature towered over her. Its arms moved out to the side as it screamed a challenge in her face. Even through her armor she felt more than saw the energy blade pop open.

Melissa's training took over. As the elite pulled its fist back to swing with the sword, her boot thrust forward, hard and fast. The blow caught the elite just below its hips. Its shields shimmered and held, but the kick still froze the elite's motions. Melissa used the opening to lunge to the side, rolling while tracking the elite with the barrel of her MA5K. Her finger pulled the trigger before she'd even stopped moving. The gun kicked as it sprayed the elite with a hail of bullets.

Both the assault rifle and the elite's shield ran out at the same time. The elite chuckled as it watched Melissa with its predatory gaze. At this distance, it would barely take a second for the elite to close and get her with the sword. It would take nearly two seconds to reload the rifle and shoot. Just like that, the fight had been decided. Melissa let the gun drop.

The elite roared in triumph as it charged. Melissa's hand snapped down, twisted the M7 off her thigh, and fired a single controlled burst. The bullets slipped through the elite's mandibles, bypassed the pretty red armor it was wearing, and impacted into the top of the alien's skull.

Melissa scooped up her assault rifle, and was off running to new cover before the alien had hit the ground. More Covenant were coming, and, in this sort of environment, being stationary was the same thing as being dead.