Attack on Installation 06, part 22
Posted By: Jake Trommer
Date: 19 June 2009, 12:21 pm
Attack on Installation 06
2200 Hours, July 09, 2553 (Military Calendar)
Tharidanis System, Installation 06
The edge of the storm system, along with the ocean it hovered over, was finally visible. Lieutenant Sarah Anderson, better known to practically every other person in a uniform by her callsign of Hocus, breathed a sigh of relief.
Her co-pilot, Warrant Officer Daniel Shilds, echoed those sentiments. "Thank God, LT. It'll be clear flying from here on."
Hocus shot a look at Shilds; even though her mirrored visor obscured her face, Shilds winced from the censure behind it. "Warrant Officer, if we get shot down, I am blaming you."
"Yes, LT," was the meek reply.
The Pelican was by now hurtling over the desert landscape that bordered the facility that the Chief was bunkered down in. It was featureless; the sensors hadn't picked up a whiff of plasma and not even a glint of purple could be seen through the cockpit canopy.
"Goin' dark," remarked Shilds. "Suppressors online...comm jammers active...I suppose I'll go aft and let the First Sergeant know he can insert."
"Over the facility now," remarked Hocus, twisting around to face her co-pilot. "Yeah, get your ass aft and let the Marines know they can move in."
Master Gunnery Sergeant Pete Stacker, following in the Chief's wake, hurtled through the labyrinthine corridors of the Forerunner facility.
"Cortana, anything from Shephard?" he managed to grate out.
"Negative," came the dispassionate reply. "No signals from Third Squad have been received."
The Chief halted his inexorable advance to peer around a corner. "Clear!" he grated.
"Move!" answered Stacker.
The two squads worth of Marines advanced around the corner. Corporal Chips Dubbo, battle rifle clutched close to his chest, sidled up to Stacker. "Think he's still alive, Gunny?"
Stacker was spared having to answer courtesy of a rattle of gunfire from somewhere near the main entrance.
Dubbo made a face. "Yeah, never mind, Gunny."
The Chief looked around to face Stacker. "Sergeant, keep your men moving, we don't have time to waste."
"Aye, Chief," replied Stacker, throwing himself into a run once more.
Up ahead, the Chief had halted at a fork in the corridors, peering left and right as if to gauge which one would offer more resistance. "Sergeant, we're going to the---"
That was when the ceiling exploded, sending down a torrent of rubble, burying the Chief underneath a mountain of what had once been the roof to the Forerunner facility.
First Sergeant Al Anselm stood at the back of Kilo 023's troop bay, surveying the damage by the C7 shaped explosives. "Alright, breach secure! Everyone on the ropes, let's go!"
The twelve men and women of the rescue squad hooked up, the clicks of the rapelling gear mixing with those made as they readied their weapons. Staff Sergeant Johnan Sanchez, Anselm's second, gave a curt nod.
The First Sergeant, for his part, was already standing on the Pelican's blood tray, one hand holding his battle rifle, the other clutching at his rappelling line. A green light flicked on over his head.
"Green light!" came Hocus's voice. "Go go go!"
Anselm leapt out of the Pelican, wrapping his legs around the rappelling line, feeling the familiar sensation of rope burn as he hurtled into the Forerunner building.
Staff Sergeant Sanchez evidently felt the same sensation, judging by the muttered swear he said as he hurtled down the rope.
Anselm landed on the rubble, panning his battle rifle around the room.
There were no Covenant inside, only two squads of Marines led by a horrified-looking Master Gunnery Sergeant whose goateed face mottled with shock as he looked at Anselm.
"Way to go, jackass!" spat a Corporal whose accent placed him as one of Chi Ceti IV's Australian colonists. "You just killed the Chief!"
The Shadow of Intent tunelled out of slipspace into Installation 06's atmosphere, her crew ready for battle.
On the bridge of the cruiser, the command triumvirate surveyed the tactical board, the two human Admirals looking astonished.
"You do realize what you just did is impossible?" gaped the gaunt Brett Harsoth.
Fleet Master Rtas 'Vadum shot his human counterpart an amused look. At least, Harsoth thought it was amused; it more closely resembled the look a shark gives its prey before eating it.
"As you humans say," remarked the silver-armored Sangheili, "nothing is impossible when you put your mind to it."
"Fleet Master!" exclaimed the communications Elite, "Berlin is hailing us!"
"Put her through," replied Half-Jaw. "It is good to hear from our comrades after so long."
The vidcomm crackled to life, and the bald head of Lieutenant Freyyr swam into existence on the screen. "Admiral Harsoth?"
The flag officer in question stepped forward. "I'm here, son. Report."
Freyyr's face was that of a man who'd been staring down death for the past few days. "We've taken substantial casualties, Sir. Bravo Company's all we've got left defending the cruiser; 'Taham's Elites are God knows where, Gunny Reynolds has had a goddam aneurysim, Master Gunny Stacker's out helping the Chief, and Hocus just commandeered twelve of Bravo's best men to help him out."
Lord Hood, watching the junior naval officer intently, stiffened. "Son, who is Stacker helping?"
The forty-year-old Lieutenant decided to ignore being referred to as "son" twice now, and fixed Hood with a grim look. "You heard right, Sir, the Chief is alive, it's not a hoax. Last we heard, he and Stacker were being attacked in this facility---" here, a small wireframe model of a Forerunner building, along with coordinates, appeared on the screen, "---with a substantial number of Covenant besieging him."
That was Half-Jaw's cue to break into the conversation. "I have a full battalion of Orbital Drop Shock Troopers embarked; I believe we can, as you humans put it, make their eyes water. And what is this about 'Taham being MIA?"
"He knocked out his pulse-generator targets, brought Will Reynolds back to Berlin, and we haven't seen him since. Permission to speak freely?"
'Vadum and Hood exchanged glances. "Granted," said the human Fleet Admiral.
"Sir...Fleet Master...if you had a full ODST battalion on board, why didn't you deploy them sooner? We could've used them."
"It was supposed to be a surgical strike," replied Hood. "Get in, neutralize the ring, get out while evac'ing Berlin's crew."
"Understood," said Freyyr, looking as if he did understand, but not much liking it. "One more thing...'Taham has to have defected to the Rebel Elites, Sir...he just wouldn't go missing for no reason."
'Vadum stiffened. "Tread carefully, Lieutenant. The warrior whose honor you impugn has served with me for many years."
"So doesn't that make it more understandable why he wouldn't like us?" shot back Freyyr. "Gentlemen, I have to go. Berlin needs me."
"Good luck," replied Hood. "We'll have you off this ring soon."
"I hope so, Sir," came the response. "Freyyr out."
Gunnery Sergeant Will Reynolds awoke.
That in and of itself surprised the Gunny; in his admittedly limited medical experience, men did not simply have aneurysims and wake up just fine.
Then he saw his surroundings and revised that opinion.
Maybe I'm not feeling that great after all.
He was in a valley, a small depression overgrown with foliage common to the region of Africa that it was located in. A small log bridged the sides of the---
Reynolds suddenly had a feeling he knew where he was.
The Gunny swivelled around to see a face he thought he'd never see again.
Lieutenant Vough looked just like he had the day he'd met his platoon sergeant, kind, cheerful, with a mischevious glint to his eyes.
The last Reynolds had seen of the LT, his head was being pulverized by a Brute Chieftain's gravity hammer. The results had resembled an orange caught in a blender.
"Sir...it's---it's been a while."
Lieutenant Vough apparently didn't see fit to address that. "It's time, Will."
That did not bode well for Reynolds. In fact, it was giving him the chills. "Time for what?"
"Time for you to regroup with us, Gunny," replied a new voice.
Reynolds turned around; several Marines stood behind him, each and every one a face he recognized painfully well. As Bravo Team surrounded Reynolds, all the Gunny could do was gape, "What the hell---"
"It's time, Will," Lieutenant Vough repeated, and this time, an M6D sidearm was pointed at Reynolds.
Gunnery Sergeant William Reynolds didn't even have time to muster a response to that before Lieutenant Vough fired.
In Berlin's medbay, the patient in Bay 327 abruptly flatlined following an abnormal spike of brain activity. Medics immediately identified the cause of death as an aneurysm.
Lieutenant Freyyr stood over Reynolds's body, mournfully shaking his bald head, wondering how the hell he'd explain this to Admiral Hood.
"What the hell do you mean I just killed the Chief?" asked the black Master Sergeant.
Stacker managed to jerk himself out of the horror that had taken hold of him when he'd seen the mountain of rubble falling on top of humanity's best rubble. "That hole you blew in the roof, Top---"
"First Sergeant," growled the other.
"Sergeant-Major, if it'll make you shut up," Stacker barked back, "that hole you blew in the ceiling? The Chief was underneath it, he---"
The Gunny was interrupted as pieces of rubble clattered down from the top of the pile. For a second, the Marines froze, praying the Chief was clawing his way out from the rubble...but no one emerged.
"What is it, Dubbo?"
The Aussie marine looked grim. "Gunny, we better get moving; Shephard's still in trouble."
Stacker nodded: "ODSTs, move out." As his men once more clattered down the corridor, Stacker turned to face the First Sergeant. "You coming, First Sergeant?"
The Marine cast a horrified glance at the heap of debris lying on top of the Chief. "Yeah," he managed to whisper. "Yeah, we're coming."
Sergeant Adrian Shephard knew he was in trouble; it probably had something to do with the fact that he was one of three members of his squad still amongst the living.
On the other side of the makeshift barrier, Corporal John Tower, black dried blood caking his brown face, took a break from firing his M498 SAW to wipe his brow with the bandanna he customarily kept wrapped around his forehead. "There's a ton of them, Sergeant."
Lance Corporal Daniel Strayer, his heart-shaped face flushed red, looked at his commanding NCO. "Maybe we should pull back, Sarge."
Shephard didn't respond, no doubt due to the Grunt attempting to clamber over the barricade. A round to the head from Shephard's SOCOM variant of the M6C pistol dissuaded the unusually bold alien from continuing his attack.
"We're holding the line," the Sergeant growled. "Gunny Stacker will be here soon, with the Chief and two squads' worth of reinforcements."
"But Sarge---" bawled Lance Corporal Strayer.
"We. Are. Holding. Out." Shephard accentuated the period with a grenade hurled at the oncoming Covenant. Whether or not it killed anyone was up for debate, but the screaming Grunts certainly confirmed a wound or two.
Corporal Tower shrugged, swapped out the ridiculously hot barrel of his SAW for a fresh one, and resumed his suppression fire, unintentionally spraying Lance Corporal Strayer with spent shell casings.
Shephard took a moment to inventory his supply: thirty-eight rounds for his SOCOM, and one frag grenade. Gunny Stacker had better hurry up. "Corporal Tower, how much ammo do you have left?"
"Two belts, Sergeant," came the reply, punctuated by a Jackal's death warble. Tower was apparently not bothering to cease fire for the two seconds it took to spit out his answer.
"Two hundred rounds, right?"
"Conserve your ammo, you're likely to be the backbone of our defense." Shephard turned to face Strayer, who had his back pressed to the barricade as if it would vanished if he moved away. "Lance Corporal, how much ammo do you have left."
Strayer's face grew even redder as he fumbled with his M7 and tactical vest. "Erm...two clips left in the M7, Sarge, and one frag grenade."
"You've got ammo, what the hell are you holding onto it for? Get on the bloody firing line!"
The Lance Corporal looked as if he were going to have a heart attack, but he meekly complied, triggering bursts at the oncoming Covenant.
"Elites, incoming!" shouted Tower.
"Shit!" replied Shephard. "Someone get me a plasma pistol!"
"What?" screeched Strayer, who had returned to his cowering behind the barricade. "That's the worst Covie weapon---"
Shephard had about had it with this miserable goldbricker, but he said nothing. "Tower, cover me."
Shephard vaulted over the barricade, searching for a Grunt and soon found one, a silver-armored Ultra. A lesser man would have uttered a witty quip, but Shephard remained silent as he dropped the alien with a round to its methane rebreather. That done, the Sergeant grabbed a plasma pistol and hightailed it back to the barricade, throwing himself down next to Tower once behind it.
"Where are they?" asked Shephard.
"One minor, one major," replied the Corporal. "Both standing overwatch at the end of the hallway."
Shephard nodded. "Don't worry; my HUD's got 'em locked."
Tower knew what his Sergeant had in mind. "Careful with the recoil; I damn near broke my wrist once."
"I'll be fine," replied Shephard, a green glow building up around his weapon. "One away. Charging two."
Tower peered down the barrel of his SAW. "Major's shields are down. Firing."
"Two away," Shephard noted as his plasma pistol sent a green blob hurtling down the corridor at the second Elite.
"I got the minor, but the major's taken cover," spat Tower. "His shields will recharge in a few seconds. Got any grenades?"
"No," growled Shephard, "but I know someone who does."
"No," whimpered Strayer. "No no no no no."
"If you're too much of a pussy to do it, give the Sergeant your grenade, you goldbricking bastard," ordered Tower through gritted teeth.
Strayer held out the grenade to Shephard, his lower lip quivering faster than Tower's SAW was firing.
That was when a hurled plasma grenade affixed itself to the Helljumper's proffered explosive.
Shephard didn't even have time to swear
The muffled thud of a frag grenade, along with the more unsual sound of a plasma grenade going off, sounded from somewhere near the front of the facility.
Stacker skidded to a halt, Corporal Dubbo and the newcomer First Sergeant nearly slamming into him. "That did not sound good. Cortana, contact---" The Gunny cut himself off as he realized his mistake. "Dubbo, contact Shephard, see what the hell that was."
"Roger, Gunny." There was a brief squeal of static as Shephard switched over to the comm channel for Shephard's squad. "Shephard, this is Corporal Dubbo. We need a sitrep, over."
There was no response, save for the crackle and hiss of static.
"Shit," said Stacker. "Keep it moving, people. Hopefully their comms are just down."
One of the newcomer Marines, a bronzed man bearing the chevrons of a Staff Sergeant, shook his head. "I know Adrian; he won't go down without a fight."
Stacker didn't bother to ponder how a regular Marine infantryman would know an ODST. "There's still hope then; keep it moving, boys."
The Marines and ODSTs forged onwards, praying they weren't too late.
The triumvirate of Admirals and one Fleet Master stalked down the Shadow of Intent's retrofitted drop bay. The bay still had the antiseptic smell common to newly minted ships, unsurprisingly so; Shadow of Intent had received this drop bay only several weeks ago, and had yet to use it.Orbital Drop Shock Troopers stood at stiff attention in front of their assigned pods, battle rifles slung over their shoulders, visors polarized and gleaming.
Lord Hood and Admiral Harsoth halted in front of one Helljumper, a huge man, only slightly smaller than a Spartan. Two stars gleamed on the man's chest. Fleet Master 'Vadum hesitated, then hastened to return his fellow fleet commanders.
"General Hugo Silva," said Hood.
The commander of the UNSC's Orbital Drop Shock Trooper corps responded, in a thick accent, "Lord Hood."
"General, I did not know you were assigned to this drop. An officer of your grade does not normally command a battalion." Hood seemed to be genuinely confused, but Harsoth had no doubt that the Fleet Admiral had had some inkling of the Helljumper General's presence.
"My son's memory would permit nothing less," was the simple reply.
Hood had nothing to say to that; Major Antonio Silva had been KIA on the first Halo ring discovered when the Flood-invested Covenant ship he'd commandeered had been destroyed due to the actions of a courageous subordinate. He'd become a martyr in the ODSTs, and for a time his example had hardened Helljumper opinion against the Spartans. The Chief had managed to turn that around for the most part during the actions on Delta Halo and the Ark, but some resentment still lingered.
Apparently, some of that resentment was courtesy of the Helljumper's General.
"General," said Hood, "I know you don't much care for Spartans, but your men will aid the Chief."
Silva's visor depolarized; Hood had yet to see a more offended man. "You dishonor me, Lord Hood," said the General. "I will do whatever is within my power to aid the Master Chief and his men. However, please try to remember that my men are better suited to hunt down and destroy any Covenant forces than they are to mount a holding action at Berlin."
"Noted," replied Hood. "You may drop when ready."
The ODST general executed one of the sharpest salutes Hood had ever seen, and swiveled to adress his men.
The Admiralty trio departed, Harsoth looking rather preturbed. "Can we trust him?"
'Vadum's face was as introspective as the two human's had seen a Sangheili's. "I believe we can. He is almost Sangheilian in his adherence to a personal honor. He will carry out his job to the best of his ability."
"I agree," said Hood. "Hugo was...rattled by the death of his son, but he's performed his job to the best of his abilities ever since we instated him into HIGHCOM."
"I hope you're right, Terrence."
"So do I, Brett."
"Excuse me, Lord Hood, Admiral Harsoth?"
The two turned around to see a thin man, wearing the Recon-specialized ODST equipment given to ONI Section One field operatives, approaching. The eagle of a naval Captain glinted on his chest. 'Vadum did not look happy to see this man.
"Captain Nielson," said Admiral Harsoth, his voice tinted with the disdain he reserved for any and all ONI operatives. "What can we do for you?"
The ONI attache to the Installation 06 mission shook his head. "I've just got something quick I need to clear with you, some orders I got from higher-ups in the Office."
Lord Hood was considerably more diplomatic than his Vice Admiral comrade. "Not a problem, Captain. What is it?"
Through the depolarized visor of his Recon helmet, the ONI operative's eyes were inscrutable. "Nothing special, Admiral. It's just that Vice Admiral Parangosky needs you to die."
And with that, the ONI operative drew his SOCOM variant of the M6C, pointed the sidearm at the trio, and opened fire.
In the bowls of the Forerunner facility where Shephard's Helljumpers were battling for their lives, a small piece of rubble dislodged itself from the top of the pile of debris.
Soon another piece of debris followed it. Then another, then another, and before long an armored green arm punched its way through the top of the pile of rubble.
The Master Chief hauled himself free from the mountain of debris, clicking his helmet comm online as he did so. "Cortana."
"Get me Hocus."
There was a brief click as Cortana switched comm channels. "Cortana to Kilo 023, requesting extraction."
The smooth voice of the Pelican pilot came through. "Erm...Cortana, this is Kilo 023. Request the Chief confirm this is really him."
Cortana's voice contained more than a hint of humor. "Well, Chief?"
"Hocus, this is Sierra One-One-Seven. That request for extraction still stands."
"No mistaking that rasp," replied the Pelican pilot. "Inbound now."
The frag-plasma grenade combo had taken out a significant portion of the incoming Covenant, but Sergeant Adrian Shephard knew his minutes were numbered. The single clip left in his pistol was the only ammo he had left. Tower was down to a single belt for his SAW, and Strayer had expended his M7's ammo some time ago. A pile of captured plasma pistols lay behind the barricade, but Shephard was praying it didn't come to that.
For the moment, the Covies had ceased their advance, but Shephard had no doubt that would soon change.
"I still can't believe you managed to throw that thing," Lance Corporal Strayer said, an air of wonder to his words.
"Neither can I," replied Shephard. "Now grab a plasma pistol, and get your ass on the firing line. Tower, anything?"
"Not a damn thing," replied the Corporal. "Your visor getting anything?"
Shephard clicked his helmet over to VISR mode, better known to Helljumpers as the "tag-and-bag" mode. "Nothing," he said. "Not a single---"
The corridor the barricade faced split into a T-junction about ten meters down. A massive red outline flared from each junction. "Oh, shit..."
"What is it, Sarge?" squealed Strayer, his face redder than ever.
"Get down. Now."
Strayer was happy to oblige, but the Lance Corporal did not quit. "Sarge," he whispered, "what is it?"
Through the barricade, Shephard's visor was picking up two brooding red outlines standing silent sentinel at the far end of the hall. Each one was about the size of two humans standing atop each other, and their red outlines had spikes protruding from them.
Corporal Tower heard the growling noises first, and it didn't take him long to make the connection.
Lance Corporal Strayer resumed whimpering.
"Stay low," growled Shephard, "stay quiet. My SOCOM uses the same ammo as the old '6D. If I get the shots in, I'll be able to take each one down with one shot."
Tower looked incredulous. "I don't think I need to point out the flaw in your plan."
Shephard nodded. "No, you don't, but it's our only option."
His fellow NCO nodded. "Let's do it, then."
Shephard peered the slightest bit over the barricade; the two Hunters were still standing still, making rumbling noises that probably qualified as conversation in their language. To Shephard, it sounded animalistic and that made it easier to kill them than it already was.
The ODST inhaled, held his breath, raised his pistol, and opened fire.
Hunter Number One took the round right to the stomach and dropped, the worms that composed its body spilling out from its armor in nauseating fashion.
Hunter Number Two hunched over, took the round on its arm-mounted shield, and began to charge up its assault cannon, the green glow obscuring its other arm-mounted appendage.
"Shit!" barked Tower. "Sergeant, look!"
Shephard, resisting his better instincts, stayed above the barricade and saw something that scared the living shit out of him.
"Shit," he echoed.
The Lekgolo worms of the Hunter that he had killed were twisting together into a single amorphous blob. And this blob was clearly pissed off that it had lost its bipedal form, its worms glowing an angry red.
"Do we have any incendiaries?" bawled Strayer.
"Too late!" cried Tower, hunching down beneath the barricade.
The second Hunter, its assault cannon fully charged, opened fire, a green stream of plasma hurtling towards the Helljumpers' barricade. Tower cradled his SAW like a baby, Shephard dialed up his helmets aural buffers, and Strayer finally gave in and collapsed into a fetal position, still whimpering.
A massive explosion sounded, followed by a flash of light. When it faded, Shephard and Tower were untouched save for a few steel fragments in their armor.
Lance Corporal Strayer was two meters back from the barricade, his body cut in two. Amazingly, he was still breathing.
Then the Lekgolo worms from the Hunter hit by Shephard hurtled through the hole blow in the barricade, enveloping what was left of Strayer. A horrific cry over the helmet comm pierced Shephard's ears, and the Helljumper had no doubt he was next.