The Loss of Fire Team Zulu
Posted By: Jake Trommer<email@example.com>
Date: 5 November 2008, 8:24 pm
HBOFF: You're Doing it Write
The Loss of Fireteam Zulu
Sarge? Mendoza? Bisenti? Oh god...the things took them...the things took them all.
---Unidentified Private to MCPO Spartan-117
Gunnery Sergeant Pete Stacker had had some bad days, but this one took the cake.
Fireteam Zulu was holding position inside a Forerunner bunker, keeping the entrance secure so Fireteam Charlie would be able to make it to the extraction zone. This wouldn't be too different from standard strongpointing, except they were in a building produced by an extinct alien species, and they were in a swamp. Stacker hated swamps. He hated the humidity, the murky, mucky mire, and particularly how the fetid water got inside his boots. Sweaty socks were irritating. Wet socks were miserable.
Private First Class Chips Dubbo, on loan from Fireteam Charlie, sidled up next to the Gunny. "You think the Captain will find what he's looking for, Gunny?"
"Damned if I know," replied Stacker. "Why don't we ask him?" The Gunny pressed two fingers against the earpiece of the comm headset slung over his head. "Avery? You got anything, over?"
A gruff voice, hardened by the slums of the Industrial Zone of what used to be Chicago back on Earth, responded. "Not a goddam thing. Dead aliens all over the place, though. Some of 'em have bite wounds, and others---and this is the damndest thing---are dead from plasma fire. Over"
"Weird," said Stacker. "Where are you, over?"
"We just got off an elevator, and I've already counted at least ten KIA Covies. Anything else you need, over?"
"Can you get me the frequencies for Charlie Team's Second Squad? Either Lovik's not answering his comms, or my radios are fucked up. Over."
Johnson rattled off a string of numbers. "You got that alright, Pete?"
Stacker looked at Corporal Hanks, Zulu Team's thickset comm-specialist. The junior NCO nodded. "Yeah, we got 'em," said Stacker. "Let us know if you find anything. Over and out."
There was a click as Johnson cut the transmission.
Dubbo looked intently at Stacker. "Gunny...what the hell is this place?"
At that moment, Stacker fervently wished he had a cigar like the ones Avery was always chomping upon. Johnson, despite his E-6 rank compared to Stacker's E-7, had advised the Gunny that, "When you need a cigar...enemies ain't far." Stacker had always dismissed that as mumbo-jumbo nonsense, but now...now he wasn't so sure.
"I dunno, Dubbo. Just stay sharp. And hold down your sector. Understood?"
A half-hour later, the distress signal came through.
Stacker was idly flicking the headset, cycling through the channels, when Corporal Lovik's blared into his ears. It was addressed to Johnson and Keyes, but sent on all frequencies. Wincing, Stacker adjusted the volume on his earpiece, his expression growing grim. The content of the message was extremely worrisome.
"Captain---Sarge---can you hear me?" The voice dissolved to static, then returned. "We've got contacts...lot's of 'em...but they-they're not Covenant! They're just tearing right through us! What the---oh NOOOOO!" The transmission once again cut away to static. This time it did not return.
Zulu Team had all received the signal, and were staring at Stacker with faces that were a study in horror. "Corporal Hanks, get me Corporal Lovik, now."
The comm-spec dragged the radio handset off of its backpack mount, and keyed in the frequency for Charlie Team's Second Squad. Static for a few seconds then---
"Stacker, is that you? Listen to me, Gunny, get the hell out of here! Those things are going to kill all of us. The Corporal's gone and I...shit! No! NO!" The signal cut out.
Corporal Hanks, not usually the most optimistic of people, swivelled to face Stacker. "Gunny, we have to get to the extraction zone."
Stacker nodded. "Agreed. Let's move out, people."
The fireteam quickly fell into line, all except for PFC Dubbo. "Gunny, what about Charlie Team?"
"They're gone, Chips. I'm sorry."
"No, they fucking well are not, Gunny."
"Dubbo, unless you want to die as well, I suggest you fall in, now."
The Private actually bit his lip so hard he drew blood, then nodded. "Ok, Gunny. Ok."
The Gunny looked at Corporal Hanks. "Corporal, get me the evac dropship."
Hanks dragged the handset off of his radio pack. "Victor 933's online now, Gunny."
Stacker nodded. "Diggs? This is Stacker. Head for the extraction zone. Captain Keyes and Fireteam Charlie have either been captured or killed by unknown hostiles, and we need evac now."
"Roger that," came the cool voice of the dropship pilot. "Standing by."
Stacker swivelled to face the rest of the fireteam. "Zulu Team, we are now oscar mike to the extraction zone! Let's get a move on!"
The team bellowed a cry of "OORAH!" and charged out of the door, back into the murky, mucky swamp that Stacker so hated.
Stacker knew they were in trouble when Corporal Frej's motion tracker went off.
Zulu Team, spread out in an arrowhead formation in the fetid muck, all swivelled to face the pointman.
"Friendlies?" asked Stacker. "Is it Victor 933?"
The Corporal shook his head. "I dunno; you might want to get on the horn with the evac dropship, though."
Corporal Hanks, at Stacker's side as always, handed the Gunny the radio handset. "Victor 933, are you there, over?" Static. "Come on, Diggs, talk to me."
There was a view seconds of static then---"This is Victor 933, we are under attack!" Stacker swore as the signal cut out, but it soon returned. "Unknown hostiles are using Shade turrets against us...I've lost portside engine number---shit! Both port engines are out, I----" The signal cut out, and a large explosion sounded in the distance.
Stacker swivelled to face Zulu. "Let's get to the extraction zone! Move move move!"
Zulu Team lurched into the motion, charging for the fetid lagoon that was the extraction point. A blocky, angular shape protruded from the center of the lagoon, two human figures clambering on top of it. One of them raised an M6D, and shot off a round. A bright orange flare shot into the air, illuminating the wreckage, the pilots...and two inhuman silohuettes climbing the Pelican.
"Diggs!" yelled Stacker. "Watch out!"
The pilot let out a yell, and triggered a three-round burst from his M6D. The panicky shots missed. One clipped the co-pilot's head, knocking him unconcious; the others sailed off into the swamp. Next to Stacker, PFC Dubbo hefted his MA5B, and let fly the contents of the clip. The things attacking Diggs danced spasms of death, then fell into the water.
Diggs, a trim man with light brown hair, came over to Zulu. His coveralls were stained with green fluid. "Gunny...we gotta get out of here..."
"Consider it done. Zulu, is the area secure?"
The Marines panned their weapons around the area. Nothing could be heard above the sounds of whatever creatures inhabited the swamp. Growling, moaning---a sudden scream.
"What the hell was that?!" exclaimed Dubbo.
Something could be heard in the channel leading to the lagoon that was the extraction zone. It was the sound of something human-sized or larger crushing vegetation underfoot. There was a brief splash as whatever it was entered the water...then nothing.
Fireteam Zulu warily panned their weapons around the extraction zone, each man's face possessing different degrees of shock and fear.
Something exploded out of the water next to Corporal Hanks, and wrapped a not-quite human arm around him. Stacker let out a cry, hefted his shotgun, and let fly a round of 8-gauge magnum shot. The thing that had a hold on Hanks let out a roar, and collapsed, but not before its arm twisted hard on the Corporal's neck, snapping it.
Zulu surrounded the corpse of the attacker. It wore Marine armor. One arm was carrying an MA5B. The other was a mass of tentacles. The thing's head still bore human features, and was twisted at an ungodly angle. It's skin was the color of corpseflesh. Three sensory feelers protruded from its chest.
Stacker was acutely aware of someone throwing up behind him.
"Alright," said Stacker. "Alright. Fall back to the bunker. Move. Move!"
The Marines beat a steady retreat, panning their weapons around the swamp as they backpedaled towards the Forerunner bunker. Fear shined in each man's eyes, and Stacker was sure it was in his as well. The bunker was now only a hundred meters away, but the Marines knew better then to relax yet. That was why it didn't come as much of a surprise when four of the horrific things lunged out of the vegetation and tackled one squad member each. The Marines all went down, their necks snapped and chests punctured.
Stacker and the six surviving members of Zulu Team, plus Diggs and Dubbo, opened up on the creatures, dropping them. By now, they were at the bunker entrance. The Marines moved fast. Dubbo and Corporal Frej flanked the entrance, training their assault rifles on the opening. The other Marines, plus Diggs, circled up around Stacker.
"Alright," said Stacker. "Alright. We have to hold out. If I know Avery, he's probably giving those things five kinds of hell right now. If we can hold out until Charlie team can rendezvous with us, we'll be able to use their radio to call for evac. Henriks, Frenkel, Diggs: stockpile all the ammo, weapons and medkits we have. Dubbo, Frej, Jind---" The two Marines guarding the door looked up. "Lay some traps. When those things come back, I want to be ready. Yover, Cov...just hold that entrance. Questions?"
Dubbo raised his hand. "Gunny, what about---"
"Dubbo, I can't raise Charlie Team. Moreover, we gotta hold the line at all costs. We can't afford to weaken ourselves by sending men inside the facility to find them. Understand, Dubbo?"
The PFC's face was grim, but Dubbo stiffly nodded his assent. "Aye-aye, Gunny."
Two hours later, the lift in the room Fire Team Zulu was defending hummed to life and descended. Stacker and Dubbo raced over to the chasm and looked down. They couldn't see the bottom.
"Could those things have figured out how to work the lift controls?" asked Dubbo.
The holopanel at the top of the chute clicked, hummed and flashed. Stacker cast a glance back at the six Marines and one Navy pilot holding position in front of the entrance. He hoped they could hold out for a while longer. "Looks like we're about to find out."
The lift was by now only a few a meters below Zulu's position. Stacker, peering down the chute, caught a flash of green---the color of the alien attackers.
"Shit," spat the Gunnery Sergeant. "Zulu, stand to! We got hostiles, coming up the lift!"
Diggs, Frenkel, and Jind ran over, racking rounds into their shotguns (the pilot had availed himself of Zulu's weapons cache). Stacker inhaled a slow breath, pumped his shotgun, and leveled the ironsights at the lift.
An giant stood atop it, clad in banged-up green MJOLNIR battle armor, an M-90 shotgun clutched in his hands, and an MA5B slung over his back.
It was the last Spartan, the Master Chief.
"We sure could use your help, Sir," was all Stacker could think of to say.
PFC Dubbo, in a somewhat more articulate frame of mind, raced up to the Chief. "Sir! Thank God you're here, we've been lost down here for hours. After we lost contact with the rest of the mission, we headed for the RV point, and then these---these things---they ambushed us. We gotta get out of here, Sir."
The voice that crackled over the Marines' headsets was almost more welcome than the fortuitous arrival of the Chief. "There's a large tower near your position," came the voice of Carol Rawley, callsign Foehammer. "Head out there, and I can come in and pick you up."
Stacker looked at the Chief. "Sound good to you, Sir?"
The Spartan didn't speak for a few seconds. "Gunnery Sergeant, Fire Team Charlie is dead."
Stacker snuck a look at Dubbo. The Marine's eyes had widened, and he was tightly gripping his shotgun. "I'm sorry to hear that, Sir. If you don't mind my asking---how do you know?"
"Helmet recorder chip, from PFC Jenkins' cam."
Stacker briefly recalled a young Private from Harvest with rust-colored hair and a nervous attitude. Jenkins hadn't been the best Marine in the platoon, but he'd given all he could to the Corps.
Including his life, it would seem.
"Aye aye, Chief. We'd better get oscar mike. Feel free to take any ammo and medkits from our stockpile." The Chief nodded, and moved to grab some shotgun shells. Stacker swivelled to face Zulu. "Alright, Marines, we are leaving. Grab any ammo and medical supplies you need, and let's move!"
The Marines dug into the weapons cache, knowing they wouldn't be seeing it again. Stacker, focused on gearing himself up as best he could, was vaguely aware of Diggs asking Dubbo whether or not he was loading the shotgun shells backwards. The Gunny inhaled, pumped the slide, then turned to the Chief. "You ready, Sir?"
The Spartan's helmet inclined in a nod. "I'm ready."
Stacker nodded, inflated his lungs, and belted out in his best parade-ground voice: "Fireteam Zulu: stand to!"
By unspoken agreement, the Chief took point as the Marines charged for the new extraction zone. Stacker, next in line, warily panned his shotgun around the swamp. When the gurgling of the creatures sounded in the mist, the Marines almost relaxed. Almost.
The crackling of assault rifle and shotgun fire sounded in the swamp as the Marines charged for the extraction zone. Stacker and Corporal Frej had just dropped an ex-Elite monstrosity with duel shotgun blasts, when the Corporal let out a cry and collapsed with a new disgusting being on top of him: a yellow, spiderlike creature.
Stacker hesitated to fire as Frej struggled with the creature. The shotgun would only kill the Corporal, and he had no other weapon. But the Corporal stopped struggling and collapsed, so Stacker turned to move on.
A horrific cry caused him to swivel around.
He turned around in time to see the thing dive into Frej's chest. The junior NCO spasmed, screaming, as spots of gray-green flesh broke through his armor. As Frej's face was transformed into the alien skin, the Corporal let out a frightful gurgle, then dropped.
Three red feelers popped out of the thing's chest, and then two bone whips cracked out of the man's arm. The newly-transformed thing lunged to life, hurling itself at Stacker. The Gunny triggered a shotgun shell into the thing's chest, shredding the infection form within.
"Gunny!" shouted Dubbo, "we are leaving!"
Stacker once again threw himself forward, falling back in with the rest of the fireteam, which he with a jolt noticed only consisted of three men now, plus Diggs and Dubbo. Frej, Frenkel, and Henriks had fallen; Cov, Yover and Jind were still pushing foreward, triggering shotgun rounds at squid-things and ex-Marines/Elites.
The lagoon of the extraction zone was visible, as was the squad cylinder of a tower jutting up from it. Stacker clicked his headset online. "Foehammer, we're at the extraction zone, get down here now!"
"Roger, Fire Team Zulu," came the pilot's voice. "On my way."
"Gunnery Sergeant!" cried Diggs. "Incoming, high on your nine!"
Stacker looked up, and saw six blocky machines swooping towards the lagoon, bright yellow lights showing on their "noses". The creatures unslung boom arms, as the lights on their noses grew brighter. Suddenly, laser beams erupted from the machines, and lanced out to impale one of the monstrosities assailing Zulu.
"Alright," said Stacker. "Hold fire, they're friendlies."
Private Jind lowered his rifle, and was promptly tackled by three of the yellow squids and an ex-Elite. Stacker unloaded three shotgun rounds into the group, mercy-killing the Private, and offing the three aliens.
"Where's the Chief?" cried Dubbo. "The Chief's gone!"
Stacker swivelled. Foehammer's dropship, Echo 419, was descending into the swamp, but the Spartan was nowhere to be found. "The Chief can take care of himself," said the Gunny. "Get on Echo 419! Move!"
Diggs, Stacker, Dubbo, Yover, and Cov piled into the dropship's troop bay. "Foehammer!" yelled Stacker into his headset. "Punch it! Go go go!"
The dropship's belly thrusters flared to life, pushing Echo 419 out of the murky swamp. But the unknown aliens weren't done yet. An ex-Marine and ex-Elite lept into the troop bay, accompanied in good order by four squid-things.
One of the squids dove into Yover's chest, causing the Corporal to flail around wildly. Stacker unslung his shotgun and pumped a round into Yover's chest, causing him to slacken. The ex-Elite and Marine sank their bone-whips into Cov's chest, collapsing his lung. A hail of shotgun pellets from Diggs and Dubbo shredded the both of them, plus the squids swarming over Cov's corpse.
"Foehammer!" shouted Stacker. "Close the troop bay, now!"
The clamshell doors hissed shut, sealing the Marines off from the swamp and the horrible creatures within.
"Look!" exclaimed Diggs. "Jonesy's still alive!"
Stacker and Dubbo peered out through the window. Indeed, Victor 933's co-pilot was alive, looking very much the worse for the wear. He was crouched over a small radio transceiver, and had a small weapons cache of shotgun and pistol ammo next to him. His face looked like a man facing an imminent death.
"Turn the ship around!" bawled Diggs.
"Foehammer, stay on course!" barked Stacker.
The crewman incredulously stared at the Gunny. "He's still alive! We can save him!"
"Diggs, I just lost my entire fireteam to those things. I am not going to risk you and Dubbo just so we can---"
"Too late," said Dubbo.
All eyes turned to face the window. The combative aliens were advancing on Jones's position. The co-pilot pressed a button on the radio, hefted his shotgun, and fired off two shells. Then, perhaps undergoing a change of heart, he tossed the shotgun to the ground, and hefted an M6D.
Diggs realised his co-pilot's intent before the others. "No!"
The co-pilot shoved the barrel into his mouth, and pulled the trigger. The squid things swarmed the corpse in seconds, no doubt to sate their hunger with another body.
Stacker looked at Dubbo and Diggs. Both wore the same haunted, horrified expressions he knew he had on his face as well. "Where to, Gunny?" came Foehammer's voice.
Stacker sighed. "Take us to Alpha Base, Foehammer. Major Silva needs to know about this."
And as the Pelican vectored out of that evil, evil place, Stacker wondered how he would ever survive the knowledge that the ten men he had trained and bonded together had died under his charge.