The hail of sizzling plasma sparked over the two Marines' heads like miniature comets. Their blue-white tails streamed wildly behind the bolts as they hurtled carelessly onwards and impacted with dull thuds into the distant tree line. Sergeant Popper turned briefly and fired a trio of shots towards the pursuing aliens. The pistol's explosive rounds lodged in a small rock before erupting into a bevy of tiny gray pebbles that pinged off the massive beasts' shielded bodies.
"I'm running low here." The young man said emotionlessly. His friend wordlessly tossed over another clip of the pistol ammunition, but neither of the two highly-trained Delta Operations members halted for a moment. Stopping was certain death.
Corporal Michael Andrews knelt behind a tall tree stump, leaned out, and unleashed his MA5B's shredder rounds to do what they did best: maim, kill, and destroy. The projectiles hissed through the air with unchained fury, ricocheting off of several of the Covenant bastards, but still managing to rip through a troupe of the little ones. Worthless little buggers,Andrews thought to himself, what the fuck could the Covenant possibly need such weak and chickenshit warriors for?
Another barrage of the superheated matter impacted; closer this time. A nearby oak crackled as the moisture inside evaporated, and the middle-aged tree caught fire. Andrews and Popper leapt over a fallen log and began another sprint towards cover. Nearby, an ancient looking stone structure was jutting up over the treetops within visible range. Whatever it was had to be at least three hundred feet tall. The two men didn't even have to pass a glance to each other to know that's where they were heading.
"Helluva vacation Rich!" Andrews yelled exhaustedly as they broke the forest and entered into a perfectly symmetrical circular clearing. The area was a massive, depressed pond roughly seven hundred meters in diameter; but, luckily for the two stranded and tired Marines, the water here wasn't very deep. The crystal clear liquid splashed up their ankles as they sloshed towards the spire-like central structure. A small school of striped fish circled playfully around the men's aching feet, but darted cautiously away before ever daring to make contact. This system's star sparkled off of the miniscule ripples and cascaded the shallow lake in a comforting dark green glow from the trees.
"It really wouldn't be that bad if the natives were a little more friendly."
"Next time pick the all-inclusive package."
"Don't worry! I will."
Richard reached the granite building first, and frantically searched for a doorway or opening of some sort. Michael turned to scan the forest for the Covenant, but surprisingly found none. He quickly moved his eye to his weapon's scope and dialed in the two-times magnification for a more detailed observation. Absolutely no movement on the tree-line.
"I don't like this. The bastards should have been here by now."
"Didn't I tell you to stop worrying so much and count your blessings? I told you once, I've told you a thousand times, these critters ain't that smart. They're just packing bigger heat."
The duo slowly circled the building before finding a narrow ramp leading up to a second floor. They quickly traversed the sixty feet and took a quick rest behind a small stone wall. The view from here was more than picturesque; it was breath-taking. Overhead, a group of fluffy white cumulus clouds floated in the distance; their dominance in the air tested only by a flock of pelican-like birds with long, stretching beaks and fat gray wings. The trees below swayed and rustled methodically in the shallow summer breeze.
"I don't know if this is trouble or not yet, but I have a feeling it probably is." Popper removed the binoculars from around his muscular neck and handed them to his partner. He pointed towards three small dots on the horizon before walking several feet away and brushing his hands through thick, sandy-brown hair.
Mike took the piece of equipment cautiously, and slowly turned toward the distant specks. The binoculars adjusted automatically, only to reveal three massive round ships. Their hulls reflected a luminescent purple tint surrounded by an aura of light blue: Phantoms. The alien troop transports were the Covenant's answer to the Pelican, and inside each of the hulking aircraft were at least a dozen heavily armed and armored warriors.
"I guess this means we're moving again," Andrews answered the unasked question wearily. If there weren't so many of them this building would have been an ideal location to put up resistance.
"Guess so. I was just getting settled in too."
Suddenly, a massive blue orb of plasma licked into the midday air. The two men ducked instinctively from the sudden rise in temperature and watched as the heat created an obscuring haze in the air. Popper and Andrews raced to the ramp and shuffled carefully down the un-railed path. Mike stumbled clumsily at the base and fell head-first into the sandy ground, splashing water onto his head gear and shorting the electronic eye-piece. He gripped the small black lens and jerked the device away from his face and off of the helmet. The alien fish swarmed curiously around the discarded oddity as it sank into the lake before once again darting on to more interesting things.
Rich grabbed the man's arm and tugged him up. The gap was closing faster than either of the two were comfortable with, and both knew the Covenant ships would catch them before they reached the thick vegetation again. Poorly-timed abdominal pains cut into Popper's mind as he struggled to run on an empty stomach. Neither man had eaten in the four days since their Pelican went down. Memories of the twelve other crewman aboard Falcon Six flooded his thoughts; the men he'd trained with, fought with, and lived with for nine months suddenly gone. And it wasn't even the damned Covenant, he fumed angrily inside.
A primary hydraulics failure had rendered the wings immobile. Pelicans generally carried triple-redundancy systems that would kick in instantly and correct the simple problem, but the recent strain on resources and the necessity to pump out more Pelicans than possible meant corners would be cut; in this case, the triple redundancy systems on the Pelicans. Someone trying to save time and overproduce weapons of war apparently forgot that those weapons needed living marines to use them.
Oddly, the behemoth enemy ships ignored the easy Human targets fleeing for the woodlands. Their eyes were firmly planted on the lake structure before them. They hovered above the central tower in a refused arrowhead formation; probably communicating about what should be done now. Suddenly, another of the gigantic blue orbs hurtled into the air,. The enormous ball of plasma collided with the central Phantom; slicing through the shields and transport with a quick, clean cut. Blue-green fire gushed out of the bottom hole before being quickly sucked back into the vehicle and spurting just as quickly out newly installed top hatch. Rich stared unbelievingly at the sky as he watched the strange plasma missile sail indifferently toward the ring's center.
The wounded Covenant craft shifted chaotically from side to side before losing power and violently careening into the lake. A thick wall of water columned up around the downed aircraft, hovered momentarily, and dropped with a loud splash back into the body of water. Large ripples coursed away from the crash site before gradually dissipating near the white sand bank. Overhead, the two remaining Phantoms broke formation and positioned themselves clearly out of the structure's line of fire.
The two special forces operators watching from below lightly punched each other's fists. Even though neither of them had done anything to bring the vessel down, any help they could get was much appreciated. A thick, clear, blue beam projected itself diagonally from the craft's rear. A dozen highly ornamented Elites were slowly dropped out of the belly of the beast and into the cool lake water. Each of the eight foot tall giants were clad in a highly reflective silver armor, and each wore uncomfortably large head-dresses apparently made from the same metal.
The other ship quietly began dispensing its occupants as well. The sun glinted harshly off of the Elites armor, making it hard to distinguish the newly arriving figures. Richard covered his forehead with his hand, but it didn't help. The silver-white reflection suddenly shifted to a dull glare as something moved between him and the Elites. A semi-reflective blue armor crossed through the water slowly.
"Shit, Mikey. We cot some seriously unwanted company dropping in for dinner."
"I noticed. At least its only one pair."
"So much for the run out there guns a blazing and kill all of those squid-headed sons of bitches plan."
"You're kidding, right?"
"Well, I kinda figured it was just you and me against a dozen or so of them. They didn't have a chance."
Both men released suppressed chuckles as they watched the enemy movements. The Hunters were any marine's worst nightmare come to life. Twelve feet of almost pure muscle, surrounded by armor impervious to anything but high-explosives rounds, and protected by a shield of unknown metallic alloys that could stop a rocket dead without so much as a dent. A cluster of razor sharp spikes jutted off of the back and swayed in the wind. Nobody had, as of yet, discovered why exactly the hunters traveled in pairs; especially since the single recovered specimen revealed that the hulking half-tanks were actually made up from a series of worm-like creatures.
"Okay, Fukijawa, you get us out of this. Right now," Rich ordered facetiously.
"Well, Mister Shaw, I have concluded that using sub-light speeds we should be able to slingshot around this ringworld's natural satellites and re-enter this planetoid's atmosphere at such speeds that we can feasibly crash head first into those alien bastards and use their squishy corpses to soften our landing."
"I God damned hate you Mike."
"I hate you too man, I hate you too. Now lets get the hell out of here."
"I was just going to use my Hunter call too."
"Maybe another day."
Corporal Andrews and Specialist Popper stealthily abandoned the lake structure and its inhabitants in search of a way off of this object. Ever since Captain Keyes had landed them on this unnatural, ring-shaped planet they'd been running missions between the temporary headquarters, hastily established in a large pyramid-shaped structure, and downed escape pods. Half of Falcon Six's crew had been rescued survivors. The irony of the situation seemed to stare the downed Marines in the face. The survivors were dead because they were rescued, and now the rescuers were survivors.
The erratic crack of weapons fire nearby caught everyone's attention. Richard's head jerked in the direction of the sounds, but Mike's were elsewhere. Behind them, the unwanted green sparkle of fuel rod cannons told him what he already knew; they were on the run again. Or so they thought. The sparkling green turned almost instantly into a solid band of lime.
"Hit the deck!" Andrews screamed, grabbing his comrade and leaping to the ground. He covered his head with his hands as the near-solid beams of superheated matter carved through the air only a few feet above. The skin on the back of his hands and forearms sizzled and blistered from the shot. Fucking marksman Hunters, he throught while grunting through the pain.
After year long seconds the tail of the beam passed overhead and dissipated in the side of a nearby tree. The shot had cleanly bisected the wooden pillar, leaving a meter tall smoking stump and a fifty foot tall timber in its wake. The massive bole of wood crashed unevenly into the trunk before leaning dangerously in his direction. Popper managed only a yelp before losing consciousness and slipping into shock. Andrews' eyes widened in horror as he realized that his friends ankles and lower legs had been crush and stuck beneath the fallen log's massive weight.
This isn't how people are supposed to die! The singular act of a fallen tree had managed what a hundred firefights never could; they'd broken him. He slumped against his friend's limp body and checked his rifle. The hulking alien Hunters and insect-like Elites stalked closer. Tears rolled slowly down his cheek; the salty droplets stinging the small lacerations covering his face and forming a salty, bloody concoction that slipped down to his jaw line and working its way forward; taking only a moment to pause on chin before silently dripping onto the leg of his fatigues.
Corporal Michael Andrews, Delta Forces Operator ID 4016278, jammed the butt of his MA5B Special into his shoulder fiercely. His steel blue eyes stared coldly down the barrel at the inhuman creatures responsible for his friends death. At the ugly beasts who would almost certainly kill him here today. Anger channeled itself through the years of combat training and he carefully squeezed the trigger in time with his rhythmic breathing.
The projectiles impacted a nearby Elite's shields for only a second before the energy barrier failed. Mike smiled as the rounds tore thick holes in the high-ranking official's armor and punctured his scaly skin. Spurts of dark purple blood plumed out of his enemy's chest cavity before the growling beast parted its mandibles excitedly. It attempted futilely to yell, but the bullet lodged in his collapsed lung prevented the singularly useless act.
"Special clip! Just for a-holes like you! What, you guys don't like high-explosive armor-piercing rounds?" He cackled maniacally as he emptied the clip. Two of the ferocious bastards dropped from the fire, but the others closed the distance too quickly. An enormous hoof batted the weapon out of his grip while he reloaded, and shattered the small bones in his hand and wrist. His other hand instinctively wrapped around his hip for the M6C sidearm. The metallic glint of the weapon caught his eye; from Popper's holster.
"See what I get for lending people stuff?"
The forest was silent for the second it took the head Elite to raise his plasma pistol.
Twenty Minutes Later
"Over here guys! Two of 'em. Damn, tore up too."
The four man team that comprised Rescue Three converged on the two Marines' bodies. One of the unlucky bastards was face up, legs crushed under a tree. The other; well, he didn't have a face anymore. The fire team had been sent out to look for any survivors of the evacuation, and also keep an eye out for the remnants of a Pelican command had lost contact with earlier in the week.
"Shit man, this is Rich. I went through basic with him. He was a Delta. Toughest son of a bitch I ever met."
"Well, his friend must have been pretty tough too. We got a lot of purple blood over here, and some pretty deep boot prints over there."
"That'd be my guess."
"Alright, radio command. Get the roster updated; we'll have to mark their entire pelican as KIA until we can prove otherwise. These wounds look pretty fresh too. If we hadn't gotten caught in that firefight back there we probably could have gotten here in time."