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A Mighty Sunset
Posted By: Mainevent<mainevent117@gmail.com>
Date: 31 October 2008, 5:41 am

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Submitted for the "You're Doing it Write" Contest

      The majority of injuries that occur in martial arts are to white belts from white belts. As novices, they are still perfecting their form. The purpose of a perfect block is to never let your opponent know he's been blocked. It is to act in such a precise and calculated manner that by the time one's enemy realizes his blow has glanced harmlessly off to the side he is already stepping into a counter. The problem with white belts however, is that they rarely realize the sophistication of blocking. It is about leverage, positioning, and most importantly timing. A block too early or too late is useless. New martial artists too often try simply striking their enemy's blow away with their block, but a block at the moment of attack only shifts the damage from their body to their arms or legs. A perfect block, however, occurs a split second before the attack. It moves with natural fluidity, pushing the blow up or out from the side using its own momentum against itself. As the attacker's own force propels him and his attack forward, the unscathed defender is in prime position to strike at his opponent's heart and deliver any one of a multitude of crushing blows.

      "General Peters, you're command link has been established via radio band. We're not sure how much longer sat-com will be available. It's not looking good up stairs."
      "Thank you sergeant." Peters stared into the sky through a slit patch in the camouflaged netting that served as roof here. It was bright blue without a cloud in the sky, and without the almost hundred percent chance of plasma rain, would have been an almost perfect day. Overhead he thought he could make out the faint outlines of starships and the occasional flash of weaponry, but that was almost certainly a pure mental illusion.
      "Do you need anything else right this moment sir?"
      "Not right now son. Send in the command staff and then get to Major Saxby for orders."
      That young man had been a great addition to his staff, and had he not been so sure that all of them were going to die today, his mood would have been much more somber indeed. A few moments later Colonels Elba, Torres, Burns, and Campbell entered the command bunker's overwatch position, themselves each in full combat gear.
      "Good evening Colonels." Peters shook hands quickly with each as they responded with the standard placid formalities. Their eyes, however, betrayed their own grim outlooks on the situation at hand. "As of oh-four-hundred we had twenty three ships in system. As of oh-six-thirty we had two, both badly damaged. As of oh-eight-hundred there was a classified retreat order--so as of now, we have no ships in system. We are all alone with at least three assault carriers setting up position approximately a hundred kilometers away."
      "They're after the artifact aren't they?" Elba spoke up almost robotically, no inherent emotion carried in his heavy, monotone voice.
      "Yes, we believe they are. After the shit storm on Sigma O four we were pretty certain they'd come after this one sooner or later. Unfortunately for us, it was sooner."
      Brigadier General Peters removed a rolled map from a canister near the single table in the center of the room and spread it flat, sticking pins in the corners to keep it smooth. It struck him particularly funny that they were resorting to such outdated methods. He paid it no attention; he'd never really been a fan of the holomaps anyway.
      "We know several ships have started setting up a camp to our east and northeast. Recon suggests a force deployment anywhere from ten to fifteen thousand troops at this point. No telling how many more we'll see. They set up several remote feeds to watch and I ordered four squads of mongoose brigade to leave some friendly welcoming gifts along the most likely routes to us." Torres said, finishing with a slight hesitation.
      "Go on Colonel."
      "The recon relays are already gone, and none of my squads have made contact again."
      "Christ, then they're already on the move. I'll get on the horn and move my heavies into position. We'll get some lead on target as soon as they cross that rio." Campbell yelled in his usual gung-ho Andalurian accent-- a thick but fast drawl, like a Texan hopped up on G-mack. It was a somehow fitting personality quirk for the artillery and heavy assault weaponry coordinator. His men were all as fiercely fired up and ready to bust balls as he was, and Peters was glad to have him on his side. Torres on the other hand was visibly disheartened by the idea of four squads perishing.
      The mongoose brigades were by nature a unit poised to take a pounding. Lightly armored marines with heavy hitting weapons striking as fast and with as much brutal force as possible naturally tended towards lethal results. There was a reason after all that their insignia was a flaming skeleton riding a mongoose. The only thing keeping them from being split up and reassigned was their effectiveness, especially against armored units and small clustered groups of infantry. It was fitting then that at least sixty percent of their ranks were made up of ODSTs looking for a challenge and the rest were those who'd been dropped from other units for being just too bat shit gung-ho. Torres was an admirable leader though, and took every loss personally. He was also the only Colonel that Peters could recall who had personally taken it upon himself to learn the entire brigade's names and faces.
      "I'll prep the remainder of the Brigade," Torres whispered.
      "Snap out of it Torres. If you think that those will be the last men to die today then hand over your command now, because I doubt very seriously if any of us will be leaving here. And I mean that with all the seriousness that it commands. We may not be able to beat these Covenant sons of bitches no matter how hard we try, but we sure as hell can make 'em bleed for every fucking inch they try to take! We've known they were bound to come for this thing, whatever it means to them. Now we have a good position here, and if we stick to the plan then we should be able to send a hell of a lot of 'em to whatever gods it is they worship."
      "Then let's get to it, shall we?" Burns spoke up confidently.

      The location of Tactical Command Center Sunset Two was also known as the Hall of a Thousand Eyes. The superstitious amongst the first settlers here called it that because at night screeching howls could be heard for miles away. As children and misadventurous teens, it was almost a right of passage to traverse the high grasses of the Harvest Plains and cross the small river about a mile from the entrance of this narrow valley. One wasn't required to enter one of the hundreds of entrances to the Hall's caves, only shine a light into them until the mirror-like red reflection of demons' eyes glared back.
      Those demons' eyes were no more than reflections from the local version of coyotes, but throughout the region existed a folklore of danger regarding this place that went beyond rationalization. Always one to seize a mental as well as physical advantage, the local United Nations Armed Forces Command in this theater rigorously expanded deep within the honeycombed tunnels reaching deep into the granite.
      Now, these honeycombs were part of the sprawling military complex that served as this system's primary operations and control nexus. Today, however, was the first day that Sunset Two's strategic advantages would be rigorously tested.
      The Covenant wouldn't bombard this area from space like they had so many other planets before. These artifacts they coveted so much were far too important to them to risk incinerating, even if it meant that their own troop casualties would number in the tens of thousands instead of mere dozens. Peters had gambled as much in preparation for whatever force would come for this most prized of possessions.
      Along the East and Western shoulders of the tall valley walls were dozens of automated anti-aircraft missile and turret systems designed to eliminate the lightly armored Seraph bombers and Banshee attack craft which could easily tear through the front lines. Entrenched deep into reinforced bunkers were thirty-one Scorpion main battle tanks, ready to rain hell from up to a mile and a half away. Pill boxes were scattered throughout the hillside, brimming with mounted machine guns and snipers chomping at the bit to saw through the lightly armored infantry that was bound to charge their position.
      There were thirty-two hundred men and a million ways to die, but not a coward in the lot.

      "Assassin-two-one to Eagle-one-one, bogies in your weeds."
      "Eagle-one-two to Assassin-two-one, Eagle-one-one down. We're breached, I say we're breached. That last wraith mortar has us dead to rights in here."
      "Sunset Two to Eagle-two-one, can you fall back to secondary positions?"
      "I don't, I mean Eagle-two-one believes that we'd be overrun too quickly. They're really pouring it on thick here."
      "Roger that Eagle-two-one, hold your position as long as possible."
      Peters set the receiver on the table and turned to his kill switches. Two boards full of death. Each lighted button was a demolitions charge for a certain bunker entrance to the main compound. They were his tourniquet to stem the bleeding in situations like the one Eagle-two found itself in. He closed his eyes and depressed the button. There was too much noise and flashing for the general to see or hear the repercussions, but he knew without seeing it what had happened. That was the sixth light he'd put out today, and certainly not to be the last.
      Torres rushed into the command post, sweat dripping in thick globs from his forehead and his hands covered in oil. "Mongoose brigade is ready to go sir! We're getting slaughtered out there. We've got to do something! I can't keep my men sitting back any longer. Unleash us!"
      "With those aircraft out there your men'll get chewed to pieces!"
      "My men are more than capable of handling themselves. If we don't do something now it won't matter because the entire base will have fallen. Those mortars are crushing us."
      Peters grabbed the radio, "Sunset Two to Heavy Actual, why haven't your tanks taken out that artillery yet?"
      Campbell responded angrily, "Heavy Actual can't fire on shit with these little grunt buggers clogging up my firing lanes. We took out seven of the big bastards and they hit us with ever monkey fuck midget they could scrounge up! Most of them are out of our firing lines anyway, they're trying to pull us out so they can cream us from above."
      Peters switched channels to Burns, "Sunset Two to Sunset Falcon, why haven't we taken their flyers out?"
      "Sunset Falcon to Sunset Two, they've got us jammed. They're locking us up with a million fake pings, sending hits back a hundred a minute. Our guns are just firing at air, I had to turn 'em off or we'd run dry in fifteen."
      "Where's it coming from Sunset Falcon?"
      "There's a funky looking transport behind their wraiths, but it's gonna take some helluva hammer to nail that thing."
      "Lucky day, I've got one on standby. Give me five Sunset Falcon."
      Peters dropped the radio and turned to Torres. A nod. Torres smiled grimly and sprinted from the room. The general stared back through the slit in the ceiling, a beautiful day still. Just a few more hours left. Just gotta squash a few more bugs.

      They made a wicked growl, mongooses. Torres was jarred hard to the right as a fuel rod charge sliced into the earth, kicking dirt and pebbles onto his back. Another bolt found its mark ahead and to the left, engulfing another pair in lime-green flame. His target was a suicide run, but weren't they always? There were at least six wraiths and four hunter pairs surrounding the transport, and numerous infantry taking wild pock shots.
      He flipped his helmet's eye-piece down and designated the target. Every other member of the brigade was instantly nav-marked to the target. There was a throaty growl as two more ATV's sped by like lightning. A wraith caught 'em first, spewing its white-hot plasma their direction. One banked hard left and easily avoided the shot, but the other was a split-second late and clipped by the blast. The passenger soared twenty feet and landed at a hunter's feet. A mammoth plate of covenant steel came crushing down, killing him instantly.
      The blue-orange beast dissolved in a crimson flash as two other mongoose teams lasered the creature back to hell. It's partner roared in fury and stormed ahead, firing wildly and crushing two hapless grunts in its path. An Elite barely survived as the enormous hunter smacked it brutally aside like tissue paper. Torres fired his SPNKr with uncanny precision, striking it dead center in the fleshy orange abdomen. A geyser of orange corporeal fluid sprayed in every direction as the bisected halves fell to the ground.
      The tires slid on the soft ground and the back of his vehicle spun wildly. Torres clutched his harness but it was no use. The two-man team flew off in separate directions. A heavy blue hoof crashed down in the mud, throwing tiny brown droplets into his face. Torres' weapon was too far away to reach. The Elite growled with victory, unsheathing and activating its sword at its side. There was a flash and shimmer and then a fountain of blue. Three cigar smoke trails snaked back to the hillside. He owed someone back there a pint.
      Air crackled as ionized hate sizzled through the air, punching thick holes in the Covenant command craft. It listed to its side and dug into the dirt. Another second later and a barrage of rockets streaked through the sky. One struck a wraith mid-wing, sending it into an uncontrollable spin; but two more found their targets and the transport erupted in a fireball. Two mongooses swerved hard and stopped criss-crossed between Torres and the tanks.
      "Get on sir!" A sergeant screamed from the back of his vehicle. Torres shook his head, there was no room and his leg was broken. The man hopped off and rushed the Colonel, hefted him onto his back, and dropped him onto the rear of the vehicle. His driver tossed him his weapon and throttled full forward back to base. The soldier disappeared as a wide swatch of ground columned into the air in the distance.

      Burns unsafed the turrets and the hillside erupted in twice as much firepower. Twenty-thousand rounds of ammunition a minute streamed from dozens of anti-air batteries. Two banshees which had been firing sporadically at the hillside were eviscerated by the explosive shells mid-air. A homing missile struck into the sky and curved sharply, nailing a Seraph's engines and knocking it end over end before crashing into the mountain.
      "Sunset Falcon to Heavy Actual, the skies are clear!"
      Scorpion tanks poured from the mountainside and shook the battlefield with their fire. Four wraiths disappeared immediately and three more attempted to limp to safety. It was no use; within three seconds the auto-loaders had primed and packed the next round. They erupted in blue flame and flying steel.

      Field Marshall Ulau 'Imatee had never been so disgraced in over thirty battles he'd been charged with. He braced his mangled right arm with one hand and stumbled away from the command center's flaming shell. This entire place was infected with the impure swine, and they were far more fierce on the ground than the fleet commanders ever gave them credit for. His plan had been flawless until these primates had charged them with suicidal abandon on the poorest excuses for combat transports he'd ever witnessed. Even the pathetic grunts had been formidable on ghosts. These miserable heathens flung themselves wildly towards his center and tore his ship to shreds.
      There was nothing but shame left, but there was only one option left to win the day. He called for reinforcements with bitterness in his voice, and was surprised how easily command overhead obliged. The prophets' desire for these artifacts took precedence over the normal hostility he'd have encountered for his incompetence. Overhead six ships pulled into range and slowed to a halt. Legions of troops poured from their bays.
      Ulau clacked his mandibles with joy, he wouldn't be caught off guard again.

      Peters watched as the heaviest carriers from the assault pulled in overhead. Within minutes swarms of fresh Covenant were on the ground and marching their direction. He smiled wryly and pushed a separate kill switch. Sunset Two shuttered and groaned as a Turok missile soared skyward.
      Once in space it detached its precious cargo. A single sub-space probe blinked twice before blinking out of time-space.

      Ulau refused to relinquish command to Major 'Issw Zomumee. He barked orders as quickly and fiercely as possible in the searing pain. A flash above caught his eye and he crouched to leap, but it wasn't a weapon. Overhead, tiny pinpricks of light flashed every few seconds. Dozens of them, at least.
      The Luminous Eye heavy assault carrier's dorsal lines rippled and split. Tons of metal crashed to the ground below, crushing hundreds of infantry. More explosions cratered the hull before one struck the primary reactor. Ulau's mandibles fell as the capital ship landed with a massive explosion. Retribution and Fury, sister light cruisers and primary troop transports for 'Imatee's forces also caught fire and began listing. The hulking elliptical structures collided mid-stern and dented like soda cans along their equators.
      The Covenant army fled in disarray, masses of bodies storming from falling debris and human shells raining from their mountain base. Within a matter of seconds, the Fleet of Infinite Justice had been reduced to rubble, and her proud warriors transformed into howling children. She was no more.

      Peters looked through the slit once more. Prickles of orange flame filled the night sky every few moments as Admiral Stanforth's fleet patrolled overhead. It had been the first break the humans had caught in quite a while, and the largest single defeat of the war so far. It was the only space battle the humans had yet won, and they'd lost only six ships in the initial skirmish above this planet.
      It was a risky setup. Stanforth had wanted to destroy the artifact or, at worst, eject it into sub-space. They'd seen what the Covenant would do for their holy relics, and he didn't want another system falling to them for it. General Jacobi Yrsen suggest that they use this to their advantage. After the brief skirmish overhead led the Covenant into complacency, it was up to Peters to accomplish the real miracle.
      Sunset Two had to inflict enough casualties to pull as many Covenant ships together for support as possible. The command staff had never imagined they'd pull eight CCS class ships in. The brilliance of the plan came in the simple knowledge that Covenant ships had to lower their shields for their gravity lifts to work, and that's when they struck.
      Humanity, the marines, Sunset two. They'd all won today. But today was over, and this meager victory was but a road bump to the gigantic Covenant juggernaut. There would be blood and death before this was over, but for now at least, it was blue and purple.