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The Marine, the Rebel and the Sangheili: Disembarkment
Posted By: QuantumSheep<quantumsheep@optusnet.com.au>
Date: 8 February 2009, 12:46 am

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April 24th, 2526

Early hours of the morning

"Hey, Lieutenant, wake up…"

The first thing Lyssa knew when she was conscious was the fact that Corporal Walther was standing by her bed, dressed in his usual suit of armour plating, a grin on his face as he looked down at the squad leader who was lying sprawled on her bunk, the sheets having been moved off of her during her sleep.

Lyssa rubbed the sleep matter from the corners of her eyes and looked up at the Corporal, frowning and trying to figure out why he was up so early as she glanced at the watch lying on the bedside table. She had her own section of the tent which was "walled" off from the rest with flaps and dressing screens. After all, she was the only woman living in a tent filled with men…

"Why did you have to wake me up?" Lyssa asked, sitting up in the bed, noticing how her uniform was sticking to her from the night's sweat. One thing she knew she needed was a wash, which was something she had gone without for about a week so far. No wonder she smelt so bad, bad enough for her to be able to smell her own sweat…

The Corporal shook his head, some noticeable amusement crossing his face. Looking around, Lyssa could see that the rest of the tent's occupants were up and gone, having left a little earlier. Something cropped into her mind, something which she probably shouldn't have forgotten in the first place.

"The attack…" She said, trailing off, her memories muddled after a rough night's sleep. The Corporal nodded, seeing that she now actually remembered why he had woken her up so early.

Lyssa huffed in frustration, having preferred to sleep in as she usually did, especially after a night consisting of a few hours guard duty at the main gate, which constituted as sitting in a guard booth doing nothing and overcome with boredom. She lay back down in the bed, thinking whether or not she should wait a little while longer.

The Corporal didn't seem to care too much, although he did make a valid point when he spoke.

"We're going to be one of the first squads in," he said, trying to keep the excitement from creeping into his voice, "we're actually going to be doing something, Lieutenant, after all this time…"

Lyssa knew this was what she, at least, had been waiting for. Right now though, she really couldn't be bothered getting up. The Corporal would have to drag her out of bed…

This was what he did. Rather than ask politely, he grabbed her by the right arm and yanked her off of her bunk, Lyssa steadying herself by planting a foot on the floor. Sitting up and now wide awake, she shook her head when she saw the Corporal grinning in his usual manner and decided that she would probably be better off out of bed than wasting anymore time than she already had.

"Where's everybody else?" She asked, gesturing to the rest of the empty tent, "they all excited enough to wake up early?"

"I can't say that they all are…" The Corporal trailed off, trying to remember the details, "but they all decided to get up early and spend some time on the firing range, especially the new guy…"


The Corporal nodded.

"Yeah, him," he said, "I don't think he's looking forward to this too much…"

That was understandable, considering Lawrence had only been here for about three months and had never actually been in any large scale firefights. The guy, from what Lyssa could tell, was a bit of a sissy, having probably been forced to join the marines be someone else, probably his father, especially since if said father had been a marine once. Now that she was thinking about it, Lyssa determined that if this father-son thing was the case, she could easily imagine Lawrence's father to be some grumpy middle-aged war vet in a wheelchair.

"He'll be fine," Lyssa replied simply, "we're always fine, aren't we?"
The Corporal wasn't sure how to reply and took a moment to come up with an answer.

"What do you mean?"

"I mean us," Lyssa said, "that we're always fine during operations like this. That's what I mean."

Corporal Walther nodded, although he didn't look too sure.

"Remember what happened to Jack?" He asked, "He wasn't alright then…"

Lyssa felt a pang of guilt at the mention of the young Private's name. Usually she hadn't felt much guilt over his death but now she felt strangely responsible, after all she was the squad leader. So far six people had died under her command and she was hoping that number wouldn't increase, but then again this was war and death was common and often unavoidable.

"He had half his face blown off, what do you expect?" Lyssa asked, sounding a little scornful, "you try living when your brain's sticking out of your head…"

The Corporal shrugged, he hadn't been too close a friend to Slatham and so didn't particularly care much over his death. Being a part of the squad he was obligated to, but being Corporal Walther he didn't feel like it. He seemingly never felt guilty about anything.

"I would if I could," Walther replied, managing a grin which was more unnecessary than anything else. Lyssa, figuring she should get ready, stood up and stepped over to the bedside table, finding her armour plating neatly stacked in a pile on the floor close to it. Beginning to place it on top of the uniform she had slept in (changing clothes wasn't too common an occurrence at the camp), she adjusted the tightness, making sure it fit snugly on her, allowing for room to move but ample protection. This armour had so far saved her from copping a few bullets but to top things off, some of the rebel soldiers wore the same kind of armour plating and were being equipped with armour piercing bullets.
Which was why Lyssa preferred the philosophy of "aiming for the head" since most rebels didn't wear much protection on that area. She didn't either, picking up her NCO cap from the bedside table and gladly placing it on her head so it sat snugly. She liked the look it gave her but it otherwise didn't have the ability to absorb the impact of bullets, which didn't particularly matter at this time…

"You look good in that outfit," Walther found himself saying. He didn't seem to realize what he had said until he had finished speaking, giving an unsure expression, although Lyssa just nodded.

"Thanks," she said. Usually she would ignore such comments, but what that pilot, Rick, had said to her seemed to have had more of an effect on her than she had first realized. She was beginning to think he had been right about her being too "tough" and hard to get through to, although she knew that was how she had survived her time on KV9-X7. She supposed that if Rick had a problem with it he would have to put up with it.

The Corporal took in Lyssa's look for today before gesturing to the tent exit.

"Everybody's meeting outside," he said, "we better get out there…"
Lyssa nodded, following the Corporal out into the sunlight and the heat, squinting as her eyes adjusted to the sudden excess of light. The sand crunched beneath their boots as they made their way past rows of tents, other marines heading to where the Pelicans had gathered on the landing strip, a few familiar figures already there.

"Kilgore's been telling everybody his life story," the Corporal said jokingly, "and that camera crew's been filming the whole thing."

Lyssa could make out Kilgore, dressed in the same outfit as yesterday but probably a clean set of it. He seemed to be chewing on something, probably gum, as he stood in front of the four parked Pelicans, standing on top of a closed weapons crate while facing the group of about thirty marines that had gathered around. He was strutting around in his usual manner which seemed to indicate he thought he owned the place.

Lyssa didn't feel like listening to a middle-aged man drone on about past experiences but he was standing in everybody's way and was in charge of the whole operation by the look of it. The General was nowhere in sight, probably in his office smoking cigars with the other officers.

Lyssa heard the crunching of boots on sand behind her and she turned around, coming face-to-face with Rick Palmer. She formed an annoyed expression, frowning at him, trying to figure out why he would be bothering her now. Rick merely smiled, keeping his cool as always.

"Hey Lyssa," he said, "You know what's happening today, don't you?"
Of course she did, Lyssa shook her head at the stupidity of the question but tried not to let him annoy her too much. The Corporal was looking on from behind Lyssa, unable to hide his dislike of Rick, giving the man a rather distasteful glance. Rick was hard to like, even if the Corporal hadn't met him before. Lyssa knew she was having trouble liking him as well.

"Of course I know what's happening today, you idiot," Lyssa said, a hint of authority creeping into her voice, trying to intimidate the pilot and hopefully get him from annoying her much more, "I am in charge of one of the squads going in first…"

"After I and my buddies lay waste to the place," Rick said, attempting to signify the flight of a Shortsword with one of his hands, swooping it down in front of him like a fighter and giving adequate whooshing sound effects, "there won't be much left when you people get there, I tell you now."

Lyssa wasn't convinced. All the pilots she had met so far had been like this, boasting about this kind of thing, how they could do the job themselves and there wouldn't be any point in sending any marines, that kind of thing.

"Uh-huh," she said, humouring the overconfident pilot, "what if someone gets shot down? You know as well as I do that the OCPLF has good anti-air defences…"

"Those will be the first things we take out," Rick said, smiling in pleasure at the thought of blowing something up, "and besides, it's only a supply depot; there couldn't possibly be that many anti-aircraft emplacements."

Lyssa shook her head. Rick obviously had no idea what these rebels were like.

"You underestimate the OCPLF," she said, Rick failing to believe her, "even if it's just a supply depot they will have it heavily defended. You can bet your ass on that."

Rick shrugged, as if it didn't matter. It probably didn't matter to him very much at all; he and his pilot friends would be flying up high, out of the immediate danger zone while Lyssa and the other marines risked their lives to fight some pointless battle.

"Screw the OCPLF," Rick said simply, "I and my friends, we're just going to come swooping down with Elvis Presley blaring from the speakers, just wasting the rebel punks…"

"Who's Elvis Presley?"

"Never mind…" Rick managed a weak smile and changed the subject, glancing over at the Major, who had stopped speaking for now and was allowing the marines to start boarding the Pelicans. Rick looked back to Lyssa.

"I think I should get going," he said, but before he could Lyssa asked him a question.

"What did you mean yesterday, with that question you asked?" Lyssa asked, intent on working Rick Palmer out. He was obviously trying to get through her "tough" outer shell and to the softer person underneath and she hated to admit it, but Rick seemed to be succeeding. She had always had a feeling that one day somebody would try their best to get close to her and it seemed that Rick was that someone. No matter what he said, Lyssa couldn't help but, well…like him.

"What question?" Rick said, but he realized what she meant by the time he finished his sentence. He shrugged, giving a smile.

"It was more of a joke than anything else…"

Lyssa wasn't sure what she should think, although it was obvious that Rick was the kind of person who would have that sort of humour. She didn't have much of a response and Rick seized his chance to get out of the conversation.

"I should get going now," he said, "you better get going as well. It would suck to be late to your own battle." He smiled again before turning around.

Lyssa didn't say anything as he walked away and turned a corner, disappearing around a tent. She was having too hard a time trying to work out what he was trying to tell her and how he seemed to be enjoying himself as he annoyed her and subsequently got closer to her.
She couldn't shake the feeling that he was probably one of the only men she knew that actually had some idea of how to work with the opposite sex.

The Corporal's voice broke her concentration, especially since he sounded annoyed.

"Is that the lead pilot?" He asked, Lyssa turning to face him. The Corporal shook his head, showing an obvious disliking to Rick. "What a jerk."

Lyssa wasn't too sure whether she should agree with that but decided it was best not to say anything. Glancing over at the parked Pelicans, she caught sight of Hawker and Layman stepping up the rear ramp of one of the Pelican drop-ships and so figured that would be the one she and the Corporal were flying in.

The Major, meanwhile, was standing outside the Pelican, having a discussion with Kyle, the red-shirted head of the camera crew while the note taking man and the cameraman stood nearby, watching and listening as Major Kilgore started to take on an angrier formality, easily discerned by his body language and the way he was pointing a finger at Kyle.

Lyssa and Corporal Walther decided not to wait around any longer, heading over to the weapons crates scattered outside the Pelicans and selecting from the limited variety there. Picking up an MA3K Carbine rifle, which resembled a shortened assault rifle with semi-automatic and three-round burst firing rate, Lyssa stocked up on ammunition and slung the carbine around her back, preferring a controllable weapon to anything fast firing and inaccurate. The chrome civilian pistol she had recovered from the dead rebel soldier the day before was in her waist holster, having chosen that over the standard M5E.

Stepping on board, the faces of Hawker, Layman, Lawrence and Reynolds turned to look at her, most looking relieved to see her. Layman, however, didn't really seem to take much notice of her after the initial glance, returning to cleaning the rifle he had brought with him for this particular operation.

Sitting down next to Hawker, the Corporal stepped on board and received a rather unhappy glance from Layman although Walther, being the "Joker" that he was, merely smiled in an exaggerated fashion towards the disgruntled Private as he sat down next to Lyssa.

Hawker was the first to properly speak, leaning forward slightly and resting his WS2500 sniper rifle on his lap. The weapon was one of those still in service that was constructed of some wood, the brown finish the most noticeable aspect of the old looking rifle, although the gun-metal grey parts seemed to fit well with the outdated look. The weapon used high powered rounds and held magazines of six, coming with a scope capable of magnification levels up to 20x and thermal vision. He was Hawker's favourite sharpshooting weapon.

"Do you know the brief, Lieutenant?" Hawker asked, raising an eyebrow, his blue eyes surprisingly piercing. Lyssa shook her head, she had woken up too late to catch what exactly they were doing.

Hawker nodded and then continued.

"We're going to be inserted in the south-eastern part of the compound, where the anti-aircraft batteries are at their lightest," Hawker said, "this will be after the Shortswords have done their job…"

"And they will do that job well, I can tell you that for sure," a familiar voice said from the open ramp. The squad turned around, seeing that Major Kilgore stood with his hands at his hips in the doorway, the camera crew milling into the Pelican from behind, sitting a fair distance from Lyssa and the rest of the squad, preferring to keep to themselves. However, the cameraman was keeping the camera rolling as Kilgore went on in his usual manner.

"You should never doubt a Shortsword squadron," Kilgore said, the Pelican's engines starting up, the craft ascending slightly as the rear ramp closed up. The exterior sunshine went when the ramp shut loudly, the lights inside the passenger area coming on automatically. Lyssa could tell most of her squad weren't too amused by the fact that Kilgore had decided to take the trip to the rebel supply compound on this particular Pelican, but as she would have expected, nobody was actually complaining verbally.

"Those people know what they're doing," Kilgore said proudly, the camera rolling and taking it all in. The Major reached into his breast pocket on his sand coloured short-sleeved shirt, taking out a miniature data disc and glancing up at the ceiling, intently searching for something in particular.

"I selected them myself, especially that Rick guy," Kilgore said, spotting the panel on the ceiling which consisted of a small liquid crystal display and a few buttons and dials. Finding the slot built for the disc, he slid it inside and almost immediately what sounded like old-style rock music came blaring from the speakers. Kilgore looked mighty pleased with himself, adjusting the volume so it wasn't too loud and nodding his head to the beat in a subtle manner.

Lyssa didn't particularly mind a bit of music although Reynolds was shaking his head when he realized how old the song was. Layman simply swore quietly under his breath while the Corporal began singing along quietly.

"Ya'see, they're all good pilots," the Major said, the Pelican now fully airborne and soaring over the desert landscape in formation with the other three transports, "though the only one that's actually seen any real action is Rick. He may not be too bright, but he knows what he's doing, except for that time a few months back…"

"What time?" Lyssa heard herself asking the question, interrupting Kilgore mid-speech. The Major looked down at her passively as he stood with a hand on one of the ceiling hand-holds while Suspicious Minds blared from the speakers.

"Rick was an idiot," the Major said, attempting to reminisce as he racked his brains for the memories, "got five pilots killed due to his shit-ass belief that he should 'fight for what's right'." Kilgore scoffed, shaking his head. "This is war, and in war there ain't no right or wrong. There is what just 'is'." He paused for a moment, looking around at the marines and the camera crew. "Isn't that right?"

Nobody nodded except for Kyle, who had already copped enough from the Major already to even think of disagreeing with him again. Lyssa was curious as to what had happened concerning Rick and him being responsible for the deaths of five other pilots. If that was the case, Lyssa was surprised if anybody was flying with him anymore.

"Lucky enough, being such a good pilot, he kept his job," Kilgore continued, "the other pilots don't actually really know about this aspect of his career and I think it's better they don't know."

The Major didn't seem to care that nobody was paying much attention to him, preferring to drone on some more and probably intent on doing it the whole trip. Lyssa figured she should just put up with it, the others seemed to be doing the same although Reynolds and Layman didn't look too pleased.

"The other really good pilot I can think of in the group, off the top of my head…" He paused to think for a moment, trying to remember a certain name.

"Katherine Tyler, that's the one," he said, remembering who it was he was talking about, "nice girl, she is. She can also fly a Shortsword, although she ain't never seen any real combat, just the simulations in flight school." Kilgore shook his head, as if pitying the fact. "She could do with some kicks, if ya know what I mean."

There was a brief silence, the camera crew deciding to turn their attention to the other passengers, zooming in on the faces of the marines in Lyssa's squad, the Corporal happily lapping up the attention.

"My father was a pilot," Kilgore went on, regardless of whether anybody cared or not, "and my father's father, as well as my father's father's father…"

"Have you got anything more interesting to talk about other than yourself?" The Corporal asked, Kilgore stopping mid-speech and frowning at him.

"I'm the most important person on this Pelican and I think that gives me an excuse to talk about myself," Kilgore replied, smiling, "why?"
The Corporal shrugged.

"Nobody really cares what you have to say…"

"That may be the case, Corporal, but I care," Kilgore replied, pointing a thumb towards himself briefly, "and when I care, it doesn't matter who else doesn't. Because if I wanted to, I could whup your ass right here, right now."

The Corporal, as usual, wasn't fazed by what the Major had to say. Before he could reply, Layman interjected.

"I think I'll be whupping his ass," Layman said, "not you, sir. I've wanted to whup his ass for quite a long time…"

"Shut up, Private," Kilgore snapped suddenly, not in the mood to hear about it. The passengers fell silent again, the Major standing confidently in the middle of them all, the old music blaring from the speakers in the ceiling.

Lyssa glanced to the Corporal, who was sitting quietly, rifle on his lap as he stared into space. There wasn't much else to do; Pelican rides always one of the dullest aspects of the military.

"How long till we get there?"

The Corporal turned to face her and shrugged, obviously with no idea.

"How would I know?" He said, answering a question with another question, "I doubt it'll be that long, although I really don't see the hurry…"

Lyssa didn't reply, turning back around and sitting quietly. She remembered the pills the doctor had given her and decided that if they were heading into combat it would be best if she actually took a few.
Taking out the plastic container from her trouser pocket, she opened it and shook a few out onto the palm of her other hand, placing them into her mouth and swallowing each one whole. Putting the container away and getting a few strange glances from the others, she merely shrugged.


"Are you taking drugs, Lieutenant?" Reynolds asked, curious. Lyssa frowned, shaking her head.

"It's just something to help…"

"Uh-huh, that's what any drug-user would say," Reynolds said, unconvinced. Lyssa didn't feel like arguing about the matter with him and didn't reply, Reynolds going silent. Layman, on the other hand, decided to have his say.

"What is that shit ya taking going to help ya with?" Layman asked, "It doesn't look like much to me…"

"Probably because it isn't much," Lyssa replied, annoyed at how her squad-mates were trying to milk her for information, "and that's all you need to know, so how about you just shut up?"

"But I want to know…"

"Shut up, and that's an order."

Layman rolled his eyes and sat back in his seat, deciding it better not to disobey orders. The rest of the trip from then on was mostly done in silence, with the occasional talk from Major Kilgore but otherwise it was very solemn indeed, the squad too intent on their own thoughts to worry about talking.

Spartan 073, regular name Leon, sat close to the open rear ramp of the Pelican as the craft, flying in formation, sped over the rocky desert landscape, the desert plains with scattered dry shrubs and the occasional skeletal dead or dying tree. It was a rather bleak landscape, reminding him of the Sahara but with far more rocks and less life.

He had only been on KV9-X7 for one full day and was only just into the second day. Already he was feeling weighed down by the bleakness of the surrounding landscape and the downbeat moods of most of the marines were affecting him, making him feel a little hopeless. The very battle these marines were fighting didn't seem to be just against the OCPLF but against the landscape, the marines being subjected to harsh sun and stinking heat every day. Leon wondered how the rebels possibly coped, but he guessed they were more used to it than the marines, preferring to fight a guerrilla war against the marines by using the desert as an ally.

Leon had read up on the enemy they would be fighting, the Outer Colonies Peoples Liberation Front as it was known in full. Many OCPLF soldiers would prefer to die than surrender, making them a very tough enemy to beat. They were obviously smart enough not to die needlessly, such as in their bomb attacks on civilian targets but they would not surrender, no matter the situation.

An enemy who didn't fear death would be a tough enemy indeed, making the task of apprehending Colonel Hanley that much tougher. The man would always be guarded and in a hard to reach place.

Leon didn't think too highly of attacking a supply depot, it just didn't seem too important a target. The rebels probably had transport routes going to and from the depot which could make tracking down their more important bases easier which did seem to be a bit of a bonus strategically speaking, although a supply depot just didn't seem like such a big deal. Many of the marines seemed genuinely excited about it, having been out of action for a few months according to the General.

This brought Leon's thoughts to the marines themselves. Many seemed weary, almost tired but even so they didn't seem to like his presence or Kyla's. Their arrival had seemed an intrusion to most of them and as such Leon and Kyla had received very little in the way of words from the marines.

Maybe it was because he and Kyla were different to them; he knew as well as any Spartan that they were different from ordinary humans and were told that they would probably receive some resentment from other human fighters, marines in particular. It was human nature to be uncertain about someone who was different and so Leon was used to it.
He hadn't exactly met any other human soldiers before except for those at the bases on Reach. In reality this was merely his second proper mission, the first having been the attempt to capture Hanley. He could remember that night better than any other and how three of his best friends had been killed in one of the most poorly planned operations against the rebels this century.

Some of the others contributed Leon's noticeable "unstable" mental state to the fall he had received that night, after taking a bullet to the chest. He thought otherwise, knowing well enough that it was the deaths of his three friends that had contributed to his so-called "instability".

He knew very well that many thought of him as crazy, but he knew himself better than anyone else, knowing that others could not simply make judgements about his mentality after a few tests and examinations. He was well aware of his habit of having sudden outbursts and he could remember him shooting the doctor, having been overcome with so much anger to the human race itself he had had to take it out on someone, somehow.

Now here he sat, flying to some routine operation on some shithole of a planet, the Mark-IV armour he wore almost stifling as the cooling systems attempted to adjust the interior settings so he wouldn't sweat so much. It was useless right now though since he wasn't wearing his helmet, which was sitting it on the seat beside him while he went through a weapon's check, something of which he had been trained to do before going into a potential battle. Kyla, who was sitting beside him, her helmet off as well, was doing the same.

Loading his CM23, Leon made sure the weapon felt "right" in his hands, weighing it and making sure all potential to jam had been taken away. His rifle, a standard MA4B assault weapon, lay beside him on the seat, leaving a little bit of space between him and Kyla. The assault rifle used a 7.62mm round, armour-piercing as standard (these days everything seemed to be armour-piercing in some way) and held forty rounds in a magazine. The weapon had a stable rate of fire, making it good for suppression and close quarters.

He glanced over at Kyla, unable to help but admire her surprisingly graceful movements, even if she was just loading her M6 submachine gun. She had been the squad's recon specialist, having been the quietest of their group, but since there wasn't much of a squad left she had been assigned to help "control" Leon here on KV9-X7. He hadn't liked the idea of being "controlled" but so far Kyla hadn't forcefully controlled him, only merely distracting him from potential outburst situations.
She glanced at him when she noticed how he was looking at her in an admiring sort of way, managing a wry smile.

"You want something?"

Leon's thoughts about her wore broken as her voice cut through them; shattering his concentration and making him create eye contact. He was unsure of what to say for a moment but Kyla spoke before he had a chance to.

"You look like something's on your mind," Kyla continued, which was true enough.

"There's always something on my mind," Leon replied in his usual no-nonsense manner, "but right now I was just…." He trailed off, realizing he didn't know what to say about the matter.

Kyla didn't seem to be too certain about what Leon was trying to imply but she spoke regardless, preferring to talk rather than spend the trip on board the Pelican in silence.

"Is it the attitude the marines have towards us?" Kyla asked, making a slight frown, "Because I noticed it as well. We try and talk to them, they don't want to talk to us but when we walk past they're all talking amongst themselves, obviously about us…"

"It's not that," Leon said, not particularly worried about what the marines thought about him, "It's just…"

"Go on, tell me," Kyla said, smiling once more, "I'm your friend. You can tell me anything, after all, we're in the same squad…"

Leon didn't know what to say. He was silent, Kyla noticing this and becoming aware of what Leon might have on his mind. She changed the subject, obviously a little uneasy about it as Leon was.

"Let's make sure this operation goes like clockwork," Kyla said, placing her M6 submachine gun on her lap and sitting back, "let's make sure it goes better than the last one…"

"I don't want to hear about the last one," Leon interrupted, sitting with his head down as he fiddled with his CM23 pistol.

Kyla nodded in understanding, it was as painful for her to think about as it was for Leon. She had lost three friends as well that night and she had also taken two bullets in the side which had brought her close to death.

"I don't want to put any dark thoughts into your head, but it's safe to say this is our first chance to get back at the rebels responsible for what happened that night," Kyla said, sounding a little solemn, staring up at the ceiling as she milled over the thoughts in her mind.

Leon nodded; he liked this idea and was surprised to hear Kyla say it. Usually she was the one attempting to talk sense into him but now she obviously liked the idea of getting back at the rebels, even if it was only a supply depot they were attacking.

What he and Kyla had been told concerning the day's operation was that the pair of them would be brought into the north-western section of the base which was where surveillance had determined the main offices and vehicle depot to be located. They were to sweep the area and recover any enemy intelligence they could find while the marines kept the rebels busy on the other side of the compound. The area itself was probably well guarded but they knew their abilities, Leon confident they could do this without any drawbacks. It certainly seemed more straightforward than the last operation.

All Leon wanted were rebels to kill and it was very likely there would be plenty where they would be going, which made the operation seem far better than he had first considered it. Kyla seemed more careful though, preferring not to get too confident.

"It would be convenient if Hanley was at this depot," Leon said, breaking the silence that had befallen the pair. Kyla glanced at him, shaking her head.

"I doubt he would bother with an insignificant depot," she said, Leon's slight spark of hope for revenge dimming, "he would probably be somewhere far more important, like the main rebel fortress."

"Way to crush a man's dreams," Leon said jokingly, Kyla shaking her head but smiling anyway.

There was a brief pause in the conversation, Leon sitting back and turning his head to watch the landscape below fly by, noticing that they seemed to be flying over a dried out riverbed. It only looked like it had been dry for a few months, as if water had been flowing there sometime in the recent past. Somehow he doubted it but to him it just didn't seem right. Maybe there was something he didn't know about this planet, it seemed likely.

He went to place the CM23 pistol into his waist holster, only for the Pelican to jump suddenly, having hit some slight turbulence, the pistol falling away from above the holster and onto the floor. Kyla bent over to pick it up at the same time Leon did.

Their hands touched and for a second the pair exchanged glances, both of them obviously nervous at the sudden development. Leon pulled the pistol away, sitting back in silence as Kyla sat back as well, flushing red in the face.

"Sorry," she managed to say, getting Leon's attention.

"I…ah...," Leon struggled to find words, shifting where he sat in a slightly nervous manner, "I…I…I'm sorry as well." He could see Kyla had forgotten about the "mishap" already, so reaching over for his helmet, he grabbed it and placed it over his head, the suit hissing faintly as the helmet connected with the rest of the suit. Kyla did the same and the pair sat in silence for the rest of the journey, both unsure of what they should say to the other.

Flying a Shortsword was easy if you had enough practice and the craft itself was very welcoming to beginner pilots, easy to fly and maintain. That was partly the reason why Rick had chosen to stay as a Shortsword pilot and not move onto something better, such as a Longsword or Rapier-class fighter. Those two were a little harder to fly but quite rewarding when you got the knack for it, swooping into battle and pummelling enemy positions with whatever the craft had loaded on it.

Being such an easier craft to fly than the other two would explain why there were so many new, inexperienced pilots in the squadron. They were joining up in the dozens every month and most would never see any combat, which was a shame really. They join up only to discover all the "good" jobs are being taken by the experienced, veteran pilots such as Rick, although the four that were flying in formation with Rick's Shortsword now were the lucky ones.

There was Hank Williams, possibly Rick's favourite of the bunch. The young guy had potential; he just seemed a little cocky. Katherine Tyler, the woman of their little group, seemed to have some potential but she tended to keep to herself more than the others, not much of a talker and a bit too much of a gentle type of person to be in a squadron of fighter/bombers.

Jose Chung was another of Rick's group, a loud-mouth guy of Asian-descent who had never been one for following orders too closely. He was Rick's least favourite of the bunch and so didn't have much to do with him unless they were actually flying. The last guy of the bunch, Dirk Pitman, seemed to be close friends with Hank and so the two shared some similarities and was higher up on the list of Rick's favourites amongst the group.

Below them, the desert landscape moved by at a quick pace as they flew at a low altitude, the reason being to avoid rebel radar and scanner sweeps, although there was a good chance they'll be detected regardless of how they moved in. The whole operation seemed poorly planned but Rick and his group had their orders: fly to the rebel compound and "suppress" it until the Pelicans containing the marines arrived. This meant taking out any anti-aircraft batteries the rebels had set up as well as eliminating as many of the rebels as possible, although the General had told them to try and keep the main office tents intact. This was to avoid destroying any intelligence which may be inside them but Rick knew trying to keep a few buildings intact would be difficult so he figured they could get away with destroying a few. Besides, how could they possibly tell them apart from each other? All the tents probably looked the same.

Rick had been smart enough to make sure they had rockets rather than bombs loaded onto their aircraft. Rockets were far more accurate and easier to use than any bomb and a Shortsword could carry far more of them anyway.

The rockets themselves were standard high-explosive, fitted with armour-piercing casings in case anything they encountered at the rebel compound was armoured, such as a tank or armoured building. He doubted there would be many of these things at a rebel supply depot but it was better to be prepared. Preparation was always important, that was something he had learned in his years of experience.

Managing a glance through the cockpit shield and at the craft on his left, he could just make out Hank seated in his fighter-bomber through the glass. Rick turned back to the panels and controls in front of him, everything reading out as normal as he shifted his craft at 60% engine power, the standard cruise speed being around fifty or sixty percent. The others, who were flying in an echelon left formation, adjusted their speed accordingly so they could stay in formation.

Rick hadn't been expecting to be sent out on a sortie the day after their arrival, but it had happened thus leaving very little time to get used to their new place of stay, which wasn't all that good anyway. In reality it was just a bunch of tents in the middle of the desert and deserts were something Rick wasn't such a big fan of.

Inside the Shortsword the climate systems were making his flight as comfortable as possible, the interior very cool and sitting at a reasonable temperature. Below, the dry desert sands and rocks went by, giving the whole landscape around them a very bleak, sunbaked look. He was surprised that any rebels would have chosen such a place to set up a base of any kind; it didn't look like there were very many natural resources anywhere on this planet. The planet itself didn't seem to be of much strategic value, well away from the nearest population centre on the Outer Colonies. To put it in a frank tone, they were in the ass-end of space on a dreary, desolate planet. The only animal life Rick had so far encountered was alien flies (no larger than a common Earth fly) and lizards.

At least now there was something interesting to look forward to: blowing stuff up. That was something a lot of Shortsword pilots like him enjoyed, being one part of the job that never got old. Many who weren't pilots thought that Shortsword pilots like him were a little crazy, almost pyromaniacs, tending to blow things up they didn't need to and just making a nuisance of themselves. That was true in Rick's opinion; he just didn't think he was much of a pyromaniac. Sure, he enjoyed seeing things explode; he just didn't think he was a maniac about it.

"Some place, huh?"

Rick's train of thought was ended abruptly by the familiar voice that crackled over the radio. It took him a moment to realize it was Hank, trying to start up a conversation. Fair enough, thought Rick as he replied.

"I wouldn't like to live here for too long," he replied, "the heat would make me go nuts…"

"You're already nuts," Hank replied jokingly. Rick managed a weak smile beneath his breathing mask, hearing a few slight chuckles from the others over the radio.

"Right…" Rick didn't bother trying to reply with anything too intelligent, rather he reached into a pocket on his pilot's vest and retrieved a small disc, placing it into the correct slot on the panels in front of him. Almost immediately ancient music started blaring out of the speakers in the cockpit, as well as the ones under the craft's wings.

"Lord Almighty, I feel mah temperature risin'!"

This seemed to make the other pilots go quiet as Rick cheerfully turned
up the volume, anyone down on the ground able to hear the "rock and roll", as it was known back in the centuries it was popular, very clearly and very loudly.

"Maybe you should turn that shit off."

Jose's voice broke in over the radio, Rick rolling his eyes at the man's remark. It was always Jose who had the negative outlook on things; he probably thought he was actually going to get killed on a straightforward sortie such as this. Rick had lost that worry years ago, especially if their job was as simple as pummelling a ground target.
Death was something that was no longer a worry but more like something that was just "possible". The others probably didn't feel the same way but this was their first proper combat mission anyway, Rick being the only one of them with any previous experience in this line of the military.

"Turn it off yourself, jackass," Rick replied, quite bluntly. There wasn't a reply, which worked for him, allowing him to concentrate on the readouts in front of him. The electronic map on one of the screens indicated that their target would be coming into view soon, allowing him to increase his speed a little, and the other pilots adjusting their craft's speeds to keep up with him.

The four Pelican drop-ships appeared on the map, close behind and flying low. They would fly in when the area was considered safe for aircraft, although Rick had his doubts about the strengths of the rebel defences. How many anti-aircraft batteries could these rebels have? Everyone seemed to be making a big deal out of it except for him and his group of pilots.

He didn't think too highly of the capabilities of any sort of rebel organization he had gone up against and he wasn't expecting these guys to be any different.

A voice crackled over the radio, this time from one the pilots of the Pelicans.

"I would be careful out there, squadron," the male voice said, "I heard this place has heavy defences…"

"We can handle it," Rick replied, rolling his eyes. There was a pause before the pilot continued, not sounding very sure about the subject.

"Uh-huh, of course you can," he said, managing a hint of sarcasm, "just make sure all their gun batteries are down so I and my friends can fly in the ground troops without getting shot out of the sky. Is that clear?"

"Clear as glass," Rick replied, the Pelican pilot falling silent and closing the channel. How hard could it possibly be?

He was pondering the thought when a warning beep began sounding inside his cockpit. Looking at the appropriate panel, he saw a rather blunt warning message flashing in bright red letters against a dark background.


It took a moment for the message to register in Rick's brain, considering he was a little surprised by it. Glancing down at the map and scanner screen, he could see they were closing in on the compound and that a small, but obvious, red blip was on its way towards his craft. He felt his heart skip a beat when he realized just what was going on, grabbing hold of the aileron control stick and thumbing the rudder control on top of it.

"Shit!" He exclaimed into the radio, "Disengage formation! Now!"

The other Shortswords parted into different directions after a moment's hesitation, giving Rick enough room to manage a quick ascent upwards as the missile, now clearly visible, trailed through the air towards him. It glowed like a light, leaving a white, smoky contrail behind it, as it wound its way through the air and came up behind his craft at a fair distance, seemingly intent on knocking him out of the sky.

Rick, suddenly sweating at the brow and his heart pumping wildly, thumbed the button to drop a flare, taking a millisecond to decide whether he should or not. There was a faint thump as a hatch on the left wing opened and closed, a bright, white flare floating out of the hatch and getting the attention of the missile. Rick rolled his craft to the right, moving away from the flare and the missile, the missile detonating and rocking his craft slightly as it came into contact with the flare.

"Flight One, I need you all proceeding to the target!" Rick said through the radio, bringing his craft level, "Take out any launchers you find! Don't bother with a formation, everybody's on their own!"

Rick turned his craft back onto course, the rebel compound coming into view. From here the whole of it was visible, a walled compound made up of metal and stone structures, nestled on top of a ridge overlooking a dry riverbed. Rick could make out the shapes of rebel soldiers in desert camouflage uniforms scattering around the base, many running to man the several gun emplacements situated on concrete banks by the perimeter fence. A few of them were ground to air missile launchers and were probably about to fire.

Rick spotted Hank's Shortsword coming from the right, the craft's high calibre cannons opening fire, the rounds leaving smoking trails behind them and sending up dirt and sand as they impacted the ground. Rick watched as a few rebel soldiers were ripped to shreds by the high powered rounds, one man caught in the stomach, his legs tearing away from the rest of him.

Rick decided his best option was to destroy the gun emplacements, his targeting computer locking on to each of them. He thumbed the button to release a rocket, pressing it and feeling a wave of satisfaction wash over him as the rocket was released from the left wing of his Shortsword, watching as it left a smoking contrail behind itself, trailing towards the first of the launchers. He hadn't been the first of his flight to do the same, already he could see Jose's Shortsword had launched a pair of rockets, each one locked onto a different gun emplacement.

Many of the rebel soldiers had stopped where they were, standing outside the structures, raising their rifles up and attempting to hit the Shortswords as they zoomed overhead, Rick coming to the edge of the compound and banking to the left, bringing himself around so he could make another pass on the compound.

Three of the ground-to-air missile launchers went up in balls of fire, Rick unable to help but watch as the rockets in the launchers ignited, creating a thunderous explosion as each launcher was blown to smouldering pieces. Nearby rebels were knocked onto the ground by the force of the blast, a few having been hit by fragments and weren't getting back up.

Rifle rounds pinged off Rick's fighter as he lined himself up with a high calibre cannon, being manned by a pair of rebels who were swivelling it about on its axis in an attempt to bring its sights onto his fighter. Rick bet them to the trigger, pressing a grey button on the control stick, the cannons built into his aircraft's wings opening fire, high powered rounds whizzing through the air, leaving grey, smoking contrails as they peppered the ground near the gun emplacement. The rebels manning the gun spun and fell, the gun itself being shredded into an unworkable state.

A trio of rebels down on Rick's left had run out of a small tent, one of which was holding a large, bulky long shape. Rick made a guess that it was something that wouldn't be good for his craft, so banking into their direction he prepared for another strafing run.

One of the rebels stood behind the one holding the launcher, loading a long object into the back of the launcher, most presumably a rocket. Rick started firing but the rebels stood their ground as dirt and sand was kicked up around them, the soldier holding the launcher firing, just as a bullet ripped its way through his chest and dropped him to the ground.

Rick saw the heat-seeking rocket turn into his direction, so pulling up abruptly, he banked to the left, the rocket giving chase. Taking a moment to look around at the carnage being caused, he could see that the other four of his flight had laid waste to the rebel gun emplacements, Katherine having been smart enough to put a rocket towards the communications dish on top of a caravan type vehicle. That was now a smoking, flaming ruin, preventing the rebels from calling for help, a good move on her behalf.

Rick glanced at the rear view screen in front of him which was linked to a camera on the back of his craft, giving a decent enough view of whatever was behind him. He could see the rocket coming and confidently pressed a familiar button, another flare, this time dropping out of the right wing, was released. Banking away from the flare and the rocket which was now zooming towards it, Rick turned his craft back towards the compound, some of the structures there now in a smoking ruin. The rebels below were now scattering, running for cover and a few were attempting to set up mounted guns.

Rick looked at the smoking remains of the compound and managed a slight grin, satisfied that this was a job well done. All that was needed now were the marines to come in and mop up as well as collect intelligence, intelligence which Rick hoped he and his flight hadn't destroyed. He didn't really care if they had or hadn't, it wasn't like he would be getting in trouble for this kind of thing.

Rick was about to contact the Pelicans when he saw a rebel run out of cover holding a launcher, pointing it in the general direction of Katherine's fighter. The rebel fired the launcher and started running back into cover, the rocket turning onto a course so that it was behind Katherine's aircraft.

"Tyler, you have a bogey on your tail!" Rick exclaimed through the radio, "Drop some flares! Do it now!"

Katherine hadn't noticed the missile as she flew over the compound, only becoming aware of it when the warning appeared on one of her screens inside the cockpit. From what Rick could see, there weren't any flares coming out, rather, she banked to the left, the rocket following in her wake.

"Drop flares, damn it!" The last thing Rick wanted to see was a smoking wreck and a dead pilot. Katherine should have done something about the rocket on her tail by now, but nothing was happening. Rick decided to pull up behind the rocket, following it as it followed her aircraft, trying to get a clear shot. It was near impossible to get a clean shot and not hit Katherine's Shortsword in the process.

"It's not working!" Her voice spoke over the radio, sounding desperate as she banked the craft to the right suddenly. The other pilots were busy strafing the rebels on the ground to take too much notice, leaving Rick with the problem of taking care of the rocket.

Rick guessed maybe the flare release mechanism was jammed, although it could be any manner of reasons, aircraft were never always reliable. He decided he would try and shoot the rocket out of the sky, which was beginning to catch up on Katherine's Shortsword. He took a deep breath, allowing his targeting computer to make adjustments and alert him to the best time to fire. He wouldn't be able to do it without hitting her aircraft but hopefully he wouldn't hit any important systems.

The targeting computer suddenly beeped, the reticle on the gun sight in front of him flashing red as it locked onto the rocket. Rick pressed the fire button on the control stick, firing for only a brief second, enough for a pair of high powered rounds to fire. One hit the rocket; knocking it off course and making it detonate in the corner of his vision, rocking his aircraft slightly. The other went on to punch a hole in Katherine's aircraft's fuselage, a stream of white smoke suddenly pouring from her aircraft.

"What was that?" She sounded agitated, as if annoyed at Rick's life saving intervention.

"Me saving your ass," Rick replied, breaking off from his pursuit of her, "it looks like you'll need some slight repairs now."

There was a sigh over the radio, Rick glancing down at his scanner screen, seeing that the Pelicans were well on their way to the compound.

"I'm going to make a landing in that nearby clearing," Katherine said, "you busted a hole in my fuel tank."

Rick only smiled; there was no need for a verbal answer. He figured it was time to head back to base, opening a line of communication with the lead Pelican. It was time for the marines to disembark.