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Longsword R: Casualty
Posted By: Sterfrye36<Sterfrye36@yahoo.com>
Date: 23 March 2006, 3:35 am

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1040 hours, November 23, (Military Calendar) Cockpit of Marcus Easley's Northrop-Grumman Longsword S Interceptor, Earth local space

      "All right, Swordsmen, here we go. Your target is squarely in the center of that thing: the bridge. Get close, launch your Copperheads, and get gone. Don't bother trying to cover for the others; you'll be blown to bits. Keep it fast and loose. Don't let them box you in, but don't get isolated, either. Flight leaders, break your flights up into an echelon and a fluid two and get creative." The Major breathed deeply and glanced at the assault carrier out to the left of his cockpit.
      It was the moment every pilot dreaded: taking on an enemy capital ship with only his or her squadron. The Stallions and Black Knights were too embroiled in a massive furball that had gradually drifted towards the MAC stations as the Covies tried to board them and do Heaven knew what inside.
      "Two flight acknowledges."
      "Three flight, roger."
      "Four flight."
      "Six flight, understood."
      Major Marcus Easley checked his stores briefly as one flight began to form up on him. They were moving towards an assault carrier that was trying to slip past the Cairo Super MAC. Currently, flights one, two, and three were far "below" it and were prepping to go after it. Flights four, five and six were above the carrier, doing the same. He briefly checked his own stores: all four Copperheads, six Diamondbacks, and eight Vipers. Not nearly enough missiles for the task at hand, but he'd have to make do. He keyed his radio again, selected the One flight frequency, and spoke.
      "Two, you're with me in the fluid two. Three, you're in charge of Four and Five. Cover us on the way in, but don't get too close."
      "Gotcha, boss."
      "Roger, Swordsmen Leader," Matthews said, her voice still unfazed by the battle.
      Marcus waited a few moments for Two's Longsword S to slide up to him and then spoke again.
      "Ready as I'll ever be, boss."
      "Good. Here we go."
      Marcus kicked his bird further onto its port wing, held it there for a second, peeled off in a near vertical climb, and shoved the throttle forward; Two followed a split second later. If everything went perfectly, the other squad members would all be coming in from separate angles, hopefully overwhelming and confusing the Assault Carrier's point-defense system.
      As usual, however, it wasn't that simple.
      "Swordsmen Leader, this is Cairo control. Be advised, the assault carrier is launching Seraphs. All of our assets are currently engaged. You're on your own."
      "Roger, control. How many?"
      "Unknown. Radar's having a hard time picking them up through that debris. Estimated strength is ten plus bandits, over."
      "Understood, control. Much appreciated." This made things several times as tricky, and called for a change of tactics.
      "Change of plans, Swordsmen," Easley said, his Longsword still streaking for the assault carrier. "This thing's launched fighters. Flights Four, Five, and Six, your responsibility is to keep them busy while flights One, Two, and Three attack the ship."
      "Four flight."
      "Five flight."
      "Six flight."
      By this time, Easley and James had reached the edge of the assault carrier's defense envelope. Pulse laser blasts started as a trickle, but soon became a torrent as they dove in. If they continued to fly straight in, they'd be obliterated.
      "Two, go scissors!"
      "Roger, Lead!"
      Marcus sent his craft into a wide, counter-clockwise corkscrew, trying to keep his flight path as loopy as possible. James cut his throttle slightly, swung his Longsword out to the right, pushed the throttle back to its original level, and then began corkscrewing in the opposite direction. The move created the appearance that the two Longswords were the blades on a pair of scissors, henceforth the name.
      In order to get under the carrier's shields, the two pilots had to pick their moment carefully; they'd have to dive at a pulse laser turret as it was firing, but be far enough away from it not to get fried. The two Swordsmen continued their dive, both of them angling towards a particularly active turret; it rotated, apparently tracking them. Marcus pulled back on his throttle, hoping to throw of its timing.
      It worked. The pulse laser turret fired, but its shot went wide. Easley and McCall slipped under the shield and slammed their sticks forward, inverting their birds only a few yards from the assault carrier's hull then they immediately barrel-rolled to the left, barely dodging another pulse laser turret. Marcus flexed his lower body muscles in order to keep blood in his head, then grunted, "You still with me, Two?"
      "Yes, sir!"
      "Lead, this is Three. They're concentrating everything they have at us, sir; we're breaking off to help the other flights with the bandits."
      "Understood, Three."
      They were now underneath the worst of the fire from the pulse-laser turrets, but that didn't mean that all of it had stopped. They would constantly be dodging fire until they got to the launch point: directly over the middle of the ship. It was relatively slow going, but they got there within thirty seconds. Marcus armed the Copperheads by voice command then keyed the COM.
      "All right, Two, launch on my mark. Three, two, one, mark!"
      Two of the heavy ASM-54 Copperhead missiles dropped off their rails and ignited their motors, making Marcus's Longsword significantly lighter. The pair of anti-ship missiles sped away from the interceptor in an upward arc before suddenly diving straight towards the assault carrier's hull.
      Marcus passed right over the two missiles as they penetrated the hull, leaving six foot wide rents in the armor. The Copperheads drove deep down into the Covenant ship before exploding, but even so, there were two pillars of fire that burst from the holes. They had apparently damaged something critical, because they saw the shield above them flicker once, twice, then it was gone. A success by almost any measure. There was only one problem.
      There should have been four explosions.
      "Two, what happened!?" Marcus screamed over the COM
      "I don't know, Boss! The Copperheads were armed and I hit the button, but they didn't launch! I think the problem's with the rails, not the systems!" Marcus greeted the news with a silent expletive. That was the first time he had had something go so seriously wrong on White's watch, but things happened.
      "Two, get out of here and dump the Copperheads if you can. You're a flying fuel air bomb right now."
      "Yes, sir," James responded before letting loose an expletive of his own.
      They flipped their birds on their backs simultaneously, then moved out to the assault carrier's right side before making their escape "upward", back towards the Cairo. They shoved their throttles forward to get out of range of the pulse laser blasts, but they weren't as worried about Covenant gunners as they had been on the way in; it was a lot harder to hit something moving away from you than something moving towards you, after all
      And that attitude was what cost Two his life.
      James had relaxed too much on his jinking while evading the fire from the assault carrier; a lucky shot from a pulse laser turret nailed his number two engine, in between the third and fourth Copperheads. The explosion was caused by the missiles cooking off almost instantaneously, less than three seconds after the damage had been done. Marcus saw the ceiling of James's cockpit blast up and away from his second in command's 'Sword as he desperately tried to eject, but Marcus never saw if he made it.
      James McCall's Longsword S exploded with what seemed to be a hint of malice, a bit of the universe laughing at Marcus as the fighter became a beautiful comet, burning over the Covenant assault carrier.
      Inside his Longsword, Marcus screamed, cried, not thinking at all, only feeling immense loss; an irrecoverable piece of him was gone, along with any hope that he felt he had of finding peace.

      After James had walked into the room, Marcus shut the door behind him. The Major's quarters were only slightly larger than the Lieutenant's own, and that was really the only thing that marked it as special. Otherwise, it was the same somewhat poorly lit room. A bed took up the far wall, right next to the door that lead to the bathroom. A desk with a computer terminal was on the right, adorned with a small model of a Grumman F-14D Super Tomcat, a picture of Marcus's family, and a picture of his high school football team hoisting their state championship trophy high over their heads. Marcus was among them, grinning wildly, with a freedom and joy in his green-blue eyes James had never suspected he'd been capable of. It threw him. James had seen the boss smile widely and laugh heartily, but there was always something about his eyes that made it seem that he was feigning his enjoyment.
      He didn't have long to puzzle over the picture, though.
      "Sit down," Marcus said, his voice completely without emotion. James sat on the bed, unsure of what the Major was going to do. He had called him in here without any explanation, but he knew the Major well enough to tell when something was troubling him.
      "I've never told anyone else what I'm about to tell you. Do you understand me?" James nodded, still confused, and now vaguely worried.
      "Yes, sir."
      "Good." Marcus took a deep breath, apparently gathering the strength to begin. He let it out slowly.
      "When I was five years old, my family was having Christmas at our house. It was the night after. Everyone except for me and my uncle, Guy Nix, had gone out to look at the lights that everyone had put up. We had both caught the flu, or at least I had. I felt awful. I was asleep in my room when Nix woke me up by calling my name. He called me into the living room. When I got in there, he was standing there in his jeans and t-shirt smiling at me. He was only twenty-four. He had a weird smile and was looking at me funny, which worried me a little. But that was the way that Guy was: he was always the funny one, cracking jokes, making faces, doing impressions…"
      The Major's voice suddenly became strained. He swallowed several times, then coughed, his head hanging on his chest. He pulled his head up and stared at the wall. James saw a few tears hit the floor below.
      "He told me that he had forgotten to give me a present. I got really excited because there was a video game I had really wanted that I hadn't gotten. He told me to turn around, close my eyes, and count to ten. I got to nine before…before he…" Marcus trailed off, now sobbing.
      James hesitated, unsure of what to think, and finally said, "Before he did what, boss?"
      "Before that bastard grabbed me, threw me to the floor and raped me, damnit!" Marcus screamed. He balled up his right hand into a fist and punched the wall again and again and again. James was too surprised to stop him; blood was forming as Marcus's knuckles slowly tore open from the repeated impacts.
      Easley stopped abruptly and began speaking rapidly in between his sobs.
      "Five years old, and he raped me! My own damn uncle! I was crying and pleading with him to stop but he just laughed, said I wanted it!" The major punched the wall several more times, now dripping with blood from his knuckles. He coughed violently before continuing at a high pitch.
      "Every year at Christmas, he'd wait until we were alone and he'd do it again. I never told my parents, I felt like it was my fault, he told me he'd kill me if I told anyone. When I hit puberty I started getting weird feelings around other guys. I got to where I had a cycle for dealing with my grief. I'd work myself down to a nub, then I'd withdraw for months at a time. I hated myself. I thought there was something wrong with me."
      Marcus's words were raw now, a mixture of hatred, sadness and self pity. His voice had dropped in pitch but not intensity. Sweat was clearly visible through his flight suit.
      "I was sixteen when I finally stood up to him. The rest of the family had gone out to Sunday night services. I didn't go because I was in a rebellious mood. I didn't believe in God anymore. How could He let something like that happen? I was in my room brooding when he yelled at me from downstairs. I found out later that he'd told everyone that his office had called him and there was some business he needed to take care of. He told me it was time for my 'present' as he called it. I grabbed my metal baseball bat out of my closet and waited. I was a member of the football team and had been working out furiously. I had been taller than him since I was fourteen, but he had always been stronger, but I was equal to him by then." Marcus's voice descended to a soft, dark level.
      "When he walked through the door, I swung as hard as I could. Broke his nose. He stumbled backwards to the second floor landing, clutching his face and screaming. I knew that if I didn't finish him, he'd come back and do something even worse to me, so I chased him out onto the landing and swung again. I nailed him in the ribs that time. Broke two of them outright, shattered and fractured two others. By then, I just wanted to hurt him for everything he'd done to me, so I swung last time, like I was chopping wood. Fractured his skull and knocked him down the stairs. Fifteen steps." He let out a low, sick chuckle.
      "I still didn't tell my parents. He told them from his hospital bed that he'd fallen down the stairs. I told them that he had tripped coming up them, asking if I wanted something to eat. They let it go." The Major had finished talking, but James could tell that he was holding something back. A few minutes passed in silence while McCall digested what Marcus had just told him.
      "Boss…" Marcus turned around, his face full of regret.
      "That's why I never went to church, James. I'm gay. I never went because I'm gay…"

1042 hours November 23, (Military Calendar) Aboard Cairo Super MAC station, Elevator A3, Earth local space

      "I know what you're thinking, and it's crazy."
      "So…stay here?" the Spartan asked as the elevator continued to descend.
      "Unfortunately for us both…I like crazy." Inside his helmet, the Master Chief grinned slightly. Whether he admitted it or not, he'd always liked Cortana's sense of humor.

      "Swordsmen Leader, this is AI Cortana. Respond, over."
      Easley, though still in shock at Two's death, had climbed far enough above the carrier that he could give Cortana his attention, however divided it may have been.
      "Swordsmen Leader here. What can I help you with?" he managed to choke out.
      "The Master Chief has managed to secure a Covenant bomb, and we are going to plant it on this assault carrier. What I need you to do is for you to use your Copperheads to blow a hole in both sides of the carrier's hull."
      "We're halfway done already, then. There's a hole on the bottom of it right now."
      "There is? Excellent. I've contacted the captain of the destroyer Manchester, and he will distract the carrier while you attack. Sending targeting information now," Cortana said as she sent his interceptor's systems the exact coordinates that she wanted the Copperheads to hit.
      "Understood," Marcus answered, his voice still restricted by the softball in his throat. He checked his radar through his bleary vision. Five and Six had just pursued a Seraph past one of the launch bays on the Cairo and blown it to smithereens. The Major switched to his squadron frequency once more and spoke, "Five, you're with me. We're going in fast. Everybody else, cover our backs."
      "Roger, Swordsmen Leader," Chase responded as he joined up on Marcus's starboard side. They looped their Longswords around the bottom of the Cairo and began their dive, the Manchester and the Covenant assault carrier below them. The Manchester slid over the carrier, causing the Covenant gunners to concentrate their fire on it. Fortunately for Marcus and Chase, that left a massive hole in the Covenant defense envelope. They dove straight past the Manchester as it was nailed by a fusillade of fire from the carrier. There was an explosion along the ship's midline; the destroyer's engines flickered, and then darkened as they passed, the Human ship dead in the water.
      Chase jinked suddenly in order to avoid a small purple and green object also diving towards the carrier.
      "What the—?" he blurted out over the COM. "Was that a Spartan?"
      Marcus didn't care. All he even thought about was delivering his missiles and paying them back. All of his frustration and anger that he had carried since his was five boiled over into a wild rage. He wanted to hurt something, to fight back at fate. For some reason, Marcus's mind suddenly accused the Covenant as the source of all the suffering in his life. Nix, his personal struggles, God, losing James. He felt he could solve all of them by destroying that Covenant ship.
      With the Covenant gunners so focused on the Manchester, it was easy to dive straight at the carrier, their throttles at full military power. Marcus fired his missiles without bothering to give Chase a countdown, instead screaming in rage. He hauled back on his stick, a full fifty meters from the surface of the Covenant ship, his missiles continuing their dive.
      All four missiles impacted, leaving a long gash in the ship's armor. The small purple and green object entered it a few seconds later.
      Marcus and Chase pulled away and continued jinking their birds to avoid pulse laser fire, but none came. Less than thirty seconds later, plumes of azure hell blossomed amidships and quickly spread, devouring the Covenant ship from the inside out.       Marcus had somehow expected to feel relief once the ship was destroyed but all he really felt was an overwhelming sense of exhaustion. Cairo control called him on the COM and gave him new orders to attack a pair of ships that had breached the Human defensive line, much in the same manner as the assault carrier, but they were a cruiser and a destroyer. Marcus, despite his exhaustion, acknowledged the orders and turned his bird towards the oncoming enemies.
      "Swordsman, form up on me. We've got a new job..."
      His orders were interrupted when a loud siren suddenly blared in his speakers and his Longsword was slapped into a wild and multi-axis spin, along with all the Longswords in the immediate area. Alarms and several members of his squadron screamed in his ears as the flight control computer fought desperately to level his bird. At first, he couldn't figure out what had happened; COM chatter was a mess.
      "Is everyone okay?" somebody asked. The major checked his master caution, but nothing was on. His bird had been knocked around, but it was okay. Marcus started to reply, but he blinked as he realized that words were being played across his visor in large, red, block letters.
      What the hell?
      As his bird stabilized, Marcus was able to view the gathering green motes of light as they grew larger and brighter, and then discharged a Covenant cruiser, its lights still on, apparently not having lost power after its jump. What Marcus found bizarre was that it had no IFF tag. It was marked as neither a friend nor an enemy, but it had jumped right into the thick of the fight.
      First, stealth Seraphs, Becker wasn't dead, and now a Covenant cruiser just jumped into the middle of the fight?

TIME: DATE ERROR, Estimated 1226 hours, September 17 (Military Calendar) bridge of Covenant cruiser of unknown origin.

      "Sami, what the hell is going on?"