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Halo: Spartans Reborn
Posted By: The Fictioner<joeoconnell_@hotmail.com>
Date: 25 January 2010, 6:48 pm

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0100 Hours, January 23, 2573 (Military Calendar) /
Carrion-Xerses System, Pol-VII, Hervanoa City Outskirts

"All teams: enemy contact, dead ahead!"
Dan-397 glanced down at the motion sensor in the bottom-left corner of his HUD. Two red dots crept onto the far edge of the scanner. He ducked into cover behind a crumbling wall, waiting for his team to catch up. Minutes later, the rest of Fireteam Lima came into view. Three friendlies blinked into existence on the tracker, as the Spartans jogged up to his position, two crouching opposite him behind another wall, and one next to him.

The four soldiers were perfectly still and silent in their AEGIS battle armour, the slim plates of titanium-A dulled down for maximum stealth capabilities. Dan shifted his grip on his MA5K Carbine, an optical scope and silencer affixed.

The twin red dots swelled above the normal infantry-size, signifying that they were vehicles.

Dan motioned to the Spartan directly opposite him, with Francis-412 printed on his left shoulder pauldron, curling his hand into a fist then sticking his thumb out at the space in between them: scout it out. Francis grabbed his SRS99G-S4 sniper rifle from the magnetic plate on his back and a camo mat from his ammunition sack. Laying out the mat just as far out from cover as he needed, which wasn't all that much, he flipped the bipod stalks down on the rifle and set it down on the mat. Francis removed the scope from the gun and replaced it with a direct visual uplink to his HUDs targeting reticule.

After several tense seconds, Francis took his hand off the gun and raised it towards Dan, giving the all clear signal - three fingers raised, the thumb and forefinger making an "O" shape. Francis rolled up the mat and stashed it away, slinging his gun over his shoulder.
Dan gave the go signal, and the four Spartans ran out into the night.

They stopped at a junction. The buildings had slowly tapered out to leave the Spartans exposed in the boggy marshland on the outskirts of the city. They had made their way through the deserted city, encountering no life forms along the way, for the hostile alien war machine known collectively as the Covenant had wiped out most of the Carrion-Xerses System little under twenty years ago, leaving ghost towns - ghost planets - in it's wake.

For humanity, the war had been a battle on two fronts - the technologically superior and xenophobic alien faction the Covenant, and the closer-to-home but just as dangerous Rebel terrorist threat, a group that during the war was of great concern to the United Nations Space Command - UNSC - due to the fact that their defence forces were severely depleted and what little was left of them was focused entirely on the Covenant, leaving a major opening for the Rebel forces should they decide to take action.

Luckily for the UNSC, the Rebels soon realised the threat the Covenant posed, and were content to leave the UNSC alone until the war was over, one way or another.

The Spartans walked forward into the tall stalks of grass, weapons raised, view screens magnified and zoomed in on the horizon. The twin moons of Pol-VII shimmered in the black cloak of night.

They had been assigned to eliminate a rebel base. But not just any base, for the one they were to eliminate housed over seventeen HAVOK nuclear warheads, enough firepower to destroy a small planet. When the top brass at the Office of Naval Intelligence - ONI - found out about the dangerous stockpile, the first question was how did they get them in first place? With the Humans emerging victorious from the war, they had become complacent and had near enough forgotten about the Rebels. That, coupled with the black market and increasing activity of smugglers, had resulted in the Rebels becoming less of a rabble and a pain in the neck to a full-fledged army and an actual serious threat to the UNSC.

The Human-Covenant war had been won because of one man - the Master Chief. Last of the legendary Spartan-II's and Humanity's last, best hope. He had destroyed the Covenant, and had given his life to Humanity. Now, Humanity needed him again.

But he was dead, or so it was presumed. When the Sangheili Arbiter Thel Vadam' had crash-landed on Earth, and no Master Chief was present, it was safe to assume his demise. Colonel Ackerson's Spartan-III's were all dead, too. And so the Spartan-IV programme began. They had been trained. They had been weighed, they had been measured. And now they were out there, fighting to make Humanity finally safe from any threat, human or otherwise.

"Spread out, Bravo formation," said Dan, his voice crackling over the COM. The Spartans assumed a diamond shape, with Dan at the front, Francis on his left, heavy-weapons expert Uri-457 on his right and explosives expert Janice-391 taking up the rear. They were trudging through the mud, the way points on their HUDs leading them further into the ghostly countryside. The red dots on the motion tracker had slowly disappeared, turning left, away from the Spartans' path. But something didn't feel right, and Dan knew that everybody else in his team felt the same thing.

It was a nagging feeling, clawing away at the back of his mind. Like something was watching him, something behind him -

The two red dots returned at the edge of the scanner, now behind the Spartans. They had looped around. They picked up speed, and soon they came into view behind the group.

The hum of antigravity vehicles grew louder.

"Covenant?" gasped Dan, not quite believing his ears. The twin moons of Pol-VII were directly behind the two vehicles, silhouetting them against the bright white satellites. The two shapes, from the front, looked roughly triangular, with the middle of the triangle somewhat oval-shaped, the two wedges like pylons. A turret sat on top.

Shadows. Covenant Shadow troop-carriers. But that didn't make any sense. What little remained of the Covenant was being wiped out, and there was almost certainly no alien presence on Pol-VII, let alone in the Carrion-Xerses system.

So what were they doing here?

Dan forced himself to think straight: there was only one real answer. After the war there had been a lot of Covenant tech lying around. The UNSC, and humanity, had become a lot more advanced as a result. Many of the Covenant vehicles were scrapped, but several were kept by the UNSC and, with a whole heap of luck, managed to be reverse-engineered. The Shadow was one of these vehicles, and thus the Buffalo was born, in essence an olive-green Shadow with all the standard UNSC fixings and a heavy Gauss cannon in place of the Covenant plasma turret.

If there was one thing the Rebels wanted more than to rule humanity, it was UNSC technology. And they had a knack for getting it, something ONI could never get their head around.

The Shadows must just be Rebel-coveted Buffalos, thought Dan. That was reassuring - no Covenant presence, just as he liked it. Just as everyone liked it.

"Francis, we've got Rebel Buffalos on our six," he said, nodding his head towards the two vehicles. Tell me what they've got."

Francis crouched down to one knee, resting the stock of the sniper rifle on his shoulder. He zoomed in on his visual uplink, turning on the night-vision mode to get a look at the details.

The two craft shimmered across the murky black field, slowly advancing towards them. Through the greenish tint on his scope Francis saw that the Gauss cannons had been replaced with a heavy compliment of coveted Argent missiles - devastatingly powerful weapons that could destroy whole ships. The once iridescent green armor plating was now a dull brown color, and the armor itself was sometimes patched and riveted. Two flags fluttered in the breeze, fixed to the top of the Argent missile racks. The wind dropped for a moment, and Francis saw that emblazoned upon the cloth was the emblem of the Reformed United Rebel Front, a red flag with a man standing alone, clutching a gun. On closer inspection, the man was revealed to actually be many men and women, all clutching weapons and drawn on top of each other.

A lone Rebel sat in each of the the missile turrets, swivelling left and right, searching the horizon for movement. Several others were slumped in the troop bays, clutching their weapons to their chests, shivering from the cold which no Spartan felt due to the automated temperature control inside their AEGIS battle suits.

"Argent missile racks. I'd say about ten per Buffalo. Most likely more missiles in the troop bay. And they'd have fitted it out with their own weapons, obviously." replied Francis.

"Obviously," muttered Dan. "What's their ETA on our position?"

"I'd say about five minutes, the way their going."

Dan looked closer at the Buffalos. Francis was right - they were travelling quite fast. But Hervanoa City - actually, Pol-VII itself - was under total Rebel control. That's why the Spartans had been sent here. Dan glanced up at the two Rebel manning the turret. Why were they rotating it about like that - almost frantically?
Dan turned to Uri, and gave him a series of sharp hand signals, mimicking a rocket launcher and pounding a fist into his palm, then pointed at the two rapidly approaching vehicles.

Uri gave a terse nod, snatched the huge weapon from his back and levelled it to his shoulder, pushing the stock back into his collarbone. He peeked through the sight, locking onto both targets, and then squeezed the trigger twice.

A jet of smoke blew out the back of both tubes as two flaming rockets spiralled through the night, scorching the grass wherever it touched it. The rockets dissolved into tens of smaller rockets, that slammed into the two Buffalo craft, exploding violently on impact. The front of the driver's canopy on the left Buffalo was torn off, shredding it's occupant to pieces with bits of shrapnel. A large chunk of metal slapped the gunner in the neck, shearing his head straight off.

The second Buffalo, however, had deviated off course at the last moment, causing most of the tiny but hugely powerful missiles to fly past it, sustaining minimum damage. The gunner spun to face the lingering smoke trails, eyes wide with fear. He shouted in what on Earth they called Hungarian: "Viszont a spotlampa!"

Dan's translator kicked in.

Turn the spotlights on!

"TARNKAPPE cloaks, now!" Dan barked. Each of the Spartans pulled out a hooded camouflage cloak from a storage compartment in the small of their back, setting them over their backs and flipping the hoods down over their heads, before sinking down into a prone position. The sensors in their armour recognised the cloaks, and an activation button popped up on the Spartans' Head-Up Displays. The neural interface implanted in the back of the Spartans' skulls registered concentrated thoughts of activating the cloaks, and so performed the action. The TARNKAPPEs consisted of an incredibly lightweight material that had only recently been developed which was covered in thousands of micro-cameras. When activated, these cameras bounced light off the wearer and the cloak assumed the appearance of whatever was supposed to be there. The cloaks were essentially a far more advanced version of 21st century "ghillie" suits.

The four prone Spartans melted into the marshy grassland, the cloaks mimicking their every movement with the swaying of the stalks and their every breath with the whisper of the wind, just as a blindingly bright light sliced through the night, causing the internal light adjusters in the Spartans' helmets to flutter before finally switching to the darkest tint, which was barely adequate. Dan knew that the TARNKAPPEs weren't going to be good enough under light his bright, as to the Rebels it must look as if someone had cut a lump out of their spotlight's beam. He pinged a red status light on his HUD, warning the others that they were going to have trouble very, very soon.

And soon enough, there was a bang, and a flaming missile streaking a gray smoke trail whizzed over Dan's head, literally inches away from his camouflage cloak. It exploded far behind him.

The Rebels wouldn't use that sort of response if they hadn't confirmed the target's ID. They had known the Spartans were coming - that was why they were hurrying along and acting so jittery.

That missile shot had been too close - they had to act now. Dan sent an amber status light - get ready. He waited until he got three green acknowledgement lights, before sending his own back, flashing it twice - now!

With a war cry, the four armored super soldiers leapt up out of the grass and charged forward, all guns blazing. The Rebel troops jumped up, piling out of the wrecked Buffalo and the undamaged one, caught off-guard by the tenacity of the enemy. Several didn't even have time to do that, bullets already ripping through their skulls and body armour.

Bullets pinged and ricocheted off the near-impenetrable plates of the Spartans' AEGIS armor. A few bounced back, killing them with their own lead. The gunner in the undamaged Buffalo spun his turret round to face Dan, loosing off two missiles.

Dan ducked and rolled to the side, trying to evade the flaming missiles. They looped around, tracking his heat signature. Dan knew there was no way he could possibly outrun them, nor could he try and shoot them down - they were too fast for his rifle. But he had to do something...

"Janice!" he yelled over the COM. "I need an EMP blast right now!"

"Sir?" Janice sounded confused. "Yes, sir!"

Dan understood. Janice had every right to question his orders. An Electro-Magnetic Pulse would cause every piece of technology in the blast-radius to fail. The Spartans would be severely compromised - without their suits functioning, they would be little more than extra-strong, extra-fast humans, not the armored super-soldiers they were. The EMP blast would not only destroy the missile, or at the very least the internal tracking mechanisms, but also bring their suit's shields down, allowing any flying shrapnel or enemy bullets to penetrate their AEGIS armor.

But without it, the Spartans would surely die.

Janice grabbed a small circular ball from the magnetic plate on her hip, palmed the activation button and threw it into the massing Rebels. An eery blue aura grew out from the ball, sapping all the electrical energy within it's medium-range radius.

The Rebels edged away, unsure of what it would do, and then yelled in panic as their COMs crackled uselessly. The spotlight blew out, shards of glass slicing faces open. The Buffalo stopped humming and dropped to the ground with a thunk as missile whined, continuing on it's deadly path towards Dan. He rolled sideways, out of its way, and the missile did not turn.

Good, he thought. He snatched his helmet from his head and tossed it to the floor. It was useless to him now. The others did the same.

"Francis!" he barked, turning to the team's sniper. The missile dipped lower on it's inane path. "Bring that baby down!"

"Sir! Yes, sir!" Francis replied, a scope already fixed to his sniper rifle and tracking the missile. He pumped the trigger once, twice, three times, as fast as the chamber would cycle, the white smoke trails slicing through the sanguine night.

Each shot was a hit, the high calibre bullets punching through the thick casing. The missile exploded in a ball of fire, scorching the tall stalks of grass.

Now he could concentrate on the battle.

Dan leapt into the air, spinning over a cluster of Rebels, his MA5K burping out a hail of bullets that eliminated the Rebels instantly. He landed softly on the floor and then dived under a burst of armor-piercing rounds, rolling back up to slam his armored fist into the Rebel's face, smashing his nose and sending the bone splintering back through the skull and into the brain.

The Rebel dropped dead without so much as a scream, his face devastated beyond recognition.

Dan spun around, leaping into the air and swinging his boot out, sending the nearest Rebel flying into his comrades, completely unconscious. He glanced about at his team mates, clustered around him, weapons blazing as they slaughtered the Rebels.

Dan's gun clicked, as did Janice's.

"I'm out," they said, dropping the weapon to the ground and pulling their M6E pistols from the magnetic plates on their thighs.

Dan calmly walked up the quivering Buffalo driver and put a round through his head. The corpse dropped out onto the grass.

Not one Rebel moved.

"Alright, that's it." Dan said, holstering the pistol. "Uri, police the weapons. Janice - is that Buffalo repairable?"

Janice stepped up towards the troop-carrier and flipped open a hatch.

"The heavy armor plating on the engine box meant that the EMP only stalled it - it's fine."

"Okay - Uri, get on that turret. Me and Janice will ride shotgun in the troop bay. Francis, get this baby up and running."

The Spartans snapped a crisp salute.

"Sir, yes sir!"

Dan returned their salute, and then turned towards the horizon, just as the Helios began it's daily cycle.

It was time they got going.

Section 1

Chapter One

1300 Hours, 15th March, 2559 (Military Calendar) /
Aboard the UNSC Hide and Seek, Epsilon Indi System

The ship's intercom rang with a dong, and the calm voice of the Hide and Seek's smart-AI Catrina was amplified over the speakers.

"Captain Marvin Jacoby, please report to the bridge."

Marvin woke with a start, snapping to attention and knocking his chair over. He blinked a few times to clear his hazy vision, yawned, and then examined the room he stood in.

It was roughly rectangular, with brilliant white walls and a soft gray carpet, bouncy under his bare feet. The leather chair he had slept in was now on it's side, and the desk in front of him was covered in data pads, paperwork and coffee mugs. A small sofa sat at the east end along with a coffee table. There was a keypad on the north-facing wall, next to a door that was built into the wall. The west wall entirely consisted of triple-glazed, highly pressurised glass, a feature extremely rare among UNSC fleet ships. But then again, the Hide and Seek was unlike any ship.

It was a modified Phoenix-class colony ship, refitted sometime in the 2520's. It had been stripped of it's colonisation features, entire schools and hospitals being removed and replaced with a medium-sized Magnetic Accelerator Cannon, or MAC gun to most of the UNSC personnel, a large amount of Archer missiles and 50 mm point defence weapons. The Hide and Seek had seen plenty of Covenant action, and despite taking some serious beatings, had survived each and every one of these dangerous encounters. Now that the war was over, sections of it had been converted into orbital observation platforms, providing a spectacular and breathtaking view of deep interplanetary space.

Marvin righted the chair and stepped towards the window, smoothing down his uniform with the help of the reflection. Then he walked up to the door, thumbed the keypad and stepped through.

The corridor was nothing like the pristine whiteness of his office. Dirty pipes lined the metal walls, and a choking vapor filled the air, the smell of the Hide and Seek's Shaw-Fujikawa engine and cooling vents. It was an atmosphere of chaos - something he was not pleased with.

Marvin entered the ship's elevator and pressed the button for the bridge. He adjusted the collar of his uniform and pulled his peak cap further down on his head. The doors opened with a ping and he stepped out onto the bustling bridge.

View screens flickered with statistics, co-ordinates and engine readouts. A total of five bridge crew sat at their stations around the room, monitoring their assigned consoles, and the Captain's chair sat unattended at the front of the bridge, facing the wide expanse of space.

A man stood by the navigation table in the centre of the room, a holographic map of the Epsilon Indi system being projected. The system had only one habitable planet, Harvest, which had been glassed multiple times by the Covenant and finally abandoned by the UNSC sometime in 2531, the scorched surface of the planet being useless to the humans and the Covenant.

So what were they doing here?

The man turned towards Marvin and he spotted the three stars of a Rear Admiral glinting in the bridge lights. The surname Fenton was written across his left breast. Marvin snapped to attention.

"Sir!" he barked.

The Rear Admiral gave a casual salute and said, "At ease, Captain,".

"Sir," Marvin lowered his arm. "Permission to speak, sir!"

"Granted," Rear Admiral Fenton nodded his head slightly.

"Sir, what are we doing around Harvest? It was classed as useless over a decade ago."

Fenton cleared his throat and fingered his collar self-consciously.

"When the UNSC Spirit of Fire went missing in 2531, it was our last official contact with planet Harvest. Of course, we've sent probes down their, even the odd squad of Marines, but contact has always been lost."

The Rear Admiral coughed once, and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand.

"Scans show that approximately 82 percent of Harvest was glassed by the Covenant and is now an endless wasteland of melted sand. The remaining 28 percent, we believe, was quickly occupied by Rebel forces, most likely the United Rebel Front. More worrying, however, is that there also appears to be a small Covenant presence within this 28-or-so percent."

Marvin nodded. The Covenant would always leave a small force behind on every planet they glassed - to mop up any mess, presumably.

Fenton must have known he'd think that, and shook his head.

"No, you're wrong." he said. "Or at least in Harvest's case you are. Readings show that there is only one Covenant species down there - the Huragok, as the Covenant called them, or Engineers to you and I."

Marvin was now thoroughly confused. "Sir, why would they leave their most harmless species down on Harvest?"

"We don't know." Marvin rolled his eyes a little - like anyone ever would know. "But what we do know, is this group of Engineers are now in Rebel hands."


"The Rebels captured them and put them to work." Fenton sighed. "In other words, the Rebels will eventually be armed with Covenant technology. We'll pretty much be fighting the same war all over again."

Marvin dropped his eyes to the floor. This was terrible news. The UNSC now had no hope - again.

Marvin locked eyes with the Rear Admiral, fiery determination in his eyes.

"We can't let them have the Huragok..." he whispered.

"No - we can't." Fenton replied, stepping away from the table and placing a hand on Marvin's shoulder. "Which is why we're going in hot and taking them away from the bastards - is that understood?"

Marvin nodded.

"Yes, sir - I understand." He turned towards First Lieutenant Hobbs on navigation. "Plot a course for planet Harvest - best speed."

"Aye aye, sir!" she said, tucking a strand of her honey-blonde hair behind an ear. "Answering best speed."

Her fingers danced across the console as she tapped in the co-ordinates. The Hide and Seek bucked slightly as the glowing surface of Harvest popped into view on the monitors.

Marvin turned towards the Rear Admiral. "We'll get it done, sir." he said, grim with determination.

"Thank you," Fenton replied, and exited the bridge, the elevator doors sliding apart with a whoosh.

Marvin called up Catrina on the holographic table. She appeared before him in a swathe of blue light that faded as her graphics engine aligned itself to her preferences.

All UNSC Artificial Intelligence's take on the form of an avatar, a virtual form that has the ability to move and speak, generally used because it is more reassuring for humans to see such a godlike being as one of their own.
Catrina took the form of woman with cropped raven-black hair, pale skin and blue eyes that seemed to radiate sheer power. A startling-white robe covered her body, as did a matching hood on her head. Calculations and symbols constantly flowed over them.

"Hello, Captain," she smirked, eyes flashing playfully from the murky depths of her hood. She raised one eyebrow mockingly. "Harvest? I don't believe any UNSC ship has been there since 2531."

Marvin rolled his eyes. Of course, she wasn't surprised. Knowing Catrina - knowing most AI, in fact - she'd probably heard the whole conversation.

"Catrina, ready all units on board. I want a full scanner report on the Rebel forces down on Harvest - find out where they are and what they've got."

"Aye, sir." she said. Symbols and numbers swam across her body as she took surface readings. "Rebel presence located. Getting results..."

"Display them on my data pad, please, Catrina."

Marvin sat down in his chair and looked out into the deep space. A small circle in the distance gradually grew larger as they approached Harvest. Details became apparent on it's surface - scorched earth, glowing expanses of molten sand and great plains of glass.

The data pad fixed to the left arm of Marvin's chair blinked on and swung into viewing position. Streams of data ran across it's surface, until Marvin thumbed a button on the screen and it switched to Catrina's report.

His eyes flickered over line after line of text, detailing information on the Rebel forces, confirmed landmarks, possible base sites for the UNSC to destroy and suitable locations for their own firebases.
The Captain shook his head slowly. It was going to be a tough fight, should these figures prove to be true.

"Catrina, get a couple of scout squads down there - we are going to need information from the front if we're gonna grab those packages!" he growled, glaring at the data pad, trying to find some hidden tactic, some hidden super-weapon in the lines of letters, numbers and code.

The war was starting all over again.

Chapter Two.

1900 Hours, 15th March, 2559 (Military Calendar) /
Unconfirmed Location, planet Harvest, Epsilon-Indi System

The Buffalo roared over the ravaged terrain, gliding over lumps of concrete and rock, sliding over potholes and craters.

The UNSC had returned to Harvest.

It was the first and, so far, only vehicle the UNSC had managed to reverse-engineer... or so they said. In reality, ONI had stumbled across a Shadow-producing factory, waited until their numbers were high enough, then swarmed in and rounded up the whole lot of them - jackpot. After someheavy modfications, apaint-job and rigorous field testing, the two-hundred-and-fifty-seven-strong Buffalo fleet was ready for action.

Several Marines in the troop bay twitched nervously, uncomfortable at being on a planet officially listed as "lost" by the Office of Naval Intelligence. They were sweaty underneath their standard UNSC Marine armor and battle fatigues, for the air was hot and humid, the stench of burnt flesh and thousands dead choking the sweet Harvest air.

The Buffalo had been given an upgrade. As well as increased speed and extra-extra-armor plating, two heavy UNSC "shredder" machine gun turrets had been affixed to either side of the troop bay, and a shell cannon was now fixed to each of the Buffalo's four pylons, two facing forwards, two facing backwards, with roughly a 130-degree range of fire for each.

The gauss cannon on top of the Buffalo swivelled about, the Staff Sergeant gunner surveying the surrounding wreckage and forest for any signs of hostile forces.

"All clear," he said, voice crackling over the COM.

"Check thermals, sir?" replied the driver, a Private First-Class with Andrews printed on his chest piece.

The Sergeant, his bulky armor shifting as he peered through the sight, switched to thermal view. The surname Lachance was emblazoned underneath the four gold chevrons on his shoulder pauldron.
Over ten humanoid-shaped thermals walked into his scope, their crouched postures indicating that they were most likely an ambush squad.

"Ambush squad - 300 meters, two o'clock." he hissed between his teeth. "Cut this damn thing out!"

The driver flicked a switch and pressed several buttons, and the Buffalo slowed to a standstill, gently kissing the ground as it's antigravity engines turned off.
Lachance turned off his COM and quietly climbed out of the turret, swinging open the access hatch and dropping down into the troop bay below, where a squad of eight Marines sat clutching their weapons.

"Everyone COM silent!" he whispered. The Marines switched off their helmet mikes. "Harlow, Thompson, detach those turrets and set them up behind that crumbling wall adjacent to us." The two Marines nodded and got to work taking the four turrets off their stands. Lachance turned towards a Marine wearing slightly bulkier armor with a large rim of protective metal going round his neck - a bomb-disposal expert. The word "expert" was somewhat of a joke within the forces - if you survived your first bomb, you were an expert.

"Chen, rig claymores near the Buffalo and in the grass. Try and keep them hidden." Lachance knew that last part was unnecessary - Chen really was an expert, especially at keeping his death devices hidden.

"Yes, sir!" the man replied, and clambered out of the troop bay, already finding suitable locations for the explosives.

"Everyone else, turn over a few boxes and make it look like we were already ambushed. Spray a little fire along the sides - make it look real. Then get back behind the turrets - we're taking these guys out!" Lachance said, hefting his assault rifle.

"Ooh-rah!" cried the five Marines, and proceeded to carry out his orders.

The Staff Sergeant emptied a magazine along a couple of the Buffalo's armor plates, then pulled the pin on a frag grenade and left it a good few meters away, and retreated to a safe distance.

The frag went off, shattering the quiet night and leaving a good scorch mark on the side of the Buffalo.

"Alright!" he said. "Everyone into cover, they'll be here any minute!"

The squad moved back through the rubble and behind the wall where Harlow and Thompson had set up three of the turrets, leaving the remaining one near the Buffalo, smashed up nicely.

A scout Lachance had posted up near the Buffalo turned and made a thumbs-up sign at Staff Sergeant Lachance - they were here.

Lachance gave a hand signal and the Marines went prone. And sure enough, a team of twenty Rebels - over twice the size of the Marine squad - armed with stolen SPNKr missiles, grenades and M7 submachine guns, burst out of the forest and into the open.

"Hey, what's going on?" Lachance heard one say. "Someone got here first..."

Lachance cried, "Now!"

The Marines burst out of cover and started firing at the enemy. Shredder and AP rounds cut through the air in a blaze of fire, slicing flesh, punching through armor and killing Rebel troops.

The three turrets wound up and started their hellish attack, each manned by an enthusiastic Marine.

"Yeah!" cried Thompson. "Take that, you Rebel piece o' crap!"

The ambush squad fell quickly, and what little survived ran back into the forest, taking cover in the trees. Lachance gave the signal and the Marines all tossed frag grenades into the bushes, each one exploding violently and sending bits of shrapnel, splinters of wood and hunks of Rebel flesh into the air.

"Andrews, check our Buffalo over for damage, then get it rolling." barked the Staff Sergeant. "Polonksi, police the weapons and ammo - we're shipping out in ten!"

"Sir, yes sir!" The Marines saluted.

Lachance climbed into the troop bay, pulled a Sweet William cigar out of one of the many ammo pouches strapped to his chest, along with the lighter his father had given him when he'd graduated from military school.

Take care of it, son.

He lit the cigar and took a good, long drag, puffing the black smoke out into the sky and watching it dissipate into the polluted Harvest air.

They were back, alright. And it felt good.