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A General's Tale -- Prologue
Posted By: The Meep<HaloFanatic101@yahoo.com>
Date: 4 January 2008, 3:42 am

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      The situation was bad. And as Lieutenant General Marc Navrez stood in front of the field display; hands on the cool metal siding, elbows locked, arms straight, shoulders hunched, head bowed; he knew the battle was lost. His men were on the verge of breaking. The Covenant simply had too many soldiers, too much armor, too much air support. They outnumbered and out-teched the XVI Corps in every way. The fact that they were fighting on home territory, territory they knew, was the only advantage the Marines had. But even that was turning into a bane: the fact that Earth was under siege was a brutal hit to morale.

      The fight had been engaged for three long hours now. What once was the tranquil town of New Sirra was a smoldering pile of ruins. Only a handful of the hundred or so buildings remained standing, silent monuments jutting out of the destruction, as if guarding their home. Thankfully, the civilian population had been evacuated during the First Battle of Earth and so were long gone by the time the XVI Corps moved in.

      A sudden explosion rocked the underground bunker, streams of grit falling from the dirt cieling, making small mounds on the soil floor. The lights flickered and went out, soon replaced by dimmer ones powered by the backup generator. The TACMAP blinked on and off for a few seconds, before restoring itself to its original state. The explosion tripped several men, but Navrez's position had him already braced.

      After the detonation had shaken the bunker, one of the officers brushed himself off and joined Marc at the TACMAP. A worn silver eagle was pinned on his right shoulder, placing him at O-6 paygrade: Colonel. When he spoke, it was hushed, almost a whisper. "That was too close, sir. The Covenant must have brought in long range artillery."

      Navrez nodded and lifted one of his hands from the warmed metal, touching several places in and around the TACMAP's display of New Sirra. A topographical map overlayed itself on the screen, a series of circular lines indicating twin hills on the northern side of town. The man pointed to both of them, one finger each. "There and..." Marc paused, as if waiting. Another explosion, a little farther away, reached the bunker. "...there. Get me a confirmation from ballistics."

      The Colonel gave a slight nod and walked briskly through the dirt bunker to one of the stations. He whispered in the tech's ears and had a short transaction of brief orders and questions. The slightly bald man gave another nod, grabbed a sheet of paper and made his way back to Marc, careful not to trip in the dim light.

      "You had it right on the money, sir. The shots were identified as Type-90 artillery pieces. They got a range of three klicks." The Colonel broke eye contact. "Sir, we have to pull back our men or they'll be paste."

      Marc looked at the Colonel. "Do you think I don't realize that, Leon? The 4th and 5th platoons are positioned here," he said sharply, pointing to a raised highway about half a klick from the city. "If I have them retreat, they're going to have to cross a klick and a half of open territory. Even if we had the tanks lay down a supressing fire, the Covenant artillery is out of range. We'd have unacceptable casaulties!"

      Leon glanced back at the TACMAP, realizing what his superior was saying. "And we can't call in Pelicans... There's too much AA in the city. They'd never touch down." The Colonel leaned over the circular TACMAP desk alongside Marc. "Orders? Sir?"

      "General!" called out one of the communications officers. Marc stood up and turned, his back now to the TACMAP. The officer continued. "Incoming COM traffic, sir."

      "Toss it to me."

      The Lieutenant paused for a second, then took off his headset and underhanded it to Marc. Slipping it on, he opened the channel. "This is Lieutenant General Navrez."

      The channel burst into static before a voice punched through the white noise. "Good to hear from ya sir! We thought the CC bunker got nailed by the artillery."

      "Identify yourself."

      "O, this is Major Williams of the hundred'n'fifth outta Earth, atcha service!" the earpiece said enthusiastically with a noticable British accent. "We have a payload here we neva' got to drop off back in Ferros Valley. Mind if we lighten up a tad over New Sirra?"

      Marc was surprised. The 105th was a Longsword force belonging to the XXX Corps, which had been following up on an offensive in Ferros Valley, nearly 150 miles north of New Sirra. Ferros Valley must have been a total victory against the Covenant, else the Longswords wouldn't have a payload still on them.

      Keying the mic, Marc spoke. "Who sent you, Major? What's the situation in Ferros Valley?"

      Willams' response was quick in coming. "If ya don't mind me saying, sir, it's a helluva lot better there then it is here. Total rout, Covies neva' stood a chance. Brigadier General Andre redirected us to New Sirra after he took the valley. Orders, sir?"

      "Stand by." The Lieutenant General spun back to the TACMAP display, looking to chart a carpet bomb path for the Longswords. This was a welcome development in the situation. By taking out the artillery and most of the Covenant AA with long range bombs and missiles, Pelicans could--

      "Sir?" said Colonel Leon, an unidentifiable emotion tugging on his voice. "We got confirmation... There's a squad of Marines hidden in a parking garage about a quarter klick from the upper artillery. They have wounded."

      Marc's stomach clenched. Ordering the Longsword attack run now would wipe out that squad. A two level garage wouldn't do jack squat if the Longsword's carpet bombed the city. And they can't get close enough to use smart bombs; the AA would down them before they could loose a payload.

      The Lieutenant General clamped his mouth shut, his lips becoming a thin white line before speaking. "It's either a squad of men, or two battalions of Marines. They... They'd understand." Everyone in the room knew that was bullshit. The Marines would die not even knowing why they weren't evaced. They would think that they has been cut off from the Corps. And they'd be right.

      "Order the attack run," Marc said through gritted teeth.

      "Maria's with them," said the Colonel suddenly, as if he had tried to say it earlier, but couldn't bring himself to.

      "Belay that last order!" yelled Marc. Turning to Leon, he gripped his shoulders. "Are you sure? Maria was extracted with the rest of her platoon!"

      The Colonel backed up. "It's her. It's her for sure. We lost radio contact, but they identified her voice. I'm sorry, sir."

      The stony faced Lieutenant General turned back to the TACMAP, as if its steady blue light would provide solace and councel. Looking down at his hand, he fingered the golden band encircling his finger. He knew what the right thing to do was. Order the attack run, wipe out the Covenant, save two platoons of Marines. Bury his wife.

      But if he called off the bombing run, Maria would still be alive, but the artillery would shred the Marines when they tried to retreat. Chances are, the Covenant would find her and her squad anyway and--

      "Orders? We're approachin' the AA perimeter," said Major Williams over the COM. Marc stopped fingering the ring, instead clenching his hand and staring at the TACMAP. Could he do it? Save his men at the cost of his wife? Kill his men to save his wife?

      A tense thirty seconds passed. No one in the bunker spoke. Even the far off explosions of artillery and tanks seemed to not be able to penetrate the earthen walls. Even the background Longsword engine noise seem stifled coming through the Major's COM.

      Finally, Marc made his decision. The Colonel nodded and relayed it to Major Williams in the air. Activity resumed in the command bunker as it was before, albeit in a more solemn manner. As people started moving and talking again around him, Lieutenant General Marc Navres continued to stare into the TACMAP, the soft blue light illuminating his face, offering no comfort.

      May God damn me to Hell, for that is all I deserve.