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HALO: Iron Cross [Chapter Four, Part 1]
Posted By: UNSC Trooper<unsctrooper@hotmail.com>
Date: 10 January 2008, 7:44 pm

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"If we get any lower, we ain't gonna' need any freakin' parachutes!" – Unknown paratrooper, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, Easy Company, June 6th 1945.

1710 Hours, December 2, 2537 (Military Calendar) /
Hellespont System, planet Mamore, Designated Dropzone 1A

The hatch of the Pelican hissed open, slowly descending to its maximum width and gently wavering in the air as the craft roared through the dark blue vacuum. The strong winds violently shook the unstable handle bars on the sealing of the aircraft. The vacuum began to drain the air out of the bay, and small pieces of ice started settling on the metallic fuselage.

Scott looked at his combat suit; the plastic material was slowly stiffening from the humid cold. His shoulder patch was covered in fine layers of dusty ice. The inscriptions and the ODST logo became barely readable. Nothing unusual, after all, they'd just made contact with the freezing currents of space.

He gently strained his right hand muscles, clenching the handle bar firmly in his palm. He hadn't frozen yet, but if he would have to endure much more of the frost, his entire body would become a chunk of arctic ice, stuck in the crammed chamber of an orbital craft.

His fingers felt numb, scarcely holding a grip of the MA5B's support hole. He felt like his mind was leisurely fading into the void, and his eyes slowly began to fall under the control of his tired subconscious. A thick voice suddenly echoed past his ears. He raised his head.

"Drop zone in range, we jump on my mark!" Lieutenant Silva shouted as he counted the seconds on his wristwatch, standing in front of Scott and repeatedly gesturing his hands. Scott shook his head, opened his eyes and quickly glanced around him through the blurry faceplate of his helmet. The circumference of a planet and a field of stars met his gaze. He remembered why he was here.

Four troopers stood behind him, some of them holding on to their comrades' suits as the Pelican turned and stirred the cabin. Silva gestured at them to advance toward the ramp. Scott shook his head, slowly stepping closer to the opened hatch. He stopped, leaned forward and gazed at the moving clouds below him.

The light on the top of the hatch lit yellow, displaying the word "Open". The Lieutenant tapped Scott's shoulder, gestured the thumbs-up signal and began counting down the seconds on his left hand. Scott watched as Silva rose up three fingers. "Three, two, one, clear!" he shouted. Scott bent his knees, spread his arms and pushed his feet over the lowered ramp. His heart started pumping, and his stomach felt like it was being pressed by a tremendous pressure. He kept his eyes fixed on the edge of the planet as he fell through the long layers of clouds.

His body left an empty and deformed hole through the clouds. The intensity of the drop suddenly increased as the layers of thin fume slowly passed behind him. The ground was visible, and the tops of trees came into focus. Scott set his hand on the blue twined handle of his backpack.

The edge of the planet became longer in diameter, and the orange sun started lighting his uniform. He squeezed his finger through the small orifice of the handle, and pulled the backpack open. The Falcon Wing made a loud crumpling noise as it deployed itself in the air. The words "Helljumper from Reach" were tagged on the chute's cape.

Scott's arms were pulled upward as the parachute caught the air under its hood and slowed down his rapid descent. The ice on his bodysuit started to melt, easily soaking the black material. He didn't feel the cold anymore, and little drops of water poured down his faceplate.

He looked up. Five other canopies rained down from the sky. Scott wondered if they would get spotted while gliding on the way down. These parachutes are invisible to the naked eye once deployed; the drill instructor's words brought him some comfort as he dropped closer to the trees.

He grabbed the chute's ropes tight, and struggled to keep his legs straight. The orange light of the distant sun shone on Scott's faceplate. He instinctively set his left hand over his face, covering his eyes. The MA5B was hung around his shoulder, constantly shaking as the gentle winds pushed him back and forth.

The trees were only a couple of hundred meters away. Scott raised his legs slightly, lowered his head into his chest, and assumed the landing position. He gripped the ropes even tighter, and relaxed his feet muscles. He fell past a tall tree and dropped on the ground, his parachute dangling into the cluster of solid branches. The soil was muddy and covered in red leaves, nothing similar to what he'd seen on Reach.

The blood started pumping through his legs again as he rose up on his feet. He shook his head, took a deep breath and looked around the dense forest. He reached for the back of his suit and retracted the position locator. The device was jammed.

He glanced at the sky. The other canopies looked like raindrops, increasing in size as they gradually passed below the layers of gray clouds. The silent tweeting of insects resounded across the forest. A long blue river streamed just a few meters ahead of Scott; that might be a problem.

Five consecutive bumps suddenly disturbed the silence. Scott turned around. The tall trees were shaking as Diana cut her parachute's ropes, releasing herself from the dangling canopy and falling on the ground. Behind her, Lieutenant Silva, Mike, David and Roger fell into position just below the sharp branches of the trees.

Silva rose to his feet, clutched his assault rifle with both hands, and steadied it above his shoulder. He took a quick glimpse of Mike and the other troopers. He counted them: Five. He lowered his weapon and advanced toward Scott, carefully observing the surroundings for any foreign movement.

Scott motioned the all-clear signal as his comrades approached him. Diana swung the sniper rifle over her shoulder and wiped the dirt off her helmet. The forest seemed to murmur a graceful melody of wiggling trees as the wind blew through their leaves.

The Lieutenant reached for his helmet and pressed a small button. He opened the TEAMCOM channel, "Corporal, type up the confirmation message on your laptop and send it to Reach HIGHCOM: Drop was successful." He said. Scott pulled the laptop out of his backpack and lifted the cover. He sat down, dropped the assault rifle, placed the small computer on his lap and began typing the message. His fingers were almost impossible to follow as he hit the buttons on the keyboard. He lifted his head and met gazes with Silva.

"Message sent, sir." He acknowledged as he closed the computer's hatch and scrambled to pick up his weapon. Silva nodded and turned toward the other soldiers. He crouched and picked up a thin wooden stick. It was covered in dirt and water, but it didn't bother him.

The ground was completely covered in seared leaves, and tiny worm-like creatures crawled inside their small holes. Silva set his hand on the soil and removed the leaves from a patch of dirt, slightly leaning his head. He took a quick look at his wristwatch: If I blow this, they'll have my throat, he thought.

He looked at the troopers … and hesitated. The lives of millions of colonists on this planet were in the hands of his squad. He couldn't screw it up; he had to regain control of the nukes. The murmur suddenly fainted, and a tranquil silence quickly couched itself upon the virgin forest. A few stars were scattered on the light-blue sky as two birds flew away into the distance. Silva coughed, and cleared his throat.

He dug the stick into the soft ground and began drawing geometrically-perfect squares, lines and circles. He laid his left hand between two lines, carefully measuring them. The rebel base's schematics were printed in his mind after hours upon hours of studying and evaluating tactical decisions in his office. He could almost touch the barbed-wire outer wall of the compound as he circled the stick above a long line.

"This is the barbed-wire fence." The Lieutenant said, tapping the stick on the line. Barbed wire: Why would they use barbed wire instead of reinforced concrete? "Before you jump to any conclusions, this might actually be a diversion." He continued. The troopers were silent; not because they didn't have any questions to ask, but simply because the Lieutenant seemed too concentrated on briefing them about the structure of the compound. Accurate intelligence is a soldier's friend.

Silva moved the stick along a pathway, "The main entrance gate is heavily guarded. Estimates suggest that at least ten to fifteen commandos are patrolling it right now." Diana raised an eyebrow as she leaned over the handle of her sniper rifle, her face suddenly grim. The thought of taking out ten gunmen as her team moved into the compound raced through her mind: Anything could go wrong. She didn't say anything. The team's priorities were more important than her fears.

The Lieutenant turned to David and Roger. He drew a line into the dirt, "Roger, David, buckle up," he said and moved the stick to the other side of the outline. "You are going to secure the rear entrance to the facility." He made eye contact with David, "Don't worry, security is weak." David felt somewhat relieved to hear that. Yet, he couldn't know what he was up against until he saw it with his own eyes, and the briefing so far wasn't looking too pretty.

The soldiers exchanged gazes, nervously holding their rifles in their hands and taking quick peeks at the back of the forest. Silva pointed the stick to the center of the compound, his hands trembling easily as he assessed the plan once more. He gently tapped his helmet with his gloved index finger. The leathery material made a soft beating noise as the tip of his finger touched the plastic faceplate. Silence surrounded the woods. Scott wished he could see Silva's expressions under his helmet. It would give him a better grip of the situation.

"The packages are hidden inside the material deposit," Silva's thick voice became louder, momentarily disturbing the empty silence, "so you'd better watch where you're shooting those assault rifles. If one bullet blows though the armor of one of those things, we'll all be going home." He continued. Scott crouched beside the Lieutenant and laid his finger on one of the circles, "We'll need Mike to take out the towers." He said.

Mike tightened the SPNKr missile launcher's belt around his shoulder. "I've got all the firepower you need right here." Mike replied as he flexed his right arm and softly tapped the heavy machine. Scott gave a subtle approving nod and turned his head toward the Lieutenant. He felt uneasy for some reason, but he tried to hide the apprehensiveness. No one spoke. The silence frustrated the soldiers. Despite being in the middle of a forest, there was no sound apart from their own breathing inside their helmets.

Silva threw the stick on the ground, scattering small pieces of mud as it hit the dirt. His feet felt numb and his muscles tingled as he rose up. He lowered his right hand and swept the wet dirt off his black camouflage trousers. The water made contact with his skin. Great, now I'm going to catch a cold, he thought, slowly tightening his mandible muscles. His MA5B lay covered in mud. Little drops of water dripped down the leaves of a tree and splashed off the plastic casing of the rifle. The Lieutenant looked at the troopers once more. He couldn't see their faces. "Recheck your ammo." he said as he gestured the move out signal. Scott fell in, followed by his comrades carefully weighing their steps along the short, dark green bushes.

Mike was the slowest. He never got used to carrying the monstrous rocket launcher on his back. He preferred small arms and tactics: something he didn't quite manage to achieve in basic. He didn't have the gut to bitch though, not while his career depended on him keeping his mouth shut.

The sun started to set, and the dim light of day suddenly became even dimmer. The low-lit forest seemed dead – for now. Sunlight reflected off Silva's dark faceplate, and slowly appeared to pour down the chin of his helmet as he moved. His feet began to dry off from the water.

The temperature was acceptable: not too cold and not too hot; one less thing to worry about in a mission that seemed ridiculously dangerous even for a squad of battle-hardened troopers. David held the radar in his hands, attentively checking its frequency. His gloves were thicker than usual, making it difficult to control the machine. He didn't want to take any chances ever since he almost lost three of his fingers on a recon patrol on Harvest.

The small radar made synchronized mechanical sounds as it scanned the squad's surroundings. Scott placed his hand over a rotten tree-trunk and leaned over. He reached for his boot and retracted the combat knife. He couldn't remember why he hung it on his boot instead of his belt. I must've been drunk or something, he thought: a highly credible possibility.

Diana held the sniper rifle steady above her shoulder. The long barrel pushed the cluster of tree branches away from her path, clearing the Oracle scope's line of sight. Her footsteps made intermittent noises as she moved farther into the jungle. She lowered her head for a few moments and looked at the ground. Water.

The river ahead was overflowing, and the banks quickly started to drown in the raging waves. Scott was surprised. A moment ago the water was calmly flowing downstream. Silva raised his right arm. The squad stopped, and stared at the river. There was no way to cross it, except by foot.

Silva turned toward the team and gazed at the soldiers. He looked at their silhouettes; he needed a fat trooper to lead the way through the river. "Hey chubby," he shouted at Roger, "take point through the river. We'll follow in behind you." He continued. The soldier raced in front of Silva and stopped. Roger seemed to be the fattest marine in the squad, and stood the best chance of not getting carried away by the water.

The Lieutenant grasped Roger's jacket tight with his right hand. His fingernails hurt. "Everyone grab a hold of the man in front of you!" he said as he turned his head around. The marines clenched the backs of their comrades. They had to work together as a team.

The Lieutenant gestured the "move out" signal, and rested his rifle beside him. He strained his lips. Everyone was silent, slowly walking toward the blue-colored waters that streamed ahead. They weren't afraid; they couldn't drown anyways, not with their helmets on their heads. Scott's faceplate was fogged by his heavy breathing. His legs made contact with the cold water. The soldiers started shivering. They had to keep moving, and fast.

The water reached Roger's waist. He stuck his right hand out for a large rock in the middle of the river. He stretched his arm until his fingers found contact and grasped the edge of the reef. He was freezing, but he still tried to transfer his weight over to his shivering legs. Silva followed behind him, keeping his strong grip of Roger's uniform even stronger as he advanced into the depth of the river.

Mike started losing his grip of Scott's thick jacket. He frowned, closed his eyes, and strained every muscle in his body until he found the strength to keep walking in the deadly waters. A second passed by. His left leg slid under the slippery riverbed, and fell on his knees. For a moment his subconscious shut off, as if leaving his body prey to the water. Scott grabbed Mike's arm just before he hit the ground. Mike rose on his feet again and recovered from the fright. He locked gazes with Scott, "Thanks", he said. Scott nodded in response and smiled slightly inside his helmet before turning his head forward.

The soldiers treaded slowly, their footsteps splashing in the water and their arms lifted, clenching the backs of their comrades. Silva's legs couldn't stop trembling, "Hurry up!" he shouted at Roger. The fat shock trooper tried to dash his pace. Sweat started pouring down his forehead.

He saw the bank of the river and dug his hands into the soft dirt. His muscles strained, and he started pulling his body out of the cold water. It wasn't easy: he had to push Silva's body weight as well. He struggled. Roger's hands sank into the dirt holes as he tightened his feet muscles. He lifted his right leg and slowly crawled out of the streaming river.

Silva set foot on the ground and looked at his legs. He felt like they'd been frostbitten. The air in his helmet suddenly warmed up. That was good; it meant his body was regaining its previous warmth. He exhaled and shook his arms and legs.

Scott, Mike, Diana and Roger stepped out of the freezing waters. David followed behind at an awkwardly slow pace, taking off his helmet and rubbing his eyes. Diana set her left hand on her helmet. Her head was aching. She closed her eyes, detached her helmet and threw it on the ground in a moment of pain. She could still carry out her task even without a helmet. Her black hair was stuffed with sweat as she tried to touch it with her hand.

David focused on the radar. The small marker was pulsing in the middle of the display. This thing isn't picking up squat, he thought as he frowned at the machine. The rebel base was nowhere in sight, and the radar wasn't helping the troopers either. Fortunately, the weather wasn't too bad … yet.

The Lieutenant lifted two fingers and motioned the "Standby" signal. He crouched. Instinctively, Scott did the same thing and opened his eyes wide as he turned his head towards his left and right sides, his rifle nested in his glove-covered hands.

Silva remained still, his breath barely distinguishable in the almost "deafening" silence that seemed to surround the forest. There was no sound or movement. The Lieutenant finally turned to Scott, stretched his right hand and pointed toward their one o'clock direction.

Scott nodded subtly, "Move out, I'm taking point!" he shouted, his voice resounding off the leaves of the trees as he looked at the soldiers over his shoulder. A few seconds passed and he spun to his feet. His footsteps scattered a huddle of large pieces of wet dirt as he ran across the field. The trees were blocking his line of sight, but it didn't matter. He slalomed through the cluster of closely-grown trees and slipping occasionally, found a straight path to the squad's target.

Thousands of bugs crawled on the ground. The soil looked like a moving carpet as the creatures busied themselves. The soldiers paid no attention to them. Silva followed behind Scott, scarcely keeping pace with the Corporal's speed. No wonder Scott always won morning sprints on Reach.

Mike looked at his wristwatch: Two minutes to infiltrate the base, deactivate security, and secure the warheads. Hah, there's no way in hell we can pull it off, he thought, almost screaming the words out loud. He'd never been too optimistic about high-risk missions. He banished the thought and kept running.

The leaves were swept off the ground as Scott started running even faster. As the troopers advanced deeper into the forest, the woods appeared to be untouched by human civilization. Silva wondered if the rebels had even set foot into these woodlands.

Scott tried to fix his gaze on the trees ahead. He spotted a building in the distance. He strained his eyes and stopped abruptly, his feet sliding several meters in the wet and slippery leaf-bed and falling onto the ground. He lifted his right hand and gestured for the soldiers to stop.

Silva motioned the crouch signal as he bent his knees and rested his hands on the mud. Scott turned around, clenching his rifle's handle firmly. "We've got contact at twelve o'clock," he said as he retracted a small binocular from his pocket and handed it to the Lieutenant. He pointed toward the distance. Silva wiped the fog off the lenses and lifted the binocular to his eyes. He magnified the view and bit his lower lip.

The building was surrounded by a line of barbed wire fences. Two Warthogs were parked outside of the entrance gate. Several commandos walked toward the vehicles and saluted a tall man before strolling inside the small fort and closing the gate. The four watchtowers were swarming with men arming the machine gun turrets.

Silva lowered the binocular. A moment of silence followed. Scott raised his eyebrows, "Sir?" he queried. The Lieutenant felt like his mouth was glued to a tree and his hands were tied to street pole; an unfamiliar analogy, but that was the only thing he could feel. He scratched his neck and attempted to adjust his breath.

The Lieutenant scrutinized the troopers' gestures. Mike's SPNKr launcher was out of the question.. There was only one option which could eliminate the threat of being spotted: Sharpshooting. He gazed at Diana's sniper rifle: The perfect tool. He faked a smile and revealed a smug look on his face.

Diana approached Silva, her head lowered and her weapon steadied above her shoulder as she stepped over the soppy leaves. The Lieutenant looked at her eyes. Why did he see her face? She was supposed to wear a helmet. "Where's your helmet, soldier?" he asked, his thick tone dead serious. Diana hesitated; telling a commander that you didn't want to wear a Marine Corps item could get a private sent home. She wanted to go home, but not now. The only thing she could do was lie: "I lost it, sir".

Silva frowned. He didn't believe her and she felt it. Whether or not a private was lying to a Lieutenant was of no importance to the mission. Silva let it go. "We've got guards in the towers." He said. Diana instantly understood what she had to do. She nodded. "Think you can handle it?" Silva asked, his voice slightly shifting to a calm tone.

"Hell yes, sir!" the young sharpshooter exclaimed, her enthusiasm easily noticeable in her honest voice. She bedded her right knee on the ground, her leg slowly sinking into the mud as she leveled her rifle. She held her finger on the trigger and peeked through the Oracle scope. Dusk settled over the tree tops. Diana took a deep breath, exhaled and cleared her lungs. "One shot, one kill", she murmured as she fixed her target. The mission depended on the first blow. It was time.