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Posted By: UNSC Trooper<unsctrooper@hotmail.com>
Date: 15 June 2009, 6:53 pm

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March 13, 2502, 1500 Hours (Military Calendar)
Harvest, Utgard, Safe Zone

      The jeep wasn't armored; none of the doors, windows or wind panels had the specific dark-painted shielding rebel officers were usually seen driving in and out of the city's extended network of highways.
      Though the antiquated car seemed to follow the same pattern it had for the last few weeks, Corporal Johnson noticed slight disruptions in the vehicle's stops along its daily route. He gazed at the laptop in his spotter's hands, wiping freckles of sweat that had collected on his forehead, and watched pinpoints and location tags pop up on the virtual city map.
      A separate window appeared on the display, showing a portrait of an old, uniformed commander, and a brief description box next to it. Johnson tried to read the text one more time, pulling the laptop out of his spotter's hands for a few moments. The information hadn't been updated since he left Gladsheim—he'd hoped ONI could gather more intelligence on the renegade commander.
      This'll just have to do, then.
      He'd been studying his target for a few days: searching local residence books, little pieces of archives ONI would otherwise not disclaim even to its most ambitious project members, and video footage of street fights, skirmishes with UNSC Marine forces, and speeches conducted by the largest insurrectionist organization on Harvest—the "Secessionist Union."
      Johnson recognized the leading figure in the organization after scanning the documents ORION had issued him. A certain Jerald Mulkey Ander corresponded to most of the Secessionist Union's activities; from inner politics and ordnance administration, to guidance of negotiations with Harvest police and colonial militia over street control. His politics concerning the UNSC, though, had deteriorated through the years in the face of his organization's constant pressure over the ruling colonial militia.
      Speeches and declarations, often made with a palpable tone of populism in front of massive gatherings of youngsters, had assured Ander a continuous flux of volunteers in his strongly anti-governmental Union. Ander had come off as a solitary, neo-socialist activist initiating growing waves of Harvest's population in his radical ideology.
      Johnson didn't pay much attention to the politics involved. Instead, he looked over Ander's experience as a former commando in the Harvest police force.
       "Christ," he muttered, struggling to pick an operational field from Ander's multiple combat experiences. The list flowed for two pages, encompassing low-profile police actions and major counterterrorist operations. Ander's operational experience dated back twenty years—Cadet Recruit Graduation in 2481, top-honors, clean extraction from simulated urban combat; Harvest Police initiation during 2485, first successful antiterrorism campaign; SWAT Team Leader status granted in 2489; underground drug-trafficking band dissolved as a result of Ander's SWAT Gamma Team incursions in criminal networks.
      Working his way through the countless mentions and missions on-screen, Johnson spotted Ander's final time of glory at the bottom of the list, followed by a sudden blanking of subsequent entries: Assassination of aspiring insurrectionist leader, Tim Redreth, 2491.
      Johnson still gazed at the last three scratched dates, all tagged with ONI's specific "No information available" comment next to them. An incomplete lifetime, it seemed, but he could fill those deleted areas with hundreds of battles, deaths, and revolutionary propaganda Ander had conducted for the past ten years. It had all changed the environment of Harvest far more radically than his time spent fighting petty drug traffickers did.
      Of course, with the man having experienced both rebel and governmental lifestyles, he could have suspected his erstwhile friends were plotting an operation like this against him.
      Johnson hoped the UNSC hadn't been too open about its military administration tactics in the Outer Colonies.
      "Target's on the run again," the spotter announced, throwing an insistent glance at the Corporal. "Start tracking him, Johnson."
      Sliding the laptop away from his firing position, Johnson grabbed hold of the large, thick-barreled weapon ORION had saved him. Unlike standard, SRS series sniper rifles, the Stanchion M99 carried a more sensitive type of high-explosive ammunition which its predecessors had only been experimenting with in the past year. He'd read about the weapon when he first singed up for special training in the project—upon impacting mobile targets, the kinetic energy spread the M99's bullets' explosive charge around the receiving object and allowed a detonation to destroy the target. The rifle had been tested in the Military Preserves on Reach by Marine bomb squads without incident, Johnson remembered.
       "Tracking the target," he began, fixing the weapon's scope on the distant jeep. "Give me some readings, Byrne."
       "I know as much as you do, Johnson." The spotter replied, annoyed. "Just follow the bastard 'till he's in range."
      Johnson thought Byrne had been briefed more thoroughly on Ander's daily trips in the city. The man held a respectable position in ORION, and much of the project's developing missions and intelligence ran by him first. This time, it seemed the spooks had kept a tight lip about Ander. With an experience roster like his, disgruntled UNSC personnel would be tempted to wash out of the government's rancid hands and build a new social movement. Torn between multiple uprisings in the Outer and Inner Colonies, ONI had to be suspicious of any outside influence.
      The jeep slalomed along fragments of large rocks and broken chunks of cement in the distance, two backup reconnaissance vehicles tailing Ander's lead. Johnson zoomed into a neighboring boulevard—the city's business quarters—and calculated the time it would take the jeep to reach the sea docks.
      Sixty seconds.
      The harbors here were virtually abandoned; since the big manufacturers of fishing ships landed in the Secessionist Union's orbit of control, most sea food stocks had been consumed from one rebel garrison to the other, leaving the civilian population no other choice than to join the organization in order to savor what had previously been free, low-cost nourishment.
      It was the perfect place to stage an assassination—on what the enemy believed to be his secure, unconquerable ground, right in the middle of the fortress. For the first time, Johnson found one of ONI's plans well-conceived. Seeing the leader of a coalition die here, in the midst of his home… it would make the supporters of even the historic Al Capone he'd read about question their safety—and sanity—in a beheaded organization.
      Thirty seconds.
      Johnson cradled the rifle tighter against this chest, his breath being slightly pushed out of his lungs from the force. He saw the leading jeep slow down, catching up with the other vehicles in the convoy, and driving into the dockyards at a steady speed, clustered close to its companions. Perfect; the blow would take out Ander's lieutenants as well.
      Twenty seconds.
      "Vehicle's approaching the firing zone," Byrne said absently, not bothering to look away from his laptop. "Get ready, Johnson."
      "Acknowledged. Preparing delivery," Johnson replied, more as a lie than anything else. He was about to change the political environment of Harvest forever; it seemed… appropriate for him to doubt his ability to manipulate history in a moment like this. It wasn't the leader he feared killing, but the subsequent consequence on the thousands of youngsters that had enlisted in the Union. They wouldn't give up, he knew it. They'd be mobilized by the loss of their leader and strike harder at the UNSC.
      If there was any chance he could really change history now, he wouldn't press the trigger.
      Ten seconds.
      He counted the remaining seconds in his mind, but something disrupted his thoughts. Revolutions, uprisings, street fights and killings, all led by enraged teenagers and young people carrying portraits of their former leader—he pictured the scenes as the mental seconds ticked.
      Five seconds.
      As the convoy approached the established firing point, the crosshair in Johnson's scope reddened and transpired, indicating the shooter was clear to pull the trigger. But he waited for something to jerk him out of this strange, conflicting state; good and evil, rationality and duty.
       "Johnson!" Byrne snapped instantly.
      The Stanchion screamed along with the spotter's voice, pulsating in a single, powerful blow hard against Johnson's chest, releasing the round much smoother than any other sniper rifle he'd fired on the shooting ranges… but the result didn't testify to its elegance. Ander's jeep had disappeared from the firing position; black residue of oil and fire stained the patch of concrete the convoy had passed.
      Johnson spotted some of the vehicles as he scanned the surrounding areas near the dockyards. Two of them rested a few meters down the boulevard, devastated, the vehicles' burned skeletons bathed in large, dark red splatters dripping into growing puddles on the cemented street. People began approaching the horrific scene as the smoke dissipated, some watching from the sidewalk, others holding their hands to their noses and struggling to get a better look at what remained of the bodies.
      But Ander's jeep wasn't clustered with the other two vehicles. Johnson moved his scope further down the boulevard, the nearby apartment blocks and piers—something moved in the water. Zooming, he spotted the other jeep floating amid a thick, black stain littered with the vehicle's destroyed components. Grabbing and clawing out of the jeep, one of the officers' arms and head poked upward: the brown, short-cut hair and scarred facial skin… Johnson recognized the rebel leader in his final seconds in control of the UNSC's competing military faction.
      Ander's arm froze, his head slowly settling against the jeep's roof, eyes open, hand clutching the margin of an intact door. The sea he'd been controlling for this long—for his own purposes—reclaimed its power.
      "Target eliminated, command," Johnson reported, his voice doubtful, grabbing the Stanchion's barrel and pulling on the removable components. He turned his attention to his crowded backpack, snacks, camouflage paint and countless sidearm magazines crunching and crashing inside. "Requesting permission to double back to the extraction zone."
      "Sniper Team Alpha, stay on your position," a voice replied in Johnson's headset, nervous and unsure. "We've got militia running all over the place. They're heading towards the safe zone. See if you can shake them off until we get you out of there, command out."
      Johnson slammed the Stanchion back onto its support threshold as the order sank into his mind. He rubbed his face, blinked his eyes in rapid succession, snapped his neck and crossed his arms for an instant. This was exactly what he feared: in a few hours, the Secessionist Union would be back on its feet again, stronger and more motivated to force the UNSC away from Harvest than ever.
      "Johnson," Byrne asked. "What'd they say?"
      "Show me the city map again," the Corporal replied, crouching next to the passive spotter. "We've got another Ander on our hands."