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HALO: Iron Cross [Chapter One]
Posted By: UNSC Trooper<unsctrooper@hotmail.com>
Date: 5 December 2007, 7:20 pm


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0838 Hours, August 17, 2537 (Military Calendar) /
Epsilon Eridani System, planet Reach, Military Reservation 01478-B
Close Quarter Combat Tactical Drill


      Scott crouched behind a concrete wall, keeping his head at just the right angle for the bullets to miss him by a few inches. The sunlight reflected and twisted off his faceplate. Apart from the dim illumination projecting from the spotlights suspended on the fence surrounding the field, there was no other lighting source in the entire complex. Individual flashlights were out of the question.

      Combat in low light environments was never a problem, however. Scott's training made it all too clear: "As long as you can see the enemy's silhouette, keep on track with your mission."

      His hands were shivering, but why? He had been through these kinds of drills at least a dozen times before. He had developed almost perfect targeting skills over distances only the eyes of a vulture could see, and his service record was no less impressive – squad leader on Tribute and Minister, and a promotion to corporal on Mars.

      But this time it was different, Alpha Team was cooking something up. Their skirmishers were nowhere near the perimeters Lieutenant Antonio Silva ordered them to fend. The snipers were completely out of sight. That can't be good, Scott thought as he leaned over and glanced at the bunker behind him. "An invisible sniper always means trouble." he remembered Silva's exact words.

      The combat barriers were abandoned; maybe Silva told them to play a game of hide-and-go-seek instead of Capture the Flag. "Probably a practical joke, but I'm not laughing," Scott mumbled incredulously.

      He took a deep breath, crackled his fingers and switched his radio to TEAMCOM frequency - standard training procedure for friendly tactical support.

      "This is Bravo-12; can anyone hear me, over?" Scott said. His teammate's response was almost immediate.

      "Copy Bravo-12; Scott, where are you?" Mike replied. His voice was leveled, cool. As always, Mike assessed difficult situations in a way no one else in the platoon did. Attentiveness and consideration were his two main qualities – they were what made him, and his team, keep a clear view on their objective and their actions.

      Scott weighed his reply carefully, and looked at his surroundings. One misguided direction was enough to blow the team's cover. "I'm a few yards south of the Defense Bunker. I'm looking at it right now, over." Scott replied.

      Mike hesitated, "Roger that. Do you see any snipers?" he said. This time, his voice grew slightly disoriented. Scott could feel it. Mike was always doubtful with a good reason – it meant something was terribly wrong.

      "Negative; can't see squat." Scott replied. "Rally with Diana at the Barricade point, proceed with caution, over and out." He said. The Barricade point was the only secure position on the immense training ground where both teams' flags were visible.

      "Copy that, over." Mike responded and shut off the COM channel.

      Scott grabbed his MA2B, and held it steady just above his thigh as he leapt past the combat barriers. He shackled off a huddle of one meter wide impact craters encrusted into the dusty ground. Hundreds of stun grenade residues lay severed everywhere Scott could see.

      He wiped his faceplate and gazed at the Warthog parked outside of the defense bunker. It was customized for training purposes, stripped down to its skeleton and relieved of its M41 machine gun. There were so many modified versions of Warthogs, Scott couldn't remember them all.

      As he moved towards the vehicle, a sniper bullet swiftly raced across his shoulder, leaving a trail of thin smoke behind its trajectory. Scott flinched, and dropped to the ground so violently his knees hurt. Where did it come from? He thought. Silva's words strolled through his mind once more; "An invisible sniper always means trouble." The words were now clearer to Scott than ever before.

      He tried to lift his head up, only to be seen by the sniper again. Another round flew scarcely a few inches clean over his head. He still couldn't see the rifleman. The lack of luminosity only made matters worse.

      Scott's forehead started sweating, and anxiety slowly took over his body. His reflexes were wide awake and his muscles started straining inside his thick suit.

      He gripped his assault rifle with both hands, couched his elbows onto the ground and began crawling into the Warthog's shadow. He didn't even know which way to aim his weapon. The sniper had just, "disappeared". Scott wasn't surprised – snipers were always one foot ahead of unsuspecting victims; that's how they'd earned their reputation in the first place.

      Scott's adrenaline kicked in, he rose to his feet and sprinted along the combat barriers. The tall building ahead was carved with peepholes and hatches; the perfect place for a sharpshooter. This is it, he's in here somewhere, Scott thought as he raced into the building.

      There was no hint of movement inside the empty hallways. The concrete walls were painted with funny looking caricatures and cartoons. Of course, that wasn't the staff's concern; these walls hadn't been washed ever since the complex was built.

      Scott walked through the empty hallways, his footsteps barely hearable. He strolled up the partly devastated stairway as he placed his right hand on the banister, and held his rifle in his other hand.

      His anxiety increased, but he managed to forbear it. Damn, it's dark as hell in here, he thought to himself, clenching the rifle in his hand.

      Scott's habit to use a flashlight made him reach for the back of his belt; but he didn't carry anything today, not even a combat knife, so he drew back his hand.

      He set foot on the first floor; there were five rooms scattered along the corridor. The emergency fire exit was on his left side and the former stairway on his right side. He leaned to his left and cast a long gaze at the hallway.

      He spotted a man wearing a red armband: one of Alpha Team's snipers, a tall, black-haired ODST wearing no helmet and holding the long-barreled sniper rifle to his shoulder.

      Scott stood still, observing the sniper's movements and planning his attack. Hand to hand combat? No. The soldier was a practical bag of muscles, standing over six feet tall; he was sure to throw Scott right out of the window with little trouble.

      Scott settled for the old-fashion shot to the head, taking the soldier out of the game for good. He swung his rifle to his shoulder, took aim, and pulled the trigger. The paintball silently exited the barrel and impacted the man's head. Blue-colored paint gracefully splashed over the sniper's face, leaving a horrific bruise on his left cheek.

      The pain caused the soldier to fall on the ground, dropping his rifle, screaming and laying his hands over his head. The paint dripped off his face as he carefully tried to stand up. He kept his eyes closed, preventing the paint from blinding him. He turned to his left, but couldn't see who shot him, "You're dead meat, pal!" He barely managed to mumble a few words.

      Scott didn't like it; delivering almost fatal blows to uncovered regions of a man's body was immoral, but training regulations proved otherwise and rarely followed ethical principles.

      He quickly banished the thought. His feelings weren't allowed to influence his judgment – not when his team depended on him. Scott left the building, and made his way through the crowded cluster of barbed-wire fences.

      It was getting increasingly warmer in his thick bodysuit. Drops of sweat poured down his back and his face. He stopped in the middle of the field for a moment, and took off his helmet.

      Scott took a deep breath of air as the wind stroke his humid face. The air was cold, even though the sun had already risen. Scott ran his gaze down his arms, legs, and torso. No paint marks, that's good, he thought.

      Two dissimilar silhouettes appeared behind Scott; a tall, robust man and a short, slender woman. They were both dressed in ODST bodysuits, but missed their helmets. The man approached Scott and tapped him on the shoulder.

      "The barricade is clear." Mike said as Scott turned around. "But, we do have a problem." Diana continued, "They're carrying the flag around everywhere they go. We've got a crazy flag on our hands."

      "That shouldn't be too much of a problem." Scott said as he lowered his rifle, "They have a huge disadvantage. They're using up all of their skirmishers to guard the flag bearer, so basically the field is ours. All we have to do, is deliver the final strike." He explained.

      "Right, but how do we find them?" Diana said as she threw a suspicious gaze at Scott.

      "Roger and David are patrolling the southern section. We're going to follow the path to alpha team's base, and retrace their steps." Scott replied.

      "Sounds good to me, let's move." Mike nodded. Scott took a last glimpse of the building where the sniper was hiding out. He raised his rifle and gave the "Move out" signal to Mike and Diana.

      Their movements were synchronized; every gesture they made had to be almost perfectly timed and planned out. "A team is just like a house of cards, take one piece away, and the entire house will tumble down like a rock", Scott thought of what Silva had told them during their first drill.

      They treaded lightly on the paved pathway, closely watching each other's backs. Four watchtowers were aligned along the road, their spotlights still casting a weak illumination on the ground.

      Alpha team's base was visible. It was a small, circular-shaped shelter mounted with stationary machine gun turrets. Three Warthogs painted in red were parked outside of the base and a few shotgun rounds lay on the ground.

      Mike holstered his rifle and slowed down as they approached the base. An unusually awkward silence surrounded the shelter. Training on the Military Reservation was never this silent; today was definitely going to be different. Scott rose up his right arm and motioned the "Halt" signal.

      They scrutinized the base, holding their weapons steady and keeping their eyes peeled. Scott turned to the flag post and spotted the empty prop. The flag was missing.

      "So how exactly do we retrace their steps?" Diana remarked.

      Scott cast a gaze at the Warthogs, "We could probably use some wheels." He said. Mike took a glimpse of one of the vehicles "In that case, I'm not driving." He said.

      "I'll drive." Diana replied. "Good. Mike, you take a hold of the machine gun, I'll sit on the side seat." Scott said as he climbed into the vehicle, followed by Mike on the M41 and Diana in the driver's seat.

      She started the Warthog. The engine filled the air with the sound of gas running through the filter and tires chafing the dirt off the ground and throwing it into the distance. The pieces of rocks hit the undercarriage and vibrated the Warthog as it raced across the booby trapped field.

      Scott teetered in his seat as Diana sharply turned and straightened the vehicle's heading. Mike almost lost his grip of the machine gun's handle in the violent stir.

      The Warthog bounced off the impact craters, skid into a combat barrier and dangled itself into one of the barbed-wire fences. The crash caused Mike to loosen his grip, and fall right out of the gunner seat. His backbone hurt, but fortunately there were no fractures. He stood up and looked at Scott and Diana. "That was one hell of a ride," he said, "but I think we're getting closer."

      Scott leaned over to his right, removed one of the barbed wires from his suit and jumped out of the side seat. Diana hopped out of the driver's seat, apparently not suffering any wounds from the crash.

      A small, round object appeared to fly across the blue sky. It became increasingly larger in size as it drew dangerously close to the Warthog. It fell on the ground. "Grenade!" Scott yelled and ran away from the projectile. Mike and Diana followed behind him, and dodged as the grenade splashed away its paint all over the vehicle.

      If they would've been a few seconds late, the game would have been over. Scott looked at his team mates; no one was hit by the paint. He retrieved his rifle and checked its ammunition.

      A squad of four skirmishers revealed themselves out of the combat barriers. They began firing blind rounds at Scott, Mike and Diana. The three ODSTs' returned fire. Mike hid behind an empty crate and reloaded his rifle. Scott carefully picked his shots, but his hands didn't seem to cooperate. The MA2B slipped out of his hands a few times as he threw away the empty magazines.

      Puddles of paint splattered on the ground as Alpha Team's skirmishers continued to fire their rifles with no apparent target, missing the three ODSTs' by at least a couple of meters.

      Scott rested his back against an overturned combat barrier. It was hard for him to breath; he gasped for air. He felt like his lungs had just closed shut; a panic stroke – he had experienced them before, ever since he inhaled a massive amount of smoke in the mess hall fire onboard the "Atlas".

      He steadied his breath and calmed down. If he was going to win this game, he had to keep his mind clear. He noticed one of the skirmishers was reloading his rifle rather slowly; this was his chance. Scott ran up to the enemy's position, the adrenaline was pumping through his heart and flowed through his blood.

      The skirmisher stopped and watched as Scott charged towards him in his ODST bodysuit. He stiffened his feet and lowered his rifle. He waited.

      Scott raised his weapon and swung it across the skirmisher's face. He missed. The man grabbed Scott's arm, blocked his foot and threw him on the ground. His bones felt like they were being crushed by an immense pressure as he hit the rough sand. His chest bone pressed his lungs. Luckily, Scott hadn't dropped his rifle. He fired a paintball on the man's abdomen. The skirmisher was out of the game.

      Scott rose on his feet, took aim and shot the other two skirmishers. They threw their helmets on the ground and fiercely kicked them into the distance.

      He motioned the assault signal to Mike and Diana. They spotted Alpha Team's flag sagged into a hole in the sand, guarded by two men. The flag was colored in red, depicting a cobra in the middle of a black box.

      "We'd better move fast, those guys don't seem too happy seeing us here." Diana said. Mike nodded, "Agreed" he replied.

      "Fire!" Scott shouted. He shot a few rounds at the guards. The paintballs missed them and the guards returned fire. Scott dodged the first round of shots, and crouched further into the enemy's range of fire. Mike trotted in behind him.

      A grenade hurled down in Scott and Mike's midst as they fired their last rounds of ammunition. The grenade exploded, splashed its liquid away, and took Mike and Scott out of the game.

      Scott dropped his rifle, turned around and slowly walked away. His enthusiasm had suddenly passed off. We lost, they won - Big deal, he thought, Wait, the game isn't over yet. He looked at Diana still wielding her MA2B, but too afraid to shoot the guards. She was on her own, and she had to take on two men twice her size.

      Her mind muzzled between two decisions – taking on the men and risk getting shot, or accept her team's defeat. She never felt comfortable taking risks, but all that had to change.

      She primed her weapon, made ready, and started to run as fast as she could towards the two guards. Her long, red hair waved through the air as she fired her rifle.

      Lieutenant Silva calmly sat in his third-floor office and looked out his window, his eyes fixed on Diana as she attacked the guards. He frowned and placed his hand over his mouth. This wasn't what he had expected. He set Alpha Team's traps perfectly; there was no way Bravo Team could find their flag. Alpha Team – his favorite team – was about to lose. Despite his efforts and careful planning, the game already reached a turning point – one he hadn't foreseen. What's next, taunting me by waving it around? Silva thought.

      Diana shot both guards in the head once. They cleared the area, making way for Diana to pick up the flag, wave it around and dig it back into the sand. Bravo Team won.

      Silva turned his sight to an officer sitting in an armchair in front of him. He coughed and put on his raincoat. "Jack, make sure you lock the door when you get out. I'm leaving early today." Silva said.

      The man rose on his feet and gestured a wondering expression on his face. "May I ask why, sir?" he replied.

      Silva took one last look at him, "I just found out who we're sending in on Mamore." he said as he walked out of the office and closed the door shut behind him.





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