One October Afternoon
Posted By: Urban Reflex<email@example.com>
Date: 22 October 2009, 8:46 pm
1515 hours, October 20, 2552 (Military Calendar) Aboard Pelican dropship Hotel 362, en route to UNSC Staging Area Alpha-Six, Mombasa, East African Protectorate, Earth
There's something about looking down out the back of an open dropship troop bay that makes my insides churn, and I've fallen far greater distances in an SOEIV.
We were speeding north, over the glistening waters of the Indian Ocean. Shortly after leaving Zanzibar, we'd linked up with the frigate, In Amber Clad, for resupply of ammo and weapons. I rechecked the scope on my new S2; good, it was holding up okay. The jolting around of the Pelican can play havoc with the optics on these things.
The 105th was scattered all over East Africa after the initial contact, so we had been temporarily assigned to Amber Clad's command. No one was quite sure where the rest of our platoon was, or the Company CO. So for now, we were helping out the rank and file of Commander Keyes' Marine force.
I don't know much about Commander Miranda Keyes, only that her father was the late, great Captain Jacob Keyes. He was a legendary figure in the UNSC for his heroics at Sigma Octanus IV, and now Reach and the Halo construct. If she were anything like her father, it would be a privilege to serve under her command.
In the battle high above Africa, Commander Keyes and the fleet had succeeded in destroying the majority of the Covenant ships. Some others had self-destructed, one had jumped out-system, and a single gigantic assault carrier had breached the defences and invaded Mombasa. This was our objective.
It made me feel physically sick. They're not called 'carriers' for nothing. They're filled to the brim with thousands of alien troops, weapons, and armour. We'd barely survived Zanzibar, taking on an entire Covenant ship seemed like madness. But we don't make the decisions, the really crazy men do.
The plan was to meet up with armour and reinforcements at the staging area, then move on the carrier's position. We'd heard that some of the ODSTs waiting for us were from our own unit, so maybe we'd be able to link up with them or at least find out where the rest of our Company was.
As scared shitless as I was, we had one major advantage: there was an honest-to-God Spartan in the lead Pelican.
The Spartans were the stuff of legend, especially this one. He was none other than the Master Chief Petty Officer, Spartan-117. As soon as we had been told he'd be with us, a buzz of excitement had rippled through the briefing room: this was the Spartan who had stonewalled the Covenant at Halo, stopped them using it to destroy humanity, and then blown it to pieces to safeguard us from any further threat.
Along with the Master Chief, another survivor of the battle on Halo was in the lead bird. Sergeant-Major Avery Johnson had been an inspiration to troops long before he'd set foot on the ring world. He'd had a tremendously distinguished career, most notably under Admiral Preston Cole during his vain attempt to defend the Outer Colonies.
Having Johnson with us is a huge plus, but the presence of the Master Chief helps to ease my nerves greatly. He's invincible.
The deep blue below us gives way to the dull concrete of Old Mombasa's streets, blazing yellow under the afternoon sun. There's a crackle over the radio, and then a withered, alien tongue rasps out over the speakers. It's all in squid-speech though, and I can't understand it.
It's interrupted by Commander Keyes, who asks, "Cortana? What am I hearing?"
I nudged Miguel, sitting next to me. He grinned back; knowing exactly what I was getting at. He had a thing for a lady in uniform.
"Translating..." said Cortana, "It seems to be some kind of distress call, and it's originating from the Covenant ship."
Cortana is the Master Chief's artificial intelligence construct, carried within his armour. AI's have always creeped me out a little, but I suck it up and get on with it. I despise it when they take on 'holier than thou' attitudes, but I do appreciate that they're a fantastic advantage in the battlefield. Unfortunately they're thin on the ground, and it's rare to find them in anything but the largest of conflicts these days.
The transmission quickly changed, to a single word repeated continuously.
"Now the message just repeats, 'regret, regret, regret...'" said Cortana.
"Catchy," Keyes replied, "Any idea what it means?"
"Dear humanity," Johnson cut in, "we regret being alien bastards. We regret coming to Earth. And we most definitely regret that the Corps just blew up our raggedy-ass fleet!"
Chuckles and outright laughter from those of us listening in the two rear Pelicans.
"Regret is a name, Sergeant," continued Cortana, "the name of one of the Covenant's religious leaders, a Prophet. He's on that ship and he's calling for help."
Shit. I think our mission just got bumped up the food chain a little.
"Heh, yeah, and he's gonna need all the help he can get," added Miguel.
The flight of Pelicans moved into the narrow streets of Old Mombasa in single file, our bird moving ahead, the Master Chief's in the middle and fire team Bravo's to the back. I always knew they preferred bringing up the rear. We passed over several loaded Warthogs, obviously making their way to the same rally point as us.
One of the local sniper-spotter recon teams called in over the radio, "Immediate, grid kilo two-three is hot. Recommend mission abort." Now, I started out doing recon work in sniper-spotter teams, and I know that they don't suggest scrubbing missions unless they have a damn good reason.
"Roger that, recon," the pilot of the lead Pelican said, then to Johnson, "It's your call Sarge."
"We're going in. Get tactical, Marines!" No hesitation.
Sergeant Kroes reappeared from the cockpit of our ride and shouted in his Germanic drawl, "Check and re-check your equipment is secured. Ensure pressure seals are fully locked. Safe weapons and prepare for landing." Just his way of making sure we looked pretty in front of the officers at ground zero, we were all professionals by now.
"Thirty seconds out, stand by to... whoa..."
I shot a troubled glance across at Mark, who returned it. We looked at Kroes, who moved back into the cockpit to see what the pilot had seen. He came back instantly.
"Grab on to something! Brace for impact!"
I just managed to snatch the rail above my head when the Pelican was hit by an almighty force, and doused in a sea of green flames. The dropship shuddered around viciously as the temperature jumped and my teeth rattled. There were screams from the cockpit, barely audible above the violent noise of the ship being torn apart. We couldn't do anything; we could only just hang on and hope we weren't ripped in two. I closed my eyes and gritted my teeth.
I felt the Pelican drop away, losing power. The vibrations eased a little and I forced myself to open my eyes. I saw the highway we had been travelling over a few minutes ago rise above us out of the aft hatch of the aircraft. Then trees rushed up to meet us and we hit them with a bone-jolting crash, smashing into their thick trunks and sending branches, splinters and leaves flying in our wake.
We were suddenly free of the treetops and I quickly realised what that meant. I wedged myself into the seat as solidly as I could, closed my eyes again, and braced myself.
We hit the floor hard. I fell free of my position and bounced off the roof, before hitting the aft hatch door and falling to the floor. Someone fell on top of me, but my vision was blurring and I couldn't tell who. The floor rumbled underneath us as we slid across open ground, screeching over tarmac. We hit something, and the dropship twisted and rolled over several times, flinging us around inside.
My head was thumping with pain and there was a warm, tingling sensation in my side. Just when I thought I couldn't take any more of this, just when I was about to black out, the Pelican stopped rolling and slid slowly to a halt.
Gingerly, I rose to my feet. There was a sharp stabbing pain in my side, and I instinctively grabbed for my waist. That hurt even more, so I pulled my hand away. It was slick with blood, but I couldn't see anything. Was it mine, or somebody else's?
"Sarge?" I called out, "Mark? Miguel? Are you -" I coughed dust from my lungs, "Are you guys okay? Stuart?" No answer.
This was ridiculous. I had to get some daylight in here, to help with my blurred vision. It was then I smelt the acrid smell of acid, and heard the crackle of fire. This wreck was a lethal hellhole, and I had to get my team out of here.
What little light there was trickled in through the window of the aft hatch. The pilot must have closed it at the first sign of trouble, ensuring that none of us were flung loose in the ensuing rollercoaster ride. He probably didn't make it, but his actions allowed at least myself to.
I moved to the hatch at the back of the Pelican, and felt along the right hand side for the release switch. I couldn't find it. Confused and disorientated, I tried the other side. No, it wasn't there. Then I realised the bird must have come to rest upside down, so I knelt and fumbled around in the blackness.
There was a hiss, and the door practically fell open, off of it's hinges. Cool air wafted into the troop bay, and I took a moment to cough and clear my throat. I spat up dust and dirt, shook my head and tried to focus my eyes. A sniper who couldn't see properly, I thought. Damn valuable asset I'd be in a firefight.
I could see better now there was some light though, and sure enough we had landed ungraciously on our topside. I saw Mark crumpled by the exit, and felt for his pulse. It was there, and strong. I hefted him over my shoulder, ignoring the pain that lanced along my side, and carried him out into the daylight.
I didn't stop to look around, just carried him around the first street corner I saw and laid him out of harms way. I went back to the crash and the smell of acid was now overwhelming. I found Stuart next, and placed him with Mark. Then Kroes, and then Miguel.
I could hardly breathe as I returned to the Pelican for a fourth time. The smoke was jet black and filled the interior, billowing out of the back like an expensive cigar. I had to get the pilots out, if they were even still in here.
I hammered on the cockpit door, but it was barred shut by something. I gave it a few hefty kicks, but it wouldn't budge. I clambered out again, and ran around the front to see if I could haul them out that way.
But there was no front.
The Pelican's nose had been completely melted and compressed by whatever had hit us. It was just a stub. If the pilots were still inside they would be compacted into such a small space, but there was no way they could be alive. Even if by a miracle they were, there was no way I was getting in through the front.
It was only now that I looked around, looking for something to pry the cockpit door open with - I wasn't just going to leave them in there. We had come down in one of the shantytowns. There were cheap, concrete 'egg box' houses as far as I could see. They're called egg boxes because they're long, prefabricated buildings that have a dozen five-by-five metre rooms that each serve as a house for a family.
Next to the door of one of these 'houses', I saw a sturdy looking pipe lying in the clutter. I snatched it, and turned back to the Pelican.
There was a thunderous explosion, and I was thrown off my feet. I smacked into the floor and felt a pressure wave roll over me. I looked up and the bird was in flames. I was too late.
I swallowed hard, and stared at the fireball. I felt anger build up inside me, but I sighed, and quickly let it subside. I told myself that I had tried my best, and that I had to put aside my feelings for now. I got up, and stumbled around the corner to where I'd left everyone.
The noise of the explosion was bringing Mark and Miguel back into consciousness. Outwardly they both appeared fine, apart from small cuts and rather large bruises on their faces. I checked them over but couldn't feel any broken bones and there were no blood patches staining their fatigues. It was miraculous.
Mark was our trained medic, and he looked at the wound in my side with that 'Oh Shit' look of his. It was hurting less now, so I croaked at him to take a look at the Sergeant, who was still unconscious. My throat was as dry as a desert. Miguel was treating Stuart, opening up his airways, so I just sank down to the ground, my back to a wall. I closed my eyes for a minute, just to rest.
I heard the rumble of cars approaching, and opened my eyes again. I looked around the corner, and a group of Warthogs were coming up the road toward us. We had no weapons, and had wounded, so if this was some kind of Covenant trap we were screwed.
So I stepped out into the street, and waved them down.
Thankfully as they got closer I realised they were in fact human. I was still a little light headed, so when a Lieutenant jumped down from the passenger side of the first 'Hog, I didn't register his rank and forgot to salute.
"Status, Corporal? We saw your ride get hit from the highway."
At the mention of my rank, I immediately realised my mistake and quickly snapped off the best salute I could.
"Shit," I mumbled, "I mean, sorry sir. Yes sir, our pilots didn't make it, but my team suffered no fatalities."
He smiled and returned my salute, "It's okay. Show me."
I led him around the corner, and the vehicles slowly followed. I was encouraged to see that Sergeant Kroes was awake and sitting on a short wall conversing with Miguel, whereas Mark was helping a now conscious Stuart into a sitting position. Two Marines left their seats and ran over to help. They both wore the red cross of the medic on their arm.
The Lieutenant nodded, as if satisfied. He beckoned Kroes to come to over and turned to me, saying, "And what of you Corporal? That's a pretty nasty cut you have there."
"Really sir, it's nothing."
"Uh huh. Private," he called to one of his soldiers, "check this man over."
Even as the Marine approached me, I felt myself get dizzy. I stumbled, and the Marine steadied me. My vision blurred, and everything went black.
I came around a minute or so later, the throbbing in my head beating me back to consciousness. My eyes focused, and things were clear again.
I could see a fresh-faced Marine medic leaning over to me. He shone a penlight in my eyes, and I blinked away from it. Behind him the Lieutenant and my guys were having a conversation, shaking their heads and looking over.
"You're suffering from a serious concussion sir," the medic said, "I've patched up the wound in your side but you'll need to limit your movement as best you can to avoid it reopening. Under normal circumstances, I'd recommend a few days bed rest..."
I looked down at my side, and realised my combat harness was missing. The tear in my fatigues had been widened, and the medic had inserted several stitches to close the slash.
"Thanks, I'll take that under advisement," I muttered, and rose to my feet. I walked over to my team and Stuart gave me a pat on the back. I replied with a curt nod.
"Doc says I need to limit my movement for a few days, and that I've a concussion. But I don't want to miss the welcome party, so how are the rest of you?"
"Privates Forrester and Stevens have light knocks; cuts, bruises, nothing serious," said Kroes, "Corporal Perez broke his little finger in two places, and has a deep cut on his lower leg. We've all got concussion soldier, damn lucky we all sealed up tighter than the liquor cabinet back at the OC."
The brass was notoriously tight with it's alcohol in the Officer's Clubs. Usually the cabinet was only unlocked when there was something to celebrate, which wasn't often these days. Kroes was referring to our jet black jump suits though, which were pressure sealed when flying in a hot zone. It was a precaution that had probably saved our lives today, and definitely our combat effectiveness.
There was a surprising amount of indiscipline in the 105th when it came to sealing jump suits in anything but an HEV. It was just typical Helljumper arrogance that if you could survive the ordeal of screaming through the atmosphere in a cramped box that boiled away around you, then you weren't going to let yourself be killed in an aircraft crash.
Thus it was something the officers were greatly aware of, and a sure-fire way for a Sergeant to earn their favour. Keep your men sealed up tight and the seniors would notice; but I was harsh on Kroes earlier. It made sense to check and recheck everything, because you never can be too prepared. I think he had a good deal more common sense than perhaps all of us. Now isn't a time for ODST bravado. It's war.
There were some light chuckles at his liquor quote, even from the Lieutenant. I now recognised the man as the same Lieuy we'd met at Wind Power Station 7; Lieutenant Felton, attached to In Amber Clad.
"As I was just telling the good Sergeant here, and the rest of your men, Corporal," he said to me, "that the Scarab responsible for shooting you down has headed East. We saw it before we left the highway to search for your crash site. The Covenant are massing what we can only assume is an attack force, this side of the bridge to New Mombasa. A second Scarab is also heading there, and if both make it we won't stand a chance."
"What about air support, sir?" I asked, "Our Longsword fighters would gut them like fish."
"Air support would be a fine thing, except for the dozens of anti-aircraft batteries the Covenant are setting up all over the city," said Sergeant Kroes, "No, we need to take out that ugly-bug ourselves. The hard way."
"Agreed, Sergeant," said Felton, "Recover anything you can from the crash site. My men will share out to you what you can't find. You have two minutes."
As he turned to walk away, I caught a sneer from one of his Marines before he turned and followed. Your guns aren't too good for us sonny, no matter what you think of the flaming comet insignia on my shoulder.
We gathered what we could - which amounted to my S2, two MA5Ks (One Stuart's) and miscellaneous ammunition. We all still had our side arms, the traditional Special Forces M6C/SOCOM pistol for everyone else and the M7 submachine gun for me.
In the Special Forces, you customise your weapon to suit you. The Navy is generally pretty good at making sure you get every component you request, but nobody ever requests an upgrade for their M6C. The thing is near perfect, offering a times-four multiplication scope and highly explosive armour piercing rounds.
Unfortunately it's a rather rare side arm, so the standard Marine ranks are issued with a version sans-scope, and the Spec-Ops snipers like me get the submachine guns. I don't mind too much though, because as much as I love my S2, it's useless at close range. The M7 gives me firepower rivalling the BR55 the sarge uses.
I spent a good deal of time perfecting my M7, as we snipers get to use them more than you'd think in this war. I changed the barrel and muzzle to lower the recoil, and added a five shot 'burst' mode that works wonders against the Elite's shielding. The last addition I made was a times-four scope, but I usually keep that in a pouch on my harness to keep the weight down.
Lieutenant Felton's Marines begrudgingly dealt out grenades, weapons and ammo as we needed, and we accepted graciously. I think most of the resentment was a little good natured, stemming from the Inter-Forces sports tournaments.
We climbed into one of the middle Warthogs of their convoy, an M831 troop transport, and headed back to the highway. As we passed the copse our Pelican had hit on the way down I surveyed the devastation.
Branches and foliage were scattered across the road, and several trees were completely missing their leaves. Others were split right down the centre; some knocked over or leaning on other trees, and a couple had been uprooted entirely near where the dropship had escaped their boughs. We had been damn lucky.
It was only then, thinking back to the crash and how it had happened, that I thought to ask Sergeant Kroes about Bravo team and the other Pelicans in our wing.
"Bravo went down two miles from the highway, on the beach. The Master Chief is on his way to link up with them as we speak."
Despite our rivalry, it was something of a relief. Today of all days we'd need every single soldier.