The Mantled Wings of Angels
Posted By: Ape Man<email@example.com>
Date: 08 July 2001, 4:39 am
"SPNKR up!" Gough screamed, racing across the beach and sending a thundering burst of fire from his assault rifle as he ran. "SPNKR up!"
Plasma rifles screamed and howled all up and down the length of the beach, occasionally overpowered by the Wraiths, advancing swiftly and firing as they did so. Bullets lanced towards the Covenant ranks, tearing through the charging columns of Grunts swiftly and easily, and the sighing of mortar rounds as they dove in, nearer the heavier elements of the Covenant army, sometims made itself heard above the clamor.
Gough displaced from his cover position behind a large embankment of sand, rushing madly back towards the rest of his squad, ducking his head from the plasma bolts streaking all around him. McClees provided an entire clip of covering fire for his friend, and as Gough rolled into the blast crater, sending a spray of dust into the air as he did so, McClees jammed a new clip home. "Mighty fuckin stunt, Gough!" the Sarge yelled as he motioned for the SPNKR team to advance. Gough wheezed for a moment, slid the action of his AR open, checked the chamber for sand, and slammed it closed once more. "Sorry Sarge. Won't do it again." He grinned.
"Where the fuck are our Warthogs, Cortana?" the Sarge hissed into his comm. "We need some support up here."
"Be patient, Sargeant. You'll have all the support you need in a moment."
Sarge flipped back to his squad's closed channels. "Like fucking hell. SPNKR, get up!"
Gough tossed a concussion grenade over the lip of the crater, fired a few shots from his AR in the general direction of the Covenant army, and ducked as the grenade sent several Jackals pinwheeling over him, screaming as they sailed through the air. Another squad was ready when they hit the ground, and a pistol shot to the face silenced each one. McClees noted an Elite attempting to flank their position, and before the sleek beast could even raise its plasma rifle, AR rounds tore their way through its shields and ripped apart its skull. The creature did not make a sound, and its ruined face did not contort, as it toppled neatly to the ground.
After much delay, the SPNKR finally arrived, and the Sarge pointed back towards the Wraiths. "If we let them get much closer, we'll have about three seconds!"
Gough regarded the man, body armor stained with Covenant blood and smeared with sand, and his SPNKR, a sleek double-barreled rocket launcher, painted black. Stenciled on the lower of the two barrels, just to the side of the trigger platform, was the SPNKR logo, a burning phoenix with wings spread wide across the sky. Beneath that was written, "SPNKR, X-22." And, splattered just below that in liberal doses of red paint, "Aim. Reload. Repeat." Gough grinned, before plasma rifle fire lanced by just two feet overhead, and the SPNKR man dropped to the ground. His helmet now bore a scorch mark across one side. "You lucky bastard," someone commented.
"SPNKR, I said up!"
Rising swiftly, the soldier took quick aim of the nearest Wraith, a sleek, terrifying Covenant hover tank, which bristled with Jackals riding atop its broad back. Gough instinctively covered his face, just before the rocket man staggered backwards, the flare of the motors igniting and the howl of the missile streaking out towards its target nearly defeaning all nearby. Gough laid down more AR fire to the left of the Wraith, where a dozen Grunts were rushing forward, Elite leading their charge. It took only a moment for the SPNKR to traverse the fifty yards.
Blossoming open into a surreal starburst of fire and smoke, the blast sent the Wraith wheeling off towards the sea, and its concussion bowled over the Elite and most of the Grunts alongside the tank. Jackals flew into the air, screaming and spinning, discharging their plasma rifles in random directions, before they were lost in the billowing cloud of dust and sand thrown up by the explosion. "SPNKR, get back up!"
The rocket man rose once more to his feet, and the barrels of the SPNKR rotated, empty one to the bottom, loaded to the top. A click as the clip just below the trigger platform automatically reloaded the empty barrel, and another roar as the top chamber fired. Gough watched the shell spear out atop a pillar of vapor, before erupting into flame upon striking the side of another Wraith.
McClees and Butcher covered with the ARs, as Gough dashed back across the beach, seeking to rejoin Soell and O'Donnell, who had been separated from the squad earlier. Mortar rounds sighed in, and the dashing Grunt squads were tossed to the ground, seeking cover, or were thrown skyward, limbs torn off, sand arcing up into the air behind them.
Soell's rifle lay just out of reach from the rock Soell and O'Donnell were using as cover, and Gough kicked it as he ran to meet the two soldiers, sending up a spray of sand but managing to move the AR into its owner's reach. "Thanks, buddy," Soell yelled as Gough rolled into place next to him, over the roar of O'Donnell's AR. "I was missing my friend."
Another SPNKR operator, a young woman who had been assigned to the Pillar of Autumn just after the debacle at Reach, fell in next to them, and expertly collapsed the missile tubes quickly; they were a hindrance in close spaces, and as such had been designed to be collapsible when not needed. "Any chance we can get some Warthogs or fifty millimeters up here soon?" she asked. Gough radioed the Sarge, still covering in the bowl of the blast crater. "Open channel, Sarge! SPNKR girl here wants to hear it!"
"Cortana says it'll be here soon. Hopefully she doesn't mean soon with a trademark."
Gough allowed himself a brief smile, noticing the "Soonô" stenciled onto Soell's helmet. It had become somewhat of a motto for the platoon as of late.
Plasma fire thundered all around them, and the mortar rounds constantly roared near the advancing Wraiths. Three remained, after the two that now sat smoking and gutted a little farther up the beach. Gough, peering out from behind cover, was met with the terrible sight of a Wraith cannon, aiming directly at the rock they were hiding behind. "SPNKR up!"
Sarge echoed him moments later, but this time with more precise information. "Staten, covering fire for our SPNKR! Reyes, make your shots count!"
Lorraine Reyes shouldered her rocket launcher, slammed the barrels out, and loaded both. Gough and Soell ducked their heads, while O'Donnell fired around the rock, sending bullets out across the beach as cover for Reyes. A rocket burst forth, contrail rippling in the heat of the plasma bursts, and Reyes swiftly rotated the barrels and let loose another rocket before the first had reached its target. One Wraith thundered apart, metal scraps flying outward in a Daliesque starburst, but the second shot went wide, streaking down the beach and blossoming open among a cluster of boulders. Jackals flew from behind the stones, one even reaching the water.
The rocket man nearer Sarge fired at a rapidly approaching Ghost, and the tin craft was blow backwards, shattering as it did so. The Elite riding it vanished into the smoke and sand clouds.
"Fire again, godammit! Fire again!" Gough screamed into the comms, noting that the Wraith nearest him was preparing to fire. "Reyes, fire!"
Gough looked desperately across the beach to Sarge's rocket man, and was afforded a brief glimmer of hope as the man's tubes rotated, and his finger moved for the trigger.
A Covenant sniper sent a rail of plasma right down the sight of his SPNKR, and he fell backwards, face ruined, dead.
"Run!" Soell screamed, lobbing grenades back at the Wraith as he heaved himself from the dirt and sprinted away from the rock. O'Donnell was right after him. McClees screamed over the comms to get out of there. It was nearly too late.
"Reyes, move!" Gough shouted as he threw himself up. Glancing back, he saw her slamming a new SPNKR cartridge home.
"No jams!" she yelled. "It's fine!"
Gough whirled around and ran back for her, plasma fire sizzling all around him. The Wraith screamed as its turret's rails engaged. "Lorraine!" McClees screamed, as Staten fired madly at a group of Elites moving on their position.
Gough tackled her and dragged her down an embankment with him as he half-rolled, half-fell, firing backwards with the AR the entire time.
The Wraith fired.
McClees screamed as the rock vanished into a plasma froth, and both Gough and Reyes were instantly engulfed in a cloud of dirt, rocks, plasma, and fire. AR bullets thundred all around him as he fell to his knees.
Gough appeared from the cloud, ten feet in the air, flying backwards, AR falling away from him, arms spinning. As the plasma began to fade and clear, he struck the ground hard, and his helmet popped off, rolling away in the smooth sand. Dust and smoke were everywhere. Soell expertly placed a plasma grenade just below the center of the Wraith, and the Covenant tank buckled in the center, its metal spine crumpled. The Jackals riding it were thrown clear, and as they rose to their feet, O'Donnel and Staten met them with volleys of AR and pistol fire. A lone Elite, screaming from the wounds raked across its back, stumbled from the shattered tank, and the Sarge shot it between the eyes. Another squad advanced in the cloud of smoke and detritus, firing as they did so, finally allowing this one some respite.
McClees was already on his feet, dashing for the blasted, burnt area left behind after the Wraith's plasma cannonfire. Gough lay wheezing, air knocked from him, on the sand, and Segur rushed to his aid, firing at an advancing group of Jackals as he did so. Soell fired at them from another angle, and they were felled easily.
Coughing, Gough rose to his feet under the strength of Segur, and muttered something unintelligble. After another moment's hesitation, he asked, "Is Reyes okay?"
McClees lay by her side, holding her hand, smoothing her ruffled hair back around her face. A medic crouched at her side, Multiple Health Status Unit, or MHSU, placed against her wrist. Her uniform was burnt all along one side, and her right glove was missing, leaving her hand with minor burns. Gough approached. "She'll be fine. Calm down," he heard the medic say to McClees. "Nothing serious." As more plasma fire thundred from the Covenant positions, the medic rose and dashed off to help other squads.
Cortana's voice came over the comms, soothing. "Green, here's that support you've been asking for." Soell grinned.
Through the smoke left from the shattered Wraiths, and the occasional flicker of plasma fire, a trio of dropships made themselves known, engines burning fiercely, nose-mounted machineguns firing as they approached. On the tiny HID in front of his left eye, Gough saw a camera view from the lead Pelican's cockpit, and it showed a beach littered with smoking hulks of Covenant tanks, craters, and most of the remaining Covenant fleeing as the dropships sent .60 calibre rounds tearing through their ranks.
Rotating for a squick stop, the trailing Pelicans hovered just twenty yards beind Gough's squad, each dropping a Warthog to the beach, then approaching ten yards farther up the beach before settling down softly. Standing at the top of the ramp of one Pelican, an eight-foot armored humanoid stood, AR cradled in its massive arms. Gough had not forgotten this machine. It had been a mere two days since this mighty weapon had saved the squad from certain death. Gough for a moment imagined the cyborg freed of its metal armor, and for some reason his mind bade its unprotected body take the shape of an angel.
"Yes, he remembers you as well. Green, you get four hours rest. Then it's on to a more important objective. And yes, he's going with you."
Gough glanced briefly at Reyes, who now stood with the help of McClees, shaking her head wearily.
The smoke from the shattered Wraiths reflected in the visor of the cyborg, who stood motionless, an observer of the gods into the affairs of mortals. On his left arm, burnt into the metal, was the same logo found on the SPNKR X-22, a phoenix with its wings spread wide.
Amid the thunderings of weapons and the screams of the dead, Gough found it in himself to look up.
Across the great bow of the Heavens was emblazoned a challenge to the creators of the universe.
Halo rose forever, filling half the sky.