Posted By: Bastard<email@example.com>
Date: 21 March 2001, 4:27 am
It had been three weeks since Wolmak and his squad returned to HQ. Those three weeks had seen Wolmak's life turn upside down. Wolmak was not in a good mood.
"Rodriguez, slow down, dammit!" he snapped, venting his frustration unintentionally. "You're going to get us spotted!"
They were hiking up a hill near a known Covenant base, and trying to be as quiet about it as possible. Being spotted so close to an enemy base with only five of them meant death.
It had been three weeks since Wolmak had seen the most incredible thing of his life step out of a chamber in a dimly lit underground cavern.
Wolmak looked at Rodriguez scrambling up the hill ahead of him, and briefly wondered what he'd done to personally piss off God.
"Rodriguez, if you don't slow down, I'm going to have you shot," decreed Wolmak, with a dangerously matter-of-fact tone in his voice. His reputation of patience and pragmatism was being stretched now more than ever.
Rodriguez glanced over his shoulder, questioningly. Seeing Wolmak's expression, he slowed down.
It had been three weeks since Headquarters had airlifted the squad and their find out of that cavern, in a suspiciously empty dropship. In fact, Wolmak hadn't seen another soul on the dropship at all.
At the time, it had seemed strange. Now it was making more sense.
Looking down the hill, Wolmak could barely make out the encampment where the others were setting up the receiving equipment. Svith had done well; there was little chance that a Covenant patrol would spot them.
He kneeled next to Rodriguez, as they erected the surveillance cams.
"Sir, what is it exactly that we're looking for?"
"We're supposed to know when we see it. We're out here on another one of HQ's hunches, that's all."
"Roger that, sir." Rodriguez wasn't entirely satisfied with the result.
In truth, Wolmak knew that there were really two reasons why they were on the mission. The first was the mission, the second was less obvious. Wolmak wasn't stupid. He noticed as soon as they had returned from their first mission that something was wrong. The five of them had been kept separated from everyone else. What they had retrieved from that cavern was taken from them the moment the dropship landed, and they hadn't seen it again. HQ was being too tight-lipped, too cautious. The find wasn't announced, and HQ didn't want Wolmak or his men talking about it.
So they had become expendable. Sent out on the toughest of missions, not expected to come back.
Wolmak reflected on this thought as he and his four men perched on a hill next to a heavily fortified Covenant base, bristling with alien weaponry. The sound of skimmers taking off en masse turned his head, as he watched a large group of them rise from the ground, nose down slightly, and head off into the distance. No one was going to sleep well that night.
The upshot of being away from HQ for so long was that Wolmak got a chance to know his men better. He was lucky, really, for they were all talented individuals with a wide range of skills. It was a shame they'd all been given the official kiss of death
Corporal Svith, for instance, was an accomplished outdoorsman and possessed volumes of botanical knowledge about Halo that would put most scientists to shame. Before they'd all fled to Halo, he'd been in officer training, with high marks for his intelligence and quick learning ability. But the obliteration of a planet had cut that short, and made them all refugees playing an inter-galactic game of hide-and-seek with a race of aliens looking to end that game the hard way. Wolmak appreciated having Svith along, not only for his knowledge of their surroundings, but for his officer potential. As Svith outranked the other three privates, he was left in charge when the team split up, and Wolmak knew he was leaving them in good hands.
On the other end of the spectrum was Private Jacob Lance, a quiet soldier, scrawnier than most. Wolmak had never had a chance to get to know Lance, as the good private tended to avoid depth in conversation, and didn't often speak without being directly spoken to. He was, however, a whiz with electronics, a specialty of Wolmak's, and was proving himself invaluable with the monitoring equipment.
HQ had decided that they didn't want Wolmak's team around, which mean that these talented young men were being thrown to the wolves. Wolmak was determined to fight their fate as long as possible. His exhaustion was taking its toll, but he was so busy checking and double checking the safety of his men that he wasn't sleeping much, which in turn made him irritable.
As he and Rodriguez were descending from the hill back to camp, Rodriguez stopped momentarily. "Sir..." he began. "Far be it for me to say so, but I really think you need some sleep, Sir. You've been up for 30 hours straight, and we're all starting to get worried."
Wolmak furrowed his brow. "What the hell are you talking about? I'm fine, Rodriguez. Keep moving." Wolmak wasn't in the mood for this; he had a hard enough time letting go of control when he wasn't worn out. Just as he said it, though, he tripped on a root, stumbled, and fell into a clumsy roll which carried him ten feet farther down the hill. Dazed, he laid on his back and looked at the sky for a minute.
"Sir!" Rodriguez shouted.
"SHHH!" returned Wolmak, starting to get up. They were still close to a Covenant base, and being detected for such a stupid fall would be too tragic a twist of irony. "I'm fine." He winced as he tried to get to his feet. His ankle hurt, but it wasn't sprained. He just needed to walk it off.
"Perhaps I should get some rest. You're right." Wolmak's pride was bruised like his ankle: nothing that wouldn't be gone in 10 minutes, and Rodriguez WAS right.
The rest of the descent was uneventful. They walked back into the camouflaged tent and Wolmak went up to Svith, who was standing over Lance at the makeshift monitoring station.
"How's the signal?"
Svith grinned. "It's great. We're getting an excellent feed from cameras one, three, and four, and the second one is coming online right now." He pointed at a monitor. "Apparently, something big is going on, because a couple hundred grunts just marched in." Wolmak could clearly see a huge mass of Covenant grunts standing in formation. They were easily distinguishable by their squat form and their thick, brownish hides that puzzled biologists everywhere.
"Great work, Corporal. Are we uplinked properly to HQ?"
"If they're listening, they'll see what we see."
Wolmak took the opportunity to climb into his bunk and pass out.
The next few days were tense, but only due to their proximity to a base full of Covenant forces with potentially nothing better to do then kill them all. Fortunately, when Svith and Ishama had erected the shelter, they had made it as inconspicuous as possible, and even low-flying Covenant scouts failed to notice them.
Until the third day.
Wolmak was watching the screens when it happened. He'd been remotely wiggling camera two, because some foliage had fallen between it and the Cov base. He turned it down the near slope, to watch Svith and Ishama creep along towards a stream for their daily water. He was about to move the camera back when he noticed something that made his blood chill. A pair of Covenant elite were slowly moving through the woods about 150 yards from the two Marines, on a path designed to intersect.
"Oh, hell," grunted Wolmak. Rodriguez and Lance looked up at the screen and immediately saw the trap being laid.
"Gotta help them!" grunted Wolmak, grabbing his weapon. Rodriguez and Lance jumped to their feet, each shouldering their firearms.
Abandoning all attempts at stealth, the three of them charged towards the Svith and Ishama. Wolmak wished he had a radio, but any transmission outside the tight-beam video might be intercepted and give away their position. Not that it mattered now. If the Cov hadn't been alerted yet, it was only a matter of minutes.
Up ahead Wolmak could just barely see Ishama and Svith. He yelled for them to take cover. Svish pushed Ishama to one side and dove to the other - and an energy bolt from one of the Covenant hit him in the chest. He slammed to the ground, the large hole in his torso leaking blood. Wolmak started firing. The two Covenant who had been sneaking up on Svith and Ishama turned, and were cut down. But they hadn't been the only ones out. As the three of them dove towards Ishama's cover, another group of Covenant emerged from hiding.
Trying to drag Svith's body under cover, Wolmak winced as energy bolts heated the ground around him. Rodriguez, Ishama, and Lance returned fire. The Covenant elite were good, but marines under fire were hard as nails. The Covenent fire stopped abruptly.
Rodriguez stuck his head up. Nobody shot at him.
"Ya like that?" he quipped.
The bush to his left burst as it was hit by several simultaneous energy bolts. Wolmak pulled Rodriguez to the ground. Glancing himself over the mound providing their cover, Wolmak knew the end was near. Several teams of elite Covenant soldiers were advancing towards their position. It was only a matter of moments before they were upon Wolmak and his men. Wolmak looked back. No cover until the stream. They'd all be cut down before they could make it. The situation looked hopeless.
"When Rodriguez and I start firing, you two take Svith's body and run for it. Try to make it across the stream. We'll draw their fire and try to buy you some time." Wolmak nearly screamed at Lance and Ishama.
"Sir?" They looked at him.
"Just do it!" barked Wolmak. "Get ready!"
"Three!" he started counting.
"Two!" clenching his weapon, Wolmak thought a quick prayer for his men.
"One!" Wolmak rose to charge.
There was a roar and a blast knocked Wolmak onto his back. He opened his eyes - he wasn't dead! - and quickly covered his ears. A dropship appeared almost on top of them, hard-braking before it touched down, already starting to absorb energy bolts from the enemy. The landing ramp quickly opened and a squad of marines dashed out to get the four survivors and Svith's corpse.
Less then ten seconds after it had landed, the dropship took off. As the ramp was shutting and the ship was taking off, Wolmak caught sight of scores of Marines pouring out of the forest behind where they had been. A firefight was building, and Covenant forces were dropping fast.
Wolmak started breathing again.
As the dropship quickly left enemy range, he slowly stood up.
A voice from behind them said, "Good work, marines."
They all turned to see the speaker.
The Colonel smiled thinly. "Right as they were setting up the trap for you, we saw several high-ranking Covenant landing at the base. The Covenant military is hierarchical to a fault; if we can capture or kill their leaders or otherwise disrupt the chain of command, we'll be at an advantage - for once. We're assaulting the base right now. We'll get the bastards."
There was no rest for the weary.