The air was crisp. I was sitting comfortably on a reclining chair staring up at the clouds.
“Hey, Jim man, what are you up to?” Mark came bolting up the stairs. Something was wrong.
I am Jim Kahn, A Marine of the 43rd airborne squadron. I was a pilot of a patrol unit, and my job was to shoot at anything that wasn’t on our side. I stood a little shorter than Mark, I was about 2 inches shorter overall, I stood however at 5 foot 8 inches, something that is nothing short of average. I had golden hair which glimmered in the sun which was however a trait that I would drop with a seconds notice. I slid a hand up the side of my head through my hair and stretched.
“Whats wrong?” I said it slowly, tired I guess, or sarcastic.
“I think you’d better see this Jim.” I sneezed in the sun as I stood up, “God bless you” he said automatically.
“Alright, what is it?” I stood up stretching some more before getting into a walking stance to follow Mark back into the building.
“Well, we don’t know. Radar signatures are everywhere; we don’t know what they are.”
“Could it really be that bad? I mean it could be a meteor or something, right?”
“Chances are slim, probably them.” He said, I straightened my collar and affixed my officer markings above my heart. In the hallways red lights were blinking and an alarm buzzing, we were under assault.
“Any guesses on how many?”
“Not yet, but some images are coming in right now.”
“Ah damn it, well; I guess it couldn’t last forever. So their here huh… Well, ready the orbital guns.” We passed by a Marine pilot readying his flight gear. He had on his helmet and was buttoning up his vest.
“Already online, batteries on the west and north coast are operational. The south coast isn’t responding, they probably have been hit with some jamming frequencies from the Covenant cruisers.” He said as we walked briskly down the hallway. I pulled back my sleeve and spun my wristwatch around. 7:43 a.m. L4E (Lunar 4 Eastern) time, it was a little early now, but nothing too bad.
“ETA?” I said.
“3 hours tops, we don’t have much time to prepare.” A speaker in the hallway cracked into usage claiming that all personnel were to report to their battle stations at one, and that this was not a drill.
“How are the other preparations?”
“Legacy divisions are showing green across the border, ground troops are evacuating and all of the small airbases are at attention.” He said summing up what he had been paying attention to all morning. “Unconfirmed reports that a small lander made it into New Missoula with a couple hundred Covenant.”
“What? Missoula? That is where my family lives!”
“We’re doing all we can, suppressive ground forces have been sent in to combat them.” A woman talking into a communications device stepped by us franticly receiving and relaying data from person to person.
“There are 13 and a half million people in that city alone. Can’t you get a fighter battalion in there?”
“No, we’re trying to get them all orbital ASAP.”
“Damn it! Why did they have to strike now! We were going to get a new weapons shipment in an Earth month!”
“You knew it was inevitable. Look at us? Lunar 4 is a frontier world, really close to Harvest.” I remembered the Harvest Massacres that began this war. Harvest was attacked before they even knew that they had an extraterrestrial opponent. We arrived in the control room where politicians and militral leaders all gathered in tight circles all stressed out, and all afraid.
“Ahem! We have the leader of the 43rd airborne squadron here!” everyone looked at us, the room got very quiet suddenly.
“Um… Jim, did you have to make such a big deal over it?” Eyes returned to their work, leaving us ignored compared to our attention garnered just a second ago by the show that Jim had put on upon our arrival. I walked over to a huddle of analysts huddled around a tiny monitor that was showing fuzzy images of something. It was very large, probably the Covenant lead ship, but the image was so fuzzy it was hard to tell. A programmer, who was seated at the keyboard of the computer type in a series of commands as the image gradually sharpened eventually giving way to a clear image of a Covenant battleship with a full squadron of assault class carriers.
“Aw man! They’re here! Wasn’t the ASTS program supposed to spot these things a month before they were on courses towards us?” The ASTS was our new satellite networks that were supposed to spot a Covenant battle group a week before they got within range of our planet.
“Yeah, they were, but they obviously failed.” Some computer operator replied. Curled up in the corner clutching his head was an unknown Marine who was muttering something about not wanting to die. None of us did.
“43rd airborne squadron ready sir!” I said to the General who was also huddled around the monitor. “What is our current task?”
“Get your asses into orbit and blast whatever gets within range of our orbital guns. We want those things to destroy as many of em as they can, but they can’t do that if they are a smoldering crater!”
“Sir!” I saluted and hurriedly ran away. Jim caught my escape in the corner of his eye and followed.
“Hey, what’s going on?”
“Well, we have been called into battle, our mission is to keep the orbital guns protected.”
“Ah great, of course. We always get stuck with the hard missions.”
“Heh, yeah, remember that patrol that we had to kill about a year back?”
“How could I forget? Most stressful moments of my life.” We were on the mission Trojan-1. We made a small airbase in the center of an asteroid and jetted it in the right direction to attack a Covenant patrol. Once we got within 500 clicks we all jettisoned from a crater on the dark side of it and ambushed the crafts. We took out the whole battle group, or rather Jim did along with the other 5 guys on the mission. I was gunned down almost immediately; flak like laser ripped two holes in my wings and engines. I spun out of control, frantically hitting the eject button. I floated in space for 12 hours, they couldn’t find me and my radio unit had broken down. Luckily however I accidentally floated into the window of the asteroids control room. That was the last Trojan type mission that worked.
“Well, we got out of that ok, right? 43rd to the rescue!” I placed a hand on my left shoulder where the patch bearing the insignia of the 43rd airborne. It was a hawk, eyes intent staring upon the Earth. Don’t really think that it is quite right, looking more as if the Earth was our enemy in that picture, but I was able to live with it.
“Well, get to the fighter bay, we have to get airborne as soon as possible.” I raised a hand gesturing down the long hallway and to the right, where our planes were docked.
“Yeah, you flying the Unit A today?” In our squad we had 7 different custom modules. I however was the one who placed all the orders, so I really got the decision on what went into most. They all functioned about the same as a result of this. The only major difference in any was that B was a bomber type aircraft while the others were all fighter support.
“Don’t know. I might fill in on the B Unit.”
“Come on, we need a good guy with quick reflexes for a fighter, let one of the slackers fill in on B. We need you in A, it’s a little faster than all the others.”
“Quick reflexes? Nope, I haven’t got the implant yet. My reaction is still natural, .2 seconds.”
“Oh I see, so you think that the .1 second that you could save by getting the cybernetics will save your life someday?”
“Well, actually I-”
“Shut up, you have the quickest reaction on the team, you can beat all of em but one, but he has cybernetics in him. You gotta pilot the A.”
We arrived at the armory. I took an assault rifle and a pistol and slid them both into my pockets, and for the assault rifle folded it up by collapsing the stock, minimizing its size into something that I could conveniently carry. “Yeah, I guess. Not to brag of course, but I do like the A’s handling a little better than the B’s.” I lifted up my chest protector and slipped it over my head as I finished my sentence. “But do you really think that I have the quickest reaction speed?” I then grabbed two sets of upper arm protectors and set the first pad on my arm buckling it twice and beginning my next sentence. Well, how long do you think it will be till they show up?” I put on the second arm piece.
“I’ll say 4 hours.” He was also putting on garments from the armory, the same flak jackets that I had.
“Well, they said that the ETA is 3 hours tops. You wanna change your guess?”
“Um, yeah, how’s two hours?” As he said that I removed two shin protectors from the rack on the wall.
“A fair bet. I will say an hour and 15 minutes.” I slid on another piece of my armor.”
“Why are we betting at all? We’ll keep em beaten back!” I wondered if this was real confidence or not.”
“Yeah, I guess you’re right.” I said as I finished donning my armor.
“Well, you decided upon what unit you’re gonna take?” I thought about it. I had the fighter types, I liked the speed and agility as I had said before, but the Unit B had some awesome firepower. I stood for a minute staring up at the ceiling while I pondered it. I eventually came to the decision to use the Unit A.
“I am going to take the A.”
“Great, can I be the gunner?”
“Yeah, better you then on of the others.” I fumbled with the airtight helmet that I had, should I have to eject into space, and I assured that it was connected to the chest pieces of the suit. An ounce of prevention…
A minute later I was within the dormant beast, its cannons awaiting the roar of our engines, knowing that minutes later blood would be shed, death would be born. It was a slick beast, glazed with a semi-reflective black coating of paint which complimented its intentions, something dark, something cold. Killing.
I hit on the HUD switch and slid my hand along another six switches while a display flickered up onto my view screen. I initiated the active target locating systems and looked for the display that I had in the corner of the cockpit begin to spin a line around the center of its shape. The green screen was easily ignorable however when the voice of the air traffic controller came on over the intercom in my spaceship.
“Unit Alpha, you are clear for launch in 3… 2… 1… Initiate launch.” The ships engines flared up rocketing us forward out of the cave like hangar and into the light. The glass of the canopy dimmed to calibrate for the bright light. I flipped a few minor flight control switches to my left and slid down the visor on my helmet that displayed all the nav points and targeting info.
“You feel that? The sun, it’s like it hell out here. Course it is up there too.”
“Yeah, it seems like it, especially when you figure where we are going. Now le0ts stop this idle talking, we’re on a mission!”
“Right, sorry sir.” He said, a little disappointed, but I think he understood that we were trying to live to see another day in this fight. If we got shot down it’s the end. No rescue ships nothing would come for us, the planet along with us would be dead. If we get shot down we will die, and so will the planet. The space combat is the last hope of the planet, and without it fighting would be futile, trying to fight back, we would have no weapons that are not big enough to be destroyed to fight back. Our great cities, our star ports, our orbital guns, out satellite networks, all destroyed, almost with no meaning or purpose other than a religion that they possessed. There is only one god, and we know him. Whoever they worship as their god is false, and is leading them to destroy us for some reason other than what we think. Well, at least that’s what the tabloids say. “Covenant led by jealous?” was the last headline I ever read, some years ago actually. I don’t have too mush interest in things like that anymore. Knowing why they hate us won’t stop them, will it? We were flying through the clouds as a flock of Amazon birds passed by us. They flew in the hundreds towards the East, migrating for the upcoming Summer. If only they knew that they could be within an artificial summer, created by our enemy. That is if we fail. We gained altitude at an increasing rate as we passed through a cloud. A result of the Lunar 4 system being located in a nebula the clouds constantly electrocute each other. It not a good thing for commercial flights, though military ones had nothing to worry about. I watched a beam of electricity ark over the highest part of the clouds and fade, leaving a booming noise, though it was muffled by the planes insulation to protect us from radiation. It had other purposes too though. Unintentionally this radiation barrier became the padding in our jackets and the noise damper in engines because it possessed many remarkable capabilities. “We are hitting the upper atmosphere in 3… 2… 1…” I flipped a few switches as I said that. As I flipped the switches the airfoil began to reshape itself for space travel. e hit a large barrier of clouds and found ourselves above the layer within a few seconds. When we looked around all we saw was the glow of the horizon of Lunar 4 and the black starry place, where our next battle awaits. “What! Whats that! Off at 2 o’clock.” We could see a series of explosions off towards the equator of the planet about a thousand miles away. “Let’s go, report the sighting to HQ and give the rest of the squad waypoints.”
“Rodger.” Jim reported as he began to radio HQ with the coordinates of the anomaly. “This is unit A, potential explosions sighted at bearings 132, 24, 96.”
“This is Alpha base, we copy, tuning in a peeper as we speak.”
“Command, this is Unit B, we’re stalled out on the launch pad, we need some maintenance now!” Unit B was still stuck on the ground. That wasn’t very good at all being a naturally small division we needed all the support we could get.
“What do you mean B, are you still not orbital!” command radioed back.
“No, Unit B has some problems with the left thruster.”
“What? Can you ID the error?”
“Looks like a misconnection in the fuel links, could take hours to find.”
“We don’t have all day. Leave the B, go to another craft!”
“Unit A, we have your images up on the peeper network, appears as though the Southern orbital gun has opened fire on an unidentified craft, repeat, unidentifiable craft at bearings 132, 24, 96, losing altitude fast!”
“What is it? Is it the enemy!” Jim said.
“Could be, targeting computers online Jim, we don’t wanna be caught off guard.”
“Right, you just pave the way!” He flipped the targeting screen down.
“This is Unit C, engaging enemy patrols, need reinforcements!”
“What, they aren’t supposed to be here for another hour and a half, confirm!”
“This is C, we have visual of the enemy craft, 5 banshees in a V formation!”
“Rodger, A unit moving in to back you up!”
I turned towards the planet and the left to where I saw gunfire. We flew strait at the V formation and were hit in the left wingtip. Their formation, seeing that we were not turning as we got close began to scatter, a little too late for one. Jim caught it in his sights and opened fire with the flak orbital on the top of our craft ripping it to pieces. “Whoohoo! Fragged one!” We slid past the area where their formation was as Unit D passed close to us beneath our craft. Tracer fire arced from the cannons of the D unit as it shot down two more banshees. I sharply pulled back on the yolk now upside down relative to the planet. I flew towards one that was in a wide turn trying to make a U-turn. Tracer fire flashed behind it narrowly missing from the D Unit. He also near to hit us, and I was glad to hear Jim say “Check fire!” as we flipped around to continue pursuit. Jim let the Chain Guns on the nose fire 150 rounds in its direction cutting through a number of life support systems. The craft spun out of control into the atmosphere where is began to burn up into a fireball. I saluted it as it fell out of impulse, watching it turn from purple to red. We looped around in time to see the E Unit close in on the last of the Banshees and shoot it in the balance unit it losing all control before Jim ripped it to pieces.
“Enemy patrol destroyed, no casualties, continuing movement towards object.”
“Rodger, requesting that you take the Menace division on your wing.”
“Command, this is the Vengeance division, we are moving towards the target, we can’t wait for the Menace.”
“Six ships won’t stand a chance against any Covenant ship, wait for back up or…”
“Or what, you’ll court martial me? It’s a little late for that, wouldn’t you say?”
“Please, wait, for the sake of your men.” I looked off to the right where I saw a Sergeant sitting in the cabin of his craft, ready to die at my order. I spun to look out the left window. Again I saw a man, a living breathing man, ready to die to assist us in our attack even if it failed.
“Vengeance, set rally point at the alpha coordinates.” I heard a sigh of relief from the command. Was I really that defiant? Oops… We arrived at the rally point floating idly in space watching the explosions get closer to the planet. Off in the distant west we saw the Menace unit moving in as a sparkle in the distant sky betrayed their position. The Menace division was a prototype fighter battle group possessing new experimental craft that use neurological spinal taps to read your brainwaves and move the craft accordingly.
“Vengeance, this is Menace One, in position, if you begin accelerating now we will be able to group in space halfway from Alpha rally to the enemy USC (Unidentified spacecraft)
“Copy, moving out. One by one we rotated with the retro rockets firing until we were able to zip off into the distance. Lunar 4’s rings were sparkling below us as a firefight occurred with it. I hit some keys to my left as we came within 15 kilometers of the object, within visual range. I slid the monitor out in front of me that was similar to a sniper scope in that it could see with very high magnification. I scanned the purple spacecraft for any marking that might identify it as some familiar type, but there was no marking of a bomber or any type of attack vessel. It was some creepy symbol that was almost as sharp as a sickle; or rather the front of the ship being that it was streamlined to near perfection. The decks were however lined with hundreds of Banshee’s, a nightmare. “Control, upwards of a hundred targets sighted, range 15 kilometers!”
A movement at the other end of the communications system was heard, the worker must have had his feet up on the table, that is until he found out that there were hundreds of them. “This is control, how many?”
“Hundreds, Hal is still running up figures, but it seems like the USC (Unidentified Space Craft) is a carrier type, long range transport maybe? We will move in and hold them off as long as we can, get all the orbital guns trained on it.”
“Wait, fall back, we will divert some of our forces from the battles in the regions in the southern ring, just hold your fire for another few minutes!”
“Negative control, we don’t have time, some enemy fighters are disengaging from the side of the ship, lit might be countermeasures, we have to preemptively strike. Vengeance is moving in, Menace, you take the left flank.”
“Menace division, our point unit is having some control mal-” The radio cut off as I swiveled my head around to see what the problem was. Two of the ships had collided in a fireball.
“What the!?! Could this mission be any more flawed? We lost B before we launched and now two of the Menaces!” Jim shouted, following it with some expletives.
“Enemy forces, 1 Kilometer and closing, they saw the flash of the Menaces deaths, prepare to scramble, engage enemy forces only after they fire upon us, we have to maintain a low profile for as long as possible!”
“Enemy forces, probably five banshees two o’clock, we have some AMS readings from their area, they are launching preemptive countermeasures, we have to engage the enemy forces now!” One of the Menace pilots yelled.
“Enemy craft pinged at locations to near to ten o’clock, break formation!” Our V quickly snapped apart and scattered in the cloud of the upper rings.
Gunfire from a few Banshees fell down towards the planet nearly hitting us. We took evasive actions spiraling off to the left. Their formation passed by us and continued towards the planet before spreading a little wider apart and looping towards us. We saw gunfire arc toward them exploding the left flank unit. The C unit flew by behind the formation of Banshees. Suddenly an alarm in the cabin was ringing, some AAM missiles were locked on. Off in the distance we saw three white lines arc up from the cruiser that had launched the Banshees. Gunfire flew up from the Banshees beneath us and narrowly missed our left wing. Their formation passed around us as I frantically looked down at the controls. “Chaff, chaff, chaff, chaff, chaff…” I said as I scanned the keyboard for the button to press. I found it and hit it a few times frantically. The missiles continued towards us for a second more before they all arced down towards random targets. The beeping stopped. Chaff is a counter measure used to confuse missile targeting computers. The Banshee formation now arced back down at us, now only four being that the C had shot one down last run. Suddenly a white line led up to one and it exploded accidentally struck down by a missile of its own. Jim fired a couple hundred rounds up towards the lead Banshee clipping one of its wings sending it spiraling into a fireball. The remaining two scattered though one was shot down by the D units as it whipped by our position. The other flew back towards the ship, a true coward. We were in pursuit swarming all over him. We flipped up and down and fired rounds from our cannons in his direction. Only a few rounds hit him, but we were tightly tailing him and his futile efforts to shake us were easily crushed. We flew down and to the left from a path behind him and picked up speed as we descended into the atmosphere just a little more. He was getting closer to us until he was directly to our upper left. He spotted us and swerved left away from his carrier, now was our chance to break and head for the ship, maybe we could take out the shutters and slow the launching of fighters. The ship realizing that we had lost interest in him began to pursue us, though a Menace unit quickly ripped him to shreds after his decision. The fireball that was our enemy was now distant and leaving our field of vision quickly. An explosion cracked upwards exploding along the side of the ship and the white trail left by the shell slowly faded away. It was now within missile battery range. We saw from the surface of the planet thousands of slowly arching trails that represented the missiles as the traveled from the surface up to the ship, explosions near to engulfing the whole ship in explosions for a few seconds. What was even more amazing is that things couldn’t explode in space, so they were within the outer reaches of the atmosphere. The rings were calming down a little, and the explosions were less frequent, either the battle was going well, or the battle was a complete loss for the UNSC, something that we were familiar with. We were within firing range of the craft. “Countermeasures detected, they’ve spotted us, aim for the shutters and bridge first but make sure to keep at range, we don’t want anyone to get blasted by the orbital cannon” Again thousands of missiles ached up into the air towards the ship. We were already engaged with the enemies though in vicious dogfights. As the battle began we were outnumbered at least three to one, and ass the battle intensified we had somewhere around five of them for every one of us. The menace squad was shot down pretty quickly as they had the lighter weapons, and were incapable of exploding some of the larger threats like anti aircraft guns on the sides of the ship. “B Units, moving into orbit, targeting the aft of the craft.”
“Rodger B, destroy the bridge first though, it is priority.”
B fell into visual range “What is that thing! It’s huge! It must have hundreds of fighters on it!”
“Well, if you would get into this fight it would have a ton less to fight!”
“Copy, targeting the bridge.” The B Unit whipped into the firefight spiraling to dodge laser fire, flying with incredible skill despite the rookie pilot who had only been on a few missions. The tail gunner let loose a few streams of fire with no success, but still fired to cover himself. The ship corrected itself relative to the carrier and fired off a few of its semi nuclear warheads, “Alright, everyone clear, 10 seconds to detonation!” he had an accent indicating that he was of west Earth-side decent. He was a cowboy type, already showing rogue blood in him, something that the Marin Corps had no room for until this war. Wars since about 2050 have been as simple as a series of assassinations or black ops attacks, sometimes requiring a surgical strike at most. No drafts were needed to fill the ranks of Marines, but now everyone would fight in this war of attrition, because the last man standing wins, and not until then will they leave us alone. The blast exploded near the bridge of the ship and I shielded my eyes as the blasts blinding light ensued. A second later it was all over. I looked back at the ship, most of the Banshees had been swept off of the deck of the craft and now spiraled into the atmosphere beginning to glow red hot much quicker than the others. That wasn’t a good sign, it was within our atmosphere more than before. I plunged into pursuit of the behemoth like craft. The heat shields on the front of our crafts glowed with a red, scalding heat that was comparable only to our anger. Our foes were atop a ship that was still glowing around the bridge from the semi nuke detonation, and our allies were another trail of missiles flying upwards from the ground. The ship was picking up more speed, so I matched it adding some speed as to get ahead of it. We passed by a high altitude cloud and for a brief second everything was blank and peaceful. However as we emerged on the other side all I clouds see was a band of blue between the clouds that I had just come from and the clouds in front of us. Exploding through the clouds behind me, the tremendous Covenant ship, which was losing speed in the atmosphere as well as glowing red as it drove onwards toward the planetside. Again a gunshot from the orbital gun exploded the clouds before me, precisely impacting the ship and exploding a part of its hull, the first damage.
“Command, we’re pulling back, this one is mop up duty for the guns, I’m pursuing remaining aircraft near to our sector.” I said. I love being a squad leader.
“Go for it.” Command said.
“Right, we’re moving to engage fighters over the Saar desert region”
My ship curved off to the left as the others tilted their crafts and followed.
I rubbed my head. Some smoldering wreckage lie near to me. I stood up, my chair behind me. It was warm, and I was sitting atop a sand dune, shrapnel like pieces of my plane lying everywhere. I could see the cabin however was mainly intact, it’s nose embedded in the ground. My hand had some blood on it from rubbing my head, it was clearly wounded and a few large cuts, but other than that I was fine. Some smoke pillared up from the crash site of the ship. Off in the distance I saw some gunfire arching over the desert, and judging by the direction, it was someone firing up or down. Another towering column of smoke ascended from hat distant place. I then saw the contrail of the jet arch up. Some random gunfire came from the surface though it was limited, only a few bolts. I flipped out my field binoculars and observed the craft that was now turning to fire on the ground target again. I examined the craft. It wasn’t purple, and that was a good sign. From the make of it, it was a newer UNSC gunboat, a Longsword maybe. It fired to 50 mm cannons on the ground. I moved the aim of my binoculars downwards towards the horizon and zoomed in to 25 times zoom. I spotted a blue speck, and upon further magnification discovered it to be an elite. A trail of gunfire raked the ground near to it, however it jumped behind another sand dune and dodged most of it. All I could see in any direction otherwise was the blue of the sky, and the tan of the sand dunes.