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The Battle for Dragonhead, To the Last Man 1-3
Posted By: John Gurule, Jr.<d3jsgurule@yahoo.com>
Date: 13 October 2004, 3:40 AM

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      Instead of manning an AA MAC turret as the Commander General had wanted, Johnson had found his way to Vehicle Bay 6.792 instead. He joined the other Helljumpers and was briefed for a new mission: the defense of Dragonhead. The Covenant has destroyed many bases on Dragonhead and is now threatening to destroy its two most important stations: Installation Alpha and Zulu . . .

19:26 Hrs. 7/26/2558 Military Standard Time
Airspace above Zulu Installation
Ciara Alpha system

      Lieutenant Colonel Arnold Johnson pulled his helmet over his hair and across his face, snapping it into place. His heavy breath fogged his visor, a heavy haze making the cramped compartment a red blur. He unsnapped the gray ammo pouch on the right of his utility vest. He slid out a fresh clip for his battle rifle. He lifted the weapon and inserted the clip underneath it. He snapped back the breech, making the familiar 'click-clack' sound.
The heavy door of the Pelican's troop hold slid open, revealing the clouds just meters below them. This wasn't a high jump, but time was of the essence. The red light turned green, and Johnson once again briefed his troops.
      "It's our job to bail the marine's asses out of the frying pan, AGAIN." There was a collective laugh around the troop compartment. " Okay, you've all done this hundreds of times before. Open your chutes at one thousand meters and secure the LZ. Got that?"
      There was a unanimous "YES SIR." The light went green, and all of the Helljumpers put their hands in the center of the semi-room. "FIRST TO RISE, LAST TO FALL, HELLJUMPERS DO IT ALL, FEET FIRST INTO HELL!" With that, one after another, they piled out of the Pelican and into the sky.
      Even through his helmet Johnson heard the whine of the air rushing past him. The ice cold puff of the clouds passed in just more than two seconds. The ground rapidly approached and he saw the forteress-like Zulu installation and something to his right, hidden by low clouds. His adrenaline was pumping and his heart was beating insanely. It was the rush that he craved.
      At what he assumed was one thousand meters, Arnold signaled his platoon and pulled his release strap. His body jerked upward and his descent slowed. But he was going down too fast. He struggled to steady himself, but . . .

      Johnson landed on top of a bunker with a clank and an unpleasant crash. He rolled across the roof and fell down amidst several marines. The rest of his squad set down where he had just been. He lifted himself to his feet and brushed off spots of dirt on his suit. It didn't let him move at the speed of thought, but it sure as hell held up well. He looked up at the crowd of Marines that had gathered up around him. They straightened as they noticed the ODST insignia on his shoulder.
      Christ, they're just kids,he thought, gazing around at their young faces. They couldn't be much older than twenty-four.
      "Are you okay, man? That looked like it hurt bad!" asked one of the Marines. His expressive Hispanic face expressed both his concern and slight confusion.
      "Yeah, I'm all right. What's your name, kid?"
      "Pr-Private Hernandez, Sir!" he answered nervously. His face straightened and he saluted. His Adam's apple bobbed slightly. Johnson could see the fear in his eyes. He knew what was going to happen that night. He knew what they were up against.
      A loud, undefined sound drew everyone's attention. Johnson was frozen with terror, along with everybody else.
A Super Titan Behemoth stared down his throat. Even from miles away it filled his entire line of sight. An enormous panel on its side opened wide and thousands of dropships streamed out toward them. A purple wall amassed ahead of the soldiers.
      The AA MACs warmed up their guns, preparing to fire. With a deafening roar, they unleashed their arsenal into the oncoming storm of ships, but it was no use. Hundreds of them landed on the field before them. Covies of every kind streamed out of their transports and raced toward the fortified base. The MACs stopped to reload.
That's when the artillery struck.
      Giant balls of plasma soared over head. They crashed into a MAC. Debris flew into the air and it rained down into the ranks of Marines with a blossom of blue flame. Dust stifled the screams of the young men. The fire burned on, providing a cold light for the dark night. Another barrage crashed into the ground, blowing away the barriers that the Marines had stacked up with haste. Suddenly it struck him. He knew what they were doing. He knew what those bastards were up to-
      Sons of bitches.
      A war cry started from behind the smoke and flames. A projectile spiraled out of the cloud of dust. As if in slow motion, he saw it hit an unlucky soldier standing in just the right place. He simply exploded. The direct hit had sent his torso flying into the air. His insides burst like a tomato, spattering along the wall of the bunker. The legs went limp and just flopped to the side.
      Instead of fear, Johnson felt a rage build inside him. He lifted his battle rifle and held it to his shoulder. He hated the Covenant, and he always had. It was time to kick some ass.

20:00 Hrs. MST
Installation Zulu

      He squared the charging Elites head into his crosshairs. He pulled back the trigger. The rifle jerked back into his shoulder and he straightened the sights back. The Elite fired and missed, the plasma hitting around Johnson's feet. He lined up the shot and heard the rifle crack six times. The creature's shield dispersed and it kept sprinting toward Arnold. He dodged its desperate tackle and jammed the butt of his rifle into the back of its skull. Purple brains squeezed out as the creature's life gurgled away.
      A brigade of stalwart Grunts filed out into the small concrete clearing. Sweat poured down Arnold's face as he sprinted toward the nearest mound of debris. He squatted down behind the various chunks of uneven rubble.       He would only have a few seconds before they rushed in on him. His hand plucked a grenade from his belt and squeezed the cold metal surface. His finger pulled the pin out of the grenade and he peeked up out of his hiding place. The fight was confused and several Jackals had now joined the fray. He chucked the grenade right into the center of the advancing group. There was a cry of alarm from two Jackals, but it was too late. It exploded, filling the night with a bright orange fireball. Through his ringing ears, he could hear the blood spatter and tiny bits of shrapnel embed themselves into the metal of his helmet.
      He snatched up his rifle and whirled around to survey the area. His head throbbed, like it was beating itself to pieces. There was a crater, smoke pouring out of the meter wide hole. The stench of burned flesh enveloped the area; purple and blue gore was strewed around the area. Helljumpers and Marines were still firing and the Covenant Wraiths were still bombarding the base, but the overall battle had died down. Hernandez pushed himself up from his prone position behind the corner of the bunker and walked over to Johnson.
      "Phew. That was a close call, don't you say, Bro?"
      "At least there weren't too many casualties."
      "PHH!" Hernandez said, socking Arnold jokingly on his right shoulder. "I know you don't mean that, bro. You can trust us Marines more than that, man. You should be talkin' 'bout getting ourselves killed, you over there with that close range grenade flinging' shit, you know, bro?" He had a smug grin on his face.
      "Yeah. But you gotta do what you gotta do, right?"
      "Yeah, I can't argue with that, bro. Hold on a sec, bro. I want you to meet my other friends." He ushered several more marines, along with one ODST.
      "I didn't know you knew a Helljumper," Johnson said.
      "Well, you've only known me for an hour," he replied. "Well, here they are. There's Carl," he pointed to a tall African-American.
      "Hey," Carl said, waving at Arnold.
      "There's Jose, Ron, Frank, and Dan," he said, pointing to each as he said their names. He now pointed to the ODST. "That's Jenny."
      "Jenny?" Arnold questioned, his right eyebrow raised, "Isn't that usually a girls' name?"
      "Yeah," said the ODST, removing its helmet, "It is." Her golden-blonde hair was curled up into a tight bun.
      "Holy shit! I didn't know there was a woman on my team!"
      "Well, now you do! Isn't that great!" she said, both enthusiastic and sarcastic at the same time. She shoved her helmet into his hands.
      "Well, I, uh,"
[indent"Just c'mon. Looks like we've got more work to do," she said, pointing to the two Banshees hovering overhead. She fired at the purple masses with amazing accuracy. Every time she pulled the trigger, the hull of a Banshee lit up in a shower of sparks. She handled the recoil beautifully, holding the barrel firmly in place. One of the Banshees spiralled out of control and corkscrewed over their heads, sparks fizzing on the concrete. The other one pulled out of its dive and sped off towards the giant Titan Behemoth in the distance.
      "Thanks guys, I hardly broke a sweat," she stated in her constant sarcastic tone. She threw her rifle over her shoulder, tendrils of smoke still spouting from the end of the barrel. Her boots clicked as she swaggered into the hole in the bunker. Johnson just stood and gawked: he had just seen his definition of beauty personified. From the moment he saw her, he loved her.

      Krour D'bel 'Urdebes stood motionless in the dark purple hangar of the Punisher of Lost Souls, examining the force of Special Op Covenant granted to him. Their minds were strong - he could see that. But were their hearts willing enough to destroy the pink-fleshed scum for the valor of the Gods? Were they strong enough to fight until the very last of them in order to achieve their duty? Krour was caught by the dilemma. They were willing to serve him, but would they stand and fight or flee? He had witnessed many strong ones run because of a little resistance. No. They would suffer at their hand or face death at his sword. And that death would not be a pleasant one.

23:00 hrs., MST

      The restless din of battle was quiet. Only the sound of flames sparkling in the distance and the dust blowing in the emerging breeze. Shells and cases lay in a blanket over the ground. The smell of charred flesh and phosphorous was ripe. The breeze was slowly getting stronger, and now the bullet cases were beginning to roll across the ground. Johnson, sitting atop a crate, noticed this. His head turned up. He could vaguely see a Ghost hovering in the distance. There was a roar, so loud that even from that distance it rattled his helmet. The others' faces snapped up. Warcries echoed through the night, as if it were phsycological warfare.
Mad cries for battle stations combated the rebel yell of the Covenant. Sniper fire sounded, but the Elite's call drowned everything else out.
      Before anything major could be done, the charge of the Covenant had reached them. The Ghost strafed around the cavalcade of Marines, covering for their bretheren. The bright flash of the plasma blinded Arnold. He stumbled back, his hands groping for something to support him. He smacked against the bunker wall. He fell to the ground and retrieved his bearings. The blindness, luckily, was only temporary. The remnants of the Helljumpers surrounded him in a tight circle. Johnson clamored to his feet and lifted his rifle. He squared an Elite's head downrange, and jammed down the trigger.
      The rifle sputtered in his hands and he aimed once more and fired. The ODST in front of him clasped his stomach. Plasma burned through a weak spot in his armor. His knees gave way and he collapsed in a heap. Arnold moved up and stood over his corpse. His rifle felt hot in his hands. Purple blood spattered from the Elite's skull as he brought it to the ground. He and his ODST brothers (and sister) stood their ground before the storm of spec ops Elites. Throw a flag in here and we would make the perfect color guard, he thought, smiling. Marines rushed past them into the safety of the bunker. The ODST's slowly backed away, covering their retreat with their own fire. Arnold stopped firing from his shoulder. Instead, he fired his rifle on full auto from his hip.
      The Covenant seemed to be backing away, too. They stopped firing until their weapons overheated and started shooting sporadically. They weren't afraid of something; they withdrew, but stood their ground when any of the Helljumpers tried to advance. It wasn't a full retreat: they were making way for something.
      Roars sounded from the rear of the Spec-ops troop. There was a muffled blast, and two missiles whistled through the air in an arc. They spun in the same way the projectile that had reduced the unlucky marine to a bloody spot on the wall had. He watched as they fell, corkscrewing over their heads and smashing into the bunker behind them. A shockwave toppled anything in the immediate area and a tsunami of debris flew from the point of impact, but the small explosion area had only set the squad of Helljumpers off balance.
      Johnson could scarcely see a sparkling helmet bobbing up and down amidst the crowd of Spec-ops Covenant. There were also two shaggy beasts and the mammoth form of a Hunter following close behind. The human combatants slowly backed int o the bunker in the eerie silence. There was the hiss of a plasma sword being energized.
There was no other choice. They had to retreat into the bunker. Plasma started flying as the Helljumpers filed into the small bunker hatch. The Elite commander crouched down and sprung up high into the air. Johnson barely had time to slam the door shut as the Commander slammed into the ground next to it.

[The clanging of the boots on the metal was an almost deafening sound. There were only several hundred thousand survivors from the entire Dragonhead disaster, and now they were making a mad dash through Installation Zulu with the Covenant in close pursuit. They were headed to the docked UNSC flagship Aurora, their last hope of survival. Even when they arrived, what would they do? How could they escape the STBs and make a blind FTL jump in their battered condition? Johnson's mind was troubled. But in spite of everything, he kept on leading the charge.
Plasma whizzed by the group but they kept one step ahead of their pursuers. A right turn, left turn, this way, that. He was lost but in some way he wasn't. He didn't know where he was but he knew where he was going. It was as if his will to survive kept his feet moving in the right direction when his memory couldn't.
      There was a straight, wide hall with an arrow pointing straight ahead: Ship Bay 37742. His step lightened, he was sprinting now, his feet hardly touching the ground. But he skidded to a stop as he noticed the red outline of the door.Goddamit, it's locked!
      "Out of the way! Out of the fucking way!" shouted a familiar voice. Jenny was making her way through the awestruck crowd. She slipped through to Johnson as the Covanant slid around the corner to the hall. A heated firefight broke out; the corridor lit up with the tracers and blasts of energy being exchanged. Arnold turned his attention to Jenny. "Here, I've got the door code. She punched in the code on the blast door's keypad. Fuel rod tracers crashed into the high ceiling, raining down rubble on the survivors. As the blast door opened, another was revealed.
      "Aw, SHIT!" the Lieutenant Colonel and Jennifer said at the same time. They rushed into the airlock and punched in she entered the code. The door creaked open; a hatch of the Aurora was open. The Commander General ushered them in, sniper rifle in hand.
      "Come on, you maggots! I've got ya covered!" he screamed at the top of his lungs. But Hernandez instead moved to the side of the crowd. He started firing at the Covenant down the hall. Johnson ushered him to the ship, but he shook his head.
      "Nah, man! Someone's got to give you vatos some time, no?" He turned back to the charging Hunter. He could just barely make out a orange crack in it's neck. He squeezed off one shot and it made it. Right on target.

      It was almost five minutes later. Hernandez was still fighting his furious resistance in the long corridor. His rifle was out of ammunition,lying on the floor, and he had his pistol out. This wasn't your new-fangled Magnum: it was an old school MD9, complete with scope.
      He popped a few into a Grunt's skull as it hobbled into his sights. There was little resistance after the blast door had closed behind him. It seemed that they were trying to find antother way in. He knew he wouldn't make it out of here; he was going slightly insane already. The Elite's battlecry echoed through his mind. He didn't mind if he died; he was in Hell already.
      They'll come back for me, won't they, Bro? I don't know Bro! AAAAAHHHHHAAAAAAAAAAHAAHAHAHA!
He curled up in a ball as his sanity slowly drained away. He thought he hear something scuttling inside the walls. . . .

The Epilogue to Part 1 will come very soon.