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Posted By: kr142616<kr142616@aim.com>
Date: 21 June 2007, 7:29 pm

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1937 hours, May 19, 2538 (Military Calendar)/
Planet Bounty (UN Colony)

      Lieutenant Joshua Malcolm and his spotter, Ensign O'Hare, lay in the brush atop a hill, overlooking a golden fielddotted with roads and abandoned farm equipment. About four kilometers ahead of them they could see where the plain ended and the woodlands began, and there was no movement. Both soldiers wore ghillie suits, and hadn't moved for several hours.
      "See anything, O'Hare?" Malcolm asked, scanning the fields. He cradled his SRS109A sniper rifle, patiently examining every shadow at the edge of the field.
      "No sign of 'em, sir. Intel says they'll be here, though," O'Hare said, lowering his digital binoculars. The ensign smiled to himself. "Shame we can't take 'em all ourselves."
      "There'll be plenty of other chances, Ensign."
      The usually cheery ensign's smile slowly faded. "I know, sir."
      O'Hare's comment left an uneasy silence between the two navy snipers for several minutes. Malcolm took the time to examine the sky. The sun was setting, and lit the clouds a brilliant gold to match the field below. It was stunningly beautiful. Finally, O'Hare broke the silence.
      "Bounty isn't going to make it, sir, is it?" he asked quietly.
      The Lieutenant sighed. "No, it's not, Mike." It wasn't common for Malcolm to use another's first name. But he had gotten to know O'Hare well in their few assignments. "You've seen two planets glassed, right, Ensign?"
      "Three, sir." He looked distant, almost as if remembering a friend long gone. "I saw Oro glassed."
      Malcolm didn't miss a beat. "Did you live there?" He could tell. That world was important to him. Malcolm had seen the same look in other soldiers.
      "I trained there for a year. I was part of the NSG unit stationed there."
      "You were 27th Navy Sniper Group, then? I've heard about some of the missions there." He had heard about Oro, all right. It had been an empty agriculture planet first settled by Latin American colonists, and, until recently, had been used for military training. When the Covenant found it, it was a massacre.
      "Yes, sir. We weren't properly qualified, though. A lot of us were just through basic training, and several hadn't even started Sniper Indoctrination." There was no expression on O'Hare's face.
      "Well, son, we haven't won a major engagement against the Covenant since Harvest. Your unit did good for trainees." He paused. He had been fourteen in 2525. He'd been in school when news of the outer colony world's destruction became public. They had shown the smoldering planet in his classroom. It had looked fake, like in an old movie.
      "I don't think this world is any different." Malcolm understood that, in the end, what they were doing didn't really make a difference. They would only evacuate civilians who would be stuck on some other world that would be attacked again. It was his job, though, and every little bit mattered.
      "I know it isn't, sir," O'Hare said.
      Malcolm looked again at the sunset, and the brilliant colors. From his pack he removed a small camera, and held it to the sky. O'Hare looked at him out of the corner of his eye, but said nothing. Malcolm knew it would be another sad memory. But it would be one worth remembering.

      Twenty minutes later, the sun had set, and the sky had opened in a light drizzle. Both the snipers remained where they were.
      "They're running late," O'Hare remarked.
      "They'll be here, be patient. UAVs saw them enter the forest, and this is the only way to the nearest city." Silently, Malcolm agreed, though, and wished the Covenant would just hurry up and get here. Then this would be all over with.
      "Yes, sir." he said, raising his binoculars again. "Sir, contact," he said calmly, almost as soon as they reached his eyes.
      Malcolm lifted his own binoculars, and saw them. "I've got two Ghosts, and three armored vehicles out of the woods. Wait, four." He focused on the lead armored transport. "They look unarmed."
      O'Hare nodded. "Yes, sir. Orders?"
      Quickly, Malcolm looked over the caravan, now at six armored vehicles. "You take out the Ghosts. I'm going to hit the lead vehicle." He brought up his AT rifle, and looked through the sight. "Have you ever used an SRS109A?"
      "No, sir." O'Hare certainly looked like he wanted to, though.
      "Makes your rifle look like a toy." The ensign simply nodded, not knowing how to respond, and lifted his weapon. Normally, he wouldn't have engaged the enemy, as Malcolm's spotter, but lack of resources on Bounty didn't allow for another team to be dispatched. They'd do fine, though.
      Malcolm smiled and looked through his scope, flicking on the night vision. He aimed where he thought the engine might be, but it really didn't matter. The armor-piercing, high explosive 20mm rounds would punch through the armor and explode, with an almost certain chance of hitting something vital.
      "On my mark, O'Hare," Malcolm whispered. "Three, two, one...mark!"
      Malcolm fired, the loud crack of his rifle muffled by the rain. He didn't see where the round hit, but the transport stopped, as did those around it, the pilots not realizing what had halted them. Malcolm fired a second round.
      This time, the transport exploded, shrapnel from it spraying several unarmored aliens who had gotten out to investigate.
      "Awesome, sir," O'Hare said, a broad grin on his face. Malcolm looked for another contact, and saw the two Ghosts, one stopped, another still moving, its pilot slumped to the side. Their buddies hadn't noticed the two vehicles were out of commission.
      Malcolm keyed his helmet comm. "Bravo three-two-seven, this is Lieutenant Malcolm. The convoy has been halted. You may proceed with your bombing run."
      The reply came quickly. "Roger, Lieutenant. Stand by for verification, then get outta there."
      "Affirmative." Malcolm said. He cut the link, and turned to O'Hare. "Now we get to see some fireworks."
      Malcolm didn't think O'Hare's grin could've gotten any wider, but it did. It was good they had something to smile about.
      There was a roar overhead, and two Longsword interceptors flew past. Then, the caravan erupted in a huge explosion. O'Hare cheered, and Malcolm wore a small but satisfied grin.
      The Lieutenant's radio crackled. "Malcolm, confirm. Is the target neutralized?"
      Malcolm looked to where the caravan had been, near the edge of the forest. The ground was blackened and cratered, and the trees in the area were splintered and burning. Others further back were stripped of their leaves.
      "Affirmative. Target is neutralized. Making our way to the LZ," Malcolm replied.
      "Roger. Bravo three-two-seven out." The line was cut.
      "Let's go, O'Hare."
      "Aye, sir," he said, still smiling.
      The ensign walked over to where they had hidden their Mongoose ATVs, and pulled off the camo netting and grasses they had strewn over them. Malcolm began to follow, but turned and faced the wreckage of the caravan. He pulled his camera from his pouch, and, smiling, took a picture of the burning transports. He would want to remember this, too. He then turned and mounted his ATV.
      The snipers rode for several minutes in silence through the countryside of Bounty. Gunships passed overhead, their roar interrupting the otherwise peaceful scene. Finally, they reached the LZ, where the Pelican that had dropped them off waited.
      Malcolm and O'Hare drove their ATVs into the dropship, and strapped them down. They stowed their packs in the overhead storage, and Malcolm removed his camera.
      The copilot looked through the doorway. "You guys all set?" he asked.
      "All set," Malcolm replied, looking up from the display of pictures on his camera. As the copilot turned away, Malcolm looked back at the screen.
So many worlds…
      Malcolm looked up from his camera. "Yes, ensign?"
      "Why do you keep that camera?" O'Hare asked. "What's it for?"
      "I take pictures, O'Hare."
      "It's not for any intelligence gathering, sir?" O'Hare looked surprised.
      "No. It's to remember all the worlds I've been to."
      "How many worlds you seen, Lieutenant?"
      "Too many."
      "Only four of the worlds I've taken pictures of haven't been glassed: Earth, Reach, Bounty, and my homeworld."
      "I understand, sir." He hesitated, then said, "Can I see some?"
      Malcolm smiled. "Of course, son." He stood up and sat next to the ensign. "After all, we need to know what we're fighting for."