1000 Hours, July 18, 2552 (Military Calendar)/
Sigma Octanus IV, outside Cote d'Azur
"I've thought of a nickname for our team," Takeda Yoshinaga whispered to his teammate, Chris.
Ahead, lying prone in the mud and water of the rice paddy was Jarred, their sniper, scanning the city outskirts with his S2 AM sniper rifle, making sure no Covenant would see them as they snuck into the sewer system underneath the city. A little farther ahead, out of the rice paddy was the team leader, David Wolff, who was cutting a hole in the grates big enough for the team to get through into the sewers.
"What is it?" Chris whispered back.
"The Nekekami." Takeda said.
"Huh?" Chris said, his head tilted questionably.
"It means Spirit Cats in my language." Takeda responded.
"Specter Team Rho, the Spirit Cats. I like it. It fits." Chris said.
"I was inclined to think that we would be calling ourselves the Nekekami, not the Spirit Cats."
"Nobody knows what that means anyway. Besides, Spirit Cats has a ring to it." Chris answered, smiling at his friend.
There was a barely audible clank ahead as David carefully removed the grate from the pipe. With a series of quick hand signals, he motioned for the team to go in, with Chris taking point. They entered the sewers.
It was dark, very dark. They turned on their night vision and moved forward through the knee-high muck. The pipe was filled with the sound of sloshing water as it echoed up and down the pipe.
"Shit! Slow down and keep quiet, guys. We're in no hurry," David snapped over the comm. channel.
After about five minutes of creeping through the pipe, David ordered the team to stop. "We're going to check out the residential district first. Just to check," he said.
None of them believed that there would be any survivors in the city, but there was always a chance. If a civilian got lucky and managed to hide from the Covenant patrols...
David brought up a map of the sewer system and overlaid it on all of their helmets' HUDs. He traced the route they were to take on the maps and then they were on the move again. It was slow going. Every now and then, a grate appeared overhead and an odd pattern of light sifted in through it, like dozens of little rays reaching down to touch them as they passed underneath. And occasionally something ominously moved over the grate and blocked out portions of that light.
They had to be careful not to scrape their MA2Bs against the sides of the pipes. It was not likely that the Covenant above would notice the sounds and if they did, they probably wouldn't care, but it was better to be safe then sorry. And what was the purpose of a stealth unit that couldn't keep quiet?
So a trip that might have taken them one hour took three hours as they paused at every grate and storm drain to make sure that there was not some Covenant guard standing there to see them. Soon they had reached their destination. They were underneath the residential district of Cote d'Azur.
David found a manhole opening and snaked a fiber optic probe up through it and attached it to his helmet. "It's clear. Let's go quickly," he reported. He quietly pushed the manhole cover up and out of the way and pulled himself out followed by the other Specters. They were in a dark alleyway. Takeda pointed to some stairs on the side of the building. David nodded and they worked their way up the stairs to a door. It was locked. Takeda moved forward and inserted a special lock pick that consisted of microexplosives. These would go off, delivering a sudden blow that effectively shattered the pins and would unlock the door. It was also relatively quiet.
Takeda set off the pick and moved his hands away from the door. There was a hissing sound as both the pins and the lock pick dissolved under the impact. Takeda waited a few seconds for the door to cool down and then opened it. He immediately unslung his MA2B and panned the hallway for any threats. There were none. He gestured that it was safe and moved deeper into the hallway. The rest of the team followed him.
They were in some sort of apartment complex. Doors were splintered and caved in, a sure sign of forced entry. There was plasma scoring along the walls and there were melted light fixtures in the hallway from stray plasma fire. "Look," he said, pointing, "on the walls."
There was blood. Human blood, and lots of it. It was smeared across the walls and it stained the carpet of the floor. Moving closer, Takeda could make out a bloody handprint, eternal testimony to the horror of what had happened here. "The Covenant," Takeda said bitterly.
"Where are the bodies?" Chris said.
"They probably gathered them all in one place for the Grunts and Jackals to tear up. Like that massacre on Jericho VII. They rounded up all of the human civilian population and then executed them." Takeda said.
"Let's keep moving. We're going to find a place for Jarred to snipe some of their field commanders." David said.
"I've nicknamed them Elites," Takeda said.
"Well, I guess since we are the first to have gotten good data on them, we should be able to name them. What about the huge armored ones with the shields?" David replied.
"Hunters," the normally quiet and withdrawn Jarred said.
"I like it. It's fitting," Takeda said.
They continued down the hallway panning the area with their MA2Bs. They got to the stairwell and walked in. Harsh white lights illuminated it. Takeda pulled out his M6D SD and shot out the lights. The stairwell fell into darkness. "They won't see us as well this way," he explained.
Most of the lights had been melted by plasma fire already as the Covenant troops had rampaged through the building shooting anything and everything they found beneath their sights. But, of course this worked to the Specters' advantage. Suddenly, a door banged open two flights beneath them and the stairwell was filled with the oddly dog-like barking of Grunts as they moved into the stairwell. Then, they started moving up the stairs.
Looking madly around, Takeda saw that there was still one flickering light hanging over this part of the stairwell and that the Grunts would see them as soon as they came around. They couldn't run because that would alert the patrol to their presence. And if he shot out the light, even though his weapons were silenced, the Grunts would surely notice the lighting change and the sound of shattering light bulbs. He had to react. Pulling out his M6D SD again, he shot out the light. He was banking on the possibility that Grunts didn't have good night vision.
When the light went out, the Grunts barked in alarm and started conversing madly with themselves. Then, they started moving cautiously up the stairs, weapons at the ready. Takeda motioned for the rest of the team to fade back. They did so, as quiet and invisible as ghosts. Takeda started moving back as well, watching the stairs intently through his night vision. The lead Grunt turned the corner moving slowly. Takeda brought up his MA2B Assault Rifle and lined it up with the Grunt's head, praying that the Grunt couldn't see him. When the Grunt moved forward and stumbled on the first step, Takeda smiled. They couldn't see well in the dark.
Another Grunt moved up behind his comrade. Takeda squeezed the trigger. A suppressed burst of 7.62 armor-piercing bullets tore through the lead Grunt, causing it to tumble back down the stairs, right into the second Grunt. The second Grunt caught the body, and said something to it in their odd, barking language. When the corpse didn't respond, the Grunt shook it, spattering some of its blood against his armor. The Grunt noticed this, reached down to feel the blood, realized what it was and started to raise his weapon and alert the others...
Another burst of Assault Rifle bullets caught it in the head, silencing it forever, stilling its cry of alarm while it was still in its throat. It too collapsed and tumbled down to the floor. More Grunts charged up the stairs, tripping over the dead bodies of their comrades.
"Takeda, move! We need a clear line of sight to give you supporting fire!" David whispered over the comm. channel.
Where could he move? The stairwell was very narrow... but Takeda could improvise, just like he had done when he had stolen the extra rations for his friends from the storerooms back in camp when he was in the Marines. Takeda slung his rifle over his back, grabbed the twisted rail of the stairs, and swung over it. He caught himself and brought his feet up. Hooking his legs around the bent rail, he let himself hang upside down. The lane was clear for his teammates above. There was a storm of suppressed rifle fire and the sound of Grunts gasping in pain as they died. Looking to his left, Takeda saw another Grunt running up the stairs, not two feet away from him and not noticing him hanging their in the dark. He unslung his MA2B and fired a long burst at the running Grunt. Rounds tore through its armor and it staggered back under the blows until a round blew through its heart and killed it. The eerily glowing blood seeped from its body as it collapsed.
Five seconds later, the firefight was over. Getting dizzy from the blood rushing to his head, Takeda strained and pulled himself back up and over the rail and landed on the stairs again. "What the hell was that?" David asked him.
"I was improvising, sir." Takeda answered.
"At least we got 'em. All right, let's move on."
They got to the top floor and made their way to the door that led to the roof. David eased open the door, just enough to get a fiber optic probe through the gap. "There's nobody on the roof, but I saw a Banshee flying around. It might not be safe with all the air cover they have to snipe from the roof," he reported.
"Let's do it the old fashioned way then," Takeda said, hefting his MA2B.
"Alright. Let's split up into two teams and go hunting for targets to assassinate. Jarred, you're with me. Takeda and Chris, you will pair up and go hunting. We will meet back in the alley with the manhole cover at 1800 hours sharp. If there is nobody here by 1830 hours, then I want the other team to leave without the others and make their way to the rendezvous point in the jungle. Understood?" David said.
"Sir, yes sir!" They all answered in unison.
And they went their separate ways. "Let's go across the alley to the other building," Takeda suggested to his friend.
Moving quickly and with a purpose, the team found their way back to the outside stairs and took them down to the alley. Once there, they were faced with a dilemma. There was no obvious way into the next building from the alley. The most straightforward way would have been to walk out into the street and go in the front, but that was suicide. Covenant patrols were swarming the streets. They had to find another way in. Looking around, Takeda spotted a small pipe running from ground level up the side of the building. It passed by several broken windows on the higher floors. Perfect.
"The pipe," he said.
Chris nodded and they made their way to it. Then, they heard hoarse chattering from the other end of the alley. Jackals. Nodding to each other, the Specters faded back into the darkest shadows in the alley behind dumpsters and other objects, their black stealth armor allowing them to blend in. Takeda reached down to his leg and slid his combat knife out of its sheath. They remained motionless as the Jackals made their way further down the alley.
Takeda watched intently as the first Jackal passed by his position, his energy shield lowered and his pistol swinging at his side. It was relaxed and not alert. That was good. Turning on thermal vision, Takeda was able to pick up only one more Jackal coming down the alley. He couldn't be one hundred percent sure, but he thought that there were no others following. When the second Jackal passed by him, Takeda stepped quietly from his hiding place, his stance lowered, his knife steady. He looked down the alley to make sure that there were no other Covenant in sight and then turned his attention to the Jackals.
He snuck up behind the second Jackal, using all of his skills to keep silent, no louder than a wisp of wind. The Jackal stopped and looked to his left. Takeda froze. The Jackal turned back and rushed to follow his friend. Takeda closed in on the Jackal, grabbed it from behind, wrapping his arm around its head, and slit its throat. Dark purple blood gushed from the wound, running down the front of the Jackal's armor. But, hearing the sound of the attack, as Jackals have notoriously good senses, the first one spun around, his shield raised in a defensive position in front of him. Grabbing the arm of the dead Jackal, whose head was still wrapped in Takeda's arm, Takeda raised its own shield in front of him.
The Jackal fired his plasma pistol. Plasma bolts struck the shield in rapid succession. Takeda jabbed his knife into the chest of the dead Jackal, finding no convenient way to put it away and started fumbling for his silenced pistol. When Takeda looked up, the Jackal's head suddenly exploded in a shower of blood and bits of bone which spattered over the inside surface of its shield. It fell sideways, revealing Chris, who was standing behind it with his MA2B Assault Rifle.
"Thanks," Takeda said.
"Anytime." Chris answered.
"Now that we've made enough noise, I think that it is time to vacate the vicinity before these Jackals' friends show up thirsty for revenge," Takeda said.
Takeda retrieved his knife and slid it back into its sheath. Carefully avoiding the pools of blood that were forming around the corpses, he made his way to the pipe. He jumped up, found a grip on the pipe and pulled himself up as if he were climbing a tree. Chris followed him. When he reached the first broken window, Takeda stepped off of the pipe onto the window sill and rolled into the room. He came up with his MA2B at the ready. There was no one. Chris rolled into the room as well, his Assault Rifle up. They relaxed and looked around. They were in some sort of storage room. A single light hung overhead. Takeda pulled out his pistol and aimed for the light when it suddenly turned itself off. Looking around, he noticed Chris standing next to the wall and a light switch. "Save yourself the ammo," he chided.
Nodding, Takeda got to his feet and holstered his pistol. "After you," he said, motioning towards the door.
Chris opened the door and stepped out. Takeda followed him. They were on top of some scaffolding. The building was under construction. There were unfinished parts. There was scaffolding, ladders, exposed pipes in the ceilings, and the floor beneath them did not yet have a ceiling in most places. Looking up, Takeda was gratified to notice that the building did at least have a roof. Also, he noticed that there were few working lights. Good. He motioned towards a ladder to his right and they took it down to the ceiling of the floor beneath them.
As they started to move across the floor, they heard voices from an open area in front of them. The voices were very low and menacing. Takeda had heard such a voice only once before, at that was his conflict with the Elite in the jungle. There must be Elites down there. He looked towards Chris and said, "Elites."
"Yeah, we've located our primary targets. Now, lets take them out," Chris whispered. Keeping to the shadows, they snuck towards the edge, where the ceiling had not yet been installed and peered over. There were three Elites conversing together in the room below. Takeda's practiced eye identified their weapons; two were carrying plasma rifles and one was carrying a needler.
"It's going to be too hard to take them all out with the MA2Bs. We need to take down their shields," Takeda whispered.
"Grenades," Chris whispered back.
They pulled out their fragmentation grenades, pulled the pins, and threw them. They clanked and bounced and rolled to a stop by the Elites. One rolled into the middle of the group and the other rolled to a stop by one Elite's feet. The Elites spun around in shock and stared at the round objects. Then, they exploded. For the Elite standing next to the grenade, there was no hope. The blast was too powerful, even for his shields. The shields were knocked out in an instant and the shrapnel shredded the lower half of the Elite. The mutilated upper half spun through the air in a spray of dark blood, its arms flailing wildly until it came to a rest on the floor. The other grenade knocked the other two Elites back, taking down their shields and wounding them, but not killing them.
But their shields were down, and that was all that the Specters needed. They opened up with a full automatic spray of Assault Rifle rounds, emptying their magazines into the helpless Elites, even after the last gasp of pain had left their bodies, the impact of the bullets giving the dead Elites false life.
"Let's get out of here. Those explosions are going to attract every Covenant soldier and his grandmother," Chris said.
They turned and ran back towards the ladder when the floor beneath them suddenly shuddered with a forceful impact. The floor splintered and cracked and then finally collapsed under their weight. They tumbled down to the floor beneath them. Dazed, Takeda had barely gotten up when he caught motion out of the corner of his eye. He rolled to the side and barely dodged a huge, swinging piece a metal as thick as starship battle plate. It smashed into the ground creating a crater where Takeda had been not two seconds before. Looking up, he followed the piece of metal to the thing that was attached to. A Hunter! The piece of metal was a huge shield. It had to be big, for the creature that it was guarding was even bigger. The thing only stood eight feet tall because of the lower ceiling above where it was standing, but Takeda sensed that it was much taller than that. Now he knew what had caused the ceiling to collapse. It must have heard them running above and had struck the ceiling with its shield. Takeda rolled to his feet and saw that Chris was also to his feet, his weapon at the ready.
The Hunter moved forward, to the broken part of the ceiling, giving itself room to stand its full height. The thing was huge. It had to be at least twelve feet tall when it stood up straight. But even more horrifying was what emerged from behind it. Another one. There were two of the bastards. Takeda raised his MA2B and opened up. He noticed Chris doing the same. The armor-piercing rounds impacted all over the first Hunter, some finding gaps in its armor, sending out spurts of bright orange blood. But the others bounced off. The thing didn't even seem to notice the wounds that it did sustain. It moved forward, raising its right arm, which ended in a huge gun. The end of it started to glow menacingly. A charging plasma weapon! Takeda was desperate. The glow became blinding and he knew it was about to fire. "Dodge it!" he yelled to Chris, as the world seemed to tear itself apart around him. I'm going to die, he thought.
To Be Continued