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Warrior's Fate, Part 3: Hard Landing
Posted By: maxx<spiritedge@yahoo.com>
Date: 6 April 2005, 9:12 AM

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Viking-Two (in covert drop to moon surface)
D +00:09:07

      By the time they penetrated the atmosphere, Viking patrol's two chalks had split off from each other. As according to plan, Viking-One's trajectory took them westward while Viking-Two fell towards the east. However, both teams were still headed far north of their intended insertion points, dangerously close to Covenant forces. As the members of Viking-Two converged towards Olu's lead pod, the First Sergeant found himself silently praying that by some miracle they would land without rousing any attention. But his hope was shattered as soon as his scanner picked up the first signs of anti-air plasma fire. As the HEVs rapidly plummeted closer to the ground, the fire grew increasingly heavier. The tension was so unbearable that Olu's heart pounded like a jackhammer.
      Toryu Inoue's indicator light abruptly flickered out, as a fuel rod fired from a defense turret struck his pod dead center, instantly obliterating him. Olu clenched his teeth in helpless fury as Corporal Kravitch's indicator died barely a moment later. Both men probably never knew what had hit them.
      Soon after, a panicked voice sounded out on the team frequency. "I'm under heavy fire! I'm hit, I'm hit!" It was Tahadi. "Oh god, it's burning up in here!"
      "We're close to touchdown...hang in there, Tahadi!" someone yelled.
      "Yeah, you can make it!"
      "Negative! Negative! Systems are all fried and I've lost my chutes! I'm falling like a rock," Tahadi's voice crackled frantically over the comm.
      As soon as they heard that, they all knew he was as good as dead. The fate that awaited him was one of the worst a Helljumper could suffer.
      Olu closed his eyes in despair, and spoke softly into his mike, "Know that we're with you, brother. You're not alone." It was the only thing he could do for his teammate.
      When Tahadi responded, his voice carried the mournful and subdued tone of a man who knew he was about to die. "Kill a few of them for me, boys...good luck." It was the last thing Tahadi said before system's crash disabled his communications. Moments later, he was dead.

Charlie Alpha Moon surface (Tango Blue Sector)
D +00:10:41

      Crowe and Staff Sergeant Mal Horenstein had landed merely twenty meters away from each other. They were at the bottom of a canyon, surrounded by steep and rocky walls. Covenant patrols would likely be sweeping the area soon, so the two Marines immediately began moving away from the area they landed in. They were forced to leave most of their supplies behind, so as not to slow them down. The pair only loaded their packs and harnesses with the things they couldn't do without: mainly water, weapons, and ammo. Crowe double-checked his scanner as he and Horenstein began marching away at a brisk pace. Moran and Mitchell were the only other members of Viking-One to hit dirt close by. Adnan's pod had been taken out by anti-air. And in order to evade enemy fire, Ray, Yuri, and Gaustad were unable to orient towards Crowe's pod on their way down. The three had landed somewhere further north, and Crowe hadn't been able to establish communications with them yet.
      Crowe and Horenstein had been moving swiftly through the canyon for about five minutes when Crowe picked up Sgt. Moran's friend-or-foe tag moving towards their direction. Crowe spotted him ahead less than a minute later. He was bounding down a rocky slope, carefully maneuvering around jagged outcroppings.
      Moran unsealed and removed his helmet as he approached.
      "Christ, I needed some bloody fresh air," he grumbled. "I think Legs took fire as we landed. Damn, I hope he's okay."
      Crowe was already aware that Corpsman 'Legs' Mitchell's HEV had taken a grazing plasma shot just before the Marines had reached surface.
      "Yeah but as far as I can tell, his pod hit ground intact," Crowe replied. "So he should be okay. But we better get to him quick."
      "He's not responding to my comm. calls," Mal added worriedly. "But there can be a lot of reasons for that."
      "I've homed in on his pod," said Crowe. "Let's get moving."
      Horenstein took point as the men put their rifles at the ready and spread out in a single filed patrol march. They were armed with non-standard infantry weapons, from SpecGroup's custom armory. Moran and Horenstein both carried the Kramer Model Five Heavy Assault Rifle, or MKAR-5. Although the 'EmKar' had a slower rate of fire and was a little harder to handle than the newer and more common MA5B, it compensated with stronger penetration power and a five-shot direct fire grenade launcher attachment. Crowe's primary weapon was an S3-C sniper rifle. From the same family as the Corps favorite S2-AM, the S3 sacrificed some of the AM's penetration power and range in favor of a less bulky frame and a ten shot magazine capacity. For the strict purpose of long range sniping, the AM was more effective. But the S3-C was far better balanced for handling different situations.
      The trio crept across the cold canyon floor silently. Horenstein toggled the night optics on his visor as he meticulously scanned the area ahead of them. Following behind him, Crowe and Moran had their weapons raised high as they watched for activity up the steep dark slopes on either side of them. Crowe found himself deeply annoyed by the fact that they had landed in a canyon. If the Covies managed to ambush them from an elevated position, they'd be sitting ducks. Hopefully, they'd find a path out of the canyon soon. As they came to a sharp bend, Horenstein brought his rifle to bear and cautiously peeked around the corner. He then acknowledged to his companions that the path was clear. Following the signal from Mitchell's pod, Horenstein led them up a hill that gradually became a plateau. They trotted quickly across the top, and discovered that the plateau descended to a shallow and barren gorge on the other side. Horenstein was the first to notice the smoking hulk of Corpsman Mitchell's pod lying in the gorge. He stayed on top of the plateau to provide over-watch, while Crowe and Moran rushed down to investigate the pod.
      To his horror, Crowe discovered that Mitchell was stuck inside the smoldering ruin. He and Moran pried open the remnants of the exterior to find their comrade alive, but suffering from extensive burns. The corpsman was groaning in pain, barely conscious. The plasma had burned through several sections of his drop suit, revealing large patches of seared flesh. The right side of his helmet was virtually melted off. They carefully removed the broken headgear and sealed a medpatch over the burns on the right side of Mitchell's face and the top of his head.
      "Ah, Jesus Christ!" Moran exclaimed in shock as he noticed charred rib bones visible through one of the gaps in Mitchell's armor.
      Mitchell opened an eye and smiled weakly. "It's...about time you showed up," he whispered.
      "Better late than never, right?" Crowe tried to smile back. "Don't worry, Legs. We'll have you fixed up real soon," he said soothingly. He and Moran began bio-foaming and covering the wounds.
      "How's Legs?" Horenstein asked over the comm.
      "He's in a shit state...burned pretty bad," responded Moran. He then looked over at Crowe. "Listen mate, we better move right quick. Shouldn't stay out in the open too long."
      Crowe shook his head. "Legs won't be able to move anywhere. Not in his condition. We're gonna have to find a spot nearby where we can set him down and lay low for awhile."
      "Yeah, I thought we might," Horenstein crackled through the headset. "From up here I noticed a few openings in the side of that mountain across the gorge. At least one of them should lead into a small cave that we can use as a hide site," he suggested.
      "Slow down mate," Moran interjected. "If any of those Covie buggers come strolling through here, that may bloody well be the first place they look for us."
      "Or they may assume we kept moving and decide to pass this area by without a second glance," countered Horenstein.
      Crowe frowned to himself as he considered his teammates' suggestions. He found no easy answers, but knew he had to make a quick decision.
      "The Moron might be right, but we don't have much of a choice here. We have to find a cave to lie up in. Legs needs time to heal up and regain his strength."
      "What about Yuri, Ray, and the G-Man?" Moran reminded him.
      "We'll have to take care of ourselves for now. We'll try to re-establish comm. with them later, but we can't worry about regrouping until we take care of Legs."
      "You're the boss," Moran nodded. "But keep calling me 'Moron' and I'll kick you in the bollocks."
      "Don't want you guys to risk it. Leave me here," Mitchell mumbled.
      "Quit trying to be a hero," Crowe admonished him.
      "He's only saying that because he knows we won't do it," Moran laughed. "No one gets left behind, mate. You know how it goes."
      They gently hoisted Mitchell up and began moving across the gorge, when a familiar sound caught their attention. Horenstein, who'd been descending from his spot on the plateau, stopped in his tracks. The unmistakable staccato of rifle fire seemed to be coming from far away.
      "It's the others," Horenstein said over the comm. "Are you receiving them too?"
      "We're not receiving shit," replied Crowe.
      "They're in trouble. The signal's weak and it's coming through with a lot of static. There's probably too much interference between here and there. The only reason I'm receiving them at all is because I'm at an elevated position. Hold on a sec, and I'll relay the signal down to you guys."
      "Do it already!" Crowe snapped back. A moment later, the distorted and tinny transmission echoed through his receiver. He could barely make out Yuri Laranova's voice over the static and the sound of exchanging fire in the background.
      "Yuri, this is Mal. Do you read me?" Horenstein hailed them.
      "-Gaustad's dead! Too many of..." came the garbled response.
      "Say again. What's your position?" Mal persisted, to no avail.
      Yuri's voice was drowned out by the sound of rapid and chaotic fire. Crowe heard Yuri yell something about he and Ray being surrounded, but the signal was then abruptly cut off. The distant echo of the rifle fire stopped almost simultaneously. Only eerie silence remained. Crowe and Moran exchanged a haunted look. They had just listened to the rest of their squad die, and there wasn't a damn thing that they could do about it. Without a word, they silently continued to carry Mitchell across the gorge. As they began to realize how bad their situation was, neither of them had anything encouraging to say.