Into the Breach

I'll call you back in ten minutes…

Orbital Defense Platform — Whiskey-Tango-004
in orbit around New Constantinople
August 14, 2536 — 2115 Zulu Time

Michael followed Lieutenant Grant and his Marines as alarms blared throughout the orbital defense platform. The Marines outfitted in full combat armor, moved to take up positions at their defense point in the ODP. Michael noted the anxious nervous looks on crew members’ faces as they rushed past him trying to prepare for the Covenant to board the ODP.

They arrived at their defense position which defended the approach corridors to the ODP’s CIC. Lieutenant Grant only had a small force of Marines to provide security for the ODP. The threat of a direct boarding assault by enemy soldiers wasn’t considered serious... until now.

To meet this unexpected attack, the Lieutenant deployed the squads at his disposal to protect the critical areas of the ODP... CIC, the hanger bay, engineering section and the MAC. The Lieutenant kept one extra squad–with him at CIC–to act as his reserve to deploy to counter any enemy threat on the ODP. Grant ordered Michael to stay with his squad to defend the CIC due to its critical importance to operating and controlling the ODP.

Michael said nothing when Grant was hastily briefing his troops on their deployment and defense strategy. Considering the enemy’s surprising move and the resources available to defend the station the plan seemed sound enough. A few Marines suggested adding some of the now armed navy crew to their numbers to help with the defense. While the navy personnel would help defend the ODP, Grant felt they would be more of a liability on the Marines’ ability to operate in their units and hamstring them. The navy crew, while trained and experienced to operate the ODP, didn’t have the training or experience in the fighting that would occur.

While Michael agreed with the Lieutenant’s overall assessment of the situation, he would have made a few changes to the Lieutenant’s strategy. Rather than keeping him to defend the CIC, he would have added himself to the reserve squad or used him as a second fast reaction force to counter enemy moves.

Like everyone else, the Covenant’s move of using dropships to deploy boarding parties to neutralize the ODPs surprised Michael. The more he considered the ploy, the more it seemed to fit into the Elites’ nature and their desire of engaging in close combat. It was such an outlandish maneuver he admired the spirit and the audacity of it. This would be a tactic the UNSC would review and study long after this battle was over.

At the CIC defense position, the Marines built up barricades to use as cover to defend the corridor approaches. The Marines’ tactical channels were busy as the other squads checked in and reported their status. With the Marines settling into their defense positions, it now became a waiting game until the Covenant arrived.

While waiting, Michael used his communication system to tie into the battle net to get a sense of the bigger picture and what was going on. He caught the voices from the ships and the other ODPs as they provided updates on the battle. It wouldn’t be long before the enemy was here.

Vice-Admiral Whitcomb tried to maintain his composure as he watched in helpless frustration as his defenses crumbled. His eyes locked on the display, watching as his fleet and the Covenant engaged in a crazed mutual suicide pact as they continued tearing into each other. As updates and data streamed in, the realization weighed on him that if he didn’t pull his fleet out soon there would be nothing left to pull out.

The ODPs were the foundation he’d built his faith and defense strategy on to give him an advantage over the Covenant. They’d served him well, but there hadn’t been enough time to rebuild, and the large Covenant fleet with their surprising flanking move proved too much. Maybe, he might have been able to counter that move, but it was the launch of dropships to board the ODPs that was proving to be the coup de grace. They could only listen as voices filled the communication channels of the ODPs reporting the desperate fighting taking place on each platform.

The ODP crews were fighting back the best they could, but it wasn’t going to be enough to hold back the inevitable. Desperate cries and shouts of those fighting told the story of how this battle was being lost. The Marines were putting up valiant efforts to defend the ODPs, but they weren’t there in the numbers needed to beat back the onslaught of Covenant troops. The Covenant were taking horrendous casualties with their attack, but it was turning the tide for them. Whitcomb cursed himself for not having even considered a direct boarding assault as a possibility. It was too late now to do anything about it as he heard the cries of men and women as they continued their desperate fighting.

The sounds of fighting echoed through the ODP. While the Covenant hadn’t attacked CIC, the tactical channels told a different story of heavy fighting raging around the hanger bay and the engineering section. Wounded, passing by on their way to the medical bay, provided visual evidence of the fierce fighting taking place on other parts of the ODP. The reserve squad was long gone... deployed to help defend engineering, yet Michael remained where he was. His frustration was mounting as he listened in on the comm channels as Marines and navy personnel fought for their lives. Lieutenant Grant had already refused several of his requests to leave the defense position to engage the enemy.

The shouts and cries coming over the comm channels filled Michael with a sense of helplessness. His anger and frustration grew knowing people were fighting and dying out there and he was sitting around. What pushed him over the edge was one unknown crewman’s fear-filled and panicked voice coming over the channel.

“T-There’s too many of them… I need help! J-Jesus! T-They’ve got energy swords! I ne—”

A scream replaced the voice with alien shouts in the background. Michael recognized the alien voices as coming from Elites. The comm channel was still open and everyone could hear the Elites talking. The unmistakable sounds of laughter came over the channel. This was the final straw for Michael, hearing the aliens laugh as they killed humans.

He couldn’t stand around waiting while people died, and the Elites laughed. Checking the magazine on his MA5, he walked away from his defense position down the corridor towards the sounds of the fighting. He would be better put to use sweeping and clearing the corridors rather than waiting for the enemy to come to them. The other Marines watched in silence as the Spartan, cradling his assault rifle, walked past them heading towards the fighting. A shout reverberated down the corridor.

“Where the hell you do you think you’re going!”

Michael stopped at Lieutenant Grant’s shout, turning around to see the Lieutenant moving at a fast walking pace to catch up to him. The Lieutenant’s unhappiness and anger were obvious on his face. Michael faced the Lieutenant as he caught up to him.

“I said… Where the hell do you think you’re going, Spartan?” Grant’s voice filled with anger as his face flushed red. The Lieutenant didn’t hide his anger as he made sure that everyone could hear what he was saying, and that he was calling out the Spartan.

Michael realized he was treading a fine line as he took a moment before responding. Spartans always had a certain amount autonomy and leeway in their work as they did not fall under any normal unit command structure. Yet, Michael’s current orders placed him on the ODP and under the command of its officers. The same rules and regulations that applied to all military personnel still applied to him, and right now he was dangerously close to disobeying orders and being insubordinate. On the other hand, his orders were to help in the defense of the ODP and he wasn’t doing fulfilling those orders sitting around. It was a subjective interpretation of his orders that a military tribunal might see differently. The thought of pushing his orders and how far he could push it caused a smirk to flash on his face. The only problem this time was that there were a lot of witnesses.

Well, they can only court martial me if I and the witnesses survive...

Michael noted the Lieutenant’s growing anger as he stood there, I’ve gone this far... too late to back down.

“With all due respect Lieutenant, this position is secure and there are a lot of people fighting and dying right now on this ODP. I’m going to go where I’m needed.”

The Lieutenant’s anger burst out at Michael’s insubordinate response, “Your orders are to stay here and help defend this position! You will obey my orders or I will have you arrested and court martialed!”

Michael didn’t let the threats change his mind as he turned and walked away down the corridor towards the fighting. The Lieutenant continued shouting his threats of court martial at Michael’s back, but he tuned them out, focusing on what lay ahead.

“Sir, we’re getting reports of heavy fighting on all ODPs in the battle area now. The crews are barely holding on,” Commander Wright reported to Vice-Admiral Whitcomb.

Whitcomb gave the tactical display a hard stare, taking in all the information. He realized that they couldn’t hold back the Covenant... they would get control of that part of orbital space. The task that faced him now was to save what remained of his fleet. There was a lot of fighting still ahead for all of them. A pain throbbed in the back of his head as he swallowed hard knowing what needed to be done. The orders he was about to give would be hard on everyone.

“Tell the fleet to retreat as per ‘Contingency Plan—Blue-Four’. Fleet units will regroup on the far side of the planet using the ODPs on that side to provide cover and support.”

Whitcomb looked up to see the expression on Commander Wright’s face. Despite the Commander knowing the situation they faced, the shock and disbelief were still obvious. The Vice-Admiral added, “I don’t think the Covenant will pursue us. We’ve bloodied their noses badly today. They have their opening to begin landings on the planet. Securing their landings and perimeter will be their primary concern.”

Whitcomb expected the Commander’s question, “Tell the ODPs that if they cannot retake or hold, they’re to abandon and scuttle the ODPs to prevent capture by the Covenant. If they can keep fighting... they’re to do so for as long as possible. They’re to inflict as much damage as possible on Covenant fleet and cover our retiring ships.”

“What about those crews, sir?” Wright asked. He knew the answer, but his role required that he ask for the official record.

Whitcomb’s eyes went back to the tactical display, staring at the green icons representing the ODPs and the people on them. The guilt weighed on his soul as the words left his mouth, “Those crews are expendable now. This battle may be over, but our job is to keep fighting! We might still drive the enemy back, but we have to prepare for the worst. We have to keep fighting to buy time, so we can evacuate as many civilians as we can off the planet.”

Two decks above the ODP’s main hanger deck, Michael was engaged in a heavy firefight with Elites. From listening to the comms, the Covenant were making their main push from the hanger deck area. After leaving Lieutenant Grant and the other Marines back around CIC, it didn’t take long before he “bumped” into advancing Covenant troops... a group of eight Grunts. His motion sensors picked up the approaching threats, and he ducked into a side corridor and waited for them to get closer.

His audio sensors picked up their voices as they got closer. They seemed not to be aware of his presence as they talked amongst themselves. Michael waited until they were almost on him and jumped out in front of them. The corridor echoed with their startled shouts. In their surprise the Grunts hesitated... Michael didn’t, pulling the trigger and opening fire, catching the lead Grunts in the burst. Several Grunts got off wild shots from their plasma pistols, but the sight of the Spartan and dead comrades on the ground unnerved the survivors. Those survivors tried fleeing back the way they came. Michael didn’t hesitate, shooting them down... he didn’t want them to escape and warn the others.

Michael moved past the dead aliens, backtracking the Grunts’ path. He lucked out, only coming across other small groups of Grunts, and the occasional Elite looking for easy prey. He disposed of all of them as he moved towards the hanger deck. As he advanced, the scorched marks from plasma fire along with the damage from human weapons provided ample evidence of the intense fighting that occurred earlier. Blood and bodies of both humans and aliens added to the scenes of carnage. He finally ran into a large group of Elites, resulting in a huge firefight.

Plasma rifle shots sizzled down the corridor in response to Michael peaking from his cover in a side corridor. He wasn’t in any real danger unless a lucky shot caught him. Even though he had cover, there was still a large group of Elites between him and where he wanted to go.

It can never be easy… can it? he thought, analyzing the tactical and figuring what to do next.

Well there’s always the direct approach, Michael thought, pulling and arming two frag grenades. He lunged into the corridor, catching the Elites by surprise, tossing both grenades under-handed towards the enemy. The Covenant continued firing, plasma shots sizzling past him. Several of the shots caught his armor, but the reflective coating minimized their impacts.

If this doesn’t work, at least I’ll save them the hassle of a court-martial…

More plasma shots filled the corridor... at least until the grenades exploded. The frags took out the front ranks of the Elites. The immediate impact was a slackening in the enemy’s fire, and Michael took advantage of it, closing the distance. He opened up with his MA5, cutting down several Elites. Unfortunately, there were still more of them as the ammo counter on the MA5 clicked to zero.

There was no time to reload as an Elite, armed with a plasma sword, lunged at Michael. He dodged out of the way with the plasma sword slashing only empty air. Covenant weapons, from those already fallen, littered the deck and Michael spun and dove, grabbing a Covenant plasma rifle. His augmentations gave him the advantage as he came back up and held the plasma rifle’s trigger down, emptying a stream of plasma shots into the Elite’s head. The continuous firing shut down the overheating plasma rifle, but by this time there wasn’t much left recognizable of the Elite’s face and head.

Michael didn’t stop, grabbing a plasma grenade off the dead Elite and tossing it at the remaining enemy troops. Luck was with him as the plasma grenade “stuck” to an Elite... another explosion filled the corridor as the grenade detonated. The explosion killed or wounded the remaining enemy soldiers. Michael grabbed his MA5 from the deck and changed the magazine, he finished off the wounded Elites with short bursts before continuing on towards the hanger bay.

“Fleet Master! The human ships are falling back!” reported the Sangheili warrior manning the sensor station.

A sense of relief and satisfaction stirred in the Fleet Master, “What is the status of our strike teams?” ’Korahee demanded.

The Sangheili at communications reported, “Sir, all strike teams report heavy fighting on all human orbital constructs. They have disabled the main weapons on five of the smaller constructs and one of the larger constructs. Two of the larger and four of the smaller defense constructs are still firing on us.”

’Korahee studied the tactical display, considering his next moves, “Order the fleet to fire at the orbital constructs that are still firing at us… ignore the retreating human ships.”

“Sir?” replied the Sangheili.

Ship Master Phur ’Doravee spun confused by the Fleet Master’s orders. After sacrificing all those ships and warriors, letting the human fleet escape was inconceivable! His confusion overrode his sense of survival as he spoke out, forgetting his place, “Fleet Master, why are we letting the human ships escape? We have this opportunity to destroy their fleet right here, now!”

’Doravee saw the look in ’Korahee’s eyes as he turned to face him. He belatedly realized that he’d once again overstepped his position by questioning and challenging the Fleet Master’s orders.

“Ship Master! I have said before I need not explain myself and my orders, but since you cannot grasp the tactical situation, I will explain it to you! We have heavily damaged the human fleet and forced them to retreat. Our strike teams have caused chaos and neutralized their orbital defenses allowing us to secure a path to begin landings on this planet. We will need our remaining ships to remove the remaining defenses to secure complete control of orbital space around the planet to complete our work. Do you understand?” ’Korahee growled in a low voice.

’Doravee replied, “But, Fleet Master! We have caused heavy losses and damage to the human fleet. We are giving them a chance to—”

“ENOUGH!” ’Korahee shouted, deciding to remove the Ship Master once the landings were complete, and the perimeter was secure. The Ship Master would be an example to the others to know their rank and place. He explained his decision, but it was more for the other Sangheili on the bridge, “We have also suffered heavy losses today. We need to neutralize the remaining orbital defenses and recover our strike teams. We can then begin landings and build up our ground bases. There are several large human cities in our projected landing area. Those cities will need to be cleansed as the Hierarchs have proclaimed. Now follow my orders!”

’Doravee not realizing the Fleet Master had decided and sealed his fate bowed his head in respect, “You lead… I will follow.”

Michael reached the observation deck above the hanger bay, observing from the shadows he saw that the Covenant were in control of the hanger bay. As he decided on how he would approach this problem, his radio squawked grabbing his attention, “Sierra-113… Sierra-113… Provide SITREP…”

Lieutenant Grant asking for a status update surprised Michael, but he didn’t hesitate responding, “Sierra-113 here… Have encountered enemy forces and cleared corridors leading to hanger bay. I’m on the hanger bay observation deck. I’m observing at least six-five plus enemy soldiers in the hanger bay with at least three phantom dropships in the hanger bay, over.”

“Roger, Sierra-113, we copy your status. We need you to clear the hanger bay ASAP! The fleet is retreating and FLEETCOM is ordering the ODP’s to cover the retreat and then scuttle to prevent capture. Commander Hanson is ordering all non-essential to abandon ship while he stays and continues to engage the Covenant fleet. We need the hanger bay cleared as there aren’t enough escape pods for the crew to evacuate. Do you read?”

Michael realized what was being asked of him. Out of reflex, he checked the magazine in his MA5 and did an ammo count of spare magazines and grenades.

“How much time do I have?” he asked.

“Commander Hanson wants to have personnel off in the next fifteen minutes…”

“I’ll call you back in ten minutes, Sierra-113 out,” Michael replied, cutting the channel and moving down towards to the hanger bay.

Plasma shots filled the hanger bay, soaring over Michael’s head as he took cover behind a cargo container. The container shuddered as Covenant fire bounced off of it. Michael entered the hanger bay, announcing his presence with two hand grenades tossed into the largest concentrations of Covenant troops. As the grenades went off, he rushed in spraying the area with fire, concentrating on the closest and most immediate threats.

His efforts left at least twenty Covenant soldiers left... a mix bag of Elites, Grunts and Jackals. From the amount of fire they were directing at his position, it was clear they were not a happy bunch at his intrusion. He knew he would have to break cover and engage. The ODP heaved and shuddered heavily. The radio came alive with Lieutenant Grant’s voice before the shuddering stopped.

“Sierra-113… We’re taking fire from Covenant ships! There’re only three ODPs left. Commander Hanson is ordering everyone off except him and a skeleton crew to maintain fire and cover the evacuation. We need those Pelicans to get the people off. What’s the situation in the hanger bay, over?”

Michael risked a quick peek–avoiding several plasma and needler shots–to check out the rest of the hanger bay. There were six Pelicans in the bay... the bad news was that four of them were shot up and weren’t going anywhere. The good news was there were three Covenant Phantom dropships sitting in the hanger bay. The only thing to do was to remove the remaining Covenant troops between him and the dropships.

Michael knew what he had to do, “Tell Commander Hanson to start sending his people to the hanger bay. We have our rides out of here.”

He took a deep breath and made his move... he tried to keep the remaining Pelicans and Phantoms from getting damaged in the crossfire.

Lieutenant Grant led his squad down to the hanger bay, behind them followed the surviving crew and Marines that hadn’t evacuated using the escape pods. As this mix group followed the path cleared by the Spartan, they witnessed the carnage left in his wake. Lieutenant Grant was wide-eye, taking in the death and destruction the Spartan had unleashed on the Covenant.

Grant signaled his squad to halt as they reached the closed hanger bay bulkhead door. He strained to listen, but it was quiet... too quiet, filling him with an uneasy feeling. He didn’t want to walk into an ambush as he opened a comm channel, “Sierra-113… Sierra-113… What’s your status?”

Only static replied over the tactical channel and Grant hesitated, unsure of what to do next. The ODP shuddering from another hit brought him back into focus as the more pressing need was to get off the ODP. The only way off was through the hanger bay as Grant signaled his troops to take up positions around the bulkhead door. He nodded and one of his troopers activated the door panel, opening the bulkhead door.

Grant and the marines moved into the hanger bay, scanning for threats. A scene of complete carnage greeted them... alien bodies littered the deck and sitting on a crate in the middle of this sight was a Spartan. Grant noted that the Spartan was bent over holding his left side which he figured was due to exhaustion or injury. As he moved closer, he noted the Spartan’s armor scorched and pitted from enemy fire. The Spartan stood up slowly as he approached and Grant’s eyes went even wider seeing a crystalline shard from a needler sticking out of the Spartan’s side.

“Jesus… are you okay?” Grant muttered, his eyes glued on the needler round embedded in the Spartan’s armor.

Grant heard the pain in the Spartan’s voice when he replied, “Yeah, I’ll survive… I got lucky and this shard didn’t detonate.”

“I tried to reach you on comms.”

“Sorry about that, my transmitter got fried from a plasma shot. Is this everybody?” Michael replied, trying to focus and control his pain.

Grant shook off his shock, as another hit on the ODP reminded him they still had to evacuate, “Yeah, everyone is here. Time to get the hell out of Dodge!”

Grant glanced towards the Pelicans and saw that four of them were non-flyable, “Shit!” he said, shaking his head in frustration.

Michael interrupted the Lieutenant’s growing frustration, “Take it easy Lieutenant. The Covenant were gracious enough to ‘loan’ us three of their Phantom dropships. That should give us more than enough space to get everyone here down to the planet.”

Lieutenant Grant found it hard to keep his jaw from dropping as the Spartan pointed towards the undamaged Covenant dropships.

“Status Update?” Commander Hanson asked as the ODP shuddered from another hit.

Ensign Hamilton continued to man his station along with the other volunteers that remained behind to keep “The Iron Bitch” fighting while the crew evacuated. He updated the CIC’s tactical display board, “Sir, all the other ODPs in the battle zone are gone! Enemy ships are continuing to advance on our position. We’ve taken heavy damage on Decks four, five and seven… they’re exposed to space. Most of our autocannons and Archer missile launchers are non-operational. The power grid has taken heavy damage too. I’ve rerouted power, so that targeting systems and MAC are still on-line.”

“Thank you, Ensign. Excellent work. Continue firing as long as you can,” Hanson replied.

The ODP shuddered again as another plasma shot hit them, “What’s the status of the evacuation?” Hanson asked.

Hamilton replied, “Escape pods have launched and are heading towards the planet surface. Lieutenant Grant reports the hanger bay secured. All dropships are launching and heading planetside. Lieutenant Grant added that thanks to the Spartan they ‘borrowed’ several Covenant dropships.”

Commander Hanson smirked, hearing how Covenant equipment was saving human lives.

The ODP shuddered from another hit…

“Fleet Master, surviving strike teams are returning to the fleet. There is only one human orbital defense construct left that is still firing on us,” reported the Sangheili manning the tactical station.

“Excellent, order our ships to concentrate fire on that last construct. Once destroyed all ships are to prepare for landing operations. We need to establish our ground bases. We have more reinforcements arriving soon to support our ground operations,” replied ’Korahee.

The Sangheili warriors on the bridge acknowledged their Fleet Master’s orders. The Covenant fleet continued advancing, firing on the lone remaining human orbital defense platform.

An exploding console showered the CIC in sparks as the ODP heaved from another hit, “Commander! We’ve lost power to the MAC! We have major structural damage and have fires on most decks!” Hamilton shouted.

Commander Hanson heard the report and knew the ODP was in its death throes, Well, that’s it...

“Okay… Everyone, we’ve done our duty! It’s time to abandon ship! Head to the escape pod, and let’s get the hell out of here!” Hanson ordered, waving his crew towards the exit.

The crew struggled to make their way to the last remaining escape pod as the ODP heaved and shuddered from hits and secondary explosions. Flames and sparks shot from consoles and walls, slowing the crew’s progress. Fear ran rampant as uncertainty, whether they would get to the escape pod in time, hung over everyone. They continued struggling their way forward as the decks heaved and gravitational controls failed.

A collective sigh of relief escaped the group as they made it to the escape pod and boarded. One of the crew jumped into the escape pod’s pilot seat, pressing the controls to seal the pod, preparing it for launch. The rest of the crew hurriedly secured themselves into their seats.

Hanson knew it would be close as the ODP shook violently, “HIT IT!”

Within seconds of the escape pod launching and clearing the ODP, huge explosions tore through the section housing the CIC. Inside the escape pod, the last crew of Orbital Defense Platform Whiskey-Tango-004 aka “The Iron Bitch” watched as the ODP continued to take hits from closing enemy ships. The ODP finally succumbed to the relentless Covenant plasma bombardment, blowing up in a huge explosion lighting up the space around New Constantinople.
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