Just another mission
December 3, 2536 — 0630 Local Time
Exhaustion still pulled on Michael as he opened his eyes. He couldn’t remember ever being this bone-weary tired even from the years of training and indoctrination which pushed all the Spartan candidates. The couple of hours of sleep was the longest continuous sleep he’d had in the last few weeks. His back and ribs ached as he shifted to a sitting position in the nook he’d claimed in the defense bunker. These aches were a reminder from taking on a pair of Hunters that were attacking a Marine position two weeks ago.
He wasn’t going to complain; the aches joined the numerous other bruises, cuts and pain he’d suffered in the fighting. His augmentations and training helped him push through the pain to remain operational. Besides, what medical support and supplies left were being directed to those more critically injured than him. They were now to where only those not considered terminal were getting treatment. Those considered beyond saving were being made as comfortable as possible.
Michael glanced at his armor. The scorched and pitted armor had seen better days because of the continuous fighting against the Covenant. Even the “113” was barely visible now, the number almost scorched off from a close call after an encounter with an Elite and a fuel rod cannon. Despite its looks, the battle armor was still functional due to minor miracles the techs worked, even under the current conditions and the supply situation.
The situation was desperate… New Constantinople was close to falling.
Most of the planet’s continents were now under Covenant control or devastated wastelands. The cities and towns in those areas were burning ruins from the intense ground fighting waged to hold back the Covenant. The planet’s environment was degrading from the fighting as the sky took on a permanent haze from all the smoke and fires.
Vice-Admiral Whitcomb pushed his forces to the breaking point, holding on by their fingertips until three weeks ago. The dam finally burst with Covenant reinforcements arriving in the system. Whitcomb engaged these reinforcements with his remaining fleet units, fighting another huge battle in close orbit. The last of the ODPs fell during the battle, giving the enemy control of space around the planet. That the Vice-Admiral saved any of his ships was nothing less than a minor miracle.
After this last battle, surviving UNSC fleet units retreated to the system’s asteroid belt to regroup at hidden supply bases scattered among the asteroids. Despite the Covenant’s control of orbital space, this didn’t stop Whitcomb from sending in ships to run the blockade, bringing in supplies, hit Covenant forces and evacuate civilians. The evacuation situation was desperate with the UNSC only able to evacuate hundreds or a few thousand at a time whereas the Covenant were slaughtering people in greater numbers.
The remaining UNSC forces along with those civilians able to move had fallen back to one of the planet’s smaller continents. Michael figured they had maybe two to three weeks before the Covenant overran the last of the defenses. Everyone prepared for the Covenant’s final push.
On the military side, Whitcomb started a drawdown of military units on the planet to save what forces he could for the next battles. Though it wasn’t widespread news, so as not to hurt morale, Alpha Company had left over a week ago. That left Michael as the only Spartan on New Constantinople.
Michael was working in either providing close support for Marine units or taking on long range operations behind Covenant lines. He was taking out supply and weapon depots along with gathering any intel on Covenant forces and their intentions. His experience in field interrogations was proving most useful as he gathered a wealth of information on his missions. Yet, despite all the intel and data he gathered it wouldn’t change the final outcome on this planet. At most, it would buy some more time to allow a few more people to get out.
Time to go to work, Michael thought as he stretched to work through the pains and aches. He reviewed his helmet display to check his systems as he did more stretches. He planned to check in with the commander of the Marine unit he was attached to and find out what was on the mission board for today. The Covenant seemed to have paused in their advance, giving everyone a chance to get some rest. While minor engagements continued around the shrinking perimeter, the consensus was that the Covenant were using the pause to gather their strength for the final attack. Everyone, military and civilian, realized it was only a matter of time before the Covenant launched their final attack.
As he made his way towards the command section of the bunker a voice came over his helmet radio, “Sierra-113… Report to the communication center on level three. You have incoming message traffic… Priority-One… Confirm Sierra-113… Over?”
The call surprised him, but he didn’t hesitate replying, “Sierra-113, here… Message received. I will be at the communication center ASAP… Over.”
The incoming message tweaked his curiosity as Michael made a quick U-turn, heading back, deeper into the bunker complex.
The Major in charge of the communications center greeted Michael, admitting him into the center.
“Spartan… Your incoming message is on hold at the terminal over there,” the Major said, pointing to a video console in the far corner of the communication center.
“Just type in your access code when you’re ready,” the Major added.
Michael nodded, making his way over to the video console. The Major suddenly addressed the other personnel in the room, surprising Michael.
“Everyone, clear the room! This is CODE-BLACK message traffic… Secure all your consoles.”
Michael watched as everyone cleared the room, noting the looks he was getting along with the whispering as they speculated on what was going on. While the call piqued his curiosity he also got a bad feeling in his gut as he typed in his security access code. His intuition shouted warnings as the console video screen came alive with an older male wearing a senior officer’s uniform.
“Sierra-113… Good to see you are still with us,” the older man said, giving Michael a slight condescending smile.
Michael didn’t recognize the officer as his bad feeling grew. He didn’t show his concerns as he replied using the standard monotone military voice, “Thank you, sir. I am operating well, considering the current circumstances.”
“Well, we just want you to know how proud we are of you. The reports we have been getting back of your work on New Constantinople have been exemplary. The intelligence you’ve gathered on the Innies has been a tremendous boon to us,” the officer said with a smile that bothered Michael.
Jesus! ONI… At a time like this with the planet about to fall to the Covenant, and they’re still focused on the damn Innies!
Michael was glad his helmet was still on so that the officer couldn’t see the look of disgust forming on his face. He tried hard not to let his growing disgust leak through as he replied, “Yes, sir. Thank you, sir.”
The officer continued smiling, either not noticing or caring about Michael’s response as he continued, “From following up on the intel you obtained, we have another target for you. There appears to be a top-level Innie strategist within an easy Pelican ride from you. We need you to go in, grab him and bring him back for further interrogation. We’re downloading all the mission details to your console.”
Michael struggled to control his growing anger and disgust. He took a moment before responding, “Sir… With all due respects… This is a wasted mission and a misuse of resources. This planet is going to fall, and to send me out to hunt down Innies is a waste of time. Maybe you don’t realize the tactical situation—”
The officer cut him, his harsh voice distorted in the speakers, “We’re very much aware of the current situation on the planet! We can’t change that! What we can do is take advantage of this golden opportunity to get a hold of a senior insurrectionist strategist. The information in his head outweighs any other considerations at this moment… Do you read me?”
Michael’s training and indoctrination fought with his feelings of disgust. His training won out as he came to attention, “Crystal clear, sir.”
An hour later Michael was the lone passenger on a Pelican flying towards the co-ordinates that ONI provided. He wished the base commander put up more of a fight, assigning him one of the few precious dropships left on the planet, but ONI’s orders ended the discussion.
While still fuming over this mission assignment, he used the flight to review ONI’s mission package. He tried to focus on the briefing material as he reviewed it on his helmet display, but his emotions and thoughts were clouded about this mission. Everything he’d seen and done against the Covenant reaffirmed his conviction that being sent out on these missions against the Innies was a waste of resources and his skills. Michael leaned his head back, closing his eyes to rest as his mind raced. Flashes of blood-covered hands came rushing back, causing him to sit up with a start, trying to push the memory away.
Realizing he wouldn’t get any rest, Michael reviewed his mission package again. ONI was sending him to a small settlement area in the southwest sector of the continent. His target was a man named John Larson. From the details ONI provided, Larson owned a small farm in the area. Before becoming a farmer, Larson served in the Marines attaining the rank of Captain before retiring two decades ago. The plan was for the Pelican to drop off Michael several klicks from the farm. He would then proceed by foot to the farm, determine if Larson was still there, apprehend him and return to the pickup point for extraction.
It sounded easy and simple enough, but nothing was ever straight forward for ONI missions. Michael pulled up more background on Larson. The man’s military record was long and impressive, distinguishing himself in numerous battles and campaigns. The records rated him with strong above-average analytical and tactical planning abilities. Michael raised an eyebrow in surprise when he got to the section on Larson’s involvement with mission planning for ODSTs and other SPEC-OPS groups.
Despite the wealth of background details they failed to answer one important question. Why would an intelligent and highly decorated ex-Marine officer turn against the UNSC?
Maybe I’ll get a chance to ask that question, Michael thought. Again, images from his last ONI missions strayed into his thoughts, making it hard to keep his focus. To distract himself, he brought up a map of the target area. He studied the map then brought up another map showing the current tactical map of the fighting and the locations of human and Covenant units.
Hmmm… The farm is close to the front lines. If this Larson is as smart as his records show, the odds are high he’s already hightailed it out of there. If I’m lucky, he’s long gone and we’ve only wasted fuel on this damned ONI “Innie quest”... Only, if I’m that lucky, Michael thought, sighing.
The Pelican continued on towards its objective...
“Grandpa? Did you hear what I said?” the young woman asked.
“Huh? Sorry, my dear. I was just thinking… you know how my old mind likes to wander.”
John Larson looked up at his granddaughter standing in the kitchen doorway of the farmhouse they lived in. Watching her, a lifetime of memories and regrets flooded through him. After a long career with the Marines, Larson and his wife, Sonia, retired to this farm to live out their golden years together. By the time he’d retired, their only son, David was living on Jericho VII with his own family.
John looked forward to a quiet retirement, spending time with his wife and going on trips to visit David to see their grandkids. That never came to past as the oldest grandchild died of an incurable genetic disease when he was six-years-old. David was never the same after that... he blamed the UNSC for his son’s death. Things got worse when David’s wife developed a malignant form of metabolic cascade failure, dying less than a year later.
The first that John found out about his son being involved with the insurrection and the separatists was when he’d shown up at the farm. David had his four-year-old daughter, Andrea, with him and was planning to leave her in his parent’s care. John pleaded with his son not to go down this road as it was a lost cause, and he should focus on taking care of Andrea. David ignored his pleas to go wage his personal war against the UNSC that became the focal point for all his pain and loss. John knew how it would end as he’d seen the look in his son’s eyes before in other soldiers. He wasn’t too surprised when he received word, years later, that David was dead... assassinated by a UNSC special ops hit squad.
Despite knowing his son had a death wish, it didn’t lessen the pain especially knowing the organization responsible was one he’d served. The death of his only child was the final straw when added to the pain of losing a grandson and daughter-in-law. It didn’t take him long to make contact and join with the insurrectionists. He limited himself to providing tactical advice and operational planning using his military knowledge and experience on UNSC operations to help them. Despite his involvement with the insurrection, Sonia and him tried to give their granddaughter as much of a normal upbringing as possible.
John raised Andrea by himself after Sonia passed away five years earlier. It was difficult raising her on his own, but seeing Andrea grown up and how she’d turned out brought a proud smile to his face. The smile didn’t last long as the reality of the Covenant invasion intruded into his thoughts. Andrea was twenty-one with plans to go to university in Antioch. She’d delayed going because she didn’t want to leave her Grandpa alone and wanted to help on the farm. Now, with the Covenant invasion it was too late for those plans... or anything else.
“You’re thinking about what’s going to happen to us… aren’t you?” Andrea asked worriedly, reading her grandfather’s face.
Despite Andrea’s lack of military experience, other than her Grandpa’s stories, it didn’t take a military genius to see what was going on. She heard the distant rumbling from the fighting and saw the night sky filled with bright and strange flashes of light. Despite the UNSC’s attempts at controlling the flow of news, she knew what was going to happen to them and everyone else.
“I’m still working on trying to us get out. Worse case, we can head to the caves in the hills. I’ve been stocking supplies there for a long time,” John replied, trying to sound reassuring.
What he didn’t mention was that the supplies he was “stockpiling” were for the insurrection. He’d tried to keep his involvement with the insurrection a secret and Andrea out of it, but it was getting harder to hide his involvement as she got older. He wanted her to have a real life and not get pulled down by the hatred and memories of those long dead.
“How long do you think we have?” she asked.
The question caught John by surprise. He hesitated trying to craft a response, but decided she deserved to hear the truth, “We’ve got a few days. A week at most before the Covenant get here,” he replied somberly.
He noted the glimpse of a small sad smile cross her face. It stirred memories and thoughts of “what if” and “what might have been” as sadness and loss filled him.
Her face is so beautiful, just like her mom and Sonia… It’s made for laughing and smiling… It breaks my heart to know what’s going to happen...
Andrea’s head perking up interrupted any further sad and dark thoughts, “Grandpa… Do you hear that sound? It’s getting closer.”
Khurn ’Mantakree studied the ground as the Phantom dropship came in for a landing. He glanced at the other Sangheili warriors in his Special Operations unit and then back towards the human buildings in the distance that were in his mission target area.
To ’Mantakree this mission had the trappings of rushed haphazard planning. He would have liked to have brought more troops with him, but then time was of the essence for this mission. Covenant intelligence intercepted and partially decoded a human communications message. The decoded part of the message said one of the human demons would be operating somewhere in this general area. The message referred to a farm, but there was no specific location.
Even with the lack of information, those in command weren’t going to lose out on an opportunity to destroy a demon. They took a blanket approach, sending out units to cover all the farms in the general area. To some, it may have been a rushed mission with a low chance of success with the resources better put to use in finishing off the humans. Yet, the Prophets and ’Mantakree’s superiors felt any chance to kill a demon was well worth the time and the use of warriors and ships.
As they disembarked from the dropship, ’Mantakree motioned for his unit to follow him as he headed towards the human farm. The Sangheili warriors moved carefully towards the human buildings. The farm and buildings looked abandoned as they were dark with no signs of life or movement in or around them.
Just a dead end, ’Mantakree thought, a sigh of disappointment escaping him.
’Mantakree pivoted towards one of his warriors that approached to speak to him, “Sir, what should we—”
The warrior never finished his question, his head exploding as a human bullet missed ’Mantakree and struck the other Sangheili. More weapons fire followed from a building.
This just got interesting, ’Mantakree thought, ducking for cover along with the others of his unit.
The Sangheili returned fire...
“Damn it!” John muttered, firing another shot at the Elites as they moved into cover. He’d zeroed in on one alien who he thought was the unit leader to take out first. The alien’s sudden turn threw off his aim, but he was lucky enough to at least take out another alien. As soon as he’d fired, Andrea opened up with her rifle, taking out another alien before it got to cover.
It was lucky that Andrea heard the approaching Covenant dropship. It gave them time to get out their weapons and then turn off all the lights to make the farm look empty. There was no thought of running away. John wasn’t going to leave his land. Besides where was there to run to? Fortunately, John’s relationship with the insurgency allowed him to accumulate a little more firepower than what an average farmer would consider normal.
John put down the SRS99 sniper rifle, exchanging it for the MA5 that he’d placed on the floor beside him. He also put on a bandolier carrying extra magazines for the assault rifle. He glanced towards Andrea as she fired off several more rounds from the BR55 Battle Rifle she was using. A smirk flashed on his face, watching her handle the weapon. She’d been using the rifle since she was ten, becoming proficient in its use. He marveled at how calm and cool she stayed, taking her time as she picked out her targets then fired again at the attacking aliens.
She could give those ODSTs a run for their money, John thought proudly. He returned his attention on the aliens, firing a short burst from his assault rifle at them.
’Mantakree howled a curse, seeing another of his warriors cut down by human fire. The human defenders were in one building... the main living structure for this farm.
Damn humans! he thought, sending a long stream of plasma shots at the building. He signaled to the surviving warriors in his unit to spread out and to surround the building. The Sangheili continued firing on the building. The amount of plasma fire directed at the building should have reduced it to rubble. Yet, the building still stood, absorbing the weapons fire. It became surprisingly obvious the building was reinforced to defend against attack.
“Keep firing!” ’Mantakree shouted. His own plasma rifle was venting to cool down from overheating from his constant firing.
John took a moment to catch his breath, wiping the sweat from his brow before loading another magazine into his assault rifle. The walls of the house shimmered from the heat of the aliens’ energy weapons as they continued directing their fire at the building.
His involvement with the insurgency caused him to take some other precautions along with stockpiling a cache of military weapons. Armored plating reinforced the walls of the house with the windows having armored shutters. He’d done these renovations in the expectation that any unwanted visitors would be from the UNSC. Yet, his defenses were holding up well against this alien assault... at least for now.
It was a lot of years since John’s last firefight. He’d almost forgotten the intensity and emotions you went through during one. It didn’t take long for the old training and experience, along with old memories and emotions, to come back as the enemy continued shooting at the house.
I’m too old for this, he thought, glancing over once again at Andrea. He watched her turn and give him a small smile as she changed rifle magazines. He returned the smile before turning his focus back on the firefight. Looking out of the firing port in the armored window shutter, he studied the farmyard. He’d estimated that the enemy force size was at least twenty. From his vantage point, he counted five aliens lying dead on the ground, but he figured they’d gotten a few more they couldn’t see. Despite their success so far, John understood they were living on borrowed time. Eventually, the aliens would get into the house. His goal was to make the bastards pay a steep price before that happened.
’Mantakree was trying hard to keep his anger in control. He had dropped into this apparently deserted location with twenty-four warriors, and now a third of them were lying dead on this cursed ground. The survivors of his unit had surrounded the building where the firing was coming from and slowly reducing it, but it wasn’t fast enough for his taste.
He signaled one of his remaining warriors over the comm system to give him orders, “’Inanraree… Take your assault team around to the back of that building. Use plasma grenades to gain entry and eliminate the defenders. We will continue firing to distract them from your attack… Understood?”
“Understood, sir!” replied the warrior.
“Keep firing!” ’Mantakree shouted, keeping an eye on the five warriors as they swept around to the back of the building. He received a signal from ’Inanraree that his team was in place and ready to attack.
The other Sangheili intensified their fire on the farm house to distract the defenders…
John ducked down as the alien’s weapons fire intensified even more. He kept a worried eye on Andrea as she continued to pop up and fire through the firing port. Pride filled him, seeing how she handled herself in combat. Sadness and regret tinged that pride because he knew how it was going to end for them.
A stray thought popped into John’s head as he belatedly realized why the aliens were increasing their fire.
Damn it! How could I’ve been so stupid and careless!
His aging body strained and protested as he got up fast, moving towards the living room on the other side of the house. Fortunately, the farm house wasn’t that big as he exited the kitchen into the hallway, heading for the living room. He could still hear Andrea shooting as he reached the living room doorway. He’d barely entered the room, when the far wall with a large armored shuttered window exploded in a deafening roar. Old instincts and training kicked in as John pushed his body into a diving combat roll behind a large sofa. He came back up with his assault rifle ready...
His timing was perfect as two aliens came rushing through the breach in the wall. John opened up on the attacking Elites, unloading a full magazine into both aliens as he cut them down. The ammo counter on his weapon was at ‘zero’ and he quickly reached for a new magazine from his bandolier. He wasn’t fast enough as two more aliens rushed through the opening.
Before John could react, shots rang out behind him dropping both aliens. He turned in surprise and awe to see Andrea, standing in the doorway, with the barrel of her rifle smoking. She was still pulling the trigger, but her rifle clicked empty.
Everything moved in slow motion as they hurried to change magazines. John, looking towards Andrea, saw her eyes widen in a mix of surprise and fear. His worst fears came true as he whipped his head back towards the breached wall, seeing another huge alien storming into the house.
With his weapon still empty, John didn’t hesitate as he charged the alien, holding his weapon as a club and screaming obscenities. He swung wildly at the alien, putting all his strength into it, but the creature deflected his blow and countered with a swing of its arm. The blow caught John on the side, sending him flying across the room, landing hard.
Every bone, muscle and joint screamed in pain as he tasted blood and his vision blurred. He struggled to stay conscious, hearing Andrea scream out.
He felt someone touching him, and through his hazy vision he saw Andrea looking at him with fear and concern visible on her face. In the background he glimpsed the menacing hulk of the Elite.
Andrea’s first panicked thought was that her grandfather was dead, watching in horror as the alien sent him flying across the room, hitting the floor hard. She didn’t know what she would do if he was dead as she rushed to him. A sense of relief overcame her seeing he was still alive as she reached his side. Reality came crashing back as the alien let out an angry roar. She turned to see the alien staring at them from across the room. Despite knowing they were going to die, she couldn’t help as a part of her absently studied the approaching alien.
So, this is what they call an Elite. They’re so much bigger in person compared to the vidcasts...
With growing horror, she watched as the alien pulled a curved piece of metal off its belt and activated the device. She jumped as the plasma formed into a sinister twin-blade configuration. The sound of the plasma coalescing seemed to thunder in her ears adding to the surrealness of the situation. She stared at the shimmering plasma sword blade as the Elite advanced on them. Out of instinct, Andrea grabbed her grandfather, hugging him tightly to her. Her body tensed up as the alien moved closer towards them. As fear ran through her and she tried to fight back the panic, a part of her hoped it would be over quickly.
Andrea’s attention and focus on the approaching plasma blade caused her to miss hearing the loud sharp buzz saw sound. Nothing made sense to her as the alien fell to the ground dead in front of them. Her eyes finally moved from the dead alien towards the opening in the wall. The sight of a huge armored man-shaped creature, carrying an MA5, standing in the opening shocked her. She studied this new interloper that saved them, noting the golden helmet visor and the barely legible “113” on pitted and scorched armor.
She sensed that this “person” was staring at her and her grandfather... studying them. A tired, human sounding voice from the robot-like creature broke the tension.“It looks like I got here just in time…”