Into the Breach

Mr. Spartan’s wild ride

In orbit around New Constantinople
June 12, 2536 — 0518 Local Time

The cruiser heaved and bounced from another hit, “Damage report!” Captain Kwong yelled.

“Sir… Plasma hit on Deck Fourteen! Venting air into space! The compartment’s sealed off… Casualty reports still coming in… Also reports of damage and fires in Launch Bay Two… Fires are being contained,” the damage control officer reported.

Kwong turned to the weapons officer, “Weps… Maintain fire on the closest Covenant vessel!”

“Aye aye, sir!” the weapons officer replied.

The ship shuddered as another barrage of Archer missiles launched. They couldn’t use Shiva missiles with their nuclear warheads, not with so many dropships still out there in close proximity.

“Comms… Task force status?” the Captain asked.

“Sir… The frigates Highwayman and Quiet World are gone! The frigates and destroyer Aftermath, Boy Blue and Snowy River are reporting heavy damage! The carrier Georgia is reporting minor damage,” the communications tech reported.

Kwong was almost afraid to ask, “Status of the troopships and dropships?” he asked, trying to keep the hesitation and fear from his voice.

“Troopships report no damage. They’re withdrawing out of range and are heading for the secondary landing point. The comm traffic for the dropships is a mess… I’m still trying to sort through it, but it’s bad, sir,” the comm tech responded.

“Thank you… Keep working on it. Get me a status update on those dropships…”

The Captain turned his focus back on the battle. He saw small explosions in space, making out the Covenant corvettes more clearly now as the range decreased. Their shields flared from repeated strikes by MAC rounds and missiles.

A bridge crewman spoke up, “Captain! Orbital defense platforms are engaging the Covenant ships!”

About time, thought the Captain.

The bridge crew watched as the combined fire of the surviving task force ships and orbital defense platforms overwhelmed the shields on the Covenant ships. Kwong saw the shields on one corvette flare as they failed. Explosions followed, detonating along its hull. The corvette exploded in a bright searing white light causing the bridge crew to either shield their eyes or look away. The second corvette tried to break off now and make its escape.

Oh no, you don’t you bastard! You’re not getting away, Kwong thought angrily.

“Maintain fire on the remaining enemy target… I don’t want him leaving here!” the Captain ordered.

The Captain watched as every ship and defense platform now concentrated their fire on the remaining Covenant ship. The alien ship struggled to escape, trying to open a Slipspace jump point. He saw the Slipspace opening form, but then it collapsed as the enemy corvette’s shields flared as they failed. Hits and explosions erupted along the length of the hull of the ship. The Covenant ship no longer returned fire, but that didn’t stop the UNSC ships from continuing their barrage of fire. They smelled blood and wanted the kill. It seemed like an eternity but it was only a few minutes after the corvette’s shields failed that the ship heaved and exploded in one final tremendous fireball. The explosion faded leaving another debris field floating in orbit around the planet.

“Cease Fire…” ordered the Captain. He took a deep breath to release his tension with the realization he’d survived another battle.

“Get me a status update on task force damage and casualties,” Kwong ordered as he ran his hands over his face.

As Michael regained consciousness, an intense pain from the left side of his face stabbed him. He pushed through the pain as he became more aware of his surroundings. A warm stickiness covered the left side of his face and he couldn’t see out of his left eye. He realized that it was blood and hoped that the wound wasn’t too serious. As more of his focus returned, he noted the yellow and red warning lights flashing on his helmet display. Pushing aside the haze and pain, he checked his life support systems. A sigh of relief escaped as his rebreather system showed fifty minutes of air left. He knew if he controlled his breathing and minimized his movements he might stretch his air out another ten minutes. The priority now was to find a ride down to the planet or back to the fleet.

As he floated in space, he noted the debris of the space battle. He figured that the UNSC had either won or driven off the Covenant as he saw the distant outlines of UNSC ships still in orbit. It looked like the unloading operations had resumed.

The blinking yellow lights didn’t reassure him as he tried his comm system, “To anyone listening… This is Sierra-113… Repeat, this is Sierra-113. My Pelican is down... and have five-zero minutes of air left. I’m activating my beacon for retrieval.”

Static filled his comm channel, but a voice broke through, “Sierra-113… This is Pelican-243. I read you and have your beacon. I’m on route, ETA twenty minutes.”

The pain in Michael’s head still stabbed, but it didn’t seem so bad knowing pickup was on the way, “I read you, Pelican-243. Good to hear your voice. Confirm ETA twenty minutes… I’ll just hang out here until you arrive.”

The voice from Pelican-243 chuckled back, “Roger that… Just as long as you don’t wander off.”

The twenty minutes were an eternity as Michael floated in space surrounded by debris and bodies from destroyed Pelicans. His vision was clear in his right eye, and he tried not look at the frozen faces of the dead. He recognized some of the bodies from his Pelican, but was thankful for the pain in his head as it distracted him. He wanted to remember those Marines as they were, not as frozen corpses drifting forever in space or until they burned up in the planet’s atmosphere.

A glint of reflected sunlight caught his attention, and he rotated his body towards the approaching dropship. As the Pelican closed the pilot radioed, “Sierra-113 I have you in visual, but we have a couple of problems here…”

Michael sighed, “Copy that Pelican-243… What’s the problem?”

“We’re having a problem with our O2 system and we can’t cycle to decompress to lower our cargo door to bring you in.”

“How long to get another ride over to me?”

The pilot’s voice hesitated which didn’t forebode good news, “That’s the other problem… All other dropships are busy. You’ve drifted far enough it would be at least another fifty minutes before another one can get to you. It’s forty-five minutes to tow you back to the closest ship.”

“You got any ideas?” Michael asked, biting back a swear as he did the cruel math in his head.

“Yeah, I do... but you might not like it,” replied the pilot.

“Go ahead, I’ve got nowhere else to go.”

“How heat-resistant is your armor?”

In his current state, the question confused Michael, but his confusion turned to disbelief as the pilot outlined his plan.

Michael swore he was as crazy as the Pelican pilot as the approaching dropship moved to take up position underneath him. The dropship fired its thrusters to adjust course and slow down before coming to stop. The pilot signaled to Michael from the cockpit and he nodded in return. Thrusters fired again, and the Pelican rose slowly towards him.

The dropship was close enough for Michael to reach out and grab on to the hull, “Pelican-243… I have contact.”

“Let me know when you’re secure?” the pilot responded.

Michael pulled himself across the hull to the top middle section of the dropship. He located the handholds used by the maintenance crews. Even with his injury, he shook his head slowly as he grabbed a handhold with each hand. He then anchored his feet to other maintenance handholds further down the hull, spread flat across the top of the dropship. This whole plan was crazy and desperate, but his choices were few and the planet was closer than the fleet.

“Pelican-243… I’m secure or as secure as I’m going to be. Let’s go!” Michael said trying to sound confident about this plan.

“Roger, Sierra-113… Hang on tight… I’ll try to give you a smooth ride down.”

Michael tightened his grip, tensing his body and bracing himself against the maintenance handholds as the Pelican moved. The dropship seemed to move slowly at first, but gained speed as it headed towards the planet. As the Pelican gained more speed, Michael tightened his grip even more. What they were about to attempt would have been impossible for a normal person. Only a Spartan’s augmented strength and their battle armor made this even remotely possible.

Michael plastered himself flat against the top of the Pelican as it began its entry into the planet’s atmosphere. As the dropship got further into the atmosphere, plasma generated by the re-entry flowed past him like flames dancing in the wind. The bulk of the dropship shielded him from the plasma and heat generated by the re-entry, his battle armor protected him from any residual heat.

Re-entry was not the worst part of the flight. The pilot was on top of his game, bringing the Pelican in at an angle with its nose up, and got gravity working in Michael’s favor. He held himself against hull without exerting himself too much. As the Pelican got lower and hit the thicker atmosphere, it had to level out... that’s when the ride got really interesting.

Air turbulence increased and pounded Michael, threatening to sweep him off the hull of the Pelican. His muscles and battle armor strained to hold himself in place as the turbulence whipped at his body. The pilot constantly provided updates on their descent. Michael struggled to reply as he fought to keep his hold on the dropship as the winds and gravity hammered him.

The pilot realized his plan was crazy and risky from the start, but there weren’t any other options. That the Spartan was alive, and still holding on, only confirmed all the stories and rumors he’d heard about them. Despite all that, he knew they had to get on the ground as fast as possible. He wondered how much longer the Spartan could hold on as he contacted flight control for landing clearance.

The pilot reported in, “Flight control… This is Pelican-243… We are declaring an emergency and requesting priority for landing.”

It seemed like an eternity before flight control responded, “Pelican-243… We read you… What is the nature of your emergency as we have other emergency requests?”

The pilot hesitated, trying to figure out how he was going to word this, “Uhhh… Flight control… We have a Spartan hanging on to the outside of our bird. We need priority landing.”

The pause on the comm channel seemed to last forever, “Uh… Pelican-243… Can you repeat? We thought you said that there was a Spartan on the outside of your ship?”

The pilot broke a smile as he pictured the look on the flight controller’s face, “That’s an affirmative flight control. We picked up this Spartan up in orbit and couldn’t bring him inside. We need to get him on the ground now!”

The flight controller sounded as if he still couldn’t believe what he was hearing, “Uh… Pelican-243… You are priority one for landing. Approach vector heading is one-five-four.”

The pilot had to fight to contain his laughter as the flight controller forgot to close the channel and spoke so that everyone heard on the open channel, “My god! A Spartan just did an atmospheric re-entry riding on the outside of a Pelican! Who do these guys think they are?! Don’t they realize that you’re supposed to be inside the ship!”

The pilot’s smile faded as his focus returned to his passenger, “Sierra-113… We’re fifteen minutes out from the LZ and have priority for landing. We’re lower down in the atmosphere and I’ve cut back on speed, so turbulence should be less.”

All Michael could say was “Roger…” as his muscles and body ached and tired from the buffeting. His entire concentration was on maintaining his hold on the dropship.

As they got closer to the LZ, the pilot noted a huge crowd gathering along the edges of the landing pad. He shook his head in disbelief, realizing that word of the Spartan riding on the outside of his Pelican had spread. It looked like everyone on base was out to greet their landing. The pilot eased back on his speed, hitting his thrusters to put the Pelican into hover mode. He eased the dropship into a vertical descent towards the landing pad.

For Michael, the last fifteen minutes seemed like fifteen hours. It was only when the Pelican began descending that he realized that they weren’t going forward any more. His arms and legs burned and ached, but he still didn’t let go. It was only when he felt the dropship bounce and stop he realized they were on the ground. He took a moment to breathe before releasing his death grip on the maintenance handholds and sit up. A wave of dizziness and pain hit him, but a loud cheer and commotion around him caught his attention. It was then he realized that swarms of Marines and other UNSC personnel surrounded the landing pad and Pelican. The cheering got wilder as he stood up and moved to get down from the top of the dropship. Michael’s body ached and as he moved towards the edge of the crowd, medics rushed to meet him. It didn’t long for them to remove his helmet and look at his injury.

Vice-Admiral Whitcomb showed no outward emotion reviewing the after-action reports of the relief task force. Disaster was the word being used to describe the Covenant’s timing of their attack on the relief force. That they only lost two frigates was a minor miracle. The damage to the other ships in the relief force was minor that after repairs would make them valuable additions to his fleet. It was when reviewing the casualty and equipment reports that the disaster became clear. The losses in dropships and personnel were heavy with 35% of the dropships flying at the time of the attack either destroyed or damaged. Some arriving units had huge holes now as a result and would need time to recover and reform. Crews were working hard to salvage as much equipment and recover as many bodies as possible, but in some cases there was nothing to recover.

The Vice-Admiral realized that a disaster like this would hit morale hard. HIGHCOM and ONI were working on containing the news of this latest disaster, yet as he continued reading the report there were no incidents of morale collapsing. In fact, the opposite was occurring, and it wasn’t until he reached towards the end of the report he realized why.

The story of a Spartan riding down to the planet on top of a Pelican after surviving his dropship’s destruction was spreading like wildfire among the planet’s defenders. The Spartan–Sierra-113–despite being wounded, survived his dropship ordeal through re-entry to landing only added to the growing mythos surrounding those elite soldiers. Whitcomb made a mental note to follow up on this Sierra-113. He could use a Spartan like this for his defense of the planet.

Michael was still experiencing minor pain with slight headaches, but this pain and discomfort was minor compared to what he’d endured during his augmentation. His facial injuries resulted from a circuit in his helmet blowing, showering him with fragments when debris struck his helmet. Luckily, the injuries weren’t too serious and the medical staff patched him up, and he hadn’t lost the use of his left eye. The doctors urged him to rest for at least the next week as he would suffer from headaches and blurry vision in the eye for the short term.

It was hard for him to sit around doing nothing with a war still going on. Still, he took their advice taking it easy for several days to let his vision recover and the worst of the headaches to subside. Most of that time, he stared at himself in the mirror, taking in the change in his appearance. His face now displayed a prominent scar running down the left side from the eyebrow over the eye socket and down his cheek. He still couldn’t believe he hadn’t lost the eye as he gingerly checked the red and raw looking wound. The medical staff informed him that facial reconstruction could remove the scar. Memories what happened to the Gunny, the fire team and dropship replayed in his head as he took in his new face. He decided to leave the scar as is for now. It seemed a fitting way to commemorate and remember the Gunny along with those that died and his wild ride.

After a few restless days of doing nothing, Michael notified Naval Command HQ he was ready for deployment. The reply ordering him to ‘standby for orders’ rather than being deployed to the battlefront caught him by surprise. Now being “gifted” with more unexpected time off, to keep himself busy, he turned his attention and focus on to his secondary mission.

The intelligence packet from ONI had one of the targeted insurrectionist cells tracked to the small town of Ravenna. The town was a two hour Pelican ride from the UNSC base where Michael was. There was only a light UNSC military presence in the area with local law enforcement providing security. So far, the fighting on the other side of the planet hadn’t impacted the town. It was only recently that civilian refugees were relocating to the town as the fighting intensified in other areas. Overall, the area was quiet. Michael knew going there would change all that.

With the provided ONI security clearances, Michael arranged for the use of a Pelican for his mission from the base commander. He planned on doing a night insertion several klicks outside the town and enter the town on foot. Once in town, he would locate a local resident, named Kevin Anders. ONI suspected Anders of being a low-level insurrectionist supporter with contacts to some of the major players in the area. ONI’s orders were for Michael to do a “Snatch & Grab OP” on Anders. Once captured, Michael was to interrogate Anders to get the names of his contacts and any other pertinent intel related to the Innies. A main consideration for this operation was to be quick and quiet, so not to alert any of Ander’s contacts or other Innies that a Spartan was hunting them. Once Michael completed his mission, he would signal the Pelican for pickup.

Michael checked his equipment and prepared for the mission…
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