Into the Breach

Do your duty, Spartan!

UNSC Firebase Mitchell
New Constantinople
August 11, 2536 — 0530 Local Time

The dream was disturbing as it always was…

Covenant ships filled the sky... they were firing their plasma guns making the sky seem to catch on fire. People were crying and screaming and Michael could only watch helplessly filled with rage. He heard a voice taunting him… “Who are you?” He turned and the sight of Kevin Anders’s body hanging from a tree greeted him. The eyes of the man he’d interrogated and killed bore right into his soul. The man asked again “Who are you?” which was strange as Anders shouldn’t have been able to speak with his throat cut. Michael stood frozen watching as the Covenant devastated everything, burning the world around him. The heat grew more intense as the flames inched closer to him. He suddenly realized he didn’t have his armor. As the flames drew closer, the skin on his arms blistered and burned as the pain grew…

Michael awoke with a start, sitting up in his bunk. Sweat covered his face and body as he rubbed his face. He turned and sat on the edge of his bunk.

No point trying to go back to sleep… Was going to get up in 30 minutes anyways, he thought, trying to push the images from his dreams away.

He’d been back at the firebase for two weeks now. After securing the Covenant installation, he’d called in reinforcements to help secure the site. The Marines arrived just in time to beat off a Covenant counter-attack. They spent the next two days beating off continued Covenant attacks without reinforcements as the Covenant prevented them from flying in. The fighting was hard and bloody, especially that last day as the Covenant were desperate to retake the installation.

On that last day, the fighting degenerated into hand-to-hand combat. Michael and the surviving Marines were running out of ammo and forced to scrounge Covenant weapons and ammo from the battlefield. Michael used a Covenant plasma sword to beat back the last attacking waves. They finally broke the Covenant’s will and reinforcements flew in as the enemy withdrew.

The operation was an overall success as SPARTAN-III Alpha Company secured their objective with minor injuries. The ODST units also secured their objectives, but suffered heavy casualties in doing so. With the destruction of the Covenant fleet in orbit, the UNSC regained space superiority along with decapitating the Covenant’s Command-and-Control and supply infrastructure in one swoop. Now, it was time to eliminate the Covenant’s foothold on New Constantinople…

Even with the Covenant support and communications in disarray, this did not push the enemy into surrendering. In fact, the opposite took place as the remaining Covenant forces, especially the Elites and Brutes, fought even harder with more desperation. Heavy fighting raged in and around the Covenant’s foothold on the planet. Michael spent the next three weeks being shuttled from one hot spot to another, providing support during this desperate fighting. All during this time, he experienced a sense of fulfillment... that this is where he belonged. At least that was what he kept telling himself.

It was during the third week that the fighting reached its crescendo as it became even more desperate and vicious. The Covenant were on their last legs, but scrapped together a large attack force supported by their remaining Wraiths and Banshees. They planned to attack a weak point on the UNSC’s perimeter. No one ever figured out what they planned to do or where they were going if they broke through. The fact was probably that the Covenant knew the end was here, and they wanted to kill as many humans as possible in this final attack. With the Elites in charge that seemed the most plausible theory. For Elites there was no thought or talk of surrender. There was only the glorious honor that came from battle against a hated enemy.

As the Covenant made this final attack, Michael–with Marine reinforcements–arrived on a Pelican. It became obvious this battle would be intense as the Pelican, they arrived on, blew up from a direct hit moments after they’d disembarked. They were immediately engaged as waves of Grunts threw themselves at the human defense lines. Grunts, waving plasma grenades tried to take human defenders with them in their suicide runs. Only a handful of the suicide bombers survived the intense and highly motivated defensive fire to detonate themselves among the defenders.

Casualties on both sides were horrendous. Arcing red plasma bolts from Wraiths filled the sky as Banshees howled through the sky adding their plasma fire to this self-created hell. The UNSC contributed to this with artillery strikes as Scorpion tanks moved to engaged, adding their cannon and machine gun fire, while missiles streaked across the sky seeking targets. In the center of all this, Michael moved from one sector of the defense line to another as it came under attack.

The fighting swallowed Michael, sucking him into the maelstrom. There was no time to think. It was instincts and reaction as he moved and fired at whatever Covenant target appeared, then reload, fire again and then move again. Those Marines that survived the battle would later tell stories about how a Spartan would appear out of nowhere, beat back a Covenant attack and then disappear.

The whole battle took on an even more nightmarish scene as streaks of light came screaming through the atmosphere. UNSC ships in orbit joined in, firing MAC rounds behind the battle lines to take out and disrupt the waves of Covenant troops moving to join the battle.

The battle reached a frantic fever pitch as the Covenant made one final push with their remaining troops and vehicles. The humans responded with a desperate defense to stem the attackers. In the middle of all this, Michael moved across the battlefield, like a god of war, taking on the most dangerous targets.

Elites... Brutes... Hunters... He took them all on. They all tried to kill him, and each time he survived while they died. In the midst of the battle, Michael embraced the death and destruction all around him as his blood and soul screamed caught up in this whirlwind. No one could stand against him... that was almost his undoing.

Michael never saw the Banshee screaming through the air towards him when it got hit by a human missile on its starboard wing. The damage caused the Elite pilot to lose control of his ship as it spun towards the ground. It was only luck, and his instincts, that Michael saw the fatally damaged Banshee spinning towards him at the last moment. He barely avoided the Banshee as it ploughed into the ground and exploded. The blast and shock wave tossed Michael like a rag doll, throwing him into the side of a destroyed Wraith.

A normal human would have died from the crushing blow, but Michael’s armor and augmentation enabled him to survive this crippling blow. For a few moments, he laid stunned on the ground. He finally moved slowly, making sure that his arms and legs responded. As he stood up, he swayed as his vision blurred. Yellow and red warning lights filled his helmet display informing him of damage to his battle armor systems.

Michael staggered back to the human defense lines, making it to a Marine defense position. The surprised Marines were happy to have a Spartan–even an injured one–adding his support to their defensive position.

Time lost meaning as the smoke and fire created a haze blotting out the sun. Finally, the battle petered out as the few remaining Covenant survivors retreated, and a strange silence descended on the battlefield. The surviving defenders exhaled a simultaneous sigh of relief as they realized the battle was over and they were still alive. Some Marines collapsed, out of exhaustion, in their defensive positions.

At his defensive position, the silence and absence of fighting seemed strange to Michael. He experienced a whirlwind of emotions he couldn’t even begin to describe. All he knew was one moment a tremendous energy and emotional feeling filled him, and now there was nothing. He wasn’t sure of what to do next, but he figured he should report into command. When he tried to stand up, he suddenly didn’t have any strength in his legs. His blurry vision got worse and his head pounded as the world spun around him. The Marines in the defensive position were shocked as they saw the Spartan try to stand up and then collapse. They took a long moment to shake off their shock, calling in medics and a heavy-lift team to help the fallen Spartan…

Michael spent three days in a medical bay under observation after being diagnosed with having suffered an extreme concussion. He balked at having to stay so long in the hospital. It took orders directly from Vice-Admiral Whitcomb to resign himself to resting and co-operating with the medical staff.

Even under Admiral’s orders, he was still feeling agitated by his stay in the medical bay. Finally, the medical staff cleared him to go back to his quarters. He was still suffering from minor headaches and slightly blurred vision, but he didn’t mention it lest his stay became longer.

After his medical clearance, he expected to receive orders for deployment back into the battle, but the opposite happened as he received orders to stand down. Despite his confusion and frustration, Michael used this time to review the battle records and catch up on the latest battle reports.

The Covenant foothold on New Constantinople was being reduced. There was still fighting going on, but the intensity was not as fierce as the earlier fighting. Command estimated the fighting would continue for another ten to fourteen days before the end of all Covenant resistance... there was no talk of offering terms for surrender.

All the planetary news feeds were trumpeting the UNSC and the success of Vice-Admiral Whitcomb’s daring plan. The civilian news reports spoke of the tremendous sacrifice by the UNSC armed forces, but the broadcasts gave no specific details on the cost. Michael saw the casualty lists, and they were horrendous. The loss in navy ships alone from battling the Covenant ships over New Constantinople was sitting at forty-five percent.

The UNSC responded by sending reinforcements to rebuild the fleet, and Vice-Admiral Whitcomb was working his forces like a task master to get damaged ships repaired. While reinforcements flowed in, the Vice-Admiral was rebuilding the planetary defense network and strengthening it. While others celebrated the demise of Covenant forces on the planet, Whitcomb worked like a madman knowing the enemy would return.

Michael spent that first week at the firebase trying to relax, but he found himself anxious and reacting to any sudden noise or movement. By the end of the week, his vision was returning to normal and his headaches were going away. He could sleep somewhat normally at night, at least until he got that video call from ONI.

On the call, the ONI officer informed Michael they’d reviewed all the intel from the Anders interrogation, and following up on the off-planet leads with success. What the ONI officer wanted to know was why there wasn’t any follow up on the other leads on the planet.

It took an immense amount of self-control for Michael to explain slowly and carefully that he’d been somewhat busy helping to defend the planet from the Covenant. A wave of revulsion built up in him as the ONI officer dismissed his explanation and ordered Michael to follow up on his secondary mission. It was hard to keep his disgust in check as the ONI officer told him, “You’re a Spartan! You know your duty and allegiance to the UNSC… So do what we’ve made you to do!”

Michael contained his emotions, responding with a crisp salute and the obligatory “Yes, sir!” as the video call ended. His nightmares started again that night…

Awake now, Michael got up and made his way to the bathroom. He bent over the sink with his hands holding on each side, running his hands under the cool water coming from the tap. Splashing water on his face, he looked up and stared at himself in the bathroom mirror. The eyes staring back at him from the mirror contemplated the person standing in front of the mirror.

“Who am I? What am I?” Michael said aloud, looking for an answer to his questions. The eyes staring back from his reflection showed the battle going on inside him. He struggled to push the nightmares away and the lingering doubts about his orders from ONI. Memories of the fighting against the Covenant flashed in his thoughts. As the memories replayed, he felt his heart beat faster. He realized during the fighting he’d felt so alive and filled with purpose.

That is where you belong, he thought, staring at the mirror.

An inner voice spoke out in his head, No… You haven’t found where you belong… yet.

A shaken and confused Michael didn’t know where that had come from.

After breakfast, Michael made his way to the firebase’s operations center. With his ONI security clearances, he got access to a secure computer terminal, and pulled up all the information from his “talk” with Anders.

There was a lot of information from Anders to go through and he began cross-referencing it with the intel reports ONI provided when he got this mission. There were some good solid leads that would require follow up as he double-checked the information. He paused as he realized that he was dragging his feet. A sickening grew in the pit of his stomach as memories of how he’d obtained this information flashed again. The thought of having to perform more field interrogations on humans bothered him.

A sigh escaped Michael as he stared at the computer screen. The fighting against the Covenant seemed “simpler and cleaner” compared to the ugliness and murkiness of combating an insurgency and the tactics required. He tried to shake the thoughts away and focus on his mission.

He tried to shake himself of these thoughts to refocus his attention. The beginnings of a smirk flashed on his face, recalling how CPO Mendez would have chewed him out, if he’d seen him acting like this. Michael could almost hear Mendez yelling, “Get your head out of your ass and do your duty, Spartan!”

The smirk faded as memories of those early years of training played through his thoughts. Another sigh escaped as Michael suddenly wished he had someone like Doctor Reeves... Halsey or even Mendez to talk to right now.

Maybe, John has the right idea. Maybe, it’s better to just disconnect yourself from the world around you. It might make it easier to focus and concentrate on what I need to do…

Michael pushed those thoughts away and turned his attention back to the computer terminal. It didn’t matter what he felt, he knew he would go out again. He had his orders and his duty to perform. A brief thought flashed about going to Whitcomb and asking the Vice-Admiral to intervene or find something else for him. The idea quickly crashed and burned. This wasn’t what a Spartan did. He had his marching orders, and it was time to march.

Turning his attention back to his work, there were several leads that needed following up on. One led to the town of Bursa, located on the planet’s southern continent. Intelligence indicated that most of the separatist support on New Constantinople centered on smaller towns and outlying areas... away from the prying eyes of the UNSC and ONI.

Information from Anders pointed to a resident of Bursa... Barton Jackson. This Jackson acted as a courier and liaison between some of the different Innie cells. If Michael could track him down, he would be a good source of information to locate these cells. They could then disrupt the cells and take out their leadership structure.

From the police, military and civilian databases, Michael began building a profile on this Jackson character. The information available portrayed Barton Jackson as somewhat shady with a long and colorful record, operating just ahead of the authorities. There was no fixed address for Jackson other than he spent time in Bursa. It was clear this person was trying to stay off the grid. Michael reviewed the records again and found a known associate for Jackson, living in Bursa with an address.

Michael could already see how this would play out. This would be another messy mission, but ONI didn’t seem to care about the mess or cost... they only cared about the results. He would need to “talk” to this associate first if he was going to locate Jackson. Then, if the associate did give up Jackson’s location, he would have to grab Jackson and spend some time talking to him.

Michael reviewed the material, one more time, committing the details to memory before closing the data file. He then opened a secure video comlink to the firebase’s operations center.

“Captain Moren, here,” replied the officer on duty.

“Captain, this is Sierra-113… I need to requisition a Pelican and her crew for a mission. Destination is on a need to know basis only.”

Michael noted the Captain arching his eyebrows in surprise, “Uh... understood Sierra-113. I will need your authorization code and security clearance to confirm,” the Captain asked.

“Understood, Captain,” Michael replied, typing in the ONI authorization and security codes. He wasn’t worried as his ONI credentials gave him access to anything he needed. He noted, but said nothing, as the Captain’s eyes widen in surprise as the authorization and security codes displayed on the other side.

The Captain’s voice took on an excited quiver, knowing he was being dragged into an ONI operation, “Y-Yes, sir! I can have a Pelican available and ready! When do you need the Pelican and her crew ready for?”

Michael suppressed a smirk, knowing the Captain outranked him, but he wasn’t in the mood to the ranking situation. He considered the mission’s requirements, “I’ll need the ship and crew ready to go tomorrow. Let the crew know we’ll go wheels up at 1530 hours.”

“Yes, sir!” replied the Captain. The officer looked uncomfortable as he hesitated. He’d heard stories about how asking too many questions about ONI missions could have a negative impact on your career, and potentially on your health.

“S-Sir… if you don’t mind me asking. How long will you be requiring the Pelican and her crew?”

Again, Michael considered the question. There were a lot of variables at play on this mission with unknowns that could have an impact.

Better play it on the safe side…

“Tell the crew to pack for a three day mission, just in case. They’ll be living in the Pelican while on station,” Michael replied. He hoped that would give him enough time to track down Barton Jackson.

“Understood, sir! Will you need anything else?”

“No, Captain. That will be all. Thank you,” Michael replied, before ending the video comlink.

With the transportation arranged, Michael punched commands into his terminal. Maps of Bursa and the surrounding area displayed on the video screen. With the address of Jackson’s associate, he picked out an LZ for the Pelican that would give him the best approach into town. The first problem was that the address was in the central part of town. He would have to be careful on his approach and not get spotted by the civilian population. If spotted, word would probably get back to Jackson and spook him.

It took time, but Michael planned his route into town along with an alternate route and fallback route in case things went bad. He committed everything to memory and downloaded the details to an encrypted storage drive. He would transfer the data to the navigation system in his battle armor later during his systems check.

By the time he finished, Michael noticed that the time was 1715 hours. He’d lost track of time as he stretched to loosen his stiff muscles. The realization he hadn’t eaten since breakfast hit him. He decided to grab a quick meal, then do his equipment check and then grab some sleep.

At the thought of sleep, nightmarish images from his dreams flashed in his head conveying a sense of dread knowing he would have to sleep.

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