Jungle Heat

Chapter 3: Jungle Heat

Firm pressure impacted the soles of my boots and resonated upwards through my shins, to my knees, up my thighs, and into the base of my spine. I was too damned focused on details to remember not to bend my knees at touchdown. I tucked to the side in my practiced fall, threw out an elbow to the ground to stabilize me. A slight pain draped my lower back until I willed it away.

I hovered there in a half crouch, my assault rifle leveled into the forest. Drawing a deep breath, I studied the edge of the treeline. The forest stood out. The wooded tangle obscured what possible threats lied further in. I panned my eyes in a slow, undulating pattern, holding my ground perfectly still and balanced, breathing deeper. I felt one with the shapes of pines and furs, got a good feel for the earth below my feet, inhaled the scent of fragrant tree sap and dank moisture in the air. I became a spectre.

If the enemy was remotely combat-savvy, they'd spot at least one of us from considerable distance.

I pulled my chute inwards, crumpled it and detached it from my back. It was buried along with the wrapper of a freshly-eaten nutrient wafer.

I discarded my spent AIRS reservoir and inventoried everything I had—made sure nothing flew away on the ride down. Combat knife, ample amount of med kits, flares, smoke grenades, camouflage tarps, RFID chits, my Spread Spectrum radio, spare ammo, and most importantly my primary weapon—carabinered to the front of my armor. My sidearm was holstered at my hip.

All ship-shape.

I prayed the other Marines made it down as easily.

I disrobed my polys and shoved them into my rucksack. The jump ensemble was priceless and my best friend on TAC missions. I would reuse it again someday. Higher-ups would have us believe they were worth more than all the training and background investigations spent on us.

I pulled down the HUD over my face and scanned to the left and right for friendlies, performed a head count once I identified the first Marine in sight. All present and accounted for, all groundside, two minutes later. But the icons were stationary. No one moved. I calmed my worst suspicions by occupying myself on a jungle scan once again, realizing the rest of Lima Company was likely accomplishing the same, getting situated. With any luck, no Covenant forces were stationed this far out from their own objective: this backwoods mining outpost.

To the distance were strings of thunder claps echoing off the looming foothills of the valley, resounding gently like the pounding of tympanies. AAA fire where we would've touched down. Intel was at least spot-on in one aspect of the mission.

Our original LZ was no good. We were far away from where we should've been. Only the high-ranking analysts in some unknown bunker knew what kind of impact that currently had on our mission as they studied the broader picture. Everyone knew, though, that where one advantage was lost another was gained. We now had an element of surprise on our side. Exploited long enough, we could avoid contact. We could approach from an unanticipated vector, unnoticed. As I scanned my surroundings like I was trained to, I couldn't help but steal a moment and wonder why the Hell Covenant uglies would be interested in a mine shaft. Were they were hurting for resources carrying on this drawn-out campaign against Zagosa Prime? I hadn't known any planet to meet a fate other than glassing as a Covenant campaign progressed, but maybe they saw this planet as special. Maybe they wanted this one for themselves.

During the course of my week-long inbrief to the combat element of Lima Company, I'd learned that this Covenant expeditionary force employed an almost defensive posture as they rooted themselves across the many continents. They scattered their forces at first, making it harder for space-borne assets and force recon to track their erratic movements. Intel analysts the planet-over could not form coherent assessments, or at least any assessment that was in agreement with others. No one knew the enemy's strike patterns, they were so inconsistent and sudden, ending almost as quickly as they occured. With hit-and-run tactics on civilian targets, they driverted UNSCDF geo-location resources en masse while their more robust brother units advanced on military industrial centers. When any of their FOBs were discovered and subseqently attacked, they devoted significant firepower to defend them, simultaneously dispatching remote units to again invade civilian populations throughout the globe, suggesting that each disparate sub-army had the exact same objective: to buy each other more time. Time for what?

Maybe it was a war of attrition. Tire us out. A slow death from a thousand cuts. No bother, the human spirit was forever a stubborn one.

I always knew I'd see which side was victorious in my lifetime.

I stayed put until the highest ranking said otherwise. So I sat, waited, no comm. traffic.

It was radio silence now as the rest of Lima Company was live.

I checked my gear until I was convinced it wasn't going anywhere. I took a sip of water. My elation was officially over, my blood no longer Nitrogen-free. My senses came back to normal and all the waiting built more anxiety, threatening to overcome my confidence. I felt vulnerable, a sitting duck, a bullseye myself. The only comfort to be had was the fact that it was dark, barely any moonlight with so much cloud cover. I was trained to hold out, nevertheless. I couldn't jump to conclusions—a risk in itself.

A crackle came over the net. Anticipation was getting the better of me.

Another bout of static.

"So…thought the old Gunny was gonna sit this one out, did ya?"

I let out a thankful sigh. Green acknowledgement lights flashed like fireflies across my HUD and I soon joined the silent uproar.

"Word is," the Gunny resumed, "We're green for go. Formation Delta. For you newbies out there, Amy's got point. She is in tactical command. Between us and the rally point, there's ten klicks of jungle and squid bait. Let's get some."

The moment I had been waiting for. The moment all of us had been waiting for. For nearly two weeks of downtime, it was finally time for the next round of payback for the Covenant. The UNSC Defense Forces of Zagosa Prime had pushed them back before, and I was sure tonight I'd get to join in that fight for the first time.

I stood up to move forward.

Zagosa Prime's only natural satellite appeared now as a crescent high above and the clouds were squalled. Intermittent periods of moonlight ebbed and flowed through the wisps high above.

I scanned for the Spartan—at the head of formation. A duffle bag was slung over her torso, buldging with the mass of weaponry within. I doubt I could carry half of what she currently burdened through the thick undergrowth surrounding us.

Lima Company assumed the wedge-attack, the unit's preferred offensive orientation: an equilateral triangle capable of unthinkable mayhem.

I was auto-assigned to the left flank, about equidistant from the rear corner and the point. I bolted to that position and took stock of the surrounding jungle, intent to focus. I not only covered fore, but left as well. Visibility was merely fifteen meters, twenty with my the aid of optics. The coal that lined the layers my battle dress absorbed body odor. Jackals were incredibly aware of their surroundings, able to exploit the environment against their enemies as much as they were to aid themselves. It was unallowable to be sniffed out before they saw you. It resulted in near-instant death.

My eyes darted to the lower-left HUD-quadrant, my bio monitor. Only slightly elevated heart rate. Normal respiratory rate. I queued a refresh command and watched the graphs recalibrate while marching forward in sync with Amy's tempo. My eyes widened in the darkness as I swept my rifle to the left, scanning. I high-stepped stones and logs and twigs, scanning to the right. Lima Company treaded lightly—the wrong move was usually your last.

I scanned up and down a tree just a few strides in front, to the left again, back to the front.

The distant bombardment grew steadily louder. The artillery batteries were likely in place only to deny UNSC aircraft their well-planned sorties. Amy flashed a red light over the net. She flashed another single pulse, then another. We stopped and every single combatant dropped to a crouch, then I started to pan the jungle expanse around me, looking so hard that I almost wished I had a target in sight—something to annihilate. Nothing.

She came over the comm., "Sergeant, there's a snag ahead."

"Go." the Gunny replied.

"A rock wall thirty meters out."

"Do you suspect snipers? Ambush?"

"It's an ideal spot for it."

"Roger. Good work."

I was amazed. Amy could see thirty meters in this shit. Her assessment mirrored my instinct—trouble was just around the corner. We relied on Gunny Smith's experience and cunning to get us through the looming obstacle.

He managed to get a plan of action going quickly.

"Holmes. Recon. Go."

A caption appeared above an amber diamond in my HUD. It read: CORPORAL HOLMES, BLAKE | AR-60. The words hovered over the bright icon as it moved from dead center of the pack towards the front, near the Spartan. I watched this play in my HUD as I tried to track the real thing with my other eye.

I saw the dot stop right on top of the one at the apex—Amy. It stayed there for a nearly thirty seconds. They were speaking. Maybe she was coaching, formulating a plan on-the-fly. I scanned the trees to my left again.

I saw the icon move. I looked forward. Holmes began to advance, alone. With another twenty meters to the rocky embankment, he slowed his step, approaching ever so cautious. Lima Company watched and waited patiently, uneasily. Hopefully, he'd be the bearer of good news; there wouldn't be an enemy patrol or the suspected ambush waiting to ensnare. But it was foolish to let a thing like hope matter more in such a hopeless age. The Covenant were momentus in their drive to annihilate anything human.

He placed his back on the cool, wet stone, I imagined, as his bright icon shifted slightly. The massive, stony chunk towered high above him. He waited, perhaps stealing a breath, steeling himself.

A moment later and he must've peered his head around the edge. I saw an ever so slight movement of his icon—a sliver—a sidestep to the right. He jockeyed his weight over a jagged stone beneath his boots. A better view around the bulwark was all he required. He froze and his body tensed. Like lightning, a thin, purple lance shot out from somewhere in the darkness further beyond. Another shot was placed and terminated into the dirt fifty or more meters aft of him. His vitals flared. Silent alarms flashed all over my HUD. Something happened.

Then, two quick bursts from a human rifle exploded in the forest and rang out! Twin echoes followed meekly in report.

"Hostiles neutralized." a feminine voice said. "Jackal sniper-scout pair." she added. "Minor lacerations to troop twelve's ulna. Someone should patch him up before he loses too much blood. Do it quick. No further contacts registering, but I don't know if anything else out there heard that."

I suddenly realized it was Amy talking, the same smooth, feminine voice that comforted me and somehow steeled me at the same time.

I searched for her waypoint. She had moved...far. I was too captive on Holmes to notice at first. Amy was a good forty meters from where she originally was.

A medic met Holmes once he attained cover again. Up against the slope of the rocky wall, Holmes laid out his forearm while treatment was administered. The entire unit took up covering positions all the while, slowly contracting towards the center of formation.

I could see him clearer as I neared. He breathed in a painkiller inhalant. He was quiet through the entire ordeal, even when he took the blow of the energy beam. Five minutes was all we owed to the incursion. I wondered how much element of surprise we had remaining.

Amy sent us further. She hastened the pace, led us into a half-sprint.

Now, the adrenaline that once reigned my bloodstream was beginning to dwindle. We passed the rock where Holmes almost lost his life, a puddle of human blood where the sniper beam struck. Lima Company trotted along in single file down a river bank with steep flanks, Pawnee seedlings lining the slopes on either side. The baby trees could have provided ample cover for friendlies and enemies alike.

The stream snaked hard-right and almost instantly disappeared into the darkness mere footsteps away. The steep slopes leveled out to flatness. We emerged at a clearing. Far at the end was another curtain of forest. The field we now faced was incongruous to our strategy. Pale wheat grass and clay reflected everything. The moon seemed to bathe the land in perpetual illumination. We all thought the same thing as Amy threw up a fist.

Every Marine had glanced at one another during the pause. Any stealth we still possessed would be announced as soon as we stepped foot onto that field. It was the perfect kill zone. Covenant war parties could be anywhere in the trees bordering the plain. Embedded IR sensors in my HUD could not receive emissions past a hundred meters. Too much distance for thermals to reach me undistorted.

But there was utterly no choice. We had to cross. The objective was no where but ahead.

Gunny Smith chimed in. "Spartan Oh-seven-one, how high is that grass?"

"Just shy of a meter."

Once again, sound advice coming from the veteran. "We low crawl." he ordered.

We dropped to our stomachs.

I slithered as fast as I could atop the dirt.

It always seemed when you were suddenly faced with new challenges, you often overlooked the simple solution, assuming every obstacle was insurmountable. As I pumped my muscles, I began to think things weren't as bad as they once seemed. It was human nature to prepare one's self for the worst, which wasn't neccessarily a bad thing given certain circumstances. These weren't the right circumstances, though.

We must've slinked along in the dirt for a mile, or so it felt. My body became sluggish. My abdominal muscles were on fire and growing unresponsive. I didn't have the heart to look up and gague the distance remaining.

I stopped for a moment wondering when the pain would subside enough to carry on again. I checked my HUD. The formation had scattered, a third of it in front and the remainder scattered throughout. Both Amy and the Gunny tolerated it by indication of their silence. Different humans had different capabilities. I took two more breaths and crawled some more.

A flock of birds passed by me overhead, a swarm of black blotting out the stars. The flock scattered, split apart and each member pursued vectors of their own.

Two or three chose a spot a few meters ahead of my position and landed in the dirt. There was a flash of light. A shockwave. A gentle ringing in my ears. Cataclysmic detonation flew over my head.


I lied there in peace and quiet. My vision remained blank. I knew perfectly well what happened, but something took a hold of me, overriding all thoughts. It was possible I still possessed the will to stand, but it seemed easier to linger, to sleep.

Then there was nothing.

I realized I was still alive. My eyelids flickered and my cheek muscles quivered as I tried to open my eyes.

I was sprawled out on my back, lying in a field. Tall grass swayed gently all around me. The wind was calm. The night sky was clear. No more cloud cover. The air was cool and brisk. Starlight reached my sight as I looked around.

There were people all around me. Their silhouettes wore concern.

More focus now. They weren't merely shadows in the moonlight. The clothes they wore were black. Black, with subtle stripes. Like tigers, their shapes shifted when moving between blades of grass, closer to me. Clearer and clearer, the haze in my vision roiled in and out of view.

.Black uniforms with matching helmets, rifles in their grasp.

Faces materialize. I recognize them all.

I felt no fear as I spoke.


"Yes." a smooth, tender voice replied. It was the Spartan and she had a hand rested over my shoulder, firmly urging me to lie down. "You're in shock. We're taking care of you."

"Roger that!" I said jokingly. It hurt to smile. "How many birds' lives did I cut short tonight?"

"We're giving you a stimulant and we're checking for concussions. Lie still."

I breathed in an inhalant pack and I immediately felt alert again.

"You're very lucky that mine hadn't been closer to you."

The memory of the blast came back to me. "Well, any more of them lying around? I'd prefer not to experience that again. Especially in the same night."

Haze hauled me up with a firm grasp on my uniform's deltoid flaps as I summoned the will to stand. "We found the other mines while you dozed off. Thanks for being the guinea pig, by the way."

"You bet. Anytime."

I stood up and took stock of the situation. There was now a hole a half-dozen meters in diameter where I might've crawled. The crater was at least two meters deep. The area around the blast was black with soot. Deep inside were feathers and bones.

"Son of a bitch." I looked ahead and saw some other Marines already at the forest's edge, peering inward.

Amy glanced that way, suggesting the urgency of our situation. "Can you walk?" she asked.

"I'm ready."

"Move out." she broadcasted.

A few more steps and I crossed into the next woods. Not as dense, this forest was more easily navigable. It was a clearer shot to our objective—about three klicks out, I could see pulses of light far ahead between trees.

The Covenant artilery fire was more pronounced now. Though a mortal danger to everything in its path, I was comforted by the constant pounding—a mask over the mine I activated. Any enemy presence ahead was oblivious to our imminent approach.

"Heads up, everyone." came the Gunny over the net. "We're closer to the Covvie emplacements. We have a small directive from Command before we continue with the mission. Alpha priority is now the enemy artillery. We're gonna take those things down so reinforcements can land at Foreclay. Wait for my command when we attain visual. Stay frosty. We're not outta this yet."

Lima Company intuitively resumed Delta formation and I took up position at the left flank once again.

I swept up and down. I combed the landscape left and right with my rifle—nothing yet.

I continued the motions as we paced through at a jog. The moonlight was a pale prismatic ray as it brushed through the treetops. A subtle breeze whisked through the leaves and livened the woods.

Amy flashed an amber light. Stay cautious.

I'm already cautious.

In my training days, I was instructed to interpret a single amber ping as the point man feeling something. It was a silly thing, classmates always said during breaks. And I don't know why I remembered that piece of the day's lesson so long ago, but as I observed the rest of Lima I knew the lesson was not forgotten by anyone here. They all settled into a walk and hardened their stances, peering as hard as they could into the night. They held their weapons closer, tighter. It was just a feeling from Amy, but it was to be treated as legitimate cause for concern.

We walked slowly, purposefully. For some reason, I froze. I hadn't even known why, it just happend out of pure instinct.

There was a tree in front of me, but it was unusual.

It was devoid of any branches. Something about it was simply wrong, just a thick, bare stalk, save for the extreme crown high above. The trunk was completely bare except for twin branches that grew downward rather than up. It was unnatural to me. Since the days of Darwin, it was common knowledge that limbs grew upwards so that photosynthesizing leaves could gain greater access to sunlight. I had never seen or heard of anything like this. At first, I mistook them for damaged limbs, which would justify Amy's hunch—signs of an earlier battle.

But it would seem as though someone had deliberately destroyed the branches of this tree in front of me and chose not to finish the job. It made no sense. But I began to understand…they weren't branches. I was frozen, now in fear for my life.

I was unable to move, paralyzed at the realization in front. Every hair on my statue-like body was raised. A surge of adrenaline nearly choked me.

A Covenant Elite, its back rested up against this tree.

A single sound, a single rustle of leaves beneath my feet and I was dead.

I tried to regain bearings. I tried to discern its color, know what I was up against. Before I could signal for help...

The HUD bathed my eyes in five milliseconds of blue light, just enough to catch my attention. It was Spartan 071. I heard a whisper in my ear.

"It's a blue. Sangheili Minor. It doesn't sense you. You'd be dead by now if it did."

I stole a slow, steady breath.

"I think it's just resting." she said.

"Umm, what's the prognosis?"

"I don't detect any EM coming from that direction so its shield must not be powered up. Grab your knife and go straight for the jugular."

"You're crazy."

"These things rarely rest. Do it now or you're dead."

You do it.

My fight or flight sense kicked in, and it was to backpedal in silence. But that was utterly impossible. I would surely give myself away. As I took another moment of thought, I knew she was right. It was a miracle I hadn't been lying on the ground in a pool of my own blood already.

I unsheathed my combat knife, slowly, silently. It glinted in the moonlight as it ascended my waist.

I brought the serrated side inwards, the ideal position to mangle a throat from behind. Maximum damage for a quick and painful kill.

I looked around me as I prepared. I envisioned the kill and my blood warmed. The alien in front was raw power and represented the pure hatred of one species toward another. Under the most primitive weapon the galaxy ever knew, the Elite would falter for merely a second, and that's all I would get. Kill or be killed.

I held my breath and crept forward.

I positioned the knife. The tip of the blade was at the extent of my reach, facing inward. The Elite towered over me. It did not seem possible I could kill this beast. But I began to brace my weight against the tree it rested on, careful not to touch anything else.

I inched the knife around the girth of the stalk, the weapon in my hand now hovered over its windpipe.

I inhaled a breath so slow, so quiet, the skin over my face began to cool.

"Take it out." the Spartan said.

I closed my eyes.

The adrenaline in me exploded. Without concience, I hammered the point of the blade deep into delicate flesh.

The first thing it did was clutch my hands with its own. The grip had power beyond my imagining. Its paws were like vice grips, like metal on flesh. My knuckles began to swell as I held onto the blade. It twitched and jerked in my grasp and unleashed the most hellacious roar in all of the valley.

It tried to wrest itself free from the grasp of my two arms, thrashing side to side. My forearms pounded against the treetrunk as it oscillated, then it started to shriek when I began twisting the blade. Its gyrations grew far more violent as it felt the possibility of life slipping away. I wrapped my free arm around its torso, held it there by instinct. Pure killer instinct I had never possessed.

I sent my other hand over the knife, dragged the length of the submerged blade to the right, to the left, severing its alien vocal chords with all my might harnessed into the hilt.

It then merely gurgled and thick fluid drained over my palms. Suddenly, its whole body went limp and fell to the dirt in a heap. It instantly succumbed to hypoxia. The alien alveoli were saturated with Carbon-Dioxide and it's own bluish gore. Its entire body shuddered violently for a full six seconds, and then silence. Stillness.

I stood over my kill, motionless, in awe. The throbbing in my hand subsided just as the alien's life had.

I had killed before. Not like this.

I breathed heavily for two minutes. Lima Company's presence evaded me for that time.

I looked up once the adrenaline-burst left me completely. I felt a drain. My hands swelled from within. The Marines gazed at me, my kill. A splinter of remorse stung slightly. But logic soon overruled. The Covenant would always be the enemy—always. They started this War. We wouldn't stop ours.

I snapped out of it as a green light flashed in my HUD.

I inspected my knife and wiped the alien blood onto one of my pant legs. I stepped over the body, forcing myself not to look back as I moved on.

The raging of the anti-aircraft artillery fire was now deafening. I could see one battery up ahead in the middle of a wide clearing.

Just a broad platform with three, stout legs. Atop the platform was a station designed for a small occupant to maintain, a Covenant Grunt. A slew of glowing fire controls lit it up like a fusion coil. The whole weapon system had a unique auto-loading mechanism that absorbed huge rounds of ammunition stacked on the ground below it. Like clockwork, rounds raced into the sky, bursting into brilliant white-green spheres of energy. Air was displaced and starlight distorted in the wake of their detonation.

"Heads up," said the Gunny, "we've got four gun emplacements dead ahead, hundred-meter spread, twenty-five meter interval. I've selected two snipers to take out the two Elite guards to the extreme right. Everyone else, stay put and scan for hostiles. Pick the remaining targets amongst yourselves. All teams: fire your weapons at the same time the guns discharge in order to minimize presence. Once the guards are neutralized, rocket jockeys will take out the guns. Immediately after, we high tail it straight to the friendlies at Foreclay and to our final objective. Get to it. Out."

The elements crept into their positions. I moseyed up and further to the left, scanning for enemy infantry along the way.

I found myself in position at the threshold to the field and found a comfortable niche at the edge of the treeline. I scoped in—I was within a reasonable shooting distance to my targets—two jackals at two hundred meters out. They provided cover for a Covenant grunt operating one of the guns. I studied my targets as much as I could. If they had patterns, I'd become an instant expert at them.

One jackal carried a Covenant particle beam rifle—standard issue sniper gear. The other clutched a plasma pistol tight in its clawed extremity. The pulsating green light from the gun cast a haunted glow on the lower cotours of its bird-like face.

The guns sounded off, rhythmically and forcefully. The grounds shook even this far away. One jackal craned its neck higher in the air, sniffing, tracing a scent. I knew my suit attenuated the odor I was no doubt producing by now. The alien placed its attention back to its weapon—inspecting it, calibrating some sort of backlit knob on the grip. The other was oblivious as it issued orders to the little one operating the gun, an opportune time for our strike.

The Gunny blared "Fire at will!"

The AAA guns recharged, loaded, and surged to life. Each battery glowed from within and sequentially prepared to fire.

Four thunderclaps rumbled. All of Lima Company fired in unison. Eight Jackals and two Elites unceremoniously fell over from what would seem nothing at all.

The grunts operating the machines had no idea what just happened as they prepared for another salvo. Then, four warheads riding on supersonic plumes of white propellant sailed through the night towards their places of business. Four seconds elapsed and they slammed into the Covenant quartet of artillery and reduced them to twisted metal and sparks once the smoke cleared. All that remained were fountains of multi-colored flame as we rose from our position.

We sprinted through the field as one. After a faint amount of breath and sweat, we reached a shallow precipice that overlooked a deep valley below.

"Ah, the sweet sound of silence." I said wholeheartedly.

"You mean the sweet sound of violence." Haze replied, returning a snicker.

All of Lima Company could see the main structure of the mining facility, lying about two klicks out in a shallow basin. Ethereal gunfire echoed off the valley walls. Columns of tracer rounds flew away in slow motion from the facility at the North side where the biggest concentration of Covenant forces were. And it was bad.

The Covenant could completely surround the entire outpost if they desired. Unbeknownst why, the enemy masses only preferred to seige the North. Diminutive small arms fire from the facility did what it could against the massive Covenant mechanized force that dominated the landscape. To the East, West and South, the aftermath of recent skirmishes was present: many Marines and human civilians lied motionless. But our collective hearts sunk as streams of more anti-aircraft artillery raced skyward in the midst of the Northern occupation.

One by one, we broke into an all-out sprint, Amy forcing herself not to break away from the pack.

Scattered and driven by haste, Marines came within a furlong of the Southern entrance, a well-cordoned off maintenance yard. Large crates even vehicles surrounded the main bay doors in a horseshoe fashion. While the barricades provided ample cover for those behind them, it was obvious UNSC Defense Forces had little-to-no time to prepare for this attack.

The Gunny began to radio the station. We willed our legs to pump just a little harder, a little faster.

The formation was now a loose gaggle. Elements of Covenant patrols materialized to left and right, vacating their cover. Not a single one of us went unnoticed as we raced down the hill and toward the Southern entrance. Alien limbs waved on other comrades to engage Lima Company.

We were dead in minutes.

The doors to the facility didn't open despite the Gunny's unrelenting hailing, even as he ran full tilt. Less than a minute and we were overrun.

Sweat and pain and fear drowed out my vision. A small personnel door adjacent to the main bay doors opened and a slice of light poured out into the dirt, a figure inside outlined. No uniform on, an elderly civilian dressed in plain clothes. The door was held open despite the danger and its only occupant waved us on frantically.

Barks and rabid screams poured into the basin from East and West, inexorably closing in.

Not paying any mind to the intense lactic acid I felt coursing through my legs, I ran my hardest dead on into the building, seemingly no way of slowing down what I set into motion. Within spitting distance, we began to pour through the door single file as only such an entrance permitted.

We pushed and we shoved one another through, mindful not to induce a trample. Hordes of Jackal and Grunt and Elite scurried in our direction from both sides further aft, merging to a point the closer they got. I wasn't the last in line, but I was still outside. The parting of air behind our heads and a warming sensation only meant plasma weaponry was discharged upon us with high accuracy. I stammered through the threshold and prayed for those behind.

The last Marine was almost indoors, then lost footing. The Marine got hit square in the back right between the shoulder blades. Air spewed out of his lungs with a yelp. He involuntarily lurched forward into the facility.

Amy appeared last and slammed the door behind her, static electricity crackling all over her body.

"Look out!"

The voice cried out from somewhere else...inside. Just as our collective eyes looked in that direction, a speeding forklift emerged and nearly ran the entire company over.

The narrow hallway we arrived at had barely the room to accomodate the forklift. It blitzed through, barely missing Marines as they slammed their backs to either wall. Its velocity was unnerving as it sped straight towards the South door, carrying a giant steel container on its forks.

Amy yanked the injured private off the floor a nanosecond before the forklift claimed them both. The load flew by and was practically right on top of the outer door when it locked up its brake rotors and screeched to a halt just short of it. The tines dropped to the floor with a clang! The cargo slammed down with a chest-rattling echo.

Amidst molten rubber streaks in the floor, the forklift reared backwards. Muffled thumps came from outside not even an instant later as the furious horde opened the door only to have it halted by the container. Just as well, the smell of burnt metal and ozone was their reply as they fired every plasma weapon they had. The burning smell wafted through the door seems. All the steel glowed a dull-red. I could hear the individual trigger pulses outside quickening, the Southern contingent hoping they could simply melt their way in.

The forklift driver then took action again, not tolerating any risk. He set the twin lifting forks at waist height and again the engine screamed to life. He sped forward and smashed into the container, jamming it further against the framework. He left the forklift there and yanked on a parking brake.

Sparks and screams and howling was all that remained, all heavily doped with rage. The forklift's engine then sputtered down.

The pandemonium outside gradually diminished and gave way to gentle moans and frustrated wailing. We were convinced there was no chance of them breaking through. We thusly slumped to the ground and gasped for new breath. Amy stood facing the freight that braced the doorway. She remained that way until the enemy lost faith, grew silent and sauntered away.

Gold rings of light encircled her body, ascending from the ground up like a rising spirit took up residence inside her colossal suit of armor.

Strangely, the sight was beautiful.
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