Alone

By EmF

Scifi / Drama

The Northern Defensive

Chapter 5: The Northern Defensive


The blast-grade doors slowly heaved themselves apart and the sound of combat became intensely apparent. Fresh rays from the early morning sun streamed in and surprised us at how much time had gone by. I was expecting a sudden transition from the calm interior of Omega Wing to the battle raging outside, but I didn't fathom anything like this…

I actually felt small as I never had before. Past the loading docks, past the rows of pallets and boxes and trailers occupying the immediate area just outside the doors was an epic panorama of carnage. The courtyard was vast, sprawling outward for at least a whole kilometer by my estimation. Bodies were strewn everywhere beneath the canopy of a massive awning, which was half twisted and smoldering itself. The corrugated metal covering stretched out from where we were and ran the entire length of the bay to where it met the foot of the valley. There, where its cover stopped, the bulk of the entirety of Covenant forces had convened.

Craters dominated those very plains outside the courtyard, undoubtedly the site of their initial bombardment prior to their advance. Tractors and forklifts and transport vehicles were on fire, toppled, and thick smoke billowed into a network of ashen ceiling-blankets clinging to the awning. Plasma bolts and grenades and needler rounds criss-crossed into the cavernous loading bay. The UNSC combatants were scattered, without cohesion, as if they weren't communicating on the same channel. And it was plainly evident that they were losing because of this fact. They were horrendously outnumbered and would not continue much longer.

"This is FUBAR." Haze whispered.

Something else grabbed a hold of our attention. A warthog roamed around the perimeter of the courtyard attempting to circumvent the enemy forces and dispense firepower. The more it roamed, the more the driver must've realized this was impossible. It was the enemy's only target for the time being. Instead of dispensing firepower, it was drawing it. It barely avoided enemy fire, weaving in between wooden pallets and plastic boxes as they shattered all around it. Rare-earth metals spewed everywhere from within, catching the light of the day and glittering in report. The driver was wide-eyed and panicked, barely managing the all-terrain vehicle's torque. It slid recklessly around tight corners and lost precious seconds off its pass. If it stopped for an instant or even slowed too much, it would be destroyed. The passenger riding shotgun was slumped over, I couldn't discern their condition from this distance. The rear gunner jostled around in the rear bed, struggling to get an angle on any target. At least he was still alive and firing.

The sheet metal canopy overhead restricted our view from much of the Covenant force further beyond.

Amy's vision and armor systems enhanced her already acute senses and she radioed to everyone what she saw. "They've got plasma shades already set up along the sides, and what looks to be brigade-sized infantry out there, Gunny. I don't think this is another guerilla incursion. At this rate, we'll be overrun in a matter of minutes unless we pull a rabbit out of the hat."

"Roger. Any suggestions?"

"Let's join in and push back as much as we can and give those friendlies some breathing room. When we can push no more, we fall back into the safety of Omega Wing. Maybe we can catch them off guard and draw them in closer."

"But they'll keep coming."

"Exactly."

"Well, okay, I'm not sure where you're going with this."

"If we can lure the heavy hitters inward, we might have enough time to call in a strike package while they're not looking."

"That would depend on how much attention we can steal from them."

"Aye, Gunny."

He smiled. "I like it, Spartan."

"I've got a LASER in my duffle. Even if a strike package isn't possible, we just need to get a few of those mortar tanks in close enough and I can improve our odds. Just keep the infantry off my back when I call out code word Grindell."

"Need to get everything timed right." Smith cautioned. "These blast doors are tough, but they won't hold out forever against that kind of point-blank firepower. We can't afford to let any one of them get that close or our exit is compromised. And if they make it inside..."

"Leave that to me." The Spartan then turned to Gunny Smith. "I'll make sure they can't get that close. Remember what we did at New Constantinople?"

I didn't know what she meant, but he apparently did while nodding at her, then motioned for us to jump down and start digging in. Amy ran forward and disregarded the hydraulic lift, jumped down off the wide loading platform and into the courtyard below—a good two meters down. We mirrored the move and it was a fierce drop. I checked the ammo count displayed in my rifle's LCD, brushing my fingers at the spare magazines at my side. I brought the butt stock to my shoulder, pointed the barrel downrange, and scanned for hostiles. Scanned the maze of boxes. Out of drilled instinct, I pulled the trigger once when I saw that distinct silhouette pop out of cover.

One jackal-skirmisher down.

57 rounds still in the mag—plenty for this kind of work, though I knew there'd be many more of its kind lurking in shadows, wielding particle beam sniper rifles or overcharged plasma pistols. I looked further: enemies were surely nestled within the maze of the courtyard. It was the perfect hiding spot for Covenant assassins just like the skirmisher I put down. Far ahead, we had long-range targets, mostly triple A and heavy ordinance, mechanized forces. This was the worst battle I'd seen and so far I'd only fired a single shot. What had Lima Company been volunteered for? I put all my faith in the Gunnery Sergeant and the Spartan.

I suddenly saw all the friendlies that had taken cover run towards us. Amy must've hailed them and given them a real set of orders—something they could work with. And the Covenant forces produced their own reaction to her commands. The maneuver apparently made them reassess the strategy that netted favorable results thus far. The attack reached a brief ceasefire as we all pulled in close. Something worked. No more energy mortars decimated our allies in the far reaches with the sturdy metal awning overhead reaching out so far into enemy territory. There was no room for their artillery to arc towards us from above, not this far away, not without impacting the awning itself which seemed as though it could still hold a while longer. Is was a networked mesh, somewhat elastic, the mass of it holding together with its adjoined segments transferring and absorbing damage rather than shattering into fragments.

We jockeyed for defensive positions and stole pot shots at the stragglers scattered about the ruined crates. Random thunder resounded off the hangar walls and steel support trusses as our snipers perched prone over the dock ledge chose which enemy's life expired, smoky fingers reaching out to touch an unsuspecting someone. Blurry bodies dropped in the distance, though the overall mass of the Covenant was too far out and under decent cover for accuracy.

I stepped over to Holmes. "How's that arm?"

He gave a brisk nod and a thumbs up.

The last remaining Warthog came rushing towards us and skidded to a halt beside our formation. It seemed the other Hog earlier hadn't made it through, their fate unknown but surely speculated. I looked over towards this particular all-terrain vehicle and was rewarded with a liberating sight of a gauss turret. The Gunny immediately broke cover and jogged a few steps over to the vehicle and asked, "Who is your highest ranking?"

The driver responded, "I am. Staff Sergeant Steve Valvalaris. Orders, Gunny?"

"Line up as much fire as you can on heavy hitters, but don't put yourselves in danger. We're gonna need you to make it to the end with that turret. Offload your passenger and we'll take care of 'em."

Lima Company and the few remaining Marines of Sierra Company stood their ground and faced down the onslaught to come.

"Their mortars are useless in here," the Gunny announced in a tone that seemed to comfort just as it had emboldened us, "So they won't be able to arc any rounds far enough in, so worry about their small arms fire first while rocket jockeys and the warthog fire on the bigger threats. Oh-seven-one, can you confirm that their artillery is on the move?"

"That's a negative. They are staying put out there. They anticipate an air strike."

"Smart bastards…"

"Breaking ranks." Amy stated. "I'm flanking."

"Where do you think she's going?" I asked Holmes.

The Gunny replied, "God's speed, Spartan."

She picked up a green duffle bag from the floor and sped off, not looking back. We all watched her head into the gauntlet of boxes and pallets to the right and disappear into the shadows. I looked back at Gunny Smith. He had his head bent to the ground, biting his lower lip. I hoped they both made the right choice, whatever it was. As usual, the Spartan was off on her own again, alone. I could feel Lima Company grow a little smaller as I tried to concentrate downrange. The front lines of the Covenant were still a little too far away to get a good shot off. They appeared hesitant to re-engage after our re-group. I occasionally reported in a sighting: a green blur that slowly faded or the top of a jackal's shield cresting above a crate as it strafed out of sight. All we could do was wait until we had clear shots or until we could see what it was the Spartan planned to do.

I looked onward again. The sun was nearly at eye level, our massive hangar flooded wall to wall with its aura as well as thousands of Covenant.

Though I knew none of us would surrender merely at the sight of an enemy force, I couldn't help but feel we were outnumbered and outgunned. They engulfed the whole complex, a Covenant bottle-neck forming at the entrance to the massive storage yard. Nearly the entire mass of them squeezed into each other, pressing and pushing to get inside. Echoing from beyond were the tell-tale thunderclaps of anti-aircraft artillery racing high into the sky. Their destructive discharge prevented friendly air forces from carpet bombing the whole damned alien-infested valley. That this Covenant force was still here only meant that space-based assets were offline as well. It made me think for a second that there could be a simultaneous battle occurring in space.

I looked over at Haze. He was frosty as the poles of Zagosa, though frosty was perhaps an inaccurate word for his particular appearance. Angry—he was extremely angry as he stared down the Covenant mob inching into the cavernous bay just outside the Omega Wing fortress. He winced and glared so fiercely with anger that lipids formed on his cheeks, blister-red. I could see the four marooned members of Lima Company weighed heavily on his mind. But I began to sense something more as he glanced my way. He hated them just as much—if not more—than those who had experienced personal tragedy during the War. He wanted to make sure that these purple bastards paid the price for what they'd done so far—the death and destruction laid unto Zagosa Prime and the human race. I would gladly join him no matter what the outcome.

Every rifle was raised. Every crosshair was fixed. Every Marine dead-set.

We were ready to complete our mission.

But this wasn't another Covenant sub-unit that was scattered about Zagosa on guerilla runs. Lima and other combat units had dealt with plenty of those before.

This was likely the entire expeditionary force. They all gathered here. I took in the sight of the swarming mass, bustling and angry and extremely noisy as the din reached my ears from the other end of the yard. Surely, Command hadn't dispatched Lima Company to prosecute this battle alone; the enemy Brigade had already routed Sierra Company. They were no longer a complete unit by CENTCOM's standards. One and a half companies could not defeat this.

It made me wonder where Amy was.

Why did she volunteer? What did she volunteer for? Why did she go alone?

I focused and looked beyond again, anticipating the first salvo. Hopefully, I'd see her again if I made it to the end of this day.

I squinted through the crosshairs atop my rifle—still too fuzzy. The uglies barely filled in the reticule, plenty of space in between the sideposts. The sensation of recoil bursts and the sight of alien flesh imploding was soon to be delighted by all Marines.

They marched ever closer, hunched, tensed.

"Range?" called the Gunny.

"About seven-hundred meters, Sarge." a designated marksman called out. "Scattered out-targets at various distance as well."

"Snipers, keep firing at will." he returned.

I peered out into the distance toward the edges of the hangar bay. Far past our combat radius, Covenant engineers were mulling around the load-bearing support trusses, attempting to figure out how to disassemble the massive canopy section by section. It was feasible given enough time and they could take it down piece by piece if they wanted to, but I knew their Elite commanders would rather die charging us than win with precaution. Fortunately for us, it was in the dumb bastards' nature, more arrogant than the staunchest of Innies.

I stepped over to Holmes as thunderous cracks of sabot rounds left sniper barrels at supersonic speeds. Holmes was now distant as usual, much like Amy always was. Distant unlike the Covenant army breathing down our necks. They marched closer and closer, inch by inch, all inhabitants of the bay knowing that the real battle was close at hand. Their alien craniums could now be seen over the lines of pallets and boxes. They were willing to sacrifice their own for a shot at the Omega Wing. And for what? What was here that they wanted this desperately?

Holmes never took his eyes off the incoming enemy as he said to me, "It looks like they've gathered here. All of them this time. I don't know if we can tackle something like this, Penn. What do you think? Can we push this back like other times?"

"I don't know," I said, "but I do know we won't wait long to find out. Don't worry, just don't let them get inside. Amy's got something planned."

The Gunny broadcasted into the net, "Listen up! If you see anyone's vitals flash a red, you immediately look where they're taking fire from and I want that corresponding fire team to double and triple up on the attacker. We made it all the way here. Let's not give them anything today!"

Green acknowledgement lights flashed in sequence.

The Gunny yelled at the top of his lungs, "Now, what is a Lima Company Marine?!"

And we responded with the unit's battle hymn, "Sir, a Lima Company Marine is a highly motivated, truly dedicated, aim-high-never-die, rompin' stompin' Covenant-droppin' machine…Hoo-rah!"

"What?"

"Hoo-rah!"

"What?!"

"HOO-RAH! HOO-RAH! HOO-RAH!"

Our unshakable music saturated the cavernous bay with a rolling thunder. I knew the enemy heard it.

"You're God-damn right!" he shouted with eyes aglow like an apex predator. He turned towards the approaching front.

A thin, purple beam shot forth and struck someone right next to me in the rib cage. "Medic!" I cried.

"Jackal sniper!" Sergeant Smith shouted. "Sixty degrees, one-forty meters out, in the crates!"

"Lots of 'em!" a spotter shouted.

"Alright, everyone," the Gunny broadcasted, "don't stay out in that kill-column too long. They've probably got snipes ADS'ing right now."

I could see exactly what he meant. The wide lane that bisected the entire lot full of pallets and boxes, stretching from our end of the courtyard to the enemy's position far beyond. With no need for orders, Lima Company instinctively bifurcated into their usual subdivisions, migrating away from the aptly-named 'kill-column'.

The Gunny waved Marines onward once the maneuver was complete.

"Foxtrot Team, Zulu Team, fan out!" He supplemented his order with a tomahawk-chop hand signal. "Whiskey Formation!"

Someone rushed over and pulled the fallen Marine back behind our formation as two dozen or so friendlies broke ranks and comingled in with the maze of supply crates dotting the bay. I glanced backward at the medics, but it was no use to wonder the wounded warrior's status. I was in the front lines and my attention was needed in the fight to come. Another energy beam lanced right past my ear, missing it by a few inches. "Shit!"

I ducked lower and trotted to a place behind some meager cover, some stack of pallets banded together by strap-steel. I swiveled my weapon over the top of it and blind-fired off a few rounds just to let the enemy know that I was still here and wasn't planning on leaving any time soon. A Lima Company sniper rifle responded to the attempt on my life with the pull of a hare trigger and a thunderous snap. Instantly after, globs of multi-colored plasma streaked from the other side, splintering pallets and boxes in between the two infantries, just wild shots intended to incite fear and confusion.

Our Gunnery Sergeant balanced on one knee and acquired a more precise aim. "Fire!"

We filled the expanse with bullets, some wild, some exact. For a fraction of a second, I craned my head just beyond my other piece of cover—a heavily-corrugated steel cargo container—and witnessed three or four lines of the Covenant infantry drop from wall to wall past a line of shattered obstacles. Their allies trampled them down steadfast and kept coming, now at a jog. I returned to cover.

Smith shouted, "Grenades all!"

Immediately after the Gunny gave the order, every Lima Company Marine simultaneously ripped high-explosive fragmentation grenades from their vests, primed them and chucked them as deep as they could into the bay. Several barely noticeable arcs of smoke poured in from either side as well, further out in the Whiskey formation. The combined, three-sided volley arced over the approaching front and detonated just above a contingent of grunts and jackals, smothering them in devastating concussion, dust and shrapnel. When the haze cleared, there was nothing left of those first few ranks. But another wave approached, this time complemented with low-ranking Elites and a foursome of Hunters—whipping their ruinous fuel rod guns side to side for a demoralizing show of force. If the walking tanks got the chance to come within range...

"Sarge!" I pointed.

"Copy. Rocketeers, Fire!"

A double-volley of rockets let loose from various locations within Lima Company, all intended to annihilate the Hunter threat. Three of them found their marks and the hulking beasts fell over with a succession of heavy thuds. Secondary kinetic effects took down Grunts close by. The one remaining looked at all its fallen brethren and let out the most dreadful cry I ever heard.

It charged straight for us. It pushed aside comrades and powered forth with ill-regard to its own, trampling those under it. Wood and plastic and even heavy-gauge metal simply shattered everywhere in its path. The rocket jockeys reloaded as fast as they were able while we poured what we could into it. Shredders, hollow points, armor-piercing incendiary rounds, nothing could stop its rush. The armor it wore was far more dense than anything we were sending its way. We started to inch backwards as it got within a stone's throw away and we knew some of us wouldn't make it out of this fight alive. It began to veer in my direction once I emerged from cover to concede some ground I'd gained, its armor bouncing and clanging as it shook the ground with its heavy step. There was no escape for me. I couldn't dodge fast enough. I curled into a ball hoping it would trip over me at the last instant. Maybe someone could take it down in my sacrifice.

My head started to shake as it lumbered down, then a thunderous snap resounded in the chamber and the ground shook even more heavily, my teeth rattling. Then, the noise and the rumbling stopped instantly. Stone flooring cracked and sprayed my helmet as I looked up. The giant creature had nose dived into the ground. Sparks formed beneath its armor as it slowly halted. Ginger-colored ooze seeped out of its back. I looked up and was face to face with the dying monster, a vapor trail lingering in the air from the side. Someone had shot out its back through a tiny gap in the armor. A luck shot, maybe.

I stood up slowly, checking myself for injuries—none.

I had no time to thank whoever it was who dispatched the Hunter. The din of combat pervaded my senses again. I stood up and chose my next target, ducked, and felt a flurry of crystalline energy needles streak past my side, sweeping towards the blast doors behind and ricocheting off its unbreakable bulwark. I retook my stance and was about to take new aim when I saw a brief glint of light ahead and to the right side of the bay, twenty meters out. The glare ceased and I could see the outlines of a door frame. I then saw the Spartan stepping through, disappearing into the outer perimeter of the Outpost beyond the courtyard boundary. The sight of her was like a shot of adrenaline direct to the veins.

My attention was stolen again as nearby shots nearly robbed my hearing.

Snipers took care of a few front-line Elites before the well-disciplined split-lips could line up any coordinated fire. The rest of Lima Company loaded the bay with a variety of rounds. I stole a glance to my left flank and confirmed the heavy-handed sound of an M-247 Machine Gun wielded by Amy. She had materialized at just the right moment. Her green-armored figure barely moved despite the weapon's massive recoil. She operated the thumbstud triggers in short, tightly-grouped bursts, only when needed. And with natural battle-hardened instinct, Marines lurking in the shadows further ahead spewed out harassing fire to the flanks of the Jackals and Grunts marching down the center aisle of the bay once they witnessed the Spartan's motives. With no choice, the approaching enemies re-positioned their multicolored shields to the left and right, leaving an unprotected hole for Amy to exploit with massive firepower. Dozens of enemies fell under her barrage. When the Jackals swiveled their protective devices to face her, once again Teams Foxtrot and Zulu either harassed or killed outright.

More and more began to fall and I sensed the momentum was ours, then a squadron of Covenant Banshee aircraft rose from the ground very far away in reply. Their canards soon began to glow a distinct purple haze against the amber sun, soaring our way with barely enough ceiling for them. They zoomed beneath the awning-capped expanse at was seemed full throttle. Lima Company would soon face fire saturation from above. And the Covenant troops ahead weren't stopping their advance. Our forces numbered too little to prosecute a two-sided battle, and every Marine knew it.

"Everyone, throw grenades now!" the Gunny commanded as he studied the incoming threat. We complied and threw our second salvo of grenades to the front. Once more, chaos reigned over the nearest enemy lines, stunning them. In their momentary confusion, Smith then ordered: "Now everyone, fire at the fliers!"

We followed the Gunny and waited for the bogies to come within range. Each Marine emptied round after round until everyone was forced to reload. Depleted Uranium bullets from Amy's turret ricocheted off the purple hulls. Eventually the weak, unshielded armor cracked under her barrage. The vehicles began to smoke, a dead giveaway at impending failure. One by one, they began to lose what little altitude they had. The outcome of the Gunny's tactic rewarded us with six destroyed airframes plummeting to the ground, some landing on the Covenant infantry. The remaining two strafed hard and broke away at maximum thrust. They soon disappeared into the sun's glare.

But even more infantry emerged as the bodies steadily accumulated, simply littering the Covenant frontage, this time with more Hunters and Elites than before.

The Gunny ordered another salvo of grenades from Lima Company over the enemy lines. The strategy worked quite effectively and yet the enemy Commanders were not adapting—and I wasn't terribly surprised. The behavior of Covenant field commanders had been well communicated to all UNSC personnel for many years now. They either refused to change their methods out of the hubris typical of their sheer numbers and technology, or Lima Company was simply more battlewise today. Presently, the more they advanced, the more sluggish they operated as they met the blockades of their own, dead comrades in front of them. The majority of their close-air support was destroyed—now non-existent. With no aerial threat, the Warthog then had enough safe distance and the driver pulled the vehicle ahead, swerved to the left and skidded to a stop in front of our formation. The turret operator lined up targets, already had a prioritized plan of attack and immediately went to work. The gun dispensed heavy gauss slugs into any heavy target as if prescribed to them. Elites and Hunters were prime prey as lower infantry from both sides traded shots. They all fell one by one by the railgun's immense lethality, bodies thrown back in a blur.

Hunters certainly numbered too many at the present and wisely took stock of their unexpected outcome. A single vehicle was inflicting fatal damage wherever it struck and the Covenant numbers began to dwindle by the pairs. But Hunters adapted. They began to meander their way through the mazes undetected. Occasionally, I'd witness a set of antennae blur between boxes. They were able to hunch incredibly low, beguiling their size. Some Marines tried to bowl in grenades down littered aisles, which only detonated harmlessly in front of the Hunters' massive shields they wielded. They pressed further on as our rounds pinged harmlessly off the visible portions of their dense armor, two of them now within range to use their fuel rod cannons if they decided to emerge from what meager cover there was. Just one blow from such a weapon would put Lima Company in a daze. If they got in close enough to neutralize the Warthog, it was only a matter of time before the Hunters turned their sights back to Lima Company infantry and effectively halt our momentum. Pure luck saw against it. Just as a Human rocketeer was zoomed in for the kill on a Hunter pair, he received a pleasant surprise: a Marine's grenade landed right at a Jackal's feet, blasting the turkey's shield out of its grasp and clear across the entire battlefield towards its allies. It frisbeed through the air fast enough that it took a Hunter's head clean off through the gap in its armor, leaving its bond brother so furious that the can of worms never saw the RPG that whistled its way.

The Marine's leftover rocket was used to target a lone banshee that returned to battle for a surprise strafing run. The Covenant flier would've surely caught us off-guard, but instead was instantaneously converted into a plummeting glob of molten metal and plasma that showered its cohorts down below. The large group of unlucky Grunts and Jackals at the crash site were crushed and instantaneously reduced to blue-purple mist, spraying adjacent allies and wreaking more havoc in their catastrophic advance. With weapons raised, we cheered. In our brief revelry, a few lucky shards of Covenant needler rounds seeped into Lima's formation and found a few marks. One Marine let out a yelp as a single fragment ruptured his stomach, blood and bile leaking out his waist. Another one of us was much more unfortunate. A dense mass of the pink crystals tore their way through her armor and clustered inside her chest. What was to follow was horrid. Her torso exploded. My HUD no longer received any of her biometrics. Her telemetry stopped transmitting. She was gone.

The sight gave every Marine pause.

Haze froze where he stood, unable to process what happened. Instantly, he broke out into a full-on automatic fusillade, swept his muzzle wildly side to side. He easily emptied an entire magazine into the air in front.

"Now you die!" he shouted.

He began to charge ahead.

"Private Haze!" the Gunny commanded. Our senior NCO ran to the bewildered Private's side. "You will contain your fire, Haze. You're doing nothing but peppering the air." He then placed a soothing palm on top of his rifle, and Haze reluctantly lowered it. "She's gone, Private. If you really want payback, you'll make your shots count. Fall back in line."

Into oncoming fire, Haze ran over to her remains, and on bended knees he scooped up her dog tags and gave them a good wipe across his battle garments to clear the blood. "So long, Janine." He sobbed and forced back the tears, finding a place in formation next to me. I readily remembered her face and what her personality was like at the barracks, always cracking jokes at mess.

I threw an arm around Haze's shoulder.

"Janine was a good kid. C'mon, let's me and you bowl these fuckers over and show 'em how good of a Marine she was."

Haze nodded coldly, his face devoid of thought and fear.

The two of us banded together through common rage and popped off pinpoint precision rounds, nailing a score of grunts and jackals in center mass. The collective masses of the enemy weren't fazed and pushed on and on despite the Marines dwindling their numbers, and I was forced to reload, during which time I ran a quick roster of Lima Company's casualties. Only one KIA and just a few WIA to at least a few-hundred dead Covvies, I gathered.

I'll buy that any day.

A lull in the Covenant advanced became apparent. Much of the front line troops placed their attention rearwards, focusing on something more important than us. More of them died in their stupor as we kept firing. But something was back there. Before they regressed, they looked our way again, backpedaling, retreating.

"You're shitting me." the Gunny whispered, swiping a hand downward in a cease-fire gesture. "I don't believe it."

The hordes of the Covenant army were now running back toward to the sun, leaving behind their fallen warriors, munitions, and their falsified valor. Once they were an amicable distance away, something odd occurred. For some reason, the army parted in half. There was no particular reason for the maneuver, but in an instant it all made sense. The army was clearing a path for something else, making a hole for a line of hovering behemoths charging in our direction. Wraith tanks.

I watched the Gunny study the new development. "Valvalaris?" he radioed with a wily smile. "Fire at will. Send some slugs downrange and pulverize those purple walruses."

The response we heard from the Warthog team was nearly devastating.

"Gunny, I'm so sorry. That was our last round."

Gunny Smith's smile instantly vanished, though I could still see him weighing the situation as he locked his gaze onto the distant threats.

He relinquished the aim of his weapon and opened a private channel to the Company's Rocketeers. "Ammunition?" he said despairingly over the comm., his voice signaling reluctance to hear the answer.

All eyes were fixed on the Gunny, waiting for his orders. All we saw from him was a slight nod, his face less than optimistic as the rocket jockeys in the distance reported in. He shook his head somberly, recognizing defeat. But then, instantly, his features morphed into determination...or spite. I couldn't tell.

"Oh-seven-one." he broadcasted. "Report in."

He reloaded.

I stood tall and peered beyond.

"Everyone, fan out." Smith ordered as the wraiths approached at top speed. "Oh-seven-one, do you copy? Is the code word given? Spartan!"

I could now hear the low whistle of their powerplants, skimming inches off the ground swiftly passing beneath them.

I took it that this was it. We were under-equipped, we were out of communication with our best hope, and our enemy was en route. This was our last stand. Just like the Covenant approaching. Their final tell-tale charge before the sacrifice.

Maybe HQ sent reinforcements and they were on the way. Maybe they would take the same journey we did—through the forests, through the halls, and on to this forsaken North side. Finish what we started. Maybe uncover our remains and form guesses of what happened here. Maybe the enemy was thinking the same.

Maybe we were the ones to make the sacrifice this time around.

The tanks' prows became shaded, now passing under the threshold of the giant awning far away. Our rocketeers loaded their last rounds and made what preparations they could in what was to be our closing moment. Random soldiers then scoured the grounds around them for fresh plasma grenades, anything.

I looked around, though not for advantages. Luck was lost upon us. Instead, I scanned the faces. I didn't know everything about what it was to be a Lima Company Marine, not yet. But I knew that these were to be the people that I would spend my last moments with. They could've been anyone, though: scientists, farmers, entrepreneurs, anyone. Here, in this moment, they were Marines. They swore to protect every good thing they'd known about their home and this world. Not one of them ever broke that oath. I was proud to die here among them. I thought about the family I left behind on another world: Father, Mother, Brother. I smiled as precious memories of them raced through my vision. I was prepared. A bright flash then emanated from beyond the Wraiths. Every occupant North of the outpost gazed that direction. Soon, the invading forces were engulfed in something otherworldly. A sudden spike of heat filled the bay, and a new sun appeared on the horizon. A white light blinded my eyes and filled my dreams.

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