This novel is limited to 100 free copies due to its part in Inkitt’s Novel Contest.
“There has to be something on one of those god-damned so-called Forerunner planets that we can use against the Covenant!”
— Unnamed ONI high-ranking official to ONI research scientists.
November 6, 2552 — 1322 Local Time
The voice repeated through the helmet comm system, this time it came through much clearer.
“Sierra-113 respond? Requesting SITREP?”
The soldier with the designation ‘Sierra-113’ took a moment to gather his thoughts before responding, “Sierra-113 here… Current situation is fluid. In contact with enemy forces and currently holding in place. Bravo-Team has taken heavy casualties, six Kilo-India-Alpha, four Whiskey-India-Alpha. Bravo-Team strength at eight effectives with myself in support… over.”
Sierra-113 waited as there seemed to be a long pause before the voice on the other end replied, “Understood, Sierra-113. Provide update on your status? Can you continue to provide rearguard support?”
Sierra-113 shook his head in frustration, “I’m at full effectiveness and can continue to provide rearguard support.”
He paused as he visualized and planned what he needed to do to make sure that the survivors of this little force got out of here.
“I’m requesting Bravo-Team withdrawal to designated pickup LZ Victor-Tango-Zero-Four. I will hold in place to prevent Covenant forces from following.”
The response was almost instantaneous, “Negative Sierra-113, Bravo-Team will remain in place to provide support for completion of the mission.”
With this being an ONI run mission, he wasn’t overly surprised by the response. There was no hesitation on his part with his reply. He tried to keep his growing frustration and anger out of his tone, “Bravo-Team has taken too many casualties and is now a liability to rearguard support mission.”
The now becoming annoying voice responded, “Negative Sierra-113, this is a command authority override. Bravo-Team will remain in place.”
The soldier cut the channel in disgust. He scanned the battlefield using his augmented eyesight and helmet optics to evaluate the tactical situation. From what he could see of his and the enemy’s positions only reaffirmed his earlier thoughts. If the surviving marines of Bravo-Team were going to have any chance to get out of here alive, they had to go soon. He opened a communication channel over the tactical net, calling out, “Bravo-Team … This is Sierra-113. Do you copy?”
“I take it you heard?” Sierra-113 asked trying to keep the disgusted frustrated tone out of his voice.
“Yeah… Sucks to be us. What’s the call?” Bravo-One replied with a heavy sigh.
Sierra-113 took a moment as he once again looked at the dwindling number of tactical options along with the pros and cons they had. With a shake of his head, he made his decision, “Disregard commands last orders… On my call, you’ll pack up your wounded and haul ass back to the LZ. I will hold in place to provide cover for your withdrawal and continue rearguard by myself.”
It felt like there was a long pause before Bravo-One responded. Sierra-113 could hear the reluctance in the marine’s voice, “I dislike disobeying orders, but what I really hate even more is running and leaving you behind…”
Sierra-113 snorted as a small smirk formed on his face. He understood how Bravo-One was feeling, “No worries… I take full responsibility for the decision.”
Sierra-113 cut him off as they were running out of time, “No buts! This is my call and I take responsibility for it! I will open up to provide cover fire in five minutes. Get your people ready to fall back to the LZ.”
There was another pause before Bravo-One replied, “Roger that Sierra-113… Thanks... and good luck.”
As the comm channel cut, Sierra-113 once again looked over the battlefield, using his augmented vision and suit sensors, to see what the Covenant were up to.
The alien bodies, from three previous enemy attacks, lay strewn across the open area in front of his and Bravo-Team’s defensive positions. From analyzing the increasing strength of the attacks, he knew that they could probably holdout against at least another two attacks. He didn’t want to sacrifice anymore of Bravo-Team’s people for a mission that was attaining Charlie-Foxtrot status. A clear, loud and annoyed female voice spoke up interrupting his thoughts.
“Taking it upon yourself to decide matters... again, Michael.”
“Adriana, you have a lousy sense of timing to start critiquing my decision making process… plus those orders sucked.”
“You have to learn to play nice with others,” teased the female voice, “Also, it’s my ass on the line here too you know.”
“You know for an AI that’s supposed to assist me, you can be a really annoying at times,” Michael replied with a small snort.
“But then you would get very lonely out here without me to keep you company,” the female voice replied in a teasing tone.
“Adriana, can you take a moment from your busy schedule and give me an analysis of our current situation?” Michael asked shaking his head slightly.
“Why, most certainly,” came the reply.
Almost immediately data scrolled on the display screen built into Michael’s helmet visor.
***** Mission ‘BRIAR PATCH’ Analysis *****
* ONI recon/research team investigating suspected Forerunner planet -- PX-2235
* Investigate planet to recover any and all alien technology for further study
* Two (2) UNSC marine fireteams and one (1) SPARTAN-II to provide escort and security
* Maintain low profile and avoid contact with Covenant forces
* Safety of ONI team and any recovered data/materials is HIGH PRIOITY
More data scrolled across the helmet visor…
* Analysis of combat and SIGINT -- Enemy forces estimated at minimum one full battle group
* Current mission success estimated at less than 10%.
* Retrieval of ONI team and recovered artifacts considered MISSION PRIORITY
* Sacrifice of support personnel considered within acceptable mission parameters
* If SPARTAN-II remains to provide rearguard support -- mission success rises to 25%.
Well, there it is, Michael thought digesting the data.
From the initial mission briefing, he knew that this mission had a bad smell to it. On the other hand, when your species was fighting for its very existence, sometimes you had to suck it up and take one for the species. That was one of the reasons that Spartans existed — to take on those missions and tasks considered impossible.
He formulated his tactics and strategy as he put in another call over the tactical channel, “Bravo-One... anyone home?”
“You almost ready to move?”
“We’re all packed and ready to move on your call. Just give the word.”
“You go in two minutes. I’ll lay down cover fire to keep them distracted, you make for the LZ.”
“Roger that, Sierra-113.”
“Bravo-One … When you reach the LZ, I need you to dump your extra ammo. I’ll be doing a run-and-gun towards the LZ and will need a refill by the time I get there. Do you copy?”
“Copy that Sierra-113. We’ll leave the whole store.”
Michael did a final weapon and ammo check. His years of being a Spartan had ingrained the habit into him that it was now an autonomic response.
He hadn’t been happy about giving up his old trusty MA5 assault rifle for this mission, but the prototype M41A pulse rifle had made him a convert. The scuttlebutt had the M41A being developed by a weapons designer who’d gotten the idea from watching an old 20th century vid about some marines fighting space aliens...
Initially he’d been unsure when they first handed him the weapon, but the new magazine capacity — 99 vs. 32 rounds — was a bonus. The final selling feature was the 30mm over and under grenade launcher with 4 round capacity. That ‘little feature’ had proven an unpleasant surprise to the first Covenant forces they had encountered on this planet.
The new rifle was a force multiplier, but it could only compensate for so much when you’re horribly outnumbered. Despite the odds they faced, a weapon like this in a Spartan’s hands, was like giving a painter a new brush to create a masterpiece on a fresh canvas. Michael wasn’t a painter, he was a Spartan and his medium and skill was creating chaos and death.
It was now time to create art...
Quickly shifting to a new firing position, Michael used his scanners to pick and mark the closest targets. As he fired off a couple of High Explosive (HE) greeting cards on to Covenant positions, he once again appreciated the grenade launcher. The audio sensors built into his battle suit sensors picked up alien screams and curses as the grenades exploded.
“Bravo-One, move your team now!” Michael called out over the tactical channel.
The response was almost immediate as the radio crackled, “Bravo team... Time to leave Marines!”
As the green-marked friendlies on his scanner started to move away, Michael put Bravo-Team at the back of his mind. His focus was now on the Covenant and holding them off.
His experience and training told him that staying in one place would, eventually, allow the enemy to surround and overwhelm him. He had to keep moving and shooting if he was going to stay alive. The primary goal was to buy time for Bravo-Team along with the rest of the mission’s personnel to evacuate off the planet.
For now, he shelved any thoughts about getting off-planet as he saw the friendlies disappear off his scanner as they got out of range. Right now, he had to focus on the Covenant and staying alive. He would worry about leaving later.
He fired several short bursts from his pulse rifle towards the Covenant positions to follow up the grenades. The primary goal was to make sure the enemy’s attention was on him rather than on the retreating Marines. He had to be mindful of the differences the M41A had with the old reliable MA5. Even with the new weapon’s larger magazine, if you went full rock-and-roll — holding the trigger on full auto — you could easily burn through 99-rounds in seconds.
“Adriana, can you use the recon maps to plot us a route for a fighting retreat back to the LZ? Make sure the route can draw out the time and keep us in cover.”
“I’m already working on it. I’ll plot the way points on your helmet NAV display.”
“That’s a good girl, you’re always two steps ahead of me.”
Explosions went off close to Michael’s position and the area surrounding Bravo-Team’s now empty positions. Dirt and debris rained down on him as he ducked down, but he suffered no damage as his battle armor shrugged it off.
“Michael! We have Elites moving up on our left! Two hundred and fifty meters and closing!” Adriana said with an urgent voice.
Damn! They must have spotted Bravo-Team pulling out and are trying to pursue.
“So much for best laid plans,” Michael muttered. Quickly reassessing the changing tactical situation, he didn’t hesitate as he quickly moved out of his firing position. He needed to cut-off the advancing Elites moving on Bravo-Team’s former positions.
The scanner in the upper corner of his helmet’s HUD tracked the advancing red-marked enemy troops. His augmentation, training and experience gave him a huge tactical advantage over his enemy. He plotted a position on the battlefield that would let him get into a flanking position on the advancing Elites.
His speed allowed him to dodge explosions and bursts of plasma fire directed towards him as the Covenant troops belatedly realized he was on the move. The energy shields built into his battle armor flared several times as several random plasma shots caught him. The shields brushed off the hits preventing any serious damage or slowing him down. They recharged by the time he reached his new firing position.
As he settled into the new position, it had felt like he had traveled kilometers, but it had only been several hundred meters. His new position gave him a good view along with a good field of fire to cover the area.
He opened his “goodie bag”, strapped to his left waist to carry extra ammo and supplies beyond what the built-in storage compartments in his battle armor could carry. He pulled out two fragmentation grenades, activating one.
With the help of his armor’s sensors, he calculated the wind speed and direction. As the results displayed on his helmet visor, he picked the optimum spot to toss the grenade. His augmented strength made it easy to throw the grenade the necessary distance and with the needed accuracy. He had barely finished throwing the first grenade when he followed it by arming and throwing the second grenade.
Two large explosions followed with in seconds of each other taking out most of the advancing Elites in the front ranks, forcing the survivors to take cover.He had their attention...
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