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60px-Annual_Award_Best_Novel.png This story, Halo: Heroes All, written by Athena32 and Leo Fox, was voted as the Best Novel of 2010 in the Third Annual Halo Fanon Wikia Awards.


40px-Terminal.png This article, Halo: Heroes All, was written by Athena32 and Leo Fox. Please do not edit this fiction without the writers' permission.
"A hero is a man who does what he can."
―Romain Rolland.
HeroesAll feature
Heroes All
Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.
Protagonist {{{protagonist}}}
Author Athena32 and Leo Fox
Date Published Started 5th September 2010
Previous Story None
[Source]

Trailer

Halo Heroes All01:44

Halo Heroes All

Plot Summary

Prologue

"I'm no hero. Heroes don't come back. Survivors return home. Heroes never come home. If anyone thinks I'm a hero, I'm not."
―Bob Feller.

Log 1

0830 STANDARD TIME (UNSC STANDARD) / OCTOBER 20, 2552 / STATION ONR South / 350 NAUTICAL MILES ABOVE CANBERRA / CONFERENCE ROOM 1

The following transcript is the intellectual property of the Office of Naval Research. Any and all ideas, concepts or other intellectual revelations contained herein are also the property of the Office of Naval Research. This transcript is classified as: TOP-SECRET - COMPARTMENTALIZED INFORMATION. Violation of UNSC Secrecy Policy (as defined within the UNSC operational manual UNSCM-03A, entitled Security Policies of the United Nations Space Command) will result in immediate suspension of security clearance, imprisonment and courts-martial.

[G. King]: I am Lieutenant Commander Gordon King, and for the record, this is a transcript of the quarterly meeting of the Armaments Department, which I oversee, with Lieutenant Sulu in actual command of the department. The Armaments Department is a subsection of the Special Project division of the Office of Naval Research; regarding the state of projects in development. Mr. Hoffman, could you please start us off by stating your name and rank, along with the status of your project.

[J. Hoffman]: Yessir. For the record, my name is Lieutenant (junior grade) James Hoffman, ONI attaché to ONR. I am in charge of the modification program of the W/AV M6 G/GNR "Spartan Laser" weapon system. So far, we've been able to cut an additional 2.45 kilograms of weight off the weapon with a simple redesign of the internal components, and the adoption of Mr. King's newer and lighter 5-shot capable battery. Also to note is the -

[PA System]: Now hear this! Action Stations! All hands to action stations! This is not a drill!

[J. Hoffman]: ...as I was saying, the new variant of the M6 G "Spartan laser" is equipped with a 3x zoom-magnification scope. The modifications are being introduced as a kit, to be installed on a weapon system by a trained armaments technician. Misriah Armaments, the usual producer of UNSC arms, has oped out of producing them, due to other more pressing orders. However, Aperture Industries has stepped up to produce the weapon, for a few hundred less credits per kit. That concludes my abbreviated report. Sir?

[G. King]: Very good. Lieutenant Sulu, if you will?

[H. Sulu]: Aye, Sir. My name Lieutenant Hikaru Sulu, and I work under Lieutenant Commander King on Project:RELATIVITY - rather, the development of a Shaw-Fujikawa Slipstream space engine capable of attaining a much higher velocity then current UNSC military models. Commander King and myself (the primary physicist and mathematician, respectively, on this project) examined a Covena-

[Sulu pauses midsentence, and looks up at King, questioningly]

[H. Sulu]: Sir, everyone here has a security clearance rated for this? This is, technically, rated TSCI. Am I authorized to continue, on the record?

[G. King]: Go ahead, Mr. Sulu. Everyone present is going to get an extra security clearance or two due to new Ownie security protocols anyway, and I'll simply apply more clearances required to access this transcript. But, for the record, explain it simply.

[H. Sulu]: Aye. As I was saying, me and the Lieutenant Commander theorized that we can use a fairly complex plasma particle accelerator, that we viewed and figured out how to make and use, from a captured Covenant Slipspace engine, aboard the UNSC Gettysburg. Err...how that warship came to come possess such a device is classified. But, with this new system, entering slipstream space would, theoretically, be less power consuming, and require less overall power to remain in 'slipspace', allowing for a higher attainable velocity within the slipstream, by diverting the additional unused power to engines to tunnel through the seven spatial dimensions that comprise of slipstream (aside from this tangible dimension, of course) at a much higher velocity. That is the program in the nutshell, without all the specifics and things that would require a clearance. However, this entire program is still in the conceptual stage, and will require up to a year or more to cultivate the program from this point in time into an actual blueprint for construction of a prototype, which might take another six months due to the production and logistical issues that are associated with the creation of a Shaw-Fujikawa-type slipspace engine.

[H. Sulu]: Additionally, for the record, I must request more physicists and mathematicians from another department to help with the number crunching. Perhaps the Auditing department...?

[Ensign Jim Rodriguez enters room in a hurry, and salutes CMD King; senior officer in room]

[King returns the salute]

[J. Rodriguez] Sir, FLEETCOM and HIGHCOM just flashed a Priority 1 message to all ships and stations. The Covenant just slipped in system; mostly above central Africa. Naval units are engaging, but it looks like Covenant naval elements have already bypassed orbital defenses and landed forces within New Mombasa. Needless to say, HIGHCOM is freaking out.

[Room becomes deathly silent.]

[G. King]: Right, meeting adjourned. Rodriguez, talk to me.

[Everyone leaves room in a hurry, bound for designations unknown]

[Room becomes silent]


0852 STANDARD TIME (UNSC STANDARD) / OCTOBER 20, 2552 / STATION ONR South / 350 NAUTICAL MILES ABOVE CANBERRA / CONFERENCE ROOM 1

[Multiple handgun shots are heard]

[Four armed UNSC personnel open the door, and rush the room, closing the door behind them, and barricading the door with a chair under the doorhandle.]

[Personnel identified as: G. King, J. Rodriguez, H. Sulu, and R. Waters]

[G. King]: Shit, they know where we are now... give me a hand tipping over this table.

[Personnel knock a conference table over, forming makeshift cover, and get behind it.]

[Plasma fire is heard, and the door starts to buckle from repeated hits from 3,500 C° plasma bolts.]

[The four surviving UNSC sailors and scientists check and reload their assorted weaponry (King has a BR55, Sulu armed with a M7C, and Rodriguez and Waters with a M6D and M6C respectfully).]

[The door buckles from sustained superheated plasma fire, and collapses, and Covenant Grunts swarm through the now-clear doorway, pushing the now-half melting chair out of the way.]

[R. Waters]: Fire!

[All four military men open fire, mowing down first the swarming Grunts, followed by the pair of Elites. The Elites briskly fell, following the failure of their shields from repetitive bullet strikes. Plasma fire impacts on the tough titanium table, melting sections of it, and molten metal spatters all over the floor. A pair of plasma projectiles impact on King's hazardous environment suit, but harmlessly dissipate against the hardened Titanium-A plates, charring off some the orange paint.]

[Waters starts screaming, from category four plasma wounds to his shoulder, which burned right through his Dress Whites to the bone. Fortunately, any and all blood from the wound was cauterized from the heat of the superheated plasma. All hostiles are now either dead or unconscious.]

[G. King]: Ensign Rodriguez, grab Chief Waters and drag his ass to the Hanger! We can't stay here to treat his wounds. We'll cover you.

[J. Rodriguez]: Aye, Sir. Come on, Chief. You can make it.

UNSC FORCE COMPOSITION: SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA, EARTH - OCTOBER 19, 2552


Log 2

(1542) STANDARD TIME (UNSC STANDARD) / OCTOBER 20, 2552 / [SOEIV PODS- 61x 28TH ODST BATTALION/ALPHA COMPANY] / DEPLOYING TO SYDNEY THEATRE /

[M. Robson] hunches in his cramped SOIEV pod, calming himself over the unrelenting noise. White hot flames lick the viewports as his pod streaks through the upper atmosphere towards the city of Sydney. The steady whining grows as it gains speed; soon it reaches a deafening roar.]

[M. Robson flicks a switch on the illuminated control panel facing him as he adjusts his pod's communications equipment.]

[M. Robson]: (POD 6, ALPHA COMPANY SNR NCO) Shit! Sir, Absolution's reactors just went critical, the ship's dust!

[M. Lawrence]: (POD 19, ALPHA COMPANY CO) My God...the whole of Charlie Company hadn't launched yet!

[C. Fleming]: (POD 27, ALPHA COMPANY XO) Sir, those Seraphs are coming after Delta Company now, gaining fast.

[M. Marković]: (POD 57, ALPHA COMPANY JR NCO) At this rate, it'll just be us and Bravo on the ground- fifty percent casualties before we're even in the fight!

[M. Robson]: (POD 6) Cool it Marković- just be thankful Alpha Company deployed first, or it would've been us on Absolution.

[C. Fleming]: (POD 27) Any Bumblebees make it off in time? Maybe the Headquarters Company managed-

[M. Marković]: (POD 57) A few, but I wouldn't get your hopes up. Any Bumblebee that makes it through that shitstorm of Seraphs is one lucky bird.

[M. Robson]: (POD 6) Captain? Commander of 4th Platoon, Lieutenant Scott, is requesting updated information. Maybe we should go over the game plan to the platoon commanders?

[M. Lawrence]: (POD 19) Very well. [A pause.] Alright Alpha Company, you know the brief. The Covies have air superiority, heavy armour and masses of infantry currently prepping for an all-out assault on the FLEETCOM HQ. Our orders are to slow the Covenant's advance by any means. [A display in front of him blinks into motion.] Altitude ninety two kilometres and falling, prep drag chutes and ready for deployment, final systems check.


SOEIV PODS 6-10 [ALPHA COMPANY/4 PLATOON/2 SQUAD]) / (EN ROUTE TO SYDNEY THEATRE [ALTITUDE: 92,000M AND FALLING])

[Commanding officer: Sergeant Amelia 'Wendy' Dawson (POD 10)]

[Deployed personnel:

  • Lance Corporal Pirkka 'Boris' Vaara [POD 6]
  • Private Leonard 'Church' Bishop [POD 7]
  • Lance Corporal Callum 'Spade' Nash [POD 8]
  • Private First Class Ryan 'Warlock' Phillips [POD 9]
(end of personnel report)]

[A. Dawson]: (POD 10, 2 SQD CO) You hear that sir? Slow their advance 'by any means'. We'll be lucky if we're not knee-deep in Grunt within five minutes of impact.

[E. Scott]: (POD 12, 4 PLATOON CO) I believe that's the point Dawson- we'll be in action instantly. Infer from that what you want about the situation groundside. Squads three and four, keep in nice and close. On impact don't open fire unless engaged, regrouping is the first objective.

[six seconds of silence]

[A small flashing symbol lights up on M. Robson's console, as his command pod's sensory equipment and artificial intelligence highlight a dozen moving blips on his screen. Flashing text and a barely audible warning tone follow this; text reads "WARNING: ENEMY UNITS ON APPROACH VECTOR"]

[M. Robson]: (POD 6) All Platoons be advised, enemy Seraphs moving to engage us, ready yourselves for some evasive action...Shit, 4 Platoon they're headed straight for you, Lieutenant Scott, scatter your platoon and look sharp!

[E. Scott]: (4 PLATOON CO) I don't see- wait, got a visual, three, maybe four, closing fast- they've opened fire! Repeat, we are taking fire!

[M. Lawrence]: (POD 19) Spread your men Lieutenant, forget the LZ, just get to the ground in one piece. First Platoon, adjust your heading eight degrees northwest, get clear of those Seraphs, they're coming for you next.

[E. Scott]: (SQD CMDR) We can't shake them, they're too fast, damn this plasma fire! We just lost Corporal Vaara- what the- [one second of silence]- damn, my vehicle's seriously damaged, thrusters out- impact failure is unavoidable at this stage... [E. Scott switches to TEAMCOM but continues to broadcast over the command channel] Dammit Armstrong, I'm dead, I'm dead, just get clear of me! Stop trying to draw them off! Fuck it, Armstrong, move off, that's an order!

[M. Lawrence]: (POD 6) Alpha Company, be advised, more Seraphs inbound to en route to first and second platoons, approaching from the southeast, three klicks and closing- Lieutenants Manning and Ellwood, scatter your platoons, now. Converge on final approach and we’ll regroup on the ground, hold your chutes as long as possible.

[E. Scott]: Captain Lawrence, I won't make it to the ground, f-

[E. Scott is cut off suddenly as his pod is struck and destroyed by plasma fire]

[C. Fleming]: (POD 27) Shit, Fourth Platoon's lost its commanding officer, who's second in command?

[M. Robson]: (POD 6) Fourth Platoon, come in! Who's the second in command? [M. Robson consults his control panel.]

[A. Dawson]: (POD 10, 2 SQD CMDR) Sir, this is Sergeant Dawson, 4 Platoon Second Squad...second in command was Staff Sergeant Armstrong, we just lost him too-

[M. Lawrence]: (POD 19) Heads up second squad, Seraphs in weapons range now!

[Flashes of brilliant blue light light dance beyond M. Robson's viewports as the Banshees attempt to hit the pods. He slowly angles his pod away from the others to present a more difficult target. Streaks of blue continue to race past his viewports and he hears and feels the Banshee speed past his pod]

[(Estimated probability of full survival after deviation from preplanned coordinates: 72.0 to 1.)]

[M. Marković]: (POD 57) [now shouting over the sound of the pod's movement] This drop is FUBAR, sir! The fuck is going on and who's still with us?!

[M. Robson]: (POD 6) Do you mean the Battalion or our Company Sergeant, because they're both pretty FUBAR right now! Let's just get through this drop and we can sort out all the shit on the ground!

[C. Fleming]: (POD 27) Heads up Third Platoon, Seraphs in weapons range now!

[L. Bishop]: (POD 7) Dawson, I'm hit!. She’s outta control, drag chute's not responding!"

[A. Dawson]: Get a hold of her, auxiliary thrusters!

[L. Bishop]: Negative, thrusters gone, I'm losing power!

[(WARNING: ENEMY UNITS ENGAGING GEOSAT-229/A)]

[R. Phillips]: Sir, Covenant forces attacking our support satellite! Automated weapons are engaging- If we lose that, we lose SATCOM and TEAMCOM through it, down to short range SQUADCOM only!

[Banshees continue to strafe SOIEV Pods]

[A. Dawson consults her computer console]

[A. Dawson]: Church, your computer systems are fried, but your backup chute is undamaged. You're gonna have to do it manually, using the emergency release!

[L. Bishop attempts to free the emergency chute release, but fails.]

[L. Bishop]: I'm trying now, but it won't move, it's jammed!

[L. Bishop slams his fist into his unlit console.]

[C. Nash]: Sir, getting live ground feed from our support satellite; the north side's being overrun. Air units are in full retreat, Marines are- [M. Robson interrupts C. Nash]

[R. Phillips]: Altitude three thousand two hundred metres, drag chutes standby! [speaking over C. Nash]

[M. Robson]: Least of our worries right now Private!

[M Lawrence]: Alpha Company, all pods, set final descent vector to entry coordinates. Drag chutes, on standby.

[L. Bishop]: It won't fucking budge! Fuck!

[L. Bishop strikes the inside of his pod repeatedly.]

[M. Robson]: All troopers, prepare for combat insertion, we're hot the moment we touch down. Private Bishop, keep trying! It'll come loose, it's got to.

[C. Nash]: Altitude one thousand metres, drag chutes deploying!

[[error//PODS 6-10/2SD-ACY-4PN//contact lost]]

......

......

<connection to PODS 6-10/2SD-ACY-4PN lost, attempting backup channel...attempt failed.>

<attempting to reconnect...attempt failed.>

<running error check...>

[[error//501//hardware failure//SATLINK-229/A>

[ERROR: Telemetry lost; signal from POD 6/A COMPANY/4 PLATOON/2 SQUAD terminates abruptly]

[ERROR: Telemetry lost; signal from POD 7/A COMPANY/4 PLATOON/2 SQUAD terminates abruptly]

[ERROR: Telemetry lost; signal from POD 8/A COMPANY/4 PLATOON/2 SQUAD terminates abruptly]

[ERROR: Telemetry lost; signal from POD 9/A COMPANY/4 PLATOON/2 SQUAD terminates abruptly]

[ERROR: Telemetry lost; signal from POD 10/A COMPANY/4 PLATOON/2 SQUAD terminates abruptly]

<possible hardware failure or data stream interruption; initiating diagnostic/error//501]]

[15:49] [INFO] Connection to SATLINK-229/A (GEOSATLINK-229//)... [Cancel]

[15:49] [INFO] Cancelling connection to "SATLINK-229/A"...

[15:49] [INFO] Connection process canceled.

Log 3

0857 STANDARD TIME (UNSC STANDARD) / OCTOBER 20, 2552 / ODST READY ROOM 2 / UNSC CRUISER NEW JERSEY / GEOSYNCHRONOUS ORBIT OVER SYDNEY

[The UNSC Crusier New Jersey shudders as a direct hit from a plasma torpedo shakes the Cruiser. However, the Marathon-class Cruiser still manages fires its trio of Magnetic Accelerator Cannons, the almost churchbell-like resounding throughout the ship.]

[1MC]: Plasma Impact, decks five, six and seven, at frames twenty-nine, thirty, and thirty-one! Damage Control parties are directed to evacuate and secure surrounding compartments on the double. ODST and Marine forces, prepare for immediate deployment. All hands, put on pressure suits and begin preparations to abandon ship, but do not abandon your posts.

[The four ODSTs in Ready Room 2 look up in various degrees of interest. ODSTs are as follows: Gunnery Sergeant L. Simmons, First Lieutenant W. Wright, Corporal S. Gilbert, and Staff Sergeant A. Davies.

[S. Gilbert] Well, shit: looks like our ride is about to go kaput.

[W. Wright]: Stow it, Corporal. You heard the XO - we're getting off ship. Nothing about giving up the ship. Grab your gear, and get to your pods.

[A. Davies]: Aye, Sir.

[S. Gilbert]: Lieutenant, Any intel of where we are being dropped into? Kit?

[W. Wright]: No, Corporal. Kit'll be rifles and submachine guns; the norm for an unplanned jump.

[The ODSTs quickly retrieve weapons and ammunition from nearby armory, just as the ship flexes and shutters violently from a major hit to the bridge, amidships, and the reactor compartments.]

[1MC]: This is Commander Tucker, commander of the Engineering Department. The bridge just took a direct hit, all command crew killed in action. We also just lost reactors, and power will fail shortly. We're also losing atmosphere from multiple sections about the ship at an uncontrollable rate. As the senior remaining officer on the ship, I hereby take command of this vessel, and order all hands to abandon stations and ship, and get planetside. ODSTs and Marine Corps, get off the ship anyway you can. Damage control parties, cease emergency repairs and abandon ship. That is all.

[W. Wright]: You heard the Commander! Into your Pods! Let’s go!

[The troopers pile into their respective Single Occupant Exoatmospheric Insertion Vehicles, and rotate their pods into the launching bay.]

[1MC]: Covenant landing forces inbound! Abandon ship! I repeat; get the hell off the ship. I'm enacting the Cole Protocol, and bringing the New Jersey about on a collision course with the nearest Covenant vessel.

[More SOEIVs are readied for launch in a hurry, appearing in the drop bay, poised for launch.]

[R. Daley] (COM): Marines and ODSTs of the New Jersey, this is Major Radcliffe Daley, HIGHCOM. New orders are being dispatched, as you abandon your vessel. The Covenant are in Sydney, and you are to assist the defense of the city. Get a move on. Daley out.

[L. Simmons]: The fuck..? And where the hell is the CO!? I bet the Marines and even the Navy is groundside by now!

[W. Wright] : Calm the fuck down, Leo. The CO is probably just a few secon-

[A tremendous explosion rocks the ship, drowning out the Lieutenant, with plasma engulfing part of the Drop bay. The pods in the way of the plasma were vaporized, before the plasma dispersed.]

[W. Wright]: You're right Gunny; screw this. [LT Wright switches to DROPCOM] All troopers; as XO of the Charlie Company, 11th Shock Troops Battalion; and as a commissioned officer in the UNSC Marine Corps, I'm authorizing the drop the entire regiment immediately.

[Wright punches his authorization code, and a hurried three-second countdown commences]

[W. Wright] (DROPCOM): Grab a hold of something, boys and gals - we're going down.

[One-hundred and eleven SOEIVs are released, rocket engines blowing the pods out of the hanger bay, officers and squad leaders first.]

[A. Davies] (DROPCOM): Inbound Intel, direct from HIGHCOM, concerning Sydney... Shit! The entire orbital defenses around it have been obliterated... All UNSC fighters in the region are grounded or destroyed... Covenant only just touched down, and the city is mostly unoccupied, but what UNSC forces are being pulled back to the square around the HIGHCOM Facility. Naturally, FLEETCOM is ordering us to defend it at all costs.

[L. Simmons]: Goddamn. Another fucking suicide mission to save Rear Echelon Motherfuckers.

[W. Wright]: Goddamnit, Leo. Get a hold of yourself. You're a fracking Gunnery Sergeant - act like it. I need everyone cool and frosty when we impact in...one minutes twelve seconds, according to telemetry.

[L. Simmons]: Aye aye, sir.

[A. Davies]: Sorry to interrupt, sir, but...

[A. Davies] (DROPCOM):The UNSC New Jersey just self-destructed in orbit - taking out a destroyer as well. Furthermore, the Covenant pushed through the the Fleet over the Australian continent, decimating it, before being nailed by our few remaining Super MAC guns with line of sight. Reinforcements are inbound, but their arrival, with regards to the heavier attacks elsewhere, is doubtful in the immediate future...shit! The Covenant are planetside in Africa as well! In New Mombasa, and the Kenyan area!

[S. Gilbert]: Forty-five seconds until impact. Standby to scatter for inser-

[H. Walker] (DROPCOM): Banshees! Scatter!

[W. Wright] (DROPCOM): Troopers! Spread out! Altitude is 45,000 meters... impact in 34 seconds. Tee-minus 30 seconds and counting until primary drag chute deployment.

[22 seconds of silence]

[E. Rodgers] (DROPCOM): Banshee's engaging! Agh! Banshee just shot 'way my main drag chute! I'm headed in!

[L. Simmons] (DROPCOM): Quiet on the command channel. You've trained for that contingency - we don't want to hear about it; just fix it. Oh, and 'chutes in tee minus three... two... one... mark!

[Drag chutes in most SOEIVs blossom, and decelerate the pods to a more sane velocity. Several more deploy late, while a few unfortunate souls fired main thrusters early to lower landing velocity without drag chute]

[W. Wright] (DROPCOM): Boys and girls, thank for flying Helljumper Air. Please have a pleasant evening and -

[Thrusters fire, decelerating pods yet more, as the drag chute is released.]

[W. Wright] (DROPCOM): Happy landings.

[FEED LOST]

[ATTEMPTING TO REESTABLISH FEED...]

[...]

[FAILURE. FEED LOST]

[End of Log]

Log 4

2113 STANDARD TIME (UNSC STANDARD) / OCTOBER 11, 2552 / PERSONAL LOG ENTRY [26/26]/ 28TH ODST BATTALION/ALPHA COMPANY/SNR NCO)/1SGT Michael Robson

Still haven't quite got over Reach. That dumbstruck horror feeling is gone now, but it's been replaced by something else; I can't quite put my finger on it. Whatever it is, it's worse, I think. It's a sort of hollow ache, loss or guilt or something. Never been one for emotions (you know me). I think its fear, though, and guilt. Seeing all those brave men and women die to keep the Covenant off the planet, to protect their homes; while I escaped it. Still haven't heard anything from Daniel or Sara- I know they didn't have a chance, but while there's doubt I can always hope. As for the rest, well...

There’s nothing I'd rather be doing, though, if the end does come. If this really is Humanity's final stand, I'm glad to be doing the standing. We don’t have much left these days- the shreds of optimistic hope we had for ever ending the war are gone now- replaced by memories and a kind of bitter sadness. Still, I'm glad I enlisted. Glad to be doing my bit, to be fighting for my species' survival. Futile, you say? So what?

If they're taking us down...I'm going to ensure as many of them go with us as possible. If we can't all do that then we may as well give up.

Still, must keep positive, just like the propaganda tells us to. Let's assume Humanity survives long enough for me to get granted some leave. I'll try to go and see Sarah. She's not been doing great lately (who is?) but it's unlikely I'll get to see her any time soon. I'll talk to her tomorrow if I can. She's missing mum and dad something terrible. Jericho VII was years ago, but there's no date on a calendar at which you can say, "I'm over that now, I've come to terms with it." It's not like I don't miss them too, but I have fighting a war to worry about. And we all know how that's going.

0831 STANDARD TIME (UNSC STANDARD) / OCTOBER 20, 2552 / PERSONAL LOG ENTRY [27/27]/ 28TH ODST BATTALION/ALPHA COMPANY/SNR NCO)/1SGT Michael Robson

So the Covies are on our doorstep (took their time, right?). From what I've heard, Command's running round like headless chickens planning contingency plans for when we get hit. We’re currently stationed above Sydney; we'll deploy via HEVs to the city centre to protect HIGHCOM Facility Bravo-6. They’ve chosen Sydney for a last stand, if that’s the way things will go. We're currently stationed on the Marathon-class Cruiser UNSC Absolution, which is where Lt Col Gibson will command the battalion from. We don't have an official drop time- but I've heard the 11th is dropping near enough immediately, with us being held until later for when the shit really hits the fan (so the current situation qualifies as the shit having not hit the fan? I think we're all getting far too optimistic- contingency planners - take note!). To be honest, I'm not sure which I prefer - they both sound like suicide missions to me.

Just now we had a hurried joint meeting with the entire 28th Battalion; the platoon commanders all argued at the futility of it all. I said we had no chance of successfully deploying to the surface and retaliating without air support. Repelling them from the city under the sort of fire we’re likely to encounter is impossible. The whole operation’s insane. The chances of success are zero.

Nobody argued with me, I mean, nobody in a position to call off the deployment even discussed it. We were just flatly told, a simple, unsupported assertion; that the weight of our numbers on the ground would overcome all opposition. I think those words sent a chill down the spine of every man who remembered Reach - the few of us that were left. I threw my datapad down and sat with my arms folded, silent, for the rest of the briefing.

So here we sit writing log entries. Data transfer to the surface is restricted to allow priority SATCOM chatter. No one's received data storage allowance for weeks now, so I keep giving people my own free log spaces.

Not many left now. But enough.

UNSC FORCE COMPOSITION: SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA, EARTH - 0910 OCTOBER 20, 2552


Chapter I: Contact

Battle of Sydney. Friday, 20 October, 2552. (Day One).

"It doesn't take a hero to order men into battle. It takes a hero to be one of those men who goes into battle."
―Norman Schwarzkopf.

United Nations Space Command ALPHA PRIORITY TRANSMISSION 01728-01

Encryption Code: file/ silent reproach/

Public Key: Encrypted; Priority One Message

From: Acting Fleet Admiral H.T. Ward, Commanding Officer of UNSC HIGHCOM / (UNSC Service Number: XXXXX-XXX972-HW)

To: All uncommitted UNSC Fleet units within the Sol System

Subject: Amended orders for all uncommitted UNSC vessels in the proximity of Sydney HIGHCOM Facility Bravo-6

Classification: Classified, Need to Know Only


/ start file/

Attention, all UNSC Personnel heed and stand to. Covenant forces have found and attacked Earth. Covenant Forces are also on Earth in three locations - the areas in and surrounding New Mombasa, Boston, and Sydney.

While repelling the Covenant attacks on these regions are of utmost tactical importance, the strategic importance of Sydney to the war effort requires all available (previously uncommitted) UNSC units to deploy immediately at highest available speed to assist UNSC forces in the defense of Sydney and HIGHCOM Facility Bravo-6.

Orbital assets are to deploy troops, and then return to designated orbital defense quadrants.

If the recipient is already committed, please disregard this order.

/ end file/


Hit it, Marines!

0903 STANDARD TIME (UNSC STANDARD) / OCTOBER 20, 2552 / SOEIV pod 13-LS / 384,000 feet above Sydney, Australia
Gunnery Sergeant Leonardo 'Leo' Simmons

"Banshee's engaging! Agh! Banshee just shot 'way my main drag chute! I'm headed in!", a voice called over the Charlie Company DROPCOM channel.

Gunnery Sergeant "Leo" Simmons processed this information for a moment, keeping his eyes plastered on the one of the six LCD monitors mounted to the hatch; the one he was focusing on was currently displaying telemetry and radio communications. The poor sap who had his drag chute shot away was Private Edgar Rodgers - not a member of his platoon, but one of the new replacements after Reach.

One of many, he sadly thought. Reach had viciously culled both the Navy and Marine Corps.

He toggled TEAMCOM, and began to chide the young trooper.

"Quiet on the command channel. You've trained for that contingency - we don't want to hear about it; just fix it.", the Senior Non-commissioned Officer blasted across the TEAMCOM channel. As platoon leader, he had to ensure everyone who could make it down alive did so - his platoon or not. And in Drop School, every trooper was extensively trained in every possible scenario that could occur in a drop - and fixes to each possible scenario.

Leo noticed his helmets internal speakers begin to emit loud beeping noises, and directed his attention to the monitor displaying telemetry. He hastily toggled TEAMCOM.

"Oh, and 'chutes in tee minus three... two... one... mark!", he hastily called out, counting down the time until the drag chutes were to open. He silently prayed for a moment, hoping to God that the chute would open. If it didn't, he would have to fire main thrusters at 1,000 meters, and then hope that he landed on something soft. This scenario was called "digging your own grave", and the few other workarounds almost never worked.

Leo gulped and dug his fingers into the padded armrests of his Single Occupant Exoatmospheric Insertion Vehicle shuddered violently and the large streamlined drag chute top on the top of the SOEIV released. This created a larger surface area, noticeably decelerating the insertion pod due to increased air friction.

Leo had become much more conscious towards the danger his life was in, in such activities as dropping into the atmosphere of a planet in a small metal egg. He had become much more cynical of late, after witnessing the death of thousands of his comrades in arms on Reach, and his timely escape from the destruction of Reach onboard the New Jersey.

He heard the Company Executive Officer, First Lieutenant William Wright, make a final wisecrack before impact over DROPCOM, but instead forced the Lieutenant's comment out of his head, and concentrated his last few seconds in the air, on Sydney Harbor below.

Multiple "wet" UNSC warships were rushing about in the Harbor, tracer projectiles and missiles slashing through the morning sky towards Covenant Dropships. Leo watched while a few D77 Pelicans darted about in the air, engaging in the delicate dance of aerial combat with Phantoms; roughly at about his Pods altitude, before his SOEIV slipped into the clouds, obscuring the airborne fighting. He then shifted his gaze to the HIGHCOM facility - or where it should have been, relative to his pod.

He looked around, searching below his pod, and then in front and to the side - before noticing the HIGHCOM facility on the other side of the Harbor, and swore. That was where they were meant to be impacting. He opened his mouth to talk over DROPCOM.

At that precise moment, the satellite-hosted DROPCOM channel cut out, and was replaced with static. The Gunnery Sergeant hurriedly switched to TEAMCOM, the short-range communications suit contained in his (and every other ODST’s) helmet, as the powerful thrusters on the underside of the SOEIV suddenly engaged, shaking the pod violently as the pod decelerated from its incredible downward velocity to a much more reasonable rate. This also told him he had only a few more seconds in the air.

"We just lost DROPCOM, and we are dropping on the wrong side of the harbor." he stated hurriedly, his voice wavering from the intense shuddering of the SOEIV's thrusters.

"What? That can't be...shit.", Lieutenant Wright breathed over the COM, voice coming over the COM sounding equally pitiful.

"Its true, El-Tee. Telemetry from before we lost the GEO/COMSATs prove it," Corporal Spencer Gilbert reported bitterly over the TEAMCOM channel, just as Leo's pod impacted with a concrete street in Sydney. The force of impact instantly arrested further downward motion of the pod. Leo gasped as the air was forced out of his lungs by both the impact and the straps holding in his seat, and struggled for a brief moment to refill his lungs.

He punched the quick-release button on the straps holding him in his seat, which immediately released him, before slapping the hatch release button. This blew several small shaped charges between the hatch and pod, which spectacularly blew the hatch off the pod and sent it skidding and tumbling down the street. Leo proceeded to leap out of the pod, his M6C Magnum drawn and at the ready. He hastily established a perimeter, as other SOEIV pods impacted around him, and listened intently on his TEAMCOM channel.

"Last available telemetry also reports we are 7.25 kilometers off course...and ended up on the opposite side of the harbor. At least we didn't end up in it," Staff Sergeant Amber Davies reported smoothly.

"Nice to know, Sergeant. Most of the Company is down now...uh, where are we all regrouping, El-tee? And, also, who's in charge?" Leo asked, surveying his surroundings. He had landed on a deserted city street, miraculously clean, and devoid of vehicles. The power was out, it seemed, although, this would not be an issue until night - a good ten hours away in any case. And even then, all ODSTs were equipped with the new VISR optical system, to enable easier nighttime fighting.

"Looking at how the Captain didn't make it, I take over as acting CO. Let’s simply regroup where I am. On...what street is this, anyway? Standby a second," First Lieutenant Wright stated, his voice shrouded in static, and trailing off at the end of his sentence as he presumably searched for a street sign.

The Gunnery Sergeant sighed, and wandered back to his pod to retrieve his M7/S Caseless Submachine gun, and his W/AV M6 G/GNR "Spartan Laser" from the pod. He hefted the heavy laser weapon, and attached it to the magnetic plate on the back of his armor. This was a rather dated innovation to armor; the idea of adding magnetic plates to the back of armor to allow additional weapons to be carried, without cluttering the back and shoulders of a trooper with slings.

The acting commanding officer came back on the radio, and ordered any troopers receiving the transmission to regroup at the intersection between Thompson street and Brandley's Head Road. Leo had no idea where this was, and simply pulled up an older TACMAP on his VISR to figure out where he was headed before he beginning on his way to the rendezvous point. He encountered a few stray troopers on the way, and ordered them with him to the rally poing. He also took the time to relieve ammunition and dog tags from the two dead troopers he came across, their pods either impacting the side of a building before impact with the ground. Leo didn't really care for Lieutenant Wright much. He had been assigned to Charlie Company of the 11th Shock Troops Battalion following the disaster on New Jerusalem - which had annihilated the company. The ODST unit had numbered 157 experienced troopers before the battle - and retained barely 34 alive (including those wounded in action) post-battle. Leo had lost his entire squad down there, and narrowly escaped alive himself. It had gotten so bad that it had jumped the then-Lance Corporal Simmons to the grade of Staff Sergeant (through the wonders of battlefield promotions), and to the position of Company S-3 (Operations), until replacements arrived.

In his eyes, the young Lieutenant had plenty to prove - and Leo fully expected Wright to either fail or get himself killed. This was his first combat drop after all. He seemed to know what he was doing – but theory ultimately meant nothing if you didn’t know to implement it in the field.

Besides, Leonardo Simmons was a realist. Statistics showed that more then quarter of ‘green’ ODSTs deployed to a hostile environment were killed the first day of deployment. The second day, it was a mere 16 percent, and declined sharply from there as experience is gained.

Leo glanced at the two and three story buildings on either side of him as he walked towards the rally point, and was vaguely wondering where all the civilians had gone, when a call came across the radio.

"Contacts! At the rally point! All inbound troopers, double time it!", the speaker proclaimed, nervousness obvious in his voice.

United Nations Space Command ALPHA PRIORITY TRANSMISSION 01739-07

Encryption Code: file/ red rover/

Public Key: Encrypted; Priority One Message

From: Acting Fleet Admiral H.T. Ward, Commanding Officer of UNSC HIGHCOM / (UNSC Service Number: XXXXX-XXX972-HW)

To: Fleet Admiral L.T. Hood, Commanding Officer of the UNSC Home Fleet / (UNSC Service Number: XXXXX-XXX786-TH)

Subject: Estimate of Covenant Invasion Strength within Sydney, UNSC Force Composition, and S-2 and S-5 estimation of possible UNSC holdout times

Classification: EYES-ONLY - HOOD


/ start file/

Admiral Hood,

I'll cut right to the chase - the situation groundside here at Sydney looks grim. The Covenant have a pair of Corvettes over the northern downtown portion of the city, sending troops directly down. Apparently, the idea of just rolling over the meek defensive measures we have in place against warships and hovering over Facility Bravo-6 and deploying troops has not struck them yet. Hopefully, it won’t. I would appreciate it if you could redirect a "big stick" or two to handle these menaces.

Now, onto the topic of the invasion itself. Ownie spooks here and the S-2 agree that at the very least 10,000 Covenant have been landed so far. (The fact ONI actually assisted and didn’t throw up the normal “we don’t answer to you” bullshit must mean we don’t have a chance. That, or Parangosky isn’t about to play politics when it isn’t the time or place. Did I mention the bitch left hours before the Covenant slipped insystem?) Apparently, that assault carrier that got the "SMACs" over Sydney before getting destroyed themselves managed to deploy a significant amount of singleships. So, yeah, 10,000 so far to kill. With our numbers, which is the next thing to be discussed, it does not look good.

Now, for our numbers. We have a grand total of about 6,377 personnel here. Less than a third are combat personnel - everyone else specializes in logistics or support. We also have some ODSTs deployed to the city from the 13th Battlegroup - yeah, it looks like Admiral Lewis bought it, along with the cruiser New Jersey and the rest of the Battlegroup. We also have reports of some Navy personnel surviving, but knowing Jerry Lewis, he probably went down with his ship, ramming a destroyer. But who would really know - the Covenant are jamming our shortwave COMs - but HIGHCOM facility Bravo-6 has huge transmitters and tons of power to send its messages and coordinate with the Fleet. The only problem will be holding the facility until the end - either victory or death.

Which leads me to this bottom-line point: both my S-2 and S-5 don't think we can hold out for longer than a week here. I've called for all UNSC troops in region to fall back to the HIGHCOM facility - the facility underground is large enough to garrison a large portion of the non-combat personnel. There are also a few wet-water warships keeping the skies around here clear - as much as I hate to admit it, it’s a good thing we kept those warships crewed.

To sum it all up, I must request reinforcements, air power, and additional vehicles. HIGHCOM Bravo-6 is imperative to coordinate UNSC forces in the defense of Earth, and to continue to recall UNSC warships currently deployed elsewhere. And perhaps a comprehensive status report. Just for formalities sake.

Good luck and good hunting up there, Terrence.

- Henry T. Ward.

[1346 Zulu, October 20, 2552]

/ end file/



United Nations Space Command ALPHA PRIORITY TRANSMISSION 01739-63

Encryption Code: file/ maine incident/

Public Key: Encrypted; Priority One Message

From: Fleet Admiral L.T. Hood, Commanding Officer of the UNSC Home Fleet / (UNSC Service Number: XXXXX-XXX786-TH)

To: Acting Fleet Admiral H.T. Ward, Commanding Officer of UNSC HIGHCOM / (UNSC Service Number: XXXXX-XXX972-HW)

Subject: Response to Estimate of Covenant Invasion of Sydney, UNSC Force Composition, and S-2 and 5 estimation of possible UNSC holdout times

Classification: EYES-ONLY - WARD


/ start file/

Nice to see you're still down there, Henry. I heard about Jerry - damn fine fighting admiral. Yet another hero lost in this goddamn war.

Sorry I was not able to pull through in time to get you a boat and a fleet before this shitstorm fell upon us, but I guess it was too late anyway. The shipyards simply can’t churn out ships fast enough to keep up with demand, and even us flag officers have to queue up for a boat. But if it makes you feel a little better, I'm swamped up here - too many enemy ships, too few of our warships. Even if we had the fleet we had at Reach here, a fat lot of good it would do, given the numbers we seem to be facing right now. For every ship we destroy, another two take its place.

Since you are CINCHIGHCOM, I suppose I'll give you numbers in person...well, as close to it as I can at this point in time; no doubt this’ll be stuff you'll already know because of the facility you command - but the UNSCDF Home Fleet taken 13.47% losses in these first few hours of direct combat with the enemy. We've lost 23 Orbital Defense Stations so far and all fleet units are committed to battle. We have all otherwise deployed UNSC vessels ordered to regroup around Jupiter, to jump back to Earth in formations to supplement the warships we've lost so far. This is, all and all, sort of like a modern Marianas Turkey Shoot, only we’re the Japanese in this scenario: outnumbered and outgunned.

As per your requests and reports, I am forced to refuse your requests because my hands are tied. All the forces under my command are already committed to battle, SMACs included. Hell, in some areas, the only think holding back the Covenant are the SMAC guns. The only forces I will be able to support you with are wayward warships - en route to supplement other Fleets - and crippled warships on their one way plunge into the atmosphere. I'll have the crew and complement combat units aboard these vessels dropped to aid your situation. As of this message, you have a destroyer and a pair of frigates - all crippled - inbound for Sydney. That'll give you some more personnel to work with - plus the crippled warships plummeting from orbit under AI control into those marauding Corvettes. Inertia can be a bitch. I also get to be the bearer of bad news - you have more warships bearing down on Sydney: heavier tonnage. Again, this is not enough of a threat to warrant the deployment of a battlegroup, let alone an entire fleet. You might get a few warships later on to clear the skies, depending on how the Home Fleet deals with Covenant fleet elements; but besides those crippled warships, you’re on your own for a while.

Henry, both you and I recognize the importance of HIGHCOM, and realize that the facility needs to hold out until the end. Without it, I fear the orbital defenses will crumple and Earth will fall. Not to say that it was not already going to, but if it falls, Earth will fall yet faster without it. Those under your command who can't fight...they better learn fast, because if what you are saying is correct, you're going to need every last man, woman, or child you can get to fight. Perhaps ONI will even lend a hand, though I wouldn’t put money on it.

I'll keep in touch, and do what I can to keep you holding.

Fleet Admiral Lord Terrance Hood, Commanding Officer of UNSCDF Home Fleet

[1419 Zulu, October 20, 2552]

/ end file/


If you want something done right, you have to do it yourself

0918 STANDARD TIME (UNSC STANDARD) / OCTOBER 20, 2552 / Downtown Sydney, Australia
Gunnery Sergeant Leonardo 'Leo' Simmons

Gunnery Sergeant Simmons slowed from a run to a jog, as he neared the Charlie Company rally point. He had run several blocks in about five minutes - easy for an ODST, listening over the radio as various troopers yelled back and forth at each other about Covenant troops and a sniper.

Leo rounded one last corner and caught the first glimpse of his Company and the surroundings of the rally point. The rally point was located at a roundabout intersection, with a decapitated statue of an officer on a horse, sword raised, and appearing to looking back to rally his troops for another go at the enemy. This stone engraving was situated to on an island in the center of the roundabout - the road littered with wrecked vehicles, surrounded by Covenant and ODST corpses. The square was surrounded by three story semi-residential buildings – perfect hiding spots for snipers. The surviving ODST forces were taking cover behind destroyed and burning vehicles, taking potshots when able. He spotted an ODST with a single white stripe painted on his helmet wave at him, and heard a ping in his helmets earpiece, informing him of an incoming single beam COM.

That would be Lieutenant Wright, he thought. So far, the Lieutenant had outlived his previous Lieutenants by a matter of minutes - in combat, no less. Good for him.

“Gunny, nice to see you,” Wright started, before being cut off by the Gunnery Sergeant.

“SITREP, El-Tee,” Leo ordered hastily. Wright might be an officer, but he had not been in an actual drop before. His judgment was purely training and textbook, while Leo had much more combat experience, with a total of eight combat drops and three weeks in combat, and he actually knew what to do. It was common knowledge to any halfway decent officer (or, for that matter, any officer with a hope of making a career out of the military) that Non-Commissioned Officers were to be treated well or you would suddenly start looking bad when inspections and official events occur. In combat, much the same applied; an young and inexperienced officer was much more likely to survive if he were to listen to an experienced NCO who knew what he was doing and could teach the officer the art of war.

“A company or so of Covenant troops engaged us here about five minutes ago. We took cover and killed or driven back the majority of them, but they still have several snipers atop the buildings, picking off our marksmen one by one. We’re picking off the last few as I-” the Lieutenant started, before being rudely interrupted by the “crack” of a beam rifle. Leo instinctively took a crouch and followed the purple line of lethal energy streak down from a rooftop, and watched as a trooper behind a sniper rifle collapsed with a brand new hole blown through his head. The Gunnery Sergeant decided to get behind something before he got nailed himself.

“Corporal Gilbert here - Sergeant Martinez is down. I need a Corpsman ASAP, as well as someone who can actually use a SRS99C,” a trooper called out across the COM.

Leo sighed, and toggled his radio to reply. As Gunnery Sergeant, he was qualified and rated as "expert" on all UNSC conventional handheld weapons, and it seemed his expertise was needed. Besides, he was not sure he wanted to entrust one of these rookies with his life - not yet.

“Trooper, this is Gunnery Sergeant Simmons. I’m a qualified sharpshooter with the SRS99; I’ll be right there. Keep your head down.”

He looked back and waved up the three troopers he had come across on his way to the rally point, and informed them of his intentions to rush across the clearing, to a burning bus - roughly 35 meters away - through what he assumed to be intense sniper fire. The trio nodded and prepared to rush across; leaning against the side of the building they were using for cover and giving a quick check of their weapons.

Leo began to move, sprinting into the open, and saw the three troopers to start their charge behind him through his peripheral vision. Distance between the burning bus and himself rapidly diminished, the M6 in hand. He saw a streak of light directly in front of him - the bastards were shooting at him!

Immediately, another shot was seen - this time tearing through the lead trooper. The beam ripped right through the ODST suit, his insides, and out the other side of the armor, before ripping into the concrete road. The trooper’s body dropped straight to the ground, blood boiling and running out of the entrance and exit holes.

Leo pulled up a TEAMBIO sidebar on his visor as he ran, controlled by the neural implant at the back of his head; all too aware of the shots narrowly missing him and the troopers behind him. TEAMBIO reported the trooper in front of him to have been killed instantaneously by the impact.

Another dead trooper, Leo thought, his mind blankly acknowledging from the death of the trooper, and slowing down slightly - despite being a good 15 meters from the safety of cover. He vaguely heard radio chatter, but he was too occupied by his own musings to pay attention. That could have been me, his thoughts anywhere but the heat of combat. However, his somewhat disassociated thoughts were interrupted by a wave of heat, and the clang of a streak of purplish particles glancing through the armored wrist plate of his armor.

Probably not the time for pondering this topic, he thought as he leaped the last meter or two, landing just short of the burning bus that was to be his cover.

Smart move, dumbass, the ODST swore to himself, while he desperately scrambled forward behind the solid obstacle, beams of deadly light impacting around him.

Leo lay back against the side of the flaming vehicle and took a moment to catch his breath, taking a glance at the new pattern in the wrist plate of his armor, before gazing up at the sky. Large fluffy clouds drifted over the city, with dark shadows of Covenant and UNSC warships superimposed against them - the first time Leo had ever seen such a cool effect.

Holy shit, that was close, he swore.

He shifted his eyes to the other two troopers - who seemed to be fine. TEAMBIO confirmed this, apart from elevated heart rate and blood pressure - entirely normal, given the situation. He picked himself up, remembered what he was going to do, and toggled his radio.

"This is Gunnery Sergeant Simmons - who needed the sniper and where?" he asked over the company frequency.

The senior Non-commissioned Officer waited a few seconds for a reply, before a female voice replied.

"Gunny, Corporal Gilbert is hit; corpsman is working on him now. But you're needed up here. Jackals are systematically picking us off from the rooftops. Sending you a NAV point," Staff Sergeant Amber 'Fox' Davies reported tensely. Leo bet that casualties were running as high at twenty percent in the company already.

Fox Davies, Leo thought. At least someone who had an idea of what was supposed to be done. Statistically, most ODSTs were male, with only a few females becoming ODSTs; due to the strenuous physical demands. Fox had earned her nickname by being crafty and coy in the past, both in combat and by avoiding the sex-starved ODSTs (and crewmen onboard the a host warship). Leo had managed to strike up a relationship with her just prior to the attack on Earth; by no means were they serious yet. He supposed they were in a relationship to a degree; perhaps just one of opportunity. Or was it desperation?

"On my way," Leo replied crisply, and pulled up the navigation point that Davies had set on her position - 27 meters away. He sighed, pulling himself to a kneel, and carefully made his way along the smooth charred side of the flaming vehicle, and peeked around the corner of the remains of the bus. There was absolutely no cover along the route he had chosen to run through - making him easy target for snipers.

There is no way I can get away with the same trick twice, he thought. Nor could he force the two surviving troopers to try the same tactic with him again - they'd all be cut down. The Covenant were not innovative - but they certainly were not stupid, and could therefore learn from their mistakes. At least on a tactical scale.

He returned his head to the relative safety of cover, and placed his M6C sidearm on a magnetic plate on his thigh, freeing a hand to bring up to one of the multiple plastic pouches on his armour, before proceeding to pull up the cover of the selected pouch. The weak magnets holding the cover to the actual pouch easily gave way, allowing Leo to retrieve a cylindrical object from it, before releasing it, allowing the pouch to reseal with a snap.

The Senior Noncommissioned Officer studied the smoke grenade for a second, taking note of the white band down its otherwise drab green case - signifying that it was a white smoke grenade and not, in fact, a phosphorous grenade.

He supposed this would have to do, toggling his radio to report a smoke grenade going out, before pulling the pin and tossing it about six meters away, in between him and at least one sniper. He hoped, anyway.

The smoke grenade hit the ground with a dull clang, rolled, before making a small pop and releasing smoke with an audible hiss. He peeked around the corner, observing the filling smoke, obscuring more and more of the distance he had to run. He waited a few more seconds, hesitating until felt the obscuring cloud had reached its maximum fillage before he leapt to his feet, and tore through the smoky veil, towards Fox's position.

The Gunnery Sergeant burst free of the enveloping haze, possibly much to the surprise of the ever-observant rooftop marksmen, for there was were multiple cracks of fire from their beam rifles - every shot going wide. By the time they were ready to shoot again, it was too late. The Gunny had already taken cover behind a car on its side, which lay perpendicular against the concrete base of the statue in the middle of the roundabout; the front of the vehicle crushed against it - a result of a panic-induced automobile accident earlier that day.

Leo looked about the small area of safety that comprised the cover, and took note of his surroundings. A corpsman worked on two wounded troopers; one in an extremely bad shape, with multiple plasma burns and an arm torn off. A third trooper lay against the crashed vehicle, a red upwards pointing arrow on her breastplate, and an SRS99 rifle cradled in her arms. Leo worked his way towards the trooper who could only be Fox in a crouch, before plonking down next to her, his heart rate finally starting to lower following his somewhat hazardous run through sniper fire.

"Hey Leo. ’Bout time you got here," she started, her polarizing helmet giving a greeting nod. She'd been deployed to Reach with him - one of only a few survivors of the Company from when it was deployed to the surface of Reach. She was one of fewer still within the unit.

"You hit? I was getting worried I'd have to nail them myself," she added, carefully passing the SRS99 to him.

The Gunnery Sergeant accepted the SRS99, and examined the weapon, studying it intensely before replying.

"No, I'm not. Plenty of near misses, though. Did you happen to get a count on how many there were on the rooftops?" Leo queried, ejecting the magazine, ensuring it was still full, and replacing it with a clack.

"Yeah, a few. Marked 'em on the TACMAP, before they forced me into cover. They already nailed the marksman, followed by the relieving corporal, and narrowly missed me after I took over after the corporal was hit." She gestured at the two troopers, the corpsman still working hastily on them, crimson coloured blood coating his gloves and forearms.

He reached down to the bipod of the weapon, locked it in the deployed position, and bought himself to a crouch, which allowed him just to place the bipod of the rifle on the edge of the overturned car, while remaining in cover. He took a deep breath, jumped up, exposing his head to fire, and put the scope to his helmeted face.

He quickly skimmed the rooftops with the 12x scope, spotting and marking a total of 7 beam-rife equipped jackals, before ducking back behind cover.

Leo readjusted his positioning, so that he could see the LCD screen on the rifle's scope, atop of the rifle, all the while remaining out of deadly sniper fire. He toggled full zoom and targeted one of the tagged snipers.

Why hasn't anyone taken them out yet - and how am I the only one with the common sense to use such a simplistic way of sniping while in cover, he thought, somewhat surprised, as he bought the weapon to bear on his target. He took a quick breath and pulled the trigger of the SRS99, which proceeded to discharge with a crack, with a simultaneous metallic clang from the bolt being blown back; which ejected the brass cartridge from the weapon system and loaded a new round from the four round magazine into the firing chamber.

While all this was happening, the large 14.5mm Armour Piercing, Fin-Stabilized, Discarding Sabot was expelled from the weapon at more than 1,459 meters per second, leaving behind a clearly visible white contrail in the brisk air - Sir Isaac Newton's third law of motion kicking the rifle back hard into the Gunnery Sergeant's awkwardly placed hand and shoulder, causing him to wince. It didn't hurt, per say - but it certainly was not a good feeling. He watched the scope, and observed the round tear through his mark's beam rifle, and rip through the Jackal's chest with a spatter of purple blood. It fell to the ground, quite obviously dead. He shifted his bead to another sniper, no doubt alerted by the crack and contrail from Gunny Simmon's rifle. He fired again.

Boom. Headshot.

Boom. Chestshot.

He lined up on his next target, ejected the now empty magazine, and looked over to Fox, who reached into a side pocket, withdrawing a replacement magazine. She passed it to Leo, and took the empty magazine to reload later. Leo slotted the new magazine in, and pulled back the bolt, and released it, allowing it to slam forward. He reacquired his irregular sniping-from-cover position, and promptly nailed the last three with immediately fatal wounds.

He stood, passed the weapon back to Fox, confident he had gotten all of the Covenant marksmen. He left cover, and was immediately startled by a near miss by a beam rifle. He reached for his slung M7S, but was halted by a crack of a sniper rifle from the piece of cover from which he had just emerged from.

"Saved your ass, Gunny. We're even", Fox said, her polarized visor betraying no satisfaction.

Gunnery Sergeant Leonardo Simmons was a bit too surprised for words - they weren't even; but he appreciated way the comment was phrased. He’d made a stupid mistake and had been lucky enough to have someone watching his back. He proceeded mask his private embarrassment from making a stupid and nearly fatal mistake on his part by loudly voicing his displeasure of the way this skirmish was conducted, and offered his advice to his company.

"COMPANY! SNIPERS ARE DOWN - GET OVER HERE," he ordered loudly, at a volume which would have made his former Sergeant Major proud.

Around him, troopers rose from cover, weapons raised at the rooftops. Leo decided to chastise this, which he did somewhat rudely.

"It’s too late for that - I've already killed them all," he growled, You've all been to drop school - you know what and what not to do! Crowding behind cover in a large depression under sniper fire with no counter-sniper fire is the worst thing you could have possibly done - it lets them pick you and your buddies off with no way to stop it!" the Gunnery Sergeant admonished, continuing on to point out ways they could have improved the situation. He continued to harshly censure his company, now gathered around him in a loose semi-circle - roughly eighty black plated troopers standing before him - paying at least a little attention to his rant.

Leo concluded with a snappy "Dismissed," and consulted COMPANYCOM on his Heads Up Display inside his Helmet. 16 KIA, 23 WIA - and 34 MIA. He wasted no time in pulling Lieutenant Wright aside for a private discussion. The pair of troopers wandered away from the reorganizing Company, conversing about the result of the first skirmish of the drop.

"Sir, you should have moved the company out of this sniper alley," Leo started off, depolarizing his helmet for the conversation.

"We were already pinned - if we chose to withdraw, we would have taken additional casualties," Wright began, matching Leo's gesture, before getting cut off by the more experienced Gunnery Sergeant.

"We lost 16 troopers to your blunder - troopers who I helped train - troopers who I mostly knew and trusted. In between drop losses, lost troopers, and this, we're down to two-thirds of our strength. Two-thirds!" the NCO exclaimed.

"Yes, but that accounts for normal combat casualties in an ODST Company - you know this as well as I do," the Lieutenant stated defensively. Wright didn't know Leo so well - he was not aware he cared for his troops to the level he did. Especially when it concerned a mistake he made; a mistake that killed a quite a few of them.

"You transferred into the Company less than a week before this mess with the Covenant attacking Earth; you don't know these troopers like I do," Leo began, before turning his attention away from the Marine Officer (with whom he was currently livid at) to the gradually escalating roar of an obviously human internal combustion engine.

Before he could issue any orders to the other troopers, a HuCiv Genet in Sydney Police Department livery roared into the square, dodging the abandoned vehicles on the road and roundabout. It came to a halt by the large body of troopers, now cautiously scattering, and withdrawing weapons.

The Genet's 8.0 L liquid-cooled hydrogen-injected combustion engine shut off with a whirr, and the driver’s door opened, revealing an officer in black riot armour, his hands raised.

"Thank God; it’s the Army!" the Police officer exclaimed.

"Actually, we're the Marine Corps; more specifically ODSTs," Leo corrected, approaching the vehicle; somewhat annoyed to be confused with the Army.

The police officer sighed, leaned back into the vehicle and told his partner to get out of the vehicle, and retrieved his shotgun.

"Also...it might be prudent to ask who's in charge?" the officer asked.

Wright and Leo approached the officer and his partner.

"First Lieutenant Wright, acting CO of Charlie Company, 11th Shock Troops. This is Gunnery Sergeant Leo Simmons, currently chief NCO of the outfit," the young Lieutenant introduced quietly and promptly.

"This is Constable Callum Baragwanath of the Sydney Police Department (North), and I am Senior Sergeant Angus Paterson, of the Sydney Police Department Special Weapons and Tactics unit," the Sergeant began, his accent somewhat thick, but understandable nonetheless.

"We're here because we were bait leading an armoured Covenant unit away from the bridge - apparently there are some of your fellows holding up there to allow all available military units to retreat across the bridge. Now, this Covenant unit was only a few minutes behind us when we last checked - you and your boys might want to start moving out" he said hurriedly, as an out of place huming gradually became more noticeable.

"I think it might be a bit late for that," Leo remarked as reached for the slung M6 Spartan Laser on his back.

"Get behind cover; Anti-Armour squads, get prepped for action!" he ordered his Company over TEAMCOM.

We apologize for the inconvenience...

1513 STANDARD TIME (UNSC STANDARD) / OCTOBER 20, 2552 / Sydney, Australia / NAVCOM error: no connection
Lieutenant Commander Gordon King

Lieutenant Commander Gordon King dreamily opened his eyes, to see blue sky and puffy white clouds in the sky.

Clouds, he thought drowsily. A visible mass of droplets of water or frozen crystals suspended in the atmosphere, his intellect recognized as he started to drift back to sleep. No sooner had he closed his eyes did he awake with a start, flailing for a second before realizing he was strapped into the pilot's seat of a Bumblebee-class escape pod.

I was stationed in orbit, his mind recalled, beginning to piece together his current situation.

I shouldn't be seeing clouds against a blue sky! Where am I and what am I doing here?, he thought, adrenaline spiking and his mind suddenly racing.

And for that matter, why am I in a Bumblebee?, he queried, his mind racing frantically to recollect what he had done to end up in this situation.

"Oh...thats right," he muttered, suddenly recalling the events. The Covenant had attacked Earth, boarded the Office of Naval Research facility ONR South, and forced him to overload the station's reactor in order to deny the Covenant the secrets of the station. He had been lucky to reach the escape pods, and get clear of the explosion. Did he even get clear? King didn't know - that was where his recollection ended. But he landed alright - or so it seemed.

He yanked the quick-release strap holding him fast to his seat, and stumbled his way to the rear of the Bumblebee. He punched the door release button, and the doors hissed open. He stumbled out of the Bumblebee, before turning and looking back at his escape craft. It looked like it had had been though a hell of a lot. The vessel had its entire white coat of heat-resistant paint charred off during reentry, and appeared to be warped and misshapen from impacting with the ground.

Apparently, he didn't land it. More to the point, it looked like it had crash-landed at a shallow angle with him unconscious. And he had survived.

Odd.

And remarkably lucky.

King looked at his surroundings. He had landed in the middle of a two acre square park, overlooking the harbor, and surrounded by 30 to 40 story skyscrapers, which cast great long shadows across the small preserve. Smoke and flames were visible in the distance - no doubt burning out of control from the fighting. He readjusted his glasses, and looked at the few UNSC warships in the harbor sailing about, gracefully maneuvering, while shooting cannons and missiles up at marauding Covenant Dropships.

The Navy Lieutenant Commander looked down at his dented and burnt environment armor, and marveled at it. It was a heavy and bulky fullbody suit of armor, at about 25 kilograms, yet it could withstand much more in the way of plasma fire then normal body armor, and, better yet, it slipped over his Dress Whites, which he realized he was still wearing; pins and all. Yet this armor had not been built for combat - rather for hazardous physics lab experiments. This armor was what he had been urging his superiors at ONR to demonstrate to the Admiralty and heads of the other branches of the military - they would undoubtedly adopt aspects of the armor which would increase survivability of the existing armor and heighten the infantry kill to death ratio.

Not that it really matters now, with the Covenant on Earth, he thought darkly. Much too late to do anything about it now.

He heard a cry in the distance - human, Covenant - he didn't recognize it. He checked his radio - it was active, but due to what appeared to be Covenant jamming, it completely useless. He reached down to his holstered M6D, withdrew it, ejected the magazine, pulled back the slide, and inspected it. The magazine was still full, much to his surprise. He reinserted the magazine, and released the slide with a satisfying clack. Physiologically, he felt reassured to have an arm, thus quite a bit better about his situation with a weapon on his person.

He holstered his sidearm and wandered back to the crashed Bumblebee, to search for salvageable items. The Officer was surprised to recover his BR55 battle rifle, and his black leather bag, containing ONR documents, ammunition, and his AT2551 Personal Computer. He picked up and slung the bag over one shoulder, before setting off, towards the towering skyscrapers, in search of someone else; either to kill or team up with.

Through the fire and the flames

1623 STANDARD TIME (UNSC STANDARD) / OCTOBER 20, 2552 / Downtown Sydney, Australia
Gunnery Sergeant Leonardo 'Leo' Simmons

Uptown Sydney was in flames. Plasma fire had ignited quite a few fires about the Covenant-occupied regions of Sydney, mostly within the middle-class and financial districts; the 2300s and 2400s glass, titanium, and concrete architecture aglow from the tremendous heat of the flames - and with only a few brave Sydney Firefighters still committed to putting out blazes during the armed conflict, the fires burned uncontrolled, all the while Covenant air support flew over the city unmolested - unless one maneuvered too close to a "wet navy" destroyer in the harbor, and was blotted out of the sky with gunfire.

And amongst the smoke, fire, and ash, UNSC forces and Covenant forces struggled in a contest of military force. The UNSC, while more adaptive and better armed to a degree, simply could not cope with the overwhelming numbers of Covenant troops, with their technological superiority. For now, the UNSC forces were waging a losing holding action, retreating back a block or two when overwhelming Covenant force was met. Gunnery Sergeant Leonardo "Leo" Simmons and his company was one of the last ones on the Northern part of the bridge - almost all other units had retreated across the Sydney Harbor bridge or under the harbor in the two-way eight-lane tunnel, according to TEAMCOM - before it had started failing an hour back. The transmitters were fine; but no reply was coming in. This meant that either there was no one else left to respond to their messages... or the much more likely occurrence that they were being jammed to hell. Leo's company was currently held up at a large intersection about three dozen blocks from the Bridge, with elevated walkways over the road concealing snipers, and Covenant armored units everywhere. A Covenant Corvette hung among the taller buildings, dominating the skyline.

Behind a prefabricated metal ballistics shield; presumably deployed by police forces that occupied this position previously (given the blue and white paint smeared over the titanium armor) Leo bought the M6 Grindell/Galilean Nonlinear Rifle to his shoulder, poked his head and weapon our of cover, and trained the large weapon on the imposing shape of a Wraith; its gunner distracted by other troopers, and the Wraith itself shooting superheated globs of plasma at very high trajectories, arcing over articles of cover, and converging on unlucky Marines, vaporizing them and their munitions.

He pulled the trigger, initiating the charging of the M6 - an aspect of the weapon system he was not at all pleased with, and his mind suddenly drifted back to an old argument he'd been having with Misriah Armaments, via correspondence and feedback on their weapons. Misriah Armaments was but a corporation at heart, and really did not like to make changes to existing designs unless there was money to be had.

I would like to personally meet the designers of these things, he thought as the charge of the weapon slowly increased - along with the amount of incoming plasma fire, zipping by his piece of cover.

Did the designers fail to realize the silliness of needing to charge the shot, then immediately shoot? Why not simply design it so you can charge it in a lull of the fight, then be able to train and shoot immediately - minimizing the time a trooper is in the direct time of fire he pondered, considering how he would have designed the weapon better.

The Marine NCO was alerted to the high charge of the weapon by the almost hiss-like sound the weapon was emitting, and promptly returned his mind to the fighting. He ensured the small infrared targeting laser was still trained on the target, before the weapon discharged with a roar, a crimson streak of lethal energy discharging and ripping through the armored vehicle like a blowtorch through a stick of butter; with a sudden and deft movement from Leo jerking the weapon shooting the beam of energy, the vehicle was sheared in half, along with the gunner; spattering the two halves of the wrecked vehicle with the extinguished life blood of another soul. The Wraith and a column of Grunts right next to the armored vehicle were promptly consumed by flames from the internal reservoir of superheated plasma, which melted into the concrete road, and sent thick black smoke billowing into the sky, obscuring part of the battlefield from jackal snipers.

Gunnery Sergeant Leonardo Simmons observed the spectacle, withdrawn from the act he had just committed. He ducked back behind the thick metallic confines of cover, slinging the oversized chemical laser across his back, being secured by the magnetic plate on his back, and withdrew his M7 Suppressed Submachine gun. He flipped up the reflex sight, and charged over open ground, under the smoky cover provided from the burning Waith; to a semi-enclosed bus stop, offering 270° degrees of safety from the ever present return fire, waving up additional marine forces to continue pressing. Charlie Company had been at this for almost five hours; every last trooper was downright exhausted - but they still had plenty more to do before they could take a break. The ODST unit must have been down to less then half strength - Leo was too tired and busy trying to stay alive to keep track.

A bright object moved out of the corner of his eye, and he rotated himself from behind his cover, M7 trained. It was a Covenant Grunt; clad in bright yellow armor, staring at him wide eyed, and surprised to be in the position it was in. It started moving one of its stubby arms - and was promptly riddled with 5.5 millimeter caseless projectiles, punching through its body a half dozen times. Bright blue blood pumped out of the new holes in the Grunt's body, and the creature fell over, twitching and writhing before succumbing to wounds.

Leo switched out magazines, slipping in a new one; before crawling over to the corpse, and deftly relieving it of a pair of Plasma grenades. He carefully placed them in a pocket, and plopped down on the booth's bench for a quick rest, as Fox appeared next to him, also taking a seat.

The Gunnery Sergeant and the Staff Sergeant had saved each other’s' lives a multitude of times during the vicious fighting during the multiple skirmishes in downtown Sydney, and both were progressively getting less professional in regards to each other; customs and curiosities becoming somewhat lax, perhaps signaling the beginnings of a relationship between the two; sparked in a way only combat could produce. One purely against multiple rules and regulations within the Uniformed Code of Military Justice (UCMJ).

Might as well pretend regulations on fraternization don't exist, Leo thought. It wasn't like anyone would care to prosecute anyway, given the desperation Humanity was in, fighting for the very right to exist. Especially now with the potential fall of Earth possibly imminent, Humanity had to be down to, what, 500 million people at the most? Nothing, compared to the 23 billion at the turn of the century, a mere 52 years ago. Given such a massive decrease in population from the Human-Covenant war, procreation would no doubt be highly encouraged to repopulate the severely culled human population - if they somehow survived it. No one would mind or even be too upset if a pair of troopers decided to begin early.

Leo and Fox both jumped at a loud resounding explosion not too far from them. Correction - what sounded like many explosions in extremely close chronological proximity to each other. Both searched the sky, and spotted a somewhat distant Covenant Corvette, hovering over the northern part of the financial district, shields shimmering, and a massive plume of plume of smoke radiated from the shield.

"Archer missiles..." Fox observed quietly, searching the sky. She had heard from a Naval Lieutenant Commander she had run across (who was acting as a liaison between ground and naval forces after he was ordered to abandon his cruiser earlier that day) that Naval support was expected to arrive once they got a handle on the issues in orbit. However, the snippets they were able to receive from time to time, cutting through the thick jamming, was not boding well for the Navy. The "Super" MACs were holding - but for how long?

Fox suddenly pointing up, and shouting an alert. Leo looked up, and observed a badly damaged and flaming heavy frigate plummet towards the Corvette. The Covenant warship attempted to make evasive maneuvers - to no avail. The Frigate impacted directly on the Corvette, ripping right through the vessel's shields and through the warships' superstructure; both vessels being torn to pieces. Both warship's reactors ruptured, and violently exploded outward, setting off a tremendous secondary explosion from both warships.

"FUCK! Radiation and debris!" Fox yelled, before she was tackled by Leo, the two huddled under the bus stop turned shelter for the raid of debris and radiation to subside. Fox noticed her suits visor fully polarize to near complete opaque, the suit blaring a radiation alarm and an onscreen radiation counter slowly ticking up. Fortunately, she and Leo were in a somewhat sheltered position and received a very low dosage of radiation absorption, as shards and chunks of metal rained down upon the surrounding area.

The pair waited for the metal shower to cease, before being rallied by Lieutenant Wright (who was, to Leo's great surprise, was still alive). The Lieutenant Commander, Walter Fredrickson, explained that what they had seen was an AI-controlled crippled warship. The crew had bailed out over Sydney, and the Bumblebee escape pods were going to land over near the HIGHCOM facility.

Wright then issued orders to the Company move back a block, to get closer to the bridge and relative safety. No doubt any potential opposition in the immediate vicinity was probably still reeling. This hope was dashed when the Company was attacked from behind by a lone Wraith.

The Wraith fired a blob of plasma at the body of troops - impacting only ten meters short of the man furthest back in the formation - a buck private who swore loudly at this near miss.

"Scatter! Rockets! Turn to present!" Leo bellowed, withdrawing his heavy chemical laser and training it on the Covenant armored unit. "Lieutenant, keep the troops moving. We'll keep their armor held up here for as long as we can! Backblast clear," the Gunnery Sergeant commanded, as a pair of SPNKr toting soldiers took a kneel, and fired.

Two plumes of smoke filled the area behind the launcher and in front of it as the high explosive missiles shot out of their tubes and flew towards the Wraith. The Covenant armored unit attempted to strafe to the side - but still got pummeled with two direct hits, killing the crew and crippling the tank - allowing Leo to release the trigger of the laser, and allowing the charge on the laser to return to the battery.

"Nicely done," Leo commented to the two SPANKr equipped soldiers, as they ejected the half-depleted missile containers, and loaded a fully loaded container into the weapon system.

The Lieutenant opened a private COM with Leo. "So, what's your plan?"

"This is the fastest route to the bridge according to the tactical map. It seems perfectly logical that the Covenant would come the same way. I'm going to take these two troopers, hole up around here in a position overlooking this intersection, and simply knock out armored units as they roll by, clogging up the road, and distracting their main forces. Where there is one Wraith, it stands to reason there is another one somewhere nearby. Besides, you saw that Covenant armored column: at least a dozen Wraiths plus Ghosts. This way, you will have a clear shot at getting to the bridge and getting everyone left to the other side."

The Lieutenant remained silent for a second, evaluating the situation. "I assume you've weighed the risks of such a course of actio-"

"Yes, I have," Leo interrupted bitterly. That bloody officer was attempting to make him rethink his decision. He decided to adjust his tone before replying.

"Sir, my duty demands me to do this - I'm in a position to directly influence the well-being of this unit - in addition to being the only person trained in the effective usage of the M5 Chemical laser. I don't particularly want to do it the way I'm doing it, because I'm envisioning this resulting in my certain death regardless of my actions against those tanks."

"Gunny, are you sure that this is the only wa-" Lieutenant Wright began, before getting cut off by one of the anti-armor troopers bellowing a contact report.

"Contact! Wraith! North north east, 250 yards," The trooper yelled, sound somewhat glum by the end of his report.

Leo swore. Wright had decided not to just leave him and his vanguard to distract the Covenant armor; instead, the el-tee had committed (perhaps inadvertently) the entire bloody company to a battle against an armored foe; the majority of ODSTs lacking anti-tank armament.

"Fuck, I’ll do this myself. Lieutenant, get the troops the fuck outta of here. I'll do what I can to buy you time to get further along. Hole up somewhere until nightfall and get the fuck out of the downtown area," the Gunnery Sergeant ordered. The Lieutenant nodded, and hurriedly issued orders to the squad leaders to the platoon leaders

"Oh, and Lieutenant? Look out for Fox for me."

"Aye, Leonardo. Take care - and for the love of God, don't get yourself killed."

He rushed over to an ODST with a M41 rocket launcher, confiscated it and the ammunition for it that the trooper carried, and gave the unfortunate trooper his “Spartan laser”. He charged forward, toward the Wraith, as the body of troops started off in the opposite direction.

That Old, Familiar Feeling

(1614) STANDARD TIME (UNSC STANDARD) / OCTOBER 20, 2552 / (SOEIV POD 6 [28TH ODST BATTALION/ALPHA COMPANY/SNR NCO) / (SYDNEY THEATRE, LAVENDER BAY [GRD 7823-1352])
First Sergeant Michael 'Smoke' Robson

Smoke groaned and put his hands to his helmet, for an instant dazed and disoriented, wondering where he was and how he came to be there. Seconds later he was alert, pressing his aches to the back of his mind as his soldier's instincts shook him vigorously and took control of his thoughts. Through his pod's viewport, crisscrossed and spiderwebbed with cracks, he saw shadowy figures flitting from side to side and the unmistakable flash of plasma fire. The frantic shouts of fighting and sounds of weapons fire barely penetrated the pod, manifesting themselves like some distant skirmish that did not immediately endanger his life. Michael pulled the lever to the left of his head that activated the hatch release- nothing. Cocking his battle rifle, he raised his knees to his chest and kicked the door with both feet, pulling the lever hard. Explosive bolts blew the hatch off violently, and immediately and relentlessly he was propelled into the fray, torrents of searing plasma fire streaming perilously around and wild-eyed Marines being overwhelmed.

He clambered out of the pod, head low and running to cover, the thought worst drop ever crossing his mind. Looking up and around him, he saw the Covenant coming down a wide street framed with tall buildings on either side; Jackals and Elites cresting a small raised section of the road and snipers raining torrents from above. A bright blue orb sailed through the air and landed at Smoke's feet; he dived away roughly, his armour scraping across the coarse concrete ground.

The plasma grenade exploded on the ground behind him, and the shockwave of pressure and heat washed over him followed by the acrid smell. Grabbing a grenade of his own and keeping his head low, he lobbed it at an Elite, assailing two marines in cover behind a burned-out car. The device engulfed the beast in fire and shrapnel, clearing to reveal it still standing, shields crackling. Michael heard the sound of the air igniting as a Beam rifle shot streaked past his helmet; moving fast, he levelled his rifle and put two 9.5mm rounds between its mandibles, for a millisecond savouring the wrenching sound it made as it choked on its own throat. A towering orange elite roared and aimed its needle rifle- Smoke lunged behind cover, still catching a shard in his thigh, scything through his armour and tearing at his flesh. Reeling and blinded with pain, he wrenched it out, the seared flesh staunching the bleeding. His leg alight with pain, he flicked his BR55 into full-auto and showered the Major with rounds that ricocheted angrily off its shields; next to Smoke a marine shouldered an M41 Rocket Launcher and gunned for it; the rocket hit its mark, disintegrating the Elite and showering gore and shrapnel everywhere, sending a pair of Grunts and a Jackal to the ground in undignified bloody tangles.

The Marine beside Michael raised his launcher again as an Ultra sent two other troopers down with torrents of plasma fire- the marine fell to the ground in a second- Smoke looked down and saw a making a perfectly round hole smoking where his right eye should have been. He traced the faint blue streak back to the bridge that spanned the road, and saw an enemy attempt to conceal itself.

"You four!" he shouted to the nearest few Marines. "Hold position here, I'm moving into the buildings!"

"Yes sir!" returned the nearest one as he rammed another magazine into his rifle.

Smoke grabbed and pocketed a pair of pistol mags that lay abandoned on the ground and, pulling back his M6's slide, entered one of the empty structures. The automatic door slid smoothly shut behind him, cutting off the sounds of the ongoing firefight. Silence played in Michael's battlehoned ears uneasily, and he moved through the dimly lit first room carefully, his rifle poised. Smoke moved carefully and silently through the eerie room, stepping over loose fragments of metal and wrecked office equipment. He lined himself up by the door to the next room and, bracing himself, tapped the control panel with his fist. Michael fluidly slid into the room, aiming his weapon and greeted by nothing but overturned office furniture, plasma scorch marks coating the walls and, in the corner, a dead man. The man lay ungracefully with his short remaining limbs at odd angles, drenched in blood and with deep gouges covering him. Smoke grimaced as he imagined the Energy Sword-wielding monster responsible, then steeled himself and moved towards the stairwell opposite.

Smoke noticed the faint green glow from across the room, as its sombre gloom had no other light sources. It emanated from the stairwell, to the right and slightly raised, as if from something waiting on the steps. Smoke noted it wasn't blue- it wasn't an energy sword. His mind assessed the risk and determined the appropriate course of action. He replaced his rifle on his back and drew his M6 pistol, glad now that he earlier cocked it, for the room was deathly silent and any small sound may alert the foe behind the corner.

He moved very slowly forward, pistol raised to his eyeline, eyes scanning fervently for any sign of movement, ears pricking at the slightest of imperceptible sounds. He told himself to keep his hands loose on the gun, for he would need them to do what he was planning, but his experienced hands kept an unbreakable grip in the pistol's cold bulk. Smoke neared the open door, beyond which was the stairwell, bracing himself.

Smoke flew through the door and the Jackal loosed a shot and yelped in surprise, but he grabbed its shield and threw the creature down the stairs; it landed in a crumpled heap at the bottom and Smoke jumped on it- it struggled and tried to push him off, its shield pressed close against its chest; Smoke pressed it down on its neck with all the force he could muster, and listened as the Jackal kept struggling but slowly lost the fight. The shield slowly pushed harder and harder into its neck, and Smoke didn't relent; harder still and it dug into the Jackal's neck, a spurt of arterial blood blossoming from its jugular, and cascading down Smoke's armoured chest like a purple waterfall. Michael looked into its eyes and smiled, as he saw its last thoughts and emotions run through it before they flickered and died; the Jackal convulsed and finally was still.

Smoke picked up its shield and moved up the stairs slowly, anticipating the presence of the snipers above. He inched higher slowly, his eyeline slowly seeing evermore of what was above; he quickly backed down again when two bolts of deadly blue streaked towards him, one a burning deep crater in the metal behind him and the other striking his shield, his body juddering from the force of the impact. Michael raised his borrowed shield and ran towards them as fast as he could; when he was near enough he dived into the first one, knocking it to the ground and sending its rifle tumbling off the bridge. The thing clawed viciously at Smoke's neck and he recoiled, recovering just in time for the second Jackal to raise its Beam Rifle; he leveled his pistol and fired into its face before it had the chance, and put two rounds into the back of the first Jackal, which was retreating after the loss of its weapon. It collapsed, gurgling sounds emanating from deep inside its chest. Smoke resisted the urge to make its last moments more painful as he saw down below the Ultra raise a stricken Marine by the neck and slowly draw a long blue dagger. Michael dived, grabbed the second Jackal's rifle and drove a shot through the beast's head, leaving a hole clean through it and a cloud of faint mist expelled itself from the alien's skull. The Marine collapsed to the floor, in shock, as Smoke looked down at the remaining Marines. He flicked his rifle quickly around him, his sharp mind assessing the situation; from the bridge Michael had a good vantage point of the battlefield.

"All clear!" he shouted, and several marines ran to check the dead and dying. Smoke saw a Marine pick up a biofoam canister from a dead soldier, only to replace it again after he saw it would clearly be empty; its contents poured hurriedly over a massive plasma hole in the marine’s chest. Fuel rod, most likely, Smoke thought, watching the Marine throwing it back down in remorse and sharing his sentiment.

Before he could use the lull in action to contact his men, his radio buzzed. Leaping at this, he toggled it on and, instead of hearing the voice of one of his ODSTs, heard another he was very much familiar with.

"First Sergeant Robson, this is Lieutenant Colonel Oscar Pirez." Smoke noted the information on his VISR amending this to acting Lieutenant Colonel- which probably meant that the Battalion's commander, Lt Col Jack Gibson, was dead already. "I have a lot to get through so I'll start with my position. As you know, Absolution was engaged and destroyed by Seraphs while trying to protect a communications satellite and successfully deploy its complement of ODSTs. In these actions it failed. Not all of us made it to the Bumblebees in time, and not all of them made it groundside. Lieutenant Colonel Gibson is dead, and I have assumed command of the battalion. My remaining staff and I are currently en route to Bravo-6, where we'll be better able to command the battalion, over."

"Understood sir. Any info on the state of the battalion, over?" Robson replied, keen to hear specifically about Alpha Company. He was, after all, Alpha's senior non-commissioned officer.

"Currently only Alpha and Bravo Companies are confirmed deployed, Alpha from Absolution and Bravo from Reliant Warrior. Delta were in the process of launching from the frigate Death's Head when we abandoned ship. Most of the Seraphs went for the Bumblebees and not the drop pods, but I'm guessing they took serious casualties, and they were way too far off course to have hit anywhere near Sydney. Which explains why I can't raise them. I just hope to God they found some land. As we feared, Charlie were in the tubes when Absolution blew. They went down with the ship, all KIA."

"Shit," Robson forgot himself enough to say- the battalion had lost a quarter of its strength before the word go.

"My thoughts exactly," Pirez replied. "Which is why I need a SITREP on your position."

"I'm on my own sir as far as the battalion goes- no ODSTs, only a few Marines. I've had no word from the platoon commanders or any Alpha Comany command staff, myself excluded. You're the first person I've spoken to."

"As I thought... well then. Before we abandoned ship, I was ordered to direct forces to a high priority mission. A VIP is missing groundside after hitching a ride on a Bumblebee. Telemetry shows he's in Sydney - behind enemy lines- and you're the closest helljumper to him. We want you to go in and extract him - quietly."

"A Bumblebee? From Absolution?"

"Negative, some orbital research station hit by the Covies before they hit Sydney. He was identified by his IFF tag. Consider him a high-level spook. He has intelligence and expertise absolutely essential to the war effort– and he cannot be allowed to be captured. And you're going to get him out in one piece."

"Sir, does Captain Lawrence know about this?" Robson asked, referring to Alpha Company's commanding officer. By ordering Robson to do this - Pirez was going over his direct superior's head.

"He has been apprised of the situation."

"Sorry sir...but what about my company, my position? I'm expected to leave them?" He struggled to keep the anger from rising in his throat.

"The VIP takes priority. I'm sorry Robson. I'm sure Lawrence and Fleming will manage fine in command of Alpha without you. Until you get that VIP out and back to Bravo-6, they'll have to be. Detailed information and coordinates of your objective will follow via TACCOM. Another thing, as you know, 4 Platoon of Alpha Company lost its two senior personnel. We're provisionally promoting Sergeant Dawson to platoon sergeant of that platoon to fill part of the gap- I'm aware you are... familiar with her. Oh, and Robson?"

"Yes sir?" He practically spat the words out.

"Congratulations on your promotion. You have been awarded the rank of Second Lieutenant and command of 4 Platoon. The necessary paperwork will be along if or when the UNSC gets its shit together." There was a click as Pirez cut communications before Smoke could reply. Just as well.

Immediately he contacted Captain Manuel Lawrence - Smoke know him, and knew he wouldn't agree to this. He thought of the two of them escaping Reach together, instantly becoming lifelong friends- and the thought of him willingly parting Smoke from his duty as senior NCO of Alpha Company didn't make any sense.

"Captain Lawrence this is Second Lieutenant Robson, fourth platoon commander, come in over." The response came instantly.

"Ah, Lieutenant Robson? I figured he might do that. Well, consider it added incentive to come back alive. That and the fact that he's made an 'old friend' of yours your 2IC."

Smoke sighed. Lawrence was too intelligent for his own good sometimes. "Sir, you couldn't talk him out of it?"

Now it was his turn to sigh. "I'm sorry Smoke. It was out of my hands." Smoke noticed the faint murmur of guilt in his voice.

Smoke paused. "I figured as much. So what happened?"

"Pirez told me what he had planned for you- you're the closest ODST to some scientist-spook in Covie-held territory. A Lieutenant Commander by the name of King or something. I had no choice. Pirez decided how to go for the VIP- but it wasn't even him who planned the whole thing. Someone higher. How could I argue?" Lawrence sighed. "I'm really sorry. For what it's worth, I don't think even Pirez was too happy with it."

"I suppose you're right," Smoke replied, not for the first time submitting to his friend and superior's reasoning. "I haven't heard anything from the other platoon commanders- I guess I am one now- what's going on?"

"I suppose Pirez told you about the other companies - we in Alpha were pretty lucky getting to the ground. Command element are here, they took heavy casualties, but they're here. Gibson didn't make it off Absolution, which means command has fallen to Pirez. I guess you know about 4 Platoon from the radio chatter during our eventful drop... it gets progressively worse from here. Third platoon lost a squad during the drop, and first have taken fifty percent casualties so far. Second Platoon dropped on the wrong side of a firefight- no contact at all since then. Smoke- I'm guessing you haven't informed your new platoon of this development?"

"No, but that's my next stop. Thank you sir. Robson out."

Things just got worse, Smoke thought to himself. He accessed the data he had received on his new objective, angrily cursing the scientist who had caused all the problems.

Then he noticed something - Church had hit the ground near King's last known coordinates- if he was lucky, the kid was alright. Then he could rescue the ODST and the scientist in one go... Smoke's mind explored the possibilities. Maybe something good could come out of this. Yes- he knew what he'd do now.

"Four Alpha Twenty-Eight, this is Second Lieutenant Robson, all squads report in," Michael ordered over the COM, taking the opportunity to regain contact with his new command.

Nothing, for what seemed like an eternity. He was supposed to have four squads responding to him- three, he quickly corrected himself, recalling suddenly the loss of third squad. Okay, so perhaps three squads, if he was lucky.

Finally he received a static-laden response. "This is Two Four Alpha Twenty-Eight, Staff Sergeant Dawson reporting in. Sir, where are you?! Are you alright? I've been trying to raise you for the last half hour!" Her voice was almost drowned out by gunfire in the background. I was beginning to think you'd left us down here.

Smoke checked his VISR, and she was right; they had dropped more than thirty minutes ago. "Dawson- yes, I'm fine, I'm good, where are you? What's happening?" He said worriedly, shouting to make himself heard.

"We're on the north side of the Harbour Bridge, under heavy fire, Covies are pushing hard down the main road towards us. We can't hold out much longer sir, we need you and the other squads here ASAP!" Dawson replied, shouting to make herself audible over the gunfire. "We're heavily outnumbered, got wounded, need immediate assistance." The signal was weak and her voice crackly, and he struggled to understand her right away.

He couldn't do what she asked- he didn't have contact with the other squads, and he had orders to go into Covenant territory- in the opposite direction to the bridge. He cursed his orders. "Copy that!" he replied after a pause, and his thoughts turned to the rest of her squad. "Wendy, what's the state of your squad?"

"Got Warlock and Spade here with me! Been trying to raise Church but he’s not responding. Sir, we're in need of immediate backup!"

"Understood, hold out as long as you can!" he said, and her voice vanished from radio. Smoke took a moment's pause while he debated what to do. He didn't really have a choice. He had to go for King- and Church, while he was there- and then hope second squad were alive when he got back. Or that somewhere along the way he contacted the other two squads, assuming they were alive, and ordered them to the bridge. Didn't seem like much of a plan.

Movement caught Smoke's eye; he turned and saw its source, observing from the bridge two Wraiths and at least a dozen infantry advancing down the road. He looked at the Beam Rifle's ammunition dial- enough for seven shots, or thereabouts. Suddenly he knew what to do.

"Marine!" Michael shouted, calling to the senior-most infantryman below him- the one he had just freed from an Elite's grip. "What's your name?"

"Sergeant Thomas Carter, sir," the sergeant replied, struggling to keep the croak out of his voice.

"What's your current objective?"

"Orders are to hold this position as long as is humanly possible, sir," he said, blood glistening on the side of his face and the front of his armour- not all of it his.

Michael glanced back up the road, the Covenant still out of range, and not likely to spot them until after they crested the raised area of the road. "Your position's just been compromised, marine," he said, looking down on him as he checked over his remaining men. "I can't order you, but I reckon it would be a good idea if you head to the Harbour Bridge. If you're going to halt the Covenant advance anywhere, it'll be there." Smoke half-grimaced, and cast his eyes on the Marine. The man reluctantly nodded in agreement, seeming to realise the logic in the suggestion. "Good. Rally any stray troops on the way, and when you get there, there will be a squad of ODSTs who need support holding the position. Tell them Smoke sent you. Oh," he said, belatedly retrieving something from a magazine holder on his chest, "Ask for a 'Wendy', and give her this." Smoke dropped the object into the Marine's hands, an empty bullet casing with a metal chain through it. The trooper held it up and saw as it caught the light, the word 'WENDY' engraved into it. "She'll understand," Smoke finished assuredly. He knew she would.

"Sir, why can't you give it to her yourself?" asked Carter, confused. "What about you? What are your orders?"

Smoke sort-of laughed; it was a short, sharp bark. "My orders. Hah!. Don't get me started."

Carter met this with a puzzled expression. "Well, good luck anyway." As the marines moved out, Michael turned around and aimed his Beam Rifle, its alien crosshair resting lightly on the head of a golden armour-clad Brute Chieftain.

Crowning moment of Awesome

1649 STANDARD TIME (UNSC STANDARD) / OCTOBER 20, 2552 / Downtown Sydney, Australia
Gunnery Sergeant Leonardo ‘Leo’ Simmons

Leo looked down at the three burning Wraiths with grim satisfaction. He’d completely taken the first one by surprise – who seriously runs at an armoured vehicle and expects to live long enough to do anything about destroying it? But it had distracted the brute gunner for long enough to allow Leo to squeeze off a High Explosive Armour Piercing (HEAP) rocket, which had ripped right through the gunner, and buried itself in the plasma mortar assembly, before exploding. Chunks of Wraith went everywhere, drawing more Covenant attention to his position. If he was going down, he was going down with style and with a gun in hand, all the while taking dozens of alien bastards with him.

He proceeded to enter a fifteen story business building (probably the biggest structure on the block) overlooking a large intersection, and nailed the next two Wraiths from a balcony on the third story. They’d both managed to get off a snapshot before they too burst into flames, but they fell short and ultimately caused no damage. Infantry began to appear – apparently the Covenant were beginning to wake up - the occasional grunt and jackal with which he quickly gunned down with short, accurate controlled bursts with his M7 submachine gun. Hitting targets 250 yards out with a submachine gun was no challenge for an ODST of any calibre, but for a seasoned gunnery sergeant, it was more of a turkey shoot. At least until Brute infantry arrived, with a few Wraiths and a pair of Ghosts.

Leo got out of the potential line of fire to reload his requisitioned M41 rocket launcher with guided armour piercing ammunition – he was quickly running out of munitions for the weapon, as he’d only taken the seven rounds the ever-so-generous trooper had supplied him with when he had seized the weapon right out of his hands. Though he’d made up by giving the same trooper his M5 ‘Spartan Laser’ (God, Leo hated that moniker. It made no sense – it was heavy, sure; but how was a Spartan more deadly with it then any trained ODST? Did that mean that if a Spartan used a M6 handgun well it should be called the ‘Spartan Pistol’?) He slammed the feed lid of the launcher shut, took up a firing position overlooking the intersection, and placed the weapon’s aiming reticule on the first Wraith. It locked with a shrill beep, and Leo squeezed the trigger. The rocket left the tube with a thunderous roar, and Leo shifted his aim on the second Wraith, locked it, and fired. He ejected the spent tubes and slung the launcher on his back, while surveying the damage. He was pleasantly surprised.

Both Wraiths had been destroyed – not that it was really a surprise: that was what AP was supposed to do when aimed by a heat-seeker guidance package. No, it was the way the debris settled; the burning hulks of burning Wraiths blocked the intersection. Not that it would hold up the Covenant advance much – they could simply flank it by taking a side street, but it was an accomplishment that gave him a localized tactical advantage. The Ghosts were even bugging out, abandoning the sudden masses of advancing infantry, converging on the building.

Leo suddenly felt a sickening sense of dread as he realized the Covenant infantry were securing the perimeter of the building, denying him an escape while forcing him up to the top of the building, and there, killing him with overwhelming numbers. Apparently, he’d caused more damage than he thought. The NCO quickly bolted to the staircase, lit only by the dull red emergency lighting (power was out inside the building - at least he’d be able to use his VISR as an advantage), and quickly made his way to the basement. The Covenant hadn’t yet made it to the staircase yet. They must have been busy clearing out the ground floor and the lobby room-by-room.

The basement was pitch black, though the infrared lamp mounted on Leo’s helmet turned on automatically to allow Leo to see with his VISR. He spotted four columns of four thick metal beams leading from the floor to the ceiling. The Gunnery Sergeant grinned in a very animalistic fashion. He’d lucked out – the buildings foundation had not been modernized in at least a century; all modern buildings were now designed to not collapse even if the loadbearing columns were to give way simultaneously for any reason. Obviously, this building was not designed for that. He quickly removed eight shaped charges from his chest pouch, slaved the detonators to his helmet’s COM frequency while he recoded each explosive with a standardized detonation code, and went about affixing one to each of the loadbearing beams on the side facing the intersection. He checked the status of the explosives, and discovered all were functioning properly, before opening the door to the stairwell.

Behind the door was a rather surprised Grunt. It looked up at the sound of the door opening, unable to see in the pitch black room. Before it could make a move or yell out in alarm, its head was suddenly shredded by a short burst of suppressed submachine gun fire. Leo kept the gun up as he stepped into the ruddy red lighting of the stairway, and secured the bottom level of the stairwell, before beginning up. He crept up the steps, his submachine gun still at the ready, until he reached the ground floor. He crept past the slightly ajar door and began to slink upstairs, when a cry of alarm from one of the aliens alerted them to the ODST’s presence in the stairwell. How it had spotted his matte black armour in the terrible lighting he couldn’t guess, but obviously now they knew he was here.

He swore, and made his way up to the stairwell to the first floor, took up a position overlooking the previous floor, and trained his gun down on the spiralling staircase below, ready to gun down any targets. He was glad that these semi-modern buildings only had one fire escape stairwell – really, they were more for redundancy than anything else. The elevators worked just fine in the event of fire, and it had long since become the norm for escaping flaming buildings in express elevators. He didn’t have to wait long for the first target to appear – a grunt climbing the stairs rather awkwardly. He quickly gunned it down, along with several trailing grunts and jackals, forming a small pile of bodies in the stairwell. That might actually work out as an advantage in the confined space. A minor Brute appeared in his crosshairs, charging up the stairs, and Leo quickly began shooting at its head, its shield shimmering but holding up against the streaming onslaught of five millimetre projectiles. Leo’s weapon clacked empty, and he hurriedly reloaded, abandoning his position on the first floor for time to reload his weapon. He placed the new magazine in, and chambered a round, before turning around and gunning down the Brute with half the magazine. He reloaded again, and took up a defensive position on the second floor.

And so continued the cycle for the next hour and a half, as Leo traded his increasingly precarious position for additional time. Leo lost track of time, between the mind-numbing actions of shooting, reloading, dodging the occasional snapshots of plasma fire in his direction, the occasional grenade toss down a few flights of stairs, the inevitable abandoning the floor when faced with overwhelming numbers, before gunning down the force below that had just displaced him from the very same floor he only just occupied. A successful diversion, Leo supposed. Eventually, though, Leo reached the roof.

He broke free of the red-tinged stairwell, into the twilight. He quickly looked about to get his bearings. The roof was largely deserted, coated in concrete, with the only cover being the large air conditioning units. Leo walked slowly over to the edge of the building, and looked down at the intersection that he had so thoroughly clogged with burning vehicles. Apparently, the Covenant had committed a quartet of Wraiths and a half dozen Ghosts to the venture. They must really not want him to escape – or they thought there were more than one ODSTs holed up in this building, more than worth committing a ridiculous amount of troops and resources to kill.

The ODST pulled out his rocket launcher, and loaded the last two rocket tubes into the weapon system. Both rockets were High Explosive – not capable of taking out a Wraith in one shot, but capable of unleashing havoc on a tightly packed squad of infantry, and he was looking to cause maximum casualties, wasn’t he? He sighted a roughly platoon-sized unit that seemed to be sidestepping his diversion (how dare they – was his stand just a sideshow in their eyes?) and observed their movement and pace for a few seconds, before adjusting to lead the target. Leo fired, and observed the rocket plunge into the mass of Covenant troops before detonating with a rather insignificant boom. But it had blown the center out of the unit – the shot should have killed roughly fifteen of the bastards. He grinned as he surveyed the devastation, and grinned even more so when more Covenant units changed direction to aid in assaulting the building.

The Gunny slung his rocket launcher on his back, and pulled out his M7 submachine gun to defend against the onslaught that would probably emerge from the stairwell soon. He didn’t have to wait long for a Grunt to open the door, step out, and close the door behind it before the Sergeant peppered its mind with Full Metal Jacket ammunition before his weapon clicked empty again. Almost immediately, the door was blown free of its hinges, flew across the roof and over the edge of the building, as a Brute War Chieftain appeared from the staircase, roaring and waving its gravity hammer at Leo. He slung his M7 on his thigh, and grabbed his rocket launcher and deftly shot the last tube at the Bravo Foxtrot. It disappeared into chunks of meat and shredded armour, leaving Leo quite elated that he saved his last rocket after all and wondered how pissed off the damned beast had been to lose a large chunk of its command to a single ODST. He tossed the M41 to the side, now depleted of ammunition, and redrew his M7 to reload it.

He searched all his pockets for ammunition, and was rather horrified to find he was out of ammunition. Sure, he’d been in constant combat all day, but out of ammunition when he really needed it? The NCO threw his submachine gun down in disgust and withdrew his M6C sidearm. He also did a speedy inventory of his remaining munitions and discovered he was down to a grenade, a half-dozen magazines for his sidearm, a few demolition charges, and a few miscellaneous tools that had no real usage in combat.

Almost as if sensing their opponent’s weakness (The Covenant can’t do that, can they? he thought bitterly) or perhaps simply having enough of this nonsense, Covenant troops swarmed forth from the stairwell, firing wildly. Leo tossed his last grenade with one hand, as he backpedaled, firing his pistol into the advancing mass with the other hand. The grenade culled some of the oncoming number, but it didn’t stem the tide. The ODST’s pistol clacked empty, and he simply turned and sprinted for the edge of the building – not towards the side overlooking the intersection. He bought up the codes to detonate the explosives in the basement on his VISR, and prepared to transmit them.

He slowed, and jumped up on the thick raised concrete ledge and judged the fall – onto the rooftop of the building next to him. It was a three story fall – this was going to hurt. He took a running jump off the top of the building, and plunged downwards as he transmitted the detonation codes for the explosives. He heard a loud bang, alien screams, – and then nothing as he hit the safety of the neighbouring buildings roof, tucked and rolled almost gracefully – and very ungracefully hit his helmeted face hard against a metal fixture on the roof, losing consciousness.

The eight support structures were reduced to powder thanks to the shaped charges, and the other eight on the other side of the building suddenly had twice the mass they were designed to hold forced upon them, causing them to shatter too. The building lurched forward, tipping forward a little at first but rapidly accelerating downward and increasing its angle relative to the ground. The bottom front of the building impacted with the ground, internal structures disintegrating and collapsing. The midsection of the building impacted next, quickly becoming debris, and ended with the roof slamming into the ground at a significant velocity. The complete collapse of the structure killed anything inside of the building, or buried any possible survivors under tons of concrete and metal. Best of all – something that would make Leo quite proud was that the building had fallen on the intersection, destroying four more Wraiths and six Ghosts. And from the roof of a building across the street, a traffic camera controlled by the city’s smart AI dutifully looked on at the carnage, recording all it saw and transmitting it to none other than the Office of Naval Intelligence facility on the North side of the city, tagged as “Domestic Terrorism”.

Distant, Indistinct Rumblings

PLNB Private Chatter: X1924P-XX
Encryption Code: BETA-GREEN-FOUR
Public Key: N/A
Participants: CODENAME RICHTER; CODENAME APOLLO
Classification: SECRET, CODE WORD "INTUITION"

/start log/

Conversation commenced 18:32:02, October 20,2552

(18:32:02) RICHTER: Oi, Apollo? You about? I need to run several things by you.
(18:32:17) APOLLO: Huh? Whats this? ONI following the established chain of command?
(18:32:26) APOLLO: I’m shocked and appalled. Didn’t your favourite witch teach you better?
(18:32:38) RICHTER: Careful now; Admiral Parangosky has disappeared people for less serious offences. Besides, you’re ONI too, you hypocrite. :P
(18:32:43) APOLLO: Don’t remind me. >.<
(18:32:43) APOLLO: You know how little I like being in it; but I'm stuck in it beacause of clearance.
(18:32:51) APOLLO: Besides, every time I see my mother (the commodore – you met her), she makes it clear how displeased she is with ONI in general.
(18:33:01) APOLLO: I’ve just tried doing my damnedest to help the regular Navy at this point; especially with the invsion of Earth.
(18:33:04) APOLLO: *invasion
(18:33:15) RICHTER: Oooh, I foresee the Great Leader herself getting upset over that; don’t you know how much she hates it when information trickles down to the regular navy? xD
(18:33:28) APOLLO: Well, as per my previous argument: what’s the point of an Office of /Naval/ Intelligence if the actual /Navy/ doesn’t get the information gathered? Besides, if there is no Navy left to keep Intel about and supplied with means to gather intelligence, then obviously there's a problem.
(18:33:39) RICHTER: Meh, I’ll concede to that. As long as the info trickled is “need-to-know”.
(18:33:54) RICHTER: Anyway, onto the reason I pestered you in the first place: my nice wee command post down here is going to be discovered by marauding Covenant units fairly soon, and I need authorization to commence destruction of secure information, etc.
(18:34:03) APOLLO: That’s a given; go for it and make sure you do it right.
(18:34:10) RICHTER: Of course I’ll do it right; does it look like I’m some lackadaisy bumbling my way through life?
(18:34:14) APOLLO: lol lackadaisy? A lifeless and useless flower? xD
(18:34:23) RICHTER: No, it’s a valid word. Though, in hindsight, the word “lackadaisical” might have worked better; or perhaps just another word altogether.
(18:34:30) APOLLO: I call shenanigans on that.
(18:34:36) RICHTER: You know, its things like that that make me wonder how on earth you became an ONI Commander. :P
(18:34:43) RICHTER: Surely someone picked up on these eccentricies prior to giving you command responsibilities? Like those anthromorphic animals in your backgrounds and pictures folder? xD
(18:34:51) APOLLO: Heh. >.> Well, I guess that’s just how bad the war effort is going if they're overlooking that. B)
(18:35:10) APOLLO: Though, in all seriousness, it’s hard to get anywhere within ONI nowadays because of the instinctual institutionalized paranoia getting in the way of advancement. You wouldn’t believe how competent and trustworthy I had to seem to them was before they’d give me an assignment overseeing field agents.
(18:35:23) APOLLO: And with regards to the war effort, what the hell are you up to in Sydney? Well, what are you going to be up to once you abandon and destroy your post?
(18:35:36) RICHTER: Well, have a look at some of the SECRET and PRIORITY ONE messages bouncing about Fleet chatter. Notice some of this stuff about a missing ONR officer planetside?
(18:35:47) APOLLO: lol onr. I thought we stuck them good a while ago over something? Anyway, yeah, I’ve seen some of it; just because I’m up on Luna doesn’t mean I’m completely out of touch with the rest of the crumbling empire. :P
(18:36:02) RICHTER: Well, the reason all the Brass are up in arms about him is because of the declaration of the WINTER CONTINGENCY. CDR King not only has a degree in theoretical physics, with working knowledge of astronavigation coordinates; but also has aided the UNSC Weapon Development/Refinement efforts immensely. He needs to be extracted, secured, or prevented from becoming a liability. If you can read between the lines...
(18:36:16) APOLLO: Yeah, sounds like the ONI I know and love. </sarcasm>
(18:36:21) RICHTER: One last thing I need you sign off on; have a look at this. @18:14:20 UNSCTTP://EPWW:SDNYTFFICCAM/A182/10202552
(18:36:28) APOLLO: Videos? In a war zone? I’m not sure whether to recommend you for promotion or chastise you…
(18:36:35) RICHTER: Trust me, watch it.
(18:38:57) APOLLO: Holy shit, he just blew the fuck outta a Bravo-Foxtrot chieftain with a rocket launcher, blew a building full of Covenant less than a minute later, while simultaneously jumping off the roof of the collapsing building onto the roof of a surrounding building. Then he does a fucking faceplant sticking the landing; I’m sorry but that is fucking bad ass.
(18:39:11) RICHTER: Tell me about it. Anyway, as per the thing I need you to sign off on, I want this guy conscripted into ONI. Paint job tells us he’s an enlisted ODST, obviously separated from his unit; it’ll be a simple matter for me to reach his position, read him in, and force him to aid me in various deeds about the city. I only want him because its dangerous out here, and he obviously knows how to handle himself.
(18:39:17) APOLLO: yeah, go for it. He’ll make a damned fearsome ONI asset should he survive Sydney. Got his name?
(18:39:22) RICHTER: Alas, no. Traffic cams can’t retrieve UNSC IFF. I’ll have to grab his name when I find him.
(18:39:33) APOLLO: Rightio then; shoot ‘em to me, and I’ll pencilwhip his commission. Well, I gotta go; SURGEON is having a board meeting in about five minutes; can’t miss it.
(18:39:22) RICHTER: Talk to you later, amigo.

Conversation concluded 18:39:22, October 20,2552

/end log/


Light The Way

(1649) STANDARD TIME (UNSC STANDARD) / OCTOBER 20, 2552 / SYDNEY THEATRE
Second Lieutenant Michael 'Smoke' Robson

Smoke nudged the War Chieftain's head with his boot, shifting its dead bulk slightly, and allowing him to stare right down the dark hole tunneling clean through it. He kicked it with disdain, then moved to inspect the dozen or so other alien corpses that littered the area. Michael saw with mild disgust the three Grunts who'd taken shelter behind a Brute after he blew the Chieftain's brains out- before he had picked them off with his BR55, and left them in their current state. Discarding his spent beam rifle by a Jiralhanae, he returned to the site of the marine's stand, under the bridge where Michael had fired from, now rent apart by a plasma mortar. Smoke gathered up what was left of the ammunition and picked up an MA5C, stowing it on his back with his battle rifle. He felt with a strange sense of comfort its weight, momentarily unbalancing him. Michael checked his VISR for his objective, then moved in its direction, listening for movement over the fires of the two Wraiths' burning hulks. The smell of the residue of the plasma grenades that ruined them hung thickly in the air. Church's pod was broadcasting emergency signals from the middle what his VISR said was Brennan Park. It was an open area surrounded by buildings- and Smoke already knew it would be crawling with Covenant. Whether Church was there was another thing entirely- he could have been killed on impact, or worse. His pod went down in Covenant territory; if he had any sense he would have got as far away from his drop zone as possible. Either way, that was his first stop. The scientist would have to wait.

Michael's helmet buzzed, taking him by surprise somewhat. "Sergeant Robson, its Sergeant Dawson, respond over." The signal quality was poor, worse than before. Her normally strong voice was rendered grainy and wavering.

Smoke took a second to recover from worry. "What's you status? Oh and Wendy- it's Lieutenant now."

"That's nice for you. We're currently falling back to the north side of Harbour Bridge, we've got wounded and are low on ammo, Covenant forces are pursuing. There's fifteen of us, six wounded, two critically. No sign of any other friendly forces sir. I think we're our own," Amelia lamented. He heard the hopelessness in her voice even despite the interference. "Congrats on the promotion. I hope it lasts," she added- and he felt not for the first time the meaninglnessness of advancing a rank under mortal danger.

"I've sent reinforcements to your position, about a dozen marines en route," he replied. "And they're rallying more along the way."

Now Smoke heard the quake in her voice replaced by confusion, and a faint tone of irritation. "What about the other squads? And you- you're not coming?"

"No," he said. "I've got orders to retrieve a VIP from Covenant territory. On the way, I'm going to get Church."

"Oh..." she said, her voice trailing off. Amelia glanced back round at Spade and Warlock, guessing their expressions through their darkened visors. Smoke hadn't written Church off, even if they had. Wendy sighed. She couldn't shake off the feeling that Robson wouldn't come back with Church- maybe not even himself. But she knew him, and he'd know this too.

Staff Sergeant Amelia 'Wendy' Dawson

A salvo of plasma fire raked the team from far off, and Wendy turned to face a Ghost streaking towards them, aiming for the bridge immediately beyond them. She raised her MA5C and fired long from her last mag, automatic fire deluging the vehicle in cascading sparks down its flanks. The Ghost drifted round and opened up with its plasma cannons, rounds from Wendy and Warlock's rifles showering its convex front and catching the Grunt driver's back tank- the Ghost roared and boosted in their direction, and the troopers dived out of its path. As it stopped and turned to face the ODSTs, Spade unpinned a frag and dashed it ahead of the vehicle, which tried to accelerate away over the bridge; the grenade ensnared the Ghost and its operator in a hail of splintering metal, shredding the Grunt.

"Good kill Spade," Wendy said, hauling herself to her feet and panting heavily. She approached the inactive vehicle. "That'll be a scout for the main force behind us."

"The one we're supposed to be engaging," said Warlock, disgruntled.

"Yeah, well," Wendy retorted, "we're not in much of a position to defend ourselves right now, let alone achieving our objectives." Warlock dipped his head, seeming to agree. There were many things they had to worry about before they considered their objectives.

Hearing a low humming sound, Spade looked up from the conversation and followed a marine's line of sight, upwards through the towering tangle of buildings. A khaki green Pelican sailed from behind, then between the skyscrapers, its underside scarred with a line of scorch marks from plasma fire.

"Two four Alpha twenty eight, this is Lima Four Five, look out below helljumpers. This sector's being evacuated for regrouping across the harbour, climb aboard."

Amelia looked at the pilot as the Pelican spun, and he set it down. "We need resupply and reinforcements, not evac. Our standing orders are to stop the Covenant at this bridge."

"My orders are to get everyone out," the pilot replied, "but if you have standing orders to defend the bridge..." he trailed off. “That's your decision Sergeant. Just know that I think you're making a bad move."

"The longer we stop the Covies crossing this bridge, the longer you flyboys have to evac what's left of the population," Dawson replied, remaining stoic. "And the more time we buy for everyone else. If you can assist us in any way, that would be appreciated."

"Copy. I might be able to help you out after all, then." The pilot twisted around and gestured to his crew chief; seconds later there was a cascade of crashes as the Pelican dropped six weapons pods where it squatted.

"Marines, Warlock, Spade, load the wounded into the Pelican," Wendy ordered. "We can get them out at least."

The troopers carried the injured soldiers into the dropship's open troop bay, where the crew chief and a medic took over. "You helljumpers did a good thing bringing these men with you," the female crew chief said solemnly. "The best of luck to you."

"We did our best," Warlock said pensively, setting down a heavily wounded and unconscious marine. "And that's what we'll keep doing." As he got up Warlock almost tripped on a large black case on the floor of the Pelican, stacked up with numerous others. He unclipped the lid and confirmed its contents; two dozen high explosive charges, just as the print on the side indicated. "Corporal, I'm commandeering this ordnance to stop the Covenant crossing this bridge."

"You're welcome to it," she replied, distracted by helping the medic. "Surplus ordnance. Purely by chance it's onboard."

"Wendy!" he called to Amelia, dragging the crate to the Pelican's edge. "Come and give me a hand with this!"

Wendy came round the Pelican's back, irritated, ending her conversation with the pilot informing her where and how many Covenant he had seen. "Help with what?!" she snapped, her nostrils flaring through her depolarised visor.

Amelia stared at the black crate, with the words 'HIGH EXPLOSIVE' and the serial number of explosive charges printed on the side. Spade lifted out two full crates of assault rifle magazines, while two more marines brought out a battle rifle and sniper ammunition crate each. A third came out with a single AIE-486 heavy machine gun, its folded tripod slung over his shoulder, dragging a crate of four ammunition drums behind him.

"Jackpot."

The Pelican lifted off, carrying the wounded and leaving behind nine well supplied infantry; three ODSTs and six Marines. Two troopers had grabbed rocket launchers, and Amelia and Spade both shouldered sniper rifles.

"Alright, lets get this position defensible!" Wendy ordered. "Pilot says the Covies have stopped their advance, and are regrouping with fresh troops that have been deployed from a pair of Corvettes holding position above the city's outskirts." A subtle wave of unsettled apprehension rose from her troops, and she could feel their quiet alarm. "This gives us time to dig in and put all this material to good use, so get to work. We don't know how long this will last."

Four marines set up defences in the form of metal weapon barricades and sandbag walls, while two deployed the heavy machine gun. Warlock set up the ammunition crates and readied medical supplies, while directing the twelve marines. Amelia and Spade took position in two buildings overlooking the area on either side of the road, preparing their plentiful magazines. Three marines planted remote detonation charges in the enemy's path, while another three rigged charges to the bridge. The whole defence took almost two hours to complete, and by that time the sun was retreating behind Sydney's towering buildings. Warlock pointed a single finger skywards- it took a moment for Amelia to realise he was referring to the light. It was almost dark. Somewhere in the distance something was burning, casting an orange light into the sky which reflected down on the ground. The underside of the clouds was stained orange by the flames. A strange feeling of connection with the fires touched Amelia, but evaporated just as soon as she felt it. She forgot it quickly, and turned to the other troopers behind her.

"Right, now at least we have a plan. We hold position here, and retreat and blow the bridge when we can't fight no more. Spade, you, Radner and Turek are on first watch," Amelia ordered, referring to two of the marines. "Wake me in one hour."

Spade chuckled. "Fine, but I won't be the one to wake you. God help the soul who disturbs your beauty sleep."

"Funny," Wendy retorted, shooting him a scowl. "Make it two." Spade groaned, and the other marines glared at them both.

Deep

(1917) STANDARD TIME (UNSC STANDARD) / OCTOBER 20, 2552 / SYDNEY THEATRE
Second Lieutenant Michael 'Smoke' Robson

Michael crept down the road, figure crouched, hugging tight the walls of the buildings. He kept low and quiet, using the insides of buildings where possible and pausing frequently in doorways, scanning for hostiles. Smoke stayed solely on one side of the road, and this wasn't just for cover; most of the buildings on the other side were on fire, and he was kept at bay by the fierce heat of the inferno. He gripped his BR55 tightly in his hands, fully alert for a sudden encounter with an enemy, as had occurred twice before along his path. The first time he had easily dealt with the lone squad of Grunts, dispatching all of the panicking creatures with his battle rifle; the second time multiple Kig-Yar sharpshooters had forced him to circumvent the entire block. Smoke's TACMAP informed him his objective was down the left turn at the next junction, and he stopped abruptly when he reached the corner. Back to the wall, he stole a brief glance round it and saw the greenery of the park, collared on all sides by tall silver structures and interspersed with trees and low shrubbery. There were Covenant in the park, that much he knew from his motion sensor. He'd already tried to access satellite telemetry, but was unable to- everything was down. He entered the building on the street corner, its automatic door opening smoothly, and entered one of two elevators that greeted him; the left intact and clean, the right riddled with heavy plasma fire and stained with dried human blood. Entering the elevator, the door slid shut behind him without warning, and he instructed the lift to go to the top floor. Smoke raised his rifle at the exit in anticipation. The area around him was completely deserted of friendly forces; there was no help that was going to come for him. Hell, he was the help.

He quickly checked over his rifle yet again, having already done this more times than he could count. The bolt was in firing position, it was set to burst fire mode, magazine was full and the safety catch was disengaged. He already knew this would be the case, but it reassured him greatly as he hoped it would.

The door snapped open, revealing a ruined corridor stretching both left and right. Michael slid into the hall, marking it clear almost instantly; he noticed the slight curve of the corridor as if it circled right round the top of the building. The vast windows that formed the outermost wall were tinted somewhat, giving the hall an ethereal half-light; not quite gloomy but not bright either, as the last remnants of the setting sun fingered their way through Sydney's skyline. Smoke moved right down the hall through this strange other-world, feeling acutely the silent stillness in the air, and the sense of sheer loneliness this brought. Michael moved slowly, as if in an effort to maintain this ethereal stillness, his boots shifting almost silently on top of the debris of masonry and concrete the ceiling and walls had shed. It was becoming darker by the second; not quite visibly so but creating a sort of constantly dying moment in which Smoke moved.

Michael reached a door and tapped the panel; it rejected him with a single tone, locked. The tone seemed to shatter abruptly the eerie atmosphere with its harsh impertinence. His ears pricked, hearing something he didn't quite register. Smoke snapped round, rifle at his eyes, but there was nothing there. His motion sensor was similarly bare. A shiver ran down his spine as he realised how very alone he was, and he noticed the light had faded that bit more from his world.

Michael tried to bring up plans of the building; satellite support was still down. He swore under his breath, and took a quick glance at a terminal on the wall. It would have provided the information he needed, were its glass screen not smashed and littering the floor. Shards crunched under his feet as he moved past the elevators in the other direction. Another closed door; Smoke hit the control panel and the door retreated sideways into the wall before him; through it the corridor gave way to an open roof. Michael moved through, rifle ready for enemies, thanking the door for yielding without noise. The roof was large, rounded and exposed; the wind roared and Smoke struggled to stay upright, while taking note of the specks far off in the sky that his experienced eyes recognised as Phantom dropships, silhouetted by the now hidden sun's last reflections off the clouds. A single anti aircraft gun stood silent and deserted in the roof's centre. Near the edge to the gun's right was a mechanical winch, of the sort used to raise and lower window cleaning platforms. A metal rope coiled around the winch drum, and terminated in a vicious-looking hook, which was unattached to any cleaning platform.

Smoke turned round the structure he had just exited, looking down the side of the roof, and almost jumped when he saw the hulking figure standing near the very edge. It took Smoke a painful second or so to realise it was facing away from him- an Elite, tall even by their standards, clad in crimson-red armour. In his arms he held what looked like a beam rifle. Smoke approached it slowly, wanting to near it and kill it before it turned around, but fearing alerting it with his approach. He moved faster, the howl of the masking his footsteps as it had the door opening. It suddenly struck him that he didn't know how he was going to kill it; he could easily push it over the edge, but it would alert the Covies below- besides, he didn't know how strong the Elite's shielding was. Could it survive a sixteen story fall?

Or he could shoot it. He did have the element of surprise, and that worked for him before. But it wouldn't take a second before it turned around and killed him effortlessly. And gunfire drew attention. Using the turret would share similar risks.

No, he decided. Instead he drew his combat knife, the padded sheath muffling the sound as it slid carefully out.

He was right behind it now, all eight feet of it. He gripped his knife for dear life, and resisted the inexplicable urge to close his eyes. He braced himself, bent his knees and jumped on its back. The Elite twisted its neck, trying to whirl around and grab him in its arms- it grabbed his wrist in its alien hands seeing the blade grasped in it and forcing it relentlessly back towards Smoke's own body- he pushed with all the force he could muster, but it was far, far stronger than him- it whirled its other arm round and grabbed his chest, pinning him hard against its back and slowly moving the combat knive towards its owner. Smoke was trapped and losing fast- he kicked it in the back of its knees, and the thing groaned deeply, weakening for just a split-second- Smoke jabbed his arm forward with all the will he had left, driving the blade straight in, deep into the side of its neck, and slid it viciously sideways, rending its neck open and showering blood everywhere. It staggered backwards, losing control of its own body, its life gushing in torrents from its jugular, and toppled onto the ground, a river of blood forming a lake of it beneath the Elite, the struggling and writing creature smearing dark stains in erratic lines. Smoke was crushed underneath it, and he struggled to free himself from under the its ailing mass, drenched in blood; finally it ceased moving, limbs twitching; slowly he extricated himself from underneath it, its fleshy mass reeking of rapidly cooling blood. Freeing himself, stood upright, soaked in his foe's foul stinking blood.

Panting, Michael staggered to the edge, and saw the park below him. He tried in vain to wipe his armour clean of its taint, but there was too much. Resigned, he instead rubbed his hands together and over each other repeatedly, removing most of the blood but leaving his hands dank and slippery. Smoke sighed, and approached the edge of the roof, imagining the rancid heat of the blood on his armour and the ground being flash-cooled by the howling gale. Turning his attention back to the park, he notched up his visor's zoom and inspected the pod in its centre- buried much further into the ground than it should be, with the hatch wedged against the dirt the pod was buried into, open a mere slit. It was empty. Plasma scorch marks pockmarked the ground and the pod. It didn't look good.

Smoke shifted his view to the Covies near the edge of the park, and engaged night vision. Two hunters, a Wraith, a dozen Brute infantry and at least twice as many Grunts. Smoke picked up the dead Elite's beam rifle, his arms adjusting to its weight, and something occurred to him. He scoped in on the Brute gunner of the Wraith, and centered the crosshairs on its severe face. He would enjoy this, he thought, savouring the moment.

Master and Commander

1906 STANDARD TIME (UNSC STANDARD) / OCTOBER 20, 2552 / HIGHCOM Facility Bravo-Six
Fleet Admiral Henry T. Ward

Atop the roof of the tall and imposing HIGHCOM Bravo-6 facility, Fleet Admiral Henry Theodore Ward could see Sydney burn. The flames gradually yet hungrily consumed the Northern part of the city - separated by the harbor and dramatically backdropped by the setting sun, filling the darkening sky with a pillar of smoke.

The Sydney Harbor Bridge majestically towered over the harbor two landmasses that were the downtown area and the military and residential areas on his side. The fact the bridge still stood informed Ward that his orders to blow the bridge had not been followed.

Or simply not received, he mused. Whatever the case, only a single company of Orbital Drop Shock Troopers had received and acknowledged his orders to move and guard the northern side of the bridge; eliminating the issue of the Covenant simply rolling down it to get easy access to HIGHCOM. However, he still had a platoon of Army Combat Engineers with written orders in hand en route to rig the bridge for demolition, should it be needed. Rather, the bridge and the tunnel. That tunnel was potentially just as dangerous.

Not that HIGHCOM was completely helpless when the Covenant finally controlled the northern portion of the city and moved south: there was an army infantry regiment moving to set up defensive positions around Bravo 6, and a veteran Marine armoured company from Reach that was already moving to the far end of the bridge with the combat engineers to ensure their safety - with strict orders to remain out of range from Covenant weapons, as (given the logistical nightmare that would be resupply from orbit with the Covenant at Earth’s doorstep) no other armour would be bought into the city until the end of the battle. All non-combat personnel had already been instructed to get their hands on weapons; they were to hold HIGHCOM to the last man standing.

Ward sighed, and withdrew a Lucky Strike cigarette from his pocket, reaching past his holstered M6D Personal Defence Weapon System. Just another advantage of being an admiral: having your own gun at all times. Especially times like this. He put the cigarette in his mouth, and withdrew a battered lighter, embroidered with the UNSC logo, with 'HIGHCOM' written underneath: a gift from Admiral Terrence Hood following receiving a seat on the Admiralty. He struck the lighter, lit the cigarette, and inhaled the nicotine-rich smoke.

He withdrew and checked his TACPAD and checked it for combat reports. He skimmed his electronic mail folder, before realizing he had no connection to SATCOM. He silent swore and simply reconfigured his TACPAD to piggyback the much more powerful HIGHCOM transmitters and receivers. Usually he would have had to hack it, or simply use his rank, but it appeared some technician had removed the 412 kilobytes of encryption from the transmitter to allow military personnel to report to superiors in orbit. It was once again made evident that Covenant forces had deployed jammers on the northern part of Sydney - seriously messing with local UNSCDF squad- and company-level communications. At least they could still communicate with command posts about the city, thanks to the intact fibre-optic communications infrastructure. Until nukes were bought into play, as the EMP would fry all unhardened electronics.

Ward checked his messages again, this time receiving only a few advertisements in his inbox.

Huh, the admiral thought. Despite Earth being at the brink of falling to a hostile technologically advanced alien foe and the UNSC having serious communications difficulties, apparently spam messages could still get through. Now, if the UNSC had that capability…

He put his TACPAD on standby and pocketed it, returning his gaze to the burning city, flames glowing brighter in the darkening sky.

The Navy had better hold, he thought. As long as the Navy kept the bulk of the Covies in orbit, he'd be able to hold out. If - when, he corrected himself - the Navy collapsed, he'd simply hold as long as he could. He’d sacrifice every man and women under his command, including himself to give the Navy a fighting chance to hold them off. Given the number of ground personnel deployed at the moment, he probably couldn’t hold them for long.

He turned around and walking back inside the facility to get back to managing what he could of the ground battle that was the Battle of Sydney.

Echoes

(1924) STANDARD TIME (UNSC STANDARD) / OCTOBER 20, 2552 / SYDNEY THEATRE
Staff Sergeant Amelia 'Wendy' Dawson

The thing pursued her still, invading every aspect of her being; it was a man, that much she knew somehow, but a man shrouded in billowing black fabric so dark it seemed to be made of shadows. She fled from it, through the memory that was the town she grew up in, but it took to the wing and dropped down on her, filling her with dread so solid it filled her lungs and stifled her attempts to scream. It all went black- but she opened her eyes once more against her will, to find she was on a warship in yet another of her memories; she twisted and turned through its labyrinthine depths, the uniform corridors merging into a single blur of terror, and she could not lose her dreaded hunter. It followed her relentlessly as if attached to her by some inexorable force. It chased her through her subconscious, unrelenting, not allowing her mind to stop and rest. Finally it cornered her, in the memory of the school in which she had fought the Covenant, and in which she had failed to save the class of children and their teacher, cut down without remorse, the room drenched in rancid blood. It moved slowly towards her, menacing in silent threat, only for it to dissolve into its own darkness and reappear behind her, looming over and descending and enveloping her in shadow, whispering her name. Her vision began to blur, distorting the nightmarish sights before her but offering her no comfort. Her sight waned as if blocked by some invisible force, flickering, before it faded and disappeared. She screamed, but no sound came from her mouth. Panicking, she tried to move but realised he had no body she could feel- she was alone and surrounded by nothing but drowning darkness. She opened his eyes but saw only black. Ages passed, trapped in this appalling nothingness. She screamed again, mustering strength from nothing, though little more than a whisper escaped her mouth. And still the thing whispered her name from the ether.

She woke with a start, heart racing, brow damp with cold sweat.

"Wendy!" someone whispered from close by.

Gathering her frayed thoughts, Staff Sergeant Dawson sat upright. For a moment she was confused and sluggish before it hit her where she was, and experience and instinct took over. She sat upright and threw a hand to her thigh intuitively, feeling the reassurance the cold touch of her M6G brought.

"Wendy, we've got contacts, get out here!" came Spade's voice as a hushed rasp. She looked round her sniper's next, on the first floor of the building, and saw him standing on the staircase, peering out of the dark in full armour. "Motion sensor's got movement, thirty five metres northeast! Twenty plus contacts, unknown type."

"Get the marines to their posts, then get to your position!" she ordered, mind racing.

Wendy shouldered her sniper rifle, pulling back and releasing the bolt. She looked across the road and saw Spade move into position opposite, shouldering his sniper rifle and giving her a sign of readiness. She aimed at the corner, putting first pressure on the trigger and preparing herself. Her mind was working at nominal pace now, which was damned fast, constantly alert and calculating, irreverent of the restless sleep she had woken from. It was still dark, and had the air of gloominess, but the fires from the other side of the harbour painted the clouds orange and cast an odd aura on the ground. The atmosphere was thick, tense, and fear pervaded the air.

Warlock watched the twenty or so grey dots on his motion tracker draw nearer and nearer, approaching the corner at which they aimed. He saw out of the corner of his eye a marine on the machine gun spin up its barrels in preparation, and numerous others level their rifles strikingly. Whatever was coming round the corner, it didn't stand a chance.

The grey dots came into range of Warlock's IFF scanner- the dots turned yellow. They were seconds away from the corner.

"Hold your fire!" he shouted frantically over TEAMCOM. "Targets are friendly, repeat targets are friendly, stand down!"

Amelia kept her rifle levelled at the corner, though loosened her squeeze on the trigger. The first marine rounded the corner, looking tense and beleaguered. Warlock sighed with relief and looked up at Spade; he gave him a slight shake of the head. They both knew how close that had been.

"Hey, over here!" Warlock shouted from behind the barricades, and the new marines headed in their direction. After the first one, numerous more ones came, appearing tired and battle-worn. "Marines, what's your objective?"

The marines moved up to the makeshift barricade. "Our orders are to rendezvous with the troopers at the bridge," the leading marine called. "That's you lot, I'm assuming."

"Smoke's help," said Amelia quietly, as she looked down on the reinforcements from her sniper's nest through a smashed window. "How was he when you last saw him? What did he say?"

"He had just saved my ass from an Elite," he said, feeling his neck uneasily. "May I assume you're Wendy?"

Wendy frowned under her visor, invisible. "Yeah, that's me. Who's asking?"

"Sergeant Thomas Carter, Bravo Company 25th Marines. Lieutenant Robson gave me something for you."

He produced some small item from a waist pouch, and slung it up to her. She snapped it from the air and, holding it so that the object dangled from her upraised hand, leveled it with her eyes. The 12.7x99mm casing swung from side to side from its metal chain, the word 'WENDY' engraved into it; carved roughly with a combat knife years ago. Her steely blue eyes followed its sway, reading into what it meant. Memories deep inside her, buried to stop them hurting, burst to the fore. Raw emotion not felt for seven years. A token from the past that she didn't think existed anymore. She remembered the first time she met Smoke, the strings of memories and emotions flooding from the recesses of her mind and scrambling to order themselves correctly. She remembered the sniper practice in which he outdid her. How him and the other men made fun of her for being female. How they called her Wendy. How she threw her spent casings at them in a wild fit of rage, only to get them all back the day later. Every one with 'WENDY' carved carefully into the side, mocking her eternally. She remembered how she scattered them all from the back of a Pelican, never to be seen again. She remembered the engraved bullet casing he gave her back, one he had kept, and the passionate kiss they shared under cover of darkness on a night not too different from that one.

All of these memories and emotions flooded her mind in an instant- somehow an eternal instant. Amelia stood stock still, barely registering anything but her own thoughts slowly lowering her outstretched arm. She looked around; everything looked the same; everything was how it was a few moments ago, but everything had changed.

Smoke.

"Sir? What does it mean?" Warlock asked, slightly concerned.

"It means Smoke will be back."

Decaying Situation

1925 STANDARD TIME (UNSC STANDARD) / OCTOBER 20, 2552 / DOWNTOWN SYDNEY
Lieutenant Commander Gordon King

The smoky and debris-choked streets of Sydney had become progressively quieter as UNSC forces retreated further south; both activity wise and sound wise. In fact, downtown Sydney was probably quieter now than it had been in hundreds of years; it properly helped that the area was now almost entirely occupied by Covenant troops - though, the Covenant forces seemed to be quite stretched, having too few troops to properly patrol what was a dozen square kilometres of cityscape.

Lieutenant Commander King grinned as he thought of the logistical nightmare that the Covenant was faced with – and would have to come up with some way to deal with. The naval officer had abandoned his fruitless attempts to reach retreating UNSC troops, and had returned to where his Bumblebee had crashed landed, scaling a nearby office building and taking up shelter on the roof. He’d surveyed the surrounding area with his rifle, taking note of the lack of anyone in sight. It was almost a touch unnerving, being the only one in an area designed to accommodate so many. He’d tried to call out for a ride home, to no avail. He’d then taken apart his helmets radio, checking it for faults and attempting to boost the output before reassembly, but it had shorted and fried the internal components, his vain efforts (and his hopes of immediate rescue) going up, quite literally, in smoke. There was a reason he dabbled (and, correspondingly, held several degrees) in theoretical physics, not electric engineering. Perhaps he’d be able to scrounge replacement parts from the Bumblebee’s sensor suite tomorrow.

King had then settled with utilizing the extra time on his hands to finish up a few papers on his personal computer (after all, given the lack of anything else to do, why not catch up on work?), finalizing various reports and recording his observations of the day’s actions.

Perhaps my electronic recollection of today’s actions might be of value when I write my memoir, King thought, somewhat optimistically as he took a chip from its paper bag and munched on it, before returning to his work.

The officer had also taken the time to raid a street-level dairy in his travels today, and collected a large assortment of dubiously healthy consumables and drink - at least they would be marginally better than the dreadfully salty MREs that he lacked. All in all, Lieutenant Commander King felt secure for a night, deep behind enemy lines – in and of itself ironic.

Fire and Dust

(1921) STANDARD TIME (UNSC STANDARD) / OCTOBER 20, 2552 / SYDNEY THEATRE
Second Lieutenant Michael 'Smoke' Robson

Smoke was flung back from the roof's edge as the fuel rod hit the building's side- hellish heat assailed him even as the shot melted into nonexistence. Haphazard fragments of concrete peppered him, and the dust which coated his armour cleared to reveal a jagged chunk of the roof's edge blown away. Michael staggered quickly to his feet just as the unseen Hunter below loosed another shot, and the green streak sailed into the sky, radiating heat furiously as it flew past and making Smoke wince. The temperature stung at his face even through his helmet, and his vision momentarily clouded. At the same time the building shook beneath his feet, as the Wraith loosed off another mortar into the structure. Michael saw thick fumes rise from the side of the building to his left- the Wraith must have moved round, blocking his escape back down the elevator. He stole a split second glance over the edge and saw just what he expected- the Wraith had moved into position outside the entrance, some of the Grunts and a small contingent of Brutes in support. Its gunner still lay slumped over the side of the plasma turret, a deep wound through its neck partly decapitating it. Smoke ducked instinctively as the tank released another plasma blob, but it smashed into the building several floors below, reducing it to charred debris and smouldering wreckage.

He dashed to the opposite side and found the Hunter in the same position in the park, next to where he had dropped the first of the pair; it began charging its huge cannon as soon as he saw it. He shouldered the heavy beam rifle and centred the sights on the thing that passed for a head, ignoring the Brutes' plasma fire raking the wall below and the air above his head. He held his breath, steadying the crosshairs perfectly, and squeezed the alien trigger. The beam burrowed through its worm-flesh head and the alien collapsed backwards, dead in an instant. The cannon discharged a green snake which shook the building violently. He heard Grunts below squealing, and moved over to the other side of the roof to see why; the rest of the infantry had abandoned the defeated Hunter pair and joined the Wraith. He saw the Brute's leader pointing into the building, shouting for them to move in faster. One of the Brutes roared and pointed skywards, and Smoke withdrew from the edge under heavy Spiker fire. A round hit his shoulder plate and drove itself deep into his flesh, slicing white-hot into him. Michael let out a yell as his shoulder exploded with pain. Very suddenly he felt dizzy. He heard his heartbeat loud in his ears. He grabbed his biofoam canister on one hand, and with the other gripped the cooling spike embedded in him. As he pulled it agonisingly out he felt the blood explode out of him behind it- he kept pulling and it finally released its grip. He channelled a small amount of biofoam into the deep, crater-like gouge, and instantly he was overwhelmed by its familiar stinging, stabbing sensation. He threw the spike away, and it skidded to a stop across the roof.

A faint sound caught Smoke's ears, and he turned to face the northern horizon- and saw four Phantoms incoming, one much closer than the rest. Behind him he heard the Covenant infantry come up the elevator, and his mind raced as he decided what to do. He turned his back on the Phantoms, and clambered into the AA gun in the centre of the roof. In position, he depressed the right foot pedal and turned the turret to face the door. He spun the six barrels up. He heard the elevator door slide smoothly open, just as it had done for him. Behind him, the distant drone of the Phantoms grew slowly louder. The door slid open and he squeezed the trigger, and deluged the swarming Grunts with thousands of high calibre rounds. The ones behind still rushed through though, in disarray and covered in gore from their slain comrades. The gun shook him immensely and vibrated fiercely, but he maintained his aim on the flood of enemies assailing him. His fire cut through dozens of the Grunts and behind them, the first of the Brutes breached the door. Smoke filled its body with rounds and saw the life drain from its face as it disintegrated. A flashing red alert caught the corner of Michael's eye, but he kept his eyes on the targets- he knew it was warning him his ammunition was low. He cut down the last of the Brutes, the beast falling missing limbs, torso punctuated with bullet holes and back pitted with massive cavity exit wounds.

But he knew there were more inside. He had killed nine or ten, but there were at least a dozen Brutes moving into the building to kill him. He dismounted the gun and moved towards the door, the concrete wall peppered with bullet wounds, smoking slightly from the hundreds of rounds that had penetrated it. As soon as he peered down the corridor he caught sight of two hulking figures- he recoiled back almost instantly but they had seen him. He had seen them too- a blue-armoured Brute, either a Minor or a Major, he couldn't tell. The other one was noticeably larger and clad in Golden armour- a Captain Major- with a large shoulder-mounted weapon in its grasp. Smoke heard one of them growl, and felt his heart skip a beat. Heavy footsteps began down the corridor, and Smoke wanted to avoid waiting for them to engage him first. He put his back to the wall and quickly crossed the open door; the Brutes saw him, he could tell from their gruff alien speech. But he didn't care- and now that he was on top of the pile of Covenant dead, Smoke grabbed the first plasma grenades he saw. He primed three of them and threw them together down the corridor. Cautiously he levelled his rifle to his eyeline and moved to observe, combat knife drawn and also held loosely in his grasp. Both Brutes dived away, the Golden one back into the elevator and the blue Major towards the door, and Smoke, its power armour falling destroyed from its body. Instantly he opened fire but the Brute backhanded him and sent his BR55 clattering away from him, his knife leaving the building's edge entirely, tumbling to the ground below. He attempted a desperate punch but the beast took the blow effortlessly and returned one in Michael's chest, winding him and knocking him back several feet to the ground. Smoke got a hand to his sidearm as it ran towards him, he unclipped and raised it, knowing he would only get one shot, and fired.

The M6G's armour piercing explosive round struck the Brute in its unarmoured chest- the thing stopped running as it choked on its innards, struggling to breathe through its shredded lungs and windpipe. It collapsed onto its back, wheezing heavily and clutching at its throat. He scrambled to his feet just as the Captain Major appeared at the door behind him- it looked at its dying ally and laughed deeply. Michael ignored the sharp insistent pain of his broken ribs and held his last plasma grenade, sliding the smooth switch. It began glowing, and he tossed it at the Brute- it only noticed at the last second and attempted a dodge, which failed in spectacular fashion as the grenade attached itself to the Brute's shoulder. Roaring, it charged at Smoke, hoping for final vengeance, but the ODST dived behind the anti-aircraft gun as the device exploded; the Brute's roar was cut off abruptly, as the blue inferno consumed it and wrecked the gun turret. He staggered to his feet, and glanced over at the foe. Very little was recognizable. He walked over to the corpse, and rolled it onto its front, avoiding the chunks of seared and torn flesh that fell off. From its back he retrieved the Fuel Rod Gun it had been carrying, and turned to face the Phantoms that were just entering range. Michael heard an odd gurgling sound though, and saw with mild intrigue that the Major was still alive. Keeping one eye on the Covenant dropships he kneeled over it, putting his hand to his sheath and intending to draw the knife slowly so the Brute could hear the faint tinny sound it made- the sound that Michael relished. But his knife was somewhere on the ground below, and the Brute lay still wheezing and living below Smoke, defying him. He had to inflict more pain. While it was here, while he could. He looked round for some deadly item, eyes scanning the bloodsoaked roof. Then he saw it- the Spiker round that had wounded him not five minutes ago. He picked it up slowly, and examined it. He held it up to the Brute's face too, a gleam of irony lighting Smoke's eyes, but it was lost on the Brute; its eyes full of only pain and an undertone of anger and hatred; and always the wheezing. This Brute gave him no satisfaction; he saw no regret or fear in its eyes. So he held the spike at an angle, and drove it fast and deep into the top of its right shoulder and the side of its neck, severing its artery. The Brute's previous injuries were severe, Smoke could tell; its blood pressure was so low that he was met with no arterial spurt, and an odd sense of disappointment flashed briefly inside him. Blue plasma blobs showered the rooftop; Smoke looked up and saw the nearest Phantom with both its plasma cannons discharging streams of fire inaccurate at their current distance. He withdrew the slug, cleaning it on the dead Brute's coarse skin, and replaced it in his sheath.

Smoke grabbed the Fuel Rod Cannon, hefting its bulk up to rest on his shoulder, and aimed it at the nearest Phantom. He knew he couldn't take down all four Phantoms with the seven rods he had, but, he thought, he would do what he did best; make it up as he went along. The weapon bleeped in acknowledgement as the reticule focused, and Michael loosed off three shots. They arced their way towards the vessel; the first impacting its heavy nose, splintering it open like a rose and destroying the cockpit; the second hit the vessel from the bottom up and speared through its underbelly, exploding in the troop bay, immolating its occupants and emerging as a lime green fireball from a newly-formed gaping hole in the dropship's upper hull. The third hit the craft's nearside engine which blossomed into fiery explosion, ripping open its side and sending the Phantom in an uncontrollable spin, smoking profusely until it hit the ground. The Phantom carved a deep scar into the road below, before smashing into the side of another building in a plume of fire and dust.

Smoke turned his view to the oncoming three Phantoms, and fired two shots each for the first two, emptying the weapon. The first went down in spiralling flames just as the first did, burying itself partly into the side of an office block. The second exploded entirely, its debris scattered across the ground below.

Which left just the last one. It hadn't turned away or tried to escape Smoke's attacks. Smoke knew he couldn't just run from it- if he let it drop its troops, they'd certainly kill him. As the craft drew nearer its side hatches dropped, and one side rained plasma bolts on him. He turned and sprinted back towards the door, and his back caught two plasma bolts- one burning a crater into his armour plate and the other melting through his flexible body suit and searing into his back. Michael dove back inside just as the surge of pain hit him- so excruciating it momentarily blinded him. Breathing heavily, he attempted to reach the wound with his fingers to examine the damage- it was beyond his reach. He knew though, that it wouldn't kill him. Michael staggered ungracefully to his feet, breath heavy and panting, and glanced at the Phantom again. Now dangerously near. What would he do now? He had to take it out before it reached the roof and deployed troops. There was no way he could survive an entire infantry squad at such short range. And he had no heavy weapons of any sort. He looked around desperately for anything he could use- an empty beam rifle, a spent fuel rod gun. His eyes continued scanning the roof, fruitlessly. He had standard issue weapons, some frag grenades- and a Spiker round. How could be bring down a Phantom, alone, with these?

Then his eyes met the winch on the roof.

Smoke's mind went into overdrive as he calculated his plan, and how he would carry it out. He would have to time it just right...

The Phantom moved close enough for him, and he raced over to the winch, plasma cannon fire peppering the ground and a few blobs striking his armour, eating away at it ferociously. He reached the winch and activated it with a strike of his palm on the control panel. The plasma was getting more accurate as the Phantom drew closer, and Smoke knew his armour- and his nerve- couldn't take much more. A bolt struck his calf and burned almost to his leg, and he felt the intense malice of the superheated plasma. He turned the winch on its rotating mount and grabbed the drum in front of him- he twisted it so the winch was facing the Phantom rather than down the side of the building. It didn't matter any more if the windows weren't cleaned, Smoke thought drily to himself.

He knew he would only get one chance. If he missed, the Phantom would kill him before he reeled the rope back in again. He notched the tension up twice as high as the safe levels and hit the winch release control. The rope flew out even faster than he'd hoped- the drum spun wildly in front of him as the rope unwound like a viper. The vicious claw-like hook hit the Phantom square in the side, and held fast. It tried to break free but jolted violently as the rope snapped taut- the squealing Unggoy gunner tumbling out to his death on the hard ground below. Smoke grinned- he had the Phantom, and it wasn't going anywhere fast.

Smoke tapped the controls again, and unlocked the winch so he could pull the Phantom in close enough for him to board it with grenades. As soon as he unlocked the winch though, the Phantom began moving off, overpowering the winch's pull and moving further away. Michael hit the lock control again- and the Phantom juddered suddenly to a halt. What the fuck do I do now?

Then something stupidly obvious hit him- The Wraith. There was still a Wraith on the ground- at this thought he rushed back inside, skidding to a halt outside the elevator and entering it. The door closed and the elevator hurtled downwards, temporarily adding queasiness to the multitude of feelings striving to overwhelm Smoke's sharp senses. As it slowed to a stop he shouldered his rifle again, looking down the iron sights mounted on his telescopic sight; he had no idea what had happened below in the last five or so minutes. Who knows, he thought, maybe the road is full of Zealots.

Smoke crept through the building's entrance hall, charred and burnt by plasma fire, and caught a glimpse of the Wraith- huge relief swept through him as he saw it was facing away from him. Had it been aiming at the entrance, he would be dead already, that much he knew for certain. It was facing the direction of the stricken Phantom, its driver probably providing remote assistance somehow. Smoke took his chance, and skirted round the back of the tank while it faced away. He drew his makeshift knife, and climbed lightly on top of the Wraith, steering clear of its mortar. He'd seen boarders be incinerated by its discharge before, and was keen to avoid a similar fate. When he reached the driver's hatch he gripped the Spiker round between his teeth while he pulled off the hatch; the odd mingling of metal and alien blood offending his mouth. Michael ripped off the hatch and caught the Brute by surprise; he drove the spike deep into its temple, grateful for the relative lack of blood, and watched as the beast rapidly died, its hideous face contorted in a half surprised, half agonised expression. It took Smoke a few more minutes to haul the corpse out of the driver's seat; once he was finished he sat in its place, not bothering to replace the hatch. So, what was his plan now?

He'd assumed up until this point that he'd just hit the Phantom with a plasma mortar- but now he could see quite clearly that wasn't going to happen. He didn't trust his Wraith aiming skills on a good day- it wasn't exactly a standard issue vehicle- and hitting a Phantom sixteen stories up, swaying in high wind, was far beyond his skill set.

It was only now that Smoke saw how immensely damaged the building he was just in- just on top of- was. Thick black smoke billowed from half a dozen craters, and the structure of the lower half was so eroded by plasma fire it appeared skeletal. Shrugging off the terrifying thought that he was, until recently, on top of this building, Michael again knew what he had to do. He could bring down the Phantom- but the problem would then be escaping.

As he thought, he noticed movement at the top; the Phantom had positioned itself, using the slack in the rope, over the roof, and had deployed troops into the building. He grabbed his battle rifle and checked what he was seeing; it was difficult at that distance and darkness, even with a telescopic sight. But he knew he saw Brutes, and he knew he saw a lot of Gravity Hammers, and Fuel Rod Guns, and big ornate helmets. Even in a Wraith, he couldn't argue with that kind of power.

Smoke turned the Wraith to face the building. He had already planned his escape route for when the building fell- because he was planning to bring it down. He just hoped the building would fall in the way he expected it to. He lined up the alien scope with one of the building's integral supports, and hit the Covenant's fire control. The Wraith recoiled as the huge blob of magnetically contained plasma soared towards the building; the brilliant blue inferno incised arc-like through the darkness, and a electric-bright explosion bloomed out of it. The building wobbled and swayed, as if deciding which direction below to fall on and crush. Finally it fell, as if in slow motion, to the left from where Smoke sat, a reasonably safe distance off. The building dragged the Phantom down with it, the winch Smoke had secured performing one last, faithful duty. The block hit the ground with such force it disintegrated, and a great dust cloud accompanied the huge tremors it sent reverberating through the ground. The Phantom was itself dashed against the ground, irreparably wrecked.

Smoke was quite pleased with himself, if he was perfectly honest. He'd never destroyed a building before. But he was fully aware of how much attention he might have just gained. As the dust cloud swept over him, Michael climbed out of the tank- it would be far too conspicuous- and moved into the cover of the park, eyes intent on Church's deserted pod. He felt his stiff back break out in a searing ache as he moved- a hive of pain spread from the plasma wound he had taken, and his chest was moving slowly over his broken ribs. As he limped away, something shiny to his left glinted in the light of the fire, catching his gaze. He bent to pick it up in the darkness, and found his combat knife, slightly bent from its fall. Its point was chipped and its handle was badly scuffed. But he pulled the Spiker round from his sheath, tossed it away, and replaced his blade, now feeling slightly reassured. At once he set off back into the darkness, a fine layer of dust embracing his armour and sticking fast to the drying blood that covered it.

Hope in Shadow

(1956) STANDARD TIME (UNSC STANDARD) / OCTOBER 20, 2552 / SYDNEY THEATRE
Staff Sergeant Amelia 'Wendy' Dawson

Unbroken static occupied Amelia's ear. She flicked off her radio, and sighed quietly. It had been like this for the last half hour- with no communication possible at all with Smoke or the other squads- but it had been deteriorating slowly before that. Her lungs released another sigh, almost involuntarily, and she turned to face her squad who were listening to the conversation- or would have been, were it happening.

"Still nothing?" Spade asked, standing uneasily.

Staff Sergeant Dawson shook her head. "Nothing. At last contact he said Smoke was going for Church, and that was three hours ago. Satellite communication's been down all day, but TEAMCOM should be able to reach him. It did earlier, and we weren't that much closer than than now. And we haven't had contact with first and fourth squads at all since the drop. So, maybe the Covenant's jamming radio transmissions, or...." She trailed off. Warlock glanced at his two squadmates, and knew that they understood the possibilities. They didn't need to say it; that would only add an element of finality to it.

"Alright helljumpers," she said quietly. "Dismissed."

Warlock and Spade returned to their positions, and Amelia turned back inside the building which concealed her sniping position. She needed to talk to Smoke. Everything had changed now. She needed to see him. So much had changed! And how he was in Covenant territory, unreachable. Her deep thoughts were shattered as Sergeant Carter called to her.

"Sergeant Dawson! Just received something you and your men should hear!" The Marine was pointing back behind him, to the field radio positioned next to the makeshift ammunition store. Wendy's heart leapt, but she soon saw her elation was premature by the expressions of the Marine operating the radio. She called Nash and Philips over again, who crouched down in front of the radio to listen to its empty noise; their ears strained in vain to pick up anything. Amelia walked over and stood behind them, brushing shoulder with the Sergeant, and looked intently at the radio's screen.

"I don't hear anything sir," Warlock said, directed at both Dawson and Carter.

"Not yet you don't," Denton, the radio operator, commented. "It's not a signal on the radio - SATCOM's been down all day, and TEAMCOM's being jammed by something. No, this is a recorded message that's been sent to us over- well, quite a long while ago. It just finished transferring, about to play it now."

"Let's hear it then," said Carter. "Play the message." Denton flicked a switch, and the radio began playing the recording.

"This is Lieutenant Colonel Oscar Pirez, acting commander of the 28th Shock Troops Battalion. This message has been recorded and sent to the following units of the 28th Shock Troops Battalion- 4th Platoon Alpha Company- 3rd Platoon Bravo Company- 4th Platoon Bravo Company- and is correct as of sixteen hundred, 20th of October, 2552. The situation in Sydney is grave, with Covenant forces currently preparing for an assault on the south side of the harbour, in preparation for a presumed attack on the Bravo-6 facility. As you should by this point be aware, the Covenant is attempting to jam UNSC communications in the Sydney area. It is imperative that these jammers are destroyed, as they pose a serious threat to coordination of allied forces. You are ordered to destroy the Sydney Harbour Bridge to halt the Covenant advance, then destroy any Covenant jammer equipment. Coordinates for the jammer will follow this message. These orders are correct as of sixteen hundred zulu, October 20, 2552. In the event that subsequent events after the issuance of these orders interfere with their execution, the orders are to be carried out at the senior most person's discretion with the objective of carrying them out remaining critical. Good luck."

"So that explains the state of TEAMCOM. The Covenant are trying to jam us," Wendy exclaimed, as Spade's visor depolarised to reveal an optimistic grin on his face.

"Smoke might be alright, then," he said, a hint of hope in his voice. "He's got a chance, I mean."

Carter shook his head, more to himself than anyone. "Three Bravo are dead," he said quickly. "They came to support us and the rest of my platoon before we bumped into you, when the Covies ambushed us- to my knowledge, we're the only ones who made it out."

"Situation of four Bravo is also unknown," piped in a marine named Nilson. "We heard some weak radio chatter on the way here that sounded like them; they were engaged with the enemy, and it sounded bad."

"So it'll have to be us to go get the jammer," finished Spade. "We can't take the chance that someone else got that message and can carry out the orders."

"Sir?" Denton called, indicating Carter, and holding a TACPAD. "Coordinates just came through...you ain't gonna like this."

"Oh, what now," he half sighed, and took the pad from the Marine. "...shit. This position is more than six klicks away..." he trailed off, then paused. "There's no way we can protect the bridge and take out the jammer. We have to go for the target."

"We can't blow the bridge," said Wendy immediately.

"But we can't leave the it for Covenant troops to cross either," replied Carter. "If we're heading to the jammer, we have no choice but to destroy it, to block the Covie advance."

"We can't hit the jammer and guard the bridge," mused Warlock.

"We aren't destroying it," Wendy insisted.

"If the Covenant are going to come, why don't we just blow the bridge and then head for the jammer?" asked Spade.

"Because," she replied forcefully, "those corvettes are still up there, deploying troops on the north side, where Bravo-6's triple-A fire can't hit them. If we blow the bridge, that will only make them halt the deployment of troops to the north side, and bypass the bridge by air. Besides that, it would leave all UNSC forces this side trapped."

"You mean it would leave Smoke trapped," he amended. He had a habit of noticing things like that in people.

Spade saw her nostrils flare, and she didn't respond; her silence said more than any denial would have.

"I can understand that," he said slowly, after leaving her silence respected for a few seconds. "But I doubt HIGHCOM would share my opinion. What're you gonna say to them?"

Wendy breathed deeply. "We've set up considerable defence to make a stand here, to buy forces the other side as much time as possible, and hope someone takes out those corvettes. We have rigged explosive charges to the bridge. We'll retreat and blow it when we can no longer hold here, stalling the Covenant ground invasion as long as possible and by extention, delaying the time they pick up and drop off the troops to the south side. By the time we're done this, Smoke will have returned with Church and the scientist," she added confidently. Spade knew her too well to be tricked by her level, cool voice.

"That's a direct contradiction of the orders we just received," Carter said firmly. "And you know that."

"Not necessarily. Command didn't know about the Covenant corvettes dropping troops for an assault on Bravo-6 when it issued those orders. They did give room for discretion when deciding to carry out these orders or not based on later events. And I'd say those corvettes being up there are a pretty significant reason for delaying. The longer we stall the Covenant here before we blow the bridge, the better chance everyone on the other side has."

Carter still didn't look convinced, and shared a glance with Denton. "Alright," Denton said. "So you're staying here. But we still have to take out the jammer."

"Sergeant Carter," Wendy said, turning to face all six feet two inches of him. "Sir. Whatever you decide to do, me and my men will remain here. We made someone a promise, and we aren't about to break it."

He sighed. "Well, you're really putting me on the spot. But...if you aren't moving ODST, then neither are we," Carter replied with reassuring conviction. "But someone still needs to kill that jammer." The man paused for a moment as he thought this through, then turned to his radio operator. "Denton! Try that radio again. Call for all units in the vicinity of the designated target-" Carter stopped as the radio operator shook his head. "All jammed...shit. Alright, everyone who you can raise."

"This is two Bravo twenty-five, to anyone receiving this message, respond, over." The static resumed once Denton had finished speaking. He looked doubtfully at Carter, whose face remained stubborn.

"Keep trying," he said. "There's gotta be someone receiving us." Denton repeated the transmission, and once again his voice ended to nothing but static. Wendy didn't move; she knew no one would put an end to it until they raised someone on the other end.

Then finally a voice responded, cutting through the background hiss faintly. Wendy could only pick out a few half-words and sounds, as the thick interference blotted it out. "This is...Charl...11...sage reci...repeat"

"See if you can clear it up," ordered Carter, and Denton adjusted an array of dials on the device's face.

"...Do you read...message is not...repeat over..." Denton further refined his adjustments, and an unbroken, though static-laden, voice emerged.

"This is First Lieutenant Wright, three Charlie eleven, do you copy, over?"

"Three Charlie eleven from two Bravo twenty-five, we read you three by five. Good to hear your voice, Lieutenant, but I'm afraid it's not a friendly chat we're after, over."

The trooper replied after a pause. "Yeah, I had a feeling you might say that...so what is it, over?"

"We have, uh," Denton turned and glanced at Carter, who nodded, while avoiding Wendy's ice-cold stare, "been given orders to pass on to nearby units, and it's your lucky day, over."

He heard swearing over the static-filled connection, before a coherent reply: "Alright, so what is it? Destroy the Covenant fleet, perhaps?”

"Not quite. As you may have noticed we've had some communications trouble lately; we need you to destroy a large Covenant jammer hampering the defence effort. Coordinates to follow, over."

There was a pause as the officer digested the information. "It's out of our way and we’re pretty bloodied...but alright, I'll prepare my men. One question though - if you received these orders, why aren't you hitting the jammer yourself? Why ask us?"

Carter stepped over the radio, seeing Denton's puzzled face. "We're holding a key strategic position to deny the Covenant further advances. I assume you've heard of the Harbour Bridge?"

Wright breathed deeply. "Alright, we'll get there. "I'll contact you again if I feel there's anything you should know. You'll know when communications are back to normal. Wright out."

Radio Silence

2041 STANDARD TIME (UNSC STANDARD) / OCTOBER 20, 2552 / DOWNTOWN SYDNEY
First Lieutenant William Wright

First Lieutenant William Wright closed the COM channel, and sighed, surveying his troops from his perch atop an overturned police car. His company had taken a five minute breather from hours of constant fighting and walking. They’d escaped the fires in the kilometre high skyscrapers deep down town, and made their way towards the Harbour Bridge as quickly as they could. Now, they’d reached a relatively untouched residential district. Oh, there were signs of fighting here; the plasma burns on the side of buildings were proof of that. It was just less of it here than elsewhere in the city. He quickly looked up the location given to him by the chap he was speaking to over the COM. It was about half a click to the north of their position - almost the opposite direction than they wanted to go to get to the Harbor Bridge. That would take roughly fifteen minutes to get to the jammer, another ten minutes fighting to destroy them - followed by a good two and a half hour walk the bridge, through possibly Covenant-packed streets.

Fun - but he had his orders. And quite possibly, he might be the only person in charge of a unit capable of doing it.

He opened a COM channel to Staff Sergeant Amber Davies, who simply got referred to as "Fox". The nickname seemed rather generic in his opinion, but she had to have earned it somehow. She was also the senior-most NCO within the Company still alive.

"Fox, get the troopers formed up for a quick brief. We have a new orders."

"Aye sir," came the static-laden reply. Bloody jamming equipment... He took of his matte black combat helmet, and rubbed the dust and ash off of it.

"Troopers, on your feet," he heard Fox order loudly. "The Lieutenant says we have new orders - so stow it, and fall in line."

The officer observed the troopers unquestionably gather around him, listening intently. Wright took his cue and began explaining the sudden change in plans.

"We just received new orders - we're to destroy the Covenant jammer in the area. Apparently, the most troubling one is on top of an apartment building, only a half-kilometre trek from, and once we're done with this little sideshow, we'll continue to the bridge."

William Wright could tell by the way a few of the troopers' shoulders sagged that they were not at all happy about this. They'd been through hell today, fighting Covenant at every turn, and steadily retreating all the way, losing members of their unit at every turn. Charlie Company had numbered 142 prior to this morning's drop...he was down to 53 troopers - leaving his company at 37.32% strength. Combat ineffective in most cases - but his troops had fought valiantly throughout, and if he could get them to believe this constituted revenge, he'd get his troops to fight harder than they normally would. It was down to a game of morale and manipulation.

"According to intel reports, the jammer is only lightly defended. Think of this as a chance to strike back at those Covie bastards for the ground we gave up today, and the members of Charlie that are no longer with us," he continued. "And show them who the fuck they messed with when they invaded Sydney - and the sort of welcome they can expect here on Earth."

He heard few oohrahs, and decided that was all he would get in the way of reactions.

Too bad, he thought. He didn't think it had been that bad of a motivational speech. He slipped his helmet over his head, and tinted the faceplate.

"Move out! Staff Sergeant, with me, please," he ordered. The new squad commanders began issuing orders, setting the unit on their way towards the objective.

"Sir? You requested my presence?" Fox asked, appearing at his side.

"Yeah, Sergeant. How are you holding up?"

"Fine, sir," was the abbreviated reply.

The two walked in silence, each one waiting for the other to say something. Instead, they looked over the ragged collection of surviving troopers under their command in silence, and instead, attempted to anticipate the results of the upcoming action.

Staff Sergeant Amber ‘Fox’ Davies

Staff Sergeant Davies wasn’t sure why Leo felt so inclined to abandon his company on a suicide mission. She’d heard from several people who had known him before the Battle of Reach that the dreadful military fiasco had changed him for the worse. He’d lost the bulk of his unit there – his closest friends and comrades, and left more behind to be glassed. She had liked him and had assumed he had felt the same. Perhaps he did, and perhaps duty came first to him before survival. Whatever the case, he hoped Leo had survived to make his way across the Harbour Bridge. Despite the odds stacked extremely heavily against him.

She knew she couldn’t let this concentrate her from her duty – Leo wouldn’t have wanted that, and besides, that would make combat that much harder; an unneeded distraction in an already dangerous conflict. Fox turned her attention back to the upcoming fight – her Company was about to be viciously culled again. She knew it – too many new guys and too few hardened veterans, no air support, and no reinforcements. The fact she was the senior NCO of the unit left was a telling sign of the poor state of the remnants of the ODST company.

She appreciated Wright’s concern for her sudden burden of responsibility, but he was an officer – a new one at that. How he was still alive when every other officer in the company was dead was tantamount of his ability to survive; how anyone in the outfit was even alive still was perhaps due to his leadership ability on a limited scale. Mostly, it was due to shooting: lots and lots of shooting. Wright had done what he could, but he’d been out of his league from the moment he authorized the emergency drop from the New Jersey. So, she’d had trudged along with the remains of Charlie Company, her sniper rifle at the ready.

The ODSTs covered ground fast, covering ground more rapidly than anticipated. The elite troopers held short a block from the designated target: several troopers (including Fox) quietly made their way up to the top of surrounding buildings, to gather intelligence for their assault from above. Fox made her way to the roof, and peered down on the entrance to the apartment building, towering many stories above her. She counted a few dozen Covenant troops, including several Brutes – with countless defending the inside of the building. She made her way back down the dozen flights of stairs and across the street to make a report to the Lieutenant and squad leaders.

“Sir, there’s few dozen Covenant troops guarding the courtyard in front entrance of the target structure, with countless more inside, ready to wage a defensive action. There didn’t seem to be any snipers up top, but I think we’ll have enough problems just assaulting the structure with the number of troops we have.”

Wright nodded. “That’s about what the other troops reported as well. Once we get inside, it’ll be a game of attrition – one we can’t possibly hope to win. I’m open to suggestions,” the officer conceded, looking about the small gathering of squad leaders and Fox. A wise move, Fox thought, for a junior officer to ask for opinions from more experienced troops.

The group looked at one another, before the corpsman, Petty Officer Third Class Clifford ‘Cliff’ Strider, cleared his throat and adjusted his mirrored aviator glasses that hid the rings under his eyes. His stated reason for wearing such an antiquated piece of headwear (at least in the opinion of members of the younger generation) was always “because I get a HUD and COMs wherever I go” – but Fox swore the corpsman simply hid behind his glasses, masking his true thoughts and emotions behind the reflective film. It was probably so he’d always present a facade of calm indifference.

Cliff had been at Reach as well, though he’d been transferred to the 11th Shock Troops after his former unit had been almost completely decimated in the defence of Camp Hathcock. He’d narrowly escaped incineration from the glassing fleet by escaping aboard am ONI prowler – one of the last UNSC vessels in system. Because of this and by virtue of being a damned good corpsman, he endured next to no ribbing at his expense unlike many of the navy corpsmen serving alongside the Special Forces Marines. He’d had a very difficult deployment thus far: he’d watched dozens of his comrades die right before his eyes despite his medical intervention – only to have the ones he’d actually stabilized despite their wounds slowly die off due to the inability to evacuate the wounded elsewhere for more comprehensive treatment. Even the best troops humanity had were just as mortal as any human. He’d long since run out of the medical supplies he had dropped with, and had to salvage all the medical supplies he now carried from the other troopers. He’d also managed to lose his helmet – which was why he was wearing his damn glasses in the first place (Fox briefly entertained the realization that she’d never actually seen the colour of his eyes before).

“Well, I agree we cannot secure the target with the numbers we have, so why not level the playing field - quite literally by bringing the house down?”

His rhetorical question surprised the group; so obvious and simple that the notion had not been entertained. Nor should it have even been considered; given its completely unconventional nature - but ODSTs were unconventional by virtue of being Special Operations personnel. Obviously, destroying a multimillion credit building was not usually sanctioned, but given the situation…a grin appeared on Fox’s face. One had also appeared on Wright’s face. They had a plan. The other ODSTs of the company were quickly informed of the situation and the plan of attack by the squad leaders.

Fox traded off her Sniper Rifle to another trooper for his BR55; after all, it was her place to lead the actual assault; not pick off enemy units from afar. She led a platoon into position, adjacent the apartment entrance, as the Lieutenant lead the second into a position that would be flanking the Covenant defensive units. She checked the time: 21:19:24 hours. She would have her squad begin the attack at 21:20:00, with Wright’s platoon engaging almost simultaneously. Hopefully, with a bit of assistance from several somewhat competent marksmen from nearby rooftops, it should be a simple matter to overwhelm the Covenant welcoming party and get inside. The operative word being, of course, hopefully.

Fox watched the seconds count up on her HUD clock.

21:19:45.

The Staff Sergeant patiently utilized the time to double-check her battle rifle’s magazine, ensured a projectile was chambered, before shifting the fire selector to burst-fire mode.

21:19:56.

She made one last check to ensure her unit was in place and ready to deploy, before focusing her attention on the time. The HUD ticked over to 21:20, and Fox pumped a clenched fist down, and signalled her troops to begin the assault. Troopers poured into the courtyard, firearms blazing. A dozen Covenant infantry were gunned down almost immediately, taken completely by surprise. They hadn’t even raised their weapons. However, the surviving two dozen Covenant troops quickly took cover and began to return fire. While sniper fire, greater numbers and superior training on the part of the ODSTs quickly decimated the defenders, the return fire was deadly and several troopers were felled.

Several troops, including the Lieutenant stormed the lobby of the building, while the majority of the ODSTs remained at the entrance; keeping the external section of structure secure. Muffled gunfire and explosions wafted from the interior of the Covenant-occupied construction, causing the troopers outside to look about in concern. Several anxious minutes later, Wright and the troopers emerged.

Wright looked pleased, and announced that there was Covenant forces holed up in the building; and a metric shit-tonne by the limited exchange they’d had. But they’d set the explosive charges in the basement, rigged in a fashion to cause the building to implode in upon itself. Strider looked pleased with himself for anticipating the Covenant tactic.

The Lieutenant withdrew the company several blocks down, before stopping and blowing the building with no ceremony. The building fell inwards, collapsing in upon itself, a cloud of debris obscuring the site of distruction – before radio chatter abruptly filled their helmets

This done, the entire company beat a hasty withdrawal away from the apartment building that had complicated their attempt to escape the downtown area so much.

The Scientist and the Soldier

(2120) STANDARD TIME (UNSC STANDARD) / OCTOBER 20, 2552 / SYDNEY THEATRE
Second Lieutenant Michael 'Smoke' Robson

Smoke knelt beside the pod, examining its evidence. A grim expression marked his face as he noted the plasma impact that had destroyed the main chute, and the mere slit the exit hatch had opened to, blocked against the ground the pod was half-buried in. Smoke already suspected from experience Church had made it to the ground intact- the lack of a body or blood confirmed this- but the fact that he had left behind most of his equipment told that he had fled the scene as fast as possible. The plasma burns from small arms scarring the ground told the same story. Smoke chose to take the few scattered Unggoy corpses as a good sign. He noted half a magazine's worth of pistol brass with equal optimism and despair.

Grimacing and sombre, Smoke scavenged what he could from the deserted vehicle, replacing his near-empty biofoam canister with a fresh one, and restocking on grenades and magazines. Finally he found a small medical pack and, thinking of his broken bones and the bone-knitting polymer it likely contained, stowed the pack on his magnetic belt.

It was dark now, and Smoke knew he needed to see to his wounds soon- his plasma wounds were hurting as he moved, and the biofoam in his shoulder wound was slowly disintegrating. Worryingly, he had also developed a limp in his right leg from his encounter with the Brutes, and his chest felt ever more tight as it heaved over his lungs.

Ignoring his own injuries, he tried to contact the squads under his command for the umpteenth time- but it was no use. Smoke suspected the Covenant had set up jammers to hassle the UNSC, but he was deep inside Covenant territory anyway. He hadn't had contact with any of the other squads under his command since the drop- third Squad had been killed by Banshees during their drop, and first had dropped right into a Covenant stronghold- he knew what the chances were for second, which left just fourth squad.

Now that he thought of it, his orders had been incredibly reckless- he had been promoted to Second Lieutenant and given command of 4 Platoon- then ordered to leave the four squads under his command without proper leadership and venture into Covie territory on an ONI-sanctioned wild goose chase. True, his superiors hadn't known at the time he wouldn't be able to contact them, but that didn't change the fact that they'd directed Smoke to abandon dozens of men and women under his command to attempt to rescue one. The guilt he felt at his own actions subsided and was replaced with a growing bitterness. This scientist jerk had better be worth the cost in blood that would be shed to retrieve him.

Profoundly disheartened at the thought of having been forced to abandoned his troops, Smoke looked round, trying to find a suitable place to pause and recover. Seeing none in the immediate area, he left the park and stopped quickly, having found an ideal building- unlike most of the square's structures, it seemed relatively untouched by fire or plasma discharge. It was a small but nondescript office building, with a good view of the square but not too exposed. Best of all, it wasn't an obvious hideout that any passing Covenant troops might think to search.

He reached the door- jammed shut- and instead smashed through the window, creating his own entrance. His chest groaned in protest as he swung his legs inside the darkened room, but he winced it off and toggled his helmet flashlight on. As he surveyed the room, illumination following his gaze around it, he noted on the ground the discarded M7 submachine gun magazine, a dropped grenade firing pin and a half-visible, ODST standard issue boot print. He wasn't the only one to pick this building to take shelter; someone else was here. Church?

Ignoring the dead elevator, Smoke moved towards the right of the room, where a wide staircase rose before curving out of sight. Noticing a faint but growing trail of old blood, he pulled out his pistol and carefully ascended the stairs, muzzle not moving from the edge of his vision around the corner.

He saw the dead ODST as he emerged from the stairs into the floor above, and his heart sank into his stomach. The hope that had coursed all through his body vanished as if it had never been there. The trooper lay upright against the wall, unmoving, a spent can of biofoam in his cold hand and abdomen punctuated with awful plasma wounds. Smoke lowered his pistol and moved towards the trooper, his flashlight casting a luminous white glow around him, making the body appear specre-like. He knelt beside the body and checked for ID tags on his shoulder, and switched off his helmet lights in despair, and closed his eyes.

"You look like shit, sir." Smoke almost dropped his pistol.

He turned to face the voice- and saw with incredulity two figures sat round the corner from the staircase. One wore ODST armour and the other some suit Smoke didn't recognise; both men were unhelmeted but the window behind them silhouetted their faces from view, the night outside seeming illuminated in the dark interior. Smoke removed his helmet to show his mouth held stubbornly ajar. For more than a moment, no one said anything.

"Well," said one of the men, "aren't you going to introduce us?" The man in the suit had spoke, his voice strong and confident.

Smoke ignored the man. "Church?" he said, quietly but clearly. "Is that you?"

"Yes sir," the ODST replied. "And I gotta say, I didn't expect anyone to come rescue me, let alone you."

"Yeah, well...you're not the only reason I'm here." Smoke stopped there, deciding not to go into the details about how Church wasn't even mentioned in his orders. "What are you doing here? How did you survive?"

"King here saw me hit the ground, and and with some well placed shooting... he saved my life, sir. Without a doubt."

"That's right," King said. "We've holed up here to avoid the patrols- three in the last two hours. Something's made them step up their movements, possibly an impending advance. I wasn't sure how we were going to get out of here, but now that there's another ODST here, I'm much more confident."

The man stepped forward into the light and Smoke saw him properly for the first time- dark hair and a rough beard framing his face, strong eyes burning into him through black-rimmed glasses. Smoke felt his own eyes burning fiercely into the scientist- his name was King, so this had to be him. He let his glare linger on the man for a second longer- but this didn't have the effect Smoke was accustomed to. He turned to Church, seeing his face this time. "I'm glad you're alright Church. Who-" he pointed behind him at the corpse- "who's he?"

It was King who responded. "Private Murray. I found him just before Bishop's pod crashed. He was badly wounded, so I came in here. That's when Church dropped in. His wounds were severe. He died a few hours ago."

"Regular hero, aren't you?" Smoke responded sharply, glaring at King. He turned to Church. "Did he say anything?"

"He was with two four Alpha twenty eight... he said he was the only survivor from first and third squad."

Smoke grunted. "I thought we lost them. Still no word on second squad and before you ask-" Smoke saw Church's mouth open- "fourth were alright, last time I had contact. Fighting hard, but alright."

"So why are you here?" asked King.

"Getting Church," Smoke lied. "I could ask you the same question."

"My Bumblebee crashed not far from here. I found Murray, then Bishop. I can't tell you everything; needless to say that I'm a scientist, and I'm important. The sooner we get out of here and back behind friendly lines, the better."

"Not right now," Church interjected. "We need to get you fixed up gunny, like I said- you look like shit."

"Smoke looked down at his armour- dented, pitted with plasma marks, a deep gouge in his shoulder; his armour covered in dried blood and dust.

"Alright," Smoke replied reluctantly. He pulled out his medical pack and biofoam, and began the painful task. "Oh, and Church?" he said, his voice already straining through the pain. "I'm a Second Lieutenant now."

Face of the Enemy

(2126) STANDARD TIME (UNSC STANDARD) / OCTOBER 20, 2552 / SYDNEY THEATRE

Radner looked at the crate of 7.62mm magazines as he stowed the last of five in his empty pouches, running his gloved finger along the top of each one. He dumped his half-empty mag and replaced it with a fresh one, then pushed the remaining rounds from his old mag into an ammo belt around his waist.

"Why are you doing that?" asked Warlock, sat lazily beside the heavy machine gun, watching him. His helmet sat equally immobile beside him, blindly observing. The visor reflected the image of the three dozen or so marines and ODSTs preparing the Bridge's defences, distorted by its convex shape. Radner was positioned on the gun; Warlock and a trooper who called himself Mack sat with their backs to the sandbag fortifications, rifles propped against it.

Radner chuckled. "It's Phillips, right? I dunno. In case I run out of magazines?"

Warlock's expression turned quizzical. "Why not just carry the extra mag then?" he suggested. "And call me Warlock."

"Warlock," he replied, his voice lacking the sense of unease which Warlock hadn't noticed until its absence. "I do it because it looks badass!" the marine asserted, but he saw Warlock's bemused expression, his eyebrows arched in mild surprise. Radner sighed slightly. "My dad used to take me out hunting with him. Old bolt-action rifle, we'd both carry ammo like this. Maybe it reminds me of that. I dunno, it's just-" he shook his head as if he disapproved of his own actions. "It's stupid."

Warlock mulled this over. "It's not stupid," he said reassuringly. "It's not incredibly practical, but it's only a few rounds. And if it helps you... " he trailed off, having said too much and nothing at the same time. He daren't ask about where he came from, or his father- no one asked those sorts of questions anymore, because no one wanted to answer them. It was like an unspoken etiquette had developed whereby casual conversation would avoid origins, family and experiences at all costs. The two shared the uneasy silence together.

The first plasma mortar came out of nowhere.

Immediately a flurry of activity possessed the troops as they scrambled for cover, their weapons, or their helmets. The plasma mortar missed everything important, crashing dead-centre into the road, but they wouldn't wait for a second one. Warlock glanced quickly up at Spade in his makeshift sniper's nest, but gained no reassurance as he stared, completely fixated, focused, down his sights. The smell of the plasma fire was on him already but he realised that wasn't it- there would me more, and far more. Warlock's ears were immediately assailed by voices shouting over TEAMCOM, most prominent being Amelia's rock-solid scream. He pulled his helmet roughly over his head and saw his VISR spring to life in front of his face.

More explosions and the first figures rounded the street corner nearest the Bridge on the right side. The shouting intensified and the troop's guns spat torrents of concentrated fire at the targets. "Contacts, contacts! Down and return fire!" he shouted, a result of his training more than anything as the plasma mortars rained down on the buildings around them.

"Down, down!" Sergeant Carter shouted as the plasma tore through the smoke that now obscured the road; Warlock caught only snippets of orders and yells from around him as panic was replaced by fear; "Watch for snipers!"..."Keep down!"..."Another mortar, hit the dirt!"..."Target down, target down!"...and all this under the constant rattling of rifle and machine gun fire. His VISR cut through the thick plasma fumes and outlined the enemy; dozens of Grunts, numerous Elites and Jackals, swarming at them. The defenders would be overwhelmed. God, there's so many.

"Denton!" hollered Carter over the tempest of noise. "Radio communication restored yet?!"

"No sir!" he replied, abandoning the radio and grabbing his rifle. "You'll be the first to know!" The Marine raised his MA5C and loosed a burst of automatic fire into the semi-transparent fog. He gasped as a plasma pistol bolt grazed his shoulder but ignored the singed smell it released, and threw blindly a grenade into the fray.

Amelia watched a moment before moving back to her line of sight- but something caught her attention, stopping her from turning away. A thin shadow moved slowly through the thinning smoke of the battle, gaining more definition every second. As it advanced it became solid in form and she saw it- huge headdress and fearsome hammer to match. The beast lifted its bulging arms towards the sky, inhaled a mighty breath, and then opened its maw and bellowed at the defenders. In an instant, a thicket of rifles pointed at the Chieftain, rattling ferociously as the thing shrugged off the wounds, hefted its hammer, and charged dead on at Warlock. The ODST steeled himself and kept his machine gun levelled at the rampaging Brute, ignoring his every nerve screaming at him to dive- somewhere in him a voice told him the thing wouldn't die before its hammer met his temple. His fingers gripped the machine gun's grips more tightly, and he urged the trigger deeper- in a few seconds, it would be over.

Metres from him a vapour trail sliced the air in two, and the Brute's headdress catapulted into the air above its erupted head and neck, airborne plates of bone and strings of ragged flesh choking the air. Warlock followed the trail and found Wendy at the end of it, and with a slight dip of her chin she told him to say no more. Under Warlock's helmet his face drained of colour, the steaming reek of flesh and the spurt of arterial blood momentarily overwhelming his senses.

"Sergeant Carter!" Wendy shouted. Warlock saw her expression and knew roughly what she would say before she said it- she had seen something from up there. "Covenant infantry moving into the building on the right, bottom floor!"

"Sir, radio's clear, I repeat radio is clear!" Denton called, his HUD flashing with erratic notifications.

"Warlock!" shouted Amelia, the crack of her SRS99 rifle nudging her shoulder back; somewhere down her sights an Elite dropped stone dead. "Report in, call for backup!" He simply nodded back, noting that slight hint of panic in her voice that always worried him.

"Four Alpha Twenty-Eight, contact has been made, repeat, we have made contact with the enemy, requesting support, over!" he shouted, his voice muffled slightly by his headgear but audible over the din. He waited briefly as he got his answer; "Received, Two Charlie Twenty-Five en route to target location!"

"Copy, Two Charlie Twenty-Five en route to target location!" Carter repeated over TEAMCOM as he heard it; he singled out a Jackal aiming as it shuffled sideways, trying to get a better look at one of his squadmates. With barely any lead on the target he squeezed his BR55's trigger and the beast found a new hole torn through its midsection.

"Croft, Blakefield, to me!" Warlock called to the two troopers to his right. "Sergeant, I'll take Fireteam Charlie right flanking, beat the Covies to the building!"

Carter didn't think twice. "Do it!" he shouted, "Corporal Nash, Dawson, concentrate fire on targets moving right!" He looked purposefully over at Radner, manning the heavy machine gun. "Radner, lay down fire support, on my shout!" He glanced back at Warlock, and nodded once.

He turned to the other two. "Right, pairs. Move into the building, room by room, one in, one behind. You two, me and Mack. Ready Mack?"

"Always ready sir!" the young trooper called back.

Warlock glanced back at Carter. "Now, now! You three, move, go!" He went first and sprinted to the last metal barricade on the far right, head low, backpack swaying. He hit the ground and saw the others behind him dash into cover. "Croft, Blakefield, go now, we'll provide cover!"

"Moving sir!" shouted one of them. The two clambered hurriedly to their feet and raced into the safety of the first building, what looked like a residential block with a bar occupying the bottom floor, plasma bolts choking the air. Warlock raised his rifle and rested his forward hand on the edge of the barricade, (now succumbing to concentrated weapons fire, smoking and glowing) and spat half a magazine at the surging mass of outlined targets through the smoke of the constant plasma mortars. Mack did the same, and when the other two had reached the other side it was their turn to run the gauntlet- both made it and dived into the doorway of the bar on the corner, miraculously with just minor grazes and nicks to their armour. Warlock clambered to his feet roughly, still feeling the intense heat of the plasma.

Then he looked down at Mack.

He was looking down because the Marine had failed to get back up from his dive, and Warlock quickly saw the reason; the deep wound- no, the deep crater, a plasma bolt had melted into his chest. The trooper wheezed very briefly and the two locked eyes, but nothing meaningful that Warlock could discern passed between them. Mack coughed and spluttered then, jerking, ceased all sound or movement. Warlock paused only to close his lifeless eyes before moving into the block. He found Croft and Blakefield already having put down a squad of Grunts in the ground floor corridor. "Mack's dead. I'm with you," he said simply, grateful at least for not having to shout, now that the battle was outside. He ignored the startling mix of shock, dread, and weariness their faces radiated. The building rocked slightly as a plasma mortar struck it.

"Private Philips, we're taking heavy casualties!" shouted Carter as a voice in his ear. "You must prevent the Covenant moving through that building at all costs! Support should be here any minute, hold position 'til then!"

"Copy that," Warlock replied, his voice level, containing no trace of emotion. He thought of Mack, trying to conjure some emotion for what had just happened; He looked down the short, dimly lit corridor, past the dark silhouettes of Bakefield and Croft, and moved to the first door. He slid quietly into the room; MA5C poised, and swept the room once over with his eyes. Croft was right behind him; his submachine gun nestled tightly in his arms, levelled to his visor. The building shook yet again and a shower of fine dust raining from the ceiling, a few larger fragments dislodging themselves.

"This room's clear, move into the next one," Warlock ordered, exiting back to the corridor through a second door, careful not to disturb the debris that littered the floor. "Clear!" he heard Blakefield shout, and both the Marines emerged from the room opposite Warlock's. "Sir, we found the elevator to the floors above, it's not operational," informed Blakefield. "If there are Covenant in this building, they're on the bottom floor."

Warlock nodded. "Sergeant Carter, back rooms and upper floors are clear, moving into the bar now," he relayed.

"Acknowledged. No heroics, just halt them inside that building. We've got support about five minutes out!"

The door slid open and exposed the poised troopers to the expansive room; masses of bottles behind the bar had cascaded down in the bombardment and now littered the floor with millions of glistening fragments. The tops of the tables were lightly coated in a dull dust. But no hostiles.

"Warlock, you've got more infantry entering the building, Grunts and a few Elites!" she was shouting to hear herself over the sounds of the firefight outside, but the volume stunned his thoughts momentarily. Find some cover, fast."

"Copy, we'll hold position here," Warlock said, deciding the large room but narrow entrance would be a good place to fortify. He moved quickly to the end of the room and overturned the round tables nearest the door, creating a makeshift barrier. Then he did the same for a few of the tables further back, with the idea that they would act as cover for them to hide behind and move between. The two Marines watched and moved into their improvised cover, while Warlock retreated to behind the bar. Just as he settled, rifle pointed intently at the door, he heard the first movements from outside.

"Philips, not much-"

"Requesting radio silence!" Warlock hissed in a whisper as his radio crackled. He briefly broke his focus on the door to glance over at Croft, the closest to him, crouched behind a toppled table. The two exchanged a reassuring nod.

Shuffling noises outside.

The door slid open and the Grunt behind it dropped dead before it had even entered. The creature crumpled to the floor.

In the instant it took for Warlock’s rifle to chamber his next round, another two followed, not even having time to raise their weapons before perishing under the withering fusillade. Warlock squeezed his weapon's trigger again and unleashed an accurate stream of automatic fire as three more Grunts attempted to clamber over their slain comrade's bodies. Blinded by muzzle flashes from within the darkened bar and assailed by a steady wall of bullets, they fell instantly. All Warlock could see of his allies was the muzzle flashes of their weapons and the semi-lit silhouettes of their bodies. He only knew who was who from their positions. Another cluster of Grunts surged through, hindered by the bodies but returning aimed fire. Warlock instinctively ducked as a luminous green bolt surged past his head, only his helmet preventing the near miss scorching him. The lines of needler fire found themselves embedded in walls and overturned tables but missed their targets, soon showering the room in tiny pink shards.

Before the last of the needles had detonated, it was over. The doorway and the immediate inside of the room were choked by ten dead Grunts, purple blood oozing from their bodies through bullet-torn openings. Now that they’d stopped firing, Warlock could hear the plasma fire from the skirmish outside, and the chattering of the UNSC’s answering fire.

"Reloading!" shouted Warlock, hitting his rifle's magazine release catch, discarding the featherweight magazine and expertly sliding a loaded one in its place. Beside him, Croft and Blakefield kept their rifles leveled towards the door, deadly barrels anticipating the next entrants. Once Warlock had reloaded, Blakely did the same.

Warlock released the bolt catch just as two Elite Minors leapt over the mound of dead Grunts into the room. Ignoring cover the Elites unleashed deadly swathes of plasma fire around the room, the darkness only partially concealing the troopers' positions. Warlock winced as plasma fire raked his position relentlessly.

“Grenade out!” shouted Croft’s voice, and he braved the onslaught just long enough to hurl the device towards the pile of Grunts. Neither Elite noticed.

“FUCK, take cover!” yelled Warlock, but his voice was drowned out.

The grenade landed right beside the mountain of dead Grunts, and detonated. Warlock’s visor and closed eyes only partially protected him from the blinding blue flash and overpowering shockwave as the Grunts, plasma grenades and methane tanks combined in a chorus of destruction.

It was a few seconds before the smoke cleared. The horrible acrid smell of plasma grenades and burned flesh permeated Warlock’s nostrils even through his gear. Chunks of wall and charred Grunt showered down on them.

“Clear!” shouted Blakely through wheezes, knocking and shaking his head to lift the cloud of disorientation.

Warlock opened his eyes, squinting through the heavy smoke, and surveyed the room; now with dismembered and burnt Grunt pieces strewn around it, and two Elite corpses by the door.

“Nice throw,” called Warlock, breathing heavily. “But try to give us a bit more warning next time.” He removed his helmet and wiped the visor inside and out.

"Hey, I said grenade out!” Croft exclaimed, looking quizzical until he saw the wide smirk across Warlock’s face. “Well, I count that two Elites KIA- not bad for one grenade!"

"Ugh," said Blakely, flicking a small chunk of Grunt flesh from his shoulder. "They're even uglier dead."

Warlock laughed, and lobbed another chunk at the marine. "Here, eat it. I heard it's like lobster."

The two marines chuckled as Warlock raised his gloved hands to replace his helmet.

What he saw when his visor met his face was a Sangheili Major springing into the room, a plasma rifle held in his red-armoured arm.

His heart skipped a beat. "SHIT! Contact left, contact left, open fire!" shouted Warlock frantically, a new surge of adrenaline flooding his veins, eyes wide at the beast that faced them. The monster raised its arm and loosed a torrent of blue light at one of the muzzle flashes that revealed the marine behind it, causing Blakely to cease fire almost immediately. He fell to the ground without a sound.

The alien continued pouring plasma fire in the direction of Warlock and the remaining marine. Croft ducked and sheltered behind a table as angry plasma fire offended the air above him, then ate away at the table. The Major turned to face Warlock, his assault rifle still pummelling its overpowered shields. Warlock anticipated what was coming and tried to dodge- too late- and gasped as he felt three dull thuds hit him square in the chest, pushing him back. Suddenly he was overwhelmed with searing pain that dug to his core, igniting him in agony. Warlock vaguely recalled hearing someone shout reloading before he himself slumped against the wall, the pain strangely fading into numbness as his vision and hearing blurred. He struggled to maintain the battle in focus, telling himself the sounds he heard were the sounds of his allies in trouble.

The Major charged towards Croft, tossing aside overturned tables and dead Grunts like toys, finally reaching the man fumbling to get his weapon ready in the milliseconds he had left. Warlock watched in slow-motion as the marine's arms loosely aimed his rifle and pulled the trigger, showering the alien and a large space around it with 7.62 millimetre rounds, his foe just feet from him. The red-clad Elite took the bullets like a sponge though, and struck Croft’s rifle and face with one casual blow from its huge arm, knocking him to the floor and flinging the rifle to the ground. The marine flew backwards and hit the ground, landing awkwardly, where he crawled backwards, desperately drawing his sidearm as the Elite loomed on him again.

Somehow Warlock found the strength to lift his own assault rifle and take aim. The sloppy stream of barely aimed shots caused the Elite to flinch and turn it head back to look at Warlock, and its shields flared and died.

That was when Warlock's magazine ran dry.

The beast turned again and looked down at the marine before putting its plasma rifle to his head and discharging it. Instantly he was still.

With a distant sense of failure, Warlock once again found his vision blurring as he faded from consciousness, his eyes closing as the Major moved quickly towards him, rifle posed.

A deafening discharge of automatic weapons made him alert again. When he opened his eyes again it was to see the same alien lying on the ground, utterly unrecognisable from bullet and buckshot impacts. A growing pool of blood swelled beneath it. By the door, Carter stood, a smoking shotgun in his arms, along with Spade, Wendy, Denton, Radner and two other marines. Two of them rushed to Blakely while Denton and Carter moved to Croft’s body. Wendy saw him, slumped on the floor by the bar, and ran towards him with a medical kit already in her grip.

“Why...are you here?” Warlock asked, struggling to speak between breaths. When he inhaled, his seared chest burned as if filled with molten iron.

“Two Charlie Twenty-Five helped us put down the last of them. It was only a scouting force, to size up our strength,” Wendy replied blankly as she focused on pouring Biofoam into his wounds, paralysing him with pain.

“Blakely,” he managed to utter through the agonising barrier.

“He’s alive,” Spade said from across the room. “Pretty bad but he'll pull through."

“Croft.”

Spade and Wendy glanced at each other. Warlock hadn’t noticed, or made no indication if that he did.

“Don’t worry about that, just worry about yourself,” Spade said finally.

“Tell me.”

“He’s dead.” Wendy said, after a pause. She had anticipated the look of guilt in his eyes. “It’s not your fault,” she quickly added, not knowing or caring particularly if it was.

“Get me out of here.”

Wendy and Spade each grabbed an arm and hauled Warlock to his feet, groaning, and made their way towards the exit.

“Sergeant Dawson? You’re needed at the radio station,” a voice came from to her left. Wendy glanced at its origin, Denton, and shifted Warlock’s weight onto his shoulders.

“You take him then”, she said, heading towards the field radio and the small assembly of sand bags that surrounded it.

Squatting down and touching a screen, Wendy noticed the signal was coming directly from the HIGHCOM base. “This is Staff Sergeant Amelia Dawson, acting platoon sergeant of 4 Alpha Twenty Eight, come in, over.”

“Sergeant Dawson, this is Lieutenant Colonel Oscar Pirez, acting commander of the 28th Shock Troops Battalion. The Covenant jammers you destroyed aren’t hampering our communication any more, but it’s taking some time to get TEAMCOM back online in the local area. The mobile transmitter you are broadcasting from is located near the Sydney Harbour Bridge, and our intelligence indicates a small Covenant force just moved in that direction. Can you confirm this, over?”

Wendy decided not to mention that it was not her team that destroyed the jammers. She guessed he knew they hadn’t destroyed the bridge anyway. “Yes sir, I can confirm that. The force was destroyed by an ODST squad in my platoon and a number of marines from a dug-in position on the bridge’s south side, over.”

“You were ordered to destroy the bridge, Sergeant. Was your failure to comply deliberate or incompetence, over?”

“We were issued those orders via a recording made hours before we received it, and before Command knew of Covenant vessels actively dropping troops into the area north of the bridge. The Covies were obviously dropping troops north of the bridge to avoid the heavy triple-A fire around Bravo-6, and are preparing for a ground assault taking them across the bridge. Had we destroyed the bridge as per our orders, the ships would’ve just relocated to the south side to deploy troops, in danger of Bravo-6’s defences but able to bypass the destroyed bridge and deploy forces much closer to Bravo-6's location. I made the decision to keep the bridge intact for that reason, and I accept responsibility for that decision sir, over.”

There was a pause.

She'd had a long time to think about that problem, but she knew she was right. Had she blown the bridge, the Covenant would’ve simply moved to the south side to drop their forces.

The reply from Pirez eventually came. "You were correct, and I commend you for using your initiative. But our intelligence now indicates that the Covenant have deployed all the troops they are going to, and that we really need to destroy the bridge now. If-"

"But sir, with those corvettes in the air, they'll just pick up and relocate the Covie forces if we blow the bridge. We need to wait until we have Naval assets to take out the corvettes. If we blow the bridge before we down the corvettes, they'll just assault Bravo-6 directly, over."

Wendy heard the frustration in the man’s voice this time. "What we need, Sergeant, will be up to me and other senior commanders at the Bravo-6 facility. We have-"

Another pause, this one abrupt.

"Wait one, over."

Amelia’s face wrinkled in bemusement. Why would he stop, mid-rant, and tell her to wait? Unless someone was overriding him...

When Pirez's voice returned, it was somewhat subdued. "I've...just been informed that we may be expecting some crippled UNSC warships to regroup above Sydney early tomorrow morning. The number and exact timing of these assets is unknown. It seems as though naval commanders will make a decision nearer the time, and get their damaged vessels out of the orbital fray and help the ground defence at the same time. I’ve been authorised to order you to keep the bridge intact and prevent the Covenant ground advance there."

Pirez paused again, obviously to recieve intruction from someone else over his shoulder.

"As soon as we have UNSC warships on station, blow the bridge immediately and cut off their ground advance at the same time as we remove the chance of redeployment by air. If you succeed in preventing them crossing the bridge, and we can take out their corvettes, then we win this battle before it even begins. I don’t need to remind you what will happen if you fail; it will only be a matter of time before Bravo-6 falls. If you destroy the bridge too early, the corvettes will move the troops by air and the entire plan will be ruined. Over."

"I understand, sir. Hold the bridge until the Navy kills the corvettes. Blow the bridge only when the corvettes' destruction is imminent. Halt the land invasion and take out the chance of movement by air before they can use it. Over."

"Make no mistake, Staff Sergeant. Right now, one of the places where Earth will be held or lost is the south side of that bridge. If you fail, and Bravo-6 falls... the fate of the entire world will look that one bit more bleak. There are some pretty senior personnel here watching your actions- our actions- like hawks. That's why I'm sending you some additional help. The 118th Marine Armoured Company will arrive at your location at approximately 0300. When they do, Captain Dvorak will assume tactical command of the forces present. Am I understood, over?" the Colonel said, his voice deadly serious.

"Understood sir."

“Very well. Don’t let us down, Staff Sergeant, and good luck. Out.”

Take her down!

2248 STANDARD TIME (UNSC STANDARD) / OCTOBER 20, 2552 / 550 Miles off the northeast coast of Australia
Rear Admiral Nicholas Flannigan

The Tiger-class Missile Submarine UNSC Seawolf gracefully cut through the South Pacific Ocean. The Seawolf was a 600-meter long nuclear sub, armed with 48 vertical launch tubes full of explosive and nuclear munitions.

Rear Admiral Nicholas Flannigan looked about the dark starstruck sky on the open bridge atop the conning tower, able to observe the titanic battle in orbit around the planet. 500 miles out to sea, the Seawolf was able to pick up on UNSC Fleet chatter from orbit, and had been called upon twice for nuclear strikes on enemy orbital assets - bagging the sea-based submarine a Covenant Cruiser kill.

Flannigan was CINCSOPAC - otherwise known as "Commander-in-Chief, South Pacific ", placing him in tactical command of sea-based naval assets in the area and some naval aviation. This gave him control of a few Longsword, Shortsword, and Pelican wings (based out of Australia and New Zealand), 9 coastal patrol boats, 4 missile subs, 7 independent "wet" destroyers, several fleet auxiliaries, and a carrier group; comprised of a carrier, 2 destroyers, 3 frigates and a few navy pelican squadrons. He had inherited the title after the former commander was killed aboard his cruiser earlier that day - which had prompted Flannigan to move his flag to a Submarine.

His forces were slowly but surely being decimated by fighters and plasma weaponry - and there was nothing he could do about it, except try to take as many bastards as they could down with them. As for the Seawolf, she was surfaced in the dark in order to secure any and all external fitting that might create noise or make her more detectable, or even an obstruction that would marginally keep the warship from reaching its submerged full speed of 57 knots. Not that the Covenant necessarily had Sonar or even any sensors that would detect the submerged sub, but UNSC subs had been sunk by the Covenant before.

Vice Admiral Flannigan looked about the bridge atop the conning tower at crew. Captain Gerald Nelson, the Commanding Officer of the Seawolf, stood beside him, talking with his Executive Officer (XO), a Commander Jonathan White, discussing crew morale and weapon stocks. Nelson was a popular commander, easy-going off duty, and firm but fair on duty, and earned the right to be called "skipper" by most aboard. Commander Nelson, in contrast, was a quiet and serious officer. He was good at his job, but not displaying too much in the way of personality; befriending only a few officer and chiefs aboard the vessel. Also on the bridge was an Ensign bridge talker, a pair of lookouts with infrared binoculars, and a pair of marines armed with rifles, with M41 rocket launchers close at hand.

One of the two lookouts suddenly blurted out a contact report: "Contact, multiple aerial contacts! 73 degrees, range 12500 meters!"

The three senior officers and the other lookout shifted their binoculars to the specified location, and spotted a quartet of Seraphs. Had they seen the Seawolf?

"Contacts identified as Seraph-class interceptors," the lookout reported. "They just changed direction; they're coming towards us!"

"Clear the bridge! Sound the diving alarm and bring us to general quarters," Captain Nelson ordered the bridge talker, as the crew hurried down the conning tower hatch into the depths of the submarine. The dive alarm blared twice, sending the Seawolf crew to general quarters. Flannigan rapidly descended the ladder into the bridge, followed by the captain, who sealed the upper hatch, and the lower one, before descending into the now-chaotic bridge.

"Bridge is clear," the captain announced.

"Christmas tree is all green - pressure in the boat. Ship is rigged for dive," the chief of the boat announced.

"I have the Conn," Nelson ordered, for the record and to be recorded in the ships' log.

"Captain has the Conn," the Officer of the Deck declared formally.

"All ahead standard. Planesman, take her down to 450 meters. 20 degrees downbubble."

"Take her down to 450 meters. 20 degrees downbubble, aye, sir," the planesman echoed.

The helmsman also sharply acknowledged the order: "Aye, sir. Engines responding all ahead standard."

The Seawolf accelerated and began angling down, as an audible rumble of pumps pushing air out of the tanks sounded. The vessel quickly descended – but not quickly enough.

"Sir, sensors detecting extreme heat on the hull," the weapons officer reported somewhat nervously.

"All ahead flank. What is our depth?"

"Aye, sir. High pressure coolant pumps engaged. Engines responding all ahead flank," the helmsman declared, speaking before the helmsman had a chance to reply, directing his report at the captain and the exec.

"Seventeen meters, sir," the Helmsman reported. Not exactly crush depth.

"Planesmen, thirty degrees down bubble." The captain responded.

"Thirty degrees downbubble, aye, sir," the planesman responded, pushing the handle that controlled the diveplanes forward, allowing the vessel to rise or descend in a manner not unlike that of an aircraft’s control surfaces.

The bridge crew worked in silence for about five minutes, officers and sailors darting about their duties, bringing the Seawolf to 450 meters in record time, smoothly leveling off at the bottom. The executive officer broke the silence.

"Weapons, status of the damage," the executive officer inquired.

The weapons officer paused in the execution of his duties, and looked back at Commander White.

"Sir, I don't know. The extreme heat from what can only be direct plasma hits will have pitted pressure hull – possibly deep enough to cause weakness in the affected area. I dispatched a party to check on the damaged area of hull after I reported the damage, but they haven't gotten back to me yet."

"Light a fire on it - we need to know if the hull has been compromised before -"

The executive officer was cut off by a sudden BA-WHANG, a few screams, and the loud hiss of high-pressure stream of water gushing into the compartment just forward of the bridge.

"Flooding for'wd bridge!" the bridge talker yelled into the public address system, alerting the entire submarine. Admiral Flannigan himself made his way over to the hatch leading to the flooded compartment and dogged it shut, while Captain Nelson began to bellow commands to counteract the flooding.

"Sound flooding alarm! Engage pumps and get a damage control team up here to assess the damage, and seal off the compartment. Diving officer, trim the tanks to counteract flooding."

The Seawolf pitched forward a little as it took on more water, affecting its neutral buoyancy and turning it negative. Despite the best efforts of the diving officer, the ship tilted further forward, sending the water into the forward part of the ship as the hatch had not yet been sealed. The submersible rapidly gaining depth with the engines still revolving at flank speed.

"Sound the collision alarm," the Captain declared quietly, suddenly appearing pale. "Emergency back full. Planesman, level us off. Mister White, you have the Conn." A large percentage of the bridge crew turned around, disconcerted by the skipper’s uncharacteristic delegation of the chore of commanding his vessel to the XO.

"I have the Conn," Commander White announced, startled as well by the sudden and ill-timed change in command. The skipper slunk out of the bridge, with Rear Admiral Flannigan hot on his heels.

"Gerald? Are you alright? You seem pale," the Admiral questioned quietly, walking besides the Commanding Officer. He heard the XO making command in the bridge, and shouting sailors running about the deck.

"Yes, Nicholas. I'm...I'm...I'm," the Captain began, uncharacteristically stumbling on his words, before tripping over his feet and falling to the ground in a very ungraceful fashion. His hat was knocked off his head upon impact with the rubber deck.

The Admiral kneeled at his friend's sprawled out form, and yelled "The Captain is down! I need corpsman! I need a corpsman!" A few sailors arrived to help stabilize the skipper and the ship’s corpsman arrived a half-minute later, who deemed they all had to move the captain down to the clinic.

Over the 1MC came a somewhat proud voice, proclaiming: "Conn, Damage Control Party. Flooding is under control, and being pumped out Hatches are dogged, compartment sealed, and all internal personnel accounted for."

"Conn, Damage control. Aye, good job. Return to your posts."

The Admiral considered returning to the bridge, but decided that it was better if he stayed at Captain Gerald Nelson's side to help him though. However, despite the corpsman's best efforts, the skipper passed on at 2317, 20 October, 2552, to a fatal stroke induced by the extreme stress imposed upon the skipper during an actual combat scenario. He had never been in combat before.

Auxiliary


Log
Of The
UNSC Foxfire (DE-011)
Destroyer Escort Rate; Commanded by
T. E. Jensun, Lieutenant Commander, UNSCN
Third Fleet


United Nations Space Command Ship “Foxfire” (DE-011) – Friday, 21 October, 2552

0000-0400: As before. Engineering reported minor leakage with reactor coolant valves; fusion reactor was shut down to allow for repairs. Bulkhead door came loose on A deck; was promptly repaired. Previously listed damage has been classified as age-related. After all, the Foxfire is a fourty-six year old warship that has not had an overhaul in twenty-odd years. Encrypted Fleet chatter seems to indicate something is up; later watches take note.
- Perry J. Kirkaid, Ens., UNSCN

0400-0800: The Watch at least started normal enough. The Longsword complement reported a mechanical failure on one of its four fighters. 0600: Covenant warships arrived in Earth orbit; Home Fleet has been mobilized, Third Fleet included. Foxfire called to General Quarters, Cole Protocol enacted as per UNSC regulations. Auxiliary warships including Foxfire ordered to withdraw to low Earth orbit, away from the fighting. Issued orders from FLEETCOM to patrol low orbit over northern Oceania; confirmed receipt of message.
- Calvin Bates, Lt. (j.g.), UNSCN

0800-1200: Not as before. Foxfire encountered and destroyed marauding squadron of Covenant singleships.; 50 millimetre point-defence cannons very effective. Crew morale marginally improved. Minor hull damage as direct result of combat action; EVA mission launched to ascertain extent of damages. Mission recovered successfully; damages minor enough to be discarded. Ship secured from General Quarters. Crew (self included) anxiously taking note of battle in upper orbit; mounting Home Fleet losses deeply concerning. Foxfire would be combat ineffective in such a melee due to lack of armour and armaments.
-Trevor E. Jensun, Lt. Cmdr., UNSCN

1200-1600: Largely uneventful; minor repairs in engineering. Around 1320, it was found that MAC capacitors are not holding charge; damage control team and off-duty engineering watches working on problem. Problem resolved about 1450. Recovered lifeboats from crippled warships fighting over Australian continent just prior to the change of watch; survivors reported high casualties. Crew efficiency bolstered with addition of 73 crewmen and 2 officers.
- Samuel S. Mallory, Lt., UNSCN

1600-2000: As before. No damages, no Covenant forces in the immediate vicinity. FLEETCOM orbital repeaters are becoming sparse, getting a little more difficult to hear about how the battle on the other side of the planet is going. Not much more difficult though, and the news isn’t good anyway. Begs the question of is it better simply not knowing tactical situation?
- Samuel S. Mallory, Lt., UNSCN

2000-2400: Dispatched orders to take up station above Sydney, Australia and provide all available orbital gunnery support to friendly forces planetside. Use of nuclear munitions are explicitly forbidden by CINCFLEETCOM, unless directly authorized by CINCHIGHCOM or CINCFLEETCOM. Acknowledged change in orders, and moved to geosync. orbit over Sydney. Arrived in position 2345; standing by for fire missions to support.
-Trevor E. Jensun, Lt. Cmdr., UNSCN

/ End log entry for 21-10-2552 /


Chapter II: Oh, by the way...

Battle of Sydney. Saturday, 21 October, 2552. (Day Two).

"The real hero is always a hero by mistake; he dreams of being an honest coward like everybody else."
―Umberto Eco

Collateral Damage

0849 STANDARD TIME (UNSC STANDARD) / OCTOBER 21, 2552 / SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA / THE NORTHERN REMAINS OF THE SYDNEY HARBOR BRIDGE

The following recording is the property of United Earth Government News Agency (UEGNA). Use or mass displaying of this recording must be requested in writing, to the UEGNA headquarters. Failure to do so is prohibited by both ONI and UEG regulations, due to the sensitive nature of this recording, and will result in serious consequences.

[Recording starts]

[An excited news themes plays, as a United Earth Government News Agency logo flashes across the screen, before being replaced with lettering that hangs in the center of the screen for a few seconds, reading "Special Report", before flashing offscreen and fading to black]

[Screen cuts from black to the downtown Sydney area - albeit debris torn, with blazing cars and buildings in the background. The camera pans to the harbor and the remains of the Sydney Harbor Bridge - now completely demolished. Flashes light up a corner of the harbor, lighting up the silhouette of a destroyer - accompanied with distant sounds of gunfire, as the destroyer opens fire with its large calibre guns on a marauding Covenant dropship which promptly bursts into flame, and falls from the sky into the harbor with a splash.]

[The camera pans back to the initial carnage that was captured, now with a female reporter in a business suit, with a helmet and a vest of ballistic armour worn over it, and with a microphone in hand.]

[A. Maclean]: This is Alannah Maclean, of the United Earth Government News Agency, reporting from the war-torn streets of Sydney, Australia on the 20th of October, 2552. The area behind me and the bridge were the scene of a fierce battle between the elite Orbital Drop Shock Troopers and the Covenant. The troops were overrun, and blew the bridge behind their retreat to hold off the Covenant - holding up their advance for a while, in order to regroup.

[A. Maclean]: Earlier this morning, at about eight forty o'clock local time, Sydney was invaded and attacked by Covenant forces. Multiple Covenant warships entered the airspace above Sydney, and sources tell us that the Covenant began landing in force about this time, before being driven off or destroyed by UNSC Navy warships and Magnetic Accelerator Cannon strikes from orbit. . Mass evacuations for Sydney's fourteen million inhabitants began about seven this morning, with vigilant Civil Defence workers, Firefighters, and Police concluding the effort successfully sometime around eleven AM. As of an hour ago, the Covenant pushed Marine forces over the historic Sydney Harbor Bridge, which was blown to provide time for the UNSC forces to regroup. The primary target of the Covenant in the Sydney region seems to be the HIGHCOM Bravo-6 Facility behind me. This facility is where the UNSC Defence Force leaders supposedly coordinate the defence of Earth.

[A. Maclean]: So, as of right now, me and my team are deep behind enemy lines, capturing these scenes of the post-skirmish carnage, and to report the true nature of the Battle of Sydney. We're about to mount up and show you more of the carnage that this battle has wrought when we are finally able to reconnect to communications satellites.

[Recording ends.]

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