MAY 2ND, 2551 (UNSC MILITARY CALENDAR) / ALPHA CANIS MINORIS (MINORCA), 49 KILOMETERS SOUTH OF COLONIAL CAPITAL “NEW LONDON”
“Victor 41, this is Foxtrot 24. You have bandits on your six, over.”
“Copy that Foxtrot, taking action.”
A lot of people looked at a Pelican’s bulky frame and stubby wings and came to the conclusion that they survived on speed alone. It didn’t occur to most that small wings made for tighter corners, or that a dropship didn’t always need to move at supersonic levels. They also forgot that their thrusters could be tilted as needed, giving then some unique advantages.
Lieutenant Keller watched as the other dropship turned in mid air, keeping its speed and momentum but now flying backwards, brought its chin-mounted machinegun to bear on the two Banshee fighters trying to get a good angle on it, and blew them out of the sky.
Keller grinned, and thumbed the COM again. “Nice kill Ned.”
Keller’s own craft, a dedicated gunship, would normally have taken care of the Banshee’s for Victor 41. UNSC dropships operated in gunship/dropship pairs for precisely that reason. But they were currently otherwise engaged.
“Target lock. Fox one, fox one.”
Two streaks of jet exhaust lanced out, the missiles just a blur as they sped through the air, striking their targets – the lead vehicle in a convoy of Shadow APC’s, blocking the road for the rest of the convoy. Keller saw Marines stand up from cover, firing rocket launchers and tossing grenades as the vehicles stalled. In minutes, the road was blocked by the smoking and blazing heaps of seven of the Covenant craft.
Keller grinned, dipped his wings at the Marines, and curved back to rejoin Victor 41.
Technically the UNSC used craft purposely built as Gunships. Hornets could carry in a fireteam of Marines and use its chainguns and missiles to support them from the air. Sparrowhawks packed a larger punch, and were faster, while Vulture gunships were called in for heavy duty tactical strikes and air support.
Still, Pelicans were no slouches, and Keller grinned as Warrant Officer Summerlee aimed the nose-mounted 30mm autocannon, pumped off two three-second bursts, and was rewarded by a gout of flame as a Wraith tank erupted, showing the others in its battery with debris.
“Take it easy, Amy. You want to leave the Marines something to do, eh?”
She chuckle behind him in the copilot seat. “Yeah, I really think they’re complaining about us, Lieutenant.”
The Covenant had certainly chosen the logical place to attack. The Blenheim line was the weakest observable part of the UNSC’s defences, and was also the source of Rhino artillery batteries that hammered the enemy from afar. It was naturally a high priority Covenant target – and that was precisely why the UNSC had constructed an airfield for launching fighters and gunships and stationed heavy armoured support nearby.
Victor 41 gently floated down over the battlefield, allowing its payload of a Marine squad and a Warthog transport to disembark, and hovered for a few minutes to cover their progress towards the enemy. Keller slowed his gunship down to wait for them, Summerlee scanning the area, the chaingun following the movement of her eyes.
All across the plains south of New London, Covenant forces ran headlong into prepared UNSC defences. Grunts and Jackals were cut down by mines and machinegun fire, APC’s and dropships cut down by the heavy firepower. Whatever happened tonight, it was going to cost the Covenant dearly.
“Looks like the boys in green have their work cut out for them,” he said aloud.
“Okay Tom, passengers are en route to the rendezvous point. Lets head back and re-arm-”
Keller swore as a flash of light brighter than any sun erupted from the north, desperately lifting a hand to shield his eyes-
“Colonel, air support is en route, ETA six minutes.”
“Thanks Major. How are our boys doing?”
“The usual – outnumbered, outgunned, and still racking up the body count.”
Verdani grinned. “At least I didn’t train a pack of failures,” he said.
“I don’t think failure could describe the men under any conditions, sir. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to direct the mortar support.”
Major Mitchell crossed the room, leaving the tent that served as the battalion command centre. The other members of the battalion head quarters nodded to him as he passed.
Verdani turned back to the holographic projector that was set up in the middle of the tent, displaying a topographical view of the battle.
The Covenant were coming up from the south, sending their preliminary infantry and light armoured cavalry. Mainly just Grunts and Jackals, supported by Wraith mortar tanks and Ghost light recon hovercraft. He knew that the bigger stuff, the Elites and Hunters, as well as the twelve Scarabs the Covenant had managed to land on the planet, were being held back – but for what? A break in the lines? If they didn’t send them in soon, there wouldn’t BE a break in the lines.
Nevertheless, Verdani had ordered his men equipped with heavy weapons, mainly mobile M247 GPMG’s and rocket launchers. If they needed them, then they would be ready. And if they didn’t, it would make a relatively easy win even easier.
There was a flicker of light from the corner of his eye and a deep growly voice muttered, “what are they waiting for?”
“Maybe they’re just testing our defences?” Verdani said, turning to face the form of a ebony black dragon, smoke billowing from its nostrils, eyes glowing.red. “Getting a feel for it before they commit the main assault force?”
“Perhaps, Colonel Forrester. But if that were the case, then the commitment of so many forces would be unnecessary. This feels all wrong.”
Verdani frowned. “You think it may be a diversion?”
The dragon nodded. “It may very well be, but since twelve Scarabs aren’t exactly the easiest pieces of equipment to hide, and they’re locations are currently accounted for, I cannot guess what it is distracting us from.”
The dragon blew a puff of smoke in irritation. “Whatever it is, it’s big, judging from the size of the diversionary assault.”
Glaurung was the battalions AI. Normal Marine battalions usually sufficed with a Commanding Officer and Executive Officer who handled the units operations. But the 506th ODST Force Reconnaissance Battalion was not an ordinary battalion.
Verdani didn’t like AI’s. It was all too easy to forget that when it came down to it, they were just algorithms and equations being computed by a machine, not actual flesh-and-blood thoughts. But they had their uses, and right now the ability to project the progress of the battle in real time was a useful asset.
A thick green band split the hologram, representing the UNSC’s static defences – bunkers, artillery batteries, weapons depots, and so on. In front of them, blue polygons represented the locations of UNSC forces, updated by the minute by a satellite uplink to the UNSC Prowler Hunter’s Arrow. Red polygons were Covenant forces, and right now the Covenant looked like a shoddily fielded force. They weren’t targeting weak spots, securing captured territory – they were just killing, and moving on. Throwing themselves at the UNSC.
This was standard Covenant tactics. But since nothing about the battle for this world was what Verdani would call “normal”, which made it unusual.
“Air strike has begun – confirmed. Alpha Squadron has hit the target.”
A patch of red that held a small town block in Blenheim changed to neutral grey, and Verdani knew that a squadron of Shortsword bombers had just annihilated a Covenant position, bombs and rockets raining down on the occupiers. It quickly turned green, as UNSC Marines of the 427th Marine Regiment moved in to secure it and capture wounded prisoners for ONI interrogation.
“Alright. Continue to monitor the battle, Glaurung, and alert me to any important events. I’ll be talking to our guest.”
The dragon nodded. That was another advantage to an AI – they could be uploaded with the entire tactical and strategic knowledge of a civilisation, and the combat histories of a thousand generals from history. Glaurung’s favourite pastime, to use up spare processing power, was reproducing famous battles from history as holographs. Thermopylae. Marathon. Normandy. Argyre Planitia.
That meant that if a CO had other business to do, he could delegate command to the AI. Verdani would much rather be here, commanding his forces, keeping his finger on the pulse, as it were.
But there were some things you couldn’t put off.
He exited the tent, the cool night air hiting him in contrast to the sweltering heat given off by the electronic equipment crammed into the small command centre. The sound of crickets, owls, bats, and other nocturnal creatures may be normal for most, but th Verdani, born and raised on an asteroid colony where “nature” meant diull shades of rock and the occasional cave-in, it was just as alien as the Covenant.
Still, it wasn’t often you got to talk to the damned heathen alien SOB’s. The Marine MP’s saluted, and he nodded in acknowledgement as they stepped aside, allowing him to enter the reinforced structure that served as regimental military prison cells.
Its sole occupant, bleeding and moaning in unconsciousness, was chained to the floor.
It was an Elite.
Checking his ONI-supplied translation software was running, he kicked the creature with a boot. The alien coughed in pain, and jerked awake, straining at its chains. It roared in pain, and as its energy subsided, it settled for a ferocious glare at the human.
Verdani wasn’t impressed.
“Okay. I know you can understand me – you sons-of-bitches always take the trouble of learning your enemy’s languages, but make a point of not using them. And I can understand you. So I’m going to cut to the chase – what are your guys out there doing?”
The Elite coughed up blood, but held its silence. Verdani shrugged. “You want to do this the hard way? Fine by me-”
The boot swung, all his force put into it, slamming into the aliens chest. It cried out, and verdani could feel a crunch as ribs cracked. He hoped they hadn’t punctured its lungs – the last thing he wanted was for the thing to die before he was done with it.
“I’m gonna ask again. What are your guys doing?”
The Elite sneered, and warbled in its own language. “Heresy is being punished. The unrighteous shall be burned away by the undying flame, and the worthy shall remain behind!”
It was Verdani’s turn to sneer. “Spare me the religious semantics. I want a straight answer, and every time you don’t give me one,” he punctuated the sentence with another kick to the ribs, and the Elite screamed, “you get another visit from mister boot. Understood?”
The Elite gasped in pain, but still managed a look of haughty contempt as it snarled, “You sow the seeds of your own destruction. And we shall reap your bitter harvest!”
There was another kick, another scream of agony, an Verdani leaned down low. “You think we’re heretics? We have our own religions, boyo, and murdering innocent women and children is what WE regard as heresy.”
The warrior leered at him. “Your worlds shall burn, your families shall crumble into dust! None shall remain as our wrath passes over your heresies, cleansing the galaxy of your unholy existence!”
Verdani’s fist connected with the Elite’s head, snapping it back against the floor. He growled. “I can keep this up all night, Boyo. Can you?”
“The light shall wash across this world, burning away the unbelievers, leaving the worthy and righteous!”
“Have you ever wondered which of those sides you’re on?”
There was a flicker in the creatures eyes. Ah, Verdani mused. We have a doubter, eh?
“Have you ever wondered what it was we did to earn the genocide you seem to have your hearts set on? What did we do to earn the wrath of your gods? Maybe you could tell us, because we sure as hell don’t know.”
“Defilers! Despoilers! Desecrators! Your doom is written and scripture, and the Gods themselves have decreed it!”
“And how are you going to do that, hm?”
As if in answer, there was a blinding flash, penetrating even the tiny windows of the cell. Verdani winced, and the Elite began making a “whuff”ing noise. It took Verdani a moment to realise that it was laughter.
“Our judgement upon you has come! This world is ours, the relics it contains shall be cleansed of your evil taint, and the glory of the Great Journey awaits!”
And with that, the Elite expired, its head going limp and falling back to the floor. Verdani snarled and landed another kick, earning no reaction this time from the lifeless corpse. He swung the doors open, passing the confused gguards, but was met by the Major halfway to the command centre.
“Sir. Something’s just happened…”
There was a flash a thousand times brighter than the sun. It consumed the horizon, and Keller knew, even through his clamped shut eyelids, that it was from New London.
“SON OF A BITCH!”
Keller shouted as he blinked the glare away from his eyes. He desperately set the dropship on autopilot, knowing that until his vision cleared of the dots swimming in front of it, he would just be fumbling blindly.
“What just happened?!” he demanded, switching his irritation to his co-pilot.
He could hear her furiously working her controls, so he guessed her part of the cockpit hadn’t caught the flash.
“I don’t know sir. I’m detecting higher than normal background radiation, and radio interference-”
And then the shockwave hit.
Even with his blurry vision, he could tell it was from the north, from New London. And as the gunship tumbled end-over-end, as if a giant flyswatter had caught them, all he could think was “damn, damn, damn, damn-”
There was an almighty crash, and the last thing Keller remembered was blackness, and blood trickling into his left eye…
SEVENTH CYCLE, NINTH AGE OF RECLAMATION (COVENANTBATTLE CALENDAR) / 57 UNITS SOUTH OF HUMAN CAPITAL CITY
The Unggoy around Cacap gasped as the flash lit the sky. And then the gasp turned into a cheer, one in which the File Leader joined in enthusiastically. Even the Sangheili joined in with throaty roars, and the two Mgalekgolo flexed their arms and let loose a deep bellow.
He waved an arm forward, and the Unggoy moved forward, rushing forward.
Ahead of them, in the distance, rose the tower. Cacap did not know much of it, and knew only that it resembled the gravity lifts of Balaho that ferried his kind off the planet without the need for shuttles or dropships. But even as he watched, he could see that it was crumpling in on itself, and that the anti-matter charge had taken out a whole chunk of the structure.
It began to fall.
Whoever had set the bomb had been a demolitions expert. The angle and trajectory had been precisely calculated, and now millions of tonnes of metal and carbon fibre were toppling down to the ground. And it was going to land on the humans positions like a boot squashing an insect.
Cacap grinned behind his mask at the analogy. He knew well that the humans regarded his kind as weak and ugly beasts. Perhaps some of the clans were, but the Yangon Tribe had been bred for war and battle. They were not stupid, and they were certainly not cowards. And right now, a thousand screaming Unggoy warriors with no compunctions about death in battle hurled themselves against the humans.
Cacap fired his pistol, bolts of plasma flying through the air towards the line of bunkers ahead of them. Behind him, one of his File mates hefted a heavy Fuel Rod Gun – glowing fuel rods launched out, slamming into the polycrete, and sending up a shower of flame and dust. The Unggoy cheered in triumph.
Human warriors had taken cover in trenches, using the tops as rests as they fired at the oncoming horde of aliens. Cacap drew and primed a plasma grenade, tossed it high – and watched as, with a flare of blue plasma and screams of agony, his aim drew results.
Other Unggoy primed grenades, lobbing them high – some fell short, while others overshot their targets, but enough landed among the clustered humans to do damage. Cacap regretted that he carried only a pistol – had be access to a Sangheili plasma rifle, he would gladly swap.
A file’s-worth of humans had decided that waiting for death to come to them would not be their fate, and had clambered out of the trenches, rifles raised and firing.
Unggoy dropped, bullets piercing their tough leathery hides or puncturing their methane tanks. A few erupted in gouts of flame with the force of a grenade as the gas within ignited. Cacap took cover behind a fallen comrade, making sure to empty the corpse’s tank of gas, returning fire.
Metnat fell beside him, his breathing apparatus pierced, gasping for breath that wouldn’t come. Cacap set his pistol down beside him, holding a hand against the hole, and fumbled for some sealant pads on his ammo belt.
By the time he’;d found them, his friend was dead. Cacap snarled, but had enough sense to empty the dead body’s tank of gas as well, and holstered his weapon, a Needler. Hefting both weapons, he fired at the humans.
There was a flash of green, and the humans vanished in a cloud of plasma and atoms – the Hunters that had finished them off lumbered forward, shields deflecting human projectiles, as Unggoy and Kig-Yar took cover behind the Lekgolo forms, some leaning to the side to fire shots of their own. Cacap hurried forward, moving to take cover behind another corpse, human this time, firing his weapons – he tossed the pistol away after its charge count read empty, and reloaded the needler, screaming in rage all the time.
He must be some sight, part of him thought. A “mere” Unggoy slaughtering humans, fighting with, if not the skill, then the tenacity of a Sangheili warrior. He had trained for this moment his whole life – let the battle consume him until he was follow, war and death and rage filling him.
Against the berserker, there was no defence. He had sworn to fight to the death, but not necessarily to HIS death. As Cacap felt the bloodlust rising, filling him, forcing everything out, all he could do was bask in the feeling of power.
Through his digital optical enhancement device, equivalent to a human “telescope”, ‘Kotarqee could see a few human aircraft struggling to remain airborne, only to be brought down by the Wraiths he had been holding back until this moment. The Covenant forces surged across the battlefield, pressing on towards the city.
Even as they did so, He could see the space elevator falling, flames licking its ends as the friction built up. The far ends, he knew, would be vaporised before they reached the ground. But the base would be intact for hundreds of kilometres, and would fall right across the humans defences.
It had been partly luck, partly the Gods’ blessings, but mostly the technical expertise of Anoho Ritoru Yanate and Hekika Ritoru Nomoku, half of the Lekgolo pair he had smuggled into the human city. Their oddities were precluded by their genius with explosives and weapons of devastation, and Lekgolo could make calculations in seconds that would take a Sangheili warrior hours.
The charge had been set on the far northern face of the elevator, ensuring the pressure would force the tower down to the south. Even with the planets coriolis effect drawing it eastward, it would still strike the human line of defences. Tulo had specifically planned for this, his forces attacking from the west, further from the elevators impact site.
Spirit and Phantom dropships swooped overhead, laden with troops and escorted by Banshee flyers and the few Seraphs that had made it off the fleet. Unlike the human equivalents, Seraphs were not aerodynamic and performed poorly for fighters in an atmosphere, making sluggish turns and responding slowly. But their speed and the power of their plasma torpedoes and high-precision laser turrets made them excellent bombers.
The human city had already been lit up when the antimatter charge had detonated. The city skyline was lit by the fires that raged, and towers had begun to fall. Flashed of brilliant blue marked where plasma charges had been dropped by the Seraphs, and Tulo knew that the attack had worked just as he had planned.
It was almost too easy. But he knew taking the city from a startled and unprepared enemy would be nothing compared to holding it.
There was a tremor, and Tulo looked to the south. The earthquakes were small and insignificant, but they had begun to increase in frequency. And they were emanating from the south, where the Forerunner relic was buried. He wondered about Commander ‘Morhekee and his Lance of commandoes – he had taken two files with him, and dedicated the rest of his sixty-strong crèche to the Field Master, to do with as he wished.
Right now, they would be flying in, dropped near high priority targets, and conducting assassinations, quietly eliminating the local human leadership. They would be setting charges in human armouries, and capturing figures to glean information about the humans’ battle plans and the reasons for their presence here.
He had many questions. And they all had answers. He had only to look in the right places.