|2030 Hours, August 25, 2552 (Military Calendar)
Epsilon Eridani System, Planet Reach, Near Aszod Ship-breaking Yards
The air was thick, with loud sounds of hot plasma bolts everywhere. The stench of burning metal was all over the place. But that wasn’t the only thing spread through the area, the Covenant were, too. Hundreds of Elites, Grunts, and Jackals swarmed, searching for human survivors. The only human alive in the area was SPARTAN-A319, Tyler, trying to escape from them.
He was all alone, killing the Covenant from a distance with his trustworthy SRS99C-S2 AMB sniper rifle. The words of Senior Chief Petty Officer Franklin Mendez, his childhood trainer, echoed in his mind: “While sniping, you run out of ammo, you’re damn dead”. It felt so true now than ever before, his sniper rifle had only about a mag and a half left. But how long would they last? He still had his M392 Designated Marksman Rifle and his M6D Magnum, but they won’t stay forever with ammunition too.
He had completed his mission—evacuated the civilian population of the city of New Alexandria safely off the city using old Eagle-class light cruisers, just as the Covenant glassed the city. Other Spartan-III teams like Team Echo had helped them too and escaped with the civilians. His team, GAUNTLET Team, however, had to stay behind. There was simply no space in the cruisers for the team and their gear. Long story short, they had to find a new ship.
During the search, Tyler got separated from the team, due to Covenant-search parties hunting for them and any survivors. And here he was, fighting alone at the Aszod ship-breaking yards. He hoped his team had found a ship. He would use it to escape the planet’s surface and join one of the UNSC ships in orbit fighting the Covenant ships. He wondered about the situation going on, whether the UNSC was winning or losing. It was a tough battle to win, though-
He heard the rumbling sound of a ship’s engines, and immediately knew which it was. The sound was unmistakable. He turned his head just to see a G77-TC/MA Pelican advancing on his position.
His mind flashed with thoughts. Was it a trap, with Sangheili controlling the ship to capture him, and get the location of his teammates? Probably not, the Covenant were never interested in anything human, be it ships or weapons. And they were most definitely not the capture-and-interrogate type. The Sangheili had a sense of honor that prevented them from using human technology, or so he thought. Whatever it was, the chances were very low.
The COMLINK clicked, and his MJOLNIR Mark V armor immediately identified the friend-or-foe tag; Carris-137, a member of GAUNTLET Team. He felt relieved, his team wasn’t dead yet. Carris spoke into the COM, “Took us a bit longer than we had expected. I suppose you weren’t facing any problems?”
“If you think fighting off a company of Covenant soldiers while running out of ammo is not a problem, then, yes, I’m perfectly fine.”
Tyler heard Carris give a faint laugh. Good, their team spirit wasn’t gone. She spoke again, “Coming onto your position. Get onboard quickly, we don’t have much time.” Just as she finished the sentence, a NAV marker appeared on his HUD, indicating the ship’s location.
Tyler slung his sniper rifle over his back, and with the DMR in his hand, ran towards the cruiser. A pair of Banshees, who were until then patrolling the skies turned towards him and started shooting, identifying the one who had been killing their fellow soldiers since the past hour. Plasma rained upon the ground near Tyler. He bent his upper body forward and continued running as fast as he could.
Fifty more meters to go. The Banshees stopped shooting for a split-second and just as then, the sound of a huge energy bolt erupting from the Banshee’s weapon reached Tyler’s ears. He broke his straight path and ran in a zig-zag pattern, just as the energy bolt almost hit his legs before he changed his stride. He looked up, but there was no ship this time. He didn’t waste his time on thinking where it was, he kept sprinting.
Just a few more meters, he thought, I’m almost there. But when he nearly came to the marker, he didn’t find his team waiting, and all that faced him was a steep edge of the cliff. Tyler was confused, standing there for a moment, waiting for the exfil to arrive when the Banshee fire started again. This time, without hesitation, he jumped off the cliff, the ground exploding into molten rocks and sand where he stood a second ago.
Free-falling, Tyler didn’t have time to move around before he hit something hard, knocking his attention off. Dazed, he looked around to see that he crashed into the interior of a hangar bay of the Pelican. That was quite a lucky landing since he didn’t, fortunately, go into the engines or just miss the Pelican and fall off a tall place.
Carris’ voice crackled into his helmet’s speaker again, “Alright, you’re done hosting the show. Hold on, this might be a rough ride.” Tyler acknowledged and put his weapons down, noticing from to the sudden uneasiness that the ship was turning around, but not towards an exit vector. There was only one other option.
Good, they were about to engage the enemy after all. He sat on a nearby seat, strapped himself, tightened his grip on a nearby handle and braced himself tightly.
The Pelican turned towards the incoming pair of Banshees, and the shark-teeth design at its nose almost made it seem like it was smiling. Carris, who was controlling the ship, opened fire on the Banshees with the ship’s 40mm cannons, chipping down their armor. Within moments, both the aircraft crashed into the ground, smoke and blue flames erupting from their antigravity pods and the pilot trying to escape, before they exploded once again, this time utterly destroyed.
This attracted the attention of the remaining Covenant troops. They soon traced out from the origin point of the attack and started shooting at the ship. Many of the smaller, pistol-shot plasma bolts were clean misses, indicating a large presence of Grunts, due to their bad accuracy. The bigger, rifle-shot bolts were more accurate, though.
The team’s AI, Ikora, swiftly maneuvered the ship to escape the incoming plasma bolts. She then launched two Archer missile pods, each consisting of eight missiles. The missiles tracked their targets, the Covenant soldiers and zoomed towards them. A second later, the ground exploded at the place where the missiles had aimed, clearing the area of Covenant soldiers.
After the smoke cleared, only a fourth of the Covenant troops were left in position. Tyler unstrapped himself, took his weapons and ran towards the front of the Pelican. He felt relief as he saw the rest of the team and the holographic avatar of Ikora right ahead of. Clyde-A307 greeted him, “I thought you were going to stay down there, sacrificing yourself for our safety. Everyone knows damn well how you care for our safety more than yours.”
Tyler chuckled, and replied, “I would have, but you guys convinced me to come back. Now, move aside Clyde, time for me to pilot the Pelican. Everyone knows how bad of a driver you are.”
“That was one time, Tyler. Everyone knew it was a mistake, and I nearly did it right anyway. Besides, I did well now, Carris let me be the main pilot.”
“Nearly counts for nothing Clyde, you know that. One mistake is all that it takes. Either way, you can be my co-pilot, let Carris take rest for saving your ass when you were piloting.”
Clyde opened his mouth wide, “Hey no that’s wro-Okay, I’ll be the co-pilot. Guess I get to save your ass this tim-“
Ikora interrupted the chatter between the Spartans: “Incoming radio transmission on the UNSC E-Band. Origin: Kőszeg Communications Facility. Playing it right now.”
The voice of a lady echoed through the speakers of the Pelican, along with others talking and screaming. The talking was deafened by weapon fire, both human and alien, with explosions in the background. Saran-197 twitched a little when the transmission played, seemingly knowing who the people where.
“This is SPARTAN-391 of Jade Team. We are pinned at the Kőszeg Communications Facility and are outnumbered by a Covenant armada. We’ve successfully erased all data on human colonies in the facility and upheld the Cole Protocol, but we can’t get out. We have ODSTs and a variety of weapons to defend, but we can’t hold on for long. I’m requesting air support and evac ASAP.”
The transmission ended, and no one spoke a word until Saran finally broke the silence. “That’s Abhinaya, a fellow Class II SPARTAN-II. She’s the leader of Jade Team. No wonder they’re on Reach. We need to get to them and provide evac.”
“They said there’s a giant Covenant armada,” Caren-A293 replied. “All we have is a Pelican gunship. Odds are we’ll be riding into heavy fire. But I don’t think they won’t get evac from others, considering the tight situation up above. What’s your call, Commander?”
Tyler waited for a moment, thinking the options. There was a good chance that Anti-Aircraft guns would be present and the Pelican would be shot down. If that failed, the place was swarming with Covenant soldiers, who could concentrate enough fire that the team would be nothing but ashes. But the UNSC Soldiers and SPARTANs down there were unlikely to get the support they required. He had to choose between abandoning them and riding into hell.
Making his decision, he spoke: “Reach has fallen. We’ve helped evacuate most of the civilians off the planet so far, but most of them doesn’t count as all of them. And now that we have a choice between saving people or not, I choose to save others. I’m not leaving this planet with a single human on it asking for help. If we die, then we die fighting for the planet, fighting for the UNSC, fighting for humanity. So yes, we are going to the comms facility.”
Tyler took his place as the Pelican’s pilot and strapped himself to the seat. It wasn’t meant to hold a SPARTAN wearing a full set of the MJOLNIR Mark V armor, but it surprisingly didn’t break apart yet.
The Pelican swiftly arced through the hellish sky, burning red in color due to the gases in the atmosphere being heated to high temperatures, courtesy of the space battle above. Tyler wondered if they really had a chance of leaving this planet in one piece, even if they did manage to bring aboard the other Spartans and leave. And what about NOBLE Team, who had similar mission objectives as well? Last time he heard from them, their SPARTAN-II Jorge-052 had sacrificed his life destroying the Covenant ship known as the Long Night of Solace. A noble sacrifice, but unfruitful as the full Covenant fleet came just later, 700 of them. And there were still Jack-B157 and Julia-B047 on the surface. Were they alive? Tyler certainly hoped so.
Just then, as if she could hear his thoughts, Julia messaged him on their COMLINK. “Commander, GAUNTLET Six here. Our mission has been successful, and we’ve managed to escape just as stealthily as we entered. I’m putting up my NAV Beacon, requesting pick-up.”
Tyler looked up their beacon. Perfect, it was in the direction they were going. “Affirmative, GAUNTLET Six, we’re on our way. We’re also on a tight schedule, so expect a quick escape.”
“Understood. Julia out.”
Would the two Beta Spartans understand the consequences of the task they were set on doing on now? It was asking them to die, but so it was every single time before, and they happily accepted. It always felt like Spartans didn’t fear death; they welcomed it when it was coming for them. Their fear was humanity’s defeat and deaths of fellow soldiers and civilians. More so for Tyler. He wondered if the time for him to sacrifice his life to ensure GAUNTLET’s survival was guaranteed was now, the odds seemed to match out.
He looked up to the reddish sky again and gazing into the view, he stopped his train of thoughts. He knew that every time he had these thoughts it was a waste of time. But he always feared the opposite would happen, teammates dying because of his own fault. And the location he was going to had some past memories regarding it as well.
Chapter 1 — First Stop: Hell