|This article, Another Night on the Town, was written by LegendOfElTopo. Please do not edit this fiction without the writer's permission.|
Everyone always said that you'd get used to drops.
It was a point of pride for Helljumpers. How unfazed they were, how it was as mundane an occurrence as morning roll call. Some said they could sleep through it.
"Hermes, this is Frost Actual. You’re up."
Humans are just hairless apes, evolved for the solid ground of the savanna. Not for falling through the sky-
"Storm picked a perfect time to hit. Visibility's bad, and we're dropping you pretty low."
-at six miles a second, watching the clouds rush up to swallow you-
"They won't see you coming."
-or for the landing, the impact that hammers its way into your bones. But we do it anyway, scared shitless from the moment we feel the clamps release to the moment we hit the ground.
"Good hunting, Hermes."
Truth is, every drop is just as bad as your first.
The troopers emerged from their pods surrounded by noise - the roar of rain pelting their helmets, their armour, their bodies. It filled the air, covering yet highlighting the gaps, the emptiness, the darkness where the city should be filled with light and noise.
"Hermes Three, sound off." Garcia’s voice cut through the noise like a machete through the jungle - equal parts brute force, frustration, determination.
A pause, then another voice came through on COM - lower, thicker, covered in a blanket of static.
"All teams, this is Hermes. All units deployed and accounted for.
"Hermes has been tasked with extraction of four high-value individuals and their escort, callsign Kalis. Eris Squad was dropped in to recon in force, and have indicated that a large Covenant force is mobilising to capture or eliminate them. Your job is to stop that from happening, before tomorrow morning’s counter-offensive. Hermes is to rendezvous with the HVIs for recovery; Eris will provide overwatch and secure an LZ for extraction. How copy? Over."
"Solid copy, we'll take it from here. Hermes Three out." Garcia paused, switching his COM-loop, the static cutting off a moment later. "Alright, Three, you heard the man. Pull some eggheads out the fire, and we’re home free. Keep it tight, watch your sectors, le-"
There was a flash - dazzling light, streaking down from a balcony overhead.
"CONTACT! Sniper, 300 meters, northeast."
The four Helljumpers darted to cover, weapons rising in unison. The beam rifle barked again, now accompanied by bolts of plasma - but this time they were met by precise, careful shots in return.
"Elite, 200 meters, nor-"
"Three contacts - grunt lance, 200 m-"
"Contact - skirmis-"
"GO, GO, GO!"
Without the threat of the beam rifle hanging over their heads, the troopers fled into the night. Now, there was nothing but the chase - the adrenaline, heavy breathing in a claustrophobic helmet, the pounding of combat boots through dark streets. One foot in front of the other, in front of the other, for minutes that felt like moments, and seconds that lasted hours. Rats, they were, sprinting through the twists and turns of the city streets, as if the storm itself was on their backs.
Maybe it was.
The rats melted into the night, following the sounds of gunfire echoing between concrete and glass, until they reached a corner turning onto the main road. Here, there was rubble, scorching from plasma - but much of the concrete road surface remained intact, broken only by burnt-out vehicles; civilians that had tried to flee too late. Open ground. Lots of it. And on the other side, Kalis still fought. Chased, hunted, backed into a corner - still, they fought with tooth and nail, refusing to give up an inch of the broken glass and scorched steel that had once been a canteen.
Step by step, the shadows inched their way forward. "Slowly. Slowly. Hold." A pause.
"Kalis, this is Hermes Three - ODST detachment, UNSC Touch of Frost - approaching from your west. How copy, over?"
A voice returned from the other end - Garcia was shocked, if only momentarily, at how young the woman sounded.
"This is Kalis Two, solid copy - you patch us through to Frost Actual? B-net shows a sizeable force headed our way, and we were promised armour support from the Poor Yorick.”
"That's a negative, Kalis - Yorick was downed a few hours ago over Indonesia. Frost is all that’s going spare - everything else is assigned to a major push tomorrow morning, and you do not want to be around for that much danger close."
"You'd be surprised, Hermes." A short, sharp laugh came from the other end, followed by a curse in some Outer Colony slang.
"Well, we copy. We'll need a few minutes to round everyone up, but once you open up, we’ll pop smoke and clear out."
"Got it. Three out."
For long minutes there were nothing but pounding hearts, pounding footsteps, pounding rain. A dozen figures approached the burnt-out diner, four from each side; darting between mounds of rubble and abandoned cars, lurking in the gloom. As the jaws of the trap slowly closed, the wraiths spoke to each other, their whispery words carried to one another on the wind.
"We got two, three lances on the ground - plus another two elites, two o'clock."
"Eyes up, more snipers on the rooftops."
"I got 'em - I count four jackals on the rooftop, plus two on the ledge below."
One by one, each target was picked out, profiled, noted. And then-
“Hermes Three, this is Hermes. One and Two are in place - they're ready when you are.”
"Understood." Garcia turned to his troopers; they all already knew what to do, but he spoke anyway. "Alright, One and Two are ready. Check your targets." There was time for a sharp breath - and the world exploded into noise. "Weapons free!"
By the time the words left his mouth, lead was already headed downrange; two bursts, three, each one slamming into the body of an unwary grunt. Ahead of them, strained shields glowed under the sheer weight of fire, flaring bright blue before giving out. Sangheili roared in defiance, charging towards the troopers, before they too went down in bloodied heaps. The besiegers found themselves caught unawares, and for that they paid the price.
Still, the element of surprise could not last forever. Plasma sizzled through the rain back at them, searing metal and concrete alike, the chatter of the troopers suddenly gaining a new urgency.
"Big guy’s down!"
"Contact - two more snipers, east rooftop."
"I’m on 'em."
The troopers scattered, diving away from the taxicab as it was turned into burning wreckage - looking up to see hulking figures running through the mist.
"Contact! Can't tell what th-"
"Negative! Check fire, check fire! Friendlies!
"Didn’t know we would be rescuing power rangers today."
Spartans. Three of them, their armour battered and scorched - but Spartans nonetheless. And following them, the civilians. One stumbled, for the briefest of moments, almost falling before his guardian slung him over their shoulder without breaking stride. The troopers paused, just for a moment, in sheer awe - but the plasma fire starting up again quickly brought them back to reality.
"Alright, gentlemen, time to haul ass."
"No need to tell me twice."
"Frost, this is Hermes Two: we have the precious cargo, en route to extraction. Interrogative - are we to recon the area in preparation for tomorrow’s assault?"
"Negative, Hermes - Kalis is being retasked, and you’re keeping them company." A beat.
"Hope you guys like swimming. Frost out."