- 2100 Hours, May 9th, 2559
- Seattle, United Republic of North America
- Earth, Sol System
Former United Nations Space Command Marine Corps Lieutenant, and now simply Spartan, Elias Olson clutched the wheel of the compact HuCiv Genet Coupe with a white knuckle grip as he pulled onto the interstate freeway. His eyes scanned the traffic ahead as he pulsed the accelerator panel, searching for threats. The road was next to empty this late on a Sunday night, but for a Spartan commando used to constant combat, it was hard to adjust to an environment without constant danger. Not that there wasn’t danger looming tonight. The difference was that a shootout with Covenant Remnant terrorists would have been well within his comfort zone. Tonight’s mission was not.
Officially, him and the three other figures in the car were on shore leave, taking well deserved R&R after a stressful jaunt aboard the Infinity. That’s what the Spartan Branch spooks would say if anyone came asking. Unofficially, Olson and his team were in Seattle for a very different purpose. They had a mission, one handed down to them directly from the Spartan brass and their ONI associates. It was the rare kind of special tasking mission that Spartans were capable of and trained for, but spent so very little time performing. The nervous feeling that penetrated Olson’s gut was very different from normal pre-mission jitters. He hadn’t done something like this in years. Yet his team had been hand-picked for the job for excellence. The pressure to perform was keenly felt.
“Shit, this just feels…wrong.” In the seat behind him, Spartan Bradford Gale shifted uncomfortably. “An op like this, I’d feel a lot safer kitted up with armor.”
“MJOLNIR isn’t exactly the epitome of subtle.” Elias checked his mirror, signaled like a good honest driver, and changed lanes. “We’re supposed to not draw attention to ourselves.”
Olson watched in the mirror as the third member of the team, Mark-G253, scowled and adjusted the scope on his SRS99 S5, tracking a small commuter sedan as it pulled onto the highway ahead of them. The kid, barely into his twenties, was a serious bastard. He definitely didn’t appreciate Gale griping during an op. Olson wasn’t sure how to feel about him. A lot of the fours didn’t like threes: thought they were creepy, too serious, hard to connect to, or just plain weird. A few of more nasty ones even called them freaks. Elias himself appreciated their precision and professionalism. He would never worry about having a three watch his back. Off field they might be weird, but on a mission they were good to have.
The fourth member of the squad, Spartan Jonathan Dorian, also kept quiet as he rode shotgun. He looked perfectly at ease, despite the fact that the massive barrel of Mark’s sniper rifle hovered over his shoulder. His perfectly blank face was glued to thermal imager held in his lap, as he scanned the passing cars to confirm Mark’s visual sweep. Like a lot of guys in the new branch, he’d been an ODST during the war and volunteered for Spartan Four after UNSC went public with the program. Olson had read his file just long enough to see the former shock trooper had dropped into New Mombassa in October during the first wave of the Battle of Earth. Knowing the guy had lived through that shitstorm was all Olson needed to know about the man.
Gale, sitting in the seat directly behind Olson, wasn’t finished. “Ok, fine, but if they’re going to throw us in a civilian rig for this covert bullshit, the least they could do was get something with decent leg room. We’re Spartans, not fucking air force pilots.”
“The HuCiv Genet Coupe is the most popular car on the road.” Olson sighed. Gale was a tough-as-nails veteran who‘d even spent a few days as a Remnant POW, something Spartans very rarely survived. Olson knew Gale realized exactly why they were using a HuCiv. He just complained because he would have much rather been out in armor going guns blazing. “We’ve been over this Bradford. Most popular car makes it common. Common makes it forgettable. Forgettable on a covert op is good. We’re not wearing armor or tooled up because we’re not supposed to be shooting. If we are, then we’ve fucked up.”
“Right, so then why is he carrying a sniper rifle?” Gale jabbed a finger at Mark, who shot him a sideways glance before shaking his head and returning to his scope.
“He’s the panic button.” Olson deadpanned. “For when things get fucked up.”
Gale made to reply, but Olson’s attention was no longer on the petty argument. A few hundred meters ahead, a large delivery truck eased onto the highway, engines grinding. Alarm bells shot through his head. He held his speed, but glanced over to Mark and motioned for him to take a look. Gale immediately went quiet, sensing what was happening. A Spartan like him might be a loud mouth, but he knew when to shut up. The delivery truck accelerated, easing up to freeway speed, then shifted to the middle lane, looking for all the world like a simple night time delivery runner.
“That’s our guy.” Mark finally spoke up. “Plates match what the informant supplied.”
“Looks can be deceiving.” Olson muttered under his breath. “All right, Dorian, give me a heat readout on that thing. Mark, keep that rifle ready. I’m calling MONTEGUE.”
The Genet Coupe’s smoothly changed gear as Olson accelerated, carefully easing the distance between the two vehicles. As the two cars pulled closer together, he tapped the portable chatter unit in his ear and initiated the link. A few moments later, the small device beeped once and the voice of their unit’s controller, Codename: MONTEGUE, filtered through the tiny speaker. It crackled for a moment as the transmitter bounced the signal between local stations, then cleared as line solidified.
“Fireteam Granite, do you have the target?”
“Affirmative sir, I believe so.” Olson smiled. “Delivery truck, looks like a HuCiv HC1500 or 1700, heading southbound on I-5. Positive visual ID on the plates, running thermals now.”
“Good work. We’ve got a ablated F99 matching you now.” MONTEGUE’s voice always struck Olson as odd for a spook. It sounded too…happy. Spooks were supposed to sound menacing and brooding. “Maintain visual and stay on him. We need to know where that truck’s heading.”
“Copy that sir.” Olson muted his transmitter and turned to Dorian. “Thermals?”
“One heat signature in the cargo bay. Tall. Thermal interference is consistent with our target specs.” Dorian’s voice was soft in a way that suggested he didn’t speak often. “Nothing in the cab; no driver. Might be automated, or remote controlled by the cargo signature.”
“Sounds like our guy.” Olson re-engaged the transmitter. “MONTEGUE, this is Granite Leader. Thermal matches description. Target is green.”
“F99 is five out Granite.” MONTEGUE was pleased. “Hold on him. Maintain discretion at all costs.”
They didn’t need to be told twice. Olson knew enough about the target to realize giving themselves away was an easy way to get the whole lot of them killed. He had no intent of dying on an ONI black mission in the middle of a North American freeway. He kept the wheel held tightly and stayed in his lane, wary of any sudden movements. It was hard enough to tail a car in traffic where there was room to blend in. Up here, on an overpass with hardly anyone else on the road, it was a nightmare. Their only saving grace was the fact that it was a common enough route that it was still plausible for a worker to be driving it.
Even as Olson was trying to keep things going smoothly, Gale seemed to be preparing for the worst. Olson glanced in the mirror and saw him loaded magazines into an M935 Designated Marksman Rifle, and a soft green glow emanating from under the seat confirmed the other Spartan had drawn a backup plasma pistol. Olson swallowed hard, the tension getting to him as well. He was glad Dorian was still scanning thermal readouts and that Mark had his eyes on the sniper scope. He’d done combat drops against Hunter colonies without flinching. He didn’t need his team losing confidence in him now, especially since what they faced was potentially much more dangerous.
Anxiety aside, however, things seemed to be going well. The delivery truck chugged along, holding lanes, holding speed, seemingly innocuous. With any luck, also unaware of it’s tail. Olson counted down the minutes in his head until the ablated F-99 UAC arrived on station. Once it was overhead, the stealth drone could establish a target lock and establish an orbit. With the drone tracking the truck, him and his team could bug out. Their role was simply to visually confirm which the target for the fighter, nothing more. Originally, when he’d been told the mission, Olson had questioned the validity of assigning four Spartans---four very good Spartans---to perform such a simple job. There were plenty of pressing threats in the galaxy, and nowhere near enough Spartans to go around.
That had changed very quickly when MONTEGUE had given him the full briefing on what their target actually was. The pieces had fallen into place rapidly with that revelation. Olson knew that sometimes, there was no such thing as being too careful. Even Bradford Gale, the man he would have most expected to complain about sending them on the operation, hadn’t breathed a word asking why they were being sent. That was proof if ever someone wanted it. Four Spartans, far from overkill, seemed on the verge of insufficient based on that briefing. Olson had to admit Gale might have had a point about the armor.
The small data pad mounted above the windshield beeped as the countdown dropped below zero, and Olson breathed a sigh of relief. He reached up and swiped the screen to a TacMap, scrutinizing their respective positions. The real time display lit up as the F-99 eased into an orbit five hundred meters above them, and a ghostly green line appeared as it acquired a tracking solution. Relevant highway off ramps appeared on the map, lighting up to indicate the quickest, quietest route off the overpass. Just a few more seconds, and they’d be home free…
“Granite, we’ve got a problem here.” MONTEGUE sounded distinctly less chipper, and it was by no means a welcome change. “The F-99 has a target lock but…there’s air traffic.”
“Enemy birds?” Olson was bewildered. “Over the URNA? How did they get in?”
“Not exactly.” MONTEGUE said. “Tagged with Air Force signatures. They shouldn’t be there, though. We’re running the tags through the database now, but they look spoofed.”
“What’s that mean for us, sir?” Olson thought he knew where this was heading, and he didn’t like it.
“Continue pursuit.” MONTEGUE adopted a clipped, very formal tone. “We can’t afford to lose the target. Knowing where he’s heading is a tier one objective. We can’t be sure they won’t detect the bird, and if we lose it we need a secondary trace.”
This wasn’t how the mission was supposed to go. They weren’t prepared for this, not in gear, nor in briefing. They were supposed to be done.
“Understood.” Elias cut the comm channel, not confident in himself that he wouldn’t say something regrettable.
“I got our exit route.” Gale, charged with navigating, hadn’t caught on. “Exit One Forty Two, two klicks ahead.”
“Change of plans.” Olson knew they wouldn’t be happy. “Target has air cover, so Drone targeting may be unreliable. We’re continuing low level tracking.”
A stir went through the small vehicle. MONTEGUE might only talk with Olson, but everyone had undergone the same initial briefing. They were just as aware as Elias that things weren’t going how they were supposed to be.
“Sir, it‘s going to be a tall order trying to track him and stay quiet.” Mark didn’t move from behind the scope of the sniper rifle, but there was hesitation in his voice.
“If he makes us Olson, we’re dead.” Gale meanwhile didn’t event try to disguise his lack of confidence. “This plan is snagged.”
“We’ve got orders.” Olson didn’t like it, but going toe-to-toe with MONTEGUE over abandoning a mission wasn’t an option. “We stay quiet, we track him, and we wait for command to clean up the sky for the original plan.”
“Targets moving.” Mark suddenly was all business again. “Leaving the elevated section. Looks like he’s heading for the one sixty seven interchange.”
“Shifting.” Olson waited to stay as innocuous as he could, then changed lanes to match. He keyed the transmitter to MONTEGUE. “Granite Lead to control, target is moving on a highway. Please advise.”
“Stay on him.” MONTEGUE didn’t mince words. “Update as per necessity.”
Traffic on the highway was even lighter than on the interstate. Olson checked his mirrors, and noted only a half dozen other vehicles on the road. Granite Team’s car was the closer to the target vehicle than any other car on the road. A single drop of sweat beaded on his brow. His gut churned. Dorian glanced over, and Olson knew immediately from the concerned look on his face that he’d seen. So much for maintaining a brave façade for the troops.
“If he pulls off onto a surface street, it’s gonna to be impossible to follow him without being made.” Hedge squirmed. “You know that right?”
“Just watch the maps Bradford.” Olson didn’t need any more worrying thoughts.
The hunted and the hunters---Olson hoped they were still the hunters---passed a double on-ramp as they left the business district. The amount of vehicles on the road suddenly doubled as a collection of small commuter cars and a few larger trucks slipped onto the highway. A quick glance at the TacMap revealed a suburban housing area ten klicks or so down the road; this must have been the late night rush. The commuters were a welcome distraction; Olson grinned when he saw one man in a business suit driving a ‘57 Hog. That would draw some attention.
Traffic separated into the normal patterns, and the target vehicle held its’ course in the center lane. With it holding steady, and most importantly not heading for an exit, their recon seemed a little less impossible. Olson scanned the traffic ahead---him and everyone else inside the car---and made careful note of the actions of his fellow drivers. The Hog driver was acting like an asshole, making to pass an Überchassis that was already doing sixty five in the right lane. Everyone else seemed to be acting responsible, or at least as responsible as civilian drivers usually did. A pair of MLX sport sedans were clearly following one another home, while a large HuCiv Semi merged into the right lane and accelerated, probably a trucker with no desire to weave in and out of the mess in the center.
Through it all, the target delivery truck held it’s position and course, even as another similar sized transport changed lanes and moved to pass. Olson watched the driver of the medium sized truck look over into the cab of the target vehicle; in the darkness, it was hard to see what he was doing, but Olson could imagine him trying to shoot the target a dirty look, only to be disappointed when he found it was automated. Yet instead of accelerating, it matched the speed and stayed on the target vehicle’s left flank. Olson had a moment to wonder, suspicion slowly dawning on him, when Mark spoke up.
“Not to alarm anyone here,” The SPARTAN-III held his sniper rifle not on the second delivery truck, but on the semi in the right lane. “But I think we’ve got company.”
“Which one?” Dorian glanced into the back seat, chin almost bumping up against the ever-protruding sniper barrel.
“Large vehicle, accelerating onto target‘s right flank. Got a funny feeling about it.”
Olson had heard some of the threes talk about “funny feelings” before. More often than not, shit had hit the fan shortly thereafter. There was something about the younger Spartans that made them aware in a way that the fours weren’t: maybe training from an earlier age, maybe that they’d lived for more time with augmented bodies, or maybe their slightly more extensive injections. Olson’s money was on the first, but whatever the reason, Mark‘s “funny feeling” sent a chill up his spine.
“Jonathan, get me a thermal reading on that semi.” Olson tried to keep his voice level, but his mind raced to whether or not he had loaded the antiquated M6D sidearm below his seat with SAP-HE ammunition or simply AP. “Mark, you got any other funny feelings about other vehicles? Because there’s a delivery truck that’s oftly close to the target’s left side…”
“Tracking.” Mark swung the sniper rifle slightly to the side, as Dorian ducked to give him room and took a scan of the semi. “Oh shit.”
“Spartan?” Olson didn’t like the sound of a normally professional three swearing.
“Dual sheet siding on the truck, Elias.” Mark said. “Like the dual plating on a navy ship. Looks like normal from the outside, then one retracts and you’ve got a totally different set up.”
“Have you seen this before?” Olson glanced at Dorian, hoping the thermal scan was finished. The terminal was still calculating. The semi’s sides must have either been reinforced…or thermal shielded. “What’s it mean?”
“Oh yeah I have.” Mark’s cold professionalism shifted towards something darker. “Rebels on Talitsa liked to outfit semi and delivery trucks like this for surprise attacks on some of the more outlying outposts. Basically, they pull one set of siding up and all of a sudden you’ve got a delivery truck with gun ports in the walls.”
“Goddamn it.” Olson wanted to turn to Dorian for emphasis, but kept his eyes on the road. “I need that thermal reading fifteen seconds ago!”
“It’s hot.” The former ODST sounded serenely calm. “But I can’t get anything solid on how many bodies inside. It’s thermal ablative.”
“Shit, look.” Hedge spoke up, indicating the truck with his rifle. “They’re moving up. Holy shit, they’re going to box them in.”
“Granite to MONTEGUE, we’ve got a situation down here.” Whatever was going on, these newcomers weren’t here to help out the target. They were closing in for the kill. “Target vehicle has two suspicious vehicles moving to box it in. Did you bring down a kill team?”
“Negative.” MONTEGUE said. “Whoever they are, they’re not Spartan branch.”
“Orders, sir?” The churning in the pit of Olson’s gut was gone, replaced by icy calm. Every cell in his body was getting ready for a fight. “If these guys turn out to be bad news for the target, we’re going to be made.”
“Maintain tracking.” MONTEGUE sounded distracted, as if listening to someone else. Olson could picture him in the crowded Ops center back at base, staring down a monitor, listening to Spartan branch spooks yell information at him. Olson dearly hoped he wouldn’t forget how vulnerable Granite was with all the commotion.
“If outside influences keep us from identifying the target’s destination, then we need him for questioning. If those bastards start firing, you take them down. Bring that target back for me alive.”
The line went dead, with MONTEGUE’s last words hanging in the air. Olson checked the receiver, but it lit up as green. He glanced up at the TacPad, looking for a way to check the connection, only to find everything reading green. Where the hell had MONTEGUE gone? A second after the question presented itself in his head, the answer presented itself. Spartan branch operated with the absolute best in equipment and tech. There was no way in hell that a line would drop off in the middle of an Inner Colony---much less Earth---unless someone from the outside tampered with every signal in the area.
The kind of blanket jamming signal that someone might use right before kicking off an attack.
"BRACE!” Olson slammed on the brakes, as ahead of them, fire lit up the sky.
Thunder rolled through the wheels of the small coupe as a fireball appeared fifty meters ahead of them on the highway. Olson’s eyes jammed shut against the sudden flare of the blast, only for him to force them open again as combat instincts kicked in in full. His body and hands moved faster than his mind could process what was happening, reacting and yanking the wheel far to right . Ahead of them, the burning hulk of the delivery from the target’s left flank spun, twisted, and flipped into the air.
Burning metal rolled and catapulted through the air, right for Granite’s Genet Coupe. Olson swung the wheel without thinking, tires screeching as the small sedan dodged the twisted hulk. Behind them, an Überchassis wasn’t so lucky, colliding with the wreckage of the delivery truck and emerging a crumpled heap of jagged metal. There was no time to watch what happened next or if there was any survivors, as they barreled through a ballooning cloud of black, acrid smoke, and emerged into a scene of devastation. Ahead, the bulk of the cars that had merged onto the freeway just minutes prior were reduced to blackened, charred hulks. A crater the size of a Scorpion tank dominated part of the highway where the delivery truck had been hit. Only two exceptions to the destruction were visible: the target truck, and the semi trying to box it in.
“What the hell!” Gale screamed over the roar of the rapidly accelerating Genet’s engine. “What the fucking hell!”
“Target’s drone cover must have taken a shot,” Mark seemed rattled but alert, tapping on the windshield with his sniper rifle. “Must have seen what was happening on the ground and not liked the odds.”
“Shit, that rig must be built like a tank to survive that explosion that close.” Gale shouldered his DMR. “So much for the intel about it just being a standard delivery truck. Where’s command in all this?”
“MONTEGUE is dark.” Olson gunned the accelerator, wishing the Coupe could manage more speed. The side of the semi---now blackened and caked with ash, even as it continued down the highway at full speed after the target---seemed to shift. Olson realized it wasn’t shifting, it was lifting: the outer layer contracting to reveal an under layer pockmarked with gun ports. Mark had been dead right.
“So what about their air support?” Gale rolled down the window of his backseat, stuck the DMR out, and almost had it ripped from his hands by the air rushing past the Coupe at nearly ninety miles per hour. He hastily readjusted his grip.
“Command will deal with that.” Olson coaxed every bit of speed out of the meager sedan. “Hopefully.”
Ugly strobes of gunfire lit up the side of the semi as it closed on the target truck, broad siding it like an old waterborne naval vessel. Whoever was driving the target truck seemed to be trying to outrun them, but whatever armor had saved it from the drone’s missile now slowed it down too much to escape. The semi, meanwhile, obviously was no ordinary civilian rig. It powered along at ninety, belching smoke and spewing fire. Olson was half surprised it wasn’t kicking out tank shells.
Whoever else was after the target, they obviously weren’t playing around. Full automatic gunfire cut into the side of the delivery truck, slicing through the thick armored sides. Olson noted that if they were using armor piercing ammunition. They had obviously come there fully prepared for who their target was.
“Sir, I count at least ten shooters in there!” Mark’s “panic button” was at the ready. “Maybe fifteen. This speed, I can’t guarantee I can take them all out with just this much ammo.”
“We open fire, they’ll light us up.” Gale had extra ammo, but Olson didn’t think he was looking to fire. “If they do anything like that to us, we’re Swiss cheese.”
“We don’t have a choice.” Olson reached under the seat with one hand and grabbed his M6D. “If the target is still alive in there, there’s no guarantee he’s going to stay that way. Mark, link your scope to the TacPad so everyone can see who your shooting at. Gale, Dorian, take down anyone Mark doesn’t.”
It would have struck an outsider as odd, to watch the four of them calmly sight up and carry out his instructions. The world all around them was going straight to hell: a half dozen burning cars in their wake, a target just as likely dead as alive, a potentially armed and hostile drone in the sky above, and a semi truck outfitted like a makeshift armored personnel carrier ahead of them. But they were all in their element now. Sneaking around, tailing a target, careful observation---they’d all done it, they all knew how to do it, but it wasn’t second nature to them. Combat was. They’d all spent years bringing down bad guys.
“I’ve got the rear most shooter,” Mark’s scope feed appeared on the TacPad. “Take the shooters up front. We’ll work towards the middle.”
“Copy.” Gale readied his DMR, while Dorian shouldered an M7S Submachine Gun.
“Granite Team, engage on my mark.“ Olson knew that as soon as they gave the order, their cover would be blown and they’d make themselves a massive target. They needed to take out as many of the bastards ahead as possible. “Three, two, one…”
Just as the words appeared on his lips, another explosion rocked the freeway. A cloud of fire appeared on the side of the target truck, as one of the sides was ripped away. The jagged piece of metal skidded along the highway, bouncing past in a flash. A cloud of smoke billowed from the opening, obscuring the sightlines of the gunners inside the semi. Mark’s scope drifted automatically to the opening, and the image displayed on the TacPad caught Olson’s eye. The countdown stalled in his throat, as Mark activated the image enhancement suit in the Oracle-X Variant scope. As if out of a dream, the target---the man they’d spent all this time hunting---appeared in the smoke.
He stood tall in a set of jet black, contoured armor. Even through the smoke, the jagged outline of a very rare, very expensive Wetwork helmet stared out across the expanse. Olson’s breath caught in his throat as he saw a pair of M7 Submachine Guns held in either of the target’s hands. He’d dropped onto the Ark in 2552 during his time with the marines, and had seen Master Chief fight the Covenant firsthand. He remembered that same feeling of awe, watching something he could only describe as death incarnate, cutting through the Covenant ranks like nothing he’d ever seen. Looking out at the image in the TacPad, he realized that awe was now tempered with fear.
Before him was Codename: EGOR. MONTEGUE’s briefing had told Olson two very simple, very revealing things. One: EGOR was SPARTAN-144, Leonid, an original SPARTAN-II. Two: he was the private enforcer of Section Zero, ONI’s feared internal affairs division, who’d spent years working for a very deadly group known as the Field Investigation Team. EGOR was not a man to be trifled with. He was the sort of man that struck fear into the hearts of Spartans.
And now, they had to figure out a way to bring him in alive.
Standing on the side of the ragged hole his delivery truck’s side, the black-armored SPARTAN looked out at the semi-truck full of armed men as if it was a nuisance. Olson subconsciously backed off the accelerator, feeling that whatever happened next, it would do his Spartans no good to be in the middle of it. MONTEGUE had shown Granite team footage of EGOR in action; not against his targets, against other SPARTAN-II’s sent to track him down. They’d watched as two fully armored SPARTAN-II’s---two of the commandos that Spartan branch used for only the most difficult of missions, where even Spartan Fours would be insufficient---were very nearly defeated by EGOR in close quarters combat…by himself.
There was a reason Granite Team’s mission had been only to track, not apprehend, EGOR.
The gunmen inside the semi-truck abruptly slipped from the shock that had held their fire, and in unison, resumed shooting. EGOR’s shields glowed gold as he rolled to the side, not even bothering to return fire---diving out of sight. Seconds passed, gunfire continued to pour out of the semi’s gun ports, and Olson had a moment to wonder what exactly EGOR had been playing at when he’d blown open the side of his own vehicle. Then, as two or three of the gunmen paused to reload and the volume of fire decreased, EGOR reappeared.
Arms pumping, shields newly recharged and glowing gold, the SPARTAN-II leapt out the jagged hole moving faster than Olson had ever seen any human being---Spartan Four included---move before. Time slowed and Olson tore his gaze away from the scope, watching with his own eyes as the impossible happened before him. EGOR leapt not onto the opposing semi, but into it---straight through the metal walls.
“Mother of God.” Olson whispered under his breath, staring at the seven foot tall, MJOLNIR shaped hole in the side of the semi’s armor. “He punched clean through.”
“I feel sorry for the guys inside that truck.” Gale sounded equally awed. “At least the bastards in the delivery van went out cleanly.”
“Oh, they’ll go out cleanly.” Mark joined with them, inserting a bit of black humor. “Quickly, cleanly, and before they even know what’s happening.”
Olson silently agreed, as he watched the fire on the delivery truck abruptly cease---only for the gun ports to re-illuminate with gunfire coming from the inside. A glance down at Dorian’s thermal imager showed a picture of what was happening inside; with the deceptive semi-truck façade pulled back to reveal the gun ports, the thermal interference had disappeared as well. In ghostly red shapes, the slaughter played out. The men inside---wearing what looked like ODST ballistic armor, or perhaps Heavy Impact Plating---surrounded EGOR, but in such close quarters, their numbers worked against them. The SPARTAN-II dodged between them, moving with speed Olson could barely follow, cutting down each man as if he was no threat. An M7 burst to one’s torso, a roll between two others, crushing the skull of one with a single strike, sweeping the legs out from the other and finishing him with a burst of gunfire.
The process took mere moments. Ten men fell in half as many seconds, as EGOR killed in a way that simultaneously awed and terrified Olson. He was a Spartan, a member of an elite force which could handle almost any threat in the galaxy. And here before him, outlined in glowing red, was a man who could kill him with practiced ease. How in the hell were they supposed to take this…this killing machine alive, without even armor? Olson thought back to the video MONTEGUE had shown them, where EGOR had been beaten finally after a third SPARTAN-II put a sniper round in his chest. Only then---with a massive hole from an anti-tank rifle in him---had EGOR been beaten in a hand-to-hand struggle. Maybe if they put two in him, or three, they might manage it.
“Mark, how much penetration will your rifle have through the walls of that truck?” Olson put his foot back down on the accelerator, the beginnings of a plan forming in his head. They’d need to be close to pull it off, though.
“Well EGOR blew threw it well enough…” Mark sighted on the truck. “Should retain most of the stopping power.”
“Good.” Olson checked the thermal. One of the gunmen had detonated a grenade in his own hands when EGOR had gotten close---done enough damage to his shields to force him to retreat. Best Olson could tell, the SPARTAN-II was hiding behind a pair of ammo crates, waiting for his shields to recharge. The remaining gunmen were advancing, rifles leveled. It looked like every last one of them carried M739 SAWs. There were six left: a lot of firepower leveled at EGOR. Olson still only gave them a tiny chance at survival. “Can you hit him through the walls on the first shot?”
“If I link to the thermal, I can pipe all the targeting data I need through into my scope.” Mark made a few adjustments. “Keep the approach steady and I can get off two, maybe three rounds, based on how fast he’s been moving.”
No one mentioned that there was a possibility he could move faster---that he’d been taking it easy eliminating the gunmen. If he came under sniper fire through the walls of the semi, Olson figured he’d move his absolute fastest.
“When the target takes out the guy in that truck, put a round in his chest. If he gives you time, get another one in his legs. Maybe two.” Olson laid out his plan as calmly as he could manage, given the situation. Doing ninety behind a semi-truck that was home to a firefight wasn’t exactly serene. “Bradford, Jonathan, be ready to move. As soon as Mark’s got him injured, I’ll get us along side the truck. Get on top and breach from above. Mark will cover.”
It was the sort of crazy, over-the-top plan that Spartan branch had made their signature. But usually, they had the protection of MJOLNIR in case anything went wrong. Olson didn’t think traditional would work on EGOR, though. They had no choice but to chance it. Dorian and Gale simply nodded and started prepping, stowing their gear as well as they could manage in the tight confines of the Genet Coupe. Anything not securely fastened would be an added inconvenience for a job that was already going to be insane.
Inside the semi, EGOR’s heat signature suddenly disappeared. The gunmen vaulted around the corner and open fired, but the SPARTAN-II was nowhere to be seen. Before they could connect the dots---active camouflage unit---EGOR was on top of them. M7’s burping a full auto landslide of bullets, he dropped six before they could get to cover. Two managed to escape, ducking behind the same ammo crate that EGOR himself had used for concealment. The SPARTAN waited for a moment, weapons trained on the cover, then stooped to collect his combat knife. It was lodged inside the eye socket of one of fallen gunmen. Olson hadn’t even seen him throw it.
“Get ready.” He coaxed the engine faster, until the Genet was almost on top of the semi. Gale and Dorian loaded grappling rounds into their weapons and kicked the doors free of the car for better maneuverability. The roar of the air outside filled the sedan as the hauler loomed above them. Mark’s fingers tightened on the trigger as he made microscopic adjustments to his aim.
Inside, it was clear EGOR had waited long enough. With slow deliberation, he reloaded each of his M7s, then attached them to his armor’s thigh plates. Olson watched over the thermal outline as he drew the combat knife again, a cold blotch of steel against the warm figure in armor. With speed Olson didn’t think anyone in the galaxy could have matched---maybe not even oh-eight-seven---EGOR ducked around the corner, and slid the knife into the skull of the first man. Even as he embedded the knife deep into the brain of the first gunmen, his arm shot out and wrapped around the throat of the second. With a single squeeze, the throat of the second man was crushed.
But amazingly, even as his fellow slid to the floor beside him and his trachea liquefied, the second gunmen raised his arms and held something up. A small, cylindrical, apparently grey---
This time, there was no dodging the explosion or it’s debris. Rolling thunder enveloped the world as the cab on the semi detonated with almost as much force as the drone above had. Olson screamed at his team mates to hold on to something and slammed his foot against the brake, but it was too late. The semi tipped, rolled, and came crashing towards them. Olson swerved, hoping to avoid the worst of what was too come, even as the rear of the Genet made contact with the tumbling mass. One moment they were screeching along the road, and the next they were airborne, tumbling end over end. In the corner of his eye, Olson watched Dorian fire the grappling round into the ceiling of the Coupe and hang on for death life. Olson had half a moment to reflect on the error of breaking the doors from the vehicle, before his head smashed against the dashboard and the world vanished into blackness.
Olson came to staring his own bloodied reflection. It hadn’t rained in over a week here---Seattle was gray more than rainy, contrary to popular belief---but the overcast had finally chosen to break into a full on downpour. Slowly, his senses returned, and he realized the numbness he felt was from his soaked fatigues, not any sort of paralysis. A puddle was forming along the side of the freeway, even as the blood dripping from a ragged cut along his forehead tinted it pink.
Groaning, Olson rose to his knees. On instinct, he checked his side for his sidearm; amazingly, the old M6D was still attached. Everything in his body burned, ached, throbbed like it was on fire. Augmentation hadn’t even hurt this bad. Nor had the Pelican crash he’d gone through ten months ago. Who could have known a car crash was worse than a dropship plowing into a cliffside. Something in the back of Olson’s mind reminded him that it hadn’t exactly been a normal car crash, but he didn’t let it take his attention. He had to focus.
Olson stood up, wincing at legs that felt like they might have been broken. Somehow he’d been thrown from the Genet on impact, he figured. The car lay twenty five meters away from him, rear side smashed, hood crumpled, and laying on it’s roof. Olson glanced around, looking for the semi, and found it a hundred meters behind him, twisted on it’s side and cab engulfed in flames. He started for it, only to think better of it. If EGOR was alive inside, he might be in fighting shape. Olson didn’t particularly feel like surviving the car wreck of the century only to be taken out just afterwards. He staggered towards the car.
Inside, amazingly, everyone else still looked in decent shape. The door of the sedan was dented from where Mark’s arm had smashed into it---an impact which would have broken the bones of a normal human, but which the SPARTAN-III’s reinforced skeleton had withstood with ease. Dorian was out cold, hands still wrapped tightly around the submachine gun whose grappling round had kept him inside. Gale was cut and bruised, but seemed to be fading in and out of consciousness. Olson staggered to the driver side---door now conspicuously absent, just like the passenger side and driver side rear seats---and removed a medpack from under the seat.
He removed a pair of wake-up stims and administered one to Gale and one to himself. As the feelings of pain drifted out of his consciousness, a cool clarity seemed to replace them. Olson was suddenly aware of the danger they could be in. If EGOR’s drone was still above, then any movement might draw fire. He roused Gale, but the other Spartan still seemed blurry.
“Shit.” Gale sounded like he’d spent the night drinking. “What the hell happened?”
“Must have been a bomb in the truck.” Olson glanced around the cab for Gale’s DMR, but it appeared to have been thrown from the car. Mark’s sniper rifle looked equally useless---the barrel had been twisted from an impact with the SPARTAN-III’s leg. Bones harder than steel indeed. “Gunmen blew it when they realized EGOR was going to finish them all off.”
“And we get a cargo hauler to the face for our trouble…” Gale groaned and moved to try and sit up, only to double over in pain. “Yeah. Right to fucking face.”
“Yeah, we get all the fun perks.” Olson glanced at the cargo hauler, then back to Gale. If EGOR was still in the semi, then he wouldn’t be for long. Gale didn’t look like he was in any shape to fight, though. “I think I need to move. If that drone is still overhead, then I’ve probably piqued it’s interest moving around.”
“Just…give me a second.” Gale let out a pained grunt, then sat up. His chest was a maze of slashes and cuts. “Oh…shit.”
“Your not going anywhere, Spartan.” Olson tapped one of the cuts for emphasis. Gale winced in response and shot him a nasty look. “Not like that. Get Mark and Jonathan up, then get yourself some medical help. Stay in the vehicle. Don’t attract attention.”
The only way Olson could think of to avoid the drone’s fire---if it was indeed still up there---was to close in on EGOR. The fighter couldn’t shoot at him if it that meant risking hitting the SPARTAN-II along with him. Grabbing a set of extra pistol magazines from the ammo crate under the seat, he staggered towards the collapsed semi. A nervous look at the sky convinced him to break into a run, despite the pain of his leg, and a few moments later, he was stacked up against the hauler with weapon at the ready.
The semi-truck’s cab had been the source of the bomb, and was engulfed in flames even further down the highway, but the cargo container had separated from the blast. Now, lying on it’s side in the middle of the street, the dented container was blackened and smashed from close proximity to both explosions. Olson moved around it’s exterior, checking for signs of either EGOR, or a way inside. Bodies of a few of the gunmen had somehow made their way to the outside---they were indeed wearing ODST ballistic gear---but aside from their broken forms and pools of blood, the street was empty.
Olson clambered to what had been the back of the container, but the doors stubbornly refused to open. Glancing at the container, he realized that it had landed on it’s right side; the hole EGOR had made when he smashed into it’s side was still open. Holstering his M6D, Olson clambered up the side of the hauler, finding handholds in the blast dents. Careful to maintain his footing on the rain-slicked metal, he clambered up top, drew his pistol, cleared the “roof”, and examined his entrance. EGOR really had just smashed straight into the side of it. A man-shaped---larger, naturally---hole greeted him, jagged metal bent inward. The hole below was dark. Olson wondered if the power on the lights had failed from the blast, or whether the gunmen had traveled in darkness before firing. If it’d been the latter, he could have seen them being even more terrified than normal with EGOR’s arrival.
A SPARTAN-II assassin in pitch black armor in deep darkness was not a friendly sounding combination.
Examining the entrance, Olson realized there was no way of knowing what he was getting into. If EGOR was awake, he doubtless had heard Olson’s noisy scaling of the container. He could be waiting for submachine guns leveled and combat knife drawn. Olson decided that next time, he would listen to Gale and figure out a way to bring MJOLNIR. Maybe travel in a spacious delivery truck like EGOR had. At the very least, he’d bring flash bang grenades for a situation like this. A pistol and fatigues was no way to face a SPARTAN-II in hand-to-hand.
But if there was any chance of subduing EGOR, it was now. If the SPARTAN was still out from the blast, then this was the perfect time to capture him. Olson checked his pockets, to make sure he still had a pair of stun-cuffs on hand. He did. He wondered if he should leave his pistol outside---it wouldn’t help much subduing an unconscious EGOR, and he might be able to pose as a civilian or even helpful local military---but decided against it. He doubted EGOR would buy that when he was clearly not some random passerby, and when he thoroughly looked the part of Spartan Four. No clever tricks would help here.
Preparing himself for a possible hostile reception, he made his way to the entrance, said a Hail Mary, and dropped into the darkness.
If EGOR really was waiting for him, then Olson realized he was screwed from the moment he landed. Something uneven greeted his landing, and he felt his ankle crack as he dropped to the floor. Biting back a scream, he reached for a survival light and checked the room. Blood coated just about every surface, testament to the carnage the small room had seen just a few minutes previous. Shell casings littered the floor and bullet hole pockmarked everything in sight. A quick glance down confirmed Olson’s ugly suspicion---his landing had been uneven because he’d landed on the pockmarked corpse of one of the gunmen.
Remembering how EGOR had surprised the gunmen with active camouflage, Olson checked the room carefully---wishing dearly he had a motion sensor---but found nothing. Olson gingerly turned over one of the bodies, looking for any sign of affiliation or trace of identification, but they were clean. He’d heard stories about ONI black ops teams---some of them more legitimate than others, both the stories and the teams---and realized that right here, in front of him, was proof of them. He realized that he was staring at a group of men whose existence was likely deniable, for whom there would be no record. Worse yet, EGOR was gone, leaving nothing behind but a score of bullet ridden corpses and a charred semi-truck.
Whatever answers Spartan branch was looking for trying to track EGOR’s destination, it wouldn’t be found here. There would be no answers to anything here. Not who these men were, who had sent them, or what EGOR---or his superiors---had done to provoke such a response.
Olson staggered to the rear of the container, opened the lock, and ambled towards his team’s crumpled Genet Coupe. From a distance, it looked like Mark was awake and tending to Gale, while Dorian still dozed in trauma-related sleep. His team would make it. That would have to be good enough.
0900 Hours, February 3rd, 2561
UNSC Persephone, Battle group Dakota
Earth, Sol System
The medical bay of the UNSC Persephone was unusually quiet by fleet standards. Normally, a cruiser like the brand new, kilometer long ship would be a hub of commotion, filled with Navy surgeons attending to battle wounds, nurses maintaining patients until doctors could clear them, and attendants rushing in and out with messages, orders, or status updates. At least, that was Olson’s experience with medical bays. He had been on the front every time he’d been injured; here, in heavily defended and peaceful Earth orbit, things apparently were not so extreme.
Olson shifted uncomfortably in his bed, body aching. Worse than the pain, however, was being stuck in the hospital. A fair few Spartan Fours came out of augmentation never wanting to set foot in a medical facility again; the surgeries weren’t as painful or dangerous as those the SPARTAN-IIs and SPARTAN-IIIs had had to undergo, but they were much more time consuming. Months in the hospital, tedious hours of times spent in beds being tended to by navy nurses. Not even cute navy nurses, either.
Olson himself hadn’t really liked hospitals much before that anyway. He didn’t have a real reason---no tear jerker stories about a buddy who’d died from malpractice or siblings who’d succumbed to childhood illness---just a vague sort of annoyance at them. They took too long. The I.V. always felt like it was about to fall out. The food was garbage. And worst of all, they meant something had gone wrong with the mission. In this case, it was all three, with a special added slap in the face. They were being pulled from the operation entirely.
“Eh Elias, check out the back on that one.” Gale had been put in the bed next to him, at Gale’s own request. Now he was making a joke out of checking out the navy nurses---the male ones. “How many weeks in the field before you’d tap that, eh?”
“You asking me, or yourself there Bradford?” Olson played along, with nothing better to do. “Cause I saw the way you were checking out Horatio Fry back on Infinity, and I gotta say, you two would make a cute couple.”
“Oh, we would would we?” Gale laughed.
“Yeah, I just don’t know if you could manage a catch like that if he finds you’ve been checking out…navy boys.” One of the orderlies shot Olson a dirty look, but it only made Gale laugh harder.
“How you three feeling?” The door to the hospital eased open and Mark walked in, already clad in a MJOLNIR under suit. The threes didn’t like to waste time getting back into armor, that was for sure. Olson wondered if it was a bit of a protective instinct. Holding on tight to their MJOLNIR rights, since they’d spent their first year or so on deployment in SPI rigs. “I didn’t miss the spook, did I?”
“Oh no, our esteemed Spartan spook hasn’t seen fit to grace us with his presence yet.” Gale had no love for ONI spooks, and it was clear his opinion of the Spartan variety was only slightly higher.
“MONTEGUE commed a few minutes ago to tell me he was on his way.” Olson said. “Just as well, seeing as Jonathan’s still sleeping.”
“Out? Still?” Mark glanced over at Dorian, asleep on a bunk. “He’s gonna be ok, right?”
“Oh yeah, docs got him up a few hours ago.” Gale snickered. “Guy just likes his sleep. I swear he probably slept before hot drops when he was a ODST.”
“Oh.” Mark seemed suddenly at ease. Olson felt bad for him. Solid as a rock under fire on an operation, yet awkward afterwards. The kid probably would have liked life a lot better on the Infinity, where he could mingle with other squads from Gamma.
“Well, you just gonna stand there or are you gonna sit down?” Gale had been a bit cold towards Mark before, but the painkillers were doing wonders towards loosening him up. He’d been cut up badly enough that he was going to have some very prominent scars---not that that was anything out of the ordinary among Spartan branch. Olson’s new scar on his eye was just one more added to the collection. Mark, with his smooth skin, almost didn’t look Spartan-esque. The kid hadn’t gotten anything worse than bruises in the car crash.
“I was thinking I’d stand.” Mark laughed. “Seeing as I’m the only one in the squad who can.”
“Oh, now that’s just rubbing salt in the wound.” Gale laughed again, surprised the three had a sense of humor. “Besides, Jonathan could stand…if he wasn’t too busy snoring.”
Mark was spared having to think of a reply by the sudden hiss of the door opening behind him. He spun and snapped off a salute as MONTEGUE stepped in, clanking heavy on the floor in full armor. Olson and Gale lifted their hands into lazy salutes, secured to the hospital beds as they were. Dorian remained fast asleep. Gale was right. The guy really did love his sleep.
“Fireteam Granite,” MONTEGUE returned their salute. “At ease. I’m just here for the debrief.”
Despite his imposing seven foot stature in his black and yellow MJOLNIR rig, MONTEGUE still looked too mild to be a spook. The soft, chipper voice didn’t help the appearance any. The guy had close cropped brown hair and a wide forehead, and a friendly smile that Olson couldn’t decide on the authenticity of. He looked like he should be doing soft duty, like running an op center, not leading a team on a dangerous manhunt for a SPARTAN-II assassin. Or at least, debriefing the team that had been doing said manhunt.
“Pretty much everything of note after we lost voice contact is in the report I sent in, sir.” Olson really hadn’t enjoyed having to write with an I.V. in. “EGOR’s people hit the secondary vehicle with a missile, EGOR took out the second vehicle’s crew, then they blew themselves up and nearly took us along with them.”
“Right, local PD really loved that last part.” MONTEGUE grimaced. “EGOR got away?”
“Yes sir.” Olson sighed. “I checked the container as soon as I confirmed my team was alive, but I must have been out from the explosion too long.”
“Alright.” MONTEGUE glanced at the rest of the team, including the still sleeping Dorian. “That’s about all the questions. Does he always do that?”
"Just about sir.” Olson tried not to think about how MONTEGUE hadn’t really asked anything new. “He likes his sleep.”
“Apparently.” MONTEGUE hadn’t even moved from the door. “You’ll be transferred back aboard Infinity as soon as your recovered and returned to your usual teams. For what it’s worth, good work down there.”
With that, he stepped out and the door sealed. Olson was left wondering what the hell had gone on. Why were they being pulled if MONTEGUE thought they’d done a good job? Was someone else going to be sent after EGOR? They surely wouldn’t just let him get away. MONTEGUE had told them during the briefing that EGOR was a Section Zero plant who’d infiltrated Infinity at Requiem, infiltrated the whole Spartan branch. The whole mission was about getting him back to find out why, since they couldn’t exactly ask Section Zero. An escaped EGOR was pretty much the opposite of mission accomplished.
“Well that answers exactly zero questions and raises about a dozen more…” Olson sighed.
“You said it.” Olson expected Gale to respond, but instead, Mark came out, sounding annoyed and frustrated. “Why is nothing ever simple when twos get thrown in the mix?”
“You sound like you got a personal history with that Mark.” Gale looked at the SPARTAN-III like he was seeing him for the first time.
“You could say that.” Mark sounded almost…angry. Olson had never heard a three angry before. “They show up, and everything gets complicated. Should have known this mission would be rotten from the start.”
“Rotten?” The vehemence in Mark’s voice shocked Olson. “That’s pretty bold.”
“Bold? Yeah, I guess it’s bold.” Mark looked disgusted for a moment, then turned to go. “But that one was rotten. Rotten to the core. A good mission would have answers. Answers on what EGOR was after when he infiltrated Infinity. Why his people wanted him in Spartan. Shit, at very least, answers on why he had thirty guys after him on a hit mission.”
Mark walked out, letting his questions hang in the air. They were the same questions that reverberated inside Olson’s own mind. Mark was right. The mission really was rotten to the core. The fact that it was over didn’t make it one bit better. Not one bit. There were enough mysteries in the galaxy already. Their superiors didn’t need to go out of their way to make more.
Olson and Gale sat in silence for a long while, just listening to Dorian snore. Finally, after hours, Gale stirred. Olson looked over at him, and was surprised to find an odd, quizzical look on Gale’s face.
“What?” he asked.
“I was just thinking.” Gale sounded halting, a little more pained. The meds must have worn off somewhat. “I could really concentrate on the painkillers, but…I remember him. EGOR. I remember him on Infinity.”
“You do?” Olson was confounded. He’d served on Infinity at Requiem and had never seen him, ever. “I thought you said you’d never run into him?”
“Yeah, I thought so.” Gale sounded puzzled. “But when me and my team got captured by the Covenant, we spent a long time imprisoned. Then out of nowhere, a lone Spartan shows up to break us out. There was another team, Lancer, running interference for him, but he cleared out our whole guard unit. We were all in pretty bad shape, so we didn’t do much talking with him. But on the Pelican ride out, I saw the guy. Black armored, Wetwork variant, just like EGOR. Shit, that was him, wasn’t it?”
“Could have been.” Olson wondered what Gale was getting at. They all knew EGOR had infiltrated Infinity. It was an interesting coincidence that he’d bumped into him, but not all that surprising. “Why?”
“Well, that’s not the only weird part.” Gale looked positively shaken. Olson glanced at him worriedly, and noticed Dorian had awoken and was listening to them. “That MONTEGUE guy, I kept thinking I’d heard his voice before, but I didn’t place it until just now. He was the guy running the op that got me and my team out. Coordinating Lancer and EGOR. I remember hearing comm chatter coming from him.”
“MONTEGUE is a spook. Why would he be running ops?” Olson racked his brain, trying to think of any time he’d heard MONTEGUE’s voice during his stint on Infinity. Sure enough, he could vaguely remember it---sporadic comm bursts, chatter in the hallways.
“Maybe he graduated to Spartan-branch Spook after Requiem.” Gale’s distaste shone through for a moment, but seemed far more grounded all of a sudden. “Maybe he was a Spook all along. Who knows.”
It was one more unanswered question. Olson wasn’t sure whether all the questions didn’t add up, or whether he just wasn’t adding them up correctly. He didn’t know the answer to any of the questions his mind was posing, and had a feeling he likely never would. Yet somehow, he felt very sure of something else. Fireteam Granite’s mission might have been over for now, but it wouldn’t stay over forever. They’d been caught up in something bigger and much more complex than an ONI Section Zero hijacking of a Spartan branch asset. Olson added one more question to his list of unanswered queries. The next time he saw Codename: EGOR, what would the circumstances be? Would Granite be the hunters, or would they be the hunted?
Olson had a bad feeling he already knew the answer.