Capitalising on an enemy’s weakness was PFC Rubishev’s strong suit. She watched through the scope of a suppressed SRS99 as a covenant lance followed her trail. A deliberate effort on her part to funnel them into a clearing. Three Brutes, a dozen Grunts, and around three Jackals on recon were all on her list of targets, and she had crossed off a few names from that list already.
The first jackal hunted her down with reckless abandon. She drew a knife across its throat. The second tried to play hide and seek at long range, so she put a bullet through its beak. The third actually displayed some intelligence. It probed when it was smart to probe, and drew back when it was wise to do so. Through that jackal, she had purposefully lead the Covenant on a merry chase through the forest.
Two Grunts ambled over a pitfall trap, and didn’t notice the ground giving out beneath them until they had already plummeted three feet onto sharpened sticks. The rest of the Grunts balked at their comrades pained cries as they sunk down, thrashing and wailing, onto the makeshift spears. Some of them wouldn’t hit anything vital, others still wouldn’t penetrate the infantry’s armour. What the sticks would do is cause pain. Lots of pain, and screaming.
Screaming that would mask the suppressed cough of her first shot, as it tore the jaw off of the final Jackal, that had climbed up into one of the trees to provide overwatch. It collapsed, hit a branch, and crumpled down to the center of the clearing.
The Grunts began to panic in earnest, and flail their arms, wailing and barking in their guttural way. One of the Brutes roared, clamped its massive paw around one of the Grunt’s head, and lifted it off of the ground, tossing it against the tree. It hit with a crack of bone, and fell to the floor, where it twitched once and didn’t move again.
itselfITSELF as the true thing to fear, ordered the rest of the lance to spread out, and search the area with a bark, and a wave of its paw. The two other Brutes walked in separate directions, each taking a handful of Grunts with them.
The Private cycled a round and took a breath, sighting the remaining Brute as he meandered in another direction—directly at her. The Grunts under his feet stepped between two trees, and didn’t notice the trip wire tangled around their feet until it ensnared the third Grunt, and caused him to fall over.
There was a click, a beep, and the Brute only had a second to react—enough time for his face to contort into grim understanding and rage, before the two trees he walked his fireteam through exploded. A shaped back of plastic explosives on each tree detonated, searing through and splintering the wood into a thousand shards of deadly shrapnel. The Brute at the center of the blast was consumed, entirely, by fire, and the Grunts that were around him found themselves pulverised. First by the explosive force, and then by the shrapnel.
The trees collapsed to the ground with a cacophony of cracking branches and thundering, felled lumber.
Two more shells left Rubishev’s rifle in quick succession, and one of the brutes found himself staggering to the floor with a gaping hole in his armour—and his chest. The Private cycled the last bolt in her magazine, took aim at the last Brute, and fired. She missed, as he dove behind one of the trees at the last second.
The Grunts turned tail and fled in the face of this unseen foe. Some of them cowered in place. The Private put her empty rifle to one side, and picked out her marksman rifle. Cradling it to her chest, she lifted herself up into a kneeling position, and took potshots at the Grunts as she slid down from her perch above a rock.
She kept one eye on the tree the last Brute hid behind, downing one Grunt, then two, then a third with six practiced shots. One center mass, one head. One center mass, one head. She circled around the edge of the clearing, over the two felled trees, and around the punji trap. For good measure, with her last few bullets, she silenced the caterwauling of the two aliens caught inside it, struggling as they were to climb out. The entire pit was filled with blue ichor, and the human turned her nose up at it. It stunk.
She ejected her magazine, and let it fall among the dry leaves and debris among the forest floor, sliding a fresh one in with a click. There were no more sounds. She aimed at the tree, and circled around it. There was nothing.
Her heart beat fast. If she had lost sight of the last Brute, things could go very wrong, very rapidly. She barely had enough time to react to the sound of a branch snapping behind her. Spinning around, the private felt her neck squeezed by a large hand. She squeezed her trigger, and the shot hit the Brute at point blank, dispelling the active camo and causing its grip to falter. She still couldn’t wiggle free, so she hunched her legs up to her chest, swung them forward, and kicked at the Brute with all her might.
The camouflage popped, overloaded, and she wrenched herself free of the Brute’s grip, slamming into the ground and scrambling backwards. The Brute brought up his other hand, two wickedly sharp blades attached to a twin-barreled contraption shot orange spikes out at her. They hit the ground and buried themselves in the soft mud, as she scrambled to get behind a tree of her own.
“Alright,” she said, wiping the dirt off her chin. She fetched a sidearm from her thigh, and pulled out her combat knife; fat lot of good they would do. She peeked around the tree and got a flurry of red-hot spikes that sizzled when they met the wood of the tree. She waited for anymore sounds. When there were none, she took aim at the thing just as it took cover, hunched behind one of the downed trees.
She fired at it once, then again, and stood up, walking over to the shape. She kept the fire up, ejecting her magazine and fumbling for a new one. The alien looked up at her, before hunkering back down when she kept firing. She didn’t have a plan. She bet the alien didn’t either. It hadn’t quite realised that it could tear her head off, come barreling at her full-tilt and she couldn’t do much to stop it.
As soon as it worked that out, she’d be in trouble. She climbed up on the tree, angled her weapon over it, and put two rounds in its armour, before the gun clicked empty. The two shots pinged off of its armour like spit wads. She stared at the gun, then at the alien, fear paralysing her. It looked up at her and snarled, swiping at her legs. The impact was like a freight train, and it took her upper half a second to realise that gravity was working on it. She hit the tree, her ribs taking the full force of the blow. One of them cracked, and she rolled onto the dirt, her breath leaving her in pained, desperate gasps.
She looked around for her knife, grabbing it just in time for the Brute to jump down off the log, where her prone body had been a second before. It would’ve crushed her had she stayed.
She rolled back away from the alien, getting up into a fighting stance, knife out, blade facing him.
It watched her curiously, expecting her to run. When she didn’t, it huffed, as though amused with the situation. Her eyes flashed to its gun, then back to its face.
“What’s the matter, big guy? Run out of bullets?”
It growled and cast its bladed weapon aside, holding his arms up by its side and crouching low, offering her a challenging roar that shook her bones.
She kept eye contact, feeling ballsy all of a sudden. She answered its roar with her own; high, guttural. It shredded her throat. She put everything into it, a primal thing that shook the trees, coming from somewhere deep inside her that she didn’t even know was there. An animalistic side, where the fight or flight reflex kicked into overwhelming ‘FIGHT’ mode.
It studied her for a while. They paced around each other, around the clearing. She swapped knife hands a few times, and changed her stance. If it managed to grapple her a second time, then there wouldn’t be anything saving her. The only thing she had on her side was agility. Even then, the Brute had the raw speed.
It launched itself at her. She sidestepped and swung the knife around. It clanged off of its back armour. It swiped a vicious backhand at her, and she ducked underneath it, slashing at the sides of his exposed knees. The knife dug in, but came away with nothing but a clump of fur.
It raised its arms, forming two fists to crush her, and she jumped away before he could swing them down, pulverising the earth where she was. It barely gave her a moment of respite, coming barreling at her again and swinging one of its iron-banded arms for her face. She stepped back. It swung again, this time a straight punch that she had no chance of dodging. She brought her arms up in front of her chest. The fist impacted both of her wrists with enough force to push them into her chest, and throw her back against the tree with a thud.
She exhaled explosively, almost dropping to the floor again. It went to punch her into the unyielding wood, so she ducked, slipping between its legs. She stabbed the knife into one its legs, as deep as she could force it, right behind the knee joint. For good measure, she put her other hand on the end of the handle and slammed it down, as though she were hammering a nail into a brick wall.
It reared its head back and roared, twisting around and slamming its foot into her stomach, lifting her up into the air, and tossing her across the clearing. She lost her knife, leaving it embedded in the Brute’s leg.
She looked up. It took the weapon out of the meat of its knee and threw it away. Rubishev cursed and struggled to get up. The Brute limped over to her, picked her up by the shoulders, and tossed her away with all the care that a child would toss away a toy that was boring it.
Rubishev landed hard, her chin slamming into the ground and knocking a tooth loose. Blood filled her mouth and she retched at the taste, seeing the tooth splat against a leaf in a pool of red.
She saw something glittering in the dirt, and scrambled over towards it. Just as her fingers closed around it, an alien boot slammed down into her wrist, shattering the bone just as she gripped it. Her scream was cut off as the Brute’s hand found the back of her neck, fingers squeezing the sides of her throat as she was lifted up. She willed the damaged hand to hold onto the grip of her pistol.
The brute lifted her higher, and higher, and roared at her in triumph. Rubishev grunted, losing precious air as the Brute’s hand tightened around her neck, forcing it from her lungs. Gathering all the spit and blood in her mouth as possible, she spat at the Brute.
The vile mixture hit him right in the brow, splattering into the aliens red eyes. It shut them, growled, and went to wipe it away.
In the few seconds she had, Rubishev said a prayer to every god she knew of. The magazine of the pistol she held in her broken wrist was ejected. She grabbed her last one, brought her arm up despite its protests of pain, and slid it into the receiver. She used the Brute’s own arm to pull the chamber back, and steadied the gun on its wrist, aiming it for the exposed eye socket of the helmet.
It finished wiping the blood away, staring at her once again. It found the barrel of an M6 Pistol staring back. Rubishev smiled at him, and with her last bout of strength, she pulled the trigger.
The bullet went straight into the Brute’s open, disbelieving eye, and the alien dropped her to the ground, before crumbling like a stone tower, flat onto his back with a thud.
Rubishev gasped in much-needed breaths of air, laughing to herself. The laughter came unabated. Manic, triumphant, followed by a hoarse holler of victory.