|2301 Hours, August 9th, 2543
New Acre, Sidonis, Outer Colonies
The hatch creaked open.
While the sound it made would barely register to most as it came to a halt, in the silence of the decimated city, it was deafening. There was a flash of black and steel as a figure leapt out, landing in a crouched position with surprisingly little noise. Two others followed, exiting the hatch before sliding it back into position so it became indiscernible from the rest of the black and white marble floor. Not that there was anyone else around to see it. There were three of them, tall and strong, clad in jet black suits of armour with silver visors on their helmets. Each carried a different weapon. One scanned the immediate area down the scope of his rifle, before looking back at the others.
"No sigs. We're ghosting."
The other two seemed to relax a little at this. While two of the others kept watch, the third took out a small device, and placed it on the ground. A few button presses later, and a shimmering blue holographic map flashed up. The city of New Acre had been the latest victim of the overwhelming Covenant war machine, its inhabitants either managing to escape via the transports at the spaceport, an unlikely but hopeful possibility, or being slaughtered by their alien foe. The UNSC wouldn't let that stand, of course. The Covenant, in spite of all their religious zealotry and penchant for burning human worlds, never passed up the opportunity to get their claws on anything valuable before departing the doomed planet. They had been sent in for revenge.
"So boys," said the leader. She had a circular helmet with a slightly T-shaped visor, and leant against a scorched pillar. 071 was inscribed on her armour in small white letters. "We're here to make sure they regret staying here for lunch. Hank?"
The man to her left finished tapping a sequence into his datapad. It froze for a few seconds before a slap got it going again. "Cole Protocol enacted, boss. ONI has it's little secrets recovered, and as far as the city records go, Earth and the colonies never existed."
Elena-071 swiped two fingers across her visor in an imitation of a smile. She, Hank-136 and Pierre-127 had been deployed to Sidonis a day ago in order to ensure that nothing important fell into enemy hands. The war had been going on for nearly two decades now, and so far people had been clever enough not to let the location of Earth fall into enemy hands. Still, it was good to have insurance. Sigma-Beta Team was the insurance. Three SPARTAN-II operatives, highly trained and skilled in a wide range of subjects, had personally completed over four hundred combat operations against the Covenant since they were first deployed and, it was safe to say, had probably saved Earth more than once.
A dozen red blips flashed up on the holographic map, which had been scanning the remains of the city for any sign of life. The Covenant were still here. Immediately, a marker flashed up on the HUD of each member, indicating the location and distance from the enemy force. Elena switched off the map and checked her rifle. The three of them had spent most of their time since insertion creeping through the sewers and maintenance areas of the city, cutting power and destroying information before managing to break through to the sub-level of the ONI building, where they managed to either rescue or delete all the necessary information. Now, thought Elena, The real fun starts.
She signalled for the others to move out, a sweeping hand gesture sending them forward. For three heavily armoured, seven foot tall super-soldiers, the Spartans moved almost noiselessly out into the city streets. The ONI centre had been hit pretty hard, most of the surrounding streets covered in rubble, wrecked cars and the occasional corpse, scorched by plasma fire. New Acre had fallen in a little under four hours. It was an eerie scene, trudging through the ruins, staying alert for any hostiles. They ran as quickly as they dared, getting closer and closer to their goal.
"Lieutenant Commander, permission to divert course?" asked Pierre, his voice level as always.
"Should be able to get a bead on the Covvies from that building." He indicated a half-collapsed skyscraper not far from them. It had been one of the colonial authority buildings that controlled most of the spaceport flights to and from the city. A Covenant corvette had used it for target practice. Elena checked the holomap again. The building would give a good view of the enemy camp, but was in danger of collapsing if it came under heavy fire. It was risky, but Pierre could handle it.
"Go for it. Good luck."
"You too, boss."
Elena pressed forward, Hank in tow. They were carrying enough C-12 charges between them to blow a sizeable chunk out of a city sector, and intended to use them. It only took a few minutes before they had reached the outskirts, taking note of the familiar purple structures and energy barriers that surrounded the enemy camp. Pierre's status light flashed green twice, indicating that he was ready. Taking cover behind a low wall, Elena made a fist, prompting her partner to draw several metallic objects: Energy Disruptor grenades, specially developed for missions like this. Once they went off, any power supply or shielding system would be deactivated for a short period of time. That included their MJOLNIR armour systems, so caution was advised.
Peeking over the top of her wall, Elena spied a few perimeter guards, a few Grunts led by a Sangheili, and a single Jackal sniper on a lookout tower. Easy prey. On her HUD, she marked her targets; a new upgrade for her suit allowing for the easy identification of foes. She had the patrol. With a nod towards Hank, she primed her grenade, and tossed it towards the energy barrier before ducking back into cover. Half a second later, it detonated. In a flash, the two Spartans dashed out, both the tower guard and the patrol being ripped to pieces. As she sprinted forward, Elena realised that two other Elites had rounded a corner to her left. With her SMG in need of reloading. Ah.
In desperation, she sprinted at her foes as they began to raise their plasma rifles. Neither side reached the other. The two Elites pitched forward, blood, bone and brain matter bursting from their skulls. That gave Elena time to reload. Hank looked over the dead aliens.
"Not bad," he said, unimpressed. "Top marks for timing though."
Pierre's voice crackled through the comms. "Hey, I aim to please."
They hadn't made a single noise getting in, and as far as talking went, she could scream as loud as she wanted in the helmet, and no one could hear her if she chose.
"So Pierre," Elena asked conversationally. "Where'd you get the silencer?"
"'Borrowed' it from supplies. Thought we'd need it. Seriously though, with the size of snipers these days, you'd think that we'd have a few more silencers lying around. Apparently ONI doesn't deem it necessary to give us some."
"So, you stole it then?"
"Heh, the ODST's had a few lying around. They won't miss 'em."
Hank chuckled to himself as the pair of them stealthily crept towards the main encampment. In the dark, they'd have little chance of being seen, though they had to be careful, even with Pierre as guardian angel. Checking her map, Elena made sure that she marked the Grunt's methane houses, which usually went up with a spectacular explosion. There were several plasma generators and their main target, which was a cluster of large, beehive-shaped structures, labelled 'beacons' by ONI, that were used by the Covenant to extract useful things such as Helium-3 to power their warships. Of course, the fact that the beacons were sitting on a Covenant army made them a prime target.
"Right, I'm moving for the primary target. Hank, the meth-houses. Keep me covered, Pierre."
"Oh, I'm always watching your back, El," replied their sniper in a slightly flirtatious manner.
She couldn't help but smirk. Of course, Pierre didn't mean anything by that comment, he never did. They had essentially been trained against forming relationships years ago. Thing like that did, however, help to break up tension on dangerous missions like this. Elena found that keeping in the stone-cold Spartan mindset wasn't good all the time. Besides, the three of them were more like siblings, and despite being the same age, the others looked up to her as a sort of mother figure. That was strange.
Moving forward, weapon raised, the Spartan heard the familiar whine of patrolling Ghosts getting closer. Diving behind a stack of crates, she watched as the light vehicles skimmed past in a column, and a risky idea formed in her head. Waiting for the final Ghost to head past, she leapt from her hiding place and onto the back of the vehicle, snapping the Grunt driver's neck with one arm as she pulled herself onto the controls. The corpse was flung to the side, and landed out of sight in a ditch. That was the easy part over.
"Pierre, can you see me?"
"Yeah, I've got you. You're...oh."
"Yeah, as in: 'Oh, that's suicidal'. I'll cover you as best I can."
"Good. Hank, how are you doing?"
"Charges planted. Found a squid-house a little way off from the camp, easy target."
"I'll need a distraction."
Hank already knew what she wanted. The 'Squid-house' was what the Covenant used to store their engineers - floating creatures that had a habit of fixing things and wearing explosive armour. "Just tell me when," he said happily.
Elena followed the Ghosts round the encampment, amazed that no one had recognised the very human driver in this procession. All it would take is for one enemy to see her, and she'd be compromised. Eventually, they drew closer to the trio of Beacons. She winked her acknowledgement light twice, and a small sun erupted from the other side of the camp. The C-12 pack was strong enough to punch through Covenant armour. The column immediately veered off to investigate, allowing her to quickly break off as dozens of Covenant troops dashed towards the ruin of the squid-house. A couple of grunts shrieked, spotting her as she turned the corner. A quick speed boost, and that threat was securely dealt with, flattened into a wall.
"Hank, I'm at the primary target. We can lose the rest."
"I'm not sure-"
"Do it," she snapped. Following a sigh over the COM, a line of structures blossomed into flame as the other packs detonated, incinerating a wide area around them and setting most of the camp ablaze. They had really shaken the hornet's nest now. She stepped into the blue gravity lift, and ascended to the upper level. From the intel given to them by ONI, these structures would usually be crewed by drone workers. For the time being, they were empty. Elena began to plant her own C-12 packs around the exterior of her beacon. With the sheer destructive power within one of these things, chances were that she would take out all three at once, rendering them inoperable if they were not destroyed completely.
"I've set the charges. Statuses?"
Hank's heavy breathing could be heard over the COM. "Just high-tailed it back across to the city, got half an army bearing down on me."
He'll be fine. "Pierre?"
There was no response for a few seconds. Then, his status light flashed amber several times. Zooming in, Elena could make out several flashes from the building he had been based on. "Sorry about that, took the liberty of taking out a few patrols. Someone noticed. I'll be right with you-"
Half a dozen enemy fliers were heading towards his position, with a bothersome amount of ground troops storming the city. Still, they'd catch the bulk of enemy forces here. There was a flash of energy not far from the Spartan, causing her to move back. Flattening her body against the side of the Beacon, Elena saw that one of the Grunts she'd hit hadn't been so flat after all. This was problematic. She really didn't want to have to detonate the explosives with her nearby, as such things generally caused incineration. Death could wait a while. In the distance, the building, already weakened from the Covenant attack, began to collapse. Pierre's status light remained dark.
The Banshees were returning. For me, though Elena, steeling herself as the first enemies hopped into the gravity lift. She had enough ammo to last for a little while, but would be torn to pieces by those fliers. If the worst came to worst, then at least Hank would make it out alive. Some small part of her was annoyed at Pierre's trigger-happy nature, but she should have really made sure those Grunts were dead. The first half a dozen enemies went down without effort, but when two shielded Sangheili wielding their deadly energy swords got up, she knew that she was in trouble. Backing up, Elena ducked and weaved as her alien foes attempted to stab her, cursing in their unintelligible language.
"Hey El, might want to get out of the way!"
She didn't hesitate. dashing away, she leapt onto the outer platform of the second beacon as a green ball of plasma impacted the first, vaporising the elites. A banshee swerved round and slowed as it passed her. Elena jumped on, clinging to one of the wings as it sped away. Half a dozen other banshees had been shot down, with the rest flying in confused circles around the tower or attempting to give chase.
"What, you're not gonna ask?" said Pierre, slightly bemused.
"You jumped off at the last minute and hijacked a banshee. Doesn't take a genius to guess that, Pierre."
Pierre laughed, directing the banshee back over the city. Hank's IFF transponder located him near the RV point, the ONI building that they had started in. As they soared over the rooftops, Elena pressed the detonator. In the predawn light, the entire city outskirts lit up in a blue flash as the three beacons exploded, obliterating a good portion of the base and the pursuing army. To Elena, perched upon a banshee above the city of New Acre, it was beautiful.
Due to some damage and the extra weight added by Elena (She had a bad feeling that there would be jokes aplenty about that on the way back) their landing was more of a crash, the two Spartans jumping off at the last second before running to meet up with Hank in the ONI building. He had, with some considerable effort, pried the hatch open, allowing them to leave the same way they had arrived. Before she jumped down after her comrades, Elena took one last look at this place. They had arrived in the aftermath of a massacre and turned it into something that, while not a victory, could be interpreted as a good strike back against the enemy.
From here it was just a ten mile jog through these fetid tunnels and out of the city, before getting to their craft and leaving this godforsaken place. From there, they would be picked up and taken to their temporary base on Schönheit, where ONI would debrief them. Then another, similar mission would be initiated. Elena sighed, and climbed through after the others. Mission over.
The hatch slid shut.