|2037 Hours, August 18th, 2554
Castiglione, Escala III, Outer Colonies
"Y'know el-tee, when I heard this was an Outer Colony op this wasn't exactly what I had in mind."
"Nobody said we had to like it, Private."
Standing at the head of a forty-strong group of Orbital Drop Shock Troopers before Castiglione's parliament building, First Lieutenant Ash Mitchell felt the first drops off rain plink off his helmet as the crowd drew closer, waving signs and chanting slogans. Beside him, Private Michael Green shrugged and moved back into line. Suddenly, a voice filtered through his COM.
"Lieutenant," spoke Colonel Mori, head of their detachment. "Move your platoon into position and stand by to engage, batons only."
Mitchell waved towards Staff Sergeant Bill Cross, his second in command. "Yes ma'am, moving up."
Clad in thick black armour meant for heavy frontline combat, the troopers marched in formation down the stone steps, carrying shock batons and polycarbonate riot shields in place of their usual rifles. At their rear, a couple of soldiers loaded gas canisters into their M319 grenade launchers. As they approached, the dozen or so local police officers parted and moved back towards their barriers; they'd been given orders to let Mitchell's men handle any fighting and move in for arrests in the aftermath.
"Good thing it's raining," Cross handed Mitchell a baton as he joined the others. "Should dissuade most of 'em."
"Not any who've come this far, Bill. You ready?"
"Can't say I'm used to crowd control ops, Ash. I'd be more at home fighting Covenant."
"I hear ya." Mitchell peered ahead. Looks like they're not afraid of getting a little wet.
The news of a deployment to Escala III to deal with wide-scale riots across the planet's capital had surprised many among the 10th Shock Troops Battalion, many of whom were veterans of the Human-Covenant War with years of experience in heavy combat. To be sent out as crowd control seemed like overkill. While they hadn't been given much information upon landing in the city's spaceport earlier that day, Mitchell knew there had been a major outcry over the colony's Senators being involved with a major organised crime syndicate recently, and that several members of Escala III's colonial government had been implicated in the scandal. While they had likely been imprisoned already, this was only one in a string of corruption stories that seemed to be prevalent on this planet. Apparently, the people here had had enough.
"Rules of engagement, sir?" asked Green, one of the younger troopers in their platoon.
"Shields first, batons if we're to advance. Sidearms only if we're fired upon."
Green nodded, looking back to the advancing protesters. Though they were outnumbered by about fifty to one, the police and other ODST units had massed groups in side streets and placed marksmen on the surrounding rooftops, just in case. Loudspeakers blared above them, ordering the crowd to disperse. In response, a flaming Molotov cocktail came flying from the seething mass, striking the ground and bursting apart just a few feet away from their shield wall.
"This is your last warning!" the speaker rang once more amidst fierce chants about colonial corruption.
Edging his way to the front of his unit, Mitchell could see the uncertainty in the eyes of men and women he'd seen slaughtering Covenant troops with undisguised glee; experienced fighters who were no strangers to death. Now though, as a mass of people - most clad in hoods and masks, advanced on them, he felt oddly uncomfortable. He'd fought against Insurrectionists, of course; killing terrorists and rebels was nothing new to Mitchell or the others, but there was something about this that bothered the trooper. The first line of ODST's readied and raised their shields, and as the first few bricks and other projectiles soared ahead of the charge, advanced with batons raised.
What happened next could barely be considered a fight. All the righteous anger and motivation couldn't make up for the armed troopers, and as tear gas canisters hit the ground behind them, those not quick enough to flee were immobilised by baton strikes and quickly cuffed. Having tossed his shield aside in the melee, Mitchell deflected a blow from a metal pipe with his own weapon and headbutted his attacker, sending the masked protester sprawling to the floor as blood spurted from his nose. Drenched and terrified, some simply stuck their hands in the air and surrendered as they were cuffed and dragged off to waiting vans as Castiglione's police force finally moved in to clean up.
"This is Lieutenant Mitchell," he activated his helmet's COM device. "Parliament plaza is clear, over."
"Copy that," replied Colonel Mori. "You're to remain on-site until evac Pelicans arrive. Good work out there"
The link cut before Mitchell could respond, leaving him standing amidst the wounded as the white gas quickly began to dissipate around him. Nearby, Cross and Green were dragging a few still-struggling protesters onto their feet while sirens echoed across nearby streets. For something that had been rumoured as an attempt at revolution by the remaining members of Escala III's government, it sure hadn't looked like one.
"Bill!" Mitchell called as the Sergeant - a longtime friend of his - walked past, half-dragging a barely conscious teenager behind him. "You doing okay?"
Cross paused for a moment, aware of how strange the question was before shrugging. "It's just work, Ash."
As he moved away, Mitchell walked back up the parliament steps alone, wondering for the first time in quite a while about what he was doing with his life. He'd spent over a decade in the military, first as a Marine then as an ODST, doing nothing but move from place to place, tackling threat after threat. Perhaps it was the idealism that came with youth, but he knew he was fighting to save the Human race, and that he'd continue to do so for as long as it took. With the war over, nothing was quite as black and white any more. Instead of fighting for change, he'd found himself simply keeping the status quo and battling wherever ordered without much sense of purpose. Not long ago, a friend of his had left the military after one morally dubious mission too many, something he'd tried to attack as some form of treachery.
Now though, he felt nothing but the taste of bile and shame after a successful mission where once he felt just and righteous, and for the first time ever, Ash Mitchell had a desire to set out and do things his way for a change. Stood alone in the rain as Pelicans swooped in overhead, he clenched his fist, and shook droplets of blood from his baton as he let out a long, tired sigh.
"I've gotta do something about this."