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40px-Terminal.png This article, Stories from the Sigmaverse/Holdout, was written by Brodie-001. Please do not edit this fiction without the writer's permission.
1633 Hours, August 27th, 2552

Casbah City, Tribute, Epsilon Eridani System


"Clear!"

Two black-armoured figures darted across the rubble-strewn street, keeping low as they ducked into the next building. The ground shook slightly as an explosion erupted a few blocks away. As a third man edged out, weapon raised, a group of frightened civilians made their way across in single file. There were nearly two dozen of them, mostly children with a few adults that had been around for supervision when the attack began.

"Keep it going people, we're almost there!" called the trooper bringing up the rear. Like his comrades, the man's armour had seen some wear and tear; the chestplate was heavily scorched from a near-miss with some plasma fire. The civilians hurried into the building as ordered, allowing the team to move in and assess their situation.

"Mal, how are things looking?" the trooper called as he entered. "We far from the LZ?"

"'bout a klick, more or less. Comms are still a mess, though."

"Check the emergency channels. We'll hold out here for five and move on."

Master Sergeant Ash Mitchell strode over to where their group of civilians were huddled. It had been nearly three hours of constant walking through the besieged city since their last engagement, and it was clear that they were all exhausted. Fear of the Covenant was the only thing keeping these people going. Of the forty Orbital Drop Shock Troopers that landed in Casbah several days ago, only five remained in Mitchell's squad. Private Bill Cross was quietly conversing with one of the civilians in an attempt to calm the children down, while Corporals Mal Roberts and Taylor 'Dutch' Miles watched the exits. Lance Corporal Jones had already set up his sniper rifle in a nearby window, and was checking down the street for incoming Covenant troops.

"Okay," Mitchell announced to their escortees. "We're almost there, people. Just rest up for a few minutes and we'll be on our way. The Spaceport isn't too far."

Privately, he doubted their chances. Three of their number had been lost to an ambush earlier, though none of the civilians under the ODST's protection had died yet. Mitchell's squad had been unlucky enough to stumble upon the survivors of a school trip in the early hours of the morning. With evac sites either packed with people or under fire, he wasn't about to abandon a bunch of kids to the Covenant. The youngest of them were barely four years old.

"Sarge," Jones called from his position. Mitchell ran over and crouched by the marksman, who pointed towards a group of diminutive figures making their way down the street. "Scouts."

"Shit. How many?"

He didn't have to check down his rifle's scope. "Enough to overtake us if we move."

Mitchell sighed, checking the ammo counter on his rifle. "Fire when they get close enough to notice. I'll get the civvies out of the way."

Jones nodded, and re-adjusted his scope. The other ODST motioned for Dutch and Mal to take up positions before motioning for quiet from the civilians.

"Right," he whispered, addressing the kids most of all. "We've got a little trouble. I want everybody to move as quickly and quietly after Private Cross here, okay? We'll tell you when it's safe to come out."

Cross might have been the youngest in the squad, but he was a quick thinker. Grabbing his weapons, he waved for the group to follow him into the adjacent room. From the looks of the building they'd holed up in this place had once been a bar, so the trooper was able to lead his charges into a basement area used to store alcohol. Mitchell's COM buzzed after a few seconds.

"Got 'em secured down here, Sarge. Only one way out, though."

"We'll manage. Get up here, Private. All hands on deck for this one."

Jones had already fired on the incoming aliens by the time Cross rejoined them. His first shot downed an enemy Elite that had joined the scouts, forcing the Grunts into a blind panic that allowed the troopers to take them down in seconds.

"More incoming!" yelled Dutch. The burly ODST ducked as a torrent of plasma fire smashed a nearby window to pieces and several more foes came lumbering out of a side alley. Though they were soon taken care of with a few well-placed bursts from Mitchell's rifle, the troopers had just shaken a hornet's nest.

"Jones, Mal, get upstairs!" Mitchell reloaded his rifle. "Everyone else, get a good line of fire on the main road and watch your ammo. Dutch, get that door blocked."

Mitchell's intuition soon proved right as two Banshee fliers screamed overhead, followed closely by a pair of Phantom dropships. After loosing a few plasma bolts towards their building, they descended over the street and began deploying infantry right into the ODST's killzone. While Mitchell was unsure if they were aware that their soldiers were dropping to certain death or simply didn't care, it soon became clear that the sheer number of Covenant troops would overwhelm them before long. Some of them were already ducking into cover and taking up positions to return fire on the Human squad.

"Ash!" Mal called over the squad's TEAMCOM. "Long-range COM just came online. If you wanna get through to command, now's the time to do it!"

Sighing with relief, Mitchell ducked below the window and pressed two fingers to the side of his helmet as the COM channel opened.

"This is Master Sergeant Ash Mitchell of the 105th. My squad is pinned down and needs immediate assistance; we've got a large group of civilians under threat too. Please respond, over."

He hoped that had gotten the message across. With the UNSC's forces in disarray across the city and the ongoing invasion of Reach in the same system, he was sure that his own team weren't much of a priority in the grand scheme of things. Still, he had to hope against all hope that someone out there heard their call. He managed to take down two incoming Jackals before reloading, and rolled out of the way as a plama grenade exploded dangerously close to his window. As Mitchell clambered to his feet, a voice crackled through over the COM.

"Copy that, Master Sergeant. We're diverting one of our assets to you now, over and out."

That was it. No identification or description of their backup, just a promise that it was on the way. It was better than nothing. The others had heard it, too. An Elite had smashed through the barricade Dutch had erected by the front door, and was greeted with two shotgun blasts from the Corporal in response. As it fell, the Grunts behind it squealed and scattered as the trooper tossed a grenade through after them.

"Hah!" Dutch laughed as the aliens were blown to pieces. He wiped a few flecks of blue blood from his skull-painted helmet before levelling his M90 once more. From above, the loud cracks of Jones' sniper could be heard between lengthy bursts of assault rifle fire from Mal Roberts. While the dropships had taken off, having dispensed their cargo, more aliens were making their way over the corpse-strewn street towards them. Just as Mitchell lined up a shot, two lumbering figures turned the corner, prompting the trooper to swear loudly as their weapons began to charge.

"Get down!"

Mitchell threw himself to the floor alongside his comrades as two streaks of green energy blasted through the wall and vaporised their cover in an instant. The trooper could feel the heat as the stream of incendiary gel passed above him. By the time his ODST's had opened fire again the remaining Covenant forces had begun to regroup and were pressing towards their building. A large, feathered alien - A Skirmisher - leapt through a nearby window and levelled its Needler towards Cross.

"No!"

Not having the time to grab his weapon, the ODST hurled himself at the alien, taking it down as the first needle streaked past Cross. It squawked in surprise and attempted to push the trooper off, snapping towards Mitchell's neck with its beak. Grunting with effort, he headbutted the creature and threw it to the side. As the Skirmisher scrambled to get up, Mitchell drew his sidearm and shot it in the head. Dutch helped him up, having just finished off a trio of Grunts that were attempting to clamber through another window.

"Sarge, we're losing ground. Think we should get the civvies out?"

Their building was a shattered mess. Just about every window had been blown apart by gunfire or explosions, and the advancing Covenant would just keep pressing until their weapons and bodies were exhausted.

"No choice," he muttered, grabbing his half-loaded Battle Rifle. "Get 'em moving out the back door, double time. Don't wait for me."

"Right." The Corporal rushed off into the back room, keeping his head down as a few plasma bolts streaked past.

"Jones!" Mitchell called up to the squad's marksman. "Can you get a shot on those Hunters?"

The trooper's rifle fired thrice. Peeking out into the street, Mitchell saw one of the massive creatures topple. The other let out what could only be described as a roar despite its lack of a mouth, and began to advance, shield raised. As Jones reloaded, it fired a single bolt of green energy that impacted the top floor. The two troopers cried out for a moment as an almighty crash erupted from above.

"Jones, Mal, what's the situation!?" Mitchell shouted, already moving to the stairs. Cross stood nearby, blocking access into the back room as Dutch escorted the civilians out from the basement.

"Not dead yet, Ash," Roberts coughed through the COM. "Bastards took out the roof. We're heading down now."

Slightly relieved, Mitchell did all he could to fend off the next wave of Covenant troops. Armed with little more than plasma pistols, the Covenant Grunts charged straight in, many not bothering to fire on the troopers in their attempt to overwhelm them. It was the Covenant's willingness to field so many troops as cannon fodder that worried the veteran trooper, forcing Mitchell further back by the time Roberts and Jones descended to assist him.

"Where the hell's our backup!?" Jones called as he booted away a half-dead Grunt. "Thought they said it was nearby."

"That's what they said," came the reply from Mitchell as he peered towards the slowly-advancing Hunter. It was moving towards them at a sluggish pace; perhaps it was waiting to savour the kill, or was merely acting cautious after the death if its comrade. A scream from the back room cut through his momentary reverie as he and the others retreated. Cross had already gunned down a pair of Grunts that were clawing their way through some windows, though that was enough to horrify the already-frightened children that were clambering out of the basement. A few tried climbing back down, only to be pushed forward by the others.

"Keep moving!" Mitchell roared, silencing the kids as he pointed towards the back door. "If we stay here we're dead. I need you out of here now!"

Thankfully, they listened. With three ODST's holding their ground at the door, Dutch and Cross were able to escort the remainder out into a back alley that was Covenant-free for now. One by one, Mitchell and his comrades backed off into the room, slamming the door behind them as the Hunter finally heaved its way into their building. He shuddered to think what would happen if it caught up with them.

"Right, we're on a straight run to the LZ. Move!"

The troopers led the way at some pace, advancing down the alley with the civilians in tow. As they neared the street, the large form of a Sangheili Warrior turned the corner, hefting a large plasma rifle. Mitchell and Dutch immediately opened fire while the others moved to cover the children, their rounds slowly depleting the alien's energy shield as it returned fire. A bolt of plasma caught one of the civilians, a teacher, in the head and he fell backwards instantly. Another grazed Roberts' shoulder.

"Fucker!" he hissed, gritting his teeth to ignore the stinging pain as he loosed a torrent of rounds that finally brought the alien's shields down and tore the warrior to shreds. It wasn't a serious wound, but it stung like hell. Dutch and Jones moved to the end of the alley, peeking round the corner before drawing back at a hail of plasma fire. Mitchell glanced back at Roberts.

"Mal, you okay?"

"It's a scratch, Ash." Roberts glanced over at the dead man a few feet away and shook his head. Cross was already moving the children away from the corpse. None of them were crying any more, at least; shock and terror had taken care of that.

"Sarge!" Dutch called, ducking back into the alley to reload. "Got a shitload of Covvies heading up. I don't think we'd be able to get the kids across safely."

Shit. Mitchell looked back for a moment towards the building they'd came from and remembered the Hunter that was probably still trying to claw its way through to them. He sighed and placed two fingers to the side of his helmet, opening up the COM channel once more.

"This is Master Sergeant Mitchell, we're pinned down and cannot advance to the LZ. I repeat, we cannot advance to the LZ. If our backup's on the way then it had better make it here fast!"

The ODST checked his rifle. He had a few mags left; more than enough to take down a few dozen covvies before they overwhelmed them, he wagered. The civilians were huddled together on one side of the alley, adults and children alike. He couldn't tell them how bad the situation was. As Mitchell prepared to join his comrades in what would likely be their last stand, an unfamiliar voice responded through the COM.

"You boys hold out just a little longer. Cavalry's here."

The plasma fire coming towards the alley relented for a moment as an explosion sounded across the street, followed by the distinctive sound of assault rifle fire. Mitchell hurried to back up his comrades, peering round the corner just in time to witness a group of Grunts explode into bloody chunks. A red-armoured Elite turned to fire at an unknown target, only to have a bright blue ball of energy attach itself to his helmet. The alien roared for a moment before it detonated, vaporising the creature in a blinding flash.

"I guess that's backup," Jones said, lowering his rifle slightly. "Must've diverted half a platoon to give us a hand."

Dutch reloaded his shotgun, slowly moving out into the desolate street. "You sure? I thought we were the only unit left in this sector?"

"Apparently not."

As the smoke began to clear from the explosion, a figure emerged. Standing at roughly seven feet tall and clad in dark green armour, it strode down the street at some pace, carrying an assault rifle in one hand and a missile launcher in the other. Mitchell motioned for the civilians to advance, Cross bringing up the rear as they exited out into the street. Adult and child alike stared in awe at the imposing warrior before them.

"Is this all of you?" a woman's voice spoke from behind a helmet strangely similar to the trooper's own.

"Yes ma'am," Mitchell replied. "You know, when I asked for backup, I didn't think-"

"-that they'd send a Spartan?" she finished the sentence for him. "I've been getting that a lot today. You ready to move out?"

The trooper nodded and turned to the group they were escorting. "Okay everyone, we're almost there. Just a few more streets and we've made it."

Without another word, they set off once more through the ruined streets of Casbah. Mitchell's squad kept in formation around the civilians while their Spartan saviour led the way, keeping the missile launcher ready.

"I take it you took out the Hunter with that?" he asked.

"Yep."

"How many were there advancing on us by the time you arrived?"

"You'd have been dead in minutes."

"Ah." Mitchell nodded. "That's good to know."

Their march continued for nearly half an hour. Occasionally the sounds of gunfire and explosions would be heard in the distance, and twice a formation of Banshee fighters screamed overhead. Even with thousands of troops diverted to defend Casbah as the evacuation continued, the battle had more or less been lost already. If Reach couldn't stand up to the might of the Covenant Armada, then what chance did this colony have? Nonetheless, the ODST's had a mission to complete. The Spartan held up her hand to halt them as they approached an intersection, and dropped to one knee. The others did the same.

"Echo Nine-Three, this is Sierra Beta-One-Zero-One. Do you copy?"

"Copy that One-Zero-One. What's your position, over?"

"We're approaching the spaceport. ETA five minutes. Can you wait for us?"

There was a brief delay as an explosion sounded in the distance. "You've got fifteen minutes to get here, max. Covvies just blew out our last AA gun. Echo Nine-Three out."

The Spartan stood up. "You hear that?"

Mitchell nodded.

"Time to run."

The last leg of their journey wasn't easy, but with their escape in site both the soldiers and the people they were protecting moved with increased vigour, crossing the last few blocks and into the spaceport's entrance unhindered. The inner lobby was littered with corpses both Human and alien, with sandbags piled high around a lone corridor leading to the landing pads. A group of tired-looking Marines snapped to attention at their approach, mouths agape at the supersoldier that stood before them.

"We've got a group of civilians here that need a spot on that transport," she said, indicating that the group they were escorting consisted mostly of young children.

One of the Marines, a Sergeant, sighed before speaking. "Ma'am, the transport's already crowded as it is. As soon as we get a go-ahead from the fleet, we're leaving. Me and my men included."

The Spartan crossed her arms. "Marine, who's in charge here?"

"I am, ma'am. Everyone else is either dead or gone."

"Right, and how many Marines are left guarding this spaceport?"

"Nineteen, the last time I checked. Might be less with the Covvies hitting us."

"I see." Her voiced was barely above a whisper. "So, what makes you think that your men are important enough to land places on a transport ship instead of a group of goddamn five year olds?"

She barely gave him time to reply as he tried to splutter a response. "These kids are getting on that transport, Marine, or so help me I'll throw you to the Covenant myself. Do I make myself clear?"

He seemed to consider defying the Spartan for a moment, but thought better of it. "Yes ma'am. You'd better go through."

"Thank you."

Their group passed through the checkpoint without incident, walking into a departure lounge that had evidently been used as a makeshift hospital. Body bags lay in neat lines by the windows, through which a single transport ship could be seen behind the spaceport's high walls. Mitchell walked up alongside the Spartan as they headed towards the landing pads.

"That was a bit harsh, don't you think?"

"He wanted to save his own skin. If we'd been here a few minutes later I imagine he'd have boarded that transport along with every other Marine on this base."

"I don't blame him," Mitchell glanced out at a trio of Marines stood at the transport ship's entry ramp. "The city's all but fallen and they've got their backs to the wall. You've got to know when to run."

"Would you?" she asked, turning to face him. Dutch and Roberts led the civilians down a flight of stairs towards the wide-open landing pads. Mitchell thought about it for a few seconds before he replied.

"If we didn't have people to protect, then maybe. We might be ODST's, but we're not invincible. Neither are Spartans, no matter what they say in the propaganda flicks."

"True." The Spartan's opaque visor made it impossible to discern her expression, but Mitchell had a strange feeling that she was smiling. "But we do have people to protect, Master Sergeant, and I'm not leaving this place until they're gone. Gives us a chance to kill more Covvies, at least."

He couldn't argue with that. The pair made their way towards the landing pads to join the others. Only a large expanse of runway separated them from the transport ship, which seemed to be undergoing pre-flight checks. Before they could cross, a tremendous explosion shook the ground as part of the outer wall burst inwards. A plasma mortar soared overhead, striking the control tower and reducing it to a burning hunk of twisted metal. One of the children screamed in fright, causing several more to panic. Across the spaceport, Covenant infantry began to emerge through the broken-down wall.

"Cross!" Mitchell roared over the din. "Get the civvies moving! Jones, Dutch, get a field of fire on those Covvies, I don't want them anywhere near that transport ship!"

The troopers did as ordered. Mitchell moved alongside the main building with Mal Roberts in tow, trying to link up with a small group of Marines that had already engaged the Covenant forces. The Spartan fired her missile launcher twice as a trio of banshees streaked over the outer wall. Both hit their targets, with one Banshee careening into its remaining wingmate and sending them both spiralling into the ground.

"Ash, gonna flank left!" Mal called, readying his rifle. "See if you can use the banshees for cover."

Mitchell nodded. He might have outranked his friend, but he couldn't fault Roberts' tactical advice. He moved from cover, keeping low as plasma bolts and tracer rounds zipped overhead. The Marines by the wall had lost two of their number, while those by the ship had gone prone and were picking off enemy infantry. He ducked behind the wreckage of one of the downed fliers for a brief moment to check his bearings. Bill Cross' voice filtered over the COM, evidently worried.

"Sarge, they're trying to make a run for it. I can't stop them!"

Oh, no.

He looked back to see the civilians they had been escorting running across open ground to the transport ship. It seemed that they had been joined by another group shortly after, as a number of adults led the way with the children taking up the rear. As the first volley of plasma rounds sped towards them, the Spartan leapt forward, assault rifle in hand. Well placed shots dropped Grunts and sent Elites into cover, giving Jones and Dutch enough time to rain down gunfire on the survivors. As the crack of Jones' sniper rifle indicated the death of another Elite, Mitchell joined his comrades in suppressing the enemy advance. While some Covenant troops had advanced into cover, the wall's breach was already littered with corpses.

"Get down!"

The trooper barely had time to react as the Spartan knocked him to the ground, winding him. Moments later, a beam of energy struck the green-armoured warrior, dissipating her shields as she flung herself to the floor beside him.

"Sniper!" she yelled, crawling behind the banshee as Mitchell struggled to get his breath back. Jones heard her, as three loud cracks from his rifle sounded out.

"I got 'em. Jackal snipers trying to scale the walls. Good eye, Spartan."

Mitchell and his comrade got to their feet, the former breathing slowly as he tried to reload his weapon. Before the Spartan could speak to him, a Phantom dropship drifted over the walls. Bereft of the weapons to damage the vessel, the Humans dashed behind cover once more as its plasma cannon opened fire. While many shots were directed at the Marines and ODST's still fighting, the ship's attention momentarily turned towards the people running for the transport ship. It opened fire.

As the ODST ran from cover, huge globules of plasma struck the ground between them and the slightly damaged transport vessel. Mitchell watched as two children were vaporised before his very eyes, and sprinted to protect the others. His comrades took action also; from the smashed windows of the departure lounge the trio of Marines let loose a barrage of rocket fire, smashing the Phantom's main gun to pieces and badly denting one of its side doors. As the Phantom's gravity lift activated, the Spartan sprinted forward, angrily swearing over the COM.

"You goddamn alien motherfuckers!"

Mitchell hadn't heard a Spartan swear before, but he had a feeling that this didn't bode well for their enemies. Ducking behind some packing crates, he watched as she spent the last of her rifle ammunition on a group of Grunts before switching to her sidearm to finish off the rest with precise headshots. As the diminutive aliens dropped bleeding to the floor, a large, red-armoured Elite landed. He roared in anger as the Spartan turned towards him, activating his energy sword and dashing forward. The Spartan moved with inhuman speed, ducking under a wild slash and grabbing the alien warrior's arm before breaking it like a twig. The Elite howled in pain and tried to grab her with his other arm, only to have his green-armoured foe draw a combat knife and slice off two fingers before plunging it into his gut thrice. Rather than finish the wounded alien off, the Spartan merely twisted the knife and kicked her foe to the floor, where he lay writhing in an expanding pool of indigo-coloured blood.

"Jeez," Roberts remarked over TEAMCOM. "That's brutal, and I hate goddamn split-lips."

There was a murmur of agreement from the others over their COM channel. That display had evidently frightened the remaining Covenant infantry; Grunts squealed in terror and fled as the blood-soaked supersoldier advanced on them, clutching two stolen plasma pistols. Turning his attention back to the civilians, Mitchell's heart fell as he saw the bodies littering the landing pad. While most of them had reached the ship, a number of them had fallen to Covenant fire. Most were children. A flash of movement caught Mitchell's attention as he witnessed a small child, no more than four or five years old, trying to run for the evac transport by running a few paces and throwing himself to the ground by the corpses before slowly moving forward.

The kid's playing dead. Smart.

Standing up once more, Mitchell cast aside his rifle and sprinted across the open ground, dodging a couple of plasma bolts before grabbing the kid, who squealed in surprise. The Marines by the transport ship were all dead, torn to shreds by the Phantom's plasma cannon. The trooper clambered up the boarding ramp into the vessel's cargo hold, where dozens of people sat in abject terror. There had to be hundreds of people here, all hoping to escape Tribute and the Covenant's slaughter. Mitchell wasn't sure what to do with the child he'd rescued, and placed him down by some of the other surviving children. The boy looked up it him with tearful grey eyes.

"Thank you," he spoke in a voice barely above a whisper.

"You're safe now," the trooper said in a soft voice. "You'll be leaving soon, away from the monsters."

The child simply nodded. Mitchell wondered if he actually believed that. In any case, it seemed like that was the last person to come aboard; he and his men weren't leaving Tribute just yet. He headed back down the cargo ramp, which automatically closed behind him. The pilot's voice filtered through his COM.

"This is Echo Nine-Three. Word just came down that we've got an evac window open, so we're leaving now. Best of luck to you folks on the ground, over and out."

Mitchell sprinted away from the landing pad as the ship's jets activated. The vessel slowly ascended before the thrusters kicked in, sending it soaring away from the spaceport and with any luck, far away from the war.

"Think they'll make it?" asked Mal, whose armour had sustained several hits during the battle.

"Of course they'll make it," said Dutch. "So long as the Navy holds in orbit."

"Yeah, we'll see how long that lasts."

"Can it, Mal," Mitchell snapped. He felt tired. They were all exhausted and nearly out of ammunition, but at least the civilians had made it out alive. Chances were that all they could do now is hail a Pelican and hope for the best. Across the spaceport, a gunshot rang out. The troopers looked up to see the Spartan standing over the Elite she'd nearly gutted earlier, pistol in hand. She tossed the weapon away as she approached.

"Last shot," she explained, sounding oddly cheery. "Was saving it for him."

"I see." Mitchell glanced round at the now-devestated spaceport around them. "So, what now?"

"I imagine I'll stay with your squad until transport arrives. A couple of Marines are still standing, so our best bet would be to stay together and call in a Pelican."

"Good idea." he turned to his troopers. "Round up any survivors by the spaceport's exit. I want ammo and supplies as well, just in case. You've got five minutes."

The group responded with affirmatives before moving off, leaving Mitchell with their Spartan comrade. "Thanks for earlier," he said, ignoring the twinge of a bruise where she had knocked him down.

"Don't mention it. The way I see it, I'm just paying you back for the time you saved me."

This took him by surprise. He'd been in the military for nearly ten years, and had been an ODST for seven. In that time he'd met a number of Spartans, though he couldn't ever recall saving one, much less this particular supersoldier. "I don't understand," he said. "We've never met before."

She laughed. "I suppose you don't recognise me in armour." Taking care to look around for enemy snipers, she slowly removed her helmet, the seals unclamping with a hiss. She was very pale, with green eyes and brown hair tied back in a short ponytail. In spite of her imposing stature and the fact that her armour was spattered with alien blood, she looked incredibly young.

"Layla?"

"Remember me now? You saved my life last year."

Mitchell remembered. He and his squad had encountered what appeared to be a teenage girl, half-feral, during the Covenant invasion of Yusaris II. Aside from her name, they had no idea who she was or how she'd gotten there, and were even more confused when ONI agents had shown up to take the girl away not long after. This explained a lot.

"So you're a Spartan then," he said, stating the obvious. "What the hell happened to you?"

"It's classified," she said with a sigh. "Plus, I don't think a warzone is the time for old stories."

"Fair enough."

Layla placed her helmet back on and the pair walked towards the spaceport's entrance, where the other survivors were gathering. A few of the Marines were still alive, but aside from that everyone else was either dead or gone. Dutch and Jones had pillaged what remained of their armoury for weapons, while Cross gathered the dogtags of fallen Marines; body retrieval had long since stopped being a priority for the UNSC.

"So," Mal spoke up, loading a newly-acquired rifle. "What are the chances of us actually getting a ride out of here?"

"Let me take care of that," Layla replied smugly as she opened a COM channel. "This is Sierra Beta One-Zero-One to command, I've completed my mission and need immediate evac alongside friendly forces, over."

"Copy that, One-Zero-One," came the immediate response over the COM. "We're dispatching a Pelican to your location now."

"Copy that, over and out."

It seemed that there were perks to being a supersoldier. The assembled troops seemed glad at this, and began to move out towards their secondary extraction zone. They might have saved a few people and killed a small army of Covenant, but even if they were losing this battle was far from over. Mitchell stifled a yawn as they exited the spaceport.

"Tired, Ash?" Mal remarked.

"I'll rest when I'm dead."

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