|1145 Hours, March 13th, 2502
Gladsheim, Harvest, Outer Colonies
The man froze, one hand still holding the datapad. He'd burst through the door leading out into the alley without warning, and evidently wasn't expecting to find two armed men staring at him. Each was dressed in olive combat fatigues and wore black combat vests, designed to protect them from small-arms fire. The one who had spoken edged forward, pointing a large, suppressor-equipped pistol.
"Against the wall, now!"
As he turned, the man threw the datapad towards the strangers and reached for a holster. A single bullet drilled a hole though his head with barely a sound, and he collapsed in an instant. One of the men inched forward and prodded the body with his boot.
"Didn't think the militia was this far out."
"Idiot was probably just doing grunt work. Got unlucky. Let's move."
The older man led the way, moving slowly along the shady alley towards their target. It was nearly mid-day, and the planet's sun beat down heavily on the small town. He carried a heavy rucksack, though he didn't seem too bothered by the heat. The younger man carried a large metal case, sealed sight with magnetic clasps. He looked round warily before proceeding after his partner, climbing a flight of metal stairs onto a nearby rooftop. The first man straightened his cap, and turned round.
"Corporal Johnson, we're nearly at the target area. You remember the target?"
Avery Johnson nodded. These questions were insultingly simple. He knew it, and the man asking the questions knew it, but it was all part of the test. Each of them had a small earpiece that recorded every word they said, and would be played back once the mission was over. Still, this wasn't exactly a driving test he was going for. This would be Johnson's final test for the NAVSPECWAR Sniper School: A full combat mission, culminating in the assassination of a target the UNSC had deemed not worth capturing.
"Target is Jerald Mulkey Ander, former SWAT and CAA official-turned leader of the Secessionist Union. Stole weapons, organised violent attacks and had an undercover agent killed. In other words, sir, a scumbag."
His superior nodded, and knelt down to check the COM device plugged into his ear. "This is Captain Richard Mack of the UNSC Marine Corps, assessing Corporal Avery Johnson of the same. Op is codenamed 'KALEIDOSCOPE' and is under ORION jurisdiction. The Corporal is to eliminate the HVT while he is in transit and exfil immediately after. Mission time is currently 1143 hours, over and out."
Mack switched off his COM, and sighed. "Enough of that bullshit, let's get this over with."
"Got it," Johnson replied, following the Captain across the rooftop towards what would become their sniper nest. Their building overlooked a large valley, with a winding road that led to the next town. A normal sniper rifle wouldn't quite have the range to take out a moving target from so far off, so Mack and Johnson had been supplied with a formidable piece of equipment: The M99 Special Application Scoped Rifle, or 'Stanchion'; a single shot from one could tear through just about anything man-made.
"We've got a little while. Let's set up here, make sure we haven't missed anything."
Mack glanced around, making sure to check the nearby buildings for signs of life. At this time of day most of the town's population would probably be hard at work in the local farms, but he didn't want to risk some nosy civilian stumbling upon the two Marines. Orders were clear that they took out anyone who saw them; Mack would've put two bullets in the back of the alley guy's head anyway had he surrendered peacefully.
"I'm gonna check our six. Get the Stanchion prepared."
"Got it," replied Johnson, wiping some sweat from his brow. "We've got a clear view of the road from here, sir."
"Let's keep it that way."
Drawing his sidearm, Mack moved back down the flight of stairs and into the shade of the street. He didn't like how quiet this place was. If the local innies already had a guy up here, then chances were that this town was sympathetic to their cause. After all, it didn't take much for folks in the Outer Colonies to start questioning Earth's authority. The fact that Harvest had three separate Insurrectionist groups - The Secessionist Union, People's Occupation Government and Harvest for Harvesters - was a prime example of how bad things could get. All it took was the right man with the ideas like Ander to start a full-blown revolution.
Revolution means war. UNSC sends in troops, people fight back. Worst case scenario is that we've got another Far Isle on our hands.
Still, that was why Mack and Johnson were here. Ander would die today, and with any luck his group would dissolve within the next few months. A few raids and undercover operatives would see to that. The Marine adjusted his cap and looked through the windows of a nearby house. It was empty. With the midday sun shining down on Harvest he hoped that the people who were here remained indoors. His earpiece buzzed for a second before Johnson's voice came through.
"Captain, sighted a convoy across the valley. It's time."
"Copy that, on my way up."
Mack dashed back up the stairs, holstering his weapon and removing his cap as he did so. His scalp still itched from where he'd shaved his head a few days ago, and the heat definitely wasn't doing him much good. Johnson had already set up the rifle on a table he'd dragged over, and the portable computer used to calculate a shot at this range was already online. Mack sat down by he edge of the roof and brought up the targeting screen.
"You still got eyes on the convoy?"
"Yep. Nine vehicles. Four trucks and five jeeps. Probably stolen, but these are our guys."
Mack's screen lit up with calculations and the relevant telemetry that would allow Johnson to make a shot at this range. From the far-off convoy's point of view the pair of them would barely be specks in the distance, even through binoculars. The Stanchion's high-powered scope tracked the vehicles, Johnson checking between each one before moving on.
"Right, target identified."
The pair of them had studied pictures of Ander for the past few days, and there was no mistaking the man sitting in the lead jeep. Mack was honestly surprised that the rebel leader was sitting out in the open like this; he probably felt safe surrounded by his loyal supporters. Idiot.
"Okay Corporal, fire when ready."
Mack didn't have to do much as a spotter; the computer did most of the calculation for Johnson, who adjusted his aim slightly as the convoy slowly made it through the valley. The Marine took out a datapad from his pocket and checked it. Everything here was being captured by a trio of ARGUS drones in low orbit; both the two-man sniper team and Ander's convoy. After ensuring that the drones were still online, he put the pad away and went back to checking Johnson's scope. The Corporal hadn't moved an inch since he'd last spoken.
"Firing," Johnson murmured.
The Stanchion fired with a loud crack. Less than a second later, the round found it's target. Bringing up the high-resolution imagery from one of the drones, Mack saw that there wasn't much left of Anders, the guy sitting next to him, or the truck, which had careened off the road and into a ditch. The rebel leader had been blown to pieces by the high-powered round.
"Got the son of a bitch." Johnson looked over to Mack, who nodded in approval. The pair didn't have much time to sit around and celebrate; orders were to exfil immediately after the target was confirmed dead. Without a word, Mack switched off the computer and disconnected it from the rifle before stowing it away in his rucksack. his comrade was already disassembling and packing up the anti-matériel rifle into its case. In less than half a minute they were packed up and ready to leave.
"Nice shot," Mack remarked. "Not many people could've pulled that off."
Johnson smiled, picking up the Stanchion's case. "Not many people are in ORION, sir."
"True. Let's get the hell out of here."
As he expected, the airwaves were already buzzing with chatter from the rebels down in the valley. They had no idea what had hit them or where they'd been hit from. All they knew was that their leader had been blown to pieces and for all they knew they had a whole battalion bearing down on them. Mack and Johnson already had their pistols ready when the alleyway door opened for a second time, revealing four more armed men. They barely had time to look at their comrade's corpse before the two Marines gunned them down and ran out into the street where Mack had parked the flatbed truck. He activated his long-range communicator as they approached.
"Victor Four-Eight-Six, this is Bravo One. We're Oscar Mike to the evac point now, over!"
The voice of Mack's Pelican pilot came through after a short delay. "Copy that Bravo One, we'll be there shortly. ETA is fifteen mikes, out."
Mack clambered into the passenger's seat while Johnson started up the truck. They'd packed their gear into the back for now, and didn't have too long before people came to investigate what had happened here. The pair drove straight out of town without incident, carrying along the main road until they reached an intersection. They were lucky that Harvest's highways didn't have much traffic, allowing them to move onto a dirt path leading uphill. The place ahead had been cleared of fauna the previous week to make way for a new construction site, and was the perfect spot for the pair to evac.
"Sir, road's blocked off up ahead!"
"Go around it, then." Mack held on as Johnson veered off the road for a second to pass the blockade announcing the planned construction work before jolting back onto the path as they entered the site. As they ground to a halt and Mack jumped out to retrieve his gear, the sound of roaring engines grew louder and an object flew into view over some nearby hills. The Pelican circled the area once before settling just above the dirt. The rear doors slid open, revealing two armed Marines.
"Captain Mack?" one of them called. He nodded in response and they stepped out of the dropship.
Mack marched towards them, carrying both his heavy rucksack and the Stanchion case. The Marines helped load them onto the dropship while Johnson drove the Spade towards the back of the Pelican. Barring the corpses they'd left behind in the town, abandoning a truck in the middle of a construction site would count as evidence against the pair, so they'd have to take it with them. Mack and the Marines helped affix the truck to the Pelican's rear attachment point before clambering in. As the doors slid shut once more the the red emergency lights began to shine, the two men sat facing each other. Johnson spoke first.
"How'd I do?"
"A definite pass."