Training Exercises. That was what they called it.
Kilo Company had been stationed on Pelion for only two weeks now, and the general consensus was that it was hell. The year was 2568, sixteen years after the end of the Great War, and Humanity was still rebuilding. Pelion was one of the first planets to have been colonised, twelve years before.
Corporal Reyes walked lazily down the busy market street of the town, along with the eleven others in his squad. The colony had an unusually high level of civil disobedience and anti-UNSC propaganda, prompting the Marines to be dispatched to keep order. Sergeant Kowalski, their NCO, was trying to talk to one of the stallholders.
"No, I said. Have. You. Seen. Rebels?" he said, speaking loudly and slowly. Reyes sighed, and walked over to the two, smiling at the elderly vendor.
"has visto alguna individuos sospechosos? rebeldes? Las personas con pistolas?"
The man shook his head. "Nada," he muttered, casting a glance over the Marines shoulder. He turned back to selling his wares. Kowalski and Reyes walked away. The sun was beginning to set, and they had achieved nothing today.
"Hey Reyes, where'd you learn Spanish?" Kowalski asked.
"Learned it in the orphanage, Sarge. Can speak Japanese, Farsi and French too"
Kowalski whistled, obviously impressed. "And you joined the Marines? Damn."
Reyes shrugged. Many others had asked him the same question. He would have been accepted to any of the universities on Earth to study whatever he wanted, yet he had joined the military. To this day, he too was unsure why, but had felt compelled to do it. Before he could answer, a distant sound alerted the entire squad.
"Explosion?" asked Private Rollins.
Kowalski put two fingers to his helmet radio. His eyes widened in shock. "It's River Base, there's been some kind of attack. The base, where most of the company was stationed, was only twenty minutes away. They had walked out of the front gates that very morning.
"Let's move!" The Sergeant shouted. Reyes checked his assault rifle, and began to run after the others.
This was bad.
Back at River Base, most of the Operations Centre had been destroyed. Corpsmen were picking through the rubble, while by the vehicle depot, a line of bodies lay. It was chaos. After reporting in, Reyes' squad had discovered that a local who had been brought in for questioning had smuggled a bomb inside with him, and detonated it, killing himself and two dozen UNSC personnel. Every patrol they had sent out in the local area had been recalled to the base. Things were not looking good here. With the losses here and the rest of Kilo Company on the other side of the planet, the base was dangerously undermanned.
Sergeant Major Haines, the highest ranking officer left alive, was attempting to coordinate the marines around the base, though she was showing obvious signs of worry, strained from the sudden responsibility of command. Gunfire from beyond the walls of the base snapped the marines into battle mode, Reyes running with his squad to the battlements. Things on Pelion were much, much worse than the UNSC had expected. Outside the base, dozens of figures brandishing a variety of weapons. The young marine levelled his Battle Rifle, and fired a burst at one, who was attempting to aim a missile launcher. He dropped like a sack of bricks and the others scattered. Back in the courtyard, Haines was yelling at several technicians, who were hurrying across with their toolboxes.
"Damn it, get that comm tower fixed, now! Corporal Hsu, I want a fireteam covering the west ASAP! Sergeant Kowalski, your men-"
Reyes never heard the rest of the sentence. In an instant, the Sergeant Major was gone as the mortar struck the centre of the courtyard, followed by several others. One landed just below the wall he was on, temporarily deafening the Corporal. He fumbled and dropped his gun, panicking for a few seconds as this hearing gradually recovered, a loud ringing sound in his ears. Missiles streaked from towers within the base, and judging by the explosions, hit the source of the mortar fire. Reyes grabbed his rifle, reloaded and fired a few more bursts at their attackers. What the hell was going on?! It seemed as if the whole village had risen up against them, and then some.
"Shit, Sergeant Major's down. Keep firing, we've gotta hold out as long as we can!" Kowalski was now the senior NCO in charge.
Three hours later, and still no sign of reinforcements. This wasn't good. Reyes had picked off several rebels hidden within the bushes with his battle rifle, and ammo was running low. The only thing keeping the two dozen marines in the fight was the advantage of the fortress walls and the high ground. Kowalski moved into the guard tower, crouching low to avoid snipers. He tossed two bags of ammunition to the floor and moved to check the window. The fact that the rebels had held out at all was something of a surprise. They had been here for three weeks and aside from a few peaceful demonstrators and the occasional hidden weapon that had been seized from the surrounding towns, there was no sign of any major Insurrectionist activity.
"Sarge, got something on the road, looks like a vehicle."
Kowalski made his way over to Reyes, who had sighted something large heading their way. Through the fading light, the shape of an Olifant garbage trunk came into view, trundling towards the front gate. Several men ran alongside it, hefting portable missile launchers. The truck had obviously been heavily modified, and was bristling with weaponry. It accelerated towards the fort, shrugging off rifle rounds. A missile streaked past it. Seconds later, it hit the gate, which collapsed inwards. White smoke streamed from exhaust ports as the vehicle came to a halt in the courtyard.
"Get some goddamn fire on that truck!" Kowalski roared, pulling the pin from a grenade and tossing it downwards. Figures darted out of the smoke and dived for cover before it exploded, and immediately began trading fire with the marines. These weren't your average pissed of colonists. They were hard-line innies. Trained killers. This was bad. Reyes let off a few bursts from his rifle before two bodies tumbled through the door to his left. He span round to see a heavily armoured, hooded man stabbing Corporal Hsu in the throat with a jagged blade. Without thinking, he rushed forwards, slamming the butt of the rifle into the man's head. The rebel grunted in pain and attempted to roll over as the second blow came. It smashed into him again with a dull crack. He slumped to the floor. Reyes span the gun around, and fired twice.
Hsu was dead. He didn't have to check to see that. The marine stared at his kill for a few seconds, breathless. It was the first time he had killed someone in close quarters combat. His body had reacted, killing the other man before he could do the same. He reloaded his weapon, and turned to Kowalski, who hadn't even noticed over the gunfire and explosions. As Reyes opened his mouth to speak to the Sergeant, everything went white. He felt himself tumbling down, sharp pains erupting all over his body as he finally struck the stone floor. His hearing was muffled, and it hurt to draw breath. Reyes' eyes blinked open. He was alive, at least. He waited for his eyes to adjust to the darkness before looking round for his rifle. It was still intact, and with half a magazine left.
The enemy seemed to have won. Outside, the sounds of gunfire had all but faded as the remaining Marines were being hunted down by the rebels. For all their superior training and equipment, the defenders had been overwhelmed. Reyes sat for a little while longer, nursing his wounds. For all he knew, he was the only one left alive. Kowalski and the others had been killed when the tower was hit, probably by a missile of some kind. He could surrender. He was outnumbered at least a hundred to one, with a half empty rifle and, by the feel of it, broken ribs. The gunshots outside made it pretty clear that these guys weren't feeling very merciful. Guns blazing it is, Reyes thought to himself. The marine picked himself up and crawled out through a gap in the rubble, and onto what remained of the wall.
Outside, the rebels were taking everything they could from the fort. A pile of corpses in Marine Corps dress lay by the front gate. More were being dragged out of the demolished headquarters. Reyes froze as a man, clad in ragged gear, appeared at the top of the steps, placing a captured helmet on his head while carrying several looted rifles under the crook of his arm. The moment he turned away, Reyes leapt from his hiding place, combat knife drawn, and plunged it into the man's throat, covering his mouth with the other hand as he dragged the man back into the shadows. Eventually, he stopped twitching and was still. Warm blood ran over the Marine's shaking hands. He gathered up the fallen rifles, taking the clips and reloading his own.
No one had seen or heard a thing. The power had been cut when the HQ was hit, plunging the base into near-total darkness. Good. Reyes sighted four rebels patrolling the main courtyard, and opened fire. All four were cut down in seconds as others ran to investigate, flashlights shining up at the balcony where the Corporal was taking cover. Stepping back into the darkness, he reloaded and moved to another position, bursts of fire taking down multiple enemies before he spotted one of them hefting a large grenade launcher. Swearing, he made a dash for the edge of the wall and leapt off, landing on the roof of one of the rebel trucks as tracer rounds flew past. He rolled down and sprinted into the remains of the headquarters. A sharp, burning pain in his shoulder told him that he had been hit. Reyes kept going, diving behind a wall to reload.He had to survive. Defeat just wasn't an option here. The sound of footsteps grew louder as the first of his pursuers rounded the corner.
Let's do this.
The sporadic gunfire from outside had stopped almost completely in the last few minutes. Corporal Reyes sat crouched behind a pile of rubble, and checked for any movement before grabbing his second canister of biofoam. He unhooked the nozzle and injected the spray into his wounded leg. There was a sharp burst of pain for a few seconds, followed by numbness. Since he had taken cover inside the building, Reyes had been hit thrice; he had killed several dozen in return. The fact that he had survived until dawn was something of a miracle, though two of the trucks had trundled off towards the town, probably to get explosives or reinforcements to flush him out.
A loud crash from outside brought him to his senses. There were short bursts of rifle fire and shouts from the rebels. Five of them came lumbering into the building, right into Reyes' killzone. As he opened fire on the first one, the others fell forwards, cut down by burps of suppressed SMG fire. Two men, wearing heave black body armour and black-visored helmets stepped round, guns raised. These were Orbital Drop Shock Troopers, or ODST's. The wounded marine waved them over. They did so, not lowering their weapons as they did so. The first looked the marine over before helping him to his feet.
"Captain Michael Green, 105th ODST. Where's the rest of your platoon, soldier?"
"They're dead, sir. I'm the only one left."
"I'm sorry to hear that. How long have you been here?"
"I've been holding out all night."
"Damn. We'll get you to a medic, Marine. My boys are clearing the rest up outside. What's your name?"
"Maynard Reyes. Corporal, Kilo Company of the 28th."
"Nice to meet you Maynard, let's get the hell off this planet."
Two weeks later, Maynard was sat in a bed on the medical deck of a UNSC Destroyer. The rest of Kilo Company had come down hard on the other rebels after the garrison in River Base had been wiped out, and were sweeping the rest of the planet. He had been close to passing out from blood loss when the ODST's had picked him up. Captain Green had personally taken him to a dropship, and vowed to put him in for the Bronze Star after his actions on Pelion.
The door to his room slid open, and a dark suited man stepped in. He seemed about fifty, with greying hair and dark circles around his eyes. The insignia of a Rear Admiral was pinned to his chest. Maynard saluted, and said nothing as the man sat down beside the bed.
"I'm Rear Admiral Ryan Samson. Just got word of what you did down on that planet, Marine. Remarkable work. We need more men like you in the field."
"Thank you, sir."
Samson took out an envelope, and handed it to Maynard. "We're recruiting the best of the best, both from the military and civilian sector. Read it over, and if you like what you see, report back to me when you're feeling fit to walk." He stood up, and walked out without another word. Maynard tore the envelope open and unfolded the letter. He spotted an insignia at the top, followed by the title: SPARTAN-IV. He smiled, and began reading.