I can feel my heart pounding in my chest. I breathe quietly through my nose as I listen keenly to the approaching noise. So many variables. So many possible situations. What was it? It could simply be a stray brute who lost his way, a confused grunt wandering about, lost like a mere cub, it could be another chieftain, hell-bent on vengeance for his fallen brethren. Hell, it could even be-
'Buck!' I switch off my energy sword and jump out from behind my hiding spot. I dive towards him and send him crashing to the ground and land sitting on top of him.
'Bddiiish!' I mimic stabbing him with my extinguished energy sword as he struggles beneath me.
'Ajay what the hell are you doing?' He demands . I grin widely at him.
'I'm sorry to tell you this buck, but you're dead.' I inform him, still smiling and cocking my head to the side. Probably works better without a helmet. Cuteness factor decreased by 3. I probably look crazy now... Buck simply grunts and pushes me. I let go of him and he stands up.
'Like elite is randomly going to jump out at me from nowhere.' He mutters.
'You'd be surprised.' I say in a very serious tone. I hear the sound of victoria approaching from behind.
'Buck, I thought you had left.' She says unsurely. He shrugs.
'Well, I came back.' He says. He suddenly jerks his assault rifle upwards. I lash out before he can fire and snatch the rifle from his hands. I spin it upside down in my hands, slide one down quickly and remove the clip, spin it again and grab the stock. I press a button and slide the stock in and out and pull it apart. I then grab the top of the gun and with a few twists and clicks I pull out half the firing mechanism from the rifle. The whole process is complete in a second and a half. I hold the pieces out in front of him.
'No.' I say sternly.
'It's ok Buck, it's on our side.' Victoria tells him as the engineer floats out from its hiding spot. Buck looks back and forth between me, victoria and the engineer, then back at me.
'So why did you have to pull my gun apart then?' He asks with an annoyed tone.
'Because I'm a show-off.' I tell him with a grin and hand the pieces to him. He takes the pieces and frustratedly begins reassembling the weapon.
'Well if this is what we came for, I suppose now is the time to get out, right?' I ask. Victoria nods her head.
'Any ideas buck?' she asks.
'Actually yes.' He says. 'Please don't ask me how- it's a long story, but the rest of the guys and I have managed to commandeer a phantom. We can use that to get out of the city.'
'Sweet, what are we waiting for then?' I say. The four of us stand in an awkward silence. 'So... are we going now?' I ask. Buck suddenly shakes his head quickly.
'Oh, yeah, sorry, yeah, let's go...and... get out of here.' He turns around and takes half a step, and turns around unsurely, us three begin following and he continues.
My breathing has become heavy now. A red bar flashes incessantly at the top of my visor in an annoying way. I hug my arms close to my body as an ill-meaning fusillade of plasma rounds and spikes chip and scorch the thin column I am hiding behind. I clench my teeth in frustration as I reach one trembling hand to my pistol. Buck leans out from behind his cover and fires his assault rifle and ducks back.
'I...' I mutter under my breathe as I load my pistol.
'FUCKING...' I yell as I lift my pistol.
'HATE...' I spin around the corner of my cover and take aim.
'JACKALS!' I furiously fire away at a couple of jackals on top of the covenant hover-tower. The front of the small weapon jolts upwards as I fire. I vaguely notice the plumes of blood erupting from the heads of my fallen foes as I charge. I toss a frag with a loud yell and dive to the ground behind some random object. I dive out into a roll as the frag goes off and run into the fray, now with fully charged shields. I tackle a brute while he is busy running from the explosion of my frag, wrap my legs around his waist and stick my energy sword through his abdomen. I take the assault rifle from my back in my free hand and turn the dead brute towards the remaining bulk. I stick the assault rifle around my meatbag and open fire. The rookie runs at the brutes from behind while buck covers. He jumps into the air as he approaches and swings it down with an over-extravagant flourish. The brutes are scattered in various directions around the point of impact, but are finished off by a few crushing blows from the rookie. I turn off my energy sword and the brute crumples to the ground.
'What was all that about?' Buck asks as he approaches me. I throw a dirty look at the hover tower containing the two dead jackals.
'I hate being sniped.' I say. Victoria comes around the corner from behind us, followed by the engineer, who floats a couple of feet from the ground.
'Well, this should be as good a location as any.' Buck says as he reaches one hand up to his comm unit. 'Hey mickey, you there? Alright. We got dare and the others, where are you?' he taps his foot on the ground impatiently. 'Well come over here, we're ready.' Buck suddenly stops tapping his foot. 'What do you- what? Everywhere? You have got to be shitting me! You can't come in l- crap! All right then, where?.. Where the fuck is that? Well I know that, but how do I get there? Oh very funny mickey, very funny. You expect us to walk while you sit around on your fat ass in your nice cosy phantom? Of course it doesn't have air con- just tell us how to get there!' I can imagine buck's angry red face under his visor. 'Ok then. Ok. We'll meet you there then.' Buck takes his hand away from his helmet with a sigh.
'All right, mickey says the covvies have AA everywhere, but he can make a landing at a point a couple K's west of here. There is a highway to the south, goes all the way to our destination. Mickey also reckons there could be some cars we could use.' I smile and throw my hand in the air.
'Yeah! ROAD TRIP!'
Victoria climbs onto the garbage truck and opens a hatch on top.
'Are you sure this thing is a garbage truck?' I ask as I stare at the thing in awe. 'It looks more like a tank had sex with a steamroller and this thing popped out.' The engineer floats down into the hatch and it closes. Buck and I approach a convenient warthog on the other side of the road.
'All right kid, you drive, I'll use the turret.' I shake my head.
'How about you drive and I use the turret?' Buck looks at me.
'Why? You aren't a good driver?' I shake my head again.
'No. I don't have my driver's licence.' Buck stares at me, probably with a dumfounded look. To make it final, I jump on the back of the warthog and jump into the chaingun turret. The rookie jumps in the driver seat.
'You can drive?' buck asks. The silent marine shrugs. 'All right then.' Buck jumps into the passenger seat. 'Keep moving at victoria's speed. If we see covvies, speed ahead and we'll take them out. Understood?' The rookie waves his hand dismissively and nods, putting both hands on the wheel, lifts one foot up and then slams it down. The front of the warthog lifts for a second as we shoot forward. I wish I had removed my helmet first so I could feel the wind on my fur. The world suddenly twists sideways as the rookie puts us into a slide, and then accelerates again, going back towards the garbage truck. The first few minutes of the journey go by without event. We slowly cruise along beside the garbage truck. I sit back in my gunner's seat and take in the view to the south. The evening sky is illuminated with crimson rays of light that seem to radiate across the horizon and dance across the rippling distant seas as-
'Nice sunset, eh Ajay?' Victoria's voice comes across my comm unit.
'Yeah, pretty nice.' I say faintly.
'I never took you for the type who enjoys sunsets Ajay.' She says.
'The sun a great thing victoria.' I say dreamily. 'A great force. A primal being. It exists solely to serve man and asks nothing in return. It is why we survive. A sentinel for humanity. But what shall happen when it dies? Will there be another to sustain us? Do we collectively have the courage light the fires required to save ourselves, or shall darkness overcome us?' I stop speaking and begin thinking deeply.
'Ajay, don't talk like that. There will always be others. The sun is an inspiration, the rest will strive to create a new sun...' victoria tells me quietly. 'Those people you saved on reach. They remember you. They know what you did. You do not stand alone. You inspired a generation.' She pauses for a second. 'A sun goes out with a bang. You just came back, that's all. There are more suns out there Ajay. You aren't alone.' I smile a little.
'Thanks victoria.' I whisper as the comm unit turns off.
'That was pretty deep kid.' Buck says from the front.
'Yeah, well don't get used to it.' I say as we approach the huge door blocking the road. It's opening mechanisms begin to whirr as it slides down. I see the top of the familiar purple covenant structure and give a whistle. 'Covvies ahead! Fuel rods!' The rookie backs up as the door slides down further, and floors it as soon as it is fully open.
I swivel the chaingun around at the tower and press down on the trigger. I track the tower as the barrel spins and whines. A hail of bullets spit out of the end of the barrel and slice through the enemy ranks on the tower. I rotate the turret to the left as we go into a skid and assail a group of brutes as they fire at our previous position. I bounce in my seat as we hit a couple of bumps and sweep another group of hostiles as the rookie swerves around a truck in the middle of the road. The rookie whips the tail of the warthog around and slams it into a brute, knocking its limp body through the air. He drives into the small, dark tunnel section as the door begin to open again. All of a sudden buck jumps out of the warthog and runs back.
'Wait there.' He says. He jumps back in the warthog a few second later, carrying a large metal object.
'Whoa, nice find.' i say, admiring the rocket launcher. 'Make sure you save the ammo for something worthwhile.'
'Don't worry, I won't waste it.' He assures me. I smile and look back up at the opening in the door, and freeze. Being the highest up, I am the only one who can see over the slowly opening door.
'Um, buck? I think I found something worthwhile.'
'What is it?' He asks, then freezes when he sees what I see.
'How much ammo is In that thing?' I ask very slowly.
'Not enough.' Buck says slowly, the fear is evident in his voice.
'Tory, we have a situation here!' I yell into my comm. It crackles to life.
'What kind of situation?' She asks.
'You have to be kidding me.' All kinds of thing are running through my head. Anger, frustration...hope? I see myself, I am kneeling on the ground, crying. What is this? 'Just one shot... how?' he cries. Then, there is a body, blue armour, prosthetic arm... Kat. Just one shot. Just one shot...
I find myself suddenly awake again, holding a pistol and emptying the clip out, all except for one. Just one bullet.
'Well? Any ideas Ajay?' Buck asks in a wavering voice.
'Get me close to that scarab.' My voice comes out in an unfamiliar authoritive tone. Wait, did I actually say that? Where did those words come from? I involuntarily take my energy sword in one hand, with my pistol in the other.
'Are you crazy? What are you going to do?' Buck protests.
'Do it!' I tell him in a low tone. Why am I saying all this? I try to sit put my gun away, but nothing happens. The warthog leaps forwards out of the tunnel at full speed. I jump out of my turret seat and climb over the top of the warthog and land on the front of it, standing somehow with incredible balance. How am I doing this? Is this physically possible? The scarab lets out an ear splitting screech as it fires its enormous assault cannon. The rookie swerves violently to the right as the beam slams into the ground. The impact of the blast sends the warthog up on two wheels, but I still stand on it. I suddenly realise with shock, I have no control of my body. It seems to be moving on its own. The warthog lands back with a crash on its other two wheels. I can see the green beam following us over my head. I put my pistol away and reach into my belt again. I am surprised to find myself holding a second energy sword.
'Get me near the side of the tunnel.' I order. The rookie swerves to the right further and goes into a skid near the wall. I jump out and stab into the wall with my energy swords. The rookie speeds away and goes into the tunnel under the scarab to avoid its fire. I take one sword out, pull myself up and stick the sword in further up. I begin scaling the wall at rapid speed. What am I going to accomplish by doing this?
'You'll see.' I say with a small grin. Wait, did I just talk to myself? 'In a sense, yes Ajay, you did.' What? Who are you? 'Don't be silly. I am you.' I pull myself up onto the top of the tunnel and look up at the towering scarab.
'Time to die traitors.' I say. I run towards the leg of the scarab at full speed. I run up the leg of it and sink my swords into it and begin scaling it. I jump onto the top and jump onto the platform around the edge as a brute on a mounted turret raises his gun. I put away my energy swords and i dive at it under its fire. I jump to my feet in front of it. I jump and kick out with my right foot, twist around in mid-air and kick with my left foot. I land facing away and spin around, hitting it in the chin with an uppercut. I draw both swords and jump up in the air. I flip once and bring the swords down on its back, slicing it. I run into the interior of the scarab. I impale a brute who jumps at me from the left and run to the right. In front of me is a glowing blue object, energy flickers about inside it like a tiny storm. I take out the pistol. Trial of life. One shot. I feel my grip tighten on the trigger, now in control, and take aim.
'One shot.' I say to myself. 'one shot.' The gun jerks backwards with recoil as I fire. I see Kat, falling down; the jackal that shot her...The blue thing explodes with a blue flash. An alarm suddenly cuts the air. I feel myself lose control again as I turn and run. I run right as a brute jumps out in front of me. I drop my shoulder and hit at full speed. The two of us fly off the walkway around the scarab and go rumbling towards the ground. We spin in an out of control as we fall to the ground. I grab the brute by the shoulder and twist him around. I have no idea what is happening. Then we hit.
Clouds gently roll across the sky, moving ever so slowly. I rub my aching head with a groan and stand up, wobbling slightly. I look underneath me and find the crushed body of a brute.
'Well, whoever the hell you are, you're pretty fucking badass.' I say to myself with a smile. Do not expect any more help human. I disregard the comment. Pieces of dead scarab are scattered around the area. I take the energy swords from my belt and look down at the highway beneath me. 'Um... don't suppose you could do that again? Just to make things a lot quicker.' This is one exception, but only because I must leave this place. I jump off the edge and go into a brief free-fall. I take my swords and stab them into the wall as I near the bottom. I gradually slow as I get lower and then jump onto the ground, extinguishing my energy swords. The garbage truck approaches the tunnel from the opposite end from me. The warthog approaches from the tunnel and stops short of me.
'What happened?' buck asks. I shrug.
'I'm not actually sure myself.' I say. The doors begin to whirr in a familiar way as they open. I don't expect there to be much opposition. Covvies probably thought the scarab could handle everything we could throw at it. The comm unit crackles to life in my ear.
'There should be an off ramp nearby, that's where we are heading.' Victoria says to us. I nod and put one hand on the back of the warthog and lift myself up into the turret seat as the vehicle lurches forward. The nest stretch of highway is empty. Upside-down cars are lying strewn across the road. No signs of life. There is an off ramp between two lanes and we cruise towards it. The rookie eases off on the accelerator as we gently roll down the ramp. We come to a stop at the bottom of the dim tunnel and wait for the garbage truck. The hatch on top flicks open as victoria jumps out, followed by the engineer. Victoria looks out of the tunnel at a large building with a courtyard/plaza/whatever in front of it. Buck raises his hand to his helmet.
'Mickey, where are you? What? Seriously? Dammit. Ok, we're waiting for you...what? How many? Shit, ok, we'll hold up here, get here as fast as you can!' he drops his hand. 'ok, we have phantoms inbound. The covvies are putting up a fight. We'll hold up in that building.' Buck points and begins running. We check the engineer is following and go after him.
I hear the familiar sound of a phantom approaching as I scramble up the steps. I notice a balcony section higher up the building.
'Buck! Get up on that balcony, you can provide fire support from there, and when something big comes, you have the rocket launcher.' Buck detaches from the group and heads for a flight of stairs to the left. 'Victoria, you head inside and stay with the engineer. Me and the rookie will stand guard outside the door.' In front of the front door is a support column that holds the balcony up. At the bottom of it is a small wall, positioned perfectly for cover. I press back against the wall, the rookie goes against the opposite side. I refill my clip and slap it back into my assault rifle, as does the rookie. 'All right, it us against them.' I say looking over at him. 'Let's leave them with something to remember us by.' I say with a smile. He nods. We both look around our cover as we see a phantom hovering above the highway. I step back into cover and look back at the rookie. 'You ready?'
'Let's kick ass.' I look around our cover again, then quickly double take, looking at him.
'Did you just say something?' I ask. He nods.
'Actions often speak louder than words. These words are powerful. Meaningful. They represent the brotherhood only we can understand in times of war, what we feel between one another. The bond we earn through blood. 'He says in a strong, deep voice. 'The question is, are they ready for us?' we stand silently looking at each other. I smile and nod. He holds out one hand to me. I look at it, and then back at him. I grab his hand and raise our hands up to they are between our faces. We squeeze them tightly together.
'Well spoken bro.' We press ourselves back against the wall. 'Let's go.'
I spin around the corner of the wall and open fire with my assault rifle. The majority of the rounds hit the brute in the head, it eventually falls. It sweep the spray across a couple of grunts as they fire plasma blasts at me. I duck back as the plasma approaches and reload. I spin back around and line up a brute, but it's quickly killed by a high-calibre round from above. Buck found another toy. I fire my rifle in bursts at a distant brute, the rookie helps and we take it out. Another two phantoms are hovering above the highway.
'Heads up, chieftains and hunters!' Buck calls from above.
'Take the chieftain first! Before he puts up his overshields!' I call back up to him.
'Shit! More phantoms! Landing to our left and right!' he calls down.
'Focus on the hunters and chieftain!' I yell. I carefully watch the off ramp exit, even while the phantoms land to the left and right. The chieftain is leading the charge. He jumps over the barriers and land on his front. It takes me a while to realise he is dead. The trail from the sniper round is gone now.
'Shit! Nice shot buck!' I yell up to him.
'That wasn't me!' the phantom on the left hovers across the huge advancing force of hunters and brutes. Romeo stands inside with his sniper raised, and Dutch beside him. I step out and fire my assault rifle; I switch between targets because there are so many of them. I jump back into cover as the horde begins firing. The intense barrage of plasma balls and spikes hitting and ricocheting off our cover and the wall beside me is incredible; it's literally like a sideways hailstorm of plasma. I hear an explosion somewhere and the shooting stops.
'I need some held here! They're flanking me!' Buck calls down.
'Rookie, stay here!' I say to him. I take a deep breath and sprint out of cover with my energy sword in one hand and my assault rifle in the other. I duck under a barrage of enemy fire as I run for a flight of steps. I turn left and start up the steps leading to the top. But I notice something in front of me, a sort of blur... I lash out with my sword and stab it right through the thing. A brute appears before me and collapses. I continue up the steps and a spiker fires at me from nowhere. The brute gets a good few rounds In before I gun him down. Buck is hiding behind cover as invisible brutes fire at him from the other set of steps. I run and jump up onto the cover and jump over it. I fire my assault rifle one-handed at a brute as I soar through the air towards a second. I stab it as I land with one foot on its shoulder. I fall down and tumble down a couple of steps before I get back on my feet. I run back up the stairs at the last brute. The brute suddenly flies backwards towards me. I duck and stab my sword through it as it flies over my head. Buck stands at the top of the stairs, aiming his rocket launcher at the horde. I stand beside him and look down on the mass. The scene before me is intense. There is a huge horde of covenant in the centre of the plaza, brutes, four hunters and a chieftain, and a ghost. A red laser rains down from the phantom and hits a hunter, killing it and some nearby enemies. Buck fires a rocket down into the midst of the horde. It seems like we are beginning to win now. I fire my assault rifle randomly at the group and toss a grenade. A group of hostiles breaks away and charges the building. Buck fires his rocket launcher into them and kills half of them. I hear the rookies gravity hammer go off and smile. We are winning.
Then shit hits the fan. Another horde comes charging out from the off-ramp. Three chieftains, half-a dozen hunters and a hell of a lot of brutes. A couple of wraiths begin firing from the highway. Buck and I jump out of the way as the plasma mortars land near us. Buck and I try our best to keep the horde away from the building, but there are just too many. Then something strange happens. I grimace as three more phantoms hover over the plaza, but then I am confused. The phantom begins firing at the brutes.
'Reinforcements!' I yell happily, but then my heart sinks. The phantoms door open, and out come elites. Zealots. With swords. The elite swarm cuts through the brute horde with ease, like a cloud of flying razors. They charge through the middle of the horde and leave only death in their wake. I run inside the building and jump down to the first floor.
'Ajay what's going on out there?' Victoria demands. I breath heavily as I try to come to terms with the situation.
'Elites. Heaps of them. With swords.' I run outside and stand beside the rookie. He simply stands there and watches in surprise. The battle is a huge mass of black with flashes of blue. The two of us stand and watch in awe. The brutes don't stand a chance. Within a couple of minutes the battle is over. Everybody is evidently out of ammo. Dutch's Spartan laser is out, Romeo has stopped firing, and so has Buck. Mickey could fire the gun on the phantom, but there would be no point. There are just too many. I suddenly find myself walking out into the plaza towards the elites. They all stand still and watch me. Why aren't they attacking me? A black and red elite approaches me from the group, he is the leader clearly. He speaks in a low but authoritive voice.
'Kalo-Raasei. Good to see you live.' He says. What?
'It's average to see you too Mag-Kreimlei.' I tell him. Who is Mag-Kreimlei?
'We feared you were dead. How foolish of us.'
'How foolish indeed.' What are you doing? Who is this? Who are you? I laugh a little.
'Is there something you find funny Raasei? The elite demands.
'The naïve Spartan is confused Kreimlei. I find it amusing.' I say.
'Hey what are you doing?' Buck yells from behind me.
'Ajay! What is going on here?' Victoria cries out. The elite snarls at them, but I raise a hand and shake my head.
'Leave the marines. They have though hard for this pitiful city. I say, let them enjoy their victory.' I say, 'for now, anyway.' I add. The elite grunts.
'If you say so. I trust you have completed the mission?'
'Of course Kreimlin.' He nods.
'Then you are ready to leave then?' I nod.
'Let us leave this planet.' I say. The elites move aside as the leader and I move towards the gravity lift projected from the phantom. I ignore the yells and protests of the marines behind me and enter the gravity lift. Next destination: Sangheilios.