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Prologue-Helljumper's Sorrow (working title)
Posted By: Dominick DePascale
Date: 25 September 2009, 11:34 am

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0430 Hours, July 18, 2552 (Military Calendar)/
Sigma Octanus IV, grid nineteen by thirty-seven

      Lance Corporal Sid Eckhart woke with a start. The General's voice barked over the intercom filling the barracks with orders.
      "Everyone, up and at it, on the double! Report to the briefing room in five!"
      Eckhart rubbed his eyes as he rolled from his bunk and began putting on his uniform. He paused to look at a photograph of a woman and a small child. The woman's shoulder length brown hair shimmered in the sunshine that bathed the day that the picture was taken. The child's smile was a crescent on his face that made Eckhart grin. The photo showed his wife and child. They weren't geographically far from him, but he had been stationed here for close to a year now, and he missed them dearly. He tucked the snapshot away in his left breast pocket and continued dressing. As he cinched up his boots he looked to the man across from him and asked, "Any idea what's goin' on?"
      The Marine, Private Adrian Vicarzo, looked up from his own boots. "Not too sure Sid. I heard someone say that the Covenant is in the system."
      Eckhart finished and made his way to the briefing.       He entered through the double doors into a large, low ceilinged room. From back to front were long tables with 4 chairs at each, all facing the front of the room. At the other end stood a podium on the left side with a holo terminal next to it. The room was already mostly full of Marines, and the ones that didn't fit stood in the back or just outside the doorway. The small crowd that gathered outside awaited the briefing to come from speakers that had to be installed when the last battalion of Marines had arrived a week ago. Alpha Head Quarters was garrisoned with a little over one thousand soldiers. A platoon of ODSTs also resided here. The commanding officer stood behind the podium, surveying the troops.
      General Derrik Strantin wore a concentrated face. As he looked around the room, he had a slight expression of eagerness. He had been through countless battles with both human and alien. Well before the Covenant showed its ugly face to humanity, he had done infiltration missions and led assaults on pirate bases and other rebellious groups as a Helljumper. His service record was impressive for sure. As were the medals and ribbons normally on his uniform. But the combat decorations weren't there now. He was in his fatigues. No time for dress uniforms.
      As the last man sat down, General Strantin cleared his throat and began to speak. "Men, as some of you may heard, Covenant ships are in system. The Iroquois managed to fight off three out of four Covie ships. Two frigates and a destroyer were taken out by Commander Keyes alone."
      Applause and cheers erupted in the briefing room. Strantin allowed it for a few seconds, and then spoke again.
      "Okay quiet down." His eager face shifted to something else. Was it worry? "That was the good news. Only twenty minutes ago we received a priority transmission from the Iroquois saying that thirty-four Covenant dropships were entering Sigma Octanus Four's atmosphere. They split into two groups. One group attacked Firebase Bravo ten minutes ago. They… they were wiped out."
      The joyous faces of the marines turned grim. Some muttered to each other. Silence fell when General Strantin began to speak again.
      "The other group…" The general hesitated. Whatever he needed to say next was obviously difficult to let out. With a sigh, he gave the grave news. "The other group landed in Côte d' Azure. Côte d' Azure is under Covenant control."
      Eckhart's face went pale and his stomach lurched. He stood quickly, nearly knocking over his chair. "Are there any survivors, sir?" His voice quivered with fear. "Did… did anyone make it out?"
      The General shook his head. "I'm sorry Lance Corporal. At this time, there is no report of survivors."
      Sid Eckhart's heart sank. The world ceased to hold any importance to him. The fact that Firebase Bravo was completely destroyed, the fact that humanity was coming closer and closer to extinction every day, the fact that he had faced death innumerous times in the past seven years; the importance of all these things paled in comparison to one horrifying thought. His family, his beautiful wife and five-year-old son, were in that city. His home, just thirteen kilometers from this very spot, was now infested with Covenant. He panicked. He needed to leave now. He had to…
      "Sid." Someone shook him out of his cold trance. "Sid, snap out of it man." Eckhart shook his head quickly and looked at Adrian. "Sid, I'm sure they're fine. They're probably in hiding."
      "I hope so. If they're not…" Eckhart didn't want to think of it anymore. He forced himself to listen to General Strantin, who now pointed to a holographic map that had just popped into the air next to him.
      "What little satellite imagery we could gather shows us that the Covenant forces that attacked Firebase Bravo are heading along the river here." He traced his finger along a winding blue river. "I want you all to make ready for imminent attack. Everyone gear up double time. I want First Squad to…"
      Strantin was cut off by a hoarse, disembodied voice. "General, if I may interrupt." The image of an older man in a black robe appeared above the holo terminal. His grayish-white hair was short, spiked, and receding. His face was wise and patient looking.
      "What is it, Kramer?" Strantin asked.
      "Our air patrol has spotted enemy forces heading this way. Infantry numbers were estimated to at least two thousand. Enemy armor as well. The air patrols are engaging enemy Banshees. E.T.A. on ground troops: five minutes and forty-six seconds."
      The General's eyes widened. "Watch the motion sensors. Take control of all base defenses. As soon as something is in range, light it up. Watch the sky." Derrik turned to his men and began giving orders. "All of you to the armory, triple time! Go, go, go!"
      Most of the men rushed from the room and into the armory. Eckhart ran instead to the ODST armory with the rest of his fellow Helljumpers. Eckhart hastily strapped on the matte black body armor sections typical of the ODSTs. He slid on his helmet and activated the HUD on the visor. Status lights blinked into his view as the system did automatic diagnostics and functionality checks. He moved over to the weapon lockers and grabbed a BR55 and as many magazines as he could fit in his combat vest and ammo pouches. Eckhart slapped a fresh magazine into his battle rifle, pulled back the bolt, and let it go with a metallic snap. He then grabbed an M7 SMG and five clips, loading it as well. Sid hesitated for only a second, wondering how many grenades he'd need. He decided on four. He could pick up more in battle.
      The image of his family flashed through Eckhart's mind. However, this time it was not fear or worry that gripped him. It was rage. Anger welled inside him, but he forced himself to keep it in check.
      Eckhart grabbed the last two pieces of gear he'd need: a six inch blade that he placed in the sheath on his right boot, and a larger ten inch combat knife. This was his own personal knife, not the standard issue eight inch K-Bar that most ODSTs carried. His knife had a black high carbon steel blade with a tanto edge. Two small holes were in the flat of the blade to make it lighter. The dull side had serrations half way up from the handle, which was rubberized for superior grip. The blade went into the handle, balanced for throwing. Eckhart slid the personalized weapon up into its hardened plastic sheath, and it clicked into place.
      Adrian was assembling his S2 AM sniper rifle to Sid's left. He swapped the standard barrel for a slightly longer barrel. He looked to Eckhart. "I want to hit as many as I can before they even see us. They won't stand a chance." He then attached a scope with 5x, 10x, and 13x zoom. Longer range didn't mean anything if he couldn't see farther.
      A trio of explosions shook the ground beneath Eckhart's feet. Sid and Adrian hurried out of the munitions bunker. Marines poured out of both armories. They then saw where the explosion came from. The hospital had been reduced to rubble. Fires burned and the horrifying screams of the injured men inside were heard across the base. Patients and medics ran from the blast site, some burned, some still burning. Eckhart then looked up and saw three blue-white comets arcing through the sky. They then began to drop… right towards him.
      "Run! Get to cover!" Eckhart shouted. He broke into a sprint. The balls of plasma impacted behind him, leveling the Helljumper armory. He felt the intense heat from the blast on his back. Eckhart kept running towards a trench. He jumped into the trench and joined the other men lining it. Every ten meters was a mounted machine gun, each manned. Hundreds more men lined the trench and leveled their MA5B Assault Rifles. Only the Helljumpers had the BR55s, as they had not fully gone into service. Only Special Forces used them. The remaining soldiers headed for the perimeter bunkers and filtered into them, ten in each. Twenty Warthog LRVs rolled up behind the trench and their passengers got out and knelt next to the vehicles with M19 SSM rocket launchers shouldered. Three Scorpion tanks rumbled to life and rolled into positions farther back. An awkward silence fell over the base. The only sounds Eckhart heard where of fires crackling and the idling engines of the vehicles that backed the infantry.
      A low rumble began to shake the earth. Eckhart rested his arms on the edge of the low trench and shouldered his battle rifle. He then began to hear the unmistakable barking and growling of Grunts. The noises grew louder, and everyone kept their weapons aimed at the tree line one hundred meters in front of them. Eckhart activated the integrated zoom on his rifle. The view on his visor shot towards the trees. He scanned the thick foliage, but couldn't see any contacts.
      A loud crack broke the silence. Apparently Adrian had seen something. Eckhart then heard more than just the rumbling. The hollow scream of Ghosts and the loud hum of Wraith tanks accompanied the sound of thousands of Covenant feet trampling the forest.
      More sniper rifle reports filled the air. The bunkers also opened fire; the chatter of the mounted guns inside and small arms fire echoed across Alpha HQ. They were getting close now. Eckhart zoomed again, this time he spotted Grunts. "Enemy contact," he yelled into his COM. He squeezed the trigger. The three round burst entered a Grunt's skull and it fell to the forest floor. Soon the air filled with the staccato of automatic weapons fire. Snipers picked off whatever targets they could, while the M41s mounted on the Warthogs unleashed their deadly hail of lead death. The Scorpions fired their 90mm high-velocity cannons. Trees exploded and splintered. Grunts flew in every direction, but more just took their place. The stocky aliens trampled the corpses of their fallen allies and filled the air with green plasma and pink crystalline needles.
      Suddenly, three flashes lit the forest from within. Three bright orbs of boiling energy flew through the trees. Two of them impacted on the trunks of trees, incinerating them. The remaining blob of plasma impacted on the small guard house that sat on the perimeter of the base. It exploded, turning the ground around it to glass. The Wraiths fired again. This time, all three shots reached the perimeter, obliterating the bunkers.
      Rockets tore over the entrenched Marines. Some hit groups of Grunts, but most were aimed at the beetle-like tanks. Two of them connected on one Wraith, damaging it. Three others struck another tank. One hit the antigrav pod on the right, causing the tank to tilt and drag its right canard in the dirt… just before the other two rockets impacted on the cockpit. The Wraith burst into blue flames. The dead remains of the Wraith plowed into the ground and skidded into a tree.
      Eckhart grinned at the sight of a defeated tank. But he couldn't celebrate yet. He shot Grunts left and right, stopping only to reload. They were charging too fast.
      Static crackled on his COM, and the voice of his squad leader came through. "Fall back to the Warthogs! Now!"
      Eckhart and the rest of the men fired their last shots and climbed up out of the trench. They sprinted to the Warthogs and made another fire line. The thousands of men opened fire simultaneously. Eckhart sighted another Grunt and put it down. Behind the Grunts, he now saw blue and yellow circles popping into view. Jackal shields. The vulture-like aliens locked their shields in a phalanx and kept a steady advance. The remaining Grunts were still in the hundreds. The Warthog chain-guns tore into them, whittling their numbers down rapidly. Tank shells made craters where Grunts once stood.
      Suddenly, a Warthog only three meters from Eckhart exploded and flipped, throwing him and others to the ground. He stood and looked around for what caused it. Then he heard it. The eerie howl of Banshees filled the air as twelve of the aircraft appeared over the tree line and opened fire on the Marines. The alien fliers picked their targets and let loose a barrage of green fire. Seven more Warthogs detonated. The rest of the shots flew into the Marine formations, blowing men apart and melting their remains.
      The remaining soldiers wielding the rocket launchers angled upward and fired. The salvo traced exhaust into the sky. Four Banshees burst into a blue-white flash and plummeted to the ground. The remaining craft did evasive loops and rolls to avoid the rockets, and quickly came into a strafing run. They opened fire with the plasma cannons on their underside and rained blue hell on the line of Marines.
      Everyone scattered, making them harder to hit. Nonetheless, men were cut down. The Warthogs began to drive in every direction, hoping to lure the Covenant aircraft towards them. Five Banshees veered away to follow some of them, firing their plasma cannons. The gunners in the Hogs aimed upward at their pursuers, peppering the fliers with a hail of 12.7mm. A pair of the Banshees exploded and fell from the sky. A third flier flew in low to the ground and hot on the tail of another Warthog. It opened fire, but just as it did, the craft detonated, sending flaming debris in all directions.
      The barrel of the M808B Scorpion Main Battle Tank's main cannon smoked from its discharge. The turret swiveled to track another unaware Banshee. The cannon boomed again, sending the high-velocity shell pounding into the next Covenant flier and blowing it to bits. The driver of the tank, Sergeant Cory Edwards, shouted encouragement to his crewmate. "Excellent shot, Private! Find another poor Covie bastard to take down."
      "Sir, yes sir," the gunner, Private Scott Banks, responded, happy with the result of his efforts. "Tracking enemy aircraft at ten o'clock. Locked in, sir!"
"Send him to hell!"
      The shot flew true and hit the Banshee dead on the nose. Private Banks reported, "Direct hit, sir!"
Before Edwards could give another order, he was interrupted by static on the radio. A voice cut through. "Watch your ass, Cobra One! Banshee at your six on a strafing run!"
      "Shit," Edwards whispered. "Bring it around, Banks!"
The turret turned at its top speed towards the incoming threat. The Banshee fired its plasma cannons, melting away spots of the Scorpion's armor. The turret barrel finished its rotation and stared down the Banshee.
      "We're taking a lot of damage, sir," Banks said, slightly panicked. "Enemy targeted and preparing to…"
      Banks was cut off by a loud explosion. The Scorpion shook violently and sparks shot from controls. "What the hell happened," Banks coughed.
      Sergeant Edwards risked opening the hatch. He stared in horror at what he saw. The main cannon had taken a direct hit from the Banshee's fuel rod gun. There was a noticeable curve in it, and it was slightly melted over the tip of the muzzle. He quickly closed the hatch. "Main cannon is out of commission, Banks. Use the coaxial.
      Banks swore and fired the 7.62mm machine gun. The rounds impacted on the front of the Banshee, but it wasn't enough. Plasma splashed over the tank. The Scorpion couldn't outrun or out-maneuver the attacking aircraft. The Banshee's fuel rod cannons glowed an angry green, charging. Small smoking holes began to appear on the alien craft, but it didn't slow.
      "Come on you bastard," Banks said through gritted teeth. Plasma battered the engine cover on the back of their tank. Molten metal covered the engine, causing parts to meld together. The Scorpion slowed to a stop. They had just become a 66 ton fish in a barrel.
      The coaxial gun hit home on one of the Banshee's stubby "wings" and it blew off, sending the flier into a deadly corkscrew… but the pilot had already fired the fuel rod.
      The ball of energy slammed into the cockpit of the Scorpion. The melted hatch encased Sergeant Cory Edwards inside. A split second later, the damaged Banshee collided with the tank's engine, erupting in a fireball. It caused the tank's gas supply to ignite as well. The rear of the Scorpion exploded violently, lifting it a full meter off the ground. One of the track pods flew through the air and landed seven meters away. The wrecked tank burned for a moment, when the remaining 90mm shells inside detonated. The turret blew ten meters straight up and crashed back down on top of the smoldering wreckage.
      Lance Corporal Eckhart had narrowly avoided the strafing attacks. The lines had been broken, and Marines were scattered all over the battlefield. Every man fended for himself as best as they could. Eckhart fired on any target he could, but he knew the battle would be lost in a matter of minutes if it continued this way. He keyed his COM and attempted to locate his CO. "Lieutenant Carver, come in!"
      A reply came after a few long seconds of static. "I read. Who the hell is this?"
      "This is Lance Corporal Eckhart, sir. We have to rally our men. This fight is going nowhere fast, sir."
      Seconds passed. Then a platoon-wide order was given. "Helljumpers! Rendezvous at this position immediately." A blue arrow appeared on Eckhart's HUD, indicating the rally point. "We're going to push these alien bastards back! I want my snipers to stay where they are unless compromised."
      Eckhart tossed a grenade into a group of Jackals. It bounced through a space in their phalanx and detonated, sending shrapnel and chunks of flesh everywhere. Eckhart turned and broke into a run towards the rendezvous point. He ran past burning wreckage of Warthogs and Banshees and leapt over fallen bodies of human and alien alike. Ahead he saw a group of roughly thirty ODSTs. They all knelt in a semi-circle, firing their battle rifles at anything not human.
      One of them gestured for him to hurry. "Welcome to the party, Sid," he greeted, and then continued firing.
Eckhart fell into position next to the Marine and began picking off targets. "What's the plan, sir?"
      Lieutenant Carver explained the plan quickly. "We need a defensible position, and the few buildings left are not the best choices. I need four of you to double-time it to supplies, get what you need to get a bunker up fast." Four men voiced volunteers over the radio.
      "I want nine of you in Warthogs, defending them while they work. I want Deitrich, Reed, and Taylor in one 'Hog. Ramirez, Blake, and Mason in another. Cooper, Willits, and Gordon, take a third." Acknowledgments sounded from each of them. "Now provided those Wraiths haven't blown them to hell, we got two Hornets on the airfield. I want my pilots, Yurik and Harris, to get there fast. I need volunteers to go with them."
      Sid was the first to speak up. "Sir, I'll go sir!" Three others quickly spoke up as well.
      "Very good," said Carver. "Good luck men! Move out!"