Reach and Roxie both looked up, seeing the fire in the sky stop traveling over their heads, and start to travel towards them, as the fires began to dissipate from the objects, the organic nature of the incoming objects made its intentions clear to everyone in the vicinity.
“Holy shit… THE HIVE”
Reach and Roxie both turned to the gun shop owner, with the look on their faces similar to we already told you they were coming sort of deal. They then looked back to the 3 chevrons astronaut, seeing the look of despair on their face. They thought it was the beginning of the end.
“We can help”
“Think of it as a favour for an old friend”
Everyone present turned towards the wind-like voices, and saw a surprisingly odd couple. The one of the left, the more feminine, and shorter than average, was composed of what appeared to be living water, as she got to work putting out the spot fires around the crashed escape pod. The other, taller and more masculine, was wreathed in smoke and fire, looking up towards the incoming pods. The Sergeant spoke up, her fear turning to curiosity, at least for the moment.
“Why are you here?”
The female turned to her, and approached… standing right in front of her. Despite the water based changeling being shorter, she was still stronger and faster than most humans.
“I don’t know about my fiery friend over there, but I am here to find a friend. Goes by Orion, or Echo”
Reach stepped forwards, and spoke to the polar opposites.
“Before I can tell you about my brother, why do you want to find him?”
They looked to each other, and back to her. And just like that, their voices changed no longer the wispy voices of spirits, but the voices of two human beings. The voice from the water spirit, the second one who spoke, she recognised.
“We are looking for our friend, who freed us”
“He could not prevent… this, but he has coped with it. Certainly better than we have”
Jane lifter her hand in front of her face as she said that, peering through her own hand, and dropped it when she realised what Reach had said earlier, and glanced at Roxie, before replying.
“You know where he is”
“He is our brother”
“We should know where he is?”
“So? Tell us”
“He’s… not here”
The smoke coalescing around the male began heating up, morphing from smoke to flame.
“Where, is, Orion?”
“We don’t know. After the carrier was destroyed, we have no idea where he went… for all we know, he could be in space right now”
Jane and Mathew looked to each other, then back to Reach… as the flames went back to smoke.
“Sorry about that. I should introduce myself. The name was Matt… not sure what I am now”
“Jane, but you should already know me”
“You could say that”
Before they could speak further, a shockwave sent them reeling, as dirt and scorched grass was flung in every direction from the impact of one of the Hive’s drop pods. It was massive, carrying over 200 troops per pod, along with any essential equipment. As the smoke cleared, the tendrils buried themselves into the earth, and a hatch opened in the pod, releasing a number of more heavily armoured grunts onto the soccer field. Reach grabbed her borrowed rifle, which had ended up next to her, and pushed the bolt forwards and down, aiming at the oncoming horde. She looked to the gun shop owner, who had also ended up amongst the tree line, and he shrugged his shoulders. Neither of them could see Roxie, Jane, or Matt. But they could see the still groggy members of the APS, as the grunts, now coloured to better match the greenery around them, went to begin dragging them back to their mobile command base. Which is when the smoke cloud near their base dissipated, revealing Matt, now a blazing inferno, and Jane, something akin to a sea serpent made of water, and appeared out of the smoke, directly in the Hive’s path. Roxie kept herself hidden within the APS escape pod, but made her position known to her sister via a quick text.
The grunts were conflicted for a second, before opening fire on their uncontrolled experiments. Jane’s body parted, allowing the magnetically accelerated rounds to go right through her. As for Matt, you can’t shoot something that is made of fire. His flames distorted for a moment, then reignited, hotter than before, some of it catching the ground around him. The two of them charged, which is when Reach and the gun shop owner made themselves known, picking off those carrying the groggy astronauts as a priority. Roxie ran out, shield in hand, and began helping them up, and away from the immediate conflict area. The shield, surprisingly, protected against the Hive’s weapons, the inherent magnetic field within the metal frame slowing the rounds, to the point where they just bounced off. Between shots, when they were both reloading, Reach called out to the gun shop owner.
“What is your name?”
“What is your name?”
“Oh, right. Name’s Henry”
There were too many, however. As Matt and Jane were gradually being pushed back to the tree line in which Reach and Henry were still firing. Seeing this, they began falling back, towards the main road. By now, most of the cars in the area had fled, the fire fight on the soccer field scaring away most civilians. The Australian astronauts, were now recovered enough to walk on their own, to which they somewhat did, towards Henry’s gun store. Henry and Reach were the second line from the fight, firing and trying to keep pace with the astronauts when they could. The front line consisted of Roxie, Matt, and Jane, all of which were slowly falling back. Despite Matt’s incendiary abilities, their armour was capable of resisting it, along with Jane’s high pressure water blasts.
From above, the Spirit of Fire took a look at the bigger picture, seeing the Hive’s assault all across the area covered by the Asia pacific station. The captain stroked his grey beard, waiting for the confirmation he needed to launch the marines, and more importantly, the ODSTs, planet side. They finished mopping up the remainder of the Vanguard, while they got into contact with the alien fleet, using the same frequency as before.
“Hailing the alien coalition ship, the Harmony: earth’s orbit is secure, for now… any information on the position of the Hive’s main fleet, over?”
He was met with only silence. He tried again, broadcasting on all frequencies, directing the broadcast away from Earth.
“Any ships of the Alien Coalition Fleet, please advise status. Earth space is secure, over”
Again, nothing but silence… he ordered that transmission to loop, and sent a third transmission, both to the other defence stations, and to all radio signals planet side… on all used radio frequencies.
“Attention. This is the UNSC Spirit of Fire, hailing any and all military units in combat with the Hive. Hold out, we have support inbound. I repeat. Help is on the way”
A nod from the logistics officer was all he needed, as he confirmed launch of as many temporary bases, and ODST’s as possible.
Reach’s handheld radio, a part of her SES equipment she had thankfully forgotten to take off, sprung to life.
“…UNSC Spirit of Fire… combat with the Hive… support is inbound, I repeat… on the way”
The message was clear enough for her to understand. They had continued falling back, with a quick stop over in Henry’s store for extra ammunition and guns, and they were currently holding just outside a Woolworths on the other side of the road from the major shopping centre, taking cover behind structural pillars and damaged cars, with Matt and Jane holding the flanks. The transmission came in during a lull in the combat, when the Hive was preparing another wave of units, and everyone was taking a breather.
“YOU ALL HEARD THAT. FRIENDLY FORCES INBOUND”
Roxie yelled back, too far away from Reach to hear the broadcast.
“UNSC SPIRIT OF FIRE, OR SOMETHING”
Roxie’s jaw dropped.
“YOU SURE ABOUT THAT”
“THAT PART OF THE MESSAGE WAS CLEAR”
Roxie jogged towards Reach, her captured Hive rail gun in hand, and whispered into Reach’s ear.
“The Spirit of Fire… Hell, the UNSC, doesn’t exist. This means one of two things”
“One… the Hive is fooling us. Or two…
Reach seemed uncertain, less so for Roxie, after a momentary thought. Reach spoke first, mulling over what little information they had on the Spirit of Fire
“That captain, or whoever it was, didn’t sound like him”
“Perhaps not, but the UINSC… it’s from Halo. The Spirit of Fire, from an RTS game, within the halo universe”
Reach’s face went from a hard, blank stare, to sudden realisation.
“He owned that game, didn’t he?”
“Played it a lot, before… all of this”
“ANOTHER WAVE IN SIGHT”
Henry, crouched on the roof behind the Woolworths sign, saw the next wave of Hive spilling out of the pod, and they immediately began running towards their holdout position. He steadied his rifle using a bipod, and zoomed in… whatever had just come out of the pod, was a far cry from the organic soldiers it had been pumping out just one minute earlier. These creatures were more like oversized spiders, or ants… having massive pincers and a tough armoured carapace. Reach had switched to the emergency frequency, and received yet another garbled transmission. Instead of remaining silent, she tried to reply.
“All units… inbound…”
“Unknown sender, say again?”
A short silence, maybe thirty seconds, while the unknown sender got a little closer, as did the horde of killer ants charged towards them.
“Civilian unit, this is the 10th armoured. We are inbound to support. ETA 2 minutes”
“All changelings loaded, along with the Tsar Bombs. ETA to launch: 10 minutes.
Hudd and Rebecca were in the flight deck of the Valkyrie, along with an old friend of Orion’s: Daniel. He was the assigned pilot of the X-01, and was finalising his pre-launch checks. Riley and Rebecca looked back, into the cargo bay, seeing the 50 odd people who had volunteered to come. More were on the ground, waiting for transport to the Asian coastline, and eastern Russia, in light of the incoming hive troops. And right in the middle of the enlarged shuttle, were the three Tsar bombs, secured with various tie ropes and chains… just visible under the three solid tarps that covered most of the bombs. Riley was checking again and again over his light machine gun, while Rebecca inspected her pistol and blade. She looked to him, as she began cleaning the visor of her helmet.
“You really think those will make a dent in the Hive fleet?”
“We have to hope so, at this point”
“And hey, even if we don’t make a dent in the Hive, we will at least have tried”
Daniel got back to his checklist, when he received no response. Both Rebecca and Riley donned their helmets, and spoke only over the integrated radios in their power armour space suits.
“I don’t know about you, but I don’t trust that guy”
“The way he acts? His willingness to die in combat… if Orion was here”
“I know, he could read his mind”
“No, I was saying he would know him better, and would be able to tell us if something external was affecting Daniel”
“But you have to admit, being able to read minds would be useful right now”
Rebecca sighed, and turned to Riley, seeing only the golden visor and white armoured plating on his suit.
“I know it has been a while since you last saw him, but he changed”
“No, it was his mind, not his body. It may be partly due to what we were doing to him, but he is more… violent. More prone to attack without mercy”
“That’s not a bad thing, at least to engage the hive and to show them no mercy”
“Yes… that’s what we thought too. But when he turned on some of his handlers, without warning?”
Riley, underneath his helmet, had his mouth agape for a moment.
“So… his cousin let out a potential psychopath?”
“No. He let out his cousin. But when they engage the Hive, we need to be careful. And for both our sakes, we need to keep this to ourselves”
“Shouldn’t we warn the Changelings?”
“And tell Daniel in the process? No”
Riley mused for a moment, looking over to Daniel’s progress with his pre-launch checklist. 3 minutes left, before launch. Rebecca spoke again, hearing his silence.
“We don’t know for certain where anyone’s allegiance lies. Especially him”
“Launch in T-minus 5”
The loading arms moved out of the way, the fuel lines disconnected, and millions watched on, both from nearby, and from across the globe, as the spacecraft they had designed in secret were finally going to be used.
With a throaty roar, the engines burst to life, sending superheated gasses down and through the concrete launch pad, and metal grates. And across the globe, 500 aircraft, designed in secret, launched from 250 military airfields. These fighter craft, the X-75L, were designed to fly to orbit, only ejecting auxiliary tanks, have enough fuel to dog fight for 3 hours, and return to Earth. Granted, they would have to refuel at the defence stations, one of which was no longer operational.
On board the X-01, the Valkyrie, 50 of those changed by the Hive’s first strike checked their weapons, and seals on their suits. Their job was simple. Escort the bombs to each of the carriers, and detonate them. Some were more willing to die than others, and had volunteered to activate the bombs, should the remote detonators fail. But little did they know, that a fight was currently raging between the Hive, and the coalition fleet… just outside of Jupiter’s orbit, and with the Harmony barrelling towards the fight, and the two transports, and Mark, waiting for the blue light to go.
Orion checked, doubled checked, and tripled checked both his, and James’s weapons and environment suits. Although, for him, it was just oxygen he needed, he still checked over each of his weapons, summoning, checking and then dissipating each one he had. James had his now signature Spartan armour on and sealed, along with a shotgun and rocket launcher. Mark too, was performing diagnostics on his armour’s systems, confirming everything was in working order. When they were sure they were ready, they looked over to the ragtag group of alien troopers, all still checking over their firearms, still dressed in basic, terrestrial combat armour. In the case of the Boron however, they didn’t feel the need to wear combat armour, their tough rocky hide surely more than enough to deflect the Hive’s weapons. What they didn’t expect was that Vail would come over to their group, equipped in a loose fitting robe… with small trolley behind him. One look at the trio, and he dropped the handle, and disrobing, and pulled on a tight fitting suit.
“Need any help with that?”
“No, I am fine”
Vail continued, hooking up the environmental support systems, and then fitting surprisingly heavy, hydraulic assisted armour… with some rather unnecessary ornamental ribbons of cloth. He then pulled from the trolley the sort of weapon that would usually be mounted onto a light tank, and checked its weight… it felt more like an assault rifle with the hydraulic assistance provided to him.
“You are more important than just an engineer, aren’t you?”
Vail was not willing to go into any further detail, as he fitted the helmet over his head, and the under suit expanded slightly, as water began flowing through it. If Orion was to compare it to anything, the space marine armour from War hammer 40k didn’t look that far off. Heavy, bulky armour… and yet, the ornamentation of the armour was unusual. Mark took a look at the curved armour, and then went back to his own work, before saying.
“You may have designed the ships first, but that armour makes you look like a commander… someone with rank”
Vail ignored his comment, and climbed into the Butane, and gestured for Orion and James to follow him in, which they did. They were followed by Luc, also wearing a powered armour suit, with more organic plating, and angled armour, when compared to Vail’s armour, featuring organic looking curves, but metal plating. Orion spoke up, looking to Luc as he held his helmet underneath his left arm, carrying some sort of heavy machine gun in his right, from a carry handle above and behind the barrel of the weapon.
“You two are kitted for war… but why come with us?”
Vail looked over to Orion, his eyes blank behind the metal cowl. When he spoke, his voice was dead-pan serious, not anywhere near the same, slightly musical voice as the Vail they had spoken to earlier.
“I am on board this ship to guide you to your objective… and help clear out hostiles on the way”
Luc fitted his helmet, the 6 blue lights on either side coming to life, illuminating the hold of the Butane.
“Vail, you don’t need to come on this shuttle if you don’t want to”
“No. But the Nimbus is the largest of the carriers. It was the final stronghold of the Varians. I need to do this”
James looked outside, at the motley crew of soldiers, boarding the other transport. Like Luc and Vail, they were slowly fitting each other with each race’s version of the powered exoskeleton, save for the Boron, and also equipping similar heavy weapons to what Vail and Luc were holding. Ranging from machine guns to grenade launchers, battle axes and barbed spears to anti-tank guns, they were prepped for war. He turned back to Luc, who was also looking out the window at the assault force.
“These are our finest troops”
“Why station them all on the Harmony? Putting everything important in the one place”
“It doesn’t usually end well, no. But the Harmony is not a normal vessel”
“The Harmony features some upgrades that were planned for the Nimbus, including stealth capabilities. It is how we were able to end up behind the Hive fleet”
“The Hive fleet, it’s now engaging the rest of the coalition fleet. It’s why we are engaging now, in part”
“If you hadn’t said that we needed to go, we would have asked you to”
Orion had a look of confusion on his face for a moment… and spoke out what he realised.
“The rest of the fleet, or as much of it as possible, hid within Jupiter”
James spoke up, his voice sounding slightly different through the armour… much deeper in pitch, and somewhat synthesized, as if a computer was speaking.
“So what the ships we saw coming towards earth on our observatories?”
“They were the main bulk of the Coalition fleet. Nothing more than a distraction, at this point”
“We can’t hold this place forever… where the hell is the tenth armoured?”
Most of the astronauts had fallen back inside, with Roxie, Reach, Matt, Henry, and Jane holding the pillars, now speckled with bullet holes, and crumbling in places. The corpses of the chargers, the 6 legged ant-like creatures, littered the car park, their purple blood splattering on cars, and dissolving the plastic somewhat, along with the corpses of the grunts, their weapons strewn amongst the wreckage. Roxie ran out to collect a second rifle for Reach, along with as much ammunition as she could, before the next wave came, pinning her down inside of a sushi shop, in the kitchen. She had her phone on speaker, and a call went out to Reach.
“What the hell are you doing? Shoot them?”
“I don’t have a good angle, for a start… and I have no rounds. Or did you forget why you decided to expose yourself?”
Henry joined in on the call, his own phone resting next to a bottle, pilfered from a shop across the car park…
“If you two stopped bickering… Reach, get your own gun. I will try to cover Roxie”
A shot rang out, as he killed one of the chargers trying to enter the shop… and again, as an elite, pinning her down with suppressive fire, received a .45 calibre round straight through their head. They toppled forwards, their weapon resting on the car they had used for cover. Reach moved, as some of the grunts changed where they were firing, and aimed at the sniper… a stray round hit the bottle, and sent the alcohol within spraying everywhere.
“Focus, Henry. You’re probably the best shot here”
Reach darted forwards, and dived into cover behind a van, and reached around to where she thought a gun was… her hands found a corpse in its stead. She pulled back, and looked to the road, and saw a rather odd convoy of vehicles, driving along the main road. She was surprised when they stopped, seeing the gunfire to their left, and two of the smaller, 4 wheeled transports, drove towards her, human soldiers clearly visible and exposed, sitting within the confines of the roll cage mounted on the back of the vehicle. Reach’s radio then received a transmission from the convoy.
“Civilian unit, this is the tenth armoured. Here to support”
One of the larger vehicles, about the same size as two rigid trucks, side by side, had a second, moveable part on top, with two long metal cylinders attached to it, which could move up and down independent of the rotating turret. As for the main chassis itself, it seemed to have 4 sets of caterpillar treads, two on each side, and the entire thing was painted a dull green, olive drab sort of colour. Reach spoke softly, but enough that Roxie could hear her over the gunfire.
“Roxie… use the back exit”
Reach darted back towards the Woolworths, a rifle in hand, as the unknown tank fired both barrels towards the clustered Hive soldiers, now charging into the sushi shop. The rounds flew closely overhead of Reach, and the damaged cars, hitting the shop as Roxie exited by the back, and the Hive grunts were well and truly inside the shop… the rounds detonated, sending bits of blood red chunks of flesh careening in all directions, and twisted hunks of metal that might have once been firearms. Reach’s radio spurted to life again, the now familiar voice of the tenth armoured commander coming in loud and clear.
“Hold position here, we will take care of the Hive unit down the road”
The convoy began moving again, reorganising until the 4 tanks within the convoy were in the lead, the transport jeeps not too far behind. On the rear jeep, the soldiers waved to Henry on the rooftop… he returned it, turned, and fired at one of the chargers that had climbed up the side of the Woolworths building… it’s corpse landed in front of Reach, as Roxie, covered in dust from the exploding concrete but otherwise unharmed, sauntered towards her, ending the call as she did so.
“That… was close”
She handed Reach half of the ammunition she recovered, 10 magazines in total for each of them. Reach pocketed the mags, removing the empty ones for the borrowed bolt action rifle. Roxie moved towards the road, looking at the convoy as they rolled down the largely empty street, running over a few of the corpses, courtesy of Henry’s practiced marksmanship.
To the north, on the other side of the Brisbane River, some people were going about their business. In particular, 5 apprentice engineers at Qantas, working on one of their smaller Dash eights, a twin engine, high wing commercial aircraft for short flights across Queensland and beyond… were on break, after a late night shift… they were planning on going out to a local bar.
“Still can’t believe we all got apprenticeships, especially so in the same place”
“Well, everyone but Corey, at least”
Cam, the largest of the group, was off by himself, looking to the sky. He still remembered that conversation he had with Orion… it was the last time they had spoken. As he watched, he saw fire erupt in the sky, and at the same time, 6 F/A-18s, screamed overhead, at low altitude. The other apprentices turned, and jogged to the entrance of the hangar to watch their flight. They suddenly pitched up, and began flying vertically up, towards the fire.
“What the hell is going on?”
While the rest were trying to figure out what was going on outside their hangar, Ses stepped outside, and raised his hand to block the early morning light, spotted something extending from the fire… as it spread out into multiple, separate incoming objects… all aiming for the airport.
“Cam… don’t you recognise the material? It’s not human made”
The silence was deafening, until more of the apprentice engineers came out, looking to the sky, as the fires became recognisable… whatever they were, they were not human made, let alone made of rock, like a meteor usually was. A few seconds passed before it registered. Mike spoke, his voice betraying his fear.
“The Hive… they’re back”
As they watched, however, the F/A-18s began firing at the incoming Hive Pods… and unleashed their full load of missiles, to limit the damage the Hive could do. Multiple Hive pods fractured, and the vague remains of corpses, machinery, and flesh, were now simply falling debris. The group retreated inside as the parts started to rain down upon the apron in front of them, blood and oil splattering the pavement, and heavier, more durable chunks of metal embedding into the concrete.
Some of the apprentice avionics technicians came out, after removing themselves from their hammocks, including the only person there who was a qualified pilot there at the time. Ritchie looked out onto the apron; saw the raining debris from above, and hearing the whine of the F/A-18s, and their gunfire, now out of missiles. He looked back to the Dash eight, and saw it looked mostly intact, and did a quick run around. Cam noticed, and called out to Ritchie.
“Umm, Ritchie… what the crap are you doing?”
“Preserving company property… Now all of you get on board. We got fuel, we got engines, and we got hydraulic pressure… we are good to fly”
“You sure you can fly that thing?”
“It’s close enough to the bug smasher’s I fly. And unless you want to be crushed by falling debris”
To further hammer home his point, one of the heavier sections of a pod hit the hangar ceiling, shearing through the steel roof, and crashed into one of the tool racks near the side of the hangar, sending tools flying everywhere.
“… I suggest you sit near the wings, Cam”
The boarding door opened, and all personnel there, including the supervising staff, climbed on board… it was a full house in the back, without cargo. Jake climbed into the front of the aircraft, along with Ritchie, once he had found the aircraft’s flight manual.
“You need this?”
“It would help, but we don’t have time”
After engine start, Ritchie applied half power, sending the aircraft out onto the apron, narrowly avoiding another pod that slammed through the hangar, and ended up hitting where the Dash eight had been 10 seconds earlier. Applying the brakes, on one wheel selectively, he turned rapidly, squishing Cam against the side of the aircraft, along with Payam, and other apprentices from ATAE originally. Seeing the empty taxiway, that ran parallel with one of the runways, and that it was currently unobstructed, Ritchie activated the park brake, and went to full throttle. The shaking caused by high engine RPM was throwing apprentices all over the place, until Ritchie released the brakes, and the Dash 8 leapt forwards. He did one final check of engine RPMs, and airspeed indicator, before pulling back on the controls, and the plane lifted off the ground.
But despite Ritchie’s experience, the Dash eight is not a manoeuvrable aeroplane. And given it was taking off, likely above its maximum take-off weight, it still barely off of the ground. It was far enough that he was able to avoid smacking a new bit of debris that cracked the taxiway in front of him, but he did not see something coming from above. Jake looked up, seeing the shadow, as one of the few intact pods, much larger than the aircraft, was coming down right on top of them.
He was unable to finish his sentence, as the pod slammed into the aircraft, forcing it back down. However, that was not the main problem. The pod was still hot, easily over 800 degrees Celsius… aviation fuels instantaneously combust at 250 degrees Celsius… and it would be less for a piston engine aircraft. The heat transfer took a few seconds, but once the fuel inside the wing tanks reached 250, they were just above the ground, the weight of the pod, which was now stuck to their aircraft forcing the nose down. Within 5 seconds after impact, the fuel in the wings ignited, and exploded.
“Lightning 3, say again?”
“Brisbane Tower, a Qantas Turbo-prop took off from the maintenance hangar, confirmed collision with pod”
“Roger. Do you see any survivors?”
“Negative. The fire is intense enough to destroy the pod that collided with it… which then separated. What’s left of the plane looks like it has been squashed underneath the pod, I think”
The F/A-18 that was transmitting to tower turned back to its duties, and did a quick ground run on the pods that landed, before it was out of ammunition for its Gau-8. It began heading back towards Amberley, to re-arm its missiles… it passed another flight of F/A-18s, on the way out to cover the airfield, with a C-17 not far behind, loaded with ADGs to secure the airfield.
Meanwhile, near Jupiter, the ambush fleet was surfacing through the thick gas storm that is Jupiter’s observable surface, to help support the heavier ships, currently engaged with the Hive fleet. It was with some surprise, when a vortex, courtesy of the Harmony, appeared in front of them, and they passed through into the fight. Their immediate goal was to avoid being hit by bits of debris from the Hive’s ships… but to their dismay, there was additional wreckage within the combat zone… the rocky surface of a Near, one of the Boron heavy cruiser’s hull passing by the windows of the Butane, the still molten magma and cracked armour providing a temporary refuge, and means of hiding the two transports from the Harmony.
“Butane, this is Vapour… any survivors from the Boron Near cruiser?”
“Negative… they are all but dust now”
“Then we better make their sacrifice count”
Mark whisked past the windows of both transports, already locked onto his target. He burst through a section of the thick stone-like armour, directly in the Cirrus’s path. By the time their close defence weapons could fire, he had made an entrance, and vented part of the ship, and its crew, into space. He sent one final transmission, before the interference of the Cirrus stopped his transmissions.
“Boarding successful… time to have some fun”
It was at this point the much larger ship… the Harmony, warped into the battle, firing off all weapons. For their convenience, James and Orion were privy to the radio conversations between the larger capital ships, while the pilots of the transports had to deal with the sudden influx of friendly strike craft.
“Coalition, this is Harmony… We’re here to help finish this fight”
“Thank the makers… we might win this yet”
Orion smiled at that underneath his re-breather, and looked over to Vail, who remained silent and unmoving since taking a seat on the transport. Luc wasn’t much better, constantly checking and rechecking his weapon. Luc, seeing his interest, stopped cleaning his gun, and asked a question to no-one in particular, as he reassembled his dual belt fed machine gun.
“Are you ready to die?”
Orion looked to him, then to his hands, then to James, before replying.
“I am not ready to die… not until the Hive is gone. But that doesn’t mean I am unwilling to die, if it means that I ensure their destruction”
Vail smiled, and lifted his head towards Orion.
“Perhaps there is hope for us yet”
“Your friends, from Earth…”
“What, the Spirit of Fire?”
As he said that, a pair of the X-75L Strike fighters, based heavily off of captured tech from the Hive, and from secret deals with the Coalition, took position around the Butane. Another pair took up flanking positions around the Vapour, the second transport from the Harmony.
“Butane, this is Ghost 1. Need an assist?”
“We could use the escort”
As they said that, they flew out of the wreckage of the Near, the segments of the destroyed cruiser no longer hot enough to hide them, and James and Orion could see for their own eyes what they were up against… there was enough ships to dim the light coming from the sun, blocking it’s light. Luc moved up to the window, and pointed an armoured fist towards the largest ships within the millions of the fleet.
“There… there are our targets”
“Then where is…”
A sudden burst of light came from the other side of the Butane, and the 4 man squad within the transport cabin looked towards it… a massive fireball, roughly spherical when it spread, was coming from a large ship… one that Mark had gone inside. As they watched, a swarm of over 100 fighters, just like the ones escorting them, flew past in formation, directly towards the waiting fleet. But Orion and James were more interested in the wreckage of the Cirrus… watching, waiting for any sign of Mark getting out of there. The cabin shook, as something from the exploding carrier hit them. The pilots, knowing what it was, opened up the rear cargo door, and Mark floated inside… they pressurized the hold shortly after, once the door was sealed again.
Orion rushed up to him, and twisted Mark’s helmet to the side, depressurizing the suit’s internal supplies of air. Mark’s face was pale, more so that it had been before… and James saw why not long after. His armour had been punctured at some point by gunfire on board the Cirrus. The leak was relatively small, but it would have been more than enough to drain his supplies.
He coughed, and gasped, as his lungs received much needed oxygen, which then transferred to his brain. His breathing stabilised, but he remained unconscious. Orion looked to James, concern and worry mixed with anger… probably more at himself for letting Mark go by himself, visible as the corners of his snout turned down, and some of his teeth showed themselves underneath his lips.
“Orion, he is alive… his breathing is normal. He may have only just went unconscious, maybe for a second or more”
Orion’s expression softened, and his lips sealed once more, as he saw some colour return to Mark’s face.
“I don’t know if you can hear me or not… but how stupid are you, for going in by yourself?”
A transmission kicked to life, the Butane’s radio finally receiving a signal… from a rather out-dated radio transceiver. It came with an encoded name… the X-01 Valkyrie.
“Butane, this is the Valkyrie. The package is delivered to the Cumulus, and now in the safe hands our combined assault forces. We are heading to the Nimbus now. We need you”
One of the pilots looked down into the cargo bay, towards Luc, then Vail.
“Sir, how do I respond?”
“Tell them we will be ready to rock once we get there…”
“… Sir, it’s been an honour”
“We aint dead yet”
The pilot just sighed, and returned to the flight deck, as Orion continued kneeling near Mark, trying to get him to wake up… but not going so far as to cause physical pain. Vail just looked on for a little, and then turned back to the battle unfolding in front of them, with Luc following his gaze a little while later, as they sped towards the Nimbus, and the still strong escort fleet. But Vail had noticed that some of the ships had ceased firing all weapons.
“The plan… it’s working”
Luc saw what Vail had not long after… and saw that sections of the corruption that plagued the now disabled vessels, were simply turning white, and falling off… dead.
“We might have made a dent, but we still got more to go”
A second flash came from the Nimbus… or rather, a series of flashes, as the squadron of X-75s released their payload. Each of them was carrying a low yield tactical nuke, roughly the size of a conventional artillery shell, or man-portable missile. These detonations could be seen clearly, as they were ripping apart the hull of the Nimbus, the small projectiles going unnoticed by the CIWS guns.
“Nimbus assault team, this is Killer 1. Confirmed hits on the Nimbus… the path should be a bit safer now”
“Killer one, this is the Butane. Thanks for the assist”
“Wait… Vapour, Valkyrie, confirm any and all civilians extracted from the Hive ships”
“Ashes… we got ashes on the outside of our craft, if that counts”
Vail slumped slightly, his head tilted downwards. And Orion could make out a prayer mutter under his breath. A prayer for the thousands, if not millions, that were about to be killed. Orion lifted an arm, and placed it on his armoured shoulder. James looked as if he was about to speak out, but Orion glared at him, light beginning to cascade from his eyes. James sat back down. A minute passed in total silence, save for the thrumming noise of the Butane’s engines, and the chaos of the battle around them… it was silent. They were still unnoticed by the Hive. They had more important vessels to keep track of.
The Diversionary fleet, what was left of it at any rate, began pulling back out system, trying to accelerate past the Hive fleet… the Hive let out a sigh of satisfaction, as tendrils lashed out from its vessels as they passed too close, ensnaring the remnants of the Coalition fleet, and began corrupting them… But a new ship, one that the Hive’s vanguard had failed to destroy, finally arrived, its arrival heralded by its 5 round volley, fired at 5 separate ships, then the subsequent rounds fired from the deck guns, not to mention the launch of additional broadsword strike craft.
Orion saw a pair of them fly past, the green flying wings surprisingly difficult to spot amongst the chaos. As he was looking, he saw a heavily battered, but still function Boron cruisers, as it limped past, fire spewing from sections of the hull as it continued to receive fire from the Hive. But the Spirit of Fire was focused, as it fired another volley of MAC gun rounds, severing the connections between the Hive ships, and the fleeing Diversionary fleet. The rounds tore through the weak tendrils, and the corruption of the ships immediately reversed, unable to sustain itself without the energy of the ship’s energy cores, and the ships continued their rush through the fleet… sustaining heavy fire in the process.
“Assault crew, we are 10 minutes from the Nimbus. Do your final checks now, while you still can”
James checked his weapons yet again, while Luc and Vail inspected their combat armour… Orion gave up on waking up Mark, and readied his own weapons. His blade, pistol, and shotgun were in good order, as he looked upon the ever increasing in size Nimbus, and saw the X-01 fall into their formation through the rear viewport. It had its own pair of X-75s escorting it, which peeled off, along with the pair originally escorting the Butane, as they accelerated ahead of their escort, to draw fire from the close in weapons systems, away from the transports.
Luc headed up to the flight deck, and looked at the behemoth that was the Nimbus… and spotted a hole in what looked like a set of hangar bay doors, the ones originally mounted on this Varian Carrier craft. The two X-75s dropped their ordinance on the hangar door, busting it open enough for the transports to pass through, but were pegged by fire from the Hive’s captured CIWS weapons. He watched them explode, the light of the fire temporarily blinding the transport pilots, but they adjusted course easily enough, aiming directly for the breech into the hangar.
“ETA: 20 moments”
Orion tried one last time to wake up Mark, and although he began to stir, the Butane’s rear door opened before he could come to his senses completely. Luc rushed down from the flight deck, and charged past Orion, James, and Vail, spraying bullets from his machine gun to clear the immediate area, as the X-01 came in close behind. Orion and James jumped out of the back, feeling their reduced weight due to the depressurized hangar, and its artificial gravity being damaged or offline. Orion saw the first Hive, aimed, and fired while still falling to the ground, the recoil of his shotgun sending him backwards into James, after he had taken out another hostile with his own shotgun.
Luc followed them, along with Vail, falling out of the Butane, and landing before James and Orion did. They began clearing the floor, as the Butane landed at the far side of the hangar, with the Valkyrie close behind… and it began opening its hatch, and a small group of changeling’s leapt out of the transport. Including Hudd, Rebecca, and the mercenary squad, all fully kitted up in their hydraulically assisted armour. Orion felt the reverberations of the ships landing through his feet, dug into the metal/organic deck plating but continued firing, as James switched weapons, and fired off two rockets at a blast door, at the direction of Luc.
The door buckled under the first shot, and ripped open almost akin to a flower, further depressurising the Nimbus’s corridors. The explosion pulled out a group of Hive, without adaptations for oxygen supply a vacuum, and Orion saw them clutching their necks as the air escaped from their lungs. James too, looked up, and saw some similarities between them, and Vail. Vail, unreadable underneath his armour, charged into the breach, shortly followed by Luc. James followed behind, but waited by the door when Orion went over to the Valkyrie, and got a radio code. He shared it with James, who then set his armour’s internal communications to that frequency.
“You lot, keep the Valkyrie secure. That includes you humans as well”
Off the eastern coast of Australia, a ship had launched a small drone, at the behest of the Australian military, to scout Brisbane airport, and locate landing zones of the Hive… then destroy them by any means necessary. The drone they launched was a glider, with long, thin wings, with a smaller, quad copter slung underneath the glider. After launch, a small propeller, mounted in-between the two pylons that lead to the mirrored tail of the aircraft coughed to life, and began pushing the glider through the air, to gain height.
“Camelot, this is Lightning actual. You see anything we can shoot?”
“Negative, our drones are long haulers… not speed demons. Give us a minute to get into position”
“Roger. Just tell us what to shoot”
Meanwhile, they were sending a second glider drone, painted blue instead of white like the carrier drone, headed for a heavy combat area within the CBD, along the banks of the Brisbane River. A mobile base had been deployed from orbit, by the Spirit of Fire when it was in orbit, and it was currently using the resources they had stockpiled to produce armoured combat vehicles, much like the ones currently supporting Reach and the recovered astronauts on the south side of the river. A few civilians watched as aircraft flew overhead, huddled within the ruins of a local coffee shop. They looked up, and saw the small blue drone, flying low and circling nearby.
“Charlie actual, we found survivors on the Southside. Requesting their immediate evacuation to a safer location”
“Camelot, we read you. Sending out a pelican now, just keep tabs on their position”
The drone flew overhead of the coffee shop, dropping a small package, hidden inside the drone’s hull. One of the survivors darted out into the open, grabbed the delivery, and brought it back inside, opening the package. The message read that they were to stay put, military assistance was inbound. They looked back to the drone, as it continued circling the coffee shop. They didn’t have to wait long, as the green jet VTOL transport aircraft landed in front of them, with a pair of human marines armed, and standing at the door gesturing for the civilians inside the coffee shop to board the transport. Cautiously, they stepped out into the open, then the 8 of them dashed into the transport, and it took off, heading for Ipswich, currently the closest secure area for civilian extraction.
“Camelot, this is little bird. Civilians are en route to the safe zone. See if you can find anyone else”
“Tenth armoured to Firebase Bravo. How long until you lot are set up?”
“Give us 20 minutes, and we will be able to provide reinforcements”
“Damn. We are going to need them sooner than that”
“Then ask the civilians”
“Detachment alpha here… these guys are quite capable, actually”
“Ok then. Bravo, requisitioning ground transport to your location. Get those civilians kitted out like proper marines”
Reach watched as the two transports, now unloaded of their burden, drove right up to in front of the Woolworths, and honked their horns. Roxie poked her head out of cover, and saw the 2 drivers waving them over. She gestured similarly to the Station survivors, and walked out into the open, then towards the waiting troop trucks.
“Why the hell do you want us?”
The marines they had offloaded were taking defensive positions around this area of the shopping centre, getting some of their number inside and on top of the local buildings, for extra defence and superior firing positions on the road. The driver Roxie approached looked directly at her, after turning down the volume of the radio, blasting music from the rock radio station, 104.5.
“Mam, you and the rest of your team are probably the best soldiers this side of the river, currently not equipped for war. We have orders to get you to firebase Bravo, and kit you out properly”
Reach followed Roxie’s lead, and asked the lead driver a question of her own.
“Where the hell has the rest of the tenth armoured gone?”
“To clear out the soccer field and school down the road. They will provide suitable landing zones for reinforcements, and for additional base deployment should we need it”
“Sounds good to me”
Reach climbed up the side of the truck, and took a seat within the protection of the roll cage. She looked to Roxie, then Mathew, Henry, and Jane, and gestured for them to get in. Without a word, they did so, with the station survivors loading into the rear transport, and they took off, back down the road the tenth armoured had come from… certainly a lot faster too. They passed a few wrecked cars on the way, damaged by stray gunfire, and saw corpses of Hive units that had passed their position, headed for the firebase.
By the time they actually got to the firebase, it looked far more fortified, with sandbags, with marines standing close by, and stationary gun turrets set up around the base, with small factories, warehouses, and a control tower around the base. But the warthogs drove up the smaller, cylindrical building, lying on its side and somewhat embedded into the ground. The primary driver turned his head to the civilians in his transport, his eyes lingering on Jane and Mathew for a second longer, before stopping the vehicle, right in front of the building. The building itself had a flag flying outside, a bird with its wings spread, with the letters UNSC underneath the symbol.
“Welcome to the barracks”
The barracks itself was largely empty, but what the marines drew their attention to was an armoury, towards the rear of the building. It was wide open, with an array of fairly standard looking firearms, from rocket launchers to assault rifles, pistols to shotguns. Reach dumped her captured rifle, and picked up a 36 round burst-fire assault rifle, with its magazine’s contents displayed on an LED type display. Roxie selected a short, 60 round SMG, complete with silencer and red dot sight. Most of the astronauts, who had now suited up in the same green body armour as the marines, picked up the 32 round assault rifles, of which there was a surplus, which also had the LED display.
“You don’t want body armour?”
“Give us some privacy then, marine”
The full time marines, both male, looked to each other, then back to the females, and sighed as they left the barracks, shortly followed by the other astronauts who were already equipped. That only left the 3 chevron astronaut, Reach, Roxie, and Jane, the latter remaining and watching the door.
Orion did one final check of Mark, before checking over his weapons. Luc and Vail had both finished their checks, and had donned their helmets once more. Orion had done the same, and re-fitted Mark’s helmet, as well as checking the seals on James’s Spartan armour. Now, they were simply waiting for their signal.
“ETA: 20 seconds”
James tightened the grip on his shotgun, as Luc and Vail took positions by the rear ramp. Orion too, climbed out of his seat, and readied his own rifle. He took one last look at Mark, before a red light came on within the cargo bay, replacing the white light that had been on up until then. He looked over to James, who stood up, as they passed through the hull of the Nimbus, into one of the hangar bays of the Nimbus.
Meanwhile, outside, the Spirit of Fire was taking a beating from the Hive vessels, their corruption unable to take hold of the non-existent vessel. Meanwhile, the majority of the Coalition fleet had bugged out, their losses too great to continue the fight until they re-grouped. This included the Harmony, albeit it was one of the last ships to leave the combat zone. The Hive let them go, more preoccupied with the Spirit of Fire when it rammed into one of the larger capital ships, ripping it in half due to the mass of the Spirit, and due to the nature of its existence. It then aimed for one of the larger clumps of Hive vessels, numbering at least 100, and burned full towards them. The ship, although it didn’t look it, had taken serious internal damage in the fight, and couldn’t go on for much longer.
“Coalition, this is the Spirit of Fire… we’re going in”
They did not receive a reply, as they reached the clump… and fired their damaged FTL drive. The resulting hole in space ripped apart everything around them, as the rupture in space teleported over 1/10th of the Hive fleet into oblivion. All that was heard by the assault forces on the Nimbus and Cumulus… was silence.
Orion, however, felt a massive drain lift from him, as the fragments of the Spirit of Fire began to dissipate, leaving only a faint blue smoke, which even that only lasted for 10 seconds. He took one last glimpse at Mark, as the rear cargo door opened, and the Nimbus strike team was faced with clearing out this fighter craft hangar. Luc and Vail opened up with their heavy weapons first, mowing down the corrupted crew of the Nimbus, and clearing out an area around the Butane. James and Orion followed not long after, with James covering the rear of the heavies, while Orion began summoning cover and automated turrets to protect the Butane, no longer burdened by the sheer mass of the Spirit of Fire. But while he was focusing on doing so, one of the Hive officers, wielding a blade, had snuck around the front of the Butane, and was about to cleave Orion in two with the freshly sharpened blade, when a pulse of energy blasted him away, that originated from inside the craft.
“Orion… the Spirit of Fire”
“It’s gone, I know”
Orion finished his cover, and ducked behind it as a number of grunts entered the hangar, and began spraying rounds in his direction. Mark, meanwhile, was running towards them, while Orion continued to summon the defence turrets, shrugging off the Hive’s weaponry thanks to his natural carbon based armour. Meanwhile, Luc and Vail had pushed forwards, and had cleared most of the hangar floor, while James had jumped up to higher ground, and taken out another Hive officer on a mounted gun. He took command of the gun, and began spraying the fresh grunts, using their own weaponry against them.
With the combined firepower of Luc, Vail, Mark, and James on the mounted gun, the reinforcements were held at bay, and in fact driven back deeper into the ship, while Orion finished the defences. When a wave came from the other side of the hangar, he was ready, as were the 30 turrets around the Butane. They mowed down the Hive without mercy, their rotary 15mm guns more than capable of ripping even the officer’s armour to shreds in less than a second.
The advanced force fell back once they secured the corridor, and saw Orion surrounded by the dead bodies of Grunts, Elites, and Officers, his turrets searching for any additional movement, yet ignoring those friendly to Orion. Mark approached him, and rested his gauntleted palm on Orion’s shoulder, startling him.
“Damn it Mark, don’t sneak up on me”
“You didn’t see me coming?”
“I did, but I didn’t. What happened on the Cirrus?”
“That is a story for later. We have a job to do”
As he said that, they felt the rush of air as the hangar depressurised further, sending the Hive corpses into space, as the Valkyrie landed closer to the exit, and opened the top. Within it were James and Rebecca, both armed and equipped for space operations, lifting the Tsar bomb out of the shuttle. Mark jumped up to help them, as James went back up to the mounted gun he used earlier, and ripped it off of its mounting. Orion finished summoning the turrets, and went over to them, as a thought suddenly struck him.
“Mark… did I ever tell you how my father died?”
Mark stopped what he was doing, still holding the last Tsar bomb, and looked to Orion, tipping his head to the side quickly. James continued, but Rebecca also stopped, and she spoke up.
“No records from the facility ever contained that. And given that it an event that lead up to your change, it was disregarded”
“I think it might be important that you all know. Brain Haemorrhage”
Mark dropped his end of the Tsar bomb, and leapt up to a nearby console as the hangar doors sealed, and it re-pressurized… freshly grown tissue covering the gaping holes made by the human strike craft. James perked up, having studied this after his cousin’s father’s death.
“Haemorrhage… blood congealing?”
“In the brain, it usually takes years to kill those affected, depending on how large the clot is”
Orion looked away, towards the sealed doors, the blackened material too similar to be ignored.
“What usually might take a year or two killed my father in months. His brain slowly deteriorated, and I visited him, seeing as the man I once knew disappeared more and more”
Rebecca looked down to her weapon, then back up to the task at hand.
“What does this have to do with the current mission?”
“Nothing, it has to do with the pain and suffering inflicted upon me”
Orion held up his hand, first looking at his leather covered palm, then the hard black plating that protected the other side, and most of his body.
“When did I develop this armoured coating?”
“It was there before you were captured, and held for two years”
“No, wrong question… I am sure I have mentioned the nightmares that plagued me two years ago, during a 6 month period”
Rebecca took a moment, as she pushed the Tsar bomb off of the Valkyrie, at its impact was absorbed by the semi-solid floor. Mark spoke next, his voice showing some understanding of what was going on.
“You always were an outsider, even in our high school group under the maths building. You mainly kept to yourself, despite our best efforts”
“Even later on in life, you refused to even speak with most of the investigators who were trying to get you to speak about your past. Most, if not all of our information, was from Steve”
“It may be a literal shell, but it represents my introversion”
“Then why speak about it now?”
“I think… there is more to this Hive invasion than we know. It represents something greater”
“And that would be?”
“Think about it. The events the last two years… what if we told ourselves from three years ago this is what would happen to us?”
A brief silence sunk in, as the group pondered their situation.
“I would have said that there is no way I would ever get to space”
“That I would be in charge of a facility to contain non-human creatures is absurd”
“That I would never own a function set of power armour, let alone a rocket launcher”
“The ability to summon objects at will, without any prior evidence of being able to do so”
Orion remained silent, looking to the rest of the group.
“It’s insane. No other way to say it… everything about this, including this mission, is flat out insane”