23 January 2011

HALO Frontlines: Part Four-P.O.W















Lance-Corporal Nova Boulle will never forget the odor of human flesh being cooked by those Brutes. Fellow marines that she fought will through the mud and blood of their attempted hold-out against those alien bastards, were now skinned and roasted.

She vomited.

Betelgeuse was just setting over Ptolemy’s Herschel mountain range, and the Brutes were starting the day off with fresh meat. Just an hour ago, Nova and that marine had used their body heat to keep warm.

The Brutes were hunting for the last elements of UNSC resistance on Ptolemy colony in the Eton Forest. That is where the Brutes got her and the remains of Baker Company. Their damned grenade launchers flipped over her M831 troop transport Warthog. The survivors were dragged back to this re-tasked summer camp to wait for a slow painfully death.

Her only hope for salvation from her fate of being a high protein snack for her enemy was death from sickness, or rescue. She shook her to that foolishness, Ptolemy was a minor UNSC colony, the Brutes had only come to fight and feed. Despite her father being a colonel in the shadowy world of SPECWAR or ONI, she wasn’t sure which; the UNSC would not send marines or SPARTANs to liberate them from this farm.

She could only wish now for a fever that would take her life. If she had been conscience after the crash, she would have shoved her M6 magnum into her mouth and pulled the trigger.

Whatever afterlife there would have been better than this.

The smells of the heavy fuel screamed back memories of long ago operations through Boulle’s mind, it had been sometime since he have been on a flight deck with rows of Pelican loaded for war. Back then, the enemy was humans, and he wished that those days back.

Their transports were not the ugly green armored workhorses of the UNSC, but the sleek deadly lines of a specially modified Longsword fighter. Loading into the cargo section of the fighter was the experienced corpsman and the strike team of eight SPARTAN-IIIs. All of them were decked out in specially painted camouflaged SPI armor, which mimicked the pattern of the world they were about to have boots on. Boulle surprised how inhuman these mythic warriors looked in their helmet and fully body armor. Hell, he couldn’t even tell if they male or female!

Captain Vansen snapped her flight crew of three to prepared the fighter/bomber for launch, while Boulle dwelled on the fact that he spent every scrap of credit to get their eight genetically modified asses in those jump-seats.

But, Boulle was ONI, the files of those feeding camps were imprinted on his mind. He swore, as the engine roared to life, to any god there may be, that if he ever had the power, there would a global nuclear winter on the Jiralhanae homeworld.

“Meat!” The big one roared at the cages, while sucking the tissue off the leg bone, “I need more meat!” He locked his hungry eyes at Nova, and licked the blood from its lips. “You’re meat!” The time had come, and Lance-Corporal Boulle hopes for a quick death were dashed.

“Ten minutes to atmo.” Captain Vansen called over the intercom. The SPARTANs checked their kit and nodded to one another. Butterflies hit the Colonel’s stomach. His burning acid worry was that his little girl was already BBQ for those beasts.

“Colonel,” Vansen broke his thoughts on a private channel. “ONI as no ideas of what we are doing here, right?”

“Just fly the bird, Captain.” He tapped on his computer pad, reviewing the EXFIL plan. “Captain, are you sure that the Pelican pilot is going to be at the RV point?” He was worried and Vansen picked up it like incoming fire.

“Solid copy, sir, he owes me, and your credit line helped.”

“Good.”He closed the connection and opened one to the SPARTAN team leader. “You ready?” He could see his muted reflection in the Übermensch’s helmet visor.

“Always, sir.” Then he turned to meet the eyes of the worried father, “we hate the apes, too, sir.”

“Seven minutes, check the parachutes.” The operations officer of the Longsword fighter reminded. NAVSPECWAR had been using this Longsword as a testing mule for landing covert operations behind Covenant lines to disturb their genocidal campaigns via airborne/HALO jumps. Boulle needed for the rescue team to get into the dark Eton forest of the Herschel mountain range as fast as possible to take the camp by complete surprise

“One minute!” With heavy feet, the Colonel of the much feared ONI, gingerly walked to the drop doors, and hooked onto the line with the SPARTANS. The medic locked eyes with the officer.

“Excuse me, sir?” He tapped on his tactical webbing, hoping that Boulle didn’t throw up on his boots.

“What do you want?”

“You look pale, you need something?”

“Shut it!” He turned back and checked the parachute one more time.

“Yessir.” The SPARTANs overheard the talk, and lend over.

“Colonel, you do have jump wings…right?”

“Yes…but it’s been a long time since I jumped…” he trailed off as the Longsword bounced around in the atmosphere of Ptolemy.

“How long, sir?”

“My daughter Nova was in diapers.”

“You meant the one we’re rescuing, sir?” He only nodded a confirmation and all of the SPARTANs all shared a universal thought, that the Colonel would be a liability on this OP…that or he would snap his neck on a tree.

When the light turned green, the hatch bomb-bay like doors opened, and the SPARTANs jumped seemingly without reservation into the blackness. The Colonel, stood for a moment, crossed himself and jumped.

Only the wind and his steer white-terror panic informed his shattered senses that he was hurling to the ground due to the night-jump conditions. As the ground grew closer, Boulle could now see the separation between the darker sky and the dark forest.

The moons broke from their cloud cover, to reveal the vast virgin Eton forest below him, and the mountain range in the distance. It was beautiful, until he crashed through the thick coverage, and was hanging from the ground helplessly.

Boulle had to make a decision, so, he hit the button to release the parachute from the harness and prepare for the ground. His jump-school training kicked in as forest floor rushed up to met him, and he painfully avoided breaking his legs, but his body took the shook and was bitching at him about it.

The sturdy construction of the BR55 battle-rifle came in handy, as the Colonel used it as a cane to prop himself from the soft forest soil, then an armored hand helped him up. Using only a nod of the head, he thanked the SPARTAN, and they moved to the over-watch position, but Boulle’s knees strongly protested.
With binoculars, Boulle swept the camp looking for any proof of his daughter. The campsite itself was a small complex of old-style wooden cabins topped of there was even an old wood sign that welcomed people, read: “Shadow Hills Christian Youth Camp: Welcomes all in the flock of the Lord.”

Boulle wondered if god would allow those filthy apes into heaven after he was done riddling them with bullets. Then his eyes fell on the fencing with pale thin human bodies that looked more like zombies than former marines. A thick cloud of buzzing flies hung over them, but it was the rising smoke of the giant cooking fire pits, complete with piles of bones that got his attention.

He felt sick. Was his daughter a discarded collection of grim remains? Coupled with darkness and the sickening state of the POWs, Boulle couldn’t even ID his own kid.

The blur of movement and screaming called Boulle and the SPARTAN-III sniper to attention. The Brute leader of the small force was dangling a smaller soldier and deeply laughing, as other the apes stoked the fire pit.

Somehow, Boulle knew it was his daughter.

He didn’t even have to order the super-soldier next to him. Before a word could leave his mouth, the booming report of a 14.5x114mm AP-FSDS cracked out and echoed through the dense forest.

Nova did not hear the shot, one moment the Brute was claiming his share of her meat. The next, his head exploded in a shower of hot blood and grey matter that coated Nova’s BDU jacket. When she wiped her eyes of the gore, the former Christian camp was alive with tracer rounds, and berserking Jiralhanae. The SPARTAN sniper stopped the Colonel from rushing in with his battle rifle blazing, as the two assault teams broke from the dark dense woodland cover. Despite their fearsome abilities and savage strength, the three Brutes that rushed at the super-soldiers were easily dealt with by both assault teams. Their MA5K carbines loaded with anti-personnel 7.62mm hollow-point shredder rounds emptied into the charging hairy alien flesh.

It was amazing, to the ONI officer, charging Brutes had a terrifying psychological effect on normal UNSC soldiers, but the third generation SPARTANs handled the threat without a single moment of hesitation or trouble.

Then came the parade of supporting Covenant…the Grunts and Jackals. The Colonel almost felt sorry for them…if their beast-like masters, the Jiralhanae, were now dead, then what hope did they have against the SPARTAN assault teams?

But they came anyways, blasting green plasma bolts into the inky blackness of the forest night, and a few hissing plasma grenades sailed through the air.

It was a hopeless effort.

The second assault team outflanked the phalanx of Grunts and Jackals, and sprayed the area with jacketed hollow-point rounds from their cut-down MA5Ks. Alien blood sprayed into a fine blue/purple mist in the air above the scene of slaughter. The Colonel watched with enjoyment at Covies pain and suffering. In that moment, he wished that every human soldier was a SPARTAN…

Just before the assault teams reached the cabins to perform some close-quarters clearing, one white/purple beam smacked one directly in the helmet, and the human warrior fell into the undergrowth, dead.

A Jackal sniper took his pound of genetically altered flesh for the deaths of his teammates, and stalked another SPARTAN as they took cover. The next shot was from the kneeing human sniper, and his shot was also a prefect neck-shot, severing its alien head clean off.

“Colonel,” his headset sparked to life. The SPARTANs had asked for radio silence, but if they were breaking that, it seemed to Boulle that felt the situation was taken care of. “We’re moving to the cabins and stockade, you and the corpsman are cleared to recover your daughter.” That was all he needed, he took the safety from this BR55 and rushed towards his daughter.

Nova had listened to her training, and kept her head down as bullets and plasma flew across the darkness. From the volume of fire and quick work of these Brutes, Nova knew that those super-soldier freaks were the rescue team, and that meant only one thing.

Her eyes met her father running up, and she reached out. No words came, as the tears flowed, and the medic checked the dirty marine as her father held onto her. Everything, for the moment, was perfect. He had done it, the job was nearly over, and she was okay.

“Corpsman?” He finally asked with a breaking voice.

“She’s good, Colonel, some imbalance and dehydration, but nothing severe.” He nodded, and the navy medic went to check the other skeleton-like soldiers. It was not the sight, but the smell that hit the experienced battlefield caretaker. All around the camp was bones, waste, and misery. If there was a hell than the corpsman felt he was at the gates. Then he turned back to see, the Colonel with his daughter, and that made everything worth it.

“Colonel, sorry to interrupt, but the surrounding structures are clear, one assault team is covering the LZ, and I’m leading with the other to check out the Phantom.” In his haste to see Nova, he completely forgot about the metallic purple jump-shuttle that the Covies had parked at end of the camp.

“Roger that,” he said while digging out some protein bars for his daughter. “Once it’s clear, blow it.”

“Happily, sir.”

For the next minute, the operation went as planned, the corpsmen and the Colonel checked out the nearly dozen marine survivors, and got them ready to move. While one team of S-III’s secure the only open ground for the incoming Pelican…the other ventured to clear the Phantom. A storm of gunfire alerted everyone in the camp that something was wrong.

Thermal was useless against the armored skin of the alien vehicle, but the SPARTANs moved in with shotguns and carbines at the ready. Nina, armed with a M45 tactical shotgun, took point into the side ramp of the giant pink/purple beetle-like craft. The interior of the Type-25 drop-ship stunk of alien, but there was nothing else, just a dark open space.

“Clear.” Nina spoke back to her assault leader.

“Take the cockpit, bang-and-flash, terminate any alien bastard.”

She smiled darkly, primed a flash-bang, and moved to the hatch. In a heartbeat, an armored Jiralhanae smashed through the hatch, and launching a massive hairy fist directly into her tear-shaped visor, cracking it and sending her sailing to metal floor. Her ears rang with the booming of a Type-52 “mauler” auto-shotgun pistol at close range, which peppered the other three SPARTANs with shot. Then her flash-bang exploding, ruining any chance of her teammates return fire on the giant lording over her.

Stars and pain filled her head, and through the cracked visor, Nina saw the screaming Brute swinging up its foot to smash her like an energy-drink can. With one pull of the trigger she sent a single eight gauge shell blasting the supporting knee of the alien. The impacting force of the OO buckshot nearly amputated the bulging leg, and the agonizing howl reverberated off of the metal walls of the jump-shuttle. She leaped up, kicked the mauler away, and cracked her stock against its thick skull.

The rest of the team was recovered, and once the cockpit was finally cleared, they planted an explosive charge on the primary fuel line. “Colonel,” he spoke as Nina watched over her prisoner. “Phantom is clear, one prisoner, and charge planted.” The Brute was bleeding out from its gaping wound, and not a one SPARTAN lifted a finger to help.

“We’re traveling light, no prisoners.” The super-soldier leader turned his visor to Nina.

“He’s yours…enjoy yourself.” She smiled again…this mission was turning out to be fun…she thought as her tongue probed a few missing teeth. The female SPARTAN-III kicked the wounded Brute in its hairy shattered knee, which she could see that one stringy muscle held the leg to the rest of the body. It roared in screaming shooting pain. She loved to hear it scream helplessly, so she did again and again.

“Nina…don’t play with your prey.”

“Agreed. Time to finish him.” She drugged the Brute by his arms to the blazing fire pit. Human bones could still be seen, charring in the flames. She got angry at the slight, and with a firm throw, the Brute was dumped into the flames.

Everyone stopped to watch the hairy alien roll around in agony in the fire, and intake the smells of roasting hair and flesh.

“Payback’s a bitch, mother fucker.” Nina spoke.

The Pelican landed and the loading of the emaciated soldiers took time, it was an odd sight to see SPARTAN-IIIs helping nearly walking skeletons into the waiting arms of the medics on board the hovering vehicle.

In that moment, while his daughter was wrapped around him and the roar of the VTOL thrusters of the Pelican ramped up, Boulle knew he made the right choice.

“Ready, sir! Everyone’s onboard.” Lance-Corporal Nova Boulle turned back to the death-camp as the pilot’s words came over his headset.

“Burn it all down, leave nothing there.” She said weakly to her father.

“You heard her!” The pilot selected incendiary missiles and when the Pelican circled the camp, the missile pods unleashed a ring of cleansing flame into the place of death and slaughter. Nova watched the old camp burn that would always haunt her…As she wiped tears away, she threw hers thin frame into her father’s armor. She realized then that she would fully never know the price he paid to rescue her.

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