Hello, and welcome to the story!

Before we begin, there are a couple quick things I'd like to take note. First, to prevent confusion, a couple things about the setting of this story that I wasn't able to put in the summary. For those of you who aren't interested in reading through this note, please skip to the bottom of the summary.

This story takes place in May of 2545, 7 years before the events of Halo: Reach. The characters in this story are soldiers of the UNSC Army and, for the most part, all OCs. There are no (major) Spartans.

A couple disclaimers: I've tried to keep this story grounded with some semblance of realism, while at the same time, maintaining a sort of video game feel. The problem is, I am neither a soldier, nor am I writing with the games in front of me. All information regarding Halo comes from either memory, or two websites, Halopedia and Halo Wikia. I've changed some things for the sake of the story, however I've tried to stay true to canon as much possible. So, if you see any mistakes, please let me know and I'll either try to justify it, or change it as soon as possible.

Second, the depiction of military life is based on research I've done in regards to the US military, specifically to the US Army. Thus, if things seems a bit odd or abnormal to what you are used to, it may have something to do with that. However, as stated above, if you see any mistakes, please let me know.

Thank you for stopping by, and I hope you enjoy.

TL;DR: 7 years before Halo: Reach, UNSC Army, All OCs, No Spartans.


Prologue

Hill 937(1), Osaka Prefecture, Newsaka
April 20, 2545, SMC (Standard Military Calendar)
0030Juliet (Local Time)

His feet were wet.

That's all Corporal Moss Shen could focus on. It seemed ridiculous, even to him, to focus on that one aspect considering his entire body was soaking wet, but he couldn't help it. Ever since he had learned about tropical immersion foot, Moss had been paranoid about keeping his feet dry. It hadn't been an easy task. In the two months since his division had been deployed to this part of Newsaka to fight off the Covenant invasion, Moss could probably count on one hand the amount of days it hadn't been raining. Then again, Moss supposed that was to be expected. There had to be a reason why these woods were also known as rainforests.

Still, despite the rain, Moss had done his best to keep his feet dry. When his jump boots, designed with reinforced toe caps and calf-length lacing for increased ankle support, disintegrated due to jungle conditions and the constant moisture, Moss managed to locate a soldier attached to one of the specialized jungle units assigned to this colony who was willing to sell him a pair of genuine jungle boots. The boots were a half size too big, but to Moss that just meant he was able to wear thicker socks with them.

When his olive drab tube socks had literally rotted off his feet, Moss took his army issued poncho, which at that point had been shredded by shrapnel, rendering it all but useless for rain repellant, and converted it into footwraps. Having worn socks all his life, it had taken Moss quite a few tries to figure out how to fold the footwraps properly. Ultimately, Moss had ended up tracking down, of all things, a UNSC Army field manual to learn how to make them perfectly. But it had been worth it as it had meant Moss no longer needed to worry about running out of socks in the field.

But the most important thing Moss did was that, no matter how busy he was or how bad the fighting got, he made sure to take at least five minutes every single day to inspect, clean, and then massage his feet. It had been a pain in the ass but it had been worth it. Moss was proud to say he was the only soldier in his platoon, maybe even his entire brigade, to not be suffering from some sort of foot ailment.

Of course, being forced to sit in a god-knows-what infested puddle of meter deep mud for three hours straight had probably ruined all that.

Moss mentally sighed. He understood the need for him to sit there, waiting. The Covenant invasion force was at a tipping point, the UNSC having checked their momentum at every turn. But they hadn't broken just yet. Capturing the Covenant stronghold at the top of this hill would change that. But sitting in a muddy hole for hours upon end, waiting for the UNSC distraction force to maneuver into position, was not something Moss was accustomed to. He was a paratrooper. As a member of the expeditionary force of the UNSC Army, Moss had been trained with an emphasis on quick movement, daring maneuvers, and offensive action. He was not trained to wait in a hole like some damn straight leg(2). Still, he supposed it could have been worse: his unit could have been assigned to support the distraction task force.

Moss didn't envy the task force. Marching straight into Covenant guns, even if it did consist of three Jungle Divisions backed by two Armored Brigade Combat Teams, was about as close to a suicide mission a soldier could receive without it actually being a suicide mission. At least his mission, waiting aside, allowed him to sneak up on the Covenant, giving him a fighting chance.

Then again, the distraction force didn't have to sit in a muddy hole for hours upon end in complete silence, getting slowly eaten alive by insects.

Moss very slowly and very carefully, as to not attract any attention, reached up and pulled something slimy off the side of his neck. He hoped to hell it was just a soggy leaf and not another damn leech, or whatever passed for leeches on this damn planet, but Moss knew he wasn't that lucky. Glad he was wearing gloves, Moss crushed it, just to be safe. As he did, water droplets began to fall onto him and he looked up to see it had started raining. Again.

The sound of rumbling accompanied the rain and initially, Moss dismissed the sound as that of a thunderclap. However, when the rumbling failed to fade away and instead, began to grow in intensity, Moss realized he was in fact listening to artillery fire. It took him a few moments to pinpoint the direction it was coming from, but once he accomplished that, Moss was quickly able to identify the source: the distraction force had begun their attack. Finally.

Reaching down, Moss grabbed a hold of his MA37 assault rifle and shook off the mud that was coating the upper receiver. Performing a quick chamber check to make sure the mud hadn't gone down the barrel, Moss reached up to activate the thermal optical setting of his shooting glasses. The effectiveness of thermals was somewhat limited in the confines of a forest due to the sheer amount of ambient heat the environment emitted, but Moss always felt navigating with thermals was easier than with night vision. As he fumbled with his glasses, his radio cracked to life.

"All units, this is White Knight." Moss recognized the voice as belonging to Captain Leopold Rabinowitz, commanding officer of Quebec Company, the infantry company Moss and his squad had been assigned to support. "We're moving out shortly. I don't have to remind you all what's at stake here. We've all been briefed and most of you already know what to expect from the Covenant. So I'll just say this instead: maintain a five meter spacing between the troopers next to you and keep the noise to a minimum. Remember, we're trying to sneak up on the Covenant. Keep your heads down and I'll see you all at the top. White Knight, out."

There was a mute click as Rabinowitz fell silent. He was quickly replaced by Sergeant Ferguson, Moss' squad leader. "Alright ladies and gentlemen," Ferguson announced over the squad's dedicated SQUADCOM channel. "You heard the man. We move, five meter spread, no noise. If you got to say something, use SQUADCOM but keep the channel clear of all non-essential traffic. I'm talking to you Griffin."

Another voice joined the line. "Ooh, called out by the old man," Private Job Griffin said with a laugh.

"Yeah, like that," Ferguson drily replied. "Don't do that. At all. Good luck Sappers."

There was a short, shrill whistle, barely audible over the sound of the rain.

"All units, move out," Moss heard Rabinowitz order.

Hauling himself to his feet, Moss pulled himself out of the hole that had been his hiding spot for the last few hours and began his climb up the hill.

The forest was quiet. That was the first thing Moss noticed as he advanced up the hill. Aside from the explosions in the distance and the slight squeaking noise his saturated boots made every time he took a step, the forest was completely devoid of animal noises, as was typical of moments before a firefight. It always marveled Moss; it seemed no matter what planet he was on, animals always seemed to know when violence was imminent and when to make themselves scarce. It was like all creatures had some innate sense for danger and Moss always wondered why humans seemed to lack that instinct. Or perhaps they did and humans were just too stupid to listen to it?

Biology questions soon gave way to concentration to the task at hand. The steep angle of the hill meant the climb was difficult by itself, but the situation was exasperated by the rainwater and mud that coated the hillside, making the ground extremely slippery. While there were plenty of exposed roots and rocks for footholds, it hardly mattered as the soles of Moss' boots were coated in mud, leaving him no treads for traction. Moss found he was forced to constantly juggle his rifle between his hands in order to free up his grip for support. The sound of his own ragged breathing quickly filled his ears.

"Damn," Griffin abruptly said over the radio after several long minutes of heavy travel, making Moss jump. "If I wanted to fight in the mountains, I would have joined a mountain unit."

"Griffin, what'd I fucking say?" Ferguson snapped.

"Right, shutting up."

Despite himself, Moss couldn't help but chuckle in agreement with Griffin's comment. This wasn't quite the rosy picture his recruiter had painted him when he enlisted a year ago. He stumbled as the rock under his foot suddenly gave way, but managed to catch himself on a branch nearby.

"All units, hold!"

Rabinowitz's voice, laced with urgency, suddenly sounded over the radio. Moss glanced to the side to see Rabinowitz holding up a closed fist. Moss carefully dropped to one knee, curious as to what the holdup was.

"Forward scouts report possible enemy movement to our eleven and twelve o'clock positions," Rabinowitz reported and Moss felt his blood run cold. "Find cover and assume defensive positions, over."

Letting out a string of curses under his breath, Moss ducked behind a nearby tree. Flicking the safety off, Moss brought his rifle up to his eye line and began scanning the hillside. Questions flooded his mind. What type of movement did the forward scouts see? Had their positions been compromised? Did the Covenant know what was going on? Were Moss and his comrades about to walk into an ambush? Or was this one giant false alarm? Moss hoped it was, but he was mentally preparing himself for the worst.

The minutes ticked by. Moss could feel his heart racing as he carefully studied every spot and possible hiding place in front of him. Sweat and rain was rolling down his face and into his eyes, causing a burning sensation, but Moss dare not reach up to wipe it away, least the Covenant chose that exact moment to attack. Moss felt like he was crouched on a network of high tension wires. Every shadow could be hiding a Brute or a Grunt. Every twitch of a leaf could potentially be a Jackal sniper zeroing in on his position. Even the soft pit patter of rain could be hiding the footsteps of an approaching Skirmisher.

"Corporal Moss, what are we looking for?"

Moss nearly had a heart attack at the unexpected question. Without thinking, he glanced down at his radio to figure out who had spoken. It was One(3), his fireteam's rookie. Private… McElroy? Moss really couldn't remember the soldier's name, the kid having been assigned to the squad less than two days ago.

Before Moss could fully recover, someone else answered One's query.

"Look for the Covenant you dumb fuck," Private First Class Piper "Pip" Poblede snapped.

Moss couldn't help but sigh at Pip's abrasiveness. She never liked One, especially after he inadvertently insulted her the first time they met. Still, now was not the time.

"Pip, shut up," Moss hissed into his radio. "McElroy, look for anything suspicious or out of place. You see anything, you let me know, otherwise, keep your mouth shut and keep quiet."

"Roger that Corporal," One replied. "Oh, and my name is McTavish, not McElroy."

Moss sighed. "Private, get off the fucking radio."

Shaking his head in annoyance, Moss muted his microphone and brought his rifle back up to his shoulder.

Thud.

For a few precious seconds, all Moss could do was stare stupidly at the Spike Grenade that had seemingly sprout out from the tree next to him. Then his eyes widened.

"GRENADE!" he screamed as he hurtled himself away.

There was a brilliant white flash that left spots in Moss' vision and he unexpectedly found himself flying through the air. He managed to travel a few meters before his impromptu flight was abruptly ended by an inconveniently placed tree. Hitting the trunk with enough force to tear chunks of bark off, Moss was unceremoniously deposited at the base. With his head spinning and his body feeling like he'd just been run over by a Warthog utility vehicle, all Moss could do was lay there among the roots, letting the warm rain wash over his face while he tried to remember how to breathe.

Moss wasn't given long to recover as almost instantly, two Covenant Skirmishers, appearing as purple figures through his thermals, came charging out from the trees, plasma pistol blazing. Moss could hear the sizzling of water as the bolts impacted the mud around him, the superheated plasma causing the muddy water to boil.

Pushing himself against the roots to try and make himself a smaller target, Moss shouldered his rifle. Sighting the nearest Skirmisher, Moss slammed the safety off and pulled the trigger. His first shot came as a surprise to him. Moss had forgotten he had already switched off the safety so instead of setting his rifle to semiautomatic fire, he had switched over to full auto. As a result, he was caught off guard by the recoil and his first burst flew right over the target Skirmisher's head, causing both aliens to dive for cover.

Biting back a curse, Moss quickly readjusted his grip on his rifle and reengaged his target. He managed to catch the Skirmisher mid-leap in the legs, causing him to come crashing back down to the ground, but before Moss could finish him off, Moss' body jerked as he was hit by a plasma bolt. Luckily the bolt hit the GUNGNIR pauldron he wore on his right shoulder, causing no discernable injury to his arm. As the plate began bubbling and melting, Moss ignored the warping metal and shifted right to engage the other Skirmisher. Unfortunately the Skirmisher had already sought refuge behind another tree and all Moss' burst of gunfire did was tear chunks of bark off.

The Skirmisher stuck his plasma pistol around the trunk and began blind firing in Moss' direction, leaving Moss at a distinct disadvantage as he was still out in the open. Firing one more burst at the Skirmisher to keep him pinned down, Moss darted around the tree he was crouched by, only to run smack into a Covenant Brute. The gorilla-like creature stared stupidly down at him and without thinking, Moss drove his fist into the Brute's stomach. The punch did absolutely nothing, bouncing off the Brute's thick fur and leaving Moss' hand smarting, the only thing that prevented his hand from breaking being the built-in plastic knuckle guards his gloves had. The Brute promptly backhanded him across the chest and Moss was knocked cleanly off his feet, flying back through the air a couple of meters.

Moss landed in the mud with a splash, and he let out a groan of pain as his battered body was assaulted again. He reached for his rifle, but it was gone, probably having fallen out of his hand mid-flight. He had no time to search for it as the Brute was beginning to draw a bead on him with his Spiker. With nothing left to do, Moss reached down and pulled out his standard issued M11 bayonet and scrambled to his feet. A knife fight against a six hundred kilogram alien was not a fight Moss could expect to win, but damned if he wasn't going down swinging. With blood pulsing in his ears, Moss charged at the Brute, hoping to catch him off guard. Anything to help swing the odds in his favor.

"MOSS GET DOWN!"

The scream snapped Moss out of his adrenaline induced battle haze and startled, Moss inadvertently tripped over his own feet. He slid through the mud, ending up at the Brute's feet. The Brute stared at him, his mouth splitting open in a grin, just as there was a BLOOP from behind Moss and a 40mm high explosive dual-purpose grenade exploded against the Brute's chest. Moss reflexively shielded his head with his arms as white hot shrapnel rained down on him. Hissing in pain as the shrapnel cut through his sleeves, Moss lowered them in time to see the Brute staggering backwards, the creature's cyan cuirass armor now black with burns and blood leaking out from fresh holes in his upper torso. The Brute was far from mortally wounded though, but as he opened his mouth to roar his defiance, there was another BLOOP and a grenade flew directly into his open mouth.

Moss couldn't help but flinch as a wave of hot blood and gore washed over him. The Brute's body, sans a head, swayed dangerously over him and Moss quickly stood up and pushed it backwards with his shoulder, least the heavy corpse topple forward and land on top of him.

Moss turned to see Pip with a smoking M319 grenade launcher in her arms, but movement in his peripheral vision caught his attention. He turned to see the Skirmisher he had been fighting earlier leaning out from behind his tree, leveling his plasma pistol directly at Poblede, who was too busy reloading to notice.

"Pip! Contact, three o'clock!" Moss bellowed at her, but she didn't seem to hear him over the sound of all the gunfire.

Swearing violently, Moss charged and tackled her, knocking them both to the ground. As they landed, Moss could feel the heat of the plasma overcharge as it passed overhead, and he mentally crossed his fingers, hoping that the shot hadn't set his backpack on fire. A fire was probably not likely to cause a sympathetic detonation among all the explosives Moss had crammed in his backpack, but that was not a theory Moss was willing to test at the moment. Or at all.

Rolling off Poblede into a puddle of mud, just in case there was a fire, Moss reached down and pulled out the M6G magnum pistol he knew Poblede kept in a Tactical/Soft Case pouch on her right thigh. He leveled it at the Skirmisher, who had stepped out from behind the tree for a better angle, and pulled the trigger.

His first shot nailed the plasma pistol in the Skirmisher's hand. The plasma pistol sparked as the round punctured its housing and the green glow at the pistol's muzzle disappeared. Moss fired again, but his second shot missed the Skirmisher entirely as he was firing the pistol with his non-dominant hand and he was still reeling from the recoil of the first shot. Grabbing the magnum with both hands, Moss fired again. His third shot was much better aimed, catching the Skirmisher in his shoulder, blowing the Skirmisher's arm off entirely. Moss finished the job off by planting his fourth shot into the Skirmisher's chest, the explosive tipped 12.7mm round creating a cavity large enough for Moss to have put his fist through without once touching the sides.

"Come on, get up Pip!" Moss ordered, pulling Poblede to her feet as rounds began raining down around them. It was light stuff, plasma bolts and Spiker rounds. The radioactive green bolts left streaks in Moss' vision and while he couldn't see the Spiker rounds, he could hear the CRACK of the sonic booms left in the wake as the supersonic spikes passed through the air. Despite the barrage, both he and Poblede somehow managed to make it to cover behind a fallen tree without getting hit.

"Fuck," Poblede spat out the moment they were safe. "Hey, are you okay? Did you get hit?" she queried as she reached up and pulled a piece of shrapnel out from Moss' CH252 combat helmet that had struck with enough force to stick, but not penetrate.

"No, I'm fine!" Moss replied. "Hey, I need a pistol mag!"

Without hesitation, Poblede whipped out a fresh pistol magazine and handed it over to him.

"Where's your rifle?" she asked as Moss ejected the partially loaded magazine from his handgun and stashed it into his pocket.

"Fuck if I know. What's our status? Where's Griffin? And One?" he asked as he reloaded.

"Sniper got One," Poblede bluntly reported. "Beam rifle." She leaned back and fired a grenade in the direction of the Covenant.

There was an explosion nearby and Moss ducked as they were showered with dirt. From the bush next to him, there was some rustling of leaves and Moss leveled his sidearm, only to lower it when Griffin emerged.

"Whoo! Man, it's popping off!" he announced as he threw himself to the ground next to Moss. He glanced over at Moss and did a quick double take. "Shit, what happened to you bro?"

"Got blown up," Moss said simply. "Don't worry, I'm green."

"Actually, I think you're kind of black right now," Griffin said, staring at Moss' chest.

Alarmed, Moss glanced down, only to realize Griffin was referring to the color of the chest plate of his M52B body armor. It had originally been painted an olive-drab green color to match the surrounding foliage, but between the grenade and the mud, it was now coated in soot, giving it a black color instead.

"Griffin," Moss said with a sigh. "Quit fucking around and find something to shoot at."

"Oh yeah, I guess I could do that," Griffin airily commented.

Shaking his head, Moss glanced over the tree to search for targets, only to feel his eyes widen at the sight of a fury blue ball flying in his direction.

"Grenade!" he hollered, ducking back down. He flinched as the surrounding area was lit up in a neon blue glow.

"Contact! Ten o'clock, twenty meters!" Poblede barked as the explosion died down.

Moss poked his head out of cover to look. Two Grunts and a Jackal were advancing through the woods, the Jackal with his turquoise energy shield extended in front of him. Knowing he didn't have enough ammo to disable the Jackal's shield, Moss leveled his sidearm at one of the Grunts and open fired, managing to hit the Grunt in the leg. The Grunt collapsed and Moss started to sight the second Grunt when a grenade from Poblede slammed into the Jackal. The Jackal's shield instantly disappeared and Moss quickly reprioritized, but a burst from Griffin's assault rifle downed the Jackal. Moss instead re-sighted the remaining Grunt, but the small alien dove into a nearby impact crater. Undeterred, Moss pulled an M9 fragmentation grenade from his belt and armed it.

"Frag out!" he called, hurtling the grenade. There was a small explosion, and Moss watched as pieces of Grunt armor flew through the air.

"Christ, how the fuck did they get so close?" Poblede demanded to know.

"I'm no genius," Griffin began, "but I'm pretty sure they used their legs."

Moss could practically hear Poblede rolling her eyes.

"You know what I fucking mean," she replied, exasperated.

Moss' radio suddenly crackled to life. "Anyone from Team 2, this is Ferguson," Ferguson called out. "What is your status?"

Moss keyed his microphone. "Hey Sergeant, this is Moss," Moss said. "Be advised, I have a KIA, Private... McElroy? Fuck, you know, our FNG."

"Copy that Moss," Ferguson calmly replied. "Listen, I'm dropping a navigation point on my location. We're spread out too thin. I want you to take your team and consolidate on me."

"Affirmative," Moss responded and waited until an orange arrow suddenly sprang into existence in the HUD of his shooting glasses. "Okay, I've got your navpoint, we're moving out."

Muting his microphone, Moss glanced over at Griffin and Poblede. "Hey, Ferguson wants us to consolidate on him," he reported. "Pip, you and me will go first. Griffin, you cover us. You guys ready?"

"Does it matter if I say no?" Griffin asked.

"Nope," Moss said simply. "Covering fire! Pip, let's move!"

Moss darted out from behind cover. Behind him, he could hear Griffin's assault rifle roared to life. Dashing through mud puddles and dodging explosions, Moss sprinted towards the area the navigation point was indicating, which was a large boulder that was jutting out from the ground. Sliding to safety, Moss took a moment to note that most of Team 1 was already there though Ferguson was nowhere in sight. Saving his questions for later, Moss planted himself at the edge of the boulder and brought his sidearm to bear.

"Griffin, set!" Moss reported into his headset. "Poblede, cover up!"

Poking his head around the boulder, Moss began firing his magnum up the hill, not really sure what he was shooting at, but not really caring either. He kept firing until Griffin came bounding out of the darkness.

"What up bitches?" Griffin called out in greet as he casually strolled behind cover. As he did, he accidently bumped into Private Bashir. Bashir shot up to his feet.

"Watch it bud," he barked.

Griffin whirled on him. "Who you calling bud, pal?"

"Who youcalling pal, friend?"

"Who you calling…(4)"

"Knock it off you two," Corporal Shin ordered as both Griffin and Bashir started laughing uproariously. "Do you guys really have to go through the song and dance routine every time you see each other?"

"Seriously," Poblede added. "Go find a room. We aren't judging."

"Hey Corporal," Moss said, catching Shin's attention. "Where's Sergeant Ferguson?"

Specialist Lisbeth Norén spoke up. "He took our rookie to go get briefed by Captain Rabinowitz," she informed him.

"Where's yours by the way?" Shin interjected.

"Dead," Moss bluntly stated.

"Beam rifle got him," Poblede elaborated. "Took his head clean off." She shook her head. "How shitty is that? He didn't even last a full two days on the line."

"Why do you care? You didn't even like him," Moss pointed out.

"What, I can't marvel at the tragedy of the incident?"

Shin shrugged. "Shit happens. It sucks, but that's life on the frontline for you."

"Hey, better him than any of us, right?" Bashir suggested, nudging Griffin with his elbow.

"You said it bro," Griffin agreed.

The sound of splashing mud herald the arrival of Ferguson, with Two(5) in tow. Moss quickly moved to the side to allow them room behind the boulder.

"Hey Sergeant, what the fuck is going on?" Bashir demanded to know before Ferguson could get a word in. "We got to go! We can't let these guys get away!"

He stood up, as if to begin attacking the Covenant all by himself. Ferguson quickly grabbed him and pulled him back behind cover.

"Unless you want to get schwacked by friendly fire, I suggest you calm your tits Bashir," Ferguson ordered. "Captain Rabinowitz is calling in a mortar barrage directly in front of us, try and dislodge this Covenant picket patrol we've run into. Stovepipe boys are going to saturate the woods in front of us with HE for about five minutes, hopefully plaster all the Covenant between us and the objective. Once the mortar fire has lifted though, that's when we'll move Bashir. In the meantime, everyone get fucking ready!"

"Wait, wait!" Two abruptly called out, looking around. "Where the hell is McTavish?"

There was a long pause.

"Who the fuck is McTavish?" Bashir demanded to know.

"Well, let's think this through Bashir. Who's the only one missing from this picture? One is," Poblede commented. "You know, our fireteam's rookie?" she elaborated at Bashir's questioning look.

An irritated look passed over Two's face. "We have names you know."

"Yeah? Well, who the fuck wants to know them?" Bashir replied, sounding disinterested.

"You know, I knew a guy whose name was One," Griffin mused. "His birth mother named him and all his siblings in the order of their birth, just because she couldn't be bother to remember them." Griffin paused. "Which made it really confusing when she had twins." He shook his head before continuing. "You get what I'm telling you boyo?"

"Fuck you guys," Two snapped. "You don't know anything about me."

"That's because no one wants to," Shin pointed out. "You know how many replacements we've been through in the two months we've been here?"

"Guys, enough," Ferguson interjected. "Kid, word of advice. You want people to remember your name? Prove you're worth remembering. Until then, all of you, focus."

"Don't worry kid," Moss reassuringly told him. "I promise you, if you survive this battle, then you can tell us your name."

Any further conversation was interrupted by the sound of mortars shrieking overhead.

"Here come the guns!" Ferguson yelled. "Squad, take cover!"

Moss crouched down to make himself as small of a target as possible as the entire hillside lit up as a storm of 60mm infantry mortars pounded Covenant positions. Unable to fully suppress his curiosity, he risked raising his head to see what was going on. Despite being the weakest shells out of all the artillery pieces in the UNSC's arsenal, the 60mm mortar still contained enough explosive power to cause the very ground to rock and shake. The shells tore chunks of earth out of the ground, slashed branches, and in some cases, uprooted entire trees, leaving a tangled mess of interlocking branches, leaves, and mud. The sight was both terrifying yet encouraging, and it was clear to Moss he wasn't the only one who felt that way.

"Man," Moss heard Griffin say. "Artillery is fun. We should let these guys out more often."

"Nah man, we can't let the cannon cockers(6) have all the fun!" Bashir protested.

"Man, fuck that. They can go ahead and blow up the fucking hill for all I care," Shin retorted. "You hear that you redlegs(7)? Blow up the fucking hill so we can all go home!"

"That would be pretty cool to see," Poblede admitted. "But you know what would make this even better?"

"Some popcorn?" Griffin suggested.

"A hot bath?" Shin offered.

"Some fucking air support?" Two submitted.

"Well, yes to all of the above," Poblede admitted. "But I was actually think of some tanks. Get some Scorpion MBTs, watch them tear shit up."

"Tank beats everything(8)," Bashir agreed.

"Tanks would have never made it up this hill," Norén pointed out in a calm voice. "Too many obstacles."

"No, I know that. I'm just saying."

"Mortars are about to lift their fire!" Ferguson suddenly announced. "Check your weapons and stand by to advance!"

Moss pulled out his sidearm, missing the familiar feeling of his assault rifle and really wishing he had something more versatile than a mere pistol. The explosions in front of him seemed to reach a crescendo, before abruptly cutting out.

"Squad, follow me!" Ferguson yelled and darted out from behind the boulder.

"On your feet troopers!" Shin bellowed, following close behind. "While we've got the initiative! Go, go, go!"

The next thing Moss knew, he was picking himself off the ground, white noise filling his ears. Leaning over, he took a deep breath, trying to refilling his lungs, only to inhale a lungful of dust. Coughing, Moss waited for his hearing protection to unseal. He had enough experience to recognize when there had been a large explosion nearby and he did his best to remain calm. As his hearing returned, Moss could hear the sound of someone screaming in pain, and it took him a few moments to realize it was Bashir.

"Squad!" Moss hoarsely yelled. "Sound off!"

"Norén here."

"Roer!"

"Poblede, still alive!"

"Well, that was fun." Griffin, of course.

"Bashir. Shit, I'm hit!"

"Pip, go check on Bashir," Moss ordered. "Corporal? Sergeant? Status!"

A weak voice sounded over the radio. "Shin here. Me and Ferguson are hit. We're down in front of the boulder."

Moss glanced around the boulder and spotted Shin and Ferguson's prone bodies. "Norén, Griffin, help me!" Moss ordered. He darted out and grabbed a hold of Shin, dragging her back to cover while Norén and Griffin grabbed Ferguson. After a moment of hesitation, Moss darted back out to retrieve their abandoned rifles from the ground.

Disabling his thermal imaging glasses, Moss activated the red light flashlight mounted on the side of his helmet and shined the light over both Ferguson and Shin. Despite everything he had seen in the last two months, Moss still couldn't stop himself from wincing at the sight.

Shin had taken a face full of shrapnel and blood was streaming down her face, making it hard to tell exactly how many times she had been hit. She bent over and spat out a glob of bloody spit, possibility indicating injuries to the mouth, but as she removed her shooting glasses, Moss was relieved to note both her eyes appeared to be intact. She also had minor cuts and burns on her arms and legs, as well as several smoking holes in her chest plate, but none of them seemed too serious.

Ferguson on the other hand, looked terrible. Jagged pieces of shrapnel were sticking out from all over his backpack and the top of his helmet, and he had a large smoking hole on the right side of his chest. More alarmingly though, his left leg just below the knee had almost been completely amputated, only hanging on to the rest of body by a couple strands of sinew. Blood was gushing out the wound and already the mud beneath Ferguson was turning reddish.

"Well, that doesn't look good," Griffin glibly commented, snapping Moss out of his daze.

"Medic!" Moss hollered. "We need a medic here, now! Griffin, start stripping Ferguson of his gear. Norén, put pressure on that leg, do it now!"

Griffin and Norén sprang into action and Moss turned to Shin to see what he could do for her, only to see her shaking her head.

"I'm alright," she said, breathlessly. "It's only a scratch."

"Bullshit," Moss retorted. "You look like the fucking walking dead with all that blood on your face!"

"It looks worse than it actually is," Shin insisted. "Help Ferguson first."

Norén looked up and cocked her head. "According to standard battlefield triage procedures, first responders must treat the wounded in order of least severity."

"Specialist, fuck off," Shin venomously breathed. "We're combat engineers, not medics. Moss, I have seniority over you, which means I'm in change now that Ferguson is down and I am fucking ordering you to treat Ferguson first."

"Fine," Moss reluctantly agreed. "But in the meantime, get out your IFAK and slap some biofoam on that shit before you bleed out." Moss waited until Shin pulled out her infantry first aid kit before turning his attention back to Ferguson.

"Medic!" Moss bellowed again. "Two, give us cover. Griffin start plugging holes with biofoam. Don't remove the shrapnel!" he snapped as Griffin started to do just that. "Let the medics deal with it. Just make his uniform doesn't get sealed into the wounds."

"Here Corporal." Moss glanced up to see Two removing his rain coat and handing it over to him. "Throw that over him," Two said. "Keep him warm, make sure he doesn't go into shock.

"Good thinking Specialist," Moss complimented, doing his best to get Ferguson covered, while at the same time, not interfere with Griffin's work. Once that was accomplished, he turned back to Ferguson's leg. Norén had begun to apply biofoam to the wound, but it was clear to Moss it wasn't working.

"You got a tourniquet?" she asked. "Blood flow is too strong, biofoam isn't going to stay long enough to harden."

In response, Moss reached over and removed Ferguson's belt from his waist. Wrapping the belt several centimeters above the actual wound itself, Moss pulled tight, until the blood flow dropped down to a trickle, before securing it. Ferguson groaned.

"Hang in there Harry," Moss told him. "You're going to be okay."

"Bashir alright?" Moss heard him slur.

"Pip, status on Bashir?"

"They shot me through my fucking foot man!" Bashir complained.

"Quit your bitching, it's only a scratch," Poblede said with a sigh.

"Here's an idea, why don't I shoot you through the foot and then you can tell me it's only a scratch!"

Moss ignored them as he called out to Griffin. "Griffin, how's it looking?"

"I need another can of biofoam."

Moss reached into Ferguson's IFAK and pulled out a brand new one. He tossed it over to Griffin before turning to Norén. "Norén?"

"With the tourniquet cutting blood flew, biofoam is now holding," she reported. "But he's lost a lot of blood. We need a medic here, now."

"Poblede, Bashir, go find me a medic and bring him back here," Moss snapped. "Be quick about it."

"On it!" Poblede said, and darted away with Bashir limping behind her.

"Moss," Ferguson suddenly rasped. "I need help."

Moss grabbed his hand and gave him what he hoped was a reassuring squeeze. "I know. Just hang on buddy, help is on the way.

"No, not that," Ferguson wheezed. "My fucking lung…"

"Griffin," Moss snapped, "Get some biofoam on the hole in his chest."

Griffin lift a can of biofoam and shook it. The hollow clanking made it clear to Moss it was empty. "Already done."

"You need to remove it," Ferguson coughed. "It's causing… tension pneumothorax."

"What?" Moss glanced at Norén who merely shook her head. "Sergeant, I don't know what that is."

"My fucking right lung's collapsed," Ferguson gasped out. "I need you to cut me… right here." With trembling hands, he pointed at a spot in the general area below his collarbone.

"Cut you?" Moss incredulously repeated. "I'm no medic but that doesn't sound like a good idea."

"Need to put a tube in me…" Ferguson continued with obvious difficulty. "Can't breathe…"

"Corporal, move!" Two suddenly barked and startled, Moss reflexively obeyed.

Moss watched as Two took the drinking tube from his hydration pack and cut a small piece off with his bayonet. Then, Moss watched as Two made motions to cut a slit into Ferguson's chest. Alarmed, Moss moved to stop him, but Norén grabbed a hold of him.

"Corporal, let him work."

Two inserted the tube into the incision. There was an audible hiss of air releasing and almost instantly, Ferguson began breathing more easily.

"Thank you," Ferguson rasped. "Fucking, thank you!"

"Son of a bitch," Moss muttered to himself. He still wasn't sure what just happened, but it was clear to Moss something terrible would have happened to Ferguson if Two hadn't intervened. He wasn't allowed to dwell on that thought for long as Poblede and Bashir returned with Specialist Falco, one of Quebec Company's assigned combat medics, in tow.

"Where's he hit?" Falco demanded to know, quickly removing his med pack.

"Doc, he took some shrapnel to the chest and nearly had his leg amputated," Moss reported. "We put a tourniquet on it to stop the bleeding about, what, seven minutes ago?" He glanced at Norén for confirmation. "He also had tension... something."

"Tension pneumothorax?" Falco said sharply, alarmed. He relaxed when he saw the tube in Ferguson's chest though. "Good work. You do this?"

Moss shook his head and pointed at Two.

"Well done soldier," Falco told him. "How'd it happen?"

"60mm mortar with a time delayed fuze," Norén answered.

Two's head shot up. "Fucking friendly fire did this?"

"It was probably a short round, rather than bad coordinates," Norén said with a shrug. "All this humidity, all this moisture? Gets into the propellant, fucks with the strength. I've seen it before, usually because of improper storage. This rain isn't helping either."

"Anyone else get hit?" Falco asked.

"Corporal Shin did," Moss reported. "Cyn, the Doc is here," he started to say, but then froze at the sight of her. She was laying on her back, an unused can of biofoam held loosely her in her hand. Her eyes were wide open and Moss could see her pupils were completely dilated. She was staring, unmoving, at nothing in particular in the night sky, not even blinking when rain drops fell directly onto her eyeballs. Blood was still oozing out of the wounds on her face, but it had slow down to barely a trickle, and her skin had turned pale.

"Doc," Moss slowly said.

Falco glanced over and did a quick double-take. Placing two fingers on Shin's neck, Falco waited a moment before letting out a sigh.

"She's dead," he reported.

"How?" Moss choked out, his throat starting to feel constricted.

"Shock probably killed her." Falco reached out and pulled out Shin's dogtags. Yanking one of the tags off the ball chain, he handed it over to Moss with a sympathetic look on his face. "Nothing you could have done."

Moss stared blankly at the tag in his hand, trying to processes it all. He wasn't sure how long he stood there, but an explosion suddenly went off nearby, showering him with dirt and reminding him of where he was. Clearing his throat, Moss glanced over at Norén.

"Police up Shin's gear," he ordered, trying to keep his voice steady. He wasn't sure how successful he was, but if she heard his voice wavering, Norén didn't comment.

Moss started to remove the magazines from Shin's belt, but the sound of approaching footsteps caught his attention. He looked up to see Sergeant Jacob Xanthus, one of Quebec Company's platoon sergeants, running towards them.

"Sappers!" he yelled at them, then froze at the sight of Ferguson's and Shin's chewed up bodies. The seconds ticked by as Xanthus stood there, motionless.

"Sergeant Xanthus!" Moss barked, drawing his attention back to the task at hand. "What do you need?"

Xanthus seemed to shake himself. "We need combat engineers up front!"

Moss took a deep, ragged breath, and released it slowly. "Doc, we've got to go," Moss reported, glad for the distraction. He picked up Shin's rifle from the ground and quickly checked it over. "You good here?"

"Yeah, I got this," Falco replied, even as he worked on hooking an IV to Ferguson. "Go do what you got to do!"

"Copy," Moss replied before bending over to remove the MC5 Individual Net/Terminal strapped to Ferguson's left forearm. The tactical pad, or TACPAD, was an essential piece of equipment issued to officers and non-commissioned officers that contained military data such as maps, clearance codes, and detonation frequencies.

"You're in good hands now Harry," Moss told Ferguson as he worked on securing the TACPAD to his right forearm. Patting Ferguson on his left shoulder, he yelled, "I'll see you someplace else!"

He glanced at Xanthus and nodded.

"Follow me!" Xanthus ordered.

They followed Xanthus as he dashed back up the hill. They advanced a couple hundred meters, up to the point where the forest abruptly ended, leaving nothing but bare open ground the rest of the way up the hill. It was also there, at the edge of the tree line, where they found Rabinowitz and his command staff, taking cover behind a fallen tree trunk.

"Sir, the sappers are here!" Xanthus called out.

"Squad leader!" Rabinowitz immediately called out and Moss quickly moved passed his squad until he was crouched right next to Rabinowitz.

"Sir!" Moss barked, shouting to be heard over the artillery and plasma fire.

"About seventy meters out, Covenant have got plasma turrets dug into the side of the hill raining hell down on us," Rabinowitz yelled into Moss' ear. "My boys are trying to eliminate them with grenades, but we can't get close enough because the Covenant have strung out some wire about twenty meters in front of them! I need you to get out there and make us a hole!"

Moss glanced out across the open hillside in front of him. Aside from one or two small bushes, the hillside was complete devoid of cover. Plasma fire raked across the open land and a couple of meters away, Moss watched as an infantryman stood up to fire a grenade launcher, only to be instantly gunned down. In the distance, Moss could just barely make out the source of the fire, a series of Shade turrets spaced roughly twenty meters apart.

Ducking his head back down, Moss turned back to Rabinowitz.

"We're going to need a smoke screen sir!" Moss requested. "And covering fire! Lots of covering fire!"

"You'll get it!" Rabinowitz promised before turning to his radio operator. "Jackson! Tell 4th Platoon to get their Gimpys talking! Start suppressing those Shades! Aykut! I want a smoke screen, right here!"

As Rabinowitz barked out orders, Moss returned to his squad. "Who's got the bangers?"

Both Poblede and Bashir raised their hands.

"Okay, Pip and Bashir, with me. The rest of you, covering fire," Moss paused as smoke shells exploded over the field in front of him, laying down a thick cloud of gray smoke. "Now!"

With the barest amount of hesitation, Moss tucked his head down and dashed out into the field through the smoke. All around him, the sound of machine gun fire filled his ears as the entire line of paratroopers open fired in an attempt to suppress the Covenant gunners long enough for Moss and his squad to do their jobs. Moss did his best to keep running in a straight line, least he accidently wander into their lines of fire.

The wire barrier loomed out of the smoke in front of him and Moss dropped to his belly, finding cover inside a small depression in the ground a couple of meters away. Poblede and Bashir joined him as he raised his head to study the Covenant defensive barrier in front of him. He was surprised by what he saw. When Rabinowitz had mentioned 'wire,' Moss had assumed what Rabinowitz really meant was some high tech Covenant equivalent of concertina wire. But now that Moss was able to get a closer look at it, it turned out the wire was in fact, literally, standard issued UNSC triple concertina wire. It had to have been left over from the UNSC base that used to be at the top of this hill because Moss couldn't think of a single instance of the Covenant ever using wire barriers. Still, Moss wasn't complaining. The use of UNSC equipment meant Moss knew exactly how to defeat it.

"Start assembling the Bangalore torpedo!" Moss ordered.

Poblede and Bashir quickly removed the explosives from their backpacks and began connecting the sections together, sliding it over to Moss once complete. With their help, he began shoving the torpedo under the concertina wire through the mud until it emerged on the other side. Before shoving the banger completely through, Moss reached into his pocket and pulled out a blasting cap with a remote detonator. Scanning it with his TACPAD to arm it, Moss pushed it into the end of the banger and shoved the entire assembly away from him.

"Fire in the hole!" Moss screamed, thumbing the activation button on his TACPAD.

The ground rumbled as a massive amount of dirt was thrown into the air. As the dust settled, Moss lifted his head and was satisfied to see a large section of concertina wire had been destroyed, leaving a large gap in the barrier.

"Come on! Let's go get the bastards!" Bashir yelled, climbing to his feet as the dust settled. He started to dash right through the open breach.

"White Knight, this is Sledgehammer 1-2," Moss called into his radio as he rose up to follow Bashir. He was just about to report a successful breach through the wire, when there was a loud, shrill BEEP and Bashir whirled to him, a look of horror on his face.

"Corporal, get down!" he screamed, sounding more terrified than Moss had ever heard him before.

Before Moss could ask what was wrong, there was an explosion and Moss knocked clean off his feet, landing heavily in the mud for the umpteenth time tonight. Moss quickly scrambled upright and looked around, only to see Bashir had disappeared completely, only a small crater remaining where he once stood.

"What the fuck?" Moss asked as he desperately tried to process the scene in front of him. "Where the fuck is Bashir?"

"Mine strike!" Poblede screamed. "We've got mines in the field behind the wire!"

"Son of a bitch!" Moss yelped, dropping to the ground, finally understanding the beeping noise he had heard just before Bashir had disappeared.

"What sort of fucking moron puts a minefield behind a wire barrier?" Poblede was complaining. "That defeats the point of both obstacles!"

"I have no idea how Covenant minds work Pip, so just roll with it!" Moss said irritably. "You got any more bangers?"

Poblede shook her head.

"Shit," Moss snarled before turning to his radio. "Norén, Bashir is gone, mine strike. We've got an active minefield out here! Bring up the rest of the squad and make sure you've got the APOBS with you!"

Picking himself off the ground, Moss fired a few rounds uphill and waited until Norén and the rest of the squad arrived, bring the APOBS with them.

"Poblede, get that shit set up!" Moss ordered. "Two, help her! The rest of you, cover!"

Moss open fired up the hill as Poblede and Two worked frantically to assemble the APOBS.

"Set!" Poblede reported, pulling out the last safety pin.

Conscious of the fact their smoke was about to wear out, Moss hesitated for half a second to allow his squad to find cover before he slammed his hand down on the trigger. There was a loud shriek as a rocket was fired from the APOBS into the air, dragging behind it a long chain of plastic explosives.

"Get back!" Moss ordered as the rocket and chain disappeared into the smoke. He waited until the chain had fully extended before reaching for the detonation switch.

"Fire in the hole!" he screamed. "Two, get your head down! Fire in the hole!"

A tremendous explosion ripped through the ground, the blast wave hitting Moss like a punch to the stomach. The noise was insane; even with his hearing protection, Moss could feel his ears ringing. The entire hill shook, and a massive amount of earth was displaced into the air before crashing back down like some sort of strange rain storm. As the dust cleared, Moss carefully poked his head up, and was pleased to note a large path had been cleared almost all the way to the Covenant turret line, marked by freshly overturned soil. Less pleasing to note was the shockwave from the explosion had actually blown away what remained of their smoke cover, leaving Moss and his squad out in the open. There was only one thing left to do.

"Get up!" Moss roared. "Everybody up! We got to hit the Covenant before they recover from their shock!"

Moss dashed up the hill, struggling slightly to make it through the loose soil. As he ran, he keyed in his mic.

"White Knight this is Sledgehammer 1-2," he breathlessly yelled. "Breach successful, we're pushing the plasma turrets now. Need infantry support, over!"

About halfway through the breach, a plasma bolt splattered into the ground by his feet, splashing him with burning dirt. Moss dove into a small impact crater nearby, joined by the rest of his squad. Plasma rain down around them as the Shade turret gunner recovered from his shock and began to open fire.

"Great, now what?" Griffin asked, his cheerful tone at odds with the situation.

"We need to take out that turret!"

"Oh cool, how do we do that?"

Moss quickly glanced over his cover. A Type-27 Shade turret manned by a single Grunt was sticking out from a pit in the ground, firing at them. He noticed another two Grunts and Jackal in the hole with the turret before he was forced to duck.

"We got to take out the gunner," Moss said. "So we can get close and flush out that foxhole with grenades."

"Sounds good. How do we do that?"

Moss handed his rifle to Poblede. "Pip, I'm going to distract the gunner," he told her as he pulled out a frag grenade. "Kill him. And hey," he grabbed her arm. "Please don't fucking miss."

"Corporal, how are you planning on distracting the gunner?" Norén asked.

"Like this."

Moss hurtled the grenade over his head. As soon as it detonated, he scrambled out of the crater and began sprinting diagonally up the hill.

"What the... Moss are you crazy?" he heard Poblede yelled.

"Don't fucking miss!" Moss hollered back.

Plasma rained down around as the Grunt immediately panned to target him. None of the rounds hit, but the thing about plasma was that it didn't need to hit directly on target to cause injury. Moss was sure if it wasn't for his rain soaked clothes and armor, he would be suffering from first to second degree burns across his body. As it were though, he was starting to get really dry.

A single gunshot from an MA37 assault rifle rang out behind him and the plasma fire abruptly cut off. Moss immediately turned and started to charge directly at the machine gun pit. As he drew near, a Jackal rose up with a Needle Rifle in hand. Before Moss could react, the Jackal fired a single shot. The needle impacted Moss right in his chest, causing him to stumble, but it failed to explode indicating a failure to penetrate so Moss continued to sprint forward, snapping the crystal off as he moved. The Jackal took aim again, but machine fire from Moss' squad forced the alien to duck.

As Moss came within two meters of the turret, he pulled out another grenade and hurtled it directly into the foxhole. The grenade exploded, throwing white, snow-like particles in all directions. Only, unlike snow, wherever these particles land, they immediately sizzled and burned, setting fire to both metal and flesh alike.

Confused by the lack of a boom, Moss glanced down at his belt and realized he had inadvertently tossed a white phosphorus grenade, one he used for target designation and material demolition, instead of a frag grenade. Horrified, Moss looked back up and watched as the Grunts, completely engulfed in flames and screeching in pain, their armor literally welding to their flesh, scramble out of the hole and start to roll around in the mud, trying desperately to extinguish the flames. They were mercifully put out their misery by gun fire from his squad.

Then the Jackal climbed out of the hole. Like the Grunts before him, he too was on fire, his armor melting off his body, and his blacken flesh peeling all the way to the bone. The Jackal took one look at Moss, let out a blood-curdling scream of pain and hatred, and charged towards Moss.

"Oh fuck!" Moss yelped, backpedaling and pulling out his sidearm.

He emptied the magazine into the Jackal's chest, but the armor piercing rounds punched right through the weakened armor and out the other side without stopping or even slowing down. The Jackal was too far gone to notice the pain of the impacts and continued to charge at Moss, his arms extended as if he intended to throttle Moss with his bare hands. Moss waited until the last second before sidestepping the flaming Jackal, tripping him as he passed. The Jackal landed face first into the mud but before he could recover, Moss stomped on the back of his head, driving his face further into the mud. But doing so caused a couple of white phosphorus particles to stick to the bottom of his boot.

"Ohshitohshitohshit!" Moss yelped. He dropped to the ground and pulled out his bayonet, cutting off the pieces of his boot where the white phosphorus had adhered to before it could burn through his shoe, and burying the pieces in the mud.

A soft groan caught his attention and Moss turned. He froze at the sight of the Jackal, almost a charred skeleton at this point, trying to pick himself off the ground. That is, until Two walked up, kicked the Jackal back onto the ground, and fire two shots at point blank range into the Jackal's head, finally killing him.

"Man, you should have let him burn," Griffin complained. "I like extra crispy chicken. Hey, who's hungry?" he asked with a laugh.

Poblede brushed passed him and marched straight up to Moss and hurtled his rifle right at his face. Moss was just barely able to reach up and grab it before it broke his nose.

"What the fuck was that Corporal?" she demanded to know, sounding equal parts pissed and terrified.

"Pip, we had to take out that machine gun nest," Moss protested.

"Yeah, that's why the Army gave me a fucking grenade launcher!"

"Ah," Moss said lamely. "Right," he finished as he wondered exactly how he forgot that little factoid.

Poblede opened her mouth, presumably to continue yelling at Moss, but stopped when Rabinowitz and his riflemen came running up.

"You pull another stunt like that again Corporal," Poblede threatened instead, "and I'm telling your mother."

"Yes ma'am," Moss meekly said.

"I thought you were his mother," he heard Griffin say snarky.

"Lieutenant, take your platoon and secure the rest of this line!" Rabinowitz barked as he came running up. "The rest of you, follow me! Good work Corporal. I'll make sure you a medal for that," Rabinowitz told Moss as he ran passed.

With Two's help, Moss climbed to his feet and went charging after Rabinowitz. They reached the top and cleared the crest of the hill, where Moss was finally able to lay eyes on the objective they had come here to destroy and the reason why they were here in the first place: the massive, lumbering form of a Type-38 Anti-Aircraft Cannon, better known to UNSC forces by its reporting name of "Tyrant." Assembled on site by Covenant forces when they first invade Newsaka two months ago, the Tyrant had effectively shut down all UNSC air traffic in the entire area of operations. With its massive firepower, infinite ammunition, and over-the-horizon range, there wasn't anything the UNSC possessed that flew through the air that the Tyrant couldn't destroy; everything from UNSC Navy frigates to Air Force ballistic missiles were shot down. Destruction of the Tyrant, and two other ones in the next mountain range over, would allow the UNSC Air Force and Navy to unleash the considerable firepower in their fleets and finally draw a close to the bloody Covenant invasion. On this colony at least.

Scrambling around trying to get reorganized at the base of the Tyrant was an understrength company of Covenant soldiers: all that remained of the Covenant garrison as the vast majority of defenders had been deployed to fight off what they had assumed to be the real UNSC attack: the distraction force in the valley below. Depending on their fixed fortifications to defend their rear, the remaining Covenant garrison was caught out in the open with no vehicles for support, no heavy weapons to fight back, and no cover.

"Covenant out in the open!" Rabinowitz bellowed. "Take them out!"

Moss dropped to his belly, using the crest of the hill for cover.

"Chose your targets!" he heard Xanthus yelling in the background. "And pour it on them!"

Moss aimed his rifle, but found he had no targets to shoot at. With the sheer volume of gunfire his fellow paratroopers were putting up, Moss found that most of the Covenant were dying before he could engage them. Moss aimed at a Grunt, but someone threw a frag grenade at the Grunt's feet blowing the creature away so Moss switched over to a Brute Ultra trying to rally his troops. Several other people spotted the alien though and Moss watched as the Brute disintegrated under a hail of gunfire. Three Jackals tried to create a shield wall; a rocket from an M41 SSR rocket launcher knocked them all off their feet. As they tried to recover, they were blown apart by a number of 40mm grenades.

As Moss searched for some still breathing targets, Moss could hear Two counting beside him.

"Three," Two said, and then fired another burst. "Four."

Next to Two, Moss could hear Griffin laughing his head off.

"Yeah, get some motherfuckers, get some!" he was saying, his cheers occasionally punctuated by gunfire.

On the other side of Moss, Norén was whispering to herself.

"That's for you Evert," he heard her say. "And that one was for you mum. But this one's for me," she finished as she gunned down one of the last remaining Skirmishers still in the open before reloading.

"2nd and 3rd Platoon, suppressing fire on the Tyrant!" Rabinowitz yelled out, scrambling upright as the surviving Covenant soldiers retreated back into the Tyrant, shutting the door behind them with an audible clank. "1st Platoon and Sappers, with me! To the door! Let's blow this thing and go home!"

Slipping slightly on the sheer amount of brass casings that litter the ground now, Moss leapt to his feet and sprinted across the open field, following behind several paratroopers as they progressed to the base of the Tyrant. A purple beam lanced through the chest of one of them and Moss looked up to the top platform of the Tyrant: Jackal snipers, doing their best to stem the tide rushing towards them.

"Up high, snipers! Up high!" Moss warned. Without breaking stride, Moss brought his rifle to bear and open fired on them. Moving as fast as he was, he was almost guaranteed to not have hit them even once, but he kept them suppressed until he had made to the base of the Tyrant where it would be impossible for the Jackals to shoot at him unless they exposed themselves rather dangerously.

Xanthus was already at the entrance into the Tyrant with a couple of his men. The blast doors were sealed shut, as expected, and Moss watched as one of Xanthus' men kicked the doors in frustration, before firing a burst from his rifle into the door. The bullets did absolutely nothing expect ricochet off, one of which nearly hit Xanthus in the arm.

"Hey Demirci, cut that shit out!" Xanthus yelled, smacking the offender in the back of the helmet. He turned to Moss with an annoyed look on his face. "Well, the tin can is sealed shut. I hope you engineers brought a can opener with you."

"Oh, don't worry," Moss assured him. "We brought something much better than that. Griffin, Norén, breaching charges, let's go!"

Attaching the charges to the doors, Moss gestured for everyone to take cover on either side of the doorframe. When everyone was in position, Moss glanced at Norén, who nodded.

"Fire in the hole!" she screamed before thumbing the remote detonator.

White hot sparks and orange flames began leaping from the breaching charges as the thermite-carbon cording was ignited, cutting a hole through the metal door like a hot knife through butter. As soon as the thermite was used up, a small, secondary charge was activated, blowing the metal door inwards and hopefully taking out any Covenant stupid enough to be standing on the other side.

Before the smoke could fully clear, Xanthus pulled out a frag grenade. "Ramirez, frags!" he barked and Ramirez pulled out his own grenade. They nodded each other before Xanthus primed his grenade and tossed through the hole. "Frag out!"

Moss pressed his back against the wall and waited for the grenades to explode.

"Breaching!" he yelled as soon as they did. Peeling away from the wall, he climbed through the hole and into the belly of the Tyrant. The exothermic charge had created a mess on the inside. Fragments of the door were imbedded everywhere and the normally blue color steel was stained black with soot. The transparent material that protected the Tyrant's pinch fusion reactor had been shattered, leaving the core exposed. Laying on the ground in front of the door was the corpse of a single Grunt, his head neatly decapitated by flying metal.

Ignoring the vulnerable core for now, Moss swept the right side of the room, catching sight of two Grunts running up the ramp that led to the observation deck above them. Moss open fired, managing to kill one of them, but the other was able to escape.

"Left side clear!" he heard Norén yell from beside him.

"Right clear!" he yelled, keeping his rifle pointed at the ramp. "But we've got guys upstairs!"

Xanthus joined him, his rifle at the ready. "Prep this place to blow Corporal," he ordered. "My guys will clear the rest of this installation."

Moss nodded and shoulder his rifle.

"My guys, stack up!" Xanthus ordered and carefully began advancing up the ramp.

Ignoring the gunfire that roared out, Moss removed his backpack and pulled out an M168 Demolition Charge. Removing the adhesive strip on the back of the charge, he stuck the charge to the base of the pinch fusion reactor. Checking his TACPAD for the code, Moss set the charge, and then rotated the charging handle into the "arm" position.

Just as he finished working, Xanthus returned with the rest of his men. "Observation deck secured. You all set?"

"We're ready here," Moss reported, putting his backpack on.

"Good. Coming out!" Xanthus yelled outside, before exiting the room.

They retreated a safe distance away from the Tyrant.

"Sledgehammer 1-2 to all UNSC forces in the vicinity of Objective Charlie," Moss called into his radio. "There will be a controlled detonation in T minus three, two, one. All units, fire in the hole, fire in hole, fire in the hole." Lowering his microphone, Moss cupped his hands around his mouth. "FIRE IN THE HOLE!"

Moss pushed a button on his TACPAD. There was a muffled explosion from inside the Tyrant causing the entire installation to shake. An audible alarm began to sound from the Tyrant and small explosions began ripping through the entire building before the barrel of the Tyrant detonated in a brilliant blue flash, causing Moss to reflexively raise his arm to protect his eyes from the light. As the explosion died down, Moss lowered his arm and watched as the Tyrant, with a teeth rattling tremble, collapse upon itself.

"Chess Master, this is White Knight," Rabinowitz said into the radio as he walked up. "Objective Charlie is secured, I say again, Objective Charlie has been destroyed. Out. Quebec Company, secure the area! Police all weapons, and secure any and all Covenant survivors. Don't execute them! I want all possible prisoners turned over to Military Intelligence for interrogation. That includes you Private Demirci!"

"Yes sir," Demirci grumbled with obvious reluctance.

As the infantry scrambled around to follow orders, Moss calmly walked back to the crest of the hill to get out of their way. With the Tyrant destroyed, his job was essentially finished.

Moss stared out in the distance and watched two blue explosions, almost identical to the one he witnessed mere minutes ago, light up the horizon.

"All objectives have been secured, I guess," Norén noted as she joined Moss.

"I guess."

A loud rumbling filled the air.

"Here come our angels," Poblede whispered, looking straight up at the sky.

Moss followed her gaze and saw one of the most beautiful sights he'd seen in a while: the hulking forms of two UNSC Navy frigates, their hulls glowing orange as they descended through Newsaka's atmosphere. Surrounding them like a halo were hundreds of Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps Longsword and Shortsword fighters.

"Never thought I would be happy to see the damn Marine Corps," Two commented, sounding awestruck.

Before Moss could respond, one of the frigates open fired with her MAC cannon, the muzzle flash lighting up the entire sky like a second sun. Moss saw the flash of the impact and then, almost a full minute later, heard the rumble of the explosion.

"Now that's a beautiful sight," Griffin commented as the fighters began to disperse, vectoring to where they were needed the most.

"Yes it is," Moss agreed.

For several minutes, they sat there watching as UNSC air power began raining down destruction on the Covenant. As he sat there, a thought suddenly occurred to him and Moss turned to Two.

"Hey rookie," he called out.

Two turned to face him. "Yeah Corporal?" he tiredly asked.

Instead of reply, Moss extended his hand and waited until Two, confused, took it.

"Corporal Moss Shen," Moss cheerfully announced, shaking his hand. "And you are?"

Two stared blankly at him for a moment, before a grin broke out on his face, and he returned the handshake. "Specialist Cliff Roer," he said.

"It's a pleasure to meet you Specialist Roer," Moss declared with a smile. "Welcome to 2nd Squad."


1. This chapter was partially inspired by the 1987 war film Hamburger Hill. The movie is about the 1969 Battle of Hamburger Hill during the Vietnam War where elements of the US Army's 101st Airborne Division made a direct assault against the heavily fortified Hamburger Hill (marked on military maps as "Hill 937" because it is 937 meters tall.) The battle was/is controversial because the mountain held no strategic value, and the US military abandoned it soon after its capture.

2. "Leg" or "Straight Leg" (my research indicates either can be used) is a US Army specific derisive term for any non-airborne qualified soldier.

3 & 5. The use of numbers as nicknames for new replacements is a reference to the German World War II miniseries Unsere Mütter, unsere Väter (English title: Generation War,) a three part series about five German friends and their roles during WW2.

4. The "Who you calling bud… calling friend" sequence is from the 2001 heist film Ocean's Eleven

6. A "cannon cocker" as defined by Urbandictionary is: "Term used in the military for anyone that fires or mans any type of gun. This can be used for a tank gunner, artillery man, door gunner, deck gunner, etc."

7. A "redleg" is a US Army specific nickname for any member of the Artillery Branch. Its usage here is technically not correct because redlegs actually don't apply to mortarmen who fire infantry mortars, but in this case, it's simply because Moss and his squad don't know any better.

8. Quote from Halo 3, Halo 3: ODST, and it's an achievement in Halo: Reach