The ground shook and the buildings rattled as something exploded nearby. Debris rained down, disturbed by the blast, but Sergeant Moss Shen didn't even flinch, having been near too many explosions in the last 48 hours to be bother by this one. He gripped his mud-splattered MA37 Assault Rifle as he stared across the hundred meter kill zone they had set up, trying his best to see through the fog. It was a pointless exercise; the fog was so thick he could barely see three meters in front of him. It didn't matter though; they were going to be coming and everyone knew it.

Moss glanced back at the men of what was left of Alpha Company (Combat Engineers), 127th Troops Battalion, of the 127th Airborne Brigade. Originally 300 strong, the company had been whittled down to 70 men, then reinforced by some lost Marines from 1-38th Marines of the 103rd Marine Expeditionary Unit, and then cut down again until there were only 15 of them left. 15 men left to fight off a regiment sized force of Covenant soldiers. Any other unit would have retreated long ago and indeed they would have if it weren't the fact they'd been cut off before the battle even began. Surrendering wasn't an option; even if the Covenant took prisoners everyone left in the company was either too stubborn or too stupid to choose anything but to go down fighting.

The fog shifted slightly and Moss lifted his rifle and took aim. He had a feeling he knew who it was; after all, the Covenant's idea of subtly was to give a cloaked soldier a big glowing sword. Still, even a broken clock was right twice a day and after 48 hours of their inability to overrun this position, the Covenant might have learned a new trick.

Moss relaxed as the familiar figure of Sergeant Helios Elias, a combat engineer from 2nd Platoon, and his fireteam emerged from the fog. He turned his rifle so he wasn't aiming directly at them, instead aiming into the fog to cover their retreat. They ran past him, one by one, and dropped, breathlessly to the ground behind him. Moss frowned. Only three people emerged from the fog. He had sent four out earlier. Moss glanced over them. Elias, Fatty, and Trig. It wasn't hard to figure out what happened to the fourth man. The real question was how'd he kick it?

"Trip mines and incendiary grenades set and in place Sar'nt," Elias reported breathlessly as he slid into Moss's foxhole. He removed his empty backpack and threw it into the fog. There was no point in keeping it any longer. He handed Moss a clacker detonator. "Here's the trigger for the C-12."

"What happen to that Marine? What was his name?" Moss asked in a loud whisper.

"Private First Class Guy Cia," Elias said shaking his head. "Literarily ran into one of those Baby Kongs. He didn't hesitate. Pulled out a frag and set it off right there."

Moss nodded. That explained the explosion earlier. He didn't blame the Marine. Committing suicide was much more preferable to being taken prisoner by the Brutes. He had read the reports and seen the pictures of what Brutes like to do with their prisoners. It wasn't pretty. Apparently the Brute word for "prisoner" was also the same word they used for "meal."

Moss shook his head clear of his morbid thoughts. It didn't matter; no one was going to make it out of here alive. "What about the rest of you? Everything go alright?"

"Almost. Got spotted by a patrol before I could set the mines but Trig here manage to distract them," Specialist Yacob "Fatty" Tubb reported, "got the stuff set though."

Private First Class Louis Trigueros nodded. "Turns out, the Covenant don't like it when you drop a dumpster on top of them," he said with a small grin. "Should have seen their faces." He raised his hands and adopted a shocked expression. "Ahhh! Crunch. Best fun I've had in years."

Moss chuckled appreciatively at what Trig was trying to do. Trig was a horrible liar but he was always trying to make people laugh. Then Moss sobered up. "But the explosives," he pressed, "are they set and in place? Covies aren't going to find them?"

Trig and Fatty nodded. "They're good Sar'nt. They're set for our last stand," Fatty reported.

"Good. Alright, head back into the Lounge. Private Tobruk's cooking the last of our MREs," Moss ordered.

"MREs? Great, not exactly what I had in mind for a last meal," Elias complained. "Thanks Moss."

"Don't worry Sergeant. I got you covered. I've got 50 bucks. I'll buy you a beer and a steak from that nice place down the street. You just got to clear the Baby Kongs from it first," Trig said as they walked away.

"50 bucks? You motherfucker. You told me you didn't have any money. You still owe me 150 from our last poker game," Moss heard Fatty say as they disappeared into the fog. He shook his head at their antics. He was always amazed at how calm people could be, even at the edge of death.

"Everything set Sergeant?"

Moss glanced up as Sergeant Maximilian "Max" Pavlov sat down next to him. Sergeant Pavlov was his counter-part in charge of the six, hell five now, Marines that had attached themselves to Alpha Company.

"Yep, the last of our explosives are in place. We're all set," Moss informed him.

"That's good. Still don't know why you fucking hooahs had that many explosives with you," Pavlov said.

"It had been our mission to set up a mine field." Moss hesitated. "Sorry about your man."

"Hum? Oh, you mean Private Cai. Yes. Sergeant Elias told me on my way out. Well, as far as deaths go, it's pretty horrible. But I know Guy. He wouldn't have wanted it any other way." Pavlov pulled a bottle from his pocket and took a swig from it. "If only we could be so fortunate as to choose the way we go out. Drink?" he asked, offering it Moss.

Moss stared at it with some suspicion. "What is it?" he asked.

"Its vodka," Pavlov informed him.

Moss shook his head in amusement. "Way to perpetrate the stereotype."

"What?"

"Russians are always drunk on vodka," Moss explained.

Pavlov huffed indignant. "I'm Bulgarian, thank you very much Sergeant."

"Ah, my mistake," Moss said as he glanced out to the kill zone.

"Well?" Pavlov asked and Moss turned back to see Pavlov was still offering him a drink. Moss held up his hand.

"Thanks but no thanks. Not much of a drinker to begin with but I definitely do not drink while on duty," Moss said.

Pavlov stared at him incredulously before bursting out laughing. "Okay," he said between laughs, "more for me I guess." He took another swing from the bottle, still chuckling.

Moss shook his head before returning to his vigil over the square. He heard Pavlov sigh and place the bottle down with a clink. Then he heard a tearing noise. He turned to look at Pavlov who was tearing a piece of fabric from his undershirt.

"Not going to finish it?" Moss asked, noticing the half-full bottle. Pavlov shrugged.

"Molotov cocktail," Pavlov said as he soaked the fabric scrap. "Can't hurt, right?"

"Yeah. I guess it can't." Moss watched as Pavlov stuffed the scrap into the bottle and put it aside. They sat there in silence for a couple of moments before Pavlov reached into his pocket and pulled out a holographic photograph. He activated it, showing a picture of a young black woman and a toddler sitting in her lap. Their smiling faces struck Moss as out of place for a world of death like this.

"Wife and kid?" he asked. Pavlov nodded.

"Yeah. My wife Aisha and my daughter Yoko," Pavlov told him. He turned to Moss with a smile of pride on his face. "She turns five next week. Excellent piano player. Wish I had a recording to play for you."

"Can I see it?" Pavlov handed the photograph to Moss. He studied the picture, then studied Pavlov's face. "She's got your eyes," he told him, "and your face. You know, just, not as mud splattered," Moss said with a grin as he handed the picture back.

"Hell. I'd hoped she had her mother's face. Who wants a mug like mine?" Pavlov said. Moss laughed quietly.

"What's she want to be when she grows up? Hopefully not a big, dumb, marine like her dad?" Moss asked jokingly.

Pavlov smiled, but the smile didn't quite reach his face. "No. The wife and I are estranged. Yoko hasn't seen me since she was three."

The smile slid of Moss' face. "I'm sorry to hear that."

"It was my fault." Pavlov turned to Moss, his eyes tearing up. "I brought the war home with me. I just, couldn't let go." He rubbed his face. "I wish things could have been different." Then he snorted. "It's funny, you know. How we as human, never say the things we should say until our loved ones are gone. Why do we do that?"

Moss had no answer to that. "Well, tell you what. After we win this battle and we get those medals pinned to our chest, we'll get some R&R. I'll help you track her down and then you can say the things you should say."

Pavlov snorted. "Oh come on. You really think we're going to survive? This is the last stand. This is the Battle of Masada. The Battle of Camarón. The Battle of Pasir Panjang. I mean, seriously, when has any last stand resulted in the defenders winning?"

"Battle of Rorke's Drift," Moss instantly replied. "Battle off Samar. Hell. You're namesake. Pavlov's House."

" Touché." Pavlov stared at Moss. "You know, you are surprisingly optimistic."

Moss shrugged. "It's funny. I've always been a half-empty type guy. But I do believe it was United States Marine Corps General Chesty Puller who said it best: 'We're surrounded. That simplifies the problem.'"

Pavlov burst out laughing. "Hell Sergeant Shen. You should have been a Marine. Guess what they say about the Army isn't true."

"And what do they say about the Army?" Moss asked curiously.

"You know what Army stands for? Ain't ready for Marines yet."

"You know what Marine stands for?" Moss shot back. "Muscles are required, intelligence not essential."

They burst out laughing. Abruptly, Moss's radio crackled. "Sergeant?"

Moss toggled his microphone. "Yeah, go ahead Zancanelli."

"They're coming."

Moss sobered up instantly. He exchanged a glance with Pavlov, whose face was set in stone. Moss toggled his microphone. "Roger that. Fall back to your hole Leo."

"Well," Pavlov said as he stood up, grabbing his rifle and Molotov. "Better go check on my guys. Good luck," he said as he shook Moss' hand. "Semper Fi, Oorah, and all that other chessy motto shit."

Moss held up a closed fist. "Hooah, Sergeant. I'll see you someplace else. And I mean it about your family. I'll help you track them down."

Pavlov sighed. "The problem about that plan Moss, is, they're already dead." He walked away, swallowed by the fog.

Moss stared at where he disappeared, before shaking himself. Turning around, he checked his weapons. He had his MA37 Assault Rifle and 224 rounds loaded into seven magazines. He had an M6G pistol that had belonged to the company first sergeant, acting-First Sergeant Daniels before he'd died, and 24 rounds in three pistol magazines. He had an M319 grenade launcher and four 40mm HEDP grenades. He had three M9 fragmentation grenades and two thermite grenades. Finally, topping off his arsenal, he had his standard issued combat knife.

Making sure all his weapons were loaded and within easy reach, he picked up the M319 and opened the breech as he thought over his battle plan. Obviously his first priority was to deplete his 40mm grenades. 40mm grenades only had a minimum arming distance of 30 or so meters so it would do no good in the close quarters this fight would surely devolve into. After using up the 40 mils, he would switch to his M9. Once those were gone, his fully automatic MA37 would be extremely useful. Moss had always been trained not to use his assault rifle on fully automatic but given the circumstances, Moss was sure his drill sergeant would be willing to forgive this transgression. Finally, if he was still alive, he'd use his pistol, then his thermite grenades. At the very least he'd be able to die watching the fuckers roast to death.

Moss glanced up as one of the Marines, a lance corporal, drop into the hole next to him holding a M247 machine gun. He had a M6G strapped in a thigh holster and a MA5C assault rifle slung across his back. Moss nodded at him in greeting.

"How you feeling, Lance Corporal...sorry I don't actually know your name," Moss asked him.

"Kale Zhang, Sergeant Shen," Zhang told him. "I feel good. Real good. It's good day to die Sergeant."

Moss looked around. The fog was letting up slowly, allowing Moss to see the body covered battlefield, the blood, and the destruction. It wasn't his ideal place to die, but it'd do. "I guess it is, Lance Corporal, I guess it is."

He signed to himself. One last thing to do. He made sure his radio was transmitting to everyone left in the company and then toggled the on switch to his microphone.

"Gentlemen," Moss began, "I guess now is the appropriate time for the last minute rousing speech. Well, sorry to disappoint but rousing speeches have never really been my thing. What I really wanted to do is reassure you." Moss took a deep breath and tried to organize his thoughts. "For me personally, I joined the army knowing one day I was going to have to lay down my life for my country. I accepted that. I was fine with that idea. What bothered me most was the idea that I would die without knowing if my death would be worth it. Whether I died for a good reason. Well, I just want to reassure you guys: this is worth it. Every Covenant soldier we kill here is one less that can continue their bloody rampage against the human race. Every round we fire today is another life saved. And although the rest of humanity may never know what we did here, we've left our mark in life. We've held to the ideals and the traditions of the Marine and Airborne Corps."

In the distance, Moss could hear the familiar whine of Wraith tanks advancing into position. "Those of you who know me know I'm not very religious. Never been a big fan of religion, made even worst by fighting against a group of religious fanatics. But I do believe in things like fate. I believe it was fate that bought us here, now, and I believe it is fated that we will meet again, in this life or the next." Moss swallowed as his throat felt constricted and paused to center himself. He wasn't big on showing emotion and he damn well wasn't planning on starting now. "That's all I've got to say. Thank you for giving your all. It's been an honor."

Moss toggled the microphone off. Beside him, Zhang nodded at him. "Well said Sergeant."

Moss gave him a wiry grin. "Meh, I've given better."

In the distance, he could hear the familiar whoosh as the Wraith began firing. "And here we go," Moss muttered to himself as he ducked into his foxhole as plasma mortars began exploding all around them.

The ground violently shook as the Covenant bombarded their position in an attempt to weaken their hold. The air shot up in temperature, making it hard to breath, as superheated plasma mortar after plasma mortar landed all around Moss' hole. Molten rock and burning dirt peppered Moss and Moss wondered if the Covenant were going to do the smart thing and merely level the area rather than risk anymore troops. It's what he would have done in their position. Besides him, he could hear Zhang saying something under his breath.

"What was that?" Moss asked loudly.

Zhang held up an index finger and they waited as another mortar whooshed in and exploded nearby. "15 points," Zhang said.

"What?" Moss asked in confusion.

"25 points. It's a game my friends and I played when we were getting shelled," Zhang explained. "We pretended we were sitting on a dartboard and the artillery are the darts. The hole is the bull's eye and we'd give points out depending on how close the shells hit."

Moss stared at him. "You Marines are crazy," he declared.

"Says the paratrooper," Zhang said with a laugh. "Who the hell wants to jump out of a perfectly good airplane?

"The fact that you referred to it as a 'good airplane' indicates you really have no idea how things really are."

Zhang shrugged. "Fair enough. Anyways, the dart game is a good way to past time. You should try it!"

Moss and Zhang reflexively flinched as a mortar exploded less than a meter away from the hole, causing part of the foxhole wall to collapse inwards. Moss shook his head, shaking the debris off his helmet.

"I guess that's 25?" Moss asked dryly.

"That's the sprint! 17!" Zhang cheered as another mortar landed nearby.

They spent several minutes calling out sources until Zhang finally asked, "How long do you think they'll keep at it?"

Moss shrugged. "If they're smart, they'll keep firing until they've leveled this entire area."

"That would suck," Zhang commented.

The mortar barrage suddenly slackened, before abruptly cutting out. After the ear shattering explosions, the silence was extremely poignant. Moss turned to Zhang.

"We can always depend on the Brutes to not do the smart thing. Guns up!"

Moss and Zhang raised their respective weapons to the edge of the foxhole. "Don't fire until I do," Moss ordered.

They waited. The plasma barrage had burned away all the fog but left a cloud of smoke and dust in its place. Moss squinted, trying to see the Covenant on the other side. He heard movement and for a brief moment, Moss thought he was going insane. Through the smoke, he could a growing line of green, glowing, floating orbs. Then he realized what it was. The muzzles of plasma pistols.

"Get ready! The Grunts are about to charge!" Moss called out. Beside him, there was a click as Zhang flicked the safety off his machine gun.

There was a single roar from a Brute and at once the entire line of Grunts began yelling and screaming. Moss took a deep breath and took careful aim with his grenade launcher. Then the line of glowing orbs surged forward, firing.

Green and red plasma bolts soared through the air, leaving multicolored streaks in their wake. The bolts landed on the ground around the hole, leaving scorch marks in the dirt and the pungent smell of ozone. Occasionally mixed in were purple spikes that shattered when they hit the ground. An orange ball flew overhead and landed with a small explosion behind the hole. There were loud cracks as a supersonic spike zipped past Moss' ear: rounds from Brute Spikers.

Moss held his fire.

In the distance, a beeping noise rose over the roar of the Covenant. Seconds later the beeping noises were replaced with earth shattering explosions as the Covenant ran through the trip mine field Moss' troops planted earlier. The roar of the Covenant was replaced with the screams of pain and anger. The incoming fire slackened for a few moments as dozens of Grunts, Jackals, and Brutes were killed instantly. The line seemed to hesitate but as the explosions died down, the dead Covenant were reinforced almost immediately. The charge picked up momentum and the volume of incoming fire quickly picked up.

Moss held his fire.

As the Covenant continued forward, great burst of flames began sprouting from the ground. Hours earlier during a lull in the fighting, Moss' troops had collected all the Type 3 Incendiary Grenades from the corpse of the Brutes and daisy-chained them all together, triggered by several trip wires. As the Covenant walked over the wire, the grenades went off simultaneously, spewing a napalm-like gel that instantly ignited when exposed to oxygen. Through the smoke Moss could see the outlines of Grunts, with their bodies on fire, running and rolling around on the ground, trying to extinguish the flames before falling, never to get back up again. The wind shifted slightly, and the smell of burnt flesh fill his nose.

Moss held his fire.

Grenades were beginning to land around him. The blue glow of plasma grenade thrown by Grunts, disappeared in brilliant blue flashes that left spots in Moss' vision. Spike grenades, with their deadly payload, stuck to the ground and exploded filling the air with metal razors, like a storm of hail. Only this hail was capable of embedding itself at least two centimeters into steel. Incendiary grenades, this time being utilized by their Brute makers, landed, seeking out things to burn and finding nothing but ash.

Yet, still, Moss held his fire.

It wasn't until the first Covenant forces, a Jackal with his shield raised high, appear did Moss finally lift his grenade launcher to his shoulder and fire.

At once the sky seem to split as Moss' troops followed suit and unleashed their deadly payload. The first wave of Covenant infantry seemed to literally dissolve as a wall of lead slammed into them. Bullets traveling faster than the speed of sound cut through hapless flesh like hot knifes through butter, soaking the already soaked ground with blue and purple blood. Beside him, Zhang fired a long burst from his machine gun at a charging Brute. The 7.62mm rounds easily cut through the cheap armor the Brute was wearing, leaving the Brute with more holes than Swiss cheese.

Moss quickly ducked back into the hole and loaded another grenade into his launcher. He stood back up and fired the grenade at the feet of a large Brute who seemed to be trying to organizing things. The grenade exploded, severing the Brute's legs below the knees, leaving him to roll on the ground screaming in pain or rage. Moss grinned. He ducked to reload.

"Choppers!" Zhang screamed over the roar of gunfire even as he swept the field with his machine gun. Moss looked up and swore. At least five Brute Choppers were charging at them.

Like a motorcycle out of hell, the monstrous Choppers came, their massive front wheel easily running over everything, including Grunts and Jackals either too stupid or too slow to get out of the way. From the launchers on either side of the wheel, orange orbs of death rained down on his hole. Moss quickly snapped up the M319, aimed at the closest Chopper and fired, making sure to keep the trigger depressed. His aim was true; the grenade hit the Brute driver directly in his chest. The grenade bounced off and landed into the Brute's lap. The Brute stared at the grenade stupidly. Moss released the trigger.

The Chopper disappeared in an orange flash; a second Chopper collided into the remains of the first Chopper causing it to flip, throwing the driver to the ground before he was crushed as the Chopper landed. Moss ducked back into the hole to reload while Zhang fired an ineffective burst at another Chopper, the bullets bouncing off the front armor of the vehicle.

"Focus fire on the infantry!" Moss ordered as he quickly took aim and fired his last 40mm grenade. He missed the Chopper and the grenade exploded, shredding a Jackal. Throwing the now useless grenade launcher to the side, Moss pulled out the detonator.

"Fire in the hole!" Moss screamed as he squeezed the trigger.

Buried in the ground ten meters in front of the hole was about nine kilograms worth of C-12 plastic explosives spread out in a rough semi-circle. Lightweight, extremely safe, with a powerful explosive power, C-12 was a combat engineer's best friend. Primarily used to destroy structures, C-12 was powerful enough to damage tanks. Against the light armored Choppers, the effects were devastating. All three Choppers vanished, consumed by the massive fireball.

"Oh shit!" Moss yelled as he grabbed Zhang and pulled him to the hole. One Chopper wheel, undeterred by the lack of a driver, continued to propel forward, passing directly over the entrance to the hole. Moss screamed in fright as the blades of the wheel scrapped against the back of his helmet.

Moss sat back up as the wheel past. Grabbing his head, he felt his helmet. The wheel had left a shallow cut in the metal of his helmet. Moss and Zhang exchanged glances.

"Talk about a close shave," Zhang quipped.

Moss snorted. Then a spiker round embedded itself into the ground between them. Moss grabbed his assault rifle and began firing.

His first two rounds nailed a Grunt in the head. Panning to the left, Moss fired several rounds at a Jackal, riddling his body with holes. He ducked as a purple spike zipped by his head; turning, he drilled the Grunt who shot the Needler right between the eyes. Moss winced as a spiker round grazed his arm. Panning to the right, Moss fired the rest of his magazine in the direction of the fire.

"Loading, cover!" Moss cried out as Zhang fired over his head. Moss frantically removed the empty magazine and slid another one in as empty casings rained over his head.

"Back up!" Moss called out as he slid the bolt home and stood up, firing into the crowd.

"Loading!" Zhang said as his emptied his machine gun. Opening the cover, he put a fresh belt into the feed tray.

"Oh shit, look out!" Moss pushed Zhang down as a Skirmisher leapt at them, a shining knife in his hands. Switching to full-auto, Moss emptied half his magazine to the Jackal sub-species, killing it. The corpse slammed into Moss, knocking him backwards. Shoving the body out of the hole, he put two more rounds into the body, just to be on the safe side.

"Good to go!" Zhang called out as his machine gun came back to life.

Moss fired his rifle. The Covenant at this point were so jammed packed, the only way he'd miss was if he tried to. Taking the head off a charging Grunt, his rifle clicked empty. Dropping the rifle, Moss grabbed one of his frag grenades and threw it into the mess. There was a muffled explosion and as Moss picked up his rifle to reload, he realized Zhang was whispering something under his breath.

"What did you say?" Moss yelled out as he reloaded.

"Amituofo!" Zhang yelled back.

"What the fuck does that mean?" Moss screamed back as he fired a three round burst at a nearby Grunt, shooting it in the stomach. Another round to the head killed ended the Grunt's life.

"There's a story among Chinese Buddhist," Zhang shouted as he threw his empty machine gun away and unslung his rifle, "where if you manage to say the Buddha's name in Chinese with your last breath, Amituofo, you'll automatically go to heaven."

"Sounds good!" Moss yelled as he threw a hand grenade. "Think it'll work?"

"We're about to find out!" Zhang hollered, before standing up and firing into the distance.

Moss' rifle sudden clicked and failed to fire. Checking his screen, he noted he still had three rounds in the magazine; his rifle had jammed. Turning the rifle so he could look into the chamber, he pulled back on the chambering bolt. Then a plasma bolt slammed into his rifle. The superheated plasma instantly cooked off his remaining rounds in his magazine. His rifle exploded.

Moss screamed in pain he received a face full of shrapnel. Dropped his ruined rifle, he touched his face, trying to ascertain the damage done. A large chunk of plastic had embedded itself into his left cheek, just below the cheekbone. Another large chuck was stuck in the lens of his safety googles. If he hadn't been wearing them, he would have lost his left eye. Ducking back into the foxhole, he removed his ruined safety googles and dropped them. Then, painfully, he carefully pull the shrapnel from his face. Blood spilled out from the hole in his face, coating his hands. Rather than pain him, the sight of his blood angered him and in a rage, Moss pulled his pistol and blindly fired it over the top of his hole. When his pistol clicked empty, he pulled his last frag grenade and threw it over the side.

"Sergeant!" Zhang yelled into his ear. "I need a rifle mag!"

"Here!" Moss pulled a fresh magazine from his pouch and shoved it into Zhang's hand. Zhang eject the empty mag from his MA5C and shoved the new one in.

"Thanks!" he called out as Moss inserted a fresh magazine into his handgun. Zhang stood up, took aim, and then took a Needler spike to the throat.

Time seemed to slow as Zhang stared at the spike, an expression of surprise on his face. Then the spike exploded, knocking Zhang against the wall of the foxhole.

"Zhang!" Moss cried out and he reached over to the mess that was now Zhang's throat. "Hang on I'm going to, um." Moss hesitated. There really wasn't much he could do; the explosion had seared Zhang's throat, sealing his wounds. If Moss had some biofoam, maybe he could have done something. But they had ran out of biofoam long ago. Moss could only look helplessly as Zhang choke. Zhang mouthed something.

"What?" Moss asked as he leaned in close.

"Amituofo," Zhang whispered into Moss's ear. Zhang smiled. Then his eyes glazed over and he went limp.

"Fuck!" Moss screamed as he grabbed Zhang's rifle blindly fired over his head. He toggled his microphone. "Pavlov, this is Shen, do you copy?"

There was silence.

A Brute rushed at his hole, prepared to hurtle a spike grenade at him. Moss shot the head of the grenade off and emptied the magazine. The Brute fell to the ground with his hairy paws around his throat, blood gushing out between the Brute's fingers. Moss ducked back down and reloaded. "Sergeant Pavlov, do you copy?" he yelled into his mic.

He heard the shriek of a Skirmisher and glanced up. A trio of Skirmisher were charging his hole, plasma rifles blazing in their hands. The rifle in Moss' hand kicked to life, spewing death at 900 rounds per minute. He gunned down two Skirmishers but missed the third. His rifle clicked empty as the third Skirmisher jumped into his hole. Without hesitating, Moss swung his rifle, knocking the Skirmisher's plasma rifle to the side. Grabbing the stock of his rifle, he slammed it into the Skirmisher's face. Whipping out his knife, he plunged it into the Skirmisher's neck. Moss removed his knife and blood sprayed from the wound, coating the inside of the hole with luminescent purple blood.

"Elias! This is Moss. You copy? Trig? Fatty? Anybody copy?" Moss called into his microphone as he recovered his rifle and reloaded. There was no response. Was anyone let alive? He stood up and glanced over at the building behind him, just a plasma grenade landed next to him and exploded.

Shrapnel shredded his left headphone and the ear beneath it and the vision in his left eye went dark. Reaching up, he touched his eye. All he felt was blood. Did he just lose his eye? Coughing, he raised his rifle in time to shoot a Grunt carrying two active plasma grenades. The chubby alien dropped one of the grenades as the bullet caught the Grunt in the shoulder. With a shriek of fear, the Grunt tried to kick the grenade away. There was a bloody explosion and a seconds later a Grunt breathing mask bounced off his helmet. Moss looked around. All he could see were Covenant. He made a decision.

"To all UNSC units in the area, this Sergeant Moss Shen. Fall back to the Lounge, fall back!" Moss ordered. Gathering his remaining weaponry, he pulled a thermite grenade and hurtled it. Clambering out of his hole, Moss sprinted to the Lounge as a wave of Covenant infantry raced after him, firing as they ran.

There was a loud crack and Moss felt a sharp pain in his leg as he stumbled and fell to the ground. Rolling over, he fired his rifle several times at a charging Brute with a spiker raised. The Brute collapsed and rolled out of sight. Moss glanced down at his legs. A metal spike was protruding from his right leg just below the knee cap. Snarling, Moss began crawling backwards towards the Lounge, firing randomly. His hand suddenly touching brick, Moss painfully climbed through a window. Dropping to the ground with a painful thud as several plasma bolts melted through the wall, he quickly staggered up to the counter in the middle of the room and picked up a remote detonator.

"God, I hope none of you guys are alive out there because this is going to suck," Moss muttered out loud and pushed the button.

48 hours ago when Alpha Company first landed on the planet's surface, they quickly realized they had landed in the middle of a division-sized unit of Covenant infantry. Quickly seizing a nearby bank and setting up a firebase, they fortified the building and dubbed it "The Lounge." Part of their defense included surrounding the building with twenty-four claymore mines, which they daisy-chained together and rigged to explode with one remote detonator: the one Moss just activated.

The Claymores exploded. Designed in the early 1960's as a directional, command detonated, anti-personal mine, Claymores have undergone a number of cosmetic changes but the basic design remained the same: a metal plate, a slab of plastic explosives, and a little over 700 steel balls. One Claymore was usually enough to stop an infantry charge. Have twenty-four of them exploding at the same time and propelling over 16000 steel balls three times faster than the speed of sound and the results were…liquidating.

The wave of Covenant were instantly vaporized as the steel balls ripped through armor and flesh like they weren't even there. Minor explosions followed as the Claymores caused several plasma grenades to prematurely detonate. The Covenant offensive falter as the survivors retreated. But only for a moment.

Standing in the middle of the Lounge Moss, let the remote fall out his hand. It fell to the ground with a clatter. Sliding to the ruble covered ground, Moss took a deep breath and took stock of what he had left. He had a half-loaded MA5C assault rifle and one spare magazine. He had his and Zhang's M6G pistol as well as two spare magazines. He had his thermite grenade but somewhere along the way, Moss had dropped his combat knife. He had shrapnel in his face, a spike in his right leg, and his left eye and ear were either heavily damaged or gone. Given the dizziness he was feeling, Moss could tell he'd probably lost a lot of blood. He didn't have much time left.

Moss sighed and looked around the room. There were holes all over the walls and burning marks on the ceiling. Brick and drywall littered the floor. Stacked in the corner where an office used to be were the bodies of the men and women who had died days earlier. The ones they could collect at least. Moss felt a wave of sadness as he realized they wouldn't be able to give them a proper burial. On the other side of the counter was a large hole where the entrance to the bank used to be. Two human bodies, both wearing Army Battledress uniforms laid there. Moss forced himself to stand up and staggered over to investigate.

One body was missing a head so Moss couldn't be sure who it was but given the broad shoulders and dark skin, he guessed it was Corporal Zancanelli. The other was Private Tobruk with a smoking hole through his chest. Empty magazines and spent casing surrounding them. Zancanelli had half an assault rifle in his hands while Tobruk was carrying a M392 DMR. Moss carefully bent down and eject the magazine. Five rounds left. In the distance, Moss could hear the Covenant preparing for another assault. He sighed and dragged himself back to the counter where he dropped to the ground, facing the doorway. Removing the five rounds from the DMR mag, he inserted them into his half-loaded assault rifle magazine.

Inexplicably, Moss felt the urge to begin singing. Just before deploying, Moss and several other engineers had gone out to watch the on base high school perform the classic musical Annie. The tickets had been free and due to their upcoming deployment, they weren't allowed to leave the base. The performance had been surprisingly good and it had taken a month for the company staff to get the soldiers to stop singing the show tones over the radio.

Now, sitting alone in the dust, waiting to die, Moss began to croak out the words to the show's most popular song. "The sun'll come out, tomorrow!" Moss sang, horribly off tune. His voice cracked and he licked his lips, tasting blood. He could hear the Covenant approaching. Or was it death? At this point, he could no longer tell the difference. He cocked his rifle.

"So you got to hang on till tomorrow!"

Footsteps outside. A Skirmisher poked his head in the doorway. Moss removed it for him.

"Just thinkin' about tomorrow!"

A spike grenade landed inside and exploded. Moss was only vaguely aware of the spikes that peppered his legs. He fired at several Grunts running outside, hitting some of them.

"When I'm stuck with a day that's gray and lonely!"

His rifle clicked empty. He loaded his last rifle mag. Red bolts of plasma came in from the right side. He twisted and fired at the Brute. He missed but forced the Brute to duck.

"I just stick out my chin and grin and say!"

Moss was pretty sure he just missed an entire verse. He didn't care. A spike round hit him in his shoulder from behind. He lifted his rifle above his head and blindly emptied the magazine at the wall. Throwing the empty rifle, he pulled out both of his pistols.

"You're always a day away!"

A Jackal with a shield raised walked through the doorway. Moss fired his pistols at him. A bullet ricocheted off the shield and flew right back at him, destroying the handgun in his left hand. The Jackal lowered the shield slightly and Moss gave him another hole to breathe through.

"Tomorrow, tomorrow!"

A green plasma bolt flew through the air and hit him in his bicep on his right arm. His arm flopped lifelessly to the ground as the plasma seared his nerve ends shut. Reaching over, he pried the handgun out from his right hand and reloaded.

"I love you, tomorrow!"

A Brute whirled around the corner and leveled a Mauler at him. Moss kneecapped him with his pistol. As the Brute screamed in pain and tried to crawl away, Moss shot him five more times. Another Brute darted out and tried to drag him to safety; Moss shot the second one in the head. He loaded his last magazine.

"You're always a day away!" Moss yelled hoarsely as he finished the song. A loud, angry roar caught his attention. A large Brute with a massive hammer and clad in ornamented red and black armor stood silhouetted in the doorway. The towering headdress the Brute was wearing only added to his already impressive height. Moss began laughing hysterically. They needed a Chieftain to kill him?

Moss staggered defiantly to his feet. He grinned at the Brute. Then he raised his pistol and fired his last bullets. The pistol locked empty and Moss threw it at the Brute. The Brute swung his hammer.

Seconds later Moss was flying through the air. He slammed into the back wall with a loud crash and landed on the ground in a bloody heap. Moss spat, blood spilling out of his mouth. He felt himself being hoisted into the air and came face to face with the Brute Chieftain. The Chieftain held him with one paw and in the other, pulled out a wicked looking knife.

"Any last words, meat?" the Brute asked.

Moss lifted his hand and displayed his thermite grenade. The Chieftain's eyes widened as Moss lifted his thumb and the spoon flew off. Moss grinned.

"Smile you son of a BITCH!"

The next events happened so quickly they seemed to happen simultaneously. Moss's face was splattered with red-blue blood as a combat knife seemed to grow from the Brute's mouth. A green blur slapped the live grenade out of his hand. Moss felt his entire arm shatter from the blow and the pain he'd been successfully ignore suddenly hit him. Black spots appeared in his visions as he fell before green gauntlets caught him and gently eased him onto his back. A golden visor filled his vision.

"Sergeant Moss Shen? Chief Petty Officer Sierra 117 of the UNSC Navy Special Warfare Division. You're safe now."

"Safe?" Moss whispered as a numbing sensation spread through his body and sighed. This wasn't so bad. Not bad at

The world faded into darkness.