Author's Note: Hi everyone. Been a little longer than I was hoping for this chapter to come out, sorry. Blame moving, lining up a new job, and discovering Doom 2016 and Doom Eternal.
Anyways, trying something new here. This chapter has a soundtrack! So, that doesn't mean that the entirety of the chapter is set to music, more just there are a few songs that I was hoping could lift up their respective sections, kind of give y'all a window into where my mind was when I was writing them. I'll list the songs below in the A/N as well as where I found them, and your queue to play them as you read will be on the left of the screen, the song underlined and in italics and in parantheses.
Let me know what you think about this idea! Love it, hate it, indifferent, I'm interested in your opinion. I've certainly listened to some pieces of music and gotten inspiration for future setpieces in the story yet to come.
Deep Purple - Highway Star - Spotify, Youtube
Two Steps From Hell - Skyworld - Spotify, Youtube
Mick Gordon - Flesh & Metal (+ Harbinger) [Doom 2016 Gamerip] - Youtube
Mass Effect 3 Soundtrack - The Fleets Arrive - Spotify, Youtube
"Tank beats everything."
UNSC Marine Corp Unofficial Handbook
Chapter Fifty-One: The Battle of Nine Navies Pt. V
Ground Assault Ship PFS Dominus
"Platoon leaders, check in."
"Saber 2-1, green."
"Saber 3-1, green here."
"Saber 4-1, let's kick some ass."
Captain Tarquin Victus took a deep breath. Even while sitting comfortably in the shock-absorbing layered gel of his command seat in his T-86 Rapier Main Battle Tank, he could still feel the shuddering and jolting of their Ground Assault Ship descending rapidly through the layers of Rannoch's atmosphere. "Saber 1-1, ready."
Victus turned his head to the left, looking at the data displayed on his Inter-Vehicle Information System. The IVIS currently showed an icon of each of the twenty tanks of D Company under his command, all colored green to indicate their current positive status. With two taps of his finger on the screen he switched the display to show the spiderweb of comms channels connecting the 1st Squadron of the Hierarchy 8th Assault Cavalry Regiment.
He selected the one that put him through to the Squadron Commander, Major Alsis. "Sir, D Company reporting green across the board."
"Confirmed. Ship Captain says two minutes to landing," Major Alsis said back. The Turian was all-business, his radio-modulated voice cool as ice. "Pathfinder teams are engaging enemy ground forces to cover our landing. Once we hit the ground, proceed with your objective at best possible speed. Contact me if you run into trouble - Alsis out."
As the connection closed Victus swiped on his IVIS to show a top-down map of their landing zone - a relatively flat rectangular stretch of hard-packed land about fifteen kilometers long, and three kilometers wide. He flicked between topographical, satellite, and tactical views, briefly watching the icons showing allied Pathfinder advanced deployment teams getting into it with hostile Reaper and Geth forces.
With an outstretched talon he traced the curved pathway originating at their land zing zone and ending at a phase line five kilometers from the frontline that the enemy forces had entrenched in outside of the target facility. The path was the 8th Assault Cavalry's attack route, and Victus' tank company would be at the head. His objective was simple — use the weight of Turian armor to clear major hostile presence for the following Cavalry squadrons composed mainly of Infantry Fighting Vehicles and their embarked infantry.
The countdown in his HUD hit one minute. Victus checked in with his crew. "Aranius, ready?"
"Ready to blast some Reapers sir," his gunner replied eagerly. Victus could tell the pre-combat adrenaline dump was hitting him, with his hands flicking between the controls of the tank's main gun and his own tactical screens.
Unlike his gunner, Saber 1-1's driver was as still as a statue, her voice calm and precisely modulated. "Driver, green."
Their Ground Assault Ship started to shudder again, and Victus could hear the measured staccato cracks of the secondary mass accelerator cannons as they fired away at unknown ground targets. Victus took a deep breath, settling himself into his seat.
The comms beeped - Major Alsis on the squadron-wide band. "Mission update - Pathfinder teams on the ground are reporting a heavy enemy presence advancing at rapid speed to our LZ. Armor and infantry, they know we're coming. All units, prepare for a hot landing. Keep it tight and keep it moving. See you at the rendezvous line. Alsis out."
Victus could see the approaching enemies on his IVIS, the information being updated by allied intel sources. He saw masses of Reaper infantry and armored Brutes, with Ravager mobile cannons taking up positions on available high ground. Columns of Geth combat platforms led by Geth Primes advanced alongside the Reaper forces, with groups of Armatures interspersed throughout. No Geth Colossuses though, which gave Victus a small amount of relief - those behemoths were feared by every tanker in the galaxy.
Their Ground Assault Ship shook violently as it hit the ground with a high - yet controlled - velocity, the heavy-duty shock absorbers on its immense landing struts pushed to the brink. The bow vehicle bay's thick metal door began to fall down to create a ramp to the Rannochian earth below them. Light streamed in from the planet, it was just after dawn.
In front of him, nineteen other T-86 Rapier Main Battle Tanks waited in tight formation, packed into the vehicle bay, ready to rush down the opening ramp and onto the field of battle. Victus keyed his Company frequency on the mic. "Give 'em hell Sabers! Move out!"
The front-most platoon of tanks started rolling out before the exit ramp had even hit the ground. They fired IR-obscuring smoke grenades out in front of them from top mounted omni-grenade launchers as they did so, a well-practiced tactic to give any awaiting enemy a difficult time targeting the tanks at their most vulnerable stage of deployment. Second Platoon disappeared into the smoke, followed closely by Third and Fourth Platoon. In standard Turian Doctrine, First Platoon was the last to accelerate out of the vehicle bay, so that Victus would be able to command his Company expertly from the rear.
"Driver, forward!" Victus ordered.
"Roger!" Sergeant Aiden replied, Saber 1-1 purring loudly as she shifted the tank into gear.
Victus started getting contact and engagement reports from Second Platoon, hearing the booms of their main guns going off and sending fire downrange at the enemy. They were joined soon after by Third Platoon, then Fourth. As each of the Company's tanks hit the ground, they moved with well-oiled precision into their initial checkerboarded wedge formation. It was designed to penetrate enemy formations, while giving each individual tank a good field of vision and fire.
Saber 1-1's tracks gained purchase on the hard-packed Rannochain dirt. In another second, the tank was through the obscuring smoke that had been deployed by First Platoon, and Captain Victus could finally get his first proper look at the battlefield. He took it all in in a split-second.
D Company was opposite a large formation of forty Geth Armatures and roughly six hundred infantry platforms two thousand meters to their front. The Geth unit was just part of the line of enemy forces that had formed to oppose the 8th Assault Cavalry's landing. Five hundred yards to their left and their right, the other two Ground Assault Ships of the 8th were currently disgorging 2nd and 3rd Squadrons from their vehicle bays. Behind them, the rest of 1st Squadron streamed out of the larger port and starboard vehicle bays, composed mainly of Infantry Fighting Vehicles loaded with 8th Assault Cav ground troops.
His tanks had fallen into formation with precision and speed, a hallmark of their training and professionalism. When he was satisfied with their positioning, Victus spoke over the Company comms channel. "All tanks are to maintain high volumes of fire along your designated corridors and advance at highest coordinated speed. D Company, move it out!"
Twenty T-86 Rapiers raced forwards on their tracks, the frontmost of the two chevrons making up their wedge formation firing their main guns into the enemy formation downrange.
"Gunner, phasic sabot!" Victus ordered.
Corporal Aranius waited for the tank's autoloader to beep when it had chambered the selected round, a discarding sabot piercing shot imbued by a barrier-piercing phasic field. "Up!"
Through his periscope he selected a Geth Armature within main gun range, coloring it red for Aranius to clearly see. "Target marked, Armature, two-thousand meters!"
"Identified!" Aranius said, confirming he had crosshairs on the target.
"Fire!" Victus shouted.
"On the way!"
Saber 1-1 rocked as its 12mm main gun shot its round forwards at nearly twelve-thousand meters per second. The round hit the Geth Armature in almost an instant, the piercing sabot burrowing through the heavy shielding of the Geth vehicle and striking dead-center into its armored chest. Flame erupted from the entry wound, and the Armature crumpled under its own weight.
"Kill! Load phasic sabot!"
"Traverse right, target marked! Armature!" Victus said, selecting their next target. Fifteen Amatures had fallen with just D Company's first volley. The surviving Geth combat vehicles returned fire, plasma energy discharging from Amature main weapon mounts and arcing towards the Turian tanks.
"On the way!"
Saber 1-1 rocked once again, the round this time hitting lower on the Armature's chassis, blowing off two of its four legs.
"Effective kill!" Victus shouted, their target not dead, but taken out of the fight. He was fully immersed in the rhythm of the engagement now, falling back on years of training and combat instincts.
A short warbling alarm indicated to them that their radar had activated, and a small thump signaled an omni-grenade launched from their multi-directional launcher. Having identified the incoming fire as plasma-based, the counter system had selected a cryo-grenade, which detonated right in front of the Aramture's plasma round at precisely the right moment. The rapidly expanding explosion area of severely subthermal temperatures dissipated a significant majority of the incoming enemy round's energy, yet Saber 1-1 still jolted hard as it splashed over the heavily-armored front of the tank.
Victus' eyes flicked to the readout of the tank's kinetic barriers on his tactical display — forty one percent. Geth plasma weaponry was powerful, and without their active protection system that shot very well could have disabled or killed their tank, even through their barriers.
He pushed the thought out of his mind, scanning the enemy formation that his Company was rapidly approaching. The second salvo from his tanks had taken out all but a couple of the opposing Geth Armatures, leaving just pockets of Geth infantry supported by long-range Reaper Ravager gun platforms behind. Victus' fingers flashed as he assigned his platoons new fire missions. Second and Third Platoon loaded high explosive and canister rounds for anti-infantry duty, while Fourth Platoon finished off the Armatures.
He gave his platoon a more difficult task, eliminating the battery of Ravager mobile field guns lining a ridge behind the enemy line. The targets were just at the maximum effective range of their main battery guns, but 1st Platoon has some of the best gunners in the entire Squadron.
Victus set his sights on a Ravager near the middle of the Reaper gun line. From intelligence briefings he knew that the T-86 out-ranged the living artillery pieces by almost a thousand meters, and he had no intention of allowing their heavy-hitting dual cannons to open up on his advancing tanks. "Gunner! Load HEAT!"
Aranius quickly switched shell type, and the loading mechanism whirred with several quick mechanical clanks as it positioned a high explosive anti-tank round into the breech. "Up!
"Target marked, Ravager, forty-eight five-zero meters!"
"Identified, ranging!" called Arianus. It would have been a difficult shot to take stationary, let alone on the move as fast as they were , and the Turian gunner took an extra couple of seconds expertly working the firing computer.
Victus watched him, waiting until Arianus' thumb hovered over the fire button on his gun controls. "Fire!"
"On the way!"
Saber 1-1 thumbed, the air cyclers working quickly to dispel the propellant gases from the interior of the tank. Victus peered through his sights as the round raced through the air, arcing slightly. The HEAT round struck the Ravager dead center, blowing the creature apart in a blast of flame and flesh. "Kill!"
Two other Ravagers suffered similar fates, with one round from another tank missing high and to the left. "Gunner, fire at will at designated targets," Victus commanded. With his Company rapidly approaching the small-arms range of the enemy line, he had to divert his attention from single-target gunnery to company-wide tactics.
"Yessir!" Arianus said, plotting his next shot at the Ravagers.
Victus keyed the Company-side frequency. "All units, maintain current course and speed. Saturate enemy infantry with small-arms, then proceed to breakthrough."
His platoon leaders gave their affirmatives in response, and Saber 1-1's gun boomed once again. Victus checked the target scope briefly — another hit, another kill from Aranius. He switched screens to the tank's offensive subsystems, delegating Saber 1-1's Virtual Intelligence to control the top mounted HMG and main omni-grenade launcher. WIthin seconds, both of the weapons started firing rhythmically downrange towards the Geth infantry lines.
"Incoming fire!" Sergeant Edien warned.
"Stay the course!" Victus ordered his driver. Any evasive maneuvers taken would bleed off precious speed, and D Company would need all of their momentum to smash through the Geth lines like he intended them to. Low caliber rounds from Geth Plasma rifles started pinging against the front of the tank, but it was the heavy rockets from Geth Rocket Troopers that worried him more. Their Remus Active Protection System flashed on Victus' display, and three rapid pops signalled counter-munitions fired towards incoming rockets. One rocket made it through the screen, slamming Victus back in his seat as Saber 1-1 took the rocket hard on the nose. The kinetic barrier readout pulsed red and an alarm in his helmet sounded, apprising the crew that the barriers had fallen to less than ten percent strength.
"Ravagers destroyed sir!" Aranius said with small triumph. He hadn't missed a single one of his four fired shots at the distant targets.
"Good," Victus commended, "Load canister!"
"Target infantry, five hundred meters, direct twelve o' clock!"
"On the way!"
The effect of the combined fire from the twenty heavy tanks of D Company was devastating on the Geth line. Without armor support to strengthen them, Geth combat platforms wilted under grenade explosions, HMG bursts, HEAT rounds, and tungsten-ball filled canister shot.
Within moments, D Company slammed prow-first into the remainder of the entrenched Geth at full speed, shattering the enemy like a bullet striking glass. Victus couldn't help but let a slight smirk cross his face as he noticed Sergeant Edien alter their trajectory just so that a crawling Geth Prime - legs blown off by a canister round from Corporal Aranius - got crunched under their treads.
Pushing right on through, Victus commed back to Major Alsis. "D Company reporting breakthrough, proceeding to Phase Line One."
CAS-Class Assault Carrier Shadow of Intent
"FlightOps to all Squadrons - launch, launch, launch."
Major Haj 'Takaam pushed his throttle forwards and his Morsam-pattern Seraph leapt forwards, screaming out of their fighter bay. In front of him, the golden-brown world known as Rannoch took up a sizable portion of his forward viewport. It had its own unique beauty to it - large swathes of white clouds laid across it like gentle brush strokes on a fresh canvas - but the planet itself was not of his concern today.
'Takaam banked his Seraph in a wide, arcing turn, not needing to look at his tactical display to know that the rest of First Squadron's pilots were in a classic wedge formation on his tail. Instead, he looked visually out of his viewports, keen eyes honed by years of pilot experience and combat picking out the plasma exhaust trails and light sheen of the seventy other Seraphs launching from the Shadow of Intent. Below, from the vast belly hangar of the ship, 'Takaam knew that nearly two hundred exoatmospheric Banshees were dropping from their own launch hardpoints, and would be joining the heavier Seraphs shortly.
Guided by FlightOps control buried deep within the armored hull of the Sangheili Assault Carrier, 'Takaam and his squadron joined the rest of the Intent's combat wing as they cleared the carrier and made for their station. His eyes kept sweeping through the black space, noting the positions and spacings of the rest of the Vanguard's capital ships. The four CCS-Class Battlecruisers were easily recognizable to him, a deeply familiar - even comfortable - presence to any who served in the Covenant Navy. As per the Arbiter's orders, they had arrayed themselves in a wide vertical diamond formation, with the Shadow of Intent right in the middle, and were launching their own compliments of Seraphs and Banshees.
Layered in front of the Covenant warships were dozens of Allied ships, ranging from small frigates to a few of the larger Dreadnoughts fielded by the Allied navies. 'Takaam counted ships from the Turian Hierarchy, the Systems Alliance, the Salarian Union, Quarian Migrant Fleet, and the Asari Republics. There were no UNSC ships within the Vanguard Relay assault force, as they were all with the UNSC Infinity and the majority of the rest of the Allied advance force that would rendezvous with the Geth to initiate the main-line battle with the Reapers.
As he cleared the Frigate wolfpacks, Cruiser groups, Dreadnoughts, and Covenant heavy vessels, 'Takaam joined up with dozens of other fighter squadrons as they positioned themselves into their protective screen at the front of the Vanguard. With two Dreadnought-sized carriers attached to the Vanguard, it was actually the Systems Alliance which boasted the largest strike craft presence in their formation, followed closely by the numerous Seraph squadrons from the Intent and the CCS-Battlecruisers.
'Takaam eased up on his throttle as his squadron got into position, reporting back to FlightOps. "First Squadron, ready."
The Sangheili Major took this brief pause as an opportunity to scan his tactical display. First, he observed the immediate theater in which his squadron would soon be battling over control for - the Rannoch Mass Relay. Detailed sensor data taken from Vanguard ships had been analyzed and distributed to all combatants, including the strike craft, in its entirety.
The enemy capital ships presence was… significant. It was obvious that the Reapers understood the strategic importance of maintaining control to the Relay. Numberwise, the Reapers and Geth outnumbered Allied Cruisers, Dreadnoughts, and Sangheili ships by almost three to one.
An even fight then…
'Takaam had been there during the Battle for the Ark against the heretic Brutes, based from the Shadow of Intent under the command of then Shipmaster R'tas 'Vadum. He had witnessed firsthand the cunning tactics and calculated brutality that 'Vadum had been famous for that day. Had been. Like every Sangheili, his two hearts panged in pain and loss when he thought of the selfless sacrifice that their Fleetmaster had made to save the Quarian Migrant Fleet from a Reaper surprise attack. He would have been among those who perished when the Jubilance detonated its reactor in the midst of the Reaper formation, but 'Vadum had ordered the Supercruiser's Seraphs launched before the maneuver, as well as evacuating every member of embarked infantry and non-essential crew that he could.
His last interaction with the Fleetmaster had been a deserved dressing down after his tactical shortcoming during the battle on Admiral Xen's Quarian controlled moon B-1274, a moment that now he was sure would stick with him for the rest of his days. It filled 'Takkam with a particular resolve, an ever present desire to perform to the best of his ability, so that hopefully his and the Fleetmaster's Ancestors would look down on him with pride.
The fighter screen had been established now. 'Takaam briefly widened his tactical display to show the entire system, and saw that the bulk of the Allied advanced force spearheaded by the UNSC had formed up with the Allied Geth, and were now pushing to engage the Reaper/Geth mainline.
On que, his comms crackled to life. It was the commander of the Vanguard force, Arbiter Thel 'Vadam himself. Within the deep bass of his voice was a strengthening calm that set to ease 'Takaam of his sligh pre-combat jitters. "All forces, advance at speed. Strike the enemy hard and fast. Show no mercy, show no hesitation, for you will be given none. We must clear the Relay of all opposition to clear the way for our reinforcements while the rest of our advance force holds the Reaper main line in place."
There was a slight pause. 'Takaam realized that the Arbiter was broadcasting openly on the general channel - and not just sending a one-directional message. Any who was listening could speak back and be heard, yet none did. All were hanging on the words and gravitas of the Arbiter.
"For the Fleetmaster. For the Jubilance."
The shout poured from 'Takaam's jaws before he could even think. "For the Jubilance!"
It was as if he had been the earthquake that precipitated the tsunami. The general comms channel roared with the battlecry - "FOR THE JUBILANCE!"
FlightOps sent him an orders message that played across his display. Engage enemy strikecraft head-on, then pass through and assault enemy frigate-class vessels.
'Takaam sent his acknowledgement of the orders back to FlightOps, and set his throttle full forwards. The rest of First Squadron followed in perfect formation, joining with the totality of the Vanguard's fighter screen as they shot forwards towards the enemy. Behind them, Allied capital ship's main engines flared to full power.
His tactical display burst into a flurry of motion, as opposite them the enemy Reaper and Geth strikecraft set out towards them as well. 'Takaam's hearts were beating rapidly — a head-on clash was one of the most dangerous engagements that a fighter could take part in. Speed, firepower, defensive ability, and luck would determine who would survive the first pass, and who wouldn't.
'Takaam reinforced his Seraph's energy shields to the front, and disengaged the safeties on his plasma cannons. With a quick finger sequence he fired up his pulse laser defensive grid, and made sure that his ventral-mounted heavy plasma charge launcher was primed.
"He keyed his squadron's comm frequency, "Unleash a wall of plasma when in range. Break straight through, then pair off and hunt for frigates and vulnerable cruisers."
Affirmatives poured in from his pilots. 'Takaam brought his focus wholly on the task ahead. Flashes of red and yellow to his left and right signified missile launches from other Allied fighters, the longer-range munitions streaking towards their targets at several machs.
'Takaam counted the seconds by, and then he was in range. He pressed down on his triggers, sapphire blue drops of superheated plasma lancing away from his Seraph, joined shortly by the rest of his squadron and the other Sangheili Seraphs. Yellow streaks of mass accelerator fire from Allied fighters erupted all around them, and then — green bolts of enemy plasma from hostile Geth fighters coming the opposite direction.
They continued to close the distance, and red streams of beam energy lanced from Reaper Oculus drones. Icons started blinking out on the tactical display on both sides, as missiles, cannonfire, and plasmafire collided headlong into targets. 'Takaams Seraph shuddered as it took a glancing blow from an Oculus drone's beam, but he maintained control and forward momentum.
In another blink of an eye the two sides crashed against each other, opposing waves of headstrong living resolve versus cold, mechanical precision embroiling in an enormous dogfight.
'Takaam pushed through the furball along with the rest of his Seraph squadron, engines screaming at full power. Just prior to the battle FlightOps had designated specific squadrons that would engage in dogfights, and those like his that would push through and start attacking enemy warships.
He quickly checked the status of his squadron — all intact — before giving the order to break off into pairs and strafe hostile Geth frigates. Just as he started maneuvering towards his first target, six pencil-thin beams of brilliant white shone through space, and six Sovereign-Class Reapers winked out on his tactical display.
The Capital ships were now engaging, but that battle was the Arbiter's responsibility, not 'Takaam's. He pushed down on his sticks, sending his Seraph into a deep dive. As he angled back up, he and his wingman would be attacking from underneath the enemy formation, where according to intel the exposed underbelly of Geth ships in particular was less defended by armor and point-defense.
The Geth Frigate was moving fast, no doubt having picked up the two Seraphs as an imminent threat, but 'Takaam's expert maneuvering had accounted for that. The Sangheili pilot's sharp eyes saw the buildup of energy on the ship's ventral GARDIAN laser arrays before they had fired, and sent his ship into a rolling corkscrew to dodge the iridescent beams.
He leveled out, pressing down hard on his weapons triggers. Heavy bolts of plasma shot once again from his cannons, and along with those from his wingman, pounded at the Frigate's kinetic barriers. 'Takaam watched the barriers flash brilliantly, straining under the rapid-fire impacts and intense heat of the incoming rounds. He and his wingman kept pumping plasma into the Frigate until finally, the barriers shattered — the moment 'Takaam had been waiting for.
The Sangheili pressed two seperate buttons on his stick, and his Seraph thumped from below as his heavy weapons fired — four fuel rod cannons and a plasma charge launcher. Eight radioactive green projectiles smaller into the belly of the Geth Frigate, boiling and blasting through the armored plate with ease. Now thoroughly weakened, two plasma charges burrowed into the craft before their electromagnetic containment fields violently burst, releasing a devastating wave of energy and plasma right in the heart of the ship.
'Takaam angled away sharply as the Frigate exploded, shrapnel and pieces of small debris pelting his energy shielding. He widened his jaws in a predatory smile, a good strike, now onto the next targ —-
The Sangheili was slammed forwards in his cresh unexpectedly, hitting his head on his display. He tried to fight through the pain and sudden fog that filled his mind, struggling to regain control of his now-spinning Seraph. The sharp trill of alarms started registering in his ears, his shields were out, and one of his engines was damaged. As its last dying action, the Geth Frigate had struck the rear of his passing Seraph with a dead-on GARDIAN laser.
'Takaam shook his head, trying to clear his mind, only half-hearing the cries of his wingman that he had been engaged by Oculus drones. His eyes shot to his tactical display, now cracked from the force of his helmet striking it, and saw five other red blips closing on him fast. He grimaced, knowing it was too many drones to take on by himself, and that without his shields he was vulnerable.
The Sangheili pilot growled, trying to come around to face the incoming Oculus drones head on, so that if he were to die from this pass, he may take one or two of the enemy down with him. He wondered if this was how Fleetmaster 'Vadum had felt before the end, resigned to his certain fate, yet too angry to pass into the land of the Ancestors silently.
He readied himself, about to unleash his final barrage of plasma, but before he could press down on his triggers the Oculus drones disappeared in clouds of missile explosions and tracer fire. A half-squadron of Systems Alliance fighters zipped past, banking away from the debris cloud they had just created. 'Takaam's comm pinged, and his eyes flicked to the readout as he answered.
It was the Squadron leader of the Alliance fighters. "Major 'Takaam, FlightOps has assigned us as your top cover. We're with you from here on.
"Affirmative. Thank you for the assist," 'Takaam replied. His shields had stated recharging now, the threat of imminent destruction having mostly passed.
"Any day. Let's keep bagging bogies. Lead the way."
'Takaam centered himself, pushing forwards on his throttle towards his next target. There was more battle to fight, more honor to gain, and above all else, more vengeance to enact.
Grunt had disabled his helmet filters briefly, just so that he could take a deep breath of the scent of war. Harsh metal, copper blood, propellant smoke, thick dust — sweat, adrenaline, fear, anger, resolve. He drank it all in like an overflowing draught of ryncol, filling his veins with the sweet drug of battle.
"ARALAKH COMPANY," he bellowed, "TO THE LINE!"
Forty-four heavily armed and armored Krogan fell in to either side of him, pressing themselves against the berms of their hastily dug trench. Their blood-red armor shone brightly in the rising Ranocchian sun.
A red tracer streaked past his head, and Grunt ducked down lower in his trench. Just over five hundred meters away, the Reaper transmitter facility loomed large in his vision, but that wasn't his problem today. The complex and well-constructed network of Reaper and Geth entrenchments layered out in front of the facility however, was.
Grunt looked up and down the mile-long front that the Allied ground forces had formed since establishing the beachhead an hour ago. Crouched low or prone in trenches, foxholes, or craters blown out of the ground, Allied infantry waited for the command to attack. Machine gun teams sent down long bursts of suppressive fire, and sharpshooters picked off targets of opportunity.
It was like nothing Grunt had ever expected to see in his life. Units of soldiers and marines from the Hierarchy, Systems Alliance, Salarian Union, Asari Republics, Quarian Migrant fleets, the Krogan clans, as well as the UNSC and Sangheili all rubbed shoulders throughout the line.
He saw tanks, armored personnel carriers, and wheeled reconnaissance vehicles of all different makes and models holding position, firing at targets unseen downrange. Atmospheric fighters and strikecraft screamed overhead, dogfighting with Reaper and Geth aircraft or diving down into strafing runs. A group of four Asari gunships flew by close overhead, keeping low and firing a large salvo of missiles before farting away. Far behind, Grunt could hear the steady cracks of Allied artillery guns firing, and the whooshes of mobile missile batteries releasing their salvoes or guided munitions.
The tank-bred Krogan had no idea how all of this madness was being coordinated, but as long as he got to crush some skulls today, he didn't really care. All Allied command needed to do was point his Krogan in the right direction, and they would take it from there.
(Flesh and Metal)
Grunt spun his head, watching Urdnot Wrex slide into the trench next to him.
"Are you ready?"
Grunt nodded. "Always."
"Good. I've checked in with our other companies," Wrex said. His armor sheened with the light blue protection of a biotic barrier, and he gripped a Striker assault rifle in his hands. "They're all itching for the fight."
"None more than Aralakh!" Grunt exclaimed, thumping his chest with a forearm.
"I know," Wrex said. Grunt could see him grinning underneath his unpolarized faceplate. "That's why you're at the center."
"When do we go? I need to tear something apart, and fast."
Wrex checked his omni-took briefly. "Less than two minutes. The orbital strike is on its way — after that, we charge."
"There better be some Reapers left after the strike," Grunt huffed. "Way more satisfying to rip their limbs off than the Geth. More blood. Hehehe."
Wrex laughed, clapping Grunt hard on the shoulder plate before leaving to go encourage some other unit. Grunt started counting down the seconds, giving his Graal Spikethrower one last lookdown. He had almost chosen to bring his Mattock assault rifle, but the idea of pinning a Marauder's head to the wall of a trench with a flurry of six-inch long spikes had been too appealing.
He checked in over comms with his platoon leaders, finding everyone was just as champing at the bit for action as he was. The Krogan of Aralakh Company — Tuchanka's most renowned unit of Shock Troops — hadn't been chosen for being meek. Grunt chuckled at the thought. A meek Krogan, that would be the day. He would probably kill them himself if he met one.
He started getting distracted in thoughts of all the different ways he could kill another Krogan, when one of the troopers next to him tapped on his shoulder. Grunt shook himself out of his reverie of imagined violence, looking at his soldier. "What?"
The Krogan pointed over Grunt's shoulder, "Look, here they come."
Grunt craned his neck and looked skywards, squinting his eyes through the haze of smoke and dust from incoming and outgoing fire. He sure saw them alright, dozens of yellow missile streaks rocketing downwards from the sky, thick white-grey exhaust trails billowing in their wake. They were coming fast, so fast that within the blink of an eye the ground shook with the impacts.
He peered over the lip of the trench, watching the fireballs mushroom all across the Reaper lines. This was just the first wave of the strike, meant to soften up the enemy before the main assault. Reaper point-defense systems had foiled an earlier attempt to strike the base directly from orbit, meaning they'd have to do it the old-fashioned way.
As Grunt felt the second wave of missile pound down, he realized something — the ongoing strike was going to be the best cover they would get. He keyed his unit's comms channel. "Fuck waiting, we go now! ARALAKH, WITH ME!"
Grunt vaulted over the trench, his heavy boots finding purchase in the hard Rannochian earth, powerful legs propelling him forwards at a surprising speed given his armored bulk. The rest of Aralakh Company followed him without hesitation, leaping over impact craters, and deftly dodging divots in the ground.
By the standards of nearly every other Allied military, charging enemy entrenchments while it was actively undergoing heavy bombardment would be considered absolutely insane. However, when Grunt swept his vision up and down the Allied line, he saw dozens upon dozens of other Krogan units joining him in the charge.
It was time to do what they did best. The Clans hadn't been able to provide even a scant percentage of soldiers to fight the Reapers compared to the rest of the Allied races, but that didn't matter. Krogan were the best shock troopers in the galaxy — line breakers, bulldozers, pulverizers, crushing the enemy under the sheer weight of their charge.
Not since the Rachni Wars two millennia ago had the galaxy seen a charge from more than three thousand Krogan at a time. Nearly all of Tuchanka's fighting capable Krogan had joined the Allied Fleets at Urdnot Wrex's direction. Shepard and the Allied military had helped cure the Genophage, and now it was time for the Krogan to hold up their end of the agreement - and pound in some Reaper skulls.
It was only by Grunt's sheer weight that he was even able to keep his footing as he charged forwards, such was the intensity of the bombardment. Still, he did not hesitate for even a second, knowing that every step he took was one closer to the enemy. The strike finished suddenly, dust, smoke, and ash billowing out in all directions. Aralakh Company charged through it, weapons raised, serrated metal and omni-bayonets fixed, and battle-lust raging.
The smoke immediately in front of him cleared, and Grunt saw the first of the Reaper defensive lines come into view. A Marauder's head popped up over the lip of a battered trench, kinetic barriers shimmering as debris from the orbital bombardment pelted down the area. To Grunt's amusement, the thing looked surprised, bright blue eyes widening substantially.
Grunt leapt forwards into the trench, aiming to put both boots in the center of the Marauder's chest. His considerable mass meant that he caved the creature's torso in with his boots, crushing its ribcage, spinal cord, and whatever was left of the thing's internal organs. Ankle-deep in the dead Marauder, Grunt brought his Graal up to his shoulder and pivoted to his left. A Cannibal a few meters away was stumbling towards him, but quickly fell to the ground with a satisfying thud after Grunt put several red-hot flechettes through its skull. He turned towards the right, stepping out of the puddle of Marauder bone and blood, charging towards three Husks that were clambering over each other in their mindless fervor to get to him. He fell the first one with two rapid-fire shots from his Graal. He impaled the second on his Spikethrower's omni-bayonet as he ejected the weapon's spent ammunition canister. He grabbed the third around its neck with one hand, the Husk's arms bettering hopelessly against the Krogan's kinetic barriers and heavy armor. With a concentrated squeeze, Grunt severed the Husk's head from the rest of its body, tossing the still champing head away as he would an empty bowl of spicy noodles.
His immediate vicinity cleared of enemies, Grunt scanned quickly up and down the trench, finding other Krogan of Aralakh Company wrapping up their own individual brutalities against Reaper-kind. "To the next trench!" he shouted, "Move!"
Aralakh Company surged forward once again, with their tank-bred commander leading the way. The first few trenches were filled with Reaper fodder infantry, weakened significantly by the Allied bombardments, and the Krogan fell upon them with unmatched ferocity. Grunt temporarily lost track of time, his armor coated with Reaper blood, the barrel of his Graal glowing orange-red, and his berserker blood rage bubbling hot.
The Reaper base loomed larger in front of them now, Aralakh Company having made a significant amount of forward progress through the enemy defensive lines. At this point closer in to the facility Geth infantry defended the entrenchments, better organized and with more available firepower than their counterpart Reaper analogues. That was fine with Grunt, he had gotten his fill of ripping and tearing flesh and bones - doing the same to synthetic flesh and bones was fine by him.
Grunt used his free arm to leverage himself out of his just-cleared trench, slamming a new canister into his Graal as he gained his footing. Just over fifty meters away, he could see the next line of fortifications, this one manned by Geth platforms. Plasma rounds started zipping at him, some impacting and dissipating against his barriers, others impacting the ground around him or flying close off into the air on either side. Grunt pumped his legs hard, knowing that the AI-controlled platforms were more capable of putting well-coordinated and accurate fire against his Krogan's frontal charge.
He fired his Graal on the run, seeing a head-light on a Geth Trooper wink out just before his mind registered a flash of fire and smoke - followed a millisecond later by a rocket barreling towards him. He reacted on pure instinct, falling to the ground in a slide, the rocket missing him by less than half a meter. Grunt's considerable forward momentum slid him rapidly towards the Geth-filled trench, and before he jumped inside he reached to the bandolier across his chest and grabbed a disruptor grenade.
The half-sphere of arcing blue disruptive energy pre-empted Grunt's arrival into the midst of a squad of Geth by a mere second, and the Krogan set about his work with violent precision. Having been stripped of their shields by the grenade, the Rocket Trooper and a standard infantry Trooper both collapsed with spikes in their head's central processing components. A Geth Pyro brought its flamethrower to bear, bathing Grunt in orange fire. Grinning, the tank-bred Krogan advanced through the flames and compressed the Pyro's head and long-neck into a thin sheet with a wicked headbutt.
Grunt rammed his omni-bayonet through the metal plate of another Trooper's torso, sticking him to the wall of the trench. Quickly ejecting his Graal's spent canister and replacing it with a new one, he fired the Spikethrower point-blank into the Trooper's chest, tungsten flechettes tearing through armor and the vulnerable wiring underneath like his teeth through a pyjack's soft flesh.
Grunt's honed battle-sense warned him of danger from behind, and he left his Graal in the twitching Trooper's chest as he quickly spun around to face the threat. The blast from a Geth Plasma Shotgun took him full-on in the stomach, and Grunt snarled as his barriers shattered, but not before his eyes caught the tell-tale shimmer of a Geth Hunter under stealth five meters away.
He bounded forwards, closing the distance before the Hunter had a chance to fire a follow-up round. The Geth tried to swing its weapon like a club as Grunt approached, but the Krogan reached out with both arms, one grabbing the Plasma Shotgun, one gripping the Hunter's arm near the shoulder joint. Grunt roared as he ripped the Hunter's arm out of its mechanical socket, white-blue fluids spurting out from the new wound. He kicked out at the Hunter's left leg, pulverizing the Geth's knee. As it fell to the ground Grunt pried the Plasma Shotgun out of the Hunter's severed arm, leveled it at the Hunter, and melted its head with a single blast.
His peripheral vision clouded with the redness of Blood Rage, Grunt didn't notice the Brute until it's heavy armored claw had already struck him in the side, launching him off his feet and sending him spinning through the air. The Geth Plasma Shotgun went spiraling out of his hand, and all of the air rapidly evacuated his lungs. Grunt hit the ground several meters away hard, bashing his head against the hard-packed side of the trench.
Head spinning and vision clouded, Grunt stumbled to his feet. He centered in on and faced off against the Brute down the trench, sharp teeth subconsciously gnashing inside his helmet for battle. The Brute smashed its heavy claw on the ground twice, each strike shaking the Rannochian earth, and bared its chest, letting out a mighty roar. It planted its back feet, ready to charge, and Grunt did the same. The Berserker Blood Rage was coursing through his veins, feeding off of his pain and anger. The battle that swirled around him had grown suddenly silent; nothing else existed right now except for him, and the Brute. They would meet head-on, and whichever was strongest would walk away while the other lay dead on the floor of the trench.
At least, that's what would have happened.
The Brute's upper torso, just below the neck, went from thick blate plate, to superheated slag, to a neat hole a meter-wide in radius within an instant. The severely dead Brute slumped to the ground unceremoniously, leaving Grunt temporarily stunned in place, mind racing to try and piece together what had just happened. He spun around, and suddenly it all fell into place.
Four tall humanoids in unique, angular matte armor had joined him in the trench. His HUD identified them immediately in bold lettering: BLUE TEAM.
The rational part of Grunt's mind worked quickly behind the scenes of his flowing Blood Rage and battle lust. The tank-bred Krogan knew who they were, of course - UNSC Spartans: human special forces, the best of their best. The pre-battle briefing had them as a centerpiece of this entire assault operation, and as three of the Spartans took to the lip of the trench and started firing downrange, he remembered why. There, attached to the lower back of one of them, a large cylindrical object. Grunt knew it was a nuke, meant to blow the hell out of the Reaper/Geth base they were assaulting from the inside out.
The entire Allied ground assault force was here for them. Grunt and his Krogan were clearing trenches and creating holes in enemy lines; Allied infantry and armor were pinning the enemy in mainline engagements; air support and artillery were bombarding and strafing - all so that Blue Team could slip through the cracks, infiltrate the Reaper base, and plant the nuke.
The Spartan that wasn't firing on the line stepped towards Grunt. There was a bulky, two-handed rectangular weapon held towards the ground, it looked to Grunt like some kind of energy weapon. Thin wisps of white smoke streamed from the emitter end. He recognized this Spartan - he had been there with Commander Shepard when they beat back the Reaper invasion of Tuchanka and used the Shroud to cure the Genophage. Sierra-117. Grunt had heard a rumor that the Spartan had lifted one of the Maw Hammers to summon Kalros, Queen of the Thresher Maws by himself.
Sierra-117 looked down to the Geth Trooper that Grunt had impaled to the wall with his Graal. He gripped it with one hand, yanking it out of the dead Geth, and tossed it at Grunt. He caught it, nodding at the Spartan. The Spartan nodded back, and with some unheard issued command, he and the rest of Blue Team leapt gracefully out of the trench and took off at a sprint towards the Reaper base.
Grunt reloaded his Spikethrower, toggling his comms so he could get back in sync with the rest of his unit. Aralakh Company had more killing to do.
Fleet Admirals were supposed to command from the Flag Bridge. Every flagship of a Systems Alliance Fleet had a Flag Bridge, with the Kilimanjaro's buried deep within the heart of the ship close to the Combat Information Center. From the Flag Bridge an Admiral surveyed the entirety of the strategic situation, where they would evaluate enemy combat strength, maneuvers and tactics to coordinate a fleet-wide battle response.
Admiral Steven Hackett wasn't on his Flag Bridge. He hated the goddamn place, and had hardly stepped foot in it since the start of the Reaper War. Typically, aside from dozens of display screens and haptic interfaces the only occupants of the Flag Bridge were himself, a few of his aides, and a small contingent of Marines. It was a far cry from the bustle of controlled madness of a main Bridge or CIC - the kind of environment that Hackett had thrived in during his time in Navy command.
Right now, he was standing on the Kilimanjaro's main Bridge close to one of the forward viewports, hands clasped behind his back, eyes sweeping the field.
The visuals of the space battle playing out in front of him were equal parts breathtaking, and overwhelming. Mass accelerator and MAC rounds streaked across the vacuum, magnetohydrodynamic beams burned through the black, missiles and torpedoes barreled towards targets, and point defense batteries flared. Strike craft raced back and forth in the complicated knots of close-in dogfights. Kinetic barriers and energy shielding flashed, fires raged on wounded hulls and metal hulls screamed silently as they sheared apart, bodies tumbling out into absolute cold.
The objective of the Allied advance force was relatively simple. While the friendly Geth forces engaged and pinned down the Reaper/Geth enemies in orbit, the bulk of the advance force - spearheaded by the UNSC and the Infinity - would pressure the flank of the Reaper warships that were closest to the planet, supporting their ground forces assaulting the dirt-side base and hopefully causing a breakthrough. Meanwhile, the Sangheili-led Vanguard force commanded by Arbiter Thel 'Vadam and the Shadow of Intent would engage and destroy the enemy ships guarding the system's Mass Relay, allowing the rest of the waiting Allied ships to jump through and join the battle.
Hackett had fought in more battles that he could remember. He had manned a mass accelerator battery as a Petty Officer, run the Sensors team in a CIC as a Lieutenant, helmed a Cruiser in battle as a Captain, and commanded entire Fleets as an Admiral. Throughout his long and active career in the Systems Alliance Navy however, he had never been a part of a battle this large. The forces gathered here right now, currently duking it out for a foothold in Rannochian space, numbered in the tens of thousands. Granted, the vast majority of that number was composed of Geth vessels, but that fact was also one of the biggest things that he still had trouble wrapping his head around.
The Geth had more ships that any Systems Alliance or Citadel military intelligence agency had even remotely thought. Even before the Reapers had invaded, when comparing every Citadel race's combined naval strength against just the Geth, the Geth outnumbered them by a 2-1 ratio. Not limited by any sorts of formal naval treaties nor personnel recruitment considerations, it was clear that the Geth had just built as many ships as they had resources for. Hidden away on the edge of the galaxy in the Perseus Veil, the Geth had built-up strength of numbers that would have paled the face of even the most hardened Citadel naval commander if they had decided to strike out at them. Hackett tried to put the thought of his mind. The Geth were allies now - at least those that hadn't fallen under Reaper influence.
The SSV Kilimanjaro rumbled under his boots as its starboard mass accelerator batteries delivered a seventy-eight gun salvo at a vulnerable enemy Geth cruiser. He heard Captain Jillian call out the confirmed kill, followed by a series of staccato orders to alter the ship's positioning and select the next target. She was doing well; Hackett was usually very involved when it came to fighting the ship, but he had decided to take more of a step back and observe how she did under pressure. After all, he had selected her to replace him as Commander of the Systems Alliance Fifth Fleet.
Considering the size of the ongoing engagement, Hackett didn't actually have much to do. He had ceded tactical command of the Kilimanjaro to Captain Jillian, and strategic command of the Allied Fleets was being handled by the UNSC Artificial Intelligences coordinating out of the UNSC Infinity - a decision that had been agreed upon before the Allied advance force had jumped into Rannoch space. Unlike some others in Allied HIGHCOM, he didn't have any qualms about AI running the show given the immensity of the battle. Sure, technically true artificial intelligences were still decreed illegal by the Citadel Council, but when you were fighting a galaxy-wide war for survival against a superior foe, technicalities could be damned.
The low, steady rumbles of the Kilimanjaro's guns, the rapid-fire shouts of Captain Jillian and the bridge crew, and the brilliant light show of space combat outside the viewport had an almost xen effect on Hackett. He found it amusing that he could find a moment of relative peace in the midst of such a maelstrom of chaos.
The Kilimanjaro shifted and accelerated as the helmsman maneuvered the Dreadnought to a new course, thus changing Hackett's view out of the bridge windows. The UNSC Infinity was hard to miss, five kilometers of gleaming armor, shimmering shields, and devastating MAC rounds. Everyone in the Allied fleets, from High Admirals all the way down to enlisted Seamen, knew that the massive ship was their ace in the hole against the Reapers. He had remembered the absolute sense of awe, fear, and utter respect he had developed for the Infinity even just in his first engagement alongside the UNSC capital ship when the Reapers had attacked Earth.
Hackett's eyes were still sharp for his old age, and he watched as the bow of the Infinity flashed with fire. He tried to track the MAC round as it streaked across the space, gaze skipping along its trajectory and mind attempting to predict its target. Hackett actually saw the round impact, a Sovereign-Class Reaper shattering into dozens of pieces as if it were glass struck by a hammer.
He shook his head ever so slightly. How much would he sacrifice for another Infinity in this war? More than he was comfortable with, probably. How many lives would have already been lost by this time were it not for her, as well as the rest of the UNSC and Sangheili forces? More than he likely could have fathomed.
Hackett turned, seeing Captain Jillian looking at him. She continued, "Sir, the Vanguard has secured the Relay."
"Excellent," he said. The word came out hoarse - it felt like he hadn't spoken for the entire battle. He cleared his throat, saying, "Do we have eyes on the Relay?"
"Yes sir," Jillian replied.
"Put it on the display," Hackett said, pointing towards the closest screen.
A blank wall panel was quickly replaced by a live visual feed of the Rannoch Mass Relay, courtesy of the Kilimanjaro's advanced sensor suite. Hackett quickly identified the unmistakable curves of the Sangheili warships, and the broken pieces of Reapers and Geth ships the Arbiter's Vanguard had left floating in their wake. A signal would have already been sent to the rest of the Allied navies waiting to proceed through the Relay. Any minute now.
(The Fleets Arrive)
Jillian had returned her attention to the battle, but Hackett's eyes remained glued to the screen. The Mass Relay's gyroscoping rings started revolving with increasing speed, the glowing core of Element Zero growing brighter by the second. Tendrils of sparking sapphire energy starting emanating from the Relay, and at their ends… warships appeared.
The ships poured through akin to a river breaking through a dam, slowly at first, then all at once. So many, he couldn't hope to follow them all. His mind subconsciously identified different designs with their respective races - Systems Alliance, Turian Hierarchy, Salarian Union, Asari Republics, the Quarian Migrant Fleet - hundreds of vessels from the Allied races streamed in to join them. Frigates, Cruisers, Dreadnoughts, the Destiny Ascension's unmistakable profile looming large in the middle of the incoming reinforcements.
This would be their defining moment. The Reapers had gathered all of their strength here, at Rannoch, and so had they. Together, the Allied forces would either overcome the Reapers, or die trying.
"Admiral!" It was Captain Jillian again, there was a new excitement to her voice, a tone of sudden triumph that had broken through her stoic command presence. "Sir, the Reapers are retreating!"
It didn't surprise Hackett, and he watched it unfold on a tactical display of the theater space. The wave of Allied reinforcements would have been able to press upon the Reaper's other flank had they maintained their positions, so instead they fell back to consolidate their forces and strengthen their position for the next battle. Allied ships weren't pursuing them, the friendly Geth had taken significant losses in holding the Reapers in place while the Vanguard had secured the Relay, and they needed time to regroup as much as the Reapers did.
"We've taken the day, sir," Jillian said. She was smiling, and deservedly so.
Hackett nodded slightly. "It seems we have. Good work. Wait for orders from the Infinity."
Today's engagement might have been over, but Hackett knew that this was just the beginning of the Battle for Rannoch.