Let sleeping dogs lie

2100 hours, August 11, 2552 (Military calendar)

Viery Territory

Reach

This feels like the end to me. Huddled behind a rapidly carbonizing stack of lumber in the drizzling rain, while an alien horde fires at us with weapons we can hardly comprehend. We were twelve just half an hour ago. As far as I can tell, we’re down to us four crouching terrified behind this stack. Over my right shoulder, I can see Matt’s body crumpled against the boulder he tried to use as cover. Matt was my older brother this morning. Now he’s a burst bag of blood ‘n’ gore. I haven’t got space to cry for him, but I can’t get his final seconds out of my head. He caught three of those pink crystal shards that keep whizzing past our heads and they just ripped him apart. There are other bodies lying all around us, men we all knew well, none in any better shape than Matt. I have to conclude at this moment that we are profoundly fucked.

Our squad laid low during the evac, then came back here to try and protect our settlement—only to find the Covies had already torched everything. No one told us it was the Covies, of course. Those UNSC pricks told everyone there was an insurgent raid going on, the biggest they’d ever attempted. We’d had good reasons for not wanting the insurgency on our home turf, like a certain consignment of military weapons we may have had a hand in illegally acquiring. None of us are insurgents ourselves, more an unofficial, non-approved local militia. I don’t know about other parts of Reach, but most of the settlements in Ütközet have formed their own militia groups. The UNSC is aware, of course (how could they not be?), but they’ve more or less turned a blind eye—’til we started stealin’ their weapons, that is.

Everyone knew the Covies would find Reach someday and most of us were less than enthused about relying on the authorities to protect us. Ask the folks who escaped Harvest how that goes, or Biko, or any of a hundred other glassed worlds. That being the case, we figured, if we were gonna have a hope of defending ourselves, we’d need a bit more firepower than some hunting rifles and security-issue pistols.

I guess all that’s moot now. There must be fifty aliens occupying the pump station in front of us. And more seem to be arriving via airdrop every minute. Like I said, sans some unlikely miracle we’re screwed. Steve’s doing pretty impressive work with that military sniper rifle. He took out one of them blue-armored tall ones with a pretty neat head-shot a couple of minutes ago. The thing was running crazy fast, too. He’s knocked down a few of the monkey-lookin’ dudes as well but every time he raises up to fire, more and more weapons home in on his position and it’s just a matter of time before his luck dries up.

Jerry, on the other hand, is startin’ to get real wiggy and his panic’s wasting precious ammo. He keeps spraying his AR over the top of the pile without checking targets. He won’t even raise his head, just shoves the weapon up in the air, firing off entire clips at a burst. He can’t have many mags left and I doubt he’s hit a fucken thing. Ben’s just got a cop magnum like me but he’s ice-cool and I’ve seen him pop at least four of the gooks. He even took down one of the bird-lizard creeps with the big round energy shields by shooting at its feet. Like I said, cool as they come.

I don’t think any of it’s gonna matter, though. In a few minutes, we’ll be as dead as Matt and the others. I wanna cry for my mom. She’ll lose both her remaining sons tonight, Ryan, our younger brother, bought it with the marines about three years ago. Now she’s gonna have no one left. My blood starts to pound in my temples and I’m about to stand up and charge the alien fucks that brought all this down on us, when I hear the sound of a sniper rifle ringing in echoes among the rocks to our rear.

One of the gold-armored bastards on the slope in front of us recoils backward, and the invisible shield my bullets have been bouncing off visibly pops. Before the prick has time to recover, two more shots ring out, almost overlapping, and its ugly face explodes in a cloud of purple blood. Its pal goes down a second later and then a fusillade of further shots start droppin’ alien gooks left and right.

I risk a quick glance back over my shoulder and see a sight I can hardly believe. Two armored giants wielding sniper rifles are standing on the rise about ten meters behind us. At first, I can’t parse who they are but Ben’s way ahead of me. He fixes me with a triumphant look. “Spartans,” he laughs, then hollers into his comms, “give us a hand. Bastards keep coming.” I’m not sure how much more they can do to oblige him, to be honest, they’ve already dropped at least ten of the enemy and are keeping up a murderous rate of fire with those SR99s.

Another dropship arrives, spewing more reinforcements to the suddenly beleaguered aliens, but the Spartans just keep shooting, and the aliens keep going down. About ten minutes later, there doesn’t appear to be a single Covie still on its feet. The two giants advance at a run down the slope toward us, and we all leap up and follow as they pass our position and enter the pump station forecourt.

I can’t stop staring at them but manage to get my mouth working. “A little more action than we’re used to,” I say. Then I realize I probably sound like an ingrate and add, “you Spartans are good in a fight,” as if my stance has never been that Spartans don’t exist, are in fact just UNSC propaganda. One of them looks right at me—for all I can tell anyway—the visors on their helmets are reflective and all I can see is me.

“What are you doing here?” he growls, “whole area’s supposed to be evacuated.”

I look a bit sheepish as I answer, “didn’t like leaving it to someone else to protect our home. So we came back, for this.” I indicate the weapons cases we dumped in the forecourt before the Covies turned up and drove us out of the station. We have ’em hidden all over the territory.”

“You know this stuff is stolen?” he scolds but there’s a hint of amusement in his voice.

“What, you gonna arrest me?”

“No, gonna steal it back,” He replies and I swear I can hear a wink in the way he says it. The next second brings a sound we’ve already learned to hate, the low hum of an approaching Covie dropship.

 “Another dropship coming in.” the Spartan yells, kinda redundantly. His buddy, who seems to be the tall, silent type, drops his sniper and hefts a rocket launcher from the case, handling it as if it were papier-mâché. He slings it across his back, then plucks one of the shard spitting rifles from the dead claws of a Covie. He sprints toward the area the dropship’s closing on and, without breaking stride, brings the rifle up, shooting one of the ship’s side gunners right off its perch. Then he reaches the far wall, his companion hot on his heels, and starts peppering the Covies with more pink death the moment the side doors drop. The aliens jump to the ground under the combined fire of the Spartans—us too, though, we’re more enthusiastic than accurate. The two tall ones don’t make it very far from their LZ, mown down almost before their giant feet hit the dirt. The rest, the shield carrying type, all go up together when the Spartans toss a couple of grenades into their midst. There’s no time for celebration, though, that hum getting louder signals the arrival of another dropship.

“We’ve got company,” our Spartan yells. This guy really does like stating the obvious. The new arrivals are heading toward the weir on the far side of the cannal. Tall, dark, and bashful unhooks that big ol’ spanker and sprints, fast as a greyhound, across the covered bridge. The other one runs just as fast up the iron stairs that lead to one of the plant’s flat rooftops. Me and Ben follow, figurin’ the elevation might help us pick off some eetees. I’ve traded my pistol for a marksman rifle, and Ben’s got one of them blasters the big aliens carry. The other two have taken up positions over at the pumping platforms by the lake.

Despite the misting rain, from up here, Ben and I have a pretty good view of the action on the weir. The Spartan’s crouched by a big boulder at the far end of the bridge as the alien ship glides in to drop off its passengers on the access road. He shimmers for a second and disappears right before our eyes, man, these guys are full of tricks. As about ten Covie monkeys hit the deck, a rocket lances out from the spot where the Spartan had been crouched a moment before and the whole dang lot of ‘em are blown to Hell. One of the big gold ones dropped from the opposite side of the ship and avoided annihilation. Now it sprints toward the invisible Spartan, a boom stick spitting explosive projectiles at its unseen foe. Another rocket flares and strikes the Covie, popping its shields and flinging it back about five meters. But, amazingly, it lands on its feet and just keeps running forward, like nothing happened. Before its shields have a chance to recharge, the Spartan, who is beginning to flicker back into view, fires a volley of pink shards at the alien, shredding it in a massive eruption.

Ben looks at me, grinning from ear to ear, then his face blanches as he spots something over my shoulder. I spin around to see two more fucken dropships coming in, laying down heavy fire. Jerry’s running toward us across the forecourt when one of the explosive rounds lands right on top of him. When the smoke clears, Jerry’s just a red splash on the concrete. More of the explosive projectiles start landing on our roof, and we dive for cover between some wind veins as the shrapnel starts flying.

The next fifteen minutes are a blur of terror and adrenalin. The enemy seems to be everywhere, and if not for the Spartans, there’d be no hope of survival for us puny mortals. The two armored colossi work as a perfectly synchronized team, a well-oiled chaos machine designed solely for destruction. Everything that passes before their unseen eyes dies. They are simply unstoppable and seemingly inexhaustible. Just using his hands, I see the quiet one actually tear the head right off a bird lizard thing stupid enough to get too close—horrific. Captain obvious wields his sniper rifle like it’s a part of him. To be honest, they don’t even need us. But the aliens keep shooting at us regardless, so we keep shooting back until no more dropships come and the valley falls silent.

Now that it’s over, I’m just happy to be among the living, but the talkative one seems a bit mystified over what the fight was actually about. “Nothing here but that lake,” he says, turning my way.

I point towards the weir. “Road leads to a hydroelectric plant, but the gate doesn’t work.”

He mulls this over. “Alternate route?”

“We use the riverbed—to smuggle rations, weapons…”

“Basically anything the UNSC considers contraband,” he interrupts impatiently.

“Basically,” I concede, a tad embarrassed. These guys saved our bacon and the fact they knew we’d been stealing their weapons didn’t give them even a second’s pause.

“Show us.”

We all tool up—guns, ammo, grenades—Bashful picks up his sniper rifle and hands me the rocket launcher, but I really don’t trust myself with it. Ben lets me swap it for his Covie boom stick, which looks a lot easier to use and has a serious rate of fire. Everyone sorted, we head out. I’m gutted we can’t stop to bury Matt and the others but I’ll have to wait to get to grieve over that, the Spartan’s are on a mission and they need our knowledge of the area to help ’em complete it.

The chatty-ish one points towards the dry river bed on the other side of the weir. Bashful looks at him for a few seconds, then nods. I get the feeling they’re talking, they probably have their own private comms channel for things they don’t want us to hear.

As we reach the river’s mouth, Chatty turns toward me. “Where does this riverbed lead?”

“Straight to the hydro plant. We dammed this river up forty-five years ago. Plant powers every settlement in the territory. Shame if it all gets wasted.”

He kinda sighs and mutters, “Doing what we can.”

A second later, that blood-chilling sound again and right on cue “Hold up, Covie dropship, take cover.” This guy obviously thinks that we’re retarded. When the dropship disappears over the lip of the defile, he lets us dummies know.

“Okay, clear. Let’s move.” Yes sir, captain. Sheesh.

When we get in view of the Hydro plant, we see there’s been a few changes. For one thing, it absolutely crawls, and now there’s some weird alien construct out front. The Spartan gets on comms and keeps us keyed in.

“Kat, are you seeing this? Covenant structure, kind of a big pylon—heavily fortified.”

For some reason, I can’t hear whoever he’s talking to. Just his response.

“Okay…consider it gone.” There’s a pause, and the Spartan stops in his tracks.

“We gonna blow it?” I ask, kinda hoping not. He looks at me then like he’d forgotten we were here.

We’re gonna clear the area, and I’m gonna plant a remote det charge. You want to provide some cover, go right ahead.”

Bashful has already done his vanishing trick, and as we watch, he silently takes out all the Covies on the bridge that leads over to the plant. Takes them out with a knife—a knife. Then he and captain obvious start picking off every alien they can see on the walls and rooftops of the plant. It’s astonishing how slow the enemy is to react, but after a minute or two, a trio of monkeys on the pylon itself start shooting back with mounted plasma cannons. Ben puts paid to that with a rocket from the spanker. Those little monkeys won’t be going back to the planet of the apes any time soon.

When all the aliens we can see are down, our Spartan says, “All clear, Six. This is gonna take a minute, keep your eyes peeled.” I’m guessing Six is Bashful.

Six gives a thumbs-up signal to Chatty and sprints off into the complex. We stick close to our guy’s ass and he leads us to the pylon. Once he’s looked it over for a sec, he moves to one of the three supports and pulls a det charge from his pack. Just as he’s placing it, another two of them goddam dropships show up.

“We’ve got big targets coming. Covenant dropship inbound!” He sure is a consistent one. Then all hell breaks loose. The first ship drops off a pair of creatures from some twisted nightmare. They have to be four meters tall, fully armored with massive metal shields on their left arms and—I shit you not—cannons instead of hands on their right. I immediately start blasting away with the boom stick. It staggers them a little but doesn’t seem to be doing much actual damage. Ben lets fly with a rocket, and that definitely has an effect, bits of one of the monsters fly off in all directions, and then his second shot sends it to Hell.

The other one fires it’s cannon and Steve is atomized right in front of us. We’re standing stunned in a cloud of red mist and the cannon’s charging up fast for another shot. Chatty stops fiddling with the det pack and raises his sniper. But before he can fire, Bashfu—I mean, Six, fires from the rooftop above, puts an explosive round right through the monster’s eye. Then he does his shimmer shimmer thing and slips off to take care of whatever dropped out of the second ship. Two lone shots ring out from somewhere on the other side of the complex.

Our Spartan just returns to his work without comment. These guys are beyond astounding. I’ll admit, I was wrong to think the UNSC didn’t have our backs.

“Recon Bravo to Noble Two, charge placed,” Our man signals. And this time we hear the one he’s talkin’ to, a woman, a damned sexy sounding one at that.

“Somewhere inconspicuous, I hope?”

He looks cocky, neat trick in that suit. “Stuck it inside the pylon’s power supply.”

“Okay, keep pushing into the dark zone. Command want to know what the Covenant are hiding.”

“There’s a gate to the southeast of the hydro plant,” He replies, already running in that direction.

“Copy. Uploading security codes to you now.”

“Okay, got ‘em. Unlocking the gate.”

“Recon Bravo, you’re heading into the dark zone now.”

“Understood.”

The second we’re through the gate, another freakin’ dropship glides into view. And the little monkey gunner has its cannon trained right on us.

“Phantom! Too close for comfort.” You don’t frickin’ say.

A shot rings out from behind us and the thing’s ugly little head explodes. I look back, startled, I’d almost forgotten Six.

A bunch of the monkeys and a bird lizard jump down from the ship, but they all die almost before they hit the ground. We move forward, wishing the night were a little less bright. A tall alien leaps out from behind some boulders and raises its weapon, pointing it right at me. Two sniper rifles bark as one, and it never gets to squeeze the trigger. There’s some kinda turret thing up on the rise. It has us all dead to rights, but cool as you please, Ben steps forward, raises the spanker, and blows the thing into the middle of next week. I slap him on his back, and we keep moving forward. The night sky is full of alien fliers, hundreds of ‘em.

“Lotta air traffic around here, Six.” Funny, I noticed that too. “I think we’re getting warm.”

The next few minutes get pretty crazy (like all the minutes before them were a tea party) there seem to be monkey Covies scampering around everywhere in the tall grass, and energy beams are slewin’ around all over the show. I don’t know how us normal joes don’t get fried in the crossfire, but somehow we keep breathing from second to second. The Spartans are their usual unstoppable selves, and I can’t help wondering how the hell we’re losing this war. I mean, some of these aliens are a joke. Then one of those jokes gets off a straight shot, and I nearly lose my face.

Over the next rise, another turret commands the high ground. Ben steps up to do his thing, blowing it apart with a pretty sweet shot, but that’s when his luck goes cold. A bolt of green energy from one of those bird lizards blasts him through the chest. He falls at my feet with a wide-eyed look of surprise on his face, just gone. I’m pretty useless after that. The Spartans forge on, mopping up the rest of the Covies while I just stagger along behind in a daze.

“Noble Two, we have eyes on at least one Covenant ship,” Chatty hollers into the comms.

“Solid copy. Don’t stop now.”

We find a narrow defile that leads to the edge of a high cliff, get down on our bellies and crawl forward to the edge. The sight that greets us turns my bowels to water. The massive valley below is alive with swarms of Covenant warriors and war machines.

“Jackpot.” Chatty says, then Six speaks the only words I’ve heard him say all night.

“Transmitting visual.”

“You seeing this, Kat?”

“Confirmed. Receiving Noble Three and Noble Six’s live visual of a Covenant strike force.”

“That’s no strike force, it’s an invading army. If we’re gonna smother this we’re gonna have to go in hard and fast.”

“Agreed. All recon teams, disengage and fall back. Sun will be up in a few hours… and it’s going to be a very busy day.”

I can’t stop staring at the massive army spread out below. I’m thinking now my initial assessment was correct. I think this is the end.

Disclaimer: This is a Fan fiction story. All elements of the Halo Universe are the explicit intellectual property of Microsoft and 343 Industries and are acknowledged as such by the author. However, the story concept and execution are the author’s and should be respected. Please do not reprint without fair attribution to the author.

Cover image: Bungie/343 Industries via Halopedia.

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