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"Regret. Regret. Regret."

Chapter 6 (v.1) - Chapter Six: Outskirts

Submitted: December 08, 2018

Reads: 40

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Submitted: December 08, 2018

A A A

A A A

Chapter Six
Outskirts

 

John stood square in his stiff green armour holding his right arm up. His black-gloved hand grasped tightly onto the mesh attached to the roof of the passenger compartment of one of three Pelican dropships in Sergeant Johnson’s platoon. The other two Pelicans flew to the right of the aircraft that contained John and the Sergeant Major. The compartment was opened out the sky at the rear of the ship, and contained three other marines cocking their rifles ready for action.  The Master Chief had a battle rifle fixed over his shoulder, a submachine gun at his side and two frag grenades attached to his opposite waist.. The sun shone brightly in the blue sky above, but struggled to pierce the thick clouds above the city below.

The Chief gazed down at the air-polluted city before him. Tall skyscrapers peaked out from the grey smog which turned a crimson colour toward the city centre. The city itself was split into two regions consisting of Old Mombasa and New Mombasa. Old Mombasa was Kenya’s oldest known city, but New Mombasa was Kenya’s prize. New Mombasa stood off the coast on a manmade island that was connected to the mainland via several long causeways. At the centre of the island was an endless tube running from the ground up into the sky. This space elevator connected the city’s spaceport to a popular docking station in high orbit above Earth.

The Pelicans passed down through the dull mist into the city of Old Mombasa. It was very much cramped with numerous high-rise buildings side-by-side and tight multilayered roads in between. Many other Pelicans and military vehicles could be seen not too far off. John observed a procession of UNSC Warthogs coasting down the highway below them. Everyone was headed in the same direction, toward the giant shadow of the Covenant assault carrier looming over New Mombasa. John pondered over the UNSC force around him. Had the Insurrection never occurred, humanity wouldn’t have stood a chance for resistance against Covenant. It was the UNSC’s arms race against the human rebels that lead to them having enough firepower to survive against the alien empire… at least for the last twenty-seven years.

The Chief took one last glance at the silhouette of the UNSC In Amber Clad behind the clouds as the Pelicans sailed further toward their target. Cortana’s voice sounded within the Chief’s helmet. It was a broadcast for several UNSC personnel.

 “The message just repeats, ‘Regret. Regret. Regret’,” she explained, translating the alien chatter of the Covenant battlenet.

“Catchy,” replied Commander Keyes. “Any idea what it means?”

“Dear humanity,” Johnson interjected. “We ­regret being alien bastards. We regret coming to Earth. And we most definitely regret the corps just blew up our raggedy-ass fleet!”

“Oorah!” Came the voices of the two pilots at the front of the Pelican.

“Regret is a name, Sergeant,” Cortana replied. “The name of one of the Covenant’s religious leaders, a prophet. He’s on that carrier, and he’s calling for help.”

The Pelicans continued their flight forwards passing two marines up on the rooftops; a sniper and his spotter. The spotter spoke over the com.

“Immediate: Grid kilo-two-three is hot,” he alerted. “Recommend mission abort.”

“Roger, recon,” replied the main pilot. “Sarge, it’s your call.”

“We’re going in,” Johnson answered. “Get tactical, marines!”

“Master Chief,” called Lord Hood taking his turn on the coms. “Get aboard that carrier and secure the Prophet of Regret. This is the only place on Earth the Covenant decided to land. That Prophet is going to tell us why.”

“Yes, sir.”

The Pelican zoomed ahead over the highway, passing another caravan of Warthogs. The head pilot spoke again.

“Thirty seconds out. Stand by to- Whoa!”

The Master Chief turned his head over his shoulder to look through the door that connected the passenger container to the cockpit. He saw through the windscreen ahead the exact reason for the pilot’s exclamation. A Type-47A Scarab, an enormous four-legged Covenant vehicle had stepped out from between two buildings. Its wide mass had knocked several chunks of concrete and glass from the buildings of which it had emerged. The mechanical legs of the purple walking fortress stepped to its right, turning to face its massive green eye at the three Pelicans.

Scarabs were a type of mining platform designed by the Covenant to excavate through the hard earth. It just so happened that the firepower needed to blast through solid rock at a rate that suited the Covenant’s wishes also allowed the Scarab’s mining beam to double as a heavy assault weapon.

Several curved panels opened out from around the head of the Scarab as its eye glowed brightly. Then, KKKEEWWW!!! A green jet of light as wide as a truck beamed forward from the eye, straight through body of the neighbouring Pelican. John braced himself as his Pelican’s pilot swung the entire dropship to the left to avoid the next shot from the Scarab’s eye. However, the Scarab had two extra armaments in the forms of spherical-shaped cannons called heavy plasma repeaters. There was one at the front and one at the back of the apartment-sized nanolaminate basket that made up the body of the mechanical beast. The front plasma repeater unleashed a torrent of super-fast purple plasma bolts that were impossible for the Pelican to avoid. The cockpit lit up violet as the dropship collided with the roof of a low building. Even with his energy shields, the Spartan felt the immediate impact as the Pelican crashed through the ceiling of the facility. The world went black.

Moments later, John awoke to a synthetic tapping sound from within his helmet; a sound that was produced by his AI companion. His head ached, and his vision wilted. He was sitting on the ground amongst the rubble of the collapsed ceiling beside a line of rusted barrels. His back was propped up by the upturned burning Pelican behind him.

“Talk to me,” Cortana said. “Should I start CPR? What’s going on?”

John’s vision cleared, and his head soothed as he stood up. His shield had already recharged before he’d even gained consciousness. His armour was barely scratched. It would take more than that to kill a Spartan.

“I’m fine. What’s our status?” asked John as he scanned his surroundings.

“We lost both our pilots,” Cortana replied. “We’re on the edges of Old Mombasa. The civilians have long-since evacuated. We’re well-enough alone.”

“And the Covenant?” John asked.

Well-enough,” Cortana answered.

John thought for a moment. If the city had already been cleared, that would serve him well. John’s mission would only have become more difficult had there been civilians down here. Of course, if the entire city had been evacuated then the Covenant threat must have been immediate as evident by the presence of a Scarab. The walls around John were filthy; whether because of the Pelican’s crash or because the people of the area had long since directed their focus on New Mombasa that they forgot the old city, leaving this section at least to the slums. The shattered ceiling opened the walls of this room up to the sky. If they didn’t get a move on soon, the Covenant would surely spot them.

The Master Chief was accompanied by four marines. Johnson sported the same green combat uniform of the other marines, albeit with a flat, grey sergeant’s cap. The Chief’s heads-up-display, which had never wavered during the crash, labelled the other three marines as Private Collins, Private Ouma and Colonel Lim. Lim’s dust-covered face had a harsh look about it with dark crows-feet wrinkles around his eyes. He carried an SMG. Ouma was the opposite with a wide-eyed expression and twitchy movement, and also equipped a submachine gun. Unlike his squad-mates, Private Collins’s younger, rounder face didn’t seem to be all to phased at all by the crash landing or the fact that the Covenant were likely swarming the city that surrounded them. He held a battle rifle and was already approaching the archway ahead.

“Alright, marines,” Johnson’s began. “Clear the crash site. Go, go, go!”

The archway opened into an exterior hallway. Directly in front of the Chief was an elevator door opposite the archway. There was a large gap in the ceiling that flooded this section of the hallway with natural light. The hallway sloped down on the left until it opened up to the streets below at the side of the building. A lone snuffling Grunt Minor, curious enough to get lost in the human city had wandered into the hallway. It was just out of sight of the streets below. Collins fired his battle rifle and silenced the creature as quickly as it had come. Cyan blood splashed out of its stiff, stout neck onto the hallway walls.

“Man! Good thing it was alone,” Collins exclaimed.

“Alone?” Colonel Lim began. “I was told I’d be working with the best. They said you had good eyes, soldier. Where’s the rest of your head?”

John knew what Lim was implying. A single Grunt Minor simply did not exist alone on the battle field.

“That Grunt was part of a squad,” said the Chief. “We’d be more than lucky if they didn’t hear that gunfire.”

The Master Chief and marines needed to pass through the city unnoticed if they were to make it anywhere near that Covenant carrier. Presumably, the Covenant had the streets littered. Exiting out into the open was a risk they could not take. John looked upwards at the gap in the ceiling. Just below it were two LED lights sticking out from the wall on either side. One sat above the archway and the other was above the elevator door. Looking at the closest light, John realised that from the top of the light, it would be easy to clamber over the gap onto the roof above. The cover appeared to be strong enough to briefly hold a Spartan, but only a Spartan could jump high enough to reach it. 

“Cortana,” John started. “Just how close are all these buildings?”

“What are you thinking, Chief?” Johnson asked.

“Those barrels near the Pelican. We can use them to climb up into the opening above. If there’s a pathway we can take over rooftops to a possible landing zone, we can pass the Covenant unnoticed.”

“The city is clustered,” Cortana said. “Most of the rooftops are joined one way or another. I should be able to uncover a suitable path to an LZ once we’re up there, but we’ll need to locate any survivors from the second downed Pelican.”

“Affirmative, Cortana.” Johnson barked at the other marines, “You heard the lady. Let’s form us a staircase, and try not to make any more noise.”

The Spartan and marines worked together to roll the barrels into a suitable stack below the lights. One by one they hopped up and out into the open sky. Once up there, John looked down into the streets below. They were above a tight zone consisting of a few narrow roads, a courtyard and a small building with a glass roof reflecting the sun up at them. Based on the shape and size of the glass-roofed building, John guessed it to be a greenhouse if not just a more enclosed area of the courtyard. He saw flashes of orange and red beneath the glass. The Covenant were there.

“Let’s move,” said the Chief.

They began manoeuvring themselves through a path around the rooftops designated by Cortana; crawling through dark spaces, climbing over high walls and balancing on long, rusted metal beams to cross from building to building. The further they went, the higher they got. The courtyard below appeared gradually smaller but was not yet out of sight. Cortana activated the MJOLNIR’s coms.

“Second Squad, this is Cortana. What’s your status? Over.”

There was a brief pause before they heard the reply from the Second Squad leader.

“We’re operation, ma’am… barely. Our pilots didn’t make it. We’re pinned down at the beach here.”

“Find a hole,” Cortana instructed. “Stay put, and we’ll come to you.”

John helped boost the marines one by one over a particularly high wall before jumping over himself. They were halfway up to the skyline of the outskirts now. He could see the crimson clouds of the New Mombasa city centre through gaps between the buildings, and identified the seemingly eternal space elevator supported by rings segmenting the tube’s lower half. John watched loose the rubble from beneath their feet slide down the particularly steep ridge they were currently traversing across. Pieces disappeared into the depths below.

There was a sudden scratch followed by a heavy scraping as John turned to see Ouma sliding past him. The metal of his armour ground against the rooftop as he slipped. With the Master Chief’s Spartan reflexed he reached out and caught the marine who now hung suspended off the edge with his legs running wildly in mid-air. Ouma’s eyes were even wider than before as John pulled him up back onto the ridge.

“You’re jumpy, marine,” said Johnson. “Got anything you need to tell me?”

“Sarge,” Collins called. “Down there.”

He was pointing down at the distant courtyard. The Covenant had spilled out from the glass-roofed building. Their colours now flooded the area around it. John used his MJOLNIR’s interface to magnify the scene in front of him. His visor zoomed in at the dots below. He made out several Grunts in red and orange, a couple of Elites, as well as two pairings of reptilian Jackals.

Somewhat a cross between vultures and lizards, the humanoid Covenant Jackals didn’t look too threatening from a distance. Their legs were bent and twisted, their bodies were narrow and their large, lidless, ovular eyes made them a ridiculous sight; but one would not wish to be up close and personal with a Jackal. Though still much smaller than Elites, they were tall and threatening. Their hands were shaped like talons, which were only almost as sharp as the many teeth on their long, pointed jaws. The mohawked plumage on their elbows and head flared like fire. The pupils in their eyes were cruel, black slits. As Jackal Scouts, they were equipped with energy shield gauntlets. Large semi-transparent shields, similar to the Covenant stationary shields that were often placed across battlefields, were emitted from the Jackals’ wrists. They were large enough to protect the Jackal’s entire body. There were two cut-outs in the sides of the circular shields to allow both left-handed and right-handed Jackals to shoot through with their plasma pistols.

One of the Jackals tilted its head sideways like a bird. One of its pink eyes glared directly up at the direction of the Master Chief and the marines.

“Quick! Into the shadows!” Cortana yelled.

The entire team ducked below a lip in the side of the building.

“Did it see us?” Ouma asked.

“Hard to tell,” Cortana replied. “It’s best we keep moving. I’ll alter our path. It might be a little tight, but hopefully it’ll keep us hidden at least for a while. Chief, follow the navpoint.”

A blue arrow appeared on John’s heads-up-display, pointing him towards a dark chasm. He led the way, rubbing his heavy armour against the concrete walls. Once on the other side of the trench, they were back out onto the open city tops again. The courtyard was out of sight. It was quiet. Smoke puffed from two industrial chimneys nearby reminding John that the city and been abruptly evacuated. He wondered why the Covenant had flooded the streets of Mombasa in particular when the rest of the planet remained so far unaffected by the Covenant attack. John remembered Lord Hood’s words on Cairo Station. The fleet that attacked Reach had been many times greater than this one. Why had so few Covenant been sent to glass the human homeworld? Considering this may very well be the end of the human race were the Covenant to succeed, it didn’t make sense to the Chief; and where were the rest of the Covenant? John supposed he’d have to find this Regret to uncover those answers.

“Cortana?” John asked.

“Yes?”

“Regret, the Prophet… We were supposed to capture one during Operation Red Flag.”

“Funny how things work out, isn’t it?” She replied.

Red Flag had been a military operation coordinated by Doctor Halsey and other high-ups within ONI and the UNSC. It was the reason for the Pillar of Autumn receiving its upgrades and being provided a crew of the most highly trained and skilled personal they had to offer, many of which had been hand-chosen by Halsey herself, the creator of both Cortana and the Spartan-II program. The mission had been to leave Reach, infiltrate a Covenant fleet, have the Spartans storm a Covenant flagship, have Cortana hack into their database, capture a Covenant Prophet and learn the location of the Covenant home base. Had their mission been a success, the UNSC would have exerted all their efforts into one final assault against the Covenant, potentially ending the war before the last of the human colonies could be destroyed. Unfortunately, the fall of Reach prevented any attempt at initiating Operation Red Flag, but if John referred to his training for that operation, he’d have no trouble hunting down this Prophet.

The squad continued traversing through the high pathway within the concrete jungle. Suddenly, the Chief heard a loud static within his helmet. No. Not static, he realised… Fluttering. John looked across at a glass building over to his left. The glass windows reflected exactly what he was dreading. A swarm of man-sized insectoids were rising up from the depths below. Before they knew it, the entire squad was surrounded by repulsive Covenant Drones. In appearance, they were giant flying-roaches with small glowing devices strapped to their backs. These devices allowed them to buzz around a range of varying gravitational environments. Each Drone carried a plasma pistol and flittered from one position to another as quickly and agile as mosquitoes.

“FIRE!” Colonel Lim yelled.

The squad were now running around like a pack of Grunts, dispersed and senseless. Ouma and Lim fired their SMGs. Johnson had his sniper rifle strapped to his back. It would have been impossible to manipulate it quickly enough to hit a single Drone. Instead he fired his side magnum. Both Collins and the Master Chief shot their battle rifles, aiming for the heads of the bugs.

The Drones were intelligent creatures, but they were one-dimensional. They had no sense of fear, and would not stop until they had killed every one of their targets or were killed themselves. Fortunately, they were very predictable. The marines were an absurd site, scrambling around the rooftops, but if they were to survive a swarm of Drones, this was the way to go. The second they stopped moving could mean instant death.

“If they didn’t know we were here before,” Johnson puffed, “They do now!”

Like the Grunts, the Drones were not very accurate with their plasma pistols against moving targets. John was able to shoot them down one by one, reminding him of the old shooting gallery simulations he played as a child at boot camp. Brown watery-liquid rained down on them as the insectoid’s heads and limbs were blown apart by the soldiers’ bullets. In their heavy combat armour, the marines were starting to wear out and slow down. Their faces glittered with sweat, and their panting was loud and uneven. Bam. Bam. Bam. They had to kill these Drones quickly, or they’d die a purposeless death here on the rooftops.

After what felt like hours of strenuous dodging and firing, but had been mere minutes in actuality, the Drones were all dead. The only sounds that remained was the heavy breathing of the marines and echoes of gunfire from distant battles across the clouds of the city. Johnson walked over to the splattered corpse of one Drone that had landed near them. Yellow ooze seeped from its body.

“I don’t wanna kill you,” he spoke to the lifeless insect parts. “You’re just too ugly to let live!”

“Fuck.” Ouma mumbled, still catching his breath.

“You good, Ouma?” Johnson asked.

“Yeah,” he answered.

“You’re not injured, marine. How’s your head?”

Ouma hesitated before replying.

“My… My family is in Voi. It’s a city, not far from here. I’m just-”

TSSEEW!

Ouma was silenced. A straight, horizontal, purple strike of lighting had flashed through his head, splitting his skull apart. The lifeless body of Private Ouma fell to its knees. Thick red blood poured from the mangled shape that had once been his head. His worries about his family would never be heard.

“Sniper!” Collins yelled.

Everyone ducked for cover behind the nearest pieces of geometry they could find; short walls and other elevations in the concrete. The Chief was practically lying down to fit his massive armoured frame behind some cover.

“Chief, where’d it come from?” Johnson whispered.

John peeked up from his lip. He looked across into the shadows of the adjacent building in which the purple energy appeared to have been shot from. He zoomed in using his visor, but this time, the smart-link of his MJOLNIR interface automatically calibrated with the BR scope. He raised himself just enough to use his battle rifle like a periscope. Sure enough, there was the Covenant sniper. The raptor-like Sniper Jackal wore no shield. It just a long Covenant beam rifle. It stood motionless like a wingless gargoyle. Its rifle was pointed directly at the Chief.

John could try to peep up further and land an instant kill by shooting the creature in the head. The problem was, a Type-50 Particle Beam Rifle like the one the Jackal was holding could strip the Spartan’s shield clean in one shot. Even a super-soldier could not survive a second hit from such a weapon. Jackals were no Grunts or Drones. Their accuracy was lethal. Elites were bigger and stronger, but Jackals could be just as intelligent and just as skilful. Sniper Jackals in particular were calm and collected. It would not be worth the risk for the Chief to jump out and risk exposure. If he did, there was a good chance he’d end up looking like the body that sat in its dark puddle a couple of metres away. What the Master Chief would need to do is spot for Sergeant Johnson.  

“Johnson-”

TSSEEW!

The Chief was hit below his shoulder by a light from his left. There was another sniper. His shields had managed to prevent the damage but were now fully depleted. The alarm in his helmet sounded as the top of his heads-up-display flashed red. Crouching, John zoomed out briefly in order to search for his attacker. He scanned the windows above and then reactivated his smart-link, zooming back in at his target.

Johnson fired his sniper rifle over the Chief’s shoulder at Ouma’s killer while John fired his battle rifle at his new opponent. The Chief was able to make out the Jackal due to a small purple glow from the point of the creature’s long energy weapon, but this also meant that the beam rifle was still aimed directly at him. John fired, but his BR was not accurate at such a distance. All three bullets from the BR’s burst missed the creature. He dived over to the side as another purple strike shot out toward him, burning a small hole in the concrete he’d been crouched over. Collins leant out from his cover and started firing at the same Jackal. Together the Spartan and marine fired several more shots until the creature was hit, falling back into the darkness behind it. John looked over his shoulder as his shield recharged. Johnson had hit his mark too.

“We’d better get a move on,” Cortana announced as they all stood up. “Unless of course you want to be target practice.”

“What about Ouma?” Collins asked.

“There’s nothing we can do for him, son.” Johnson replied. “I’ll ask to have his family evacuated if they haven’t left Voi already, but that’s not our priority right now”

Lim nodded toward the SMG in his arms.

“I’m almost out of ammo after those damned buggers.”

“I’ll see if I can get anything dropped down from a Pelican,” Cortana replied. “But I wouldn’t hold my breath. We need to stay low.”

The group crept forward once more, leaving Ouma’s body behind. This time, they stayed in as many shadows and tight spaces as they could, careful not to make a sound. Eventually, they received a transmission.

“My girl’s a little big for all those craggy rooftops,” came a female pilot over the com. “I see a good LZ on the other side. I’ll meet you there. Over.”

A fresh navpoint appeared on John’s display.  

This time Miranda Keyes’s voice spoke.

“Sergeant Major, I need you on that bird.”

“Ma’am?”

“My Pelicans are going to start airlifting armour and reinforcements into the city. They'll need an escort that isn't afraid of a little hostile ground fire.”

“Understood. I'll keep an eye on them,” said Johnson. “Chief, you continue towards the beach. Find Second Squad. I’ll make my way down to the LZ.”

Lim approached the Sergeant.

“Sir, that sniper rifle isn’t going to do you any good on the descent.”

“Is that right, Lim? Huh! You’ve been eying this thing the moment we crashed,” Johnson replied, patting the lengthy rifle.

“He has a point,” came the Master Chief’s monotonous voice.

“Alright. Here you go, Chief. But you better kick ass with this thing,” Johnson said as he handed the Spartan the sniper in exchange for his SMG. “I’ll be on my way.”

They exchanged ammo before Johnson walked over to a fire escape ladder that ran down the side of the building. The Chief then swapped his BR for Lim’s submachine gun.

“There’s not a lot in this either,” said Lim, staring at the numerals on the battle rifle’s digital ammo counter.

“Quit your whining, Colonel,” said Johnson as he stepped over the ladder. “Just don’t waste any shots and you’ll be fine.”

“Good luck, Sergeant.” Cortana finished.

John’s navpoint updated once more. He looked out into the distance between the buildings. Their destination wasn’t too far now. The new navpoint arrow sat above a blocky building with decorative neon letters labelling it “Hotel Zanzibar.” Behind that was a blue sea, and beyond that were the skyscrapers of New Mombasa. The Chief looked up at the Covenant carrier that rested in the clouds beside the space elevator. Within that capital ship was a Covenant religious leader conducting the assault on Earth. That Prophet knew the reason their fleet was only interested in New Mombasa… and that Prophet had John’s name on it.  

 


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