"And there were how many in the patrol?"

Locke fumed inside. This debrief on Tararis had taken him too long. None of it made sense. They had the helmet cam footage, they had the weapons and bodies ID'd(Storm Covenant, all of them). So why did they need him?

"There was an Elite, two jackals, and a bunch of grunts."

"Armed with?" The interrogator pressed on.

"Plasma rifles for the grunts, the jackals had Beam rifles, and the Elite had a Storm rifle."

"Not what any normal patrol would carry."

"No sir." Locke detected a shift in the officer's behavior. Slight, but it was there.

"We're giving you a team to investigate. Zeta-One, a Navy-Army mix. You and six others. All ODSTs, all super-cleared beyond doubt."

Locke smiled.

"So you want us to counter?"

"No. HIGHCOM wants it dead, vaporized, erased from all records and memory, and gone. You need it, you've got it. You'll have almost unlimited requisition privileges."


"Can't have you calling in the Infinity, now can we?"


Locke walked in to the hangar. Inside was their gear and weapons, plus two F-99 Wombats and a gunship variant of the D79.

The ODSTs were all caying M7s, that handy little subgun that had chewed its way across human and some covenant space since its inception. One of the ODSTs walked up and saluted. He was blond and more than a little handsome.

"Sir, Master Sergeant Michael Bogier reporting for hazardous combat duty."

Locke ran through the file he read on the Hornet ride: Michael C. "Mick" Bogier, 6' 4", 308 lbs. Army ODST. Sixteen tours in active combat zones. Enough combat time to have won any war but the Great one. Cross-trained in sniper and demo, plus a little communications tech expertise too.

"Introduce me to the team, Sergeant."

One by one, he met them. SCPO Robert Mitchell, the breacher. Electronics Technician Second Class Ishi Honda, the technician, obviously. Staff Sergeant James Lewis, pilot and wheelman. Hospital Corpsman Second Class Samuel Johnson was Bogier's spotter and team medic. Sergeant First Class Joeseph Sanstrom was the scout.

Mitchell piped up.

"First mission, sir?"

Locke smiled.

"Find the base that they're holed up in, and destroy it."


The roar of the Falcon's engines shook the trees below it. Onboard, Locke checked his SRS, the one he had used in that first encounter. No thermobaric rounds now; Locke had dropped the caliber to 7mm Remington Magnum. Subsonic handloads, too; this was a stealth op. No need to tell the enemy a sniper was in play with a telltale sonic boom. Locke would provide helicopter sniper fire for the assault team, who would fast-rope down and assault the relay.

"Twenty seconds!" The pilot started easing in to hover, readying the chingun.

Mick stood up. "You know the plan, so let's kick some ass! One point per grunt, two for a Jackal, five for a Brute, ten for an Elite and twenty-five for a Hunter! Least points buys the beers!"

The team prepared to deploy. Foregoing the heavy body armor, Locke and his team were dressed similarly to the elite warriors of the Twenty-first century: Black assault boots and fatigues, black reflective armor, black camo paint, mags in pouches everywhere. Encrypted headsets would let them communicate easily. The sungalsses on had a HUD in them, as well as night vision capability: Ambient light, thermal, or a mix, all with ViSR, too.

"GO! GO! GO!"

Before the pilot had finished his first "GO!", the team was already sliding down while the pilot flew down to adjust for the weight loss. Locke racked the bolt of his rifle, chambering a round, and switched the glasses to the ViSR-Ambient-Thermal mix.


Bogier kept moving, and moving fast. Twenty-six years as a Army weapons specialist, he was fast tracked to Force Recon and then the ODSTs. He had spent his entire career as an ODST, and the tough Master Sergeant intended to add a few more medals to the list simply by staying alive. His weapon, a suppressed BR85, had a customized Clearshot 2-8x61 scope, eighteen inches of the best optics on the market. He envied Locke, who had modified his rifle with a Kaiseki 5-30x56 scope and integral suppressor.

The other ODSTs were carrying M7S submachine guns, but rechambered for 10x25mm Traxus, which was the evolution of many bullets, starting with the 10mm Auto. More power than the standard 5x23mm Misrah Rimfire rounds would provide would be neccesary, and all were using a specially designed 50-round magazine.

Mick focused instantly; he'd heard something.

Yes, there it was: the relay tower. He'd heard a patrol. He waved them forward.

The team sneaked up, dodging patrols with ease. They got to the relay. One Elite was there, guarding it. Johnson dove on to it and slit its throat.

"Nice, Mitchell. You get to blow it up." someone said. Mitchell wasted no time, shaping C-12 charges and spraying C-7 where needed.

Then everything went to hell.


Locke saw an Elite patrol move through the woods and scanned the signs.

"Oh, shoot."

The Elites were from a feared warrior creche. Judging by the signs on their armor, they were very dangerous.

Locke looked at the flag Lewis had set up for him on the approach.

Sixty-three degree angle divided by a constant of four is 15.75, so it's 15.75 miles per hour to the west for wind speed, lase the target, 993 yards, 9.93 times 15.75 is 156.3975, that divided by a constant of 15 is 10.4265, so go 10 clicks left on the zero, sight, clear, in, hold, out, hold, in, hold, out, hold, between heartbeats so P-R-E-S-S the trigger, eight ounces of slack, seven, six, five, four, three, two, one, bang and the rifle sent its 319-grain load in to the head of the elite. The system on the rifle cycled a new 319-grain bullet in as the Elites charged for the jammer room.

Locke got off another shot at an Elite, blowing its leg off.


"Says the person who just kneecapped an Elite at two kilometers!"


Mick picked up Locke's two amber signals, followed by a red. That meant incoming, Elites, at least one taken down. Then Locke flashed his green indicator ten times fast.

"Cheeky bastard."

Then again, Mick would have done the same. Everyone except Mitchell was in a defensive position.

"Honda, get the COM data off of this. Mitchell, switch with Honda. We came for that data, and we're not giving up yet."

He got a chorus of assorted "Sir yes sirs" from the army, and "Hooyah"s from the Navy Breachers. He smiled grimly. They weren't out of this yet.

The door blew in, and a grunt came first. Mick blew him away with one burst, then hit the Elite behind him, flashing his light once. Mitchell shot the elite with the shotgun, killing it. At least he had the satisfaction of not having no points at all, like Ishi Honda. Being the new guy on the team, Zeta-One, he was hazed heavily and earnestly. Today, however, would be the last day. Honda's cherry was burst.

Mick jumped in to the air, knees in, first step in a three-strike offensive "Trinity", as the drill sergeants had called it when they taught Mick and so many others that lethal martial art. Step two: Smash the shield in to the Kig-Yar's face with a smash with whatever weapon was in his hands on collision. Step three: Follow through, snapping the neck. Check, check, and check.

Next were the skirmishers. Tricky assholes. Mick was losing badly. Even Honda was on the board here.

Forget that. Focus on getting out.

"Master Sergeant! Got the data!" Honda looked proud.

"Then let's haul ass out of here." Mick proclaimed. He flashed green three times.


The pilot picked up on the signal.

"Sir, they're ready for evac!" The pilot knew what Locke's answer would be, he just wanted the formalities.

Locke stowed his rifle and manned one of the guns.

"Go, pilot! We're not getting paid by the hour!"

As they approached, Locke could see the havoc they'd unleashed. Zeta-One had a reputation for destruction, and he definitely saw why.

The pilot dropped the rope, and the team climbed in.

"Honda, pass the boss the data. Also, Lewis, you're buying. Not one point. Disgraceful." Locke smiled. That was Mick, making some aspects of combat a game to take the worry off of everyone's mind.

Not Locke's. The relay was linked in to the main command point... let's see...

The govenor's office!?