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Sparrow Oberacker

Sergeant First Class and Platoon Chief of Platoon 3

0 · 125 views · located in Mass Effect Universe created by Bioware

a character in “Mass Effect: On the Edge”, as played by Guilty Carrion

Description

Sparrow is tall, and she knows it, at a surprising 5’10” she manages to stand above, if not on par with most of her marines. With docile green eyes, and a near constant smile, Sparrow is one of the easier to remember faces of the Victory. Her deep red hair reaches almost past her shoulder blades, although it’s typically tied up in a ponytail of some variety since the sergeant prefers to be active most of her days. She has a naturally pale complexion, never having had a long term stay on a planet, and her skin shows little sign of changing, even if she occasionally returns from missions with a slight redness of the face.

Considered something of an ‘oddity’ for not ‘filling’ the standard mold of Cerberus female command staff, Sparrow’s stringent exercise has had little effect on her overall frame, with a more slender upper body offset by higher, fuller hips and powerful legs. She’s easily one of the more defined female marines, and boasts dozens of miniature scars from a lifetime of scrapes and scraps. Very few seem to come from weapon injury, however, which she equates to simple ‘good luck’.

Sparrow has few notable tattoos, although a few patches of oddly smooth skin imply that she may have had more that have since been removed. What’s left is a small tattoo of her namesake bird on her left shoulder blade, simple and light in it’s design.

Personality

Sparrow is friendly and naturally outgoing, easily socializing with the entirety of her platoon with little difficulty. Sparrow carries herself with a relaxed charm that belies her command status and ability to motivate and hammer her Platoon into action at a moment’s notice. When it’s time for action, Sparrow knows exactly who’s ass to kick into gear to get results, and it’s this useful skill that’s gotten her promoted to Platoon Chief despite her relatively young age of 24. With an earthy common sense, Sparrow trusts her men explicitly, and has an nigh unshakable belief in their capabilities. She is slow to anger over most things, but her triggers are volatile and should be avoided.

Off-duty, Sparrow barely changes, save for a tendency to stargaze. She is available 24 hours a day to help her platoon with anything they might need. A self proclaimed 'den mother', Sparrow barely tolerates any threat to her marines, and is more than willing to argue for their benefit, even with Brass. Despite her command position, Oberacker can often be rather impatient with things, favouring methods that are direct, simple, and quick. This has simple taught anyone who answers to her to listen promptly, less her ire be earned and someone be assigned to latrine duty with zero breaks.

She is rarely without her electronic cigarette, the only form of smoking O’Ryan permits her to do. Permission isn't always the operative term in Sparrow's mindset, as she has something of a rebellious streak that sees rules as vague guidelines at times, particularly when she wants something badly enough. Sparrow also has a notorious fighting streak, rarely turning down a chance to tussle with anyone of decent skill. It is of little surprise that Sparrow fits the Cerberus stereo-type of xenophobe, although she prefers passive avoidance over direct confrontation with aliens, a lesson well learned in her youth. She won't hesitate to share her opinion of them, but Sparrow will listen to reason when the situation demands it. For reasons yet unknown, she seems to house a particular disgust for salarians above all others.

Sparrow is also incredibly fond of cherries.

History

Sparrow, while not exactly secretive, isn't exactly forward about her past either. Very little is currently known, but it's safe to say she has served with her current platoon for an extended period of time, and has likely spent the majority of her career serving under O'Ryan, which has likely been a nightmare for the both of them.

So begins...

Sparrow Oberacker's Story

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Corporal Edward Stevenson Character Portrait: Specialist Maya Salazar Character Portrait: Private First Class Logan Fischer Character Portrait: Private Roger Pollard Character Portrait: Sparrow Oberacker

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Like a hammer to an anvil, the music blared in a furious roar over the rather densely populated training room of the Call. Most of the marines did their routine without pause, ignoring the screeching instruments and howling vocals in languages no one present could even begin to identify. Some, however, sent furious glares towards the source of the blasting noise, squatting on a stool in the center of the sparring ring with the telltale glow of an Omni-tool illuminating her features.

Sweat stained the dark grey of her tank top, black straps of a sports bra barely visible under the loose fitting shirt. Tight shorts adorned muscled legs, and a light cloud of smoke hung around her figure, obscuring her ever so slightly. Deep red hair hung loose around her face, shading deceptively gentle eyes that sparked with mirth as a lone figure stormed up to the edge of the ring, shouting to catch her attention. “Hey! Turn that shit the fuck down!” Rolling her head lazily, the woman grinned lopsidedly at the young man, glowing end of an electronic cigarette dangling from her lips.

“I don’t hear any shit.” She paused, fake realization lighting up her features. “Oh, you mean my music.” Rolling the cigarette about with her tongue, she mused on his words for a moment or two, before shrugging. “Eh. I like this track. Maybe when it’s done.” Laughing at his displeased growl, she winked cheekily at the pissed off soldier, turning her back to him without another word.

“Don’t fucking turn your back to me!” He roared, grabbing the ropes and hauling himself to the outer lip. As he moved to climb into the ring, she held up a finger, waggling it back and forth. He growled like a dog with its hackles raised as she warningly looked over her shoulder again.

“One chance, Greenknee.”

“The fuck you calling Greenknee?!”

“You come in this ring; I’m throwing your ass out of it over the top rope. Jump down and go work out with your buddies.” Despite it being a warning, her teasing laugh only seemed to spur him further into anger, and the ‘Greenknee’ stepped through the ropes without hesitation. The woman laughed, straightening fluidly and tossing her stool out of the ropes with a deft flick of the hand. Muscles tightened and stretched along her back as she cracked her shoulders, before pointing a finger at one of the marines sitting just outside. “Feldmann!”

The man glanced up at his name, before sighing heavily. “Ring out. No breaking bones. Ring ring, fight’s on.” He shouted loud enough to be heard, making the coming brawl ‘official’ She smiled in appreciation, winking at the exasperated marine before turning to the charging man with a laugh far too happy for a fight.

“Let’s dance, Greenknee!” The man’s charge was easily side stepped, and she swiftly tripped his leg with a subtle jerk of her leg. He stumbled to a stop, his opponent strolling casually along the edge of the ring, pearly whites on full display as she watched him. He moved in, slower this time, hands clenched into fists as he stalked towards her.

Coming to a stop, she motioned for him to come closer, and he lunged in with a haymaker. She deftly sidestepped, deftly trapping his wrist and bicep in a vice grip before tossing the man with his own momentum clear over her shoulder. He slammed against the thankfully padded ring with an echoing thud, and she sighed in seeming disappointment. “You can do better, right? Show me the guns, Greenknee.” He rolled to his stomach, quickly moving to pick himself up, but she didn’t seem fond of that idea.

The kick to the jaw snapped his head back with a lovely crack, but she wasn’t about to relent. Gripping the man by shirt, she hauled him up to his feet, stepping back to avoid his flailing attempts to hit her back. A few teasing jabs to the chest got him stalking forward once more, and the fake pout on her face kept the anger in him already boiling. Walking slowly backwards, she beckoned the marine with her fingers teasingly, until she found herself too tight to the ropes. “Oops.”

He grinned with bloody lips, leaping forward to take advantage of her perceived mistake. His grapple met thin air, but a deft strike to the stomach forced whatever air was in his lungs out. Before he could sort the attack, her hands dug into his skull, driving it without hesitation into the corner post. “I was hoping for better.” She sighed, let him fall from her grip before pushing his body under the bottom rope and letting it fall to the floor below. Placing her hands on her hips, she gazed down at the unconscious man before the awkward clearing of a throat drew her gaze to the other side of the ring.

“Uh…Sergeant Oberacker?” Roger stood on the outside of the ring, craning his neck to try and get a look at the unfortunate bastard lying on the ground behind her. “…please tell me you didn’t call him here as well.” The slight note of fear in his voice made Oberacker laugh, bouncing on the balls of her feet for a moment before crossing the ring with an extended hand.

“Nah, Private…” She paused, glancing back at the dazed body. “…Deckard? Deckard. Private Deckard didn’t care for batarian prog rock, and thought fighting was better than manners.” The young private blinked, eyes flicking over to her omni-tool which still blared the unceremonious cacophony that she was passing off as…music. Oberacker seemed to catch on, shaking his hand before turning down the riotous sound. “For batarian’s…this is progressive. Very progressive. Trust me.”

“I’ll…take your word for it?”

“Squinties ain’t good for much, but they make good fighting music, I’ll give them that.” The private climbed into the ring, watching her curiously as she retrieved her fallen cigarette. After a moment of fiddling with it, she took a slow breath, smiling wide at him. “You’re a little late, Pollard. I had to entertain myself.”

“I’ll send Deckard my apologies…Maya held me up for some ‘tips’.” The redheaded sergeant snorted in amusement, smoke rolling from her lips as she breathed in the nicotine. “What did you need me for, anyway?”

“Straight to business? That’s no fun. We’ve barely said three words to each other before today, and you’re gonna play the serious card on me?” Feldmann laughed from the sidelines, no doubt having caught sight of the befuddled expression on the young man’s face. “Smile, Roger, it suits you better.”

His reply was slow, and deliberate, as if he expected O’Ryan to leap out at him at any moment for being ‘casual’ with a superior officer. “I…thank you? Aren’t I suppose to….I dunno, act serious?” She fixed him with a look, and it made him feel like he had missed something important.

“By all means.” She stepped up close, and despite standing even with her, Roger felt small under her smirking gaze. “But don’t think it’s gonna get you anywhere quickly.” Oberacker slapped his cheek lightly. “I’m a Sergeant First Class, and I forget to iron my uniform most days.”

Feldmann snorted from the sidelines. “When you actually attempt to wear it.” She shot the man a pointed look. “Just making sure the boy knows his facts. Can’t have you twisting his innocent mind with your honeyed lies.”

Oberacker laughed, flipping the bird at his back. “And the day we find an innocent marine, I’ll eat your boots, Ken.” Feldmann waved dismissively over his shoulder, and she turned her attention back to the confused private. “Now then, I called you here for a reason. First things first, whatever ‘tips’ Maya gave you, forget them.”

“Ma’am?”

“Roger, unless brass in in earshot, you call me Ma’am or Sergeant again, I will hit you.”

“You’re as bad as Maya…” He trailed off, as she paced across the ring lazily. “So, Oberacker then? Or should I never address you by name? She-who-shall-not-be-named?” She blew a light cloud of smoke, staring out through the observation window for a moment before replying.

“Sparrow.”

“Sparrow.” He repeated; as if to test it out, ensure nothing bad would happen after uttering his superior’s name aloud. It was almost funny how hesitant he was to say it. “Alright so, Sparrow…why should I forget everything Maya told me?”

“Because I’m better than Maya is, and her close-combat style is garbage.” Sparrow frowned over her shoulder at him. “I’ve noticed you say her name just fine. Trying to make me jealous, Roger?”

“What..? Wait, no! Hey, hell no! She’s on my team, so I know her on a first name basis! Same with Logan and Ed! Maya, god n-” The devious smirk on the Sergeant’s face made him stop, squeezing his eyes shut. “…I walked into that.”

“That you did.” Seemingly content with her teasing, Sparrow clapped her hands together, signalling a more focused conversation. “Now then, as Platoon Chief, I have access to your training schedule, and couldn’t help but notice you were going to be having some sparring time with Edward today.”

“Yeah, we were supposed to.”

“Well, seeing as Ed is shitty in hand to hand, and Maya’s got him booked in with Franks, I’ll be taking over your advanced hand to hand training for today.” She smiled, flicking off her cigarette and tucking it behind an ear. “We’re gonna see how well you do, and I may just take it over completely if I think you’re not up to snuff. Once I figure out what you‘ve got to work with, we‘ll refresh whatever needs refreshed, and then get into some fun stuff.”

“Careful. The amount of times Maya hits me in a day, you’d think I’m an addictive punching bag.” He joked, cracking his knuckles hesitantly as the woman in front of him busied herself tying her hair up into a messy ponytail to keep it out of her face. “Wait, Ed‘s going to see the Yeoman?”

“He’s being too angsty, so Maya booked him in.” When Roger opened his mouth to continue, she held up a finger for silence, and he snapped his mouth shut. “Good boy. Let Ed get himself taken care of. I’ll take good care of you, I promise.” She winked playfully. “It’ll only hurt in the good way.”

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Of his many traits and flaws, one thing Edward always was, is punctual. To anything, even if he didn’t want to be there, if he was supposed to be there, you could expect Ed to be there. Walking silently down the hall, eyes focused on the steady march of his feet, Ed did his best to keep the displeasure off his face. If marines and techs stepping out his way was any indication, he wasn’t doing a very good job of it.

Beside one of the hall’s myriad identical doors, a small glowing panel read Yeoman Franks, and the corporal slowed to a stop in front of it. For a moment, he just stood outside the door, hand raised to knock. The temptation to just turn and walk away was growing with every passing second, but before he could act on it, the steady knock of knuckles against steel announced his presence. It was silent at first, before the door hissed open and the yeoman called him into the room.



Crossing the threshold, the marine looked at the yeoman seated behind her desk, eyes focused on the data pad in her hand, head nodding slightly to the beat of the old, ambient rock music filling the office. She didn’t look up, and he made no move to leave the entrance, at least not until she finally tapped a key and looked up to him. “Ah, Mister Edward Jonathan Stevenson, right on time. Have a seat.” The use of his full name earned a raised brow, but he obeyed regardless, sitting in one of the twin reclining chairs she had motioned to. Yeoman Franks wasn’t as prompt, taking her time to let the song finish before flicking off the terminal and moving to the seat opposite him. After a brief pause, she spoke again. “Alright Ed, why are you here?”

The corporal responded automatically. “Specialist Salazar spoke with you and arranged this meeting, Ma’am. You tell me.” The woman smiled, taking a moment to tap a few things into the data pad on her armrest. The feeling of being observed unsettled him; that everything he said or did in this woman’s eye was being catalogued and analyzed.

“No, marine, you tell me. Your squad is worried about you and apparently your attitude has been anything but pleasant lately. So you tell me Ed...why are you here?" He crossed his fingers, sinking into the seat under her searching gaze. The inquisitiveness of her voice was prying, and he fought the urge to shake his head to dispel its effect.

“I’m fine.”

She laughed, and that got his attention back to her. She rose from the chair, gesturing to the door as she walked back to her desk. “Ok then Corporal, you’re free to leave.” He blinked in surprise as she turned her music back on, settling into her chair and going back to whatever she’d been doing when he’d first arrived. Slowly, he rose from the seat, watching her in his peripheries. She made no move to speak, and the corporal took the invitation at face value, reaching to tap the interface on the door. “When you see lieutenant Harrens, mention that I would like to see him"
.
And just like that, whether he knew it or not, she had him. “…what did you just say?” His body tensed, turning on his heel to fix her with a withering glare. Linda was already crossing the room, a resigned smile on her face.

"You know what I said, and it's because of your reaction..." She leaned over, tapping a few keys on the door that sent a small tone echoing in the room. "That you aren't leaving this room until I deem otherwise Corporal." Linda retook her position in the reclining chair, crossing her legs as she watched him. "Do you want to stop lying to me now?"


"I'm not lying." His eyes narrowed on the locked door, knowing full well he was stuck. "I'm fine."

"If you were 'fine', you wouldn't have reacted so strongly to one statement. You froze corporal; your tension was visible in every aspect of your body…” She motioned to his rigid stance. “...and your eyes are glazed over. Don’t make me dissect your mind like a mortician does autopsies."

"The only man not fine is the man who got left behind." He held her gaze, eyes sharp despite the dullness she noted. "Enlisted don't take responsibility, ma'am. Simple as that. I. Am. Fine."

She shrugged with a sense of casualness that didn’t do justice to what they were talking about. As if she didn’t care. "Then why are you?"

"Why am I what?"

"Taking responsibility...quite obviously I might add."

Ed fell silent, body rigid as if he was rooted in place by the door. His hands shook by his side, and his composure cracked for a moment as he rounded fully on the yeoman, eyes dark. "Because it was MY call! My decision! My choice! It was MINE to make, and no amount of bullshit I hear is going to change that fact!" His voice boomed in the closed room, echoing in his ears but despite the volume it still sounded weak.

"Yes, it was your choice." Nothing else needed to be said, the marine standing still as Franks tapped away on the data pad. After a moment of neither saying anything, the yeoman motioned to the chair in front of her. Ed took the seat, stiff and robotic as he moved. "Let me make myself clear Ed." She leaned closer. "My job isn't to tell you you made the right or wrong decision. It isn't to tell you that it was your choice to make or the man's next to you. I'm not here to blame you, put you on the spot, or even bother trying to understand why you’re so upset over one thing. My job, in this particular aspect of my career, is to help you move on and get past it." She paused for a moment, watching his eyes. "Do we understand each other?"


He nodded stiffly. "Good. Now...I want you to tell me the mission in detail. From the moment that you were chosen to the moment that you got back." Ed started slowly, recounting his selection for the mission, his preparation, even the doubts in the park and his talk with Carly. The fight was glazed over; sparing the yeoman the gritty details, save for the brief but frantic struggle at the top of the building.

As he spoke about his brief confrontation with Tia, he lingered, doubt lacing his words as he spoke about the decision but he kept his face neutral. Linda said nothing the entire time, simply making notes and positive nods for him to continue. When he finished, the marine sunk back into his chair, eyes watching his hands twiddle pointlessly.

"Alright." Linda leaned back in her chair, resting her chin on her hand in thought for a moment. "Tell me...was there possibly an option, any option whatsoever, to go after Daniel that didn't include putting not only you but also the others lives and the entire ship in danger?” He was quiet for a moment, not looking up from his hands.

“I…don’t know.”

"You don't know, so that's it Ed? Your problem is you don't know. You don't know if Daniel is alive or dead, and that's what I think is tearing you apart on the inside. So please, for both of our sakes, drop the marine hung ho bullshit that I see 24/7 on this damn boat and tell me how you plan to not fix the problem, but fix yourself."

"Isn't that your job?” His dry words did little to stop her, the yeoman simply continuing along as if he was being perfectly co-operative.

“My job has very loose guidelines on how it's supposed to be conducted. In the end, I could prescribe you with some sort of anti depressant regime which is what the other shrinks would do, but I find the lasting solutions are the ones that are created by the patient themselves."

"There's a very simple solution. Find the men who ambushed us. Shoot them all."

"Simple, sure but it won't solve your problem"

"Won't know that till we try."

Linda shook her head knowingly. "Oh yes we do know. If your problem is not knowing about Daniel, killing the people responsible and still not knowing will lead to the same situation just with more blood lust." She leaned in slightly, her tone more serious than before. "I've seen marines go mad when their friends went Mia, unable to deal with the fact of not knowing. Some of them just shut down, others went gun crazy and put everyone at risk through a show of stupid vengeance and self-entitlement. Guess which road you're starting to take."



Ed wasn‘t much for being stubborn, but her words echoed hollow in his ears. Gritting his teeth, the corporal murmured. “The road which puts the men who tried to kill us in an early grave, and that sounds like a pretty damn good road to me." She wasn’t about to give him an easy victory it seemed.

"And what happens to your squad Ed? What happens to any loved ones out there Ed? People try to kill you; us on a daily basis, it's what we signed for. Throwing your life away for one man who I understand you barely know...seems pretty stupid." His eyes narrowed, but he didn’t look up from his hands.

"Welcome to an army, Ma‘am. I fight to save people I don't know, and will never know. I am expected to lay my life down. We all know the risks. Don't try and lecture me on them."

"But I am lecturing you on them corporal. Because you seem to forget that we lose people every day. It is the job, it is our life, and it is something that a man who has to lead, bleed, and succeed against all odds should start seeing with his own two eyes."

"You think I haven't? You think I'm some greenhorn pissing himself over a corpse? I've dragged dead men off the field, I've lead my team to the best of my damn ability. But here I am, being told to get over watching a man who trusted me get dragged off to God knows where." His voice rose with each passing word, but his restraint kept him practically bolted to his chair, fists tightening till his knuckles were white. "You think people just forget that? You think we make a pretty little plan in our heads and we get all better?"

"No I don't. You've made good progress today, Ed." Whatever he’d been expecting, Edward hadn’t seen that coming. She smiled, making a few final notes on her data pad before setting it aside and focusing on the confused marine. "I believe you’re a good person Ed, with a bit strong of a moral compass. Come back tomorrow after you've thought about everything you've said in better detail."

He opened his mouth, but Linda was already moving back towards her desk, data pad tucked neatly under her arm and the slightest spring in her step. She enjoyed her work, he concluded, slowly rising from his seat with a light sigh. They’d done little, but, as much as he hated to admit it, simply speaking with her had already taken a load off his mind.

“That isn't an order by the way; it's completely optional...even if I do advise the visit." She tapped a key on her desk, the door’s interface blinking green as the corporal approached. “I’ll make sure Maya doesn’t book you in again as well.” She paused, glancing at a small alert on her computer. “Speak of the devil.” The door hissed open, Maya’s hand raised to knock and her eyes widening in surprise as Ed suddenly appeared in her field of vision. “Miss Salazar.”

The specialist nodded lightly at the yeoman, eyes darting over to the silent man every few seconds trying to gauge his reaction to the session. After a moment, he sighed heavily, giving her a slightly crooked smile that made her sigh in turn. “Thank god…I thought your first reaction was going to be taking a swing at me.” The corporal shook his head.

“We both know that’d be pointless.” He glanced over his shoulder, nodding in gratitude to Linda before stepping through the doorway and letting it close behind him. “You just here to check up on me, or is there a reason you came looking?”

“A mission, actually.” Ed stiffened at the words, and Maya quickly continued. “Not for us, Ed. For everyone.”

“The platoon?”

“No, I mean everyone. Titan Company, Victory Company, even the special ops people. If we can shoot a rifle, we’re getting boots on the ground tomorrow.” A chill rolled down his spine, already uneasy as to what sort of mission would need a small army’s worth of marines to achieve it. “Command doesn’t want to fuck around anymore, I think.”

“That or they’ve decided to start a small war. Does everyone already know?” Maya nodded as the pair started down the hallway in quick, synchronized steps.

“Yeah, Logan’s catching the tail end of an engineer pow-wow on GARDIAN systems. Roger…well, Oberacker has him in the med-bay.” The venom in her words as she mentioned the platoon chief’s name felt like it could kill, and Ed bit down a half-hearted chuckle. “She got a little rough on him during her advanced hand-to-hand. One of his eyes looks like a plum. Lot of good that’s gonna do him tomorrow.”

“He’ll be fine. Grass will get it patched up and he’ll be fighting fit.” The corporal assured her, his tone even and resolute, as she’d come to expect from him when it was time to be serious. “I’m more worried about his head. It’s going to be big tomorrow, and he might not be ready.”

“I think that’s what we’re here for Ed. Keep his head on straight.”

“Let’s hope that’s enough.”

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Sitting in the Kodiak, feeling the shakes and bumps of the shuttle as it descended through the atmosphere to the planet below, Logan was silent. It was a word often associated with the large engineer, by the much more raucous breed of marines that often filled the ranks. In this Kodiak, and no doubt the other transporting the other half of Third Platoon, it was surprisingly loud for a group facing the brutal assault Command had planned. Raising his eyes from the floor, Logan gave the occupants a once over.

Edward stood closer to the door, conversing with Fire Team 2’s lead Feldmann, with Fire Team 4’s lead Ramirez listening to the two men talk. Of the four leads present in this Kodiak, Ramirez was the newest, but he was a compliant man and willing to listen when others spoke. Fire Team 1’s lead, Sparrow, stood just behind the pilot, watching out the front as they drew closer and closer to touchdown. Periodically, she’d glance over her shoulder, checking over those present, maybe even shouting something at one of them, before going back to her silent watch. He doubted the waiting was making this easier on the platoon chief.

Maya sat to his left, going over a few firefight tips with Roger and a few other young privates. Platoon 3 was the platoon with the most Greenknees, as Sparrow affectionately called them; tasked with getting them up to speed in the more abundant downtime they were provided. For most of the privates, this would be their first real combat situation, but they kept their spirits up, making bets and boasting to each other. Whether it was out of fear or confidence, Logan couldn’t be sure. He had little doubt he’d not seem some of them after today.

With that last thought, Logan uncoiled his hand, placing his fingers lightly against his right forearm, bowing his helmeted head as he did so. Breathing deep, he closed his eyes, the chatter and noise of the ship around him fading into the background. After a moment, he spoke in reverent whisper. “I bind to myself today – God’s Power to guide me, God’s Might to uphold me, God’s Wisdom to teach me, God’s Eye to watch over me God’s Ear to hear me, God’s Word to give me speech, God’s Hand to guide me, God’s Way to lie before me, God’s Shield to shelter me, God’s Host to secure me, Against the snares of demons, against the seductions of vices, against the lusts of nature, Against everyone who meditates injury to me, whether far or near, whether few or with many.” The ship gave on final lurch, as Sparrow’s voice boomed over the chatter.

“We‘re 2 minutes out! Ready up!” The passenger cabin filled with the flurry of last minute preparations, and the activating clicks and beeps of the marines’ weapons. Logan lifted his head, fingers not moving from his arm as his eyes lingered on each helmet one final time, before Maya’s own jutted down into view.

“You ready?”

Logan’s external speakers crackled briefly. “Christ with me.” Maya cracked a wry grin, pounding a knuckle against his helmet before handing him his M-8 Avenger. The engineer took it gratefully, rising to a standing position as the ship prepared to touch down.

“Well, make sure he brings a rifle too. We can use the extra gun.” Logan chuckled, giving his gun a once over before the final system boot ups of the group’s Cerberus Assault Armour finished. The room flooded with the blinking readies of HUDs, and Sparrow pounded her fist against her chest as she looked over the marines. They mirrored the action, and she wasted no time leading them out of the Kodiak as soon as its bay doors opened up.

The sight of over one hundred marines pouring out of their Kodiaks was a sight foreign to most of them, and a few even slowed in their hurried strides to gaze at the sheer number of them all mobilizing in unison towards their forward positions. Roger jogged lightly behind Logan, Ed and Maya moving in unison just ahead of the two. The younger private was uncharacteristically quiet, but before long his mouth came back enough to comment. “This place is pretty gorgeous. No wonder they built a base out here, no one would look for a weapon’s facility in paradise.”

“No one but us.” Logan remarked, and Roger picked up his pace to move beside the bigger man. “You ready for this?” The question was innocent, but the private diverted his gaze. Logan’s eyes never drifted from the front of his helmet, but it still felt like the engineer was watching him. “Doubt can be lethal, Roger.”

“I know! I’m just a little nervous, cut me some slack. These aren’t zombies, these are thinking people. Gonna be harder to kill is all.” His voice cracked slightly at the word kill, and Logan caught the subtle glance Maya cast back at the private.

“No Private Badass today, got it?” She called, and Roger nodded and affirmative, hands coiling around his Vindicator rifle tighter. “You’ll be fine, just keep your head down.” The medic smiled behind her visor, trying to reassure him. “I’ve got your back.”

As the pack of marines slowed, their conversation fell to the way side, and the air was still save for the pounding feet of countless men and women marching towards a death trap. Roger swallowed hard, fingers digging into his rifle painfully.

“Keep your head down. Just keep your head down.”

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Corporal Edward Stevenson Character Portrait: Specialist Maya Salazar Character Portrait: Private First Class Logan Fischer Character Portrait: Private Roger Pollard Character Portrait: Vala Buchan Character Portrait: Sparrow Oberacker

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This many people weren’t supposed to be this quiet. Roger and the others were in roughly the center of the herd, but aside from the steady beat of dozens of footsteps, there was very little actually being said. No doubt the private channels were alive with pre-mission chatter, but there was that collective hush that came right before the bullets started flying. That was what unnerved the marines, and Roger found his hands shaking slightly, hidden by the bulk of his armour, but judging by the way Maya kept glancing back at him, she was very aware of it.

It made sense, when he thought about it. She’d mention once that, being a field medic, her suit had a few slight changes, linking her HUD with their vitals and likely with any of the marines in the local area. His heart was hammering in his ears, and there was little doubt she knew exactly why. The front of the herd began to climb up the sloped side of a small hill, and Roger grimaced at the prospect of running uphill in the slab of ceramic plate they called armour. Once at the top, the objective was laid out in all its glory, and the young private cocked his head to the side in confusion. “Huh…that…actually doesn’t look so bad.”

Ed nodded slightly at his comment. “And that’s what’s wrong with it.”

“Uh…say what?” The corporal glanced back, Maya turning with him to chuckle at Roger. “You guys seeing something I’m not?” The specialist shook her head, resting the visor of her helmet in her hand as Ed responded.

“Pollard, if you were expecting an assault, would you build fortifications then leave them empty for the enemy?” The private shook his head as the team lead continued. “That’s what’s wrong with it. Why build it and not use it? They likely already know we’re here.”

Roger looked back out at the trenches. “Well…I’m not about to look a gift horse in the mouth.” Logan chuckled silently at Maya’s exasperated sigh, with Edward simply turning to look back out at the facility, right as Carson began to speak.

“Alright marines arm up and get your running boots on! Keep an eye on your squad, keep them safe, and stay alive. Let's go!” The man turned and started running down the hill, and Victory Company wasted no time following him down towards the base. The descent was silent; each marine focusing on the task at hand with the dedication that O’Ryan had spent hours pounding into their skulls. Even Roger kept his mouth shut, eyes watching the building as if it was going to rear up to kill them itself. As the first few marines crossed the threshold, there was an audible pop, and a blue ball flew above the facility. Roger slowed slightly to watch, only for a rough shove by Logan to stagger him forward.

“Move.” The big man didn’t even look up, practically pushing the smaller man along with the thick of his shoulder. The first of the nests rose from the base, and the engineer grit his teeth as the private stiffened in front of him. “Down!” With a grunt, he practically threw Roger the last few feet into the nearest trench, sending him tumbling ass over head into an undignified heap. The air burst to life with the booming rattle of machine gun fire, and Roger hauled himself upwards to look back out for Logan.

The engineer raced forward, rounds ripping up the ground around his feet and shredding his shields like they were made of cardboard. He grunted in pain as a spray clipped his shoulder plates, sending him into a slight spin that sent him sprawling into the dirt. Roger hopped up to the lip, throwing his hand out and gripping Logan’s own, bracing his legs against the side of the trench and pulling the man into the relative safety. They lay there for a second as the battle screamed around them, before Maya’s voice punched through the static. “I’ve got vitals flare! Logan, you alright?”

“I’m fine. Took a few rounds, but the squish suit’s got them sealed.” There was an audible sigh of relief from the specialist before the engineer continued. “Is Ed with you?”

The corporal responded. “I am. We must have gotten split up in the initial ambush.” There was a brief pause of silence as the thundering ring of explosions filled the air and Kelly’s command overrode the private squad chatter.

“Marines! The trenches are mined! I repeat, the trenches are mined!”

Roger swore colourfully as Logan did a quick check of their trench for any unwanted explosives. Satisfied they were clear; Logan opened the comm channel again. “That’s going to complicate things.”

A detonation sounded again, and Maya swore violently in the background of Ed’s comm. “We’re going to get slaughtered if we stay put. I’m linking a way point to your HUD now; we’re going to rendezvous with you and Feldmann’s team there. We’re Bravo Squad. Switch to channel SB-72T. How copy?”

“I copy. See you there.” The engineer switched comm channels quickly, immediately being buffeted by the calm shouts of ‘INCOMING!’ from Feldmann’s team. There was no time to react, as the trench filled with a plume of dirt and rubble from a mortar detonating above them. As the dust cleared, Logan swept the dust from his visor, giving the sprawled form of his trench-mate a light tap with his foot. “On your feet.”

Roger groaned, his head hammering from the noise of the blast, but he complied, staggering up into a low crouch. Logan wiped the smudge from his visor, locking eyes with the private as another series of mortar rounds detonated nearby. “We…uh…we need to…move up, right?” He muttered and stammered, eliciting a frown from his team-mate.

“We’re syncing up with Ed and Maya, as well as Fire Team 2. You follow me, you keep low, and when I say move, you run like the devil himself is on your heels. Alright?” Roger didn’t really respond, and Logan thumped his shoulder with a rough punch. “Focus, Roger, you focus on me. You understand?” After a moment of silence, the younger man nodded, and Logan peered above the lip for a moment.

The company was pinned all over, but there were fewer bodies on the ground than he’d been expecting. He spotted the sprinting forms of two marines, wagering it was Ed and Maya. He waited for a break in the fire, as the machine guns trained on a new target, before hauling himself roughly up the ledge. “Up and over, Roger!” He barked, and the private complied, scrambling up behind him and breaking into a low sprint towards the nearest trench.

“What about the mines?!” Roger whispered into the comms, and Logan simply retrieved a small grenade from his side before lobbing it into the trench. A moment later, their HUD blinked as several Cerberus IFFs appeared in the trench, before a resounding detonation engulfed the strip. They both dropped in seconds later, but the trench was devoid of bodies, littered with shrapnel but little else. “The fuck?”

“IFF grenade. A few of the engineers and me whipped them up before the mission. Usually meant for misleading, but they should be able to fool the mines detection.” The engineer sunk deeper into the dirt as the lip exploded under a salvo of MG fire.

“Got anything for those MGs?” The desperate tone of his voice made Logan chuckle humourlessly.

“If we were closer, I might be able to fire the heat sink for a few moments, but at this distance? We need a ML-77.” Roger groaned, sinking to his knees and resting his head against the wall. “The Mako might hit that one; just keep your head on straight.” It was then Feldmann’s voice came over the comm, slightly irritated as he spoke.

“Heads up people, we’ve got a few friends visiting from the Terminus.” Logan and Roger looked skyward, as a number of Eclipse Gun-ships appeared on the horizon. “Eclipse from the look of it.”

Carson cut through the chatter. “Missiles up people! Bring’em down!” There was a chorus of affirmatives across the open channel, and there was only a moment’s pause before a hell storm of missiles burst from the trenches. With every ship downed, the marines roared enthusiastically, but as the fourth claimed their Mako in a salvo of missiles, the chatter fell into a deafening silence.

Roger swallowed roughly. “What was that about the Mako, Logan?”

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The screaming wail of mortars rang in near perfect harmony, screeching over the constant hammering bangs of the MGs in rhythm that was both completely horrifying, and yet entrancing at the same time. Another mortar detonated inches from the trench, spraying the occupants with dirt and making the Greenknees hug the sides even tighter than should have been possible in their bulky armour.

Beside them, Sparrow sat, eyes closed as she hummed softly to herself, a strange tune of no real melody that almost tried to mirror the chaos raging outside their small little ‘fort’. Beside her, Ramirez was squatted; his back to her and eyes peering round the lip for a way up. Unsurprisingly, he wasn’t finding any.

Sparrow cracked an eye, her visor tint having faded to allow the others to see her face, watching Ramirez for a moment. “You got a plan to shatter the entire enemy line yourself, Ramirez?” She asked, not even blinking as another mortar detonated a few feet away from their trench.

The man glanced back at her, face obscured behind his darkened visor, but she could gather the intent easily enough. “It’s better than sitting here getting shot at.” She shook her finger, slowly digging her heels into the loose dirt until they found purchase, before hoisting herself into a low crouch.

“They’ve built these trenches well, Corporal. It’s a kill zone, and it’s one hell of a kill zone at that. We may have cover, ignoring the mines, but we frankly can’t get anywhere with the amount of fire they’re laying down. The issue is going to be…” She paused, a mortar showering them in another spray of dirt. “…that we’re going to lose our patience. We’ve got no way to retreat without being sitting ducks for those guns, so the only way we can go is forward.”

“Which is right into their bullets.”

“Exactly. And while I’m sure the man in charge is hoping we don’t, but even if we do manage to pierce his defensive line, we’ve got an entire base to secure that’ll be rigged top to bottom in booby traps and traitors.” She chuckled for a moment, glancing over the Greenknees towards another trench. “Gotta admit, the bastard is one smart motherfucker. Shame we’re gonna kill him.”

Ramirez shook his head slowly, wincing as another barrage of mortars sounded around them. “You’re rather confident in that fact, Ma’am. Care to share why exactly?” The corporal poked over the lip, firing a burst from his Avenger before ducking back down before the MGs could train on his position.

“Because we’ve been backed into a corner.” She grinned savagely beneath her helmet, pulling her Mattock from its rest against the trench wall and settling her grip. “And that’s when you fight hardest. No way out, but through them.” She laughed again, deep and loud, although the noise was a little unsettling to the others in the trench. “My kind of fight! Get your asses up! We’re moving up, ladies!”

The Greenknees complied, hesitantly at first, but they knew better than to disobey an order from the Platoon chief, settling into a stance similar to her own. Ramirez locked eyes with her, and her grin only strengthened at the intensity lurking behind his visor. The man was placing his trust in her. She’d have to see it wasn’t misplaced.

“Feldmann!” She called over the radio, earning a near instant “Ma’am!” from the man. “I’ve got a favour and your boys are just what the doctor ordered!”

“All do respect, Ma’am, tell the doctor to fuck off! What do you need?” The static made it a little difficult to hear, but she paid it little mind, tapping a few keys on her personal omni-tool that brought up dozens of displays for the soldiers in her platoon. For a moment, she paused to examine the KIA statuses blinking for a few of her men, before she dismissed the majority of the beacons with the exception of Feldmann’s squad.

He was holed up on one of the flanks, with the rest of the ‘Bravo’ squad, composing of Edward’s fire team as well, who seemed to have gotten separated from each other. No matter, she mused, glancing towards the MGs with the best vantage on her position. “I’m marking some MGs on your HUD. Get their attention so Alpha can gain some ground.” She paused, before adding with a laugh. “And try not to get your wrinkly ass shot up. That’s the last thing Grass needs today.”

Feldmann laughed over the comm. “Will do, Ma’am. Try not to get those kids killed now. Not everyone is as tough as you.”

“They damn well will be when I’m done with ‘em.” Sparrow glanced back at the marines, flicking her eyes over each of them. The HUD wasted little time displaying their vitals and names as she looked to each, and she spared only a moment to commit each name to memory. “Ladies, Feldmann’s gonna give us a distraction! Now, I know you’re all probably a little freaked out by the amount of hell raining from the sky, so here’s what we’re gonna do. I’m going to go first, and you’re all going to fix your eyes on my fine ass, and follow it until I damn well tell you to stop. We clear?” The privates simply stared back at her, Ramirez snickering quietly. Sparrow simply shook her head. “Hand it to you on a platter, and you don’t even take it. Kids today!”

Two marines from Feldmann’s squad emerged from their trench, weapons blasting as Feldmann himself stepped up partially on the lip to fire off a rocket from the ML-77 at their unlucky targets. It took only seconds for the guns to divert their fire, and Sparrow wasted no time hauling herself over the lip. “Go, go, go!” She had barely gotten halfway to her target trench when the ground in front of her broke apart, a white coated mech rising fluidly from the dirt.

There was little point to firing so close, so Sparrow simply balled one of her hands into a fist and slammed it across the fragile screen that dominated the machine’s ‘face’. Feeling nothing, the VI was already reaching for its pistol, but the blunt stock of her Mattock promptly caved in it’s already weakened ‘head’, and it toppled over into a heap. The ground was seemingly falling apart around them, as more and more of the ‘sleeping’ mechs woke up, and she promptly recognized them as LOKIs. Before anymore thought could be given, Sparrow found the Mgs no longer distracted by Feldmann and turning back to the doubtlessly juicy target an exposed marine made.

She rolled to the side as the first gun opened up on her position, shields flaring as several rounds tore through the fringes of the barrier. She could feel the force as the rounds hissed by, and for a moment, she found herself thankful the MGs had a seemingly slow turning speed. The precious extra seconds she’d bought with her roll were spent scrambling behind a tank trap, although she was a little surprised when Ramirez fumbled into a nook beside her. “Good to see you in one piece, Ramirez. Where’s the Greenknees?”

“Back in the trench, Ma’am. Soon as the LOKIs showed up, I ordered them back.” She nodded, their position chipping and shattering under the powerful assault. The constant jabbering of the LOKIs echoed in the second long pauses between gunfire, and Ramirez braved the bullet hail for a moment to pump a round through one’s head, ending its blathering permanently. “I hate these things.”

“We’re in agreement then!” She jerked her head towards a trench to their right, and Ramirez nodded. “I’ll cover. Frag it, and then get in.” He complied, popping a grenade off his belt and lobbing it expertly into the trench, which sent the trench up in a brilliant burst of light. Sparrow stepped up, pumping round after round into the encroaching LOKIs, as Ramirez burst out beside her, firing his Avenger blindly into the mechs as he ran. He threw himself into the cleared trench with a grunt, and Sparrow was after him the moment he disappeared into the dirt.

She had fewer margins for error, the ground around her feet erupting in a hail of bullets that made the dirt uneven beneath her feet as she pounded across the small space. Her shields flickered, slowing the rounds as best they could but the sheer number of rounds quickly depleted them and her HUD blinked red in warning, but the sergeant ignored it, throwing herself into the trench with a pained grunt. She landed on the balls of her heels, rolling forward until she bumped into Ramirez, who panted with his back to the wall of the trench. “You know, these things aren’t overly great to run in.” He knocked his knuckles against his helmet as Sparrow laughed.

“C’mon, I’m barely even sweating!”

“That’s not helping your cas-” He stopped abruptly, tilting his head and gesturing towards her side. “You’re bleeding, Ma’am.” Despite the slight concern in his voice, she didn‘t seem overly worried herself. Glancing down at the area he gestured at, Sparrow was surprised to notice a small stain of red on the grime smeared white of her armour. A moment of careful prodding found the source or at least, the small breach in her armour that had been the source. Her squish skin had already patched the hole shut with a heavy dose of medigel, which combined with the adrenaline to make the wound’s pain all but non-existent.

“One of the LOKIs must have winged me. Impressive for one of those worthless VI.” She peered over at the base, gritting her teeth in frustration. They still had a good distance to do, and the constant alerts for injuries pinging in her helmet was a grim reminder of how limited their resources were. With the Mako slagged, there wasn’t many ways they were going to get themselves in range to assault without shredding eighty percent of the company. “We’re gonna need a small miracle to get up there alive…”

As if on cue, the horizon came alive, an echoing blast that thundered even though it was clearly miles away, a massive mushroom cloud of debris dominating the sky. She and Ramirez stared for a moment silently, before the man punctuated it with a well placed “What the fuck was that?!”

Sparrow held up a finger, as if she intended to speak, although it was a short minute before she actually said anything. “Either Logan’s imaginary friend decided to start pulling his weight…or someone in orbit is plenty pissed off.” Shouldering her Mattock, she gave the platoon status a once over before looking to Ramirez. “I’m not banking on any more help though, so let’s get moving. Line ain’t going to break itself.”

“You’ve got it, Ma’am.”

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High in orbit, Vala stared silently at the overlay of Ontarom, a small display on her Omni-tool rolling slowly through the same briefing that had been read to the marines before their mission. Every now and again, she’d pause, glancing about at the various technicians before resuming her watch of the overlay. It was pointless, had no function and was frankly mind-numbingly boring, but there was nothing she could really do to stifle the feelings of uselessness.

She’d paid Dr. Grass a visit a day prior to the mission, and the man had been more than content to poke and prod and test until he was absolutely confident that she wasn’t about to keel over or fall into a fit of spasms. With a relatively clean bill of health, and the sternest warnings that she should not, under ANY circumstances, be exerting herself for the next few days, he’d been content to let her wander the ship.

As if the flying tub had anything she could actually do to pass the time. Training outside of light cardio was forbidden, and after her first visit to the mess hall, she’d quickly reasoned that she’d not be visiting again while there were marines present. They were a raucous bunch, and her fragile head couldn’t handle their noise. She’d spent an hour lying in her room groaning last time, and she was not eager to repeat the experience. She paused at the thought. All of the marines had been mobilized for the mission, and most of the techs would be occupied during mission time.

She straightened, a light smile stretching across her face at the prospect of a nice quiet meal and turned towards the lift. She had barely taken a step when the entire ship suddenly shook with the force of impact, and Vala deftly grabbed onto the railing around the galaxy map to keep herself from being tossed to the floor. The overlay of Ontarom disappeared immediately, replaced by a small area view of planet’s immediate surroundings, and several small pings marking their previously unknown attackers in plain sight. Three icons, quickly identified as Eclipse, and marked as frigates, moved swiftly on the display, and Vala looked up towards the helm, noting the pilot’s hands deftly flying over the displays she could make out from the back of his chair. “Time to see what kind of guns this tub has…”

The EDI unit of the Victory, Nikki if she remembered correctly, came over the PA, quickly announcing “All hands, brace for impact.” Vala barely had time to grip the railing tighter before the ship shook violently under the punishing salvo from the mercs. Her arm stung from the force it took to keep herself rooted in place, her knuckles white from the strength of her grip. Hissing, she barely moved between the next set of salvos, trying not to be flung like some of the unfortunate techs.

The red warning lights blared, and she squeezed her eyes shut, wondering why they needed to be on in the first place. Anyone who wasn’t aware they were under attack at this point was a blithering idiot, and the lights weren’t going to help in the slightest. The techs moved quickly, shouting to each other and working at a blistering pace to handle the thousands of little things the ship needed done. The organized chaos of it all only cemented the tense feeling in her gut.

There was truly nothing she could do in this situation to help, either on the ground or up here in orbit. The utter uselessness was unwelcome, unpleasant, and at this point, far too familiar for her taste. As the Call began its hard burn, and the threat of attack faded, Vala didn’t release her vice grip on the railing, staring darkly into the display’s soft glow.

Everything was on their shoulders, and there was nothing she could do to change that.

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“Down, down!” Ed’s voice roared over the static filled comms, and Roger barely had time to pull his head down from the rim of their trench before a hail of fire tore the space he’d been occupying moments before. The private sat for a moment on his haunches, blinking slowly as the ringing in his ears slowly began to fade. He and Logan had managed to bound up and catch up with Ed and Maya, although the entire advance had stalled completely at this point, no real cover between the marines and the final defensive line occupied by, from what he’d seen, a small army’s worth of mercenaries and ex-Cerberus marines.

A rough shake rattled the private, and he sluggishly turned his head towards the source, startling back slightly at the unexpected proximity of Ed’s helmet. The corporal stared at him through their visors, and for a moment, Roger swore he saw the man’s lips moving. As the ringing faded, Ed’s voice, dulled by something he couldn’t quite place, managed to break through. “Roger! C’mon, private, we need your head in the game right now!”

“Y-yeah? What is it, Ed?” He mumbled hands slackening on his rifle as his team lead looked over his shoulder.

“Maya, soon as you get McCarthy stabilized; give Roger a minute or two. Combat-stress.” The private followed his corporal’s gaze, the HUD readout identifying Maya as she hunkered over the prone form of a seemingly unconscious marine, hands deftly working on a rather large wound that had seemingly mauled most of the man’s arm.

“Fuck! Talk to him! We can’t do jack-shit for combat-stress out here! Hendricks! I need your hands, get over here!” Another marine moved into view, crouched low as he stepped towards the combat-medic, but there was a powerful snap before he jerked and collapsed into the dirt, a spray of red splattering across Roger’s visor. Maya turned instantly, already hauling McCarthy tighter to the wall as she shouted over the comms. “Hendricks? Hendricks, get the fuck up!” There was a moment’s pause, and Roger stared in silent horror at the completely still body lying on the ground. “God fucking dammit! Hendricks is KIA and McCarthy isn’t going to be doing jackshit for us today!”

“Do what you can to get him comfortable, Maya, and we’ll mark the trench for Medivac.” The medic simply shook her head; fingers deftly dressing the wounds of her patient, as Ed shook Roger’s shoulder again, trying to pull the private from the body lying in the trench with them. “Look at me kid, c’mon. Don’t go tunnel vision on us.”

Trying to swallow the knot, Roger looked at Ed, but his lips fumbled for words until his stomach wretched in protest. His visor slid open instantly, the suit having detected the upcoming vomit, and the private fell forward onto his hands and knees, dumping the contents of his stomach all over the blood stained trench. Ed rubbed a soothing hand on his back, keeping the young man from moving too far forward and into the waiting sights of the hostile snipers. “F-fuck.” He breathed in between retches, and Ed chuckled humourlessly.

“Better to toss it up. Any better?” Fumbling back against the trench wall, Roger nodded slowly, diverting his gaze from the body as his visor once more slid closed to obscure his face. “Good. Maya how is he?” The medic wiped her hands on the legs of her armour, ignoring the grime that smeared her fingers as she did.

“As stable as I can get him without the Med-bay’s tools.” She glanced over, giving Hendricks’ fallen form a soft salute. “Was a stupid thing to ask. Fuck. Should have known better.” The bitterness in her voice was uncharacteristic of her, but Ed was quick to address it.

“We do the best we can with what we got.” He pointed up at the building, flicking his eyes over the others in their crowded trench. “And unless we get into that building, then Hendricks and a lot of other good men and women are dying for nothing. I need all of you on your A-game. Clear?”

“You got it, Ed.” Maya acknowledged, as Logan spared a moment to haul Hendricks’s into relative safety and retrieved the fallen man’s dog tags.

“Of course.” The large man murmured, before bowing his head as his hand tightened around the chain. There was a brief moment of silence, his lips moving in soundless prayer, but it passed quickly, the tags tucked away and his rifle readied once more for combat. His eyes drifted skyward, and the engineer quickly gestured upwards, the others quickly following and staring at the blazing fireballs falling from the sky.

Maya broke the stupor. “What the fuck is that?” As the debris crashed deep into the earth, there was only a moment of pause before the marines quickly noticed the large slab of metal now resting comfortably between them and the defensive line of the traitors. There was little hesitation as several other marines leapt from their trenches and swarmed up to the new piece of cover.

Logan looked to her, before answering in a soft tone. “His providence.”

Maya laughed lightly at the engineer, popping the heat sink of her Avenger. “Well, certainly beats a gun! Thank him for me!” Already the comms were filling with chatter of the possibility of assaulting distance, and the once desperate voices now had a hopeful, if not ecstatic hint of joy in their voices. More and more confirmations began to bark back and forth, and the LOKI mechs began to drop with more frequency at the marine’s growing morale. “Just the freak chance we needed from the look of it!”

Ed nodded, hauling Roger up into a low crouch like the rest of them. “We need some good luck, and Logan’s friend decided to provide. I’m not much in the mood to argue with the big man, so let’s make use of this.” He tapped his helmet twice on the ear, signalling for the others to switch comm channels, and the fire team joined the general channel in time for a rather boisterous declaration for Sergeant Oberacker.

“Ladies! The mercenaries are coming out of their hidey holes to play! I don’t know about you lot, but I think it’s about damn time we got some payback on these assholes!” Roger peered over the lip of the trench, spotting Oberacker’s marker on the slab of debris that had fallen, and he could make out a pair of glowing blades seemingly having grown straight out of her omni-tool, one attached to each hand. “So let’s show these traitors and guns-for-hire how a REAL marine kicks some ass! Victory Company!” The Sergeant rose in a fluid turn around the cover, driving the glowing blade into an Eclipse mercenary’s head with a brutal uppercut. “Let’s tell these fucks our motto! Cause we…”

“DON‘T GO DOWN!”

“TILL?”

“YOU’RE IN THE GROUND!” There comms filled with the echoing roar, and the trenches came alive as the marines surged over the barriers, barrelling forward to meet the Eclipse with guns and blades at the ready, a living tide that seemed to simply ignore the faltering fire of the MGs, unable to fire into the melee without risking a shot at their own men. Curses, swears and yelling filled the comm, and it was all Roger could do to keep pace with his team as they mounted the lip and rushed forward towards the melee.

The Eclipse mercs, to their credit, held their ground, seemingly unphased by the onslaught of furious marines, firing off incendiary bursts and electrical arcs of overload with impunity. Few marines even faltered under the attacks, the durability of their assault armour absorbing the damage with little difficulty, as they crashed into the hostile ranks.

Maya wasted little time clipping her Avenger to its magnetic lock on her shoulder, pulling out the Katana holstered on the small of her back with a sadistic laugh that betrayed her desire for some payback. She wasted little time blasting into the mercs, focusing on the thick clusters of them to avoid any friendly fire.

Logan was a different beast, using his large size and own tech talents to help support the fresher fighters that found themselves locked in with more experience mercenaries, distracting them with his intimidating size so the beginners might strike unimpeded.

Ed moved into the thick of things immediately, not even moving to holster his Vindicator, instead loosing point blank bursts into the exposed flanks of the mercenaries, and clubbing any stupid enough to engage him with the stock of the trusty weapon.

Try as he might, Roger couldn’t keep tabs on his fire team, eyes darting back and forth through the chaotic swirl of melee and HUD icons that sent his brain into a dangerous state of sensory overload. His Predator was held loosely in his grip, but anytime he dared to tighten it to shoot an exposed target, the pressing throng simply whisked it away again, leaving him stumbling and confused.

The edges of his vision blurred and darkened, and the tunnelled scope of his vision spotted a mercenary approaching the exposed back of a friendly HUD. His hands tightened on instinct, squeezing off a vicious burst that didn’t end until his gun was clicking with an overheated sink and the mercenary was dropping unceremoniously to the ground. Roger blinked once, hands slackening on the gun, transfixed by the fallen merc, unaware of the marine he rescued turning back towards him, hands encased in a familiar orange glow of an omni-tool, only shaped into short pointed blades made of seemingly nothing more than light.

“I…” The private’s gun fell from his hand, dropping forgotten to the dirt as he took a staggering step back, eyes dilating wildly as they focused, refocused, and blurred on the body. The one he’d made. He’d pulled the trigger, hadn’t he? He shook his head, falling back another step, eyes never daring to stare from the body. The marine was running towards him, hands outstretched, pointing at him. Accusation? He’d killed the mercenary. They all had! How could they blame him for one?! It was just one! Who were they to judg-?

The ringing bang shut his mind down, and his entire body stiffened before his legs collapsed from beneath him, landing roughly on his knees. Roger’s breaths shortened every attempt to breathe becoming a painful shudder that did nothing to ease his shortness of breath. A blur of motion barely distracted him from the sudden numbness spreading across his chest, his hand tentatively reaching across his chest until it found an unexpected indentation. There was a pause, before he pushed his fingers into it, nearly screaming as they dug inside, his body protesting with a violent spasm that sent him face first into the dirt.

His HUD blinked red rapidly, monitors blaring about his injury, but the private simply lay on his stomach, eyes hazily trying to stare into the dirt outside his visor. He lay there for what seemed like a short eternity, watching small granules of dirt dance and shake in the fury of battle that surrounded him, before someone gripped his shoulder and roughly ripped him over onto his back, the sudden motion snapping him back to painful alertness. “-oger! C’mon, Private, talk to me!”

He tilted his head the slightest degree, mumbling something unintelligible before gasping in pain at the agony trying to breathe brought with it. The marine above him was visibly relieved, and his HUD took a brief moment from its constant alarms to identify it as Oberacker. Coughing roughly, with a mind addled on adrenaline and endorphins, he still managed to choke out a weak “Ma‘am.”

“Formal even with a hole in your chest? Your mother must be damn proud.” She laughed, a humourless thing but he offered a weak grin to her attempt to joke. “Salazar’s gonna get you fixed up, Roger, alright? We just need you to focus on staying awake, no matter what. Can you do that?” His head lulled, rolling about, and the sergeant gripped the tip of his helmet to keep it up straight. “Talk to me, Roger, c’mon.”

“You…sure I can’t sleep..? I’m…pretty sleepy…” He mumbled, small surges of pain preventing him from really passing out, but Sparrow didn’t seem interested in trying their luck.

“You go to sleep; I’m going to make O’Ryan give you latrine duty for two months, Roger.” Another marine dashed up, tossing a shotgun over to Sparrow who snatched it out of the air and pumped the heat sink out. “Salazar, he’s got a hole in his chest. Eclipse bastard got behind him with a Predator.”

The medic nodded, already reaching for his arm to haul him up. “Up we go.” She grunted, as Roger’s feet fumbled beneath him for purchase, but she managed to at least get him standing as Sparrow took a step back towards the thick of the melee, pumping off a blast from the shotgun.

“Can you fix him?” The question hung in the air, before Maya began moving towards the trenches. “Salazar, I asked you a question. Is he going to make it?”

Maya turned back slightly, her helmet obscuring her face, but the intensity in her voice made everything perfectly clear. “I’m going to give him the best damn chance he has, but if we want him alive…” There was a silence, the two women simply staring each other down. “…those GARDIANS got to go, Oberacker.”

“Only a few dozen mercenaries to rip through.”

“Ed and Logan will be happy to help.” Sparrow said nothing more, already storming back into the fray as Maya dragged Roger behind the fallen debris from orbit, hunkering down with the few other marines who were trading shots with the MG nests and snipers. She laid Roger gently on the ground, touching the hole in his chest softly. “…all I have to do is keep you alive till they do.”

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Corporal Edward Stevenson Character Portrait: Specialist Maya Salazar Character Portrait: Private First Class Logan Fischer Character Portrait: Private Roger Pollard Character Portrait: Sparrow Oberacker

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Combat had always held a sort of brutal thrill for Sparrow. True combat, anyway. She enjoyed sparring with the marines as much as anyone, teaching the Greenknees to fight dirty and intelligently, and making smug assholes squirm when she threatened to break something. It was fun.

But a life and death fight was a whole different kind of animal. No friendly pats on the back, no witty remarks, no blaringly obnoxious music unless you managed to start one in a club. It drew a line in the dirt, to kill, or be killed, and left you to it. The thrill of adrenaline pounding through her veins and her heart hammering in her head just made the cocktail of violence sweeter.

The Katana barked loudly, splattering the remains of a mercenary’s head across her visor and armour. A jovial grin stretched across her face as she pumped the weapon fluidly as it turned to the next victim, blasting another one of the mercs to bloody chunks as she caught his flank unaware. Her HUD blinked a quick warning that the Katana had overheated, and Sparrow spun it in her grip into a impromptu bashing stick that was quickly applied to the nearest helmet with an Eclipse ‘E’ on it.

“Ramirez! Where’d you get off to?” She barked into the general channel, and a quick flickering green display told her to switch to a designated channel, which she promptly did, while tossing the Katana forward as a sacrificial lamb to a looming incinerate blast. “Ramirez?”

“You rang, ma’am?” He replied, panting slightly and grunting with exertion from what she could tell was some thick fighting.

“Hopefully I’m not interrupting anything important. Hang on a moment.” The sergeant rushed forward a few steps, thicker into the throng of melee to grip a ballsy mercenary who’d decided to grapple with one of the younger privates in her platoon. The merc barely turned to address the threat before she drove her fist roughly into the side of his head, her omni-tool growing fluidly into a shimmering blade seconds before impact. Kicking the man roughly away, she gave the private a confident nod before gesturing to the fringes.

The soldier complied, heading quickly to the lighter fighting where his inexperience hopefully wouldn’t get him killed. Sparrow didn’t need any heroes today. The woman glanced back towards the trenches for a brief moment, brow creasing in annoyance. Any more heroes, anyway. The distraction betrayed her, instinct alone preventing her from being stuck by the vicious knife swipe from one of the more combat capable Eclipses. She stepped back, hands raised slightly as she watched the figure approach, their abnormally large helmet combined with the long lanky limbs made it a dead giveaway that it was a Salarian, and Sparrow’s eyes narrowed in anger.

“Ma’am? Are you alright? Ma’am?” Ramirez called in her ear, and Sparrow barely grunted in response, watching the Salarian spin his knife about in his grip as she cracked her knuckles expectantly.

“Ramirez, see if you and some of the boys can‘t make a push. I want that line broken. I‘ll be there in a minute.” She muttered, a dark grin stretched across her face as her opponent surged forward with speed only a Salarian could muster, knife slashing across the thick belly of her armour in a shower of sparks as she threw a vicious haymaker straight for the face. Her armour held, but the fist met nothing but air, the merc weaving low around the strike as the knife flew deftly from one hand to another, bringing it around to stab swiftly at the exposed back.

Sparrow turned with the alien, raising her arm to block the strike, barely even flinching as the knife dug through the soft gap of her armour and into the tissue beneath. She kicked out at its legs, but the Salarian relinquished its grip on the knife to leap backwards, Sparrow moving quickly in pursuit, lunging with a blitz of rapid punches.

The salarian’s speed made hitting it a chore, as the two weaved through the skirmish with lightning fast exchanges of kicks and strikes that were equally met with blocks and counters that did little more than tire them both. The salarian, impatient as to his species’ standard, wasted little time trying to give himself an edge, his omni-tool flaring into a brilliant sphere of pulsing electrical energy that arced dangerously off his armour.

Sparrow stepped back to dodge a sweep of the weapon, her systems jolting and flickering as a few arcs leapt from the sphere onto her armour. The mercenary wasted no time pressing his advantage, driving the fist at her like a ward to keep their distance while he swiftly retrieved the pistol clipped to his hip. Growling through her teeth, Sparrow sidestepped the next strike of the energy, feeling the pulse buzz and sting at the skin of her face through the helmet.

Her hand snapped upward, catching the salarian by the base of his omni-tool, and locking his arm with a deft twist in the crux of her arm pit. His gun snapped up to end the fight, but Sparrow countered quickly, her hand smashing the gun roughly aside as a round shredded along the top of her shoulder blade. She reared her head back before the pistol could be brought back into play, slamming it forward into the front of the salarian’s visor, which cracked from the force of the reinforced power of the assault armour.

The alien staggered back, Sparrow releasing his arm only to slam her elbow into the joint with a satisfying crack from the salarian’s weak bones. The mercenary howled in pain, only to be silenced by a powerful knuckle first back hand that sent him sprawling to the ground. His good arm grabbed at the ground to pull himself away, but Sparrow promptly stomped his wrist, pinning him in place with another shattered limb. She grinned predatorily through her visor, eyes alight as she raised her other leg up above the salarian’s head. “Bye bye.”

The crunch vibrated up through her leg and the sickly green splatter up her calf only made Sparrow’s grin widen, shaking a few chunks off her boot before turning back towards the thick of the melee, catching the leaping flight of someone in armour barely identifiable as Cerberus, her HUD quickly flashing the word Commander before they vanished from view into the enemies defensive line. After a moment of tight jawed thought, she pressed back into the fight once more, content to figure out who exactly was flying around once the immediate threat of mercenaries were buried.

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As the last of the Eclipse fell, Sparrow sat slightly hunched upon the freshly balled up body of some unfortunate mercenary that she’d deem worthy of being chair material. Her eyes were clouded in thought, watching as a few of the marines silently policed the dead for thermal clips, her back turned to the trench that had become something akin to their ‘field’ hospital. The medics were tending to the wounded, most of whom were either unconscious or so close to death’s door that there was little more than morphine to ease their passing.

Her eyes flicked to the side of her helmet, mouthing the names listed on the small roster to herself for a moment before diverting her gaze back to the battlefield before her. For what it was worth, they had won. Through brimstone, hellfire and more than one ambush, they’d battered their way through it all and stood victorious. The sounds of battle still raged from the other side of the compound, but the faint echo of mortar shells and howling MG fire was dull to her ears.

Light footsteps made her turn her head, watching as Feldmann and Ramirez approached solemnly, waving two fingers to them lazily in greeting. “Gentlemen.” She called once in earshot, a light smile stretching across her face as the visor slid open to ease conversation. “Hell of a fight, wasn’t it?”

Ramirez nodded empathically, as Feldmann grunted unenthusiastically. “Something like that. How’re you holding up?” He gestured towards the various breaks and drying blood trails along her armour; Sparrow roughly shrugging in response.

“Nothing serious.”

“Going to get them patched up?” Ramirez asked lightly, watching Sparrow’s gaze shift back out to the trenches as the marines slowly began to trudge back towards the facility. One walked slower than the rest, fists clenched around a cluster of dangling dog tags, visor betraying nothing of the soldier within.

“Lot of other people need them more than me.” She breathed, licking her suddenly dry lips. “Could go for a smoke, though.” There was a moment of silence between the three as the marines passed, Sparrow’s eyes lingering on each as they brushed past her. Feldmann stopped one of them with a hand on the shoulder, obviously offering the soldier some words over private channels before letting the man continue on. “How are your boys?”

Feldmann glanced at her. “They’re in the clear. Nearly lost one to a mortar, but her shields took the brunt of it for her. Won’t be fighting with the shrapnel, but she’s alive.” She nodded, looking slowly over to Ramirez, whose gaze was fixed solely on his dirt stained boots. Feldmann bowed his head for a moment, before turning and heading off after the other marines, leaving the sergeant and the corporal alone.

Sparrow didn’t say anything at first, straightening up from her seat and staring at the horizon for a few moments of silence. He found his voice after a minute. “We’re going to kill them all, yeah?” The words were low and dark, but Sparrow simply nodded.

“Yeah. Every last fucking one of em, Ramirez.” They said nothing else, turning from the fallen on the field and hiking after Feldmann to the mass of marines rapidly forming in front of the curiously armoured figure from before. Now that the situation had at least mildly calmed down, she gave her HUD a moment to recognize the man, although she did a double take when it displayed Commander Jason Horn. “You’re fucking kidding me.”

He promptly responded. "Guess who I am marines!" There was a beat of silence, as no one really had any real idea as to how to respond to that, before he continued.

"I am the baddest mother fucker you will ever meet!" The Commander began to pace, something she’d never really seen outside of holovids. "I am a shock trooper by trade, a ladies man by choice, and a fucking destroyer of my enemy's morale by destiny! Do you know what that makes you marines?! That makes you fucking monsters! You are my hands, straightening into a bitch slap for anyone who decides they should try to fuck with us! Well guess what, we just finished with the first bitch slap, now we're going for the second one!" Sparrow grinned in amusement as he jabbed a finger at the base behind him.

"Inside that tin can of a fortress is a man who is responsible for dragging us out here. Responsible for making us waste good men and women's lives to respond to some lunatic who thinks he's better than us! Well guess what! Look around you! Look at his army that you; Cerberus marines and commandos; completely and utterly ass raped! He thinks he's better than you while he hides down at the bottom of his shaft! Well, we're going to go in there. We're going to trash his home, kill his men, and blow his brains out at the point blank range of our guns! When we're done that! We're going to come back, we're going to look at the men and women who were injured or gave their lives so that we could get this far, and we're going to say 'Thank you for being a badass soldier! Because we are marines! We are soldiers! WE ARE MONSTERS! Now, let's go in there...and teach them the fucking definition of Victory!”

Without barely a moment’s pause, the Commander hoisted Operative Invaru into his arms, and dropped himself, and her, into the elevator shaft without another word. After another moment, a lone private voiced what was likely the general consensus. “Did that really just happen?”

Sparrow spent a moment quietly laughing to herself, before turning with the other platoon chiefs to their respective soldiers. Sparrow spoke over the Platoon 3 comm channel, her voice back to it’s loud and boisterous self. “Well, that’s one hell of a first impression, isn’t it?” There was a chorus of agreement, before she gestured to her omni-tool, her marines quickly pulling up their own as the display of the base appeared. “Here’s the deal. We’re not lucky like 1 and 2 are. They’re going into the depths with the Commander and mopping up whatever excuse for resistance is down there. We, on the other hand…”

The image blinked to a still of the GARDIAN guns on the facility. “Get to do some real work. The GARDIANs are keeping our Kodiaks from getting close, and that means no Medivacs until those peashooters are offline. I don’t think I need to tell any of you how important it is that we get these guns offline, and get it done ASAP. Our brothers and sisters are bleeding, and Command is looking to us to get the job done! You’re my Greenknees, but today you’re the Commander’s monsters. Now, I’m sure plenty of traitors are going to be trying to get in our way. I say, let them. For every marine we ship in a casket, I want ten traitors in a hole! Hell, not even a hole! They don’t even deserve that!” There was an chorus of angry shouts, and Sparrow took a step towards her platoon.

“Every last traitor in there dies, unless Brass says otherwise. Clear?”

“Yes, Sergeant!”

“Good! We’re splitting into two strike teams! The floor isn’t very big, but it’s going to be fortified and full of chokepoints. Use grenades to your advantage, and if you can’t find cover, make cover! Meat-shields are good for a few bullets and no one is gonna miss ‘em. I’ll be leading one team; Corporal Feldmann will lead the other! Fire team One, Three and Four! You’re coming with me! Two, Five, Six and Seven, you’re with Feldmann! Start rigging the rappels! I want boots on Floor Nine in ten minutes! Move!”

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The descent down the shaft was painlessly quick once the initial rappels were secure. Sparrow’s team had descended first, boots planted firmly on the wall of the shaft as she practically sprinted down the length of the blackened tube. Only the faint light of her omni-tool provided the visibility to spot the interior markings designating the floors. Once she’d reached the ninth, the sergeant slowed to a stop, holding her hand out behind her for the charges to breach the sealed bulkhead.

After a moment of still, she felt the weight of the charge in her hand, and she brought it around to secure it to the bulkhead. It took a few quiet moments, and any second she half expected the doors to slide open and a traitor to be waiting with his gun at the ready, but the shaft stayed still, save for the soft voices echoing down from the rest of the team above. Once primed, Sparrow hastily retreated up her rappel, flashing a thumbs up to Logan once she was clear. The engineer’s omni-tool presented a quick countdown that started rapidly flicking down to zero.

Sharing a quick glance with Ed, Sparrow readied her Mattock, legs braced against the wall as the timer flicked down to zero. The blast swallowed the shaft in a plume of smoke, the sound of rending metal and muffled screams echoing up as Sparrow gave an affirmative nod to Ed, pushing off the wall with her feet and letting the rappel run loose. For a second, there was only peaceful freefall, the sensation of nothing beneath you and nothing to catch you, before the rappel tightened and swung her and Ed harshly towards their freshly created breach. Ed, being a decent shot, was already firing through the swirl of smoke, precisely why she’d chosen him to follow her into the breach.

She on the other hand, was there to compensate for his terrible hand to hand. Unclipping her rappel with a jerk of her hand, Sparrow soared through slagged bulkhead moments before Ed’s legs connected with the edges to brace him on the opening. She landed in a roll, Mattock rising with her to snap a shot through a lone marine attempting to secure the secondary bulkhead against their approach. A pair to her right quickly fell to a trio of bursts from Ed’s Vindicator, freeing her to engage another pair rushing into the smoke filled chamber to secure the gap in their defences.

The thick black smoke was nearly choking, even through the filters in her helmet, but Sparrow caught the first traitor unaware with the stock of her Mattock, shattering his own visor with a scream that sent him staggering. The second turned to engage, Avenger aiming for a vital shot that Sparrow barely managed to avoid by slamming her palm across the barrel, her shields stopping the first two rounds before the third punched painfully through her hip.

She returned fire, feathering the trigger on the Mattock as fast as her fingers would go, punching several holes clean through the traitor’s shields, and then clean through the traitor, splattering the wall behind him with red. The threat slumping to the floor, Sparrow staggered to the wall, resting against it as Ed climbed through the breach and pumped a burst through the shattered visor of the remaining marine, before pounding his fist against the bulkhead seal, closing the entrance to their ‘landing’ to give them a few moments to breath, which Sparrow was immediately thankful for.

Her strike team wasted no time filtering through the breach, quickly stacking against the sealed door and readying themselves for the blitz to come. Feldmann’s team had taken another shaft, towards a larger entry point and would be tasked with occupying the majority of the traitors so Sparrow’s team could flank and rout. Simple, yet effective. She’d always preferred these plans. Fewer variables, less chance to fuck up.

Her team was noticeably smaller than Feldmann’s, and as she gave the assembling marines a look over, it wasn’t hard to notice why. Her own fire team was fine, all present and accounted for, but Ed’s was short two, and Ramirez’s lacked one as well. She scowled beneath her visor, knowing there was at least still a chance to save some of the wounded. Provided they did their job.

With that thought, she straightened from the wall, medi-gel already numbing the wound and patching it up as quickly as possible. Ed and Logan stood stacked on the right side of the door, Ed’s hand stretched for the access panel, just waiting for the signal to open. On the left, one of her team, Devera, was waiting, hand clenched around a pair of grenades. The marine watched her approach, tilting his head slightly at the faint limp she moved with. “You alright, Sergeant?”

“Never better.” She replied, taking position behind him and giving a confident pat on his shoulder plate. “Everyone ready up. We’ll be going in soon.” As the remaining marines stacked up, Sparrow switched channels, and was promptly greeted by Feldmann’s voice.

“I take it you’re in position then?” The static was made worse by the fact they were so deep underground, but she got the gist easily enough. “We’re ready whenever you are. Just say the word, and we’ll carve a hole for you.”

“You know how to sweet talk a girl, Feldmann. Give’em hell.”

“Can do.” She switched back, in time for the sound of several detonations echoing through the chambers beyond the door. The strike team remained silent, everyone double, then triple checking their weapons for the fight to come. Sparrow eyed her heat sink solemnly, popping it out and sliding in a fresh one as she listened to the muted voices from the others. Not surprisingly, the majority of the mutters were just that, wordless mutters meant to do nothing more than to soothe their own nerves, but she could pick out Ed’s voice.

“No one else. Not a single person more.” The words were like a mantra, repeated over and over while he remained frozen in position to open the door and begin the attack. Over his shoulder, she could see Logan’s eyes locked on the access, burning with intensity she’d not seen on the big man often. It was unexpected, but not really surprising. All the teams were close, and one of their own was hanging by a thread. She’d be pissed.

Hell, she was pissed. No one was allowed to mess with her marines but her. They were her punching bag, and she was their proverbial den mother. Growling under her breath, she held up a clenched fist parallel to her head, and the minimal noise in the room fell to silence. There was a brief lull in gunfire beyond the door, and she spoke. “Go.”

Ed pressed the access panel, the doors swishing open as Devera stepped forward slightly to toss the primed grenades into the room beyond. There was only a second of silence before the grenades detonated and the room beyond filled with shouts and yells.

Ed and Devera went around the corner first, firing into the ‘flank of the traitors and quickly over turning the few still manning the hastily constructed defences outside their access point. Sparrow followed them out, focusing her fire on the door to the next room, which was open likely to provide the traitors with ease of movement. Ramirez’s boys quickly brought up the rear, claiming the traitor’s fortifications for their own and putting a concentrated hail of fire on the traitor positions ahead of them. Tapping Devera’s shoulder, Sparrow gestured to one of the doors adjacent to her. “Take Pinnick and Lares, sweep that room, and trash anything you find!”

“Roger!” Devera quickly grab the others, and they swept into the room with disciplined ease. Sparrow fixed her eyes forward, ducking behind the ramshackle cover as the traitors returned fire. The hall was long, hastily fortified and the traitors were still fortifying towards the back of it. Past them, she could make out more traitors firing in the opposite direction, likely trying to suppress Feldmann’s assault.

No doubt they’d fortified the main server room and were prepping it to beat off the attack. These traitors were, whether they knew it or not, simply being used to buy time for the true defence to be co-ordinated. The longer it took, the harder they’d have to fight. “Fischer, put some fire on them! Stevenson! Ramirez! With me!” Logan stepped out, not even flinching as the rounds peppered his shields, pouring as much fire as his Avenger could manage at the few traitors manning the next ‘hurdle’. Sparrow spun round the man as the bullets stopped flying for a moment, taking advantage of the heat sinks overheat to sprint across the gap with her Mattock barking suppression at the ducking marines.

The first one rose as she reached the barricade of desks and chairs, but a powerful blue arc of electricity made the man spasm violently before she cleared the barricade, tackling him to the ground as Ramirez and Ed followed her right into the thick of them. The traitors had an extra man over them, and he quickly moved to pull Sparrow off his ally, but she spun roughly off the man, slamming her elbow at the soft joint near his knee. There was a brief fleshy resistance, before something caved and the kneecap forcibly left its place, the man screaming in pain as the bone found another place in his leg to rest. Hooking her arm around his leg, she ripped the limb out from underneath him, using the momentum to simultaneously bring herself back to her feet.

A quick tap from her Mattock punched a round through his shields like paper, and the screaming man went silent. The one she’d tackled faired little better, throwing his hands up in vain to stop her from firing a trio through his chest. She didn’t have time to celebrate, the next ‘hurdle’ already firing on the marines. Devera’s team quickly moved into the next room up the hall, and she secretly hoped that they’d find something that could terminate the GARDIANS without having to slog through a small army of traitors.

As if on cue, two panels along the ceiling pulled apart, a large automated turret emerging from the gap and its barrel swivelling towards them threateningly. “Fuck me.” She breathed, barely managing to duck behind covered as the weapon began to spray the barricade with fire.

“Sergeant, these desks won’t hold up against that for long!” Ramirez shouted, and she resisted the urge to scream ‘No really?!’ Her mind raced lightning quick, and her eyes quickly went to Logan. She stared for a moment, before looking up at the turret and smirking at it’s positioning above the traitors.

“Fischer! Get into that turrets IFF!” The engineer glanced up at the weapon, before nodding an affirmative, nestling in tight to the cover and pulling up a few screens on his omni-tool. The desk to her back groaned and sparked the metal suffering under the withering salvo of seemingly endless bullets. Ramirez knelt beside her, practically bouncing in place as their cover grew thinner and thinner with each passing second.

“Sergeant!” He called, worry evident in his voice, and she shot Logan a look, still dutifully working on his omni tool. “Sergeant!” She grit her teeth, looking to the other marines tightly clustered behind her.

‘C’mon…c’mon…’

A round punched through the desk, splitting the floor beside her with a crack and Ramirez duck lower to the floor, practically on his stomach now. “Sergeant!”

“Now would be helpful, Fischer!”

Logan rose suddenly and with more speed than one expected from a man his size, thrusting his omni tool towards the turret and the weapon seized suddenly, the hail of fire stopping without warning. After a second of seemingly nothing, its system reactivated, barrel lowering towards the marines beneath it and opening up on its former masters. The turret made short work of the few men there, but before it could swivel to face the final hurdle, it powered down and retreated back into the ceiling. Likely the work of the Professor.

“Cutting it close there, eh, Fischer?” Ramirez muttered, earning a thump on the back of the head from Ed. “Sorry, sorry.”

Logan was seemingly unphased, already looking towards the final wave standing between them and the flanking charge Feldmann was likely waiting for. Sparrow spent only a moment looking, before jutting a hand out to Ramirez expectantly. “Gimme the ML-77.”

The corporal gave her a look, but her tone didn’t leave room for argument, and he un-holstered the weapon from his back. She took it and stood up onto the lip of their mangled cover. “You’ve got to be fucking kidding me.” The young man breathed, earning a hearty laugh from the sergeant.

“I’d get low.” The traitors barely had seen her when she squeezed the trigger twice, sending a pair of missiles streaking down the hallway, uncaring of the tight quarters. The first impacted roughly against their barricade, shattering it and sending the two manning it sprawling backwards as the second missile raced past through the still open bulkhead. After a moment, the room beyond filled with fiery plume, and Sparrow tossed the spent launcher to the ground behind her, a satisfied grin stretched across her face as Feldmann’s voice came over the comms.

“Sparrow! Did you shoot a goddamn missile in a fucking building?!” She gestured forward to her marines, and they wasted no time moving towards the destroyed cover to mop up what was left of the traitors.

“That may be the case, yes. Did it work?”

“Are you fucking insane?!”

“Did it work, Feldmann?” There was a moment of stiff silence. “Is that a yes?”

“You almost took off my leg, but…yes. We’re breaking through.”

“Then you’re not allowed to be mad at me.” She broke into a light sprint, catching up to her marines as they pushed into the flank of the traitors. Now scissored between two forces, they were rapidly falling back into what she could only assume was the main server room, leaving the auto turrets to try and suppress the marines with little success. The joint efforts of Logan and the other engineers made short work of the turrets internal circuitry, freeing the marines to press into the traitor’s final bastion of defence.

It was impressive, to say the least. A practical wall of thick crates, with gaps for the traitors to fire out of but narrow enough to make return fire difficult. The marines were forced to hug the walls to avoid the razor hail of hostile fire, and Sparrow silently cursed her impatience at wasting the ML on the ramshackle.

After a few tense minutes of trading fire, Ramirez’s voice broke over the comms, in surprisingly clarity. “Sergeant! On the right portion, some of the crates look unstable!” She looked to the area he spoke of, and sure enough, some of the crates had been stacked atop each other, but the rush of the job seemed to have made the traitors sloppy. The stack was unbalanced, the lip jutting out far too much for crate to be as secure as the others.

“Good eyes! Get a frag on it, if we can topple it, we can get in there!” Ramirez complied quickly, sprinting from his cover to the next available piece closer to weak point. The lead gripped a grenade from his belt, rising fluidly from cover to lob the explosive. It had barely left his hand when a bright arc of flaming orange leapt from the barricades and crashed against the side of his armour. “Fuck! Ramirez!”

“Shit! Shit!” The corporal thrashed in his cover, the burning plasma eating away at the Assault Armour like it was nothing at all. Before she could move to assist though, Ramirez spoke in a panicked rush. “Oh, oh fuck! The grenades! It’s triggering the fucking grenades!”

“Toss them! Fucking toss them!” She screamed, watching as the corporal crouched while desperately pulling at the grenades fastened to his belt. “Ramirez! Get them of-”

“They won’t come loose.” His voice was grim, and his helmet turned towards the barricade in front of them. There was only a moment’s pause, before he leapt clean over his cover and broke into a sprint towards the tower of crates. Sparrow rose to her feet, but a rough arm hooked around her waist, hauling her back to the ground as Ramirez raced by.

“RAMIREZ!” She screamed in the comm, ignored as more and more of the traitors turned their guns onto the lone marine sprinting towards their position. His shields broke and shattered, and the rounds began to punch bloody holes in his chest, but he didn’t stop, throwing his shoulder against the stack moments before the grenades detonated. “No. No! NO!” Gore and chunks of armour showered against the barricade, and the detonation shook the stack, the crates groaning lightly before toppling to the ground with a thundering crash.

Sparrow lay on her side, eyes wide as her hand stretched towards the place the corporal had been just seconds before. Ed crouched just above her, having held her back from trying to stop the man, but the darkness obscuring his features and utter silence spoke of his own pain. Slamming her fists on the floor, Sparrow barely thought to turn off her comms as she screamed inside the confines of her helmet. Feldmann and his team moved forward to the new cover, some even hopping through the breach to battle the traitors within.

“Sparrow?” He looked to the woman, watching her push herself up from the floor and seeing the fury practically radiating off her frame.

“Kill them all.”

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“C’mon, Roger…” Maya breathed, hunched over the wounded private as she pumped the breather on his mouth to feed him the precious oxygen his body needed. The wound was serious; one of the worst she’d dealt with in a long time, a messy punch through his lung that had missed his heart by what she could only assume was inches. His skin had gone pale, and face gaunt from the blood loss, but she’d managed to stop the majority of the bleeding with impromptu cauterizing of the damage with her omni tool.

Grass would likely tear her head off, making it more difficult to fix the damage, but she was quickly running out of options. The other medics were busy with the others, thankfully managing well enough that she hadn’t been forced to leave Roger’s side just yet. Glancing up at the facility, the medic watched the guns atop it for a moment. “Come on, Ed…” She whispered, glancing up towards the sky above. The atmosphere had been filled with burning chunks of ships, falling slowly through the atmosphere in blazing, and brilliant streaks of glowing red.

One of the other medics called to her, and she looked over her shoulder. “We’re getting communications from within the base. Looks like they’ve managed to shut down the jamming signal. No word on the GARDIANs yet.” She nodded, opening another comm channel to the Kodiaks who she hoped were at least still close.

“This is Specialist Salazar. The GARDIAN systems are still functional, but we have several injured who are in need of immediate and serious medical attention. We’re going to need Medivacs ground side as soon as the guns are down, how copy?”

One of the pilots responded. “Solid copy, Specialist. Kodiaks are dusting off now, and will maintain minimal distance to your position till the guns are down. Do we have an estimate?” She bit her lip.

“I’ll contact the marines inside.” Cycling through channels quickly, Maya barely listened to a blip of each group before hopping to the next to find her platoon. After a minute of searching, she heard the familiar sound of Ed’s voice. “Ed!”

There was a beat, before he responded. “Maya, what is it? We’re in the thick of it right now.”

“I know, but I’ve got the Kodiaks on standby for Medivacs and they’re after an ETA.” She was quiet for a moment, looking at Roger’s quiet features. “…I don’t know how much longer I can keep him stable…” She whispered, and the corporal spoke gently, despite the gunfire she could hear echoing around him.

“You’re doing great, Maya. We’re mopping up. Five minutes.” The comm channel went quiet, and she knew he was focused back on task once again. With an affirmative nod to no one, she switched back to the Kodiak channels.

“Five minutes. We’ll prep the wounded for transport, and be waiting. How copy?”

There were a few moments of silence, likely the Kodiaks checking with the commander. What if she didn‘t approve? The marines couldn‘t wait the extra time it‘d take for the Kodiaks to come after the GARDIANs were down. Finally, the pilot spoke. “Solid copy. We are Oscar Mike to your position. Let’s hope those guns are down.” The pilot seemed willing to risk the guns, and Maya was silently thankful that they were en-route. With one last check of Roger’s vitals to ensure he was stable, she rose and turned to the others.

“Kodiaks are on the way! Get everyone prepped for transport! Triage!” The next few minutes were a blur of hurried bracing and loading the wounded onto rapid fabrication stretchers. All the wounded were lined into groups based on the severity of their wounds, with the majority of those still conscious accepting their position as last off the field.

Once the preparation was complete, all eyes turned to the sky, towards the fast approaching silhouettes of the Kodiaks. Dread settled into Maya’s stomach as the GARDIANs on the facility perked and began to swivel towards the approaching transports. Every medic held their breath as the Kodiaks entered the range of the cannons, and the first cannon rapidly adjusted its barrel, lining up its shot. “Fuck, they’re not off!” She breathed, as the Kodiak veered rapidly to dodge a shot that never came.

The remaining GARDIANs went still, and the marines let loose a cheer. Organized chaos fell upon the field hospital as the first Kodiak touched down, and Maya recruited the less injured to help haul the critical into the waiting transports. The pilots even disembarked to help out, the lead giving her a grin when she got him to help her. “Five minutes on the nose. I owe your friends in there a drink.” She offered a light smile.

“Get these guys to Grass safely, and I’ll buy the flight staff a round.”

“Deal.” Roger was rigged into the first Kodiak with the other serious injuries, and the pilot embarked to take them up to the waiting med bay. Maya resisted the urge to go with him, despite the worry about her young squad mate and friend… She couldn’t do anything more for the private, and the marines down here needed her more.

If Logan was here, he’d have said he was in God’s hands. She watched the Kodiak begin to lift off, hoping to whatever was out there that Grass’s hands were just as good.

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Waking up felt like…

Well, frankly, it felt like he’d been hit by a truck. Or ten.

Roger’s eyes opened slowly, adjusting painfully to the bright sterile white light with a few rapid, tear filled blinks. Sitting up slowly, the private winced at the pain in his chest and felt something like stitches in his chest throb in protest. The first few thoughts to enter his head were basic. Hunger, the need to piss, and a fearsome thirst to down the first bit of water he found.

With those out of the way, his drug-addled mind set about deciphering why he was in the med bay. After a few moments of thought, the mission came back to him, and with it, came all the panicking rush about his squad, his health, the man he’d shot, the rest of the marines. The blitz of movement and thought didn’t settled well with his stomach, and Roger promptly found himself emptying it into the small bucket beside his bed.

A soft chuckle sounded behind him, and he felt a light hand rub on his back smoothly. Once his stomach was content with its disposal, he flopped back into his bed, and blinked in surprise at his visitor. Sparrow lowered herself onto a small stool that had been brought to his bedside, a small bag of something clenched in her hand as she gave him a lopsided smile. “Welcome back to the land of the living, Roger. Did you manage to beat the Grim Reaper at cards or something?”

He coughed his voice dry and raspy. “I wish, Ma’am.” Sparrow groaned loudly, pressing a palm to his forehead and shoving it back into his pillow.

“You are impossible. O’Ryan is better at brainwashing than I thought!”

“I get it.” He muttered, earning another smile from the sergeant as she reached into her little bag and pulled out a small red fruit with a long green stem. Roger blinked once. “Is…that a cherry?”

“Mhm.” She responded, pulling the stem out and popping it into her mouth with a pleased sigh. “After that clusterfuck, I felt like rewarding myself, and got Cecil to ship some in. Fresh off the shuttle.” She retrieved another, glancing at the private. “Want one?”

“Can’t say I’ve ever had one…” Sparrow held it out by the stem, and he took it with a light thank you, popping the small fruit in his mouth and chewing slowly. “That’s pretty tast-ow!”

“Oh, watch out for the pits. They hurt when you bite them.” She snickered at the look he shot her; helping herself to another while Roger fished the pit out of his mouth. “How you holding up?”

Tossing the pit into his bucket, the private gave a light shrug, wincing slightly at the motion. “I’ve…been better?” He sighed, sinking further into the bed. “I mean, nothing like choking on your first major mission and nearly getting my chest blown open the first time I get shot…”

“Could be worse. Could have hit your heart.”

“That’s reassuring…”

She shrugged, spitting her pit into the bucket. “I’m serious. Not everyone was as lucky as you.” He looked at her quickly, eyes slightly wide at the implication. As if she could read his mind, she continued. “They’re all fine, Roger. Barely any worse for wear, minus worrying about you.” He heaved a sigh, and she smiled a little wider. “A lot of people have been worrying about you.”

“Seriously?”

“Yup. Most every officer came down to see how you were doing. Even O’Ryan stopped by. Shed a tear and said you’re the best soldier he’s ever seen.” The private frowned at her jest, and the sergeant just grinned back at him. “Had you going for a moment there…but, not entirely inaccurate.”

“What do you mean?”

“O’Ryan has checked on the wounded once or twice. And most of the platoon has been waiting for your lazy ass to wake up.”

“Hey, I’m not la-” He paused, thinking for a moment at the implications of her words. “…how long have I been out?”

“Oh, bout…three days, give or take? I mean, you woke up a bit every now and again, but never really truly awake. Not enough to have a conversation with. I’m just lucky to have been stopping by when you decided to stop playing sleeping beauty.” She chewed on another cherry, as Roger chuckled at the joke.

“Well, I’m sure they’ll be thrilled to have their punching bag back. Were…you just checking on me, Sparrow?” She raised an eyebrow at him, although whether at him actually using her name unprompted or his question he couldn’t guess.

“I suppose I was.” She admitted, rolling a cherry in her palm. “I do owe you a bit.” He raised an eyebrow, and she shook her head. “That merc you shot on Ontarom was going after me. I didn’t even know he was there. Saved my ass, Roger.” Blinking in surprise, the private fumbled for a response.

“That…was you? Seriously? A merc got the drop on you? How’d that hap-” He was cut off by the sergeant clasping her hand over his mouth, a disapproving frown on her face.

“Don’t go blabbing about it. I’m human, I make mistakes. You had my back.” She released his mouth, a light, but genuine smile on her face. “So thanks, Roger. Nice to know I can count on you.”

“Yeah…I mean, I’m not that great of a shot, it was more of a fluke and all…” Sparrow heaved a sigh, rising from the stool and looking down at the private with a smirk.

“You are utterly clueless, you know that?” She fished one last cherry out of her bag, and set it down on his chest. “For the record, no more hero antics from here on out, alright? Marines ain’t any good to me dead, and that goes double for you.” She started towards the door before he could respond, pausing as she approached the door to glance over her shoulder at him. “Oh, and as soon as you’re out of that bed, O’Ryan’s got a training regiment upgrade to get you back in shape, plus you’ll be starting marksmanship training.”

He grimaced. “Great…anything else, Sparrow?”

She tossed a cherry in her mouth, grinning wide at the young man. “I’m thinking hand to hand training with me on a weekly basis.”

“…seriously?”

She laughed at his reaction, but made no attempt to imply it was a joke. “Get some rest, Roger. We’ll be seeing a lot of each other from here on out.” The sergeant turned back to the door and disappeared behind the bulkhead. Roger sat quietly in his bed for a moment, glancing down at the cherry she’d left on his chest.

“Well…could be worse."

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Corporal Edward Stevenson Character Portrait: Specialist Maya Salazar Character Portrait: Private First Class Logan Fischer Character Portrait: Private Roger Pollard Character Portrait: Sparrow Oberacker

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There was something inherently wrong, Roger decided in the minutes spent in suffocating silence aboard the Kodiak, with anything that could reduce Commander Horn to stoic silence. Standing awkwardly a few steps away from the man, the private noticed every time he glanced towards the injured form of the Lieutenant. It was like the commander was standing alone in the cabin, each of them just a piece of furniture.

He wouldn’t pretend to know the Commander. The figure of the armour, the machine that seemed to live on combat, perhaps. He’d seen it charge in the operations. The power and ferocity and fearless bravado of it all was amazing, there was little doubt in his mind. But the man inside it, the thing that drove all that technology and muscle was an absolute mystery. He didn’t even consider Horn human half the time. The man seemed to be larger than life.

As the Kodiak began to dock, the Commander stirred. No words were shared, no addresses, not even a simple flick of the hand. He gripped the wounded man, hoisted him into a fireman’s carry, and threw the door open with enough force to tilt the still hovering transport and dropped to the Hangar floor without sound. Wobbling on his feet, Roger stared after his lightning fast strides, watching silently as Horn disappeared behind the lift’s doors.

The team filtered past him, O’Ryan disembarking with a light grunt as Ed and Logan eased a slightly delirious Maya onto the larger man’s back for ease of transport. As they began to move away, Roger stared quietly after them, but made no move to follow. It was only when he felt the faint touch on his shoulder that the private straightened, glancing at the pilot who was watching him curiously. “You alive in there?”

“Uhm…yeah. Zoned out. My bad.” Without a response, he dropped down to the floor, starting slowly after the team. It was a silly thing to worry about, really. The humanity of someone you thought above it all. It probably should have been comforting to know there was probably something like a person guiding all that ability. Pollard broke into a light jog, not wanting to keep Maya from the med-bay any longer than necessary.

As he boarded, Ed wasted little time pressing the button for the 3rd deck, and the lift rumbled to life. As the vibrations shook Logan slightly, Maya groaned in protest. “Stop…isn’t there stairs we can take…?” The engineer didn’t move, as Ed glanced up at their injured medic.

“I think stairs would make it worse, really. The lift’s faster after all.” She groaned at his assurances, and the corporal chuckled lightly. “You’re always saying we’re a bunch of pansies who can’t take a hit. It’s a little entertaining to see the shoe on the other foot.” Her head snapped towards him so fast, Roger swore she must have gotten whiplash. Logan sighed heavily, and Ed held up his hands in mock surrender.

“I’d like to see you pull half the crap I did today, Mister Can’t-Throw-A-Punch-To-Save-His-Life!” Maya leaned towards him, jabbing at his helmet with her finger. “You’d have dropped like a sack of potatoes from the abuse I took! Don’t even try to compare me to your piss-ass pain toler-” The lift opened with a hiss, and Logan wasted no time hurrying out the door and away from Ed with Maya still trapped firmly on his back. “Hey! Turn around; I’m not done lecturing his ass!”

Roger gave the corporal a look. “That was on purpose.” Ed grinned sheepishly as they disembarked, reaching up to remove his helmet. Roger did the same, and the men sighed slightly in relief once free of the confines. The private barely noticed Horn’s towering form board the lift behind them, but said nothing. It wasn’t his place. “You really shouldn’t provoke her when she’s injured, Ed.”

“Anger is a hell of an anaesthetic, or so I’ve been told. She stopped complaining, didn’t she?” The two turned towards the Med-bay, pausing as O’Ryan turned for another direction. They gave a prompt salute that the Lieutenant returned before giving a light ‘Dismissed’ and heading on his way. The marines needed no further prompting to catch up to their squad, but by the time they reached the doors, Logan was already outside.

Helmet on the ground, with the sole of his boot resting on the top, the engineer leaned quietly against the bulkhead as they approached. One of his eyes opened the slightest slit as they stepped closer before closing again. He didn’t need any prompting. “Dr. Grass is occupied with the Lieutenant, so he sedated Maya for the time being. She’s out cold already.”

“How’d it look?”

“I’m not much of a doctor.” Was his curt reply, and the corporal nodded in understanding. “Debrief?”

“Don’t think there’s going to be a traditional one today. So…good work out there, gentlemen.” Stretching his shoulders, Ed gave the door a slightly longing look before nodding to himself. “Well, we’re not going to do any good standing around cluttering his doorway. Let’s get ourselves out of this armour and a bit of grub from the chow hall. I think we’ve earned a little time to relax.”

Logan nodded affirmatively, as Roger stifled a yawn. “I’m thinking a nap…maybe a shower. In that order. Getting the piss kicked out of me is sleepy work…” The trio shared a slight sigh before trudging back towards the lift in silence.

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Sparrow twirled the wrench idly between her fingers, forest green eyes dulling trailing its spins and bumps as she played with the tool. The deck around her was in a constant state of organized chaos, techs moving past in all directions and calling to each other as they shifted between their tasks. None of the other decks ever seemed to get quite as hectic as the weapons did, but that was to be expected. The Victory had more guns than a ship properly needed, and thus maintaining their condensed version of the Turian national armoury was a full-time job.

Or so she was repeatedly told whenever she asked why these people insisted on working nearly 24/7 on giant rock throwers. Gripping the wrench by the handle, the Sergeant leaned back on her improvised stool and tossed it onto an already cluttered beyond belief work station. “I’ll admit; I’m impressed. You can somehow find something fun about this.”

From beneath one of the torpedo tubes, there was a muffled laugh as sparks showered from the work being done. “Are you just here to complain?” Sparrow grinned slightly, although they couldn’t see it.

“I don’t come here for your company, that’s for certain. I swear you don’t have ears for anything that doesn’t speak ‘high-yield destruction’ or ‘tactical payload of fiery pain’.” The sergeant thumbed out her electronic cigarette, perching it on her lips only for a sharp noise from below to interrupt her. “What?”

“Don’t ‘what’ me. You know you can’t use that thing on this deck.”

“It’s not even a real spark; its nicotine and fake smoke. If this blows something up, I’ll eat my boot.” The voice grunted with effort as they clambered out from under the tube system. As her head emerged, Jessie McKrain fixed the marine with a simple stare. “Even you’ve turned against me…” With a mock sigh, Sparrow spun the offending device in her fingers before tucking it behind her ear with a slight pout.

“I could never turn on such a lovable jarhead.” Wiping the grime from her hands, the Battery Officer took a moment to fiddle with her suddenly lopsided ponytail. “But I’d rather avoid you causing an explosion and wrecking my guns. Cause then I’d have to kill you.” The sergeant laughed lightly.

“I’d like to see that sometime. It’d be refreshing to see a techie in the ring.” The brunette paused, fixing the marine with a warning glance.

“Don’t quote me on that. Last thing I need is that getting around…” Sparrow hopped up from her stool, falling into step behind the Battery Officer as she made her way through the crowded workspaces of her team. Every now and again she’d take a moment to shout an instruction or thought to one of the techs, who’d rattle off a response in their strange techie language. “So, what brings you to the guns today anyway? Something on your mind?”

“Boredom, mostly. It was supposed to be hand-to-hand day with Roger, but O’Ryan called them out on another mission.” She sighed in annoyance. “Which is good for them and all, but it’s not exactly good for the rest who do nothing but sit on their ass all day. I don’t need 30 bored marines running around.”

“So you are here to complain.” Jessie stopped at a terminal, tapping a few keys on the haptic interface as she watched Sparrow in her peripheries. “Roger…you’ve said that name before…he’s the private you’re always kicking the piss out of, right?”

“I train him.”

“When it comes to you, I’m sure that’s the exact same thing.” The sergeant grinned in fake innocence, looking far more like the cat that swallowed the canary. “Why not just grab another one of the privates and beat the tar out of them? Seems like it’d fix the boredom just the same.” Tapping her chin in thought, she coyly added. “Or is it his face you specifically want to break?”

“I don’t like what you’re implying, Lieutenant…” The redhead leaned against her work station with crossed arms, fingers tapping idly on her biceps as she thought. “But true, to some degree. It’d be kind of annoying to reset all the lessons I’ve already done with Roger for some other grunt. I’d rather finish what I start before getting another one going.”

“Mhm.” Jessie hummed knowingly, causing Sparrow to shoot the woman a look. “Well, if you’re not going to find yourself another punching bag, then I suppose you’ll have to be patient until your preferred one comes back.” Chuckling, she half turned from her work. “A monumental task for you, I’m sure.”

“I can be plenty patient, I’ll have you know.”

“Right. That’s why you came here instead of doing something mildly productive with your down time, like…oh, I don’t know, paperwork? Exercise? Or are you looking for an introductory lesson on warship weaponry? I could run you through a few basic maintenance procedures, if you like.” Sparrow’s grimace said it all, and Jessie gave a light laugh. “Didn’t think so.”


“I’ll stick with herding idiots, thanks.”

“Suit yourself. Guns don’t talk back as much as marines.” Jessie tapped a few keys on the terminal, furrowing her brow in thought as she continued. “How are your boys, anyway? Said they were giving you a migraine the other day.”

“They’re going to be the death of me. The rest of the platoon, easy to handle. All of them will listen to whatever I say, and don’t cause too much trouble. Nothing I can’t talk out with O’Ryan and a few hours of disciplinary duties. Robin is just…I don’t understand how three morons can cause that much trouble.”

Jessie flicked her eyes up momentarily. “Robin?”

“Ah yeah. They assigned call signs for all the fire teams a few weeks back. For some reason, Victory’s theme is birds.” The Battery Officer stared silently for a moment, opening her mouth to speak quickly, but Sparrow beat her to the punch. “Yes. My team is Fire Team Sparrow.”

“I bet it’s because of you.”

“I really doubt the Brass picked a theme just because my name happens to be a bird. I’ve already got every other platoon blaming me for it, don’t you get on that bandwagon.”

Jessie raised a sceptical brow. “What other reason could they have?” The sergeant shrugged carelessly.

“I don’t know. Maybe the boss man just likes birds.”

“Horn? You’ve got to be kidding me. There’s no way he’d be an avian-enthusiast. Just doesn’t fit him…like, at all.”

“You’d know, eh? Doesn’t fit the jet-packed badass that makes your heart go a flutter?” Jessie gripped a wrench from her belt, glaring at the sergeant threateningly.

“Enough with that bloody rumour! That’s all it is, a rumour!” The marine raised her hands defensively, sticking her tongue out mockingly at the woman’s reaction.

“Alright, don’t take my head off with that thing…” She grinned playfully. “You ever show him how aggressive you get? He might like it~!” Sparrow ducked back to dodge the playful swing of the wrench, bouncing on her heels as her grin widened. “Feisty!”

“You don’t know when to quit, do you?” Jessie laughed, raising the wrench into a mock fighting pose. “Be careful marine! I know wrench-fu!” Sparrow snickered as one of the technicians approached the pair quickly. They looked to the young man in unison, and he looked to the Battery Chief with a smile.

“Hey Lieutenant! Vikki up in the CIC told me that Daniel’s awake!” There was a thick pause as the information clicked in Jessie’s brain, and Sparrow blinked in surprise as she practically lit up with a thousand watt smile and wide eyes.

“He’s back?! He’s here?! Awake?!”

Her eyes snapped to the redhead, who waved her hand towards the elevator dismissively. “I’m sure he’d love to see a friend. Get moving.” Jessie nodded enthusiastically, practically breaking into a sprint towards the lift.

“I’ll talk to you later!” The sergeant waved two fingers after her retreating back, chuckling as her lips spread into a smile.

“Well, guess that means Roger’ll be back.” Rolling her shoulders, Sparrow’s smile sharpened into an expectant grin. “And my afternoon just freed up.”

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Roger stepped quietly into the gym, a light frown on his features as he surveyed the surprisingly empty gymnasium. A few marines milled about on the treadmills and weights, but it was far from the usual crowd. The reason for his being there was lying lazily on the lip of the ring, eyes closed as she breathed thin wisps of smoke that hung round her head like a cloud. The private was half tempted to just turn around while she wasn’t paying attention, but…

“Sergeant.” He called, and she sat up quickly, looking towards him with a sharp smile. “You said you needed me?” Sparrow dropped down from the lip, crossing towards him quickly.

“Roger! What’d I say about ranks?” He chuckled as she stopped in front of him, hands laced behind her head as she gave him a once over. “Mission went well, I hear. Not that that’s surprising with you guys. Always being the perfect little troopers.” She slapped his shoulder slightly, noticing immediately when the private winced at the treatment. “You alright?”

“Better than Maya.” He rubbed his shoulder with a grimace. “We ran into someone like Horn down there. Kicked the living piss out of everyone, even O’Ryan.” The private shrugged his arm partially out of his uniform, showing the thick purpling bruise on the shoulder joint. Sparrow frowned, half reaching to touch the bruise before letting her hand drop back down to her side.

“Shit, that looks like it smarts.” Sighing, she glanced longingly back at the ring. “Guess that kind of shoots my plans in the foot. I don’t really want to cause you anymore damage…”

“I’d normally be up for it, but I’ve already filled my ass-kicked quota of the day.” She nodded disappointment evident on her face. The private was quiet for a moment, before clearing his throat awkwardly. “If that was all you had planned…” Sparrow glanced at him quizzically, as he shifted his gaze off to the suddenly interesting wall. “I…don’t really have anything else to go do if you want to go get some food or something…”

“I ate just a little while ago.” She admitted; smirking to herself as the private slouched the slightest bit. “But since I’ve got nothing on the go, we could always just head over to the Observation Bay.” He blinked in confusion. “What?”

“What can you do in the Observation Bay?” Laughing, the sergeant tugged on his arm and started out the door. Roger trailed after her, still unsure as to what exactly his superior had in mind. She wasn’t exactly the type for quiet reflection and relaxation…or was she? The thought hadn’t crossed his mind, since every time he saw her was either in the sparring ring, leading platoon exercises or loud and threatening lectures to whoever had done something stupid. Her down time was an utter mystery.

“Hello? You still in there?” Blinking once, he took stock of his immediate surroundings, before his eyes zeroed in on Sparrow, who stood predominantly in his face with her brow raised curiously and lips set in a bemused smile. “Aha, a spark of intelligence!”

“S-sorry.” He stammered; hopping back a few steps as the sergeant chuckled. The bay was completely abandoned save for the two of them, which wasn’t really surprising given the contents of their crew. Most of the marines Roger knew would rather be doing drills than sitting in the peaceful silence of the Observation Bay. “It’s kinda surprising to see you come here.”

“Is it?” She rounded one of the benches and strode up to the currently closed grand bay window. Thumbing a small switch beside it, Sparrow grinned happily as the shutter peeled back to revealed the aurora-like effect of FTL. The colours danced and weaved in a light show that showered the room in the curious refractions of light. Silhouetted against the splendour, it wasn’t hard to miss the large, but gentle smile that split Sparrow’s face. “I don’t think so.”

“I’ve…never really seen this before.” He breathed as she crossed back to the bench beside him. “Does this always happen?”

“Yeah. One of the few perks of coming to the Observation Bay when we’re heading someplace.” Dropping onto the bench, she stretched out into a comfortable position. “And when we’re not, it’s got a great view of the stars.”

“You stargaze? Really?”

“It may surprise you, but there is more to me than just fighting and herding Greenknees.” She teased, gesturing to the spot beside her. He sat down hesitantly, leaning on his knees as his eyes drifted between Sparrow and the lights outside.

“Just doesn’t seem like something you’d like. A little too…peaceful.”

Sparrow chuckled, leaning back in her seat. “Even I get sick of it sometimes. I’m only human after all.” She released a long, content sigh, and he could see the smile on her face in his peripheries. “Nice to have some company for a change, though. Like the show?” He nodded softly, and she chuckled happily. “Well, you’re welcome to join me from here on, Roger.” She patted his shoulder, and he ignored the slight sting to glance at her curiously. “I’ll point out some constellations for you.”

“Aren’t constellations kinda specific in the way you look at them?”

The question made her pause, however shortly. She gave it only a moment of thought before shrugging. “I guess so. Guess we’ll just have to keep watching till we can spot one.” The smile she had was infectious, and he found himself mirroring it with a laugh.

“Alright, sounds good to me.”

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Corporal Edward Stevenson Character Portrait: Specialist Maya Salazar Character Portrait: Private First Class Logan Fischer Character Portrait: Private Roger Pollard Character Portrait: Tia St. Jean Character Portrait: Operative Kelly Invaru Character Portrait: Sparrow Oberacker Character Portrait: Wyatt Sinoff

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Drumming a finger impatiently on the polished, ultra-basic stainless steel of her work station, Sparrow stared dully at the duty roster on the display of her work terminal. She hated making duty rosters with a passion; hell, she hated eighty percent of the desk work her position entailed. Whoever got cleaning the heads would complain. Whoever got stuck guarding the armoury, near the furious slab of flesh that threatened to tear their limbs off if they twitched, would complain. The only thing they could all agree on was complaining in general about how ruthless O’Ryan’s training was.

Resting her forehead against the desk, the sergeant gave a low groan as she dug her fingers into her scalp. Couldn’t she just lead the little bastards, and make someone else get them to do the rest of their jobs? Wasn’t she supposed to have an assistant? There was an automated hiss from the door, signalling someone had entered the office but she didn’t look up as whoever they were moved into the room. Judging by the footsteps, there were two, confirmed by one of the chairs across from her sliding out while a hand came to rest on her shoulder.

“You’re actually working for once, Sparrow?” She lifted her head slightly, loose red hair obscuring her vision of the source until she brushed it aside lazily and fixed him with a less than amused expression. “Or attempting to, at least.” Sergeant First Class Nathan Percy chuckled lightly, his wrinkled face smiling down at her. His light brown hair was already beginning to grey in some places, and his face had the beginnings of a salt and pepper beard forming. It was difficult to believe the man was only three years her senior, but after something like Titan, it wasn’t surprising to see a man gain a few years.

“Stow it, Nathan.” She muttered, leaning on her cheek on her arm with a faux frown on her lips. “I’ve got duty rosters crawling out my ass and then some disciplinary actions to issue to some unfortunate idiots.” Her fellow sergeant laughed, removing his hand as he dropped into one of the work stations to her right.

The room was a joint office that had been set up for the NCOs to use for their work regarding their companies and platoons respectively. The platoon leads had a trio of work terminals lining opposite ends of a large rectangular ‘desk’ while the Master Sergeants enjoyed their own private work stations in the two back corners. Aside from the work areas, it was mostly unfurnished, save for a small couch that hugged the right hand corner when you entered the room, with a small coffee table and, more importantly, coffee machine sitting atop it.

There was an airy, mocking chuckle from the station in front of her, and Sparrow shot the source a look. “You wouldn’t have so much work to do at once if you actually did it when you got it, Oberacker.” One of her fellow Victory leads sat across from her, Jessica Mareen, who led the First platoon. The brown-skinned woman flashed a knowing grin at her colleague’s deepening frown, powering up her terminal with a tap as she brushed a few locks of raven black hair from her eyes. “Don’t act so testy, it’s your own fault. Always off picking fights with your troops, or lazing around the observation bay…”

“It’s called hands-on-training, Mareen. It’s good for morale!”

“Who’s? Yours or theirs? I’m quite sure you get enough jollies from beating on those poor privates all the time!” Nathan snickered as Sparrow slumped back into her seat, knowing a losing battle when she saw one. “Actually, I think there’s been a noted drop in injuries from your platoon…why is that?”

“Beats me.”

Nathan, who hadn’t even attempted to power up his work station, was quick to refute her. “The word going around the ship, I hear it’s more because you’ve focused your abuse onto one particular marine. One of the privates…Ronald, was it?”

“It’s Roger.” She corrected, although she immediately bit her tongue at his smug grin. “Don’t set me up like that, Nathan, I still want to believe you’ve got my back…” He held his hands up in mock defence, looking like she’d actually hurt him, at least until she jabbed a threatening finger in his direction and the Titan relented.

Mareen rolled her eyes as her fingers typed away on her haptic interface, sorting through her workload with a practiced ease that made Sparrow slightly envious of the older woman’s experience with leadership. Nathan finally fired up his own, still nudging her slightly in the ribs with his elbow to assure her that the teasing would resume when they didn’t have work to do.

As much as she could do without them prodding her about beating up one of her privates, the sergeant almost wished they’d continue so she had an excuse not to try and finish this damn roster. Or hell, that she could go and train that damn private, because that’s what it was, training, no matter how much Nathan poked her in the side with his overly pointy elbow. Pressing her head on the desk again, Sparrow exhaled sharply, suddenly wishing she had had the foresight to bring her cigarette. “Some days, I wonder if O’Ryan promoted you as a punishment…” Mareen muttered through an amused smirk.

“That would be cruel and unorthodox…” There was a long pause before she tilted her head back to face the woman with a grimace. “Which makes me think that he might have.” Summoning up the will to at least attempt the roster, her fingers lifted to the haptic interface as she regarded the information one more time.

The door hissed open as she moved for her first keystroke, and the three sergeants turned their heads in unison to see the newcomer, surprised to find Tyler Carson, the Master Sergeant in charge of Victory Company. Whatever the man had been intending to say was immediately cut short as the intercom came to life with the always boisterous and demanding Commander Horn on the other end.

“Attention beautiful and handsome crew of the Call of Victory, this is your ever present and badass Commander speaking. We are about to embark on our most daring, our most dangerous, and our most pivotal mission to date. Some of you might be hearing this, and getting scared. Others, excited. Even more, horny. Kinky, I know, but it happens.” Sparrow chuckled lightly at the man’s antics, leaning her head on the flat of her palm.

“However! Now is not the time for feelings, good or otherwise! Because, ladies and gentlemen! We are needed…” There was a beat of silence, for what she assumed was dramatic effect. “To show Commander Vala Buchan just how a ship and her crew should operate! We are needed to explain to her, and her crew just how much marines kick ass! We are needed to show that this ship, her crew, and her illustrious Commander get shit done! So marines! Prep yourselves! Battery officers! Load the weapons! Techies! Write me some god damn miracle code! Ladies! Hand me your numbers! Brace yourselves Men and Women of the Call of Victory! We're going to war.”

The sergeants shared a few curious glances amongst each other, before the intercom crackled again. “Right, to clarify, we're not actually going after Commander Buchan, it's a joint operation and we're going to show them up...That is all.” The intercom went dead, for good this time, and Carson rubbed his temple for a moment before chuckling humourlessly.

“Well, you all heard the man. Get everyone prepping.” Whatever his original purpose for visiting the office had been cast aside, Carson turning back out the door and heading off down the hall with an even stride. Sparrow was still for only a moment longer, before rolling her head to look back at her untouched duty roster.

“Well, looks like this will have to wait.” She snapped her fingers. “I was really looking forward to it too!”

Nathan rolled his eyes, flicking his terminal off as Mareen rose from her seat and bee-lined out the door to go muster her platoon. “Sure you were, Sparrow. Sure you were.” He replied casually, patting the woman on the shoulder as he stood and headed for the door. “I wouldn’t be surprised if you were waiting for some sort of excuse.”

“Yeah, yeah…” Waving her hand over her shoulder, Sparrow straightened from her seat with a groan, having sat idle in it far too long for her liking. How someone could handle a desk job all day was beyond her. With a happy grin, she flicked off her terminal and spun on her heel for the door, lazily shaking the sleep out of her leg as she moved. “Kicking ass is so much better than paperwork!”

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This was not better than paperwork.

She’d been briefed, quickly, of the target her platoon was expected to take care of. An operations center, hidden in a corporate building stuffed to the gills with civilians. Her jaw was tight, worrying the inside of her lip as she flipped through the details again and again. The building needed to go; collateral damage was a non-issue. ROE was up to her. Almost complete operational freedom.

That made it difficult. Blowing up civilians didn’t sit right in her gut. It wasn’t right. She’d been halfway through a half assed battle plan when she heard footsteps approach from her right, glancing up from her omni-tool to regard Lieutenant O’Ryan and Operative St. Jean. Both had already donned their full battle rattle, and she bit her lip anxiously at the fact she was still sluggishly pulling her’s on even though most everyone else was already prepped. “What’s up, Lieutenant?” She asked quickly as she secured her greaves to the squish-skin suit.

“I’m making an addition to your roster, Sergeant.” O’Ryan replied evenly; if he noted her lack of gear he wasn’t saying anything about it. She was silently thankful for that. Her nerves didn’t need more to worry about. He motioned lightly to the operative behind him, and Sparrow nodded in both greeting and acknowledgement to the woman. “St. Jean is well versed in demolitions, and given the inexperience of your platoon, she’ll do more good with you than the others.”

Saint nodded back, offering a light smile that didn’t quite reach her entire face. “Got your back.” The sergeant watched the woman for a second, before looking back down at her omni-tool.

“Right, I’ll put her to good use, sir.” She murmured, already trying to rattle up a new plan to incorporate the veteran’s skill set. There was a palpable pause, and she found herself glancing back up to look at O’Ryan’s face. It was a mask, as always, but she couldn’t help feeling that there was something more lurking behind his stony visage. “Sir..?”

Before she could continue, he turned and spoke to Saint. “Operative St. Jean, you’ll be taking orders directly for Sergeant Oberacker. I’m sure it needs no mention, but for the duration of the operation, treat her word as my own.” The operative glanced to the sergeant briefly, and then looked back to the Lieutenant.

“Understood.”

Seemingly satisfied, O’Ryan’s eyes flicked back to the platoon lead. “Finish your preparations, Sergeant. Your platoon is already mustering.” Without waiting for a response, the Lieutenant turned and left the women to their devices, his broad back firm and immediately dissuading any further attempts to speak with him.

“You got it…” Sparrow muttered, securing the last harness for her greaves before digging into the equipment locker for her chest plate. Her eyes dully flicked over the ceramic plates, smoothing her fingers against the material before looking at the operative in her peripheries. It was almost unsettling how quiet and still the operative was, breaking it momentarily to check over her gear before her honey brown eyes glanced over to lock with Sparrow’s forest green.

“Just how inexperienced is this team going to be?” There was a detached sort of tone in her voice, but the sergeant ignored it as she tugged on her chest plate and began to engage its clamps. Whatever the source of the question, curiosity or annoyance at being paired with rookies, Sparrow didn’t have the inclination to decipher, nearly mumbling her reply.

“Victory 3rd is basically a training platoon, Saint. We don’t see as much action as the rest because I’ve got to teach the Greenknees how to be soldiers. They’re not useless, but they aren’t as good as the crews you’re use to working with.” As the last clamp fastened, she turned partially to the woman, watching her with dull eyes. “I’ll pair you with one of the more experienced teams, though. I’m sure you’re not interested in deadweight slowing you down.”

The operative shrugged a single shoulder. “I’ll go where you think it’s best to complete the mission and get back home,” There was a brief pause, before she added as an afterthought, “ma’am.” Tugging on her gauntlets with a grunt, Sparrow tucked her helmet under her arm as her weapons clung to the magnetic holsters on her armour.

“Let’s not bother with ma’ams, Saint. Outside of today, I don’t even know if your rank deserves salute or a friendly grunt. I’d prefer we just keep things simple.” The operative gave a smile, surprisingly genuine from what little she’d seen of the woman.

“So would I.”

Perfect. One less thing for her to worry about. The quagmire of ethics and morality she was going to be wading into neck-deep was bad enough with her platoon’s lives on the line. She seriously didn’t need fancy titles making the situation more complicated. Kicking her locker shut with a flick of her foot, Sparrow sighed heavily, tapping her forehead with her free hand as she started towards the door. “Let’s go see who your team is gonna be.”

If there was a response, the redhead didn’t hear it, the thick footfalls of her boots echoing as she trudged out of the armoury prep room with her new ‘ace’ in tow. Who would be best served by the addition of Saint to their squad? The fire teams rolled up on a list inside her head, and she immediately crossed out Robin. Birkingham would have enough on his hands dealing with his three little idiots, and the operative would only further unnerve the corporal.

Working up the list, she found herself discarding Pebbler as well, if only due to Detts inexperience with his command position. He’d been promoted after Ontarom, but hadn’t seen much action since. Saint would likely end up hijacking his command, and he needed to get the experience.

Kakariki and Eclectus wouldn’t be half bad choices; both Thielst and DeGeorge were familiar with their teams and had proven reliable under pressure. Both already had an engineer-in-training though, and again the need for experience was weighing in favour of leaving them be.

Boarding the lift, Sparrow leaned back onto the small railing with a muted sigh, staring at nothing in particular as she rummaged around in her mind. Her own fire team would be focused on the fighting aspect, being the most experienced, followed closely by Swan and Owl in that regard. Her mind derailed for a brief moment at the thought of Owl and the thick, purpling bruise she’d seen on Roger. They’d had a rough mission, and extremely recently. She’d have to give them a lighter duty on this mission, maybe an over-watch, or-

Biting her lip, the sergeant shook her head. Now wasn’t the time for playing worried mother, not when she needed her best boots available. They’d perform fine, she assured herself, and refocused on the task at hand. This, really, was practically decided.

Amazon. The squad that had formerly belonged to Ramirez. She pushed the younger corporal from her mind, instead focusing on the present. Unlike Pebbler, Amazon hadn’t had one of the rookie members promoted to fill Ramirez’s shoes, instead having a corporal of some experience transferred from a guard roster within another cell. Corporal Jane Galt, or as Sparrow sometimes referred to her as, ‘Lady Ed’.

The two were very similar, preferring to lead by example and taking the largest risks themselves to preserve the safety of their squad. It made them ideal for the ‘training’ nature of the platoon, and in some cases, Galt’s cautious nature made her a better fit than Ed’s ‘Can-do’ attitude. Her team was still rather fresh, only two of the original four having survived Ontarom with a fresh Greenknee filling out the final slot. All of them were basic riflemen to boot.

“Amazon.” She announced aloud as the elevator slowed to a stop. Saint looked at her slightly curious as they disembarked in unison. “I’m going to assign you to Fire Team Amazon. Corporal Galt can put you to the most use.” She figured, anyway. She didn’t mention that part though. Didn’t exactly instil confidence.

The hangar bay was crowded, as it typically was whenever someone deemed it necessary to stuff all the fully armoured marines into a single area, but Sparrow brushed through the masses with only the slightest exertion and a few slight shoves with her plated shoulders. Most of the marines were waiting for their big briefing, and she found her platoon milling about much as they always did. They always had trouble standing still without someone of authority shooting them death glares.

Approaching Amazon, she splayed her hand above her head in greeting, and the Greenknees shared suspicious glances behind their helmets. They clearly didn’t find the idea of the Sergeant seeking them out very appealing. Galt tilted her head back slightly, peering at the approaching women through hazel bangs and gesturing softly with her hand in greeting. The corporal didn’t speak much, her pale lips set in a thin line as Sparrow slowed to a stop in front of her. “Sergeant.” Her eyes flicked to Saint. “Operative.”

“Hey, Galt.” Sparrow offered lightly, stooping down to be at eye level with the seated marine. Setting her helmet on the ground in front of her, the redhead watched Galt fiddle with the predator gripped loosely in her hand before motioning at the gun. “Having some issues with it?”

“Trigger’s a little stiff, Sergeant. Nothing important, just want it back the way it was.” The corporal’s even reply got a nod from her superior, as the soldier attached the gun back to it’s magnetic clamp at her hip. The look in her dull brown eyes prompted Sparrow to speak, and she cleared her throat.

“Right, well, we’ve been given the operative here,” She thumped the back of her palm against Saint’s leg armour, “for the day, and I’ve decided to assign her to your team. She’s got some skills in what we’ll be dealing with today, and your team is…lacking in that department.” It wasn’t exactly praise, and she offered an apologetic smile as the private’s shoulders slumped ever so slightly in their armour.

“Of course, Sergeant.” Galt was unphased, straightening to her feet and Sparrow mirrored the action. “Something with tech on the agenda today?” The redhead glanced back at the operative, raising a brow at her before flicking back to Galt. “She looks like a techie.”

“You’re a sharp one, huh? O’Ryan will flesh out the details.” The sergeant stepped back from the team, leaving Saint with a nod of her head as she filtered through the ranks as O’Ryan’s voice boomed through the hangar for attention. Any who weren’t already in position quickly scrambled to comply and she found her fire team in their proper location a few moments later. They nodded in greeting as she took her place at the front, and all eyes in the hangar zeroed in on O’Ryan.

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There wasn’t much to consider strategy wise, realistically. Their target was in the downtown core of a major city and it needed to get blown the fuck up. There was no tactical way to manoeuvre 32 fully armoured marines into a position without every goddamn head within a city block seeing them. Quiet was out of the question, which meant they were about to get very, very noisy. They’d been the second last to deploy, and she saw that was for a good reason now.

“Here’s the plan.” She began, eyes flicking over the team present in her Kodiak even as her voice carried through the comm unit to the others. “There’s no easy, pretty access point to this building. It’s public, it’s in the open, and it’s just after lunch. Our objective, as you know, is the entire building. The Oracle bastards inside it aren’t the only ones. There are civilians inside as well.” She bit her lip, squeezing her eyes shut behind the visor as she continued without any trace of the concern in her voice.

“And I didn’t sign up to turn you all into a bunch of cutthroats. We’re going to do this the hard way. Swan, Owl and Amazon, you’ll be dropping on the roof. Sparrow will be taking the front door, along with Eclectus, Kakariki, Pebbler and Robin.” She found herself pacing, a habit she didn’t like that was beginning to rear its head whenever she was on the spot.

“Amazon and Kakariki, you’re to prioritize the placement of the demo charges. Use the designated locations that the AI is providing for minimal collateral damage. I want this building falling straight down, not into the streets.” Glancing at the timer in her HUD, she sucked in a breath before continuing. “Eclectus, you and Pebbler are going to be my guard dogs. Anyone tries to come in the front door, chase them off.”

“As for Owl and Swan, you’ll be helping Sparrow and Robin clears the building. I’ve got one general rule, and each and everyone one of you will be holding it near and dear to your heart. Don’t shoot anyone who doesn’t deserve to get shot. Don’t go making orphans without a damn good cause.” Her voice hitched ever so slightly at the word orphan, but she barrelled through, slamming her foot down to end her pacing. “If they won’t leave, make them. And if you can’t…”

The timer expired, and the hatch to her left began to hiss open. “Well…do what you gotta do. Let’s get this done.” Without another word, the sergeant turned to the open hatch and dropped the small distance to the ground. Landing with a grunt, Sparrow un-holstered her Mattock as she stared up the street towards the target. Her HUD was already painting the dozens of civilians lining the streets in neutral colours, as the remaining fire teams poured out of their Kodiaks behind her.

Above the building, she could see the others dropping onto the roof, and the sergeant began her grim march straight up towards the building. 19 sets of boots echoed loudly behind her, and the street was beginning to swell with a collective feeling of dread as the armoured figures marched forward. They weren’t Alliance. There was none of the familiar blues. People didn’t want to believe that though. Nothing bad would happen to you.

Smashing that illusion was what upset her the most. Sparrow fired a trio of rounds, shattering the glass doors leading into the building and the street was no longer quiet. Shouts and screams tore at her ears as the reality descended upon awestruck colonists. Thundering feet and racing sky cars carried the crowds away, and the sergeant was thankful for that. She didn’t need any extra blood today.

Stomping up the stairs two at a time, she was soon striding through the ruined entrance with her rifle squarely trained on the pair of men manning the small security booth. Neither looked like they‘d ever actually dealt with more than a vandal, let alone considered the possibility of combating an entire platoon worth of marines.

Thankful no one attempted to reach for their pistol, as Sparrow motioned with her gun for them to back the fuck away before mounting the small counter and taking over their position. “You’re off early today. Get the fuck out.” She hissed over her external speakers, and both men needed no further prompting to get their asses clear of the building. Turning to the system behind her, she tapped a few keys, bringing up VI listing the building schematics and current population totals.

“Eclectus, Pebbler, get cosy.” She barked; the fire teams in question quickly dragging all the various furniture in the lobby to rig up some proper cover. She hated corporate buildings for that reason. They were never designed to make firefights convenient. So much open space and fancy ceilings and holographic displays of fancy company logos or stocks.

Before she could continue her tangential thought process, the elevator behind her dinged. There as a split second delay as she turned to face the occupants, before the striking blue glow shot out of the parting doors and smashed itself into her chest. The air immediately left her lungs, as the sheer power of the energy slammed her backwards into, and over, the counter behind her and dumping her flat on her back on the ground with a pained cough.

It was only a few seconds later that the lobby erupted into a firefight that she couldn’t see as her vision danced from the sudden impact. “Sonuvabitch…” She whispered, clutching her throbbing stomach for a moment as she pushed off the floor with her other hand. Gripping the counter, she hauled herself up as the brief surge in gunfire died down, whatever had been standing in the elevator having been reduced to little more than chunks. “Tasty.”

“You alright, Ma’am?” She heard Lares ask worriedly, looking at the man to her right with a slight grimace. “Got your Mattock.” He held out the weapon and she took it with a light nod of appreciation. Patting her sore stomach, Sparrow started around the counter with the rest of her fire team falling in behind.

“Looks like there’s going to be more than just civvies in here…” She mused as she stepped over the bullet pocked corpse, ignoring the dull squish of her boots in the gore staining the small elevator. Tapping her comm piece, Sparrow spoke quickly. “Roof teams, just a heads up but some of these spooks have some experience. One just tried to make me a stain on the lobby floor.”

“Always making friends.” Feldmann replied quickly. “We’ll keep an eye out; see if we can avoid any nasty surprises from our hosts. See you in a few.” Grunting in acknowledgement, she cut the line, levelling her Mattock on the controls for the elevator and pumping a few rounds into the circuitry. Satisfied no one would be riding it to sneak up on her again; she looked to the fire teams fortifying the entranceway.

“How we looking?”

Corporal DeGeorge looked back at her, shaking her head slightly. “Local police is already beginning to show, Ma’am.” The woman called, and Sparrow frowned beneath her visor. It must have shown in her body language, cause DeGeorge quickly added, “Not many yet, and they aren’t making any attempts to come in. Probably planning to barricade us in until the real heavy lifters can come.”

“Perfect.” She snarled, tapping her comm for platoon wide as she motioned her team towards one of the doors leading to the staircase. “Get to work everyone. I want these civvies out in five minutes, and this building falling in ten.” Kakariki was already rigging the first of their demo charges to one of the designated positions before Sparrow looked slightly to the corporal in charge of Robin. “Birkingham, take your boys and these two,” She gestured to two of her own team. “And start sweeping the second floor. Me and Devera will take care of whatever’s down here.”

The man nodded, starting up the stairs with the marines in tow as Sparrow called after them. “And make sure they take the stairs!” Leaning back into the lobby, she shouted at no one in particular. “Someone shut the lift off, ASAP.” Devera chuckled lightly at her, and the sergeant squeezed a light sigh out of tight lips. “I hate this job.”

“Didn‘t you just break the lift?” He asked curiously, as Sparrow stopped by the double doors leading into the minimal security offices that co-ordinated all of the security personnel for the facility.

“I’ve learnt never to under-estimate a determined hostile with technical skills. Breaking it and shutting it off will at least make life much harder.”

“And we get to take the stairs.” He joked, standing opposite to her with his hand on the door handle. “They don’t make buildings like this very often anymore. Real doors? Pretty classy.”

“Shame we’re going to level it, right?” She fired back, leaning out of the way of the door and tugging it open quickly. There was a brief silence, before she peeked around the corner and caught a glimpse of the half dozen weapons levelled on the doorway. The security office wasn’t big, by any stretch, nor particularly designed to resist prolonged attack she could tell, but they obviously had a weapon’s locker inside since the weapons pointing her way were assault rifles instead of the predator’s their lobby counterparts had been using.

Ducking back behind the door frame to avoid getting her face blown off in the salvo of fire that erupted from the guards. “Well, they’re not going anywhere easily.” Devera commented, pulling a grenade from his hip and holding it up for her to see. “Could clear them right out.”

For a brief second, the sergeant considered it, but she knew well enough that the security teams weren’t actually Oracle. No doubt hired to guard what they thought was just any old building in the downtown core, blissfully unaware of the fact that it was actually a front operation for a shady organization. Having a conscience was more trouble than it was worth. Shaking her head no, she switched her speakers to external.

“Hey! Guys!” There was only silence from the room beyond, save for the shuffling of a few feet and muffled whispers she couldn’t make out. “I know you can hear me in there, so hear me out, alright? You’ve got yourselves a pretty solid bottleneck here, and judging by those guns I saw you could probably make sure nothing gets through this doorway for an hour or two. That’s a pretty good plan.” She motioned with her fingers at Devera, and he sceptically tossed her the grenade. “Only problem is, we’ve got this.” She caught the small sphere and held it out in the doorway for a moment. “If you’re not military, I’ll fill you in. Standard issue fragmentation grenade, typical Alliance fare, with a wounding radius of around 20 meters. If I toss this in there, what do you think it’s going to do?”

She half expected one of them to take a pot shot at her hand, but the threat of the weapon she held seemed to be making them cautious. Devera seemed utterly perplexed by this approach, but didn’t voice his thoughts aside from the quizzical tilt of his head. “So now that we have your attention, let’s make a deal. You boys probably don’t work for Oracle, yeah? You’re just honest people doing honest work for an honest day’s pay. I can respect that and I don’t want to punish you for that. So, if you put down the guns…and let us come inside, we’ll let you go. Simple as that. Just like everyone else in the lobby. Nobody needs to get hurt. Does that sound good?”

Someone found their voice, an older man by the sound of it. “How can we trust you? If we’re unarmed, what’s to stop you?” She was still, shutting her eyes for a moment before retracting the hand that held the grenade and attaching it to her belt. After a heavy breath, she tossed her Mattock around the corner into the room beyond, earning a startled yell. “The hell are yo-”

She upholstered her predator next, throwing it inside as well before looking to Devera who was shaking his head furiously at her for the sheer stupidity of this plan. “I’m stepping out. Those are my guns.” She pushed off the wall and stepped into full view of the doorway, letting her visor’s tint vanish so the security forces could see her face, however little it showed. “See? No guns, just my grenades.” Her hands out at her sides, she pointed briefly to the weapons attached to her hips. “Now my friend outside still has his, and the rest of my platoon is spread throughout the building, so I don’t think it’s in your best interest to squeeze those triggers. I’m out on a limb here for you guys, so how about we put those weapons down and nobody has to lose their head?”

The fuck was she thinking? The fuck was she doing right now? Her adrenaline implants were dialling up without any need for prompting, the prospect of staring down six automatic weapons alone causing her heart to hammer in her chest. If they fired, she’d have a chance, however small. She could duck back into cover at a moment’s notice, even if they’d land a few hits before she could. Devera could toss a grenade and that’d be that. It’d trash her mattock and predator, but with luck there would something in the weapon’s locker she could borrow.

She scanned their faces, all men of varying ages, but some were young. One looked like he wasn’t even legally allowed to drink yet and she found herself focusing on him out of them all. This was just a job; she wanted to say, not worth getting yourself shot over. This is just a pay check. Put the gun down. She didn’t want to kill a kid. She didn’t want to see this whenever she tried to look at one of the privates. For a split second, she pictured Roger, stuck in a helmet slightly too big for his head and staring down the most intimidating thing he‘d likely ever seen in his young life. Her face softened.

“C’mon. This ain’t worth it.”

As the kid dropped the gun, she smiled. It took only a few nervous glances between the remaining guards before they cautiously began to lower their weapons to the ground, with the older man being the last to relinquish his weapon with a stoic nod. “And you’ll keep your word?”

“Of course. Devera, escort these gentlemen to the lobby and get them on their way. Make sure the police don’t mistake them for us.” Devera stepped cautiously around the corner, his weapon still in hand but lowered in compliance. Sparrow motioned with her head for them to get moving, and the guards filtered out in front of the marine as her squad mate spared a long look at his superior. “Yes?”

“You have some serious screws loose, Oberacker.”

“That’s why they promoted me.” They said nothing more, as he moved to escort his charges out of the building, calling loudly so they wouldn’t surprise the teams waiting in the lobby. As soon as he was out of her immediate vicinity, Sparrow released a long shaky breath as she stooped down to the ground to retrieve her weapons. “Hooookay, Sparrow, you’re going to see Grass and get on some meds after this, you crazy bitch.” She stammered to herself jokingly as she attached the weapons back to their appropriate places and took stock of the room.

There wasn’t anything overly special about it, just a fairly standard security office that was perhaps slightly shinier than most she’d seen? Not really something to tip one off to the secret funding and shadowy sorts that had created the structure, or at least repurposed it. Scanning the work stations, nothing leapt to her as inherently out of place.

Stepping backwards out of the room, she spoke across the platoon channel. “Status. How we doing people?”

“Swan. In good shape, clearing the last few rooms on the top floor with Owl.” She nodded, meeting Devera at the foot of the stairs and starting up towards the second floor.

“Amazon. Third floor is almost rigged completely. Placing the last few charges.”

“Eclectus. No attempted entries so far and civilians are being received safely. Police encirclement is tightening though, and we’ve got a few Kodiaks dropping off boys in blue with body armour a little thick to be LEOs.”

Sparrow stopped on the stairs at a group of civilians descending with their hands raised partially above their heads, standing aside so they might pass. Every single one kept their eyes locked on her as they shuffled by, the fear almost palpable as they quickened their strides to carry them to safety. “Robin. We’ve a…slight issue, ma’am.” The sergeant grimaced.

“Talk to me.”

“Most of the second floor has been cleared…”

“But?”

“…but we’ve run into some resistance. Not a hostile, I don’t think, but one of the civilians isn’t complying. He’s staying in his office, and I can’t get him to come out.” Pulling the door open as she reached the floor, she ushered an approaching civilian into the door with a sharp jerk of the head, before focusing on her HUD to locate the corporal.

“Why not drag him out?”

There was a long pause, before the man sighed. “I’m worried, Ma’am. Anytime I’ve stepped into the room, he’s got his hands beneath his desk, in the drawers or something. If he’s got something in there, at close range…”

“Our shields won’t count for much. I get ya.” Following the readout on her HUD, she waved Devera off to assist the others in clearing the floor before rounding the corner to find Corporal Birkingham shuffling nervously in front of the door to one of the corner offices. He noticed her approach and hurried over to meet her halfway. The man was always a bundle of nerves. “I’ll take it from here. Go keep your boys from throwing each other out a window or something.”

“They probably would…” He bemoaned, nodding in compliance and hurrying to check on his fire team. She watched his retreating back for a moment before continuing down the hall and pausing outside the sleek glass wall that separated the room from the more typical workspaces scattered throughout the level. The man sat behind his desk, fingers laced in front of his bowed head and she could see the sweat beads dripping down his forehead and staining the collar of his suit.

Readying her predator, she pulled the door open quietly and stepped into the room with her eyes locked on the man, who flicked his head up to meet her gaze, looking like a cornered animal staring down the hungry predator. “Yo.” The pistol remained at her side, but the man was painfully aware of it’s presence by the way his widening eyes kept darting to it. “I hear you’re not going to leave. Why’s that?”

“There’s no reason to.” There was a conviction to his voice, but it shook under her faceless gaze. “You don’t want to hurt us? Then why should I leave?”

“Decent idea. Minus the fact that I’m going to blow this place up.” He stiffened in his seat. “Yeah. You probably shouldn’t be here for that. C’mon, let’s get you out.” The sergeant took a step forward, and the man’s hands darted beneath the desk quickly. She froze, pistol raising slightly at her side but stopping after a few inches when he made no further movements. “Take it easy.”

“Why are you doing this?”

“Can’t say. Now why don’t you stand up and take your hands out from under the desk, alright?”

“You can’t just come in here and make demands! Waving your guns around and shooting innocent people!” His voice was rising in pitch, and Sparrow swallowed the lump forming in her throat as his eyes burned accusingly on her visor. “What gives you the right?!”

“Relax! No one innocent has died today! No one innocent WILL die today! The building is all we’re after! Now back away from the desk!” Her voice rose, despite her attempt to keep it even to calm the man, and he seemed even more spurred by the escalation.

“Why the hell should I listen to some piece of shit terrorist?!” He roared, slamming one hand the desk as he rose sharply from his seat. She could see the muscle tension through his shoulders and arms, her breath hitching as the obscured arm began to emerge with tightened knuckles around…something. Rationality lost its place. A lifetime of close calls and near-death experiences overwhelmed thought and her arms straightened the pistol into a ready position. The world had the speed suddenly sucked from it, as implants roared to life at the perceived threat.

There was no time for protest, finger tightening on the trigger and the round punching clean through the soft tissue of the breast.

The second round tore over the shoulder, shattering the glass off the corner office and tossing the man off balance.

The third ripped through the soft tissue of the throat, which sent the figure toppling backwards through the still fragmenting window.

Her footsteps thundered to the edge as the air filled with panicked gasps and screams, stepping to the lip long enough to see the body crumple into the concrete, splattering blood and grey matter across the street and nearby police vehicles. Sparrow stared silently out the window, feeling the heads turn upwards towards her with accusing horror. Her body didn’t feel anything, hands still tight on the gun by her side.

The implants deactivated, colour returning to the world as she became aware of her own ragged breathing. Idly, her brain recognized the danger of exposure with the sheer number of LEOs below but she was sluggish. Stumbling backwards from the shattered window, her hip hit the desk, and she let herself lean against it as her eyes flicked down to the smooth title of the office floor. She trailed the small splatters of blood, before catching the glint of something metal.

The sergeant stooped down, brushing armoured fingers over the reddened surface of the broad faced, platinum watch; feeling the soft cracks in the casing from its sudden fall. Picking it up with an almost reverent care, it ticked dully in her ears as the old-style device sat plainly upon her palm.

There were footsteps by the door, but she didn’t look until she heard a voice calling to her. Forest green eyes flicked over to see Pinnick watching cautiously from the doorway, unquestioning but it was obvious she had an idea of what had transpired. “What is it?”

“We’ve got something you’re going to want to see, Ma’am.” She nodded dully, lowering her hand and tucking the watch away soundlessly. “Ma’am?”

“Yeah. Show me.”

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Pinnick lead the way, guiding her past the last few civilians exiting from the top floor and into the executive offices that made up the bulk of the top floors space. The offices were all deserted now, and save for the few still bodies of what she assumed were Oracle agents; there was little sign of any struggle. Pinnick motioned her into one of the rooms, and she entered to find it occupied by Amazon and Private Fischer from Fire Team Owl. He was working quietly on his omni-tool, a small blue haptic interface illuminating the wall behind him curiously.

Saint was tapping away on the soft blue of its keyboard just behind the large figure, clearly focused on whatever it was the two were working on. Sparrow glanced to her right, spotting a bloodied man kneeling in the corner with one of the privates standing watch over him. His face was bowed, but it wasn’t hard to sense to sheer anger radiating from his hunched form. “I’m assuming he’s not a civilian?” She asked, tone lacking its usual joviality but no one seemed to notice.

“Oracle agent, or so we have to assume. We caught him in the middle of wiping a data-mine, so we got Saint and Fischer to take a stab at digging out whatever’s on there.” Corporal Galt replied evenly, seemingly at ease with the current situation. “All the charges up here have been set as well.”

“Good work.” The sergeant looked to the engineer duo. “I’m assuming there’s a reason we have him alive then?”

Galt nodded in the corner of her vision. “Mhm. Saint said there was a chance it could be encrypted to Oracle agents by a retinal scanner or the like.” Saint glanced up with a nod at the mention of her name.

“Or perhaps other code encryption. That’s why he’s not dead and missing body parts.” That might have been a joke from a majority of the marines she knew, but the deadpan Saint wore as she spoke made the sergeant glance back at the man just to make sure he still had everything attached.

“Right. Have either of you had any trouble then? Encryptions or otherwise?”

“A couple bio feedback killers, but we quashed those. I'm sure there's another layer, but we haven't come across it yet." Saint didn’t bother looking up from her work this time, and Sparrow turned her attention more to the captured man. Not like she actually understood most of the techno-gibberish that engineers were so fond of.

“Anything of value?”

“Junk data, largely.” Logan answered, lowering his omni-tool slightly as he watched the sergeant for a moment. He seemed aware that something was unsettling her, but if he was, the engineer didn’t mention it. “He managed to scrub most of the information about their work here. So far, everything else has been observation notes about a few local figures of importance and agents within the building.” Saint gave another nod, still intently focused on her work.

Sparrow occupied herself by examining the silent captive for a few moments, before there was a light yip of satisfaction from behind her and she met with Tia’s gaze. “Well now. Look at that. A bolt hole.” There was a brief pause before she clarified. “It looks like there’s an escape route.”

“Can these guys get anymore cliché?” The sergeant muttered, watching contently as the data was uploaded to Saint’s omni-tool, and then quickly linked to her own. Glancing at the schematics for a few brief moments, she frowned. “The security office? I knew there was something off about it…” Dismissing the display with a sigh, she looked back to the engineers. “Fischer, get back to your team, I think this mine is tapped.” He nodded and stepped out the door quickly. “We’re pretty much done…once Kakariki has the last charges set, we’re leaving. Which leaves us with you…”

The room’s attention came to focus fully on the Oracle agent, who still made no attempt to look at the surrounding marines. Before she could think properly on the man’s fate, her comm line barked sharply in her ear. “Ma’am! Ma’am! We gotta go! We gotta go!” The normally calm DeGeorge was practically yelling straight in her ear, and as she opened her mouth to ask what had gotten the corporal so riled up, the answer came in the form of the thunderous M35 155 mm shell. The building practically shook from the impact, and the marines immediately looked between each other frantically. “They’re deploying a fucking tank to cover the infantry‘s movement! The Alliance is not fucking happy with us!”

“I got that, Corporal. Keep the doors secure as long as you can, we’ve got a new escape plan.” Galt looked to her curiously, but the sergeant was already switching to the platoon wide. “Victory 3rd! Times up! Everyone get your asses to the ground floor! We’re going to make use of an Oracle escape route to get out of this shit-hole. Move!”

There was no chorus of affirmatives, just the silence of understanding that spoke of the gravity of their situation. “Sergeant?” Galt asked questioningly, earning a sharp look from her superior.

“I want your team into that hole first. Get as far down it as fast as possible and tell me what the hell is waiting on the other side.” She stepped out the room, pointing a finger at her own team. “Once we’re on the ground floor, we’re taking over for Pebbler and Eclectus. We’re the last ones out. Any objections, feel free to climb into the hole with the others.” There were no complaints, and she spared a glance back at the room, seeing the Oracle agent’s feet just beyond the door frame. “We don’t have time for him now.”

The teams began to move, Sparrow watching for a few moments before a subtle crack of a pistol broke over the battle beginning below their feet. Turning sharply, the forest green of her eyes narrowed sharply as the Oracle agent slumped over as Saint exited the room calmly with her sidearm drawn. Before the engineer could move past, the sergeant gripped her arm sharply, glaring coldly down at the shorter woman. “The fuck is wrong with you?!”

She was in the process of holstering the weapon when Sparrow caught the limb by the bicep, digging into it harshly and making her flinch. Saint’s eyes watched her visor curiously, as if she was the one behaving oddly. “You said we didn’t have time for him. He’s the enemy.”

“We don’t just execute people! We’re not some terrorist fuckshow that offs everything in its way! You…you…” She gripped her head, an echoing ring of shattering glass pounding in her head with every heavy beat of her heart. “God-dammit, go! Get the fuck moving, now!” She practically threw the limb forward, not even looking at the operative as she sucked in air angrily to calm her nerves.

“Sergeant?” Devera stepped up cautiously, placing a hand on her shoulder and nearly taking a fist to the stomach as she whipped around sharply to stare into his visor. “You alright?”

“I don’t frankly know. Let’s move.”

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

The lobby was in chaos as she descended; thick clouds of dust and shattering ceramic filling the air and choking her filters. The HUD painted the friendly units in the lobby, and she immediately raised her Mattock to pour fire on the encroaching Alliance troops. The marines turned to put fire on her, but she wasted little time sprinting across the gap between the exit of the stairs and the security desk, sliding over the counter and dropping into cover from the counter attack. “Status! NOW!”

“Amazon. We’re in the tunnel, moving as fast as we can. It’s cramped as hell, can only move single file.”

“Fucking perfect! Eclectus, Pebbler! Fall back to the security office!”

“Ma’am!” The corporals chorused, immediately rising from the battered barricades they’d crafted to lay suppressing fire with the sergeant’s fire team as the privates rose and sprinted to the ‘safety’ of their chosen escape route.

“Robin is inside, Owl is entering now.” Corporal Stevenson spoke calmly, but she wasted no breath on a reply as another 155mm shell sailed through the lobby and blasted a hole in the back wall; showering her position with chunks of crumbling ceramic and concrete. Ignoring the thick coating of dust, she rose to fire on the fresh wave of marines storming through the battered entrance.

Lares slid over the counter beside her, but popped back up immediately to trade shots with his avenger. “Eclectus’s boys are in. DeGeorge, fall back!” He shouted to the lone corporal, who nodded in compliance and started a slow steady retreat while laying covering fire.

“Pebbler! You’re up next! Go, go, go!” Sparrow demanded, watching two of the figures fall back quickly while the third hovered by the fourth. “The fuck are you doing! Move, Detts!”

“Copy that, Ma’am. Give them hell, Mar.” The Corporal fell away, leaving the one last silhouette on the barricade, propped up against it with a rifle in hand. The sergeant rose to climb over, but the swirling dust cleared for a moment and she caught sight of the bloodied stump where the private’s leg should have been. The soldier, the display told her it was Brooke Mar, flashed a vigorous thumbs up, and Sparrow could only stare before forcing herself to throw one back to the young girl.

The Alliance marines seemed aware of the abandoned cover, quickly moving through the swirls of dust to utilize it for themselves, only to quickly find themselves staring down an avenger in a very open area. The private fired widely into the group, accuracy understandably shit with her injuries, but when the enemy was bunched, it wasn’t necessary. Sparrow suppressed on the opposite flank, motioning sharply with her finger for Devera to take Eclectus’s abandoned cover as another tank round blew another sizeable hole in the building. “They’re gonna bring it down on us at this rate!”

“Should have saved the bombs!” Mar replied groggily, tossing her avenger aside and drawing her predator up to pump a few rounds at the marines trying to clip the barely visible soldier. “They’ll bring it down for us!” The team shared a look, hearing the fear that was lurking underneath her voice, but no one made mention.

“That’s awfully kind of them, isn’t it?” Pinnick replied, still positioned within the stairwell as she pumped a few rounds from her Mattock.

“Very kind. I might…” The private trailed off, sliding down into the mangled barricade as the pistol clattered to the ground. “…just have to pay them back.” The words were laboured, as she tugged at her belt and pulled it closer to her head. “One good turn…”

Mar’s voice hitched, sounding more like a pained sob than any attempt to speak. Sparrow straightened out of cover, firing with a furious roar at the marines rushing towards the private. “You’ve done enough, Brooke.” Her heat-sink hissed in overheat, and the Alliance team swarmed the battered barricade. The helmet turned towards her, before the belt came alive. There was only a split second as the first marine peered over the ledge to see the belt tight against their cover. The sergeant raised a hand in salute.

Brooke’s smile carried in her words. “Thanks.” The lobby shook as the grenades detonated in unison, blowing the barricade to chunks and shredding the marines in a hail of shrapnel. Lares pulled Sparrow down to avoid the brunt of the blast, and she sat quietly beneath the counter for several moments.

“Status?” She spoke softly, and Feldmann replied just as lightly.

“We’re all in. Come on.” Pulling up her omni-tool, she looked down at the master control she’d been granted for the explosives. Her hand lingered above the switch, before swallowing sharply. Pressing the switch, a countdown quickly appeared in her HUD, and her team likely saw it too.

“Let’s get going.” Hopping the counter, she fired a few staccato bursts as Lares and Pinnick moved into the hallway leading to the security office. Devera fell back slowly, laying down suppressing with his avenger. There was a furious rev of the engine, and Sparrow looked sharply to the doorway as the Mako barrelled up the steps, apparently done with patiently shelling them and intending to bring itself to the forefront. “Move!”

Lares dropped into the hatch first, sliding down the ladder as fast as the bulk of his armour would allow. Pinnick was practically stomping on him as she began to climb inside, trying to make space for Devera and Sparrow as the Mako rolled to a stop at the end of the hallway. The cannon swivelled as the pair rushed through the doorway, Devera swinging around to slam it shut just as the echoing boom of the cannon crashed against their ears.

The door splintered apart, and the next thing she knew, Sparrow was sprawled on the ground beside the escape hatch with her head ringing furiously in her ears and Pinnick yelling up the chute at her. “Sparrow! Get inside!”

She rolled over, pushing herself forward for a second before feeling the soft wet squish beneath her gloves and her eyes noticed the faint mist of red dancing in the air in front of her eyes. The countdown timer blinked in warning, but she glanced about the room slowly. The red was everywhere. She could feel bits of moisture escaping her dust clogged filters, but as she took one final stock, Pinnick screamed up at her. “Get inside and shut the fucking hatch!”

The sergeant nodded to nothing, fumbling down into the hatch and pulling the top shut. She descended a few rungs before the world began to shake and the sound of collapsing steel and rending metal filled the air. The intensity, so close by shook her violently and she lost her grip on the ladder, skidding down several rungs before catching one around her elbow. Staring dully down the shaft of barely lit darkness, she saw Pinnick’s visor staring up though black with the lights on opposite sides of her head.

Neither said anything until the sergeant had disentangled herself from the ladder and finished her descent. At the bottom, Sparrow sat for a long moment, just breathing while Pinnick watched quietly. Lares stood alone further down the hall, the occasional nodding of his head indicating he was likely speaking with the platoon. “Sparrow?” Pinnick broke the silence as she knelt in front of the SO, placing a hand lightly on her shoulder. “I’m…I…”

“What are you on abou…where the hell is Dever-” Her eyes widened, immediately raising her arm up towards her visor and into the light from the helmet. The sickly red liquid clung to the back of her hand and arm, sharpening her breath into painful gasps. Her stomach churned in a fit of tumbling emotions, slamming the hand roughly against the wall as her heartbeat began to hammer in her ears. Hand coiling into a fist, she slammed it on the wall, forcing herself to release a long rolling breath as she forced the anger to the forefront of the emotional blur.

“Sparrow?” Pinnick asked cautiously, stepping back as the sergeant rose to her feet.

“Let’s get moving.” She intoned; voice even and firm, but beneath the control her blood burned, molten and scorching her veins. The marine stared back for a moment, eventually nodding and hurrying after Lares who waved them forward before moving further into the cramped passage way. Sparrow’s steps were heavy, never leaving their backs as her shoulders chafed on the constricting walls of their escape route. “Overwatch, this is Sergeant Oberacker, do you copy?” She asked into the static filled communication channel, but there was no reply through the white noise. “Great…probably too deep.”

Glancing to the low ceiling above her head, she shook her head before quickening her pace to catch up to her remaining fire team. They travelled in silence for a few minutes, before reaching the slightly wider chamber housing the ladder up to the surface. “Inconspicuous, huh?” Lares muttered, slinging his rifle and starting up the ladder.

“Maybe it’ll come out in a phone booth.” Pinnick offered, gaze lingering on their silent leader for a second before following her comrade up the ladder. Sparrow reached up once she was a good ways up it, glancing back down the hallway.

“Feldmann, how are things up there?” There was less static as she began to climb, and eventually the Corporal’s voice became clear.

“We’re going to need to hit the ground running.” He replied, sounding slightly out of breath and more irritated by the second. “The streets are far too abandoned for this time of day, and I’ve seen Kodiaks ducking behind buildings nearby. They’re going to swarm us.”

“Cause that’s what we need.”

“What we need is an extraction point.”

“I’m working on it.” She shot back, hauling herself out of the hatch into a dimly lit room, unfurnished and looking like it hadn’t seen something alive in a few months. Light poured in from a small staircase to her right, and she took it two at a time to emerge into an alley of little description. The majority of the platoon was scattered throughout the space, watching cautiously for any approaching hostiles. It wouldn’t hide this many marines for long.

With that in mind, she tried again. “Overwatch, this is Sergeant Oberacker, do you copy?” There was a beat of silence, and she was about to speak again when Invaru’s voice sounded in her ear, neutral and professional as always.

“This is Overwatch, update.”

Silently breathing thanks, Sparrow looked out the alleyway towards the streets beyond. “We’ve destroyed the target, but the Alliance had encircled the building. An Oracle escape route provided an out, but the primary extraction isn’t going to work. Requesting an updated extraction point.”

"One moment." The Operative’s voice was completely calm, almost to the point that it had the opposite effect on her own nerves. There was a light thrum beginning to fill the air, but she shook her head as Invaru continued. "There is a lot that has been cleared for construction a few blocks away, past an open market and more corporate buildings. Alley ways and the bazaar should provide limited cover from Alliance armour and air. Note, we are sending Kodiaks to await you but will remain a few clicks away from the evac point until you reach it so as to limit fire from Alliance forces. How copy?"

“Solid copy, Overwatch.” The new evac point blinked up on her HUD, syncing with the platoon’s displays and painting the point for them. She motioned in the direction as she readied her mattock. “Overwatch, I’m-” The thrum grew into the roar of an engine, and Sparrow’s eyes snapped wide at the familiarity of the sound. “Gunship! Move!”

An A-91 swept in low over the alleyway, turret on the underside of its nose spraying the narrow space indiscriminately. Several rounds glanced off her shields, but she instinctively shielded her face for a moment before forcing herself forward several steps. The gunship swept high through the buildings, likely to bank around for a proper strike. “Get going now! Fuck formation, just go! Stick to cover!”

No one needed additional prompting, and the platoon barrelled out of the alleyway in a stampede as the air began to fill with that heavy thrum once more. In her ear, she heard Invaru, still unflappably calm, “Ground team, status?” and she bit her lip as she thundered out of the alleyway after her soldiers.

“Alliance A-91, Overwatch!” She made sure to avoid yelling it to her superior, even if everything in her right now was saying yelling was the best possible thing, preferably accompanied by swears. Numerous Kodiak shuttles swept overhead, bay doors opening and the occupants peppering fire on the marines. “And now the marines are swooping in!”

“Can you hold?”

It only took her a brief second to consider a response; sliding roughly on a leg behind an idle sky car as the gunship loomed back out of the skyline with its sights firmly set on her pitiful little block of metal. “This isn’t even mine, dude!” The gunship cared little for whoever the unfortunate bastard who owned the car was; firing a salvo from its machine gun as it began to sweep along the street. They lacked any heavy munitions, and she wasn’t the type to try and bring down a gunship with only determination and an assault rifle. “Negative on that. We’re not even going to try. We’re moving to the evac point now.”

There was a rumbling down the road from whence they’d come, and it was only with dread that Sparrow turned her head from the gunship to find exactly what she feared looming further down the street. “Another goddamn Mako?! We already crushed one!”

There was a long pause on the comm, but there wasn’t time to question what had gotten a hold of the Operative’s tongue. “Alleyway! Keep moving!” The marines looked at her in surprise, what with the gunship still laying down suppressing fire on their meagre cover, but they listened, vaulting their cover and swerving into the first alleyway available to them.

It was a point of pride that they maintained proper tactics, fire teams leapfrogging in tandem while others diverted the attention of their attackers by trading a few shots with the Kodiaks and gunship. It wasn’t the quickest thing though, and the Mako wasn’t slowing down, so she stepped out from behind her thoroughly mangled cover. “Sup asshole?!” The Mattock barked a few shots, and the turret swivelled towards the sergeant with lethal intention. “Just swimming in good decisions today, huh, Sparrow?”

Diving to the side, the 155mm round raced past with a hissing wail; detonating a few feet behind her and tossing her several more feet ass over head and covering her armour in even more dust. Clawing forward, she scrambled for the alleyway as the coaxial LMG peppered the street around her. “Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck-” Another shell raced past, deafening her ears with the proximity as she swerved sharply into the alleyway.

"Continue with the route provided, I will re-route resources towards you. Overwatch out." Invaru spoke softly, but that was likely just the fact that her ears were still ringing. The platoon was mostly at the other end, and her stride quickly ate the ground between them as the first team stepped into the street beyond. No sooner than the first one was exposed, the air filled with gunfire and thick plumes of shattering concrete erupted around their feet. One of the marines barely had time to react, dozens of rounds shredding their armour as the others in the team dived backwards to avoid the burst.

No sooner had the body hit the ground did the Gunship bank in low at the end of the alleyway, floodlights blinding the immediate marines as it’s gun readied another burst. Sparrow pressed herself behind a dumpster, as the teams scrambled for makeshift cover, but the roaring engine rising over the gunfire told her they’d soon be pincered between two vehicles they lacked the means to defeat. “Engineers! Burn it!”

There was a shared pause, before each of the engineers leaned out from their hiding places and fired off an incinerate blast. Positioned as it was, it couldn’t react quickly to the attack, and took the majority of the blasts straight on. Typically designed for anti-infantry, an incinerate blast wasn’t going to bring down a gunship, but as the canopy went up in a blaze, the pilot wasn’t going to be shooting straight.

The A-91 banked out of their way, in the nick of time as the Mako rolled to a stop at the opposite end and brought its cannon to bear. The first blast clipped one of the buildings, showering the marines in debris but obscuring the alleyway somewhat. There was no need to prompt them, all the teams already dashing out into the street beyond as the Mako carved the alley apart with its machine gun. Sparrow flicked her eyes to the HUD, noting the distance to the evac point and wondering where the hell those ‘resources’ were.

Sliding across the hood of another sky car, she traded shots with a circling pair of Kodiaks, winging the shields of the occupants but never managing to do more than that. One of the shuttles banked low, catching another team off guard and shattering the visor of one of the marines who crumpled backwards. One of the nearby marines flung a grenade into the open cabin, which detonated with a satisfying boom that sent the shuttle corkscrewing for a moment, before it righted itself and swept off into the sky, doors closing on the likely shredded occupants.

They swept through another alleyway to dodge the Mako as it weaved onto the street, and the market came into view just up the road. “Triple time it! Into the market!” She barked, turning the platoon’s attention forward. Some of the privates lagged slightly, the weight of their armour and frantic pace no doubt exhausting them but they didn’t fall completely behind. As the first teams burst into the abandoned market, Sparrow skidded to a stop at the entrance way and waved them forward. “Come on, come on!”

The A-91 swept in through the skyline, like a bird of prey as its missile pods opened and primed their payloads. The sergeant looked to the sky, gritting her teeth and urging the privates to run faster. After a moment, the missiles fired, and the street erupted into plumes of fire as the warheads detonated. She almost ran into the strike herself, but Lares caught her shoulder and pulled her back into the relative safety of the small, roofed hall leading into the market.

As soon as the blasts subsided, she pushed past the man off, darting out into the street and catching glimpse of what was left of those who hadn’t made it inside. She stared blankly for a long moment, unwilling to pull her eyes away from the mangled chunks that were supposed to have been her soldiers.

Before she could turn back, one of the bodies moved, and Sparrow quickly crossed the distance to find a lone private pinned underneath another, likely having shielded them from the worst of the blast. A jagged shard of metal jutted out of a large scar in the assault amour, but she knew better than to pull it out. It’d block the bleeding somewhat. “Lares! Give me a hand!”

The specialist complied instantly, moving to the injured man’s side and helping her haul him up to his feet whilst slinging his arm over his shoulder. “We’re going to have to carry him to the evac point, Sparrow.” He cautioned over a private channel, not opposing the idea, simply feeling it needed to be said.

“I’ll haul him myself if I need to.” They entered the market proper, and she frowned when she noticed the majority of the platoon hunkered down near the opposite entrance. “The hell are we waiting for?!”

Pinnick, positioned on one of the entering tunnels, looked to her sharply. “They dropped marines on the far side! The tunnels are a funnel, Ma’am!” As if to prove her point, a barrage of gunfire sliced the tunnel apart, as if a warning shot. “We’re not getting out this way without some heavy causalities!”

“Then fuck, we’ll go back around!”

“Down!” Lares shoved roughly on the private, dumping the soldier in Sparrow’s arms as he shoved the three of them clear of the tunnel they’d just entered. He spun around on his knee, dropping an Alliance marine that had scouted ahead, before bouncing a grenade expertly off the wall and further into the passage, which was met by shouts. It detonated a few seconds later, but it seemed it had done little more than clear the entryway. “They’re blocking this way too.” He muttered grimly, as Eclectus, Pebbler and Robin switched over from the opposite position to help lock it down.

Sparrow, still clutching the injured marine, looked quickly around the market, eyes searching for another way out but finding nothing. After a moment, she swallowed heavily. “Everyone…lock it down and dig in your heels. Salazar, get over here, I’ve got injured.” She hauled the man several feet to the small administrative building that sat in the center of the market, smashing the window with a quick shot and dragging him inside. The medic joined her moments later, and Sparrow relinquished the injured man before climbing up to the second floor.

It wasn’t a tall structure, only just rising above the enclosing “ring” of shops that had become the walls of their little fortress prison. The second floor was ideal for watching the market below, numerous bay windows that afforded an optimal view of all goings on while obscuring the occupant behind slightly tinted glass. It provided the vantage she needed to manage their perimeter properly.

First things first. “Amazon; break off and search the shops. Barricade any entrances you find, and radio back if you get hit with too heavy a breach. Kakariki, Robin; Rip down these stalls, throw up some makeshift barricades. Everyone, keep a close eye on your heat sinks. Manage them and make every shot count. I doubt we’re just going to find a box lying around.” Her initial instructions delivered, the sergeant switched the channel and took a calming breath before speaking.

“Overwatch, this is Sergeant Oberacker. Secondary evac point is a no go; the Alliance has encircled us in the market. We have multiple wounded and we need extraction, how copy?”

“Good copy, standby.”

Standby? Standby. She wanted them to standby?! Sparrow resisted the urge to scream something, moving close to the windows to see below her when she heard the blaring hum of engines. A shower of rounds pelted the marines entrenching themselves in the market, and as it banked around, she saw the flame scarred canopy of that damn gunship once more. “You don’t know when to fucking quit, do you?!”

“Man down!” Feldmann barked, and she bit her lip hard enough to draw blood. The bitter-sweet taste of iron filled her senses, and Sparrow slammed a fist against the window futility. There were too many avenues of attack here. Sure they had choke points, but they didn’t have the ammunition, or the manpower or the equipment to hold off everything the Alliance could bring to bear. How long until they brought in mortars? Or breached the buildings to allow armour to enter?

“Pollard!” She barked, hearing a slightly startled noise from the private in question. “Get up here; I have a job for your eyes.” She saw him pull away from his position, questioningly glancing up at the windows that hid her from view but obeying. The sergeant turned back towards the stairs, greeting him with a sharp wave even as the gunship did another strafe past, thankfully not claiming anymore of her marines.

“What do you need, Ma’am?”

She motioned to the gunship that was winding up for another pass. “I need you to keep your eyes on that gunship as much as possible, and whenever it’s about to make a pass, you warn everyone on the platoon wide. If we can keep our heads down, it shouldn’t do much more damage. Got it?”

He nodded sharply, stepping past her to keep tabs on the gunship as it readied its avenue of approach. She opened her mouth to speak, but Operative Invaru spoke, and the colour began to drain from her face. “Ground team this is Overwatch. We are attempting to send you reinforcements, but as of the moment you are on your own. If you can get to a secure location, the Kodiaks are still on standby just outside the city limits.”

Sparrow was still; body slackening as she blinked repeatedly; mouth working around half formed words before finally spitting incredulously. “On our own?! I’ve got an army worth of marines and hardware shooting at us, and we should try and get to a secure location?! This is as secure as it gets right now! I need something, anything, right the hell NOW!”

"Sergeant...The closest available unit I have is the Commander and his team, who are not outfitted with enough heavy ordnance to take on the Alliance Army. If they were to jump down, it would be the Commander at risk. Aside from that, all other marine teams are positioned around the system and assigned to their duties; the Kodiaks are already waiting for you. The only other option would be to use the MAC cannon from the Cruiser..."

There was a long pause, and Sparrow looked down quietly to the floor as her hand tightened around the grip of her gun. Outside the glass, the battle waged, marines trading fire as best they could as the Alliance continued to push and try to break the defensive line. She wanted to yell, swear, curse and rant. She wanted to sit down and just wait. Watching the private moving frantically in the corner of her eye, Sparrow found the clarity, however brief, to speak.

“…No, Ma’am. That isn’t an option. I apologize for my outburst.” She glanced to her rifle, dangling loose in her grip. “Thank you for trying, Ma’am. I’ll see what I can do. Sergeant Oberacker out.” The line went dead, and she stood still in the room as the combat raged. Nothing was coming. This was it.

“Coming for a pass, down!” Roger shouted as the Gunship swept past, hurrying across the room when he noticed the stillness possessing her. The private glanced about for a moment, before crossing a few steps towards her, calling softly. “…Sergeant?” She twitched at his voice, looking to him quickly. “Is…everything alright, ma’am?”

They simply stared at each other, as if the visors weren’t there, as if she was just looking right at his eyes. Weren’t they jade? A bright jade, always had a shine to them, even when he seemed upset. In the faint reflection of her helmet, she could see her own, and they looked dull. Accepting. “Yeah.” She breathed, lying through her teeth and forcing a fake smile that he couldn’t see but it assured him all the same. “Focus on that gunship, Roger.”

The young man tilted his head at the use of his name, but quickly fell back to his task as Sparrow looked out through the glass. Howling screams echoed in the sky, signalling mortars that soon smashed into the market; throwing fire and steel through the air. Shapes began to stir over the buildings, and she raised her rifle as the first drone began to rise above the rooftop. “Keep calm.” She spoke softly, but he heard her all the same, pausing mid-stride to look at her before she opened fire.

Adrenaline implants kicking into full gear, Sparrow could watch in perfectly clarity as her round sent cracks arcing and weaving from the impact into a chaotic spider’s web. As she fired the second, the window splintered, shards of glass refracting the light and shining as they fell. Her third would fire as the first found its mark in the rising machine, followed closely by its successors and making the poorly armoured drone drop back from whence it had come.

It was only one, though, and the rest of wing rose unphased by the destruction of the first. Her eyes swept the assorted barrels as she fired more rounds into the formation, and was both frustrated and relieved to find nothing but the standard assault build. As a second drone corkscrewed into the roof from it‘s damage, the wing split into smaller groups, sweeping out and down into the market as she stepped to the edge to continue firing. “Drones!” She boomed loudly, and several marines reacted to the invading presence.

The drones weaved through the remaining stalls with surprising grace, firing staccato bursts to hinder the marine’s shields but finding little in the way of physical damage to the actual armour of their prey. She looked up to the roofs again as more wings began to appear, knowing full well the danger of drones lay in their numbers, not their ability.

One of the wings set its sights squarely on her, exposed as she was in the broken window and fired a synchronized burst. Her shields flared and failed, but she barely reacted, trading shot for shot as the barrage shattered against her assault armour. Her shoulder jerked roughly as the ceramic plating guarding her left pectoral shattered, and she was in the process of righting her weapon to fire again when a hand roughly gripped her shoulder and pulled her back from the lip several steps.

Two of the surviving drones swept in to finish their work, but met their ends at the quick shots that pierced the ‘head’ of the machines. Roger released a breath as he holstered his Predator, letting go of her shoulder when she gave a sharp tug on the limb in question. The mangled plate immediately caught his gaze, but to his credit the private didn’t point it out. “Be more careful, Ma’am.” He spoke quietly, unsure of himself in ‘chastising’ a superior.

“Why-” The words died in her mouth as a deafening blast filled the marketplace, and their heads snapped in unison to the crumbling walls that marked the blast-site. She moved forward to ‘see’ the damage, but it was for little more than her own personal confirmation. The drones were keeping the marines occupied, and now a new, large doorway had been made straight into the heart of their defence. She couldn’t summon the will to curse.

Roger hovered behind her, clutching his Viper tightly as his eyes flicked to her still back. “What should we do, Ma’am?” She gave no response, watching as teams moved from the other points towards the new gap, firing into the hole without needing any further prompting. “Ma’am?”

She could see how this was going to go. It didn’t take a master of strategy. The Alliance would continue breaching, creating new entrances and spreading them thin while drones thinned out their ammo count. There was no hope of breaching the encirclement at this point, and there was no help coming. Eventually, a point would break. And then it would be over.

How do you keep fighting when it’s only to prolong the inevitable? God, she just wanted to sit down and wait for the bastards to rush in. Was that too much? Her muscles ached and she felt every beat of her heart crisp and painful in her chest. She loved to fight, but now…it felt so pointless. She couldn’t save the platoon. She didn’t have the resources. The knowledge. The drive.

“Sparrow?”

Opening her mouth to speak, Sparrow looked to Roger. She froze mid-turn; her heart leaping into her throat and choking any words that intended to come. The damning hum of the gunship filled the blackening sky, as it swept down into view with its barrel aimed at their exposed bodies. They had no cover. It would hit him first.

The drive wasn’t so hard to find, it seemed. She swept forward, discarding her mattock as her arms snapped up around the private’s body to lock around his torso. There was no time for delicacy, pitching the younger soldier sideways as she threw her body weight with him. They landed in a heap as the gunship opened fire, but the sergeant raised her arms to shield his helmet as the gun caught up to them.

Those few seconds passed so slowly, their shields bleeding together to deflect some of the damage but inevitably buckling under the onslaught. She made no attempt to move, or uncover the private to protect herself more. Shaking with every hit, she kept her visor pressed tight to his, so close that the tint did little to obscure their faces and she could see the panic filling his eyes. Was this the inevitable part? A living shield to a comrade, to a friend, to a...whatever the hell this private was supposed to mean to her that she was willingly putting herself between him and a machine gun?

Maybe it wasn’t such a bad way to go. Maybe it was a good way to go. She still didn’t want to go.

The gunfire stopped. Seconds later, a blast of heat washed over them followed by a thunderous crash of rent metal. For a moment, she waited, expecting the gunship to resume firing and finish what it started. When nothing came, she straightened from her protective coil and looked out the ravaged windows to see no sign of the A-91. “What..?”

Blinding beams of light surged down from the sky, and the air reeked of burning ozone as the lights swept in great arcs around the walls. She tried to rise to her feet, wincing as she felt the warm trickle of blood down her side. Sparrow clutched her injury tightly, slightly surprised when her free arm was tugged over Pollard’s shoulder and he hoisted her up to her feet. Helping the sergeant across the room, the pair reached the lip in time to hear an unfamiliar but commanding voice fill the platoon-wide channel.

“This is Lieutenant Commander Sinoff of the Deliverance. I am assuming control of this conflict. Commence your extraction immediately, Victory 3rd. This is out of your hands now.” She stared in stunned silence at the frigate now hovering over their position; its GARDIAN lasers carving swathes through the suddenly outgunned Alliance forces. She nodded slowly, pulling her limb from Roger’s shoulder and straightening out as best she could.

“This is Sergeant Oberacker of the Victory 3rd.” She paused, staring at the sleek black ship for a moment longer before looking down at the marines below. “…thank you, Deliverance. You really pulled our ass out of the fire.”

“Speak thanks to your superiors, Sergeant. I would not be assisting if not for them.” The line went dead, and she nodded dully, already in the process of switching channels. In the corner of her eye, she saw Roger hurry down the stairs, but paid little mind to his departure as the connection stabilized.

“Overwatch, this is Sergeant Oberacker…the Deliverance is holding position above our own and is holding the Alliance forces at bay. I am requesting extraction, how copy?” There was a beat of silence, likely the Operative checking for a proper confirmation before she replied.

"Acknowledged, ground team, Kodiaks are en route to your location. Overwatch out." If she didn’t know any better, she might have thought that Invaru had sounded relieved. The sergeant stepped towards the stairs, only to be met in a rush by Salazar with Roger a few steps behind. So that’s where he had been going. The medic shot her a look, something between incredulous and appreciative, but neither had the desire to go into that at the moment.

After a brief once over, Salazar ushered her downstairs and forced her into a seat before digging into her med-kit. Her squish skin must have rent rather badly for the medic to actually need to do some field work, but as she felt the disinfectant sting at gashes along her back she hadn’t been aware she had, Sparrow dully resigned herself to the treatment. A few other marines lay nearby, sporting long gashes and cracks to the ablative plating of their assault armour. Each looked like they’d been through hell. It wouldn’t be far off the mark for today.

There was a beep in her ear, and she tapped her comm unit quickly. “Sergeant Oberacker, go ahead.”

“Sergeant, this is Flight Lieutenant Stephen Medwin. We’re en-route to your location; do you have a preferred LZ?” She looked dryly up to the frigate still looming over their heads like a vigilant guardian.

“Park it near the big warship. You can‘t miss it.”

“Copy that, Sergeant. See you in a few. Medwin out.” Dropping her hand back to her side, Sparrow released a long side as Salazar finished the last touches on her injuries and excused herself to another room. The sergeant stared quietly at the ground, slowly beginning to look through the operation in her mind.

She felt none of her usual accomplishment, none of the post mission celebration. Raising a dust stained hand, her eyes picked the small flicks of red still clinging to the normally white polished plating. Maybe this wasn’t supposed to feel like an actual victory, not with the way it went, not with what it cost. She didn’t want to think about it, really, not right now. She was alive. They were alive, and that should be enough.

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