… Screw the disclaimer, I'm moving on to the story.
Chapter 6: A Narrow Escape
Spade awakened being dragged through the undergrowth of the jungle. Mosquitoes buzzed around his head, but when he stuck his hand up to swat at them, his energy shield glowed yellow. Bullets, duh.
'Brilliant job Spade, you managed to wreck in a deserted jungle and get knocked out through the best set of armor that government tax money can buy. Now…'
Spade looked up at the arms which held him roughly by the shoulders. One gauntlet was cyan, the other black. 'Weird colors for MJOLNIR...' Spade thought to himself as he looked around farther. The wreckage of the Pelican was swallowed by the jungle. Muzzle flashes were all around. Succumbing to his exhaustion, Spade lapsed into unconsciousness again.
He reawakened a few hours later in a crude encampment, namely several felled trees assembled into a lean-to and a small, smoke-less fire. His helmet was off, and fresh air flooded his lungs. The humidity struck him immediately; even in late evening the humidity was unrelenting. Stubbornly, the SPARTAN pushed himself into a sitting position and leaned against the lean-to.
Footsteps crunched nearby. Groping for a firearm, Spade found a gun with an articulated barrel and shouldered it, looking down the grey barrel, along the finger-like silencer, held his breath and squeezed the crook where the gun bent- nothing fired.
"… Ouch." Spade turned his head and looked down the stock of the "articulated gun" to find he had attempted to use Tex's arm as a gun. Suddenly nervous about his safety, Spade put Tex's still-attached arm on the ground where it was before. The crashing undergrowth revealed Sarge, dragging what looked like a massive cat. Behind him was a triumphant looking Grif, and further behind was Simmons.
"Brought you ladies a present." Sarge said, putting the cat down on a bed of palm fronds. From somewhere across the camp, Church turned and asked the Reds, "What the hell is that thing?"
"It's one o'them rare South African Spotless Leopards." Sarge said triumphantly. Grif slapped his forehead. "My God, Sarge, how many times to I have to tell you it's a puma?"
"I told you to stop making up animals when we were at Blood Gulch, bait boy!"
"Bait boy?" Grif said, half curious and half nervous.
"That's right. After today's little hunting venture, I saw how this spotless leopard took after you from the undergrowth and decided to give you a promotion!"
"Actually, Sarge," Donut said from another place in the camp, barely visible because of his pink LEDs, "Grif is right. It is a puma."
"What the hell?" Sarge whined.
"Yeah." Spade said from the lean-to he was currently sitting under. "P. concolor, a member of the Felidae family, native to Central and Southern America, and the west coast of North America. Normally referred to as a 'cougar'. You're of a southern American persuasion, Sarge, you've probably seen one whether you want to admit it or not."
"Just shut up and get ready fer dinner." Sarge growled. Not tempted to argue, Spade waited for the puma to cook over the fire. It would be several hours until it did, so he decided to take his sweet time.
He ended up drifting off after about an hour.
After a good few hours of sleep, 154 woke up energized and ready to eat. Lo and behold, when he woke up the puma was ready to consume.
"It's about time," Simmons said. "We thought you'd never wake up on your own."
"What do you mean?" 154 asked, standing up slowly.
"What I mean is that you've been out for a good ten hours. We left some meat for you, but Sarge thinks it's time to be moving on."
"Why? Think we've been in one place too long and whatever was after us at the Pelican wreck is getting closer?"
"No, Grif's still asleep and if we leave fast enough we can ditch him here."
"Too late." Grif chimed in from his lean-to. The orange SPARTAN rolled off of the crude grass pad he was laying on and slowly moved into a crouch. "So, where are we headed?" He chimed in.
"My guess is about a six mile hike through the woods to the nearest clearing. I'll put up an emergency beacon and ping one of our frigates." Spade grimaced. "And then we wait."
Grif groaned aloud, turning over in his sleep. "Great, more walking."
Within two hours, the camp had been cleared and everyone was on the move away from the area, hoping they wouldn't be spotted by some hidden scout- with the Covenant Remnants still swarming through the jungle, combined with what were probably O'Malley's sentries, anything was possible.
So, crouched low to the ground and sprinting as fast as his legs would carry him, Spade crashed through the undergrowth, having abandoned any semblance of stealth or camouflage in exchange for every last ounce of speed he could coax out of his body, with the Reds and Blues hot on his heels. Not once did they bother to look back, until the twilight hours when brilliant spires of orange and gold were cast across the purple night-time sky gave way to unforgiving black sky.
The assorted soldiers arrived in a clearing barely large enough to accommodate a Pelican, with waist-high grass and bamboo ringing a large clearing where the grass was pushed down by some unseen force. Spade held up his hand and took a small silver ball from one of the pouches on his equipment belt and tossed it into the center of the clearing where it emitted a single, high-pitched whine which held for a good thirty seconds before the jungle was quiet again.
"What was that?" Grif whispered harshly, but Sarge pushed his head back and forced Grif onto his rear before crouching at the edge of the clearing.
Spade sighed. "I really wish you'd stop doing that, Sergeant. Regardless… That was the signal beacon. The nearest frigate, Guardian of Twilight, is a good hour away from the area, and all the other Pelicans are out. We'll have a Pelican here before sunrise."
"Great," Grif sighed as he laid back on the ground. "Someone wake me up when the ship lands." Immediately after Grif said 'lands', a rocket whizzed overhead and landed in the middle of the clearing. Spade dove back out of instinct even though he was well out of range of the rocket.
"What the hell was that?" Spade looked up to see a set of blinking red lights just above the tree-line.
"Shit, Hornet! Everyone get your heads down, now!" Spade shouted as a long burst of 7.62mm rounds plowed the ground in front of the group.
"Everyone turn off the LEDs on your armor and head back away from the clearing, I'll handle it." Spade ran into the clearing, firing his BR as the Reds and Blues… Didn't move an inch.
Spade opened fire on the Hornet, which descended as if accepting the challenge. Spade leapt forward as the Hornet opened fire, raking the center of the clearing with its chainguns as the surprisingly agile SPARTAN leapt forward and latched onto one of the landing skids. Spade pulled himself up onto the skid as the Hornet began shake-off maneuvers, attempting to throw the SPARTAN off before he could get a grip anywhere on the fuselage. Spade withdrew his Battle Rifle from his back and fired a few shots one-handed into the craft's exhaust, watching as the magazine's few incendiary rounds forced the left engine to explode, sending the Hornet into a desperate spiral over the jungle. Spade, keeping one desperate eye on the clearing as the aircraft moved further and further away from it, finally timed his jump and hurled himself bodily away from the stricken vessel before landing, face down, in the middle of the clearing- and on top of the shattered beacon.
"SPARTAN-154, we have lost your beacon's signal. What happened?" A voice (presumably the Pelican pilot) filled 154's helmet as his head spun drunkenly about.
Spade shook his head as he slowly moved into a sitting position and shook his head. "We were attacked by an unmarked Hornet which took out the beacon… Can you triangulate my position using the signal from my armor?" Seeing a few rainbow-colored heads peek up from the undergrowth, Spade signaled them over.
There was a moment's pause before the Pelican radioed, "Affirmative, we have your signal. On our way now."
Spade sighed. The surprisingly long mission had taken its toll on him, and it was time for a nap.