Chapter I: Blown Away

March 13, 2542 (UNSC Calendar)/

Aztlan, Eta Cassopie System

I stepped over a large tree that only moments ago had been standing. The air all around me was sizzling with the plasma shots, the temperature display in my HUD had gone some two and a half degrees Celsius in the last minute and a half. The exploding needler shards weren't exactly helping, with flora raining on me from every imaginable direction.

You could say I was in a very uncomfortable situation, and truth be told, I actually was in a less than desirable place. It wasn't really that bad though, just keep running in front of that Irish rookie and I'd be fine in the time it took me to run three kilometers.

I started noticing that this might actually be a really bad situation the moment that five of my squad's vitals went black in less than ten seconds. I turned my head just in time to see the Irish kid stop and turn to fire a sustained burst from his rifle. He was cut down within seconds, he actually managed to get cut down by a sword weilding elite. Probably not the most glamorous or heroic way to go, but still a pretty painless one.

Idiot, I thought.

"You got that right," my comm crackled. The statement was accompanied by a chuckle. apparently I had been thinking out loud.

The man in question, the only remaining member of Titan squadron was in fact my oldest friend. Not because I had met him particularly long ago, but because he had managed to survive for the longest.

I didn't bother answering him. I kept running as fast as I could while tossing my flashbang supply at carefully timed intervals.

Two minutes later I finally emerged from the dense tropical jungle of Aztlan. In front of me was a two-hundred-meter stretch of land that was devoid of anything other than dirt, craters and corpses. Just over the two-hundred-meter mark there was probably the most imposing looking trench to have ever been built in the world. In this world at least.

I stopped for a fraction of a second to make sure that my friend was still with me. A black blur against the bright greens, purples and yellows of the rainforest I resumed my dead man's sprint. I hadn't gone more than one step when the whole air in front of me exploded.

Technically speaking it was only the oxigen in the air that exploded, but when a large area in front of you explodes, you can't really worry about the technicalities. I dropped to the floor and happened to land in a very muddy crater that was halfway filled with water, there were also a couple pints of blood there, but I chose not to think about it at the moment. Hell, it still creeps me out when I think about that redder-than-normal water.

I stayed in that crater for about fifteen secondsbefore I realized that the air I was breathing tasted somewhat stale and a bit boring for the colorful atmosphere of Aztlan. The explosion had burnt all the breathable air that was remotely near me, so I would be breathing that boring air for at least fifteen more minutes. I was lucky that I was an ODST, my helmet had a small supply of oxigen in case of emergencies.

I finally dared to raise my head above the rim of my comfy-yet-creepy crater. The first thing I saw was that the tranchline in front of me had been reduced to molten glass. I turned around and noticed that the jungle a couple of meters venid me wagreatly reduced in density. Covies don't usually miss when they perform orbital bombardments in support of their ground troops, but this time thay managed to both eliminate the army chasing me and the army waiting for me without actualy managing to land a single first-degree burn on me. Well, truth be told, I'd probably get some nasty blisters in the back of my neck, but I was feeling quite triumphant right now.

I stood up and managed to lift my rifle up to my shoulder while I looked around.

"Always a showoff aren't you?" said Pavel Klaus, my oldest friend for the past three years and it looked like he would still hold that honorable position for a little longer, even if little longer meant forty-five more seconds.

I looked behind me and broke off my pose to shoot a stumbling elite that was missing it's right arm up to its shoulder. It went down with a single round.

"You wish you could look as good as I do right now Pavel."

He chuckled and gestured at his semi-wrecked armor.

"You got that right," he retorted. With a heavy dose of sarcasm in his voice.

I chuckled and simply started trotting towards the wreckage of my front line. I stepped carefully on the patches of molten glass that didn't shine bright red. I crossed the fifty-meter-thick strip of molten glass and then another hundred meters before stopping on a tree stump that was actually quite comfortable for a tree that had been blown to splinters. I crossed my leg over my knee and pulled out my combat knife. I scraped off the already-cooling glass of my boots and waited for Pavel to do the same. We kept walking without a sound for a while longer in silence.

"How much longer?" my impatient partner asked.

"Check your goddamend HUD!"

"Well, since I asked you it probably means that I'm too goddamned lazy to do so myself."

I didn't bother answering, instead I simply took of my helmet (which is against regulations, specially in a combat zone) and kept walking.

"Oh no. How will I check my HUD map now?" I said in a completely emotionless voice.

Pavel just cursed and in a matter of few seconds shouted out the answer to his own question.

"Half a click."

I nodded and put my helmet back on. I managed to smile at the thought of a relatively safe pelican evac to the UNSC Inconvenience and a quick series of random slipspace jumps. We'd be in another allegedly safe colony within two weeks.

Unfortunately it was never that easy, and this time was no exception. I heard the grunting noises of elites and the high pitched squeals of grunts to the front, they were within thirty feet.

Me and Pavel both dropped to a cave that was formed by a thick tree root. Those thirty seconds were probably the longest thirty seconds of the past three and a half months of my life.

Shortly after I heard the regular thumps that only an elite could make. They were elegante yet somehow managed to sound rough. Elites were a warrior race through and through. The thumping stopped and I almost squealed as the two legs of an elite major suddenly appeared right in front of me. The legs stood still for a few seconds and I could almost picture the elite turning its head and sniffing the air, sensing that something was wrong. I then saw around six grunts and two jackals appear in front of the elite.

I glanced at Pavel. He nodded at me and I moved my rifle as noislessly as I could. I brought it up and changed the BR55's setting from three-round-burst to full auto. Thankfully, it didn't click.

I pushed my back to the floor and launched a two-legged Kick at the knee-joint of the elite. I don't know if it broke, but it brought the small giant to the floor. I emptied half my magazine into the body of the monster while keeping it down with one leg. Meanwhile Pavel strafed the lesser squadmates with his M247L. He managed to knock down one grunt and both jackals. As I put three rounds to the now unshielded elite I turned and checked the area to our backs, our fall-back point was supposed to be that way.

Pavel killed the remaining grunts with well placed bursts and then we resumed our march. This time it was different, as our rifles were up and ready. We crossed some sort of hedge that was acting as a wall between the trees and found ourselves in front of at least fifty covenant soldiers. Hunters included.

Pavel and I jumped backwards as plasma fire rippled above our heads. We slid towards a thick tree as soon as we landed.

I glanced at Pavel.

"You do realize we're dead?" I asked.

He simply nodded as he heaved his LMG. We stayed there for a few moments as the tree we were in started to disintegrate and atomize with the intense heat of the plasma. It was probably on fire already, but I barely noticed any of it.

"Count your rounds?" I suggested.

"Count your rounds," my squad-mate acknowladged.

We left our cover, guns blazing to meet death in the face. Unfortunately, we didn't get that honor, as the ground in front of us and under the covies balooned up and cracked. Through those cracks came flames and onle moments later I felt the shokwave hurl me into the same tree we had been using as cover. It wasn't like in those action movies, where people fly into objects. It was more like a shove. A shove that managed to collapse one of my lungs and turn one of my kidneys into mush.

My vision darkened just as I saw a pelican in the distance. As it got closer I thought to myself that it would be fine and I could just let myself fall unconscious and I'd wake up a week later with a cloned kidney and a reinflated lung, ready to jump into the fight again.

Unfortunately reality didn't meet my expectations, the pain kept me alive. I watched as ten regulars dismounted from the pelican and bayoneted the survivng covenant. The two hunters were treated as materiel and were blown up with three grenades each, just to be sure. Finally two marines, one of which was a very pretty corpsman with blonde hair carried me onto a stretcher. Pavel was limping and being helped by two other marines. I rested my head back and had my helmet taken off and a breathing masked atatched to me. I looked at the boring metal ceiling of the pelican and could feel it flying away before I finally managed to slip into unconsciousness.

Man, getting blown up sucks.