-New Jerusalem-

New Jerusalem was burning.

Jason DuPree didn't need the intel, the comms chatter or the reports to tell him that. He could see it, plain and clear, as he shrieked across the sky in hollow tube of metal just thick enough to keep his ass from frying. He was coming in hot with about two dozen others, the ODST portion of the Twenty Sixth Marine Expeditionary Force. They were planning on landing smack dab in the middle of the chaos: Mount Haven. Nestled in the center of a horseshoe mountain range, it was being pounded hard by the Covenant for no discernible reason. ONI was still working on the radio chatter from their BattleNet for that bit of data.

But no one in the Twenty Sixth needed to know the why of the situation. All the Marines had lost so much to the Covenant, and their trigger fingers were itching for some payback. Jason was with them. His main objective was offensive: kill Covenant. Life, literally, did not get any simpler. The Marines had the fun job of civilian evac.

Jason could hear chatter over the comm network the ODST pods shared. Someone was blaring deathcore music from some previous century. Technically an extreme violation, but the squad commander, Sergeant Billings, had never cared. Not so long as it didn't interfere with the mission. Jason checked the clock. They still had something like two minutes to kill. Two minutes in the inferno-like, hellish interior of the drop pod were a long two minutes indeed. He kept staring out the window of his pod at the approaching city.

The fighting was obvious. He could see plasma bolts and tracers burn sizzling lines across the sky. He slammed past some Banshees and Longswords on the way down.

"One minute!" Billings screamed over the comms.

The music cut out, leaving an eerie, somehow louder silence, accompanied by the rattling of the pod. Jason had double-checked his assortment, battle rifle and shotgun, locked and loaded with the safeties off. He was ready to rock n' roll. And throw some lead at any Covenant bastard he could get in his sights.

"Thirty seconds!"

It looked as if they were burning towards an industrial zone: warehouses and workyards. The city was close now. Jason could see obvious fighting. It looked like they were going to crash smack dab in the middle of a massive group of Covenant threatening to overwhelm a group of pinned down Marines. And then, suddenly, there was no more time to think. Only to act. The pod slammed into the earth with all the force of a MAC round. Jason popped the door and burst out onto the scene. Chaos burned around him like liquid fire.

He could hear frantically shouted orders and shrieking hysteria as he raced from his pod, which had smashed into the middle of a body-strewn street, towards cover. He found it, diving behind the burned, steel hulk of a wrecked vehicle. Only a handful of ODSTs had made it anywhere near his drop zone. As usual, at least in his experience, his squad was scattered to the four winds inside of a two kilometer grid.

Battle rifle ready, Jason popped up and scoped out the competition. A contingent of Elites were scattered across the street behind various bits of debris for cover, with a collection of Grunts and Jackals for backup. Most of them were facing away from him, plinking at a group of Marines trapped at an intersection, hiding in and behind a wrecked, burning Pelican. However, a group of a half dozen huge, intimidating looking Elites in blue and purple armor were marching towards Jason. He looked around desperately for his other ODSTs, but he could only see one other pod for sure, and it hadn't opened yet.

Part of him knew, right then, that it never would. At least not by the man on the inside. That only seemed to spur him on further. Jason hurled a pair of fragmentation grenades at the approaching Elites, causing them to scatter. He raised his battle rifle and traced the movements of the one nearest to the twin eruptions of flaming metal shrapnel. The blast killed its shields and left its head exposed. Jason didn't give the bastard a second chance. He earned his first kill on New Jerusalem right then and there with a headshot.

The Elite went down and Jason was forced to drop back behind his cover as several streams of plasma fire converged on his position. He steadied himself, then headed around for the other side of the vehicle. This was going to be tough. He peered around the corner and caught one of the bastards rushing him. His aim steady, he began squeezing off the three round bursts as quickly as he could. The shots caught the Elite in the chest. Bouncing off at first, but then causing the big alien to stumble backwards.

When the shield failed, he put three rounds through the Elite's heart and sent it crashing to the ground. Only too late did he realize that two of the survivors had used this opportunity to rush him. He turned the barrel on them, two huge targets, heavily armored and shielded, and knew that he was going to have to pull something pretty amazing out of his ass to survive this one. Only he didn't. A single shot rang out, loud among the chaos, and suddenly one of the Elites smashed to the ground. The other began to get a grip on what was happening about the time a second shot rang out, and put its brains all over the pavement.

As the second body fell, the other two Elites shifted focus. They pointed their plasma rifles at the man in dark armor situated on the warehouse rooftop across the street. Jason began firing on them, drawing at least one stream of plasma back to him. He heard two more shots ring out, and then the gunfire ceased.

"That's six," Paulson murmured over Jason's comm line, his voice a whisper with a ghost of a smile in it.

Jason snorted. "And I've got six all my own on your ass."

Paulson chuckled, another shot rang out. Followed by two more. Back when Jason had been considered green as grass when he'd hopped into the Helljumpers and got bumped back down to Private and slopped in with the Twenty Sixth, Paulson the Sniper had saved his ass five times. Jason was still working to even the score.

With Paulson at his back, capping off Elites who were quickly beginning to realize that something was going seriously wrong, Jason began making his way towards the Marines. He took care of the little bastards, Grunts and Jackals, with quick, effective three-round bursts from his battle rifle. The corpses stacked up like firewood and the two ODSTs painted the town, well, not exactly red...more like phosphorescent blue and deep purple.

As the Marines realized what was happening, they stepped up their end of the attack with renewed vigor. And before a few minutes had passed, the Covenant in the area were nothing more than a handful of corpses. Paulson came down from his warehouse perch and joined Jason as he converged with the Marines.

They looked in sad, sorry shape. A collection of battered, bloody men, numbering up to five with only a frazzled, battle-stricken Corporal as the ranking member. He stood before Jason and Paulson while the other four policed up the remaining guns and ammo off their dead friends. Jason glanced briefly at Paulson. Technically, Paulson was the ranking member, a Corporal, with Jason just a lowly PFC. But Paulson was a quiet one, more willing to take orders than to give them. Jason, on the other hand, had no problem giving orders.

"What's your situation?"

"Bad," the Corporal, Jones, reported. "We were shot down here and overwhelmed. Our Sergeant's dead. We were on our way to a rally point to help get some civvies off the ground...but I don't even know if that rally point is up anymore."

Jason nodded. He began to open his mouth when the almighty Billings came onto the air.

"Men, regroup on my nav beacon, pronto!" A small, upside-down green triangle appeared on Jason's heads up display.

"Follow us. We'll find use for you," he said to Jones.

The Corporal didn't exactly looked pleased about the remark, but wasn't in any condition to argue. Instead, he turned and told his Marines to gear up and move out.