Disclaimer: I do not own any working titles associated with Bungie, nor do I own Halo or any of its characters, they are, and always will rightfully be the property of Bungie and Microsoft. All main characters in this story are my own, created, inspired and developed by myself. I do not plan to sell or profit from this title. It is purely for audience's reading pleasure.
"Command. This is Gunnery Sergeant Buck, Eleventh ODST. Over."
"Copy, Gunnery Sergeant. Go ahead."
"My guys got caught in a firefight in the Nomolos Tower—roof collapsed. I gotta get over there and get them out."
"Solid copy. Noble Six will escort your Falcon to the tower."
GySgt Edward Buck
New Alexandria, Eposz
August 2552 1920 Hours
Cold rain peppered Gunnery Sergeant Buck's black clad armor with a harmless, yet vicious pit. Punishing wind rocked the Falcon gunship as he overlooked the city ruins from the side. The orange glow of fire in the distance seemed to have its light sucked away as another Covenant Cruiser fired its excavation beam. The brilliant flash reflected in Buck's visor before fading away—and the ambient illumination of distant fire and cracks of lightning were once again given darkness to fill.
"Lock and load!" cackled the zealous voice of Warrant Officer Vega through the speakers in the sergeant's helmet. "We're heading right into the thick!"
Without speaking a word of reply, Buck rotated the mounted M247H into place and yanked back the charging handle. The rain hit even harder as the Falcon rocked into motion, its turboprop engines rumbling as their thrust supplemented the rotors' lift. A moment later, the skyscraper they were parked on was replaced by the stormy abyss below, prompting Buck to grip the turret handles tighter.
"Banshees! Twelve o'clock high!"
The bandits were out of Buck's reach by a few mere degrees. "I got 'em! Angle left!"
The Falcon yawed to the left, slowly but surely fitting the first bandit right into the jaws of the .50 caliber bite. Bright tongues of fire illuminated Edward's side of the gunship, his low light VISR setting nearly blinding him as it tried to keep track of the withering target beyond the muzzle flash.
The barrage of fire stripped the Banshee clean, leaving almost nothing left but a smoking frame that plunged, spiraling into the stormy abyss below. "One down!" Edward called out while acquiring the second flyer. Before he could squeeze the trigger, M638 Autocannon fire lit up the alien craft from the corner of his eye. He followed the tracers back to the source: a second UH-144 gunship, loaded for bear with a gunner mounted on either side.
The combined fire from the single gunship pummeled the Banshee's armor, forcing it to buckle and then burst into a flash of blue and white like holiday pyrotechnics. "Escort's here," the pilot called out. "Repeat: Noble Six is on station. Watch your two o'clock, Gunny."
"Thanks for the update," Buck said as he watched one of Six's gunners give him a wave across their formation. "Well, that was fast."
"More banshees—six o'clock!"
By the time Buck swung the turret around, Noble Six had already engaged, sharply yawing 180 degrees and lighting up the incoming bandits with all three mounted guns. Within seconds, the threats were eliminated.
"Noble's got 'em," Buck confirmed. "Splash two."
Just then, a volley of plasma splashed against the Falcon's tail, searing off some of the paneling. The resulting spots in Buck's vision impeded him as he tried to trace the shots back to the source, firing through the flashes of plasma clouds. He could hear the pilot cursing, demanding a location on the target.
"AA turrets!" Buck shouted in reply. "Dive! Get below the towers!"
The Falcon pitched downward, plummeting faster than the time it took for the plasma shells to reach them in time. Buck was only thankful that the turret's operator wasn't smart enough to lead his shots, giving him the time and visibility he needed to retire him with a five second stream of .50 caliber fire.
"Hoorah!" Buck cheered.
"Don't celebrate just yet, Gunny. More of 'em at twelve and eleven o'clock, both high and low."
Grabbing hold of the safety handle above, the Gunnery Sergeant unhanded the starboard turret and hauled himself to the M247H on the port side for a better view. Between the rows of towers and skyscrapers was a narrow path to Nomolos Tower, which was marked clearly by an array of Covenant AA turrets. Until they reached the mile of clear airspace, however, the two Falcons would be dealing with a mass of fuel rods acting as flak.
"We're gonna have to go around."
"Negative. No time."
"That's too much heat for two birds, Gunny."
"Stay low—don't stop for a second. We've come too far to think twice."
"Shit…Alright, hold onto your helmet. This is gonna get choppy."
Standard Operating Procedure for dealing with a citywide glassing was typically to cut losses, turn the opposite direction of the Covvies' excavation beams and grab anyone you can on your way out. By the time the first carrier loomed overhead, it was only a matter of time before the city was bathed in plasma by half a fleet. New Alexandria wasn't the first time the Gunnery Sergeant witnessed this kind of punishment first-hand and—contrary to his hopes—probably wouldn't be the last.
For Eddy Buck, SOP was thrown out the window the moment his squad got on the wires. They hardly needed to say anything over the sounds of gunfire and breaking glass—all it took was five seconds of broken chatter and the Gunnery Sergeant was committed. "Team takes priority" was his policy no matter the orders, no matter the odds, and it was fueling him the whole way; every time he fired his weapon, every time he stared into the beams of focus-fired plasma and the despair that followed. That kind of human element—that persistent loyalty—was a danger that the Covenant underestimated greatly, even as they were showered in .50 caliber hate.
One by one, the Covenant Anti-Air batteries crumbled, withered, and burst as the two-Falcon formation spearheaded its way past swarms of molten blue mass and superheated fuel rods. A sudden jolt caused Buck to curse when he nearly lost control of his turret. "Keep 'er steady, Vega!"
"Hard to take lead when these bastards keep stepping on her toes, Gunny! We can't take much—shit! Launchers! Right side! Right side! Coming out on the balcony!"
As if on cue, a barrage of fuel rods skimmed past the Falcon from below. One shot managed to clip the fuselage from the side, throwing Buck over the top of his turret. If it hadn't been for his chestplate, he would've had the wind knocked out of him. Nonetheless, the blast still hurt like hell and left his ears ringing as he hauled himself from his seat. To his dismay, the right turret was gone—not even a stand was left—and the Grunts down below were reloading for another barrage.
Luckily, Noble Six knew how to coordinate fire while flying a tight formation. As Buck returned fire with his MA5C, a wide stream of tracers ripped the squad apart, registering as bright blue fountains through a storm of gray in his night vision.
"We're clear for now! Nice shooting, Gunny!"
Buck raised a brow beneath his helmet and looked down at his assault rifle with a quizzical glance. "Right…how much farther?"
"Not much. Landing zone is in sight. Get ready for drop-off. As soon as we're over the landing pad, you're ass has gotta go. I can't stay in one place for long. Banshee's are gonna be swarming as soon as we reach open air."
Slapping a fresh magazine home, Buck positioned himself at the edge of the Falcon's cabin. Plasma bolts were starting to come back, buzzing around like an angry swarm of hornets. The Falcon swung in a hard yaw to return fire, strafing toward the target zone. Buck felt like he was hanging by a thread made from dim hope and blind optimism. He couldn't be more thankful for Noble Six to be flying with him and Vega. The combined accurate fire of the Spartan and his gun crew saved their asses more than once.
Buck used his legs to brace himself as Vega lowered the craft to a hover just three feet above the tower pad. Banshees were still closing in, whirring, howling as they entered tight turns for another strafing run. "Ten seconds, Gunny! Go! Go! Go!"
Without a moment's hesitation, Edward baled out, landing feet first on the flooded pad with a wet smack. He bolted for the door to Nomolos Tower while Vega made his ascent and broke formation. Noble Six was covering in a close orbit around the tower, each of his gunners warding off harassing Banshees. Those that came too close to the pad were cut down in seconds by autocannon fire, which sounded more like ambient rumbling under the screams from Vega's turboprop thrusters.
Buck stopped once he reached the door. He then turned around and gave a quick salute to Six's gunship as it circled around. "I owe you one, Spartan…I'll see you in hell." With that, he about-faced and entered the tower.
There wasn't much else he could say to someone who essentially didn't exist, and odds were looking bleak for either of them living long enough to run into each other again in the land of the living. All he could do now was make sure that the Spartan's efforts weren't squandered.
All he could do now was find his team.