Infinity Effect Chapter 37: Solace and Shadows Pt. I
"Cease fire! Cease fire!"
The quiet settled onto them slowly, like a light snowfall. Servos and batteries embedded into plasma weaponry whined down gradually, while super-heated steam hissed through ventilation ports as internal components tried to cool. Armor plates and synthetic undersuits rustled as their wearers stretched to work out muscles and joints tightened by those stresses that only combat could bring.
Holding his hissing and very hot Plasma Repeater away from his body, Ultra Rael 'Harum continued to peer over his makeshift cover - a grounded and overturned aerial car - down the wide street in front of him while the last of the smoke, dust, and steam dissipated.
The air stank of ozone, burned flesh, and garbage, despite his helmet respirator's best efforts. As the scene cleared, it was easy to see why. Melted and charred piles of grey-tan bodies littered the street, some alone, some splayed out in grotesque groups or piles. Around these grotesque figures were melted and boiling roadway and building sidings, pockmarked with blue-red plasma burns from outgoing Sangheili fire.
'Harum pressed his jaw-pairs together in a scowl at the scene behind his sealed Ranger helmet. Curse the Parasite.
As Sangheili soldiers near him began calling affirmations to one another through their helmet external comms, 'Harum's free left hand went to the tacpad on his right forearm plate, and he keyed into his Battalion Command channel.
"Position One, report status," 'Harum said into his helmet mic.
The audio came back quickly. "Position One. Status green. Three minor waves of Parasite melee combatants successfully repelled. No breaches. Two non-critical casualties."
"Position Three, report status."
"Position Three. Status green. Still negative on Parasite contact. No breaches. Continuing to hold positions."
'Harum nodded to himself almost imperceptibly. "This is Position Two," he said, "Status green. Significant Parasite melee force engaged and repelled. No breaches."
The Sangheili Ultra, his rank in his dark-grey Ranger armor distinguished only by the white stripe running down the back of his helmet, took a half-step back from his cover and looked up and down the line. No one was injured, but his gaze settled on the figure of a Sangheili prone on his back, armor chestplate severely cracked open and dark purple-blue blood seeping out quickly onto the roadway around him. A Ranger medic was kneeling over the wounded Sangheili, trying to pack the wound and stop the bleeding, but 'Harum knew it was futile. The HUD readout of the soldier's vitals that 'Harum accessed with a few quick blinks showed that he was already dead.
'Harum noticed that his Plasma Repeater was still venting, when it should have already completed its heat disposal cycle. He blinked and his helmet software sent a query to the weapon's onboard diagnostic computer. HEAT SINK DAMAGE. With practiced precision, he found the two takedown levers on the weapon, then broke the Repeater into two pieces around a robust hinge. The heatsink was easy to find, given that it was glowing red-hot, and 'Harum expertly reached in and drew it out before discarding it over his shoulder. He reached into a utility pouch on his belt and withdrew another, reslotting the sink and reassembling his weapon. The entire process took less than three seconds.
"Hold positions you two. Report if re-engaged by the Parasite or for any other urgent need."
"Talon Actual out." 'Harum closed the channel. He then turned his attention to the seventy-five - seventy-four now - Sangheili, ten Asari, and two Mgalekgolo pairs that were spread out amongst their barriers of appropriated civilian ground and air vehicles, portable energy-shield barricades, and pieces of large rubble manhandled or biotically maneuvered into place.
'Harum started jogging down the line to check in on different pockets of soldiers, issuing orders, asking for reports, or giving words of encouragement. "Get those weapons cooled, check for heat-stress damage. Weapons team, get that plasma cannon barrel changed immediately. Use those water rations soldiers, there's a reason we carry them! Second Lance, well done holding the left flank. Keep that inner fire kindled! Ava! Take three other Asari and get those Parasite bodies to the sides of the road, I want as clear a line of fire as we can get. You two, take care of Minor 'Nadum's body, find a place where he won't be disturbed then get back to the line."
Like so much of combat, the entire scene was organized chaos - and 'Harum lived for it. This was where he thrived, in the midst of it all on the frontlines, where the lines between life and death were separated only by the training, skills, and determination of the individual soldier, his comrades-in-arms, and his unit. 'Harum knew without a doubt that his own unit, Talon Battalion, was the best in the Arbiter's wayward Task Force, which is why he was here in the first place.
'Here' was actually a trio of major intersections that offered the only ways into what 'Harum learned was called the "Third Ward of the Lower Warehouse District." The Sangheili Ultra had split his Battalion, unique in the fact that that his was the only unit where Asari auxiliaries were supplementing standard Sangheili Lances, among the three chokepoints, with orders to dig in, hold positions, and eliminate all hostiles that made contact. Assisting in this objective were six pairs of Mgalekgolo, two at each position, and three Lances of Rangers.
Sangheilios save the Rangers. The unofficial motto for the Rangers sounded in his head as he tapped to summon the theater's strategic map on his tacpad, and blinked in comm inputs to connect with Central Command and Control.
It was the motto of the 1st Sanghelios Ranger Division, the only one of its kind, of which 'Harum was a proud member. He still remembered as if it were yesterday, his first day in Standard Infantry Training school, where the head instructor had told his class of five-hundred that only one of them, the top-performing Sangheili out of the entire training battalion, would be allowed to request a billet at Ranger School. That had been his first successful mission.
They were as elite as it came in the mainline infantry without looking at the dedicated Special Warfare Group, who were distinguishable in their sleek mono-colored black armor and top-of-the-line active camouflage systems.
'Harum's armor was anything but sleek, covered with bulky, high-tech camouflaging armor plates that could change colors and patterns based on the user's current tactical needs, and laden with all kinds of equipment and munitions stored in hip, chest, and leg compartments. Then, of course, there was what truly distinguished the Rangers from any other service in the Sangheili military - the jump jets. With the two main propulsion jets located on the back, and with stabilizing jets on the back of the legs and elbows, this particular piece of hardware was what allowed the Rangers to do what they were meant for: frontline reconnaissance - in force.
'Harum saw in his HUD that there were dozens and dozens of comms connections branching to and from the Command and Control Center, but knew that his would be bumped up to the top of the priority list.
The arrival of The Parasite on the station, known to the Sangheili as 'Omega', had surprised them all. The operation on the that frozen wasteland of a planet where the Arbiter retrieved the Second Key was still fresh on 'Harum's mind. He had personally led the detachment of Rangers and Mgalekgolo that had held the Arbiter's forces evac zone, against both Cerberus assault troops and the Parasite alike.
Briefly a pang of remorse and sorrow filled his stomach as he remembered the two Mgalekgolo pairs who had denied evacuating, fighting until the end to allow everyone else to escape successfully. Those four names were freshest in the journal he kept back in his quarters on the Shadow of Intent, where he transcribed the names of all of the soldiers who had given their lives under his command. One more to add, he thought, seeing Minor 'Nadum's body being carried to a more peaceful place of temporary rest.
He, like many others, had watched from the viewports as the five warships under the Arbiter's command completely glassed the ice-and-snow covered world with their ventral plasma lines, in order to eradicate the Parasite beyond a shadow of a doubt. Or at least, they thought they had. It had actually been a pair of Rangers who had made the first sighting of the Parasite - 'Harum remembered every detail of the livefeed that they had broadcast to Command and Control.
The two Rangers had been scouting from the tops of residential buildings, jump-jetting from rooftop-to-rooftop. This particular section of the sprawling station, the Third Ward residential blocks near the Lower Warehouse District, were like many others throughout the station: wrapped in a shroud of violence and panic.
While the Arbiter had his forces extending their zone of control from their entry point into the station, the expansive Central Docks, it wasn't exactly a fast process. For both logistical and tactical reasons, the Sangheili invasion force was being careful and methodical as they expanded outwards. However, this meant that the civilian residents of Omega outside of the Sangheili zone of control were largely left to fend for themselves. Decidedly not a place of paragon virtue, the sections of Omega that were suddenly 'freed' from the oppressive thumb of the dead Aria and the mercenary gangs quickly devolved into unruly chaos.
The Ranger pair had been mapping out important routes and roads for the Sangheili invasion forces that would be coming behind them in this particular section of the station, Omega's Third Ward. This particular Ward, tucked away near the 'bottom' of the station, was where the majority of Omega's crude materials manufacturing and storage warehouses were located. The Rangers were proceeding on their reconnaissance circuit, sticking to the rooftops to avoid the street-level pandemonium, when the senior of the pair, a grizzled Sergeant and veteran of the Ark conflict, noticed that something was off. They had just transitioned into the Warehouse District proper, tall residential buildings replaced by short, flat, and sprawling industrial centers and storage buildings.
It was as if a switch had been flipped, the cacophony of noise and movement from the troubled streets behind them had stopped, replaced by a pure, utter silence. It had puzzled the Sergeant as to why the rioting and looting wouldn't have spilled over into the Warehouse District as well, but it hadn't. It was a heavy silence in the station's stale air, the kind of quiet that the Sergeant remembered draped across his home's purple-flowered fields on Sanghelios just before a large storm rolled in.
The writhing masses of sickly grey-tan flesh and limbs had come pouring out of the buildings and from the street like a great apocalyptic wave. The Sergeant knew in that moment that his doom had come. His partner, a Private who had graduated Ranger school just in time to be assigned to the Shadow of Intent before they were dragged across space and time into this new conflict, had turned to look at him, face visible through their clear helmet visors.
The Sergeant had seen the fear in his eyes, the anxious uncertainty that balled in the stomach and colored his face pale, and wondered if the Private saw the same in him. Training and instincts kicked in a second later, and the pair raised their weapons and started firing over the lip of the roof into the river of horrors below. They might as well have been trying to damage a CCS-Cruiser with futile way that the superheated globules of purple-blue plasma splashed against the mob of Parasitic forms, but they ran their weapons hot anyways.
The Sergeant opened up video and audio comms with Command and Control, flagging the transmission with the EMERGENCY: URGENT tag. The building rumbled beneath them as the Parasitic waves crashed inwards, then upwards, striving to reach the two new sources of food on the roof. They could have tried to run, use their jump jets to fall back to the relative safety of friendly lines as quickly as they could, but not only was that not the Ranger way, but the Sergeant knew that if it caught you off-guard even once, there was no escaping from the Parasite.
Instead, he calmly reported the location, circumstances, and severity of the Parasite assault. Then, he requested a fire mission, not only on their own position, but on the entirety of the Third Ward's residential blocks that the Rangers had just come from. The Sergeant knew that he was sentencing both himself, his partner, and the hundreds upon hundreds of civilians that they had passed by in the Residential blocks, to certain death. But this was a Sangheili who knew firsthand what the Parasite was capable of… and this was a far greater mercy than the Parasite could ever offer.
His fire mission was approved immediately, and in this strategic display in his HUD the Sergeant could see that seemingly every single Sangheili strike craft within the station - Banshees, Seraphs, Phantoms, even some older Spirits - turned to converge on their position.
The access door to their building's roof banged, the barrier no doubt having been discovered by the frantic Parasites hunting for the two Rangers. Across the street on the neighboring building, Parasite forms were already writhing all over the roof, some trying to jump the gap between the two structures, but falling well short back into the sea of their comrades below in the road.
It was then when the Sergeant realized that the heavy, rumbling bass that seemed to be shaking everything around him wasn't just the frantically erratic movement of the Parasite forms, but the low growls and roars of the fleshy mob. His Plasma Repeater died in his hands, severely overheated from frantic use. Without time to perform a field heat-sink exchange, the Sergeant just dropped the steaming rifle to the floor. His partner's Repeater had suffered the same fate, and the Private had his Energy pistol gripped tightly in his hands.
The door to their roof banged again, the metal stressing and bending outwards as it gave its most valiant effort at containing the Parasite behind it. The sergeant looked down to his hip, where the handles of two Energy Swords were attached to his magplates. One, the handle plain and austere, had been issued to him by the Rangers when he had made Sergeant. The other, a rich, earthy metal with white-painted inscriptions.
It was the ancestral sword of his small keep, and had been passed down since its founding many hundreds of years ago, before ending in his possession. It saddened him to think that this would be the last time its blades searing fire would spring forth.
The Sergeant drew both blades, then handed his duty sword to the Private besides him. He took it, nodding with unspoken respect. To die with sword in hand was an ancient honor like few others.
The roof access door finally reached its structural breaking point. It flew outwards, followed by the yellow-grey of the Parasite forms, howling in primal rage and bloodlust.
The two energy swords snapped to life, the white-hot plasma of the twin blades shining in a last beacon of defiance and pride. They charged forwards against the Parasite, for death and glory, just as the bombs began to fall.
'Harum was brought back to the present by the audio cue of his comms linking into the main Command and Control channel. Sanghelios save them, he offered his two late comrades.
A familiar, deep and authoritative voice spoke came through 'Harums earpiece. "Ultra 'Harum, status report?"
It was the Arbiter, and just hearing the calmness of his tone, despite the massive - and now with the introduction of the Parasite - admitantally frantic operation that he was overseeing on Omega station took 'Harum's stress levels down a few ticks.
"Arbiter, Parasite melee attack waves have been assaulting two of our three positions, with increasing intensity each time. What's the status on the main line?"
After the airstrike had leveled the entirety of the Lower Third Ward residential areas and part of the Warehouse District, Command and Control had made a unanimous decision to create as impenetrable a barrier as was possible around the area. This decision was made with information gathered from in-depth reconnaissance gathered on the rest of the station that showed the Parasite had been sighted nowhere else except for the Lower Third Ward.
The Arbiter had theorized that somehow, Parasite samples had made it off of the frozen world he had turned to glass, and had been sent here. A retaliation for their betrayal of Cerberus perhaps? General Petrovsky's dead-man's switch? However it had happened, there was no other Sangheili alive who had more firsthand knowledge and experience combating the Parasite, and he knew two things for certain. Overwhelming force and action had to be applied immediately and decisively, or else all would be lost.
While troops, vehicles, and supplies were being shifted over to the new defensive line that the Arbiter wanted set up, 'Harum had decided to take an initiative of his own.
He knew that the Arbiter setting up such a large blocking position would take time, and if the Parasite attacked again before they were ready they could very well slip by and into the rest of the station, a worst-case scenario. So he loaded up his forces in a few Shadow heavy transport he temporarily commandeered from an adjacent unit, and sped towards the last known position of the Parasite. Once there, he had set up his three defensive positions, with the intention as acting as a temporary stop-gap while the Arbiter finished his own defensive preparations farther back. He never intended to stay here for long, and was waiting on word from the Arbiter to pull back to the main line.
'Harum knew that his Battalion was uniquely suited to the temporary high-intensity static defense role. The Ranger platoon that was currently attached to him would provide recon and mobile relief. The several Mgalekgolo pairs also attached to his Battalion would serve as the immensely sturdy and intimidating center of his defensive positions. Most significant however, where his Asari. With just two embedded into every one of his ten-Sangheili Lances, Talon Battalion's offensive and defensive capabilities improved remarkably.
'Harum was the first to truly realize the advantages offered by biotics, and was the only Officer who had put enough trust in their wayward Asari passengers to allow them to integrate into combat units. The ability to physically manipulate the environment, and ones enemies, in the way that biotics offered was too good a tactical opportunity to pass up, and he had pined the Arbiter hard to allow Asari into his mainline combat Lances.
The Arbiter had tapped the best of the Asari they had picked up from that mining colony where they had found the first Key, the ones with previous military or combat experience, for his own two personal Special Operations Lances. As for the rest, it quickly became known that if you wanted to fight, to stand up in the face of the Reapers, or whatever other enemy they came across, you went to 'Harum.
'Harum took these Asari miner volunteers, naturally biotically gifted but militarily inexperienced, and put them through the ringer. He had cordoned off one corner of the Shadow of Intent's massive main hangar bay to create a makeshift training camp, complete with obstacle courses designed to test Sangheili-Asari biotic harmony, and a holo-field where realistic combat scenarios could be experienced from safety.
He ran them hard, both the Asari and his own Sangheili, because he knew that if his Battalion wanted any chance of seeing combat, that they had to be the absolute best. He certainly had taken some pages out of his experience at Ranger School for his training regimen. Given the nature of their training location, his Battalion always had some kind of audience, watching from the sidelines, talking, whispering, judging.
'Harum understood that it was a strange sight to the other Sangheili. A Battalion commander running a training camp inside of the hangar bay of a warship, during wartime, with blue-skinned Human-like creatures running around with Talon's Sangheili.
Initially 'Harums Lances were hesitant on being ordered to integrate with Asari units, but that hesitation quickly turned to admiration and acceptance after seeing what the Asari could do. Defensive, offensive, and crowd-control biotics magnified the combat effectiveness of a single Lance at least two-fold, and that was a statistic that no other unit in the entire Task Force could match. Now, with the Arbiter having been thoroughly impressed, here they were on their first combat deployment, and given the foe they were facing, they were doing quite well.
The Arbiter had been talking to someone else off-comms, but then returned to 'Harum. "We are almost ready. Five minutes, then we will pull back your Battalion to the main line. Remember, you have close air support on standby. If you need it, call for it."
He nodded. Five minutes. They could swing that. "Affirmative, I will be waiting for your word. The Battalion will extract via the Shadow transports that we - "
A blinding pain and pressure hit 'Harum's head like a hammer, and he stumbled backwards into the wreck of an aircar behind him. Years of training and combat experience took over almost instantly. He used one leg to push off from the aircar, running at a low crouch back towards his soldiers in front of him, weapon raised outwards towards the threat. He was actually pulled back forcibly into the barricades by an Asari who had seen what happened, and biotically grasped him to speed him along his way.
He was still on combat auto-pilot, his senses taking in and processing the stimulants around him before his real mind even had time to think about it. Alarms were warbling in his ear - his shields had been completely depleted. His helmet visor was badly cracked, so much so that he could barely see out of it. In his other ear, a high-pitched static whine had replaced the light crackle of the open comm channel with the Arbiter. In a corner part of his HUD, the only section that was still working in fact, a diagnostic panel let him know that his communications suite was destroyed.
Gunfire. 'Harum, a veteran of the war against the UNSC, recognized the short staccato reports immediately.
'Harum recognized the voice of his senior Lieutenant barking out commands, and the response of his soldiers in the form of outgoing plasma. A light-blue face had suddenly filled his field of vision. It was an Asari, the same one who had biotically pulled him into cover. Ava, he remembered.
"Sir! Sir! Are you alright!?" she yelled into his face, her own expression one of serious concern. She looked up and down the line, searching for something, then called, "Medic! The CO's hit!"
Medic? 'Harum's mind questioned. Tired of not being able to see through his cracked visor, he reached for and popped his helmet seals, taking it off and discarding it on the ground. Ava's expression suddenly turned a lot more serious. The left side of 'Harum's head felt wet, and he reached a hand to it. His gloved hand came away slick with purple-blue blood. His blood. He took another look at his helmet on the ground beside him. The round that had hit him - obviously something very powerful - had torn right through his shields and had taken a significant chunk out of the side of his helmet.
The Sangheili medic appeared next to him almost out of thin air, pressing an adhesive compression bandage to the large gash on the side of his CO's head. The jolt of intense pain from the pressure that the medic used to apply the bandage served the same purpose as being submerged into ice-water.
He was back. The medic reached for something else in his kit to give to him, but 'Harum pressed his hand against the Sangheili's chest to stop him, leaving a shimmering, bloody handprint on the medic's energy shields. "Get back to your position soldier! You too Ava!"
The sounds, sights, and smells of battle washed over him once again. By this time his energy shields had recharged to sixty-percent strength, unable to return to full because of the broken seal cause by his discarded helmet. He took his first look over the barricades down towards the street, where the gunfire and plasma was flying back and forth, and his eyes widened.
The Parasite was attacking in force, and this time, they were armed.
The Battalion's Asari had put up biotic barriers to deflect incoming shots, and from the shockwaves rippling through them 'Harum could see that the volume of incoming fire was immense. Outclassing what his defensive line was putting out at least two-fold. Parasite forms filled the street, but unlike the last time they attacked they weren't rushing the barricades to try and engage in melee combat.
Somehow, within the time since the last attack the Parasite had gained the coordination needed to not only recognize and utilize ranged weaponry, but they were also using tactics now. 'Harum observed Sangheili plasma fire strike and boil away Parasite form after Parasite form, and watched as Mgalekgolo fuel rod projectiles cut large swaths through the swarm, yet the Parasite was advancing. They were maneuvering quickly, but with what seemed like actual thought behind their movements, coordinating their fields of fire, each form that fell being replaced by the one behind as they pushed forwards.
This was not good. 'Harum had fought against both 'kinds' of the Parasite on the Ark. The was the Parasite that knew nothing except a desire to feed, and would attempt to satiate that desire in the most straightforward, physically violent, up-close-and-personal way possible. Those were the ones that rushed you, broken limbs flailing and gnashing maws howling their terrible song. Those were easier to deal with, because they were predictable.
The other kind of Parasite, the kind that picked up weapons, knew how to use them with surprisingly deadly efficiency, and worked together with other Parasite forms at unit levels…. Those were the kind that gave 'Harum pause, the kind that was extremely dangerous. The combination of the natural intensity, toughness, and veracity of the base Parasite, along with competent and seamless tactical and strategic thinking was extremely dangerous. There was a reason why the Arbiter glassed the entirety of the ice-planet they had first encountered the Parasite on.
He needed to talk to Command and Control - urgently. 'Harum spun his head around, looking for his senior lieutenant, who he knew had the same comms suite in his helmet that he had had. He found him about thirty meters down the line and started running to him, shouting to his soldiers as he passed.
"Keep up the fire! Pour it on! Keep those biotic barriers up as long as you can!"
'Harum immediately noticed that his soldiers efforts picked up, seeing their Commanding Officer back in action despite his wound. Many had seen him get hit, before they had to turn their attention to the assault coming from the front. He reached his senior Lieutenant, who was exchanging the heat sink in his Plasma Repeater for a new one.
"Lieutenant!" 'Harum bellowed over the cacophony of battle, "I need your comms!"
The red-armored officer gave his CO a worried look, and it wasn't related to the now-blood soaked bandage covering the left side of 'Harum's head. "Sir, comms are gone. I think we're being jammed!"
'Harum blinked in surprise, processing just how bad that piece of news was. Jamming comms? When had the Parasite learned to do that? And now, their connection to Command and Control had been severed, along with the ability to call for reinforcements. They couldn't even realistically call the Shadow transports for a hot extraction, which were staged than three hundred meters back.
They weren't helpless however. 'Harum, like many professional career soldiers, knew that no matter how advanced and well-designed your equipment was, there was always the possibility of failure. He reached into a compartment on his belt and withdrew a small, specially modified energy pistol. He pointed it straight up and pulled the modified trigger with two fingers, instead of one.
A large ball of crackling red plasma shot out into the air, high above the intensity of the ground battle and above the three and four story-tall rooftops of the warehouses, manufacturing plants, and large storage buildings around them. Within seconds, two green bolts of plasma shot into the air as well, one from each of Talon Battalion's other two defensive positions. So, the Parasite was only attacking his position, in an attempt to overwhelm them through brute force.
The problem was that it was working. 'Harum was quickly realizing just how untenable the situation was about to become. Despite the withering amount of fire that his extremely well-trained soldiers were putting out, the sheer mass of this Parasite onslaught was close to becoming overwhelming. It was only the protection from the Asari biotic barriers, which were rapidly becoming less powerful as the assault from the Parasite continued, that was keeping them in the fight and allowing them to return effective fire. Once those barriers went down and the effects of the pure volume of fire from the Parasite dialed in on the soldiers behind the barricade, it would only be a short amount of time before they were overwhelmed.
'Harum felt tactically helpless. Unable to hold, unable to retreat, unable to get on the comms and call for reinforcements or even an airstrike on their own position, like those two Rangers had. So, he did the only thing he could do. He stepped up to the line, raised his Plasma Repeater, sighted a Parasite form, and fired a burst. This particular one was holding a large, unwieldy-looking rifle in its splayed and broken arm, perhaps it was the same rifle that had almost killed him not even sixty seconds ago. He watched as the blue fire from his Repeater instantly boiled away eighty percent of the Parasite's body mass, the remaining twenty percent toppling to the ground. That particular form was replaced by the one behind it before 'Harum could even blink.
He sighted another target, but paused when behind him he heard one of the most unmistakable sounds that every Sangheili soldier knew - the low whine and bass hums of a Phantom's antigravity drives - and behind them, the screams of Banshee fighter-bombers. 'Harum didn't even turn around to look and confirm, he just bellowed, "INCOMING!"
The street in front of 'Harum's barricade exploded into a supernova of fire and flesh. The heat and shock from the ordnance buffeted them all behind their cover, and in a testament to their training and discipline, his soldiers where back up on the line and looking for targets within seconds. The airstrike has made a very real dent in the Parasite attack, but 'Harum could still see surviving forms regrouping a couple of hundred meters down the street, wanting to resume the attack. However, two hundred meters was well within range of his soldiers weapons, and without any directions from him they resumed firing downrange, through the slowly dissipating smoke and flames left behind after the airstrike.
Six Phantoms in total touched down on the ground behind 'Harum's defensive line, but only two started disembarking troops. He could instantly tell who they were based on their sleek, jet-black armor. Special Operations. He saw nearly two-dozen armored Sangheili, and six similarly armored yet smaller Asari, rush from their Phantoms to fill in spots in the line, adding to the volume of outgoing fire.
One black-clad Sangheili instead ran right towards him, and 'Harum did not need the IFF software in his damaged and discarded helmet to know who it was. "Arbiter!"
"Ultra 'Harum!" he said, distinctive voice still clear despite the close sounds of combat around them, "We are pulling your Battalion back. Get your troops moving to those Phantoms, we will cover your retreat and then follow behind."
"My other positions?"
"Your other two positions are already exfilling. The main defensive line is assembled, and will start slowly constricting on this position to starve the Parasite of maneuvering room."
"How did you know we were under attack with our comms jammed? And how is the Parasite jamming us at all?"
"Drones. We have had eyes on you this entire time, and are aware of the jamming."
"But why are you here? Shouldn't you be back in C&C?"
"No more questions 'Harum. Just listen and follow my orders," the Arbiter said, obviously not wanting to waste any more time. "The Parasite only gains this kind of capability and coordination when a Key Mind is being developed, and we have good intel as to where it might be located. My team is going in to destroy it before it reaches the critical mass where it will release Parasite spores into the atmosphere. Get your soldiers, and fall back to your designated position in the main line, now. The fate of the entire station depends on our haste."
With that, he took off towards the barricades, joining the rest of the Special Operations forces. 'Harum was about to call the retreat for his soldiers, but then he noticed something that he must have missed in the flurry of action.
There weren't six Special Operations Asari, there were only four, and two other humans with their own strange armor and weaponry that he did not recognize. Who were they? Why where they with the Arbiter? He saw one of the humans, a female, launch a massive swirling biotic singularity down the street at high speeds, with far more violence, force, and power than anything he had seen his own Battalion's Asari do.
What had made him pause most of all however, was realizing that he hadn't seen twenty Special Operations Sangheili, but nineteen. The other figure in the Arbiter's party, as large and tall as the Sangheili SpecOps troops around him, was clad in a certain kind of angular armor that struck fear into even experienced Sangheili like himself, and was sending measured, controlled bursts downrange from a sleek, silver rifle.
It was a Demon. A Spartan.