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...We all have our own lives to handle, and I can clearly understand that this is the time you need for what is important. Take all the time you need...
As you said, take all the time you need. If you need a few months, so be it, we're patient.

At the mention of her nickname, combined with the way it was spoken, Defort and Toogood couldn’t hold a short outburst of laughter. ”The fuck did you do to earn that moniker?” Defort managed to stammer amongst outbursts of laughter before suddenly sobering up. ”Honestly though, am I the only one who finds it unnerving that someone with that nickname is in charge explosives? And you can drop all that ceremonial nonsense, we grunts are all equal here in the mud.”

During the conversation, Edward noticed the armywoman kept looking at him in a weird way. Was there something wrong with him? Perhaps his helmet suffered some damage somewhere he didn’t notice? ”Right, this.” he snapped his fingers as the realisation finally struck him and cleared his visor, revealing his face. Despite his calm demeanor, it was clear from his expression just how exhausted and worried he was. ”Harper, Edward. So, if you know about this outpost, I take it you also happen to know which way it is? Because we are a little bit lost.”
”Completely lost, to be accurate.” Sheridan appeared from behind Edward and joined the conversation. He removed his helmet to wipe sweat off his forehead, presenting the same troubled expression. ”Do you have any idea what we can expect once we get there, like possible medical aid. Do you know how far it is, or what the terrain looks like? One of our men is injured.” He gestured to Nero’s leg, the right greave looked like someone dropped an anvil on it. ”She has to be carried and it’s getting quite exhausting, not to mention we are essentially down three people because of it, so I hope you are at least a decent shot.” John slid his helmet back onto his head and was about to say something else, but stopped abruptly as a transmission came through. The entire team paused to listen to Chariot 9-4’s transmission. ”That settles that, then. Chéreau, I assume you heard that as well. Since you know the most about this outpost, you and Ed will take point, Wrench and Lineman will follow, carrying Miranda. Notso and I will watch our backs. Stay around five meters apart. If we come under fire, we’ll hold until Wrench and Lineman get some distance, than follow. Otherwise, avoid contact. You two in the front make sure not to rush too far ahead. The sooner we get to that damn outpost, the sooner we can finally sit down and stretch our legs. If we’re lucky, someone will finally tell us just what the bloody hell is happening.”
The ODSTs polarised their visors again and formed according to Sheridan’s instructions. Edward mustered up an encouraging smile. ”After you. If you run into any trouble let us know immediately.”


Between his squad and the newfound marines, Edward finally had some time to process the past events. The Covenant seemed to have broken off the pursuit, at least for now, granting them some breathing space. Other UNSC personnel were still scattered around the planet, no doubt merely trying to survive, but making contact for the first time since the retreat was a big boost to morale nonetheless. Not this guy, whoever he was. Either he’s gone thoroughly mad, or he had a plan in the works. However, that plan counted on them getting to outpost Sierra, but neither he nor his squad mates had any idea where it was and, in the heat of the moment while chased by a squad of Covenant, he forgot to ask for any directions whatsoever. Going through their waypoints and briefing notes yielded no results, leaving them with nothing. Edward tried to remember any conversations he might have overheard before the drop, hoping something would come up, but he’s spent most of the time before the drop in the pod bay preparing his equipment. At least they were safe for the moment, with most of the squad watching the surroundings, Notso and Lineman focused on the west side in particular in case some Covenant were left of the hunting party.

Something, or someone, rustled in the foliage and called out, startling some of the troops. Ian and Patrick both turned to face that direction, rifles raised, as soon as they heard the distinctively female voice from the trees. ”No, we’re a secret Covenant infiltration unit.” Ian growled as he realised it was a human, lowering his rifle. ”Of course we’re UNSC. You can tell by the letters ‘UNSC’ plastered all over our damn suits and lack of scales and slash or mandibles, not to mention the small fact you’re still alive.” He finished and turned back to the marines they found.
”What the hell were you thinking coming at us like that, lady? A slip of a finger and you’d be breathing through a new hole in your chest, not to mention I nigh shat myself.” Defort, too, lowered his weapon.
”Where did you come from? Where’s the rest of your squad?”
”And would you happen to know anything about Sierra outpost? Our Squad Leader and both Team Leaders didn’t make it and if they knew where it was, they failed to mention it.”
”We are supposed to pick up everyone we can and head there on-” Edward paused, realizing he did not even know who Chariot 9-4-3 was. ”-on orders from Chariot 9-4. Guess since you’re here, you can consider yourself picked up, unless you have different orders from somewhere else.” With that out of the way, Edward remembered at least some basic manners. ”Sorry, who are you, even?” He finally got a better look at the individual. A thin figure in an army battledress and something that looked like a explosives strapped to various parts of her kit. Perhaps a little too many for his taste.

I'm still here.
Mako 6-2, thirteen hours after drop

Were they still there? He could not tell. Peering through his scope, Ian scanned the forest in a wide arc, looking for any signs of movement. Something rustled in the undergrowth, Ian fired two shots, but missed his mark, hitting the tree instead. In that instant he turned and ran, catching up with the rest of his squad and took cover behind another thick tree, waiting for the Covenant. “Hurry up, one of those bastards is still alive and gaining on us.”
”I know.” Sheridan hissed, “Eyes on the woods.”
Sheridan assumed his place at the tip of the group, trying to find a path traversable for Defort and Shepard with their patient. John moved around a small rock formation and ran into a bloodbath. It was a small clearing, although he couldn’t tell if it was natural or created by the conflict. Bodies, more humans than aliens, littered the ground, but several figures still stood. John froze at the edge and raised his rifle, putting it down immediately when he realized they were four marines and what appeared to be a NAVY corpseman walking towards him. ”Crap, mate, you have no idea how glad I am to see you lot.”

The rest of the squad caught up, still oblivious to the marines. “Wait... Put me down, put me down for a sec.” The squad stopped, setting Nero down by a tree. With a motion executed on muscle memory alone, she procured a morphine injector and gave herself a dose, throwing the empty injector away as the pain slowly numbed. “Good to go, should kick in in ten minutes or so.” Only then did she notice Dean. Toogood arrived last, winded, but obviously happy to see friendlies. “Good. Now we just need to find Twitch and lose the three dozen or howevermany aliens tailing us.”
”Notso, see what these marines have been through, maybe it will help us draw a bigger picture. Defort and I will watch west in case any covenant come.” Suddenly, Sheridan paused and listened to an incoming transmission. ”And Ian? Did you, by chance, shoot at something that vaguely looked like an ODST?”

Ten minutes behind Mako 6-2
He wanted to scream. Chariot was miles away! Over a hill, an exposed one by the looks of it, too. No way he could make it, even if he was to do so. Edward punched a tree in silence to vent his desperate rage, finally calming down a little. That plan was a no-go. He had to find Mako. ”Chariot 9-4-3, Mako 6-2-8. Got it. The rest of my squad is somewhere close by, I’ll start with them.” His mind raced. But where could his squad have gone? Last he knew they were heading east. They were moving slowly because of Miranda’s injury, so they couldn’t be that far away. But what if they turned somewhere else? It was possible the Covenant forced them to change direction. Edward shook his head. No, he had no other option. He had to go east and hope for the best. He could read terrain better than anyone else in the squad and he could move fairly quickly on his own. Assuming they kept going east, he should catch up quickly. He would just have to be careful not to run straight into the Covenant that were pursuing them. On that note he took off eastward in a hushed jog, stopping every minute o so for a few seconds to take a careful look around before resuming as not to fall further behind.

Following the trail was easier than he initially feared as he kept finding spent shell casings and even Covenant bodies in the undergrowth, not to mention hearing gunfire as well. Single shots, a BR55 by the sounds of it. That meant either Defort or Toogood were still alive at the very least. After several minutes, the trail of Covenant bodies disappeared, but he could see movement up ahead. Edward took a knee to catch his breath and was about to radio his squad when a bullet whizzed by. ”Three, this is eight, I’m following a trail of dead Covenant due east, but taking fire. Human fire, by the sounds of it. Can you confirm your location?”

Passing through the trees, he finally saw the familiar shapes of human soldiers. ”Friendly from the treeline!” he called, walking out of the woods with his rifle raised above his head. ”Made contact with a survivor from another ODST squad, said to head for OP Sierra, get eyes on and if there are friendlies left, tell their CO more help is hopefully coming. Question is, does anyone of you know where OP Sierra is? I don’t recall it being mentioned in our briefing.”

“Ryder, the Shadow Chaser is Jericho’s private ship, even the position of a pathfinder doesn’t grant us the right to seize people’s property.” The situation was deteriorating. Couldn’t anything go right in this damn galaxy for once? Avitus turned to Jericho “Perhaps we could shove the guy into the ark’s cargo hold, that should be safe enough, there’s not a lot of tech for him to spy in there. Especially if we use an empty container as his cell. And once again, what’s with all this talk of dissection? I get you’re pissed, but this thing is clearly not just an animal. We weren’t cutting up your troops during the Relay 314 incident. Corpses are good enough to learn about them in detail, provided they are intact enough.”

Going over his equipment once again, Edward mumbled to himself as he went through his mental checklist. Seeing some empty space left in his backpack, he wondered wheat he should take. Extra ammo? No, Notso had two extra boxes of 9.5x40 with him. Instead, he packed extra water and a spare rangefinder battery. His equipment ready, he joined the rest of his squad for the briefing lead by Staff Sergeant Snipes.
”Alright kids, here’s the game plan: In five minutes, we’ll be dropping onto Oman. A marine platoon was supposed to secure our drop zone, but the Covenant presence turned out to be too much for them to handle. That means we’re going in blind under manual control. If the marines can secure a landing zone, they will deploy homing beacons for our pods to lock onto and land on autopilot. If they can’t do that, we’ll have to find our own place to land. Twitch, that’s you. Preferably on the Covenant’s flank.”
”We’re relying on the marines? Ed, you’d better start looking for a good spot right away.” Defort’s Army origins were still apparent, but the comment earned a few chuckles among his peers and glares from the former marines in the group.
”Last reports mentioned Jackals led by Brutes. Once we land, Notso will concentrate on the Brutes to thin out their leadership, cause a bit of chaos in their ranks. When we clear that, we are to join the marines in their objective, subordinate to their platoon leader. I see no hands, so get to your pods.”


The events surrounding the landing on Oman were everything but according to plan. Things went to hell sooner than he thought they would as something hit his pod with a gut wrenching thud about a hundred meters above the ground. Whether it was AA fire, another pod or perhaps a stray banshee, it sent his pod sideways at a 45 degree angle, skipping across the ground like a rock on a pond, snapping trees like toothpicks before finally coming to a halt in a small forest. But perhaps it was this accident that saved his life. Whether the Covenant were preoccupied by different engagements or thought no one could survive that impact, they didn’t bother sending anyone to check the pod’s crash site. It was unlikely he would have been able to defend himself in his dazed state had they sent a squad over. It took the rest of Mako 6-2 twelve minutes find him. When they finally arrived, it took the combined efforts of Shepard and Rosenfield to pry open the hatch, bent out of shape by the numerous impacts, releasing him from his confined prison.
“Don’t you think it’s a little bit weird that a guy who specialises in opening doors can’t even get out of his own drop pod?”
“Oh, sod it Defort. Where did you land and where do we stand?”
“Half a click that-a-way.” Staff Sergeant Snipes waved his hand in the direction Edward’s pod came from, “Not too good, but at least we’ve found each other. The marines have been wiped. The Stranger bit the bullet minutes after our drop. Debris is no doubt due to start falling soon, but where they’ll land is anyone’s guess. In the meantime, our objective is still standing. Let’s go, staggered column. Twitch, take point; Lineman, rear.”

Thirteen hours later

Edward didn’t dare peek from cover, the footsteps were still too close. After the ambush that decapitated the squad, they tried to disengage and lose their pursuers in an orderly manner, but with Corporal Nero’s crushed leg, it left only him and Toogood to cover their back as everyone else was busy carrying her. In a spectacular case of his brain failing, Ed told Ian to find a position further back while he held the ground. No longer than five seconds later, a grenade planted itself neatly in the tree Edward was hiding behind, giving him only a split second to act. Although he managed to save himself by jumping into a small crevice, the victory rang hollow as there was no way for him to get back up to his squad. He spent the next ten minutes in the woods playing a dangerous game of hide and seek with half a dozen Jackals that separated from the main force to hunt him down.

The sudden transmissions startled him. Much to his dismay, it wasn’t anyone from his squad. Taking a careful look around himself, he almost whispered, still panting for breath.
“Chariot 9-4-3, this is Mako 6-2-8, grid 4BFG 326 228, I think. Sure pinging your position is such a good idea, what if the Covenant catch it? Can you send coordinates or landmarks instead?”
That is unless they both get headshot within 5 minutes of each other

Well, the red and white markings on their armor would provide good visual clues... :P
“I didn’t say our guest would be conscious.” Erin turned to Jericho with a condescending look, “Not to mention the technology aboard the ark is similar, if not exactly the same as the pathfinder ships. And we can’t keep it outside, that would make it too easy for its friends to silence. Besides, if they’ve dragged some of ours away, it’s likely the civilian personnel would tell them everything they knew. Anyway, I recommend we take a look through the edges of the forest, if it’s not being done already. Some of their fallen and maybe even more wounded might still be there.”
“Don’t forget to get yourself checked, too. Just in case. Anyway, you’d probably off that thing in a single punch. It does look a bit frail at first glance.” He turned to Ryder. “And here comes the hero. What’s that I hear about reconnaissance? Anyone remembered to pack a few tanks of napalm or something? Make a little fire so we can see better? After this last show, suddenly I don’t feel too bad about burning this planet to a crisp, at least partially.”

“Pathfinder, burning doesn’t get you anywhere, no physical torture will, the victim will eventually make anything up to escape the pain.” Erin said as she arrived. “Advanced interrogation takes time. Or were you talking about something else?” She noticed Jouric leaving and her expression reshaped into a frown. “Should’ve left them all in Milky Way. Since someone had a soft heart and let them live in the first place.” Turning back to the captive, she measured it with her gaze. “Face looks like a dried human. Forward-facing alert eyes on a nocturnal being? Weird. Perhaps this planet didn’t use to be dark. Maybe the scourge affected it?” Erin shone a torch in the captive’s eyes, a little surprised by its reaction. “Alright, very sensitive to direct light. Four fingers plus two opposable ones. Unnatural even by human standards, no? Armor reminds me of the Terminus Assault Armor a little. I’d like to take a close look at that.” Erin ceased her curious examination and turned back to the trio. “Where shall we put him? I recommend a sick bay to get better understanding of their physiology. Might have to clear out some of the wounded.”
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