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Warfighter: Operation Shatterfall

Summary

By the year of 2621 A.D, humanity has already constructed hundreds of planetary colonies throughout the Milky Way. With the help of extraterrestrial allies, mankind has settled itself comfortably in a safe spot within the predominantly peaceful community of the Galactic Council.

Well, most of mankind. 

From the ashes of World the Secession War rose multiple warring human states that challenged the way of life of Earth-based worlds. One such example was the Rukhovian People's Federation, also known as the PRF. 

The never ending conflict between the Counter Aggression Treaty Organisation (C.A.T.O) and the brutal armies of the xenophobic PRF have raged on for another two bloody years. With war plaguing the human space, Earth's military alliance must find a way to keep every other warring human faction at bay without the help of her extraterrestrial allies. On the other side, hell bent on eradicating the authority of Earth and it's people, the Rukhovians will do whatever it takes to win the war, even if it needs to commit war crimes. 

But when the PRF decides to raise its twisted sword against the colony of Euphoria, the most brutal and bloodiest battle between the two human superpowers begins. 

As a new recruit in the USF's 25th Infantry Battalion, Raptor Company, Private Kevin Frost and his allies will lead the counter offensive against the PRF. Being the best of the best, Raptor Company will conduct multiple strategic and tactical strikes against the enemy. 

One thing is certain, Frost will not let Euphoria and it's people fall into the hands of an oppressive and murderous military government. 

Through his eyes, he'll show you war.

Epigraph

"One good act of vengeance deserves another."

Jon Jefferson

Chapter 1: Prologue

USFS Excalibur-class destroyer codename: DDG-95 Stormbringer.
Orbit of Exaltation, Exalted System.
January 15th, 2621 AD
0430 hours, Galactic Standard Time.

It's Monday, Janurary 15th; but it wasn't any other Monday.

Up here, almost 100,000 feet above the urban surface of Exaltation, the combat hulls of the Raven Carrier Stike Group prepared themselves. With the combined strength of hundreds of Martian built ships, each packed with overwhelming firepower, the Strike Group will jump to the Frontline fifteen times faster than the speed of light. Which also meant that I might see combat for the first time. They shipped an entire batch of recruits into the 15th Brigade Combat Team's 25th Infantry Battalion of the 1st Infantry Division just for the sake of the Euphorian Campaign.

I have been waiting for this day to come. It's only been six months since the my completion in Basic Combat Training. Today, I'm officially deployed and assigned to a unit that was part of one of the largest military force under the Counter Aggression Treaty Organization, the United Systems Forces. The USF was directly responsible for Earth's security and defense during the early stages of the Second Space Age 500 years ago. As it's name suggests, it represented the military force for the majority of the unified star systems, hence the name 'United Systems'. But ever since humans were granted more and more planets, Earth's defenses were spread thin, and so, C.A.T.O was born.

C.A.T.O consisted up to thirty military groups, with each falling under the direct command of Earth's authority. These military forces often represented different regions in human space. Like the USF, for example, who are in charge of the Core Systems' defense, or the Inter-colonial Defense Administration, who are guarding the fragile orbital shipyards of the Woodside Cluster. They often earned the nickname, Acronym Armies, due to the extensive use of acronyms.

However, despite the recent combined efforts of the alliance, we lost a fundamental element in the defense line against the enemy as the planet Atlas Prime was lost to the PRF. It was a major setback for CATO.

Now, the armies of the xenophobic and oppressive Rukhovian People's Federation (also known as the PRF) began flooding through the 'breach', or as the military would like to call, the Gap. Euphoria was the first to be struck by the toxic grasp of the enemy. It was one of the sixty-plus colonies located near the Frontline and is a strategic foothold for the CATO. The planet's administration has ran countless supply runs for the alliance. Many battles were won because of its endless logistical and military support.

But enlisting was kinda like a death wish. Life expectancy drops tremendously in the Frontline, especially when you're a grunt facing the enemy up close and personal.

But I have made a promise. A promise to my dead kin. A promise to avenge the dead and protect those who couldn't defend themselves against the PRF. To defy the Earth government is treason but to fight an all out war and commit genocide against its citizens is a war against freedom, justice and truth. This so-called Rukhovian People's Federation has been a torn on our side ever since the Secession War almost a century ago. They have swallowed up nearly one hundred and twenty colonies in less than 50 years while building an army three times the size of Earth's combined military force. After countless proxy tactics, provocations and open conflicts, war was declared almost five years ago.

They rose from the Secessionist War in the  Russian based Bol system. First, they formed the violent ultra-nationalist faction known as the People's Liberation Militia. It's agenda was. to extreminate the people Earth and build a better state, one that wasn't friendly to Earth. They then rebelled against the government. Orbital factories ceased production, shipyards were raided and entire cities were taken over. The PLM grew bold, so bold to the point where the government was overthrown and the leaders executed on live television.

But it didn't stop there. The furious militia then renamed themselves to the PRF and, and raided almost 120 neighboring colonies on the way.

Bol was gone, as of today, it's called the Democratic People's Republic of Rukhovia. And it's satellite states fall under the banner of the PRF.

Initially, they claimed they were fighting for the old, dead Communist ideology. But they were no different from the nationalistic fanatics and murderers of the small, yet dangerous Nazi Federation located at the very far reaches of human space. They were simply using Communism to mask their fascist ideals.

"Jump In: Two. Minutes, " the destroyer's A.I. announced.

I found myself again standing before the Stormbringer's massive reinforced windows, dressed in the standard issue combat uniform. My eyes focused on the gleaming white, ice crystals that have found themselves on the glass, clouding up the field of view. Beyond them was a crowd of civilians standing by the Rail's departure platform. Many of them were waving at the 800m destroyer as began its first jump procedure. Banners and posters of 'good luck' and many other positive messages were held up high above their heads. I looked to my left and right, only to see soldiers smiling and waving back at the people one last time before the ship disappears 15 times faster than the speed of light, perhaps one last time, knowing that the chances of them returning home may drop to less than 1%.

The destroyer slowly emerged from the terminal. At that moment, the undeniable beauty of the urban colony illuminated the infinitely starless void around her.

Billions of clustered bright white city lights lit up under the wrath of the grey gargantuan rainstorms that blanketed the darker side of the urban planet. The sky cracked as a flash of brilliant orange streaked across the clouds of Exaltation's predictable daily storms. From here, the lightnings represented nothing but only the sheer volume of hurricanes and storms that would cloud entire continents for weeks or even months.

Flickers of azure blue from civilian and military ships breaking out of jump demanded my attention. Arrays of orbital defensive platforms hung in unison as they defended Exaltation, each containing enough firepower and precision to destroy battleships with a single salvo. Hundreds of galactic-based communication satellites orbited the planet, following an orbital cycle behind the planet's defensive net. Exaltation was important, just like every other Earth colony. Although there were no extraterrestrial forces craving for Exaltation's wealth, we still had the PRF and a few other warring human factions to worry about.

"Jump in: One. Minute."

Now, a loud hum sounded around the walls of the vessel as the hyper-drive charged.

I looked around again, and wondered where my best friends are.

Midnight could be in the armory talking to the new girl. James? I won't be sure.

And here am I, alone, staring blindly into the void.

I continued cherishing the stunning view for the last time. My eyes soared through the city and it's vibrant lights, until a sudden hard slap landed right on my back.

Before I could reply, a voice spoke out.

The AI announced once again, "Jumping in thirty seconds."

"Briefing hall, two minutes."

I glanced over my shoulder, only to see one of the men in my squad. His name's McCord I think. His pale, stern face stared at me, as if he was waiting for an answer.

"Copy that," I replied.

Satisfied, he turned and walked away.

I guess this is how it begins.

I took a last sight at the distant Exaltation, before turning away as the ship began its final jump protocol and the shutters came down.

Chapter 2: Before the Storm

Jumping to Euphoria
Breifing room 08
USFS Excalibur-class destroyer codename: Stormbringer
January 15th, 2621 AD
0431 Galactic Standard Time.

After walking through the labyrinth of smooth and wide hallways, I've finally reached the briefing hall that my company was assigned to. The room was enclosed with four black walls with sleek white sphere bulbs integrated into its surface. A large holographic map of the Human Space stretched across the room. Thousands of tiny, colorful dots filled the artificial air, with blue ones representing star systems under Earth control and red and yellow representing the PRF and other rogue human states. Fortunately, most of these dots are in blue.

I walked up the flight of stairs in hopes of finding a vacant seat at the back corner. I expected McCord to be here, but he was no where to be found. With ease, I settled myself down, and watched the large entrance doors.

About a minute later, the hall was swarmed with soldiers from the Raptor Rifle Company. The vacant seats were quickly filled up by the one-hundred and fifty men unit, but my friends were no where in sight. Maybe they were among the crowd.

"Alright... alright, settle down people." First Lieutenant Echo shouted from the front of the projector. The tall, well-built man stood firm. He gave an impression you would expect from a first-lieutenant leading an entire company. His dark, craggy, clean shaven face signified his extensive involvement in the war. Though he looked old for his age, he put forth the energy and determination of men half his age. He stood among the group of lieutenants in the front.

The first lieutenant stepped forward, and scanned through the hall of soldiers briefly.

"By now, everyone of you should know that we are heading towards Euphoria as we speak-"he paused, and turned to the nearest lieutenants, "Lipton. The projector."

Lipton punched some buttons on the console, causing the Milky Way to shrink and change, displaying an image of a planet instead. Based on its small oceans, huge urban landmass, fourteen Solar Amplifiers and two moons, one did not need to learn astronomy to know that the hologram is Euphoria.

"4 days ago, the Rukhovian People's Army, along with the support of multiple PRF member states, led a major occupation campaign on the planet. They have established at least 500 bases in Euphoria and the local military is unable to hold up against the 200 million strong PRF attack force. By far, this is the largest PRF invasion force we ever faced since the last five years.

He paced back and forth, hesitant, "Currently, I have also been receiving rumors that some of you wanted the numbers. Fortunately, I do have the official statistics. But unfortunately, the numbers do not bode well."

Shit. It must be worse compared to Atlas.

"The numbers suggests that the Euphorian citizens were in fact, as reported, under direct fire from the Rukhovians. At least 14 million Euphorian citizens are dead since the initial strike and another 5 billion are now either trapped in their assigned war shelters or seeking refuge in friendly bases."

Only a few men and women of Raptor Company gasped after he finished. But most of the company seemed as if they were not surprised.

So the news were true. It was all true.

"As the USF is the most powerful military force in CATO-"

Of course we were the strongest. The USF alone numbered between one hundred and fifty to two-hundred billion personnel. But the combined strength of CATO is around 730 billion, and that's enough to stand against the combined strength of those that wish to see the Earth burn.

"-we're assigned to lead a major counter-offensive against the Rukhovians. Admiral Serin Jensen has confirmed final Congress approval to execute this offensive. Operation Shatterfall is officially, a go.

"Our mission: To completely eradicate the PRF threat from the system. Any questions?"

Someone in the front row raised his right hand.

"Yes, sergeant?"

"What about strategic support from the other guys, sir?"

"Currently, the Intercolonial Defense Administration's 104th Army and the Arcadian Strategic Space Command's 46th Marines are on their way. However, reports from the Naval Intelligence Agency indicates that they have met moderate resistance from the PRF's Chinzou army in the Yava System and are currently cleaning them up. The reinforcements from the rest of CATO is expected to arrive soon."

"What about the Intergalactic Council, sir," someone else asked, "I mean, what they're commiting here is mass genocide. Shouldn't the United Tau States or the Pleadians take action against them?"

"You know the answer to that already private. But, we can expect a few of our Centaurian and Pleadian allies participating in humanitarian efforts."

The Galactic Council was the Milky Way's joint governing body and the sole reason of why most of the galaxy is living peaceful and prosperous lives. According to the history codices, the Council has prevented interracial conflicts and eradicated racism since the Great Galactic War twenty thousand years ago. At least 1 million species, including us, are members of the Council. It was the bridge between our species and the rest of the known galaxy. It allowed the trade of technology and culture to take place. Although the Council has a peacekeeping force, it's laws states that no peacekeeping force and other extraterrestrial militaries are allowed to intervene with another races' conflict. In short, we are on our own fighting against the PRF.

The image suddenly magnified zoomed in on one of Euphoria's vast continents. It was Euphoria's capital, Revolt City. Details of the artifical terrain and skyscrapers were crystal clear.

"Multiple divisions will execute the operation at the same time. Intel suggests that the Rukhovians have amassed 75% of their invasion force in Revolt, so the entire III Corps will be tasked to retake Revolt City.

At least 14 armies of infantry and armored units have been assembled to the north and east of the city."

The map zoomed out, and three yellow circles formed around one part of the city. Trails of red, indicating drop paths of drop pods drew upon them.

"Your job is as simple as getting down there and kick some asses. We will begin with Stage 1, which will be initiated by orbital insertion through the fleet battle and directly into Revolt, the Navy will keep you intact. All pods will be inserted at Drop Zone Alpha or Bravo, both landing zones will be covered by divisions from the 22nd Army."

Everyone was squirming in their seats, whisper of doubts were exchanged throughout the hall; everyone knew how dangerous an orbital drop deployment through a fleet battle was, especially when your next destination is a city filled with hordes of psychopathic murderers. Not to mention the extremely capable long range SAM batteries the PRF had at their disposal.

"I know it sounds insane, but these are orders from Colonel.T himself. We will have the fleet and the air force guys to back us up in this one. For now, PRF ground batteries and air force in the region have been weakened. But be advised, there will be heavy resistance from the enemy at this time. Expect multiple detachments of the PRF attack force amassing outside the base. If you and your squad failed to land at any of DZ, you must proceed to the RV point or you may face the risk of capture. However, if you are being captured, your transponders will activate. Do not remove your transponders, or else we cannot get to you. Its better that you shoot yourself rather than to be captured."

Being captured by the PRF is a soldier's nightmare: You'll be tortured, paraded, mocked and finally executed on live broadcast as propaganda. To them, losing hundreds of men is worth the capture of a lone enemy soldier.

"The entire PRF's Eastern Theater Command is bearing down on this colony. Remember, if we don't stop them at the Gap right now, we will lose more colonies, and we will lose way more lives than we can ever imagine. I know this will sound cheesy as hell, but the fate of humanity rests on your hands." He paused.

"You will know about Phase 2 after the completion of Phase 1, good luck."

"Alright everyone, gear up, get ready by 6am. Dismissed," one of the lieutenants yelled.

Everyone stood up and started leaving the hall, but I sat at my seat, not moving as I waited for the rest to push their way out of the small automatic doors that simply couldn't fit the crowd with a size of an entire company trying to get out at the same time. It was an old habit. Since when I was a child, I've always hated crowds. The idea of shoving oneself into a sea of individuals was almost suffocating to me. It took several minutes before I was willing to walk through those doors.

----------

Middle of hyperspace jump
Raptor Company Quarters
USFS Excalibur-class destroyer codename: Stormbringer
January 15th, 2621 AD
0436 hours ,Galactic Standard Time.

The white LED lamps glared down on every single soldier in the company's quarters. Familiar strangers nodded at me as I walked past their bunks. I hadn't had the chance to personally meet them, yet, they seem know who the new bloods were.

Raptor Company, colloquially known as the 'Firewalkers', was a part of the 25th Infantry Battalion, 1st Infantry Division of the 3rd USF Army. Raptor Company included three  rifle platoons and one heavy weapons platoon with a headquarters section. Each platoon contained three nine-man rifle squads and one nine-man weapons squad. The company has seen and endured almost everything the war has ever thrown at them. Many of the company's personnel were battle hardened veterans with an impressive record of ruthlessness and heroism. 

I found myself sitting on a black carbon-fiber weapon crate next to my bunk. The rest of the chairs were either at the bottom of the asses of the other guys, all the Navy lads just took them away as they lacked chairs. Funny, they can produce enough ships to fill up the entire III Corps, yet they can't produce enough chairs for an entire destroyer.

I sat down, and started cleaning my already disassembled standard-issue M-24A4 assault rifle. I searched the pouches of the cleaning kit, and dug up the photon cleaner. The rifle's lower and upper receiver was already seperated for cleaning. I was reassembling the charging handle and bolt carrier group before I got, well, sidetracked. Now, all I had to do was clean the chamber, no problem. I shoved the sleek white rod down the chamber and through the barrel. With two quick beeps, the cleaner hummed softly. The decomosite cleaners replaced traditonal brushes almost two hundred years ago. It emmits a wave of decomosite, a gas subtance that decomposes debree and dust in the weapon whlist using it's vacuum pores to absorb the remnants. It's like a mini-version of a vacuum cleaner. After several seconds, I removed the cleaner, and placed it back into the pouch.

This sleek, elegant two kilogram 30-round rifle was heavily based of the 20th Century's AR-15 platform, and has been significantly improved by the Fenyr Ballistics Corporation for the past four centuries. The weapon is made of titanium alloy and poylmer and features several rails fitted on the top of the receiver and the heat-shielded barrel. This allowed several military grade attachments to be fitted on the rifle such as close range optics, IR lasers and grips. Unlike it's carbine cousin, the M-12A1, the M-24A4 had a fixed buttstock with built in shock absorbers to counter the recoil when fired. With an effective range of 900 meters, the rifle can hit targets almost a kilometer away; and it fires the trusty and deadly 5.56X45mm round at a muzzle velocity of 1200m/s, which is able to inflict massive ballistic damage to armored and unarmored targets. Alongside the carbine variant, it has been the standard issue weapon for all USF Army branches.

I dry-fired the rifle against the locked trigger. When it came to actually firing the firearm itself, I would always put the biggest threat down first. It's either the guy who raised his weapon first, or the guy with the RPG standing near an elevated position. A centre-mass would kill them in one or two rounds. Tap-tap, splat.

Or bang, bang, bang, splat if it's on burst-fire.

Suddenly, I felt a smack to the back of my head.

I turned, "Motherfuc-" it was my childhood friend, Midnight.

His presence was often enjoyable by many. Like me, he's currently 21 years old. Although we were the same age, he looked slightly older, and a inch taller too. He was the closest I could ever have to a brother. We were brothers in arms.

He had no family name, he hasn't talked or even mentioned about it since we met 15 years ago. I guess it's his way of coping with loss.

He settled himself down on one of the crates in front of me in full gear with his rifle by his side.

"You're way too early, " I told him, not looking up from my rifle.

"What?"

"Y'know, gearing up," I told him.

"I know, just wanted to be ready," he said.

I laid my rifle down and picked up my scope before looking through it. A blue delta shaped reticule formed as my eye grew closer.

"Private...uhh...Midnight?" Someone called out, "Private Midnight?"

Midnight turned to the voice, "Who's asking?"

A young courier walked towards our bunk,"Finally, been looking for your sorry ass for the past ten minutes."

"What have you got for me?" Midnight asked.

"Messages, as usual, it's for.. uh.. " the courier raised a tablet up to his face, ".. Private Midnight, Private Kevin Frost and-"

"It's alright, I got it," Midnight said, "thanks."

The courier handed him several pieces of paper and walked away. Midnight

"What is it?" I asked.

"It appears, the ladies at home left a mail for each of us," Midnight said, studying the letters.

"They did?" I asked, raising one eyebrow, but my eyes still fixed on the optics, watching the red reticle appearing and disappearing as I alinged my eyes with the sensor.

"Yeah, here's yours, " he tossed the folded sheet at me.

I caught it in mid air without looking. "Thanks," I said before unfolding it

The text read:

Hey Kev,

Remember what we told you, you better come back with all four limbs. If you don't, we'll kill you.

We, hope the three of you are doing well and having fun in the Army. We are proud of you, James and Middy. You all are willing to do what people won't do: fight for the safety of humanity and it's allies. Heading towards Euphoria, yes? We saw it on the news. What those S.O.Bs have done is barbaric.

You heard bout Ezekiel? He seems pretty happy with his job. But he hasn't called us in a week.

Well, thats all we can write for now. Y'know, military regulations. So, good luck and go kick some asses.

From,
Grace and Max.

TRANSMISSION END.

"You think this insane plan is gonna work? " he asked, suddenly, still reading, " I mean, the chances of us getting shot out of the sky is pretty damn high." He folded the paper and slipped it into his cargo pocket.

He looked worried, as if he thinks he won't make it back home alive.

I couldn't blame him though, it was our first operation. Our first combat experience. He was nervous as hell. Back in hight school, getting into tricky situations where he did not had the upper hand often terrified him. But this time, it's different, it's no longer whether he'll be locked in the freshers for the entire day or getting food thrown at him during lunchtime..

.. it's life and death.

"I hope," I replied.

"I doubt this will work."

"Have faith. Plus, we were trained to jump into sewers and work out how to clean them up," I told him.

"But we're jumping into a sewer filled with carnivorous rats. It's not like we are invited down there to have a cup of coffee with the Rukhovians. They're the fucking enemy, they want to kill us, and we want to kill them. We'll be dead before we even make it to the atmosphere."

"It won't be easy retaking this one. But like Eze use to say: look at-"

"-the positive side of things," he continued and sighed. He sunk his head.

"But hey, at least we get to avoid another Atlas," I assured him.

"That's what we're here for, right?"

"Yea."

I caught Midnight looking over my shoulder before glancing away. I knew who was sneaking behind me. Pvt. James Westbrook He bared an innocent yet serious expression of a new recruit. He's also 21 and I have known him for 14 years, and in that 14 years, he never took things seriously, especially during his time in high school. Humour was his weapon, though, training in the Army has killed some of it.

He tried to sit on the crate my weapon was being assembled. But after realising that my rifle was laying alongside a few magazines of 5.56mm rounds, he decided that it was much wiser to stand.

"James, didn't notice you," I said.

"You two have so much enthusiasm for war, huh?" James folded his arms.

Midnight did his best to hide his nervousness. He removed his helmet, "Nah-" he scratched his short-haired scalp, " it's just that I'm fast."

I gestured to my rifle, "What, I can't clean my guns?"

Unlike Midnight, he was surprisingly enthusiastic. From joint exercises to the real shit, he was ready.

"What about you? You look happy," I asked.

"Ew.." James picked up the standard issue M-5 pistol laying idly on the crate, "You're still keeping this?"

"What do you mean 'ew'? As long as it kills, I don't mind," I said.

He stared at the M-5's black polymer surface with disgust, "I hate this.. this 'thing'. Would rather carry more rounds than this piece of junk."

"Well, it's as light as a feather, worth the weight," I said.

"But it doesn't reach as far as my trusty M12A1," he said, his lips grew wider "or the SMG over here," he tapped the compact, white firearm on his holster.

"But it doesn't mean it can't kill," I said.

"But only fifteen rounds. The SMG has twenty. "

"Still, it's standard issue for everyone, inculding you."

The M-5 Individual Modular Combat Sidearm was a standard issue, fifteen-round, combat pistol with an effective range of 150m. The main module of the M-5 is an internal titanium-alloy frame fire control unit, which consists of the integrated fire control group, ambidextrous slide release located at each side of the weapon, ejector and four slide rails. The fire-control group allows the soldier to interchange between differently sized and chambered variants of the M-5, such as the M-5B, which fires a 50 caliber round, or the up-sized M-5X that fires a high explosive 45 caliber round. The standard variant fires the 9mm SABOT pistol round designed to penetrate standard PRF body armor with relative ease.

Midnight took out another piece of paper and said,"Hey."

James turned to Midnight as he tossed the perfectly folded object at him, "What's this?" James caught it in mid-air.

"A letter," I answered.

"Oh," he said as he unfolded the paper.

I picked up the last round and inserted it into one of the magazines laying next to my rifle.

One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, ni- wait, where's the last magazine?

I bent my body hastily, and found that my magazine was laying idle behind the crate. I grabbed it and placed it beside my rifle.

"What? Whatcha' looking at huh?" Midnight suddenly said.

I continued inserting the remaining bullets into the last magazine. "What? A girl caught James' attention again? " I said without looking up.

"Indeed she has," Midnight replied.

"Who?" I turned around.

Turns out, it was the new girl in our squad. Well, we are all new to the squad. She walked towards us, in full gear like Midnight.

Midnight turned his attention back to James, "That's Private Amber Flaire."

"I know that," he said.

"Assigned to 1st Platoon, 1st Squad."

James' face was filled with excitement, "Our squad? Niiice."

"Since when you had a taste for human females?"

"Since when I came out from my mother's womb. Picking up chicks while serving Earth? Heh, I bet my family would be proud... "he paused,"... if they were still alive, that is."

That was the reason why we became childhood friends. I lost my family in the 2605 Attack on Earth, Midnight lost his in the PRF's invasion of Haven in 2604, and James lost his in the 2605 Attack as well.

We had nobody but each other. We were the worst of the worst of all victims. The school dormitories were the only places we could call home.

It sucks everytime I realised that I was the only person in my family tree who was still alive.

Every. Single. One.

"Really? I always thought you digged Centurian chicks," Midnight said.

"Sure, those female aliens are hot, but there are some humans that are better."

She walked closer to us and her systematic footsteps were now audible.

"Now, don't blow this one up for me, guys," Midnight whispered.

"Blow this up for you? What-"

"You left your flag," Amber's voice spoke out as her arms stretched out with a III Corps badge in her palm. The III Corps was one of the major formations in the USF Army. Like the rest of the USF force, its organization and structure was heavily based on the 21st Century U.S. Army.

Midnight stood up. "R-Right, thanks, a-appreciate it," Midnight said as their hands contacted.

Oh, that's what he meant.

"You're welcome," she paused. "Are these the two you were talking about?"

So, they were talking. And he's been pretending that he wasn't eyeballing her since we got here.

"Yeah," Midnight replied.

"Nice to meet you both," she held her hand out to me.

I stood up I shook it, "Kevin Frost." I looked into her eyes. They were green, almost like the colour of leaf. The colour of her hair was made up of shades of warm fiery orange, almost as vibrant as fire.

"Amber Flaire," she replied.

"Nice name," I said. I studied her the best I could. Her name does match her hair.

"Thank you."

She did the same to James, who shook her hand while grinning like a 5 year old boy, "Westbrook, James."

"I guess I'll see you guys at planetfall, then," she winked at Midnight before walking away.

"Alright, see ya later," I said casually.

"Bye," James said with excitement.

After she went out of audible range, I turned to Midnight, "So, uh..,"

"Dont start it," Midnight interrupted.

"So you were talking with her in the armory," James said

"You said she was unapproachable." I added

"I was only talking. It improves unit cohesion-"

"Unit cohesion?" James interrupted.

"Yea-"

"Wait, you smell that?"

There was only the smell of gunpowder, cigarettes and.... mint?

"What?" I asked.

"It smells like a load of bullshit." James told Midnight, grinning like a damn child again.

"Whatever, man. Anyways, you both should be suiting up, you have exactly 5 hours and 20 minutes," Midnight said without looking at his watch as he tried to divert the topic away.

I looked at my watch as I slipped my M-5 IMCS into my holster. The bright luminescent blue display showed '04:40:00', exactly 5 hours and 20 minutes. I stood up and grabbed my M24 and the rifle's magazines.

"See you in the armory, then," I said to James.

"Sure," he replied.

I turned to Midnight, "And I'll see you at the deployment bay."

"A'ight, got cha."

I headed out, and proceeded to the armory.

------

Armory Room, 2 minutes later.

"Right here. Station five, private," the weapons officer called out from behind his desk and gestured at the weapons terminal with a bright yellow '5' above.

"Yes sir," I replied.

I walked towards one of many terminals that was attached to the bulkhead. There were a few soldiers were there fiddling with their equipment.

Once I arrived, I placed all my weapon parts on the table that stretched in front of me. The display in front of me flared up as I announced my name and serial number to the screen. For a second, it turned green, than the sound of mechanical parts rang beneath the desk.

A small weapons rack mechanically appeared in front of me. It had a dozen 'pockets' of different shapes on the left and the right. Each of the long, slanted, slots held a few ammunition magazines for the rifle. The squarish slots on the other hand, housed various grenade types.

I picked up one of the grenades and rolled it in my palm.

The M-6 Tactical Multi-Purpose Grenade, colloquially known as 'The Six', is a dual purpose grenade that can be used as both a fragmentation grenade or a concussion grenade, or both. Depending on the situation, it has two different settings. It can be used to clear rooms, destroy cover, blowing up bunkers, or to simply get rid of a bunch of psychopathic murderers charging towards your position.

I grabbed my body armor and inspected it. Although the front and sides are visually thin, the standard Modular Scalable Tactical Vest comprises of a few layers. The first layer, known as the Protective Outer Layer, is made up of four lightweight, ceramic  ballistic plates. The second layer, known as the Critical Ballistic Layer, which consists of liquid armor that slows down most modern projectiles' kinetic penetration by 50%. Despite of the amount of layers used, the vest was still compact, tactical and comfortable.

I placed the rifle on the table, and scattered the magazines like a deck of cards on a gambling table. One by one, I slipped the mags, three Sixes, one smoke grenade and a trauma pack into the webgear.

Then, I threw the body armor over my shoulders and almost instantaneously, the mechanical straps automatically tightened over my torso. Then, I pressed a hidden button located to the side of my belt. With a smooth soft ping, the built-in carbon-fiber exoskeleton attached to my lower torso activated. Going along the length of my leg, every combat pants in the Army came standard with them. It was powered by either a rotary dynamo that used the infantry's kinetic energy or a 8-day battery pack to provide enhanced cardiovascular performance and it allowed a fully geared soldier to run at 12 km/h to 15 km/h. Did I also mention that you could also shatter someone's ribs with a well placed powered kick to their chest?

If only we had the same tech for our upper torso.

Chapter 3: Planetfall

Euphoria, Phi System 
Colony Sector 2190. (aka.The Frontline)
January 15th, 2621 AD
0900 hours, Galactic Standard Time

With the light of hundreds of bright azure flashes, the Tempest broke out of jump before the PRF secondary battle fleet, weapons ready. The enemy was well within the effective ranges of the Martian-built weapons of the USF Navy ships that surpassed the reach of almost all of the PRF naval weaponry. This, by default made the USF Navy the top of the naval food chain in human space.

Captain Johnson stood at the bridge's reinforced windows and observed the unstoppable hull of the Stormbringer maneuver itself towards the titanic cluster of the PRF fleet. Between the Tempest and the enemy was a vast debree field, mostly remnants from the planetary defense fleet and the orbital factories that were overran two days ago.

The Tempest Carrier Stike Group was no ordinary escort fleet. It consisted up to one hundred and fifty Excalibur-class destroyers, twenty five Wolf-class destroyers , thirty Adeptus-class dreadnoughts, twenty Wraith-class battleships, four Talon-class carriers and one Titan-class supercarrier. It was perfect for an orbital assault op. Although these numbers seem timid compared to a typical PRF fleet, the USF has more powerful ships compared to her foes, not to mention the presence of supercarriers, which the Rukhovians hardly possessed.

As ordered, the destroyers and dreadnoughts spearheaded the assault, while the Wraith-class battleships and Talon carriers began their long range salvos with their mass drivers and railguns. Johnson kept his eyes on the viewscreen as bluish-white bolts from the railguns darted towards the line of enemy ships.

Alongside her sister ships, the Stormbringer closed in on the enemy. At a whopping price tag of 18 billion galactic credits, the destroyer possessed an impressive arsenal of fifty rapid firing ballistic cannons with an addition of a M-4 Vertical Launch System containing 96 missile cells and a devastatingly immense Mark 42 High Velocity Destroyer-class Railgun concealed within its titanium skin.

"Sir, three Kunloy destroyers are coming in hot on our vector, 1 light second away," Operator Jenkins said from the helm control behind him. Jenkins was the latest addition to the bridge crew. He was recently transferred to this ship almost a month ago. He was meant to replace Sarah on the helm. Johnson hoped Jenkins could live up to the skill and versatility she possessed.

"Tag em'," he ordered. On the surface of the transparent glass windows, three perfect red triangles appeared within the line of enemy ships with their class, speed and numbers indicating their distance. He could see the glare of the sun laying against what seemed to be three enemy Kunloy-class destroyers. Also known as the Type 962, they were the most commonly fielded destroyer in the PRF Navy, often fitted with weaponry suited for close range engagements.

"Power the shields and countermeasures," He said, still staring at the enemy fleet.

"Aye, Captain, arming shields," the operator replied.

"First officer," Johnson called.

"Awaiting orders, sir," the deep voice of First Officer Richard Murphy replied. Through the reflection of the windshield, Johnson could see the First Officer's tall, muscular build standing cold and ready.

"Focus ballistic fire on the centre destroyer. Lock missiles on the remaining two. I want the missiles to fire once we reach effective range," Johnson continued, "2 for each."

"Yes sir." And at the top of his lungs, he yelled, "Weapons check!"

"All weapons locked and ready to engage, We're good to go, sir," Operator Jameson called out from the ballistics section below the bridge's walkway. Jameson on the other hand, was swift and accurate like his ballistic crew under his command. Most of the time, he would prefer firing one of the 120mm guns himself. However, Richard preferred the A.I.'s precise firing solutions rather than appreciating Jameson's excellent combat skill. Though, he could still be a pain in the ass with his daily pranks on the bridge crew and his cheeky attitude.

Richard asked, "Hit probability?"

"Ninety-nine percent, "Jameson replied.

"Captain, we're good to go," the weapons officer said from behind.

"Engage once we reach effective range," Johnson commanded.

"Aye Captain."

The bridge was located almost to the rear of the destroyer and it towered slightly above the large 1200mm guns, giving a clear view of the battlefield and the two-thirds of the entire length of the hull. From there, he watched the nearest 120mm's triangular-shaped barrel rotate effortlessly towards the enemy's direction before observing the PRF's fleet formation. Like their infantry tactics, they were forming up into rows of three spaced out uniformly in a straight line line. Kunloy-class destroyers and the Karak-class battlecrusiers formed the vanguard, while Ardun-class carriers and Medved-class battleships formed the rear echelons. 
He quickly scanned through the enemy fleet, and counted at least five-hundred ships. The PRF outnumbered the Tempest two to one.

"Vector zero-zero-zero, fire at will, fire at will," Jameson said.

A blinding orange light from the 120mm cannon's barrel brought Johnson back to the battle. Barrages of sub-luminal projectiles flew themselves into the enemy. He then shifted his view to the 105mm cannons that fired tungsten SABOT rounds that were specially designed to puncture enemy hulls with ease. If the round's high energy impact wasn't enough to kill the crew, the vacuum of space would do the rest of the job by sucking out its contents, suffocating crew and crushing robotics alike. Then he looked at the 1200mm coilguns that boomed out large volleys of pure explosive power five times greater than the standard 120mm guns. Along the lengths of the Stormbringer , he could see the gatling guns of the 20mm Phantom CIWS blasting short bursts of bullets into the distance. At 10000km away, tracers slammed the Kunloy-class destroyer's shields. A yellow sphere of energy ignited before dissipating into vacuum, it grew dimmer and dimmer.

Until it extinguished forever.

"First salvo?" Richard asked.

"One hundred and fifty hits confirmed and rising, second salvo on the way," Jameson said.

The Kunloy's portside and bow erupted with flames as hundreds of explosions peppered its hull. Large portions of the destroyer erupted as hundreds of secondary explosions were triggered. It's two large 1000mm guns on it's broadside platforms blasted apart, sending trails of boiling metal and volatile munitions into space.

The chaos of ballistic fire from the other Tempest warships slammed the enemy lines. Hundreds of sporadic detonations flashed among the PRF fleet as their vanguard vessels rapidly disintegrated.

"Missiles away," one of the fire control staff announced as four Hammer missiles shot up from the M-4 VLS. The missiles glowed blue as their hydrogen engines fired up. They arched and converged on the other two enemy destroyers.

The MS-63 Hammer missiles were no joke. They were designed to take out anything, ranging from fighters to combat ships to even enemy missiles. Unlike projectiles and energy-based weaponry, they were capable of bypassing most modern energy shields. Even at standard configuration, they were able to deliver a warhead that surpassed two bursts of ballistic salvos if it hit the right spot.

The Hammers' glow grew distant, until it was out of sight. Tracers and rocket fire could be seen flowing out from the two enemy ships as their CIWS tried to take out the missiles, but it was all in vain.

With a great flash, the two destroyers immediately detonated into great glowing fireballs as the missiles smashed into them. Almost instantaneously, the flames died out, and the view of the destroyed ships was clear. Battered and ruined, the destroyers were nothing more than a heap of scrap, fit for the salvage crew to inspect.

"Adjusting counter-recoil thrusters...now," Jenkins said.

A slight push on Johnson's back told him that the protocol was executed perfectly.

More fire pounded the enemy ships as the Tempest lay waste to the first line. Once layers of massive defensive formations quickly became a cloud of debree and fire. The next group of vanguard vessels came forth, and like the first, were completely overwhelmed by pure unadulterated firepower of the Earth forces. The destruction was of a scale that begged comprehension.

With dozens of PRF destroyers and battlecrusiers either in flames or in utter disarray, fighters and bombers from the carriers began swarming the remaining enemy ships like wasps. Hundreds of Navy and Air Force fighters in their matte grey paint scheme streaked pass the bridge as they headed towards their foes.

"Captains," the icy, calculated voice of the one and only Admiral Serin Jensen rang in his earpiece, "orbital deployment is a go, I repeat, orbital deployment is a go."

Admiral Serin Jensen was one of the big shots in the USF Command. She was the one that has managed to pull the Congress' heads out from their asses and forced them to approve the operation. Some may call this an act of treason against the Constitution, but she was right. The PRF was growing more bolder by the day, and if no one stopped them, we would have ended up like the Grey Aliens, whose government was in a constant state of war and anarchy.

Johnson stepped back and turned away from the glass, "Everyone, Stage 1 of Operation Shatterfall is a go!" Johnson yelled to his crew.

"Jameson, I want the underbelly guns to cover the 60th Battalion's orbital approach,"Johnson gestured at his station.

"On it, cap," Jameson replied.

"Rebecca, tell the Army guys to prepare for drop." Johnson heard Richard giving orders already.

"There are thirteen- no fourteen enemy corvettes within the drop path, the 84th Fleet is below too," Jenkins announced.

"Copy that-" he said and turned to his crew, "open fire on the corvettes," he wrapped his palms around the manual fire controls joystick. But Johnson knew he couldn't stop him from doing what he loved.

"Hit probability?" Richard asked.

"One hundred percent...because I'm manning them myself," Jameson replied.

"I don't want any of those pods appearing on the friendly fire statistics," Richard warned.

"They won't. "

-----
Deployment bay, Level 5.

"Get the ammunition to the weapon's bay, now!" someone yelled among the sea of noise.

I was standing on one of the descending cargo elevators at the deployment bay when the offensive began, surrounded by hundreds of fully armed USF soldiers. Our uniforms were identical to one another. Coated with a multi terrain camouflage, this green-brownish, 7-color pattern was designed to be fielded in a variety of environments, seasons, elevations, and light conditions. It was standard-issue across all Army personnel.

The Stormbringer loud alert alarms suddenly erupted again, assaulting my ears with 150 decibels of blaring wails.

Echo, who was standing on one the stacked weapons crate began shouting at the top of his lungs."Kit check!"

With muscle memory, I counted my magazines for the firearms, then I counted the grenades. Then I checked all the armor plates attached to my body and made sure there were no gaps between each piece. Although standard PRF rifle rounds had 40% chance of penetrating them, I would take every chance of survival.

"This is not a drill, this is not a drill, general quarters, general quarters. All hands man battle stations!" The PA announced.

From one second I was chatting with Midnight and James about that college hottie Stephanie they both tried to hit on, to battle alarms and platoon lieutenants yelling for us to get into formation. Everything was happening so fast.

"Alright boys and girls, listen up, we have our orders. Your primary objective is to get down to LZ Alpha and Bravo, then regroup at Sword. Be advised, we may encounter heavy resistance, so keep your eyes peeled, ears opened and guns loaded."

The Stormbringer shook again as the lift reached the pod bay.

The PA system sounded with the female voice.

"All ground personnel prepare for deployment."

"The time has come, everybody ready?!" Echo yelled at the same time.

"HOORAH!" A voice of 168 soldiers shouted in unison, a voice powerful enough to shatter moons.

"Lets move! Double time!"

Everyone jogged off into the pod deployment bay in a surprisingly orderly manner as they seek for their respective pods. Ignoring the ear deafening alarms and the red lights that flashed above the highly motivated company, I proceeded to my squad's drop pod. It took almost 45 seconds to find pod 14, which was located almost all the way at the end of the pod bay.

Usually, a USF rifle squad consists of 9 men. Raptor Company, 1st Platoon, 1st Squad, aka. Raptor 1-1 consisted four rookies fresh from Basic; which includes myself, Midnight, James and Amber. The other five of them already had combat experience.

I stepped into the pod and quickly strapped myself in beside Midnight.

"For a second we thought you were dead," one of the squadmates told me. His name's Dart, Private Jackson Dart. His dry, shaven, porous cheeks had scars of a gunshot wound and a poor, improper re-atomisation treatment. His round brown face widened as he smirked.

"But I'm here," I replied, "better late than never." I then fastened the harness against my chest.

I looked from left to right, as I studied the men-and women I was to fight alongside as long as I'm alive-or if they're alive.

Next to Jackson was that young Korean kid. His name is William Lee if I recalled correctly. He hid his face beneath the dome of his helmet and slouched against his seat as if he was sleeping. To be honest, he looked more like a 16 year old boy rather than an 18 year old man, but he insisted that he was at legal age.

Right next to him was the squad leader, Sergeant Wilson Jackal. His faced was almost like a square. His jawline was sharp and strong, flanked by the whiteness of his short facial hair. He had his helmet placed on his right knee with a lit cigarette clipped between his lips. His M-12A1 carbine stood barrel-up between his legs.

Next to the sergeant sat Corporal Kelsey Caxe. She had her face hidden behind her combat mask and her hair concealing her hair. Only her evenly spaced, ash-gray eyes were visible under the dim pod lights. Her elegant eyelashes fluttered as she blinked. They said she was a hybrid, a Human-Centurian mix.

Female soldiers were uncommon in the frontlines. Most of them end up in logistics or indirect fire units. The role of infantryman was predominantly male. However, gender usually doesn't matter in the military. If an individual met the recruitment criteria, he or she is eligible to join the career path they seek.

"Sorry, boss," Jackal threw the cigarette down to the floor, "not joining the lads at company headquarters, sir?" he asked.

"I'm only here for the orbital drop, sergeant," he said, which means the squad has an extra man.

Another private stepped in behind the Echo. Like Caxe, his face was fully protected, covered by his helmet and mask. A word was scratched on his plate carrier, which read 'McCord'. He carried an M-24A4 with a white marking present on its lower receiver. It took the shape of a sledgehammer, with a Roman numerical '3' overlapping it. This represented the III Corps, aka 'Earth's Hammer'. On his left sleeve was a sheath that housed his standard combat knife. Hastily, he took a seat next to Amber, who was trying to squeeze an entire half of a ration bar into her mouth.

In my ear, the tiny communication/ear protection earbuds made two quick successive beeps, indicating there was a Level 2 important message coming through the comms.

"All squads, this is Odin, commencing drop in 30 seconds."

In a split second Echo responded.
"This is Raptor 1-1, on standby."

He briefly scanned his eyes over everyone in the drop pod. "Alright everyone, sync your HUD with the pod and prepare for drop."

I activated my combat HUD and synced it with the pod. Immediately, the pod's white opaque floor suddenly became transparent, displaying the dark closed doors of the deployment bay.

"Just like in training, right?" James asked.

Midnight shut his eyes,"Maybe."

"Yeah, I hope," I replied and took two deep breaths.

Orbital deployment these days were not as tedious as previous generations. We can reach the surface of a planet within minutes without any issues, unless the pod takes a direct hit in the hull by a missile, but the pods were fast enough to evade most ships' ballistic batteries and missile defense systems.

After 30 seconds, it was time, the pod's emergency lights illuminated with luminous green as my earpiece sounded again with the commander's voice.

"All callsigns prepare for deployment in 3, 2, 1..."

The bay doors opened, unveiling a soundless, chaotic onslaught of fire right before my eyes.

This is it.

"...deploy, deploy deploy!"

The gravity suddenly disappeared into thin air as the clamps released their grip of the pod.

Before I knew it, the sound was gone too.

All that I could hear now my heart pounding against my chest rapidly, as if it were to burst out any moment. I could hear my rapid breathing behind my ballistic mask and I could feel the reserve oxygen flowing in and out of my lungs. The eerie ringing silence vibrated in my ears. I stared, wide-eyed at the target planet we were plunging into.

The urban surface of Euphoria was scorched with patches of inferno as the fleet battles filled the space high above it. Multiple ships on both sides exploded simultaneously while trails of energy and ballistic battery rounds traced across the Euphorian space. Giant bright streaks of cyan blue from the Excalibur-class destroyers' massive railguns sliced through parts of the PRF fleet below. The enemy ships at the receiving end of their muzzles exploded into a grey cloud of debree.

I looked to the Northern Pole, where one of the four Exodus rails assigned to the planet was set ablaze by a missile barrage fired from two PRF destroyers. Tiny specks of orange tracked and detonated the Rail's control tower with a massive explosions. Scattered parts of its destroyed hull blew out into in the weightlessness of space as the enemy ships finished off the solar rail with ballistic fire.

"That's alot of 'priffies' down there," Jackson said.

"Too many," Jackal replied, his voice was mixed with shock and awe, "they really want this planet."

The horrible image of hundreds of PRF soldiers overrunning isolated CATO positions formed in my head. I watched many combat footages from the Secession War as part of my History research, where literally tens of thousands of PRF soldiers would charge into defensive positions despite under tremendous fire. Most of the time, these human wave charges would fail, but when they do, the consequences were brutal and barbaric.

Suddenly, a flash of yellow erupted within the PRF fleet; an explosion of light that had the size of moons, one that was so bright that the entire pod's dark interior lit up like a light bulb. I turned away from the blinding nuclear fireball. I glanced at Midnight and his eyes were wide opened, fixed on the explosion, like an insect attracted to the light. His eyes said everything.

He was afraid.

Over the span of 15 years, I've never seen so much fear in my best friend.

Everything was awfully quiet. No sound, no chatter, not even a single word was relayed. Everyone stared down with shock at the planet they were going to land in.

Now, blasts from the hostile thermo-railguns and defensive missiles began swarming the descending pods. Explosions from ballistic flaks and missiles zeroed on our vector as the pods dashed past the enemy corvettes. A few of the enemy 40mm rounds managed to find their marks on our pods, but they did too little damage to penetrate the reinforced hulls.

I kept my eyes on our drop path, until suddenly, a small distant fighter squadron appeared from a cluster of debree, behind them, a small PRF corvette stood between the pods and their target.

The distant fighter squadron drew closer and closer.

"Are those fighters friendl-"

Suddenly, the other pod in front of ours exploded into a silent ball of fire.

"Shit!" Lee exclaimed.

"We lost them.."

As the flames were extinguished by the vacuum of space, the view of the nearing fighter squadron became clearer.

They were PRF standard SJ-7 multi-role fighters.

And we were sitting ducks.

The pod's hostile lock alarm began blaring before the louder threat alarm screamed.

I observed the incoming fighters. Two rods ejected from one of the fighters' swept wings before breaking into a few more miniature sized rods. They drifted several meters before their backs ignited. Their delta tailed fins glowed orange as they twist and turn and fired their machine guns.

"Missiles inbound," Jackal said.

"Countermeasures," Echo said.

"Copy that, dumping flares." he punched a few buttons on the datapad he was monitoring.

Flares ejected out from the pod's frontal circular dispersion tubes. The missiles contacted the flares before soundlessly detonating into brillant orange. The rounds of the 30mm machine guns peppered the pod, knocking out one of the cameras. One part of the view turned black as the signal was lost. Although the drop pods were built to withstand anti-air fire and high caliber cannons, sustain fire may send our pods into an explosive end.

Within mere seconds later, the sleek matte grey hulls of the F-85 Raven fighters streaked past us. The blue ignition from their single vector engines illuminated as they accelerated into attack formation. In an instant, the Ravens unleashed a blizzard of 20mm rounds and missiles at into the incoming SJ-7 fighters, turning them into fireballs and scrap metal. Then they preyed on the corvette and proceeded to make several holes into it with two, devastating missiles.

Our pod ripped through the crippled corvette and into the planet's orbit.

"Entering atmosphere..." Jackson spoke out as he monitored one of the screens in the pod. Fire gathered around the pod as it stepped through the Euphorian atmosphere. The atmospheric thrusters fired up and sent us plunging into Euphoria at Mach 2.

The pod plunged through the thick blanket of white clouds, the silver, grey and black of the urban earth filled our vision. The rising sun suffused a large swath of the world with orange and light. Lines from bullet tracers and high velocity batteries flew across the city air while missiles and rocket fire slammed parts of the planet's surface. The ground battles have already begun, and we were late for the party.

Echo cocked his M12, "Alright ladies, check your weapons and ammo, we ar-"

Suddenly, a thermo-railgun's shell from one of the skyscrapers slammed into one of the pod's thrusters. A force of a thousand horses kicked against the pod.

The red lights flared, and the alarms were going bonkers.

"Sir, we are heading off course," Jackal said to Echo

"Everyone, brace for impact, " Echo announced.

I gave my weapon a last check before gripping my harness tighter than before. I couldn't bother looking around, or telling Midnight that he won't die today because I was just as afraid as he is at this very moment.

"EVERYONE, BRACE!!!"

A loud slam is all I hear before my world went black.

Chapter 4: Contact


Revolt City, 
January 15th, 2621 AD 
0915 hours Galactic Standard Time [0915 Euphorian time]

It was pitch black. The emergency lights were already dead and all I saw was the giant red line of text across the visor: "SYNC FAILURE".

Even the cameras were smashed too.

I tried recapping everything that had happened till this moment.

We were shot, went off course and-

Oh no.

A chill went down my spine as the thought of torture and execution terrified me. The PRF could show up any minute if we stayed in the pod. We could be overrun, and captured and tortured.

Hell, they might even be right outside, waiting for us. Ready to mow us down.

"Everyone alright?" Echo asked.

A mix of painful 'yeah' and 'I'm good' replied.

"You good? " I elbowed Midnight softly.

"I'm still alive, if that's what you're asking," he replied.

Suddenly, a loud thunk sounded by the door.

Then a moment of silence followed.

"Rubble," McCord said.

"You think they're out there?" Jackson asked.

"Probably," Lee answered his question.

"Get switched on, we're moving out," Echo ordered, "Jackson, the door."

His footsteps sounded across the pod, until his face was illuminated by the bluelight screen next to the door.

Jackson hit the emergency hatch panel, and the pod's door blew open. If someone was indeed 'knocking' the pod, he'll turn into a pancake, crushed underneath its weight. The warm yellow glow of the sun blasted its way into the small cabin, filtering through the dusty air and illuminating the fellow soldiers trying to remove their fellow harnesses.

"Smoke dispensers out", Jackson announced as a soft plop punctuated his words followed by a smooth hiss. Outside, a thick mist of phosphorus pentoxide gathered.

For a moment, all eyes were on Jackson as he initiated exterior scanning. Everyone was silent, as if we were waiting for an answer from him.

The motion tracker beeped once.

And again.

And again.

Jackson kept his eye on the screen, until-

"Exterior's clear, sir," Jackson said to Echo.

A unified sigh sounded as he finished. Even Jackson himself showed signs of relief.

"Then lets move," he replied.

I pulled my painful body out from the wreckage and looked up. What I saw hit me with shock and awe.

Orange flames burrowed through the clouds, scorching the air like wildfire, consuming miles and miles of white and blue. Thousands upon thousands of explosions broke within orbit like firecrackers as more and more flashes of exploding enemy ships broke through the fractured morning sky. Silver and black wings trailed across the sickly span, splitting death as they twisted and turned elegantly in the air.

A distant boom dragged me back to the ground. The blistering popping and rattling of gunfire far away echoed through the labyrinth of skyscrapers and rubble strewn streets. Loud, deep thumps of explosives detonating sent ripples of ear-splitting sound waves into the Euphorian air.

Then came the low, chainsaw-like hums of what seemed to be gatling guns firing in short bursts. Maybe they came from the fighters high up, or maybe they came from the Arbiter tanks firing off their co-axials guns. The sounds emmited by a weapon that was designed to fire thousands of rounds per minute was downright intimidating.

Echo was kneeling down, swiping and tapping his tactical holographic map on his chest while others stood guard.

"We will link up with the rest of the battalion at Fire Base Sword, it should be approximately a click north from here," Echo said.

"We weren't too far off," Jackal added.

Echo deactivated the display, and shut its cover,"That's an affirmative sergeant. McCord, take point, we're moving out. Set your earbuds to amplify all sounds. We want all ears and eyes peeled."

Then we pushed up, assembled in a column formation. McCord led the way, followed by, then followed by Echo, then followed by Jackson, then followed by me. We swept our sectors with cold caution, finger on the trigger. Still, my gun was on safe. Remember, we were still in a city, and shooting an unarmed civilian was a possibility.

Normally, you'd expect people on the sidewalks, automated cars buzzing around the roads and delivery drones carrying out deliveries for a city planet this huge, but something didn't add up: there was no movement, no people, no talking, and no one standing.

Just bodies lying across the road.

And they were civilians.

Some of the corpses were found leaning against the steering wheels of their automated cars. Some of them had limbs sprawled, as if they were shot while running. And some of them were laying side by side, almost in a straight row, with their blood smeared against the plascrete walls on the left side, as if they were shot by a firing squad.

The ground became greasy with gore as our boots swept through the blood stench road. I tried my best not to trip over the bodies while keeping my focus ahead. The smell of gunpowder and smoke coupled with the extremely strong scent of rotten flesh was so horrendous that I almost threw up behind my mask.

"Di-did the PRF do this?" Midnight studied civilians that littered the side walls.

"No shit," McCord answered the obvious question.

"But why?" Amber asked, squeezing her nose together.

"Propaganda, honey. That's how they get willing conscripts into their military," Jackson replied, "first, they kill, then they'll blame us for 'mass-executions'."

"Did that policy apply for Altas," Midnight asked.

"One hundred percent."

"Damn..murdering 10 million civilians and they blame it on us? Bastards," James said.

"I have seen crazy shit; like witnessing  Indigo colony refugee ships being blown sky high by a PRF blockade." Jackson added, "it was a fucking fireworks show if you asked me."

McCord, from all the way in the front paused, looked back, and gave Jackson a stare deadlier than a 120mm SABOT round.

"C'mon, I was just..."

"Piece of-" McCord muttered.

"Take it easy on the him mate." Jackal patted McCord on the shoulder.

"Lock that down, both of you," Echo stepped in, "And cut the chatter, we still have a war to fight.

I stepped over one of the dead people. She was a girl, a teenager, a high school student. Maybe she had a future. Maybe she would go to college in years to come. Maybe she would enter university and graduate. Maybe she'll get a job in the tech industry or something.

But there she was, dead on the ground, clutching onto her black school bag. Eyes wide, with blood going down her pale white skin and a hole through the back of her head.

I tried not to look at the rest of the bloodied, lifeless bodies. And I tried breathing through my mouth instead of my nose, so that the smell wouldn't register.

They'll pay for this.

As we were approaching a guard post, Private McCord suddenly raised his fist up, signaling us to stop as he tilted his head upwards as if he was trying to hear something.

"McCord?" Echo asked.

Now the sounds of foreign language can be heard, followed by the thumping of boots. The cracking of weapons echoed down the road.

Damn, those ear protections really do amplify soft sounds.

McCord looked back at Echo and whispered, loud enough for the squad to hear.

"I hear a lot of Rukhovian chatter. It's the RPA. We got incoming from the north."

"Fuck," Jackson muttered.

"I knew it, everybody down, get to cover!" Echo said and dived behind one of the abandoned cars the same time McCord did.

Obeying his commands, I quickly knelt down behind one of the many jersey barriers that lay in front of me. At this moment, a wave of raw adrenaline surged through my veins. Both fear and instinct kicked into my mind. My heart was out of control, it jumped as if it was prompted by an electrical surge. Time slowed slightly and my senses amplified and sharped. I wrapped my fingers around my rifle, and set it to single fire mode before slipping my index finger into the trigger guard. I inhaled deeply.

Here we go.

By the time everyone found cover, two dozens of armed men in green battle-dress uniforms poured in from both left and right junctions of the intersection with their AK-style standard-issue QZA-74 rifles drawn. Their uniforms and helmets sported an extremely dark green pixelated camouflage pattern that contrasted with our lighter green camouflage pattern, which made it easier to differentiate between friend and foe.

I gave myself two seconds to analyze my surroundings.

There was a soundproof wall on our left that went along the length of the road, stopping just by the edge of the intersection; possible flanking route. Ahead, on the right there were four pillars of what seemed to be the entrance of an office buidling, aka. potential cover for the enemy. All around us, cars, cabs, trucks and vehicles littered the road, again, potential cover for us and the enemy.

My earpiece rung out with McCord's voice, "That makes three hostile squads, 30 guys. We're outnumbered three to one, sir."

"Squad on my mark, prepare to engage," Echo replied through the comms.

One of the armed men stepped out of formation.

"We know you are there, show yourselves. Under these circumstances you are to surrender and your lives shall be spared!" the leader of the PRF platoon shouted with an strong Russian-like accent.

"What a load of bollocks," Jackal commented.

"Alright, on my mark, on three.." Echo said.

"Surrender now, or we will open fire on you imperialist warmongers."

"....two...."

The PRF platoon leader shouted in Rukhovian with his right arm raised as he raised this rifle to his shoulders.

"....three! LIGHT THEM UP!!"

Raptor 1-1 emerged from their covers, weapons drawn. The PRF platoon realized this, but they were too late. .

Within split seconds, I targeted one of the enemy soldiers in the front who has managed raised his rifle to his shoulder. There was no time to think, no time to hesistate. He was the enemy nothing more, nothing less.

I lined up the red dot reticle against the his chest..

..and pulled the trigger twice.

The M24A4 roared as two 5.56mm rounds flew down range. Both ripped through the center of his chest. He fell backwards, dropping his rifle as the bullets easily serrated through his armor and impacted his body with almost 1800 joules of energy.

The rest of the PRF men scattered into different directions. Some towards the pillars on the right side and most among the mess of vehicles and jersey barriers.

I shifted my aim towards the right on another soldier who was behind a jersey barrier. Again, I peeped behind the dot and squeezed the trigger once more. The man clutched his chest and fell hard behind the barrier as the rounds met their mark.

Again, I moved my reticle further to the right. Another soldier, rifle raised, ready to fire. He was aligned perfectly with the red dot. I applied pressure to the trigger.

But he fired first.

A sharp wheez stung my ear as his round went straight past the left side of my head.

Shit!

My senses focused on him, and ignored all the sharp sounds of screams and gunfire. Time slowed. Even his movement slowed, for a moment, I could see every muscle, every shift of his forearm, every shift of his finger, he was ready to take the next shot. My sights were already on him, and all I needed to do, was to blast him, fast.

So, I pulled the trigger again.

The rifle's butt kicked softly three times against my shoulder.

'Bang-bang-bang', the rifle screamed.

He jumped suddenly, as if he was electrocuted. With his palms, he clawed his neck and chest desperately for air as he choked on his own blood. Two rounds went to his chest and one struck his throat. He collapsed to the ground face first as he succumbed to his lethal deadly wounds.

Down the intense street, another squad showed up behind the PRF platoon. The dark floral green uniforms told us they were definitely PRF. It's as if we attracted an entire flock of vultures. I put several bursts downrange, hoping my rounds will find their targets. Surprisingly, two of them flopped face first onto the asphalt. Then a few more bodies followed as Jackson's SAW unleashed a barrage of 5.56 rounds at the incoming enemies.

Usually, the 25th Century 5.56mm didn't leave many wounded. The hardened steel penetrator rendered armor plates useless, and the copper slug that followed will cause mortal injuries. When a round goes through the target's chest, the force produced is enough to shatter bones and tear blood vessels apart. The bullet itself will then fragment and yaw within the body, inflicting severe damage to tissue. Given that the PRF treated its soldiers like expendable tools, the chances of them surviving a 5.56 wound is highly unlikely.

"Heads up, more hostiles," McCord said.

"Light up these fuckers!" Lee yelled on the top of his lungs .

Midnight's rifle shrieked to my left. He laid down rapid semi-automatic fire before ducking down. 

"You good?" he asked under the bursts of gunfire.

I gave him a thumbs up as a hasty reply.

Knowing what might speed up our victory, I reached out for a M-6 dual purpose grenade from my webgear. Without looking, I trusted my fingers and pulled the pin.

I stood up.

Then I looked towards group of PRF soldiers taking cover behind a car.

"Grenade out!" I shouted and tossed the baseball-sized olive green sphere towards a group of PRF.

The toss was perfect as the grenade stopped a few inches away from their feet. About 3 seconds later, the grenade's impressive boom detonated, unleashing a devastating blast force and a hailstorm of shrapnel that swept several unsuspecting enemies off their feet. The grenade took out four of them, but there were still at least a dozen more PRF soldiers in front of us.

"Cover me, I'm reloadin'!" McCord yelled.

Jackson mounted his light machine gun on one of the yellow cabs, and fired. His face lightened up with glee.

His M850 SAW barked, keeping the enemy at bay. With a cyclic rate of fire of 850 rounds per minute, a relentless stream of fire peppered the hostile soldiers. Those who dared to remain in the open were quickly cut down. The incoherent rhythm of raining bullet casings rang as Jackson kept his finger on the trigger. The long barrel of the light machine gun glowed orange.

"Jackson! Watch your rate of fire! McCord! I want you to take the rookies with you and move up on the left flank! Go!" Echo relayed on the radio.

"Roger that." McCord replied, "Rookies, left side, on me!" he yelled under the noise of his own gunfire and waved us foward.

"Moving!" I yelled.

Then, I sprinted towards the left side. Incoming rounds eviscerated the air around me as I kept my pace, hoping to evade all of the incoming fire. When I finally reached McCord, I found him taking cover behind a red hovercar that had its entire front bumper crashed flat against the soundproof wall. I took a knee beside him, before I was joined by the other three.

McCord rose up from cover and fired two shots at the enemy, "Go, I'll cover you guys," McCord said before firing a few more.

I sighted up on two advancing enemies and squeezed the trigger twice. Six rounds went downrange and two targets collapsed.

"Move, move," Midnight said as I followed him to the other side of the wall.

Now the gunfire from the violent firefight was muffled by the soundproof wall. I pushed forward with my rifle raised as James, Midnight and Amber followed behind.

"Rookies, you've got six hostiles heading your way," McCord's voice rang on the radio.

2 seconds later, six enemy soldiers appeared in front of us with their weapons raised.

But we weren't gonna let them shoot first.

We fired our weapons. A barrage of death struck the incoming enemies, causing them to fall like ragdolls. After four trigger pulls, all of them were on the ground, smoke oozing out from their bloodied bodies. I dropped my rifle from my shoulders and pulled the 30-round magazine from the rifle. With a completely fluid and smooth motion, I slipped a new one into its well. Clattering of empty magazines sounded behind me as the other three reloaded their weapons too.

"Alright we'll hit them at the same time."

James yelled suddenly, "Hostile!"

Two more enemy soldiers appeared before their dead buddies. Midnight raised his rifle and put a bullet into both of them. Two bangs, two flashes, and two more dead targets.

"Clear," Midnight said.

As we reached the far end of the wall, I took a quick peek around the other side. There were approximately eight more PRF soldiers left, three were just on the other side, another other two were behind a concrete barricade in the open and two just right behind the side of the wall.

Suddenly, two rounds tore through the nearest PRF soldier, causing him to fall onto the curb. Beside him, his companion also took a couple of rounds. He twisted and collapsed, screaming in agony as bullets shredded his body. Then one stray round struck right next to where my eye was. I hid my face behind the wall just in time as the bullet chipped off the edges of the wall.

"Woah, watch your fire!" I said on the comms.

"Sorry, shifting fire," someone, who sounds alot like Lee replied.

I turned back at the three, "Alright, just a few hostiles to take care of, ready?"

All three of them nodded again. I took two quick breaths and brought my breathing under control.

"Lets go, take them out!" I sidestepped away from the wall with my rifle up.

The remaining PRFs were quickly cut down as they were out flanked and outmatched.

I eyed the furthest target. Once I was sure that the next three rounds will intersect with his running path, I exhaled and pu-

Almost instantly, he crashed into the ground as a yellow bolt ripped through his back. A split second later, another soldier met the same fate.

The last PRF soldier hid behind a taxi further down the road and fired his assault rifle. Hoping to buy himself more time.

This time, I switched the M24's firing mode to 'single' before aiming down the red dot scope once again. I hovered the reticle on the Rukhovian's green helmet.

The bullet should land right about...
...there.

I squeezed the trigger and the ear splitting bang of the M24A4 followed. He only head jerked backwards as his headwear failed its duty. His body slumped against the bonnet, and his rifle ceased firing.

The sound of gunfire were ceased for now as dozens of dead enemy soldiers littered the street, safe for the distant pops and booms far away.

Now, only the chorus of 'Clear! and 'Hostile down' filled the air.

The squad began advancing down the road as we rookies just stood where we were at, awaiting for further orders.

And I have survived my first engagement.

"Status report! " Echo yelled.

Voices of 'I'm good' and 'No casualties' answered.

"Squad, we're Oscar-Mike! We dont have time to- hey! what you freshmeats doing, get moving!" Echo yelled as he gestured at us.

McCord ran past us, "Keep it tight freshies. You gonna see a lot more action."

Adrenaline slowly faded away as I gained control of my body and actions once again. My mind was racing. I thought about the lives of the men I took. But there was no sense of moral guilt, no remorse, no regret.

There was nothing. Just nothing.

They are just the enemy, nothing more, nothing less.

 

Chapter 5

Orbit of Euphoria

The PRF fleet didn't stand a chance, they were completely annihilated. Although the few of the remaining enemy medium and heavy ships have withdrew to the dark side of the planet, small pockets of resistance still existed, mostly from lighter vessels. The battle was partially won, with the enemy crippled in orbit, the Army and Marines below may have a better chance at eliminating the PRF ground force.

8 years ago, the CATO was outmatched and outnumbered 7 to 1. Today, the USF Navy fields the largest and most powerful fleets in human space. Combined with the other navies from CATO, the combined force of Earth outgunned and outnumbered the PRF to the point where their orbital docks could not rebuild enough ships to sustain their dying fleet.

Underneath the dim blue battle lightings, Johnson held his arm behind his back as he watched giant metal debree of the enemy fleet float across his view. The Euphorian star hit his face with its confounded glare, stinging his eyes. The distant main sequence star burned bright despite the chaos, painting everything around it with vibrant warm colors. But he hated it. Johnson viewed the sun like an all-seeing eye. You can never outrun its sight, no matter which angle you stood.

As the Stormbringer squeezed through the deepest part of the debree field, long sharp screeches could be heard across the hull as the metal scratched against one another. The Stormbringer was tasked to provide close reconnaissance, BDA (Battle Damage Assessment) and to recover the remains of the destroyer USFS Greenville, who's captain lost contact while conducting recon operations nearby. The Greenville was presumed destroyed by an ambush.

The PRF was well known to use corvettes as small skirmish vessels that employed hit-and-run tactics against larger vessels. It would be unsurprising if one just showed up from behind a large debree. Although corvettes are significantly weaker compared by a single Excalibur-class destroyer, they still posed a major threat against unwary ships.

"Sir," Richard stepped in beside Johnson, "Do you think Greenville just lost its way back, somewhere in this sector?"

"Unlikely," Johnson replied, "Captain Sanders doesn't wander off into the dark like that."

"What if their comm module got knocked out in battle? Maybe that's why we aren't getting any readings from him."

"He would've activated the ship's emergency transponders, if that's the case."

"But we aren't receiving anything back from him," Richard said.

"Exactly."

"I'm sure Sanders would be fine sir," Richard said, "he's a good captain."

"I hope s-"

"Sir, enemy fighters, starboard side!" Jenkins announced.

Johnson looked to his left, and two fighter wings appeared from the behind the ruins of a Kunloy engine thruster. Eight red triangles marked the incoming jets. All of them were reading weapons red.

Johnson tapped the window twice with his left palm to magnify the incoming threat. As clear as day, he could see the fighters. They were a flight of eight JS-7 multi-role fighters headed directly towards the Stormbringer.

"Arming CIWS," Jameson said.

Within mere seconds, the 25mm Phantom gatling guns swiveled towards the starboard side and unloaded a volley of high precision rounds. Hundreds of orange tracers flew towards the enemy fighters in unison.

Four of the red triangles vanished as yellow  flashed within the blackness.

"MS-2 away," Jameson said.

Two missiles shot up from the VLS, and headed towards the fighters.

Flares shot out from the JS-7s, until two of them blew up.

The Phantoms continued their bursts at regular intervals, until the remaining fighters were no more but a part of the vast debree around them.

For moment, a smile formed on Johnson's face, until the Stormbringer's shield flashed blue.

Suddenly, the light of the sun was blotted out by the shadow of a massive PRF corvette to the portside. Their guns were already trained on the Stormbringer, as if they already knew the destroyer would come straight into their sights, as if they anticipated her arrival.

The shield flashed again.

And the corvette opened fire again.

Fortunately, the shields were more than capable of sustaining the pathetic firepower the corvette was dishing out.

"Corvette! Portside 3-3-0! " Jenkins announced.

"Return fire, NOW!" Johnson yelled.

The 120mm guns fired in unison. A volley of rounds first slammed into the corvette's shields, then into right through its hull. Almost within milliseconds, the corvette burst into flames, setting off a chain of explosions that blew it into smithereens.

"Cease fire, cease fire," Johnson said.

"Cap, I'm picking something ahead," Jameson said, "it doesn't look good."

"What is it Jameson?" he turned towards the Weapons Officer.

"Something massive is moving within the field."

Johnson walked towards his station and stood behind his seat. Jameson and his 12-man team had their hands on the fire controls, each of them staring into their scopes with intense concentration. Jameson leant back against his chair, "Take look, sir."

He leant his face into the scope. A red horseshoe reticle occupied most of the view, with the ammo counter on the bottom left of the display and turret integrity on the right. Ahead was nothing, just the blackness of space and useless metal floating about.

Johnson took his eye off the scope, "I don't see anything-"

"Enemy ships! Vector 0-0-0," Jenkins said again.

Johnson looked outside and what he saw almost made his jaw drop.

A Karak cruiser rammed through a cloud of metal at full steam. It's thrusters burned orange hot as it tilted its shiny brute hull towards the Stormbringer. Following behind it was two Kunloy destroyers.

Together their weapons flashed. They unloaded their armaments on the Stormbringer; guns, missiles, thermobaric scatterguns, everything.

Then the shields lit up as if it was 4th of July.

-------

"Keep moving!" Jackal yelled under the noise of gunfire as he yanked me up to my feet.

I held my rifle to my chest and ran towards an empty cab ahead of me. Quickly, with the additional power provided by the exoskeleton, I vaulted over the its bonnet, and landed on my feet. I leant against the car door, lungs breathing heavily and heart pounding rapidly.

"Holy shit," I muttered.

The PRF were right on our tail. There were almost thirty, if not fifty guys after us. I guess the first lieutenant wasn't kidding went he mentioned 'heavy resistance'.

"Two guys moving across to the left!" Lee relayed.

"Copy that." Jackson replied.

I popped my head up to have a good look at the enemy.

Countless armed, green men could be seen moving between covers. There was a ton of them, maybe a platoon or two, maybe an entire company. They held up both sides of the street. Their ranks were split between the firing element and the maneuver element. Half of them would advance and the other would provide cover fire. But if we kept up our current rate of fire, the enemy would be completely wiped out. Unless, they decided to show up in an IFV.

Some of the enemies were cut down by precision fire, but others were still closing in. I couldn't tell whether they were stupid, or just downright insane. The fact that they relied heavily on massive numbers made it easier to decimate their ranks. Usually they would blindly charge into our general direction, hoping to overrun us. In reply, we would gun them down, but as soon as one of them gets killed, another three will take his place.

Suddenly, one round struck the surface of the bonnet, and ricochet harmlessly into the air above.

"Shit," I cursed as I ducked back down.

"Frag out!" Amber said.

Four seconds later, a loud thump sounded, followed by a mix of screams.

Midnight, who was across the street, rose up and fired two rounds before falling back down to cover. Beside him was James, who fired his carbine in full automatic. Empty spent cartridges showered Midnight.

"For fucks sake," Midnight mouthed as some casings slipped between his combat uniform and body armor.

"How many of these fucks are out there?! " James shouted into the radio.

McCord said, "Twenty plus or so."

"They really want us dead, huh?" Amber added.

I stood up and focused on the front sight. With my rifle trained to the right, I put down suppressive fire to keep the enemy at bay. The smell of gunpowder stung my nose as I tapped the trigger rapidly. With every shot until-

Click.

"Ah, fuck!" I crouched. First I anchored the rifle's butt to my armpit and ejected the empty magazine. Then, I slid a new one into the well and thumbed the bolt catch, pushing a new round into the chamber. A distinct chk-cha followed. I probably had two more magazines to spare, and a grenade, and a trusty sidearm.

Suddenly, Jackal hopped down right beside me.

"There's bloody lots of them, eh?" he asked under the symphony of bullets striking the other end of the car.

A round shattered the glass above my head, "Hella lots of them," I agreed as sprinkles of sharp fragments rained over my helmet.

McCord suddenly yelled, "GRENADE! Fucking move it Jackson. MOVE-"

BANG!

"Fuck," Jackal said. He stuck his head above the roof of the car, "Private?! Private? McCord, Jackson, you hear me?"

"Still alive Sarge."

"Too fucking close."
   
"Stay clear of that vehicle and find cover," Jackal said.

"Affirmative, sarge." Jackson replied.

I stood up again. Ahead was McCord and Jackson, helping each other to get back on their feet as they moved away from the burning cab they once took refuge behind. The rest of the squad laid down covering fire until the two were clear of the open.

For a second, the street was empty, until someone decided it was a good idea to dash across the street. However, a bullet through his face cut short his journey. The two who were following behind him immediately turned back. One of the men stopped and fired, until a hail of precision fire smashed him towards the ground.

"They're running out of bodies," the sergeant said, his rifle also trained on the street ahead, "I think we should-Wait, target. You see him? Left side."

On the left side of the street, one of the enemy soldiers stepped out from cover. He looked as if he was ready to sprint.

"Slot that bastard." He fired his weapon.

The moment he sprang up, I put five rounds in his general direction. Several more gunshots joined in.

He jerked to the left and crashed on his side. One of his companions ran out, and dragged his lifeless body back to where he came from.

"McCord, the TacHo, now," Echo relayed.

"Copy, pulsing, now," McCord replied.

The M-55 TES (Tactical Echolation System) is a hostile detection equipment issued to every squad. With an effective pulse range of 100 meters, this cube shaped device is able to pinpoint the exact location of hostile targets. Our HUDs were always synced to the M-55, so whenever a scan is performed, the targets will be highlighted red. It was perfect for urban warfare and COIN operations. Every modern military force has some sort of echolation device, even the PRF.

Almost a second later, six red glowing figures appeared downrange. Three on the right, three on the left. Some of the men looked as if they were ready to run, and some looked as if they were ready to fire. I curled my finger around the trigger and waited for-

"Suppressive fire!" Echo yelled, "Suppressive fir-"

A disarray of gunfire cut his voice out. Oblivious to their purpose, each round rips into something, be it inanimate or living, crashing into metal, concrete and blood with equal unfeeling.

One by one the red figures disappeared from view as they fell.

"Cease fire!" Echo yelled again, but the firing didn't stop, "Cease fire goddamit!" he waved his arms in the air.

Then the sounds of empty cartridges tumbling followed.

"I think we got them," Jackal said.

"Ok, let's move out!" Echo yelled.

One by one, we lowered our guns and fell into formation, as we headed towards the general direction of Sword Base.

Until we heard a vroooom.