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Paradiso Conflict: part 1

The UNSC Guadalcanal was a destroyer of considerable age. This age however failed to cause any worry among the crew who called her insides home. She was a war horse with a history and her quirks were expected. Not like the newer ships which had to be shaken down and have their kinks worked out. The Guadalcanal was old and it seemed that her captain was just as old. Captain Rachelle de Cordova was in her mid-fifties and still as spry as she had been thirty years before. She sat in her chair on the bridge and gently motioned her middle finger across the holographic screen projected from her chair’s arm.

Duty reports and other mundane reports briefly appeared on screen and she scanned them for only a moment and then pushed them aside bringing the next one into view. She only had to see them for one second for the logs to display them as read. If her crew needed something they knew to simply ask her in person, she wasn’t like many of the other officers in the fleet. Twenty years of being a junior officer had taught her that things were accomplished quickly when you engaged your subordinates directly. Also, they were more apt to work harder and risk more if they felt you were worth it.

She took a sip of coffee from the ceramic mug in her left hand. The white mug was engraved with the heraldry of the 1st Marine Division from Earth’s Second World War. The Guadalcanal was named after a particularly famous battle fought by those marines. She knew the history but only used the mug because it was a ‘tradition’ for the ships captain’s.

The third watch was ending and she had woken early to get her paperwork out of the way. Young officers entered the bridge and relieved their fellows or took positions at previously unmanned stations. Of course, the first to arrive was Ensign Jacobs. De Cordova had him pegged as the crew kiss ass before he had ever opened his mouth. Jacobs was fond of always wanting to deliver the midday reports and see to the basic needs of his Captain. I should just call him servant boy, she thought, that’s all he seems to want to be.

Behind Jacobs was Colonel Ochoa, the ship’s executive officer. Ochoa was a blunt man and in the ten years they had served together she had never once seen him indulge in any vices she normally saw Marines and Soldiers taking upon. He didn’t drink or smoke and he rarely ever smiled. She wondered how a person could exist that way.

“Morning ma’am,” Ochoa said snapping an unnecessary salute. Without looking up from her reports she gave him and lax salute in return then took another sip from her coffee. Ochoa took a position behind her beside the large holo-table, which currently displayed an image of the destroyer.

She was about to push the next message away when she paused and saw that it was a letter from her daughter. Tapping the screen she magnified it and took a pair of reading glasses from her breast pocket. A chuckle escaped her lips as she read the good news to herself.

“Congratulations mum,” a disembodied voice said. Then a tiny translucent blue human appeared from the left arm of the chair. He was well dressed and sporting a top hat and cane. His appearance reminded her of a Charles Dickens story.

“Thank you, Wheatley,” she said glancing over at the AI’s avatar. “It’s about time.”

“Perhaps your last message demanding a grandchild had the proper effect, mum.”

“Let’s hope so,” she said dismissing the message and finishing her review. She stood and stretched for a moment then joined Ochoa at the table.

“Congratulations, Rachelle,” he said expressionless, it was genuine at least she guessed.

“Thank you,” she answered, “But let’s not have this turn into a handshaking ceremony people.” She turned and addressed to the bridge crew. The young officers either nodded their heads or pretended not to hear.

“What are our orders once we leave slipspace,” Ochoa asked.

“Report to Rear Admiral Hackett,” she said with a shrug, “That’s the extent of my knowledge. But, I expect something big is going happening. Otherwise they wouldn’t have put one hundred ODST’s on my boat.”

Her expression turned to one of irritation at the mention of the ODST’s. It wasn’t that she had any particular dislike or hatred for the troopers. But, they were outsiders and a last minute addition to her boat. De Cordova may have been a little unorthodox in her methods of command, but she disliked being left out of the loop when it came to her boat and her people, even the kiss asses like Jacobs.

“Well then I guess we’ll find out for sure in an hour.” Ochoa said.

////////\\\\\\\\

When the Guadalcanal exited slipspace it was almost immediately bombarded by messages from the UNSC Texas. De Cordova ordered full speed toward the colony of Paradiso and about two hours after returning to real space Hackett and de Cordova were speaking.

“Captain I’m glad you managed to bring those ODST’s this is going to make this mission much easier.” He said.

“I still don’t understand the full extent of this, sir,” she said quizzical. “You’re saying that Colonial Administration has been seized by terrorist forces?”

“Precisely, Captain,” Hackett said with a nod.

“Isn’t that more of a job for the local authorities, sir,” she asked still wondering why such a large unit of shock troopers was required.

“It’s our job now Captain,” he said appearing to grow more agitated with each passing second, “I’ll explain the details of colonial politics later, but right now we need to seize the CAHQ before these terrorists can escalate things further.”

Without allowing her a rebuttal or even the courtesy of saying ‘yes sir’, Hackett served the link and began moving his ship into position over the capitol city. She suppressed the anger that flared up from the Admiral’s rude manner and turned to her helmsmen.

“You heard the Admiral,” she snapped, “Get us into position and tell those ODST’s to get ready to leave my ship.”

“Ma’am Captain Voss is reporting ready for launch,” a deckhand stated looking over his shoulder.

“Well, that’s awfully nice of him to take the intuitive.”

////////\\\\\\\\

When the ship was in position the ODST’s inside their drop pods began to feel the familiar rush of adrenalin. For many of them this would be their first hot drop, so to speak. Intelligence was little to non-existent, all they knew was their mission was to secure CAHQ and eliminate the terrorists holding the facility. Each ODST was a veteran marine, but most had not seen any form of combat outside of simulations.

Captain Ricardo Voss preformed the final system checks and called out to his platoon commanders. They in turn called out to their squad leaders and then all reported ready for action. When the final countdown commenced in their helmets speakers many of the troopers began hooting and hollering. They were about to be home, the short second that it took them to reach the earth was something they lived for, and died for. The feeling of being warrior gods descending from the heavens upon their enemies was intoxicating. Voss was not immune to this feeling. Every time he preformed a drop he felt a little more savage, and freer than he ever had.

As the final five seconds sounded off, the shouting and cheering was at a fever pitch and Voss had to start breathing deep to keep himself from joining the others. But, once the launch was preformed he would no doubt let out a joyous hoot with the others.

Then, it happened the rockets fired and his guts were sent up into his chest cavity as he accelerated toward the planet. He allowed himself a smile and a cheer of excitement. But, halfway down the cheers died and the job took over. He began rattling off orders to the commanders and they acknowledged him. Finally, the reverse thrusters fired and he clutched his assault rifle tight to his chest.

/////////\\\\\\\\\

With a hard thud the pods smacked into the surface of the planet and ODST’s rushed out weapons held at the ready and searching for targets. They had landed near the Colonial Administration complex and now rushed toward it. Staff Sergeant John Markle’s squad was the first to reach the building and they immediately advanced toward the main entrance. Markle searched for targets but found it odd that there was nothing but terrified civilians running everywhere.

“Be sure and check your fire children,” he said as he reached a corner, “Lots of civvies out here.”

“Where’s the cops,” PFC Rodriguez asked to no one in particular, “This is weird, Sarge.”

Markle didn’t respond to the troopers comment but instead peered around the corner and saw a similar scene. His HUD showed the signature of Sergeant Goff’s squad on the opposite side of a courtyard from him. He keyed up the other sergeant and called to him.

“Dust,” he said keeping his eyes scanning.

“Go,” Goff responded his squad’s icon holding position.

“See anything?”

“Just a bunch of civvies shitting their pants,” Goff said, “My pod almost crushed a buss full of old people.”

Markle switched channels to contact his commander, “Bravo-Actual, Bravo-2.”

“Go ahead, Bravo-2,” Lieutenant Collins responded.

“In position at main entrance with Bravo-4,” he paused and looked back noticing Staff Sergeants Lewis and Johnson had joined him, “Alpha-2 and Alpha-4, requesting permission to breach.”

There was a brief pause, “Granted, breach Staff Sergeant.”

Markle killed the link and held up a fist and held out three fingers and count down to one. He thrust his fist forward and Alpha-2 and 3 rushed forward Johnson slung his shotgun and pulled a flashbang from his belt. He rushed up and his squad stacked on him at the entrance. Markle pulled out his pistol and waited until Johnson nodded. He fired three rounds into the bottom glass panel and shattered it sending tiny shards flying into the buildings interior. Johnson pulled the pin and tossed the grenade into the entrance. Almost a second later it detonated with a loud bang and a flash of light.

Johnson grabbed the door and held it open as Markle and Lewis’ squad’s entered first. If the lack of police presence hadn’t been enough of a tell then the lack of any hostiles was the nail in the coffin. Markle rushed forward searching for a target, he saw nothing but terrified, deaf and disoriented employees. A woman was bent over rubbing her eyes and trying to focus on anything she could.

The entrance was a open foyer with three tiers of walkways along the walls. The receptionists, whom appeared to be some of the only people in the foyer were seated at a desk and from the looks of it, the only thing hurting them was the flashbang.

“Bravo-Actual,” Markle said, “Made breach, no targets, this is odd, sir.”

“Agreed,” Collins replied back, “Maintain, Bravo-4 hold entrance, Bravo-2 press in and up secure the western stairwell. Charlie-1, 2 and 3 have breached the rear.”

“Roger,” He motioned for his squad to follow him forward and he oriented himself to head west. As they reached the first hallway scared employees jerked away in shock at the sight of the ODST’s. As Bravo-2 advanced down the long corridor the first armed individual appeared. He reached for a sidearm at the sight of the heavily armed troopers and Markle fired a trio of shots from his assault rifle. Each smacked into the hostile and sent him falling to the floor dead.

“Contact,” Sergeant Lopez said behind him and opened fire at another hostile as they dashed out into the hall and took aim at the troopers. Markle advanced and entered an open office door. Private Young Followed after him and quickly braced her rifle to her shoulder. The shots ended and Lopez called the all clear.

Markle poked his head out and took a closer look at the one he had killed. It was a security guard. But he wore a red rag around his right bicep. It didn’t appear standard, maybe it was some kind of identifier. In the distance other gunshots could be heard throughout the massive complex.

“Bravo-Actual,” Markle said returning to the hall, “Contact security guards, they appeared hostile. Also they have some kind of rag tied around their right biceps.”

“That’s fascinating, John,” Collins said gunfire feeding through his link, “But I’m a little busy. These people really don’t like us. They don’t answer calls to stand down. Assume all hostile and proceed.”

The link was cut and Markle motioned his troopers forward. Gunfire echoed down the hall from the entrance and then an explosion. What in the Hell is going on here, Markle thought as they reached the western stairwell.

////////\\\\\\\\

“Oh, this is bullshit,” Corporal David Nguyen yelled as the automatic rifle continued to keep him pinned behind the statues plinth. He looked back to his squad who was hunkered down behind a concrete wall. Sergeant Rita Katzenberg peeked around the edge of the wall but each time she could only see the one shooter. Before she could start to locate the second one the rounds would start to impact the wall and she would jump back out of reflex.

“You ain’t kidding,” she said under her breath agreeing with Nguyen. They had entered a courtyard inside the complex and found themselves pinned down by at least a pair of targets armed and assault rifle and a DMR. At least the DMR wasn’t that great of a shot or she’d have been dead a while ago.

“I guess you’re just going to have to make a run for it,” she called to him.

“What,” he yelped dismayed, “That’s like ten fifteen meters.”

“No it’s not,” she said with a dismissive wave, “It’s got to be closer to twenty.”

Nguyen cursed shaking his head and slapped his helmet twice in frustration.

“Look we’ll cover you, when we start shooting you haul ass over here got it?”

Nguyen groaned, “Yeah.”

Johnston and Kowalski got into position and on their sergeant’s go they jumped out and started shooting at the roof of the opposite building. The assault rifle stopped and the DMR only managed a pair of shots before seeking cover of his own. Nguyen dashed across the open space and dove for cover crashing and coming to a halt at his Sergeant’s feet.

Katzenberg smiled looking down at the younger trooper. “That was fun wasn’t it?”

Nguyen didn’t respond instead he just sucked in air like he had run a ten mile sprint. She gathered he squad and they returned through the door the exited from intent not to get bogged down by another mystery shooter. Bravo-2 was already reporting they had entered the western stairwell and were proceeding up into the main building. Charlie squads were meeting with stiffer resistance and Alpha Squads were advancing with no problems.

Nothing seemed right about any of this. The hostiles they had met so far were dressed as security personnel. They seemed to be reacting as anyone would when their place had been invaded.

It was about five minutes after the first squads breached that Alpha-2 and Alpha-1 reported reaching the top floor. That was when they realized to late the nature of their mission was about to change.

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