Callahan, Powers, and Worth placed their weapons and equipment into their drop pods, and began to strap themselves in. Due to a high likelyhood of Covenant anti-air near the designated landing zone, a larger group of empty HEVs would be dropped in order to draw fire.
Callahan watched to mission clock count down on his HUD. 1:00, The pod closed, and he preformed a final check of the systems, and ensured the landing zone was correct. 0:45 Callahan took a deep breath, and closed his eyes, attempting to clear his mind. 0:30 "Mark." The displays within his pod lit up, showing the status of the other two pods, two screens displayed live feeds of Powers and Worth. Next to the mission clock display, another clock activated counting down from 30. In unison the HEVs rotated 90 degrees, and began to move forward, into the drop bay. The countdown reached five. A loud thud shook Callahan's Pod as it locked into place. He looked up into the camera in his pod, and nodded to his comrades. A series of blasts shook the ship as the decoys began to launch. 0:00 Callahan's pod jumped, the force of the sudden thrust straining him against his harnesses. Operation Lassie had begun.
As usual, the first moment is surprisingly peacefull. Aside from the jarring thrust of the initial rocket booster, the experience is not all together unpleasant, the view is unrivaled. Everything changes, however, when you hit the atmosphere. As it moved into Actia's Mesosphere, the first stage of the pod began to burn away, dramatically increasing the temperature of the pod itself. This was the worst part. On other jumps, Callahan had seen and heard men and women literally cooked inside their own pods due to minor imperfections in the pods second stage. Generally the drop commander had the good sense to cut the feed from these pods, but on occasion the channel was left open, or it was the commander himself in the flawed pod.
For Worth and Powers, there were completely different feelings. Powers bowed his head and said a prayer to Vishnu, sustainer and governor of the universe, as the pods drifted through space. Worth was more practical and was calmly checking each system over and over again. Both men were experienced in drops to the point of boredom, but not complacency. Once the rumbling and shuddering of re-entry began, there was a single moment of silence as the initial friction stalled the HEV's movement, a split second of calm before the storm. That was, if the loud baseline didn't split it in half. Worth began nodding his head gently back-and-forth. Power's simple braced himself, his foot tapping invisible to the other two. In annoyance Callahan cut his channel, but that didn't stop Powers and Worth from continuing.
Moments later Callahan's pod shook again as the drogue chute deployed, and he was able to survey the land below. It was a shitstorm. Below him, smoke billowed into the sky and lances of plasma rushed up to meet the HEVs. Explosions surrounded them, but the majority of the covenant AA weapons seemed to be targeting the decoys. Worth and Powers were buffeted by near-misses. Worth flipped a few switches to cut the chute. A moment latter he deployed the secondary, the extra drop time letting him pass Callahan's pod, which had passed him. 'Lead from hell, retreat from heaven.' that was the Hellfighter Officer's Motto, and Worth stuck to it. The pods only took a few more moments to hit the ground. The front panel popped off of Worth's pod and in a moment he was out, scanning the area from a crouched position with his M7. Seeing no enemies in sight Worth opened up the tac-map on his screen. Seeing Powers, Callahan, and a dozen other pods on the ground, Worth moved back to his pod.
--Keep your heads down-- Worth said, climbing up the pod and grabbing a small device. Worth pulled himself up so that his upper body was above the pod and pressed the device. The empty pods erupted in smoke, and in some cases, fire. Some surprises and party favors they had packed into the empty ones.
--Rally on Ripcord-- Worth said, pulling his 99 Anti-M rifle out of the side storage in the pod. Worth rubbed some mud on the barrel. It would eliminate any reflections and keep the barrel cool once Worth started firing. Keeping low, Worth moved across the torn up ground, using small mud piles as cover.
Powers had been the closest to the AO, so he hunkered down and waited, keeping watch on his immediate area. When Worth called out "heads down", Powers tucked his head down under his arm. Mud and bits of metal harmlessly peppered him.
"Cutting it a bit close Ell-Cee" Powers muttered to himself, brushing off a bit of burning leaf that fell on his forearm. Power's heard Worth's order and acknowledged
--Roger that Slipstream-- Powers moved his launcher a bit further on his back as he saw a form in the growing smoke. Raising his DMR, Powers saw that it was Callahan moving in. Powers raised an arm and made a circling motion, getting Callahan's attention.
After retrieving his gear from his pod, Callahan regrouped with Worth and Powers, he moved fast and stayed low. As he emerged from the smokescreen, he was greeted with a raised DMR, he waved his hand as powers lowered his weapon, and approached Worth.
"Some stunt you pulled Slipstream" he grumbled. Without waiting for a response he activated his radio.
--Lady Luck, Predator is on station. Proceeding with primary objective.--
--Good copy, Kilo is standing by for deployment-- replied the ship's commo officer.
"Whats the plan Ell-Cee?"
"Move up and secure a landing zone for Kilo. We need to clear out one of those Covenant Anti-Air emplacements and make a hole for the party boys" Worth said, motioning with his hands.
Callahan nodded. "I've got one AT mine for a gun. I also brought two shaped charges. I brought them for breaching but they could disable some guns"
"That's the plan. We'll hit the Anti-Air emplacement due north. We all saw it coming in, damn thing nearly blew us all to hell anyways. We might as well get some payback. After the guns are silent we can give Kilo the green light."
Powers nodded "Hooah". Worth made a circling motion with two fingers, pointed at Powers and jerked his thumb back. Powers took up rear security and Worth took forward, leaving Callahan in the middle.
With that, the team began to head north, on to their first objective. The terrain was rough, the mud sucking them down. The sound of the gun's firing was getting louder and louder as time went on. They finally reached a cresting hill. Immediately Worth held up a fist, then motioned down to the ground with his palm, he moved into a prone position. Motioning them forward with an open hand, Callahan and Powers belly-crawled to the rise. Worth put down his bipod and scanned the area.
--Four hostiles on patrol, probably more inside. Bloodhound, you're up. Move on my go, drop on my word. Get inside and plant the charges-- Worth said, swapping to internal comms to reduce outside noise. Worth silenced Powers' developing objection with a wave of his right hand.
--Will do Slipsteam-- Callahan said. Worth scanned down his sight, studying the patrol patterns. Once he felt like he knew the pattern, he tapped Callahan twice on the shoulder.
--Go-- was all Worth said as Callahan got up and started to crouch run toward the emplacement. Worth saw a grunt look outward.
--Drop-- was the order, and Callahan did, the dark armour camouflaging him. Worth held the sight over the grunt until it looked away.
--Clear-- Worth said. Callahan wasted no time in moving forward again. As he got closer, he moved slower, trying to make less noise. The gun battery was open, with no guard inside that he could see. Once Callahan stepped inside he started wincing every step, the boots making an audible clack! with every step. The Covenant was either really lax, or Callahan was really lucky, but he managed to place the mine, set the detonator, and get out no problem.
It was halfway up the hill where a bit of stone screwed him. The man kept going up as Worth watched the stone roll down into a grunt. It yelped, and let out a cry, alerting the others to the intruders. That was a moment before Worth's round burst its skull open. A hail of plasma fire arced toward Callahan as Worth returned fire. Powers did his job and kept watching their back, as much as he wanted to provide cover fire.
Worth blessed his old Sargent in sniper school who taught him how to extend magazines, and to fire and reload at the same time. As the last round was chambered, Worth would reload. Thus he could fire that round as he reloaded. It was less accurate, on that last shot, but at this range, quantity was quality. Callahan got to the top and leapt over the crest, hitting the detonator. Mud and dust billowed out toward them, chased by fire and shrapnel. Worth couldn't see anything for a moment. Looking down, the entire area looked like it had been glassed. Callahan looked back to Powers easily hauling Callahan up by his shoulder. Brushing the man's upper back off, Powers said,
"Nice going man. Few more of those and you'll be one of us" Powers said. Even Worth was even mildly impressed, and in combat he was an ice-cube. Worth balanced his rifle on his knee as he pressed two fingers to his ear. It wasn't necessary to do so anymore, but old habits die hard.
Worth looked to the sky above.
--Lady Luck, Predator 1-1. Landing Zone is clear, repeat, landing zone in clear. Send in the retrieval team, over--
--Solid copy. Pelicans inbound.--