Leon was a Titan, a Guardian whose job on the frontline was to provide the heavy armor and firepower needed to break through even the thickest of enemy defenses. He was a human tank, and he had only gotten better at it since he had lost his power of speech. He devoted more time to his work than ever before, hoping that, between the field assignments and the menial tasks he accepted to escape from society, he would be able to completely withdraw into his own little secure bubble.
From a basic human perspective, this was a sad way to go. Such isolation was unusual even for someone with Leon’s disabilities. He never quite knew what Angela or Dan thought about it.
All the military brass saw, of course, was a sharp increase in numbers. A few of the lower officers did seem to empathize with Leon, though he could never tell if it went beyond a customary apology. The higher one went in the chain of command, it seemed, the more inhuman everyone seemed. The more it felt as though everyone was boiling the world down from the human and the emotional into the numerical and the statistical.
To a soldier, a soldier looks like a soldier. To a general, a soldier looks like a color speck in the middle of a giant blue or red arrow on a holographic screen. Sometimes that color speck can be a little larger, sometimes to the point of making up its own arrow, but it was still just a color speck.
The room Leon, Angela and Dan entered was large and hexagonal. On the far side was a raised platform running around the wall, above which were what appeared to be three windows – though in reality these were merely holographic projections, designed to lighten the atmosphere without letting anyone look into the room from outside. All around the room, on every bit of exposed wall it seemed, were dozens of computer terminals, many with chairs in front of them. In the middle of the room was a large holographic display.
This was where all the Guardians got their commands from.
The room bustled with uniformed officers, all walking to and fro or sitting at computer terminals. Some carried data pads, while one or two others carried mugs of coffee. In the center, situated around the holo-display, were a few older officers – likely top brass – and another Fireteam of Guardians. The holographic display currently showed a topographical map of some place Leon couldn’t quite identify – somewhere in Africa or maybe the Middle East, he thought, but he couldn’t be sure.
As Leon, Angela and Dan drew near to the center of the room, one of the brass noticed them. “Fireteam Indigo, good to see you,” he said with something loosely resembling a smile. On his grey uniform, above one and a half lines of ribbons, was a name-tag – Coleman, J. He had a wrinkled face that struck one as somewhat sad but warm and kind, with grey-blue eyes that gave the same impression. His hair was a yellowish-white, short and receding away from the forehead. Coleman was a respectable and respectful commander, who had seen a lot of action before and developed a close bond with the soldiers under his command, something he never lost – he was a soldier’s general.
There were two other military brass here, neither of them generals but both still very high up. One, Colonel Fuller, was a more sharp figure, in every sense. His eyes cut sharp, his face was sharply cut, his words sharply cutting. He had jet-black hair and the personality of a vulture, never happy, always bitter, always hungry for control, and always ignorant of the human picture. He was a traditional military commander in all the wrong ways. But he was smart, and his understanding of tactics was unrivaled. Everyone knew he’d soon be a General.
The other remaining officer was Lieutenant Colonel Anna Mäkinen. She was universally known as a bit of a cold fish, very distant and matter-of-fact, but she had an excellent understanding of logistics, both on the macro level and the micro level. Everyone trusted and respected her, even if she was not the warmest of leaders.
Finally, the other Fireteam of Guardians consisted of a female Warlock, a male Hunter and an Exo Titan. The Exo were robots left over from the Golden Age, rebooted and redirected to serve as Guardians for the City. They were powerful and tireless, ready-made warriors devoted. The military brass absolutely adored them, saying they ‘transcended’ the usual limits of average soldiers. Oh, how they killed so ruthlessly! How they never questioned orders! How they operated above the normal psychological limits of human Guardians! Some Guardians developed a resentment of the Exo. Others just felt uncomfortable with them or with the abnormal praise they received from the brass. And then the remainder – generally those who served with an Exo – viewed them as valuable assets in combat. Leon had to agree they were valuable, but he did find the military’s reaction a bit lacking in human restraint. Then again, that just fit the standard blindness of the brass towards the human element.
Coleman spoke again, losing his smile and dropping back into a serious, matter-of-fact tone. “We need you on a rather important assignment,” he said, launching straight into the details: “Our observation probes have detected a number of Fallen ships – three destroyers and a cruiser, to be precise, with an estimated one hundred dropships in tow – warping into orbit, holding position over an area near western Australia. They are not making aggressive motions, but it would seem they are coordinating with troops on the ground; numerous dropships are going back and forth, and scouts in the area have reported a significant amount of Fallen activity. The Air Force managed to get some proper scans of the area, and found this.” Leon recognized that in the middle of the holo-display, amidst the rocky hills, was a Fallen outpost. “Infrared scans also indicate that high-power light signals are being transmitted from the outpost to the Fallen ships in orbit,” Coleman continued, “though attempts to intercept the signal failed when the Fallen stopped transmitting after noticing our reconnaissance planes. Needless to say, they didn’t take too kindly to our presence; luckily everyone made it out alright, but one of the planes is damaged beyond repair. Normally we’d trying sending in Bombers to wipe the area clean, but the anti-air defenses are pretty heavy aside from a few minor holes, and we suspect they’ve only increased since our planes left. Here’s where you come in.”
Coleman motioned to Fuller, who proceeded with the briefing. “Considering that air operations in the area are too dangerous, and a full-on frontal assault would be suicidal, we’ve decided to opt for more pointed strikes. Your task, Fireteam Indigo, is to knock out communications from the outpost to the ships in orbit by destroying the transmission laser, located here.” A vertical red beam appeared, emanating from the top of one of the buildings in the middle of the compound. “If possible, it is recommended you attempt to capture anything that might contain whatever data they’ve been sending to their ships, but that is not the main objective. Meanwhile, Fireteam November here will be working on creating a distraction that should allow you to slip in, achieve your objective, and slip back out without too much trouble.”
Coleman jumped back in; “All in all, a fairly straight-forward operation. If you have any questions, save them until the prep teams give you a more thorough briefing later on – they’ll give you everything you need to know. For now, Guardians, if you’ll excuse us, we need to get onto other business.” All the Guardians saluted, and Coleman gave them a salute in turn.
The dropship flew low and fast across the ground, being careful to stay under the Fallen radar and stick to a pre-aligned path where intel suggested the anti-air cover was weakest. It was precarious work, but the air force was an elite unit, and only the absolute best pilots imaginable made their way into these kinds of missions.
Fireteam Indigo and Fireteam November each sat on opposite sides of the dropship’s interior, readying their gear and generally just waiting to reach the insertion zone. The map had shown them to be arriving at the east end of the outpost, in a small crevice inside the large mesa overlooking the complex. Indigo would move west and dodge a few guard towers and slip down a low-point in the cliff edge right into the heart of the Fallen base. Meanwhile, November would meander north to a river just in front of the complex walls, where they would proceed to take cover in some rock patches and snipe the guards, keeping the Fallen distracted an on their toes while Indigo took out the laser transmitter. Meanwhile, the dropship would already have left to avoid getting stranded in the middle of a thickly contested air-space. That would leave the Guardians to walk their way south to a human base, where they would then be extracted by the air and returned to the city. It was all risky, but done right, it could work.
And the Guardians were the City’s finest – they’d get the job done, no matter what.
To Be Continued…