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Close to the Sun

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Chapter 4


I walked out into the sunlight beaming down on the base, helmet clutched in my left, and a brand new S7 sniper rifle, as I had been told it was called, in my right propped up on my shoulder. It would never replace my old rifle, but I was going to have to make do.

"Atten-tion," I stood up straight staring straight ahead as Sargent Kovich circled into my view, there was a look of minor confusion written across his face. "Now that's some armor- Looks good, even though you stand out like a beacon. At ease, Icarus. Your ride is going to touch down in five at the landing pad. Handle business. Go, double time."

I gave the Sargent a nod and began to jog over to the landing pad, I had to admit the advice worked. It was much easier to just shut up and follow orders, it even got Kovich to give me a little respect. Things were looking up. I scooted past a squadron returning from their run, and rounded an armory just in time to catch sight of my chariot gracefully lowering surrounded by at least ten of the soldiers from my platoon. However, none of them seemed pleased to see me. It didn't surprise me, just because they had some inkling of respect for me didn't mean they liked me. I tried to walk past but was stopped by a gloved hand, the owner of the hand was a mint-colored female chupa who was flanked by two others. One blue and one green chupa in HADES gear.

"You're the Specialist right, the sharpshooter," She asked in a tone that sounded more like a demand. I simply nodded. "Special armor they gave you there. I don't do that nodding stuff, something wrong with your mouth?"

I gladly flashed her a toothy grimace and watched her frown in what I assumed was disgust, I could only hope that answered her question.

"Damn. I'm Squad Leader, Sera. These two are going to be your security detail to make sure you follow orders, where you go- they go. Blue is Ryder, green is Octane. You'll be briefed on the flight on a need-to-know basis, anything you don't know- you don't need to know. Let's roll out!"


I stared into the visor of my helmet, the reflection of a gold-tinted version of myself looked back slightly illuminated by the red interior lights of the bay. Unlike my squadmates, I was seated close to the cockpit access door while they had chosen to sit closer to the bay door. I had been staring into the squinting face of my helmet from the moment I'd sat down.

This will be my new face now. Like it or not.

I ran a nail along with the visor, tracing the edges.

"What's wrong with him, squad leader," A deep masculine voice chimed.

I fought the urge to turn my head, somehow, I could hear over the blasting roar of the pelican's thrusters. Not that I needed to.

Sera sighed, "His medical says he's got a broken jaw, don't expect him to talk too much."

"That wasn't what I meant."

"I can only talk about what I know, Octane. He was a scumbag assassin, and I don't trust him, so you're going to make sure he doesn't get the opportunity to backstab us."

A higher-toned voice joined, "I just want him to put on the helmet, those red eyes give me the creeps."

This super hearing thing is getting on my nerves, I don't want to hear them talking shit about me. What are we in grade school? ‘His eyes give me the creeps', are you serious?

A beep tore me away from my eavesdropping, on my armor was a touchscreen device attached to my left forearm. Had it not made a noise, I wouldn't have even noticed it. Keeping both hands on the helmet I watched the readout highlighted in orange. It read, ‘Primary Objective: Eliminate all Rebel Forces in the area.' I looked away and the screen turned off.

Hm.

The pelican shifted and the HADES soldiers began securing their weapons, I spun my helmet the right way around and put it on. The Heads-Up Display came to life in a soft blue hue. A muffled shout from the cockpit came before a deafening boom that shook the pelican bay.

"We good Hocus," Squad leader Sera asked, I looked over to see her scooping her Assault Rifle off the floor while everyone else held on tight to the seat supports.

There was static inside my helmet before Hocus, our pilot, responded, "She's a little cooked, Squad Leader, but she'll hold. Took a potshot from a rocket. I'm dropping you now. Go, go!"

Rockets? Where did some rebels get military-grade rockets?

I stood from my seat, unaffected by the constant rumbling and shaking. I stood on my toes grabbing my sniper rifle from the overhead compartment before facing the bay door. The Heads-Up Display added a new icon at the top right of my vision, the shape of the sniper, and a live ammo counter. Clutching my weapon by the buttstock, barrel pointed towards the bay doors began to open, I reached forward and patted the magazine with a sharp click as it seated itself properly. Sniper rounds appeared on my ammo counter. I walked up to the edge of the bay, shouldering the rifle as the doors opened. From what I could see we were being dropped in a small city, with too many tall buildings. Our pilot was dropping us in the middle of a street. I leaped out, landing hard enough to crack the pavement, tumbling on my landing and rolling to a crouch with a knee down and rifle up while I scanned rooftops. No movement that I could see, I listened only to hear my squad loudly disembarking the pelican before it waved off out of earshot. I could feel the two barrels of Octane and Ryder's Battle Rifles pointed at my back.

They wouldn't.

"Icarus," Sera took cover in a nearby abandoned storefront while I remained still in the middle of the street.

It's quiet, why is it so damn quiet? We were under fire, and it just stopped. This feels wrong.

"No movement," I called back in a low, gravelly voice that almost surprised me as I could hear it through the squad leader's helmet even though she was a good three meters away from me.

Nobody should have been able to hear it, then I remembered. The helmet had a communications system of its own and it was probably boosting my voice so I could be heard. I was just guessing at this point; the whole thing was practically still fresh out the box.

"I don't like it. Everyone, move to cover-"

I snapped my sights toward a building down the road, squeezing off a round at a figure who'd popped up from cover. They dropped as quickly as they appeared, harmlessly blasting off a few rounds into the sky.

"Unknown with a weapon down."

"Damn, I didn't even see him," She pointed down the road, to a building adjacent to the one I had shot at, "Let's get there, get a good vantage point. We'll take back alleys. Consider all unknowns as hostiles, dispatch with maximum prejudice. That was a good shot, Icarus, but you didn't have permission to open fire. On me, let's move."

You're fucking kidding. Regulations? At a time like this? I need permission to shoot? This is bullshit.

I shook off the thoughts and stacked up behind Sera, my ‘guards' behind me, and everyone else on them.

"One more thing," Sera reached her waist and pulled an odd-looking sidearm from it, and shoved it toward me, "M6S Automag. Quick and quiet. We're gonna be close quarters, take it."

I shifted my sniper rifle around, attaching it to the back of my chest plate, and gently took the handgun from her had looked quite big in her slender hands but fit snug in mine. It looked almost small. The new weapon and the ammo in the gun displayed themselves in my HUD. I could only think about how this armor would have made all my jobs so much easier. With a hand-over-hand grip, I kept my finger slightly off the trigger, the last thing I want to do is accidentally shoot someone. We started moving, darting down the closest alley to avoid sightline on the street. Sticking to the shadows, we snaked through the city getting closer and closer to our objective. We turned down another alley and it was a dead-end except for the back door of a store. Octane jumped to the front and hovered his hand over the door handle, Sera and I stacked next to the door. Octane yanked it open, and I followed the squad leader in only to run directly into her back as she'd frozen on entry.

What gives-

I stepped in around her and instantly regretted it, we had stepped in the back door of a diner and from where we were we could see straight to the street. Between the front and back door was what remained of the customers and employees, all of which had been slaughtered. Chupas of all ages. Most were shot, others disemboweled, one beheaded- The floors and walls painted in their blood, I couldn't imagine what sick bastards would do something like this. I didn't follow the news, but last I knew, rebels didn't massacre civilians.

"Let's move," Sera shook her head, carefully stepping over bodies with me close behind.

Poor fucks never stood a chance from the looks of it.

"Permission to be sick," I could hear the gag in Ryder's voice.

"Permission denied. Target building should be across the street."

Crossing the diner felt like ten minutes rather than the forty-five seconds it was. Sera motioned for us to hold tight as we approached the front window, but I couldn't understand one thing. Even though we had entered under fire, we'd only seen one hostile and a room full of dead civilians. This wasn't right. I couldn't push down the feeling that we were walking right into an ambush, a feeling I'd only felt once when I was working a hit out in the sticks. I could feel eyes on us despite not seeing anyone. It was silent, unnaturally so. We had started on the outskirts and now we were practically under some high rises. I tightened my grip on the sidearm, I could only hope that surely, they could all feel how wrong this was. Sera stood up and opened the door and motioned for us to move, the further we crept out the more I felt the feeling rise. The telltale crack of a sniper rifle pierced the silence, whizzing by and striking down the chupa two behind me.

"Contact," Octane called laying flat on the ground as three more shots were cranked off. "Sniper!"

I turned my head to see Ryder laying in the street clutching his shoulder. I doubled back, jumping over Octane and scooping up Ryder, and sprinting the rest of the way across the street with the rest of the squad on my heels to the lobby door that Sera held open.

"Status," Sera demanded the moment all nine of us made it in with her.

Octane crouched with his rifle pointed at the door, "Ryder took a round to the shoulder."

"Set him down. Can you fight?"

I had only then realized I had been carrying another grown male bridal style, I could barely even feel his weight in my arms. I set him down onto his feet and watched as he growled out a ‘yes sir', tightly gripping his rifle. One of the other squad members, whom I was never introduced to, began to patch him up.

Tough bastard.

"Icarus, take point," Sera walked over to the stairwell of what I figured on a second glance was a hotel, this was happening far too fast for me. "Don't want to chance the elevator, we need to get you on the roof. Let's move, I'll cover you. The rest of you, nobody steps foot in this lobby."

"Yes sir," The remaining eight practically shouted.

Trained dogs they are.

I brushed my feelings aside and broke into a jog, passing the squad leader and moving up the stairs quickly with the handgun drawn. My footsteps were thunderous in the concrete tube that made up the hotel stairs, a hefty clank for every swift step. At the fifth-floor landing, I swore I heard talking, I slowed down to a creeping pace. I leaned against the door to the fifth-floor hall, I could make out voices, but I couldn't tell where from. I opened the door and they instantly stopped.

Shit.

The hall was dark as if someone had cut the power. There was a click behind me, and the hall was illuminated by a thin cone of light, I had to admit that HADES-issue flashlights were nothing short of amazing. I began down the hall slowly, trying to listen and cringing at every mechanical click my footsteps gave off. If whoever was here didn't know where we were, they do now. I was nearly at the other end of the hall now, at this point I was convinced I had imagined it.

"Icarus, you smell that? Like gunpowder," Sera started, I heard a metal hissing object bounce off the wall, "Grenade!"

I shoved her back and threw myself the other way, the explosion felt like it rattled the building. Pushed myself back to my feet to the sound of splintering wood, only turning in time to see a large yellow chupa charging me.

"Foxtrot-" I hissed being tackled through a wooden door into a different hotel room and slammed to the floor, my pistol flew out of my grip sliding across the floor.

I pulled my knees up to my chest and kicked out, planting both feet into their chest sending my assailant across the room. I rolled back to my feet, now able to clearly see my attacker in the dim light the blinds allowed in. I took off my helmet and tossed it aside, raising my hands. I could feel hatred smoldering in my chest, all the stuff I had to endure. I was going to enjoy this, I motioned for him to bring it.

I raised my hands, ready for his move. He jumped at me with an overhead right, I slipped under it countering with a hard right of my own to his lower ribs. The yellow attacker doubled over, I grabbed the back of his head and threw it down into my jumping knee sending his head whipping back. I could feel my blood boiling, this was just what I needed. He charged once more; I raised my hands to block. He threw a flurry of punches, and a heavy blow spun me around breaking my block. I looked down in time to catch an uppercut with my chin, I backpedaled to get my footing. The yellow attacker reached behind his back, something metal glinted in the low light before his arm swiped at me, and stinging pain lit up my muzzle. It glittered with red. I massaged my jaw and I felt myself open my mouth-

Wh- What? That cut must have broken my wires.

"You royally fucked up, buddy," I snarled.

I darted forward, turning sideways, and jammed my elbow into his stomach. He slashed me across the face once more, I shoved him back jumping up, and dropkicked him in the face this time. I hit the floor hard, looking up in time to see him teeter back and smash his head into the wall knocking out a decent portion of paint and drywall. I scrambled to my feet as he pushed himself away from the wall, a war cry that shocked me as it left my throat vibrated my entire body as I tackled and slammed him flat on his back. I scooted forward straddling and pinning him down, slamming down on his face. The strike cut open his face above his eye as he bled profusely. I cocked back a fist. Left, right, another left, a two-handed strike. Until his attempts to fight me off began to grow weaker. I looked to my left, the handgun I'd lost track of at the beginning of our fight was within arm's reach. I reached across my body and snatched it up in my right hand, grabbing him by the collar of his now bloody shirt I jammed the muzzle of the gun under his chin. My hands were speckled with blood, and he dripped some onto the gun. He could only glare at me, completely at my mercy.

"Stop!"

I almost flinched at the voice, I barely heard it. I looked around for the source and found it quickly found the source, a kid and what I could only assume was their mother who had been hiding in the nearby closet. The kid, of the same shade of yellow, held their hands clasped together in a pleading motion.

"Don't hurt my dad," The kid almost whispered.

Is this- Is this their father? He's an enemy- But- Damn it! It never can be easy, can it?

I dropped him and stood up keeping the pistol pointed at him as I went to retrieve my helmet. I looked at the guy and the kid holding the gun in front of my mouth, telling them to be quiet. I squeezed off two rounds into the ceiling.

"Icarus, sound off," My squad leader called from the hallway.

She must have been concussed by the blast.

I stared at the kid who crawled over to the chupa laid out on the floor, I grit my teeth at the realization of what I was about to do.

I picked up my helmet and walked over to the door still watching them as they met my gaze, "Still here, Squad Leader. Target neutralized."

The male sat up weakly as I put my helmet back on and re-entered the hall with Sera.

I'm not one of them.

"Let's move."


I burst through the rooftop door with Sera on my heels, I secured the pistol on my thigh and pulled the sniper off my back. I flicked out the bipod as I neared the ledge and set up looking down over the street. Sera was right, this was an unbeatable vantage point, I could see in every direction from here, and with the sun directly overhead I was practically invisible. The ideal position. I took off my helmet and leaned into the sight, the breeze blew my mane slightly across my face, but it wouldn't be enough to affect my shots. Minimal wind, just how I liked it.

"Need a spotter," Sera offered.

"No," I spotted something on a lower rooftop, a burning Omega flag. I had to commend whoever was brave enough to do such a thing, even I wouldn't do that. "Well, would you look at that? A burning flag, 11 o'clock."

"Any rebel flag near it?"

"What's it look like?"

"What do you see?"

I rolled my eyes taking a closer look, I did notice another flag flapping boldly in the wind mere feet away from the other one. It looked like a rounded bubble letter ‘X', with a similar pattern on the inside. Other than that, the symbol was white and the flag black, it didn't seem too notable and could easily be missed.

"Looks," I worked my jaw a little bit, still had to get used to talking. "Like a white X on a black flag, why?"

Why so jolly, Roger?

I chuckled at my own joke.

"That's not a rebel flag. Dammit. Hocus, we need extraction. Now."

Good fucking grief. If not rebels, then who?

I shot a look over my shoulder at the squad leader's worried face, then gunfire broke out. I huddled myself back up to the scope, the street that I could have sworn was empty moments ago was alive with the sounds of what might as well have been a warzone. Two large groups of chupas with no identifying markings battled in the streets, gunfire crackling like popcorn. A rocket launched from one side and struck a car for a massive explosion killing about ten, I scanned the crowd looking for leaders and instead located a group of cops trapped in the crossfire looking as if they were trying to escape.

"Squad leader, I have eyes on police officers caught in the cross looking for a way out."

"Weapons free, open up!"

Finally.

I cranked off a shot, striking a chupa with a machete who was going after them. I took another shot killing one who attempted to jump them with a handgun. They were almost out when a military-grade warthog came plowing through, I put a round through the engine block and another through the driver's skull splattering viscera on their side window. The truck veered left nearly nailing the last officer and crashed into the storefront of a bakery. I watched as the firefight raged below, one side began to retreat. Some were shot in the back as they ran, and the injured were executed. I kept looking until I spotted him.

A grey chupa in a dark grey body bodysuit stood on top of a car. His purple shoulder pads brightly reflected sunlight as his white tattered scarf waved defiantly in the gentle breeze, unbothered by the wanton destruction before him. His arms up to his elbows from his fingers and his legs from his knees to his toes were wrapped up in some type of medical tape, a leather chest holster for a handgun that was seated comfortably in it. A rocket launcher sat on his shoulder away from me, a long slightly curved sword in the other hand. A second blade was visible in its sheath across the back of his hip. Most notably there was a symbol, the same as the flag on the roof emblazoned on the stomach of his suit and a bright cyan band of fur around the middle fluffy section of his tail. It matched the hairband in his mane that was tied back in a ponytail, with bangs that hung down the sides of his face hiding his eyes. It was even a similar blue to the secondary colors of my armor. He fired a rocket that nearly hit the hotel we were positioned on but still hit his mark as he nailed the group of fleeing chupas.

If any of them had to be the leader, it must be him.

I lined up my sights as he tossed the spent ordinance launcher aside with a silent chuckle from this distance, I adjusted for the wind.

Night-night.

Before I could pull the trigger the chupa drew his sidearm from his chest and fired, striking the lip of the ledge I was shooting from. He hadn't even looked and nearly hit me. He raised his head to look at me. His eyes stabbed me with ice-cold knives. His eyes were a sickly yellow, his irises even darker so. They were vacant of fear or remorse, he craved violence and dared me to pull the trigger. I froze, he shouldn't have been able to see me. Not from where I was positioned, not in direct sunlight like this. I could see it in the slow smile that grew across his muzzle, there was nothing but malice and murderous intent behind it.

‘Do it.' I read his lips through my scope.

What the fuck is this guy?

He leaped down from the car and the pack he was leading changed direction; they were coming for the hotel.

"Squad leader, we need to get the fuck out of here ASAP."

I'm not scared. Am I scared? No, I just don't want to get carved up by some lunatic.

"I know," Sera cursed, "Hocus is taking her time- Hocus we need out now, it's them."

"On my way," Hocus practically shouted, "I'll be there in one mike!"

"You need to be here yesterday!"

The rooftop door busted open, and the rest of the squad came tumbling through, moving toward the corner Sera and I were posted at. I stood up and watched Octane double back to the door, taking his rifle and jamming it in the door handle. I trained my weapon at the door.

"We had to abandon the lobby," Octane started, "Too many tangos."

"Stay sharp!" Sera called keeping her attention on the door.

I swore I could hear them smashing the lobby door glass.

"Eyes up," Hocus's pelican came into view like a guardian angel, "Your chariot's here now get your asses onboard I count sixty-plus foot mobiles, you're in danger of being overrun!"

The pelican drifted overhead before hovering down, allowing us to jump off the roof and inside the cargo bay. Sera went first, then covered me as I scooped up my helmet putting it on before I jumped. The rest followed leaving Ryder last, just as Ryder was about to jump a blast from a handgun filled the air and he dropped to the gravel on the rooftop. His helmet tumbled off his head and for the first time, I could see the genuine horror in his eyes. I moved to grab him but was stopped by the squad leader.

"Wave off, Hocus," Sera called holding me back.

The door to the roof burst open and Ryder shrieked as he lay there helplessly, "No! Don't leave me! You fucks!"

The grey chupa, the leader approached Ryder with the long sword in hand staring at me as he approached the incapacitated HADES soldier. The eye contact never broke as the pelican dipped forward, pulling away but not before Ryder's screams were silenced by a sword through the spine. I wanted to pull my rifle up and take a potshot at him, but I still felt the icy grip of fear. I've never feared anyone my whole life- Why now? Why him? I didn't even know him.

I can't believe it. They just left him to die! We had ample time to save him, why would-

I looked at my squad leader and she refused to meet my gaze, sitting down in a seat before slamming her helmet on the floor. There was visible regret and fear in her gaze she maintained on a spot on the floor. There was something they weren't telling me, something I should have known coming into this mission.

They knew who he was. I know they knew, why else would they retreat so quickly? But who could be dangerous enough to make a squad of ten HADES soldiers run for the hills? I don't like this. I don't like not knowing.

Suddenly, not being in the loop was really concerning.


Red vs Blue © Rooster Teeth. Halo © 343 Industries. Concept by Myshu, assisted by The Department of Chupapology.

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