10 Minutes Until Extraction
Upon entry, Nomolos Tower seemed perfectly intact, albeit the pitch darkness due to a lost connection to the power grid as well as the structure's back-up generators. The twenty or thirty so paces that Buck took along the carpeted floor were probably the most comfortable steps he had taken sine the op began. But as he delved deeper, the carefully crafted décor seemed to gradually morph into a motif of disarray and chaos.
Glass crunched beneath his boots as the bending corridor lead him closer to his team's beacon. Buck resented the sound. Normally he hated any noise that drew attention to his location, but the fact that he could hear something so subtle meant that there was nothing nearby to drown it out. Instead of nearing sounds of fire exchanging between his men and the Covvies, the Gunnery Sergeant was enveloped in the shadow of an unnerving and cryptic silence.
All that Buck could do was move on, blindly following his squad's transponder beacon, unsure of what to expect. He wasn't sure he wanted to think of the possibilities considering the risks, not to mention after how bad things sounded over the comm when they issued a distress call. For all he knew, he would soon be carrying out nothing but body bags
or even just dog tags if things really went to hell.
Buck rounded the corner of his current hall, coming face to door with what appeared to be a security room, the source of the squad's beacon. His HUD was now lined with a blue glow, the beacon pulse now chiming in long, steady intervals. He approached the door at an angleaway from the center to avoid direct fire, friendly or otherwise. With a deep breath, he kept his rifle level in one hand, reached out with the other, and pressed the door's interface.
The door opened with a mechanical hiss and Buck slowly began to sidestep across its maw, weapon up and scanning every inch of the room. It was clear until he completed his first step, which left him in the center of the doorway and almost frozen with relief. He observed that two ODSTsout of his squad of fivewere present, both of which had their sights on him.
Buck identified the one in his more immediate line of sight as Corporal Rykov. "Chyort," he cursed, falling back on his Russian tongue as he lowered his weapon. He turned back and signaled the other to do the same.
Lance Corporal Trang, who was standing eight feet past Rykov, lowered the aim of his M90 CAWS to the floor. "You came alone?"
"Yeah," Buck said, taking a breath as he walked in and took stock of his present squad. Upon entry, he discovered one more of his squad, Private Mitchell, who was tending to his own wounds. His left shoulder piece was completely missing, no doubt removed. His chest plate was also patterned with burn marks, evidence of a close scuffle with plasma fire. "You guys okay?"
"Check," said Trang.
"Okay," Rykov added, covering the hall as his squad leader entered.
Buck turned his attention to Mitchell, having gotten no response. "Mitchell?"
"Little busy, Gunny."
"I can tell." He was done with the visual check and didn't need a roster to tell him that his squad was clearly smaller than before he sent a detachment to Nomolos Tower. "There were five of you last I remember."
"It's just us now," Rykov said. "We lost Noriko and Reyes on the way here."
Trang chimed in, shifting his weight as he began to explain. "We found the jammer that was blocking communications on this part of Alexandria. Intel was actually right about that, but it overestimated their manpower."
"It was just Grunts and Jackals. No Brutes, no Elites. Without proper leadership they didn't put up much resistance and some of them scattered. It took a little while, but we cleared the room. But by that time hostile QRF arrived and was making its way down from the roof.
"We wouldn't have lasted long if we just set off the jammer then withdrew, so Noriko had the idea to cover our tracks by wiring up enough C12 to collapse the atrium. Then we would ambush whatever was left but"
"Let me guess. The blast took the whole roof instead," Buck finished.
Trang replied with a half-hearted nod. That didn't seem right. Noriko wasn't green in the slightest sense when it came to explosives, Buck knew. And while C12 was one of the most unpredictably powerful explosive compounds the UNSC had to offer, she would have known better than to make that kind of mistake.
"We were compromised, and we started to pull back to our insertion point, that's when we put out the distress call. Noriko hung back to set up a mine, and Reyes stayed to cover her. After the detonation we haven't heard anything."
"You didn't even check?" Buck was trying not to let the disappointment and hint of anger show in his tone.
Trang raised a hand as though to calm the Gunnery Sergeant. "Doc was injured. We couldn't leave him alone, and like I said, comms went totally silent."
Mitchell grimaced beneath his helm. He wasn't too fond of sympathy, and if he had his way, they would have gone back despite his injuries. Buck could see it in the way he looked up at him as he packed away his trauma kit that he was hanging on to some faith that his squadmates were still alive.
"That and everything beyond that door is unstable," Rykov said in defense. "We're between a rock and a hard place, Gunnery Sergeant, and both are collapsing beneath our feet."
Their actions were justifiable, Buck knew. He also knew what Rykov was implying, but he wasn't about to personally condone the decision to abandon Reyes and Noriko, neither were any of the present survivors. "No," Buck finally said after a brief moment of thought, warranting a couple of confused glances.
"Alive or not, we don't leave people behind. You boys know this." He jerked his chin at the door to the atrium.
Mitchell pushed himself off the floor, wrestling his M7's strap with his good arm. "We're going in?"
Buck stopped him with a light palm to his vest. "We're going in. I need you to stay here and cover our exit. You're in no shape to tango right now."
The medic frowned. "But"
"'But' nothing. Keep our asses covered and watch the monitors for anything useful. I know you don't like it, but we need you here," he said, stabbing a finger at the floor for emphasis.
Shifting his weight, he curtly broke eye contact. "Reyes and Noriko might need medical."
"And we'll call you in when it's clear to provide." Frustration noted, Buck gave him time to let it sink in, then a little more to give an answer. Seconds passed. "You readin' me, Private?"
Mitchell lowered his head, glancing off to the side. "Yeah, I read you."
"Good." Buck brought his rifle back to battery and held it tight against his chest, turning back to face Trang, who was now formed up against the door with his M90 ready-low. "Everyone else lock it up tight. Let's get our people back."