Chapter 25
...Will Attack the Cat

Location: ESS Ticonderoga, Saturnian Sphere
Date: Sun 16 Jun 121
Time: UST 0123

"I'm not going to put up with your grandstanding!" Colonel Grozny shouted. "Our Marines can handle this. You greenbacks can keep your damn noses out of it."
"My men were assigned to this ship specifically for this kind of situation," Colonel Vasquez countered. "How many times do I have to say it to get through your thick jarhead skull?"
"Enough!" Admiral Mfume barked. "Stand down, both of you!"
Major Knox had enough self-control to keep from sighing out loud, but just barely, it seemed. First Platoon of Echo Company was pinned down in the Villareyes Starport and it was all they could do to take a commo substation to report the situation. Knox himself had opposed sending them in with such light equipment, but he was overridden by the MEF commander. It was not the first time Two-star had undercut the 41st's supposed autonomy, nor would it be the last. That decision had already led to one fatality and would lead to more if something was not done and done soon.
Colonel Grozny wanted to keep the situation a Marine problem, preferably a 41st problem, but Colonel Vasquez of the Army detachment saw an opportunity to get his men some action and latched on to it. Major Knox understood how Colonel Grozny felt, but Colonel Vasquez was not entirely unjustified. His unit was attached to the Ticonderoga specifically for peacekeeping and pacification, which was exactly what the situation called for.
Although many other officers in his position would have kept quiet under the circumstances, he instead opted to inject himself into the conversation.
"Permission to speak, sirs."
Colonel Grozny gave him a nasty glare for moving in on what he clearly considered to be a one-man battle, but Admiral Mfume nodded to him anyway.
"Go ahead, Major," he said.
"I think we should do both," Major Knox said.
"Explain, Major."
"As a Marine and as a member of First Platoon's chain of command, I feel a particular responsibility. It's our people in trouble and it should be our people who get them out. At the same time, Colonel Vasquez is correct that his men are the best people to bring the civilian population under control."
"What exactly are you proposing?" Colonel Vasquez asked.
"We deploy the rest of Echo Company--properly equipped with MediSuits--to extract First Platoon and to complete the original mission objectives. Meanwhile, Colonel Vasquez deploys the personnel he needs to restore order to the local population."
"That sounds like a perfectly reasonable compromise," Admiral Mfume said. He looked to the two Colonels and asked, "Are there any objections, gentlemen?"
"Negative," Colonel Vasquez replied.
"No, sir," Colonel Grozny added.
"Very well then. You have ten minutes to draw up a plan of action. I want your men to deploy by 0200 at the latest. If there are no questions, you are dismissed."
Major Knox looked at his watch. They did not have much time. While the Colonel was drawing up the plan of action, he would go ahead and get Echo Company prepped for launch. He only hoped First Platoon could hold out until they got there.

* * *

Date: Sun 16 Jun 121
Time: UST 0104

Ally was fast asleep on her bunk, rack, whatever they called it. Even when she was asleep, she got frustrated by these different terms she couldn't keep straight. After spending months learning all that Army jargon, now she had to learn all this Navy junk. This was just a fraction of all the anxiety that assailed her every moment she was awake and most of the time she was asleep, too.
She was sitting at a desk with a mountain of paperwork. Actual paper. You almost never saw that anymore. She was writing with an ink pen, too. It was so weird. But she wasn't thinking about that. She was thinking about getting all that paperwork done and it was stressing her out. She was stressed, but was it any worse than what she'd had to put up with since she was taken away from doing work like this to become a sniper?
She didn't have an answer. She could scarcely string two thoughts together. All she could do was feverishly go over the papers one at a time, but the stack wasn't getting any shorter.
The stack of papers in her inbox suddenly exploded. Instinctively, she ducked under her desk just as her outbox suffered the same fate. Without even thinking, she knew she was under fire. As she cowered under her desk, she knew the scope of a SG1 could see right through it and the round could cut right through even easier. There was nothing she could do. She was going to die.
But instead of a fatal bullet, she heard a voice bellow in the distance.
"O'Connor! Get your ass up!"
Ally woke with a start, just as curses and other exclamations erupted from the Marines in her berth. It was a male's voice she heard and there weren't supposed to be any of them in a female berth. Before she could sort through it, or before any of the Marines could give the male intruder a sound beating, one of the Marines sounded off.
"Attention on deck!"
Ally had to dodge one of the people above her as she stumbled out to stand at attention. Because she was at attention and looking straight ahead, she couldn't see who the male was, but he was obviously an officer.
"As you were," the officer said.
Lance Corporal Liu spoke up.
"Sir, it is against regulations for a male to enter a female berthing compartment without authorization."
"I know the regulations, Marine," the officer replied irritably, "and I have the authorization. Where's O'Connor? O'Connor!"
Ally finally recognized the voice. It was Lieutenant Silva, her platoon leader.
"O'Connor!" he shouted again. "Sound the fuck off!"
"S-sir, yes, sir!" Ally stammered.
"Don't sir sandwich me, O'Connor! Get dressed and report to the armory on the double! We load up in fifteen! Move it!"
"Sir, ye--I mean, yes, sir!"
Amidst scattered grumblings against the Army in general and Ally in particular, the harried young soldier hastily changed into her ACU. As she was about to head out, Liu called out to her.
"Hold on there, hard charger."
She stopped and looked to Liu, who was holding the hood and gloves to her StatSuit.
"He said you were loading up," Liu said. "That means you're going to be seeing some action. You're going to need these."
"Thanks," Ally said, taking what she'd forgotten.
Then it hit her.
"Wait, what?"
"The exercise is over," Liu said. "I've heard that Echo is deploying and it looks like you greenbacks are riding out, too."
"What? You mean..."
Liu put her hands on Ally's shoulders.
"Easy there, killer. You'll be fine. You've got your training. You've got your battle buddy. You've got your whole unit. Just stay frosty out there."
"Ye, ye..." Ally stammered.
Liu smiled. "Double time, soldier. And don't forget to secure your wall locker next time or I'm gonna make you push."
"Yes, Senior Lance," Ally replied numbly.
She turned and left. The moment she was out the door, she started running down the hallway--passageway, whatever--to the personnel lifts. It was like her body had a mind of its own, moving with a purpose down to the armory.
She was almost afraid she'd float away once she was free of Deck 6's double gravity. It took her long enough just to be able to stand up straight without feeling like her back was going to break. Switching back and forth between double gravity on Deck 6 and normal gravity everywhere else on the ship made her imagine her spine turning into an accordion, and she'd always thought accordions were annoying.
When she got to the armory, it looked like the whole company was there. She hadn't gotten far when some E-5 shouted at her.
"You there! Clear out!"
Ally went to parade rest and replied, "But, Sergeant, I'm supposed to be here."
"What was that? Sound off, goddammit!"
"I'm supposed to be here, Sergeant!"
"How in the hell do you figure that?" the E-5 asked irritably. "You S-4 from another company?"
"No, Sergeant!"
"Then what the f--?"
"She's with Second Platoon," Jack said, stepping out from the crowd and walking toward her.
The E-5 had to crane his neck to look up at the lanky giant as he walked past.
"What the hell?"
"It's a long story, Sarge," Jack replied as he put his arm around Ally's shoulder and led her away. Once they were a little ways along, he asked her, "How you doin', shorty?"
"I, ah--"
"Sounds like you figured out this is real," Jack said gravely. "We haven't been told the details yet. Looks like they're gonna brief us en route."
"Jack, I-- I can't..."
Seeing her so upset, Jack pulled out his old trick of cracking a broad grin and ruffling her hair.
"Don't worry 'bout it, shorty," he said. "Just stick with me and you'll be fine."
This was the second time she was told she'd be fine, but Ally wasn't so sure. She would've loved to run away then and there, but she knew she couldn't. In her mind, she always knew this was going to happen sooner or later when they made her a sniper. She didn't want this. She never wanted this, but what was she going to do?
"Goddammit, O'Connor, you sure as hell took your sweet-ass time," Sergeant Rahim growled.
Ally had been so busy worrying that she didn't realize Jack had already led her to the rest of the platoon. She really didn't want to get into it with Sergeant Rahim, but Jack deflected the potential chewing session before it could start.
"No time ta chat, Sarge," he said. "We gotta get back in line."
Sergeant Rahim gave Jack a nasty death glare, but said nothing else. That was how serious it was. Normally he would've flown into a fury and had them pushing until their arms fell off, but there was no time for that.
All the S-4 guys in the armory were pushing them through fast, helping them get their gear on and signing out weapons and ammo in about half the time it usually took. No sooner had Ally got in line, First Platoon was already out the door and Second crowded into the room.
It seemed like they had about a half dozen other supply guys in there on loan from other companies to speed up the process. Ally was thankful for a female being there to help her with her LightSuit. The female supply clerk gave her a funny look.
"What the hell are you supposed to be?" she asked incredulously.
Ally was really tired of being asked questions like that. Yes, little more than two percent of all infantry-rated personnel were female, but still...
The supply clerk didn't wait for an answer, hastily strapping on Ally's shin guards while Ally herself was adjusting the torso protector.
"You put on your hood first, dumbass," the supply clerk growled. "Now it's going to be a pain in the ass to seal."
Actually, Ally's fingers were small enough that she could slip them past the collar guard and seal the hood to the rest of her StatSuit, but it was indeed easier to do before you put on your armor. She did at least get the StatSuit gloves on before it was time to put on the combat gloves and hand guards.
Before she put on her helmet, another supply clerk with a handheld eye scanner checked her retinas. Usually you just had to swipe your ID card, but they could hardly be pulling out their wallets at a time like this. The scanner blinked green and yet another clerk handed her her SG1.
"You've got four magazines in your ammo pouches," he said. "Make 'em count."
Her helmet was then slapped on her head and strapped tight by the female clerk. She then clamped the mask over Ally's mouth, sealed it to her hood and shoved her along. Stumbling a little, Ally regained her balance, slung her weapon and followed Jack out of the armory.
The personnel lifts were packed to capacity before they went up to Deck 5, where the entrance to the hangar was. In the hanger, the deck crew was all over the place prepping the birds for launch. Two Albatrosses were already lined up and ready.
As they were coming in, First Sergeant Drake's amplified voice shouted, "Fall in with your platoon and stand at ease until the briefing begins!"
Ally did so, taking her place in the platoon's formation. Standing at ease, she could look around a little without getting into trouble. She saw Captain Robles and First Sergeant up front, which was to be expected, but there was also Colonel Vasquez and Sergeant Major there with them. Things really were serious.
To her left was First Platoon and a little behind their formation was a platoon she didn't recognize. The black helmets and brassards emblazoned with 'MP' made it pretty clear who they were, though. What they were there for was less clear, but Ally figured the briefing would explain that.
In about fifteen or twenty minutes, Third and Fourth formed up along with another platoon of MPs. Once they were all in formation, the lot of them were called to attention. The Colonel himself delivered the briefing.
"As you may have heard, the Ticonderoga has been engaged with a pirate gang calling itself the Seven Deadly Sins. We destroyed the bulk of their fleet, but the survivors hijacked a starport and now it's on a crash course with the trade lanes. A Marine platoon was sent in to take control of the port, but locals turned hostile and have them pinned down.
"The leathernecks are going to take care of theirs, but we have our own job to do. While the Marines take control of the port's systems, we'll be pacifying the local population. We'll deploy in four units, each consisting of an infantry platoon supported by two squads of MPs and two sniper teams.
"We've got readings on over six thousand civilians and then there's God only knows how many more that are off the grid. We can't just kill anything that moves, but standard rules of engagement apply. Don't take any stupid risks out there. Neutralize the threat and bring the port under control.
"Your team assignments and designated transport will appear on your HUDs now."
Just as a number two blinked on Ally's visor and an arrow pointed to the second Albatross from the bay door, Colonel Vasquez stiffened to the position of attention and shouted, "Detachment!"
The order cascaded down.
"Comp'nee!"
"P'atoon!"
"Atten-shun!"
The different platoons sounded off with their own battlecries, but maybe they were supposed to use the detachment battlecry, whatever that was. Actually, Ally was taken off guard, so she wound up shouting unintelligibly, not that anyone could tell the difference. She could swear Jack shouted 'We love Rahim!' again. How he could joke around at a time like this, she'd never understand.
"Fall out!" Colonel Vasquez shouted. "Get to your birds! Move, move, move!"
For better or for worse, it looked like Second Platoon was on Team Two as well as Ally and Jack, minus Sergeant Khadir's and Corporal Lyons' sniper teams. That meant Sergeant Rahim led the other sniper team. Ally was pretty sure neither one of them were too happy about the assignment. What was it they say about the evil you know?
As they approached their Albatross, Lieutenant Silva was there shouting, "Snipers in first! Then MPs, then Second! Move it, people!"
The snipers boarded by rank, which meant Ally was the first one in. Her seat had already been assigned, so she just followed the arrows on her HUD and took her seat. Jack then sat down across from her. Sergeants Rahim and Fuentes apparently sat in the next row, because an MP even younger than her plopped down in the seat right next to her. He gave her the usual incredulous look when he glanced over at her.
"What the hell?"
Ally sighed.
"You do know how to use that thing, don't ya?" the young MP asked.
"She's got ya covered, kid," Jack said. "You just buckle in and enjoy the in-flight movie."
The MP laughed, which was quite the change of pace from the usual glares and curses he got for all his wisecracking. Maybe life would've been easier if they made her become an MP instead. Why did she have to be a sniper?
She didn't get to wonder on the question for long. The whole team was loaded and one of the Albatross' crew was going by to make sure everyone was secure in their seats. This was it.

* * *

Location: Villareyes Starport, Saturnian Sphere
Date: Sun 16 Jun 121
Time: UST 0158

Miranda leaned against a bulkhead, watching the two video feeds on her HUD. Her platoon had taken cover in a commo substation with the help of the captive miner Digger and they rigged a couple rifles in the passageway to act as sentry guns, just as a threat to ward off the hostiles. So far the threat was working.
The Marines were on edge, no surprise given that they were vastly outnumbered and bound by the rules of engagement from utilizing the full breadth and scope of their combat ability. The loss of Doc was a heavy blow as well. Fortunately there had not been any more casualties since then.
Lance Corporal Lee and Private Gonzales managed to override the lockout on the substation to get a distress signal out to the Ticonderoga. There was a lot of interference to deal with, but the message got through.
The reply: Cavalry inbound. Stand fast.
So all they had to do was wait. Understandably, most of the men were less than satisfied with that. They wanted action, they wanted payback, and they were not getting either.
"Man, Gunny, this ain't right," Corporal Hoek complained. He was still worked up about Doc. "We're fuckin' Marines hidin' from a bunch of goddamned civvies. They drew first blood. There shouldn't be nothin' holdin' us back."
"I've already told you to start thinking like a Marine, Hoek," Miranda growled. "I ain't tellin' you again."
"Marines don't just sit around with their thumbs up their asses," Hoek snapped back.
Miranda bolted upright and got right in Hoek's face.
"A Marine doesn't piss and moan like a little bitch either!" she bellowed. "You'd best get your goddammed head screwed on straight or you're gonna lose those stripes of yours!"
Hoek didn't let up, though.
"Goddamn my stripes! I ain't dyin' for this bullshit!"
That was it. Miranda punched him in the gut, hard enough for him to feel it through his LightSuit, hard enough to drop him. An NCO is never supposed to throw the first punch, but Hoek had to be brought in line before he dug himself any deeper and started dragging the rest of the platoon down with him.
"You sure as hell ain't dyin', Corporal!" Miranda shouted over him. "You don't have orders to die and you better pray to God in Heaven you don't go AWOL on me to the Great Beyond, 'cause I'll personally go down to Hell and drag you back out to put you through a world of shit that'll make the Inferno look like an fuckin' amusement park!" She then grabbed Hoek, picked him up, and slammed him into the bulkhead. "Do I make myself clear, Corporal!?"
"Yes, Gunnery Sergeant..." Hoek moaned.
"I can't hear you! Sound off like you got a pair!"
Digging down deep, Hoek managed to sound off respectably. "Yes, Gunnery Sergeant!"
Miranda let go of Hoek and shot an accusing glare around the room.
"And that goes for the rest of you twinkle-toed fairy fuckers! Do I make myself clear!?"
The platoon erupted with a roar of "Yes, Gunnery Sergeant!"
Lowering both the volume and the rage in her voice, she said, "Reinforcements are on the way. We stand fast. I ain't havin' my Marines strung up on some bullshit civilian massacre."
She then went back to leaning against the bulkhead. Still no sign of anyone trying to challenge the sentry guns. Still no word from the Tico on their reinforcements.
After a few minutes, Hoek approached her and stood at parade rest.
"No excuse, Gunnery Sergeant," he said.
"Welcome back, Corporal," Miranda replied. "Now that you've got your head back on straight, I expect it to stay that way. You're a squad leader. You have the responsibility to set the example."
"No excuse, Gunnery Sergeant," Hoek repeated.
"At ease, Corporal," she said. "Make sure your men are squared away. We move the second reinforcements arrive."
"Aye-aye, Gunnery Sergeant."

* * *

Date: Sun 16 Jun 121
Time: UST 0238

The door was locked, so they were hacking it. Practically all the doors were locked and the Colonel insisted that every room was swept and cleared. The hostiles weren't going to flank them if he had anything to say about it.
The hack must've gone wrong because the door shorted out and they had to pry it open. Three soldiers rushed in.
"Freeze! Hands in the air!"
"I said hands in the air!"
Then there was explosion. Not much fire or smoke, but some shrapnel peppered the wall in the corridor.
"Medic!" someone shouted.
Jack thought he was going to be sick. So this was what real action felt like. The worst part of it was that they weren't even fighting Shellies. Damn pirates, common criminals and apparently some poor fools who were tricked into thinking the troops were the bad guys. All that mixed in with about six thousand civvies. And somehow the two hundred of them were supposed to put a lid on this shitstorm.
Whoever said 'War is hell' sure knew what he was talking about.
Jack and Ally had to hang back from the main group of their team. In such close quarters, there wasn't much for a sniper team to do except keep an eye out. Ally's SG1 could punch through the walls easily, but she couldn't be shooting without knowing there was a valid target first and while their scopes could see through walls, they could only determine vaguely human shapes on the other side. Not quite enough to ID threats.
Ally was in game mode. That was what Jack called it. Whenever they were in a live-fire exercise and even in most simulations, she was a completely different person. She wasn't her usual nervous, mousy self. She was like a machine, quiet, efficient.
In a way, Jack was thankful for it. There was no way everyday Ally could get through this without having a nervous breakdown. He was thankful for that much, but that didn't stop it from being creepy as hell.
"Sierra Three-Five," a voice crackled over the radio, "front and center!"
That was them. An indicator on his HUD told Jack where to go. There were a couple squads huddled up at the end of a corridor. Sergeants Rahim and Fuentes were there, too. Apparently the person giving orders was Lieutenant Silva, but Jack didn't recognize his voice with all the interference.
"Nice of you to show up," the LT said. "We're about to enter a merchant block. Big open area. Rahim's opened a path for us." He pointed to the two closest buildings. "You two go left. Sierra Two-One goes right. You take up positions on the roof and eliminate any threats while we sweep the area. Are we tracking?"
"Tracking, sir," Jack replied.
Ally slung her SG1 and drew her sidearm. The unnatural cool professionalism of her movements bothered Jack. This wasn't the Ally he knew, but if it would keep her alive, he wasn't going to complain.
With a signal from Lieutenant Silva, the two squads broke cover and rushed to the buildings on either side of them. Sergeant Fuentes gestured for Jack and Ally to follow their squad while Sergeant Rahim was covering them. They pressed themselves up against the wall while one person prepared to breach. This door didn't short when it was hacked, and the squad moved in the second it opened.
It was the same old routine. Watch your corners. Freeze. Hands in the air. Scared civvies screaming. Hands on your head. Face-down on the deck. Zip-tying wrists. Quickscans and pat-downs.
It was amazing how fast they could go.
Half of the squad secured the first level while the other half continued up. Jack was hoping there wouldn't be another psycho with a grenade.
He did his best to keep the others covered while they did their work. In about three minutes, all four floors were cleared and Jack and Ally were on the roof. One of the men went up with them. It turned out to be Sergeant Rawlins of Second Squad.
"We're moving the detainees down to one room on the ground floor and locking them in," he said. "We didn't find any weapons and they all check out as registered civilians, but we can't be too careful. I'm sealing the door behind me, so you shouldn't have to worry about your six."
"Roger that, Sergeant," Jack replied.
"Keep those streets clear for us, Grisson. Show me that fuckup routine of yours is just an act or I'll have Belafonte pound your ass."
With that Sergeant Rawlins retreated back into the building. Jack could barely hear him jamming the door. It was nice to know no one would be coming at them from behind, but how the hell were they supposed to get down?
Putting that concern aside for the time being, Jack went over to Ally, who had already taken up her shooting position.
The merchant block was about the same size as a small colony dome, maybe about a half-klick all around. It was densely packed with a lot of crude additions made to the prefab buildings. It made it hard to pick out things with the naked eye, but that was why they had their scopes.
Jack quickly switched through the viewing modes as he scanned the area, looking for any potential targets. There were thermal vents all over the place. Maybe just a coincidence and maybe an attempt to hide heat signatures. Jack had heard the pirates had a way of thwarting their tech. It wasn't particularly reassuring.
"Sierra Three-Five," a voice said, Second Squad's squad leader, "this is Sierra Two-One. We're moving on to the next building. Clear a path."
The HUD indicated what building he meant, the one right in front of them. Jack scanned the windows for hostiles.
Nothing.
"Sierra Two-One," Jack said, "this is Sierra Three-Five. You're clear on this side. If anyone's in there, they're stayin' away from the windows. Sierra Three-One, you see anythin'?"
"Negative," Sergeant Rahim replied from his vantage point on the other side of the street. "Check the-- Shit! Get down!"
Several hostiles showed up on the roof Sergeant Rahim's team was watching. The hostiles opened up with small arms, pinning them down. What was worse, a couple hostiles seemed to be setting up a mortar. Where the hell did they get their hands on that?
"Shorty, heads u--"
Before Jack could even finish, Ally had already sent a round downrange into one of the shooters. Before the hostiles could react to her, she had already taken out another and wrecked the mortar. Jack had to pull her down under cover before the hostile's fire starting coming their way.
Holding his rifle up over the parapet, Jack laid down some suppressive blindfire. It wasn't really blindfire because he was using the camera in his scope, but he wasn't putting much effort into aiming either. He just wanted the hostiles to stop shooting at them.
Whoever these jokers were, they weren't very smart. They turned all their attention to Jack and Ally, completely forgetting about the other sniper team they were shooting at in the first place. That was a dumb move that got two of them dropped by Sergeant Rahim. Then Ally and Sergeant Rahim took down one more a piece and the roof was clear.
Now that the immediate danger had passed, Jack felt himself seize up. He couldn't breathe. His fingers gripped his rifle so tightly he thought the thing would break.
Snap out of it, he told himself, banging his head against the parapet. Snap out of it!
As formidable as Ally was when she was in game mode, she needed him watching her back. He couldn't afford to choke at a time like this.
Snap out of it!
Jack forced himself to peek up over the top of the parapet. He hastily scanned the area for any more hostiles.
Nothing.
"Sierra Three-One, this is Sierra Three-Five," Jack said, more calmly than he was expecting. "Do ya see anythin'?"
"Negative, Sierra Three-Five," Sergeant Rahim replied. "Check the east face of the building across from me."
Jack looked up and down the building twice.
"Sierra Three-One, I'm countin' eight heat signatures. Look more or less human-shaped. Three on the first floor, two on the second an' three on the third floor. They're not too far from the windows, but they're not peekin' out."
"You got any targets in your building?"
"Negative."
"Then keep an eye on those targets while my team moves in."
"Roger."
Jack glanced over to Ally and told her, "I'll watch that building. You keep an eye on ours. I'll let you know if you need to send a few rounds their way."
Ally didn't say anything. She simply picked up her rifle and moved around him, taking up a new position on the south wall, more directly facing 'their' building.
The teams moved in and Jack kept a close eye on the targets he spotted. Either they were civvies or they weren't willing to put up much of a fight because they were neutralized without much fuss. Just sitting there watching, it seemed to take a lot longer for them to clear the buildings. In reality, they were moving as fast as ever, but it was hard to convince Jack of that.
"Sierra Three-Five, this is Sierra Two-One," the radio crackled. "Advance to the next rooftop."
Advance to the next rooftop?
"Uh, Sierra Two-One, how exactly are we supposed to get down?" Jack asked. "The door to the roof is jammed.
"Rope down, numbnuts," Sergeant Rahim growled, jumping into the conversation. "On the double."
"Roger that," Jack mumbled, fingering the grappler hanging off his pistol belt.
He adjusted to clamp to secure it to the parapet, spooled off some line and then hooked the reel back on his pistol belt.
Slinging his rifle, he told Ally, "I'll go down first an' cover ya."
Ally simply nodded, still scanning the area. That would have to do. Jack went over the side and rappelled down to the street. Once he'd gotten down, he unslung his rifle and checked both ways to make sure the coast was clear before calling to Ally to come on down. Once she was down, they disengaged the clamps and reeled in their lines. Then they moved into the building and took up positions on the roof.
They went through the same process until the two teams canvassed the entire merchant block. Lather, rinse, repeat.
There weren't any more rooftop ambushes, but there were some targets in the windows and on the streets for the sniper teams to take out. There were also some hostiles in the buildings, too. In total, there were twenty dead and six wounded on the hostile side, three dead and seven wounded civvies, and only one wounded on their side. The whole area was cleared in a little more than half an hour, not a bad piece of work given how big it was. Too bad it wasn't the end of the mission, though. They were only about halfway through with this level.
As they moved out of the merchant block, Lieutenant Silva called him up on the radio.
"Sierra Three-Five, I'm sending coordinates to your HUD. Head over there and secure the corridor until the squad comes through."
"Roger that," Jack replied.
His HUD indicated where to go. Apparently the mission planners were having a hell of a time making heads of tails of this port because the actual layout didn't even vaguely resembles the plans on record. Still, somehow the LT knew where to send them.
Jack took point as they made their way to the location. There were a few twists but nothing too complicated. As he turned the last corner, he found himself face-to-face with a tall person in a rather battered-looking Marine LightSuit. Both of them pointed their weapons at each other.
The pirates had military hardware, didn't they? Could this be one of them?
"Identify yourself!" Jack shouted.
The tall person lowered his weapon and replied, "You wouldn't be asking if you were one of them."
Jack returned the friendly gesture by lowering his weapon as well. It certainly seemed like this person was an actual Marine and not a pirate in stolen gear.
Before Jack could ask the Marine again for identification, an armed hostile burst out of nowhere, screaming at the top of his lungs and flanking the Marine.
"Look out!" Jack shouted, reflexively raising his rifle and putting three pulses into the hostile.
The Marine whipped around to face the hostile as he went down. After making sure the hostile wasn't getting up again, the Marine looked down the hallway for any more of them. When none showed up, he turned back to Jack and walked up to him.
Only when the Marine got closer was Jack able to read the nameplate on his helmet.
GRISSON.
It wasn't just any Marine. It was Jack's sister. I'll be damned, he thought, the same thought that went through his head when he first saw her on the Ticonderoga. He could almost kick himself. He never could tell a person's voice over the damn radio.
Standing almost toe-to-toe with him, she put her hand on his shoulder.
"Never thought I'd be happy to see a greenback," she said.