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Within Reach

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Within Reach

Prologue: Lone Wolf

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August 28, 12550

Not far from Astirah City, Ninavi Territory Coast, Léshelo Continent, Gamma Cygni VI

There was pulsing noise everywhere - the slamming of her boots on the concrete pavement, the hammering of gunfire, the pounding of blood in her ears. As she pressed the button on the detonator in her pocket, the resounding shockwaves of plastic explosives rang out.

Gate down. Two more turns and a bolt across the courtyard, jump into the armored ONI getaway van, and I'm home free.

This kind of thing was what SPARTAN-B312 lived for: the wild-eyed madness at the very limits of adrenaline, danger that would make whole platoons of seasoned assault infantry balk, intense and deadly solo missions that left no room for error. She lived her life on the edge of a knife, and didn't consider a job well done until that knife had cut her.

The best tasks were ones that left her racing one step ahead of death. How was a spartan supposed to know she was alive, if she couldn't hear the grim reaper's sickle singing through the air behind her?

Today was a job well done. She'd infiltrated the compound as instructed, unarmed and unarmored. She'd found the evidence of a well-organized rebel cell within, just as she was looking for - and she'd terminated both her primary and secondary targets with rounds from their own pistols.

So far, four bullets had left bleeding grazes on her skin, and she'd taken a total of zero direct hits.

Could be worse. Could be better, but for a no-armor operation, definitely don't want it to be any worse!

She rounded the first corner with her gun up, and - still running at full speed - shot three men down, missing only one of the shots. A second later, her ears picked out the clacking of a heavy bolt behind her, despite the deafening interference noise.

Skidding to a stop and dropping to one knee, she spun around, and drew the other pistol. She fired both guns simultaneously, once, twice, and two rounds each made gory messes of the heads and necks of the men behind her. They collapsed, dropping the heavy machine gun they'd been about to fire.

312 stood, whirling again as she did so -

But she'd skidded a foot or two too far, and her position was visible from around the second corner.

There was a man, some ordinary rebel, standing there in the courtyard. 312 went to lift her pistol, but he was braced and aimed, his finger already tightening around the the trigger. It was an ugly gun; some kind of sawn-off sniper rifle, forming an inelegant - but very lethal - armor-piercing carbine.

Game over.

The muzzle of the weapon flashed with a blinding light, and then there was darkness.

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