Halo: Bandersnatch by Wolverfrog
Halo: Bandersnatch [Prologue + Ch1]
Date: 5 April 2011, 12:28 pm
"Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun
The frumious Bandersnatch!"
The order came through shortly after the broadcast over the Eridani newsnet. A single, unassuming sheet of paper ran through the machine like thousands of other documents that poured through the CIC of the Babylon every day. The ink was standard black on a typical white background, with the only notable feature being the bold, capitalised red letters emblazonned at the head of the letter.
DECLARATION OF MARTIAL LAW.
Despite having known for a few hours that the UEG had decided to place Far Isle and a few other colonies inspired by the mass rebellion on the planet below, none of it had seemed real until Admiral James Graves held the sheet in an old, weathered hand. He drew out a pair of antique reading spectacles -- a gift from his wife for Christmas -- and wore them, scanning the document slowly. Each word was like the heavy beat of a drum, every letter burning into his mind.
Hundreds of eyes in the collosal CIC of the Destroyer-class vessel were upon him, their collective breath held as Graves continued to silently read the document, understand but not truly comprehending.
Finally, he finished, staring for a few seconds with distaste at the signature hastily scribbled at the bottom, rushed as if the name had been signed with shame. Graves looked up slowly, taking in all the gazes directed at him from below, as he stood on the officer's platform. With resignation, he activated the intercom on a desk, which would broadcast his words throughout the entire ship and to the tens of thousands in it.
"By the order of President Hague and HIGHCOM, on November 18th, 2492, the colony of Far Isle and its minor subsidiararies have been placed under martial law," he read out loud, expecting uproar. Instead, he was met with an awed silence, as if everyone else too had not truly believed the Eridani newsnet before now. Graves cleared his throat, before continuing. "Until such a time as the rebellion centered around Far Isle has been quelled. During this period, the constitutional rights on Far Isle are suspended. Any violence directed towards..."
And so it continued for a further few minutes, with Graves' voice growing thicker and thicker with emotion as he read aloud the words condemning the world he had grown up on to suffering. As he gave life to what had previously been ink on a page.
"... a UNSC fleet has been dispatched to assist the Colonial Military Adminstration of Far Isle in enforcing the martial law. CENTCOM expects the CMA's full co-operation in upholding this directive, on pain of death. Signed, President Ivan Hague."
Then the commotion began, cries of outrage, questions, indignation, acceptance, hatred. Graves simply shook his head, scrunching the order into a tight ball as he walked away. He threw it high in the air, behind him into the frenzied crowd below. Doubtlessly, similar scenes were taking place across the entirety of his ship, and the other, much smaller ships assigned with it.
"Sir?" his XO asked tentatively as he walked towards the door leading to his quarters. Graves held up a hand.
"Get me a link with Governor Norikov on the surface, and patch him through to my personal channel. That order was forwarded from his office to this ship, and that means he's involved. And give me a status update on the situation groundside. Things were bad enough before."
"Won't martial law help though, sir?" his XO asked, a man who had received his position through connections; the personification of naivety. Graves laughed bitterly at that.
"No. Now the rebellion has something concrete to fight against. This situation is about to get a lot worse. May God help us all."
All we want is independence. To be able to govern ourselves, live by our own laws and enforcement, rather than those of a planet hundreds of light years away. Why can't they let us have that?
New Atlantis seemed like it was burning. Far Isle's government had issued a colony-wide blackout in an attempt to stem some of the rebellions. Instead, giant fires had been lit upon which Earth-loyalty propaganda was burnt, the ashes being thrown into the air and falling gently like a hellish snow. Police sirens screamed throughout the packed streets, straining to be heard amongst the clashes between the police, CMA and protestors. Cars lay abandoned in the streets, the New Atlantis monorail jettissoned before its arrival at a station. Falcons and other aircraft flew through the sky, blaring out messages and threats should the fighting continue. It was the same all across the colony, in each of the six large cities and most of the towns too.
Kiara stared out of the window of her law practice on the thirtith floor of a comparatively small building, the sad, grim reflection of her face staring back at her. Blood streaked down the left side of a pale face, a remnant of police brutality a few days prior to now. The man who had inflicted the wound had paid for it dearly, and was no doubt resting sorely in hospital now.
This isn't justice. We're supposed to be living in a democratic society, one which places freedom above all other things. That's why I went to law school; so I could defend those freedoms. And now, with a single whimsical sheet of paper signed by a pompous fool back home who doesn't understand the situation here, those freedoms no longer exist.
"All civillians, return to your homes immediately or we will open fire, as directed by the issuement of martial law." the slightly accented voice of Governor Norikov being broadcast through all the aircraft boomed throughout the city for the twelth time in an hour. Not a single round had been fired yet, despite the threats.
He doesn't want to kill anyone. He's a weak man, easily manipulated by CENTCOM and ONI, but cares about his people. Still, the threats can't go on being empty forever. Sooner or later, he'll have to carry them out.
"Ms. Hawthorne?" the voice of one of her associates tentatively inquired, a young man who had just started the previous month after finishing in the top ten percentile of his class at Yale back home on Earth. He'd decided to further his legal education by visiting another colony for a year or so, and couldn't have picked a worse time. She turned from the large window, facing the small group of them trapped in the building. They daren't go outside for fear of being swept up in the riots.
"Yes, Mr. Byrde?" she answered wearily, tiring of the formalities. They'd been trapped together in a building for days, surviving off the meagre supplies kept in the firm kitchen in the event of a lawyer needing to stay late in the night to finish working on a case.
"I've finished my preliminary file on the Faraday case. Do you want to check through it, ma'am?" Byrde asked her as if everything was normal. As if hundreds of thousands of colonists weren't out on the streets in force. As if buildings weren't being stormed by the more zealous of the protestors being hunted down by the police after violence. As if martial law hadn't just been declared by CENTCOM, and as if an entire fleet of UNSC ships intent on smashing Far Isle back into submission wasn't on its way. She'd had enough.
"For god's sake people," she snapped, addressing all the associates gathered around a table under a candle, each working on a case as if it were a lifeline tying them back to the normality they had taken so for granted. "Look outside the window! Democracy is dying a cold, bloody death out there and you're all working on legal documents that mean nothing anymore. Do you think we can just walk down to the district court tomorrow and file papers? We're under martial law. And unless the law schools you all attended have dropped their standards, I'm sure you know what that means. The military has full jurisdiction over everything now. We don't mean a thing anymore, no matter how often we flash our bar certifications and legal speak. Right now, we should all be more focused on staying alive rather than billing clients who may not even be alive themselves!"
"We're running out of food, ma'am. We'll have to go out there at some point," Jillain Wake, the firm's lone secretary, spoke nervously. Kiara passed a weary hand across her face, nodding.
"I know. I was just about to head out and try and gather some supplies to last us a week, at least. Can anyone else here handle a weapon?" she demanded of them, laughing inwardly. Never thought I'd be saying that in a legal firm.
Then, a shaky hand. Micheal Gavin, one of the firm's other partners. A man of forty-three, who had worked here for many years before Kiara had even passed the bar exam. Brilliant legal mind, but not the sort of man you could depend on to take change in a situation like this one. That mantle had automatically fallen upon Kiara, as a former UNSC marine sergeant.
"Mr. Gavin?" she asked, surprised. She'd never been close with the man but had never figured him the type to know how to handle a weapon. He adjusted his tie nervously.
"I, uh-- I was with the CMA for a few years. It's been a while and I was never very good -- that's why I decided to switch careers -- but I can shoot straight, at least. It won't come to that though, will it, Ms. Hawnthorne?"
Kiara marvelled at how the sudden shifting of a situation could change one's disposition and attitude instantly. A few days ago before this rebellion had truly broken out, Micheal would have been completely assertive, snapping at associates and fellow partners alike to get work done. Now, he was as meek as a frightened rabbit.
"I hope not," she replied softly, staring out again into the raging city. Rain had begun to fall, along with flashes of thunder which cast the macabre shadows of the rioting onto the large skyscrapers in the distance. "But it's always best to be safe."
"We don't have any firearms, though," Micheal protested. "They're illegal on Far Isle."
"Correction, Mr. Gavin. You don't have any firearms. Come with me, I'll show you where I keep a few souvenirs from my days in the UNSC. Strictly in case of an emergency like this, you understand."
For a moment, the old flame of Micheal Gavin leapt back to life as his eyes bulged, his jaw tightening.
"You keep weapons here?" he demanded loudly, livid. "Do you have any idea regarding what that could have done to this firm's reputation of they were discovered?"
The murmurring of a few other associates agreeing with him sounded.
Kiara shot them her best 'don't-you-give-me-sass-soldier' look, and they backed down immediately. She then shrugged her shoulders defensively.
"But they weren't discovered. And now, they're going to keep us alive. Am I understood?"
"Yes, ma'am," they dutifully answered, cowed into subordination. She stared at them hard for a few more seconds, before nodding.
"Damn straight," she affirmed, slipping unconciously back into the speech she had lounged in back in the UNSC. "Now let's haul ass, Micheal. I want to get back safely inside before the UNSC fleet arrives to rain down hell."
* * *
"Thousands dead, Admiral," Governor Norikov told Graves sadly over the video connection, as he sat in a safe bunker; an unknown location, of course. It spoke volumes about a man's leadership when he had to hide from the very people he had sworn to represent, Graves thought, unable to bring himself to meet the bloodshot eyes of a leader too cowardly to sort his own problems out.
"They just want independence, sir," the Admiral told him sincerely. He himself was sitting in his quarters miles above the turmoil; was this also cowardice on his part? Should he not be down on the planet now, helping to keep order? The thought troubled him some, and the bottle of wine he knew was in the all-too familiar shelf in the corner of the room was seeming more and more tempting.
Not on duty, you alcoholic wreck, he berated himself harshly. They need a leader now, not a drunken mess.
"I understand that, Admiral. Truly, I do," Norikov replied softly -- was that regret Graves heard tinting his voice? "But this is an Earth colony, and CENTCOM very much want it to remain so. As do I."
Graves pounded the table with his right hand, wedding ring biting sharply into his fist as he did so. Eleven years since Abigail's death and he still hadn't removed it. Some would call that obsessive, and tell him he was clinging desperately to the shades of the past.
They didn't understand how much those shades pained him. How he yearned to rid himself of them every day. But they always came back from the shadows, bringing with them fresh memories painful to the touch and conversations long forgotten. The only time they were kept at bay was when he was deep in alcoholic stupour. That was how the problem started.
Just one glass... the shades demanded of him. He shook his heard firmly, focusing on the situation at hand. People were dying down on Far Isles and many more would if martial law came into effect.
"Governor, a very wise man once told me that the galaxy is like a spinning circle, with Earth in the centre. The further away from that centre you move, the more you will feel the effects of the spinning. Until finally, you reach the edge, and you're thrown off," Graves recited. He paused, and then: "We are that edge, sir."
Norikov blinked, before staring at the Admiral through slitted eyes.
"I'm not sure I like what you're inferring, Admiral. It stops, now. You are CMA, and the Far Isle CMA answers to me. When the UNSC fleet arrives, you will grant them every convienience possible, and assist them in putting this uprising down. Am I clear?"
Even over the video link, you could almost smell the tension. Graves took in a deep breath, shut his eyes, and let it out slowly.
"Deadly, sir. One more thing, Governor."
Norikov's white eyebrows rose slightly into his wrinkled forehead. He stared at Graves suspiciously, before nodding.
"Are you happy with this? With the UEG sending the UNSC to take over your colony, and dictate to your citizens what to do? Surely even you must be tired of CENTCOM walking over us like we don't mean anything."
Norikov's eyes grew wide, and a small smile broke across his lips. The smile turned into a chuckle, which soon erupted into vociferous laughter. Graves didn't break eye contact the entire time, staring at the Governor hard.
"Is something funny, Governor?" he demanded in a hoarse voice, hands gripping the edge of the table tightly. Norikov rubbed a heavy dark eye, a grin still stretched across his face.
"Oh, Admiral, you sentimentalist old patriot. You don't understand, do you? The UEG didn't send the UNSC here," he said, before leaning in with a malicious expression. "I requested them."
The link terminated.