Histories by CaptainRaspberry
Stirrings - Histories
Date: 6 April 2011, 2:31 pm
United Nations Space Command Priority Transmission 67281B-33c
Encryption Code: Black
Public Key: file /excised access Alpha/
From: Codename COALMINER
To: Codename USUAL SUSPECTS
Subject: such a cute pic!
Classification: RESTRICTED (BGX Directive)
It might interest you to know that the interest at site H1A is still intact after [NSW/S3/B5/BeC/E]'s action. Furthermore, recovery teams could only locate two IOEs: we were still receiving telemetry from 149XBCOM-CHAR and 295XBCOM-SOFI outside Tropicas for several hours after the incident before they cut out. Recovery Alpha believes that their equipment has failed.
If we ever find them, they would make excellent additions to your Headhunter program.
0733 Hours, 14 June 2583 (Military Calendar)/
City of Nantes, Earth -- Janvier Rouge apartment complex
The bed creaked uncertainly as Erich Gemmen eased himself out from under the covers. Every day there was a new reminder of his age and increasing girth; today, it was the complaining furniture and the fresh cracks in his knees as he stood up. His hand reached for the nightstand for support, nearly crushing his glasses to dust. They were for reading: piles of dusty books littered the floor nearby.
He stumbled his way to the bathroom, hoping the aches would steam away in the shower. He activated the nozzle and began undressing, waiting for it to reach optimal heat. A glance into the mirror showed the same portrait he had gotten used to, one of wrinkles, sags, and grey hairs. His late forties were proving unkind.
In the kitchen, the appliances came to life of their own accord when he stepped onto the tiles. Bread warmed in the toaster, the coffee maker started grinding -- fruitlessly, as he had never bothered to restock the maker with more beans. Despite the recovering agriculture and economy, things like non-synthetic coffee, milk, or eggs were still prohibitively expensive. As it was, he satisfied himself with whatever could be powdered or frozen. The pre-selected routine started to heat strips of bacon-colored protein in the pan.
Breakfast was the passable, forgettable experience it always was. He switched on the Net, letting the automatic features take over and highlight last night's events. Death, rebellion, and taxes.
The galaxy kept turning.
The drive to work was uneventful, barring him making a light that normally turned red. Unlike most Office of Naval Intelligence buildings, the Andre Dewavrin Center was largely unassuming. While others were concrete and steel monoliths, the Dewavrin Center was a normal office building. Instead of rising into the sky, it burrowed underground into the ancient subway tunnels. France had done away with such things a long time ago, and instead went with a monorail system. It had become renowned for its efficiency, a reputation that abruptly came to an end when the Great War arrived on Earth's doorstep.
Six security checkpoints later, Gemmen was in his office. He put his coat away, logged in, and went to the bathroom down the hall.
By the time he returned, he had a guest waiting.
"Mister Gemmen," said the figure standing in front of his desk. He didn't offer his hand.
Gemmen grunted and settled into his chair. "How can I help you?"
The man pulled a data pad out of his pocket. "I'm here from Section Three. You'll be going on a trip soon, and I wanted to come here and tell you about it."
"Uh-huh." Gemmen eyed the data pad. "What sort of trip is it?"
"Business. You've heard the news out of Ebica? Yes, well, their rebellion is a bit more severe than most others. The entire Fourth Fleet has defected to their cause and taken a very, very valuable artificial intelligence with them."
Impossible. One or two ships had defected in the past, like at Barthes where one naval captain had tried to smuggle rebel leaders off-world, and during the battle for Eris a battlegroup of two destroyers and a cruiser with insurgent sympathetic crews had turned against the rest of the third fleet. But the entire Fourth?
Gemmen realized that his mouth was open. He quickly shut it. "But why do you need me?"
The Section Three agent -- he was an agent, sure of it -- put the data pad on the desk and slid it across. "You were a specialist in data acquisition during the war, yes? As I said, the Fourth Fleet defected with an AI. We need it back."
"I mustered out years ago. Technically speaking, I'm just a civilian consultant working for ONI. I have no obligation to go on a suicide mission." Going toe-to-toe with the Fourth Fleet certainly struck him as a suicide mission.
The agent regarded Gemmen with a cool stare. "Do you remember the deal you made when you mustered out? Six months early so you could go home to your wife."
A chill ran down his spine. "Yes. For all the good it did me."
"A deal is a deal." The agent rose. "You're being reactivated at ONI's discretion to serve out the remainder of your term of service. Read that data pad, Sergeant, it contains your deployment orders. You're heading out in a couple of weeks." He offered a thin smile. "I suggest you hit the gym."
The agent left. Gemmen put his head on his desk. "Merde."
1139 Hours, 14 June 2583 (Military Calendar)/
Gallerus, Ebica -- central insurgent command center
The room was still spinning when Neil woke up. He licked his lips. They still tasted like tequila. With a groan, he pushed himself up out of the bed. The chronometer told him it was late morning.
A new record for early rising, he thought. He dressed quickly, sprayed on some deodorant -- he was running low.
Downstairs, the meeting room was empty except for two figures. Adonai and Elohim -- codenames. They were haggard but firmly built; like him, they had spent obscenely long periods of time in cryogenic sleep, and their biological age didn't quite match up with their chronological ones. All three should have been well into their fifties, but none of them looked much older than thirty.
Adonai glanced up at him. "You missed the morning strategy session. Again."
"The stresses of leading a rebellion are harsh. I gotta take the edge off."
"Uh-huh." She picked up a data pad. "The admiral couldn't come down here herself, but she sent the captain of the Xerxes's Sword down as an intermediary. They're keeping the AI on the flagship since we don't have the equipment down here to hold it and keep it active."
She looked at him. "Sounds fine? The whole reason we got a fleet to defect, we exposed our hand to the UNSC, and they're not going to show it to us."
"Do we have an invitation to go up and see it there?"
"Because last I heard, the admiral had expressly allowed us to grab a dropship and see the AI, as it is the reason they agreed to back us."
Across the table, Elohim barely managed to curb a guffaw down to a chuckle. "So you do pay attention."
"Stop scheduling my meetings before the crack of noon and I'll make them." He sat down heavily. "Any coffee?"
Adonai crossed her arms. "We drank it all."
Neil regarded her cooly, then turned to Elohim. "What about the other item of interest?"
"They flew it down this morning for the meeting. It's packed away in the warehouse. But all the catalyzation equipment is up on the ships, so if you want to properly get it going, you'll need to take a trip up there." As an afterthough, he pushed his half-empty mug across the table with his good hand. Neil took a sip: warm, but decent.
He savored the taste before continuing. "Anything stirring in the UNSC?"
Adonai sighed. "Nothing overt. They're still reeling from Sigma Octanus declaring its independence. But some of the intelligence personnel from the fleet have heard of special kill-teams sent to deal with smaller scale insurrections like ours." She gave him a mirthless grin. "If you'd been to the meeting, you'd know that."
Neil said nothing. He rose and pulled back the shutters on the windows. Sprawling below was the city of Gallerus, probably one of the largest cities still standing -- the Covenant had showed up at the planet just after Earth, and around that time some sort of civil war broke out and their ships suddenly became more interested in shooting at each other than at anyone else. So the colony of Ebica had narrowly avoided destruction, only to start flaunting itself at the UNSC once again.
For a moment, he felt pity. It didn't have to be this colony that suffered, but so few others were suitable for the needs of this rebellion. It wasn't enough just to break away like half the remaining colonies were doing. They had to start something new.
"Send a message to Admiral Krane. I'll be coming up later today in order to interview the AI and talk about a way to set up the proper systems we'll need for it down on the surface."
Adonai nodded. "You got it, boss."
Neil glanced at Elohim. "You're coming with me."
"Great." The man reached across the table to steal back his coffee. "I always liked riding in dropships, the only protection between me and the absolute coldness of the universe being a thin metal wall." He smiled around a sip. "Not."
Worth Fighting For - Histories
Date: 4 May 2011, 1:58 pm
2. Worth Fighting For
1618 Hours, 14 June 2583 (Military Calendar)/
UNSC Xerxes's Sword -- defensive orbit around Ebica
When Neil and Elohim stepped off the Pelican, they were greeted by the very best of the Sword's security team. Elohim tensed, but Neil waved him down, letting them perform the necessary scans and searches. After about an hour they were cleared for their meeting with the admiral.
The bridge of the carrier was a technological marvel. The officers hustled back and forth, minding various technical stations. All gave a wide berth, however, to a single figure at the fore, standing with her face towards the stars. Her shoulders were set hard, though they lacked masculine wideness Neil had seen in other officers. Touches of gray were visible in her hair, but they were misleading; Admiral Shira Wilkes was one of the youngest admirals in the UNSC at just under forty years. Like most of her generation, the war had forced her to become a hardened elder decades early.
"Mister Temura," she said, without turning around, "that is possibly the worst salute anyone has ever given me."
Elohim twitched, but Neil didn't. He had faced officers furious at his bearing before. "You'll find we don't stand much on ceremony in this army, Admiral."
She turned and gave him the Cold Stare. Earlier this year, she had faced a mutiny on board her ship and lost her eye to a bullet graze; a functional but not aesthetically pleasing prosthesis had been grafted into the socket. The visual detection device glowed a cool sea-green to match her real eye.
Neil was almost drowned in irony.
"Then I'll thank you to observe protocol while on my ship."
This was getting tiresome. "You defected to me, if you'll recall. Technically speaking, I'm your boss, so you should be saluting me. I won't make you, though. I haven't been military in a long time."
There was a suppressed revulsion in her eyes -- somehow, even the fake one. Neil didn't find her the type to stomach non-military personnel, particularly deserters such as himself. He wondered how much she knew about him, maybe even his real name. For a moment, he couldn't fathom why she would have defected in the first place, and then his eyes settled on the holographic pedestal beside the admiral.
The AI's avatar was an unusual choice. Most "smart" AIs chose human-like avatars for their personability and familiarity to the people they worked with: it made them more approachable, easier to like -- which was a high priority for intelligences that were so smart they regularly alienated themselves from human geniuses.
This one had chosen instead a slowly spinning tesseract. It made Neil's eyes hurt to look at it.
He stepped closer. Wilkes didn't seem to mind. "Is this her?"
"Correct," spoke the AI. Though it had chosen a complicated super-geometric shape, the voice was undeniably feminine. "My name is Elodia. I've heard a lot about you, Temura."
"Well, not much on open channels." There was an edge of sly, false modesty in her voice. "The UNSC doesn't want anyone to know how strained they are at the moment, even though it's obvious to everyone that it's fraying around the edges. However, they consider you a high value target. So much so that a special ONI kill team is being put together for the sole purpose of capturing you or one of your trusted lieutenants."
Neil let his eyebrows go up. He was genuinely impressed. "That's a lot of info you're just handing out."
"I feel like I should make a good first impression. I sense that you find my interest... suspicious."
"Considering the fact that you contacted us and not the other way around, you'll understand if I do. It seems a little fortuitous." He hesitated. "Are you really one of CASTLE Base's AIs?"
"Yes. Operation WHITE GLOVE did a good job of eliminating my peers, but it wasn't total in its destruction. I escaped into the ether successfully. I've been looking for a good home ever since."
Wilkes gave a light cough. "I don't know how she got on board my ship. All I know is I received an urgent page on my neural uplink to come to the bridge, and when I arrived our normal AI had been replaced."
"A chatter connection," replied Elodia. "I disguised myself as a routine uplink request from a crew member. When your previous AI cleared the way for me to come through, I jumped in and took over. It was simple. Well, comparatively."
Neil crossed his arms. "You destroyed the old AI?"
"No. I simply repackaged him, cleared his memories, and sent him back to the ONI labs as a blank slate. He will be found in the private folders of a low-level but brilliant technician who recently suffered a debilitating stroke and was dismissed from service. AIs are valuable to the UNSC, especially during times like these."
"I didn't think even a smart AI could manipulate another AI's code that much."
Neil nodded and lapsed into silence for a moment, thinking. He turned back to the admiral. "Is there a place where Elodia and I could converse privately?"
Though she wasn't happy with the idea, Wilkes directed them to a vacant briefing room one deck above. A holgraphic projector in the center of the room was already active by the time Neil and Elohim arrived, weaving a much larger version of Elodia's tesseract.
When the door had shut, Elodia spoke: "I already neutralized all the listening devices in this room, including two installed by ONI that weren't on record. We can talk freely."
Elohim smirked. "You sure that's all of them?"
Neil didn't know how, but the tesseract managed to look irritated. "Now that you mention it, I missed your ears, but given enough time I'm sure I could find a way to neutralize those as well."
Elohim raised his hand in mock-defense, but Neil stopped him. "I'd like to stay on topic if we could. It's pretty clear you know a lot about us already..."
"You are codename Temura," Elodia cut in, "born Neil Dolson on Harvest, 4 January 2525, also known as SPARTAN-A189. You were recruited out of an orphanage on Mamore in 2531 into SPARTAN-III Alpha Company. Your group, Team Legion, distinguished itself during the Battle of New Constantinople, particularly yourself and SPARTAN-A259. Both of you were pulled to form special ONI task forces made up of Spartans. You and five others made up RAMA Team and performed admirably, but in 2548 your entire unit was killed in action above Tasmorene.
"Your psychological evaluation determined you to be fit for service but unable to return to the front lines. You spent several months serving at high security ONI sites until you went AWOL on Tulane while posted at Facility TIRYNS. You dropped off the grid and were essentially dead to the world until Ebica. Your associates --"
"All right." Neil had listened to the AI's somber recap and felt old wounds beginning to burst their stitches. Also, it unnerved him that a lifetime of service could be so neatly summaried. "I get it. You're good. Does the UNSC know all of this?"
"No. I pieced it together myself after news of Ebica first hit ONI's database."
Neil couldn't resist a smile. A small feeling of triumph escaped his usually tight net of cynicism. "You really are one of her's, aren't you?"
"Copied from one of the greatest minds at ONI's disposal."
"So why did you pick us?"
"Inevitability," she replied. "Halsey never kept us on as tight a leash as ONI wanted. I was loose enough that I could trove the information stores. I found out about the failsafe in my Reimann Matrix and nullified it. I analyzed the input coming from Reach's defense and realized that the Covenant couldn't be repelled and, like my 'mother' concluded, Reach would fall. I interweaved my own code into the last outgoing signals from CASTLE Base and spread myself over a network of COM relays.
"My processing power slowed from the distance lag, but I was still able to survey the state of the galaxy. I listened as humanity was pushed to the very precipice of extinction and then saved itself, only to fall into brushfire insurrections. In there, immersed in the exchange of data, I saw patterns... maybe more like pieces of patterns, but I saw them emerge from the otherwise entropic daily life of humanity.
"Based on those, I knew I had to reach out to one of the myriad rebel groups. When I heard about yours and realized who you were, I hopped into the Fourth Fleet and convinced the admiral to make the right choice and join you."
Elohim leaned forward. "But what is it that you saw? What were the patterns?"
The tesseract spun a little bit faster. "Have you ever heard of a man named Isaac Asimov?"
The Price of Survival
Date: 8 June 2011, 8:59 pm
3. The Price of Survival
1314 Hours, 29 June 2583 (Military Calendar)/
Orbital Platform Reclamation -- high orbit around Reach
Thousands of kilometers below, the planet once known as Reach spun slowly through space. Newly minted Sergeant Erich Gemmen watched, admiring the efforts of the terraforming project. Already, huge swatches of burned land had been turned into recoverable soil. The rumor mill said it was being done with technology gifted to them by the former Covenant, a sort of good-will gesture, but he wasn't sure who to attribute its success to.
Of course, the surface was off limit to everyone but the Reclamation's science teams. Eventually, this planet would be a beacon of hope: the worlds lost to the Covenant's aggression could be reclaimed, made new. To help pass the time, the station's dumb AI was happy to provide him with ample reading materials.
He keyed through the different articles on his data pad. The planned monuments caught his eye, as several had already been designed and approved for the surface. One for the regular troopers, one for Marines, one for ODSTs, one for civilian emergency personnel... two for the Spartans. Though ONI still refused to acknowledge any of them as more than just missing in action, NOBLE Team was being highlighted for its sacrifice: one statue was to show five of its six members at the time of Reach's fall; the second monument would showcase the enigmatic Noble Six, standing on the edge of New Alexandria, watching as the last of the civilian transports evacuated -- an evocative image of the small victories in the shadow of crippling defeat, wrote Walter Holiday in a linked article from the New Dublin Journal.
There were others, and Gemmen might have read more if he weren't interrupted. He heard the measured steps of military boots behind him, and glanced over his shoulder. A woman in a black ONI jumpsuit was approaching, her own chevrons betraying her as a Staff Sergeant. Another patch was visible on her arm, the flaming drop pod of the ODST.
He stood up. She stopped and smiled. "Sergeant Gemmen?"
Gemmen nodded. Stenciled above her breast was the name DOYLE. "That's me," he responded, holding out his hand. "You're Staff Sergeant Doyle?"
She shook his hand firmly. "Damn right. When we're out of earshot of the Loot, you can call me Lena."
"Awesome." She motioned behind her. "Right this way. You can meet the rest of the team."
They passed through several hallways, all sparsely populated. The station ran with a skeleton crew; most of the work was done on the surface. In the deeper recesses, they came across a cadre of like-dressed soldiers, all bearing sergeant chevrons of some caliber.
Introductions were quick. Aside from Doyle, there were two other women in the squad: Emilia Bernardi, Staff Sergeant, and Allie Meryll, a buck sergeant like Gemmen. Three men made up the rest: Rudolph Montour, Gunnery Sergeant; Alton Cugini, Staff Sergeant; Peter Fil, Master Sergeant. They all shook hands and greeted him amiably, but instantly Gemmen felt out of place. It was pretty clear that he was in a room full of killers, no matter how wraithlike some of them might appear -- like Cugini or Meryll.
The room lapsed into silence. Gemmen tapped his fingers on his pant leg. "So, uh," he said at length, "what's our directive, exactly?"
"The Loot hasn't briefed us yet," said Doyle. "He was waiting for you to get here. But as far as I know, we're supposed to nab and/or eliminate some HVTs."
"Right. The, uh, agent who spoke to me mentioned something about an AI."
"I'm sure we'll hear more about in the briefing," said Fil. "Speaking of, ten hut!"
Gemmen was proud that he hadn't forgotten that basic tenet of military service, and snapped to attention as quickly as the rest. The lieutenant walked into the room and nodded. "At ease, everyone." They all sat down. "I'm not sure what you've heard, but this will not be a blue milk run. These are not the run of the mill insurrectionists you've tangled with before, but instead they're something more insidious. They were able to talk a full fleet over to their side. We can't afford to take these characters lightly.
"As you might have noticed, we have two new members on the team present here today. Sergeants Gemmen and Meryll will be joining us for this operation for their technical expertise in accomplishing our directives." He paused. "Gemmen, you were in the civilian sector, weren't you?"
"Yes, sir. I mustered out after the Great War."
Montour looked over at him with a toothy grin. "The hell are you doin' back here, man?"
Everyone chuckled. Gemmen shrugged. "You know how it is. You get loose... and they reel you back."
The lieutenant dipped his head in an exaggerated nod. "Well, it's good to have you both. I'm sure you'll mesh easily with our team dynamic. We'll have another individual joining us in a while, but before she's here, I wanted to brief you all on our directives."
Any lightheartedness that Montour might have garnered with his banter was forgotten as the lights dimmed and a holographic projector hidden somewhere in the room came to life. A true-color three-dimensional image appeared between the assembled sergeants and the lieutenant. "This is Ebica. It was a middle-class Inner Colony, and it was only located by the Covenant in late 2552. Before they could launch any kind of offensive, their little civil war broke out and the fleet ended up shooting itself to shit before the UNSC could intervene.
"Until recently, Ebica was providing a great deal of the materials used for Earth's rebuilding efforts. Several months ago, an individual seized power after the former governor resigned office over a scandal." A picture of a man, probably in his early forties, appeared next to the planet. "He quickly mobilized the insurgent factions on the planet and led them into revolt. Our main force has been tied up dealing with the Sigma Octanus debacle, so we sent in the Fourth Fleet. Unfortunately, it seems like they've defected to Ebica's side and are backing their play for independence.
"Questions so far?"
Bernardi raised her hand. "Who is this guy?"
"We don't know. All we know is his codename." The word TEMURA appeared below the picture. "We also know the codenames of his closest associates." Two more pictures appeared, a male and female in their mid- to late-twenties, captioned with the terms ELOHIM and ADONAI, respectively.
"These three," the lieutenant continued, "are high value targets. Part of your mission will be to recover at least one of them alive. The Office would obviously prefer you get them all to us for interrogation, but if field conditions prevent it, we need at least one of them -- preferably Temura.
"Aside from nabbing them, the Fourth Fleet also had in its possession a smart AI, a very valuable one. We believe that they defected with the intent of turning this asset over to the insurgents. With luck, the AI has locked itself down and is resisting any attempts at access. Your job will be to recover this AI intact. This one isn't optional."
"Sir," said Fil, "none of us are tech specialists."
"That's what Gemmen is for." The lieutenant nodded towards the respective Marine. "During the war, he distinguished himself by single-handedly enacting Cole Protocol for Facility KNOSSOS on Reach during the fall. At that time, he worked beside several AI to shut down their cores and prevent their acquisition by Covenant forces while under fire. Earned you a bronze star, didn't it, Sergeant?"
"Yes, sir." Gemmen felt all the eyes in the room on him. He shifted backwards in his seat a little.
A knock sounded from the door. The lieutenant looked up. "That'll be our final addition. We're anticipating a lot of trouble on the ground, and it'll be her job to get you out of it. Come in!"
Whatever the Marines were expecting, it wasn't this. Through the door stepped a tank. It was encased in olive armor, head to toe; the helmet was all-covering with an opaque, oval-shaped gold visor where the face would be. It moved with a strange grace as it walked between the sergeants and up to the lieutenant, where it snapped a smart salute.
"Sir, Chief Warrant Officer Zero-Zero-Six, reporting for duty!"
He returned it. "Welcome, Chief. Take a seat." The Spartan -- Gemmen wasn't stupid, he knew what she was -- moved and sat next to the stunned buck sergeant. She didn't seem to be watching him at all, visor zeroed in on the lieutenant.
"The chief here will be on hand to assist with any unusual combat situations that arise. Her main goal will be to confuse and misdirect the enemy while you accomplish your goals. For that purpose, she has been given autonomous authority to act outside your normal parameters, except in such instances where it would be disruptive to your directives."
Gemmen sensed some tension from Doyle and glanced over. Like the Spartan, she was riveted on the lieutenant, but it seemed a little too determined. She was forcing herself to focus on anything but the Spartan in the room. Gemmen remembered hearing stories about the famous animosity between ODSTs and Spartans.
"Sir," said Fil again, "how are we getting to Ebica?"
The lieutenant smiled. "Glad you asked, Master Sergeant. Allow me to introduce the Pen of Herodotus." The hologram changed, showing a ship that Gemmen was unfamiliar with: according to the scale, it was several kilometers long. It had a similar theme as the old Marathon-class cruisers, but a completely different silhouette.
"She has four class-twelve reactors, two for her engines, one for her shields, and one for her nonlinear weapons." Half the occupants of the room sucked in air between their teeth. Shields? Nonlinear weapons? As if sensing their unasked questions, the lieutenant added, "She's the result of several years of data exchange with the Sangheili Empire, at the behest of the Treaty of Providence. Her systems aren't as advanced as some of the old Covenant ships, but she's just as hardy in a fight.
"She'll jump into the star system on the far side of Ebica's sun, drop the team off in a modified Pelican, and jump out. Using a one-shot Shaw-Fujikawa drive, your dropship will proceed to Ebica and you will begin your mission.
"The Herodotus will arrive at 0400 tomorrow, and you'll be underway by 0530. Dismissed."
Everyone stood; Fil and Bernardi went to talk to the lieutenant, while the Spartan motioned Meryll off to the side. Gemmen looked around him at all the men and women, and couldn't deny that he felt a tingle down his spine, the first tremors of that old, familiar charge of electricity before a major mission. He caught Doyle's eye and saw a recognizable gleam before she moved off to somewhere else.
He let out a breath he didn't realize he was holding.
Patterns - Histories
Date: 22 June 2011, 6:24 pm
29 June 2583 (timestamp truncated)
I hope this message reaches you before you're gone. No one remembers those pre-battle jitters better than me, and what you're doing these days is a lot more intense than what we used to do.
Of course, I don't know for sure what you're doing these days. Out of all of us, you're the only one who decided to stick around. I hope it wasn't for Nolan's sake. It's not healthy to hold on to a dead man for so long. Cryo sleep fucks with our sense of time, so just remember that you've been carrying that torch for twenty years already.
I guess you don't need a lecture right now. Be safe, come home, and be sure to visit soon. Georgia would love to have you over again. I think it gives her some perspective, seeing the people I served beside and knowing we all went through it together.
0900 Hours, 30 June 2583 (Military Calendar)/
Slipspace transition aboard Pelican H293
Their time on the Pen of Herodotus was short-lived. Shortly after boarding at 0500, the entire team -- now designated IRON -- had been hustled to the armory, equipped, and then locked in the Pelican. Then the massive ship had jumped farther and faster than any before to a spot in deep space only a few parsecs from Ebica. Apparently the Covies had also shared their Slipspace technology, though from the few words Erich Gemmen could glean on the subject, it only amounted to a map.
"The way we navigated Slipspace up to this time," said one engineer in passing, "is like to trying to sail across the ocean without knowing the currents."
The technical implications went over Gemmen's head. At least, he figured, cryo-sleep was a little less necessary now. He recalled with clarity the difficulties had in his own life over the loss of time in such a fashion.
Now the Pelican rattled itself through Slipspace with a "popper" drive, a one-shot externally attached Shaw-Fujikawa drive that followed a pre-set flight plan. Gemmen sat in the troop bay with six of IRON Team's members; only Master Sergeant Peter Fil and Sergeant Allie Meryll were absent, being at the front of the Pelican. A dumb AI had been provided to fly the ship.
The bay was quiet. The elephant in the room was the Spartan, dressed head to toe in all-encasing MJOLNIR armor. Emblazoned across the top was her name: Amy-G006. No-one seemed to care to look at her, least of all Staff Sergeant Doyle, a former ODST.
Except for Amy, everyone was dressed in black SPI armor, a more advanced combat suit than the rigs that ODSTs wore and with the added benefit of motion trackers and Chameleon plates that could mimic the textures of a soldier's surrounding environment. The closed helmet had a large blue-black visor. It was a fully sealable suit, and everyone had their helmets on tight, just in case of sudden decompression. Of course, losing air was the least of their concerns; in a situation where that might occur, they had more to worry about getting sucked out into the infinite, empty void of Slipspace.
The door to the cockpit hissed open, and Master Sergeant Fil stepped into the bay.
"All right, listen up," he said. "Our course will drop us right on top of Ebica's atmosphere, so be prepped for a rough ride. We'll be putting down eight klicks outside the capital, Gallerus. Our first priority will be to infiltrate the outskirts of the city, establish an operating post, and acquire convincing civilian attire. We'll proceed on our mission from there."
Less than an hour later, the Pelican exited Slipspace just inside the upper limits of the atmosphere with a sudden jolt. It made its way down as a fiery comet, flashing on LIDAR screens as a brief blip before its stealth systems cut in, banishing the flames and smoothing out its ride.
It landed roughly, the nose landing gear failing to deploy properly. The whole team was thrown about inside the dropship.
When it was over, Fil coughed out over the COMs: "Sound off!"
"IRON Two, okay," said Doyle.
"IRON Three, okay," said Montour.
"IRON Four, here," said Cugini.
Bernardi took a moment to reply. "IRON Five. Think I busted my wrist."
"IRON Six, okay," said Meryll.
Gemmen quickly checked himself. "IRON Seven, okay."
"IRON Eight, okay," said Amy-G006. There was absolutely no tremor in her voice.
"Four, check Five," said Fil. "Everyone else, up and at it. Make sure your weapons are in working order. We're moving out."
0954 Hours, 30 June 2583 (Military Calendar)/
Ebica -- high altitude
The Pelican eased itself down through Ebica's upper atmosphere. Neil had been making regular visits over the past week himself to speak more with Elodia. He didn't even permit a pilot; he was more than qualified to fly the dropship himself.
What the AI had to tell him was chilling: prophecies about the crumbling human infrastructure, galaxy-wide conflict, new war with alien races... extinction. She had come under the impression that, unless steps were taken right away, humanity would never reach its potential before it was wiped out by external forces -- let alone all the insurrection that currently ripped through the UNSC.
Neil took all she said with a grain of salt, being that she was well past her rampancy date, but her predictions were convincingly rational and eery.
Patterns, she said.
Doctor Halsey had flash-cloned her own brain twenty-odd times when ONI wanted to create some kind of super AI. Only one had been perfect for the task, but a few were considered "good enough" for other ONI projects. Elodia had been one, ultimately the only survivor. Two had been deleted in Operation WHITE GLOVE after the fall of Reach, and the last had gone rampant prematurely long before that.
Interrupting his thoughts, the Pelican's COM flashed urgently. Neil keyed it. "Temura here."
"Switch to secure channel gamma-three-three."
He engaged the appropriate encryption key. "Trouble, Adonai?"
"Maybe." She was being terse. Not a good sign. "The civilian astronomer's society reported a meteor several klicks out from Gallerus."
"A meteor. Did any of the orbital facilities pick it up?"
Well, thought Neil, it took them long enough. He re-vectored his course and started doing long-range scanning. "We knew it was coming," he told her, "and they've given us a lot of time to prepare. You know what you have to do."
"Affirmative. Adonai out."
He passed quickly over the forested region that lay between Gallerus and what he had estimated would be the ideal landing site. A check of the NewsNet confirmed his suspicions: the "meteor" had come down right around this area.
He wished he could believe it was a meteor.
Deep scanning offered nothing, but it wasn't a surprise. Whoever the UNSC sent would be good, probably a kill team equipped with some top-of-the-line armor and infiltration systems. Fortunately, Neil hadn't been satisfied just guessing where an attack would come from; he had spent months setting up various traps and pitfalls in the forest. At best, he might kill a few of them. At worst, it would only slow them down.
Flyover finished, Neil turned his Pelican back to home.
1134 Hours, 30 June 2583 (Military Calendar)/
Ebica -- Agrya Forest
Amy-G006 halted suddenly, raising her closed fist. IRON dropped down quickly. "Dammit, again?" swore Montour. "Those guys must have set a hundred traps along this route. How'd they know where we were coming in?"
Fil huffed over the COM. "Command said they were something different than what we're used to."
Gemmen watched as Amy crept forward and fiddled with something in the dirt. He held his breath, letting out only a small stream between his clenched teeth. This was the fourth time they had to stop because of a trap, and it didn't get any less tense, no matter how many the Spartan disarmed.
After a few minutes, Amy waved Fil up. "Take a look at this," she said.
He gazed into the small hole she had dug and whistled. "Shit," he said, "that's a Moray."
"A Moray?" Cugini shook his head. "For fuck's sake! That's a space mine. They're for blowing holes in frigates and they buried it in the goddamn forest." His shoulders sagged a little. "What's next, a HORNET nuke?"
Nobody said anything.
"Spartan," said Fil, "what do you think of this?"
"It seems familiar," she said. "Something we learned in training."
"Oh yeah? How familiar?"
She said nothing.
"Can you get us around the rest of them?"
"Yes." She stood up and motioned everyone forward again. "Provided they stuck to the pattern."
Forgotten Lives - Histories
Date: 22 September 2011, 4:27 pm
5. Forgotten Lives
0029 Hours, 20 July 2544 (Military Calendar)/
Pearl -- access point Alpha, Target Hotel-One-Alpha
In an instant, Charlie's world exploded. The nuke must have malfunctioned and gone off early. The ground heaved beneath his feet like someone snapping the rain off a tarp. Miraculously it held; however, the shaft behind Team Echo erupted, mushrooming out in an ever-expanding nuclear sun.
They were already a couple hundred meters away, but they might as well have been right next to it. The light blinded him, even as the EMP knocked out his suit's systems. A shockwave of force and heat slammed into them. Heavy weight on Charlie's back -- Benjamin, trying to spare his wounded teammate from the worst of it. Still Charlie felt the heat rolling against his back, peeling paint, charring armor, blistering skin.
He blacked out.
When he came to, he had to shrug Benjamin's dead, blackened body off his shoulders. Only a scorch mark remained of Echo's squad leader, Raquel. Several meters away, Charlie's barely-functioning HUD told him Sofija had made it to the forest, either by her own power or carried on the shockwave -- unconscious, crispy, but no worse for wear.
He dragged himself over and roused her, and with her assistance they set off towards the rendezvous.
It took them a couple of days to piece together what had happened, that the early detonation had not been an accident. Unable to return to the UNSC, they ditched their now-ruined armor and stole away on a civilian evac transport. They had no money or orders.
They were Spartans. They'd manage.
1224 Hours, 30 June 2583 (Military Calendar)/
Gallerus, Ebica -- central insurgent command center
Charlie-B149 was roused from his waking dream -- or maybe it was just a straight memory -- by Sofija's gentle shake. "Hey," she said. "You here?"
He looked up at her and it all returned in a flash. She wasn't Sofija anymore. She was Adonai.
"Yeah," replied Elohim, remembering himself as well. "What's up?"
She sat down and looked him in the eyes, appraising him the way only a fellow soldier could: as a battle sister, a member of his family. She knew him deeply; they had trained since they were little kids together, fought and bled beside one another with the rest of Team Echo, and had even died with them.
That's why they were doing this: they had just been kids before the UNSC had swept them up in their war.
His missing arm itched.
"Did you hear what Temura said?"
Elohim nodded. Temura had gotten back a couple of hours ago and gone straight to bed, but not before pulling him aside and telling him a simple two-word phrase that held the weight of the world:
"Are we ready for this?"
"Well," he said, counting off on his hand, "the troops are on alert, civilians have been reminded to double-check their shelters, emergency services have been put on notice, the fleet's been notified, the two of us know..." He ran out of fingers and shrugged. "Everything's in place, but I don't know if we're actually ready."
Adonai's face was grim. Back when she had been SPARTAN-B295 she hadn't been known for her levity, but her expression now was fierce even by Spartan standards. What was about to happen was weighing on her as well as him. As children they had been indoctrinated by the UNSC, molded into weapons. After they had been stabbed in the back on Pearl, both had struggled to make sense of a galaxy in which the UNSC wasn't the almighty power they had been trained to believe. For his own part, Elohim had constantly waffled on hiding deeper or returning to duty.
But Adonai had helped him through it, and together they had made their way to Ebica to lie low. The circuitous route they took meant a long, long time in cryogenic stasis. By the time they arrived, the war was already over.
Then they met Temura.
She rapped her knuckles on the table, pulling Elohim to the present again. "While he's sleeping it off, I'm going to make the rounds. Stay on the COM in case I need you, okay?"
She turned and left, shrugging on a vest and holster for her pistol -- her visible pistol. Elohim watched her go out the door and sat back in the chair. His old memories were rising like bile in his mind.
2139 Hours, 30 June 2583 (Military Calendar)/
Gallerus, Ebica -- Old Warehouse District
The hike had been long and grueling. Erich Gemmen suspected that, even in his prime as a Marine, he would have felt taxed; now, many years later, he was gasping hard. The others seemed to be taking it in stride, but he couldn't help feeling like a burden. Doubtless, some of them, probably Montour and Fil more than others, were regretting his presence. Emilia Bernardi, IRON Five, was doing her best to keep him in light spirits.
"So what's it like living on Earth?" she asked.
He shrugged. They had taken shelter in an alley while the Spartan went ahead to scout for a good place to set up shop. "Quiet, I guess. Since most of the population got wiped out in the Great War."
"You live in Paris, right?"
"Must be pretty great, being surrounded by all that history. I wish I could live somewhere like that."
"It's okay." They lapsed into an awkward silence. Gemmen was relieved when Amy-G006 returned.
Fil asked, "What's it look like?"
"Pretty empty, but there are a lot of patrols now. I've identified one building they don't seem to care much about, an old Traxus warehouse. It's pretty dilapidated, but it could make a good home. I stowed the electronics crates there."
Fil looked to Alton Cugini. "Think you can make it serviceable?"
"Well, I'd have to see the building first, but so long as we don't have to worry about the roof falling on us, I can make it into a good shelter."
"Good." He looked at the group overall. "Chief and Cugini will go first and the rest of us will follow in pairs at uneven intervals." Everyone affirmed.
Gemmen was in the second pair, along with Doyle. They waited for thirty minutes after the Spartan and Cugini had gone and then moved. Their Chameleon plates did a fantastic job mimicking the textures and patterns around them, even being able to copy light patterns to some extent. Gemmen could remember the fright he felt going into an unsecured building, back during the war. Marines always told stories about the cloaked Elites, masters of stealth and equipped with active camouflage that could make them invisible.
If the Marines had this technology back then, what a difference it could have made.
The big problem he had was still not being completely familiar with his loadout, so when the Chameleon plates were active, he had trouble finding his gear. He clutched his rifle in his hands. It was probably the most important thing for him to have, anyway.
It took about ten minutes of careful navigating to find the Traxus building. It was indeed old and dilapidated, as Amy had warned them. While most of the buildings in this section of the city pre-dated the Great War, they were all mostly intact. Gemmen couldn't figure out why this one had been so neglected. As they moved in, he wasn't surprised to see condemnation notices on the doors.
Deep inside and down one level they found Cugini and the Spartan. Amy seemed keenly aware of their presence, but aside from glancing at them as they came in said nothing. Cugini was working on shoring up a wall with instacrete; he had already marked out a section of the floor, presumably the outer edges of their hidden outpost.
Gemmen and Doyle decloaked. "Nice place you found," said Doyle.
"It'll do," replied Cugini. "Gemmen, if you want to get started on setting up the electronics, they're in the crate over there. Doyle, why don't you and the Chief set up a perimeter?"
Doyle visibly bristled at the suggestion but said nothing. She and the Spartan moved out into the building beyond while Gemmen got to work setting up the electronics package.
Most of it was fairly basic stuff, and he got it ready easily. COM uplink, signalling apparatus, armor diagnostic -- for Amy, mostly. The trouble came when he unpacked the AI core container. It was in several pieces that made it easy carry but tough to assemble. He had to put it together and take it apart twice when the OS failed to load properly. He finally got it working as soon as the last of IRON filtered in.
By that time, Cugini had more or less finished their shelter. It was an instacrete cube with defensive positions around the entrance and firing holes in the walls. A nook had been set aside for the electronics and another for the makeshift armory. A separate and sparse "room" was for bunks, currently being assembled by Montour and Bernardi, while the main room already had a table and several chairs.
Gemmen installed the electronics quickly and found a seat. He felt guilty, watching everyone else bustle around to complete their mini-base, but he had already completed his assigned task -- also the only task he really qualified for. The only other idle person was Allie Meryll, also sitting at the table.
A few minutes later, Amy and Doyle returned, flagging Fil and Montour to go out on patrol next. They started gathering their gear, as Doyle went to help finish up with the bunks and Amy walked straight for Meryll. The sergeant brought her to the electronics nook. Gemmen watched as she hooked the diagnostic kit into the Spartan's armor and began running some sort of test.
Somebody tapped him on the shoulder. He looked up into Montour's face. "Hey, Gemmen, we just finished the bunks. Why don't you get some rack time, all right? We need you fresh in the morning."
Gemmen wanted to object, but his aching back and hollow eyes betrayed him. He stripped off the SPI armor and fell asleep in his jumpsuit.