The Fall of Kholo (A Companion to "The Return") by HitScans
The Fall of Kholo
Date: 27 October 2012, 9:55 pm
April 15th, 2539 [4 Days prior to the Fall]
They'd been at it for 30 minutes now, banging on the door like a drunk locked out his own apartment. They knew he was home, the lights were on, smoke was wafting lazily from the far chimney. He'd have to face them now. Ratbastards. Parasites. He crushed his cigarette out, flung in the general direction of the waste processor, and got up from the disaster area that was his kitchen table. Heading for the front door, he stopped in his bedroom, took the Service Magnum off his bedside table and tucked it into his waistband. Hammer back, round chambered, safety on. For now. He strode down the entry hall reached the front door and pressed his palm against scanner. The door unlocked with a flurry of clicks and he tentatively slid it open.
"Mr. Cooper!" Began the lanky bureaucrat, "Henry Kort, UNSC emergency affairs coordinator. We are here to present you with the necessary documents, as requested." He motioned to his associate, a short, pudgy clerk weighed down with two large briefcases, and, unconsciously, to the body-armored, sub-machine gun equipped Civil Guard officer who was doing a poor job of hiding in a bush a few meters away. Shorty handed his superior one of the briefcases which he opened. With a flourish, Mr. Kort produced a single, legal sized form and an old ink pen.
"Hold on..." Josephus caught Kort's hand as he was attempting to pass the pen to him. "Where's my just compensation?"
"You must understand, sir, that the UNSC is in a very precarious position. Though we respect you and your work, we cannot provide payment for the damage the landing and subsequent use a staging ground will cause to your crops until such a time when hostilities are officially declared to have ceased in this, and all, sectors currently besieged. I assure you, however, that the upstanding men and women your farm feeds will not go hungry, UNSC rations will be delivered to anyone who asks, and they are quite palatable." The lanky civil servant explained.
His rotund associate, attempting diplomacy, opened his personal briefcase and handed him a small, brown, UNSC ration pack; his idea of a peace offering. "And there are plenty more where that came from." He said, with a genuine enthusiasm that indicated he must be new to the job.
Cooper took the ration out of pity. "Say I refuse to sign, then what? More lawyers? More 'personal history investigations'? More harassment?"
"No." Kort said flatly. "Then, having exhausted all civil options, I am allowed under the Force Act in Council of 2531 to compel you to sign by any and all means. But this won't be about you anymore after that, friend. Your former CAA buddies, your lovely ex-wives, kids, grandkids, any and all could face financial and civil death for giving material support to a person committing actions likely to aid the enemy. And if the time comes when their homeworlds are threatened by the Covenant, they'll be the first on the draft rolls and the last on the evac lists."
He pushed the paper and pen toward Cooper, forcing it on him. Cooper grudgingly took hold of them.
"My freedom of speech has yet to be gutted, right?" Cooper queried.
Cooper signed on the dotted line and tossed the paper and pen back to Kort.
"Then f*** you. All of you. The folks out here don't deserve the covies but you and you lot just might."
Wordlessly the bureaucrats turned and strode down the rocky path that led away from Cooper's home, the Civil Guardsman slung his SMG and followed soon after. The lanky bureaucrat put his forefinger to his ear and spoke to a far-away dispatcher: "He finally signed, tell Carpathia she is cleared through at her earliest convenience." The three government agents clambered into a well appointed civilian warthog and hummed away.
Cooper walked around the house to his back lot, placed the ration packet on a fence post, put ten meters between himself and it, drew his Service Magnum, thumbed the safety off and fired. The ration vaporized when the 10mm round slammed into it milliseconds later. Handouts never taste any good.
Having just committed two felonies--destruction of UNSC materials and nonsporting discharge of an unregistered firearm--he went inside to wait for his life's work to be scorched into unrecognizable oblivion.
Later that same day...
It was, at least, a beautiful sight. The flash white, kilometer long ship was decked in landing and navigation lights that made her look like an angelic, otherworldly creature as she hovered a mile above Cooper's property. Her cobalt blue engines flared and pulsed in the night sky, creating an ersatz aurora.
The ground team had arrived first, moving gangways into place, putting in Pelican pads, and generally slaughtering his crops in the process. Falcons moved in and dropped landing beacons the size of utility trucks that glowed bright red and cast their crimson beams skyward for miles. The final step was to set up large scaffold lights which illuminated the LZ in unnaturally bright halogen light. The UNSC horde had done all this one night; four hours from the first warthog to a staging ground fit for a full scale invasion. If only they were as good at fighting wars as they were at preparing for them.
At last, one of the engineers on the ground got on his radio and spoke the fateful words: "Carpathia this is Worker Bee 1-0, come on down."
The massive vessel shuddered as her thrusters angled downward and ceased station-keeping. It was amazing how fast large ships dropped when not actively trying to hover, in a matter of seconds the Carpathia was at the half mile mark, at the quarter mile mark her station keeping thrusters fired again, downward pointed pillars of blue fire which, to Cooper's disgust, caused the immediate thermal death of any crops below them. Her maneuvering thrusters fired next, edging the ship forward and downward toward her new berth. Finally, the massive ship kissed the ground, gently settling in the middle of Cooper's largest field, bathed in false daylight and surrounded by landing beacons. The engineers swarmed around her, pushing gangways up against hatches as soon as they opened.
At least he would have a good story to tell.
FILE RECOVERY/////ONI/PROP/SECTION 2/////DEEP_ARCHIVES///SUPERANNUATED_INFORMATION:
_Recover file:("Kholo, OWI, 4/16/39, R4")_
BEGIN RECOVERED FILE/////////
CAA Office of War Information
Do not publicize until 2:00 p.m. on 4/16/2539
Headline: UNSC Carpathia Finds New Home on Kholo
Yesterday evening, the UNSC Carpathia landed in the remote agricultural region of Kholo known as the Monhonghiala Plain. The newly built hospital ship can now turn all of its resources toward healing those wounded in battles with the alien aggressors on outer colony worlds all while safely tucked away on quiet and peaceful Kholo. Designed primarily for such stationary operations, the Carpathia is intended to fill a long term, infrastructural role, with her slipspace drive and primary engines meant only for emergency use; she is even integrated into the local utility grid. Residents should be advised that airspace above Kholo will be far more crowded as evacuation transports and ambulance vessels converge on the Carpathia from life saving deployments throughout the outer colonies. To reduce aerial congestion, ride-sharing is strongly encouraged; remember, when you ride alone, you ride with the Covenant.
April 16th, 2539 [3 Days prior to the Fall]
Aboard the UNSC Carpathia
Captain Abigail Trout
From a security perspective, the Carpathia was a complete disaster. Hundreds of docking points and hatches, four hangars, and wide, difficult to barricade corridors that ran the length of the ship and fanned out in easy to navigate subroutes leading to every critical area. The layout had been designed to smoothly facilitate the mass movement of patients and staff from the craft which they arrived on to the wards where they were needed, but it also created a perfect highway for boarders and mutineers. Indeed, a small team could seize and secure the Carpathia in a matter of hours while a combat ship of similar size, with all of its nooks and service routes could take days to fully clear.
Then there was the question of armament. Though the ship had substantial Titanium-A armor plating, she carried no weapons save a standard asteroid defense mass driver that posed no threat to anything but the lowliest transport. Personal weapons were no better, none for the staff, and only few for the security team. The hope was that the Covenant, if they were to attack a world she was stationed on, would see the vessel as a low priority target and go after her only after wiping out the main military force. This would give the Carpathia and her precious human cargo of wounded, and, more importantly, valuable supplies and trained doctors, time to slip away in the chaos. The final absurdity was her paint job--bright white--a nod to hospital ships in centuries past and a way of making the ship's benevolent mission clear to any humans who may consider nefarious acts against a groundsided UNSC vessel. Indeed, there would be no defense for anyone who dared bomb the Carpathia , it was a war crime of the highest order that dated back to the time of steam and sail. Not that the Covenant, the real threat, cared at all about war crimes. Abigail imagined that in some twisted way, the number of war crimes committed was how the Covies measured their success in a given campaign. To the Covenant, hospitals meant lots of humans in one place, generally unable to defend themselves.
Being given command of the Carpathia was either a punishment or a promotion and Abigail had yet to figure out which. One the one hand, if the ship had a long and illustrious career, both her and the vessel would take on a legendary, saintly status not unlike that of the UNSC Hope. If, however, the Carpathia was cut down at any point before war's end then she, Captain Trout, would be forever vilified as the woman responsible for the no doubt horrible and terrifying deaths of a thousand or more wounded warriors. She had already resolved, privately, to make sure she died, either by running into a hopeless fight or simply with a bullet the brain, if the ship was ever attacked in a way that more-or-less guaranteed an unacceptable death toll. Somehow, by giving herself leave to be a coward in the future she was able to handle be a commander in the present. Or so went the rationalization.
The present was, if Abigail defined exclusively as the view from the bridge windows, in all honesty, not that bad. The ship was resting in a eminently beautiful corner of the galaxy, on a harsh yet lush world with haunting blue grey skies, only a jump away from the Covenant onslaught, yes, but on a world rarely traveled to or from. This obscurity made it unlikely to be located by the Covenant if they continued their standard strategy of picking their targets from the starcharts of ill-defended human vessels. Medical transports would, of course, converge on the planet now, but only after following the Cole-ordained three jump rule to throw the Covenant off. Furthermore, all UNSC Medical Corps starcharts, which now included the Carpathia's location referred to it not as a major planet or installation but as an 'abandoned listening post of little consequence.' Anyone familiar with how ONI spooks obfuscated would, upon reading this, assume DEN OF ESPIONAGE, and usually be correct, but the Covenant were still ignorant of human doublespeak. Or so Abigail hoped, if not, then many spooks, secure in their 'Desolate Outposts' and 'Defunct Mining Facilities' and 'Pay no attention to the hangar bay doors hollow asteroids' were in for some serious chop.
April 16th 2539 [3 Days prior to the Fall]
Aboard the UNSC Tempest-Tost
Commander Karl Hock, Acting Captain
The battered frigate wobbled through the slipspace tear it had just struggled to create, her engines flared deep blue, revealing in their harsh light the extent of the damage. All Archer Pods were gone, four of six decks had been hacked to pieces by plasma fire and were now open to space, venting atmosphere and the occasional corpse as the ship trundled toward the idyllic world. Her primary MAC had been run so hot an so fast that the muzzle had melted and warped, rendering the cannon useless, the entire right hangar nacelle had been shot away, cleaved off by fiendishly precise high energy plasma lances.
Acting Captain Hock unfastened the belt keeping him secured in the command chair and surveyed his bridge. No one had started the day in the position they were now assigned; a Gunner's Mate was now the Chief Fire Control Officer, a Civilian refugee with some astronavigation experience was manning the nav board, and a low ranking drive technician was charged with damage control. Hock nodded at his 'crew', they had done their jobs, indeed, they had done jobs intended for officers well above their station, decently enough. He strode to the front viewport and, after visually confirming their destination out of habit, put a finger to his ear: "Medical Bay 02, this is the bridge, that last jump was all we needed and we are here, prep the Colonel and get him to a Pelican."
"Aye, we'll get him prepped but there's a problem..." Responded the Acting Chief Medical Officer.
"The only Pelican left took some fire, reentry isn't an option... not without the Tost 's armor between us and the atmo for the first hundred meters."
"Do the locals have suitable transport?"
"Nothing orbit capable that isn't already tasked. Fracking backwater."
Hock grunted in acknowledgement and turned to his would-be DC Officer, "Is it doable, can we break atmo in this condition?"
The DC man futzed with his keypad and eventually brought up a fuzzy status hologram. "As you can see..." He motioned to the holo. "We have severe damage in several ventral and lateral structural points."
"Give me your best assessment."
"We can do it... once. The stress will, as far as I can tell, break her 'neck', she'll be of no use to anyone above 70,000 feet after that."
Karl tapped on the viewport glass, as if that somehow let him judge the ship's integrity, sighed and spoke: "Well, the mission was to get the Colonel to safety at any cost, and, hey, at least we'll all be forced to take some shore leave."
Commander Hock returned to his seat and strapped in. He turned to the man at the nav board: "Break orbit, hit atmo and make your altitude 50,000 feet therein. All secondary drives slow ahead together. All hands brace."
The Civvie at the navboard began to work but stopped short and looked back at Karl: "Mr. Hock, Captain, err... sir, I'm getting some very odd blips in the local slipspace spectrum..."
"With the damage we've taken their liable to be ghosts in the sensor array, ignore them and continue your previous task."
"Yes, I mean 'aye', descending now."