Vengeance for a Sister
Posted By: Cailus<email@example.com>
Date: 18 January 2013, 1:33 am
0810 HOURS, SEPTEMBER 11, 2553 (MILITARY CALENDAR)
ASTEROID FIELD, EPSILON ERIDANI SYSTEM
ONBOARD UNSC HALCYON
Generally speaking, when junior officers pictured the life of the admiralty, they conjured up images of the vast HIGHCOM base in Sydney, or the gleaming monolithic spires of Beijing. Or, for space-faring admirals like Rear Admiral Louis Gomez, they might think of the shiny Marathon-class cruisers that formed the core of the UNSC; immense technological marvels, with big offices for their flag officers. Certainly this had been what Gomez had thought upon his promotion five years earlier. The irony of his current situation was not lost on him.
Although the Halcyon was a cruiser, one of the largest craft in the UNSC, the ship had never actually been designed with flag officers in mind...that, or its designers didn't think an admiral required special accommodation. Thus, when the engineers at the Luna Orbitals refitted the ship, they'd had to make do with what they had when installing an office for Gomez. The result was an office squeezed inbetween the Bridge and the Officer's Mess, and it was tiny, scarcely much larger than a standard Warthog. His desk was a shredded piece of deckplate from the Halcyon's very first engagement, a 'piece of ship's history' according to the captain; however, the re-sculpted metal was an exceptionally cold and comfortless surface. The rest of the room wasn't much better, a bleak metallic grey. Gomez had put up a number of pictures and such to decorate the space, including a large landscape painting of the Halcyon itself, but the office was still ugly as hell, and more cramped than an HEV pod.
A sharp whistle interrupted the admiral's internal griping, and he raised his head from his paperwork to a small holographic terminal next to the door. On it popped up a ten centimeter tall officer, who appeared ten years older than Gomez himself: Captain Holmes, probably the oldest captain in the fleet. And most decorated, by a considerable margin.
"Got a message from the Twilight, sir."
The admiral frowned, and glanced at his watch. "They're two hours early. I assume they found something out there."
"Yes sir," the officer replied with a curt nod. "But you won't quite believe it. At 0655, Commander Hamalki made contact with the Athena, in Reach orbit."
Gomez blinked rapidly, momentarily floored. "Athena? A frigate under Hoshi Zhukov?"
"Yes sir," Holmes replied. "Hamalki went through all the standard recognition procedures; it's definitely her. They've linked up in a rough formation on the outer end of a slingshot around Reach, headed in our general direction. Apparently, the Athena is more or less at full combat readiness. They destroyed a Covenant frigate right after they got here, climbing out of Reach's gravity well."
"Lucky us," Gomez muttered. He leaned back, running a hand through his raven black hair. "I assume there was a classified tag with that message, marked Eyes Only."
Holmes visibly raised his eyebrows, but nodded anyway. "Beyond my clearance, anyway. Hannah is forwarding it to you now."
In actuality, Gomez suspected that he knew what was about to be sent his way, but opened the file anyway. He skimmed the first few lines before sighing, then standing up awkwardly and maneuvering around his desk . "Warm up the fleet, captain. Full combat alert. Disperse to defensive position Beta. The Athena must survive, at all costs."
The Halcyon's captain snapped to attention, nodding. "Yes sir, we'll get them."
His image flickered out with a splutter as Gomez stepped past, full of determination and a tinge of satisfaction. Today was going to be a long day-but at least he could get out of that damned office.
0850 HOURS, SEPTEMBER 11, 2553 (MILITARY CALENDAR)
INTERPLANETARY SPACE, EPSILON ERIDANI SYSTEM
ONBOARD UNSC ATHENA
Over two hours after the Athena had exited Slipspace, Hoshi sat in her command chair, quietly brooding. Of course, if asked, she would've called it 'meditating', but none of the crew would ever do that. Except, perhaps, Monty...but he was remarkably tactful, for an AI.
By now, Reach was scarcely any more than a dot in the Athena's aft sensors, but it was still weighing heavily on the crew, and Hoshi. They'd all seen glassed worlds before, but the idea of Reach being glassed was bizarre. Not even in their worst nightmares had anyone seen that coming. Now, as Hoshi looked around at her officers, she saw the same, dark look. It wasn't fear, exactly, or despair. More a realisation of just how close to the edge humanity was getting.
Hamalki's assurances that Earth was safe helped. Despite the need for minimal comn traffic, he had transmitted some pictures of Earth and Luna from when the Twilight had last been docked, and Monty had duly distributed them throughout the ship. There were distinct scars around the planet; a small part of eastern Africa appeared glassed, several orbital elevators were wrecked, and dozens of the orbital MAC guns were gone. However, the knowledge that Earth was there, and intact, was a comfort.
Well...perhaps not to everyone. The Athena's passengers were a mystery to everyone but themselves, and clearly happy to keep it that way.
"Ma'am," Monty said softly. "Receiving live comn broadcast from dead ahead. Toughest encryption I've ever seen, coming from the Halcyon. It's a Command-level neural link, labelled...as the...ah...the UNSC Logistical Corps." He snorted in disbelief. "They could just label it as ONI, ya know..."
"But where would be the fun in that?" Hoshi said with a grim smile. "Let the spooks have their fun, Monty. Pipe it into my neural lace, and step out."
The AI nodded, and gestured; instantly, Hoshi felt a brutally sharp sting at the back of her head. It took considerable effort to refrain from wincing as she closed her eyes.
The moment they closed, all sound from around Hoshi snapped off, as if by a switch. Before her, surrounded in only a vague whiteness, appeared a rather young (and, she couldn't help noticing, rather attractive) man. His uniform was spick and span, with the bars of a Rear Admiral gleaming on his shoulders, and a businesslike expression on his face.
"Sorry to go to all this trouble Captain," Gomez began. He had a rather soft voice. "I hate neural comns as much as anyone else, but the protocol is damned clear on this one." The admiral rubbed the back of his neck awkwardly. "How do you treat the headaches, anyway?"
Hoshi smiled widely. "Yoga and regular sex, sir. Does wonders."
Gomez's mouth opened slightly, before it settled into a smirk. "Hm. It appears I've missed a trick." His smirk faded somewhat as he added "To business. Project ORION III, codeword classification Patriot one, eight, three, nine, one. Verification indigo twenty nine, July 2551."
"Secondary classification Fraternity, four, two, six, nine, one. Verification green seventy seven, September 2552." Hoshi sighed, wiping her forehead. For some reason, the electronic environment felt quite hot. "Here's the timeline, sir. We left Onyx on schedule on September 2nd, and arrived at New Gaia on September 16th. The Covenant were glassing the planet even as we arrived, and had more or less finished. We were lucky to get out in one piece. The Covenant managed to detonate an antimatter explosive close to us." Hoshi's smile returned, although it was a sad one. "I used one of their frigates to shield us from the explosion, but the bastard peppered us with point defence lasers before we could get away. Mostly minimal damage, but I lost my birds." At Gomez's expression, she added "My Longsword squadron, sir. They were providing close cover from Seraphs. They-"
Gomez raised a hand, stopping her. "It's okay Captain, I'll read your full report later."
The admiral's interruption irritated Hoshi for a moment, but she shook it off. "Something about that antimatter affected the Slipspace drive. The armour and surrounding compartments are fine, but the actual machinery is completely wrecked. It worked well enough to get us to Slipspace, but our velocity-or relative velocity, anyway-was twenty times slower than usual. My engineers worked all the way from New Gaia to Onyx, but it was an impossible job."
"Gaia to Onyx...that would've taken a while."
"Yes sir. Twelve weeks, more or less. It should've taken us a lot longer, but something happened to local Slipspace that greatly increased our speed." She raised her own hand this time. "Don't ask me how, sir, because I don't have a clue. I've got the best starship AI in the fleet, and he didn't have a clue. Under the circumstances, I wasn't going to complain, though."
Gomez smiled grimly. "But when you got to Onyx, you saw a bunch of debris and weird radiation. Correct?"
"Yes sir. We Slipped in on December 24th. No sign of Camp Currahee, no sign of the orbital satellites, no sign of anything, really. The planet was still there, but a lot of the geography had changed. Plus a bunch of debris in a neat pile a few light seconds off. Some was UNSC, some was Covenant, some was...alien. Wouldn't match anything in our computers. I sent down some reconnaissance teams, but there wasn't much to see."
Gomez's expression was sympathetic. "It's a long story, captain. To be honest, you probably won't believe it unless I tell you face to face, rather than avatar to avatar. That does, however, give us new information. None of our probes have returned from Onyx since the battle, but now that we know the planet is intact, that gives us options." He stroked his chin for a moment, then shook his head. "Well, that's beside the point right now. HIGHCOM will decide our next action in regards to Onyx. Return to your report."
Hoshi opened her mouth to ask one of a thousand questions, like how the hell the planet might not be intact, but held her tongue. Gomez was clearly an easygoing man, and friendly, but even if he was one of the good ones he was still an admiral, and she was a captain giving her report.
"Well, without orders and a crippled Slipspace drive, I decided the best thing to do would be to slowboat to Reach. I knew that if Onyx had been hit, the other colonies nearby were also at risk, and if I ran into another New Gaia I might not be so lucky. Plus it might add months to total journey time if I ran into another glassed colony. So we stocked up on food and water, then went into cryo for the trip here. I didn't expect...this."
"None of us did," Gomez said softly. "'Course, none of us expected the Covenant to hit Earth, either. It's been a busy year." He folded his arms. "Gamma Company?"
"Locked and loaded," Hoshi replied, repressing a shiver. Out of the entire complement on Athena, excluding Montgomery, only Hoshi knew the truth about Gamma Company, and it had haunted her ever since Ambrose had told her. "Security has been maintained. I had to clear an entire deck to do it, but nobody but me knows the truth."
"Good. As soon as you get here, we'll send over a repair team from the Waterloo on a Pelican. The moment they're done, set a direct course for Earth." He paused, and smirked. "Obviously, the Cole Protocol does not apply. Straight course, maximum speed. When you get there, raise HIGHCOM, and get Parangosky on the line. She'll provide new orders."
It took a half-second for Hoshi to run through the logic, and she frowned. "You have a spare Slipspace drive?"
Gomez shook his head. "Waterloo is donating hers for the cause. Before we leave, we'll just hard-link her to the Halcyon for the trip home. The priority is that you get home before the Covenant get another crack at you, and this is the fastest way to do it. None of the other captains have the clearance to take Gamma onboard." He stopped, and stood slightly straighter. "And make no mistake, Captain, the Covenant will be tracking you right now. I suspect the only reason they haven't attacked yet is they need time to gather their forces."
Hoshi hesitated. "I don't like running from a fight sir. And with all due respect, you could use an extra frigate."
"Perhaps," Gomez said with a shrug. "But not today. Your precious cargo can be just as effective, and just as important, as this entire battlegroup. I can't risk that."
As he finished his sentence, a blue-hued man appeared out of thin air next to Hoshi, his centuries old uniform looking rather pretentious compared to the UNSC's.
"Sirs," he said curtly. "Slipspace ruptures between Halcyon and Athena."
Gomez snorted in wry amusement, and gave Hoshi a sardonic look. As they both returned to the real world, he muttered "The bastards just can't make it easy, can they?"