The Price of Survival
Posted By: CaptainRaspberry<firstname.lastname@example.org>
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.