Sic Deinde - The MARINER Directive
Posted By: CaptainRaspberry<email@example.com>
Date: 7 October 2010, 2:37 pm
4. Sic Deinde
1335 Hours, 19 July 2544 (Military Calendar)/
Tropicas, Pearl -- Main Battle Line Command Center
Seamus Conway sat in a chair, finger holding down the "rewind" button for the hundredth time, then releasing it. He listened as Raquel-B029 outlined her plan to deploy a Fury in the tunnels outside Hotel-One-Alpha. Idly he watched the recording as Malcolm-059 climbed out of the tunnel.
It was a lot to process. His suspicions about Team Echo -- and those of Beta-5 -- had been confirmed: they had a nuke, and they had their own agenda.
His COM bud buzzed. "MARINER, go ahead," he answered.
"COALMINER, secure channel omega-alpha-one."
"Roger, channel secure. Go ahead."
"Operative MARINER, you are to proceed with contingency delta. Confirm acquisition of orders."
Seamus suddenly felt breathless. "Confirm, COALMINER. Contingency delta."
"Get it done as soon as possible. COALMINER out."
The channel went dead. Seamus leaned forward and put his head in his hands. It was all happening very fast.
A knock behind him. He looked up to see Colonel Havis standing in the doorway to the office, flanked by two MPs. "Lieutenant Sanforth."
"Sir." Seamus's eyes flicked to the two Marines. "Something I can help you with?"
"Ops just reported unregistered COM traffic between Spartan Zero-Five-Nine and an unknown recipient. I intercepted it and was treated to a little show." Her eyes narrowed. "If you are attempting to interfere with my operations here, Lieutenant, I'll be forced to intervene."
The MPs tensed slightly, but Seamus didn't react. "Do you know what the term 'sensitive information' even means, Colonel?"
"I'm not sure I like your tone."
She thought she was calling his bluff. He slid an identity card across the table. "I'm not sure I like yours."
One of the MPs stepped forward and picked it up. He slotted it into a small reader on his belt, and a moment later his HUD flashed. Leaning over, he whispered something to the colonel, who suddenly looked a lot angrier.
"Section Three, huh?"
"Colonel, I'm the liaison with Beta-Five Division."
"Yeah, that was your cover when you got here." She waved off the MPs and stepped into the office. The door closed behind her and she sealed it with a code. "What's the classification of the footage I watched?"
"Black. Did anyone else see it?"
"No." She sat down, uninvited. "But I want you to explain everything to me. I won't have some op go bad under my nose and not know what it's about."
"Fine, but give me a minute. I need to send a message."
0011 Hours, 20 July 2544 (Military Calendar)/
Pearl -- Covenant dig site, Target Hotel-One-Alpha
Malcolm-059 found himself hunkered into a very familiar cover of brush and snow overlooking the Covenant dig site. Despite the loss of one Scarab, the Covenant had been relentless in their operations, and it was about to pay off. He watched as the emerald beam cut through one last layer of bedrock; a plume of dust erupted into the air, obscuring his vision temporarily. Excited chatter cut through the BattleNet, betraying the hidden force's victory.
"Sierra Zero-Five-Nine to Sierra Zero-Two-Nine," he murmured into his COM.
"Go ahead," replied Raquel.
"They just broke through."
"Roger." A pause. "We're setting up the nuke now. Timer will be set to half an hour; that should be enough time for us to get the fuck out of here."
"Affirmative. Sierra Zero-Five-Nine, out." He clicked off the radio and realized he had been grinding his teeth. Word had come down from MARINER several hours ago, concerning the use of the Fury tactical nuclear warhead and Team Echo. On one hand, Malcolm hated the Covenant, had been ordered by Colonel Havis to do everything he could to stop the Covenant advance, and knew Raquel's plan was the most effective that he could manage by far.
On the other hand, ONI had operational authority over SPARTAN-II, and MARINER's directive had been clear: eliminate Team Echo. At first, Malcolm wasn't sure he'd be able to; their teamwork was solid, and it would be near-impossible in ideal conditions to take down all four. Wetwork on Spartans was a messy affair.
Then he discovered the hidden packet encoded with the transmission: remote detonation codes for the Fury. Once armed, he could detonate it whenever he wished.
Team Echo's plan involved being two kilometers away in half an hour, well outside the detonation range. He grabbed his gear and started running.
0014 Hours, 20 July 2544 (Military Calendar)/
Pearl -- access point Alpha, Target Hotel-One-Alpha
Minutes after the Covenant breached one end of the tunnel, a wave of dust and detritus roared through. Charlie-B149 watched as Sofija-B295 instinctively shielded the sensitive electronics of the Fury tac-nuke with her body.
From nearby, Benjamin-B257 chuckled. "I think it can take a little dust, Sofija."
"Shut up." She righted herself and continued working. "This thing should be armed in about five minutes, Chief."
"Good." Raquel stood farther down the tunnel, glancing back at Sofija. "The Covenant won't be too quick, but hopefully half an hour will be enough time for them to get their act together and start down the tunnel."
The dust made the air thick. Charlie grunted. "Our chameleon plates won't be any good in this stuff."
"Won't have to be. We'll make our escape using an over-land route."
He nodded and glanced around. The dust swirled in eddies around him, moving away from the detonation, down the tunnel. He watched as a flurry moved against the breeze.
Against the breeze...
Realization struck him as a pair of sapphire blades exploded into existence in the empty air. "Contact!" He brought up his rifle, but the world had slowed down. The energy sword cut geometric patterns through the dust as it came down, and at the last second the Spartan twisted out of the way.
Not fast enough. The weapon sliced through the carbine and his forearm, severing his right hand while bisecting his gun. For an instant, Charlie's world was on fire, but training and adrenaline quieted the pain. Instantly his good hand freed his combat knife from its sheath and stabbed out, catching his assailant in the neck. The camouflaged Elite warbled, fading quickly into view with blood welling up from its throat, spilling between its twisted mandibles. The Spartan stabbed it again, pushing it over. After it fell, he dropped the knife and quickly snatched up the alien's blade, activating it with a squeeze.
"Status!" Raquel shouted.
"I'm hurt," replied Charlie. The hoarseness of his own voice surprised him.
"If there's one, there's more," Benjamin hissed.
"All right, Spartans," Raquel said, "circle up around Sofija. We need to arm this nuke. Keep your eyes peeled."
They did so, forming a three-point defense around their comrade; she didn't even look up from her work. Nobody mentioned Charlie's hand; their discipline had kicked in, and he didn't want any sympathy from them anyway.
Their augmented eyes swept the dust-choked air. Charlie caught another irregularity. "Contact right, five degrees!"
"Roger!" Benjamin brought up his rifle and fired in quick three-round bursts. Bullets bit into the Elite's armor, power fluctuations making its camouflage flicker. The Spartan retargeted, putting another burst through its head. It dropped heavily to the slick floor.
A war cry sounded behind them. They turned to see two more swords appear next to Raquel. One lunged instantly, but the Chief sidestepped neatly and lashed out with the butt of her rifle, catching the Elite square in its unseen jaw. It staggered from the blow, blade swinging uncertainly. The other moved to attack, but Benjamin fired, forcing it to dance away. Charlie broke rank and rushed in, his own liberated weapon at the ready. The Elite parried, but Charlie slid under the counterattack and thrust upward, impaling the alien through its ribcage.
The remaining Elite lunged for Charlie, but two sharp barks sounded and purple gouts of blood appeared in the air. A thud sounded as it hit the ground, dying slowly from two punctures through its single lung and twin hearts.
From the ground, Sofija held her sidearm, curls of dust spiraling away from the barrel. Satisfied, she turned her attention back to the bomb.
"Clear?" Raquel said.
Charlie looked around. "Hell if I know."
"I think we're done," muttered Benjamin. He stepped up to Charlie and examined his stump. "Clean cut. If we can find your arm, the white coats may be able to reattach it."
"Negative," said Raquel. "The bomb's done. Sofija, set the timer and we're bugging out. The Covenant is moving in faster than we thought."
Sofija looked up. "Chief, how should we camouflage the bomb?"
"Don't bother." Raquel pointed to the rapelling lines. "We're up and out. Once we hit the surface, start running. I'll give Malcolm a call and tell him to cover our exit."
"Yes, Chief." Charlie noticed that was the first time she had referred to him by his proper name. He smirked under his helmet; maybe the Two had a place on the squad after all.
The other three ascended before him while he fastened the line to his belt. Once they were up, his team pulled him free.
Almost out of here.
0029 Hours, 20 July 2544 (Military Calendar)/
Pearl -- Waypoint Alpha, 2.5 kilometers from Target Hotel-One-Alpha
Malcolm's COM beeped. "Sierra Zero-Two-Nine to Sierra Zero-Five-Nine."
"Go ahead," he replied.
"We are clear of the tunnel and proceeding on exit vector. Double-check our route for hostiles, then proceed to waypoint alpha. We'll see you there."
"Roger." He paused. "Good luck."
The channel cut out. He was already at waypoint alpha, staring over the terrain behind him. Ice water filled his limbs. They may not have been his Spartans, but they were still Spartans...
... and Spartans followed orders.
He accessed his COM and keyed in the remote detonation codes.
Nearly three kilometers away, the sun rose eight hours early. Roaring filled his helmet as an expanding wall of air rushed towards him. He dove to the ground as the shockwave hit, rattling his MJOLNIR armor. It rattled like the inside of a ship dropping into the atmosphere. Alarms screamed at him and went silent as the EMP caused his electronics to reset.
For several minutes he lay there, unmoving, as soot settled on his armor, burying him slowly. This, he thought, must be what death was like.
He hoped it had been instantaneous for Team Echo.
When his COM finally rebooted, he contacted MARINER. "Objective complete, sir," he said. His voice seemed far away.
"Roger that, Sierra Zero-Five-Nine. Return to base."
He started walking.
1302 Hours, 20 July 2544 (Military Calendar)/
Tropicas, Pearl -- one klick from main battle line
Malcolm-059 watched the Pelican descend towards the platform. There were fewer people around now, as opposed to when he had first arrived. He didn't mind.
Lieutenant Sanforth had been gone by the time Malcolm made it back to base. There was no debriefing. Instead, he had been handed orders to report for transport to the UNSC Desert of the Ocean by 1300 on the landing pad.
He had tried to sleep.
Today, it wasn't snowing. In fact, it seemed brighter than before. The distant sounds of combat were closer now. While he had been in the field, the Covenant had launched a major land offensive. UNSC forces were getting whittled down. Columns of smoke were visible from where Malcolm stood.
Footsteps sounded behind him. "Petty Officer."
Malcolm turned and saluted. "Colonel Havis, sir."
She returned his salute. "I came to see you off."
"That's very kind of you, sir."
"I don't know what you were up to out there," she said. "Well, I have an idea. We all saw the flash." Somehow she met his eyes through his visor. "I hardly need to lecture a Spartan on the value of duty, but we all have to make tough calls in this war."
"Remember that. Serve without regret, soldier."
The Pelican came down to the pad, almost drowning out her last words. He shouted to be heard over it: "Sir, thank you, sir!"
The colonel saluted. Her lips moved, but her words were carried away by the Pelican's engines. Reflexively Malcolm returned the salute, then stepped back into the troop bay. The colonel stayed where she was, watching him, until the door closed.
"All aboard," the crew chief said. "Next stop, the Desert of the Ocean."
Malcolm sat down on the bench, barely noticing the squeal of the metal as he did so. He was a Spartan. He knew his duty. But regret? That wasn't something he knew what to do about. In training, he had been taught that duty was to be carried out. Any internal feelings that he felt as a result of carrying out his duty were inconsequential.
That's what his team was for, and he couldn't wait to return to them.
The Pelican lifted off into the sky.
He went like one that hath been stunned,
And is of sense forlorn:
A sadder and a wiser man,
He rose the morrow morn.
~ Samuel Taylor Coleridge