What Once was Ours, chapter 6
Posted By: Jake Trommer<firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date: 21 February 2010, 6:04 pm
What Once was Ours
The CIC of the UNSC cruiser Sundown was abuzz with activity within its dimly-lit bowels, the hum of voices and machinery echoing off of the dull walls. In the center of the room was a tactical plot, red-lit in deliberate contrast to the room's muted blue, showing the symbols representing various ships of the line within the UNSC Navy approaching a planet. Surrounding it were three senior officers and one enlisted man.
"Never thought I'd see this place again," murmured a deeply scarred man whose AECs bore a Colonel's eagle upon their collar.
"Indeed, it's been too long," said another man in the uniform of a Fleet Admiral of the UNSC. "It's a shame we're here for less heroic purposes this time."
The Colonel shook his head. "We do what we must, Admiral. Orders are orders, after all."
A glance between the final two observers indicated their skepticism regarding such philospophy.
"I'm not sure I agree with that," said General of the Army Don Hanson. "If an order is immoral or wrong, you don't have to follow it."
Standing next to Hanson, Bill Duke nodded but held his peace, a wise choice for the senior enlisted man.
The ONI Admiral and regimental commander of the 66th Shocktroopers shot the two men a look that a motorist normally reserves for a particularly disgusting piece of roadkill.
Hanson eyed up the Colonel, his former XO while he had commanded the Bloody Buckets. "Miles, you know that using you guys to put down protestors is overkill."
Colonel Miles Davis shrugged. "Treason is treason, General. So long as it's put down, I don't care how that happens."
The General briefly remembered a vibrant young officer, wanting only to do his job and keep his men happy, not giving a damn about politics. Davis had changed a lot in the intervening years.
ONI Admiral Jackson intervened to end the embryonic dispute. "General Hanson, the fact remains that these orders come directly from the top, and there's nothing we can do about that. Colonel Davis here has orders to use baton rounds only, and only if it proves necessary."
The General and his senior enlisted man exchanged another skeptical glance, but the General of the Army nodded. "Very well."
It wasn't long before the task force had taken up orbit over Sigma Octanus IV. A full company of the Bloody Buckets was already on the ready line, geared up and ready to roll.
Colonel Davis and his senior officers and enlisted men stood in the CIC of the cruiser, receiving a last minute briefing from Admiral Jackson, who had transferred his flag over to the cruiser Iwo Jima prior to arrival.
"You wanted to speak to us," asked Colonel Davis.
Jackson nodded, the brass on his uniform faintly clinking as he did so. "Admiral Parangosky has informed me that you are ordered weapons-free."
Davis furrowed his brow in confusion. "Ordered? You don't mean authorized?"
"Negative. You see protestors, fire on 'em."
The way Davis gritted his teeth spoke eloquently about what he thought of his new orders, but he gave a choppy nod. "I copy. We're the best in the Army, Admiral. My men and I won't let you down."
The ONI officer nodded. "Good. Best of luck to you. And do me a favor...keep this from General Hanson."
"You sure that's a good idea?"
"He's here as an observer, not your CO."
"Very well, Sir," reluctantly replied the Colonel.
The Regimental Sergeant Major, however, had a feeling that CSM Duke would want to hear the news. It wouldn't be too hard to pass it on; enlisted men were always on the lookout for gossip.
Dawn on Sigma Octanus IV brought with it a dramatic blood-red sky. As the crackle of automatic weapons and the screams of civilians began to fill the air, this was all too apt a coincidence.
On the bridge of the cruiser Sundown, General of the Army Don Hanson stormed onto the bridge, Command Sergeant Major Duke following in his wake. The bridge crew looked up and executed a beautiful double take as the two senior Army staffers walked on. One, the comms officer, was the unlucky target of Hanson's irritation.
"Get me the Colonel, now," growled the General.
The crewer was too scared to reply, stammering a reply as he punched a command into his console.
A grizzled face pitted with scars swam into existence on the bridge's vidcomm. "Davis here."
"Colonel, this is General Hanson. Would you care to tell me what the hell is going on down there?"
The regimental commander of the Bloody Buckets set his jaw. "Following our orders, Don."
Hanson restrained himself from spitting on the deck. "Whatever happened to not killing civilians, Miles?"
Davis shook his head. "Baton rounds only. Nonlethal, but they'll hurt enough to make a point."
"Those can still kill someone!" exclaimed the General.
"I'm sorry, Don," replied Hanson's former XO, "but we have our orders."
Hanson gritted his teeth. "Miles, I am ordering you to stand down."
The other shook his head. "My orders come directly from Admiral Parangosky. You're not in the chain of command here. Sir."
Hanson inhaled sharply. "So be it. All UNSC Army units, this is General Hanson. I am initiating Directive Seven. Give the bastards hell."
Command Sergeant Major Duke coolly yanked his pistol from its holster and shoved it into the face of the startled looking captain of the Sundown, who had emitted what sounded remarkably like a bark of anger at the news. At the same time, a squad of UNSC Army troopers in the red livery of the Bloody Buckets charged onto the bridge, levelling their weapons at the crew. One crewer was foolish enough to go for his sidearm, which earned him a dispassionately delivered headshot for his troubles.
With a nod from his General, the CSM slapped a hand to his headset. "All callsigns, this is CSM Duke. Confirm Directive Seven is a go. Take, take, take."
On the bridge of the cruiser Iwo Jima, the task force's ONI Admiral gaped in disbelief at his comms officer. "Directive Seven? Hanson can't be serious, he wouldn't go rogue---"
"Admiral!" exclaimed the bridge's operations officer. "Security detachments report being fired upon by Shocktroopers!"
Shock was plastered all over Jackson's jowled face. "You have got to be kidding me."
"No Sir," said the ops officer, worry lines thrown into sharp relief by the light of his console. "Fireteams X-Ray and Zulu report hard contact...and casualties."
"Shit," spat the Admiral. "Get the Master At Arms up here, tell him to mobilize all security units. And tell all ships to be prepared for an uprising."
"Will do Sir."
Robert Darrow wiped his sweat-stained brow, making sure his men didn't see him doing so. Around the corner was a fireteam of naval security personnel, supplemented by a squad of Marines.
On Darrow's side of the corner was his Shocktrooper company. For once, the odds were in favor of the Bloody Buckets.
"All right," said Darrow, turning to face his men. "We'll do this the old fashioned way. First, Second and Third Platoons will proceed through the side routes to Engineering. I'll take Fourth and head up the main corridor. Any questions?"
The officer commanding Second Platoon raised his hand. "What if you guys run into significant resistance via the main route?"
Tink Carter, a former Marine who'd transferred into the Army at the end of the Human-Covenant War, snorted. "We're the Bloody Buckets, Lieutenant Aki. Squid security will be child's play for us."
Aki chuckled. "Right you are, First Sergeant. Ready when you are, Captain Darrow."
The company commander nodded, brow furrowed in the grim expression typically seen fixed upon his face. "Good. Let's hit 'em."
"Admiral Jackson! Hard contact near Engineering!"
"Fucking piss-shitters," growled Jackson, swivelling to face the grim-looking operations officer. "How many?"
"Standby," replied the other, his jaw working as he tapped keys on his console. "A platoon, at least."
Beneath his service cap, the Admiral's bald head had turned beat red. "Order them to fall back. I want as many security personnel as possible defending Engineering. Copy?"
Jackson ponderously turned on the next victim of his frustration. "Comms, poll the fleet. Has the Army taken any other ships?"
The man muttered a few words into his headset, then gave a grim nod. "Yessir. Sundown, Midsummer Night and Do Ya Feel Lucky have all been taken. Custer's Last Stand and Rolling Thunder are holding them off, but just barely."
"Admiral!" called the ops officer. "Shocktroopers are attacking our gunnery stations now."
"Mobilize all Navy and Marine personnel," snarled Jackson. "This ship will not fall."
In the barracks block of Iwo Jima, a young ODST was rather annoyed at being kept from falling asleep. Gunfire will do that to a man.
Nor was he alone in these thoughts; the other members of his squad, all asleep in their armor just as he was, were all grumbling. Finally, the senior NCO sat up and pressed a hand to the comm antennae bolted onto the side of his helmet, muttering as he flipped through the channels. "Gorram. We're not gonna be getting any sleep now."
Another squadmate, this one with a death's head slapped across his scarlet chestplate, snorted. "No kidding. What is it, Gunny?"
"Army's gone rogue...I guess they don't like working for ONI."
A third trooper, distractedly flicking his helmet spot-lamp on and off, chuckled. "Can you blame them?"
The final member of the squad, blue striped armor glinting in the dim light, shook his helmeted head. "No. So where does that leave your girlfriend, Gunny?"
"Stow it," replied the NCO. "We have a job to do, troopers."
With that, the five men grabbed their silenced SMGs and filed out, panning their barrels across the hall.
"So what do we do if we run into the Army, Gunny?" asked the trooper with the spot-lamp.
"I think we just did," retorted the death's-head-adorned Marine, coming to an abrupt halt.
A platoon of Shocktroopers had rounded the corner and quickly formed into a skirmish line upon spotting the ODSTs, coaxing as many metallic noises from their rifles as possible in a somewhat futile attempt to intimidate the ODSTs. The Helljumpers did likewise, minus the obnoxious yanking of charging levers.
The ODSTs held their fire.
The Shocktroopers held their fire.
After several seconds of awkward silence, the senior grunt amongst the Bloody Buckets, captain's bars on his collar, frowned. "I think this standoff is counterproductive."
The ODST gunnery sergeant nodded. "Agreed. So if you gentlemen would be so kind as to lower your weapons..."
Several more seconds of awkward silence ensued, then the senior Shocktooper shrugged. "Ah, what the hell...our fight ain't with you anyway. Leave the troopers alone, boys. We've wasted enough time here."
The Bloody Bucket platoon smoothly resumed its advance up the corridor. The ODST NCO watched them go, then called out, "Hey, wait a second! You guys could use some help!"
"What the hell are you waiting for, then?" called back the Army officer, not pausing his advance. "Fall in. We could use another CQB section."
"Come on, boys," said the Gunny. "We've got a date with some spooks."
"Admiral Jackson, we're getting reports from security personnel indicating that Marine personnel are aiding the Shocktroopers," said the ops officer.
"You have got to be shitting me," exclaimed the Admiral. "Master at Arms?"
The senior enlisted man bearing that rating stepped forward. "Sir?"
"Call all security personnel to defend the bridge and Engineering."
"And the gun banks, Sir?"
"Gunnery, reroute control to the bridge. That'll take care of that. Master Chief, call back the security personnel."
The Master at Arms frowned. "Sir, are you sure about that?"
Jackson abruptly decided to forgo Navy protocol and grabbed the senior enlisted man by the collar. "You listen to me, Master Chief, and you listen good. I am not about to lose this ship to some groundpounding scum who think they can betray everything they swore an oath to defend. And I know how best to do that. So carry out my orders."
The other had served on Iwo Jima for the majority of his career in the UNSC Navy, and had seen battle fatigue take many a man. It wasn't hard to see that Jackson was walking the knife edge between sanity and the slippery twilight of the shell-shocked sailors that the Master at Arms had seen in the infirmary. "Yes Sir. Will do."
But the Admiral had already turned away to bark new orders at the ops officer. The Master at Arms gazed at him thoughtfully, then nodded at the comms officer to relay the Admiral's orders.
Dan Hadley had never put much faith in the promise of an easy op. Long years of experience as an officer in the Shocktroopers had taught him that most special forces missions were long, tiring slogs through muck, mire and multiple hostiles.
Thus, as the Lieutenant Colonel and Alpha Company of the battalion under his command advanced through the cramped corridors of the Iwo Jima, he found himself more and more concerned over where in hell the ONI security personnel had gone.
At his side, the battalion's senior enlisted man looked up at him. "No patrols, Sir," he said, voice echoing off the walls as if to accentuate the silence, "and we're right on top of the bridge. Something's not right."
"No, Sergeant Major," replied Hadley. "It most certainly is not."
That, of course, was when a skirmish group of no less than twenty ONI security crewers double-timed around the corner, formed up into two firing lines, and commenced volley fire.
As the rounds slammed into the deck and bulkheads, the Shocktroopers threw themselves to cover. Two enlisted men didn't move fast enough, shrilling cries of pain as lead pellets drilled through their armor. Their cries for a medic were abruptly cut off by another round of volley fire from the security troopers.
Hadley grimly checked to make sure the magazine of his sidearm was full, leaned around the corner he had taken cover behind, and shook his head in disbelief.
The ONI crewers were leapfrogging forward, continuing their volley fire like rolling thunder. Pre-Interstellar War tactics thought the Colonel. Hell, pre-Second World War. Idiots.
Ruminations complete, Hadley issued a burst of comm data to the company. Two seconds later a veritable hailstorm of fragmentation grenades were bowled towards the ONI skirmish line, who might very well have been able to hear the incoming explosives had they not been triggering their rifles all the while.
The dull thuds of the grenades detonating drowned out the screams of the security crewers. Hadley gave a small grin, then turned to face his Sergeant Major. "Let's dance, Jack."
The other nodded, then turned to face the company. "All right, boys and girls, on your feet! ONI's throwin' us a party on the bridge, and we are all invited!"
Thunder rumbled on the bridge from the multiple detonations, and Admiral Jackson wheeled on his men, fear prevalent in his eyes. "Ops, report!"
The operations officer's hands frantically danced across his keyboard. "Stand by, Sir," he muttered. Jackson glared at the man, then:
"Sir, contact lost with all hands defending the bridge, recommend we---"
But the Master at Arms had already sprang into action. "Forget your stations!" he shouted. "Grab whatever weapons you can, seal the security doors!"
Sidearms were yanked from holsters and shotguns removed from their racks. Admiral Jackson drew his nickel-plated M6F, staring at the Master at Arms like a deer caught in headlights.
The other gazed back. "Sir, you might want to get to cover."
Jackson's jowled face jerked up and down in a ponderous nod, and the Admiral scurried for cover behind the comms console.
Behind him, the security doors slammed shut.
On the other side, Lieutenant Colonel Hadley chuckled. "We're the goddamn Bloody Buckets, Sergeant Major. Do they really think this will hold us?"
"No idea, Sir," the senior enlisted man replied. "Orders?"
A somewhat maniacal grin spread over the battalion commander's face. "Det cord. That'll burn through it like a hot chainsaw through butter."
The Sergeant Major cocked an eyebrow. "Isn't it like a knife through hot butter, Sir?"
Hadley grinned. "I didn't think that conveyed the intensity of det cord, Sergeant Major. Now let's go."
A faint line of red snaked across the frame of the door to the bridge, and Admiral Jackson's expression grew even more worried. "The hell is that?"
"Det cord," growled the Master at Arms. "Look away, they'll be blowing it---"
That, of course, was when the bridge door blew in with something very much akin to the thunder of the gods, and gunfire poured in.
Jackson winced, ducking for cover behind his console. The Master at Arms, on the other hand, stood firm, pistol held in his hand, striking a heroic pose. "Hold the line, boys! Don't let any of 'em on the bridge."
Sidearms and shotguns cracked to life in response, ONI crewers emitting roars in a somewhat futile attempt to intimidate the Shocktroopers. From behind his cover, Jackson stared in amazement as two crewers broke cover, and with nothing more than M6 sidearms, charged the Shocktroopers, howling with the red fury of battle. They were dispatched within seconds.
Steadily, the Shocktroopers advanced onto the bridge; no roars of fury were heard from them, no howls of battle frenzy. They methodically took up positions behind what little cover there was and continued pouring fire onto the bridge.
Tears were now pouring down Admiral Jackson's face, his body jerking with fear every time a round from a Shocktrooper rifle slammed into the deck or a console near him. His crewers were dying left and right, he was doing nothing to protect them, and he hated himself for that. Hated himself for slaving himself to what he knew was a corrupt government and taking the orders of a corrupt leader, rationalizing it by saying he was following orders, uncaring of the cost to his soul.
Dull thuds were more common now; the sound of the ONI crewmen's corpses dropping onto the deck like puppets with their strings cut. One of them, shot through the femoral artery, managed to gain a bead on a Shocktrooper long enough to open fire from his enforced prone position before falling; another, flat on his back, cracked away with pistol, pleading for Jackson to get into the fight and help the men who had laid their lives on the line for him.
And then there was only one man left, sidearm in hand, blazing away at the invading soldiers. The Master at Arms was like a bat out of hell, dropping more shocktroopers than all of the bridge crew combined, howling all the while:
"Admiral! I can hold them with your help! You gotta help me, Admiral! Jackson? Jackson!"
This last came as a round from the Shocktrooper Sergeant Major slammed into his thigh, sending the senior naval crewer crashing into the deck. Roaring, he took aim once more with his left pistol, dropping the Sergeant Major with a shot to the head. Once more, he was screaming for Jackson's help, and once more, the Admiral cowered in terror.
The Master at Arms started crawling, crawling back towards the Admiral's shelter. He managed to poke his head around the corner, and his eyes gazed into Jackson's, accusing and grim. Then his forehead erupted in red, and the light left his eyes.
ONI Admiral Jackson stared at the corpses of the men he had respected and admired, men who had trusted him to get them through the mission alive.
There was no way he would be able to live with himself if he ignored their sacrifice.
He shoved the barrel of his sidearm against his temple, and pulled the trigger.
Dropship Tango 49 hurtled through the atmosphere of Sigma Octanus IV, engines wailing like something from beyond the grave. In the red-lit troop bay, General Don Hanson let the chatter of his unit leaders wash over him.
"General, this is Lieutenant Colonel Hadley, reporting from Iwo Jima. We've taken the bridge and all critical areas. The Marine complement was rather sympathetic to our plight; we had some of them help us out."
"Good," replied Hanson. "Let them go if they want to, but they're more than welcome to stay with us."
"Solid copy," came the reply. "Hadley out."
Hanson turned to look at Bill Duke, who was sitting across the troop bay. "That's that. Four ships under our control. Just one more to go and the task force will be ours...plus the loose ends we need to tie up down here."
Duke winced. "Davis didn't comply?"
"No, he did not. So we're rolling in. We're weapons-free if they fire on us."
Duke nodded. "Roger that. And you think a squad of Shocktroopers will be enough to force down Davis's contingent?"
"They can't all be happy with their orders," said Hanson. "All we need to do is capture the command post, and the rest will take care of itself."
Duke swept his grim gaze across the Shocktroopers in the troop bay. "I hope you're right, Sir."
The voice of the dropship's pilot crackled over the comm. "Ten to dirt."
"Copy," said Hanson. "Ten to dirt. Praetorian Squad, stand to!"
"Praetorian?" murmured Duke.
Hanson grinned. "These guys are my personal guard, just like the Romans had. The name fits them."
"We're on the ground!" cried the pilot. "Have fun, Sir!"
The Shocktroopers piled out of the troop bay. They did not roar, they did not shout battle cries. Instead, they fell into formation, and, on a command from Duke, advanced.
"Contact ahead, Sir," warned Duke. "Prefab command post...two sentries outside. Orders?"
"Keep moving, Sergeant Major," said Hanson. "They're not going to fire on us."
"I hope you're right, Sir," said Duke. "I think they see us."
"Hold it right there, General!" cried one of the sentries, raising his battle rifle as Hanson and his contingent approached.
"Son," said Hanson. "Are you sure you want to do that?"
"Sir, I have orders from Colonel Davis to detain you---"
"And your brothers have orders to fire on civvies; just because it's an order doesn't make it right, son."
Sweat glistened on the man's face. "General, I---"
"Take a walk, son."
The man bit his lip, shot a terrified glance at his comrade. "Sir..."
"Do you really want to fire on your brothers, son?"
The sentry relaxed. "No Sir. Stand down, Specialist."
A grim look on the other's sentry's face showed that he wasn't so sanguine about disobeying orders, but he lowered his rifle. "Where do you want us to go, General?"
"Just stay here," replied Hanson. "But don't signal the Colonel we're coming."
Both men nodded.
Hanson turned to face his men. "Sergeant First Class Danson, take your Praetorians, get on the command center's catwalks. If Davis doesn't stand down, take him down."
"And if the other personnel decide to fight?" asked the grizzled sergeant.
"If they fight, disabling shots only, copy?"
The other nodded, issued a series of hand signals to his squad, and departed.
Hanson turned to face Duke. "Let's go."
With that, the two strode into the command post, bold as the brass on Hanson's collar.
Overhead, the faintest clanking sound could be discerned as the Praetorians took up positions on the catwalks. A quick click over the headset let Hanson know his men were in position.
Colonel Davis looked up from the tactical map in the center of the rectangular building, the scars on his face thrown into sharp relief by the faint light from the computer. "You're braver than I thought, Don. But the Chairwoman now knows what you've done. And she's issued orders accordingly."
"Miles, you don't have to do this," said Hanson.
"Yes, I do!" snapped the regimental commander. "What was it you taught me, Sir?" he asked, sneering the word. "An Army that disobeys orders is a threat to those it's supposed to protect!"
"But not if its orders are to harm those it's supposed to protect!" cried Hanson. "Dammit, Miles, order the boys to stand down!"
"I can't do that, Dave."
"Colonel, I am not going to repeat myself."
"I will not give the order."
"Fucking hell, Miles, I don't want to see anyone else die today, give the order!"
"I will not give the order."
"Miles, as an old comrade---"
"I will not give the order."
"Colonel, as a superior officer---"
"I cannot do that, Sir."
Hanson nodded at Duke, who issued a single comm click over his headset.
Praetorian Squad loomed out of the shadows shrouding the catwalks, yanking the charging levers of their rifles. The low mumble of the command post's personnel abruptly stopped.
Duke cocked an eyebrow at the Davis. "Your call, Colonel."
"See some sense, Miles," said Hanson. "You're covered from above, and outgunned. You want to make a last stand...I can only hope you choose not to."
Davis's response was to draw his sidearm and point it at Hanson. "You're a goddam traitor, Don, I should've shot you as soon as you walked in here. My mistake."
The Praetorians' assault rifles rattled to life, spewing bullets down into the command post. Cries rang out as the men manning the consoles drew their own weapons and returned fire. Like the stoic battlefield veteran he was, Duke had dived for cover behind the nearest console, but Hanson stood strong amongst the inferno, watching with a sickened expression on his face as the men he had once commanded were killed on his order.
Eventually, the cries ceased, and so did the fire from Praetorian Squad. Hanson strode through the carnage, feeling disgusted, looking for one body in particular.
Hanson looked at Duke. "Sergeant Major, message to all hands: I'm in command now, order a ceasefire."
"Will do, Sir."
The body of Davis lay spread-eagle on the ground, an M6F clutched in his hands. A look of shock was pasted on his face and a ragged hole was drilled hrough his armor.
Hanson knelt over the man. "I'm so sorry, Miles. You never were one to surrender."
"No I wasn't."
Davis reared up, sidearm coming into line with Hanson's forehead.
Were this a movie, Hanson thought, Duke or someone would sacrifice himself to save me. Fortunately, this is reality.
The General blasted a hole through his former protege's head, restraining the wave of nausea that threatened to engulf him.
"Done, Sir?" asked Duke.
Hanson swallowed. "Yeah...yeah..."
"I'm sorry you had to that, General," said Duke. "But you knew he wouldn't surrender."
"You're right," replied Hanson, swallowing again. "Contact Governor Jeromi, and get the Regiment consolidated. We have a war to win."