What Once was Ours, chapter 7
Posted By: Jake Trommer<firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date: 6 May 2010, 7:55 pm
What Once was Ours
"What?" said Admiral Parangosky.
"The Bloody Buckets have mutinied," repeated Colonel James Ackerson. "And they've taken a whole battle group in the process."
Parangosky did nothing for a few minutes, staring into space, and Ackerson knew this was going to be bad.
"Get me Commander Arkeyvich and Captain Snyder," whispered the aged woman. "Now."
The vidcomm in the Admiral's office soon flared to life, revealing the two senior officers of the anti-Hood expedition, both at the position of attention. Both seemed to know what was coming. Even the notoriously belligerent Arkeyvich had something very much akin to worry in his eyes.
Captain Snyder, as expedition commander, took the intitial brunt. "Captain Fred Snyder reporting, Ma'am."
The Chairwoman of the UNSC did not waste time. "Captain, I've received some troubling news regarding the loyalty of our Special Forces men."
The two officers exchanged glances. This time, it was Arkeyvich's turn to risk the wrath of Parangosky. "What do you mean, Ma'am?"
"General Hanson and the 66th Shocktroopers have gone rogue," said Ackerson. "And it seems they've joined forces with Jeromi."
Snyder got it first. "And after that, Hood?"
Parangosky nodded. "You are to see that this does not happen."
"With respect Admiral," said Snyder. "What exactly do you expect us to do? Our orders are to scout; once we locate Hood we were to call in the Fleet."
"But you do have an offensive capability," said Parangosky. "A very potent and deadly one. And I want you to send him after Hanson."
Arkeyvich's eyes narrowed. "You mean the Chief."
"Yes. I do indeed mean the Chief."
The expedition commanders shot each other a glance, then---
"All right," said Snyder. "We'll do it. But Ma'am, we could be throwing away our best asset---"
"Then it's on my head," said Parangosky.
Everyone stared at the Admiral.
"Ma'am..." began Ackerson.
"Gentlemen, I am still head of NAVSPECWAR, which the Chief is a part of," said Parangosky. "The blame does indeed technically fall on my head."
Perversely enough, the others relaxed. Parangosky hadn't changed.
"That will be all," said the Admiral. "Dismissed."
The comm transmission flashed out of existence.
Ackerson looked askance at Parangosky. "You're not going to take responsibility if they get the Chief killed, will you?"
The scorn in her return glance could've melted a bulkhead. "What do you think?"
The Colonel shrugged. "It was worth a shot." His datapad beeped with the signal of an incoming transmission. "Oh, one more thing..."
"It seems we have an informant within Hood's ranks. One who's been kind enough to provide us with the rendezvous point for his fleet."
"I don't understand, Sir. My mission is to stop Admiral Hood and put down his rebellion."
The cavernous conference room of Rodger Young was currently occupied by only four people: Snyder, Arkeyvich, the ONI operative, and the Master Chief. The ONI representative was currently laying into the Chief, with the Fleet and Marine officers looking quite uncomfortable.
"Orders change, Master Chief," said the spook. "You still obey orders, don't you?"
The remark hit home; the SPARTAN had locked his back up into a parade-ground straight position of attention. "Sir yes Sir."
"Good," said the spook, his expression better suited to that of a predatory cat than a man. "Very good, indeed."
Snyder motioned for his Navy counterpart to join him in the hallway. "I don't think this is a good idea, Sergey."
The other cocked his eyebrow. "You want to oppose Margaret?"
"She's had her view clouded by revenge," replied the Marine officer. "This isn't good tactics in the slightest."
"'Clouded by revenge'?" sneered Arkeyvich. "You're not a poet, Fred, you're a Marine. We obey orders."
"And when those orders throw away the best goddam asset we have?"
"They're still orders."
Two soldiers stalked into Cote d'Azur's capitol building; neither looked happy. The taller, a black man bearing a trim mustache and a shaved head, shook his head. "Politics. No matter what the hell you do, it all comes down to politics."
The second soldier, a shorter man of Asian descent, gave a bitter chuckle. "General, even when you're leading a government against the UNSC, there are still political considerations. There are always politics."
General Don Hanson chuckled. "Good point. Since when did you become so good at politics, Bill?"
Bill Duke grimaced. "Probably after I was posted on HIGHCOM."
"Doesn't matter if you're a Command Sergeant Major like yourself or a General," murmured Hanson. "If your paygrade ends in the number nine, you're deskbound."
By now, the two had made it into the cavernous entrance hall, decorated with mosaics and paintings. "How very pretentious," Duke observed. "They do all this after the Covie war?"
"Lock that up," said Hanson. "We don't want to offend our host."
"No need to worry," said a new voice. "I try and avoid coming here as much as possible."
Both soldiers turned around to face a man, greying, clad in clothes of a military cut but devoid of any insignia or award save for the two Colonial Crosses pinned on his breast.
Hanson managed to restrain a salute, noting with some amusement that his senior enlisted man had done the same. "Admiral Jeromi."
"Governor now, actually," said Jeromi, a wry grin spreading across his face. "But I know how hard military habits die, I'll keep the title for you two."
"Thanks Admiral," said Duke, who actually looked rather relieved.
Jeromi fixed his gaze on Hanson. "So, Don, welcome to our little insurrection. Have you any plans to give us?"
"Not really," replied Hanson, "this was a spur-of-the-moment thing. All my men and I want is to take down ONI."
"Good thing Hood and I have made up both of those," replied the retired naval officer. "Follow me...we've got some talking to do."
"Yeah, LT, I'm sure.."
Hocus shot her erstwhile boyfriend Shilds a sad look. "You know, Dan, beating your girlfriend isn't the best way to get a relationship to advance."
"Hey," said one of the other two officers in the poker game over Shilds' squirming, "quit flirting and play!"
Hocus shot an arch look at her fellow competitors. It wasn't easy: the rec room was typically dim-lit, and the cigar smoke emanating from the final card player's position wasn't helping matters. "I'll play when I'm goddam ready, Caveman."
The pilot bearing that callsign crinkled his swarthy brow. "Yes Ma'am. Sorry."
The final cardplayer grinned around his Eridanian-made cigar. "Relax, son," said Admiral Harper. "Hocus here is trying to get us distracted."
Caveman, never one for subtleties even under the best of circumstances, frowned. "Distracted from what?"
The Admiral grinned. "From the fact that her boyfriend's hand, although seemingly rather intimidating, is simply running cover for her own. Lieutenant?"
Hocus grimaced. "I call."
"Bet's to you, Caveman," Shilds put in.
"I'm out," rumbled the other.
All eyes turned on Harper.
"That," he said, relishing the air of drama as he stared at the pot, "is a collossal sum of cash. Far higher than we played for when I was a lowly Lieutenant..."
"So you're out?" said Shilds, not even bothering to conceal his hope.
"Hell no, son!" exclaimed Harper. "It's just more cash for me to win. I call."
Groans greeted this pronouncement, and not just from the other three cardplayers. A game involving one of the senior officers of the renegade fleet and Shadow of Intent's senior Pelican jock would inevitably attrack spectators; the entire rec room was watching.
Shilds showed his hand first. "Two pair, ace high."
Hocus sucked in a surprised breath. "That good, huh?"
"Can't beat it, LT? Maybe I can make it up to you afterwards..."
"Keep it down, Shilds. Three pair, jack high," Hocus announced to appreciative cheers.
The Warrant Officer made a sound remarkably akin to a deflating balloon.
"Your turn, Admiral," said Hocus, relishing the moment perhaps more than decorum allowed.
Harper's face fell. "Three pair jack high, right?"
Caveman was also more than a bit happy to see the flag officer taken down a notch. "That's right. Sir."
Solemnity still etched across his craggy brow, Harper laid his cards on the table.
"Royal flush," remarked Shilds.
Harper nodded. "But me being the very definition of magnanimity..." He turned to face the somewhat put-upon looking Elite tending bar. "Barkeep! Another round for everyone in here! My treat!"
Cheers resonated off of the rec room walls.
"Another hand?" Hocus asked of the four.
Harper spotted someone on the edge of the rec room's crowd, someone looking a little hesitant to join in the unbridled camaraderie. "Later, Lieutenant. I think someone's looking for me."
Senior Chief Grath belatedly saluted as the Admiral appraoched. "Sir."
Harper shot a glance at the other's collar. "I see Terrence decided not to take my advice."
Grath's face, heretofore relatively relaxed, hardened. "No Sir," he grated out. "He did not."
"I'm sorry to hear that," growled Harper. "I'll see what I can do."
"Don't bother," replied the other with more than a little bitterness. "What's done is done."
Harper eyed Grath, then nodded. "Very well, Senior Chief. What can I do for you?"
"Lord Hood told me to get you...command conference on the bridge."
The Admiral nodded, then turned to face the card game. "Duty calls, people. Keep what's left of my winnings."
"Really?" asked Caveman.
"No," said Harper, scooping up what cash was left over from his generosity. "Coming, Senior Chief?"
The naval NCO shook his head. "No Sir. I have a call to make."
Harper shrugged. "Tell her I say hi," he replied, and took his leave.
Master Gunnery Sergeant Pete Stacker was en route to Shadow of Intent's bridge, when someone stalked out of the comm center and ran smack-dab into him. Looking down, Stacker saw the perpetually put-upon face of Senior Chief Donald Grath, Lord Hood's aide. "Late for an illicit rendezvous, Senior Chief?"
Grath looked up at Stacker. "You might say that," he replied.
Stacker frowned; his naval counterpart seemed grimmer than usual. "Everything alright?"
The other shook his head. "Admin work just piles up a lot, is all."
"Don't I know it...if I'd known becoming a senior NCO meant less of getting my hands dirty and more desk jockeying..."
Grath snorted. "Roger that. If you'll excuse me..."
Stacker placed a hand on the smaller man's shoulder. "Hold on a second. Lord Hood called for a command conference; I'd imagine that includes you."
The Senior Chief's face clouded at the mention of the Admiral. "Of course...let's go."
"Commander Arkeyvich! Incoming transmission."
Sergey Arkeyvich shook his head wearily, trying to get rid of the last vestiges of sleep, then abruptly blinked as he realized just how unproffessional he'd been to fall asleep in his command chair. "Source?"
"Relay from ONI, original source unknown," replied the comms officer. "No voice or vid data either...it's just numbers."
Arkeyvich hefted his hulking frame out of the command chair to lumber up behind the other. "Numbers...Navigation!"
"Run the numbers comms is giving you."
Silence reigned on the bridge, then---
"Sir, they're coordinates."
A grin spread across the Commander's face, one that more than adequately highlighted the link between humans and feral apes. "Relay these to the Fifth, and make sure Admiral Hackett knows what they are."
The bridge officers emitted what sounded very much like a collective "huh?"
"Gentlemen," said Arkeyvich, still smiling, "these are the coordinates of Hood's hideout. We're going hunting."
On Shadow of Intent's bridge, Hood and Harper were in animated discussion, while Easley, present via hologram, stared out into the void from his flag's bridge, looking a little more preturbed.
"So, gentlemen," said Hood, "it seems that we have some new allies, of sorts. General Hanson and the 66th Shocktroopers have rebelled against Parangosky, and have joined up with Jeromi. It also seems they've managed to acquire some Marine and Navy allies; they have their own task force."
"I don't give a damn if he's against Parangosky or not," growled Harper, "the man's a goddam mad dog! An alliance with him would only increase the chances of an intel leak to Parangosky and ONI."
Hood raised a hand. "I understand your reasons, Ted, but the fact remains that it'll be better for us to have Hanson as an ally rather than, as you so bluntly put it, a mad dog obssessed with hitting back at Parangosky."
Easley, still staring out into space, chimed in at that point. "If anything, it'll give our little task force some more striking power. They managed to commandeer a whole ONI battlegroup, after all."
"At ease, please, gentlemen," said Hood, as Stacker and Grath marched onto the bridge. "It seems we've acquired some new allies."
Stacker exchanged a look with Grath. "Some rather brutal ones, if what I've overheard is true."
"It is," said Easley, finally turning away from the viewport through which the assembled forces of the Fleet of Righteous Retribution, the Terran Home Guard, and the Rapid Response Task Force could be seen hurtling through the void. "With the support of the General of the Army and Jeromi, this gives us some definite political capital."
Grath nodded. "Which means we have a chance of forming a legitimate counter-government, with a fully capable military force rather than one that can just make hit-and-run raids against ONI."
Harper shook his head. "But that's only if we decide Hanson is worth the risk. I still say he can't be trusted."
"It's a risk we have to take," said Hood. "We need his help."
"And," said Easley, nodding out the direction of his bridge's viewport, "I think we have traitors closer to home."
Outside the Shadow of Intent, the void boiled with light as UNSC ships decanted from slipspace, their guns already swinging to bear on Hood's fleet.