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Attack on Installation 06, part 21
Posted By: Jake Trommer<wedgefan@comcast.net>
Date: 21 May 2009, 11:35 pm

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Attack on Installation 06
Chapter 21
2120 Hours, July 09, 2553 (Military Calendar)
Tharidanis System, Installation 06

      The Shadow of Intent and her CAR-class cruiser escorts tunneled out of slipspace into the Tharidanis System.
      Fleet Admiral Sir Terrence Hood and Vice Admiral Brett Harsoth exchanged looks of dismay upon seeing what was on the cruiser's viewscreen: nothing. No rebel Elite cruisers. No Installation 06. Nothing but the grim orange star that was Tharidanis.
      "Jump complete, Fleet Master," sang out the navigation officer.
      Fleet Master Rtas 'Vadum nodded. "Good. Dispatch the recon patrol."
      "Done, Fleet Master," replied the communications Elite, rubbing his hand over the scar that curled over his face. "Recon One reports his flight is outbound."
      Hood and Harsoth looked at 'Vadum. "Care to explain," growled Harsoth, falling into the confrontational role he'd noticed that he'd picked up in the triumvirate of Admirals and Admiral-equivalents.
      'Vadum blinked. "Admiral Harsoth, I would have thought it obvious. The rebel Sangheili have five undamaged CAR heavy cruisers, plus one damaged Assault Carrier that they may or may not have managed to repair. Sending in a recon force is elementary tactics."
      Harsoth flinched at the not-quite censure in 'Vadum's voice. "My apologies, Fleet Master...I just know my men are dying down there..."
      "It is all right, Admiral," replied the veteran Sangheili soldier. "You would not be a warrior if you did not have those feelings."
      "In the meantime," said Hood in his familiar role as the voice of reason, "there's not much we can do except sit here and wait for the recon team to report back."
      So they did for five minutes, 'Vadum drumming on the side of his command chair, Hood whistling a half-remembered tune, and Harsoth growing more bored than he had at the worst of staff meetings.
      "Anyone up for a game of cards?" asked the Vice Admiral.


      The Sangheili recon leader was named Refu 'Toram. He was twenty Earth years old, an artist with the Seraph fighter and Fleet Master 'Vadum's most favored fighter pilot. Whilst this was mostly due to his prodigious skill with the Covenant's mainline fighter, his nickname and condition no doubt also attracted 'Vadum's attention.
      Two years ago, 'Toram's fighter had been wracked by a barrage from a human Longsword, and the Sangheili flight leader had been hit in the process. His mandibles, all of them, had been severed.
      Needless to say, Half-Jaw soon took No-Jaw under his wing.
      Right now, 'Toram was where he felt he was best suited to be: in the cockpit of a Seraph, heading out to hunt down the enemy...if not to destroy them immediately.
      "No-Jaw, Barrage. Are we there yet?"
      'Toram sighed to himself; after the war, the Sangheili pilots had assimilated a few human characteristics. One of the more useful ones was giving themselves unique callsigns. One of the more infuriating ones was pre-mission chatter.
      "Barrage, No-Jaw. Keep the chatter down. Racetrack, report."
      The reconnaissance-modified Phantom pilot, who'd chosen her callsign after watching a human television program, responded immediately, her smooth tones easily identifiable: "Racetrack here. All systems are go. Are we going to be slipping in or flying in?"
      "Slipping in," replied 'Toram. "But maintain a weapons-hold. That means you too, Barrage, or by the Forerunners, No-Jaw's new wingman will be No-Genitals. Understood?"
      The other Seraph pilot, suitably quelled, responded with a meek, "Copy, No-Jaw."
      'Toram craned his neck around to look at the Seraph containing the final member of the recon patrol. "Blade, No-Jaw. Are you alive in there?"
      "Affirmative," came the typically disciplined response from the other Sangheili pilot.
      "Very good. I'm feeding you all the slipspace coordinates now, confirm reception."
      "Racetrack, ready."
      "Barrage, ready."
      Blade simply gave a comm click.
      "Very good. Jump on my mark. Three...two...one...mark."
      Space blurred around 'Toram's fighter as the slipspace tunnel irised into existence. The Sangheili pilot gunned his throttle, and his ship hurtled through the door to eternity.


      First Sergeant Al Anselm stalked down the line that was the battered remnants of Bravo Company, the Marine unit assigned to the Berlin. Bravo had been battered mercilessly by rebel Elites and their intendent aliens, both while defending the Berlin and on the hare-brained control room raid and Flood retrieval mission that Admiral Harsoth had ordered. Their Captain, Reach veteran Joseph Kline, had been killed defending the Berlin. First Lieutenant Delckiss, whose only major campaign had been the action in Voi and on the Ark, was now in command.
      "All right ladies and gentlemen, listen up. The Chief is back, and he needs your help. Covenant forces are besieging a Forerunner facility on the far side of the ring where his AI Cortana was being kept. This is a volunteers-only mission, so anyone who wants to come aboard, step forward. Be advised, I am leading this op, and this is an enlisted-man only job. Officers and senior NCOs are too important to maintaining company unit cohesion, so no platoon sergeants or leaders. Anyone have a problem with that?"
      Several of Bravo's platoon sergeants did indeed seem as if they had a problem with that, but they likely wouldn't argue with a man who resembled the bastard love child of Apone from Aliens and Sarah Connor from Terminator.
      Twelve men and women, none ranking higher than Staff Sergeant, stepped forward.
      Anselm surveyed them. The best Bravo had to offer, each and every one of them. Good. He'd have accepted no less. "Squad, this way. Lieutenant Anderson will brief you."
      The squad marched into the Berlin's antiseptically-clean amphitheater-style briefing room. In the center, in front of the planning screen, stood Hocus and Warrant Officer Shilds.
      Staff Sergeant Jhonan Sanchez quizzically furrowed his bronzed brow at Hocus. "Hey, Hocus, good to you're see handling the airlift. Where's this Lieutenant Anderson?"
      A smile broke out over Hocus's face. "I never did tell you guys my name, did you?"
      Shilds, who had received such privileged knowledge, chuckled to himself.
      "All right people, settle down," said Anselm. "Hocus?"
      "The Chief is in this facility here, with a substantial number of Covenant besieging him. Now, we have several options..."


      Space snapped back to normality outside the cockpit of Refu 'Toram's fighter, and the Sangheili pilot immediately activated his ship's stealth systems.
      "Running dark," he muttered into his comm. "Radiation suppressors activated. Everyone, report."
      "Racetrack, running dark."
      "Barrage, going quiet."
      "Blade, stealthed."
      'Toram clenched his mandibles as he maneuvered into formation in front of Racetrack. "Racetrack, get your sensors online. Everyone else, stay sharp."
      The patrol maneuvered into formation, 'Toram slipping in front of Racetrack, Barrage to the side, Blade to the left; the purple drives of the spacecraft the only thing besides the stars lighting up the void. But it wasn't long before Installation 06 manifested itself...along with the rebel fleet around it.
      "Visual," said Racetrack.
      "Anything on sensors?" growled 'Toram.
      "Multiple capital ships," replied Racetrack. "Scanning five...six...seven CARs. And two Assault Carriers."
      "Two?" gasped Blade, unusually verbose.
      "Affirmative, two carriers."
      "Seraphs," said Barrage.
      "What do you mean?" said Blade, speaking more than he had in a year.
      "They're incoming."
      "Floodspores!" cursed 'Toram. "Racetrack, send a signal to Shadow of Intent, let 'em know that---"
      "Already done!" came the reply, "I'm sending them the data I've got on the enemy---"
      The signal dissolved into static---as did 'Toram's control displays. "What the---?"
      The Seraph's systems were going offline faster than a food nipple's contents down an Unggoy's throat. The stick had locked up, sensors were blank, ship-based comms displayed only static, even the omnipresent purple lights had dimmed to nothing.
      Wait, 'Toram thought to himself, ship's comm may be offline but not suit comm...
      Thumbing his headset to life, 'Toram addressed his squadmates: "Flight, this is No-Jaw. Can you hear me? They're jamming our computer systems somehow...I've never seen anything like this..."
      Several pod-like shapes clearly visible through 'Toram's canopy loomed out of the void. "Incoming, incoming. Multiple Seraphs. Can anyone hear me?"
      Racetrack's voice crackled through: "No-Jaw, Racetrack. I'm trying to get a restart on my systems. I have no control, no comms..."
      "No-Jaw, Barrage. I can't get anything online, I have zero functionality."
      A clicking noise sounded over the comm after Blade's signal. 'Toram recognized it as human morse code: an SOS. It seemed that Blade would be Blade to the bitter end.
      Small blooms eclipsed the Seraphs for a brief moment. "Missiles," growled Barrage.
      "Flight," said 'Toram, "we have three seconds until impact. Seal your suits, get your swords out, and cut your way out of your cockpits. Move!"
      Suiting action to words, the Sangheili flight leader scrabbled for his sword, shoved the handle against the cockpit canopy, and thumbed the blade to life.
      The dual turquoise points seared through the canopy, which shattered under the stress, venting the Seraph's atmosphere into space with a loud roar.
      The missiles were less than a second away at this point, and 'Toram realized that he had doomed himself.
      He had failed to undo his safety harness.
      'Toram knew he was dead anyway, but he was not going to sit back and accept his fate. Moving faster than he had in any duel, he began to undo his restraints.
      The missiles slammed into his fighter, harder than any barrage he'd taken from a human fighter. The last experience Refu 'Toram had on this mortal coil was of a flash of purple, so bright it blinded him, an accompanying roar, and then cold, cold so intense he could feel his body freezing over. And just before he died, he could've sworn he heard screams.
      He was. His headset was still transmitting; his flight hadn't made it.
      'Toram didn't even have time to think about that before he died.


      Harsoth and Hood were attempting to teach 'Vadum how to play poker, knowing just how extreme a breach of protocol it was, but not giving a damn due to the sheer boredom they were experiencing, when Racetrack's garbled distress signal came through.
      "Fleet Master!" exclaimed the scarred communications officer. "Signal from the recon flight! They're under attack!"
      "Details," barked 'Vadum, throwing down his cards, "I need details."
      "The signal ends abruptly, Fleet Master, but it appears they have been reinforced by a second Assault Carrier and two more CARs."
      'Vadum spat out a particularly vile Sangheili curse. "It seems, then, we'll have to do this hard way."
      "What do you mean, Fleet Master?" Hood asked, brow furrowed even more than usual.
      "Navigation!" barked the half-jawed commander.
      "Yes, Fleet Master?"
      "Plot a jump---"
      Harsoth's emaciated frame stiffened. "Fleet Master," he interrupted, "we are outnumbered and outgunned by a considerable margin---"
      "---inside the ring's atmosphere."
      "Right away, Fleet Master."
      The two human Admirals looked at each other. "Fleet Master..." Harsoth began.
      'Vadum swiveled to face the two. "As I told your Intelligence Admiral, so I shall tell you: a Sangheili warrior never leaves his comrades in the hands of the enemy."
      Hood and Harsoth couldn't even muster a response to that.
      'Vadum swiveled to face the nav officer. "Jump when ready."


      Kilo 23 hurtled across the storm-whipped ocean, lightening occasionally lighting up the cockpit more than the meager amount the screens of the control consoles provided. Hocus was at the controls as per usual, Shilds at the co-pilot's seat. First Sergeant Anselm was in the third seat, looking distinctly uncomfortable, his face more green than black.
      "You didn't go this way according to your mission logs," accused the First Sergeant.
      Hocus, wrestling with the dropship's stick, took a second to answer. "Gunny Stacker's team was using 'Hogs, and we had to go from wherever the hell it was they were keeping the Chief. This is the most direct route from the Berlin."
      "LT," Shilds interrupted, "port-two thruster's fouling up again."
      "Lock it down, then!" replied Hocus. "Look, First Sergeant, I know you don't like storms, but can you please take your discomfort aft so I can focus on flying this thing?"
      As Anselm hauled himself aft, he heard Hocus shout, "Shilds, I said get that damn thruster locked down!"
      "You all right, First Sergeant?" asked Staff Sergeant Sanchez, sitting at the aft of the troop bay. The bay door was open, the stormy weather sucking the smoke from the Staff Sergeant's cigar into the frenzied atmosphere.
      "Those'll give you lip cancer, Staff Sergeant," replied Anselm, motioning to a scar on his lip. "I learned that the hard way."
      The Latino Staff Sergeant quirked a grim smile. "First Sarnt, I'd rather die of cancer than from those alien bastards."
      Anselm sat himself down on the other side of the troop bay, in front of the door. "You think he's still alive?"
      "The Chief? Probably. There ain't the Covie born who can kill him."
      The First Sergeant meditatively spat out the rear of the troop bay. "Dunno...they managed to kill the other Spartans."
      "Maybe," replied Sanchez, lightening casting shadows over his craggy bronzed face. "Maybe."