What Once was Ours, chapter 8
Posted By: Jake Trommer<firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date: 28 May 2010, 2:16 am
What Once was Ours
Rodger Young, of course, was the spearhead for the fleet group. On her bridge, Commander Arkeyvich laughed, a guttural sound. "To think," he chuckled, "that Hood thought he wouldn't have any dissension within his ranks. Comms, what are our orders?"
"Signal incoming now from Admiral Hackett now, Sir," came the reply.
The bearlike skipper chomped down on his cigar. "How convenient. Put him through."
Within a few seconds, the voice of Admiral Steven Hackett was rasping over the ship's comm system. "All ships, this is Admiral Hackett: the leashes are off. All ships are free to search-and-destroy at their leisure."
Arkeyvich grinned. "Helm, you heard the man! Flank speed! Gunnery, arm all cannons, and Archer pods Alpha through Delta! Fire as you bear! This is it!"
Rather unproffessional whoops of joy filled the bridge as Rodger Young hurtled into action. From the security foyer, Captain Fred Snyder shook his head. "Sergey, my Marines will be locked and loaded if you want to initiate boarding action."
A dismissive wave was all the answer he got. Shaking his head in disgust, Snyder took his leave."
On Shadow of Intent's bridge, Easley's hologram wheeled on Harper and Hood. "How did the hell did they find us?"
"Speak for yourself," said Harper, turning to face Hood. "I'll be on El Alamein, Terrence."
"Go," said Hood, already peering over the the tactical officer's shoulder. "This is going to be a slugging match...we'll need all the firepower we can muster."
Shadow of Intent's ready room was a spirited morass as Hocus and Shilds stepped through the door, the chatter of the pilots gearing up washing over them. One of them, a thickset man with a blonde crew cut, stiffened. "ROOM TENCH-HUT!"
"Carry on," said Hocus.
Shilds scanned the room for their crew chief. "LT, where's Sergeant Nomuri?"
"Couldn't make it," said a new voice from behind him.
Shilds cocked his eyebrow. "Isn't this forbidden turf for you?"
Hocus swivelled around to see Pete Stacker leaning against a locker, suited up in full marine battle armor. "Maybe so, but Hood wanted me to come in here anyway. I got some bad news."
Kilo 023's flight crew looked at each other. Hocus spoke first. "Oh?"
Stacker nodded. "No need for Pelicans in this slugging match. Haul ass to the bridge, he wants you to help oversee the fighter offensive."
Shilds frowned. "What about you?"
A hardness spread over the face of the veteran NCO. "Ordinarily," he said, his Southern USA twang growing more pronounced, "I'd be commanding security units in case we're boarded. But this being an Elite ship, I'm in charge of reserve forces."
"So you'll be on the bridge with us, then?" asked Hocus.
"That's right. Let's move."
"Helm, bring us about to heading zero-three-three, all ahead flank speed. Comms, contact the rest of the RRTF and tell them to standby for the Stanforth Slash."
Both Magellan's helmsman and chief communications officer nodded. "Will do, Sir," said the latter.
Easley nodded, then rounded on the tactical officer. "What in Hell are we looking at here, Taggar?"
The other danced his fingers across the keyboard, a stricken look spreading across his face. "Five corvettes, three frigates, one carrier, three cruisers. Looks like ONI really wants us dead."
"Hold your opinion unless asked for it," said Easley. "Captain Manoro, how's my ship?"
Magellan's thickset master, standing at parade rest by the tactical plot, grinned. "No damage so far. We're in position to commence the Stanforth Slash."
"Good," said Easley. "We'll take the point. Hinrichsen?"
The comms officer looked up from his console. "Sir?"
"Send a message to the RRTF," said Easley, submitting to the urge to light a cigarette. "Stanforth Slash: execute."
On the bridge of El Alamein, Harper snorted. "Easley's got more balls than I thought," he growled around his omnipresent cigar.
His XO snorted. "Give the Air Force credit, Sir, they don't make 'em better."
"Indeed...well, we'd best be ready to exploit their victory. Comms, signal the Home Guard to break into attack formation. Helm, I want us on point. RRTF's not gonna leave much but what they do miss is ours."
"Admiral Harper," sang out the tactical officer. "RRTF is executing the Stanforth Slash."
The RRTF had formed up into a single massive line, surging forward towards the enemy formation. The narrow cross section of Easley's formation made it less likely for hostile fire to hit multiple craft, and their course---right through the center of the enemy fleet---made it collateral damage amongst the ONI task force a practical inevitability.
"Sir," said the tactical officer. "New contacts on the tactical screen...Shadow of Intent has deployed her Seraph squadrons."
The XO cocked an eyebrow at Harper. "Seems like Hood's got a pair too."
Harper wheeled on his second. "Seems like we'd best prove that we possess some as well. Gunnery, arm our Shivas, firing solution on the Rodger Young...let's remind ONI that we know where they live."
Rodger Young shuddered as the last of the RRTF hurtled past her viewport. Commander Arkeyvich braced himself against the tactical officer's console, spitting out the tobacco juice he had swallowed from his cigar. "Sitrep!"
The XO, Tranton, had somehow managed to retain his annoyingly upper-class British accent even amongst all the stress. "All Archer pods have been expended. Main batteries down to sevent-five percent ammo, point-defense down to sixty-five. We've taken hits all over the hull---"
"Give me the important parts!" Arkeyvich spat, mentally damning his second in command.
Tranton, amazingly, complied. "We're still in fighting shape, Sir."
Arkeyvich nodded. "Good. Communications! Has the Admiral issued any new orders?"
"Yes Sir, he's ordering us to stand off and trade blows. We are not, repeat are not to take the fight to Hood."
"What? That's ridiculous!"
"Sir," broke in the tactical officer, "we're about even in terms of numbers and some of Hood's contingent are Covie ships. The Admiral knows what he's doing."
The corvette's bearlike skipper snarled. "Maybe, but that doesn't mean I have to like it. Helm, station-keeping thrusters, hold us here. Gunnery, hit 'em with what we've got left from our Archers and MAC guns."
On Shadow of Intent's bridge, Hood surveyed the tactical board and shook his head. "We can hold them, heck, we can probably beat them...but what's the point?"
Senior Chief Grath, brooding melancholily over the tactical plot, shook his head. "Seems to me, Sir, that we'll have given ONI a bloody nose at the expense of power, fuel, ammo, and lives...and all we'll have accomplished is to make Parangosky madder at us."
"Good thing our opposing commander decided to stand off and slug it out, then. Comms! Relay jump coordinates to Harper and Easley, instruct them to slip out as soon as they can."
The senior Pelican pilot, who had been quietly observing the tactical plot, looked up. "All birds are aboard."
"Sir," broke in the comms officer. "RRTF and Terran Home Guard confirm reception of jump coordinates...RRTF is slipping out now."
Hood nodded. "And Harper?"
The tactical officer nodded. "Slipping out by groups...El Alamein has not activated her slipspace drives yet."
Grath frowned. "Covering his men's retreat...sounds like Harper."
"Yes, but he's got something else in---"
"Radiological alert, Sir!" exclaimed the tactical officer. "El Alamein's arming Shivas, Sir!"
Grath's face was an eloquent study in dismay. "Oh shit..."
"Dammit Ted," said Hood, "you just took this over the line."
"El Alamein has fired, Sir!" said the tactical officer. "Jumped as well, Sir."
"Helm," said Hood, "get us the hell out of here."
"Aye Sir...executing jump."
Hood and Grath braced themself against the sudden acceleration, then---
"Sir!" shouted the engineering officer. "Catastrophic failure of our Slipspace drives!"
Hood stared. "You have got to be kidding me."
"Enemy ships are standing off," said the tactical officer.
Grath shook his head. "Admiral, they're waiting for something..."
"Indeed," said Hood, "but damned if I know what."
In the troop bay of Longsword bomber Delta 49, the Master Chief surveyed his squad. The lot of them were ONI, clad in the reconnaisance armor of Section One operatives. There was none of the ribald pre-mission chatter so endemic amongst the UNSC Marines; each and every one sat, weapon in hand, all grim purpose.
The pilot's voice crackled over the ship's intercom. "Cortana's false transponder signal worked; we're approaching the hangar now. ETA less than one minute. Best of luck to you, Chief."
A comm click from the Chief was the only response he got.
One of the ONI troopers, a Petty Officer 1st Class according to the data Cortana superimposed on the Chief's HUD, stirred himself. "Any last minute orders, Master Chief?"
The Chief shook his head. "Negative. We land, smash our way to the bridge, capture Hood."
"Not subtle," said the other somewhat reflectively, "but simple. Less can go wrong that way."
"Ten seconds!" cried the pilot.
"Stand to," said the Master Chief, yanking the charging lever of his assault rifle.
The ONI troops hefted their armored figures out of their drop seats, loading their submachine guns and prepping their armor systems. Inside his helmet, the Chief frowned: the tilt of their helmet indicated they were talking to one another, but he couldn't hear anything. A private comm frequnecy. "Cortana?"
Her honeyed tones confirmed his suspicion. "Lots of comm traffic on local ONI channels, Chief."
"Let them know that we need to be on the same frequency...we can't complete the mission if they're expecting a shot in the back."
"Will do, Chief."
A grim look spread over Stacker's face. "Unidentified Longsword landing inside the starboard hangar, Sir. Security teams engaging now. I'm gonna put 'em on speaker if you don't mind."
"Do it," said Hood.
A brief pause, then---
"The demon! It's the demon!"
Silence abruptly fell on the bridge, save for the chatter of the Elite security units.
"First, Second and Third Lances, concentrate fire on the Demon! All others, suppress the remaining humans!"
"He is too powerful, Commander, we cannot---agh!"
"All units, fall back. We will trap them in the corridors."
The speaker clicked, then went silent. Stacker winced.
Hood inhaled a long, slow breath, then turned to face his two senior enlisted men. "Senior Chief---Don---I want you to hold here." The stricken look that had blossomed in the man's eyes at the use of his first name went unnoticed. "Pete, take command of the counterboarding units. Scramble every Marine and Elite warrior on this ship. If the Chief's aboard, we'll need them."
Stacker drew his pistol, racking the chamber. "Roger that, Sir."
"Clear!" announced the ONI point man.
The Chief waved his men forward into the purple-lit hallway. "Stay sharp...there has to be more."
One of the ONI troopers, the PO1 who'd been bold enough to address the Chief, waved his men into an arrowhead formation. Panning their submachine guns across the corridors, each and every nook and cranny was swept for a threat.
"Cross-corridor ahead," muttered the point man. "Blast doors are open. Orders, Chief?"
The AI's voice sounded slightly strained. "I'm not picking anything up...it looks all clear, at least."
"My armor sensors aren't getting anything either," said the PO1.
"Alright, then," said the Chief. "Advance."
The ONI squad moved up, their boots clanking faintly against the deckplates. The point man leaned towards the open blast door---and let out a yelp as it hissed shut.
Two seconds later, a background noise disappeared from the Chief's perception.
It took him precisely a second longer to realize that the hangar's magcon field had been deactivated.
It took him no time at all to realize that the shit had well and truly hit the fan.
"Venting atmosphere in the vicinity of the starboard hangar bay, Sir," announced Grath over the howl of the decompression alarm.
"Deactivate those alarms," growled Hood. "Good work, Don. Pete?"
Stacker's voice crackled over the speakers. "Standing by. No problems on our side."
"Stand fast," said Hood. "I doubt the Chief will be going down that easily."
Cortana moved fast; as soon as the MJOLNIR armor's sensors had detected the decompression, she had magnetized his bootplates, just as the Chief had grabbed hold of the nearest stanchion.
The ONI troopers weren't as lucky; the talkative PO1 was first out into the void, screaming horribly over the comm, with five more following in close order. The remained six followed the Chief's example, howling for dear life.
The Chief was not pleased with the lack of proffessionalism. "Belay that noise! Cortana, can you seal the hangar?"
"Standby," she replied. "Penetrating security layers now..."
"Hurry it up," growled the Spartan. "We don't have much---"
"Got it!" she announced. "Hangar sealed."
The Spartan and the remaining members of his ONI squad clung to their respective anchors until the rush of escaping air had completely died away. "Check your gear," growled the Chief.
"We're good, Master Chief," said one of the ONI troopers. "You?"
The Chief reached to unclip his assault rifle from his backplate. "Assault rifle's gone, but that's alright. I've been trained in hand-to-hand."
If the ONI troopers' faces were visible, their looks would've been rather scared-looking. "Uh...roger, Master Chief."
Pete Stacker had never been one for literature, but he knew irony when he saw it.
I've been with the Chief on two Halos, the Ark, and now he's going to kill me. He probably won't even recognize me...he never really cared for any of us besides Avery...
His thoughts were interrupted by a banging sound from the other side of the corridor junction.
Turning to face his squad, he made sure his vacuum suit was secure. The thing was damned bulky, but it certainly beat sucking vacuum. "Alright boys and girls, you know what we're up against, but you also gotta know he's human like the rest of us! That fancy armor of his only has enough air for 90 minutes, so we just have to hold him off for that---"
That was when the door imploded and gunfire poured through.
"Weapons-free, light 'em up!" barked the Gunny. "Don't let 'em through!"
The rattling of the Marines' submachine guns was strangely muted through the vac suits' facebowls, but the comm relayed every sound Stacker's team made:
"I'm out, reloading."
"I still can't see anything, Sarn't!"
"Put on your IR Marine, switch to IR!"
"Suit breach, suit breach! Sealing---gah!"
Stacker slammed a new mag into his submachine gun and punched his comm online. "Hold the line, dammit, hold the line! Anyone gets a suit breach, fall back and let your buddy take your place!"
"No good, Gunny! There's too many!"
"Marine, our orders are to hold, so we hold!"
That was when a green-armored figure charged through the door, gold-tinted visor gleaming malevolently in the light of the muzzle flashes. The Master Chief barrelled into the foremost Marine like a freight train, lifting the man bodily and hurling him into the bulkhead. The man hit face-first, his facebowl shattering. A horrific cry sounded over the comm, one that Stacker was quick to squelch.
"Alpha Team, Bravo Team, target the Chief!" cried the Gunny. "All other units, suppress those ONI troopers!"
Submachine guns rattled to life once more as the initial shock of the Spartan's charge dissipated. Then the Spartan hurled another vac-suited Marine into the bulkhead, this time simply breaking the man's legs and puncturing his suit.
Stacker clicked online his suit's speakers. "Dammit, Chief, I know you can hear me! Stand down! None of us here want to have to---"
The Spartan didn't bother with something as theatrical as a throw for his next victim; the Marine valiantly tried to dump his entire 48-round magazine into the armored giant. But the Spartan didn't even flinch as he smashed his gauntlet through the man's visor.
Pete Stacker had seen battle rage take many a man, and he had absolutely no desire to be anywhere near a Spartan when it happened. "Platoon, fall back, now! Grath, seal the door behind us!"
Senior Chief Grath's voice crackled back over the comm. "Roger, got you on the cams now."
"Alright boys," cried Stacker, "fall back on the bounce and swinging."
The Marines fell back in good order, maintaining suppression fire. About three-quarters of the team made it through the door.
The survivors of Charlie Team were bowled over by the body of their team leader, helpfully hurled into their midst by the Chief, who set to work taking care of the rest.
"Gunny!" came the cries over the comm. "Help!"
Stacker stared in horror at the men just on the other of the blast doors; the vac suits that had saved them now kept them bogged down. The ONI troopers and the Chief were working their way closer.
He punched the door control.
On the bridge, Senior Chief Grath muted the comm feeds from the trapped marines, a stricken look on his face. "Sir, the remainder of the platoon has fallen back."
Hood braced himself against the tactical plot; he'd suddenly gotten week-kneed. "Thank you, Don. Pete?"
Stacker's voice bore an unfamiliar emotion amongst the Southern twang: fear. "He just tore through one of my teams, Sir, I'm not sure how much longer we can hold him."
"Well, Cortana?" said Hood. "Any suggestions?"
The AI's voice contained a hint of dismay. "Of course I do, Admiral."
Grath's patience was wearing quite thin. "Then what the hell are you waiting for?"
A bit of strain had replaced the dismay. "Chief's asking me questions...I can multi-task, but it isn't the easiest thing in the world to do."
"Do what you can, Cortana," replied Hood. "Don, pull back the Marines and send up the Elites."
Grath nodded, hand already punching the 'send' button on his comm headset.
The Master Chief was grimly aware of the horrified gazes of the ONI troopers fixed on him; pummeling your way through a numerically superior force will do that to a man. But the Chief had his limits too: his shields were down, the generators shot to all hell, and he had no idea if his armor could take another firestorm like that.
Cortana's voice soothingly whispered in his ear, "Don't be too hard on yourself, Chief...they went down like Marines would want to."
Ah, she's mistaking my halt for some misgivings on the op. Even AIs aren't as good soldiers as me, it would seem...
"I'm fine, Cortana. I have my orders, and I'm going to execute them to the best of my ability. You there, Petty Officer."
One of the ONI troopers, a PO2, looked up; Chief could practically see the fear blossom through the visor. "Y-yes, Master Chief?"
"Which one of those corridors leads to the bridge?"
"Th-that one, Chief."
"One last thing," interrupted Cortana. "Chief, your armor's air tanks took a hit; you're going to have considerably less than 90 minutes to get to the bridge."
"So we move faster. Get in position to breach."
Stacker had refused to fall back with the Marines; when the replacement security unit had arrived, a full twelve-alien-strong lance of Sangheili warriors, he'd taken command. Their silver-armored Ultra commander hadn't been happy, but had handed over his men nonetheless.
A banging sound came from the blast door. Half the Elites armed their plasma pistols, the others jammed mags into their carbines.
"You'll only have one shot at this," warned Stacker, prepping his SMG.
"We'll be ready," said the Ultra.
That was when the door imploded, and a hail of gunfire and a green-armored freight train poured through. The hailstorm of plasma pistol rounds didn't so much faze the Chief as they did irritate him. The Spartan, however, did not have nearly as much of an edge in terms of hand-to-hand that he'd had with Stacker's Marines.
The Master Chief's sparring opponent suddenly let out a horrific cry and collapsed, a knife protruding from his back.
Stacker swore. "Everbody, fall back, now!" Still muttering curses to himself, he switched frequencies. "Admiral! We might hold him for a little longer, but not much. Any more tricks up your sleeve, Sir?"
Grath looked at Hood. "Sir, we're in trouble."
The Admiral made no argument. "Cortana; any help?"
"Do you have an EMP explosives?" asked the AI.
"We issue them to the security units, yes," said Grath.
Hood frowned. "Cortana, if we try to neutralize the Chief's armor with EMP weaponry...won't that kill you?"
"That's the point."
Stacker clapped a hand to the side of his vac-suit's helmet, then swore as it bounced off of his facebowl. Old reflexes die hard. "Say again, Sir, I thought you said---"
"You heard me, Pete," came Hood's voice. "Execute your orders."
The Gunny spat one last curse, then turned to face his men, now a gaggle of Elite and Marine security personnel. "Get out your EMP grenades, boys. Time for plan B."
Something slammed into the door. Various degrees of fear blossomed on everyone's faces, even the Elites. Stacker moved to squelch the rising panic. "Stand fast, gents, get those grenades ready. I'll take the door."
But Stacker had already strode forward and slapped the door control. On the other side, the Master Chief had already prepared to deal a second kick to the entrance, stopping at the unexpected opening. He wasn't caught off guard for long, though: his shoulders squared off against Stacker's, and both hands came up in a fighting stance.
Stacker raised his hands. "Sir, I'd stand fast if I were you."
But the Chief would have none of it. Growling, he took a swing at the Gunny.
Stacker would forever be keenly aware of the fact that the ORION project was the only reason he managed to dodge the blow, and even then it still managed to get him in the arm. Recovering his balance following a somewhat embarrassing spin, he gave a shout: "PRIME YOUR EMPS!"
That got the Chief to halt. "Stand down," he growled to his troopers. Then he locked his visor on Stacker. "What did you just say?"
"My boys are all packing EMP grenades, Master Chief." Stacker's eyes narrowed. "You'll be able to survive them, but what about Cortana?"
The Chief stiffened. "You wouldn't."
"What's the matter, Chief? Getting a little too attached to your gear?"
The Spartan remained silent.
Stacker stood his ground. "It's your call, Chief. Your call."