Attack on Installation 06, part 7
Posted By: Jake Trommer<firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date: 9 July 2008, 3:17 pm
Attack on Installation 06
0900 Hours, July 09, 2553 (Military Calendar)
Tharidanis System, Installation 06
The flagship Shadow of Intent, along with the rest of the Fleet of Righteous Retribution, hung above Halo Installation 06 like malevolent ornaments, blue engine drives lighting up the blackness of space.
The bridge of the flagship, too, was blue. Sangheili warriors, wearing blue and red armor, were at their appointed stations, working away. Sitting in the command chair dominating the bridge was Fleet Master Rtas 'Vadum. The Sangheili was talking to an elderly human, wearing the pristine white uniform of the UNSC Navy's Admiralty: Fleet Admiral Sir Terrence Hood.
Hood, at the moment, was not happy. Not surprising, given that he was on the ship of a warrior species that had until recently been mortal enemies with humanity, but that wasn't the reason for his unease. "Fleet Master, are you sure---"
"---That my gunners will shoot straight? Of course. But should something go wrong, I'd like to remind you, Admiral, that it was you who approved this plan. Your compatriot on the planet's surface suggested it, and you approved." 'Vadum cocked his shark-like head curiously, a surprisingly human expression. "In any event, I always thought you humans never had second thoughts about these things."
Hood shook his head. "And we used to think you Sangheili were ruthless religious fanatics without a single shred of humanity. So I think both our impressions were wrong."
'Vadum actually chuckled. "Indeed. But, in any event, the bombardment has started. It's too late for second thoughts, now."
On the bridge of the Berlin Admiral Brett Harsoth gazed out the bridge viewport as it rained outside. He shook his head. "I knew these rings were weird, but I never expected weather like this."
His bald aide, Lieutenant Freyyr, didn't look up from the after-action reports at that remark. "Most amusing, Sir," he replied, and then set to work composing a reply to Lieutenant Delckiss, who was filling in for the incapacitated Captain Kline.
Harsoth shrugged. He knew he didn't have the best sense of humor, but he did know that when the skies (rather, the fleet above them) rained down plasma fire, it was an event to be noted.
Outside the grounded cruiser, bolt after bolt from the orbiting Sangheili ships poured down, turning the plateau, the Covenant troops and vehicles on it, and any Flood still left into glass. Harsoth had heard of this technique being used against human-held planets during the Human-Covenant War, but he had had no idea how incredibly terrifying being on the receiving end of the bombardment could be. If any of the Sangheili gunners had the slightest amount of lingering resentment for humanity, a minor correction could be made to the coordinates the guns were firing at, and Harsoth and the rest of the stranded humans would cease to exist.
The door to the bridge hissed open, and Captain Kline, supported by Lieutenant Delckiss and the newly-promoted First Sergeant Anselm, staggered onto the bridge, looking very much the worse for the wear. "Alright, Admiral," said Kline. "Just because I've been comatose for the past hour doesn't mean I shouldn't know what's going on out there. Care to explain, Sir?"
Harsoth shrugged. "Not much to say, Kline. Our FTL Longsword made it back to Earth, told Lord Hood what was going on, and it looks like the Admiral managed to whistle up some Elite pals to help us out."
Kline looked at Harsoth as if been infected by the Flood. "The Elites? You're trusting the Elites? Sir, with all due respect, do you remember Reach?"
Harsoth's face become rock-hard in an instant. His most prestigious command, the supercarrier Trafalgar, had been one of the casualties of that battle. "Yes, Captain. I do. And, had I had things my way, we'd be off of this ring, and this ring itself would be the victim of a Shiva warhead bombardment. But Lord Hood is higher up on the chain of command, and he's given us his orders, and we are going to follow them to the goddamned letter! Is that clear, Captain Kline?"
The tension between the two men could have been cut with a knife and served on crackers. Kline stiffened in old parade-ground reflex, aggravated his wound, and grimaced. "Sir! Absolutely clear, Sir!"
Harsoth looked at Kline's wound. "And Captain, if you're not fit for duty, you shouldn't be on duty."
Kline actually sneered at the Admiral. "Yes Sir. I don't feel too good, at any rate." The Captain swivelled to face his second. "Delckiss, you have command."
The Lieutenant looked like someone being sent to his death. Which, for all intents and purposes, he was. "Yes Sir. First Sergeant, get the Captain to the medbay." Anselm nodded, saluted, and supported Kline as the latter staggered off the bridge. Delckiss looked at Harsoth. "Awaiting your orders, Sir."
"Good," said Harsoth. "Once the bombardment stops, we'll be getting reinforcements."
"And Marines. And ODSTs."
"Aye, Sir. When's the bombardment done?"
A final explosion sounded from outside, and Harsoth cocked a half smile. "Now."
On the bridge of the Shadow of Intent, Fleet Master 'Vadum and Admiral Hood briefed the commanding officers of the ground troops. There were three of them, and none of them ranked higher than the equivalent of a human NCO.
Commanding the UNSC Marine platoon was Gunnery Sergeant William Reynolds, a soft-spoken veteran of the Voi and Installation 00 campaigns. Reynolds had been in the Corps since Jerico VII, but hadn't truly risen to a position of prominence until events had thrust him into the path of the Master Chief, whom he had assisted in several battles.
The ODST platoon was under the command of Master Gunnery Sergeant Pete Stacker, a hard-living, hard-hitting Helljumper who hailed from the Southern USA. Stacker was one of two still-living survivors of the Installation 04 campaign, and commanded the respect and loyalty of his troops.
The final soldier, looking somewhat incongruous and even more ill at ease next to the two human NCOs, was Major Domo Usze 'Taham, leader of the 9th Sangheili Special Operations platoon, and a veteran of several anti-Flood camapaigns. He had yet to fully adapt to the new human-Sangheili alliance, and was still somewhat wary of his new allies.
"Alright," said Hood. "You've read the mission briefings. You've read the intel we have on the Halos, and you know your objectives. Secure the plateau, then report to the Berlin; Harsoth will take over from there."
'Vadum stepped forward. "Shadow of Intent will be standing by to dispatch close air support should you need it. 'Taham knows how to call in the Banshees, as do his warriors."
"Any questions?" asked Hood. Stacker raised his hand. "Go ahead, Pete."
The Master Gunnery Sergeant's face betrayed a small degree of apprehension. "Sir...how likely is it that we'll run into the Flood?"
Stacker's fireteam had all been killed on Installation 04, and the majority of the casualties had been incurred by Flood infection; the Gunny was no doubt worried about a repeat of that.
"Very likely," replied Hood. "Captain Kline has already reported casualties due to infection."
Stacker's face set. "Yes Sir. Understood, Sir."
Hood looked at the other platoon leaders. "Gunnery Sergeant? Major Domo? Questions?"
Reynolds shook his head. "Sir, no Sir."
'Taham said nothing.
Hood shrugged. "Very well, then. Stacker, get your men to the drop pods. Clear an LZ for the dropships. Reynolds, 'Taham, follow him in. Dismissed."
The two humans saluted, and 'Taham clapped his fists to his shoulders in a Sangheili salute. The three NCOs executed a crisp about-face, and left the bridge.
Hood looked at 'Vadum. The half-jawed Sangheili's face was shrouded in shadow from the blue lights on the bridge. "If there's any friendly fire from plasma rifles on this mission, Fleet Master..."
'Vadum looked uncharacteristically grim. "I understand your fears. But you need not worry. Major Domo 'Taham is disciplined; he might not like his orders, but he will follow them to the letter."
"I hope so, Fleet Master," said Hood. "I earnestly hope so."
The drop pod bays of Shadow of Intent were abuzz with activity, as the men of Stacker's ODST platoon readied themselves for a hard drop. Normally, this wouldn't be a challenge, but the ODSTs were normally not using Sangheili Orbital Insertion Pods. Stacker's men had gotten a manual translated into English from the ONI spooks attached to this operation, but the Master Gunnery Sergeant had his doubts over the species compatibility. For one thing, ODSTs were used to sitting down during their drops; the design of the Elite OIP dictated that the occupant had to be standing the whole time. Furthermore, the occupants of the crafts were kept in stasis fields for the duration of the drop, so the marginal AI assigned to operate each craft had total control of the pods. Neither Stacker, nor his troops, relished being helpless in a coffin-shaped box falling from orbit. But that wasn't too out of the ordinary for the ODSTs; for all its familiarity, an HEV really didn't offer that much more control over one's fate.
Gunnery Sergeant Reynolds walked up to Stacker. He didn't salute, which was a rather severe breach of protocol, but Stacker let hos fellow Gunny's indiscretion slide. "What is it, Reynolds?"
Reynolds' expression, as it had been since the Voi campaign, was grim and resigned. "Just wanted to let you know the Pelicans and Phantoms are good to go, Sir. Hocus isn't too keen about another campaign on a Forerunner installation, but she'll do her job."
Stacker nodded. "Good to hear, Will." He lowered his voice. "How's your squid-head pal doing?"
Reynolds' face, if that was even possible, grew grimmer. "He's told me he doesn't care much for working with us, but he'll do his job. And his second doesn't seem to mind as much."
Stacker nodded. "All right, then. Get your people ready. Dismissed."
The other Gunnery Sergeant walked off, leaving Stacker alone with his thoughts and memories. Three times the Gunnery Sergeant had fought on a Forerunner installation. Three times Stacker had lost a close friend. On the first Halo, the whole of Fireteam Zulu had been killed. On Delta Halo, Staff Sergeant Marcus Banks had been infected by the Flood. And on the Ark, the unthinkable had happened: Avery had died.
Stacker shook his head. Like most of the other Marines assigned to the ORION detachment, Stacker had considered Staff Sergeant Avery Johnson to be larger than life; invincible. And he was. Or rather, had been. Avery had survived Harvest, Sigma Octanus, Reach, two Halos. He'd been the consummate survivor, a bold and daring leader. He'd been Stacker's friend.
So when what was left of the Forward Unto Dawn had shown up at Earth with only the Arbiter on board, Stacker had actually gone up to the Elite warrior-leader, and asked him what had happened to Avery. Stacker had been surprised when the Arbiter answered him, but he had been even more surprised by what had happened to Avery.
He'd been killed by the Forerunner robot that had tagged along with the Elite fleet that had headed to the Ark.
Stacker had left without waiting for the Arbiter's explanation why the robot had killed him.
So here he was, about to go to another Halo ring, and Stacker couldn't help but wonder whether or not this would be the battle in which he would finally get to see Avery again.