Attack on Installation 06, part 24
Posted By: Jake Trommer<email@example.com>
Date: 16 July 2009, 11:46 pm
Attack on Installation 06
2330 Hours, July 09, 2553 (Military Calendar)
UNSC HIGHCOM headquarters, Sydney, Australia
Walking into the meeting room for the UNSC's HIGHCOM always made Colonel James Ackerson nervous.
Walking into it with Admiral Parangosky on the eve of her long-planned coup d'etat made him feel like there was a dogfight going on his stomach.
I have to do this, he thought to himself. I have to. If I don't, the UNSC will collapse into anarchy, humanity will be easy pickings for the Covenant...
The thin justifications running through his head did little to improve Ackerson's conviction.
In Admiral Hood's absence, Parangosky had been made interim Chairwoman of the UNSC, but Parangosky had no intention of keeping that modifier to her title. So far as Ackerson could understand the inscrutable chief of ONI, Parangosky felt that she would do a better job of protecting the UNSC than Lord Hood.
Or, the Colonel reflected to himself, she's finally found a way to achieve ambitions she's kept secret from all of us.
Parangosky paused in front of the door to the HIGHCOM's conference room, inhaled once, and pushed the door open with all the bravado her ancient-looking frame could muster. Ackerson followed, one hand cautiously resting on the butt of his pistol.
The remaining members of HIGHCOM, having already received Parangosky's memo declaring her to be Chairwoman, wore various expressions of shock, awe, and on one or two, outrage.
The Arbiter, seated at the far end of the table, looked almost as angry as he had when Parangosky had revealed to him the circumstances of Half-Jaw's death, if not more so. His eyes were lit up with pure hatred, and his mandibles gnashed audibly.
Admiral Tim "MAC Gun" McDonald, Chief of Naval Operations, bore a sad look on his round face, as if he'd been expecting this day to come for some time now.
General of the Army Daniel Pershing bore a look of pure hatred on his face for Parangosky, but when he saw Ackerson enter the room, a hint of betrayal crossed over it.
No, thought Ackerson. More than a hint...I was once the poor man's protégé before I went into ONI...
Last but not least was Nicolaus Strauss, Commandant of the UNSC Marine Corps, who'd finally received his second two stars after the end of the war. Strauss bore an expression grimmer than it had been during the human-Covenant War; no doubt he had some inkling of the Orwellian horrors lurking in the back of Parangosky's mind.
Parangosky came to a halt at the end of the table, and surveyed her new subordinates. "Gentle...beings, I presume you've read the memo?"
"Damn right we have, Marge!" Pershing spat. "And we're not going to stand for it!"
Affecting an aura of unconcerned politeness, Parangosky merely asked, "Oh, really?"
The man descended from one of the former USA's two six-star generals would not back down that easily. "Yes. Really."
Parangosky simply shot Ackerson a look. The Colonel nodded.
Ackerson respected Pershing, but the choice was no choice at all. In a flash, he drew his pistol, brought the barrel in line with Pershing, and dumped three rounds into the General.
Red holes blossomed in Pershing's forehead and chest, and the General pitched face-first onto the conference table. The other members of HIGHCOM recoiled, all except for the Arbiter, whose eyes narrowed as he re-evaluated Ackerson.
Thinking of me as a threat now, split-chin? About damn time.
Admiral Parangosky surveyed the room's living occupants. "Do any of you have any objections?"
There was a good deal of glancing as the others selected a spokesman. Eventually, Nicolaus Strauss inhaled. "No. We're behind you one hundred percent...ma'am."
"Good," replied Parangosky. "I presume no one has been able to find any legal precedent for me not to do this?"
All eyes turned to Admiral McDonald, who held the reputation of the HIGHCOM's legal expert. The CNO's eyes flicked around the room and settled on Ackerson's re-holstered M6F. "No ma'am. Nothing."
"I have a question," growled the Arbiter. "What will be done about Admiral Hood?"
Ackerson shot a questioning glance at Parangosky; that had been the one aspect of the plan she hadn't elaborated on.
"That," replied Parangosky, "remains to be seen."
"Kilo 023 to Shadow of Intent, requesting permission to land, over."
Through the cockpit canopy of her Pelican dropship, Hocus could see the Assault Carrier's cloud of Seraphs coalesce into formation like the bugs they were named for and approach Kilo 023.
The Master Chief and Warrant Officer Daniel Shilds were in the rear two seats; the Warrant Officer looked rather nervous, the Chief just looked like the Chief. "Hope the split-chins don't forget the treaty..." Shilds murmered.
A grim-sounding voice with the unsual inflections of a Sangheili speaking English crackled over the comm. "Kilo 023, this is Ship Master 'Sraom. Permission granted to land in bay three-twenty-seven, over."
Listening to the transmision, Shilds frowned. "Ship Master? What happened to Fleet Master 'Vadum?"
A cross between a death rattle and a cry sounded from the other end of the comm. "Dead," the Ship Master managed to grate out. "Killed by one of your intelligence agents."
Hocus had known of only ONI operative assigned to the Assault Carrier, and could not believe Captain Nielson would do such a thing. "Captain Nielson killed the Fleet Master?"
"Along with one of your Admirals; the other is in sick bay."
A shocked inhalation sounded in Kilo 023's cockpit. Hocus looked at Shilds, who shook his head, then, disbelievingly, at the Chief. The Spartan was actually trembling.
Then he reached for the comm board; his voice containing far more of a tremor than Hocus felt comfortable hearing in the allegedly iron-tough warrior. "Do you know which one was killed?"
'Sraom growled. "No I do not; you humans all look similar to me, especially uniformed ones. However, rumors indicate that one Admiral Harsoth has been killed, and your Lord merely gut-shot."
The Chief nodded, even though the Sangheili could not see. "Thank you."
"Yes, yes," replied the Ship Master. "Now will you land, or shall you be continuing to tie up approach vectors my Seraphs could be using?"
"Sorry," replied Hocus. "We're on our way."
He was floating in a dream state, and he knew what that meant. As usual, the parade of comrades long since deceased had started.
Lieutenant-Commander Hicks, the commander of the corvette One for the Money, his first posting as Ensign, whose last words had promoted him two grades at once and given him command of the corvette. Master Chief Gunner's Mate Loryt, the skinny little deck chief of the Rodger Young, who'd sacrificed his life to defend the dreamer from Innie boarders. Gunner's Mate First Class Sanderson, Captain Fortiori...the parade went on.
They talked to him, of course. Some asked how he could've let them die. Some, particularly Hicks and Loryt, complimented him, telling him that he'd made them proud. Some just gave him a mournful look and said nothing.
The dreamer was soon aware of a new voice, one that didn't belong to any of his shipmates long gone. It was an iron-hard voice, rasping, slightly tinny-sounding, as if it was coming through a speaker. "Sir? Mission accomplished, Sir."
He knew who it was.
His dead comrades had heard the voice, too. "He needs you, son," said Hicks.
"I don't know if I can make it..."
Master Chief Loryt shot a scornful look at the dreamer. "I didn't throw myself on that grenade so you could quit on me."
"But nothing, Son," said Hicks. "He needs you."
The dreamer stiffened. "Yes Sir."
Hicks' creased face broke into a grin. "Good. Your duty is to the living, son. Not to the dead."
Fleet Admiral Sir Terrence Hood nodded once more, and the figures of his deceased comrades vanished. Above him stood a giant clad in battered green MJOLNIR armor.
"Sir, Master Chief Petty Officer Spartan One-One-Seven reporting as ordered."
Hood's face broke into a smile for the first time in far too long. "Good to see you, son. Talk to me."
"General Silva, this is Recon One. The control room is half a klick ahead of our current position."
Master Gunnery Sergeant Pete Stacker, surveying the building that housed the control room with the rest of his four-man recon team, could already see the objective, so huge was the facility. On the first Halo ring discovered, Fireteam Zulu hadn't accompanied the Chief all the way to the control center, but Stacker had read the reports: it was a tall, ziggurat-like structure, accessible through a series of switchback ramps.
Apparently, the builders of this ring hadn't gotten the memo. The facility was certainly tall, but it resembled a modern-day skyscraper more than a pyramid. Shade turrets, both the open-cockpit variant and the new ball-turret model, protruded from the facility's windows. There were no Grunts or Jackals to be seen standing sentry. Instead, a whopping twenty Hunters walked a brooding patrol, overseen by no less than six Major Domo Elites, and an unprecendented three Field Masters.
"Do you have eyes-on?" came the General's reply.
"Affirmative," Stacker replied, adjusting the gain on his borrowed sniper rifle's scope. "Looks like the Covies beat us to it."
"Number and type?" came the rather irate voice of Colonel Henderson.
Stacker gave them.
For a few seconds, there was no reply. Then, Sergeant Major Sharpe's southern twang crackled through: "Gunny, are you sure your scope's aimed at the control room and not the Covie base camp?"
Corporal Dubbo, lying prone next to Stacker, eyes pressed to his spotter's binoculars, gave a wry chuckle. "I'm thinkin' the two are one and the same, Gunny."
Stacker nodded his agreement. "Negative, Sergeant Major, this is definitely the control room, but I'm thinkin' the Covies have adapted the place for their own purposes."
"Roger," came the General's reply. "Stand by, Recon One. Out."
Dubbo yanked his eyes away from the binoculars and gave Stacker a curious look. "Thinkin' what I'm thinkin', Gunny?"
"I doubt it," replied Stacker, still observing the Covenant through the barrel of his scope. "Your thoughts are typically too far from what the rest of us call "normality"."
This time Stacker's fellow Installation 04 veteran shot him an amused glance. "Gunny, you want to talk normality? You're gettin' on forty by now, but you're still fightin' on the front line of a war against some of the most horrific aliens humanity's ever seen, despite numerous offers of an honorable discharge or a nice, safe, cushy, staff position. Any normal person would've taken one of those."
Now Stacker removed his gaze from the sniper rifle's scope. "Dubbo, can you guess my MOS from when I graduated boot camp?"
"Sure, Gunny. Oh-three-hundred, infantry."
"Right. Not some rear-echelon pogue. Infantry."
Dubbo considered it for all of a nanosecond. "Sorry, Gunny."
"No offense taken," Stacker replied. "What's the range on that gold bastard giving the orders?"
"There's one in charge?"
"Yeah, you can tell by all the heads angled his way."
Dubbo adjusted his spotter's scope, and sang out the range. "Watch the wind, Gunny, it's starting to pick up."
The voice of the AI assigned to the ODST battalion crackled over the comm. "Yes, Master Gunnery Sergeant?"
"Let General Silva know that I'm targeting the leader of the Covie defenders," said Stacker, clicking in windage on his sniper rifle's scope. "And that he can attack when ready."
"Understood," came the grim reply, which was completely in-character for the AI. "Agathon out."
"So you have the data on the Flood and the Halos? Everything Cortana and you could scrounge up from Halo and the Ark?"
The Master Chief nodded. "Yes, Admiral."
For the first time in far too long, Terrence Hood relaxed. "Job well done, Chief. Go get yourself some rest."
Hood couldn't be sure, but the Chief looked like he'd given a confused blink behind that inscrutable mirrored gold visor. "It's...it's been a while since I've had a chance to do that, Sir."
"I understand, Chief. Why don't you---"
The rare emotional moment was interrupted as a thickly built human naval NCO bearing the stripes of a Senior Chief Petty Officer skidded into the room. The man threw a salute, and glumly recited, "Lord Hood, Senior Chief Grath reporting."
"Something the matter, Chief? You look like you've seen a ghost."
"Sir...you...you have to get to the bridge."
"Any particular reason why, son?"
The naval NCO looked even more pained than before. "It's Admiral Parangosky, Sir. She'd like you to know that you're out, and she's in."
"You and the Chief had best get to the bridge, Sir. She's on the vidcomm for you."
Hood shot the Chief a look. "I think we might want to take a look at this, Chief."
The Spartan nodded.
Hood levered himself out of the hospital bed. "Alright, son," he said to the Senior Chief. "Lead the way."
"He's not going to buy it," said Ackerson.
Parangosky, sitting in front of the vidcomm in her office, shot a curious look at him. "He'll have to. I have the legal precedent."
The Colonel shook his head. For someone who relied so much on skullduggery, Parangosky was surprisingly naive when it came to the frontline soldier's adherence to rules and regs. "Admiral, he's not going to agree, to him it won't seem right---"
Ackerson was interrupted as a voice emanated from the vidcomm screen. "Well, Margaret?"
Parangosky inhaled slowly. "Terrence. Good to see you, although you look a good deal worse for the wear."
Unable to see the screen, Ackerson raised his eyebrows at Parangosky. The Admiral clicked on the screen's projector, showing Hood's face to Ackerson. The ex-Chairman of the UNSC did not look pleased.
"No thanks to you, Margaret," Hood replied. "Did you have to use poor Jonathan? I taught him, Margaret, he was one of my favorite pupils, and you send him on a mission to assassinate me? The depths that to which you will sink in order to destroy a rival are unimaginable..."
"Spare me, Terrence," snarled Parangosky. "I take it you've by now received a copy of my memorandum?"
Hood actaully chuckled. In Ackerson's experience, doing such a thing in front of Admiral Parangosky was liable to put a bullet through your brain. "Of course I have. You really think I'm going to let you get away with it?"
"You don't have a choice," growled Parangosky. "As we speak, UNSC forces are acknowledging the change of command. Why, I believe your old comrades Fleet Admiral Harper and Colonel Easley are not attempting to have it overturned..."
It was like watching a verbal clash of titans; Ackerson was so transfixed he couldn't muster the energy to make a smartass remark.
"Bullshit," Hood bluntly replied. "Ted would never go along with you, and neither will I."
Parangosky's face set. "I take it the Master Chief is with you?"
"Put him on."
Hood nodded, and moved away from the comm's pickup. The Master Chief's inscrutable helmet soon moved into the cam's field. "Ma'am, Master Chief Petty Officer---"
"Yes, yes, I know who you are," interrupted Parangosky. "Do you know what UNSC regulation two-zero-six-zero-six states?"
"Yes Ma'am, that any UNSC officer---"
"I know what it says," spat the newly instated chairwoman. "Admiral Hood, however, seems not to, because he is violating it."
Ackerson had no idea what the reg meant, but judging by how the Chief stiffened, he certainly did.
Parangosky's eyes narrowed, and a small, vaguely evil smile, crept across her face. "Then enforce that regulation, Master Chief."
The Chief twitched, then---
The Chief's acknowledgement was interrupted by the somewhat unsual occurence of the Spartan collapsing. A loud clang was heard on the other end of the comm.
Ackerson roused himself from his trance. "What the fuck?"
Hood's face reappeared on the comm, looking pleasantly surprised. "Cortana, I take it we have you to thank for this?"
A smooth female voice came from off-cam: "That's right, Admiral. What you do is up to you, but I'm not going to let him kill you."
"Excuse me," interrupted Ackerson, "but how the hell did you manage to take down the Chief?"
The unseen woman gave a distinct impression of having a sly smile. "I'm the AI for his Mjolnir armor; all I needed to do was inject him with an electrify the circuits in his armor's gel layer. He'll be unconcious for some time, though."
Hood smiled. "Alright, Cortana, good work." The Fleet Admiral turned to face the cam. "Margaret, I know better than to keep the Chief imprisoned against his will; the results tend to be fairly unpleasant. Expect a Longsword piloted by Cortana to show up at Earth sometime soon."
Hood's face abruptly hardened. "Margaret, I've tried to work with you, tried to contain your excesses for far too long. We have reached an impasse here, and believe me, we will not be seeing each other again." Hood turned to someone offscreen. "Senior Chief Grath? Send the message."
"Terrence," said Parangosky, her voice dangerously calm, "what are you doing?"
"Sending a message to the UNSC. The real UNSC, Margaret, not your thugs."
"I think you can guess. I've lingered for too long, in any event. Hood out."
The comm screen went blank.
Parangosky was still for at least a minute, unblinking, unmoving. Ackerson knew this was going to be a bad one. Finally, she spoke. "James."
"Send a message to all UNSC forces: Terrence Hood's command is to be located and terminated immediately. Any and all ships that join him are to be considered traitors and likewise eliminated. Any and all ships that locate him and do not act upon it---"
"I can guess the rest."