What Once was Ours, chapter 2
Posted By: Jake Trommer<firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date: 11 September 2009, 11:28 pm
What Once was Ours
1600 Hours, July 13, 2553 (Military Calendar)
Somewhere in the Trojan Asteroids
Day One of the Admiralty Insurgency
"Y'think Lord Hood's got something up his sleeve? We've been sitting here far too long if you ask me."
Lieutenant Sara Anderson, better known by her callsign of Hocus, looked at her co-pilot sitting next to her at the mess hall table and shrugged. "Frankly, Dan, I don't give much of a damn. After the action I've seen I'm happy to take a break."
Warrant Officer Daniel Shilds, fellow Kilo 023 crew member, shook his head. "We have to move as fast as possible. We're dealing with ONI here, Sara. ONI. The sooner we neutralize their capabilities, the better."
"I'm sorry to interrupt the armchair strategy session," interjected a voice with a twang hailing from what had once been the southern USA, "but is this table full?"
Hocus and Shilds looked up. Above them stood Master Gunnery Sergeant Pete Stacker, who had somehow managed to bull his way through the crowded Shadow of Intent mess hall to sit with them.
Stacker looked back, grinning, an expression that turned somewhat sheepish when he realized Hocus and Shilds were holding hands. "I'm...not interrupting anything, am I?"
"Not at all, Gunny," replied Shilds, "take a seat."
The Marine availed himself of the offer and clattered down. "I'm surprised Hood didn't invite me to the meeting," he said. "Seeing as how I'm the senior enlisted man here on this ship."
"Or this fleet," remarked Shilds.
Hocus shook her head. "It's officer stuff, Gunny, don't take it personally. Us junior officers aren't much better off."
Stacker and Shilds exchanged glances. "Maybe," replied the Warrant Officer. "But Warrant Officers and enlisted men don't get swimming pools. Just gonna leave it at that."
The sole officer present at the table smiled. "Maybe, but---" Hocus's eyes abruptly widened. "Admiral on---"
Fleet Admiral Theodore Harper, smilingly amiably around a cigar, waved her down. "At ease, before the whole mess hall realizes I'm here."
Stacker eyed up Harper's old US Navy uniform, which was made in the now-obsolete blue digital camoflauge pattern. "Wearing that, it's not gonna take too long."
The flag officer grinned, and pulled up a chair. "Now, I know you're enjoying your R and R after what happened on that Halo ring, but we need your help."
Kilo 023's crew glanced at each other. "Sir?" asked Shilds.
Harper leaned in close to Hocus and Shilds. "Lord Hood wants to know what ONI is up to, and to do that, we need a recon mission. And to do that, we need the best Pelican crew we can muster."
"Don't we have fighters for that purpose?"
The Admiral withdrew a lighter from his pocket and lit up. After a few contented puffs, he fixed Hocus with a piercing stare. "We do, Lieutenant, but they don't have the gear we need. Not enough room. A Pelican, on the other hand..."
Shilds' narrow face contorted. "You want us to recon Earth?"
Harper chuckled. "Seeing as how we all lived there and fought for it, I don't think we need much recon. No, we just need you to sit in orbit for as long as you can, intercept comm chatter and data, then bang out once you've outstayed your welcome."
"Uh, Sir," put in Hocus, "Pelicans don't have slipspace drives."
"Don't worry, Lieutenant, we have your back on this. The frigate Adriatic will be dropping you off in far Earth orbit. After a day or so, we'll have a ship pick you up."
"Sorry to interrupt," put in Stacker, "but why d'you need to talk to me?"
Harper's grin grew wider. "Well, Lord Hood thinks that at some point we might need to take the fight to ONI..."
The corvette Rodger Young plowed her way through space, roving forth on her voyage to annihilate Admiral Hood and his command.
In the ship's conference room, Navy and Marine personnel stood at attention behind the round table. The conference room had been painted a soothing blue, intended to call to mind the UNSC Navy's seagoing heritage and put at ease the room's occupants. It didn't help much.
Nor did the entrance of the corvette's senior Marine officer. The burly Captain Snyder spat out "seats", and then sank down into his chair.
No one had noticed the black-uniformed officer who had entered the room behind Snyder. The man was pale, with bulging eyes, and his uniform bore no insignia, rank or branch, nor nametape. "Good morning gentlemen."
The assembled officers and senior enlisted men mumbled back something that might have been a greeting.
"Where the hell do you think you are, Parris Island?" spat the corvette's skipper, the bear-like Commander Sergey Arkeyvich. "We're trained officers and enlisted men waiting for a briefing, not recruits needing moto nonsense."
"My apologies, Commander Arkeyvich," said the officer. "Captain Snyder, shall I commence the briefing?"
The Marine officer, a grim look on his pugnacious face, motioned to begin.
"Gentlemen, as I'm sure you know, Admiral Terrence Hood, former Chairman of the UNSC, has gone rogue. Fleet Admiral Harper and the Terran Home Guard, along with Colonel Marcus Easley and the Rapid Response Task Force, have defected to his cause. ONI has given us orders to locate them."
Arkeyvich fished around in his uniform tunic's breast pocket, grabbed a pungent Sweet William cigar, and rammed it into his mouth. "That's all well and good, but what do we do when we find them?"
The unidentified officer gave the almost-smile again. "Send word to Earth...we'll take care of the rest."
[Rodger Young]'s skipper furrowed his brow. "We?" growled Arkeyvich. "We who?"
The officer's smile disappeared. "You don't need to know. Are there any other questions?"
A thin, rather rat-faced blond-haired officer raised his hand. The unidentified officer nodded. "You, Lieutenant-Commander---"
"Tranton, Sir," replied the other with a rather strong British accent. "I'm the XO---"
"You had a question."
Arkeyvich grinned at Captain Snyder upon hearing Tranton getting knocked down a peg; evidently he did not much care for his second in command.
"Sir, who will be backing us up on this?"
The officer didn't even miss a beat. "Admiral Stanley Hackett, commanding officer Third Fleet."
"Any other questions?"
There were none.
The officer looked at Snyder, who stood. "Alright, dismissed. Commander Arkeyvich, please stay here."
As the briefing room emptied, the senior Navy officer approached the senior Marine officer. "What is it, Captain?"
"You and your XO...we're not going to have a problem there, are we?"
The hulking skipper spat, the tobacco-stained fluid staining the conference room's blue carpet. "He's the goddamned epitome of a goddamned career officer. He's ambitious beyond belief, and with just barely enough talent to counterbalance it."
Snyder frowned. "He seems competent to me."
"He's got his eyes on my oak leaves, you mark my words."
The Marine Captain's patience abruptly ran out. "Look, I don't give a damn how you squids feel about each other, or the politics you wankers play. So long as you do your job, and he does his, I don't give a damn what rank isnignia he wants. Alright?"
Arkeyvich angrily clamped his jaws down on his cigar. Around it, he growled, "so be it, Captain. But when he trades our lives for his career, just remember that I warned you."
And with that, he departed, leaving a very irritated Snyder.
The Arbiter's office in the UNSC High Command building had intitially been constructed to human levels of comfort. According to legend, upon seeing the furnishings, the Arbiter had proceeded to hack them to smithereens with his energy sword. He had then given the terrified technicians the specs for his ideal working space.
It was now a spartan room, sparsely appointed, with only a utilitarian desk and chair. The only concession made to decoration was a helmet hanging on a stand---the age-old helmet that had been worn by the first Sangheili appointed as Arbiter, and now worn by the current one.
Surveying his computer's messages, he came across one from an unidentified sender. It was rather cliched, if the human spy novels he had tried to read were accurate: "Package en route."
Growling, he clicked his intercom online. "Major Domo 'Taham, this is the Arbiter. Report to my office."
A few minutes later, the red-armored warrior, fresh scars from the action on Installation 06 gleaming on his face, entered the room and snapped his fists to opposite shoulders. "Major Domo 'Taham, Arbiter."
The Arbiter raised a finger, and put on his helmet. Adjusting something on his HUD, he swept his head across the room. Upon laying eyes on the stand for his helmet, he growled.
"Arbiter...?" asked 'Taham, cocking his head.
Still growling, the Sangheili leader approached the helmet stand. In one fell swoop, he drew his sword and sliced it across the stand.
'Taham looked quizzically at his leader.
The Arbiter closed the door. "Spying devices...sometimes I believe that the humans will never come to trust us."
"Yet we persevere..." said 'Taham in a resigned voice.
"Take heart," replied the Arbiter, "for there are those who still have faith in us. And it is those people that I require you to help."
'Taham spread his mandibles. "I am listening."
"A human ship under the allegiance of Lord Hood will be arriving in Earth orbit shortly to perform an intelligence mission. As this ship is not Slipspace capable, they have requested one of our corvettes extract them. This will be done under the guise of a routine patrol."
"And the corvette's crew?"
"Handpicked and completely loyal, and sympathetic to Lord Hood's cause."
'Taham smacked his hands against his shoulders once more. "It will be done, Arbiter."
Stacker walked into the wardroom in Shadow of Intent that had been adopted as the Admiral's Quarters, halted, and executed a parade-ground perfect salute.
Sir Terrence Hood, bald head bowed over a laptop, looked up at his senior enlisted man's entry. "At ease, Pete."
As Stacker snapped to, a chuckle sounded from the room's second occupant. Admiral Harper was reclining in Hood's office chair, booted feet up on the desk. "Stop being such a tin soldier, Master Guns. At rest."
Stacker relaxed, and Hood turned to face the room's third and final occupant. "Senior Chief, close the door."
The omnipresent Donald Grath, looking slightly less put-upon than usual, did so.
"Gentlemen," said Hood, "I've called you here to find out how the enlisted members of my...fleet, for lack of a better term, are doing."
Senior Chief Grath frowned. "Sir, what about the Elites."
Hood's face hardened. "Senior Chief, if there's one thing I've learned since the war, it's to not meddle with the affairs of Elite crew members. Now report."
Grath stiffened to the position of attention. "Crew morale is good, Sir, but it'll be better once we've taken the fight to ONI."
The ex-Chairman nodded, and turned to face his senior enlisted Marine. "What about you grunts, Pete?"
Stacker snapped to attention, armor plating clacking. "The Marines I've tocked to are locked, cocked, and ready to rock, Sir!"
Harper, feet still up on Hood's desk, actually fell over backwards laughing. He hit the floor with a dull thud, still laughing fit to burst. "Jesus, Terrence, I thought you told me this guy wasn't one of the tin-soldier types!"
Hood quirked a small smile. "I think having two Admirals in the room might have him a bit on edge. Pete, at ease."
The staff NCO relaxed. "Yes Sir. Although that is the situation...my men are raring for a fight, Sir."
The two Admirals exchanged glances. "You might just get that, Pete, and sooner than you think."