What Once was Ours, chapter 4
Posted By: Jake Trommer<firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date: 11 December 2009, 1:28 am
What Once was Ours
1560 Hours, July 14, 2553 (Military Calendar)
Sydney, Outside UNSC HIGHCOM facility
Day Two of the Admiralty Insurgency
The two seniormost men in the UNSC Army stalked out of the underground complex that housed the High Command. Both looked miserable.
General Don Hanson, clad in the All Environment Camo battledress of his service, tugged off his beret and ran a hand through his head. It came back sweat-soaked. "Son of a bitch. Why'd we have to wear our berets again?"
Command Sergeant Major Bill Duke shot a wry look at the General. "Same reason we have to send our lads to hunt down Hood."
Hanson chuckled. "Because Margaret said so, right?"
"Count your blessings, Sir," said Duke. "At least she didn't have her lapdog shoot us for wearing our AECs."
The General shook his head. "I will never understand why he went over to ONI, poor Pershing never told us why."
"Must've made him an offer he couldn't refuse, Sir..."
"No, I don't think so," replied Hanson. "I worked with Ackerson on several different occasions, he never struck me as being in this for the money. He seemed like quite the idealist, actually."
The Sergeant Major gaped. "Well something must've happened to him, Sir. The Ackerson I know certainly isn't an idealist."
"Agreed. Margaret must've shown him something."
Duke shrugged. "While this amateur psychology is rather interesting, Sir, I'm more worried about what she's going to show to us."
Hanson tapped the unit patch on the shoulder of his AECs: it was shaped like skull with red filling the inside, the number 66 on the center. "Before I was getting swivel-chair spread, Sergeant Major, I was an officer in the 66th Shocktroopers."
Looking suitably impressed, Duke nodded. "The Bloody Buckets."
"Indeed. And if there's one thing the Bloody Buckets don't do, it's go down without a fight."
On the bridge of the carrier Magellan, Colonel Marcus Easley gazed out the viewport, hands clasped behind his back. Slipspace certainly made for an interesting sight. "Navigation, how long until we reach Chi Ceti IV?"
"Five minutes, Colonel," replied the nav officer.
Easley nodded. "Captain Manoro."
The skipper of the carrier advanced up to the task force commander. "Sir?"
"Poll the task force. I want our first strike against ONI to go off without a hitch."
The normally buoyant officer looked suitably serious. "Yes Sir. Will do."
Easley resumed staring out at the chaos.
"Commander Arkeyvich? All units are refitted and onboard, Sir."
Sergey Arkeyvich, commander of the frigate Rodger Young, shot a look at his XO. "So that spook got what he needed, and we got some more guns and ammo to boot. Understood, Lieutenant Commander," he grunted around the gnawed stub of a Sweet William cigar. "Begin preparations to depart Chi Ceti IV."
"Already on it, Sir," replied Lieutenant Commander Tranton in the clipped tones that so irritated his skipper. "We'll be ready to depart in around five to ten minutes."
The bearlike naval officer spat on the deck. "Good. Dismissed."
"Two minutes to realspace entry!" sang out the nav officer.
"All sections, report," barked Easley.
"Fighter ops, ready."
"Ground ops, ready."
A smile slowly spread across Easley's face. "I read the call board as clear, then. General quarters. Good luck."
"Slipspace tunnel fragmenting!"
Several ONI refitting stations and ships---frigates and corvettes for the most part, which the combined units of the Rapid Response Task Force were more than a match for---resolved themselves against the background of deep space, silhouetted against a white planet: Chi Ceti IV.
"Have the commanders break by groups and engage at their discretion," said Easley against the background of alarms that had sounded. "Have our guns and fighters target their refitting stations."
Like a cobra unveiling its threat display, the RRTF split up into several disparate units: one frigate group, one corvette group and the Magellan and her two corvette escorts. Guns and missile pods roared to life almost immediately, their deadly payloads shooting through the void.
At the tactical officer's station, a visual from the refitting station cluster showed several objects floating away from them. "Stations are deploying mines, Sir!" shouted the tactical officer.
"All ahead flank speed," barked Easley. "Get us inside their perimeter. Hit it, helm!"
Fire lept from the carrier's engines and she surged forward like a bullet.
"Contact, contact!" cried Rodger Young's tactical officer. "It's the RRTF!"
"Easley," growled Arkeyvich. "Sound general quarters. Spin up our Slipspace drives...get us out of here before they target us."
His XO nodded. "Yes Sir."
On the bridge of Magellan, the tactical officer blinked surprisedly. "Colonel! A frigate is fleeing the battle!"
"Not standing to fight? Curious. Let's see what we can find out from them, Hinrichsen. Fighter operations, order all fighters to pursue."
The officer of that vocation tapped a few quick commands into his console. "Fighters are away!"
Easley nodded. "Good. Tactical, report."
"Group One's corvettes have engaged an enemy frigate detachment, they're in trouble. Recommend we send some bombers to help. Group Two's frigates are engaging an enemy corvette-frigate combined group, they're holding their own."
"Dispatch some bombers to help Group One," said Easley, concern etched all over his face. "Gunnery, target those refitting stations---"
He was interrupted by a large explosion wracking the carrier's hull. "Report!"
The engineering officer spoke first, after a brief coughing fit: "Archer missile impacts off the starboard bow!"
Tactical was next: "Enemy frigate group in that direction, Sir!"
Easley was in his element now. "Bring us about. Retarget our bomber squadrons---have them take those thumpers out. Gunnery: arm Archer batteries Alpha through Delta, let 'em fly."
"Archers are away, Colonel! Tracking now," replied the gunnery officer.
"Sir, report from the fighters!" called the figher ops officer. "They're having trouble getting through the anti-fighter defenses that retreating frigate has!"
"Retask a bomber squadron to help them out," declared the Colonel. "That frigate is running. I want to find out why."
Wave after wave of fighters hurled themselves at the Rodger Young like so many flies, dashing themselves against the flak barrier the frigate had erected.
"Commander, antifighter defenses are holding but we have a bomber group incoming!"
Arkeyvich wheeled on his XO. "Have gunnery intensify the forward batteries, I don't want anything getting through!"
"Done, Sir," replied Tranton after nodding at the indicated station. "Shall we trigger Archer pods?"
The animalistic naval officer considered it. "Go ahead, we can rearm later. I want pods Alpha through Zulu emptied!"
The face of the gunnery officer, who had been listening in, went pallid. "Sir, if those cruisers come after us we're screwed!"
Arkeyvich stomped over to the station, snarling, and slapped the man across the face. "Give the order!"
The other, shaken, punched several commands into his console. "Done, Sir."
"Tactical, give me an update."
"Multiple bombers still incoming...we have to get out of here now, Sir."
"Navigation, lay in the coordinates for Earth. Get us out of here!"
Two seconds later, Rodger Young disappeared into the depths of slipspace.
On the bridge of Magellan, the tactical officer winced. "Colonel Easley, the frigate has jumped into Slipspace."
"Acknowledged, Taggar," said Easley. He turned to face the carrier's commander, Captain Manoro, who had been stolidly standing by his side for the entire engagement, keeping his ship running while Easley handled the big picture. "Captain, the rest of this is a mop-up, I'll let you handle that."
The other was practically rubbing his hands together in anticipation. "With pleasure, Sir."
"Tactical, transmit everything we have on that frigate to Shadow of Intent. I think Terrence will be very interested in that..."
The Shadow of Intent's Sangheili comms officer blinked. "Senior Chief, we have a transmission from the Magellan...apparently the RRTF has found something interesting."
Senior Chief Petty Officer Donald Grath advanced on the comm station, but the Shadow if Intent's senior enlisted Sangheili, an Ordained Major Domo wearing the rarely seen purple armor of that rank, beat him there. "Elaborate."
"Visual data, Ordained Major Domo. Apparently a frigate decided to flee Easley's strike rather than stand and fight."
Grath, who by then had reached the console, nodded. "I'll see to it this gets to Lord Hood."
"Permit me to handle it, Senior Chief Petty Officer," said the senior Sangheili. "You can square away the paperwork."
Two men sat in the Rodger Young's conference room, both royally pissed off. A third man stood in the background, saying nothing.
"Lemme get this straight," growled the pugnacious Captain Snyder. "Not only did you not take the opportunity to do some damage to Hood's forces, you were the only ship to flee the battle? Why not just slap a goddam paint job on the side of the ship that says, 'Super-Secret ONI ship'?"
Arkeyvich angrily chomped on what was left of his Sweet William. "I determined it was best for our assets onboard to save ourselves."
The Marine Captain gave a sharp bark. "Let's see what those assets have to say for themselves. Master Chief?"
Spartan-117 had been standing against the conference room wall, stock-silent. At the Marine officer's question, he snapped to attention like the well-oiled machine most military personnel saw him as. "With respect, Sir, you're both right. Both of you are making good points."
The Navy officer eyed up the green-armored warrior with disdain. "That's all we're likely to get out of him," he muttered to Snyder. "Chief, dismissed."
The Spartan nodded and departed, making sure to shut the door behind him.
Snyder and Arkeyvich watched him go. "He's nothing more than a weapon," growled the Commander, his favorite mode of communication. "Once we find Hood, we can point the Chief at him and then stay the hell out of his way."
But Commander Arkeyvich was wrong; John was fighting not only his conscience and his sense of duty, but the inflections of a woman who knew him too well.
"Chief, are you going to go through with this? What about everything you and Hood have been through together?"
That did it. "Cortana, I'm a soldier. I follow orders. When someone betrays his oath, I make sure he doesn't live to set a bad example."
"Even if you know that the traitor in question is right?"
The Master Chief shook his head. "Why do I keep you around?"
"Because you wouldn't have anyone to talk to if you didn't," the AI purred.
The last Spartan-II grunted. "Maybe. But one thing I do know is that Hood wouldn't send you back with me unless you and him have a plan."
Had Cortana manifested in herself in hologram form, she'd have been grinning ear-to-ear. "Maybe. But what makes you think I'd tell you?"
"The Rodger Young," sighed Terrence Hood. "I wonder if Margaret knows what that ship means to me or if this is just the most unhappy of coincidences."
Fleet Admiral Theodore Harper frowned around his cigar. "It's just a regular frigate, right?"
Hood flashed a weary grin. "Tech-wise, yes. But she was also my first posting as an officer, back during the early brushfires of the Insurrection."
Recognition sparked in Harper's eyes. "You got boarded, right?"
Hood nodded. "I was actually the Master-At-Arms, and it fell to me to repel the boarders."
Always eager for a war story, Harper leaned closer to his longtime battle buddy. Hood winced slightly at the smell of tobacco on his fellow flag officer's breath.
"Don't tell me," said Harper. "You heroically held the line, starting your meteoric rise through the ranks?"
"Hardly," snorted Hood. "I actually made the mistake of charging the Innies, pistol in each hand."
"It's a wonder you didn't shoot yourself," said Harper, who was quite familiar with the recoil of the M6D sidearm.
The other snorted again. "I didn't have the chance. An Insurrectionist hit me with a flashbang and gut-shot me."
"It's a wonder you're still alive."
Hood nodded. "It's thanks to Master Chief Loryt I'm still here."
"The deck chief?"
"Indeed. He pulled me out of the firefight, saved my life, and took down several Insurrectionists in the process. He got a Colonial Cross for it.
Harper nodded. "Sounds like one hard-core NCO. What happened to him?"
"Dunno. He went into SPECWARCOM; haven't heard from him since."
"Alright," said Harper. "So your first command is being used as Margaret's primary operator against us. Will that be a problem?"
Hood shook his head. "She's already taken everything else I've held dear...this'll just be one thing more."