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What Once was Ours, chapter 5
Posted By: Jake Trommer<wedgefan@comcast.net>
Date: 18 December 2009, 12:48 am

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What Once was Ours
Chapter Five
1755 Hours, July 14, 2553 (Military Calendar)
Earth Orbit
Day Two of the Admiralty Insurgency

      Inside Pelican dropship Hotel 69, tension was the order of the day.
      "Entering orbit now," said Lieutenant Sara Anderson, better known to pretty much everyone in uniform as Hocus. "Triggering maneuvering thrusters. Agathon, have the ODPs sent us an interrogative?"
      "Negative, ma'am," replied the AI operating the Pelican's electronic warfare equipment. "I have the transponder online and ready to broadcast."
      "Here's hoping those techies did their job right," muttered Warrant Officer Daniel Shilds, from his spot in the co-pilot's seat.
      "I've quadruple-checked the transponder's frequencies and data," replied Agathon. "It is a perfect match for those of the ships permitted into Earth orbit and---"
      "That wasn't a rhetorical question, Agathon," retorted the co-pilot. He shot Hocus an irritated look; since his visor was polarized, it lost much of its effect. "I swear, conversational programming is getting worse and worse, LT."
      Hocus shrugged. "I wouldn't be so sure about that; Cortana could be quite eloquent back on the first Halo."
      "Yeah, but she was a smart AI...these guys..." Shilds made a masturbatory gesture.
      "So long as he does his job, we don't have anything to worry about," said Hocus, grinning behind her visor. "Besides, Agathon frees us up to do...other things."
      "Whoa there," said the Warrant Officer, rather unfamiliar in his role as the restrained member of the relationship. "We're not even---"
      "Interrogative received from Cairo Station," interrupted Agathon, "answering now."
      Silenced reigned in the cockpit for three minutes. Then---
      "We are approved to enter Earth orbit, Lieutenant Anderson. Activating electronic warfare gear now. I believe I can take it from here, ma'am," came the voice of the AI.
      Shilds' visor depolarized, revealing an ear-to-ear grin. "Is that offer still available?"
      Hocus did likewise with her helmet, revealing a more solemn expression. "Whoa there, flyboy," she replied.
      The other chuckled. "Looks like the dynamics of this relationship have been restored to normality."
      "Quiet, you. Agathon? Are you sure you can handle things?"
      "Yes Ma'am."
      Hocus swivelled to face Shilds. She was now wearing the same grin as her co-pilot.


      On the bridge of the carrier Magellan, Colonel Marcus Easley stood gazing out at the wreckage of one of the ONI refitting stations in orbit over Chi Ceti IV and shook his head disgustedly. "How the hell does that thing still have power, let alone lifesigns aboard?"
      The tactical officer looked up from his console. "She got schwacked early on by a salvo from Group One; they then came under fire from a frigate group so they decided to leave it be."
      Easley nodded. "Well, now we have to mop this up the hard way."
      The sound of bootheels clicking against the polished metal deck became audible, and a man of average height walked onto the bridge. His goateed face bore a sharply defined scar over one eye, and his rifle and armor bore the scratches, grit and scarring of innumerable campaigns. The man came to a halt in front of Easley and snapped off a parade-ground sharp salute: "Master Gunnery Sergeant Pete Stacker, reporting as ordered Sir."
      Easley returned the salute. "At ease, Gunny. It's been a long time, Pete."
      "Yes Sir, it has," said Stacker, grinning. "I think the last time we saw each other was when I saved you from that Elite boarding party."
      "I had hoped you wouldn't bring that up," chuckled Easley. "I think I have another mission for you."
      The grin disappeared from the Gunny's face as he stiffened back to attention; he was once again the all-business NCO. "I'm listening, Sir."
      Easley jerked a thumb over his shoulder in the direction of the viewport, where the wreckage of the refuelling station was still visible. "See that station? There's still lifesigns and power aboard. I want you to get in there and ransack the computer systems, dig up whatever dirt you can on ONI."
      It didn't take a genius to note the exception to the battle plan. "And if we encounter any UNSC forces aboard, Sir?"
      A small exhalation was all Easley could do to indicate the distaste he felt for this; he was locked behind the mask of command, and he couldn't afford to let subordinates see him second-guessing himself. "Try and get them to stand down...if you can't---"
      Stacker nodded. "I can guess the rest."


      Magellan's Marine complement was already suiting up by the time Stacker entered the ready room. A pimply PFC, bent over his helmet, saw him first: "Attention! Sergeant on the deck!"
      Stacker waved the men down. "As you were. Who's senior NCO here?"
      "You are, Gunny!" shouted some wag on the far side of the room.
      "Besides me," replied Stacker, after the ensuing laughter had died down.
      "I am," said a Staff Sergeant with bronzed skin.
      The man looked vaguely familiar. "Were you on Zero-Six?" asked Stacker.
      "Yes, Gunny. Staff Sergeant Sanchez."
      "Right, you were Reynolds's man." A brief flash of pain crossed Stacker's face as he remembered his fellow veteran of the last battles of the Covenant War who'd died during the action on Installation 06. "How're we doing?"
      "We're locked and loaded, Gunny. Just point as at the enemy."
      "All right, then. Listen up. We got an ONI refitting station that's been hit hard by our forces, but it's still got power and lifesigns. We're boarding to get intelligence---electronic and otherwise."
      "Prisoners, Sir?" asked Sanchez.
      "If we can," said Stacker. "If not...we're weapons-free to begin with, so use appropriate force."
      "Understood, Gunny."
      Stacker nodded. "All right people, we're boarding in five. Move like you got a purpose!"
      The ready room echoed with the chorus of, "Yes Gunny!"


      The frame of the station creaked as the Marines set foot aboard, loud enough for the sound to carry over the comlink. Darkness loomed all around; whatever sections of the refit platform still had power, this wasn't one of them.
      "What was that?" crackled Easley's voice over Stacker's headset.
      "Structure's a bit unstable, Sir," replied Stacker. "She did get hit by a MAC gun salvo, after all. Worst comes to worst we seal our buckets and call for Pelican evac."
      "Very well," said Easley. "Proceed inside."
      Stacker turned to face his ten-man squad. "All right, First Squad up and online. Second will cover the rear. Chief?"
      The Marines hadn't boarded alone; a naval Visit, Board, Search and Seizure unit had accompanied them to remove the data and any tech Hood's fleet could use. "VBSS has your six, Master Guns. Just point as at the consoles and keep the spooks---"
      The rattle of an assault rifle sounded, and the VBSS Chief collapsed with several holes drilled through his armor. Over the cries for a Corpsman, Stacker shouted, "First Squad, get suppressing fire in there! Second stand by with flashbangs!"
      The Marines' assault rifles rattled to life. Cries sounded from the darkness, as did the sound of bullets impacting on metal.
      "Second Squad, get some flashbangs in there!"
      "Flash out!" cried the squad leader as the boarding crew averted their eyes.
      More shouts sounded from the unlit area.
      Stacker yanked a pair of optics over his face. "All units, switch to NVGs and get in there!"
      The Marines and VBSS team members moved quickly without carrying out what was disparagingly referred to as "banzai tactics." It wasn't long before they found their first ONI crewmember, a man in Navy coveralls with a panicked expression on his face.
      "Don't kill me, please!" the man practically sobbed. "I'm just a pawn in all this."
      Stacker's neural lace had the man tagged as a Crewman First Class, an E-3. Poor sod probably was telling the truth.
      "Down on the floor!" barked Stacker. "Hands on your head, drop that sidearm now. Chief?"
      "Dead," said one of the VBSS crewmen.
      Stacker winced. "Whoever's next on the chain, deal with this guy!"
      "Yes Gunny."
      The Gunny abruptly raised his hand. "Hold it a second." He slowly advanced on the ONI crewman, bootheels clicking against the deck in the intimidating stride that all senior NCOs have perfected. "Son, I need to find a working terminal on this wreck of a station, and I know that there are working terminals aboard. Can you tell me where one is?"
      The ONI crewman shook. "You---you're looking at one," he stammered, motioning to a terminal behind him. "J-just turn on the screen."
      Stacker motioned at the VBSS team, who immediately swarmed the station. "Thanks for your help, son. Don't worry. We'll see to it ONI can't do anything to---"
      He broke off midsentence: blood was streaming from every orifice of the crewman's face, the man's eyes and mouth wrenched open in a silent scream that only served to draw more blood. The man shuddered twice, let out the faintest of moans, then collapsed.
      Stacker had been in the UNSC Marine Corps for most of his adult life; of that career, the majority of it had been in combat against the Covenant and the Flood. He'd seen some of the most horrible things aliens could do to humans.
      It seemed he'd just seen how far humans could go against other humans.
      A corpsman hurried up to the corpse, and removed something from the spill of fluid that had puddled around the crewman's body. "Suicide device."
      Stacker jerked himself out of his horrified reverie. "What?"
      The corpsman motioned at some grey in the puddle of bodily fluids. "It was in his brain matter; this thing was loaded with a neurotoxin. Looks like ONI doesn't want their people talking."
      Stacker shook his head. "This data had better be worth it."


      "Lieutenant Anderson?"
      Hocus stretched, rubbing the sleep sand from her eyes. Shilds, grumbling, had to shift himself to permit this movement. "Yes, Agathon?"
      "You asked me to alert you if I encountered any unusual or important comm traffic."
      Shilds lifted his head from its resting position on Hocus's chest. "Get to the point, Sparky!"
      "It appears that the Governor of Sigma Octanus IV has lent his support to Admiral Hood. It also appears that Admiral Parangosky is sending the army's Shocktroopers to occupy the planet."
      That got the attention of the two aviators. "An occupation already?" said Hocus. "Not good."
      Shilds was already putting on his flightsuit. "Agathon, send the extraction code."
      "Transmitting now...received. Sangheili Corvette Glorious Ascendancy is inbound."
      Hocus, by now tugging on her helmet, shook her head. "Elites are rather pompous when they name their ships, aren't they?"
      Shilds shrugged. "They're a dogmatic culture; what did you expect?"
      "I have a visual on the Corvette," noted Agathon.
      Shilds gave a nod. "Can they handle this?"
      "Affirmative," replied the AI.
      "Good," said the Warrant Officer. "Lieutenant Anderson and I have some business we should be getting back to."
      Hocus slapped her co-pilot.


      "Lord Hood?"
      Terrence Hood, hands clasped behind his back, face bathed in blue light, turned away from the Shadow of Intent's tactical plot table to face his aide. "Yes, Senior Chief?"
      "Signal from Colonel Easley, Sir."
      "Very good, Senior Chief." Hood turned to face an officer standing behind the Elite manning the communications console. "Ted!"
      Admiral Harper, still obstinately clad in his blue digi-camo relic of the US Navy, looked up. "Yes, Terrence?"
      "Easley's cleaning house."
      Harper was already walking over. "Where at?"
      Hood raised an eyebrow at Grath, who didn't miss a beat. "Bringing it up on the tactical plot now, Sir."
      "Excellent, Senior Chief. Dismissed."
      Grath shot Harper a look as he departed; it was not a pleased expression. "Maybe he should stay, Terrence," Harper gently chided.
      Hood flashed a warning look. "Negative, Ted, this is officer's business only."
      The hologram flickered to life, promptly disproving that point: Easley and Stacker, the latter looking grimmer than he had ever been during the Human-Covenant War, both snapped off crisp salutes.
      "At ease," said Hood. "Report."
      "One ONI battle group engaged and destroyed---except for that frigate," Easley recited. "And Stacker here got some good intel off of a refit station."
      "Talk to us, Pete," said Harper.
      Stacker swallowed---most unlike him, Hood noted---then spoke. "ONI's gotten word of Jeromi's defection; Parangosky's sending in the Shocktroopers."
      Harper shook his head. "We'd expected something like this, Pete. What's got you so spooked?"
      The senior NCO swallowed again. "ONI's putting suicide devices in their agents. They talk, they die."
      Hood slowly lowered his head. "I had thought Margaret would be above that...it would seem I was wrong. Good work getting that intel, Pete, this corroborates what Lieutenant Anderson has procured for us. Colonel, have the RRTF regroup with the main force."
      "Yes Sir." Easley and Stacker both saluted once more, and the hologram crackled out of existence.
      Harper glanced at the superior Admiral. "Now what, Terrence?"
      Hood inhaled. "Now, we try and stir up a little trouble of our own. Communications! I want you to contact this frequency..."


      In the General of the Army's office, the phone abruptly started ringing.
      General Don Hanson, lounging back in his reclining chair, dreaming of the frontline special forces man that he had once been, jerked awake with a startled gasp. The caller couldn't be identified, but it had been a boring day. "Hanson," he said, picking up the phone.
      "Hello, General," said a voice. "Are you aware of your old unit's new assignment?"
      "Who is this?" growled the General. "And what the hell do you mean?"
      "Who else would have this number?" countered the voice. "You were a sharp man once, General, do me a favor and confirm for me that you still are. And please check the 66th's new tasking."
      "Hood..." breathed Hanson. His first reaction, he knew, should've been to let ComOps know that they had been hacked, but he hadn't exactly been too happy about the change of command. "Alright, I'm looking."
      Here we are...the 66th Shocktrooper Regiment...current tasking: suppress treason on Sigma Octanus IV.
      Hanson suddenly was short of breath. "Hood...I think you and I---"
      But whoever had been speaking on the other end had ended the transmission.
      The General of the Army slapped a button on his desk, one linked to his senior enlisted man's comm. "Duke?"
      The cultured tones of the Command Sergeant Major soon drifted through. "Yes, Sir?"
      "Get in here. We need to talk."