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Longsword R: Norah
Posted By: Sterfrye36<Sterfrye36@yahoo.com>
Date: 29 June 2006, 5:39 am

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TIME: DATE ERROR, Estimated 1226 hours, September 17 (Military Calendar) Bridge of captured Covenant cruiser Norah.

      "Lieutenant Commander Cunningham, sir, I wish I knew what's going on," the Human AI responded. Cunningham bit his lip in annoyance. What had happened? More importantly, how had they managed to jump into the middle of a space battle right above earth?
      Sami interrupted his thoughts from the Covenant equivalent of a holo tank. "Sir, we're getting hailed by the Covenant. I'm sending them a proper response." Cunningham arched an eyebrow.
      "And what exactly would that be, Sami?"
      "The finger." Cunningham and several of the Marines around him snorted loudly, including the newly promoted Sergeant Colin Thompson. Thompson was perhaps the best fighter left with the Marines. Despite the fact that he carried the rocket launcher that had killed Kall 'Kanamee and finished off a Hunter Killer, he laughed harder than anyone else. The sergeant was always wearing a smile or laughing; it was, frankly, a little bit disturbing.
      "I'm also hailing UNSC ships and informing them that we're a friendly vessel," Sami continued without missing a beat. "They're surprised, and a bit skeptical. A video of you guys on the bridge ought to be enough to convince them…there. We're set up and are now officially identified as a friendly. And…" Sami's eyebrows jumped and the logic symbols flowing across her body increased in type, speed, and number.
      By now, Cunningham was almost unaffected by unexpected developments. He'd seen too many within the past two months to even show surprise anymore. He sighed.
      "What now?"
      Sami grinned mischievously "Sir, the Covenant cruiser in front of us is demanding that we cover its descent to earth. Apparently, they didn't get my message. No surprise, really; the Covenant battle net is in shambles. It would be a miracle if they were able to get anything that I sent out, even if it was narrowband…This gives me an idea, sir; if we—" Sami continued, but Cunningham cut her off.
      "Sami, you're the naval AI here. Do what you have to." She nodded.
      "Understood, sir. And sir?"
      "Hold on to something."
      Cunningham was about to reply when he was thrown off his feet and backwards into the nearest console as the Norah suddenly tilted upward. Several men came tumbling past the lieutenant commander, weapons and equipment falling off them like fur off of a shedding dog.
      Whatever Sami's was up to, Cunningham thought, it had better be good.

      Finally, she was back in her element. No more dealing with Spark. No more dealing with treacherous Elite commanders. No more messing around with Scorpion tanks. She was finally back in her element: ship-to-ship combat.
      It was about freaking time.
      She had been bored beyond all compare during the two month long trip it had taken to get from Halo's ruins back to Earth. Or, at least, that was the best estimate of time she had been able to figure out by checking the Earth's position around the sun. The original plan had been for the Norah to jump far outside of human controlled space and approach slowly, constantly transmitting signals so that they were not attacked by the UNSC. What was bizarre was that, even though they had jumped multiple times, they had come straight to Earth. Also, according to her internal clock and measurements she had taken in between jumps, they had arrived two days before the Battle of Reach had occurred! How could they arrive here before they left, let alone taken two months to do so? It was physically impossible. There was no way it could have happened. And yet, here they were.
      However, the unusual radiation readings that they had received before one of their jumps…no, that couldn't have possibly affected them, even though the radiation had seemed like a beacon of some sort, they had chosen to ignore it for fear of delaying their arrival at Earth. An intact Covenant cruiser was far more important than anything a curious radiation reading could produce.
      Sami returned her attention to the battle at hand. She knew that the Norah, even though it was a cruiser, could not afford to take on two enemy capital ships at once, especially not when the Norah might have sustained some damage from its fall through Halo's atmosphere. As powerful as the Norah was, it would be easily outmatched by the two of them, especially since the Norah was in a position to be broadsided by the two of them. So, she simply decided to narrow her goal to taking down only one of the ships: the following destroyer.
      She fired off a quick compliance message to the Covenant cruiser, named Great Penance, and powered up the Norah's weapons. Sami had monkeyed around with the weapons systems during the jump, too, and had been able to increase the weapons' output by a staggering additional thirty percent, including plasma torpedoes and pulse lasers. By streamlining the energy distribution throughout the ship to only critical sectors, she'd also managed to reduce the charge time required for the weapons. Another benefit of updated power system was that the cruiser gained the ability to maintain power after a Slipspace jump.
      Unbelievably, the Covenant, for their entire technological prowess, were incredibly inept at energy management. Too much was simply wasted on heat alone to create the plasma. The reactors on their ships could produce almost half again what the engine on the Pillar of Autumn could create but the reactors were woefully under-utilized. Amazing.
      As the Great Penance passed the Norah on the left, the AI maneuvered the cruiser as if she was going to attack a squadron of Longsword fighters that were trying to harass the destroyer's port side. Several Seraphs were making their job harder, though, as they tried to engage them and draw the Longswords away from the capital ship. The furball was compact and intense, a fact not helped by the occasional salvo of triple-a that the destroyer was letting loose at regular intervals. Frankly, it was a miracle the Longswords were surviving at all given their proximity to the destroyer.
      Time to change that, Sami thought as she began to open up with pulse lasers and the plasma torpedo launcher began to glow. The pulse lasers created a golden wall of death amongst the single ships, completely obliterating anything in the way of the blasts. And the only things that got in their way were Seraphs. Most of them were smashed in the first volley. She could tell by the Longswords' sudden maneuvering that they had been expecting pulse laser fire, but certainly not against the Covenant. Sami let her hologram grin in spite of herself; everything was going perfectly.
      The Norah plowed through the debris created by the Covenant fighters before arcing up and to the left and rolling, which brought the cruiser's port side to face the top of the Covenant destroyer. The destroyer's skipper, quickly realizing what was happening, tried to roll his ship to bring his guns to bear on the Norah, but it was already too late. Sami's armaments were already at full power and nothing was holding her back. She opened up with a plasma torpedo and every single weapon on the Norah's port side, unleashing a blinding hellfire of acid colored plasma down on her opponent, almost as if it were fire from Heaven and she was an angel of The Lord.
      The destroyer didn't stand a chance. Its shields were positioned mainly along its side in order to keep the Longswords from doing any damage, but that proved to be its undoing. The weak shielding on top of the vessel gave way easily under Sami's expert fire and the hull was pounded into a molten, steaming pulp. The Longswords, sensing an opportunity, took their good fortune and ran with it, launching several ASM-54 Copperhead missiles, which punched through the melted metal easily. Their entrance points left geysers of liquid metal soaring into the abyss; their gray-white contrails looked almost like straws smashing through purple Jell-O pudding.
      The effects of the missiles were instantaneous. Explosions started at multiple points inside the ship, one starting the destroyer on a flat clockwise spin, another sending of bits and pieces of the hull into space like they were dead skin. The small fragments were immediately captured by Earth's gravity and began to fall towards the Earth, a million little meteors serving as an honor guard for the Covenant that remained on the ship as it literally shook itself apart on its one way trip to hell.
      Give, and it shall be given to you. For whatever measure you deal out to others, it will be dealt to you in return, Sami thought as she watched the Covenant ship begin its final journey. As it did, it seemed to grow brighter and brighter quicker and quicker until the ship began to disintegrate in the hellish friction of Earth's atmosphere. It continued to spiral downward in a flat spin until finally, the ship seemed to vanish into Hades itself, simply disappearing from existence.
      Sami could hear cheering over the COM from the Longsword pilots and she smiled. Regrettably, she could do nothing about the cruiser that was now descending towards Earth in a controlled manner, but the Marines would be able to take care of that. It was a shame that they had gotten into the battle so late, really; it was practically over. Sami could see that many of the remaining Covenant ships were beginning to turn tail and run back towards the moon. Human ships pressed the advantage and were happy to chase them all the way there, continuously firing Spitfire missiles and Triple MACs.
      Even the Covenant cruiser was being followed down to the surface by a small UNSC frigate, In Amber Clad.
      It was over.

Tenth Cycle, 58 units (Covenant Battle Calendar)/ Aboard damaged Covenant Flagship, Triumphant Serenity, in decimated Covenant battle formation, local Moon space.

      That was the only thing that Fleet Master Quarell 'Sulamee felt, and it was intense. The entire assault had been a total disaster. The force had been absolutely decimated with a comparatively small loss in human ships. Over ninety percent of his ships had been destroyed; his flagship, the Triumphant Serenity, had taken major damage; the Prophet on board had died; his forces had even been repelled from the humans' base on the moon. Really, they hadn't been repelled, but had been slaughtered. The humans' missile defense net was far too effective; there had been no gap in their coverage to exploit, and as such the missiles had successfully shot down over half of the dropships he'd sent to capture the base. Even the few fighters that he'd been able to launch were totally ineffective. They not only failed to destroy a single missile launcher, but were taken out by even more of the humans' new fighters. The warriors on the dropships that did manage to make it inside were immediately dispatched to Paradise in the landing bay by a surprisingly stalwart defense.
      He'd done as much as he could, but it simply wasn't enough…
      No,, 'Sulamee thought. It's not because I did not do enough. I am unworthy. Unworthy of this command, unworthy of the Ancients, unworthy of The Great Journey...
      He knew what custom demanded. Slowly, he reached down and detached his plasma sword from its place on his waist and raised it high above his head where he finally ignited it. It formed its characteristic shape with the usual thunderclap. 'Sulamee could feel the heat radiating off the Ancients' weapon. He muttered a low prayer for forgiveness for his intolerable failure. When he finished, he grasped the hilt of the sword with both claws…
      …and found that he couldn't find the courage to take his own life. His arms began to quaver as his will to survive struggled with his honor, the two forces screaming at each other inside his head.
      I must kill myself! It is commanded by the Hierarchs for a failure of this magnitude!
his instinct screamed yelled back. What purpose would that serve?
      It will erase the shame that this defeat has created!
      Who will know that you've erased the shame? The dead Prophet? Ikro 'Paraknulee? No one will care if you're dead or not!
      I do!
      So do I, you fool! What good would killing yourself do? Restoring the honor will do nothing to hurt the humans. Find something that will!
      No, they've beaten me far too soundly to do anything to them now. The fleet is completely shattered…
The honor was weakening.
      That's my point, instinct said, sensing the advantage. You can regroup with your ships.
      And then what?
      Attack again.
      No, I can't do that. The Triumphant Serenity is too badly damaged to fight anything, let alone take on the human fleet again.
      Well, if you're not going to kill yourself, what will you do?

      'Sulamee deactivated the plasma sword and let it drift away from him. He was no longer worthy to even touch the sacred weapon. Instead, he floated over to the communications console and instructed the computer to let him address every single ship that was left in the fleet. As soon as he connected, he was bombarded with requests for orders from the forty-nine ships left in his fleet. He began to talk, low and sluggishly, the shame nearly stopping him several times.
      "My brothers," 'Sulamee began slowly, "we have failed. We have failed completely and utterly. The humans remain in control of the planet. There is no chance that we can win. For those of you brave enough to follow what custom dictates, do so. To those who, like me, are too cowardly to do as the Ancients demand, I will send you coordinates for our next destination. We will live among the Heretics, separating ourselves from the truly noble and righteous…"
      Immediately, more messages came in to the bridge. Some, to 'Sulamee's surprise, were acknowledgements. There were a few death threats from the more honorable captains who wished to destroy him for his sin. A few others didn't respond at all, but simply turned their ships around for a suicidal charge against the human's pursuing force. Among the dozens of voices, the Elite could clearly hear a few commanders impaling themselves upon their own swords.
      He transferred the coordinates to the ships that had given acknowledgement messages before finally shutting off the ship-to-ship communications. Without another word, 'Sulamee entered the coordinates into the computer and simply let himself hang limply in mid-air like some sort of puppet without a master.
      The once-grand Triumphant Serenity didn't enter Slipspace as easily as it used to. Instead, the cruiser clawed its way through into the other plane. 'Sulamee could hear shrieks from distant parts of the ship as the superstructure gave way in a few spots. The whole ship began to shudder, creating a loud buzz and causing all of the droplets of blood and fragments of glass and metal in the bridge to shake in sympathy, somehow reverberating with 'Sulamee's inner cries of pain. Cries of shame and dishonor, cries of questioning fate, cries for why nothing seemed to matter anymore. Cries that were created because the Elite knew his life no longer held any meaning, no guiding force.
      He was leading a life without purpose.

      James had lost track of how much time had passed since he'd ejected. He checked the clock that was projected onto his helmet. It had been only ten minutes but his oxygen supply was low. His suit and seat were designed to be able to circulate oxygen for a much longer period than that…but James could feel himself getting light-headed. A piece of shrapnel from the explosion of his Longsword must have hit something important and caused some major damage. His chair's retro-rockets had failed to ignite, too, which meant that he continued on the same trajectory that his ejection had sent him upon. He'd tried using his radio to contact some sort of SAR crew, but it didn't really matter. He reasoned that, with the battle raging dozens of miles below him, nobody was going to deem him a necessary risk.
      His thoughts turned to other things, partly through a weird, melancholic sort of boredom, partly from the lack of oxygen.
      His thoughts turned to Marcus. The way the boss had explained why he never went to church, how James had barely been able to convince him that he wasn't really gay, really had a choice. Even then, James knew that Marcus wasn't totally convinced. He remembered how he had explained it to him, the Major standing at the bloodied wall, the crimson tears of his pain trickling from his tattered knuckles.
      Boss, all it would take to get a guy excited is a couple of potholes on the road on the bus to school. It doesn't really mean anything. Your uncle was a pervert, but that doesn't mean you are, not by a long shot. Just because you got weird feelings around other guys doesn't mean you're gay. It's a mental decision, Marcus. If you think you're gay, you are gay. If you don't think you're gay…
      James suddenly felt more of the oxygen leave tanks as they sprung another small leak, gently spinning his heels back over his head before the seat's small stabilizing jets finally kicked in, freezing him one-hundred and twenty degrees from his original position.
      He had failed. He'd never convinced the major to accept God. The feeling of disappointment rapidly spread through him. He'd always cared about the major, wanted to help him…why wouldn't he listen? He was in so much pain...
      James began to cry silently, letting tears form in the corners of his eyes. All he'd ever wanted to do was help the major. So why couldn't he see? Why couldn't he…?
      Lord…I'm not ready. I can't go yet. I've got to help Marcus. I have to help him…
      He blinked slowly. The tears separated from his eyes and floated around inside his helmet, fragmenting the light from the stars. The stars were so beautiful from here, so much more beautiful than on earth, so much brighter, so much more numerous. James had noticed it dozens of times before when he was flying, but now the stars seemed to take only some sort of ethereal beauty.
      An alarm sounded in his ears, warning him of the last bit of oxygen leaving the tanks. James shut it off by issuing a few vocal commands. While he was at it, he shut off his HUD, too.
      It was funny, the buzzer, normally a noise that caused panic, seemed to be only soothing, seemed to be only lulling him into sleep. James closed his eyes again.
      Father….please, comfort and protect Marcus. Send someone else to help him. Send someone better than I was, Lord. Send someone who will finally lead him to you. I…James felt the oxygen completely leave his flight suit, which slowly smothered all sounds. All that remained was perfect silence.
      All right, Lord. I'm ready. Take me home.
      James opened his eyes one last time, wanting to see the stars. They were as bright as ever at first, then began to become blurry. James couldn't tell if it was from lack of air or more tears. Slowly, however, darkness crept down from the top of his vision, slowly devouring the stars until it covered everything. The darkness seemed to last an eternity.
      Then, a razor thin line of light burst in the middle of the darkness, outlining a door. The section of blackness outlined by the light slowly opened downward. A being stood in the doorway, silhouetted by the light. James could make out none of the person's features.
      The person reached out a hand to help and James extended his own hand to grasp it. The being slowly undid the straps that held him to the ejection seat, and then slowly pulled James through the doorway and into the light.

      Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound…

1040 hours, November 23, (Military Calendar) Cockpit of Marcus Easley's Northrop-Grumman Longsword S Interceptor, Earth local space

      Major Marcus Easley could hear the cheers of victory on every single COM channel, but he didn't join in. He couldn't, really. He was in far too deep a stupor to display any emotion, despite his early rage at James's death. It was only now that the grief began to hit him, and it was simply too much. His orders to his squadron came in a low monotone, but no one seemed to notice. Most of the other members of the squadron had been hardened by war and weren't affected by the loss of James as Marcus was. Events seemed to blur together as the major landed by on the Maverick wrecked as it was. It was being towed to one of the repair stations in orbit around Earth, named Forrestal.
      And what a wreck the Maverick was. It would take the station at least forty hours to repair the boat, and that was if they could give it their full attention, which had no chance of happening.
      The major parked his interceptor, completed his post-flight checks, popped the hatch, and walked down the ramp to the deck without bothering to give his bird a once-over. The sheer number of people would have prevented it anyway. They were everywhere, dancing, yelling, and screaming in joy. Marcus was nearly knocked over several times by the jubilant crowd but he barely noticed. Not even Archie White yelling at Marcus in his cockney accent or several Swordsmen slapping the major's shoulders could shake him from his daze.
      Instead, he walked straight out into the corridor and then took a lift to his room several decks below. There in that hallway, there were no revelers. It was completely empty, the number of pressure doors seemingly stretching into infinity.
      He walked forward until he reached his stateroom before unlocking it with his service number which he entered into a keypad. Easley walked in slowly as his stupor finally wore off. He looked around his room, unsure of what to do next.
      The major moved to his desk. The model of the Grumman F-14D Super Tomcat had fallen off the desk, but was still in good shape. The glass in the frame of his high school football team had completely shattered from the abuse it had no doubt received during the battle. He'd clean up the bits of glass later. What surprised him was the fact that the picture of his family was gone from the top of his desk and a cursory search of the floor turned up nothing. Panic began to set in as the pilot abruptly found himself without the last bedrock of his life. The squadron leader whipped around wildly only to see the picture lying on his messed up bed, and, much to his shock, completely unharmed.
      Reverently, Marcus walked over and gently picked up the picture. He set it down carefully on the desk, desperately wanting to keep something concrete in his life. Out of the blue, he remembered something in his desk drawers, something given to him what seemed like a long time ago.
      He opened the bottom-most right hand drawer and withdrew a small paper package that he had only opened once. He set the package on his desk, untied the white string that held it together, and then peeled the paper away.
      Inside the paper was a Bible. It had been given too him by his parents at his baptism when he was eighteen, right before he had been drafted. Honestly, he didn't know why he had kept it; he'd never read it, not even once. But the battle had shaken him to his core. He'd seen James die and heard Colonel Becker's voice…was it possible…?
      He opened the Bible when something caught his eye as he began to move towards the Books. The major flipped back several pages only to find his mother's stylistic handwriting adorning the inside cover. He began to read.

      Your father and I can't tell you how proud we are that you've decided to give your life to Jesus Christ. We've been waiting for this day for eighteen years, son. We're thrilled to know that you've dedicated your life to Jesus Christ and we pray that you will receive his many wonderful blessings. Most of all, we pray that he will watch over and guide you as you go into the military.

With love,

Your Parents

      Marcus quickly realized that a softball sized lump had formed in his throat and he had to work to choke it down. They had never known. For all they did know, he was attending church on the ship every Sunday morning. He'd been living a lie for the past four years, at least as far as his parents were concerned. No, it had been longer than that. He'd been living a lie since he was five years old, since the day that Nix… He, their own son, had never told them the truth. Why hadn't he told them that he was…but James…
      Marcus buried his face in his hands. It was all so much to take in. Why now? He'd seen others die before. Why did James's death hurt him so much? His eyes drifted back towards the Bible, whose still crisp pages had caused the book to simply fall open after the major quit reading the note from his parents.
      It had fallen open to the thirteenth chapter of the book of John in the New Testament. Marcus, for reasons unknown even to himself, began to read again. He made it halfway down the page before his eyes read verse thirteen:

      Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.

      Marcus began to cry; he couldn't stop and found that he didn't want to. He wanted to let it all out, to get the grief over with. He continued to cry even though his tears were landing on the Bible, and then continued to do so, even as conscious thought gave way to the merciful peace of sleep.