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HALO: Iron Cross [Chapter Five]
Posted By: UNSC Trooper<unsctrooper@hotmail.com>
Date: 21 January 2008, 8:40 pm

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"Fascism is not defined by the number of its victims, but by the way it kills them." -- Jean-Paul Sartre (1905 – 1980)

2140 Hours, December 3, 2537 (Military Calendar) /
Hellespont System, planet Mamore, Unknown Orbital Facility

The northern continent of the planet came into the window's view. There was nothing special to see, apart from the ancient field of stars glowing behind the outline. The air inside the pressurized chamber was still. Maps and grids of various cities lay suspended on the blue hollow walls and a large desk lay in the middle, flanked by two chairs on either side. The brightness of the spotlights reflected off the recently-swept sandstone floor, almost covering the entire room in a brilliant vision of luminosity. Tranquility surrounded the place. There was no hint of movement.

Small drops of water trickled out of a pipe's orifice and splashed into the sink on the right corner of the room. The leathered armchair stood behind the desk, its wheels turned to squinting angles. Fine layers of dust settled upon the luxurious furniture. Statues and sculptures were sitting on top of the shelves, almost oblivious to the centuries that had passed ever since they were handcrafted.

A large picture was hung on the right-hand wall of the room. The framework was painted in red, and overlapping black circles were traced along its margins. A man's face emerged from the old painting. He looked relatively young; his startling eyes were depicted in a pale blue color and seemed to gaze into the distance in an apparently relaxed mood. His thinning black hair was combed to his left side, and his short mustache had an unusual print to its appearance, but matched the color of his hair. A handful of workers on this platform knew who he was: a man that used to live on Earth a long time ago, before space travel was even conceived – a man that led a war against the world, a man that grew to be despised by his nation and his enemies … a man that most people prefer not to think of.

The screen above the entrance door flickered to black. The door silently slid open and a strong breeze crossed the entrance and lifted the dust off the desk. Papers began to fly and drift through the chamber as the wind carried them away.

Two consecutive bumps sounded as soon as the door closed itself shut. Colonel Wolfgang Reichard stepped on the floor, his leather boots leaving traces of fresh mud on the white crockery. He was particularly elegantly-dressed today. A green beret covered his hair: something he hadn't worn for five years. A black string holding a patch to his left eye ran along his pale face. He reached for the bottom of his thick blue jacket and pulled it downward. The coat covered his torso perfectly, revealing an uncommon set of abdominal muscles that strained against his rubbery jacket.

He took his gloves off and looked at his bruised right hand. The scratch marks encompassed his palm. He tried to clasp his hand, but instantly felt his skin hurt. A sudden pain raced across his body. He relaxed his arm muscles and spread his hand. The pain had gone. I'll never get rid of these bruises, he thought as he slowly paced toward the desk, his muddy feet softly slipping on the slithery ground and his eyes still gazing at his wounded hand.

The room was a mess: Piles of dirty clothes, small pieces of broken glass and papers lay on the floor, still. The smell of sweat engulfed the air inside, making it almost impossible to breathe without turning on the air cleanser.

The Colonel picked up his beret and threw it on his desk, smashing a bottle of water as it hit the table. He reached for a large rectangular machine pinned up on the left wall and pressed a button. Clean air started blowing out of the cleanser's tube, waving his long blonde hair as the winds rushed through the chamber.

Reichard walked behind the desk and sat down on the large chair, his hands gripping its plastic arms tight. He reached for his chest pocket and retracted an unopened pack of Sweet William cigars. The package was wrapped in a neatly-colored cardboard box, tied to several knots around its corners. Colonel Reichard opened the pack with a swift move of his left hand and threw the wrapper into the recycle bin lying beside the desk's right leg.

He gripped the cigar with two fingers, lifted his right arm and inhaled the smoke into this mouth. The cigar's end slowly started to burn the tobacco, raising a thin trace of fume that weightlessly floated into the air. The Colonel rested his elbow against the table and locked his gaze on the door, his eyebrows easily arcing as he blew the smoke out of his mouth.

Silence dripped into the chamber. Reichard cast a long and observant glance at the COM panel. Its green lights were flickering. He coughed and adjusted his voice's tone, barely making any sound as he hit the COM's button. "Marrick, have the guests arrived yet?" he asked, his tone dropping into a hint of nervousness as he tapped the table with his left hand.

A moment passed and a man's weak voice rang in the COM's small speaker, "Yes sir, I have directed them to your office." The man replied. Reichard lifted his eyebrows in content and took his finger off the button. The lights on the ceiling buzzed a random melody of electric circuits. The Colonel couldn't stand their humming, yet, there was nothing he could do about it except nerve himself each time he heard the sound.

Footsteps resounded across the hallway; strange that the room wasn't phonically isolated. The door hissed open, and the Colonel's glance was suddenly interrupted. He rose to his feet, still holding the cigar with his right hand. The ash fell on the floor and on his trousers, softly burning the cotton material. He frowned as the ash made contact with his skin: a split-second soreness swept through his body. He tapped the cinder off his trousers.

Two men walked into the chamber: Sergeant Rostock and Sergeant Grant. Their right arms were partially covered in red bands and their faces lost in a strange oblivion. They took their coats off, patting the dust off their shoulders and adjusting their black ties, scarcely noticing the Colonel's presence. Sergeant Rostock glanced at Reichard and walked up to his desk. He stretched out his right hand, a grim expression crossing his face. The Colonel grabbed the man's hand and clenched it tight. His forceful grip discomforted the tall man as he drew his hand back and stretched it inside his pocket, relaxing his muscles.

Sergeant Grant followed behind him, grabbed a chair and sat down beside the left side of the Colonel's wide desk. Reichard felt uneasy. Certainty seized control of his thoughts: certainty that something had gone wrong. He exchanged insistent gazes with Rostock who stood in front of him. "I presume you already know the purpose of our meeting." Colonel Reichard said; his accent dipped into an old German dialect as he rested his back on the leather-covered rear of the armchair. The rubbery material screeched as he chafed the back of his jacket against the fine leather.

Grant crossed his legs, waiting for Rostock's reply. He was an outlaw, a fugitive hiding out from the UNSC in frontier colonies. He could still remember his early days in the UNSC Marine Corps; a twenty year-old looking for combat patrols against rebel strongholds. He'd never thought that someday, he would become part of the United Rebel Front. He smiled enthusiastically.

Rostock glanced nervously at the surrounding furniture: a splendid mixture of antiquities and luxury items that screamed extravagance. He didn't like it, but it wasn't his place to make unnecessary comments towards a commanding officer's tastes. "Sir, we've encountered some rather unexpected problems planetside." He said, struggling to keep his voice leveled and inferior to the Colonel at the same time. He feared him because of his rank and reputation among the community.

Reichard frowned, his expression suddenly coated in a subtle anger. "What kind of problems?" he queried, his tone calm, and glaringly deceiving. He clenched both hands and bedded them below his chin, staring at the jittery Sergeant with a keen gaze.

Sergeant Grant sat quietly, his deep murmuring breath only shrewdly heckling the silence. He coughed and crossed his arms as he scrutinized the Colonel's gestures. Rostock weighed his response carefully as he looked for the right words. Reichard's patience grew thin, and Rostock could feel it.

"Sergeant, I asked you a question!" Reichard exclaimed, barely restraining himself from falling into another anger stroke as he clenched his hands even tighter. His fingernails stabbed his flesh.

"According to our ground surveillance service," Rostock finally said, "A team of six individuals have infiltrated one of our development encampments and have disabled our packages." He broke eye contact with the Colonel.

"Six individuals?" Reichard queried in disbelief, "How can a six-member team take out one of our compounds?" he said as he rose to his feet, pushed his chair backward and rubbed his chin with the tip of his fingers. "We've provided our stations with top-notch security equipment, armament—"

"We've become sitting ducks for the UNSC." The Colonel's reply was cut short by Rostock's abrupt remark. Reichard pinned his hands on the desk and lowered his head just below his shoulders. He was confused, panicked, but above all, worried that his plans might be threatened by a handful of men working for a government he came to despise.

He steadied his breath, trying to regain his cool and straightened his spine. He put his hands behind his back and gestured toward the large display screen sitting on top of one his drawers, "Show me who did this." He said with a confident tone dropping in his voice.

Rostock nodded subtly and reached into his green side pack, clearing the delicate stuffing and retrieving a small disk. He twirled it through his thin fingers, opened the plastic hull and reached for the display's control panel. The disk was small enough to fit inside his palm. He typed a synchronized code into the keyboard and backed away from the panel.

The screen snapped to life, a dark blue color flickering in its midst. Rostock softly gripped the remote control with his right hand, pointed it at the display and pressed a button. A clear image appeared on the screen. Reichard strained his eyes as he drew closer to the tall Sergeant. The image started to move, switching angles and pictures of a large facility hidden in the depths of a forest. The Colonel recognized that place; he'd visited it once on a routine inspection of the stolen nuclear armaments. He kept his gaze fixed on the footage as he crossed his arms and bent the wide wrinkles running on his forehead.

The view changed again, showing six men dressed in combat suits sprinting about the courtyard of the compound, firing their weapons and rolling through the dirt as they stopped and picked their targets once more.

A man's silhouette came into focus. He carried a rocket launcher and aimed it at one of the buildings. Reichard frowned, "Hold!" he shouted within a second's notice as he rose his right arm and motioned for Rostock to pause the footage. The Sergeant acknowledged Reichard's gesture and pressed a button on the remote control. The image stopped moving.

The Colonel walked closer to the display screen, attentively observing the man's clothes, weapons, and appearance. "I'll be damned," he remarked as he turned and glanced at Rostock and Grant, "Isn't this Blue Team, the one that killed Howard Graves?" he queried, his tone eager of an immediate response. His question was well-founded; he'd been one of the first officers to hear about General Grave's deadly venture with a supposed "ghost team" that recovered a considerable amount of UNSC nuclear warheads six years ago.

Grant rose up from his chair and awakened from his intense mental meditation. He knew what Reichard was talking about, and he didn't restrain himself from showing it. "No it's not." Grant said as he scratched the top of his head, "Although they might look similar to the team you're referring to, they're UNSC Special Forces. Orbital Drop Shock Troopers to be exact." He paused, raising his right eyebrow as he looked at the man depicted on the screen, "As a matter of fact, they belong to the UNSC Marine Corps."

Reichard gazed at Grant, surprised, and confident over the Sergeant's knowledge of the UNSC's military organization. He knew that Grant had served with the UNSC Marine Corps most of his lifetime, and didn't question his assertion. He nodded respectfully, silent.

The Colonel shot one last gaze at the display. He turned to Grant, casting mutable glances at the Sergeant's expression and the rank insignias bounded to either one of his shoulders. Reichard never got a chance to promote Grant, but now he'd met the perfect opportunity. Tranquility dropped around the three officers, and the view of Mamore in the window began to change as the orbital installation hovered peacefully above the planet's atmosphere.

A moment passed. None of the men spoke. The dripping sound of the broken sink stirred Reichard as he budged his feet and strolled back to his desk. "Grant, you're the most experienced officer in the field." The Colonel said. Grant threw Reichard a penetrating glance, "I suppose, sir." He shrugged; his voice somewhat uncertain as he looked at the Colonel's overlapping wrinkles.

Reichard reached for Grant's left shoulder, his hand slightly trembling as he strained his arm muscles and tapped the Sergeant insignia pinned to his grey uniform. He retrieved his grasp, and looked at the iron cross tied to the Sergeant's hat. Memories ran through his mind. Thoughts of how he could change the colonies and the peoples' way of life raced across his judgment. He wanted to achieve something his ancestors failed multiple times in mankind's bloodied history. He exhaled and handed Grant a white folder and a handgun from his drawer.

"I'll meet you tomorrow at the diner. I expect you to be well-briefed on your assignment." The Colonel said. "Jawohl, my Colonel!" Grant shouted in a breath. Reichard aligned his feet and gestured an ancient salute to the two Sergeants: a salute that described the ideological bond between two men facing each other. Fascism.