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HALO: Iron Cross [Chapter Six]
Posted By: UNSC Trooper<unsctrooper@hotmail.com>
Date: 9 March 2008, 8:03 pm

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"Everything which the enemy least expects will succeed the best." – Frederick the Great

1023 Hours, December 8, 2537 (Military Calendar) /
Epsilon Eridani System, planet Reach, Olympic Tower Sector C-14

Olympic Tower, I've never been here before, Lieutenant Antonio Silva thought as he strolled past the tall, partially renovated stairway. Small cranes and hoists lay dust-covered along either side of the corridor ahead, their rusty joints creaking softly as the workers jostled them further away into the hall. The walls were empty, dominated only by paint stains and long cracks which spanned across the wide ceiling. The place looked like it was about to collapse under the weight of the metallic roof.

A short, chubby worker dressed in a raggedy pair of mottled trousers crossed Silva's view and motioned a discreet salute, both his sleeves bent around his scratched elbows. The gesture impressed Silva, and he knew that he looked imposing enough to strain even the slightest sign of appreciation from anyone under his command. He turned his head and followed the man's peculiar moves. Should've he returned the salute?

Silva steadied his feet and touched his wristwatch. He raised his eyebrows; he noticed he was already a minute late for the meeting. He hastened his pace and retrieved his identification card from his jacket's left pocket. The cranes seemed to be increasingly less crowded against the corridor walls as the Lieutenant sprinted toward the meeting room. He approached the entrance. A tall marine stood motionless in front of the door, his eyes half-closed, displaying a grim appearance across his pale face. He stretched out his right arm and unclasped his hand. "Identification, please." He said, his voice resembling the calm tone of a repentant priest. Silva handed the marine his identification, smiling subtly. The man scrutinized the card, silent and cool, holding it with one hand, and gripping his assault rifle with the other.

He made eye contact with the Lieutenant and returned the plastic card, "Major Strauss has been expecting you, sir." The marine remarked, moving one step to his left and keying the door open. "Thank you, private." Silva replied, sliding the card back into his pocket and slowly stepping inside the room. The door closed as the Lieutenant inhaled the stale air engulfing the screwy chamber. It smells like … politics, he thought, risking a few steps further inside.

The floor was dirty; fresh trails of mud ran across the room from one end to another, empty bags and food lay rotten on the concrete. A large set of windows were carved into the right-hand wall, overlooking a vast plain that seemed to elapse into the blue horizon, crossed only by a small river flowing into the midst of a cluster of forests in the distance. The "Olympic Tower" as it was called by naval personnel, was a one hundred-floor skyscraper standing in the middle of the FLEETCOM Headquarters.

The room didn't appear to be standing out in any way; an average-sized table was placed in front of a holoboard suspended on the front wall, two disorderly rows of chairs were aligned on both sides of the chamber and a tray filled with breakfast snacks sat untouched on the counter. A servant clothed in a white uniform attended the drinks; two vodka cocktails and three glasses of non-alcohol beer.

Anxiousness took a hold of Silva as he walked up to the northern end of the table, trying to adjust his thick voice into a confident tone. There was nothing special about this meeting; he felt it was just like any ordinary black operations assembly. He got used to the drills, and this didn't seem to be any more different.

An athletic-built man approached the Lieutenant and spread his right arm, stretching his hand in a vertical stance. He grabbed Silva's hand tight and shook it easily, "I am Major Nicolas Strauss," the man said, his dry lips hardly making any move, "I believe this is your first time in Olympic Tower?" he queried, arching his left eyebrow.

Silva slightly relieved the Major's hand grip, "Indeed it is, sir." For possibly the first time in his life, his voice was leveled to his commanding officer. Strauss twitched the corners of his mouth, "In that case, I will make sure you are properly served." The Major replied as he motioned for the young servant to bring the food tray closer to them. The Lieutenant shook his head, "Oh no sir, that won't be necessary, I've eaten quite well when I left." He said.

The Major shrugged, "Suit yourself, Lieutenant," he acknowledged, gesturing to one of the chairs lined up on the edge of the table, "Take a seat." Silva grabbed the chair's rear and shoved it away from beneath the table. Two other officers sat beside Strauss, locking gazes with the Lieutenant as he couched down. The Major pointed toward an old man dressed in an Army uniform, "This is Captain Ericson, he was the commander of a Colonial Militia battalion on Harvest during the Insurrection," he took a moment to breathe, "and during the Covenant siege." He continued. Ericson nodded to Silva, his white eyes and long wrinkles tied into an almost symmetrical fashion revealed decades of front line combat.

Strauss turned further along the left side of his seat, "The man sitting beside Captain Ericson is Staff Sergeant Waller, with the second ODST battalion, 105th." He said. Silva glanced at Waller and nodded respectfully, startling his sleazy eyebrows and miming a shrewd sympathetic smile. Waller wasn't bothered by the Lieutenant's scurrilous gesture. Everyone knew the Sergeant's name; moreover, they associated it with the commander of "Fox Team's Lunatics", a small-sized ODST squad reported missing while plundering a civilian night bar somewhere in North America on Earth.

The monitor on the Major's right side flickered, catching his otherwise over-worked attention. A strong wind gust hissed through the cracked window and blew the crumpled yellow tissues off the dirty food plates coated in greasy spots of tomato sauce. Strauss slammed his hand on the plastic file folded in two disproportionate segments. He grabbed a glass of water and moistened his lips. The folder was already opened halfway through the data that ONI forwarded him a few days ago. He flapped over a few pages and rested his hand. He lifted his head and searched Silva's face.

The Lieutenant's usual glare had disappeared by now, falling into a common condition that neither one of the officers inside the room could conceal. The Major placed the tip of his index finger on the file's spine and pushed it toward Silva. He watched the Lieutenant turn the folder to meet his gaze, folding the pages' twisted corners straight.

Strauss rubbed the sweat off his cheeks, hunching his neck even lower, "I'm sure you're familiar with the United Rebel Front to at least some extent." He said, cloaking his voice in serenity. Silva nodded, easygoing, confident on his knowledge concerning this special type of 'insurgents', "Why yes sir" he mumbled, "my platoon disarmed one of their nuclear deposits on Mamore." He continued, scratching the hair on the back of his head.

The Major strained his mandible muscles and pointed toward the picture painted on one of the file's pages. Silva followed Strauss's gesture and cast a long glance at the image: A man dressed in a rebel uniform, his hazel eyes staring at the pistol he held in his right hand, and carelessly hanging his black beret on one finger. "This is Colonel Wolfgang Reichard," Strauss said, sliding his finger downward and tapping the Colonel's criminal record just below the picture, "the leader of what we believe to be a sub-cell of the United Rebel Front." He added.

Silva frowned, obviously flurried by the Major's blunt statement, "A sub-cell of the URF?" he sighed, "Sir, with all due respect, we know too little about the URF as it is," his tone suddenly intensified, "the Office could barely even detect their presence until six years ago, let alone ascertain their structure." He paused.

Strauss arched the puckers on his forehead, "Lieutenant, I suggest you evaluate your position," he remarked with a heedful voice, "the data I've provided you with shall make it a lot clearer if you just read it," he continued, straightening his back and pointing to the page in front of the Lieutenant. Silva shook the disagreement away and ran his finger through the paragraph-wide record on Colonel Reichard. The text was impressive; information on the Colonel's background, whereabouts and current position within the rebel community lay printed and inked on a page, as if waiting for a spy movie geek to come along and taste it.

      Name: Reichard, Wolfgang
      Section Head: People's Occupation Government, (UNSC Designation: United Rebel Front)
      Service Tag: Unknown
      Rank: Lieutenant Colonel
      Date of Birth: 02.07.2491
      Location of Birth: Io, Jovian Moons, Solar System
      Height: Approx. 178 cm (5'10'')
      Weight: 74 KG
      Blood Type: A Negative
      Eye Color: Brown
      Hair Color: Blonde
      Comp: Germanic
      National Origin: German
      Psychological Report: Negative/Approved for Service
      Appointed Service: Command of regimental equivalent militia or insurgent armed forces. Skirmish and ship boarding       actions.
      Command Field: National Socialist (neo-Nazi/Fascistic/neo-Frieden)
      Legislative Misdemeanor(s): Auto Theft (Io, 2510); Opposing arrest by UNSC Military Police (Io, 2512); Murder of CAA       Inspection Officer (Earth, 2514); Murder of UN Arms Guard (Earth, 2515); Escaping Arrest on-board UNSC Carrier       "Magellan" (Epsilon Eridani System, 2517); Construction of illegal highly explosive material and/or attack mines (Coral,       2524); Murder of UNSC marines on Tribute, supporting Insurrectionist militias on Harvest (Tribute, Harvest, 2524);       Tactical assistant of General Howard Graves (Victoria, 2531); Nuclear Arms Theft (Europa, 2537); Bombing of       Silverborough (Mamore, 2537)
      Current Residence: Troy (confirmation needed!)

Everyone in the room looked at Silva's disoriented expression. How could ONI get their hands on this kind of information, from blood type to current residence? Major Strauss bit his lower lip, searching for the right word, he jabbed the folder closer to him, "Appearances may be deceiving, Lieutenant." He said, attempting to delay his remark for just a few seconds, "This guy's been tackling the UNSC for a long time." He continued. Captain Ericson heard in on the conversation from a distance. He wiped the smug look off his face and walked up to Silva, "I've seen footage of this Colonel Reichard staging attacks on our frigates twelve years ago." The Captain said, "It seems the Insurrection was the first time he really made his presence known to the UNSC."

He paused, took a sip out of a glass of water, and cleared his tobacco-burned throat. Silva set the folder aside, and for a moment, listened to the Captain's story. "I could say I've met him once, in 2524 on Tribute during a raid led by a certain Sergeant Avery Johnson." Ericson's voice could breach through reinforced concrete, "The first time I saw him I …" the Captain closed his eyes for an instant, and then regained his awareness, "wasn't sure what to do. He looked as though he wanted to rip me apart and flush my guts down a toilet. I've never seen so much hatred culminating into one person, rebel or not. Those fiery eyes, those skin-stripped fingers, and the coagulated blood around his neck …" The Captain stopped and hissed a breath of air into his lungs, "I hesitated, and turned away from his line of fire. I just wanted to get as far away as possible from him and his men." He added before bobbing his hands into his pockets.

Silva could feel the Captain's fear, could visualize his encounter with Reichard almost too vividly. By the looks of it, the Colonel seemed to be a very influential man, especially amongst his own brass. Strauss scratched the bridge of his nose, nodding his head as he threw Silva a piercing glance, "Reichard has been experimenting in practically every field starting from combat knives to mass destruction armament. It comes to reason to think that crime is in his blood." The Major poured himself a cup of coffee, blinking rapidly as he tried to hand Lieutenant Silva his upcoming duty. "More importantly, Lieutenant, this son of a bitch managed to resurrect a belief system that our ancestors tried to fight off." He continued, clenching the hot cup in both his thick hands. "Are you familiar with the term 'fascism,' Lieutenant?" He queried.

Silva tightened his lips, "I've attended some history classes sir, and yes, I am familiar with World War Two, and the Frieden movement, although the two are not entirely interchangeable." He replied. Strauss curled the coffee with a teaspoon, watching the trails of liquid flow clockwise in his ceramic cup, "They sure aren't," he said, "this is the sub-cell I mentioned earlier; a fascistic section of the URF." He added, moving his gaze toward random parts of the room. "Fascism wasn't brought up by any UNSC intelligence committee since the early 2200's. Fact is we thought we pounded them off for good."

Sergeant Waller pinned his elbows against the table and drew closer to Silva, "We might be facing a potential Vladimir Koslov of the twenty-sixth century, or even worse, a new 'Chancellor'." He said with a gruff voice, "If estimations are correct, the Interplanetary War which we know happened in the Solar System might now be sparked around interstellar space." Strauss broke in, laying the cup of coffee down on the table and crossing his arms, "That's where you come in, Lieutenant Silva. The UNSC isn't prepared to fight the Covenant and the rebels all at once. We need stability, what with all the population surges that have been taking place." He remarked clawing his cup's handle with one finger and softly puffing it cool.

The monitor flickered once more, displaying the Marine Corps logo: the UNSC crow gripping two large anchors beneath the globe. Silva gazed around the chamber and made eye contact with the young waiter sitting at the other end of the table juggling food plates on his forearms, a long white napkin swung over his right shoulder. The Lieutenant's neck was stiff, and his hands felt cold. He didn't like this place, not when he was being ordered on a suicide mission against an insane Colonel. No, these missions deserved to be assigned to war veterans stretching on the last thread of their lives, not thirty-year-old officers in the making.

A moment of silence passed, "Lieutenant, your platoon performed flawlessly on Mamore." Strauss said, tilting his head to his right-hand side. Silva flinched, eyes wide open. He'd thought Strauss hadn't learned about his incursion on Mamore yet. "This is why you will undertake the following assignment." The Major said.

"I'm honored, sir." Silva mumbled, his mouth half-opened, aware of the fact that he would have to put down a man that everyone in the UNSC feared. "Don't think I'm simple, Lieutenant. Behind this mustache, I'm a tacit man, and I can sense your annoyance." Strauss said. The other officers giggled at the Major's remark. He paced away from the table, grabbed his suitcase, and retrieved a small handbook. The words "Operation: BERSERKER" were tagged on its plastic cover.

Silva strained his eyes, but he couldn't see what the Major pulled out of his case. His eyesight seemed to be worsening by the day. Strauss turned his head backward and cast a quick glimpse at Silva. He strolled toward the table, swiftly flapping the handbook's pages with no synchronicity. He threw the book on the table, incurious. "I hope you haven't read anything lately, Lieutenant, because this manual holds the key to your team's success." He said, fondling his short mustache, "Your objective is to infiltrate the Colonel's residence on Troy, assassinate him and terminate his command." He continued. The mission was planned in advance, and the Navy even had time to conceive a handbook for this particular operation. Silva didn't like playing by the book, though, he always trusted his gut on everything and it usually paid off.

The glaring blue sky outside was gradually fading into a grayish shadow as crowded clumps of atmospheric clouds covered the sun's light rays. Strauss let out a sigh, "Your assignment will commence tomorrow at dusk. That will be all." He said. Silva rose up from his chair, grabbed the book and crammed it inside his interior chest pocket. He walked up to the officers, shook their hands and without a word, left the chamber. The gusts rocked the windows back and forth. Lightning resonated in the distance. Silence surrounded the room.