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The Guardians, Chapter Two
Posted By: Agent Shade<cthompson013@hotmail.com>
Date: 11 July 2004, 7:15 AM

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Chapter Two

The trip to the Cascade system took just under twenty-four hours. Upon arrival, the entire ship's company was still asleep. However, Lieutenant Commander James Ryan was not. The ONI agent walked through the bridge doors and stood beside the empty command chair. He looked at the main view screen, which had been magnified to show the Halo ring world.

At this distance from the deadly installation, Ryan couldn't help but feel entranced by its beauty. Lush fields of grass, forests, oceans, it was an earth before industrialization and it was a huge shame they couldn't colonize it. There had been talks about it, but it was concluded that the Flood could hide anywhere within the underground tunnels and pop up out of anywhere to attack. It was too great of a threat. Ryan was saddened when he heard this.

Unlike the other agents, Ryan wasn't as loyal or as cunning as them. He would obviously keep ONI classified information, classified, but he wanted to help out the UNSC, especially with these deadly floating rings. So he became more of a passionate agent then a spook.

James shook his head and walked to a nearby console. The screen showed data records of the system which Ryan began reading over. Interesting though it was, it wasn't what Ryan was looking for. He turned away from the console and looked at a small holo-projector stationed beside the command chair.

"Friar?' he said to no one. The projector suddenly hummed and came to life. A small figure then appeared floating in it, wearing a heavy brown cloak, with the hood over his head. His body was translucent and every movement brought a small strain of data over him. However, he looked up at James.

"Ah Mr. Ryan, you should be in bed should you not?" Friar asked. Ryan chuckled at the AI. Friar was the Guardian's "super" AI, programmed to assist the commanding officer in anyway possible. However, because of the low difficulty in this mission, he was rarely used. But, Ryan needed his help to get readouts on the Covenant.

"I guess so, but we've arrived at Cascade" Ryan answered. Friar turned in the projector and nodded.

"So it seems. What can I do for you?" he said. James pointed to the ring world.

"Threats orbiting that ring?" he asked. Friar paused for a heartbeat.

"Scans indicate four destroyer-class Covenant ships, all holding a stationary position over that ring. I'm picking up trails of plasma exhaust between each ship and the ring, which could indicate continuous transfer of troops to the surface" he stated. Ryan nodded, expecting this, but there had to be more. Halo was more important than just four destroyers.

"Any satellites in the area?" he asked.

"Yes, one orbiting the planet's moon" Friar answered.

"Can we position it to bounce a scan off it and behind the planet?" Ryan asked again. Friar paused again.

"Processing..." he said. Data scrolled across his body, but he remained still. "Okay, satellite is moving. Time to scan: twenty seconds." Ryan nodded and waited.

Friar's hands which had been hidden inside his cloak appeared as he uncrossed his arms. James looked down at him, confused. He had never seen Friar move his body like that.

"What?" he asked. Friar pointed to the view screen. It flickered once, revealing a blank screen, but then changed to show the backside of the planet which could not be seen. Ryan gasped.

An entire Covenant armada sat in a geosynchronous orbit over the planet. Ships ranging from small frigates, to huge battle cruisers and carriers waited behind the huge planet, which was about the size of Jupiter. No wonder their scans couldn't pick up any other ships.

"Look" Friar said. An additional five Covenant ships appeared out of Slip Stream and moved into position with the rest of the fleet.

"How many?" Ryan asked.

"Two hundred tops, the satellite has moved out of position" Friar explained. Ryan sat in the command chair, holding his head up with his hands. There was no way their small battle group of seven ships could take them on. They would need help. But like always, the Captain had to see this.

"Friar, save copies of all the data we've collected, and take note of anything else in the system. We're going to need your help" Ryan said, standing up.

"Not a problem, wake up call is in a few hours. Why not try and sleep?" he asked. Ryan nearly fell on the floor laughing.

"After seeing this, there's no way I can sleep peacefully" he said. Friar shrugged and disappeared. James took one last look at the fleet, and then left the bridge.

The same briefing room which Rook had been in yesterday was now crowded with human officers. He recognized Captain Baine and Lieutenant Commander Ryan, and could only assume who the others were. His team filed in behind him and ignored the stares given to them from nearby officers. They stood near the back and waited for this early morning meeting to begin.

Rook took note of Captain Baine and James. The two of them sat near the head of the table and were whispering to one another. Both were extremely white in the face, as if they had seen a ghost. Rook suddenly became more interested.

"All right, let's begin" Baine called out. The conversation in the room dulled, as the other officers took a seat. When the last seat was taken, the remaining officers leaned against the wall. Baine nodded at all of them.

"Good morning, assembled here are the fleet's captains and marine field commanders. Sorry for the shortage of space people, but we've got a big problem. To start off, I would like to present Lieutenant Commander Ryan" Baine said. James stood up and backed up to the large computer screen positioned behind Baine.

"Ladies and Gentlemen, at oh-fifteen hundred hours, the fleet arrived at the outskirts of the Cascade system. Upon our arrival, the Guardian's AI; Friar, took note of the Halo ring world." The screen was activated and showed a picture of the huge installation. However, Rook was looking at the four Covenant destroyers hovering above it.

"Additional scans showed plasma exhaust trails from possible Covenant dropships, indicating that this ring world is a much more hostile place then the others" Ryan said.

"You called us here to warn us of four ships. We can easily take them out" a man near Baine said. Ryan shook his head.

"I wasn't finished yet Captain Morrison. Fearing the possibility of additional ships, Friar then sent a scan behind the nearby planet which Halo orbits. This is what was found." The picture changed and a huge gasp was heard from the gathered officers. Rook couldn't help but drop his mouth in shock.

A large grouping of Covenant ships sat in orbit over the planet. Rook's augmented eyes couldn't make out every single one; it was a huge cluster of vessels of amazing power. Rook looked back at Frye, whose eyes were wide open. The screen flickered to show five additional Covenant ships appear out of Slip Stream and move into position with the rest of the fleet.

"We assume they've been here a few days to have gathered a fleet this large. It is quite obvious that our small battle group does not stand a chance against a fleet of nearly two hundred, maybe three hundred ships" Ryan said, moving away from the screen and sitting down beside Baine. Small murmurs could be heard from the officers standing, but everyone else was still shocked at the picture. Baine cleared his throat.

"No doubt, what Friar has found is truly the definition of power, but we have one advantage. Located a few kilometers away from the ring world is a Mutara Nebula cloud. Scans show it's filled with pockets of gases that are relatively safe to UNSC ships" he said.

"Excuse me Captain, but what do you mean by "relatively safe?" asked a nearby fleet officer. Baine shrugged.

"What I mean is, if we ventured into that gas cloud, it would mask our radar signatures to the Covenant. The only risks that we've calculated are increased temperatures, environmental system malfunctions, basically things that do not relate to the well being of each ship" Captain Baine explained. The same officer nodded.

"Except for the crew" he said.

"The temperature will rise to approximately forty, maybe fifty degrees Celsius, but our own environmental systems can compensate for that and bring it back down to around thirty. What I am suggesting is, we move our fleet into the cloud and send our troops down to the surface from there" he said. Another officer looked away from the screen and at Baine.

"The Covenant would surely detect a large fleet of dropships filled with marine soldiers." Baine waved a finger at him.

"This is where I've changed the plans around. Instead of sending in our marine divisions first like we used to do, we're going to send in the Guardians in first" Baine explained. All eyes in the room turned to Rook and his squad. They glared back at each of them until their attention was at the Captain. Isaac pressed a switch on the table, and the holo-projector hummed, showing the image of a large island.

"Like all the other ring worlds, the map room, or Silent Cartographer of this ring world is on an island. The plan I have is, we drop off the Guardians in a secure area on this island and have them infiltrate the Silent Cartographer and determine the location of Halo's control room. While this is happening, we will inform the UNSC of this massive fleet and hope they provide reinforcements. Once a hopeful armada arrives and engages the Covenant, we break free of our cover and send down our marines to help provide the distraction needed to allow the Guardians to plant their bombs in the control room" Baine explained. There were no objections by the other officers as they understood the plan.

"Questions?" Baine asked.

"What if the dropship with the Guardians is discovered by the Covenant?" asked a marine Field Marshal.

"That depends on whereabouts radar contact has been determined. If the dropship is discovered in space, it retreats back to the fleet and we get the hell out of there. However, if the dropship is found on Halo, it lands somewhere until we find a way to get them out of there. The Guardians shouldn't have a problem dealing with recon or scout patrols" Baine said. Rook grinned at this, but said nothing. The Captain was right though. The dropship would be safe as long as he or one of his team members were alive.

"Make no mistake ladies and gentlemen, there is going to be some shooting and there will be deaths on both sides. Hopefully this battle will boost the overall morale, because it looks like these ring worlds are much more important to the Covenant than we thought" James Ryan put in. No questions followed. Baine stood up from his chair.

"Let's get rolling then. Ship commanders, inform your crew of our plan and get ready to move into the cloud in two hours. I will be contacting the UNSC shortly after we position ourselves in the cloud and will keep you all updated. Dismissed." The gathered officers all stood and saluted to Baine, who returned it. They then slowly filed out, with Rook and his team bringing up the rear. It was time to suit up and get ready to move.

"We ready to go?" Isaac Baine walked into the bridge, buttoning up the collar of his uniform and straightening it out. Communications officer; Lieutenant Wong spun around in her chair, with one hand to the small ear piece in her right ear.

"Battle group reports all crews ready and standing by" she said. Baine nodded and took a seat in the command chair.

"Engines to fifty percent, bring us in nice and smooth Lieutenant." The Navigation officer; Lieutenant Edwards nodded to the order and activated the ship's engines. He then slowly maneuvered them forward.

The view screen showed the amazing gas clouds that made up the nebula. Pinks, reds, purples, it was a borealis of colors all mixed into one. Slowly, it grew in size as they approached it and pretty soon, it filled up the whole screen. Hell, the Covenant should've hidden in here, Baine thought to himself.

"Now entering the Mutara Nebula" reported Tactical officer, Lieutenant West. The Guardian slowly steered into the first cluster of clouds, pushing them apart in the vacuum of space.

"Tactical, monitor interior systems, make sure nothing is affected" Baine ordered.

"All lights show green sir" West answered. The screen flickered slightly as they ventured deeper inside. All Baine could see was pink or red as they pushed through. Sweat began to trickle down his forehead.

"Temperatures are rising Captain" West reported. No shit, thought Baine.

"Friar, how much further?" Isaac asked their AI. The monk appeared beside the Captain, data symbols scrolling over his body.

"'Bout a kilometer or two, we are nearly there" he said. The lights flickered above Baine, who looked up at them. He glanced over at West, who shrugged.

Suddenly, an explosion emanated from the port side. A small ball of flame appeared on the screen. The ship lurched to starboard, nearly flinging Baine from his chair. Klaxon alarms went off.

"Report!" he demanded. Friar's image flickered several times, but he remained on the projector.

"Our engines must've ignited a pocket of metrione gas" Friar said calmly.

"Metrione gas? All engines, full stop!" Baine called out. The Guardian came to a complete stop, as did the rest of the fleet behind them. Additional balls of flame could be seen as several ships ignited the dangerous gas.

"Damage report" Baine said, walking over to Lieutenant West.

"Minimal sir, it wasn't a big cloud. Armor rating down to ninety-four percent, nothing we can't handle. Engineering reports that the hull is merely burned in some places" he said. Baine sighed. Metrione was a newly discovered gas. It was toxic to the human body, much like a poison and highly explosive. People thought gasoline was bad, metrione was worse. Baine had read the battle record of a UNSC destroyer called the Minotaur, which had run into the gas while on a scouting mission. Large pocket detonated at the back side, completely destroying her engines and rendering the ship useless. The Captain had ordered all hands to abandon ship and make a break for the nearest star base.

"Do we still have scans?" Baine asked, moving back to his chair.

"Yes sir. No damage was reported to any operating systems. I've already done a search of the nebula. The only traces of metrione were what we just blew up, I can't find anything else at this time" Friar explained.

"How much further till our rally point?" Baine asked.

"Few hundred thousand meters. Are you thinking of stopping here?" Friar asked.

"The thought has crossed my mind and is staying there" Isaac answered. Friar nodded his hooded head.

"We are within range for a quick transfer of troops to the ring world sir" he said. Captain Baine looked over at communications.

"Did any other ships sustain heavy damage?" he asked. Lieutenant Wong looked up from her console.

"UNSC Zealot reports minor engine damage and the loss of one of her MAC turrets. Other than that, minimal damage to the rest of the fleet" she said. Baine nodded and leaned forward, sighing heavily.

"Let's get this mission over with. Lieutenant West, inform the Guardians they are green for departure. Lieutenant Wong, patch me through to FLEETCOM. Time to call in the cavalry" he said.

By: Agent Shade