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The Seventh Battalion: Chapter One
Posted By: Ajax<swordfist14@cox.net>
Date: 10 February 2004, 12:13 AM

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      (Author's Note:

      Sorry for the long delay in getting this one out. High school doesn't leave much time for writing. And if you haven't read the prologue already, you'll probably want to before you read this.
      The Seventh Battalion is the final version of an idea for a series I've had for a long time. The first two tries, Brothers in Arms and On a Red Horse, didn't work out and I didn't like them at all. I've worked hard on this, and I'm confident it'll fulfill what I wanted it to be. Enjoy.)

      The ship had been a blackened skeleton, drifting and dead as if it had been abandoned by those who had so treasured it. Not a hint of the glory the ship had once possessed remained. Not a glimmer of power pulsed through its circuitry. Not a mote of light existed in its barren depths. Indeed, if someone had dared to break the ghostly spell of darkness that had swallowed the starship, the only things illuminated would have been mauled carcasses. A body here, a spatter of gore there.
      And the horrifying drip of blood.
      Tastes of fear and blind horror could be sensed in the dank, cold air that consumed hallways and rooms; scents of long dead terror, echoes of long gone screams. It had seemed like a house without its family, like a crib without a baby. Its very purpose seemed stolen away by a faceless demon who had taken its life force and sneered at its desperate cries to reclaim it. This pitiful shell of metal and darkness had drifted somewhere in space, completely silent and alone, seemingly doomed to be lost forever.
      At least, it had.
      It was now alive once more, humming with energy and light. Its hangars were dominated by sleek intelligence craft. Crack soldiers armed with heavy weaponry guarded hallways and rooms. Technicians accessed its systems from the control room. And an AI's fluid presence snaked throughout the veins of the Covenant starship.
      The shadows that had turned the alien stronghold into a ghost ship born out of a nightmare had long since departed. Now several squadrons of Longsword fighter craft swarmed around its exterior, and, thousands of meters away, several menacing Nemean-class destroyers crowded around the craft like parents protecting their young.
      But the most important treasure it had hoarded was already screaming back towards ONI Earth HQ in slipspace, onboard one of the fastest craft humanity had yet built, an ONI cruiser called Shadow Cheetah. Smart AIs were already sifting through the labyrinth depths of the sphere, wading through a sea of symbols and sounds. Slowly English words appeared on a nearby monitor.

      Light suddenly seared into Michael Delhomme's eyes. His body seized with adrenaline, eyes snapped open, and he looked down the barrel of his black Beretta to see his friend Jimmy sheepishly hold his hands up.
      "Nice to see you still got it, man, but I'm no Covie," he said.
      Delhomme sighed and took his finger off the trigger. He put aside his gun, thumbing the safety, and let himself fall back into bed. He stared at the black ceiling of the barracks and remembered they were on the Peregrine. As Jimmy moved away from the light switch, he rubbed the sleep out of his eyes and ran his fingers through his hair.
      "Jesus, Cavanaugh, I was asleep," he complained.
      The tall sergeant sat on his bunk and took out his Bowie knife. Casually he started playing with it. "You mean unconscious. Everyone's already up, in the gym."
      Delhomme smiled. "Don't those bastards ever rest?"
      "Never heard of the word." Cavanaugh paused, the blade twirling arcs in the air. "Denton's still pissed you got more kills then he did. In his old units the eltee was his bitch."
      "That shows he's new here. If we carved notches in our guns we wouldn't have anything left to shoot with." Delhomme jumped out of bed, heading toward the shower, feeling the cold metal floor chill his feet. "See you in ten," he said.

      Several minutes later he stepped into the corridor and made for the gym. Lieutenant Michael Delhomme was lean and muscular, with black spiky hair. He had a narrow face, dark brown eyes, and stubble on his chin because he hadn't been able to find his razor.
      The lieutenant wore a black t-shirt, cargo pants, and boots. The shirt was inscribed with the Delta Force insignia: the snarling face of a wolf, looming above two crossed swords. Around the border read "Delta Force, UNSC - Semper Fidelis". Michael cracked his knuckles, flexing his hands. The door he was looking for hissed open, and he stepped through into the gym of their cruiser, the Red Peregrine.
      The gym was large and sleek. Lines of chrome machines of every kind waited patiently for someone to use them. Large posters covered the black walls. The Delta Force insignia, the flag of the UNSC, and posters of the Earth were all there.
      Around forty men and women occupied the room at present. None looked quite the same, having come from dozens of different worlds, but they all had something in common. Eyes that had seen countless deaths. Hands that had killed. Even their movements were smooth and graceful. They radiated confidence and power and an unspoken message that they could kick anyone's ass and weren't afraid to. After all, only the best soldiers in the galaxy made it into the crack special forces unit called Delta Force.
      Delhomme saw the members of Charlie Team and walked over to his men. Eddie "Doc" Cash saw him first and stepped forward, grinning. "Well, what do you know," he said. "I thought you'd never get up."
      Michael stretched. "I sent so many aliens to hell last night it took it out of me. Not that you'd know anything about that."
      Doc laughed. "Oh I would. It's just easier for me."
      "You know you're right, cleaning up my mess must be pretty easy," Delhomme cracked, ducking a punch from Cash.
      The Corporal led him over to the others. "Look what I found," he said.
      Jason Vinateri grinned. "That was a sweet op last night, sir."
      As they all started reliving the takedown of the ship, laughing and arguing amongst themselves, Delhomme studied the members of his squad with a proud smile.
      Gunnery Sgt. Jimmy "Hoot" Cavanaugh, currently wearing a pair of Oakley's and puffing calmly on a pipe, had been his best friend since high school and was a crack sniper and pilot. He could shoot a fly off a wall without scraping the paint. Hoot could drive anything with wheels and some without them. He was also a genius mechanic. The lithe, brown-haired sergeant had joined the Corps with Delhomme and they'd gone up the ranks together.
      Master Sgt. "Zee" Reheboth was black, six foot three, and easily weighed over two hundred pounds, all of it muscle. He was deadly in close combat and could kill an Elite with his bare hands. He was especially deadly with a knife. For all his size he was agile and could run as fast as most of the men on his team. He'd been a member of the crack African unit called the Reccondos before he'd been invited to join Delta Force.
      Staff Sgt. Andrew "Red" Denton was as professional as they came. Aggressive as hell, the tall black sergeant, expert with heavy weaponry and armor certified, had been a Helljumper for several years before joining Delta. He'd jumped on dozens of worlds and killed hundreds of Covenant. Red was a great warrior. Delhomme had heard stories. One was that Red had single-handedly held off wave after wave of Covenant soldiers for more than an hour until evac arrived, defending the wounded members of his team after their Pelican had crashed behind enemy lines. His call-sign came from the blood-red tattoo of a black widow on the back of his neck.
      Staff Sgt. Kate "Fox" Malenfont was standing talking with Lara and Angelina. Michael had known Kate his entire life. They had played as kids together, grown up in the same neighborhood, gone to the same high school. They were great friends, but in the share-a-pizza-and-beer kind of way. They had both joined the UNSC and had raced each other to the top. Michael admired her beautiful face, glistening lips, and great breasts. She caught him looking and smiled, showing her perfect white teeth. She winked at him and turned back to her friends. Five feet nine with smooth olive skin, great legs, shiny dark brown hair, and light blue eyes, Fox was everything her call-sign implied and more. She was the second of Charlie's snipers, easily the best he had ever seen. An expert with martial arts, she could also hold her own in hand to hand fighting.
      The other two female soldiers in his squad were also deadly and gorgeous. Corporal Angelina "Siren" Biggs was their scout. She had threaded her blond hair and let it fall to her shoulders. She wore a small tight white t-shirt that showed off her tanned abs and her large breasts. Angelina had 10/20 vision and could hear a twig crack a hundred feet away. The blond-haired beauty favored throwing knives and a silenced battle rifle as her tools.
      Corporal Lara "Dynamite" McKnight had pale skin, a great figure, bright orange hair, and emerald-green eyes. Dynamite was their demolitions specialist and had all kinds of goodies in her knapsack: mines, blocks of C-12, isotopic charges, and every kind of grenade. She always had a scoped battle rifle in her hands and a Jackhammer slung across her back.
      Corporal Noriyuki "Komodo" Haga was a veritable ninja. The lithe Japanese soldier stood calmly watching the arguments. He wore a silver chain around his neck, silver-rimmed sunglasses, and had black hair. He had been a hitman for the Triads early in life. After he joined the military he had done a few years in the Black Dragons before getting the call from Delta Force. He owned the shadows. Enemies would never see him unless he wanted them to. Komodo carried a long titanium blade for stealth kills and twin chrome silenced M12 Beretta carbines in holsters on his legs.
      Corporal Jason "Santa Cruz" Vinateri was something of a legend in combat. The Italian boasted twin Widowmaker submachine guns, which he had spent dozens of hours fine tuning. The guns were heavily customized: amped up delivery power, extended clips, bore thermal-capable scopes, and had chrome bodies with a black skull on each side. He called them his Cruz Juniors. Santa Cruz laughed at cover and could always be seen sprinting towards the enemy with two roaring submachine guns in his hands. For some reason he had never been wounded in combat, but no one knew whether it was his skill or the fact that someone up high liked him. He was extremely athletic and was without a doubt the fastest member of Charlie Team.
      Corporal Eddie "Doc" Cash wore a black bandana and was laughing at a joke. He was a crack shot with a battle rifle but was good with all kinds of weaponry. He was Charlie Team's medic. Doc had a gift, Delhomme thought to himself. More than once he had saved a dying soldier's life when others thought he was a dead man. Doc was brave and selfless and was liked by everyone.
      As for himself, Michael "Scarecrow" Delhomme used a battle rifle equipped with a grenade launcher. He always kept a Desert Eagle and Beretta with him, too. Delhomme was the most highly decorated soldier in Delta Force. He was incredibly brave, always the one to lead charges or volunteer for a suicide mission. His skill in combat was legendary mainly because he tried things no one else would try and did things other people saw as impossible. He was damn lucky, and he hoped that luck would never run out. The lieutenant was a capable leader: a smart tactician who cared about his men.

      As the ONI stealth craft Shadow Cheetah screamed through Slipspace and the probing tendrils of smart AIs filled the depths of the Forerunner sphere, Admiral Durant tapped his fingers on the table in front of him, staring at the Forerunner artifact as silver symbols swam in its murky waters. He had been staring at it for almost an hour as the AIs slowly deciphered its message. He sipped on a cup of coffee, deep in thought.
      The Delta Force takedown of the Covenant ship had been flawless, he thought. They were to be commended. Two men had died, and for that Durant was sorry, but what they had gained far exceeded what had been lost. They now possessed the Forerunner artifact that the starship had apparently found and had been about to take back to the Covenant. A probe had recorded its presence and beamed a message to Command. The Admiral had deployed troops to board and take the ship, even though he suspected it would jump long before they reached it. But thankfully it hadn't entered Slipspace, and there had been enough time for the D boys to get aboard in captured Covenant boarding craft.
      Their smart AI, Romulus, had accessed its systems and shut down the power, letting Delta go to work. After they had cleared the starship a fleet of ONI craft and several destroyers jumped in system. ONI had recognized the sphere's importance and sent it on their fastest ship back to Earth, to be decoded enroute. Time was of the essence, for Delta reported a single escape pod had detached from the ship and jumped before they could stop it. If the sphere held the location of some Forerunner technology, and whoever was aboard that damn escape pod knew where it was, Durant didn't want to think about what would happen if a Covenant fleet caught them with their pants down retrieving it.
      But then again, for all he knew the sphere was a Forerunner version of a damn CD. Now that would be embarrassing, Durant thought, and sipped some more coffee. Suddenly the computer the AIs were channeling the data to beeped, and the shimmering holographic forms around the sphere stepped away, satisfied looks on their faces. One glanced at the Admiral.
      "It is done," the AI said, in a breezy voice.
      The fingers of the technician at the computer danced on the keyboard, the tapping loud in the suddenly silent room. The printer whirred, and a sheet of paper slowly appeared. The technician grabbed it and handed it to Durant.
      Durant took it and held it up to read in his right hand, fingers trembling ever so slightly. When he was halfway through his eyes widened and the coffee cup fell from his hand, shattering on the floor.

      Lieutenant Delhomme was in the middle of a bench press when the intercom clicked. The voice of their CO, Captain Perino, issued from the speakers.
      "I need Lieutenants Cavaco, Riemer, Delhomme, and Riley with me on the bridge. Now."
      The intercom clicked off. Delhomme looked up to see Cavanaugh, his spotter, glance at him. Jimmy frowned. "What the fuck d'you think that means?
      Delhomme got up and walked quickly over to the exit. The leaders of Alpha, Bravo, and Echo teams met him there. The door hissed closed behind them.
      Less than a minute later they stepped out onto the bridge. The Captain saw them and strode over with a worried look on his face.
      "What's happening, sir?" Lieutenant "Romeo" Cavaco asked.
      "Admiral Durant just contacted us. He wants us to get our asses back to the Sol System ASAP."
      "What's the deal?"
      Wordlessly the Captain handed Cavaco a sheet of paper. Delhomme and the others crowded around him and starting reading. It read:

      United Nations Space Command Emergency Priority Message 08935
      Encryption Code:
      From: UNSC/Shadow Cheetah
      To: UNSC/Red Peregrine
      Subject: Immediate Withdrawal to Martian Shipyards
      Classification: RESTRICTED (BGX Directive)

      Immediate relocation to Sol System required. Red Peregrine to dock at Martian Shipyards for re-supply of weaponry and anything else needed. Delta Force must be prepared to immediately carry out instructions that will be sent to you upon arrival.
      As I write this things are already being put into motion. An elite strike force is being created, composed of the best soldiers we can find and the best technology humanity has to offer. The Peregrine will be part of this fleet, codenamed the Seventh Battalion. On it ride all the hopes and dreams of our time.
      Data contained in Forerunner artifact may be the only thing that will pull our asses out of the fire.
      /end file/

      Darkness swallowed him. He sat curled up in a ball, shivering more from fear than from the cold. Tears streamed down Jinjin's cheeks as he remembered the deaths of his squad, as he relived the terror. What's happening? He thought. They had found him curled up on the floor of the escape pod, snoring soundly, the floor cluttered with empty foodnipples. They had taken him here. Only he didn't know where here was. In his fear he relived the terror that had seized him when he realized he was going to die, the horror of the hot blood that had drenched him. Jinjin squeezed himself into a smaller ball and willed the nightmare to end.
      A light flickered on, illuminating the sniffling grunt shivering on the ground. Jinjin squealed and looked about himself. Darkness. Then he heard a voice, hard and cold.
      "And what does the creature have to say for himself?
      Another voice. "Do not speak so harshly. This little one brought us what was needed."
      "And the loss of one of our finest ships. The deaths of some of our best soldiers."
      "Expendable. The loss of the officer is regrettable, but one cannot be picky in war."
      "The data?"
      "I have seen it."
      "It holds everything we had hoped for and more."
      Jinjin timidly raised his hand.
      "Speak, soldier," the nice voice said.
      "A-are you gonna kill me?" Jinjin squeaked, his voice quivering.
      "Kill you?" the voice said softly. "I think not. Let it not be said that the Council rewards service with death."
      "The Council?"
      A dim light appeared, illuminating the silhouettes of several creatures. Several long-necked, stately figures sat serenely on gravity thrones. Their ornate headresses twinkled with a faint glow. On either end the light glinted off statues of shining armor and dull muscle near nine feet tall. The guardians grasped weapons of holy fire. Jinjin squinted, but he could only see their outlines.
      The voice continued. "You will be promoted to the rank of High Warrior and will wear the shadow armor, for total selflessness and courage in servitude to the Gods. As for us..." the light shone on a devilish grin, "we go to war and the extinction of mankind."