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Operation False Prophets, Chapter Ten: When The Fish In The Barrel Fight Back
Posted By: Ian Barnes<panzerschreck15@netscape.net>
Date: 27 April 2002, 2:26 am

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     John strode to the bridge of the "Fire of Reach". His slow but steady gait made him look like a machine. But that wasn't true. He was only partly machine.
     The door leading to the bridge hissed open, revealing a large room, twice the size of the bridge of the last ship John had been on, the Pillar of Autumn. The name brought back memories. He blocked them, shut them away. There would be time for sentiment later, when he was old and gray, and the Covenant menace was gone.
     The Captain was facing outward toward the space, assessing the situation. The Covenant fleet was amassed near the center of the solar system. At this point in their orbit, Mars and Earth were on opposite sides of the sun. The Covenant had chosen thus far to be the median. They had chosen not to attack either world, yet. They would eventually go somewhere, and John was expecting their first target to be Mars. It wasn't as well defended as Earth, and held valuable ship yards.
     Sadly, there was nothing John or the UNSC could do to save those on Mars. All the brass knew that was exactly what the Covenant wanted the UNSC to do. Using their pinpoint jumps, the Covenant could jump right next to Earth as soon as ships pulled away from Earth to assist Mars.
     Earth was to be protected at all costs. All ships defending Mars had been ordered to pull back to defend Earth. The brass had given a simple directive. Earth must not fall.
     John marched a little closer to the Captain. He still continued to stare. John walked next to the Captain and introduced himself.
     "Sir, Spartan-117 reporting for duty, sir."
     "Ah, I wasn't informed we had a Spartan on board."
      "No, you weren't sir, when I heard there was action, I hopped the first drop ship up here. Requesting orders."
     This was the first time John had gotten a good look at the Captain. He looked to be in his mid-forties, with patches of gray hair. He reminded John of Keyes. But the man didn't seem to hold himself with the same confidence as Keyes. His hands fidgeted and sweat ran down his brow. The Captain barked out several orders in the midst of their conversation. While his crew followed the orders, the Captain did not seem to hold the crew's full attention and respect like Keyes had.
     "Master Chief, I'd like you to remain on the bridge with me. You know some of the tactics of the Covenant better than most of the UNSC. You can help me out."
     John clicked on his COM, and gave her some orders.
     "Kelly, Captain...." John realized he hadn't gotten the Captain's name. He glanced at the name tag. Wilkins.
     "Captain Wilkins requests our presence on the bridge. Get up here double-time."
     Kelly's voice cracked onto the COM channel.
     "Yes sir."
     John glanced back toward the Captain who had returned to giving orders.
     "Lt. Jenson, give me an image of the Covenant fleet."
     The young navigations officer brought up a view, and zoomed in. Dozens of Covenant ships swarmed, but still did not advance toward Earth. Green motes of light continued to appear as Covenant ships continued to enter the system.
     The Captain spoke again, this time to the ship's AI, Thor.
     "Thor, give a count of Covenant ships."
     An AI materialized next to the Captain. He was appropriately dressed as a Norse god, and held his massive hammer at his side.
     "There are exactly three hundred and twenty-five ships sir."
     Captain Wilkins nodded. Sweat continued to drip from his brow. There were only forty UNSC ships, and twenty Super MAC guns. Not as much as the UNSC admiralty would have liked, but it would have to do. John continued to stare at the image of the Covenant fleet. Obviously they had come to reclaim their kidnapped leaders, or die trying. The Covenant ships suddenly vanished, trails of green light left where they had been. John glanced out the windows. UNSC ships were moving, scrambling in every direction, not wanting to be sitting ducks when the Covenant fleet reappeared.
     John was amazed. No one on this ship seemed to take notice, except Thor. He spoke up.
     "Captain, the Covenant ships have disappeared, I request evasiv-"
     A red klaxon turned itself on, and began blaring into the ears of the entire crew. Green motes of light began collecting a thousand kilometers distant directly off the bow of the ship. Thor activated the port emergency thrusters, which were large tanks of fluid, that when mixed, exploded and blew the ship onto a new course.
     Seconds later, hundreds more Covenant ships materialized, but like before, they seemed dead in space for several seconds.
     All twenty MAC guns let off a salvo. The shells were accelerated to one third the speed of light, and ripped twenty Covenant vessels to shreds, their hulks drifted, and collided with several other vessels, and became interlocked ina fiery dance.
     Several nuclear mines detonated, and a dozen Covenant ships were caught in the blast radius. Their shields glowed white-hot, then collapsed.
     While the UNSC ships attempted to begin charging their MAC guns, the Orbital MAC gus attempted to buy the ships a little time.
     The Orbital guns, capable of firing once every three seconds, let off another salvo, twelve shots tore the unshielded ships into tattered hulks, and the remaining eight slammed into other ships. Forty Covenant ships were destroyed or disabled.
The Bridge crew cheered with every kill, but Captain Wilkins remained emotionless.
     "Thor, give me status on the MAC guns."
     "96%, 98%, 100%! Weapons are hot! Firing!"
     A white streak shot from the ship, and the bulkheads shuddered. The immense projectile slammed into a Covenant destroyer and its shields failed. Part of the momentum left over put a massive dent in the ship, but nothing more. But five-hundred Archer missiles streaked after the defenseless target. Half were cut down by pulse lasers, but the other half impacted, turning the destroyer into a smoldering wreckage.
     John clenched his fist in triumph, but noticed the remaining Covenant fleet flare to life. Plasma began collecting along the sides of the ships.
     Over two hundred plasma torpedoes streaked away from Covenant ships, just before the MAC guns on the Orbital platforms, along with dozens of UNSC ships unleashed a hell storm of fire which crippled another thirty Covenant vessels. Half of the plasma torpedoes were directed at the smaller UNSC vessels. Multiple plasma blasts hit every smaller UNSC ship, boiling them away.
     John clenched his teeth. All of the frigates, destroyers and corvettes had been annihilated, leaving the Orbital guns, the ten new cruisers, and four Marathon-class cruisers. Not very good odds.
     Captain Wilkins held his breath as the remaining plasma torpedoes streaked toward the MAC guns. But as expected, the Sensor platforms reacted and moved to block the coming onslaught. Over a hundred plasma torpedoes impacted five different sensor platforms. Most of the torpedoes hit the platforms themselves, or the clouds of metal dust, rendering the plasma harmless. But several got through, and struck the Orbital MAC guns. John turned away, but returned his gaze just in time to see a silver coating around the MAC guns. All twenty of the MAC guns were still intact, and in retaliation, fired another salvo which decimated another twenty Covenant frigates and destroyers.
     John spied two Covenant carriers heading toward the poles of Earth. Another invasion. John remembered Reach. The Covenant destroyed the reactors on the surface which powered the Orbital stations. The Master Chief alerted the Captain, and in turn warned FLEETCOM. The Orbital guns turned, and fired ten rounds at each carrier, shattering the immense ships, and any possible wreckage.
     All four Marathon cruisers concentrated their fire on one Covenant cruiser, whose hull crumpled under the force of four MAC rounds. Plumes of fire gushed from the downed vessel.
     The Covenant returned fire with another salvo of plasma. Once again, tendrils of superheated gas lashed out at the orbital guns, the Marathon cruisers, and now the newer cruisers.
     Each Orbital gun took at least one hit, and their shields died. Several MAC guns took two plasma torpedoes, the first knocking out shields, and the second melting the massive weapon into scrap metal. More plasma torpedoes struck the Marathon cruisers. Two of the cruisers burst into flames as the heat created by the plasma ignited the Archer missiles in their launching pods. Ten plasma torpedoes roiled toward the UNSC shielded cruisers. Captain Wilkins winced as a plasma torpedo struck the "Fire of Reach" dead on, but the shields took the hit, and even held up.
     Seventeen MAC guns, two Marathon cruisers and all ten of what were being called the Freedom-class cruisers still remained.
     As the Covenant armada drifted closer, another barrage of nuclear mines ignited, destroying the shields of many large cruisers, and even obliterating a dozen smaller ships. The Orbital guns sent rounds which tore through seventeen Covenant cruisers, and the remaining Marathon and Freedom cruisers took aim at another twelve Covenant cruisers without shields. In seconds, twenty-nine Covenant ships were destroyed.
     The alien ships once again began charging their weapons, and Wilkins prayed the ship's shields would return to strength in time.
     The Master Chief spoke up.
     "Sir, is there any chance of reinforcements?"
     "Possibly, we've got a half dozen Marathon cruisers en route, but they may not make it."
     The Chief nodded and stepped away. He was getting restless, watching all these men die, but he could do nothing to save them.
     The MAC guns let off another seventeen gun salute, and seventeen more ships disappeared from the radar.
     More Covenant plasma streaked toward the Freedom cruisers. Several cruisers were hit multiple times, and burst into flames, just after they let loose hundreds of Archer missiles and several MAC rounds.
     The Archer missiles destroyed several Covenant ships, and the MAC rounds took care of a few more.
     Three Freedom cruisers were gone. The remaining two Marathon-class and seven Freedom-class cruisers opened fire, and more Covenant ships went down.
     Wilkins noticed another set of green light appearing behind the Covenant fleet. Wilkins let out a sigh of disgust. But then smiled as ships materialized, UNSC cruisers and destroyers. Thirty of them. Their weapons were hot, and they struck at the Covenant from behind, while the Orbital guns had recycled, and fired off another set of molten lead. Forty-seven Covenant ships burst into purple, blue and orange flames. The crew on the bridge let out a cheer. John made a quick count. One hundred fifty-four Covenant ships remained.
     The remaining Covenant vessels opened fire at the bane of their existence, the Orbital guns.
     One hundred fifty-four balls of plasma hurtled toward the guns. All the guns took multiple hits. Some only obtained minor damage, and seven were destroyed. But most of them were unharmed, thanks to the brave men and women aboard the Marathon cruisers.
     John felt a pang of regret for those soldiers who had been on the cruisers. Only an immense cloud of metal remained. The two ships had been hit with over a hundred blasts of plasma, and vaporized instantly. But they had realized the importance of the MAC guns, and weighed it against their own lives. John felt they had chosen correctly. Ten MAC guns and thirty seven UNSC ships opened fire. Forty-seven more Covenant warships were knocked from position, and tumbled helplessly through space.
     In a move which baffled John, the remaining one hundred seven ships turned to face the reinforcements, giving all the ships and MAC rounds another uncontested shot. Forty-seven more ships went down. The remaining Covenant ships let loose sixty plasma torpedoes at the reinforcements. All thirty ships were boiled away. Another seventeen MAC rounds tore through the Covenant ships.
     John was surprised the Covenant had made such a tactical error. They now had to turn around again to fire once more. A faux pas from the beginning. MAC guns on the cruisers and Orbital guns recharged, and fired again, destroying seventeen more ships.
     But the Covenant had loosed a salvo of plasma. The shields of the cruisers and MAC guns took the brunt of everything. John was astonished at how well the ship's shields held up, seemingly better than even the Covenant's own ships. Only one MAC gun and one Freedom cruiser went down. The MAC guns fired nine shots, then nine more three seconds later.
     The Freedom cruisers opened fire on six Covenant ships, destroying them, and the combined Archer missiles of the six ships destroyed the remaining two.
     No Covenant ships remained. Somehow they had won. John was happy, but confused. It had been too "easy." It was almost as if the Covenant weren't even trying. Three hundred twenty five Covenant ships against a total of about seventy, plus twenty MAC guns. Something didn't add up. Thor's voice boomed over the bridge.
     "New contact! Twelve million kilometers and closing fast!"
     Captain Wilkins enhanced the image. One ship? It was huge, but one? Wilkins was astounded. But John recognized the ship instantly. It was exactly like the one Keyes had destroyed as Reach, the Covenant flag ship. A lance of blue plasma lashed out at a MAC gun, and tore it in two. Another blast, and another MAC gun gone. The remaining guns and cruisers fired everything they had, but they were two far away. Another blast, then another. Again and again, the blue beam lashed out across space, destroying every MAC gun.
     Wilkins let out a wail.
     "Holy Hell! All ahead full, give me three hundred percent on the engines. We need to close the distance."
     The "Fire of Reach" sped forward, and the remaining cruisers followed suit. The distance closed rapidly, but by the time they were close enough, three more cruisers had been completely obliterated, leaving only three. The few cruisers left opened fire, and all three rounds impacted the ship, and they barely wiped out the ship's shields. Thor's voice called out again.
     "Two million kilometers distant. Warning, collision course with Covenant vessel, recommend course alteration."
     "Negative Thor. Steady on course."
     The Covenant battleship lashed out twice more, leaving only the "Fire of Reach."
     "One hundred thousand kilometers. Five seconds till impact."
     The two ships collided. The Covenant battle ship was broad sided, and the hull separated and wrapped around the "Fire of Reach" like a horseshoe. The front end of the UNSC vessel crumpled.
     Everyone on the bridge was hurled to the ground. Both the Captain and the Chief rose quickly.
     "Seal all compartments, vent atmosphere in breached decks, give me a damage report!"
     Thor sounded off a list of damaged structures. The reactors were damaged, and all lights had to be turned off to preserve power to run life support systems.
     Thor replied several seconds later.
     "Captain, I'm detecting pods being launched from the Covenant ship. I think we're about to be boarded."
      Seconds later, thumps resonated through the hull as Covenant boarding parties attached their craft to the hull of the ship.
     Captain Wilkins turned to the Chief and Kelly.
"Well Chief, looks like you'll have a chance to do some good after all."