Posted By: $erial-ki!!A<firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date: 19 May 2000, 11:42 pm
"The private viewing chamber of the Celestial Palace can be found on the 292nd floor of the main building. It is almost the tallest point on the building: there are energy generators above it. Nevertheless, this building is the tallest on the planet." The female UTC (Universal Touring Corporation) guide was abnormally ugly. She looked nothing like the modelesque guide that Alexander Tacnor had seen in the complementary video that was given to him at the UCT headquarters on Earth. She had a nasal voice, a bete-noire of his, and, to make matters worse, she was more condescending than anybody he had ever met in his life. Al had (to his present disappointment ) purchased the UTC Special Holiday Package to the planet Reach. The name was really a misnomer, as the package was available only to Fleet Officers, it should have therefore been called the UTC Shore Leave Package. His whole shore leave could be easily summarized in one commonly used word : shit. Although he had been promised beautiful views of the bay area to one side, and the Glena mountain ranges to the other, Al had been in fact housed in a lower story room, whose only view was that of the 420th Marine barracks. Nice for the 12 women on his trip, who would no doubt have enjoyed watching the spectacle of the Marines running topless around the courtyard, but he was thoroughly heterosexual. Normally, he would have complained to the Advertising Standards Committee, (which is operational on 1258 of the 1262 planets in the United Human League) they would have gotten him a better room, but he had been told that Reach was no.3 of the 4 planets not under ASC jurisdiction. The only plus to this whole trip was that Al was there with all of his old college friends, who he hadn't seen since he was 18: they had all been assigned to a different ship from Al when applying for Space Duty. That was a shame, but the reason was a remarkable one : he had a higher GPA than his friends, and was assigned the rank of 2nd Battle Co. Ops on the Corvette "Pillar of Autumn", a rank superior to the ranks of Private and Legion that his friends had been assigned. In short, Al was a respected Officer, whose blood must not be spilled into space or on ground. His friends, on the other hand, were pure laser fricassee.
Al faced his buddies, busily ignoring the guide, who glared maliciously at them.
"Hey, Harv.... Let's get out of here." Al spoke in low whispers, and kept his eyes focused on the guide, to make sure that she didn't notice him speaking.
"Al.... The guide's staring at us.... we couldn't break off this bunch if we tried..." came the hissed response.
The guide, releasing Harv and friends, from her evil gaze, walked purposefully towards a door marked 'Viewing Dome II'. She turned and said, "I know that the guide book says that I am supposed to show you the 'Viewing Dome I', but it has been put under the restricted area portion of my list. I apologize on behalf of UTC. This way please." Her voice was meant to be apologetic, but sounded tired and more like a ' just try to argue with me, asshole, I'll cut off your balls' warning. Al glanced at Harv, and whispered.
"I am your commanding officer. I order you, Chris, and Angelo to retire for beer and waffles with me."
"Sir, I grudgingly accept your orders." replied Chris, with a smirk on his face.
The guide pushed open the door, and, with a complete disregard for common courtesy, walked through first, letting the door swing back into the NCO who tried to walk in after her.
Angelo nodded his head at Al, and said "Nice one, ditchin' the bitch and all.... Maybe bein' an officer did teach you something Al : How to have fun once in a while."
"Yeah" followed up Harv "You never had a sense of fun when we were 17!"
"And that's why he made it into officer's school and learnt to have fun... Right Al?" Chris sucker-puched Al on the arm.
"Yeah, that's right. Full fucking circle. Let's go!"
The four strode off down the marble and mahogany lined corridor, and headed for the nearest bar, which was on the 292nd floor. It was called the Home of The Gods, and it served appropriately named beers : The Mead of Olympus being the four's favorite.
"Jesus-fucking-christ" Said Angelo when he lay back against the red leather sofa-chair "I have never seen so much nice shit in a bar. What about you, Al?"
Al thought for about a second, and replied "Yeah, this place is real nice and expensive lookin." He actually frequented a watering hole on Pillar of Autumn which looked better than this, but it was an Officer's bar, and he didn't want to show off his privileges in front of his squaddie friends.
After 3 pints of the Mead beer, and a long swig of shared memories, Chris, who was somewhere between not exactly sober and passed out, proposed a plan to his similarly drunk friends.
"Hey, guys" (he was used to being drunk, so his speech was not slurred) "Remember how that whore posing as a UTC guide said that the Viewing Dome was restricted access?"
"Well," he paused to think the plan over "We could go and find out why... I mean, Al's an officer, and --"
Al took the floor from Chris, and continued "Sounds good to me. They would at least have to tell us what is going on."
Al stuck his hand in the air, and called for the waiter's attention. Once the lardy Portuguese man looked up, Al made the writing-in-air sign. ( A common substitute for asking for the bill) Despite the casual impoliteness of his badly dressed guest, the waiter nodded happily, and returned 3 minutes later, with the Neroplex card-charger in one hand, and with complementary mints in the other. Al handed over his RDB (Re-Direct Bill ) card over to the waiter, and signed the blue transparent Neroplex machine. With his card back in his wallet, the four men stood, rejected the mints, which were by now covered in sweat from the fat waiter's palm, and walked out of the room, checking an Information Database for the location of the Viewing Dome. It was located about 2 cliks from the bar, so they also found the closest Horizontalator and stepped aboard. The ride took 1.5 minutes, during which they discussed the procedure to entering the Viewing Dome.
The Horizontalator came to a slow halt, and the doors opened, to reveal a securicor guard slowly walking away from them. Al punched the shut door button, and recapped the plan, in case his friends had forgotten
"I am your commanding officer, like always. We are inspecting the facility. If they ask, we are a coalition team between our ships, got it?"
Once again Al pushed the open/close door button, and they stepped from the Horizontalator onto a plush red carpet. The securicor card turned, and, with one hand on the grip of his SWB carb. 4 and an evil look on his face, asked them what the purpose of their visit was. Al sniggered slightly as he realised that although the guard's line of work almost necessitated impoliteness, he was far more polite than the UTC bitch, who was, as the complementary video had put it, a 'amiable Reach resident, there to provide you with a comfortable and informative tour'.
Chris responded instead of sniggering Al.
"He's our Officer, and we are from the Corvette and Battlecruiser Pillar of Autumn and--" Chris noticed he was sweating profusely, the tension of the moment must have been getting to him.
"Where are your papers?, and why is he laughing?" The guard was wearing a blue uniform, with Securicor written in about a dozen places. He had a riot helmet hanging next to his long black night stick. Quickly realizing that the guard wouldn't hesitate to club them to death if they made a wrong move, Al handed over the orders, saying "Right here."
"Ok, go right ahead gentlemen. Sorry for bothering you sir. Without your uniform on you look like one of us. No offense." The guard stepped back, his hand now lifted off of his gun, and gestured for them to go ahead. Great, thought Al, with us turned away from him and his hand free, I bet he's gonna use his stick on us.
"None taken. Please excuse us." Al was probably too polite, but that was a good thing when dealing with a well armed and trained guard.
The guard radioed ahead so that none of this ominous colleagues would stop the group from reaching the viewing dome. Al lead the way, but was forced to stop as the others halted near a floor to ceiling window, to admire the scenic view of space ships gliding effortlessly through the bluish air. Angelo broke the peaceful silence "Holy hell, this place is amazing. I want my house to look like this when I retire."
"Yeah" replied Harv "But you're poor as shit. So are all of us. All we'll get is a ground floor apartment in some shitty new colony. So what, though. We can't exactly complain."
Al looked around at his friends, realizing that they had all become very serious
"Uh uh, at least we are still alive. We shouldn't have lived through the Sloanus massacre. How many died?"
"No" Al countered, wanting to get into the conversation, "I guess that you guys don't get the real news. Those were the publicly released figures. The real ones tallied over 210590. Not pretty. The KIAs you got didn't include the Mar Sara xeno - class carrier that was blown to shit by the last ground based plasma barrage. No one survived." Al had just wanted to show how friendly he could be, and keep the Officer to Marine separation to a minimum. He realised that he had just done exactly the opposite, and highlighted the difference between them.
"Shit." came a somber response. The smiles had faded off of everyone's faces.
"So, how come we never got those numbers?"
"Well," Al was hesitant to reveal his worst secret "You guys know that the briefing data you received had opposing force numbers that were significantly lower than the numbers you encountered?"
"Yeah. I couldn't believe those son-of-a-bitch-bastards. The info they gave us was shit. Anyway, go on."
"Well, the Coordination Operation group's numbers were the real enemy numbers. Exact down to a man. They weren't released so that only a select number of nearby squadrons and platoons would have to go to battle."
"No. Sorry, I'm not."
"Why the fuck didn't you warn us? You must have known!"
"No. I knew about the whole operation , but I didn't know which platoons were going to be involved in the battle."
" We almost died down there! If that drop ship hadn't taken us back to our ship, we would add another 3 KIA!"
"I couldn't do anything. Blame the Earth based Co Ops boys. They were in charge."
Earth Co Ops weren't in charge of the massacre. In fact, only half of what Al said was true. The battle had been planned so that one whole fleet of Marines would be wiped out. This was because intelligence discovered that they were preparing to disband, once they requisitioned the state-of-the-art Battle Cruiser cum Assault Carrier ,Durndalana, in their hands. They were going to join the Outer System Pirates factions, using the carrier and fleet to control the area (and make themselves the only government). The fleet was called the SETI 4 Hard Combat Fleet, and its deceased head was the revered Jim Raynor, famous for his advanced fast strike tactics.Not only the reason for the battle was a lie. The battle had not been fought against a 'large unknown rebel dissident' force, but instead a large Spec-Ops fleet which didn't loose a single member, and only targeted SETI 4 troops. The only reason that Chris, Angelo, Harv, and the other combatants thought they had won was because the Spec-Ops fleet, called Insurgent 7, had made it appear like they were all dead, instead escaped the planet in a new stealth attack-frigate. There were no dead bodies found on Sloanus other than SETI 4 soldiers. This conspiracy was something he could never tell to his friends. They probably had buddies in the SETI 4 fleet, and would no doubt like to avenge their deaths. Even if the did suspect treachery and try to find out what really happened, they would reach a dead end, as this conspiracy travelled deep into the Intelligence ranks, an unfathomable agency. That was a good thing for Al: his friends would no doubt either report him to the authorities (the Co.Ops services were absolutely secret and therefore illegal) or just never wish to see him again if they ever found out what really happened. This is for two reasons : Al had lied to them, and Al, the commanding officer of Co.Ops on the Pillar of Autumn, which was really an Intelligence ship, had arranged and planned the strategies that made up the quasi-battle. (Both incriminating evidence in the eyes of his friends and the eyes of any Fleet Marshal Adjudicator.)
Pushing the second set of glass doors open, Al stepped over the threshold into a room which he expected to be outlined in ivory, oak, marble, and inset gems. His assumptions were proved incorrect, however, as he looked around and saw endless rows of super-computers and staff in green and beige hustling around, checking various instruments and screens.
"Umm... This is, well, weird." proclaimed Harv.
"Yeah. That's for sure. Why the fuck is it like this?"
"Dunno." Al responded "Lets go and find out."
Al marched over to the nearest staff member, and pulled him hard aside.
"What is going on in here?"
"Uh... Sir...." the staffer quickly recovered from this surprise assault. "Well. If you really want the full diagnostic, I presume that's what you are looking for, go over there to the guy in red. His name is Tycho, and he can tell you."
"Ok, thanks for your time."
The four marched purposefully over to the mentioned man, who, indeed, was wearing a strange red jumpsuit, and Al tapped him on the back.
"We are looking for a full diagnostic of the current situation" Al spoke in his most military voice. "Now" he added to seem important.
"Yes sir. Well, we have detected a mass of ships that entered the system about an hour ago. They have failed to respond to our tachyon pings, or our hails. I think you understand where I am going si--"
"No I don't. Enlighten me trooper. I just got here."
"Sorry. Well, these ships are following the same basic procedure as the ones involved in the previous attacks on other systems. In summary : well, we think that these ships are Covenant. We have already launched all forms of weapons platforms into space, and our orbital space yards are empty except for one ship : The Masrani."
That was the ship that Harv, Angelo and Chris were from.
"And even that ship is going to depart in... well, about 20 minutes."
"SHIT!" yelled Harv, grabbing Chris and Al by the sleeves, and ushering them out of the door with Angelo following up behind them.
They all started the sprint towards the elevator, which, after an inertia-drop period of 3 seconds, deposited them on the space dock floor of the Palace. From there, they rushed to the nearest L train heading for the Reach Star port.
The Star port is a structure which covers 15% of Reach's surface. And that measurement is by no means an abnormal size for any Star port. It is built directly over the Panash Ocean, as the standard transport fuel is derived from H2O. The Star Port is separated into three portions. The Military, Commercial, and trader stations. The military is the largest, as it has to provide one space that is large enough to land-dock a warship. This space was occupied when the men got there , namely by the Pillar of Autumn, which was being outfitted with the brand new tractor beam modification. Al turned to his friends.
"Well, sorry about the shitty shore-leave. I hate cliched goodbyes, so, I won't say anything in that way. Bye guys. Maybe next time."
"Yeah. I hate goodbyes to." chimed in Chris, and then they all spoke in mumbled unison "Bye man. See ya the next time we go to Earth." With that, the three turned and proceeded to the shuttle bay dock, which was located in a glass-box building, with a vertical launch tube sticking haphazardly out of the top. From there they would reassume their positions on board the Masrani, and prepare for the upcoming battle. "Bye" repeated Al as he watched the shuttle's Twin Ion engines kick in, reducing the shuttle craft to a blur in space and a tiny dot on the approaching Orbital shipyard's radar screen. Al walked over to the edge of the polarized holding bay that the Pillar of Autumn was floating in, and walked over to the mag-lev elevator. He stepped inside its tubular carriage, and pressed a silver button which was surrounded by a red light. Once the red light affirmed his ID via fingerprint, the magnets switched on the outside tracks, sending him rocketing upwards. Within seconds he had rose 1390 feet, and came to a smooth halt at the Hangar bay entrance. Normally devoid of all human life, as the ship had never needed it's combat facilities, the hangar bay was abnormally bustling with flight crews and fighter pilots. Walking forward, Al was felt a tap on his shoulder. He turned, and was startled by a female throwing herself around him, and almost strangling him with a bear hug.
"Al! I thought you were missing or something! Did you hear? We are going to war!"
She had to shout in his ear for him to understand her, as the hangar bay doors were closing, and the motors that operated them were whining, making a cacophonous noise.
"Hey! Liz! Let's get out of here...."
Liz yelled "What??", and Al found himself pulling her through to the dormitory area. Liz frowned at him "That's no way to treat a commanding officer." To this, he said "And my commanding officer, who is female, shouldn't be standing around in the men's dormitory!" Liz glanced to either side, blushed, paused, and said
"But you won't tell anyone I am here, because I am going to silence your mouth."
Liz put her hand around his waist, and brought his lips to hers. He pushed her away before she made contact. "Not now Liz. Let's get to the Command Room." she nodded, slightly depressed that his strict adherence to the rules stopped him from doing anything exciting with her. She turned, feigning happiness, and led him out by the hand.