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The Hephaestus Equation III
Posted By: Dirty Commie<dirtycommie99@hotmail.com>
Date: 3 December 2002, 6:32 pm

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      "-up. Sergeant Gordon, wake up. Damn jarhead...wake up you sorry sack-"
      "I'm up, I'm up! Who the hell are you and where am I?" Tal snapped back angrily. He didn't feel very authoritative, though, curled up on the bench in the tiny shuttle that had brought him to...wherever he was.
      "Welcome to the Winged Faith, Sergeant." The man said with a smirk forming on his face.
      "I'm not a Sergeant."
      "I'm a Corporal."
      The man frowned for just a second, and suddenly understanding came to his face.
      "Oh, they didn't formally promote you on board the Threshold of Heaven. Well, we'll scrounge some chevrons and whatever later. Right now, we need to get down to the briefing room, your shuttle arrived late. Follow me." With that, he turned sharply and marched into the brightly lit hallway through the airlock. Tal was still working his mind around the fact that he was a Sergeant. That wasn't nearly as hard as they make it seem in Basic, it was always honor and responsibility and blah blah...Hey, where'd that dude go?

      As the door slid shut quietly behind him in the darkened briefing room, Tal quickly picked out the man who had wakened him in the shuttle. As Tal sidled up next to him, he noticed that the man's name was Sgt. Major Richards. Tal saluted with a wry grin. Richards returned the salute with an equal amount of humor and resumed watching the rather young Major in the center of the room.
      It looked like any other starship briefing room, except for two things. First, all the seats were filled, and people were standing along the back wall, there had to be over 150 people in here, Tal estimated. Secondly, every person in the room was above the rank of corporal, but seemed below the age of 35. It was true the UNSC handed out promotions like band-aids, but all this rank gave Tal an uneasy feeling as he turned to watch the Major.
      "At T-0, the Winged Faith and her escorts will approach from behind the shield moon, while the Infiltration team will swing out at a wide angle, and will hit the station approximately twelve minutes after the Winged Faith engages any defenses, T+13." The center holo-projector showed three dots shoot out from behind a red moon to engage a large disk suspended directly in between the red moon and a bluish gas giant. Six more dots rocketed out in a wide arc and intercept the disk at a frightening speed. Tal had a nagging sense he had missed something important.
      "You will have three minutes to get inside before the radiation and other contaminants from the moon render your raiders inoperable, T+16. We expect light resistance from the interior, but, as usual, we're basing that on human procedures, and Covvies aren't exactly human." Yeah, Tal had missed something. The Major continued. "Now for the I-team, you, there are three objectives." He displayed them on the holo-projector in the middle of the room.

      Primary-Gain entry to Covenant labs and mainframes.
      Secondary-Download any and all data stored in labs. Photograph and sample interior.
      Tertiary-Commandeer Covenant starship (if possible) for extraction. If unfeasible, dump data to Winged Faith and wait for assault shuttles to hit the docking bay at T+30.

      The Major finished reading off the objectives, and turned to survey the room. "As is usual on information raids, be prepared for anything, and commanders, be flexible in your orders. Any questions?" Tal had some, but wasn't too inclined to ask right now. "Good, see your individual commanders for team assignments. Dismissed."
      The room rose amid groans, mumbling, and very little laughter. Tal didn't blame them, information raids are suicidal. On top of that, they only had 14 minutes to get in and get out, without blueprints or even a general sketch. Tal was still musing over his certain death in this operation when a big hand slapped him across the back. He looked up to see Richards smiling at him.
      "Lost, aren't ya? I'm your commander for the raid, I'll fill you in." Tal was only slightly relieved. "C'mon, let's go get some food, I haven't eaten in over two hours."

      Tal sat apprehensively across from Richards in the mess hall, an untouched plate in front of him and questions bouncing around inside his head like a grenade in a centrifuge. Richards insisted, however, on holding his questions until he finished his spaghetti. Luckily, that took all of fifteen seconds. He sighed, took a long pull from his beer, sat back in his chair and laid it all out for Tal.
      An ultra-secret Covenant research station had had a message pod intercepted by a destroyer of the Fourth Fleet three weeks ago. By tracing the trajectory, the origin of the pod was determined to be an unnamed system deep in Covenant territory. Preliminary scouts had a lot of trouble finding the station because it was situated, rather ingeniously, in between a massive gas giant and an extremely volcanic moon. The debris spewed from the moon was drawn into the gas giant in a stream of radiation, dust, and other contaminants. Tal could see why they only had three minutes outside the station. Raiders are not known for their durability. He still didn't know what Tal Gordon was supposed to do, though.
      "You come in when the raiders finish burning through the hull. Our team will be escorting the techs into the labs, stealing a ship, and getting everyone out safely." Richards stood up to leave. "Muster in the bay at 0940. See you then."
      "No sweat." Tal said under his breath.