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A New Year's Day, Chapter 1
Posted By: Guilty Spark<guiltyspark@charter.net>
Date: 8 December 2002, 9:37 am

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Two years after the destruction of the first halo device...

Jacob slowly lifted his head above the snowy embankment to survey the empty field that lay before him. The smoldering hulk of a scorpion tank, the remnants of a couple of banshees turning white with past days' flurries, scraps of warthogs and ghosts strewn about, and bodies. Bodies everywhere - both human and Covenant. In the distance, rose a spine of rock that snaked back and forth across the tundra.
A sound. It seemed distant but grew near before Jacob could react. Sgt. Jeremy Hawkins watched in stunned silence as Jacob's lifeless body slid down the embankment. Keeping low, he scrambled to the body. "Jacob! Jacob!" he cried.
With some effort, he turned the body over. A small hole bore into the center of Jacob's face shield - blood beginning to seep from the hole. Tiny blobs of blue plasma lay smeared across the shield.
Hawkins cursed under his breath. He crawled back to face the remainder of his team. "That sniper is still out there. Jacob is gone." The silence was deafening. Jacob was the one thing they had going for them - their escape depended upon him. Now, Hawkins knew it was a matter of time before they joined the dead Spartan.

[February 3, 2558. 0800 hours. Aboard the USNC Concordia orbiting Luna II.]
"Bella, any word from the fire team?"
"Nothing," replied the AI construct.
Rubbing the back of his neck, Cpt. Joe "Bull" Halsey frowned at the arc of the planet filling the bridge's view. He disliked this mission. Flying without escort and inserting an LRP (long range patrol) into hostile territory. He had no choice. USNC doled out the orders, requested he lead the operation and... well, here he was. Four days prior, there was a clash with Covenant forces on Luna II. Since then, not a word from USNC forces planet side. Halsey was sent to find out what happened. Now, he had a missing LRP on his hands. A hell of way to ring in the new year, he thought.
"Captain, it has been over twenty-four hours since the team last reported in. Should we try to make contact?" asked Bella.
"Not yet", replied Halsey. "Can't risk broadcasting our position to the Covenant. We'll just have to sit tight."
"Comm! Contact bearing 2-3-5!" barked Lt. Doug Jamison.
"What is it? What's its heading?" Halsey shot back.
"I can't get a make on it, sir, but I think it's a Covie. It's headed straight for us." The bridge's view screen magnified to reveal an approaching ship. It was small, slender and moving fast. It was definitely Covenant design.
"Bella, shields up! Go to red alert!" ordered Halsey. The room dimmed then was bathed in red light, and the emergency claxons began wailing. "Target the ship and power up the turbo lasers," he continued. "Ready strike fighters in bays one and two. Have bays three and four on standby. I want to provide the Covenant a proper welcoming committee should any more show up."
"Captain, the turbo lasers are ready and the ship is within range," reported Bella.
"Any other Covies?" asked Halsey. "None," came the reply.
The ship was within six kilometers and appeared to be on course to pass right in front of the Concordia. "On my mark, hit that ship with the port batteries," ordered Halsey.
"Aye, sir." replied Jamison.
The turbo lasers tracked the tiny ship, ready to unleash a maelstrom upon it. Then, almost as quickly as it had appeared, the ship vanished. The bridge's view was empty save for Luna II looming in the background.
"Where is that ship?"
"I don't know, sir. One minute it was there, then... gone."
"It entered slipstream?"
"Scanning. No. There is no slipstream signature present." said Bella.
"Dammit! Then where is it?!" bellowed Halsey.
"I don't know." the AI retorted.
Halsey slammed his fist down, then collected his thoughts. "A ship does not simply up and disappear. Find it. We have a team to extract planet side and I don't want some Covie scout alerting the entire quadrant to our presence."
"I'm on it. Should we make that call now?"
"Do it."
A brief pause - while Bella attempted to make contact with the LRP - gave Halsey time to consider their situation. His fingers strummed against his thigh while he sat back and stared at Luna II. If the LRP had completed its mission, then they might gain insight into new technology being employed by the Covenant. It may be the edge the USNC so desperately needed. Then again, it may be another wild goose chase. It would not be the first time that happened.
"Captain, I could not raise Hawkins' team," interrupted Bella. "But, I am picking up Jacob's signature. Should I send a dropship down to pick them up?"
"Do it. Send a longsword escort, too."
"Extraction team launching in ten minutes."
Halsey stood and began pacing the deck. He pondered. What was a single Covenant ship doing here? And, why was it willing to come within close range of my ship? Bravado? No, not their style. The Covenant move efficiently and with purpose. Decoy, Halsey thought. But, a decoy for what. "Bella, tell the extraction team to double time it."
"Done. They will be planet side in four minutes and back here in five."
Halsey silently prayed Hawkins' team would be on the returning dropship.