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A New Year's Day, Chapter 10
Posted By: Guilty Spark<guiltyspark@charter.net>
Date: 20 January 2003, 5:56 am

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[February 5, 2558. 0915 hours. Aboard the USNC Concordia orbiting Luna II.]

      Halsey looked out the window of his shuttlecraft at the battleship growing ever closer. She was over twice the length of the Concordia, and bristled with enough weaponry to give a Covenant cruiser second thoughts. A steady stream of Longsword bombers, Trident fighters and dropships poured from bays throughout the battleship - all descending on Luna II. As the shuttlecraft passed down the port side of the behemoth, Halsey read her name: Cerberus.
      "We're on final approach, sir," announced the pilot over the intercom, as the shuttlecraft banked smoothly.
      Halsey did not reply. He was deep in thought, wondering why the Cerberus and its task force- which had arrived over three hours ago - were here at Luna II. He wondered why the massive deployment to the planet. He wanted to know who called them and what exactly was going on. All Halsey knew was Admiral George Stanrich was onboard the Cerberus, and that's where he would get his answers.
      The shuttlecraft glided into a yawning hangar, the pilot guiding the small ship to a designated landing area. Within seconds, the shuttlecraft touched down, its landing struts making a thud on the floor of the landing bay. The engines wound down and Halsey and the pilot disembarked. Almost immediately, they were met by a couple of young officers. Both saluted and Halsey returned the gesture.
      "Captain Halsey. Welcome aboard. I'm Lieutenant Myers and this is Lieutenant Paciella," said one of the men.
      "Thank you," replied Halsey.
      "I will take you to Admiral Stanrich. Lieutenant Paciella will escort your pilot to the lounge. Please, come this way."
      Halsey nodded and followed the lieutenant out of the landing bay and into a turbolift. The doors to the lift closed and Myers ordered,"Conference F." The turbolift accelerated, speeding them to their destination. Halsey and Myers spoke little to each other. It was not for lack of trying on the lieutenant's part, Halsey was not interested in small talk. His mind was preoccupied with current events and those still to come. The silence made the ride seem to take longer than it should. At last, the turbolift slowed and the doors opened into a dimly lit conference room. Myers motioned forward and Halsey stepped out. The turbolift doors closed, leaving Halsey standing alone. He stepped over to a massive window peering out into space. No planet. No ships flying about. Just thousands of stars peeking through the inky blackness. It seemed so calm.
      The main doors to the conference room opened and in stepped Admiral Jack Stanrich with Colonel McFarlan in tow. Halsey turned to face them and saluted. He stared briefly at McFarlan, who returned his gaze. What the hell is he doing here already, Halsey thought.
      "Welcome aboard, Joe. Good to see you," said Stanrich, returning the salute.
      "Thank you, sir. It's been awhile," replied Halsey.
      "Yes it has. Lets get down to business." All three men took seats around a large, rectangular maple table in the center of the room. Stanrich continued, "Joe, I know you must have a hundred questions. However, it was necessary until Colonel McFarlan could complete his task."
      "His task, sir?"
      "As you already know, we believe the Forerunners inhabit Luna II. I ordered Colonel McFarlan to confirm our suspicions... and we were right, thanks in part to you."
      "You drew the Forerunners out of hiding."
      "I had little to do with exposing the Forerunners, sir. And, with all due respect, I've been kept in the dark from the start on this mission, so I don't really what the hell is going on." Halsey felt the frustration and anger of the past days' events beginning to surface, and fought to maintain a cool composure.
      "Joe, calm down. I understand your frustration. Running blind is no fun, but we've all had to do it at one time or another. It was critical for this mission."
      "What did I have to do with exposing the Forerunners?"
      "Your insistence on sending a Spartan with Hawkins' recon team. We thought it was a bad idea, but relented. The outcome was more than we could hope for."
      "Sir, I sent Jacob as added insurance to help bring that recon team back alive. At that time, I thought our intel on Luna II was poor, but it seems that I was mistaken. Please get to the point. What was Hawkins' mission and what outcome are you so pleased with?"
      McFarlan broke in, "Hawkins' mission proved the existence of the Forerunners and where our missing Spartans have been going to over the past year-and-a-half. We thought all of them had been lost in battle, and we chalked the losses up to the sometimes poor quality of the USNC's accelerated Spartan program. However, we noticed the bodies of many of the fallen Spartans were often not recovered. No trace..."
      "Could be found because their homing beacons had been removed," finished Halsey, shaking his head. He stood, leaning over the table with his hands planted firmly on its smooth surface. "It's beginning to make sense now. Jacob was bait; that's why you agreed to let him go along. What better way to draw out the Forerunners: send in a Spartan to sniff around their doorstep. How could they resist?"
      "Now wait a minute, Joe. We didn't expect to lose Jacob..."
      "Nor did you expect me to send in a Spartan special ops team to investigate - losing two of them in the process. Damn! How could I have been so blind? Wait a minute... the Master Chief's rescue of the Spartans is your 'happy outcome.' It provided you with the intel Hawkins' team failed to produce."
      "Yes," said Stanrich. "The Master Chief's successful infiltration of that base has provided us with the knowledge we need to stop the Forerunners."
      "Stop them?! How in the hell do you plan to stop them?" Halsey shot back.
      "They have only a small ground force on Luna II. Approximately five hundred soldiers, and about a fifth of that force is made up of our missing Spartans. As you may have already noticed, we are actively deploying our forces to Luna II. Eighteen hundred soldiers with an additional two hundred Spartans."
      Halsey's eyes widened momentarily, shocked by the size of the USNC force. " Jack, we have no idea what the Forerunner ground forces are capable of. No firm read on their offensive or defensive capabilities. All we have are a couple of small arms fire situations where we managed to catch them off guard. Surely, they see us coming."
      "Which is why we're digging in fast, before they have a chance to react. When they come out, we'll be ready."
      "What about air and space support? We've seen only one of their ships and it single-handedly devastated a Covenant task group!"
      "Don't worry, Joe. We have that..."
      "What the hell was that?" cried McFarlan.
      "I would say the Forerunners have fired the first shot," replied Halsey. During their discussion, the Cerberus had turned and the conference room window now faced Luna II. And, most of the Cerberus' escort was in full view. The frigate Raleigh Burke listed, fire pouring from her lower port side. They hit her stabilizers. She's going down, he thought. Halsey watched as a Forerunner ship approached the task force. A group of patrol ships moved to intercept the intruder. Suddenly, claxons began sounding and the lighting fell red.
      "Battle stations!" ordered Stanrich.
      Stanrich and McFarlan ran from the conference room into a corridor, already beginning to fill with the hustle of the crew preparing for combat. Halsey stood motionless, he could hear Stanrich ordering McFarlan to call in Montgomery.
      Instead of following the men, Halsey turned and entered the turbolift. "Hangar," he ordered. The doors closed and the turbolift took off. "Get to the Concordia," he muttered to himself. The ride seemed to take longer than before, but, at last, the doors opened and the landing bay lay before him. Halsey stepped out. A muffled thud. Then, an explosion! He turned to his left in time to see a bomber parked near the mouth of the hangar going up in flames. In turn, it caused a domino effect. Ships, ammunition and equipment were lit ablaze by the initial burst. Before Halsey could react, more explosions. Shrapnel and debris flew by him. Sparks rained down all around. Time seemed to slow. He noticed cargo containers tumbling from their perches, hitting the floor of the bay and rolling out of control. He watched technicians frantically clamber out of dropship parked near the oncoming destruction, running for their lives. He looked beyond them, past the mouth of the hangar and into the serene blackness of space. It would be the last thing Halsey would ever see.