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A New Year's Day, Chapter 2
Posted By: Guilty Spark<guiltyspark@charter.net>
Date: 12 December 2002, 7:10 am

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[February 3, 2558. 0806 hours. Luna II. LZ X-ray (Hawkins LRP).]

Four Longswords completed a second pass over the snow-swept terrain of Luna II. "All clear, Mother Goose. I can see the fire team but no movement. Over."
"Roger that, Red Saber. Mother Goose on approach. Over."
"We'll continue our sweep until you're off the ground. Saber out."
Mother Goose, a Pelican dropship, emerged from a low cloudbank closing quickly on the landing zone. The green light inside the holding bay turned red. Sgt. Martin Riggs stood and barked orders above the engines straining to slow the dropship's descent. "When we touch down, Hicks and Simpson take point. Carter, Banks, Jones and Orlando recover the team." The door to the holding bay opened. The marines hesitated for a split second as they felt the cold slap of bright light and frozen air. "Go! Go! Go! Dust off in ninety seconds!"
Hicks and Simpson took positions near the dropship. The LZ was in a shallow depression, which gave them good cover but a poor view of their surroundings. I don't like this, thought Hicks. Both men looked skyward as the Longswords passed over continuing their patrol. At least they can see what's coming.
Sgt. Riggs and the rest of the squad ran a short distance to the fire team. The sergeant quickly surmised the scene. All dead. The bodies were arranged in a circular pattern. Riggs called out, "No time for sight-seeing. Everyone grab a body and high-tail it back to the dropship."
In a little over a minute, the bodies had been recovered and placed aboard the Pelican, except for one: Jacob. There was no sign of the Spartan.
"Sarge! Sarge!" yelled Pvt. Allison Banks. "Take a look at this." She held a small, round metallic object barely two centimeters in diameter and as thin as paper. Laser-inscribed on one side was the USNC emblem.
"That's the Spartan's homing beacon."
"Should we look for him?"
"He's not here. Get aboard."
"But, sir..."
"I said 'get aboard,' Banks."
With a quizzical look, Allison turned and boarded Mother Goose. The rest of the team was already seated and strapped in. Riggs stepped aboard and the dropship began lifting off. The door closed and the holding bay fell dark except for the red light.
"How do you know Jacob's not here, Sarge?" asked Banks.
"Because that beacon is implanted under the skin. Someone removed that beacon and there's only one reason why... they didn't want us to find him."

[February 3, 2558. 1500 hours. Aboard the USNC Concordia orbiting Luna II.]

Three figures stood staring at a massive monitor. It listed the members of the deceased fire team, it depicted a topographical map of Luna II and played video footage taken from the Longswords and the Pelican sent to recover the team.
"What happened down there, Sergeant?" asked Halsey.
"Sir, it appeared that Hawkins' team was pinned down and taken out by Covenant sniper fire." Riggs pointed to an area on the map. The area highlighted and enlarged showing a magnified view of the landing zone. He continued, "And, we know they could not pinpoint their attackers, because we recovered nearly all of the team's ammunition. My guess is the Covenant knew where to find them and were waiting."
"How many Covenant?"
"No telling, sir. There were no footprints at the LZ."
"No footprints? How do you explain Jacob's missing body?"
"They could have picked him up in a Ghost, sir."
"That still doesn't explain the bodies." Halsey faced the monitor. "Show me the video from the dropship," Immediately, the monitor flashed and began showing the Pelican's descent from the clouds to hovering over the landing zone. "Freeze. There." Halsey pointed to the bodies. "The bodies have been arranged to form the symbol commonly found on the Covenant... but, no footprints. Impossible. Bella?"
"I agree with the sergeant. It appears a Covenant strike team was responsible, or someone is trying to convince us the Covenant were responsible. But, two things trouble me. First, though the Covenant are deeply religious, they would never take the time to arrange bodies into a pattern. Second, assuming they took Jacob, they knew where to find his beacon and how to remove it without setting off its distress signal. In fact, we don't know if he's dead or alive." Bella walked towards the monitor with her arms folded across her chest, then turned to Halsey. "Whoever did this knew exactly what they were up against and they had no fear of us catching them."
"Sergeant, good job. You're dismissed."
"Aye, sir." Riggs left knowing the discussion was not over, yet.
"Bella, have you been able to uncover anything about Hawkins' mission objectives?"
"No. The classification protocols are above construct accessibility."
"Yesterday, I was wondering why would Fleet send us out this far to a rock with no apparent strategic value to conduct - of all things - a recon mission." Halsey looked out at Luna II. "Today, I am wondering what they aren't telling us. I am sure they have their reasons."
Bella firmly planted her hands on her hips."With all due respect, to hell with their reasons, Captain. You have a crew and a ship to protect. If Fleet is withholding information vital to our mission, then..."
"Then there's nothing we can do about it," finished Halsey.
Suddenly, a beep and the room's intercom came alive. "Captain, you had better come to the bridge."
"What is it, Jamison?"
"Our little ship. It's back."