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THE CUBE. Part One: Last goodbyes
Posted By: Hedgemony<hedgemony343@hotmail.com>
Date: 5 December 2002, 2:06 am

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1700 Hours, November 11, 2552 (Military Calendar) /
Hope Bay Training Base, Mars Colony

Alison Holloway sat aboard her 12 metre long yacht, the Glory of March, and watched the sunset. Her eyes were fixed above the skyline, scanning the first signs of the stars emerging from the orange glow of the evening to come. At a glimpse, she thought she saw a shooting star, but then she remembered where she was. Sitting here at the UNSC marina at Hope Bay, all she saw was the light trail from one of many Longsword bombers returning from a routine drill.

The yacht was a gift from her late father, Admiral Daniel Holloway. He had been in service for over forty years until Reach was decimated by the Covenant. She recieved news of his passing as hundreds of others had at Hope Bay via an assembly in the main hall. Every marine was curious as to why they had been called from their duties to attend, some speculating that the Covenant had at last located Earth and were mounting an attack just inside the system. They were wrong.

In formation, the gathered marines were each notified of their loss, some wives, others brothers and sisters. Sgt. Wilcroft visibly held back tears as he consoled the people he had trained to show little emotion during bootcamp. The change in his face gave way to other marines following suit, some collapsing in grief, many turning their heads downward in prayer. Father Jackson did a reading from the bible, marines held hands in one singular sign of unity and understanding. This was the day the Covenant had crushed the hearts of these marines, but stirred enough anger to ensure that Earth would not go down without revenge being taken. That night they reassembled in the main Longsword hangar. Thousands of people joined in a midnight vigil, many family members allowed to take part in the remembrance. Vidscreens showed the faces of those who had been lost on Reach, singing followed as well as a salute to fallen comrades and loved ones. Longswords flew overhead and continued on until they were no longer visible by the naked eye. Even though the people mourned, there was still a war raging deep into space.

Alison remembered her fathers last words before she was sent to Hope Bay, "Stay vigilant. The enemy is smarter than we thought, but we have the spirit to carry on and win." He was a determined veteran of many battles, on Earth as well as in space, and never showed how he felt for his only daughter. Alison knew though. Once she had recieved the rank of Captain, she knew that sentimentality could jeopardise the lives of all who depend on her in moments of crisis. Her father had sent her this message prior to his relocation to Reach. Two days later, he was amongst the reported millions lost. The Covenant had annihilated their base of military operations, the news of the Spartans demise spread quickly through the civilians on Earth. The moral on Earth was steadily falling, too many dead, not enough victories. One rumour persisted though of a lone spartan taking the fight to the Covenant in deep space. There were also persistent rumours of a possible fight to be taken to the Covenant homeworld. All of this was chinese whispers to Holloway, anything concrete would be relayed by the UNSC chain of command. Otherwise, Earth was to be ready at any time.

Holloway ignored her crew who said that Earth was doomed, replaying her fathers last words like a mantra. This was all she needed to calm herself.

Another Longsword returned and woke Alison from her daydream, this one landing several yards away from her position. She sat upright, staring intently at the rear of the ship for signs that maybe there was a message for her. There was, two Oni spooks emerged with what looked like a parcel. She immediately stood, walking from the deck of the yacht to meet them. Two figures in black spoke amongst themselves briefly before walking in unison towards her. Even in the warmth of this evening, Holloway felt as though someone had just walked over her grave.

"Captain Holloway." The larger of the two men eyed her, awaiting a response. The shorter man had a scar running across his face, curling his lip where the scar met beneath his chin. The wound looked like a close quarter fight, his hair white as his eyes were wide.
She had, like all the other marines, heard about the reputation of ONI Spooks as being straight to the point, the parcel was still a mystery. No visible markings ran across the box, she hadn't recognised it as belonging to her. Or her father.
"We need to talk to you on the way back to your ship."
Holloway acknowledged without question. To tie up this mystery with inquries would delay the purpose of the visit, so she proceeded to follow the men back to the bomber. Besides, the Spooks gave her chills, the least amount of time in their prescence would be just fine in her eyes.

Aboard the bomber, the Spooks sat upright, rigid, never moving even when the Longsword shot outwards into space. The parcel lay at their feet, their boots as black as their uniforms. Holloway noticed that the air inside the fighter was cold, much colder than on her yacht. It had been a warm day, almost humid. The contrast gave her an uneasy feeling, like she was about to recieve some bad news. Perhaps the legends of the ONI operatives were true, that they were harbingers of sad tidings. Alison was determined to take everything as it came, prejudging what this could be about might make the news harder to swallow.

The Longsword docked with her ship, the Dolcinea. It was one of the smaller medical frigates posted just outside of Earth's orbit. It had never seen battle, but had treated many casualities brought back from ships scorched in combat by the Covenant. For it's relatively short time in service, only five standard years, it had seen countless amounts of crewman and marines alike. The numbers increasing with every war that played out from the outer colonies to more recently the inner ones as well. Although the Dolcinea had never been on the frontline, every personnel onboard wanted it's chance to be there alongside her siister ships.This was true with the attitudes amongst those on Earth. UNSC recruitments were increasing by the day, all in the effort towards protecting Earth and the inner colonies. the average age of acceptance into the UNSC forces was a mere seventeen years old. This made the work aboard the frigate even harder to take, children dying in the thousands.

The Spooks followed Holloway to the bridge. Crewman stood to attention when she passed, the Spooks never taking their eyes from Holloway as she led the way. Once inside the bridge, all personnel were asked to leave, leaving Holloway alone with the two men. They placed the parcel in plain view of Holloway and removed the outer layer of wrapping. With the paper removed, Holloway could see what was inside. It was a clear cube with a small ball of energy inside. It was unlike anything she had witnessed before as it glowed slightly, rays of light filling the cube before returning to normal. She remained silent, awaiting the spooks to tell her about the object.

"When Reach was glassed by the Covenant, we suffered a great loss. The resources we had in determining Covenant artifacts were indeed reduced, this is why we have come to you."

Holloway remained silent. The cube glowed again, this time the ball seemed to emanate a swirl of light that danced, then flickered out. Why was my ship involved in ONI business? And why travel all this way to Hope Bay to seek me out? The curious light danced once again within the ball of light, this was beyond any technology seen on Earth. The Covenant were as advanced as they are relentless in the discovery of Earth, perhaps this was a weapon that could be used against them.

"We have decided to run some tests on this artifact," continued the Spook,."but we need a medical crew that will go unnoticed. The Dolcinea is not regarded as one of the major frigates in the fleet..Her profile is virtually non-existent as is her crew. This will guarantee that secrecy will be upheld."
"And it will remain a secret," added the shorter Spook.
Was that a threat? ? And now that I know how my ship is regarded, should I feel flattered or offended that I'm being chosen for this? Holloway grew angry as well as intrigued.
Finally she spoke, "What is the cube?"
The two agents looked at each other, then to Holloway. She saw that they were almost confused, as though they didn't know how to answer her question. Maybe they were just shocked that she had spoken.
"We don't know." The taller one moved uncomfortably, shifting his eyes from the cube to the other Spook.
"We have yet to determine what the cube is. It was located within one of the disabled Covenant cruisers we recovered in the Sigma Octanus System. It is an unknown power source that we speculate is for personal use by Covenant soldiers." He relaxed into the captain's chair, taking out a notebook. "We are here to test that theory for ourselves."
Holloway looked even more closely at the cube. The outside container seemed to be constructed from nothing more than a hologram, she wanted to run her hand along it to test it's strength. She reached out her hand.
"Captain, please do not touch the cube, " she was sternly warned by the shorter Spook, "We do not know what effects it may cause."
"So you're telling me that this is going to be tested on my ship, but I can't touch it?" Holloway hated this. Maybe she was happy that her ship hadn't been overly involved after all, if it meant dealing with ONI directly.
"We need you set up a secure facility back at Hope Bay, your crew will remain here onboard the Dolcinea. you are to be relieved of command until further notice while you assist in the study of this artifact."
Holloway hadn't expected this. Relieved of her command of the Dolcinea? This was ridiculous, surely ONI had specialised personnel to study this without her? She relayed her thoughts to the agents before her.
"We have looked over your service and personal records, and have nominated you for a position within our ranks.Many of our top scientific researchers were killed on Reach, we are filling those positions left vacant."
"We have no choice...and neither do you."
"So why was I brought back to the Dolcinea if I am to be relocated to Hope Bay?" Holloway could feel the torture of being removed from her home for the past five years as she awaited a response.
"You are to collect your personal items and say your farewells to your crew, " the shorter Spook calmly stated. His shoulders relaxed for the first time since she had met him. "We are not as heartless as you may think, Captain."