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Countdown Earth: Hour Six
Posted By: Mainevent<billygoat456@comcast.net>
Date: 26 October 2003, 2:41 AM

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E.S.N. Northern Theater Headquarters

      "Well Steve, the time has come to activate the Nautilus. Paris fell to those damnable beasts, what next? Mobile is barely hanging on as it is, and there a little less than an hour away. Reports alreay have two convoys out of New Orleans heading right for us. They know where E.S.N. is, and they know what it does. There is no more time, activate it NOW!" Relinoir bellowed vigorously.

      "I'm sorry to say I have to agree with you this time Jack. Our only tit has been cut off. Reinforcements are nill, and we've all-but-lost the space campaign. Our only defense against that are the orbitals, and soon those won't be enough." The four-star general's face pleaded silently for his comrade to go through with it, a single tear leaving his eye. Desperation had seeped into his soul and driven him mad, the one benefit Trotson still had was sanity.

      "Give me the codes Jack, and I'll get Anderson's permission." Trotson's voice was soft, almost motherly as he held his hand up to the monitor peacefully. Relinoir nodded and turned to his command console, typing four long-since memorized passwords into the machine.

      N4U71LU5, G3N3R4L, REL1N01R, 4C71V4710N. The codes appeared as four separate lines of text on Steve's screen, one after the other. The asterisks used to represent the numbers were still undiscernable, but the encryption software specially programmed into the E.S.N. networks quickly deciphered it. Trotson nodded to Relinoir, stiffed a salute, and then switched his monitor to General Anderson.

      "Afternoon Nelson." The good usually inserted before afternoon was out of the question, there was nothing good about today. The rock-jawed Five-star general only stared emotionlessly at his counterpart, unflinchingly. The General of the Army, which had until the U.N.S.C.'s formation been consigned to history, was the highest rank one could wish to achieve beyond Presidential authority.

      "Can I help you Steve? I am very busy." It was all to apparenty that the man on the screen was quickly trying to blow him off, shrugging this interuption off as a nuisance.

      "Nelson, it's about Nautilus." Trotson grinned inside as the mere mention quickly turned the conversation's tide his way.

      "I'm listening."

      "As you're obviously well aware, this invasion was unexpected and much larger than we could have ever imagined. Both I and Relinoir have agreed that it is time to prep the Nautilus in case."

      "Incase of..."

      "Don't play dumb, not now. We need to get the system ready, otherwise there might not be another chance. If the Covenant get to the mainframe before we prep her, there will be no way to access the controls from outside of E.S.N. itself."

      "I know how Nautilus works Steve, I helped create the damned thing. Now you don't play dumb with me, why would I prep the Nautilus when the Eighth fleet just arrived? You know better than I do that they can hold back our timetable by at least two hours."

      "But-" Steve began muttering in defiance, but was stopped short once more.

      "But nothing. You'll be glad your ass leaves the Tribunal alive after your case."

      "What in the hell are you talking about?"

      "I didn't get to be a five-star general without a helluva lot of ass kissing, and having a lot of friends in a lot of places. Now let me tell you something you backstabbing son of a bitch. If you think your ass is getting out of the pot, you're only getting into the fire."

      "I don't understand."

      "Then you're either dumb or a poor actor, and seeing as how your a general I've already written off the dumb. So let me lay it out for you. Does the Archaepalago ring a bell?"


      "Really, it should, according to command roster dated November twelfth, one General Steven G. Trotson sent orders to that ship, sending it on an awkward patrol in a known Covenant hotspot. Further communications between you and the ship's captain resulted in heated debates on the validity of the orders. He knew what you told him to do wasn't right, and so did you."

      "That's madness. I would have NEVER done something like that."

      "Oh really, well there's more. The Archaepalago did end up going out there, and guess what happened? They were intercepted by the Covenant, which really isn't all that strange in itself. What is strange, is the fact that the ship's log has the captain recorded as saying, and I quote a particular phrase of interest. This damnable computer system won't erase the nav logs, I don't know what to do." Anderson's face was red as an apple, a large vein had sprung up the periphery of his forehead.

      "I had never expected this. I had, I, I had-"

      "Expected the same invasion force as Reach? Expected our superior orbital system and the fleet above would be able to hold them off, that you would be able to recall the fleets on a moments notice. That if it came to it, you could fire the Nautilus, effectively eradicating the Covenant invasion force in it's whole."

      "YES! That's exaclty what I had planned. It was never supposed to be this. This is madness. If I had known..." The corners of Trotson's eyes swelled with sorrow, the sudden realization of his terrible mistake becoming further evident as every word Anderson spoke stung deep inside his soul. It's moral poison killing him inside, tearing at him, breaking him apart.

      "Oh, if only you had known. How could you have known? It makes sense at first, but after a second look, it's madness. A million things could go wrong, and they have Steve, believe me, they have. I'm guessing that you never took that second look, did you?"

      "No, it seemed, so perfect. I would pull them in, as we waited, and when they arrived, E.S.N. and the fleets could pound the hell out of them. If I had too, I could use the Nautilus, and we would have repelled them. It would be a major vitory, an enormous morale booster."

      "Not if we're all dead Steve! Then not only have they destroyed Earth, but the fleets have NOWHERE to come. Our only colony is gone, we are gone. They win. We can't lose this war Steve. The Nautilus was for when they naturally found us, when we had widdled them down to a small number, and they attacked Earth in a weekened state. If they did finally overrun us, we could activate it, and then nobody wins. It was never meant for such a large scale conflict."

      "I, I, I'm sorry."

      "I know you are, and you are also hereby relieved of duty. There is a detachment of military police en route to arrest you as we speak, and if we do manage to survive this, you'll be going to jail for a very, very long time."

      His words were ice to Trotson, every piece stung like liquid nitrogen on his skin. Swiveling on his chair, he put his back to Anderson, who grew suddenly uneasy. The world was suddenly so cold, so lonely, so hopeless. Unholstering his weapon, he pulled the M6D from it's holster, and pulled the slide back. A single shell ejected from the weapon, and bounced with a ping off of the monitor. Anderson screamed in an attempt to stop him, but his words were mute to the man. He slowly nudged the barrel into his mouth, chipping a tooth on the triangular sight as he did so. The cold steel triggered his gag reflex, and it took all he could do to stop from regurgitating. A shaky finger curled itself apathetically around the trigger. He jerked the mechanism back, and it collided the grip with a thud.

      Fragments of gray-matter and nerves littered the screen Anderson was watching from, slowly edging it's way to the floor. Blood spatter covered the monitor as well, and was slowly dripping from the massive hole in his skull. Smoke wafted lazily from his cranium, through his nose, ears, mouth, and the new exit at the rear. Anderson punched the screen in fury before finally covering his face with his hands. A solemn-faced man, he turned torpidly from the still flickering screen before him, severing the sortid connection once and for all.

Mobile International Airport

      Lance managed a weak grin as the heavy roar of two APC's and the dust they kicked up signaled the arrival of help. They made a close-but-cautious circle before finally coming to a complete stop. The large bay doors at the rear came to a crashing finally as they opened, three medics pouring from each vehicle. They split into teams of two, one group for each man.

      A field dressing was applied to the gaping cut running across McPherson's bicep, as well as Metanoxin (a painkiller with anti-toxin capabilities). Lance was rewarded with the frugal bounty that was an IV drip and a dose of Demia morphine. As the pain left his throbbing tibia and fibia, the field doctor forcefully snapped the bone back into place. A Gelsac splint was applied to the wound, and wrapped several times in Microsafe gauss. (Microsafe is a copyright brandname, herein only referred to as gauss, and shall only be used in name for purposes of an explicitive nature, and the author is in no way taking responsibility or any form of possessive measure of control for this brand.)

      "He's in shock. Not sure if he'll make it, good amount of blood loss. If I don't stem the loss and get him some more soon, he won't make it." Gardner, the ranking medical staff, said remorsefully. He had been a pediatrician before the war, but everything changed afterwards. It had changed for everyone, not just him, no one's lives would be the same for a long time.

      McPherson shrugged off the pain, took a mental note of the situation, and unstrapped his seat belt. A few milliseconds later and he was sprawled on his aching stomach, his good arm pinned under his weight. Luckily, the headache stopped as the splitting pain of a possible broken rib set in. The medics took hold of his feet and drug him carefully from beneath the upturned vehicle.

      "You'll be okay, a bruise'll be the worst you get from this." Gardner patted his shoulder and helped him to his unsteady feet.

      "Alright, I want this towed to the main terminal."

      "Will do." The marine driver of the personnel carrier said as he disappeared into the belly of the squatty box-shaped transport.

Ten minutes later...

      "Can you fix it?" Lance questioned sorely.

      "Naw, it's transaxle's busted, gearbox is torn to hell, and the main driveshaft was beaten to a pulp. The most I can salvage is the turret on the back, assuming the hydraulics weren't busted on it too."

      "Not what I was hoping for, but it's better than nothing. Get that turret working, and then get some marines to put it on the roof. We're stuck here until we get a ride. What have your men found we can use to our benefit?"

      "There's a Coast Guard outpost about a half mile down the runway, they'll probably have several pelicans, perhaps an Aerowak, military issue of course, some warthogs, maybe a tank or two. If they have an armory, we can stock up on supplies, I'll have my men look for some stuff to set up a blockade or two." Staff Sergeant Moody replied.

      "Set up a watch in the control room, it's got a three-hundred sixty degree view, and is attached to the building, can't think of anything better. Get some rocket launchers for the men up there though, in case those dickheads send some more banshees."

      "Yes sir, what should we do about the civilians?"

      "How many are there?"

      "We found six more, two kids, the parents, and two security guards."

      "Get the security to show your men this buildings weak spots, and make me a map of this place. I want to know every way in and out of this airport there is, including bathroom stalls and water pipes. Got it?"

      "Other than that, what's our plan sir?"

      "We just sit and hope."

      "Hope's not a plan sir."

      "It is today Connor, it is today."

      "I understand." Moody saluted quickly before turning on his heel and marching over to a small huddle of men playing Texas Hold'em in a corner. After a quick chastising they were off in an attempt to procure whatever they could to secure the area.

E.S.N. Capital Building

      Taki was still watching the video feeds with amazement and curiosity. The disturbing amount of time that had passed since Trotson and Relinoir's last check in was becoming an unsettling presence in the back of his mind, one that kept pushing at him. The video feeds closed one at a time on the banquet of T.V.s he had set up in the control room. The quiet hum of E.S.N. Mainframe behind him nearly put him to sleep on most nights, but not tonight.

      He attempted to patch through to General Trotson's monitor, and was thorougly surprised when he didn't receive a response. Another, and another, and another; still, no response. He redirected his patch to Anderson. He was greeted by an unflattered older man who quickly told him off and closed the comm. channel. Taki flipped the marine off as his screen powered down, and tried the last thing he could think of. Relinoir's picture stuttered as the satellite's hovering above tried to aquire a signal, but finally failed altogether.

      Fear slowly began creeping it's ugly way into the back of his mind. He took a deep breath and returned to the now disheartening pictures of death and destruction. What he most feared may have come true; a fact he couldn't handle mentally or emotionally. He quietly turned all of the feeds off except one. The feed of a small band of marines making a triumphant stand at an airport centered itself in his mind. Their lonely stand somehow gave him a source of unknown strenght in this time of tragic turmoil. There may be hope yet. He thought to himself.