Halo: Stealth Combat Evolved: Part 3-Chapter 9
Posted By: Mind_Affecting_Parasite<firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date: 3 December 2004, 2:23 AM
Part 3: Red Tide And A Stormy Sea
Chapter 9: Breaking Tide At Night
0333 hours (Standard Time), August 29, 2552 (Military Calendar)
UNSC Destroyer Moscow, in Orbit of Caucus IV
"What was it?" asked Ensign Gillian, swiveling in his chair to face his friend.
"I don't know, Freddie," replied a concentrating Lieutenant McCallister. Gillian and her had gone to OCS together, and had shared many of the same classes. Six months of separation later, they got placed in the same crew. "Freddie," as McCallister called him, was mor excited over the development than she was. At any rate, she didn't want his normal pestering at the moment. "I have long-range contacts at the edge of the system. They seem to be . . . oh God!"
Frederick Gillian's face went pale, instantly worried. He had been assigned to this post just a month previous; and was only twenty-one. "Don't scare me like that, Ali; what the hell-"
"Bridge to Commander Brights," spoke the Navigation Officer, her solid stare focused on her screen.
Heads turned around the command deck, exchanging glances and looking at the frazzled woman. It had only been a few weeks since this particular bridge crew had been assigned together, but they knew their Navigation Officer well enough. Her expression showed all that they needed to know: something was wrong. The woman's sharp blue eyes were surrounded by furrowing brows, one of her lips twitching in anxiety.
"Will you just friggin' answer me, Ali-" continued the persistent Ensign, leaning forward in his chair; his face was one of frightened curiosity. Ali Jean McCallister didn't have time for his questions; she had her duty to perform.
"I told you I was not to be disturbed, Lieutenant," came the ship commander's tired and annoyed voice over the shipboard COM. He had obviously been sleeping, just like he always did when he wasn't on the bridge.
"Sir, I'm reading Covenant contacts at the edge of the system."
At first the channel was silent, only the slight breathing of the man on the other end audible. The actual reply came several seconds later, breaking a dry silence on the bridge; the voice between fright and uncertainty. "Are you sure?"
"Yessir," Ali responded urgently. "With all due respect, sir, you need to get to the Bridge now."
In his quarters, Brights took a brief second to contemplate the situation. After ten seconds, he made his decisions. "I'll be there immediately-"
Whatever else the Commander might have had to say was cut off by another rushed bit of speech from the Communications Officer, an Ensign. "Ma'am, I have a burst transmission from the Herold incoming."
"Put it on my display-" began McCallister, brushing away a stray strand of cropped red hair, before her captain entered the scene. That was one "advantage" of being a ship's CO; your room was always close to the bridge.
"My console, Mister Evans," he ordered, straightening his wrinkled uniform. His eyes lacked the spark of alertness that was usually at least half way there; his expression told everyone that he was not happy at the possibility of a real exercise.
The Commander might have been tired, but he still read over the message quickly. Not here, not now, he thought, pushing the vain request to the top of his mind. As his eyes followed the words to the end, he received the negative response to his subconscious's rhetorical question. All the observant members of the crew couldn't have missed his body stiffen.
The communique read:
United Nations Space Command Priority Transmission 09894H-97
Encryption Code: Red
Public Key: file/lightning-matrix-six/
From: Commander Eric Parson, Commanding Officer, UNSC Herold (UNSC Service Number: 01065-19251-EP)
To: All UNSC Personnel
Subject: ENEMY CONTACTS IN PALESTINE SYSTEM
Classification: RESTRICTED (BXG Directive)
All UNSC Personnel,
Five Covenant ships have been detected and visually confirmed on the edge of the Palestine system. Herold in immediate danger and commencing self destruct as per the Cole Protocol.
Prepare for Covenant assault. Probable location Caucus IV.
UNEXPECTED TERMINATION OF SOURCE
Christopher Brights froze where he stood, every muscle tensed beneath his pale skin. When he had heard the report from Lieutenant McCallister over his intercom, he had not believed it in full. He had been shocked, yes; but it had not seemed as real as it was at this moment. What now Chris?
"I've got an explosion on the edge of the system, Commander," reported Lieutenant Jackson, the Weapons Station Officer. Her brown hair was cut short; only four centimeters, and wasn't often styled neatly. She also had a bad habit of addressing her superiors by their rank, which was more a problem of thinking she deserved the same amount - or more - of respect; and had been rebuked for the action more than once. Right now, however, this superior didn't have the time or desire to notice. "It was the Herold."
"From these readings, it looks like it was a self-destruct, sir," added the Navigation Officer. She was alert and ready for an order; she always was. That woman was the one who set an example for the rest of the crew; but shouldn't the ship's own captain?
There was no question that the Covenant was in the system and preparing to attack. They didn't just show up, destroy a station, and then leave. No, if they were here, they had plans, and were going to follow them as best as they could.
The Palestine system was not a very substantial location in the UNSC territories. It was just outside the edge of the Inner Colonies, and had yet to have contacts with any enemy forces - until now. Many had thought that they had just been ignored, or had experienced a lucky break. The mining operation on Caucus IV was all that the system was worth; the titanium was part of what went to REACH.
There were ten Human ships stationed around the system, keeping everything running smoothly in orbit, and watched over. None of them could have missed the explosion of the former space station.
"Contacts?" questioned Brights, gritting his teeth, looking into the main display; it showed only stars.
"Five moving in system from the explosion site. They seem to be - wait..." McCallister paused, consulting her readouts. Then her shoulders sunk, "I lost them. Must have made a jump in system."
"Evans, get a message to Admiral Pearls," said the Commander, he had to think fast. A Slipspace jump within a star system would get the enemy to the Human defenses in mere minutes, probably less.
"I'm receiving a message from the Pacific Gulf now, sir."
The weathered face of fifty-three year-old Rear Admiral Keith Pearls sprung up into the main holotank, located directly next to the main display. "All ships, I have detected Covenant contacts on the edge of the system. Many of you may have as well. Our guess here is that they are currently in a 'jump. Your orders are to pull back and create a perimeter around Caucus IV. Engage enemy ships on sight. Admiral Pearls, out."
Damn. Brights had wanted to announce it himself, and actually be someone for but a few minutes. Still, he had to do something; and following orders would be the best option on his list.
"Ensign Gillian: get the reactors up to one-hundred percent. Lieutenant," he looked towards McCallister. "Bring us about on heading zero-eight-nine declination zero-one-zero. Lieutenant Jackson: charge the MAC guns and arm a nuke."
A triple chorus of "Aye, sir"s were shouted out around the bridge. Within moments, status reports were being vocalized as well.
0340 hours (Standard Time), August 29, 2552 (Military Calendar)
Palestine System, Surface of Caucus IV, Conifer Mountain Military Complex
"Go, go, go!" shouted a Sergeant above the blaring of alarm klaxons and warning announcements, waving his sleepy squad out of their barracks.
"Enemy contacts in system. This is not a drill; repeat: this is not a drill," the hundreds of speakers blared at the startled and somewhat confused Marines. "All personnel to stand-by stations."
Men and women were jolted from sleep and nightly activities. Every one of the current Fire Teams rushed through the linear armories and to the embarkation staging rooms. Back-up units followed; gearing up and double-timing it to the reserve unit chambers.
Command and Control Center
"What's the status up there?" questioned Brigadier General Wesley Swots, setting his thick black mug down violently. Just minutes before, an emergency message had come through from the Herold orbital space station. Then, a minute after that, the land-bound Communications Officer had picked up a fleet-wide transmission. The nature of both messages had constituted bringing the Conifer Mountain Military Complex up to Defcon Two - high alert, stand-by - immediately.
"Admiral Pearls on FLEETCOM for you, sir," reported Second Lieutenant Jacobson. Around them all, the center of operations for the military forces on Caucus IV was ablaze with activity.
"Get Colonel Johnson up here," the base CO ordered.
"General Swots," he spoke into the powerful communications gear.
"Good to hear your voice, Wesley," answered the Admiral. Swots and Pearls had been friends from college. They had both joined the Marines at the ages of twenty-two and -four, respectively. Wesley had stayed in the Corps and jumped for the opportunity to hit OCS. Keith had decided otherwise; transferring over to the Navy and working his way up from there. The two had kept in touch. Admiral Pearls had been responsible for the most recent reunitement, having requested to lead the fleet in his old friend's neighborhood.
"I don't have time for that now, you Swab; I need to know what is happening in this system."
The Admiral was almost taken aback. "Alright, calm down, Wes. We have five Covenant ships inbound towards the planet. That's the good news."
"We don't know what type they are. We could be up a fleet of destroyers or a group of frigates."
"When do you expect contact-"
Swots heard the frantic announcement of "short-range contacts" from one of the bridge crew interrupt him on the other end. "We've got company up here. I'll keep you boys notified. Admiral Pearls, out."
The General put down the phone. He knew all he really needed to. The Covenant was in system, and there was a possibility that an invasion could take place. "Lieutenant Jacobson: tell all outposts to prepare for possible attack. We need to get those civilians to shelters."
"Reporting as ordered, Sir!" announced Colonel Zachary Johnson from the room's entrance. The man was holding a clean salute, his matching woodland camouflage garbs and cap adorning his form.
Swots returned it. He was wearing his black dress uniform as he always did; to remain presentable for those under his command. "At ease, son."
"If I may ask; what the hell is going on?" asked the alert Marine, dropping his arm. He apparently wasn't fazed by a disturbance to his sleep cycle.
"You may. Admiral Pearls says that we have a small Covenant fleet in system. They just exited Slipspace real close."
"Five ships, Colonel."
"Hot damn," somehow, Johnson managed to change his personality when duty arose. When he was off duty or relaxed, he was calm, kinda quiet, and quite polite. However, when emergency conditions came about, he turned serious and mouthy. The man broke the intervening silence, "What do you need me to do with my Marines, sir?"
"We don't know if the Covenant will be able to land forces on the surface of this planet or not. God willing, and by the skill of our Navy friends, that won't happen and we'll be able to turn off the alarms and start cleaning up space debris. But, we have to assume that things won't go perfectly. I want your men ready to defend this planet."
"Now move out, there's enough people in this room already."
"Yes, sir." Johnson performed a crisp salute, which was returned in kind; then, turning on the heal of his combat boot, he strolled briskly out of the room.
"Sir," called Lieutenant Jacobson, he was on the ball today.
"Major Grossum reports that the evacuations are going smoothly."
"Good," replied the General, finally taking up his cup of coffee. It wasn't hot anymore.
The four squads of soldiers filed smoothly into the rectangular room, a chorus of muted rubber-on-metal footsteps obscuring the many small conversations within the group. Armored heads bobbed in the well formed lines with each movement of the attached bodies, dully reflecting the overhead lights of the chamber. Grenadiers and Rifleman moved off to the side to the heavy weapon lockers, taking up their more powerful armaments and accompanying ammunition with practiced ease and efficiency.
All the others moved down the grey sides of the two adjacent gun racks - holding rifles, sub machine guns, and shotguns - selecting their weapons. "Medium to long-range combat," everyone had been told by their squad COs during the clipped and shortened briefings. No one wanted to get up close and personal anyway. Everyone already had their standard sidearm, the M6C magnum pistol, in its holster, however.
Being the front-line force, these men and women had to be the ones to confront the enemy on solid ground. Some of them had done it before and moved forward with a confident resolve; others did so wondering what things were really like in combat. Whether the vids and simulations were anything like reality. The worst part for them all was the lack of information and knowledge of the current situation. Only officers got the current news, and then the non-coms had to go out and fight. Everyone in this room wanted to know if - or when - the Covenant was coming to touch down.
Either way, informed or not, all of these Marines knew they had a job to do. All that was left to find out was when they would finally have to go about doing it.
Lance Campbell followed his four-man squad's Sergeant into the smooth but confining armory; one of many in the base. His two other teammates moved casually behind him, moving like it was just another day to "do crap," or go about their duty. They were right.
Their squad wasn't just some other green group of soldiers; though, they were among the few that wore the golden comet insignia on their shoulders: "Helljumpers." They tended to go in first and come out last, doing all the hard work and special missions for the "pretty boys and girls". In fact, this squad of elite soldiers was to take point for the other Marines in their assigned platoon; to provide support.
Well, they weren't going into the armory first today. All of the base's occupants had been alerted to the possible threat at the same time, so a single squad had beat Sergeant Durham through the entrance. It didn't really matter; however, as the four-some moved through the room as if no-one else was there, in the way. Grumble as they might, or even act as if they thought otherwise, the "normal" Marines respected, and, in a way, feared their highly-trained brethren; so the "bigger boys and girls" got treated with a sort of seniority. The quadruple-bodied team wearing the enhanced black battle armor waded through the area without hindrance, on the way to their desired weapons.
Being only twenty, Lance wasn't a big rough and in-your-face type of guy the average recruit would think of when he heard the letters "ODST." No, Corporal Campbell might have been lean and fit, a wonderful specimen of a soldier, but he was basically just following in his family's footsteps. His father had been in the 'Shock Troopers when Lance Carlock Campbell had been born, and his grandfather had been in the Marines before him. He had grown up with stories of war and death; but it hadn't scared him. Those little tales were the kind that he heard before going to bed, and only served to excite him as a child along with the antique guns hanging in glass cases on the wall.
So, it had been the only obvious choice to enlist straight into the Marines after his quick rise through school. This young-man had only been sixteen upon leaving for basic; having been bumped forward two levels for his grades and excellent academic status. It had also made him an excellent candidate for the Orbital Drop Shock Troopers.
None of that, however, was in Lance's mind as his hands pulled a new weapon towards his muscular frame. The sound of palm-against-metal was only a fraction of the assorted clatter throughout the stretch of constantly moving soldiers. He had trained with the Battle Rifle a bit before - during its' testing phase and after its' release as a standard firearm - and now chose the weapon with pride and personal choice. He was just smiling with satisfaction and about to take a few more steps forward along the rack when a familiar body nudged him, slightly forcefully, from the side.
"What yaw doin', Buck?" asked the other soldier, drowning out any semblance of decent speech with his "deep-south" accent.
"Nothin' much," was the customary reply, coupled with a grin from the use of the Corporal's nickname. Ever since the pair had met, the country-boy had called his city-boy friend "Buck."
The PFC grunted warmly in response, knowing his gesture had been taken in the right way.
"So, McCall," addressed Corporal Campbell, raising his gun slightly. "What do you think about the new 'Rifle?
Billy finished securing his single SMG and picked up one of the referred-to weapons before him, looking it over as if for the first time. "Man, my deer rifle back yonder done has a scope that be twice this size."
A laugh from the Corporal. He had known William Alexander McCall since basic. About a year or so back, Lance had volunteered for the "Helljumpers;" his friend hadn't. "Sure, buddy," he replied, grabbing ten extra thirty-six round magazines and moving on closer towards the exit. The next weapon on his list was the M90 Shotgun; "no close-range combat" his ass. If he was taking point, he was gonna be prepared.
Private First Class McCall, however, stayed for a second, gathering up his second weapon and a handful of magazines; before looking to his right at the young Marine that had just sidled up next to him. It looked as if the inexperienced young-man was in a daze.
"Hey, Greenhorn; you awake, boy?" he asked, elbowing the Private where his ribs would be, had he not been wearing body armor.
Joshua Reynolds jumped, jerking his newly acquired BR55 Rifle against his chest. His face was red and skin sweaty. His hands were trembling slightly, along with his knees.
McCall pulled the small Marine out of the line of men and women by his chest armor, and off to the side between the two weapon lockers on that side of the room. He would have to give this one a talking to.
"You a'ight, son?" the older of the two asked, making room for the passing members of the other squads behind him.
"Yeah, yeah. I'm fine, really," Josh answered in his cracking voice, shrugging and attempting, rather weakly, to pull away from the man talking to him. He didn't even start to make eye contact.
"You've never seen combat 'fore have ya?" asked McCall, keeping his grip on the piece of protective armor.
A shake of the head that was already downcast, and a flutter of glazed-over eyes.
"Well, look here; we all got worries, Greenhorn. But, sometimes, we done just gotta put 'em aside and do what we done gotta do. Ya understand, son?" Billy took the kid by his shoulders, giving him a small shake. "Well?"
"Yeah. Sure. It's just . . . I don't know if I can do it."
A small group of passers-by gave the pair on odd look. "Quit makin' love; move it!" said the highest ranking of the bunch.
McCall ignored them. He had given such "pep talks" before.
"Then why the hell did ya join the Marines?" he asked.
"Look, just do what done feel natural to you'ins. Remember back to your training; this ain't no diff'rnt."
"Yeah. I know. I will."
"Good, boy. Now, go get your ammo and haul A to the rest of the squad."
The Marine shook his head in understanding of the suggestion and pushed his way back to the rifle rack.
McCall nodded with a smile, stroking his "handlebar" mustache. The kid might not be ready. He had been fun to mess with off and on duty after his recent arrival; but not now. This was the time that proved if you really had what it took to be a real, honest-to-God Marine. Fighting for an actual reason, having real bullets or plasma flying by your head, witnessing good men and women die in front of you; some just couldn't stand up to the pressure. Others found the man within them and experienced something that happened once in a lifetime; a thorough changing of their attitude towards life and their duty.
Well, Billy thought, moving back into line himself, that boy'll find out soon 'nuff.