Sea of Steel: Prologue
Posted By: Omniscient<email@example.com>
Date: 22 July 2001, 3:54 am
Location: United Earth Defense headquarters, Roswell, New Mexico.
The faces of the gathered men were barely visible in the low light of the small room. Where the sun found its way through the cracks in the ceiling, thin beams of light were visible in the smoke that filled the room. The smoke was the result of a horrible habit that, despite the many years that had passed, some humans still possessed. An old, gray-haired man in military dress leaned back in his chair as he puffed away on his cuban cigar. He rocked forward again, the rickety legs of the chair squeaking under his weight, and rested his elbows down on the table. Seated around the table in front of him were five other men who looked as if they were eagerly awaiting an important speech. Surprisingly, none of them were smoking, and the gray haze that filled the room was entirely from the man sitting at the head of the table.
"Gentlemen," said the smoking man, between puffs. "We are all quite aware now that the Covenant threat to Earth can no longer be ignored. They have pushed us too far, tormented us for too long." Another puff on the cigar. Having reached the butt, he threw it down behind him where it smoldered on the cold, metal floor. "But I am no longer able to command a defensive effort. I have gathered you here today to seek candidates for my replacement." A short pause, heavy breathing. "Gentlemen, I'm dying. Cancer." The gathered crowd did not act surprised. The man at the head of the table relaxed back in his chair again and crossed his arms in front of him. "Since our futile attempt to stop the Covenant hoard on Halo failed, we need to focus all of our energy on the defense of Earth; and the human species."
"Sir," said the man at the opposite side of the table. "We have no confirmation that our forces on Halo were defeated."
"The whole murderin' fleet followed them there, Patrick. And now that whole murderin' fleet is heading toward Earth. What do you think happened?" It was a rhetorical question, of course, but Patrick did not give up.
"Sir, the last transmission we received from the marines on Halo did not indicate that they were-"
"Patrick! The last transmission was cut off before it finished. What does that tell us?"
"Excuse me, Sir. I just don't see how you can completely give up hope."
"I haven't. But I'm an old, dying man, Patrick. And either way, that covvie fleet is headed for Earth, and if we don't stop them....we're toast. Even if we still have marines fighting on Halo, their attempt to distract the Covenant failed. The fleet is returning too soon for us to build up adequate defenses. The human race needs a new leader. One with a young, open mind that can think of never-before imagined ways to defeat an overwhelming enemy." There were some small, barely audible sounds made from many of the men around the table. A minute later, one of the other men spoke up.
"Sir, the only candidate present at this table for such a job is Patrick."
"We know he's the youngest," said another, "but he has climbed the ranks faster than anyone in history."
"Ah yes, I figured this would turn out this way," said the aged man. "Do you except, Patrick? If so, then the men you see here-other than myself, of course-will serve under you as the commanders of your forces."
Somehow, in times of great need, the military had a very informal way of conducting business. Patrick knew that he had to accept, even though the shear responsibility of it made him shutter.
"Sir," said Patrick, after calming himself. "Of course I accept. It is an honor to be chosen for such a position."
And that was it. Earth had a new leader. The old smoking man broke out a new, unopened box of the finest cuban cigars and passed one around to each of the men gathered at the table. Of course none of the others smoked, but there was something about it this occasion that said it was all right to dive into the ancient bad habits of man.
"Hey," said one of the men after receiving the cigar. "I can't possibly die of cancer from smoking before the Covenant kill me. Unless we win." Then he looked at Patrick. "Here's to you, stud. May you keep the human race striding forward." With that, and a few murmurs of agreement, they lit their cigars and sat back in their chairs, slowly puffing away the time.