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Posted By: Kellen Squire<squire@coronafilm.biz>
Date: 9 April 2002, 5:21 am

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DECEMBER 16, 2552

The Secretary-General of the United Nations, Dr. Dan'el Jes™s Rodr'guez, stood and watched the personnel of the United Nations Unified Military Command scurry around him. Navy, Marine Corps, Aerospace Corps, Space Guard, and EarthGuard personnel of all ranks worked to coordinate what was likely to be humankind's last stand.

The tension in the air was nearly unbearable. Order was on the verge of crumbling entirely. But that was allowed, even for the men and women of the UMC Command Center, who, for almost thirty years of war, had remained calm while Earth's farflung colonies were eliminated, one by one. Now, though, the Covenant faced them personally.

SecGen Rodr'guez watched as one young man, an enlisted technician in the Space Guard, relieved himself from duty, unable to bear the tension any longer, the finality of what was about to happen. At least humanity will still prevail, Rodr'guez thought. They bypassed dozens of colony worlds- even Sanctuary. Sanctuary was the location of an orbital shipyard and a few million colonists, plus a signifcant amount of war material. Since Reach had fallen, it was being prepared to serve as a fallback point for the United Nations, so that in case Earth was taken out of the fight, humanity would still survive, would still be able to fight back.

But only four months had passed since Reach had fallen. Perhaps Sanctuary would be able to produce a few new cruisers before they, too, were destroyed. Maybe they'd send a ship of colonists into deep space, to eke out a new homeworld for humanity- thought Slipspace was notoriously hard to navigate without proper charts. Some would survive, somewhere.

Many in the room would no doubt disagree with the SecGen on that issue.

The UMC personnel continued to work. Some even stopped and spoke to Rodr'guez about various things that required his attention. One did so now. She strode up to him and stood silently by his side.

"Admiral." Admiral Roschael Diedrich, only thirty-five. The youngest woman to make Admiral in the history of the United Nations Space Command. Reknown for her tactical genius, SecGen Rodr'guez had recalled her to coordinate the defense of Earth just before Reach had been destroyed. And thank God for that...

"Secertary-General Rodr'guez. We've just lost contact with Ganymeade station... we believe it's only a matter of time now, sir." As if on cue, a red light began to flash. A holographic chart in the front of the room popped into view, showing cislunar space for a distance of approximately one light minute. A flashing pool of color was prevalent just beyond the moon.

A chime rang through the implants in SecGen Rodr'guez's head. Warning. Enemy ships exiting Slipspace in Sector 12.

"Have Task Force 3.1 prepare to engage the enemy." The SecGen snorted involuntarily, immediately recognizing that it had been the wrong thing to do. The noise level in the room dropped for a moment, and a few people looked at him incredulously. The SecGen felt his face flush- he hadn't been able to help himself. Task Force 3.1 consisted of three frigates, a destroyer, and a cruiser that were the remnants of the once mighty United Nations Navy. They remained in orbit as a pathetic attempt to live up to the term "rearguard action", and only because Rodr'guez knew the people of Earth would not stand for his deploying them somewhere more militarily useful. It was of no consequence, anyway. Only one of the ships, the frigate Sally Ride, was a modern design. The rest of the ships predated the war- the cruiser had taken part in putting down the rebel insurrection in the Eridanus system.

However, aside from a few gunboats and system patrol craft left at the few remaining human colonies, they were the last free UNSC vessels, anywhere.

"How many Covenant are we talking about here, Admiral?" Rodr'guez asked. "One, ten, fifty, a hundred?" Admiral Diedrich paused for a moment, as information was downloaded into her implant.

"There appears to be two formations of Covenant, sir. One is heading for the moon. It appears to consist of somewhere around sixty Capital-class ships. The other formation is heading straight for Earth, sir. We estimate there is somewhere around five hundred ships in that formation. There also appears to be a number of heavy troopships in both formations."

Why don't they just annihilate us, like they did to so many of our colonies?, SecGen Rodr'guez thought. Do they want to make sure we're all dead? No... more likely that they want to assimilate us, to make us serve them...

"Ma'am," a technician called out, "Luna Station reports they're engaging the enemy." SecGen Rodr'guez reguarded Admiral Diedrich carefully before speaking.

"If we can get through the jamming, wish Luna Station luck, and have them target the heavy troopships as a first priority." Admiral Diedrich nodded to a communications tech standing near her who was tasked with waiting for orders like the SecGen had just given, and the tech scurried off to do his job.

"Furthermore," Rodr'guez continued, "relay the same orders to Task Force 3.1, and tell them to cause as much damage as they can. Instruct them to let their AIs do the bulk of the fighting for as long as possible." This tactic had been pioneered at the Battle of Reach by Captain Jacob Keyes, the commander of the cruiser Pilliar of Autumn, which had fled from Reach at a random vector, and hadn't been heard from since.

Admiral Diedrich nodded at the SecGen. "The enemy should be in range in about five minutes, sir. If you'll pardon me?" Rodr'guez nodded and Admiral Diedrich saluted him, turned sharply on her heel, and walked towards the holographic battle board.

"Now comes the hard part." Rodr'guez sat down at a spare desk and focussed his attention on the battle board. Several minutes passed before Admiral Diedrich began to snap orders out at a furious speed.

Task Force 3.1 has engaged the enemy, the implant in the SecGen's mind subvocalized.

The SecGen watched as Admiral Diedrich did what she did best. Under her organization, the human defenses began to chip away as the mass of ugly red blips representing the Covenant invasion fleet.

Far too soon, the first bad news came in. "Contact lost with Luna Station," a tech called. Which didn't mean that it had been destroyed- indeed, the defenses at Luna Station continued to fire for another full minute before ceasing entirely. SecGen Rodr'guez tounged his implant for a time check- only six minutes since they'd begun firing, Luna Station had been destroyed.

Makes sense, the SecGen thought, it'd only take a few minutes to destroy them, even without nukes. Luckily... unluckily?... we don't have that concern.

The news didn't get any better- it went from bad to worse. Admiral Diedrich hurried back up to the SecGen, dispensing with all military formalities.

"Task Force 3.1's missiles are fully expended, and their MAC cannons are beginning to overheat," she began. "The Sally Ride and Thermopylae have both taken serious damage and are preparing to abandon ship. Marathon is about to-" A blue dot flashed and then disappeared from the holographic battle board- "has been completely destroyed. The Monument to Peace and the Formidable Opponent have sustained some damage, but not enough to hinder their capablities significantly."

Rodr'guez turned to look at the board again. The blue blips representing the four remaining warships of Task Force 3.1 were pitifully few compared to the angry red smear of Covenant craft bearing down on Earth. Yellow dots and trails criss-crossed the screen. They represented the Archer missiles and MAC rounds of the human fleet, and the plasma weapons favored by the Covenant, flicked between the two fleets, mostly converging on the crippled UNSC ships. As Rodr'guez watched, two of the red dots flickered and vanished. A moment later, one of the blue dots erupted in an explosion of blue specks, moments before a like number of yellow specks converged on it. When they did, the blue blip representing the human ship winked into nothingness.

"That was Thermopylae. They jettisoned escape pods- but it doesn't look like many... I'm sorry, sir, they're just not doing enough damage up there. They're doing all they can."

"I understand that, Admiral Diedrich. That's all we could ever ask of them. God rest their souls." The Admiral hesitated- the SecGen continued speaking. "You didn't do anything wrong, Admiral. There's no tactics that can get us out of this one. I'm sorry." By the look of it, Admiral Diedrich didn't like that statement- but, Rodr'guez was sure, she didn't like the fact it was true much more than the statement itself.

"Go ahead and have the remaining ships fall back on Earth, Admiral. They'll last longer with the defense platforms at their back." So a few more Covenant will die, and some sailors will have a few more minutes of life.

Rodr'guez waved Deidrich away, letting her return to her own duties of directing the remaining planetary defenses. Rodr'guez watched the three remaining human warships retreat back towards Earth. One didn't make it- the Formidable Opponent took a plasma barrage midships and dissapeared from the battle board. The SecGen winced. No escape pods had made it off. The two remaining human warships, a cruiser and a frigate, made it safely within the protective umbrella of the defense platforms stationed around Earth.

"Sir," Admiral Diedrich called from across the room, "the Covenant fleet is almost in range of the defense platforms."

"Fire when they get in range. Take as many of them down as you can."

"Aye, aye, sir." A thin-lipped smile crossed Admiral Diedrich's lips. Finally, the chance to hit the Covenant with something they wouldn't be expecting, or be prepared for. Earth didn't have any orbital MAC guns, like Reach had had. There hadn't been the resources to fortify both Reach and Earth.

"In range- firing." No, there weren't any MAC guns in orbit. But anyone on the surface of the Earth who had happened to look up moments before would have seen dozens of retina-burning flashes in the sky, caused by the thermonuclear explosions of orbital gamma-ray lasers, which sleeted into the Covenant invasion fleet. Rodr'guez watched as a mass of red dots, perhaps fifty in all, flashed vividly on the battle board. Most dissapeared; a few remained, but continued to flash, indicating heavy damage.

It was another twenty minutes before the Covenant fleet could regroup effectively. The remaining gamma-ray lasers didn't slow the Covenant down this time- but they took out another twenty ships before being destroyed fifteen minutes after the Covenant regrouped. And it was only ten minutes after that before the UNSC Sally Ride took a direct hit in her fusion reactor and dissapeared from the battle board.

The last warship of Task Force 3.1- the last human warship, anywhere- was gone.

* * * * * * * * * * *

Rodr'guez climbed the seemingly endless flight of stairs leading to the entrance of the Command Center. When the United Nations had taken control of the Cheyenne Mountain center, from what was now the United States of North America, they had spent billions of commarks strengthening it, digging deeper into the mountain, until the center was declared totally impregnable, even by repeated direct hits with thermonuclear weapons. This, of course, made the task of getting out quite a chore, since the lifts had been disabled when the fighting had begun.

A few members of the SecGen's security cadre followed him up the stairs, along with a number of personnel from the Command Center. When he'd announced his intention to watch the final stages of the battle from the surface, a few of the personnel had volunteered to follow him. Rodr'guez looked around. Most were enlisted, but no branch of the service seemed to be represented more than any other. Navy, Marine Corps, Space Guard, Aerospace Corps, Space Guard, EarthGuard, even a young man in a Reach Planetary Defense Corps uniform, who, by the Grace of God, had made it off of Reach before it had been destroyed. But it had only delayed the inevitable.

The SecGen stopped climbing stairs. "I'll give you one chance to go back. I won't turn around. I'll never know. There is no shame in doing so."

Silence prevailed. Nobody moved. After a moment, Rodr'guez shrugged inwardly and continued the trek up the stairs. Before long, he reached a landing, where he had to pass through five sets of titanium-III battle-plated doors, the corridors between them preventing a chemical agent from entering the complex, or from letting the hell of plasma fire reach the command center that was buried within the mountain.

As he passed through a sixth doorway, he entered a narrow permacrete hallway, recessed into the side of the mountain. The air was thin, the corridor dark.

But he was outside.

Within a minute, he was in the clear. It was completely dark outside; all power plants on the planet, except for vital defense needs, had been completely shut down, producing a planet-wide blackout. The stars were brilliant in the sky. A few were clearly artificial. The only sound was that of the wind blowing gently through the mountains.

Secretary-General Dr. Dan'el Jes™s Rodr'guez, the 132nd Secretary-General of the United Nations, one-time surgeon turned diplomat, looked upwards.



Pinpoints of lights began to appear in the sky; first, one here and there, but before long, dozens, hundreds filled the sky.