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Hawk Chronicles: Chapter 1a, Part 1
Posted By: Vector40<brandon@berkeleyhigh.org>
Date: 06 August 2001, 6:19 PM

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Chronicles of the ***Silver Hawks***

Unless you enter the tiger's lair, you cannot get hold of the tiger's cubs.

-The Art of War, Sun Tzu

Part 1- Four years later.
Location: Silver HQ, Quaker Mountains, Halo

    The tiny silver capsule spun.
    Spinning, spinning.
    The smooth, glassy, mercurial shine of the surface glimmered.
    It spun, skipping over the imperfections of its base like an ice dancer, whirling and spinning.
    Tal Wilder stabbed his finger down, freezing the light bullet in mid-turn. He lifted it up. "Here, Hail. Check it out."
    Hailman caught the thrown silver streak with a bemused glance, then, recognizing it, examined the ball- the size of a small marble- with a critical eye.
    "It's my most recent. I tried that thing you mentioned with the torch, undercharging the field," said Wilder. Hailman held the capsule up to his eye, appreciated the machinated lines, curves, and surfacing of the minuscule, carefully contrived hawk, carved into the photon shell with an artful hand.
    "Not bad," he said. "You have to be careful with your solder torch if you're messing with the power settings, though. Too much and you'll puncture the P-core, getting a melted work bench for your troubles. Too little, and you end up with rounded edges, not clean." He ran his fingernail across. "Like this."
    "I didn't want to burn off any body parts."
    "No doubt."
    The door to the spacious bar opened, and Hackenberg stuck his head in. "It's that time again, boys."
    "Hammer time?" Wilder said hopefully.
    "I don't suppose it's Happy Hour?" probated Hailman.
    "Conference room. Five minutes." Hackenberg retreated, letting the door slip shut.
    The two men looked at each other, sighed, and rose.
    The conference room, a long, square chamber furnished with a rather natty-looking brushed chrome table, swivel chairs mounted on sliding rails just for the hell of it, and a wall-mounted tri-projector, was filling up as Hailman and Wilder arrived. Hackenberg was there, idly twirling a pen, his feet up on his leather binder, in turn resting upon the table. Raynor Carson wandered in as Wilder dropped into a seat, pulling one out on its track for Hailman; he nodded his greetings and dragged over his own seat.
    Macedon drifted into the room, unnoticed, sitting at the end of the table. Kris Salvador followed, rubbing irritatedly at her eyes as if woken from a nap, and glared in response to the barrage of "Hey, Storm" that greeted her.
    Finally, Banning entered through the back door, moving to the head of the table with a stack of papers.
    The room grew instantly silent, as all eyes turned to Banning.
    "Thank you."
    Hackenberg, who had closed his eyes and was reclining in his chair, jerked up with a start, leaned forward, and slid the leather file holder down the table, where it gently bumped into the projector controller. Banning picked it up, opened it, and withdrew a single sheet of CC paper.
    "Gentlemen, I hold in my hands your future."
    Carson gave an exaggerated yawn, drawing a few chuckles.
    "If you would give your attention to the viewing screen, please," Banning said, and tapped a control. The tri-projector flickered alive.
    "As you see, my dear friends, this is a mission request sheet. Nothing unusual about that, we get them all the time, for everything from starting a war to guarding the peace. However, as you might expect, things are a bit different under our current... ah, circumstances." He rapped on the table with his knuckles, fixing his gaze upon each member of the group in turn. "We are stranded on an unknown alien artifact, situated somewhere in deep space. There is a blood-thirsty horde of mindless, heartless beings with a desire to annihilate the human race, and their entire fleet happens to occupy, at the same moment, the aforementioned artifact. And, now that we've finished the IA job- which was what brought us here, to the 3rd Fleet and hence to the Pillar of Autumn, and HENCE, to this place- we are somewhat out of a job."
    Banning, stretching out his arm, pressed another control, and the image expanded, bringing the text into readability, but only revealing the header, which detailed a mission supplied by one SolCore Fleet Marine division. "Gentlemen, ladies, a mercenary group without mercenary work is more useless than fuel tanks on a bird. We dealt with the IA corruption business. Fine. The Marine contingent, what's left of them, has underwritten a few problems to us, which we have also handled, naturally. Great. But without regular work, there is nothing for us to do, and no means of support- and regular work, for an Irregular military group which handles irregular tasks, comes from a large population, one that can supply us with plenty of people, all having the problems they'll only have once."
    "Unfortunately, that is no longer possible. The number of possible employers available on the Halo, as they call it, is minimal- and since they're primarily military, their exact numbers are in fact mostly moot, as a military force is merely a unit. The individual members cannot supply us with employment. Without employment, we have no means of supporting ourselves."
    "May I remind you, gentlemen, that we CAN survive in a hostile environment, virtually indefinitely, under normal circumstances- but, as I said, these are hardly normal circumstances. If we are to survive here, we must not only be fed, equipped, and sheltered- we must have adequate ammunition, supplies, and intelligence, as well as knowledge of the actions of the Regular Army and Marine forces here. In other words, we must not only live- we must thrive."
    "I wish you to take this into account, you see, when I tell you what I'm about to."
    Banning flicked his thumb, and the full document appeared on the screen. "This is a mission request, as you can see, proffered by the Pillar's garrison. However, it's not just a request."
    He sighed. "It's a unit attachment contract, annexing us as a paid, subcontracted retainer of the Marines."
    The room broke up into confusion. Cries of protest, mutters of disbelief, and growls of disapproval resounded in a brief cacophony of rebellion. Banning let it go for several moments, then smacked the switch for the room lights.
    He switched them back on just as savagely, and glared into six angry faces. "LISTEN TO ME. We have no choice. If we just remain here, doing nothing, taking the occasional odd job from the Marines, muddling around under attack after attack- we're screwed. We will run out of essential supplies. We will slowly damage our equipment into unusability. Eventually, we will be killed off, one by one."
    "HOWEVER- if we take this, people, we will become part of the army. We will be under their protection, and they will supply us with whatever we need. We will be given enough business to keep us in hot socks for the rest of our lives."
    "And we will have a chance of getting off this god-forsaken spinning disk still living."
    "I know that none of you like the idea of selling out to the army. The majority of you have experienced it, and have no reason to admire the way they work. But, regardless of whether we are terribly fond of them, we CAN work together- and we will."
    "Because working together is the only way we're going to make it through this. And if we do- then humanity might."
    Banning pressed a key, slowly panning the viewer along the document. He slipped it out of the image provider and held it up.
    "This has not been signed. It requires that each and every one of you to do so before it becomes active and binding." He looked at them all again.
    And, taking a print-id pen, he scrawled his signature on the line.
    The paper made its way down the table. Grudgingly, each occupant stared at it, seemed to struggle with inevitability for several moments, and at last, gripped an ident inscriber and signed their names.
    The paper arrived back at Banning. It sported seven signatures branded across the bottom, like a proclamation of their destiny.
    He grinned and filed the contract. Then, he changed the projector view again, displaying a map.
    "Well then, laddies, we've got out first mission. And this is how it's going to go..."
    * * *
    The trees, a beautiful, verdant green, rustled gently in the wind. Birds chirped, whistled, and sighed, filling the air with their soft trilling song. Grass rustled, small brown mammalian creatures skittered along the ground.
    Hackenberg saw all these things- he would be a poor soldier who did not notice every manifestation, even the slightest, which could contain possible harm. But he did not see them as a wonderful earthy diversion; he saw them as the multifold camouflage of nature which cloaked him.
    He had tried three different places, creeping stealthily from one to the next, each within four hundred meters of the target. Finally, though, he had decided the split tree, grassy knoll, and overgrown patch of shrubbery were all unacceptable.
    He now lay, still as death, covered in an active camo blanket, on the crest of a hill more than 1400 yards from his mark.
    His earpiece spoke gently, resonating crystal-clear through the bone of his mandible.
    "Sword One to Lancer."
    He shifted his jaw, keying the mike. "Lancer."
    "Arrange the formation."
    "Acknowledged." The signals were being processed in a 1232-bit cross-encryption, double-coded, rerouted and bounced four times between the sender and the receiver before it was accepted- but taking chances was a fools business, and anyway, most of them were more used to coded orders than anything else.
    He picked up the lens-amplification binoculars he had been using and lay them aside, reaching to his left. A long, dark bag was there, and he quickly unfastened it and removed a BlackSteel custom weapons case. He placed it in front of him and clamshelled it open.
    Inside, seeming almost to glisten despite the light-capture matte exterior, lay the HLA-3, his sniper rifle. The name, of course, stood for Hackenberg Long Arm, third generation- it was his own creation, and no other name might suit.
    Lifting it gently out of the eggshell padding, he carefully extended the barrel, checked the scope, and examined the stock before, with a touch of a switch, letting the bipod snap down. He inserted the spokes into the soft earth, wrapped his hand around the grip, and placed his eye to the huge viewing port.
    A thin red reticule lay across the massive, brilliantly bright image inside. Numbers ran across the top, bottom, and edges of the picture, informing him of distances, wind speeds, atmosphere densities, load, barrel heat, and other such things.
    A flick of his thumb made a menu pop out, which quickly scrolled down, selecting the words Silent, No Flare, Med-Soft, and Penetrate.
    Finally, he let the sight wander over his target.
    A massive, glimmering structure jutted out of the earth, seeming to defy gravity. Glowing, effervescent towers, spindle thin, surrounded it protectively; spidery trails of energy emitted to the center construction, cleaving the space around the apex into eight sections. A tall, translucent wall enveloped the site, reminiscent of a bubble; a single gatehouse, protruding on each side, linked the two worlds.
    In the front of the gatehouse, three small metal posts were driven into the ground. Watchers.
    And two gracefully hulking Covenant Elites stood within the guardhouse, gazing alertly toward the winding road that approached.
    At this distance, the Covenant were only smudges against glass; the watchers were stubby toothpicks. The optics were good enough to distinguish features, though, and Hackenberg carefully placed the intersecting lines over the ridged forebrain of the first Covenant. He held it as immobile as he could, letting his muscles relax, breathing shallow, and slowing the flow of blood to his palm, fingers, and shoulder.
    He inhaled softly, and-
    "Sword to Lancer. Drop the trick."