Hawk Chronicles: Chapter 2a, Part 1
Posted By: Vector40<firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date: 15 August 2001, 9:37 PM
Chronicles of the ***Silver Hawks***
Think where man's glory most begins and ends
And say my glory was I had such friends.
-The Municipal Gallery Revisited, W.B. Yeats
Location: Silver HQ, Quaker Mountains, Halo
"Twenty credits! Not in a freaking million years! You use a damn pistol every day. I haven't shot one since my qualifications."
"You shot one yesterday."
"I shot a piece of paper. They don't bleed."
Wilder glared and picked up the gun, tossing it at Hailman. "Stop whining and shoot it."
They were at the indoor range. Without fail, every member of the Hawks preferred to practice outdoors when possible, but tossing around unshielded emissions in a hostile area was an invitation for something fast, nasty, and explosive, as Hackenberg had put it.
Hailman sighed dramatically, eyed the handgun- a standard semi-auto drawn from the stores, to stifle objections from him when Wilder had proposed using one of his own- and flicked the butt into his palm.
Wilder dialed something he couldn't see into the range keypad, saying, "Heads up."
He waited... and waited... and waited still more, itching at the finger. Finally, he turned, exasperated. "Wild, did you-"
Almost immediately, he heard a whir as the target cycled up. He clamped his mouth down on an obscenity and wheeled down the range, sights up.
Hackenberg was sitting at a heavy bench in the armory. In front of him, piles of wires and connectors were stacked, and he was sorting through them, pulling out a det-switch or surger occasionally and setting it to the side.
He would kill to be out with his sniper rifle, putting holes in things a mile away. But things had been hot recently, and Banning had put a ban on excursions until patrols and flyovers had settled down.
Not that any of them went out very often. Just him, Storm, and on occasion Hailman took a spin to stay sharp. Oh, Macedon disappeared every so often, but nobody knew where- he could be outside. But then, he could just a well be hiding in the engine compartment of a tank, or teleported to Beta Centauri, or sucked up into Heaven to help put down rogue angels, or who knew where.
He plucked up a vibra-filament, holding it to his eye, and threw it into the bin marked "Out." It might be repaired, trashed, or donated to the Marines, so nobody had thought of anything better to name the box.
His train of thought was derailed as the intercom on the table started beeping. He entertained notions of ignoring it, setting it with a charge of plastique, or dropping it in the "Out" bin- filed the ideas for future reference, reached over and activated the com.
It was Banning. "Here, m'lord."
"Are you busy?"
"More than you can imagine."
"Great. I need you to round up the guys. Conference room."
"I'll page 'em"
"No, you won't. Half of them will politely decline to give a damn. And the rest of them are scattered all over. Go find 'em."
"Screw you too, sir," Hackenberg said cheerfully, and stood up as the com popped off. He wandered out, idly twisting a garrote cord around his finger.
Carson was an easy catch. He was in the corridor outside, crouched over an access box in the wall.
"What're you doing, Raynor?"
He looked up, scowling. Wisps of smoke drifted out from the vent. "Damn power in my room's gone happy. I could give it to Hail, but by the time he gets around to it the war'll be over."
Hackenberg grinned. "Well, sheath your torch for now. Boss wants ya'll in the conference room."
Carson sat back, haunch to heel, look irritable. "Not another fucking meeting?"
"No, there's a buffet."
He poked the solderer at him, sour.
Hackenberg drifted down the hall, peering into each room he passed. He passed the practice range, and heard a clamor inside.
Familiar with the antics of Wilder and Hailman, he didn't enter; instead, he pounded on the wall, shouted "Conference room!", and left before anyone came out.
Continuing along, he found his way to Storm's room, and raised his hand to knock.
And held it there, motionless.
Her door was cracked open. Steam was drifting out of the gap, and through it, he could make out the door to Storm's shower. The tinted glass was fogged up; silhouetted in the translucent pane, he could make out the long, lithe figure of Kris Salvador.
He stared, mesmerized, as she tossed her hair back, turning. Her form, lacking any definition in the semi-clear door, and filtered as it was through a mist-filled room, nevertheless seemed almost unearthly; as if divinity had descended down to earth, and stood on the Halo, showering. Wavering ethereal, intangible, angelic, he felt that he was at the moment in the presence of something almost deeply powerful.
Someone cleared their throat behind him.
Hackenberg turned, startled. Macedon was standing three feet behind him, his hard, chiseled face impassable.
His mind flying through a stream of possible greetings, excuses, and witticisms, he found refuge in stammering. "I- ah- hey, uh, hi Mace! Uh, heh... Um... I was... I was just..." was just rambling, he thought. Lord, how this must look.
"Ah, Mace, I was just... uh, coming to... tell Storm..."
Macedon's eyes were burning holes into him.
"Uh, there's... there's a meeting..."
"I'll tell her." His first words.
"Um... Thanks! Well, okay... I'll just... uh..." Hackenberg, trying not to run, slipped past the imposing form of his dark spectator, and, looking back nervously, fled down the hall.
Macedon followed Hackenberg with his eyes as he scrambled away. When he vanished, he turned and tapped on the door.
Banning opened it.
"Hack was here."
"Oh. Okay, thanks."
Mace nodded. "And the door's open."
Banning looked at it, blinking. "Why, I suppose it is."
"Don't be long." Macedon turned and paced off down the hall.
Banning shut the door and went back into the room. He picked up the stylus and pressure pad he had been using and slipped them into a locked case.
Then, he moved up to the shower, sliding open the door.
Salvador stood under a spray of water, as a fine sprinkling of shimmering droplets ran down her body, glistening. She turned as cold air rushed in. A smirk parted on her face.
He couldn't help but to smile. "We should get going."
She turned off the water. "Hack here?"
"He was. Mace chased him off."
She stepped up to him, reached her long arms around his neck, and leaned forward to kiss him on the lips.
"Oookay! Heads up, ladies and gentlemen!" Banning strolled into the conference room, conveniently missing the glowers that met him. For form's sake, Storm had arrived five minutes earlier.
"If," said Banning, "you wish to leave... Well, that's understandable."
A ray of hope pierced the gloom.
"Therefore, I'll keep my words short."
The ray brightened into a thick, glorious beam. Carson rubbed his hands together. Wild raised his eyebrows, beseeching.
"In fact, I have very few words! Thus, I will be handing the ball off to our RA representative for the day, Tailor Felton. People, please welcome him, and... well, his words probably won't be so short."
The glimmer of happiness terminated inside a waste pit, where it was decomposed and buried under a pile of Tunga roots, surrounded by chanting pigmies, and sacrificed in a ritual to honor the god of bureaucracy.
Irritated groans and a few murderous looks chased Banning as he sat down, looking smug.
Felton, who had been seated in an extra chair, now rose and moved to the head of the table. He was of short, with a flare of fire-red hair, strong, chunky arms, and dark skin. He was wearing civilian clothing, save for a black armband which said, inscrutably, EQ.
"Good afternoon. I've been sent as liaison from the 3rd Fleet Marines, Halo division- well, you know, from the garrison. We've got something of a problem, and if you don't mind, we'd like you to help us with it." Felton glanced down, pulled out a paper from a stack, slipping it into the viewer.
"This is the sortie roster for the past month. Every mission outside of friendly territory- basically, about a mile around the base, and the immediate grounds of all outposts- is listed here. We have a schedule, prepped by High Command, that we utilize to both hold our land and occupy that of the enemy."
"Most of these excursions are patrols. Some are hit-and-run phantom raids. There's a few special cases, such as your recent mission."
"Now, you'll notice, in the past few weeks, something starts to happen." Felton replaced the sheet with another, and a chart appeared in the air. "There's probably some obsequious jargon for it, but I'm not interested in semantics."
"Our teams are disappearing."
Hackenberg shifted in his seat. Somebody murmured something.
"Just that. Gone. Not wiped out, not captured- although all of these are possibilities. They're just gone. Like they were swallowed up into the earth. Um, the Halo."
"We haven't got anything. Nobody's gotten any reports out- just snap, poof, they're never heard from again. In the past week, the incidents have increased to nearly seventy percent of our forces. Not a trace."
"Until two days ago."
Felton reached down and found a CC data disk. "Gentlemen, in another place, another situation, I could probably be court-martialed for showing you this. But it's not like we're on Sirius, with Fleet Command a phone-call away- we're grasping at straws here."
"And we're the straws?" That was Carson.
"Damn straight." Felton smiled a little. "Have a look."
He held the disk up.
"We received this from Recon Team 7. They had been sent to investigate a communication problem with Firebase Epsilon- three days ago, we stopped receiving transmissions. It was assumed to be an equipment difficulty, and we sent off Recon 7 to check it out."
"But there was another purpose to this mission too. You see- Recon 7 is our best and brightest, gentlemen. Maybe they're not up to par with you-" he smiled a little, and a chuckle went around, but it was only the truth- "but they're our most elite small-unit team. Half the time they're not even in the field, because we've got their members training the rest of us."
"Command isn't stupid. They've noticed what's been going on with the teams. To take action, though, they usually need to be prodded into it- either with hard evidence, or something so circumstantial that it kicks 'em in the shins." Banning was starting to like Felton. "So we- or they- or somebody- sent in Recon."
"They went off. No trouble."
"But then, about when they were supposed to be reaching Epsilon, we got this."
The room projector was configured to broadcast audio. Felton found a port and socketed in the disk, then hit a key.
The voice, scratchy and panicked, lit up over the room speakers.
"Reco- command. Repeat, Recon 7 to Command. We've reach-
-requesting backup! We are- all sides... Have lost... Eddings, Samson... Hingis... Our... Almost gone.
Command, we... more than thirty hours. Cannot- longer. Please...
URGENT. Com- MUST SEE. VIT- Repeat: VITAL. Pl-
Command... We cannot... very little. Please... please...
The voice disappeared with a crack so violent Banning jumped. It sounded like an explosion.
The room was silent for several minutes, as the each of the Hawks tried to determine in his or her own way the different aspects of the situation. Suddenly, Hailman spoke up, breaking the silence.
"Hold on. Was that static?"
Felton looked up, slightly startled, but then nodded. "Yes. It's very strange. Recon 7 carried only the standard communication gear. There shouldn't have been any way a particle feed could get corrupted like that."
"We turned the tape over to our techs. They analyzed it-" Felton shook his head. "It's a radio signal."
"Yes. We're lost on that."
Storm butted in, a quizzical look on her face. "Just a moment. You say that the team had no equipment capable of producing a radio signal."
"That's it. It's hardly standard issue. In fact, the only reason we had a line open at HQ at the time was a combination of a happenstance, fate, and a strange series of events involving our routers. It was a backup, really."
Storm shook her head. "They didn't have it. Fine. But did the base?"
Felton looked startled. "My goodness- why, I haven't even thought of that. We- yes, I believe so. All of the firebases could handle radio."
She nodded thoughtfully and sat back.
Felton said, "Well, this is already useful. Maybe I should just sit here and let you guys brainstorm the secret to winning the war." He grinned as he pressed a button on the Carbon Combustion disk. It made a strange noise, and Felton swore and threw it into a wastebasket, where a wisp of smoke rose up.
"Funny," said Banning, "but maybe it would be more constructive to tell us exactly what it is you want from us."
The man nodded. "Well, it is both simple and complex, precise and quite vague. Let me list the objectives." He ticked them off on his fingers.
"One: to locate and establish the condition, and if necessary, effect the rescue, of Recon Team 7. This is the primary one, at least officially."
"Two: To finish what Team 7 started. Find Firebase Epsilon, assess their status, and report to us. Help them with their equipment if necessary."
"Three. This one is both the most important and the most uncertain. First of all, you heard the message. You can interpret it however you want, but it seems that Recon has found... something. I don't know what yet, we don't know what, it might be nothing, but it ties in with the other thing, which is that we still don't have the foggiest clue what's been happening to our patrols."
He sighed. "There's a chance that may be what Recon 7 has discovered, at least in part. If there IS a chance, even the slightest, then we need you to discover it, and tell us. We CANNOT afford to fight a war of attrition, gentlemen, not for any length of time- we haven't got the numbers. The Covenant do."
"Are you asking us to fight your war for you?" asked Banning, a bit peevishly.
"No, no, no. You are not being commissioned to eliminate the threat- only to, if possible, discover its nature."
"Are you saying that you think it's something more than just the Covenant attack squads getting restless and your own patrols getting lazy?"
Felton held his gaze. "Yes."