The Amhaaric: Prologue
Posted By: Wierzbowski<firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date: 10 June 2004, 8:28 PM
The mood on his ship changed in the last half hour. It was noticeable. So.........quiet. He looked around at their faces as he sat in his black leather throne. Strange. Never had his bridge been in such a state of total silence. Waiting. Watching. Listening...
It wasn't that strange, he knew. He'd have to be a fool to think otherwise. This wasn't exactly a "drag and drop" drill they were running here. This was the real thing. And many of these kids had yet to fly a real mission against an enemy prepared to do everything in their power to survive. Still, this silence could not be permitted access for long. Usually, he made it his duty to encourage "noise", if you wanted to think of it that way. His flight crew knew to speak up whenever they felt the need. On the bridge of Kira's Rapture, there was never a thought unspoken, a fear unfaced, a confidence held back. Captain Kevin O'Connor refused to allow silence to infect his crew; driving men and women deeper and deeper into thoughts that served only one purpose...the inflammation (or creation) of fear.
As a young sergeant, at 22 years old, he was stowed away deep within echoing caverns of the Twilight Hunter, on board a disturbingly old Pelican. It was in the humid, dank soldier bay of this Pelican, that O'Connor first realized the dangers inherent in silence. As he sat quietly with his small platoon of 10 men, awaiting the inevitable drop into the atmosphere of Tollon, he began to think about the mission at hand. Though his team had run several simulations in which they took the communications tower in the CB quadrant of this Covenant stronghold in under 9 minutes, he began to consider several factors that shook his confidence. How rough would the atmosphere drop be for this planet? Could weather conditions rock the Pelican into missing its drop point? If the landing was too rough, and the pelican damaged, would they be stranded? What was the wildlife like on Tollon? He tried to shake the thoughts from his head...picking up his eyes and drawing a deep breath. His eyes scanned the corners of the Pelican. Why is there paint peeling off the corners inside this pelican!? How the hell old is this thing!? Is it just going to disintegrate in the atmosphere before we can even TRY to take this fucking hill? He leaned forward in his rough, cold steel seat to look down the row of marines sharing this ride. When they turned to look at him, one by one, O'Connor could see it in their eyes...the questions...the fight within the mind to defend it from itself. He could see...fear.
In the blink of an eye the ship was away and he was on the ground. Ten marines, in single file, were plodding their armored boots over 200 yards of thick mud, snapping their armored heads back and forth searching for the enemy, trying to stay invisible in the windy, post-rain weather. He could still smell the thick, moist air, the unforgiving atmosphere of a planet that wanted no visitors, let alone a full-on war. He could still hear the screams from his men as they moved from level to level in the structure, securing each area with trained precision. He could still feel the warm splash of Del Negro's blood on the back of his neck in the moment that practiced team insertion became erratic self survival. Plasma blasts came from behind them...from rooms and halls they had already cleared...hundreds of plasma blasts...that sang across the thin corridors painting every surface fresh with blood. He could still smell that hallway.
His team accomplished the mission objective, they won, but not without losing six men. One of which was private first-class James Kully, son of then-Colonel William Kully...a private that O'Connor knew was headed for team command someday soon. A loss that, for O'Connor, turned the victory at quadrant CB into failure. The unaccounted cluster of jackals in the underground service tunnel that managed to flank his squad was the first of many surprise changes to mission plans that O'Connor would face in his career...war is full of them. But what stuck with him, days, weeks, months later was the silence before the drop...the pointless questions that entered his mind only because he had the time and the silence to trigger his imagination. Looking back, picturing the sweaty faces of his men, he thought they must have been asking themselves similar questions...how many different ways were there to die? It was as if every man on that Pelican knew something bad was about to happen; that there was no way a simulation could prepare them for what lie in their path. It wasn't the jackals, it was that heavy, noticeable silence before the drop that killed Kully and his five companions...O'Connor was convinced.
Captain O'Connor had seen countless battle since then. He had led small forces and large ones, tackled small objectives and major ones. His success permitted him to be promoted at a higher rate than most of his colleagues. But he knew he owed his success to one simple thing: he never allowed his platoon, or his team, or his crew to lose the battle before it begun. With a near perfect policy, he avoided the silence that allowed men to fear the unknown. Until today.
Several hours ago Kira'a Rapture broke out of its slipspace jump...approximately 500,600 kilometers from the objective. It was not the lead cruiser in this particular mission, that job was left to Orion's Maid. This time, the UNSC selected Captain O'Connor and Kira for a very specific, very important objective. The tension suffocating him at the moment took him back to that broken down old Pelican hovering over Tollon, but only briefly. He could not let it linger, there was work to be done.
He stood from his chair, walked slowly toward the window that blanketed the entire front of Kira's bridge and looked out at the ring world. He was still a long way off, but could stand the silence no longer. "Bay 12, this is the captain, respond."
"I need a final computer systems check on those subs. And triple check both the release and the seal hardware. I don't want anything overlooked. This drop must go flawlessly."
O'Connor turned to face his bridge crew, his figure backed by the countless stars, the approaching moon, and a tiny ring that looked more wondrous than dangerous to the bridge crew. He was a man of average height, about 5'11". In his young age his brown hair had just begun to show signs gray near his temples. "Ladies and gentlemen, we are about enter contact range of these 'Amhaaric'. Once we do, our mission begins, and for the next few hours we will be faced with one of the most important tasks the UNSC has ever demanded of a single cruiser. For this reason alone, we must succeed. We have all studied every aspect of this mission hundreds of times in preparation of this moment, and each of you is vital in the accomplishment of our objectives. Therefore, every single person on this bridge MUST be one hundred percent certain of their duties over the next three hours. Now, before I contact Orion's Maid and give them a go...does anyone have any questions?" He paused a moment and glanced slowly over the faces of his crew. There is only one crew good enough for this mission, he decided, and I'm looking at it. After a moment he added, "Problems?" Still...nothing. "Fears?" He let the corner of his mouth reveal the tiniest hint of a smile. "Don't answer that," he said as he put his hands on his hips, looked to the bridge floor, shook his head, and let out a small laugh. His crew seemed to loosen up for moment, but he quickly lifted his head and stared into their eyes. "People, you have been selected for your individual positions in this mission because you are the best. If I didn't have each and every person on this bridge, I wouldn't be so confident in our ability accomplish the mission. But, since you have no questions or problems, I can only understand that to mean one thing...well, two things. One...you are ready. And two...we have nothing to fear. Comm, open a channel to Orion's Maid." He walked with purpose from the front of the bridge to the upper level, close to his leather chair, and the CTM.
"Channel open, sir," said Tuendo Abisi, a young officer fresh from the academy on Phobos. A man that, despite his lack of experience, was hand-picked by O'Connor for this mission.
"Captain Brooks, Kira's Rapture is approaching waypoint 3A. We are running the final test on our Hammerhead's computer systems now and should be ready to commence with objective B shortly. Tell those Covenant over on the Mercy's End that we'll be in position."
"Copy that, Captain," came the booming voice of Russell Brooks over the comm, "let me know when the final tests are done."
"Copy," responded O'Connor. "Bay 12...Hey, Larry," said O'Connor," you guys got those diagnostics done?" The Lieutenant Commander's voice cracked over the intercom, "Aye, Captain, getting those readings in now."
"Send them up here, Larry, I wanna see this data on my monitor," O'Connor ordered. Within thirty seconds, the data started streaming into the bridge's translucent monitor. Over two hundred separate systems from weapons and targeting, to the Gisoma docking hatch, to the revolutionary type J Bubble Drive slipped on-screen one at a time. Each system, after a brief delay, showed exactly what O'Connor needed to see: those beautiful bright green flashing letters, "GO". O'Connor turned to look at first officer Commander Henry Noseworthy just in time to see a smile spread across his narrow face.
"Lieutenant Khalin, what is our ETA to the next waypoint?," Noseworthy asked. Munia Khalin spun to address her navigational monitor and responded quickly, "Four minutes, twenty seven seconds, sir." Noseworthy seemed pleased, "Captain, we're right on schedule."
"Roger that, Commander," said O'Connor, as a stern look suddenly came across his face. "Captain Brooks, O'Connor," said the Captain, his eyes narrowed and his mouth grew tight as he focused on the approaching ring getting larger in the window, "all systems check out perfect, we will be moving in tandem with Mercy's End in minutes."
"Copy that, Captain," responded Brooks, "We are close behind...approximately...say again, lieutenant...approximately three thousand kilometers." Brooks had a serious, yet routine, sound to his voice. O'Connor liked that in a mission leader; it added a sense of confidence to everyone who heard his voice. This is just another mission, folks. "You are cleared for rendezvous with Mercy's End in three minutes thirteen seconds. Once you cross the next waypoint and Mercy's T'Kogna Driver is activated, you will maintain radio silence until after the Hammerhead drop is complete and then you may re-establish contact after reaching minimum safe distance from Halo Zero Six. Got all that, Captain?" Of course he did, they'd only been planning this mission for 8 months. "We got it, Russell, Kira's Rapture is ready."
"Copy that, Captain, I will leave you and General Ghalnon to do your work. Good luck to you and your crew, Kevin. Those Hammerhead's couldn't be in better hands. Brooks out."
O'Connor nodded a few times, envisioning his giant vessel moving into position with a Covenant cruiser...it was quite a sight. "How long to waypoint 3A now, Lieutenant?," O'Connor asked.
"Two minutes eight seconds, sir."
"Comm, open a channel to the entire ship," o'Connor ordered. "Ladies and Gentlemen, this is your Captain. Assume your positions; our mission begins in less than two minutes. Everyone must be sharp and on point, mistakes on this run are no longer an option. I know many of you have questions and doubts running around your head, good soldiers always do, but there is one important thing to remember: if we follow the mission procedures exactly as we have trained, our victory will be quick and painless. It is time to do our part for humanity. O'Connor out."
He took another look at the ring looming ahead out his window, a faint circle with only about one-third really visible...by his best guess, they were only about 6,000 km from the ring. Let's hope these Covenant follow procedure as well, I am depending on those damn aliens as much as my own trusted crew. "Countdown to course change, Khalin," O'Connor ordered.
"Nine seconds, sir...eight...seven..."
Everyone could feel the shift in pressure as the Covenant warship moved to within a dangerously close 800 meters from the top of Kira's Rapture. The bridge began to shake, and O'Connor subtly tightened his grip on the black leather arms of his chair.
"...three seconds, Captain, two...one...mark."
The Captain raised his voice to compensate for the added noise created by the proximity of the covenant vessel, "Nav, change course to zero three thee, mark zero one zero, reduce speed to five thousand nine hundred meters per second."
"Aye, Captain," Rivers was practically shouting. The lieutenant's hands moved rapidly over the console in front of him, punching orders into the computer with terrific speed and accuracy. Kira's Rapture slightly shifted its position and matched that of Mercy's End. The ships were moving together now and many members of the crew would have given anything to capture the sight from 2000 meters...a giant purple city shadowing an enormous grey battleship. Few would ever have the chance to witness such a spectacle. "At this speed and heading we will enter Halo's atmosphere in just over twenty minutes, sir," reported Rivers. "Thank you, Lieutenant," the Captain responded. More than five minutes passed as the two great ships flew in tandem, the silence of the crew not so noticeable with the bridge rumbling as it was, headed directly toward Halo 06.
O'Connor glanced at his mission clock directly above the CTM, he felt the first twinge of doubt. This was too long, another minute at this speed and both ships would be in scanner range of Halo. He looked to the window and squinted. He could swear he was seeing small dots just outside Halo's atmosphere...dots that could only be warships the Ahmaaric stationed to guard from any possible attack. According to their intelligence, these ships were five times the size of the largest human cruiser in the fleet: The Starward. That ship carried nearly 19,000 crew members and over 600 Longswords. A ship five times its size was quite a formidable opponent, and certainly not one to face without some sort of edge. Luckily, intelligence also showed that, although the size of many of the enemy ships were daunting, their scanning technology was somewhat lacking, and the Covenant's new toy did not need to be used until they were nearly on Halo's doorstep. This, however, did not do enough to comfort Kevin O'Connor at the moment. He saw no point in waiting until the Amhaaric could literally see them out the side window before disappearing from space, it would only raise suspicion, and most certainly increase Halo-wide security. First officer Henry Noseworthy turned to him and kept his voice just above a whisper, "Captain, T'Kogna should have been activated by now." No shit, Hank...we'll be sitting ducks in ninety seconds...we might as well put on a stupid-ass grin and just fucking wave. "I'm aware of that Commander," replied O'Connor, keeping his thoughts to himself, "I have been assured that no one is more qualified to command Mercy's End on this mission than General Ghalnon, and let us not forget that there is no ma-uhhh...General, rather, more familiar with the T'Kogna Drive. We have been ordered to maintain radio silence and continue on our current heading. Don't worry, Commander, we stick to the plan, remember, and victory comes easily." Kevin hoped it sounded good, because he sure as hell would have given anything to see the purple flash in the middle of that little speech, but it did not happen. What the hell are those bastards doing!? The Captain was seconds from losing his cool when a purplish-yellow spark flashed somewhere in space between his bridge window and his view of the Halo. The rumbling on the bridge died down to a faint feeling lingering in the floor. Thank God, O'Connor thought.
"Lieutenant...?," he asked.
"Aye, Captain," replied Munia Khalin, "...we are cloaked."