I Chapter Twelve: The Coup
February 22, 2525
(Military Calendar) \
Harvest, Epsilon Indi System
I was roused from my dark, dreamless sleep by Carrol shaking my shoulder.
"We're here," he said.
I opened my eyes to the sight of a Maglev terminal sliding alongside the cargo container's entrance.
The Staff Sergeants hustled us out of the container while police officers came aboard and updated the refugees as to what was happening.
Captain Ponder had outlined the entire two-part evacuation plan to us during the seven-hour trip across the Plains of Ida to Utgard.
Phase One was to gather Harvest's entire surviving population into Utgard, which we accomplished by arriving with the people of Gladsheim.
Phase Two was to gather all of the civilians into cargo containers exactly like the ones from Gladsheim. The fleet of cargo containers would be sent up the orbital elevators to the Tiara space station.
Propulsion pods would be waiting to receive the containers in outer space. Once linked up, the containers would jump to slipspace and get the hell out of the Epsilon Indi system.
That was the plan, at least.
There were still a million-and-one ways for it to crash and burn.
The alien warship continued to prowl the skies of the Plains of Ida, burning any settlements it came across. It was the biggest obstacle standing in the evacuation’s way.
If we sent the refugees up the orbital elevators prematurely, nothing would stop that warship from blowing the elevators to sunshine.
Captain Ponder and Lieutenant Commander al-Cygni were going to meet with Governor Thune and figure out a way to deal with the warship and get the population safely into space.
We emerged from the Maglev station into an eerily silent capital city. Trash drifted across the empty streets, disturbed by the gentle breeze.
All of Harvest's remaining population – over two hundred thousand men, women, and children – had been gathered into the Utgard Mall.
The Utgard Mall was no ordinary mall – it also housed the loading hubs for the Tiara’s seven orbital elevator strands. It also happened to be the second-largest mall within the UNSC, one of Harvest’s main attractions for tourists.
Police cars roamed the surrounding streets, reminding the citizens to remain within the Utgard Mall, keep calm, and await further instruction from the military.
I guess that meant us.
The sight of all the refugees crammed into the park was depressing.
It was even more packed than the Utgard Solstice celebration, but gone were the bright pastel colors, the uproarious laughter, the alcohol-tinged festivities.
This crowd was a massive, silent huddle of grim faces. We were likely to perish under the plasma of the alien warship, and the crowd knew that.
The Militia was all loaded into a couple of flatbed trucks, which drove us north along the mall park, giving us a view of the parts that we could not see before. There was nothing new, though. Just more of the same, sad sight. More empty faces.
The roads up here were packed with abandoned vehicles. More than once, the trucks had to knock a sedan out of the way by bulling right through.
The parliament building came into view a few minutes later.
The flatbeds pulled to a stop in front of the main gate and we all piled out.
Habel and Amon's Charlie Squads were assigned to guard the main gate, and the rest of us were to join the Utgard police forces on the perimeter.
If there was a riot against the parliament, we would be the first line of defense.
I've always wanted to be a meatshield. How fun.
"Squad leaders, on me!" Staff Sergeant Byrne bellowed, calling all six squad leaders over to the steps leading up to the parliament building's front entrance.
I joined Critchley at the top of the stairs, along with a trio of Utgard Constables in full riot gear.
"You expecting trouble?" I asked the policemen, gesturing at their gear.
"That's a huge crowd you're looking at out there," one of the cops said, nodding towards the masses in the Utgard Mall. "Can't take any chances."
Critchley sat down, leaning back against one of the marble columns.
I didn't sit, but I still hung around the SWAT veteran. “How’s your leg holding up?” I asked him.
"Not bad," Critchley grunted. "I was pretty damn lucky."
"I got hit by one of those glowy purple needle crystals. It exploded seconds after Doc Healy pulled it out." Critchley chuckled quietly, no warmth in his eyes. "Could’ve blown up while it was still in me.”
I grabbed my spotting scope and swept it through the crowds in the park.
Still the same old same old. The police's fear of a riot was unfounded; these people didn't have it in them. They just wanted to feel safe.
The squad leaders were dismissed, returning to their squads.
Meanwhile, Byrne and Johnson followed Lieutenant Commander al-Cygni into the parliament building to meet with Governor Thune.
My foot tapped lightly.
I just wanted them to get a move on.
Why were we standing here talking about bullshit when we could be hurrying this evacuation along?
We should be taking action right now, not sitting in the Utgard Mall like cattle waiting to get turned into cold cuts.
"Calm down, would you?” Critchley noticed the increase in my pacing. “Look like you’re gunning for a Section-Eight. Clean your weapon instead. It’ll occupy your mind."
I took Critchley’s advice and field stripped my M6J, wiping down each part with a rag.
There was residue caked on many of the parts. I’d already used the M6J in combat twice without cleaning it, so my work was cut out for me.
I took my time, spending a minute with each part of the carbine before putting it back together.
Just as I slotted the final piece back into place, gunshots cracked through the air.
The constables manning the perimeter of the Parliament building all raised their weapons, aiming at the window the gunshots came from.
I flicked off my carbine’s safety.
"What the hell is going on in there?" Critchley shouted to Carrol, the nearest squad leader.
"No idea!" Carrol hollered back. "Byrne’s not answering his COM!"
The entrance doors to the Parliament building were kicked open from inside.
Staff Sergeant Johnson emerged, carrying an unconscious Governor Thune over his shoulder, followed by al-Cygni.
Doc Healy and Byrne came out last; both supporting Captain Ponder, whose wounds from the Botanical Gardens appeared to have reopened.
Every Utgard constable in the area leveled their M7 submachine guns and MA5 assault rifles at the Staff Sergeant and Lieutenant Commander.
The three constables whom Critchley and I had been standing with all swore, grabbing their M7s.
“Drop your weapons,” Critchley ordered them, taking aim with his BR55.
“Critchley, what are you doing?!” I exclaimed.
“Stopping them from shooting our commanding officers.”
The rest of the Colonial Militia followed Critchley’s example, pointing their weapons at the Utgard Constabulary officers.
“We don’t have time for this!” Byrne thundered at the constables. “Drop your bloody weapons or I will order the militia to shoot you where you stand! What’s it going to be?!”
The constables grudgingly lay down their arms.
We confiscated their weapons and escorted them into the Utgard Mal, where they joined the throng of civilians.
They dispersed, for the most part, no doubt searching for their families.
"We are about to begin Phase Two," Captain Ponder announced to us once we reassembled. “Before we begin sending civilians up the space elevators, we must deal with two hitches. The first is the alien warship. The other hitch is…slightly more complicated. Aliens have boarded the Tiara."
"First Platoon, you’re coming with me,” Johnson continued the briefing. “If we’re going to get these people off-planet, the Tiara needs to be secure. So we get to go up there and kill any non-human sons-of-fucks we encounter."
"Staff Sergeant, sir," Stisen stepped forward, "Permission to join the space op."
"Denied," Byrne replied. "I need you with me. The alien warship will be taken down with Harvest’s mass driver. Our job, Second Platoon, is to keep those alien fucks away from its power source. We’re going back to the reactor complex, and this time we won’t be using TTR.”