Make sure the Covenant pays for this…
Orbital Defense Platform — Whiskey-Tango-004
in orbit around New Constantinople
August 14, 2536 — 1722 Zulu Time
Ensign Greg Hamilton was the duty officer on the Orbital Defense Platform (ODP) with the designation Whiskey-Tango-004 or affectionately referred to by her crew as “The Iron Bitch”. The ODP was one of the Mark-II series, and he’d served on her since starting his tour of duty on New Constantinople. He’d survived the Covenant attack and invasion of the planet, mostly because they’d hit outside his ODP’s defense sector. Despite being on a Mark-II, Hamilton didn’t take his luck for granted. The Covenant, during their initial attack on the planet, destroyed two of the “Iron Bitch’s” sister ODPs. The Iron Bitch helped to contain the Covenant invasion, beating back the few attacks they attempted to expand their foothold. They also provided support during the UNSC’s counter-attack that destroyed their fleet.
The Mark-II series ODP’s primary weapon system was the Mk III Magnetic Accelerator Cannon (MAC). It was more powerful compared to the MAC on the Mark-I, but had a slower rate of fire. This second generation of ODP, had more heavy autocannons and Archer missile launchers for close in defense. The Mark-II also had more armor that allowed it to take a heavier pounding in a fight compared to the earlier Mark-I series.
There were only eight surviving Mark-II’s in orbit after the Covenant invasion to provide overlapping fields of fire to protect the planet. Fortunately, these weren’t the only ODPs in place to protect the planet... twenty-four of the lighter armored and armed Mark-I’s, helped fill gaps in defensive coverage. Organized into battle clusters, a Mark-II was at the center surround by three Mark-I’s which were to support and provide cover for the larger slower-firing ODP.
In the ODP’s Command Information Center (CIC), Hamilton oversaw the crew manning the communications, sensors and weapons stations. Tied into the planetary defense network, the information from the ODP’s sensors along with the data from the other ODPs displayed on his console. There was also a large display panel in the CIC that displayed the planet along with the status of the ODPs and current ship movements in the defense perimeter. The large display twinkled with thirty-two green lights surrounding the planet, denoting the current operational status of the ODPs.
To defend the planet, the ODPs were organized into battle clusters. A Mark-II was at the center of each a battle cluster, surround by three Mark-I’s. Even though the Mark-II carried a heavier MAC, they had a slower rate of fire. The Mark-I’s were deployed to support and provide cover for the larger ODP.
Since the defeat of the Covenant invasion, Vice-Admiral Whitcomb was working every available shipyard and manufacturing facility overtime in a crash building program to build more ODPs. The latest estimates had a dozen Mark-I’s ready for deployment in the next two weeks with five Mark-II’s ready in four to five weeks.
There were also rumors floating around that components for the newer Mark-III ODPs were being shipped from Reach, and would be here within the month. In anticipation of the rumors being true, Hamilton studied up on the design specs of the Mark-III’s. Those stations were huge structures–like floating cities in space–carrying more firepower and even more heavily armored.
Until now, the Mark-III’s were only around Earth and Reach because of their enormous size, construction resources and the power required to operate them. The scuttlebutt was Vice-Admiral Whitcomb convinced HIGHCOM to deploy the Mark-III’s, so the UNSC could make a stand and continue to hold off the Covenant advance. The plan was to make the planet a huge fortress, getting the Covenant to grind themselves down against the defenses. That would hopefully divert resources they could use to attack other colony worlds.
It was a sound plan on paper. While the Mark-I’s and II’s could take out smaller Covenant ships in one shot, it took multiple rounds to destroy larger Covenant ships. The Mk V MAC carried on the Mark-III could supposedly take out the shields and armor on Battlecruiser and Super Carrier classes in two to three shots.
Hamilton hoped the rumor was true. Not that he wanted to leave “The Iron Bitch”, but the opportunity to serve on a Mark-III was one he couldn’t let slip away. It was good duty serving on the ODPs... the crews’ quarters were comfortable and there was lots of good food and amenities. There was even a regular leave schedule, so the crew could shuttle down to the planet surface for R&R.
He’d seen the news vids of the ground fighting and there was no way you could convince him to give up serving on ODPs. He got a sense of the scale of the ground fighting having witnessed huge explosions on the surface when that part of the planet was in its night terminator. The latest news reported there were still a few diehard Elites holding out, but the Marines would have them cleared out in a few days.
Yes, sir… there is no life like this! Warm… Dry… Hot food… Hot water… Definitely better off than those ground pounders, Hamilton thought, thankful he wasn’t a ground pounder.
As if the universe had a cruel sense of irony, a signal flashed on Hamilton’s console. A brief wave of irritation washed over him at the interruption, but his training and professionalism asserted itself. He activated his headset and opened a comm channel.
“CIC Control… Status update?” Hamilton said into his headset.
“Sir… This is Evans,” replied a female voice.
Hamilton immediately pictured the technical specialist’s face. Evans’s job was to monitor the ODP’s long range sensors scanning for any threats in the vast empty reaches of the New Constantinople planetary system. She was one of the best sensor operators on “The Iron Bitch”. The tone in her voice caused a shiver to run down Hamilton’s back.
Evans continued, “Sir, my sensors are picking up some anomalies in grid sector H-128 by R-159.”
Hamilton snapped to attention, pulling up the referenced grid on his console. The grid location was in a sector of space not normally used by UNSC ships, “Can you tell what it is?” he asked as a bad feeling continued to grow.
“Not yet, sir. It’s at the extreme range of our sensors.”
“Could it be an equipment malfunction… natural space occurrence?” Hamilton asked, trying to control the growing tension in his voice.
“No, sir! I’ve performed an equipment check… I’ve also got ODP Whiskey-Tango-010 confirming the same readings,” Evans replied.
Hamilton paused as he became aware of the people in the CIC looking in his direction. He brushed off his self-consciousness while pressing commands on his keyboard. The large CIC display changed to show an expanded view of the whole planetary system. A blinking green light displayed New Constantinople’s position in relation to a now blinking red light that marked the area where the reported “anomaly” was.
Hamilton’s mouth suddenly became dry. He didn’t want to ask, but his duty required him to ask Evans the question, “Evans… If you had to guess… What do you think is causing that anomaly?”
A long pause filled the comm channel before Evans spoke. There was no hint of doubts or second-guessing in her voice, “Sir, if I had to say. I would say we’re picking up the start of a Slipspace rupture... a big Slipspace rupture.”
That was enough for Hamilton, showing no hesitation pressed the key commands to raise the alert status of the planetary defense system. At the same time, flash traffic messages raised the alert with fleet headquarters on the planet and all UNSC ships in the system.
Alarms sounded in the CIC and throughout “The Iron Bitch” as everyone rushed to their battle stations...
Vice-Admiral Whitcomb set a brisk pace entering the fleet command center in his headquarters’ building in Antioch. Despite the pace he moved at, he didn’t betray any emotion or sense of panic in the face of the alert message being received from the planetary defense network. Displaying nothing by professionalism as he approached the holographic command table, Whitcomb noted Commander Wright, fixated on his tablet... stabbing and swiping the tablet screen at an almost frantic pace. A concerned look flashed on Whitcomb’s face as he glanced around the command center, noticing UNSC personnel moving around at an almost frantic pace.
The edges of panic seemed to be taking hold of the command center and Whitcomb couldn’t let this continue and spin out of control. There was no place for panic in the command center... panicked people made mistakes, and those mistakes usually got other people killed. Whitcomb caught Commander Wright’s attention, giving him a slight nod of his head. It only took Wright a moment to look around and pick up on the vibe and mood in the command center. He understood what the Vice-Admiral wanted.
“ATTENTION ON DECK!” Wright shouted, loud enough so everyone in the command center heard him.
It had an instant result as everyone in the command center reacted in unison, snapping to attention and turning their attention to the Vice-Admiral.
Whitcomb glanced around the room, meeting the looks he was getting from his people. Despite the stirrings of panic, he had every confidence in his staff. He knew their capabilities... they’d already turned back one Covenant invasion. They would face whatever was happening now.
“Okay, everybody... take a deep breath and focus on your job. We don’t know what we’re facing yet, so let’s get to work and find out what it is. We’ll deal with whatever it is... We’ll do our duty as required,” Whitcomb said. He hadn’t raised his voice, but everyone heard the calm, strong reassuring voice.
With calm and order restored to his command center, he waved everybody back to work. Commander Wright joined the Vice-Admiral, and they both moved closer to the holographic command table. Whitcomb studied the holographic icons displayed representing the planet, the ODPs and all ships–both civilian and military–in orbit.
“What’s our status, Commander?” Whitcomb asked, standing in a relaxed parade rest stance with his hands clamped behind his back as he continued to study the display.
Commander Wright pressed commands on his tablet. The holographic image shimmered, bringing up a 3-D representation of the whole New Constantinople system. Planetary bodies along with icons representing UNSC fleet units throughout the system hovered above the table, “All fleet units are reporting their status right now. As per operational plans, ships around the planet are moving to form up behind the moon. ODPs are reporting full readiness,” he replied.
Whitcomb nodded in approval as studied the planetary display. His eyes locked on to the red flashing icon representing the location of the reported unknown anomaly, “Any further update on what we’re facing out there?”
Wright shook his head, as he swiped his tablet to update his information, “Nothing beyond our initial scans. Whatever it is, it’s just at the edge of our scanning range and we can’t get a solid read on it. All we can tell is that its large and generating a lot of electronic noise out there.”
As Whitcomb studied the holographic display, his mind worked on the problem they were facing. He faced a dilemma... he was working in the dark, and he needed more information. He knew the answer to resolve his dilemma.
“Which ships are closest to the anomaly?” he asked.
Captain Gebhuza Contee studied the bridge display panel to get the latest updates. His ship, the UNSC Desperate Warrior, was a Paris-class heavy frigate, and the lead ship in his small flotilla. The other four ships were the more lightly armed and armored Stalwart-class light frigates. Contee was overseeing the flotilla conduct exercises along the outer reaches of the New Constantinople system when the alert flash message came in. All the ships went to red alert, and Contee ordered the flotilla to plot a course back towards the planet. Vice-Admiral Whitcomb’s call with new orders put any thoughts of returning to the planet and rejoining the rest of the fleet on hold for now.
Contee shelved any concerns or doubts as the Vice-Admiral outlined the current situation, and his orders for the Captain and his flotilla. They only had a rough idea of what was going on as the anomaly was at the extreme edge of their sensors. They needed “eyes” out there to see what was going on, and Contee and his flotilla were the closest ships. Contee didn’t hesitate as he sent out orders for the ships to plot an intercept course to that sector of space. As the ships hurried across the system, closing the range, Contee replayed the Vice-Admiral’s last words to him over in his head.
“Go in take a quick look and then get the hell out of there.”
“Anything yet on sensors?” Contee asked.
The tech manning the sensor station shook his head, “We’re still getting lots of interference, sir. It seems to be clearing up as we get closer.”
Contee grimaced, he hated going in blind. He glanced towards the bridge display, showing all the ships in his flotilla. With the ships formed up into an inverted wedge formation, Desperate Warrior was at the tip of the wedge.
“Are the other ships getting the same readings as us?” Contee asked, turning towards the communications station.
“Yes, sir… No reported change in readings from the other ships,” replied the communications officer.
Contee’s grimace remained, “Are all our readings being sent back to Fleet HQ?”
“Aye, sir… Everything is going back in real-time,” replied the communications officer.
The tension was wearing on the Captain’s nerves. They needed to determine what was happening and if there is a threat, “Helm… Prepare to increase speed. Comms… Inform the flotilla to prepare to match our speed,” Contee ordered. The ship rumbled as it increased speed and acknowledgements came in from the rest of the flotilla.
It was a long ten minutes before the situation changed, “Sir… Interference is clearing. We’re getting some solid readings now,” Contee picked up on the increasing tension in the crewman’s voice. He was going to tell the young crewman to take a deep breath when everything changed.
“SLIPSPACE RUPTURE… DETECTING SLIPSPACE RUPTURE!” the crewman yelled, forgetting decorum and protocol.
Contee tried to maintain his composure, “Send a message to Fleet HQ! Detecting Slipspace rupture at target coordinates. Inform them we’re still advancing to gather more information,” his sounded calm yet distant.
The orders barely left the Captain’s mouth when the crewman manning the sensor station yelled out again, “CONTACTS! I’ve got multiple contacts entering normal space!”
Contee felt his stomach falling away as a shiver ran down his spine, “Can you identify how many, and who they are?”
The bridge sounded like a tomb as the crewman’s voice echoed, “Ten… Twenty… Twenty-five… No wait! Fifty! I’ve got more coming through!”
Contee was aware of everyone’s eyes on him as he turned to the sensor station. It struck him how young the crewman manning the station looked as he met his eyes, “What is it son?” Contee asked.
“They’re Covenant… They’re all Covenant,” the crewman said not hiding his fear.
The mood in the fleet command center on New Constantinople darkened and soured at news of the Covenant arriving.
“Sir… Desperate Warrior and her flotilla report at least eighty-four Covenant ships in system with more emerging from Slipspace,” Wright reported, reading the latest data from his tablet.
Whitcomb studied the holographic display as red icons flashed, showing the Covenant fleet, “Do we have any info of what ship classes we’re facing?” he asked.
While he may have looked somber, yet calm inside he seethed with anger and frustration He wouldn’t betray his inner feelings or thoughts to his staff.
Not now… Not now… We needed more time to rebuild our defenses…
Despite the universe’s obvious unfairness, Whitcomb wouldn’t sit around and do nothing. There was a planet to defend. He didn’t hesitate with his orders, “Have Captain Contee position his flotilla to get a better scan of the incoming Covenant fleet.”
“Sir! It appears that the Covenant fleet has formed up and are advancing on him,” Wright reported, staring at his tablet as more data streamed in.
Captain Contee gripped the arms of his chair as the ship shuddered from another near miss. “Report!” he ordered. Contee fought to maintain the illusion of calm and control finding himself facing a waking nightmare of Covenant ships advancing on his flotilla.
“Minor hull damage on the port forward section. We seem to just be at the edge of their heavy plasma cannon range,” reported the damage control officer.
“Status of the rest of our ships?” Contee asked.
“Other ships reporting none or minimal damage except for the frigate Sun and Shadow. She took a major hit that breached her hull! They report they have sealed the breach, put out the fires and stopped venting air. They report they are able to maintain speed,” reported the communications officer.
“Sensors… What’s the latest on the Covenant fleet?” Contee asked. He was trying to get a sense of what the Covenant were doing and their tactics. He rationalized that any data they gathered would balance off any damage they took.
“Sir, I’ve confirmed ninety-two hard targets have emerged from Slipspace. I have no indications of anymore Covenant ships emerging into normal space.”
Damn… We’ve never seen the Covenant assemble this size of fleet before, Contee thought as he tried to grasp the number of hostile ships showing on the bridge display.
Up to this point in the war, the Covenant was only sending in small groups of ships to attack human colonies. In most encounters, the UNSC was able to either match the numbers or slightly outnumber the Covenant ships. It was the Covenant’s tech advantage in weapons and shields offsetting any numerical advantages that led to the UNSC’s defeats.
It was only on rare occasions when the UNSC gathered overwhelming numbers and was also willing to accept huge losses they’d been able to defeat the Covenant. Needless to say, like Vice-Admiral Whitcomb’s battle with the first invasion fleet, these types of encounters were rare at this point in the war. The UNSC was hoping to keep the Covenant from marshaling huge fleets. That hope no longer existed as the defenders now faced their worst nightmare coming true.
“Have you confirmed any types or ship classes?” the Captain asked. His eyes locked on the bridge display filled with red hostile icons advancing on his tiny flotilla.
“Sir, I have a preliminary scan of the ships in system. I have confirmed at least thirty-two CCS-class battlecruisers, fifteen CAS-class assault carriers, twenty ORS-class heavy cruisers and twenty-five CPV-class heavy destroyers. They’re trying to close the range with us!”
“Helm, increase speed, and maintain our distance from them!” Contee ordered. He would keep the distance for now while they continued scanning the enemy fleet to gather as much intel as they could. Except for a lucky shot, the range was too great, even with their tech advantage, for the Covenant to do any serious damage.
“Make sure Fleet HQ has a copy of our sensor readings—” Contee never finished his command as a crewman shouted across the bridge.
Contee immediately switched gears to deal with this new threat, “Report!” he ordered. The bridge display updated to show a swarm of red hostile icons moving ahead of the Covenant fleet.
“Sir... multiple contacts! Small fast moving bogies accelerating and moving on an intercept course! ETA is five minutes!”
Contee tried to maintain his composure as he realized what was happening, Damn! They decided to launch fighters to take us out!
“Numbers?” asked the Captain.
The crewman’s voice shook as he spoke, “Fifty plus incoming!”
Contee didn’t hesitate with his orders, “Bring all point defense weapons on-line! Make sure our Archers have solid locks before we engage. Alert the rest of the flotilla to prepare for incoming fighter attack!”
Whitcomb’s eyes locked on the holographic display as it updated the new wave of hostiles, looking to close on the flotilla. Glancing down at the tablet in his hand, he tried to digest the latest information while not betraying any emotions.
Ninety-Two ships… including thirty-two battlecruisers!
He quickly calculated the math in his head and the cruel reality hit him on how much it would cost him to stop this advancing wave of death.
It would take at least ninety-six ships to just take out the battlecruisers! I’ve only got one hundred and fifteen ships battle-ready!
There was no way he could meet the Covenant fleet in a head-to-head confrontation, but he had at least one ace up his sleeve... the ODPs.
His Orbital Defense Platforms carried as much firepower as a heavy cruiser, but they couldn’t move. He would need to keep the ODPs safe and use their firepower to take out the heavier Covenant ships before they could close and overwhelm them. The fleet would have to act as a shield, keeping the Covenant at bay while the ODPs acted as Whitcomb’s sword to take them out. The fleet would have to stand in place to be the shield. This meant they would take heavy casualties and losses, but right now that was his only option to stand against an enemy fleet of this size.
Whitcomb sent out the orders to reposition the fleet to cover the ODPs in the way of the Covenant advance. He knew he was taking a huge gamble. They would literally be with their backs against the wall. He was trading maneuvering room by placing his fleet in the gravity well of the planet to shield the ODPs.
Whitcomb’s gaze turned to the green icons closest to the enemy, “Tell Captain Contee we’ve got everything we need, and it’s time to get out of there! Tell him to make best speed to break contact and get back here.”
Wright nodded, quickly sending out the orders.
On the bridge of fleet flagship, the CSO-class supercarrier Glorious Devotion, Fleet Master Duran ’Korahee was not pleased as he studied the tactical display. The unfolding tactical situation was the source of his displeasure and growing anger. The fleet was coming out of Slipspace too soon, entering the star system further out than intended. This provided ample warning time to the human heretics infesting this system.
’Korahee tried to keep his growing anger in check, Curse, the incompetents that gave us these Slipspace coordinates! We should have entered normal space much closer to that human vermin planet! We have now given them time to organize their defenses!
The Fleet Master studied the deployment of his fleet as they continued re-entering normal space and organized into their battle lines to advance towards the planet. Again, anger flared at the lost opportunity. He knew it would now cost him more warriors and ships to fulfill his divine mission and destroy the now alerted humans on the planet. One of his crewmen directed his attention on to something else.
“Fleet Master! I have five human ships approaching us!” the Sangheili warrior manning the sensor station reported.
There was no hesitation on the Fleet Master’s part, “Order the fleet to engage and destroy the humans!”
’Korahee paused as he realized that the human ships were mere scouts sent out to gather information on his fleet. A flash of inspiration came as he realized how he could turn his lost opportunity around. He turned towards the bridge communications station. “Inform the rest of the fleet to remain in Slipspace for now,” he ordered.
His orders caused strange and puzzled looks to ripple through the bridge crew. There was a moment of hesitation, but they quickly responded, knowing any delay in the Fleet Master’s orders would have personal dire consequences.
This mistake may yet still be reversed, ’Korahee thought, studying the tactical display showing his ships and the accursed humans. A predatory smile flashed on ’Korahee’s face at how the humans would react if they knew there were still fifty ships of his fleet still in Slipspace...
The minutes dragged, and Fleet Master ’Korahee’s impatience grew. His orders to destroy the group of human ships were being frustrated as the human ships were maintaining their distance at the extreme range of his fleet’s weapons. The plasma torpedoes fired only inflicted minimal damaged on the fleeing human ships, and they weren’t able to close the range.
Ship Master Phur ’Doravee, who commanded the Glorious Devotion, noted the Fleet Master’s growing frustration. It wasn’t a good sign when your fleet commander was showing his frustration at this early stage of the battle... before the real engagement. He decided he needed to deal with the Fleet Master’s state of mind.
“Fleet Master… If I may suggest something,” ’Doravee said using a respectful tone as to not offend the Fleet Master, and have his wrath turn on him.
’Doravee noted the look of warning on ’Korahee’s face as he turned turn to face him. He knew he was treading a fine line.
“What is it?” asked the Fleet Master. The frustration was obvious on his face.
“Sir, if I may respectfully suggest… We could launch our fighters to pursue, overtake and destroy those human ships,” ’Doravee said. The Ship Master observed ’Korahee pondering the suggestion. He quickly added, “Even if the fighters do not destroy the human ships they may slow them down enough for us to close and destroy them.”
The Ship Master watched as the Fleet Master considered his suggestion, “Your suggestion has merit… Launch fighters to pursue and destroy those vermin!” ’Korahee ordered.
Desperate Warrior shuddered from a hit almost throwing Captain Contee from his chair, “Report!” he ordered as the din of crew and alarms filled the bridge.
The damage control officer moved closer, so Contee could hear his report, “Sir… We have fires on decks four and five, they’re under control. Aft section deck six is exposed to space and we’re venting air. We’ve lost partial power on deck two. Engineering is reporting power surges throughout the ship.”
“Helm, maintain course and speed!” Contee ordered.
“Status on enemy targets?” Contee asked, turning to the weapons officer.
“There were seventy Seraph-class fighters in that first pass! We have fifteen confirmed kills from point defense cannons and Archer missiles.”
Contee nodded and turned towards the communications station, “Status on the rest of our ships?”
“Sir… Conscientious Objector and Red Palm report only minor damage and are fully operational. The Casey is reporting fires and major hull damage. Sun and Shadow is reporting major damage and fires. They’ve also lost power to their weapons systems and propulsion. They’re losing speed and falling out of formation!”
“Seraphs regrouping to come in for another pass!” reported the weapons officer.
The holographic display updated as real-time info flowed in from the flotilla and other sensors around the planet. Vice-Admiral Whitcomb watched the battle occurring in the outer reaches of the system intently as the green icons representing his ships–his people–struggled to stay alive.
It was obvious that the Covenant were using their fighters to damage the flotilla enough so their fleet could close the range to finish them. So far, the tiny flotilla was surviving the fighters and maintaining their distance from the enemy fleet.
Whitcomb’s eyes drilled into the holographic icons representing his ships and people. If all it took was the will to move those ships faster they’d already be half way across the system, but it didn’t work that way. All Whitcomb could do was watch helplessly as his people endured running the gauntlet. In his gut, he knew he would lose ships and more people.
Smoke filled Desperate Warrior’s bridge. Contee could barely see through the haze, “REPORT!” he coughed.
“Sir… All decks reporting damage! Major outer hull damage with minor damage to the engines, but we are maintaining speed. MAC is off-line! Our hanger bay exposed to space,” the damage control officer reported.
Contee grimaced at the report. He was about to ask for a status update on the rest of his flotilla when the bridge observation window lit up. A huge blinding flash caused the bridge crew to look away or shield their eyes.
“The Casey… she just blew up!” reported a crewman.
Contee froze. His stomach fell away and his mind was a jumble of thoughts and emotions at having lost a ship under his command... a ship and crew he was responsible for. He struggled to compartmentalize those thoughts and feelings until he could deal with them later... much later.
“Where are those enemy fighters?” Contee demanded.
“It appears they’re breaking off! We took out another eighteen fighters in that last strike, sir!”
Contee let out a sigh of relief at small favors, but that relief was short lived as another report came in.
“Sir… Sun and Shadow is reporting they’ve lost main power... engines and weapons are off-line! They’re dead in space, reporting major damage and fires throughout the ship!”
Contee punched commands on his station’s display terminal to bring up ship-to-ship communications, “Sun and Shadow… this is Desperate Warrior… Do you read me? Come in Sun and Shadow…”
The video display distorted and Contee couldn’t see anyone, but a voice replied, “Desperate Warrior… This is Sun and Shadow… We can barely read you… Over…”
Contee didn’t recognize the voice, “This is Captain Contee… Who am I talking to?” he asked.
The voice coughed several times before responding, “Sir, this is Ensign Moore reporting.”
“Where’s Commander Cruz?” Contee asked, shocked to be talking to only an Ensign.
Moore coughed, “He’s dead, sir… Most of the bridge crew is dead… I’m the only officer still alive on the bridge.”
It took a stunned Contee a moment to focus. He could tell by Moore’s voice he was young... and scared, “What’s your status, son?” he asked, hoping the Ensign could keep it together right now.
“Engines are dead… Our weapons are gone… We have fires in engineering with most decks exposed and venting air. Heavy casualties reported throughout the ship... we’re dead in space, sir!”
Contee noted that Moore remained calm while delivering what was the death knell of his ship. The Captain knew what his next order was. It was the final duty that every UNSC crew was expected to perform... it was the law.
“Ensign Moore, you are directed to implement UNSC Emergency Priority Order 098831A-1. As per this order, you are to wipe all databanks and navigation! You will then scuttle your ship! Do you understand?” Contee asked in a calm and deliberate tone.
United Nations Space Command Emergency Priority Order 098831A-1 also known as “The Cole Protocol” applied to all UNSC personnel. This order was to ensure that no data containing Slipspace navigation data about Earth or any other human world would to fall into the Covenant’s hands. This order also stated that to prevent capture, any UNSC or Human vessel, in the event of an emergency evacuation, was to self-destruct to ensure destruction of all data.
“Can you evacuate by life pod or Pelican?” Contee asked.
There was a long pause before the Ensign replied, “No, sir… The hanger bay is gone and we’re cut-off from the life pods. We’ve lost communications to most of the ship... we can’t order an evacuation…” the young man’s voice trailed off.
The news hit Contee as he swallowed hard. A part of him screamed to help the young man and those still alive the other ship. Yet, at the same time his eyes glanced towards the display and the advancing Covenant fleet, “Can you carry out the order? Can you self-destruct the ship?” his voice had no emotion as he asked the question.
“Yes, sir!” replied the Ensign, “I’ll make sure they don’t take my ship!”
A sense of guilt filled Contee as a sigh of relief escaped him. If there was more time, and the Covenant weren’t threatening then maybe he could have done something. But as it was, there was nothing he could do for the doomed ship and crew. At least, he wasn’t giving the order to fire a nuke at the ship to make sure it didn’t fall into enemy hands. A surge of pride mixed with sadness overcame Contee, hearing the Ensign’s determination to carry out this last order. A part of him regretted that he would never get the chance to meet the young Ensign.
Contee found he didn’t know what to say. He finally replied, “Thank you, son.”
There was another pause, and then Moore spoke. His voice took on a harder edge, “Sir… make sure the Covenant pays for this.”
A lump filled Contee’s throat and his eyes burned. He heard his voice catch as he replied, “You have my promise… The Covenant will pay for this.”
“Thank you, sir… This is UNSC Sun and Shadow… Implementing Emergency Priority Order 098831A-1… Over and Out!” Ensign Moore said, the communications channel went dead.
“Godspeed…” Contee whispered into the dead communications channel.
Desperate Warrior shuddered, and the report from the sensor station acknowledging the self-destruct of the stricken frigate was a mere formality. The Captain didn’t have time to dwell further on the now-dead Ensign as his attention returned to the bridge display and the advancing Covenant ships. They’d survived the fighters, but they were still a long way from safety.As the surviving flotilla ships continued their escape, towards the perceived safety of the fleet, they left the debris of the UNSC Sun and Shadow floating in their wake...