Into the Breach

Ever been on an ODP before?

Covenant CSO-class Supercarrier Glorious Devotion
New Constantinople System
August 14, 2536 — 2005 Zulu Time

Fleet Master Duran ’Korahee’s frustration and impatience subsided as he studied the tactical display. His fighters destroying two of the human’s frigate class ships and heavily damaging the other three ships contributed to this change. The fleeing survivors weren’t of any concern as his attention now focused on deploying his fleet units and how he would attack the human-occupied world.

The fleet’s original mission was to reinforce the first invasion force. They’d only received word of the invasion’s defeat while in transit, forcing ’Korahee to change his plans. As his ships formed up into their echelons and advanced across the system, the Fleet Master reviewed all the information at his disposal.

’Korahee fought his first impulse to rush in and attack the human defenders. The tactical scans and intelligence reports from the first invasion force detailed the numbers and types of defense platforms in orbit around the planet. The Covenant never faced defense platforms like these in their previous attacks on human worlds. They would be difficult to destroy and carried weapons just a powerful–or even more powerful–than those carried on the largest human ships. These defenses presented a unique challenge to the attacker.

This must be an important world to the humans if it rates such a defense, ’Korahee mused as he pondered what to do. His strategy would have to be more successful than what the previous force used if he was going to fulfill his imperative and exterminate all the humans on this world.

’Korahee knew the previous Fleet Commander, with a smaller force, attacked this world on a broad front and suffered heavy casualties trying to establish their foothold. This time the Covenant attacking force was larger and there were still the ships being held back in Slipspace. He wouldn’t repeat the same mistakes. The Fleet Master looked to the Sangheili manning the ship’s communication console, “Inform the fleet to move closer together. I want to project a small front on our approach to this planet.”

As orders went out to the fleet, Ship Master ’Doravee approached the Fleet Master. He’d read the same reports about the human defenses and was concerned about the formation the Fleet Master was using.

“Fleet Master… are you sure about this formation? Won’t this make it easier for the humans to target and hit our ships with their kinetic cannons? We won’t have much room to maneuver to avoid their fire,” ’Doravee said in a respectful tone.

A flash of irritation washed over the Fleet Master, but he held back his rebuke remembering it was the Ship Master’s idea to launch fighters against the humans. Despite his sub-ordinate’s insolence, ’Korahee held his temper in check. He would explain his tactics to the Ship Master while also re-emphasizing why he was Fleet Master.

“’Doravee, you have seen the scans of this human world have you not?” ’Korahee asked.

The Fleet Master continued as the Ship Master nodded, “Then you know that the humans have orbital defense constructs around the planet. These defenses carry heavy weapons, but have limited movement and firing arc due to their positioning. We must approach on a narrow front to minimize our exposure to those platforms, and the planet will mask us from the defenses on the far side. Only some of the platforms will be able to engage us. We will still take losses, but they will be less than if we tried to come in on a broad front. The platforms we do not engage, we can destroy at our leisure once we have destroyed the human’s fleet in this system. Plus, I have several tricks to throw at the humans they will not be expecting. Do you understand?”

The Ship Master nodded again, before he turned away ’Korahee leaned in close meeting his sub-ordinate’s eyes, “’Doravee, if you ever question my commands again. I will have you gutted and ejected into space from an air-lock. Do I make myself clear?” the Fleet Master growled.

’Doravee didn’t blink, but then bowed his head to show his understanding.

The Covenant fleet closed ranks as they continued their advance across the system towards the planet and its waiting human defenders.

UNSC Fleet Command HQ
Antioch, New Constantinople
August 14, 2536 — 2015 Zulu Time

Whitcomb stared at the holographic display studying the disposition of his fleet units and the approaching Covenant fleet. He tried to put himself in the Covenant commander’s shoes to figure out what he was planning. The Covenant were aliens, but there were constants that transcend species as he put his defense strategy into play. He considered taking a Pelican up to his flagship, but brushed the idea aside as he couldn’t afford the time it would take to transit to his ship. He needed access to the communication equipment in his planet-side HQ to co-ordinate the overall defense, so for the moment he stayed ground side.

The holographic display updated as every sensor on every UNSC ship and orbital defense platform relayed and fed real-time information to the system. Whitcomb grimaced as he saw the change in the Covenant’s fleet formation, closing up to form a compact wedge driving towards the planet. Concern filled the Vice-Admiral as he realized that his enemy counterpart was aware of the danger his ODPs posed and was trying to minimize his exposure to them. He would need to make adjustments to counter this enemy move... they would be in firing range of the Mark-II ODPs in fifteen minutes.

Whitcomb didn’t take his eyes off the advancing enemy icons on the display, “Commander Wright… Order the carriers Georgia, Oregon and Ontario to withdraw with their escorts. Have them take a position on the far side of the moon. They are to launch their Longsword squadrons to conduct harassing strikes on the Covenant fleet’s left flank.”

He hoped that this harassing maneuver might cause the Covenant to break formation to chase down the carriers, taking them into the firing arcs of the other ODPs. He got a sense that his counterpart was too shrewd to go after this obvious ploy, but he had to try. Either way, Whitcomb knew this battle would get messy and ugly for everyone involved.

“Has the alert gone out to all Marine and ground units?” Whitcomb asked.

One of his staff replied, “Yes, sir! All units report either already in position or moving into defensive positions.”

“Have all civil-defense units been notified?”

“Yes, sir! The warning has gone out on all civilian channels and civil-defense units are reporting they are ready and standing by.”

Thoughts of what would happen to the civilian population if they failed to stop the Covenant attack filled Whitcomb. He realized that he had few options available to him, but he needed to do something as he turned away from the command table, “Commander Wright…”

“Sir?” the Commander replied moving closer to the Vice-Admiral.

Whitcomb experienced a moment’s hesitation, but there was no other choice, “Commander, I want you to send the order to execute evacuation plan EXODUS-THREE.”

Wright paused as he wasn’t sure he’d heard the Vice-Admiral. He tried to keep his surprise in check seeing Whitcomb’s face, “Sir? Are you sure you want to execute EXODUS-THREE? This could cause widespread panic among the civilian population. We don’t even know where the Covenant will land… if they land.”

Whitcomb leaned in, so no one could overhear them, “James… With a fleet this size the Covenant are going to break through our defenses. The question is how badly we’ll maul them as they do. We know what the Covenant will do once they establish a foothold. They will go after the cities first, and I’ll be damned if I’ll leave civilians helpless in those deathtraps as they get glassed. No, we’ll disperse the population, it will at least give them a chance while we try to evacuate.”

The Vice-Admiral’s brutally honest assessment shook Wright, “But, sir… moving all those civilians to the evacuation points. We don’t have the logistics to move and support them,” he whispered.

A sad faraway look crossed Whitcomb’s face, “We have to face the truth, James… we’re not going to get everyone off this planet. What we can do is at least buy time to get off as many people as we can. We’ll move Marine units into the cities and fight the Covenant there. The longer we can bog them down in the cities the more time we buy for the evacuation.”

The grim reality sank in for the Commander, “I’ll send the orders out right away, sir. We can move out the people already in the evacuation centers to the designated sites. I’ll organize the lift using the troop transports and those damaged ships still not combat-capable while I get more civilian transport organized,” Wright said, nodding in understanding.

Whitcomb nodded in acknowledgment and turned back to face the holographic display. His eyes locked on the advancing red icons. His mind flooded with thoughts as he tried to think of every strategy, every contingency and avenue he needed to covered. They were only minutes from when the enemy would be in range and the ODPs could get target lock.

The Covenant must realize how much punishment they’re going to take...

Something was nagging at Whitcomb. Despite their formation, the enemy was moving straight into his defenses... his ships and ODPs. There was nothing fancy with their plan. Whitcomb tried to anticipate what alien was planning.

Either the Covenant commander is so sure of his tech advantage and doesn’t think much of us... or he’s got something up his sleeve...

Whitcomb’s eyes shifted to the green icons representing his ODPs. The whisper of an idea called out in his head. He called out to his chief of staff, “Commander Wright… Alert Alpha Company to be on standby to deploy,” he considered the whispers again.

“Commander, I also want you to get on the horn to our Spartan friend. I want him on a Pelican and in orbit ASAP. I want him stationed on one of the Mark-II ODPs facing the enemy.”

Wright gave the Vice-Admiral a puzzled look, “Sir? I’m not sure I understand?”

In what would become a prophetic statement, Whitcomb replied, “Just make it happen, Commander. I’m not sure what the Covenant have planned, but I want Spartans ready to go in case things go sideways on us.”

UNSC Firebase Mitchell
August 14, 2536 — 2023 Zulu Time

The firebase was in a frantic upheaval of activity as Michael sprinted towards the waiting Pelican on the landing pad. Troops and vehicles were preparing to move out to defensive positions. The dropship’s whining engines added to the cacophony of noises filling the firebase. The dropship was preparing for an emergency takeoff once he was aboard.

Michael was catching up on some much needed rest when the alert sounded at news of the Covenant’s return. While preparing his battle armor and equipment, he’d overheard other soldiers talking and speculating about what was happening. With no real information, rumors were spreading. Michael didn’t pay much attention to them. All he knew was that with the Covenant returning it was serious... no matter what the rumors said.

He wasn’t expecting the call from Commander Wright and the last thing he expected was to get orders to get up to one of the ODPs in orbit. The orders puzzled him, thinking he would be more useful on the ground. The Commander assuaged the doubts when he informed Michael that the orders were straight from the Vice-Admiral. Loaded up on ammo and grenades, he seated himself in as the Pelican roared away, accelerating to reach orbit. The dropship would transport him to the Orbital Defense Platform designated Whiskey-Tango-004.

As the Pelican raced towards the ODP, Michael’s thoughts drifted to Barton Jackson and his family. He wondered if they’d made it to the evacuation center in Antioch. A sense of guilt gripped him at the thought of the family trapped in the city with the Covenant attacking. One of the Pelican pilots exclaiming interrupted any further thoughts or feelings of guilt.

“Jesus… the ODPs are opening up!”

In The Iron Bitch’s CIC, Ensign Hamilton directed and coordinated their fire control systems with the other ODPs in the line of the Covenant attack. They checked and allocated targets to each ODP, so shots weren’t wasted on duplicate targets. Hamilton glanced over at the ODP’s commander, Commander Hanson, who was at his command station in the CIC, checking the ODP’s status and current tactical situation.

He took comfort and reassurance seeing the commander’s calm demeanor and professionalism considering what they were facing. This contrasted to his own behavior when the first reports of the size of the Covenant fleet almost caused him to throw up. Even now, he still struggled with the sick feeling in his stomach as the Covenant ships continued advancing. From the tactical display, it appeared as if every enemy ship was heading directly towards his ODP. The weapons officer thankfully interrupted any more of Hamilton’s fearful musings.

“Covenant fleet has entered effective MAC firing range… We’re getting target locks.”

Hamilton watched as Commander Hanson studied the tactical display, he then turned to Hamilton and nodded. The Ensign didn’t hesitate as his voice cracked over the comm channel to the other ODPs, “Mark-II’s will target and engage the larger Covenant ships. Mark-I’s target and engage the screening ships. Commence fire on my mark… Mark!”

The Iron Bitch shuddered as its MAC fired its huge projectile at tremendous velocities towards the oncoming Covenant ships. In response, maneuvering thrusters on the ODP fired to re-orient the defense platform back into position. While the platform re-oriented, the cannon vented and recharged to fire as another round got loaded...

“Sir, the ODPs are engaging Covenant ships,” Wright said, looking up from his tablet.

Whitcomb nodded as the holographic display updated as real-time information continued to stream in, “Have the ODPs continue to engage. The fleet will hold its fire until the Covenant is closer in. Longswords from the carriers will go in first, and then the rest of the fleet will open fire… Understood?”

Wright nodded, sending out the Vice-Admiral’s orders to the ODPs and the fleet...

’Korahee’s eyes narrowed as his tactical display updated, telling him the status of his fleet. As he watched another icon, representing a heavy destroyer, went dark indicating it was no longer capable of fighting or destroyed.

The Sangheili manning communications reported, “Fleet Master, we have lost nine destroyers… five cruisers… and one battlecruiser! At least twenty ships reporting minor to heavy damage.”

“Status on the enemy ships?” the Fleet Master asked.

“Their ships appear to be holding position… it appears they are waiting until we get closer before engaging us, Fleet Master,” reported another Sangheili.

’Korahee nodded as he expected as much, “Do we have target locks on any of the enemy ships or his weapon’s platforms?” he asked.

“We are entering weapons range and acquiring target locks, Fleet Master!” reported the Sangheili at the weapons station.

’Korahee paused as he considered his options, “Continue the advance! Have the fleet target the enemy ships only! Not the defense platforms!” he ordered.

The Fleet Master’s order caught the bridge crew by surprise. They’d been expecting orders to target the defense platforms as they were causing the most damage among the fleet... the human ships hadn’t even engaged yet. A Sangheili warrior at the communications station caught the Ship Master’s eye, giving him a look. ’Doravee considered questioning the Fleet Master’s orders, but he was already on dangerous ground and he knew the Fleet Master would carry out his threat. The Ship Master let the battle play out as he shook his head to signal the warrior.

’Korahee wasn’t oblivious to the Ship Master’s hesitation as his commands went out to the fleet. He would deal with the Ship Master later... on his own time. His gaze returned to the tactical display as another one of his ship icons faded.

The darkness of space lit up as the ODPs fired their Magnetic Accelerated Cannons continuously at the Covenant fleet. MAC rounds left streaks of light against the darkness, their light illuminating the Pelican’s cockpit. Michael felt the dropship slow down as it adjusted its approach to the ODP’s hangar bay. For the pilots it was a tricky approach as the ODP kept moving with each shot fired and its thrusters moving the defense platform back into position.

A part of Michael wondered what he could contribute to the ongoing space battle as the Pelican touched down and the ramp lowered. The noises of the hanger bay greeted Michael as he exited the dropship. Standing there he felt out of sorts as the hanger crew ignored him as they worked.

Other than the general order to get up to the ODP he had no other directions of what he was to do next. He was trying to figure out his next move when a young, yet determined looking officer approached and came to attention in front of the Spartan.

“Sierra-113… I’m Lieutenant Grant… I’m in charge of the marine detachment here.”

Michael snapped to attention, saluting, “Sir, I’m here at the Vice-Admiral’s orders. But, sir to be honest, I have no idea why,” he said, trying to not sound like a confused raw recruit.

The Lieutenant smirked, “Well, from the orders I received, Fleet HQ has assigned you to my detachment on the ODP.”

Grant paused then shrugged, “I know, it doesn’t make much sense, but orders are orders. Let’s get moving, and we’ll get you squared away.”

Grant turned, leading the way as they headed towards the bulkhead door to exit the hangar bay. As they walked, the station shuddered on a regular interval, Michael deduced it was from the MAC firing.

“Have you ever been on an ODP before?” the Lieutenant asked as they walked.

“No, sir. But, I’ve studied and I’m familiar with the layouts of ODPs,” Michael replied.

Lieutenant Grant didn’t look impressed, “Well, being on an actual ODP and studying a floor plan are two different things. If I’m being ordered to babysit a Spartan, then you’ll stick close. There are a lot of ways to get hurt or killed on these stations if you don’t know what you’re doing. Understood?”

“Yes, sir,” Michael replied.

“Welcome to The Iron Bitch Sierra-113,” Grant added as they exited the hanger bay.

“Seventeen confirmed kills, sir!” Commander Wright reported. It was hard to keep the excitement out of his voice.

“Thank you, Commander,” Whitcomb responded in a more subdued tone. He continued studying the display, trying to keep his optimism in check. He told himself he should be happier with the results, but something was still nagging at him.

A puzzled Commander Wright noted the Vice-Admiral’s mood, “Sir? You should be happy about this. We’re tearing the Covenant a new one and we haven’t lost a ship yet!”

Whitcomb turned towards the Commander, a small smirk flashed looking out of place on his somber face, “You would think I would be happy, but the Covenant are acting strangely. They’re just advancing into our guns… taking heavy damage. Something doesn’t feel right about this whole situation.”

A communications tech called out, “Sir, we’re getting reports from the fleet... the Covenant are opening fire.”

Whitcomb acknowledged the report. The time of no losses was about to end…

Space between the two fleets became a maelstrom as MAC rounds streaked towards the Covenant fleet. The Covenant now responded by firing plasma torpedoes at the UNSC ships acting as a shield to cover the ODPs.

Ships exploded adding to the growing maelstrom. Air vented from torn and breached hulls... Crews died on both sides from being crushed, burnt, asphyxiated and sucked out or exposed to the vacuum of space.

All the while, the Covenant continued their advance towards New Constantinople and the human defenders…

A sense of satisfaction filled Fleet Master ’Korahee seeing the results of his fleet’s fire and the heavy destruction it was causing among the human ships. He looked up from the display as he noticed the Ship Master’s presence. He noted the grim expression in the Ship Master’s eyes.

“You disapprove of my tactics, Ship Master?” ’Korahee asked. His tone held no sense of anger or irritation... at the moment.

’Doravee picked up on the Fleet Master’s tone, bowing his head, “Fleet Master… Even though we are now causing heavy damage among the human ships. A third of our deployed fleet is damaged or lost, and we still have not fired on those defense platforms! We should be targeting them as they are doing the most damage among our—”

’Doravee was going to say more, but a Sangheili manning a sensor station interrupted.

“We have enemy fighters coming in!”

The Fleet Master didn’t hesitate, ignoring the Ship Master, “Launch our fighters to intercept!” he ordered.

Covenant fighters scrambled to launch and intercept the incoming human fighters. Soon fighters jockeying for position filled the space around the Covenant fleet as they engaged each other. Fighters from both sides died, adding to the death and destruction as the battle continued to rage.

“Sir, our fighter squadrons are engaging,” Commander Wright reported.

Whitcomb nodded to acknowledge the report, not taking his eyes off the display of holographic icons, “Fleet status?” he asked.

A grim look etched the Commander’s face, “Their plasma fire did a lot of damage. We’ve lost ten ships. Another eighteen reporting varying degrees of damage,” he reported.

“Commander, get the lame ducks out of there… have them retreat to effect repairs,” Whitcomb ordered.

Wright nodded, sending out the orders to the fleet.

“Status of ODPs?” Whitcomb asked.

“No damage… They’re continuing to fire,” replied Wright.

“No damage?” Whitcomb queried. Worry grew along with the ever persistent nagging sensation that was bothering him as he considered this news.

“Yes, sir. The Covenant are only shooting at our ships. They’re leaving our ODPs alone… for now,” Wright responded, sounding puzzled.

Damn! What the hell are the Covenant up to? Why are they ignoring our ODPs? Whitcomb thought. He got the sense he was missing something as he tried to grasp the tactics and strategy his enemy was using.

The Commander interrupted his thoughts with another update, “Sir, our ships are now engaging the Covenant.”
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