Into the Breach

Dark Country

Evacuation Center #5
Antioch, New Constantinople
August 14, 2536 — 2030 Zulu Time

On the outside everything appeared normal, but there was an undercurrent of panic and chaos hanging over the evacuation center. Barton Jackson struggled to keep his family together as they navigated through the crush of humanity that pushed and pulled at them. After the “visit” to his home by the UNSC and his having ratted out the insurgency, Barton didn’t waste time. He woke his wife and kids, packing just what they could carry and catching the first available transport to Antioch.

Susan didn’t question him despite her confusion over his urgency at wanting to leave. She knew he was planning on getting them out using his Innie contacts and assumed this was part of the plan. It was only when their son blurted out how Daddy was talking to the UNSC soldier she almost fell into a blind panic. Barton calmed her down and explained what was happening. He explained the plan to get them off planet and to Reach where they could disappear from there.

Barton’s wife, despite her apolitical position, doubted the UNSC’s trustworthiness with her kids’ lives on the line. Barton, again, calmed her down enough to explain that he’d had no choice as this was their only hope to get out now.

Despite her husband’s repeated reassurances, there was still a cloud of doubt, “Are you sure they’ll keep their promise and not hang us out to dry? This is the UNSC we’re talking about here,” Susan said, trying to keep her growing fear in check.

The same doubt filled Barton, but there was no choice, “Yeah, I know there’s a risk, and normally I would agree with you on the whole UNSC thing. I believe this guy to keep his word and get us out... I know it!” he replied not only to reassure his wife, but himself.

It was late morning by the time they arrived in Antioch. It didn’t take long to find their way to the closest evacuation center processing civilian refugees. The large crowds gathered in front of the center, waiting to get in, caught Barton by surprise. He knew about those displaced by the invasion, but he had no idea how many wanted to leave the system. The family joined the long line waiting to gain admittance to the center. After a couple of hours, the children were restless and complaining about being hungry and bored. Barton let out a sigh of relief as the family got their turn at the counter to get into the center.

A sense of dread filled Barton as the refugee worker’s face took on a grim confused look as she scanned her computer terminal.

“I’m sorry, sir. I don’t see your names on our processing list.”

Barton kept the growing panic in check, “I’m sure that we’re on the list... I was told we would be on the list. Please, can you check again,” he asked, trying to keep his voice calm.

He glanced to Susan and was thankful she was busy with the kids, so she didn’t know things were falling apart on them. As the refugee worker, typed commands into the terminal, Barton’s mind raced trying to come up with an alternate plan as he struggled with his growing fear and panic.

Maybe it’s not too late to head back home, pack up and head into the hills to hide...

The refugee worker interrupted his thoughts, “Okay, I found it! Sorry for the mix up, it was under our pending section. So, just to confirm, I have a priority evacuation clearance for one Barton Currie, wife and two children,” she said.

Jackson blinked, not sure what to say. The walls holding back all the stress and tension were beginning to crumble. He nodded as he signed his name–almost forgetting to use Susan’s last name–on the electronic tablet the refugee worker handed him. With that another refugee worker came up and escorted them into the evacuation center. The worker escorting them was explaining the layout and services available, but Barton barely heard them as he looked over the center.

There were people scattered throughout, trying to find space to claim for their belongings and to rest. There were many families, and other refugee workers moved among them handing out water and emergency food ration packets. He noticed there was an activity area set up for the children with adults trying to keep the children there entertained. Barton couldn’t help noticing the UNSC military police circulating through the center, watching and keeping an eye out for any trouble.

The refugee worker escorting them, found them a spot where they could sit down and rest. A drained Barton slumped as he sat down, taking deep breaths to relax as the reality of having made it this far sank in. He was thankful when Susan took the kids over to the activity area, so they could play and burn off energy. As he watched the kids run with the other kids, all the stress and the lack of sleep caught up with him. He took this opportunity to close his eyes and try to grab some rest.

Barton’s restless attempts at sleep ended as alarms blared through the evacuation center. Panic filled him at the thought the alarms had something to do with him. As he became more awake, he didn’t see military police surrounding or rushing towards him. The crowds gathering around the video displays, spread around the center to relay news and information, drew his attention. He wished it was the UNSC coming for him as news of another Covenant fleet entering the system blared across the video displays. A surreal silence descended on the evacuation center as the news reported that all military and civilian defense units were being mobilized to meet this new threat.

The refugee workers and military police worked hard to keep everyone clam and maintain order as fear and panic rippled through the evacuation center at this news. The problem was that there was no other news than the initial reports of a Covenant fleet entering the system. It didn’t take long for rumors to fill this void, increasing the fear and panic. Panicked whispers of the Covenant having already destroyed the UNSC fleet and the planet being surrendered circulated through the center, added to the growing agitation and panic.

Barton saw the growing fear and panic and made sure that Susan and the kids stayed together. His survival instincts kicked into full gear as he moved around the center, trying to gather food and water to create a cache of supplies for his family. He could only gather a small amount of supplies as others in the center competed with the same goals in mind. He returned to his family with only a small amount of food and water, but it was better than having nothing.

Back with his family, Barton kept an eye on the crowd. The refugee workers and military police were struggling to maintain control as the situation began was fraying around the edges from the uncertainty and lack of news. His sense of unease grew as he noticed groups of refugee workers together, whispering while taking worried glances at the crowd. That some workers, with anxious looks on their faces, huddled with the military police didn’t reassure him. He didn’t know what was happening, but the announcement coming over the PA system only confirmed his growing dread.

“Due to the Covenant attack… UNSC Command has ordered the evacuation of all major population centers. Arrangements are being made to transport those civilians in evacuation centers to protected zones outside population centers. Please remain calm and stand by for further instructions…”

The announcement detonated like a hand grenade among the refugees in the center. The fear and uncertainty escalated as voices demanding answers grew louder, turning into shouts. People, demanding and crying, surged towards the refugee workers. The military police moved in, pushing the crowd back to maintain order as refugee workers struggled to answer questions and reassure people.

Barton knew it wouldn’t take much to set off the crowd, “Make sure you and the kids stay close. I think it’s going to get ugly,” he whispered to Susan, holding her hand and squeezing it tight.

Susan nodded her understanding, returning the squeeze, struggling to control her fear and panic. She hugged the kids closer to her.

Tempers frayed and flared as more people surged towards the refugee workers. People argued about cutting in front along with demands for transport, food and water. Several fist fights broke out, but the military police jumped on those fights to break them up before it spread.

A loud roar of people drew Barton’s attention back towards the entrance of the evacuation center. He’d forgotten about the lines of people waiting outside the center. Dread filled him as he could only imagine the panic taking hold among those people. He realized, like the people inside the center, those people outside feared of being left behind and saw getting inside as their only avenue of escape. If those people broke into the center the result would only be bedlam and rioting. The small contingent of military police guarding the entrance didn’t reassure Barton that they could keep out the pressing crowds. It was only a matter of time before things got worse.

Things appeared to take a turn for the worse as a platoon of Marines in full combat armor entered the evacuation center through another entrance. The sight of armed Marines caused people to scramble out of their way as they pushed forward. A small semblance of order inside the center was restored with the Marines, but there were still the crowds of people outside. Normally, the heavy-handed tactics used by the UNSC would have bothered Barton, but this time he saw that the situation warranted these tactics. People were getting caught up in the panic and “reasonable dialog” wasn’t going to defuse this situation.

Barton watched as the Marines deployed to the center’s entrance, reinforcing the military police already there. His attention shifted when he noticed a refugee worker talking to the officer in command of the Marines and pointing in his direction. A shiver of worry moved down his spine as the two of them looked in his direction. Barton tried to be inconspicuous, but he blew it when he accidentally made eye contact with the officer. Dread and panic filled Barton as he broke eye contact. He fought the urge to glance back as his mind whirled with panicked thoughts.

Something’s gone wrong! They’re coming for me!

His eyes darted around the evacuation center, looking for an escape. His fear grew as the realization sank in that there was no escape from the center. He struggled to keep his panic in check. Images danced in his head of him being arrested and hauled away, leaving his wife and kids to face a Covenant invasion on their own.

His fear went through the roof as he glanced back and saw the officer making his way toward him, accompanied by four armored marines. Barton nervously glanced around him, trying to find an escape route as the soldiers pushed through the crowds, getting closer. Even if he had an escape route, he realized he wouldn’t run, leaving Susan and the kids behind. He couldn’t and wouldn’t run out on them as he resigned himself to his fate as the soldiers got closer. His main fears and worries focused on what would happen to Susan and the kids with him not around. What would they do? How would they manage?

Maybe I can beg for mercy for them…

Any further thoughts ended as the Marine officer stopped in front of him, giving him a good long look, “Are you Barton Currie?” the officer asked.

After everything he’d gone through, Barton found there was nothing left inside him. He fought to keep from crying as he meekly nodded, accepting whatever fate awaited him.

“These Marines will escort you and your family to the shuttle pad. Grab your things and get moving! We don’t have a lot of time!” the officer said, using the standard professional and commanding tone.

Time froze for Barton as his brain tried to absorb what was happening. What the officer was saying to him made no sense... he was expecting to be arrested and hauled away from his family.

“H-Huh?” was all he could say as he stared dumbfounded at the officer.

The Marine officer tried to keep his growing impatience in check as he realized he was talking to a civilian and not Marines. He maintained his composure as he explained himself, “You and your family have priority clearance. There’s a shuttle leaving right now for a transport in low orbit. I don’t know who you know, but they’re high up enough to make room for you, so let’s get moving! Now!”

Barton stared at the officer. A part of him understood the words, but this wasn’t what he was expecting as he froze in disbelief. He couldn’t get his body to respond, luckily, Susan jumped in taking control, “Thank you, sir! Thank you!” she said gathering the children and their belongings. She grabbed Barton, and shook him out of his stupor, passing their bags to him.

Still in a daze, Barton followed as his wife took the lead, carrying their daughter in one arm and holding on to their son’s hand with the other. The Marines formed up into a wedge to push through the clamoring crowd to take them to the exit leading to the shuttle pad. As the Marines shielded the family, their son–Dylan–stared at these huge and serious looking soldiers, mesmerized as they led them through the crowd.

True to the officer’s word, there was a shuttle waiting with its engines whining and a crew member waving frantically for the family to board. While these turn of events stunned Barton, for Dylan it was an enthralling adventure. As the Marines let the family through to board the shuttle, Dylan stopped and turned towards the Marines, giving them a salute. This elicited half smiles and chuckles from the Marines, and then the group came to attention and saluted the young boy in return.

Jackson watched the surreal scene play out on the landing pad. It was then he noticed how young these serious and deadly looking Marines actually were as they turned and went back into the evacuation center.

Jesus… Those marines don’t even look like they’re old enough to shave, he thought as they boarded the shuttle. The shuttle crew quickly got the family strapped into the seats, and they lifted off to rendezvous with the transport in orbit…

UNSC Fleet Command HQ
Antioch, New Constantinople
August 14, 2536 — 2055 Zulu Time

A grim-faced, Vice-Admiral Whitcomb stared at the holographic display providing a real-time update of the battle occurring in space. The ships of his fleet now engaged the Covenant ships. The fighter strike had done some damage, but the Covenant responded by deploying their fighters. This blunted the fighter attack and minimized any further damage they could achieve against the enemy fleet as reports streamed in from the fleet. They were taking brutal damage from enemy plasma fire, but between the fleet and the ODPs they were giving back as good as they were getting.

Yet, while all this was going on, something was still bothering Whitcomb. The Covenant ships only fired on his fleet units and not the ODPs as they continued their advance. This strange behavior bothered him because if it was him attacking he would have found a way of neutralizing or taking them out. His worry and unease continued to grow at the thought the Covenant would pull something out of their sleeve and he couldn’t see it. He resigned himself to the fact he would have to wait until the enemy showed their hand and then have to react to it.

The battle around New Constantinople continued as MAC rounds and plasma torpedoes filled space. Now, the UNSC added to the destructive fireworks by launching nuclear tipped SHIVA missiles. Small suns flared into microseconds of existence, releasing their energy against the energy shields of the enemy ships.

The fire from both sides continued to take their toll as ships exploded and more crews died. All the while, the Covenant fleet continued advancing towards the planet…

Covenant CSO-class Supercarrier Glorious Devotion
August 14, 2536 — 2100 Zulu Time

The supercarrier shuddered as a nuke detonated against her shields. Fleet Master ’Korahee wasn’t disturbed as he continued to observe the tactical display, and the unfolding battle. He knew of the damage and losses his fleet was taking, but he also knew they’d inflicted tremendous damage on the human fleet. The human’s defense platforms remained untouched and undamaged... that would now end.

’Korahee turned towards the communication station, “Prepare to send the signal along with the navigation co-ordinates to the rest of the fleet on my command. Once they have emerged from Slipspace we will launch our dropships towards their defense platforms… Understood?”

“Yes, Fleet Master… Understood.”

’Korahee’s eyes took on a predatory gleam in anticipation of what he would unleash on the humans.

Soon, the human defenses will be destroyed and then the work of cleansing this planet of the human defilers can begin…

“Execute,” the Fleet Master said, his eyes gleaming with the thoughts of death and destruction.

Valiant-class super-heavy cruiser UNSC Presidio
August 14, 2536 — 2105 Zulu Time

“Report!” Captain Kwong ordered, holding his chair as his ship shuddered.

“We took a glancing hit on the forward section… port side… armor is holding,” the damage control officer reported as information flashed on his screen.

“MAC status?” Kwong asked.

“Everything is green, sir,” replied the weapons officer.

“Maintain fire…” Kwong ordered.

Kwong was about to ask for an update on the status of his battle group when a crewman manning the sensor station shouted out.

“Sir! I’m picking high energy space distortions!”

“Where and what is it?” an anxious Kwong demanded.

“It’s about 2000 kilometers off our starboard—SLIPSPACE POINT FORMING!” yelled the sensor tech, unable to contain his excitement and fear.

Captain Kwong watched helplessly as a Slipspace emergence point formed, and Covenant ships appeared…

“My god…” Commander Wright muttered, staring at the latest information coming in.

Whitcomb overheard the Commander and shared the same sentiments as he grasped what the enemy was doing. Despite what he felt, his rank didn’t allow him the luxury of expressing himself that openly.

So that’s what the Covenant had up their sleeve, Whitcomb thought, trying to maintain his composure as he marveled at the enemy’s audacity and bold move.

“Status and composition of Covenant force?” Whitcomb asked.

“Sensors are showing… Jesus… Fifty targets! Thirty-Five targets classified as SDV-class heavy corvettes… Fifteen targets classified as CPV-class heavy destroyers,” Commander Wright reported grimly, trying to recover from his own shock.

Thank god for small favors… At least these fifty ships are lighter class ships and not more battlecruisers and supercarriers, Whitcomb thought. Despite these ships being lighter classes, he still now faced a new attack force suddenly appearing on his flank.

Whitcomb didn’t hesitate as he calmly gave orders, “Commander, have the ODPs redirect their fire on this newest threat. The fleet will continue to engage the primary Covenant force. Have the carriers adjust their position and send in another fighter strike ASAP! Also, inform the carrier group commander he may have to release his escort ships to engage the Covenant.”

“Sir!” shouted a tech manning a sensor station.

The tone told Whitcomb that this wasn’t good new, “What is it?” he asked, dreading the news.

“We’re picking up multiple launches from both groups of enemy ships?” reported the tech.

“Is it a fighter strike?” Whitcomb asked, finding himself feeling unsure.

“Sir, the targets are larger and slower than fighters. Sensors are classifying all the targets as Phantom dropships.”

Whitcomb found it hard to maintain his calm exterior at this news. It took all of his self-control not to swear angrily as the realization hit him on how the Covenant was going to deal with his ODPs.

“Warn all ODPs! Tell them to prepare to repel boarders!” Whitcomb ordered.

Captain Kwong watched with detached helpless fascination as the Phantom dropships flew at full speed through the UNSC fleet. This unexpected move caught the fleet off guard, but they still tried to react to this new threat. UNSC ships engaged the large force of enemy dropships with Archer missiles and point defense weapons. The weapons took a huge toll on the Phantoms, but it was a game of numbers... more got through than destroyed as they streaked towards the ODPs. Even though the ODPs carried point defense weapon systems, there weren’t enough to deal with the numbers coming at them from two different directions. The enemy was going to get through...

As word of what was coming quickly spread, crews on the ODPs frantically grabbed weapons to arm themselves...

The shuttle carrying Barton and his family made orbit, and it wasn’t long before it docked with the civilian transport ship UNS Journey. The transport, requisitioned to assist with evacuating civilians, waited in a low orbit to rendezvous with all the evacuation shuttles. Once the last shuttle docked, the ship got underway, heading towards a designated Slipspace jump point to take them to a point further back into UNSC space. Once they arrived at their destination, the transport would rendezvous with another transport, transferring all the civilians to go on to Reach. The Journey would then return to New Constantinople for another load of civilians.

Passengers jockeyed for a place to claim on the decks with the transport squeezed to capacity. The limited number of cryo-chambers onboard would have been a problem if the ship was going all the way to Reach. With the ship only making a short jump to transfer everyone to a larger ship, they could get by with people staying awake. Despite the numbers, the ship was well-stocked and supplied for this short run.

Pushing their way through the crowds, Barton and his family found a place to stake out as their own on the transport’s observation deck. This gave them a spectacular view of space around New Constantinople as the ship broke orbit. The view mesmerized Dylan, who’d never been in space before. Barton appreciated the view too though he could have done without the distant fireworks display as a reminder of the dangers they were escaping. Streaks of lights, explosions and mini-suns continuously flared in the distance as the battle continued on.

As Barton stared at the light show, his thoughts drifted back to those Marines back on the surface. He still couldn’t believe how young they all looked. The realization hit him that each of those distant explosions was a ship that contained similar young men and women. That all of them were fighting and dying to protect people–his family included–caused him to think and reconsider ideas and thoughts he held to be true.

Dylan, tugging on his arm, grabbed his attention, bringing him out of his introspection and where his thoughts were taking him. Barton looked towards where his son was pointing out the observation window.

“Daddy look!”

Barton gasped in surprise at what his son was pointing at. The transport was passing by a damaged UNSC frigate. The extensive damage was obvious and evidently forced the frigate to withdraw from the battle. Those on the observation deck gaped in wonder and disbelief at the damage inflicted on the frigate. Scorched marks and burns covered the ship’s outer armor with sections blasted open and exposed to space. The heavy damage left everyone amazed that the ship was still in one piece, let alone still under power and moving.

Jackson squinted, trying to make out the ship’s name through the observation window. The burnt and scorched armor made it difficult, but he got the ship’s name... FFG 312–UNSC Dark Country.

They watched as the frigate receded behind them as the transport sped up, making its way to the jump point. A small cheer rang out from the passengers as an announcement came over the ship’s broadcast system, saying they would soon enter Slipspace.

For Barton, the announcement was like a reprieve as a sense of relief and relaxation filled him, knowing they would soon leave the system. He decided this would be the time to grab some shuteye as exhaustion pulled on him.

His eyes barely closed when alarms blared throughout the ship. Barton’s eyes shot open in a panic, looking towards Susan. Out of instinct, they grabbed their children, pulling them close as they tried to figure out what was happening.

They didn’t have to wait long as an announcement came over the ship’s PA system, “Attention… Attention… We are under attack by Covenant fighters… Please remain calm…”

Rather than staying calm, passengers screamed and cried at the news. While some lost themselves to the panic... others were silent. Those with loved ones huddled close and hugged each other while others prayed. The fear on their faces was the common denominator for all of them.

For Barton and Susan, they clutched their children to them as they looked at each other unable to say anything as fear and panic took hold. They felt the ship shudder and vibrate as the engines strained as more power fed them to get the transport moving faster than its design specifications. Barton glanced towards the observation window and saw streaks of light coming closer. He wasn’t sure if the lights were the actual fighters or if they’d fired at the transport.

It didn’t matter what the lights were because to Barton they only represented the specter of approaching death for him and his family. They also symbolized his failure to protect his wife and children. As the streaks of light drew closer, a deep well of anger and hate grew inside him. He hated being helpless unable to protect his family. His anger towards the Covenant grew, surprising him to discover he hated the Covenant more than he’d ever hated the UNSC.

While his anger and hatred grew, a part of Barton analyzed the Covenant attack. He figured there were at least eight fighters coming in for the kill. It was overkill as one fighter was more than enough to shoot them to pieces. They hadn’t opened fire yet, so he figured they would close to take their time with the kill.

Resigning himself to his death, Barton held his son tightly looking to Susan and hoping it would be over quickly. He glanced towards the observation window again... two bright explosions lighting up space rewarded him. Shock rippled through the observation deck as everyone saw a battered UNSC frigate intercepting the incoming fighters and cover the transport.

Barton, his son and everyone on the deck stood witness to what was happening. They watched the heavily damaged frigate, firing its few operational point defense weapons, straining to maneuver to keep itself between the enemy fighters and the defenseless transport. Two more Covenant fighters exploded which finally caused the remaining fighters to turn their wrath and fire on the frigate. Those gathered watched in silent understanding of what Dark Country was trying to do... they were drawing the fighters on herself to allow the transport to escape. Dark Country would not run... it would stand and fight to defend those who couldn’t defend themselves.

Barton’s eyes refused to look away from the scene as the transport put distance between them and the fighting. He held his son tight as explosions erupted from the frigate as the Covenant fighters continued attack runs on her. Despite the damage, the frigate continued firing back... refusing to back down or surrender.

Another fighter exploded as more hits registered on the frigate and explosions ripped through her hull. Barton could only imagine what hell the frigate’s surviving crew was going through, yet they continued to fight with their few operational weapons left. His throat tightened and his eyes burned thinking of the men and women on that ship... complete strangers that were sacrificing themselves to protect him and his family.

As the transport entered Slipspace, Jackson’s last glimpse of the frigate was she was bleeding air and debris, and appeared to have lost propulsion. The ship drifted in space, but continued firing in defiance, at the remaining Covenant fighters, with whatever weapons remained, refusing to back down… refusing to give up.
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