In orbit around Reach
Epsilon Eridani system
May 26, 2536 — 1352 Local Time
In his battle armor, Michael performed one last check on his equipment before loading up and heading out to the landing pad. A Pelican dropship was waiting to shuttle him up to the relief task force gathered in orbit around Reach.
Once loaded aboard the Pelican, it didn’t take long for the ship to leave Reach’s atmosphere. As they continued their ascent to orbit, Michael took a moment to look out one of the view windows at Reach one last time. This was one of his traditions whenever he left on a mission. Any memories he might have had from before he’d been “selected” for the SPARTAN program had faded long ago. They now only came to him in the occasional infrequent dream as he got older. He never discussed those dreams with anyone as the flashes of people and places he had were always out of focus and cloudy, just beyond his grasp. Being a Spartan was all he’d ever known and Reach was home for lack of knowing anywhere else.
As the planet got smaller in the window, he pushed any thoughts of home and the past behind him and focused on his mission. He didn’t have to worry about other passengers bothering him on this ride as his ONI security clearances made him the sole passenger on this trip. To kill time before rendezvousing with the task force, he activated a video window on his helmet display, bringing up the mission package info again. Even though he’d already gone over the whole mission package several times, he wanted to review his secondary mission objectives again.
Even though ONI made the elimination of the insurrectionist cells on New Constantinople a secondary mission objective, they still considered it a high-valued assignment. ONI had intercepted several Innie communications packages and from those intercepts had identified several people and their locations on the planet. Rather than follow-up and apprehend these Innie suspects using planet-side resources, ONI wanted to keep this mission “black” due to the potential ramifications and the windfall of intel. Michael was to locate the identified people and interrogate them to obtain any information about insurrectionist operations on the planet and then make the individuals “disappear”. Any intel he obtained would allow ONI to task Michael to “cope” with these threats.
As he reviewed the mission objectives and saw the word “interrogate”, his hand shifted slightly, out of reflex, towards his combat knife in its scabbard on his left shoulder. He stopped himself, taking a deep breath before taking out his knife and checking the blade’s sharpness and for any nicks. This was the one part of his job he hated, even after all the training and indoctrination and despite knowing the threat the Innie’s posed to the UNSC.
He had never voiced or showed his feelings about how this work made him feel. He’d realized long ago that this was, unfortunately, a part of his job and the role he had to play. That he excelled at obtaining solid information from the enemy was the main reason he kept getting tasked with these types of missions.
As he reviewed the list of targets and locations, he wasn’t worried about getting what equipment and resources he would need to complete his secondary missions. His ONI security clearance allowed him to access and get whatever resources he needed for his secondary missions — within the limitations of his mission requirements. His main concern was not letting the secondary missions interfere with what he considered the more vital and important mission — defending the planet and fighting the Covenant. From studying Vice-Admiral Whitcomb’s bio, he figured an ONI operation diverting resources away from the defense of the system wouldn’t impress the Vice-Admiral. Michael knew he would have to tread lightly and avoid making any waves while trying to complete all his missions.
Looking towards the front of the Pelican, he glanced through the open cockpit door and out the cockpit window. With his augmented vision and helmet optics, he saw they were getting closer to the relief task force. The Pelican adjusted course and Michael noted they were making an approach run on one of the closer stationed ships. They were heading towards the UNSC Presidio, a Valiant-class super-heavy cruiser, his ship assignment for the transit to New Constantinople.
Designated task force flagship, the Presidio would lead the 29-ship relief force heading to reinforce the New Constantinople system. Included with the ship reinforcements were the 119th Marine Division, the 232nd Heavy Armored Brigade along with two ODST units. These units would reinforce the ground units on New Constantinople. From the battle orders, Michael reviewed, these reinforcements would help spearhead the counter-attack. The plan was to destroy the Covenant foothold on the planet before the enemy reinforced it.
If UNSC forces failed to destroy the Covenant foothold, the plan was to conduct a rearguard action to buy time to evacuate the civilian population. The problem with any evacuation was that New Constantinople, being one of the older inner colony worlds, had a population of 300 million people spread across the planet. Anyone that was even remotely familiar with logistics would realize that trying to evacuate that many people wasn’t even in the realm of possibility with UNSC resources.
Despite the logistical limitations that hadn’t deterred Vice-Admiral Whitcomb as he’d begun evacuating civilians from the planet. Michael admired the tenacity and strategic brilliance the Admiral displayed battling the Covenant to a draw in space and containing their foothold planet-side. Everyone knew the Covenant held a huge technological advantage in space as it cost, on average, three UNSC ships to kill one Covenant ship. It was only on the ground where the UNSC came close to technological par with the Covenant. When Spartans were on the battlefield, they raised the odds into the UNSC’s favor.
The Pelican shook as it landed in the Presidio’s landing bay with Michael remaining seated until the loading ramp of the dropship lowered. As the ramp descended, the sights and sounds of the landing bay and crew working greeted him. Everyone was busy unloading other transports and readying equipment for the transit to New Constantinople.
Stares greeted Michael as he exited the Pelican. As he made his way across the landing bay, the ship’s crew and Marines stopped what they were doing as he passed by them. Michael didn’t pay any attention to the looks he drew. He was long used to the looks he would attract.
By this point of the war, Spartans had already built up an aura of legend from the battles they’d been in against the Covenant. Plus, because of their size, Spartans stood out in any crowd. The consensus was that having a Spartan with you on a mission increased your odds of coming back alive.
Not noticing the looks of awe and relief on the crews’ faces, Michael’s thoughts focused on the upcoming fight against the Covenant. Until now, his war against the Covenant comprised only recon or providing support on small unit missions. The need to prove himself in a large scale operation weighed on him.
This is my chance… I’m going to where I need to be…
Despite his desires and needs, his first task was to report in to the Presidio’s Captain. He exited the landing bay, making his way towards the ship’s elevator to head to the bridge.
Exiting the ship’s elevator on to the bridge deck, Michael strode through to the main bridge viewing area. Like the landing bay, he again drew looks and stares from the bridge crew. His augmented hearing and suit’s audio system picked up the whispers of the crew.
He had no problem picking out the Captain, standing looking out the main view window at the assembled task force. The Captain had an electronic tablet in his hand, glancing at it. Michael came up behind the Captain, snapping to attention with a crisp salute.
“Captain Kwong… Sierra-113 reporting aboard as ordered.”
Captain Henry Kwong turned around, taking a moment to study the Spartan standing at full attention in his battle armor. The Captain had been on operations before with Spartans. He had developed a healthy respect and impression by the presence they projected, their sense of duty and how they always got their mission accomplished.
Kwong returned the salute, “Welcome aboard Sierra-113… Stand at ease.”
Michael stood at ease, seeing the Captain smile and hold out his hand to him. Michael didn’t hesitate as he took the offered hand and shook it.
“I’m glad we have a Spartan with us on this run. Things could get ugly when we reach New Constantinople,” Kwong said with a slight grim look appearing on his face.
“I doubt that the Covenant will be happy to see us. We can only hope we’ll ruin their day when we get there,” Michael replied.
Kwong chuckled as a small smile replaced the grim expression, “Here’s hoping we rain on their party. I’ll let you get squared away and get ready for stasis for our jump to Slipspace. The fleet should be ready for jump within three hours. If you need anything, just let me know.”
“Thank you, sir… I appreciate it,” Michael said saluting the Captain.
After the Captain returned the salute, Michael headed off the bridge for the stasis deck to get ready for the Slipspace jump to New Constantinople.
When he reached the stasis deck, Michael checked in with the crew manning the station. They confirmed that his equipment was aboard and stored for the transit.
Due to design limitations of the Shaw-Fujikawa Translight (SFT) Engine, making faster-than-light travel possible through Slipspace, the trip would still take at least 2 weeks. During this time non-essential personnel would have to go into stasis to minimize consuming air, power, water and food during the trip. Upon reaching the edge of the destination planetary system, the task force would come out of Slipspace, regroup and then make its way in-system. They would then unload the reinforcements and the ships would join up with rest of the system’s defense forces.
Everyone hoped that this relief force would arrive before the Covenant brought in reinforcements. The Covenant had much more accurate and powerful Slipspace engines which again contrasted the technological edge they had over the humans. Either way the relief force would be in the dark about the status of New Constantinople until they exited Slipspace. The Navy was also putting together another relief force that would follow within ten days of this task force leaving.
Michael had been in stasis many times. The only thing that bothered him about the whole process was the dreaming. You kept dreaming until you came out of stasis. You couldn’t wake yourself up, you kept dreaming until they woke you up.
He fitted himself into the stasis cryo-chamber, trying to make himself as comfortable as possible. His anxiety grew at the anticipation of stasis sleep. The anxiety was because of the dreams he knew he would experience while asleep, but there was no alternative.
He took deep relaxing breaths as the technician came over and checked the cryo-chamber tubes connected to his battle armor. The tubes would feed the chemicals required for stasis sleep into his armor. Bio-injectors, inside his battle armor, would pass through the chemicals, to preserve and maintain him, through to his body.
The technician gave him a thumbs up after double checking all the connections and started the stasis process. As the cryo-chamber’s lid closed, Michael kept his focus on relaxing and breathing normally. A sudden hard pinch, followed by a slight tingling feeling, told him his suit’s bio-injectors delivered the stasis chemicals to his body. It wasn’t long before he was sleepy and his eyes closed. The dreams didn’t take long to start…
Captain Kwong studied the main bridge sensor display showing the icons identifying the rest of the task force under his temporary command. He couldn’t help note that before the war with the Covenant, the size and strength of a task force like this would have struck fear into the insurrectionists. Now fighting against Covenant, the hope now was that the fleet would have the local numerical advantage to offset the alien’s technological advantage.
Since the start of the war the UNSC had captured a wide range of Covenant tech. But it took time to study, understand and reverse engineer technology you had no scientific familiarity with or understanding of. UNSC high command hoped to buy time to allow them to make the scientific breakthroughs to develop weapon systems equal or even superior to the enemy’s.
Kwong always maintained a calm exterior, but inside worried thoughts about this mission and the war mixed together.
With the Covenant locating and now invading the inner colonies we may have run out of time… How much longer can we hold on?
Not showing any outward sign of his worries and anxieties to his crew, Captain Kwong turned to the navigation station, “Helm, set course for Slipspace departure point. Inform the rest of the fleet to stagger their approach.”
“Aye, sir. Course laid in. Fleet acknowledges orders,” replied the crewman manning the navigation station.
“Thank you, Helm.”
The Captain then turned to a pedestal located just to the side of his station, “Hermes… Please inform the crew to prepare for Slipspace jump.”
A small holographic image of a man appeared on the pedestal. The shipboard AI looked at the Captain and nodded, “Understood, sir.”
The AI opened a comm channel, “Attention… Attention, please. We are preparing for Slipspace jump. All designated personnel prepare for stasis. Repeat… All personnel prepare for jump. Thank you.”
As commands passed to each ship, they picked up speed, moving in formation towards their Slipspace departure point. It didn’t take long for the task force to reach the departure point. As the task force entered the departure area, each ship activated its Slipspace engine. On each ship, those not in stasis, watching through view ports or video displays, saw the fabric of space-time ripped as an entry way to another dimension opened. Each ship entered its own portal, disappearing into Slipspace with the openings closing behind them, leaving no evidence behind to show they had ever been there…