Into the Breach

When do we go?

New Constantinople
June 19, 2536 — 0932 Local Time

Vice-Admiral Danforth Whitcomb showed no outward emotion as he reviewed the daily intelligence reports along with the troop and fleet status reports. Despite, his outward calm appearance worry filled him as he scrolled through the reports on his display console. So far, they’d contained the Covenant to a small foothold on the planet, but it was only a matter of time before massive reinforcements arrived.

The Vice-Admiral knew if they eliminated the Covenant foothold and rebuilt and reinforced the planetary defense network there was a chance of holding off any further Covenant attacks. There were a lot of ifs involved, but the alternative was something that gave him nightmares. The first objective was to maintain local space superiority around the planet. The next stage would be hitting the Covenant on the ground. This would necessitate taking out the shielded Command-and-Control (C&C) sites and supply depots. Intelligence reported those installations protected by shields, so using nukes to neutralize them would have minimal impact. The only way to take out those Covenant installations would be by ground assault. Fortunately, Whitcomb had resources on-hand to execute this mission. A predator-like grin flashed as he worked on the outline of his counter-attack plan.

UNSC Firebase Mitchell
New Constantinople
June 20, 2536 — 0815 Local Time

Michael was on downtime after his mission in Ravenna. While normally downtime was for resting and recovering after operations this seemed to be the opposite for him. Bad dreams and nightmares plagued him adding to the emotionally drained feeling hanging over him. Despite any personal feelings or misgivings over the mission, ONI considered the mission a success from the treasure trove of information collected. Michael expected questions over his handling of the interrogation, but ONI seemed more occupied with following up on the information collected than any ‘minor’ gaps in the interrogation recordings.

Not helping Michael’s mood was the planetary news feeds. While the fighting took up most of the coverage, the news feeds reported on the fire and destruction in Ravenna. The fire not only destroyed Anders’s business, but caused extensive damage to neighboring businesses and properties. Local investigators were labelling the fire as “suspicious” with the recovery of evidence of stolen UNSC materials and supplies at the site. Investigators said they wanted to interview Anders, but he went missing on the same night as the fire.

Michael wasn’t worried about the local authorities. It was doubtful the authorities would ever find Anders’s body even if they knew where to look. Even if they stumbled upon the body, decomposition and the wildlife would help hide signs of the field interrogation along with the steps Michael took to sanitize the area. Even the explosives used to take out the business were “clean” with any evidence recovered tracing the demolition charges to having been ‘stolen’ from a shipment months ago. There was nothing to trace it back to ONI. If needed ONI would arrange for ‘evidence’ to appear to bring Anders’s business dealings and Innie connections to light. The local authorities would write off the fire and Anders’s disappearance/murder as a business deal gone bad. No one except Michael and ONI would ever know what really happened to Kevin Anders.

Michael tried to shake off the cloud hanging over him. He was a Spartan, and he’d been following orders. To try keep the troubling thoughts and feelings at bay, he focused on his promise to Anders. He had to figure out how he would keep his promise and get Anders’s family off-planet. He didn’t want to leave it until the last minute, and he needed to do it without ONI getting a whiff of what he was planning. The plan was to somehow use his ONI security clearances to get the family on one of the evacuation transports or at least get them on the evacuation lists. On top of all this, Michael also had to keep track of Anders’s family until he could make the arrangements for them to leave.

He pondered different ideas and plans, with none of them looking promising. The chime from his computer terminal, interrupted his planning. He accepted the incoming video message, “Sierra-113 here.”

A man’s face appeared on the screen, “Sierra-113… I’m Commander James Wright. I’m Vice-Admiral Whitcomb’s chief of staff and I’m calling on his behalf.”

This brought Michael to a higher state of attentiveness, “Yes, Commander. What can I do for you?”

“The Vice-Admiral wants to meet with you ASAP. He will be in the city of Antioch today for meetings. We’ve arranged to have a Pelican waiting for you on the landing pad. It’s a three hour ride from your firebase, so the sooner you can get here the better,” the Commander said. His tone implied this was more of an order than a request.

“Yes, sir… I’ll be ready to go in thirty minutes. I just need to armor up,” Michael replied.

The commander looked at him strangely, “Sierra-113, I don’t think you need your armor for a meeting with the Vice-Admiral.”

“Begging the sir’s pardon, I’m a Spartan, and this planet is an active war zone. I would rather error on the side of caution, sir,” Michael replied. His tone implied this was not up for discussion.

“Okay… Just make sure you’re on that bird in thirty,” Wright said, shaking his head.

“Understood, sir! Sierra-113 out,” Michael replied as the Commander ended the video call.

Michael made it down to the landing pad, boarding the Pelican in twenty-eight minutes. He settled himself into his seat as the crew prepped the Pelican for lift-off. As the dropship lifted off, heading towards Antioch, his thoughts were abuzz over why he was being summoned by the Vice-Admiral.

Something must be going down now… At last! Here’s my chance…

Michael glanced out the Pelican’s open cargo door as it began its landing descent into Antioch. It was a fair size modern looking city with a large population as one of the older cities on New Constantinople. He noted an UNSC officer standing beside a Warthog at the edge of the landing pad as the dropship touched down. Michael exited the Pelican, walking towards the officer. As he got closer, the officer moved towards him, meeting him at the edge of the landing pad.

Michael studied the young, officer as he came to attention, giving him a crisp salute. Michael noted the young man’s nervousness and the contrast between them struck him as he came to attention, returning the salute.

Here I am thinking of how young this soldier looks and I’m only twenty-five years old myself… with nineteen years of service…

The officer’s voice cracked, exposing his nervousness, “S-Sierra-113… I-I’m L-Lieutenant Marcus Prescott… I’m to drive and escort you to Vice-Admiral Whitcomb.”

“I take it that’s our ride?” Michael said, pointing at the Warthog.

“Yes, sir!” the officer replied, his voice cracking.

“Take it easy Lieutenant… First, you can stop saluting me. I’m not an officer. My field rank is Chief Petty Officer, so I’m the one that should salute you. Just relax and let’s go see the Admiral,” Michael replied, using a calm voice to settle down the young officer.

“Y-Yes, sir-uh… chief.”

“If it’s easier, you can call me Sierra-113 or 113… I’m good with that too,” Michael said, getting nods in reply from Lieutenant Prescott.

Michael let Prescott take the lead back to the Warthog. He settled into the passenger seat as the Lieutenant settled into the driver’s side and started the vehicle. The nervous young man glanced at the Spartan as the Warthog’s engine roared to life and put the vehicle into gear, heading towards the Vice-Admiral’s office.

Michael studied the city streets and buildings during the drive to the Vice-Admiral’s HQ. The Lieutenant didn’t engage him in any small talk which he was grateful for. He wasn’t that comfortable or familiar with all the small social nuances that people did. Being “recruited” at age six and spending all your formative years in a military-structured training environment didn’t teach you much on how to socialize with other people. The Spartans could socialize (if you could call it that) amongst themselves as they shared a common experience. Yet Michael he preferred being by himself. It was the main reason he liked solo missions. He could work within a team when the mission required it, but there was something different being on an operation by yourself. On solo missions he experienced a sense of freedom and being in control. He didn’t have to worry about anyone other than himself.

The underground vehicle bay, in the building housing Whitcomb’s HQ, was a hive of activity as they drove into it. As Michael exited the Warthog, the noise and work subsided as the officers and enlisted personnel noted the Spartan. Everyone watched as Michael and the Lieutenant made their way to the building elevator. It wasn’t until the elevator doors closed behind them before the talking and activity resumed. Knowing there was a Spartan here got everyone talking. They figured something big was going to happen with a Spartan now around.

Michael followed the Lieutenant off the elevator on to the top floor of the building. Once again, Michael’s presence drew stares and murmuring from the personnel working on the floor as he walked past. As they reached a large office door, another officer exited. Michael recognized Commander Wright as he came to greet them.

“Commander…” Michael said as he and the Lieutenant both came to attention.

The Commander nodded at both men, “At ease… Thank you Lieutenant Prescott, I’ll take it from here,” Wright said dismissing the other officer.

“Yes, sir!” the young officer replied turning and leaving.

“If you’ll follow me Sierra-113, the Vice-Admiral is expecting you,” Wright said, turning to lead the Spartan door into the office.

Upon entering the office, Michael noted that the office was plain, but configured to be efficient and functional. Vice-Admiral Danforth Whitcomb was sitting behind his desk reading something off an electronic tablet. The Spartan’s attention turned to the Vice-Admiral, his first impressions were of a man in his late-forties who projected a sense of confidence and duty. Considered one of the best and brightest in the UNSC Navy, Michael was familiar with the Vice-Admiral’s earlier work on the first prototypes of battle armor. That work evolved and developed into the current Mark IV MJOLNIR battle armor system that Michael was now wearing. The Vice-Admiral set down the tablet as Michael and Commander Wright came to attention in front of the desk.

“Sir, Spartan Sierra-113 is here as you requested,” Commander Wright said.

Michael immediately sensed that Whitcomb was trying to size him as the Vice-Admiral looked at him.

“Thank you, Commander. That will be all for now,” Whitcomb said, dismissing his chief of staff.

The Commander nodded and exited the room. The door barely closed before Whitcomb stood up and walked from behind his desk towards the Spartan. Whitcomb caught Michael off-guard when he held out his hand to him.

“Good to meet you Sierra-113. I’m glad we have you here with us,” the Vice-Admiral said, flashing a genuine smile.

Michael, recovering from his surprise, took the offered hand, “Thank you, sir. Anything I can do to help, I will, sir!” he replied, voicing his genuine enthusiasm.

“Excellent!” Whitcomb replied.

Whitcomb studied the Spartan trying to get a sense of the man standing before him. He’d done work with ONI on other black projects, but even with his security clearances, the SPARTAN project was a black hole shrouded in mystery. He’d heard whispers and rumors from people he trusted that allowed him piece together some details of the project. Those pieces were enough to give him some sleepless nights and grey hairs. Now standing in front of one these soldiers a part of him voiced doubts wondering if it was all worth the cost.

“Please make yourself comfortable, Sierra-113,” the Vice-Admiral said offering a seat, pushing his doubts away.

“Thank you, sir. I’ll stand if that’s no problem,” Michael replied. He wasn’t sure if the chairs would support his weight. It wouldn’t make a good impression to be breaking one of the Vice-Admiral’s chairs on their first meeting. As a compromise he removed his helmet.

The stories of the Spartans were running through the Vice-Admiral’s head as the soldier removed his helmet. His youth surprised Whitcomb as he noted the fresh looking scar on the Spartan’s face. It reminded him of the story of this young man’s orbital re-entry riding on the outside of a dropship. Another thing that stood out was the man’s eyes... they gave a sense he was older than his physical age. The eyes showed that this Spartan had seen a lot, but they also conveyed a strength and determination he’d only seen in a few people. Whitcomb knew this was the right person for the mission he had in mind.

“I have a mission that requires your particular skills. Would you be interested?” the Vice-Admiral asked, flashing a small smirk.

Michael couldn’t help himself as a small smile formed on his face, “Yes, sir!” he answered not holding back his enthusiasm.

Whitcomb arched an eyebrow in surprise, “I appreciate your enthusiasm, but you may want to temper it until you’ve heard what the mission is. I hope that this mission won’t interfere with your work for ONI.”

Michael failed to hide his surprise at the Vice-Admiral’s knowledge of his secondary mission and what was supposedly a highly classified operation. Whitcomb tried not to smile seeing he’d put the Spartan off-balance.

“At ease son. There’s not much that happens in this system without me hearing or knowing about it. I have enough contacts in ONI that they gave me a heads up. My primary mission is defending this planet and the population. I will not tolerate any ONI ‘distractions’ that put that mission at risk! Do I make myself clear?” the Vice-Admiral said, making direct eye contact with Michael to ensure there was no misunderstanding.

“Crystal, sir!” Michael replied. He suddenly felt a sense of relief flow through him as he followed the Admiral over to the command table set up in the office.

Whitcomb typed in some commands in the table’s display console and a holographic 3D representation of New Constantinople appeared over the table. Michael observed green coloring most of the planet except for a red splotch on one section of the planet.

“As you can see, we’ve managed, at great cost, to contain the Covenant foothold on this planet. Between the fleet and planetary defenses we’ve contained their advance, but it’s only a matter of time before they bring in massive reinforcements. We need to remove their foothold before those reinforcements arrive,” Whitcomb said.

Michael was familiar with the strategic and tactical situation, pulling details from memory, “Your main problem will be taking out the Covenant’s C&C centers and supply depots. They’ll be heavily shielded,” he said studying the holographic map.

“That’s exactly the problem! If we try to take them out going over the ground, it will take longer and we’ll suffer heavy causalities. We need to hit hard and fast!” the Vice-Admiral replied, impressed with the Spartan’s quick grasp of the situation.

“It sounds like you want to hit all those sites at the same time... The only way you can do that is through an orbital drop. That’s very risky, sir.”

The Spartan impressed Whitcomb by how quickly he picked up on the plan, “Yes, there is risk involved, but it’s a calculated risk. Ground forces will make feint attacks to draw the Covenant’s attention ground side. We’ll then send the fleet in hard and fast to gain space superiority over the Covenant foothold even if it’s temporary. Spartan Alpha Company will lead the main drop on what we’ve identified as the primary Covenant Command-and-Control center. The 14th and 18th ODST battalions will drop to take out their supply depots. We’ve identified a secondary Command-and-Control center. Intelligence reports minimal defenses and activity around the objective. We’re stretched thin to hit all these objectives at the same time, so you’ll be going in alone on the orbital drop. We expect minimal resistance at this objective, so your job is to secure an LZ. Once you’ve secured the LZ, we’ll send in a Marine fire team by Pelican to support you in taking the objective. It is important we neutralize all these objectives at the same time to hurt the enemy bad. If we can’t take those objectives, at a minimum we need to take down the shields, so we can nuke them from orbit.”

Whitcomb watched the Spartan as he studied the holographic map and the highlighted objectives.

“Can I get some equipment drops when I go in?” Michael asked, continuing to study his objective area on the holographic map.

“Anything you need! You let us know and you’ve got it!” Whitcomb replied.

“When do we go?” Michael asked.

Whitcomb smiled, “We’re waiting on some more ships coming in from Reach, and finishing repairs on our most damaged ships. We’re planning to go in ten days… no later than fourteen. The longer we wait the harder it will be.”

“I have just two more requests, sir,” Michael asked.

“Like I said son… Anything you need, just ask.”

“I would like detailed topographical maps of my objective area to study.”

“Done! What’s the second request?” Whitcomb asked.

Michael hesitated, “Uh… this is a little off topic, but there are three people living in Ravenna... a woman and her two children. I need them evacuated off-planet.”

This was the last thing Whitcomb expected as he arched his eyebrows at this request. He recovered from his surprise, “May I ask why these people require evacuation?”

Michael hesitated for a moment as his mind worked furiously, “Sir… It’s related to my ONI missions. I’m under orders to not discuss them, but these people were important to a recent ONI investigation. They need evacuation as soon as possible.”

He knew he was pushing his luck with this request, but this an opportunity to deal with the burden he was carrying. It just wasn’t normal for him to make requests like this from flag officers while also hiding the truth from them.

The Vice-Admiral studied the Spartan for a long moment, “Do these people have anything to do with your recent trip to Ravenna and the ‘incident’ there?” he asked.

Michael tried to hide his shock at the apparent knowledge the Vice-Admiral had of his ONI activities. He regained his composure, “Sir... I’m under orders not to discuss my ONI missions, but I wouldn’t ask for this favor if it wasn’t important. I gave my oath… my word I would make sure that these people would get off planet.”

The Vice-Admiral heaved an internal sigh. His sources and contacts gave him a heads up about the ONI missions taking place on the planet. A wave of frustration filled him as he’d planned on staying out of ONI’s way unless they compromised his defense of the planet.

Damn it! I’m no fan of the Innies, but we have enough troubles fighting the Covenant to be wasting a Spartan on black missions...

Whitcomb considered the request, Well I can’t have my Spartan worrying about civilians and his oath… not with my counter-attack about to take place...

A sigh escaped the Vice-Admiral, “Make sure you provide the names and details of the civilians to Commander Wright on your way out. I’ll make sure they are off on the next evacuation transport. You have my word on that,” Whitcomb answered, meeting the Spartan’s eyes.

A smile flashed on Michael’s face, “Thank you, sir! I appreciate this! You can count on me to turn the target to rubble!” he replied, coming to attention and saluting.

Vice-Admiral Whitcomb saw he’d gained the Spartan’s trust and commitment. He hoped the Spartan was good enough–and lucky enough–to complete his mission and survive.

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