by dadhoc
(Work in Progress)
Inspired by the Halo franchise, © Microsoft Corporation

   Silence filled the long, oppressive corridors of the UNSC Cavalier Approach. Despite the circumstances, the crew of the Phoenix-class vessel were tranquil, each focused on their individual tasks. Navigators and comms officers lined the walls of technical rooms, cooped up in their slanted consoles quietly tapping away at their keyboards. The sounds of their fingers pattered along, a sound accompanied only by the occasional beep and tic in response from the computers as they composed their odd, cryptic prose. A few sectors away - a walk that would have felt like miles in this odd, silent atmosphere - the mechanics tinkered with the engines of warthogs, performing their own rites upon the machines.

   The walk to the bridge was long, longer than what Jack would’ve preferred; downtime always felt weird to him. Of course, the marines would not have complained: in the mess hall, most were gathered around the dining tables watching their credits flow back and forth over hands of card games while their squadmates assisted the technical officers in whatever way they could. A grunt didn’t need to know how the jet flow regulators on a Pelican worked, after all; he just needed to know where the spare 10mm sockets were.

   Jack wasn’t a marine, though. He could understand the ODST a little better. In another life, he often mused, he would have been one of them, and in many ways they were much alike. The helljumpers kept to their own ranks aboard the Approach, riffing on each other while comparing scores at the range, exchanging tips and tricks when performing maintenance, sometimes taking turns sleeping in case something were to happen. They were overzealous, everyone aboard thought so. They might have even agreed, but they knew that when the proverbial hit the fan, it wouldn’t be the others on the drop pods breaching the atmosphere at terminal velocity. Still, Jack realized, they were soldiers. Lubing their guns and counting their ammo was their meditation, their downtime activities, functionally identical to the card games and raunchy stories were to the infantrymen.

   These were soldiers, after all: men and women plucked from their homes to do war. Regular folk who could have been doctors and writers and farmers. Soldiers who had lives outside of war - despite the fact that war had been a constant existential threat to the lives of every human for the past five years, there would someday be a time of peace. Soldiers would be men and women again. They would hold plows and scalpels and textbooks in hands that once held weapons - weapons that would be laid to rest. Weapons like Jack.

   The walk was long, and these thoughts weighed on Jack like the armour that adorned him. Unlike the marines, who could easily undo the latches holding their breastplates together and breathe easier, Jack was bound by about 450 kilograms of metal and plastics and complex circuitry, technology that may as well have been alien for how far beyond Jack’s understanding it was. The emerald shell was designed with practicality in mind, comfort be damned. It did not matter how heavy or bulky or clunky the suit felt to wear, that’s what the augmentations were for. The important thing was that the suit protected the inner workings of the weapon it was made to protect: a highly advanced casing keeping all the gears and pistons and other fleshy bits inside safe and ready to fire.

   Jack was under no illusion as to his purpose. He was property of the UNSC, an instrument like the others aboard, but his role in the war machine was different. The Marines were chisels, easily replaced but vital to the artistry of warfare; the ONI officers and their high-ranking lackeys were the hands that wielded the tools as needed. Jack was Spartan: in this equation, he was the hammer.

   The monotonous hum of low-powered terminals and rhythmic tapping on the bridge was gradually broken by footsteps. Small, distant thuds at first, slowly growing into decisive strikes from heavy slabs of steel on metal panels. The thunderous steps of the hulking weapon announced his arrival on the bridge. Officers shrunk into their seats as the undeniable presence passed behind them, as if it left a vacuum in its wake. Some turned to acknowledge it, salute it even, but most were simply too frightened to meet its gaze. Even without his helmet, Jack still struck an imposing figure. The line between a Spartan’s visor and their eyes was thin, and to anyone who hadn’t spent much time in their presence, the two might as well have been one and the same.

   Captain Waters stood like a statue of some long-dead great leader, seemingly unbothered by the approach of the looming figure she had summoned. Before her, through the layers of conditioned glass in the viewing port of the bridge, infinite blackness extended and rushed past the Approach. She stood at full attention to the void, her hands tied behind her back in elegant thought. Her mind and the endless dimensions of the slipstream space were one and the same. Not empty - clear.

   “At ease, Giaccomo”, she said, her back still turned to the Spartan. His right hand lowered to his left flank, resting on the helmet he held under his arm. “We’re coming up on strategic point Theta soon, precisely on schedule.”

   Jack stood silent for a moment, hoping for more. In all his years with the UNSC, Jack had served under many officers, some more… unique than others. Naval officers, too, were individuals, and each had their own quirk: Captain Jess Waters’ quirk was treating every conversation like a lecture you were woefully unprepared for. In that statement, Jack realized, was a question; the nature of the question was, of course, a mystery, but Waters expected an answer. Finding none in the stoic Spartan, she continued.

   “Radar scans indicate the disappearance of two Covenant CPV-class heavy destroyers immediately after our jump.”

   Jack caught on. “They followed us.”

   “We don’t know that for sure”, she confessed, “but it’s likely.”

   “Could they knock us off course somehow?”

   “I would not have called you here otherwise. We need to be prepared.”

   We need you to be prepared, she meant. Jack was a strategic asset on board; he and his fellow Spartans were largely the entire reason for the Cavalier Approach’s journey. Five weapons of mass destruction thrown into the hold of a repurposed colony ship, ready to reinforce the waning forces at Harvest. A desperate effort to turn the tides of a losing battle.

   “Orange Team will be ready.” He readied a salute.

   “Wait.” Finally, the captain returned to the bridge from the vastness of slip-space, and turned to face Jack. “Before you go, I need you to hold onto something for me.” She walked to a nearby console, and with the push of a button, caused a small metallic plate to emerge from the pillar. In the middle of the plate was a pulsating green light. She handed the small shard to Jack. “This is Cabral, the onboard AI. The Covenant can’t have him.”

   From the circular light in the shard - a small lens, on closer inspection - emerged a small holographic man. He was dressed in the clothes of a 16th Century navigator: tall socks over the calves of exquisitely stitched pantaloons, a loose sailor’s shirt under an elegant overcoat, a feathered felt hat - the whole works, right out of an ancient history book. Jack had seen a fair few AI constructs before, but never one as eccentric as this.

   “Pleasure to meet you, master Giaccomo”, the construct said in a thick Portuguese accent with an exaggerated regal bow. Clearly, Cabral took his name to heart, entirely modeling himself after the eponymous sailor. Jack hadn’t known Cabral for a full minute, and he was already tired of the act. In response, he simply nodded and grunted, living up to the Spartans’ cold reputation.

   “That will be all”, the captain said, returning to her pensive stance. “Dismissed.”

   (To be continued.)


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