ALWAYS OPEN [IC] Halo - Empty Throne: The Human Outer Colonies

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Apothecary Bruce

Shipwright with No Yards
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Science Fiction, Horror.
On December 12th, 2559, the UNSC Infinity disappeared. They had been sent to stop Cortana, leader of the Created, from using Zeta Halo for her own nefarious purposes. As many would later discover, the UNSC was not the only force who had come to Zeta Halo with that goal.
The Banished, who had thrived under Cortana's iron yet loose regime, had sent an invasion force. After contact, no signal was sent from the
Infinity. All probes and scouts, from all sides, who went to the Ephu system - Zeta Halo's prior location - found the installation, and the fleets attacking it, had suddenly vanished. Only trace wreckage from the Infinity, Banished warships, and a Forerunner Guardian construct, remained.

For the UNSC, they had lost the Master Chief, and their strongest warship. Both were symbols of humanity's strength and resolve, the hero who had saved them, and the flagship emblematic of their post-war successes, an era which was now undoubtably over.
For the Banished, they had lost not only Atriox, but Escharum too. With the other senior leaders of the Banished trapped at the Ark, the nascent empire had been left without a central commander, but while the cracks could be seen visibly forming, the Banished were more than content feasting upon a ripe galaxy.

Whatever happened at Zeta Halo, it had been the end of Cortana. Her Created empire immediately fractured, breaking down into warlord states as AI carved out what they could of the galaxy, using what Forerunner assets remained active and available to them.
With the fall of the Created, came the return of interstellar travel. The galaxy was open once more - for better, or for worse.

It is January 12th, 2560, and all throughout the galaxy now see the future is uncertain. While some cower from uncertainty, the bold see it as an opportunity - and the prize would be total dominion over all civilizations remaining.





orion_arm_star_map__halo__by_the_chronothaur_dboawfz-pre.jpg


Regions of the Galaxy:
Human Inner Colonies and Sol (UNSC/Created)
Human Outer Colonies (URF/Banished/Created)
Doisac Sphere (Banished)
Eastern Covenant Sphere (Banished/Covenant Remnants/Swords of Sanghelios)
Sanghelios Sphere (Swords of Sanghelios/Covenant Remnants/Banished)
Western Covenant Sphere (Covenant Remnants/Swords of Sanghelios/Banished)



What are the human Outer Colonies?

The Outer Colonies were planets more recently settled by the United Earth Government, or the UEG. These are less developed than their Inner Colony counterparts typically, boasting less population and white collar jobs, but producing the bulk of humanity's raw resources and foodstuffs. Planets like Harvest and Meridian fed the Inner Colonies' people, and planets like Bliss and Reynes fed the Inner Colonies' industry.
Yet rarely did any of that economy flow back success into the Outer Colonies. For over a century, they were taken advantage of - promised the same dream of colonization as those who predated them, in the Inner Colonies, but it was a promise far less fulfilled. Far from Earth, these populations worked hard, and got little. Laws passed to service the worlds closest to Earth hurt its most distant planets, not out of maliciousness, but careless forgetfulness or a disregard for the matters of the poor and the downtrodden.

When the Insurrection arose to power during the mid and late twenty-fifth century, the rebellion was most centralized in the Outer Colonies. The CMA, or Colonial Military Authority, was the UEG's military arm across the colonies, reserving the UNSC for heavier or more sophisticated matters. Increasingly, however, the CMA was replaced in certain regions by full UNSC authority.
This was largely due to rampant corruption in the CMA, and even now, a hundred years later in some areas, CMA tools of warfare can still be found in the hands of rebels and secessionists.

When the Covenant arrived, the Insurrection became less of an issue. The rebels fought the aliens just as the government did, putting aside political philosophy so they could work towards the survival of the human race. After the Human-Covenant War, the Outer Colonies were left smoldering, most of their number glassed by the Covenant's genocidal war machine.
When the Created rose to power, the Insurrectionists did all they could to resist, a tyrannical government more brutal than their UEG predecessors. Then, once the Created fractured, another power moved in, this time a power the Insurrectionists could approve of - the Banished.

Most outer colonies now pledge their allegiance to the Banished. In the latter half of December and the first half of January, the Banished's meteoric rise ensured the Outer Colonies would be supported, supplied, allowed to have their freedom after decades upon decades of oppression and neglect. Worlds who wished freedom, without the Banished, would typically find shelter either with the United Rebel Front, or they might cling to the last shreds of UNSC control in the region. Most independent outer colony worlds would stay alone and isolated, hoping the Banished might overlook them.

Remnants of the UNSC still dot the Outer Colonies. Far-flung starships, patrol fleets stranded over a year ago and still on the run, or frontier elements of Tribute's rebuilding government. These scraps of Earth's military fight for their lives in increasingly hostile zones, searching for quickly evaporating safe harbors. Yet the Banished are not displeased by this, for human military survivors make for good prey, like sheep wandering too far from their pens...



The human Outer Colonies are the other half of human space, battered by over a century of war, finally given a chance for revenge - to a degree which can startle even the most staunch Insurrectionist.
 
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JANUARY 12th, 2560
Earth Standard Time
Human Outer Colonies



@Moonlight501

The New Arcadia Initiative's search for deuterium would not be the only issue it would face. At the start of the day, a human freighter jumped into system, immediately beginning a flurry of hails and requests for secure comms. If not answered soon, the ship might start being heard by parties Arcadia wouldn't want visiting.

The envoy to Arcadia from Chalybs Defense Solutions, executive Alex Neumann, sent notice that their corporate freighter will arrive at Arcadia on January 28th, and would get to work immediately on building the vehicle factory.

In addition, Adam Andrews would receive a direct notification from one of his old friends, still working in the now nationalized assets of Optican. Divided up amongst the UEG's various offices, departments and commissions, Andrews had essentially written off his old assets, but it seemed enough of his favorite employees survived the reshuffling. Department Manager Gustavo De León, of the UEG Department of Agriculture, reaffirmed in a coded message that he would be able to pull off small favors for Andrews here and there, so long as Adam didn't do any more damage to his reputation.

He also said, again, well-coded, that he had been able to save one of Andrews' private bank accounts from the freezing and seizure operations. Fifteen million UEG credits would be sent, by courier, to Andrews. The ship was to arrive by February 1st, barring 'unexpected complications.'

An assignment would come in for Rear Admiral Fieldings, through slipspace comms, from Tribute. It was from Fleet Admiral Joseph Harper, someone who respected Fieldings, unlike other members of the high admiralty. It seemed he had convinced FLEETCOMM that, if Fieldings was able to prove his worth beyond just defense, they might as a whole approve of Fieldings' capital ship requisition order.

The target? A Banished deuterium mine, based on Levosia - one of the few Outer Colonies not glassed by the Covenant. It had belonged to the New Colonial Alliance after the war, and now that the NCA was part of the Banished, a significant portion of a jiralhanae legion had moved in, stationing a Karve and a bladder ship over the planet to facilitate the mining and extraction of several materials. ONI reports they have strong civilian approval, so any long-term infiltration operation could be difficult, leaving fewer options to tackle the issue.

While the UNSC admiralty would prefer Fieldings save the deuterium, so it could be sold to the Swords of Sanghelios, they'd prefer the Banished not have it over having it. Destruction of supply depots, or keeping the resources to build up Arcadia's defenses and infrastructure, is authorized. However, it's clear the admiralty might give over a smaller, older capital ship as a result for this.



@rissa

The streets of Concord were abuzz with life, despite the decent amount of snowfall. The buildings were frosted over, the streets only kept clear by the force of over a hundred people walking them. In the backdrop of tin grey, trace oxidized red and snow white, a dozen electric heat generators were placed out, creating a cozy orange hue around each home or shop.
They had left Drifts Like A Wave stay onboard the tug, and, after the last incident, Mina was forced to stay aboard as well. Ripping a man's arm near clean off in the middle of a public street over what was a deal starting to go sour was certainly a choice, and it was a choice she was paying for.

To act as their muscle, Leshe 'Kuntakai had been brought, though with the amount of looks and eyes the sangheili was bringing to their group, they were beginning to wish they had kept her home too.

Regardless, no one was seeking to fight a tall, broad alien today. In truth, Concord, or at least, Logovo, the small city on the edge of the traditionally inhabited zone they were in currently in, was so peaceful and open, that one could forget it was part of the United Rebel Front. Indeed, the quaint frozen world with a thin equatorial strip of habitation had proven itself more than hospitable, with very minimal landing tax, few abrasive laws, and a strong sense of community.
How much of that was URF culture, and how much of that was the sense of mutually surviving the Covenant in 2551, one could only guess. Maybe that was why Collins couldn't stop kicking himself for bringing the sangheili along.

Regardless, he needed the muscle along, and he and Song Singh wouldn't cut it alone, because as nice as Concord and Logovo had been, the URF was still a hotbed for crime. It was just typically directed elsewhere, like UEG space, Created space...or now, Banished space.

After their long walk down the central strip of city street, they eventually reached the city outskirts. People became sparser, and sparser, until all there was, was Collins' crew, the snow, and an old and abandoned Optican distribution center and colonial administration facility. Back throughout the 2400s, Concord was reliant on shipments of food and medical supplies, due to the snowy and cold climate. Of course, when Concord wanted self-sufficiency, Optican and other companies involved on the planet held out as long as they could, before Insurrectionist agents brought the colonists metric tons of gene-modified seeds for frigid weather-adapted crops.

This had bought Concord's allegiance during the Insurrection, but its people did not want conflict on their hands, and thus only lightly supported the URF and other cells. In a move somewhat strange for the rebels, they respected this decision, and after the war, were completely fine adopting the planet, especially as the UEG failed to reclaim a fair amount of their outer colony holdings, or lost them following Benjamin Giraud's explosive hearing with the UEG Senate.

When Collins went to open the main door, he found them open first. Two men in suits, large and battle-scarred, motioned the crew to step through, not flinching for Leshe either. "Please go up the stairs, and enter the main office. You'll know which one."
As soon as the crew was inside, the doors were shut. It seemed heating was active, allowing them to shed some snow gear, but the escalators and many of the lights weren't, requiring external lamps and clear stairs. The symbol of Optican, from the early 2500s, dotted the room in various places, most faded by time.

In the middle of the main room was a receptionist's desk, vacant, and two parallel sets of open stairs, leading to the same upper floor. Picking either, the crew traveled up, seeing a wide hallway of offices. Some were left ajar, some were shut, but the one straight ahead, with wide double doors and golden finished handles, looked like the right ones.

When Collins opened the door, letting his crew in, he saw their employer in the flesh for the first time. He was a thin man, five and a half feet tall, and dressed somewhat well, like a middling corporate executive. In truth, he might've pilfered the outfit from the building he had taken up residence in.
"Greetings," he said, accent betraying some hint of Australian in his voice. "Glad you could make it, friends. Given the new change in management, from too much to too little, every person I ask to come in has each been a coin flip. If you lot turned up tails, I don't know what I'd done - probably start hiring local.
"So that's my cards on the table. I like to be direct with my clients...Cordova, yeah? I've got something on Venezia that needs picking up. A package. Grab it, bring it here so my people can give it a lookover, and...well, do your jobs right, and I might give you the second job too. Part two of the whole shebang. I'm prepared to give you five hundred thousand UEG credits for it...or, a hundred thousand Talistan rubles. Whichever part of the fence you prefer sticking to. About even, if I remember right."



@Doctor Jax

Coming out of slipspace, it was no surprise the Fortitude's Mile was quite the mess. As noted, a fusion reactor was damaged, the sensor suite was near half-fried, and there was plenty of holes in the ship's network grid, but the real kicker was the disabled MAC gun. The fact that Hypatia's creative star-based chronometer recalibration was beginning to suggest they were nearly forty years into the future was just the icing on the cake.

After nearly a day of deliberation and location mapping, Hypatia could guess that the ship was firmly in the Outer Colonies, somewhere between four to five days travel from the colony world Arcadia, eight to nine days from the colony world Harvest, and five and a half months away from Reach or Earth. There was also Madrigal, two weeks away, but that was almost a worse idea than going to Arcadia or Harvest. The Insurrection was everywhere, but at least those had UNSC-controlled ports. As controlled as the Innies allowed, anyway.

There were, of course, plenty of other Outer Colony planets in the region, but as far as Hypatia or the rest of the crew knew, they didn't have the ports to service their destroyer.
 

Dazzle and Dash
NOTES+
Collins & crew in Logovo, Concord
Human Outer Colonies
January 12th 2560


Tags: @Apothecary Bruce
"You couldn't have worn anything less... visible?"

The young sangheili woman glanced down at her sunset colored tabard and its accompanying robe in confusion. "What do you mean to say? I am both intimidating and warm, was that not the goal of this endeavor?"

Collins shook his head and waved dismissively, "Don't worry about it, Leshe. Just... don't pay them any mind."

"I think you're the only one noticing them, bud," Song replied with a cheerfully fake smile, dark brown eyes darting between heat generators and the buildings they kept comfortable.

The pilot grunted and took point, lengthening his stride as they passed through the heart of the city and neared their destination. It was much too cold for Collins liking but he couldn't deny the nostalgia that gripped him. Walking on dirt, smelling the crisp tang of ozone and petrichor... It was almost enough for him to quit it all and build himself a shack somewhere in the woods, with a creek and some summer honeysuckle out back. Almost. He stole two glances behind him, to the two at his back and the two back on the ship.

The nostalgia was nice, but the freedom in their tiny home amongst the stars was too alluring to give up.

"Calm down." Leshe 'Kuntakai whispered sternly as they neared the outskirts of town. "Slow your breathing and focus on what we discussed earlier. Remember: anything too good to be true will be and even though we are desperate, try not to appear that way."

"Right," Collins replied, staring up at the building ahead of them and then further up to catch a flurry of snow in his mittened palm. "Anything else before we approach?"

"Yes," Leshe said sharply, "You should have let me stay aboard so I could talk you through this."

"Not possible with Mina out of commission right now," Song said with a grunt, eyeing the entrance of the Optican distribution center.

"Well then," Collins muttered, flinging away his nerves and striding forward. "Let's get and go."

He wasn't sure what to make of the men who ushered them in; scarred, large, and wearing too fine of suits. The juxtaposition put him on edge. Still, Collins thanked them for their courtesy. To prevent additional undue messes to the building, Collins and Song shed their winter coats. Leshe simply shook off the fine dusting of snow that accumulated atop her during their travels. He thanked the men in suits once more and escorted his crew upstairs, each set of eyes scanning and interpreting different things. He'd get their take once they were back on the ship.

For now... Collins winced as he gripped the golden handles. Despite the heating generators, the hardware was like ice against the exposed flesh in his gloves. There were just too many holes. Just like the galaxy's new regime.

What awaited him inside was a bit of a surprise, however. Every member of his crew was taller than his employer, even Song, who he couldn't feed enough the past few months and yet kept inching higher. Not that height was always an indicator of power; this man couldn't have been that high up the executive ladder, so to have survived this long meant other things. Things Collins absolutely did not want to know about.

Collins nodded at his surname but let the man finish before finally speaking. "I appreciate directness, sir."

"My crew and I specialize in two things: the retrieval of goods and the privacy of our employers. Other than the coordinates to the package, I only have the one question, sir: Is that payment for both jobs or just the one?"

The pleasant, curious smile on his face wasn't cocky so much as assured his team could handle whatever Venezia threw at them. Having an addle-brained Spartan helped on that front, provided they weren't killed during her rampage. Currently unlikely, but still.

"Regardless, an even split between credits and rubles would suffice."
 
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The New Arcadia Initiative's search for deuterium would not be the only issue it would face. At the start of the day, a human freighter jumped into system, immediately beginning a flurry of hails and requests for secure comms. If not answered soon, the ship might start being heard by parties Arcadia wouldn't want visiting.
Optican's very own Stalwart frigate would be the first vessel to respond. Upgraded with an after-market slipspace drive, the Unhealth Care moved at FTL speeds comparable to Covenant vessels. It appeared close to the freighter, hailing the ship immediately. If the ship continued its screeching, it would start drowning the vessel's comms and sensors in radiation to silence it. It wouldn't penetrate the hull, but would certainly overload their sensitive electronics.

In addition, Adam Andrews would receive a direct notification from one of his old friends, still working in the now nationalized assets of Optican. Divided up amongst the UEG's various offices, departments and commissions, Andrews had essentially written off his old assets, but it seemed enough of his favorite employees survived the reshuffling. Department Manager Gustavo De León, of the UEG Department of Agriculture, reaffirmed in a coded message that he would be able to pull off small favors for Andrews here and there, so long as Adam didn't do any more damage to his reputation.

He also said, again, well-coded, that he had been able to save one of Andrews' private bank accounts from the freezing and seizure operations. Fifteen million UEG credits would be sent, by courier, to Andrews. The ship was to arrive by February 1st, barring 'unexpected complications.'
It was good to know Gustavo was still on Adam's side. There wasn't need for favors right now, especially when eyes would still be on him. Instead, Adam would request that his friend use the money to get as many of the research staff as were willing out of the Inner Colonies and to Arcadia. There was a particular Marine contingent, operating independently, that would be quite helpful in the endeavor; the crew of the Last Light of Arcadia. If Gustavo could contact them, they'd be vital security to his scientists, and to Arcadia itself once they arrived.


An assignment would come in for Rear Admiral Fieldings, through slipspace comms, from Tribute. It was from Fleet Admiral Joseph Harper, someone who respected Fieldings, unlike other members of the high admiralty. It seemed he had convinced FLEETCOMM that, if Fieldings was able to prove his worth beyond just defense, they might as a whole approve of Fieldings' capital ship requisition order.

The target? A Banished deuterium mine, based on Levosia - one of the few Outer Colonies not glassed by the Covenant. It had belonged to the New Colonial Alliance after the war, and now that the NCA was part of the Banished, a significant portion of a jiralhanae legion had moved in, stationing a Karve and a bladder ship over the planet to facilitate the mining and extraction of several materials. ONI reports they have strong civilian approval, so any long-term infiltration operation could be difficult, leaving fewer options to tackle the issue.

While the UNSC admiralty would prefer Fieldings save the deuterium, so it could be sold to the Swords of Sanghelios, they'd prefer the Banished not have it over having it. Destruction of supply depots, or keeping the resources to build up Arcadia's defenses and infrastructure, is authorized. However, it's clear the admiralty might give over a smaller, older capital ship as a result for this.

---+++---
For the eyes of Fleet Admiral Harper

Operation: RIGHT HOOK
Objectives:
-eliminate Banished Karve over Levosia
-reposses Banished "bladder ship" over Levosia
-eliminate Banished supply depots on Levosia
-rescue UNSC-loyal colonists
Forces committed:
UEGKY Legitimate Salvage, Gath III-pattern Privateer
UNSC Twin Engine, Halberd-class Destroyer
UNSC Pale Rider, Paris-class Frigate
UNSC Shining Armor, Charon-class Frigate
UNSC Ablative Armor, Charon-class Frigate
SoS Retribution of Uratom, Zanar-pattern Light Cruiser
UEG Skydancer, Banta-class transport
200 Marines(reserve)
100 Elite Warriors
50 Kig Yar Rangers

Plan of Attack:
Arcadia Battlegroup Bravo(Twin Engine, Pale Rider, Shining Armor, Ablative Armor.) deploys in system. Pale Rider and Twin Engine engage Banished Karve directly. Shining Armor and Ablative Armor separate, flanking Banished Karve. Retribution of Uratom executes precision slipspace jump onto Banished Karve after initial fleet engagement. Legitimiate Salvage deploys concurrently, attacking Banished bladder ship to disable defenses. When Karve is eliminated, Retribution of Uratom will jump to assist Legitimate Salvage, then both will deploy Rangers and Sangheili to commandeer vessel. Twin Engine and Pale Rider will eliminate Banished supply depots and military installations with orbital MAC fire. As Banished targets are eliminated, an all-channels broadcast will be targeted at the planet. A call for loyal citizens of the UNSC to take up arms and make their presence/location known to Meridian Battlegroup Bravo(Fleet will present themselves as Meridian in origin, to obfuscate true origins). With the time available before Banished forces could arrive to reinforce the colony(using pessimistic calculations), Skydancer will make landfall to load loyalists. Covering this landing will be ortillery from Battlgroup Bravo, and groundside deployment of Marine contingent. When time is out, or all loyalists have been rescued, Battlegroup Bravo will retreat to Arcadia following the Cole Protocol. All rescued parties will be screened, and access to any form of superluminal communication will be blocked. (Shouldn't be an issue, Only Halberds, CRS Cruisers, and Governor's Office have Superluminal communication devices.)
 
@CT2222

With the heralding of a hundred slipspace ruptures, Inquisitor Xyza 'Vusamai's great nomadic fleet poured out into realspace. At the center of the formation, was the scarred and majestic dreadnaught, the Bane of Apostates. Where its armor and hull was intact, appeared like great vistas of smooth purple, ruptured by canyons of silver and blistered indigo.

Thousands of fightercraft would begin to circle the fleet, dancing about by the squadron as they began their typical defensive patrols. After about an hour, the UNSC starships arrived, radioing in their status - all green, or as green as the current situation allowed.

A report came to Xyza's command throne, personally handed to him on a data-pad by one of his masters of coin. Several issues plagued the fleet, all of which on pressing clocks.
For one, the deuterium stores across the fleet were very, very low. Soon, they'd be unable to make slipspace jumps, or use any of their energy weapons. Deuterium storage would hit critical levels in roughly a month. Performing emergency energy rationing could stretch that to three, but that would mean energy weapons would have to be used sparingly, slipspace and realspace drives could only be put to half-power, and shields could only be raised in times of serious crisis.

Luckily, the Inquisitor's star-charter teams had already picked out a handful of nearby planets with noted deuterium stores - Asphodel, BXR-809, and Levosia. Additionally, on the border of the Western Covenant Sphere, was Pegasi Delta, the Covenant deuterium-harvesting planet which came under attack in 2545. Facilities had been rebuilt, but the Great Schism had left the planet in the hands of the jiralhanae, and now, in the hands of the Banished. The state of the three human colonies was unknown, however.

It would take reaching each human colony roughly a week and a half from their current uninhabited system, and three weeks to reach Pegasi Delta, under normal circumstances. It would take the human ships, on their own, the same length in months, unless allowed to follow in a Covenant ship's slipspace corridor - seeing how they had been rear guard garrison ships, not modern offensive assault ships.

In addition to the looming deuterium shortage, was the methane shortage. In the last slipspace jump, a piece of the Bane suffered a critical malfunction, jettisoning a large portion of the unngoy's stored methane into the alternate dimension. The supercarrier was likely to continue to suffer similar malfunctions, as long as it remained in its state of disrepair.

The fleet had some methane harvesters, and there was a gas giant suitable to be harvested from in the system, but it would take four weeks to replenish stocks on their own. Given this was not ex-Covenant space, Xyza's crew had no idea where to begin looking to buy unngoy-processed methane, besides perhaps Venezia. That colony, however, was infamous now for its trading with the Banished.

Regardless, the decisions came down to Xyza.
 
In the infinite reach of space, silence ruled, the vacuum sacrosanct. And then, in a split second, that sovereignty was split by the blue jagged edge of Cherenkov radiation and the emergence of an UNSC heavy destroyer. Aboard the bridge, there was a weighty pause as the years seemed to hang over the crew, aware that they had entered what would likely be an entirely new world, with entirely novel challenges. Those they had known back home were likely elderly or dead, their children grown. But the mourning had already been done in the four months spent in slipspace, even after Maynard Ford and his merry band of crewman shaved off several decades on their original jump by replacing the drive coils of the engine with pieces off their MAC.

Now, however, they were at a dilemma. Commander Fujiwara felt like a diver at the edge of a pool, unable to see the bottom. They were about to have to take the plunge, with no clue what they'd find.

"Any nearby ships, Hypatia?"

"No, Commander, not a single soul nearby. Everything's quiet."

"You don't find that odd?" Lieutenant Commander Bascom asked her, his expression uncharacteristically dour. The boyish first officer had seemed to age significantly in his time in slipspace, his new frown making him appear a decade older.

"I certainly do," Commander Fujiwara muttered low, eyes on the control panels aboard the bridge for any signs of other life. "There's only a few reasons we may not hear chatter out here. I don't like any of them."

"We could open a UNSC hailing frequency, see if anybody pings back?"

Fujiwara blinked, before slowly raising an eyebrow at Bascom. Finally, the Lieutenant Commander cracked a smile, laughing a little.

"Dumb idea?"

"A cat hates to have a bell on it. Scares the prey, alerts the predator," Fujiwara stated. "First order of business is repairs. We need the MAC working again. We need fusion reactor four operational. And we have wounded who need more medical attention than what the Medical Bay can provide. We stay quiet for now, roll towards Arcadia. Hypatia, how long will it take us to get there?"

"Oh, inside of four days, easy. We haven't even hit half our deuterium stores, which -- you're welcome, by the way?"

Fujiwara closed her eyes, restraining the urge to rub the bridge of her straight, thin nose, lips pressed tight.

"Lieutenant Commander, I want every marine we have ready for possible engagement once we are twenty-four hours inbound. We won't know what we'll find when we get there. I want Medical on standby in that same window," Fujiwara stated. She gestured to Hypatia to begin charting their course, handing orders quietly to ensigns to prepare their stations for possible conflict, as well as quick radio communication.

Four days seemed to pass at a blink. The view screen was soon showing a planet, but there was something strange about what Fujiwara knew Arcadia was supposed to look like. Her brow furrowed deeply, a rare expression of deep concern.

"Captain, we have several UNSC ships that are in parking orbit around Arcadia, but you're going to want to see this," an ensign said, gesturing for the Commander to walk to the radar. "There are also several other ships of makes I... I don't even know how to make heads or tails of. I've never seen anything like that, sir."

Are you predator? Or prey?

"Hypatia, open an encrypted line to Arcadia's port authority... wherever that might be."

"And saaaay....?"

" 'This is Commander Fujiwara of the Fortitude's Mile. We have exited an unorthodox slipspace jump that has displaced us several decades. Please advise current situation.' And Hypatia? Have our capacitors charge for possible slipspace retreat. And this time, do it normally."

@Moonlight501
 
Frontings pinched the bridge of her nose. First, a random transport that was ignoring hails, then a mission that had Fieldings bouncing around like a dog on a walk, followed up with Adam ignoring his phone while entertaining the closest thing to a noble. Now a fucking relic from before the Covenant was bleeding radiation all over Arcadia's moon.
"I'm still amid preparations for RIGHT HOOK, but I can send the Double Tap over to guide them to the dockyards," Fieldings spoke from the phone on Frontings' desk.
"Give the order, Captain Markus is probably the best choice for their first sit-down conversation."
Fieldings laughed, "I could send Cortam to meet 'em. Bet they'd call him a Split-jaw in the first thirty seconds."
Frontings chuckled despite herself, "Humans! Welcome to Arcadia. I am Shipmaster Cortam, a Sangheili. A couple years ago I was glassing your worlds and killing your families, but now we're friends! Wort wort wort."
"That was good, but the traditional greeting is Wozkizdawsgibidoo."
"You've been playing chess with him too much."
Fieldings' tone turned more serious, "It's not every day that a hinge head looks up to a human. We have to take advantage of that."
Frontings frowned to herself, "Yeah, I know. Send out the Double Tap, I'll give them a heads-up."

---+++---

Despite being only light-seconds away from the colony world, it was several minutes before Fujiwara's crew got their response. It seemed that, despite how blindingly visible their approach was, Arcadia didn't see them coming. On top of that, the debris field in orbit was massive, and the planet's surface was reflecting their sensors back at them as if it were glass. Whatever had happened to the galaxy in the decades that Fortitude's Mile was MIA, it wasn't good.

"Fortitude's Mile, this is Governor Amanda Frontings of the New Arcadia Initiative. I know you're scared, and confused, but everything will be explained in time. A frigate is currently on approach to you now, IFF Double Tap. They're going to guide you in to port, and Captain Markus will explain things when you get there. If you have critically wounded, shout out to the Double Tap now, they've got craft aboard that can get them to treatment faster. Governor Frontings, out."

Moments after the message was received, one of the UNSC vessels began moving towards them. It was fast, faster than any ship that size had been in their day. It was then that Commander Fujiwara would notice a transport's distress signal, and another frigate beside it. Along with that, it seemed that the defense fleet here was mobilizing, as 4 UNSC vessels and 2 of the Unidentifieds were huddled around the space elevator, with a lot of radio chatter between them.
 
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Optican's very own Stalwart frigate would be the first vessel to respond. Upgraded with an after-market slipspace drive, the Unhealth Care moved at FTL speeds comparable to Covenant vessels. It appeared close to the freighter, hailing the ship immediately. If the ship continued its screeching, it would start drowning the vessel's comms and sensors in radiation to silence it. It wouldn't penetrate the hull, but would certainly overload their sensitive electronics.

The freighter stopped its comm-wailing. "Greetings, uhh, Unhealth...Care...this is UEG commercial ship Mikey's Handshake. I'm Captain Rodrick Dunns, and well...my ship is packed full of refugees, from Esperanza? Place went Innie last month, and we've been on the run since. You're, uhh, not with the Innies, right?"

It was good to know Gustavo was still on Adam's side. There wasn't need for favors right now, especially when eyes would still be on him. Instead, Adam would request that his friend use the money to get as many of the research staff as were willing out of the Inner Colonies and to Arcadia. There was a particular Marine contingent, operating independently, that would be quite helpful in the endeavor; the crew of the Last Light of Arcadia. If Gustavo could contact them, they'd be vital security to his scientists, and to Arcadia itself once they arrived.

Gustavo didn't reply for the rest of the day. The message suggested the courier ship had already taken off, unfortunately.

---+++---
For the eyes of Fleet Admiral Harper

Operation: RIGHT HOOK
Objectives:
-eliminate Banished Karve over Levosia
-reposses Banished "bladder ship" over Levosia
-eliminate Banished supply depots on Levosia
-rescue UNSC-loyal colonists
Forces committed:
UEGKY Legitimate Salvage, Gath III-pattern Privateer
UNSC Twin Engine, Halberd-class Destroyer
UNSC Pale Rider, Paris-class Frigate
UNSC Shining Armor, Charon-class Frigate
UNSC Ablative Armor, Charon-class Frigate
SoS Retribution of Uratom, Zanar-pattern Light Cruiser
UEG Skydancer, Banta-class transport
200 Marines(reserve)
100 Elite Warriors
50 Kig Yar Rangers

Plan of Attack:
Arcadia Battlegroup Bravo(Twin Engine, Pale Rider, Shining Armor, Ablative Armor.) deploys in system. Pale Rider and Twin Engine engage Banished Karve directly. Shining Armor and Ablative Armor separate, flanking Banished Karve. Retribution of Uratom executes precision slipspace jump onto Banished Karve after initial fleet engagement. Legitimiate Salvage deploys concurrently, attacking Banished bladder ship to disable defenses. When Karve is eliminated, Retribution of Uratom will jump to assist Legitimate Salvage, then both will deploy Rangers and Sangheili to commandeer vessel. Twin Engine and Pale Rider will eliminate Banished supply depots and military installations with orbital MAC fire. As Banished targets are eliminated, an all-channels broadcast will be targeted at the planet. A call for loyal citizens of the UNSC to take up arms and make their presence/location known to Meridian Battlegroup Bravo(Fleet will present themselves as Meridian in origin, to obfuscate true origins). With the time available before Banished forces could arrive to reinforce the colony(using pessimistic calculations), Skydancer will make landfall to load loyalists. Covering this landing will be ortillery from Battlgroup Bravo, and groundside deployment of Marine contingent. When time is out, or all loyalists have been rescued, Battlegroup Bravo will retreat to Arcadia following the Cole Protocol. All rescued parties will be screened, and access to any form of superluminal communication will be blocked. (Shouldn't be an issue, Only Halberds, CRS Cruisers, and Governor's Office have Superluminal communication devices.)

Harper sent back his approval on the plan, but he did stress the fact they would give him a smaller capital ship if he failed to retrieve and send back the deuterium to Tribute. Regardless, Fieldings was free to execute the plan as stated. It would take a week and a half, roughly, to reach Levosia from Arcadia, at least for the UNSC ships. The CRS-pattern could go faster, of course, but such a weak and staggered approach could end the mission before it began.
 
@Moonlight501

The UNSC Last Light Of Arcadia was currently situated over the planet Archer IV, the primary foodstuff supplier for the nascent New Arcadia Initiative, the UNSC's strange sort of feudal realm in the Outer Colonies. The ship had only just arrived, and had been met by the planet's three defenders, a Strident-class heavy frigate, flanked by two Lancer-class fast-attack corvettes. Of course, ID credits were exchanged, and though the Last Light's were a little outdated, given Earth was under Created occupation, the UNSC wasn't exactly keeping the ident-tag change logs up to date either.

"Look, Last Light, I just need you to allow a squad of my marines to board and search your vessel. We won't ask you to identify every nook and cranny, we just need to verify you are who you say you are. Galaxy isn't a safe one, these days," explained Captain Fred Xim, who was stationed aboard his frigate, the Downstream Favor. Though it was usually commanders in charge of frigates, the extra responsibility of commanding a task group permitted him the rank-up by official UNSC emergency promotion codes.
 
The freighter stopped its comm-wailing. "Greetings, uhh, Unhealth...Care...this is UEG commercial ship Mikey's Handshake. I'm Captain Rodrick Dunns, and well...my ship is packed full of refugees, from Esperanza? Place went Innie last month, and we've been on the run since. You're, uhh, not with the Innies, right?"
"Hail, Captain Dunns! I am Captain Lupè Devries of the Optican Corporation. I assure you I am no insurrectionist. We've got Tribute-appointed oversight and a bright future. Now I must warn you, we will need to send over a security detail to board your ship and check things out. It is a dangerous world out there, and everyone needs to be cautious. Please, cooperate with the security detail, and we'll guide you into port."

Harper sent back his approval on the plan, but he did stress the fact they would give him a smaller capital ship if he failed to retrieve and send back the deuterium to Tribute. Regardless, Fieldings was free to execute the plan as stated. It would take a week and a half, roughly, to reach Levosia from Arcadia, at least for the UNSC ships. The CRS-pattern could go faster, of course, but such a weak and staggered approach could end the mission before it began.
Fieldings understood the importance of securing that Deuterium. However, the Banished were a clever foe, and there was no way to be sure they didn't have reinforcements to call in. Fieldings planned for a worst-case scenario, and would adjust his plans if he found himself with more time. Regardless, he would ensure that the Banished lost their supply. The battlegroup needed one more day of preparation before launch. The Retribution of Uratom was receiving accelerated repairs, and the colony's deuterium stores were being dipped into to apply some makeshift maneuvering boosters to the Twin Engine and Pale Rider. Once they launched, however, they'd execute the initial engagement of the plan as written.
 
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@Moonlight501

The UNSC Last Light Of Arcadia was currently situated over the planet Archer IV, the primary foodstuff supplier for the nascent New Arcadia Initiative, the UNSC's strange sort of feudal realm in the Outer Colonies. The ship had only just arrived, and had been met by the planet's three defenders, a Strident-class heavy frigate, flanked by two Lancer-class fast-attack corvettes. Of course, ID credits were exchanged, and though the Last Light's were a little outdated, given Earth was under Created occupation, the UNSC wasn't exactly keeping the ident-tag change logs up to date either.

"Look, Last Light, I just need you to allow a squad of my marines to board and search your vessel. We won't ask you to identify every nook and cranny, we just need to verify you are who you say you are. Galaxy isn't a safe one, these days," explained Captain Fred Xim, who was stationed aboard his frigate, the Downstream Favor. Though it was usually commanders in charge of frigates, the extra responsibility of commanding a task group permitted him the rank-up by official UNSC emergency promotion codes.
Captain Hills leaned back in his chair, stretching old limbs. Zackaria was next to him, checking the crate of plasma pistols they'd acquired on their last trip to Insurrectionist territory. The lieutenant was a good kid, clever and fast, but he got anxious easy. Hills put a hand to the young officer's shoulder, "Don't worry lad, these guys are friendly."

Keying the comm, Hills spoke, "Aye, Captain Xim. Your men are welcome aboard. You are not, however, allowed to seize any weapons or vehicles you find. Our resources are currently committed to Operation: Wayward Son." Not waiting for a reply, he switched to the internal PA system, "Attention lads, we've got friendly security detail inbound to search and assess our vessel. Don' give 'em a hard time, but do not let them take anything. If they act suspicious, report to myself or Leftenant Zackaria. Hills out."
 
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Misery and Optimism in Equal Measures
NOTES+
Collab with @Moonlight501

Arcadia
Human Outer Colonies
January 12th 2560


Tags: @Apothecary Bruce
The sun was high in the sky as Adam stepped out to his office's landing pad. The view was beautiful, but haunting. Where once the sun had reflected off the sea, it now reflected off of endless glass fields. Where once the horizon was broken by skyscrapers and towers, his 12 story office tower stood as a lone obelisk amidst the squat factories, businesses, and homes that made up Arcadia's new capital.

His musings were interrupted by the humble whir of a Nightengale's rotors. The aircraft landed softly, and a quartet of armed guards exited the cabin. Behind them emerged the day's guest of honor: Hedi Misriah.

After losing most of his company, it had felt like the universe was apologising. His deal with Chalybs, an early break through with Roundkick, and now a deal with Misriah.

The heiress had been surprisingly eager to meet and discuss business opportunities with Adam. She was young, and seemingly naive. As long as that held true, he'd be securing an amazing deal for Arcadia's future. Even if she was more shrewd than she appeared, he was still confident he could get a favorable deal here.

He stepped forward, extending a hand to shake with the heiress, "Good afternoon Miss Misriah, welcome to Arcadia."

"It is a pleasure," Hedi replied with a delicate smile, adjusting her transition glasses before reaching out to shake hands. She waved somewhat dismissively at her guard, ordering most to stand down. Call it naivety or perhaps arrogance, but the heiress didn't seem to want much company. Only two remained at her heels when they retreated inside, guns holstered and hands folded behind their backs.

"Arcadia's rehabilitation efforts are coming along nicely. It's inspiring to see such development."

"Indeed it is. Governor Frontings runs a tight ship," Adam led the party through his building. Nearest the landing pad were a series of labs. A few were nothing more than steel doors with numerical designations, but a couple further down the hall featured windows inside. At midday, the labs were staffed with researchers, though the exact projects they were working on wasn't clear.

"I hope you'll forgive me, but were keeping the elevator offline outside of emergencies. Saving power for more vital services. Oh, hospital on the first floor, by the way."

Adam continued leading the party, going up a flight of stairs. Painted on the wall was the number 9, "Just a little further until the conference hall. Do you have any questions so far?"

"But of course," the heiress replied, her legs more than sufficient to get her up several flights of stairs. If anything, she seemed satisfied with the impromptu 'tour' of the facilities. The heiress did take her time answering, however, the staccato rhythm of her heels the only sound she made until they were halfway up the flight of stairs. "Plenty, though I suppose I'll start with a simple one: Is there an estimated timeline until Arcadia is de-glassed? I admit I'm ignorant of the process."

"Deglassing a world is a long process. Truly restoring a planet is a task that will take over a hundred years. Arcadia is lucky, the Covenant only glassed her cities to preserve the abundant Forerunner relics here. Still, we're not expecting deglassing to be complete for at least forty years. We hope to make the world itself sustainable within twenty, however," Adam opened the door to a conference room. The space was modest, with an artistic glass table surrounded by five chairs. There was a pot of hot coffee and a few snack cakes in the center of the table.

"Of course, brigands like the Banished would love to put an end to such efforts, and that's where you come in. It's my belief that the best way to secure Arcadia is to put a gun in the hands of every colonist here. Though their armor may be strong and their hides thick, no Brute is immune to bullets."

The surprise was palpable on Hedi's face and as she made her way into the small, modest office, she made no subtle move to hide the expression. The young woman helped herself to a chair in the middle of the table and to a hot cup of coffee— a murmured thank you escaped her lips as she attached the lid with a tiny click.

"Quite longer than expected," the heiress muttered, taking a sip. "But hopeful nonetheless, I suppose. The process is at least possible." There was a lull as she considered asking if it was due to a technological disadvantage or simply the way of things, but that wasn't what she was here for. Hedi Misriah cleared her throat after another sip, placed her cup aside, and folded her hands in front of her.

"Allow me to be blunt, sir; our beliefs are quite similar and until humanity's survival is ensured, I'd like Misriah Armory to facilitate that course of action. With the safety my guns and ammunition can provide Arcadia, she can become a beacon of strength here in the Outer Colonies— an exemplar of what humanity can strive to achieve after being brought to it's knees."

She took a quick breath, "It's time for humanity to stop fighting evolution. We needn't be as... foul as the Brutes, but I'm more than happy supplying and designing weapons that are."

Adam smiled, a light in his eyes, "I am glad we feel the same way. I've a few questions for you, before we get to the brass tacks of the matter. What can you provide, miss Misriah? We in Arcadia are very interested in establishing a Misriah Armory facility on location. With Nestmother Gath's salvage operations, and the materials produced by our deglassing efforts, we'd be able to supply the materials such a facility would need, cutting costs on both your end and ours. Lower costs means more profit per unit on your end, and the ability for us to purchase more. In addition, our position in the galaxy presents quite the opportunity for weapons testing, and our Superluminal Communications array allows you and any representatives you'd bring to keep in contact with HQ, virtually erasing the costs of communication via courier."

Adam was clearly eager to go on, but restrained himself, "Forgive me, I just get excited at opportunities like these. Is a facility on Arcadia something that might interest you?"

Hedi matched his excitement, scooting the chair closer ever so slightly. "No forgiveness necessary, sir, I too find myself elated at the possibilities." She pulled a data pad from her pocket and took a moment to pull something up.

"In truth, I know less about what men and women need on the ground than I do of the guns themselves. I hope my time here on Arcadia will change that." She smiled, quite graciously, and answered Adam's final question. "A facility on Arcadia is ultimately why I have come, sir. I wish to provide Arcadia— and by extension the Outer Colonies —access to state-of-the-art military grade weapons."

She placed the data pad on the glass table and slid it over for him to peruse, "I have eight hundred of each aboard my vessels docked in space. Choose what could be useful immediately and they'll be dropped before dark. I would wish to feel safe tonight, if this meeting ends well."

Adam considered the pad carefully. After a minute of consideration, he spoke, "We'll start with the MA40s and the M45s. Other than that... what will it cost me to get these two Onagers?"

"Two dangerously simple requests," Hedi replied without missing a beat, "And they're all yours, delivered this evening with the rest. I'd like recommendations for a house of respite for my men and secondly," She stood and gathered her belongings, not wanting to monopolize the entirety of his morning.

"I'd like to have another audience with you and the Nestmother in a few days. If you don't think she'd entertain the idea," Hedi shrugged and waved a hand, "Know I won't be offended, I just like to meet those I work with face to face. Her salvage operation will be tantamount to Misriah's facility in the long term... I would wish us to have an amicable relationship."

Adam held out a hand to shake, "I assure you, Gath wanted to be present for this meeting. Unfortunately, the old bird has been kept busy at the primary salvage operation. If you'd like, we can all head out there sometime in the next two days."

"That would be quite lovely, thank you, Mr. Andrews." Hedi admitted as she turned to take her leave. "I'll see you two then."

Hedi left the way she came, down the stairs and across the long hallway filled with mostly-empty labs, one of her men in front and one behind. The meeting had went smoothly and she found herself excited for the next one. In the meantime... Hedi boarded the Nightengale, eyes peeled for prime real estate. If she had to pay extra for the best lot, she would.
 
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The silence was deafening. With bated breath, Fujiwara and company waited for an answer. Finally, a communications ensign excitedly raised a hand, saying, "We have a return hail. Should I open a frequency?"

"Hypatia, ensure our communications are encrypted first. Set it on a delay, so if needed we can cut if they're sending a malicious software package alongside the commlink. I don't think we can be too careful. Ensign Ro, patch them through on Hypatia's signal," Fujiwara stated.

"Quarantine measure instituted, we're ready to roll."

"Fortitude's Mile, this is Governor Amanda Frontings of the New Arcadia Initiative. I know you're scared, and confused, but everything will be explained in time. A frigate is currently on approach to you now, IFF Double Tap. They're going to guide you in to port, and Captain Markus will explain things when you get there. If you have critically wounded, shout out to the Double Tap now, they've got craft aboard that can get them to treatment faster. Governor Frontings, out."

"New Arcadia Initiative?" Lt. Cmdr. Bascom mumbled under his breath, looking to Fujiwara. His eyebrows lifted. "That's certainly a change. I thought they were under UEG management?"

"It's been forty years. Regimes change quickly out here in the Outer Colonies anyways. Hard to say if they ever were to start," Fujiwara stated. "Medical has already told me they have ten critically wounded still stable, so we shall get them aboard the frigate. Lt. Cmdr., inform them to be ready to move within the next fifteen minutes to the airlock."

She passed by the sensor suite consoles, glancing over the readings as the frigate began to hone in. Lightly etched frown lines grew a hair deeper as she watched the Double Tap approach. Faster than their ship, and much faster than the frigates she was used to seeing, plus a complement of armaments dense enough to make anybody bristle at first blush. She glanced at the other ships in range, finding the same -- with so many guns, they must have had to sacrifice space somewhere.

A measure of necessity, not of desire.

"It's strange, Cmdr.," a young lieutenant junior grade said as she passed by, looking up to her from her seat. "The albedo is off the charts on Arcadia, and it doesn't match the planetary profile we have in the databank. It's like it's been covered in ice."

"Hard to believe it's ice, there's no drop in ambient average temperature. Quite the opposite," Fujiwara stated, eyes cutting to the dots representing the unknown ships still in Arcadia's parking orbit.

What in the hell happened here? And what were those ships? From what sensor readings they could gather, from the view screen of the planet below them, Arcadia was a red, black, and blue orb, like angry burns patchworked across its surface. Fujiwara knew she needed to be patient, wait for a briefing from the UNSC ship - or what was close enough to one.

But that wait would be difficult, sitting with no MAC, wounded soldiers, and a dead fusion reactor engine.

"Hypatia, have Pruitt accompany me to the briefing. Bascom, please remain with the other officers aboard," Fujiwara stated, and Bascom nearly did a double-take.

"Sir?"

"In my absence, I'd like your foot to be on the proverbial gas pedal," Fujiwara stated, staring at the approaching Double Tap. "Engineering should be on stand-by with the capacitors charging, ready to jump as soon as you're out of the planet's well. Hope for the best, prepare for the worst."

"Understood, sir."

@rissa @Moonlight501
 
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The Fall of Rak

Rojka 'Kasaan breathed deep, and smelt the burning of his keep.

Though he no longer led Rak as its kaidon, he had founded the city, brought survivors from Glyke to this place as refuge, as a new home. Despite the foolishness of his attempted usurper, Thars 'Sarov, the keep managed to survive. Despite the malice of Thars' ally and betrayer, and the monsters he unleashed, Rak survived.

Yet now, as lasers and plama bolts danced in the sky, 'Kasaan wondered if this was going to be the battle Rak would not withstand.
In his hands, was a sangheili storm rifle. Behind him, a half-dozen of his brothers, armed with pistols and energy swords.

The former fleetmaster looked ahead, scanning the darkened, open streets. The fighting was not constrained to the battlements, or the central keep.
No, enemy soldiers had taken their war to the homesteads of innocents, intent on rounding up Rak's citizens, likely to stay the keep's defenders lest the jiralhanae kill them - or the aptly named brutes would kill them anyway, before mopping up what remained of the keep and moving on.

Regardless of the possibilities, 'Kasaan's objectives were clear. Before he and his sangheili could move, the former kaidon stopped them. They could all hear the distinct whirring of Chopper blades, grinding up the nano-paved streets, still chewing on freshly destroyed Ghosts.

The sangheili readied plasma grenades, and got ready to throw. 'Kasaan let out a silent growl, and the grenades were slung - each sticking onto the side of a chopper.

With the clap of thunder, the entire Chopper pack - all six - burst apart, molten metal showering back down. From the wreckage arose two wounded brutes, not yet dead. Their recovery was slow, cumbersome, and it would prove to be their undoings as 'Kasaan's elites surged forward, cutting them down with a single swipe each.

Satisfied, 'Kasaan walked past the smoldering wrecks, before breaking into a full sprint. His soldiers did as he did, following him across the keep's streets, leading towards the largest fire, on the edge of the city limits. Given the swarm of drop-craft in the area, 'Kasaan was confident that was the source of incursion into the keep's civilian districts.

The closer they got to their target, the more resistance intensified. First, they had come upon a squad of unngoy, led by a single jiralhanae warrior. By the time 'Kasaan had cut down their leader with a well-placed burst of plasma rounds, his warriors had charged down the grunts, freezing them with fear before hacking them apart with their blades, creating magnificent explosions of methane as the gas was suddenly and violently released.

Next, there was a column of Wraith artillery vehicles, painted red and fashioned with jiralhanae-style armoring. These war machines were too heavy for 'Kasaan and his warriors to dispatch, at least without dying in the process, and so the former kaidon stayed his lance's hand.

After the armored advance had passed, 'Kasaan and his warriors continued moving up, clambering and scaling the rooftops of several dens, before finally discovering the three-dozen children, females and elderly males, chained up by energy restraints. Some twenty jiralhanae patroled around the ad-hoc prison camp, joined by eighty assorted kig-yar and unngoy. Even if they were not armed with as many heavy weapons as they were, 'Kasaan would've not favored their odds.

In the center of the formation was a large brute, plated reflective gold, matte red and dark silver. In his hand was a fiery gravity hammer, the ends of which nearly boiling with excess energy. 'Kasaan knew their best move would be to kill this clear leader, and hope Rak's defenders could handle the rest in this sector of the keep.

Unfortunately for 'Kasaan, he would not get the chance. They were shoved out of hiding, toppling off their vantage point, before slamming into the dirt below. This was the very edge of the keep, where unpaved roads and huts made of cloth and other traditional materials dominated the landscape. It would be a battle in the mud, 'Kasaan knew. Death was coming for him, in its most natural state.

The former kaidon glanced back, wishing to see who had snuck past their watchful sangheili senses - and saw sangheili themselves, wrapped in the hiding fields of active camouflage. Traitors, 'Kasaan cursed, Traitors to their own kind.

He wouldn't be given time for any deeper thought, as the packs of brutal aliens began to close in, growling in anger, hunger, or excitement. Yet one growled loudest of all, and the envoy-warrior knew exactly who it was before he even looked.
It was the jiralhanae leader, slowly stomping forwards, mud rippling, a toothy and happy snarl stretching his alien face apart with a menacing glee.

His eyes flared as his gravity hammer did, energy intensifying, rippling out with electric crackling. "Little sangheili..." the brute rumbled, with a tone matching his visage. "Come, strike at me! I was promised this world held warriors of note, sharquoi-killers, yet I have seen nothing to impress me yet."

'Kasaan breathed heavy, the day-long conflict finally taking its toll. He had lived a long life, he had seen his world die in cataclysmic fashion, and now, his second home was approaching the same fate.
He wanted to wear his badge of pride on his chestplate, he wanted to scream in rage and stare down this reaper with the fury of his people, yet he could muster nothing of the sort. He held on the ground, slowly rising to his feet, still clutching onto his storm rifle. On his hip, sat the hilt of his energy sword. It would have to be enough.

His warriors began to form a circle around their commander, but the chieftain pointed the end of his hammer at 'Kasaan. "I know you!" the brute announced suddenly, laughing as he did. "You are the ex-Kaidon I was told of, the Envoy, the sharquoi-killer! Fight me, Rojka 'Kasaan! Give me your all!"

'Kasaan raised his rifle, and fired. The other jiralhanae descended upon his warriors, a bloody yet futile brawl commencing, yet 'Kasaan did not feel anything. Suraka had already been glassed, and Sandholm had become the site of the Banished's new military outpost.
The former fleetmaster could tell the battle in orbit was all but lost. The fighting had ceased yet not relief from the skies had come, only more waves of enemy troops.

The battle for Carrow had been lost. It would be Banished territory by sunrise.

'Kasaan squeezed the trigger of his storm rifle, bolt after bolt leaving its end, striking and weakening the shields of the chieftain, who roared as he charged the former kaidon. It was like fighting the sharquoi all over again, hulking monsters who could crush the Envoy with a single blow.

'Kasaan tossed aside his rifle and spun behind the chieftain as the brute brought his gravity hammer down, killing his warriors and the eight Banished troops attacking them in a single wave of weaponized gravitics. The chieftain roared in frustration, turning around, swinging his hammer as he did. 'Kasaan ducked, and shoved his ignited blade into the chieftain's gut, breaking his shield and impaling the brute warrior.

Yet the chieftain did not cease his assault, pushing 'Kasaan away as he ripped out and discarded the blade. 'Kasaan got ready to throw his fists at the chieftain, fighting with all his strength, yet the chieftain was faster, stronger, grabbed the back of 'Kasaan's head before bringing it down upon the brute's own knee.

The former kaidon's mandibles all snapped, teeth impaling their own jaw. 'Kasaan screamed a distorted howl, purple blood gushing from the bottom of his mouth. He watched as it splashed against his own hands, coating his forearms, before the brute's fist impacted the side of his head, sending him to the ground.

If not for his combat harness absorbing most of the impact, the kaidon would've been dead before he hit the ground. Instead, his padded armor provided the dying sangheili a glimpse of the people he failed to save, and the warriors who would conquer his keep. The dream of Rak was dead. The dream of Carrow was dead. His efforts were for naught, and those thoughts were the last he had before the chieftain's gravity hammer crashed down again.
 


Dazzle and Dash

NOTES+
Collins & crew in Logovo, Concord
Human Outer Colonies
January 12th 2560


Tags: @Apothecary Bruce
"You couldn't have worn anything less... visible?"
The young sangheili woman glanced down at her sunset colored tabard and its accompanying robe in confusion. "What do you mean to say? I am both intimidating and warm, was that not the goal of this endeavor?"
Collins shook his head and waved dismissively, "Don't worry about it, Leshe. Just... don't pay them any mind."
"I think you're the only one noticing them, bud," Song replied with a cheerfully fake smile, dark brown eyes darting between heat generators and the buildings they kept comfortable.
The pilot grunted and took point, lengthening his stride as they passed through the heart of the city and neared their destination. It was much too cold for Collins liking but he couldn't deny the nostalgia that gripped him. Walking on dirt, smelling the crisp tang of ozone and petrichor... It was almost enough for him to quit it all and build himself a shack somewhere in the woods, with a creek and some summer honeysuckle out back. Almost. He stole two glances behind him, to the two at his back and the two back on the ship.
The nostalgia was nice, but the freedom in their tiny home amongst the stars was too alluring to give up.
"Calm down." Leshe 'Kuntakai whispered sternly as they neared the outskirts of town. "Slow your breathing and focus on what we discussed earlier. Remember: anything too good to be true will be and even though we are desperate, try not to appear that way."
"Right," Collins replied, staring up at the building ahead of them and then further up to catch a flurry of snow in his mittened palm. "Anything else before we approach?"
"Yes," Leshe said sharply, "You should have let me stay aboard so I could talk you through this."
"Not possible with Mina out of commission right now," Song said with a grunt, eyeing the entrance of the Optican distribution center.
"Well then," Collins muttered, flinging away his nerves and striding forward. "Let's get and go."
He wasn't sure what to make of the men who ushered them in; scarred, large, and wearing too fine of suits. The juxtaposition put him on edge. Still, Collins thanked them for their courtesy. To prevent additional undue messes to the building, Collins and Song shed their winter coats. Leshe simply shook off the fine dusting of snow that accumulated atop her during their travels. He thanked the men in suits once more and escorted his crew upstairs, each set of eyes scanning and interpreting different things. He'd get their take once they were back on the ship.
For now... Collins winced as he gripped the golden handles. Despite the heating generators, the hardware was like ice against the exposed flesh in his gloves. There were just too many holes. Just like the galaxy's new regime.
What awaited him inside was a bit of a surprise, however. Every member of his crew was taller than his employer, even Song, who he couldn't feed enough the past few months and yet kept inching higher. Not that height was always an indicator of power; this man couldn't have been that high up the executive ladder, so to have survived this long meant other things. Things Collins absolutely did not want to know about.
Collins nodded at his surname but let the man finish before finally speaking. "I appreciate directness, sir."
"My crew and I specialize in two things: the retrieval of goods and the privacy of our employers. Other than the coordinates to the package, I only have the one question, sir: Is that payment for both jobs or just the one?"
The pleasant, curious smile on his face wasn't cocky so much as assured his team could handle whatever Venezia threw at them. Having an addle-brained Spartan helped on that front, provided they weren't killed during her rampage. Currently unlikely, but still.
"Regardless, an even split between credits and rubles would suffice."


The men in the suits nodded with both thanks. They clearly weren't the unprofessional types, or the standoffish. Curt, businesslike, but ultimately human. "Payment for one, and we can do split. Anyhow, I'm surprised none of you lot didn't ask my name. Willing to risk yourselves on a planet like Venezia without asking even the simple questions?" the man laughed a little bit. "We'll make great pals. But, like I said, cards and tables - you may call me 'Rodger.' It's not my real name, but I use it plenty and you'll need to know it, when you go pick up my things."

Rodger rolled out a physical map of Venezia, or at least, the main settlement region. "The place, while Innie, is pretty well garrisoned by the Banished. Nasty blokes, but I guess if you're in good with 'em, you need not worry. Anyhow, slip down to..." his finger slid down the map in the central city, New Tyne, and stopped at a warehouse in the southwest district of the city. "...here, once you land. This is Nor Fel's clearing house - if you're the scrappers you say, you already know what this. On the off-chance you're Inner Colony smugglers, this is one of the biggest and most secure auctioneering sites in the Orion Arm. Even ONI didn't try taking it down, mostly because the kig-yar who runs it, Nor Fel, knows what she's doing."

The Concordian businessman looked up and eyed Collins. "Now, my lads spotted the rig you're running. UEG tug, shows signs of military refit somewhere down the line. Ain't the sleekest thing in the world. So you don't exactly got the speed to outrun Banished interception craft, or the durability to punch through a plasma cannon defense line. If you draw heat to yourselves groundside, don't be fucking dumb and lose me my package. My people will be able to hook you up with a clean IFF, and a new paintjob. That's the extent of my generosity until I see results though.
"Speaking of which, my people. They'll be waiting for you in the clearing house. I want you to wear this pin-" Rodger stopped, pulling out a silver ring, with a gold dot in the middle. "-and my boys will find you. Say you're with Rodger, and you're there for my package. Got it?"
 
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"Hail, Captain Dunns! I am Captain Lupè Devries of the Optican Corporation. I assure you I am no insurrectionist. We've got Tribute-appointed oversight and a bright future. Now I must warn you, we will need to send over a security detail to board your ship and check things out. It is a dangerous world out there, and everyone needs to be cautious. Please, cooperate with the security detail, and we'll guide you into port."

"That's fine," Dunns replied, relief clearly washing over him. "Send as many marines as you want over, so long as we can get some shore-leave. I don't care how glassed the planet is..."
The marines would report back, in the next two hours. Ship was clear, minus a few more regular contraband items - drugs, heirloom weapons without any sort of license, confiscating the former and leaving the latter typically. All in all, it was just a normal, if old, Parabola-class freighter ship with twenty-four thousand people aboard. They were tightly packed, and if the civvies didn't get some food and shelter that wasn't a spaceship soon, they'd likely begin to riot...

Captain Hills leaned back in his chair, stretching old limbs. Zackaria was next to him, checking the crate of plasma pistols they'd acquired on their last trip to Insurrectionist territory. The lieutenant was a good kid, clever and fast, but he got anxious easy. Hills put a hand to the young officer's shoulder, "Don't worry lad, these guys are friendly."

Keying the comm, Hills spoke, "Aye, Captain Xim. Your men are welcome aboard. You are not, however, allowed to seize any weapons or vehicles you find. Our resources are currently committed to Operation: Wayward Son." Not waiting for a reply, he switched to the internal PA system, "Attention lads, we've got friendly security detail inbound to search and assess our vessel. Don' give 'em a hard time, but do not let them take anything. If they act suspicious, report to myself or Leftenant Zackaria. Hills out."

Within twenty minutes, Xim's marines got aboard to inspect. They, fifteen marines in all, were all using pre-war BDUs, MA37 assault rifles, and M6C sidearms, minus the pair with M90 shotguns. Their leader, a sergeant by the name of Gregory Hicks, bore the scars of near-death experiences with plasma fire on the left side of their face. Upon boarding, and with a single glance, the marine knew exactly what kind of outfit this was - ragtag, and tired of sitting on their asses.

Still, he let his men do their typical sweep, and he even stopped one of his men from swiping a plasma pistol, apologizing on his behalf, as nicely as a veteran grunt could. Once his men made their way to the light freighter's bridge, Hicks took the chance to talk to Hills. "I can see what you and your men are up to, and I'd be lying if I said I didn't approve. Hope you hit some alien bastards hard. UNSC needs a win or two if we're gonna climb back out of this pit."
 
"That's fine," Dunns replied, relief clearly washing over him. "Send as many marines as you want over, so long as we can get some shore-leave. I don't care how glassed the planet is..."
The marines would report back, in the next two hours. Ship was clear, minus a few more regular contraband items - drugs, heirloom weapons without any sort of license, confiscating the former and leaving the latter typically. All in all, it was just a normal, if old, Parabola-class freighter ship with twenty-four thousand people aboard. They were tightly packed, and if the civvies didn't get some food and shelter that wasn't a spaceship soon, they'd likely begin to riot...
"Quite a lot of people you've got stuck in there. I need to make some calls, but we'll hopefully have temporary living arrangements for you shortly!"

---+++---

Frontings groaned audibly as Devries made his report. Normally, the corporate captain reported to Adam Andrews, and the CEO would send a message to update her on anything important. This time, however, Devries had come straight to her with an emergency. The freighter screaming distress in orbit was packed with civilians. Not one thousand, not five thousand, not ten thousand. Twenty four thousand people were sitting in orbit, desperate for help.

Arcadia had enough food to keep them alive for a few weeks with rationing, but the expansion to hydroponics wouldn't be producing its first crop for another three months. They couldn't rely on the regular shipments from Archer IV, the planet lacked Superluminal comms and was too far to get there, place an order, and wait for their haulers to come out.

There were options, however. That little heiress from Misriah had brought a pair of cargo haulers full of goods, likely food. Adam was supposed to swindle her out of it tomorrow, but now she had the leverage. Of course... she could always seize the goods. But that was a last resort measure, as it would kill any dealing with Misriah.

Gath also had two of her Missionary vessels available. Nanolaminate Nightmare and Bossonova Bomb(god what a stupid ship) were sitting in orbit waiting for tasks. Along with Adam's little hot rod, the Unhealth Care, they could get to Archer and back again in under two weeks. Accounting for the time to load and unload, it would be around 17 days total.

Fortitude's Mile was another source of potential relief. Frontings doubted they had much to offer, but she was sure whatever supplies they did have they'd happily give. They were UNSC, after all. Their ship would need repairs, too. That would ensure their cooperation for at least a couple months, if duty wasn't enough...

She looked out her window, trying to come up with more options. If she sent Unhealth Care loaded with medicine and weapons, then she might be able to buy not just enough food to fill it and the Kig Yar's holds, but also buy enough food to fill their 3 available Bantas with as well. Make the deal when Unhealth Care arrives, the Bantas arrive a few days later. They'd be a week behind on the return trip, but the first wave's supplies would be more than enough to last that stretch.

Then there was Harper. The dear old Fleet Admiral was chummy with Fieldings. Frontings could twist his arm a bit, and likely get resources out of it. After all, what kind of leader wouldn't support the fastest growing outer colony that's still UNSC aligned?

Devries had gone silent, seemingly finishing his flowery, overlong report on the situation. Frontings keyed her mic, "Yes, yes. Thank you Devries. Let them know that they'll be guided to the groundside spaceport, and then get them there. I've got arrangements to make, and I'll update you in two hours."
 
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---+++---

Fieldings never liked having to ask for things. Requesting additional vessels for the Arcadia Naval Garrison had hurt his soul already, but this? This was just embarrassing. He set that embarrassment aside, however, and focused on the task at hand. This may not have been a battlefield, but there were 24,000 lives at stake. Fieldings would be damned if he let a single one perish through his ineptitude.

He jammed a thumb into the record button of his console. The machine clicked, whirred, and played a tone. He began speaking, "This is Rear Admiral Fieldings to Fleet Admiral Harper. Within the past twenty-four hours, a new and dire development has occurred in Arcadian space. A human freighter has arrived via Slipspace, laden with twenty-four thousand civilians. Unfortunately for us all, the vessel does not have the capability of traveling to Tribute space, and is effectively stranded in the Outer Colonies. Governor Frontings is already working angles to solve the immediate problems caused by tripling the population overnight. However, without the support of Tribute we are unlikely to make it further than two months without support from the UEG. It is for this reason that I am requesting agricultural support. A supply of base grains suitable to feed twenty thousand souls for two months, along with the aquaponics supplies needed to support as many in the long term. I recognize the amount of resources I am requesting is likely something you wouldn't be able to provide even if you wanted, but this is a genuinely desperate situation. In addition to this, I am revising Operation: RIGHT HOOK. Securing the Deuterium for the UNSC and S-O-S is no longer an additional objective. We will be taking the Deuterium, and we will eliminate all Banished facilities on Levosia. This will no longer be a smash and grab operation. Thank you for your time, Fleet Admiral. Rear Admiral Fieldings; signing out."

With the message recorded, Fieldings sighed. He didn't need to send it yet, that would wait until Devries finished speaking with the freighter captain. He had work to do while he waited. Operation: RIGHT HOOK needed revisions and preparations, and he needed to get those done ASAP.

---+++---

Lupe Devries was a dedicated man. Maybe not the most clever, certainly not the greatest tactical mind; but when he was called upon, he delivered.

"Alright Captain Dunns, I have made my calls, and I present you solutions," The corporate captain took a deep breath, "Currently, we do not have the housing, nor the food stores, to sustain your refugees. However; we are actively progressing multiple solutions to the latter problem. The former, housing, is an issue we must ask you help us solve."

Lupe pressed a button, sending over the files for a number of fast-construction buildings, "We've designed a number of easy-to-build structures during our time resettling Arcadia. This selection is a collection of Block Housing and Community Buildings. We can use your vessel as the center for a new city, and build outward from it using these structures. To get this task done in under two weeks, however, we will need you to help us with construction. Are you willing to assist us in this endeavour?"
 
The men in the suits nodded with both thanks. They clearly weren't the unprofessional types, or the standoffish. Curt, businesslike, but ultimately human. "Payment for one, and we can do split. Anyhow, I'm surprised none of you lot didn't ask my name. Willing to risk yourselves on a planet like Venezia without asking even the simple questions?" the man laughed a little bit. "We'll make great pals. But, like I said, cards and tables - you may call me 'Rodger.' It's not my real name, but I use it plenty and you'll need to know it, when you go pick up my things."

It was a gamble really, choosing to play the game unaligned.

They worked for everyone— anyone, regardless of faction —with enough credits, gekz, rubles, or goods worth taking on. Made things dangerous, sure, but it kept the jobs coming, kept them fed... And yet there was safety in numbers, in a flock with the same kindness and colors. Collins swallowed nervously, not exactly excited to deal with Nor Fel again. The nervous energy morphed into nausea when Rodger proposed a paint change. He cleared his throat.

"Privacy, yours and ours, is important to us," Collins replied after awhile, taking the pin and affixing it to his collar for safe keeping. "Your generosity is bar none, b—"

"But we'll show you it's not for naught." Leshe cut in.

Collins felt himself nodding even though it stung like a betrayal to his past self, to the woman who showed him how to traverse the stars. But, ah, a little rebranding couldn't deny the fact he'd been besmirching her memory for the past four years.

"Got it." Collins promised, reaching out to shake Rodger's hand. "We'll get you your package. Let your people know we're on the way. A clean IFF will definitely go a long way, thank you, Rodger."
 
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