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Terminal This article, Strikeout, was written by K4. Please do not edit this fiction without the writer's permission.

Prologue



The whole bay shook as atmospheric pressures pounded on the haphazardly arranged refugee ship as she climbed out of Jericho VII's atmosphere. Waves of varying heat from the overpressured engines slunk around the passengers, eating at their resolve and wits. Only an hour before, they had been rushed from their homes to Herigald's civilian transport center and packed like sardines into the crowded bay of a cargo hauler-turned-refugee transporter. Children cried and sniffled, mothers looked harried from constantly micromanaging their offspring, and husbands glanced at each other and at nothing as the ship shook.

The most massive shake signaled the crossing from atmosphere into inner space. Soon, they would pass by the hulls of the massive UNSC warships that took even more of a beating than the old freighter would ever in order to ensure the most civilians got away as possible. Because it was all about them.

One young man in particular gazed out one of the few portholes available in the crowded bay and his eyes shot beams of pure hatred at the purple hull of an alien capital ship. They would pay for destroying his home. Not by his hand, no. But by the resolve of the entire human race.
By the Gods, they would pay.


Chapter I



On 7 October 2525, the Colonial Militia of the planet Harvest fought a collection of aliens that had come to plunder the planet for holy relics of their gods. The misunderstanding between the aliens and the human welcoming party resulted in the complete devastation of the planet, but not before a good majority of the planet's population escaped. News of this alien invasion reverberated abound the UNSC High Command, which dispatched a ship to investigate. The ship entered the system, but was never heard from again. The UNSC dispatched three more ships to find out what happened to the previous vessel. They, too, arrived in system, but only one survived. It was heavily damaged by weapons unlike anything encountered by the UNSC before. The surviving ship's crew spoke of a highly advanced starship that nearly destroyed all three ships. They had introduced themselves as: the Covenant.

eight years later

Auntero sat in the back of the darkened pub, one hand around his drink, the other resting on the table. He watched the various patrons of the establishment come and go, and waited. He sipped from his glass every now and then, but was otherwise absolutely still. He knew that the only way someone would notice him was if they were looking specifically for him. Cops popped in sometimes, but never noticed him. Beatniks stumbled about and attempted to score a girl for the night, oblivious to the fact that either they were horribly drunk and would pass out before the action even got started, or that the women were waiting for others to take them away. Auntero himself had tried the moves before, but a long petrified slash from his chin to his left ear taught him the error of his ways. besides, sex wasn't useful in his endeavors unless he could sleep with someone close to the Covenant's command chain.

His business of cargo hauling was a good way to get around and explore, but after the crackdown of the Cole Protocol, he was severely restricted in what his business could achieve. Then, he was hired out by a few UNSC blowhards who paid insanely good money for cheap stuff, and soon he was back in business. Working for the UNSC was never a chore, as he admired some of his contractors, especially the Defense Force. He'd been asked to deliver some military-grade goods across several Inner Colonies, and was always impressed with the professionalism they presented. The pay was excellent and he'd even gotten to know some of the Marines.

Of course, good isn't alone, and some of the jobs from his UNSC contractors required not knowing the route, the cargo, or even who his debtor was. He guessed they were the self-centered shadow-wannabes also known as the Office of Naval Intelligence. If Auntero knew anything about the universe, those weenies weren't spooks. Not even close. Spooks caused nightmares. These stiffs were just business covered in black.

No, the Covenant were the real spooks. They were the stuff of nightmares. They were what had haunted every Outer Colonist's sleep.

After a while, his cargo hauling became more of a bore, and Auntero picked up smuggling as a secondary career. A few good trips and he figured he'd gotten good at the game. But that changed. Very quickly.

It was part of the reason Auntero was in this darkened spot in this dank pub in this overstuffed space station. He was waiting for a contact to show up. No one but he was looking for Auntero. No one else had business this grave. So, he sipped. And waited. At least 3 hours passed before a man straddled into the pub. He had on a large overcoat that totally gave away his intentions. Station Rugaldo-6's average temperature was a stifling 99 degrees, because of the massive coolant requirements for the power systems and living quarters. Anyone wearing a padded overcoat like him was either cold-blooded, or was packing some serious hardware.

The man also looked exclusively in the darker, more secluded parts of the pub, indicating he was looking for someone like Auntero. His eyes eventually locked on a man that was hunched in his chair about 3 tables away from Auntero. The man looked up at the newcomer, his face covered in a raw, unkempt beard and jaundice splotches. They exchanged a few words, and as they did, Auntero slowly reached into his jacket and gripped the handgun holstered there. The newcomer glanced at Auntero and suddenly his entire attitude shifted. Auntero knew what was going to happen 3 steps before this meatsack did, and took the most appropriate action possible.

He ditched his drink and ran straight at the man.


Chapter II



The man's face contorted into surprise as Auntero drove him to the deckplates. He recovered quickly on his part and smashed his fist across Auntero's face as he brought it up to recover. Auntero brushed off the punch and kneed his opponent in the tender groin area, and a low intake of air sounded a small victory for Auntero, and a chance to ditch this guy before things got serious enough to where the bartender would whip out his shotgun.

Auntero grabbed his pistol from out of his shoulder holster and broke it's grip against the man's face, then scrabbled to the door. He knocked over one of the waitresses and stumbled, but recovered before his pursuer could get back up. Auntero dashed across the shopping center, pushing patrons of various window stores out of his way. The man from the bar was just emerging from the doors when Cops descended on him, and tackled him to the floor, again.

Auntero noticed that several other Cops broke off and were chasing him. This wasn't what I though it would be. It's kinda exciting, but he knew that was Adrenaline talking, not his logic center. He took a sudden left turn down a narrow alley and reholstered his pistol. He hid behind a crate and waited for the Cops to run past, oblivious to his course correction. He waited several seconds, then followed the alley out to a small cargo hold. He pulled a map from his coat pocket and glanced at where he as in relation to the transport bay.

Calculating the distance in his head, he figured he had three minutes until the Cops called for reinforcements to scour the transport bay for his ship, which he could not let happen. He needed to make a quick escape and never come back here. He hadn't even gotten any good information out of his real informant, a former UNSC Naval officer who'd served in the First Battle of Arcadia.

They'd met in a hotel, if you could call it that, and discussed payment for this information. Auntero had started with 5600 cR, but the Navy man had wanted more for what he said was "beyond top secret, but since I did my time, i'm giving it up at my price." 7800 cR sealed the deal, and the Navy man handed him a small memory card. "Data direct from the UNSC Armstrong's sensors," he'd said. Auntero had bid him due, and rushed to check out what this data was.

Corrupted, classified and choppy images, technical readouts he couldn't read and battle chatter that made zero sense.

Auntero was about to storm the man's room for his money back, only to learn he'd left the station with several hookers. So, Auntero planned his next move, waiting for his...misstep...to catch up with him in the bar. So, he'd walked in, ordered an Alt Burgundy and waited. Alt Burgundy was a favorite from his days on Jericho VII, and one of the few reminders of his old home, his old life, that wasn't wracked with disturbing images and the feeling of helplessness that came from watching your homeworld burned from a fogged porthole.

Auntero bypassed the orbital labs in order to speed his time to his destination and was rewarded with the security station - manned by the very Cops that were chasing him.
Okay, not so exciting anymore.


Chapter III



Auntero whipped around a corner and took a deep breath. How in Hades did they get here so fast? He sneaked a peek at the Cops, who looked to be analyzing security footage. Maybe, just maybe he could sneak past with that group of whalers coming up...

Auntero waited for the group of eight to pass right by his hiding spot, then fell into step behind them. As they passed the Cops, they flashed some kind of card and the Cops nodded acknoledgement. Auntero, having no get-out-of-jail-free card with him, flashed his empty hand, but used a card trick he picked up long ago to imitate a swish with his fingers. The Cops went back to scanning their tapes as Auntero walked right past the group. He made his way to his ship, which he had named long ago, Strikeout. She represented his outing into the deep, dark void of space and the chance at finding something new.

He keyed the autoramp, and half-ran, half-jumped inside the airlock. He striped his jacket and tossed it into the chute that ran to the cargo bay. First order of business was to leave this chutes-and-ladders station as fast as possible. He powered up the vessels twin scramjet turbos and sat in "the captain's chair", which was really the Operator's seat, but this was his ship, dammit, he'd call it what he wanted. Engines showing full power, and his generators at maximum capacity, his hands danced across the board as thrusters lifted the heavy hauler/smuggler into the air. He waited for a small passenger ship to pass his bay section, then, not caring for station regulations, he hit THRUST : FULL and shot out of the docking bay. Shooting for sunshine, he recalled divers saying what that little stunt was called.

And there was sunshine, as soon as he broke orbit of Station Rugaldo-6 and left it in the dust.


'Regrulee watched one of the human's tiny ships shoot away from the station's landing bay and harrumphed as he turned from the main screen. As a small part of the Fleet of Unwithstanding Tenacity, 'Regrulee was required to have restraint instead of rushing in and attempting to wipe out the entire station for personal glory. Fleet Master 'Teragulee would eventually give decision on what to do with this most unique human outpost when 'Regrulee returned with his reconnaissance report.

"Orders, Shipmaster?" Ops coordinator 'Gurelee pondered.

'Regrulee stood with his back to the station. "We will continue to scan for transmissions and record the sensor information," He walked past 'Gurelee and growled "for now."

Gurelee stood straighter and boomed "Your will, Shipmaster."

Hiding in an asteroid field, the Crusade of Abasement waited for the moment at which this war would change.


Chapter IV



Auntero leaned back in the captain's chair and sighed heavily. He'd practically spent all of his fuel shooting away from Rugaldo-6, but it was worth it. Unfortunately, he was now practically dead in space as well. This day was just getting better and better. He leaned over and keyed his Omni-COM system, a long range transmitter he'd acquired from a generous UNSCDF-Navy Captain a few runs back.

"Alert, any ships within 2 kilometers of this transmission, this is the..." He paused as he pondered a moniker to call other ships with, while not attracting Insurrectionist pirates attention.

He continued, "...the UNSC Striker, requesting aid." He keyed the COM off. And then he leaned back. And waited.


"This is the...UNSC Striker, requesting aid." The message keyed off, then replayed. Ami looked up at her partner as they listened to the voice. "What say you?" she asked him.

He crossed his arms and pursed his lips, mulling over his opinions. Ami knew this look well, and waited for him to take his time. He could take seconds, minutes, and once, days to answer a question like that. Luckily, though, only a few moments passed as he spoke, "She's not UNSC." He stood there for several more moments, no explanation for his brief, if somewhat cryptic, answer.

"And just what the hell does that mean, Derrek?"

"Exactly that. The 'Striker' is not UNSC. I've memorised every ship the UNSC has commissioned and the Striker was destroyed at Groombridge-1830." He paused, in`what she called 'dramatic effect'. "It's the damned Insurrectionists."

This time he was full of bullshit, and she had to call him on it. "No way it's Insurrectionist. They don't go out this far. And how the hell did you memorize every UNSC ship commissioned?"

Derrek offered no other explanation than his customary unemotional attitude.

She coincided to that point. "I say help them. Innies don't come out here."

Derrek eyed her for a bit, then sagged his arms and withdrew. She took that as the go ahead and fired the thrusters to intercept the distress call. The Mako-class prowler they occupied angled out of orbit and shed light minutes.


Auntero had just about fell asleep when the proximity alarm screamed in his head. He bolted from his bed and dashed to the control room. Crashing in his seat, he keyed the Omni-COM and directed it to channel the nearing ship. "Unidentified vessel, this is the UNSC Striker, state your intentions or else you will be disabled. Respond."

The ship, which his computer identified as a Mako-class Prowler, was following an intercept course. Her weapons weren't powered, but the armor that was bolted on that Auntero's sensors could see indicated she could take anything the Strikeout would dish for her. Auntero wasn't really versed in ship-to-ship combat other than what he'd pulled off on the fly during a few too-close-for-comfort skirmishes with Insurrectionists trying to steal his cargo, and had no intention of doing so with this piece of work.

"Unidentified ship, identify yourself."

"UNSC Striker, if that's what your registry really is, we're coming to rendezvous with you. You will cut power to your thrusters and engines, power down your primary reactor and disarm yourself. That is, if you don't want to be destroyed."


Chapter V



'Regrulee slouched in his command gravity chair, located at the edge of a peninsula raised off the floor. Various work stations were occupied by his crew, their lights blinking and voices warbling from speakers built into them. The Communications station was particularly loud, and 'Odormee looked unpleased about the contents of his peer's transmissions.

"Pevu, why so distressed?" He called to the COMs manager.

Odormee scowled at being singled out in front of the bridge shift, but after he determined the other officers were busy at their tasks, he spoke up. "Shipmaster, the engineers are bickering like Unggoy over a small personnel problem. Apparently, Chief 'Shrmee wants five more Minor Domos to be rotated from the Night shift to his shift in order to speed up the Slipspace matrix upgrade, but Second Chief 'Yuromee complains it will leave him with less-than-required of shift officers."

'Regrulee sighed and called up a direct link to Chief 'Shrmee on the holographic control display mounted to his chair. "Chief Engineer, why are you, once again, causing a ruckus in my Engine Room?"

'Shrmee's voice crackled on the COM channel, making his already-laughable tinny voice even higher pitched. "Shipmaster, that kouvata is preventing me from expediting the Slipspace upgrade that you, yourself, assigned to me when we began this cruise."

'Regrulee scolded, "'Chief Engineer, if you have to take every single Minor Domo in my ship to fix that damned thing, then do so, and tell 'Yuromee to keep his mandibles shut or I will personally go down there and free them from his face! Do you understand?"

'Shrmee's shrill voice overloaded the COM alignment and 'Regrulee winced at the high-pitched static that washed away the channel. "Repeat your last, Chief Engineer!"

A grunt sounded, then 'Regrulee slammed his fist on the control display, ending the channel.

He stood and walked along the peninsula to the doors at the rear of the bridge. This ill-fated cruise had begun as an exciting exercise for his tried-and-tested crew to get the events of late off of their shoulders. But now, as Slipspace upgrades and personnel changes and command issues, and a personal crisis for a particular officer, piled up on this 5-month cruise, he was beginning to doubt his ability to manage the juggling act of Starship command, responsibility to the Fleet of Unwithstanding Tenacity and his position in the 'Regrul keep.

And my son...I haven't even heard anything since she told me about his conception. It's not my place, or the Sangheili way, but this is so different to me.

The boy would never know him, or at least never know he had fathered him. He felt a satisfaction of ensuring a part of the 'Regrul line, but also there was a dull hunger, a desire to know more about his son, to know what he would accomplish.

But those were thoughts for a different time. Now, he was Shipmaster Seva 'Regrulee, and he had a tour of duty to accomplish.


TO BE CONTINUED...

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