Halo: Dark Storm Rising
I-Day minus 32
Asylum is formally granted to all Jedi and others who wish to take refuge in the United Nations of Earth and Her Colonies.
-UN response to Order 66
UN Secretary-General Alice Dennison wasn't the type to relish a political victory, even one as important as this one. Having won reelection, Dennison was back in an office that carried many responsibilities along with the prestige that came with it. And, truth be told, she was presiding in an era where things were not as sure as they were before, an era where things could get dangerous very fast.
The rise of the Empire had been a stunning and unforeseen event, an even that had ended the friendship of two close allies and added a new rival to the United Nations of Earth and her Colonies. Amidst the chaos, UNSC forces were ordered to disengage and return to their respective bases. Repeated requests by the new Imperial administration for the UN delegation to return to the Senate were denied. Once the true nature of Order 66 had emerged, the Sol System was shocked. Jedi trying to escape the massacre at their temple were allowed to board UNSC military transports and UN diplomatic shuttles. More than a few clone troopers made their frustrations clear by shooting warning shots at the transports, which were ignored. In all, several thousand Jedi had been killed. But many more had gone into hiding, and a good chunk had found refuge in the Colonies. That last fact was irritating to the Empire, which had made its intentions clear: all Jedi were now considered war criminals and would be prosecuted accordingly. Tensions had grown in the last three years, and there was little doubt as to where they would lead.
Dennison had replied that there was little to no proof that the Jedi had done such a thing—the so-called assassination attempt on the Supreme Chancellor—now the Emperor—was mired in mystery and confusion. Furthermore, her government had the right to give asylum to any individual or group, and they would be given the same protections as UN citizens.
The Jedi were eternally grateful. The Jedi who made it to the Colonies set up an enclave on Harvest, a major colony world and military base. There, they solved local crime and helped the local authorities immensely; their popularity soared.
The Empire was less than pleased. Attempts to "arrest" the Jedi in the Colonies were rebuffed by the UNSC, and Imperial ships often tested the UNSC Navy's capability to defend its own territory by probing with small ships. Such an incident had turned deadly, which was why Dennison had called a conference with her cabinet.
"Laura, what do we know?" she asked the Secretary of Defense.
"About 0900, military time," SecDef began, "an Imperial cruiser chasing a civilian shuttle attempted to follow that shuttle into UN space. Patrol Group Harvest moved to intercept the cruiser, and the group's CO attempted to contact the Imperial vessel. The cruiser responded by opening fire. Two cutters were destroyed, but the main patrol ship—a Halcyon-Class Cruiser, the Red Sunrise—drove off the cruiser. We've lost twenty-eight sailors. Seventy were wounded."
"The passengers were all Jedi."
"Which explains the chase. Admiral Stanley, what does ONI know?"
The head of ONI answered: "Not much, ma'am. We do know that the Empire has gone on alert, but to what extent is unknown. Imperial Navy chatter suggests the cruiser's skipper disobeyed orders, but what order he violated is not known at this time."
"What do you know?" SecState asked irritably. "The last thing we need is to retaliate militarily. This is a time when we should be trying to strengthen ties with the Empire."
"It was my understanding that this administration does not recognize the Empire as a legal entity," Stanley said smoothly. The British pronunciation added more fire to the retort, as only the British can do.
"We don't, but that doesn't mean we should go to war given the smallest excuse."
"Who's talking about war?" said the head of the UNSC. The room fell silent at once. Fleet Admiral Lord Terrence Hood was an Insurrection War, a Covenant War and Clone War veteran, and his opinion was almost never overruled. Some whispered that he still ran the government as he did during the height of the Covenant War. "If need be, our forces can take on the Empire with a reasonable chance of success, but I don't want to go to war over something like this. That said, this incident warrants putting our forces at a higher readiness."
"That's a provocation," SecState said.
"That's a measured response, Chuck," Hood answered. "We overreact, and we risk war. We do nothing, and it encourages the Empire to take it one step further. Nearly thirty sailors are dead. Seventy are wounded."
Dennison looked at Hood. "What's our best option?"
"Rebuild the Third Fleet and station them at Harvest," Hood said, ignoring SecState's objections. Third Fleet, dissolved after the Clone Wars, had been responsible for guarding the Outer Colonies alongside Fourth Fleet, which was still active. "It's small enough that the Empire won't fear an invasion, but large enough to make them think twice about making any more incursions."
"Who will you put in command?"
"Admiral Borodin. He's a good officer."
"Borodin's track record suggests that he's overly aggressive," SecState said. "Are you sure you want to put such a man in command of such a tricky situation?"
"He's not stupid," Hood answered.
"That may be," said Dennison, "but I agree with Chuck. Borodin can be too aggressive. That served him well during war time, but this isn't war. Not yet. Put Admiral Laval in command." Admiral Pierre Laval was known for keeping a cool head in even the hottest situations.
"Yes ma'am. May I suggest transferring Admiral Borodin to Third Fleet? In an advisory capacity, of course."
"Do it. If things get hot, Borodin will take command."
Dennison leaned back in her seat. "Let's keep cool heads, people. I don't want to take the Colonies into another war."
It cannot be denied that, despite their so-called inferior weaponry, the UNSC displays an astonishing military capability matched only by the Empire. While their military is smaller than ours, they style their tactics and strategies on their smaller size, making abundant use of shock troopers that use a daring orbital drop. While their Army has begun increasing its offensive capabilities, there is no doubt that the Marine Corps is the cutting edge of the UNSC. Their performance regarding the Covenant War is subject to debate, but analysis proves that the UNSC had superior tacticians who were only weighed down by a lack of technology, and the war brought out the best in them. Their Navy is the strongest branch, and the fact that the UNSC's main intelligence service, the Office of Naval Intelligence, is part of the Navy, only points to the strength they possess. They must not be underestimated.
-Imperial Intelligence memo regarding the UNSC, authored by Admiral Thrawn
At the Imperial Navy base at Ord Mantell, Admiral Wulf Yularen stared at the still-warm body of Captain Jagi. On Lord Vader's order, Jagi had been executed for attacking UNSC forces. Yularen, being angry about the incident, had administered the blaster bolt personally. It was quite convenient, actually; he'd gotten rid of a troublesome officer, and the others under his command now knew the consequences of Jagi's actions.
Truth be told, Yularen was nervous that the UNSC would go on high alert. It would make the execution of Operation Cleanup far rougher than it had to be. The Jedi Enclave on Harvest was growing daily. Somehow, despite the tight patrols, fugitive Jedi managed to get to Harvest. Without any good sources on Harvest, Imperial Intelligence could only guess at how many Jedi were on Harvest, but conservative estimates put the number at nearly three hundred.
For the Emperor and Lord Vader, that was unacceptable. The rumors about what the Force could do to a person also frightened Yularen. If half the stories were true, the Jedi could convince the UN to go to war against the Empire.
Still weakened after the Clone Wars, the Empire wasn't as strong as people thought. A war between the Empire and the UN could go either way. But the Empire had a larger military, and most of its current troops were veterans. Yularen firmly believed that the Empire could win a war…but only if two key UN systems were conquered thoroughly. One was Harvest, the location of the Jedi Enclave and a major UNSC base. The other was the Sol System; the Earth itself. That operation would be the costliest; the UN capital planet was heavily protected by a large armada of the UNSC Navy's most modern warships and extremely powerful, long range orbital guns. But Yularen knew the Empire had the might to succeed.
There were two operations that had been planned: Cleanup and Spear. Cleanup would be the operation regarding Harvest: the neutralization of its UNSC guardians and the execution of all its Jedi citizens. Spear would be the massive attack on Earth, designed to neutralize the UN leadership and keep the UNSC's best units too busy to interfere with Operation Cleanup. Both operations were part of Operation Iron Fist. If all went well, the UN would be quickly defeated, paving the way for additional Imperial troops to flood into the Colonies and conquer them.
But now, Captain Jagi's actions had thrown the whole thing into doubt. The success of the operation entailed being able to send a powerful fleet to Earth, a fleet that could not pause to fight anything until they reached Earth. Before that fleet could be sent, Harvest had to be swiftly and thoroughly conquered. Yularen knew how the UNSC would respond to Jagi's mistake; they would send a fleet to Harvest. It would make Operation Cleanup much more complicated.
"Lord Vader," Yularen said to the tall dark figure next to him. "I was sure before, but now I have doubts about our operation. Should we go forward?"
"The Emperor has a thorn in his side," Vader rumbled. "That thorn is Harvest. It must be destroyed utterly, along with its Jedi protectors, before it becomes too powerful for us to assault. If you wish for more ships and materiel, you will have it. But do not fail me."
"As the Emperor wills, Lord Vader," Yularen replied. There would be no more debate. The operation would go forward as planned.
I-Day minus 30
Commander Peng Xi was a typical Prowler commander. Some in the Navy said his attitude was akin to cowardice. Xi called it caution. Prowlers weren't equipped for heavy combat anyway, armed only with pulse lasers. Mines were an optional addition, but one that most Prowler crews didn't use; there was no way around the Cherenkov radiation emitted by the nuclear mines, a radiation emitted every time a ship entered or exited slipspace. As such, the Cornelia carried no mines. Her mission was to observe.
The Imperial Navy base at Ord Mantell was large. It was once a major Republic Navy base before the rise of the Empire, when all Republic assets became Imperial. And right now, it was bustling with more activity than Xi had seen since the Clone Wars. Imperial ships of every type, from the Venator-Class cruiser—the staple of the Republic Navy, and now the Imperial Navy—the new Imperator-Class Star Destroyer, a large monster vessel, all the way down to the new Tartan corvettes. There were several Imperators, along with troop transports and vehicle transports. It was an assault fleet. Of that Xi was certain. But the target could be any of a hundred worlds. The galaxy hadn't settled down completely since the end of the Clone Wars, and the Empire was still cleaning house. Jabiim was one such trouble spot. It was possible that the Empire was going all out on the Jabiimi resistance; their recent actions were conservatively called "overkill". That explained the number of ships.
But Xi was still bothered by the types of ship. Star Destroyers and Star Cruisers were usually used to attack a heavily fortified enemy, or a powerful navy. The Jabiimites were scattered; their resistance consisted of guerrilla warfare. They had no such navy or fortifications. At least, no fortifications strong enough to warrant the use of nearly two hundred capital ships. This activity was suspicious, to say the least. If this was preparation for an assault on the Colonies, Xi wanted to make sure that the UNSC was ready.