SSV Cambrai, Dekuuna Evac Site
Day 1, 0820
"…all vessels assigned to Operation Solitude should arrive in the Phontes system around oh-six-hundred, and break orbit over Dekuuna by oh-seven-hundred. SSV Ain Jalut should make landfall an hour earlier, around oh-five-hundred, and begin laying down groundwork. Our objective today is evacuation. SSV Normandy has already performed a high-profile evacuation of elcor civilians, but the capacity of one frigate is limited, and the Reapers have been slow to eliminate the smaller elcor herds and villages. Our AO in particular has yet to be hit by Reaper capital ships, and our intel confirms elcor survivors on the ground, numbering in the hundreds."
Ping. Captain Murphy paused the video on his datapad, glancing over to the helm as a solitary warning light flickered on obstinately. Erika - by this point down to her crew-issue tank top in the sweltering heat - just flicked it back off, and didn't seem alarmed in the slightest. With a slight shake of his head, the captain went back to his light reading.
"The elcor habit of living in scattered settlements as opposed to major urban centres may have been to their advantage. The elcor navy is in ruins, but surviving warriors and civilians remain in many of the rural villages, awaiting evac. Our target is a plains region in the northern hemisphere of Dekuuna, encompassing several dozen small villages. Ain Jalut, Cambrai and Trafalgar will make landfall on Dekuuna and establish three separate evac sites for the elcor to rally to. Ain Jalut will land early on the central plateau, and dispatch marine teams equipped to move fast in Dekuuna's unique conditions. Trafalgar will land on the coast to the southeast, Cambrai will land in the densely populated grasslands to the north - largest hold, largest evac. The Ain Jalut's marine teams will travel around the villages, co-ordinates enclosed, and rally the elcor to our evac sites. If all goes to plan, we'll be up and gone within three to four hours."
The rattle of a console interrupted the sound of Captain Fofana's voice, and Murphy paused the briefing video once again, looking over at his pilot and co-pilot. Akito was just swiping a data readout out of the way, and leant back in his chair with his hands behind his head, looking supremely pleased with himself.
"Stealth systems disengaged, heat exchangers are radiating…" he sighed happily. "You're welcome, everyone."
"About time," Murphy muttered, glancing back at the datapad absent-mindedly. "Not worried about sensors?"
"Captain, we just dropped out of orbit. If they're in the AO, they saw us, thermals or no."
"Fair enough. Anything from comms?"
"Marine teams checked off their last destination an hour ago. It's a waiting game now. Either the elcor find us, or the Reapers."
"Alright… gimme some silence on deck a moment, I want to finish this," he shrugged, waving the datapad in one hand.
"Third time you've listened to it."
"Never hurts to go over details. You've got the evac routes mapped?"
"Every one," Akito nodded. As the captain glanced up, however, he noticed a quiet glance between pilot and co-pilot - quiet, but not subtle.
"What am I not being told?" he interjected, calmly.
He gave Akito the same look Erika had given him a moment prior, and the co-pilot crumbled.
"One of the elcor delegations isn't on track," he sighed, "and we can't raise the marine team escorting them. Could have gone dark to avoid a patrol, could be stuck in a firefight…"
"When did you become an optimist?"
"I… really didn't, boss. I think we lost the marines."
"And the elcor?"
"Not sure. All I know right now is, they're not where they're meant to be."
The captain nodded, rubbing the bridge of his nose with a sigh. The Cambrai had dispatched recon probes on entering the atmosphere, to watch the elcor's progress…
"Can we track back along their route, find them?"
"Already working on it, probe's moving."
"And… when exactly were you gonna tell me that?"
"…when it found them?"
Murphy sighed again, and Akito at least had the decency to look guilty.
"Keep me updated," the captain muttered after a moment, turning back to his datapad.
As the helmsmen went back to their controls, Murphy just tapped the datapad, and the voice recording burst into life once more:
"Enemy forces in the area are minimal, but nonetheless present. Reaper infantry are known to be patrolling the AO in company-sized groups, and all evac teams should be prepared to repel them. If Reaper capital ships break atmosphere over the AO, however, all ships are to immediately engage stealth systems, and retreat to safety. The firepower is not on our side in that equation. Good luck, and stay safe. Fofana, out."
Murphy looked up again, as the datapad flickered to static blue. Akito was twisting round in his chair to face him, an expression of disquiet on his features.
"Found them," he reported simply.
"Reapers have taken a bridge along their evac route. Looks like they were ambushed."
"Lots of elcor north of the bridge. They've stopped moving, though. No easy detour for a few miles."
"And the marines?"
"Goddamnit… alright. Keep eyes on that bridge. I'll head down to the hangar and put a team together."