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Fan Fiction

Insanity by GLADIATRRR3000

Date: 22 October 2005, 11:21 pm

      He had long forgotten how many days he had been locked up. He estimated he had been there months; the ray of sunlight that came through the 3-inch wide window had changed its position in the room. He was still asleep, drugged to prevent any emotional or violent outbreak, dreaming his usual night terror. The drugs kept him relatively safe from himself, yet sometimes when a rookie doctor or intern gave him the wrong dosage of sedative he woke up with multiple scratches and blood stains all around his padded cell. He had spoken no more than 10 times since he had gotten here, and he had long forgotten the sound of his own voice. Why talk? he constantly asked himself. Every word I speak is thought to be a lie. He used to scream the truth whenever the flap at the bottom of the door opened, but realized many of the other insane patients scream the same thing while eating their own feces and proclaiming the Apocalypse is at hand.

      The beam of light had slowly worked its way across the room, and it crawled up his nose and over his eyelid. He was still for several seconds, then his eyebrow twitched. The beam of light continued over his head and onto the wall behind him.

      It was silent in the room.

      Suddenly, he woke up. Breathing hard, he jumped to his feet, scanning the room with quick glances. Without realizing it, his right hand caressed the huge scar on his care chest, while his left hand moved back and felt for the wall. It found its target, and the man leaned up against the padding, slowly falling to the ground. His breathing and pulse slowed, and his sweating stopped. He wiped his forehead with his arm, took a deep breath, and closed his eyes. "You're safe here… they're all dead." He muttered under his breath, hardly realizing he had said anything.

      A noise he had not heard in weeks floated into the room. Voices.

      "…have not found any reason to consider him safe!" The voices grew louder. "If you could hear the stories he told us the day we rescued him, you'd see that his mental stability is…"

      "As I have told you and your colleagues several dozen times, an entire military base and several thousand personnel were destroyed. As of this moment, this man is the only witness AND evidence we have. Insane or not, he saw SOMETHING goddamnit, and I'm sure you have ways of coaxing that out."

      The voices were familiar, yet he could not remember the names. The first voice was small and whiney; the man expected him to be middle-aged, unmarried, and small in height. The second voice was harsh and deep, filled with authority. He pictured an old man, old but in his prime, tall and strong with a rigid stature. He did not know how he knew this, yet was somehow comforted at remembering an old skill.

      The loud metallic noise of the lock opening filled the room, quickly dampened by the padding on the walls, ceiling, and floor. The first voice filled the room again. "I STRONGLY advise not opening that door now. Let me get some medical staff down here first. We can sedate him and…"

      "No." The second voice said, silencing the first voice. He could almost feel the hatred from the first man towards the second. "No sedating while I'm here. I want him awake, sharp. I want the man I know in that cell, not the man you made."

      "Fine." The first man said. "But if he attacks you, I'm not opening the door again."

      "You wouldn't need to."

      The door pushed open, flooding the room with a bright, white light that hurt the man's eyes. The man felt his adrenaline spike.

      "GOD! SAVE ME!" She yelled, brown, decayed arms grabbing her from behind.
      He dropped his gun grabbing onto her hands, trying to pull her back inside the torn metal door. But they're strong… so strong…

      His head hurt, his eyes were watery. He blinked a couple times, getting the water out of his eyes, then realized he was on his back in the middle of the room. He lifted his head up, looking at the opened door. A black figure stood above him.

      "You come at me again, I may forget I need you alive, Roberts."

      The man felt a sudden realization flood his mind, filled with the same satisfaction you get from figuring out a particularly hard math equation. "Roberts?" He asked the man. "My name is Roberts? My name is Roberts…" He started muttering under his breath, a single tear escaping his eye.

      "Yes, your name is Roberts. Now, since you're acting like a 4 year old who found out two and two makes for, I'm under the impression that you have either forgotten many things, or are blocking things out of your mind." He said, moving out of the light. The door shut behind him, the loud metallic lock closed. "Unfortunately for you, both of those assumptions would be bad for you. If you do NOT remember, if you do have BLOCKED things out of your mind, we have ways of getting information out of heads, and many of them would not be desirable to living people." He turned on his heel, walking to the other wall.

      "I have read your file. I know you took medication before the incident. I also know that you received top marks on almost every exam and were top of your class in every field exercise that we created." He reached the wall, spun on his heel, and slowly walked towards the other wall.

      "Now, I find myself in a dilemma. On one hand, an entire military base, filled with top of the line equipment, research, several thousand marines and scientists, and an entire planet, not to mention, was destroyed. On the other hand, we have a single survivor, who happens to be both extremely capable and extremely insane. Either he's lucky, or he caused the damn thing. Now, I want to get retribution for the base and personnel, and at the same time I want to punish the correct person." He reached the wall, spun on his heel, and walked towards the other wall.

      "Now, I suppose the question I'm asking and the question you're expecting me to ask are one and the same." As he passed Roberts on the floor, he stopped, turned towards him, and kneeled down so they were face to face. "Who. In the hell. Was responsible."

      Roberts felt his adrenaline spike.

      The ground was moving… no, it wasn't the ground. It was alive. Alive, yet at the same time, dead. So terrifying was the combination. So terrifying…

      He was pinned against the wall, a strong, muscular hand held him in place by the throat. A pistol was jabbed into his stomach. "Now, that's strike two. You are not making yourself look innocent. In fact, I'd go as far to say you look damn guilty. Now, I am going to let you go. If you so much as twitch towards me, I will put a bullet in your head so quickly your brain will still be trying to figure out what happened while it's covering the wall." Roberts felt the hand relax very slightly, then slide off his throat. The man backed off, putting the hand that was on Robert's throat onto the butt of his gun. When he reached the middle of the room, he stopped, yet kept the gun pointed directly at Robert's head.

      Roberts was still in the position that he had woken in, head leaning back against the wall, left arm tucked behind him, right arm crossed over his chest. Slowly, making sure the man wouldn't consider it a hostile gesture, he moved his arms and head so he'd be in a more comfortable position. He cleared his throat, and began a conversation for the first time that seemed in years. "D-do you want the long story? Or the short one?" He asked, voice weak from neglect.

      The man paused for a moment, then spoke. "Let's start with the short one and elaborate."

      Roberts thought for a second. "Please tell me your name. You're the first person I've seen in months."

      The man laughed. "You really are insane, aren't you?" He continued to smile for several seconds, then stopped. "You've been here for 2 weeks."

      Roberts felt a drooping feeling in his stomach, horrible realization. He paused for a moment. "And… and how long am I going to be here?"

      "Your entire life." The man said. Roberts fell to the floor, refusing to breathe. "Unless you help us out here. Now, we know that several Covenant dropships were on the planet, but they could have only contained 80 people altogether. That's no problem for Ceti Base. We also know that that Ceti's self-destructed. Now, only someone who knew the code could have done that, and you do not. That leaves many questions. Now." The man moved forward. "My name is Mason. General Mason. We have made our introductions. You know my name. I need to know what happened on that backwater planet."

      Roberts slowly got to his feet, legs shaking. "Well, what in the hell caused the destruction of Ceti?" Mason asked.

      Roberts laughed humorlessly. "Just that."


Date: 23 October 2005, 10:03 pm

       Everything was blurry. Roberts had not been surrounded by this much light in a lifetime. Even after several minutes, his eyes had not yet adjusted; pupils extremely dilated, lights blended together. He was being dragged by two medical personnel, held up by his elbows. The cold metal of the handcuffs secured tightly around his wrists numbed his forearms. His legs were weak, dragging behind him. Every few feet, he would try to stand up and walk on his own accord, but would stumble and cause his escorts to strain under his weight.

       Roberts looked around, taking in everything. He had not seen anything other than the damp, green padding of his cell in ages. Simple things, such as peeling paint and stains on the walls captured his attention. As he was dragged through several halls and around a number of corners, he stared at everything. After several minutes, they reached an open door, leading to a large, white room. There was a plain steel chair in the middle of the room, leather straps on the armrests and legs. Hanging over the chair was a florescent light, bleeding painfully bright light into Roberts' eyes. The medical staff holding him up brought him to the chair and roughly dropped him into the seat, tying down the straps around his arms and legs. The straps weren't too tight, but tight enough to keep him immobile. The light flickered, sending the shadows in the room into a wild dance.

       Roberts felt his heartbeat wildly increase.

      Everything was dark. Not any dark; a deep, engulfing dark. The kind of darkness that could put out a candle, the kind of dark that makes you feel as if you were swimming. Only a handful of small beams of light could squeeze their way through the thick foliage above. Within those beams of light, he could see the nightmares running past, horribly silent save for the squishing noise of their decaying flesh. With them came the smell. He could smell something familiar over the death… Someone familiar in the shadows of death…

       "Wake up, marine." Mason's harsh voice barked into the silence

       Without moving, Roberts woke. No muscle moving, except for the ones controlling his eyelids, his eyes opened. Roberts could feel several things pasted onto his scalp and chest. He moved his head and saw cords leading into them, the other end attached to a computer. In the glow of the computer, he saw a doctor bathed in an olive green lighting.

       "Oh, don't worry." The doctor said, noticing Roberts staring at him. "These don't hurt. I'm just reading your brainwaves and vitals. We're making sure you're…"

       "Doctor." Mason said, not harshly, yet the doctor stopped talking as if it were a death threat. "That is enough."

       He turned towards Roberts, who stiffed in his seat, desperately trying to work his way into a more dignified position. "Now, Roberts. We are going to inject you with something that will help you relax. It won't hurt, but it will help you remember what happened at Ceti. You see, the doctor here has suggested that you may have blocked the event out of your mind. This right here," He said, waving a needle filled with a clear liquid. "Will help us find out what actually happened."

       Mason handed it towards the doctor, who tapped it against his wrist and squeezed out the air bubbles. A small stream of the liquid flew into the air, and landed on the ground with an almost inaudible splash. He moved towards Roberts, pushed the large needle into his forearm, and forced the liquid into Roberts' bloodstream.

       For what seemed like several minutes, nothing happened. Then, Roberts began to feel dizzy. His head weighed tons; it fell backwards and rolled to its side. The lights began to flicker again, shadows dancing once more. "Now." Mason said, voice deeper than normal and echoing through Roberts' thoughts. "Tell me exactly what happened."

       "Goddamn swamps. Sign up to protect humanity and all it stands for, humanity sends me to a backwater planet to get muddy. I could be doing the same shit at home." Johnson ranted. "Fucking mud. Fucking swamp. Fucking planet."

       Roberts laughed, kicking past a particularly large bush and stepping down into ankle deep mud. "Well, back home you wouldn't be paid for it. Back home you didn't get a gun. Back home you had to deal with your wife and three kids."
       Johnson snorted. "Damn straight. Thank god for the Marines."

       Johnson took one hand off his BR55, pushing a large branch out of his way. Johnson had a medium build. He had applied for the position of sharpshooter, but dropped out of the training. He couldn't shoot a house if he was standing in one. With his free arm, he unbuttoned a pouch on his chest, opened it up, and pulled out a cigarette. He reached into another pocket and pulled out a lighter, flicked it open, and lit the cigarette. He put the lighter back, took a deep puff, and exhaled.

       "Know what I miss most about Earth?" Johnson asked in a breathy voice. Not bothering to wait for Roberts to answer, he continued. "The deserts."

       100 yards ahead, blurred by the fog, they could see a red light. "Finally. We walk this same damn path every damn day. Shit, I could walk it in the dark. You and I probably know every branch and every leaf on that path." Johnson raved.

       Roberts smiled, mouthing the words along with Johnson. Johnson gave this speech at least twice a week. "Do we ever find anything? No. Will there ever be anything? No. All it does is piss me off. Doesn't anyone here realize it's not good to piss someone off if they're carrying a gun?"

       "Well, everyone else has a gun, too. You couldn't do much." Roberts said, stepping up onto the concrete and shaking the mud off his boots. "Maybe take one guy down. Just don't make it me." He added.

       "Yeah, yeah." Johnson added, stepping up as well. "Don't kill you. Got it."

       The door opened automatically, and the heat washed over them. The guard was leaning far back in his recliner, feet on his desk, reading the weekly notices. When he noticed them, he chuckled. "See anything unusual?" He asked.

       "Yeah, I saw you taking a shower this morning. About time too, you filthy shit-stain." Johnson muttered under his breath. Roberts smiled. Johnson never stopped talking, but he knew who to make sure didn't hear him.

       They passed through another door leading into a covered walkway. The walls rounded ceiling were all transparent, so if no one here was sick of the swamps, they could gaze at them without going outside. The lights on the sides of the floor led straight ahead, to the other door 100 feet ahead. The woman over the PA system was giving the usual announcements. "All personnel are required to go to the medical facility and receive their annual vaccines. Remember that if you do not get vaccinated by the end of the week, you will have to wait another year to receive them, by which time you will most likely have died."

       "I love their sense of humor." Johnson said, sarcasm filling his voice.

      "Also, we have received our bi-annual supplies from Earth. This means that for the next month, the first 100 marines to be in line at the mess hall at meal times get a full ration of ham and potatoes."

       "About damn time, too. I'm sick of this artificial shit. 'Just like the real thing' my ass."

      "That is all for today. On behalf of the UNSC, thank you for defending Earth."

      Roberts was getting tired. Walking several miles through the plants and mud after a 16 hour day, he was ready to get his sleep. "You know I'm usually up for cards, Johnson, but I have to get some sleep." He said, walking towards the barracks.

       "Yeah, yeah." Johnson said, walking towards the mess hall, waving at a pair of engineers, who smiled and waved their greasy hands at Johnson.

       Roberts walked into the large room. He was the first person there, and thanked God that the leading officers weren't strict on regulations. Ceti was more like a sleep away camp than a military base, except most camps don't arm their campers with automatic weapons. He walked to his bed, 3 bunks from the far end of the room, and propped his antiqued MA5B against the wall. He slowly undressed, stretched his back, and lay down on his bed. Pulling the sheets over his chest, he turned on his side and looked at the wall.

       He lay awake for several minutes before he fell asleep, his subconscious engulfing his mind.

Date: 16 February 2006, 2:55 am

       Roberts was still asleep. He had been sleeping for several hours now, and it was almost time for his shift to begin anyways. He rolled onto his back and snored so loudly he woke himself up. Disoriented for a moment, he sat up and rubbed his eyes. In one motion, he put his feet into his combat boots and stood up, stretching his back and arms.

       Looking out the window, he figured it was around 0500, though it was often hard to tell through the fog and mist of the swamp. Smelling breakfast, his stomach growled. His bunk was close to the main hall of the installation, near the mess hall. Remembering the promise of ham and potatoes to the first Marines in line, he started walking faster. When he entered the mess hall, he was disappointed to see at least 200 people already eating. Shrugging off the disappointment, he stepped into line.

       After several minutes, he was handed a bowl of lukewarm oatmeal and an artificially grown apple. Looking around, he found Johnson, who waved him over to the seat next to him. He sat down across from Johnson, who was reading the Weekly Battle Update. "Dammit." Johnson said, taking a gulp of his cup-of-soup. "Looks like we lost Centauri VI. I went on vacation there once. Good fish." He turned the page. "Ah, I'm in this damned paper again." He turned the paper so that Roberts saw the headline Crazed Marine Makes a Scene under the Local section.

       Roberts snorted into his oatmeal. "The doctor was making moves on me, I swear." Johnson said. "Asked me to get naked. I don't swing that way."

       "You know… you were probably taking your physical." Roberts said, finishing off his oatmeal and taking a bite out of his apple. "Anyway, what's our job today?"

       Johnson kicked back his chair, picked up his tray, and threw it onto a table nearby. "I got Peters to do our usual patrol through the swamp. Had to give him a pack of cigarettes to convince him. And don't worry, he said he'd cover the paper work. We're taking his job; we're guarding the door to the control room. Easy enough."

       Roberts threw his apple core into the garbage and followed Johnson back to their bunks. They put on the rest of their uniforms, grabbed their weapons, and started walking towards the control room, a quarter mile away. They passed through a security checkpoint, answering some basic questions. They reached the control room around 0530. Johnson put his hand onto a green panel, which quickly read his fingerprints. Verifying that he was taking over for Peters, it let out a pleasant ding noise, and the 6-inch metal door opened.

       Colonel Anderson was busy staring at a control panel, casting a faint blue hue onto his face. He turned when he heard the hissing noise of the door, and cracked a smile. "Ah, Johnson! Roberts! Good to see you!" He said. "Peters told me you'd be taking over for him today."

       "Good to see you, too." Johnson said. "It's good to be inside at this time for a change. Usually we get up and the next thing we know we're ankle deep in shit."

       Anderson laughed and waved them inside. The doors closed behind them, hissing shut. Anderson's smile left his face and his tone drastically changed. "No doubt you've heard that we lost Centauri VI. That planet is in a system not far away, which means that the Covenant has almost certainly intercepted Centauri's last messages. Now, assuming they have, that means we have to raise our warning level. From now on, we have to be on our guard."

       Roberts nodded. The door hissed open behind him and the faint smell of perfume wafted into the room. He knew who was there without having to look. "Hello, Michelle." Roberts said in a very unwelcoming voice.

       "That's Sergeant Hulley, Private." The woman said with authority, stepping into the room. "Colonel." She said again in a much softer tone, nodding at Anderson.

       "Hello, Michelle." Anderson said. Roberts heard Johnson chuckle softly. "Roberts, Johnson, please wait outside."

       Roberts saluted and stepped out the door. When the door shut behind him, he exhaled sharply. "Jesus… what a bitch." Johnson laughed. "None of the women I slept with treated me like that afterwards. Then again, I never called them afterwards."

       "Listen, I'd appreciate it if you didn't talk about it, since both me and Michelle could get in a lot of trouble if anyone found out." Roberts said, not looking at Johnson.

       "Well, I found out and nothing happened. Hell, I walked into the damn room when…" Johnson said, laughing, until a loud noise interrupted him.

       The normal lights dimmed, replaced by a bright, red, and flashing light. An alarm blared out of speakers on the ceiling. "Warning. Warning. Incoming Covenant Phantoms. All personnel to their stations. This is not a drill."

       The door to the command center opened. Sergeant Hulley ran out, face filled with fear. "Roberts, Johnson, follow me." She said, motioning down a hallway. Roberts ran after her, grabbing his MA5B. They ran through several more corridors until they met up with another group of Marines. Letting them down a tight hallway first, Hulley motioned to Roberts and Johnson to stop for the moment. "Colonel Anderson was able to knock one Phantom out of the sky with ground-to-air missiles. It wasn't destroyed, however, and it crash-landed in a clearing several kilometers to the north. The 4 other Phantoms behind it followed it to the crash-site. We're expecting a full-on invasion within the hour, but we don't know why the preliminary attack force was so small."

       The other group of Marines ran by, and Hulley motioned for Roberts and Johnson to follow. "We're getting into a 'Hog and going to the crash-site now." She yelled over her shoulder. They reached a large room, filled with dozens of Warthogs and a handful of Pelicans. One Pelican lifted off the ground and flew through a large opening in the ceiling. A large metal plate quickly closed the opening behind the Pelican. Roberts jumped into the passenger seat of a Warthog. Hulley got into the driver's seat, and Johnson grabbed the gauss turret.

       The engine revved, the tires screeched, and the Warthog jumped forward, accelerating quickly. They went up a slight incline, and the ground changed from silver-metal of the station to the dark greenish-brown color of the swamp floor. They quickly covered the 5-kilometer distance on a man-made trail winding deep into the swamp. Leading the convoy of Warthogs, Roberts' vehicle turned sharply off the trail and into a small clearing on one side of the road. Several hundred meters ahead was smoking wreckage of a burning Phantom, accompanied by 4 beaten-but intact- dropships. "The Pelican reported no signs of enemy movement, so they must be inside the dropships!" Hulley yelled, listening in on the earpiece in her helmet.

       The Warthog stopped suddenly, fishtailing to a stop a hundred meters from the landing site. Roberts, his side of the Warthog facing the Phantoms, jumped out of his seat, ran around the car, and steadied his rifle on the front of the vehicle. Johnson aimed his turret at the crash-site, looking side to side for any movement. Seconds later, the other Warthogs caught up and formed a line, creating a makeshift cover for the 2-dozen Marines. After 8 turrets and 16 rifles were all aimed at the Phantoms, Hulley motioned Roberts forward.

       Roberts inched forward, followed closely by another private. Aiming down his sights, Roberts had tunnel vision. Though he couldn't see behind him, he waited until he heard several sets of footsteps catch up with him before he continued to move on. Walking toe-heel, he quickly moved up to the side of the nearest Phantom. The gravity lift on the Phantom was sparking, and it no longer had the bight blue-purple color it has while operating, though it was still holding several small rocks several inches off the ground. The back of the Phantom had been blown off, creating an impromptu ramp. Leaning against the side of the broken panel, Roberts motioned for someone to move to the front of the ramp. A marine with a shotgun swirled around the corner, weapon ready. A second later, he said "Clear."

       "Roberts, secure this Phantom while the rest of the squad continues on." Hulley barked. Roberts climbed up the ramp, weapon still ready to fire.

       He moved inside and instantly noticed the stench. Never, in all the years of training and all his encounters with the Covenant, had he been prepared to deal with a stench this terrible. Pushing it out of his mind, and breathing through his mouth, he continued on. Moving through the cargo area, he broke through the door to the cockpit. There were no bodies, but a greenish slime covered all the walls. "This Phantom's clear." He said into the microphone on his helmet.

       Lowering his rifle a little, he moved out of the cockpit and more closely examined the cargo area. Still breathing through his mouth, he realized that he could taste the stench. Kneeling down and holding his mouth to suppress his gagging, he noticed the ground was covered in greenish colored flaps of flesh. Picking one up, a thick pool of slime was left where the flap originally lay down. Looking around, he saw a broken Plasma Rifle and multiple burn marks on the ground and walls. The bigger portion of the Plasma Rifle leaned against a small purple container. Moving towards it, the container shook, creating a large banging noise.

       "Whoa, I've got a possible enemy here!" He yelled. Several marines, along with Johnson and Hulley, ran up the ramp and joined Roberts, who was aiming his rifle at the container.

       "Welsh… Pop it open. If anything comes at us, we'll put it down." Hulley said. A marine moved forward, pressed a glowing button on the container, and moved back as a small door swung open. A Covenant Elite fell out, purple blood flowing out of multiple gashes in its skin. Johnson kicked its arm with his boot, and the elite twitched. "It's alive!" Hulley said. "Quick, warn the medics back at base, we're bringing this back as a POW."

       Roberts had a bad feeling in the pit of his stomach.

Date: 16 February 2006, 2:59 am

       Roberts followed the rest of the squad out of the Phantom, watching the two marines who had shouldered their weapons and were carrying the wounded elite. One was holding onto its legs while the other was holding it by the forearms. His feet hit the swamp floor, and he took a deep breath of the air. It smelled bad, but compared to the smell inside the Phantom it might have been roses. "Hey, Sarge?" A marine called. "You better take a look at this…"

       Roberts turned, looking at the marine who had just spoken. Hulley walked over to the marine, who was kneeling. He motioned for her to kneel as well. She did so, and the marine continued. "Take a look at these footsteps. There's elite footsteps, which are normal, grunt footsteps which surprises me while looking at the condition of the dropships, and I don't get this… but there's human footsteps too."

       Hulley was silent for a second. "Human POWs, you think?" She asked. The marine opened his mouth, but Hulley answered her own question. "No… they don't take prisoners. Call HQ, check to see if there were any recent patrols in this area. Try to narrow it down to patrols within the last few hours, the swamp ground usually fills in footsteps by then."

       A private walked up to the kneeling marines. "Ma'am, we've loaded the elite into the back of one of the Warthogs and we've radioed ahead. There'll be a team of medics ready to check out our prisoner the second we arrive."

       "Good. Let's get back and have Anderson send some cranes over here. We should bring these inside the compound as quickly as possible." Hulley said, standing up.

       Roberts walked back to the Warthog and took a seat. Johnson joined him after several seconds past and climbed into the back of the 'hog, leaning on the turret. "Shit stinks, don't it?" He asked Roberts.

       "Yeah, I never smelled anything that bad before. Smelled like a 3 month old dead body." Roberts reminisced.

       "I'm not talking about the smell. It did stink though. I'm talking about this whole situation. Something isn't right… y'know? 5 Phantoms, no fleet? That's it? And what's up with that elite hiding in that container?" Johnson rambled. Hulley passed in front of the car, jumped in the driver seat, and without a word, drove off.

       They drove back on the path, the bump nearly caused Roberts to fall out. He grabbed onto the dashboard and looked at Hulley. "What d'you think of this situation, Miche… Sergeant?" Roberts asked, correcting himself.

       Hulley grimaced when she heard Roberts almost call her by her first name, but responded as if she didn't hear anything. "I don't like it. We don't see any Covenant warships in the system, so how far did these Phantoms travel? And if the Phantoms traveled from out of the system, how is that elite still alive?"

       The ride continued in silence until they reached the compound. They slowed to a stop, and several Warthogs pulled up along side them. A team of medics rushed to the Warthog dripping with purple blood and, with the help of several marines, put the elite onto a board and carried it towards the medical wing. Roberts, Johnson, and Hulley walked quickly after them.

       They reached the medical wing and were held at the door by an exhausted looking doctor. "Listen, I doubt he'll live past the hour. He's lost extreme amounts of blood, and to be honest, our medicine probably won't work on him. They just aren't built the same as us."

       "Well, what can you do to keep him with us longer? I need to figure out what the hell happened." Hulley snapped.

       "Well, we can patch up some of his cuts and we could try to stop some of the internal bleeding, but an operation like that would last longer and might kill him."

       "Put some gauze on his cuts and we'll be in shortly." Hulley said. The doctor nodded and pushed open the double-doors. Roberts leaned against the wall and Hulley unintentionally wrung her fingers.

       "Funny, ain't it?" Johnson said. "We train for years to kill the bastards and here we are trying to save one."

       No one spoke. After a few minutes, the doctor walked out, white robes slightly stained purple. "You can talk to him, but I doubt you'll learn much." Hulley thanked the doctor and pushed through the doors.

       The elite was strapped to a metal operating table, leather harnesses holding it down below the knees, at the waist, and on the shoulders. There were purple-blood stained dressings covering its arms, chest, and throat. It obviously heard them coming, and in a deep, dog like voice it said, "Ah, the humans." The elite spoke no English; the marines spoke no alien language. However, the elite carried a universal translator, which was able to give commands to the lesser classes of Covenant and translate most words into English as well. The words that could not be translated were left up to guesswork.

       "Yes, the humans. Tell me what happened to you and your friends and I'll make sure your death doesn't hurt terribly." Hulley said harshly.

       "Ah, pain often times makes a death honorable. However, in these dire times, one must make sacrifices. You see, something much more horrible than you could imagine is now infesting the universe. The parasites, the Flood have been released. And here I am, forced to ask help from those I despise slightly less than the parasites themselves."

       "Explain." Hulley barked.

       "Ah… where to begin? My ship, the Enduring Vigilance, was overwhelmed by the parasites while on the Sacred Ring. We quickly lost control of the Command Deck, and before we could retake it they jumped into Slipspace. My squad and I were aboard a Phantom, collecting supplies, when it was overrun by the parasite warriors. Dishonorably, I hid in the supply container. And the rest is common knowledge." It laughed. "By now they have most assuredly reproduced. It is up to you to quell their uprising so that we may, once again, focus on the less bothersome vermin."

       The elite looked up towards the ceiling. "Ah… paradise." Without another word, he stopped breathing.

       A heavy silence filled the air. "Pompous asswipe." Johnson muttered. "Anyone understand a damn word he said?"

       "All I heard was there's something out in the swamp and it isn't good. Tell Anderson to get some aerial support and marines together." Hulley said, turning towards Roberts.

       "We have to go hunting."

Date: 20 July 2007, 3:45 am

       Roberts was several paces behind Johnson. It was a struggle to take even a single step this deep in the swamp. The mud was halfway up Robert's calf, causing his fatigues to stick to his skin, and his boots were now filled with the slime that covered the entire swamp. They had gone back to the crash site, which was now surrounded by cranes tasked with dragging the Phantoms into Ceti base's hangar. They had found the footprints that lead away from the Phantoms and towards the swamp and began to follow them. Once they had gone several feet out of the clearing, however, the footsteps had filled in with mud. Luckily, they were in between two large, jagged hills and therefore it was very likely that the "parasites" had gone straight down the ravine.
       Roberts and Johnson, along with five other Marines, had volunteered to find the "Flood" that the dead Elite had warned them about. Colonel Anderson was hesitant to fulfill the dying Elite's wishes, but Sergeant Michelle Hulley insisted on neutralizing the threat. Finally consenting to her requests, he ordered a search and destroy mission, sending out dozens of small fire teams.
       Michelle had also insisted on leading this particular group of Marines.
       "So, let me get this straight." Johnson said, pushing a small, moss-covered branch out of his face. "An Elite asked us to do something and we're actually doing it?"
       Michelle, who was two Marines ahead of Johnson leading the fire team, didn't bother to turn around. "Exactly." At this, several Marines actually voiced their dissent.
       "Wait a minute… we're on a mission for the Covenant?"
       "I was trained to kill those fuckers… Not take orders from them!"
       Michelle waited for the Marines to get the anger off of their chests, then spoke. "Listen, I know the situation is pretty fucked."
       "A-fucking-men." Johnson muttered so that only Roberts would hear.
       "But think of it this way. The Covenant hates us more than we hate them. So why would that one Elite ask for our help? Obviously there was something extremely dangerous to everyone."
       Johnson spoke up. "Yeah, or something only dangerous to them. Maybe it's some Covenant that were supposed to be quarantined. "Parasite", remember? Maybe some sicko-Covenant escaped and took over a ship? We're doing the Covenant a fucking favor."
       Roberts saw Michelle shake her head. She was a good leader, but there was no way she would win over this group of Marines without a little support. "Sergeant Hulley is right." He said. "There were human footprints at the crash site, remember? That means there were humans on the Covenant ship. The Covenant don't take prisoners and they definitely don't work with humans, so there's something out here that's dangerous to the both of us."
       The Marines stopped complaining but continued muttering under their breaths. "I still think this is fucked up." Johnson said to Roberts.
       They were getting deeper into the swamp. When the planet had first been colonized, they had originally tried leveling the swamps. After several months and thousands of dollars of equipment ruined, the building crew gave up. They decided to build a base on the swamp. However, before they had given up, they were able to clear out several square miles of the thick foliage. Therefore, when Roberts was on patrol outside of the once-deforested zone, he was able to tell exactly where the building crews had stopped. The trees that had grown back were brown and covered in dark green leaves; trees that had adjusted to the man-made terraformed atmosphere.
       The trees that the Marines had just walked through were hundreds of feet high and jet-black, covered in a tar-like slime and had thick, dark brown leaves.
       After walking several minutes forward, the trees cut out all of the sunlight. Turning on the lights on their helmets, shadows danced through the small spaces between trees. It was as dark as night, and the dead silence of this planet gave Roberts a shiver down his spine. The sounds of grunts from the Marines, tired from carrying their heavy equipment through thick mud for miles, quickly faded and died. It was almost as if the swamp ate all the sounds. Roberts could barely heard Johnson swearing, and Johnson was only a few feet in front of him.
       The trees' height didn't stop them from having thick, slime-covered branches exactly at shoulder-level. Eventually Roberts, along with the other Marines, had slung their rifles over their shoulders and started using both hands to push the branches aside.
       When Michelle, who was ahead of all the Marines, looked back and saw this she started yelling. "Are you fucking stupid?" She asked. "What if we were ambushed? You wouldn't be able to fire back!"
       Roberts sighed and un-slung his weapon once more, wiping off the slime that had transferred from the thick foliage onto his assault rifle. She was right, he knew that, but he was beginning to wonder if they were on the right track. The hills to either side of him were no longer visible through the trees. However, he knew that in the hills there were many caves. Cartographers had attempted mapping this ravine, but gave up when they realized that some of the caves had tunnels that extended miles in every direction. In fact, some of the tunnels in the lower levels of Ceti base were actually built in these tunnels. They just put steel reinforcements along the sides and ceiling of the tunnels, lay down a metal floor, and sealed off the parts of the tunnels they didn't use.
       The caves were the perfect place to hide. However, searching them entirely would take hundreds of man-hours. Roberts decided to wait until they were back at the base to request that Anderson send some robotic patrols into the cave tunnels.
       They continued wading through the mud for several miles until the trees cleared and the ground was covered in a thin layer of mist. They had reached a dead end: the Lake.
       The Lake was not visible from the sky, even though there were no trees above it. Every second of every day, the Lake was covered by a sheet of fog. The reason for the thick fog was explained once to Roberts. Under the deep Lake are hundreds of volcanic vents, which heat the water. This boils off much of the water in the Lake. However, there is so much condensed water in the atmosphere that the air can no longer hold all the water vapor. The water vapor bleeds out of the cold air and causes the thick clouds of fog that covers the entire body of water, along with much of the planet.
       The volcanic vents also suggest that there might be life on the planet other than the large trees and bugs that died out when the planet was terraformed. However, the planet was so thick in swamp and the Lake was so large that nothing had been spotted yet.
       Roberts had always wondered why people bothered to colonize this planet. But he guessed that the overall shittiness of the planet made it a great place to hide a military base.
       Michelle led the Marines up within a few hundred feet of the Lake. Marines had a superstition that the Lake was haunted (although the planet had only been colonized for roughly thirty years), and therefore no one came near its muddy beaches. She took a big step out of the thick mud and pulled herself up onto a large, flat rock. The rock was large enough for all of them, and when everyone had climbed up Michelle invited them to take a break. She continued to stand, BR55 at the ready, and watching intently at the tree line that was barely visible through the fog a hundred feet away.
       Roberts pulled his canteen out of one of his larger pockets and took a long swig out of it. As wet as the planet was, it was hard to get drinkable water this far away from the base. He made sure to drink enough to quench his thirst, but not enough to leave him with no water for the trek back.
       Johnson swore when he remembered that his canteen was filled with liquor.
       "Fucking waste of time." Johnson said, taking a swig after making sure Michelle wouldn't see. He paused to wipe his mouth and handed the canteen to Roberts. Roberts held up his hand and shook his head, declining the liquor. He had no problem waiting until they got back to drink; he didn't want to end up dehydrated here.
       Roberts looked out over the Lake. Even if there wasn't any fog, he knew he wouldn't be able to see the other side of the Lake. By the time cartographers had figured out that the Lake was larger than any inland sea on Earth, the name "Lake" had stuck. They were right off the coast of one of the smaller bays attached to the Lake. All the rivers that surrounded Ceti base leaked from the Lake and into the sea, which was well over a hundred miles away.
       After five minutes, Michelle told the Marines to get ready to go. They grumbled, still tired from the slog through the thick mud, but stood up, put away their canteens, and picked up their rifles.
       At this point, going back through the ravine would take longer than walking along the side of the Lake. The mud was several inches deeper along the Lake, but there were enough rocks and trees to make a pathway that the Marines walked across. Roberts heard Johnson swear behind him and turned in time to see Johnson slipping on a mossy log he had been walking on. Johnson fell into the thick mud. His swears were silenced as his mouth filled with mud.
       The Marines ahead of Roberts turned to see what had happened and began to laugh. Even Michelle had begun chuckling. Roberts figured that she had smelled the alcohol and said nothing, knowing that walking through the swamp while intoxicated was a punishment itself.
       They continued laughing until Roberts realized that he had been down there a little too long. Other Marines had noticed this, too, and the laughter died down. "Sergeant Hulley…?" One of them asked.
       The mud exploded upward, and Johnson was swearing. "SHOOT IT!" He shouted, climbing up onto the log. The Marines aimed their guns at the mud but held their fire. Johnson wiped the mud out of his eyes, pulled out his sidearm (which had been in its holster while he was under and therefore wasn't covered in mud) and aimed it at the ground right next to the log. After half a minute of silence, one of the Marines lowered his shotgun and chuckled. "Fucking drunk."
       The other Marines started laughing. The only thing that kept Roberts from joining in was the look on Johnson's face. He hadn't cracked a smile, admitted it was a joke, or even moved his gun away from the mud.
       The Marines, eyes filled with tears from laughter, didn't notice the humanoid figure rising out of the mud.
       Michelle, on the other hand, hadn't been laughing since Johnson climbed out of the mud. She said in a harsh whisper, "Hold. Your. Fire." The Marines heard this, stopped laughing, and turned to look at the muddy figure. They slowly aimed their rifles at it.
       "Name and rank." Michelle asked, obviously not ignoring the fact that the figure could be a person.
       The figure was silent for a second longer, then leaped forward. It was shredded apart almost instantly under the hail of bullets. The Marines fired until there was barely anything left of the upper torso. Michelle ordered them to cease firing and the swamp fell silent again. The bullet casings began to sink into the mud.
       The figure was still standing, although completely gone from the ribcage up. Slowly, however, it fell backwards. The Marines stood completely immobilized until it began to sink and Michelle ordered them to cover it in a tarp and carry it with them.
       One of the Marines who climbed into the mud called back. "It's a fucking person."
       They brought the corpse, now wrapped tightly in a muddy tarp, up on the log. One Marine handed a tatter of the man's uniform to Michelle. "He was an engineer on a ship." She said, reading from a name embroidered onto the small piece of clothing. "Mark Yossarian."
       "Holy shit," One of the Marines gasped. "I know the fucking guy. He was stationed on the Pillar of Autumn."
       They stood in silence for a minute longer, then Michelle ordered them to continue walking towards the base.
       The walk was long, but Roberts could remember next to nothing about it. He had been running on autopilot since the dead engineer jumped out of the mud. He was glad no one had surprised him on the way back; he might have snapped at any moment.
       After several hours of trekking through the thick mud and trees, Roberts saw a dull-yellow light in the distance. He felt relief like he had never felt before. Michelle warned them to not let down their guard. Roberts thought of an old saying back on Earth. "Most accidents happen within a mile of your home." Although the saying was meant for traffic accidents, it was perfectly applicable here.
       Finally, when there were no trees between him and the light, Roberts was able to see one of the many back doors to Ceti base, covered in a layer of thick green swamp slime. The hallway it connected to went several dozen feet back until it fell out of eyesight due to the thick trees. Roberts stepped up onto the wet concrete that the Marines dubbed the "Welcome Mat" and tried shaking off some mud.
       He turned around and grabbed an edge of the tarp behind him, helping the Marines carry the corpse up onto the ledge. They jogged towards the door, which opened automatically for them. A wave of heat washed over them.
       Roberts was never so happy to be back in a military base.