Resistivity Chapter 1: Save Me A Seat
Date: 22 February 2002, 10:13 pm
Wincing, I watched as the doctor administered a pain injection. "This will help with the pain until we can get a nano-surgery unit over to you," she said. Despite being a lieutenant in the UNSC Marine Corps, I still had a certain undefined discomfort around needles. "That last plasma burst was close," she continued, "you're lucky you weren't thrown harder into that bulkhead."
"I'll be alright," I grumbled, rolling down my sleeve. Just my luck, landed wrong on my shoulder right before our jump. No matter, the nano-surgery units usually fixed up sprains and the like pretty quickly. I tried moving the shoulder gently as the doctor explained the nano-surgery procedure to me. I looked at her as she spoke and decided that she was cute. Her last name was DeCollibus, that much was apparent on her name badge, but she had mentioned her first name at some point, I thought. What was it? Jessica? Something like that.
"... only take a few minutes." The doctor finished her explanation. I slid off the examining table. I had just started to put on my armor when the alertcon light turned red again and the klaxon sounded. The loudspeaker's voice was unmistakable in its urgency: "Attention all combat personnel. Please report to your action stations. Attention all combat personnel..."
Damn, what's going on now? I thought we got away. "Doctor, that surgery will have to wait." I called over my shoulder as I ran out of the exam room into the hallway. Moderate chaos prevailed. SolCore Navy personnel were running around attempting to get to their stations, brushing by the wounded still coming in from the more distant parts of the Autumn. Hastily patched up, they were all in stable condition with minor wounds; burns, lacerations, sprains, and fractures; most arrived under their own power. We got away easy that time, I thought. As I rubbed my sprained shoulder, feeling the painkiller begin to do its work, a marine with bandages over his arm ran up to me.
"Sir! Uh, what's going on sir?"
"I'm not positive... Apparently we didn't get away. I'm heading up to our rendezvous to see."
"Sir, I'd like to come with you sir," he replied. I quickly looked PFC Davis up and down. Aside from the minor burns, he was in good condition. Lucky thing that electrical fire flare-up hadn't burned him more severely.
"Follow me, private." We ran down the corridor towards the high bay, our designated gathering point. While we traveled, I mulled over the information, a bad habit I had. I had suspicions that we had jumped into a Covenant controlled area and ships were probably moving to intercept. Just hang tight and let the Navy flyboys do their work and we should be able to escape, this time, I hoped, for real. Getting away from Reach was incredible. Covenant destroyers were just mopping up SolCore ships. The Pillar of Autumn had many close calls, and two of my squads were relegated to firefighting on Deck 6. Whoever was doing the flying up at Command was either brilliant or very lucky, or both.
"Fifth platoon, secure airlocks on Deck Eleven. Fourteenth Platoon, rendezvous with 22nd Tactical at..." Cortana, the ship's AI, came through over the loudspeaker. Everyone on board knew her voice. It was comforting to hear her as she took care of most of the chores on the ship, and coordinated personnel with an efficiency that was second to none. And in addition to being the ship's 'mother', she safeguarded such sensitive information on SolCore and the war effort that it was vital to not allow her to fall into enemy hands. Plus I heard from a bridge tech that she had, in his own words, 'one hot AI bod'.
"Sir, take a look at that!" Davis exclaimed as we rushed by one of the lounges. Used mainly for leisure and relaxing, the lounges housed bars stocked with various stimulants and depressants, and large areas with tables and floor length viewing windows used for conversing, drinking, and meeting members of the opposite sex. Hard to believe that it was just last week that I had met...
"Sir, what IS that!" Davis interrupted my brief thought. Retracing my steps, I peered into the lounge and out into space. A large gas giant hung in the distance, almost perfectly framed in the window. A pretty color, I supposed, but not anything to stop and stare at. I wondered what Davis was getting excited about. But then I noticed a strange ring shaped object just to the right of the planet. Rotating slowly, it was difficult to judge size and distance without some known objects to scale it against, but it appeared to be extraordinarily large, larger than most space stations.
I groped in my mind for some explanation but came up empty handed. "I don't know, Davis, but I think there's a lot more going on here than we were told about." It seemed to me now that it was strange that our random escape jump had put us in such close vicinity to this strange object AND that Covenant were closing in. More than coincidental, I thought.
"Yes, and let's find out exactly what's going on here," I muttered to myself as we headed towards our station.
"...again, our main objective is to engage and neutralize internal contacts on Deck 12 forward, port side. We have to hold them off until the Captain gives the order to evac. We'll be taken down to the surface by Echo-403 in Bay 7. Get ready to repel boarders. It's going to be a long day." I finished briefing my platoon, walked over to an empty weapons crate, and sat down. I wasn't big into testosterone inducing gung-ho pep-rallies and left most of that work to Sgt. Spann. Spann was a seasoned veteran of the war, and had been a squad leader in my platoon for about eight months now. Tough and focused, he'd seen more action than I had up until this point, and I was grateful for his presence and battle experience.
As the sergeant whipped the men up into an adrenaline-laced fury, I thought about the information just recently disclosed to me by my CO. Our Longsword fighters were cleaning up some smaller ships patrolling the area, but CCS-Class battlegroups were inbound from multiple vectors. The Autumn, though not seriously damaged in the battle at Reach, was alone. Chances were that the ship wouldn't be able to escape the Covenant net closing in, and those Covenant bastards would probably see the lone ship as their best chance to capture and extract vital information from Cortana. In addition, we were carrying some special cargo in cryo that was confirmed by my CO to be one of the near-invincible cyborg soldiers that had been in secret development for some years now. Boarders were a virtual certainty. Given the odds, we wouldn't be able to hold them back forever, and we were to engage Covenant forces for as long as possible - it seemed we had drawn an unusually large number of ships away from Reach. Why? Perhaps we were buying the forces at Reach some time to escape. But the Captain must have had some plan as to how to prevent the Covies from getting their claws on either the cyborg or the location of Earth. Without detonating the ship? I hoped we weren't just Covie-bait.
"... am I right Marines!" the sergeant finished up. As the platoon responded I could hear excitement in their voices, but also a hint of fear. Though we were clearly outmatched in space combat, ground combat was mankind's equalizer. Marines could at least compete with the Covenant in ground combat. While casualties were usually high, if given even numbers and relatively few Elites, the odds were fifty-fifty that we would come out on top. Elite units were the most feared of the Covenant due to their balanced combination of size, strength, speed, and shielding capabilities. Wielding plasma weapons with uncanny accuracy, Elites were known to take down whole squads of marines in a stunning display of plasma bursts and cracking bones. Running into a squad of Elites was, to say the least, a very bad day for any Marine.
Spann fell back behind the platoon to speak with me while we made our way up to our station.
"Sir. The men are a little uneasy with the odds." Spann had a way of understating the obvious.
"Attention all personnel. We are re-engaging the enemy. External and internal contacts imminent." Cortana spoke coolly over the PA system.
"So am I."
Spann paused while we allowed a heavy weapons fireteam to pass in the narrow corridors.
"So what's on that thing out there?"
"What do you mean, on that ring?"
"Yes sir. You're the one always churning out theories."
"I don't know, sergeant, but chances are we can't hold the Covenant at bay until they get bored and leave. We've got to go somewhere." The ship shook as the capital ships began to engage the Autumn and the first wave of Covenant fighters began their strafing attacks. Brilliant plumes of yellow and white, bright flares, and fading lights were drawing a kaleidoscope of patterns against the infinite blackness of space. Simultaneously, loud thuds were heard from within the ship itself.
"Longsword fighters are getting cremed out there," Spann commented.
"Well we can't fit the whole platoon on a Longsword can we?" I said.
"Not unless we sit in the pilot's lap."
"They might actually enjoy that huh?"
"Probably. I hear the flyboys are funny that way." Spann laughed, then paused.
"Why do you think we're going to the ring? Don't get me wrong, I'd be the first in line to be able to fight the Covies on solid ground. But that ring is... well, different."
I thought for a moment. We couldn't possibly beat the Covenant in ship to ship combat, alone. Covenant would probably board and attempt to capture the vital information they needed to find Earth and wipe us out for good, that much was already established. We were lost in space, cornered by our enemies, and there was no way out. Self destruct, more and more, was seemingly inevitable. Take out as many of them as you can before you go. But not before we get them into range. Maybe we would lead them on the ring and then detonate the whole thing for an even bigger blast radius. At any rate, I didn't like the way things were turning out in my head.
"I don't know sergeant, but let's greet our Covenant friends with a warm welcome."
Our target position on Deck 12 forward was pandemonium when we arrived. Up ahead I could hear M6D pistol gunfire mixed with the unmistakable whine of plasma charges, screams of dying men, and the low bass of Elite Covenant shouting over the chaos. There was already significant structural damage and debris was scattered all over the place. Stray plasma bolts, white hot, came out from around the corner up ahead. Crewmembers were running towards us yelling for help, screaming incoherently about 'hundreds' and 'cowardly fools'. Apparently, Covenant were advancing. Fast.
"Sergeant, take first squad in through the left where those crew are coming out. I'll take second squad up this secondary corridor and try to flank or get behind their position. Give me a sec to get up there, then engage."
"Lieutenant." I turned back to him.
"Send in a few frags - special delivery." I smiled and sent Spann on his way to engage the enemy while I took my group up the right side corridor.
Deck 12 housed the storage areas where supplies were kept and was a series of interconnected rooms, corridors, and doorways. Storage crates blocked off certain areas of the corridor where the crew left them when they were attacked. Distorted bulkheads demonstrated the intense heat of charged plasma bursts. Secondary corridors running parallel to the main corridor were connected to the main corridor by smaller side passageways, and were relatively unharmed. Some smoke filled the hallway inconsistently, indicating small fires dispersed throughout the area. I hoped they weren't near any munitions crates.
I led my five-man squad up the secondary and radioed command.
"Command, this is combat team Tango 14 at Deck 12 forward. Report heavy Covenant contact in the storage bays. Request reinforcements." If available, I thought to myself.
"Negative, Tango 14." Cortana's voice came in over the headset. "We have no available units in your area. Suggest you fall back by squad to Tango 10's position while laying down suppressing fire."
"Roger Cortana. Tango 14 out." The usual situation. The story of the war, actually, as we were outnumbered and outgunned, fighting a losing battle against our own inevitable extinction. I wasn't going to let it be easy for them, though.
As we approached the side passageway we heard automatic gunfire bursts. "First squad engaged." Spann's voice came through on the com system loud and clear. "I count four, maybe five Elite, a few Grunts. We have their attention." The last of the crew streamed by us. I turned the corner that led back up the side passageway to the main corridor. Up ahead I could see the Elites dodging back and forth, their shields occasionally lighting up as they dispersed the energy of assault rifle rounds meant to penetrate their blue armor. Apparently they had not expected a strong Marine presence in this area of the ship, and had advanced more quickly than was prudent, getting caught in an area with little cover. I turned to my men and motioned for frags. Gingerly, I shouldered my MA5B assault rifle and prepared to unleash a hail of lead to finish off what the frags could not. I watched the frags arc over towards the Covenant position and spark as they landed. Turning my head to avoid stray shrapnel and dust, Grunts squealed and Elite shields shattered as three grenades exploded in unison.
"Open fire!" I squeezed the trigger of my assault rifle and felt the recoil against my shoulder, forgetting for a moment about the dull pain. Multiple 7.62mm streaks rained on the unshielded surviving Elite units. Plasma rifles returned fire, but only for a few seconds as the Elite units were cut down. Their alien howls of anger sent the hairs on my arm on end. After a moment, I advanced my squad up the side passageway towards the intersection at the main corridor to check for survivors and finish them off. All of the Covenant in the area were dead. Satisfied, I looked back over down the corridor to Spann and first squad.
"Nice work sergeant."
Spann's reply was terse and controlled. "Lieutenant, contact - your six!"
Green and white plasma bolts hummed by my head as I dropped to the floor. I heard one of the men shriek as multiple plasma bolts slammed into his back. As I looked forward, I saw more Covenant at the forward end of the main corridor. A stationary shield was being set up and Elite units were raining plasma death on my squad. Spann was shouting for me to clear the position.
"Back!" I shouted as I got to my knees and dove back into the side corridor we had just emerged from. A quick check revealed that we had lost Hays and Dubiel. Gunfire erupted from first squad's position as they attempted to hold off the Covenant reinforcements. I radioed to Spann.
"Sergeant, hold them off as we make our way back to your position." There were too many corridors up here to hold position. Our side corridor was connected to the main corridor and the secondary corridor on the other end, which ran parallel to the main. There could be Covenant sneaking down the secondary to flank us now that we were being forced back to the secondary. We ran back towards the secondary corridor and peeked around the corner forward. Sure enough, two Elite units were advancing on our position to try and trap us, followed by twice as many Grunts. There was little chance that the four of us could take on the approaching Covenant squad.
"Sergeant, we've got Covenant down the secondary. Can you bail us out?"
"Roger, lieutenant. I'm on my way." The gunfire ceased for a moment, then erupted again down the secondary corridor.
"Lieutenant I've got two Elites and a bunch of Grunts stopped in secondary! More are behind them... if you're gonna do something, do it now! I can't hold them back forever!"
I motioned for two more frags and told the men to get ready to make a run for it down the rights side of the corridor.
"We're coming your way Sergeant, on your left."
"Roger." I tensed, readying myself.
"Frag out!" Grenades whipped around the corner towards the Covenant squad. We ran out into the secondary corridor, backpedaling as we tried to lay down suppressing fire and retreat simultaneously. Elites roared as they saw us try to escape, lighting up the corridor with white plasma. Spann and his fireteam also fired, down the other side of the corridor to my relief, as the frags bounced around behind the two Elites and in front of the Grunts. To my horror, the Elites, instead of reversing and going back up the secondary to avoid the grenades, actually advanced on us with dizzying speed. Their eight foot frames towered over my men as we blindly emptied bullets into their rapidly diminishing shields.
The first Elite raised his weapon and knocked Rodriguez into the incredibly dense alloy bulkhead with a disturbing thud, killing him instantly. We continued to stumble backwards as the Elite, intent on continuing his melee kills, rose his weapon a second time to eliminate Poirier. Just then, the frags exploded with a concussion wave that propelled Elites at us at, unbelievably, an even faster velocity. Shields shattering, the second Elite died in the blast wave. The first Elite, protected partially by the other, bowled into what was left of my squad, knocking us into a tangled heap on the corridor floor. By now thoroughly freaking out, my last two men screamed as the Elite sprung up with inhuman speed. Catching them with empty magazines, it roared and swung out. Catching Poirier on the side of the head, the Elite managed one last kill before Spann's team ventilated the now-shieldless Covenant. It howled and crumbled to the floor. Davis scrambled while the Elite marked the floor around him with plasma as it involuntarily pulled on the weapon's trigger.
"Lieutenant let's go! I've got more Covenant on their way down the main corridor!" Spann shouted as I collected my weapon and helped Davis, the last man on my squad up to his feet. Surprisingly he had managed to dodge the random plasma bolts emitted from the Elite's death throes.
We stumbled back into the main corridor where two marines were attempting to hold off the remainder of the boarding party.
"They're pouring in!" one of the men shouted, "And we can't hold them!"
I gave the order to fall back to the landing area. The marines lobbed their remaining grenades at the Covenant and we began retreating to the landing where Tango 10 was positioned. No doubt the Covenant squads would approach a little more cautiously now, having lost at least six Elites. There were too many more coming in to contain, however. We had little time before they would overtake us. I wondered if the combat teams on the rest of the ship were getting as much contact. The ship was shaking considerably now, with constant explosions rocking the ship. The Captain's voice came over the loudspeaker. "Ops personnel on decks nine through twelve, report to evac stations now."
"Command, this is Tango 14, Deck 12 forward, port side has been breached, repeat, deck 12 forward port has been breached. We can not reach the airlocks on 12 forward, over." I listened for a reply from command.
"Roger, Tango 14," came the human reply, "be advised that there are multiple Covenant breaches all over the ship, including your designated evac station. Protect Ops personnel until they are evacuated, then find yourself a ride and get the hell out of here. Rendezvous at the command shuttle on the ring artifact for further orders." Strange, I thought, where was Cortana?
"Command, request clarification, uh, where's Cortana?"
"Cortana is being escorted off the ship by the Master Chief. Support the Master Chief if you see him, otherwise follow your primary objective. Command out."
The Master Chief had Cortana. And was trying to get off the ship to the ring. That's why Keyes is on the speaker. Cortana's in good hands, I thought to myself. The Master Chief and his battle skills were legendary. It was said that he could take on dozens of Covenant at once and survive. I had no doubt that any vital info was safe with the MC. We were just holding the Covenant off until they were away. Which meant that they were going to land on the ring and rendezvous with the rest of us survivors for... what? Was there actually a mission here? Didn't we do a blind jump in accordance with the Cole Protocol? What's going on? The distant sound of an explosion echoed through the hallways and drew my attention to the matter at hand.
"OK listen up men, the Master Chief has Cortana and is probably already off the ship. We protect Ops on 12 until they're all away. Then we find ourselves a lifeboat and ditch on that ring."
"Lifeboat?? What about our dropship?" one of the men asked.
"Sorry fellas, that dropship is toast. We need to hitch our own ride."
"Oh that's it man, game over, man. Game over! What are we gonna do now..." The marine continued his tirade for a few seconds as I watched the sergeant swell up and walk over.
"Marine! Stow that Grunty whining bullshit and fall in!" Spann shouted at the marine. Grabbing his armor, Spann leaned in close and whispered at the blubbering marine. Pushing him away, the sergeant finished, "Do you understand me?"
"OK lieutenant, you were saying..."
I nodded at Spann. "We'll operate in two four man teams. Lin, Trotter, you're with Davis and me. The rest of you follow Spann." I pointed at the freaked marine. "Hold it together, marine, and we'll get out of here in one piece. Let's go find some crewmen to save." I waved at Spann.
"See you out there, Sergeant." Spann turned to take his team out to the starboard side of the ship.
"Bag some more Covie for me, Lieutenant." I nodded as we split up and began searching for any remaining crewmembers to escort to their lifeboats.
Heading aft, there were signs of firefights everywhere. Combat teams had been positioned all over deck 12, but there were no signs of anyone. Alive, anyway. Both Covenant and Marine bodies alike littered the hallways in certain areas. Red and blue mixed together on the walls and floor to form a grotesquely psychedelic color scheme. A series of distant explosions shook the ship. We moved on.
Lifeboat pods were launched in every area we passed. Peering into the lifeboat airlock, I noticed that a Covenant ship was docked. Hmm, it appeared that they were taking the easy way in. Those Covenant are clever. As we crept into the Covenant ship, I noticed the strange markings and colorations of the interior. Very colorful.
"Lieutenant, what is this?" Davis asked. Davis was always very observant but less than capable at drawing conclusions.
"It's a Covenant boarding shuttle. They've been getting in through our own airlocks." I turned to look at what seemed to be a control panel.
"Those bastards." Trotter muttered. The big man shifted his grip on his assault rifle. "They gonna bleed for this."
"Something over here lieutenant." PFC Lin scanned the corners of the small ship. He picked up a small cube with a red sphere hovering inside it and shook it. "What's this for?" Lin was sometimes too inquisitive for his own good.
"Put that down private," I replied. "No telling what it'll do if we start messing with it."
"You think we can use their weapons and stuff?" Lin slowly and carefully set the artifact back down where he found it.
"Probably, we'll figure it out when we've got a chance. But I don't want one of you to blow the rest of us up while fiddling with the trigger. OK?"
"Combat teams Sierra through Victor, prepare for evac." The captain's voice again came out over the loudspeaker in the hallway and through the airlock into the Covenant ship.
"That's us. Let's move, before there's no lifeboats left for us." I turned and made my way out of the boarding shuttle back into the Autumn. There was no way we could escape on one of those, and I was beginning to think we might have a hard time even finding a lifeboat to escape in. The MC had probably commandeered one of them or escaped on a dropship, presumably to continue some havoc down on that ring's surface. I could only assume that we would, in the unlikely event that we were successful, wait for a rescue mission to reach us.
Most lifeboat banks were empty as we passed by, the rest had Covenant boarding shuttles attached to them. As we continued aft, signs of a heavier battle were prominent. Strangely, only Covenant bodies were found here.
"Looks like the Master Chief was busy." Lin commented on the evidence of the MC's handiwork. He kicked one of the bodies over. The back of the Elite's skull had collapsed as if some unimaginable force had crushed it in. "What squad is HE in," Trotter commented. He continued, "I'd like to join up!"
"Lovely." I could understand how stories of the cyborgs' exploits seemed so exaggerated to me in the past, but now it seemed that they were closer to the truth than I had previously decided.
A distant report of gunfire interrupted my thoughts. Coming from further aft, we could hear the commotion increase in volume.
"Sounds like we're missing the party," Lin commented.
"Let's move in." I led my squad towards the area where the battle was taking place. As we approached, crouched to try and avoid detection until the last possible moment, we saw the last bank of lifeboats on our deck, all launched or destroyed save two. A Covenant boarding squad was coming out of one airlock at the end of the bank, and a couple of marines and multiple crew were on the opposite side of the lifeboat bank, trying to advance to the lifeboat but were pinned down behind some structural debris by Covenant fire. Fortunately, we were approaching from the other side, and neither group had noticed us yet. Only one Elite unit in sight.
I turned to the squad. "There are two lifeboats left, and they're the last on this part of the deck." I pointed towards the Covenant coming out of the furthest lifeboat airlock. "Let's help these guys and then launch out of here."
The Covenant had already set up one of their portable shields facing the other group of marines. We watched as a grunt tossed a glowing plasma grenade towards them.
"Follow me. When it blows, concentrate your fire on the Elite and take him out." I got up and started running down the side of the corridor towards the Covenant group, lining up the crosshairs as best as I could on the Elite's head. The grenade lit up the other side of the corridor as its stored energy was released in one lethal burst.
"Now!" Davis and I dropped to a kneeling fire stance while Trotter and Lin stood behind us. Four assault rifles roared staccato in unison. The first burst of fire caught the Elite unaware, the majority of the bullets eaten up in its shielding device. It immediately ducked and rolled to get away, making a dive back towards the airlock. We had no intention of letting that happen. The next burst of fire shattered the Elite's shield and knocked its dive trajectory off enough to prevent it from cleanly diving through the airlock door, catching its shoulder on the frame. As it stood and attempted to recover, screaming in rage, our final burst caught the Elite square in the chest, splattering blue blood and knocking it dead on its back. The surrounding Grunts screamed in panic as their leader went down and immediately scattered in multiple directions, some heading towards us, some back into the airlock, and some towards the first group of marines.
As we finished off the stragglers headed our way, we could hear Grunts hiding in the boarding shuttle and more intermittent gunfire ahead as the other group of marines dealt with their unwelcome visitors. I turned to check for any casualties or wounded on my team. Trotter was busy bludgeoning a dead Grunt.
"You lousy little runt... I'll take you and your pimp daddy Elites all on..." Swearing oaths incoherently under his breath, Trotter had covered his assault rifle with a sticky mess.
"Corporal!" I snapped, "Let's go!" As he gave the corpse one last kick, we advanced towards the airlock where the Covenant had escaped.
With a hiss, the boarding shuttle door closed as we approached it cautiously. The Grunts had apparently locked themselves inside in an attempt to save themselves. Lin crept up to the door and risked a look inside.
"They're running around in there screaming!" he laughed in astonishment as the others tried to look inside. A muffled explosion rocked the ship, followed a few seconds later by a series thumps. Turning, we saw one of the lifeboat doors deform inwards with a loud groan. Incredibly, it held.
"Leave them, let's collect these crew and evacuate! We're gonna have company. Move move move!" Another boarding shuttle had undoubtedly landed and was about to blast its way in. I ran to the area where the marines were last positioned. Two crewmembers emerged, assisting a wounded marine to his feet.
"Let's get the others and get into that last lifeboat!" I motioned for the others to help the wounded.
"They're all dead! I think we're the last group on 12!" a crewman shrieked as my team carried the marine back to the first lifeboat. Another thump. I turned. The door was beginning to fracture.
"Damn we've got to go now! I hope one of you can fly this thing," I said as I ran with the crew back to the first lifeboat. We quickly strapped in and one of the crewmen took the pilot's seat and began the launch cycle. I sighed in relief. Seconds later, a large explosion ripped through the corridor, throwing dust and debris into the lifeboat.
"Weapons ready! Don't let anyone in!" I shouted as the dust rained in on us. I peered through the haze, trying to identify any targets. The doors hissed shut.
Seconds ticked by agonizingly slow as we waited for the lifeboat to launch. Finally, with a thud, the clamps released and the lifeboat sped away from the ship. Disconnected from the ship's gravity generator, items in the lifeboat floated towards the back as we accelerated away from the ship towards the ring. The silence in the lifeboat was interrupted by the sound of thruster burns as the pilot attempted to achieve a desirable re-entry trajectory and land us near the command shuttle rendezvous. As I looked through the front view panel, I could see the ring swing into view. We were a lot closer than we had been when we first arrived, almost right next to it. It was enormous, appearing from this distance to have an atmosphere on the interior complete with clouds, vegetation, oceans, and snow capped mountains.
Multiple lifeboats were already streaking into the atmosphere, leaving long traces of yellow and white as the intense friction from the air slowed the craft. I saw larger ships going towards the ring too; dropships, some escorted by Longsword fighters, some alone, some pursued by Covenant fighters. Then, in the distance, a large Covenant cruiser, approaching the ring slowly. It appeared damaged, with whole sections of the ship's outer skin flickering, and sparks flying from various points along its long, menacing silhouette. The main cannons on the ship were dark, indicating that the ship to ship weapons were either offline or destroyed. Whatever was happening out here would aruguably continue on the ring's surface. I wondered what our fate would be, and how we would rendezvous with the others. Lifeboats weren't the most maneuverable ships in SolCore's fleet.
"Lieutenant, do you think the sarge made it off?" Trotter vocalized what we all had on our minds.
"I don't know corporal." I hoped Spann had had enough sense to disengage the Covenant and get into a lifeboat.
The pilot turned his head to inform us that we were about to hit re-entry. I hung on to my safety harness and prayed we would survive the landing. Even if we survived, how long would we last? Thousands of Covenant troops were likely to follow us to the surface. With few supplies, manpower, or air support, even the Master Chief would have a hard time lasting long enough for a rescue division to arrive. And what was that ring we were about to land on? It was bizarre enough to warrant an entirely separate research mission, or missions. Was there any significance to it? Sometimes I wished I were more like other marines in their approach to the war. They didn't think too much about what was going on. Do your job and maybe you'll go home. I just had too many questions and no answers. All this thinking made my head spin. I wished for some revelation that would make everything clear.
And as the lifeboat began to enter the atmosphere, the turbulence gave me a sudden realization.
My shoulder began to hurt again.
It wasn't quite the revelation I had hoped for.
...to be continued
Resistivity Chapter 2: The Perils of Reentry
Date: 12 March 2002, 10:57 pm
I grabbed the safety harness tightly with both hands and began to feel lightheaded as the blood slowly drained into my legs. The lifeboat had entered the ring's upper atmosphere. The gradual, but relentless, change from weightlessness to two and a half G's magnified my urge to black out under the stress. I turned my head to look outside the front viewpanel and saw black gradually turn to purple, then to blue as we dropped lower into the ring's atmosphere. Flames flickered up over the bottom of the viewpanel as the heat shield rapidly burned away, unable to withstand the tremendous temperature caused by the friction of air moving at incredible speed. The lifeboat was shaking tremendously now, and the temperature inside the cabin was rising quickly. I hoped there weren't any problems with the reentry, and I began to sweat. The heat shield did its job, though, and yellow gradually gave way to blue with intermittent flashes of white as we ripped through the ring's cloud layers.
"Hang tight! Deploying air brakes!" The pilot shouted. A sudden jolt verified that they were functioning properly. Quick and effective, air brakes were a fairly reliable device that operated in a similar fashion to parachutes yet still gave the pilot forward maneuvering options. As we decelerated to a modest four hundred kilometers per hour, the g-forces eased up, replaced by the sound of howling wind outside the cabin.
"I think Trot needs a new panty liner," Lin shouted over the noise, grinning. I looked over at the corporal. Pale, he was huddled in his seat with a death grip on the safety harness. A stream of vomit had made its way down his chest plate. Slowly opening his eyes, he gave Lin a long stare and informed him where he could go.
"It's just motion sickness. It'll pass." Trotter put his head back down and concentrated on his misery.
"Leave him alone private. He's saved your ass more times than you can count," I shouted back, admonishing Lin. Seeing Trot lose his hard exterior was rare, however. I couldn't help but smile at his sorry plight. While the rest of my squad on the Autumn was new, Trotter and Lin had been under my command for about four months, quite a long time given the war's current turnover rate. Though they seldom seemed to get along, I believed they truly enjoyed each other's harassment. I looked at the rest of the men. Davis was new and fresh out of training, and he had been transferred to my squad only last week. I didn't recognize the wounded sergeant we picked up, but the crewmen we saved looked familiar; they all did, though, in an oddly clone-like fashion.
"Impact in thirty seconds!" The pilot shouted over the noise. The Bumblebee lifeboats, though field-tested and mother-approved, lacked, among other amenities, landing gear. Designed for single use, the lifeboats depended on the braking and maneuvering jets for an acceptable survival rate. A controlled crash was essential for our well-being. I hoped the pilot we just saved would return the favor.
The noise in the cabin was greatly increased due to the thruster jets now firing full forward. As the cabin rattled from the stress, I could see treetops through the rear viewport. Suddenly, impact. The lifeboat shuddered as it caromed off trees and snapped them in two. Metal scraped on rock, throwing visible sparks behind the rapidly decelerating craft. We were thrown into the backs of our seats as rock changed to soft dirt that crumbled underneath us. The craft plowed to a halting stop.
A sudden silence surrounded us. Checking to see that the lifeboat had indeed come to a full stop, I unstrapped my harness and removed the assault rifle from the safety webbing that held it. As the adrenalin from the crash wore off, the throbbing in my shoulder became more insistent.
"Let's move marines." I ordered. "Covenant may have followed us down here and could be on the ground already." Given the visibility of a lifeboat crashing through the sky, our position was already well known by any observers on the ground. "Unstrap him and take him outside." I motioned at the wounded sergeant we picked up right before we had jettisoned off the Autumn. I peeked through the rear viewport to check for any approaching Covenant units. All clear.
"Hey, open the door back here." I called up to the pilot.
"Could be jammed... we might have to force it." Lin commented as he untangled himself from his safety harness and retrieved his weapon. I nodded at him, and then headed up toward the cockpit. The pilot was slumped over the controls. Getting closer, I put my hand on the pilot's shoulder and shook him gently with no response. Damn. I found the control for the door and toggled it to open. As I removed the dead pilot's sidearm, I reflected on the tremendous loss of life the long war had exacted on the human race. Why did the Covenant attack us at first contact instead of trying to communicate? They appeared to be a conglomerate of different species themselves. Did we really look so different from them? I ejected the magazine from the weapon and dropped the pistol. What was their motivation to destroy us instead of trying to achieve a peace? God's will? Not my God, I thought. A flashing light drew my attention to the fact that the lifeboat's beacon had activated on impact. I looked back into the cabin as I secured the pistol rounds. The others had already left.
I exited the cabin and entered a sunlight-dappled forest. A fresh breeze blew in through the trees, rustling leaves and bringing up a feeling of nostalgia. It was warm outside, warm like the first spring day after a harsh winter. Spoiled only by the smoke rising from the blackened earth from our crash trail, the environment of the ring was incredibly pleasant; I could hear insects buzzing in the distance, and the occasional cry of a bird. The sole surviving crewmember and Davis had set the wounded sergeant on a makeshift pallet of life vests from inside the lifeboat and were poking through a medikit. Getting the sergeant back on his feet was a high priority, as Covenant patrols were certainly inbound to track all the survivors of the Autumn on the ring. Lin and Trot had already spread out and were scoping the area upslope to search for other lifeboats and possible defensive positions.
My helmet com crackled. "Lieutenant, no Covenant in the area. Motion trackers show nothing, not even on ten. We left a huge trail in the woods though, and anyone looking won't have a hard time finding us, that's for sure. There's a clearing over here, I might be able to see a bit further. I'll go check it out. Boy this place is nice, I could go for some R&R here..." Lin's chatter faded as he continued his recon. I radioed to Trotter.
"Corporal, get over there and make sure Lin doesn't get into any trouble. We can't afford to draw any attention."
"Roger, Lieutenant. He's always gettin' in trouble," came the crisp reply. Trot sounded like he was in better condition, but he probably still had a banging headache. I walked over to where the others were caring for the wounded sergeant.
"Pilot's dead." I stated simply. The crewmember looked up and closed his eyes for a moment, then returned to his work on the sergeant. "How's he doing?" I asked.
"Serious plasma burns. They were stable when we got him in the boat, but all the shaking from reentry broke some of the wounds open. Probably went into shock during the ride. I bandaged them up but we'll have to change them after a few hours. That shot of NLZ should keep him stable until we can get him to the command shuttle."
"Crewman, uh, I'm sorry, what's your name?" I asked. "Berret," came his reply. "Berret, will he be able to move under his own power soon? We're far out from the rendezvous and we'll need to move out soon. The crash trail essentially left a huge arrow pointing right at us and Covenant patrols are likely inbound. We shouldn't be around the lifeboat when they get here."
"Yes, I think he'll be mobile once the NLZ takes effect. But I'm not a field medic. We'll have to find one soon or he may just drop dead on us."
The sergeant groaned from where he lay. That NLZ works pretty well, I thought to myself. "Sergeant," I began, "can you..."
"First sergeant Michael Buker UNSC Marine Corps DN38416..." The sergeant was muttering to himself. "...Damn...Covenant...won't...take me..." He trailed off.
"Alright get him on his feet and help him. Bring all the supplies you can carry, Davis." I motioned toward the downed Bumblebee. Davis ran off into the boat to collect the remaining medikits and other gear. I turned my attention to getting the squad to our last known rendezvous point, the command shuttle. "Corporal, see anything up there?"
"Negative, Lieutenant. No lifeboats or nothing... but this clearing opens up to a flat plain we could use for dustoff."
"OK corporal. Find us a ride."
"This is Tango 14, requesting evac, do you read, this Tango 14, we have wounded and are requesting..." Trotter tried to reach any incoming Pelicans. The lifeboat beacon was strong enough that any UNSC dropships would pick it up, but given our situation, we couldn't count on friendly forces arriving before enemy forces. We had two options: Get a Pelican over here pronto, or evade Covenant patrols until help arrived. I prepared to employ both options.
"OK people we are moving over to the LZ for dustoff. Help Sgt. Buker up and let's get over there."
As Berret and Davis picked up Buker, I turned and radioed Lin as I hiked over to the clearing they had found. "Private, we're coming your way. Can you see any air units from where you are?"
"Negative, Lieutenant. But my view is obscured a bit from here. Hold on, let me get up a little higher and out some." I heard some rustling in the headset as Lin moved. He apparently had scaled a tree and was climbing out on a limb. Typical, I thought to myself. He had a tendency to do that.
"Lieutenant! I got an air unit coming our way! Can't see it well from here, but it's kinda small, and I don't think it's one of ours."
"Roger that, Private. Keep an eye on it, and don't reveal our position until we get there. LT out. Trotter, come in."
"Yeah, Lieutenant I heard. The Pelican is on its way. ETA seven minutes."
"Corporal, can you identify the flyer?"
"Negative, but I can see it getting closer. It must have seen us go down. Could be looking for survivors." Great, I thought. There was probably a dropship on its way in right now. Hopefully we could evacuate before they get here. That flyer was bound to cause problems, though. At the very least it would delay our evac until the other Covenant arrived.
"Corporal, we need to take that flyer down. Wait until we get there, and we'll engage."
I turned back to the others. "We've got company. Leave the sergeant here for now and follow me. We can't let that air unit hinder the dustoff." Davis and Berret rested the still groggy sergeant against a tree. I checked my rifle and found the clip half-empty. Reloading, I motioned for the others to do the same. We quickly got moving towards the clearing. As we ran, the rustling of leaves and branches was all we heard as we moved through the brush. Slowly, a new sound began to surface, a whistling. I motioned for a stop and we paused, looking into the sky as best as we could through the trees. A dark shape blotted out the sun as it flew by. A Covenant Banshee, no doubt. The Banshees made a distinctive noise while flying, hence their name. Armed with two plasma guns and a devastating fuel rod cannon, they were used against ground targets and light air targets. Their armor was not terrific, and they relied on maneuverability and ground support to effectively neutralize targets. By itself, it wasn't a serious threat. But they rarely traveled alone, and it was certain that other Banshees or dropships were nearby.
I looked towards the clearing. We were about fifty yards away. My men were nowhere to be seen.
"Corporal, are you and Lin in position?" I radioed Trotter.
"Affirmative, Lieutenant. Waiting on your signal to blow it out of the sky."
"Agreed. We need to take it down on its first pass." I turned to the two men behind me. "Berret, Davis, spread out a bit and try to get a clear angle into the air." They moved out in opposite directions. The Banshee was probably flying by the crash site and would head back to the clearing next to secure it for an incoming dropship. Right by us. I raised my rifle to shoulder level and trained the sights into the sky, waiting. As predicted, moments later the Banshee's distinctive whir grew louder. It flew by, and I opened fire. Staccato shots rang out in the forest as my men followed suit. I got about thirty rounds off before the Banshee traveled out of my field of view. My aim was terrible, and I had a hard time tracking the Banshee with my injured shoulder. The others were more fortunate, however. Black smoke was trailing from the Banshee as it traveled out of the effective range of our assault rifles. It wheeled around, coming back to deal some damage now that we had revealed our position. Given the tree cover, it would be difficult to target any of us, but a cannon-induced tree fall could just as easily kill us. I prepared to evade. The Banshee turned, on the figurative dime, and as it did, a loud explosion startled me as it rang out next to it. The explosion did enough damage to the Banshee that it began to fall, disabled. It crashed to the forest floor with a distant thud, and almost simultaneously my helmet com crackled. Lin was gibbering with excitement.
"Guys did you SEE that?? That was an awesome throw! Next time I'll let you guys help!" It took me a second, but then I realized what he was babbling about. Short-fusing a frag grenade was risky, and the Corps had documented many accidental deaths stemming from messing around with the fuse. PFC Lin was lucky, however, luckier than most marines I knew. He had managed to survive many a hairy situation through a combination of luck and... well, more luck, I thought to myself. I had to admit, though, his throw had distance in addition to being deadly accurate. That was incredibly lucky, even given his standards. His luck was growing by the day.
"...a fluke. You're lucky you didn't blow your head off." Trotter finished berating the private over his tactics. I detected a hint of envy in his voice.
"Private," I began, "what did your drill sergeant tell you about short fusing grenades? You are not to do that again."
"But..." Lin sputtered.
"No buts! Don't try that again, understood?" He nodded. "OK." I paused, then conceded. "Good throw, Private." I had to give him that; after all, he had prevented the Banshee from escaping and making a serious strafing run on our position. I recalled a saying - the ends justify the means. At least in wartime they did.
"Thank you sir!" I could literally see his big grin through my helmet com. Trot was probably muttering under his breath. I shook my head and smiled. Hearing crackling in the brush behind me, I turned, rifle first.
"Whoa, sir it's me!" Davis stopped in his tracks, arms held up. Shaking his head, he slowly walked up to me. I lowered my rifle. "OK, let's collect the others and get to the LZ. Our ride will be here any second."
When we made our way back to where we left the sergeant, we found him to be up and relatively alert. Berret was already there.
"How are you sergeant?" I asked.
"Not too bad, I suppose." He looked at my uniform. "Where are we Lieutenant?" he asked, looking around in wonder.
"We're on the ring construct in orbit around the planet we jumped in next to. Two crewmen saved you back on the Autumn. We're moving to the LZ now for dustoff. You alright to move?"
He nodded wearily, and we rapidly moved out towards the clearing. I scanned the sky for approaching dropships but there was no sign. We approached the clearing and found Trotter sitting on a log as Lin recounted his last feat with excitement. Trot looked at me for an intervention and rolled his eyes. I graciously interrupted Lin in mid-sentence.
"Corporal, any word on that Pelican?"
Trotter gave me a look of thanks. "No sir, but they should have been here by now."
"Radio them again." Trotter tried to get a hold of the incoming Pelican, but there was no answer. He looked up, shaking his head.
"Nothing sir. They're either not responding or they're out of range."
Or it was destroyed, I thought. Damn, we need to get out of here. Dropships could be here any second. I thought for a moment. This clearing would be a likely drop zone for Covenant units, and though the sky was clear right now, we could be overrun with a whole load of bad guys very soon. With no dustoff imminent, we had to take cover and wait.
"Did you guys find any defensive positions around here we could get to?"
"Nothing really good around here. Looks like some mountains of some sort over there." Trot pointed. "We could find some cover maybe." We needed to put some distance between the crash site and us. The mountains were in the right direction, across the clearing and about two kilometers distant.
"Let's move up there. Our radio signal will be stronger without all this ground cover. We can try to hail a Pelican from there," I said. We gathered our equipment and began to work our way around the clearing and started the hike towards the mountain. Davis was on point.
Apparently we were on our own for the time being, with no Pelicans in contact range, we were at the mercy of God. With one wounded, we would travel more slowly and would take more time. Dropships and Covenant patrols were likely to be in the area, so we would have to move fast and far from the lifeboat. Luckily we had ground cover to hide in. Up higher on the mountainside, we would be able to see the area and radio any friendly forces that flew in, but not be so close that we'd be fighting off Covenant the entire time. I was fairly certain we could hold out until another Pelican became available, but given the mysterious disappearance of the first, it seemed that merely getting onto this ring had taken its toll on our forces.
And what next? Could we hold out until a rescue mission arrived? The Covenant appeared to have substantial buildup on the ring's surface already. I wondered what was on the ring that was so important. I went back to a basic set of known facts I could work with. Following the Cole Protocol, we had jumped blindly right next to a ring construct of unimaginable complexity and unknown origin. Most of the Covenant ships at Reach followed us here. The Pillar of Autumn had crashed somewhere on the ring. We had to rendezvous at the command shuttle, probably our new headquarters. The Master Chief and Cortana were on the surface with us, somewhere. Whether by design or by divine intervention, I felt there was a reason for us to be here. I just didn't know what.
...to be continued
Resistivity Chapter 3
Date: 29 March 2002, 6:05 pm
After about ten minutes, I dropped back to check on the sergeant. He was walking steadily. I glanced at his field dressings and saw that they had already soaked through with a combination of blood, sweat, and some other unidentifiable oozing. My shoulder still hurt a bit, but in comparison to him, I was the pinnacle of health. It didn't look very good; his wounds had apparently broken open during our hike. We had to stop, at least to change bandages and give him another shot. The NLZ would give him the strength to move, but marines had been known to literally walk themselves to death under the chemical's influence. We had to get an evac soon. I called up to Davis.
"Let's stop here and try the radio again. We've enough distance now from the crash site." Davis turned and motioned his acknowledgement. The men stopped and sat down, Trotter already on the radio. The wounded sergeant, exhausted, sat down on a nearby rock. Berret had retrieved a medikit and was opening it up, rummaging through it for bandages. I left him to care for the sergeant and walked up to Davis.
As I approached, I noticed Davis was standing very still. He glanced over and motioned to me. "Listen, can you hear that?" he asked. I stopped, listening intently. After a few seconds, I looked back at Davis.
"No." I paused, looking at him. "What is it Davis?"
"It's like a... I can't really describe it. It's like it's in my head but it's more than a sound. Sort of like a humming noise?"
"Humming, huh? I don't hear it."
"Yeah, it's like that... over this way." Davis pointed uphill through the forest. I looked in that direction and saw nothing. Davis was quite observant, but this seemed unusually perceptive, even for him.
"How far out is it?"
"I don't know, sir, but..." He looked back up the hill. "We have to go check it out."
"What? Why? We've got wounded and we need evac. I can't waste time playing around here. We're going back to the others and then to the next LZ. There's Covenant patrols all over the place and..." Davis wasn't responding to my reply. He had a strange look on his face. Staring up into the forest, he appeared to be almost in a trance. I was about to shake him back to reality when he responded.
"Sir, I'm sorry, but with all due respect, I'll go myself if I have to." He began marching in the direction of the noise.
"Private... Davis... Davis!" I called after him, but he didn't even turn around. Damn. I looked back at my squad. Trot was still busy with the radio, scanning different encrypted frequencies for UNSC chatter. Berret was tending to the sergeant's wounds, with Lin's help. I jogged down to them.
"Where's Davis going?" Lin asked.
"He's, uh, going to check something out, a feeling he's getting. He's acting a little strange. It's probably nothing."
"What? I don't hear anything." Lin looked around. "What is it? You know what, it might be a Covenant psych-ambush. Sarge told me he heard they can play tricks on your brain."
Lin had a point. Although the Covenant had not been known to use psych-energy based tactics, it wasn't outside the realm of imagination that such devices were possible. Rumors circulated that the Office of Naval Intelligence had done significant research projects in this area in the past, with some surprising results; telekinesis, out-of-body travel, visions, and extra sensory perception were demonstrated. Consistency was poor, however, and it never amounted to any psych-warfare units being introduced. At least that was what the official report said. It all seemed like bad pulp science fiction to me. "It's a little hard to explain. Get us an evac. I'll be in radio contact."
"Wait a minute, where are you going? I'm coming with you." Lin got excited at the prospect of exploring an inaudible 'noise' and wanted to be included in the fun, as usual. That boy was inquisitive as hell.
"Negative, private. You stay here and help the others. When Trot finds us a ride you help secure the LZ. No sense in risking three of us for this."
Lin sat back down, slightly dejected. I turned back up slope towards Davis. He had already advanced a hundred feet uphill into the forest. I could barely see him from here. I radioed him as I hurried after him.
"Davis, hold on! I'll be there in a sec. You've got ten minutes to find this thing and then we're turning back, is that understood?"
He appeared to stop. I sighed, wondering what had gotten into him. As I ran up towards him, I thought about what I knew about Davis. Almost nothing, he had transferred into my squad on Reach only last week, fresh out of training. I looked down as I slipped on something. Broken branches were slowing my progress up the steep climb. Still, his report from boot camp didn't have any red flags for insubordination. In fact, if I remembered correctly, the DI had actually commented on his 'quietness'. He didn't sound like a soldier that would disobey his commanding officer. I ducked a branch quickly before it clotheslined me. The foliage was really getting dense up here.
I caught up to Davis. He still hadn't moved from the spot where he had stopped. He was staring intently into the forest. I looked over in the direction he was looking in. We were standing on a small hill over a shallow ravine in the forest. There were some fallen logs scattered around, and leaves covered the forest floor. Sunlight filtered through the dense canopy of leaves overhead.
"OK Davis, this is very pretty, but what exactly are we looking..."
Davis held up his hand, not looking at me, but instead into the ravine. I watched as his eyes followed the ravine uphill and then stopped. He motioned with his hand.
"There, Lieutenant. We are supposed to go there." His voice was quiet, his face inscrutable.
I looked up into the ravine. It ended in darkness. What did he mean 'supposed to'? "Davis, this could be a Covenant ambush. What's up there?"
He jumped down into the ravine and started walking. "Hang on a sec..." I reached for his shoulder but missed. Taking a defensive stance to give cover fire, I trained my rifle on the ravine, scanning for possible enemies. I looked again at the dark area, wondering what was so interesting about it, and then I saw it. A metallic surface was hidden underneath leaves and dead foliage. It was hard to see, even looking straight at it, covered as it was. I craned my neck to get a better look. The metal didn't gleam, but it appeared to be almost glowing with an unnatural light. I jumped down after Davis and cautiously followed him up towards the metal surface, sweeping the area with my assault rifle at shoulder level.
I looked at Davis with a look of wonderment on my face. How did he know this was here? Even up this close I couldn't hear any noise at all. There didn't appear to be any Covenant nearby, otherwise we would have been toast already. I lowered the rifle. After a moment, Davis began removing the branches. I helped brush the foliage aside and uncover it. It was a door, partially open, seemingly leading inside the mountain. A control panel was situated on the right side of the doorway, covered in alien symbols and glyphs I couldn't understand. I peered into the passageway behind the door. Blackness. Davis turned to the control panel and touched it.
"Davis, don't play with... " The lights in the passageway came on. I looked in. The passageway was long, very long, with no end in sight. Roughly triangular, eight to nine feet in height, it sloped downwards, punctuated every so often but support beams running from floor to ceiling along the walls. I looked back at Davis, who merely motioned me inside as he crept forward. I radioed the team.
"We've found something in the forest, we're investigating it now. Do you have an evac?"
The response came back. "Affirmative, sir. We've got Echo 419 inbound. We've found a decent LZ about a hundred yards from our current position. She'll be here in fifteen minutes, sir."
"Roger, Corporal. We'll be back shortly. LT out." I whispered to Davis, "We've got ten minutes before we've got to head to the LZ. Let's make this quick." Davis nodded, and set out in a flat run down the passageway.
"Dammit Davis, not like that!" I called after him, then gave chase. He's going to get himself killed, I thought to myself as I ran down the passageway. I checked the safety on my assault rifle so it wouldn't go off and slung it over my good shoulder. The throbbing in my sprained shoulder was bearable now, as my endorphins had begun taking effect. Pulling out my pistol, I ran, catching up to Davis. The pistol would be a better choice given the close quarters, I thought, it being easier to maneuver. Davis had reached the bottom of the slope and was in an antechamber of sorts, with passageways extending in three directions. He didn't even slow down as he turned left and disappeared around the corner. I rounded the corner a second later, and ran down the second passage. I could barely make out Davis' form running ahead. We turned down two more passageways, at random it seemed. I stopped at each one, trying to remember where we came from, then continuing on after Davis. I had just about lost sight of him, when the passage suddenly opened up into a large room, no ceiling in sight. I stopped, catching myself. There could be anything in this room. I switched on my motion tracker only to see Davis' signal disappear out of range. I cursed.
"Davis, stop where you are!" I radioed Davis as I continued to check the room for any signs of movement. There was no telling what was in this tunnel complex.
Static responded on my headset. "Davis, come in. Davis!" More static. I could barely hear Davis over it. There was some interference in the structure. I crept over to the far side of the room. It was very large, almost a hundred feet from where I entered to the far side. It appeared to be multi-level, as there were platforms and large structures seen on the sides of the room. The center of the room contained a raised platform enclosed in glass. I tried the radio again to no avail.
I checked my watch. Seven minutes had gone by since we had found the entrance. And now we were deep inside the complex. I thought I knew how to get out of here, but I'd probably have to play back my vidchip to do it, which would take some time to backtrack from. I'd miss our evac and get stuck down here with Davis; that is, if I ever found Davis again.
Suddenly, a loud noise startled me. I dove behind a large pillar. Checking motion, I saw a signal approaching from one of the corridors leading into the room. Training my pistol scope on the entrance, I watched as the signal got closer. Twenty, ten. A dark form flashed by my scope and burst into the room. I checked my urge to fire. It was Davis.
"I got it, I got it! Let's go!" Davis was shouting.
"What did you get? What is it?"
"Let's go, let's go!" Davis' voice trailed as he took off towards the corridor that we entered through. I sighed. Not again.
I ran after Davis for the second time that day. He wound through corridors and passageways, making lefts and rights through the winding tunnels. I barely had time to think which way was out while trying to keep up with him. I hoped that he knew his way.
We eventually arrived at the long upwards passage towards the surface. I smiled in relief. Davis had found the exit. As I raced up the slope after him, I had a strange sensation of something behind me. Glancing over my shoulder, I saw nothing. Just nerves, I thought to myself. Davis' unnatural behavior had spooked me. As we climbed the sloped passageway, my radio began crackling. I only caught bits and pieces as we got closer and closer to the exit.
"...read..." A short burst of static. "...advance patrol..." More static. "...are you? We are heading for evac NOW." As we burst into the forest again, the static cleared up. It was Trotter, and we were already late for evac. Davis had stopped at the entrance and was looking around. I grabbed him and rushed downhill back to the others through the dense foliage while replying to Trot.
"Roger Corporal, we are on our way."
"Where the hell WERE you? You were out of radio contact the WHOLE time!" Trotter was looking at us. He was the only one around. "The others are already headed towards the LZ. Let's go!"
"Davis, you've got some explaining to do." I looked at him, and he looked down. "Later. Let's go." Trot led the way as we both followed him towards our evac point.
"Covenant forces are massing in that clearing we saw. Foe Hammer says she saw them start marching up towards our position and there may be one or two advance patrols nearby. How do they know we're here?" Trot asked we ran over to the LZ.
"It might have something to do with what we found." I answered. "I'll explain later." We reached the LZ, a relatively clear area on the mountainside. The Pelican hovered facing downhill, waiting for us about one hundred feet distant downslope. Dust and leaves blew around haphazardly.
"About time you guys showed up. I was about to leave." Foe Hammer radioed.
"Nice to see you too, Foe Hammer." I radioed back.
I was about to get into the back of the Pelican when Trotter tackled me. Hard. I landed on my side, painfully, as my injured shoulder crunched into the ground inches from a large rock in front of me. Thinking that he was overreacting to our little diversion back there, I struggled to stand and ream him a new one for his insubordination. The big man held fast, and I couldn't move. I was about to shout at him when I saw the green flashes of light crisscrossing in the space we had just occupied.
"Jackals on my four o' clock! I count three, maybe four!" Foe Hammer, at a higher vantage point, radioed our enemy's position.
Trotter rolled off and lay flat on his back, partially shielded by a shallow rise in the ground. Plasma impacted the ground in front of him, the dirt turning glassy under the intense localized heat. I was safe behind the large rock I had narrowly missed cracking my skull on as Trot saved me from becoming the next plasma burn victim in our group. I yanked my pistol out of its holster and carefully peered out through the 2x scope. Assault rifle fire erupted from behind me as Davis fell into a firing stance.
"Covering fire!" Lin shouted as he leapt out of the Pelican's back door, landing roughly on the ground. I watched from my prone state as he opened up, spraying suppressing fire on our attackers as he advanced quickly on their position. Berret was close behind, pistol blazing. I looked over at Trot, motioned towards the jackals, and nodded. Jumping to my feet, I began running at the squad of jackals, with Trot and Davis close behind.
Approaching, I noticed idly that I could only see three jackals, completely occupied with the impromptu charge led by Private Lin. We would probably make it out of this encounter alive. I holstered the pistol and primed my last grenade, lobbing it underhand at the group of jackals. It landed just behind the group. I drew my weapon from its holster and aimed at the lead jackal. The explosion sent two jackals flying, their handheld shields shattering out as the frag's shock wave blew through them like a cannonball through plate glass. The third, further away, was knocked off its feet into the brush. It scrambled to regain its footing as it turned its shield towards me a scant fifteen feet away.
I opened fire at the jackal, trying to draw a bead on the exposed weapon hand. The plasma pistol swiveled toward me and green bursts flashed by my head. I ducked instinctively and squeezed off two shots before Trot's form blocked my line of sight. Running full speed, he launched into a shoulder block that connected with the jackal's torso. They went flying into the ground, the jackal landing on its back hard a few feet beyond Trotter. Quickly, I zoomed my scope on its chest and opened fire. Three shots rang out and the jackal lay dead, twitching involuntarily.
I ran over to help Trot to his feet. Dragging him to his feet, I looked downhill towards Lin and Berret.
"Let's evac! More Covenant are probably on the way!" Lin radioed from his position. They started running back. Trot motioned that he was ok, and we sprinted down, Davis in the lead.
We jumped in the back of the Pelican. The wounded sergeant was strapped in across one bank of seats on the right side, next to Berret and Lin. We jumped in on the left. "We're in." The Pelican rose and flew off. As it banked right, I looked out the bay door and saw a cloud of Banshees circling over an area in the forest about two kilometers away. Further out the smoke trail from our lifeboat was visible. Covenant ships were dropping to the ground in the area, presumably reinforcing what had to be fifty to one hundred Covenant already on the ground. We sped away, leaving the commotion behind. No Banshees were following us. It appeared that we had escaped scot-free.
"Everyone all right?" I asked. Nods confirmed my assumption.
I looked back at Davis. "Now. Explain to me what the hell you've got and why I've had to chase you through that maze back there." Davis dug into his pack and drew out the object that he had retrieved from the depths of the underground complex.
Transparent and sparkling in the sunlight, Davis held a large multifaceted crystal. Whistling, Lin reached for it. "Let me see that, man, it must be worth billions..." Davis drew it back from him.
"Hang on a minute, man, this is important." Davis turned it over in his hands and looked into the crystal, peering intently. "There's something inside that's important." He put it back down in his lap and looked over at me. "But I don't know what."
"Oh that's great, Davis, you're a real genius." Trot leaned back in his seat, uninterested. "We're about to get swarmed by Covies and you're out treasure huntin'."
Davis insisted. "No, man this is important!"
I interrupted. "Private, how did you know where to go in that complex? I was lost after the first two turns. You acted like you had BEEN there before."
"I... I don't know Lieutenant. I was just following that feeling I got. You know, back in the forest."
I paused. Davis had been acting strange ever since we had stopped to rest. Somehow he knew where to enter that complex, and where the object was inside the complex. "Let me see that thing." I reached for it as Davis urged me to be careful and not drop it out the open back door of the Pelican. Davis had run through the tunnels as if guided by this object, something that he felt was greatly important. Where had he gotten that sense from?
The crystal was warm in my hands. Probably from Davis holding on to it, I thought. I held it up to the light, turning it in my hands. Sunlight filtered through the roughly spherical object, scattering on the multiple inclusions within the body of the crystal. It was faceted like a diamond, but the facets were not symmetrical or aesthetic. It appeared to have been artificially created or polished. The bottom was perfectly circular, with a rim about a half an inch deep enclosing a shallow pocket in the shape of what looked like a seven pointed star. The weight of it surprised me. For an object the size of about a coconut, it was exceedingly light. It definitely wasn't your average Waterford lead crystal. I put my ear right up to the crystal and listened. No sound. I drew my sidearm. I gently tapped it against the crystal and listened to the sound, eliciting a horrified look from Davis. I stopped.
"So what is it, Lieutenant?" Lin asked. "I mean, what's it for?"
"I don't know Private. We should get it back to command and let them decide what to do with it. It's not our problem." I handed the object back to Davis, over Lin's protests. "Davis, this is lovely, but you're on report." I thought back to the massing Covenant forces we left behind. They certainly weren't there for our benefit. One downed lifeboat did not warrant dispatching an entire division of troops to secure. Perhaps they were there for the very object I held in my hands. But why? It didn't matter. As long as the Covenant wanted it, it would be better that they didn't get it. Davis had most likely done something good in his insanity, but he had taken very unnecessary risks in doing so, and there was no sense in encouraging that kind of behavior.
"Foe Hammer, how far to the command shuttle?"
"Not too far. But I have to drop you off at a transfer point. There's lots of marines to rescue in this area, and I've got the most fuel. You can catch a ride the rest of the way from there."
"Roger that." We rode on in relative silence. Looking out the back door, I got my first good view of the construct we had crash-landed on. There was no horizon in the direction of the ring, just a tapered continuation of land that traveled impossibly high into the sky. It was rather unnerving to see. Though similar in nature to some of the artificial grav space stations I had been on, this place was on a much larger scale. Whatever it had been built for must have had grand importance. Though I had seen very little by way of technology on the construct, I was certain that somewhere, this world contained devices or information well beyond the extent of human capability. The artifact that Davis had found may have something to do with it. Drawing Davis towards it like that, I thought. I wasn't affected by it at all, but Davis obviously felt some sort of irrational attraction to the object. I hoped someone at command would be able to figure out what it was for. Some of the science officers would undoubtedly be there and would want to study it for possible military uses. In addition, that hidden tunnel complex we had found would be of great interest to our tacticians. If we could find another one, it was possible to set up a rather easily defendable command center for our operations here until help arrived.
"Lieutenant, I've got more marines to rescue. Cortana and the Master Chief need me to evac another squad. We're at the transfer point, there will be another dropship along shortly. Foe Hammer out." We approached the landing zone, a large clearing in a wooded area with a steep cliff nearby. Groups of marines and crew, numbering about twenty in total, were already on the ground waiting for the next ride out of there. Apparently this was the main drop off point for marines waiting for evac to the command center. Though it wouldn't be very informative, I could probably piece together some of what was going on from the marines below. From above, I couldn't make out any of the marines on the ground. I wondered if Sgt. Spann and his squad had made it off the Autumn, or if I'd see him again. I jumped out of the Pelican as my men unloaded the wounded sergeant and helped him out to the makeshift first aid area on one side of the clearing. I figured I'd find the highest-ranking officer in the camp and get some news. It had been a long day, and it wasn't over yet.