Ridge: Installment One
Date: 25 November 2000, 3:49 am
Four streams of exhaust reflected off the center of his visor, working their way outward until the black sheen of his faceplate was encompassed totally by a gray haze. The driver and his two comrades--men who were not men, who were composite armor machines, who were toys--became lost in the fog, alone in the screaming madness of their vehicle as it strove to accelerate even from its top speed. And still he drove on.
The rugged jeep pursued its own rockets as if by magnetic force, but it was guided only by the marine at its helm. Beep, beep, beep, sounded his helmet console. Six, five, four, he counted. Beep, beep, beep, continued the helmet. Three, two, one, he echoed.
A wall of yellow and orange broke through the grimy mist of rocket exhaust. The shock wave of the explosion rocked the jeep, launching it a few meters skyward in the light gravity, sending its occupants into an eerie netherworld of smoke and light and sky and ground. The explosion was everything there, greater than the balance of the battle, all that the marines could see or hear or think, greater than the thunder of artillery and the lightning of plasma and the hail of gunfire. The instant seemed frozen, but the instant was gone, and the little universe apart from the marine's life of death popped like a bubble as the jeep crashed through what had once been reinforced titanium doors.
The crisp shattering of armor and bones greeted the marines as their vehicle tore through the entryway of the building. The warriors--the Covenants's soldiers were known by no other name, and none could be more appropriate--were equipped with shields, of course, but no personal shield was made to protect its bearer from a vehicle. How many had been crushed in there? wondered the driver. Three? Four? Six? It never mattered. There were always more.
The veil of surprise was broken in the room, and the other warriors preparing for the battle outside opened fire on the intruder. A storm of energy bursts rained around the vehicle, but their unsteady spread did little damage to the speeding jeep. The room was quite broad and long, yet its ceiling was so low that the mounted rocket launcher on the jeep barely fit. The driver jammed the wheel to the right and the four-by-four spinned to a near halt, throwing him from his seat into an inconspicuous, dark corner. He slipped unnoticed into the niche and crouched as his shot man took the wheel and accelerated into the nearest hallway.
The towering warriors looked almost comical--all revved up with no place to go. A line of their fellow members of the Covenant cause lay in blue pools, crushed under the spinning wheels of the jeep. Evidently the resident of the first bloody blue pool had been a commander; his troops were now leaderless and disorganized. The disarray was short-lived, however; another stepped to the front of the survivors. He (She? It?) dispatched a portion of his troops to guard the room against the intruder if and when it returned. The commander reported back to his superiors about the turn of events. Alarms raged, and an update was spit back into the commander's communications module. Continue with the attack as planned; the vehicle and its two occupants will be apprehended. As the commander relayed the orders to the troops, he considered something. Two? Hadn't he counted three humans in the wheeled vehicle? A pair of black eyes scanned the considerable length of the hall on the way out.
But there were no humans to be seen.
-Thanks for reading this! If you enjoyed it, please drop me a line and say so, and there will be more to come.
Ridge: Installment Two
Date: 25 November 2000, 10:48 pm
Darby felt the wheels of the jeep rage along the simple concrete floor of the Covenant base. A scan had told him that the primary hallways all had more than enough room for the relatively compact human vehicle, but as the walls narrowed, Darby privately debated the accuracy of that scan.
''Turn!'' grunted from the marine in the back seat, breaking into Darby's thoughts. He wheeled the jeep around a sharp corner as an energy explosive left a misty green and orange haze where he had just been driving. It didn't matter where Darby went as long as he could be back to the right spot at the right time. Ridge was sure to need him.
The walls were colorless, lightless screens as Ridge sprinted on. His speed carried him deep inside the Covenant fortress, but the thousandth meter looked the same as the first. He couldn't tell if he was being followed, and he had no time to look. Just keep running, he thought, keep running and let the recorders do their job.
The miniature, monotone green map of the fortress projected onto the interior of his helmet visor was sadly inadequate; it told him that he was so many meters in this direction from the entrance and so many meters that direction from the rendezvous point, and little else. Walls, excepting those on the exterior, were mostly a faded green on the map, showing that they were probably there, but that the scanners were not sure. Probabilities, Ridge thought while running through one of the scanner's ''walls,'' are useless.
He stopped suddenly, jumped, and swung his carbon composite blade, his trusted CCB, into a doorway. A shockingly large amount of blood spurted into the dark hall, and a Covenant sentry with a broad, hideously neat gash across the length of its neck followed it down. ''This,'' said the voice of Sargeant Exe from so many years and lightyears ago, presenting to each graduating recruit his or her CCBs, ''is your only weapon, your only friend, your only ally, your only hope. Guns will empty, friends will die, allies will turn, and prayers will go unanswered. Have faith in the knife--someday, it will be all you have.''
Ridge slipped the bloodied blade into the sheath strapped across his back, snatched the energy pistol from the sentry, and stole through the door the Covenant had been guarding. It led to a broad stairway--all lit by the dim bulbs of hasty wartime construction, all made from the same untextured concrete. He stopped on the bottom stair to let the recorder pan across the scene.
Unlike the floors above it, the sublevel was tall, easily fifteen or twenty meters in height. The ceiling, however, was no longer made of the bland concrete, but rather of stone--the same kind Ridge had seen in the hills of the Halo. They possessed a strange, uneven, softly curved quality, and seemed more formed than constructed, as if the basement of the the fortress was a natural structure. If it were, the Covenant had certainly added their own trappings to it. ''No place like home,'' Ridge quipped to himself. Rows and rows of unoccupied beds covered the floors. (Beds? The things were five meters long but quite slim, reminding Ridge of cafeteria tables. He almost laughed at the thought, for he was a long ride away from a real cafeteria.) Apparently, the room was part bunkhouse and part hospital.
There was something else; like a poorly disguised trap door--or, rather, a trap door that had been forced open--in the center of the hall. It reflected beautiful craftsmanship. Its sides were intricately carved to blend into the floor around them, and Ridge wondered if even the Covenant could make a trap door open like that. There were no visible hinges or, in fact, any mechanism by which the door opened or closed. The door shut now of its own accord. Ridge checked the time display on his helmet screen. Three minutes left. Time to head back.
He had started back up the stairs when the searing heat of an energy burst cut into his shoulder, knocking him off the stairs. As he rolled towards cover, the violet pinpoints of Covenant plasma rifle sights lit up the floor around him. He glanced up at the landing above the staircase, and he saw at least six towering, shadowed forms, and he heard more in the hall. One stepped to the stairs; a spark went off near its fist, and the gently pulsating, meter-long, harsh blue-white light of a Covenant energy blade began to illuminate the stairwell.
Darby panted hard into his helmet. The jeep was strafed so heavily he was surprised that it still ran, let alone maneuvered and accelerated. The wheel wells were scratched thin by the walls of several hallways that were not quite wide enough. His backseat gunner groaned as he lay crumpled around the mount of the rocket launcher. The vehicle was painted blue with Covenant blood. There were only three minutes now; Darby could only hope that Ridge found his way back to rendezvous point by an easier route than his ride was taking.
The entrance would be a lost cause by now; certainly a sizable detachment of Covenant would be waiting for them there. Fortunately, they wouldn't be going out the same way they came in. At least, Darby corrected himself, swerving to miss some energy bolts, he wouldn't be.
Some twelve Covenant pursued Ridge across through the barracks like children having a deadly pillow fight. Ridge popped up from behind one of the cafeteria-table bunks and found himself face-to-face with a warrior. Ridge emptied the energy pistol into the Covenant, dropped it, and kept running. There had to be more than one way out--an emergency exit, another trap door, something! He pulled both pistols and laid down his cover between a row. The corner! There was no chance anywhere else, so the nearest corner was his only hope. He just needed to clear a handful of Covenant first. The sheer size of the creatures would suggest incompetence at fighting in narrow quarters such as these, but they were in fact wickedly quick and agile. The scene reminded Ridge of oversize children looking for their mother down store aisles, except that Ridge hadn't seen a store like that in what might as well have been a century, and most of the people he had met there hadn't been trying to kill him.
Ridge holstered the pistols and produced a shotgun from his other back holster. He lowered his favorite firearm, dove out of the aisle, and blazed into the corner where the portion of the Covenant party stood. Except that they weren't standing there.
Ridge winced, rose, and slowly turned. He returned the shotgun to its berth across his back. No gun would be of use. Ridge's every square centimeter was glowing purple with plasma rifle sights. At least 75 Covenant were braced against bunks and behind tables across the room, plasma rifles trained on him. ''If the time comes to reach for the stars, make sure you grab a few,'' he recalled Exe's joke. ''Where you're going, you're gonna need a couple.'' From between the nearest bunks, a familiar harsh light appeared. Out stepped the leader. The energy blade was lowered at Ridge's throat, and he felt his hands close around two stars in the stale air above his head.
END INSTALLMENT TWO