Marooned | Chapter 1 | Field Trip
Date: 24 March 2006, 7:51 pm
Marooned | Chapter 1 | Field Trip
Date (Military): July 12th, 2542, 9:03 PM
Date (Prosperity 3): Fall 69th, 162
Location: Foxfield Observatory, Extreme Outskirts of Ethorn City, Prosperity 3
Phrases to Know:
Playtex- Playtex is a revolutionary new material invented in 2525 by Joseph McCullen. Playtex essentially has the look of Latex but the feel of leather. It has become very popular among civilian clothing products.
D-Shirt- This Playtex shirt is a very popular shirt that came into style in the late 2530s and was marketed by Joseph Ged of Ged Enterprises. It is a zip-up shirt that has the zipper running from the left waist up to the right shoulder.
Console- Computers in 2542 were very small and contained within the screens themselves due to massive leaps forward in nanotechnology. A console is simply a computer screen, 1/100 of an inch thick, with the hardware located in-between the projector and the back. There are ports to attach a mouse and a keyboard, and it also carries a Screen-to-Pupil projector (more commonly known as STOP).
Air Cruiser- An Air Cruiser, by principle, is a futuristic airplane. Constructed of a super-light and see-through material called Feather-Plastic, Air Cruisers look like a space shuttle on Slim Fast. Its fuel is the oxygen in the air so it carries no tanks. Air Cruisers come in all shapes and sizes from a single-passenger mini-Cruiser to a massive 3,000 passenger behemoth only found on Earth, Reach, and Prosperity.
TELSAT- TELSATs (or Telescopic Satellites) are small (about 3 feet wide) and maneuverable telescopes that are in orbit above the poles of planets. They are very accurate and view objects in space in infra-red, visible, radio, micro, gamma, and even slip lights.
EDCR- EDCR stands for Extreme Distance Communication Relay. Ever since we began colonizing other worlds, we needed some method to communicate with relative speed, especially with rebels. The United Nations Deep Space Communication (UNDSC) department set up over a million checkpoint droids placed strategically throughout deep space. These checkpoints send smaller droids into Slipspace to pick up signals from planets or other checkpoints and relay them on to their next destination. Slipspace anomalies often mess up the signals, causing faulty relays. Yet, the UNDSC is incorporating new technology to reduce this.
The yellow and black striped bus pulled into the U-shaped driveway of Foxfield Observatory. While the children piled out of the bus, giggling excitedly, the jolly Santa Claus look-a-like in the observatory's entrance noticed the bus rise a few inches and could hear the hydraulics groaning from the release of weight. The last person off the antique-looking vehicle was a dazzling beautiful woman dressed in a red D-shirt with a red pair of latex looking jogging pants. The whole outfit was topped off with a red and brown-blonde streaked ponytail.
-Remember Shane, your married- he thought glancing down at the gold band on his finger with a somewhat disappointed expression. He looked up, clasped his hands behind his back, and tried to look all the more professional.
After watching the bus lumber away, he saw her herding the kids into a small group. "Remember, stand as close to this spot as you can," she said pointing at an invisible place on the ground. Most of the kids leaned in to see what it was. "Just don't wander off." She turned around to start towards him, but stopped, reached behind her quickly, and grabbed a brown haired girl by the back of her jacket that had just started to wander away.
"Why don't come with me Lizzie." Lizzie looked down somewhat guiltily but held up her hand. The young teacher enfolded it into her own hand and continued walking towards the man in the doorway.
When they got there, the young lady held out her free hand towards the man. "Dr. Shane Cleaver I presume? I'm Sally Pullman."
Dr. Cleaver smiled and took her hand in his and delicately pumped it. "You know my name? My reputation precedes me I see." He chuckled and then shivered, rubbing his naked arms with his hands. "It's pretty cold tonight. Winter's a coming very fast. It must feel a lot colder up here for you though, coming from the middle latitudes and all."
"It is for them." She looked over her shoulder to see the puffy jackets their parents had their kids wear. "I, however," she said holding her hand to her chest, fingers splayed, "used to live right over there in Ethorn City."
"Really? Why'd you move to the Southern Province?"
She looked down and crossed her arms. Lizzie suddenly had a determined look and started pulling on her soft jogging pants. Sally ignored her for the moments. "It reminded my mother to much of my father." She sucked in her breath quickly, obviously trying not to cry. "The Covenant," she said as if it explained it all, because it did.
"I'm sorry Ms. Pullman, I shouldn't have asked."
Her head shot back up with a small smile but dropped right back down again when she remembered the tears. "No, no. It's fine. I think everyone has lost someone anyway." She turned to Lizzie, who was still tugging on her pants, and kneeled down, hiding her face.
"What is it Lizzie?"
The kindergartener looked up at the Doctor and asked with a completely innocent expression "Is that man Santa C'aus?"
Ms. Pullman suppressed a giggle. "No, Lizzie, the good Doctor is not Santa C'aus," she replied with empthasis on Lizzie's verbal slip-up. Sally stood back up and looked at Dr. Cleaver, any hint of her recent break-down gone. "Shall we go in Dr. Cleaver?" She started walking towards the door but turned around before she reached it and smacked her palm onto her hand in mock surprise. "The children! I almost forgot!"
Lizzie had moseyed back to the throng who was now playing marbles… with imaginary marbles. Predictably, several arguments raged over placement of these unseen marbles. Ms. Pullman walked in front of the mob and clapped a short staccato with her hands. The kids immediately stood up, went silent, and repeated the clap.
Ms. Pullman put an exaggerated confused look on her face. She started patting herself down muttering "Now, where did I put those rules…" over and over.
A couple of kids giggled at her embellished performance. "Their up here!" they all yelled in a staggered unison, pointing to their heads. "Their in our memory!"
"Very good, very good. Now, what are they again? I can't seem to remember."
"No NTWM. No noise, no touching, no wandering, and mind your manners," they yelled back.
"That's right; now follow me and Dr. Cleaver." She gave a dramatic pause. "Now, LET'S GO SEE EARTH!" she announced, turning around and throwing her arm forward over her shoulder. Then they all went through the happy-looking doors and found themselves in a hall full of named cubbies. She looked admiringly at Dr. Cleaver, who returned her look with a shrug.
"It was nothing. There's just so little hands-on work to do here."
"Either way, thank you." She raised her voice slightly. "Everybody find their cubby and put your coats, hats, and gloves into your own cubby." She turned back to Dr. Cleaver, "Are all the consoles ready in the main room?"
"Why, of course!" he said, feigning insult. He leaned against the wall and watched the children hurry to put away their cold weather gear. When they finished, he straightened out, and led the way down a white corridor. Ms. Pullman caught up with him, glanced once over her shoulder to do a quick head-count, and then turned back to Dr. Cleaver.
"So… how long have you been here, at Foxfield Observatory?" she asked inquiringly.
"O, I don't know. About seven years. I was at Gordon Planetary Facility immediately after I graduated from Kings Astronomical College on Earth. I stayed there for a bit and then came back home on Prosperity 3 and hopped from observatory to observatory until I ended up here. It's a nice place and all; it's just not really as sophisticated or intelligent as GPF and the pay, well, let's just say this used to be volunteers only. Anyway, enough about me. Why did you become a teacher anyway?"
"Mainly because I couldn't join the military."
"Why not? You seem old enough."
"I have EPSS, Extreme Plasma Sensitivity Syndrome. If I get within 10 feet of any plasma, I get blinding headaches, literally. I spasm, and can't think coherently. I die after 30 seconds of exposure. So, basically, if I go anywhere near the Covenant, with all their fancy plasma gizmos, I'll die without getting shot at. I'd be tactically useless in a battle."
She finished just as they were entering the main telescopic chamber. It was circular and about 50 feet wide. It was raised on the outside edge where various control panels and consoles were littered on tables pointing inward from the wall. There was a lower floor that went around in a ring that circled a massive telescope. Circling the telescope was a table with about 30 consoles on it, each with its own name on it.
When the kids came in after the two adults, they let out a cheer and each ran to his or her respectively named console. They sat down and started yelling and talking all at once. Ms. Pullman waited for about 5 seconds before she repeated the short staccato. The kids all turned around and went silent except for a few who still whispered. These rebels without a cause were quickly shushed by their peers who turned and looked every part the smug teacher's pet. Sally pointed to her eyes and then pointed at the expansive man in the doorway. All the kindergarteners turned and stared him down as best they could, many of them suppressing giggles, giving proof that the young teacher's directions were also small games.
The Doctor coughed nervously and walked over next to the woman. He rubbed his hands together as he looked over the depressed walkway at the seemingly catatonic children. He opened his mouth as if he were going to say something but nothing came out as if he had thought better of it. He closed and reopened it with positive results this time. "I won't give you any long lectures on rules or why you're here today. Your only here for tonight and you better make the most of it. Well then, let's get started. Please open the folder in the top-left of your console; for those of you who know how to read, it's called 'Earth'."
Most of the kids turned back to their consoles and pressed a button in the bottom edge of the screen. The console's STOP scanned the children's eyes and locked onto their movements. A few tentatively turned and raised their hands. In reply, Ms. Pullman held up her left hand and made an L with it. She pointed at it and said "The side that makes the L." The kids turned back to their consoles with a soft chorus of thanks. After waiting for the console to accept their retinas, they looked at the folder on the screen and blinked twice to open it.
"Give it a second to load," Dr. Cleaver announced. He waited for a few seconds and then started giving out instructions. "You should have Earth on your screens now; beautiful isn't it? Anyway, there should be small joysticks in front of the consoles. You will be using these to maneuver your TELSAT so you can look around the Sol system or get a better view of Earth. If you're lucky, you might be able to see a comet or even Saturn."
But the kids weren't even listening to him anymore. Their full attention was now centered on the high definition images in front of them. The students were completely silent as they maneuvered their Earth-based TELSATs to explore new areas of the Sol system.
Ms. Pullman leaned in towards Dr. Cleaver. "This is something new."
"What's something new?"
"Their completely quiet."
"O, I see." After another minute or so, Dr. Cleaver picked up a data receiver off a nearby desk and started gazing at it with a concentrated look on his face.
The youthful teacher looked over his shoulder at the wavy lines that were fluctuating across the screen. "What's that?" she asked.
"An EDCR monitor. Since the TELSATs the children are looking at are going to be based above Reach, Earth, and Gordon, I need to make sure there will be no surprise Slipspace storms."
She nodded knowingly and backed away. She turned, found a chair, and sat down in it. As the Doctor continued to examine his data receiver, she reached into her pocket and pulled out a silver locket attached to a chain. She looked at it and moved her fingers to open it. As they brushed the smooth surface, she suddenly withdrew her hand in a fist. "Now's not the time Sally," she murmured so softly, she couldn't tell if she had thought it or said it.
She slipped the locket into her pocket with a sigh and then leaned back in her chair, letting her red and dirty blonde hair fall out of the ponytail. She sat back up straight again and looked at her class, or at least the portion she could see from her seat. She watched their screens as they looked at the wonders of Sol.
After about 15 minutes, Dr. Cleaver lowered his data receiver and gave out instructions on how to make the switch from Earth TELSATs to Reach TELSATs. The kindergarteners started exploring the system while Dr. Cleaver, satisfied there weren't any EDCR inconsistencies, walked over to a console of his own on a desk near Ms. Pullman. As he walked past her, she followed him with her eyes. He sat down and started entering rapid fire commands into the console.
After a bit, he noticed Ms. Pullman watching him. "I have to reprogram our TELSATs over Prosperity 3 so they'll accept our commands," he explained briefly. With that, he turned back to his console.
Ms. Pullman, who was starting to feel cramped, got up and walked on the lowered walkway circling the youngsters, sometimes commenting on what they were looking at. After she had circled the primary telescope twice, Dr. Cleaver stood up and announced it was time to switch to the Gordon TELSAT system.
Hearing this, Ms. Pullman went back to her seat and continued to survey the kids from a distance. More time passed and her hand strayed to the locket in her pocket. This time when she brought it out, she opened it with a slight hesitation. Inside the inner wall of the locket was the picture of a middle-aged man in full uniform with the double gold band and star of a full Lieutenant. She stared at this for a long time, before she closed it once again and slipped it back into her pocket.
She glanced at her watch: 10:26. She was surprised at how long they had already been here. She stood up and wandered over to Dr. Cleaver. "Are you almost done?"
"As a matter of fact, I am. Would you please go tell them that their screens will turn off momentarily as I switch the EDCR frequency to Prosperity?"
"Sure," she said as she turned around and attracted the attention of the kids. Once they were focused on her, she began to speak. "In just a moment, your consoles are going to shut off. But don't worry; our good friend Dr. Cleaver will turn them back on and you can begin stargazing wherever you want to. That sounds like fun right?"
Multiple "rights" mixed with yawns answered her question. The kids turned back to their consoles to find them already off. After a few seconds, the screens came back on, with a picture of Foxfield Observatory on each of them.
"I see Dr. Cleaver took it upon himself to start off our TELSATs." She looked around at the kids. "Well, what are you waiting for? Go on; try to find a new star system!" All the children turned back to their consoles, each thinking that they would find a new star.
She walked back to Dr. Cleaver who was just turning off his console. He looked up and saw her. "Well done Ms. Pullman. Who knows? One of them might actually discover a new star." He walked over to a wall window overlooking a large field behind the observatory with Ms. Pullman in tow.
"Isn't amazing Sally? Is it OK if I call you Sally?"
"Ya, it's fine."
"Anyway, isn't it amazing? 1,000 years ago, they could barely make out Jupiter's moons with their telescopes," he mused. "500 years ago, astronomers on Earth could've looked directly at us with their telescopes and maybe see a blur from Prosperity. Today, we can use our own land-based telescopes to view storms on Earth that happened over a decade before. Tell me Sally, do you know how far away Earth is from Prosperity?"
"Of course. Somewhere in the area of 11 light years away." She paused for a moment. "When you stop to think about it, I find it hard to believe we came up with two digits, only two digits, to express an unimaginably large expanse of nothingness. We are so small and it's just so big. It kind of helps me understand why we fight among ourselves." She turned sideways and looked Dr. Cleaver right in the eyes. "Tell me Doctor, do you know why we fight? And I mean the instinct, not the frivolous excuses we come up with for it."
He considered his answer for a couple of seconds, finally deciding he'd humor her. "Now that I think of it, I can't say that I know. Sally, why do we fight?"
"Now that you ask, I really don't know for sure." She laughed. "I just think that since we can't fight the nothingness out there, we turn to each other to fight with. And that's what humanity is: one big fight. Even when we're facing extinction, yes, I've heard the rumors; we still manage to pick fights with each other. No wonder the Covenant want to kill us so much."
Dr. Cleaver would never admit it, but this startling spark of insight from one so young disturbed him. He tried to find some reply to this. He finally decided on something, through process of elimination that would most likely be the best answer. So, he opened his mouth wide and said "Wow."
A few awkward seconds passed. "'Wow' what Doctor?"
"'Wow' as in 'Wow, what an amazing insight from one so one.' You know, you would probably make a great theologian."
"O, I see. Anyway, wouldn't you think that God would be helpful at—"
"God? There is no God. We were all formed from stars gone supernova that were created by a massive explosion of matter 14 billion years ago. There is no God. You would've thought if there was a God, he might've helped us by now. He sure was too late for the dozens of billions of people that the Covenant have killed, all in the name of 'their God'. That's not what I believe. I think after death, we just don't exist anymore."
She paused for a moment, letting Dr. Cleaver soak it in. "Our soul doesn't exist. It's simply a mass of emotions intertwined so much, that we had to use our primitive minds to think of an explanation for it. We didn't want to feel alone in the universe, so we thought up God so we could trick ourselves into thinking that there was a divine being out there and that we aren't alone in this huge expanse of nothingness!"
She stopped again, this time to calm herself down. She started off slowly. "That, Dr. Cleaver, is what I think about religion. It's simply a mass of ideas thought up by bald monks with nothing to do except write bibles. I used to be Catholic. I did the whole thing, went to Church, prayed, confessed, everything! But, I wasn't feeling anything. I finally realized I was being pushed into this religion against my will. But I put up with it.
"That however changed after my dad got killed by a 3 foot tall toad wearing shit on his back! That's when I finally realized the plain and stark truth, there is no God."
She laughed. "You know, 1,000 years ago, if I had said that, I'd be burning on a stake right now. Thank—," she stopped, "someone out there for civilization."
Now, Dr. Cleaver was really disturbed. I'm not going to get another nights sleep for the next month after hearing that! He desperately wanted out from this limbo position between politeness and personal instinct.
"HEY! I think I found something!" yelled a young girl with black, waist-long hair. Dr. Cleaver thanked God, if there was one, for this and quickly turned around and lumbered over to the young girl who was excitedly bouncing up and down on her seat. "I found IT! I found IT! That's right Jeremy. I found IT before YOU!" she said, patronizing a dissapointed looking young boy.
Dr. Cleaver and Ms. Pullman arrived there at the same time. They both looked at the screen. Dr. Cleaver's brow furrowed as he looked at the fuzzy abject on the console. Ms. Pullman looked over at Dr. Cleaver. "Is there a sharpness control?"
"Why yes, I think there is." He looked at the screen and opened several menus before finally reaching the "sharpness" gauge. "Huh, wonder who turned it down." After he turned it up to maximum and closed the menus, he gazed at the now clarified picture.
"My God," Ms. Pullman said without thinking. "It's a giant hoola hoop."
"The bigwigs back at Ethorn City will want to see this," Dr. Cleaver announced even as he took a memory cube out of his pants pocket and plugged it into a depression on the back of the console. He downloaded the picture onto the cube before slipping it back into his pocket.
He looked at the screen again still trying to discern what this mystery object was. Ms. Pullman cleared her throat nervously before asking "Is it just me, or is that screen tinted red?"
Dr. Cleaver stood up and said "Well, it shouldn't be." He started to turn around. "Maybe I changed a col—." His voice trailed off as he saw the blinking red light he had hoped would never have to be turned on.
To be continued…
Next Chapter: Escape
Marooned | Chapter 2 | Escape
Date: 28 April 2006, 2:02 am
<Civilian Number 43883-368-BAK0912 Detected...>
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<No Criminal Record Discovered>
<CIVILIAN FILE FOUND...>
<Name: Poster, Joslyn>
<Location: Undisclosed Location on Gordon 6>
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Date (Military): July 12th, 2542, 10:40 PM
Date (Prosperity 3): Fall 64th, 162, 79%
Things to Know:
Prosperity III- The Prosperity system is roughly 10 billion kilometers in diameter, about 2 billion kilometers smaller than Sol. Despite it being smaller, it contains nearly twice as many planets (17). Prosperity III, the only habitable planet in the system, was settled in 2365, the second extra-terrestrial human colony (only after Reach). Prosperity III is nowhere near as close to Earth as Reach is, but it is just as important. Reach is the seat of military power in the human society. Prosperity III is the seat of economic, public, and civilian power. On Prosperity 3, you can find nearly 2 billion people, the 2542 version of Hollywood, the headquarters of most major corporations, and the main interplanetary economic and stock market. Prosperity III days are measured in percentages, due to an erratic and ever changing revolution because of massive magnetic fluxes in-system. This often wreaks havoc with space vessels but Prosperity scientists can often detect magnetic fluctuations before they occur, reducing trouble.
SSEVs- SSEVs (or Surface to Space Escape Vehicles) were assigned to the Nucleus Colonies (the Reach, Sol, Prosperity, Gordon, Titan, and Lost systems) in the year 2537 due to the Covenant's proximity to the Inner Colonies. These are a feat of engineering due to their immense size (1.5 miles long, .2 miles wide) and occupational capacity (1.5 million people per SSEV) and were designed by Truth Feral, an acclaimed ship architect. Massive stores of resources were gathered in the Lost system and were almost completely used up building over 500,000 of these ships in Operation: FUGITIVE. These were in turn scattered among major spaceports and cities in the Nucleus Colonies on a per capita basis. Lost 1 is still producing these behemoths to be added to other major population centers. Each SSEV carries enough food to support 1.5 million civilians plus crew (4,500 members) for over 6 months. They also are equipped with 15 Marathon-cruiser-class engines and a FTL engine. To take off, the five largest engines positioned on the underside activate, propelling the ship straight up, albeit slowly. After reaching a specified altitude, they activate all engines and jump out system. Unfortunately, SSEVs have poor armor plating and one plasma torpedo or even a pulse laser could disable it if hit in the right, or should I say wrong, spot. Upon boarding an SSEV during an invasion, one will pass through a ground checkpoint where he/she will have their neural chip programmed to a certain area on the ship. Then they will move up an escalator into the ship and will then receive instructions from the AI on how to get to their assigned area.
Dr. Cleaver stood up and said "Well, it shouldn't be." He started to turn around. "Maybe I changed a col—." His voice trailed off as he saw the blinking red light he had hoped would never have to be turned on.
Ms. Pullman, who had detected something wrong at his abrupt halt in communication, started to turn. When she saw the light blinking itself merrily, her hands flew to her mouth. She looked down and started to shake her head, as if refusing to believe what she was seeing. She looked up again and saw the light blinking, completely oblivious to what it was signifying.
Ms. Pullman remembered who she was, a teacher, and all these young children were her students. That meant their safety was her responsibility. She knew what she had to do. The young woman forced her legs to move and she moved towards the field window. When she got there, she looked up into the sky, hoping she wouldn't find what she was looking for.
She did. After five seconds of watching the starry sky, she saw it: a large aurora covering the northern part of the atmosphere, tinted a hellish orange and red. A sob escaped her throat as the entire weight of what was occurring fell right onto her shoulders. Prosperity had been invaded. The teacher remembered what her father had said to her before he left for the 105th Drop Jet Platoon on Jericho 7. "A person who waits is a person who fails." She knew what her mission was now: to get the hell off Prosperity 3 with her class and Dr. Cleaver in tow.
She ran back to Dr. Cleaver who now appeared to be completely catatonic. Ms. Pullman shook him once, twice with no result. He was still staring at the red rectangle on the wall. Ms. Pullman knew she didn't have time for this. She slapped him across the face over and over, but keeping quiet as not to upset the children, who were so focused on their consoles, they didn't even notice the light on the wall.
On the 4th slap, he finally seemed to wake up. "Uh, wuh, huh? What... the Covenant! Their here, my god, their invading Prosperity!"
Ms. Pullman sucked in her breath, trying not to scream "OF COURSE THEIR INVADING YOU JACKASS!" She instead settled for "Yes, Doctor, they are, which is why we need to get to the Ethorn SSEVs," Ms. Pullman said slowly as if talking to one of her students. "Now, why don't you grab a coat, go outside, and find some way to get us there, OK? OK."
He nodded numbly and walked out of the room. When Ms. Pullman turned back to her class, they were still unaware of the outside world. Ms. Pullman was about to speak when one of her students screamed. She ran over to the little girl who was screaming and pointing at her screen. Ms. Pullman gasped when she saw the console. A dozen Covenant ships were engaged with a fleet of 50 or so UNSC ships. The rest of the class gathered around the console
Ms. Pullman pulled the girl off her seat and sat her down on the floor. "Stop making such a fuss Gabriella. It's only a vid," Ms. Pullman lied. She straightened out, "Everybody, listen to me! I'm sorry to say this but we're going to have to leave early tonight." After the inevitable chorus of moans, she continued. "Do all of you remember where the cubbies are?" All the kids nodded, many of them sadly. "Then go get your coats on and I'll be right there. And be quick about it!"
A few kids began to ask why but Ms. Pullman cut them off. "The cubbies..." she said tapping her foot. She needed them to hurry and she desperately wanted to tell them about the "visitors" to make them hustle although she knew it would be a bad idea. It would only cause panic and there was enough panic on Prosperity at the moment...
The kids walked out of the room, murmuring among themselves about why they were leaving early. Ms. Pullman turned back to the console just in time to see both sides launch off a salvo. Several Covenant ships were destroyed from the cannons and missiles, but not enough. 19 UNSC ships took a final trip to Prosperity engulfed in flames. She zoomed in on the soon-to-be ground zero and saw a minor metropolis. A window popped up next to it and gave it a label; "Ethorn City".
"My God" she thought to herself. Ms. Pullman knew they didn't have much time and ran out of the room with the screen boasting a blinking message box next to one of the destroyed ships that said "CONGRATULATIONS! You are the discoverer of a new meteor!"
She darted down the hall and found the kindergarteners just starting to put on their jackets. After seeing how long it was taking them, she decided to risk the children's apprehension for speed. "Forget about the jackets! Just leave the jackets and follow me."
She ran outside and saw the bus idling in the driveway. She had no idea how it got here, but she was grateful it did. She herded all the kids onto the bus before she got on herself and found that Dr. Cleaver was the driver. She sat down in the seat behind him as he accelerated down the road. "Doctor, where'd you find this bus?"
"I really don't know, after I saw the alarm, I-I really don't remember anything. Next thing I know, I'm sitting in the driver seat of an antique bus in the driveway of my observatory while a Covenant fleet hovers above our heads!" He shook his head, "I really need a raise."
"Forget about humor! Can't you make this thing go any faster?"
"No, this is as fast as it will go, 55 mph. Anyway, if I go any faster, I'll blow a tire! Damn, why'd they have to give you a bus with inflatable tires?"
She started to swear under her breath. "We need to get to that spaceport as fast as possible!"
"I know! I know!" Dr. Cleaver replied defensively. Ms. Pullman observed he was a lot more timid than he appeared to be.
"Great! Just what I need..."
Ms. Pullman stood up and faced the children on the bus. She knew she had to calm down the frightened children. She knew she had to calm down herself. "Do you know what?"
"What?" they answered in staggered unison.
"We're going into outer space!"
A silence fell over the bus before a loud cheer erupted from the coatless kids. They continued to celebrate until a loud whistling sound filled the air. All the kids rushed to the right side of the bus and looked out the windows just in time to see a UNSC frigate engulfed in a fireball come streaking out of the sky.
Silence fell over the group as they watched the human-made meteor rocket towards the ground before impacting. A massive cloud whooshed into the air and the night turned into day. Seconds later, a loud explosive sound rocked the bus as the shock wave hit. The ground bucked and heaved under them but the bus managed to stay upright. The yelping kids were thrown around the interior of the bus like rag dolls.
Once the shaking subsided, the bus managed to pull onto a highway which was fractured in various places and still had cars frantically racing down it. For some reason, the Oldies station started playing some Plant, a slow, almost ambient sound. After checking to make sure they were all OK, Ms. Pullman told all the kids to put on their seatbelts and hold on. She sat down, buckled up, and braced herself against the inevitable debris fallout of the impact. Within seconds, large fragments of the frigate started falling all around them. Dr. Cleaver managed to keep the bus on the far right side of the highway as to use the concrete wall there as a makeshift shield and avoid cars.
Ms. Pullman looked out her window at the other cars racing by them. Suddenly, one of the cars was hit directly by a piece of blackened bulkhead. A large crater appeared and the car apparently ceased to exist. Immediately after, another car was struck on the hood by a piece of unrecognizable metal. The car's nose rammed straight down into the road. The body of the car flipped over it, still carried by its momentum, and crashed upside down onto the highway right in front of them, skidding forward with sparks flying out the back. Screaming could barely be heard coming from the doomed vehicle.
Dr. Cleaver saw it and reacted just in time. The steering wheel rushed all the way to the left and the bus swerved past the car, leaning only on two wheels. As they emerged onto the center of the highway littered with rubble, the makeshift meteors continued to fall around them. The bus landed back onto all four wheels as the Doctor managed to move it back into the safety of the right side of the road
The bus finally managed to make it into the city. Ms. Pullman sighed, barely able to think coherently over the sound outside and inside the bus. She knew that now they were in the city, they were close to the SSEVs and the buildings would block most of the falling debris from the space battle. She barely finished this thought when one of the skyscrapers in front of them was struck by a large piece of an engine shield. The building was snapped off it's foundation by the impact and started to fall. Dr. Cleaver administered more pressure onto the pedal and the bus shot under the building. It landed on the highway, crushing several cars and blocking thousands more, only 10 meters behind them.
The kids were still screaming and Ms. Pullman was seriously considering joining them as the chaotic ride continued. She looked up at the large man in the driver's seat who was expertly swerving the bus around cracks in the highway and pieces of debris. Sweat was openly running down his face which was screwed into a look of extreme concentration. "Just like the old vidsims," he muttered to himself over and over.
The kids were still blaring their high-pitched sounds of terror as more chunks of spaceship fell from the sky. Ms. Pullman looked out the window again while maintaining a death grip on the driver's seat in front of her. She saw the first good news since the discussion with the Doctor at the bay window: a large sign that read "SPACEPORT/SSEVS: HALF MILE". Smiling to herself, she screamed, over the kid's screaming, the whistling of debris raining from the sky, and other miscellaneous noises throughout the city, at the Doctor "WE'RE ALMOST THERE!"
Another building on the other side of town was struck by a chunk of Covenant bulkhead. "'Bout time" she thought. It collapsed and struck another building. Miraculously, the building stayed upright with the other building protruding from its side.
They turned onto an exit ramp and entered a short tunnel. The young teacher sighed at the momentary safety, until the roof started collapsing that is. That's when she started screaming again. The now scuffed, beaten, and somewhat destroyed bus made it out of the tunnel with inches to spare. On the other side, the road opened up onto a massive field, at least 5 by 10 miles. On the opposite side was the spaceport with dozens of sporting yachts and other spaceships docked for repairs. On their side however, were two massive SSEVs that stretched for thousands of yards in either direction. The kids even stopped their screaming to emit a few "wows" at the monstrous black beast. Some pieces of the space junk, both UNSC and Covenant, hit the two ships but bounced off it leaving a tiny dent.
Dr. Cleaver curved the bus towards the middle of the closest spaceship where a crowd of thousands was gathered. There were similar crowds at ten other points along the ship's underside. Dozens of small escalator type walkways ferried hundreds of people at once up into the belly of the escape craft. When the bus entered the fringes of the crowd, Dr. Cleaver put on the brake and everybody piled out. Every person that got off the bus, grown up and child alike, were thankful the 10-minute ride through hell was over and that they were protected by this mass of Titanium A.
Dr. Cleaver went back and gave the bus a quick pat. "Thanks," was all he said. The bus replied by suddenly collapsing onto its tires and suspension, now touching the ground with its frame. Dr. Cleaver rushed back to join the others.
Ms. Pullman told everybody to stay together and keep both their hands on somebody. The kids were still whimpering from the ride and some of them seemed to be shell-shocked. Most of them though looked up at the looming ship above them, knowing this was what was taking them into space. As they made their way throughout the crowd to the nearest escalator, they could hear an announcer shouting over the ambient sounds.
"EVERYONE, PLEASE MOVE IN AN ORDERLY FASHION AND FORM STRAIGHT LINES BEHIND EACH ESCALATOR! DON'T WORRY; WE HAVE ENOUGH TIME TO GET ON THE "Fugitive 7" AND OFF THIS PLANET IF YOU COOPERATE! ONCE ONBOARD, PLEASE LISTEN TO THE INSTRUCTIONS GIVEN TO YOU AND FOLLOW THEM TO-THE-LETTER!" The announcer repeated this message over and over, sounding slightly more panicked on every repeat. Ms. Pullman continued to move her class towards the escalator with Dr. Cleaver beside her and the kids behind her.
They finally made it to the line. Within minutes, they had passed through the checkpoint and up the escalator. Once there, the onboard AI told them where to go. It was a long way and they were still moving when the pilot announced that they were taking off. His voice sounded frightened and tight. Before he could shut down the channel, a transmission came through.
"...out of here! They decimated us! We're moving out-system. Get those SSEVs in the air! Their beginning to bom—"
Although the message was cut off, Ms. Pullman had heard enough to tell what was going on. The Covenant had obliterated the UNSC fleet and had begun showering humanity's economic stronghold with superheated plasma. And they were still on it...
Before she could think hard enough to panic, Ms. Pullman began directing the class forward along the steel hallway. Suddenly, an enormous rumble shook the ship and just about everyone fell down. Several kids started screaming. "What's going on?!" shrieked one girl.
"Calm down, CALM DOWN! It was nothing, we're just lifting off is all," Dr. Cleaver said, mainly trying to reassure himself. The ship rumbled again and their ears popped. Ever so slightly, the SSEV started to tip nose up. "I wish I had a window," mumbled Dr. Cleaver as he massaged his temples.
Another announcement came over the channel. "This is your Captain speaking." A pause, then "If you are not in a secure location, find a reinforced area and stay in it. Try to have your back facing aft, because we'll start increasing our angle of ascent."
After listening to this, Ms. Pullman began to speak. "Everyone come over here," she said standing by a reinforced bulkhead. As the ship continued to pick up speed, she told everyone to sit down under the bulkhead against a wall. Then both she and Dr. Cleaver joined them and prayed it would all end soon.
"SITREP IMMEDIATELY! I NEED IT NOW, NOW, NOW!" Captain Vincent Fin of the Fugitive 7 SSEV screamed, one of his veins bulging dangerously in his temple. The short and stocky man had been transferred to the Fugitive 7 after commanding the only surviving ship in a massive fight over Atlantis 2 in 2540. It was his first battle as a Captain and the Navy was afraid he'd go insane. They thought he needed a tranquil job to calm down. He thought that was a load of bullshit. He wanted to be on the front line fighting the Covenant, not commanding some obese ~~~civilian~~~ "escape craft". Now that the Covenant were attacking, he really regretted that the only weapon onboard was a load of Archer missiles, used to deflect boarding craft and space garbage.
As the bridge crew rushed around trying to get coherent messages from the space battle and a dozen other things, the captain looked out of the horizontal semi-circle window in front of him to see a sight he had never seen before. Ethorn City had been reduced to rubble from the wreckage falling on them from above. Not a building was left standing erect and dozens of fires raged throughout the remains. He had only seen the after effects of space battles from space, not down on the ground. For some reason, this made him even angrier. He turned and grabbed an orderly rushing by.
"ORDERLY! Why the HELL do I not have my SITREP yet!?"
The orderly, already scared out of his wits, nearly fainted dead away from the Captain's verbal onslaught. He regained his composure and managed a shaky reply. "Sir, I don't know s-sir. Maybe I-I should go find out sir!" he said, desperately trying to get the Captain to detach his hand from his arm.
The Captain let go of him in disgust and turned to find another orderly holding up a clipboard in front of him. Captain Fin snatched it away from him and quickly scanned. "Finally got that SITREP..." he muttered under his breath. The orderly started to leave.
"And where do you think your going, orderly?"
The young man turned and started to say something. The Captain cut him off before he could get a word out however. "Tell the pilots to launch, and to alert the ship's passengers to our lift-off. Things are going bad topside and we need to get the hell out of here before they start glassing the planet."
The orderly turned noticeably paler at the last comment but ran down the steps to the pilot's station. Captain Fin looked down and rubbed his eyes. He looked up and went over to the COM station. "Son, filter out these channels, I want to hear the battle and only the battle."
While the officer at the station busied himself with this, the pilot's announcement came over the COM. When they were finished, a sudden transmission from the destroyer Io came out of the speakers. "SHUT THE DAMN COM OFF!" the Captain yelled, trying to keep the civilian population from hearing what was going on topside. The pilots fumbled the controls but managed to get them off.
Captain Fin turned back to the COM officer, "Lieutenant, replay that message ASAP." After a few seconds, the transmission repeated itself.
"'...out of here! They decimated us! We're moving out-system. Get those SSEVs in the air! Their beginning to bombard the planet! My God, there's only a few of us left! Once the SSEVs get off the planet, JUMP IMMEDIATELY! Be careful, the Covenant are glassing away and the atmosphere is thick with plasma torpedoes. Ending transmission.'"
"Looks like we're going to be flying right through a shooting gallery. Power to engines, 150%."
"Angle of elevation, 25 degrees."
"25 degrees, sir."
"How many other SSEVs are with us?"
"Uh, 12 sir; wait, make that ten."
The SSEV continued to inch its way up. At an altitude of 25 kilometers, plasma started to fall on the planet. The Captain prayed none would hit them; it would compromise the entire ship. He stepped away from the COM station and looked at the Battle Array. He could make out the positions of at least 10 other SSEVs from nearby cities, all rising from the planet and headed for outer space.
As their speed picked up, the chances of making it out of the system started to look realistic again. The navigations officer spoke out "The Covenant don't seem to be aiming for any of our ships, their just bombarding the planet. Poor bastards." he muttered as one of the plasma bolts struck the Folger Ocean, vaporizing a large section of it, creating a massive whirlpool. "I never thought it would happen here."
Captain Fin grunted. "Save the sentimentalities for Slipspace Lieutenant. Just keep her straight and steady."
A pause, then one of the Lieutenants cried out, "Plasma torpedo, off starboard!" No sooner had he finished this sentence then did a flaming ball of plasma streak past them, not a mile away. Captain Fin glanced at the Battle Array in time to see Ethorn City 'blip' out of existence. "Damn, that was too close," he thought. The destruction of his temporary home made him even angrier. When he pried his hands off the clipboard, there were twin gashes on them. He looked back at the Battle Array and noticed that no UNSC ships remained in-system.
"God Damn it Bennet! How much longer till we jump this hellhole?"
Sweat was openly pouring down his face now. He paused typing his commands long enough to brush it away. "Uh, we should be at prime condition within 9 minutes, uh, moving through lower thermosphere, um, angle of ascent at 32.45 degrees, going, um, smooth and steady." Amazingly, the Navigations officer said all of this in less than five seconds, almost biting his tongue.
The Engineering Officer, G. Peedin, began to talk as well. "Sir, we can push the engines to 175% for 5 minutes before they become inoperable."
"How long till we can jump to Slipspace?"
"Damn, if the engines let out before we jump, we're stuck here. If they fail after we jump, we'll be unable to move about when we re-enter space... We, I need to time this perfectly."
"Do it. And give engine shutdown controls to me."
"JUST DO IT!"
"Ye-ye-yes s-sir!" His hands shakily typed in the commands. The SSEV shuddered violently as it sped up. They were high up enough now so that he could make out the covenant ships. They still have taken no notice of the fleeing ships. Captain Fin knew that this must be his lucky day. "This luck is like a two sided mirror."
"4 minutes 'til jump sir. I-I think we might actually make it," exclaimed Peedin. Two seconds later, the SSEV near them was struck in the middle by a plasma torpedo, effectively bisecting it. Both halves began a long trip back to the planet as the usual aura of fire formed around the hull. Everyone onboard knew that the civilians on that ship were dying the worst possible death: no idea what's happening as they free fall torwards the planet.
Captain Fin watched as the two pieces hurtled past another SSEV, barely missing it. He turned back to look out the view port in time to see a plasma torpedo heading straight for them, not 10 kilometers away. Captain Fin knew it was the end, and he intended to stare it straight in the eye.