The Bright Green Dot: Coughdrop
Posted By: 4642 Elitist Bastard<firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date: 28 May 2009, 2:49 pm
"Jump to Slipspace, Ensign Lovell. Get us the hell out of here."
"Aye, sir. Cortana, dump the destination co-ordinates and bearings in to the nav controller."
"Already done. Approaching saturation velocity. Powering Shaw-Fujikawa translight generators... new course available. Attitude is nominal. Ready for transition."
"Copy. Bridge to FTL: ENGAGE!"
The Pillar of Autumn dove in to the fierce glow about the forward hull, and began the long and winding journey home. Her pursuers were left confused, outwitted but not for long.
THE BRIGHT GREEN DOT
Based upon Halo created by Bungie LLC
Wednesday, 30 August, 2552
UNSC Pillar of Autumn leaving Epsilon Eridani system via Slipstream Space
"Could I have a word with you in my office? As soon as possible?"
The Captain smiled, nodded his thanks, and withdrew behind the door frame.
"Hang on..." I said, and the Captain returned.
"I'm not doing anything at the moment... would you like to discuss it now?"
I saved my work and turned off the holopad, and followed the Captain to his quarters.
Barebones, not much space. The Captain's quarters were small, rather like that of most of the administrative staff on the Pillar of Autumn, but at least we had the privacy of our own sleeping quarters, washing facilities and bathrooms, which is more than could be said for those who got their hands dirty with the actual business of killing.
A cruel injustice, maybe. But a necessary one, and one that proved profitable: for me, at least. I felt slightly guilty for thinking that.
"Please," Captain Keyes said, gesturing to the chair in front of his desk as he sat down behind it. I dropped into the seat: inadequate cushioning, sore ass.
"Right, then, Captain... what did you want to see me about?"
"Well, put simply, it's a request."
"A request? For what?"
"Let me explain first. We need to turn off all non-essential subsystems if we're even going to have a chance of losing the Covenant on this jump."
"Yes..." I said, slowly, "I mean, the probability is slim that we'll shake them off, but..."
"I think it's worth the sacrifice," Keyes finished. He reached into his pocket, and withdrew his pipe. "Anyway, we've got to shut down all of the soldiers' living quarters, which isn't too much of an issue, because most of the crew are going straight into cryo."
"Yes..." I said, beginning to piece together the jigsaw in my head.
"Ah. I see." I leaned forward in the chair. "I heard about the PSU issue... how many tubes were affected?"
"In the end, it was twenty-three. Nothing too major... a few engineers have stuck around to try and fix the reactor, and we've housed a few ODSTs with the technicians for the time being. However, I do have a special favor to ask of you."
"Would you mind having the Master Chief room with you for a couple of nights?"
My eyebrows must have screwed up like Keyes's face at the smell of bronchial surfactant.
"I'm sorry... say again?"
"Would you be willing to have the Master Chief as a room-mate for a couple of nights?"
So I had heard correctly.
"The Master Chief? I didn't even know he was on the ship."
"You're one of the few people who do. Practically everyone who doesn't is either in the freezer, or blindly going about fixing the damaged reactor." Keyes lit his pipe, and chewed on its tip.
"OK... I thought he would have..."
"Well, he refused to go in to cryosleep until everyone else was in." The Captain took a long drag, and chuckled, warm and artificially-benign smoke leaking from his lips. "Altruistic, magnanimous bastard. Always seems to forget himself."
"Right..." I said. I thought for a second.
Cautiously, I nodded.
The Captain smiled, and nodded his head in return.
"Thank you. I was beginning to get a little worried I'd have to house him with the ODSTs... and we all know about Silva's little grudge."
Keyes flushed slightly pink, and inhaled slightly.
"It's nothing. Anyway... it's just while the cryochambers are being repaired, but... I'd rather he had someone he could call company, that's why I'm not putting him in here. God knows he's had enough special treatment... I didn't want him to feel more isolated."
"I'm sorry," I said, my eyebrows sliding up my forehead, "I don't follow."
"Oh, crap," Keyes said, thumping his forehead with his palm, "I forgot about that, too. Sorry..."
He paused for a second, stopping himself revealing any more, before dismissing his prudence and resuming.
"Oh, well... it's hardly going to remain secret for much longer, and I trust you enough not to go spouting it out to everybody." The Captain leaned forward, casting a furtive look around with his eyes before lowering his voice.
"Before we left Reach, the Chief asked if he could take a Pelican down to retrieve the other members of his team... and I had to turn that down, because we were getting the shit beaten out of us by the Covenant fleet. That means the rest of the Spartans were still on the surface when the Covenant started the glassing."
"YOU ARE JOKING."
"Sadly... I'm not."
"Jesus Christ... so... let me get this straight: this makes the Chief the last Spartan in the damn UNSC?"
The single beat in which the Captain simply stared into me made his answer painfully obvious.
"Right. OK." I swallowed, and shuffled uncomfortably on the seat.
The Captain's stance relaxed, and he leaned back in his chair, drawing more smoke in from his pipe.
"Well... thank you for agreeing to it. I didn't really want to put him in with the ODSTs, and it is only for a couple days while they rebuild those damn PSUs. Confidentially, I also think he needs some time to think... I don't want him going into battle on the other side feeling depressed."
"When it turns out the Covies have followed us, which we know they will have..."
"yup." The Captain's acknowledgement was stark, and typically realist.
For a moment, we simply stared at each other. We had set a random course, as per the Cole Protocol, which had been entirely successful so far in hiding Earth's location from the Covenant. No-one wanted us to be the ones to lead them to Earth.
"I think if you just leave him to himself, but... if he wants to talk to you, talk to him. Make sure he knows he's not alone. And whatever you do, don't mention Reach," the Captain pleaded, scratching his head, "because... if we're honest, although he's something of an enigma, it'd take one heck of an inhumane, cold-hearted bastard who didn't feel a bit shaken up after the death of their entire platoon."
"Aye, Captain. When should I expect him?"
"Just sometime this afternoon. He's writing his debriefing report now."
"OK." I stood up at the same time as the Captain, and he shook my hand.
"I know I can trust you, Christopher," he said, a grizzled smile creeping on to his face, "but just keep him quiet, make him feel welcome... and if you need any help, ask Cortana. She probably knows him better than any of us."
22:19 Ship Internal Time
"Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy SPARTAN-117, reporting for accommodation."
I raised one eyebrow. The Spartan stood at least a quarter of a meter above me, and was staring down through the polarized faceplate, his total lack of motion somehow not as unnerving as the bizarre use of the military code of conduct. It was as if he was attempting to board a ship...
'Yes, Master Chief. Welcome." I stepped aside, and flung my left arm out like a semaphore flag. The Chief slowly entered, stopped, and swiveled his head, looking around the small room. I'd moved the desk to the wall the door opened on to to make room for another bed. It was slightly larger than usual, but I still suspected it would be far too small for the Chief to sleep on.
He remained totally silent. Perhaps I would have to make the first move...
"Have you eaten?" I ventured. The helmet swiveled again, the reflection on the visor casting an iridescent spectrum over the area where is his left cheek should have been.
"Yes. I have. Thank you."
The Master Chief slowly sat down on the bed, tentatively resting more weight upon it as it creaked in protest. Eventually, it stabilized, although I was certain I could see the metal frame warping slightly under the huge mass resting upon it.
"Make yourself at home," I muttered, my mouth opening and closing like a goldfish.
The Chief remained silent as he reached to his head, depressurized the suit, and pulled away the helmet. I'd never seen him without his helmet before not even television news showed his face, and if I'm honest, I was a touch surprised by what I saw under there.
The guy didn't look healthy. At all. His skin was whiter than a sheet, and his brown hair was uneven, matted with blood and sweat, suck to his head like a dried-out cephalopod. There were fresh bruises on his forehead.
"The bathroom's through there if you want a shower," I said without thinking. He briefly looked up at me, with eyes the color of a burnt umber pigment, piercing, and yet, somehow, intensely enigmatic.
"I'll wait until tomorrow. Thank you."
The Spartan looked down again, and began disarticulating his armor. I briefly looked around, and then sat back down at the desk, switching the holopad back on.
Steven strapped himself into the seat, and punched the co-ordinates in to the computer. Exit vector (TK)...
That was where I'd left it off. No time to do the calculations, so I'd thrown in a placeholder and left it there. I pulled a piece of recycled paper from the drawer, a pen, and scribbled out the numbers. If the planet's radius was ten thousand kilometers, and the density was two kilos per square meter...
crap. How did you work out the volume of a sphere?
"Yes?" the gravelly voice came in response.
"I don't suppose you know the formula to find the volume of a sphere from its radius?"
"Four thirds times pi times r cubed."
I scribbled down the formula, but stopped mid-way through the second stroke of the pi figure. I swiveled about in the chair to face the Chief.
"Are you OK?"
The Chief looked up from the neat pile of armor components that had accrued next to the bed. His face remained totally unreadable, silent.
"Are you all right? You sound a bit hoarse."
The Master Chief looked back down at the pile of armor, and grunted a reply under his breath.
I swiveled back about on the chair to face the desk. I scribbled in the remainder of the equation, and leaned back in the chair. A holographic calculator appeared before me, and I quickly entered the definitions and the formula, receiving an instant answer.
Eight point three times ten to the twelve. Should I even be bothering with this accuracy? No. I swatted the sentence stub in to the bit bucket, and saved again.
Without thinking, I found myself looking in the drawer again, scavenging for that packet... there. Meyersen's strawberry-flavored throat lozenges. I checked the use-by date. Sixteen months from today. They'd be fine.
The Spartan looked up again, and I punched one of the lozenges out of the packet and tossed it towards him.
"There you go."
"What is it?" he asked, catching it in one hand and examining it.
"It's a coughdrop."
"A coughdrop. It's a sort of candy... it's got stuff in it that's meant to soothe irritated throat tissues."
"What sort of stuff?"
"Um..." I mumbled, scrabbling for the box again, and squinting at the label. "Menthol, two point nine milligrams. Instructions... dissolve slowly in mouth."
The Chief briefly examined the candy again.
"Thanks," he said, quietly, and popped it into his mouth, before setting back to work removing his armor.
Thursday, 31 August, 2552
01:17 Ship Internal Time
My eyes flickered open as a soft scrunching sound shocked me into consciousness. I closed them again, and gingerly squinted them to the point where I could see in a sort of monochromatic silhouetted form of vision. It was a reasonable enough compromise.
Someone, tall, well-built but not to the point where it would become a hindrance, and dressed in some skin-tight black body suit, was at the desk, fervently squashing a bit of paper into a ball. The Master Chief?
Yes. I watched silently as the Spartan flung the paper underneath the desk, stood, and wandered back over to the bed, flopping backwards on to the mattress.
An intense curiosity gripped me as to what was on that paper.... and why the Chief had felt the compulsion to squeeze it to a practical pulp. I waited for a couple of minutes, and only when I heard the soft breathing from the opposite wall drop to a quiet, steady, lento pace that I dared to fully open my eyes.
Why was I being so apprehensive? I wondered to myself. The Chief wasn't the sort of man who'd injure you for discovering him in the act of screwing up a piece of paper. At least, I hoped he wasn't.
Christ, this is getting ridiculous, I thought. Gently, I stood up, allowing the cybernetic parts of my body time to work out which way up they were.
I crouched beneath the desk, and pulled out the tiny ball of paper. Quickly finding the seam, I opened it out, and began reading the crumpled text.
The words were unmistakably a rant. The hand was panicky and speedily-written, and the text shedded its apostrophes, capital letters, and eventually full stops by the end of the third paragraph.
August 30th 2552 I think
We've now jumped to Slipspace, away from Reach, heading for some place in the middle of nowhere because of the Cole protocol. Of course, they'll have followed us so we'll end up having to do another jump and another and another and another
I HATE IT. I JUST HATE IT.
They were all still on Reach so theyre dead: Kelly Vinh Anton Fred Joshua Halsey I cant remember the others. Dead gone murdered by covenant.
I killed them i might as well have shot them i am an idiot i shouldnt have sent them down there i should be the dead one.
I AM EVIL
Those previous two paragraphs had been scribbled through thoroughly, but I could still make out their text through the pen's grooves on the page. I shuddered slightly. Anyone who'd paid a little attention during English literature lessons at school would imagine this was something straight out of Nineteen Eighty Four. I read further down the page as the punctuation and form quickly returned.
now some cryotubes are broken so while everyone else is in the freezer I'm boarding with the POA's systems controller (Ensign Christopher Floyd). He has an artificial heart and a semi-cybernetic leg after a battle (?) ten years ago so although he's capable enough to do small things, he can't go into battle in case his heart gives out. He gave me a throat lozenge it's the sweetest thing I've tasted in months and it helped to sort out my throat which stung like hell. He hasn't bothered me too much.
In a way I wish he would. I can't really talk to anyone now. The others are dead. I am left to mope.
I don't know why I wrote what I did just now. I needed to let it out. I am not sure I am evil. I don't know what came over me.
IT IS NOT FAIR.
I never had any choice in the matter. Even now I am not in control. I'm in someone else's quarters on a starship being hurled through space at nine hundred times the speed of light (I think no it's 876 times.)
Just before we left Reach, we picked up a fresh burst of propaganda videos. One has me (or someone pretending to be me I don't remember filming anything, and they were in some armor that was pristine and obviously fake) urging people to enlist in the military. They don't even sound like me. The video sounds confident, deep, masculine, protective. My voice is cracking up. I sound horrible, rasping.
I don't think the rest of me is much better. My ribs are giving me such horrible pains they're unreal. I can shut it out during battle, but afterwards it's always so painful I can't concentrate on anything else. I need to see a doctor... but they're all in cryo.
I'm not even sure I can talk to Cortana. She's a computer... I can't get over that fact. I can only remain here, ensconced in my armor.
No. I can't do that either. It needs cleaning... and the bed wouldn't support it. I'm sure Floyd (the man I'm rooming with) would hate it. I hate wearing it now people assume I'm some kind of android but I can't avoid it. At least it's somewhere I can curl up and cry.
Not that I do. Now I've got Cortana infiltrating... although she's great in battle, I just can't ignore her any more. I can't ignore the rest of the world.
I can't even curl up and cry. It would demonstrate a weakness, a pathos. I can't even admit it to myself... but I just have. At the same time it makes me feel inhuman. Some people even assume I'm a robot. They don't realize what I feel inside... but I'm not in a position to manifest it.
I hate times like this. I have no control, I'm on a starship, and I have absolutely nothing to do but plow through UNSC propaganda. I cannot do that... but I cannot do nothing. I don't want to think about Reach. But I cannot help it.
Nobody will read this anyway. That's probably for the best. Nobody cares... until I fail. Then they show great interest.
No-one except Cortana even knows my true name now. I can't even remember my real last name. I can only remember John. But no-one calls me John. I'm always the Master Chief, the hero come to rescue them from the evil aliens. Some people even assume I'm a robot. I'm repeating myself.
I'm supposed to be winning this war... but I can't. And even if I could, what then? If I fail, I'm vilified and probably killed by the Covenant. If I win... I get even more scrutiny, more unwanted attention. The chest of my dress uniform wherever it is is overflowing with medals and stripes and honors. They don't mean anything any more. They're bits of metal and fabric, nothing more. I hope it got glassed and is now floating about Reach's atmosphere as a gaseous cloud.
I'd rather they rewarded me with a nice long stay on some remote planet, with no-one but me and preferably a toxic atmosphere I could suffocate myself on. There I could forget the military and just be myself.
Not that I know who I am any more.
NOTHING IS FAIR.
The absence of any more space on the page was somehow depressing. The text had been crammed in right up against the edge of the page, the fine gray margins being ignored completely. I stared at it for a moment, and then stared back at the sleeping form of the Master Chief on the bed.
He looked a forlorn sight, his eyes deathly still, grayish shadows under his eyes, fresh, congealed blood still accenting the fresh scars on his face. I found myself with a lump in my throat, but no compulsion to cry. I simply stared in shock.
Poor bastard, I thought, folding the crumpled leaf and putting it back in the drawer, underneath the ream of paper. It may not have been his intention for anyone to read it... but someone just had.
I crawled back between the sheets, and thought. What was I to do? Confront him directly? I played out the scenario in my head.
Chief, I found the rant you wrote last night under the desk. I know you feel like shit no.
No way would that work.
I wondered if this was the first time he'd committed his thoughts to paper. Perhaps he'd written hundreds, leaving a paper trail across the UNSC fleet... or maybe it was something he felt compelled to do after witnessing the deaths of his comrades...
I stared at a spot on the ceiling, thinking for a second. There was nothing to think about, though. I briefly glanced at the Chief. He was laid on his back, on top of the covers, eyes closed, deathly still.
It wasn't fair that he should have to fight while I didn't. That thought briefly crossed my mind, but was immediately nullified by the slight discomfort as the artificial heart in my chest fluttered and restarted, quickly restoring its rhythm. It had been doing that a lot lately. If I was going to serve in the UNSC, it'd have to be in a place where I wouldn't be a hindrance to anyone else.
I couldn't get back to sleep. Gently, I stood myself up, again giving my leg's accelerometers time to adjust.
Wandering back to the desk, I waved the holopad on. The incomplete fourth chapter sat there, manifested in front of me on a holographic 'page' in twelve-point Helvetica.
I brushed it into the 'novel' folder and started a fresh document.
31 August 2552
I know you probably won't read this until they find my dead body on the carcass of a ship in the middle of nowhere, but I hope you do get to read it eventually.
We've just escaped the glassing of Reach via Slipspace, jumping to somewhere in uncharted space. The Covies have probably followed us, but what do you expect from them? I only hope we'll eventually be able to get back to the home system... eventually.
Things aren't too exciting apart from that. The Spartans have been all but wiped out on Reach, and the last one (Master Chief) is on the ship right now. Some of the cryotubes have failed, and as we're running dark, he's rooming with me for a couple of nights while the engineers fix them.
He's a bit of an enigma. He doesn't say much, but I think he's still a bit shaken up by the events on Reach. I don't blame him. At all. Are Spartans always like this?
One thing's for sure: he's not the fearless, confident soldier everyone thinks he is. He's a weary, tired soldier who needs a break. Not that he will... I doubt this message will even clear the censor.
Maybe you'll read it once the war's over. If it ever is. Maybe we'll be married and living in a nice house by the sea. I sure hope that happens someday.
I saved the file and copied it to the message queue. On second thoughts, I removed it from the message queue, encrypted it for good measure, and re-submitted it. Normally, if it had been scrambled, the censor didn't bother to read it. Cortana probably knew about the full contents of my home folder already (and that of every other person on the ship), but she was usually relatively lax.
I turned off the holopad again and slithered back in to bed. So should I try confronting him directly? Maybe. I put off the decision until the morning, closing my eyes and falling asleep within a couple of minutes.
to be continued...