The Farmer: Chapter 2
Posted By: AbbeyLynn<firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date: 31 January 2007, 4:26 pm
My Eagle swung past the highest peak of the snow-capped mountain range as night turned into day. The flash of the dawn sun reflecting off the water at the mountains edge blinded me for a moment, and Karl yelled, his voice a strange mixture of fear and excitement.
"Ion spike! Sir, my sensors are going nuts. Ion levels just shot through the roof! It must have been the mountains. As soon as we got past the levels went all the way to red, " he shouted over the roar of our engines.
"Copy," I say, and drop my altitude to just under 600 meters. I like flying low. "Do you see anything?"
"I see an ocean, if that's what you mean," Karl says sarcastically.
"Master Chief?" I ask. I see the shadows of the other two Eagles dancing along the sparkling waves of the ocean at dawn. That's what happens when you're barely skimming the surface.
"Keep going," he replies dubiously.
"Copy that," I reply, my voice thick with the obvious question of what the hell are we supposed to do now.
Buzz. Snap. (my headset). "Al
eading the ion levels in thi
ound it," it's Gregg in Cowboy reporting that they read the levels the same as we do. Communications are crapping out, another sign that I can find the first place to dump The Master Chief, and get out of here.
"Roger, that, Greggerz. Karl almost pissed himself when we came out of those mountains," I say with a smile, "Reds, confirm?" Karl gives me a dirty look.
oger. No place to put down, th
"There's an island," The Master Chief says behind me. I hear him in my headset, and immediately scan the horizon, squinting to fight back the glare of the sun. I see open ocean, nothing but ocean. It's beautiful.
"It will be here. Keep looking. I saw one on the first Halo," he says evenly. "Split the formation up, spread out to check for land."
"No way," I say quickly, without thinking.
"Excuse me, Lieutenant?"
"Sorry, sir. With all due respect, I'm not splitting up my convoy, not when our signals are breaking up and we have no way knowing whether or not a Covenant bogie is going to appear on the horizon."
"What is your name, Lieutenant?" he asks.
The question strikes me as odd; given our current situation. I don't answer. I think about insubordination and the penalties for disobeying an order. But can you really be insubordinate to a thing? A "man" who has less genes in common with me than a mess hall rat? That's not an exaggeration
I looked it up.
"I heard Major Urdang call you 'Al'," he says, as if we were at a cocktail hour before an awards ceremony, not screaming through the air a few meters off a vast ocean with ion readings akin to a black hole.
"Allison, sir," I say, "Allison Souza."
"Allison, I have reason believe there is a controlled space-time rupture under this ocean, and that the entrance to it will be found on an island. This is not a hunch. I've seen it before, I promise you. Split up and find me that island, that's an order," he says in a friendly way, with no malice intended. It makes me want to punch him in the throat.
"Just because there was an island there does not mean that
t'll work, Al. Due east, approxim
ilometers or so. It's an island," Gregg is saying.
"Land Ho!" Karl calls.
"You're an idiot," I say to Karl. Feeling the Master Chief's gaze settling on my back, I bite my lip and turn hard in the direction of what we'll call east. Who knows what direction we're going in on this bizarre ringworld. It's all relative, I guess. At the moment, I don't care. I just want to put this thing on the ground and get this hulking man off my ride.
Minutes later we are grazing the tops of palm trees and looking at the rocky cliffs that disappear into ravines. This island is much bigger than it looked.
"There!" Master Chief shouts and points, and I see immediately what he wants me to see. It is a huge circular structure. Rising only two to three stories from the ground. It is the featureless metal construction of the forerunners, and I know immediately that The Master Chief has found his entrance. I do one pass of the structure and search for anything out of the ordinary.
"It looks good, let's set these birds down and put these marines to work," I say. "There's a clearing 2 clicks north of here, we'll set down there." I click off and, without turning around, say, "Does that work for you, Master Chief?"
"That'll be fine."
As the Chief tells his marines to lock and load, I fire the landing jets and sand and debris flee from the landing zone. The clearing is large and surrounded with a dense forest of tropical greenery. We touch down with a jarring bump, and I give Karl the clearance to open the drop door, but he does not respond. "Karl," I say sharply.
"Great," is all he says, his eyes fixed out the window and across the clearing.
That's when I see the tops of the trees rolling and pitching like the ocean we just crossed. I turn to my left and look out the smudged window just as the first Wraith breaks through the foliage line, half bending trees to its left and right, half crushing the ones directly in its path. My heart tickles in my chest. I feel the fear sweep through me, bounce off my finger-tips, toes, and back to settle in my stomach. The Wraith is massive and omits a wave of sound that is not so much musical as a physical presence that weighs on my chest. I am literally speechless (for the first time in recent memory). Dazed, I turn again to face front and the purple tops of the tanks are visible all around the clearing, there are no less than two dozen. I'm counting them when four Banshees appear over the trees ahead of us and lazily settle to the ground just a few hundred meters ahead, between us and the farthest tanks. No one has spoken, and I know that Gregg and Reds are as stunned as I am. How did we miss them? I didn't see anything. I swear
I didn't see anything. Two dozen tanks!? How do you hide two dozen tanks? When the Banshees settle, four-wide, and their pilots exit the cockpit, an elaborate vehicle pulls between the Banshees and Wraiths, it has a Ghost on each side. I hear a beep.
"We're getting a message, sir," Karl says, "It's them
it's text sir."
"What does it say?" I ask.
"It says 'Do not attempt to launch. Open outer doors and prepare to be boarded. Failure to comply will result in torture.'"
"Torture? What do they mean, torture?" I ask.
"I would imagine it means the terrible kind, ma'am," Karl replies. Smartass. I realize that this is what I asked for. I scan the horizon, waving now and distorted by the heat that emanates from the Wraiths, and death stares me in the face. I think of Eryn and how much I miss her, of how I have no one here, of how deep down I wanted this mission to end in certain death, and I smile.
"Sir?" Karl asks, and I do not respond. I think of dying today and suddenly my fear is gone, but that's when common sense kicks in and I realize that these marines don't want to die. Getting them killed
what would Eryn say about that? "Sir, there's more coming in
it makes no sense, sir. It says 'Betray the demon, flee his madness, leave him to the righteous, and we will not kill you here.'"
"What the hell
," Gregg says over the comm, "
are you getting this, Al? They're talking crazy."
"No, they're not," says The Master Chief, "It's me."
"What's you?" I ask.
"I'm the demon."
"What?" This is ridiculous.
"That's what they call me."
I pause. I think. Everything slows down, and my mind races through all at once: the marines, their families, my family, Eryn, The Master Chief, Reds, new guy (Dawk), the mission
I'm keenly aware of the sweat on my face and the smell of the air. I tell Karl to send our reply. I want guarantees that these marines and myself will be free to get off this ring if I release Master Chief to their custody. I open a secure link to the other Eagles and quietly tell them my intentions before turning to The Master Chief. "Sounds like they want you pretty bad, Chief."
"I've been a thorn in their side," he replies coolly.
"I'm inclined to give you to them. I can't risk the lives of these marines."
"I respect that, Lieutenant, but what makes you think they won't die for me."
"You want them to?" I ask, an edge in my voice.
"Of course not, but there is something within this ring greater than any of us."
I'd take Eryn back any day before I'd take what's hidden under this ocean. Whatever it is, it's not greater than her, I think. "And we can't get it without you?"
I stare at his masked face and balk at his arrogance. "Karl, open the drop door."
"Open the door, Karl," I say, still looking at The Master Chief.
Upon seeing the door open, the two Ghosts move quickly across the sand on an intercept course with my Eagle. When the door hits the sand, one of the marines in the pit moves to unlock his harness. "Sit tight, Sergeant," The Master Chief orders. "Allison
I speak over him, "Gregg, Reds, be ready to go on my signal. Karl spool up my boost, switch main aux to engines. Marines, tighten your belts, we're launching in a minute." There are murmurs of dissent. Predictable. The two Elites stop their Ghost to my left and right flank, both dismount from their hovercraft, and walk with that strange, head-bouncing gait to the open drop door, a metal collar and pole is in one of their hands.
I-" for the first time, his voice betrays the smallest evidence of his fear, and I like it.
"Chief, it's been real," I cut him off, "I hope you get through this. Now, hold tight." His head cocks to the side as if he misunderstood, but an instant later his spreads his stance and braces himself.
"Karl!" I yell, the adrenaline explodes through my body and seems to light the engines itself. A massive explosion and we lift off the ground. One of the Elites screams in a strange tongue, but it's barely audible over the sound of the blood thumping through my ears. The instant the Eagle is airborne I fire two dumb missiles into the convoy of Banshees, see the smoke line left from the missiles that simultaneously fired from Cowboy and MaryJane, and punch the throttle to full speed. One of the Elites is consumed in flame as the other leaps inhumanely and lands squarely in the pit, just near the edge. Blue flashes flare from Wraiths in front of me and I dodge, hoping that the other two Eagles were as lucky. Only a few of the Wraiths got off a shot, the others we caught napping. Excellent. I fly directly over the Banshees and see that at least my missiles hit home and one of them disintegrates in a dazzling flash of blue and orange. "Yeah!" I scream. I see the other Elites scrambling to their Banshees just as they disappear from view. Suddenly an explosion. Close. So close. It is the sound from the M6D pistols that two of the marines have managed to draw and fire point blank into the head of the Elite who jumped into the back. Brave as he was, his head separated from itself within a mist of purple blood, and the inertia carried his body out the back. The marines shouted in triumph, and another shot from a Wraith crossed by windshield like a murderous firework. Karl shouts, and I know another blast is arching and falling towards the aft of my Eagle, I pitch forward, hard, and break right. The blast misses by only a few meters and falls harmlessly to the trees torching a few hundred square feet of forest in an instant. I straighten, then pull up, willing the Eagle to go faster. All of this happens in less than 15 seconds.
It was enough time to get clear of the Wraiths, and for their Banshees to get airborne. "Gregg, Reds, still with me?"
"Jesus CHRIST!" Reds screams. "Yeah, we're good. CHRIST!"
Gregg laughs. "Wooooo! Cowboy is flying, baby! Al, you are one crazy bitch."
"Crazier than you know, Greggerz. Don't go to sleep on me, those Banshees are right on our tail." The Banshees closed the distance faster than I thought, and there are still three according to our radar. That means we only got one with the initial attack. Damn. They form up on each of our tails. Eagles aren't Longswords, they're not designed for dogfighting, they're barely designed for evasive maneuvers, and they certainly are never going to outrun a Covenant fighter. "Break formation, attack at will. Marines, hold on!" I yell. I drop the Eagle down and to the left, and suddenly all I see is forest, I pull up to see the horizon again, and the Banshee is still on me. I'm heading back toward the Wraiths, so I turn again, almost a barrel roll, but I can't do that with a pit full of soldiers. Items fall and rattle around the inside of the Eagle, and I hope that none of them are grenades
wouldn't that be silly. I feel a large bang, and fear that my humorous premonition has proven true, when I realize that the Banshee has landed multiple shots.
"We're hit!" Karl shouts, "All systems still in tact, though, no residual damage. He's still right on our ass."
I know where he is, I think. "Reds, help get this bastard off my ass!"
"I can't shake him, we've got
" And his transmission is cut. I instantly fear the worst, but have no time to think. No time. No time.
"Dammit!" I scream. The Eagle feels like it's a lead block. It's not responding well at all and we're taking more shots than I can count now. The muscles in my arms feel like they are tearing as I lean on the controls to dip and turn and dodge, but the Banshee is too maneuverable. I'm the mouse, running from the cat, only I'm moving in slow motion, and he isn't. I'm going to die, and all of these marines with me. Any second. Any second, the explosion will come; the cat will clamp his jaws shut over my neck.
"Level off." It's the voice of The Master Chief, it's calm and comforting, and I feel like he's telling me it's okay to die. Stop fighting, his voice says, go and see your friends. Go and see Eryn. Without thinking I level the Eagle and slow my throttle, and the Banshee closes its distance until I can see it out the still open drop door, large and looming and clearly charging its green cannon for the final blast. I look at the mountains in the distance, hazy through the clouds, like a sketching, and am so grateful that I can die in such a beautiful place, not in the cold, lonely darkness of space. The Master Chief bumps my shoulder and I turn to see he has turned his body, released the turbulence bars, gone to one knee and now faces the banshee. I think, he'll never get to work a farm, he'll never get to have a wife, or a family, all he ever knew-. Before I hear my own thought finish, he launches. In three huge, Olympic strides he reaches the drop door, plants his left foot, and jumps.