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Waking the Dead (part seven): Hide and Seek
Posted By: Chuckles
Date: 3 November 2005, 2:31 pm

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Waking the Dead (part seven): Hide and Seek

In the last two weeks, I have finally seen some of the consequences of my research. My first creation, which lived less than an hour, spent its entire life screaming in pain. They are now staying alive for nearly a day, and although their ability to vocalize is destroyed after about seven hours, their ability to feel pain obviously remains. Since you were concerned about their intelligence, you will no doubt be pleased to hear that one of them actually figured out a way to kill itself. It appears that they learn quite quickly. Access to living subjects has also allowed us to investigate some of our heretofore-unanswered questions. Unfortunately, I may have all but confirmed something extremely disturbing.

. . . without a completed subject there is no way to be certain, however, the mere possibility of such an outcome carries with it enough horror to warrant the closure of this project. We now know beyond any doubt that we are working with genetic material consistent with that of the older part of the species, and the differences between the earlier and later skeletons are more than alarming—they are unnerving. I can say without reservation that I would rather fight the Covenant on our present terms than bring even one of these things back into being. Consider, Colonel: if this project is a success (which, given the new information, is unlikely) you will give humanity a somewhat better chance of winning this war. If this project goes the way I suspect it will, you may very well give mankind an enemy that is much more terrifying than the Covenant.

As I said earlier, I have finally seen the consequences of my research. Death. Pain. Suffering. My creations take in breath only to scream, and although they do not have knowledge enough to hate me, I do not share their ignorance. The fact that my intentions were good is of no comfort; nor is the fact that I am not beyond the touch of guilt. I've had decency enough to feel shame for my actions, but not enough to do something about them—until now. May God forgive me for what I've done, and for what I'm about to do. May God forgive us all.

From a note written by Dr. Alexei Imanov just before his suicide on May 12, 2548.

Four years later . . .

Colonel Ackerson leaned back in his chair and smiled. Sometimes death is good news.

"That's excellent. Do they kill willingly?"

"I'd say a bit too willingly." Major Samuel Cousins Jr. replied from the other side of the desk. "They start to attack the moment someone steps through the arena door, and they don't stop until well after their opponent is dead. I'm fairly sure they enjoy it." As the Colonel smiled for a second time, Sam sipped from a glass of water. His mouth had suddenly gone dry. "We haven't even trained them to attack. They do it on their own, without provocation. It's unnerving."

Sitting straight in his chair, the Colonel spoke with subdued excitement. "Good. The Covenant has had a monopoly on intimidation for too long."

"Yes, sir." Major Cousins said, trying not to roll is his eyes. Bravado was not without its uses, but it had no place at a research facility. "The demonstration will begin in a few minutes, sir. We had better get going."

Rhinox had always wondered what happened in this building. From the outside it looked like a relatively small and enclosed arena, possibly for training. But he had never seen Spartans or any other soldiers use it. Sitting inside the building for the very first time, he knew one thing for sure: it gave him the creeps.

He had just begun his daily patrol when he was ordered to the mysterious facility. An unfamiliar soldier had met him at the front door, wearing fatigues but no insignia designating service or rank. The man looked Rhinox over as if he were a circus attraction and then beckoned him forward.

"Follow me." He spoke the order in a crisp monotone voice, turned on his heal and then walked briskly through the hall. About thirty meters down the corridor, which wrapped all the way around the circular facility, the man stopped at an unmarked door. Rhinox grunted and shook his head.

"Is anything here marked?"

Ignoring the question, the soldier punched in a code and the door swung open automatically. Rhinox felt a twinge of caution. The door, which had seemed normal enough when shut, was nearly half a meter thick and looked to be on loan from the national treasury. The unmarked soldier pointed into the room. "Please, step inside." The big Spartan suddenly felt his caution turn to fear—and that did not happen often. Something was wrong.

"Why do you need that?" Rhinox said, pointing at the thick door.

"You'll know soon enough. Now please, step inside." Against every instinct, the big Spartan entered the room—and without warning, the door slammed shut behind him with a heavy, metallic thud. He turned around and felt for a handle, but the surface of the door was perfectly smooth and had shut flush, all but becoming part of the wall. Directly across the small room, another door swung open—and Rhinox froze in terror.

The new opening led into a circular arena surrounded by steel walls that were topped with clear, thick glass. Something stood in the middle of the floor—something huge. Armored from head to toe and standing over three and a half meters tall, it looked like a creature out of a storybook. A large helmet, not unlike a Spartan's, covered the head. But from the neck down it wore a suit of what looked like gleaming titanium-A. Rhinox saw a warning light flicker on his HUD and a pleasant female voice informed him that his heart rate was dangerously high. A moment later, the ground began to shake beneath his feet. It was running towards him. In that moment, as the thing charged at him, Rhinox' fear dissolved and years of combat training took over. The Spartan knew nothing of giants, but being attacked?

That he understood.

Eyes brightened under his visor as his heart rate calmed and his senses became hyper-aware. Everything around him seemed to slow as he took in every detail and planned his first move. Finally, with the monster less than a stride away from the doorway, Rhinox sprang to life. With a sudden burst of in-human speed, he exploded from doorway and ran to the middle of the arena. Apparently confused by the Spartan's quickness, the giant stared at the empty space for several seconds before realizing that Rhinox had ran past him. Turning around, the thing moved towards him again, but this time slower and more cautious.

Observing from above, Colonel Ackerson turned to Sam and smiled. "He learns quickly."

"Yes, sir," the Major replied with a nod. Maybe a little too quickly.

With each footstep sounding thunder, the giant approached Rhinox in a purely offensive stance, expecting him to run. But he had never fought a Spartan before. Rushing forward in a blur of motion, Rhinox launched himself into the air feet-first and slammed two armored boots into the giant's chest; knocking him backward like a felled tree. Before his opponent had even hit the ground, the Spartan attacked again, leaping onto his upper torso and smashing his fist into the giant's helmet so hard that it cracked open. But before he could strike a second blow, a gigantic hand closed around his body so tight that he could feel his MJOLNIR armor buckle inward. Rhinox pulled at the massive fingers with all of his strength, but they would not move. Cruelly, the fist closed even tighter. Holding the Spartan like a trophy, the behemoth stood to its feet, threw its head back and let out a deep, rumbling, inhuman cry.

Finally the giant squeezed with all of its strength and Major Cousins felt a sudden chill. After all, it isn't every day that you hear a Spartan scream. With another cry of rage, it pulled its hand back, lifted Rhinox above its head, and then with surprising quickness, moved its arm forward in a circular motion and slammed the Spartan into the ground, killing him instantly.

But it was not over yet.

Standing above his lifeless opponent, the giant balled its right hand into a fist. By design, the titanium armor came together in an almost seamless, three-inch plate when the hand was closed; starting at the top of the knuckles and extending down past the curvature of the fingers. Without a moment's hesitation, it bent to a knee and brought the titanium fist down again and again, pounding the Spartan into a broken, bloody mass of flesh, bone and armor. Major Cousins winced, but Ackerson smiled.

The Colonel had just watched as one of the greatest warriors in the history of mankind was defeated as if he were little more than a child—and it had taken less than two minutes. He turned to say something to Sam, but stopped cold. The giant, having ceased his assault on the Spartan corpse, was now staring at him. Since the observation glass started three meters above the floor, the monster's head was at the same height as the seated officers. Cousins was right about these things; they are unnerving.

"What is he doing, Sam?" Before the Major could answer, the giant ran towards them and smashed his titanium-armored fist into the nearly impenetrable glass. Ackerson all but jumped out of his seat.

Cousin's spoken in a grave, matter-of-fact tone. "Like I said, they enjoy killing. He's trying to break through." Again, the fist slammed into the glass, this time with such force that it felt like an earthquake. The Major turned and looked the Colonel in the eye. "He's trying to kill us."

Ellen Cutlass was still giggling when something exploded through the far wall of the barn—something huge. As the only Spartan brought into Colonel Ackerson's trust, Simjanes knew what he was looking at: but he had never seen one; and knowing was far different than seeing. For the first time in his life, he faced an opponent much larger than himself. For the first time in his life, he felt fear. Still, he was armored and it was not.

Pulling his knife away from the girl's throat, he took two steps towards the charging giant and then launched himself into the air, towards its head. But a massive fist met him halfway, striking him with the force of a warthog. Tumbling end over end, the Spartan crashed through the opposite wall and into the trees outside.

"Uncle Danny!" Ellen yelled, waving her good arm, "I'm over here!" Without a word, the giant guardian scooped Ellen up and ran towards the Cutlass home. Easily hidden in the gentle, giant hands, the little girl looked up and smiled. Tears were running down her uncle's face.

"How is your arm, honey?" His voice was deep and strong; but also sad and angry. Suddenly remembering that her arm had been broken, Ellen clutched it and pain shot through her body.

"It hurts, Uncle Danny." She began to cry. "That man in the white armor broke it."

"I know he did, honey." His lips pursed in fury. "I know he did." Stopping a couple hundred meters behind the house, he could already see his sister-in-law, Sarah Cutlass, emerging from the rear. Lying deep within his arms, Ellen began to weep harder as the full force of the horrible ordeal began to hit her. Danny held his niece tight as her little body began to shake with increasingly bitter sobs. He turned his head and looked back towards the barn, silently praying that Simjanes would not get away.

Sarah ran up, grabbed her daughter and wept. "Thank you, Danny," she said between sobs. "Thank you." Suddenly the little girl let out a horrible, pain-filled shriek as her mother's hand accidentally brushed up against her break. Sarah looked up at Danny, thankful that Ellen could not see her face. She spoke to her brother-in-law through clenched teeth. "Did you kill him?"

"I'm not sure, Sarah. I don't dare check until I know you're all safe." She shook her head in anger.

"No! Look what he did to my daughter! Go, find him and make sure he's dead."

"But what if he comes back to the house?"

"Then I'll take care of him," she said as she looked down at Ellen's arm, "and he'll wish to God that you had found him first."

Chuckles and Caleb had spent the entire day searching for information. Flying all over the area, they asked their questions without caring who saw the Prowler or their MJOLNIR armor. Some people spoke freely, some resisted, but eventually everybody talked. It was well after midnight when they finally caught a break and headed for a house in the small town of Canaan.

"Your turn to knock," Caleb joked as they walked up to the door. Unfortunately, it had been a long day and Chuckles did not appreciate the humor. He gave the door three hard raps, nearly cracking the wood with each blow. After several seconds, the door swung open to a beautiful young woman—holding the biggest shotgun either of them had ever seen. Without a word, she pointed the barrel straight at Chuckles' head.

"Mrs. Cutlass?" He lifted his hands slowly.

"Shut up! You," she glanced at Caleb, "step out from behind him!"

"Yes, ma'am." Hands lifted, he obediently stepped sideways. He knew that if she pulled the trigger on that cannon she would lose her right arm, but that would not make the blast any less deadly. Leaning forward slightly, she quickly glanced left and right and then looked back at Chuckles.

"Is your friend with you?"

"Friend?" He shook his head quizzically.

"Simjanes." She spit the name out as if it were poison. "No wonder MiNeS was ashamed to be one of you!"


"They were both here? Did Simjanes . . ." Chuckles paused for a moment, trying to find the right words. "Is MiNeS okay?"

The concern in his voice surprised her. "Yes, he was already gone." Sarah's tone softened slightly, but she held the gun steady. "Why are you here?"

"Ma'am," Chuckles said, "we're trying to save MiNeS' life, and with all due respect," he glanced down at that shotgun barrel, "we are wasting time."

Ellen and Nicholas Cutlass emerged from the hallway behind Sarah, looked towards the door and screamed. Sarah turned her head—and Chuckles saw his chance. Moving faster than the human eye can follow, the Spartan snatched the weapon from her hands and shoved her onto the couch to the left of the door. Caleb pulled out his pistol, Ellen and Nick continued to scream and Sarah shrank back in terror. But Chuckles, standing smack in the middle of it all, merely admired the massive weapon he'd just grabbed, like a kid admiring a new toy.

"Is this a six-gauge?" He said with barely subdued glee. Looking up from the couch, Sarah nodded. "Nice. Very nice." He grabbed the box of shells on the ground by her feet, pulled out his pistol and tossed it next to her. "Let's trade. That's not nearly as big, but at least you'll live to fire it twice."

"Hey, Chuck." Across the room, his partner was kneeling by two young children. It was then that Chuckles noticed the little girl's arm. Caleb looked up. "This is an ugly break. She says that someone did it to her on purpose—someone who looks like us."

Concealed behind his MJOLNIR visor, Chuckles' face turned red with anger. "Mrs. Cutlass, you need to tell me what happened. You need to tell me everything."

Wiley stared at the data pad and, for the first time in almost twenty-four hours, he smiled. Sitting next to him in the Pelican, rebel Commander Ronald Brondyke looked at the screen with equal enthusiasm, but he didn't smile. He never smiled. Wiley walked to the front of the ship.

"Okay, Murph," he said, handing the pilot the data pad, "they're finally sitting still. Set us down," he pointed to the screen, "right there, and don't worry about wasting fuel."

Murph smiled. Oh yeah. "Roger that, sir! You'd better strap in!" Wiley returned to his seat, buckled up and spoke over his COM.

"Okay, men, we'll be landing in about three minutes. The targets are believed to be in a house at the front of a large farm." He lifted the data pad and pointed at the screen. "We will have tree cover on all sides but the north. We have a kill-zone of almost two-hundred meters to the south and just over one-hundred meters to the east and west." Every man in the Pelican smiled. He might as well have told him that the targets were bound and gagged.

"I want Sal and Lambert covering three to five o'clock; and Randy and Paul at seven and nine. That leaves me six." He turned to the largest man in the ship. "Mike, I want you and your .50 cal within forty meters of that house. Turn that place into Swiss cheese. And fellas, try your best not to kill him."

Mike shook his head in wonder. "Sir, why don't we just blow the house up?" Several men nodded agreement.

"We believe that our targets are Spartans," Wiley replied in a cautious tone. "We can leave nothing to chance. A Spartan could very well survive an explosion, and then use it as cover to escape. And make no mistake, you do not want to face one of them on equal ground. Once a target is down, make sure that it stays down. Pour it into them beyond any doubt. Any questions?"

Sal spoke up immediately. "Sir, since this is a farmhouse, there could be non-combatants inside. If so, how are they to be treated?"

Wiley was silent for a moment and then turned to Brondyke. "Your call, boss."

"Men, you need to remember that these Spartans are not only elite soldiers, but also agents of ONI. That means that they are trained to use our compassion and humanity against us, while at the same time recruiting the very people that we give our lives to protect. Thus, ONI leaves us with no choice but to view every contact they make as intentional and malicious." Apparently thinking that his instructions were clear, Brondyke leaned back in his seat. Wiley rolled his eyes.

"Which means, sir?"

"Kill them. Man, woman or child—kill them all."

Nearly half and hour after she had begun, Sarah finally finished the sad story of the Cutlass family. Chuckles stood in shocked silence. The account had started with the attempted kidnapping of a baby giant—and then it got weird. But it also made sense. He now knew why he had been sent to kill MiNeS. He also knew something far more important: he knew what Ackerson was doing at the arctic base.

"Did Danny injure Simjanes?"

"He thinks so, but he isn't sure."

Chuckles kneeled down so that they were face to visor. "You have to assume that he will come back, and ma'am, he won't fail twice—not Simjanes." He stood and looked around the room. "We need to get these windows covered."

Suddenly the glass behind him shattered as a high-velocity round whizzed past the Spartan's head and slammed into the wall behind the couch. Chuckles leapt toward Sarah, yanking her to the floor just as two more windows exploded, spraying the room with glass. Sarah scanned the room for her children. Caleb had been talking with them a few minutes before, but he had left to get medical supplies out of the Prowler.

"Ellen! Nick!" Sarah screamed, and a second later the two five year-olds emerged from the hallway. More rounds whistled through the broken windows, hitting the wall next to the children. Rolling across the floor, Chuckles pulled them to the ground with a thud and then yanked them over to their mother. Ellen banged her arm and let out a horrible scream.

"Caleb," he said, speaking into the COM as calmly as possible, "we are under attack!"

"Roger that!" Caleb replied. Running to the front of the Prowler, he swept the aft camera along the tree line. "I see at least three subjects. I'll land the ship behind them and—"

"Negative! Get out of here and go get MiNeS!"

"But, sir—"

"That's an order, kid! If we all die, they win. Now get out of here—move!"

It was the hardest order Caleb had ever received, but he knew Chuckles was right. Within moments the ship rose silently into the air.

None of Wiley's men had seen the Prowler, and it was gone before anyone could get off a shot. Adding insult to injury was the fact that the area immediately surrounding the house was lit so well that they weren't even using night vision. Wiley slammed his fist into the soft ground beneath him and let go with a string of random expletives.

"Sir," Randy said over the COM, "was that an order?"

Wiley ignored the joke. "Okay Mike, there's still at least one Spartan in there. He's all yours."

"Yes, sir!"

The gunfire stopped for a moment and a strange silence filled the house. Glass tinkled around them as the wind blew softly through the shattered windows. And then like a whispered promise of death, a metallic sound floated in from the yard—a sound Chuckles had heard many times before.

"Heads down!" the Spartan yelled, and an instant later the wall began to explode one hole at a time, as .50 caliber rounds marched back and forth across the room in a ghoulish search for flesh. "Does this place have a basement?" Chuckles screamed over the thundering gunfire.

"Yes," Sarah yelled as the bullets walked closer and closer, "but the door is in the other—" Before she could finish, Chuckles got to his knees and slammed his fist into the floor, smashing a hole through the floorboards as if they were made of balsa. Using both hands, he tore at the sides until the hole was big enough and then slid in headfirst. Within seconds he had the entire family in the basement.

Chuckles turned to Sarah. "Where's the electrical box?" His voice was so cold that she took a step backward.

"Over there," she pointed, "at the bottom of the steps. What are you going to do?" The Spartan walked over and flipped open the small, metal door.

"I'm gonna kill them; every last one of them."

"Cease fire!" Wiley yelled, pleased that they were finally making progress. "Okay, Sal and Paul, eyes on the rear exit. Randy and Lambert, eyes on the front. Mike, fire at anything that moves. Let's all sit tight and let them come to us." Suddenly, every light in the house and on the property went out, causing Wiley to chuckle. Must be amateur night. "Okay, everyone, switch to night-vision."

Within a few moments, the area around the house was once again visible, and each sniper smiled and took careful aim. After all, it was only a matter of time. Sooner or later, whoever had lived to turn off those lights would make a break for it, and when he did, they'd blast him to doll-rags and that would be that. Ignorance, however, is not always bliss: sometimes it is deadly. Had they known what they were up against, they would not have smiled. Had they known, they might have been more defensive and less careless. Had they known . . .

But they had no idea.

Suddenly an explosion went off near the house; momentarily turning darkness to day and night-vision to torture. To a man, they tore the equipment off, but not before their eyes were assaulted by the brightest flash of light they'd ever seen. With their pupils reduced to pinholes and the illumination of the explosion lasting little more than a second, they were now completely blind.

Wiley took a moment to calm his nerves, strapped his goggles back on and looked around. The darkness, a friend and comfort just a moment before, was now a terrifying, unknown enemy. But he had no time for fear: he had a squad to pull back together. "Okay, men, put your goggles back on immediately and find deeper cover. Mike, get yourself back to the Pelican and cover Brondyke." No response. "Mike?" A slow, cold chill began to creep up Wiley's back. "Can anyone see Mike?"

"Oh God," Lambert said, speaking a little above a whisper. "I can't find my goggles. I dropped them when I pulled them off. Oh God, I can't see my hand in front of my—" Wiley heard a short shriek, a thud and then the sound of escaping air.

"Lam?" Wiley asked, knowing in his gut that there would be no response. "Sal, do you know what happened to Lambert?" The answer came in a frightened whisper.

"Oh man. I'm wearing my night vision and I, uh, I was only about ten meters from Lambert, but I didn't see a thing." Wiley heard panicked breaths.

"Sal, can you see Lambert? Is he dead?"

"Oh God! He's, he's br-broken in freaking two! Who's that? Is that one of you guys? No. No! Wait!"

Without even thinking, Wiley backed further into the trees and lay flat on his belly. After a couple minutes he heard two shots ring out somewhere to his right. No!

"Randy? Paul?" There was no answer—and he knew why. Sliding on his stomach, he pushed himself even deeper into the woods and assessed his situation. Before Burrows showed up a couple of years before, Wiley had been considered the toughest rebel in the system. And, as anyone could have told you, he was pure death with a sniper rifle. But this time he had not planned on fighting all by himself, but with a group of men. Now they were dead and, tough or not, he was unprepared for this fight. Out of his meager set of options, Wiley chose the only one that held any merit: getting to the Pelican just as fast as his legs would carry him. Silently, he got to his feet and headed away from the farm and towards the ship.

"Murph, are you there? Murph?" Nothing. "Ron?" Silence. After letting loose with another barrage of curses, he moved through the darkness with speed and skill until he came to the edge of a small clearing. A Pelican sat in the middle of the field, less than fifty meters ahead. Wiley pulled the scope off his rifle and carefully checked the LZ. Nothing. Fear shot through his body like electricity, but he had survived hairy situations before, and with that confidence he moved towards the ship. As he neared the ramp, he pulled out his pistol; wishing to God that he had brought a shotgun. After ascending slowly, he walked to the front of the Pelican. Before taking the final couple of steps, he stopped and spoke in a loud whisper. "Murph? Ron? You guys okay?" When nobody answered, fear asserted itself once again, painting graphic pictures of what he might find up front and paralyzing his legs.

Pull it together, man. Two steps, just two steps. It was like moving solid lead, but the legs finally responded. Wiley stepped into the cockpit—and nearly vomited. Both men were slumped back in their seats, with their eyes wide open and their throats cut to the spinal cord.

Wiley stifled a gasp, uttered a fearful curse, turned around—and ran into a wall of MJOLNIR armor. A gauntleted hand seized his throat like an angry vice, lifting him from the floor and slamming him into the wall.

"How did you know we were here?" Death spoke to the rebel through clenched teeth.

Finally able to look upon his enemy, Wiley felt his fear dissolve and his anger swell up. "Easy, we just followed your stench."

"Oh, funny-man!" Chuckles violently tore off Wiley's helmet and smacked him across the face; knocking out so many teeth that the rebel nearly choked on the blood. He spoke again. "How did you find us?"

Without a word, Wiley spit a mouthful of blood and teeth at the Spartan's face. Under his MJOLNIR helmet, Chuckles actually smiled. Tough rebel. "You know, if I hadn't seen you trying to kill a mother and her two small kids, I might have mistaken you for a real soldier."

"Brondyke gave that order, not me. It wasn't my call." The Spartan laughed humorlessly.

"It was your finger on the trigger, soldier!" The Spartan pulled out his knife and pointed it at Wiley's face. "It was your call!" With quick and deadly precision, he swept the blade forward, slashing the rebel's throat. After tossing the body from the Pelican, Chuckles gave it one last look and then shook his head in disgust.

"What a waste."

Caleb found the park that Sarah Cutlass had described; a neglected square of overgrown bushes and crumbling equipment sitting right in the middle of Seleucia. Descending from the night sky with surprising silence, he landed the Prowler next to the rusting playground and exited the ship. After several minutes of fruitlessly searching through junk and under graffiti covered concrete benches, Caleb began to think Mrs. Cutlass had made a mistake. But then he remembered hide-and-seek.

Years ago, during their first years in the SPARTAN program, CPO Mendez used to have them play hide-and-seek as a method of training. He would take them to a place that offered little obvious cover, give them two minutes to hide and then Mendez and the adult trainers would begin to look for them. Anyone found in less than a minute missed the next two meals, while those found in less than two minutes would miss only one. Since everyone was almost certain to miss at least one meal, all of the trainees hated the exercise; all, that is, except MiNeS. Possessing the uncanny ability to vanish no matter what the surroundings, the young Spartan had never been found in less than two minutes. In fact, Caleb could remember at least two occasions when Mendez had spent several hours searching for MiNeS, only to find him sleeping like a baby.

Bringing his thoughts back to the present, the young Spartan sighed. If MiNeS did not want to be found, the search could take hours. To his relief, he heard a voice behind him.

"Caleb?" He spun around and saw MiNeS climbing out of an overgrown bush about thirty meters away. Then, as if it suddenly occurred to him that his old friend might have been sent to kill him, he backed up a few steps. "Why are you here? Did Ackerson send you?"

"Of course he was sent by Ackerson," someone called out from the entrance of the Prowler. They both turned their heads to see a Spartan in white armor stepping out of the ship. Caleb's blood ran cold as he came to a horrible realization: he had taken Simjanes straight to MiNeS.

"Good work, Caleb. The Colonel will be pleased." Sim stopped about five meters in front of the ship. Caleb started to walk sideways towards MiNeS as Simjanes continued. "You are still working for the UNSC, aren't you?" Still making his way to his old friend, Caleb suddenly pulled out his pistol and aimed it at the white-armored head.

"Yes," he replied, "for the UNSC, but not for Ackerson."

Simjanes shook his head in mock sadness. "That's too bad." In an astounding display of speed, he had his pistol out and aimed at Caleb before the young Spartan could respond. "Poor Chuckles is going to lose another partner."

"Chuckles!" Caleb yelled over his COM, praying that he had lived through the attack on the farm.

The older Spartan had just strapped into the rebel Pelican. "Still here, kid. What's wrong?"

How could he say it? "I found MiNeS, but Simjanes was in the Prowler." Caleb could almost hear the older Spartan wince. "What do I do?"

Chuckles did not hesitate. "Run! Run now, or he will kill you!"

Simjanes began to move towards MiNeS; MiNeS started to walk sideways towards Caleb, and Caleb had to think fast. If he followed Chuckles' order, MiNeS, who was not wearing his MJOLNIR armor, would almost certainly die. On the other hand, Simjanes' skills were legend. If Caleb stood his ground it would certainly cost him his life—but it would at least buy MiNeS a little time.

"Better get here just, Chuck. I'll hold him off as long as I can. Out."

"Caleb? Caleb!" But the young Spartan had closed the channel. Chuckles steeled his nerve, started the Pelican's engines and buried the throttle. As he roared into the pre-dawn sky, he knew that, at best, Caleb could buy him two or three minutes. And at worst? Caleb and MiNeS were already dead.

C.T. Clown