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Biological Storage: Two
Posted By: Dagorath<hoyinshan@gmail.com>
Date: 3 March 2006, 10:45 am


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The feeling of artificiality passed on the morning of the next day. John woke up to the morning breeze, and it felt just as it had any morning.

Somehow, John missed the excitement of yesterday. It had reawakened his warrior's spirit, his patriotism. He had felt decades younger.

Now, John felt the weight of the years press down on him again. He wasn't as young or strong as he had been when he wore the MJOLNIR armour. His limbs felt stiff and his brain slow.

John got out of bed, pulled on his dressing gown, and bent down to wake his wife with a kiss. She reciprocated and got up. Arm in arm, the two of them went down the stairs.

Jacob was already up. It was only seven in the morning.

"Where are you off to, boy?" John asked.

"We're releasing the beta," his son replied breathlessly. "We're gonna be receiving emails from ten thousand people. It'll be great. All that feedback…." He stuffed the rest of his toast into his mouth and leapt from the table.

John and the rest of his family ate breakfast while Jacob ran from room to room, collecting what looked like pieces of computers into his bag. John shook his head. He'd have to have words with his son about his tidying ability.

"PDA, PDA, PDA," he muttered, burrowing through a pile of computer components that had somehow fallen out of a kitchen cupboard. After a minute, he finally found the small, flat object and leapt out the door, yelling: "Bye dad! Bye mum! Bye sis!"

After breakfast, John, still chuckling about his son, went up to the study to look through his emails. He was retired but liked to read the news and offer advice to UNSC tacticians. Fhajad, one of his Spartans who'd become permanently damaged during the bodily augmentation process, was one, and was rising through the ranks. He was, after all, a Spartan.

Scanning through his mail, John saw an email from a sender called "oldsarge". The name caught his eye. Curious, John clicked and opened the file.

[Open file….executed]

[Subject: Hi]

[From: oldsarge128]

[Body start]

Hi,

It's me, Avery Johnson. Sorry about the reunion yesterday. I had business….well, let's just say I couldn't be there. I hope you and the other Spartans are keeping well. And I may be seeing you a lot sooner than you expect.

Just follow the eagle, old man.

Johnson out.

[Body end]

There was a knock on the door downstairs. John frowned. What was Johnson emailing for? Ever since the end of the War, Johnson had sped up the ranks due to his bravery, but his star had faded when he disappeared a year ago. They didn't dare remove his rank, but rumours were that ONI was investigating into his disappearance. Johnson had to know John's computer was probably being watched.

"John, dear, someone wants you!" Cassandra called from downstairs.

"Coming!" John replied. He switched the computer off with a tap with his left toe and ran down the stairs.

In the doorway was a young man in military uniform. The bars on his clothing showed him to be a Lieutenant.

"Sir!" The Lieutenant saluted smartly. John was technically retired, but the soldier hailed him out of respect.

He reciprocated. "Good morning, Lieutenant. What do you want me for?"

"Earth HighCom would like the pleasure of your company, sir, immediately." As cleverly veiled a command as the UNSC was capable of – not very much. "The Warthog is waiting on the drive."

"Why?"

"Sorry, sir, that's all the information I was given," the soldier said after a pause.

John saw the insignia on the Lieutenant's chest. It was a pair of gold and silver eagle wings and a trio of stars. The insignia of ONI, the UNSC's intelligence department. So quick? John had read the email five seconds ago.

John opened his mouth to refuse. He still had some modicum of freedom, it seemed. They'd have to leave….where? All known space had been folded into the UNSC.

Just follow the eagle….

Something made John stop and consider, his eyes glancing from the soldier's insignia. Was it some premonition, or just instinct?

John took a deep breath and said, "OK, lead the way, soldier." He turned to wave goodbye to his wife and followed the Lieutenant into the jeep.



Earth HighCom was nicknamed "The Hive" because of its structure: a beautiful, conical crystal dome that let in the sunlight and illuminated the shrubs and stunted trees that decorated the enormous atrium. It branched off into three smaller shoots: an educational facility for civilian sight-seeing, a row of lifts, and a small set of offices for administration. The atrium itself was vaguely circular and empty, except for benches set along the sides and a reception desk near the lifts.

The beautiful exterior was just a farce, however. Underneath the ground, buried under all the protection the UNSC could muster, including the hard granite of the Earth's crust, Titanium-A battleplate and EMP insulating layers, were conference rooms, research facilities and shielded vaults. Even the highest commanders of the UNSC knew only three quarters of the sprawling facility. It even had its own power plant and geosynchronous Super MAC gun in space.

John had been to such a facility on Reach, to rescue his Spartans after the Covenant first began drilling for the Forerunner crystal hidden deep within the planet. Earth's HighCom was just the same. Patrolled by a crack team of Marine MPs, protected from biological and chemical attacks, Earth HighCom was nigh impregnable.

John and the Lieutenant walked up to the receptionist, who directed them to Lift 5 with barely a glance.

The ONI man left him at the lift doors. "I'm not cleared for accompanying you all the way down, sir."

"Very well," John replied. "You may leave."

The soldier saluted and hurried out of the building. John went down into the bowels of the earth alone.

Within the lift, John had his identity verified by the retinal, fingerprint and DNA scanners. All checked out, and the doors slid open after a few minutes.

Striding down a corridor, John was stopped by two Marine MPs wielding battle rifles with under-barrel grenade launchers.

"Who are you?" they asked rudely.

"Spartan-117, reporting to HQ," John replied. The name and number were enough.

One of the MPs frowned. "Sorry, sir, but we don't have your name here."

"Impossible." But inside, John was uncertain. The LT's orders had been rather vague.

"I'm sorry, sir, but we can't let you in. Try going up to reception again."

Frowning, John walked back into the lift. It sped upwards and he exited within the glass atrium once more.

"The directions you gave to the lift were incorrect," he began bluntly to the receptionist.

"Name, sir?" she asked.

"Spartan-117."

"I'm sorry, but I think you should be on Crimson Level. Step into the lift, please."

John complied. This time, the lift sank even lower. He walked outwards and confronted the guards. Not waiting for them to speak, he barked:

"Captain Spartan-117, reporting as ordered."

"Sorry, sir, but we just received news that you're on Blue Level," an MP replied. "Please go into Lift 9."

Holding back his rising temper, John stepped into the lift and went upwards. When he reemerged, he was again redirected by the guards to another floor.

After a couple more such redirections, John was nearing bursting point. He finished on a corridor that ended in a large, steel door. There were no guards. Taking this as a good sign, John walked forward and pulled it open.

Sitting on a table in front of him was Admiral Keyes, in a sweater and jeans.

"Admiral on deck!" John barked, and snapped a salute.

Surprisingly, Keyes did not return it. "I have no time for this," she began. "Listen, Chief" – John was surprised to hear his old rank, but it brought a wave of nostalgia – "we've got to get you out of here."

"What do you mean, ma'am?" John asked.

"Look," she said bluntly, "the Covenant hasn't gone away. This is some sort of fake universe that they've wired us – well, most of us – up to and no one knows that they have. You've got to – "

The Admiral was talking bull, whatever else she was talking about. It was so amazingly impossible that John was amused more than startled. "Hold on there, ma'am," he said smiling, "you're saying that –"

There was a loud banging on the door. "Intruder in Section Gamma," a voice said over the COM system. "Drop any weapons you have and surrender. Marine forces are outside the door."

"Oh shit," Keyes swore. "Too damn little time." She turned to John. "Listen, Chief, you've got to find Johnson, somehow. This" – she waved her hand around the room – "is fake, unreal; it's generated by a goddamn Covenant AI. Several, in fact. And we know what you felt yesterday."

John stiffened slightly. Seeing this, Keyes plunged on. "Everything felt odd, didn't it? It felt as though it wasn't real. And it isn't. They know you felt it, Chief – "

"Who – "

"And they're going to come and get you." She slipped off the table, reached forward and grabbed John's shirt. The Marines had begun cutting through the bolt of the door. "You've got to find – "

The door suddenly burst open. Marines rushed in and aimed their rifles squarely at Keyes's head.

"Hold up your hands and freeze!" a grizzled Sergeant yelled.

"Calm down," John said soothingly. "She's a friend."

The Sergeant ignored him. "I said, put up your hands!" he yelled.

Keyes did not comply. Fixing her steely eyes on the Sergeant, she stared him down without moving a muscle. Flinching, the Marine averted his eyes.

How many of them can I take on? John thought to himself. He was old now, but some training you can never forget. The best he could do was knock two out, and then he'll fall, riddled with bullets.

In the electric silence, a phone rang. Keyes slowly drew her hand down into her jeans pocket and pulled it out, watched by the MPs, who looked like they wanted to eat her alive. She flipped it open and lifted it towards her ear.

Keyes smiled at John and, just as the phone touched her ear, she vanished.





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