Posted By: GLADIATRRR3000<firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date: 20 July 2007, 3:45 am
Roberts was several paces behind Johnson. It was a struggle to take even a single step this deep in the swamp. The mud was halfway up Robert's calf, causing his fatigues to stick to his skin, and his boots were now filled with the slime that covered the entire swamp. They had gone back to the crash site, which was now surrounded by cranes tasked with dragging the Phantoms into Ceti base's hangar. They had found the footprints that lead away from the Phantoms and towards the swamp and began to follow them. Once they had gone several feet out of the clearing, however, the footsteps had filled in with mud. Luckily, they were in between two large, jagged hills and therefore it was very likely that the "parasites" had gone straight down the ravine.
Roberts and Johnson, along with five other Marines, had volunteered to find the "Flood" that the dead Elite had warned them about. Colonel Anderson was hesitant to fulfill the dying Elite's wishes, but Sergeant Michelle Hulley insisted on neutralizing the threat. Finally consenting to her requests, he ordered a search and destroy mission, sending out dozens of small fire teams.
Michelle had also insisted on leading this particular group of Marines.
"So, let me get this straight." Johnson said, pushing a small, moss-covered branch out of his face. "An Elite asked us to do something and we're actually doing it?"
Michelle, who was two Marines ahead of Johnson leading the fire team, didn't bother to turn around. "Exactly." At this, several Marines actually voiced their dissent.
"Wait a minute
we're on a mission for the Covenant?"
"I was trained to kill those fuckers
Not take orders from them!"
Michelle waited for the Marines to get the anger off of their chests, then spoke. "Listen, I know the situation is pretty fucked."
"A-fucking-men." Johnson muttered so that only Roberts would hear.
"But think of it this way. The Covenant hates us more than we hate them. So why would that one Elite ask for our help? Obviously there was something extremely dangerous to everyone."
Johnson spoke up. "Yeah, or something only dangerous to them. Maybe it's some Covenant that were supposed to be quarantined. "Parasite", remember? Maybe some sicko-Covenant escaped and took over a ship? We're doing the Covenant a fucking favor."
Roberts saw Michelle shake her head. She was a good leader, but there was no way she would win over this group of Marines without a little support. "Sergeant Hulley is right." He said. "There were human footprints at the crash site, remember? That means there were humans on the Covenant ship. The Covenant don't take prisoners and they definitely don't work with humans, so there's something out here that's dangerous to the both of us."
The Marines stopped complaining but continued muttering under their breaths. "I still think this is fucked up." Johnson said to Roberts.
They were getting deeper into the swamp. When the planet had first been colonized, they had originally tried leveling the swamps. After several months and thousands of dollars of equipment ruined, the building crew gave up. They decided to build a base on the swamp. However, before they had given up, they were able to clear out several square miles of the thick foliage. Therefore, when Roberts was on patrol outside of the once-deforested zone, he was able to tell exactly where the building crews had stopped. The trees that had grown back were brown and covered in dark green leaves; trees that had adjusted to the man-made terraformed atmosphere.
The trees that the Marines had just walked through were hundreds of feet high and jet-black, covered in a tar-like slime and had thick, dark brown leaves.
After walking several minutes forward, the trees cut out all of the sunlight. Turning on the lights on their helmets, shadows danced through the small spaces between trees. It was as dark as night, and the dead silence of this planet gave Roberts a shiver down his spine. The sounds of grunts from the Marines, tired from carrying their heavy equipment through thick mud for miles, quickly faded and died. It was almost as if the swamp ate all the sounds. Roberts could barely heard Johnson swearing, and Johnson was only a few feet in front of him.
The trees' height didn't stop them from having thick, slime-covered branches exactly at shoulder-level. Eventually Roberts, along with the other Marines, had slung their rifles over their shoulders and started using both hands to push the branches aside.
When Michelle, who was ahead of all the Marines, looked back and saw this she started yelling. "Are you fucking stupid?" She asked. "What if we were ambushed? You wouldn't be able to fire back!"
Roberts sighed and un-slung his weapon once more, wiping off the slime that had transferred from the thick foliage onto his assault rifle. She was right, he knew that, but he was beginning to wonder if they were on the right track. The hills to either side of him were no longer visible through the trees. However, he knew that in the hills there were many caves. Cartographers had attempted mapping this ravine, but gave up when they realized that some of the caves had tunnels that extended miles in every direction. In fact, some of the tunnels in the lower levels of Ceti base were actually built in these tunnels. They just put steel reinforcements along the sides and ceiling of the tunnels, lay down a metal floor, and sealed off the parts of the tunnels they didn't use.
The caves were the perfect place to hide. However, searching them entirely would take hundreds of man-hours. Roberts decided to wait until they were back at the base to request that Anderson send some robotic patrols into the cave tunnels.
They continued wading through the mud for several miles until the trees cleared and the ground was covered in a thin layer of mist. They had reached a dead end: the Lake.
The Lake was not visible from the sky, even though there were no trees above it. Every second of every day, the Lake was covered by a sheet of fog. The reason for the thick fog was explained once to Roberts. Under the deep Lake are hundreds of volcanic vents, which heat the water. This boils off much of the water in the Lake. However, there is so much condensed water in the atmosphere that the air can no longer hold all the water vapor. The water vapor bleeds out of the cold air and causes the thick clouds of fog that covers the entire body of water, along with much of the planet.
The volcanic vents also suggest that there might be life on the planet other than the large trees and bugs that died out when the planet was terraformed. However, the planet was so thick in swamp and the Lake was so large that nothing had been spotted yet.
Roberts had always wondered why people bothered to colonize this planet. But he guessed that the overall shittiness of the planet made it a great place to hide a military base.
Michelle led the Marines up within a few hundred feet of the Lake. Marines had a superstition that the Lake was haunted (although the planet had only been colonized for roughly thirty years), and therefore no one came near its muddy beaches. She took a big step out of the thick mud and pulled herself up onto a large, flat rock. The rock was large enough for all of them, and when everyone had climbed up Michelle invited them to take a break. She continued to stand, BR55 at the ready, and watching intently at the tree line that was barely visible through the fog a hundred feet away.
Roberts pulled his canteen out of one of his larger pockets and took a long swig out of it. As wet as the planet was, it was hard to get drinkable water this far away from the base. He made sure to drink enough to quench his thirst, but not enough to leave him with no water for the trek back.
Johnson swore when he remembered that his canteen was filled with liquor.
"Fucking waste of time." Johnson said, taking a swig after making sure Michelle wouldn't see. He paused to wipe his mouth and handed the canteen to Roberts. Roberts held up his hand and shook his head, declining the liquor. He had no problem waiting until they got back to drink; he didn't want to end up dehydrated here.
Roberts looked out over the Lake. Even if there wasn't any fog, he knew he wouldn't be able to see the other side of the Lake. By the time cartographers had figured out that the Lake was larger than any inland sea on Earth, the name "Lake" had stuck. They were right off the coast of one of the smaller bays attached to the Lake. All the rivers that surrounded Ceti base leaked from the Lake and into the sea, which was well over a hundred miles away.
After five minutes, Michelle told the Marines to get ready to go. They grumbled, still tired from the slog through the thick mud, but stood up, put away their canteens, and picked up their rifles.
At this point, going back through the ravine would take longer than walking along the side of the Lake. The mud was several inches deeper along the Lake, but there were enough rocks and trees to make a pathway that the Marines walked across. Roberts heard Johnson swear behind him and turned in time to see Johnson slipping on a mossy log he had been walking on. Johnson fell into the thick mud. His swears were silenced as his mouth filled with mud.
The Marines ahead of Roberts turned to see what had happened and began to laugh. Even Michelle had begun chuckling. Roberts figured that she had smelled the alcohol and said nothing, knowing that walking through the swamp while intoxicated was a punishment itself.
They continued laughing until Roberts realized that he had been down there a little too long. Other Marines had noticed this, too, and the laughter died down. "Sergeant Hulley
?" One of them asked.
The mud exploded upward, and Johnson was swearing. "SHOOT IT!" He shouted, climbing up onto the log. The Marines aimed their guns at the mud but held their fire. Johnson wiped the mud out of his eyes, pulled out his sidearm (which had been in its holster while he was under and therefore wasn't covered in mud) and aimed it at the ground right next to the log. After half a minute of silence, one of the Marines lowered his shotgun and chuckled. "Fucking drunk."
The other Marines started laughing. The only thing that kept Roberts from joining in was the look on Johnson's face. He hadn't cracked a smile, admitted it was a joke, or even moved his gun away from the mud.
The Marines, eyes filled with tears from laughter, didn't notice the humanoid figure rising out of the mud.
Michelle, on the other hand, hadn't been laughing since Johnson climbed out of the mud. She said in a harsh whisper, "Hold. Your. Fire." The Marines heard this, stopped laughing, and turned to look at the muddy figure. They slowly aimed their rifles at it.
"Name and rank." Michelle asked, obviously not ignoring the fact that the figure could be a person.
The figure was silent for a second longer, then leaped forward. It was shredded apart almost instantly under the hail of bullets. The Marines fired until there was barely anything left of the upper torso. Michelle ordered them to cease firing and the swamp fell silent again. The bullet casings began to sink into the mud.
The figure was still standing, although completely gone from the ribcage up. Slowly, however, it fell backwards. The Marines stood completely immobilized until it began to sink and Michelle ordered them to cover it in a tarp and carry it with them.
One of the Marines who climbed into the mud called back. "It's a fucking person."
They brought the corpse, now wrapped tightly in a muddy tarp, up on the log. One Marine handed a tatter of the man's uniform to Michelle. "He was an engineer on a ship." She said, reading from a name embroidered onto the small piece of clothing. "Mark Yossarian."
"Holy shit," One of the Marines gasped. "I know the fucking guy. He was stationed on the Pillar of Autumn."
They stood in silence for a minute longer, then Michelle ordered them to continue walking towards the base.
The walk was long, but Roberts could remember next to nothing about it. He had been running on autopilot since the dead engineer jumped out of the mud. He was glad no one had surprised him on the way back; he might have snapped at any moment.
After several hours of trekking through the thick mud and trees, Roberts saw a dull-yellow light in the distance. He felt relief like he had never felt before. Michelle warned them to not let down their guard. Roberts thought of an old saying back on Earth. "Most accidents happen within a mile of your home." Although the saying was meant for traffic accidents, it was perfectly applicable here.
Finally, when there were no trees between him and the light, Roberts was able to see one of the many back doors to Ceti base, covered in a layer of thick green swamp slime. The hallway it connected to went several dozen feet back until it fell out of eyesight due to the thick trees. Roberts stepped up onto the wet concrete that the Marines dubbed the "Welcome Mat" and tried shaking off some mud.
He turned around and grabbed an edge of the tarp behind him, helping the Marines carry the corpse up onto the ledge. They jogged towards the door, which opened automatically for them. A wave of heat washed over them.
Roberts was never so happy to be back in a military base.