They're Random, Baby!

Fan Fiction

Halo Clairvoyance - Chapter 3
Posted By: Halochief89<Halochief89@hotmail.com>
Date: 5 February 2010, 5:25 am

Read/Post Comments

Halo Clairvoyance
Chapter 3

By Gary Cogdill

// 19:50 January 20th, 2555 on Unknown Planet//

A 'Gathering Of Giants' would adequately describe the scene of the Spartans conversing with the Elites. Towering monolithic figures, rumbling voices, auras of power that promised bloodshed and pain. The immovable objects meeting the unstoppable force, this time seeming to be on the same side. Discussing the same purpose.

Ilte' was nervous. He, just a Minor Sangheili in his heart chambers, felt a fraud. Disguised, wearing the shell and cloth of a greater caste. Promoted maybe in spirit but still feeling lesser in comparison to those greater Sangheili' who wore such garments proudly. They wore them proudly because of a simple thing. They earned them. Ilte' had yet to and feared the future of such an endeaver. Adding 'insult to injury', as the humans put it, he was now paired with the humans Spartans. The most deadly enemy the Covenant had ever faced.

Spartans were the Sangheili' equal in almost every way imaginable. Be it in fighting, strategy, or tactics, Spartans were extraordinary examples of a race already worthy of greater things and respect. Before the Great Schism, most Sangheili' officers and other caste races asked the once great Prophets to allow the humans into the ranks of the Covenant. The Prophets, knowing the dire secrets of the human race, denied and later punished those who made such a grievous demand. Frightening the fragile Prophets and threatening their stranglehold on control and power. Ilte' tried to keep his composure in front of these great warriors. What had he done asking his Fleet Admiral to let him join with these experts?

"Spartans!" grunted Rtun, the SpecOps leader for the operation. Reminding himself, Spartans were stubborn but not dumb; they demanded respect, same as everyone else. Rtun never had any high regard for Spartans. He thought of them as... less. Stories the Covenant pressed on the masses were that all Spartans had been given sangheili' blood to enhance them. Genetic shortcutting to enhance the super-soldiers. No matter now, Rtun reassessed his tone. "Spartans, draw closer as we require your thoughts on our trail I have laid out for us," Rtun feigned indifference to hide his rising revulsion.

The two Spartans walked over to SpecOps group as Rtun clipped a data crystal into his foldable holo-console. The surface of the field unit lit and a function touched called the surface to light about a foot off the surface. Terrain was shown in dull brown with a line of red throughout detailing the path for the small units to follow. In yellow arrows, possible areas for enemy units were marked. The light from the projection underlit the watching soldiers. Some like the Spartans, underlit to ominous effect.

Ilte' hardly cared for the scene. Ilte' turned away, knowing the details of the briefing already and looked instead into the night sky tinted with green highlights. Something in the atmosphere with it's ochre-ish clouds and reddish stars. He sighted a moving star shape and believed it was maybe his ship rather than one of the human's. He imagined Fleet Admiral Nira in the 'Thoughtless Resolve' watching over his every step. The blessing the fleet commander emplaced on Ilte's shoulders seemed confusing and stifling. Ilte' nervously chattered his mandibles ever so slightly, a tick he acquired at a young age on his homeworld while being raised by his creche-uncle.
Though 25 years old by human reckoning, Ilte' was an extremely young Sangheili' male chiseled by his people's ideals and his own exacting training and indoctrination. Though he missed the cleansing of the Jiralhanae, he knew he would account for himself well now in combat. His fear did not daunt his need to take the furballs with him when he did succumb to the embrace of ages.

"So, we have come to a state of union, Spartans?" Rtun asked.

The Spartans looked on at the SpecOps leader, their faces hidden behind visors reflecting the forest and the face of the SpecOps, then as one they nodded in unison.
Rtun turned directly to the rest of his command, especially the wet one assigned at the last moment, Ilte. "In a short while brothers we shall provide assistance to the Spartans as they mark every single jiralhanae encampment, patrol path or outpost. human repeaters will mark the way. Do not activate them until you know the area is clear to avoid announcing our presence. We will have our time of honor." the Sangheili troop rumbled assent in support. As they gathered their gear, a stray gust of wind caught a hollow knot or maybe cavity within one of the nearby tree equivalents. The strange creaking echo rolled softly around them making many of quirk upper mandles in the Sangheili version of a smile.

"A sign from the gods my brothers, they will be pleased of our slaughter!" Rtun shouted with another round of sangheili roars of anticipation. "Remember Spartans, we will be behind you watching your back for any patrols." Rtun said. "Thank you, Rtun your help is extremely appreciated." The light violet Spartan said. Both Spartans picked up their weaponry and jumped down the embankment and slid into the bushes unnoticeable. Rtun barked at 2 spec ops and waved them in to follow. The sangheili followed and jumped down as well.
"You! Spec ops" Rtun shouted at Ilte' "Yes shadow?" Ilte' confused asked. "Take this beam rifle and observe over them, if you encounter any brutes in your sights seize his head." Rtun said as he extended his hand with the beam rifle to Ilte'. Ilte' grabbed the beam rifle and inspected it for a few seconds to get to know his weapon. The fine violet case for the weapon shined from the reflection of the stars. Ilte climbed the ancient flora of the planet and found his spot to snipe his enemies. The scene he saw from the large branch was of sheet beauty.// 2013 Hours 22 Jan 2555, Unknown Planet //

Gary and Linnea rushed through the brush at break-neck speeds knowing their Sangheili allies had sent subordinates to watch them. Branches and logs broke as the agile Spartans flitted through the underbrush of the forest. Signs of Brutes littered the area, foot prints from animals long since consumed and others still clutched in crude traps, flailing to try and loosen it's grip and flee to safety. The spongy forest floor muted the Spartans' heavy footsteps. Banshees flew wailed over the tree tops and their engines gave flight to any capable species.

Never seen so many defenses since the war, Linnea thought.

She flicked her status light green letting Gary know they were close to a encampment. She was right on the money; light from fires trembled in the camp on the next rise.

"We've got the first camp, Gary mark it." Linnea whispered as she motioned him closer to show Gary her's for comparison. Then her armor changed color rapidly as she activated her latest toy: the new prototype camouflage technology that had been entrusted to her. It was extremely hard to focus on her form, even for Gary. The mottled patterns quickly crept around every nook and cranny of her armor, efficaciously breaking up her silhouette. Gary did notice that a few strands of her pale blond hair had gotten caught in the neck seal.

Brutes, Grunts and Jackals barked, grunted and squawked about a doorway that had been found in another encampment over previously encrypted comm channels much thanks to the UNSC Clairvoyance's ship AI.

"Doorway?" Gary asked Linnea. " Must be Forerunner. If it's Forerunner we'll need to secure it and let the Elites take care of the rest."
Gary motioned for the camoflaged Elites behind him to move forward, smirking, knowing that the split chins were surprised. Bushes and ferns moved aside around the shrouded Elites and they disengaged their camouflage.

"Yes, what is it Spartan?" one of the Elites queried, his mandibled face masked by a commando helmet.
"One of you go tell Rtun we may have Forerunner artifacts or an installation on this planet and that we'll need more then just a sweep and clean method for tomorrow," Gary said. The Elite bobbed his head in a shallow nod as his companion quickly cantered off into the darkness of the forest.
"Spartan, do you require anything of me?" the last Elite asked.
"Yeah. I need you to create a distraction for me, draw them a distance from the camp for a while so we can retrieve any intel on where that Forerunner stuff is located." Gary said as he jerked a thumb to their right. The Elite dipped again and quietly slipped into the underbrush to plan the distraction, whatever that ended up being.

"UNSC Clairvoyance, this is Sierra-089, something has come up. We've discovered a possible Forefunner installation on this planet." Gary reported into his comm. Linnea signaled she was heading up a few more meters to watch for the Elite's distraction. Gary bristled at the silence from the Clairvoyance.


"Sierra-089 we do not have authority to do anything with Forerunner artifacts. I'm linking you to the Thoughtless Resolve's Fleet Admiral," Patterberg said regretfully as a spark of static finally signaled the comm's activation.
"Spartan, I have heard report that you've discovered a Forerunner relic?" the soothingly deep voice of the Fleet Admiral said. Gary, with a twinge of annoyance responded in his own mock of the Admiral's assuasive tenor.
"We haven't discovered it, but from what we are hearing from the Brutes, there are Forerunner artifacts of some form on this planet." Gary checked his Battle Rifle's ACS, still 60 rounds and the 200lbs of ammo on his back if the situation got really hairy. With the Brutes this was the most common result.
"Alright, Spartan, this changes our whole mission entirely," said the Fleet Admiral, disappointment lingering in his words. An ear scraping mechanical shriek came from the direction the second commando Elite had gone making the Fleet Admiral's voice sound hushed in comparison.

"The distraction, Gary! Lets go," Linnea whooped as the two Spartans sprinted up the hill into the camp. Gary was astonished at what the Brutes had left. Their camp was made out of branches and twigs , nothing alien remained. The tents were covered by ancient tree leaves the size of scarabs - the end of the war had devastated the Loyalists. Gary wouldn't be shocked if they were back to using spears.
Efficiently and without hurry they searched every tent in the camp. All that remained were food nipples for the Grunts and rudimentary beds that seemed only fitting for Brute Chieftains. The tents still housed the occasional hologram of the esteemed Prophet of Truth; although dead it was obvious that the voice of the Covenant was still spreading His words. Gary had a feeling the Prophets had enacted several well thoughtout plans and shivered at what they might have set aside in the event they failed. For all Gary knew he could be stumbling into that very plot.

"Gary, I found something," Linnea whispered.

A 'friendly' nav marker placed her about ten meters away behind the tent he'd been searching. Gary decisively demolished the tent he was in to get to reach Linnea, leaving his uniquely Spartan boot impressed in the muddy ground the camp was settled on. Several plasma daubs raked the treetops originating in the currently distracted Brutes' vicinity.

"Hurry Linnea, I think the brutes found our friend." Gary said as he knelt next to her to get a better look at the strange Covenant contraption -shaped like a lemon but still coated in the ever eccentric blue-violet alloy the Covenant favored- in her gauntlet enclosed fist. Linnea flicked it with her finger to see if the item would power on.

"Nothing," Linnea said, her voice hinting a mock pout, "Chuck it in your ruck sack." Gary shrugged and turned to offer easy access to it's flap.

"Oh shit," Gary breathed. He froze in place; a Brute Chieftain clad in armor marked like the smouldering embers of a fire was staring at the two Spartans with a viciously squashed face even a mother couldn't love. The Chieftain forcefully lashed out his gravity hammer -moving far faster than would be thought for a weapon of this bulk- at the Spartans, bellowing.
Linnea pivoted under and in, taking the brunt of the blow in her outstretched hands before latching on in a death grip to the weapons handle effectively stopping the Brute from landing a fatal blow on her comrade. Gary moved without hesitation launching himself into the air and whipped out the heel of his boot into the Brute's throat.

"Ready," Linnea said with anticipation drenching the single word.


Like twin bolts of lighting the Spartans streaked in to tackled the Brute. But this Chieftain had not meerly been given his high status for ferocity alone and with inhuman speed snapped the Spiker from his belt, releasing five near molten 'railroad spikes' of metal into Gary's chest. That was thorough enough to catapult the Spartan away, drain his shields and leave a single spike partially embedded in his armor. The MJOLNIR's shields popped and recovered.
In the split second he'd been airborne the Brute had side-stepped and plucked Linnea from the air, her throat clutched in his massive hand. Linnea clawed at the alien's hand, searching desperately for a weak spot in it's leathery hide ,the bones in her neck ready to give under the strain.
Gary, enraged, sprinted for the beast, his emotions shrouding his senses, blinding him to any tactical approach. In turn, Gary had become the enemy he'd fought, powerful and reckless.

The Brute heaved the captured Demon over it's head and hurled her at the second. She slammed full force into Gary. It cackled at the sight, emboldened by it's sudden victory.
Gary recovered, his rage receeding, and twisted with the impact, his fingers gripping Linnea's shoulder. Her momentum carried her upright -she landed not fifteen feet back from Gary- and they sprung back to give themselves elbow room. The Brute, too inebriated by it's laughter didn't notice that it hadn't won... and definitely wouldn't. They charged the nine foot alien and cold cocked it with perfectly syncronized fists. It's prognathic muzzle caved into it's face and purple-red blood sprayed from the wound. It fell to a knee and rebounded, but too slowly.
Gary snatched up his fallen BR55 and unloaded as many rounds as he could squeeze off. Several three round bursts deflected as the power armor sustained the brunt of the funfire. The Brute rocked with each impact, too shocked from it's injuries to notice Linnea streaking towards it and her combat knife arcing for it's face. Blade slicing with the a half of a ton of Spartan behind it, it cut through the corner of where the alien's lip use to be back through to it's throat. The Loyalist gurgled out a wet scream as it tried to rise, the pain almost too much for the traumatized creature.
Suddenly a plasma beam tapped it, causing the hulking Brute's back to arc into a violent spasm. The armor fell from it's body and it tried to give out a throaty wheeze, the plasma having ruptured it's lungs and blood now filling the cavity.
Thoroughly ticked off, Gary walked over to the drowning Brute as it's dark blood ran freely down it's chest in a river both from it's lastest wound and it's ravaged face.

"Laugh at this you Covenant piece of shit," Gary said, both disgust and irritation empowering his voice, and raised his rifle at the Chieftain's head.
The Chieftain strained out it's last words in a wet bark, mangled jaws slurring it's speech and two meaty fingers plugging the hole in it's chest, "You mongrrrels haven't yet won thiss war!"
Blood from its maw slopped onto Gary's visor and with the pull of the trigger the Battle Rifle sent three rounds into the Brutes hide. It's body sagged for a finally time.

What does it mean by that? Gary thought about it a moment longer then pushed it away.
As the Spartans emptied a few more rounds into the body, making sure it was dead for good, a cluster of Grunts waddled into the camp. They shook in disbelief and shied away from the sight of their leader laying in a pool of it's own blood, the two Demons standing over it.
Gary unsheathed his combat knife and whipped it towards one of the knobbed aliens in one fluid motion. The knife thudded into the Grunt's temple and it limped. Linnea sighted two of the other Grunts as she brought up a pair of M7 sub-machine guns and mowed them down. One's head exploded like a melon. A wave of chitters and grunts faded in from behind the tents. The camp's original residents had returned.
"We've been compromised!" Gary barked as he flagged Linnea to follow. The Spartan duo sprinted down the hill away from the camp as whicked streams of plasma flew around them.

"Spartans! Quickly! Hide yourselves as far a distance as you can reach!" an Elite's voice resonated over their coms," I'll give you as much time as I can muster!"
Beams danced overhead and a Brute fell. Gary felt a grin tug at the corners of his mouth. Skirmisher Jackals slid down the slope in persuit just behind them. He could hear their raspy snarling grow louder. Jackals were fast, their semi-hollow bones lightening their mass.
"By the Forerunners!-" the Elite gasped over a hail of static.

Then the forest floor became blacker than the void as everything went silent.

// 21:49 January 20th, 2555 On Unknown planet //

Ilte' was paralyzed, as was almost everything else in the entire valley. Anything caught in that baleful gaze was staring. An enormous construct appeared to have risen from its hiding place disguised as a hill. A forerunner sentinel, having risen from concealment, activated by who knew what and standing stiffly as if in waiting. Its one baleful eye belied its robotic origins with movements bordering on malevolent intelligence and hateful emotions.

In slow motion the entire valley awakened to a new night of nightmares and pain. Alien avian forms took to the air in droves, squawking and honking and fleeing as quickly as possible. Covenant loyalists forgot everything and scrambled for landing areas and awaiting ships. The mass exodus had started and no one wished to stay to find out what the sentinel would do next.

Phantom dropships began to ascend into the sky, making for orbit any orbit. Banshee scout craft screamed away even though they could not get into orbit. They could take their occupants to another place away from what might be every living creatures doom.

An unknown Elite whispered over the comm, "The Brutes! What have they unleashed!"

The enormous sentinel lumbered into motion, tentacle-like arms snaked out into the surrounding air. With snap-hisses, hot beams of greenish-yellowish light began to strike everything flying, including the local wildlife. Like a breath held too long, panic ripped out and engulfed the valley. Activity to get away from the behemoth was frantic and desperate.
"I'm receiving jiralhanae cries over our system, my brothers. They are broadcasting in the clear in their undisciplined panic." Rtun tuned everyone into the same frequency.

"What have we done!"

"Hierarchs have mercy please! AAAGH!"

"My pack has been eaten!"

Ilte watched as more hills in valleys further away began to tremble and shake. Sentinels were awaking all over the planet it seemed. But why have they suddenly awakened? What have the Brutes unleashed? Ilte' thought as he quickly reoriented to the task at hand. Looking through the scope, he found the Spartans rushing to the extraction point at breakneck speeds now. Behind them the Sentinel had caught the forest aflame and they were backlit by hell.

Knowing he should begin to fall back on the extraction point, fired more rounds, helping some of his brothers in their flight to safety. Then he saw it. The fires were beginning to get wilder and hotter. Spreading more and more quickly despite the moisture as they sucked up everything under the steady barrage by the sentinel.
But why have they suddenly awaken? What have the brutes released? Ilte' thought as he quickly remembered his assignment. Looking through the scope he found the Spartans rushing to the ridge with break neck speeds. The forest was soon ablaze from the sentinel's massacre of the loyalist forces.

"My commander, what shall I do?" Ilte' shouted at Rtun from his branch. Rtun looked up to Ilte' but didn't say anything only returning his gaze to the sentinel becoming an arsonist to the planet. Some of the banshees which had earlier got away were speeding past the ridge. Covered in decorum the brutes had placed, it had seem the brutes were on their own without any authority. If it weren't for the situation they were in Rtun would have those banshees scorched until all that was left was ash.

"My brothers let us, assist the Spartans and return to the Thoughtless Resolve." Rtun ordered. As all the other elites ran down the embankment to the Spartans Rtun slowly walked to the edge of the ridge. "It seems the gods have left a few more traps for us to spring." Rtun whispered to himself.

Ilte' quickly jumped down the tree by leaping branch to branch. The severe heat now reaching his position from the winds kicked up by the sentinels. As he reached the forest floor he walked up to his leader.
"Commander? Is everything alright?" Ilte' asked his leader. Rtun didn't respond. Ilte' gave Rtun back the beam rifle as he wielded his plasma rifles. "Please commander when you come to your senses, assist your brothers." Ilte' said as he leaped down the ridge. Sliding down the muddy trail using a previously made skid as guidance. As he reached the bottom the forest was completely different then what it was an hour ago. With a huge orange haze expanding in the background. Ilte' looked down at his armor. It was covered in mud and wouldn't help if he had to use his camouflage.

Ilte' not knowing where his teammates were, ran in the general direction where he had last saw the Spartans. The forest floor, charcoal black was smearing against Ilte's boots. The blood of the forest stains my soul Ilte' thought as a strange smell entered his nose. It was not the carbon smell of wood or plants, but rather a coppery smell, almost like blood. He looked around at the forest floor and saw that just below the layers of detritus and debris was a metallic surface. Other features all about the valley like a butte some distance away had shaken off its coving of dirt and revealed the same bluish violet metal as the rest of the exposed areas. The architecture was that of the forerunners. Hulking shapes were converging on the valley as more and more sentinals awakened.

We did not find a relic, Ilte' realized, it found us... it is the very planet upon which we squabble. But that shock was soon cut short as the Spartans and his teammates appeared from the smoke. One of his brothers was holding his side in pain.
"Hes hurt, we had him create a distraction for us but he was had by the brutes and injured." the green Spartan said as he tried to tend the wound. "Did you Spartans have anything to do with this uprising?" Ilte could feel the beginnings of angry but not having a direction to allow it to flow.

"No. The artifact we found and the sentinel breaches are unrelated. The Brutes were reacting to threat before us and before your diversions. Something else lit this off," the male Spartan provided. His voice too was tight with suppressed anger. Ilte felt the trueness of that and internally relaxed, scanning forest and flames. Off in the distance, sentinels still burned the loyalists from sky and ground.

"Very well," Ilte' turned, "We must get to the dropship over the ridge. You two take the major's body and the rest walk cover. As the Spartans say, no sentient left behind." Ilte now commanded the Elites and the snapped to eagerly to maintain order. The Spartan stared at Ilte' inscrutably for a second and then nodded curtly in appreciation of the situation.

The Spartan finally stood up, weapon trained into the flames creeping up on them. "I think we need--." He was drowned out. The team slipping away with the major's body had stopped and started firing into the air. The Spartans and Ilte' looked up just as the ground shook with a titanic impact and rumble knocking some from their feet. The sentinel had flown to their position and now stood over them. Ilte' just shouldered the strap of the rifle and bared his holy blades. "What is this!" Ilte' shouted as the sentinel looked down on them. "Holy shit!" the strangely colored Spartan shouted. The sentinel groaned again as the arms stretched for them. More segments began to show themselves out of the arm. Finally unveiling strange pincers the size of warthogs.
"Quickly! Escape!" A spec op yelled. But it was too late the arms seized the squad and the Spartans. "I shall not let you capture me!" Ilte' roared as he unleashed his sword that Nira had honorably given him. The sword did nothing but deflect of the sentinel's shield like a rubber bat to a door. The sentinel opened a strange door on its underbelly. Throwing the squad in the sentinel was dark within only the stereotypical forerunner architecture glowed a fluorescent blue.

// On board the UNSC Clairvoyance //

Ren awoke to the 'general quarters' alarm ringing throughout marine country barracks aboard ship. Frantic running in the halls heralded her fellow marines gearing up. She donned her gear quickly and hit the corridor running for the equipment bays. Ren gathered her last bit of hair into a bundle under helmet. Maybe she could manage to look less like a mental patient and more like a marine, she thought.

She regarded a marine to her right in the crowd and asked, "Whats going on?"
The marine next to her was in full gear already, "The attack on the Brutes has been moved up."
They both took a second to check each others rand and name tags in the rush. The marine drew back slightly and Ren fell back a pace.

"Sorry, Gunny Whitney."

"No harm, besides you've been assigned to 5th company, my company. Get to docking bay fifty-four. Full battle rattle from arms lockers Support should have on site," and with that he nodded and turned down a side passageway toward officer country. No man's land for a grunt like Ren.

The bay was a study in controlled chaos, marines in all directions getting equipment and boarding waiting craft of every type and design. Ren approached her designated area as a armorer directed her to racks of weapons. She began signing paperwork and thumbing signatures quickly, barely having time to scan descriptions and types as a second tech walked around her placing equipment in their designated places. Occasionally the second tech would tug a strap or wrap a line into place until she felt the need to squirm. She knew she would have to make adjustments before she boarded her drop craft or the trip would be a miserable one. No one knew one's equipment load like the wearer themselves. She finished with the armorer and took a second to glance out a nearby port. The hangar bay was pouring out craft like rain into a bucket, all heading for the planet.

"Pelican, Golf-237, that way," the tech gestured with a consignment board before moving to the next marine in line.

She scrambled to her assigned station, tugging and setting her harness to more comfortable lines. One hand steadied her MA5 rifle attached to her shoulder so that it snugged cross chest for transport. She checked the slide, jacking it back and making sure the barrel was clear and no stray round in the chamber. Before releasing the slide she made sure the caseless ammo slot was clear of anything until she herself loaded the weapon. Nothing like ruining a trip down to a planet than letting a MA5 round shoot through the ship or somebody.

Gunnery Sergeant Samuel Whitney surprisingly was already at the gangway, ushering troops with his quiet stolid demeanor and the occasional word of encouragement to settle the anxiety of his troop. Seeing Ren, he turned to the pilot next to him, "Go on forward and get with the officer of the deck. That's the last of the troop."

"Copy that," the lieutenant stepped back into the craft, one hand habitually cupping his ear area through the helmet.

"In here, corporal," the 'gunny' stepped into the craft and motioned to the last of the seats in the troop bay area of the Pelican. Then stepped forward toward the flight cabin for his own seat.

"Who's this cutie," a marine whispered as the rear doors began to close.

Corporal Ren flicked the marine off politely, scratching an eyebrow with her middle-finger. She settled into her seat and locked her rifle into place between her legs where brackets were meant to hold the weapon during the drop. Saved on injuries as all were also held down to the seats with solid pulldown harnesses of hardened aluminum. She felt her stomach make the first flutter, first steps to full nausea she would fight all the way to the surface.

The pilot's voice came over the Pelican's loudspeakers, "Alright, orders to place your troop on the frontlines. The is an air assault into an undoubtedly hostile landing zone. We are going in hard and fast with one strafing run to get their heads down and the rest is up to you. Communication with the surface recon team has been gone for an hour. We do not know if it is atmospheric or electronic. So we might be flying blind and that means an exciting ride for all and sundry. Pilot out."

Ren started nervous, moved to nauseous and with the closing of the rear doors and the rising rumble of the engines setting into her spine, she was adding claustrophobia, suicidal urges, and gibbering hysteria. Feeling ashamed, she tried to distract herself with the her neighbor's hand terminal. The smallish scree displayed some vid-tainment of some sort. "I don't recognize that. What vid?"

The marine holding the vid just turned to her with haunted eyes. "This is a hacked feed from one of the external cameras aimed at the planet. I'd hoped to get additional intel."

"But those are fires so big--," she started.

He finished, "-- so big they can be seen from orbit. Welcome to the gates of hell."

It worked, she thought numbly, I didn't even feel us take-off.