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Attack on Installation 06, part 18
Posted By: Jake Trommer<wedgefan@comcast.net>
Date: 24 April 2009, 12:45 am

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Attack on Installation 06
Chapter 18
1835 Hours, July 09, 2553 (Military Calendar)
Tharidanis System, Installation 06

      Night had fallen on Installation 06, and Hocus had to admit it made for one hell of a sight. It certainly made for a nice distraction from the Marine corpse lying on a gurney in the troop bay; Sergeant Jon Salko had succumbed to his Master-Chief inflicted wounds half an hour ago.
      "Beautiful sight, ain't it Lieutenant?" asked her co-pilot, the trim Warrant Officer Daniel Shilds.
      "That it is," was the perfunctory reply.
      "Just you and me, LT, and the night's still young..."
      Hocus shot a look at the young co-pilot from behind her helmet's mirrored visor, and suppressed the urge to shake her head in disbelief. Shilds had been unbashedly coming on to her ever since he'd been assigned to Kilo 023. It wasn't so much that he wasn't a nice guy, but Hocus had been having a relationship for some time now with a Longsword squadron commander back on Earth, and she was pretty certain Major Tom Easley wouldn't take too kindly to this kid muscling in on his turf. Granted, the kid wasn't bad-looking in the slightest, but still...
      "Stow the testosterone, Warrant Officer. We have jobs to do, and right now your job is to figure out what happened to Gunny Stacker and his team."
      Shilds' fingers danced over the co-pilot's console. "Nothing, LT, not a squawk on the E-band or any other channel."
      Hocus quirked a smile behind her visor. "Warrant Officer Shilds, if you want to be worthy of my affections, you're going to have to put more effort into your job than that."
      The co-pilot threw up his hands in dismay. "LT, all systems are functional, but I can't get jack. Lightbulb, anything you can do to help out?"
      This last was adressed to 16807 Repetant Instigator, floating in the back of the Pelican's cockpit like a one-eyed balloon. "I can attempt to contact the Sentinels within, Reclaimer. If they are with your comrades, they will tell me."
      "Do it," ordered Hocus.


      Master Gunnery Sergeant Pete Stacker walked point for the two-squad formation, following the Chief into the bowels of the Forerunner facility where Cortana was supposedly held.
      The walls were spotless, the floor smelled of the Forerunner equivalent of disinfectant, and the place was so spotlessly clean that Stacker couldn't walk two steps without covering his eyes from the gleaming surfaces or wincing from the antiseptic smell.
      "Christ, Gunny," remarked Corporal Chips Dubbo from Stackers' right. "They've kept this place in great shape. Ol' Zero-Four wasn't nearly as clean as this."
      "Agreed," replied Stacker, "and that's scaring me."
      Several meters ahead of the Marine formation, the Master Chief looked back from the speech-capable Sentinel guiding him through the bowels of the facility. "Cut the chatter, Gunnery Sergeant. Stay sharp---no telling what kinds of traps the Forerunners might have placed in here."
      "Roger, Master Chief."
      Dubbo shook his head. "What the hell's the difference between us and Johnson, Gunny?"
      Stacker stiffened at the mention of his old comrade. "What do you mean, Dubbo?"
      "Gunny, we were with the Chief for all three Halo campaigns. So was Johnson. So what's---"
      Stacker turned to look at Dubbo, and his expression was not one the Corporal found pleasant to look at. "Corporal, we are the only two men left from Installation 04. Chang died at New Mombasa, Avery died on....whatever the hell it was he was on, it doesn't matter. Now let me ask you something, Dubbo. I've put my life on the line for the Chief more times than I can count. The Chief has saved my ass more times than I can count. That being said, do you really think I haven't asked myself this question before?"
      "Sorry, Gunny," was all Dubbo could think to say.
      Stacker said nothing to that.
      Up ahead, the Chief suddenly dropped into a combat-ready stance, hefting his assault rifle. Stacker raised his clenched fist, signalling the retrieval team to halt and take up defensive positions.
      "What's up, Gunnery Sarnt?" asked one of the ODSTs.
      "I dunno," came the response. "Hold here." Thus saying, Stacker advanced to where the Chief had halted. The SPARTAN had trained his rifle on the Sentinels, which had come to a halt. "Chief?"
      The SPARTAN took no notice.
      "Chief, what's wrong?"
      The super-soldier ponderously turned his helmet until the visor was fixed squarely on Stacker. The Gunny felt, irrationally, he hoped, as if someone was sweeping a crosshair over his body. "They stopped," was all the Chief offered, keeping his rifle trained on the Sentinels.
      Stacker hesitated. The last time he'd seen Sentinels, on the Ark, they'd been allies. That being said, he also had no idea what subroutines that the Forerunners had programmed into the robotic sentries.
      The Gunny turned to face the retrieval team. "Safeties off, gents, no telling what---"
      "That will not be necessary," interrupted one of the Sentinels.
      Stacker turned to face the Forerunner robot, hefting his battle rifle as he did so. The clicks of safety catches being released filled the hallway.
      "What happened," grated the Chief.
      "We received a communiqué from the Monitor of this Installation," answered the spokes-Sentinel. "He would like you to know that your dropship and vehicles are still standing by outside, and that he will act as your communication link."
      "Great," muttered Dubbo. "We get to rely on the lightbulb for information."
      "You're still taking me to Cortana," growled the Chief.
      "Of course, Reclaimer," replied the machine. "Your construct is within this room."
      As if triggered by the Sentinel's words, the door in front of the retrieval team slid open with a sibilant hiss.
      Stacker didn't like it one bit. His comm headset might not have been able to reach Hocus, but the retrieval team's third squad was holding position at the door to the facility, and wasn't affected by the interference...or so Stacker hoped. "Third Squad, this is the Gunny. Report."
      For a few seconds, there was nothing but static, then---"Gunny, Third Squad actual. Negative on any contacts, over."
      "Right, hold position. I don't like this one bit."
      "Join the club, Gunny. Third Squad out."
      The Chief, for some reason, was looking expectantly at Stacker. "Gunnery Sergeant, you and Corporal Dubbo come with me. The rest of you, guard this hallway."
      Chips started at the mention of his name, but obediently moved up next to Stacker, casting a worried look at the latter.
      The SPARTAN advanced through the doorway, moving in the Sentinels' wake.
      Stacker and Dubbo followed suit.
      The room was dim, light only by the wan glow of a few blue lights. A small pedestal-like console was set in the center of the room.
      The Chief wasted no time. He strode over to the console, punched a few commands into the Forerunner instrumentation, and asked, "Cortana? Cortana, can you hear me?"


      Outside the Forerunner facility, the crew of Kilo 023 was taking a nap.
      It wasn't good practice, both Hocus and Shilds knew, but both had been awake for more than a day straight now, and the Monitor had promised to wake them if something came up.
      Of course, that didn't make it any more surprising when the Monitor started his eerie humming. Both members of the Marine aircrew jolted awake at the same time, Shilds groping for his pistol.
      Hocus, naturally, came to her senses first. "Easy!" she said. "It's just the robot."
      Shilds relaxed. "Goddammit," he muttered, scanning the Pelican's instrumentation. "Goddammit!" he yelped, upon checking the sensor systems.
      The Warrant Officer wordlessly motioned to his console.
      Hocus clambered into the rear of the Pelican's cockpit, roughly shoving the Monitor aside. Repetant Instigator remarked "Oh my", but otherwise made no comment.
      The IFF display was showing a sea of red, a company's worth of hostile aliens at least, converging on the facility.
      Hocus turned to 16807 Repetant Instigator. "Get the Gunny, lightbulb. Tell him he's got company."