I AM LEGENDARY: RAIN DELAY
Posted By: Mainevent<firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date: 4 January 2008, 12:27 am
1,367 Days Earlier
There was screaming. It echoed as loudly as the bombs in the streets, only punctuated by the equally unsettling staccato of gunfire. The sound of screams is something no one ever gets used to, or so Neville's father had told him while remembering back to his time as a Covenant prisoner of war. So far he'd been right. Cortman slithered the nose of the warthog between cars like an olive green snake, nudging those too closely packed out of the way with blunt force.
"General Guzman will be on board the Spirit of Justice in orbit. When we can reach him we'll give him an immediate update. Unfortunately, that'll mean that everyone on the pads gets left behind." Captain Jermay Ryan yelled over the hiss of this anaconda's engine.
Neville said nothing.
"All of this goddamn debris is making it hard Cap." Cortman gunned it particularly hard and the vehicle's massive tires crushed a car on the right side, forcing Robert to scramble for a handhold as the craft lurched upwards and then plummeted back down.
"Fuck!" Inertia slammed the crew forward as Lieutenant Cortman came to a sliding stop. From an alleyway only inches to Robert's left a MT100 Thunderbolt armored personnel carrier entered the roadway, it's twin top-mounted auto-cannons swiveling to fire on a swarm of infected hosts. A low, shrill whistle filled the cabin space. Ryan and Cortman looked around, but Neville looked up. Two AV-14F Hornet close support aircraft were buzzing through the city's cramped corridors.
The two aircraft were briefly silhouetted by a magnificent splash of orange-white as two Shortsword bombers screeched by at several hundred feet. Six tiny ordnance released from their underbellies before erupting into a rotating dispenser of several hundred bomblets each. The ground trembled as the thunderous explosions decimated everyone and everything that had occupied the highway. One Hornet zipped into a holding position directly above the APC as the other continued towards the pads.
"This big bitch is in our way!" Cortman laid the horn on thick, but it was useless, the Thunderbolt was going nowhere. A torrent of dull thuds sounded like a metallic rain on the roof as spent cartridges from the hornets ' tri-barreled machine guns cascaded to earth. A milk-white smoke trail bubbled into view above the roof of the APC before the familiar discharge of a SPNKR missile engulfed the nose of the attack craft in fire. She began to spin wildly as her cockpit emerged from the fireball a charred nothing. One wing clipped a nearby office building's corner, shattering glass and breaking a thin metal beam before shearing the fuselage.
"Backup, backup, backup!" Ryan screamed while Cortman reflexively accelerated in reverse. Neville felt the warm breath of Satan on his face and his fierce touch as the vehicle's windshield exploded. Cortman's neck was sliced cleanly along the right side, blood spewing from the wound in rhythmic crimson spurts. Ryan vomited into his elbow while reaching to apply pressure, and Neville's entire world coalesced into a swirling fountain of colors.
Cortman slumped over as Ryan reached back towards Neville. All of the oranges , yellows, and blacks grew together before disappearing completely into nothing. Only Ryan's now-distant voice was left, and fading quickly.
"You're going to be okay soldier, you're going to be okay."
Today- 1,366 Days Since Outbreak
Neville's index and middle finger rubbed the scar on his cheek absent mindedly as he tried to remember back on that night. It was hard to come up with much at all, but anything beyond the crash was useless. After the blackout he'd awoken with a crude bandage of ripped fabric, most likely Ryan's, around his temple. For several minutes he'd thought he was blind or dead, or maybe that was just what being dead felt like; his arms and legs ached at every urge to move. Eventually he'd pushed the rubble and garbage covering him away. It was dark, with only the gentle glow of a small fire several meters away. That fire danced in the glassy reflections of Ryan's lifeless eyes, still open and staring almost purposefully in his direction. A pool of blood had coagulated around him, and a swarm of flies darted in and out of the viscous liquid.
Shell casings were littered all across the ground directly in front of him, and it was only then Neville had noticed the MA5B on the ground and the M6D pistol still in Ryan's grip. Several yards away, the bodies of a dozen or so flood combat forms had been riddled with bullets, but it apparently hadn't been enough. A trail of bloody, deformed footprints disappeared down the alleyway beyond the Captain's corpse.
Robert was snapped back to reality when a blackbird collided with the Plexiglas. It's tiny neck was broken and the fowl dropped to the ground silently. Rambo and Tango were at the window instantly, panting and yipping eagerly. "Aight boys, we can go out. I've got to run a few errands today anyway."
Neville's truck bumped along the rugged dirt road from the bunker back into the city. Large black craters pockmarked the streets and many of the buildings suffered equally disfiguring scars as a result of the numerous bombing runs from that short but fierce war. Weeds crept up through the holes and cracks in the cement and walkways; large vines of ivy wrapped and strangled the stoplights at several intersections. The outskirts of town, those first six or seven miles of four-lane highway, were relatively smooth. It was the innermost sections of town where the mass exodus of vehicles and people fleeing for the escape pads had stalled. The stall quickly led to a massive overflow, with those in the front of the line abandoning their vehicles to make a dash for safety on foot. Those in the back had never stood a chance.
Every car Robert passed as he moved into the "Black Zone" had suffered the same fate. Many of their doors had been splashed with blood as their occupants were struck down attempting to flee, but those that weren't had enormous dents in their sides and jagged, broken windows covered in more blood. The most striking part was the lack of bodies, there were never any bodies; the flood didn't leave bodies. In that way, Neville believed, they never left any survivors either. Even in death these people had been converted into killing machines that turned to ravage or infect their fellow citizens.
He slowed to a casual stop as the road finally ended amidst a mass of interwoven and mangled cars too thick to pass. The dogs stared at him longingly from the passenger seat, emitting low whimpering growls and panting heavily at the anticipation of the new. A flick of the release latch sent the two armored side covers sliding away; the rottweiler and german shepherd lept from the truck, smelling and investigating everything they encountered.
"This way," Robert yelled as he disappeared down an alleyway. The massive dogs sprinted after him, nipping at each other's tails as they ran. The alley emerged into a large open square at the center of an outdoor shopping complex. There were tables and chairs in a small open-air cafe to his left- some still erect but most hastily knocked on their sides - on his right was a wall-sized projection loop of three year old new releases. Gravemind's Grave: End of the Flood Menace was a particularly well done propaganda piece he'd seen several times; it was amusing now, though it hadn't been intended to come off that way.
With its high, flat roof visible over the courtyard's low wall, the Supply Depot Superstore's dark blue paint mixed with the dark gray sky to form a dark and foreboding color palette. The four lanes between the square and the store were, amazingly, even more congested than the previous stretch of highway. In the hectic rush of people trying foolishly to buy some last-minute supplies or luxuries a ten-car pileup had completely bottlenecked this section of the city. The burned-out hulk of an overturned tractor trailer was riddled with bullets, it's driver seat occupied by a weathered corpse slumped awkwardly to the side in its seat, held partially upright by its safety restraints.
"Shit, shit, shit. It's not supposed to rain today." Neville slung his rifle and put his hands to his head in contemplation. The darkening sky was approaching quickly, and a gentle pitter-patter of fat, globular waterbursts smacked to the ground every few seconds. A fiercely jagged lightning bolt snapped a booming report overhead, and forced him to a casual jog. The dogs sprinted by frantically, stopped only by the closed doors of the superstore; they pawed and nudged at the partitions but they failed to move. Robert skipped up the sidewalk and huddled under the short overhang.
"It can't ever be easy can it?" The dogs whimpered their responses as another clasp of thunder broke the sky open overhead. Thin, fast razor droplets came down in sheets of water that blanketed the city. He jammed the blade of his field knife into the crack of the doors and wedged them several inches apart before working his fingers and finally hands in. With a strained scissor motion he parted them slowly; finally, working them apart enough to stick his boot in and open them fully.
Tango and Rambo darted into the store several feet and shook themselves vigorously. "Oh this is just fucking beautiful," Neville cursed as he confronted the vast darkness. The entire store was blacked out, the only illumination coming in the form of a dull white light every several meters from equally spaced and opaque skylights overhead. The power was on in the city, but not here. It could be a blown transformer or knocked out powerline, or just as easily a substation that had been knocked out during the fight to evacuate the city. Regardless, he was facing the world inside through a palette of blacks, whites, and shades of gray. He quickly wrapped his gun's strap around his arm and tucked it neatly into his right shoulder while grabbing a cart with his free hand.
"Find out, go, go," he whispered to the dogs. The duo's heads swiveled around , their noses sniffing intently as they moved in short bursts a few meters ahead at a time before ducking into belly crawls and then getting back up. His night-scope illuminated the store in short, circular sections as he swept his rifle around cautiously. It'd be impossibly to see anything among the countless clothing racks, behind six foot high palettes of dried goods piled down the central aisles, or until he moved into an aisle itself. The hairs on his neck pricked up as his skin bubbled with nervous anticipation. A flash overhead momentarily brought the room to two shades lighter gray before going quickly back to near black.
His breath came out in stuttered, silent gasps as he moved as quickly and quietly down the rows as possible. A tank of water ahead was covered in algae and the rotten husks of lobster. The dogs continued to whimper after every burst of thunder. If it was canned he put it into the buggy, regardless of what. He could come back later to get picky. It only took two aisles to fill his buggy, and he was very ready to get the hell out of dodge. Two short whistles brought the dogs running back to his side as he left the buggy next to a palette of half-decomposed doughnuts and pastries.
Shit, the batteries are at the other end of the store, he thought bitterly. He moved to a quick jog, the dogs' nails making rhythmic clacks on the tiling as the trio moved. He stopped at the pharmacy briefly and slipped several packages of cold-and-flu medicine into his chest pocket before crossing the aisle and pocketing as many batteries as he could fit. He turned back and jogged back towards the food aisles. He passed hangar after hangar of clothes on his right and racks of magazines and check out counters to his left. His luminescent green-white night vision illuminated the darkness fifty feet at a time though his one closed eye. Rambo and Tango dropped to a crawl and whimpered again as a thunderbolt clapped through the store, but they didn't get back up. Robert halted several feet away and turned back to them.
"Get over here!" He whispered as loudly as he could. They only whimpered, more loudly now, and shuffled back when he tried to approach. "What the hell is the matter with y'all? It's just a little thunder. Get up you big girls you." From behind he heard the bone-rattling scrape of rusty metal grating together rhythmically as the shopping cart's wheels spun. He carouseled around, the reflective metallic glimmer of his buggy slowing to a stop in his view piece. The building shook as a particularly close bolt struck. The saliva in his mouth felt thick and hot as he swallowed deeply, his chest convulsing with a thunderstorm of its own. Each inhalation was a challenge as he rattled off short breaths.
There it was, bumping unwittingly into the cart as it shuffled along. It was the image which had burned itself into his retinas through his nightmares. It's sickly, ivory white skin glistened with moisture and even in the emerald vision he could make out its thick, dark veins rippling under the skin. The face was relaxed unnaturally, the jaw slacking to reveal a half bitten-off tongue and slimy yellow teeth. Its eyes seemed massive in their sunken sockets, glazed to a milky white with only dark patches visible in each orb. This was what the Flood had become. Those it couldn't sink it's hook-like tentacles into directly had been metamorphosed into these abominations.
Neville let out two rapid, barely-audible hisses as he moved away from the creature and to the door. Alone, this was no match for his MA5B Assault Rifle's shredder rounds; versatile, dangerous projectiles which splintered on impact and tore through light armor while tearing flesh into bloody pulp. But alone was not where the Flood got its power. It's power was in numbers, and the sound of his shot would draw ten, perhaps a hundred, more to him. The dogs nudged up to his feet, bearing their teeth in attack stances but remaining utterly silent. He snapped his fingers once and they bolted forward, streaking through the clothes. Rambo bulled the creature's legs, tearing it's withered flesh and cracking the porous bone already riddled with thousands of unfixed micro-fractures. Tango pounced immediately on it's throat as the torso smacked to the ground, ripping the esophogus and vocal chords cleanly out. Puffs of air made a sickly, sticky sound as its lungs collapsed and expanded rapidly, trying to moan for help. Neville raced to the beast and brough the butt of his weapon down with a crunching noise that made him shiver reflexively.
He sighted the weapon again quickly, and he was right. Two or three others were moving down the central aisle, as of yet unaware of him but gaining steadily. As he moved into the light near the exits a cacophony of moans chased from inside. Another thunderclap had no effect whatsoever on the dogs or Neville as they sprinted at full speed through the courtyard. Robert only looked back once before he disappeared into the alley, the pearly flesh of Flood emerging from the blackness in discordant droves; none of which seemed to be able to sense him through the downpour.
The dogs dashed in a unanimous leap through the door and sulked quickly to make themselves as small as possible in the seats. Robert jammed the rifle into its holster between his seat and the vehicle's rear section and made a one legged jump into the seat. His palm slammed the emergency shut button and the heavy metal panels crashed into position before locking with a series of resounding metallic thuds. The warthog's engine was barely audible in the rain as it seemingly battled God himself for most jarring noise. In a flurry of motion he slipped the beast into reverse and bulled into the side of a sports car. He slipped the vehicle into first gear and it's large rubber wheels slipped once and then dug into the asphalt. It bucked forward and he weaved his way as quickly as possible through the vehicles, only slowing as he came to the outskirts of town.
In reality, he was as close to completely safe as possible in the armored beast. At three metric tons base the Flood would never be able to flip it, but in his even heavier up-armored version that was even more of a mute point. But close to completely safe was not completely safe to Robert, and his muscles were tensed involuntarily as he headed home. Image enhancement equipment- a mix of infrared, sonographic, and thermal scanning devices- fed him a display almost completely devoid of rain.
The warthog slid to a halt as the fiery red-white flare of engines crossed overhead. A friend-or-foe identifier encapsulated the distant object and classified it almost immediately as the communications suite automatically attempted an uplink. It returned a response almost immediately: UNSC Lancet, Chirpotera Class Stealth Prowler- Decommissioned January 21st, 2513- Crew 4. It streaked onward, descending rapidly in the distance at what could only be the city's air hub. Almost as quickly as the FOF ping had returned the information the computer lost it. Goddamnit.
He looked at the dogs and then outside. The warthog slipped back into first gear and began a slow creep forward. Robert cursed himself for what would probably get him killed. He turned the wheels right, down the highway linking the city with its airport, and gunned it. No rest for the wicked, he mused.