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Posted By: Mainevent
Date: 30 January 2008, 5:09 am

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      Black coffee, scalding hot so that it burned his tongue and bit the lip through the ceramic. He needed the pain to keep him from endulging his better half. Every fiber within yearned for him to reach one more finger out for just another sip. But he'd have none of that today, not in front of the guests. Who the hell was he kidding? Guests? Four clueless teenagers on the lam choking down the frozen gruel he'd barely managed to suffice on; guests? Close enough, he thought.
      "So who are you running from? And I'm asking in my nice voice this time," Robert said as he sat the cup on the counter.
      "You really have no idea how fucked up it is out there, do you?" Ryan, the de facto leader, asked as he chewed through gristle.
      "With all do respect, I figured it was fucked up enough down here for me. After the third month, they stopped broadcasting to me. I catch the occasional whisper of static once in a great while, but nothing discernable."
      "It's gone man. The whole damn universe just gone right to hell. After the Covenant were gone, the people had nothing to do. All of the ships that'd been used to patrol the outer reaches, you know, the border colonies; they'd all gone back to Earth to defend her. Well, most of those colonists had never exactly sympathised with the UNSC in the first place ya know? Real hotbeds of dissent and whatnot. When the ships left, they started asking who would protect them if the Covenant came, ya know?"
      "Nobody," Robert muttered quietly, listening more.
      "I mean realistically, we all know that the few ships that we could've left around those colonies wouldn't have amounted to a pile of horse shit if the Covenant came; but the people needed that veil of safety. It was like when the pirates were around; they traded right under the UNSC's nose, but the people thought they were safe. So after a while, the people start to realize they don't need the UNSC after all. They're making it on their own, electing their own bosses to run stuff; life goes on ya know? Salutary neglect or some shit.
      "After the whole war is over, people just want to go home. Nobody wants to ship out to some backwater colony when they can go home to their families and get some rest. So the UNSC says fine, and they build a bunch of those tiny Liberty class ships and send only colonial citizen-soldiers back to each colony. "
      Ryan and the others were taking careful bites of their food, not so much because it was godawful- which it was- but more because the group was in a sort of shared trance. Each one remembering back to the past and doing their hardest to remember it clearly.
      "So we started hearing news of inner colony disputes and skirmishes; or so they said. They weren't sure, nobody was sure. We just heard that. But then it goes silent. Earth went silent man," Ryan shook his head vigorously and tapped the fork to the plate, "I mean fucking Earth. The center of our universe, the place everyone had fought so hard to protect...silent. But then it wasn't just Earth, it was all the inner colonies. One after another, like dominos just toppled over like the goddamn hand of god comes crashing down on them."
      "Why'd it go silent?" Robert queried, quickly chastising himself for such a rude and dumb question.
      "Who the fuck knows man? Earth goes silent, Harvest is gone, there is no chain of command anymore. So it leads to murmurs of unrest, some want to take the few ships we have and find out what happened; others, like Fletcher, say we should protect our own house. Tiny signs of smoke were all you could smell and then one day it was full-on insurrection by a few of the outer colonies and their ships. At first, we thought it'd be put down quickly. Anything like this had been before...but that was before. Earth wasn't there to stop it this time.
      "Then it happened. I don't know how, or where from, or why. Some say it was a ship that brought them, some say they just crawled up from the fires of hell. That wasn't our planet, we weren't there to see that. But it spread, and it spread fast. Like it did here. Well guess who comes to the rescue? The Separatists, and their merry band of ships. They didn't save but three hundred refugees from that first planet; but that was all it took. The rest of the colonies either sided one ways or another, and it's been full on civil war ever since."
      "You said the first planet?" Neville asked, suddenly fixated on what he knew had to be the Flood, oblivious to the fall of humanity in what should have been its finest hour. Her hope for a Phoenical rise from the ashes doused just as quickly as they'd started to smolder.
      "They hadn't figured out how it spread at first. They were used to the phyiscal signs, ya know? Those little sucker things. But this was like a seed or a virus or something. At least that's what our doctors eventually figured out."
      "How long ago?"
      "How long ago since what?"
      "Since they figured it out?"
      "I dunno, a year or so. Maybe a year and a half. Back when there were twelve broadcasting colonies."
      Neville sat his cup down and shook his head wearily. He'd warned them nearly four years ago about this, and they'd done nothing. They'd sat on their asses smiling and waving as Death rode in on his great black horse Apocalypse.
      "How many colonies are there now?"
      "None," Patrick finally said in a quiet whisper, "none."
      "Fletcher was nuking all the colonies that showed signs of infection. The fucking lunatic was murdering millions, and when it came down to us defending our own homes or his 'protection'..." There was a lingering silence, the beige tones in the room seemed darker and more foreboding. Even the air itself was suddenly heavier, and Robert felt like he had to take deeper breaths. He knew the answer to the question before he asked it.
      "Your dad was a general?"
      Ryan nodded somberly, keeping his head to his food as muffled sobs came out. Tears ran from under his hand and dripped onto the food, mixing with the greasy puddles already there. One of the girls came over and wrapped her arms around him, whispering in his ear and rubbing his back. Neville longed for that sensation- the warmth of a females touch, but also to be loved or needed by someone again. He felt a warm rush in his head and his lip quivered slightly.
      "It was one Liberty ship against Fletchers twelve, and that man took eight of them down with him." Patrick spoke for his friend, his voice carrying a dignified quietness. "Fletcher swore the last thing he'd ever do is hunt him down for what he'd done."
      "Your father's not dead?" Neville asked confusedly.
      "He died in my arms on that ship. In my fucking arms, telling me that everything would be okay." Ryan bawled with heaving sobs, his chest rising and lowering in shuttering bursts. He gasped for air and kept crying.
      "Fletcher doesn't know he's dead, does he?"
      Patrick's eyes said everything. Fletcher didn't know he was dead, and he was going to finish them off.
      "Well don't worry kid," Robert put a hand on the boy's back, "that dad of yours was right. Everything's gonna be alright."