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Here Rest thy Bones
Posted By: Nosolee<crugg2005@gmail.com>
Date: 10 September 2010, 12:42 am

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It's been 7 years, 4 months, and some number of days since I first posted a story here. And far, far too long since I've posted my last. The impending release of a new title in the Halo series, however, is my siren's call back home to HBO. Recent information concerning Reach coupled with ennui in the office has lead my imagination to stray, and during those pockets of free time that occasionally emerge I've returned to writing. I hope, for the sake of your enjoyment, that I've learned something of value in those years I've been absent. Any comments at all are greatly appreciated and, as always, thanks for readin'.

Here rest thy bones in rich Hesperia's plains;
      Thy name ('tis all a ghost can have) remains.

                  -Virgil's Aeneid VII, as translated by John Dryden

0500 Hours
04 September 2552 (Military Calendar)
Hesperia Spaceport, Outskirts of the Hesperian Metropolis,
Circumstance, εEridani System

      The faintest hint of Dawn's arrival illuminated Nimrod, Ephialtes and Antaeus' triple peaks, Circumstance's tallest mountains. That steady glow—with the slight promise of hope brought by morning—seemed to tease and tantalize the weary and worrisome faces gathered in anticipation along the broad and immensely long landing strip. Simmering red-fluorescent flare-lights winked in automated unison along the sides and up the middle of the long, broad pad that seemed to stretch through vast, empty fields as far as the umbrous chained mountains. Aside from these soft, artificial lights and the orange-yellow of the far off, rising star, no light existed over Hesperia at this early hour. The sky bore the heavy, navy blue hue that marked night's transition to morning; the darkest recesses of which were visibly dotted by stars.

      Not more than two hours ago did planetside command receive word that the UNSC frigate, Ars Legis, had reentered orbit. Christened after Circumstance's famous courts of justice, the Ars Legis—or "Art of Law," as the name translated from the Latin—was one of several in-system ships summoned to defend Reach. It appeared to be the only ship dispatched with the Circumstance Defense Battle Group to be returning.

      Prior to the ship's arrival, no one on Circumstance knew for certain what had transpired on Reach. Once the order was received for all defense forces stationed in the Epsilon Eridani system to rendezvous immediately at Reach, no other communication came out of the stronghold. Rumors abound, alarms for evacuation were raised, but panic did not spread as it often had across other worlds in the vicinity of danger. This was Circumstance. This was a bastion of civilization.

      With the appearance of the Ars Legis, however, their deepest fears were swiftly confirmed. No messages came from the ship, its communication equipment sustained heavy damage during battle. Some speculated that no aboard on the ship remained alive; that it had just appeared in orbit following an automated jump sequence. At 0400 hours, one hour following the frigate's arrival, however, several bruised Pelican dropships touched down, unloading a multitude of wounded before heading back up into the atmosphere to retrieve more. Among this group of horrifically injured individuals—soldier and civilian alike— one medical officer, eyes shallow and dark, hair missing from blackened patches on his head, took a moment to turn to the surrounding crowd and utter from an insatiably dry mouth:

      Reach is gone. Glassed. Everyone is dead.

      Indeed, even those souls disembarking from the dropships, pushed on gurneys, squirming to survive, could hardly be described as living. No, they formed the very portrait of Death and all his sordid glory; this medic unwittingly appeared as his messenger.

      In the hour following that dreaded announcement a horde of emergency vehicles and personnel, as well as throngs of worried, grieving civilians, had gathered along the edges of the landing strip. Officials hadn't anticipated such a strong civilian presence at this early hour, but word of the fall of Reach spread quickly. And so they amassed, waiting restlessly for the arrival of the Ars Legis itself.

      Hector is slain. Troy's destruction is imminent… Such was, at least, the manner in which Professor Raymond Babbington contextualized the disaster as he stood there, waiting with the thousands of others. Champion of the Classics, doctor of dead languages, amateur archaeologist, Babbington consoled himself by situating such inhuman horror in the familiarity of ancient epic poetry.

How many on Reach? Two? Three-hundred million? Babbington pondered, his already wrinkled brow furrowed along its familiar creases.

      "Seven-hundred million." The Professor overheard one voice in the crowd say to another. Everyone is dead. Mulling over this number, poetry no longer came to console Babbington. Out of all those individuals, only one needed to be aboard the Ars Legis.

      He can't be dead. If he's dead…she'll be devastated, refusing to pursue this thought, Babbington's mind declined imagining how distraught he'd be if his nephew did not come off that ship. Having left with Circumstance's privately armed forces, concealed in armor like a Centurion of old, James Pons was the closest thing the old Professor had left to a son.

      Babbington waited, staring at the distant, giant mountains revealing themselves ever more as Dawn crept slowly over their peaks. So long as even the smallest shred of hope remained that James lived, he would not relent to despair. So many in that crowd already had let themselves go, he heard pockets of muffled sobbing all around him.

      A sonic boom tore the tranquil sky apart . Three Shortsword-class bombers followed by a pair of the larger Longsword Interceptors streaked with a peal of thunder over the landing pad and crowd. Under different circumstances, the flyby would have seemed triumphant, exhilarating even. But no one cheered this early morning. The sight was a morose harbinger of the approaching event. The Ars Legis would arrive and a few families would be reunited and relieved. Most, however, would wait and wait on that landing pad until they were forced to accept the horrid truth—those they cherished were not coming home.

      Four pelicans, having departed from the frigate in space, also flew overhead ferrying more wounded. They did not stop this time at the landing pad but headed straight for the university hospitals in Hesperia. They will be very well treated there. This is Circumstance, Babbington thought. Indeed, this particular colony and its capital city, Hesperia, boasted some of the most renowned heath centers in all of human space. The planet's universities held medical resources that even rivaled Earth's; and they trained some of the best doctors dispatched throughout the colonies, or what remained of them.

      Can any doctor, however well trained, truly cure what these souls have witnessed? Babbington wondered as he flattened the wispy white hair on the back of his skull with the aging, fragile fingers of his left hand. No, he concluded, no cure will ever come about that can heal the wound of observing the genocide of 700 million. The human mind cannot fathom such evil, no matter what progress we achieve. All the while thinking, Babbington focused on a figure in the distance about the mountains that started as a small dot in the sky and had rapidly grown into a recognizable form. The Ars Legis was swift on approach.

      The roar of the frigate's engines blasted through the silent morning air and a tidal wave of wind washed over the fretting crowd as the ship approached. It was not until the vessel crept toward the crowd, hovering low above the landing pad, that all could truly see firsthand how viciously the Ars Legis had suffered. Scarcely did a plate of armor remain unscathed or retain its amber coloration. The hull resembled more a tattered cloth than titanium armor, pockmarked with black holes revealing the damage of internal fires, and bleach-white punctures from plasma impacts. Babbington wondered how many had died from these breaches, sucked out suddenly into the abyss when the energy weapons melted the ships casing. The thought that James could have been among them briefly tortured his mind, that his nephew hadn't even set foot on Reach and died, choked in space.

      Or had he been vaporized on the ground? Set aflame by plasma from their ships? Shot? Run through by an energy blade? All of these were equally appalling and each tormented Babbington with their images as he stared at the behemoth floating above the landing strip, the battered MAC cannon cast a shadow above the Professors head. Stirred by the sight of this pitiful vessel, the sobs in the crowd had grown now, of mothers and daughters, sisters, fathers, sons and brothers. What hope remained that this ship bore the persons for whom they waited?

      It's Charon who pilots this ship, Charon. Filthy from the waters of Acheron, Babbington thought. As if in response to this conclusion, the captain's voice emerged from damaged speakers hidden on the ship. Horse, laden with a French accent and perhaps even guilt, the voice spoke:

      "This is Captain Gustave Lefevre of the UNSCCDF Ars Legis. I…we have returned from Reach with some…bad news. He paused, all could hear him clear his throat for a moment, perhaps choking back a wall of tears, The fleet has suffered a cata…, another pause. Tears had indeed started stinging and clouding the captains eyes, though no one staring at the ship could see his misery. A catastrophic defeat at Reach, his voice broke upon naming the planet. Silence from the ship ensued, though the crowd now wailed openly in anguish. Any in denial of the medic's earlier announcement now relented to despair. Some remained silent, in shock at the gravity of the situation. Captain Lefevre began again:

      "We have…many wounded, some of whom you may know. I must ask that you please, please do not interfere with our efforts to get them to care. Many require immediate medical attention and… Babbington no longer listened to the captain's, voice. His ears had tuned in to the whimpers of a woman next to him, her face buried in the shoulder of her husband, "My baby," her muffled sobs repeated, "My baby."

      Babbington's right hand was tightly clutched over his mouth, part nervous mannerism, part levy for the imminent deluge of tears. In all 58 years of the Professor's life he had only once broken down and conceded to misery. Andrew, his only child, had left on campaign nine years prior as an ensign to fight in the Psi Serpentis System. The ship upon which he served, Agincourt, never returned. Babbington's brother-in-law, James's father, also passed the same year.

      "…again, please do not interfere with the emergency vehicles," the Captain croaked in his accented English as Babbington tuned in once more to his announcements. "They are being lowered and must make it to the hospitals in Hesperia without any delay." Having arrived before most others, the Professor was able to watch from the front of the crowd as three large panels creakily lowered from the frigate's hangar. Instead of producing tanks and tools of war as was accustomed, the Ars Legis gave birth to a bloody mass of wounded.

      Packet onto the backs of turret-less warthogs and other vehicles, the dying let loose moans and screaming, the more strained of which were audible above the engines' roar. The transports quickly sped by Babbington, who was unable to catch sight of any one individual face. All were a mush of armored browns and greens and bloody reds. Many soldiers who could not fit into one of the vehicles but were still able to stand had also descended from the bowels of the frigate. After stepping off the platform they milled about, almost like infants, as if confused of where they were and what to do next. The flashing emergency vehicles that were waiting along the landing pad all morning rushed toward them. Babbington strained and strained his lanky figure upward and squinted through his round glasses, hoping against to see one familiar face. Just one.

Could it be true?

      The flashing emergency lights obscured his vision, casting irregular illumination that shone too brightly at this early dawn. But Babbington persisted. Could it be true? For a moment, the Professor had caught sight of armor slightly different from the others. He remembered that the privately armed forces wore more expensive, non-standard issue gear and he had seen James depart clad in such armor. The glimpse was more than enough to get him going.

      Brushing aside a wary security official who pleaded for him to stay put, Babbington charged toward the collection of emergency vehicles and standing soldiers as fast as his old legs would allow him, his tawny jacket fluttered behind him.

      "James!" he shouted, "James! James Pons!" the levy broke. Tears filled his nostrils and dampened his cries. Reaching the confused crowd of soldiers, medics and emergency personnel, Babbington froze and ceased his cries. His tears flowed in more bountiful volumes, filling the wrinkled crevasses of his cheeks. He cared not to wipe them.

      And so the young man stood, alive, before Babbington's aging, watery eyes.

      "Hello, N'uncle," the boy said affectionately, cracking a slight, weary smile through a face recently washed of mud. Babbington embraced his nephew, all the while expunging from his mind word by word—first the Latin, then the English—the epitaph he needn't carve:

Here rest thy bones in rich Hesperia's plains;
      Thy name ('tis all a ghost can have) remains.