Whispers of the Fallen: Chapter 1- Ghosts on a Plain
Posted By: Pwnocchio<firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date: 19 September 2006, 3:52 am
Chapter 1: Ghosts on a Plain
Somewhere in Old Iraq, north of Basra...
Spartan-117, the Master Chief, surveyed the arid plains surrounding the Tigris River. It was a surprisingly cool night underneath an expansive, star-filled Iraqi sky, but he only knew that because of his HUD. A gust of wind rustled the dry, cracked grass at his knees. He flexed gloved fingers gripped to the barrel of his battle rifle. How long since he had felt the cool of a breeze against his skin? Months? Years? Certainly not here on Earth- not since the Covenant had arrived. Three months had passed since he had been a stowaway amidst the Covenant fleet, hitching a ride on the ForeRunner ship that carried the Prophet of Truth. Three months. Three whole months spent in hiding, forming scouting parties to assess Covenant strength, scavenging for food, looking for survivors buried in the rubble of toppled buildings. Three months. It was a wonder any of them were still alive.
They're all dead, John. I'm sorry.
"Private?" He asked over his COM, staring at a low-lying cliff that overlooked part of the river valley. Even at this distance and at night, he could still make out the tip of a UNSC Sniper Rifle jutting from behind jagged rocks. The Covenant might still miss it, though. Nothing was certain these days. The aliens had become quite adaptive to human tactics as of late, and were closing in on the Cradle, little by little. It wouldn't be long before they finally calculated its position, and at that point it would be too late. At that point, the last of Earth's defenses would be doomed.
"All quiet on the western front, Chief," the young soldier on the other end responded through the hiss of static, his voice a hushed murmur.
"Technically, that is the eastern front."
"Just a literary reference, sir- you do read literature, don't you? Did they make the Spartans do that?"
The Chief shook his head. "Not that kind of literature, I'm afraid." Behind him, he heard the soft footsteps of two pairs of UNSC issued boots, tiptoeing towards the warthog parked in the brush. Michaels and Riviera had returned from re-filling the canteens. He turned towards them, acknowledging their presence with a brief nod as they climbed in, one in the gunner's spot, and one in the driver's seat. The sound of the Private's radio still filled his ears.
"Roger that, Chief. I'm-" the voice replied before cutting off abruptly. "Wait."
"Private?" the Chief asked quickly. "Private, do you copy?" He stood up to his full height in the tall grass, peering towards the cliff face carefully. Suddenly, a bright purple beam slashed across the plains, angling upwards into the rocks from a location just a few miles south of the Spartan's current position. He hit the ground deftly, shouldering his battle rifle and peering through the scope in one fluid motion. "Private do you copy?" he repeated, but knew it was useless. The man was dead.
"What just happened," Michaels whispered, but the Chief cut him off with a raised fist. He swept the sight of his rifle over the plains thoroughly, searching for a trace of any enemy contacts in the area. And then he spotted them. Three columns of tall grass, falling end over end like God himself had put his fingers down to comb the plains. And they were heading his way. Without saying a word, he signaled towards the two soldiers in the warthog, and they mounted up with appropriate speed. The petty officer flung himself into the passenger's seat by the time that Riviera had brough the engine to life, and they were off, dry grass and leaves crushed under tire and tread.
"This is Spartan-117," he spoke into his COM, keying up a link with Cradle in his HUD. "Cradle Authorization 5-4-5-14, over."
"Go ahead, John," a familiar voice rang inside of his helmet. He still shuddered every time she spoke to him like this. Dr. Halsey sounded too much like Cortana.
"We have identified enemy contacts at our checkpoint," Master Chief began. "We're going dark and leading them east."
"Copy, John," Dr. Halsey said. "And don't do anything... risky, ok?" He cut off the link abruptly. He didn't need to be reminded. It had been a month since Halsey had returned to Earth from parts unknown- without Kelly, Spartan-087. He still remembered standing at attention as Halsey and military personnel emptied the hangar, waiting for his childhood friend to come through the doors with the rest of the entourage. She never came. And he had never forgiven Dr. Halsey for it. Neither had any of the other Spartans, before they left for Onyx.
They're all dead, John. I'm sorry.
"They're gaining on us, Riviera!" Michaels shouted from the gunners seat. From his vantage point, he could make out the positions fairly well, the Chief mused. "I didn't realize the brutes could run this fast!"
"That's because they're not brutes," the Spartan interrupted. "Those are ghosts following us. And that-" he nodded towards the cliff face, left in the distance behind them. Just beyond it, a slight purple haze was reflecting softly against the enveloping black sky. "That is a phantom. With the rest of their party." A sudden grim feeling swept over the other two men. They knew as well as he did, the only options were victory or death- their capture would lead to the destruction of the last of the human race, whose whereabouts must remain hidden at all costs. He heard Riviera mutter a silent prayer under his breath. They would need it.
The air was heavy with the sounds of the whipping wind and the warthog's screams as Riviera pushed it to its limits. While they would eventually have to engage the Covenant contacts, the further the encounter took place from Cradle, the better. John was just waiting for the right terrain, anything at all that would give his men what little advantage they could muster. That would be difficult, though, if the three ghosts were carrying brutes. It was the more likely scenario, unfortunately.
"Three ghosts, though, right?" Michaels shouted over the roar of the jeep, his uniform flapping wildly as he gripped the stationary turret. His pale skin took on a much more sickly tone underneath the harsh moonlight, and his eyes were as wide as dinner plates. "You've blown up, like- hundreds of them, right? Three ghosts should be no problem for a Spartan."
The Spartan, now.
"I didn't fight them all at once," the Chief answered solemnly.
"Oh. Right." Michael nodded sheepishly, and turned back towards the open plains behind. The ghosts were much closer now, tearing apart the dense, overgrown grass as they sped towards their destination. John thought he spotted the glint of a brute helmet, but only for a moment. "They'll catch up with us any minute."
"Affirmative," he said, just as the warthog hopped over a small ditch, freefalling for about half a second before they connected with the earth again. "Stop!" Master Chief ordered. Riviera hesitated, but soon applied pressure to the brakes, slowing them to a halt. The three of them turned, taking in their surroundings. A small rocky wall extended just over the ditch, causing a sudden drop-off in the terrain. On either side of the arch, the land evened out. One of the ghosts would approach from above, and the other two would likely come from the sides. If he could time his moves right... Yes. He could. "This is the place."
"Are you serious?" Riviera wondered aloud.
"Look around, soldier," the petty officer declared as he hopped from the passenger's seat of the vehicle. "This is as clear an advantage as we're liable to get our hands on." He looked at the ten foot rock wall, then back at the hog. "You stopped at a great covering range- good work." Riviera smiled as the Chief started a trot towards the ditch. "Don't miss, though. If this goes wrong, I'll shoot each of you in the head before I manually overload my armor." The soldier's smile faded. The Chief picked up the pace, slinging his battle rifle over his back while he broke into a run for the ditch, which was another sixty feet or so away. He checked his sidearm briefly to make sure that it was amply loaded, before making note of his assortment of grenades. After pulling a Covenant plasma grenade from the compartment on his MJOLNIR armor, he jumped the ditch, and slid into his hiding spot underneath the rock wall.
Above, he could hear the eerie hum of several ghosts, the whine of their engines filling the night skies. He held his breath and leaned his head back against the wall to count the seconds. There was no room for error. Every second they spent in combat here would bring the approaching phantom that much closer. And that was a situation that had no easy solution. Signalling towards Riviera, he motioned with his hands to cover the right side of the ridge, and instructed Michaels to cover the left. Both marines nodded, and in the corner of his HUD, he caught Riviera making the motion of a cross over his forehead and chest. He wondered if the brutes ever did something similar in regards to their Gods, the ForeRunners. Two separate species, offering petitions to invisible gods. The notion made him smirk, oddly enough. The noise caused by the ghosts' rapid approach was louder now, almost right on top of him. He activated the plasma grenade and waited. One, two...
He barely had time to let go of the Covenant device as the first ghost sailed overhead. Sometimes he forgot how fast they were. The alien explosive flashed to life as it left his glove, a tiny blue ball pulsating like a star in an empty universe. It attached itself silently onto the tail of the vehicle, purple metal glinting underneath the grenade's bright blue sheen. Above him, the mammoth brute had no clue that his existence would soon end. At the same time, two ghosts entered Master Chief's peripheral vision on his left and right, hurling themselves towards the stationary UNSC vehicle in the distance. Michaels opened fire, throwing bullet after bullet from the jeep's turret in frenzied succession, peppering the landscape and the ghost with its projectiles. Metal bent and tore under the salvo of gunfire, but the brute pressed onward. Suddenly, the ghost that had been stuck exploded into a fireball of blue plasma, lighting up the Iraqi plains with its irredescent glow. The Chief quickly shouldered his battle rifle, and broke into a sprint across the field. There was no time to waste.
With speed that belied his size, John could cover many meters in a single step, his muscular legs able to propel him great distances. Both brutes were still descending upon the warthog, with much renewed vigor upon seeing a comrade's death. The Chief chose the ghost on his right and ran as fast as he could. Battle rifle bullets danced atop its hull from Riviera's sporadic fire, his shouts barely audible over the sound of Michaels' turret. Across the way, the ghost that had engaged Michaels burst into purple-blue flame as the thick bullets tore apart its wings, as well as the driver. The brute's groans could be heard even over the din of the gunfire, before it toppled over lifelessly. Two down. But it wouldn't be enough. The Spartan could only watch helplessly as the third and final brute, angered by his fellow soldiers' demise, smashed Riviera into the side of the Hog, crushing his midsection in a horrific display of violence.
The ensuing carnage seemed to happen in slow motion. The ghost's collision with the warthog's side armor managed to roll the jeep while simultaneously vaulting the ghost skyward, ejecting the brute from its seat. The flaming wreckage from the first ghost then careened across the open field, torching a path of dry grass as it flipped end-over-end. Michaels barely had time to roll away from the overturned 4 x 4 as both Covenant and human vehicles met in a crunch of metal. He had been too late. The petty officer slid to a stop as he got to the wreckage, helping Michaels to his feet. He appeared to be ok, though slightly shaken.
"Riviera!" The soldier exclaimed, breaking free of the Chief's grasp and rushing around to the other side of the jeep. The two arrived to find a grisly scene, the marine's body torn by the sheer velocity of the ghost that had smashed him open against his own warthog. "Oh my god..." Michaels knelt down, retrieving the man's dog tags.
"Michaels," Master Chief spoke softly. "It's time to move. That phantom-" but he didn't have time to finish his sentence. Against the starry expanse above him, he could make out the shadowy figre of a leaping brute, arms raised, face bloodied, eyes boiling over with rage. The rage that took over when just one brute was left standing. He didn't even have time to raise his battle rifle when it landed just a few feet away, hulking arms swinging in a fury towards Michaels, who was shrinking back in sheer terror. There was no time to think, and the Chief did the first thing that came naturally. He tackled the beast.
The two figures rolled through the dense, tall grass, arms flailing in a desperate grab for control of the entanglement. Luckily, he had caught the brute unaware while its attention was fixed on Michaels. He had to kill this thing before it could roll over and get its hands on him. Were it an elite, the situation would be vastly different- he might actually have a chance of survival. As the two of them landed, John managed to use their momentum to flip the brute over, its face buried against the ground. With one swift manuever, he was back on top, doing his best to pin the enraged alien beneath him. Grabbing a fistful of fur on the back of its head, he slammed its skull repeatedly into the dirt, causing shrieks of rage and pain to erupt from its jowels. All of a sudden, the gargantuan animal thrust a beefy fist into the ground, and bucked the Master Chief from atop him, sending him spinning through the air. He was on his feet again as quick as he had landed, only to find the brute on all fours, charging him with a wild ferocity. He wasn't going to be able to reach his sidearm in time. There was nothing left to do..
They're all dead, John. You're all dead.
Master Chief grit his teeth, growling as he did the one thing that would surprise the brute- he charged straight for him. It hesitated for just a moment as he retrieved his combat knife, lowering his shoulder to smash the creature's face with all of his weight. It moaned in pain, clutching its mouth- a deadly mistake. John forcefully placed a boot into one of the brute's knees, breaking the bone with a satisfying crunch. Without even thinking, he grasped the Covenant soldier's face and deftly slit its throat. He didn't even stop to see if he had finished- he knew that it was dead. He jogged back to Michaels, and made sure to retrieve his battle rifle as he knelt down to turn the jeep back over on its wheels. Luckily, the jeep hadn't caught fire when the two ghosts crashed into it. Michaels stared at him in astonishment.
"You ok?" The phantom was still on its way. Hopefully their skirmish hadn't lasted too long.
"Yeah, I think so," Michaels responded. "What are you doing?"
"Taking us home, Michaels. Taking us home."