Whispers of the Fallen: Chapter 2- He's got You and Me, Brother, In His Hands
Posted By: Pwnocchio<firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date: 23 September 2006, 3:55 am
Chapter 2: He's Got You and me Brother, in his Hands
The journey back towards Cradle was long, quiet, and mostly uneventful as Master Chief and Pvt. Michaels raced along the Iraqi countryside in the banged up warthog. The scenery was still somewhat undisturbed by the Covenant occupation. Not that the signs weren't there: torn down buildings, scorched Earth, pieces of Orbital MAC gun wreckage. It was nothing compared to the devastation of Northern Africa, however. Particularly Kenya. Humanity's forces had no idea if it was even standing, or had been burned to the ground. Satellite photos were impossible to receive any longer- the Covenant had long since destroyed them all. And it had been a few weeks since the last recon mission, though he suspected that something drastic was in the works. With Oni and Lord Hood and all of the top brass constantly shut tightly in their meeting room deep within Cradle, it was almost certain. As far as the latest intel had pieced together, the Covenant were still busy digging up whatever it was that they had found out in the desert outisde of Mombasa. Unfortunately, no satellite photos could be obtained to determine what kind of progress was being made. Fortunately, they seemed to be taking their sweet time. He knew just as well as the rest of the UNSC, though, that the hammer had to drop at some point. The final battle for Earth. And the humans were severely outmatched.
Tell one-one-seve... tell John... we're... we're...We...come...
He shook his head to wipe away the fatigue that nagged at his body. How long since he had slept? Two days? He couldn't even keep track anymore. Making note of their position, John cut the wheel sharply to the left, sliding the tires across the grass beneath. UNSC regulations required that all personnel frequently double back and ensure solidarity upon approaching Cradle. Though they were getting close, all necessary precautions would need to be observed to keep the Covenant far, far away from this place.
"What you did back there," Michaels said suddenly, his head propped against the seat, staring up at the bright starry canopy above. "With the brute... I've never seen anything like that."
"Like what?" The Chief continued driving, giving the hog a little more gas.
"The way you fought it... I thought we were dead. You fought like an animal. Just to save me." Michaels peered towards the Tigris River in the east, flowing gently. "Thanks, is what I'm trying to say."
The Chief merely nodded, even though Michaels had it wrong. He hadn't fought like an animal. He fought like a demon.
I freed myself from bondage. Why can't you?
The dream was the same as always. John was back on High Charity, watching the Forerunner vessel carrying the Prophet of Truth jump through slipspace- heading to Earth. Except, there was no Covenant War surrounding him. No elites and brutes murdering one another in the halls. No organic growth from the Flood covering the walls like a fungus. It was eerily quiet. The hum of the large floating city resonated throughout the purple metallic hallways, almost like it was alive, like it had a pulse. John turned to stare at the large vaulted ceilings, the alien archictecture ominous and forboding. It was almost holy.
And then, the voice. Deep and guttural, it sounded the way a mountain might, if stone could talk.
"Who is it that darkens my counsel with words without knowledge?"
It was coming from down the hallway. John crept froward slowly, minding the sound of his MJOLNIR armor's boots clanging against the material beneath him. In the distance, he could make out a faint light, with a Covenant blast door opening and shutting, like something was keeping it wedged open. He followed the hollow, heavy breathing noises emanating from the room beyond.
"From where have you come?"
"From roaming the universe, and going back and forth in it," a female voice responded. He recognized that voice. It too, had a more hollow resonance than it typically did. Cortana- here? That was right. He had left her on High Charity. His memory was fuzzy, for some reason. The closer he got to the light, the harder he found it to concentrate. He could just make out the edge of a tentacle keeping the blast door from shutting fully. It roamed the floor, sweeping to and fro, as if searching for something. John continued forward. With each increasing step, the voices grew more distorted, harder to understand. Like they were speaking another language. He grasped his head, which was pounding now, and fell to his knees. He had to make it to that room. He had to hear what they were saying.
Suddenly, the searching tentacle found his arm, and pain shot through his entire body. It yanked him forward, underneath the blast door, and his whole world spun, his vision a blurry haze. The pain of the tentacle wrapped around him was unbearable.
"Have you considered my servant..." one of the figures asked. He couldn't tell who the voice belonged to. The unnerving pain continued to make him dizzy, made him want to scream. More unsettling was the fact that even though he couldn't quite make out her face, he could have sworn that Cortana was smiling down at him, a white glaze covering her eyes...
John sat up in bed, sweat running from his body like rain on a windshield. He quickly leapt to his feet, retrieving the M6D tucked between his sheets, whipping it across his field of vision. He felt a chill run across his arm- a fast glance made him realize that he was not in his MJOLNIR armor. Where was he? Suddenly, it started making sense to him, as the fog of sleep faded. Empty bunk beds. He was back in Cradle. What had he dreamed about? Cortana. High Charity. Gravemind. Somehow his dreams were consumed with these three. As if someone were trying to send him a message...
Have you considered my servant...
"Rise and shine, buttercup," a voice called out from the darkness. The Chief raised his sidearm, making out the small outline of a man. He knew the voice before he even traced the man's face with his eyes through the darkness.
"You shouldn't spook a Spartan like that," Master Chief told him, tucking the pistol underneath his mattress. "You might get spooked back.. Sergeant Major Johnson." They had fought many battles alongside one another, some too hair-raising to even recall. The man was a hardened veteran, one of the few people left in this war that the petty officer had tremendous respect for. He had a way of rallying men to fight, against any and all odds. Many of the soldiers half believed that Johnson would put a bullet in them himself if he got the chance. Just a few weeks prior, the Sergeant Major had returned with Miranda Keyes and the Arbiter, the trio full of secrets and sideways glances. Much of those last few weeks had been spent locked in a room with Oni and Lord Hood. He couldn't put his finger on it, but something was different about the way the three of them acted together upon their return- like they were hiding something. And not just from him. From everyone. Yes, something was different. And it wasn't just his rank.
"I forget that you bastards can see in the dark," the Sgt. Mjr. said gruffly, lighting a match that illuminated his hard visage. The Chief wasn't surprised at all to see a cigar already in his mouth. "Heard you had a nice joy ride." He cupped his hands and lit it, puffs of smoke escaping his chapped lips.
"Is that so? Michaels been talking?"
"Talking? Ha!" Johnson groaned. "You're like Jesus Christ to him right now. Or Muhammed. Way I heard it, you took on a platoon of brutes mano y mano, and fed them their own ghosts." He took a few steps towards the Chief, his UNSC boots clicking against the tile floor. "Quite a story."
"I never liked stories," John answered, stretching his tired muscles. How long had he been asleep? "Where is everybody?"
"I must admit, when I heard him tell it, I thought to myself, that can't be Spartan 117 he's talking about. We know each other. We're like this." He held up a pair of crossed fingers for emphasis. "No, that can't be true. But since you're the only Spartan I know of..." The Chief sharply inhaled, clenching his fists at that last bit. Johnson's tone had changed. He was standing directly in front of John now. "So tell me, Master Chief- how can that be?"
"It was an exaggeration," The Chief sighed, his shoulders sagging. There was a painful ache in his shoulderblade from wrestling with the Covenant earlier. His fists were still clenched tightly. "Michaels was just grateful, is all. It was just one brute."
"That don't make you any less of a damn fool for doing it." He said the words flatly and with all seriousness. The Sergeant Major took a long, slow drag from his cigar, breathing a large puff of wispy smoke towards the Spartan. It was the only sound in the elongated, empty room.
"I don't care to do anything, Chief," Johnson interrupted. Furrowing his dark brow, he pulled the cigar from his mouth. "Where was your weapon, soldier?"
"There was no time- it was going to kill Michaels."
Johnson laughed sarcastically. "Oh, was it? That bastard might have killed you too, attacking it like you did. What in the hell kind of sense is that?" He sighed and took another puff from his cigar. "Why would you even do something so stupid? Your job is to live, Master Chief. To give this raggidy ass army some hope, for a change." The Chief had never seen him like this. "And there's no way in hell that you risk that all for one measly sniveling Private. You hear me? No way in hell!" He slammed his foot for emphasis, his breathing ragged.
"With all due respect," John began. "I don't think you have any place telling me about the importance of one life, Sergeant Major."
"Is that so?" Johnson asked quietly. "Listen, John, I know you lost your sp-" The Chief's hand was around his throat before he even finished, slamming his much smaller frame against the wall behind them. He lifted Johnson's face up to his eye level, staring intently, his muscles barely straining.
They all died on Onyx, John. I'm sorry. They're all dead.
"Don't finish that sentence, Sergeant Major," the Spartan said, as calmly as he could muster. Johnson barely made a move underneath his crushing grip, letting his body hang limply, suspended above the floor. "One word, Johnson. One word and I can have ONI testing you like a lab rat. Don't even talk to me about the importance of life. I've risked a lot for you."
"Didn't figure you to be the vengeful type," Johnson muttered, his hands clamped to the Chief's muscular arm. "One word, huh? And what would that be?"
"Borens," the Chief whispered. He was surprised to see the Sergeant Major's eyes widen, ever so slightly. "It's the reason the Flood don't like the taste of you. ONI doesn't know, because I didn't tell them. You want to lecture me about the importance of one life? What will it be, sir? Your life, or everyone else's?" He let him drop to the floor then, and turned away, taking long strides towards the doors at the end of the room. He could hear his friend sputtering for breath as he writhed on the floor.
"Chief!" the Sergeant called out, just before he reached the door. Turning to look at him, John stopped. He was already on his feet again. "You asked where everybody was, earlier. I thought you should know- we've been debriefed. In two days, we move out."
"Move out for what?"
"You really have gone stupid, son," the officer grunted. He walked towards the Chief and strode past him, exiting the doors. "The final battle for Earth, Spartan. Oh, and one other thing- you ever do anything like that to me again, and I'll kill you, supersuit or otherwise." John was left alone in the darkness as he walked away, his bootsteps growing more faint upon each passing step.
Don't make a girl a promise if you know you can't keep it.