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Whispers of the Fallen: Chapter 4- And What do They Call You- Wheels?
Posted By: Pwnocchio<envydryisland@aol.com>
Date: 11 October 2006, 6:29 am

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Chapter 4: And What do They Call You- Wheels?

      Dr. Catherine Halsey watched as the Arbiter dodged blow after blow from the group of marines training in the artificially lit stone courtyard. She could hear their feet scuffling on pebbles, hear each grunt and groan as another punch missed the intended target. The Arbiter made little noise at all, using his elongated arms to swiftly parry, block, and thrust aside each vicious attack that came his way. It didn't require much effort on his part- he looked like a giant playing with infants. These soldiers were outmatched, yet none of them knew it. Or perhaps they did, she mused. Perhaps they all did.

      It had started out as a simple briefing. Segeant Major Johnson suggested that these men listen to the Arbiter's words, that they be trained in Covenant tactics for the battle that was to come on the morrow. At first, it had seemed a good idea. At first. Over the course of a half hour, the lecture gradually degenerated into combat, of all things. The elite, being a creature of considerable pride, could not suffer the snide remarks and boastful nature of Earth's forces towards his kind, and eventually, a challenge was issued. The first challenge consisted of live ammunition against the former Covenant soldier and his camouflage generator The alien had made swift work of his opponents, disarming each of them with ease. The next challenge subtracted the generator from the equation. Success again for the Arbiter. After that, one of the more beefy, less intelligent soldiers claimed that he had killed an elite with his bare hands once. The Arbiter called him to task- that same man left the courtyard with a severe concussion. Standing up for their fellow fighter, the other five had engaged in a humanitarian effort to attack the Arbiter headlong. It was a futile attempt, to say the least, and that was putting it nicely. He was merely toying with them. If she didn't know better, she would even go as far as to say he was enjoying it. Old habits died hard, it seemed.

      The mother of the Spartans watched from a bench along the edge of the courtyard, jotting down thoughts into her notepad. This Arbiter, the so-called hand of the Prophets, was truly a remarkable warrior. Btrus Dekamee, he had called himself, when she asked him his name. Deke. Though he didn't seem to approve, Johnson had dubbed the alien that when he realized he couldn't pronounce it. Apparently, Miranda Keyes had done the same. The three of them had been acting awfully strange as of late... She clicked her pen against her teeth, humming a tune to herself as she watched, along with the others who were starting to gather around. By now, a large crowd had formed amidst the pillars and shade. Artificial though it was, the light provided enough heat to want to stay out of it. This place, Cradle, was a marvel to behold, really. It consisted of a massive spider web of underground tunnels that linked most of the world together, completely in secrecy. Oddly, though, the time that Halsey had spied on the records of Cradle's construction dated back to the same year as the start of the Covenant War. Had ONI thought about something this size that far ahead in advance? It was almost like somebody had given them a cheat sheet on how to hide from the Covenant over an extended period of time- and they were following it to the letter. Unless someone had warned them...

      She noticed Spartan 117, John, arms folded across his chest, standing at the eastern most entrance, his vision fixed upon the elite. No doubt studying and analyzing. Not that he needed any additional notes on the matter. He was as good a fighter against the Covenant as any, and far beyond the other soldiers by leaps and bounds. It was a shame that he no longer spoke to her for Kelly's disappearance, but it was probably for the better. He would understand one day the importance of Kelly's sacrifice- it may have saved them all...

      Halsey's attention was thrown off course by the sudden sight of a marine tossed in the air, spinning wildly as he collided with the concrete. Another one followed him, this one somersaulting end-over-end. So the Arbiter was through playing games. Three more soldiers surrounded him, all diving and swinging furious punches in his direction. He grasped the arm of the closest man, lifting him off the ground and tossing him over his head as if he were just a toy.

      "Where is all of your talk now, humans?" she heard him say loudly. "Is it with your friend, in the infirmary?" One of them ran forward, his eyes wide, only to have his effort halted by an albow to the gut. The Arbiter grasped his uniform, throwing him forcefully against the last remaining soldier, sending the two of them tumbling into the stony floor beneath them. Standing silently, the elite seemed satisfied.

      "Are there none left with any words to say?" He turned his gaze to and fro, scanning the crowd. "None left with a boast?" One of the soldiers coughed up blood onto the courtyard, holding his stomach gingerly. "I did not think so. Your battle is tomorrow. There were will be elites amongst the enemy, I regret to say. Yet there will be more than elites. There will be brutes. There will be hunters. There may even be worse." The men shuffled nervously around the walls, glancing at each other with fear. It was so quiet. "You can not view your enemy so foolishly."

      "Yeah, but we've got the Chief!" a lone voice shouted, hidden amongst a sea of faces. All eyes turned towards the Spartan, standing head and shoulders above the rest. He remained resolute, body perfectly frozen in its position. Halsey smirked. He had a way of hiding his emotions beneath that clouded amber visor. She sat up in her seat- this could get interesting.

      "Perhaps your hero, the Demon, would like to demonstrate how best to eliminate a Covenant footsoldier," the Arbiter said following a few moments of pause. His bass voice ehoed throughout the plaza.

      After what seemed like an eternity, the Chief unfolded his arms, and strode into the center of the courtyard. Halsey marveled at his size and stature- somehow, it still seemed to surprise her after all these years. His MJOLNIR armor was startlingly light of foot under his control, barely making a noise as each step brought him through the crowd. The people parted like a pair of doors thrown open, moving to either side to let John pass. A flurry of whispers echoed throughout the once tranquil area, all of the soldiers wondering just what they were about to witness.

      The Chief came to a stop just before the Arbiter, the two standing only a few feet apart. "I thought I would be displaying this tomorrow," the Chief said, which elicited a few chuckles from the audience. "I'm not sure if now's the time."

      "Get him, Chief," someone shouted.

      Dr. Halsey peered intently at the Arbiter's face, watching for any reaction. He was quite the cool customer. It was no wonder he had ranked so highly within the Covenant. "You are wrong," the elite answered. "There is no better time." He began to crouch down into an attack position, bending his knees ever so slightly.

      "What's the meaning of this?" a voice suddenly called from the western doors of the courtyard. Dr. Halsey recognized it as the voice of Lord Hood. The mass of UNSC personnel shifted to let him through, his arms pumping the primitive wheelchair that now carried him. She frowned upon seeing him. It wasn't often that he was seen publicly these days. She wondered just how deeply affected he had been by the accident. The scientist watched as the Earth's Commander wheeled his way to both the Arbiter and the Chief, peering up at them sharply. "Do you two mind explaining what is happening here?"

      "Sorry, sir," Johnson interrupted, stepping into the group. "The Chief and Deke here were going to give these boys a demonstration about Covenant tactics." Halsey noted that John wouldn't make eye contact with Lord Hood. Was there guilt there? Not that she could blame him...

      "Master Chief," Lord Hood said. "You should be saving your energy, and going over our mission plans- you are crucial to our victory. And that goes for everyone else as well!" He turned the wheelchair to face the rest of the troops. "I want you all back down below in the armory, checking the status of weaponry, analyzing topographic maps- there is no more time for idle banter!"

      "Sir yes sir!" the crowd chanted in unison, breaking off to the tasks given to them, some more reluctantly than others.

      "And you," Lord Hood said, staring at John. "Walk with me." He didn't wait for a response to his order, wheeling past the massive Spartan and towards the northern corridor. John glanced at the stone pavement under his feet, then let his gaze follow him as he left.

      "Another time, then," he said, not even looking at the Arbiter as he began to leave, silently following his superior officer.

      Halsey watched with curiosity as the former Covenant commander did not reply. Instead, he and Johnson glanced at one another, nodding slightly as if to indicate that a question of theirs had just been answered.

      "Master Chief," Lord Hood said after they had separated from listening ears. John continued his steady gait beside the commander, glancing about the hallway to make sure that they were clear of any kind of danger. Too many of them had learned the hard way that Cradle wasn't always safe from enemies, a stronghold though it was. Paricularly himself. "Have you noticed anything peculiar as of late?"

      The Spartan weighed the words carefully. Sure he had. He noticed that the chain of command seemed severed at best, completely at each other's throats at worst. He saw that their forces had dwindled dramatically. He knew that Cradle's vast network of underground tunnels reached all the way to Kenya, Asia, and even parts of the Americas, and somehow the Covenant had not found it. Yes, all of these things could be considered peculiar. Instead of saying that, though, he answered differently. "Not that I can speak of, sir."

      "I see," Lord Hood said. "What would you say if I told you that I wasn't sure I could trust everyone in Cradle." He came to a jarring halt, angling the front of his chair directly in John's path. The soldier stopped too, looking down towards the older man.

      "I would ask you what you meant, sir," the Master Chief responded. Lord Hood had a look on his face that was all seriousness. What was he getting at?

      "I meant it exactly as I said it, Chief." He peered to the left and right, making certain that they were in the clear. "Let me cut to the chase- I have reason to believe that Johnson, Keyes, and the Arbiter are up to something- something with betrayal written all over it."

      The Chief was shocked. Could it be? Sure, the trio had been spending a lot of time together, but traitors to Earth? It didn't seem to fit. However, he did notice recently that they had been whispering together in the mess hall, and would often show up late for debriefings. He had even heard rumors that Johnson and the Arbiter were spotted entering Miranda's chambers on occasion. Perhaps they were all just being paranoid about this. Still, it didn't hurt to be cautious. Not after what happened to CPO Mendez... "Sir, why are you telling me this?"

      "Let's just say that a bird has told me that whatever they're planning," Lord Hood began. "They're going to excute it soon. Maybe even before tomorrow. I want you to keep an eye on them for me."

      Master Chief nodded, unsure of what to say. He had never, in all of his years of service, been asked to spy on fellow soldiers. Something about it felt off to him.

      "And how do you want me to approach the situation if they are indeed traitors, sir?"

      The commander sighed, turning his chair to face back towards the courtyard. He brought the contraption to life, moving his arms in solid fluid motions to turn the wheels.

      "Treat them like the Covenant," he called over his shoulder. "Eliminate them."