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Whispers of the Fallen: Chapter 7- Father Wounds
Posted By: Pwnocchio<envydryisland@aol.com>
Date: 3 November 2006, 6:39 am

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Chapter 7: Father Wounds

      John arrived in the communications room to find chaos. Uniformed men and women were rushing here and there, comparing data read-outs, calling out questions, spilling cups of coffee. The Master Chief, still armorless, had to be careful not ro run anyone over as he navigated through computer monitors and desks. A few in the room glanced up at him as he took giant steps past their workstations, but he didn't pay them any mind. He was used to the stares. And right now, there were other, more important things on his mind. What had the Spartans run into on Onyx? Why would the Covenant be all the way out there, when their battle for the Great Journey was happening here, on Earth? Nothing made sense to him right now. In the central chamber, Lord Hood stood defiantly, barking orders.

      "Kazowski get that transmission back online or so help me god-" he was shouting as the Spartan made his way towards him. On the far wall, an image of static hung transposed, illuminating the room with its white tones. "What happened?!"

      "I don't know, sir," a young man answered. "It just went down all of a sudden, I don't think-"

      "Son, I don't care what you think!" The Fleet Admiral exclaimed. "We need that transmission, and we needed it fifty seconds ago!"

      "Yes, sir!"

      John glanced around the room just as he reached the superior officer, noting several high-ranking officials lined along the back walls. Some of them were military, including Fleet Admiral Harper, Admiral Stanforth, Major General Nicolas Strauss, and others, but he spotted a few uniforms with no insignia or rank of any kind- ONI representatives. Most curiously, though, he saw someone he once believed to be dead, until about a month previous- CPO Mendez, the man who fathered the Spartans. Many had assumed that he died when Reach was attacked, yet here he was. He made brief eye contact with John, his old eyes sagging as he stood at attention. The petty officer examined the elderly man, trying to decipher his emotions- did a man like CPO Mendez care about what happened to his friends? Had he shed tears over the Spartans at Reach? Next to him stood none other than Catherine Elizabeth Halsey, jotting down notes and occasionally glancing in his direction. He clenched his fists slightly at her presence- she had arrived just a week or so ago, with Kelly nowhere in sight. Everyone seemed to have forgotten that she left them on the Gettysburg-Justice with no indication as to her heading. She also stole a UNSC vessel and drugged a Spartan. But then again, they were all just tools, weren't they? Tools to win the war.

      "What's wrong, sir?" John asked in a whisper as he came to a stop next to Lord Hood.

      "Spartan-104 made brief contact with us just moments ago, before I called you," the man explained. "He requested to speak to you."

      Fred, John's second in command. The two of them had fought through more than 100 campaigns together, had lost many friends together. He remembered spending days at a time in the woods with Fred during childhood, the two of them teammates in a survival game designed by CPO Mendez, having nothing to call their own but their wits. Communicating primarily through hand signals, the two young boys had come out as the winning pair on more than one occasion. And now he was in trouble... The Master Chief wished with everything in him that he could be there to help.

      "Did he explain his situation, sir?"

      Lord Hood sighed audibly. "Not good, I'm afraid- that's the best we could tell."

      "Sir," Master Chief began, turning to face him silently. "Do you mind me asking what is on Onyx that is important enough to send three Spartans?"

      The commander returned his gaze, looking him over with a quiet intensity. "I wish I knew."

      John stared at him intently, flabbergasted. "Excuse me, sir?"

      "John," Lord Hood whispered. "I don't even know who authorized the mission." His eyes lifted to meet John's then, a look of concern and- worry? He had never seen him like this. John was just about to ask him a follow up question when the static roared to life, the blurry image of a Spartan filling its screen.

      "This is... 104.... do... copy? Ov.." John recognized Fred's voice, certainly not panicked, but worried all the same. And that was when he knew- something had gone terribly wrong.

      "Spartan-104, this is Lord Hood, what is your situation?"

      More static filled the speakers, booming throughout the room eerily. John winced as it cut through the air. "...dead.... All dead... Too strong... seen anything... Not Cove..all dead."

      "Who's all dead?" Lord Hood demanded as he slammed his fist on the table. He grit his teeth with frustration. "Can somebody fix this damn signal?!"

      "Tell one-one-seve... tell John... we're... we're...We...come..."

      Several sounds came from off camera then, and the screen grew blurry and frenzied with activity. John listened in horror as the sound of gunshots and screaming filled the air. "They found us!" someone bellowed. He knew that voice- Linda. Three consecutive sniper rifle shots could be heard, one after another, as the video cut in and out from the transmission. Suddenly, a large moving object seemed to collide with the viewer, and the camera, attached to Fred's helmet, tilted and collapsed to the ground, leaving the world to be witnessed upside down. John could make out the dark red pool of blood as it slid around the floor, flowing with heavy viscosity. His stomach wrenched as the sound of more gunfire could be heard. Fred had died. And Linda would be next.

      "They're dead, John," Lord Hood said, half to himself, his face colored with shock. "I'm sorry, John, they're all dead."

      Master Chief stared at the screen as the static grew heavy like snow, listened to the screams and the sounds of a frenetic battle. It would all be over soon. He couldn't pull his eyes away, as much as he wanted to. He had already lost Linda once before. His sweaty palms gripped the railing in front of him, and he felt it bend substantially beneath his grasp while his face maintained a deceptive calm. He felt like he was going to throw up from it. The rest of the room had grown disturbingly quiet. Every eye was watching him, evaluating him.

      Suddenly, a Spartan visor came into view, sparks erupting from the helmet, as well as blood. Linda. The video continued to cut in and out of the transmission. "C...O.... dez... The mission was.... C... dez..."

      "Dammit, fix this signal!" Lord Hood screamed.

      "Found it, sir!" a young man responded. "It's being jammed, sir."

      "Jammed? From where?"

      The soldier took a gulp before speaking again. "Here, sir... inside of Cradle." If the room had been quiet just a moment before, it was the complete opposite now. Heads were turning, and voices rose. He continued to pound away at his keyboard, sweat pouring from his forehead. "Wait, I found it- isolating the frequency- there! It's disabled!"

      As if on cue, the video screen cleared up abruptly, and the audio came through with amazing clarity and distinction. As the words hit his ears, John felt like his heart would beat right ouf of his chest. "The mission was authorized by CPO Mendez!" As she spoke, a large shadow loomed across her visor. She glanced up slowly, and then the transmission ended, a flashing white light left in its place. All eyes turned to the back of the room, including John's. Everything had happened so fast. He was able to just catch a glance of Dr. Halsey being shoved over the railing as the CPO exited the communcation hub, throwing the door open wide as he ran.

      Master Chief immediately broke into a sprint, shouting as he threw himself over a desk, hurling his body over the divisive metal railing and through the door. His massive frame turned over tables and chairs, ripped the door from its hinges as he pounded against it. Rage and confusion clouded his senses, but not his judgment. He would not kill CPO Mendez when he found him, no. But he would get the answers he needed.

      "Spartan, halt!" Lord Hood ordered above the rabble inside, but it was too late. The soldier took off down the hall, covering large distances with each stride as he bore down on Mendez. The old man was incredibly quick for his age. Barefoot, he could hear his elongated feet slapping against the concrete and metal that layered Cradle with each step, could feel it pounding in his bones. Behind him, a few footsteps started to emerge from the communications room, but they were too far behind to be relevant. Ahead, CPO Mendez quickly threw himself against a blast door on the right hand side of the hallway, obtaining his M6D from his holster as he entered. He fired several rounds in John's direction, who promptly threw himself to the floor to avoid the shots. He heard the sound of bullets dancing from the walls, of a man screaming as one of them passed through his body.

      Stealing a look down the dark corridor, he cursed silently as he saw others tending to the wounded soldier. So many lives lost during this damnable war. So many senseless lives lost. He was immediately on his feet again, rushing over to the door that Mendez had just entered. John let out a hushed breath as he saw the markings on the steel entrance. "Medical Bay, Division 1-A". This was Cassandra's wing. He pressed the button that granted him access, making sure to unholster his own sidearm, the M6C magnum, as he entered in a low crouch, gun held before him tightly with both hands. He peered around the corner of the Medical bay, noted the lab equipment and metallic counters, and stepped inside swiftly, fanning the barrel of the pistol across the room, examining each entrance, each corner, each potential point of ambush. Perched on the balls of his feet, he made his way to the open door on the far eastern wall, his movements completely devoid of unnecessary audible sound. Where had Mendez gone?

      He allowed his weapon to enter before he did, scanning the large surgery wing as he moved inward, noting the trail of wet blood that dotted the linoleum. Ahead, he could hear the faint whimpering of a woman with a hand clamped over her mouth.

      "That's far enough, soldier," CPO Mendez's voice disrupted the silence. Abruptly, the lights flickered to life, illuminating the expansive operating room. Against the corner stood CPO Mendez, one arm wrapped around Cassandra's neck, pressing her back against his chest, a combat knife pushed tightly to her throat. The other arm held his M6D square in John's direction. John stopped immediately, his sights setting on Mendez's forehead. From this distance, he had little room to miss... Now that the lights were on, he could make out a pool of blood on Cassandra's lab coat. Her eyes held no fear, but the cool of a trained Spartan. Apparently, Mendez had made sure to injure her to keep her from disarming him while he held her so. It seemed tactically to be the best he could offer- after all, the CPO was quite old. "I know what you're thinking, 117, and it's foolhardy." His gruff voice still sounded the same after all these years. Could this really be the same man that taught him everything he knew, holding a former Spartan hostage?

      "Not if I don't miss, sir," Master Chief added, with a hiss. "Cass- are you ok?"

      She nodded. "I've been stabbed twice, to keep me less mobile- I'm losing blood quickly, but I'll be fine if I get prompt medical attention," she reported, her voice steady. "Also, he has placed a small charge to my back... If we break contact, I believe it will detonate." John felt his stomach flutter, but didn't allow his aim to falter.

      "Always the best at assessing a situation," CPO Mendez said. His eyes were wide like a madman's, and perspiration soaked his face. He looked deserpate, animalistic. "I'm surprised she felt me arm the charge. They say you should always have a backup plan."

      "Have you lost your mind, Mendez?" a voice called from the western entrance as Lord Hood appeared, walking tall. John grit his teeth- the man carried no weapon of any kind. "What is the meaning of this?"

      John took a few steps closer, to which the CPO adjusted for by pivoting his body so that Cassandra was in the Spartan's sights, and now Lord Hood had a gun pointed at him, from merely a few meters away. "Careful there, Master Chief," he said. "You don't want to be responsible for Lord Hood's death."

      "What has gotten into you?" Lord Hood repeated. "Let's talk about this, son." The two men stared at one another, while Cassandra continued to watch John as he made his way nearer. "I'm sure that you can explain whatever has gotten all of us into this mess."

      "I'm just protecting my family," CPO Mendez said. "My granddaughter."

      "From who?" Lord Hood asked. "What is going on, Mendez? We both know this isn't like you. The Civilians are safe under HIGHCOM- Bravo 6, you know that."

      "No one's safe anymore, I'm afraid," CPO Mendez replied. John was attempting to circle around behind him while attention was diverted, placing a metal countertop between he and Mendez. Just a few more steps...

      "Has someone threatened you? Who?"

      "Nobody can stop what's already started... I'm sorry," he said, and John watched in horror as he stepped away from Cassandra. She was staring straight at him. Her mouth tried to form words, but quivered instead.

      "No!" John heard himself shout as the explosion ripped through the surgical bay, throwing the metal counters against him. They toppled over his body, and launched him backwards into the wall. A dead ringing filled his ears as he struggled to his feet, the scar on his abdomen torn open from the force of the detonation of the small charge that CPO Mendez had brought with him. The room seemed to spin inwards on itself. There was almost no trace of Cassandra and Mendez even having been there, and Lord Hood was lying sprawled near the western entrance, his body burned badly, his uniform blackened and shred open. A torrent of medical specialists flooded the room, along with Fleet Admiral Harper, and some of the other top brass. It was hard for John to make out their faces, the way his head was dancing. Cassandra was dead. The Spartans were dead. He felt dead. CPO Mendez, a traitor. How had this happened? What had this war done to them all?

      One of the medical specialists glared at John with tears in her eyes while Lord Hood was examined, moaning loudly as he was rushed into a stretcher. "John, you got too close," he kept whispering.

      "What have you done, Spartan?" Fleet Admiral Harper said, his eyes like drills.

      "Sir, I-"

      "You are dismissed. That's an order."

      Master Chief let his pistol fall from his hand as he exited the room, leaving Cassandra and the only fathers he knew behind him. During his departure, nobody seemed to notice the figure in the crowd, watching him go, smiling from ear to ear. His name was Colonel Ackerson.