0630 HOURS, OCTOBER 17, 2632 (MILITARY CALENDAR)
SOL SYSTEM, PLANET EARTH, CAMP PIPER
The hot, South American sun beat down on Private James Foley. It had just risen above the mountains and lit the landscape with a red-orange glow. Before him lay the ominous ruins of an ancient Mayan civilization. A large temple rose above the others, shimmering majestically in the early morning sunlight.
Gravel crunched behind him and he turned to look at this new guest. Approaching him was Private Sheryl Levens, a young and energetic girl just out of basic.
"Morning," she said as she drew nearer.
"Morning," James returned her greeting.
"Nice morning, eh?" she asked.
"Yeah, it is," he turned back to face the temple, squinting into the sun.
"Sorry I'm late." Sheryl said sitting down on a sandbag wall.
you missed so much action," he said sarcastically. She grinned,
"I'm sure." James smiled. He sat down on the sandbag wall opposite hers and grabbed his canteen from his belt. James took a long gulp and offered it to her. She smiled and grabbed the canteen, taking a drink. Sheryl passed the canteen back to James and wiped some water off her chin with her sleeve. A long period of silence passed between them before Sheryl broke the ice.
"How long has it been since anything actually came here?" she asked.
about a month, that was a supply convoy bringing us another year of provisions."
"Why are we here again?"
"I don't know, they won't tell us, but I have a feeling it has to do with those ruins. " He pointed his finger towards the massive, looming temple. Sheryl nodded in agreement as it was the only reasonable explanation. She didn't even really need to ask the question, she just wanted to start a conversation. In fact, all the young Marines stationed there, which weren't many, had their own rumors about the ruins. Some said they were conducting weapons experiments, others said they had found some valuable artifacts, and yet others said that they were haunted and that anyone who entered was never heard from again. James wasn't sure what to think or believe all he knew was that there definitely was something happening there.
Both the privates were snapped from their thoughts by the sound of a fast approaching engine. James scanned the horizon and saw a dust cloud traveling down the long winding "road" to the camp. He pulled a pair of binoculars from a chest sitting near the sandbag wall and focused on the vehicle. It was a Warthog, one driver, two passengers. Sheryl stood up and took her post near the road while James replaced the binoculars for his MA5C Assault Rifle. This was odd. The only traffic he had ever seen since he had been posted here was the occasional supply convoy. Things were old fashioned here. Most of the Pelican's and new Pelican II's were being used on the frontlines to combat the New Covenant which was now just beginning its full scale war on humanity. It had been started by leading members of the Elite's Council. The Prophet's race had been expelled from this New Covenant and banned to their home planet. The Elite's motivation for starting a new war was yet to be determined and the military masterminds had only but guesses. All of the old races of Covenant forces were present including Brutes. However, they gave up their leading role to the Elites. The Grunts were now regarded higher yet they still took the place of the main infantry. This was due to their physical characteristics, to have them leading anyone else would be plain awkward.
Soon another cloud of dust accompanied the first. This however, was a large truck with covered bed. The Warthog rolled to a stop in front of the gate. James approached on the driver's side and Sheryl on the other.
"I.D. please?" James asked. The driver was a Marine wearing standard combat BDU's, olive drab helmet, and black tactical combat vest. The passenger however, was dressed as a civilian yet flipped his I.D. out. It had a picture of the man, and his personal information. Ernest Farfaras, ONI Section III. James nodded in approval and handed the man back his identity, before striding back to the guard station. He punched the button raising the gate.
"Welcome to Camp Piper, Sir." The ONI officer nodded, and then tapped the driver on the shoulder. The Warthog eased forward into the base followed by the large truck. James tried to catch a glimpse into the back of the truck but the rear flap had been drawn shut. The gate slowly lowered as the truck passed through. Sheryl looked to James quizzically. He shrugged.
Lieutenant Farfaras hopped from his Warthog, his shoes made contact with solid earth. It felt good to stand after the long ride. An officer appeared out of what he assumed was the officer's quarters. It looked more like a run-down shack to him. The entire "base," if that's what you could call it, looked to be in poor condition. What could you expect of a distant outpost in the middle of the jungle in South America? More ONI specialists dropped from the truck and began to unload their gear. The Marine officer approached him,
"Lieutenant Farfaras I assume?" he asked.
"I'm the one, and you are?" asked Farfaras.
"Captain Richard Dowdey. I'll be taking care of all your needs while you are here with us," answered the Captain. Farfaras nodded and looked around at the buildings. In the center was a cleared sort of parade ground with a flag in the middle. "I know it doesn't look like much Lieutenant, but you'll get used to it
my men have at least," he smiled.
Farfaras returned the smile and shook the Captain's hand. "Come, this way," the Captain laid a hand on his shoulder and guided him with the other. Farfaras stepped into the small hut which Captain Dowdey had told him would be his as long as he was there. Despite the outside appearance, the inside was quite nice. Along one wall was a large desk which had been cleared, allowing him to set up his work station. On the opposite side was a bed that looked very comfortable to the Lieutenant. He was exhausted from his long trip, but there was no time to sleep now. He set his bags down near the bed and returned outside. Marines were assisting the ONI specialists with their gear into a large barracks facility where they would be staying. Farfaras placed his hands on his hips and drew a deep breath. They had a lot of work to do.
The next day Captain Dowdey awoke bright and early to a knock on his door. He climbed from his bed, slipped on his boots and jacket and went to the door. Lieutenant Farfaras stood waiting for him.
"Sir, sorry to bother you but I wanted to get an early start."
"It's no trouble, son. I'll be right with you." Captain Dowdey finished getting dressed, walked out of his quarters, and joined Farfaras near the flagpole. He was watching the privates performing PT under Sergeant Mark Gurien. Sergeant Gurien was a good man and a better sergeant. He held his men with the utmost respect and would do anything for them in combat, of that Dowdey had no doubt. The only problem was he was being wasted here, along with the other forty-eight Marines stationed at Camp Piper. They would indeed do a much greater service fighting the Covenant on the frontlines.
He thought again that maybe it was better they were here. Many of them would undoubtedly be killed eventually if they were fighting in the front. That was the soldier's job however. It seemed to him they were a powerful force that shouldn't be wasted. The value of even a handful of brave men, no matter how inexperienced was proven on the planet Harvest in 2524 by Sergeant Avery Johnson and his band of militia. That was back in the days of the Rebellion. When the Master Chief was what everyone talked about and when humanity had almost been wiped from existence.
Now, it seemed they may again be in danger of annihilation. They must never let the Covenant come as close as they had in the past. 2552, when Spartans still protected the Earth and her colonies, thought Dowdey. To him, there were no more Spartans. They had been all been killed. They had done their job and they were probably the best soldiers to live, but nonetheless they were gone. It was up to men like Marines and ODST's to fend off the Covenant and this newest string of bombardments.
The soldiers continued drilling. That was comical in its self. They had not had PT in months. There was no need. They were no where near a combat zone. They were on Earth not Banki, the latest planet to come under attack. Now he had ordered for them to resume their morning PT just to look good for the ONI spooks. Dowdey had never cared for them, not that he had had much on hand experience with them either, but the stories still reached him. Lieutenant Farfaras seemed normal enough as of yet but being around him still made him feel uneasy.
"Well, Lieutenant, let's be on our way," said Dowdey. Farfaras nodded and turned to the Warthog. "One more thing, I'll be right with you." The Captain quickly covered the ground to where Sergeant Gurien was still leading the men in PT.
"Sergeant that will be enough for now. I want you to select four men besides yourself and meet us at the excavation at 0730. Understood?"
"Aye aye, sir," the sergeant saluted and returned to his men. Captain Dowdey strode to the Warthog and climbed into the driver's seat. He started the ignition and the Warthog's engine roared to life. He put his foot on the gas and the 'Hog rolled towards the front gate. The two privates there, James and Sheryl, opened the gate and saluted as the 'Hog rolled through.
"So, tell me Lieutenant, what exactly is going on here?"
"Well, sir. Our researchers believe they've found something in those ruins."
"And what caused them to start searching there in the first place?"
"Strange signals were emanating from the temple. At first we couldn't make anything out of it, it was just static. But then about six months ago we made out a transmission. There were voices, speaking even. Not in any language we could understand but it was definitely talking. The transmissions became more frequent and the voices began to sound more urgent. It brought chills to my spine when I first heard the sounds."
"And you are sure that these were coming from the ruins? Not some one on a radio playing with you?"
"Oh no. We checked and rechecked all known locations of troops in the area. Yours was the closest, that's why we are here. Furthermore, it was coming from underground somewhere. And third, it was no human signal. Not the technology we use. We are still trying to figure out how we received it. So, as you know, after the first transmission we sent the excavators here to dig to find what was sending us these signals. Soon we received one that shocked us all. It was in human. It was a cry for help. But we had no way to respond. Like I said, we don't even know how they reached us. The strangest thing though is that after we received the message in human, it went back to other languages. Then about a week ago, the diggers found something."
"What was it?"
"Symbols. None previously known to have been used by the ancient inhabitors of this region. They resemble symbols of the Forerunners." A chill ran down Dowdey's spine. To think he had been sitting here above who knows what, for so long. The sight of a small hut soon came in to view. Well, we are here but one more question,
"If there really is something down there, shouldn't we be bringing more troops just in case?"
"No, ONI wants to keep this low profile. For, one that would mean fewer troops on the front and second in the second war for humanity against the Covenant, the last thing the people of Earth need is to be worried about something springing out of their backyard and killing them. They have enough to worry about with the Covenant vaporizing us from space." The Captain nodded but he wasn't quite sure he agreed. If it was a large threat there, there was no way his band of Marines could be able to stop it. The Warthog rolled to a stop outside a small hut set back in the brush. A small, stout man walked out and waved at the captain. The captain stopped the engine and climbed from the 'Hog.
"How's it coming?" asked the captain.
"Good, sir. We just started for the day," returned the man. Farfaras stepped out and looked at the captain.
"Ah, yes, excuse by bad manners, Lieutenant. Lieutenant Farfaras this is Bill Dodwell, the head archaeologist here."
"Pleasure to, finally, meet you Mr. Dodwell," said the Lieutenant.
"Finally meet me?" asked the archaeologist.
"Yes, we've been watching you for quite some time. You do impressive work," said Farfaras.
"Well, about my work, please follow me," said Dodwell moving behind his hut. The captain and Farfaras followed where they came to a small dirt track leading deeper into the jungle. "We've been finding what appear to be ancient symbols, yet they match no previously known markings of any civilization on this continent," explained Dodwell as he led the captain and Farfaras down the track.
"We know," said the lieutenant, "they are, as best we can tell, symbols of the Forerunners." Dodwell nodded his agreement.
"We came to the same conclusion, sir. But
" he hesitated, "recently, as we have been digging deeper into the Earth, vibrations have started occurring routinely."
"Earthquakes, perhaps?" suggested the captain. Simultaneously Farfaras and Dodwell answered his question,
"No." Dodwell took a deep sigh.
"I'm pretty sure we're getting close to what ever it is."
"How can you be sure?"
"The vibrations are getting stronger and stronger. We can't be sure but I believe we'll get to the source real soon," said the archaeologist.
The trio arrived at the temple shortly after their conversation had ended. The workers were busy digging inside and the sound of motors and digging machinery filled the air around them. The sun rose higher in the sky now and illuminated the ground, radiant beams of light shining down through the jungle canopy.
Captain Dowdey glanced about and took in the full scene. The workers huts were scattered around in a rough semi-circle around the temple. Some workers were still rousing from their living spaces, getting ready to take over for the previous shift. Apparently, they had been working non-stop, dividing their crews into shifts, always having someone on the job.
"Please, follow me," said Dodwell, motioning to the Lieutenant and the Captain. The two followed the archaeologist, who seemed very excited to show the work to Lieutenant Farfaras. They passed through the opening into the temple. Inside was dark and damp. Some sunlight shone down through cracks where the ancient stone was cracking. They proceeded downward along a staircase. It wound downward into the darkness, except for a spot of light at the bottom. Eventually they made it to the bottom, where floodlights illuminated the room. Men were there digging with their excavation gear. One wielded a sort of jackhammer device. Another sat upon what would have looked like a JOTUN from harvest, yet smaller in size. They were all etching away at different parts of soil that surrounded them. Dodwell pulled a laptop from a small backpack that had been stashed beneath the stairs. He flipped on the power and booted up the system. Graphs popped up showing seismographic activity just below them.
"See, here are all the reports of the vibrations," said Dodwell. Farfaras looked with interest as the graphs scrolled by. Suddenly, the floor began to vibrate. Loose stones fell from the roof above and dust settled to the floor. The activity on the computer's graphs spiked, then slowly resided as the shaking stopped. Captain Dowdey released his tight grip on the archaeologists chair and realized he had been holding his breath. He exhaled and looked around the room. The workers acted as if nothing had just happened.
"So, that's what they feel like?" asked Farfaras.
"Yes sir. Several times a day now," said Dodwell.
"Well, if I had to guess
that felt like an explosion Mr. Dodwell," said Farfaras. The thought rolled around inside the archaeologists mind for half a minute.
"You know, I think you just may be right. The thought hadn't occurred to me before. I would have never suspected. That would answer a lot of questions, wouldn't it Lieutenant?" asked Dodwell.
"Yes. It certainly would," he replied.
"Yes," agreed Captain Dowdey, "except, who the heck is doing it?" Farfaras and Dodwell looked at each other for a moment.
"Cross-reference that latest spike to the pattern of a large bomb," said Farfaras.
"Working," replied Dodwell. He looked up, "It's a match for a non-natural substance to be sure. This means it is most likely some form of explosive. This theory is conclusive with the other vibration patterns."
Farfaras looked stunned for a moment, and then regained his composure. He pulled a hand radio from his pack and dialed in a frequency.
"This is no good; we're too deep to use it. We'll have to go topside, Captain," said Farfaras.
Instinctively, Captain Dowdey pulled his M6G Magnum from its holster and cocked the slide. The sound of boots grating on steel reached his ears as five marines trod down the stairs.
"Captain Dowdey, Sergeant Gurien reporting for duty as ordered," the sergeant snapped off a quick salute as he spoke.
"At ease, son," said Dowdey. The two privates who were at the gate were also with him as well as two others. Dodwell rose from his chair,
"Men stop di-" He was cut short by a loud rumble as the floor in a corner of the room gave way. The man digging fell through the floor and crashed beneath them. Workers raced to the edge to see the fate of the poor man. He lay below in a pile of rocks and settling dust. He slowly rose to his feet.
"I'm OK," he called up.
"Get a ladder down there," said Dodwell. "And a floodlight."
"Have you forgotten what we just discovered?" questioned Farfaras. The archaeologist paused a moment, deep in thought.
"No, but that was most likely just coincidence. Besides
look down there," he pointed to the hole in the floor. "There's and underground structure there." They could clearly see what looked to be a concrete floor which ran north-south in a narrow hall. Forerunner symbols marked the walls. Farfaras turned to Dowdey,
"Come on, we are going up. My signal couldn't get out. We are too deep underground. We have to get topside to transmit our message to Camp Piper which can then relay the message to all near military bases. The captain nodded his consent,
"What about my Marines?" he asked.
"They will stay here to guard the workers until we return with more men," answered Farfaras. Captain Dowdey didn't like it. Not one bit. If there were hostiles down below, his five Marines wouldn't be able to do much to stop them. If it were the Forerunners or some other peaceful race, he would want to be there to see them. He could understand Dodwell's enthusiasm and fervor but he also knew it was risky and a very naïve move on the archaeologist's part. The captain climbed the stairs right behind Lieutenant Farfaras until they finally reached the top. It felt good to be in the open air after being down in the dark pit for what seemed like an eternity. Farfaras and he piled into the Warthog and he started the engine. The 'Hog fishtailed as it sped away towards Camp Piper.
James set his MA5C against the solid wall of the corridor. A floodlight illuminated the area but they could still not see to the very end of the hall. He could only guess at its length. The workers bustled about taking samples and reading the hieroglyphs etched into the walls. Others were trying to figure out the mechanism on a door that was set in the side of the hall. In the center was some sort of device that glowed red, powered by some unknown source. On the bottom looked like rollers but now matter how hard they pulled, the door wouldn't budge. The head archaeologist had just sent for heavy gear to solve the problem.
Men had reached the ends of this hallway. It dead-ended on either side, leaving this door the only way in to whatever lie beyond. Sheryl set her assault rifle next to his and sat on the floor, pulling her helmet off. She rested her head against his shoulder and closed her eyes. Sheryl exhaled deeply and yawned. It had been an exhausting day for them. They had been on gate duty already for a full cycle before being selected to come to the excavations. Both of them were well over-due for a good rest.
Next to James, on the wall, was etched in English, INSTALLATION-032. This had puzzled Dodwell and he was now staring at it again with great interest. How would that get there? Next to it in letters the same size were Forerunner markings. He tried to make them out in his limited knowledge of the Forerunner's language. He stood with his legs crossed, biting his lower lip, concentrating. Suddenly, a shout was heard from above. The gear was here. It began to be lowered down on an MSE (mobile service elevator.) Soon, workers had the contraption ready to work on the door. Just then, Farfaras and Dowdey returned with the rest of the Marine contingent from Camp Piper.
The machinery roared to life as it started to drill through the doorway. The metal and stone mixture began to glow red hot as it was heated to a liquid. It was then sucked in by the machine, into its internal reservoir where it was cooled before being dumped out.
Bill Dodwell sat contemplating what the Forerunner Hieroglyphs said while watching the heat drill pound its way through the ancient door. Tidal
something. What was it? Tidal
It evaded him for several more minutes. The door was amazingly thick. The drill over-heated once and after a fifteen minute break to cool down the drill and replace bits it was back on-line. Dodwell began thinking again. INSTALLATION-032 Tidal
"Stop!" But it was too late. The drill had punctured through the other side, leaving a gaping hole through the door. It, which had to be contained at all costs, had just been released. The infection poured out, like a
like a tidal flood.