Posted By: The Meep<email@example.com>
Date: 27 May 2010, 6:15 am
"Hey, Joe, you still there?"
Karl pressed his face against the cool bars as hard as he could, straining his eyes to look as far to the right down the prison block as his cell would allow. His voice shimmered in the dim hallway, distorted by the tight curves and serrated metal. The air became quiet again, for nearly half a minute.
"Ya, I'm here," Joe finally responded, his rough voice betraying his exhaustion.
Karl smiled, his unknown cellmate's voice urging him to press his face even harder against the cell's bars. "Good, good. It's gone, for now," he said, referring to the patrolling brute. "How's your eye?"
The marine winced at the pain in his voice, then pulled away from the curved bars, his skin numbed from the pressure. Joe had been from a different platoon, and was captured only recently. He had been shot in the forehead by a carbine round a little over twenty four hours earlier; his helmet had saved his life, but his left eye had been destroyed by the superheated shrapnel. He had been taken here - wherever here was - while he had been unconscious. All the Covenant had done was slap a bandage over his eyes, both of them. When Joe had first woken up, he had been convinced that he was blind. He had panicked, not knowing where he was, but Karl had eventually calmed him.
He had to, else the brutes would've just shot them dead.
They were on board some Covenant station - not a ship, since he never felt vibrations or acceleration - being held as prisoners. Karl had never heard of Covenant taking POWs before, but he wasn't complaining. He'd take jail over being dead any day, especially now that there was finally someone else here.
"Look, Joe," Karl began again, leaning back up against the bars that curved over his head. The cells were rectangles set low into the floor, with curved ceilings that segued into the aforementioned bars and smooth metal surfaces. "You said you're from the In Amber Clad, right? That means we have UNSC boys nearby. When they pick up on our IFF tags, they'll break us out of here."
Joe was silent. Karl swore under his breath, letting his head hang as he held onto the bars. It was a stretch, but hell, it was hope. Maybe he believed in it more because it was the first bit of hope he had had since he had been taken prisoner himself in New Mombasa. He had been grabbed, flailing and screaming, by a Phantom's gravity lift right off the turret of a Warthog, for no apparent reason. Knocked out and probably drugged, he had been dumped into this cell nearly two weeks ago. Or something like that. The light never changed in the cell block, and the Covenant had taken his helmet, and all his electronics with it. Joe said the In Amber Clad had been fighting in Mombasa before it was destroyed about two weeks ago, so Karl concluded he had been taken prisoner roughly two weeks ago.
A klaxon blew somewhere in the distance. It was deep and powerful, sounding like a mix between a siren and a trombone. Despite being muted by the walls of the prison block, it was incredibly loud compared to the dead silence normally found there. Karl yelped in surprise, letting go of the curved bars and falling on his back. The lights brightened, and the now familiar whoosh of the main doors opening echoed down the hallway. The klaxon was briefly louder and more defined, but was once again muted as the large portal whooshed back closed.
"Oh shit," Karl muttered under his breath, backing up as far away from the bars as he could, the cold metal of his cell pressing against his back. The heavy footsteps of a brute stomped down the hallway, faster than usual. With the siren blaring in the distance, the suddenly bright light, and now the brute - with everything happening all at once - Karl sincerely felt like his world was coming to an abrupt and destructive end. What the fuck is going on?! he thought in a panic.
The brute, the same one as always, came into view. This brute had a small half circle scar between its eyes, and it always wore the same weapons: a small cannon on its back, a red plasma rifle on a leg holster, and a plasma pistol in a smaller holster on its shoulder. It looked angrier than usual though: its snout was wrinkled as it pulled back its lips, teeth bared, and its fur-covered chest heaved with laboured breathing. To Karl, his jailor seemed to be working itself into a frenzy. Considering that the ape stood nearly nine feet tall and looked to outweigh the puny marine by over 500 kilos, this was a very bad thing.
It grabbed the weapon slung over its back, an immense pipe that looked like a mortar with a sword attached to its underside. The brute held it backwards, so that the blade faced Karl, and then smashed it into the cell's bars. The clang was deafening, but neither the mortar nor the bars yielded. The brute roared, turning the mortar sideways and thrusting the blade between the bars. There was another clang of metal on metal as the firing mechanism, a bulky circle much wider than the blade, caught on the bars.
Karl finally realized that the brute was actually trying to kill him. His training kicked in, supressing the wild panic that threatened to overwhelm his mind. How could he fight it? He didn't have a gun, and the marine knew the brute could easily rip him limb from limb. However, the ape seemed so pissed off that it had forgotten to simply open the cage. What could have gotten it worked into such a frenzy? The marine realized he had a mental advantage over his attacker, and, at least until the cage opened, he could easily dodge--
The brute suddenly didn't have a head.
Karl blinked. Yup, the brute definitely didn't have a head anymore. It's neck was a tattered stump of flesh and dark blood, the gore adding to the surreality of the moment. And to think that everything had been absolutely normal just thirty seconds earlier.
The brute's body slumped forward, resting on top of the bars it had been so fervently trying to break. It's massive bulk obscured much of the light. The tangy smell of its blood - similar to human, but laced with a sharp hint of citrus - filled the cell.
Blood still filled with adrenaline, Karl crouched and waited. Could his long-shot hope of rescue have actually come true? Could this be a mission carried out by the crew of the In Amber Clad, bless her beautiful name? The longer he waited, the less likely it seemed though. He couldn't hear any gunshots or human voices; couldn't hear a thing but the steady drip-drop of blood and the loud siren - which was loud enough to indicate that the prison block's door was open.
Ten seconds passed. Karl's throat was tight with anxiety, his every heart beat a thunder clap inside his chest. Bemused gratefulness at the brute's timely decapitation turned into uneasiness. Where was the decapitator?
Karl suddenly heard rapid metallic sounding footsteps making their way down the hallway. A second shadow loomed over his small cell, standing next to the brute's headless form. A gauntleted hand gripped one of the thick metal bars over the marine's head, and a green helmet with an amber visor leaned down, inspecting the prisoner. There was no doubt: that was a Spartan standing over him.
To say Karl was too shocked for words would be an understatement, as reality became even more surreal then and there. Weren't all the Spartans dead?
The sound of moving machinery broke Karl out of his reverie, and he quickly stood. The Spartan let go of his cell's bars as they unlatched from the floor and whooshed up into their sockets. The alien carcass, no longer supported by the curved metal, fell forward into its pool of blood with a wet slap. Not knowing what else to do, Karl stepped out of the cell.
He found himself in a long hallway, holding at least a dozen other identical cells, all of which were empty and open. Towards the fan-shaped doorway, Karl saw Joe for the first time. He was pretty much how his rough voice had sounded: tall and burly, with broad shoulders and the insignia of a Staff Sergeant emblazoned on his shoulder. He had managed to remove the bandage covering his good eye, which stared sullenly out from underneath a heavy brow. The other side of his face was a swollen, bloody mess only partially hidden by s wrap of brown cloth. He already had a carbine in his hands, holding the immense gun over his shoulder. It hadn't even been half a minute since his rescue and the Sergeant was already looking for payback.
And then there was the Spartan. Karl turned to him, stunned at just how tall he was: the marine's eyes barely reached his shoulders. The armoured behemoth looked down at Karl, holding out a plasma pistol. "Can you fight?" he said, his voice like gravel in a blender.
The marine's mouth went dry. Despite Karl's best efforts, his hand shook as he grasped the pistol. Two weeks of imprisonment and malnutrition had weakened him, but it was only now, with the enemy's weapon in hand and that damned siren in the background, that he realized just how bad off his body was. Karl nodded at the green breastplate, then looked at the visor and croaked out an affirmative. He tapped the activation sigil on the plasma pistol and gripped the warm Covenant metal with sweaty hands. He noticed that there was a slick bit behind the pressure trigger: jackal blood.
The Spartan nodded briskly, then turned and jogged down the prison block towards the door, the jailor's mortar held in one hand. He nodded at Joe, who turned and gestured with his carbine at the door. Karl was about to follow the pair when he realized that he had left his dog tags in the cell. He had been trying to use the metal strings holding the tags to file through the bars, more out of boredom than any actual belief in its potential success, and had never put them back on. Just in case... he thought, stepping back into the dark cell to--
His boot slipped out from underneath him, finding no purchase in the brute's viscous blood. Karl only had the time to let out one surprised yelp before the back of his head came down on the hard edge of the step separating his cell from the elevated hallway.
Cortana's normally calm voice cut through John's helmet sharply, instantly alerting him, priming his body like an armed bomb. In one smooth motion, he drew his plasma rifle and turned to face back down the prison block. He had heard it too: the crack of breaking bone. A single, shrill beep followed the AI's voice, indicating injury to a nearby UNSC soldier via the IFF transponder. John chinned the alarm. He peered intently down the hallway at the only other cell in the compound to house a marine. Plasma rifle warm and at the ready, the Spartan took three steps and looked down into the small cell. The headless brute was still there, as dead as ever, but now he had company.
Lance Corporal Karlton J. Brooks was sprawled feet first inside his own cell, his blank eyes staring lifelessly at the dark ceiling. His head was lodged onto the edge of the step. The wound was obviously fatal. John sighed, lowering his plasma rifle and looking sidelong at Staff Sergeant Jonathan A. Feinn. That marine, half blind, barely able to carry the carbine, would not last much longer than the late Karlton Brooks. He didn't bother to take in the man's expression, whatever it may be. In the heart of this Covenant... planetoid, that marine's chances of survival, even with a Spartan, were nil to none. All John could do was give him the chance to take some Covenant with him. To die with honor. Jonathan, his one eye glowering with a mad light, seemed more than willing to make full use of this opportunity.
The Spartan crouched down and grabbed Karlton's dog tags out of the corner of his cell, taking one last look at his youthful, slightly surprised face. Not everyone was lucky enough to die honorably.