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Shattered Skies - Chapter 3
Posted By: Webbo227<webbo128@hotmail.co.uk>
Date: 12 November 2008, 5:11 pm

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Shattered Skies

Chapter 3

      The halls of the UNSC frigate "Triumphant" were bursting with half-shadows and soft lights. After picking up the ground team and their mysterious soldier, the frigate was forced to cut her engines and keep power usage to a minimum. Covenant technology had dwindled as the UNSC wrecked it time after time, but they always found a way to bite back after a crippling blow. The now destroyed frigate "Fates Hand" proved a monument to the destructive power they could unleash to the orbiting metal fortress. Of course, important functions were boosted to high priority such as sensors and navigation, but the ship's AI "Gary" had decided that hall lights were too much of a luxury and thought the flow of energy used to maintain them would serve a greater purpose fuelling the Magnetic Acceleration Cannon in case of an airborne attack. As such, the seven adrenaline pumped soldiers were bumping into each other aboard the narrow walkways that weren't built to accommodate their stature. Around the corner, a door slid open, and a smartly dressed officer stepped out to salute the men now bathed in the ambient glow of the adjacent room. Sergeant Taylor was the first to step forward to return the salute, his men mimicking him in every way.

      "It's good to see you again Taylor, I was worried this mission would be too difficult for you to handle." The officer said, a stern yet sarcastic tone echoing through his choice of words.

      The Sergeant frowned, "Tell that to the recruit that got his head fried by a goddamn Carbine. I'm sure he'll agree."

      The rest of the team failed to mimic him this time, taking their grief from their own personal experiences. Joshua stared at the floor; the recruit that was so willing to help out and carry the heaviest gear was the only tragic loss of the expedition. He didn't even know his name, his dog tags weren't on him at the time, or he would have retrieved them with the rockets the poor soul was eager to fire. It was better this way though; even though he had lost a member, at least it didn't feel like losing a friend. Sergeant Taylor's attitude had also changed. On the ground, he was optimistic about the outcome, but during the flight on the D77H-TCI Pelican Dropship up towards the drifting ship, he started to feel guilty for the one person he couldn't save. Taylor was ruthless, yet defensive. He would beat himself up about a dead Marine for over a week, unless his duties detered him from reminiscing.

      The officer looked up at Taylor and looked at the body slung like an animal over his shoulder.

      "I assume that's him," the officer enquired.

      The Sergeant shook the unconscious ODST and watched for a brief moment as it flopped around.

      "If you can define him, James, I might be able to help you."

      The officer, Commander James King, looked down at the floor and replied in a solemn tone, "I guess you'd want some answers?"

      He strolled towards the door and invited the team inside. The room was bright compared to the bleak hallways that Joshua had travelled on; computers were winking different coloured lights, as the people controlling them, typed on their respective keyboards in blurring motions. The center table was a shining steel which reflected the overhead, sparkling light which made looking at the holo-tube situated at the center of the table, unbearable to look at.

      James walked towards his seat and motioned for the others to sit down. Before Taylor could however, the weight of his back was lifted, as a pair of medics set the ODST down on a trolley and wheeled him out of the room and down the pitch black corridor.

      "Please, sit."

      The commander took his seat and gained the attention of one of the hard working technicians. He walked over to the holo-tube and activated the power supply. No sooner had he booted the specifications, the "Triumphant"'s AI, Gary, sparked into a neon blue image. All AI's were given a choice as to what "physical" form that would imitate when they divulged their information, but it was strange to see an AI to take the form of a fifteen year old boy, especially seeing as AI's were drawn to the form of large sentient creatures from far off planets.

      "Greetings Commander. I assume that the mission went as planned." The image voiced out. On the ship, commanding officers and all personel with roles heavily tied with the AI's programming, were equipped with neural implants to give the illusion that they were talking to them as a human. But for the run-of-the-mill Marines, they would have to deal with the standardised speakers that were intergrated into the tube.

      "I sent you the mission log, the entire mission was a success with minimal UNSC casualty." The Commander replied.

      "Hmmph." The Sergeant huffed, causing the AI to swivel to his position, opposite the Commander.

      "Oh, this must be UNSC slash dot one Sergeant Brad Taylor of the mission. Are you unhappy with the result?"

      Taylor shifted in his chair and replied with a slight tone of anger, "You may be happy with the numbers scrolling across your processor, but to the one lost digit that should be sitting with us, his family will have to be informed of the sombre news that their pride and joy has been killed by a mutated birdman. I'd rather keep the death count to a maximum of zero."

      The AI responded almost instantaneously, "Losses have been made in the war, just as in any war, just as in any battle. I would register some emotion, but primary programming deters me from accessing it."

      "Enough! Both of you!" The Commander was on his feet. "You came here for answers Brad? Then sit down and listen to what Gary has to conclude."

      The Sergeant was silent, only Joshua had the built up nerve to ask.

      "The Brutes had established a miner, a digger, and were whittling away at the ground like wood. Do you have any idea what it is they were looking for?"

      The other Marines looked at Joshua in shock; it wasn't in their nature to ask about a mission, it was a straight forward procedure with no questions asked. The AI turned once more and the beams of light changed into a replication of a smile.

      "We do not. The Covenant remnants have been rallied under the supervision of a Prophet, a minor in the old Covenant, it is now the driving force behind the decreasing army. Even though we have secured many of the enemy's Forerunner technology, it is likely that they have access to information we have no such clue about. Perhaps the destruction of the Ark triggered this event. A thought, but with no sufficient evidence to back it up."

      This news depressed the men futher. The Forerunners weren't stupid, they must have created failsafes for the Flood outbreak, even if they didn't get to use them. But if it was a weapon they were looking for, what was it?

      Gary continued, "I see this hypothesis has troubled you to a greater extent. I apologize, I didn't mean to act upon growing concerns."

      No one spoke for a while. The fight over the Halo rings had cost the human race plenty over the years they had fought, the Marines who had experienced the dedication that the Covenant put into their campaigns knew that if Gary's hypothesis was correct, it would mean more bloodshed in the name of survival. Commander King and Gary were quietly discussing the operational status of the ship, running re-scans of the planet surface to see if any similar operations had gone underway. James was ready to leave the Marines to themselves when the silence was broken by a quiet whisper by the Sergeant.

      "And what about him?"

      James turned to the Sergeant quickly, flashed a sharp smile, and retook his seat, ordering Gary to open up restricted files from the memory banks on the nearest UNSC colony. James smiled once more, and spread his hands across the desk.

      "What do you know?" he asked politely.

      "I know that he's one of ours; a crazy one, probably reckless too. That's what you expect from an ODST. But I get the feeling that he's mighty important to get the first-class treatment."

      James chuckled again, and waited for Gary to re-appear. He finally did so, signalling the AI to open up the certain files he requested.

      "I suppose you've heard of the SPARTAN-II program? Of course you have, it's common knowledge. Children stripped of their freedom and humanity for the sake of war. The legendary supersoldiers of Reach. You've heard the story, the lucky break that won us this war. But before Dr. Halsey's detailed research could be accepted, the UNSC took different approaches to the idea of creating heroes. A twinned project was created alongside the SPARTAN project, dubbed FREELANCE by the lack of UNSC involvement they took."

      "You mean like the HAYABUSA project rivalling the MJOLNIR project?" a young Marine piped up.

      "No," James replied, "Those were merely armor designs, and although they helped tremendously, the soldier underneath counted for more. No, the two projects were aiming for the same goal, but with different means of getting there. SPARTAN took raisng the young to be strong, with the help of bio-augmentation, but the FREELANCE project theorized that the time taken for the final result was far too long, and decided to alter existing soldiers."

      James got up out of his chair. And stared out towards the planet's surface, a lavender coat surrounding and entoxicating the sphere.

      "In their youth, the Spartans could take the shock of the chemicals as their whole body was changing, but with grown adults it would be catastrophic. They decided to slowly adminster the drugs, observe the effects and train them upon it, then isolate them in cryo-tubes and finish the job. The result: the chemicals bonding with the body harmlessly and with little problem."

      The Commander waved his hand, and a image of an ODST, similar to the bed-ridden soldier, flashed from the projector for everyone to see. A long list of chemicals scrolled upwards, and Gary quickly summarized the important ones.

      "Conezium-D33, Muscle stimulant. Benezamat-G19, Brain enhancement, the list goes on. In some areas, the predicted results of the effect was far more drastic than the Spartan program. However it wasn't just chemicals that were used. Augmentation was touched upon, replacing weakened muscle with mechanic versions, sharpening nerve pathways for increased reaction time. But the most significant change was the neural transplants. They implanted a prototype device into the cranium that received and projected mental brainwaves to other participants of the same experiment. In short, telepathy to a certain extent."

      Some of the Marines had rose to their feet in shock and disbelief. Sergeant Taylor simply shook his head as he had resigned himself from thinking too much on the delicate subject. Joshua went to ask for a repeat of the last sentence, convinced that he was mistaken, but closed his mouth when it became apparent that Gary was not in the habit of spreading sordid lies.

      "Freelancer 227", the Commander went on, "and the others were expected to read the brain patterns of their allies and act accordingly without words, just reaction. It was going to be a revolution for winning, and went as they hoped during test runs. That was when the freelancers went beserk."

      Silently, James moved to the technicians once more, whispered in their ears, and one by one, they departed the room and occupied the vacant room next door.

      "It was…difficult for the freelancers to get accomstumed to the modifications that were made to them. They wanted revenge on the people who had stripped their basic essence of life and replaced it with a cold unfeeling heart. They used the telepathy unit and worked as though they were possessed, slaughtering everyone that had anything to do with the project. They were eventually beaten by the sheer multitudes of forces the UNSC sent to neutralize them and, to prevent the same scenario from playing out again, they executed the others that were not awoken."

      Sergeant Taylor looked blank for a moment, then reached over the desk and whispered in such a low voice, that it would be barely audiable if the keyboards were in use.

      "Well if he's such a threat, then why haven't you executed him?"

      James sighed, swivelling around to face the lost soldiers, and simply replied,

      "…We need him."