Posted By: Anonymous Coward<firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date: 04 February 2001, 9:18 pm
The acrid stench of burning plastic filled her nostrils, briefly distracting her from her thoughts. Well, this was it - death. Trapped in a crashed, burning dropship, with massive internal injuries, broken limbs, and an entirely conscious mind. What a way to go. Shot down by some incomprehesible being for some incomprehensible reason - caught up in some interstellar Jihad.
Lieutenant Mariana French strapped herself in, and began the pre-flight checks. Today, she was piloting one of the few remaining dropships from the Pillar of Autumn's arsenal, in some ridiculous scheme to get troops inside some apparently important structure on the Halo. She didn't know why - most of this campaign seemed to be fought on suppositions and hearsay. Nobody knew what this place was for, or what the Covenant were looking for. Completing the checks, she waited for confirmation that her squad of soon-to-be-dead soldiers were ready, then smoothly increased the engines' output, making a slow, deliberate takeoff.
Turning the dropship towards the mouth of the valley, she looked out of the window, down at the small, temporary encampment her division had assembled. The Covenant's fliers were continuously looking for any signs of human activity, so the only escape was to keep moving - keep the Covenant on their toes. Or whatever they had instead of toes. The dropship accelerated, the whine of the jet engines undoubtedly audible for some distance. They could only hope that the Covenant weren't listening.
She couldn't feel her legs any more. Was this a good sign? The cockpit was crumpled, crushing her small frame between the console and a heavily armoured sidewall. It appeared that death wasn't going to come quickly - she was all alone with the pain, and her thoughts.
Sometimes, when she lay awake at night, listening to the distant sound of explosions and artillery, Mariana would wonder what the Covenant thought of the humans. She had no idea why this place was so important to them - why one shipful of humans justified such a disproportionate response, why these humans had to be hunted down and exterminated like vermin. To be at war was one thing, but to be treated like some undesirable pest was another thing entirely.
Carefully monitoring the radar network for Covenant fliers, she wound the dropship along the valley. Flying this low was their only defence against the Covenant's sensors - however they might operate. Her mission was to drop the soldiers and a buggy underneath some huge, ancient bridge, where they would wait for another squad to arrive from another encampment. Then they would move on to their final destination - a low, approximately circular structure surrounding what appeared to be a deep shaft, going deep into the fabric of the Halo. She would then return to her division, and begin moving the troops and their equipment on towards another location, to escape the Covenant's gaze.
It happened too fast to avoid, too fast to take any kind of action. As the dropship rounded a corner of the valley, an intense pulse of light burst from what had appeared to be a patch of vegetation, hitting the dropship's small, engine-containing left wing. The cockpit was filled with noise - filled with alarms, flashing red warnings - and the dropship tipped, the damaged left side crashing against an outcrop of rock. Still moving forwards, it rolled, digging itself into the soft earth - the front of the dropship crumpling, as alloy buckled underneath the impact. The dropship twisted, the sound of rupturing fuel tanks a deadly warning to any survivors.
It was getting steadily hotter - but she felt dizzy, lightheaded. Blood loss? Out the side of her visor, out of a segment of undamaged window, she could see the devastating enormity of the Halo curving above her, an artifact larger than the Earth. Somehow, it no longer seemed important. She closed her eyes, oblivious to the encroaching flames.