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Chapter 5: The Beginning
Posted By: Ace<kevin_jesse2002@yahoo.com>
Date: 16 May 2003, 4:07 AM

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Chapter 5! As always, read and critique. I'm feeling pretty good about this chapter. *waves flag* go me.

Chapter 5: The Beginning

Captain Arnold Mendez yawned and scratched at his beard stubble. He was drinking his last cup of coffee before bed, the rest of the mess hall empty around him. He thought back to the day's battle. How close it had come, just as every other time before, and probably every other time to come.

The Covenant ships frightened him every time, made him think of sharks, and after every battle he had nightmares, nightmares in which he was stuck in the middle of the ocean, his blood pouring out, and sharks were coming for him out of the depths. His blood would cloud the water, he couldn't see the sharks, but he knew they were there.

They were always there, just out of sight, waiting for him to turn his back, waiting to nibble off just the tiniest piece of him. Just like today. When he had been careless enough to fire the MAC gun without waiting the two seconds to thrust upwards, so that the plasma bolt could miss them and have to swing in its wide arc to come for another pass.

Three feet of Titanium-A battleplate armor vaporized, across seven decks. It was just that much sooner they would have to return to Earth, or Reach II. Jesus but he was getting old. Too old to fly around in space, not that kind of crap. And those Spartans bothered him too. He respected them, sure, of course he did, they were heroes of the war, supposedly humanity's last hope.

But they weren't human, they may as well have been cyborgs for all that had been done to them. All kinds of chemical crap injected into them, the armor, even a damned AI, they might be a ship from their technical schematics. Mendez just didn't understand why anyone had to tamper with good old human blood. He knew seven thousand good Marines on his ship alone that could certainly do what they did.

But he knew that whatever happened, once the war with those stupid Covie bastards was over, no one would ever have to screw around with people any more. He drained his cup, stood up, and walked to his quarters. That night, sharks came for him again. As always.

Sean woke up the next morning from a terrible dream. Three women, swirling around him, their colors running until they became only one. He recognized all three of the women. One, Tyger, two Danielle, and three, his mother. A woman he didn't know, but a woman he felt he had lost nonetheless.

Suddenly, an Elite appeared, and then Sean became aware of his body. He was tied down, the Elite stalking slowly towards the woman, Sean, powerless do anything. The Elite snuck quietly behind the woman, threw what Sean assumed passed for a grin at him, and a plasma sword materialized in its hand.

The woman put up no resistance as the Elite slit her throat, and then began to chuckle in its deep, throaty voice. It had just begun to advance on Sean's prone form, when the Master Chief woke up in a cold sweat, gasping for air.

Two and a half decks up, Slik 'Neoloop was shimmying his way through a particularly tight vent, attempting to get a good view of the bridge. Foolishly designed, he thought to himself. The bridge should be deep within the ship, self-contained, covered by multiple layers of armor.

But since when was it his responsibility to critique the humans' insane methods? He just wanted to watch. He was disappointed to find that the Ship Master was not on the bridge, and it was basically being run by a skeleton crew, none of whom ranked very high. So he crawled back through his living space, continued on, and finally found himself above the Master Chief's private quarters.

He looked down on the naked form of Sean Hawke, who was sitting on the edge of his bed. The Elite thought he looked quite different than any of the other humans, but couldn't quite place it for a few seconds. Then he spotted it. The creature below him was a ghoulish white, paler than any other human-beasts he had ever seen, and Slik found it to be quite disgusting, though he thought that way about them all.

Below, Sean stood up and walked to what appeared to be a blank wall. He pressed his palm against a spot on the wall that looked completely random, than said aloud, "Hawke, Sean, Spartan 717, service number 408915882387SH, security override Alpha." Sean didn't know what the hell was watching him from that vent, but his pistol would take care of it damn fast. Slik wished the human would move, if only slightly, so he could see what the creature was doing.

Was it some sort of ritual? Suddenly, from the wall that the Elite had thought was only a wall, a rack of weapons popped out. This would not bode well, not at all, Slik thought. He moved away from the vent just in time to see the Master Chief whirl around, pistol upraised, pointing it directly at the Elite's head. Sean froze, and stood for one minute staring at the vent, the pistol never wavering.

By the time he decided it had only been a feeling, the Elite was nearly back to his living space.

Ziko 'Zamamee sat in the exact center of the Covenant frigate JHD-95, watching the live feed of 'Ossoona 'Neoloop. Ziko's first impression of the observer was that of a devoted imbecile. All Covenant soldiers had been briefed on the armored humans' enhanced hearing, and the Elite should never have risked being anywhere near them while on board the ship.

However, it did offer Ziko some interesting footage, and he decided that it was almost worth it. Almost. When the 'Ossoona got back to his living space, and it seemed he was done for the time, Ziko went back to his preparations for the next operation.

Once the humans had tagged the outpost they had captured, for those still to come, their battle group of ships had made a slipspace jump to the nearest Covenant-owned planet. Ziko's own ship would arrive two days ahead of them, giving him barely enough time to prepare his forces on the planet surface. But it mattered little.

The Elite sat back in his chair, closed his eyes, and thought about the thrill of victory. His thoughts drifted lazily, and he was nearly sleeping when an Elite burst in the door, reporting that another two battlegroups had been detected entering Slipspace, on heading for the same planet that the armored humans were headed toward.

Again, it mattered little, for his war was only on the ground. For all that he truly cared, his ship would be floating dead in space after he arrived. Ziko waved the Elite out of the room, and went back to planning his troop placement.

One light year away, Admiral Jason Jones stood proudly on the bridge of his Nova Class Cruiser, Orca, his hands behind his back, and surveyed his bridge crew. They were the finest crew in the universe, on the finest ship in the fleet. UNSC cruisers were a rare sight, as only fifty of them existed, and they were the largest, most powerfully equipped ships ever built by Human hands.

With just over twelve feet of Titanium-A battle plate armor, two Super Magnetically Accelerated Cannons, or Super MACs as everyone in the fleet called them, fifty Archer missile pods, and hundreds of .55 mm mini-guns for point defense, it was hard not to feel damn near invincible. Along with the shields, the cruiser was the very first in the fleet that was signed up to receive plasma weapons when the Office of Naval Intelligence made their breakthrough.

Thinking of the office, Jones was reminded of the damned ONI spook aboard his ship at that very moment. The bastards still weren't pleased with the way the war was going, so they insisted that one of their men was monitoring every move the ship and her crew made.

The door to the bridge slid open, and in walked Andrew Schlechter, making Jones think to himself, speak of the frickin' devil. He turned with a forced smile, and said, "Well hello, Mr. Schlechter, you know how much we enjoy the ONI's little vis--." "Stow it," said Andrew, "you have blatantly disregarded the ONI's advice yet again, Admiral. Three Archer missile pods were burned off during your last battle, and you've lost your entire twelve feet of battle armor where you were hit on deck eleven." "Yes," Jones replied coolly, "and it has been sealed off. And three Archer missile pods gone does not a catastrophe make."

"I don't want to hear your opinion! One well-placed shot could gut this ship. You are placing UNSC property in direct danger."

From behind him, Lieutenant Wallace at tactical said, "Begging your pardon, sir, but first off, the Admiral's ship doesn't get 'gutted' while we're runnin' it; and secondly, the crew of this ship isn't the 'property' of UNSC. We signed up to defend the Human race, remember? Slavery was outlawed hundreds of years ago, remember?"

That bought a grin to all the bridge crew, even the Admiral, who immediately fought it down. Schlechter, looking angry and flustered, opened his mouth and closed it, once, twice, three times in a comical display that brought the image of a fish to mind, and then stormed off the bridge. Once the door was closed behind him, a few of the crewmen let out small laughs.

The admiral walked up behind the Lieutenant and placed his hand on the woman's shoulder. Leaning over, he whispered in her ear, "I hate him as much as you do, but let's try not to piss 'im off any more than we need to." He winked at her as he walked back down to the center of the bridge.

Helmsman Logan Hartford kept a sharp eye on his station at all times; he was the type of person the Admiral thought they needed more of in the fleet: cool, steely confidence and an obedient crispness to him.

Science Officer William Nylund was almost the opposite. He wasn't lax in his duties, but he came off as being lighthearted. Still, though, he was brilliant, and he could make connections between his scientific outlook and the military.

Chief Engineer Eric Dietz, on the bridge only because of the lull in fighting, had a reputation as a miracle-worker. He could force four hundred percent engine output with a reactor that was in the process of melting from a plasma blast, or so the legend went. And then there was Tactical Officer Sarah Wallace.

Only one word could describe her in the Admiral's mind: hardcore. She was enthusiastic about ship-to-ship battles, cooler under fire than anyone he had ever seen, and she wasn't afraid to stand up to authority when authority was made up of idiots. If he ever made a moronic order, she'd tell him, and if he insisted on carrying out that order, she might just shoot him. Exactly what he needed.

He had chosen almost every single crew member on the entire ship, had gone through thousands of Career Service Vitaes, and had contacted hundreds of their old commanding officers. And now it came to a very important mission, and the security he felt with his handpicked crew couldn't be rivaled. They were going to take a planet from the Covenant.

Seven battle groups, all told about one hundred ships, including three cruisers. Then there were the ground troops that every ship would be deploying. Tens of thousands of UNSC Marines. The Covies were pretty damn serious about their planets, so that much firepower was needed. And it would take months afterwards of short, furious battles in orbit to keep the bastards from just glassing the whole damn planet.

But once colony ships came and dug themselves in, the planet would be a very strategic shipyard. The fleet could spare themselves a two-month journey back to Reach II. So they would win this damn thing, and maybe, just maybe, the ONI spooks would get off their backs.

One. Whole. Week. A whole week before they would reach the planet. Sean didn't believe he could survive. Starships made him uncomfortable, cramped, closed in. It was something he knew all Spartans dealt with.

Their testosterone glands were over-active; they were always ready to do something, to fight, to move. Unfortunately, Dr. Halsey, the scientist who had originally brought the Spartan Project into being, had thought the whole thing up, wasn't taking social interaction into consideration.

Sean would sweat just talking to someone, almost wishing the person was an Elite, would lash out at him. The Spartans were an irritable bunch when they were on starships too long. Sean felt he wasn't in control of his life when he stayed on board for extended periods of time. Sean didn't have dreams about invincibility or unknown women anymore.

He dreamt of killing, of ripping Elites' limbs out of their sockets, of lapping up the blood. He had claws, could tear flesh from anything, could eat a Grunt's tender meats, could even eat his own arm off if the need be. Desperate times called for desperate measures.

It drove him insane not to be in cryosleep, at least then he didn't get the itch, didn't feel like luring in an insignificant ensign, and pouncing on him, and lashing for his jugular. He could hear the heartbeat of anyone within ten feet, he would imagine it was a deer, that he was a puma, anything, as long as he could rip it, tear it, devour it.

Feel the warmth of its blood on his hands,
(so warm)
licking it off,
(so warm)
smearing it on his body.

He felt an animalistic rage at the walls, like he could attack them and be set free, like clawing at them long enough would open the vastness of space to him, so that it would swallow him whole.
(so cold, so cold)
Swallow him up like
(like he would swallow an ensign's flesh)
like an ocean swallows a single survivor of a wrecked ship.

It scared him to be that way, it scared him to want to kill so badly, to need to kill so badly. To sweat constantly, to see the world around him as though it were a never-ending threat, like an animal does.
(he was an animal)
He wished he could feel human. He wished he could feel like a child,
(he never was a child)
except he did feel like a child, scared and
(and murderous)
small. So small. A child who was
(was deadly)
so small, so innocent.

Ziko 'Zamammee found it nearly impossible to put enough effort into his trap. He could not stop judging his own work over and over again, only to find some imaginary problem. He never stopped working all the possibilities through on his head.

The armored humans might not all come to take his bait, a single Domination might move ever so slightly, showing his presence to the motion sensors,, the humans might not even ever find out about the bait, and they could take over the planet, leaving no backup for his forces. The armored human his father had attempted to kill had never even known that an Elite carried a personal vendetta against him, had destroyed him with a passing thought, stepping in his entrails, believing him to be just another Elite trying to stop him destroying the holy relic.

The same would not be true of Ziko. He would make sure the armored humans' leader survived, and then would tell him the story of his life, all the way up to the moment when he would kill him. It would be much different from his father, whose endeavors had brought dishonor to Ziko, to his father's mate, to his father's sire and dame.

Ziko would bring honor back tenfold, and he would be made a ship master, or a gold-suit, a field commander, and he would have as many mates as he chose, with twice as many children. They would have honor enough to survive a hundred generations. They would hear the legend of their father, who saved the Covenant from extinction. Crazed images of him becoming the Supreme Commander flashed through his head.

His teeth gnashed wildly, and any creature, Covenant or Human or Zemek, would have thought he was dying. But he felt better than he had ever felt before.

The itch was receding. Sean was beginning to feel like a normal human being again. The biting urge to rip, tear, kill was ebbing. In one hour, The Phoenix would emerge from Slipspace, with one hundred and fifteen other ships arriving within a minute.

But The Phoenix wasn't immediately going to engage the Covenant fleet in orbit. She and fourteen other ships in the Human fleet were going to deploy their dropships in close proximity to it, unloading a full compliment of Marines, nearly thirty-thousand all told, including the Spartans.

Sean was long suited up and ready, with a full battle load of ammo for his shotgun, assault rifle, and pistol. He also carried, sheathed at his hip, a knife with a nine inch blade, serrated on one side. His entire attack force of Spartans stood at attention, preparing to enter the modified Pelican dropships, in perfectly straight rows.

He shouted, "Remember John, one seventeen, the Master Chief! He fought for Earth, without other Spartans by his side, and he won. He killed ten thousand Covies in one blow, he was the savior of Earth a hundred times over. Remember him, and remember Zack Estevao. He died to save his teammates, and today we are two hundred ninety-nine instead of less, because of him. Fight for him, fight for Earth, but always remember, because of him, you all do have fellow Spartans at your side.

I didn't get a chance to give a eulogy at his funeral, but if I had, this is what I would've said: Zack, you were a hardcore sonofabitch. I can give a Spartan no higher praise than that, and I'm sure he was proud that he died to save some of you, his best friends, his family, part of him. Fight for him, remember him, remember Earth, and remember the Master Chief!"

Loud yells, whoops, and battle cries rose up, everyone bowing their heads or raising their weapons high into the air.

"Now," he said, "remember that this planet has only a tenth Earth grav, so we are gonna be some kinda light down there. Remember that some things'll be a little more complicated; throwing grenades, weapon kick, and, most importantly, jumping. Were gonna have to tap the ground light, or we'll go thirty feet up, way to high for max effectiveness. The low grav will intensify your movements, it'll screw up everything, you gotta be less strong, you gotta be human."

His briefing brought a few nods, but mostly determined silence. At a word, every one of them marched into their assigned Pelican. Four dropships primed for liftoff. After fifteen minutes sitting in the ships, motes of green light appeared outside the launch bay shield, and The Phoenix left Slipspace.

She was a hundred thousand kilometers away from the planet, as fully accurate Slip jumps couldn't be calculated for. Within seconds, clusters of other ships appeared all around The Phoenix, cruisers, destroyers, frigates, a terrifying sight.

"All one hundred sixteen ships accounted for," said Tyger in his ear, "opening launch bay shields." As their own launch bay opened, so did those of fourteen other ships, a thousand Pelican dropships swarming for the planet, the actual fleet close in around them, shielding them for their entry. In his ship, Sean set the burn for atmosphere entrance, sat back, and swallowed.

On the planet surface, Ziko 'Zamammee began the first phase of his trap, and started a back and forth transmission with a ghost speaker a thousand miles away.

As the ship-to-ship battles were beginning overhead, and the Pelicans were nearing the final leg of their descent, Tyger spoke up again to Sean. "Chief, I'm picking up a transmission from the Covenant, and I think you had better hear it." She piped it in.

He heard frantic Elite voices, one of which kept repeating over and over: "We must evacuate the Prophet from this position! The Exalted must not be on-planet! Send a ship down on this transmission location to remove him. Now! Now!" Sean gasped.

It had been an ongoing part of every ground mission the Spartans ever went on: attempt to capture a Prophet at all costs. There were suggestions from ONI that holding a religious leader might actually serve to end the war, they were that important. It was an opportunity that couldn't be missed. He opened a channel to all Pelicans, said, "All Spartans break off and follow me. Marines, continue as planned. Out."

Ziko Zamammee's sharp eyes caught the four red dots on the tactical board break from the larger group and set out for the position of the transmission. It would be twenty minutes before the Elite was finally rewarded for his initiative.