The Desperation of Dreams
Posted By: Ape Man<firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date: 21 September 2001, 4:37 am
Twin Pelicans thundered across the sea, a mere sixty feet above the wave tops, leaving faint waves on the suface in their wake.
Gough still felt uneasy around the machine, and glanced at it occasionally, to notice that it had not shifted its position at all, merely moved its head, surveying the dropship's cabin, the marines inside, the sea, the other dropship behind and to the left of this one, and back to the cabin. Solidly contained within its grasp lay a weathered assault rifle, action well-worn and smooth, clip guides shiny from use, a crack running down the left side. Oddly contradictory to the unruly condition of the rest of the rifle, the flashlight attached to its muzzle glamed, new and virtually unused, lens clean and free of debris. Gough could see, where the flashlight was mounted to the rifle itself, a spiderweb of cracks and fractures, all sealed with some sort of metallic coating. Perhaps this machine had struck something with it, brutally hard, shattering the flashlight.
The Sarge's rifle lay scattered about the floor, as he cleaned it and serviced the parts. After one final airdusting, he reassembled it expertly in moments, and slid a new cartridge into the slot. Noise reverberated throughout the cabin as the action slid back and then slammed forward.
Soell adjusted the sight on his pistol, tightening its tensor-clips with a tiny magnetic coil he held between two fingers. Gough stared for a moment, before Soell glanced at him and smiled, and then he looked down, watching a space in between his boots.
The machine sitting beside Gough turned its head to regard him, and stayed there for a moment, studying him. Gough shifted uneasily as the massive metal creature surveyed him, and though he could not see beyond the visor, it seemed as if the cyborg were exploring his mental composition rather than that of his body.
As it turned to look back towards the sea and the other dropship, Gough shivered involuntarily.
Cortana's voice broke through the frightening silence over the comms. "The Covenant have a silent cartogropher;" she began, her intonation betraying that her words her spoken for the cyborg. Gough listened anyway, with nothing else to do until the ship hit the dirt. "The map room, that will lead us to Halo's control center, is somewhere under this island. The island has multiple installtions; one of them must contain the map room. They've got an uplink station down there . . . take it out, or we'll have the whole Covenant army on our hands." Outside, Gough saw waves breaking along a ragged coastline, and a cliff reared off to the side of the Pelican, trees growing along its base. Farther down the shore, a precise yet elegant structure thrust from the edge of the island's plateau out across the beach, nearly to the sea.
All through the dropship cabin, there suddenly came the double-beat of rifle actions, loading the first round of a fresh clip. Gough steeled himself, checked one last time to make sure his boots were tied, and yanked back and then jammed forward on his rifle's action lever.
The pilot of the lead dropship came on through the cabin speakers. "We're approachin' the LZ," she said in her characteristic drawl. "It's gonna be hot; get set to come out swingin'."
The second Pelican was now wheeling around back into view, as the first spiralled in for a quick dustoff. Covenant weapons fire was already lacing its way across the beach, and he could see the tiny stubby forms of Grunts rushing towards the human vehicles. Everyone stood, and Gough slapped his helmet for luck.
The dropship settled into hovering position, its ramp coming down to two or three feet above the dirt. Slight grass grew here, waving delicately in the wind.
"Showtime, marines!" called the pilot, and with the Sarge's shouts of, "Go go go!" everyone dove from the dropship, weapons blaring at whatever happened to be nearby. Gough found himself running alongside the giant cyborg, once again struck by its swiftness and grace. The squad from the second dropship, which had landed nearer the Covenant positions, was already engaged in a heated battle, and as the first squad moved up to support them, an Elite enfiladed them from the left. Soell was raked across his leg greaves by plasma, and he stumbled momentarily, before recovering and firing into the enfilading position madly.
A grenade detonated just to the side of a large boulder the Elite was using for cover, and a stunned body was thrown out from behind it. Gough turned to see the cyborg dropping a pin and closing on the disoriented Covenant officer, pistol readied.
Two rounds through the skull silenced the creature's whimpers of confusion.
The Covenant had placed mobile energy shields all along the length of the beach, and as they fell back from the two squads of Marines, they took cover behind these virtually impenetreble barriers, until the Marines moved to flank them. Gough sent covering fire whistling over one of these shields, as the rest of the squad went rushing towards the cliffs, and the cyborg moved around towards the sea, in an attempt to pull a champagne on the Covenant.
It worked, and another group of Grunts and their shepherding Elite lay dead on the sand, weapons lost and forgotten, as the determination and sheer intensity of the last remaining human military force crashed around their bodies, feet falling heavily as they ran and attacked and covered and flanked.
And the god of the machines thundered across the beach, hefting his weapon expertly, and his bullets bore the wings of avenging angels, hungry for the vindication of Reach.
Gough watched the pair of snipers as they ascended the narrow cliff-face trail, switchbacks and turnabouts every few feet. They seemed to be ascending nearly vertically, and already they were nearly to the top of the two-hundred foot rock wall, where they could rain their fire down upon nearly any position on the entire length of the beach.
They moved with a fluidity and a swiftness that the normal troops did not possess; their feet were certain of where they would fall, and always they hefted their rifles expertly, checking what lay above through the scope every four or five switches. Both rifles were covered in camoflauge netting for the moment, to conserve the power on the active camo units for the guns. One of the two was clearly the lead and the other the spotter; the lead hefted her rifle not as a tool, but as an extension of her body. The spotter had indeed mastered himself, but the weapon he still carried slightly awkwardly, not fully used to its four-foot bulk.
The rest of his squad milled about the beach, checking and cleaning their weapons, conversing, watching the sea and the waves as they rolled in. Far away, almost to the horizon, a storm spun slowly over another island, and through the Sarge's marking scopes, he could see Covenant vehicles moving about the beaches, heading for shelters as the tempest approached. At fifteen miles, the individual creatures were too small to make out, and only herds of Grunts could be seen.
The Sarge had requested watercraft for backup, for the Covenant on the far island had certainly seen the battle on the beach, and would probably send reinforcements by sea soon enough. Luckily, they had no idea of the true composition of the human force; not only had the two dropships touched down on the far side of their island, the destroyer of armies, the shade of Death, the human machine of sacrifice, was too small to be seen clearly, even with the Covenant scopes.
Over the comms, he heard Cortana coaching the cyborg down into the structure they had come here to capture; and every so often, the ground would rumble ever so slightly, as a distant grenade detonated deep within the earth and the island trembled. Then silence would resume, and the only sound would be the waves, the distant voices of the squad, and the wind in the leaves.
Looking back up, he saw the snipers scanning the plateau at the top of the cliffs, and when it was deemed safe, the spotter clambered up and covered while the lead rushed away to find a position. Just before disappearing behind the cliff, they activated their active camo, and ripples whisked through the air around them for a moment, before they slowly faded, as if they were placed behind panes of ever-thickening rippled glass.
Everything happened at once.
Scouts began to shout of inbound Covenant dropships, and the snipers called in on the private squad channel to report that they could see wakes from small vessels approaching the island. Fire erupted further down the beach, as the dropships appeared from behind the cliffs, weapons ports open and main guns blaring. Bullets whistled towards the ships as they spun in for a landing, and as their sides split open and folded away, several Covenant officers were caught by the hail of weaponry, and their bodies tumbled from the ship to fall to the sand forty feet below. The snipers reported multiple contacts, and muttered something about their silencers jamming on the threads, before twin rifle reports sounded, and the trailing dropship shuddered under the impact of two high-powered .80 calibre rounds. Gough watched in amazement as another volley of sniper rounds tore through the exterior walls of the cockpit and bounced about inside, burrowing multiple holes through the pilot. Even as the surviving Covenant rushed for cover from human fire, the dropship swung away dangerously close to the cliffs, drifted away towards the sea again, and then dropped from the sky.
A thunderous blast rocked the island, and debris from the explosion went whistling down the beach, and up into the sky, such that a fountain of metal rained down. The sniper team reported a warning of another shot, and as the second dropship rose back into the sky, fleeing the battle, shots landed precisely upon the connectors of the cockpit to the holds. A moment's pause, and another twin volley severed the connection entirely, and the shattered ship fell into the sea.
Gough had been fighting the entire time, and the few Covenant who had survived the concussion of the first ship were overtaken easily.
As he reloaded his rifle, he turned to glance across the sea, out of an old habit.
He uttered no words, as a Covenant gunship stared back at him with twin barrels, each glowing angrily.
And from deep within the bowels of the island, rumblings sounded, gradually growing louder, and Cortana burst over the comms, shouting, "Find cover! Find cover!" And as the cyborg's channel opened, he heard the terrifying sound of a Hunter screaming.
A pause, and the entire island shook with fury, as a battle to challenge Troy unwound deep below the surface.
Azraela Janil and her assistant moved swiftly over the bluff, active camoflouge shielding their movements from the wary eyes of the Covenant guards. Even now, two Elites clambered up onto the bluff, rifles in hand, and surveyed the beach below. Distantly, she could hear the soft whine of the Covenant gunship's motors, as it prepared to disembark, prisoners secured deep within its holds.
"Left split left," she whispered softly, a faint wind under the crashing waves on the beach below. Her spotter touched her on the arm, a silent acknowledgement. She checked the active cam pack on her rifle, making sure it would not fail with the shot, and checked her own packs, in a ring around her waist.
She slipped behind a stout bush, bent against the wind coming up over the cliff, and, hiding the AC'ed rifle in the vegetation, removed the clip, which instantly became visible once it left contact of the rifle, and removed the thick, heavy shells, replacing them with sleek dagger-like rounds, tipped with evil-looking spikes and spirals. They were damasced, and as they turned in the light, they glinted with the light of Threshold, burning fiercely in the sky above.
As she smoothly slipped the clip back into place, it vanished, and Janil went rushing across the plateau, feet smooth and sure, and had Gough seen her, he would have been reminded of the cyborg, of the machine, of the silent, wrathful god sent by their fallen angel to avenge the deaths of seven hundred million.
Deep below the island, more thundering bursts rolled open, and the ground shook. Certainly, some sort of large-scale war between immortals was taking place below the skin of Halo, for what else could cause an entire island to shudder?
Janil's carbon blade flashed swiftly, and the two Covenant sentries atop the bluff fell and were dragged back into bushes by invisible hands, and the snipers moved, ripples upon the wind, once again to the cliff's edge.
After a few moments, the report of the rifles thundered, and the spined, ridged anti-armor rounds howled for a moment, before reaching their target.
The Covenant gunship shuddered, armor plating bucking inward then bursting and spiraling outward, and it slewed into the waves, drives failing. Swiftly, its vile guns emerged from their armored sheaths and aimed for the bluff, dispensing a volume of plasma along the edge of the cliff, sending clouds of dust and rock raining down onto the beach.
Wailing plasma cannons swept back and forth across the edge of the cliff, and strays shots found themselves among the high poplar-like trees lining the base of the rock. Fire flared and sparks went shooting into the sky, and smoke, and ash. More plasma raked across the island, tearing great gashes into its flanks, and all up and down the beach, stopping just short of the mighty structure rearing from the cliff out nearly to the sea.
As the gunship's engines finally failed and she drifted, cannons still flaring, a swift green spectre went flitting among the rocks, growing ever nearer to the sea.
Just before the smooth, fast shape reached the waves, the Covenant plasma cannons swivelled deftly to face it, and after but a moment's pause, unleashed great rays of charged hydrogen towards the breakers, and where they struck, steam rocketed skyward, and the water burst.
For some time, the gunship continued firing along the coast, turning the sea to cloud, and sending chaotic ripples outward across the water, fragmenting into chop and whitewater.
Twin reports followed closely the soft flowering of two shells against the plasma cannons, and there was silence for a moment.
Deck instantly shattered, the gunship reeled as two flowers of blossoming fire spread across the guns, and she lay drifting, slanted into the waves on one side, bleeding.
Under the waves, a green form slid lithely.
The gutted Covenant gunship rumbled for some time with the sound of gunfire, amplified by the narrow tight spaces so that it reached Janil as a distant thunder. It grew in intensity, the stacatto reports coming closer together, and the roar of grenades now seemed to fill the air all around.
For a moment, there was silence, before the gunship's tower shattered from within, sending forth flame and debris and fire, and the pinwheeling form of an Elite as he fell to the deck, dead. The ship shuddered even more under the blasts, lilting ever more to one side, dangerously near to turning over.
Soell came out first, head bowed under the flames burning all around him, and dove into the water. Several others followed, before the sleek, unmarred armor of the Mjolnir Mark V emerged, and it made its way swiftly to the fore of the deck, just afore the splintered and dessicated plasma cannons, a grenade in each hand. Finding some unseen crevasse in the creased and bent armor, he pulled the pins, and dropped the explosives down inside.
Smoothly, swiftly, he vanished into the water over the side.
Ringing incredibly loud in Janil's ears, the gunship's bow burst apart, spraying debris out over the waves and pouring out immense gouts of smoke, before the ship finally crumbled away and vanished into the sea.
Reports of Banshees inbound came from the few scouts who had managed to hide themselves from the gunship.
Cortana's voice burst over the comms then, and she seemed to be Aphrodite or Athena. She was the Warrior Queen, and her voice gave commands of silk and fury.
Covenant aircraft went flitting over the beach, leaving sonic booms in their wake, sending the sand into bouncing madness.
Gough grabbed Mendoza and hauled him under cover, plasma lancing in towards them, as the Covenant aircraft strafed the beach.
The sand became a swirling mud of vapor and dust, all up and down the length of the beach, and rifle fire lanced its way skyward, hoping to catch one of the Banshees in a vital spot. A jeep drove about madly, chaingun trained on the twin flyers, sending a fountain of empty shells out, and they pooled in great lines all across the coast, marking the passage of the Warthog. Bullets came from everywhere, all heading skywards, but very few found their mark and those that did merely crumbled against the damasced Covenant armor.
Oddly enough, Gough began only now to fear for his life, on the fourth pass of the Banshees, despite all of the battles of the day.
The cyborg too fired at the Covenant as they howled past, cannons glaring, but his groupings were tighter, and the Banshees were visibly affected; they swayed and rocked, and on occasion wove a bit to avoid fire.
Several now lay dead, though they were all from the other squad and Gough did not know them well. One of them was the sniper; her helmet lay some thirty feet from her, and her eyes opened onto the other side of the ring. So near, as if to touch it meant only to extend one's arm. Yet so far, for the Tygers of Wrath lay between this side and that.
"Goddammit Cortana, we need to leave! Now!" The Sarge did not scream into his comms, he merely spoke fiercely, even as his gun jumped in his hands and shells fell softly into the sand, soundless, heedless.
"Hold out, Sargeant. They're almost here."
And the Banshees returned again, this time with a renewed vigor, dismantling every piece of cover laying along the beach, their guns glowing from heat.
Tracers extended from the sky behind them, and the lead Banshee sparked for a moment, and then burst apart, falling as a shattered hulk into the sea far below.
Even as the other turned to face its unseen foe, more bullets came slanting across it, and its nose was torn apart by lead fangs.
Two Pelicans appeared from the glare of the sun, chainguns on their noses still spinning, and they spun into a quick touchdown. Everyone left alive leapt abord.
Save the cyborg.
He stood surveying the shattered beach for a moment, the burns, the blast marks, and the endless carpet of casings.
He never spoke. Cortana conveyed all the information that he could possibly need to give to the Marines instead.
Except now there seemed such a great sorrow in his bulk, in his stance, in the slackness of his grip upon his rifle, that Gough thought perhaps he was crying, somewhere under that armor and weaponry.
Cortana's voice only seemed to add to his despair. "'I am become death, the destroyer of worlds.'"
And the Mjolnir Mark V seemed defeated as he climbed into the Pelican, slow, unsure.
Gough wondered what it was like to be a machine and a man at once.
The dropships roared and, ascending, turned to antispinward, and the sun slowly vanished behind the distant edge of the ring, casting them into a twilight born of madness.
The sea turned red just before the sun vanished completely, a deep crimson, extending out in all directions, pitching and rolling.
And then it was black, and the dropships burned across the Halo night, a great shining jeweled arch filling the sky above them.
The greatest tool of warfare man had ever created held his head in his hands, dejected, as the ocean deepened into darkness behind them.