Ghosts of Erebus (part seven): Fairytales and Nightmares
Posted By: Chuckles
Date: 2 January 2005, 4:57 PM
Ghosts of Erebus (part seven): Fairytales and Nightmares
What is a joyful sound to a devil, or a pleasing fragrance to an evil spirit? Will a demon dance merrily to a dirge, or smile widely at a funeral? Quiet your thoughts and mind the silence; hear the dirge and see the demons dance—for this is no fairytale, but a nightmare.
More than anything, he wanted to scream, but forty minutes of panicked cries had reduced his voice to a whisper. Less than twelve hours before he had been blinded, his eyes forced from his head during hellish torture. Yet, as invisible death walked the hallway leaving behind a trail of fear as a snail leaves slime, David Sagus was the only person who could see it. Blacker than pitch and stooped menacingly beneath the ten-foot ceiling, it moved slowly towards his cell. Physical eyes could have shut out the terror, but blindness forced David to stare unblinking at death—and stare he did, mouth wide, screaming silence.
Suddenly, the black nightmare paused and a chilling cry erupted as the door guard was horribly slaughtered. It was silent for a moment, and then David heard the sickening sound of a body being dropped to the floor. Sagus lifted his head, but he didn't have to look up to see it. Behind the thick steel door, it, the black monster, the terror that had haunted his dreams for over a month, stood motionless—and his heart trembled.
It was staring at him.
An instant after the ground began to shake, Rhinox hailed Lexicus on his com.
"We have thousands of soldiers approaching on foot from the east!"
"Roger that, what—"
"No time Lex! Get everyone in the Pelican now!"
In less than a minute they were lifting off the ground. Climbing high above the trees they looked to the east, and their blood ran cold. More than one hundred thousand soldiers blanketed the countryside like angry ants.
"Mike, sweep the area two klicks east for Xraf and Rhinox."
"There!" Mike said, pointing down at flashes of gunfire, "That's them! My God . . ." Within a few short seconds they would be overrun, and they were too far from a clearing for him to land.
Without warning, Mike threw the Pelican into a nosedive, straight into the forest. It didn't take long for Lexicus to read his mind.
"Mike, are you crazy?!"
He didn't reply, but as they neared the trees he yelled, "HOLD ON!"
They were making kills, but it was like fighting a tidal wave with a sponge—they weren't slowing them down one bit. Within seconds the wall of wild, screaming soldiers would crash into them, and that would be the end. Looking over at Helljumper, he couldn't help but be impressed. Having just run out of ammunition, the ODST calmly holstered his pistol, and palmed his combat knife. The man has grit.
Suddenly hearing a loud snapping and crashing sound behind him, Xraf turned—and couldn't believe his eyes.
A Pelican was violently plowing its way through the tops of trees, straight towards them. Approaching now with the finality of death, the hoard was only a few meters away. Grabbing the ODST like a child, he ran backwards. Xraf saw the ramp lower moments before the drop ship passed overhead. Leaping two meters straight up, and grabbing the ramp, he slung Helljumper into the ship. Turpertrator grabbed Xraf's hand.
"I got you!" As he pulled him in, a tree suddenly snagged Xraf's foot, pulling Turper down and slamming his chest into the deck. Dazed for a moment, he looked—his hand was empty and Xraf was gone.
Finally, the Pelican cleared the trees. Walking to the rear of the ship as the ramp closed, Lexicus felt sick. Xraf was lost, and Rhinox would not respond on his com. All THAT to save one lousy ODST?! Taking off his helmet, he grabbed Helljumper by the neck, pinning him against the wall.
"What are you doing here?" His voice was not friendly.
Helljumper didn't even flinch. "I'm here to hunt you." Then looking a little awkward he asked, "Who was that Spartan with me?"
Slightly loosening his grip, and speaking in a pained voice Lex said, "Xraf. He was a good soldier and a friend. Rhinox, his brother, was lost too."
Helljumper nodded his head slowly. "He was an excellent soldier. I arrived with nine excellent soldiers, men that I've spent the last seven years of my life training." He paused, and then his face a mix of anger and pain he said, "They were like sons to me. Were you close to the men you lost?"
"If you don't get your hand off my neck now," Helljumper said in a voice that made soldiers drop their weapons, "you're gonna get a lot closer!"
Glancing down, Lexicus saw a combat knife poised mere inches from the bare skin of his neck. Slowly, he released his grip and pulled his arm back.
Helljumper replaced his weapon. "Enough of this! We've both lost men and I've a feeling that we've both been betrayed. I think it's about time we showed them who they're dealing with. You with me?"
Lexicus could not help it, this ODST had earned his respect. Walking forward and clasping his hand he said, "Feet first, Captain?" Then with a hint of a smile, "You've come to the right place."
Walking down the long, white hallways of the base, Stephen Thanatos could see it in the stooped postures, frightened eyes and worried faces—a crushing invisible weight, a presence so thick that you could almost taste it in the air. Fear. He, perhaps more than any other man, had been witness to it. Staring into countless faces as they died—or worse—he had become acquainted and completely obsessed with fear, as well as its many causes. Most men found it bitter and disturbing, but Thanatos savored it like a child would a piece of chocolate, rolling it around in his mouth, relishing the strong, sweet taste. Walking the halls to David's cell, passing soldier after soldier, the fear was almost intoxicating.
When he had asked David Sagus about the contents of the container the night before, his captive had replied cryptically, "Of all people, I'd thought you would've figured that out by now."
So that's what he meant. Stephen envied this . . . thing.
Stopping outside the door, Thanatos looked around carefully. Only a few splatters of blood on the ceiling remained of the brutal killing half an hour earlier. Entering the cell, Stephen flicked on the light. Hanging on the wall by his wrists, Sagus didn't even acknowledge his entrance.
"Morning David. Sleep well?"
Sagus moved his lips, but he had no voice, and only an inaudible whisper escaped.
"Good. I need to know more about the . . . now what did you say it was again? A demon?" Walking over until he was only a few feet away he said, "Now David, do you really believe that? Just nod or shake your head."
Wearily, the eyeless head shook.
"Of course. Such things exist only in fairytales. Did you call it that merely for lack of reference?"
Now Stephen had a problem—he had come alone. Given recent events the only way he could have brought soldiers with him was by force—and for that he would have needed other soldiers. Thanatos had run out of yes-or-no questions and he would now need David to write down his answers. That would require unchaining him from the wall, but even in his severely weakened state, Sagus was not to be taken lightly. Moving him to a chair without help was too big a risk.
Coming closer, Thanatos spoke as a mother would to her young child. "David, I have some more questions, and I'm going to need you to whisper the answers as loud as possible, okay?"
"How did you manage to catch and freeze the creature?"
Sagus whispered, but not loud enough. Thanatos moved closer.
Again he whispered, but it was still too soft. Thanatos moved his ear even closer, so close that David could feel the warmth of the madman's skin.
"One more time."
Moving his head forward with surprising quickness, David clamped his teeth down on his captor's ear, causing him to scream with pain. With cold savagery slowly kindled over weeks of torture, Sagus thrashed his head like a feeding shark, brutally tearing the ear completely off and spitting it on the floor. Thanatos grabbed his bleeding head and ran from the room, as a smile, a real smile, spread across David's face for the first time in over a month.
For Thanatos, it was just as well—the answer was much, much worse.
By the time Addy deployed a satellite, there was nothing left to see, save an area that looked like it had been stampeded by cattle. The massive wave of soldiers had undoubtedly wiped out his ODST's, and he was fairly certain, the Clowns too.
He was through playing ball with this lunatic, and if Admiral Kraft didn't like that, tough. Their goal had always been to retrieve Lieutenant Sagus and his cargo. Why Kraft had been so bent on burning the Clowns was beyond him, and frankly, he no longer cared. Combat options were few, since he wasn't equipped with a large strike-force. Addy had spent the last twenty minutes locked alone in his cabin going over information about Erebus and the firepower that Turpolev had at his disposal. Suddenly he had an idea.
Picking up his com, he called the bridge. His XO, Lieutenant Sandie Gordon, answered.
"Sandie, I need you and Lieutenant Timmer to meet me in the wardroom in ten minutes."
"Yes, sir." Then after a short pause, "Captain? Lieutenant Timmer is not at his post."
"Then find him, Sandie."
Lieutenant Scott Carion lay in the infirmary of the Cerberus, handcuffed to a bed and cursing the day he had joined the Navy. Not out loud, of course, since his jaw had been shattered, but that fact made him curse all the more.
Where are all the doctors? Finally, he heard the welcome sound of footsteps. But all feeling of relief was soon to vanish.
Carion looked up, closed his eyes, and then his mind let loose a brilliant series of deeply felt expletives. That's why there are no doctors!
Pulling out a syringe Lieutenant Justin Timmer looked at Scott with dead eyes. "I brought you a little something for the pain."
Carion thrashed wildly as Timmer tried to inject the poison. Darting his eyes, the Weapons Officer feared that the commotion had attracted some onlookers, but saw nothing. Balling his hand, he smashed his fist cruelly into Scott's shattered jaw. Carion convulsed, his eyes rolled back and then, mercifully, he passed out.
Furious at the delay, Justin plunged the syringe into the lifeless arm. About time, you filthy piece of—
"What are you doing?!"
Turning around in surprise, Timmer found himself staring into the face of his XO, Lieutenant Sandie Gordon.
She was holding a gun.
Keeping the weapon steady, she spoke into the ship's intercom, "All medical personnel report to the infirmary immediately! We have a medical emergency!"
Timmer was confused. "What are you doing, Sandie?! He's already dead!"
Smiling coldly, Gordon aimed the gun at Timmer's head. "Not for him—for you."
Justin jerked backwards as two slugs ripped into his brain. Falling over, his head hit the concrete-hard floor with a loud crack! But he was dead, and he didn't mind. Lifeless eyes stared as medical workers arrived, and Sandie Gordon pointed and looked grieved. But Justin was not able to see, and the eyes only gave the impression of sight. Too bad: somewhat of an actor himself, Timmer would have been impressed.
Back on Earth, Colonel Ackerson had become increasingly uneasy. Something about Admiral Kraft made his skin crawl, and if he had learned anything over his years at ONI, it was to trust his instincts.
A hologram of a man appeared on his desk. The figure was well muscled, wore the robes of ancient Greek culture and held a musical instrument in his hand that looked like a harp. As he spoke, musical notes would flow across his image and, at times, music would play. An hour ago he had asked the advanced AI to check on something. Although he had undoubtedly completed the task in a few seconds, as was his habit, Loxias kept it to himself for some time, contemplating eventualities. Ackerson had run out of patience.
"Stop stalling, Loxias, I need that information."
"Of course Colonel. I do fear for what this may lead to. In telling you this information, I see death."
"That remains to be decided, but whatever happens, it will be deserved."
The hologram grew darker, and the music struck a sad, minor key. "The death I speak of, Colonel, is your own. If I could possibly dissuade you—"
"No, Loxias, I still want the information."
"As you wish, sir." For the ten minutes the AI spoke, his sad tone never wavered. At the end, Ackerson, while not surprised, was enraged.
"Loxias, contact Wiley."
"But Colonel, I beg you!"
"You are not my counselor, Loxias! Do as I say!" Silently the AI obeyed, and the com beeped.
"Wiley? This is Ackerson."
The voice was smooth and cold. "I thought you might be calling."
Why in the Devil would he be expecting me? "I have a job for you. His name is Admiral Thomas Kraft."
As the Colonel gave details to the high-priced assassin, Loxias shook his head sadly, played a slow, mournful dirge and slowly faded away.