Ghosts of Erebus (part three): Beautiful, Silent Madness
Posted By: Chuckles
Date: 27 November 2004, 8:28 AM
Ghosts of Erebus (part three): Beautiful, Silent Madness
Some are driven mad by it. Those who have never heard cannot imagine. Those who have will try anything to forget. But there is no forgetting. A horror to the good, a joy to the evil, it begins among the living, and ends where it belongs—in the halls of the dead. It is a cry, a scream, a shriek. It is the sound, the horrible, involuntary squeal of a man at the moment of slaughter. No utterance is more evil, for it is ever the company of death and murder.
Have you been to Erebus—where such cries went up continuously for twenty-seven days? Where the living are insane, and the dead outnumber the living? Where the mass graves are so immense that they can be viewed from space? Have you been to Erebus—have you been to Hell?
Of all the skeletons in its closet—and there were many—Erebus was the biggest, and you did not have to place your ear on the door to hear it stirring. No, its hideous cry of death was getting louder, and the door could not contain it forever. ONI's sins would soon overtake them, and irony would get a curtain call: for it would happen in Hell, and ONI's name was on the deed.
Lieutenant Scott Carion felt his stomach tighten, and although the temperature was a comfortable sixty-eight degrees, he was sweating. As he stood in the shuttle bay of the UNSC Cerberus he fought to remain calm. But neither his rank nor the sixty Marines who surrounded him could keep his heart from racing—and small wonder: the Clowns had just arrived. Admiral Kraft had told him to meet the Spartans and waste no time "establishing his authority."
The Pelican's ramp lowered, and the Spartans disembarked. Walking directly to the Lieutenant they snapped a crisp salute. "Reporting for duty, sir." The young officer almost fell over.
"Aren't there supposed to be two of you?" Carion asked, unconsciously wiping sweat from his forehead.
"I brought as many men as I needed to accomplish my mission," Lexicus stated flatly. Turning around to survey the five Spartans standing behind him and then looking back at the nervous officer, he added, "Is there a problem sir?"
Carion did his best to speak with authority. "I'm sorry soldier, but I have orders to allow only two Spartans on this ship. Four of you will have to leave. Warrant officer Anderson can—"
"Nobody is going back, sir."
A murmur ran through the Marines, and they shifted uneasily. Junior officers were notoriously easy to rankle, and they had no interest in fighting six Spartans.
Surprised and somehow strengthened by the sudden insubordination, the officer spoke as he would to a private. "What was that soldier?!"
"With all due respect, sir," Lexicus replied in an icy voice, "we will remain aboard this cruiser—every last one of us."
Carion was livid. "I don't want to use force, soldier—"
"—and I wouldn't recommend it," Chuckles said, laughing. "If you're done talking tough, would you please get out of our way? Unless you are going to try and put us back in the Pelican?" Chuckles lifted his hands, palms up, as if waiting for an answer. The young officer's lips moved, but made no sound. Chuckles continued. "In that case, why don't you show us to our accommodations, sir."
Without speaking a word the shamed Lieutenant turned and led them through the ship.
Captain Robert Addy couldn't believe his ears. "My God, there are six of them?!" He hadn't realized he'd yelled until he looked up and saw everyone on the bridge staring. Lowering his voice, he continued. "And you let them on the ship, Lieutenant? No, no, it doesn't change a thing. Got their names? Good."
The Captain muttered an expletive under his breath as he closed the channel. Not only was he headed for Erebus, but he also had more Spartans on board than he had planned—each a potential enemy. Looking at his young crew, he envied their calm—a calm that he would not share until he returned safely to Earth. Of course, they all had something that he lacked: ignorance. To them Erebus was only a name, but to Captain Addy it was much more. He could still hear the cries . . . the inhuman screams.
"Sir? Are you okay?" Shaken from his thoughts, he looked up to see the concerned face of Lieutenant Sandie Gordon. "Sir, you're white as a sheet . . . and trembling. Let me call Dr. Volkner."
"No, but thank you Lieutenant. I'll be fine, and anyway, Volkner wouldn't be able to help."
The thick hood over his head blinded and almost suffocated him. Whatever they had stuck in his ears made it so that he could barely even hear his own screams. All time seemed to run together, but he guessed that he was being tortured every few hours. It was always the same: something would be injected into his arm, and a few minutes later the nightmare would begin . . . again.
As far as he could tell, he had been cut, burned, electrocuted and, perhaps, operated on. How long had he been here? Days? Weeks? Months? At best, he was on the edge of sanity. David Sagus was tough, real tough, but he knew it was only a matter of time before he cracked. They had not yet asked any questions—but that was no surprise. They would wait until he was totally broken. Then he would tell them everything and they would open the container he'd been entrusted with.
If that happened, he had only one prayer: that they would kill him before they opened it.
Erebus was roughly three times as far from Earth as the planet Reach, but due to an anomaly in slipspace it took about the same amount of time to get there: usually five or six days. Captain Addy spent his sleepless hours going over the CSV of each "extra" Spartan on his ship. If by some accident these super-soldiers learned the truth, he would need to know what he was dealing with. He had hoped knowing more about them would calm his nerves, but he had been mistaken. Lexicus had picked his team well.
He had already heard of Turpertrator. Towards the end of the Bishkek Rebellion the renowned Spartan had worked as an agitator in northern Asia: insurance in case the Clowns were lost. Like Lexicus and Chuckles, he had been part of the original group of Spartans. Turpertrator was famous among his peers for employing unique, unorthodox strategies that make his moves nearly impossible to predict. He bore watching every bit as much as the Clowns.
He had never heard of Mike, and after reading his CSV, that surprised him. Unbelievably, he was nearly a head taller and a hundred pounds heavier than the other five Spartans. Although he was known for incredible strength, it was his extraordinary technical prowess that set him apart. Given the present situation, this Spartan could prove the most troublesome.
Xraf and Rhinox represented a rarity among the Spartans—they were brothers. Both of their CSV's showed style and ability surprisingly similar to the Clowns. Like Lexicus and Chuckles, they employed a deadly combination of brutal force and subtlety. A note from Ackerson stated that their considerable skills had not yet peaked.
No matter. Soon the Spartans would be leaving his ship, and that would be the end of it—he hoped.
Nearly six days after leaving Earth, Cerberus began its orbit of Erebus. Every available viewing screen on the sprawling cruiser had drawn a crowd, and as they gawked a stunned silence filled the ship. Shock and disbelief quickly replaced looks of curiosity.
It was beautiful.
It was as if . . . as if they had never left Earth's orbit. You had to look twice to realize that this was a distant planet, and not home. Gazing into their extra large viewing screen, the bridge crew was in awe. Clouds swirled across the globe in familiar patterns, ice capped the poles and oceans painted a brilliant blue between the continents. There was even a single moon, although it was less than half the size of Earth's. The more they looked, the more at home they felt. Smiling, they turned to see what the Captain thought.
But the Captain wasn't there; he was in the head vomiting. He didn't feel at home. No, he had never felt further away.
Lexicus stood in the shuttle bay, observing his team. Something was wrong, but he couldn't figure out what it was. The gear was loaded, their suits were fully functional and Mike had spent several hours looking over their Pelican. Everything checked out; everything was good.
Then why did it feel so wrong?
Chuckles' voice crackled in Lex's helmet. "The crew is ready. I finally got that surface map we've been asking for. Quite a planet."
"Yes, it is," Lex replied, his voice uneasy. "Chuck, you remember that look Ackerson gave us when we were meeting with Admiral Kraft?"
"I'm starting to think that maybe we didn't take that warning seriously enough. Something is wrong, something big."
"Yeah, I agree, something is: our leader is getting spooked," Chuckles laughed. "Remembering any look on Ackerson's face can give you a bad feeling. Forget about it. If something happens, we're prepared. And," Chuckles added in a serious voice, "if you start acting jumpy, it's going to affect the team. Let's stop worrying and focus on this mission."
"Yeah, you're right," Lexicus replied in a cheerless voice. "Get the team on the ship—let's get moving."
Several minutes later their Pelican left the shuttle bay. ONI had programmed coordinates into the auto-pilot for the approximate area that the intelligence officer had landed. Lexicus didn't care much for having a computer land his team, but orders were orders.
After coming through the upper atmosphere, the view from the Pelican was breathtaking. Soon they could discern far off mountains, large lakes, lush green-lands and pale deserts. For a moment Lex's unease lifted, sapped away by the expansive beauty. As they lost altitude the surface features began to emerge and it was clear that they would be landing just outside a city. Lexicus surveyed the LZ with his binocular vision—and his unease returned. Something was down there . . . something that shouldn't be.
Dropping steadily, the Pelican flew towards a large, open square; and as the Spartans looked out the cockpit window, their blood ran cold. Filling the huge, concrete area from one side to the other, was a massive crowd of yelling, cheering soldiers. The dropship slowed, hovered briefly, and then gently touched down.
Beginning a few hundred yards in front of them, the sea of humanity began to part: someone important was coming. As the small entourage neared and their faces became clearer, Chuckles nearly stopped breathing. Oh my God. It was all clear now. ONI had sent them here in order to recover something, but this was no mission.
This was a trade.
Standing before their small ship was none other than Viktor Turpolev; founder and architect of the failed Bishkek Rebellion.
Without turning his head, the ex-world leader spoke to his aide. "Do you believe me now, Krasky? There is nobody that ONI would not betray to fulfil its desires. That is why they are strong, my friend." Allowing himself a weak smile of satisfaction, he said, "Verify that they are indeed unarmed, and let the Cerberus know that they may open the door."
"Open the door, sir?" Krasky said in disbelief. "These are the Clowns. Let us blow it up, let them burn."
"No!" Turpolev answered angrily, his head shaking in disgust. "They shall not die so quickly. By them my country was destroyed and by their hands my sons were killed. They will wish for death long before they die, and they will die looking at my face."
Inside the Pelican, Lexicus spoke calmly. "Any luck, Mike?"
The burly Spartan spoke from under an access panel. "Lex, whoever did this—it's a work of art. I'll need at least ten minutes to restore manual control." Moments earlier they had discovered that they had been supplied with bogus weapons. This was more good news.
"Too long. Any ideas guys?" Xraf began to speak, but was interrupted by a sound.
The ramp was lowering.
"I have an idea." Chuckles said as he pulled out his huge combat knife and smiled hideously beneath his helmet. Waving the blade towards the massive crowd outside the window he said, "I don't know how they got away the first time Lex, and I don't care: they're all here now." Then, in a voice of pure glee that surprised everyone but Lexicus he added, "Let's finish what we started in New Afghanistan."