Ghosts of Erebus (part six): A Serious Lack of Vultures
Posted By: Chuckles
Date: 27 December 2004, 3:04 PM
Ghosts of Erebus (part six): A Serious Lack of Vultures
David Sagus could feel it, since he had felt it before, but they paid him no notice and his screams of terror echoed and died on the harsh stone walls of his cell. Animals could feel it, but as dogs tore at their cages and birds fled the city, nobody took note. But they would feel it soon—very soon. Deep inside the military complex in a small room, the air temperature began to rise and the container started to glow brighter and brighter until it looked like super-heated steel at a foundry.
Time had run out: the container exploded into hundreds of pieces.
Across the hall, Kirkland Park was startled awake by the noise and glanced up to find the video screen blank. He had fallen asleep—again. What do they expect, watching a box for hours? Gulping cold, black coffee from a steel mug, he checked the monitor and winced when he found that it was on and working properly. Finishing off the bitter liquid and picking up his gun he reluctantly walked out the door and across the hall. But when he grabbed the doorknob, the hair on the back of his neck stood up.
It was hot.
Backing up a couple of steps, he spoke into his com.
"Sergeant Sing? Hello? Sergeant Sing? Are you there?" Where is he? "This is Park, Hello? We have a situation with the container, repeat, a situation with the container . . . anybody there?"
Crap. Taking hold of the warm doorknob, he twisted it and, careful to stay in the hall, he pushed the door open and looked in. Red-hot pieces of the container were scattered everywhere. Since the light had been knocked out in the explosion the super-heated debris filled the room with an eerie, hellish glow. Park palmed his flashlight, and swept it around the room, relieved to find nothing. Slowly, he crossed the room to check the area where the container had sat. Nothing.
Towering behind him, a terrifying black shape drew nearer, growing more visible as the debris cooled and the room darkened. It was within the darkness, yet deeper, blacker, darker. Feeling the presence, Park whipped the flashlight around—but saw only more debris. Must be the danged coffee. Turning his back, he searched the other side of the room, but as the light moved it was visible again, a sinister pitch-black hole in the darkness. Slowly, it began to move toward the soldier.
"Park? You there? This is Sing. Hello?"
Finally! "Yes, sir, something happened to the container. I think you should—" The flashlight blinked off, and Park felt that his heart had nearly stopped. "Hang on, sir," he turned to leave.
Halfway across the complex, Sergeant Sing yanked the com out before his ear-drum burst—but he could still hear the horrible screaming. "Park! Park!" Rushing across the huge building to the hallway, he found a dozen soldiers already on the scene—most of them vomiting.
Sing went to the door, shined his flashlight, and violently spit up his supper. At least things were starting to make sense, he thought, even if "sense" was truly terrifying. Why would young men have heart failure? Why would a man with mangled, broken fingers draw a crucifix with his own blood? Why?
What would you do if you saw the Devil?
With blurring quickness the Spartan dove over the rocks, rolled to his feet and leveled his pistol . . . at empty space—space that should have been filled by the head of his adversary. It was hardly a surprise anymore: nothing about this fight had made any sense.
He, like all Spartans, had been trained to respond appropriately in every conceivable combat situation. If the enemy did this, he did that, and did it with inhuman quickness. By the time a Spartan completed training, moves and countermoves performed in the heat of battle were reflexive almost to the point of being involuntary. Although he had been thus far ineffective, the Spartan knew that his responses had been doctrinally flawless.
But he had never faced an opponent like this.
Crouching behind a bush fifty-feet behind the bewildered Spartan, Helljumper smiled as he aimed his pistol. He wouldn't miss. At this distance the legendary ODST could shoot the ring off a man's finger without drawing blood.
BANG! BANG! BANG!
Three shots, three hits, one hole.
Dr. Catherine Halsey was not easy to shock, but as she watched video display on the Navy's Combat Simulator, her mouth dropped open. Quickly regaining composure she stood, causing the VIP's around her to follow suit. Turning, to her left she looked straight into Admiral Denning's eyes "That man," she said pointing emphatically at the screen, "is not fighting the Master Chief."
Helljumper would never forget the look on Halsey's face as she left the base. He had seen it in the face of many opponents, but it had never felt quite this sweet. It was a look of fear. Another soldier, a lesser soldier, would be picked to test the Spartan leader, and the thought made the veteran ODST smile. They were scared of him, and that was victory enough.
With an IQ well over two hundred, Helljumper was as formidable with his mind as he was with weapons. Early in his military career he had applied his stunning intellect to revamping the Navy's outdated combat training. His recommendations were flatly rejected. Although obviously brilliant, the brass judged them too sweeping and too radical—and thus decided to do nothing.
The kernel of his doctrine was as old as warfare itself: know your enemy. But he took it a step further. Spending untold hours watching video, reading manuals, and reviewing war journals, Helljumper catalogued and memorized the operational tactics of every organized military known to man. With this knowledge he developed responses that used the enemy's own tactical discipline to control them. Tirelessly conditioning himself in effective, yet unorthodox tactics, he rendered his own moves invisible to his enemy, all the while using his opponent's ingrained, predictable responses to lead them exactly where he wanted. It worked flawlessly on his fellow soldiers, and now he had proved that it worked on Spartans as well.
Shaking violently as the Pelican punched through the upper atmosphere, Helljumper's thoughts were jarred back into the present. Looking at the nine ODST's accompanying him on the drop ship, he swelled with pride and admiration. These were the best-trained soldiers he had ever led into battle; the select few who were bright enough to adopt his combat doctrine and tough enough to carry it out.
A voice crackled in his headset, "Five minutes 'til we hit dirt, sir!"
"Five minutes, men! They say this place is Hell, so don't be surprised if you see some old friends! Lock and load!"
It was several hours after sunset before Lexicus was able to gather his thoughts. Their perimeter was set and their next move, which was only a few hours away, had been planned. They had even taken the time to bury Krasky since, as Chuckles pointed out with a measure of regret, the planet had, "a serious lack of vultures."
Upon hearing that the planet was named Erebus, another word for Hell in Greek mythology, both he and Chuckles had laughed. For reasons that were lost on the Spartan leaders, clandestine agencies like ONI enjoyed giving ridiculous and extravagant code names to their many secrets. Sitting alone in the haunting, reddish light of Eurydice, the planet's small moon, Lexicus was far from laughter. This once beautiful place had been changed forever, blackened by man's atrocities. Countless bloody corpses had been sown like hellish seeds into the insatiable ground, and their damning silence cried from beneath the blackened reek, demanding revenge.
But that wasn't why the Spartans were here.
"Lex?" Xraf's voice crackled in his helmet. "A Pelican just landed three or four klicks west of camp. My guess is it's from the Cerberus. Orders?"
Twisting his mouth into a sneer beneath his helmet, Lexicus said, "I don't think they came here for campfire stories—take them out." It made no difference to Lex whether they were hear to help or hurt. They had come; they would die.
Swiveling around in her chair, Lieutenant Sandie Gordon looked pale. "Captain, we have communication from Erebus." Pausing and taking a deep breath, she said, "Turpolev wants to speak with you."
Anger flashed momentarily on Addy's face, quickly replaced by military stoicism. Placing a communications device in his ear, he said, "Very well, put him through."
Speaking softly, the voice had a slight Russian accent. "Robert, is that you?"
"Yes, this is Captain Addy."
"Ah, very well. It is good to speak with you under better circumstances."
You mean without my command crew dead, and a knife to my throat you filthy— "I'm very busy, so if you would please get to your point."
"You have landed men on my planet without my permission, or consent. If they are not withdrawn immediately—"
"Those men are there," Addy could barely speak the next words, "to make good on our word to you. They are hunting the Clowns."
"No!" Turpolev yelled in sudden anger, "The Clowns are mine! I will catch them. Recall your men immediately, or they will be killed."
"And the container?"
"When we have the Clowns, you will have your container."
"Close the channel, Lieutenant."
Pulling the com from his ear, and balling his hand into a fist, the Captain turned around slowly and leveled a chilling gaze at Lieutenant Scott Carion. "Lieutenant, how did Turpolev know we landed men?"
Carion's face flushed bright red, but he said nothing.
"ANSWER ME, LIEUTENANT!" The bridge crew froze. Captain Addy rarely displayed anger, but now he looked as if he could kill. This time Carion's lips moved, but as the young officer withered under the Captain's wrath, he found it impossible to form words.
Suddenly rushing forward, Addy grabbed the Lieutenant's neck in his ham-sized fist, pulled out his pistol and pressed in painfully into his right temple.
Speaking in a cold voice Addy said, "You have until the count of three, soldier! ONE!"
"I-I was t-told to . . ."
"Told to WHAT?!"
Whimpering like a child, Carion said, "I was t-told to make sure Turpolev knew . . . understood our intentions."
"You told Turpolev where and when we were landing men," then pulling Carion's face within inches of his own he yelled, "MY MEN?!" Without warning, Addy swung the pistol forward, smashing it viciously into Carion's open mouth and shattering his jaw. "Lock him in the brig."
As two soldiers carried the moaning traitor away, the Combat Officer, Lieutenant Justin Timmer, breathed a sigh of relief—his first breath of any kind in over a minute. The broken jaw would buy him a little time, but eventually Carion would tell the Captain everything. Timmer knew he couldn't let that happen—he knew what had to be done.
"Lieutenant Timmer, contact Helljumper and tell him to abort immediately."
"Yes sir." Keying his com, Timmer tried to hail them, but got only static. Again, he tried, and again, nothing.
"Lieutenant, if we don't contact those men immediately, they will die! What is the problem?"
"Sir," Timmer said, furiously punching buttons, looking concerned and overall, delivering a fine acting performance. "It just isn't working, I don't know."
As the Captain slammed his fist down on his chair in frustration, Timmer smiled inside, happy with his himself. I should have been in movies.
As he has expected, the Spartan began to close in on the Pelican. But, Helljumper noticed, he was very careful. He had seen only one of them, but knew that more could come along at any time. Slowly, cautiously, expertly, he fell in behind him. Creeping closer, he was almost ready.
Xraf had been aware that he was being followed for the last several minutes as he moved through the thick woods towards the suspected LZ. Suddenly turning with blurring speed, Xraf looked into the woods and saw something very strange—a single soldier. Nobody came after Spartans alone. Yet, a hundred yards behind him he saw a large ODST in the woods.
Making the first move, Xraf tore through the trees. Although armed with only a combat knife, he knew the ODST's tactics better than most of them did, and was confident of victory. Coming to a stop, he surveyed the area—but the man was gone.
"Take off your helmet, soldier, now!" Surprised by the voice behind him, Xraf spun around to see an ODST aiming a pistol at his head.
"NOW!" Reluctantly, Xraf complied. "Are you unarmed?" Silence. "I asked a question, soldier! Answer or I do brain surgery!"
"Only with a knife."
Helljumper was disappointed. No wonder it was so easy. "Okay, I have some questions to ask. If I see you twitch a muscle, I'll put a bullet through an eye, got it?"
"Where are the—"
Suddenly they both heard a low rumbling, like distant thunder that seemed to be getting closer and closer. Beneath their feet, the ground began to tremble like a small quake and crazy, maniacal screams began to echo through the forest like some sort of nightmare. Xraf saw the ODST flinch as horrible cries cut through the air from the direction of the LZ.
Taking advantage of the distraction, Xraf leapt throught air, tackling Helljumper, grabbing his pistol and pinning him down. Suddenly, the screams were upon then, and they both looked up to see a massive wave of humanity cutting through the forest in their direction. Wildly screaming, the soldiers in front were covered in blood, and one of them was carrying an ODST helmet—with the head still in it.
Without a word, Xraf grabbed Helljumper's battle rifle, returned the ODST's pistol and stood him to his feet.
"Captain, you have clips for this thing?"
Looking at the approaching hoard utterly without fear, Helljumper almost smiled as he tossed Xraf the BR ammo. "Make 'em count, Spartan!"
And so they stood, side by side, heads up and weapons belching flame as the mass of wild men flowed down upon them like an unstoppable tidal wave.