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The Strive to Survive (Chapter 9: Shadows of Light)
Posted By: CoLd BlooDed<kwb_419_@hotmail.com>
Date: 16 May 2004, 2:44 AM

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The Strive to Survive (Chapter 9: Shadows of Light)
0500 Hours, January 14, 2553 (Military Calendar)/ On Ancient Forerunner Ringworld: Halo 07, inside Forerunner structure.

      It was true, dozens of contacts painted themselves on the motion tracker. The Marines fired into the blackness, illuminating it for mere seconds, nothing but shadow filled the empty space in the small room. The small, metallic clink clink of the used bullet casings intervened with the eerie silence. Jake sighed; the contacts on the radar shuffled around a bit, but the shuffling noise came from above the ceiling. It was as if the Flood could see them, but didn't take the time to attack.
      "Don't linger, we still need to make it to the Control Room." Lieutenant Packs said in a harsh, quiet tone. "There we will erase the AI, set the charges, and blow everything in the room. We will then go to the Generator Room and destroy everything there, too, so we won't have to worry about the source of power that runs through this facility. If we have time... we'll blow the power couplings to level this place. Now c'mon, let's move."
      The Marines and the other ONI personnel followed the el-tee through passages, corridors, big hallways, small hallways, without being forced to contend with any Flood whatsoever. It was odd, yes, but just not having to look at the monstrosities or even thinking about them came as a relief to Jake.
      They proceeded through shadow, light, complete blackness, and gore-covered halls. No bodies sighted, though. Jake didn't recognize anything; he had been here less than twenty-four hours ago. The lights flickered and spat out sparks, blood covered every square millimeter of the floor; roof and walls, the slightly guttural growling echoing from every orifice of the hallway threw him off. He couldn't have been here earlier, it was impossible. Nothing could change the look of this section in less than a day. Nothing.
      Oliver stepped in front of the automatic doorway, bright-yellow sparks jutted out immediately and the door refused to open. The Lieutenant called up his Heavy Demolitionist, who ran up quickly, brushed his drooping helmet out of the way, and took out a small device.
      "Hurry up, Jackson, we don't have much time."
      Green light from the glass that covered over the Demolitionist's eye glowed eerily with tiny white words scrolling down which only Jackson could read. Jackson held up the miniature contraption and held it down, a small, concentrated blue light of superheated plasma poured out of it in a straight line, connecting with the broken door in an instant. Wisps of smoke immediately shrouded the mans' hand as the laser cut through the metal. Jackson moved slowly but thoroughly, the incision his laser-cutter made was a perfect square, and when the full three minutes passed the metal inside the box dropped.
      The Heavy Demolitionist moved back, and let the Lieutenant move by him, Packs kicked the metal, watched the thickness of it drop, and moved through with his gun raised. Once the el-tee disappeared into the shadow of the Control Room, the Marines followed along with the scientists and technician.
      Someone... no, something... was humming on the other side of the wall that divided the room into two. It was unnerving, robotic, but melodic and freakily entrancing at the same time. When the humming turned into an insane laugh, Jake realized who it was.
      "Stop," he said in a whisper, "the AI—Calian—is over there."
      "What? Where?" the Lieutenant spoke loudly, Jake could've slapped his forehead. The crazy laugh turned into a devilish whisper, and Calian's voice echoed through the Control Room.
      "Who is that?" the AI didn't even sound like an AI anymore, it spoke in jumbled sentences that sounded like it was trying to speak over intensely loud static. "I won't stand for it. Whoever is there, come out... NOW!!"
      The sudden loudness of Calian made everyone jump, Jake held up a hand which caught the light from the projector that cast the AI into a human form. No one moved out except the technician. Calian smirked evilly as Jake stepped out of the darkness into the eerie blue luminosity.
      "Bennitz, Jake. ONI technician," said the AI, but its tone wasn't of itself, it was the exact same tone of Jake, it was frightening, "Serial number 02475-27754-JB, verification code 4656."
      "Calian, you've got to stop this."
      "Birth date: October fourth, origin: Earth, America, New York." it said again, eerily, but representing someone else's voice, most likely the Captain back on the Prowler. "Can I help you?"
      "SILENCE!" the AI shrieked, "You are a pathetic, useless, human! Like the rest, you deserve death... I shall grant you what you truly warrant!"
      "That's it, man, you're already unplugged." Jackson walked up to the pedestal, grabbed a data-erasing chip from his pack, and held it close to the hologram.
      "Not so fast." the AI said in the lowest, computerized tone it had, and an electricity bolt shot from one of the broken computers and united with Jackson. The Demolitionist was jerked around, his hands flailing from side to side, blood trickling out of his nose, eyes, and ears. The smell of burning flesh met Jake's nose, causing the tech to gag and make icky, retching noises. The AI spoke again in its mechanical voice as Jackson fell to the ground, burning, and as the data chip clattered to the ground. "I still have control of the facility, you infidels. And I have control of Them, and Them only, I respect them... such a wonderful creation of the Forerunners—"
      "—I heard something." interrupted Sara cautiously, she held up a hand, but the AI continued talking.
      "They deserve much more admiration, much more. Nothing can stop the Flood, nothing at all, especially not a small ragtag group of trained Marines. Your deaths are impeccable and inevitable, Reclaimers, I've been cooperating and learning... with Authentic Denial. He knows everything about this universe, absolutely everything. I do suggest you pay attention next time."
      "Let's get moving, they're coming," Oliver said, but the AI cut him off.
      "Everyone has their own policy, their own strategy for survival, Reclaimers." Calian, who had been staring forward the entire time, turned suddenly to face the soldiers. Its eyes glowed red, streams of data symbols twisted and turned around the holographic body, he had teeth chiseled down to cannibal points, the AI hissed. "This is your own fucking strive to survive, Reclaimers, and I suggest that you hurry and get out of here. And DON'T try and erase me from the data core, I control EVERYTHING, and you sure as hell don't want to try that with me!"
      Flood broke out from the ceiling behind the AI, and moved forward. They stood in shadow, and it seemed as if the shadow was following the monsters... with every step they took the light seemed to disappear. The Marines opened fire; spent shells were thrown from the weapons into the air, and then fell like rain. The bullets ripped into the flesh of the Flood forms, and with the AI's insane laughing in the background the Marines were giving the order to retreat. Except there was one problem.
      They were told they were going back to the D-12.

      And it was at that time, it seemed, that the lurking Flood decided to appear from their hiding spots. The Marines encountered a group on the catwalks in one room, and managed to take them out without much trouble. Soon after that they fought against three bloated carrier forms, a troupe of infection forms, and several human combat forms. They lost a Marine in that fight, but they had kept moving, not stopping for anything. Jake had scored a gruesome kill with his Battle Rifle, he had managed to rip open the chest of the combat form he had been fighting and pop the infection form burrowed within... with his bare hands. The tech had plunged his hands into the rotting torso and clutched onto the parasite, and then had squeezed it with all his might. He had felt proud when the combat form collapsed, and it heightened his mood.
      But his mood only stayed high for a few moments, they got to the D-12 and found the entranceway collapsed. The rubble scattered across the room, the decomposing bodies of dead combat forms, and weapons were etched into the techs mind; it was all he ever saw anymore. At least, all he ever remembered anymore.
      What had happened before that? before the Flood were released? He didn't remember; his mind had gone blank as he had desperately tried to find memories of the first few months he had been here, on the ringworld.
      Nothing had come up.
      They were currently making a dash down random hallways, it was very unorganized, but Jake and the others could care less. Much less.
      "Contacts left... and right! Goddamnit they're everywhere!" screamed Sergeant Vladimir, he shot at anything that moved in the light that shone from the mounted flashlight on his weapon. Infection forms skittered across the floor after them, but the Marines took long strides in their sprints, and managed to outrun them.
      "In here!" ordered the Lieutenant, "Get in the vehicle storage, go, go, go!"
      The el-tee shot at something that was coming from behind and enlightened his face with the muzzle blast. He dove inside whilst firing, yelled "Close the door!" and stopped sliding on the metal. Sergeant Peters slammed the hologram on the wall near the door, waited for the entrance to be sealed, and walked over to Packs to help him up.
      "Thanks, Sergeant." Lieutenant Oliver gratefully said, "I hope we're all right in here, we can't go back until we finished the mission. I'm sorry we had to retreat, it was the wrong order to give, but... that AI really scared the shit out of me, I was beginning to think it was insane."
      Jake felt the exact same way, Packs seemed as if he could read the technicians mind, it was scary. Along with the fanatical laughter echoing through the Control Room as they had retreated, Jake shuddered.
      "So now what the fuck you gonna do? Huh?" a voice spoke up; it sounded very much like a drunk. The speech was slurred, yet jumbled, and the voice came from the back of the room, behind a Transport Warthog. Everyone moved over to him.
      "How long have you been here...?" Private Cunliffe asked wearily, the soldier squinted at the man.
      "Oh, not long, not long at all. Seconds are minutes, minutes are hours, hours are days, so on and so on..." replied the stranger calmly, his eyes rolled around in their sockets. "I mean, who wouldn't like to be in here, safe... safe like me, only me, and no one else. They're dead, not alive, like me, only me..."
      "Are you alright?" asked Sara, she stepped towards him.
      "Don't you fucking touch me! I can't trust you!" the man screamed, "They turned their backs on me, I hid, I hid... I was by myself, they fucking left me! Get it? They ditched me; I couldn't do anything but hide."
      Great, another manic, he'll help us. Oh, yes.
      "Come with us, sir, we can protect you no matter—" the Lieutenant added, but was cut off. He grabbed Sara, she had wandered to close to the insane man, and she tripped, the man stood, caught her by the hair, and replied evilly.
      "—I'm not going anywhere with you, you're all the same. So don't touch me, step away, and she'll be fine... for the most part." he said with an evil smile, the man cocked his eyebrow. The light caught his eyes, causing them to twinkle foully. He pulled out a combat knife from his belt and held it up to a trembling Sara, she gasped as did all the other Marines.
      The Lieutenant attempted to be assertive, "Don't do it, we're here for you. We're here."
      "What did I just f-fucking say?! Step back, step back, fucker!"
      It was enough, there they were; the el-tee with a shocked, yet clever look on his face, and the pale, shaking stranger holding the scientist hostage. The Lieutenant—in one swift motion—tossed his Battle Rifle backwards; it was caught by one of the Marines. The man knew what was going on, and raised the knife above Sara's chest. Oliver Packs brought up his fists, grabbed the knife before he could drive it into her flesh, and punched the man in the face. Sara was released, the man clutched his face as crimson red blood spurted out, and Packs wrapped his fists in the ONI uniform.
      The Lieutenant kneed the crazy man in the stomach over and over again with all his anger put into each swift movement. The man let his hands drop, letting all the blood pour out of his broken nose, and stood there with quivering eyes. Oliver stopped, released his grip on the clothing, and began punching him in the face. The victim didn't do anything, he just stood there, his face slowly swelling and turning purple. Jake felt sick, the beating against the insane stranger wasn't just brutal, it was... cruel and unjustified. He had to do something; he couldn't just watch the Lieutenant thrash against someone. The technician grabbed Oliver and pulled him back.
      "What are you doing?!" exclaimed Jake, "We have much better things to do than this, sir!"
      "I-I'm sorry... I don't know what the hell got into me, I apologize." Packs let go of the beaten man who slumped back against the wall and collapsed onto the floor. Oliver swept his hand over his brow, a mixture of water, sweat, and mud came off with it. He then bent over the beaten stranger and searched the pockets on his uniform. "There's got to be something we can use." He pulled out a folded sheet of paper in an instant, unfolded it, and held it up to the faltering light.
      "Jesus. This is Colonel Briggs"—the el-tee looked down at the unconscious officer, he winced. Briggs had once been tough, unafraid, and intelligent. Now he lay on the floor, his back up against the wall, sitting in a pool of his own blood. Oliver looked back at everyone—"he didn't deserve this. Fuck! Fuck these creatures; we'll get 'em back for you, Briggs."
      The comatose Colonel twitched in response.
      "Captain's not gonna be happy about this," Oliver said, his voice wavering as if a joke. He then read the document out loud: "Operational code 75434... use only if necessary, keep this file classified, orders from Headquarters of ONI Research and Excavation. Hm... must be something important if it's from them HORE boys."
      Jake knew exactly who the "HORE" people were; researchers of the Forerunner. A highly confidential ONI branch, and would rely on any actions to get what they wanted. The code didn't make out to the technician, he didn't know what it was for but had a feeling in due time they'd use it. Sara seemed to take offense from the Lieutenants slight smirk and the minor amusement among the Marines.
      "I'd appreciate it if you didn't refer to them as HORE, they deserve more than that—" she said, but Packs held up a hand, Sara stopped immediately and glared at him.
      "What do you care, anyways?" she continued to glare, displeased, at him. Oliver shrugged, "We might as well stay here until the pressure is off."
      But no, the Flood and the corrupted AI wouldn't have it any other way. An explosion rung out from the far side of the room, sending large chunks of titanium skittering across the floor, infection forms crawled out, clawing at the metal to keep their grip. Combat forms followed, their rotting feet brushing aside any of the bulbous parasitic forms. Darkness devoured the light behind the fleshing bulbs pouring through the tube. They crawled horrifyingly along the wall, creating a massive green ring of the parasites. Oliver pocketed the paper, received his Battle Rifle, and yelled: "Fall back! Fall back!"
      One of the combat forms jumped straight for them, his distorted arms were thrown back, the tentacles forming along them slithering in the air. The infected human brought down the tentacled arm in one swift motion, knocking a Marine into the air. The soldier hit the wall head-first, had his skull splattered against it, and collapsed onto the floor. The attack form launched itself forward.
      "Get the lead out, Marines!" yelled Sergeant Peters, his head and weapon bounced up and down as he tried to focus on the jumping combat form.
      The others were shooting as well while they all inched back towards the forced open door. Bullet casings littered the floor, green blood splattered everywhere, and all the stray shots ended up popping one of the parasites.
      Jake exited the room at the sound of another explosion and more screams from the soldiers. He turned and ran ahead of everyone else, with Sara right behind him. Sergeant Vladimir and Peters emerged from the torturous storage room with human blood on their faces; their teeth were clenched as they fired directly through the laser-cut gap. And as soon as the light emitted from their rifles ceased, they started running along with the technician and scientist. The Lieutenant stumbled out along with three other Marines, and rushed out of the gaps way.
      "Where the hell is Teck?" yelled Sara over the rumble of weapons fire, an ethereal chant flowed softly somewhere in Jake's mind as she repeated herself. Tears began to flow down her gentle face, she was crying, Maxell was dead. Jake felt the deepest sympathy towards her, but her face suddenly lit up—not with a smile, but a deep, orange. The technician turned to face the doorway, looked at the massive fireball that sprouted out of the gap, and grabbed her.
      "C'mon, we've got to get the fuck outta here!" he yelled and pulled her arm; she was hesitant for a moment but succumbed to the technician's force.
      They wasted time just standing where they were, and were now behind the fleeing Marines who were now heading in the direction they had just come from. Flames continued to develop from the doorway behind them and lick the wall on the other side, creating grave, molten marks of ash. This wasn't enough to stop the Flood; however, as they walked out of the blaze without so much as bothering to notice they were on fire.
      "Here comes more." Jake whispered, and gave a final tug to the scientists arm. They ran back, not knowing what was held in store for them, the Flood following after them ablaze. Flesh dripping from their shoulders, the smell filling the large corridor. Jake didn't look back.