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The Strive to Survive (Chapter 11: Friend and Foe?)
Posted By: CoLd BlooDed
Date: 17 June 2004, 4:25 AM

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The Strive to Survive (Chapter 11: Friend and Foe?)
0711 Hours, January 14, 2553 (Military Calendar)/ On Ancient Forerunner Ringworld: Halo 07, inside Forerunner structure in makeshift Control Room.

      The AI flashed an evil, holographic grin. Jake felt gooseflesh pop up on his arms and his hairs rise on the back of his neck. What he was looking at was a video of Sara and some others traveling down a hallway which he had never gone to before. The display was blurry and transparent, and the rotting green glow it gave off was the only source of light, besides the now-dimming Calian, his color dying and fading.
      His voice, however, was still perceptible, and was actually quite loud and clear.
      "As you see here," the AI said softly, "Sara Medds and her associates are moving through hallway X-41Z, not that any of you would know where, or what, that is. Ah! Here we go." Calian fast-forwarded through the clip, and when it stopped Sara's voice could be heard clearly over the Control Rooms' speakers.
      "Keep your weapons with you," the scientist said on the recording, and although everyone in the Control Room could hear her clearly, an odd humming noise intervened with an almost perfect pitch that was emanating from the video. "We'll need to do this quickly..."
      The soft rustling of polyester shoes resonated through the recording, and the view (which was from Sara's) bounced up and down, after a few seconds, the associates came to a stop.
      "Here it is," Sara said in awe, someone said something behind her, but it was barely audible, "Alright, anyone have the DE?"
      The DE was a Data Scrambler, and it was very familiar to Jake. He had used many during his training back on Earth. Why they would be using them to release the Flood... he didn't want to think about it. DE's were used to erase the codes and replace them with a string of random numbers—or if chosen, they'd delete the need for a code completely, leaving the restricted door open to anyone.
      It was definite that the operatives were using the second option.
      The Sara in the video reached out with the device, placed it on the door, and let the DE do its work. Numbers scrolled clearly across the display; 9s, 6s, and 3s. The machinery in the door could be heard rotating around in its sockets, cogs (or quite possibly, "holographic cogs", devices that spun and clicked several times before unhinging) twisted, rods dropped, and the metal separated from the middle. The air decompressed from the room before them in a quiet pop, Sara moved forwards, taking the first-person view along with it.
      "I hear them." a voice said from behind the scientist in the video. "I hear them! Shouldn't we leave? Like, now?"
      "In a few seconds,"Sara concluded, "We need to let them 'pick up' our scent, just so they know where to come out from."
      Jake clenched his fists together, then they came apart; then closed; opened; closed. He turned to Sara.
      "Did you ever plan on telling us this?"
      She stared at him with shocked eyes, as if he had been the one keeping the secret, as if he had been the one who had released the Flood for studying purposes... goddamn studying purposes. Jake practically snarled.
      "I'm positive she was not going to, Jacob." interjected the AI sweetly, the scientist lowered her head.
      "Let's get out of here," Oliver Packs said, he pointed to the exit, "But I've got to do something first."
      He grabbed the electromagnetic disabler from Sergeant Peters, and with swift motion he clipped it to the AI's holotank, Calian shrieked at this sudden action.
      The Lieutenant only smiled.
      "It's been great doin' business with you, chief."
      "You Infidel! Such disrespect! And to think I let you LIVE! Prepare for your timely demises, you Infidels!" Calian was mad, truly and certainly mad, but that didn't matter. The holotank was short-circuiting, sending multicolored sparks in all directions—blue, purple, yellow, green—it was amazing.
      The holographic representation of the AI flickered, on and off, on and off, its eyes became nothing, and everything behind Calian's "eye sockets" was visible.
      "Time to go, Marines!" laughed Packs suddenly, "Saddle up!"
      The some-odd twenty remaining soldiers (including the technician and scientist) were lead out of the room quickly at the frenzied shrieks of the AI.
      As they were running down the hall, the el-tee told his soldiers that the thing he had attached to the holotank would erase the AI. Then it would create a chain reaction of mechanical failures inside of the tank, causing the device to become rather obsolete. Then somehow, mega-volts would be pumped into the container, coursing up and down until it hit something vital—the result would be a somewhat large explosion, and with all the other equipment in the room, the explosion would be much larger.
      The only downside was that this would happen in less than forty minutes and it would be able to take down the entire facility. Since the volts emitted from the device used against the AI would go from one computer to the next, running through the entire network of the facility, the explosion might occur in less than forty.
      "So where are we going?" a Marine asked.
      "We're going to the vehicle bays..." replied Oliver in excitement, "they're on the other side of the structure."
      "So we're finally gettin' off of this shithole?" hooted another, "Thank the Lord!"
      They were still running, Jake up ahead with the Lieutenant, Sara lingering in the back, sobbing quietly. The technician couldn't help but feel sorry for her, but what she did was wrong, and something—a pretty damn huge something—might be able to smooth everything out. He doubted this.
      So we're finally getting off this ring, Sara, Mike, Alex, everybody, this fucking hellhole.
      But it was never really a hellhole until they were released, am I right? This was Sara's doing, you saw the video, you know what happened.
      I do...
      Then why deny it, Jake? Why? That bitch doesn't deserve any of you, you'll show her.
      Shut up!
he yelled in his mind, angrily, at the voice which emerged, the evil voice—the voice which would make the tech seem like an asshole, a very big asshole indeed.
      Maybe Sara did deserve something, not something big, but something. After all, she was responsible for all those deaths, the struggle in which everyone endured.
      As he thought about this, the ONI Marines rounded a large corner stacked with fuel cylinders and ammunition crates, roars of Flood bellowed behind them all. No one was talking.
      Is it alright for someone to go unharmed for actions that are highly consequential? No, it isn't.
      I said
shut up.
      Oh, and I heard you, but I'm the little voice inside of you that greets you warmly with hate, that reminds you of what you're thinking, but what you are too afraid to admit. You coward.
      Then stop bothering me.
      Come on, Jake, lighten up! We're both on the same side here, I mean, come on!
      Shut the
fuck up and leave me alone!
      Okay, bud, but you don't even know what you're thinking
      It stopped suddenly, leaving a faint trail of thought behind, Jake's mind fed on it hungrily like a snake eating a mouse in one slow swallow. It developed questions, lots of questions; some were forgotten, some were remembered, and those which were remembered were most grim.
      "Stop, men." sighed the Lieutenant, the footfalls ceased immediately.
      "What's going on?" Jake asked.
      "Nothing that you can see..." he replied, "But you can listen."
      So they listened.
      They heard the faint dropping of blood (or was it water?), the clear hideousness of inhuman screams and snarls, the gunshots that rang out loudly—and the muffled, but certain, sound of robotic humming.
      "It's 747." the scientist said from the back of the pack, everyone turned to her.
      "What?" Oliver asked; he had heard her, but didn't understand what she was saying.
      "The monitor of Installation 07, one mean son of a bitch, if you've heard of 343 Guilty Spark, you can make a connection." Sara said clearly, although her tone was masked by the sound of someone who had just recently cried their eyes out. "We have to be careful. He's most likely in the vehicle bays, waiting."
      "Yes, waiting, he knows much more than you think. He was the one that fucked up the AI, made it like it was."
      "We'll discuss this later," Oliver said, "We need to keep moving."
      It took several more minutes to get to the hallway branching off into the makeshift vehicle bays, lights flickered overhead, creating a dull red glow in the corridor. There were two doors leading into the vehicle hangar, one was broken; metal hung at awkward angles, drooping towards the floor as if it were no more than liquefied plastic. The robotic humming had gotten louder and clearer, and it gave everyone a slight chill down the back. Snarls from distant Flood forms(or were they near? Jake couldn't tell) echoed down the halls, the ceiling, the floor. It flustering, they couldn't tell which direction they were coming from. This gave them the advantage when they broke out of the ceiling vents, which was several seconds after they arrived in the hallway.
      "Unload on 'em, Marines!" barked the el-tee; two of his men had already fallen under the tentacles of a human combat form.
      Bullets sprayed in all directions, casings bounced off the roof and walls, landing in grooves or rolling under gaps near the floor in the walls. Blood splashed everywhere; green and red, making a strange Christmassy atmosphere on the walls... Jake shuddered and realized that the thought was grotesque, the blood had come from creatures and people, goddamn living things—that was most definitely not Christmassy. Marines ran back and forth, eventually squeezing into the center of the hallway; back to back; shoulder to shoulder.
      Jake was busy firing his Pistol at the horde of monstrosities, the cartridge emptied and he reloaded his weapon swiftly. Bright flashes illuminated most of the hallway, momentarily blinding the technician while he fired away at the Flood.
      "There's too many, Packs!" shouted a Marine, who was in the midst of reloading his Battle Rifle.
      "Don't even think about buggin' out on me now, soldier!"
      The Marine lingered too close to a combat form; it raised its mutated arm slowly, and then brought it down on the soldiers' face in one swift motion. The tentacle ruptured the Marines' right eye, filling it with pus oozing from the rotting arm and his own red blood. The Marine screamed, dropped to his knees, and grabbed at his ruined eye. By that time, the remaining soldiers had backed up even closer, and another Flood form took a powerful swing at the doomed combatant. His scarred helmet was cracked along with the man's skull, like it was no more than an eggshell. Brains splattered against the ground, the body collapsed, and a large amount of blood flooded out of the shattered head.
      This was the only casualty Jake had watched, and it had caused vomit to rush up his throat, but he didn't let it out.
      "Retreat into the vehicle bays!" barked Oliver, "Move, move, move!"
      The puke that had been in his throat burned, causing the technician to spit out a combination of blood and vomit, it spilled against the wall before he had a chance to turn around and enter the doorway.
      Except when they entered the only working entrance, another hallway greeted them.
      "What the hell?" a Marine asked worriedly, "We're fucked now, man!"
      "Stow it, soldier, we need to hold this position." the el-tee responded calmer than ever, "Does anyone have the equipment to open the door?"
      Jake spun around to see the end of the hall, a locked door stood at the end, staring at the group of soldiers mockingly.
      "I do." the technician said triumphantly, "I'll do it."
      "Good, now hurry, we don't have much time."
      Jake ran to the other end of the hallway quickly, pulled out the system-hacking tool he had used before, that seemed like ages ago when it had only really been several hours. He got to work as the jumbled thump-thump-thump of his heart emanated from his heaving chest.
      Flood forms entered the narrow hallway—which was at least a meter and a half wide—and were greeted with 7.62mm 50cal bullets, they were ripped apart swiftly. Body parts tore from the chest and waist, and either impacted into the wall or fell quickly to the floor, either way, a barrier of rotting limbs and torn muscles built up.
      They were insistent on entering and killing the remaining Marines, however, and the attack forms aggressively tore through to get at them.
      There were only a few who were successful, combat forms that managed to get through the physical barrier building up at the doorway leaped at anything close enough. At least four Marines had fallen before they began to retreat again.
      "Cover me, I'm reloading." a soldier called out, he was relatively calm in the situation.
      "How you holding up, Jake?" asked the Lieutenant without bothering to turn around, the gunfire had ceased just at that moment so he barely had to yell.
      "Fine, sir, almost done!"
      Jake almost added something but a stray bullet whizzed by his face and impacted into the door directly in front of him. The technician froze, looked at the bullet-hole... looked back at the fight... then back at the door. He sighed heavily, relaxingly, and got back to work before another one of those bullets came again—but closer, and deadlier. It was up to him to open the doors.
      Hurry, hurry, hurry, nice and quick now!
      He repeated those words in his mind.
      Hurry, hurry, hurry, nice and neat now!
      "Hurry, hurry, hurry," he muttered aloud, "fast and free now."
      The door was locked down tight, but after several minutes of toying with the several options he had, it opened for him and the others. The technician unclipped it from the doorway and stuck it back on his belt, then called the others.
      "It's open! It's open! Go, go, go!" he cried, and one by one the Marines stopped firing, backed up several steps, then turned around completely and ran home free.
      Sara and three other Marines were behind everyone else, looking just as ashen, and quite possibly excited, like everyone else. They ran down the hall as fast as they could, but no, something was destined to get in their way.
      And that very something was a overflow of Flood forms entering the hallway, jumping high over the scientist and the Marines and then landing in front of them.
      Sara gasped and the grave look upon her face turned to shock; then went amazingly calm and relaxed.
      "Sara, duck!" screamed Jake, he reached his hand out, but the distance between them was incredibly ridiculous; he had no hope of reaching her.
      "No, Jake, I'm fine."
      He sputtered just as the trapped soldiers beside the female scientist began shooting, combat forms flew backwards with caved-in skulls.
      "What the hell do you mean you're fine? You're definitely not fine, run to me!"
      "No Jake! Leave me; I've come to my end."
      Isn't this what you wanted? the sinister voice asked, he grew angry at it, at himself.
      No! Fuck, no! This isn't what I wanted at all! I never expected death, or grief, or anything, she doesn't deserve it. What do you get when you take away everything she did on this ring? A normal scientist, the one you have feelings for, if I let her go now, I'll be wishing I didn't.
      Then go for it—and die.
      I... can't!

      Jake was being pulled back by unseen arms of the other soldiers, he clawed at them and screamed at Sara to run through the pack of Flood—she shook her head calmly and smiled. Her eyes said: I will be okay.
      Her pale blue eyes twinkled, and that's when the technician began to accept being pulled back, he sighed frustratingly and looked deeply into the scientist's eyes from a distance. She raised the Pistol from her side, loaded it, and held it against her head.
      "I love you, Jake." she said just loud enough for him to hear her over the screams of the other Marines.
      There was a loud crack as the weapon went off, and the last thing that the tech saw of the woman he loved was her brains, skull, and skin spattering against the wall in a confusion of misshapen colors.
      Jake burst into tears as the door closed and locked on him.
      He stood there as the soldiers let go of him, stood there in the shadows, crying.
      Now he realized, over his stifled sobs, that the humming had ceased. He turned slowly to see the red glow of 747 Authentic Denial; the tech was filled with anger and stepped out from the narrow gap which held the door.
      "You little—" he began, but that was as far as he got.
      Sentinels floated in from the elevated ceiling, taking up positions beside the monitor, everyone stopped what they were doing. The flying metal machines hovered in place, opened up the spot where the red laser would fly from, and exposed display-screens and a mess of untangled wires. They were certainly frightening.
      The monitor just floated there, staring—if a robot could stare—silently. The light cast from the inside of the circular android was a deep scarlet red, it covered most of the shadow in the bay; vehicles behind it and the Sentinels were highlighted in its crimson glow.
      "There's only one choice for such meddlers as you," the monitor said angrily, "Death. Delightful yet simple, I know you're all waiting for it."
      "Fuck off." Oliver said quietly.
      "Very well, then. Sentinels; dispose of them immediately."
      They moved forward quietly, ancient machines of death.
      Jake suddenly wanted to be out of there.