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The Strive to Survive (Chapter 14: Turning the Tables)
Posted By: CoLd BlooDed<broken_lizard12@hotmail.com>
Date: 14 August 2004, 5:26 AM

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The Strive to Survive (Chapter 14: Turning the Tables)
0859 Hours, January 14, 2553 (Military Calendar)/ On Ancient Forerunner Ringworld, Installation 07, inside Sierra, in the armory.

      Jake heard heavy gunfire from down the hall, but his initial reaction wasn't all that impressive. He was still going through what had happened nearly ten minutes before, and whether it had been for the best. Corons by all means deserved it, but like Packs had said, the man had power.
      The incessant drone buzzing from the armory's speaker finally broke into the technicians wandering thoughts, and he soon realized that the situation was direr than he had hoped. Intense gunfire and a nagging alarm weren't meant for lesser situations—plus, everything hadn't been too happy for the past two days, either. Either something up was happening or something up was happening—after narrowing down the most obvious cases, of course.
      Jake immediately ran out of the armory after grabbing a custom-made M95 Shotgun, ONI Class. The barrel was slightly longer than that of the M90, and the chamber could hold five more rounds, but the weapon was much bulkier and more of a struggle to carry—and was especially hard when the shotgun discharged. The shock absorbers installed in the guns helped very little, but the weapon overall worked for the technician as he ran straight down the hallway and encountered three Sentinels glistening metallically in the flashing yellow overhead lights.
      The door to the bridge was just up ahead, glowing in the red luminosity cast by lamps that were near pasted onto the steel. Everything around it was concealed in blackness. The Sentinels, however, didn't notice Jake raise the hefty weapon into the air, and as he did so, he managed to squeeze off three rounds.
      Sparks bounced off the metallic inventions in a kaleidoscope of colors directly after the slugs confiscated the shields—shields that seemed to break into fragments of glass and dissipate once broken.
      Jake gritted his teeth as the shotgun bucked again; and again; and again. The casings ejected themselves, smoking, onto the shiny metal floor, along with the three tangled metal bodies beside them. The technician smiled grimly with water trickling down from his brow to his chin, lowered the M95, and moved over the destroyed Sentinels before entering the bridge—the bridge which seemed to house it's own malformed sense of destruction. Sparks greeted him along with a gust of exhaust, and he stood in the doorway, examining.

0901 Hours, January 14, 2553 (Military Calendar)/ On Ancient Forerunner Ringworld, Installation 07, inside Sierra, on the bridge.

      Captain Ryan Corons looked up from under his momentary makeshift shelter—the glass display which had been knocked to the floor (which was still, amazingly, intact) housed him from anything hostile. His face was covered in deep shadow, his legs outstretched but still covered by the cracked display screen. His jaw hurt with every breath. His right hand and legs hurt with every movement.
      He backed up as red laser coursed its way past the floor plating in front of him, scarring it with a long black trail.
      Damn that technician, everything had been going fine until he and his band of Merry Men showed up. Now everything had gone to hell, including himself. He had felt a moment of grief, though, once the low-ranking ONI associate had hit him and yelled at him. Why? Because of the fact that he had sent thousands to their deaths? Because he had given orders to other ships around the ring instructing to hold an evacuation and study live development of Flood? Probably, but who really knew? Not himself, that was quite sure.
      There was a sudden cry of bloodlust and fear before blood splattered over Corons face, which wrinkled in disgust and let out a cry of its own. The Captain could feel the individual beads of bodily liquid, and felt how each seemed immovable on his fearful expression. His undamaged wrist found his heated face in the darkness, and he touched the wetness on his cheek—with revulsion, he took his hand away, exposed it to the light, and saw the smear of crimson blood against his palm.
      "Goddamn," he whispered. "Goddamn. Goddamn."
      The body followed seconds later—landing on its back—with a soft, fleshy thud, exposing the mans poor excuse for a face to the sheltered captain. The bloodshot eyes were rolled back into the forehead, exposing a thin trail of scarlet fluid that had trickled down (or in this case, up) the cheek and into the hair. The flesh was pale white and growing cold, but Corons found no shock in examining a live corpse in front of his eyes. He knew exactly why, too.
      He was a murderer. A murderer!
      "I really deserve..." he muttered, jumping back as a chipped coffee mug fell from its place on a shelf onto the floor in front of his face, exploded, and splashed Corons with its cold, aromatic contents, "...to die."
      Yes, he was going to go through with detonating the Prowler manually—after all, it was the only way to stop that monitor from learning about their very civilization, the coordinates to Earth, and what-have-you. Serious stuff. He agreed mentally he would go through with his plan; end this torture, this suffering. He wouldn't, however, kill himself if unnecessary. After all, he had been tricked, hadn't he? Tricked into killing all these people for ONI?
      But he knew the answer, and it flashed in his mind like a faulty neon-lighted sign: "No." He couldn't lie to himself.
      Corons would bring the ship down with everything around it.

0903 Hours, January 14, 2553 (Military Calendar)/ On Ancient Forerunner Ringworld, Installation 07, inside Sierra, on the bridge.

      Lieutenant Packs whirled around as another of the soldiers were revoked of life, spilling out his blood as he fell, it spattering in miniscule beads on the wall that shone in the faltering orange light. The helmet of the Marine rolled listlessly off the cracked skull and came to a stop at the wall, reeking of dried blood.
      Several Marines and technicians raised their weapons far behind Packs and fired blindly into the air, filling the bridge with loud cracks! and sparks.
      He turned back with his Battle Rifle raised, safety off, and grimaced at the quick gust of rancid air smelling of rotten flesh. The lieutenant ducked and rolled as yet another Sentinel dropped out of a metal panel that had broken some time ago—its own metal sides scraping and sparking before emerging; flakes of steel fluttered down before Oliver could respond.
      The hovering laser-shooting creation focused on the lieutenant and relied on melee tactics—it rushed him, and fast. Packs crouched as fast as he could; his heart caught in his throat, and just barely missed the speeding Sentinel. The frightened—but adrenaline-filled—soldier turned around and waited for the Forerunner investment to charge again, bracing himself this time—he couldn't dodge again, he didn't even have enough time to fire.
      The Sentinel rushed towards him again at a higher speed, a speed just slightly less of a moving blur, and Packs dropped to his knees, his eyes half-closed, and his heart pumping fast. It came for him—
      —and exploded in mid-air. The Lieutenant looked shocked for a moment with wide-eyes... then looked slowly at the doorway which now stood open and shaded a tall character—a character which held something resembling a shotgun, which was now drooping at the silhouettes side. Flames licked from behind the shadowed man, along with what looked like a scrap-heap on the chalky floor. His face was cloaked, and the person looked fierce and strong.
      The shotgun shell used to destroy the Sentinel, which had charged Packs, rolled out from the shadow, drifting smoke. The silhouette stepped out with it—stopping the casing from going any farther. The el-tee looked up at the mans' face.
      "Jake," his voice was a little more than a whisper, "you saved me."
      "Just doing my job, sir." the technician replied, and Packs realized Jake really did look strong and fierce. His hair was tossed back in ragged wisps, gritty with a combined mix of dirt, rain, and perspiration; his eyes were rimmed with corpulent black sacks as if he was wearing mascara. He wore an enraged smile; wrinkles cracked at the sides of his lips, and didn't move. It didn't look as if he was breathing, and the arm that held the shotgun seemed frozen like ice. His foot came down firmly on the shotgun slug casing, crushed it, and he eyed something beyond the lieutenant.
      "Duck." Jake spoke with haste, and Oliver obeyed, practically throwing himself to the floor.
      There were two loud blasts from the extended shotgun, the force knocking back into the steady technician, who held his ground securely. Two shells shot out of the barrel in rapid action, hit the wall with no more than a clink! and fell onto the ground.
      There were two explosions directly behind the lieutenant, and he swore he could feel the flames eating at his flesh—then the sensation of fire subsided and he brought himself to turn.
      Large fragments of charred metal had found his boots—he kicked them away, causing them to skitter across the floor and shatter as they found the wall. The main bodies lay two meters beyond his current stature, smoldering, aflame, licking the walls and computers with heat. Jake had saved him—again.
      "Thanks." Oliver managed weakly, succumbing to the fact he had almost died twice in less than five minutes.
      "Don't mention it," the technician said, eyeing the room carefully but quickly, his raging smile disappeared, "Now, Lieutenant, I think it would be the best to get the hell out of here before they come again." He looked around again, examining dead bodies (mostly crewmen and scientists) without much focus, then his smile returned, but it was an actual smile. "Did Corons manage to scurry away? Pussyfoot his way out of yet another battle?"
      "I don't know where he—"
      "I'm right here, technician." a voice spoke from the left, Jake turned with that same rage in his eyes as before—but then it cooled and relaxed. "What could you possibly want? Go ahead and rub my face in it, if you want. I deserve it. I'm..."
      "We don't have all day, Corons." Jake said, his calm expression cracking slightly. He spoke slowly. "Spit it out, c'mon."
      "I'm... I'm..."
      Surviving soldiers and crew gathered around the captain, eyeing both Jake and Corons equally, expecting another fight. Packs backed up. The technician laughed cruelly, he bent his knees as he did—the laughter was real, too, like his insane grin.
      "Well, what is it you want to say, Corons?" he spoke, eyes glistening exactly like when a baby tortured a cat, and somehow knew it. Well; in this case, Jake knew exactly what he was doing. "Don't feel too pained to say sorry, Corons, it's really not that hard."
      "Now listen here, Bennitz! I know I've killed a lot of people, I know I've done bad things, and I know I've deceived..."
      "Your point?"
      "Shut up!" Corons practically yelled, and then he calmed himself down, and spoke. "I have a broken jaw, I have an injured leg, and I hurt—but this has made me realize something. I'm a murderer."
      "Wow, you've finally figured that out, huh?"
      "Bennitz, what I'm trying to say is..." he trailed off, looking uneasy, his face reflecting all the death he had caused, he sighed his response, "I'm sorry."
      Jake's expression went from cruel playfulness to sudden seriousness, he replied softly: "Do you mean it?"
      "Of course I do."
      "Good," the technician said, a small grin forming on the edges of his jaws, "Now, the Flood are gathering—in case you haven't noticed—but so are the Sentinels. We need to move now, because I have a feeling that we'll be getting off this ring soon."
      "What do you suggest?" Corons asked obediently, he now looked much more uncomfortable than before.
      "We need to set the engines to critical, assuming we still have the ability to do that. However, we'll need the proper terminal..."
      "Bennitz, the first option would've been to start the initial countdown here in the bridge—but the computer display was knocked down and thereby terminated any chances we had to an easier system crash."
      "What's the second option?"
      "We get to the sub-terminals down in the communications department—there should be a computer where we can establish a connection. Then we will be able to set the countdown to make all systems go critical, and then get the hell out of here."
      "That's it?" inquired Packs.
      "Easier said than done, Lieutenant," the Captain replied thoughtfully, "You've got to remember we've got enemies attacking us to the bone, here; Flood and Sentinels."
      "Right, well, where is the communications department?" questioned a crewman, as if all hope was lost. "I mean—we only have so many lives to waste until we're all dead!"
      "Stow it." Corons turned around, lifting a finger and pointing at the talker, who now turned pallid and weak, "We've only got so many lives to waste until we're all off this ring. Now, I would love to stay on this ring until that-that... ancient bastard learns about our society back on Earth. Just imagine what could happen! Imagine those mutant freaks coming to Earth! This is why we've got to take a risk."
      "We better get moving, Corons, like, right now—before those 'freaks' invade upon our current refuge." Jake eyed the captain evenly, who nodded and led the living out of the bridge.

0911 Hours, January 14, 2553 (Human Calendar)/ On Forerunner Creation, Installation 07, inside human starship, in engineering.

      The Sentinels he had sent recently to the bridge were destroyed. Already. Much too soon, the monitor had thought to himself earlier, the human contingent is a tad too powerful. Now, though, more Sentinels had arrived, and, right on cue, so had the Flood. A little more than a tea party, Authentic Denial considered mentally.
      The monitor consulted the outer charts via the Halo subsystem, where he could activate any map he wished in the form of a two-dimensional diagram. It was a massive clutter of red dots, each one moving visibly from one spot to the next, massing beside the human ship and transport spacecrafts. They were going to enter in less than five minutes, he calculated silently—and would the Sentinels ever put up a fight then; over one hundred of them were on their way.
      Something that 747 had control over now was the uplink diodes instituted all around the starship, he could deactivate them, toy with them, download the contents, upload viruses and/or destroy the console, the possibilities were endless—he could very easily blow the ship at will, but, what would the fun be in that?
      He floated to one of the catwalks built at the top of the chamber, unreachable by stair or elevator—a crude ladder polished in flashy chrome-like metal was constructed to reach the elevated platform. There wasn't much interest up here, however...
      Still, a bored monitor always found something—and this time it was no exception. There were sealed blast-doors up on the rusted walkway, flashing yellow and red lights while letting off plumes of exhaust every few moments—and a bored monitor always found a way in. He spent the next few seconds calculating what the proper-sized explosion would be to disable the doors.
      Instead, he tried the easier way—the cipher to unlock it.
      The codes had been easy to get since the connection downloading all the bits of human history was running to a minimum—the cryptogrammic structure had been implanted into the recent events and posts so the monitor could easily handpick it and memorize it instantly. 5337-1886-7417 was the cipher, to be specific.
      747 hovered on the spot, directly in front of the sealed blast-doors; all awhile he activated a computer on the other side of the ship, gave the code input, uploaded, and waited. Sure enough, the response came back positive.
      The doors jumpstarted—first by clicking and rolling beyond the monitors view; then rolling the metal circle in the middle of the perfectly square doors, the circle caught on to several metal shafts stretched out in a diamond shape, they rotated slowly. Steam puffed from exhaust pipes installed into the blast doors into 747, who did nothing but float and glow in the light-reflecting vapor. The same shafts as before then pulled back into itself, again; and again; and again; until the metal rods were visible no longer—this revealed a vertical break down the middle, which opened almost immediately after. Behind it was another door, which opened instantly—then the whir of vibrant and lively machinery came to a dead halt, letting 747 soak up the silence and view of the lonely hallway before him. He disappeared into the shadows.

0927 Hours, January 14, 2553 (Military Calendar)/ On Ancient Forerunner Ringworld, Installation 07, inside Sierra, inside communications department.

      The uplink worked, Jake noted duly, but something was wrong. The screen didn't look right, for one, and the rate it progressed was incredibly slow—even for a 26th century computer. Corons pulled up a command-input screen and sat down into the chair, which was very close to the plush design built into the bridge. The Marines were all guarding outside in the hallway, set up and divided within a thirty-meter parameter directed by Lieutenant Oliver Packs, a man now so determined to get off this ring he was willing to literally do anything to win. To survive.
      All the existing ship crew bent over the Prowlers captain as he tapped at the hundreds of keys installed into the sub-terminal. Jake looked around as he did so, and even took the courtesy of giving himself a tour—although, not a very long one.
      The tiles on the floor, walls, and ceiling were dented and blackened by hiding shadows. All the lights in the room were broken, save two large ones, both installed into the bent walls—the dominating red light cast hit the ground perfectly, but due to the lack of luminosity, shadows were abundant; anything could've hidden in here without Corons and his men knowing.
      Computers—some outdated, but certainly not obsolete—lined the walls. Attached were black, comfy rotating chairs that seemed to be oiled frequently by unseen ghosts. Jake sat in one, resting his gun on his lap while swiveling back and forth—he let his head rock against the back of the chair as his mind tried to focus on something worth worrying about.
      "Got it!" The technician heard Corons cry happily from the other side of the room, his voice slightly echoing. "The countdown is set to twenty minutes..."
      His voice trailed off unevenly as, over the outer speakers, something tapped in. The noise was the sound you got when an elevator reached the preferred level: Doo-doo!
      "Thought you could get away that easy, did you? Thought you could cheat the system by setting it for a crash-course and leaving? Well, think again, petty humans—for I have found something of great interest."
      "How'd you get into the network at all?" Corons asked rhetorically, his face buried in his hands.
Packs walked in to the communications department just then with a happy expression upon his weary face, it disappeared completely.
      "So glad you could join us, Lieutenant Oliver Packs!" the monitor said over the speakers. "In case you haven't noticed, I can see every move you make. Don't mess with me, infidels, because I'm a very dangerous person to deal with once messed."
      "What could you possibly do to make this worse?" Corons asked again, this time to the roof. Jake stepped behind him and listened.
      "Like I said recently, I've found something of great interest... something that you atheists shouldn't have brought to this holy structure."
      "Shit..." the captains face went pale, the eyes above his fingers rimmed with red, he looked to Jake.
      "Forgot to tell us something else?"
      "I didn't think he'd actually find—"
      "What DOES HE HAVE?!" Jake yelled at the top of his voice, Corons shrank back into the chair in fear.
      "Maybe I can answer that for you, Jacob—it seems that this 'ONI' installed a nuclear fusion reactor backup storage system, filled with the noxious chemicals and gases capable of killing you infidels in mere seconds. I have power of you. I have power of your fate. I have the power to filter the disbelief out of you and the power to claim your lives as more sacrifices to the Forerunner."
      Corons began frantically typing at keys on the control panel.
      "What the hell are you doing?" asked a scientist. "It's on a perfect timer!"
      "I'm trying to encrypt it, before he can—"
      There was a strange, electronic thud over the speakers, Corons stopped typing and turned around.
      "...before he can do that."
      "Hah, infidel! Don't think you can let this ship go to waste! I've stopped the countdown, but I've begun pumping the compounds—very flammable, I might add. Good luck getting out of this one." the speaker turned off, then on again as the monitor attempted to deliver one last message: "Remember, you have no chance, just give up and die. Everyone back at your home planet will undoubtedly forget you—you are all a lost expedition that traveled to the top of the mountain, found something great, and disappeared. Prepare for death, trying to reactivate the countdown, or prepare for an invasion, trying to run while I download the coordinates of you world."
      "What's your plan now, Corons?" Jake asked with a slight sense of bitter humor. "What could possibly be your plan to get us out of this shit?"
      There was a few seconds as the captain stared straight ahead into space, his eyes glazed with shock and doubt. Then they reflected and he spoke bravely: "I can activate the system manually and reprogram it to explode when I want."
      "B-But won't you be forfeiting yourself for us?" asked a nervous-looking technician, one looking on the contrary to Jake.
      "That's exactly what I'll be doing, son, and I'll be happy to do it too." he turned slowly to Jake, looking into his eyes with rekindled hope. "I trust you can get these people out of here; you've shown me the error of my ways, I realize this is what I must do to ensure safety upon the people under my command. It's as simple as a captain going down with the ship—it's the only way. How does this sound to you?"
      "I still hate your guts, Corons—don't think I'm about to forgive you." Jake replied, but humor wasn't detected. "Nonetheless, I think it's bold of you, but unnecessary. There has to be ano—"
      "Silence, Bennitz!" the technician was cut off. "This is the only way. Nobody else has the access codes, except maybe that little metal bastard, I'm your only hope. I can blow this ship before I'm killed by the gases, or Flood, or Sentinels, or whatever, I only know I need to do it. It's mandatory, Jake, and if you don't understand that, get over it." He stood from the chair, standing evenly with the technician, eyeing him seriously. "You're leaving, and that's an order."
      Jake looked at him with a smirk, a few seconds past, and then he saluted. "Yes, sir."
      Corons clapped his hands together, rubbing them. "Good, now, get everyone out of here, assemble them as fast as you can—you're going to have one hell of a fight before you get to the other ships." he turned to Packs and spoke in a hushed whisper. "You make sure everyone gets to the Longswords and Pelicans, and you make sure everyone gets the hell off this ringworld."
      The el-tee snapped a salute, "Yessir, I won't disappoint you."
      "Good," the captain spoke under his breath, as if suddenly all the pressure of being a high-ranking officer was lifted from his shoulders. "Now, let me get to work. I'll keep in contact until I blow this thing. With all those volatile chemicals floating around, the explosion will be much larger—you'll only have a short while to get out of its blast radius. Good luck."
      Jake, Packs, and the others in the decaying communications room left the heroic Captain behind to type away.
One of the Marines stepped up to the lieutenant and asked: "What's going on? Where's Corons?"
      "He's given us orders to pull out and make our way to the Longswords." he looked at all the faces that had gathered around. "We're leaving."
      "Without the captain?"
      They cheered and left, excited, bold, and determined—nothing could stop them now.
      Jake, did, however, noticed the slight smell of chlorofluorocarbons in the air before leaving the hallway. He spoke to Packs before: "I smell the chemicals, we need to hurry. For Corons—don't forget our orders all of a sudden, Oliver."
      There was a moment's pause, and the el-tee responded without looking back. "Right—for Corons."