The Prisoner (part 1)
Posted By: Chris Cox<Spheira@netscape.net>
Date: 29 January 2001, 10:28 am
The jeep roared down the narrow, wooded valley, tyres spinning in the soft loam of the track. Dozens of small creatures, furred like mice but with elongated, snake-like necks scattered at the sight of the approaching vehicle and bolted into the undergrowth. The three SolCore marines on the jeep paid them no attention. They were hunting bigger game.
As the speeding jeep neared the end of the valley, the third marine, who sat manning the triple-barelled machine gun mounted in the raised rear of the vehicle, spotted a movement in the trees to one side and shouted a warning. The driver slammed on the brakes, sending the machine skidding to a stop, and the gun swiveled round on well-lubricated bearings to take aim at the shape of a distant Covenant warrior scrambling to hide itself in the undergrowth. The sergeant in the passenger seat yelled out for the gunner to fire, and he squeezed the trigger, starting the three barrels whirring into motion as the the weapon spun up to full speed.
The blow came from behind, a blast from the shoulder-mounted weapon of a second Covenant warrior concealed behind a fallen tree on the other side of the track. It struck at the base of the gun, boring through the thin skin of the jeep and exploding inside the rotation gears. The weapon was blown off its mountings, sending the gunner flying out of his seat and onto the ground beside the vehicle. The other two marines dived out tumbled, hitting the ground with rifles ready, training them on the alien behind the log. It had ducked back down again, and was no longer visible. Both men sweated, scanning the foliage for movement, fingers poised over their triggers.
The marine who had been driving the jeep glanced across at the sergeant, unsure of what to do. He was trying to edge round to the other side of the jeep, searching for the first warrior in case it was trying to creep up behind them. Then the silence was broken by the deep roar of another alien somewhere further back along the trail, and the woods erupted with a dozen more Covenant warriors, leaping from their hiding places and firing a lethal volley of energy blasts and razor-sharp crystal shards.
The sergeant got up and dashed behind the jeep, crouching in the cover of its bonnet and returning fire with a grenade from the launcher on his rifle. The second marine was less fortunate, catching an energy blast in the arm as he scrambled to get under the vehicle. As he stumbled against its side, a burst of glassy spines pinned him to the front tyre and then exploded inside him, spraying blood and tiny crystal splinters over the already shrapnel-scattered earth.
The sergeant crouched behind the jeep, taking a few snap shots at a few of the alien warriors crossing the trail to get behind him. He leaned out to see the gunner, who was lying motionless in the dirt next to the wreckage of his weapon. With a silent curse, he rolled up into the front seat of the jeep, gunned the engine and accelerated away from the rapidly converging Covenant, swerving to dodge the fire which followed him. The aliens jogged after the vehicle for a few seconds, before a voice from the woods ordered them to cease.
The Covenant leader, distinguished from the others by his crimson armour and warpaint, stalked out of the shrubs from where he had been firing and surveyed the results of his ambush. A cursory glance at the mangled corpse of the previous driver confirmed the kill, while a brief kick moved the smashed machine gun from his path. One of the other warriors was standing over the crumpled form of the gunner, and reached down to press its fingertips against his body. It felt blood still flowing.
"This one lives, honored leader." it growled, and drew its blade to finish him off.
The leader approached the gunner's prone form, thinking for a moment. He turned to the warrior. "Take it. Remove its weapons and bring it to the staging post at landing site four." He turned away and gazed into the forest, thoughtful for a moment. This was far from standard procedure, but might conceivably be enlightening. Knowledge, as the prophets said, is the father of victory. Suddenly remembering something, he activated his communications link.
"Scout squadron two."
"Reporting, honored leader."
"A light human vehicle approaches your patrol zone from planetward. Destroy it."
Pain everywhere, but especially in the legs.
Pain, especially in the legs, and a deep, loud humming noise, apparently coming from all around.
Private Andrew Young, SolCore marine corps, previously attached to the SCS Pillar of Autumn, forced his eyes open. The scene that greeted them was not familiar. There was no forest, no track, no Warthog, and no sky. There was simply a sheet of dull metallic grey suspended a few metres above his head.
He slowly tracked his eyes across the sheet, tracing it to where it connected to four walls of the same grey material. He turned his head on one side to look down one of the walls. This hurt, but he moved anyway, anxious to discover exactly where he had ended up. His eyes came to rest on a Covenant soldier, sitting watching him from a seat on the opposite side of the room.
On reflexes alone, he tried to jump to his feet, only to find that his legs would not support his weight, sending him tumbling awkwardly against the wall. He groped at where his belt holster should have been: nothing. Bearing in mind his trousers and boots had been removed, he guessed that the knife that he kept hidden in his left boot wasn't there either. His legs were coated in some kind of transparent sticky film, through which he could see several deep wounds which the film was preventing from bleeding.
The alien glanced in his direction, apparently unconcerned at his sudden awakening. It was toying with one of the energy-blades the Covenant used, turning it on and off as it stared through the field-plane of the blade. Seeing that he was conscious, it deactivated the weapon, bowed its head slightly, and muttered several words in its unfamiliar tongue.
A minute or so later, by Young's reckoning, a door opened in the wall behind the guard, separating seamlessly from the surrounding metal. A second alien, this one in red armour, stepped inside, growled a short phrase to the guard and watched while it rose and walked out of the door. The hatch closed again, fitting precisely into its opening. The second alien watched Young with interest. He stayed where he was, propped up against the opposite wall.
After a short pause, the red-armoured figure paced to the centre of the room, produced a small pyramidal device from behind its back, and placed it on the floor. It then walked to the guard's former seat and sat down. Then it spoke, and the device spoke with it.
"Why are you here, human?" it asked.
Young tried to curse at it, but his throat was dry and all that emerged was a feeble croak. He coughed, swallowed, managed to coerce his vocal cords into action again. "Fuck you." he managed.
The alien seemed unconcerned at the insult, which he presumed the pyramid had translated back into the growl that he heard after he spoke. It leaned back in the seat. "You are a long way from your home, human. Why are you here?" He stayed silent. It tilted its head to one side. "Perhaps a different approach is necessary. Do you know where you are?"
Young coughed again. "Inside one of your friggin' ships, looks like." he said. The humming was still there, all around him.
The creature gave what looked like a laugh, a series of sharp intakes of breath with the four sections of its jaws spread wide. "Not so, human. We remain on the ring construct. The sound you hear is that of our landing craft, parked above this camp."
So he was still on the Halo. That at least was a good thing. Not that it really helped at this point.
The alien continued. "The question is, human, do you know where this construct is? Do you understand why you have come here?"
"Unless you hadn't noticed, you were shooting the shit out of us." Young had regained his voice. "Do you dumb lizards know what 'running away' means?"
"Your lack of cooperation is disappointing." it said, still apparently without a trace of anger.
"What do you want from me?" he spat, glaring at the alien. It leaned forward in the seat, leveling its eyes at him.
"I want to know who you are. I want to know what you are and why you are here. Then I may decide your fate." Then it stood up, walked to the door, opened it and left. As the door closed, Young could just make out the green of grass outside. Then the lights in the room shut off, and darkness reigned again.