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The Prisoner (part 2)
Posted By: Chris Cox<Spheira@netscape.net>
Date: 13 February 2001, 10:33 pm

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  Young couldn't tell how long he had waited before the alien returned. With no light, and only the constant droning of the Covenant landing craft above, nothing seemed to change from one moment to the next. Not even the pain in his legs, for although the sticky dressing seemed to stop him from bleeding to death, it did nothing to alleviate the pain of his wounds. He had tentatively poked at the injured limb and he was fairly sure that nothing was broken, though the pain from the shrapnel wounds was enough to stop him moving.
  It came in silently, with a short sideways glance to what he assumed was guard on the other side of the door. The lights activated again as it stepped into the room, then dimmed slightly as it sat down again on the chair. It prodded the pyramid on the floor with a toe to ensure that it was still working.
  "I trust you have been considering your position." it said. "You need not die here, if you choose to cooperate."
  Young dragged himself into an upright position. "Kill me here, kill me later. You're not going to let one of us live, are you?"
  The creature paused for a moment. "You misunderstand our motives, human. We do not make war for pleasure. We fight only because we are obliged to do so. And there is no honour in slaying a captive."
  Young looked it in the eye and laughed. "Obliged? What the fuck did we ever did to you? First ship of yours we meet opens fire on first sight, then you come after the rest of us. Christ, what did we do?"
  "Our first encounter was unfortunate. We were warned, before we met you, that a race would be found that would steal that which was rightfully ours. We assumed, correctly, that your race was the one of which we were warned."
  Shaking his head, Young glared into the aliens eyes, half-concealed as they were underneath its helmet. "We haven't got anything of yours. How can we steal anything when we're dead?"
  "The High Prelacy came to the same conclusion. Yet it need not always be so, because now we are here." Young stared at it, not understanding. The creature paused, then pulled at the lower edge of its helmet. Something clicked, and the jaw shield fell loose against the thing's shoulders. It took hold of one of the blade-like horns on the side and lifted it, removing the upper section too.
  Underneath its armour, the alien's face was quite different to what Young had imagined. Its skin was grey, smooth and supple, mostly concealing the angles of the skull. The four jaws fitted together perfectly, sealing with darker, less taut tissue that came together in a strange cross where the four met. The top of the head was elongated and but slightly rounded. There were no bony plates, no scales, and the horns on the helmet had no equivalents in the flesh.
  "Surprised, human? When you crack open our shell, we are not so different to you." Despite having removed its helmet, he was still unable to read the aliens expression. He guessed that a smile would be difficult with a set of jaws like that. "And now we have found this place, we need fight no longer. Now we have found this jewel of technology, if we can prevent your from stealing it we have no more reason to hunt your race down."
  "We ain't stealing nothing. We found this ring first: we got a right to what's on it." Strange though it seemed, he was not afraid. If the alien was going to kill him, it would have done it by now. "What do you want from me?"
  It tilted its head again. "I want to know why you came here. Why in your moment of need, you chose this abandoned construct to flee to." It brought its face closer to his until he could smell its breath, which had an unfamiliar, vinegary smell. "I want to know what this thing is. You know, don't you, human?"
  Young started to smile. "You don't know, do you? You smug bastards don't even know what the ring does. Well screw you, 'cos I don't know and if I did I'd die before I told you."
  "Your attitude is most obstructive. I am not completely ignorant of your ways, for I observed your flight from the world you called Reach. Your vessel did not make for this system directly, but only came here when damaged too badly to evade us. You were trying to hide this from us."
  "I doubt that, human. Although, if you were trying to make it appear that you were hiding this place... then perhaps you were attempting to lead us into a trap?" It snorted, wrinkling the skin across its nose. "No matter. One way or another, we will win this battle. The only thing in question is how many of your people must die before our victory."
  "We ain't gonna surrender. Not after this. If we go down, we're taking you bastards with us."
  The alien paused again. "That is what I might have expected. I said that we are not as different as you imagine. If your warriors will not surrender, then perhaps we may come to some kind or arrangement."
  Young spat, falling short of the creatures feet by several inches. "I don't think so." It let out a rumbling sigh.
  "I tire of this. Tell me the function of this construct, and I will spare you and as many of your people as I can. Otherwise, you and all of them will die." It stood, replacing its helmet and jaw guard. "Consider, human. The more trouble your people cause for us here, the more likely it is that the Prelacy will decide to seek out your homeworld and destroy you once and for all. You cannot win. But you may yet mitigate your loss." It walked to the door, which opened. "You have until morning to reconsider your position."
  It left, and the lights went out.

* * *

  Some time after it had left, Young dragged himself to a crouched position and began to crawl along the wall toward the door. Every movement of his legs brought renewed pain, but he carried on edging along the floor, using the wall as a guide, until he reached the point where he remembered the door opening. When the alien had walked up to the exit, the door had opened, so presumably there must be some sort of mechanism there for opening it, he reasoned.
  He ran his fingers along the surface of the wall, feeling for the edges of the door. They were there, and he could trace the route the seams took up towards the ceiling, but the join was too small to fit anything in between. He felt around on the floor beneath him, in case there was anything as simple as a pressure pad. The floor was flat and smooth, and he could find nothing.
  The only other option, as far as he could think, was something in the wall, though searching the wall would entail standing up. He shuffled around so that his less injured leg was underneath him, tested it with a little weight. It hurt, but would probably support him for as long as it took to search. He stood up.
  The pain was debilitating. His leg felt as if shrapnel was still embedded in the flesh, but it held, and he stayed upright. Anxious to complete his search before any of the Covenant returned, he ran his hands across the walls beside the door seams. Nothing. Then, reaching upwards, he tried above the door. Slightly offcentre, above the upper seam, was a small rectangular panel. He felt around to the top of the panel and found a catch, which opened readily and released the panel. He shifted his weight a little and started to move his fingers inside.
  He had got as far as identifying a small cube, three cylindrical objects and a bundle of what felt like wire before he heard something move outside the door. He stumbled back, hearing the locking bolts on the door slide back, and fell to the floor in the middle of the room, wincing from the burning pain in his legs. The panel was still open.
  The door folded back and upwards and the lights activated again, revealing a Covenant warrior in the standard blue armour at the door. It might have been his former guard, but of course he had no way of telling one of the aliens from any other. It stepped inside, glanced at his prone form, and placed a bowl of green soupy liquid on the floor. It glanced at the pyramid and pointed at the liquid. "Eat."
  Somehow missing the open panel, the guard left and closed the door behind itself. The lights remained on, presumably so he could see to eat. Young listened, hearing the footfalls of the alien dying away into the distance. Leaving the bowl where it lay, he dragged himself to his feet again and hauled himself up against the door to the panel. He could see the contents now: the cube, attached to the bottom of the cavity inside, three small cylinders, two blue and one yellow, and a bundle of transparent cables connecting the cube to the one of the blue cylinders and the yellow one.
  He listened again, hearing nothing outside the door. Carefully, he pulled the cable out of the blue cylinder. The door made a clicking noise, but remained closed. He tested his other leg, which was hurting more now, but might conceivably hold up until he got away from the vicinity of the camp. He strained to hear anything, but there was only the constant droning of the landing ship above. Preparing himself, he plugged the cable into the second blue cylinder.
  The door clicked again, and then opened.
  Breathing a sigh of relief, Young sagged down onto his knees and peered through the door. On the other side stood his red-armoured Covenant interrogator, who growled a few words which the pyramid failed to translate and kicked him in the stomach, sending him sliding across the floor and onto the bowl of green soup.
  "I fail to see how your race's brains work." snarled the alien, stepping into the room after him. "I bind your wounds, offer you safety and the survival of your people, and you repay me by trying to escape. I have tried to trade with you, to bargain for this world so that less blood may be spilt, but this does not interest you." He started to say something, to protest that he knew nothing about the Halo, but it kicked him again. This time it was in the leg, and the fresh waves of agony that pulsed through his body stole his voice.
  His assailant grunted. "Were it not for your injuries I would be tempted to beat the secrets of this place out of you. As it is, we shall have to extract the information by different means." Another guard came in, and the interrogator motioned towards where Young lay curled up on the floor. The alien grabbed his arms and lifted him off the floor, carrying him out of the door and across a short stretch of open ground to another similar building.
  From the few glances he could take as he was carried across, he saw that the staging post was a collection of such buildings, probably prefabricated structures brought in the landing craft. Inside the new building, the guard dropped him onto an inclined table and pulled his arms out straight, tying them down to the table with short straps. The red-armoured alien arrived beside the table, dropped the translator pyramid beside him and brought a curved device from a rack on the far wall.
  "If your conscious mind will not give us the information we require, then we will bypass it. Your soul cannot lie." it said, adjusting the device, which Young could see was lined with tiny crystalline spines on the inside of the curve.
  "I don't know anything..." he started to say.
  "We shall see." the alien replied, and placed the device over his head. He felt the spines piercing into the skin of his forehead, and his vision began to blur. The room dissolved into a hazy grey mass, and the masked face of the interrogator grew to enormous proportions, eclipsing the door, the ceiling, and eventually the remaining blur. He was left floating in orbit around it, drifting a few feet from its massive jaws, which opened like the abyss itself in front of him when it spoke. "We shall see." it said again, its voice like the grinding of continents.
  Then the bottom fell out of the world, and he plunged down to a different place.