Posted By: Chris Cox<Spheira@netscape.net>
Date: 01 August 2001, 9:08 PM
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It's gone. It's all gone.
The ship went down days ago now. All our weapons, most of our supplies, and our only way of getting off of this crazy wheel-world, all gone in an instant. I saw it go up before my own eyes, like a new star bursting into life and then dying again in the viewport of the escape pod. How many people were still on board when she blew? As far as I know, maybe all of them.
I guess I was lucky: I took to the escape pod too late; spent too long searching around for anyone else alive in my section. A Covenant shot had punctured the hull just aft of my position, and blast doors were coming down all over the place. I just made it to the pod before the sealant shell collapsed and the whole section was depressurised. I guess the others must have made it through into one of the inner sections. Either that or they died where they stood when the seal went. But I can't think like that.
The Covenant took out the Pillar a minute or so after I ejected. I think they must have hit the reactor core in the aft, because the forward sections were still more-or-less intact afterwards, though the seals had probably blown in there by then. The wreck came down on Halo soon after I did: the crash was deafening, and it must have been a couple of hundred kliks from my position at least. I don't know if anyone else managed to get off before the impact, and I haven't seen any human activity here since I landed. But the Covenant are here. Lots of them.
I don't know where I'm going, or what I expect to find. I have only what weapons and survival gear I could find stowed in the escape pod, which I left as soon as I could: the Covenant will be looking out for landing craft. Maybe if I keep moving I'll run into more survivors, perhaps even Milyutin and the others. My squad has been together for a decade now, fighting wherever there is fighting to be done, following SolCore's conflicts. I know those guys and gals better than I know my own family. We've taken our share of casualties, but we never ran away from a fight, never abandoned each other. Until now.
I am sergeant Abraham Vicks, Solcore Marines, and now I have no squad. For all I know, they could all be dead. I feel like a traitor, still alive and lost on this artificial alien world, as if I have abandoned them.
I don't know whether they're still alive, or where they are, or even where I am. But while I'm still breathing, I won't stop until I find them.
* * *
It is done. The battleships and machines and bombs have completed their work. Now it is my turn.
It is a relief to feel real ground beneath my feet again, though in fact I am standing on something more akin to a ship than to a planet. I do not care, as long as there is night and day again, a sky above me and soil beneath me. I despise living on a starship, crammed into a metal box with a thousand other warriors. Here I can be free again, free to roam where I will and free to practise my art.
Most of the warriors do not recognise my art for what it is. They are so blinded by their holy duty to rid the universe of our foe that they do not stop to appreciate the combat. Every battle is a song, sung by its combatants and played with weapons, each shot and blow a note in the melody. But they do not understand, and in their fervour they rush their performance, eschewing the harmonies of combat in favour of the chaos of a massacre or the din of bombardment. It is a waste.
I have been called eccentric by some, a heretic by others. Yet my devotion is equal to theirs, I simply make my prayers to the Gods in the form of offerings of martial prowess rather than temple chants. The Gods recognise the art for what it is, and they have left me to honour them in my own way. The other warriors may scoff at my art, but they know what I am capable of and they at least respect me for that.
And so they leave me to my own devices, allowing me to roam as I will over the surface of this artifact, making my offerings where I find my enemies. I am happy like this, with no clumsy warriors to disrupt the melody of my weapons and spoil the symmetry of my kills.
They may think that I am useless, but I have heard the rumours. Somewhere on this construct is one of the half-machine devils the humans were once foolish enough to create. The High Prelacy has already ordered that extra forces be dispatched to destroy it, but I know how these creatures function. The Prelacy can throw as much battle din at this thing as they wish, and it will simply reflect the noise back at them and lives will be lost. Skill, not weight of numbers, will be the defeat of this monster, and when I find it I will be the one to end its existence.
It will be my greatest offering, my finest work. When I return to Kholai and his shallow subordinates bearing the head of this machine being, the name Galkosh will no longer be spoken with contempt.
* * *
Dawn was breaking round the giant arc of Threshold's side, the dim light passing through shades of blue and green as the morning's rays clipped the edge of the gas giant's atmosphere. The Halo's surface played with strange colours until its orbit brought it fully out of the planet's shadow and into direct sunlight. In the shelter of a small cliff, its base overgrown with shrubs and bushes, sergeant Abraham Vicks sat and watched the dawn. He had been awake since first light, for sleep did not come easily to him.
As the light grew stronger and the shadows crawled back under the trees that cast them, he stopped watching and started to gather his equipment. He had been able to salvage precious few supplies from the pod: a few days of standard issue rations, a rifle and a few clips of ammunition, a pair of IR-enhanced binoculars, and a comm-unit with a faulty power cell. The comm-unit, minus its internal workings, was now serving as a second water canteen.
He had been walking for almost a week since the pod had landed. Although he had no idea which direction he should head in, he had turned so that the huge circle of Basis in the sky was to his right and carried on in that direction. He might not being going anywhere specific, but at least he was going somewhere. He had seen Covenant fliers in the sky every day since he had landed, but thankfully had encountered none of the enemy on the ground. He was conserving the rations as much as possible, eating only one pack a day and supplementing the diet with some of the more edible-looking plants. So far none had proved to be poisonous.
Having packed up his few possessions, he checked the sky for any more Covenant aircraft and set off again with the gas giant to his right. Coming out from under the overhang of the cliff, he started out again on his even-paced walk across the Halo. Sooner or later, he thought, I have to run into something. And anything would be better than just sitting here wondering if anyone I know is still alive.
* * *
As the first rays of the morning's sunlight edged around the moon's side, Galkosh gazed out of the open side of the dropship. In front and behind him sat rows of silent Covenant warriors, all deep in prayer. The light glinted on an object half-hidden in the trees, and he scanned the forest below, curious. The object appeared to be a discarded human vehicle, one of the small craft used to escape the destruction of their vessel.
He reached up and turned on the internal communicator, without looking away from the crashed vehicle. "Here." he said. The pilot of the dropship grunted an affirmative and brought the two-pronged aircraft down towards the top of a nearby hill, decelerating slowly so as not to dislodge the tank held in the forcefield between the prongs.
One of the warriors seated behind Galkosh snorted scornfully. "Everyone else remembered to excrete before we got on board, Galkosh. You should pay more attention to your bladder."
Galkosh flicked spittle in his direction with his lower mandibles. "You should stop thinking with yours." he replied, without emotion. The landing klaxon sounded once as the dropship swung to a stop a few metres above the ground, and Galkosh gathered up his weapons and jumped out neatly before the now growling warrior could say anything else. As soon as he was out of the vehicle, the pilot pulled up back into the air, and within a minute the aircraft was lost from sight in the valleys.
It was a short walk to the site of the crashed escape pod, and Galkosh used the time he spent getting to it to check the weapons he had brought. He was traveling light, as always: with only his long precision rifle and a hand-blade. It made no difference, as far as combat was concerned. It was less a question of what weapon you used as it was how you chose to use it, he had always said.
The pod was intact, but empty. Nothing of use that was light enough to carry had been left behind, which was a sure sign that whoever had come down inside it was somewhere nearby. Galkosh stalked around the stricken vehicle, searching for a trail which had already gone cold. Then he noticed the remains of some electronic device's innards strewn across a clearing a little way spinwards of the pod, and noting the direction of the clearing from the pod, he began to imagine how his new-found prey was thinking. With nothing else to go on, the logical course of action would be to move in a straight line...
He began to head in the direction of the clearing at a light run. The ring-artifact's gravity was less than that of his homeworld, and movement was easy here. Even if the human had a good head start, it would not take him long to catch up.
* * *