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The Hephaestus Equation VI
Posted By: Dirty Commie<dirtycommie99@hotmail.com>
Date: 17 December 2002, 10:18 pm

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      The Colonel never even saw the hot sword sever his spine, melt his heart, and tear out through his ribcage. The half-dozen or so men standing around him gaped openmouthed at the purple blade that had just grown out of their CO's chest. They were all dead before anyone had even contemplated reaching for a weapon. Two more neon green swords flashed into life. An identical trio of floating blades appeared at the opposite door.
      They were trapped.
      Chaos erupted in the black chamber, so quiet and hushed seconds before became a riot of gunshots, screams, rounds sizzling off of shields, and foremost, the panicked yells and ineffectual commands over the comm. channels. Dodge-and-shoot tactics, employed by marines to great effect on open terrain, wouldn't work in here. The cloaked paladins intermittently deactivated their swords, frequently reappearing more than ten feet away. Frequently with their swords protruding from the chest of a new victim.
      Tal was on his belly, ransacking the nearest of the techie packs. He knew they only had one chance to beat the Cov reinforcements. He finished searching the pack, cursed loudly, and grabbed another one, stopping only to glance around at the carnage. One greensword was down, leaning against the black wall in an unhealthy amount of his own blood.
      Tal cried out in ecstasy, he felt four of the narrow cylinders in one of the infinite pockets of the dead tech's pack. Adrenaline screaming through his veins, he tore the flares out of the pocket and twisted the EZ-Twist caps off with a satisfying pop.
      While the blinding P-Flares ignited, Tal assessed the situation again. He figured it was somewhere between Deep Shit and Snowball in Hell. The few remaining marines had bunched up in the rounded, doorless ends of the room, laying down a barrage of fire at anything that could possibly be somewhat related to a Covenant.
      Tal tossed one flare (uncannily similar to the potato-masher grenades of WWII) to each bastion of soldiers, and one to the door the Covvies had first entered through. Any reinforcements charging through there would be rudely surprised. He kept one for himself.
      Tal moved into a crouch, deciding which group of marines to make a dash for. Crouching doesn't do much good, however, when you're holding an object approximately as bright as Earth's yellow sun. Tal looked up just in time to see the air blur inches in front of his face, and the inevitable purple, arrowing down toward Tal's neck execution-style.
      He didn't think; he did the only thing he could do, swinging the flare straight up towards his fast-approaching death. Fuck! He thought. The flare had lodged up on something! He almost got around to actually yelling the obscenity when he realized that it had been caught on the elite's crotch. The monster was actually more surprised than hurt as it crumpled to the ground, writhing as the pain finally caught up to its brain. Tal snatched the initiative and stretched out to jam the smoking end of the flare into its face. The elite went limp.
      Retching from the stench, Tal stood up shakily, though with a bit more confidence. Amazingly, it appeared that all the other paladins had been dispatched while Tal had taken down his would-be killer. But he only counted four bodies. He was just thinking that that should alarm him when a green and a purple blade materialized, already slashing down onto the unaware marines. The group was promptly obliterated.
      Every remaining soldier in the room knew immediately that the other end was lost. Six fragmentation grenades sailed among the still-dying marines. The last paladins, even with extra shielding, never had a chance. They vanished in and startlingly quiet explosion. Apparently the glass and liquids absorbed sound better than light. Not that it still wasn't deafeningly loud; six grenades in any enclosed space will probably render anyone unlucky enough to be in said enclosed space deaf for life.
      Unfortunately, Tal had been in said enclosed space, and didn't exactly have time to stuff cotton in his ears. He was stone deaf. It was quite disconcerting when his HUD started flashing with radio transmissions, but could hear nothing. Apparently all the marines had been similarly afflicted. Tal joined the disturbingly small group of living marines. His HUD flashed, +35:00. One minute, then we're a lost cause. He knew what the Faith would do when the clock hit +36:00.
      Tal knew they had to get to the shuttle bay now. He jogged up to the small group of surviving marines and pushed one of them rudely to the ground. Everyone looked at him oddly, one man even started to raise his rifle. But Tal just pointed to his wrist, where a watch would be if it wasn't already mounted in everyone's HUD. He watched with some amusement as every soldier's eyebrows went up at the same time. Not wasting any more time in the blood-soaked altar room, one man who had lost his helmet sprinted for the door. Everyone (all fifteen, Tal noted dismally) exchanged glances and followed at a run.
      When he passed into the first outer hallway, Tal was nearly blinded by the incredibly irritating white lights. He hit the deck instinctively, expecting hot plasma to blast into him any second. When his pupils finally shrunk to what Tal judged to be microscopic size, and no plasma had melted him into a puddle, he looked up too see the last man disappearing around the corner of the next outer hall. A little embarrassed, Tal scrambled to his feet and followed.
      He was greeted by the group of men standing around an alcove in the wall, all holding grenades. Turns out that that was the ladder to the shuttle bay, there was no lift. The man with no helmet had been on Red Team and had passed it on the way to the center. He stopped and pulled out his last remaining grenade. All the others tossed theirs down the narrow shaft. Tal followed suit, if with a little less enthusiasm, and backed away, the shaft wasn't too deep. Five seconds later, a strong tremor shook the deck, followed by a quaint shockwave.
      Tal was feeling like a slacker since he hit the deck in the first hallway, so he rushed to the head of the group to be the first down the ladder. He had a little trouble gripping the rungs, so slick were his hands with sweat and his boots with blood. But he looked down and noticed, to further his embarrassment, that the blackened floor was less than six feet down. Shrugging, he dropped into the shuttle bay.
      Two things grabbed his attention immediately. One, there were two shredded elites laying about ten feet from the ladder alcove. Both had ruined plasma swords smoking in their hands. A couple of the marines patted the helmet-less man on the back, apparently the frags were his idea.
      Two, there were two gray assault shuttles sitting calmly in the bay in front of them. Tal waved and sprinted to the back of the sleek craft. The other fourteen followed with similar elation. Once aboard the refreshingly human shuttle, the pilot tried to ask Tal something, but Tal just mouthed "I don't know." And pointed to his ears. Another marine, having apparently regained his hearing, said something to the pilot. The man's face fell. He nodded and settled into his seat.
      The ramp retracted, and the twin shuttles pulled out of the bay, heading for the Winged Faith at top speed.
      Tal slumped into a heap on a bench.
      Tal's HUD lit up and stayed lit. +36:00.