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Apollo - Chapter 1
Posted By: foxhound<anglo321@yahoo.co.uk>
Date: 11 February 2002, 2:13 am

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    Inscribed on the temple of Apollo at Delphi:
    "Know thyself"

    Since our time here we had experienced all sorts of weather conditions and the cycles of Halo were looking pretty predictable but recently the construct had taken on a climate that had never been seen before. The days have become shorter of late and a bitter winter climate is taking a hold of the Halo. It is cold beyond words... With temperatures falling to -90 at night and not getting much above -30 during the day, you can imagine what a strain it's been on resources. What made it worse is the speed it is accelerating, totally unexpected. Even Cortana is disconcerted. She had once commented on the expertise needed in engineering and AI for such a feat, something that was beyond our comprehension. She also added... it was more than we perhaps could imagine, which didn't exactly go down well with morale. She had been busy for days looking endlessly through databanks, I imagine trying to gather any info she could on getting this construct back to normal. I had never known her to be so preoccupied, I heard it was starting to worry Head Command. There were rumours circulating about Captain Jacob Keyes speech to the Head Battle Command Leaders. He had apparently proposed, or at least suggested to the group that since our arrival on the Halo, Cortana had a new type of neural core developing within her dynamic memory processing matrix, with a crystalline structure. The Engineers and Core Programmers had no idea how this was happening or what was causing it, they had run top level diagnostics but to no avail. Even more worrying, Cortana had dismissed the obvious fact outright and had acted quite aggressively to our inquiries. There were all sorts of rumours spreading through the ranks at a frightening rate.
    Basis has been suggested for a mission, possibly some sort of recon mission. Some have even suggested we came to this damn place because of a piece of rock or crystal with glyphs on it. Mind you, if the truth be told, that's all I've seen on the walls since we came here and it gives me the creeps just thinking about the possible reasons now. If all this wasn't enough, Cortana is also said to be developing Crystallographic Engineers, what crystals and Basis have in common your guess is as good as mine... Crystals create energy that can be formed into heat, well, that seemed the spin on most of the talk. Could it be as simple as that?
    All these rumours were not healthy, least of all for soldiers in battle conditions. We had already lost two Battle Groups over the last few weeks at the Onaku Lakes. They had been on a salvage mission and were en-route back when they were jumped by a Ghost Patrol... no doubt due to lack of intel as they were carrying two M19's. The crazy thing about it all was that she seemed more annoyed at loosing the salvaged equipment than she was over loosing the men. That hurt the men's' morale more then I let her know... Maybe she couldn't understand what was causing this climatic change. Or worse was there something she had yet to understand that was causing the change? Either way, things weren't getting any better, in fact the latest reports indicated that the temperature was to fall even further.
    Her efforts seemed centered on the databanks that we are salvaging from the PoA. She set up an engineering unit, mostly Bobs specifically designed to cater for the work. There were a few of us there to help out and to cover their asses should they come under attack. Some of the equipment had been brought back and in addition Cortana had requested we set up a relay system to help her in the matter, It seemed she was after a direct linkup with the PoA. We had initially ran into trouble trying to disassemble the primary units. The power grids and optic networks were shot to bits not to mention the maneuverability of the bigger units within the PoA near on impossible. With no hydraulic lifters allowed due to noise and heat signals, it was a bloody nightmare to say the least. Some of the units requested were an integral part of the ships makeup, it was like trying to do surgery on 5 people at once all piled on a tiny table with a blunt tooth pick as your scalpel. With the time we had and the tools that were available it was going to be a close call before the Covenant cottoned on to what we were trying to do.
    The relay system seemed like a good option, more importantly it would give her quicker access to most of the bigger systems on board the ship, a much quicker solution than trying to salvage them. With all this going on at the moment it still somehow felt like we were putting our eggs into one basket. If the Covenant did a full assault on the vessel for some reason, we were screwed. Still, the rate we were going it seemed like a good idea, and as usual ...we don't know what's going on ...right?
    Times were hard, very hard. Without any decent intelligence coming from Cortana we seemed to be blind to the attacks of the Covenant. The only problem now was that there had to be at least one squadron on guard at the PoA at all times. This was spreading resources and it had left us open to a number of small attacks. In fact attacks are all I can remember of late. It's been my life and my cause fighting battles but it's become a daily occurrence lately.
    I can't remember anything of my first life before my alterations. The wounds from an earlier war that had been almost fatal had happened on one of the planetary outposts. We had gone in to 'rescue' Harvest from an attack. I was part of a NavSpecWar group concentrated on Black Ops. Little did we know we were to meet the Covenant Elite for the first time that fateful day. We were the only ship to make it back to Reach, we lost a whole fleet of battleships there. They hit us hard and tore into us, relentlessly. In that first encounter we only just began to understand their destructive means, their advanced weaponry capable of 'glassing' on a planetary scale. Millions died in their wake.
    I believe my fate is choice, and not chance. That day lead me to who I am and where I am at this moment in time now. The modification I had done took two years of my life, the pain at times unbearable. The normal procedure being for any combat unit after critical injuries was to first clear the memory before any work was started on the cybernetics. It's pretty much accepted by everyone that this is for the best and beneficial with the new advances in sensory programming. A lot of people never made it through the surgery. With major organ and tissue damage it was always a close call as to whether the mind could take such a shock to the system. We all knew we would never be able to return to the life we had known ...so why try and remember it. It was also an accepted fact that remembering our previous lives could, or most likely would, cause major problems with the integration of the neural matrix node. To get that far only to be deactivated wasn't worth it and besides, if we were all honest with ourselves ..we all wanted to be a Spartan II. It was the best the military had. We envied them when we were soldiers, the places they had been to, the things they had seen. We could only dream about the lives they had lead.
    With an organic storage unit as big as the human brain Bio-Tec Corp. had taken the opportunity to fill us with terabytes of tactical info and military intelligence. Strategy, weapon and vehicle knowledge were all included in this. In fact we could be uploaded with recon data or 'situational intel' at any time it was needed. We can upload and ingest information at very quick speeds.
    Along with this technology came our Mjollnir Mark V armour. These battle suits are constructed in overlapping layers creating a sealed system, no virus or toxin could get to skin or respiratory systems. The armour's shell is made up of a multilayered alloy, augmented with a refractive coating capable of dispersing limited numbers of Covenant energy pulses. Sandwiched between the external armor and the internal padding is the most devastating weapon the suit carries, a layer of crystal. Woven by molecular tools into a super dense optical computer memory, this crystalline layer forms a network capable of supporting the kinds of artificial intelligence usually reserved for star ships systems. We had Cortana. Most of us liked her when we arrived, she seemed to have things under control and gave us good guidance, and reassurance on all the missions we were doing. We felt like we had some idea of what was going on. Lately things just weren't adding up. We were loosing too many men to the Covenant through basic mistakes or careless maneuvers. Cortana's behaviour was staring to worry all of us.
    With the new energy levels we had experienced from the Covenant we knew the critical cybernetic systems would be ok on all models, they were protected deep inside the abdomen casing. The embedded neural matrices also seemed intact on all the various hybrids we were running. It was the bio-mechanical systems that were proving to be our Achilles' heel. The new types of energy power that the Covenant were using in conjunction with frozen bio-tech units was proving to be a messy business. Shattered limbs were a big problem on the field, reserves were low and tension was running high.
    Head Command had already got the medical teams and surgeons to start work on new model types capable of withstanding the cold as well as the new forms of energy. These are all based on the Spartan II 600 series, they had good Mjolnir MKIII military armour and would just about be able to absorb the energy levels the Covenant were using. In truth though... their cybernetic systems are not as developed as ours. We know them as Marines in military terms, or on the field. In reality they're known as Bobs ...or 'odd jobs' if you really wanted to confuse their primitive D37 e-moto chips. Ever faithful and proud to be in battle though. They did well and gave us good service to our missions here, we couldn't do without them. There were not many of the new models on the field yet. In fact our technology was reaching a critical point here, we just don't have the means to produce anything above a 600 with MKIII armour at the moment. That combined with the early designs in AI interrogation throughout their battle suits, it wasn't exactly matching the pace of the war.
    If the Covenant increase the energy in their weaponry systems further, which they look to be doing with all the reports of their mining going on lately, we're dead. They'll just pounds our resources to dust leaving us unable to continue our fight.
    Just what would happen if Cortana didn't deliver on time was an unanswered question no one dared think about.
    I strode out from our camp the snow and ice crunching under foot as I headed up a small slope to a ridge overlooking the mist filled valley below. I pulled my visor up onto the head mount. The freezing air took me by surprise, making me gasp with the first couple of breaths, as I exhaled my warm breath fell as ice crystals. A phenomenon known as 'diamond dust' which was known to the early explorers of Antarctica on our home planet Earth was starting to appear on the Halo where the air was so dry and the temperature so cold the 'snowflakes' in the air formed tiny hexagons. Unlike any other snowflake, in that when you looked up at Basis, or indeed the Sun on Earth for those early explorers, it appeared to have a halo around it with the rays of light forming a sort of cross right in it's center. It sometimes felt like some natural targeting system was highlighting Basis. Very peculiar with the rumours of a possible Basis mission lately.
    The swirl of breath, now turned to prismed light around my eyes and fell slowly as I inhaled again.
    "Can we talk?" I said looking out over the valley not really expecting a reply, pulling my visor back down unable to bear the cold.
    "Of course 673b, what do you wish to discuss". The voice was clear and familiar as it had ever been. It came from deep within me like a whisper of consciousness. Almost as if I could 'feel' her talk in an emotional sense.
    "The men are worried, some are even afraid", I said "We've heard rumours about a mission to Basis, is this true?"
    "Your voice tells me your also afraid 673b"
    "Why no... it's ...it's" I stuttered with her directness.
    "I think you are 673b, would you like me do deactivate your C9 e-moto chip or disconnect you from the hyper grid sensor array"
    "NO No, 'I'm' not afraid but you know how fast word spreads through the men, their going crazy" I looked down at my boots, they were dented and scuffed with flash burns, scars from old encounters.
    "You know they need guidance, that's all we're after Cortana, nothing more."
    "Why do you humans prize your fear on the unknown? I shall never comprehend that quality in you 673b? ...but yes, to answer your question, you are right. Plans for a Basis mission are being drawn up as we speak".
    "Really?" I gulped, gazing up into the early evening sky and looking at the small satellite in orbit around Threshold. The diamond dust embellishing the small moon with it's own halo which seemed to give it it's own importance. It looked so far away, an impossible objective to reach.
    "What's up there? and how the hell are we going t..."
    "Don't bother me with your inquisitiveness 673b. Leave me be, you will be briefed in good time." Take Group3 and get down to the PoA, rendez vous with Group 8a, I'll send some Bobs down to you after you've departed. I want you to personally overlook the delivery of equipment to the midway relay station, this is important 673b... don't let me down".
    My mind went silent, I knew she was no longer there, or rather wanted the conversation terminated. I pondered for a second on her comments, about the delivery job from the PoA and more importantly the conformation of a Basis mission... I turned and headed back down the hill to our camp set under a small crop of trees, the snow covered canopy reflecting the evening light.