Apollo - Chapter 2
Posted By: foxhound<firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date: 12 February 2002, 1:22 am
Apollo - Chapter 2
Mary Renault (1905-1983)
"How can people trust the harvest, unless they see it sown?"
We were only one group, that's three men covering the delivery to the midway relay station, not a lot of firepower if we came across a Covie Elite group or a Ghost patrol. The actual Midway Station was ok and had been made pretty secure, we had tunneled and developed a large holding bay within a small crop of rock and had housed some M41's near it's top and sunk a couple of M808B's covering the flanks. Cortana had requested security be of primary importance. The place was starting to look like Fort Knox
At the PoA the engineering units would be inside doing there bit, we were there purely to cover the operation and make sure the systems were extracted and delivered ok. Cortana said she would send in some further Bobs but I must admit, even that didn't sound too hopeful. I didn't want to press her on the matter, it didn't sound like it was the right time, or that she was in the mood to be given ideas ..or orders.
The drive down went smooth, nothing in sight. It's at times like these you start thinking about about the things that could happen too you. The silence seems to creep within the shadows around you, always catching your eye.
Whether the cold was creating the eeriness of the situation we seemed to be in of late, I couldn't say. It just felt something was not right with this whole idea, we almost felt insignificant to the war's progress digging inside some old ship retrieving old data banks.
Jaktar was heading the engineering unit at the PoA, sitting still. The soft dim glow from his helmet directed inside a panel on the bridge of the PoA, highlighting a mass of circuitry and optic cabling within the casing. Beside him were other members of the unit, all busy repairing or extracting the systems Cortana had requested. There was broken furniture strewn about the place with the dark console screens reflecting a dim flicker of light from the workers. Great rips in the internal structure protruded into the room, the twisted bulk heads made maneuvering difficult.
Ventilation systems and optic cabling hung from the ceiling like some savaged metallic intestines. It was a place that smelt of death. Within the darkness you could just make out small flashes of laser torches and the fluorescent glows from the holo scanners. As the workers moved about slowly, the smoke from the lasers filling the room making their head lamps beam out across the wreckage of the bridge.
"Damn this ML converter", he blasted.
"I can't see anything in this light... Hey Dax," Jaktar shouted.
"Could use some of your light if your on re-gen'."
Dax's body flicked into motion instantaneously at the sound of his name being called, his head rose looking over at Jaktar.
"You'll owe me one Jak, I was enjoying that!" he replied with a smile.
"Sure! no problem, I can't get an accurate reading off this matrix laser, the security codes are hard-wired through the encryption circuits, I can't even see the damn key pad in this light and I'm not explaining to Cortana why we had a level 6 lock down on this system!"
I poked my head round the corner of the door catching Jaktars' eye. "Hey Jak, when your done meet me out front, I gotta talk" I said.
"No probs, be there in a sec" Jak said giving me a nod.
"I'll go along with that Jak" Dax said rising and moving nearer to Jaktar, his head beam directed into the wall paneling. "Yeah, I don't want to mess with Cortana, with all this shit going on". Dax mumbled something I couldn't quite hear as he directed his light into the panel and Jaktar again went about his business.
I strode outside, there was no point in me getting in the way. The storm was starting to blow over and there was breaks in the night sky. There was no external lighting near or within the PoA, we had been given strict instructions to work under night vision or by their personal head lamps. This was proving very difficult for the intricate work needed to probe deep into the ships systems. The extraction exercise was no easy job. The area had been covered with frequency dampeners. They would contain most of the energy signals we were letting off during the work on the PoA. That still didn't make it any easier, knowing one Covenant could blow all our cover.
The head lamps we used soaked up our internal energy supplies. That meant having to go into regeneration for a short period of time every once and a while. A thirty second re-gen cycle is your every day 'power nap'. A sixty second one re-writes and optimizes any new integrated biomechanical limbs making you feel like you got a whole new body attached to your head. Just what you need when you've had a bad day at the office, like watching a plasma nade stick to your leg, and then only to watch them 'both' get vapourised.
My AV-HUD came online, a broken image of one of the perimeter scouts flashed and then crackled, distorting the image. The energy fields were playing havoc on our communications network making visual almost always non existent and the audio, well it seems to work for the moment at the frequencies we were using at least.
"Bob Group Echo at the south east perimeter Sir".
There was a swooshing noise as the signaling processor tried again to gain a visual lock, then nothing but digital snow.
"Send them in, I want to brief them before I head back with the next load."
"Yes Sir", he responded as the audio signal fought for a lock.
"Bring them on in" I said quickly, surprised that Cortana had kept her word on getting me extra men. This must be one big load we carrying back, I thought.
Just at that moment Jaktar strode out of the makeshift doorway we had cut into the external bulk head and came down the ramp. Snow and ice had been piled up along the walkway. A flimsy attempt at concealing the fact we are working here.
"Hey Jak, I gotta talk. Something's going on, this comes straight from the horses mouth... if you catch my drift?" wanna unhook and do a 'cap'?"
This was an old trick only the Spartan II 670's could do. It was our only way of secure off-line communication. The technicians had enabled us to communicate with two completely different systems simultaneously. It was put in as a back up or alternative in case of interrogation and the other 'mind freak' games our 'sport' seemed to be developing. Lets just say it also allowed us to steer clear from Cortanas' listening mind. I don't believe any of us liked the way we had to go about it or the reasons we did it but it had become the norm over the last few months. It had almost become standard practice now on patrols where we thought Cortanas'' judgment needed questioning. We basically hot-wired an optical cable directly into our aural network through the implant located just inside the earpiece, as simple as that. We communicate through that channel whilst still keeping in contact with the main network. By-passing the main neural signal nodes. Cortana never knew it happened... and we like to keep it that way too.
"Sure, no problem". Jak said, there was a pause for a second as we hooked up, "what's up anyhow?"
"It's Cortana and some mission." I said.
"What's she cooking up now then, not more Basis stuff?" Jaktar said with a tired grin.
His energy cells were running low, I could see the indicators reflecting in the corner of his visor.
"Well, she mentioned there's defiantly a mission to Basis but by the way she said it, I have this feeling she has no idea why we're going. She got really snappy with me too. She scared me Jak, threatened to turn off my e3..."
.."Whoa, so it's true?" Jaktar said, butting in, "that's serious resources, she'd better know what she's up to. No wonder battle commands been hit so hard these last months. I knew she could be cold, patronising even arrogant ...I must admit she has seemed a little 'loopy' lately."
"Loopy? I said, She's lost it Jak. She spooked me bad. I don't like the sound of this Basis mission either. I bet we're the ones going up, well at least the 673 models..."
"Your right, this is getting way out of control, ...turning your e3 off, she's crazy ..or rampant... hell she's been as cold as this damn freezing hunk of ice we're stuck on lately. Hey, when's the brief for Basis?" Jak said.
"No idea, she never said..."
Just then, four figures slowly came through the undergrowth, I noticed one of them carrying a long range sniper rifle.
"Hold up Jak" I said unhooking the cable and watching it swiftly glide back into my ear casing.
"Bob Group Echo reporting Sir."
"Glad you could make it corporal, I said as I made out his markings. At least he's seen contact I thought as he stood at ease.
"Put two of your men on a roaming scout patrol, keep them in contact, Jackals have been seen by the outermost scouts. They're just sniffing around and I want to keep it that way. We're gathering their scouting patterns, report to intel command for the latest update. I also notice you got a 'snipe', we could use some cover on the east. Make sure he knows the intel and scouting patterns and get him to cover the convoy on the way out. It's important to Cortana that this load gets back safely. Make sure no contact is made unless absolutely necessary and I mean necessary Corporal. We want to get as much time on our hands as possible. We want to make out there's been no interest in this wreck of a ship, leaving here without a trace if possible. Probably best you say local and watch the main entrance and make sure everything gets off ok."
"Aye Sir, understood" He said and about turned, returning to his Group to relay the orders.
"I can see your feeling anxious" Jaktar said. "Look, this load is almost done I need to re-gen too, and then I've got to get started on the next load straight away ...then, at last me and Group 8a are out of here. This place gives me the creeps, I'll catch up with you at base."
"OK, I understand Jak but you watch your back once we're gone, you finish up and make sure you get out ok".
"What are you, my mother?!" Jak said with a grin, "Get out of here metalman!".
I laughed and watch him go back up into the main entrance, his movements slower than normal, his head and shoulders slumped forward through tiredness and drained energy levels.
Damn you Cortana your going to kill us all if I didn't know any better, I thought watching Jak disappear up the walkway and into the hull of the ship.
I finished overlooking the final load onto the M12. It was a three-way hog convoy, two of them had there guns removed and were loaded up with the kit we had salvaged from the PoA, mostly databanks but also some unusual data matrix pods. These had apparently been brought up from deep within the sub systems on the ship. I had never seen or heard about these pods, they almost looked alien, or at least not our type of technology. I was tired of asking questions these days especially at the response we normally got, so I thought about the best extraction plan to keep my mind off our cargo. With the limited resources we had, I decided to lead out on point with Bob Group Echo keeping the scouts to our flanks and leave the armed M12 to tail us. Another ice storm was going to be rolling over our area soon, the images on my navigation maps relayed local weather conditions, usually quite accurate too. This would be to our advantage. The Covies never flew through these storms and with their limited visibility range we had the upper hand with IR for navigation.
"Ready to roll out in five" I whispered into the mic. "Bob group Echo take front and keep the snipe covering our asses Corporal".
"Yes Sir", came the reply.
"Everyone on night vision, no lamps on the hogs and keep the frequencies clear."
The gurgle of the engines startled me, it seemed to be deafening compared to the eerie silence we had been in before. The hogs coughed out exhaust fumes which immediately froze in the air and fell slowly to the ground. I looked back at the battered hull of the PoA, partly submerged in a deep drift. You could just make out parts of the bridge protruding through the whiteness reflecting from the light of Basis. The scars we had left on our crash landing had long disappeared, the burnt foliage and trees fading into new growth. All that seemed so long ago now, had this battle really been going on for that long? Sometimes it felt like an eternity.
I checked the AV- HUD and looked through our proposed route that Cortana had laid out for us. We were to move through the forest then up along the Elysium Ridge using the ravines as cover. As long as we covered our flanks we should spot the enemy long before they did us. Scouts would be used to flush anything in there out. It had been quiet for a while, or at least that's what the intel confirmed. Once we were passed the ridge we were in range of the Midway, the M808B's from Midway would pick off any serious attacks. The 90mm high velocity rounds made mince of any type of flesh and bone. Due to the weather conditions airborne attacks looked unlikely. For once it looked good. Going was going to be tough however, the hogs had been adapted to have better traction on the ice but it still meant a skilled driver was needed in case of emergency maneuvers.
Cortana had supplied the best, all three were from Zulu Squadron and they normally only dealt with heavy insertion. If anyone could save these vehicles from Covenant capture, it was this lot. They had saved many a man on the field and there Battalion held most of the military honours there were to be got. I felt reassured that they were with us today. This shipment must mean something big to Cortana, I thought. God forbid I lose this load.
"Move out" I said and the convoy broke its mooring with the ice that had formed about the base of the wheels and moved on towards a break in the tree line. I looked back at the PoA and could make out two M12's one armed and ready for the final load as a thick cold mist enveloped us driving through into the forest. The ice and snow on top of the dead trees provided us with good cover, in places you could see right through the ice laded on the network of interweaved branches. A strange pale light emanated through near the top, illuminating the area just below the ice line and the skeletal branches supporting it.
The wildlife had been decimated over the last few months. The cold had quite literally killed most, if not all the natural inhabitants. The grass and foliage and all the forna had long gone. With it the insects, birds and huge roaming herds of animals that used to make this ringworld resemble something of a normal 'home'. Now it just felt as cold as the metal it was made from and stank of death, not of the natural kind either.
A crackle of a voice came through on the comm, "Echo, scout reporting."
"Go ahead Echo scout," I replied hesitantly.
"Road ahead is clear, I repeat, clear. Flank patrols also reporting as clear."
"Roger Echo scout, moving to rendez-vous point, keep a two man point ahead of us. Has your sniper reported back yet Corporal?" I questioned
"No news from the sniper yet. Meet at the rendez-vous as planned."
No news? I thought. It was way passed the time he was supposed to rendez-vous. In fact the second load should be ready to leave any minute. At least the way ahead was clear I thought.
Just then an urgent voice suddenly came shouting through the comm. "Sir, PoA under heavy Covenant attack, multiple Banshee's, I count five. Looks like Elite groups on ground cover." It was the snipe. I raised my hand for the convoy to halt.
"Where are you sniper?" I beckoned quickly.
"Still holding position Sir, I was just about to leave, they'd all cleared out ok and we're getting ready to haul out. The Covies haven't seen me yet ...shit they're massacring everyone, Shit Sir what do I do?" The voice was young and inexperienced and in a state of panic.
"OK soldier hold your position, give me access codes to your telescopic". I flicked up my AV-HUD and punched in the eight digit code. Suddenly my HUD was filled with a close up on the outskirts of the PoA camp. The signal dampeners had been taken off line. There were bodies strewn everywhere. I moved the scope around slowly panning the zoom out, desperately trying to find Jaktar. The glowing night vision image moved over the vehicles. There were huge flash burns on them, some parts of the vehicles still glowing hot. A glaze of yellow shimmered at the inner edges. I flicked on the infra red and saw the levels of heat still being absorbed. I made sure I got some clear readings, Intel Command would gain valuable information from the data. Deep down I knew these were not normal for the weapons used and confirmed our deepest worries... The Covenant had indeed increased their energy levels in their weapons... God help us. I thought...
Flicking the scope back onto NV, still focused on the warthogs I noticed the drivers and their navigators lying slumped half out of their vehicles their bodies twisted and deformed from the impacts they had received. One with his back still smoldering from the energy blast that had hit him, zooming in I caught his cold deathly eyes still open, glaring straight at me. Our men were lying everywhere their bloody and frozen flesh captured in time. They were all dead, ...damn, everyone was dead. I zoomed back out and caught some movement near a small crop of trees. What looked like a small group of Elites. Panning across to them my heart stopped for a second as I saw Jaktar. Two of the elite were holding him against a tree stump or some part of the cluster of Banshees near them. They were giving him hell, I could see another Elite holding his plasma pistol and firing low energy pulses into Jaktars feet. The blasts were immense, we had used these weapons on many occasions, we knew them inside out, energy pulse damage signatures, everything. We hadn't seen these levels of energy released from a pistol before though. The Elite Commander increased the energy pulses with each shot as if to show him the new levels of pain they could inflict. Why were they doing it, sick bastards.
His head now slumped forward, his feet and lower legs almost glowing from the energy blasts they had given him. The two either side of him then dragged his body back through near where the Banshee's were parked while the others moved off into the trees. The last of the Elite turning his head and looking out in our direction, sniffing the air like the animal he was and fired a full charge plasma bolt into the air with a roar. The blue dot raced out high into the arc of the Halo above us. I watched him get into the Banshee they were holding Jaktar against and zoomed into the Elites face.
"I'll get you", I whispered with clenched teeth under my breath.
"Ok Echo snipe," I said quickly, "returning scope optics back to you," deactivating the console as I spoke. The shock of seeing Jaktar taken by the elite had effected me. I stuttered as I spoke into the mic, "Th.. The route through the forest is clear, keep to the designated route and you'll be OK" There was no reply...
"Echo snipe, do you read me, over?" Just static...
Then a gurgling crackle came through on my comm link, one I knew instinctively as Covenant. I could just make out the words but the sound was familiar and sent a shiver down my spine.
"You will burn next human." Where is your God now. Haaaa?"
With that I heard the cry of the sniper as they tore into him, I switched off the comm link to the sounds of his last gasps of life. The poor Bob didn't stand a chance. My thought immediately turned to Jaktar and the new energy power they had hit us with, this was the first SII 670 the Covenant had captured and they had just shown us what damage they could do to us, let alone the Marines. This must have been planned, they wanted us to see this attack. I tried to open a secure link with Cortana. "Cortana... Cortana, answer me damn you... answer me. There was silence.
"Check my AV files for the new Covenant plasma energy signatures immediately. Analysis requested, priority Alpha." There was again no reply...
"Cortana? I beckoned.
I turned and looked up from the ground at the silence, the two marines I was with staring blankly at me. I could see the horror in their eyes, they were frightened. Hearing their friends last breath taken by a Covenant only brought the reality to you quicker, the odds were on it happening too you one day. They had also over-heard me try and contact Cortana and relay on the comm to head command about their new energy pulse signatures in their weapons. They all wanted answers, myself included but nothing was going to be said, not now.
Cortanas' silence didn't help matters. At least Head Command would be checking the new information we had on the energy signatures I thought as I looked up at Elysium Ridge where I knew we would be in relative safety.
"Ok, lets move out double time", I said, voice raised slightly to try and get the momentum back into the convoy. " Echo point, do you read me?"
"Yes Sir, loud and clear."
"We need to step this up a pace, Contact was made at the PoA we've had heavy casualties. Requesting for medi-evac as I speak. We need to get this load back to the Midway at once, no delays. I want everyone on high alert, spread the word Corporal... and Corporal, they also got your sniper".
There was a moments silence as the news sunk in that the PoA had been attacked and the lose of one of his group.
"Aye Sir, over" came the reply... then silence.
"Lets move" I said starting off in double time. The three hogs got going again and we worked a good pace up. Coming out of the forest, working our way over and through the Elysium Ridge onto the rendez-vous at the Midway.
Our escape had been lucky. Not so, for one...