Apollo - Chapter 3
Posted By: foxhound<firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date: 11 June 2002, 10:04 pm
"There is no 'royal road' to geometry." Euclid - c.300 BC
Jaktar awoke to a blue ambiance of light surrounding him. The frozen metal of the bed stung across the back of his bare shoulders as he slowly moved his head. The cold air catching his breath as he inhaled...
He coughed at the stale stench, watching the warm air rise from his lips and move on up into the light above him. Blinking in the brightness around him he tried to focus on his surroundings but there seemed to be none, no walls, floor or furnishings. The room felt like a void creating a feeling of suspension on the platform he was lying on. The bright almost white light from around his body emanating in a circular glow, dispersing into a vivid blue into the shadows beyond.
Jaktar blinked again and realised this wasn't some dream. The reality of his predicament became apparent like a bolt from hell... it was, ...a nightmare. His head twitched in a panic as he realised his Mjollnir armour had been stripped from his body, most importantly his helmet. The bio synthetic skin around his audio and visual units raw where the cybernetic systems had been crudely removed leaving just the connection sockets open to the air. All of his hybrid sensory matrix processors systems had been shut down, or were off line, infact he had minimal life support control systems active and no more. He couldn't move a bone in his body. Jaktars eyes blurred into a blue haze he felt week and drained of nutrition. His eyelids slowly shut out the strange alien light and he drifted off into unconsciousness again.
It was only as we reached the outer perimeter of the Midway station that I began to feel safe again. As we wound through the trees along the dirt tracks towards the camp my thoughts wondered about our last mission. The Covenant had now captured one of our primary units... and a friend of mine with that. I wanted some answers but I wasn't sure how I was going to get them from Cortana. Once again we seemed to have saved the equipment at the expense of our men. Maybe I could just approach Head Command and see if they could give me the answers, although going behind Cortana's back wasn't proving to be such a good idea at the moment. Some of her missions felt like a one-way-ticket recently and I wasn't going to push my chances. I pondered for a second and decided to give it a shot with Cortana rather than Head Command. They probably only knew as much as I had told them anyhow.
The main gates appeared as we banked the last turn. The reinforced steel plates stood tall and wide, hinged at both edges within the rock making them almost impossible to get through without serious firepower.
My audio comm-link came online.
"Midway to Group3 and Bob Group Echo, report to main debrief area as soon as your inside the base."
"Roger Midway we read you" I replied.
Looks like they must have got my data I thought as I surveyed the tall rock face in front of me glancing up at the sentry nests embedded high up near the top. The outcrop we had chosen to house the relay was surrounded by trees and dense foliage. We had the whole forest area set with remote sensory units or moles. These were small devices that burrowed themselves underground enabling us to get signals from vibrations and electrical signals. Cortana had helped us develop the processing software and we could now tell if it was Covenant or our own vehicles or indeed troop movements. All this allowed us to get a stronger and much clearer motion tracking signal should the Covenant try a ground assault.
The iron gates slowly broke open with a loud 'clanking' noise as the locking systems activated. Bob group echo ran on ahead as the hogs got back into motion after the brief stop. The dark interior of the cave soon gave way to a hub of activity within the dim light. Cargo was being shuttled around by Bobs on small hover pads along with specialist welding units high up in the caves hollow, wiring in new tracking stations and the networks and relays for the newly extracted matrix pods. At the tracking stations already in place, Bobs were wired into the terminals their fingers working the touch sensitive screens creating a holographic display of it's area of operation. We obviously weren't taking any chances. Most of the systems were in place, god only knows what was to happen after all this was set up.
"Hey Anglo, your back!" I spun round recognizing the voice instantly.
"Hey... Tick, what are you doing here?" I said surprised at seeing him.
"I thought you were up in Sector D3k showing the Flood your style of cooking!" giving off a grin.
His genetically enhanced eyes seemed to look straight through me, they were like silver mirrors, catching the light as he moved forward. They actually worked as a high-res digital imaging system that allowed him and Cortana to process and enhance the imagery on the fly making him a walking microscope in my book. He could see things in NV or IR that looked like a speck of paint to us. Useful to have when your fighting spore based parasites like the Flood.
As he got nearer he outstretch his hand and I took it, clasping it with strength.
"Good to see you Anglo, it's been a while... hey look I'm sorry about Jaktar, I heard those bastards took him alive."
"He's alive alright and we're going to get him back" I replied sharply.
"Hey, I'm with you all the way, you know that" Tick said frowning at me obviously concerned about my reaction. I felt terrible losing a 673b, that was bad enough. The fact it was a friend twisted my gut. My head was in a spin thinking about what they might be doing to him.
"Look, no problem. I understand your anger but deal with that later. I heard they got a big meeting set up for you Anglo, I think they going to grill you on why this happened."
Tick put a hand on my shoulder. I stopped for a moment and smiled at him almost sarcastically. I knew I was going to have to take the flak on my own.
"We all know what it's been like lately, deal with them first then we'll think about getting Jaktar out." Tick nodded at me in reassurance.
"Yeah, your probably right" I said, slightly startled at how I had reacted.
I wondered how Cortana was going to react. She wasn't going to take this loss lightly either, I knew that for certain.
I called over the nearest Bob and checked off the load we had just brought in. The alien matrix pods were removed swiftly and carried off to one of the main terminal points. I watched as two specialist engineering units immediately started work on them, connecting special terminal heads onto the connectors.
"OK, lets get this over with. I don't care what they throw at me, I just want to get back out there and find out where they're holding Jak." I said turning to Tick.
"Your not wrong there buddy good luck and don't let them get inside your head... you hear?"
Tick followed me towards the elevator doors. I motioned back to him, raising my hand slightly as the door shut with a sharp hiss taking me down to the lower compartments where the operation rooms were. The doors opened in a matter of seconds and I walked out into the dimly lit room, the large table before me was racked with top brass. There were Class B AI's in each of the corners behind them not integrated systems like Cortana, probably terminal based and built with the complex, probably just access points for the Commanders to get into the Midway's main system.
I took a deep breath in and squared my shoulders.
"Anglo 673b reporting as requested" I said standing firm with my arms held by my side tightly, thumb knuckles presented to the table.
" Do you know why your here Anglo?" A voice suddenly said. It was Cortana, she flickered into life in the center of the main table.
"I think so, I mean we lost a good bit of 'hardware' as you might call it" I said thinking this was all a bit over the top for the start of a debrief.
"Any news of Jaktar, is there a mission to get him back?" I enquired trying to press the importance of time in the operation.
"No" Cortana snapped back quickly.
"You were in command of Bob Group Echo and 'you' were supposed to cover Group 8a's leaving. Thanks to your incompetence the Covenant have captured one of our primary units..." Cortana paused for a second...
"And what exactly did you discuss with Jaktar 673b?"
Her voice seemed devious, as if she already knew the answer and was just playing cat and mouse with me in front of High Command.
"I didn't tell him anything" I murmured, "nothing of significance." My mind flashed back to the PoA and what I talked about with Jak. Cortana must have gone back though my dialogue banks and found some sort of inconsistency. Did she already know we were 'capping' behind her back?
"Well lets see," she said as I felt her activate an ERS probe scan. This program specifically dealt with episodic recall and recognition scans, and was built into our sub-routines, it was mainly used for data recall should one of us be beyond repair, it was a way of extracting very particular data from deep within the neural network. It also happens to be a very personal experience when done when your fully conscious. Head Command were using the same technology for interrogation but to my knowledge I've never heard of a case where it had worked. The sensation is supposed to feel similar to pins and needles, the synthetic nerves go haywire. Then the feeling of waves, or strokes as the probe moves through your neural network. It was a feeling that went right through you. It's supposed to only lasts a couple of seconds.
"Cortana, that's enough" a voice snapped. "We've got more to worry about than disciplinary matters at the moment."
I shook my head as the fragments of the program dispersed and my sub-routines were restored. A figure rose from the table and walked around to the front where the spotlights made out his appearance. It was Captain Jacob Keyes.
"Yes, we do have more worrying matters Anglo, the footage you captured on the Bobs telescopic indeed has provided us with conclusive evidence of their increased energy power in their weapon systems. We're sorry to hear about Jaktar 673b but what you captured in intelligence will not go to waste, I promise you that Anglo."
I looked at the rows of medals and insignia adorning Keyes' chest. Most were won for bravery along with excellence. I wondered how many of his friends he had lost in the battles he had fought. At least Head Command knew what we were up against I thought. Cortana's reaction felt bitter almost like she wanted me incriminated for the crime when it was probably due to her lack of focusing on our situation which allowed this all to happen in the first place.
Just at that moment Cortanas' hollo image flickered and flashed violently. The flashes of light filling the room almost like stroboscopic light. Captain Keyes spun round, "Cortana, are you alright?" he motioned, holding his hand up instinctively protecting his face, pointing at the flickering image. There was a silence as the image flashed violently like static once more. The whole room shuffled in their seats, some almost rising out of their chairs in fright.
"I'll get back to you gentlemen." And with that she was gone. The room fell silent as the light faded.
"Cortana... Cortana," Keyes shouted "Are you alright... can you hear me?"
The plasma orbs on the two terminal AI's then wavered and slowly dimmed until they to went dormant.
"Will someone please tell me what the hells going on?" Keyes yelled.
There was a flurry of activity as the rest of the room tried accessing their terminals on the table. Within a split second of her going, the hollo image returned to life and Cortana looked directly at Keyes.
"The matrix pods have come on-line and are integrated into the mainframe Sir. Sorry about that little incident, I had to completely re-route primary functions while the matrix pods were activated."
There was silence again, all you could hear was the faint whirl of the heating fans as Cortanas' hologram flickered and wavered once more.
"I think we're OK Captain" Cortana said with a sense of uncertainty. The vivid blue hollo image still seemed to be oscillating between her normal image and something which looked quite unstable. There was a momentary pause where she seemed to be frozen then without warning she again convulsed sending what looked like holographic scintilla out across the room. All along these paths a mass of numbers started to stream, fading near the ends. Cortana turned and gave me a fleeting glance as she looked at the Captain once again, the blue tentacles spiraling about her as she turned, throwing out holographic numerals across the room.
"Was.. not re..ady for... the in...creased da..ta tra..ffic activi...ty on main..frame..... Pods.. hold too.. man..y ma..trix nodes."
"Are you OK Cortana", Keyes motioned abruptly. "Have you found something?" he pressed, his face frightened by the appearance of Cortana.
"St..ill pro..ces..sing.... New.. core.. u..nits.. have.. now been ac..ti..vated on Halo-04.
"Up... load da..ta com..plete." Cortana froze once again, the tentacles about her wavering in the air the streams of numerical data still moving along them at lightening speed.
Cortanas' stuttering must have been due to her merging with the new pods. The levels of activity looked to have completely over run her main system including her Primary Image Program. The PIP program was created by Cortana herself, if something had taken control of that, then there was no stopping it accessing any part of Cortanas' databanks. Everything she knew and held in her would be accessible. The PIP program had never been hacked by anyone or any machine todate. The sight of her change in appearance frightened the room, everyone knew what the possible implications were.
"Halo-04... Upload data?" Keyes questioned.
"What the hell is she talking about? Anglo, check out this new data immediately." Keyes said turing to me and pointing towards Cortanas main optical output point.
I walked over to the table and quickly released the optical cable from my earpiece and plugged it into the main terminal platform on which Cortana stood. Immediately high density data started to stream in. Thousands upon thousands of files, I purged all secondary memory banks instantaneously realizing this was going to require a massive storage facility.
I began to scan random files. There were mission details and plans for the Basis mission, details of a launch pad almost finished in construction that had been here since we arrived built by another alien race, certainly not Covenant.
Files on the type of craft we were to use and the new piloting and navigation programs to go with it. Hundreds of references looking at intelligence within geometry, crystallography, slipspace vectors and velocity theories. I did a quick category scan on some of the new data that had been uploaded, while the rest was streaming in. I flashed through hundreds of articles and mathematic logarithms most relating to heptagon geometry within circular form, I noted a large section of these articles discussed the reasons why you cannot connect seven points within a circle using the same angle. Why was circular formulae and heptagon geometry so important? I pondered for a second as a further flood of images flashed through my mind. I paused on an image of an ancient temple built at Edfu on our 'home' planet Earth, which was structured using heptagons this being intentionally preserved in the details of the workmanship, for the purpose of being recognised by later generations. Was Earth also connected to this riddle? Then another of a different shaped heptagon, in which of the connecting triangle. Each base being triple the angle of the vertex, bearing important relationships to the plan of the human skeleton and other parts of nature.
I quickly shut off the search mode and decided to encode it during my next re-gen. That was the normal practice with a high density uploads and a lot less intense as an experience.
I turned to the Captain slightly stumbling at the shock of coming out of the data stream. Cortana stood as I last saw her a few seconds ago. Her body motionless oscillating in appearance with the huge tentacles spewing numbers along there path, as if stuck in some processing cycle or loop.
"What's going on Anglo? We've lost total contact with Cortana and can't access the mainframe."
I turned to the Captain, his eyes looked tired with pale hollows surrounding them. His furrowed brow beckoning for some sort of answer.
"Sir I have mission briefing and new operations data. The mission to Basis is to be up and running as soon as possible and it's to be called "Operation Apollo". I'll download what data Cortana has given to me onto the working terminal here incase we can't get control of our main frame back. I suggest you get our top brains working on what we've got as soon as possible. I'll not have time to process all the new data myself."
Keyes looked at me, his direct eye contact holding a sense of an unforeseeable future.
"OK Anglo, take charge of this Apollo mission, do what you have to. We know Cortana has been drawing up plans for a Basis mission but she was always reluctant to give us a reason for going. This must be an attempt by her to help us... If it is, then it's up to you Anglo."
"What, or rather who's matrix pods are those, and where the hell have they come from? I said as I looked over at Cortana.
"Why weren't they tested first before we put them on the mainframe?" I questioned looking around the room for an answer."
"They were Anglo, we had them tested thoroughly while on flight here. We picked them up on Sigma Octanus IV. They were held in storage there and had been for years, it was only just before our departure that Cortana told me they were originally from Earth.
"Earth?" I questioned. "Well someone obviously put it there, it's not our technology, that's for certain. Who the hell left them there then?" I motioned.
"In truth Anglo we have no idea where the pods came from. Our politics of alien technology always seems to be shrouded with secrecy. It's recently been confirmed that some of the symbols on the pods have been found on the Halo too. That's the reason why Cortana wanted this Midway relay set up, to accommodate these new pods. She once proposed the possibility that the people who made these pods either visited this Halo... or built it. Although none of this has been confirmed yet." Keyes motioned by waving his hand almost brushing it aside.
"Something inside Cortana must have activated something we didn't detect while testing." He whispered as if thinking out aloud.
A red light flashed silently on the desk where the Captain had been seated, he walked over to it and pressed a switch. A screen flipped up on the desk.
"Sir, initial neural scans have shown Cortana's neural core is changing again, it seems to have started when the new matrix pods were integrated. It also looks like some sort of pattern in the changes, like it going through some sort of cycle. We're unable to say much more at the moment."
Keyes nodded to the monitor, "keep me posted, I want to know of any further changes."
"Yes Sir." The monitor sunk back into the desk lying flush with the top of the table.
"So those rumours are true as well?" I said directing my comment to Keyes.
"Yes they are Anglo," he said with some directness.
"We've known about it for some time now as well. There's never been any evidence showing it was doing any harm to her ...or our operations, Keyes said in a quieter tone.
Cortana has also recently supplied us with evidence that the Covenant are mining on this Halo. She's had some units working on some new types of scanning devices utilising some of the programming used in her ERS probes along with modified optical hardware we built for Ticks. They've been able to locate a number of huge mining tunnels. It seems they've been very busy over the last year or so. We now believe it's for their new types of crystal energy used in their weapons. The harmonic pulse ranges are much higher than we've seen before, it's definitely been formed by new types of crystal rather than adapted types. We're pretty sure that's what they're mining for."
"Sir, may I speak off the record" I said, unable to justify what I had just heard.
"Go ahead Anglo" Keyes motioned.
"Well Sir, if we're to get Cortana back and have any sort of control of this war I think your 673's should be informed of any change in circumstance or new information which effects us directly from now on ...which hasn't happened to date by the sounds of it. The reality is we're losing this war and good men with it, we need to know what's going on to be effective."
There was a pause as Keyes moved his glance from the table to me.
"Agreed Anglo, from now you will have direct access to our High Command log files. Terminal based as usual, we have no idea what mind games the Covenant are brewing up. We know how strong there interrogation units are."
It was obvious some of Head Command did not agree with the notion, there was quiet shuffle around the table as I walked over to it and plugged my optical cable into the port.
"Downloading new data Sir."
There was a small pause, a blink of an eye lid in relative terms. I reached down and ejected the small memory cube from the computer.
"I suggest you get working on this then Sir," tossing the small glass like cube across the table, watching it bounce on it's sharp edges like a dice dancing across a gambling table.
"If there's nothing else to be said, I'll get Apollo under way." I said walking towards the door.
"Good luck Anglo, we'll be in contact on Cortanas progression" Keyes said.
I paused at the door of the lift, the doors hissed open and I walked in. Turning to face the room I caught the eye of Keyes giving a nod as the doors closed quickly, the rest of the silent figures around the table motionless as they were when I entered.
Jaktar awoke again, his eyes blinking in the brightness, unable to focus on anything except the blue haze that surrounded him. He fought to find some form or shape within the room but could see nothing. Suddenly he sensed a voice, a presence, it felt like Cortana.
"Cortana... Cortana... help me.. What's going on?"
He shuddered as he heard a low gurgle coming from the dark shadows behind him... Something took breath.
"It is not your friend, Cortana, human... Do you not remember your foretold fate?"
Jaktar was terrified, not having the familiar voice or sensory persona contact of Cortana his mind felt like a vast void of darkness. Was he dying? he thought, gazing up through the blue light surrounding him.
The sound of the animal breathing was heinous, you could hear the rattle of it's larynx as it took another breath.
"Yes human... you are with us now... we see your mind... we see your weakness," it said as it sucked in it's saliva making a disturbing gurgling noise as it caught it and swallowed.
"What is this fascination your culture holds over technology that makes you want to be part of it human? We have removed some of your implants for you, do you not feel better human? Do you not hold individuality, know your own thoughts now? The beast said. "You live your lives trying to connect with your technology. You thought your bodies were strong human ...but we broke them, your minds will soon follow." It gasped taking in another breath, snatching at the air and exhaling through it's nostrils.
Jaktar trembled as the voice moved through his sensory C9 e3 chip. At least he still had control of that he thought. If they somehow got had a direct link-up they could actually read his mind, access his neural matrix. Jaktar flinched in a confused panic, trying to cower from the voice emanating from within him...
"Yes human, we can see your perception of mind, your confusion with being. Now tell us what you were doing at your old ship the Pillar Of Autumn".
"Nothing, we were just having a look, it's a wreak, what are we going to find in there?" He tried to focus on the voice behind him but he couldn't move an inch, terrified at the voice.
"No human, If your lies are going to be this transparent, this is going to be a very short conversation or should I say interrogation."
"Then maybe I should make my lies more opaque." Jaktar said gritting his teeth desperately trying to gain some sort of perspective on his surroundings awaiting some sort of retaliation from the creature but there was silence.
"Anyhow, isn't the truth usually just an excuse for a lack of imagination". Jaktar grinned, knowing his captor wasn't really accustomed to his humour. Having realising there was no way out of here for him it seemed pointless trying to struggle. Jaktar settled, nervously.
"Yeah, think about that one you drivelling amphibian, or whatever you are" he replied in the silence almost as a whisper, suggesting he was going to wake up from some sort of nightmare any second as he closed his eyes.
"Savage life forms never follow their own rules, you should know that by now humanoid." The voice said in a loud cackle annoyed at the humans response.
Jaktar startled at the voices' directness his eyes blinking quickly in fright.
"You don't believe me, do you? Jaktar said quickly. "Do you think I would humiliate myself like this, I'm being serious here?"
"If it served your purpose, yes" replied the beast with a sense of distaste. "Your way of being holds no honour humanoid. Tell me now, what is it that feeds your hunger?"
Jaktar, slightly startled and confused by the angle of questioning, "the choice of meal is determined by individual taste." He replied without question.
"And what is it that you desire human?" the voice said sharply.
"I.. I don't desire sustenance or food. I occasionally ingest semi organic nutrient suspension in a silicone-based liquid medium." He replied confused.
"Is it good?" The animal replied gurgling while he waited for Jaktars reply.
"Well, yes in a sense, it lubricates my biofunctions but serves no real other purpose."
"That doesn't sound very appealing human, your torment is my delight. Haaar" The creature snuffled and snapped it's jaws hard sending out a sharp 'cracking' noise as it's jaws drew down on each other quickly.
At that moment a towering shadow of a figure appeared overhead. The hood of its shroud concealing most of its appearance. The light catched the saliva on it's teeth and mouth as it moved its jaws together, grasping the lower lip with a repulsive slurping noise. It's eyes moved through the light revealing its blue retinas making them glow like clear crystal. The shrouded figure of its head wavered looking at Jaktar for a second then moved back out of the light.
"Enough of your games human, do you not yet realise the power and light of our god... do you?". The voice said, louder and more direct.
Jaktar lay paralysed by the grotesque figure that had now moved back behind him.
"I'm not playing games", Jaktar blurted, his head spinning, trying to focus on the figure moving back beside him, he could smell the odour on the shroud, it was a smell worse than death.
A hand slowly reached down from the shadow as it came closer to Jaktar, it held out a crystal between its three digits which sparkled in the blue light of the room, the prism of blue light beaming out across Jaktar's face.
"This is why we have brought you here humanoid", holding it closer to Jaktars face.
"Yes... We found this crystal on a navigation key that we took from one of your home worlds in the Sigma Octanus System. It was the same key that also brought you here human. We have been mining for this crystal, and others like it since our arrival here. Our mines run deep into this structure. You have no knowledge of such powers human... but I will show you, soon. Our Gods have left us these tools deep within this construct. These powers were meant for 'us' human."
The Covenant lowered itself nearer to Jaktars face. The un-armoured head glistening in the blue light, saliva gathering on its lower jaws and slowly falling to the floor beside him, it hissed slowly as it exhaled through it's nostrils.
"Now, I ask you one more time human. What was your mission at the Pillar of Autumn?"
Jaktar trembled and tried to find his words.
"I.. I.. we were just collecting some old equipment, data banks and storage units, nothing important."
The Covenant looked into Jaktars eyes. The pale blue orbs flickered and scanned his face, almost as if it was trying to focus or find a focal point of reference.
"Your words are weak and lack truth human, let us end this now."
The Covenant placed the blue crystal into some sort of casing connected to optical cabling and proceeded to plug the wire into Jaktar's optical port. He shuddered as the device was plugged in, freezing for a second wincing at the pain. A soft pale blue wash flowed through his optic sensors, giving him the sense of floatation, as if in some sort of liquid medium then without warning a shaft of light pierced through his e3 chip creating an explosion of whiteness around him which slowly faded and blurred back into the blueness surrounding him. Jaktar lay still the room felt calm, the blue light shrouding him gave him a sense of comfort.
"Can you hear me now?" the voice said, softer and with ease.
Jaktar's eyes opened slowly, he was powerless to the control of the crystal, his eyes gazing up above him.
"Now think back and visualise your mission at the ship. Think back to what it was that you were doing," The voice said slowly, it's articulation of speech softer and more serene, sounding familiar and untroubled.
Jaktar's eyes closed his speech slurred as he tried to relate his mission to the Covenant interrogator. Drifting off into an unconscious slumber the crystal started to glow and flicker into life starting a holographic projection of Jaktars thoughts above him. The washy and dreamy image flickered above his frail body. The interrogator watched closely as the crystal relayed Jaktars memories of the mission at the PoA, noting the conversation Jaktar had with Anglo and the discussion of a mission to Basis. As his thoughts turned to the battle that raged on after the mission the Covenant clicked it's jaws rapidly, the snapping sounds penetrating the air around him again as the images of Covenant Elites butchering Marines washed through the air infront of him. It looked down at the crystal and cabling and then at Jaktars wasted body. Taking the cabling in one hand it pulled it out in one swift movement. Jaktars body shook then went limp, his body lay still and motionless. The interrogator turned and left Jaktars side, his naked and mutilated body left for dead.