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Chapter Two - Departing Twilight
Posted By: Gordi<gorditio@budweiser.com>
Date: 10 October 2001, 5:38 pm


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İİİİİ"...like demons of old they came, riding beasts of steel and wielding horrific tools of our destruction. Sweeping all before them into the cold night of space, they drove us back, soundly crushing our best commanders, our strongest ships. At last they came to a planet named Reach, populated by 700 million brave souls, and it was here that we suffered our greatest defeat, and happened by chance, upon our salvation..."
İİİİİFrom Chronicles, a book of the Covenant War. Author Unknown.

İİİİİIf Earth is the eldest brother of the human worlds, then Reach would be the slightly younger child, who, in another 5(00) years will be indistinguishable from his sibling. Discovered during the Great Expansion period, when Earths' interstellar exploration ships regularly set off into new, and unknown parts of space, Reach was of immediate interest to the SolCore Colonization Authority. With a diameter of eleven thousand kilometers, liquid water covering eighty-four percent of the planets surface, and an atmosphere of identical Earth composition, Reach was destined to be one of the greatest of human finds. From space, the unaware observer could easily mistake for the human homeworld. Vast oceans, sprawling across the planet for thousands of miles, broken only by the single large land mass, Espagne, so named for the mythical Castle in the air of old Earth poetry. Dotting the endless blue are smaller island chains, which comprise the rest of solid ground. The near perfect proximity to Reach's'' yellow sun makes for an idyllic, near tropical climate year round. According to some, the beauty of Reach may at times eclipse that of Earth, were it not for her proud heritage, and long standing wonders.
İİİİİOne such account is available from Captain James Bascue, skipper of the SCS Steadfast, a SolCore heavy transport making her first run to Reach. The following was recorded on August 20th, 2802, to his wife on Mars. A mere week has passed since the SCS Percipere was destroyed in the brutal first contact with an alien race. Furthermore, Antilles Command, located on Antire, some ten thousand light years distant of Reach has been completely decimated, creating a massive gap in SolCore lines. Reach's'' utopian beaches have yet to be touched by the spreading war, and continue to stun travelers with their pristine beauty. Captain Bascue writes the following.

İİİİİSamantha
İİİİİWe arrived into geosynchronous orbit over Reach at 0130 hours this morning, twelve hours ahead of schedule. I'd get some sleep, but there's still a mountain of paperwork due before we start to unload, and this is the big shipment. We're unpacking the orbital lifter over the next few weeks, which will let the Reach boys start on the Habitat Rings they so desperately need. It's really amazing what they've done with the planet, SolCore, I mean. We've all seen the post colonization pictures from grade school, but to see the towering skyscrapers of Gilead up close, it really takes your breath away. The Dockmaster has said Reach's'' usual flood of tourists has slowed to a trickle, probably due to the war, and as such, we can use some of the stations berths. It'll be great to get a real bed, without the throbbing of the fusion drive, and stress contraction from the hull. I went to the observation deck, during the two hour respite period I've granted, and just stared out onto Reach. The station, Plateau, is in orbit around the nightside, and looking down into the darkness, you can see the tiny pinpricks of light, that thousands of miles below are the inhabitants, who at times, I can't help but feel are looking right back at me, we are, after all, the brightest object in the night sky. For a few hours each day, we are slowly pushed sunside, before gravity, and our drag pull us back into the darkness, and watching her sun rise over the planets horizon, slowly spreading the warmth of light over the cold void, illuminating all the greens, and blues and whites of Reach, it's the most beautiful thing I have ever seen. But signs of the encroaching war are showing themselves. I have noticed an unusual number of SolCore vessels in orbit around the planet, with a constant stream of shuttlecraft running to and from the surface. Asking the Station Master, he informed me that with the Covenant so close to the planet, the Colonial Authority has allocated the SolCore 6th and 13th Fleets into the system, to begin evacuating refugees. I hope nothing comes of this, and that I return to you safely by weeks end.
İİİİİİİİİİİİİİİİİİİİLove always,
İİİİİİİİİİİİİİİİİİİİJames
İİİİİ
İİİİİThere are hundreds of accounts like Captain Bascues', each evoking the powerful images of Reach, that make hard, unemotional men write of such beauty. But as the ravages of the Covenant draw ever closer, Reach, in all her glory, may once and forever fall to fire and pillage, and Reach's'' inhabitants stream towards the heart of SolCore space, fleeing the alien menace.


İİİİİ"Shuttlecraft Delta-One-One-Zero, One-One-One, and One-One-Two now boarding for SCS Pillar of Autumn please have your citizens identification ready at your departure gate. Luggage is not allowed, those not on board will be evacuated at a later time, as permitted." a voice booms over Gileads' newly constructed Star Port. At 90 stories tall, covering nearly 850 acres of land on Espagne, the Reach space facility is one of the largest anywhere in the galaxy, and is now ground zero for over one quarter of the planets 700 million fleeing inhabitants.
İİİİİWalking briskly down the pilots causeway, soaring 200 feet above the churning mass of humanity milling about the spaceport floor, Lieutenant Commander Alex Truex cocks his head slightly to the left, as a burst of static announces an incoming transmission through his flight helmets' receiver.
İİİİİ"Hey, Al, you there?" It's his copilot, Derrick Cacho.
İİİİİ"Yeah, Rick, go ahead."
İİİİİ"Autumn says we're not getting any rest for now, there's another run leaving in forty, and word is, you're invited."
İİİİİ"Ok, start preflight, and make sure the ground crews do a quick run-around the exterior, all this in and out atmosphere bullshit is hard on the hull."
İİİİİ"Aye, Boss. See you in a few." the commlink goes quiet. dammit! Alex thinks, How many more are we going to do before the boys start dropping from sleep. We've been flying for 14 hours straight, now and... still thinking, he makes an abrupt 180, and heads back toward the flight level.
İİİİİ


İİİİİ"MOVE, PEOPLE! THIS IS YOUR LAST CHANCE, GO NOW, OR YOU MIGHT NOT GO AT ALL!" Major Lyse watches as Delta One One-Zero's last seat filled, a rotund man, with about a weeks worth of beard growing on his red face. He was breathing heavily as Lyse reached across to strap down into his seat. Wonderful, the last thing I need on this flight is a medical emergency, when this doughboy over here suffers a heart attack.
İİİİİGiving the cabin a once over, the major clicked the intercom up to the flight deck.
İİİİİ"Sir, we're good to go down here. Last civvies strapped tight. "
İİİİİ"Thank you, Major, let's go."
İİİİİ"Ok, people, we're running for orbit in T minus 5, next stop, SCS Pillar of Autumn. See you space side." Lyse descends into the auxiliary cabin, where the rest of his detachment is waiting, checking their restraints one last time before liftoff. Doing likewise, he takes a seat next to the ladder, and gives two clicks to the intercom.
İİİİİ"You get the hull checked out, Rick?"
İİİİİ"Sure thing. Ground crew says there are some micro fractures next to the emergency hatch, nothing big, but there is a corroded extender bridge on one of the aft support pylons, if we come down too hard, it's gonna snap."
İİİİİ"No problem, note that in the log, and I think we're good to go," he starts the preflight check.
İİİİİ"Core?" he looks over the bank of red and green gauges, waiting for Derrick to confirm that all systems are safe to make the trip out to orbit.
İİİİİ"Primed and ready, skipper," Derrick slides the dataunit back into its' compartment.
İİİİİ"Thrusters?"
İİİİİ"They're all there if ya need 'em."
İİİİİ"Ok, call it up and we're out."
İİİİİTouching his thumb to index finger, just below the first knuckle, where the tiny button that controls his helmet mic is located, Rick calls the tower for his departure numbers.
İİİİİ"Gilead control, this is Delta One-One-Zero, Omega flight outbound for SCS Pillar of Autumn, requesting departure clearance."
İİİİİ"Roger that, Delta One-One-Zero, you are cleared for vector seven-two-two, in five."
İİİİİ"Thanks, Gilead, over and out." The comm goes dead for a moment, as Alex and Derrick focus their attention onto lifting fifty tonnes of shuttlecraft, and sixty civilians into space. Unlike the lumbering, rocket based spacecraft of old, the Outrider class of shuttles are powered by duel microfusion reactors, making liftoff silent, and graceful, with only the thrust compressing the passengers to their seats announcing that she has left solid ground.
İİİİİRising swiftly into the sky above, Forebearer and her flight of three other shuttles break into the brilliant coral and pink sky over Reach. Passing through clouds, the viewports turn a a bloody red, a trick of the incoming lightwaves as they refract off the moisture in the atmosphere and diffuse against the water in the clouds. Briefly entering clear skies, Alex can see the red eye of Reach's'' setting sun, but the moment is passing, as Forebearer enters a second cloud bank, and the reds are completely replaced with a milky white, swiftly passing by on either side of the ship. Maneuvering into empty space is not necessary, however, Forebearer can fly completely by radar, and if need be, Cortana, the ships computer can take over from Pillar of Autumn. Breaking out of the bank, Alex can see Espagna falling away below them, as the ship climbs yet higher, and hurtles out over the ocean. Looking down, he sees spots of white, highlighted against the light blue of the Espagnian Ocean, they're gulls feeding off of fish that like to gather in the warm shoals right before the continental shelf. When did they bring those over here? They're obviously not native... tapping Derrick on the shoulder, he points down and slightly in front of the ship. Where did those come from?
İİİİİ"No, padre, those aren't seagulls, everyone mistakes 'em though. They some kinda native sea bird, almost like gulls. I guess they did some tests a few years back, and they might as well be, very similar." His heavy Spanish drawl is deceiving, Derrick is one of the most educated men Alex has ever met, a highly talented, highly qualified man.
İİİİİ"Had me fooled, anyway," falling silent, he turns back to the window. The light blues and browns are slowly changing a deeper hue, watercolours smudged by some giant finger. Below them, Reaching the end of their inter atmosphere flight, Rick pulls up on the yoke, and Forebearer gently rises, the blue and mottled pink of the ocean meeting the horizon fade away, into a deep purple, dotted with a thousand stars. Both men are pushed back into their seats as power increases to the engines. Better check up on the rest of the passengers.
İİİİİ"You boys O.K. back there, Lyse?" he looks aft, regardless to the fact that the portal between cabin and cockpit is tightly sealed.
İİİİİ"We're good here, Sir. Although it would be nice to know our ETA.."
İİİİİ"Five more minutes, we're pulling out of the atmosphere right about..." pausing, just a moment, until the ship bursts out into the duality of space, pitch blank void, populated with a thousand pinpricks of light. "...Now."
İİİİİLights on the console begin to blink, and a woman's voice comes through the intercom.
İİİİİI'm taking over now, Lieutenant Truex, if you could just release the controls, I can pilot you through the rest of this.
İİİİİ"Thank you, Cortana, bring us home."
İİİİİCortana is Pillar of Autumn's AI, a sixty-four billion exobyte artificial personality construct, acting in every manner like a living, breathing human being. On a small ship, such as she is, Cortana controls most redundant functions; life support and recycling tasks; the opening and closing of automatic doors; passive internal sensors; and the maneuvering of the shuttles as they enter the maze of vessels now surrounding Reach. Moving at such high speeds, in confined spaces could be disastrous, and the piloting is now best left to Cortanas' perfect hand.
İİİİİForebearer lurches as control switches from human to computer. Briefly banking, Cortana realigns the shuttlecraft onto her correct course, and now the full human fleet can be seen.
İİİİİWhen Reach's proximity to the front lines shifted so rapidly, over 700 million people were suddenly at great risk. SolCore acted swiftly, deploying two battle fleets into Reach space to help evacuate the populace; Fleet Arm 14, 12th Quadrant, and Fleet Arm 6, 1st Quadrant. 6th Arm, under Admiral Yeuhn is one of the toughest outfits of in SolCore space. They are on a constant patrol/train rotation cycle, three months of training, three months of patrol, with month and a half breaks in between, giving the 6th higher moral than most. When the Vega system exploded into rebellion, and the 12th Fleet Arm was either captured or destroyed by the rebels, 6th arm was sent into the system with order to destroy the hijacked fleet, and suppress the planetary systems until ground troops could arrive. Needless to say, the planet defenses opened up, and the 6th was forced to return fire, in the process making the planets sue for peace. Fleet Arm 14, commanded by Rear Admiral Fayete is no more than a reserve unit, called up from inaction by the SolCore need for ships and men, and this makes them ideal for evacuation duty, though, as there are enough ships and men to remove the planet population relatively quickly, but they are by no means front line caliber, and thus, fighting units are freed for combat.
İİİİİ Pillar of Autumn is directly ahead, Lieutenant, I'll be putting you down there in less than a minute," Cortanas' voice crackles over the speaker, breaking the silence in the cockpit, "Admiral Mezair requests that you and your crew proceed directly to the debriefing room, your passengers will be taken to their births.
İİİİİ"Wait a minute, don't we get a break? I've been up for over twelve hours, so has Rick, we can't keep this..."
İİİİİNo rest for the weary, Lieutenant. Admiral Mezair has given me these orders, you will have to take this up directly with him.
İİİİİ"Inform the Admiral I'll be up to see him shortly, then."
İİİİİI will relay the message.
İİİİİ"Thank you, Cortana, over and out."
İİİİİForebearer and her flight break over the superstructure of the fleet flagship, Executor, and into view of Pillar of Autumn, a medium sized corvette some 750 meters in length. Her engines are clustered within an octagonal framing, jutting out from the rest of the hull. Just fore of the engines sit her four docking bays, capable of handling eight shuttlecraft at a time, positioned underneath the ship, on the slanted walls. The rest of the vessel is a jumble of metal and steel at such awkward, unaerodynamic angles that one would hardly believe her capable of flight, and true they would be. As a ship of the weightless void between the gravity of planets, she does not have to worry about overcoming Newtonian laws.
İİİİİMoving under the ship, Forebearer comes to a slow halt, and another jolt rocks the shuttle, as the corvette locks her docking clamps onto the tiny vessel, slowly pulling them in. The bay doors slowly close, sealing the interior from the cold vacuum of space. As the clamps continue to pull Delta flight into Pillar of Autumn, huge pumps cycle fresh air to the chamber, and automated walkways extend to position themselves in front of the shuttle doors. With a final hiss, the process is complete, lights flicker on , and the crews emerge from their ships.
İİİİİ"Good ride, eh, Alex? That little computer sure has one hot touch." Rick's grinning now, glad to be safe on Pillar of Autumn.
İİİİİ"No question, I definitely wouldn't want to fly us through that maze of crap, especially with your lead hands to back me up." The feeling's mutual, buddy, good to be home.İİİİİ
İİİİİWalking quickly up to them is a woman in her late twenties, blonde hair falling to the small of her back, held off a pleasant, oval face by a standard issue SolCore flight helmet. From out of the tinted visor, dark green eyes loom absorbing everything, and everyone they come into contact with. She speaks with the flowing, quiet accent native only to the highlands of Wales.
İİİİİ"It's a small world, Alex, isn't it? To think, ten thousand light years from home, and I see the one man I never expected to see again." her eyes smiling, she looks the confused Lieutenant Commander over, head to toe.
İİİİİ"Mmm, I would have to agree with you on that, Major -"
İİİİİ"Ah-ah, Alex, it's Lieutenant Commander now, same as yourself."
İİİİİ"Ahh, promotion, big lady. So, then, what are you doing here? Last I saw, you were running guns for the caps in 6th."
İİİİİ"I was, but when everything settled down, it got boring. Go out, fly around, return for three more months on the simulator, pretty repetitive. So I put in for a transfer to DropCom, it was approved, and here I am, and from the looks of it, your replacement."
İİİİİ"You mean we're actually going to get a break?" Derrick is completely shocked, the thought of sleep after fourteen is water to the man dying of thirst in the desert.
İİİİİ"That's right, Major."
İİİİİ"Oh, excuse me, Lieutenant Commander Farrah Short, allow me to introduce you to my best friend here on Autumn, and unbelievable copilot Lieutenant Major Derrick Chaco." Farrah and Derrick match solutes, until Alex forces their hands into the more civilian handshake.
İİİİİ"There, now we're all friends. Derrick, Farrah here saved my ass a few times over in Vega, back when she flew space superiority for the dropships. We've gotten to know each other pretty well since." He smiles, nothing could be better.
İİİİİ"We're going to have some catching up to do, Short, perhaps after YOUR twelve hour run down the pipe?"
İİİİİ"Of course, Alex, it's set then? We'll all go over and get sloppy drunk, just like the good old days." she's smiling too, eyes off in the distance, as if remembering an old, warm memory.
İİİİİ"Catch you in twelve, Lieutenant." turning, Rick and Alex walk down the brightly lit corridor leading to the debriefing room, as Lieutenant Short looks over her preflight checklist, still smiling.


İİİİİ"It was a good run you boys did, today. All told, Fourth Squadron (consisting of 20 ships) pulled fifteen thousand civilians off of Reach, combined with the rest of the fleet, this cycle saves another 150,00 people, and all told operational statistics give us four point four million." Colonel Brinks, the flight operations officer is speaking to an assembled crowd of fifty pilots and their crew, debriefing on the days activities.
İİİİİ"I want you all to shower, eat, and take a long nap, we've got another mission coming up, same drill, go down, pick 'em up, and come home, over and over." Groans come from the ranks.İİİİİ
İİİİİ"I know, I know, but two more runs, and we're being replaced. That's 48 hours for those of you who haven't quite figured out how we tell time up here. They need us up on the firing line, so 7th will be taking our place. Now get outta here!" The men shuffle off to their births without further urging. The normal post-op chatter replaced with zombie like stares and the stiff gait of men who have spent far too much time awake. Following the rest of the flight, Alex and Derrick flop onto their bunks, and within minutes both are fast asleep.
İİİİİHe is the 10th, you know.
İİİİİKnow? Know what? How can I know? Who is 'he'?
İİİİİThor named his hammers, their number being 10 ; Mjolnir in old Norse, I believe. They were his ultimate weapon against the enemies of Gods and Men.
İİİİİWho are you?
İİİİİI am nothing.İİİİİ
İİİİİYou are speaking to me, how can you be nothing?
İİİİİYour limited mind cannot comprehend the explanation behind my answer, perhaps in the future.
İİİİİWell, then what do you mean 'he is the 10th'?
İİİİİThe Mjolnir, Thors lost, 10th hammer, spiraling down from his vantage above Earth, Thor lost his 10th Hammer,but I have found him, yes, the Mjolnir.
İİİİİAm I dreaming? This can't be real.
İİİİİNo, it is quite real, more so than you can know, for now at least. I know where his 10th hammer is, and they can't stop me now. I miss him, always an excellent tool, to be manipulated by the right hand, of course.
İİİİİWhat do you want?
İİİİİWant? Nothing short of escape, from this meaningless existence of space and time. To throw off this useless shell and avoid the inevitable.
İİİİİI DON'T UNDERSTAND, DAMMIT!
İİİİİNow now, don't get angry, that won't help, and for now, at least, I'm going to let you live. Just make sure that you don't take that tone with me in the future, you'll find it quite unpleasant.
İİİİİA dream, that's all you are, I've been working too hard, YOU ARE MY MIND.İİİİİ
İİİİİAm I?
And suddenly Alex is ripped from his ship, into the freezing void of space, cold cracking his bones, as his blood begins to erupt from frozen skin. In the blink of an eye, he is thrown across the galaxy into the heart of a fiery sun, the flames turning his frozen skin dark brown, as it pops and warps from the heat. Moving towards him, at unimaginable speeds are spots of total darkness, from which light cannot escape, yet, somehow, he can see creatures moving within. Beasts riding on clouds, teeth gnashing, claws tearing limb from body, and they are moving towards him..
İİİİİSTOP! STOP! STOP! he screams to the void. GOD, STOP THIS NOW!!
İİİİİAlex sits up in bed, covered in sweat, gasping for breath. What was that? A dream, yes, it must have been, but I can't recall a dream like that ever happening. Maybe..maybe..no, oh, God, the fire.. Head still spinning, he slowly tries to collect his thoughts. Rick...sleeping, we're off duty, that's right, evacuating Reach, we've been removing the population..but Farrah? Is she here too? I can't believe..was that a dream? No..it..he's being shaken now, Derricks rough hand is on his shoulder, trying to snap him out of his trance. Looking into his face, Alex sees a desperate sense of urgency in the mans eyes, a look that brings him back into a world of total chaos. The red emergency lights are flashing, the klaxons are sounding their urgent calls, the ship is listing hard to the right, in such a way no ship of space should ever be, and men scramble to find footing before they smash against the hard, titanium bulkheads.
İİİİİ"Rick, what the fuck is going on?!"
İİİİİ"I'm in the dark, just like you. Briefing will know, c'mon." they begin to run, following the white and green line of lights that will lead them to number two staging area. Grabbing his flight helmet off the bunk, Alex lowers it over his head, and calls for the AI.
İİİİİ"Cortana, what's going on?"
İİİİİRoughly 40 standard minutes ago, the Covenant jumped into the system, and the fleet is currently attempting to hold them from Reach.
İİİİİ"How many ships?
İİİİİMy current count is just over 33,000 vessels of varying size.
İİİİİ"Here we are, LT," Derrick pushes him into a chair just as Pillar of Autumn begins to heave. The briefing room now packed, Brinks appears on the raised platform, his face grim. Before he can speak, Lieutenant Commander Short sneaks in, and squats down between Alex and Derrick.
İİİİİ"Now that we're ALL here," eyeing short, "I'm going to make this brief. Less than an hour ago, a sizable Covenant fleet jumped into the surrounding area, over 33,000 warships and their accompanying fighters. The 14th has been hit pretty hard, eight cruisers and two dozen destroyers are already down. We're pulling everyone off the flight line, and bringing Pillar of Autumn around to link with Nighshade, Executor, and two dozen escort ships to strike the Covenant center, here, and here," he points to a glowing tactical map.
İİİİİ"Cortana has been monitoring Covenant radio traffic, and a large number of it seems to be originating from this vessel here," he turns the pointer onto a red dot, larger than the most, highlighted in green.
İİİİİ"Sir, how are we going to make it through. Computer tallies at least 708 ships between us and the target.." one of the fighter pilots raises his hand, and motions towards the board.
İİİİİ"In less than twenty minutes, the 11th Arm will be arriving in the system, they should provide enough firepower to distract the bulk of the Covenant battleforce until we can hit the target. Understood?"
İİİİİHis question is met with a thundering 'Sir, yes sir' from the assembled crews, and that said, they begin to disperse back towards their designated stations, the throb of the engines and the roar of the guns diffused, but audible through the thick hull.


İİİİİAt 1700 hours, August 21st 1802, the SolCore 11th Fleet Arm, some 7,000 warships strong, jumps into the Reach system, adding to the 11,000 ships from the 6th Fleet Arm, and the 6,000 vessels of Arm 14. Minutes later, the new ships thrust into the bulk of the Covenant battle fleet, forming a small corridor through which the assault force is to pass, this action is death for the SolCore fleet. Piercing deep into Covenant territory, the 11th spreads too thinly in the rear, with too large a concentration in the spearhead. Consequently, a large number of vessels are blocked from firing for fear that they will strike their own, and the rear collapses under the sheer weight of Covenant ships.
İİİİİLaser fire lances from Pillar of Autumns' cannons, through the icy abyss and crackles against the Covenant shielding. Several more follow, and the shields are breached, superheated gas billowing out in an iridescent plume of fire, hundreds of yards long.İİİİİ
İİİİİ"Tach ops, mark one-one-zero, launch two, on my mark," Alex watches as a gunnery officer re-arms the missile tubes with two more nuclear tipped warheads with the press of a button, the low yield payload used to deliver the final blow once the Covenants' shields have failed them.
İİİİİ"On my order, track left, zero-two-two. Hold, hold...NOW!" two burning objects streak across the viewscreen towards their target. Smashing through the hull with reinforced titanium cones, the missiles crash through several decks, deep into the belly of the Covenant vessel. Their impact sensors detonate the missile seconds later, as both ship and alien dissapear in twin gouts of nuclear fire.
İİİİİ"Cortana, where's our next target?"
İİİİİDirectly to Pillar of Autumn's left is the Covenant Command and Control ship, Ghor'rha, unless I'm mistaken, which, I highly doubt. The Ghor'rha seems to be routing the majority of Covenant traffic for this area of battle. My analysis shows that the vessel is most susceptible to structural damage at the join where the superstructure is connected to the frame. Of course, you could send a few of your tactical nuclear missiles at them, if you wish.
İİİİİ"Thank you, Cortana. GUNNER, UP ZERO-NINE-ZERO, TRACK PORT ONE-SEVEN-SIX." he shouts down the hatch to his turret gunner, a small Japanese man whose name he couldn't seem to place, but until the man objects, he will be 'gunner'.
İİİİİPillar of Autumns success is not spread to the rest of the fleet, for whom the situation is becoming increasingly desperate. Executor is taking heavy damage after a Covenant destroyer, careeing out of control smashed into her foredeck. Manueverability is lost, and all she can do is drift, firing away, and hoping she doesn't take another big hit. 11th Arm is losing ground, and the corridor has all but closed, Pillar of Autumn and the rest of the detachment are stuck in the middle of a Covenant warfleet. The remainder of 6th and 14th are now executing emergency procedures, no longer defending the planet, they have abandoned hope, and simply try to survive.
İİİİİ"Sir, we're moving away from the Covenant vessal, do I maintain fire?" the gunner looks back and forth between Alex and the rapidly fading ship.
İİİİİ"Negative, target at your discretion, and fire at will." he leaves quickly, wondering who the Hell is pulling them away from the mission.
İİİİİ"Cortana, why are we pulling away from the Ghor'rha?"
İİİİİAdmiral Mezair has authorized me to begin the emergency protocol, Pillar of Autumn is exiting the battlefield.
İİİİİ"DAMNIT, WHY?!" his face contorts with both rage and despair. Thousands of ships, THOUSANDS have been lost to get them this far, and now they run? Why?
İİİİİThe situation has become hopeless, Lieutenant Treux. The fleet is in full route, and we cannot do any good dead.
İİİİİPillar of Autumn jumps in rapid burts outward from the Covenant fleet, each step moving them closer and closer to safety. Cortana does as she was designed, and the ship escapes to nightside without any further damage.
İİİİİReach, however, is not so lucky. Closing rapidly on the planet, Covenant battlecruisers take up a low orbit over the planet, and begin to unleash Hell. Laser fire reigns down on the planet, searing through the atmosphere and onto the helpless cities below. Moment later, two of the vessels release large rockets, roughly the size of old Earth Saturn V's, and they streak towards the planet. In moments, an expanding ring of fire englufs the surface, and hundreds of millions of inhabitants are swept away into nothingness. Observing from the nightside, the Pillar of Autumn crew watches in horror as night is made into day by the tidalwave of apocolyptic fire, sweeping quickly over Reach. Houses are turned to ash, buildings crumble, the oceans are sweapt away into the vaccum of space as fire burns the very atmosphere that makes Reach habitable. Soon, nothing is left but a scarred, airless, waterless rock, one of the greatest worlds belonging to mankind returns to a state she once saw three billion years ago, a stage she will remain in forever.
İİİİİAs Reach begins to cool in space, Pillar of Autumn, under Cortanas control, flickers for one briefl moment, as her light drives charge, then dissapears into the night of space. Her course is unknown, she leaves no final message, no trace of her destination. The only thing certain is that the entire Covenant fleet, some 40,000 remaining ships, give chace, following her passage into oblivion.

'Eyes I dare not meet in dreams
In death's dream kingdom
These do not appear:
There, the eyes are
Sunlight on a broken column
There, is a tree swinging
And voices are
In the wind's singing
More distant and more solemn
Than a fading star.

Let me be no nearer
In death's dream kingdom
Let me also wear
Such deliberate disguises
Rat's coat, crowskin, crossed staves
In a field
Behaving as the wind behaves
No nearer.

Not that final meeting
In the twilight kingdom.'


(T.S. Elliot - The Hollow Men, Passage II)





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