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Chapter Three - Ile Aval
Posted By: Gordi<gorditio@budweiser.com>
Date: 5 November 2001, 10:16 pm


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İİİİİ"Here, Lord if the Isles do we lay thee to rest. Among kith and kin may you find everlasting peace in death, as you have given to us in life. For 100 years did calm rest upon the land, your servants fair and true, and at your table was made justice everlasting. Now we wait on you, for that day you see fit to return unto the people, and lay waste to those who would claim title to land rightfully yours.
İİİİİ- Inscription, written in modern English, found on a habitable ring orbiting a gas giant in an unknown system.

İİİİİDarkness..where am I? Oh God, not the dreams again. Wake up, c'mon, Alex, wake up. No more dreams, please...There is a passing moment of panic, of drowning in a dark sea, no land, no light, nothing except the water.
İİİİİ"C'mon, Alex, wake up."
İİİİİGod, I've got to wake up...why the Hell can't I move my arms..everything is black, can't see...wake up, SHIT, I'm going to drown if I don't move..
İİİİİ"Lt. Treux, try to move something, an eyelid, a finger. Wake up. He should be coming about any minute now." A voice pierces the void, and a sliver of light passes into darkness.
İİİİİWhere am I? What's happening? Someone help me. He thinks to himself, to the void, whimpering against it's silence.
İİİİİ"Good, at least he's vocalizing, it's something to be happy about." A voice, probably male, but to whom it belongs...
İİİİİI didn't say anything, no..who else is here, where is that coming from? Voice, are you there?
İİİİİ"Did you hear how it happened?" This voice is different, definitely a woman.
İİİİİHow did what happen? Where am I, and who are you? Show yourself, please.
İİİİİ"I guess he was walking out when we pulled into planetary orbit, that last cruiser got off a few shots, one of 'em hit the blister before he was totally clear. Blast doors came down behind, but the vacuum pulled him backwards, smacked his head pretty hard against it. The other gunner, Soyo, I think his name was, didn't even make it out."
İİİİİ"Lucky man, very lucky, our Lieutenant, that is."
İİİİİImages come flying upward from the darkness, flashes of light; green and yellow, red and blue, passing by too quickly to recognize, a torrent of information rushing back to a stunned consciousness. Indistinguishable in their singularity, but somehow part of a greater whole, something important, something that happened. Slowly the flickers die down, swirling and condensing into a fuzzy shape, surrounded by black.
İİİİİThe doors..the blister doors. Why am I in the blister? More light, the picture becomes clearer. Running for nightside, why? Gunner, where is Ghor'rha? NO! Why? Too many ships...the Covenant, oh Lord, what happened to us?
İİİİİ"He's coming around, look, the monitor's picking up increasing brain activity, Lieutenant Treux will be fine." The male voice again, only now it isn't floating up from the depths, it's behind him, or above him, Alex still isn't sure.
İİİİİI'm going to the bridge, target at your discretion...then...what? He struggles to remember, the memories hover just out of reach, on the lip of his mind, simply needing to be coaxed out.
İİİİİI need to remember, I want to remember. What happened after I left? I need to know.. his searching becomes frantic, grabbing desperately for something that isn't there, he feels his mind slipping back into darkness from the effort.
İİİİİ"Activity is falling, I think he may be losing consciousness again, keep an eye on him, Maggie, and call me if he wakes up, I'll be moving on to the burn case in 14. Lieutenant Short, I promise we'll call you the second something happens, but you need to rest or you'll end up like Lieutenant Treux here."
İİİİİ"Thank you, Sir." and footsteps quickly fade away. Burn case in 14? Farrah? Of course! She is the other voice I've been hearing...how did she...and the world turns black once again.
İİİİİIt has been 1600 years now, and he has yet to come back. His memory but an ill known fable among the descendants of the long dead island people. His house dust, and the once noble lineage has broken off into a thousand impure strains. A voice enters, but he is sure no human tongue formed these words. They are alien, yet comprehension comes naturally, as if this language were the first, pure and flowing it rolls into his mind with unequivocal beauty. Colors and lights pulse to the speaking, but it is as if the colors ARE speaking, vibrating in tune to their own melody.
İİİİİAre you...? He does not ponder on how he understands, let alone speaks.
İİİİİI feel that another creature has once before touched your mind, rest assured I am not that being.İİİİİ
İİİİİWho are you then? Why do you come to me?
İİİİİThere are answers I will choose to give you when you may understand, and there are those that you will never understand, your question belongs to the latter.
İİİİİIf I understand so little, why do you come to me?
İİİİİThis much I can tell. You are an integral piece of what is yet to come, a great endeavor begun many years ago, and one that will end only as the last of the suns have extinguished, collapsing upon themselves into infinity. A critical moment has arrived, and you, your kind are destined to take part.

İİİİİThe fuzzy images that have danced in front of his eyes for some time now blur, and he feels his heart rises into his throat. Objects fly quickly in and out of sight, Alex
gets the impression that he may have traveled ten million miles in the past 20 seconds, or perhaps he has been spun round and round, covering no real ground at all. The darkness begins to recede, forming something of a tunnel, as greens and browns, with specks of gold swim in front of his eyes, and a great pain begins to throb in his cheek.
İİİİİWhat have you done to me now? he asks into the fading darkness, but there is no response, save his own voice echoing back and forth in the corridors of his mind. Slowly, ever so slowly, feeling begins to creep back into cold limbs; a painful tingling, spreading from his stomach, and moving outward until his entire body feels as if it has been submerged into icy water. Gritting his teeth against the pain, Alex begins a systematic check of his body, a skill drilled into his mind during six months of combat flight training and survival school.
İİİİİCurving the index fingers on both hands, he slowly work in from the extremities, testing every joint and limb on the way; wrists, elbows, shoulders, neck, back, hips, knees, ankles, toes, everything checks out fine, and except for a slight stiffness in the spine, nothing seems to be for the worse. Breathing deeply, he opens his eyes, and the sight that spreads before him, is the last thing anyone, anywhere would have
expected.
İİİİİHe is laying face down on a grassy patch of earth, speckled with dirt, and a few golden flowers of some sort valiantly reaching skywards from the ocean of grass threatening to drown out their individual beauty in a wave of green normalcy. Up above, although he cannot see it from his current vantage, the sun must be shining, and the warmth spreading on his back suggests that wherever he has landed, it must be late spring, or possibly early summer.
İİİİİAt least it's better than the last time he thinks with a shudder, remembering the previous encounter with the terrors in his last 'nightmare'. That's all this is, a nightmare, or a dream, at least.
İİİİİLifting himself off of the ground, patting the dust from his dark blue SolCore regulation flight suit, Alex lifts a hand against the overhead sun, squinting in it's unblinking gaze. Surveying the land reveals rolling hills, covered in a sea of grass as far as he can see, dotted with specks of purple and yellow, undoubtedly flowers of the variety that stand not more than seven inches from his boot, a gentle breeze carries away some of the noonday heat, and ripples the emerald stalks of grass in a motion like that of the surf as it breaks over a beach. Turning in a full circle reveals the same scenery all around, except for a broad treeline, not far off, stretching for perhaps five miles in either direction, it's branches unyielding to the wind that ruffles everything about them, offering some calm, and shade while Alex gathers his bearings. This is where he will regroup, so with the sun still rising in the sky, and sweating against the heat, Lieutenant Commander Alex Treux of the SolCore Navy, separated from the rest of humanity by distances unknown, begins to trudge slowly towards the only visible landmark for miles around.


İİİİİ"Cortana, where are we going?" Farrah is sitting in a bunk, the small curtains drawn and speaking softly into the flight helmet inches in front of her, as to not wake the rest of the drop crew, sleeping restlessly all around.
İİİİİThe Admiral has initiated my emergency protocols, Lieutenant, designed to take us on a totally unpredictable route of escape, I myself am not aware of our destination, and therefore cannot divulge that which I do not know to an enemy.
İİİİİ"But I am obviously not the enemy, Cortana."
İİİİİIf I am able to divulge the knowledge to one person, I can give it to anyone, the safeguard is in place to prevent an event where a traitor among our ranks jeopardizes Pillar of Autumns safety.
İİİİİ"So we're lost, you couldn't even get us back once we've stopped careening around the galaxy?"
İİİİİTo have our vessel escape, but remain lost would serve no purpose. After a predetermined period of time, I am able to retrace the path we have taken, until then however, we are effectively cut off from the Fleet.
İİİİİ"Well, that's some assurance, at least. Thank you, Cortana." almost as an afterthought, she adds "Oh, and Cortana, I'd like a damage report on my visor, if you don't mind."
İİİİİCertainly, Lieutenant. Seconds later, numbers begin to flicker up across the internal LCD screen built directly into the flight helmets sun visor, for a brief moment they continue to scroll, then, reaching the end of the report, movement stops. Scrolling through the entries, Farrah is immediately concerned with the heavy damage sustained to the communication pods and sensor nodes
İİİİİ"Cortana, elaborate on damage to communications and information systems." Farrah highlights the two sectors of particular interest.
İİİİİUnfortunately, Lieutenant, the Ghor'rha, or one of her escorts, managed to fire several salvos before the evasive maneuvers were ordered. One of these volleys contained a direct hit against the long-range communications relay pod, containing the faster than light relay dish. The burn in, and later our of low orbit caused severe damage to the secondary dish, both are effectively destroyed until extensive repairs can be initiated.
İİİİİ"Does Pillar of Autumn contain the necessary supplies to accommodate such a repair?"
İİİİİFortunately, we may. The equipment WAS catalogued as being held at Internal Storage Six, however, there are currently three hundred seventy refugees housed there at this time. It will take a few moments to search through the logs and see if the parts were moved somewhere else onboard, or off the ship completely.
İİİİİ"Thank you, now, about the sensor nodes?"
İİİİİAs you know, the sensor nodes are located on the underside of the ship, and relatively protected from hostile fire, debris, and other potentially damaging objects, this is not the problem. Information Twelve, on deck thirty-seven has been opened to space by Covenant laser fire, Twelve contained the bulk of our holocharts and tracking units, as well as most of the Typhoon LongScan specialists.
İİİİİ"So we are effectively blind, mute, AND lost, is that correct?"
İİİİİAs of right now, yes. We are capable of system scans, although they are limited to a distance of .5 light-years. I have run the invoice logs, during our conversation, and it seems no one foresaw damage to the FTL communication relays, the replacement parts were moved off-ship before we arrived at Reach.
İİİİİThrowing her helmet against the far bunk wall, Farrah spouts forth a stream of curses and obscenities that would make the most vulgar man on board blush for modesty. Turning to leave, Farrah is struck with the realization that, being totally new on board Pillar of Autumn, she knows absolutely nobody, and sitting in the officers mess, surrounded with strange faces somehow seems much lonelier than talking to Cortana, alone in her bunk. Returning to the confines of the birth, she dons her flight helmet, pulls the visor down, and calls for the computer.


İİİİİSo, let's review, Alex. The gentle breeze has left the air, and the sun that Alex once found invigorating and pure has become almost stifling in the stagnant air, You're lost, completely and without a doubt alone, like no one has ever been before; you have no water, or liquid of any kind; food - what food, I suppose something around here might be edible, but I don't really want to find out the hard way; no shelter whatsoever, I don't know what comes around here at night, but it's at least going to get cold, I need something, anything.. The situation Commander Treux has found himself in is becoming increasingly desperate, no food, no water and no shelter, with the added worries that while the sun may be painfully hot now, it is beginning it's gentle arc past the horizon, and darkness is quickly approaching. İİİİİ
İİİİİNight, each and every human being has some degree of inborn fear of the night, we are animals of the sun, we live, work, and play during the twelve hours of daylight, and sleep when the alien darkness comes. Men cannot see, unaided into the dark, and our minds seem to grow sinister and play disturbing games when light vanishes. Our eyes are designed so that photoreceptors designed to see in the dark are located on the periphery of the inner wall, meaning shadows and objects flit across the edges of vision, then disappear just as quickly, phantoms in the passing night.
İİİİİAlex knows he must find shelter, in the treeline, or elsewhere, but he must find it quickly, before the sun vanishes completely. After twenty more minutes of walking, he arrives at the edge of the forest, stopping to rest briefly before continuing onward, passing under the leafy canopy soaring fifty feet above the ground. Giant conifers reach towards the sky, their branches arcing out from trunks so straight and tall that they create the impression of walking into some magnificent cathedral, dedicated to the worship of an unknown god. Sunlight filters through in places, where it has, small flowers grow, bending themselves upwards, straining towards the source of their life, otherwise, the towering canopy prevents all light from reaching the forest floor, save that which is diffused through leafy branches, casting a green and brown hue to the world below. Awestruck, Alex presses forward, into a world of ever increasing beauty, and darkening gloom, pausing for a moment to listen, he is struck with a realization; with the exception of his own footsteps, and the wind disturbing the tree tops far above, not a single noise can be heard in the forest, a strange thing for such a place so accustomed to the harmony of nature. Even growing up as a child, in the domed forests of Tau Ceti, Alex had been aware of the birds, fox, and squirrels that man had populated his artificial habitats with, but here there is not a single noise to give away the presence of life on this pristine world.
İİİİİEvery so often, on the edges of his vision where darkness and forest haze meet, the forest walls seem to part in an arching doorway, revealing perfectly circular meadows full with grass like that surrounding the forest, and every variety of flower imaginable, their life allowed by the sun streaming in overwhelming strength into the clearing. Oh what he would give to feel the planets warm sunlight on his face, to rest briefly not among tree and dirt, but fresh grass and sun. Off he sets towards these small outcroppings, but every time he seems to be making headway, the darkness pushes it farther and farther away, and he must turn back or risk losing the path and become lost in the dark wood.
İİİİİAs he walks, the light seeping in through cracks in the leafy shield above slowly fades, as outside the forest, day turns into twilight, turns into night. He has covered perhaps three miles now, from when he entered into this dark, silent world, and although outside the duel moons of this strange planet are slowly ascending towards their apex, deep within the forest an eerie half light persists, as if it has chosen to take a different course from the rest of the world, and remains stuck in a perpetual twilight, somewhere between wake and sleep. If walking through this unearthly glow were not enough, Alex finds, that if he pays close enough attention, the gusting of the wind comes not in sporadic bursts like wind should, but a rhythmic sighing, as if the trees themselves are breathing, and the weak light pulses, what little there is fades in and out in tune to the wind, creating the bizarre impression that perhaps the whole forest may be aware of every movement he makes, every step, every breath is noticed by the trees, the leaves, the branches; the forest seems to be alive.
İİİİİOh stop it, nothing is breathing, certainly not the trees. Alex thinks, but he cannot discount that indeed the wind has taken some pattern, and the light, sure that it is no trick of the eye, indeed wavers to an otherworldly beat. The darkness is becoming oppressive, casting a pall over his thoughts as Alex trudges forward, his feet aching, and back weary from hours of travel, but still drawn deeper into the gloom that limits visibility to a mere ten yards, and now reigns supreme over the forest.
İİİİİSlowly he becomes aware of the barely audible gurgle of running water, somewhere off the trail to his left, running water means relatively clean water, and a place to camp for the night. Delving through the leafy scrub, Alex follows the sounds until, twenty feet ahead the trees clear, parting for a small brook, quietly burbling as it cuts a path through the silent wood. Pushing past the last few bushes, he reaches the bank of the stream, pausing briefly to note it is much deeper than he would have expected, cutting down deeply, the bottom lost in the inky blue hovering just below the light. Before he can drink, the pure, musical voice that once before spoke to him through unconsciousness again announces itself, but this time, no colors pulse to it's rythm, rather the trees, the brook, even the light itself seems to ebb and flow to the mysterious song in his head.
İİİİİThis is our lifeblood, the river that runs through our heart. The last if our kind took refuge here many eons past, and many more still dwell in spirit. They are both fed by the river, and ARE the river, our power in the rocks, and the trees...and once the birds in the sky.
İİİİİWho are your 'kind'?
Alex thinks to the voice, speaking is beyond him for the time being, he could not muster for such an effort even if he wanted to.
İİİİİThe first among many, of whom you may number yourself. We are not so different, your kind and ours.
İİİİİI do not like my questions being evaded, please, who are you, and why have I been brought here.
The water nearest Alex quivers to his thoughts, and the grass rustles to his unspoken words.
İİİİİPerhaps the future will allow us to reveal some of what you ask, but for now it would endanger all that we have sought to protect, and all you seek to find. You have once seen our world, and it shall not be the last, but for now return to your own, you will be needed there, more so than even here.İİİİİThere is no arguing with the voices, and that last utterance is both a command and a promise. As words and images float into his head, Alex becomes aware that the objects around him are quickly fading, slipping backwards at a fantastic rate, back into the darkness from where he first found them. Dropping to his knees, unable to support himself any longer, Alex has the unpleasent experience of watching the ground rush up to meet his face, drowning everything in complete blackness.


İİİİİ"So here we are, Vega, right, the system's just gone nuts. VLF has captured the orbiting drydocks around Agincourt." Derrick Chaco is sitting in the far corner of Farrah's cramped bunk, recounting old war stories with his comrade in arms to pass the idle hours during FTL travel.
İİİİİ"I remember that, flew cover fire for the evac teams on the outer moons" Farrah is no stranger to the Vega stories, and has quite a few of her own.
İİİİİ"I'd like to hear it. Anyway, Yeuhn has just sent the word down from Executor that we're going to hot swap the ground pounders on one of the landing bays, only the deck's not clear, the rebels are holding the far side, our boys are on the near."
İİİİİ"I think I've heard this, keep going though," there's a slight grin on her face, anyone in the 6th for more than a month knows this story.
İİİİİ"Ok, Alex comes in fast, ya know, to avoid the fire. Problem is, the rebels shoot one one of our reverse thrusters, and we start to spin all to Hell, can't control a damn thing. All of a sudden 'BANG' we slam into the wall, smoke everywhere, there's a fire somewhere in the aft of the shuttle, the suppression system is going off, total chaos. Alex pops the hatch and we both crawl out, covered in foam, gagging, coughing and running for cover, after about 30 seconds, we realize nobody's shooting, not our guys, not theirs. What happened?" he's grinning, not the emotion you would expect from a man who's retelling the story of how he crashed a 1.8 billion dollar shuttlecraft.
İİİİİ"I had no idea that was you two, EVERYONE knows this story, it's almost a legend." Farrah stifles a laugh by biting down on her hand, there are people sleeping not more than two feet away.
İİİİİ"How do you know what I'm going to say if you keep interrupting me?" he puts on his best irritated face, but the curves at the corners of his mouth give him away.
İİİİİ"Sorry, go on."
İİİİİ"Right, so nobody's shooting, Alex looks up and I'm yelling 'get down, they're gonna shoot your stupid ass off' when he just grabs my hair and pulls me up over the pile of scrap we're hiding behind. 'You think we're gonna get a medal, or a court martial for this?' he says, and points over to where our shuttle is smokin'. Guess what?"
İİİİİ"What?" in the tone of voice that says 'I already know what you're going to say, but go ahead anyway.'
İİİİİ"I look across the bay and there's our shuttle, stuck into a wall, surrounded by at least fifty dead 'Leffers." he says, referring to the Vegan Liberation Front soldiers.
İİİİİ"Seems our shuttle ran smack into the middle of 'em, took out the entire group in one big, expensive blow. Marine commander came up to us a few minutes later and thanked us, his boys were runnin' low on ammunition and we solved their problem nice and quick. Course we had to call another shuttle down, and Mezair wasn't too happy to find out we destroyed one of his toys...but I guess it all evened out, and here we are still flyin'."
İİİİİ"I seem to recall everyone saying that you..." but she is cut off by a female voice, originating from her flight helmet.
İİİİİ"Hold on just a second." and she flips the visor down over her eyes.
İİİİİLieutenant, Doctor Barnes has updated his patient logs, Lieutenant Treux is listed as recovering in ward 13, and the doctor has requested that both you and Lieutenant Cacho meet him immediately.
İİİİİ"Thank you, Cortana, inform the doctor that we're on our way." tossing the flight helmet back onto the pillow, she grabs Derrick's arm and pulls him out of the bunk.
İİİİİ"C'mon, Alex's up, Doc wants us there ASAP."
İİİİİ"Ow! Watch it, I almost hit my head on the stupid bunk."
İİİİİ"Sorry, let's go!" and she jogs off, with Derrick in tow, rubbing the growing lump on his head, to find their friend, the reviving Alex Treux.


İİİİİ"Admiral! Sir, FTL engines are idling down, we are dropping down to sublight speeds," the young navigation officer calls back to rear-Admiral Meziar, sitting in his command chair and talking with his adjacent, Colonel Andrews.
İİİİİ"Thank you, son, do a system scan for any artificial objects and planetary bodies, I want to know what's out there," Mezair waves towards the officer and returns to his conversation with Colonel Andrews.
İİİİİ"...it's not so much that we're lost, Dick, it's that we're blind. Anything coming from more than a half a light-year out is invisible to us, I'm sorry, but that's not much room to work with. Can you get your boys on it?"
İİİİİ"I understand, Sir. Cortana reports that the dish itself is operating, but unfortunately, everything was routed through Information Twelve, deck thirty-seven. During our retreat from battle, that level was opened to space by heavy enemy fire. We are unable to enter and assess the damage until repairs have been completed to the hull." Dick Andrews skims the computer report on his datapad, looking for a scrap of good news to give Admiral Mezair, finding none, he breathes deeply, and continues.
İİİİİ"Engineering is reporting that the damage to the light relay dish cannot be
repaired with the supplies we have currently. It's possible to transmit sub-light, but the obvious drawback is that SolCore won't receive our messages for several thousand years at least," the admiral doesn't look happy, to say the least, and Dick wishes frantically that some good news will magically appear, his savior comes in the form of the sensor chief, buzzing through on the armrest intercom, his voice muffled through the small speaker.
İİİİİ"Admiral, the SyScan is complete."
İİİİİ"Go ahead, put it up on the main screen."
İİİİİ"We're looking at a class seven planetary system, one yellow star, 1.90 in magnitude. There's a single gas giant in orbit 1.5 million kilometers out, one moon. There's something though, Sir, we can't pull a visual on the moon, it's showing up as a blank spot on the sensors," the chief sounds puzzled, it's not often Pillar of Autumn encounters a serious system failure such as this.
İİİİİ"If you can't see it, then how can you know it's there, Major?"
İİİİİ"Sir, there's a gravity swell being picked up against the atmosphere of the gas giant, we're assuming it's from a celestial body in orbit around the planet. I'd like permission to send one of our probes out, though, maybe a closer view will yield something."
İİİİİ"Granted, Major, one probe only, and report back to me directly with your findings and recommendation," signing the sensor chief off, and calls up Cortana onto the main holoprojection unit, located just aft of the command chair.
İİİİİThe HoloProjection7600 series of three-dimensional visual simulation allows for a complete immersive environment to be built, or artificial construct to be given dimensions that allow it to more effectively interface with it's human counterparts.
İİİİİWith a flicker and flash, Cortana snaps into existence, the 64 billion exobyte artificial personality construct given it's own body, to add to voice. Cortana, while the name denotes no sex, the SolCore Engineering division had seen it fit during Pillar of Autumns comission to make the AI distinctly female in form.
İİİİİGood morning, Admiral. The breathy voice seems unfit to the body that now stands before Admiral Mezair. Cortana is roughly 5'9, of slight build, with feathered blue hair reaching down no further than her ears. Some might call her attractive, in the way that a tomboy, or perhaps a farmers daughter would be considered attractive, certainly not the seductive beauty her voice would suggest. Of coure, preliminary trials, during the HoloProjector series infancy concluded that, contrary to popular fiction of the time, an attractive artificial construct was not benificial to the productivity of the crew.
İİİİİ"Cortana, I'd like you to chew the data on this anomaly here," he gestures towards the shifting numbers and graphics that represent a planet that refuses to appear on their viewscreen.
İİİİİCertainly, Admiral, the time it takes Cortana to walk over to the viewscreen in several graceful strides is all she requires to analyze all the material they have on the mysterious planet.
İİİİİThere is no question as to whether a moon exists in this position. The gravitational fluctuation is persistant enough, even over a two hour period, to indicate that a sizable planetary body is in a stable orbit around the parent body. Furthermore, there is a detectable ion transfer between the two bodies, if you look here, a small line originating from the giant red planet, issuing into space and ending in a question mark appears. you can easily see that a large transfer of energy is taking place between the larger planet, and our unknown satellite.
İİİİİ"Why isn't it appearing on our sensors then?"
İİİİİI cannot determine at this time. Diagnostics indicate no malfunction has occured within the systems, and that short-range sensors are operating well within nominal capacity. There is the possibility that the large energy exchange occuring has distorted the readings sufficiently to block out our visual instruments. Hold one moment, Admiral...Cortana puts her hand to her ear, as if listening, an imitation of human behavior.
İİİİİSensor Chief D'orniko reports the probe is away, and we may begin recieving data within the next few minutes.
İİİİİ"Thank you, Cortana. Stand-by until the probe begins transmitting," and with that, Cortana flickers again, then dissapears, awaiting the probe data, while the bridge crew reverts to their previous tasks of operating a damaged starcruiser, lightyears from home.


İİİİİ"Lieutenant Treux, do you know where you are," Dr. Barnes, and one of his orderlies stand over Alex, watching him blink in the dim light, reduced in part because Alex began screaming the moment his eyes opened.
İİİİİ"I'm on Pillar of Autumn, aren't I? Sir?" he is dazed, and the feeling that his head is stuck in a slowly closing vice doesn't make it any easier to think.
İİİİİ"That's correct, Lieutenant. Now, do you know why you are in the medical bay?" Barnes shines his pen light, only slightly brighter than the lights within Alex's enclosed medical tent.
İİİİİ"I..don't have the slightest clue, Sir." Truely he doesn't. No recollection of the events prior to the landing on the mysterious planet exist.
İİİİİ"Maggie, make note that the patient has no memory of the trauma, he is sensitive to light, but is coherant and conscious. Now, Lieutenant Treux, to be brief, your gun blister suffered a direct hit, if you hadn't been in the tunnel at the time, you would have died as well," Dr. Barnes studies Alex's face carefully while he digests this new information. The human brain, in cases of severe trauma often intentionally blocks out memory to protect the mind from itself, and each piece that comes back could potentially send Alex into shock, or worse.
İİİİİ"I..don't remember any of that, but I guess it explains my head," How could I have been unconscious and dreamt what I did.
İİİİİ"Sir, is it possible for me to have been dreaming while I was out?" maybe he can get an answer without telling too much. I don't doubt they'll throw me on permanent leave and confine me to quarters if I tell them all that I think happened.
İİİİİ"Impossible, unconscious is two levels beneath sleeping. When you're asleep, the brain is still active, but unconscious is a total ceasing of all but vital activity. In other words, you still breath, and your heart still pumps, but there's no thinking, conscious or otherwise," he hands the chart back to Maggie, signing off the release forms at the bottom.İİİİİ
İİİİİ"If that's everything, I'm going to discharge you as soon as your friends arrive. You're to stay at rest for 24 hours, and take these every twelve hours over the next few days, they'll help with your head. Come down if you feel dizzy or faint," he hands Alex a bottle of green pills and excuses himself from the tent, releasing Alex momentarily into Alex's the nurses care.
İİİİİ"Lieutenant Treux, we're going to need this tent in a moment. If you would like to wait outside in the recieving room, there's space available there, but you aren't to leave until someone physically hands you over to Lieutenant Short and Lieutenant Cacho," easing him onto a wheelchair, she pushes Alex down a corridor, past rows of tents and medical equipment, attended by orderlies scurrying about in a way that would make one think Pillar of Autumn were treating casualties for the entire sixth fleet.
İİİİİHe waits patiently, watching as the casualties come and go, every so often a major case comes through the recieving room, a cloud of doctors and orderlies hovering above the critically wounded soldiers, life slipping away in a pool of blood as they push him quickly into the O.R. All the while Alex watches, and thanks God that he isn't one of the men lying on the gourneys. Twenty minutes go by and Alex has taken to wheeling himself around and around the room, thinking that perhaps Farrah and Derrick aren't coming, and he's going to have to maneuver himself back to the bunks alone. While the task isn't impossible, he fears maybe the war will be over by the time he reaches the 20th deck, and his room. Just as he begins to roll out from the automated doors, Farrah and Derrick appear around the corner, the concerned look on Derricks' face mimicked exactly by the look on Farrah's'.
İİİİİ"Alex, man, how you feelin'?" Derrick booms down the corridor, causing Alex to wince, he's still a little sensitive to noise, particularly loud noise.
İİİİİ"Not too bad, my head's a little sore. Doc says I get to stay off my feet for the next day or so, and you dogs have to wheel me wherever I want," he grins, then winces, those muscles are still a little too sore.
İİİİİ"Well, at least you're alive. You still owe me a few stories and more than a few drinks," Farrah takes hold of the handles on Alex's chair and begins to push him down the hallway towards the elevator.
İİİİİ"I'll have to take you up on that later, they won't let me mix liqueur and this here medication," he shakes the bottle of pills for emphasis. Halfway to his room, with Derrick and Farrah still rambling between themselves, Alex is again asleep, this time no unknown worlds dance before his eyes, and the only voices he hears are those that permeate from the waking world of Pillar of Autumn into his dreamless slumber.


İİİİİAdmiral, the probe is almost within visual range, it will be coming around the gas giants curve in less than thirty seconds. Shall I project the incoming transmission onto the main screen? Cortana has reappeared again, walking quietly in and out between banks of computers and equipment that fill the bridge in neat rows, manned by teams of crew, it is the only indicator that she does not truely exist in the physical world.
İİİİİ"Very good," turning away from Cortana, Mezair calls to the crew manning the navigation station. Their commander, Lieutenant Sanders turns around.
İİİİİ"Lieutenant Sanders, bring us into a high orbit around the gas giant. Cortana, what's the closest Pillar of Autumn can go, and remain in a geosynchronous orbit?"
İİİİİI won't bore you with the calculations of relative mass, gravitational drag coefficients and planetary gravity, Admiral, but what you are asking be done is calculate the safe distance that a twenty billion ton starship can remain in near a gas giant larger than any we have seen in the known galaxy, and do so with the unknown variables of an extremely strong ion flux tube between the planet, and it's unknown moon. Without extensive data, or at least the location and size of the moon, I cannot plot a course, we are going to have to wait, for now anyway.
İİİİİ"Cortana, what is the minimum distance you could predict, right now, based on the facts, and unknown dangers."
İİİİİI would take an orbit that will go no close than the outer path of the moons predicted path, or roughly 150,000 kilometers. At that distance, we could observe anything of interest, but remain out of immediate danger.
İİİİİ"Thank you. Now, Lieutenant Sanders, bring us in to 150,000 kilometers, no closer, and maintain a circular station for the next 24 hours. I'm going to make a tour of the ship. Colonel Andrews, you have the bridge," with that, Mezair rises, followed closely, but inconspicuously by two uniformed security detail, charged with the Admiral's personal well being. Colonel Andrews isn't exactly Naval personall, but nine months on board has him well versed in procedure, and he happens to be the ranking officer on the bridge, the events that follow are not exactly his fault, but the outcome certainly might have been different should Captain Field, Pillar of Autumns CO, or Admiral Mezair been at the helm.
İİİİİColonel, I am detecting a large number of light signatures entering the system, no IFF decoder signals are present, suggesting they are Covenant vessels.
İİİİİ"Cortana, set Defense Readiness One, all gunners to their stations, weapons free on my mark," Andrews punches his hand down onto the intercom button to Admiral Mezair.
İİİİİ"Sir, we've got something of a situation developing up here. Cortana has located a large number of light signatures entering the system, I've called for DefRed One, and weapons free on my mark, but I think a situation such as this warrants your presence on the bridge," he taken his eyes to the main viewscreen, which has been overlayed with a gridded tactical map, showing the positions of the gas giant, the sun, and now the Covenant fleet, numbering some thousands ships, a far cry from the thirty-thousand they left circling Reach, but still too many for Pillar of Autumn to fight alone.
İİİİİColonel, I am far more capable of handling this situation myself than the navigation crew, perhaps you will allow me to take control of the ship for the time being. Cortana is standing in front of Colonel Andrews, her eyes never blinking as they watch for some sign that will give away his decision, one way or the other, part of her programmed ability to read and decipher body language.
İİİİİ"As you see fit, Cortana. Helm, give control of the ship to the computer, you may stand down at your stations for the time being," the navigation crew relaxes, talking quietly amongst themselves as Cortana assumes full responsibility over the helm.
İİİİİPillar of Autumn turns 180 degrees in space to confront the enemy fleet head on, her shields up and batteries armed. Gliding silently through the distance between ships she gains speed at a terrifying rate, flying directly on a collision course with the largest of Covenant warships. Minutes from impact, Cortana gives the order to fire, and some 500 heavy fusion batteries open up, reigning death on the Covenant vessel.
İİİİİLaser fire impact sporadically against the shields, as human gunners rush to find the range and angle of attack, gaining intensity as others quickly join the fight. Mere moments pass between the time the first volley of shots has been fired and when the Covenant shielding disappears in a flash of burst capacitator coils, hundreds of alien naval personell dead instantly when the cooling mechanisms that evaporate millions of megawatts into space fail, electrocuting and burning anything within a relatively large radius.
İİİİİWith her shields gone, the Covenant battlecruiser is defensless, but by no means harmless, and nearly three dozen fighters drop from a spacious docking bay in her belly, streaking towards Pillar of Autumn like as many fireflies. Cortana activates the remote fast tracking turrets, spewing forth hundreds of thousands of depleted uranium shells at the approaching fighters in a figurative wall of lead. Several hundred rounds find their mark, and without the benifits of internal energy shield generators, six Covenant fighters explode, their fiery deaths catching three more attack craft in an expanding wave of gas and debris. Several rounds catch a Covenant pilot in the torso, chopping him neatly in half, his smoldering carcass resting heavily on the control yoke. As he dies, his fighter surges down into the flight below, destroying twelve fighters in a chain reaction as ammunition and microfusion reactors cook off into space.
İİİİİLearning from their dead bretheren, the remaining 18 Covenant fighters break formation, distancing themselvesİİİİİfrom each other as they press forward. At less than 40 kilometers, all 18 attack craft release two blindingly bright bolts of light that streak almost instantly towards Pillar of Autumn, striking the foremost section of energy shielding, but instead of impacting and dissipating as it normally should, the bolt shimmers against the invisible barrier, it's exterior sloughing off to reveal a' burning' core of pure white energy that pulses briefly before slamming against the SolCore vessels superstructure.
İİİİİThe first series of bolts impacts directly beneath the primary stabilization drivers, and Pillar of Autumn shudders softly in space, power to the intricate machines that keep the ship on a stable plane of flight momentarily lose power before one of seven backup systems takes over, restoring her even keel. Inside the ship, a thousand tiny pieces of the hull have turned into deadly missiles, the force of the blast propelling them deep into the Pillar of Autumn's heart, slicing through wires, cabling, and men who stand in their deadly path. The remaining bolts stich a line of damage that runs the vessels length, crippling several major systems that include shield relays, oxygen processors, and short wave scanning. Worse still is that four of her twenty holding bays, where at least three thousand refugees currently reside are built along the outer hull, and two suffer severe damage.
İİİİİGrey mottled hull dissapears in a flash of blue fire where one of the Covenant 'torpedos' has hit, blowing inward, the blast instantly kills hundreds of civilians, the survivors dying painfully while the oxygen in their blood boils to the surface when it contacts the cold vaccum of space. Complete disaster is averted as the autoturrets maintain their withering rate of fire, finishing off the last Covenant fighters.
For now, at least carnage is complete, and Pillar of Autumn returns her attention to battering the damaged cruiser into oblivion. Laser fire flashes back and forth through space, but in the end, Cortana's perfect hand wins out, the Covenant ships hull breaches. A pillar of oxygen and fire shoots five hundrede meters out into space from a large tear in the cruisers duraluminum skin, dying out seconds later, the air exhausted. Twisting through debris towards the broken wreck, Pillar of Autumn finds relative safety under the cruisers immense shadow.
İİİİİBy now, the Covenant forces have scrambled, and twelve thousand fighters illuminate the darkness of space with glowing trails that criscross over the stars. Behind them stand a wall of firepower that obliterates any light from the systems distant sun, one thousand warships of varying sizes wait in anticipation for a victory that will surely be theirs; everyone is to a degree wrong.
İİİİİ Surging forward, in a large, seemingly chaotic mass, the Covenant fighters close on Pillar of Autumn. At just over 500 kilometers, three large, cylindrical objects are ejected from her belly in a puff of compressed gas, hanging motionless for seconds until the tail ends light up with light as they streak towards the approaching enemy. 'They' are MkIIVI(x3) tactical nuclear explosives, normally used only in extreme circumstances for supressing planetary systems, each contains enough harnessed energy to vaporize an area twice the size of Earth's moon. Gliding through space, they close the distance between SolCore and Covenant rapidly, and in the midst of the alien swarm, detonate. At three different points among their formationg, an expanding ball of light, brighter than ten thousand suns engulfs any Covenant ships within it's grasp. For a moment, perfect nuclear fusion is achieved, but just as quickly the fuel runs out, and falling back in on itself, the nuclear fire dissapears, leaving no trace that it ever existed.İİİİİ
İİİİİA cheer rises up from Pillar of Autumn's crew, they are already living on borrowed time, but perhaps they might live to see yet another day. Not wasting a moment, Cortana executes a second 180 degree turn, reorienting Pillar of Autumn towards the massive gas giant. By this time, both Admiral Mezair and Captain Field have reached the bridge, Cortana reports directly to them.
İİİİİI am going to take Pillar of Autumn directly into the upper atmosphere of the gas giant, the possibility is that it's high energy signature will mask our own, and we will be able to wait there for the next several days until the Covenant force exits the area.
İİİİİ"This is a deep space warship, Cortana, will the hull be able to handle that kind of stress? Christ, will the engines?" Captain Field is one of the few officers in SolCore Navy who is loathe to relinquish total control to the machines, and as such, has always questioned Cortanas' ability to perform complex, or risky maneuvers such as this.
İİİİİCaptain, if the standard atmospheric composition of this planet is similiar to that of most primarily gas planets, then Pillar of Autumn should have sufficient protection for up to twelve days of interatmospheric flight. The question of gravity, however, is difficult, but should the pull become too great, I am not allowed to engage in any actions that would endanger either the ship, or crew unnecessarily, and will therefore disengage.
İİİİİ"Then go ahead, Cortana, but please be careful."
İİİİİAs always, Captain.
İİİİİDarting in and out between floating space debris larger than houses, Cortana guides Pillar of Autumn quickly through the massive asteroid belt that separates the systems lone star and outer planets. When one of the massive rocks looks as if it is going to collide with the ship, a fusion battery will open fire, turning the rock into a million tiny fragments, harmless against Pillar of Autumns gigantic mass. They are carefully moving closer to the planetary bodies, now, and slowly down in Information Eight on Deck Thirty, the energy level indicators are gradually rising into the red zone, where all incoming data is blocked in a wash of high gamma and x-ray radiation. Pillar of Autumn is effectivly blind, deaf and mute. Behind them, the Covenant forces have become entangled within the asteroid field, and try as they may, dozens of ships now float crippled and dying, waiting for a final blow that will breach the hull and empty the life of thousands of crew into space.
İİİİİWe are entering the planetary vicinity, Captain,. I am going to position us within the gravity shadow of the moon, which may provide us with additional cover. You may watch the approach on the main screen, however, the damage to our sensors prevents me from providing you with additional readings.
İİİİİAn image appears on the primary display; the incredible gas giant filling two-thirds of the picture, it's oranges and reds brilliant against the star speckled backdrop of space. Seemingly motionless, and paling in beauty compared with the giant, is the single moon, an airless, crater filled landscape that resembles Earths own in every way. However, floating between planet and moon is a ring shaped object, it's outer surface a dull grey similiar to the coat Pillar of Autumn wears, but flawless, like looking into a diffused mirror, it echoes a mockery of the beauty along it's perfect surface. As if this weren't strange enough, the inner surface is covered in what looks to be grass, water and clouds...a perfect echosystem built onto a ring shaped world, floating in an unknown system between a massive gas giant, and her moon. This startling new revelation must wait for the moment, as a dozen Covenant heavy cruisers round the planets curve.


İİİİİAll crew to action stations, DefRed1 set, engage targets and fire at your discretion. Cortana's artificial voice booms throughout Pillar of Autumn, alerting her crew to the approaching danger. Cortana herself is not idle, and she dives Pillar of Autumn down towards the orbiting ring, hoping to find safety without running the risk of crushing the ship in the gas giants atmosphere.
İİİİİUnlike her previous engagements, Pillar of Autumn does not have the support of thousands of SolCore vessels, nor does she have the benefit of being uninjured and at full fighting capacity. With several primary systems out, hundreds of crew dead or wounded, and the rapidly diminishing to run, Pillar of Autumn is faced with two possibilities; the unlikely event in which she destroys the aggressor force; or the probable scenario in which she, and her entire crew are destroyed. Grim determination and desperate reality collide inside of the ship, the gun crews sit as if made of stone within their blisters, medical personall draw silent, waiting for the flood of casualties, and refugees deep within her belly huddle quietly as their fate is handed to six thousand men and women of the SolCore navy, aided by one artificial intelligence.
İİİİİLaser fire once more flashes through space, but the battle is entirely one sided. Three cruiser move in a crecent formation, pummeling Pillar of Autumn
repeatedly with heavy fire from their broadsided fusion cannons. Fighters in huge numbers scream back and forth over the ship, raking her hull with intense barrages of both laser fire and the deadly torpedos, tearing gaping holes into thick duraluminum skin. Pillar of Autumn succeeds in destroying eighteen fighters, and two heavy cruisers, severely damaging two more, but it is not enough, advance units from the larger Covenant force closing on her rear being the assault, and the fight ends within minutes.İİİİİ
İİİİİAdmiral, primary fusion drive is offline, secondary units are operating at 30% capacity, I'm being forced to route power from weapons to life support and shields. Probability of success at this point is 3.002%, I suggest you give the order to abandon ship.
İİİİİ"Very well, Cortana, we're going to drop on the ring. Position the ship accordingly, and sound the alarm." Mezair has never, in 50 years of military service been forced to abandon a ship under his command, and the order barely escapes his lips.
İİİİİ"Men and Women of Pillar of Autumn, we have fought what some would consider a doomed fight against a numerically and technologically superior enemy. I cannot say it in any way other than I am glad it was you who served with me, as friends, allies, and brothers. The order has been given to abandon ship, you are to make your way orderly to your designated lifeboats. The rendezvous point has already been pre-entered into your onboard flight computers, we will be regrouping on the orbiting ring some 15,000 kilometers away, that is all." he signs off before choking up completely, tears streaming down his face as he waves the command crew off of the bridge.
İİİİİAdmiral, the lifeboats and shuttlecraft are beginning their evacuation, estimated time of arrival for the first craft on the ring is five minutes. There are two lifeboats left on the bridge level, I am downloading my core personality to these. I suggest you evacuate to one of these relatively soon, the shields will not last much longer.
İİİİİ"Thank you, Cortana, once the men are all aboard, fire the pods, and set the remaining shuttles to disperse in accordance with the predicted pod landing zones, I will be remaining on board to oversee the scuttling," as he speaks he is following through with the procedures that will turn Pillar of Autumn briefly into the brightest object this side of the planet. Although three of her four fusion cores have long since scrammed, Admiral Mezair is still able to initiate an executive override of the safety features, intentially powering them up and overheating the cores. To do this, he requires the authorization of either Captain Field, or Cortana in conjunction with his own authentication disk. Calling for the computer before she ejects herself into space, he requests her agreement...she does not withhold it.
İİİİİAdmiral, the last of the boats are away, they will reach safe distance in less than twenty seconds. Cortana walks quietly from console to console, the only other intelligence left on Pillar of Autumn.
İİİİİ"Point us towards the Covenant fleets heart, full burn on my mark."
İİİİİYes, Admiral. Reactors powering up, approaching redline..
İİİİİ"Now."
İİİİİPillar of Autumn rockets toward the dead center of the Covenant bulk, some twenty-thousand ships strong now, and more appearing in system every second. Closing the distance in several seconds, she cuts her engines and glides the remaining distance under the watchful eye of tens of thousands of Covenant gunners, who mysteriously remain silent. A lone bolt of fire streaks out from one Covenant battery, streaking past Pillar of Autumn and out into space beyond, when the ship dissapears in a flash of light so powerful that it immediatly destroys the vision of anyone watching with unprotected eyes, blinding sensors across the fleet. An expanding wave of nuclear fusion strikes the foremost Covenant vessels, carrying alien and ship away at the speed of light, their deaths only known to the human race when the light reaches some distant outpost of humanity in millions of years. The destruction spreads quickly, encompassing nearly six thousand ships, and crippling thousands more.
İİİİİMeanwhile, all that remains of the SolCore Six Fleet Arm, some five thousand men and women are drifting down, supported by parachutes onto an unknown ring, billions of miles from home. They are lost, stranded, broken and battered, but they are the last hope humanity has, for somewhere on this immense world is an answer, something the Covenant desperately seek to find, and that humanity has yet to discover.


The Doors of Heaven and Hell are adjacent and Identical.
İİİİİİİİİİ- Nikos Kazantzakis, The Last Temptation of Christ





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