Chapter Five - Whiskey Nine
Posted By: Gordi<email@example.com>
Date: 12 January 2001, 8:07 pm
These are the times that try men's souls...
...tyranny, like Hell, is not easily conquered.
››››- Thomas Paine
››››Pillar of Autumn shudders with each Covenant impact, groaning as bulkheads give way to the freezing vacuum of space. Farrah and Derrick have been running for over ten minutes now, taking turns pushing a wheelchair containing Alexs' limp form through the flickering, smoke filled hallways as they rush to the nearest shuttlebay, located now only 6 decks below. Three levels up, the power had gone out for a harrowing fifteen minutes, the only sounds that of Covenant laser fire impacting on the completely unshielded hull as Derrick and Farrah stumbled blindly in the perfect darkness towards the next emergency shaft, tripping over papers and debris that are now scattered dangerously in the corridor. Emergency power had kicked in, but only after drastic rerouting of several major systems and juggling power from the remaining fusion units. As a result, Pillar of Autumn is now fighting at less than 30% capacity, her shields weakening, and primary weapons completely offline, her best chance is to run; fast and hard towards the orbiting ring dubbed HALO.
››››After a gut wrenching 30 minute descent down the final emergency chute, Alexs' limp body swinging back and forth from the wheelchair fastened with rope, and lowered slowly by a half dozen marines from Pillar of Autumns marine company Charlie, the three reach Docking Bay Whiskey Nine, the last bay on the deck that remains fully functional. The bay is complete chaos, and at least one other marine companie has formed up in the marshalling area, waiting for a transport to take them down to the surface. Covenant fighters, sometimes persued by, sometimes persuing Longsword fighters from PoA scream pass, cannons spewing deadly green fire, but never penetrating the dying shields of the bay.
››››"Computer detects boarding craft inbound at Whiskey Nine, Deck Six. Charlie company to Whiskey Nine to repel boarders." a voice booms across the bay loudspeakers, and the assembled mass scurries back into the corridors, or seeks cover behind boxes; parked Warthogs and armored combat vehicles that line both sides of the rear walls.
››››For a moment, everything is silent except for the everpresent rumble of weapons fire impacting on the hull until 2 dark blue Covenant dropships come screaming in at deadly speeds, thrusting hard at the final moment before they flare briefly and settle down. Immediatly the ramps on either side of the ships fall and about two hundred Covenant warriors burst forth, weapons at the ready.
››››Simultaneously, Charlie and Able companies located on either side of the docking bay open fire, spewing forth an initial volley that cuts the Covenant numbers immediatly by one quarter.
››››The Covenant return fire, their personal firearms merely scaled down versions of the massive ship board batteries that have been used to relentlessly batter Pillar of Autumn in space for the last several two days, and no less deadly to human flesh than their space based couterparts are to human ship. A plasma grenade sails into a vehicle pit being used as a makeshift foxhole for a detachment of Able company marines. Two men scramble out, leaving behind four more as the weapon detonates, releasing fiery plasma in a silent flash that allows the screams of the dying all too noticable amid the din of battle. Even these two men are not saved, hugging the metal floor in an instinctual response to flee from harm, they lie pitifully still until a formation of Elites rush the pit, cutting the marines neatly in half with glowing blue/green blades of fire, part of their slow advance to the Able company center. Initially, the docking bay forces resembled two parallel lines, with the Covenant dropships located in the middle; now Able company has the look of a half-oval, the center almost completely decimated by heavy Covenant fire. Charlie company has remained relatively unscathed, and continues to pour fire into the rear of the enemy formation, who seem to have total disregard for casualties.
››››"GRENADE!!" one of the Able company marines screams, throwing himself over the duraluminum crates his squad had been using for cover. A slight thump, a crackle and a flash of light shoot out from behind the packing containers to signal the grenade has released its deadly energies - no more marines follow and a plasma beam burns right through his stomach, leaving him writhing in agony on the ground.
››››"LIEUTENANT BAKER, HOLD 1ST PLATOON AND COVER THE LEFT FLANK, TELL LIEUTENANT SANDERS WE'RE PULLING BACK TO THE DOORS. COVER OUR WITHDRAWL UNTIL 2ND PLATOON IS THROUGH, THEN FALL BACK!" Major Gibran, the Israeli born Company commander shouts, his voice barely audible over the crackle of small arms fire and the screams of the wounded.
››››Lieutenant Baker has made it only 20 steps down his line, when without warning, two more dropships scream in, flaring directly behind the first pair, immediatly disgorging another two hundred Covenant troops. The effect is disasterous. Over 300 hostile units are focused entirely on the weakened Able company, whose numbers have been cut to only 75 men, out of an initial 166.
››››Shot in the back as they run for safety, Able company is again quartered in strength before the majority of her troops make it to the cavernous marshalling area behind the heavy blast doors.
››››"I'VE GOT AN IDEA.." Derrick shouts to Farrah, gesturing over to the unmanned Warthog anti-air unit about 400 feet away, nestled between two damaged Longsword fighters.
››››"I THOUGHT YOU WERE AN AIRHEAD, NOT A GROUNDPOUNDER." Farrah looks at Derrick, confused.
››››"THAT DOESN'T MEAN WE CAN'T SHOOT THE DAMN THING. LOOK, IT'S A SIMPLE LASER GUIDED MUNITION; TRAIN THE SIGHT ON THE TARGET; PULL SAFETY, TRIGGER; WATCH THE COVVIES EXPLODE," he rises to a crouch, waiting for a lull in the fighting that will allow them to cross.
››››"ARE YOU GOING TO HELP ME OR NOT NOW?" he waits for a minute, his eyes almost pleading..this is a once shot deal before the Covenant troops clear the dropship and begin to fan out into Pillar of Autumns mazelike interior.
››››"YEAH, HOLD ON." she sets Alex against the bulkhead, resting his head against Derricks rucksack packed with provisions.
››››"LET'S GO," she grabs an assault rifle from one of the dead marines, checks the clip and cuts down a charging grunt with one quick, aimed burst. Grabbing his own, Derrick sprints out from behind the boxes, spraying deadly fire into three Covenant grunts hiding directly opposite on the other side of the box. Bullets impact soft flesh, gouging massive, grisly holes in the Grunts unshielded skin and ricocheting off the floor below.
››››"COME ON, GO GO GO!" Derrick screams to Farrah, despite the fact that she is quickly overtaking him. Charlie companies 1st platoon watches the two run, screaming encouragement and pumping rounds into any Covenant troops that target the runners. Breathless, they arrive at the jeep ten seconds later, Farrah jumping behind the transpartent aluminum cockpit, while Alex takes position at the mounted, twin-Excalibur launching system, switching it to 'warm' mode.
››››Designed in the early 2400's, the Excaliber Laser Guider Projectile System (or 'ELPS' for short) quickly became the modern day equivalent of the 1940s German '88 FlaK gun. Initially designed to provide rapidly mobile battlefield support against low flying aircraft, ELPS was ingeniously employed by the 81st SolCore Marine Expeditionary Unit as an anti-tank/anti-personell weapon during the Vegan system uprising. Light, cheap and fast it has become the dominant local area anti-air weapon for Company sized units and smaller.
››››Sliding his fingers into the firing grips, Alex wraps the padded shoulder holsters around his biceps and back, padding himself from the termendous recoil created by the weapons, despite gyrostabalized absorbers mounted in the units base. A laser dot appears both on his targeting matrix mounted between the two 50mm launching tubes and 600 feet ahead on the third Covenant landing craft. Plasma bolts sizzle against the aluminum skin, and bounce off his shielded targeting grid.
››››Time to go. A plasma bolt strikes him in the meat of the thigh, scorching flesh but he ignores the pain.
››››"GET DOWN." Derrick yells at Farrah, giving her a few seconds to cover herself from the blast of superheated gas that is ejected from the tubes.
››››Pulling the trigger, he lets loose two four hundred pound, armour piercing rounds that streak towards the Covenant craft, plunging ten feet in before their time delay detonaters ignite the primary charges. Explosions rip through the boarding vessel as ammunition and nuclear materials cook off in the immense fires raging within. More explosions catch the two nearest craft, a mere 10 yards away, sending alien and ship alike flying through the air.
››››Cheers erupt from the remaining Charlie and Able troops, who turn their attention to the remaining 40 Covenant forces scattered around the docking bay.
››››"ABLE COMPANY, GET BACK IN THERE," Major Gibran lets out a war whoop as he urges his troops back through the blast doors onto the killing floor of Whiskey Nine. Troops stream out the doors, weapons at the ready for any Covenant that may have survived - some have. Closing in on the burning hulk of the first landing craft, two marines are brought down by a screaming Covenant Elite believed to be dead. By the time the time anyone can respond, the Elite has turned them into nothing more than shreds of flesh, eyes gaping sightlessly out of crushed skulls, their legs lying several feet away in an expanding pool of blood. Turning around, snarling, the Covenant warrior is met full force with a shotgun blase to the skull, sending a spray of blue black blood onto the burning floor where it hisses and spits like grease on a frying pan.
››››"Alright, boys. Let's clear this shit outta here and get moving. I want the flight line clear in fifteen. NOW MOVE." Major Gibran surveys the damaged area of the flightline, scattered with Covenant bodies and four burning drop craft. As he watches, a team of 1st Battalion engineers push the burning Covenant craft towards the gaping maw of the bay entrance using heavy tracked combat rescue vehicles - essentialy tanks with bulldozer blades. Further down towards the blaste doors at the end of the bay, massive hydraulic lifts raise two transport shuttles into place, ready to be towed into their boarding and launch zones once the Combat Utility Vehicles have freed the flightline of debris. Watching all of this are Farrah and Derrick, both attended to by a medic; Derick for his plasma burn; and Farrah for 2nd degree burns on her arm suffered from the backblast of the second rocket volley.
››››"Nice work, Groundpounder," Farrah jokes at Derrick, truely she's happy..those laser blasts had started coming a little closer.
››››"No biggie, let's go pick up sleeping beauty, this isn't over yet" his ear to ear grin belies the mirth he really feels. However, as if to confirm his statement, Whiskey Six momentarily loses power as several more blasts rock the ship.
››››"All hands. This is the Captain. Prepare to abandon ship. Combat teams, repel boarders until Ops personell are away. Good luck. Keyes out," the voice of Keyes echoes across the temporarily silent bay. This is it, the moment everyone has known was coming, but no-one dared to admit, they are being forced to abandon the ship.
››››"ABLE COMPANY, MOVE YOUR ASSES TO THE ASSIGNED TRANSPORT. WE'RE LAUNCHING IN 10 YOU UNDERSTAND? 3RD PLATOON, STAY BEHIND WITH THE LAUNCH TEAMS UNTIL EVERYONE'S AWAY. FOLLOW THE PRE-PROGRAMMED TRAJECTORY DOWN TO THE RENDEZVOUZ POINT AND I'LL SEE YOU ALL PLANETSIDE" Gibran steps into file behind the last of his troops, making sure everyone is aboard before the clamps are blown and the ship takes them on the 30,000 klick trip onto the planet.
››››"We've got it covered, Sir. You can get Able out of here," Charlie companies 2nd platoon CO waves off Able's 3rd. Charlie isn't due to depart until her command squad arrives from a post-ops meeting with Colonal Andrews, Autumns second in command.
››››The last burning refuse is pushed past the shields into space, and Transport 1132 lifts off from the docking bay, aboard are: 134 marines from Able Company and the 1st Battalion HQ platoon including Naval personnel Alex Treux, Farrah Short and Derrick Cacho; four warthog anti-personnel jeeps; two warthog AA units; and enough supplies to keep a company of men alive for two weeks. As she pulls away, two tired looking LongSword fighters take up position on the wings, beginning the first of many long escort missions down to the planet.
››››"Tango 1132, outbound for Halo, you there 1132?" the voice of Pillar of Autumns flight control operator comes over the sublight reciever, he is one of the few people remaining on the ship.
››››"Acknowledged, Autumn, what is it?" The ship is flying on autopilot, but Derrick and Farrah are still up front in the pilot chairs, manning the radios and watching the scanners in case anything needs attention other than flying along the preprogramed route.
››››"Looks like Covvies inbound on your vector, 1132. Suggest emergency procedures and you get outta there FAST. Over." the operator is calm, collected as he informs them that the few remaining Longsword fighters will be redirected from the CAP.
››››"Thanks, Autumn. We're taking her off of autopilot, not that it could matter much in the next few hours, but you might want to log it anyway," Derrick reaches over and flips the switch that sets the autopilot.
››››"Hey, if we don't have Navy protocol, then what's left?! Pillar of Autumn out." the operator laughs as he clicks off the channel. Reaching over, Farrah takes the control yoke while Derrick announces to the crew that they'll be taking an unexpected detour.
››››"Ladies and gentlemen, this is your captain speaking, it looks as if we've hit some unexpected turbulance and we're going to be taking a slight detour to the south..no, seriously guys, Covvies inbound fast, sit down and strap in 'cause we're going radical."
››››Three blips appear on the scanner, but the computer reads them as friendly, probably the Longswords inbound - all the help they can expect aside from their own two escorts.
››››"Tango 1132, this is Echo flight, inbound to your position. Suggest you alter course to 132.22.118, break right. We'll intercept on that vector. Over," Echo Flight leader punches a new series of coordinates into his computer, and the 135 foot fighter swings to the left, taking him on an intercept course with Tango 1132.
››››Suddenly, nearly 40 fast moving blips appear on his scanner window, closing rapidly from the port side..definitly hostile.
››››"Echo flight, break left! Bogies inbound at 9 o'clock!" Echo flight breaks its tightly packed formation, reassembling into a loose arrowhead shape, Tango 1132s escorts also break formation with the shuttle, running to join Echo in battle.
››››Longsword class space superiority fighters are to the SolCore military of the 25th century, as the P-41 Mustang and later F-15 Eagle fighters were to the early American air force. They are designed to be quick, and agile, but posessing an amazing capability for destruction and survivability in combat. They are loaded with the most advanced weapons available to any standard SolCore space fighter, and can destroy up to 16 targets even before they are within visual range. Today, however, all five of the Longsword defense units preparing to engage some 40 Covenant craft have seen heavy action, only two carry half a missile load, and none of the ships carry more than 60% gun ammunition.
››››"Welcome to the party, boys. Locked and loaded?" Echo One calls over to the two approaching fighters, Whiskey Seven and Whiskey Three.
››››"Whiskey Seven, fox four." the Longsword releases three clustered missiles from the number four pylon, keeping his fighter pointed towards the approaching enemy units so the missiles radar can use the Longswords more accurate system for pinpoint guidance.››››Whiskey Seven and Echo Three launch two more volleys towards the unseen enemy, their only confirmation is that seven blips dissapear from the collective 'radar' screens.
››››The Covenant fighters are now within visual range, some 300 kilometers with the pilots computer aided vision. They are the all too familiar mottled blue hulls, resembling tapered wings that although prove to be technically inferior, are nonetheless deadly in the hands of their skilled Covenant pilots. Even with 8 Covenant fighters down, 33 remain..more than enough to cover each pilot with six bogies. ››››
››››Using their superior maneuverability, the Covenant craft twist downward at the last moment, then surging upward into the SolCore vessels, raking the underbodies of Whiskey Three and Echo Two with hot plasma.
››››"SHIT! Central stabilizer's out, I can't hold her steady much -" Whiskey Three dissapears in a cloud of light as two Covenant fighters dive down from the glare of the sun. Echo two fares little better, two missile pods cooking off as they come into contact with Covenant weapons. Ripping the tail end of the Longsword off, Echo Two ejects moments before his entire vessel dissapears in another flash of light and debris. Tumbling through the freezing void of space, there is little doubt as to whether or not he will die alone, trillions of miles from home - there will be no after action rescue teams.
››››Whiskey Seven banks hard after releasing a second volley of missiles - his last, that catch three Covenant fighters clustered stupidly together. The expanding shockwave bounces two more fighters into each other, dropping the alien forces down to 28. Echo One also releases the last of his missles, catching only two Covenant ships before he is cut down amid a flurry of plasma fire.
››››The odds are now unbeatable - each SolCore pilot must shoot down 13 enemy fighters in this wave alone for Tango 1132 to escape unharmed, the feat proves too great and after another minute of deft maneuvering, Echo Three and Whiskey Seven are destroyed, their bodies turned into ash that will forever float through the void of space..one of the only tokens left behind that will prove man existed, if only briefly in this portion of space.
››››"LET'S GO, YOU PIECE OF SHIT!" Derrick has given up gently coaxing the lumbering shuttlecraft and now wips at the controls as if it were an Earth racehorse. She responds by shaking violently as the fusion drives are pushed past the breaking point into the 4000megajoule per minute red zone. Another three minutes will put them within the relative safety of the rings atmosphere, and in five minutes Tango 1132 will disgorge her troops onto the newest outpost of humanity. Unfortunately, the remaining six Covenant fighters will arrive in less than four minutes.
››››"DIVERT POWER FROM INTERNAL LIGHTING AND OXYGEN PROCESSING TO SHIELDS. EMERGENCY GENERATORS ONLINE AND POWER TO ENGINES." Farrah has determined that they're not going to survive if the shuttle doesn't make atmosphere before the Covenant arrives, so why not risk it.
››››Lurching forward in complete darkness, Tango 1132 begins to feel the faint whisps of atmosphere on her duraluminum skin, another minute and they're safe. Plasma bolts crackle against the shields, and warning klaxxons sound as the overextended generators begin to short out, sparking and steaming in their stations below the lower passenger deck.
››››"DERRICK, WE'RE COMING DOWN ON THE WRONG CONTINENT. RENDEZVOUS POINT IS ALPHA ONE ONE ON THE TACTICAL GRID," Farrah gestures pointlessly to the map, Derricks' full attention is focused on putting the shuttlecraft down without any computer assistance or landing tug aid.
››››"I'M PUTTING US DOWN ON THE CLOSEST POSSIBLE POINT, THE SHIELDS AREN'T GOING TO TAKE MUCH MORE OF THIS." Derrick pushes forward on the control yoke almost as much as it will go, lurching the ship downward at a sickening angle. Anything not securely strapped in is thrown against the aft bulkheads as the G force quickly rises, then levels off as Derrick does the same with the ship.
››››"Alright, the fighters have broken off, but what do you want to bet that the Covvies send us a nice welcome gift on the surface?" Cacho wipes sweat from his brow, a useless gesture since his entire jumpsuit is soaked.
››››"Gotcha, I'll tell the passengers," Farrah reaches for the intercom.
››››"Sorry about that, boys, we had a little unexpected company. We're putting down and it's going to be hot. Covenant dropships expected in less than fifteen, and we're dropping ramp nearly 5,000 klicks from the expected LZ."
››››The dropship comes down a little too quickly, flaring for a long five seconds as Derrick attempts to slow her decent, until the ship slams down at a rough 50 miles an hour, buckling the aft landing gear and digging the nose of the craft into the soft mud of a small pond they've partially filled with 7,000 tonnes of SolCore naval hardware.
››››"All right, people. I want weapons at the ready. Eyes and ears OPEN. NOBODY LEAVES THIS SHUTTLE UNTIL THE LZ IS SECURE. FIRST PLATOON, SECURE THE PERIMETER AT SIXTY YARDS, LET'S MOVE LADIES," Major Gibran is moving up and down the line, helping the marines unbuckle themselves from the shuttle harnesses, then heads back into the cockpit to Farrah and Derrick for a quick overview of their sitution. First platoons members reach into their seat lockers, quickly donning armour and weapons.
››››The standard SolCore marine squad consists of roughly ten members of varying function; a sergeant commands the platoon, with the help of a corporal who also serves as the radio operator; six riflemen armed with the standard issue MA5B assault rifle and five additional clips of ammunition, or a tactical shotgun with 30 additional slugs; one trooper carries the SAW, or Squad Automatic Weapon - generally a Mk.IV Supressor machine gun firing jacketed .30 calibre depleted uranium rounds capable of laying down a wall of lead at 1600 rounds a minute and reasonably accurate to 1,100 yards; finally the squad has one combat medic, capable in all forms of battlefield medicine short of surgery and reconstsruction. Multiply these numbers by three to four, and you have a standard SolCore Marine platoon, by three again and you have the Company level.
››››Weapons drawn, 1st platoon streams out the landing craft rear ramp, fanning out by squad to cover the perimeter. Whenever a section of terrain is cleared, the ranking member in a squad will shout 'clear' and a direction of approach to notify the remaining teams that the area has been deemed secure. After five tense minutes, first platoon decides that the area is free of hostile activity, and radio back into Tango 1132 that all is clear...for now, and Able company streams out onto HALO.
››››"What the Hell happened in orbit, Lieutenants? Why aren't we near Alpha One One?" Major Gibran is not angry, as the ranking officer at the moment he merely expects to be kept abrest of all developments.
››››"Sir, our fighter escorts intercepted roughly 40 Covenant attack craft inbound for the shuttle, and after a brief fight it looks as if they were all destroyed. Lieutenant Short and I were forced to put the shuttle down as quickly as possible to avoid an entanglement with the remaining Covenant fighters."
››››"Very well. Does Autumn know we're here?"
››››"It looks as if the Pillar of Autumn has lost her last transmitters, Sir. The last communication we recieved was several minutes before the attack, and we haven't picked up any frequency chatter since," Farrah twists at the dials for the radio, but gives up after finding nothing but hissing static across the entire frequency.
››››"How long until this bird gets back into the air then?" in the tone of voice that says 'I'd better get some good news or else'.
››››"Probably never unless Autumn can send us a drop repair crew. All four capacitator coils are blown - running into the atmosphere put too much power through them and they just went up in smoke. Sorry, Sir."
››››"Fine. Sit tight and monitor the radio for anything from Autumn. Alert me if something develops," with that Gibran turns and walks back towards the fully extended landing ramp. Suddenly, he turns back to Farrah and Derrick.
››››"By the way, excellent work you two. I don't think we would have made it out of Whiskey Nine without your help. Thank you," he crisply salutes, holding at attention until Farrah and Derrick do the same, then turns and walks quickly down the ramp.
››››"You know, maybe he's not such a bad guy after all.." Derrick muses.
››››"I never thought he was, really. You're just an asshole," she playfully punches him in the arm.
››››"I'm going to check up on Alex, you mind riding solo for a minute," she rises to leave.
››››"Not a problem, in fact, why don't you bring him up here..we'll party."
››››"Sure thing," walking through the passenger cabin, she takes a left turn down a small staircase located directly aft of the cockpit door that leads into the small medical bay. Room enough for a single person, the bed is occupied by the formerly catatonic Alex Treux, now sitting upright, legs dangling over the side of the bed and staring against the wall.
››››"ALEX! You're up, finally," Farrah rushes over to hug Alex, looking him him over to make sure the flight into orbit didn't bounce him around too much.
››››"Where..umm..where am I?" he looks around at the cramped facilities, confused. Farrah lowers her head just a little and her voice softens.
››››"Pillar of Autumn is probably destroyed. While you were out the Covvies started landing troops on her. We repelled the first wave, but Keyes gave the order to abandon ship. On the way in, we met some company and the fighter escort was destroyed, Derrick had to put her down here or else we would've been shot to Hell."
››››"Oh, sorry. We're about 5,000 klicks from Alpha One One - the rendezvous point for Autumns escape pods and shuttlecraft. Other than that, nobody really has any idea."
››››"HEY FARRAH, YOU MAY WANT TO TAKE A LOOK AT THIS," Derricks voice calls from up in the cabin, a mix of tension, excitement and fear.
››››"You feel up to moving?"
››››"Yeah, help me up." Farrah puts her arm under Alexs', allowing him to use her as a human crutch. Slowly, shakily he rises and they both walk slowly up the stairs and back into the cockpit.
››››"Alex, whoah man..take a look at this." he gestures out the window to a fireball streaking out of orbit and towards the surface.
››››"It's Autumn..she's moving too straight and level to be crashing. Keyes must be trying to put her down on the planet," he never takes his eyes off the ship, a tail of fire nearly three miles long extending out the back as dust and paint from the exterior cooks off from the friction of atmospheric reentry. Pillar of Autumn was built in space, has been repaired in space and never once flown in the atmosphere of a planet. This is her unofficial decomissioning, after this, nothing is going to move her from the rings surface.
››››"Computer projects that she'll come down about 5,200 klicks away..near Alpha One One," Farrah taps at the keypad, feeding guesstimated speed and trajectory into the plotting computer.
››››"Gibran wanted a heads up if anything happened, think this counts?" Derrick reaches for the ships exterior loudspeaker controls.
››››"Gibran? Isn't he Able companies man?" Alex is confused again..being out for two days however, it's to be expected.
››››"That's right. We're in Tango 1132 right now, Able company is outside securing the area..there are about 110 of 'em, plus the 1st Battalion HQ platoon," leaning over, Derrick taps the external speaker controls.
››››"Major Gibran, Sir. Pillar of Autumn is coming down at about our 1 o'clock. We think Keyes is bringing her down to the planet," Derrick clicks the comm back off. Outside, Major Gibran waves them out of the cockpit and onto the planets surface.
››››"Looks like the Major wants us outside, you up to it, Alex?"
››››"Ughh..no, not really. Carry me?" he bats his eyelashes jokingly at Derrick.
››››"Alright, let's go puss," Farrah and Derrick both take a side and lift Alex out of his seat, supporting him with their shoulders.
››››Walking slowly down the ramp, they are blinded by the light streaming down from the sun, ten times brighter than it was through the shielded cockpit glass. The air is fresh and cool, but the sun provides a gentle warmth that creates the impression of a mid-spring day back on Earth. One of the Warthogs speeds past out of the shuttles vehicle bay and over towards the makeshift vehicle park hidden beneath a small grove of trees. Major Gibran is 100 yards away, speaking with his three platoon Lieutenants, gathered around him in a small circle. Walking over, everyone exchanges solutes before Gibran gets down to business.
››››"Ok, look. We're not staying here, if that shuttle won't move then we're going to have to hump it someplace else. There's a secondary regroup point located here, some 3,000 klicks away in this mountain region," Gibran points to a location on the glass plated Holomap, holding his finger on the position, the map automatically zooms closer. The regroup point, codenamed Bravo Two Two is a small valley nestled between towering mountains. A small pass leads into the region, but it too is surrounded by (according to topographic indicators) shear cliff faces, twisting and turning for over forty miles.
››››"It's not going to be easy, and we're probably going to be fighting the bloody Covenant the entire way, but we will do it. Assemble your men, we move in an hour," with that, Gibran dismisses the Lieutenants and turns to face the three Navy pilots.
››››"Glad to see you're awake, Lieutenant Treux. Your friends seemed very worried."
››››"Thank you, Sir. I'm somewhat glad myself."
››››"I wanted to thank both of you again, for what you did. However, you are not marines and I want all three of you stick with the Company. You are not to leave visual range at any time, is that understood?" he waits for all three to nod their acceptance before he continues.
››››"Since I doubt Lieutenant Treux has fully recovered yet, I'm letting him ride in one of the jeeps at the back of the column. Lieutenant Short, Lieutenant Cacho, there should be room enough for you to ride with him. Any objections?"
››››"No problem, Sir."
››››"All right, then. 2nd platoon needs help unloading some of their gear from the cargo bay, see if you can give them a hand. Lieutenant Treux, go get checked out by Doc, he's over by the vehicle pool."
››››"Yes, Sir!" the four exchange solutes one more time, and then depart in their own directions. Walking slowly towards the vehicle pool, Alex feels an overwhelming sense of deja-vu. Not in the literal sense that he has existed in this place before, but the air, the sun, the trees all look and feel incredibly familiar. The planet itself exudes an energy he has never felt before, save for the dreamworld forest of the past week. For better, or for worse, something exists here that is both ancient and terrible and he, Alex Treux is destined to play a key role in whatever it is.