Vision of an Apocalypse Chapter 2
Posted By: Todd Hansen<firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date: 10 March 2001, 6:58 am
You know that smell, the one like blood. That coppery sweet taste that stays in the back of your mouth. Light, light is good. I know light. I blink. Again. Things are gradually coming into focus. A line. Where does it go? It hurts to move my head, hell it hurts period. That line it goes towards the...what is it...Ahhh the cockpit. I try to move my head. and pass out. When I come to I manage to move an arm, well that still works, lets try a leg, still good there too. I roll over and try to push myself up. Almost, but I get a look around. Most of the ship is gone, but it looks like the cockpit shell is still whole. The pilots aren't though, one of them caught a piece of scrap in the chest. The other one, well one half was in the seat harness still buckled in, the other was long gone. I managed to sit up and look are the wreckage. There was Pete, under a piece of sheet metal, I dragged myself to him. His eyes were still open, but glazed. No luck there, no spark, I knew he was gone. I've seen death before, I've stood at the brink of death and madness and peered over. I've tempted the fates, and seen the hunger in their eyes. I closed Peter's eye's and moved away. When I climbed to my feet I almost fell. I found Don, Bruce, and Mike. Nobody was home. The land around me looked like someone had played with fire. Everywhere. The landscape was clean. Scoured down to the bedrock I saw no landmarks, trees or water anywhere in sight. I checked my paracompass, all the magnetic poles in the area were to hell and gone, nuke musta done a number on that. I needed to find my radiation armor soon. Fallout would get me even if the blast didn't. I looked but my pack was gone. Shit. my extra ammo for my rifle and my pistol was in it, not to mention my burst transmitter. I still had my machete though. I'm glad I kept it strapped to my back. My pack must have been torn off in the crash along with my gear belt. I checked the others, there stuffed into one of the exhaust vents, I found a green strap and pulled. The pack and radio came down in a heap, one of the arms fallowing it out. It must be Mike's he was pretty beaten up when I found him. Inside was my savior, Mike was a little smaller than me but I could still get into the armor, and his charges were fresh. I activated the power cell and checked the suit integrity. One of those fates with a twinkle in their eye was still looking out for me, The suit would hold until I could get away from the blast radius. I rooted through the bag, I found Mike's personal effects and kept those to return with, his garrote, some rations, charges for a powered suit or the pyzoelectric ignition for a rifle, some loose ammunition for a rifle and some for a pistol, a patch kit for some miscellaneous repairs, a map for a couple of sectors around me, 4 canteens, 1 partially empty, part of a medkit, some batteries for a flashlight, and a tool kit. The rest must have dropped out the hole in the pack. I searched my friends for anything I might use, I found each of their death letters, an old knife, a couple more rounds of ammo, their dog tags, an energy bar, and gods of all gods, a pistol. Damn thing was so battered it looked like a piece of scrap metal, one of the grips broken off, the slide almost unrecognizable. I grabbed some loose rounds and tried to drop the clip, it stuck half way out and I had to pry it loose. I managed to get 4 rounds in before the bent metal wouldn't allow any more. I put it back in the gun and dropped it again to load another round topping it off and loading the gun.
All I found of the rest of the rifles was some loose scrap metal and some plastic bits lying around. The pilots didn't have anything but one did have a death letter and I took it. My head was throbbing like someone had done brain surgery while I was awake, making my vision blurry sometimes. I got the gear bag and tied the hole together with a bootlace from one of the pilots. I was sure he wouldn't be needing it anymore so I took the other one anyway, might come in handy.
I gathered up everything and headed off towards a little rise to get my bearings and check out the area. I have a mental image of what a nuclear holocaust would look like. What this was destroyed any images that I might have entertained. Complete destruction does not describe it. Small fires raged in the valleys I could smell the flinty smell of smoke through the suit filters. Bits of trees and boulders the size of houses had been flung outward in an ever increasing circle, in the far distance I saw a large rise in the land and glint of metal, I think this was the rings base material having been warped into a small mountain created by the vacuum formed by the blast. The sky was black and lightning storms raged on the horizon small violent storms caused by the sudden, massive disruption of the ring weather. On the fringes of the cloud I could see brief patches of sunlight. My area was roughly sheltered by two small hills that formed a bowl. Darkness had descended on me and small flakes of ash were beginning to fall, like dirty snow. I had heard Mike and Don talk while we were observing the Cov base, he had mentioned a forward observation point spinward were there had been some strange things happening the last couple of days. I had no idea where it was, somewhere near the shores of Big Lake, our name for the large body of water near our small base. It wasn't good but it was the best thing I had. I strapped my gear a little tighter and started going spinward, limping a little from my sore knee.
I looked at the landscape around me as I walked, wanting to move faster and get out of the radiation, but knowing I needed to conserve my energy. I saw small pieces of trees, stumps burned and blackened all of the grasses were gone or burning. Darkness hung over me like death, watching to catch me if I slipped or found trouble.
I like to think I have a good memory. It got me past the basic memory tests in sniper school and I graduated with honors. It worry's me, looking out over the twisted deformed landscape, that I would be haunted by it years from now. But hey I'll probably die of radiation poisoning anyway, right? I begin to remember bits and pieces of things I had heard in the command tent before I left on this mission. Things about technologies that had been found, or structures that no one could explain. Not to mention the fact I'm hiking the long way around a fabricated structure hovering in space with thousands of kilometers to where the Pillar of Autumn probably crashed. I walked all of that day? ( I can never tell with this damnable cloud cover) Until I was tired and found a lip of protruding rock that could offer a little shelter. I knew I needed to survive a least the first night, because it was a sure thing none would be looking for me maybe not ever. I checked the power level in the suit. Still good. I could go for three more days before I would have to expend one of the spare charges. Hopefully I could get out of the radiation cloud by then. I drank from one of the suits water pockets, not trusting the canteens because the might have been contaminated by radiation. I turned the power level in the suit down for just breathing and pushed my pack under my head for a small pillow.
I think about my home on Rigel-7. My own little slice of heaven. I found a man willing to deal me out enough land I wouldn't ever have to see another soul if I didn't want to. I built a dugout and reinforced it with plasteel, I wanted my home to last after all. I could sit out on the shack I built above and watch the sun set behind the hills far in the distance. I can still smell the clean, fresh air that came with the night. That moist, humid air that is sweet and cool on your skin, making it so you could lie under the stars and be happy forever. I drifted off to sleep with the smell of my home in my mind. A lullaby in the darkness of space.
"Karl. Karl wake up." It was Carli, my sister, she's trying to get me to help her with something. pulling a bag, kind of a longish one with handles, almost like a gym bag but shaped differently.
"What is it Carli?"
"It's a surprise Karl, now help me get it inside."
I like some surprises so I grab a handle and heave it into our small apartment. I think I felt something inside the bag move. I take my hand away and look intently at the bag. I see now it has a magnetic reinforced zipper like a, a...hmmph, I can't remember. Well no matter, I look around our home. almost a mansion by some standards, it was one small room with a sink and a toilet. I sleep on that cot there, in the corner, and Carli, she sleeps on that one.
"What's in the bag Carli?"
"Open it and see." She smiled at me and pointed to the bag.
I could swear it moved. I grabbed the zipper and pulled it open, the magnetic seal still held, I broke it at the top and it snapped open.
"JESUS CARLI!" Maggots of all shape and design poured from the bag, more than it should have held and still more coming, hands reached out pulling me into the churning grayish mass.
"No, I won't go! Goddamnit you can't make me. YOU CAN'T MAKE ME!"
The sound of my voice ringing through my suit woke me, I was sweating the smell was sour and moist in the enclosed space. I checked the suit chrono, I had been out for just over seven hours. Time to get a move on. I reflected on my nightmare while I switched the power level on the suit back up and checked the systems. I used to live on Earth as a child, spending my days as a thief in one of the bubble domes. Carli had died when I was 16, abducted. The police said they couldn't help me, I knew it was because we were Arco people. I can still remember the last time I saw her, red hair tied back in a bun, green eyes staring intently at an Ono-Sendai model 12 I had taken two days before. In my mind she's still beautiful, always there ready to offer me advice or a kind word. God I missed her.
Staying under the rock I ate from the suits reserves and drank some of my water. It looked slightly darker than it had before I stopped almost like the sky at dusk. In the distance I could see a few rays of light coming over the edge of the ring. I grabbed my pack and slid out from under the rock.
I reoriented myself spinward, toward my destination and set off again. I walked all that day but I knew I had to go on. I walked, and I walked until the ground rose up to meet me. I had traveled nonstop for three straight days, at minimal power. There was no sun, no moon nothing I could judge time by. I still could see the sky, streaked by lightning and dark clouds broiling overhead. But I had no other time. My chrono had been shattered in a fall down a slope. I lay still on the ground, feeling my body twitch in exhaustion. I didn't even bother to shut the suit down I was asleep by the time I blinked. This time there were no dreams, no thoughts of a life that I had left behind. Just deep black sleep.
When I came to one of the steggy's was trying to gnaw the armor on my leg. I shuffled and kicked it away. A large herd of them had come to where I had fallen and was passing by me spinward. I got up and looked. All of the animals looked a little off, some where burned and others had horrific wounds, yet they still lumbered on. Well, if they could go on so could I. I moved awkwardly, my pack pulling me off balance slightly. I drank the rest of my water and the food, no use to let all of it go to waste. I reached into my belt pouch and switched out the power cell with a fresh one. I knew I couldn't ride the steggy's we tried to domesticate them once, but it was no good. With a brain the size of a walnut, they couldn't do a whole bunch. I climbed a small rise and saw the first good sign in a week. A speck of green, barely there on the horizon line. It looked to be within two days of hard marching, best be off. Walking among the steggy's I saw that after a little while their wounds began to heal at a remarkably fast rate. Must be some kind of mutation, a super fast reconstruction system. I walked all day and paused only for a little while to rest. I knew I could get no more water until I was out of the blast zone so I had to hurry. I didn't stop to sleep or rest again, moving like a machine I didn't stop going until my Geiger counter said it was safe. I was tired but not overly so, they trained us hard in the Corps. I could walk for another half day before I needed to slow a fast pace. I reached into my pack and pulled out a ration, I had no fear of them. They were stored so well they often survived conditions where the soldier who carried them did not. I ate slowly, the salt in the crackers making my dry mouth hurt, yet I knew the canteens water was contaminated by the radiation and emptied them. I found a can of peaches, and slowly drank all the liquid and fruit together. I have never had a sweeter nectar than that. I turned off the power to the armor and slowly peeled out of it. Some of my skin came off with it from being in it constantly for 6 days. 25 kilotons my ass. Who was that...yeah Wilhelm. If I ever find you, I'm going to make you die in so many interesting ways. I patched the abrasions and put back on my camouflage. My map said I had another 250 miles to cover. Damnit, I survive only to die later. I decided the only way I was going to ever cover all that distance with my current supplies was to steal one of the covenant aircraft, or a hoverbike. Well hopefully the enemy would send out a patrol to do a damage assessment. The area I was in didn't have very many hills but it did have some impressive trees, giants to rival even the millennia old sequoia on earth. My only problem is there aren't any branches near the base, they started about 50 meters up.
It clicked. I dropped my pack and took out the garrote. Being very careful to keep the filament away from my fingers I pulled on the handles extending all of the filament tight. I Pushed it into the tree and pulled down and out. I knocked out the smooth, polished piece of wood and had an admirable handhold. cutting as high as I could reach I started a slow ascent. moving my way slowly upward already starting to sweat in the hot sun. The trees sap was pungent, almost like pine, but kind of like hickory. pushing on knowing that if I fell now I would certainly die. I cut upwards into the tree and found my way after about an hour on one of the lowest branches.
The view was incredible, antispinward I could see the dark clouds that boiled over the blast zone. Spinward I could see the sun shining and a flock of birds slowly flying over a small lake to my east. Streams drifted in and out of view, But no Covenant. I decided to climb the branches a little higher and get a look over the high hills that still obstructed my view. climbing higher I realized that there might be aircraft looking down. We found out the pilots of the aircraft had infrared when an armored night ambush was bombed into the next world. I scrambled higher into the tree for a quick peek. When I reached near the top I stopped cold. I slid around the tree and slowly, slowly looked around the edge. Two covenant foot soldiers with what looked like a high power optics were scanning the area. Recon probably, they were packing light, only plasma rifles and needle cannons. While they were watching the area west of me I descended quickly and gathered my equipment. I kept my garrote and unlatched the clip on the machete which was on my belt. I also took the pistol and carried it in a pocket.
The grass was yellowish brown and shoulder length deep, allowing me to move unseen up the backside of the hill. I couldn't see any reinforcements behind them. I stayed low and moved slowly up behind their position. They were lying prone on the ground, still looking through their optics I pulled my machete free and stepped quietly towards them. Standing not 3 feet behind them I could hear them speaking quietly into what must have been subvocal bonephones. When they were silent for a while I assumed they had finished their report and were doing a last minute survey. I lunged at the one on the right and buried my machete midway in its torso. It gave small squeal and thrashed wetly, air sucking at the hole in its chest. My surprise was blown and the other one jumped to its feet, I kicked at its head but it swiveled out of the way bringing its rifle to bear. I could feel heat singing the hairs on my neck while I rolled out of the way and came up in front of it. Wielding my machete like a sword I brought it down in an arc towards its neck. Blue gray blood sprayed over me and the machete stuck in the the thick bones of its neck. The covenants blood is like putrid flesh, it sticks to you and you smell like a corpse for days. I wiped the blade clean in the grass in slid it back in the sheath. I searched the corpses and found 2 maps, 4 spare energy cells for their rifles, and a backup communicator. I left the communicator, it might have a transmitter, but i did shatter it to prevent reinforcements from finding the bodies. I found the optic in the grass it had some blood on it but was still whole. I took it and the better of the two plasma rifles, stripping the other down and throwing the parts over the hill. I tried to take one of the needle cannons but it seemed to be fastened on to the arm and I couldn't remove it. I had the 2 cells from the rifles and put all of the new equipment in my bag. I kept the other weapons out in case some other nasties decided to come looking. I tracked their path down the base of the hill and out into the grasslands. I was still on my original heading so it seemed all right to backtrack and maybe find some transportation. I moved all of that day and made a small bed in the grass near the trail. I ate another part of my rations and found a small stream nearby. Almost all water on Halo is pure, I put my head under the surface and drank until water ran up my nose and I had to come up for air. "Aaaaaah goood." I did it 3 more times and then filled up my canteens. Sleep was coming fast and bed was waiting for me. It seemed like a feather bed compared to the hard confines of the suit and barren radioactive ground. Laying there looking up at the stars I saw the Serpent. It was our compass here on Halo. It always points east, and it reassured me that there was always someplace to go. I fell asleep dreaming of home, red hair, and the smell of corpses.
The sun woke me the next morning, brining with it the sound of thunder. I shouldered my pack and set off. The problem with Halo is that in its closed atmosphere the weather becomes turbulent very easily. During the day while Halo spins out of the planets shadow it allows sunlight to hit the ring, causing the air to heat rapidly, usually causing early morning thunderstorms. The storms however caused the opposite to happen, by obscuring sunlight and cooling the air with rain, it produced relatively clear sunny afternoons. I don't mind, I've always liked to watch storms build, so perfectly chaotic they are things of great beauty, and sometimes danger. The grass around me was the color of a lazy Sunday, you know that gold, yellow that almost seems to glow. I walked until noon and stopped to eat part of a ration. It felt good to stand there, the grass blowing in the wind, the sun beating down on my skin. The war seemed distant now, just a shadow in an afternoon thunderstorm. Going again I made good time, I covered 35 kilometers by the time it started to get dark. I decided to walk through the night with a small break, I had started into a forest and we had reports from our LRRP scouts of strange creatures trying to attack them at night. I sat on a rock and watched the sun fall below the horizon eating the last of my earlier ration, I would need to start hunting soon to continue eating. I kept my machete unsheathed and moved at a slow trot to clear the area quickly. The landscape continued to rise slowly forming into the base of lush foothills near the mountains I would have to traverse around in order to stay on course. I kept a sharp ear on the lookout for any creatures that might be following me but the going was clear and I walked till dawn without incident. Watching the sunrise over the edge of Threshold, I knew that there was a decent chance I could die in any number of ways before I got back to my HQ. But I also wanted to survive, to go home to my little house and live in peace, away from all of the death. I found a large shade tree and climbed into the boughs to find a spot to hole up for the day. The Covenant do most of their patrols during the day because it is easier for us to ambush and attack them at night when we can use our hit-and-run guerrilla tactics. Pulling down an overhanging branch I tied it with the bootlace and had an admirable camouflage cover. I drank some water and ate some crackers watching the daily thunderstorm building. Looks like I'm gonna catch some rain today. It was dark cloud, I could see bolts of lightning shooting outwards light fingers reaching for some unattainable object. Swirls from the coriolis effect of the ring began to shape it, feeding the already rotating mass with more and more energy. The tree I was in should offer me plenty of shelter so I stayed there. I shut my eyes and watched the light that filtered down through the leaves on my eyelids.
Rain woke me stinging my face. The storm was blowing cold winds now and was rapidly turning the day into night. It was getting too large for the tree to offer protection. I had rested long enough and pushed on despite the storm, only stopping to grab a large leaf from a ground bush and use it to block the worst of the wing and rain. Not soon after it began to dissipate slowly, leaving me in the wake while it moved slowly east. While I was walking I took advantage in the brief lull to think about the Commanders in charge here on Halo. Most of them had never seen battle before, and had been taught to use tactics in space not on the ground. For the most part we were being led by a group of incompetents. If I ever found myself back alive, I must find Gregor. He is a good friend of mine, we went through basic together. He is a great bear of a man almost like a blacksmith, arms that look like trees and legs to match, I have seen him lift an overturned jeep from a man with only his strength to aid him. He is a man who was born to lead, a voice that could stir stones into action. And most importantly he had seen action, enough to know that what our leaders who sat in a warm heated bunker every night were doing was a complete waste of manpower. I used Wilhelm as an example. Before the POA crashed he had been only a second lieutenant but as chance would have it he grabbed at the opportunity of command like a drowning man. As far as I knew he had never seen action, and had only a small amount of formal schooling in military tactics. Maybe it was time for me to change that.