A Fighting Chance
Posted By: Howard the Duck<firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date: 14 December 2003, 2:27 PM
"Purple, a veteran," the Master Chief thought to himself as he eyed an elite and his ilk of four jackals through the scope of his marine issue sniper rifle, wondering how many humans he had killed to earn such a privilege. He stopped himself before pulling the trigger, having momentarily forgotten he was fresh out of 14.5 mm rounds. Things just weren't going his way today.
In fact, things hadn't gone his way since he landed on Earth. There were Covenant seemingly everywhere, and the base that Cortana had directed him to join the human defenders at was nothing more than a hole in the ground. But, the worst part was that his entire arsenal now consisted of one plasma grenade pilfered from a dead grunt, a fragmentation grenade that had been at his side since the Autumn went up in flames, an assault rifle with only one clip of ammunition, and a sniper rifle that was only useful for looking at the enemy. He didn't have any food, either.
The former wasn't necessarily a problem, though. His basic Spartan training had taught him to live off the land, and only yesterday he'd had a very nice rabbit and blueberry dinner. Too bad he'd had to eat it raw. Starting a fire with this many enemies around would have been asking for trouble. Not that it had needed an invitation; he was still isolated in enemy controlled territory and running low on ammunition. You can survive off of blueberries but you can't kill an elite with them. Master Chief whispered a curse at his misfortune.
"I beg your pardon, Chief," said Cortana, interrupting his train of thought. "Just thinking out loud," he replied not removing his gaze from the elite who was looking down, now. The Master Chief didn't need to see the ground to know that the elite was looking at his footprints. A half-ton MJOLNIR battle suit walking through ankle-deep mud leaves a trail that could be seen from orbit. The purple-clad elite waved his squad in the direction the foot prints went.
"Looks like they're onto us," said the Master Chief as he climbed out of the tree, "we're going to have quite a fire-fight on our hands soon." "Just remember to keep your head down." Cortana replied.
Master Chief paid little heed to Cortana's recommendation as he lobbed the plasma grenade at the elite and felt a slight satisfaction as it stuck to the top of his head. The elite looked up and grunted what could only have been "Oh SHIT!" in Covenantese.
The explosion splattered purple blood and guts from him and a very unlucky jackal who just happened to be close by. Two of the remaining jackals were cut down by fully automatic rifle fire before they could bring their shields to bear. The last one raised his shield just as the Master Chief leveled his assault rifle at the jackal. The weapon produced a metallic "click" as he pulled the trigger. But, before the bewildered jackal could react, the Master Chief brought the weapon down hard on his skull, killing him instantly.
The Master Chief began searching though the underbrush for the elite's plasma rifle and any grenades he might have been carrying. The brush was thick, but with a little time he might have found what he was looking for if two blue-clad, rookie elite's hadn't come out of nowhere and started firing at him. The Master chief did the only thing he could; he ran. Luckily the terrain was giving way to drier ground which didn't leave footprints for the aliens to follow. After a few minutes he lost them.
Master Chief leaned against a tree, out of breath. Looking down at his hand, he realized he was still carrying the bloodstained assault rifle. Remembering an old trick from one of his former instructors, he put the gun down and pulled out his last grenade. He buried the grenade in a few inches of loose soil with the hand release pointing up. He then set the assault rifle on top of the grenade and carefully pulled the pin. If anyone picked up the rifle, they would trigger the detonator and be blown up. The Master Chief looked around; it was getting dark.
The Master Chief walked a kilometer or so further through the wilderness, found a large pile of brush and crawled into it. "Wake me up if anything appears on the motion sensor," Master Chief told Cortana. "Night watch again, how boring," Cortana complained. Unfortunately the Master Chief didn't hear her last remark. He was asleep before his head hit the ground.
"John. Come in sweet heart. It's time for dinner."
"But, Mom, I want to play with the other kids."
"We're having your favorite dear: spaghetti and meatballs."
"all right, I'm coming."
He turned to say good-bye to his friends, but they were gone. In their place were a large number of adults dressed in military uniforms. "Say good-bye to your mother," one of the strangers said. "Why?" replied John, confused and somewhat afraid of the large figures surrounding him. "Because we're taking you away and you're never coming back." he replied. John resisted, "No! Let me go! Mom, HELP!" "JOHN!" his mother screamed as she saw him being taken into a car.
"Chief, wake up." The Master Chief rose slowly. It was morning already. "There was an explosion off in the distance, probably from the surprise you left for the two rookies yesterday," Cortana informed him. "I really didn't expect it to work. It was such an obvious trap," Master Chief replied. For all their advanced technology and numerous victories against the UNSC, the average Covenant soldier was an idiot. "If they found your weapon they must be on our trail. I doubt the blast killed all of them. We should keep moving," Cortana suggested. The Master Chief agreed.
The Spartan walked for several hours. As he walked, he took stock of his situation: no food, no medical supplies, no grenades, no ammunition, and the batteries in his sniper scope had gone dead. He could still manually focus it, but the night vision option wouldn't work. He eventually came to a fork in the trail he was following. He took a moment to disassemble the sniper rifle.
The rifle barrel was made of high-grade steel for absorbing the large amount of heat and pressure needed to propel armor piercing shells long distances. It would make a decent club should worse come to worse. The scope was small and would easily fit into one of his leg pouches. The rest of the sniper rifle was useless. He walked a few meters down the trail to the left and set what was left of the sniper rifle in plain view in an attempt trick his pursuers. He only hoped that their stupidity didn't run out anytime soon. He then started walking down the trail to the right.
Several hours later Cortana spoke up. "Wait. Look back at that patch of mushrooms on the ground to the left." The Master Chief complied. It was the first thing she had said in several hours. "I was programmed with several different survival guides, including one for this particular region of Earth. That species of mushroom is edible. I suggest that you eat your fill now, while there's a break in the action," said Cortana. "Thanks for looking out for me," said Master Chief with genuine gratitude.
The famished Spartan took one last look at his motion sensor before deactivating his defense shield and removing his helmet. He gorged himself on the mushrooms. Being a soldier means not knowing when or where your next meal would come from, so he ate every last one of them, but was still hungry. Just before putting his helmet back on, his enhanced hearing picked up the unmistakable babble of water pouring over rocks. Pushing through the brush, he found the source: a small stream about one meter across. He drank to his satisfaction, then pulled a small metal bottle from one of his waist pouches. He filled it up, placed it back in its pouch and was on his way.
The armored super soldier and his AI companion didn't come across anymore enemies that day with the exception of a few covenant fliers passing by high overhead. The two took this opportunity to discuss their situation.
"They haven't glassed over the planet, and they probably won't." Cortana said. "Why not?" asked the Master Chief. "Captured Covenant soldiers said that if they ever found our home world, they would fight us to the death on our terms in a glorious apocalyptic battle. Apparently this is what they do to all races they make war with. It's part of their religion that they do so." Cortana explained. "They'll fight us on the ground, not from space. Good." Master Chief said. Humans always faired better in a ground assault than in the air or space. "In that case, our duty is clear. We must find the remaining UNSC forces. You have to brief them on all we've learned about the Covenant and what happened on Halo, and I have to do what Spartans were built to do: fight," stated the Master Chief. "Well, seems like you've got it all figured out. I guess we'll find some backup, kick the Covenant's ass, and be home in time for dinner," Cortana said with contempt. "I don't need your sarcasm, Cortana. I know that it will be a difficult job, but I'm sure that the UNSC will prevail," Master Chief replied with much less anger than he should have had. "So what do we do in the time being?" asked Cortana resignedly. "This forest can't go on forever. At some point we're bound to run into someone who'll take us to the nearest base of operations. There we'll join the counterattack." With that he ended the conversation and his break, got up, and started walking into the setting sun.
"Are you a soldier?"
The Master Chief jumped at least one meter off the ground, and landed on a small rock which caused him to fall flat on his back. His view was then obstructed by a young girl standing over him. She had long blond hair, blue eyes and couldn't have been more than twelve years old. She repeated her question, "I said, are you a soldier?"
"Yes," replied the Master Chief as he stood up, "but what are you doing out here, all alone?" "I live out here, and I'm not alone. My house and father aren't very far from here. Come with me." The Master Chief followed saying "What's your name?" "Alice. What's yours?" He almost said that his full title was Master Chief Spartan-117, but decided that it would be to hard for a small child to understand. "My name is John," he said as they entered a clearing. He looked around and could see quite well, even though it was dark by now, because of his enhanced vision. They were walking along the shore of a lake in a fenced off meadow. A large white horse paused from grazing to look at them, then returned to eating. The Master Chief then cast his gaze at a large structure. "That's not a house, it's a mansion," said Cortana. The Master Chief didn't reply.
The lights of the "house" were all off, but Alice seemed to know her way, even in the dark. She led him to a door on the back side of her "house" and typed in a code on a numeric pad to open it. The door popped opened to reveal a long darkened hallway. She stepped inside and was jerked aside.
"Young lady where have you been? I was worried sick about you. What have I told you about going outside alone, never mind the fact that its dark out and there's an alien invasion going on. Suppose one of them had found you. They wouldn't think twice about killing you. Do you understand, Alice? THEY WILL KILL YOU!" said a voice just out of sight, presumably her father.
The Master Chief looked inside to see the man embrace his daughter in the fashion that can only be done by a loving parent, and heard him say in a completely different tone, "I was so worried. Thank God you're okay." "Daddy, I found someone in the woods. His name is John. He's a soldier," Alice explained. The man peered outside and said "A soldier? Well come on in." Master Chief stepped in and the man shut the door and turned around to turn on the lights. "So what brings you all. . ." the man trailed off as he saw the Master Chief for the first time in the light.
The Master Chief was accustomed to this kind of reaction. He deactivated his shield, took off his helmet and said "My name is John. I'm a Master Chief in the UNSC Navy and. . ." "A Spartan, I know," the man interrupted, "but the news services said that all the Spartans died on Reach when the Covenant fleet attacked it. Are you a deserter?" The Master Chief, slightly agitated at his accusation, replied "Spartans fight to the death unless ordered to do otherwise, which I was. What happened afterward is a long story." "A story that can wait until dinner," the man sniffed catching a whiff of the Spartan's body odor, "and definitely after you take a long hot shower." Master Chief relished the thought of a hot shower and he quickly agreed.
"Chief, ask them if they have a computer, I need to get an update on what's been happening and the radio waves are still being jammed by the Covenant," Cortana said, breaking her silence.
"Do you have a computer?" the Master Chief asked Alice on the way to the guest bedroom and shower.
"Yes, but why?"
"I'm carrying an AI. She needs to update herself and recompile."
"There's one in the guest bedroom, and there are some clothes in the closet. Dinner should be ready by the time you get out."
The Master Chief thanked her as she left,set the sniper barrel down, took off his armor, plugged Cortana into the data port on the computer, and went to the shower.
The shower was great. He stepped out feeling like a new man (and smelling like one as well). A quick check of the closet revealed nothing that would fit his massive frame, and deciding that going to dinner naked would be very inappropriate, he donned his armor. When he finished dressing a flashing message on the computer caught his attention. "Chief, when you're done plug me into your suit," read Cortana's message.
"Unbelievable! These people are so obviously rich, but they equip the guest bedroom with such a primitive computer: no external microphone, no external camera, no motion sensor, no satellite uplink, at least I was able to recompile and there were a few downloaded news updates on the mansion's intranet, by the way why are you wearing your armor? Alice said there were some clothes in the closet." Cortana said. "They didn't fit. Give me an update, just the big stuff though. And, by the way, don't look a gift horse in the mouth," the Spartan replied.
"Well, first of all, I checked the date and we've been gone for over a year. Here's what happened between then and now: As you know, the Covenant were destroying colonies at random until the Battle of Reach. Then, there was a two month pause in their advance, but they renewed their advance with vigor. This time they were going in a straight line for Earth. Current theory is that one of the ships in the Reach defense fleet either didn't have time or didn't properly execute Cole Protocol and the Covenant were able to salvage and decrypt a star map. They must have recalled every single one of their ships and regrouped for a direct assault on Earth, judging by the speed at which advanced through our space. When they arrived in Sol system, they attacked Mars first. The Sol System Defense Fleet fought valiantly using every military and civilian craft with a gun on it that could fly, and a few that didn't have guns. I found several articles in the obituaries honoring civilians who loaded their personal spacecraft with explosives and rammed Covenant vessels. These kamikazes apparently dealt great damage to the Covenant Invasion Fleet and combined with support from the Sol Defense Fleet significantly hindered the Covenant advance. They held the enemy at bay for well over a month, but they still never really had a chance. The last news report, dated about six months ago states, that over 80% of the Covenant Invasion Fleet was destroyed but they were still coming. It warns that they had broken through the Martian defense line and advises all civilians to flee the major population centers and for UNSC personnel to go to their preassigned duty stations. That's why we didn't encounter as many enemy ships as I thought we would and the only reason we actually made it to Earth alive. It's also the reason we met such light resistance since we landed. So many people must have given their lives to defend Earth."
The Master Chief was walking down the long hallway toward the kitchen at this point. "You considered that light?" remarked the Master Chief. "When considering that the Covenant probably mobilized every ship and soldier they could spare and sent them here? Yes, I do. Furthermore, I think that we're fortunate that so many sacrificed their lives to whittle down their forces and buy time for Earth to prepare its defense. You could show a little appreciation, Chief." He felt a little guilty at her last remark; a computer reminding him of the value of human life.
The hallway was very well decorated. It had a marble floor, there were large tapestries and paintings on the walls, and there were even a few marble statues along the way. As he reached the end of the hallway he came to a large flight of curving marble stairs with more statues at the bottom. What kind business was Alice's father in to have such lavish home?
The stairway led to another, shorter hallway. One of the doors was open, light emanating from it. He stepped in to a sight that any soldier would fight through hell and high water for: hot chow and cold beer. His mouth watered at what was before him: steak, baked potatoes, steamed vegetables, salad, and fresh baked bread. The man turned off the lights in the hall and shut the door. "This house is powered by a self-contained generator in the basement. I try to keep the drain on it as low as possible. I'll never know when I'll be able to refuel it, again. You must be starved, sit down and eat." Indeed he was, and quickly dug into the dinner Alice's father had so expertly prepared, but declined the beer. All Spartans were trained to never let their acute senses be dulled by alcohol.
During the course of the meal the three conversed and Master Chief learned much about Alice and her father. His name was Leon King and he was the chief engineer at a weapons factory here on Earth. He had a family, too. His son, Michael, had joined the UNSC when they called for volunteers to defend Sol and left for Mars when the news services had called the state of emergency. He was most likely killed while trying to hold the Mars defensive line. His wife, Dana who also worked at the weapons factory, had been killed as they fled it when the Covenant took it. Leon wiped a tear from his eye as he continued. "Alice is all I have left, so I ran off with her and came here. I hoped that the Covenant would have no interest in coming up to the mountains. This mansion is the only thing for miles around, but from what you said we may not be safe even here." The Master Chief replied, "I led them off into the opposite direction before coming this way; we should have at least a few days before they find this place." He left out much of his story though: the ring, the Flood, the Forerunner(s?), the people who had died on the ring. He didn't know how much of this was to be classified and wasn't going to divulge any details to a civilian with a low security clearance (even if he was a UNSC employee).
"CHIEF!" Cortana interrupted, "I'm picking up movement on your motion sensor!"
The Master Chief jumped up, turned off the lights, put on his battle helmet and charged up his shield. "They're here, in the mansion," Master chief whispered. They had found his trail. He didn't expect that. "Do you have any weapons in here?" he asked. "No," replied Leon as he clutched Alice close and hid behind the table. The Master Chief looked around. The butcher knife Leon had used to cut the meat was still on the counter. He took it and said, "Stay here." "John," Leon said, "there is a tunnel leading from the basement to the underground highway. If you can get us there, we can escape in my car." "all right," Master Chief said and quietly shut the door behind him.
The hallway was darkened but Master Chief's Spartan eyes had no trouble seeing the two jackals looking around at the bottom of the staircase. He jumped off and crushed one of the aliens under his half-ton of Spartan and MJOLNIR armor. His comrade turned around just in time to see the butcher knife as it slashed his throat. He fell to the ground and gurgled slightly as his purple blood formed a puddle on the ground. He looked over their corpses and was shocked to find they were unarmed.
"DAMN IT!" said the Master Chief.
"Wub wub wub!" said the Covenant elite.
Master Chief jumped out of the way just as the gold-clad elite swung an energy blade at him. He punched the elite hard, shorting out his shield and and knocking him back against the wall. The elite shook it off with a growl and charged head first into the butcher knife that Master Chief threw at him, catching it in his mouth, and fell to the floor.
As the Master Chief picked up the elite's grenades, he noticed something peculiar: the elite's blade was still active. "That's never happened before," the Master Chief said out loud. Every other time he'd killed a blade-wielding elite the blade went out, some sort of programmed safeguard. This one, though, was malfunctioning. Maybe he'd damaged it when he hit the elite, or maybe it was just defective, it didn't really matter. It was a weapon.
Master Chief looked at the blade. He really didn't know where it ended ad the elite began. He decided to just hack the entire arm off. He held the arm which held the new weapon in hand. "Good. Now that you're done, pick up the device that jackal was carrying," Cortana ordered. Master Chief did so. It was rectangular shaped and made of the same purple metal that Covenant weapons, ships and cargo containers were made of. "Its a communication device," Cortana explained, "maybe I can use it to cut through the jamming signals. Plug the data cord into the Coventant-compatible data port on your helmet."
The Master Chief complied. "Good. Hacking the Covenant battle-net. I'm in. Searching the field report database. They plan on using this structure as a temporary base of operations. Bad news: There are five transports outside loaded with cargo and lots of soldiers to help set up the base," Cortana said, happy to be able to use her considerable talents. The device's lights started flashing and the two heard the unmistakable grunt of an elite. "Initiating translation. It's the division commander. He wants to know if they ran into anything. He's sending in one of his aids to find out what's going on."
The Master Chief ducked behind a wall at the end of the hallway. Peeking around, he could see the massive frame of an elite. He was alone. They hadn't gotten any smarter in the last day. He pulled down one of the tapestries to hide the glow of the blade. When the elite rounded the corner, the Master Chief attacked. The naive alien fell to the ground. Twice.
Master Chief picked up his plasma rifle (at last, a real weapon!) and ran back to the kitchen. He poked his head in and said, "come on, they have to know that something's wrong by now," The trio made there way down the stairs. "No, don't look," the Master Chief said trying to stop Leon from seeing the Covenant troops entering at the far end of the hallway. He froze. The Master Chief grabbed him by the collar and jerked him so close that his nose was almost touching his visor. "STAY FOCUSED! Get us to the basement or it's all over for us." Leon snapped out of it. "It's down this corridor, away from them."
"There he is!" screamed one of the grunts. Master Chief immediately tossed a plasma grenade at him. The grunt responded to his imminent death by running straight to his commander, a gold-clad elite, and screaming, "get it off!" The Master Chief rounded the corner following Leon and Alice and heard an explosion followed by screams from the aliens. The Spartan shook his head. "How do we keep losing to these idiots?" he said to no one in particular.
The Master Chief ran dow the corridor to join Alice and Leon. They all stopped when they heard a voice from the Covenant communication device strapped to the Master Chief's belt. It was all too familiar to him and Cortana. It was the elite commander, but this time he was speaking in a rough English. A short conversation followed between him and the Master Chief.
"Humans. We have this installation surrounded. Surrender, and you will not be harmed."
"The Covenant don't take prisoners."
"But, we don't want prisoners. We simply want to take a small population of you back to our home world. We never intended to eradicate your race entirely."
"To keep in our zoos, of course," he said with a chuckle.
"Go to hell."
"Foolish humans! You'll never make it out of there alive!"
"Keep moving," Master Chief said to the Kings. Leon opened a door to a staircase leading down to a small room with a few jackets hanging on hooks and a large steel door (obviously put there to keep bad guys out, not in). Master Chief could hear the sounds of Covenant running down the corridor. "Let's go. This door won't hold them for long," said the Master Chief, gently pushing Alice through it.
"You're right. We won't make it out of here alive unless someone stays behind to buy us some time." Leon replied looking into Master Chief's eyes through his visor. Master Chief knew this look. It was a look he hadn't seen since one fateful day aboard a Covenant ship operating in a far away system. A look from a comrade in arms. A look from a man he loved like a brother. A look he hoped to never receive again. It only took a split second for him to realize what Leon had in mind, but it was a split second too late. He had already snatched the plasma rifle from Master Chief's hands and shoved him through the door with inhuman strength. The shocked Spartan tripped over the door's threshold and fell into the basement/garage. He looked up. "Take good care of my baby, John."
The door slammed and the sound of plasma fire followed. "DADDY, NOOOOOOOOOOO!" Alice screamed and pounded against the door with her small fists.
With the door blocking some of the Covenant jamming, Cortana was just barely able to detect the wireless modem in the car through the battle suit's Trans-Com system. In just over a second she had interfaced with the modem, hacked the computer and started the electric motors in the car. "There's nothing we can do for him, Chief," Cortana nearly screamed. As much as he wanted break down the door and save the brave man on the other side, he knew Cortana was right. He snatch Alice by the shirt, tossed her in the car, jumped in the driver's seat and gunned the accelerator just as a plasma bolt hit the side of the open garage door.
When they had cleared the area and were racing down the underground highway, Cortana spoke. "When I was linked to the Covenant battle-net I found the location of a nearby UNSC base that was tagged with a warning for Covenant forces to keep a safe distance. She should be safe there. This road will take us to it. I've marked the way with several nav-points"
The Master Chief looked over at Alice, and placed a hand on her shoulder to comfort her as she sobbed uncontrollably. He looked back to the road and became aware that his chin was wet. He licked up some of the strange fluid sloshing around in his helmet. It tasted salty.
As the tears fell from his Spartan eyes he said a silent prayer for the untold number of brave souls who had died at the hands of the Covenant at the line and, for a dedicated father named Leon King, all who had sacrificed their lives just to give others a fighting chance.