Castaways: The Sequel to Halo3 (log01 - 03)
Posted By: jameson9101322
Date: 12 May 2010, 3:01 am
recovered log batch 01
Initiating Standard Thaw Cycle
Thaw Cycle commencing in T-300
Vital Signs real all-normal.
Blood pressure 90/70 and rising
Heart Rate holding steady at 45bpm
The pins popped out of a standard UNSC cryo-containment pod in the jagged shadow of a mutilated drop ship fuselage. Within the coffin was the slumbering shape of the universe's greatest super soldier. Seven feet tall, a pillar of nerve and wire completely contained in a ton of green MJOLNIR armor. The last SPARTAN. John-117. The Master Chief.
Cortana watched the sub-freezing vapor rise from the vents in the pod. It was the only thing, beside herself, that was still intact in their ruined joke of a spaceship. She monitored the rise in his body temperature. She paid close attention to his respiration and heart rate. She noted every integer of his rising blood pressure as if they were the most precious numbers in the world. He was the only friend she had left. Maybe the only one she'd ever really had to start with. Her specs read all normal, but she'd learned long ago that when it came to humanity figures could be misleading. It wasn't until his brain-scans began looking normal that she let herself relax.
The Chief pried himself slowly out of the pod, every inch of skin burning from the sudden change in temperature. He was on the ground. Or at least there was gravity. He was still a little without his bearings. He immediately spotted Cortana's familiar purple light, even if he couldn't quite get her in focus. "Where are we?"
"I'm glad to see that you're okay." Cortana said, a little snidely. "Our inertia carried us into the gravity of a planet the UNSC has charted as HK-154. Not that that means much to us. We're light-years away from them now."
The Chief stepped down onto the metal floor, his knees and ankles uncomfortably weak. He didn't like coming out of stasis, it made him feel vulnerable. "How long was I out?"
"18 months." Cortana answered.
The Chief snapped his head to her. "Only 18 months!? I said wake me up when you needed me not wake me up when you're bored."
"I woke you up when we survived a fiery landing onto this planet." She replied. "And I was bored."
"I'm glad to see you haven't thought yourself to death." He said. The ground was feeling more solid now, he straightened himself up to full height. Everything was sore, but at least all his wounds and such had healed while in stasis.
"I took measures to prevent that." She answered matter-of-factually. "I spent most the time rereading logs from the Halo missions and watching archived videos."
"So you couch-potatoed your way through a year and a half." He observed.
She cocked her head to one side and fixed him with a soft smile. "I missed you."
The Chief paused to look at her, the faintest bit of a smile hiding unseen behind his face place. "So. Why did you wake me, really?"
"Our electrical reserves were nearly obliterated in the crash." Cortana explained. "I am currently running solely on battery power. I didn't want to die out while you slept, and I didn't want to leave you sleeping until there wasn't enough power left to wake you."
"This is a problem." The Chief agreed. He walked over to her pedestal. "How about our beacon?"
"I'm rerouting whole power to it now." She said. "Give me five seconds after I close down to set the subroutines then yank me."
He did as he was told, watched the seconds on his HUD, then pulled Cortana's chip from the pedestal and inserted into a slot at the back of his head. Her voice filled his mind like a second awareness. "That'll take care of that for a little while at least."
"What do we do now?"
"We need to find an alternate power source." Cortana said. "We've got a lot of useless parts in the walls of this ship. We can construct some kind of transducer even if all we have is solar power."
The Chief took this moment to look up at the blue sky and bright white sun. HK-154 seemed very much like Earth, even the trees looked the same. "We may find something more than just that."
"I can pull up topographical scans from the UNSC research library. It won't be exact. Humankind has yet to make it out this far."
"Noted." The Chief said. He dislodged his Assault Rifle from the mangled wall mounting and checked the clip. Near empty. It still had some of the orange sticky from Installation 04 ground into the handle. "At least we know what we won't find."
The terrain was almost exactly like it had been on the Ark, which was almost exactly like it had been on the Halos, which was almost exactly like it had been on Earth. The grass was green, the trees were tall and strong, the sky was blue with wisps of white cloud and white warm sun glowed peacefully over the land.
Still there was one obvious difference between HK-154 and his previous locations. That was the sound, or more accurately, the lack there of. The Master Chief puzzled at this for a moment over the white noise of Cortana's constant chattering. There was typically a natural ambiance in forests; the chirp of birds, the buzzing of insects, perhaps the bark or howl of some native mammal prowling in the distance, but when he and the Arbiter fired the Ring back at the Ark, the white light of supposedly divine purification had killed all the local critters for what could have been hundreds of worlds. Earth was not in range at the time, nor, the Chief assumed, were any of the covenant homeworlds, but this planet had been, and the silence was unsettling.
He refocused his attention back to his in-house companion, who was in the middle of a long stream of statistics. " – which makes it relatively similar to Earth in respect to tilt and rotation, which therefore also equalizes the pull of gravity up to a variation of 1.4 percent. Soil samples I conclude suffer slight differences, the chemical makeup of the topsoil shows a different mixture of natural minerals, but everything checks out for healthy human consumption. The vegetation here might even be more nutritious for you than Earth produce! You will have to give me a taste analysis when the time comes for that, but at least you won't go hungry, right?"
"Unfortunately the atmosphere does not have the proper balance of oxygen to other elements so it's not safe for you to breathe, but the good news is that the elements are there in varying amounts. I'm working on a filtration system for your armor that will be able to translate the HK-154 atmosphere into breathable reserves for you to recycle. That way your tanks won't run empty in case we're stuck here a long time. If it works, I'll also be able to draw up design specs for an area-filter so perhaps you can eat the aforementioned flora without holding your breath."
"That sounds convenient."
"It will be." She answered. "I'm very much looking forward to that taste analysis."
The Chief rolled his eyes behind his visor. "And tracking it all the way down I'm sure."
Her reply was a little too anxious. "Yes, that too."
"I'm not a source of entertainment for you, Cortana." He said. "I know you've been lonely, but think twice before you use me as a guinea pig for your mad-scientist food studies."
"I'd never put you in any danger, Chief!" Cortana reassured him. "I'm just curious about what would happen that's all."
"If our luck improves it will give me super powers and let me fly around."
Cortana chuckled in his head. "You're lucky, but not THAT lucky."
They walked through the wooded glade along a free-flowing natural stream. Cortana had located what most likely was a waterfall somewhere in this area. If the fall was strong enough, it would be an excellent place to set up a waterwheel or something for charging batteries. While this would have been ideal, the state of the stream was not looking favorable. If there was a powerful waterfall in the area, it most definitely was not feeding this flow.
He noticed Cortana was still talking. "ONI dismissed this quadrant years ago as low priority, even before the war with the Covenant. There was nothing unique about it and it was too far from Alpha Quadrant to colonize. I wonder if we would have made it here if we were left on our own to expand. Imagine. A future where humankind has covered the entire galaxy!"
"Manifest Destiny at its best." The Chief noted. "We've terra-formed worse places than this. Although it'd need a better name than Heck A-Hundred and Fifty Four."
"Maybe after something in History or Earth Mythology." Cortana offered. "Mankind does love to name things symbolically from the past."
The SPARTAN shrugged in his MJOLNIR armor. "Or after some scientist or his mother."
The stream led them out of the forest toward a steep bluff. A thin waterfall was pattering down from the plateau above like a flickering silver chain from the sky. The faucet-like falls emptied into a pond and then into their stream. The Chief stared up the waterfall with disappointment. "This won't do us much good."
"You're right." Cortana agreed. "We'll just have to keep looking."
He turned and headed along the bluffs. There was a fairly substantial ice cap on the mountains above, perhaps their hydro-kinetic power source was near by. Suddenly he stopped. Trough the trees to the left he spotted a shape not native to a forest.
Cortana spotted it too. "Is that –?"
"It has to be."
It was a cabin, as small and quaint as any fairytale. The Chief cased the area around it, looking for signs of life he knew would not be there. The building was made of stone with a shingled wooden roof and delicate landscaping. A well sat nearby, but closer examination proved it to be more of a set piece than a functioning mechanism. The Chief looked down at it from above, standing nearly a foot and a half taller than the point of its tiny little roof. "I guess this means there was intelligent life on this planet."
"I guess so." Cortana agreed. She sounded distracted. "I'm picking up something weird, Chief. Some kind of a signal. I hadn't noticed it until now. Move closer to the house."
He was already on his way. The door to the building gave the Chief a sense of proportion. He was tall for a human, but this door only came to chest level on him and was rounded along the top in what he had the feeling was a specific brand of alien architecture. The frame was shaped like an Omega as were all the windows along the walls. The peak of the roof was nearly twelve feet high and at the very top was a fixed weather-vane and what looked to be a radio antenna. Cortana focused tightly on that.
"The signal, Chief. It's transmitting to that receptor."
"Could there still be people alive?" The Chief asked.
"Highly unlikely." She replied. "Climb up there and fix the antenna, I want to put my ears on."
"Hah, right." The Chief said dryly. "I don't think so."
"What's the matter?" Cortana asked. "It's not like you're trespassing. You won't be bothering anyone and no one will see you if you look ridiculous. Now climb."
He hung his head in defeat, secured his Assault Rifle across his back and jumped up onto the roof. His heavily plated food went straight through the weak shingles like a pit-trap and sent him tumbling into the structure. He landed on his side in an ornate glass table with bits of roof debris showering down on top of him.
He closed his eyes and let his helmet clunk against the metal table leg. "Why do I listen to you?"
"Did I tell you to jump?"
He shoved his way back to his feet, bits of splintered wood falling from chinks in his armor like pine needles. The architecture style thankfully encouraged high-vaulted ceilings, and the Chief could rise to full height without restraint. He looked up through the skylight he'd just made. "Not a soul alive to care, yet somehow I'm still embarrassed."
"I've got it on record by the way." Cortana smirked.
"I hate you sometimes."
She brushed him off and threw up a nav point. He turned to follow her direction. "By the wall, Chief. The antenna seems to be connected to that terminal. Check it out."
He headed toward the terminal, which was little more than a screen and a couple buttons on the wall, and knelt down to take a look. Cortana mulled the situation over. "Turn it on." He paused to understand the controls. She misinterpreted his action. "Please?"
"You feeling guilty about ordering me around?" He asked, switching the screen on.
"I don't know. Perhaps that's it." She answered. "I just got you back, I don't want you to be mad at me."
He watched the little screen flicker to life with various alien dots and lines that both did and did not remind him of covenant shorthand. "You seem more human than usual lately, Cortana."
She'd become fixated with the 'Welcome Screen'. "It's a dialect of one of the Covenant languages. More specifically the Unggoy."
He sounded more shocked than he intended. "Grunts?"
"Seems that way. This is an unusual place for them to live though. The Unggoy homeworld is an icebox covered in methane gas. This is far too temperate and, frankly, cute for Grunts."
"A relative perhaps?"
"Probably." She said. "Maybe distant. Or maybe something like a trading partner. Close interactions with the Unggoy would foster the development of similar written language."
"Why do I get the feeling that these people probably thought it up first." The Chief thought. He recalled clubbing over a hundred of these little triangle-shaped aliens while they were asleep at their posts.
"From what I can tell they called this planet Kgorr, or at least this country Kgorr, or maybe the people living in this house Kgorr. It's hard to understand by this simple message. Wait. Scroll down." The Chief punched a button and the screen changed. Cortana huffed. "You pressed the menu button. Wait." Her voice sounded like she'd found the edge of some great discovery, he could feel her icy presence running rapid calculations in the back of his head. "Chief there's a city! Close by! A big one!"
"About seven kilometers latitudinal East." She replied. "Chief, if there is a fully functioning city on this planet, they would have food, water, power – everything we could need!" She triangulated the distance and put up a new navigation point. "Perhaps you really ARE that lucky."
It was a tomb. Thirty blocks of alabaster columns and blank white walls. The streets were paved in gravel and sand so that they sparkled in the sunlight. Standing at the front gates was like standing at the edge of a sun-bleached mausoleum erected in the place of thousands of individual headstones. For some reason he felt terrible.
Cortana had no such feelings. She scanned the area with what Chief's limited sensors could manage. "As far as I can tell, they call it the city of Cant."
"The City of Can't?" The Chief asked. "That's a pessimistic name."
"Its another language, Chief, it probably means something totally different."
He blew a puff of air through his nose and clouded the inside of his faceplate. "Might as well called it the City of Won't. Or the city of Who the Hell Cares?"
He stepped on in. The streets were abnormally clean and well kept, but every so often there was a fallen bag or abandoned book lying tenant-less on the ground. He could imagine the shape of the creature who moments before had been holding these objects sitting carefree on a street corner before being suddenly and unexpectedly obliterated. Cortana was analyzing the constant radio signal and reported her findings as she received them. "This is the largest city on HK-154. There are smaller cities to the west and south, but this is the only inhabited continent. They call themselves the Unggai and are indeed a relative of the Unggoy, albeit very very far removed. From what I can tell, they haven't been in contact with other intelligent races for centuries."
"And we wiped out their homeworld." The Chief surmised, passing an alien-shaped toy doll half covered by an abandoned newspaper. "Flash genocide - a whole race of creatures gone."
"This wasn't a homeworld, it was a colony." She corrected.
"Whatever." He replied.
Her voice sounded like a lecture. "Lighting the ring was necessary to kill the Flood. There's nothing else we could have done. We destroyed the Ark and maybe hundreds of worlds like this to keep the parasite from spreading."
"Thanks Cortana, that really helps." The Chief said dryly.
"Stop it." She snapped at him. "Would you honestly have kept from firing it if you knew this planet was here?"
He felt conflicted and guilty. "Inhabited worlds way out here? The thought never even crossed my mind."
She sighed. "This is real valiant of you, Chief, but snap out of it, please? You're supposed to be invincible."
"Since when?" He asked. "I'll be honest, I never liked the hero-worship thing. I'm closer to Spark's Reclaimer than I will ever be to humanity's Savior."
Her voice was concerned and disappointed. "But, you did save them."
He was quiet for a long time. Cortana wished sharing his neural net meant she could read his mind. Whatever was bothering him was also bothering her. She wondered if this was a side effect to interfacing, but felt like it was her emotion not his. For some reason it was really important to her that he be okay with what they had done.
He walked straight through the city taking in the layout of the streets. There was nothing alien about the planning of the place, every block was evenly spaced with roads branching off at right angles leading from the main road where they walked. His avenue was lined in shops and businesses, all empty except for the ghosts of the dead and unclaimed merchandise. At the end of the road was a plot of open pavement and a pair of giant electrical turbines set back from the sidewalk as if their constructors were trying to hide them from the rest of the skyline. The turbines were still running, their technicians in no position to turn them off. The Master Chief smirked. "That's a nice waterfall."
"This is exactly what we need." Cortana agreed. "An energy source of that size might power our beacon indefinitely. All we need is a way to get the transmitter here to hook it up."
"I'm strong, but I can't carry a ship that size even if it is only half.." The Chief said. He headed through the bounding fence and into the open lot to explore. Near the building was the first vehicle he'd seen yet; a ten-wheeled mini monster with a rear-mounted utility hook. The Chief peered into the driver's side door to find the key stuck plainly in the ignition. "I think I'll call it The City of I'm-Going-To-Steal-This-Crane."
Cortana thought his wit was twice as funny as usual. "Go for it, Chief!"
He peeled the cab open like a sardine can, ripped out the seat, which was several sizes too small for him and climbed in. The space was still a little snug, so he sat on his ankle and hung one leg out the enlarged door to free up room. He started the battery-powered engine, figured out how to clock it into reverse, then pressed one hand to the floor-mounted gas pedal and pulled the joystick to get it in gear. The machine backed out over the fence, executed a perfect 3-point turn and trundled off down the street.
Cortana accessed the radio channel and local national archives. There she found a complete topological survey with altitude, forest mapping and weather charts. "Go out the back, Chief, there's a valley and a prairie that lead straight back to our crash site."
"Just tell me where to turn."
The crane crawled slowly out of town, obviously not intended to move at speed. He lodged the butt of his assault rifle between the dashboard and the gas pedal, then sat back against the rear of the cabin to enjoy the ride. Cortana relaxed as well and continued to stream the information from the Unggai wireless network. There was a complete history on the race, catalogs of art and music, and archives of news broadcasts. Although it was tempting, she fought the urge to share these things with her human companion. He'd never been one to stay angry or sad about anything, but the short moments when he wasn't a happy neutral were strange and unsettling to her. She set a reminder for herself to puzzle why later. For now she was happy to stream new information and enjoy his company.
The Chief made sure his makeshift autopilot was working properly then closed his eyes and let himself doze. For the first time in a long time he wasn't bitterly exhausted. Stasis was never considered a 'good night's sleep', but after months of endless battle in various places the year and a half's rest was very much appreciated. He let his arms drop to his sides, his firearm otherwise occupied in a uniquely un-warlike task. He never expected that it would feel good to be unarmed.
This planet was empty, and he let himself be glad of that. There was nothing to kill or be killed by. It was just him alone. Cortana called him out of his moment's peace with a wary tone. It snapped him back into lightning-fast awareness in a fraction of a second.
"Chief you need to see this."
He yanked the gun from the dash and stood in the open doorway, the crane coasting slowly to a stop in the tall grass. He leveled the rifle over the roof of the cab for a sweep and was stunned by what he saw.
The valley below his rise was coated in blood. Smoke rose from a shattered bit of alien spacecraft laying in various pieces along the line of impact. The hull was still seeping a sickening familiar noxious green gas from its compartments.
There was nothing left of the bodies. The combat forms had been vaporized by the affect of the ring, but their slimy paths through the grass still smelled of the same orange rot he'd seen consume and destroy both enemies and allies in hellish waves of animated corpses. They'd been headed toward the town. 18 months ago they were marching through the blue-brown patches of fresh Unggai blood and taking the locals for their own.
The Master Chief stared at the valley at length, waiting for even one infection form to slither into view. None ever came. Any surviving Flood were either starved to death or scattered over the continent on an 18 month forage. Still, the Chief would not let himself flinch. The Flood was the most evil and destructive force in the universe, and there would be no room for peace where the smallest possibility of its survival existed.
Cortana could sense no Flood activity in range of Cant's local radar scanners or weather towers. There was no trace of the Flood in any of the city's current event or archived reports. She found a law-enforcement order to send investigators to a meteorite landing site outside of town. That had been ten minutes before her personal record cataloged the Halo reaction. Triangulating the distance, it would have only taken ten more for the first of the Combat forms to reach the clean white doorstep of Cant proper.
"It had just started, Chief." She told him. "When we set the ring. We stopped the invasion at its advent." She paused as he slowly lowered the gun from his sights. "So in a way you saved them too. Better to die quickly from the ring then to endure the horror and torture of being infected by the Flood."
He hung his head and retreated back into the cab. "We need to get that beacon going." He put the machine back in drive and pushed the pedal to the floor. This time he used his foot.