Posted By: Jeff Easthope<IronLich@aol.com>
Date: 11 March 2000, 08:10 a.m.
"Hey, what is this?"
"Take a look at this."
"Should we do something?"
"No, we better get one of the techs to take a look at this. We don't want to go screwing around with this thing."
!#$6134&The peop!Q#$b1#$^q1tgsdf@Q#$nto exile under affliction, and u(((#$!^%#$$1346!#$H@$52$%&h24w$%&@$%!`
"Yeah, you're right."
"What's that it's saying?"
&@~live in other nations, but find no rest; all^#@!$6`134ued them have overtaken them in narrow strai@#%!23`46#
"Let's get out of here, see if we can find one of the engineers."
%$^hj356@!#$`inhabitants are desolated because the enemy has prevailed.
The Covenant was right in front of them. Sgt. Norman Orlins just barely signaled his troop to halt in time. A second later, and they would've been in the Cov's range of vision.
The Covenant had its back to them. Sgt. Orlins gestured for his men to slowly step back. They had been walking inside a deep canyon, with walls going about a couple of hundred feet up.
They had reached a point where the canyon wall turned sharply inwards. As they began to turn that corner, Orlins had seen the Cov. Though there was only one in sight, there could be more around that corner. Orlins signaled his men to stop after about fifty feet.
He motioned to the man closest to him, Sarven, to come closer. Orlins whispered his command to the marine, and Sarven gathered the rest of the men together to set the bombs in the immediate area.
Orlins' small group wasn't intended for an all out confrontation, they were merely a scouting party. Standard procedure when risking a confrontation was to plant special bombs in the immediate area and the most likely path of retreat. The bombs in question were known as pulse bombs, because when they went off, they discharged a magnetic pulse that played havoc with the nervous systems of anyone within 20 yards, with the exception of anyone wearing the type of armor the marines wore. The victims of the bomb would simply fall over, dead. No fuss, no muss. They were silent, efficient, and stealthy. Perfect for scouts.
While the rest of the platoon carried out Sgt. Orlins' command, Orlins himself crept forward, towards the open area where the Cov was. As he approached the end of the wall that the hillside formed, he readied a WURM for action.
The WURM, or Wireless Underground Remote Messenger, was a small device that burrowed a few feet into the ground, and once secured, it would attempt to detect impacts on the ground above, compute how far away and how heavy the moving objects were, and relay the information back to whoever deployed it, who would have a receiver that would display the data. It didn't paint an exact picture of what was going on in the area, but it could provide a good idea of how many enemy units were in the area.
Without revealing himself from behind his rocky outcropping, Sgt. Orlins sent the WURM to do its work. He backed away, returning to his men, who were finishing up setting the pulse bombs.
"Sarven, how big of a kill zone will we have if we have to retreat?"
"We'll have about ninety yards from this point going leftring, and from wall to wall the whole way, Sarge." Sarven told his commanding officer.
"Should be enough." Orlins gestured to the platoon to get their weapons at the ready, and they again began approaching the point where the hillside jutted inward. Orlins activated the WURM receiver, and nodded at the data.
Sgt. Orlins lifted a hand into the air, pointed towards where the Cov had been seen, and then stuck his index finger straight up. The WURM had reported that the Cov was alone. They turned the corner.
And there was the Cov. With his back towards the platoon. Orlins, at the front of the party, hefted his rifle and locked onto the Cov. Easy shot.
The Cov walked further into the inward niche of the canyon wall, and out of view. Orlins quickly looked around the corner, and saw the Cov continuing towards the wall at the back of the niche. Strange, there didn't appear to be anything there. Why was there a Covenant grunt out in the middle of nowhere?
Orlins quickly moved past the corner, into the niche, with his men in tow. Now they had a clear shot at the Cov. Orlins locked on again, and pulled the...
Sgt. Orlins found himself face first on the ground, with a ringing in his ears, and pain frolicking on every inch of his flesh. He forced himself to roll over onto his back, and tried to sit up.
Too painful. He settled on lifting his head a few inches and looking around. The broken and bloody bodies of his platoon all around him. The lone Covenant walking among the carcasses. The lone Covenant that was now looking straight at Orlins. Must've heard him roll over.
Orlins' reaction was to lift his gun and start shooting. This proved to be futile, as his gun had been flung who knows where. Back up plan. Orlins reached to pull the pulse bomb detonator from his belt, when he heard the tell-tale *BOT* sound of the Covenant's gun firing multiple times, and feeling extreme pain every time it sounded. Orlins' head thumped onto the ground. He tried to move. No good. Orlins saw the Covenant loom above him.
As Orlins lay there, a gun barrel in his face, he was rather amused at his choice of final thoughts. He always heard that when you die, your life flashes before your eyes. That wasn't what Orlins was experiencing. What he was experiencing was puzzlement over how the Cov's bombs could've been planted so perfectly. That was almost like it was...* *BOT*
Those who pursued us were swifter
than vultures in the sky.
They chased us over the mountains;
they set an ambush for us in the wilderness.
O-MEN BIOS last modified 4213.451.
82% resources free.
Sector 1 OK!
Sector 2 OK!
Sector 3 OK!
Sector 4 OK!
O-MEN self-diagnostic completed.
"Well, I don't see anything wrong. Everything's checked out."
"Yeah, I see that. But I'm telling you, this thing went crazy before. It wasn't responding, and all it did was print garbage on the screen."
"Hm. Maybe a power surge... but whatever, it's working properly now."
"Shouldn't you be a bit more concerned about that? If this thing went down, we're pretty much..."
"Lieutenant, if Gadara says that it's working, then it's working."
"Of course, sir."
Pvt. Gordon lifesigns not found.
Pvt. Humbert lifesigns not found.
Pvt. Cyrus lifesigns not found.
Pvt. Mahalapim lifesigns not found.
Pvt. Lynn lifesigns not found.
"Damn! Where are they?!"
Pvt. Ruth lifesigns not found.
Pvt. Sarven lifesigns not found.
"They went on a scouting mission fifty miles leftring! Get in contact with them!"
Sgt. Orlins lifesigns not found.
"I don't think there's anyone left to get in contact with..."
Matthew Tophel put his armor away. His squadron had come back from another clash with Covenant troops, and, of course, came back without a casualty. It was to be expected from Tophel's group of cyborgs. They had come to be considered the "elite" group of marines among the surviving humans. They killed more Covenant than any other unit, and had never lost a man. So naturally, Tophel and Co. were thought of as heroes among the civilians. That didn't make Matthew feel any better about what was going on, on the Halo.
Especially at times like this. Word had gotten out that an entire platoon had been slaughtered by Covs. Such mass death on the human side hadn't been a very common thing as of late, and that just made this latest occurrence all the more bitter. Morale was considerably low among the civs.
In contrast, Tophel, as most marines would, looked at the situation pragmatically, instead of emotionally. That didn't make it any brighter. There were less than five hundred humans left in the underground encampment that they had made their home on Halo. Less than nothing when compared to the seemingly limitless Covenant war machine. Battles generally went well for the humans. Hundreds of Covenant were killed in exchange for a few humans. But the Covenant were so many, and the humans so few, that the Covenant could keep hurling troops at the Halo until the humans were whittled down to nothing. Covenant victories like this one could not, COULD NOT, be allowed to happen.
Matthew exited his quarters, and made his way down to the mess hall. He and his men had been out in the field for days, and hadn't had a proper meal in quite a while. Well, as proper a meal as you could get with the limited rations the humans had. They had started to look into agriculture on Halo, but it would be months before there was anything to show for that, if there would be anything at all.
Matthew turned towards the familiar voice.
"Veronica.", Matthew greeted his friend warmly... for him, anyway.
Veronica Copeland, a tactician for the human forces, was an interesting case. She was one of those people who never seemed to be in a bad mood. Not unusual in of itself, but when you consider the situation they were in, and that Veronica had family members who had died evacuating the Pillar of Autumn, it was strange indeed. Veronica wasn't officially military, she was on the Pillar as a civ, but once the group of humans who now populated the underground Base-1 had gotten together, no one really cared of such technicalities. Veronica had shown high intelligence and great competence for strategy, so she had been made part of the makeshift fighting force on Halo.
Another strange aspect of Veronica Copeland; she had taken it upon herself to befriend Matthew. This puzzled Matthew... he knew he wasn't the most likable of people. He liked that way, actually. The 6'2", 261 pound muscle bound cyborg never really got along with most people. Lacking in social skills, Matthew was. Of course, Veronica's liking of Matthew started all sorts of rumors among the troops, most of which speculating on the "real" reason Veronica got a high ranking position in the Base-1 hierarchy. This bothered Veronica no end, and even started to get under the skin of Matthew. Fortunately the rumors had started to die down recently, after Matthew had confronted a fellow marine who had been spreading a little of that gossip, and choked him into unconsciousness. Lacking in social skills, Matthew was.
"Going to the cafeteria?", Veronica asked.
"Hmh.", Matthew grunted as he continued walking, Veronica falling into step with him.
"How'd it go this time?"
"Same as usual. Covs didn't see us coming.", Matthew answered.
"Glad to hear it."
There was a pause, as if Veronica was trying to think of her next words.
"Ah... so it was the same as usual? There wasn't anything... different, about the Covs?"
Matthew arched an eyebrow. "No. Nothing different...why would there be?"
Veronica shook her head. "It's probably nothing."
"If it was nothing, you wouldn't have brought it up."
"Well, it's just...", Veronica started, "we've been looking at the death of Norman's platoon. It's strange, but the scenarios we've been coming up with doesn't match Cov behavior."
Matthew turned his head to look at her. "How so?"
"With the exception of Norman, when all of the scouts flatlined, it was instantaneous. Norman's fluctuated at the same time everyone else bought it, but he flatlined not much later. It doesn't sound like there was even a battle."
"So what do you think happened?", Matthew asked.
"I don't know... maybe they walked into a mine field. Maybe they were bombed from above.", Veronica answered. "But..."
"But that doesn't sound like Cov behavior.", Matthew answered.
"Right. The Covs have never set a premeditated ambush, and their attacks have always been on our larger assault units."
"Maybe it wasn't the Covs?"
Veronica frowned. "Well, maybe we'll find out more once we send a unit over to the site." She looked at Matthew. "I hope you're not getting too used to being out of armor, Tophel."
"Your unit will be the one to go."
"*My* unit? But we're assault!"
"Yeah, and we feel that if the Covs are going to start attacking scout parties, that we're going to have to send you big guys out there more."
"Wonderful. Have you given your recommendation to the general yet?"
"No, I'm giving you some inside information. Feel privileged." Veronica snickered. "I was just on my way to see the general."
"Do me a favor, Veronica?"
"Wait until after I eat something.", Matthew almost pleaded.
Matthew sat down in the cafeteria with his fellow marines. Matthew wasn't a very talkative man, and his peers respected that. They didn't try to make much small talk with him, knowing he would rather be alone with his thoughts. Veronica was another matter. The tactician was a rather talkative person. Matthew was getting good at filtering her out, though. But one snippet of conversation broke through the din of talking in the room, and went into Matthew's ear. Matthew swung his head toward the speaker, who was sitting only a few seats away from him.
"Excuse me, sir? What did you say?"
Lieutenant Merrill turned to Matthew. "What was that, Matt?"
"I thought I heard you say something about Omen, sir?"
"Omen? Oh yeah. Earlier today there was some sort of glitch in it... just started printing gibberish on the screen."
Matthew felt a little bit cold. "What was wrong with it?"
The Lieutenant shrugged. "Techs say that it was probably a power surge. It looks like it's working fine now."
Matthew considered this. "I see. Thank you, sir."
Matthew turned to Veronica. "A glitch? In Omen? Why didn't you mention this?"
Veronica frowned, then shrugged after a moment. "Like Merrill said, it's working fine now."
Matthew kept his gaze on her for a moment, then turned back to his food. She was hiding something. Maybe not outright lying, but she wasn't being entirely truthful.
A glitch? What did this mean?
The supercomputer had been a mystery for Matthew since the beginning. When the higher-ups told everyone about the computer that would be running the human base camp, most people had just accepted it. Matthew couldn't figure out how the engineers made the thing, though. They had limited resources, hardly any time to do research of any sort which wasn't directly connected to survival, and yet here was this supercomputer which smoked anything Matthew had ever seen. The engineers had remained strangely tight-lipped about it when Matthew made inquiries. This only piqued his curiosity even more.
But this news of a possible glitch in Omen was more than just personal curiosity for Matthew, it was a real concern. Omen was the main reason the humans were able to do so well against the Covenant. One of Omen's functions was a war simulator. The computer somehow came up with strategies that beat back the Covenant every time. So far, the computer really was quite infallible.
But a glitch? What could this mean? The humans couldn't afford to lose Omen.
"Hey there! You awake?"
Matthew looked at Veronica. "What?"
"You going to eat the rest of that?"
Matthew shook off his gloomy thoughts, and returned to reality. "Uh... yeah. Of course."
"No... I guess not. Ah... tell me more about the mission. Any idea what I can expect?"
"Well," Veronica started, "you'll be going fifty miles leftring, to the site where Orlins' group flatlined. Of course, we don't know anything about the area, as Orlins' assignment was to retrieve data on the landscape. So... you'll be going into this one pretty much blind."
"You don't know anything."
"I'm sorry, but no."
"You're not making my job any easier, Veronica."
"I'm sorry, but we need to get men over to the battle site immediately, Matt. We need to examine the grounds, check the platoon's log, anything that could clue us in as to what happened. We can't just let this one go."
"I know, I know. Do you at least have any theories? Has Omen come up with anything?"
Veronica looked troubled again. "Ah... well, I think that it is most likely that the Covs are changing their tactics. Why they're doing it now and not earlier is still a mystery, though."
"And what about Omen?"
"It has the same theory."
Something about Omen was troubling Veronica, that much Matthew was sure of. He wasn't sure if he wanted to press her, though. If Veronica was hiding something from him, there probably was a good reason...
"Good to see the first couple of Base-1 together after so many days!"
Matthew glowered at the sound of the familiar voice. The voice that he had to put up with out in the field for the last nine days. "Ah hell... not this again."
"I'm sure you two will want to be alone later, so I just thought I'd get in a few words with Matt now. You know, considering how he'll be confined to his bedroom for the next few days. Just go easy on him, Copeland!"
"Embry," Matthew began, "shut up."
Steve Embry, one of the most decorated marines on the Halo, and Matthew's second in command. Not to mention the man with the highest number of dead Covs under his belt. Not that he'd let you forget it. Embry was considered the joker of the marines; everyone got a kick out of his antics. Except Matthew, of course. That probably had to do with that Embry was pretty much responsible for spreading the Matthew/Veronica rumors. In any other case, Matthew would've knocked Embry on his ass a long time ago, but despite the joker image, Matthew respected Steve. On the field, there was no man better than Steve Embry, and while Embry made jokes at Matthew's expense back at the base, out in the field, he obeyed commands without a complaint. Make no mistake; Embry was a marine's marine.
Matthew only wished that he would bring some of that discipline to his daily life.
"C'mon, Matt, don't be like that! I'm happy for you two, really, I am!"
"All I ask is that you take some pictures this time. I'll tell you, the worst thing about being stuck on this world... no good mags to look at."
Matthew was getting more than a little irritated now. He started to stand up, when Veronica spoke up.
"You know, Steve, it's funny that you're talking about pictures. I just happened to come across some interesting pictures the other day."
"Yeah? Pictures of what?"
"That's the interesting part... these pictures were of you doing some rather... distasteful things to the Cov corpses stored in the lab. I had no idea you had such tastes, Steve!"
Steve chuckled. "Really. I'd like to see these "pictures", Veronica."
"Well, you know, I don't have them just yet."
"What a surprise."
"I'll have to speak to Omen about whipping some up."
The smirk melted from Embry's face. "Wha... what?"
"It's amazing what kind of digital modification software we have on the system, you know? Or do you need an example? In fact, I think that the entire division would like an example, what do you think?"
"Heh... no, I... uh, I don't think we need an example."
"I didn't think so. Now why don't you get something to eat, Steve?"
"Yeah, I... uh, I think I'll go get something to eat.", Steve said as he sidled away.
Matthew looked at Veronica in surprise. "I'm impressed. Not too many people get the better of Steve like that."
Veronica shrugged. "Nothing to it. Like most men, he couldn't bear his... tastes... being questioned."
Matthew thought for a minute. "Veronica, could you really make pictures like the ones you said?"
Veronica nodded. "Yeah, sure. Why?"
Matthew smiled. A real toothy grin. "Could you make some of them for me? Just in case Steve feels humorous again."
"Copeland, you have something for me?"
"Sir." Veronica saluted General Heath. "Omen has run some scenarios... but before coming to any conclusions, I would like to send out a small assault unit to examine the scene and retrieve whatever is left of the platoon."
"An assault unit? Why?"
"If Omen is correct, it sounds like either the Covenant is changing their tactics, or what the scouts encountered wasn't the Covenant."
"What makes you come to such drastic conclusions?", General Heath asked.
"Omen believes that the Covenant bombed Sergeant Orlins' platoon. I cannot find anything which contradicts its theory. The only other possible explanation is that they were killed by something else, not the Covenant."
"Omen thinks that."
"And what do you think, Copeland?"
"I can't disagree with it, sir. In fact, I find it highly unlikely that the second scenario is correct."
"Meaning, you think that the Covenant did attack the scouts."
"Yes sir. Which means that the Covenant may be altering its tactics."
"In other words, you think they're learning from the way we've been fighting and are going to mimic us.", Heath surmised.
"It could be, sir.", Veronica agreed.
"And if that is the case, the Covenant's xenophobia that we assumed was preventing them from copying our tactics could be overestimated on our part.", Heath concluded.
"How small a team are you recommending?"
"Just the five."
"What does Omen have to say about sending an them to investigate Orlins' death?"
"I don't quite understand Omen's conclusion on that, sir... it says that the best course of action is to not travel far from the base under any circumstances."
"What? How does it think we can fight the Covs, then?"
"It says to only engage the Covenant when Cov units get too close to Base-1. Besides that, we're not to engage them."
"If we did that, the Covenant would zero in on our location in no time! The only reason they don't know where we are is because we send out the assault units far out enough that the Covs can't find a pattern to the location of the engagements! If we only met the Covs here, they'd have a pretty damn good idea where we are! Has Omen taken that into consideration?"
"The engineers say that Omen takes everything into consideration, sir."
"Well, I don't care where that computer came from, that's just suicidal. We'll proceed with your course of action, Copeland. Brief Tophel on the mission. Dismissed."
As Veronica left General Heath's office, Heath pressed a button on his intercom.
"Sir?", came the voice of his secretary over the speaker.
"Send for Head Engineer Gadara. I want to speak to him about Omen.", Heath said.
What can flesh do to me?
"What are you talking about, Matt? We just got back!"
"We've been out in the field for nine days!"
"We have to leave again? On a *scouting* mission?"
Matthew Tophel sighed at the reaction he was getting. Not like he expected anything else. He put a stern look on his face.
"Stop your whining! The higher-ups are concerned that the Covs are attacking scouts now, so until it's proven otherwise, only the assault squads will be put on assignment!"
"But why us, Matt? Why not another squad?"
"Because we're the best, Steve! That comes with a responsibility!"
"I think you can take that responsibility, bend the general over, and..."
"Say it, and *you'll* be the one having a hard time sitting down, Embry!"
Matthew didn't really like raising his voice and making testosterone-laden threats that wouldn't be carried out, but it was necessary to keep these guys in line.
"Listen," Matthew began, "it shouldn't take long. We zoom in, look at the scene, pick up the remains, we come back. We may not even run into the Covs."
"Or, we may run into an army of 'em."
The group was silent. They had made their complaints, Matthew told them what he thought of them, asserted that they were indeed going back out on the field, and now there was nothing more left to say. That's how it usually was.
Matthew scanned his group of battle hardened cyborgs. Steve Embry, what else could be said about Steve. He perhaps was the best of the group, better than Matthew even. Richard Steiner, a huge mountain of a man. Much like Matthew in personality, he was the one guy Matthew could count on not to complain. John Youngblood, a man who certainly lived up to his name. A berserker in battle, Matthew at times had trouble keeping him in line. And Daniel Jacobs, perhaps the most intelligent guy in the room, very calculating, he was a good balance to John. These men were considered to be the best in Base-1, and were always given leadership roles in the assault squads that were sent out to fight the Covenant.
"How will we get a whole squad there and back without attracting the Covs?", Jacobs spoke up. It was a fair question.
"We won't. We'll be going it alone."
"What!?" That from everyone in the room.
"A whole squad is too big. It'll be just us, with two jeeps."
"I thought the higher-ups were worried that the Covs are going to attack smaller groups now." Jacobs again.
"They are. They also seem to think that we'll be able to fight them off if we encounter them."
"And whose great idea is this? Omen's?", asked Youngblood.
"No, actually Omen says that we shouldn't leave Base-1 at all."
"I'm with the computer!", Embry proclaimed.
"The general has decided that Omen's wrong in this case.", Matthew stated.
"And when has Omen been wrong before?", Jacobs enquired.
"It's not your place to question orders!" Matthew was getting irritated now, and was yelling at the entire group, not just Jacobs. "It has been decided that we go, alone, and examine the area where Orlins' platoon was killed! That's all there is to it."
And that *is* all there was to it. The group may not have liked it, but Matthew put his foot down. They wouldn't question him again.
Odds for success of mission: 32%
"Why so low?"
Covenant interception highly likely.
"Why? Why would the Covenant change their tactics so drastically?"
"Then why do you think that the Covenant will attack Tophel's group?"
"How can you make a prediction if there's insufficient data?"
"What are you doing Copeland?"
"Trying to pry some information out of this thing, Gadara. I don't understand how it's making these predictions when it says it doesn't have enough data to make a prediction!"
"Is it really so important? It's been correct 100% of the time. Why are you doubting it now?"
"Because it's making no sense! We can't just lock ourselves in here without knowing why! I don't see how that can help!"
"Maybe you don't, but Omen is the most advanced system we've ever come up with. You can't expect to understand all of its' conclusions. I can't even do that. Yet it is always right."
"Which means that you and General Heath are sending the five into almost certain death."
"What else can we do?"
"We can follow Omen's instructions."
"Not until we figure out how it comes to that conclusion."
"But you assume that you're capable of understanding how it comes to that conclusion."
"Yes, I do. What about you? You were the chief engineer in Omen's creation. You must know how to handle it better than me."
"I'm sorry, but I'm afraid that just like you, I'm limited by my human brain."
"You don't think much of human intelligence, do you?"
"Compared to this? Not much, no."
A knock on the door. Matthew looked up from his book. He frowned. He didn't like being disturbed during the few moments of leisure he had. He got up from his chair and went to the door. He opened it, and upon seeing who it was, put his hand to his forehead in salute.
"At ease, Matt."
"Please come in.", Matthew offered. "What can I do for you?"
General Heath stepped inside the room, but remained standing. "Matt, I have to talk with you about this mission."
"Sir?" Matthew was puzzled. The general seemed... more concerned than usual.
"You know," Heath began, "that Omen doesn't give your mission a high chance of success."
"I've heard so, sir."
"Honestly, Matt, I'm not sure what to think. Omen is always right. But this time, I don't see how it could be right. I'm not going to stand here and pretend that I know how to defeat the Covenant and win this war... but I'm also not going to blindly accept whatever that computer says."
Matthew waited as the general paused.
"Matt, what do you think of all this? What's your take?"
"Sir, I'm just a soldier..."
"Matt, I know you have opinions. Think of it this way: I'm *ordering* you to tell me what you think of this situation."
Matthew frowned. "Sir, I agree that Omen's advice in this case makes no sense. But sir, I can't tell you what I think of all this unless I know something."
"Where did Omen come from?"
The general looked perplexed. "What do you mean, Matt? Our engineers built it..."
"Sir, with all due respect, I think you're lying to me."Heath didn't take kindly to that. "Oh really?""Yes sir. Our engineers haven't had the time or the resources to build something like Omen. I don't know much about it, but I know that much.""The engineers didn't build it from scratch. They brought components from the Pillar of Autumn with them when they evacuated. Omen is built primarily from those parts.""That still doesn't explain how Omen is able to do what it does."Heath stared at Matt for what seemed like an eternity. Finally, he softened. "Well, I suppose since you're going to be risking your life tomorrow for us, you have a right to know."Matthew waited."Omen's core programming wasn't started here, on Halo. It started on Earth, actually. Omen is an advanced AI that the military had been working on. Omen's core was one of the components that was brought aboard the Pillar of Autumn and brought to Halo. Here, our engineers finished it and created the actual hardware it runs on, which was the easy part. All the hard work had been done on Earth.""Omen... is an AI, sir?"
"Then that means..."
Heath held up a hand, silencing Matthew.
"You're going to suggest that Omen's strange behavior recently could mean rampancy?"
"That has occurred to me, as well. But I talked to Gadara about it, and he is supremely confident that this is not the case."
"But how can he be sure, sir?"
"He says that an aspect of Omen which makes it superior to existing AIs, is that it is impossible for Omen to become rampant."
"That was one of the key goals of Omen's creators."
Matthew thought about this. "Prevention of rampancy is something people have been looking for since the birth of AI. How can Gadara be so certain that he has achieved it now, when so many others failed?"
A sad smile stretched across Heath's face. "That's the problem when it comes to talking with engineers... normal people have no idea what they're talking about when they try to explain technical things. I have to trust Gadara, because I can't find out for myself."
Matthew nodded. "I think you know how I feel about this situation, then, sir. Even if Gadara says otherwise, Omen is an AI, it's been acting strangely... which means we may not be able to trust it anymore."
"Well, I guess we can look at it this way, Matt," Heath started, "if the worst happens, and Omen *is* rampant, then maybe it's lying about your chances tomorrow."
Matthew chuckled at that one. ___
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"Did you see something?"
"On the screen just now. Was something there?"
"I don't know, I wasn't using Omen."
"Neither was I, I just thought I saw something out of the corner of my eye."
"Doubt it was anything."
"Yeah, you're probably right."
The sound of weapons being loaded and piled into the assault jeeps echoed through the "garage" of Base-1. The area was named so because this was where the humans' vehicles and artillery resided. Jeeps, tanks, even a few Covenant sky hoppers that marines had been able to scavenge from battle sites. But the five were only taking two jeeps, leaving the heavier stuff behind.
Not that the jeeps were shabby, not at all. They had better mobility than the tanks, and were less conspicuous than the sky hoppers. Plus, they could take a pretty good amount of punishment.
As for the five themselves, although this was supposedly a scouting mission, they were decked out for battle. Each man covered with the higher density armor of the assault squads, they were equipped with one rifle each, two handguns each, bandoleers of grenades and pulse bombs, and energy blades that they had acquired from Covs they had downed. They also were taking two weeks worth of rations. Just in case.
They were ready.
"We're not picking up any Cov signals, Matt, let's go while we have the chance.", Jacobs announced.
"Right. Start up the jeeps, I have one more thing I have to do.", Matt said.
Matthew left his men to finish preparing for the mission, and walked to the other side of the garage, where standing in a doorway, was Veronica.
"Just came to wish you luck.", Veronica offered.
"Thanks. I'm glad you came here, there's something I want you to do for me while I'm out in the field."
"I had a talk with the general last night... about Omen."
Veronica seemed confused. "Why would you two be talking about Omen?"
"The general revealed something to me about Omen. Something that disturbs me."
"He tells me that Omen is an AI."
Veronica cocked an eyebrow. "I didn't know *that*."
"Apparently, only the General and the engineers do. This makes me wonder about Omen's stability."
"I'm concerned that it may be rampant."
"Rampant!", Veronica exclaimed. "Matt, you've never even seen Omen. What would make you think it's rampant?"
"You've told me that it's been behaving strangely lately. You've said that it seems like it withholds information from you."
"That doesn't mean it's rampant."
"But if it wasn't, why is it being so difficult? A properly functioning AI helps its users it any way it can. That doesn't sound like what you've said about Omen."
"I suppose not... but still."
"I know I don't know much about Omen, but I think it's a possibility. Veronica, I want you to look into this while I'm out. Try to find something, anything, which could indicate rampancy."
"Matt, even if Omen was rampant, it would be showing signs... I've heard that rampant AIs show symptoms akin to insanity."
"But what if Omen is at a late stage of rampancy? What if it was already rampant on the Pillar of Autumn?"
"Omen was on the Pillar of Autumn?"
"Yes, the general says it was constructed on Earth. Omen *has* had enough time to go through the stages of rampancy. If it's far into rampancy now, perhaps it's feigning normalcy?"
"I suppose it's possible."
"Please, Veronica. Check this out for me. We can't afford to place trust in a rampant AI."
"Eh... OK. OK, Matt, I'll do it." Veronica said, somewhat reluctantly.
"Thank you Veronica. And remember, no one is supposed to know that Omen's an AI. You'll have to be discrete."
"Yeah, yeah, I know. You better appreciate this, Tophel!"
Matthew turned towards his men. "I'm coming!"
Veronica sighed. "Get out of here, jar head. I'll try to have something for you when you get back."
"Thank you Veronica. I really do..."
"Yeah, just get out of here!" Veronica smiled a little. "And make sure you come back, kay? I don't want to do all this work for nothing."
Matthew cracked a smile, and ran back towards the small group of marines. As he hopped in the driver's seat of one of the jeeps, he looked around, at his men.
In Matthew's jeep, Jacobs occupied the passenger seat, and Youngblood took the gunner's position. The second vehicle had Embry driving, and Steiner as gunner.
"Everyone in position?"
"We're ready, if you want to leave anytime today, fearless leader!", Embry said in typical wiseass fashion.
Matthew pulled his helmet over his head, secured it to his armor, and turned on the visor's HUD. He looked toward a compartment in one corner of the room, where the garage administrator sat, and gave him a thumbs up.
The admin pulled a handle, and sunlight poured into the gloomy area as the doors separating Base-1 from the outside world swung open. Matthew paused a bit, looking out at the unknown, as his visor compensated for the sudden shift in light level. He shifted into drive.
"Then let's go!"
He slammed on the accelerator, and drove off into the light.
TBC in Part 2