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Taking the High Road [H&R 13]
Posted By: Jillybean<jbean_gotmuse@yahoo.co.uk>
Date: 3 October 2003, 3:25 PM


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Halos and Rings

Author: Jillybean
AN: Couldn't have Louis saying I'd slackened off now, could I?
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Taking The High Road

The snowy canyons of the Halo had been adapted for living in just like everywhere else. Though there was a definite 'military' feel to the chambers inside. Most of the offices had been set up there, as well as the bunks for the marines and more private rooms for the captains, commanders and bridge crew.
Ring's quarters were inside the cliff, near one of the large generators. The heat from the generators staved off the chill from the cold walls, but there were an extra set of blankets beside the cot. Plaster walls had been set up to partition off the larger rooms and Ring was in one of these, the room was spacious enough for a makeshift table and an extra set of boots, but very little else.
When John opened his eyes it took him a fraction of a second to work out where he was.

After a careful extraction from Daxia's arms, one that his stealth trainers would have been proud of, he went for a walk outside. The large locking doors that separated the rooms from the outside world led to one of the long bridges that spanned the chasm. Snow was falling lightly, touching his bare forearms. If he had thought, he would have taken a jacket to wear outside. It didn't matter, he could survive in these temperatures for quite a while.
Unlike the two marines pacing the bridge, stamping their boots every step of the way. They saluted and John saluted back. They thought he was out of earshot and started talking, John found it difficult not to listen in.
"That's the Spartan, innit?"
"Didn't even look cold the lucky bastard."
"Would you if you'd woken up to that?"
"Watch your mouth - or Big Ben'll have you for dinner Private."

John kept walking. He was at once concerned and amused that the marines had taken to Daxia so quickly. It was not uncommon for marines to go crazy over their dropship pilots: they were, after all, the only lifeline a marine had. But Fast-Trackers like Daxia rarely were so well received. He'd seen Ben and Jean-Pierre shadow Daxia all of last night, on every single drop. Even John had taken time out of the tedious drops, he had gone to talk to Cortana personally.
And then afterwards in the mess hall the marines didn't let DAxia out of their sight and then at the large 'Community Bonfire' she was practically besieged by loving marines. O'Flynn received the same attention, even to the point of wasting two more marines as her bodyguards. What the Hell was going on? John didn't understand why they would waste the valuable resources.
Unless the marines were treating the shadowing as a game to play while they were on a 'safe' place and weren't giving Halo the respect it deserved.

John looked down at the snow filled canyon - a marine was teaching a young boy how to do doughnuts on the ice with a Warthog. It was most probably the second option.

***

He entered the Control Room with his suit on, not surprised to find Cortana sitting down, thinking about something or other.
"Hello Chief." She welcomed him.
"I'm going for a run - feeling cooped up?"
"Oh yeah." Cortana grinned.

***

"Ahh - look who it is." Alan turned to his companion. The older marine glanced at the Warthogs mirrors and nodded slowly.
"Runs fast, don't he?" He said. The Chief was cutting across their path behind them, pelting through the Halo's long grass. Alan glanced back at his companion, one eyebrow raised.
"Wonder if he's as fast as this Hog?"
"Wonder." Colin replied neutrally. "Thinkin' of finding out?"
"Oh yeah." Alan wrenched the wheel of the Hog around, nearly tipping them in their haste to get onto the Chief's trajectory.

"Hmmm - that might be company." Cortana said as the Chief noticed the Hog approaching out the corner of his eye. He kept running, prepared to run all day if he had to, he didn't feel like talking to the marines.
"Maybe I'm being insensitive - but is something the matter?" Cortana asked softly. The Chief grunted something and took a flying leap over a river, landing on the other side with no trouble whatsoever. The impact touched his shields, but didn't deplete them.
The Warthog was not so lucky, instead it went sailing over itself, landing belly-up in the river. The Chief hesitated, he wanted to run. Duty, however, called louder than his desires. He turned back to help them flip the Hog.

"Damn cars." Alan said, standing back as the Chief righted the Hog easily. "Yet to see someone take a good beatin' in one of them."
"Out for a morning run?" Colin asked pleasantly, thanking the Chief and getting back in. The Chief nodded once, an imposing action when covered in his MJOLNIR armour. Colin grinned, showing an ugly gap in his teeth. "You're more dedicated than any of the rookies I know."
"Hey!" Alan said.
"It's true." Cortana spoke up. "Some marines ought to keep in better shape." She didn't seem to understand that the marine's didn't mind poking fun at each other - but someone else making fun of them was not acceptable. John really wished she hadn't said anything, he witnessed Colin and Alan's faces drop and turn to stone.
"We could take the Spartan on." Alan said.
"Oh really?" John spoke before he could help himself. Alan drew back, visibly afraid.
"If there were enough of us." He said.
"I'll take those odds." Cortana grumbled. John smiled, hidden behind his visor.
"Gather your men." He growled, turning from them. "Meet me at the High Ground. Training begins."

"Is this wise?" Cortana hissed as he walked away, having accepted their challenge. "I don't think the Brass will be too pleased."
"In combat situations one must stay on their toes, that means regular combat training. As you pointed out Cortana, some of these marines have become rusty."
"Ohh they're not gonna like this." Cortana said, brimming with anticipation.

***

Daxia woke up and knew something was wrong. Intuition - years at war - sixth sense, call it what you will. Something was wrong. She dressed quickly, looking around for whatever it was.
The room was clear of any hostiles.

Perplexed she checked outside the room, but the thin hallway was devoid of life. She returned to her room and looked around, still she saw nothing. She stood in the middle of the floor, running a hand through her blonde hair (it was really getting too long now) and thinking. Of course.
"Silly bitch." She murmured to herself, holstering her weapon. She had been dreaming, a dream involving a young girl riding around her grandparents ranch while a tall man came to say he'd lost her parents on a Halo. The girl had said she'd keep looking.

She shook her head and left her room, in search of O'Flynn and the duty roster.

***

The hastily assembled assault course was like a living, breathing creature. The Master Chief leapt over two Warthogs piled together and had to roll when he landed to avoid a barrage of Frag Grenades.
"Hog guns, six and nine o'clock." Cortana warned. The Chief got to his feet, taking out his assault rifle and shooting the dirt embankmenton either side of the line of Hog's. Dirt sprayed up, blocking the gunners view, they fired blind and completely missed the Chief as he ran past them.
The Chief leapt onto the embankment and dodged behind a Warthog. He pulled the gunner from his seat and leapt into the drivers seat, revving the engine and sending them flying into the dirt channel again. A few grenades were launched, but with John's superior senses the Hog could avoid them easily.
They screeched to a halt by the target, which was a flag in the middle of the canyon. He scanned the area quickly and noted the marines scattered throughout the area. He wouldn't get to the flag without coming under heavy fire. But he was fast . . .
The Chief tossed a plasma grenade into the air and detonated it with a shot. The blast blinded the marines temporarily and the Spartan reached the flag - he stretched out his hand, aware that the marines were just about to fire-

"Hold it!" Cortana screeched and everyone stopped. Daxia was storming onto the field, O'Flynn was following her. Both looked furious. A marine sergeant shouted "Ten-Hut!" And everyone filed in as Commander Ring stopped, her hands on her hips, staring them all down. She glanced at the Spartan and shook her head once.

"What the Hell was going on here?" She asked the entire crew. There was an uncomfortable silence so John spoke up.
"We were training-" At her expression he hastily added "Ma-am."
"Training?" Daxia repeated into the deathly hush. Beside her O'Flynn snorted incredulously.
"Training." O'Flynn gave the Spartan a dirty look and then turned to Daxia. "We don't need this."
"Lieutenant O'Flynn is absolutely correct." Daxia's voice rang out to the marines. "This is completely unacceptable. There is a difference between training and cock fights." She glared once more at John. "_Soldiers_ know that difference. Any more of this and you'll be seeing the Captains. All of you." She turned on her heel and stalked off.

***

O'Flynn and Ring sat in the cockpit of the Avalon, just inside the solar system that the Halo was in. O'Flynn finished writing down some calculations and slid them over to Daxia to check.
"They seem good." Daxia said. "They concur with mine." She glanced at Lara and the other pilot smiled.
"Wanna run them by Cortana?" She asked. Daxia nodded and opened a channel through to the AI, still on the Halo's surface.
"Cortana would you check these figures for us?" Daxia asked. "In a purely hypothetical capacity of course." She added after Lara nudged her with her elbow. The pilots waited for only a few seconds.
"Um . . . hypothetically." Cortana stressed. "I could make them more accurate. They're not wrong just . . ."
"That's okay Cortana." Daxia said quickly.
"However if these were hypothetical co-ordinates." Cortana suggested. "It would be less dangerous if you would let me calculated them exactly."
"I'll remember that if this discussion moves beyond the hypothetical."
"Hypothetically." Lara joked.
"Okay . . . be careful." Cortana signed off reluctantly and Daxia stretched her fingers, hearing them click. Lara glanced at her.

"Do you think this is a good idea?" Lara asked showing her concern for the first time.
"Maybe not." Daxia met her co-pilots gaze. "Maybe we're just . . ."
"Cock fighting." Lara enunciated very clearly and Daxia had to laugh.
"Do you still wanna do this thing?" She asked with her head resting on the seat. Lara nodded.
"Absolutely." She said. "I'm putting in the co-ordinates." They both hesitated before sending the ship forward and into Subspace.

Cortana monitored their progress with all her sensors - when the Avalon disappeared her CPU started to feel dread - until it reappeared in the middle of the Halo system. Cortana could have whooped for joy.

Daxia exhaled in relief as they reappeared in the middle of the Halo system.
"Wooo!!!" Lara punched the air with her fist. "We did it!" She added. Daxia grinned and hugged her. The first inner-system subspace jump had been made by a human.
"Let's go again!" Daxia said breathlessly.
"Are you ladies proud of yourselves?" Cortana asked over the radio. Daxia slumped in her seat and Lara answered for her.
"We are. We are."
"How did you do it? With those co-ordinates?" Cortana asked. Daxia grinned and started calculating the next jump, this time aiming to re-emerge inside the circumference of the Halo.
"We'll explain when we get back." Lara said, still grinning like a loon.

***

Cortana's control room was full of marines, civilians, captains and John - all of whom were desperate to see the second inner-system subspace jump to be made by mankind. Cortana had brought the holographic representation of the Avalon to hover above their heads and she too watched as it disappeared - only to reappear inside the Halo itself.
The room erupted into cheers.

John followed Captain Tyler and Captain Lewis to the docking bay on Halo. The Avalon sparkled as she hovered above a pad, then gracefully she set herself down and her hydraulics sighed wistfully. O'Flynn and Ring emerged from the gangplank and were swept away in the celebrating crowd.
"A tactical advantage over the Covenant - oh man!" A marine exclaimed, no one corrected him that this was merely an evening of the odds. His enthusiasm bowled him into John who barely moved as the marine hit him. John waited in silence until Daxia managed to reach him. She grinned up, her eyes sparkling with giddy joy.
"We did it!" She said breathlessly. The rowdy crowd moved again and John had to steady her. She didn't seem to notice. "John, we did it!" She repeated, desperate for a reaction.

"It wasn't a wise decision." John found himself saying. Daxia sobered.
"Excuse me?"
"Risking yourself and O'Flynn." Who was in control of John's mouth, he knew that this wasn't the kind of thing he should say to a senior officer - let alone Daxia. Yet he couldn't stop himself. "It was unwise. You risked yourself, a good pilot and an irretrievable piece of technology."
"But . . ." Daxia cast around, wondering why he wasn't beaming with approval like everyone else. "Hang on." She snapped suddenly. "So you're allowed to risk yourself for a training exercise but I'm not allowed to take on a significantly smaller risk for something which could actually help us win this war." She stared at him then backed off.

"How come an AI can understand." She gestured wildly to Cortana, her voice was louder than she intended but fuck it. Fuck them. Fuck them all. "But you can't? You're really not human, are you?" She turned on her heel and stormed off, furious that he had reduced her to tears. Spartan-117 did not follow.

***

Lara O'Flynn was drunk. She staggered past the lines of marines to collapse into her bunk with a happy giggle. She was thinking about going to sleep when she heard a heavy clunking and noticed the Master Chief walk up the aisles of marines and out into the snowy landscape again. Lara frowned, no one should be grumpy like he was on a night like this, so she rolled off her cot and followed him.

"Hey! Hey I know you hear me!" She slurred as she found him walked across the bridge. The Chief hesitated and turned to watch her progress across the chilly expanse of rock. She hesitated when she reached him then grabbed his arm.
"Uh oh." She said before vomiting her dinner out. The Chief stayed with her, staying mercifully quiet the entire time, until she had finished her drunken crisis.

"Ugh." She muttered limping away from the disaster area.
"Why do you drink if you know you'll only be ill?" The Chief asked curiously. Lara snorted.
"If you ask stupid questions like that I can't see why Daxia puts up with you." She scrutinized him closely then shrugged. "Nope. Too scarred for my tastes." Then she swayed and the Chief lunged to catch her.
"I'm okay." She insisted, batting him off. "You really are a prick, you know that? I mean Daxia's cool and all - but she's all . . ." Lara tried to think of the word and the suspense was driving the Chief crazy.
"What?"
"Dunno. Vulnerable I guess. Messed up in the head, I guess zombies will do that to you." Lara shook her head. "I mean this - you don't deserve her. You're a complete freak." She looked at him sincerely. "You save a lotta lives. But you are a freak."
"I wasn't aware human beings were sorted into classes now." The Chief said dryly.
"Friends do that." Lara replied. "Friends make sure other friends don't get hurt and I'm saying this now. Back off or I'll get those marines of mine to gut you." She hesitated then added quizzically. "Or try to, at any rate."
The Chief had to smile at that.

***

It was easy enough to find Daxia with Cortana's help. She was sitting with her sister in the community area of Tango Camp. The sweeping grasslands were eerily lit by the moonlight and practically no artificial light was needed in the community area. Daxia and Aislinn were sitting with a makeshift board game. The blonde pilot glanced up when she saw him but then turned back to her game with an air so haughty Aislinn had to laugh. John moved to where he could see the board and Daxia's face, she was studiously ignoring him.

"Your move." Aislinn whispered. The board game had three concentric squares and eighteen coloured pins scattered on various locations on each square. Daxia moved one of the blue pins along a line, nimbly she removed a red pin and deposited the blue pin in the dot beside it.
"Red versus blue." Aislinn explained to John and moved one of her red pins, but did not take any blue ones. Daxia started to move on of her blue pins as well.
"Nine Man Morris." Aislinn told John and repositioned another red pin. "Our granddaddy taught us this. It's a great game." She laughed at Daxia. "Soon you will fall into my trap." She said. John stepped forward and moved a blue pin to the outermost corner. Daxia glared at him but he didn't take any notice. In a few short moves he had decimated Aislinn's pins.

"Familiar with the game I see." Aislinn said in surprise. John shook his head.
"Battle strategies." He said. "I am familiar with them." He glanced at Daxia but she was staring at the game. There was a blue pin in each of the outermost corners and any of Aislinn's red pins would die if they moved- which they had to inevitably.
The blue pins each had a range - all four together took out all the red pins.
"Dax?" Aislinn asked curiously.
"Watch!" Daxia exclaimed. She reached forward and took one of the blue pins away and grinned up at them both. "The red pins are safe now."
"But . . ." Aislinn looked at John for confirmation that her sister was in fact crazy. However, the Spartan was staring at the board as well.
"Halo." He murmured, then he and Daxia sprinted from the room. Aislinn nodded slowly and looked at the board. It still all looked like pins to her.

***

Cortana's control room only unlocked after the three had made the plan.

"Technically, this installation's pulse has a maximum effective radius of twenty-five thousand light years. But, once the others follow suit, this galaxy will be quite devoid of life, or at least any life with sufficient biomass to sustain the flood."

343 Guilty Spark had said that. Like four pins, each at a corner of the galaxy. Actually, Cortana estimated six - but who was counting? With one pin knocked out - the red pins had somewhere safe to go. The safest place was the destroyed Halo - the only place that couldn't be reached by the other Halos superweapons.
And they had inner-system jumps now. Impossible to calculate exactly, as the navigational AI's tried to do - instead a rough - human - calculation would bring you out almost exactly where you wanted to be.

Two gems of knowledge - there had to be a way to use them. Cortana had found it. It was risky, it was crazy - it was definitely a last ditch attempt . . .

But it was the only one they had.





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