The Point of No Return [H&R 16]
Posted By: Jillybean<email@example.com>
Date: 22 October 2003, 5:18 PM
Halos and Rings
AN: For Elfster ;)
AN2: Ok - this is a bit of a strange chapter since 1) It's a turning point and 2) I've been attacked by a bout of my inferiority complex
The Point of No Return
Lara O'Flynn was feeling apprehensive as she brought the Pelican closer to the Halos surface. It was strange to see a Halo that wasn't colonized, she'd gotten so used to 'their Halo' that this one seemed completely different.
The Pelican's exhaust fumes scattered pebbles and dust as it touched down. The marines started yelling and moving, for them the two things seemed to be completely interconnected. Lara glanced at her co-pilot who grinned back.
"Cheer up love!" He called, loudly in order to be heard over the engines. Lara nodded and powered the engines down, she retreated from the Pelican with a growing sense of dread.
The extensive Halo grasslands were very similar, already Lara could feel the complacency of the marines around her.
No no no no no no no no. This is all wrong. We shouldn't be here. We don't belong here.
"We'll set up base camp in that structure over there." The sarge waved at the tall, blue pulsing building that perched on the crest of the cliff. Like a castle from an old, ancient earth civilization. Old. Lara could feel the age of the Halo in her bones. She hadn't felt like this when she'd colonized that last Halo. This was very, very different. The long grass brushed her thighs in the gentle breeze and she shivered.
"Maintain vigilance for Sentinels or Flood." She called to them. The marines acknowledged her, but she didn't feel better.
In the cockpit of the Avalon Daxia was staring at the stars in front of her. The Forerunner ship was having no trouble supporting the Spartan IIIs as they trained, John was attempting to make them ready for what they were about to face. Daxia wasn't worried, they were like a blunt axe, they'd cause maximum damage, but perhaps not in the specific way the wielder wanted. Daxia had confidence in John, she was sure he'd make sure they were all right. She was sure he'd make sure she was all right too.
"Hey." He said and laid two gentle hands on her shoulders. She jumped a little, then smiled.
"Hey. Don't scare me like that." She spun her chair around to look at him. It was nice for once to see him out of his armour. His blue eyes smiled down at her and he sat on the other chair.
"I didn't mean to." He replied.
"Yes you did." Daxia grinned then leaned forward, on impulse she kissed him and felt a surge of happiness when he kissed her back. He reach around to catch her waist then he pulled her onto his knee. She felt a little giggle rise in her throat, though she tried to stop it. His hands rested on her hips and she laced hers behind his neck, happy to be in his space. To her, it was the safest place in the world.
John pulled back for a minute and ducked his head to kiss her neck, working between her chin and the high, starched collar of her UNSC uniform jacket. It was really getting in the way and already John was working on removing it.
"Ahem." It was Cortana's voice who interrupted. John sighed and Daxia looked over his shoulder, expecting to see Cortana's hologram. Cortana was there, but so was Spartan-1119, the Spartan looked completely baffled, his face was twisted in a strange mix of horror and fascination. Daxia suppressed the urge to laugh.
"Yes Cortana?" She slid from John's lap trying to remain cool and in control. John stood and raised an eyebrow at the Spartan III.
"Yes Spartan?" He asked. The Spartan collected himself slowly.
"Sir. We have finished the assault course you set us in the cargo hold." His eyes fixed on Daxia and he seemed to be processing the thought that his pilot was involved somehow with his commanding officer.
"Very well. Tell the others to go into Cryostasis. You will be woken when we get to the Covenant homeworld."
"Sir." The Spartan hesitated, his brain ticked slowly and finally an idea came to him. "Sir . . . may I ask a question."
"You may ask. It may not be answered however." John replied.
Spartan-1119 took a deep breath and finally tore his eyes off Daxia. He turned to John.
"Is . . . that . . . .not against regulations?" He asked.
"Are you questioning a higher ranking officer?" Daxia asked quickly, John wasn't quite able to reply, she could tell from the sparkle in his eyes. The Spartan III stared at her, then he saluted quickly.
"No ma'am!" He shouted.
"Dismissed." Cortana said to him and he fled the bridge.
"Well that was interesting." Daxia said, staring at the doorway through which the Spartan had retreated. Cortana laughed.
"Perhaps you'll be a little more circumspect next time." She folded flickering purple arms and regarded them affectionately. John slipped an arm around Daxia's shoulders to pull her closer.
"Don't you have a diagnostic to run?" He didn't wait to see Cortana shocked and insulted expression, instead he turned his back to her and leaned down to kiss Daxia on the lips. She had to stand on her tiptoes to reach his uniform collar, but once things got lower, she had no problems.
The marines sloshed through the stagnant water of the marshes and crept up on the installation.
"Man this is kinda freaky." One whispered as he was waved forward. They were equipped with the very latest shielding technology, shotguns as standard, enough armour to stop a Brute . . .
"Shut that yapping private." The Sarge called moving forward himself. They advanced into the cement building and headed down the ramp into what appeared to be a deep atrium. Sarge stepped closer to the lift and called it up. The huge floating platform creaked into place.
"Whoa amigos lets not be too hasty." Drake murmured. "We don't know what's down there."
"That's the idea of a recon mission genius." Sarge snapped back. The marines filed onto the platform Mitchell, the engineer, sent them downwards.
"Into the belly of the beast." He joked as the lift started to descend.
They filed out of the atrium and into what appeared to be a hangar bay. This installation was very similar to the ones they'd habitized on Halo 2 and the marines wasted no time in securing the area.
"Drake, Collins, you two on point." The Sarge announced and they moved onwards.
Daxia woke up in a cold sweat. She panicked at first, pinned down by a heavy arm, it took her several seconds to understand that the death grip was actually an embrace. For the first time since meeting him she had forgotten Spartans sheer strength in comparison to hers. She gently eased herself away, not noticing his eyes flutter open to assess the likelihood of a threat, before he chose to go back to sleep. Daxia dressed hurriedly and pulled her heavy UNSC boots on, clunking through the short corridor to the bridge.
"Cortana?" She asked as she entered. She longed for a coffee but they carried only the basic rations on board.
"Right here." Cortana flickered into life on the bridge. She smirked. "Sleep well?"
"One day I'm gonna take a crash course in decompiling." Daxia retorted. She collapsed into the padded pilots seat and gazed out at the stars. Her helmet with its inbuilt HUD display sat on top of the controls, ready to be worn when she needed it.
"What's the fleet status?" She asked leaning forward to check engine outputs. Cortana appeared to think for a moment, in reality she was just catching up with the other AI's in cyberspace.
"Everything is going according to schedule. Is something bothering you?" Cortana folded her arms and waited for Daxia's response. The pilot did not acknowledge. Cortana sighed and flicked to the projector right in front of the pilots chair, it was usually used for star maps - but it suited Cortana just fine.
"We need to talk." Cortana said simply. Daxia raised a blonde eyebrow and Cortana glowered. "We need to talk about your attitude recently. If you can't be part of this mission then I will cut you out." She said. Daxia leaned her head back, thinking about Cortana's statement.
"I'm fine." She said after a moment.
"Are you?" Cortana pressed. "I'm worried that your relationship with the Chief is perhaps going to compromise our mission at some point."
"It won't." Daxia leaned forward abruptly, her hands splayed on the panel. "I'm a pilot - do you think I haven't left soldiers behind before? Flown them to their deaths?"
"There is a great difference between soldiers and your lover." Was Cortana's sage comment.
Lara paced her tiny make-shift office. One lap, two lap, three laps. There was hole chewed in the side of her lip and she had whiplash from spinning around every time a call came through the radio.
"Commander?" It was Sgt. Klein at the door. He saluted smartly and approached the projector on her desk. The image of the tactical AI Arthur appeared. He nodded to them both.
"What's our status?" Lara asked unable to hide the tremor in her voice. Klein let Arthur display a topographical overview of the Halo marshlands.
"We have secured these red areas, the ones highlighted blue are the ones we have found contained Flood in. The contained Flood have been neutralized."
"You're sure?" Lara insisted. Klein nodded firmly.
"Positive ma'am. It was fairly simple to annihilate them - there was an inbuilt mechanism in their storage chambers."
"Any sign of the monitor?"
"He's been spotted once or twice - the Sentinels have tried to attack but we have survived and taken a few out." Klein hesitated. "Permission to keep working through the night?"
Despite all her instincts - Lara granted the marines their permission.
The human fleet came out of slipspace at four strategic locations around the planet Strayforth. It had been adapted as the Covenant's military factory and was the first location of attack.
MAC cannons charged, Pelicans deployed and the Avalon led the charge past the orbiting guns and down into the stratosphere.
It waited, absorbing all that it knew from it's host. Slowly muscle control became it's - the higher cognitive functions slowly gave way and the host ceased to exist. Now it was hungry, so hungry! It's brothers were hungry and trapped - there was only one thing to do . . .
Let us free - let us eat - let us devour.
It stumbled over to the glass laboratory that held the last of its brethren - but this one form was enough. It lifted what used to be a human hand and fired the standard issue shotgun at the glass.
Its brothers were free. Let us eat. Let us devour. Let us learn. Let us free.
Commander O'Flynn was informed by Sgt. Klein that one of the marines, a Lieutenant Gordons, was missing. Klein had been reluctant to inform her, he knew she would only panic. That was what happened when you put a woman in charge - they became somewhat hysterical at making command decisions.
He stood in front of her desk and Lara raised her eyes to meet his. She saw the doubt and condescending humour reflected in his face and felt a second of indecision.
"How did they attack you on Halo?" She'd once asked Daxia.
"From beneath. They even got onto the ships we tried to escape with - I was with the Chief, it was all that saved me."
"I want a complete fallback." Lara ordered. "A full headcount must be delivered to me within the next twenty minutes - make that fifteen." She stood and called up Arthur. "Get the pilots ready, our Pelicans are to leave in a moments notice." She ordered, Arthur nodded already carrying out his instructions.
"With all due respect ma'am-" Klein began.
"Sergeant when we get off this thing we can discuss battle tactics - right now you obey me and you don't even think about asking why. Are we clear or do you need to be relieved of duty?"
"No ma'am." Klein hurried from her sight.
Drake and Collins were the first through the door. They waved the all clear and the others in their team entered the room.
"Gordons? You in here?" Mitchell called. Drake sighed and took his helmet off for a moment.
"What do you think you're doing?" Collins snapped.
"My head's itchy man!" Drake replied. He fixed his helmet back on and pulled the strap tight. He readjusted the shield on his wrist and took another look around. "He's not in here. Let's head back to base."
Fire Team Brava turned to retreat and were faced by a single Flood Spore. It rested on the floor, it's tiny pod-like shape pulsed as if it were breathing. One antenna twitched, but other than this it remained passive. As one the entire team levelled their shotguns and fired. The spore exploded.
"Shit. This is Fire Team Brava calling all units, repeat Fire Team Brava calling all units-" Mitchell began in his radio. The others crouched, flicking shields on and swinging shotguns around. Another Flood spore popped around the grey doorway and lay in the goo from it's fallen brother. It too was destroyed. A third Flood form leapt into the goo and sat - waiting to be destroyed.
The steady bang of shotguns hid the steady click - click - click on the approaching spore.
The marines never knew what hit them.
"Commander!" Arthur flickered into life in Lara's office. "Headcount reports two units missing."
"Shit." Lara pulled her UNSC jacket over her shoulders and headed outside, she stood on the parapet that looked over their temporary grounds.
"Sweep the Pelicans! Once you are sure they are not contaminated start taking off." Her voice rang out over the heads of the crew below her. They headed for the dropships, scouring them with scanners.
It was on Echo-792 that they found a lone spore. It was flamed to cinders, but it heralded the onslaught of the warrior forms. Lara leapt from the parapet, landing roughly on the concrete. There was a strange clicking noise all around her, one that would prove to be unforgettable. Lara understood now why Daxia was afraid of silence.
To her right three Flood warriors were leaping onto the parapets. One failed to make the leap and poised to try again - but it saw her prostrate on the ground. It knew she was a senior member of staff - it knew it because it turned and started for her. She pulled the pistol from it's holster and fired twice, but only one shot connected. Scrabbling to her feet she judged the distance between her and one of the clean Pelicans - not far.
Flood were swarming over the walls now - more spore than anything else. They leapt upon Sgt. Klein and started to tear through his shields. Oh how they had underestimated the Flood.
She realized now there were only four or five warrior forms - the rest of their missing marines must have become carriers, that was the only way to account for the sheer number of Spore that came at them. Klein met her eyes and turned his shotgun upon her. Lara felt her throat constrict as he fired - and took out the spore behind her.
"Go!" He roared. She sprinted for the Pelican and flung herself into the cockpit. She sealed the doors quickly and looked around the interior - no spore thank God. The little pods were flinging themselves at the cockpit windows but they weren't getting in. Lara sat herself at the controls and tried not to flinch as another splattered on the screen. Through the goo she could see one of her fellow pilots being slowly infected.
"Keyes was . . . what it did to Keyes was something else." Daxia had whispered on one long Pelican run. "They used him for his knowledge - combined him with Covenant to make a super control form . . ."
Lara opened fire on the other Pelicans, disabling them as best she could. The Sentinels were there already, cutting the air with lasers. She lifted into the air - heading for the cruiser above them being run with a skeleton crew.
It was the gentle clicking in the background that warned her. She reached for her pistol, but suspected the spore could still use her body even with her brains blown out. Maybe she could hit the Spore instead - but that was doubtful. She couldn't even see it. She could hear it's little feelers tapping together, almost thoughtful. She set a course for the sun and locked the panel. Then, haltingly, she sent a strict command to the cruiser.
UNSC Commander Lara O'Flynn stood from her chair and loaded her pistol.
"Come here you little bugger." She growled.