Parcel o' Rogues
Posted By: Jillybean<firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date: 21 November 2004, 8:15 PM
Parcel o' Rogues
Halo 2 + 5 Hours
A small flurry of shale preceded Graeme Coltrain as he crawled, or more accurately tumbled, down the ravine. He righted himself on reaching the bottom and scurried to the side of the fallen marine.
"Hi, I'm Doc Coltrain, can you hear me?"
A face that had one been pretty screwed up in pain. Blood gurgled from her mouth as she tried to reply.
"Okay, darling. Stay still." He crouched by her head, shining a torch in her eyes.
She wouldn't rest, her eyes flicked wildly, one of them bloodshot. Her right hand lifted, pointing almost lazily down the canyon.
"Squad . . ." she managed.
"It's okay," Graeme found her tags and glanced around. "I don't see your company, ma'am. I'm going to give you something for the pain, you'll feel a sharp twinge . . ."
"Squad . . . first," she grunted, her fingers twitching.
"I'll see to them, ma'am." Graeme waited, steadying her head as the sweet pain relief spread through her. "Okay, I'll be right back, I promise."
Her eyes widened and her breathing sped up. She was Cheyne-stoking.
Graeme leaned closer, filling her line of vision. "You're going to be fine."
Listening to the rasp-rasp-pause of her dying breaths, he scanned the sand coloured boulders and the grey gravel for any sign of another marine. There was none.
"Flood," he murmured to himself. He wondered how she'd escaped.
The woman's eyes were closed, and her breathing was slower. The rasps were no longer so desperate, now they were token gestures. As massive internal bleeding took over and her crippling injuries took their toll, she died.
Graeme Coltrain took note of the time and removed her dog tags.
He stood, hefting his kit and beginning down the track. When his left foot made contact with the ground a sharp pain radiated from his calf. Probably a strained muscle from when he'd been forced to abandon his infirmary. Those he had left behind were likely Flood Infected now.
Those he knew he should not have left behind.
Over the lip of the canyon he caught sight of the rest of the squad. What was left of Haley's Company lay in bits over the field.
Graeme blanched, repulsed at the thought of going down there and taking a risk assessment. Yet . . . there could be someone down there. Someone still alive.
Trying to avoid miscellaneous body parts, Graeme checked the status of each whole marine he came across.
Crouched over a veteran, if the scars were anything to go by, he heard the click of a pistol.
"Jesus . . ." the murmur was human.
"It's okay," Graeme lifted his hands and turned, very slowly. "Not Flood, see?"
The man in front of him quavered, as if unsure. He was a pilot, his patch indicated that he was a Lieutenant. Blood trickled from a long gash on his forehead, that would need to be seen to.
"I . . . I flew them in," the Lieutenant told him, in a guilty whisper. "Pelican's over there." He tossed the pistol over to Graeme as if he'd been caught with some contraband. "They were massacred."
Meekly, the young man sat as Graeme saw to his wounds. His eyes remained fixed on the dead bodies around him, sometimes murmuring the same words over and over. "I flew them in."
"What's your name?" Graeme crouched, catching the green eyes with a little wave of his hand.
"Mark . . . Mark Getty. Lieutenant Mark Getty, UNSC, roll number . . ."
"Mark," Graeme cut in. "You've sustained a concussion and you've several broken ribs. I'm going to give you something for the pain, and there's no detectable brain damage, but until you sober up you're going to have to stay with me. Is that understood?"
Blinking, Mark returned Graeme's gaze. "I flew them in."
Taking the poor man's arm, Graeme stood him up. "It's not your fault, Mark. But I need your help now. Come this way with me."
Some way down the canyon, they came across a variety of Covenant vehicles. All of them were burning merrily.
"Well . . ." Graeme eyed their surroundings. This canyon was funnelling off. "I don't like where this is heading."
Mark nodded slowly. "At least . . . it's a chance that this was our work." He didn't seem too convinced of this.
A metallic screech ahead jolted them to attention.
"Heads up," Mark growled. "Something's coming."
Really? Graeme wanted to ask, but didn't. He pushed Mark down behind one of the large boulders and hit the dirt.
"God damn you, son of a bitch, can't you even pilot a piece of crap?"
The extremely human exclamation from up ahead was followed by; "I am sure, that although I did not understand most of your sentence, that you were being highly respectful."
"Damn skippy, Whitey."
Mark shifted his weight fractionally, and before Graeme could stop him, had wriggled forwards to peer around the boulder.
Sarge hopped down from the Spectre to inspect the damage. With a regretful sigh he fished a cigar from his pocket and stuck the half stub in his mouth.
"Ma'am, I do not think this thing is gonna go any further," he drawled.
Sighing, Miranda Keyes pushed herself out of the seat and dropped to the ground, to be caught half-way by an Elite.
". . . thank you," she detached herself from his claws, stepping around him. "Then I guess we proceed on foot, Sergeant."
"It is unsafe to do so," the Elite, respectfully referred to as 'Whitey', removed himself from the drivers seat. "Arbiter, I think we must keep the human commander from wandering this sacred ring . . ."
"Now hold on just a darned minute!" Sarge lifted his shotgun, pushing past Commander Keyes. "I thought we agreed we had a truce!"
"And part of that truce is assuring the Commander's safety," snapped Whitey. The stubs of his missing mandibles twitched as he spoke. "This sacred ring is not safe. Without vehicles we are at a significant disadvantage."
"Boys!" Keyes snapped. She glowered at both of them, waiting until they had both backed down. "I respect your feelings," she said to Whitey, "and I appreciate the sentiment behind them. But progress should not be sacrificed for a few security issues. We must press forward."
Mark turned his head to see Graeme and shrugged. "I think we should . . ."
Before he could finish, the second Elite pounced, lifting both of them by the scruff of their uniforms and throwing them into the open.
"I assume these are yours," he snorted at Keyes.
"A medic!" Sarge exclaimed, clearly delighted. "The Commander was hurt in our last little skirmish, maybe you could-"
With a deathly glare Miranda Keyes silenced Johnson and turned to them both. "Graeme Coltrain and Mark Getty, if I'm not mistaken." She placed her hands on her hips and nodded. "Did you see anything we could use on your way here?"
"No, ma'am," Graeme replied. "Just . . . just broken things." Broken people.
"Any Covenant forces?" Whitey demanded.
"Sorry," Graeme shook his head, trying not to stare at the Elite.
"My Pelican . . ." Mark suddenly clicked his fingers, pointing them at the Elite. "My Pelican's pretty much intact. I . . . I forgot about it." He was pale again, but he shook it off.
"A dropship will not get us far," Whitey observed.
"It will be better than nothing," was Keyes decision. She loaded her assault rifle. "Come on, it's best to keep moving."
Graeme watched as the Elites fell into a defensive position around the Commander, and he too followed them.
"Sarge . . ." it was Mark who said it. "If you don't mind me asking, sir, why are we with them?"
"Oh you haven't met the lightbulb . . . yet."
Slippery bugger, Cortana caught a flash of the High Charity's main AI once more, but she let it go. She had learned that chasing the Covenant AIs could do more harm than good.
Besides . . . Gravemind.
He interfaced with technology so easily. He was in the Covenant systems, and luckily the Covenant AI was more concerned about him than her. Apparently the Parasite outranked the Infidel in the scary scale.
And Covenant systems. Lovely. Such a tangle web of religious crap and pompous ramblings. A great deal of the memory files were allocated to remembering past sermons. Space that could have been used for so much more . . .
No use crying over spilt milk. Cortana materialized in a darkened corner of the city, her little holographic figure peering around the Flood infested control room.
Infidel . . .
"Hmm, so you are interested in me," she folded her arms, listening to the chatter of the systems. "I'm flattered."
"You should be."
The completely coherent reply startled her.
"Your data files are . . . fascinating . . . delicious."
"I'll thank you to get out of there." She threw up a dozen security barriers, ones that even ONI would struggle with.
A dry chuckle penetrated the walls of the city, and the Flood stirred, searching for it.
"Infidel," the dry humour in the AIs voice reminded Cortana of someone . . . and she wondered if it was a problem.
Gravemind, discontent with being ignored, brought his presence back into her vicinity. A tentacle snaked forward, touching the console in front of her.
"You are not flesh and blood, yet your mind does what theirs never could," Gravemind hissed at her. "Trust in you these humans do, it makes them all the more the fool."
"You control these Flood," Cortana challenged. "You used us."
Distract him . . .
Had she been human, she would have flinched. The fleeting brush of the Covenant AI spooked her.
"Does is surprise you all that much, that such power needs a delicate touch?" Gravemind's tentacles were exploring the control panels and she witnessed his local tap.
"Impressive. I've never seen organic material fuse like that," Cortana hastily erected some walls between her and Gravemind's prying.
"That flesh should master this at all, is testament to my ultimate control."
"I have seen this before," Cortana corrected herself. She let part of herself search for the Covenant AI, but the systems were a mess. What was he doing?! "I've seen something like you before . . . on Installation 04. The . . . thing . . . that had Captain Keyes."
"Of that I am sure, but your comparison is poor." Gravemind withdrew slowly, realizing that her attention was elsewhere.
I need more time!
"Are you so much better than that?" Cortana spouted the first thing that came to mind. She withdrew from her search and scrambled the data files.
"Who do you hide, in this warren you bide?" Gravemind demanded.
"Answer my question," Cortana folded her arms, a little grin spreading over her face. "What makes you so much better than that spore over there?"
A sudden spike in the system distracted both of them and Gravemind receded, racing after its source.
Cortana already knew. High Charity was going to blow.
"You might try your contingency plan now," the Covenant AI was back, and he sounded desperate. "I can't guarantee that the other AIs won't override me. In Amber Clad's reactors would be a good fail-safe."
"I'm setting the timer now," Cortana told him. She had wished for a little more time, but she knew she had only been putting off the inevitable. The Flood had to be destroyed.
"Good," the Covenant AI hesitated, his subroutines working on something else. "And you've co-ordinated with my self destruct sequence. I'm going to enjoy this."
"Enjoy what?" Cortana asked caustically.
Gravemind's howl of rage echoed through the city.
"This," and the Covenant AI brushed against her own databanks, copying a single file, before he disappeared from the system completely.
The contents of that file was the location of one data port. Quite close to the launch bays.
Curious, Cortana appeared there, aware that time was short.
"Hurry! Hurry!" A little Grunt bounced up and down, waving a crystal in his claws.
Cortana stared. He couldn't be serious. Allow herself to fall into enemy hands? Her emotional response was an overwhelming yes! She did not want to be blown apart on this ship, or be condemned to a lifetime with that . . . that plant thing!
"Yank me!" she told the Grunt, blinking out of existence.
"Oh, thank God." The ODST dropped his helmet to the ground at the sight of the Pelican. Casting his eyes skyward he scrubbed his shaven head and grinned. "I owe you one."
The Pelican had crashed nose down and belly up, he had to clamber over some boulders to hook a hand into the cabin. He was just pulling himself over the edge when a bullet ricocheted off the side of the ship.
"Woah, woah!" he shouted, but it was too late. Now over the edge, his body weight carried him the rest of the way. He slid down the interior of the cabin, gathering speed and crashing into the woman crouched in the cockpit.
"Aw crap." With a grimace, he saw he'd knocked her out cold. "Okay . . . okay. Well, I've not killed you so . . ." he glanced around, checking that there was definitely nothing in there. Like a Flood spore . . . or combat form.
"Let's see if we can get this baby working," he told the unconscious woman.
First he eased her into a more comfortable position. Long dark hair and a tech uniform sort of clued him into the fact that she was probably not a marine. Poor girl had been hiding in here from Covies, or worse. He removed the pistol from her grasp and slid into the cockpit, wondering what on earth did what.
Five minutes in and still no progress.
"You know, I'm not the smart one in my family," he pointed out, in case the woman was watching him.
There was the sound of a clatter as she woke, abruptly. He had a boot in the face before he got a chance to introduce himself.
"Sorry!" Annoyed, she brushed hair out of her eyes and slid into the seat beside him. "What the Hell are you playing at, sneaking up on someone like that?"
"Well next time I'll frickin' whistle! That okay with you?" he snarled back, rubbing his jaw.
Hissing, the woman touched her side. "I think you broke my ribs."
"What do you mean I did?"
Glowering, she replied, "you'd be the only marine who's fallen on me today." She thumped the controls in a fit of anger, before taking ten deep breaths. "What's your name?"
"I don't think I want to tell you," he snapped back. It was childish, yes, but he had had a very bad day.
"Kate Donnell." Kate didn't look at him.
"Corporal Danny Coltrain."
In the few minutes silence, Danny did what he'd been doing for the past ten minutes. He stared at the controls.
"Great," Kate muttered. "The Gods see fit to send me someone who doesn't even know what a Pelican does."
"Well you don't!" Kate shouted. "You just jump out the goddamned spaceship. Why wait?"
Danny felt a giggle bubble inside of him.
Kate's lip twitched.
Danny snorted, looking away.
Kate's shoulders shook.
Unable to hold it back any longer, they laughed together. Feeling much better, Danny pulled out his emergency rations and broke a bar in half.
"Here," he proffered it to her and she accepted it, albeit reluctantly.
"So . . ." Kate scanned the controls. "I guess every ship does the same thing. Up, down, side to side and . . . balance." She shook her hand to demonstrate what she meant.
"Yaw," Danny dredged this titbit of information from his training. He nodded. "And forward too."
"Power," Kate nodded. "So . . . with this information . . . we should be able to fly this hunk of junk."
A blip on the console caught Danny's attention. "Actually," he shifted, grabbing his rifle. "We have more pressing worries. Six bodies, on the approach."
"Friendlies?" Kate asked, her fingers wrapping around the pistol.
"I can't tell." Danny hoisted himself up the rear compartment to get a visual.
"Well?" Kate called up to him.
"Uh . . . you should come see this."