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The Archangels, TTLM Chapter One
Posted By: John Gurule, Jr.<d3jsgurule@yahoo.com>
Date: 11 March 2005, 12:56 AM

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      Chapter One: The Archangels.

USS Column of Light
Unknown position

      Gutierrez slicked his graying black hair back. He was in the middle of nowhere, millions of miles away from home, and gravely outnumbered. He shrugged. Though an unfavorable position, it was just another day in the Corps. "Where are we, Cetra?"

      The A.I.'s hologram projected above the console. "We're near the Avedros system, far enough away that the Covenant won't find that, either. I would like to say more, but we're pretty much lost."

      "It's days like this that I hate the Cole Protocol," the Commander said with a tone of anger in his voice.

      "Yes, but you did what you needed to do to protect Dragonhead, and ultimately, Earth."

      "I know," he sighed. "Okay, what are our options at this point?"

      "I really wish you hadn't called for the Marines to evac, because we could have sent a strike team in to find out what the Covenant is doing here," she said, "But, since that's not an option, we can't do anything that would be of any really significant importance to Dragonhead."

      "Well, I wouldn't exactly say that," Gutierrez said, looking away as if he was nervous.

      "Oh?" Cetra said, putting her virtual hands on her hips.

      "It's a story I'd, uh, like to keep to myself. Right now, my concern is getting away from the Covenant."

Sabre VII Orbital Defense Station
In orbit around Dragonhead

      Colonel Jason Froman looked up from the news report playing on his handheld PC and saw Arnold Johnson lightly limping in the door. Johnson wondered, why meet me in the barracks? He soon got his answer.

      "Johnson, I'm glad to see you. It's been a long time," he said, reaching out a hand.

      "Good to see you too, sir," he said in return, grabbing Froman's hand and shaking it. "What exactly did you call me here for, sir?"

      "Well," he said, "we've been able to find some new volunteers for the Archangel unit. They've been through the AC nano-injections and they've been trained until their knuckles were bloody. I think that they're ready for an assignment." He cleared his throat. "I wanted you to see them. They're in the bunk room right now," he said, "and once you're done with the pleasantries, come back here. We need to talk a bit about the Column's little encounter with the Covenant."

      "Yes, sir." Arnold walked through the door behind the Colonel. He passed several steel doors that were marked with big, white, stenciled letters. He found the one he was looking for at the end of the hall: Sleeping Quarters. He pulled the handle up and swung the door open.

      He watched as his young troops looked up from their conversation. They reminded the slightly seasoned Colonel of his old squad. They were young, anxious and determined. It was just another sign that he wasn't exactly the young buck he used to be. But he was still tough, and he would show them that. He was now their leader.

      One on the left side of the room stood up. The young Archangel recognized Johnson on sight. "Major Perez, sir, leader of Team One. You're the El-Tee Colonel, right?"

      "That's right," he replied. "The rest of you, on your feet. Move it!" The remaining troops sitting on the cots around the room immediately stood up and formed a line in front of Arnold. He looked down the row. There weren't that many of them; only eight stood there. "Is this all of you?" he asked.

      "No, sir," Perez said. "This is just Team One. Team Two is stationed in the Carlos, sir."

      Arnold nodded his head. "Okay, I'm going to be your leader. I'm going to deploy with both teams, I'm going to be on the field with both teams, I'm going to train with you all, I'm going to eat with you all and I'm going to sleep with you all, so get used to be seeing my face." He started pacing up and down the line. "I am your commander. The Colonel might be my boss, but he's not here with you. You're dealing with ME. You're in my house. You will listen to your team leader when I'm not around. You will not talk without my permission. You will not eat without my permission. You will not sleep without my permission, you will not piss without my permission, and you will not breathe without my permission. Am I clear?"

      There was a resounding "SIR, YES SIR!" from the Archangels. Arnold looked around.

      "Enough about me; how about you? Tell me your name, rank, and specialty. Sound off, left to right!"

      "Major Alex Perez, team leader and rifleman, sir!"

      The next troop, a lean Asian, spoke. "Captain Gregory Hung, close combat and rifleman, sir."

      "Sergeant Will Marksam, support weapons, sir," said the rather beefy soldier who stood arrow-straight in the line. He reminded Johnson of the right guard on his football team in highschool at the academy, with the broad shoulders, thick neck and spiked brown hair.

      Johnson turned to the next Marine in the team. He shifted his narrow body and waved his spiky dark blonde hair. "I'm Sergeant Joseph Heinriksen, long rifleman, sir."

      "Private First-Class Al Rodriguez, rifleman, sir," said a stocky hispanic soldier.

      "Private Harold Peters, sir, I'm your team techie." Iit surprised Arnold to see a thin and slightly pasty bookworm on his team, but, if he was as good with electronics as the file said he was, then Arnold supposed he could suffice.

      "Sergeant Roger Hapscom, battlefield engineer, sir." His bald head glistend like cooking oil had been spilled on it. He was about Johnson's height with large hands and dark skin.

      Arnold was surprised to see that the last one in line was a woman. When he had first walked in the room, her hair was hidden under her helmet. Now, she had the helmet off and he could see her hair, tied in a tight bun. "Lieutenant Jenny Morrison," she said in a quiet but tough, in a feminine way, voice "rifleman, sir."

      Arnold looked up and down the line again. "Alright, now that we're done with the introductions, we have business to get to. At ease, carry on." With that he saluted, they saluted back, and he walked out of the room.

      Kurt McLane was a detection technician. It was his job to use all the UNSC's little gadgets he had at his disposal, such as infrared telescopes, radiation moniters, and slipspace moniters, to snoop around the system to see if he could find anything unusual.

      His eyes showed his boredom on this ordinary day. They showed no glisten, just a dull black and dark green. To momentarily break his boredom, he had strolled down to the lounge to get himself a cup of coffee during his regular five-minute break. The cup was still in his hand, steaming and piping hot.

      After taking a left from the white hallway leading from the break room, he passed through several doors on his way back to the bridge. After showing the guard his ID tags attached to his semi-civilian military shirt, he climbed down a short stairwell to the lower level. He sipped his coffee.

      He saw his assistant sitting at their desk, staring intently at the moniter placed on it. He went over to him, quietly, and put his hand on his shoulder. He jumped a bit, surprised at Kurt for coming back so early from his (usually longer than five minutes) break. "Anything new?" he inquired, expecting 'nope' for a response.

      "There were a few slipspace ruptures over around Phorus while you were gone, sir. I'm betting it's the patrol Command sent out a couple of days ago, so don't get your hopes up for anything big. Some probes are en route, just to make sure."

      "Okay," Kurt responded, seemingly dazed or surprised. "Keep an eye on it."

      "I'm ready," Gutierrez said, breaking the silence that hovered over the bridge.

      "Ready for what?" Cetra asked, her hologram coming into view again.

      "I'm ready to tell you what the UNSC didn't tell you, or tell anyone."

      "That would be. . .?"

      "I'm ready to tell you about my past."

      "Ah," she said with a slight tone of eagerness.

      He sighed with a deep feel of sadness. Cetra was just an AI, but she understood human emotions better than any she had met. His past obviously contained some sort of trauma, or some sort of deep depression. She could tell that there were many memories he didn't want to relive. That would explain why it took so long for him to well up his strength enough to tell her.

      "You've probably read my files, but I'm going to tell you that those are all lies. I'm not who they say I am," he said, "I'm not a captain, and most of these men aren't really who you think they are, either."

      She was caught up in a web of lies and deceit? She'd never thought that she'd see the day. . .

      "This ship isn't what you think it is, either. It's ONI, and so am I."

      Joe Miller dipped his old mop into the bucket full of water beside him and he wiped the sweat from his forehead.The darkened stretch of halls was certainly a job well done, especially with the lights, for the most part, burnt out. He would get new bulbs as soon as he got back to the main floor of the station. He abandoned his proud pose and packed up his supplies.

      He reached the elevator a minute later. He could see the florescent lights flickering. There was a strange metallic crashing sound, and he turned back to the hallway from which he came. It must just be my imagination, he thought. Then he heard a hissing noise coming from down the hall. He recognized that sound and it filled him with dread. It was a Covenant fusion cutter.

      "I'm getting readings from all over, sir!" yelled Kurt's assistant. He panicked as he saw the edge of screen come alive with tiny red dots that could only mean certain doom.

      Joe grabbed for the revolver he had tucked into his tool belt. He squeezed the walnut grip. Joe knew fully well that if worst came to worst and he had to fight off Covenant, then the revolver wouldn't help much. He pulled it out and backed toward the elevator.

      The hissing of the fusion cutter making a hole in the hull of the station came to a stop. Joe's left hand groped for the lift buttons. His hand came in contact with the cold metal door and he slid it along untill he found the console. He pressed the first button he could and jammed his thumb into It again and again in a frantic panic. It didn't matter where the hell it went, he just wanted to get out!

      He noticed a movement to his right. The revolver snapped up. He spotted another at the edge of his sight, and he whipped around to face. There was another. And another. He could just see an ever-so faint outline, a slight distortion on the edge of their figure. He felt like he was surrounded by the things, whether they were Covenant or whoop-de-freakin' demons from hell, he didn't care. His breathing became harder, and his hands started trembling. He heard a deep growl, a hateful growl that made him cower in fear. He could feel a warm wetness creeping down his pants.

      He realized what his fate would be. He would die. His trembling hands steadied as he realized this. He was going to die, and he would be goddamned if he was going to go down as a coward.

      "COME ON YOU BAAAAASSTAAARDS!" he screamed as his finger pulled back hard on the trigger. It jerked back violently in his hands and the muzzle flash lit the dark room. He gritted his teeth and fired as fast as his old hands would let him. A shield fluttered and so did another. It didn't occur to him as odd that they weren't attacking back. His hands were shaking from the rush of adrenaline. He fired another round, and he pulled the trigger again and-

      Nothing. No fire came from the barrel of the gun. Just smoke and the clicking sound of the mechanisms going without a cartridge to fire. His breath still maintained its erratic pace, but it was in fear now.

      He never noticed the cloaked Elite making its way around to his backside. The sword it held was now activated, and it was glowing with an eerie blue light in the dark room. The Elite raised it up carefully and quietly. The old janitor dropped his pistol and backed away, right into the trap. It brought the energy blade down with enough force to cut right through his bone. It sliced open Joe's skull and the force squeezed the brains out of the cracks that the impact had made. They spilled onto the freshly mopped floor with a sloshy, wet noise. The elevator arrived and opened its doors with a "ding."