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To the Last Man Chapter Two
Posted By: John Gurule, Jr.<d3jsgurule@yahoo.com>
Date: 19 April 2005, 3:17 AM

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Chapter Two
Warning: Keep Arms and Legs inside Vehicle at all Times

"Though good or bad, the destination will remain the same
For those who ride along with death above the clicking wheels of trains. . .

A few minutes earlier

      Johnson sat uncomfortably in the stiff unpadded blue chair parked in front of Froman's desk. It wasn't so much the chair as the topic that he and the Colonel had been discussing for the last couple of minutes or so that made him shift uneasily. He had wanted to know firsthand what had happened on the Column, which he had probably heard about in an emergency transmission Cetra had undoubtedly sent out. Johnson knew what size the fleet had been, and the fact that a transmission had been sent out would mean that the Covenant could have tracked it. The people were too unprepared. That's what unsettled him.

      "What happened after you cleared the checkpoint?"

      "The Captain made us evac the ship and then he escaped himself."

      "What?" he said I surprise, "Why the hell would he want you to evac when he could have just taken you with him?"

      "I'm pretty sure he had a good reason," he said, shifting his position on the chair, letting his head rest on his hand. He looked up and checked the clock hanging over the few filing cabinets in the room; it was now nineteen-hundred.

      "I don't understand- wait!" Froman's eyes were suddenly affixed to his computer screen. Arnold heard several clicks from his keyboard and watched intently as he read the message. "You're getting the call, Johnson. Move it!" he said with a raised voice. "Meet me at the bridge once you and your team have got your gear together." He hastily stuffed papers into a small briefcase and snapped it shut.

      "Yes sir." Johnson jumped out of his chair and went running down the short length of the hall to the bunk room where the team was still waiting. The Sabre's alarm system started ushering its repetitive whooping cry seconds later. Arnold slid to a halt in front of the door and jerked up the handle. The door swung open and made a dull metallic clang as it hit the wall. The Archangels were already organized and making their way to the door , going to the armory. Apparently Johnson didn't need to tell them what to do.

      He stepped out of their way and followed behind the last man out the door. They turned right and entered the armory where each member's personal locker waited. Johnson ran to his locker as the others rushed to theirs.

      He slapped his hand down onto the palm reader and received a green light for confirmation. He opened the clear door and took out the components of his battle suit. He slipped on the undersuit over his fatigues, and then pulled on the waist piece. Then he pulled on the leg armor, the heavy torso armor, and the arm plates. Lastly, he pulled out his favorite piece from the shelf at the top of the locker.

      His helmet was the same dark black-gray color as the rest of his suit and the visor was a dark, glossy blue. He turned it around in his hand and put it on. It took a second for it to pressurize and then it too sealed itself to the undersuit in a process that he didn't understand. The suit pressurized and made itself airtight. Then he turned and walked quickly to the weapons cage along with the other members that had finished with their suits rather quickly.

      Inside of the weapons cage, all of the walls except for the chain-link fence side were covered with weapons of all shapes and sizes. Johnson bypassed all of the others and went straight for the glass case on the right side of the room. He had his palm read again and the glass panel covering the case slid out of the way. The rack in the middle rotated to reveal several bulky-looking rifles. They were MA5XA's, the newest rifle in the UNSC's armory line that was issued exclusively to the Archangels. Most of them took one with five magazines and also took an M6C pistol from another rack and left. Will Marksam skipped them; instead he lifted a K50A1 SAW .

      After they finished arming themselves, in a single file they ran out of the armory and down the short hall. They ran past the Colonel's desk and exited through the glass doors ahead. A tramcar already sat waiting as the group climbed up the small stairwell to the platform. The door at the top opened and they went through, one by one. Finally, they all clambered into the car and the doors shut behind them.

      It started to move slowly down the single track. Instead of taking the normal, longer, indoor route, Johnson pressed several buttons on the lit control panel. The tramcar slowly crept along, but instead of taking the normal route on the left, at the fork in the track it took the path on the right.

      After traveling for about twenty seconds, the railcar finally came to a stop inside of a large room. Behind them, the opening that seemed to just be the open entrance to the room closed. The only light in the room came from several dim fluorescent bulbs on the ceiling. There were two huge bulkheads in the room, the one they had entered from and the one they would go out from. Johnson could read the warning signs that plastered the far wall. The brightly-colored plates of metal had messages of caution such as Warning: Route for emergency purposes only emblazoned in bold black letters across their fronts.

      Suddenly, steam started pouring from somewhere in the room. The entire room seemed to lurch and the opposite wall just seemed to split in half as the gigantic bulkhead opened. The signs rattled, the tramcar shook and the lights above flickered. All of the air inside of the room rushed out in a great wind. Finally, it was all gone and things settled down.

      Slowly, but surely, the car started to move down the track. It became apperent that they were moving faster; the car was rapidly accelerating down the tracks. They could all feel the pull of speed as the tramcar quickened, Alex Perez most of all. He didn't like moving fast, but he was getting used to it. He needed to.

      In less than a minute, Johnson could see another one of the bulkheads ahead at the end of the rail. On the edge of his sight he could see a few dozen or so black disfigurations that were long like a cigar attached to the side of the station. He turned to look, but they were slightly blurred by the fast movement of the vehicle he was in. He couldn't make out what they were.

      Moments later, they entered the now open room and were instantly engulfed in darkness. The lights that were supposed to be hanging overhead and raining a dull fluorescent glow down on them weren't there. The door behind them shut all the same, and unseen steam still hissed somewhere in the darkness. The only light came from the aisle liners on the floor of the car. They were enough to see something moving.

      At that moment, Arnold looked through the windows on the ceiling. He saw something at once; not something solid. It was more like a dim vestige of movement, like someone hiding behind your door just when you look at them. He knew it was there, but he couldn't see it.

      "Keep your eyes peeled," he said, "I think I just saw something move."

      "I saw it too," Major Perez whispered back. He shouldered his rifle, to be ready for the worst. The others did, too. There was a moment of silence in the dark that made Alex's stomach drop with dread. Johnson reassured his grip on the rifle's pistol grip. He was used to moments like this. He just had to keep his eyes open and his trigger finger ready.

      But Perez wasn't. Neither were any of the others, in fact. They were inexperienced and no amount of training could prepare them for a moment like this. Their lives were in their hands, and if the tiniest thing went wrong, they could wind up dead. They knew that if even one mistake was made, it could cost them their lives. Alex could feel the inside of the gloves on his suit moistening with sweat. Heinriksen could see his sights move a little bit. But they had to keep their composure. They had to to survive.

      Colonel Jason Froman stepped out of his tramcar. The bridge was alive with movement as everyone rushed ot get to their stations under the droning wail of the alarms. It was dark, and the dozens of moniters filled the room with their blue glow. Men in white and colored uniforms raced around the room and sat at the various moniter stations located in the back of the gigantic room. He paused for a moment and then stepped down the stairs of the platform to the main level.

      A man in a formal Marine uniform approached him as he reached the bottom. The man offered his hand and Jason shook it. He could feel the powerful grip, and his eyes scanned the man's face. He had a beard, and Jason could see the hair beneath his hat was graying.

      "I'm Brigadier General Paul Hudson, and I'm in charge of the defence of this station. You're Jason Froman, right?"

      "Correct. Nice to meet you. Could you give me a current run of the situation?" he asked, letting go of Paul's hand.

      "Yeah. We - hold on," he said. A man sitting at a moniter was calling his name and waving his hand in the air, gesturing for Paul to come to him immediately. The Brigadier General walked quickly over to the man and looked at the screen. Jason followed, not too closely so as to not attract attention. He leaned in to listen to their conversation.

      "- Multiple boarding craft on approach. We suggest moving your Marines to all susceptible areas of the station, like the airlocks, and to the dangerous places suck as the generators. We're receiving reports of Spec Ops already inside the station, so you'll have to be careful -"

      Jason had heard enough. Spec Ops inside the station? That would make matters worse for Johnson. He hoped he was still alive.

      A moment of dead quiet followed. It seemed like hours passed as they waited in utter silence, watching and waiting for something to happen. Arnold still watched above, but all of the things seemed to stop moving which only made them near-impossible to see. He drew in a deep breath and exhaled slowly. He could have killed them if he could see one clearly. That would mean making them move.

      Finally, the bulkhead into the station opened. It opened slowly and jerkily, as if it were damaged. The tramcar accelerated and as it did, the things that were on the car seemed to jump off, as the cabin shook and seemed to lift a bit higher. The light inside was just barely brighter than in the room they had just left and it made everything seem to have a gray hue.

      "Sir? You may want to come have a look at this..." Jennifer said from the front of the cabin.

      "What is it?" Johnson asked, walking to her and looking past her head.

      "We've got some wreckage on the track, sir, and we're going to hit it really quickly." she said, pointing to a pile of steel plates, twisted pipes and other indistinguishable rubble that crossed the tracks ahead. Above it was a gaping hole in the ceiling.

      "We have to get off of this train," Arnold said in alarm.

      "I think that we can make it through, if we accelerate now," Roger Hapscom suggested.

      "I don't want to risk a derailing,"Johnson replied, "Trying could put us all in a bad spot."

      "What about those things back there?" Hapscom asked, "What about those Spec Ops Covie bastards?"

      "We'll have a better chance with them if we're not hurt," he said. "If anything fails, I have a few flashbangs in my pocket," he continued, "for emergencies." Immediately, he went for the control panel and pulled a small lever down. Almost as soon as he pulled the lever the tramcar jerked to a slow crawl. It continued moving for a few meters and finally slowed to a halt.

      "What the hell will a flashbang do?" Hapscom yelled at Arnold in an outrage. "It won't do shit!"

      "It'll stun them for a few seconds," he explained.

      "I know that! So what? We'll just have a few more seconds to live before we die!"

      "As I was saying, soldier, It'll stun them for a few seconds. Mine also emit a small EMP, which'll take down their shields and mess with their camouflage. That'll mess with our electronics, too, but at least we'll have a chance to kick their asses."

      With that, Johnson opened the tramcar's doors and hopped out. The tunnel they were in extended a ways behind them and ahead of them. He searched the tunnel with his eyes and could see nothing. He kept his rifle at his shoulder in case something happened.

      "Come on, it's better to keep moving," he said to the others, who were still inside the tramcar. They hopped out, one by one, until they all stood on the concrete. The Lieutenant Colonel ushered them onward by waving his gun toward the pile of rubble.

      The heap was larger than he had expected, and there were flames in several spots. They stepped over it carefully, not trusting any of the places they put their feet down, testing each and every one of them before stepping on it. After reaching the other side, they were met with something else they had not expected.

      Johnson was surprised that he had not seen the hole behind the rubble. The bottom was a long fall down, enough to break a leg. It was wide enough that none of them could jump it. Arnold looked around the gap, hoping he would find a way across. If not, that would likely be the end for the Archangels.

      "Over there!" Marksam yelled. He pointed to a ledge that ran along the left side of the gap. Johnson estimated that it would be just big enough for them to take a few quick side steps over it.

      "What are you wasting time for? Get across!" Johnson barked. At once, they made their way across quickly but carefully. Arnold was last, and he quickly put his back to the wall and slid across. Suddenly, a flash of blue plasma streaked past his face and hit the wall near him, where it burned a small hole into the steel. He grunted and jumped the last few feet to the other side of the gap. Al Rodriguez helped Arnold to his feet and immediately fired a silent burst from his rifle. The rounds hit something on the other side and its outline became less vague. It was an Elite.

      Johnson cursed under his breath. "Open up!" he ordered. He brought his rifle to bear and switched the function of the onboard computer to the Motion Sensor Scope setting. The Elite's movements were fully visible and displayed in bright red. He lined up the creature's head with the crosshairs and pulled back the trigger.

      The Elite's shields flickered as the burst of bullets smashed into them. Johnson had to dodge a burst of plasma that another one of the beasts had fired his way. He took aim again and shot another quick burst from his rifle. Again the Elite's shields fluttered. Another burst came from Arnold's MA5XA and again the shields weakened. Finally, the bullets took the shield down and tore through the creature's body, splattering the sickeningly colored blood on the tracks of the tram.

      "Tango down," Johnson said conclusively.

      "Tango down," Perez announced after finishing one off seconds later.

      Johnson lined up his sights on another one of the cloaked beasts. He squeezed off five rounds into the area of the Elite's head. They contacted the shield and bounced off as it pushed them away. Before he could fire his next shot, however, his target fired at him, forcing him to roll out of the way of the glowing orbs of plasma.. They missed him altogether and hit harmlessly on the floor where he was a second ago, throwing up droplets of molten metal. The beast growled angrily and shook its fists in frustration.

      "Yeah?" Johnson said in reply to the sight. He returned to his crouched firing position and shot four rounds at its head. The Elite flinched as they hit its sheild near its eyes. "How'd that feel?" Johnson taunted.

      Out of nowhere, a burst of blue plasma streaked toward him. He dodged as best he could, but one of the bolts caught him in the left shoulder. It seared instantly through the undersuit that showed through the armor plates and burned his flesh. The wound cauterized instantly but the intense heat that still lingered opened it again. It was painful enough to make a few tears squirt out of his eyes. He shrugged off the pain and immediately recovered to his feet. As soon as he got there, however, he saw something that he would have preferred not to.

      Johnson saw that the source of the new income of fire was several more Elites clad in black- and pumice-gray-colored armor.

      "We have to drop back," he announced to the others, "There's too many of them."

      "I'm 'gonna agree with you on that one, sir" Perez replied. He fired a grenade at the enemies from his XA's under-mounted grenade launcher to distract them. The projectile hurtled into the middle of the mass of Elites and detonated on contact with the floor. The explosion sent the nearest one flying backward through the air. Another was thrown to the ground and had its sheilds taken out instantly. Sparks flew from the sheild emitters that dotted its battle suit. An instant later the creature's mandibles and showing face were gone in a flash of purple as Heinriksen fired his BR55.

      They immediately took for the nearest source of cover they could see, a security station only about fifty meters ahead of them. Johnson looked over his shoulder to watch for any fire the enemies might put down on them. Several bolts of the super-heated gas raced toward him; if it weren't for his quick dodging, they nearly would have hit him in the back. Their aim was improving.

      Seconds later, they reached the station. Arnold promptly kicked in the glass pane that seperated them from the inside and ordered the others through. They climbed through the empty window frame and crawled into the office. Johnson was last, and he looked back out of the window to see if the Elites were still following them. A glossy black helmet answered his question right away.

      "Come on, let's keep moving," he said as he turned back to the office. "There's got to be a bulkhead nearby that we could close to get away from those Elites." They walked through the room to a door at the rear of the desk at the very back of the room. The door was unlocked, but it did have a lock on it. That could buy them a little bit of time.

      They headed inside and Johnson immediately spun around and turned the little knob on the doorknob which locked the door. "Does anyone see something we could prop up against the door?" he asked.

      "There's a couple of chairs in this hallway, sir,"Heinriksen stated as his eyes first adjusted to the darkness, "but I'm afraid there's not much else."

      "Those will do." Johnson saw Heinriksen dissapear into the darkness. Seconds later, he resurfaced with two wooden chairs under his arms. Arnold took one and propped it up under the doorknob. The other one he stood against the door.

      "Wait, I think we've got a bench," Heinriksen said, perring with squinted eyes into the darkness.

      "Bring it over here," Arnold ordered. "Move it, we don't have that much time!"

      Again Heinriksen walked into the darkness, but this time he brought Marksam with him. They came back carrying a small bench. "Put it up against the door diagonally." They did so and Arnold turned to the hallway that laid before them.

      "Come on," he said, turning his flashlight on, "We don't have that much time."