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Amethyst part 3 – Lumination
Posted By: kr142616<kr142616@aim.com>
Date: 4 April 2008, 1:40 am

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      Nkas 'Aramee strode purposefully through the entrance to the war room of the Cloistered Expectancy, flagship of the Fleet of Virtuous Conquest. For a moment he stood just inside the arch, feeling out of place amid the buzz of activity: Elites at their command consoles, Grunts scurrying to relay orders and cowering at the bark of a superior or the hiss of a Jackal. Almost immediately, though, he spotted the Fleet Master, and confidently wove his way through the chaos.
      Fleet Master Srik 'Balasee stood calmly before a display of the entire star system, observing the battle in peace. And why should he not? 'Aramee thought. The fight in orbit goes well, and the ground invasion is underway. 'Aramee hoped to add another victory to the already-successful battle.
      "Fleet Master," he said, lowering his head in respect. "We have fortuitous news." The Deacon of the Cloistered Expectancy managed to keep his voice even.
      "Then speak, Deacon," 'Balasee commanded without turning. "What further blessings have the gods offered today?"
      "We have—" 'Aramee's voice trembled with fervor, and again he clamped down on his excitement. "We have found an…exceptional…Lumination." The Deacon's lips split in an involuntary grin. "In addition to the Luminations the humans carry with them, we have discovered another." At this, the Fleet Master froze, almost imperceptibly. He still didn't turn, though, and it was impossible to tell what he was thinking. "I am unsure as to what it entails, although it appears to be a Cartographer. Or an Erudition."
      It was several seconds before the Fleet Master spoke. When he did, though, it was in the same deep, solid voice, relaxed and authoritative.
      "A rare find indeed," he said, gesturing to the display before him. "Show me."
      The Deacon bowed again, and stepped forward, entering the coordinates he had retrieved from the Luminary, the device all Covenant ships carried to detect relics of the Forerunners. An icon appeared on a hologram of the human world, on the lower part of the largest continent, and 'Aramee magnified the view until individual representations of the humans' units appeared.
      "The relic's location is not far from their largest city, and already their forces are moving to its location." The Deacon growled, and his hands balled into fists. "They seek to soil it with their filthy hands, but we can beat them, Fleet Master!" This time the passion was evident in his voice, and 'Aramee did not try to hide it. "We can take what the gods have ordained is ours!"
      "Then we will take it, Deacon," 'Balasee replied. "A Special Operations unit is preparing to join the fight. This will be their objective, as it will be that of all nearby units."
      "As you will it, Fleet Master," 'Aramee replied, lowering his head in obeisance. "The Prophets will be pleased at this reclamation."
      "Indeed they will," 'Balasee remarked, a smile in his voice. "That is why you must not fail."
      The Deacon looked quizzically at the Fleet Master. 'Aramee was no warrior, despite the training he had received; both knew it. Regardless, 'Aramee thought, the opportunity to be at the head of this reclamation…
      "Suit up," the Fleet Master commanded. "You will oversee Commander Zharkanee's warriors. They are marshalling, and will soon be prepared to embark." The Fleet Master paused, and glanced over his shoulder, looking at 'Aramee for the first time. "I trust you are equipped for battle?"
      The Deacon nodded. "Long has it been since I last wore the armor, Fleet Master, but we will not fail at this task. I will ensure that."
      "You had better," 'Balasee said, steel suddenly in his voice. "Precious few relics have been recovered, and if you do not succeed, the Hierarchs will have both our heads." The threat hung for a moment in the air, until the Fleet Master turned back to his display, once again observing the progress of the battle.
      "Go now, Deacon," he said dismissively. "Your prize awaits."

      Bill Walther moved forwards slowly, stomach on the ground, through the tall grass. Ahead of him were the sounds of combat: weapons fire and inarticulate voices, human and alien. He wanted to rush forwards and help the men there, but he couldn't.
      Not yet, he thought, pushing aside his urge to join the fight. He knew a tall man running down a hillside would make a tempting target, and he'd be no good to the troops dead.
      The crawl was painstakingly slow, but after several minutes, Walther reached the crest of the hill he was climbing, and lay flat on his stomach. He removed his rifle from his back and laid it next to him, and took out a pair of optics from a pouch on his vest. Through them, he could see a set of toll booths, blocky, concrete buildings, and several abandoned cars and trucks, one of them an Army Global Guard Warthog.
      A group of aliens—a bunch of the loud, short ones and one of the tall, gangly ones—were hiding behind an abandoned truck, exchanging fire with guardsmen in a small concrete building on the side of the rode. The aliens knew the guardsmen were trapped, and were probably waiting for backup.
      Not gonna let them get that far, Walther thought.
      The ex-marine waited for a lull in the combat and raised his rifle, looking through the rifle's scope. His target was the big one, obviously the leader. In some documents he'd gotten a hold of, he'd read about these aliens, these "Covenant." The big ones, Elites, were tough bastards, with energy shields in their armor, but the little ones, the Grunts, were pussies. He'd focus on the big one first.
      Walther had a 6.8mm rifle: it wasn't nearly an S2 AM, but it would do the job well enough. He'd need two bursts, maybe three. The first two just had to hit, but the third and any after would need to be headshots. Each shot would count.
      He lined up on the big one's head, and controlled his breathing until it was nice and steady. Then, he flicked the safety off. His finger tightened on the trigger, and time seemed to slow for just an instant…
      The first two shots came off in rapid succession, the alien spinning to look for the source of the incoming fire and moving towards cover.
      Money shot, Walther thought, tracking the Elite. Just before it ducked behind a wrecked car, the ex-marine got the shot off, hitting it in the head.
      There was a flash—and the thing was still standing.
      "Hmph." Walther lowered his rifle and unclipped a grenade from his belt—a homemade cocktail of semtex and scrap metal. Judging the distance, he lobbed the explosive down the hill, hearing it clink as it rolled next to the car.
      Quickly grabbing his rifle, he aimed once again towards the car. In an instant, the Elite dived from behind cover, going into a roll and gracefully coming out of it. Just as gracefully, Walther shot him, hitting low left face and spraying an arc of purple gore across the pavement.
      Walther blinked. It was odd, killing an alien. He hadn't had trouble killing fellow humans when he was a marine, but he doubted he'd ever have a bad dream where this alien's face haunted him.
      It had taken only about half a minute to kill the big one, and once he dropped, the other ones had dissolved in panic, screaming. Walther pulled another grenade from his vest and hurled it at the little bastards, the shrapnel taking out two. The last two went down with a pair of bursts.
      Rising, Walther slung the rifle across his back and unslung his sub-machine gun. Ahead he could see a soldier poking his heads out of the building, weapon raised. Walther waved an all-clear, and out came four guardsmen, accompanied by several civilians.
      "Thanks," the lead guardsman, a young lieutenant, said. "You helped us out of a tight spot."
      "No problem," Walther replied. "Staff Sergeant Walther, retired, UNSC Marine Corps." He offered his hand. "I heard the PA, and thought I'd come and join the party."
      The guardsman eyed him warily, and accepted his hand. "Not much of a party here, sarge," he said. "We've got civilians. We're trying to evacuate 'em, but we don't know how many there are. The rest of my platoon was out searching when we got pinned down."
      Walther nodded. "How are things at the dig site?" he asked, paying no mind to the woman and what must have been her son peering out of the structure at him.
      "Like hell, sarge. The aliens moved through here to get there, and were pretty indiscriminate in who they killed on the way." The lieutenant shook his head, and looked at Walther with pained eyes. "This is a goddamn campsite, sarge, civvies everywhere. Summer break just started, too, and there's a lot of kids and families."
      "You know what they want at the dig?" Walther asked. He didn't care about the civilians, not right now. He just wanted to help the marines, not look after crying kids.
      "No clue," the lieutenant said, again shaking his head. "It's been in the news a lot here lately, though. Old ruins, hundreds of thousands of years old. I'm sure there's something the aliens know about it that we don't."
      "Right." Walther looked around. "Well, point me towards the dig site, and I'll be on my way. You're doing a good job, sir, and keep looking for the civvies."
      "Thanks, sarge," the lieutenant said, seeming startled that a veteran marine would call a guardsman "sir". He turned back towards the bunker. "Stay here, and keep your heads down," he said to the woman and the other civilians there. "The corporal and private here will stay with you." Two of the guardsmen nodded, one guiding the civilians back into the structure. "Good luck, sarge," the lieutenant said, turning back to Walther.
      "You too, son," the former marine said, walking towards an abandoned car. After several seconds fiddling with the electronics and a few more asking the lieutenant for directions, Walther was on his way, a predatory grin on his face.

      "Blue Two, do you read? This is One."
      The marine's eyes snapped open, and Blue Two jumped up. The movement jerked the marine back down, and as the fog cleared, the surroundings became recognizable as the interior of an HEV, Blue Two being stuck in the crash webbing.
      Undoing the restraints, the marine winked an acknowledgement light wordlessly and, retrieving the weapons and equipment strewn inside the HEV, blew the pod's hatch.
      The entryway exploded outwards, slamming with a crunch into a thick tree. Almost immediately, silence returned, and Blue Two could see the forest beyond the hatch. Stepping out, submachine gun shouldered, the marine swung from side to side, seeing no danger.
      Blue Two turned towards the nearest road, using HUD maps linked with local satellites, and made for the squad's ultimate destination without a word.