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Amethyst part 5 - Echoes
Posted By: kr142616<kr142616@aim.com>
Date: 19 June 2008, 8:58 pm

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      "Pull off the road here," the Echo's distorted voice said from behind Darin, and the corporal turned to the kid, nodding. Without a word Jeff pulled onto a dirt strip along the side of the road, and Darin turned back to the Echo.
      What now?" he asked, keeping his exasperation from creeping into his voice. This whole mysterious routine is getting annoying.
       "Twenty meters down there's a dirt road," the Echo replied. "Take it."
      Again, the kid deferred to Darin, who sighed and nodded. They drove for another twenty meters as the Echo had said, and there was a dirt road, freshly burned away.
       "Looks new," the kid commented. "Us, or aliens?" he asked, not bothering to turn to the Echo.
       "Guess," the Echo said sardonically, surprising Darin. The whole drive the Force Recon marine had appeared emotionless, like an automaton. The voice filter certainly hadn't helped that impression.
       "So, what's our objective?" Darin asked. Although he would've preferred to be with his squad, he wanted to stick with the Echo. He'd definitely get things done with the Force Recon marine, that was for sure. If the mission was important enough for voice filters, SATCOMs, and heavy weapons, Darin wanted in.
      The kid, however, didn't seem to share his opinion. As he heard Darin ask the Echo, he slammed on the brakes. "Wait a minute, we're going back," he said, spinning around, his eyes darting between Darin and the Echo. "I came here to help my uncle."
      Darin turned to the Echo, who only tilted its head, and wordlessly shoved its submachine gun in the kid's face. An explosive sigh erupted from the kid's lips, and he slammed his head against the steering wheel.
       "I am so fucking sick of people pointing fucking guns in my face!" he shouted, bringing his head up. "I stick with you guys and I'm probably dead anyways, so just fucking shoot me!"
      Darin smiled behind his visor, and a barely noticeable shaking of the Echo's upper body suggested laughter. The gun didn't twitch, though.
      After several seconds silence, the kid slammed his hands on the dash. "Fine, have it your way," he said. "I know you wouldn't shoot me," he said, nodding towards Darin, "but you, I'm not so sure of." The kid started the 'Hog rolling again, muttering to himself. "Would kill me and take the fucking jeep, too," he said unhappily to himself. "Fucking marines."

      On his hillside, Bill Walther fiddled with the safety on an S2AM rifle, his own 6.8mm rifle having run out of ammo. He'd only fired one shot from the gun since he changed, though. The Covenant had stopped throwing themselves at the hillside, and silence had prevailed for at least ten full minutes.
      Walther was worried. The reports he'd gotten about the Covenant indicated that they threw themselves at an enemy until they were either beaten into submission, or their ranks were depleted. No subtlety, Bill thought. The Covenant forces around the dig site weren't following that pattern, though: there were scattered reports of contact by patrols out in the burning woods, and a few patrols simply stopped contacting the FOB, their life signals flatlining. The Covenant were definitely up to something.
       "Hey, sarge," a young marine lieutenant called from down the hillside. "I've gotten some men together to go looking for the Covenant forces taking out our patrols, and we're short a marksman. Wanna tag along?"
       "Sure, LT," Walther said, smiling and rising from his position against the tree. "Just let me grab some ammo."

       "Commander, a transmission for the Deacon," the voice of the dropship's pilot echoed throughout the troop bay. "The Field Master wishes to speak with him."
      Special Operations Commander 'Zharkanee turned to 'Aramee, gripping his on shoulder. "It seems your mission has garnered some attention," he said softly, smiling. "Tread carefully with this one." The Commander let his hand slide off. "Open the link with us," he said to the pilot, louder than before.
      There was a flicker in the middle of the troop bay, and the figure of a gold-armored Elite appeared before 'Zharkanee and 'Aramee, the former taking a step back. Both Elites lowered their heads and saluted the Field Master, crossing their arms across their chests.
       "Deacon," the Field Master began, his voice booming, and 'Aramee raised his head to see a hologram nearly reaching the ceiling before him. "I was informed of your task by the Fleet Master and wished to speak to you myself."
       "As you wish, Exalted," the Deacon said, bowing his head again. "What is it you require of me?"
       "Inform me of all progress you make in my theater," the Field Master said imperiously. "This is a most extraordinary blessing, and I would have you inform me first of your successful acquisition," he continued, smiling almost…hungrily, 'Aramee thought.
       "As you wish," 'Aramee repeated respectfully, saluting again.
      The Field Master nodded sanctimoniously. "Indeed it is," he said. "I could use a Deacon as faithful and as loyal among my staff." With that, the towering image of the Field Master winked into nothing, the transmission terminated.
      The Commander grunted. "Be wary of Field Master 'Qurupee," he said. "He is both wealthy and powerful, but none too bright. A Believer, though."
       'Zharkanee strode to his place near the cockpit. "A politician, too, like his hatchmate the Councilor." The Commander sighed. "A poor mix: faith, entitlement, stupidity…" His voice trailed off.
       "Faith, Commander?" 'Aramee asked, bemused. "Remember to whom you speak."
      The Commander waved his hand carelessly. "You know full well what I meant. Blind faith makes one no less blind. He may cause us trouble yet."

       "Shit," Darin said as the 'Hog slowed to a halt. Ahead of them was a cavern, newly blasted into the rocky hillside—and two unoccupied Ghosts.
      The Echo leapt down from the back of the 'Hog, slinging the big S2AM rifle and cradling its submachine gun. Darin and the kid followed, the former tapping the camouflaged special ops marine on the shoulder
      "Here, take this," Darin said, offering the Echo his MA5B. "That M7 ain't gonna do shit to an Elite."
      The Echo nodded, switching weapons with the corporal, and Darin slung the submachine gun for the 12-gauge he'd taken from the uncle's apartment. "Now, you got a comm frequency we can use in case we get separated?" Darin asked.
      The Echo seemed to consider for a moment, then recited a series of numbers in its electronic monotone. Darin programmed them into his helmet comm, and the kid plugged them into his comm headset.
      After waiting a moment for them, the Echo turned and entered the cavern, Darin and the kid following dutifully. For several meters, the walls around them were simply rock worn smooth, but then they encountered a break in the cavern, entering into ruins of grey stone brick.
       "So, this is what the archaeologists found," the kid whispered to himself. The ruins were lit by a dim white light, the ground worn smooth from years of passage untold millennia ago.
       "Wow," Darin said. "No wonder the bastards are here. They must be looking for something their ancestors behind." Out of the corner of his eye, Darin glanced at the Echo. And whatever the Covenant are after, this guy's after it, too.
      Darin and Jeff followed the Echo down a slightly sloping ramp lower into the ruins. The hallways seemed to go on forever, with no doors, only a starkly empty passageway with intricate geometric carvings periodically marking the walls.
      After about ten minutes, though, they hit the first sign of technology: a door. An open door.
       "Not good," Darin said. "They've been through here." The Echo ignored him, and proceeded.
      Through the doorway, the hallway split. The special ops marine's filtered voice came over the comm. "You two, left. I'm going right." Without waiting for a response, the Force Recon marine left.
      The kid and Darin stood there a moment, looking at each other. "I don't like this asshole," the kid said grumpily, shifting the carbine in his arms.
       "Me neither," Darin said. "Let's go, though. I'd be more worried what he'll do to us if we don't listen." Darin didn't feel the need to state that at least they were doing something important. The kid wasn't bitching about his uncle anymore, and Darin didn't want to remind him unnecessarily.
      As they made their way together down the hallway, the lights became even dimmer, and Darin switched his visor to low-light. Next to him he heard a scrape and a muffled curse. Jeff, unfortunately, had to deal with just his eyes.
      For several minutes more, there was silence and darkness as the pair made their way through the ancient ruins. Darin marveled at the stone walls, clean and precise and, if what he was hearing was to be believed, far older than humanity itself. But the Covenant couldn't have made this, could they?
      Darin stopped, though, losing his train of thought. Ahead, he heard movement.
       "Don't move, kid," he said, motioning him to stay. "Trouble."
      The corporal made his way forwards slowly, trying to be as quiet as possible in the bulky airborne armor, already loaded down with equipment. Thank Christ there's no rattling, he thought. As he turned around a corner, he saw a glint of blue—and immediately spun back. Elite Minor. It didn't look like the Elite had seen him, though. Just to be sure, he peeked his head out again, to find the alien facing the opposite direction, mumbling to itself. Perfect.
      Slowly and purposefully, the marine inched around the corner and up to the alien, not daring to breathe. He moved forward painstakingly, heart racing, weapon gripped like a vise, until he only about a meter away.
      He pointed the shotgun's barrel at the creature's back, and fired. The weapon roared in the silence, the muzzle flash nearly blinded him. Fuck! Should've switched to normal light. Darin saw the Elite stumble forwards onto the ground, though, and not taking any chances, he fired again, the alien's shields flickering and dying. The corporal fired once more, and the Elite stopped moving with an unsettling finality.
      He stood there a moment, about to call the kid forwards from around the corner, when he heard a whine, a blue flash whizzing by his head. Darin dived back to the corner, scrambling for cover. He poked his head out again to see the red armor of an Elite Major. Bastard wasn't talking to itself, he thought grimly. Must've been on the comm.
      Darin braced himself against the wall, and heard the kid slam against the wall next to him. "Elite," Darin said, motioning around the corner. "Let's go." He was about to leap around and confront his foe when he heard a series of staccato bursts. Darin turned to the kid and burst around the corner to find the Elite turned and facing a camouflaged marine, undoubtedly the Echo. Darin and Jeff joined the fray quickly, finishing the Elite off with a pair of shotgun bursts and a spray of automatic weapons fire.
       "Thanks, mate," Darin said to the Echo, taking off his helmet. "Saved my ass there."
       "No problem," a friendly, unfiltered male voice said. It was then that Darin noticed this Echo had no sniper rifle, but instead a BR55 battle rifle with a grenade launcher attachment.
      As comprehension dawned on Darin's face, a second Echo moved around the corner. This one was the corporal's companion: on its back was the big S2AM, and Darin's MA5B was held up to its face. The marine lowered it, though, seeing the two marines standing momentarily idle. "All clear, Four?" the now somewhat-familiar voice asked.
      "Yup," the friendly voice replied, and the Echo it belonged to—Four—removed his helmet to reveal a round, boyish face unfitting of a Force Recon marine, and an unrestrained grin to match. "Take the damn filter, off, Alison," he said.
       "Whatever," the first Echo replied. After a moment, the corporal's companion removed her helmet, revealing a face much more befitting an Echo, her eyes a cold grey and auburn hair to contrast. "And it's Two. Where're the LT and Three?"
       "Church and Lav are around," Four said. Darin didn't hear the reply, though, and soon noticed the first glaring at him. "What're you looking at?" she asked. Even a filter couldn't have hidden the hostility in her voice.
      Darin immediately straightened. "Uh, nothing, ma'am," he said, feeling his face redden. "It's just that I, uh, I thought you were a guy, ma'am."
      The auburn-haired Echo, Two—he finally had a name to attach to her—glared at him for a moment longer, then replaced her helmet without a word. Darin went to apologize, but the other Echo interrupted him. "She gets that a lot, don't worry," he said. "Just don't mention it again and she won't shoot you." Four seemed to find that quite funny, chuckling to himself as he replaced his helmet.
       "Found something," Two said over the comm, the filter no distorting her voice. "Move up."
      The other Echo trotted off in the direction the auburn-haired one had gone, and Darin followed, the kid rounding the corner behind him.
      What the Echo had found was a door, leading into a room barely lit but for its center, where a pedestal stood. On it rested a small object, silver and pulsing blue, about the size of a fist. Darin didn't know what it was, but there was no doubt in his mind it was alien, and it was important.
      The marines and the kid stared at the object warily for a moment, when the boyish Echo broke the silence. "So, who's gonna get it?"
      For a moment longer, no one moved. Then, Darin stepped forwards. "Fuck it," he said, approaching the object steadily but confidently. As he got nearer to the bright light surrounding the pedestal, however, his confidence wavered. He kept going, though, and tentatively reached out to the artifact.
      The blue of the artifact became brighter as his hand approached, centimeter by centimeter, until the corporal went to grasp the object.
      His hands, however, found nothing, and seemed to pass through it like air. He tried again, and again, waving his hand above the pedestal, yet still finding nothing. When in frustration he slammed his fist downwards, however, it still met the pedestal of cool metal.
      "Hold on," the female marine said. She looked directly at the object, then made a sound of satisfaction. "Look at it, and check your rangefinders."
      Darin did as directed, and frowned in confusion. That's not right. When he focused on the object, his rangefinder seemed to go wild, the distance infinity.
      "Weird," Four said. "Alien tech?"
      "It's not human, and that object is there," the other replied. "Scanning for power sources." There was a pause, then the female Echo continued. "Only two in this room: the pedestal and a space on the back wall, a meter up." A waypoint appeared on Darin's HUD.
      The two Echoes stared at him expectantly. "Oh, I get it," Darin said. "Send the grunt." When neither replied, Darin shook his head and approached the back wall, turning on his helmet spotlight. Where most of the wall appeared smooth and uninterrupted, the waypoint directed the corporal to a thin bar of metal rising from the floor to about the his midsection.
      Darin stood in front of the wall, waiting for something to happen. "It's just a bar of metal," he said, looking back. "Guess I'll try the touch test again." The marine laughed nervously.
      Like before, Darin reached out tentatively. This time, though, he never got to touch it. As his hand approached, the wall before him burst into colors and lights. He heard the kid curse and the Echoes both jump, no doubt bringing weapons reflexively to bear. The corporal held his hand out behind him, though.
      "I'm alright," he said, looking intently at the colorful display emitting from the bar of metal that had seemed so lifeless a moment before. "Looks like a control panel or something." Darin had no clue how to operate it, however.
      The corporal studied the display, looking for obvious buttons or levers—difficult when the controls were holographic. He was unable to find any, but for some reason his gaze kept returning to a line running down the left side, and, without thinking, Darin slid his hand down it, from top to bottom.
      As suddenly as it had appeared, the display winked out, and there was a burst of static across the corporal's helmet comm. He turned around to see the kid cupping his ears, and the Force Recon marines holding their helmets.
      "What'd you do?" the kid asked, glaring at Darin. The female Echo brushed passed before Darin could reply, making towards the pedestal. Her hand hesitated over the object, though, looking unchanged.
      "Oh, for fuck's sake," Darin said. The corporal strode over to the pedestal, and without hesitating this time, grabbed the object, pocketing it. "Special ops my ass."
      Four shook with silent laughter.
      All the room's occupants braced themselves, however, as a boom resonated through the ceiling overhead.
      Four straightened, glancing towards the door. "Looks like it's time for us to go."