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Homeworlds XIX
Posted By: Mainevent<billygoat359@netscape.net>
Date: 17 October 2003, 2:49 AM

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Chapter Fourteen-It came from beneath the.....

      The slow pan in the video nearly drove the crew insane. The shimmering metallic object it finally focused on was strange. Neither Capulet or his crew could make out what it was. Some sort of large mechanical creature surged by the window, with a close escort of three or four.

      He had seen enough to know that it was time to go, and go he was. He was fairly sure he wouldn't even be reprimanded, as his mission was technically both a success and over. There was one person on the command deck who wasn't willing to just leave on the spot, as curiosity was a very overcoming adversary.

      "Captain, we shouldn't just leave. We don't know what happened here. You're willing to abandon this oppurtunity?" John asked with a slight step up the centered platform's stubby ramp. The journey reminded him of his time aboard the Truth and Reconciliation, a journey he enjoyed neither the first or second time he made it.

      "Listen Spartan, I value your judgement, I really do, but I've seen enough in my years to know that I'm in WAY over my head. Look at this screen and tell me what you see." The captain spun his chair to face the approaching cyborg, and bent down. It was hard for Capulet to establish the dominance he was trying to, as he couldn't lock eyes with the Chief, who was wearing the thick golden visor.

      "I see an enemy who has been rendered combat ineffective, thus giving us an excellent oppurtunity to secure vital information that could be extremely useful to FLEETCOM in the future." The Chief's parry was brilliant, and the captain couldn't argue with it, but he wasn't going to lose this battle, at least not yet.

      "I understand the urge you'd have for me to sit you down on that planet and let you scamper around like children on a scavenger hunt, but there are three things that make me very nervous. One is the fact that there is NO life here. The other is that whoever did it is gone. And the last is that whatever Covenant forces are en route to answer those distress beacons are going to be very curious when they get here, and finding a modified vessel probably labeled as K.I.A. in the midst of all this will not look very good for us."

      "Sir, sit us down on the planet, and give my men four hours. That's all I ask." Tensions were high as the two men fought a subconcious tug-of-war game for dominance. Neither could establish it, and that somehow struck them as odd deep down. Capulet had never been defeated like this before, and the Chief had never been defeated period.

      Capulet turned to face his panels again, the low beep and hum of sensors the only audible sounds in the room. It had gotten darker it seemed, the only two people in the room were the captain and the spartan. The only two figures who could move or even breathe as everyone else couldn't help but watch on fanatically.

      "Your men get four hours. No more, no less. If they aren't onboard at exactly four hours, not four hours and one minute, not four hours and thirty seconds, four hours, then they will be left. Mark my words. Campbell, sit us down on that planet as quickly as possible. Chief, prep your men." Eye contact, facial contact for that matter, was not re-established between the two after this mind war. Capulet merely stared at his flashing holograms as the chief disappeared down the corridor he had entered from, most likely heading for the barracks.

Planetside (Countdown Clock 31:40:03 Until Liftoff)

      Shim surveyed the area again, still trying to find a feasable excuse as to what had happened. He had established several, but none could stick. Inside of his sealed suit he could feel nothing, but the sight itself was hostile.

      The two large suns orbiting Celaco glared down on the team like beady eyes watching from the shadows. Waiting to pounce as soon as it's victim gave a moment's respite. The few remaining buildings left standing, or partially erect, were ablaze or smoldering. Three similarly-styled ten story buildings were sitting crippled at the edge of the city. Unknown materials the jackals used for glass lay strewn across the sandy earth, several shards blowing carelessly in the wind.

      The small jackal houses they passed were simply crumbles of brick, metal, and plastics. Bodies littered the street as though it was commonplace. So much garbage to be picked up by time, the cruel pardoner of all sins. Flies swarmed over the decaying carasses. His suit's air filters did nothing for the smell, the smell of burning flesh, of rotting flesh, of innocence brutally swept away without warning.

      Stopped in his tracks by the sight of a woman lying hunched over on the ground, holding something in her arms. He crouched down, curious, and carefully turned her over. Cradled in her arms was child. A small jackal of only several months, he began crying as the large cold hands removed him from the warm flesh of his mother.

      Flashes of memory surged through his mind, unwanted or scared he wasn't sure, but the feeling was strange. The video of the Covenant glassing planets, the satellite video of men and women on the ground running for their lives before being turned violently to ash, and then erased from history forever. He was sure there had been millions of children, just like this one, on those planets as well. Though not human, he felt a strange compassion for the helpless creature, it's small eyes staring at him. It was too young to know war, or hate, or famine, it merely wanted someone, anyone, who could take the pain away.

      Shimmer neslted him closely to his chest, and the small arms of the infant clambered in an effort to wrap themselves around him, but they could not. The sound of movement nearby snapped him back to the situation at hand, Sellers racing past excitedly screaming.

      "Hurry up man, get over here. What are you waiting for?" The enormous marine asked with a puzzled look at Shimmer, who had concealed the baby under a piece of building material he had fashioned into a makeshift carrier.

"What, what are you talking about?" Shimmer asked quietly.

      Sellers cocked his head for a moment, and then responded, "You know, the Chief just ordered us to the center of the city, didn't you hear? They found a survivor. Get out of it man, move." Sellers rushed off towards the center of the city, disappearing down a nearby alley and into several looming shadows.

      Shimmer made a short-yet-slow sprint to the location that had marked itself on his HUD. A small blue circle with a huddle of green circles around it. The concealed figure he was carrying with him was settled gently down behind a small pile of rubble, the child inside soundly asleep. Shimmer joined the group just in time, the surviving jackal was lying on a stretcher, being filled with biofoam as he spoke.

      Translation software installed into their neural implants decoded the language with ease and precision, but there was a noticeable delay. His speech was garbled, yet understandable. The fact that he was still alive was a miracle in itself, as many of the other bodies strewn nearby were sawed savagely in half, or amputated in several places.

      "They came from nowhere, I've never seen them before. We got a message over the Battle Net that a ship, a human ship, had come. So our carriers were sent out to destroy you, it. But it wasn't a normal ship, it wasn't human. The things came out of it like huntaks (similar to bees, wasps, or hornets). The carriers took several of them out, but they were very quick. The shields did nothing, they slipped inside, and they avoided our lasers by stitching themselves to the hull. Many headed for the laser turrets, and destroyed them. From there on, they simply sat on the hulls, and cut their way through the armor."

      "First they cut through the main hull, creating vacuums all over the ship. It was like, like they knew where everything was. They were quick, ruthless, and brutal. Then they waited, and when everyone was dead, moved inside, and cut through another deck, and another, and another, until, finally, all of the crew was dead. The grunts managed long enough, but there weren't enough of them to hold them off."

      "What human ship was it that entered your space?"

      "We hailed it as the Sunrise and Sunset."

      The Chief turned to the men, and asked over a private comm. channel, "Has anyone here heard of a UNSC ship by that name?" Most of the men responded no, but three arms stood like gigantic emerald pillars holding up the sky itself. Sellers stepped forward, "I think he's talking about the Dawn of Dusk sir."

      "The Dawn of what?"

      "The Dawn of Dusk, Deja told us about how both her and the Ark set down on a large ringworld. The Dawn of Dusk was infected by something, and the Ark took off. The Dawn of Dusk was left on the ringworld the last I heard."

      "Why didn't you tell me about this?" The Chief took a heavy step forward, curling his fists by his side. Sellers, despite being nearly a half foot taller than the Chief, took a clumsy step backwards in response. Two of the spartans braced their fellow soldier, but the chief still walked closer. "Answer me marine!" His voice was nearly shouting now, no one had ever seen their leader this angry or emotional before, they weren't sure what had gotten into him.

      "I'm s-s-sorry sir. It was just that, I had never heard of this ringworld, and I didn't think it was that big of a deal." Sellers' jumbled words showed weakness, something the Chief would forgive, but not now, and probably not for a while to come. He said nothing in response, merely turning away and walking back to the Jackal.

      "Do you know which way the ship came from, and which way it left?"

      "Your ship came from the east side of the planet, closest to the moon, and it left from the north, towards the other side of the moon." Everyone seemed to stare at each other, their thoughts apparent. Someone had to warn FLEETCOM immediately, if it wasn't already too late.

      "Fall back to the ship immediately, I mean double time it. If anyone stops before they get there, you're left." John turned towards the Prophet's Will's general direction, and began a sprint. One of the spartans holding the wounded Jackal asked what to do with him, he was answered with an emotionless, "Leave him."

      Shimmer looked down, wrapped the child in his arms, and hopped in the back of one of the nearly fourteen Wrthogs or Scorpion tanks they had brought along, unsure of what to expect. Dust sketched out the air as they blazed across the bumpy dirt, the once pristince suburbia that was located here now a ash heap. Whatever these creatures were, they were ruthless, accurate, and unforgiving, for which he had to give them at least some credit.

Prophet's Will Command Center

      "Send a message to FLEETCOM, tell them to get all of their weapons ready, mostly their anti-aircraft stuff. The Chief informs me that these creatures are actually robots, he isn't sure how they managed it, or what they're up to, but he knows it's no good. Inform Abigaid to form a tight group, and he should be able to hold them off, and whatever he does, don't let them break the line, it's their only chance."

      The heavy ship was speeding through Shaw-Fukijawa slipspace as fast as it could, nearly tearing a new hole in the sub-dimension's fabric. At this rate it would be at least several hours before they arrived at the General's position, hopefully that would be enough. Hopefully. All they had right now was hope, it was a desperate race, one they wouldn't be able to afford anything but first place in.

      The Longswords onboard of the make-shift hangar were prepping for takeoff. Getting refueled, armed, and checking all of their flight plans. Two luck pilots were getting the oppurtunity to man the Seraph fighter found unused. It's wings were much longer than the Banshee's, but still looked awkwardly stubby on a ship of it's size.

      The spartans were getting ready, they weren't sure how they could help in the battle coming up, the one downfall of being a land-warrior, in space you were useless, a silent observer in a war so loud. They suited up none-the-less. They had one thing going for them, their suits were made for vacuum. So if those tricky bastards did attempt to use the strategy the Jackal had laid out, they would be able to fight them up close. Just how they liked it.

      Shimmer hid the small Jackal in his personal quarters, making sure that it had food and water nearby. He wasn't sure exactly what it ate, but it could make due on what it had for the time being, he didn't plan on being gone for that long anyway, but you never know what's going to happen when you're a Spartan.