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Homeworlds XXIV
Posted By: Mainevent<hachoo@excuseme.com>
Date: 23 November 2003, 4:40 AM

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Chapter Sixteen-Who'da thunk it...
UNSC Barbarian

      Apocryphos was a cold place. An enormous giant space station floating alone in space. Her massive circumference was roughly forteen Cole-Class cruisers long. Her central hub was a gargantuan docking port, incoming capital ships and the like could get much needed repair while her crew, often dreary eyed from battle, got some rest. For the first time, they may have even relaxed as well. The Covenant threat was temporarily gone, there was no one to fight, at least not now. Abigaid was semi-glad to receive a week for upgrades, replacements, and overall down time, both for his ship and his men. The only thing keeping his happiness in check was the unsurmountable feeling of dread that always stuck with him.
      "Sir, would you like a full maintenence scan and diagnostics check run on all core systems while we're on Apock?" The diagnostics officer asked standing hunched in front of his computer.
      "Just let Narses handle it."
      "Yes sir. Permission to go portside sir."
      "Granted, get the hell out of here, go have some fun for a change. And be safe."
      His words had a double meaning, but they were welcomed none-the-less. The stocky man laughed as he strolled from the room, tapping the bulkhead as he passed under the heavy doors. Abigaid was struggling not to pass out while he finished his tedious log entries and several official reports. The holopanel shivered and stuttered as it was remotely activated, and the figure of a seventy-four year old man in roman regalia, Narses.
      "General I'll take over the diagnostics while you get some sleep. You look like you need it."
      "Your damn right I need it. I haven't slept in over forty-eight hours. I'm running on protein sticks and caffeine. I'll finish this in the morning. Although, if you wouldn't mind, would you be as kind as to fill out my logs for me. I really have neither the time nor the patience for those meddlesome reports. Also, there are I believe six queued requests for relocations throughout the ship. Scan their background, and if you see fit approve it."
      Abigaid interlocked his fingers, and arched his back. Audible pops resounded through the now empty bridge. It was strange to have the silence, the lack of humanity. The peace. This is how it's supposed to be, no worries, just peace, serenity. He thought to himself.
      "Will that be all General?" Narses asked.
      "Also, when running the diagnostics, keep weapons systems online. I want to be prepared for anything."
      "That is impossible sir, as it would require one or more persons to manually control those systems."
      "Well how bout you use one of those subroutines you have stored up there and trick the system into thinking it's manually logged on?" After a noticeable pause, he responded.
      "Very good idea. I'm quite surprised I hadn't thought of that. By all means I should have."
      "It's your age catching up to you Nar."
      "I believe you could be correct in your presumption, but we may never know. At least, I won't for too long." Narses laughed to himself, as did Abigaid. Narses was well over five years old, nearing the max life expectancy for an AI of his calibre, but his self-perception gave him an almost human quality that many of the other Intelligences lacked.


      "Glover, where's my cover!" Shields screamed over his comm link. Three sniper rounds cracked the air and threads of fate were brutally snipped, or at least would have been with a different enemy. Blue team was racing up a hill roughly fifty meters high, with only sparsely strewn rocks for protection. Fleshen monstrosities lay in wait at the precipice, starving for blood.
      "What the hell are these things, they just keep coming. We're gonna run out of ammo soon." Glover yelled, forgetting that no one outside of his suit could hear him. He chinned the mouthpiece and asked the question a second time, this one much calmer. His HUD winked in response, three times for "Understood". He had just began palming a fresh clip of ammo when one of the human combat forms bound over the rock he was stationed behind. Hiding wasn't technically correct, as he wasn't running from his opposer, merely using the boulder for cover. His head jerked to the left as the rocked chipped and cracked from the tenticle's force. An upercut landed on the nearl-liquified remains of the human jaw, sending a gelatinous ooze into the air and ripping the head clean off of the body. It wasn't done though, it just kept coming.
      Another slash from it's appendages totally depleted Glover's shields, and he barely ducked the third swipe. They're fast as hell, I can't keep this up for long. He heaved his weight in his suit, wrapping his arms around it's poor excuse for a waist, and crashing to the ground with it. It smeared along the earth like so much jelly on toast, and Glover slid head first down the hill. He collided with a large boulder and came to a painful halt. Three more of them were bounding down the hill after him. They weren't too terribly smart, but they were smart enough, and sure as hell strong enough, to be deadly. He fiddled for another clip, but his pack had come loose during his tumble and was snagged helplessly on a branch a good four meters away. Where the hell are they all coming from? Pulsed through his mind.
      "I got you Glover, go for it." Shields told his team-mate with confidence. The barrel of his M7AB battle rifle carefully tracking it's quarry. Several successive shots sent one of the bastards flailing into it's compatriot, but didn't kill it. It did manage to slow them down, which was just what he had intended it to do.
      "Watch your ass!Sarahn said enthusiastically as Shields ducked. A trained response which had become almost auitomatic to everyone on the squad. One of them cought itself mid-whip in an awkward position, but was too late to stabilize. It collided at it's waist into him, sending it head over heel onto the ground. Shields punched it's face in, before pumping three rounds into whatever heart it should have had and blowing off it's feet.
      Six of them had straddled Glover, he could barely move. They were so strong. Two had his arms, and two had his legs. The other one had it's tentacles wrapped around his neck while the last one beat him repeatedly. First his shields failed, then his suit ruptured, then the darkness.
      "Blue-three, blue-three, respond!" Shields said elbowing one of the flood attempting to bum-rush him. It's chest caved in and it reeled backwards, the strange fleshy sac attached to the host's chest erupting violently. Shields turned to see his partner's corpse being ravaged by the beasts, who were still senselessly attacking it. He squeezed off four rounds, catching one in the head and sending him crashing down onto Blue-three, covering his bloody wounds.
      An awkward rustle behind him was ominous as Shields turned to face it. Two heavy feet landed in his visor, pushing him backwards into the ground. He attempted to stop himself, but it was no use. He slid further than Glover, and with twice as many on him. It was only a matter of seconds before they had finished him off as well. Sarahn was having more luck, at least for the moment. Her heavy machine gun was making short work of the small infectious zits, and giving the larger ones a bit of a time, but there were too many. Half flanked while the other half gave her a full frontol charge. She picked the weapon up and tried to cut a gap in their ranks, but they weren't human, they weren't scared. Their club-like fists slammed into her head, cracking her visor. She flopped onto her back, only for seven of them to hijack her.

Glover, Patrick G.
Sarahn, Kendra H.
Shields, Billy K.
Moody, Logan T.

      The post-excercise report was always useful. The Master Chief studied it intently, and shook his head. They were better than when he had gotten them, but not perfect. Especially against an enemy they hadn't seen before.
      Shields and Sarahn were only now pulling the heavy VR helmets off and pushing themselves out of hte large bucket chairs, a crowd of hungry onlookers watching with fascination. They would all have a chance soon enough. But now it was time for the lesson of the day.      "This is horrible. I mean this is some really sorry stuff. All of Blue-team dead, flag in enemy control. Why did this happen Shields?"
      "Sir, there were too many of them, sir! We were outnumbered and out of options. We ran low on ammunition, and it got us beaten sir."
      "No, what got you beaten was fear. You'd never seen your opponent, and you were afraid. Afraid of it's grotesque face and hideous eyes. But let me tell you all a secret, if you've never seen him, he's never seen you. So you have the surprise. He'll, I know If I was fighting and I saw any of you I would sh*t myself. Use that too your advantage. And as far as this bullshit about being outnumbered, you don't know what outnumbered feels like..." He drifted off momentarily, but recomposed himself quickly. "I want you, all of you, in the Battle Room in fifteen, suited and ready. We'll do this until you get it right." He beckeoned to a large metallic door at the far end of the room, with the words LOCKERS written on it.

Fifteen minutes later

      The chief was suited and ready. The battle room was a football field sized section of at the center of Apocryphos that could either have gravity or not. It was at the epicenter of the HUB. He was going to take full advantage of the week he had free, and teach his men as much as he could. They'd need it. They were fighting something much worse than the Covenant now, they were fighting the Sentinels. While not all that deadly alone, in swarms they were voracious.
      The Battle Room was a training center for any marines who needed it, but was strictly Spartan property for the week. It was an enormous rectangular prism with strangely paneled walls, floors, and ceilings. John stared at the control panel at the room's entrance. It was his first time using the room, and he wasn't quite sure how it worked.
      "Pick a layout, and the room will replicate it for you." Cortana chimed in.
      "No kidding." He had been staring at the monitor and it's multitudes of layouts for five minutes, and wasn't sure which one he wanted the most. Then, he found one he liked. It was almost an exact replication of the hill in the virtual capture the flag game. He accepted it and watched through the small transparent port on the door as large and small rods raised themselves into various positions, and then stopped. Once finished, their arrangement was solid enough to support the weight, and a hologram of dirt, rocks, and trees appeared.
      "We're using lasers today. No one can get get hurt, but anyone of you "dies" in this simulation, you don't get to eat until you single-handedly beat this simulation. If you can't work as a team, you'll work by yourself, and to death. Teamwork, I want to see teamwork. I've pruned you as much as I can, but you are all still acting alone. I saw you occasionally cover each other, but that's necessity, not teamwork. Do you understand?"
      "We understand sir!" Coursed through the small corridor leading into the Battle Room.
      This simulation is slightly larger than the one in the VR missions. Commanders of Blue, Red, Gold, and Green teams stand behind me." He ordered. The five Spartans passed him uniformly, and spaced themselves out evenly.
      "This is Team Silver. We are the opposers for this excercise. Your objective is to take our flag. That is all, leave the room, we'll start the game in thirty seconds."

      "This'll be a piece of cake, I mean, how many of us are there?" Sellers asked rhetorically.
      "Thirty seven of us, against the best six there are." Shimmer was still cautious. He didn't know the Chief well, but he knew one thing, he wouldn't go down without giving one hell of a fight.
      "Simulation on." Came the femenine computer voice through the loudspeakers. The Battle Room's doors slid open, revealing a seemingly empty room, with the flag hanging loosely at the top of the large mound. The team was forced through the bottleneck that was the only way in, so it wouldn't all be on their side.
      Stilling and Merendez rolled carelessly into the room, bringing their laser weapons to bare. Merendez's suit emitted a low humm and his right arm went stiff as he was essentially frozen from the shot. He dropped his weapon and caught it with his left hand, turning to face his agressor. Poor choice on his part as his helmet wailed to life, blaring in his over-sensitive ears. He was dead. "Shit!" He muttered to himself.
      Stillings hadn't had much better luck, he had been hit twice in the torso and once in the thigh, and was taken out more quickly than Merendez. The next few members of the group took it slower, but still weren't as coordinated as they should've been. They worked in two's, a duo covered the front and left, and the other duo covered the front and right. Instead of waiting to get shot, they automatically took three shots, with the hopes of accidentally hitting something. Their shots either flew into the wall and disappated or ricocheted off of a boulder into nothingness.
      One of the Spartans rose his arm, ushering two more into the room. The moved in, and made two groups of threes. A cumbersome metallic clank is never a good sign, and it proved still not to be, as a grenade-shaped red ball rolled into their formation, and then shot out a bright light that registered everything within five meters dead.
      The next four were cautious, but too cautious. They hurriedly skittered behind a boulder for cover, and saw Rockwell make a lunge dive towards him. A Spartan just coming in the door had the quick-mindedness to fire several rounds before being taken out himself, but he had still done what he was aiming for.
      "Five to twenty nine." A succession of lasers and he regrouped his thoughts. "Twenty six." Shimmer couldn't stand it any more. He was tired of losing, and was going to take action before he was the only one going out.
      "You three, get in front of me. You and you, and you two, get the sides. You three in back. You five will go in to the left, you five to the right, and you five charge the hill. We'll take this flag yet. On Zulu." Shim commanded. One of them was going to challenge his authority, but checked himself and went along with it.
      The five man fireteams rushed into the battle. The ones taking the sides took kneeling positions and went prone, exposing as little of themselves as possible to their enemies. The frontal force stormed the hillside, jumping from rock to rock as they ascended. Cover fire towards the tops and potential hiding spots kept most enemy fire to a minimum.
      The first man made it to the top, and looked for the enemy. He found none and went prone, covering the position and his squad as they moved in. The larger taskforce bounded up the hill, their sheer mass was just asking for a grenade, which was exactly what they got; except this time they were ready. Enhanced senses kicked into action as the marine caught the replica and tossed it back from the small hole it came from. A surprised Rockwell began clawing for an exit, but he was too bulky to get out effectively. The light flashed and he was frozen.
      "Red team has the flag." Came the heavy male voice of a computer anouncer, but it was short lived. A sniper round took Shimmer down. "Red team flag dropped." Echoed off the steel environment. "Blue team has the flag." This time Blue-four had cover as three teammates formed a small shield around him. They made it as far as the boulders, and he took it from there. He rolled from behind his escort and made a running start. Jumping off of the crest he landed on the edge and began a sparking slide to the floor. Metal screeched as he rolled to avoid the obstacles, and several lasers pinged off millimeters away from his head.
      Four Spartans followed him, fortunately, becuase one of the lasers managed to stick, taking him out of the game. A nearby squaddy snatched the prize on his slide by but was quickly frozen as well. The next attempt to grab the flag failed, and the third man in line was forced to retrieve it. Deciciveness kicked in as he jammed his boots into the floor to slow his descent, a maneuver that ended him up on his stomach. Peripheral vision told him that the sniper wasn't having it easy, as blue, green, and red lasers all let out a barrage.
      As he came to a grinding halt at the bottom, he let out a short-lived sigh of relief, as a heavy foot was placed on his chest. Not hard, but enough to get the point across. He looked up to find himself staring through the barrel of a gun. His single escort was on it though, his gun already leveled at the opposition's head. He had backup though, and the escort found himself in a similar scenario. The cat calls and whistles from above changed the stance though, as twenty or so guns were all steadily aiming for the two Silver Team members.
      Better than Helljumpers, but that ain't sayin much. I want Spartans. In a week, that's what I'll have. He thought silently to himself as his weapon was requisitioned from him, and he was put in a false custody.