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The Enemy Within-Chapter Twenty: The Two Confrontations
Posted By: Mind_Affecting_Parasite
Date: 9 March 2005, 12:17 AM

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       Pat froze as his body, along with his comrades', passed up into the belly of the Covenant cruiser. He wasn't immediately afraid of what he was confronted with; but the shock paused his breath and caused his heart to skip a beat. There were alien soldiers encircling the top of the lift; waiting and ready, as if they had known the Humans were coming. The Corporal's team must have been in much the same state as he for the first several seconds in the enemy ship. Out of the corner of his eye he could see clenched jaws and stiffened bodies.
       Apparently, Corporal Patrick Carter's Covenant counterpart was in as much a state of confusion as he was. Not a shot was fired as the dull-silver iris slid noiselessly shut and three pairs of Human legs absorbed the short fall that followed; the gravity cart simply bobbed down once, and then back up again, stabilized. All weapons were raised, but neither side so much as twitched a muscle - everyone just stared at everyone else. James held his large turret pointed in the same direction as he had risen in, but towards a pocket of three aliens instead of a hundred Flood forms. The rest of the Human squad held their various armaments cocked and ready.
       Purple lights, emanating from all around, lit the chamber with an idiosyncratic iridescence. Hundreds, it seemed, of tiny luminescent pinpricks sparkled in the dim space, cast from objects of unknown purposes. A few crates were scattered throughout the area as well; throwing several shadows across the floor where anything could be laying in wait. Two doors lined each of the four walls - four of them sized for personnel, looking a burnished silver; the other four stretching nearly from floor to ceiling, colored a slate gray. Two of the large ones were open.
       Carter forced his head to complete three look-arounds of the assembly, his MA5B Assault Rifle following his eyes as they swept over every detail. The Covenant beings - the visible ones, at least - were scattered about the room; presumably waiting for an order, but all with weapons at least half-way raised. There were seven of them, all clad in black armor; three Elites and four Grunts - two of them with deadly fuel rod guns. The Human squad, though, was bunched up in a ragged circle around the captured Shade; all pointing outward, exposed, and wondering what the hell they were to do next. All had their weapons up, as well, trying to decide on a target. Finally, the Human team leader focused on what he thought to be the commander of the enemy - the tall one near the holo panel.
       The beast stood a full head higher than the other two Elites. In his hands was some sort of sleek, long barreled weapon; encased in a purple shell. Patrick had never seen one like it before - in combat or otherwise - and he certainly didn't want to find out how effective it was at this point in time. However, his cautious examination of the creature only served to elicit a threateningly menacing stare in return. The alien's powerful gaze sent a chill of fear rushing up this Human's spine. All of a sudden, he was no longer ready to rush into anything, push forward into enemy lines and kill without thought - he was fearful for his life and that of his companions, and didn't know what to do next. This is what command must feel like, Patrick quickly thought to himself, his loneliness weighing in on him. I wish Sarge was here.
       Quickly assessing the situation, the Corporal first considered the number ratio. His team was composed of three Marines - one of them in the turret - and one Navy pilot. His opposition had double the numbers. Though all of his squad's weapons would be damned effective in close-range combat, their standard ballistic armor wouldn't stand a chance against prolonged fire; and there was nowhere to take cover between them and the enemy. Not a good looking situation at all.

       Three agonizing seconds passed without a sound or movement from anything; only the constant thrumming of the ship's systems and the slow rasp of shallow breathing to be heard. Finally, just as it looked like the moment may have become completely stagnant, something living broke the stiff silence. It was the leading Elite.
       A low growl arose from its lung, seeming to vibrate the air itself with the hideous rumble. The creature lowered itself into a defensive stance, raising its weapon and parting its four mandibles - it had made its decision. Postures, Human and Covenant alike, stiffened and prepared for an engagement. Eyes locked and mental preparations were made for what would be soon happening.
       "Wait!" anxiously shouted Carter, trying to stall the hopeless engagement; his eyes darting erratically around the chamber. The outburst only served to generate a look of angered bemusement upon his adversary's face. His Marines glanced around nervously, not trusting the situation - but how could they? They were in a room with bloodthirsty monsters trained to kill. Nobody backed off . "We don't have to be shooting each other. Those fucking monsters are trying to kill both of us - can't you see that?"
       "Yeah. Haven't you ever heard that 'the enemy of my enemy is my friend' thing?" nervously threw out Derrick, trying his own hand at negotiation.
       Pat's heart pounded in his chest, his brain racing in sync. He knew the chances of the Elite siding with him, actually reasoning, or even responding at all were very low; so low that even considering them would normally be considered insane. But it was an option other than immediate death, and this was not a normal situation.
       What amazed the young Corporal after his blurted plea was that, if but for a moment, his outburst actually produced the desired effect: Nobody tried to kill anyone else.

       The speech alone, more than the question, put a pause to Squad Master 'Balinee's immediate plan of action. That this human dared to direct its unholy utterances towards his greatness - it was blatant blasphemy. The Elite could barely contain himself for the outrage. His mandibles twitched and his muscles were tense. Even so, the loathsome words did not ring meaningless in his ears.
       Like all of his Black Special Operations Elite brethren, he had been trained to understand the primitive vocal patterns of these vermin - to further understand the enemy in battle, to more easily and fully defeat them - and so his mind was forced to produce some kind of answer. His thoughts bounced between his instinct to kill and his analytical intellect. As difficult as it was for him to admit, 'Balinee knew that the query was legitimate. That it made sense at all was actually as surprising a fact as had been the human's action.
       The Squad Master recalled reading the reports about what had happened on the instillation so very near. How the parasite had indeed sought out not only his kind, but the humans as well. Their bodies and weapons were taken - stolen just as many of his brothers' had been. The humans had lost soldiers just as 'Balinee's own forces had. What was the real difference? Why then were they fighting a three-sided battle? Were they fighting and dying more than they had to?
       Iko was torn between his whole-hearted commitment to his Covenant - the oaths that he had taken with complete honesty - and the reality of his mind's answer: They were fighting the same enemy. He was certainly not aware of the human adage "The enemy of my enemy is my friend," but he still came to similar conclusions. Was it not more efficient to spend resources together against a common foe instead of wasting them in a momentarily product-less feud? Still, the Prophets had decreed that the destruction of the humans be utter and complete; spoken the command without room to question. The Elite sighed; the action looking more like an irritated huff - which it was, also. It was moments like this that brought forth 'Balinee's inner discontent with his leadership.
       The great "Holy Ones" were indeed wise - how else could the Covenant have progressed so far? However, the more the Squad Master looked at this war, the more lives he saw lost to a cause unknown to him, the more he found himself inclined to think over the mysterious reasons. Not many actually knew why the Prophets had decided on wiping out a whole species. Why weren't they good enough to serve? Or why not worthy of being shown the wonders and majesty of the Forerunners and the Great Journey?
       Master 'Balinee was not a blasphemer of the gods, and had been taught through training and experience not to question his orders; but such things often surfaced in his mind during reflection. They had just never chosen the time of a direct confrontation with the enemy to do so.
       The Elite slackened his stance as he was forced to come to a conclusion: There was no need for bloodshed here and now. As much as he despised the humans, he had never met them face to face. Were they not flesh and blood just as he was? He had been trained since the discovery of the primates to hate and despise all associated with the enemy race - but at this very moment the black clad soldier could not bring himself to sentence another warrior to death without reason. For that act held no honor, and was not one to be done willingly.
       Weapons were lowered ever so slightly on the other side of the species gap, showing they somehow knew. The tenseness had still not dropped a hair, however. It was then that the Elite noticed how pitiful the group of humans actually looked. Their coverings were torn and tattered, soaked with perspiration, smeared with dirt and mud, singed, and splattered with blood ranging from dark purple, to vibrant orange and blue, to a crimson red. Their forms were haggard and worn, many of their equipment straps frayed and broken. How they had even made it to the ship through whatever forces festered below was beyond the Squad Master - and what was really down there?
       But then more pertinent questions rose to Iko's consideration. What to do now with the humans? Ally with them or take them prisoner? And what would those higher up think of his decision? Two of the three personal queries were answered by 'Balinee promptly. He would have to take them prisoner. This Elite had no immediate need for assistance - and he knew the humans were not as proficient as he in combat anyway. Plus the fact that the aliens would be valuable sources of information about - to begin with - the situation below.
       Which brought Iko back to the question of what was really going on below the ship. It must obviously be violent - as these humans had been in recent battle; but with who, or what? Not the Covenant's own. Else they would have not made it to this point. That, then, left two possibilities: that there was a large human force attacking below, or the Flood were showing their hand. 'Balinee had more faith in the latter of the two. Suddenly he could easily smell the rot that wafted from the green ichor painted on the aliens arrayed before him.
       The black-clad Squad Master inflated his lung to speak, tilting his head towards the ceiling ever so slightly. "The parasite consumes all, human; and will stop for neither of us," he spoke, his mandibles clenching from the forced language - humans could only understand their own. 'Balinee stiffened and stood to his full height to make his final decree. "Surrender yourselves to my troops. There is no need to spill each other's blood when a more menacing force threatens us both."
       The humans exchanged glances, looks of puzzlement washing over their dirtied features. They lowered their weapons further, and rose from their crouches. One even disarmed a small explosive device he had been holding.
       The most battered of the group took a bold, but shaky, step forward. "Surrender?" it asked 'Balinee, seeming to think about the word. "On what terms?"

       It was at this unstable moment when something happened to break the fragile peace between the two forces. One of the troop-sized doors along the sides of the room flashed and slid open, revealing a group of three Elites and a few trailing Grunts. They looked as if they had arrived hastily - sent with something important to say.
       All of them stopped immediately upon their entrance. The foremost of the squad bristled, his compatriots looking on in equal amounts of shock. Whatever had been on the top of their minds was instantly overridden.
       "By the Forerunners . . . what is going on here, Excellency?" the leader of the team demanded - though his blazing orange armor did not rank he to whom he spoke. "Do you dare speak to this vile filth?"
       The humans whirred at the loud bark, taking immediate aim. They, obviously, had no way of knowing the intent of the question, but could apparently tell there was hatred in the tones. 'Balinee saw that the situation was degrading quickly by just the entrance of this ignorant soldier.
       The new arrivals pointed their own weapons, preparing for an offensive. The leader roared a battle cry, and one of the humans shouted something the Squad Master didn't catch. None of them were taking the time to think this situation over, consider it and ponder a less violent solution. Did the craving for this goal make 'Balinee a weak member of his race? He didn't see how. All he desired was to preserve the lives of those entrusted to his command - and those under his care. If an intervention was not made, the death he was working to prevent would be escalated.
       "Stop!" he shouted in the human tongue, changing to his own as he addresses the rash Elite before him. "Stop! Do not act with such foolish haste. More goes on here than you know."
       "Blasphemy! What could possibly be occurring between you and these infidels?" the younger and more brash of the two countered, baring his fangs. Iko was nearly taken aback by the blatant lack of respect. "Their death is the only goal you should have to accomplish - and to allow them on our own holy vessel! Sacrilege!"
       There seemed to be no quick solution for this situation - his comrade's mind was quite obviously made up for the moment - so how was this Squad Master to handle things. What options had he?
       And if his fellow soldiers fired, what was he to do? Surely the humans would, once attacked, not differentiate between the two squads of Covenant troops; opening fire on every "hostile" in the vicinity. So if his own shot, he could not stand by and watch, for there would be the threat of succumbing his enemy's wide-covering fire. Of course, he would not go so far as to shoot those of his own race, either. How was he to handle this?
       Snarls issued from the lungs of the defensively postured Elites before 'Balinee. His own were standing motionless around the humans, not knowing how to react. Iko knew that they would most likely follow the example of the impudent fool before him, however. There seemed no way to stop this landslide of unfortunate happenings now.
       Luckily for the Black Squad Master, he would never have to find out the answers to his questions; as a completely new option presented itself in a rather unexpected way.

       Ship Master Aknu 'Reigando stool ill at ease at the center of his ship's Control Room. What bothered him the most was that, though there was so much going on at the present, he could do nothing but observe. That was what a ship's commander was forced to endure while the trained soldiers - usually pent up within the vessel's confines - were out on their missions. And this situation was even worse than that. This Ship Master knew that his ship had become under attack - but just not the degree of the invasion.
       The security offered by his craft's highest ranking infantry soldier being present in the same room did little to assuage his fears and apprehension. Three squads of Black Special Operations troops surrounded the heart of the Impending Incursion. One just outside each of the doors on either side of the chamber, and the third spread out in less-traversed hall running parallel to the rear wall. Black Field Master 'Agasee, however, and his personal team of soldiers, stood guard personally around the suspended command platform; pushing the normal security detail to the outer rim of the open floor.
       Now 'Reigando just stood and waited for all of his troops to move back into the ship; watching the reported progress via constantly updating holographic readouts. The only soldiers that now remained to complete the evacuation were the troops dependent upon the Gravitational Lift Embarkation Room. There had been a lack of answered calls throughout the ship; and the fact that the 'Lift 'Room was among those areas having not reported regularly disconcerted this Ship Master greatly. As a reaction, he had personally sent a small squad to the area to check up on things - make sure everything was still progressing. They should have been reaching their destination at any moment.
       This is what kept Aknu in constant stressful thought.

       'Master 'Agasee had easily noticed the nervous posture of his ship's commander. He had kept silent up to this point; but now he was driven to ask how much longer the craft must be kept attached to an enemy infested construct. Though he had questioned the ability of the Ship Master before, it was now that he chose to express himself.
       " 'Master 'Reigando," he addressed, his voice neutral; slowly ascending the ramp to the all-but-empty platform, the clack of his clean booted-hooves echoing through the hushed chamber. "Do you think it wise to remain here any longer?"
       The gold-armored Elite spoken to seemed almost startled by the question - or perhaps the approach all together. His trained nerves were indeed on edge. "We shall remain until all our forces are onboard," came the automated-sounding reply, after a short delay. "Then we shall detach from the ring and conduct our search of stray enemy aboard."
       " 'Reigando, I fear that I must disagree with your decision," 'Agasee stated bluntly, stretching himself out to his full height - three centiunits above the armored head of Aknu.
       Light reflected harshly off the rebuked Elite's helmet as he swung around to face the intimidating soldier before him. The Black Master may have had a tall stature on his side, but Ship Masters are not appointed for nothing, and this one had plenty of bulk to his favor; which he promptly inflated in response. Still, the returned challenge did not come to words; more remained to be said by the challenger.
       "Your constant delay of our departure puts the whole of the ship in unneeded danger," the 'Field Master continued, with barely veiled impudence. "We have no way of knowing how much of the ship has come under attack. Many sections of your vessel are now out of contact, and the preliminary investigation squads have not reported back - and the mysteries are growing, 'Reigando."
       "You nor I have any real way of knowing if these lapses in contact are product of Flood attack," quickly retorted Aknu, displaying his own way with words. He, though normally one to remain passive in the face of denouncement, would not easily take insult to his face. Even though what he was confronted with directly addressed his inner suspicions and fears. "Perhaps they have been caused by interference from the damaged systems of the great ring."
       Three of 'Agasee's mandibles twitched in contempt. "Why do you concoct a shield of excuses and lies to distract you from what is obviously in occurrence? Did not you tell me that at least one of your docking bays was besieged? How, then, can you be sure the attack is not on a larger front? For cycles we have been in contact with this place - exposed to invasion at every point of weakness. The enemy we fight here is more cunning than you would lend yourself to believe, and it has used your own stubbornness and foolishness to infiltrate your vessel.
       "Lives have been lost, and more will be because of your lack of vision!" the 'Special Operations soldier nearly spat, almost letting his rage overcome him. If it was one thing that he could not tolerate, it was a commander that was unable to do his duty. In his mind, failure should only be rewarded with death.
       'Reigando's face was flushed. His mandibles hung limply on his face, unable and unwilling to utter a response. Never before had he been so openly assaulted. The great pride he had once hefted so high now sat quivering on the floor. Why did he take this demeaning treatment so? For one reason: he knew what was spoken was done so in truth.
       Seeing that his mental blow had been successful, and not paying attention to the many eyes that now were focused on him, 'Agasee prepared to deliver his knock-out strike. "It is now clear to me," he concluded, clicking his lower mandibles and upwardly-tilting his head, "beyond doubt, that you are exceedingly unable to properly preform your duty."
       Aknu lifted his eyes to those of the nearly-equal-in-rank before him; glaring with venomous poison in his eyes. Outwardly, he looked much less imposing.
       "Thus," went the continuation. "It is my duty, demanded of me by the Prophets and by the gods, that I relieve you of your inept command. The Impending Incursion will now be under my control."
       The last phrase was what tipped the strained Ship Master over the edge. Before it had been the pointing-out of his unwise decisions and flawed actions - but now it had turned into a unadulterated challenge of his position. He had always known 'Agasee to be high-aspiring; always reaching for the highest goal. But to achieve it in this fashion was absolutely enraging to 'Reigando - more so than anything he had experienced in the whole of his career. It was treason, mutiny; an affront to the righteous honor he stood for.
       Aknu snarled sharply, bringing the blunt tip of his golden helmet to a miliunit from the black one of his opposition. He stretched his joints and tensed all of his muscles to provide himself with the largest and most contentious posture available. However, his final, and most aggressive, act was to grip the hilt of his personal Plasma Sword in hand; holding a twitching thumb over the activator.
       "You dare challenge both my dignity and command?" the fully infuriated Elite bellowed, pushing his mass forward to physically subdue what he saw as an indignant subordinate.
       Black Field Master 'Agasee did not show the slightest hint of intimidation, firmly holding his ground. His reply was as forward and blunt as it was simple: "I do."