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The Enemy Within - Chapter Twenty-One: Lurking Shadows
Posted By: Mind_Affecting_Parasite
Date: 18 April 2005, 1:42 AM

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       Black Field Master 'Shukee allowed a guttural growl to arise from his lung in frustration as he waited for the cooling systems of his two Plasma Rifles to unfreeze the weapons - though, he could not hear himself over the cacophony around him. Of course, he knew better than to let this happen: Firing continuously would quickly overheat both the electrodes and the sophisticated circuitry of his weapons. He had known this and now had to accept it. Having held both firing mechanisms until the tiresome venting process took over may have been depleting his power cores more quickly, but in battle one did not always care about such things; instead caring only about sending your enemy sprawling to the ground.
       During the battle he was in the midst of now, this Elite had felled many an enemy - but this foe did not seem to stop coming. Several units down the smoke clogged passageway, a solid wedge of bodies tried furiously to advance themselves forward. 'Master Igkas 'Shukee knew what he was facing: the Flood. From what he had read in combat reports and heard through common rumor, the parasite had nearly limitless numbers: the more they fought, the more they gained. It was an altogether sickening thought, even to this battle-hardened warrior.

       Igkas grunted as the cooling fins of the weapons in both his hands finally stopped hissing, snapping themselves shut. Again he added to the volume of fire stuttering through the narrow hallway. Streaks of blue and green plasma crisscrossed the intervening space between the two forces; and bullets of human weapons pinged from the already cratered and blackened bulkheads. On the losing side, slimy, rotting flesh was transformed into smoke and ashes; on the prevailing side, shields flared and heads were kept low.
       On either side of the bold 'Field Master, two Grunts hunched over their weapons: Plasma Turrets. They could fire twice as fast as one of 'Shukee's current weapons; and without the encumbrance of overheating, as they, with larger bodies and more efficient innards, cooled themselves quickly enough. The near solid lines of fire cut into the disintegrating wall of beasts held back at the far corner.
       Just behind the black-clad leader stood two more Elites. One sported two blazing Needlers - the rounds of which continued to produce devastating explosions in the enemy ranks. The other held a Carbine. It did not fire as quickly as the other weapons, but its powerful - yet compact - ammunition sliced easily into the rotting bodies it was being directed towards.
       Of course, as much as all this firepower aided the battle, plasma and projectiles still managed to be unleashed by the opposing forces. 'Shukee's shields were under constant strain; just recovering from one burst of Plasma Pistol fire only to be brought back down by a spray of automatic human slugs. Through all this, however, this Field Master stood bold and tall. He had to set an example for his troops - lead them and show them that this fight could be won. Even if that meant that Igkas had to endure some unshielded impacts upon his armor; it was made to protect him, after all.

       In fact, the Black 'Master currently had forces in route to squelch this seemingly endless battle more quickly - it has already lasted for eight whole units. Perhaps it was relatively not all that much time; but under fire and with lives on the line, it could seem quite lengthy in one's mind. Power cores were starting to dwindle, and projectile ammunition was beginning to run low. Even these mighty Covenant warriors only had so much to give.
       The hardened troops beside the commanding Elite were not tired - firing weapons took but a fraction of their total strength - but their shielding and armor were being pushed to their limits. Even the enhanced systems the Black Special Operations soldiers were equipped with were straining. Almost all present sported wounds of varying severity - plasma burns or bullet impacts. Amazingly, the Grunts were the most intact. Their squat forms kept them below the main volume of fire, leaving most of the punishment to be thrown upon their higher stature Elite Masters.
       That was why 'Shukee had come up with a quick plan to hit the enemy from two places at once. This Elite knew that only certain passages were unlocked; and so only some were accessible to the path of the parasite. Though they could, surely and eventually, break down some of the sealed doors, they seemed to take the path of least resistence first. This had become apparent to Igkas after he had been forced to abandon two previous positions, and see eight members of his group of soldiers fall to enemy fire.
       He had been in the process of searching the ship; as 'Field Master 'Agasee had given him the responsibility for after receiving orders from the Ship Master himself. There had been several reports of lost contact through varying areas of the Impending Incursion. Those areas included the main armory, vehicle and equipment storage bays, and hallways leading from the previously attacked ship bay to the center of the vessel - towards the Control Center. 'Shukee had deemed the latter more pertinently important for him, personally, to investigate. So he had sent detachments of two squads to check both the engineering spaces and the main troop armory.
       Just as he had started losing contacts from the latter group, his own three squads had come under attack. The Flood had barreled head-long around the next bend they were all to round in their search pattern. Almost all of the leading squad was taken down within the first half-unit of combat. Grunts, lacking real armor, had gone down as soon as the fire started; and the Elites hadn't had time to let their over-loaded shields recover before the wave swept over them, too. After that, the two remaining squads - with the last surviving Elite of the ravaged leading unit - had only been able to stop one other time before finally setting up temporary defenses where they were now. But the parasite had followed them all the way through the winding tunnels; not spreading out into other passages.
       That was where the 'Field Master's plan came into action. He needed to stop the flow of the creatures through the halls of the ship. To do that, without having to destroy every one in this particular narrow space, he had devised a strategy to stop their progress, and start eliminating them from two locations, simultaneously.
       Currently, he had a full squad, headed by one of his most gifted First Class Squad Masters, en route to a specified doorway. It was only a couple bends back from where the Flood now tried to push their way through a steady barrage of fire - where the first attempt to stop them after the initial attack had been made. The team - with their active camouflage equipped - was to set anti-matter charges on the locked door; carefully, as to not compromise the hull or sheer through more than necessary.
       At the very best, the charges, placed very specifically to do their task, would collapse part of the tunnel the beasts were coming from - or had come from, in the, unlikely as far as this commander was concerned, case that the monsters did not have a solid line of forces up to the point where they were now seen - in all their horrid and mutated veneration. This would, hopefully, stop, or at least stall, their advance; allowing the invisible team to begin a tactical assault on their exposed flanks with heavy weapons and grenades. If things did not work perfectly, as most often was the case; at the least the charges would annihilate a good score of the beasts walled up on the other side of the door. Then, still, the attack from that point would be made; so that the parasite had two different places to defend themselves, thus making them less effective at each.
       At least, that was how Black Field Master 'Shukee saw things. Though he had made sure that the team locked all doors behind them. For in the rather unlikely event of their failure, they would have just opened up another clear passage from where the Flood could spread their infection. With the doors sealed, Igkas would not be worse off if his plan did not work - with the exception of a full squad being eliminated and thus unable to aid the defense effort.

       And so, the 'Field Master was left to wait for his plans to be started. Meanwhile he was left to holding back all that the parasite could throw at him.
       Thankfully the beasts did not have any heavy weapons, nor were they in any way proficient with thrown explosives. Else things could have become very interesting, very quickly. As it was, the two black-armored Grunt gunners on his sides were all that was really ebbing the tide of monstrosities. Adding to the lack of enemy progress was the sheer amount of bodies that the converted humans and Elites had to navigate to gain a clear shot at the impeding Covenant troops.
       'Shukee let his mandibles part in a smile - even as one of his plasma rifles momentarily stopped functioning again to cool off, and a trio of metal alloy projectiles bounced off the resonating energy shield protecting his face. He smiled because he knew that, ultimately, his short lull in attack would not stop his elite group of warriors from stemming the tide of adversaries before them. Little did the Elite think about how small mistakes and pride-filled thoughts that clouded his judgement would have an impact on this battle; or how he may have underestimated the situation, not letting his plans encompass more than just his specific problem.
       The heat and thrill of combat had bestowed a vigor upon him. But he had let himself fall under assumed realities that were but mere illusions. The Flood were accomplishing more than he knew; they had won their own not-unimportant fight: The distraction had worked.

       The Sergeant was consciously unaware of the actions his legs were taking as he ascended to he circular plateau atop the grav lift base. He was unconcerned with the sea of enemies that surrounded the metal island. Even the throbbing pain from the wound above his knee that threatened to immobilize him didn't register. All that mattered to Sergeant Lance Ferring now was what he had to do - and what little amount of time to do it in.
       His hands were a blur as he swung the filthy detonation pack in front of himself. It was the only way he could think of to end the Flood threat for the men and injured woman under his command and care. The monsters could not be allowed to go up the gravity lift. Why some squid-head above hadn't already shut the damn thing down was beyond Lance. It was now his duty to do so - by rather unorthodox means.
       Before this moment, the det sack had been intended to be thrown behind the squad to slow advancing enemies, or to blast their way through some obstacle. The new plan Sergeant Ferring had for it was a little different. It was still to slow - or rather stop - advancing enemies, but in a more permanent manner. The explosives packed into the rucksack-sized bag would be more than enough to render the grav lift base useless. Then the mutant horrors flocking ever nearer wound be left to sit and rot into eternity and hell.

       The buttons were caked in dirt and grime, but they still glowed warmly to the Sergeant's weary touch. With each depression, the arming device emitted a reassuring beep. Finally, it was ready. The small LCD display - amazingly still intact, having been through hell, but not yet back - announced its readiness to serve its final purpose. Suddenly, a wave of emotion washed over Lance as he realized he was about to rise and join his team.
       It was a new thought for him, in this place. For the last several days, he hadn't thought of himself escaping this place alive. For a few of those lingering moments, he had thought his whole squad - hell, the whole crew of the Autumn, even that Spartan - would die a cold and lonely death on this ring. Then had come their escape from the room that would have been their tomb, their harrowing run through dark, confined hallways, and their final, if not somewhat desperate, assault on the gravity lift. Through that, the only thought of safety in Lance Ferring's mind had been focused on everyone but himself.
       Now, however, he was the guy in the hot spot, the one who would make it out alive and well - or close to it. He would be able to return to his h ome on Earth. The faces of his children would be more than just ink on paper. And the sweet smell and feel of his wife for five years no longer be confined to his fading memories. For the first time since landing on Halo, the Sergeant let a genuine smile crack his nearly permanent scowl. He would be able to see his family again, after all.

       Or so he thought. Reflex, or perhaps just coincidence, had Lance look up just as he activated the bomb in his hands - and as the purple beam of the gravity lift took hold of his form, drawing him up wards. It happened too fast for him to avoid. By the time he saw the danger, the only reaction he could will was bringing the device in his hands - which he was about to plant -
up to protect himself. It didn't help.
       Hundreds of pounds of rotting flesh slammed into Sergeant Ferring as he was only two meters off the ground. At first, it only had a hold on the human's legs, both of which were kicking erratically to send the Flood form back down to the rest of its kind. However, the contest of strength was very much one sided. The former Elite quickly clawed its way up the struggling body, pulling its arm back for the death blow as it mounted its victim's chest.
       The Sergeant haplessly fought to avoid his death, to free himself from the hold of this monstrosity. But it was to no avail. He hoped beyond hope that the creature would loose its grip, or get struck my some stray plasma bolt; or that the rotting muscles would finally decide to fail, or that the Infection form inside would pause its actions for but a split second - but none of that happened.
       The hardened whips of flesh - specially designed through millennia of use to prove as resilient and sturdy as organically possible - easily dented the alloys making up the back of the Marine's helmet. Spots of light burst into the soldier's vision, his body going limp instantly as two of the vertebra in his neck shattered from the blow. The man was still fully conscious, however, when the back-swing of the creature riding him up brutally ripped his head from his body, flinging it into the energized air of the massive room beyond the shimmering purple walls to all sides.
       A fountain of heated blood fountained onto the careless killer still using the rising body as its means of boarding the ship above. The carefully constructed package of explosives riding with it, however, was still fully armed and activated. Just as the Combat form tensed its stolen legs to lunge towards the nearing opening, the digital counter of the human-made detonator reached its lowest digit.

       Even on the floor below, the explosion was enough to send bodies stumbling back and to the ground. The column of Flood that had begun to rise up the gravity lift behind the awkward two-some was blasted straight back down to the back base of metal beneath them. Grenades detonated on the belts of the bodies closest to the detonation - the heat wave overloading their shielding and igniting the volatile mixture within.
       The actual blast was directed straight up and into the receiving end of the lift, the magnetic walls of the vertical transportation device attempting to contain the force. What resulted would have pleased he who had activated the weapon. Metal fragments were ripped completely off of their place within the radius of the concentrated fire-ball, leaving behind the glowing remnants of what would have provided the users of the grav lift a place to ascend through.
       Electric conduits sparked and sputtered through the thick cloud of smoke and vaporized alloys. The bright purple beam below the wreck flickered twice, then faded into the darkness. Those forms still managing to be caught in gravitational influence of the lift were sent plummeting to the floor below. No one else would be gaining access to this Covenant ship by those means.

       Luckily for 'Lshowee, his plan of escape was not in the slightest dependent upon the unusable ruin. Though, he had witnessed the whole of the spectacle. The force of the explosion had even forced him to his knees - both going down and then pushing himself back up had proven to be excruciatingly painful. Now, however, in the fading results of the violent chemical reaction, he slid his stiff body into place behind the controls of his intact Banshee.
       The Elite could feel his thick blood starting to collect next to his hooves. The air-tight suit he had finally managed to slip into easily held his bodily fluids in. It was quite uncomfortable and unsettling, but proved to amount to little compared to what signals his nerves already were sending en mass to the Squad Master's brain.
       Fortunately, the whole ordeal had presented quite a distraction for the hoard of Flood now fully surrounding the gravity lift and that which sought refuge around it. For several units around the large black base, rotting forms were still struggling back to an upright stance. This gave 'Lshowee all the opportunity he needed to get himself out of harm's way.
       Rising to a wavering hover above the dull silver floor, the pilot jammed the control stick forward, pushing the engines as far as was safe. Flashing over a forest of stubby green bodies, the Elite was tortured with the fact that he could not fire at this moment - the engine pods needed all of what the small craft had to offer. And to slow now could mean a quick and painful death.
       Now the only non-mutant life form in the whole of this particular chunk of Halo, 'Lshowee's vehicle attracted the fire from all the surviving Flood below him. Bullets, needles, plasma, rockets, fuel rod projectiles, and even some grenades streaked through the air, racing to catch the Banshee, outlined in the blue flare of its engine pods. Most of the fire missed - the Elite before it thanking the Prophets that the mutant hands of his enemies could not hold their weapons steady - though the occasional metal slug or bolt of plasma smeared the purple finish of the aircraft.

       Finally, the Squad Master found himself flashing over the edge of the precipice on the far side of the room. His eyes darting erratically over the top of the Forerunner metals, 'Lshowee searched furiously for a gap in the seal between his ship and the broken section of ring. There was none. To keep the atmosphere contained below the lift upon their arrival, the ship had been carefully set down around the edge of the room, as to allow troops the ability to move unhindered in the vast space.
       Now it worked against the only remaining survivor of those send down beneath the main vessel. There was no way for the Elite to escape, to free himself and run away from those who so adamantly sought him dead. The darkness finally sunk in upon 'Lshowee. Until his former home was moved, he was stuck in this mass grave of a room. However, he was still not out of options. His escape-craft did have weapons, after all.
       Spinning around, he slid the target reticle over the nearest of the filth arrayed before him. With the depression of the firing studs, two lines of fire sped out into the many targets seemingly awaiting their death. Flesh was melted, bones were splintered, and chilling cries arose into the air. 'Lshowee smiled through the pain, grinding his mandibles together. In that moment, he made a vow to himself: if he did not make it out of this place, he would not let himself die until every one of these beasts lay dead among piles of their smoldering corpses.