Posted By: Mr Bill Jr V<email@example.com>
Date: 27 February 2003, 1:52 am
Millennium of human history. Thousands of years, to create a world of unity, a world of peace. Defying all human nature- Earth united, and free. A world where life can be given but never taken. And those who defy unity are few, and worlds between....
The year is now. The long journey to the summit is complete, humanity’s climb ended. The race of man, devoid of anger, and betrayal. For ten thousand years there was war, and destruction. Now, nothing. Silence and peace. And how quickly things changed. Within twenty years. What the world is now, no one can know, those who did died, or went mad. But still, humanity is free of her former bonds. She holds herself slave to no force, be it fate, the divine, or the galaxy itself. Humanity, now, after the end, stands as little. Few, one. For all humanity can be envisioned within one man. And he is only a man, doomed to a death foreseen. Forgive your sins, for tomorrow you will die. Repent your anger, for death is assured. Surrender your soul, for only God can save you now.
And from the heavens of a lunar rise, the great star of a planet unknown to a cruel universe, the blue planet rises once more. Light shines forever, in the endless galaxy. In the darkness waited fear, but never to sink her teeth into that world of ocean and air. Destruction a dream. From her oval sunlit eclipse, the skies would become black, a majestic occurrence, shinning brilliance across the harsh soul of her sister- the goddess Venus. From her cruel surface the light of her sun shown with intensity surpassing that of any solar planet. A man could have watched from that point, standing against stark landscape stretching beyond the eye, and seen the end. Sunrise and sun set, a billion times, light washing across his vision, then curdling cold within seconds as all existence faded into a pale echo of its former self. But again, the light would return, and with it joy. To that fleeting soul standing upon the desolate ruins of a world forgotten for her fire, but remembered for her mythical beauty, new light would come again. But never again for Earth.
There he stood, accented against rocks scorched from heat, smoothed from rain, thinned from lack of air, and he would watch it come. Through scattered clouds he would watch the true alien arrive. Arrive and depart, grim duty complete. Why not this world of beauty? Why the most glorious of them all? Why Earth, the planet of little merit? Why not the world worthy of the name Venus? Yet, the aliens would pay no head to his cries, and from their celestial starships vanish from the world they had ridden of life. How easy it had been! A fleet of hundreds suffers no pain in taking the life’s of mere billions. Twelve billion sought out life amongst the ocean and air of the planet named for her soil. Twelve billion died when the Covenant burned that soil into dust. It was the end. Final, and complete. Only one man lived to see the next sun rise, yet he was mortal. Only one man watched the aliens depart, forever leaving behind the world of ruin. After twenty years once more forgotten, he had fought a hopeless battle and failed. Some say he was the greatest of human heroes; but what hero fails in his hour of need? The future would no longer rest in his gloved metal hands, but in the mystic hand of another. Of a spirit.
A thunderbolt. Sudden waking, then the moment of composure. She sucked in a cold breath, and greeted the new day. From her steel cot rolled over, reaching vaguely for the small device causing that obnoxious ringing. Smashing her hand down against the alarm’s buzzer, the ringing ceased. It was quickly replaced by a tired male voice, speaking over the communications system inside her room.
“Lauren? Lauren, are you awake?” The voice was familiar, but at this hour identifying the speaker was impossible. Rising from the cot, military blankets thrown aside, Lauren stumbled across her narrow cell. Finding clothes through dim light, that cast by the star seen through her window, Lauren shouted back at the communicator “Yah, I’m up, I’m up.”
The voice was unwavering. “You don’t sound like it.”
Running water from the nearby sink provided the quickest means of alertness. Splashing cold water on her face, Lauren blinked back into reality. Looking back at herself through the mirror, everything seemed wrong. How could she be here, of all places? Why in this prison, floating amongst the stars? The room seemed far to dark, far to small, far to blank. Perhaps she was still dreaming? Lauren took a breath and responded.
“Get to the point.”
The starkness of her response had the desired impact on the speaker.
“There’s a briefing in five minutes in com room twelve. Be there.” The communicator clicked off, effectively ending the conversation.
Talking to herself, “Well, that wasn’t so hard now was it?” Lauren looked back into the mirror, the emptiness of her surroundings setting back into normality. The fascistic confines of a Marine’s bunk room seemed to fit into place, her presence excepted once more.
It was always something with rebels. That was the class example of shear stupidity, exemplified again and again by hordes of complete lunatics convinced that the world was not as it should be, and the only one to blame was the United Nations of the Sol Core Alliance. Of course, any entity with such a long, and obscure name drew much attention from the intellectually backwards. And that was just the point: there wasn’t a single soul on that green planet that couldn’t be described as such. Vega was a twisted world, home to endless jungles, massive continents, and sporadic human settlement. Isolated from the UNSCA, Vega had always been considered little more then a backwater- breading grounds for rebellion.
They had chosen the worst possible time to express their views. Ten years ago, sure, the rebel leader would have been shot between the eyes as he left his palace, by a sniper, and the rebellion would have faltered and collapsed. But such an operation takes time: planting the operative, providing intelligence, planning the strike; the lists could grow extremely extensive in certain cases. A time consuming operation was the last thing wanted by the UNSCA, currently engaged in the largest, most destructive war ever fought. So, four days after the complete annihilation of the colony on Gemini by the Covenant, killing a total of twenty million citizens, the Vegans decided to rebel. The fourth battle group was dispatched to handle the dismantling of the rebellion. This was done in a manner so elegant in its simplicity that only the most brutal of military thinkers could have made the judgment. Vega’s capital was bombed to dust. The eighth marine army group, consisting of ten million men, space based, was deployed thereafter.
To the dismay of the marines, the rebels discovered how to operate the planet’s point defensive guns and successfully repulsed the first attempted invasion. Since then, only small scale raids had been made on the planet, in areas already free of air defense, to extract information, destroy bases. That sort of, 'covert thing.’
Come today, three months after the rebellion’s beginning, and very little has changed. The eighth marine army is still largely holed up in cruisers of the fourth battle group, as they orbit Vega day by day. So explained the briefing officer to Lauren and the assembled crowd of marines.
“We’ve made breakthroughs, don’t get me wrong, but we just can’t take full advantage. The rebels are too well organized.” The officer paused for a moment, then indicated to a large display screen opposite the room. All heads turned to face the coming visual. The single non commissioned officer seated at the briefing looked uninterested. Lauren couldn’t help but notice that a member of the press corps was also present.
“We have continued making raids, and have been pressuring the rebels a little bit each time. On the whole we have come out successful, with much useful information being received. However, we’ve just recently lost one of our dropships.” On the screen, a quick video clip of an 'R’ class pelican dropship was shown; rotated and displaying technical specifications.
“The pelican was downed several kilometers inland, inside the jungle. We don’t know if any of the crew survived. The missile system responsible is still active, we haven’t been able to locate it. This means you’ll be jumping. Knocking out the missile system should be your first priority, once you locate it, so that an evacuation can be arranged. Your secondary objective is to move onto the crash site itself.”
Lauren knew what was coming next. This was a rescue mission. A propaganda piece, most likely. She rose from her seat, and left the room. One of the marines standing at the door put a hand on her shoulder; she brushed him off. It was always the same god dammed thing! Someone goes and screws up; ok, a mistake. But then the politicians take over. The Vegan campaign was a mockery, the army in ruins from numerous defeats, and this mission a joke. She wouldn’t mind it under most circumstances, but then they go and pull this kind of stunt. And what could she do? She’d been picked, and she had to go. It was with that opinion that she was summoned to the bridge, four hours later.
Men in different colored uniforms, of different backgrounds, of different lives. They moved as if liquid, with a single predetermined purpose she could not understand. From her vantage point, placed in a chair, far removed from the routine taking place before her, Lauren’s vision leapt aimlessly from bridge window, to the captain himself. Next to her another man sat, his body closed to the apparent turmoil around him. He seemed deeply focused on the display panel before him. Lauren could make little sense of the vague and perplexing system of lights, but it appeared to be some form of satellite feed.
Lauren turned to the crewman operating the display. “What is that?”
“Hunh?” surprise registered on the man’s face. “Oh, it’s a feed from on of our orbiting satellites, you know, the ones the rebels couldn’t knock out.”
“What about it?”
“Oh- well I’ve been monitoring this section of jungle here,” he pointed to a location flashing in obscure colors, “I’m looking for surface to air missile compounds, but this god dammed jungle keeps getting in the way.”
At some point the captain seemed to remember Lauren’s existence. He turned his attention from the bridge viewscreen and approached Lauren.
He was straightforward. “I hear that you disapproved of the rescue mission?” Lauren rose from her seat, and stepped up onto the raised platform which denoted the captain’s location.
“That’s right, sir.”
The captain’s medals shown from the gleam of a thousand lights, and, to a lesser extent, Vega’s far distant sun. He mouth was wound up into a half frown, his eyes set back in his head from lack of sleep. He spoke with unmatched certainty.
“Well then, you should have no objections to leading the mission.”
Lauren paused. “Sir?”
The captain turned to face out the viewscreen once more. Had she been able to see his face, Lauren could have sworn he was crying.
“Do you know captain Damuis?”
“No, sir.” Lauren had never met the man.
The captain remained unchanged. “It doesn’t matter. God... it was a mistake... Just bring him back.”
“Captain, I don’t understand.” Lauren rubbed a hand across her forehead, trying to understand the confusion now grasping at her mind. “What’s going on?”
The captain sighed deeply, his shoulders dropping. “I’m sending you in to bring Damuis back. He was onboard the dropship when it was shot down. When you find him, get him off that cursed planet any way you can.”
“This doesn’t make sense, sir. Why the NCO, and press troop?”
“They will be escorting you down to planet. Once your feet are on the ground, it’s just you and the marines.”
“Wait, this mission is for the rescue of one man?”
“That’s correct. Damuis was on a mission, from the highest authority. We need him back. What he knows could very well end the rebellion, and maybe even the Covenant war itself. ONI itself was responsible for the mission dispatch, I can tell you that much. Any further questions?”
Lauren had only one. “What if he’s dead?”
The captain spun. He locked eyes with Lauren, his face cold. “He’s alive. Dismissed.”
The rear door closed; the pressure changed; the air warmed several degrees; the ship spun rapidly; the engines burned hard; the dropship was space bound. Tinted grey steel reflected sunlight, blue ion engines hurdling the dropship towards Vega. From her limited view out the dropship’s rear window, the massive bulk of a United Nations Star Command ship receded into darkness. Atmospheric warmth washed over the dropship her hull burning against newly formed friction from air currents. Around Lauren; ten marines, a press officer and an NCO. All of them dressed in full combat gear, helmets strapped down. With perfect grace, the dropship’s engines powered into life, halting the ship’s fall. Free from the fire of atmospheric entry, the planet below actually resembled a form of beauty. Racing high over endless jungle, then ocean, then tropical mountains, the vast world truly felt inviting. Carving a long turn around a cloud covered mountain, all on board were awed. Moving steadily lower, the dropship drifted closer towards the dense foliage of tectonic plains.
Then, with sudden intensity, the ship’s rear door began to open. Violent wind swept the ship’s interior, those onboard grasping against their safety harnesses for support. Slowing, the dropship’s door opened to its full.
“Holy hell!” shouted one of the marines as he got a first look at the dense jungle below.
Across radio channels, “Harnesses going.” Lauren fell forward, the harness pinning her back to the ship suddenly released. The press officer had produced a compact recorder by this point. He diligently filmed as each marine double checked their equipment. The NCO stepped to the control room, speaking something to the pilot.
“Ok, turning. Get ready to drop.” The dropship banked slightly, suddenly over open ocean. The marines moved to the rear door. Lauren felt herself being pulled by the extreme wind, but held back. Then the ocean was gone. The dropship passed a brief strip of open beach, then swung back over the jungle. High treetops for kilometers; an imposing mountaintop, shrouded in mist, far in the distance.
“Last reminder guys. I’ll be back for evac at the clear zone, in minus two hours. Good luck.” With those words, the drop light indicator positioned above the door switched colors. The marines stood poised with backs to the NCO, all eyes turned toward the planet surface. The first man shouted something inaudible, then jumped. Lauren followed the marines over the edge and into the world of green below.
Once the sense of terror was overcome, the decent was rather pleasant. A bright sun shown above her white parachute, great billowing clouds rolled in the distance. As the last marine jumped, the dropship’s door folded and closed. Engines quickened and the metal ship disappeared into the clouds. The leafy treetops rose below Lauren, until she was brushing against the uppermost lines of trees. Then, with sudden impact, her boots planted themselves onto a thick branch. The parachute then collapsed above her, and she fell onto the tree. She was caught onto the treetop, suspending her far above the ground. Boots sliding, the parachute detached, and Lauren fell, breaking branches. Stopping, she grasped hold of another large branch. Once that feat was accomplished, she nimbly descended the tree, feet once more on solid ground.
The marines assembled, checking to make sure none of their equipment had been damaged in the descent. One of the marine’s rifle had been lost, and he was forced to resort to his back up pistol. Other then that, everything was in order.
“Lets move,” began Lauren. Then, checking the heads up display mounted over one eye, “the missile battery should be one, point five, kilometers to the east.” Lauren started towards the distant clearing. Soundlessly, or as close to such a thing as possible in the jungle, the marines followed.
Locating the missile compound took little time, some ten minutes after landing. It would have been hard to miss from the ground. A massive steel structure, but camouflaged almost entirely in foliage, invisible to all space born eyes. Satellites would see little more then jungle. Several guards watched the perimeter, rifles held low, expecting nothing.
“Pass the radio up,” ordered Lauren, viewing the complex over a small rise in the jungle surface. Producing a rangefinder, Lauren sighted the building’s planetary coordinates. One of the marines handed Lauren the radio. Using a wire attachment with her HUD, Lauren heard the radio crackle into life.
The voice on the other end was clearly that of a computer, most likely one of the ship’s AI. “UNSC Infinite Glory gunnery system. Please enter pass code.”
After a moment, “Voice identity confirmed. Please direct.”
Lauren ran off the complex’s planetary position.
“Confirmed. Will relay,” came the computer’s automated response.
Turing to the marines, “Everyone keep your head down.”
Slightly over a hundred kilometers above, trailing majestically over the contrasting worlds of death and life- space and planet, the UNSC light cruiser Infinite Glory orbited with grace. To the naked eye no movement was seen, the ship’s tinted steel hull standing strong in the silent vacuum. The world rotated around the cruiser it seemed, twisting ever so slightly, but never crossing planet and ship, still in contrast. Then, a burst of fire, in total silence but with only the more force. Like a herald announcing the coming of royalty, orange and blues of a celestial flag exploded from the great ship’s hull. Ice crystals incinerated, and a solid steel point was cast downwards.
Traveling far faster then sound, it was impossible to identify the shell’s approach. A moment passed without incident. There was a distant whistle of air, whether a light breeze, or an inbound two hundred ton shell, it was hard to tell. Then, above the ground, burning through luminous clouds, a stark trail of flame. It only appeared for a moment, but the intent was clear. Even the rebels understood the weapon’s end. Guards ran for cover, away from the complex, but it was of little matter. They were lifted like dolls and thrown into the jungle by the explosive shockwave. Above the complex, a massive fire ball fell upon the steel clad structure. For the briefest of moments it appeared as though the fire was coating the building, not obliterating it.
With more force then the human mind can conceive, the entire complex exploded. Lauren tumbled backwards, hit by the sonic shockwave. A gout of fire shot hundreds of meters into the air. Broken metal, charred and still burning, rained from the sky.
“Good. Now we go find Damuis.” The marines nodded in unison, still dazed.
Approaching from the rear, the dropship appeared in relatively stable condition. A long trail of jungle had been cleared behind the ship, upturned dirt lining the ship’s crash. Around the crash site the jungle had began to creep back in, vines wrapping themselves around pieces of shattered metal. Lauren held her weapon ready, finger on the trigger. Behind her followed the ten marines, weapons primed. They surrounded the ship which had been twisted up onto its side by the impact. A gaping hole, most likely blown open by a missile, denoted the only viable entrance. Lauren motioned for the marines to wait, and proceeded inside alone.
From the bright sunlit world outside, the dropship’s interior was a staggering change. Blood coated the cold steel walls. Half the ship had been buried underground; the control room and most of the pilot’s body by the look of things. Lauren could see dust trickling like water from the ship’s ceiling panels. Another dead crewman lay, broken, between the cargo bay and Lauren’s entrance. It wasn’t the fact that he was dead that worried Lauren. It was his face. Gone. He had been blown in half, and not by the landing. That’s when Lauren saw the first rebel. His body had been plastered against the wall directly behind the cargo bay entrance door. He hadn’t been shot, but seemed to have exploded into that position. There were others, at least a dozen of them, all killed in the same fashion. Backs smashed against walls in an inhuman manner.
And Lauren heard breathing. Peering the darkness, into the cargo bay, she could see the form of a man. His chest rising and setting. His eyes open, but passive. He lay back, propped up against the far wall.
“Who are you,” asked Lauren.
“You already know who I am.”
One of the marines came running into the carnage. He staggered back at the sight of so many bodies, killed so horribly. Lauren turned to face him.
“What is it?”
The marine regained his composure. “We’ve got company. I sent Jose to go recon the area, he spotted a rebel task force on its way to the missile compound. It won’t be long until they’re here.”
Lauren cursed. Checking her time piece confirmed her fear. The dropship wasn’t due in for evacuation for another half an hour. She saw only one possible course of action.
“We hold here, then we withdraw to the clear zone.”
“Yes, sir!” The marine left the ship, passing on the order.
Lauren turned back to the inner cargo bay.
“Can you walk?”
A long forced response, “Yes. If I must.”
Like the sudden crack of lighting, the first shell was fired. It was a near miss. The bullet ricocheted off a piece of twisted metal next to Lauren’s head. She ignored it.
“Wait for them to reach the edge of the clearing!”
She pulled the rifle up to her eye sight. Numbers scrolled across her HUD, but no contacts appeared. Damuis appeared at the dropship’s shattered entrance. He turned to Lauren, crouching down beside her. All of the jungle had fallen into perfect, unwavering silence.
“You can’t shoot them if you can’t see them. And they don’t want to be seen.”
Lauren didn’t take her eyes off the rifle’s sight. “Thanks for your insight, captain.”
Damuis shook his head, then dropped backwards, leaning against the ship’s hull. His voice was shrouded into a dreamlike state, his eyes drifting off towards the clouds.
“I almost loved this world, once. I’m told that, during the summer, the trees are beautiful. I’m sure I saw that, once, but I can’t seem to remember now. What does it matter?”
He was smiling. Lauren tried her best to pay no attention, it was nothing more then the ranting of a mad man.
One of the rebels wondered to close to the edge of the clearing. He was shot dead before he knew what had happened. His bullet ridden body was pulped completely. What was left of him, collapsed onto the ground. Then everything went to hell.
Bullets raked across the jungle, shredding the brush as shell casings clattered across the ground. Two marines went down in the first instant, shrapnel blasting across the clearing from every conceivable angle. As though all time had stopped, each man could see the projectile destined for that point between their eyes. Ripples of air, flare from the kick of guns, flak from metallic ricochets; the clearing was flooded with noise. Blood erupted from the back of the first marine’s head, his body sliding backwards and off the dropship’s top. The second marines suffered a similar fate, if not for the gas propelled rocket that separated his head from his shoulders. A crack from the jungle, then a long, thing trail of fire. Then a scream. His body exploded little less then a second after his head was clipped clean off. Blood showered across the clearing.
Damuis looked towards the sky, his mind elsewhere.
Lauren spotted another flash from the jungle, then fired a shot. Breach opened and closed. She heard a scream from the dense foliage. Another appeared in her HUD, body outlined in green. She depressed the trigger and held it, walking the deadly stream of bullets across the jungle. Blood, and another scream. Lauren dropped her magazine, and reloaded. The marines seemed to function as one, all a machine. Damuis spoke again, his voice nostalgic.
“Yes, it must have been the clouds. Or something about the sun? This world truly is wonderful.” He paused for a second, and then, faster then the eye could see, his head snapped out of place. It floated, beside his body, for only the briefest of moments. A bullet sparked off the hull metal above Damuis’ neck. Then he disjointed again, head reattached as though no action had taken place.
Lauren saw none of this. Her eyes secured behind electronic scopes. She listened though, but failed to see how this madman’s knowledge could possibly be of any use to the UNSCA. “Thanks for sharing that, sir,” pause; rebel in sites, watching him move; rifle kick, shell casing, blood. Emptied magazines littered the ground. Another marine fell, his chest raked from side to side by some form of light machinegun.
“Should we pull back?” shouted one the marines near Lauren.
“Can we?” came Lauren’s response.
Faintly, behind Lauren, Damuis sighed. “Why leave? Why fight?”
Lauren snapped a lucky shot, dropping another rebel, his rocket launcher tumbling to the ground.
Damuis remained seated, back still pressed against the dropship. He closed his eyes. “Your blood, and that of your people will litter the heavens.”
And he was gone.
“Oh my god.” A bullet snapped across the clearing, an excellent shot, and hit Lauren between the breast and shoulder. Blood hit the dropship’s hull, Lauren’s rifle dropping from her hands. Her vision went, gone for a moment, pain taking over. She forced her eyes open, witnessing the carnage now apparent. Only four marines still stood, including herself. Rebel bodies lined the clearing. A trail of rapid fire snaked past Lauren’s position, ripping at the metal of the ruined dropship. Over her head, the incredible whine of ionic engines suddenly flared into life. Blasting across the jungle tops, a pelican dropship graced the clearing. Jet wash flooded over Lauren, the rebel’s gunfire diverted briefly, taking potshots at the large vessel.
“Ok! Everyone go!” Forcing herself to stand, Lauren stumbled across the rubble. Rebels still shooting madly, at what it was hard to tell, the marines stood and left, hitting the jungle running. After several moments of complete and uncontrolled fire, the noise of rifles died off. Sporadic fire on the ruined dropship ended, leaving the clearing once more in silence.
As the rebels shot mercy bullets into the wounded, and began examining the wreck, Lauren and her three marines were stepping once more onto the steel platform of a dropship. Not bothering to close the rear door, the steel ship lifted off from the jungle underbrush. Moving with little rhythm over the endless treetops, Lauren slid back against her restraint harnesses. Someone had dressed her wound, stopping the bleeding. Painkillers began to flood through her body, and her mind found it easy to disconnect from the world. Watching out the rear door, now beginning to close, she caught a glimpse of Vega’s rising moon, accented against mountaintops- it was a beautiful world, in simplicity and elegance. And she hated it.
You are a man of many talents, Damuis.
“Yes, I know.”
I wonder, why do you live as a spirit in the mortal world?
“I love it so.”
I wonder, why do you stand aside, and not fight?
“I hate it so.”
You are a fool, Damuis.
“Yes, I know.”