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Resistivity Chapter 1: Save Me A Seat
Posted By: Roger Lin<Linrj11281@aol.com>
Date: 22 February 2002, 10:13 pm

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     Wincing, I watched as the doctor administered a pain injection. "This will help with the pain until we can get a nano-surgery unit over to you," she said. Despite being a lieutenant in the UNSC Marine Corps, I still had a certain undefined discomfort around needles. "That last plasma burst was close," she continued, "you're lucky you weren't thrown harder into that bulkhead."
     "I'll be alright," I grumbled, rolling down my sleeve. Just my luck, landed wrong on my shoulder right before our jump. No matter, the nano-surgery units usually fixed up sprains and the like pretty quickly. I tried moving the shoulder gently as the doctor explained the nano-surgery procedure to me. I looked at her as she spoke and decided that she was cute. Her last name was DeCollibus, that much was apparent on her name badge, but she had mentioned her first name at some point, I thought. What was it? Jessica? Something like that.
     "... only take a few minutes." The doctor finished her explanation. I slid off the examining table. I had just started to put on my armor when the alertcon light turned red again and the klaxon sounded. The loudspeaker's voice was unmistakable in its urgency: "Attention all combat personnel. Please report to your action stations. Attention all combat personnel..."
     Damn, what's going on now? I thought we got away. "Doctor, that surgery will have to wait." I called over my shoulder as I ran out of the exam room into the hallway. Moderate chaos prevailed. SolCore Navy personnel were running around attempting to get to their stations, brushing by the wounded still coming in from the more distant parts of the Autumn. Hastily patched up, they were all in stable condition with minor wounds; burns, lacerations, sprains, and fractures; most arrived under their own power. We got away easy that time, I thought. As I rubbed my sprained shoulder, feeling the painkiller begin to do its work, a marine with bandages over his arm ran up to me.
     "Sir! Uh, what's going on sir?"
     "I'm not positive... Apparently we didn't get away. I'm heading up to our rendezvous to see."
     "Sir, I'd like to come with you sir," he replied. I quickly looked PFC Davis up and down. Aside from the minor burns, he was in good condition. Lucky thing that electrical fire flare-up hadn't burned him more severely.
     "Follow me, private." We ran down the corridor towards the high bay, our designated gathering point. While we traveled, I mulled over the information, a bad habit I had. I had suspicions that we had jumped into a Covenant controlled area and ships were probably moving to intercept. Just hang tight and let the Navy flyboys do their work and we should be able to escape, this time, I hoped, for real. Getting away from Reach was incredible. Covenant destroyers were just mopping up SolCore ships. The Pillar of Autumn had many close calls, and two of my squads were relegated to firefighting on Deck 6. Whoever was doing the flying up at Command was either brilliant or very lucky, or both.
     "Fifth platoon, secure airlocks on Deck Eleven. Fourteenth Platoon, rendezvous with 22nd Tactical at..." Cortana, the ship's AI, came through over the loudspeaker. Everyone on board knew her voice. It was comforting to hear her as she took care of most of the chores on the ship, and coordinated personnel with an efficiency that was second to none. And in addition to being the ship's 'mother', she safeguarded such sensitive information on SolCore and the war effort that it was vital to not allow her to fall into enemy hands. Plus I heard from a bridge tech that she had, in his own words, 'one hot AI bod'.
     "Sir, take a look at that!" Davis exclaimed as we rushed by one of the lounges. Used mainly for leisure and relaxing, the lounges housed bars stocked with various stimulants and depressants, and large areas with tables and floor length viewing windows used for conversing, drinking, and meeting members of the opposite sex. Hard to believe that it was just last week that I had met...
     "Sir, what IS that!" Davis interrupted my brief thought. Retracing my steps, I peered into the lounge and out into space. A large gas giant hung in the distance, almost perfectly framed in the window. A pretty color, I supposed, but not anything to stop and stare at. I wondered what Davis was getting excited about. But then I noticed a strange ring shaped object just to the right of the planet. Rotating slowly, it was difficult to judge size and distance without some known objects to scale it against, but it appeared to be extraordinarily large, larger than most space stations.
     I groped in my mind for some explanation but came up empty handed. "I don't know, Davis, but I think there's a lot more going on here than we were told about." It seemed to me now that it was strange that our random escape jump had put us in such close vicinity to this strange object AND that Covenant were closing in. More than coincidental, I thought.
     "Yes, and let's find out exactly what's going on here," I muttered to myself as we headed towards our station.
     "...again, our main objective is to engage and neutralize internal contacts on Deck 12 forward, port side. We have to hold them off until the Captain gives the order to evac. We'll be taken down to the surface by Echo-403 in Bay 7. Get ready to repel boarders. It's going to be a long day." I finished briefing my platoon, walked over to an empty weapons crate, and sat down. I wasn't big into testosterone inducing gung-ho pep-rallies and left most of that work to Sgt. Spann. Spann was a seasoned veteran of the war, and had been a squad leader in my platoon for about eight months now. Tough and focused, he'd seen more action than I had up until this point, and I was grateful for his presence and battle experience.
     As the sergeant whipped the men up into an adrenaline-laced fury, I thought about the information just recently disclosed to me by my CO. Our Longsword fighters were cleaning up some smaller ships patrolling the area, but CCS-Class battlegroups were inbound from multiple vectors. The Autumn, though not seriously damaged in the battle at Reach, was alone. Chances were that the ship wouldn't be able to escape the Covenant net closing in, and those Covenant bastards would probably see the lone ship as their best chance to capture and extract vital information from Cortana. In addition, we were carrying some special cargo in cryo that was confirmed by my CO to be one of the near-invincible cyborg soldiers that had been in secret development for some years now. Boarders were a virtual certainty. Given the odds, we wouldn't be able to hold them back forever, and we were to engage Covenant forces for as long as possible - it seemed we had drawn an unusually large number of ships away from Reach. Why? Perhaps we were buying the forces at Reach some time to escape. But the Captain must have had some plan as to how to prevent the Covies from getting their claws on either the cyborg or the location of Earth. Without detonating the ship? I hoped we weren't just Covie-bait.
     "... am I right Marines!" the sergeant finished up. As the platoon responded I could hear excitement in their voices, but also a hint of fear. Though we were clearly outmatched in space combat, ground combat was mankind's equalizer. Marines could at least compete with the Covenant in ground combat. While casualties were usually high, if given even numbers and relatively few Elites, the odds were fifty-fifty that we would come out on top. Elite units were the most feared of the Covenant due to their balanced combination of size, strength, speed, and shielding capabilities. Wielding plasma weapons with uncanny accuracy, Elites were known to take down whole squads of marines in a stunning display of plasma bursts and cracking bones. Running into a squad of Elites was, to say the least, a very bad day for any Marine.
     Spann fell back behind the platoon to speak with me while we made our way up to our station.
     "Sir. The men are a little uneasy with the odds." Spann had a way of understating the obvious.
     "Attention all personnel. We are re-engaging the enemy. External and internal contacts imminent." Cortana spoke coolly over the PA system.
     "So am I."
     Spann paused while we allowed a heavy weapons fireteam to pass in the narrow corridors.
     "So what's on that thing out there?"
     "What do you mean, on that ring?"
     "Yes sir. You're the one always churning out theories."
     "I don't know, sergeant, but chances are we can't hold the Covenant at bay until they get bored and leave. We've got to go somewhere." The ship shook as the capital ships began to engage the Autumn and the first wave of Covenant fighters began their strafing attacks. Brilliant plumes of yellow and white, bright flares, and fading lights were drawing a kaleidoscope of patterns against the infinite blackness of space. Simultaneously, loud thuds were heard from within the ship itself.
     "Longsword fighters are getting cremed out there," Spann commented.
     "Well we can't fit the whole platoon on a Longsword can we?" I said.
     "Not unless we sit in the pilot's lap."
     "They might actually enjoy that huh?"
     "Probably. I hear the flyboys are funny that way." Spann laughed, then paused.
     "Why do you think we're going to the ring? Don't get me wrong, I'd be the first in line to be able to fight the Covies on solid ground. But that ring is... well, different."
     I thought for a moment. We couldn't possibly beat the Covenant in ship to ship combat, alone. Covenant would probably board and attempt to capture the vital information they needed to find Earth and wipe us out for good, that much was already established. We were lost in space, cornered by our enemies, and there was no way out. Self destruct, more and more, was seemingly inevitable. Take out as many of them as you can before you go. But not before we get them into range. Maybe we would lead them on the ring and then detonate the whole thing for an even bigger blast radius. At any rate, I didn't like the way things were turning out in my head.
     "I don't know sergeant, but let's greet our Covenant friends with a warm welcome."
     "Yes, sir."
     Our target position on Deck 12 forward was pandemonium when we arrived. Up ahead I could hear M6D pistol gunfire mixed with the unmistakable whine of plasma charges, screams of dying men, and the low bass of Elite Covenant shouting over the chaos. There was already significant structural damage and debris was scattered all over the place. Stray plasma bolts, white hot, came out from around the corner up ahead. Crewmembers were running towards us yelling for help, screaming incoherently about 'hundreds' and 'cowardly fools'. Apparently, Covenant were advancing. Fast.
     "Sergeant, take first squad in through the left where those crew are coming out. I'll take second squad up this secondary corridor and try to flank or get behind their position. Give me a sec to get up there, then engage."
     "Lieutenant." I turned back to him.
     "Send in a few frags - special delivery." I smiled and sent Spann on his way to engage the enemy while I took my group up the right side corridor.
     Deck 12 housed the storage areas where supplies were kept and was a series of interconnected rooms, corridors, and doorways. Storage crates blocked off certain areas of the corridor where the crew left them when they were attacked. Distorted bulkheads demonstrated the intense heat of charged plasma bursts. Secondary corridors running parallel to the main corridor were connected to the main corridor by smaller side passageways, and were relatively unharmed. Some smoke filled the hallway inconsistently, indicating small fires dispersed throughout the area. I hoped they weren't near any munitions crates.
     I led my five-man squad up the secondary and radioed command.
     "Command, this is combat team Tango 14 at Deck 12 forward. Report heavy Covenant contact in the storage bays. Request reinforcements." If available, I thought to myself.
     "Negative, Tango 14." Cortana's voice came in over the headset. "We have no available units in your area. Suggest you fall back by squad to Tango 10's position while laying down suppressing fire."
     "Roger Cortana. Tango 14 out." The usual situation. The story of the war, actually, as we were outnumbered and outgunned, fighting a losing battle against our own inevitable extinction. I wasn't going to let it be easy for them, though.
     As we approached the side passageway we heard automatic gunfire bursts. "First squad engaged." Spann's voice came through on the com system loud and clear. "I count four, maybe five Elite, a few Grunts. We have their attention." The last of the crew streamed by us. I turned the corner that led back up the side passageway to the main corridor. Up ahead I could see the Elites dodging back and forth, their shields occasionally lighting up as they dispersed the energy of assault rifle rounds meant to penetrate their blue armor. Apparently they had not expected a strong Marine presence in this area of the ship, and had advanced more quickly than was prudent, getting caught in an area with little cover. I turned to my men and motioned for frags. Gingerly, I shouldered my MA5B assault rifle and prepared to unleash a hail of lead to finish off what the frags could not. I watched the frags arc over towards the Covenant position and spark as they landed. Turning my head to avoid stray shrapnel and dust, Grunts squealed and Elite shields shattered as three grenades exploded in unison.
     "Open fire!" I squeezed the trigger of my assault rifle and felt the recoil against my shoulder, forgetting for a moment about the dull pain. Multiple 7.62mm streaks rained on the unshielded surviving Elite units. Plasma rifles returned fire, but only for a few seconds as the Elite units were cut down. Their alien howls of anger sent the hairs on my arm on end. After a moment, I advanced my squad up the side passageway towards the intersection at the main corridor to check for survivors and finish them off. All of the Covenant in the area were dead. Satisfied, I looked back over down the corridor to Spann and first squad.
     "Nice work sergeant."
     Spann's reply was terse and controlled. "Lieutenant, contact - your six!"
     Green and white plasma bolts hummed by my head as I dropped to the floor. I heard one of the men shriek as multiple plasma bolts slammed into his back. As I looked forward, I saw more Covenant at the forward end of the main corridor. A stationary shield was being set up and Elite units were raining plasma death on my squad. Spann was shouting for me to clear the position.
     "Back!" I shouted as I got to my knees and dove back into the side corridor we had just emerged from. A quick check revealed that we had lost Hays and Dubiel. Gunfire erupted from first squad's position as they attempted to hold off the Covenant reinforcements. I radioed to Spann.
     "Sergeant, hold them off as we make our way back to your position." There were too many corridors up here to hold position. Our side corridor was connected to the main corridor and the secondary corridor on the other end, which ran parallel to the main. There could be Covenant sneaking down the secondary to flank us now that we were being forced back to the secondary. We ran back towards the secondary corridor and peeked around the corner forward. Sure enough, two Elite units were advancing on our position to try and trap us, followed by twice as many Grunts. There was little chance that the four of us could take on the approaching Covenant squad.
     "Sergeant, we've got Covenant down the secondary. Can you bail us out?"
     "Roger, lieutenant. I'm on my way." The gunfire ceased for a moment, then erupted again down the secondary corridor.
     "Lieutenant I've got two Elites and a bunch of Grunts stopped in secondary! More are behind them... if you're gonna do something, do it now! I can't hold them back forever!"
     I motioned for two more frags and told the men to get ready to make a run for it down the rights side of the corridor.
     "We're coming your way Sergeant, on your left."
     "Roger." I tensed, readying myself.
     "Frag out!" Grenades whipped around the corner towards the Covenant squad. We ran out into the secondary corridor, backpedaling as we tried to lay down suppressing fire and retreat simultaneously. Elites roared as they saw us try to escape, lighting up the corridor with white plasma. Spann and his fireteam also fired, down the other side of the corridor to my relief, as the frags bounced around behind the two Elites and in front of the Grunts. To my horror, the Elites, instead of reversing and going back up the secondary to avoid the grenades, actually advanced on us with dizzying speed. Their eight foot frames towered over my men as we blindly emptied bullets into their rapidly diminishing shields.
     The first Elite raised his weapon and knocked Rodriguez into the incredibly dense alloy bulkhead with a disturbing thud, killing him instantly. We continued to stumble backwards as the Elite, intent on continuing his melee kills, rose his weapon a second time to eliminate Poirier. Just then, the frags exploded with a concussion wave that propelled Elites at us at, unbelievably, an even faster velocity. Shields shattering, the second Elite died in the blast wave. The first Elite, protected partially by the other, bowled into what was left of my squad, knocking us into a tangled heap on the corridor floor. By now thoroughly freaking out, my last two men screamed as the Elite sprung up with inhuman speed. Catching them with empty magazines, it roared and swung out. Catching Poirier on the side of the head, the Elite managed one last kill before Spann's team ventilated the now-shieldless Covenant. It howled and crumbled to the floor. Davis scrambled while the Elite marked the floor around him with plasma as it involuntarily pulled on the weapon's trigger.
     "Lieutenant let's go! I've got more Covenant on their way down the main corridor!" Spann shouted as I collected my weapon and helped Davis, the last man on my squad up to his feet. Surprisingly he had managed to dodge the random plasma bolts emitted from the Elite's death throes.
     We stumbled back into the main corridor where two marines were attempting to hold off the remainder of the boarding party.
     "They're pouring in!" one of the men shouted, "And we can't hold them!"
     I gave the order to fall back to the landing area. The marines lobbed their remaining grenades at the Covenant and we began retreating to the landing where Tango 10 was positioned. No doubt the Covenant squads would approach a little more cautiously now, having lost at least six Elites. There were too many more coming in to contain, however. We had little time before they would overtake us. I wondered if the combat teams on the rest of the ship were getting as much contact. The ship was shaking considerably now, with constant explosions rocking the ship. The Captain's voice came over the loudspeaker. "Ops personnel on decks nine through twelve, report to evac stations now."
     "Command, this is Tango 14, Deck 12 forward, port side has been breached, repeat, deck 12 forward port has been breached. We can not reach the airlocks on 12 forward, over." I listened for a reply from command.
     "Roger, Tango 14," came the human reply, "be advised that there are multiple Covenant breaches all over the ship, including your designated evac station. Protect Ops personnel until they are evacuated, then find yourself a ride and get the hell out of here. Rendezvous at the command shuttle on the ring artifact for further orders." Strange, I thought, where was Cortana?
     "Command, request clarification, uh, where's Cortana?"
     "Cortana is being escorted off the ship by the Master Chief. Support the Master Chief if you see him, otherwise follow your primary objective. Command out."
     The Master Chief had Cortana. And was trying to get off the ship to the ring. That's why Keyes is on the speaker. Cortana's in good hands, I thought to myself. The Master Chief and his battle skills were legendary. It was said that he could take on dozens of Covenant at once and survive. I had no doubt that any vital info was safe with the MC. We were just holding the Covenant off until they were away. Which meant that they were going to land on the ring and rendezvous with the rest of us survivors for... what? Was there actually a mission here? Didn't we do a blind jump in accordance with the Cole Protocol? What's going on? The distant sound of an explosion echoed through the hallways and drew my attention to the matter at hand.
     "OK listen up men, the Master Chief has Cortana and is probably already off the ship. We protect Ops on 12 until they're all away. Then we find ourselves a lifeboat and ditch on that ring."
     "Lifeboat?? What about our dropship?" one of the men asked.
     "Sorry fellas, that dropship is toast. We need to hitch our own ride."
     "Oh that's it man, game over, man. Game over! What are we gonna do now..." The marine continued his tirade for a few seconds as I watched the sergeant swell up and walk over.
     "Marine! Stow that Grunty whining bullshit and fall in!" Spann shouted at the marine. Grabbing his armor, Spann leaned in close and whispered at the blubbering marine. Pushing him away, the sergeant finished, "Do you understand me?"
     "OK lieutenant, you were saying..."
     I nodded at Spann. "We'll operate in two four man teams. Lin, Trotter, you're with Davis and me. The rest of you follow Spann." I pointed at the freaked marine. "Hold it together, marine, and we'll get out of here in one piece. Let's go find some crewmen to save." I waved at Spann.
     "See you out there, Sergeant." Spann turned to take his team out to the starboard side of the ship.
     "Bag some more Covie for me, Lieutenant." I nodded as we split up and began searching for any remaining crewmembers to escort to their lifeboats.
     Heading aft, there were signs of firefights everywhere. Combat teams had been positioned all over deck 12, but there were no signs of anyone. Alive, anyway. Both Covenant and Marine bodies alike littered the hallways in certain areas. Red and blue mixed together on the walls and floor to form a grotesquely psychedelic color scheme. A series of distant explosions shook the ship. We moved on.
     Lifeboat pods were launched in every area we passed. Peering into the lifeboat airlock, I noticed that a Covenant ship was docked. Hmm, it appeared that they were taking the easy way in. Those Covenant are clever. As we crept into the Covenant ship, I noticed the strange markings and colorations of the interior. Very colorful.
     "Lieutenant, what is this?" Davis asked. Davis was always very observant but less than capable at drawing conclusions.
     "It's a Covenant boarding shuttle. They've been getting in through our own airlocks." I turned to look at what seemed to be a control panel.
     "Those bastards." Trotter muttered. The big man shifted his grip on his assault rifle. "They gonna bleed for this."
     "Something over here lieutenant." PFC Lin scanned the corners of the small ship. He picked up a small cube with a red sphere hovering inside it and shook it. "What's this for?" Lin was sometimes too inquisitive for his own good.
     "Put that down private," I replied. "No telling what it'll do if we start messing with it."
     "You think we can use their weapons and stuff?" Lin slowly and carefully set the artifact back down where he found it.
     "Probably, we'll figure it out when we've got a chance. But I don't want one of you to blow the rest of us up while fiddling with the trigger. OK?"
     "Combat teams Sierra through Victor, prepare for evac." The captain's voice again came out over the loudspeaker in the hallway and through the airlock into the Covenant ship.
     "That's us. Let's move, before there's no lifeboats left for us." I turned and made my way out of the boarding shuttle back into the Autumn. There was no way we could escape on one of those, and I was beginning to think we might have a hard time even finding a lifeboat to escape in. The MC had probably commandeered one of them or escaped on a dropship, presumably to continue some havoc down on that ring's surface. I could only assume that we would, in the unlikely event that we were successful, wait for a rescue mission to reach us.
     Most lifeboat banks were empty as we passed by, the rest had Covenant boarding shuttles attached to them. As we continued aft, signs of a heavier battle were prominent. Strangely, only Covenant bodies were found here.
     "Looks like the Master Chief was busy." Lin commented on the evidence of the MC's handiwork. He kicked one of the bodies over. The back of the Elite's skull had collapsed as if some unimaginable force had crushed it in. "What squad is HE in," Trotter commented. He continued, "I'd like to join up!"
     "Lovely." I could understand how stories of the cyborgs' exploits seemed so exaggerated to me in the past, but now it seemed that they were closer to the truth than I had previously decided.
     A distant report of gunfire interrupted my thoughts. Coming from further aft, we could hear the commotion increase in volume.
     "Sounds like we're missing the party," Lin commented.
     "Let's move in." I led my squad towards the area where the battle was taking place. As we approached, crouched to try and avoid detection until the last possible moment, we saw the last bank of lifeboats on our deck, all launched or destroyed save two. A Covenant boarding squad was coming out of one airlock at the end of the bank, and a couple of marines and multiple crew were on the opposite side of the lifeboat bank, trying to advance to the lifeboat but were pinned down behind some structural debris by Covenant fire. Fortunately, we were approaching from the other side, and neither group had noticed us yet. Only one Elite unit in sight.
     I turned to the squad. "There are two lifeboats left, and they're the last on this part of the deck." I pointed towards the Covenant coming out of the furthest lifeboat airlock. "Let's help these guys and then launch out of here."
     The Covenant had already set up one of their portable shields facing the other group of marines. We watched as a grunt tossed a glowing plasma grenade towards them.
     "Follow me. When it blows, concentrate your fire on the Elite and take him out." I got up and started running down the side of the corridor towards the Covenant group, lining up the crosshairs as best as I could on the Elite's head. The grenade lit up the other side of the corridor as its stored energy was released in one lethal burst.
     "Now!" Davis and I dropped to a kneeling fire stance while Trotter and Lin stood behind us. Four assault rifles roared staccato in unison. The first burst of fire caught the Elite unaware, the majority of the bullets eaten up in its shielding device. It immediately ducked and rolled to get away, making a dive back towards the airlock. We had no intention of letting that happen. The next burst of fire shattered the Elite's shield and knocked its dive trajectory off enough to prevent it from cleanly diving through the airlock door, catching its shoulder on the frame. As it stood and attempted to recover, screaming in rage, our final burst caught the Elite square in the chest, splattering blue blood and knocking it dead on its back. The surrounding Grunts screamed in panic as their leader went down and immediately scattered in multiple directions, some heading towards us, some back into the airlock, and some towards the first group of marines.
     As we finished off the stragglers headed our way, we could hear Grunts hiding in the boarding shuttle and more intermittent gunfire ahead as the other group of marines dealt with their unwelcome visitors. I turned to check for any casualties or wounded on my team. Trotter was busy bludgeoning a dead Grunt.
     "You lousy little runt... I'll take you and your pimp daddy Elites all on..." Swearing oaths incoherently under his breath, Trotter had covered his assault rifle with a sticky mess.
     "Corporal!" I snapped, "Let's go!" As he gave the corpse one last kick, we advanced towards the airlock where the Covenant had escaped.
     With a hiss, the boarding shuttle door closed as we approached it cautiously. The Grunts had apparently locked themselves inside in an attempt to save themselves. Lin crept up to the door and risked a look inside.
     "They're running around in there screaming!" he laughed in astonishment as the others tried to look inside. A muffled explosion rocked the ship, followed a few seconds later by a series thumps. Turning, we saw one of the lifeboat doors deform inwards with a loud groan. Incredibly, it held.
     "Leave them, let's collect these crew and evacuate! We're gonna have company. Move move move!" Another boarding shuttle had undoubtedly landed and was about to blast its way in. I ran to the area where the marines were last positioned. Two crewmembers emerged, assisting a wounded marine to his feet.
     "Let's get the others and get into that last lifeboat!" I motioned for the others to help the wounded.
     "They're all dead! I think we're the last group on 12!" a crewman shrieked as my team carried the marine back to the first lifeboat. Another thump. I turned. The door was beginning to fracture.
     "Damn we've got to go now! I hope one of you can fly this thing," I said as I ran with the crew back to the first lifeboat. We quickly strapped in and one of the crewmen took the pilot's seat and began the launch cycle. I sighed in relief. Seconds later, a large explosion ripped through the corridor, throwing dust and debris into the lifeboat.
     "Weapons ready! Don't let anyone in!" I shouted as the dust rained in on us. I peered through the haze, trying to identify any targets. The doors hissed shut.
     Seconds ticked by agonizingly slow as we waited for the lifeboat to launch. Finally, with a thud, the clamps released and the lifeboat sped away from the ship. Disconnected from the ship's gravity generator, items in the lifeboat floated towards the back as we accelerated away from the ship towards the ring. The silence in the lifeboat was interrupted by the sound of thruster burns as the pilot attempted to achieve a desirable re-entry trajectory and land us near the command shuttle rendezvous. As I looked through the front view panel, I could see the ring swing into view. We were a lot closer than we had been when we first arrived, almost right next to it. It was enormous, appearing from this distance to have an atmosphere on the interior complete with clouds, vegetation, oceans, and snow capped mountains.
     Multiple lifeboats were already streaking into the atmosphere, leaving long traces of yellow and white as the intense friction from the air slowed the craft. I saw larger ships going towards the ring too; dropships, some escorted by Longsword fighters, some alone, some pursued by Covenant fighters. Then, in the distance, a large Covenant cruiser, approaching the ring slowly. It appeared damaged, with whole sections of the ship's outer skin flickering, and sparks flying from various points along its long, menacing silhouette. The main cannons on the ship were dark, indicating that the ship to ship weapons were either offline or destroyed. Whatever was happening out here would aruguably continue on the ring's surface. I wondered what our fate would be, and how we would rendezvous with the others. Lifeboats weren't the most maneuverable ships in SolCore's fleet.
     "Lieutenant, do you think the sarge made it off?" Trotter vocalized what we all had on our minds.
     "I don't know corporal." I hoped Spann had had enough sense to disengage the Covenant and get into a lifeboat.
     The pilot turned his head to inform us that we were about to hit re-entry. I hung on to my safety harness and prayed we would survive the landing. Even if we survived, how long would we last? Thousands of Covenant troops were likely to follow us to the surface. With few supplies, manpower, or air support, even the Master Chief would have a hard time lasting long enough for a rescue division to arrive. And what was that ring we were about to land on? It was bizarre enough to warrant an entirely separate research mission, or missions. Was there any significance to it? Sometimes I wished I were more like other marines in their approach to the war. They didn't think too much about what was going on. Do your job and maybe you'll go home. I just had too many questions and no answers. All this thinking made my head spin. I wished for some revelation that would make everything clear.
     And as the lifeboat began to enter the atmosphere, the turbulence gave me a sudden realization.
     My shoulder began to hurt again.
     It wasn't quite the revelation I had hoped for.

...to be continued