Resistivity Chapter 2: The Perils of Reentry
Posted By: Roger Lin<Linrj11281@aol.com>
Date: 12 March 2002, 10:57 pm
I grabbed the safety harness tightly with both hands and began to feel lightheaded as the blood slowly drained into my legs. The lifeboat had entered the ring's upper atmosphere. The gradual, but relentless, change from weightlessness to two and a half G's magnified my urge to black out under the stress. I turned my head to look outside the front viewpanel and saw black gradually turn to purple, then to blue as we dropped lower into the ring's atmosphere. Flames flickered up over the bottom of the viewpanel as the heat shield rapidly burned away, unable to withstand the tremendous temperature caused by the friction of air moving at incredible speed. The lifeboat was shaking tremendously now, and the temperature inside the cabin was rising quickly. I hoped there weren't any problems with the reentry, and I began to sweat. The heat shield did its job, though, and yellow gradually gave way to blue with intermittent flashes of white as we ripped through the ring's cloud layers.
"Hang tight! Deploying air brakes!" The pilot shouted. A sudden jolt verified that they were functioning properly. Quick and effective, air brakes were a fairly reliable device that operated in a similar fashion to parachutes yet still gave the pilot forward maneuvering options. As we decelerated to a modest four hundred kilometers per hour, the g-forces eased up, replaced by the sound of howling wind outside the cabin.
"I think Trot needs a new panty liner," Lin shouted over the noise, grinning. I looked over at the corporal. Pale, he was huddled in his seat with a death grip on the safety harness. A stream of vomit had made its way down his chest plate. Slowly opening his eyes, he gave Lin a long stare and informed him where he could go.
"It's just motion sickness. It'll pass." Trotter put his head back down and concentrated on his misery.
"Leave him alone private. He's saved your ass more times than you can count," I shouted back, admonishing Lin. Seeing Trot lose his hard exterior was rare, however. I couldn't help but smile at his sorry plight. While the rest of my squad on the Autumn was new, Trotter and Lin had been under my command for about four months, quite a long time given the war's current turnover rate. Though they seldom seemed to get along, I believed they truly enjoyed each other's harassment. I looked at the rest of the men. Davis was new and fresh out of training, and he had been transferred to my squad only last week. I didn't recognize the wounded sergeant we picked up, but the crewmen we saved looked familiar; they all did, though, in an oddly clone-like fashion.
"Impact in thirty seconds!" The pilot shouted over the noise. The Bumblebee lifeboats, though field-tested and mother-approved, lacked, among other amenities, landing gear. Designed for single use, the lifeboats depended on the braking and maneuvering jets for an acceptable survival rate. A controlled crash was essential for our well-being. I hoped the pilot we just saved would return the favor.
The noise in the cabin was greatly increased due to the thruster jets now firing full forward. As the cabin rattled from the stress, I could see treetops through the rear viewport. Suddenly, impact. The lifeboat shuddered as it caromed off trees and snapped them in two. Metal scraped on rock, throwing visible sparks behind the rapidly decelerating craft. We were thrown into the backs of our seats as rock changed to soft dirt that crumbled underneath us. The craft plowed to a halting stop.
A sudden silence surrounded us. Checking to see that the lifeboat had indeed come to a full stop, I unstrapped my harness and removed the assault rifle from the safety webbing that held it. As the adrenalin from the crash wore off, the throbbing in my shoulder became more insistent.
"Let's move marines." I ordered. "Covenant may have followed us down here and could be on the ground already." Given the visibility of a lifeboat crashing through the sky, our position was already well known by any observers on the ground. "Unstrap him and take him outside." I motioned at the wounded sergeant we picked up right before we had jettisoned off the Autumn. I peeked through the rear viewport to check for any approaching Covenant units. All clear.
"Hey, open the door back here." I called up to the pilot.
"Could be jammed... we might have to force it." Lin commented as he untangled himself from his safety harness and retrieved his weapon. I nodded at him, and then headed up toward the cockpit. The pilot was slumped over the controls. Getting closer, I put my hand on the pilot's shoulder and shook him gently with no response. Damn. I found the control for the door and toggled it to open. As I removed the dead pilot's sidearm, I reflected on the tremendous loss of life the long war had exacted on the human race. Why did the Covenant attack us at first contact instead of trying to communicate? They appeared to be a conglomerate of different species themselves. Did we really look so different from them? I ejected the magazine from the weapon and dropped the pistol. What was their motivation to destroy us instead of trying to achieve a peace? God's will? Not my God, I thought. A flashing light drew my attention to the fact that the lifeboat's beacon had activated on impact. I looked back into the cabin as I secured the pistol rounds. The others had already left.
I exited the cabin and entered a sunlight-dappled forest. A fresh breeze blew in through the trees, rustling leaves and bringing up a feeling of nostalgia. It was warm outside, warm like the first spring day after a harsh winter. Spoiled only by the smoke rising from the blackened earth from our crash trail, the environment of the ring was incredibly pleasant; I could hear insects buzzing in the distance, and the occasional cry of a bird. The sole surviving crewmember and Davis had set the wounded sergeant on a makeshift pallet of life vests from inside the lifeboat and were poking through a medikit. Getting the sergeant back on his feet was a high priority, as Covenant patrols were certainly inbound to track all the survivors of the Autumn on the ring. Lin and Trot had already spread out and were scoping the area upslope to search for other lifeboats and possible defensive positions.
My helmet com crackled. "Lieutenant, no Covenant in the area. Motion trackers show nothing, not even on ten. We left a huge trail in the woods though, and anyone looking won't have a hard time finding us, that's for sure. There's a clearing over here, I might be able to see a bit further. I'll go check it out. Boy this place is nice, I could go for some R&R here..." Lin's chatter faded as he continued his recon. I radioed to Trotter.
"Corporal, get over there and make sure Lin doesn't get into any trouble. We can't afford to draw any attention."
"Roger, Lieutenant. He's always gettin' in trouble," came the crisp reply. Trot sounded like he was in better condition, but he probably still had a banging headache. I walked over to where the others were caring for the wounded sergeant.
"Pilot's dead." I stated simply. The crewmember looked up and closed his eyes for a moment, then returned to his work on the sergeant. "How's he doing?" I asked.
"Serious plasma burns. They were stable when we got him in the boat, but all the shaking from reentry broke some of the wounds open. Probably went into shock during the ride. I bandaged them up but we'll have to change them after a few hours. That shot of NLZ should keep him stable until we can get him to the command shuttle."
"Crewman, uh, I'm sorry, what's your name?" I asked. "Berret," came his reply. "Berret, will he be able to move under his own power soon? We're far out from the rendezvous and we'll need to move out soon. The crash trail essentially left a huge arrow pointing right at us and Covenant patrols are likely inbound. We shouldn't be around the lifeboat when they get here."
"Yes, I think he'll be mobile once the NLZ takes effect. But I'm not a field medic. We'll have to find one soon or he may just drop dead on us."
The sergeant groaned from where he lay. That NLZ works pretty well, I thought to myself. "Sergeant," I began, "can you..."
"First sergeant Michael Buker UNSC Marine Corps DN38416..." The sergeant was muttering to himself. "...Damn...Covenant...won't...take me..." He trailed off.
"Alright get him on his feet and help him. Bring all the supplies you can carry, Davis." I motioned toward the downed Bumblebee. Davis ran off into the boat to collect the remaining medikits and other gear. I turned my attention to getting the squad to our last known rendezvous point, the command shuttle. "Corporal, see anything up there?"
"Negative, Lieutenant. No lifeboats or nothing... but this clearing opens up to a flat plain we could use for dustoff."
"OK corporal. Find us a ride."
"This is Tango 14, requesting evac, do you read, this Tango 14, we have wounded and are requesting..." Trotter tried to reach any incoming Pelicans. The lifeboat beacon was strong enough that any UNSC dropships would pick it up, but given our situation, we couldn't count on friendly forces arriving before enemy forces. We had two options: Get a Pelican over here pronto, or evade Covenant patrols until help arrived. I prepared to employ both options.
"OK people we are moving over to the LZ for dustoff. Help Sgt. Buker up and let's get over there."
As Berret and Davis picked up Buker, I turned and radioed Lin as I hiked over to the clearing they had found. "Private, we're coming your way. Can you see any air units from where you are?"
"Negative, Lieutenant. But my view is obscured a bit from here. Hold on, let me get up a little higher and out some." I heard some rustling in the headset as Lin moved. He apparently had scaled a tree and was climbing out on a limb. Typical, I thought to myself. He had a tendency to do that.
"Lieutenant! I got an air unit coming our way! Can't see it well from here, but it's kinda small, and I don't think it's one of ours."
"Roger that, Private. Keep an eye on it, and don't reveal our position until we get there. LT out. Trotter, come in."
"Yeah, Lieutenant I heard. The Pelican is on its way. ETA seven minutes."
"Corporal, can you identify the flyer?"
"Negative, but I can see it getting closer. It must have seen us go down. Could be looking for survivors." Great, I thought. There was probably a dropship on its way in right now. Hopefully we could evacuate before they get here. That flyer was bound to cause problems, though. At the very least it would delay our evac until the other Covenant arrived.
"Corporal, we need to take that flyer down. Wait until we get there, and we'll engage."
I turned back to the others. "We've got company. Leave the sergeant here for now and follow me. We can't let that air unit hinder the dustoff." Davis and Berret rested the still groggy sergeant against a tree. I checked my rifle and found the clip half-empty. Reloading, I motioned for the others to do the same. We quickly got moving towards the clearing. As we ran, the rustling of leaves and branches was all we heard as we moved through the brush. Slowly, a new sound began to surface, a whistling. I motioned for a stop and we paused, looking into the sky as best as we could through the trees. A dark shape blotted out the sun as it flew by. A Covenant Banshee, no doubt. The Banshees made a distinctive noise while flying, hence their name. Armed with two plasma guns and a devastating fuel rod cannon, they were used against ground targets and light air targets. Their armor was not terrific, and they relied on maneuverability and ground support to effectively neutralize targets. By itself, it wasn't a serious threat. But they rarely traveled alone, and it was certain that other Banshees or dropships were nearby.
I looked towards the clearing. We were about fifty yards away. My men were nowhere to be seen.
"Corporal, are you and Lin in position?" I radioed Trotter.
"Affirmative, Lieutenant. Waiting on your signal to blow it out of the sky."
"Agreed. We need to take it down on its first pass." I turned to the two men behind me. "Berret, Davis, spread out a bit and try to get a clear angle into the air." They moved out in opposite directions. The Banshee was probably flying by the crash site and would head back to the clearing next to secure it for an incoming dropship. Right by us. I raised my rifle to shoulder level and trained the sights into the sky, waiting. As predicted, moments later the Banshee's distinctive whir grew louder. It flew by, and I opened fire. Staccato shots rang out in the forest as my men followed suit. I got about thirty rounds off before the Banshee traveled out of my field of view. My aim was terrible, and I had a hard time tracking the Banshee with my injured shoulder. The others were more fortunate, however. Black smoke was trailing from the Banshee as it traveled out of the effective range of our assault rifles. It wheeled around, coming back to deal some damage now that we had revealed our position. Given the tree cover, it would be difficult to target any of us, but a cannon-induced tree fall could just as easily kill us. I prepared to evade. The Banshee turned, on the figurative dime, and as it did, a loud explosion startled me as it rang out next to it. The explosion did enough damage to the Banshee that it began to fall, disabled. It crashed to the forest floor with a distant thud, and almost simultaneously my helmet com crackled. Lin was gibbering with excitement.
"Guys did you SEE that?? That was an awesome throw! Next time I'll let you guys help!" It took me a second, but then I realized what he was babbling about. Short-fusing a frag grenade was risky, and the Corps had documented many accidental deaths stemming from messing around with the fuse. PFC Lin was lucky, however, luckier than most marines I knew. He had managed to survive many a hairy situation through a combination of luck and... well, more luck, I thought to myself. I had to admit, though, his throw had distance in addition to being deadly accurate. That was incredibly lucky, even given his standards. His luck was growing by the day.
"...a fluke. You're lucky you didn't blow your head off." Trotter finished berating the private over his tactics. I detected a hint of envy in his voice.
"Private," I began, "what did your drill sergeant tell you about short fusing grenades? You are not to do that again."
"But..." Lin sputtered.
"No buts! Don't try that again, understood?" He nodded. "OK." I paused, then conceded. "Good throw, Private." I had to give him that; after all, he had prevented the Banshee from escaping and making a serious strafing run on our position. I recalled a saying - the ends justify the means. At least in wartime they did.
"Thank you sir!" I could literally see his big grin through my helmet com. Trot was probably muttering under his breath. I shook my head and smiled. Hearing crackling in the brush behind me, I turned, rifle first.
"Whoa, sir it's me!" Davis stopped in his tracks, arms held up. Shaking his head, he slowly walked up to me. I lowered my rifle. "OK, let's collect the others and get to the LZ. Our ride will be here any second."
When we made our way back to where we left the sergeant, we found him to be up and relatively alert. Berret was already there.
"How are you sergeant?" I asked.
"Not too bad, I suppose." He looked at my uniform. "Where are we Lieutenant?" he asked, looking around in wonder.
"We're on the ring construct in orbit around the planet we jumped in next to. Two crewmen saved you back on the Autumn. We're moving to the LZ now for dustoff. You alright to move?"
He nodded wearily, and we rapidly moved out towards the clearing. I scanned the sky for approaching dropships but there was no sign. We approached the clearing and found Trotter sitting on a log as Lin recounted his last feat with excitement. Trot looked at me for an intervention and rolled his eyes. I graciously interrupted Lin in mid-sentence.
"Corporal, any word on that Pelican?"
Trotter gave me a look of thanks. "No sir, but they should have been here by now."
"Radio them again." Trotter tried to get a hold of the incoming Pelican, but there was no answer. He looked up, shaking his head.
"Nothing sir. They're either not responding or they're out of range."
Or it was destroyed, I thought. Damn, we need to get out of here. Dropships could be here any second. I thought for a moment. This clearing would be a likely drop zone for Covenant units, and though the sky was clear right now, we could be overrun with a whole load of bad guys very soon. With no dustoff imminent, we had to take cover and wait.
"Did you guys find any defensive positions around here we could get to?"
"Nothing really good around here. Looks like some mountains of some sort over there." Trot pointed. "We could find some cover maybe." We needed to put some distance between the crash site and us. The mountains were in the right direction, across the clearing and about two kilometers distant.
"Let's move up there. Our radio signal will be stronger without all this ground cover. We can try to hail a Pelican from there," I said. We gathered our equipment and began to work our way around the clearing and started the hike towards the mountain. Davis was on point.
Apparently we were on our own for the time being, with no Pelicans in contact range, we were at the mercy of God. With one wounded, we would travel more slowly and would take more time. Dropships and Covenant patrols were likely to be in the area, so we would have to move fast and far from the lifeboat. Luckily we had ground cover to hide in. Up higher on the mountainside, we would be able to see the area and radio any friendly forces that flew in, but not be so close that we'd be fighting off Covenant the entire time. I was fairly certain we could hold out until another Pelican became available, but given the mysterious disappearance of the first, it seemed that merely getting onto this ring had taken its toll on our forces.
And what next? Could we hold out until a rescue mission arrived? The Covenant appeared to have substantial buildup on the ring's surface already. I wondered what was on the ring that was so important. I went back to a basic set of known facts I could work with. Following the Cole Protocol, we had jumped blindly right next to a ring construct of unimaginable complexity and unknown origin. Most of the Covenant ships at Reach followed us here. The Pillar of Autumn had crashed somewhere on the ring. We had to rendezvous at the command shuttle, probably our new headquarters. The Master Chief and Cortana were on the surface with us, somewhere. Whether by design or by divine intervention, I felt there was a reason for us to be here. I just didn't know what.
...to be continued