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Hermes Trismegistus, Chapter 11
Posted By: Tursas<tursas@shaw.ca>
Date: 26 September 2001, 3:30 am

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"Dude! What happened to your eye?"
    "Long story short: it was replaced."
    After a long week of combined interrogation and psychiatric evaluations, Bob found himself put at liberty. One day the man known as Michaels had been asking about the political structures of the Republic and the Coalition, and the next the commander, a doctor and an orderly had walked in as Bob had been staring at the ceiling. The bonds had been removed on condition that Bob not betray the trust of the commander and the human forces of the Halo. Bob had reluctantly agreed after the commander explained that he would not be permitted access to SolCore weapons as he was not a member of the military. However, the commander did offer Bob an exchange he couldn't resist: he would trade the UMP for any Covenant weaponry the magazine could offer. Bob settled on two of the self-charging pistols, claiming with pride to the man who operated the armory that he would never again have to worry about reloading. The only catch was that Bob had to take a general firearms course to prove he could handle weapons safely; somewhere along the line it seemed that some elements in control were disbelievers in Bob's self-illustrated history as a terrorist and his abilities to use weapons 'safely'. Bob saw the course as a chance to learn what information was available about the extremely fascinating new technology. He was glad to get rid of the UMP as he still felt that the outdated caliber that the weapon was chambered in was an attack on his taste.
    One other thing that the commander had insisted upon before allowing Bob to go free was that Bob be registered as a citizen of SolCore, with a clean criminal record. Apparently, killing other humans was still a crime, but sending corpses to be 'processed' was not, however devious the intent of the 'makers' may have been. The psychiatric profiling and interrogation had played a major part in determining that Bob was not a cannibal or psychopath, (although the doctor had been very quiet about whether the experiences Bob had lived through could have made him one,) and therefore safe to release among the militaristic society of PoA survivors. The only reason that the doctor even considered not stamping Bob as insane was the unusual makeup of his skull. Apparently, Bob's head contained, instead of a frontal lobe and left eye, a conglomerate of as yet unscrutinized technology. There was no attempt to make Bob a member of the military, as the commander pointed out, because Bob had no personal history beyond the word of his own mouth and since he didn't meet the requirement that all new recruits have two eyes.
    Upon being released from the bed, Bobs clothes and pack had been returned and he quickly dressed as he munched on a sandwich prepared in the mess. The very next thing he did after registering was to try to loosen his muscles on a walk around the base. The sight of him turned many heads as he loped about in his very different camouflage with a pair of Covenant pistols. The man on top of the tank had eyed him furiously when he had emerged from the monolith to the light of day, and continued to do so even though Bob had been assured that the man knew he was 'safe.'
    It was in the mess the following day that Bob found himself surrounded by a group of recruits, most of whom seemed younger than he, and most of whom were very interested in his left eye. One moment he was sitting alone at a table and the next he found himself in company with these people, trying to answer their questions to the best of his ability and knowledge.
    "Why would they do something like that?" one of the younger ones asked him from across the table.
    "I suppose they thought it was necessary," Bob responded.
    "And you didn't have any choice in the matter?" the man on his right asked.
    "Nope. But it's not like I've had to make a lot of difficult choices in my lifetime."
    "Why's that?"
    "Didn't you guys read your history books? I left Earth about five hundred years ago."
    This quieted the bunch. They quietly moved away one by one, not asking any more questions. Except for one.
    "I heard that you were a terrorist. Is that true?"
    "I don't know about 'were.' I still like to think that I am. It seems like only yesterday that I was doing that sort of thing."
    The young and ruddy-faced private took this in with what seemed to be a rabid interest.
    "Could you teach me to be a terrorist?"
    Bob was surprised by this question, but turned and looked long and hard at the kid sitting beside him. This seemed to quiet the soldier a little. "I'm not sure you would want to be one, kid. It's not an easy job. It doesn't pay very well. You have to be fitter than your average Joe. Smarter too. You have to know when to retreat, know when to attack, know when to sit still and when to move, and to a greater degree than you do now. You have to be your own officer and your own grunt. On top of it all, most of the things you would do are illegal. It's taken me close to ten years to get to where I am now, and still I don't know everything."
    "But you could teach me, right?" This kid seemed determined.
    "I guess I don't have anything better to do right now. Why not? But let me tell you one thing: having me train you will not exempt you from obeying your commander. You still have to do everything he tells you and as best you can. I can only teach you when you're off duty, in your spare time."
    The kid looked a little shocked at this.
    "And one other thing. What I was doing six hundred years ago may not even apply now. The rules may have changed a lot since I left; there could be a lot more, they could be completely different. If you want to be taught existing doctrine, you'll have to look somewhere else."
    The kid took a second to respond, but seemed resolved when he did so, "When can I start?"
    "Tomorrow too early for you?"
    "Tomorrow I'm on duty. How about a couple days after that? I should have a few minutes then."
    "Sure. I shouldn't be too far away. Give me a shout and I'll come running, hopefully."
    The kid got up and left the mess with the others who also got up to leave. Bob started into his lunch. This could be good for a few laughs. But, if the kid really did show promise, he could begin to show him some of the finer points of terrorism. It couldn't be anything like the way he had been taught, but he figured that he might be able to teach a few good lessons. He would start with physical training, just so he could get some more track time himself.

"This is impossible. How am I supposed to run through this?"
    "You have legs. Jump over things. You have a mind. Run around things."
    Two earth days later Bob and his recruit were running through the forest. Bob had stumbled once when he had slipped in some unseen mud, but the kid behind him seemed to take forever to learn to move around the bushes fluently, partially because he was having a hard time remaining on two feet. He still seemed determined, however, to keep going.
    Bob stopped between two very large trees reminiscent of small redwoods, looking behind him as the kid caught up. The kid jogged up beside him, and Bob started running again. It felt good to run after the restraints of the bed. Ten more minutes, he thought; then they could get to some target practice.
    They ran for ten more minutes, uphill and down, across streams and brooks, through thorn patches and over the green grass of the occasional clearing; with each passing second the kid seemed to let go of his fear of falling. Bob stopped. The kid ran up behind him, then bent over and puked all over the ground.
    Between streams, he asked, with a gobby strand of vomit hanging from his mouth, "Why are we stopping?"
    "Point number two. Always be ready and able to shoot. We're going to have some target practice."
    "But you know I can't use my weapon without being engaged by the enemy first." His breathing was heavy.
    Bob threw his pack off his back and eyed the rifle in the kids' hands. "I know, that's why I brought these." Bob produced and held up his two energy pistols. The kid slung his rifle over his own backpack and took one of them.
    "Shoot that orange berry bush there," Bob pointed.
    The young soldier forced himself to a standing position, took aim, and hit the bush with a small burst of green, slow moving lightning, reducing it to a smoking clump of stocks.
    "Now hit that one twice as far away." It was a tough shot, angled through the trees. The kid shot and hit the ground in front of the target. "Try again." The kid shot again and reduced it to yet another smoking stand of shoots.
    "That's pretty good. Now we run back." Bob put the backpack on and turning, ran the other way around the circuit that they had been traversing for the past half hour. Bob had chosen the route so that they would have been no further than a five-minute walk from the ravine and the base. He figured that the kid might, despite earlier training, stop because of his mysterious illness and have to be carried back. Bob was prepared to do so if needed.
    Bob checked over his shoulder to ascertain the look on his partners face, and was stunned to see the kid lose his head to a bolt of green energy and tumble to the ground. Bob dove to the floor himself as bolts flew over him as well. The bushes rustled as his pursuers closed in on him. Bob rolled over onto his back and underneath a large fallen tree beside him. He came up to his feet on the other side, looking over the top. He dropped a member of one of the smaller species with a short burst from his own pistol, and sought out other targets among the trees. Out of nowhere several streams of fire smashed into the trunk in front of him. Bob turned to his left and started a flat run through the trees, in a direction perpendicular to the direction to base. He pulled out and activated the miniscule radio he had been carrying in his left breast pocket.
    "Bob to box top, Bob to box top, I have hostiles 1-6-6 meters spinward of your location." He dodged around a large tree and kept running. "Am attempting to lead away from your location. Do you copy?"
    "Copy, Bob. We are sending response team to aid. Do not attempt to lead hostiles away from base."
    Bob, bewildered at this last command, stopped behind another large tree and looked around its trunk to see what, if anything, had been following him. A big blue covenant with beady eyes and long teeth and a small group of five grunts could be seen and felt to be approaching at a walking pace in a small arc. Bob targeted the leader, taking it down with a headshot, at a range of thirty yards. The others fired erratically into the trees around him and then stopped as though trying to ascertain his location. Bob, crouching, loped as quietly as he could to flank them. Blue-green beams of energy flew all around him. He stopped behind the next tree. He couldn't risk moving from here.
    "Bob to box top, Bob to box top, I am pinned behind large tree facing five hostiles. Do you copy?"
    "Copy, Bob, response team is homing in on your location. Please hold."
    Out of the woods, on the other side of his pursuers, Bob heard the gratifying sound of automatic fire resound through the humid air. But it didn't sound close enough. He was apparently on his own.
    Bob leant out from behind the tree and took down another grunt. The others ran for cover behind anything they could find. Bob harassed them as best he could with his own automatic fire.
    The firefight continued for another five minutes, in which time Bob managed to take down another two grunts. Then, for some reason, the sounds of automatic fire in the distance stopped, and the remaining grunts Bob was up against fled. Bob shot one of the two in the back as it was running. "And don't you come back, neither!" he breathed to the final target.
    "Bob to box top, hostiles have retreated. Please advise, over."
    "Roger Bob, advise clear area and return to base, over."
    "Copy that, box top, over and out." It was reassuring to know that in five hundred years the basic make-up and protocol of radio messages had not changed.
    Bob began to walk back to base, staying alert for any signs of movement. He was confident that the grunts had not run away to allow an air strike to follow -- the commander had told him that the air defenses were fully operational. It was too bad that the kid had lost his head. Bob had just been getting to like the guy and, poof, he was dead faster than the ultra-penetrators used by the SolCore military. At least, he thought, he himself was still alive to tell the tale.

"I say we run."
    "That's the cowardly thing to do, and you know it, I think we should stay and fight." The man's head swam and he almost lost his footing. The other that he was talking to reached out with a hand to steady his neighbor.
    "And go against the Captains orders? We could probably kill more of them by turning this," he knocked on the hull, "into a giant booby trap. Besides, you said yourself that the triple A batteries were damaged in the last attack. Staying here makes us a fat apple ready to be picked."
    "My men are working on the batteries at this very minute. Don't you have faith in my abilities? And have you ever waged a guerilla war? Do you have any idea of the resources required to do it right?"
    "Would you rather have everybody here die?"
    There was a pause, "I say we meet in a short while to go over the facts again."
    "If you say so, but soon enough we won't be able to get out. They'll surround and crush us."
    Commander Russell Perry left speaking with Cecil Higgins, Chief Engineer of Pillar of Autumn, and walked down the ramp of the Nautilus to meet the troops as they returned from the field. He and the engineer ranked equally, Perry being the commander of the ground forces upon the PoA.
    Perrys men, he knew, would follow him, but the copious number of members of the crew, relatively untrained and stupid, he knew would go with the engineer. He didn't want to commit murder, that being what would occur if he left with his men, so he decided to delay their departure for another short while, until the engineer got things straight in his head, or until he found that the triple-A batteries were unrepairable.
    Perry wanted to leave the Nautilus for one very important reason: survival. Staying with the Nautilus with all those people around made them a target. If the Covenant military doctrine hadn't changed in the last month, the Nautilus would be the first thing to come under attack from the Covenant ground forces, and it already had.
    In this situation he knew the human forces on Halo would have to decentralize themselves against the crushing hammer of the Covenant fleet in order to survive. This, for the most part, was the case. The Nautilus was the exception. During the design period of the Pillar of Autumn, one man had decided that under the eventuality of destruction, the PoA should be designed with a detachable module capable of functioning on land, under liquid, and in space that would act as a lifeboat and command center for the senior staff of the PoA. Under this premise, the supposed 'lifeboat' had been designed and mutated over a period of several months, to become the single largest independent subsystem to the whole Pillar of Autumn. It was a miracle that it had not been destroyed during its descent to the ring. Included in its design were everything standard to a military base that could be found back on Earth, and a few things that couldn't. One of these features, the anti-aircraft turrets, had been somehow damaged during the last attack by a malfunctioning explosive device that happened to be situated near the payload carriage system. To be specific, it had been a grenade on the belt of a soldier who had been looking on as a mechanic had been running a diagnostic check of the battery. The probability of the accident actually happening as it did was supposed to be insignificant. Those grenades were the end result of hundreds, perhaps more than a thousand years of trial and error. That one should go off accidentally was disturbing. It was possible that the Covenant had done it, but if so, there should have already been an air strike; and how they would have done it was a mystery to Perry.
    But at least the advance teams and those lucky enough to not crash in the emergency command module Nautilus were not stuck in this situation; at least they could attempt to learn the secrets of this ring. Several teams had located structures on and below the surface of the ring that resembled what Bob had described as elevators to the underground railway depots. One group had even landed on the rim of a giant pit that enclosed a giant upside-down mountain, but all attempts to gain access to such structures had, as of yet, been frustrated. The group that had landed near the mountain had almost instantly gone missing, presumed killed in action. Perry had thought of taking Bob back to the elevator they had found him beside so that he could activate the elevator for them, but Bob had expressly pointed out that he had no idea how to summon or even use one of the railway cars. That was when the question of Bob resurfaced in Perry's mind. How in hell did he get here and for what reason? Interrogation had turned up nothing of interest besides his personal history and medical analysis of Bob's cranium had revealed nothing except the presence of a conglomerate of alien biological and electrical components. They had even found, on closer examination, what appeared to be a hole, resembling a spot, in his brain. Multi-directional analysis had determined that this spot embodied all of the characteristics of a wormhole. This was the latest in the series of mysteries beginning with the attacks on the outer colony worlds. As with the Covenant, nobody had any idea where the wormhole originated, and certainly nobody had any idea why.
    Perry waved to Jenkins atop his tank, who saluted back smartly despite his sickly condition, and walked into the center of the town of tents, mostly belonging to the crew, which had sprung from the charred ravine floor upon their arrival here. He spoke into his helmet, "This is Perry. Would you please get the response team to move back here?"
    "They're on their way commander," came the answer.
    "Could you please tell them to hurry up?"
    "I'll do my best, commander."
    A few moments later the response team of twenty, plus Bob, came striding out of the trees and down the side of the ravine. They filtered through the town of tents and into a group with Perry at the center. Some of the men looked shaky on their feet and many a face was greener than usual. Bob sidled off to one of the tents and began speaking to the proprietor. Bob seemed to be the only person unaffected by the mysterious illnesses that had swept through the camp, killing two and forcing another thirty to the infirmary. The possibility that the sickness was an intended consequence of the meeting of the two parties -- Bob and the crew -- hung heavily on Perrys mind. He would have to have the doctor go over the evidence again. But for now, Bob didn't need to hear any of this.
    "At 08:00 we were attacked in the second of what I believe will be many skirmishes on this ribbon of junk. Good job to you all for coming back alive.
    "But before we go on..." Perry was cut of as twin screams pierced the air from above. "Oh shit! They weren't supposed to know!"
    Beginning at the other end of the trench and quickly progressing towards the Nautilus, four sets of spherical modules the size of basketballs rammed into the earth and exploded into thick liquid streams of green flame. It was all over in a second: the town of tents and everything surrounding were engulfed in the pale green of the alien napalm. It burnt through the sides of the tents instantly, submerging everything and everybody inside in the oxygen-stealing inferno. It slowly burned through flesh, leaving charred bones and further scorched earth behind, and the victims long dead. It splashed against the Nautilus, making the walls too hot to stand near, causing the outer doors to close automatically with their loud grinding motors. Those caught outside roasted instantly.
    His men having fallen around him or scattered to their dooms, Perry looked over to Bob who had dropped to his knees, staring at his burning hands. Perry felt his skin melting from him and then blissful nothing as his nerves were burnt beyond repair. Bob fell the rest of the way to the ground and Perry was able to think one last thought before sharing the same fate: "Damn Higgins. I told him we should leave!"
    The flames burned long into the night.