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Hermes Trismegistus, Chapter 9
Posted By: Tursas<tursas@shaw.ca>
Date: 23 August 2001, 3:13 am

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After heading up the nearest elevator with a handcart, Bob took directions from the voice to the battlefield.
    The elevator had risen into a cave on a large, but not overly steep hill overlooking a partially wooded valley, on the other side of which the battle had supposedly taken place. Bob could already feel the protest of his muscles coming from trudging uphill with a ton of dead meat.
    The walk was long, taking about four hours, and Bob had to be wary of not meeting anything or anybody along the way, even though the voice promised to tell him if anything showed up. The day passed quickly and as Bob approached the site, the sun was blotted out behind the ring beneath him, leaving everything in a twilight glow of light reflected from the other side of the Halo. He figured that the return trip would take about six hours; and that that figure would be at maximum speed.
    The wheels of the cart creaked loudly, and Bob didn't enjoy the lack of mobility afforded to him in having to pull the cart. Many times he had to backtrack as the trees became denser. Twice he got his wheels stuck between rocks.
    Nearing the site, Bob left the cart in a loose stand of trees and crept forward the rest of the way with a silencer attached to the UMP. He would take a few steps carefully through the debris on the floor of the forest, then stand still to listen to the wind and anything else that might pop up. Never did he hear a bird or cricket sing, however, and he soon found himself throwing caution to the wind by walking farther and listening for shorter periods of time.
    He came upon the first body while still in the trees. It lay there with a huge hole in its torso like it had been shot with some sort of explosive weapon. Blue blood had soaked into the ground beneath it, washing into its face as it lay on a slight decline. It wasn't human, as Bob could tell almost right away. He put a foot under the shoulder of the thing and rolled it over. Two separate mandibles hung loosely from under its head in place of human jaws, all covered in a cake of congealed blue blood. Its green eyes stared into space with what seemed to be an expression of pain. Bob looked down at it, surveying the inside of the hole, the mandibles and the blue skin and armor of the thing. "What," he thought, "on god's green earth is this?"
    // It isn't from Earth, for one. To answer your question, though: it is, as I told you before, the inanimate personification of the death of mankind. //
    Bob continued to look down at the thing. Bob had seen the look on its face on many occassions before: the precise positioning of what passed for eyelids, eyebrows and eyes themselves betrayed that the last moment of this creature had been unpleasant. Bob always had figured that his own life would end in a similar way. His former job warranted that he would be caught and killed in the most painful way possible. His new job warranted that he would die in a way similar to this creature. There was no escaping the reality of the ground beneath his feet. But he had seen people die without pain; he had killed enough people in his time to know where to shoot and how to kill instantly. He would die eventually -- that was a given -- but if he played the odds correctly, he might escape life with a headshot or by drowning. 'That would be a laugh,' he thought, for not only was drowning misrepresented as being a peaceful way to go, it was also very slow. It was more likely that he would die as a result of some violence done to his person.
    // Well, we can't stand around all day, can we? Get on with it! //
    Bob stood there for a few seconds more and then moved on. He found three more bodies -- one human and two alien of different species -- scattered haphazardly in the trees. The human was missing its head, leaving behind the lower portion of the neck, which looked as though it had been cauterized. It had fallen over onto its back in a low berry bush, arms laying in a random pattern. The green of its clothing matched the green of the leaves of the bush, bunches of small, blood-red berries poking out from underneath. In death, it seemed still to have life simply from the way it lay; embodying in a sick way the spirit of mankind.
    Surprisingly enough, none of the bodies seemed to have any weapons laying nearby or in hand. This came as an odd revelation to Bob of the characteristics of the combatants as the question of who would leave a battleground with fallen comrades, but not their arms, scattered about, posed itself.
    Bob came to the clearing where the brunt of the fighting had taken place. About twenty bodies and a big, bulbous, blue tank lay strewn in a wreck over a space of about a football field in size. The tank had a hole in it side if it the size of a mans head. There were ruts in the mud as of wheeled and tracked vehicles all over the place, as well as several types of footprints.
    "How far away is the nearest live entity?"
    // About twenty miles. I'll tell you if they get any closer. //
    Bob moved back into the trees and brought the cart forward. He loaded eight bodies onto it and started back towards the cave at the top of the hill. This, he could tell, was going to take a while.

Six and a half hours later, Bob loaded the bodies into the elevator. After a moment of thought, he removed three sets of dogtags from the human bodies and put them in his pocket. By the instructions of the voice, he didn't get into the elevator himself, but pushed the outside button on the elevator twice; once to open it, the second time to close it and send the bodies on to disposal. Then it was back out to pick up more.

Two Halo days later Bob had finally suceeded in mopping up the corpses of the battle. He looked over the valley from the mouth of the cave and wiped the thin layer of perspiration from his brow; lugging bodies uphill, cart or not, was hard work.
    "You were saying earlier that I could have used a portable teleporter to do this work?"
    // That's correct. The teleporter itself consists of two modules, between which there is an artificial wormhole in timespace. Essentially, you leave one module by the elevator and bring the other with you. When you would find a body, you would switch the module you brought with you on and drag the body through the portal. It would have taken only the time required to reach the site on foot, drag the bodies through the portal and to walk back to the elevator again. Unfortunately for you, they decided that you would probably break something and rip a tear in timespace that would have been very difficult and time consuming to fix. I've been trying to convince them otherwise, but don't expect anything to happen anytime soon. //
    Taking this in with no small amount of dislike for the 'makers,' Bob looked down at his hand in which he held a short metal stick with baubles and small cuts in each end. One of the alien corpses had been holding it in one of its immense two fingered hands when he had found it in the clearing a day earlier. The stick had no switches or buttons on its surface, and there was no apparent way of opening it by twisting. It was a puzzle that Bob couldn't figure out, and the voice hadn't been any help when asked; it had launched into a diatribe about stolen technology and physical plagiarism, which had ended in a stony silence that made Bob highly nervous. It hadn't spoken again until a few hours later, when Bob had offhandedly asked, after a long series of similar questions, what would happen if a wheel of the cart broke. The answer had been, // Although it would be highly unlikely to happen, we would transport another cart from the nearest ringworm station and make a newly improved one at the plant. // The answer had included no hint that anything amiss had occurred a few hours earlier, no hint that all previous questions had been ignored, and no hint that Bob had asked a dumb question. All further communications until the question about the teleporter had been asked were as much laced with sarcasm and gibberish as they ever had been.
    Also surprising; there had been no contact with anybody else -- human or otherwise -- during the course of the journeys. Nobody had popped up unexpectedly and the voice had not announced the approach of anything.
    Putting the stick in a pocket, Bob pulled the cart the rest of the way into the cave and began to unload the bodies into the elevator. That finished, he hit the button again and watched the door close, taking the bodies to be processed.
    Bob walked over to one side of the cave and surveyed one of the flatter stretches of rock.
    "If you don't mind, I think I'll be getting some sleep now."
    // Go ahead. While you were working, six other battles took place. You'll be a very busy boy when you wake up. //
    Bob took off the backpack and laid it in such a position that it could be comfortably used as a pillow. He laid himself down and took his hat off.
    "You'll tell me if anything happens, right?"
    // Sure thing. //
    At that Bob closed his eyes, rolled onto his side, and fell into a deep, dreamless sleep.

He woke abruptly six hours later when he was bumped. His eye shot open and he found himself taped firmly into the passenger seat of a what appeared to be a jeep. He looked around as the vehicle bumped over more rugged terrain. Out of the corner of his eye he could see beside him, in the drivers seat, a very alert looking man who was directing the vehicle over the topographically active ground with a large steering wheel and pedals under his feet. Bob tried to say something to him, but found that his mouth, hands and feet had also been taped firmly. His motion sensor was off. His hat was gone. His pockets, as far as he could feel them, were empty. His gun and tactical vest were gone, as well as his boots. The floor was ribbed beneath his socked feet. His nose flared and he took a deep breath as he felt the pain of something stuck in his neck being pulled out.
    "Looks like the passenger is awake, Joe." the accented voice came from behind.
    "So it does." the man beside him said, glancing over at him quickly from where he continued to drive.
    "Well, little friend, you have a lot of explaining to do when we get back to base." Bob tried to turn his head to look at the source of the voice, but was clubbed across the back of the head with something big and heavy. "We wouldn't want you to feel uncomfortable now, would we Joe?"
    "Not in the least." the man beside him flashed a sadistic grin.
    "What the hell is going on here?" Bob thought.
    // What does it look like, Einstein? You've been taken prisoner, just as you wanted. //