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Fan Fiction

What Drives Us
Posted By: Vector40<brandon@berkeleyhigh.org>
Date: 01 February 2002, 1:03 am

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    I sip luxuriously at the brandy. Twelve years. Incredible stuff. It feels like liquid mercury on my tongue.
    Across the table from me, Sophie gives me another one of those smiles. My heart jumps, just a little bit. I take one last bite of the meal—a tender, delicious veal in a sauce so rich I can hardly contemplate it—and set my fork down. The table's internal mechanism clears the dishes, silent and efficient, before giving us a few more napkins and the rest of the snifter of brandy.
    Taking another taste of the liquor, Sophie stops in mid-swallow, and looks at me over the top of the crystal glass. Her lovely brown eyes, rimmed with gray, glisten in the flickering candlelight. Suddenly, she lets out a musical, bell-clear laugh, throws her tresses of downy soft hair to one side, and sets down the glass. Rising from her seat, she offers me two fingers of one hand. I take them, and stand, too.
    The muted light of the room hangs around us in a shroud as, laughing, she leads me through the door and into the bedroom.

    Darkness. Paxor, the second moon, is just beginning to rise, and will have crested and begun to set in another hour. Its silvery cast slants through the window in shining sheets, twice as bright as any moon on Earth has ever been.
    Trying not to upset Sophie, whose still, warm form lies curled next to me on the bed, I slip out from the covers. The air is cool but not cold, the house's environmental controls keeping in time with the harsh Lancing IV winter—leaves are freezing off the trees.
    I pad gently to the door and enter the bathroom. A wave through an airborne holo-sensor switches on the hovering ceiling light just a touch; like the walls had suddenly turned to milky starlight. I relieve myself, then find a cup and clumsily fill it from the wall pipette.
    Walking out the other door slowly, I drift into the front of the house. The walls, covered in Neo-Lunar art, press close against me as I walk into the entryway. Still grasping the cup, I drink, leaning against the reinforced p-wood of the walls.
    Something stops me.
    I lower the cup uncertainly. A noise? The darkness is silent. Nothing moves. The shadows, motionless, mock me.
    But again, and this time I am ready—a tiny tapping sound, barely there, so quiet that an instant after acknowledging it my ears dismiss it and wash it away in mental noise. But it remains, a ticking, clicking, deep in the depths of the house.
    I jump, and my stomach leaps nearly into my throat. I barely manage to keep from dropping the earthenware mug.
    Wood? Cracking? There was no wood in this home; it freezes too easily against the bitter chills of the winter. Only the standard plastic-wood derivatives, so common throughout the colony—and nothing can break that, nothing normal. The only vermin that live in the area would blunt their beaks against it.
    I jolt my head back, panting.
    I dash out the dregs of water and toss the mug to the ground; it bounces heavily on the soft carpet. In a moment, my wrist-comm is in my hand, and I am tapping at the emergency key.
    But nothing happens. The tiny auto-repeater light, meant to give the handshake after passing its message to the town beacon, fails to ignite. My mind a storm, I find the voice-axe switch and bring the little transponder to my lips. "Hello? Hello? Emergency?"
    But, as soon as I release the switch, a blast of random noise swarms out, incredibly loud in the voiceless building. I crush my thumb down on the key again, silencing it. Then, frustrated, I close out the frequency and wing the comm to the ground after the mug.
    My heart misses a beat, and I start looking around desperately. This was built a standard-shell colony home. There are no automated defenses, no guard-rooms or quick-escapes. Hell, this is a Traxus-class colony—a peaceful planet. They screen incomers down to their blood type. Lancing hasn't has a deviant for more than a generation. Nobody ever planned for home defense.
    But the noises are getting louder. I squeeze my eyes shut, then open them again, wild.
    I spin around, and run as quietly as I can into the multi-room. There is a traditional fireplace in the corner, pellet-burning. I dash up to it and unclip the long, hybrid-steel, ash-charred poker from the stand.
    Then I stop, and realize what is on the wall above it. I drop the poker and reach up with both hands, tugging.
    The ancient, two-foot, Damascus-forged cavalry short-blade comes off with a jerk. Jade handles and an engraved blade, a relic of Old Earth. It is only one of the numerous heirlooms that Sophie's family keeps sending away to their wayward children; no doubt they thought we would need the protection, far from Earth and in such ever-present danger.
    We laugh about it often. I'm not laughing now.
    Handling it gently, I slip the edge out of the sheath. The intertwined curves of the metal glint and flow in the darkness, catching droplets of light and throwing them through its maze of lines. I drop the leather scabbard to the ground.
    The noises are getting continuous, and I can hear where, now. Softly, I move forward, holding the blade close to my chest.
    I turn the corner, and see the door.
    Small divots have been blown into the surface, tiny tunnels of splintered nothing. Frigid cold air washes through.
    I stop for a moment. How could somebody be out there? Surely they would freeze. Already, from merely this, frost is congealing on the side of the sword.
    But then a long, wickedly-sharp metal utensil—remembering my time as a laborer, it makes me think of a carving bit—slashes through one of the holes, tearing away more of the rock-hard artificial wood and ripping away another segment of the door.
    What are they trying to accomplish? They can make as many holes as they want; the locking mechanism is on my wrist, not the door.
    There is a savage jolt, a fist-sized chasm of wood disappearing, and I realize. The hinges.
    I can see the stars through the space for an instant, before they disappear and something—something—gropes through.
    Black. Blacker than the night. That is all I see first. Hard, scaly, reptilian skin, some kind of thick flesh—
    not human not human oh god sweet holy moth—
    I crash back forward into awareness after seeing the arm—the claw—reach out and touch the hinge array. I stumble forward, and lifting the sword high with both hands, bring it down with all my strength.
    I fall back, almost dropping the sword as I clasp at my ears. An insanely loud, reverberating bellow, like the scream of a jet engine—at first I think that the arm is broken, from the way it falls, but then it comes away entirely, and the stump withdraws; it is severed.
    With an oozing clump, the limb falls to the ground. I stare at it, unbelieving.
    "Whah! Whah!"
    An absurd, baritone roar, a lion in the night, from barely a meter away, behind the door. Then it explodes.
    Slashing a hail of ruined wood and molten sparks, the door crashes inwards, pelting me with slivers. I squeeze my eyes shut reflexively and manage to barely avoid being blinded. Tiny cuts seep all over me.
    I stumble back, eyes still shut, waving the heavy sword in front of me convulsively, and that is what saves me.
    I encounter resistance, but the edge of the blade digs through with relative ease. For an instant, there is an agonizing howl—cut off almost as soon as it reaches the air.
    I open my eyes.
    In front of me, a massive heap of... something. Dark and foreboding, it looks humanoid, but more lizard—or better yet, bird—than... In a flash, it comes to me.
    The Covenant.
    A thousand, a million thoughts cartwheel through my head, but one things prevails—I see the creature before me, with one arm missing, and its head close to sawed off. They are mortal.
    "Sad-uk, shirah, nala?"
    Meters away, the sound is horrifyingly close. I have but a moment to think.
    The moment flashes past. The alien looms into sight.
    My eyes go blotchy, and my ears pound, and I leap forward, fearless as a soldier. From somewhere, a shout finds its way into my throat, and as the creature cries boomingly, so do I, and whirl the blade in a massive arc above my head.
    With a bare instant to react, the monster—incredibly tall, I only now realize, and thankful that I had aimed high—flashes an arm up to guard itself. But, though it clearly has unbelievable strength, the razor-sharp edge blows through the arm and clean through the head.
    The sword actually slices raggedly through the entire alien skull, and comes suddenly loose and free from the other side. Not the neck—I swung too high. I literally broke its head in two. It collapses, boneless.
    A wave of triumph washes over me, glowing and warm. I lower the sword, seeing viscous blue blood drain from it, and—
    —am scarcely able to turn in time to confront the third creature. Ears born of three decades of hunting tell me of another threat, and I spin, but I have barely raised the blade when there is a visceral blink-brightness, and a powdered flash, as brilliant as the sun.
    So bright.
    I see only blue, as the sword is shivered and almost thrown from my grasp. I force my eyes to open.
    My sword is melted.
    Bellowing, the alien—not even half a meter away—lifts its two-handed blue rifle and brings it over its head to crush me. Dazed, I uncertainly lift the sword, dragging the tip of it up.
    And, for whatever reason, it catches perfectly into the soggy flesh; a solid core of hard steel remains beneath the liquid exterior, and as the alien lunges forward, it is impaled upon twenty-four inches of metal.
    A high, keening whine. The alien, locked in its death throes with its slayer, fixes me with its dark, hideous gaze.
    Unable to look into its face, I crumple to the ground. Not long after, the monster follows, gone to meet its gods.
    My extremities are tinged with frostbite. I am less than a minute before realizing that I must move, or die. I see the body beside me, the sword sheathed within, and, shivering, I place my foot against the corpse and yank the weapon free.
    The icy weather has already partially frozen the melted exterior anew. But not completely; I look closer, and the metal is solid, yet not locked—like a tightly-packed box of marbles, that will change if you jangle it but not move. And, tinged within the surface, hints of azure blue glimmer through, glancing and subtle. Blood.
    Carrying the blade, I half-roll, half-stumble into the house. The door, of course, is gone. Using the sword as a crutch to support my tired weight, I move down the corridor to the bedroom. I will get Sophie, get to the car, and drive to the guard station. They can sort it out.
    As if in response to the thought, a blood-curdling scream shatters the quiet night.
    I freeze for a millisecond, like a deer caught before a train. Then I am gone, and in a heartbeat am at the door to our room.
    I take it in, a moment's worth.
    Moving figures, creeping throughout the chamber, slinking and passing one another. Blinking lights on their weapons give them away.
    The wall, where the stressed window is, completely torn down. An acid, biting wind burns into my face.
    And Sophie,
    lying on the bed, face upturned, blood spattered around her in a warm halo. Her eyes, wide, staring at the ceiling and chest heaving in ragged breaths. Managing to tilt her head ever so slightly, she sees me and sweet Jesus help me smiles just a little
    The sword still hung tiredly in one limp hand, I slowly, slowly manage to raise a deadened gaze to the room's inhabitants.

*    *    *

    "... the latest thrust by the Covenant, the small Inner Colony Lancing system. Though relatively minor, it is nonetheless the first in the outer ring of Inner Colonies, and the first to fall after the razing of Justinian system, the last outer world.
    "Instead of a fleet bombarding the Lancing system from orbit, the citizens of Lancing IV—the first of the inhabited planets of the Lancing system to be attacked—were met with a new kind of Covenant threat. A small scouting party of Elites—the Covenant warrior class—was dropped in by stealth, and was apparently tasked with marking areas of inhabitation, military and industrial centers, and other locations of interest. Officers of the Office of Naval Intelligence today released information that they are lead to believe the Covenant were engaged in an attempt to take the world intact—to slaughter the citizens, but allow the biosphere to remain livable, instead of the more common practice of bombardment from space by ship-borne weaponry.
    "It is rumored that the attempt to take the Lancing system was the first step in establishing a foothold for a campaign on the rest of the Inner Worlds. The main goal is thought to be Earth.
    "However, the Covenant campaign met with disaster yesterday, when the scouting party attempted to enter the home of a local couple. There have been reports of numerous other buildings, both public and residential, being breached in a similar way, and numerous articles stolen including maps, technological worksheets, home AIs, and astrological charts.
    "The full circumstances are not known. But when authorities entered the home of Mr. ——— and Mrs. ——— yesterday [note{technical}: NAMES CENSORED FOR GENERAL BROADCAST], they found that the doors, walls, and windows had been breached in a number of places, and the interior was very cold. Three bodies of Covenant Elites have been confirmed dead in the exterior of the house or near it, all killed by a sharp object such as a knife or a sword.
    "Upon reaching what has been identified as the bedroom, colony authorities encountered—as has been verified only an hour ago—another sixteen bodies, all Covenant Elites. They are said to have been armed. Similarly, all were slain with a pointed and edged metal weapon.
    "In the center of the room, there was a young woman, a victim of blood loss and traumatic injuries due to apparent mutilation.
    "In her arms, a man was found, dead of severe plasma burning, according to the coroner's report. Both individuals were frozen solid from the inclement weather of the Lancing IV world.
    "Upon receiving word of this incident, Admiral Cole of the UNSC mobilized a massive response fleet, pulling together over 100 ships in less than six hours. They converged on the Lancing system, and had the system's routes of movement secured when, at 08:00 today, a mid-sized battlefleet of Covenant ships exited Slipstream within the system.
    "The battle was brief but decisive. The Covenant were defeated with less than a dozen of the SolCore task force lost.
    "Admiral Cole spoke this morning of the possibility of granting the Star of Bravery to Mr. ———, despite the fact that he was not and had never been a member of the SolCore armed forces. He also spoke of something that had been found at the site of the altercation on Lancing IV, a sword, apparently somehow heat-damaged. Apparently, the local authorities who encountered the bodies had been drawn to the house by—visible through a ruined wall—the sight of the sword, flashing in the sun..."

"This is UNSC News, signing off."