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What Legends May Fall
Posted By: Vector40<brandon@berkeleyhigh.org>
Date: 10 March 2002, 3:40 am

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     Remember, Caesar. Thou art mortal.

     There is a man who transcends his own existence.
     A man who exemplifies the very meaning of his race.
     Brutal but merciful, quick, yet powerful, strong yet graceful—calculating but with a slashingly limitless imagination.
     He is everything that his people strive to be. And he is better.
     The crowning achievement of five millennia of technology; the ultimate quintessence of martial perfection, he is a man, but far more—indeed, he is Man. He is not flawless—he has taken the realm of ability to a new level, and what was once Flaw becomes Feature, what was once efficient became beautiful.
     He is a legend in his own time.
     And every mind in his culture, his own including, believes in one thing if they believe at all. They believe he cannot be killed.

     But they are wrong.

     He leapt forward, and rolled.
     As he fell through the air, a sound reached him, touching off an automatic reaction he was aware of only after it had happened; before he hit the ground, he snapped his arms up, caught his weight, and pushed—hurled himself into a flip that carried him through ten feet of air.
     He apexed and was beginning his descent by the time the streak of plasma scored the ground below him, a direct hit on where he had been.
     But they were too slow, of course,
     Landing with a sideways tumble, he came up facing backwards. The weapon that was suddenly in his hand gutted the Elite before it could see more than a green blur.
     His own senses, augmented by the suit's sensors, made it almost unfair; the enemy that was creeping from behind him would have been better to attempt to ambush a sun.
     Kicking the wall beside him at the same time he dropped his shields to increase his traction, he spun himself through the air, pinwheeled, and landed on the Covenant's shoulders. He let his weight go, described an arc to the ground, and, with the alien's head held between his legs, catapulted him against the wall.
     The cyborg rocked to his feet, twisted his rifle off his shoulders, and with one motion slammed the side of it into the creature's skull. There was a sickening crunching noise.
     The impact activated the weapon's built-in light.
     He shoved away from the dead Elite so hard that he fell backwards. The rifle's ion illuminator, suddenly bright in the dim corridor, spotlighted the alien that had been approaching from behind. It instinctively covered its eyes.
     Half a second later, the man flew five feet from a prone start and landed a blow so heavy that it penetrated clear to the other side of the corpuscularly lean body.
     He left his fist impaled, holding the Covenant upright; with his other hand, he tossed the rifle over its head, caught it behind, and with a sharp tug, pulled as hard as he could. The long weapon spun against the alien's head and lanced twenty feet through the air, light whirling around the walls wildly, to smash into the last Elite and kill him instantly.
     Slowly withdrawing his fluid-soaked metallic arm, the man known only as the Master Chief let the body of everything he hated fall to the hard, polished ground.

     He ran.
     Cresting the corner of the coiling passageway, the path opened up before him straight and true; a hundred meters of open space.
     Lowering his head, he began to accelerate. Twenty, twenty-five, thirty miles an hour. Forty. He was a blur against the unlit corridor. Forty-five.
     He was still accelerating when the throughway ended. Unable to stop, he leapt forward and planted both of his legs squarely into the flat wall of the ninety-degree turn. A quick mental command locked the knee joints of his suit.
     There was a deafening clang as he impacted, and he felt the effect ripple through his body. He shook it off, came to his feet with a kip-up, spun off the wall and kept running.
     Idly, he noted the five-inch-deep dent in the forged null-grav steel bulkhead.
     He kept running.

     At least five hundred meters on either side. A thousand, from end to end—the chamber would have been large enough to house an airfield, and high enough for the planes to get airborne, too.
     The cyborg looked around again, peering through the small viewing-window in the chamber door. The gloomy, somber moon shined its blood-red beams through the round gap in the roof of the arid space; it played a morbid pattern onto the device that lay below it, in the exact center of the room and the only thing within.
     At least I won't have to look around for it, he thought with a wry sarcasm.
     Briefly, he mourned his missing companion, the AI Cortana. Probably she wouldn't have had anything to contribute to the solutionless tactical problem; but she would at least have had an appropriately morbid wisecrack to lighten the moment.
     But—especially now, with her chronological age-caps removed—there was not a chance in hell that SolCore would have let the mind of Cortana, savior of the war almost as many times as him, fall into the hands of the beasts. Certainly not for the sake of his amusement.
     Parameters: to obtain access to a certain enemy-held objective point. Objective is situated in the center of a circular chamber with radius of approx. 500 meters, and twice that from the floor to the domed ceiling. Area containing multiple ingress/egress points, numerous possible sources of fire, and no cover. Enemies are to be considered, for all intents and purposes, limitless.
     The voice of Mendez, harkening from deep within the expanses of his memory, came bubbling up in him. What do YOU do, Spartan?
     But not even Mendez would have been sadistic enough to suggest a scenario like this. And if he had, the cyborg knew what the correct answer would have been: retreat and wait for reinforcements.
     Reinforcements. Now, that was likely. An airstrike would be nice. Maybe a squadron or two of mounted Orbital dragoons. Why stop there? Let's nuke the place into dirt. Then nuke the dirt.
     He shook himself back to reality. The only sentient creatures within a hundred light-years of the world Tarsk were him and the Covenant.
     Everybody else had more sense than to approach the home of the most hated race in the galaxy.
     He slapped himself on the side of the helmet with his rifle and bodily forced his thoughts back to the situation. Kneeling down wearily, he rested his chin on the butt of his weapon and closed his eyes.
     What now?

     It is a commonly-adopted attitude that it was the Master Chief's ignorance of the tactical situation—primarily, the true disposition and strength of the force arrayed against him—that influenced his actions, and had he known of these things, his decision would have been different.
     This is unlikely. The question was one of mindset, not of odds.
[Deacon, The Real War, p. 173]

     Had an observer been standing directly in front of the small access door to the Chamber of Infinite Power (in the language of S'kra, Ksh'rwna eg Nagava), he would have observed nothing at all out of the ordinary up until the moment that the human entered.
     Then, of course, the observer would have died.
     There had never before been documented a horizontal jump that spanned twenty feet. That was acceptable. It only increased his element of surprise when the Master Chief slammed through the air like a rocket, shattered the tiny observation window, and landed in a long roll two dozen meters into the chamber.

     ~That was unbreakable glass, Sh'rna.
     ~I know.

     Must have been rigged analog, he thought as he heard the shaped-charge explosives set around the door explode inward, less than a second after his passage but already far too late.
     He jinked left, right, then sectored diagonally across the floor in a smooth motion that covered ten feet in an instant. Then it was pure instinct that made him drop to the floor, and saved him from taking more than a touch of the massive ball of plasma.
     He would never know what made him keep moving, sliding sideways along the ground after he had already dodged—but it saved his life. The cluster of minimunitions slammed down beside him, and threw his body cartwheeling through the air, eating up his shields with the blast. But he lived.
     A slap to his waist activated the one-time shield booster, and a hum emitted from his suit as the battery slung around his hip infused him with power, restoring his protective energy field. The indicator atop the battery ticked down.
     Running purely on secondary senses, his rifle pickled off three, four, five individual shots as if it had a mind of its own. It was only after that he saw what he had shot: three, four, five cloaked SpecOps Elites.
     He sprinted forward, fast enough to elude a stream of needles and to spoof the tracking system of the motion-seeking missiler in the ball turret in the ceiling of the chamber. It whirred around, confused.
     Twisting left, then right, he let two kinetic bursts of power glance off of him at angles. Then he juked right again, barely enough to avoid the triple burst of airborne plasma.
     Spinning around and backpedaling, he snapped off teneleventhirteeneighteentwenty bursts from his modified assault rifle, and twenty-five moving figures took the energy-piercing rounds and died.
     He blinked. Looking around for the first time, he saw his enemy.
     Already there were too many to count; and they were still streaming out from the myriad hatches along the huge walls.
     Spin. Index the shot in less than the time it took for his heart to beat. Break away a clean three-round burst from the hip.
     The rocket—the rocket? Where did they get human rockets?—pattered with bullets and detonated in a fiery plume, a dozen feet away and not far enough.
     His shields diminished to a hair's-breadth, he tapped at the booster-battery again and topped off his energy buffer.
     Running more, in a spectacularly rapid zig-zag pattern. Like a hummingbird. They couldn't compensate. The volley of plasma, coming now from nearly a hundred individual sources, skipped through the air and missed.
     With a burst of speed, he halved the distance to the center of the room. His magazine dropped away and was replaced.

     ~All that has been said is real.
     ~So they may be true? The prophecies?
     ~We cannot know until the end.
     ~Yes. But let us pray nonetheless.
     ~I am.
     ~~Hear us, oh Overlords. . .

     Distance, distance!
     He slid under a well-aimed salvo of energy and had enough speed to come back to his feet without stopping. But he stopped regardless, two seconds later—the enemy was getting too eager. He dropped both hands quickly to his belt, primed two grenades, then gave a vicious whirl and flung them. Fast as a darting minnow, he had another two, primed and in the air before the first had hit the ground. Then, without waiting, he kicked up his rifle from where he had dropped it and raked a stream of fire across the approaching mass of his antagonists.
     Then, he turned and was running again. Scarce seconds afterward, the grenades exploded onetwothreefour—
     Dozens of separate alien screams filled the sky. The plasma grenades that the many fallen Elites were armed with had detonated into arching blue flames.
     Four more feet, and he had reached the device.


     It was amazingly innocuous; a rectangular box, less than four feet tall, and shaped as a console. It was mounted on the ground with a large, fluted base. A simple input screen was affixed to the front.
     A harsh pummeling of fire slapped into him from behind. The visual indicator for his shields broke in half.
     He let the force of the blast knock him forward, and he carried it into a roll to absorb the shock. His hand hovered hesitantly over the activator for the shield booster, then moved away.
     The console was directly in front of him.
     Suddenly, outrageously careful, he touched one key; another. Tentatively, several in combination.
     Another burst of fire slammed against him. Reflexively, he slipped to the side, crabbing his legs swiftly.
     A white-hot stream of plasma roared into the console, shattering and melting the controls beyond recognition.
     Furious, he bellowed an expletive and leaped over the device, just ahead of a criss-crossing web of fire that screamed out of nowhere, sizzling the air and raising a nerve-splitting screeee of tortured atmosphere.

     ~Fool, T'ska! Tell your Templars to watch their fire! The cannon's antimatter loads are bare meters underground!
     ~They are shielded.
     ~But the barrel may carry a flash, and it is not. . .

     With a whip-crack motion of his arm, he pitched the clip of rifle ammunition into the belly of the Elite.
     Holding the rifle with in his left hand, he snap-fired a burst, and the clip flared to life with a crump. The creature staggered back, dropping the glowing energy sword and holding its stomach.
     A new variety of Elite had begun to surface, among the never-ending swarm of ordinary troops; silvery, with an iridescent sheen; wielding swords and with shields twice as strong as that of the common Elite. These must be the palace guards.
     A ripping plasma streak carved his shields away and seared the reflective coating on his torso black. He fell to a kneel, surrounded by a hail of fire, and wordlessly pounded the flood key for the shield-recharger again. He risked a quick glance at the indicator; a single charge remained.
     Another of the Guard elites was charging him, tipped with its sword. He faked to the left, then broke right blindingly fast and dropped to one knee, sweeping the Elite's legs away. He followed it up with the butt of his rifle to its neck. Even as its owner did, the sword burst on the ground and died.
     Fast—fast!—he dropped his hands down and spun himself around, planting one leg into the face of the next Elite. Throwing his weight downward he regained his feet, then slammed his body against the creature, checking it with his shoulder; it fell backwards with its sword buried into its own chest.
     The cyborg danced back once more, barely avoiding the arching reach of a hacking sword. Another swing, and he ducked under it, then—
     —took a heavy jolt of plasma, as a streak of fire burst against him. His shields disappeared.
     The sword descended upon him with a wicked thrust.
     Close enough to melt tempered iron, his reflexes and training failed him; his life depended on gravity alone as he crumpled limply, falling as fast as he could move. The beam of energy arrowed like a lance a half-inch above his faceplate, and sank two feet deep into the metal console behind him.
     Sparks and flashes, then a tremendous groaning sound began to fill the room.

     ~No, T'ska. . . no. . .

     It was opening.
     The Master Chief rolled over, panting. The face of every one of the army of Covenant seemed transfixed, staring.
     Slowly, ponderously, the metal convolutions surrounding the box were beginning to unfold. Hinges, revealed, swung creepingly open.
     The console folded away under the floor. Its fluted underpinnings began to iris upward, pressing a huge, ornate, gigantically reinforced column towards the sky.
     And as it passed the Master Chief, lying on the ground breathing heavily, nobody noticed as he slipped the object off his belt and into the gaping hole in the center of the barrel.
     All eyes were on the device as it slid upward, upward. Towards the round, open gap in the ceiling, where the stars were winking noiselessly.
     Higher and higher it crept.
     Unobserved, the Master Chief examined his wounds quietly. The entire upper portion of his helmet was fused together; the surface of his faceplate was completely melted. The visor's built-in HUD was going haywire. Tiny whirring noises sounded continuously as the on-board computer shorted out and the servos jerked back and forth.
     And the giant, imposing device rose higher.

     ~The day of reckoning has come.
     ~I know, Sh'rna.
     ~Perhaps, in the end, their gods were stronger. . .

     He considered activating it himself with a grenade, but it wouldn't be necessary. The cannon was obviously beginning a full firing sequence; and the antimatter shells would do far more than he ever could.
     The barrel had, at last, locked into place at its full extension. It was pointed, straight as doom, directly through the wide hole in the roof; pinpricks of light provided a soft counterpoint to its brutal, pitiless shape.
     Loud, crackling sounds fried that air. The energy in the titanic storage banks below the surface of the planet were charging the weapon with enough power to level a world.
     The myriad figures of the Covenant fell, as one. Prostrate, they faced the center of the room, and began to chant.
     "Sa'nga, lorwen, negh!"
     And the air cracked with energy.
     Lying back against the hard metal floor, the Master Chief relaxed, letting the tension drain from his limbs. It was getting hard to breathe. Probably the near-miss from the plasma sword had enflamed his lungs, filling the bronchial tubes with superheated air. Or maybe the levels of subelectronic energy that was starting to saturate the chamber were affecting his internal systems.
     It didn't matter.
     "Nala gershwen! Vr'skna nat'snâvin!"
     Contentedly, he allowed his shields to drain, noticing the sparks that were beginning to touch off between the field and the surrounding air. Reactions, probably.
     It wouldn't make any difference; but he wanted to see the end. Feeling something within him suddenly give way, he gasped; but his suit, like a full-body bandage, held him together.
     "Ven. . . gen. . . sha. . ."
     Now, so much power had been transferred to the device that motes of dust were being flash-evaporated as they hit it. Long arcs of blue and white energy slanted through the air from the tip of the weapon to the ground. There was very little time left.
     But there was one last thing to do.
     Let the old fellow come now! He shall find me—slowly, achingly, he pushed himself to his side, then onto his knees. Drawing on every inch of strength he could muster, he rose, at last, painfully upright. He staggered—on my feet—and curled his hand around the grip of his rifle—sword in hand—
     Through wracked with pain, he raised the rifle to his shoulder, and gave one final salute to his enemies.
     Then, just before he fell, he looked upward at the glowing, radiant streams of energy that were coursing along the weapon, ready to fire, and he smiled.
     For the first time in his life, John found peace.
     And then light—

     The weapon had, after all, been designed to ravish worlds. The charge of antimatter that was fired weighed in at nearly five tons, and was supercharged to a velocity Very Close to Light (VCL).
     When it collided with the object that had been placed in the barrel, it scarcely mattered that the object was little more than a prototype Mjolnir shield-storage battery (
see page 592, "Mark 289 Recharger"; also page 867, "The Later Stages of Mjolnir"). Anything at all would have ruined a firing sequence that was meant to be unobstructed.
     The expected occurred. An explosion of sufficient energy to completely annihilate the Palace of the Ancients—and the weapon itself—shook the surrounding regions. It would have been a devastating loss to the Covenant, even had the energy surge not then flashed down through the chamber of the weapon, setting off the entire magazine of antimatter below the crust of the planet.
     Slipspace sensors observed the final, cataclysmic blast, and relayed the readings back to Earth. There, the pictures of Tarsk turning into a massive, swirling ball of toxic emissions were broadcasted over the subnet to every home, every school, every base and public gathering place in the Inner Systems.
     An entire race rejoiced, even as they mourned the loss of their champion.
[Deacon, The Real War, p. 186]