A New Masada
Posted By: Walker<firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date: 19 October 2003, 3:25 AM
Fleet Admiral Abraham Levi Cohen, the Israeli commander-in-chief of all UNSC military forces, tapped his fingers together deep beneath the ground in an undisclosed location on Earth. Officially it was Secure Facility THRONE, but only the highest levels of UNSC personnel knew that it existed. For those who had heard the rumors, for those who whispered the name in silence, wondering with awe what the center of the Earth really was, it was simply "the Throne". Admiral Cohen had decided long ago the latter was more official.
As he tapped his fingers the intricate web of viewing screens moved vividly, scenes flipping so quickly that even if the number of screens were cut into tenths, it would be too hard to concentrate on one without bringing it up on the main, center screen. Admiral Cohen now watched on the center screen as New Delhi was rundown by Covenant ground forces, its skyscrapers and complicated system of high-altitude roads blasted into oblivion form daring, low-flying gunships whose cannons were relentless in their chore. MAC guns were able to make no more than wild shots into the air, only to see their massive projectiles to whiz through empty air where enemy craft had once hovered. One MAC round managed to tunnel through the bridge of a Covenant ship, bringing it down onto a mass of Covenant ground troops, Marines and fleeing civilians. New Delhi was a bloodbath. Disgusted, Admiral Cohen switched the screen.
Edinburgh. He needed only to glance to see that it was flattened. The home of Sky Bus, the Earth's major public overseas travel company, was a complete loss. Admiral Cohen watched as nuclear missiles from London streaked toward Edinburgh and Glasgow on the smaller, zoomed-out map at the bottom of the screen. He didn't stick around to see the outcome.
Honolulu. Beijing. Hanoi. Moscow. Volgograd, formerly the city of Stalingrad, had not yet fallen. There was no audio on the satellite and ground images he was receiving, but the cameras zoomed in enough to let him read lips. Admiral Cohen watched with a surge of hope as the native Russian Marines who defended the city cried out with the passion the standing orders that Stalin had given to the Red Army in the Second World War: "Not a step backwards!"
Then Jerusalem. Longsword fighters intercepted the Covenant gunships, pounding them with high-velocity and large-caliber fire. A flight of Seraphs was deployed from one of the larger gunships, engaging the Longswords long enough to buy their mother ship time enough for another strafing run on the Holy City. Victory so near, yet so far, as Jerusalem crumbled beneath the guns of the enemy.
There were several footsteps behind him, and Admiral Cohen swiveled around on his chair, the center of the room as designated by the spotlight fixated on it. He tapped a few controls on the keyboard connected to the arm of his chair, and light slowly scrolled up in two sections of the back wall, revealing a semi-lighted foyer. A man was walking through, activating overhead lights with every step he took. His footsteps were magnified by the speaker systems connected to the Throne. He slipped a keycard through the door and as he typed in three different entrance codes the metallic beeps resounded through the depths of the control room of Earth.
Admiral Cohen keyed his microphone, and as the door at the far end of the room slid open he said grimly, "Hello, Lieutenant Colonel. Good day to die, isn't it?"
The Lieutenant Colonel nodded curtly as he began the seemingly mile-long walk to the platform where the illuminated Throne was fixed. Lights still flipped on as he walked forward, capturing him in a divine-seeming light. "Hello, Fleet Admiral. What's the progress?"
"Well, I was hoping your team could tell me that."
"Sir, with all due respect, I think you can see that for yourself," the Lieutenant Colonel said, motioning to the view screens. "It's chaos out there."
Admiral Cohen turned back to look at the view screens, as if he needed reassurance that the Lieutenant Colonel was telling the truth and this was all not a nightmare. And, as he saw, both were true. Cohen, without turning back, gave the Lieutenant Colonel a chance finish the trip to the illuminated Throne while he switched the screen to Nairobi. He zoomed in on a single building where several people cowered, huddled beneath the cover of two dead Marines. A third, wounded one, raised his MA5B weakly and shot the two Grunts that rounded the corner. Their position was immediately compromised as a platoon of Covenant charged in, firing from several different angles. It was a turkey shoot as they massacred the Marine and the two hiding civilians with their plasma weapons. The Marine's body was riddled with plasma bolts that tore his chest up so badly, when a needler stuck at the base of his neck and blew his head off, sending him, headless, to the ground, that it was a relief. The Elite in lead of the platoon raked the bodies several times to make sure they were dead before moving on, and Admiral Cohen cursed. "Beautiful, isn't it?"
"Well, sir, at least you understand our situation."
"Damn right I understand it, Riley. I understand that there's only one way we're going to win this thing, and that's if the Messiah himself comes down and delivers us, right here, right now. Now, Riley, does it look like that's going to happen anytime soon?"
"No, it doesn't," Admiral Cohen said shortly. "What are our options?"
"Surrend—" Lieutenant Colonel Riley began.
"That is never an option," Admiral Cohen said solemnly.
"We fight, then. We fight until they kill us all, and anyone who survives keeps the human race alive and keeps on fighting until the very memory of our existence is wiped from the face of the Earth," Riley said strongly, firmly.
"To go out with our boots on," Admiral Cohen said. They had gone over this before. A million times, ever since the they had first learned what kind of real threat the Covenant posed. The entire Admiralty, and every man in the UNSC with at least an IQ of twenty had done it within their own minds, planning how humanity would go out. And it always included going out fighting.
"Yes, sir. To die with guns in our hands."
"And blood on them too."
"That's right, sir," Lieutenant Colonel Riley said, as if to a halfwit general.
Admiral Cohen sighed. "That's how I'd like it, too, Riley. But there's a better way. The way God intended, if he intended this to be our end. I know the way to die."
Riley obviously didn't know what he was talking about.
"Colonel, have you ever heard of Masada?"
Riley paused in whatever he was about to say, or ask, and searched his memory. A few moments later, he nodded. "Yes, sir. Masada was an ancient mountain fortress built by Herod the Great about a century Before Christ."
Admiral Cohen was still fishing. "Anything else?"
"It was captured by the revolutionary Zealot Jewish sect for use against the occupying Roman army in sixty-six AD. The Romans laid siege to Masada for seven years, and finally broke through the gates."
"And what did they find?"
"Every man, woman and child in Masada had committed mass suicide rather than be captured. Are you suggesting we all slit our throats, sir?" Riley asked, getting bored with the games.
"Not exactly, Colonel." Admiral Cohen looked to the time display ticking in the opposite corner from the zoomed-out map in the main view screen. Sixteen-twenty seven, Zulu time. "What's your teams estimate? How much time do we have before they get down here?"
"Twenty minutes, sir."
Admiral Cohen shot him a disapproving look. "How far have they broken in?"
"Sir, a special ops team with extensive intelligence on the Throne has broken in down to level twenty, moving in with amazing speed," Lieutenant Colonel Riley reported. "In five minutes my Intel team should be dead," he added.
"And in ten we'll all be dead," Admiral Cohen said, nodding to himself.
"Riley, it'll be a new Masada," he said, and nothing more.
Admiral Cohen turned to his keyboard and his fingers played over it. The view screens were swept blank, and in the center screen there was set in large, white type, the words "Enter Code". The computer speakers spoke the words that appeared on the screen.
"Sir, what's going on?"
"I'll tell you in a moment, Riley. Now we have work to do. Now we have the end of humanity to make for ourselves before our lives can be taken from us." Admiral Cohen tapped another button on the arm of his chair and another spotlight turned on and centered on a computer across the walkway, in front of the central view screen. "Colonel, man your battle station."
Without question, Lieutenant Colonel Riley made a brisk walk to the computer. He stood before it, and placed the headset that rested beside the keyboard over his head, the earpiece nudged comfortably in his ear and the microphone in front of his mouth. He was ready for whatever was coming.
"This takes two people. First I'll type in my code, then you yours," Admiral Cohen said. The blinking cursor on the screen moved as he typed in the code he had memorized so long ago, and never really expected to use. God knew he never wanted to. When he was done, he pressed enter, and another cursor appeared beneath the row of asterisks that represented Admiral Cohen's code. "Your turn."
"What's my code, sir?"
"First your security clearance, then your serial number, and then the your last name with a forward shift of two letters," Admiral Cohen said, repeating the instructions he had been given when a rear admiral, ten years ago. He had chosen Riley to be the man who would perform the secondary initiation duties when he first began working for him.
Riley quickly entered in the first two parts of his code, then typed his name in as "Mgftkem", a forward shift of two letters. The type in the main screen switched to "Confirm Project MASADA Initiation Countdown?" The computer asked the same question.
"Yes," Admiral Cohen said aloud, and typed the word.
"Enter Code," the computer said again, and the words played out on the central view screen. There was no AI in the control room of Throne, where the actual Throne was located. The information at the deepest level of secrecy was too sensitive to be trusted to anything that could think for itself but have the information worked out of it. Admiral Cohen and Riley and his entire team had all had mental blocks programmed into their neural implants to prevent them from giving the information away themselves.
"You're done, Colonel. I can handle it from here." Admiral Cohen typed in the code, another, more complicated series of unrelated information, and the screen went black again. Though he had been relieved, Riley did not move.
Then, the screen lit up again as a countdown of ten minutes appeared on the screen and began to tick down. Admiral Cohen laid back in his chair, folded his hands over his chest, and closed his eyes. "All right, Colonel. You can ask your questions now."
"Sir, what's happening?"
"You've just helped me start the irreversible countdown that will destroy the Earth," Admiral Cohen said bluntly. "We're going through with Project MASADA."
Riley let what he had just been told sink in. "How, sir?"
"The core of the Earth has been laced with several trillion megatons of modified nuclear explosives, set to react instantly with the material of the core that will set off a chain reaction of explosions, slowly working their way outwards to the surface. In ten minutes the Earth will be obliterated. Every man, woman and child will be part of humanity's final act of war. A new Masada," Admiral Cohen said, his eyes still closed. He told it like a story.
"Sir, permission to say, 'fuck you'."
"Sir, fuck you."
"Lieutenant Colonel, I suggest you get over with anything you wanted to do before you died. You can try to make it to the surface if you want. You can take an overdose of prescription drugs in the infirmary and get high before you die. Or you can shoot yourself, for all I care."
"Sir, I'd rather stay with you."
Admiral Cohen opened one eye, and smiled. "I was hoping you'd say that."
They waited in silence as the countdown slowly ticked down. Nine minutes. Then eight, then seven, then six, then five, then four. At three Riley pulled a picture from his pocket, a small, digitally-captured image of a woman and child on a park swing somewhere in Ireland. At two minutes Admiral Cohen began to pray, a long, sorrowful Hebrew passage from the Torah. At one minute, Riley knelt, crossed himself and prayed to every saint he had been taught of in Catholic school from the time he was three until there was only thirty seconds left, then he stopped, and looked at the picture of his family again. A single tear dropped from his eye, and hit the metallic floor where it shimmered in the reflection of the white countdown. There was a low rumble from the ground beneath them, and the entire Throne began to shake as the fire of Masada engulfed the Earth.
"Sic transit gloria mundi."
And then the world ended. The way God meant it to.