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Shadows of Archon II (part 21) - Three Strikes You're Out
Posted By: Wado<wyamauchi@msn.com>
Date: 6 October 2002, 5:40 pm

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      "Where is it?" said the tall and dark Forerunner.

      "We don't know master, all we know is that the MR-343 Guilty Spark unit reported it was in something called Cortana," said the Covenant Prophet. "All your plans to release the Flood, everything went as planned, until that human showed up claiming to be the Reclaimer."

      "What happened to the god Astragoth, why did he not play his role as Reclaimer?" said the shaded Forerunner.

      "All the god's regenerated vessels were infested by the Flood, with no organic vessel suiting his needs, he ordained that we capture a fitting human body," said the Prophet, "however, none of the human bodies we brought could survive the trauma of unification with the god. There was one we found, but he is the one that spoiled all our plans, he was the Reclaimer."

      "Who is this Reclaimer?" asked the mysterious Forerunner.

      "A human hybrid called a Spartan," said the Prophet. "We never have been able to capture one as promising as this one alive. All of our analysis indicates that he can be a suitable vessel for unification with a god."

      "Yes, because of genetic compatibility only a Forerunner's body or a hybrid human body can serve as a suitable vessel for a god. Even our own regenerated bodies do not last long," said the insane Forerunner. "Alas, without a vessel, our powers dilute into the environment if not for the aid of powerful machinery. That machinery is few and far apart, in the mean time, any powerful vessel can do temporarily."

      The insane Forerunner steps out of the shadows. In the light can be seen a creature no longer recognizable as a Forerunner -- Its body festering with tentacle like fila, oozing a trail of puss. In a thundering voice that rocks the walls, the insane Forerunner proclaims, "Come here slave, your god needs you!"

      Too shocked to move, the Prophet mouths, "Forerunners, the Flood, how could this be? No, no, get away, aaaaahhhhh!"


Three Strikes You're Out

      Aboard the UNSC Moon of Orion, the Captain and crew prepare for the largest ship-to-ship battle ever in the history of human existence.

      "Sir, Fleet Command is reporting that the Covenant Armada has entered normal space," said the communications officer, "and at their current speed they should reach Earth in less than ten minutes."

      "Captain, we are 5 minutes from Earth," reported the ship's AI, "but it appears we have company. 12 corvette class Covenant ships have followed us into slip space, estimated 20 seconds until they are in firing range. We are sitting ducks trying to fight Covenant in Slip Space. I estimate 0.0087 percent chance of us surviving the encounter in Slip Space."

      "Very well, take us out of slip space helm," said Captain Jarad Keyes, "and Master Chief you ready yet?"

      "Affirmative sir, Cortana and I are in the XX1 ready for launch," replied John.

      "Listen Master Chief, we've got some shadows to take care of," said Keyes, "and I need you to take the XX1 to Earth without us -- Proceed with plan B."

      "Understood sir," said John.

      As John takes off in the XX1, he becomes the ship -- The mysterious ship from the times of the Forerunners or perhaps before. Johns sees a multi-colored universe around him from the rainbow bubbles of ion trails to the bright waves of light from the sun. If only life was always this awe inspiring, to fly higher than the birds, faster than your own reflection. Is this the destiny of human kind, to become one with our own creations; nothing made that is not organic, a free spirit in our own creations of nature.

      "Some might say perversions of nature," said Cortana.

      "What Cortana, you can read my thoughts so easily?" asked John.

      "Yes the neural interface with the XX1 goes through you and to me, so even some subconscious thoughts of yours I can read," replied Cortana. "You might say that we share the same mental space."

      "Maybe that free spirited future with humans and technology fused together is not such a great idea after all," said John.

      "Lots of laughs Chief," said Cortana. "By the way, our decoy fleet has headed into slip space and, oh no. Chief we have a problem, the planetary shield around Earth is failing. It looks like plan B might be our only hope."

      "Alright Cortana, show me which Covenant ship is the target," said John.

      "Chief, the Covenant is jamming everything," said Cortana, "and I'm not able to get a fix on a command vessel. Our only chance is to get visuals, but that could take hours, if we are lucky."

      "Cortana, is there anything that has powerful enough scanners to get through the jamming?" said John.

      "Chief, there isn't anything, unless GAEA can concentrate scans on a smaller area," said Cortana. "All communications jammed, we can't even get a message to her."

      "Give me a nav point to GAEA," said John.

      G.A.E.A (Galactic Aerosat and Earth Addendum) is the pride and joy of Sol core system. The first and largest of the Earth orbital stations, it serves as a navigation point and houses great hydroponic gardens to supply food for the billions of humans that live below. Because of its shape, the crews of passing ships often refer to it as Earth's biggest bicycle tire.

      John follows the nav point towards GAEA. Far off there appears a cloud with thousands of flashing lights creating a wondrous but deadly fireworks show. Some larger flashes are seen from a small blue ball in the distance.

      "Chief, I'm picking up some random transmissions, I'm able to make some sense of it," said Cortana. "The Covenant forces are firing missiles at the Earth defenses from outside effective range of our MAC guns. We've lost several of our orbital defense satellites. All UNSC forces have been ordered into Earth's orbit to help shoot down missiles. The planetary shield is still not up."

      Some strong signals feel like hot air to John. "What was that Cortana?" asked John.

      "I don't know Chief," replied Cortana, "but one pulse totally destroyed one of our Cruisers. I think it might have been the Covenant plasma mauler weapon, but it shouldn't have that kind of range, our best calculations are half that range for the weapon on the Proteus class cruiser."

      "We're here Cortana, let them know what we need," said John as he exits the XX1 into a landing bay on GAEA. Around him are the confused faces of Marines and flight deck crews.

      "Sir, how did you get here," said the UNSC Sergeant, "and what in the universe is that ship?"

      "No time to explain Sergeant," said John, "but I didn't want you to start firing at the XX1, the ship. You can lower your weapon Sergeant."

      "Oh, yes sir, sorry sir," replied Sarge.

      "I know Sarge, you saw that weird contraption of a ship and your trigger finger got itchy," added John.

      "Yes sir... huh, feel that sir, MACs firing, the big ones," said sarge. "Them Covies must be getting closer."

      John looks out the bay doors to see explosions on Earth. To be seen this high from orbit, the explosions must be huge. John looks on with sadness and anger. John gets on the comm saying, "Cortana, how much longer until you find that friggin' command ship?"

      "Estimated no more than 10 more minutes, I'm 10% complete with scans," said Cortana, "and Chief, the Covenant has changed battle tactics, they are now moving into orbit around Earth and engaging with plasma cannons. Possibly they think they have softened our defenses enough or they are out of missiles. Strange, though, they are taking higher than expected casualties, it's almost reckless of them."

      "What the..." said John.

      "Chief, incoming Covenant troop transports," interjected Cortana, "and the Covenant, they're boarding the orbital stations. This makes no tactical sense, they outgun us 20 to 1."

      "Here they come," said Sarge.

      "Chief, reinforcements on the spoke," said Cortana.

      "Sarge, we can't let them capture this ship," said John as he motions to the XX1.

      "Yes sir, everybody not a Marine, get out of here," yelled sarge. "Marines, man your positions let's give these bastards a nice warm UNSC welcome."

      "Yes Sarge!" many responded.

      Several explosions near the launch bay light up the flight deck. Two more Covenant transports are shredded by MAC fire with all hands lost but like an army of ants, they still come. One transport crashes into the side of GAEA but two more blast into the launch bay. Out jump two dozen Covenant warriors. Behind them come more...

      "Ammo, I need more ammo," said a pinned down Marine as he fires his last magazine around a corner without looking at what he is firing at. He doesn't need to, by now there are at least five dozen Covenant firing and moving. At least two dozen dead Covenant bodies litter the flight deck, some never even made it out of their seats on the transports before receiving their fatal blow.

      "Cover fire men," said Sarge as another Marine slides a box of ammo across the floor to the pinned Marine. "And everybody burst fire only, conserve your ammo, especially you Private Ginkens."

      Click, click, John is out of ammo too. "Cortana where are those reinforcements?" said John.

      "Chief they report that they are pinned down by Covenant forces," replied Cortana, "but they're only about 200 meters away. You might be able to take out those Covenant forces from behind."

      "Right Cortana," said John. "Sarge, I need to clear the path for our reinforcements to get here, I won't be long."

      "Here sir," said Sarge as he handed John some ammo. "You'll need this. Everyone cover fire for the Master Chief on 3, 2, 1, go!"

      "Thanks," said John just before he leaps and rolls to the next cover and then zigzags his way to a corridor.

      "God's speed to you, sir," whispered Sarge from back behind cover.

      Sarge looks up to see bluish-white glows. Over six-dozen plasma grenades drop roundabout the Marines followed by a massive flash of searing plasma. Not even time for a cry of pain, the plasma burns all the air in an instant, travelling down the throats of the breathing Marines it cooks their lungs from the inside out. While on the outside, their eyes pop in the heat of the flash and the bodies char to a pale shade of grayish black under the intense burn.

      John looks back to see nothing but thick bluish-green smoke filling the corridor. John yells over the comm saying, "Sarge!" Of course, there is no reply.

      Things have not faired well with the UNSC reinforcements either. They were pinned down at the end of a spoke by Covenant Elites and picked off one-by-one until only one was left. The one surviving Marine is pinned against a wall by a golden Elite. The rest of the Covenant strike force has already moved ahead.

      "Listen, can't we talk this over?" said the Marine. "You know like intelligent beings."

      "So, the barbarians want battle with intelligent conversation," replied the Elite. "Tell me barbarian, where is this construct known as Cortana?"

      "I don't know who that is," replied the Marine. Cough as his neck is squeezed a bit harder. "Stop, ask me something else."

      "Where is the one known as Spartan John 117?" said the Elite.

      "Maybe that's him over there," said the Marine as he points his finger to the right.

      "Do you think I'm stupid and would fall for an old trick like that?" replied the Elite.

      Whack! The Elite goes down from a blow from behind.

      "Thank you sir," said the Marine to John. "I really thought that thing was going to squeeze my head off.

      "Are you hurt soldier?" asked John.

      "No," said the Marine as he checks himself over. "No sir, I'm okay."

      "Alright, gather some weapons," said John. "We don't have much time..."

      Phut, boom! John dives for cover pulling the Marine with him. The Marine's body is strangely limp. John looks at the Marine, half his head a contorted face of agony, the other half a charred hole. No blood as the plasma still burning has cauterized the wound.

      Over the comm Cortana says, "Chief I've located the Covenant command vessel. I'll meet you in the XX1. Head back to it now."

      "That's no piece of cake Cortana," said John. "I could use an alternate route."

      "Right, I've plotted an alternate path through the ventilation system," said Cortana. "Follow the nav points."

      John grabs the ammo vest of the dead Marine, an M90 shotgun and an MP7C submachine gun. Waits, throws a fragmentation grenade, and barrel rolls across the floor while firing.

      Two Covenant Elites go down, before the rest can return fire, John is into the ventilation system.

      "Chief, the Covenant are attempting to hack into the UNSC battlenet using the consoles on the orbital stations," said Cortana, "and it appears as they are looking for something."

      "Yes, an Elite back there was sure interested in you and me," said John, "and hold fire..."

      "What Chief?" said Cortana.

      As John moved down the ventilation system he flipped on his flashlight only to see ahead and behind him the dark figures of fully armored UNSC Special Forces personnel.

-- Next, Angel Fury --