Well, here we go everybody, the next, and maybe last chapter of this story, see the A/N at the bottom for more info on that.
Chapter 11: Tick tock, who's got the clock
Why did he let me drive? A grin split my face beneath my helmet as I spun the wheel and slid around another rock cluster. Our new elite friend might have been less inclined to kill us these days, but he didn't speak for the rest of the Covenant fleet. Twin banshees screamed overhead as John did his damned best to pump them full of lead from the 'hog's mounted machine gun turret. I gunned the gas, feeling that excited rush in my stomach as we climbed a rocky, tree covered hill, only to come flying off a rather abrupt drop off I didn't see ahead of time. My grin widened further, we'd made it to the crash site.
I thought I heard John mutter a curse or two as we went flying through the air. I used a touch of magic to adjust our landing so that we'd bounce instead of roll. I grit my teeth, my vision doubled momentarily just as we crashed into the ground. I nearly lost control anyway, just barely managing to keep it on all four wheels.
This is getting old, the sooner we get off this giant space doughnut of death the better. The banshees tore after us again so I gunned it, heading for the blocky grey ship in the distance. The ground here was much clearer, but I had to watch out for the random pit that the Autumn had opened up when it crash landed.
The banshees got in front of us, turning swiftly and doubling back low. Too Low. John pushed off with one super soldier leg and jumped up at just the right time to grab the pilot right out of his cockpit. He managed to gain control of the banshee before he crashed it into the ground. Don't ask me how, I watched him do it and I still don't entirely believe it. Maybe John's got a drop of magic in him somewhere.
He twisted the craft around on its flightpath and quickly gunned down the last one with a concentrated blast of plasma. With the immediate threat behind us, I gunned the warthog and John followed along in the banshee.
I got about as close as I could without risk of falling off the cliff edge that the Autumn had come to rest at. I jumped out of the 'hog as John landed the banshee next to me.
"Good thing you managed to snag that, you bloody show off, otherwise I've no idea how in the hell we'd get in there."
"Grab ahold of the outer shell, I'll move us slow enough so the risk of falling is minimal." I shook my head, but I'd done much crazier things. I grabbed on as best as I could, wedging the fingers of my gloves into an open seem, and held on tight.
John made quick work of finding us an entrance, which was fine with me. I didn't mind heights, loved 'em in fact, but dangling a few thousand feet off the ground was a little much. I wasn't sure which part of the ship we'd ended up in, it all looked the same to me.
"Alright big G, where are we headed?"
"To the bridge, we should be able to activate the-" He was cut off with a plasma beam tinging his shields. The two of us turned and rolled in opposite directions. Sentinels swarmed in from several corridors. I saw flood as well. Great.
"God dammit, can we not go five minutes without fighting flesh eating fungus zombies?!" I took cover, pulling my AR to bare and opening fire. The infection forms popped like over enthusiastic balloons, while the combat forms segmented, the joints holding the bodies together being the weak spots.
I threw a few blasting curses at the sentinels, magic drained their little shields almost instantly, while John shredded their intricate insides with lead. My lungs were heaving. I have to stop using magic, I was running on fumes before, I might be down to prayers and dumb luck at this point.
John brought out an arm to steady me. "Are you alright?"
Aww, the big guy cared, who knew? "Think of my magic like a muscle, what happens when you constantly use muscles, for days on end, without rest food or drink? Now take those muscles, and weigh them down with a few hundred pounds."
John nodded. "Your body is augmented, but your magic is not." That gave me pause for a moment as my vision finished clearing and the dizziness passed.
"That's food for thought another time. Yes, I'm augmented, obviously, but in a distinctly more… mystical way than you are. Let's get to the bridge, we've got a self destruct button to go push."
The two of us worked our way through the bowels of the ship. Red emergency lights flickered on and off above our heads. The ships nuclear power source hadn't been compromised in the crash, but a lot of systems had been fried in the process. With any luck Cortana could still blow the Autumn.
The flood seemed to be everywhere. Combat forms lurked in the halls, the small tumor like infection forms scurried across the floors, walls, and ceilings. Sentinels were about too, and seemed to find us a secondary threat.
John and I moved much quieter than two heavily armored supers soldiers had any right to, and made our way to the bridge in short order. John was walking easy, gliding like a hulking ghost. I could hear the blood rushing around in my head, my heart pounded and I had to blink a drop of sweat out of my eyes. I tapped a rune on my suit, lowering the internal temperature by several degrees and instantly felt better. Dammit I needed a nap. Mmmm… and food. I shook myself as John stalked forward like a big damned jungle cat and smoothly inserted Cortana into the ship.
I leaned against a wall, covering our six and doing my best to not look as weak as I felt.
A small purple holograph of Cortana appeared at the console, flickering slightly from the damaged electronics. "Oh my, it seems the monitor has been digging through the ships files, looking at our history and knowledge. I can't detect him on the ship, but most of the sensors aren't working properly." A timer appeared next to her, and started counting backward from thirty minutes. "Harry, if you can teleport us out of here half an hour should be plenty-" Cortana frowned as the counter stopped ticking down. It started back up for just a moment before stopping once again and disappearing altogether. The holograms eyes widened just as a familiar voice began playing over the ship's loud speakers.
"Reclaimers, construct. Such information you have here! I simply can't allow it to go to waste, it must all be catalogedand recorded. There will be time enough for me to peruse this after the ring's activation. Your poor attempt at dismantling the ring simply cannot stand."
"John, yank me! He's trying to trap me in the system." Cortana grit her teeth, the hologram flickering again as John rushed forward and pulled her data chip. He snapped it back into his helmet and I could here her voice coming through John's helmet.
"I was able to pull something from him before I had to evacuate. The ring is set to activate… in just under an hour's time."
Fuck, it was going to have been that close?
"What can we do now to blow the ship? Can the reactor's be compromised manually?"
It was a good question. We had to do something, and do it now. Cortana was quiet for a moment. "...yes, if we can get them open. If the monitor hasn't stopped that already. I'll set a marker for you two to follow."John, cool as a cucumber, irregardless of looming death, stalked out of the room. I followed quickly behind, eager to get off this ring.
The flood seemed to thin out some as we moved into the very center of the ship. The Sentinels were everywhere, they'd been making quick work of the fungus like monsters.
My shield pinged as I took cover behind a doorway. John had rolled into another corridor, and found himself facing off with half a dozen sentinels. The man moved like a well oil machine of death, dodging plasma fire, side stepping so quickly he actually blurred for a moment before jack hammering a guantleted fist through the mechanical guts of another.
I stepped out of cover and fired my rifle, draining the shields of the two sentinels blocking our most direct path to the ship's reactor. I lobbed a grenade, timing it to blow between them, and grinned as they both crashed and burned. I was okay, just had to be careful not to use magic, I can do this.
"Chatty as always aren't ya big guy?" I chuckled and followed after him. John was a driven beast, no one could deny that. The two of us moved as quick as we could. Between the remaining flood, and the ridiculously high number of sentinels, it took longer than it should have. I checked the clock on my HUD. I'd set it as we left the bridge, it was counting down from an hour, and we about twenty six minutes to blow this ship and evacuate.
I could feel Keyes, above me now. It seemed Thel had managed to convince his ship mates of the truth. They were heading in our direction. I tried doing some quick mental calculations, trying to figure out if I had enough juice left for what needed to be done. I shook my head, I didn't have a choice either way. Either it would kill me, or we'd all die.
I was still following just behind John, wary of enemies, when I spoke up to Cortana. "Cortana, I know you've only got John's suit to work with, but do you think you could hail Keyes? I want them to move the ship away from the ring. They won't have enough time to clear the ring's gravity before the whole thing blows up. I imagine that to ah, 'manually' cause the ship's reactor's to blow isn't going to leave us with much time." John never even slowed down, seemed like the idea of dying here didn't bother him much. Man I had to get this guy laid.
She didn't answer me right away. "I cannot contact Keyes directly, but I can hail the ship, send the message that way." I nodded, even though she couldn't see it, before speaking aloud.
"That will have to do, there's quite a few sentient beings up there, I'd rather them not all get barbequed."
How the hell anyone ever navigated this damn place is beyond me, we turned down another identical corridor, and stopped. We were here. I could here a faint humming, for a moment I thought it must have been the ship's power source. It was irregular in tone, if still mechanical. I realized what it was almost instantly.
"That fucker is in there, merrily humming to himself while he rifles through all that juicy, classified information. Cheeky bugger can't even wait for us to all die properly first." I sighed, I was going to teach that fucking lightbulb some manners, even if it killed me. "Who's bright idea was it to store the ship's archives in the reactor room anyway?" I shook my head, and people thought wizards didn't have common sense.
The two of us, three if you counted Cortana, entered the room as quickly as we could. The buzzing sentinels turned their attention away from the flood in the room and honed in on us.
The lightbulb in question turned to face us. "Ah, reclaimers, have you come to-" I'd thrown a grenade at him. It bounced off the metal casing surrounding that blinking blue light and exploded, about a foot in front of him. The sentinels began firing immediately. John and I moved and twisted about the room, dodging laser fire and the occasional combat form still in the room.
The smoke had cleared around the monitor quickly, he seemed mostly unharmed, except for a few scratches. The light had changed from an almost soothing blue, to an angry red. The light grew brighter, and a beam of burnt orange energy surged forth from the light. I snagged a sentinel out of the air with a jump and jabbed an armored arm into its insides, like an angular shield. The monitor shot its beam of deadly energy in quick bursts, targeting both John and myself. I was closer to the bastard, so he was picking on me a bit more.
I couldn't dodge the latest blast, and hefted my make shift shield in front of me. The blast knocked me clean off my feet, nearly disintegrating the sentinel in my hands. I bounced and rolled, ass over tea kettle, and slid to a stop. Alarms blared in my ears, my shields had been completely drained from the over wash of excess energy. I tasted metal in my mouth, apparently I'd bitten my tongue during my fall. I rolled sideways, not giving the monitor any time to fire again and took cover, breathing hard. I yelled at John, "Do not let him hit you with that attack! It almost fried me! Nasty bastard."
John didn't acknowledge me, but I figured he'd heard, guy was a bit busy at the moment, dancing around plasma beams and infection forms. He'd run out of ammo almost as soon as we'd entered the room, and was whacking away with the battle axe I'd conjured some time ago. I stood as my shield recharged, and took aim at the monitor again. A quick glance at my clock informed let me know we had less than ten minutes to spare.
"John! Get the damned thing ready to blow, I'll keep Mr. Lightbulb busy!" I knew he heard me that time. He hesitated for a moment, briefly glancing between me and the monitor, as it powered up for another round of fatal laser tag. "GO! We've got less than ten minutes!" I lobbed another grenade at the monitor, refocusing it on me. John turned and dashed off, I could trust him to get the job done, I had my own problem to worry about. I turned and faced the monitor and grinned maniacally beneath my helmet.
I had one more trick up my sleeve, I'd only ever done it one other time, when old snake face managed to get the upper hand on me once. Gods I almost missed the bastard, compared to fighting fucking fungus monsters anyway. I dived and dodged around the blast of burnt orange energy and tapped a complicated pattern of nearly invisible ruins set into my left gauntlet. Warning bells rang in my ears as my suit warned me I'd dropped the safety parameters. My shield was tied to a ward stone built into the workings of my suit. Via an extremely complicated process that flew way over my head, Hermione had designed them to draw power from the environment. Magic was everywhere, even in the vacuum of space, but it was inert, neutral. It was considered impossible to use that magic without extreme preparation, and rituals. Hermione didn't do impossible. I drew on the magic stored in that ridiculously complicated 'ward stone' and felt it fill me. I was almost lightheaded from it. I cut the flow off as I felt some strength return to me. I couldn't keep drawing on it, I'd fried the stone, and channeling foreign sources of magic through your body was… well it was fucking stupid. I risked frying my entire nervous system, but it worked. My body almost thrummed with it, the nearly sentient ward, one that had been mercilessly battering my occulmency shields since I arrived, felt like a tickle in comparison. I came out of my dive and turned, pooling concussive magic in my hands. I sent my own beam of blue magical energy at the monitor and watched in satisfaction as it overpowered his blast and knocked him out of the air.
My breath hitched in my throat, fire ran down my nerves and I felt my hands shake. I'd probably done some damage, but I didn't have a choice. I stalked forward, readying another blast of magic, and let it loose before the monitor could rise into the air again. Another shot of pain shot down my body, particularly in my arms, as the monitor was blasted backward. It red light returned to blue before flickering out. I inhaled a huge gulp of air. The remaining sentinels seemed conflicted about what to do, and began to ignore me, instead focusing on the few remaining flood. I looked about, trying to spot John, when I felt and heard an explosion go off somewhere from above me. An alarm began to blare and the ship shook ominously. I looked to check my clock. six minutes to go.
I spied John hauling ass on a cat walk up above, another explosion ripped a huge chunk out of the ship, sending shrapnel through the air. The blast was exceedingly close to John, and knocked the super soldier from the cat walk. He fell fast, much like a boulder or a tank dropped from an airplane would, but managed to land in a crouch; denting the floor on impact. His energy shield flared with golden rings of light as it recharged.
I made my way to him quickly, another explosion ripped through the ship. My suit pinged a warning at me, the air around us was warming exponentially fast, several degrees a second. "How Long til it blows?"
Cortana spoke up from John's suit. "less than a minute."
My eyes bugged out of my head as John… sat down on the floor? He reached up to his helmet and must have pressed a hidden button of some kind, because with the his of escaped air, his helmet detached itself from the rest of his armor. I watch in stunned silence as he lifted the helmet from his head.
"Uh, buddy, what the fuck are you doing!?"
He looked at me with faded blue eyes, I never realized how much older than man was than me. He'd been fighting for a long time. "You've had trouble even standing on your feet for the last hour. I know you don't have the energy required to remove us from this situation. I have made peace with my death many years ago. Perhaps… perhaps a rest would be nice."
Jesus Christ this guy was depressing, yes, I was definitely getting him laid, even if it killed me. I snarled, feeling true anger for the first time in what felt like a long time.
"Get your ass up, you don't get to quit just because the situation seems impossible, I'd been dead… well centuries ago if that was the case." He raised a single eyebrow at me, without his helmet on, I could see a soft amusement in his eyes. "Plus you don't really wanna drag your girlfriend down with you do ya?" I walked over, ignoring his grumbled protest over my words and placed both hands on his shoulders, coming to a crouch in front of him.
I tilted my head and grinned beneath my helmet. This was going to hurt, time to laugh or cry. "I've still got some tricks under my sleeve." Another explosion went off, but this time it didn't stop. It was followed by a chain of explosions, each one louder and more volatile than the last. John just closed his eyes, apparently not believing me. I'd show the asshole.
"Brace yourself mate, this is going to be a bit bumpy." He started to speak, but I missed the words. I focused on my borrowed energy, what little I had left, and closed my eyes, focusing in on Keyes. I Could still feel him, even though I knew he was far away. My ability to sense him wasn't impeded by miles of alien metal this time. The largest explosion yet tore through the ship, my eyes were blinded by a bright light, even thought they were closed. With one final push, we disappeared with a crack loud enough to cause a sonic boom.
Pain, pain everywhere, fuck that had hurt. I could hear vague voices talking excitedly, many of them over lapping, but it was hard to tell with all the alarms going off in my head. My shields were fried, but I knew that already, gods my left arm was in agony, another alarm let me know I was bleeding badly, and another told me my suit had been breached. I rolled over, groaning, and tried to push myself up on my hands and knees. I lost my balance and fell over to my left side, cursing. I finally opened my eyes and looked at the offending arm in question.
Huh, wasn't there, that would explain why I couldn't use it to prop myself up. I shook my head, making sure I wasn't hallucinating and looked again. Sure enough, my arm, and the armor that had protected it was missing. I laughed, I'd fucking splinched myself. Oh well, wasn't like I would be getting the arm back. I rolled onto my back, still laughing and looked around at all the faces, human and alien alike. John was sitting some feet away from me, looking like he didn't quite believe he was still alive.
With some difficulty I sat up, my nerves were still on fire, but I could wiggle my toes and remaining fingers, so I took that as a good sign. Thel was nearby, directing and talking to more elites, they seemed worried, apparently the ship's shields had been disabled by the ring blowing up, they'd hovered as close by as they could, but i'd still apparated thousands of miles. With borrowed magic. Hermione'd kill me if she knew. I checked myself over, making sure I didn't leave anything else important behind. Keyes came forward from where he'd been directing some marines to do something or another, and grinned like a maniac at me.
"You're one tough son of a bitch you know that?" I could see Martinez grinning from somewhere behind him.
"Yeah yeah, I know. Takes more than a planet blowing up to keep me down." my vision swam momentarily, i'd drained away what magic I'd managed to borrow, I was spent, running on empty. I leaned against a nearby crate and sighed. "I'm fucking starving, anybody got a candy bar or something?" Dead silence. Even the elites were quite, until a deep baritone of laughter filled the room. I looked over and grinned, I'd finally gotten the jolly green giant to laugh. I relaxed, really truly relaxed. My occulmency shields were finally allowed some breathing room as well as I closed my eyes.
I must have nodded off for a moment, I stirred to Keyes shaking my shoulder. I blinked and shook my head, instantly regretting it as it made my world spin. I cleared my throat and struggled to my feet, feeling a bit lopsided missing an arm. I reached up and fumbled with the Runes that kept my helmet in place. It wasn't easy, since it was designed to disengage with two hands, but I managed after a moment and pulled the helmet off, breathing a sigh of relief. It had gotten hot in there. I noticed with a frown that several of the more delicate components seemed burned out completely, just like my shield was. "Damn, I'm gonna have to fix that at some point."
Most everyone was back to minding there own business. John was talking to Thel off to the side. The two of them were murmuring in quiet tones, not at all looking like the mortal enemies they were this morning. Keyes steadied me again as I wobbled on my feet. "We need to get you to medical, at the very least get you some fluids and have your arm looked at."
I shook my head. "Nah, I need food, and sleep preferably, my batteries are drained. They're starting to recharge a little, since I haven't tried to kill my self with overexertion in at least five minutes, but food and sleep will help. Don't worry about the arm, not like I don't have a spare, and it wasn't even my favorite!" Keyes looked like he thought I was nuts, the grin on my face probably wasn't helping.
"I'm taking you to medical."
"But I hate going to the doctors!"
"Three broken ribs, lacerated spleen, a sprained ankle and wrist, amputated left arm from some unknown means, numerous burns and lacerations, how you got those in a huge suit of armor I'll never know, and a mild case of malnurishment."
They'd stuck me on some medical scanner, I was too tired to pluck the exact name of it out of the technician's head, and had to lay there as it scanned my entire body, clad in nothing but a bit of cloth to cover my fun bits. An elite stood off in the corner, supervising our use of the covenant's technology.
"Those are just the most recent. Multiple old fractures, torn muscles, ligaments, and you've got some sort of highly potent venom coursing through your veins. My personal scanner says some kind of snake, but can't recognize the species. That shouldn't be possible by the way. You've got some other agent neutralizing it constantly that I can't identify either." The technician rubbed at his eyes and temples like he was getting a migraine. I just chuckled at him.
"So I'm good to go right?" He looked at me like I was crazy, why do they always look at me like I'm crazy? I rolled my eyes. "Mundane injuries I can deal with on my own, but I need some juice to do it, so can I please get something to eat?"
Keyes looked shocked at the list, and then at me. "He must be dying, I think he just asked politely." I glared at him and sat up out of the chair. The techie yelled at me to stop, convinced I was going to shatter into a million pieces. I stood on two wobbly legs and gave him a thumbs up, one of them at least.
"Look fellas, I appreciate it, but I think it's the Chief's turn. Now if you'll excuse me, there's got to be a damned sandwich around here somewhere."
"Sir, I can't let you move around the ship like that, please lay back down and we can work on correcting your injuries." I rolled my eyes and pointedly refused to sit back down on the table.
"What part of I'm hungry don't you understand?"
Keyes sighed and turned to the techie. "Let him go, you'd never be able to keep him here if he really wanted to leave anyway. I'll keep an eyes on him and make sure he doesn't collapse. The Master Chief has already refused medical treatment," I could have done that? "but there are several others in need of treated injuries. Since he's gonna be an ass about it I'll just remove him from the room, and if he collapses, well you can at least rub it in his face later." Old salt and pepper really had a way with words.
I slipped into a plain uniform Keyes had waiting for me. My armor had been stored with some of the human's other equipment. Once I got back on my feet I had some tinkering to do to get it in working order again. Where the hell was I gonna find dragon hide for the under layer?
Keyes showed me the way to the human's make shift mess hall. There hadn't been much mingling with the covenant yet, to say the atmosphere was a… tense one would be an understatement, but no one was killing each other. Stupid politics.
Finally! After what felt like a lifetime… food, I'd found food!
Or is it?
A/N: Here you lot go, I hope you all enjoyed the ride, as stretched out and disjointed as it ended up being. Not sure exactly what's going to happen next, but check my profile, I'll be updating it soonish, I promise.
For now this story is mostly finished, might have another chapter or two, but we've squeezed passed all the real exciting bits I'm afraid. I'm not for sure If I'm going to try to follow along with the games as best I can, or go completely off the rails here and do my own thing. I'm going to be doing a bit of reading over the next few weeks, refresh my brain of halo lore and canon, and see exactly how twisty I can make it. For now the story will remain marked incomplete, but I'll come to a decision in a few days exactly what I want to do next with it, that will be reflected on my profile page. You lot feel free to chime in and let me know what you'd prefer, a more closely follow along with the games, or something entirely different.
Farewell for now friends,