Gods and Demons Part I Planet Fall
That was all he saw on the surface of the world as he slowly spun towards the globe.
Lights everywhere. Cities? Something else? Either way, it meant only one thing.
"Estimate planetfall in 20 minutes Chief. You might want to buckle up."
The last sentence contained a hint of laughter.
"Sorry, I think I left my seatbelt in my other suit. Got any spares?" He replied.
"Not on me. But in the cargo hold I think there's something that will do. There's a shielded cargo container. Might withstand the impact."
"There's no heat shielding on it, so we can't push it out of the bay and hope to ride it down in the atmosphere. Which means…"
"We do it after we hit atmo, and what, 6 seconds before impact?"
"Show-off. Does the power still work for the doors?"
"Other than twiddling my thumbs, routine maintenance is the only thing I've had to do for the past 4 years."
"How about thrusters?"
"Sorry Chief. I'm not a miracle worker. That's your job."
"Okay. Port cargo hold right? I'll see you over there."
He floated through the ships as though he were born in this place, dodging obstacles with a skill that could not be learned, or be inbred. His suit was designed primarily for combat, but thankfully the designers had anticipated he would find himself in a Zero-g environment. I'm wearing marvel of engineering, he thought. The suit helped him compensate for any unexpected rolls, helped him plot his jumps down each corridor, helped him wedge open a door. An onlooker would have thought he had lived his whole life in the corridors of the derelict. It took him just under 10 minutes to reach the cargo hold. Had the ship's gravity generators been active, it would have taken him less than 3.
But then again, if this ship was intact, I'd be home now, instead of God knows where.
She was already there, waiting for him.
"The container's over there, clamped to a cargo crane."
"I'll go and release it."
"Not yet! We'll need to move it closer to the bay doors. Those are open, thankfully. I'll program the clamp to release when we hit the right altitude, in about 15 minutes."
"I suppose I should stock up for an extended camping trip."
"Not a bad idea."
"Is there an armory nearby? Or some kind of weapons storage crate?"
There was a pause as his companion looked for an answer.
"Yes. In the lower right-hand corner. Mostly small arms. No missile launchers or Gatling guns I'm afraid. There's also a food container in the opposite corner, you should probably pack that as well. No tents, lights, kayaks, or other useful amenities though, and we don't have time to look someplace else." The last was said with a smile.
"Get the container in position. This'll take me a few minutes."
He made 3 trips to the weapons container, taking an assault rifle, a shotgun, 2 pistols, and a sniper rifle. He didn't know how he was going to carry everything at once, not with all the ammo he took as well. The food container was the usual rations, enough for 3 men for 2 weeks. He also took a portable cloaking device from the weapons cache.
He locked everything down inside with cargo straps, and even then he cut it close.
"Hurry John. Planetfall in 2 minutes. And then the ride really gets bumpy. The crane's set."
"Alright. Ready to go for a ride?" He extended the data storage disk to Cortana's console, gently connecting the inner circuitry to her holographic face. She smiled at him, the ghostly image of white teeth lingering as her blue form melted and shifted, turning into a pale blue liquid which now formed the center of the disk. With practiced ease, he slotted the disk into the drive in the base of his helmet.
"Welcome home." He said.
"Thanks, it's good to be back. 1 minute 30 seconds."
He entered the container, and closed the hatch, locking it with a deadbolt. He tied himself to some cargo netting which, hopefully, would hold up on impact.
The container started rumbling like a bucking horse, up and down, up and down. The weapons shook, the food shook, he shook.
"Bumpy ride huh?" He said.
"You've had worse. Release in 10…9…8…"
He closed his eyes and waited.
The container lurched, and then he felt that they were in free fall. Here we go…
Seconds later, he felt the container hit the ground before he heard the grinding noise. His restraints snapped, and he flew towards the rear end of the container. The red tritanium wall was the last thing he saw before impact.
She always called him that when he was hurt or alone.
"Wake up John…"
He groaned, felt the beginnings of a headache, and stirred. His chest was sore, probably from the impact.
"No broken ribs you lucky devil. I told you the ride would be bumpy."
"You also said that you had a good substitute for a seatbelt."
"Would you rather we jump before hitting the atmosphere? At least you're in one piece, with weapons and food nearby."
"Someone must have seen the ship enter the atmosphere."
"True. But the container would look like debris falling off. Just like I planned."
"Including my concussion?"
"You DON'T have a concussion!" Cortana chuckled. "I'm not picking up any movement on your suits scanners. Looks like we're in the clear. What do you say to taking a girl on a nice, long walk, get a feel for the place?"
He gathered up a week's worth of food for himself and put it in a low satchel that was packed into the ration container. He slung the satchel around his right hip, then attached some grenades before grabbing the assault rifle. Then he had another decision to make.
"What do you think Cortana? Sniper rifle or shotgun?"
"Chief, this is an unexplored world, and we have no idea what we'll find on it, if the inhabitants are humanoid, how many, can we communicate…"
"Shotgun it is then."
"Looks more intimidating."
"If you say so." He could feel her smiling, even though she couldn't project an image of herself from her suit. "Set the cloaking device on the container."
"Won't the charge dissipate in a few minutes?"
"That's because you'd be moving around with it. The device uses a lot more energy to hide organic material or objects in motion. But for a stationary metal object, the charge should last for…5 days, maybe a week."
"Maybe a week?"
"I don't know if it's in good working order. We are talking about a Covenant piece of technology on a human ship. At least it's a model that recharges."
"How do you know so much about…"
"High Charity had some useful databanks."
He didn't ask her more, knowing that Cortana's time spent on High Charity was not something she wished to revisit. She had been marooned there, left behind, at her own insistence, and trapped with the malevolent Flood entity called Gravemind for nearly 3 months. For her, it was as close to Hell as an AI could get.
5 minutes later, the cloak was activated, and all he could see was a shallow crater where the container had impacted. He covered the depression with some branches, trying to make the landscape seem more natural. Satisfied with his handiwork, he scanned the surrounding area for a direction to head. The sun was setting.
"Which way?" Cortana asked him.
He could feel Cortana smile again. It was an old tradition among the SPARTAN-II trainees. North was always the way home.