"Feeling scared? Worried about your safety? The safety of your family? With Atlas and his bandits about, danger is everywhere in Rapture! At the Achilles shooting grounds, you can train yourself to defend your loved ones against the violent bandits threatening to take over Rapture! Practice your aiming skills from 8 AM to 5 PM daily, and come out ready to face the marauders and protect your greatest assets!"
-Achilles shooting grounds advertisement
Morning was hard to distinguish in Rapture, without the sun. It might as well have been midnight on the surface. Whenever it was, Link could not sleep, and decided to wander the city. The rusted glory of the city seemed to go on forever. Broken walls and scrawled messages tainted rooms that must have been pristine and glorious long ago. Cheerful music played automatically throughout the corridors, apparently not caring about the condition of the area. Link could almost hear the whispers of the city's long-dead ghosts…even to someone ignorant of Rapture's history, the feeling of conflict was palpable. It was eerie and beautiful at the same time.
Link came across an advertisement for 'Achilles shooting gallery', with a painting of a man holding a bow, aiming it at the sky. Link decided to check it out. He could use some archery practice.
The shooting gallery was a large room with a superimposed blue sky and clouds. The sky was disintegrating. Standard red and white circle targets were peppered around the gallery. A large wooden box was at the far end of the gallery. Link pushed a button and a clay disk flew out of the box.
Link took his bow and arrows and took aim. First he hit all the stationary targets, getting a bulls-eye on each one. A disembodied, cheerful voice congratulated him on every hit.
Link pushed the button and one of the clay disks shot out across the back of the gallery. Link pulled back his bow, and the arrow flew to where the clay pigeon was going to be. They connected and the clay pigeon spiraled to the ground with an arrow sticking out of the centre. Link was about to fire again when scornful laughter erupted from behind.
"You humans always use primitive weapons, but yours are the worst I have ever seen! Hahahahahaha!"
A Sangheili in blue armor stood sneering at Link. He let out another snort of laughter, presenting a plasma rifle in his hand. It was long and purple, with a smoldering pack of heat on the muzzle.
"THIS is a true weapon, little human. Watch and learn." He aimed at one of the stationary targets, charging his weapon up with a low hum. The trigger was released and a ball of plasma flew out and hit the opposite wall with a blast.
Link was unimpressed. "You missed." he observed bluntly.
The elite had missed. The smoldering crater where the plasma had hit was a small distance up and to the right of the target. The voice laughed as well. "Ohhh-get-some-more-practise-buddy!"
Link calmly walked away, and the elite's sneer turned into an angered frown. "What was that, little human?" he demanded. But Link was already on his way out. The elite threw his rifle down in fury and stormed after the boy.
"Where are you going, human? Answer me!" Link's silence only made him angrier. "Damn you. Elite league of warriors, Hah! You do not even look like a true warrior, no marks of honor or even any scars!" The elite's hand strayed to his sword holster. "I think I will give you one, little human…"
With a cry of rage, the elite drew his energy sword. Two blades of deadly energy formed at the end of the handle he clutched in his hand. The blade crackled and hissed as it sped towards Link's back.
Link was as swift as the elite. Before the energy blade got within an inch of the young man, Link had unsheathed his sword, spun around and blocked the energy blade within the blink of an eye.
The elite's sneer appeared and disappeared quickly. "What..?" His energy sword should have sliced the primitive blade in two. Instead it was holding it back with seeming ease, blade to blade. The elite backed off suddenly.
Link and the furious elite stood staring at each other, blades drawn. Even more enraged, the elite in blue armor charged Link, slashing at him with his lethal energy blade.
Link parried and blocked every swing, moving to defend himself against the furious Sangheili. Blades whizzed about, the blue elite on the offensive and Link on the defensive. The elite swung his sword ferociously, determined to cut this insolent human in two. He didn't. Every time his sword was close, it would be blocked, deflected or dodged with expert ease.
The Sangheili changed tactics. Swinging his sword in a downward slice, he was almost predictably stopped by the human's sword. The elite, however, continued pressing downward, driving the human back down. Skill or not, he was still stronger than the human. The stalemate of blades kept going and it looked like Link would lose…
Until the elite's energy sword suddenly lost power. The blade disintegrated, and Link's sword shot up unresisted, hitting the elite in the face. Link may or may not have meant to cut the Sangheili's face, but it didn't matter. The blue-armored Sangheili backed off with an angry cry of pain. Holding the lacerated side of his face, which was now dripping green blood, the elite lost whatever he had left of his temper. "You damned filthy little insect…" he snarled, as he began to draw a plasma pistol and point it at Link…
The pistol was kicked out of his hand. Arbiter came out of seemingly nowhere, his cloaking device deactivated. He was not pleased. "That's enough, both of you!" he boomed. Link and the minor elite fell silent. Arbiter glowered at the elite.
The blue armored Sangheili couldn't hold back. "How long were you standing there?!"
"Long enough." Arbiter grabbed the pistol the elite had been holding. "Both of you. For this infraction, your weapons are confiscated for the time being." Arbiter took the sword and arrows of Link with some resistance, but less than he would have thought. "Return to your room. I want to speak with you later."
"Yes, sir." Link walked away obediently. The cut elite lingered. Arbiter turned to him.
"Aven, Report to the infirmary. And I do not want to hear about any more trouble with the people under my command. Is that understood?"
"Yes, sir." The minor elite muttered before skulking off.
Arbiter waited until the elite was gone before turning his attention to Link's weapon. That sword again. He glanced at the metal blade and the cut on his own hand. Unusual.
"Politics, politics, politics, accursed politics! It is naïve to claim that the end of a war means the automatic beginning of peace, or that détente will equate cooperation, certainly. But the belligerence of much of my world is stupefying! Despite all that has been revealed, many factions are still under the delusion that the halo weapons are the key to the 'Great Journey' and transcendence. Genocidal extermination weapons, built by the humans to wipe out the cursed parasite! Some of the council still do not realize the forerunners and the humans were one in the same, and believe that the planet should be eradicated…it will take a lot to change their minds. And then there are the loyalists, still clinging on to the role of the prophets, and exalting that insane liar, Truth. And apparently, it is my duty to make all these factions unify in this détente! Why? Because of my title? I am a soldier, not a diplomat! Yes, I am good at making swift decisions. So I will make the swift decision to put someone more competent in politics in charge of this madness."
Arbiter met up with Rtas on the way to Gordon's lab.
"So that little human got into a brawl with one of my elites?"
"An elite with an energy blade."
"And he is NOT cut in pieces?"
"No. In fact, there was not a cut on him. The elite was slashed lightly on the face, however."
Arbiter and Rtas looked carefully at Link's sword. To their eyes, it seemed little more than a sharpened piece of metal. Recent events, however, claimed that it was more than that.
"That does not seem possible."
"It is true. I saw it. Somehow this Link was able to stave off the assault with this sword."
"You know, you once held your own against three energy swords without a scratch."
"True, but…Ah, we are here."
Gordon's lab had been placed in Point Prometheus. A neon sign with the words 'Optimized Eugenics' announced its former purpose. The inside of the lab was pristinely clean, with several of Gordon's machines and computers scattered around the area for tests. Arbiter noticed that several of them had been opened, wires and machine parts had been taken out…Arbiter guessed that Gordon was in the middle of repairing them.
Gordon Freeman was found in a room at the far end, working on a complicated math equation on his blackboard. He didn't respond to the two elites coming in. Gordon had taken off his orange combat suit and replaced it with a functional lab coat. On a hanger beside him hung a reconfigured Sangheili cloaking device. He was working on making it usable for humans. Whenever he wasn't working on something else, of course. The gravity gun he had used against Pyramid Head was on a shelf beside him, as well as a white machine that was still in the middle of repairs.
"Gordon Freeman." Gordon turned around unsurprised at Arbiter's voice. Of course, he didn't say anything. He couldn't. Gordon was completely mute. Rumors were that he had exchanged his vocal chords to some deity or surgeon in exchange for an increased intellect. True or not, he was a silent, brilliant scientist.
Arbiter presented the sword. "This can cut through our shields and block an energy sword. I want you to have a quick look at this when you have the time. Do not take it apart however. I expect some findings before the week is over."
Gordon looked at Link's sword from behind his glasses, then took it in his hand and accidentally gave himself a small cut. Nodding at Arbiter, he turned back to his blackboard.
Rtas was curious. "How do you intend to get anything from this man?"
"I will leave that to our chronicler. Put her to more use." Arbiter replied as he and Rtas walked out. "Speaking of which, inform her, Lara and Snake to meet me in the briefing room. Our first assignment has come in."
"Axel, I KNOW the drill. I write the music, you come up with lyrics. But could we PLEASE change the title of the new one? I did not spend all last night composin' 'Lick ma lovin' self'."
Casey's room in the Sinclair Deluxe was less fancy than the Mercury Suite apartments where Link was staying, but it was a lot more impressive than her usual digs. Better bed, an actual bookcase, and a real kitchen. Casey wasn't going to complain about the place she and Jimi were staying. Still, she was getting a bit stir-crazy. A riff on her guitar would help.
Grabbing her guitar, she fingered through the chords, making sure this guitar was in tune. It wasn't. A few adjusted knobs fixed that easily.
Then she began playing for real. Her fingers danced over the strings as she recollected her favorite solos. Hendrix. Sting. Weezer. She played them in no particular order, merely for the sake of having something to do, the comfort of some of her favorite songs in this strange place.
A Beatles segment was rudely interrupted by a banging from the floorboards. "Silence that infernal racket! I am trying to rest and I have had more than I can stand!"
Casey was used to aggravating neighbors. "This ain't infernal, bucko! It's classic. And if you don't like it, cover yer stupid ears! This is as quiet as I can get it."
"Graaah! I have had more than I can stand of you insolent humans! I demand some rest and I will snap that wheedling thing in two to get it! So SILENCE!"
"Talk is cheap, big guy. Yellin' won't get you nowhere with me."
"Very well." Whatever was down there quieted up, and Casey relaxed again. Just another loud guy, just like back at home. Heh. Casey was about to strum again when a loud banging came from the door.
"OPEN IF YOU VALUE THIS DOOR, INSOLENT INSECT! NO MORE TALK!"
"Christ…" Casey had the sense to lock the door behind her when she came in. Whoever was behind there was incredibly strong. The wooden door wouldn't hold for very long. Jimi began to spark in preparation for a fight.
"I WILL SNAP THAN DINMAKER IN TWO AND YOU WITH-" Suddenly the banging and yelling stopped suddenly. A suddenly meek voice stuttered, "Er…commander Rtas…"
Another voice. "Two unprovoked threats in one day, Aven. And it is such a mystery why you are still a minor. Leave."
Two large feet skulked away in anger, away from Casey's door. Casey breathed a whoop of relief and Jimi stopped sparking. Rtas knocked on the door gently.
"My apologies. Aven is…troublesome at times. Still, it might be advisable for you to find somewhere else to play that instrument."
Casey rolled her eyes. "Fine."
"In the meantime, report to the briefing room, chronicler. An assignment has come in."