The Flight to the Lambda Complex
Chapter 13: The Flight to The Lambda Complex
We once again ran for our lives, combat boots wildly crunching into the bedrock, spinning up rooster tails of dust and chaos into the glowrod darkness. Doctor Kleiner was undeniably in the lead, his white lab coat flapping into the unknown ahead. Suit and weapon lights frantically oscillated side to side against the indiscernible floor as we charged full-tilt. Pretty soon, we were all out of breath, but we didn't dare allow ourselves to slow. We rounded a tight corner, hastily checking all directions for trouble as we blasted through the intersection after Kleiner's lead. To the right was the laboratory where we met Captain Lawson. To the left was the Lambda Complex.
"What about the other scientists?!" I shouted, gasping in air.
"We can't worry about them!" Kleiner shouted back, not missing a single stride.
I instantly remembered Amy, clueless about her status.
I could barely see my own boots as I sprinted. I activated night vision. Green bodies scurried as fast as they could through the ambient dust in a straight bee line after Kleiner—leading us to what I assumed was our final destination.
"Is this place safer than Omega?!" I shouted.
"Better than Omega!" He yelled, "Don't stop running, you fools!"
I sprinted harder. The lactic acid had already started to accumulate, much fiercer than times before. We'd tire out with our loadouts and our current fatigue level. I glanced over my shoulder, past Marines.
"How much farther, Doctor?!"
My legs burned and were starting to lame out, but it was impossible to slow and allow the Covenant to outpace me. It all came down to that choice.
"We must get to the Lambda Core!" Kleiner shouted, not even looking back. His shape started to grow smaller as I stopped and doubled back for someone who'd tripped and fell. He was kneeling on the ground, panting. I rushed to his side and my joints seared in pain with the sudden deceleration.
He lifted his head, gritted teeth and grunted in pain as I wrenched him up by the forearm.
We followed after everyone's steps in an instant.
Coming into focus through my sweat-drenched eyes was a cluster of autonomous loading vehicles, mining carts and personnel transports. Rather than utilize them, Kleiner hooked a sharp right up ahead. His lab coat shone like a signal flare in the intense white light from above just before he disappeared from sight. One by one, Marines reluctantly followed him in this new direction—a narrow corridor. About five meters wide, it was just large enough for warthogs or pairs of mining carts. We pumped and pumped and pumped our legs down this hallway, a set of short stairs not even a stone's throw away. Kleiner was first up, waving his badge in front of a scanner. It lit up green and he threw a heavy door open with inward-facing hinge pins as fast as he could, its metal bulk slamming into the adjacent wall with a bang. He stood there holding the door open, frantically waving us in.
Haze shouted, "There were warthogs back there!"
"Get in!" the Doctor shouted, overriding any doubt we had.
I was the last to reach the entryway, bounding the small flight of steps in front of me. I put all my will into my useless legs in my very last surge of energy. The noise became clear as I ascended—yelps and barks and rabid screams bouncing of the walls off the intersection outside. They were upon us, shadows bouncing up and down past the juncture and bearing closer. I dove past Kleiner and through the threshold and darkness enveloped me.
I found myself on the ground in a dim hallway an instant later. I rolled over and looked back at the door. Kleiner then slammed it shut with all his might and quickly entered a sequence into a nearby keypad. Then, a faint, weary smile spread across his face, which put me at ease. A chime echoed just as a thick slab of metal slid into place, making the view in the window opaque. I then let the burning take full effect on my numbed muscles.
"Keep moving!" Kleiner shouted.
His renewed sense of urgency spurred us all on and we flinched after him, jogging down this narrow hall. It was now a series of corridors much like the Admin sectors—only much more cramped. But to my thankful surprise, it led directly down to a set of wide, glass doors at the foot of a stairwell. Stenciled in red were the words that gave comfort: Lambda on the left door and Complex on the right.
I let out a sigh.
The Doctor swung them open.
We stepped through on his lead and found a grid-like arrangement of office cubicles. Desks and information terminals were all that was here. Kleiner proceeded a few paces to a door frame at the far wall where all the other Scientists had gathered at a low-vaulted room. The walls were a thin, green tarp that pulsated in waves with an undulating air current.
"We're inside a tent?"
Thin, metal benches were set up along the perimeter on which rack-mount communications was stacked. All the scientists we'd regularly or irregularly seen were manning these communications consoles, typing commands, re-configuring cables and more frenzied than ever. As every time before, they paid no mind to us.
We entered through another door at the far side—
—and were now in another room just as small, no tent this time, but solid steel walls. Cables slithered their way through an adjoining port and fanned out into a series of high-gain amplifiers. Waveguides shot up from these devices and disappeared into the ceiling at the edges of the room. It was some sort of signal bunker, that much I gathered.
"This place can carry more conversations than a metropolis." Doctor Kleiner said, taking note of our distraction.
We poured through another heavy door at the far side...
Now were entering an immense room, much bigger than any other room during our entire stay at the Foreclay Outpost. We were dwarfed. Not only by the sheer size, but by the humming of the massive machinery and electronics. It was deafening. We were face to face with a large reactor, its steel support girders towering all the way up and anchoring the hulk upright. A wide concrete slab led to the foot of this powerplant.
Caught in its deep-shadowed presence was Captain Lawson.
He was not alone.
Two Spartans stood beside him.
All of Lima Company stared at them The trio was facing the reactor, oblivious to our presence. We waited for Doctor Kleiner to take action as everyone who's just arrived caught their breath. I looked around in the spare time. It was old and decrepit, thin layers of dust caked on every surface. The facility hadn't seen housekeeping in a long time, but the reactor hummed. Scientists were still further aft, still tending to the room full of communications equipment.
Doctor Kleiner walked towards the reactor after a few deep puffs for air, brushing past Captain Lawson and the Spartan pair. It was then that they turned around and noticed us. Kleiner strode up to some sort of receptacle—a small box about waist high with a small window. A trio of large-diameter tubes fed into this apparatus, two on the sides and one entering the top. He unscrewed a large cap that was just big enough to pass the volume of the teleportation device he held. As he returned to us, he gave a nonchalant thumbs up to the Captain—who nodded back.
The Doctor walked over to a nearby lever half-sunken into the floor and threw all his weight into the large breaker switch. The hum of the reactor rose higher in pitch. He wasted no time, acting on a routine and spinning on a heel. The wall to our left towered high above, curving to meet the other walls at the apex above. Blue powder-coated steel girders shot out from the reactor chassis at various points, bending at precise locations and terminating into the walls with thick fasteners. Against this base of this wall were rows of hanging suits, heavy and reflective. Here, he took one off a rack and donned it, flipping up his opaque visor so we could see his face. Once situated, he approached us, walking straight to the Gunny. "Wait here."
He proceeded back into the signal bunker, disappearing behind the stout, steel door.
Immediately after, Captain Lawson went through the motions himself, donning this protective ensemble, retaking his place by the Spartans' side.
"What in the...What is happening?!" Haze asked. "This is a dead-end area!"
Fellow Marines were just as incredulous, a stir propagating throughout our loose formation a few seconds later.
"It doesn't matter!" The Gunny yelled, "Keep your shit together!"
We looked so out of place just milling around in an uncoordinated gaggle, nothing to do, incongruent to how we were trained. Captain Lawson soon took notice and left the two super soldiers to converse among themselves.
"Gunnery Sergeant," he said, "while we're here, why don't you have your Marines get into those pressurized suits. You're going to need them where we're going."
"Aye, sir." the Gunny replied. "You heard 'im, Lima. Get to it."
What was being asked of us was again more strange than the victory at the North side. Lima Company followed the Gunny and congregated near a wall, suiting up into these heavy, bulky suits. Suddenly, Captain Lawson brought a tablet to bear. His device was exactly like the one Kleiner had all this time. He scowled at it. I was the closest Marine within arm's distance to him so he grabbed me by the shoulder. "Private, get in that bunker and tell Kleiner he needs to move his ass!"
"Yes sir!" I snapped to and started out at full speed, pushing Marines out of the way knowing the Covenant would completely infiltrate the Lambda Complex in seconds if they broke through. I plowed through the outer steel door and sped past the green waveguides fingering their way into the ceiling. I stammered through another door, appearing into the tent. Scientists were scrambling around the small confines. Their footsteps pattered around the tarp floor, a stench of sweat and fear in the air. It was the first time I had ever seen them notice me, their worry finally overt. For a split second, I wondered how much safety the Captain and the Doctor promised them during their assignment here.
Kleiner was at a nearby console as I rounded the corner of a large telecommunications chassis.
"Doctor, the Captain says you need to hurry. I think the Covenant are breaking through."
"Yes, I know." He handed me his tablet. I peered into its screen: the Covenant had started using plasma torches on the thick outer door—the one I had dove through. That slab of steel was at least a quarter-meter thick, but it wouldn't hold forever with that kind of hack.
"You should go back to the reactor room, Private. We have to stay behind for just a little longer."
"We need to compile and save all the data over the last few hours so we can take it with us."
"Doctor, forget the data. We have everything we need."
"I have a slipspace probe sitting in a silo in the reactor room that I need to upload this data into! If we get cornered and can't escape, other commands need to know what happened here! Now, please, I need a moment. You, go!"
The Doctor was sweating as he glanced
at the datapad. The plasma torches of the Covenant mob were just about to fully
pierce the outer door to the Lambda Complex. Once that happened, all they needed to do was trace an outline to bust through.
"You have precious, little time, Marine. Everyone," the Doctor shouted, "finish what you can right now and prepare all your data! Get into the bay and get into suits. We leave now!"
I then ran back to the reactor bay, which had taken on a new light. Through the window that the tiny Transit resided in was a powerful, sapphire glow. It illuminated the whole area with pulsing arcs of light casting onto all surfaces of the room. All of Lima Company and what was left of Sierra Company were now fully suited up, occasionally glancing at the glowing orb. Scientists poured out of the door, scurrying into the bay, followed by Hal Overton who quickly disrobed his blue, grease-stained coveralls and made for a spacesuit.
The light within the cavity cradling the Device faded and disappeared with one last, subtle flash. The Transit had undergone a metamorphosis while inside. Its shape and size were the same—still the tiny, black sphere. But under the perfectly dark surface was an iridescent chromate sheen barely visible, like there was another entity residing at the core of it.
The Doctor plucked it away and immediately began his procedure, poking at it and sliding his fingers at specific points across its surface. Before all of Lima Company reconvened into a tight group around the Captain, I saw Kleiner, the Gunny and his next-in-command residing a few paces distant, barely out of earshot in the loud chamber. They spoke over a private channel in their thick, leathery suits. In the next instant, Kleiner paced away from them, toward us, his head bowed down and avoiding any eye contact.
I then caught the side of Staff Sergeant Rios' face as he threw up a swift, rigid salute to Gunnery Sergeant Smith, his posture straight and proud.
It was odd to see an enlisted member salute another. Such customs were only required when acknowledging officers' presence. Nevertheless, one could render this respect to someone out of sheer admiration, and that's what this currently was. Rios held his salute there until his superior formally returned it, and then the look on the subordinate's face was one that I took for deep regret. Difficult to say from this distance.
Staff Sergeant Rios turned our direction and approached without the Gunny following behind.
"I have a little announcement, Marines." Gunny Smith broadcasted.
"The Doctor informs me that the Transit lacks the juice needed to get us all out of here."
"What's going on, sir?" Haze asked, wide-eyed. "What are you saying?"
"I'm saying someone needs to stay behind."
"Just one person."
None of us knew how to respond to that.
A few people left behind to confront the approaching assault would be acceptable, but to do it all alone was inconceivable. We'd come this far in our mission and it was almost done, but once again we were reminded that there would always be a price paid for the cost of victory.
"Lima Company..." Gunny Smith said aloud. He turned to face us as he began removing his helmet. Unmasked, he gazed upon every face in the room with zero regret visible in his eyes. "The data archives in the other room need to be destroyed along with everything else here. The Doctor has viral scavengers in place, but the Covenant will get here before the job is done, and they cannot have access to that information and chance sending it to the surface. You will go on. You will live to fight another day. I'm staying here to see it gets done."
"Gunny," Haze shouted, "I'll stay here with you!"
"No, you're getting out of here, Private. All of you are." Smith looked on at as many faces as he could. "Only one person needs to stay, and we need as many people fighting as we can, so just carry on, okay?"
The sincerity started to show, now audible in the Gunnery Sergeant's voice as well.
He quickly shoved any vulnerability to the wayside seconds later.
"Only one has to stay, right? That's the Doctor's orders. Might as well be the Gunny. Hell, I'm getting too old for my liking anyway." He finished with a hearty smile, that typical jest outshining his eyes.
But none of us were humored as so many times before.
Anything else going on in the room was immaterial as I watched and listened.
"Don't be fools thinking you can stay here. Just do me one favor. Pay a visit to my family and tell them about the good we did here and about how much time we've given to other worlds."
He turned from us and faced the signal bunker—where the Covenant hordes would inevitably flow from.
I stole a glance at the Doctor's tablet. The last arc from a plasma torch winked off and relinquished itself to the darkness of the Lambda Complex. Shadowy, blurred figures pushed down the door and spilled forth. I could hear the impacting thump echo from beyond as the ravenous flood gushed through the corridors, spreading into all the tributaries of the Lambda Complex like an inexorable plague. They were on their way.
A movement occurred among us, gradually catching on. Charging rods where yanked back in succession and subsequently slapped forward. Various troops readied their rifles in preparation to join the Gunny for the final, proper send-off, but the Doctor quickly stifled our actions.
"Marines, don't move. This might not work if you make any sudden movements." There was a heartfelt pause. "...I'm sorry."
Unfazed, Gunny Smith tossed the heavy helmet on the floor by his feet, unsheathing a shotgun from his rucksack. He then smiled while feeding rounds into the receiver. Smiling steadfast as if returning home from a two-year tour, smelling his long-awaited local cuisine, watching his children laughing in the fields of his estate, which ever planet that was on.
I viewed the Doctor's tablet once more. Was this really about to happen?
The arms of the collective monster effused into the offices, closer and closer. From this distance, through this heavy suit, I could hear them coming. The sick, twisted music.
The creatures of the Covenant were here. Grunts were always the first to go in and the flood gates were opened. Bodies pinged against the metal walls just ahead as they boxed one another out to be the first at a taste for our blood.
"Do not move!"
The Gunny stood straighter, holding his head up high and proud as he spoke into TEAMCOM, uttering into our ears:
"In the Draco III resistance, it was considered a high honor to face down a Covenant death squad. You'd be remembered because you did your soldierly duty. The highest honor was to look them in the eye and smile right before the Grunts and Jackals tore you to pieces."
I couldn't believe this was happening. I was powerless to stop it.
I wholly felt the Gunny's pride in that moment, that unflinching bravado. His posture and his determination as he started off into the signal bunker alone with his weapon drawn seemed as though it could never be exhausted.
"Well, I'm smilin', Marines."
"Give 'em hell, Gunnery Sarge!" Rios shouted, fist-thumping at his chest.
He stepped beyond the threshold and immediately I heard slug rounds violently discharge one after another. There was only a brief moment of silence before a tremendous explosion resounded from ahead, then before the fireball could engulf Lima Company the Lambda Core disappeared from my sight in a brilliant, white flash.