Chapter 16: Revelations
I tucked away the sweat-stained notepad into my cargo pocket. I felt somewhat rested and relaxed inside a Titanium castle on the far side of the moon.
A miniature army of scientists who'd already outsmarted the Covenant and the Marines I'd fought with were my company today, though weighing the losses we suffered staggered my thoughts. Some of the best men and women I knew would no longer fight alongside us, not to mention the slaughter that was the death of an entire planet was still hard to fathom. I caught a reflection of myself in one of the monitors: a smear of eyes, nose, and mouth. I discerned an evil grin from it as I imagined the many different fates an enemy force could meet its end as they simply disappeared, how thankful entire besieged colonies would surely be.
I looked around the bridge, still smiling. White lights flooded the room from above. LEDs blinked on/off among consoles. Technicians and Marines were everywhere, configuring the Thermisticles for what could very well be its maiden voyage to Reach. Most of the ship's occupants bustled with purpose, though my communications duties were somewhat superfluous for the moment. I got to slow down and take everything in for a change. Captain Lawson sat in his chair, a rich swath of antique leather, richly conditioned with an oily sheen. A plethora of controls dotted the armrests. And by his side was the holo-pedestal in which a figure was standing—floating in mid air. I had never seen one before until now, only heard of them.
I stood up and stretched. Soon my shift would end. Another Marine would relieve me of my post and hopefully their shift would be more eventful than mine.
The doctor was at the forefront of the bridge, standing face to face with the thick window. His reflection in the backlit pane was nearly a mirror of himself: a tall, thin man with a balding scalp and thick glasses. His face was partly sunken in, though the strong cheekbones and large, intelligent eyes obscured the true age of this remarkable man. A fellow scientist was beside him. Together, the brilliant minds conversed on pertinent matters, maybe the mission's next steps. A moment of pure concentration went by on his part before catching my own reflection behind his.
"Private Pennington." He turned.
"Doctor, do you know who is to replace me at the comm. console?"
"I'm not sure, Private. I believe it's best to consult your NCOIC for that."
"How long have you had an AI aboard the ship, Doctor?"
"Ever since we discovered the device in the mines. She's been a priceless asset. Deciphered immense amounts of alien encoding for us. Without her…why, we would not have accomplished all this."
"What's her name?"
"I think your replacement is on deck, Private." The Doctor gestured past my shoulder.
I turned around and there was Haze. "See you later, Doc."
"Private..." the Doctor said, stopping me short. I turned to face him. "Before you go, I'd like to speak to you alone, ok?"
"Wait for me in the officers' galley."
I was just about to walk over to Haze and when Amy entered the bridge. She paused at the entrance and assessed the room. I felt the usual intimidation by her mere presence, but the obligation I felt to thank her overwhelmed my uncertainties.
She sensed my approach and looked directly at me. "Hello, Chief, I know how close you and the Gunny were. I'm really sorry. I just wanted to—"
Before I could go on, she threw up that hand. The same hand she gave me back in the Omega Wing. The same hand I got when I tried to be of consolation after some of the most brutal combat we ever experienced as a team. Now, as Lima Company subsisted in total safety yet again, she didn't need or want or care for words.
"I'll be fine." she said, resuming her walk toward the Captain.
I shook off the encounter and met Haze on the way out. He was chuckling under his breath.
"Man, did she chastise you with that one! Good going, Hemingway."
"If it makes you feel any better, I've noticed her become even more of a loner since you came aboard Lima Company." He placed a hand on my shoulder. "Relax, man. You and her...cut from a different block. You couldn't hope to relate to her, bro. Stop trying to get on her level."
"I guess you're right. She's a Spartan, I'm Grunt. Fine with me."
"Yeah. Now you're getting it. Hey check out this helmet art I got." Haze hoisted his cover to eye level.
Magician with a black, velvet coat and top-hat, one of the arms outstretched towards me with an Ace of diamonds protruding from the sleeve. The other arm was pulled inward, cradling a jet-black ball, our prized miracle device. Above the art read Lima Company Illusionists.
"I like it. You my replacement?"
"Right over there. I warmed up the seat for ya."
"How long is the shift?"
"Eight standard hours."
"Then I'm glad you warmed it for me."
"Take care." I spun on a heel and headed out of the command deck and left for the galley.
After a few turns, I found myself at the entrance to the meeting place Kleiner requested. Here, sub-zero refrigerators and microwave ovens lined one entire side of the room. The ceiling was low with exposed venting. Long cafeteria-style tables consumed the center. I grabbed some crackers from a nearby serving basket—stale.
"Ready for some training?" I heard Kleiner say as he entered the mess hall.
"What's going on?' I asked.
"I'm training a select few Marines with the Transit. There may come a time when I'm unable to use it."
"What do you mean, unable?"
"If something catastrophic should happen, you won't be confused when it comes time to operate it. We're ensuring success if we prepare ourselves for anything."
"Okay, do we train here?"
"Yes, I'm going to give it to you now. Do not deviate from my instructions."
"Okay." I stepped closer to the Doctor. He held the black ball aloft at shoulder height.
I wrapped both hands around it. Other than coolness, I felt nothing else. He let it go and it was heavier than I expected. Though the size of a grapefruit, it handled like a bowling ball. It felt incredibly dense; suspicion of indestructibility came over me. I could see my reflection on its surface. My face distorted with the activity inside, crawling and oozing with a darkness black as space. I rotated it around in my hand. Colors came into view, contrasted nicely against the jet-black. There were reds, blues, greens, and yellows; arrowhead shapes and dots.
"Wave your hand over the Transit."
I complied, swayed a palm over its surface and an image came to life as if surfacing from inside. It was the room. The galley was on display inside the Transit.
"Now," Doctor Kleiner said, "You can populate the display with organic and inorganic objects if you desire. We will move that chair from on top of that table to the hall outside, about ten meter's distance. There should be a red arrow symbol somewhere. Do you see it?"
"Touch it and hold down. Drag it to the chair and let go."
I did so. I took the red arrow and placed it on top of the plastic chair, then let it go. The icon hovered over the chair. "Okay, done."
"Now, look at the two yellow circles off to the side. Choose the larger one. It's a scalar. You can zoom in or out with those two. Tap the topmost one just once.
I did so and the view expanded, revealing more of the Thermisticles' interior. It had everything mapped. I could see outside the galley and into the nearby hallway where the chair's destination would be. "Done."
"Press and hold the red arrow again. It now turns blue and you can drag it to your destination. Let it go when you are done."
I took hold of the chair once more, resting lifelessly atop the table. I placed a finger on it, dragged its blue vector behind the hatch of the galley, and let it go.
The chair disappeared. A muffled clattering came an instant later just behind the bulkhead, the chair falling to the deck from mid air.
"Good, Private Pennington. Very good. Now we will practice multi-target relocation."
"I'm going to transit more than one object?"
"Yes. How does four chairs sound?"
"Sounds great, Doctor. I'm ready."
"Then choose your four. Place a red arrow over each, zoom out to see your end objective, then tap that point in space twice. All four should relocate to your desired set of coordinates."
Four arrows, one destination. Two taps and they all vanished from the galley. A quartet of plastic rattles rang in report on the other side. It was easier than I thought. But I wondered…how much energy did that consume? It was said that it took all of a nuclear reactor's might just to teleport Lima Company and the others from the Lambda Core. And it still wasn't enough. One person was left behind. I closed my eyes and tried not to wonder what might've happened to Gunny Smith in those final moments.
Then, a strange sight caught me eye in the black sphere: a faint, purple glow—lighting on and off rhythmically like an interstellar pulsar.
"Doctor, what is this purple dot in the Transit?"
"That? I believe that's an indicator to the operator that no more energy exists and that it needs re-energizing."
"If you wish to cancel a jump, simply wave your hand over the display as if you were initializing it. And that concludes training of the Singular-Point Field Effect Manipulator. Do you have any questions?"
"I guess not. You explained it well."
"Do you feel you've mastered it? If asked to use it in a combat situation, do you feel you could use it with confidence?"
"Yes, Doctor. I believe I can."
"Good. Because there may be a time when the need arises."
"Who else will you teach it to?"
"Not many. The Captain requested your name specifically, along with one alternate who shall remain nameless."
"Why me as the primary? Why not someone with higher rank and higher tenure in Lima Company?"
"You were one of the two chosen because Lima Company has no officers. It's likely it will remain that way unless the Captain commissions someone at the upcoming award ceremony. There were some well-qualified NCOs in your unit, but none that were college-educated."
"I don't think I understand? Having a degree in something makes me qualified to use this?"
Kleiner nodded, his eyes widening. "In the most important way, yes, it qualified you. You've shown initiative. You've shown you can see something through to its end, something that took sacrifice and dedication and a delayed reward. You can multitask and prioritize. But the Captain seems to think you're a natural-born leader, also. He's parsed through some of Lima Company's after actions reports and mission footage while Rosetta and everyone else has been prepping the ship, and he's beginning to know more about who's who."
"I'll use it to the best of my abilities."
"I have a good feeling you will, and I don't often stake outcomes on feelings. Your neuro-genetics are surpassed only by the Spartan's, so you're more than physically capable. You've earned the Captain's trust so far. As for me, I've fulfilled my obligations to him and this mission. I've already instructed the alternate to take possession only if you are incapable of operating it. If you have any questions or concerns, do not hesitate to contact me."
"Ok, Doctor. Thanks. Who's the alternate?"
"That's beyond your need to know." Kleiner shrugged. "Better that way, yes?"
"And they'll have a close eye on you. Get some sleep. You've had a rough few days."I proceeded to my quarters after Kleiner exited the room. I felt a subtle thumping in my chest. Adrenaline was still lingering in my system, but the walk to my bunk calmed me down enough that I could start to think about rest. I entered the room and immediately I slid under the covers, and I began to think. I thought about the day the human race would unite in celebration as we claimed victory against our common enemy.