Chapter 8: Interception

I trotted to a position behind Amy, pointing my shotgun ill-manneredly down the length of the corridor.

As she switched off the servo motors and the motion detectors, I switched on the brand-new NVGs, silently thanking those who'd endowed Lima Company with such a robust supply run. We were equipped stronger than before, though the darkness of the corridor we now faced was a reminder that reinforcements weren't coming.

Once she finished with the autoturret, we crept down the first passage—just a simple, straight stretch with no detours. At the end was a single turn to the left at ninety degrees. I looked behind me at the two Marines pushing a dolly laden with sheets of titanium-A battle plate and a few arc welders, and further—the other teams that would soon part ways with us and pursue their own sub-objectives. The dollys' casters made much noise as they transitioned over sections of flooring. It squandered what stealth we needed. Nonetheless, we had our orders. The scientists were the top priority now that the bigger threat was eliminated.

Amy and I approached the first junction, proceeded ahead of the team to make sure the next hall was clear of hostile activity.

She slowly peaked around the corner and gave an encouraging wave to fall in. I stepped around the elbow and into the new hallway—and all the light emanating from the safety of the Omega Wing abruptly vanished from sight. The faint outlines of ceiling tiles, office doors at regular intervals, and the occasional drinking fountain recessed into an alcove displayed shadows of their own. Grate covers were scattered about the ground. Small holes littered the walls where Lima Company had unloaded into the enemy's dwellings. The dust from the skirmish had long settled. Now, there was only silence.

Plasma weaponry had discharged here as well, the styrocrete veil burned away in large patches, the steel framework scored beneath. Another battle had transpired.

"Anyone recall enemy fire here?"

"No one answered me."

"...Didn't think so." I whispered.

A mutiny within the Covenant's ranks? It was highly probable with only the Grunts and other small species of the Covenant remaining here, no real leadership elements to guide them. With their mission in shambles, no more reachback and no lines of communication to their command, they'd lost everything. But there were no bodies to be found.

We pressed on.

I consulted my electronic copy of the blueprints and directed welding specialists as needed. Marines took up covering positions for the them, their shotgun barrels resting inside the duct openings. I focused as far as I could through the void—nothing. Amy was calm as ever with apparently no enemy movements registering ahead. Time was progressing in our favor. Two vents sealed up with Titanium-A.

We proceeded further down this black hall.

A minute more of walking slowly, tactically, and another pair of open vents needed tending to. The sputtering of the welding torches helped. Sparks hissed and cracked and flashes of light danced right with the shadows very far into the barren corridor. I gripped the barrel and butt stock tighter, ready to engage at a moment's notice. The sweat slid between the weapon and my palms and oozed between my fingers.

I glimpsed behind me at the progress the teams were making. The light from the arc was somewhat too bright, saturating my optics with quantizing noise, which I had to be careful about. Though the in-built logic circuits would automatically compensate, I still attenuated the light input of the photocells to counteract the intense glare bouncing off walls, making sure counter-inductive electronics lessened the RFI pixelizing my display. It was the only visual aid for each Marine.

The fiesta of light instantly stopped. Another two vents completed. Ahead, two halls stemming left and right. I remembered this place. We'd ran full speed through it soon after it all went dark. I motioned for additional Marines to cover one hall while Amy and I covered the other. Another couple of minutes and two more vents were sealed. We wasted no time moving on to the next set of targets, capitalizing on our current progress.

Together, we slowly crept around yet another elbow. Amy froze in mid-stride like some stalking predator that was detected. She threw up a swift fist high in the air and a red diamond flashed in my HUD. Stop.

There was not a sound.

We kept absolutely quiet and still until she gave the order to do otherwise. I even caught myself holding my breath, my wind all bunched up at the bottom of my lungs. I let it out slowly and breathed back in just as deliberately, gazing downrange and deep into the hall. I saw nothing—absolutely nothing.

I pinged her once with amber. Status?

A quick two-pulse of the same came back. Wait.

I flashed back a quick green. Copy that.

I waited. I didn't like waiting.

She knelt…odd.

She then opened a low-emission comm. channel to all of us. "Check your RAD counters. See that?"

I activated a spectrum analyzer program and used the HUD as the display. Instantly, masking my entire HUD was a brilliant white. Pure radiation of immense magnitude somewhere in the terahertz range, maybe IR. The amplitude readings were cast way above the electronics' limits.

"A nuke?"

"I don't think so." Amy replied. "According to blueprints, this sector of the complex has no nuclear reactor or any fissile materials storage. And this is way too bright for that."

"Any guess?"

"I could guess," she cautioned, "but this changes our objective. We have to investigate."

She stood back up. My screen went nearly quiet. Over half the radiation disappeared from my view while white lines of flux curled around her outlines and swirled toward the ceiling, the Spartan's shields caught in an invisible vortex.

She led us to a nearby door to an office. We each took our positions and brought up on either side of the frame, waiting for her signal to breach. Amy slid a fiber optic probe underneath the door sill, flexed it around a little, and patched it into her suit. She turned and gave a thumbs up and casually opened the door with a twist of the knob. It was a very small office room—about ten by ten. Some storage closet. There was no desk or computer terminal or chair. It was just an empty room aside from a Covenant device that occupied its center.

Some sort of striated, redish-purple rectangle, standing on its long end. Shooting upwards from it was an intense ruby-red beam—almost painful to look at. I set my optics to full polarization. Amy's automatically did so. The image I saw earlier nearly burnt out the HUD's receivers. Now we were inside the room. Not wanting to risk breaking my new equipment, I was content to cover my eyes with my own hand.

Through the gap between my fingers, I could make out the hole in the ceiling that was blasted away by some high-impact plasma discharge. The Covenant apparently wanted that obstacle gone so this apparatus could broadcast its energy straight up into the sky unimpeded. Only one kind of weapon was compact enough and powerful enough to clear ceiling away.

"Amy, I think we've got Hunters inside."

She acknowledged coolly, "Roger."

She studied the room and the device. Shallow rays of light bent inward through the oculus above, lighting the contraption well. I tapped a knuckle on its surface and it rang hollow. The powerful beam made me nervous. Something this powerful could traverse half the galaxy with ease.

"I'm thinking 'you know who' is on the other end of this thing." Lawrence said.

I nodded.

Too much time went by. I motioned for myself and the other two Marines with me to step outside and cover the hall while Amy continued her scrutiny of the high-powered device. Only a moment later, Amy emerged from the room holding a fist-sized stone in hand, motioning the order to fall back and regroup with the welders. A quick glance back into the room and there was no light emanating from the Covenant equipment anymore. She'd somehow disabled it.

The welders had made exceptional progress in our absence. Through their heavily-tinted masks, they could easily sense our anxiety. The security and comfort of Omega Wing was on all our minds. To our relief, the rest of the mission went unscathed. The last of the target vent shafts were sealed within minutes and we soon found ourselves double-timing it back to the heavily fortified entry of Omega Wing.

We cleared the threshold and the weight lifted off my shoulders at the sight of Marines and Scientists, Gunnery Sergeant Smith waving us onward. I took a deep breath and looked around, praying that this kind of luck would hold out for the next team of escorts. First team was already passing us by and disappearing into the yawning darkness. Camouflage uniforms and white lab coats scurried away and became one with the black.

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