Hi, welcome to Halo Fanon!Please log in to edit this wiki.Joining Wikia is free, and it only takes a minute.We hope that you sign in, and become a member of the community!Click here to join this wiki You can view and copy the source of this page. ==='''Chapter Four: Critical Failure'''=== :<big><u>'''Merlin'''</u></big> :'''0906 Hours, 28 October 2558''' :'''Test Station ''Tsiolkovsky''''' :'''Wealthian Territory, Joint-Occupation Zone''' When he yanked Andra's Smart AI from the heavily damaged server equipment parked at the center of the ''Tsiolkovsky's'' combat intelligence center, Merlin was barely conscious. His eyes saw nothing. His body and mind worked on autopilot, running the chip between shaky fingers, guiding it sloppily to the back of his helmet. Andra's grenade injury was grievous and on his mind. She tackled a frag for his sake, got hurt for his mistake. Her safety depended heavily on setting RUNIT DOME's second phase into motion. The ongoing burn in every nerve was blinding, almost overwhelming; the only thing he could think on was his best friend's face and the acquisition of the AI storage chip. The steel-colored chip with its translucent-transparent blue center clacked against the base of his helmet as he fiddle-guided it toward the insertion slip where it clicked into place. Merlin heard a sigh of relief though he was uncertain if it was his or someone else's. Focusing in on the new neural sensation, his initial thought regarded the experience was, ''different''. It was chilling, like a face full of ice-cold water but inside his skull; he shook his head as the color and sound of things around him sharpened but his vision remained blurred. From a kneeling position next to the giant mainframe computer, Merlin rose on shaky legs. Spurned on by the sensory boost, he pushed forward to find Andra in the chaos of a collapsing space station. "''You can do it. Reach her.''" He squinted through his blurry eyes, defined by colors like gray, white, and black, to no avail. Andra's armor color was essentially that, how was he supposed to find her in this? "''Breathe Merlin.''" The Spartan breathed; it didn't clear his vision, but it increased his resolve and lessened his panic. He didn't really know who was talking in that faint whisper but it relaxed him. It warmed him, propelling him forward. A blue indicator light flashed and then flickered into a fuzzy circle off in the distance on his armor visor. A waypoint, Merlin realized, and he pushed on towards it. His footing was sluggish, each step proving an uncertain and precarious operation, passing one leg to the next. He couldn't see the ground and the pain of gravitational distortion, according, vaguely to his bodily organs and nerves, proved a hefty challenge to take on. "''Keep going, you're almost there.''" He passed through pockets of finely-powdered glass, thrashed by an asteroid-quake, from destroyed terminal screens. The dust clicked and rattled against his armor, vibrating erratically with the distorted gravitational forces. Between blindness and the pain, Merlin focused only on the blue light ahead. A mantra in that encouraging, possibly feminine voice, echoed in his mind, one from his training days as a Spartan trainee. "''Slow is steady. Steady is fast. Slow and steady win the race.''" One foot in front of the other and vice versa. Merlin practically tripped over Andra upon reaching his single-minded destination. "Ugh…" Andra groaned in pain as Merlin toppled over her and they collapsed into a body-pile of armor and tangled limbs. "An-Andra?" Merlin asked uncertainty while collecting himself. Her response was a yellow-alert-flash on his team status roster. She was alive, at the very least. Merlin pulled himself up from Andra's chest plate, grabbing her shoulder before directing, "Alright, we're going to try a fireman's carry. Can you do that for me?" "Y-yeah," Andra stammered through gritted teeth. She shuffled her trembling shoulders in acknowledgment. She laid limp in his arms while he scrambled for a method for lifting her painlessly onto his back. Another pained groan escaped her lips but Merlin could see her blurry legs now, dancing within a clutched arm-grip, wrapping around him. She lacked precise muscle control but she was functioning nonetheless. "Don't bite down; I don't want you losing teeth." She hummed in agitation at the comment. "What now…?" Merlin asked, more to himself than Andra. The panicky sensation was returning, driven by the lack of direction and near-blindness. Apparently, Andra and maybe her AI had a response to his self-inquiry. Another blue, fuzzy circle appeared in the distance, what looked to be the CIC's far wall, as Andra called out, "Far wall…" "What's…there?" Merlin wheezed out, squelching his own muscles against the elements working against him. Gravity, Andra's weight, sensory deprivation, nerve spasm, muscle pain. He felt like the mythical Titan god, Atlas, given the punishment to hold Heaven's weight upon his shoulders. The voice came again, reminding him of his old unit motto. Team Boson. "''If I cannot bend the will of Heaven, I will move Hell.''" It was right. He huffed repeatedly and began his trek forward to whatever it was. Without knowing, what Andra or her Smart AI saw, he was in the dark. However, he had faith in Andra to guide them home. She was always the sharper-eyed one anyway. That unit motto stuck with him though, settling in his mind as he wobbled his way in the gray-scaled psychedelic trip around him. It used to motivate him in the training days; it did the same today. The original meaning was lost on him; however, the claim of not being able to do one impossible thing meant he might as well try another. Keep fighting. That's what it meant at this moment. Therefore, he did. He kept fighting. Andra's sporadic rasping gave way for a coherent phrase, "Escape pods." Merlin approached closer, and eventually, his swimming vision parted for boxy-looking structures protruding from the far wall at an angle. A few steps closer, and he could see their forms and the beginnings of intricate details like written warnings in Russian and individual buttons and levers. Overhead, dull-red warning lights danced in rotary patterns against the titanium walls. Sirens whined just out earshot. A drawling female voice spoke in the quirky Colonial Russian pseudo-dialect, sounding in mild distress. Merlin didn't need to decipher the complex language to recognize the clear and present danger. He was in the muck of it. The ten longest seconds of Merlin's life ended. His nervous system heaved hotly upon planting a hand against the wall as if he touched a magical power source. The weight of the world fell away and he gasped sweet, sweet air as it raced back into his lungs. He collapsed onto one knee in relief, nearly dropping Andra on the way down. Merlin matched her rapid, graceful gasps for oxygen as they breathed in harmony, gleefully enjoying the respite. The unimaginable pain they both suffered had lulled. They were free; the pain had been so bad, any injury they previously incurred, retreated into a dull throb. Merlin kept his grasp on Andra, but shimmied her down his back, allowing her to settle against a pod apparatus for support. He hugged her cautiously, a part of him still uncertain if the violent distortions were over. "Merlin…" Andra whispered breathlessly, her voice turning impossibly quiet. "The scientists…" He swiveled his helmet at her comment, maybe a little too fast as he almost toppled over. Even in her injured state, Andra steadied him by clasping his shoulder. Beyond the two disorientated Spartans rested a chaotic field of destruction, transformed by the will of a most primal force. Merlin blinked rapidly, allowing his stressed capillaries to readjust to the room before him. Crushed terminal stations. Glass from computer screens warped into vapor-like dust that hugged the air as if a sparkling fog. Support and floor structures dented in vigorous ways more akin to crumpled paper than metal. Bodies were strewn across the floor with their clothing and surroundings splattered in deep reds and pinks. Some of the blood-and-gut-paste left trails behind bodies along the floor, evidence that under the immense pressure, some of the people still willed themselves to survive, if only for a little longer. "They're all dead," Merlin whispered. "Dead or dying." Had it not been for their armor, maybe Merlin and Andra would have been bloody pulps too. Merlin shivered at the thought. "What do you think happened?" Andra looked to Merlin's helmeted face for an answer. A small indicator tab slid onto Merlin's heads-up display with an innocent, little measurement. 10.61 G. Ten Gravities. Merlin repeated the number, "Ten Gravities." "What?" "We were pummeled with Ten G's of force. For… Three minutes? We should be dead…" "Our armor protected us," Andra concluded. Merlin nodded in silence. While the Spartans collected themselves, they noted quiet tremors echoing beneath their feet. The sirens and speakers had ceased now, probably more broken than off. It was in that brief period that Merlin remembered he was on a mission and he fired off a brief radio burst, hoping his signal would punch through the radio-resistant walls of Test Station Tsiolkovsky. "''One Big Mama, Myself''. Confirm." Quiet static was Merlin's only radio companion then. A quiet he did not welcome. Everything about this mission went wrong. The continued lack of response from the UNSC ''Black Caviar'' made it no better. "You need to go, Andra," Merlin said, now lifting her up again with some effort. "I'm not getting any messages from or to the ''Caviar'', you're injured – best you get a message out once you're clear of here." Merlin tapped the emergency launch-release button next to the nearest escape pod causing the hatch to peel back, revealing a cramped, coffin-like interior. Andra shook her head and shuffled in Merlin's arms as he laid her down in the pod, bridal-style. "I-I'm still able enough, and what-whatever you got planned next, with all that's happened already, I don't think leaving you alone is the best idea." "You don't even know what my plan is, to begin with," Merlin softly countered, he had yet to remove his hands from beneath her battered armor. "But I know you…" Andra continued, gingerly. "You may have been the intelligence-guy back when we were all still together, but none of Boson were pushovers either. If I have no plan, you probably have little more than that, Merlin! Whatever you're planning, it's better I keep—augh!" Merlin's arms wrapped protectively around Andra's abdomen as she keeled over again in pain, ceasing her train of thought. Her rapid-fire words had done her in. Pushing her gently and fully into the pod's interior, Merlin retreated a step from his best friend. "You're really not in any condition to help Andra, whether your suit has you doped up on meds now or not. We came to secure that information. Let me check the Innies, it will only take a few minutes. Get out of here, tell the Caviar what happened, I'll be out shortly." "That's what the AI was for, dumb-dumbass…" Andra retorted between painful coughs. "Nothing like human intelligence," Merlin replied, glancing to the strewn out expanse of dead and dying scientists. Andra didn't say anything, wrapping herself into a protective ball. Her helmet directed away from Merlin, silent. The male Spartan stood aloof, struggling to formulate a response to placate and reassure his friend. The half-baked thought never left his lips, however, when another tremor rumbled beneath his feet. Merlin glanced toward the trashed space station CIC and watched as powdered glass and metal shrapnel floated off the floor before returning to the ground. The phenomenon came in waves, washing over the debris and the Spartans repeatedly. Each distortion of gravity came like a gut-punch, forcing Merlin an inch back with every surge. Andra tightened in on herself, squirming as purred whimpers echoed off her lips. Merlin growled in agitation but found no respite as each wave came with a rise in severity. Merlin switched off his standalone mode and fired off a network handshake request with Andra's own cybernetic implant. Her response was instantaneous, opening up her mind to him. The neural connection sputtered with jarring excitement as Merlin's agitation collided with rolling tides from Andra's growing panic. Caught off guard at first, he trod water in her fear. He fired off the most assuring sensation he could muster in the time split; Andra responded by rolling over in his direction within the escape pod interior. Resolve flared from her end of the connection, a silent thought. ''Go. Do what you need to.'' "You need to go now," Merlin vocalized, pausing for a breath. He attempted to say more but slammed into the facility wall instead. "Merlin!" Andra shouted in alarm, reaching out in desperation but retracted as the waves reached previous intensities, forcing the two Spartans to double over once more. The distorted floor ruptured, split by a giant metallic-looking protrusion that rose from the asteroid depths below. The distortions emanating from the object, levitating debris in patterned melodic ways. "Go! Now Andra! Go!" Merlin yelled to her as his vision began to blur again. Panic snaked up both ends of the neural network but Andra got the message, finally prioritizing her safety and the mission. She crash-laid back into the pod and with an interior button press, the hatch sealed her in. Merlin watched from his seated position as her pod gave off a ''pop-hiss'' start then rocketed out of its harness, out to dark space beyond. She was going…gone. Merlin felt, grasped at the last strands of the shared neural net until Andra disappeared beyond reach. What took a second felt like a century and then she wasn't there anymore. He was alone now. "''Merlin. Stand up. You need to.''" The whisper came back with a pinch of urgency. If Merlin didn't know better, the voice almost sounded panicked too. "Yeah, I figured that…" Merlin chuckled darkly to the voice. Even though he agreed with it, and in a joking manner, he didn't budge. He couldn't will himself through the pain. "''Merlin. Please.''" When he did nothing, the voice eventually retreated into silence. The pain was just too raw; he dedicated too much to Andra's escape, he needed another rest. Somehow, between the distortion waves, he found the inner calm to catch his breath in shallow groupings. It was like treading water. Like when Andra taught him to swim early into Spartan training, one of those rare moments where she actually exhibited skills above the low standards expected by the drill instructors. Oh, how she proved them all wrong, blossoming into her best, only a couple years later. The memory of Andra shouting encouraging words to Merlin as he panicked between gulps of water warmed his heart. There he found his drive to fight once again. He rose, once more onto shaking legs and for once, his swimmy vision retreated to a satisfactory level. He could see, hear. He could fight. Maybe it was his resolve, or maybe, more likely, the waves were retreating in intensity again. "''That's it. You can do it. Rise.''" Merlin's eyes focused in on the distortions' origin point, the protruding metallic structure from before. Once past the blurriness and the burning in his eyes, he jumped back, startled. He wasn't standing atop stable ground anymore. The space station was in tatters, pieces. Metal sheets and reinforcement columns floated sporadically through gravity eddies and invisible currents around him. Beyond cracks in the destroyed station walls, he could even see the darkness of open space. The protrusion was a much more complete, kilometer-tall object now. A samurai-like helm stared down at Merlin with wide fluorescent-blue eyes and glowing bits. Jagged, sword-like teeth bared at him within a predatory, alien grin. Its body was made of metal, maybe. The strange material glinted and fizzled as if not entirely complete. It appeared as if the surface particles were moving rapidly at the microscope level. Very few things made Merlin freeze in fear. Mostly because he was inexperienced, but this? This was something entirely different. Alien. Beastly. Monstrous. A true-to-life leviathan. Merlin was facing down a true cosmic horror. He didn't tinkle himself but he wished he did for the sake of distraction. He froze stiff as those unflinching eyes bored down upon him, unblinking and dead. The former floor had transformed into a cliff's edge, leaving Merlin without many maneuvering options. ''Tsiolkovsky's'' artificial gravity generators had given up some time ago, according to the free-floating blood in Merlin's veins. The only thing keeping him upright now was his resolve, turned to panic, and his magnetic boots. The stare down didn't last much longer though. Smaller metallic creatures, vaguely resembling four-legged ants but the size of wolves crawled into view between the giant machine's skeletal plates towards Merlin. An osmosis collision of oxygenated and vacuum environments robbed Merlin of his natural hearing but he watched the giant metalloid ants snap their heads back and about, flaring their pseudo-jaws and heads as if sniffing the air. When they tilted their heads up and vibrated their beak-like mouths, he imagined them expressing unearthly, mechanical screeches. While he didn't recognize the giant starship-sized horror, he recognized its affiliation. The resemblance was uncanny under further consideration, but the appearance of Promethean Crawlers was a deciding hint. Forerunner, the machine was Forerunner. His first proper introduction to the Forerunners, up close. Of course, they had to destroy the place – that seemed to be a running theme with their technology. "You guys really trashed this place, my mission…" Merlin grumbled at them, of course, they couldn't hear him, much less understand him. He bared his teeth at the ancient machines, feeling a sense of uncertainty ebbing in his bones, beyond the existential pain brought on by the gravity waves. From the few data drops delivered to Ferret Team Boson over the last year, all Promethean war machines were to be engaged on sight and were susceptible to concentrated gunfire. He yanked the scavenged MA5C rifle off his back and slapped it into his other hand, leveling it in the general direction of the Crawlers. Quickly shifting between the hosts of potential targets, he wavered putting his finger on the trigger and engaging. The giant machine and Crawlers weren't outright attacking him. The distortion waves were still waxing and waning and that might play havoc on his combat performance. Alternatively, his weapon might fail him. There were many variables at play here. Ultimately, Merlin's decision fell to outside forces. The Crawlers kneeled and sprung from their crawling patterns on the giant Forerunner machine and onto the debris field floating about. They continued to patrol and scout out their surroundings as their design mandated supposedly, however, two jumped right at Merlin and caution disappeared with them. His finger yanked down on the trigger and Merlin let loose the fresh magazine of thirty-caliber bullets. The gun kicked in his arms but he barely felt it as orange sparks danced across the closest Crawler's lunging form. Holes, glowing with orange light, rippled into giant cracks on its body before it finally gave in and the machine exploded into particles and twisted metal. The Crawler's body slowed as its inertia did and it eventually zoomed off to join the rotating currents of space station debris. Half his magazine spent, Merlin let go of the MA5C's trigger and ducked as the second Crawler zoomed over his head and planted itself against the wall to his back. "Shit," Merlin cursed and rolled to the side. He locked in on the second Crawler and wasted the rest of his magazine into it. It crumpled under the onslaught and joined its fallen brother in the maelstrom. Taking two more steps back, Merlin clambered over Andra's spent escape pod launcher and moved to the next one along the wall. Leaning atop the tube, he twirled the MA5C while pushing down on the magazine release. The spent container zipped out of the rifle's magazine well and joined the space station debris, taken by the gravity currents. Merlin slapped a new magazine in and smacked the charging handle as more Crawlers zeroed in on his position and began to stalk toward him through the swirling debris field. If Merlin hadn't been a threat to them before, he was definitely one now. The Spartan continued to engage them with sporadic gunfire while slapping the wall behind him, blindly searching for the pod door release. He refused to die like this, biting off more than he could chew. He owed himself that; he owed Andra that. Crawlers splashed into orange bursts of light, crumbling under Merlin's continuous gunfire but instead of targeting him with their own mouth-held weapons or even jumping him, they corrected course and landed meters from his position, once more among unstable columns of debris. Merlin's rifle ceased firing again, once again spent. He quickly reloaded but stopped engaging, realizing the Crawlers weren't looking to him anymore. They were actually trotting and jumping away, finding more interest in something else. In a second split, he was already an afterthought. His eyes trailed after the Crawlers, following their united paths and gazes to a distant blurry object hiding among the debris field. It was unlike the metallic blacks and whites that dominated the rest of his surroundings; instead, it was a rust-like brown. Very different from the other Wealthian architecture around him. And then it flared harshly, as blinding as a nuclear flash, actually blinding Merlin even as he threw up a hand and his helmet polarized fully to withstand the light. For a very real second, Merlin thought it was a nuclear weapon. This was going to be his grave after all. On the other hand, a second passed and he wasn't radioactive toast. There was a lot of light, an apparent radiation spike, and he didn't go splat against a wall or anything. His boots remained locked to the floor. Instead, the gravity distortions suddenly ceased with a very audible ''pop''. Merlin still couldn't see, or rather, his entire vision was dark. He wasn't blind. His armor was functioning and his visor was only partially polarized. Merlin willed an environmental scanner sheet to pop up on his heads-up display. His eyes skimmed the digital page looking for anything particular but found nothing. Then he did, his eyes freezing on a certain radiation reading. ''Cherenkov radiation''. Another ''pop''. Another flash. Merlin shielded his eyes again to no success, but this time he felt an extreme sucking sensation and his vision filled with an intense onslaught of colorful light. Natural gravity took hold again, spinning around him. Merlin kept his eyes shut but recognized the dominating color just outside of his eyelids as blue. A deep, sky blue. A low whistling roared in his ears as gusts whipped around his combat armor. He felt himself falling but didn't dare look. Blue still dominated the seeping light show outside. Merlin hit something hard. His dulled aches returned, flaring in agitation before dulling again into a deep, sluggish soup. Everything faded into black, and remained like that, for a long while. <center>'''. . .'''</center> Merlin's dreams echoed with the cacophony of gunfire and battle. Andra was kneeling behind him, her M395 DMR pounding away bullet after bullet, while he held up a curved Forerunner-style shield constructed from blue-colored hard light, protecting them both. "Another frag," Andra yelled-groaned as a small pineapple-style M9 grenade flew out from behind a toppled server box. Two bullets zipped at the explosive, one missing, the other finding its target. The grenade popped into a burst of smoke and light but little else as the bullet smashed the casing before the chemical fuse could detonate. Merlin expected another burst of hostile gunfire from the Wealthian unit hunkered down before them. He didn't expect the second grenade. "Grenade!" Andra shouted in alarm before she started jittering about; kicking her legs to press herself further into the cubical for cover. The disjointed, amateurish behavior caught Merlin off guard and he looked back to his teammate out of concern. Rookie mistake. The little orb rolled between Merlin's legs and past his shield, collecting itself between the kneeling Merlin and sitting Andra. "Oh shit!" Merlin panicked. He bailed forward as his hard light shield collapsed into nothing. Caught in a frenzy, his brain could do nothing but yell at him about how screwed he was. Andra in her own confounded fit lunged forward. Landing right on the grenade, she pressed her stomach and arms around it to form a rudimentary container. The grenade exploded with a nasty crackle like fireworks, causing a ringing to erupt in Merlin's ears. He couldn't hear but he saw it all, looking back. The smoke, the little bits of zipping shrapnel, Andra's energy shields collapsing in a sparkling-golden display. A heart-wrenching, primal scream of pain escaped her lips as little holes and cuts formed in her suit's soft sections. Pellets popped beneath her skin, leaving deep gashes through tissue and muscle. Her armor stopped the pressure wave but couldn't protect her from the shaped steel. All Merlin could do was rise on his knees from the ground, refocus his hard light shield while gunfire erupted before him again. He blocked the bullets but looked back to his fallen friend, attempting to scream her name. Nothing came out. Her gasping screams just continued, on and on it went until it sounded the same as white noise. Merlin could do nothing but watch, frozen, as she shuddered in pain, just out of reach. He couldn't protect her. She just withered there, stuck and alone. She shouldered it all alone, her pain, and his pain. He failed her. "''Merlin.''" That whisper was back. "''Merlin!''" What? What did it want? "''Wake up!''" "Uh…uh…Ugh! What-what is it?" Merlin sluggishly woke with a start, feeling his arms push through the thick space around him. It felt resistant, like a deep soup. He startled himself half to death when a light-orange-and-green tropical fish zipped by his helmet visor and into the deep blue yonder beyond. Deep blue yonder. Bubbles of gas rose from his slow, imprecise movements towards an endless lighter-blue film above. A sparkling circle danced above the waves, beyond them. Merlin was beneath an ocean. "''We need to move now, Spartan!''" That urgent whisper again. What was that? The AI? Merlin looked around him for the source of the voice but he didn't get far. "''Forget about that right now. You need to go a hundred and thirty-two meters to your right, right now! We've got a pair of water bogeys inbound.''" "Bogeys?" "''Listen!''" Merlin went silent, doing so. Drawn out ''clicks'', ''zaps'', and ''zips''. Complex noise patterns. "Yeah, what about it?" "''What do you think? It's Morse code!''" "What do—" He listened a little closer and noted the drawn-out noises included rapid short notes as well. They sounded intentional, detailed. Short and long to designate certain letters and numbers. Morse code. He wasn't exactly sure what the 'bogeys' were saying but it was enough to get his ass moving. Merlin sprinted, or whatever sprinting entailed, three stories beneath the ocean's surface moving at a snail's pace in a half-ton suit of titanium. It took a long time, pushing through the thick blue shifting into a cool brown. He climbed over metal debris, rocks, and coral. He passed through undersea sand dunes and clouds of disturbed dust. He clambered up a sheer cliff face. He marched over sandbars and through thigh-deep water and sticky submarine sands that dragged his armored boots. Frantic, confused, and tired. Merlin limped toward a beach guarded by a thick line of pointy trees. If not in his delirious state, he might have claimed it a tropical paradise; whether true or not was another matter. His vision was swimming again; he could feel the burning weakness in his muscles, in his bones. He focused in on reaching the white-sanded beach. Step by step. He collapsed finally, one metal boot punched into wet sand and another just barely underwater, submerged and surrounded by awash seashells. He slipped, collapsed onto his side, quivering and breathing heavily. Just breathing, he focused then on that. The gentle, feminine whisper returned once more. "''Shh, Merlin. You're all right now; you're safe. I'll keep watch. Sleep. Shh.''" <center>[[Halo:_Lonely_Frontier#Halo:_Lonely_Frontier|''Return to Top'']]</center> Return to Halo: Lonely Frontier. Retrieved from "https://halofanon.fandom.com/wiki/Halo:_Lonely_Frontier"