Virtual Reality: Halobyfieryjen©
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Author's Notes: This is a part of the Virtual Reality chain story started by FallingtoFly, whom I would like to thank for the idea.
Toby was sitting on the couch when I got home, eyes unblinking and fixed on the TV screen. The only movement I could detect was his fingers, relentlessly pressing buttons on the controller. His blond hair was tousled; he probably hadn't taken a shower this morning.
"Toby," I called. "Do your homework."
"No!" he said, and I rolled my eyes. Typical. The boy was failing almost all of his classes, and still, all he did was play videogames. Either it was Diablo on the computer, or Halo on the X-box. At least he was flexible, using whatever I didn't need to use at the moment, but that was the least he could do since I let him crash on my couch for free.
"Damn it, Toby," I said when I had taken off my coat and dropped onto the couch next to him. "They'll actually throw you out if you don't show massive improvement this semester."
Toby only shrugged, continuing his game undisturbed. We had been friends for a while, and I had gotten used to his various annoying habits, but I still hated it when he ignored me while playing his games. He had lived here for two months now, thankfully moving in after the two people he had shared his apartment with had refused to pay their share of the electricity bill for the second month in a row. He was poor, like most college students, and hadn't been able to afford his own place. He gladly did the dishes and cleaned whenever I asked that of him, but it stopped at him doing his homework. Being three years older, I felt obligated to take over the parental role in this regard, but I didn't seem to make a very good substitute mom.
Toby had finally paused the game, and actually turned in my direction.
"Co-op?" he asked hopefully.
"You're driving me crazy," I let him know, but grabbed the second controller nonetheless. While I was still annoyed with him for spending way too much time with his X-box, I couldn't deny that he had gotten me to enjoy playing one or the other game. While I still didn't have half as much skill as he did when it came to Halo, I didn't hinder him either, and he seemed to be happy that he could share his love of the game with me to some extend.
Toby saved his progress and restarted the game. During that time, I sighed and reviewed the various buttons on the controller. Move, this stick. Look, the other. Throwing grenades... the white button. No, that was the flashlight. Grenades were the left trigger. I often annoyed Toby by pressing the trigger on accident, blowing the both of us up with a grenade. At least I still remembered which trigger fired my weapon.
I hadn't paid attention to which chapter Toby had selected, but I didn't really care that much either. All I needed to know that I had to kill the guys that were aliens, and be careful not to blow myself up. Toby was way more into the whole storyline than I was. All I needed was a way to relax after a hard day at work without making my brain hurt. This provided it.
"Ouch," Toby said when I shot him for the first time. "Check my screen, Liza. I was standing right in front of that Elite."
"Sorry," I said. "I haven't played in a while, I have to get used to this again. The controls aren't exactly easy."
"Those are some of the best controls for a game, ever," Toby lectured me while charging ahead and shooting everything in his way. It was my job to clean up after him and collect grenades and ammo of whatever he killed. "The Master Chief is one of the best characters ever, and the storyline is one of the most brilliant ones ever. Seriously, Liza. Just accept the facts."
"Alright then," I relented, not keen on an argument about this. Toby felt strongly possessive about Halo.
At this moment, the phone rang. Toby paused the game so I could get up and answer it, handing it to him after only a second. "It's Stacie."
Toby grabbed the phone from me, and I turned back to the game. "I'll play single player for a while, okay?"
Toby nodded, leaving the room with the phone while already speaking in the most soothing voice he had. His girlfriend Stacie, from back in Wisconsin, hated my guts out, the only apparent reason being that Toby lived in my apartment. They talked on the phone for hours at a time, blocking the line. I let them simply because I knew Toby was having a hard time away from her.
I ended the multiplayer game and switched to Toby's controller, starting a random chapter in my single player file. While the game loaded, I contemplated Stacie's jealousy. I could understand that she wasn't too happy that her boyfriend lived with another girl, but it was unfounded in that I didn't find Toby sexually attractive in the slightest.
"A shame, too," I said to myself, counting back to when I'd last gotten laid. I stopped at two and a half months, unable to remember. I was simply too busy to go out and meet a guy, and Toby's friends were all just like him, more in love with Halo than any girl they might meet.
"What's with you anyway?" I wondered aloud, staring at the Master Chief as the movie intro to the chapter played. He was the main character of the game, not that I ever saw much of him, since this was a first-person shooter. The only feature of his I was all too familiar with was his heavily gloved hands, in which he held his weapons and with which he occasionally punched opponents. In the intro movie, it was easy to see that the entire character was hidden inside a greenish shimmering battle armor, which, to my knowledge, he never took off once during the game.
"I suppose you might actually be kind of hot, once you take that thing off," I said towards the screen, then immediately glanced at the open door to check if Toby had heard me talking to a video game character. But he had stepped outside, probably to have some privacy, so I turned back towards the screen.
One thing I did like about the Master Chief was his superhuman strength, the existence of which, Toby had assured me, had an entirely plausible explanation. I'd always liked strong, protective guys, the likes of which seemed rare around here.
I leaned forward when the chapter finally started, ready to fight the bad guys. While Marines went into position around me, I took cover behind a rock, always careful, and selected the sniper rifle I had just received to shoot the alien covenant forces from a distance. The Marines around me made amusing comments as I zoomed in the rifle, picking out a hapless Grunt that was carelessly walking around the open grounds. When the crosshair turned red, I pulled the trigger. The Grunt fell over, dead.
"Hah!" I exclaimed triumphantly and leaned forward even further, selecting my next target. My eyes were glued to the screen as I searched around, finally settling on a Jackal. Those were harder to shoot, because I had to get them when they were not hiding behind their energy shields.
I could almost feel the rifle in my hands as I concentrated on getting the shot, irritated by the Jackal's erratic movements. When I finally squeezed the trigger, the Marines around me congratulated me, but suddenly, one of them started to shoot.
"Idiots!" I hissed, annoyed. They were supposed to wait for me to finish sniping, not run onto the battlefield like... well, like idiots.
Sighing, I moved even closer to the TV and ran forward, into the battle. A little Grunt charged me and I swatted it aside with my rifle, faintly noticing a bead of sweat that was rolling down my nose. Suddenly, a second, and then a third and a fourth Grunt came at me, and I had my hands full. I aimed and squeezed the trigger, but not fast enough, and suddenly, something hit me from behind and my shields drained. I squeaked, jumped and hit the wrong button, and before I could prevent it, I saw myself fling the grenade at the next rock. It bounced off and landed at my feet.
"Oh shit!" I exclaimed, frantically trying to move away from it. I could literally feel the heat that radiated out from it, but my way was blocked by the Grunts and whatever had attacked me from behind. As a second blow rained down on me, I started to fear for my life, desperately trying to flee the area. Once more, I lashed out with my rifle, landing a blow, but then I could hear a sharp click.
The explosion took me full force, and I could feel the incredible heat and smell the singed flesh of Grunts as the controller slipped out of my hands and I was catapulted away, into the darkness.
"Ow," I said. My body was hurting quite a bit, and although I had no freaking clue what had happened, I could tell it involved heavy bruising on my part. It was still dark when I opened my eyes, even after I had blinked several times. I lifted my hands and checked my body for injuries, but there didn't seem to be anything majorly wrong with me except for the soreness when I moved. I felt the floor I was laying on, it seemed to be some sort of solid stone, but completely smooth. Strange. This was definitely nowhere near my living room.
I sat up with a groan. Right away, I saw a faint, rectangular light in the distance. In addition to this, I noticed that my clothes weren't intact anymore, which pissed me off. Whatever had happened had left me with major burn marks in my clothes. My skirt hung in rags on my hips, and my blouse didn't leave much to the imagination either. Strangely enough, my skin was unblemished.
Very carefully, I managed to get to my feet. Moving hurt like hell, but I figured there was really no option of just remaining here. When I looked around, I saw that I was in fact in a rectangular tunnel structure, just like... My heart skipped a beat when I carefully finished the thought. Just like they exist on Halo.
I dusted the remains of my skirt, more because the act calmed me than it actually having a point. The fabric was ruined beyond cleaning or repair. For lack of a better plan of action, I started to walk towards the bright rectangle that promised daylight, first slowly, then faster, because the longer I remained in the tunnel, the more I wanted to get out. Just to make sure that the crazy thought that had entered my mind was nowhere near the truth.
After several hundred steps, when I had come considerably closer to the rectangular opening, I heard a noise. It appeared to be a motor, possibly from some sort of a car, which meant that there might be someone nearby. I quickened my steps. I had almost reached the opening when the noise got suddenly louder, and my heart stopped when the lower part of the rectangle was darkened by the vehicle, entering at high speed.
I recognized it at once. It was a Warthog, the type of vehicle that was often used while playing Halo. And at the wheel...
I screamed and threw myself aside when I heard shots being fired. The Warthog's tires screeched, and someone yelled out. The shooting ceased right away, but I remained frozen, huddled where I'd landed, on the floor of the tunnel, fearing for my life. My heart was pounding in my chest.
"Identify yourself!" I heard someone yell, and when I looked up, I could faintly make out a Marine, pointing a rifle at me. "Name and Rank!"
"Uh," I said. My brain didn't seem to be in working order, and I just managed to blurt out my first name. "Elizabeth."
The Marine stared. I heard the scraping of metal, and then heavy footsteps on the stone floor.
"It appears we've found a Civilian, Sergeant," said the pleasantly deep voice, and I stared in awe.
The Master Chief was twice as impressive in person. He was huge -- I never had realized this while playing the game, but he had to be at least seven feet tall in his armor. His face was completely obscured by the mirrored faceplate in his helmet. Nevertheless, his voice didn't seem hostile -- as opposed to the Sergeant, who was staring down at me suspiciously.
The Master Chief walked forward and stretched out his begloved hand. I grasped it thankfully, letting him pull me to a standing position. Momentarily frozen at the sight of me, the Sergeant finally appeared to decide that I wasn't hostile, and he removed his bulletproof vest and camo jacket, just to lay the jacket around my shoulders. As he replaced the vest, I thankfully wrapped myself in the jacket.
"Elizabeth?" he asked, as if trying out the sound of my name. He probably wasn't used to calling anyone here by their first names. "How did you come to be here?"
"I..." I stared at him. I had no idea how to answer him, since the truth seemed out of the question. Everything I could come up with seemed too unrealistic to be true and would make them suspicious.
"I don't know," I finally said. "I, er, seem to have lost my memory."
The Sergeant was back to looking suspicious. "But..."
"With all due respect, Sergeant," interrupted the Master Chief. "We don't have time for questions. I have a job to do."
"Of course," said the Marine. "What, um, do you suppose... well... I suppose we could drop her off at Alpha Base once we make it there. We can't really just leave her here, can we?"
"No," the Master Chief answered, already on the way back to the Warthog. I reluctantly took a few steps forward, until the Sergeant, getting into the Gunner position, pointed to the passenger seat. I noticed how much my hands were still shaking as I grasped the Warthog's metal frame and climbed into the seat.
The ride was a bumpy one. The tunnel itself was still relatively uneventful, but once we emerged on the other side, the rocky terrain made me clutch to the seat in fear of simply being expelled from the vehicle. We appeared to be in a deserted canyon, but as we sped along it, I heard new noises that made my stomach drop several inches. It was the sound of plasma weapons being fired. At us.
"Enemy fire at one o'clock," I heard a pleasant female voice announce, and knew right away that this must be Cortana, the Artificial Intelligence in the Master Chief's armor. I ducked as much as I could, seeking the cover of the Warthog and wishing this would all be over soon. The Sergeant started to fire the chain gun attached to the vehicle, and I could hear a Grunt scream in pain.
From my position, I couldn't make out exactly what was happening, and so all I could do was cower fearfully and pray. I heard some explosions, and then the walls of the canyon suddenly closed in on us. We had reached the end. But just as we entered open space, I heard a noise I couldn't quite identify, and then an exclamation of surprise from the Sergeant.
Something exploded. The Warthog lurched into the air and flipped over, and I screamed. I had the sense to curl up into a ball, head tucked under my arms, and I felt myself being ejected from the Warthog, flying through the air without any sort of orientation and finally landing, hard.
When I came to I had a skull-splitting headache, and I felt like I was going to vomit. I also couldn't move, or see anything. I had no idea if I had been out for only a few second or for minutes, but the smell of singed grass was still freshly in the air, so I figured that it hadn't been too long.
There were no sounds of battle anymore, and neither could I hear the sound of the Warthog. I wondered if they had simply left me.
But then, I heard footsteps. I tensed, my body shaking uncontrollably, when a begloved hand grasped my shoulder and rolled me onto my back.
The surprise in the Master Chief's voice was unmistakable. He knelt down next to me, helping me sit up when the nausea had worn off somewhat and my vision slowly returned.
"Yep," I said. "I'm not feeling too excited about it just now."
I could hear a tiny bit of static, then the voice of Cortana came out of the Master Chief's helmet. She was addressing the Master Chief, but obviously wanted me to hear her as well.
"Foehammer picked up the remaining survivors. We should make our way to Alpha Base. She will be as safe there as we have to offer, and they may be able to patch up your MJOLNIR armor as well."
I looked up at him. "What's wrong with your armor?" I asked weakly.
"It got damaged during the explosion," the Master Chief answered simply, standing there and waiting for me to recover. While I still felt nauseous, I didn't have any intention of slowing him down, so I gritted my teeth and got to my feet.
"Where's the Sergeant?" I asked as we started walking. The Master Chief remained silent, but my question was answered several steps later.
The sergeant was lying spread-eagled in the grass, obviously dead. His body was covered with burn marks. I paled, taking a step back and trying to forcefully remind myself that this was just a videogame. But it didn't help, and all I could see was the dead body in front of me. A man I had just talked to, whose name I didn't even know.
The Master Chief bent down and removed the Sergeant's dog tag, as well as the bulletproof vest he was wearing. He handed the vest to me, and I put it on, hands shaking. Then I was handed a pistol as well, and I swallowed. I had never even actually touched a weapon before. Still, I took the pistol, helplessly staring at it.
"The safety is here," the Master Chief showed me. "You have sixteen rounds." With that, he marched on.
It took us nearly two hours to get anywhere near Alpha Base. During this time, I managed to scrape both my knees, learned how not to react when being shot at, figured out how to hide most effectively between two rocks, and contemplated the impossibility of my being here.
And impossible it was. All the explanations I might have come up with before, had I not been whisked right into the action, didn't hold up, given the evidence. Not a fancy costume re-enactment or someone playing a trick on me, because someone had died. I was also pretty sure that the dead Grunts and Jackals I had seen up close as I made my way through the carnage the Master Chief left behind him were not some sort of animated puppets. They were real, flesh and blood. And they had died, some right in front of me.
Not a dream or a hallucination either, because this was much too vivid to be any such thing. I could never smell scents in any dream of mine, nor had I ever felt so much pain. All I was left with was the ridiculous assumption that I had indeed somehow managed to get sucked into the game I was playing. And considering what I knew about Halo, this was a freaking scary thought.
I raised my gaze, where the gigantic ring-shaped structure I was on curved upwards, its ends meeting at a spot so far above my head that I wasn't able to make it out anymore. What was Halo's diameter? I couldn't remember exactly what Toby had once told me, but I knew that it must be a couple thousands of kilometers. And it contained the deadly Flood, parasites that could take over and control the bodies of both humans and Covenant aliens. I appeared to have landed fairly early in the game, and thankfully we had not yet encountered the Flood.