Hammer of Thor Chronicles - Seen You Every Mirror

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Hammer of Thor Chronicles - Seen You Every Mirror

Post by Etsharrin Hopsarrith on Sun May 09, 2010 4:21 pm

Book Six: Hammer of Thor Chronicles: Seen You Every Mirror

1: I HAVE WALKED WITH GIANTS
August 19, 2517


August on the universal calendar was actually some late November-esque for Eridanus I. The world was, unlike every other Earth-colony, an almost perfect replica of the Homeworld. The ball of dirt and water and sky was all the right proportions, the right size, and even swung tipped over on the same angle. The only difference being that it somehow managed to get started turning in an orbit in the other direction than Earth had. This meant that the height of summer on the calendar from back home meant the dead of winter for Eridanus I residents.

It was certainly bitter cold.

It didn't stop anyone from using the same calendar, though - the names of the months merely had different meanings. While Homeworlders would hear "August" and think, "hot", people from Eridanus I would hear "August" and think, "frozen".

Somehow, the temperature - nor even the snow heaped on the playground - would keep the children indoors, and on any given day they could all be found outside. All, it seemed, but one.

Frank James O'Neil was sitting on the tank of a toilet, his feet on the lid of the bowl, his arms wrapped around his narrow, six-year-old chest. It was the backmost stall, in the unused boy's bathroom... he'd run there after getting into a fight with three other boys in his math class, more in an attempt to keep the principal from finding him than to hide from the other boys.

His twin brother was probably elsewhere, hiding out just as much. Even their own parents got them mixed up sometimes, so it was a constant hassle making the teachers and school staff understand who was who. And sometimes, just to rumple them, they'd pretend to swap identities for a few hours.

Frank felt a little miffed that this incident would come along just a couple of months from his seventh birthday - it would be a stamp on him forevermore, he was sure, and he just knew that when his parents found out he'd been getting into fights at school again, they'd withhold whatever awesome thing they'd found to get for him.

And since his twin was always involved in such altercations, there would be no identity-swapping going to save either of the boys. Frank palmed his chin, that elbow resting on his knees, wondering if it had been enough time yet. He really would have rathered being on the playground, pushing the other kids around in a game of tag or hide and seek. Or, king of the hill.

King of the hill was always an easy win... some twins would be in constant conflict with one another, competing until there was nothing alike between them but their looks. But for Frank James and his younger-brother-by-fifteen-minutes, Flint Jordan, it was almost as if they truly were one person somehow inhabiting two bodies at once. They could coordinate without vocal relay as if drawing from the same mental pool of thought, and while this usually made the hill have two kings, only Flint was bothered by that - because Frank would usually ambush him with a surprise push, unseating his momentary victory.

This did not remove the fact that they were still very much two different people, however; Flint was a little more quiet, a little more observant. And sometimes, he would cut loose with sarcasm so sharp it would shock even Frank for a moment. He was a bit of a pessimist, when it was all said and done, but it never seemed to keep him from trying anyway.

Frank appreciated that last aspect... while more of an optimist himself, he too would never let anything go if he thought he could get away with trying it at least once. But the picking fights with the other boys was a hard thing to avoid, truth be told.

Somehow, though... Frank had a sinking feeling that this time, Flint had started it. Oh, he'd never lie to Frank about anything, but he'd drivel on and on about nonsense for practically forever if anyone else asked him something he'd prefer not to answer.

That or he'd stare at them, blankly, as if he thought they'd just spoken in tongues.

That was Flint.

Finally, bored out of his wits and willing to put in as much playtime as possible before class started again, Frank hopped down off the back of the toilet and walked the length of the bathroom, heading out. It had only been about an hour, but he still felt twisted and lonely, and he wanted to at least see what Flint was up to. The boys did not often part ways for quite this long, and for pretty good reason.

Frank made the wide hall with the sightline to the double doors that led to the playground in question when he felt a sinking feeling of dread set in... and a moment later, a brief spike of panic that he knew was not his.

With a sudden cry of protest, the six-year-old boy jumped into a run, pelting for those doors for all he was worth, striking them with his full bodyweight. His thickly insulated winter coat padded most of the impact, allowing him to shoulder through without bruising his small shoulder. Muscling through, he weathered the strong gust of frigid air before turning and taking in the playground at large; on the mounded grounds to the left were those squealing children playing tug-of-war, and the jungle gym on the right was absolutely crawling with more of the same.

But though Frank looked, he didn't see his brother among either crowd. His heart racing, his twin's panic manifesting somewhat as his own, Frank pelted first towards one, then the other crowd, before hesitating in the middle and looking lost. Where was Flint? He'd been out here just a moment before.

But nowhere did he see the coat that was gray-with-white-piping, identical to his own. Finally, upset and at a loss, Frank found a bench and sat on it, his little blonde eyebrows pinched together in worry and confusion. He felt oddly alone, something he'd never before experienced. There had always been his twin, his brother, sometimes pestering. Now he was gone, and gods only knew why, Frank felt he'd never feel happiness ever again.

He sat there for all of a minute before hopping back to his feet, impatient and unwilling to wait for longer than just. He went over the whole of the school grounds, even going so far as to ignore the ring of the bell that announced class restarting. Finally, when he saw one of the teachers plodding out from the buildings towards him, Frank paused and held his ground. Maybe someone else had seen Flint around.

When the adult got near enough to speak without the brisk wind cutting away his words, he stopped, and stuffed his gloved hands into his coat's pockets. "Hey, kiddo. You look a little lost. Lose something?"

"My brother is missing." Frank told him. "I can't find him anywhere."

The teacher nodded. "You're that twin, right? You're looking for your other half? Looks just like you?"

Frank nodded. "Uh-huh."

The teacher pulled out a hand and waved it at him, indicating Frank to come hither. "He's already inside... one of the fourth graders picked him up earlier, said he looked like he'd fallen off the swing or something. He's okay... dizzy."

Elated, Frank hopped forward. "I couldn't find him anywhere." He said, again, more leading the man back to the school buildings than following him there. Flinging himself off a swing did not really seem like something Flint would do, but then, accidents could happen just as easily to anyone. Maybe the cold had gotten into a chain link and it had come apart when he didn't expect it to? It explained the sense of panic, at least.

Reaching the nearest side-entrance to the school, Frank had to wait for the teacher to catch up and get inside too before proceeding; it was a fairly large sprawl of connected buildings, after all, and as a result, Flint could be holed up in any of three separate nurse's quarters. Frank did not particularly feel up to searching all three in order to find his brother. Obligingly, the teacher patted him on the head as he stepped through the doors, and turned to lead the way through the building.

"Guess you want to go and see him, huh?" The man asked, offering a half-grin. "You being twins and all."

Frank screwed his face up at the reference. "Yeah, but the whole world doesn't revolve around that one little fact." Non-twins looked out for each other, too, didn't they?

Still, in as much as no little kid particularly enjoys visits to the nurse, Frank couldn't justify the lingering sense that everything was about to change... permanently. Whatever his brother was doing, or whatever was being done to him, it seemed a bit more of a setback than merely dropping off a swing.

Frank had jumped off a moving swing before, after all... he'd bruised both knees and torn his pants up, but he hadn't even sprained an ankle or a wrist doing it. What was the big deal now? Finally, reaching the middle quarter, the teacher directing him waved a hand at the door to the room in question, allowing Frank's insatiable need to go faster to take him on inside ahead of him.

Frank didn't hesitate; he sprang forward, grabbing and twisting the knob on the door and shoving into it bodily to make it open all the faster. Being only six, it was a tactic he still used, and likely would continue to use until he got a bit more growing done. Even as much as he was not all that small for a six-year-old, Frank was still a small child, and things like doors built for use and abuse by adults were often hefty barricades for him.

Getting the door out of the way, and himself into the room, Frank paused to take in what he was seeing. Flint sat perched on the seemingly oversized examination table, looking none the worse for wear at all - his face wasn't even flushed from any recent exposure to the cold, as Frank's doubtless still was.

Frank drew up shy of the table, though, staring at the other boy with an expression on his face that even he would need a mirror to understand fully. For all that he appeared to be perfectly alright, Flint looked different to him. Something in his soft, dove-gray eyes was wrong, as he sat there looking back at Frank from his perch on the examination table.

It was almost as if he didn't know who Frank was anymore.

"He can go with you, if you'd like." The nurse said, a tall, slender woman in her early forties. She already had gray streaks in her auburn hair, but her face looked like it belonged on a much younger woman. She crossed her arms over her smock, a motion Frank understood to mean that she felt she'd just wasted her time giving a checkup to someone who didn't need it.

Frank felt she ought to do it again, though... just to be really sure. He watched as Flint pushed himself off the table, and landed lightly on his feet at its base, then as he turned and walked past. He offered Frank a tentative smile, but Frank only furrowed his brow in response.

Every fiber of his being seemed to scream out, who are you?, but even Frank did not quite understand why. The feeling of considerable foreboding remained. Did Flint get told something, or had he overheard something, that meant bad things? Frank made a mental note to ask his brother later for the details. It was not a good feeling at all.

The seeming utter lack of their bond was also bothersome. More puzzling was the fact that while Frank felt sure he was still getting something, he wasn't getting it from the boy he was following up the hall towards the first classroom.

He knew, without question, that something was not right.

.

September 21, 2517

"Twenty-two, twenty-three, twenty-four, twenty-five, twenty-six, twenty-seven, twenty-eight, twenty-nine, thirty... thirty-one." He unfolded a finger for each numeral, counting them off for future reference as he attempted to do some extraneous math in his head. Math that involved a couple of confusing numbers - because there was no way September would go through to the forty-second day. "Ten days until October."

Frank lifted his tired eyes from the digital homework sheet spread on the small table before him, and frowned at his twin. "Duh."

"And to get to the..." he closed both fists, and looked up, back at Frank. "...first of... okay, I just lost my number again." Flint dropped his hands, and blew an exasperated sigh. "But we'll be seven." He was sitting cross-legged on the carpeted floor next to the table Frank sat currently at, but appeared no more inclined to do his own homework.

Frank frowned at the other boy, unwilling to admit to himself that he felt achy and sore for no reason. At the end of every stinking day he felt like he'd been running from a ravenous wolf, hefting cinderblocks too big for him to really carry in each hand the whole way. His seemingly mysterious unwillingness to get out of bed in the mornings had worried their parents, but Frank felt himself drawing away from Flint, farther and farther each day.

He did not particularly want to turn seven on the same day Flint did. He'd become alien.

"You'll be seven after I am." Frank told him, feeling spiteful. He'd never really been short with his twin before, but then, Flint had never seemed so irrationally annoying before, either. He did feel some guilt for treating him badly, though - Flint had gotten annoying, yes, but Frank had also never been particularly amiable when he was in pain, either. So it was not all Flint's fault.

At the other end of the mainly empty living room, the door to the kitchen swung open, and their elder and only other sibling stepped through, a cup of something in one hand. Steven Agustus O'Neil was the spitting image of their grandfather - with light, tawny hair that fell straight as a whistle when it got too long, and bright, shiny green eyes set into his ivory face, he looked a little like a porcelain doll who had decided to grow up and turn into a man. He wasn't there yet, though - at three years the twin's senior, he'd already had his birthday that year and felt himself superior for it.

It was just a game, though, and a good and dandy excuse to pick on the two younger boys. Seeing them fight between themselves, however, disturbed even Steve. "Hey, guys, chill out." He issued, walking over. "Frank, quit making that face, or it'll stick to your head and you'll frown forevermore."

Frank sent a fresh frown at Steve, and bit down on the lip he wanted to poke out at him. "I don't feel any good."

"You haven't felt good for a while, FJ." Steve replied, flopping down into the chair across from Frank. He set the cup on the table, and dropped his hands into his lap. "That new movie is finally out of theaters, so maybe dad will pick up a hardcopy and we'll get to see it."

Frank folded his arms across his homework, and rested his forehead on them. "I want to dieeeeee."

"Hey." Steven scolded, reaching across the table to pop him on the back of the head. "You don't either, that's a horrible thing to say."

"He looks a little green, to me." Flint put in, suddenly. He uncrossed his legs, and folded them under him with both pointed in the same direction. "Maybe you should have mom or dad take you to the clinic and get checked."

Frank raised his head, and gave Steve a slack, defeatist look. "Why don't I? I wouldn't have to deal with any of you or this homework or my stupid body anymore."

Steve cast him a concerned look. "Your stupid body is probably just going through a growth spurt, FJ. You'll be fine." He picked up the cup again. "Suck it up."

"I've been sucking it up, for several weeks!" Frank wailed, slapping a hand down on the digital sheet in front of him. For the assault, the digital sheet defaulted and the file closed on him. Seeing that, he jumped to his feet and screamed at it.

"Whoa! Hey, buddy!" Steve protested, nearly made to spit his drink all over Flint. He dropped the cup quickly on the table and stood up, coming around the table to grab Frank by the shoulders and shake him. "Hey, cut that out."

Frank sagged against his brother, something he rarely did for Steve. It made the older boy hesitate, too, but he seemed the only real family Frank had anymore. Being severed from his twin was beginning to feel a little rough. Hooking his hands around Steve's, he cast a glance at Flint, who was casting a concerned look of his own at the both of them.

"You okay, buddy?" Steve asked, unsure what to do.

"I lost all my homework." Frank admitted, weakly.

Steve heaved a sigh, and made Frank sit back down in the chair he'd abandoned a moment before. "I'll help you with it, okay, FJ? No big deal." He reached across the table for the other chair, and dragged it around, forcing Flint to duck out of the way or get run over by the passing furniture.

"Hey," he complained. "How come he gets help with his homework and I don't?"

"Shut up, Flint." Steven issued, beginning to understand a little of Frank's frustration. "You'd think you were two or something." He sat down in the newly moved chair, and tapped a finger on Frank's data pad to bring up the file again, and look at its contents.

Flint pouted at them both. "Frank just needs to see a doctor. He's gotten weird in the head." He stuck a finger up, pointing at his ear, and twirled it.

Steven raised his head, sighed at no one in particular, then cast an unappreciative look down at Flint. "Why don't you go into the kitchen and get us some crackers?"

"Do I get to have some crackers, too?" Flint countered, wary of being made to work without reward.

"Yes! Get out of here already." Steve waved at him.

When he was gone, Frank propped his elbows on the tabletop, and buried his chin in his hands, his little blonde brows met. "He changed, Steve."

The older boy looked over at him. "What? What do you mean? You changed, too."

"No, I mean... it's like he doesn't like me anymore." Frank bit his bottom lip again, before looking up and over at Steve in reply. "I just don't understand him like I used to, is all."

Steve cocked an eyebrow, but didn't get to say anything when both boys heard a spectacular crash come from the kitchen. Out of instinct, Steve was on his feet in an instant - Frank was a little slower to react. "What just happened?" Steve asked, shooting Frank a look that said he expected Frank to know.

He could only shrug.

Seeing Frank seeming unphased, Steve turned back to see the door to the kitchen, beginning to think Flint had knocked something inanimate over somehow when that thought was erased for both of them; the most agonized wail erupted through the closed door, proclaiming that the collapse - of whatever it had been - had not been purely composed of inanimate objects.

.

September 22, 2517

Frank James looked up when his mother walked up the hospital hall, a woman almost as hopelessly blonde as he was. The look was superficial, though - she had a degree in astrophysics and worked at a high-end corporation as a lead scientist. After the incident in the kitchen, Frank felt the whole family had moved in at the hospital... and he still wasn't sure what had happened to Flint.

"Hey." His mother issued, arriving at the row of chairs where Frank had been made to wait, and squatting down in front of him. She ran a hand over his head, tousling his hair, then flicked him on the chin. "You doing okay?"

"Me?" Frank asked, a little puzzled. "I'm... fine, I guess." He gave a shrug. "What's going on, though? What happened to Flint?"

She heaved a sigh. "The last time something like this happened, you knew more about it than the doctors did, Frank."

Frank just shook his head, kneading the palm of one hand with the thumb of his other. Today, he not only didn't recall doing strenuous calisthenics, he also didn't recall smacking the livid daylights out of the knuckles on his left hand. But while it hurt, he knew complaining would only get him more of he same - blatant dismissal. It seemed that if both twins didn't feel it, then it had to be 'made up'.

Frank didn't feel like he was making it up. He watched as his mother stalled, looking around and then tasting her lip and picking at a spot of non-dirtiness on his britches for a while before finally meeting his gaze again and getting to the point. "Frank... I know you've had a little disagreement of late, but... that's no reason to turn your back on him entirely. He is still your brother."

"But what happened, mom?" Frank issued, feeling snappish and impatient. "Steve wouldn't let me see and neither would dad!"

His mother gave him a strange look indeed. "He broke his leg." It was said as if she thought he ought to have already known that. "Frank... are you sure you're okay?" To emphasize the point, she palmed his forehead.

He pushed her hand down, frowning. "How in the world did he manage to do that, mom? Dad says we wouldn't be strong enough to break our own bones... not until we're Steve's age."

She sighed at him. "Well, it seems he got a foot off the chair he was standing on and then tipped it over with the rest of him still on the top... and physics works a bit better than gravity does." His mother issued, softly. "Steve told us what he was doing on the chair, so... accidents happen. But Frank... you squealed like it was your fingers caught in that door last year... you don't feel anything?"

Frank shook his head.

"Well, you're not feverish..." She trailed off when a flash of white fabric tugged her attention to the side, the motion announcing the arrival of a member of the hospital staff.

"Miss O'Neil?" The other woman asked, casting a glance down at Frank before doing a double take, then offering him an adoring look. "Aww, he looks just like the other little guy! That is so cute." Focusing back on his mother, though, she added, "We got the fracture set and it's been pinned, so it shouldn't go anywhere."

Frank looked up to see his mother nodding. "Okay," she said.

The doctor/nurse was wearing an acrylic nametag pin on her smock, but the fabric hung outward since the front was not buttoned up, and Frank couldn't read it. Raising her compad to see what the digital readouts it held said, she added, "We gave him a mild sedative to help him sleep, so he won't be much for talking to for a while, I'm afraid..."

"No, no... wait, that's not going to work," his mother issued, firmly. "The twins are hyper-metabolic... they don't assimilate manufactured chemical chains... the sedative won't do anything to him."

This time it was the nurse/doctor who wore a puzzled expression. "Are you certain? It seemed to work during the surgery."

Frank looked up in time to share a puzzled look with his mother, but that was all before the two women departed, his mother waving a hand behind her at him to indicate he should stay. His thoughts trailed after them, though, even more mystified than before.

More and more, the word alien seemed to apply.

.

October 2, 2517

Frank got looks when he reappeared at school after a three-day hiatus, this time alone. It was so rare to see the twins separated that people noticed when they weren't together, now. He just kept his head down and tried to avoid them all, unwilling to talk to anyone about anything. If he got started talking about Flint, he knew he'd only dissolve into griping about him.

Flint was numb, insensitive, tactless... he'd gotten so bad that Frank was almost willing to start calling him stupid to his face. Still, as much as it had hurt to be rejected by his twin, he wasn't quite ready to start adding to the rift between them, himself. If there was any hope of reconciliation, though, it seemed a long ways off.

After making it home from the hospital, Flint had seemed to regress - rather than making any real effort to make sure his busted leg didn't atrophy, he instead took to sitting in the living room and poking meaninglessly at whatever homework assignment the school sent up to him. Their parents absolutely refused to force him to go through the savage throng to attend classes in person at the school, but Frank wished they might have had the brains to do the same for himself.

He felt small indeed, left to face the other second graders by himself.

Each night he made it home, hoping to reach some kind of truce, but on the days when Flint paid him any mind at all, they'd start out civil enough only to start snapping at each other and ultimately end up splitting ways bitter once again. Their parents often didn't make it home from work in time to witness any of it, but Steven did. The older boy tried valiantly to play diplomat, but he found it harder and harder to conjure any common ground for the twins at all as each day passed.

By the time Flint's leg was ready to come out of the cast - a tentative step to test the healing rate - Frank felt like asking his mother for a different birthday. Let Flint keep their old one... Frank needed some breathing room. Having to shore up in the same bedroom with him at night was making him sick.

But on the day when Flint went back to the hospital to get the cast taken off, Frank found himself sitting against the wall of the interior gym at their school, watching the third and fourth graders bouncing and swinging around on the equipment. There were a couple who looked like they wanted to make a career out of athletics on the floor, but the more Frank watched them, the more he felt he wanted to go out there and join them.

Maybe then he'd actually have a good reason for feeling like he'd worked himself into the floor every day.

Standing up at last, and figuring if he never asked, he'd never know, Frank walked the length of the gym. He paused to watch the skinny black kid who looked really tall for his age pulling himself over and around on a pair of hoops tied by chains to an overreaching bar. When the kid finally saw he was being watched, he was upside down, his feet in the air over his head. Tipping his head, the older boy cocked a lopsided smirk at Frank. "Hi, there!"

Frank offered a tentative smile in reply. "Hi."

"Need something?"

Frank pointed at him. "Can I do that?"

Before responding, the kid bent his elbows, flexed at the waist, then spun on an axis point level with his hands, and let go at just the right point so he landed upright just a couple of feet in front of Frank. There, he took the impact to the floor with just the slightest bending at the knee, and then straightened. "No, probably not."

Frank's shoulders dropped. "Why?"

The other kid laughed. "Because you have to build up to the rings, buddy, you can't just jump up there and start swinging." He waved a hand at Frank, starting to back up and turn. "C'mere."

Frank followed him across the front of the bigger pieces, trying not to get distracted by the other children fooling around on them. He was drawn over to the rack of small hand-weights, and handed the smallest set. Frank tested his grip on the first one, then lifted the other into his other hand, and flexed that, too, before looking up. "These are kinda heavy."

"They're supposed to be." The older kid told him, crossing his skinny arms. "Work with those a little bit each day, and you'll build up some muscle, and then when you're ready, you upgrade." He bent over, and picked up a bigger hand-weight, taking the small ones out of Frank's hands and handing him the bigger one. Frank took it, but his hand was dragged to his side instantly when he was surprised by how very much more it weighed than the first set.

"Wow!"

"Then you work with these for a spell." It was taken away, again, and restored to its place, and the biggest ones at the top of the rack were lifted free, and held out. "When you get to these, you can start playing around with the rings. I recommend you start with the horse, though, cos if you fall, you're less liable to twist something."

Frank looked up at the other kid, then, feeling a little awed. That biggest weight looked almost as big as Frank's head. "You must be strong!"

That earned him a grin, and his hair got tousled again. "Yeah, I'm real strong. You will be, too, you work at it."

Frank brushed the hand off his head, a little annoyed. He'd never really liked having his hair tousled for him, but it seemed like everyone did it. Looking at the weight rack, with all the color-coded hand-weights on it, he decided, "I want to." He figured the less time he spent at home with Flint, the better he'd feel emotionally. Looking back up at the other boy, he added, "I want you to teach me."

"Whoa, hey, I'm not the coach..." The other kid began, holding his hands up.

"But I don't think the coach likes me." Frank pleaded. "Please?"

The older boy looked hesitant at first, casting glances elsewhere throughout the gym for a while before deflating a little, and giving a reluctant nod. "Alright, I'll get you started... but I really shouldn't."

Frank beamed at him, and stuck his hand out the same way he'd seen his father do. "I'm Frank."

The hand was taken - and disappeared inside the bigger boy's larger hand almost entirely - and given a firm shake. "Brandon."

.

October 3, 2517

Brandon Robert Gordon Washington had not been born on Eridanus I. He had come with his single mother at the age of three, and while he admitted to not supposing to pursue a career in gymnastic athletics, he liked the workouts and was at the gym every single school day... and when he could get permission, he'd come back in the afternoons on weekends, too. Though gangly, and most certainly a taller kid for his age, Brandon was nothing if not graceful when he was airborne.

He made sure Frank knew what he was doing, and didn't hurt himself unnecessarily with the weights, and while Frank felt sure he couldn't possibly see anything other than dizzying blurs of colored motion while he was throwing himself around on the rings, every time he stopped to rest his arms, Brandon would pause in his twisting antics and let him know he'd been noticed.

Keep it up, keep it up, the bigger kid would say. For Frank, the weights gave merit to his soreness, and he found that if he did it just so, he could equalize the feeling with reality, and then it wouldn't be so bad.

But he couldn't stay in the gym forever, and even though he felt he'd turned a new stone, and found an out for all his frustrations, he still had to go home. Stepping through the front door, though, he found himself looking across the foyer at Steve, who looked like he'd been sitting there waiting for him ever since he'd gotten back from his own school.

"Hey, FJ." Steve greeted, standing up.

Frank offered him a puzzled look. "What's going on? Where's mom and dad?"

"Back at the hospital again." Steve answered.

"He break his other leg?" Frank asked, feeling a twinge of the old sarcasm Flint had seemed to have lost entirely. Honestly, Frank felt he wouldn't have cared much if he had.

"FJ, that's not very nice. He's practically you, for crying out loud." Steve turned him around for him, and pushed him back to the doorway. "Dad ought to be here in about twenty minutes to pick us up."

"I don't want to go to the hospital." Frank protested, walking back to the door anyway. "I only just got here." He saw Steve reach past him for the knob on the front door, grasp it and turn it, but he wished he wouldn't.

"Come on, stop whining." Steve might have gathered some small increment of pity for Frank, but he remained every bit the badgering elder brother he'd always been. He had his own quirks, his own view of things, and even though he couldn't understand why the twins were at each other's throats any more than Frank could, he still liked to think he had an even-handed approach to the keeping of the peace. Pushing Frank back down the short crete walk to the driveway, Steve added, "You can't stop being brothers just because you're not getting along. It's genetic, like balding and stuff."

"That boy is not my brother." Frank mumbled, sticking his bottom lip out.

"What?" Steve squawked, grabbing Frank by an arm and jerking him around to face him. "What did you just say?"

"He's not my brother." Frank repeated, louder, his expression set and grim. "He's an alien."

"That is not true!" Steve smacked him with his free hand. "Say you're sorry!"

Frank just bawled and covered his head with his arms, tugging on the grip Steve still had on his arm.

Steve yanked on it a few times, shaking Frank. "Say you're sorry, Frank, or I'll hit you again!"

"Nooo!" Frank insisted, tugging back against the shaking. He picked at Steve's fingers, but wasn't strong enough to get loose. "Let go of me! I'm telling mom!"

"That what, you think Flint's an alien?" Steve demanded, cross. "He's got a broken leg, and you want to abandon him when he needs you the most! What kind of brother are you, huh? Look at you! You should be ashamed!"

Frank yanked harder. "Let go of me!"

Steve popped him again. "Say you're sorry!"

"No!"

"Say it!"

"No!"

Steve considered hitting him again, but just then, he saw their father's car appear at the end of the street, so he refrained. It wouldn't do to have to explain the situation with their father thinking Steve was the one being mean. He stood still and held on while Frank tugged and yanked, clawing at his arm in a bid for release, watching the car approach and then pull into the drive.

"Dad!" Frank wailed, jerking towards the car as the driver side door opened. "Make him let me go!"

The man sitting in the driver's seat just cast them both a strange look. "Frank, calm down. Steve?"

"Get in the car, little twit." Steve huffed, shoving Frank at the vehicle and letting him go at last. Frank rebounded off the body metal first, but he grappled with the handle as soon as he had his balance back, desperate to put the car between him and Steve. Once he was in, he slammed the door and locked it, turning to look out the window at his big brother. Steve just rolled his eyes, circling to climb in the front on the passenger side.

Once he'd buckled, their father shut his own door, and put the vehicle in reverse. "Want to tell me why you two were fighting in the front yard?"

"Steve hit me." Frank issued, quickly. "Twice!"

"Did you hit Steve back?" Came the responding query.

Flint paused, then offered a tentative, "No...?" it wasn't often their parents used philosophy to deal with altercations, after all.

"Steve?"

The older boy made a breathy growling noise, then said, "He called Flint an alien. He says he's not our brother."

Frank saw his father's eyes appear in the rearview mirror, so he ducked into the seat.

"Frank, you want to elaborate on that for me?"

"No." Frank mumbled. "I don't want to go to the hospital anymore."

"Frank, have you ever seen a real alien?" Their father asked.

"No." Frank mumbled again.

"Then what makes you think your twin brother is an alien? Does he have three eyes? Green skin? Tentacles?"

"No..." Frank began, feeling like he'd been cornered and his argument dismissed yet again. Crossing his arms, he looked pointedly out the window, wishing his father would just drop it.

"Well, then, what makes you think he's an alien? Why did you call him that?"

"Because." Frank mumbled, quieter than his previous answers.

"What's that?"

"I don't want..." Frank heaved a loud sigh. "You wouldn't believe me. But he's not my brother. He can be Steve's brother, but he's not mine."

His father was quiet for a while, seeming to consider what reply he could give to that. Steve didn't say anything, for which Frank felt grateful. But despite his couple of hours at the gym being meager at best, he still felt like someone had borrowed his legs for some hard running before giving them back to him. It was as if he'd been training for the UNSC like a soldier.

But the UNSC didn't take six-year-old kids to be Marines. A boy had to be sixteen with parental permission, or eighteen without it, or the military simply wouldn't take them. And last he recalled, Frank James had not gone to the recruiter's office, nor signed anything other than his homework.

And it had been pulled hen's teeth for his teacher to get him to do that much. Frank sat in silence and brooded the whole way to the hospital, watching the city go by without really seeing it. He still couldn't figure out what had made his twin change like he had... and a plethora of changes it had been! He'd gone from plucky and sarcastic to moody and bitchy, and it seemed his previously unsurpassable ability to balance anything on anything else - including himself on a chair - had evaporated the same way his immune system had.

The condition was rare as hellfire and had shown in their father under much, much milder terms, but neither twin had ever been susceptible to drugs before. They never got infections or colds or allergies, never seemed to come down with the flu, and though the school made sure they got their booster shots every year, those didn't seem to do anything to or for them either.

That nurse/doctor-person had claimed to have successfully put Flint down under mild sedatives. Frank felt he had compelling evidence enough; six he may be, yes, but he was not an idiot. That boy was just all wrong.

He was not the twin brother Frank had known.

At the hospital, Frank walked in with the other two more because he didn't want to get stuck in the car in the frigid parking lot, but he didn't tag along very closely, and his father had to correct him twice in lagging behind too far. Inside the building proper, though, he stayed closer for fear of getting swept away by all the other people in there.

At the other end of an elevator ride, the trio made their way through more winding hallways up until Frank felt he'd never get un-lost inside the place without help. They arrived finally at door with numerals stenciled onto it, and as the other two ventured through, Frank leaned on the doorframe and peered in from there.

The room looked overstuffed with furnishings, most of it hospital equipment, but it was a small room to begin with. He could see Flint from where he stood, but he looked fine to Frank - why had they all gone back to the hospital? Listening to his parents exchange information helped to clarify, somewhat, though... for some reason, the pins put into the broken bone had come loose, and the staff were preparing a ward to do investigative surgery to figure out why.

When he saw his mother flip back the thin sheet Flint was sitting under, Frank stretched up on his toes to see what the leg looked like. When he saw it finally, he grimaced and looked away - the skin just below that knee had turned a grisly looking violet color, with a sharp green outline. He heard his mother say more, but it wasn't in English anymore. Figuring it was more than likely a string of medical terms rather than an actual other language - he knew his mother only spoke one known dialect - Frank turned to look back out of the room. It was preferable to watch people go by in the hall than to see that ugly looking bruise.

He finally felt a pang of sympathy, but it wasn't the same as he might have felt before the bond had seemed to dissolve. As his eyes took in the passers-by in the hall, he felt his skin crawl across his knuckles, prompting him to curl his hands into fists. If Flint had started to punch the living daylights out of his mother, doubtless he'd have heard some kind of commotion - at least the smacking of impact! - before now. But the room remained quiet and still behind him, with no one moving much at all.

That did not change the fact that he felt like he was hitting something rather brutally, all without raising his hands in the least.

Tucking his chin to his chest, Frank folded his arms around one another, and closed his eyes. You're still out there, Flint. Wasn't that obvious? Making anyone else see this self-evident truth was more effort than it was worth, ultimately. That boy is not you... but I'm the only one who seems to see that. What had happened to cause this strange set of events was puzzling by far more so than any other strange circumstance to ever be presented to him - he wasn't all that fond of puzzles, either. But like Flint, he could think along a sequence of events to stay six or ten steps ahead of anyone else on the same thought train.

Raising his head again, Frank let his eyes trail after an elderly man being pushed in a wheelchair up the hall. Silently, his face smooth of expression, Frank conjured a life-plan he knew he'd pursue until his end if he never found his end goal.

I'll find you again, and I'll show them. I'll show them that that boy isn't you, and I'll make them see that I was right.

When the doctors arrived, his parents stepped back to let them take Flint away, but though Frank watched them go, and he knew Flint was looking back at him the whole way down the hallway, he felt less and less attached to the boy leaving him behind.

Still, just in case, Frank raised a hand, and waved once in farewell.

From between the nurses, Flint lifted a hand and waved back.

"I have a bad feeling about this." He heard Steve say. "There's more to those loose pins than they're telling us."

"I'm sure we'll be told everything once they're sure what they're looking at, Steve." Their father assured him, patting the elder boy on both shoulders at once.

Frank cast a deadpan, knowing look back at Steve, though, telling him that he agreed with Steven's thoughts. The family gathered in a waiting room down the hall to wait, the TV in the corner of the ceiling blaring but uninteresting to anyone. It varied between commercial advertisements of products the family had never had a use for and the streaming news of the raging insurrectionist factions that the UNSC kept calling the bad guys.

Eventually, having leafed through all the uninteresting magazines on the little coffee table at the end of the room, Frank wound up watching it for a while anyway. He watched as the camera was zoomed in on a smoking, shelled-out building in the middle of a business district on another world. The report was some forty hours old, but the broadcast hubs couldn't get it to Eridanus I from another world any faster than that, so it was re-broadcast as breaking news yet again, despite its age. Frank knew that - his father had explained it to him once already. Still, it more often than not was news the residents of Eridanus I had not yet heard, so nobody complained about the technically mislabeled newsreels.

"Hey, don't watch that." Steve said, elbowing him. "That's garbage."

"I don't have anything else to do." Frank replied, hugging his arms to his sides. "And if it wasn't approved for all audiences, they'd have said something about it by now."

"You sure about that?" Steve asked.

"What's to see?" Frank argued, waving a hand at the screen. "It's just pictures of smoke coming out of a building that looks like it's missing all its insides."

Steve focused on the broadcast, then, himself. "The Innies bombed it." He said, eventually. "Says they killed a bunch of people."

"That's what the newsies always say. Innies kill people. I don't know, I never met nobody who was claiming to have been killed by an Innie." Frank mused.

Steve giggled at him for the comment, but didn't try to correct him - Frank wasn't stupid, but he'd been shielded like all kids his age from certain facts of life. If Frank ever did meet anyone killed by an insurrectionist, the odds of said person telling Frank as much were nonexistent.

"Why are you laughing?" Frank asked, turning his head to look up at his brother. "What's funny? Innies killing people isn't funny, it's bad. The newsies say so. Upsets whole cities when Innies kill some people."

Steve just squashed his grin and shook his head. "Never mind... had an extraneous thought. Not related."

Frank cocked a blonde eyebrow. "About what?"

Again, Steve just shook his head, refusing to answer. He was not about to pitch headlong into the complicated subject of explaining death to his little brother with the other one seeming to be taking a stab at testing his luck in that department. The wait proved a long, boring one, so much so that by the time it was overwith, Frank and Steve both wanted to just run out of the room and make a game of knocking over nurses on their way past them all. It seemed the only thing imaginable that could be done, even as much as it would only get them both in big, big trouble.

Both somehow restrained themselves, though, standing up to follow their parents out into the hall after the doctor come to get them.

Frank tugged on Steve to make him move, having gotten left in the back. He did not feel willing to be left out of the loop - despite the atrocious noise level in the hospital, everyone seemed so horribly soft-spoken, making hearing what they were saying from anywhere other than an inch in front of them an impossibility. And Frank wanted to hear.

Steve tucked him in front of him, retaking his former position once he had his brother in front of him, and looked back up at the doctor. Frank read off his acrylic nametag, and wondered how to pronounce the name the man had - it had way, way too many consonants in it.

The man had both his parent's full attention, though, explaining in that too-soft-to-be-heard tone of voice. Frank strained to hear, but he only caught bits of it.

"... doesn't look good for the bone itself. There's no sepsis in the tissues around the injury, so we don't know why or how. But it isn't responding to anything under culture... it's as if his cells are turning on one another. Anything we have to stop the spread will only kill more live tissues, including the muscle in the leg." He looked sympathetically at the couple for a moment, then added, "We can amputate, and hope to stop the spread that way... but we'll need to get on it right away."

Frank took one of the hands Steve had dropped on his shoulders, and tugged on it. Once he had his brother's attention, he asked, "What's he mean, Steve?"

"Flint's gonna get shorter." Steve answered, looking worried. "That's all."

The doctor cast the boys a glance, but little more. Returning his eyes to their father, he said, "I know it's not an easy decision, but if we don't find some way to cut off access to the rest of his body, this could easily spread and kill him. I want permission to take the leg off. I'd like to do it today."

"You're gonna chop his legs off?" Frank squeaked, in protest. "You can't do that! How's he gonna walk?"

Steve gave him a light shake. "Hush, FJ... it'll be okay."

Frank quieted, but he affixed the doctor with an unhappy glare, certain that this was going a bit far. He wasn't that displeased with the strange alien pretending to be Flint, after all! Certainly identity theft wasn't that terrible a crime... was it? He spent the remainder of the day wondering if the judicial system actually chopped limbs off of people who were charged with that crime, but he never got the chance to look it up on the extranet.

.

October 4, 2517

The next time Frank got to see his twin - or the boy pretending to be his twin, who had somehow fooled everyone except Frank - he looked exactly like what Steve had said he would - shorter. Given a wheelchair to assist mobility until he was ready to be fitted with a prosthetic, Flint now spent even more time refusing to move. He also looked permanently pained and there had to be someone always after him about picking at the bandaging over the stump. The one time he was left alone for too long, he nearly got it all peeled off before he was stopped.

Feeling bad about the way he'd treated Flint, Frank tried to approach him that afternoon. "Does it hurt?" he asked, tentative of a snappish comeback.

"It itches." Flint answered, grimacing. "I want to scratch until there's nothing left, but it never stops itching."

Frank gave a small nod, and let his eyes drop to the bandaged stump where the other boy's leg just stopped. It looked wrong... incomplete. Which was, he supposed, half the point. One did not have a stump if one had not lost a bit of themselves, after all.

"You look different, Frank." Flint mentioned, tipping his head to one side in regard to what he was looking at. "Did dad make you take track or something?"

Frank offered a sad smile. "No... and it's not track. There's a fourth grader in the gym who is teaching me how to use the weights. It's kinda fun... maybe when you get better enough to go back to school, we can do it together." Frank offered. "And you can meet him."

"What's his name?" Flint asked.

"Brandon." Frank stepped over to the chair tucked under the table where he usually did his homework, and pulled it out before plopping down in it. "He's really tall." He gestured with his arms in the air, the wild waving making Flint grin slightly. "And strong!"

"What's he do in the gym when you're not there?" Flint asked.

"I don't know, I'm not there." Frank answered, grinning back. For once, Flint wasn't trying to claw the muscle off his stump. If Frank could keep him distracted for long enough, then it might actually get to heal, and then he'd get the prosthetic and they'd all be back to normal in no time at all. And maybe Frank would stop feeling as if Flint was jumping up and doing calisthenics when nobody was looking, and they could be normal again, too.

"Are you gonna be a big muscle-man like the guys on the broadcast?" Flint asked, teasing. "You won't be able to fit through the door!"

"I'm not gonna get that big!" Frank complained, but he was still grinning. "I'm only six!" He jumped up and pretended to do a muscle-advertising arm-curl. "I can only get this wide right now." Never mind he was wearing a shirt too loose to show what little muscle he did have at the moment.

Flint laughed.

.

October 19, 2517

Frank tried getting up onto the top of the horse. He tried hitting the punching bag. Both were too high for him to do much with. He did a lap around the track just to see what that was like, then came into the gym and pumped some iron for a little while, watching as the coach directed the fourth graders on the rings and bars. Watching them fling themselves around like they were was fascinating, but Frank felt sure he'd come flying off of those handholds in a heartbeat if it was him up there, spinning in mid-air like the other kids were doing.

But on the morning of the 19th, feeling he'd given his soreness a backseat at last, he threw back the covers on his bed and jumped to his feet only to recoil back onto the bed at what he saw across from him.

Flint was lying on his own bed, still under the blankets, staring forlornly at his hands... both of which were swollen up like water balloons. He didn't look up, not even when Frank tore out of their bedroom screaming at the top of his lungs for their parents. Steven arrived first, being closer than either parent, the look on his face suggesting he expected to find a bloodstain or worse.

Flint was taken back to the hospital, but though Frank didn't go, he wondered if he ought to have. It was obvious to him now that there was something much more wrong with the alien pretending to be his twin than merely a lack of proper identity... or balance issues. At the end of the school day, and after his usual brooding time spent talking with Brandon and moving weights, Frank went up to the hospital again to see Flint.

The swelling was down, but the prognosis overall did not look as promising. He stood there next to Steven as their father explained what 'acute idiopathic osteo-necrosis' meant, and why the medical wonders of the age could do nothing about it. The sudden onset of decay in the structural cells of Flint's bones was unexplainable, as there seemed no traceable path back to any given source for the affliction. But as the days went by, the condition would only worsen more than it already had, as the bones grew first soft, and then decayed into a soft slush of septic pus that then began to eat away the muscle tissues surrounding each affected area.

It seemed that removing the broken leg had not stopped, nor even stalled, the infection found at the break. Everything conceivable had been thought up and tried, but ultimately none of it seemed to do any good. Without a cause for the decay, there was no way to stop it, and certainly no way to stop the spread as the dead parts ate into the living.

When he was tested for similar, Frank turned up entirely healthy, however, leaving even more questions - why one of a pair of identical twins, and not the other? What had one done so very wrong that the other had failed to do?

Frank had a feeling it had something to do with having gone missing that day back in August at the school lunch break, but he kept his mouth shut. Nobody believed that Flint was not the same boy, so there was no reason to think they would believe him on anything else he'd speculated about. He'd even gone through a fairly normal phase of trying to convince everyone he was Frank... something the twins had done a lot.

The bloodwork looked the same, after all, and so did the exterior. Flint looked just like Flint always had. Just like Frank. But that was all superficial and irrelevant to Frank.

Still... acute idiopathic osteo-necrosis was going overboard, as far as getting smacked for being someone that one isn't. Frank wondered where his real twin had disappeared to, and why he'd gone away at all, and where this other, strange, diseased boy had come from. Steve took it all to heart, though - he, like their parents, believed Flint was the same boy he'd always been. While Frank felt bad for the poor soul suffering through the condition, he did not feel nearly as stricken as the other members of his family.

This, too, made them even more angry with him. First he denied the boy they thought was his twin the courtesy of 'feeling it' with him, and now he denied him the sympathy a brother deserved.

Frank had quit trying to convince them of what he knew to be the truth.

After all... who would believe that a six-year-old knew more about any given situation than his parents did? Frank sat through the whole process of hospital visitations, of long discussions of hopeless scenario after hopeless scenario between the doctors and his parents, using his own spare time to pull weights and run some laps. It took several more weeks to come to a head fully, until finally, when the necrosis attacked Flint's spine and skull, and the sepsis got into his internal organs and shut them down, it was over.

Frank felt certain he'd never seen his father cry before... nor seen his mother so very sad. Steve looked broken, but he remained silent about it, through the preparations and then the funeral and even much of the aftermath.

In the end, all Frank felt was a loss of companionship - towards the critical end, he had managed to make friends with the alien, but it was to no avail. He'd died, rather horribly in fact, and Frank got their bedroom to himself for the first time in his life. Despite how he had always known that that strange boy had not been his twin, it still looked like a hollow, empty room when he saw it first.

Flint was, truly and wholly, gone.
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Etsharrin Hopsarrith
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Re: Hammer of Thor Chronicles - Seen You Every Mirror

Post by Etsharrin Hopsarrith on Sat May 15, 2010 3:21 pm

2: BUILDING A MYSTERY
March 28, 2525


Brandon and Steve were both finishing up their final high school year, readying to graduate and look into a college for a degree in something interesting. Frank, having the great and wondrous fortune to be toodling along in their shadow, never needed to go out of his way to express much of anything.

Poor Brandon had had a hard time coming of age, but though his voice constantly broke back and forth during the transition, one of the few people he would still talk to despite it was Frank. He rather envied the younger boy, though, when despite Steve enduring much the same humiliation, Frank's voice never broke at all… it just gradually, almost imperceptibly, deepened a little bit at a time.

For it, there were some small communication gaps between them – Frank never understood the strange silences the two older boys often adopted, as he personally had never changed his vocal habits to cover for what he might have perceived to be a personal flaw for a while. It was something Brandon especially liked to poke at him for… Frank had missed something special, he'd say.

But at fourteen, there really wasn't a whole lot going to get in the way of a boy like Frank. He still felt those same, odd, slightly removed tendencies that he knew came from his twin… he tried hard not to mention them to anyone, but he still caught himself peering around corners looking for the missing other. Wherever Flint – the real Flint – had gone, he was taking his time being there, and hadn't come home yet.

Everyone else thought he'd died at age six, though… so it just wouldn't do to bring up that kind of memory. In the meantime, Frank worked the gym until he looked a little like Brandon did – all sinew and muscle. But Frank had some aspects Brandon had failed to achieve, at a much younger age. While Brandon was busily filling out at seventeen, Frank had started that process already, and he looked like a bigger kid than he really was because of it.

Their father assured them that boys did not stop growing until they were twenty-one… but already, Steve was six foot two and Frank was five foot eleven. Brandon stood six foot one, making them the three tallest kids in the school.

Frank imagined he might get as tall as Steve someday… but he knew he'd spend the final few years of school in their hometown alone, when the elder two graduated and moved out to look for a college campus to live on for a while. It was a rather disheartening thought, in all truth… Frank had discovered he didn't really make friends easy. That, or people willing to be friendly were just that rare. The few times he thought he'd made it with a kid his age, he'd get a splash of reality a few months later when said 'friend' wanted nothing more to do with him.

So he stuck with Brandon, even though he knew the lanky black kid wouldn't be around for much longer.

Frank found himself weathering down some of the strangest senses of irritation and prickles that he'd ever known, and more often than not he would wake up in the middle of the night certain he'd been disturbed by something. Something he quickly discovered wasn’t external. On the nights he chose to stay up and study – more to test the prickles than to improve his grades any – he'd find himself twitchy and hot, and on some of the rarer occasions, even pondering the reasons why it felt like someone was carving his skin open with a blunt butcher's cleaver.

It was not, he soon discovered, all there was to the story of his missing half.

.

March 9, 2525

Arriving at school feeling groggy and trying not to grimace for the weird, twisting pain in his shoulders and elbows, Frank carried his study material through the doors and headed up the hall through the throng of other kids his age, heading for the first class.

Brandon found him first, a dot of stark brown in the middle of a sea of white kids, and shuttled him to the side where an empty corner existed. "Hey, got something to tell you!" He sounded excited, as if whatever it was, it was a good thing.

Frank squinted at him, feeling every inch of his skin rise in acidic temperature, then try to flay from his person. Physically no such thing was happening… but it made it hard to concentrate on what Brandon might have to say.

He noticed, though, and hesitated. "Hey… you okay, FJ? You don't look so good…"

Frank stuck his tongue out. "Feel like I'm being boiled alive." Even though he had not been doing any screaming – though he certainly wanted to – he still sounded hoarse.

Brandon gave him a concerned look. "Ooh, don't tell me you're getting a late onset of that same crap that wiped your brother out…"

Panic shot through him at the mention, but just when he thought he might have finally felt something negative of his own for the first time in the eight years since the alien's death, he felt the same echo back at him from that distant, mysterious empty space where the twin was supposed to be. Flint had felt that… and had just lost it, too.

"Hey!" Brandon called, catching him by a shoulder and shaking him lightly. "Easy, there… maybe you should sit down…"

Frank didn't want to sit down, though – he would have rathered dying instead. Hot, searing fire lanced through every muscle cluster he owned, gathering at first in several central points before then beginning to spread out from there and cover all the rest of him. Indeed, it did feel as though his bones might be being incinerated out from within his muscles. He could feel Brandon clawing at him as he sank to his knees on the floor, but though he knew he was gasping for breath, he also didn't feel like the air was doing him any good.

Slowly, the pain blurred out the vision of the hallway, and even when he blinked the moisture out of his eyes, he still couldn't see at all. Blindly he groped in reply for Brandon's arms, but he wasn't sure if his arms were moving at all. He certainly couldn't feel enough to tell if he ever made contact with anything.

If he had fallen into a pit of frothing lava right then, he knew he would not have noticed. Frank gasped and wheezed, more choking on each breath than assimilating the air they contained, until he finally, blessedly, passed out from the pain.

.

March 11, 2525

The world snapped back to, as if a shallow rendering of its former self, before he had the mental processes in order enough to get his eyelids up. Groggily, and still in a considerable amount of pain, Frank tentatively lifted one, to peer out and see if there truly was fire and brimstone out there. A soft beep to his right startled him nearly clean out of his skin, but all he could do was flinch in reply to that.

"Hey, it's alive." The voice of his brother, Steve, greeted. "What happened, man? Brandon said you just dropped like a rock in the middle of the hall at school."

Frank just groaned.

Slowly, as if hesitant to appear, Steve came into focus through the bleary vision of the world. "Doctors say there's nothing wrong with you… you're clean as a whistle."

"I don't feel clean as no whistle." Frank grumbled, testing the use of an arm and ultimately deciding against moving it. Everything still burned, but rather than a searing boil in a strong acid, it had reduced more to a livid simmer.

Steve cocked his head at the answer. "What happened, FJ?"

Frank offered his best confused expression – even that hurt like hell. "Beats the hell out of me, Steve… wish whatever it was hadn't happened, though…"

"Frank, it's been… two days." Steve informed him, crossing his arms. "You've been under for most of that time. And according to that brain-thingy they have, your nervous system is firing like a goddamn minigun."

Frank clenched his jaw and grimaced at Steve. "I know that much!"

"What did you eat?" Steve asked, sounding puzzled.

"Breakfast?" Frank offered, trying and failing to straighten his expression out for once. Keeping his features twisted for the pain the rest of him was feeling was making the pain in his face a little worse. "Same as every other day."

"So this was… sudden?"

Frank tried to focus on his brother's face again, noting the hint of trepidation in that last query. "I've got no plans to die horribly, Steve."

"You'd better not, FJ." Came the soft reply. "I don't want to watch you decay, too."

Frank let his head rest back on the pillow, his eyes closed. It was a little better that way… but he could tell Flint was moving… and by the way it hurt, it felt like he was trying like a blithering idiot to get up. "Sit still, sit still…" Frank muttered under his breath, wishing his link was good enough to send messages through.

Flint didn't listen, if he could even hear.

"Who are you talking to?" Steve asked, curiously.

Frank opened his eyes, and gave the patterned hospital-room ceiling a pained wince. "Never mind me, Steve… I think I'll be okay." If Flint moving around made it hurt worse, that likely meant that the source of the pain was at Flint's end… which also meant that Frank was just what the doctors said he was – fine.

"I'm not going to never mind you while you're behaving like someone with a strange, incurable, undetectable disease, Frank." Steve countered, sounding hurt and stern at once.

Frank cast him a sympathetic look. "I'll be okay, Steve… really. Just… gimme a little while." The pain in the soles of his bare feet flared into barely-tolerable agony, but just when Frank was about to think that Flint was actually going to go somewhere, instead he got the distinct feeling that he didn't go anywhere much at all but down.

Impact sent him over the edge, curled upwards, unable to choke back the scream.

Steve jumped to his feet in a flash, catching him and holding him away from a plummet of his own with similar ends, yelling over the scream for something Frank could not define. When it ebbed, he relaxed against the bed, only then realizing he'd sunk his fingers into his brother's arms, and clutched so hard that he'd drawn blood. Heaving for breath, he managed to make himself let go, but he still saw Steve's grimace as the hospital staff sent to check out what was going on came charging in.

For once, Frank rather vehemently wished he could assimilate modern drugs… he wanted to drown himself in anesthetics until there was nothing left but the painkillers themselves, and all that remained of Frank was a whisper of lingering thought.

That, or Flint needed to be considerate enough to not get boiled alive.

.

March 12, 2525

Each day following the boiling session, Frank would wake up feeling his face crusty and tacky, and he often left strange brown stains on his pillow from where it came off his cheeks. If Flint was experiencing the same thing, Frank didn't know, but he had a feeling that the enormous nervous stress had garnered himself a similar physical reaction; his eyes were bleeding.

They ached, and while it was hard to focus, he often found he could see things that had previously been masked – by humidity, by distance, by low or poor lighting. It was as if his bond with his twin had given him a recessed, slightly warped throwback of whatever Flint was going through.

Drawing conclusions for what in the world it had been this time, though, proved hard to manage. He often found himself shaking uncontrollably, and when he didn't have ridiculously excellent vision, he usually was damn near blind. Navigating the school and the grounds – and even his parent's house – was difficult on those days. Forcing himself to get up and move, to walk from one end of the room to the other at all, really, was a chore just in and of itself.

Wherever Flint was hiding, though, he was doing the same thing. All marks of strain were removed for the most part, but he was ambling about in pretty much the same casual manner Frank was. It was a mild comfort, to know he wouldn't be doubled up in the middle of class because of something Flint had done.

But above all else, Frank hoped the blood seeping out from around his eyes would go away soon… if anyone at all ever found out about it, he knew he'd be back in that hospital so fast he'd never see the light of day ever again. Osteo-necrosis or not, this was certainly acute and idiopathic!
.

March 30, 2525

The pain of being boiled half to death was now mainly gone. He almost never took to shaking anymore, and his eyes hadn't bled in a couple of days. But Frank felt he'd never been so morose in his whole life. Everything around him looked cheery and alive, and there seemed no reason whatsoever to be so sad. But all he felt was the most profound sense of loss, of failure, that could possibly have crossed his path.

He felt sad. Every fiber of his being seemed committed to this expression, but staying home from school for what was basically a bad mood would be impossible. Frank wasn't shutting it out, though – even though he knew that from all the indicators, the overwhelming sense was not his own.

He could feel Flint again.

Despite the fact that everyone around him remained dedicated to the idea that his twin was dead and gone, Frank remained steadfast in the belief that he was not, in fact, any such thing. Having to endure all the terrible bouts of physical abuse from the other end of what was clearly the exact same bond was proof enough.

Time and distance could never separate them far enough, Frank was sure… because the last time he checked, there were no listings of anyone that looked like himself other than his own self on Eridanus I. That meant that wherever Flint had gone to, he was off-world.

Far, far away.

In as much as what Frank had ever gotten from his twin had been the extremes of anything, he still found himself focusing all his mental processes on the signals… be they negative, painful, or even temporarily crippling. All of it was just one more whisper of hints lending to the strange mystery that had befallen his real brother. While distressing that he'd been kidnapped at the tender age of six, Frank had settled in his mind that it was a far better fate than what became of his replacement – Flint, as it were, was still alive.

There were days when if he looked for them, he could almost tell what his twin was up to. The faintest sensation of pressure or tension across his frame would usually allow him to be able to imitate, and after a moment, deduce a logical chain of events.

Flint seemed to be moving around within a given small environment at the moment – either a compound grounds or the interior of a starship – and had not done anything particularly strenuous since the boiling incident.

But the sorrow… it was puzzling. Given perspective, it would have been as if Frank had just watched Steve and Brandon both die, and all he had left were his parents.

What had happened to Flint to make him feel that way?

.

September 11, 2525

It was a very interesting day. Frank felt that whenever Flint moved, it was disturbance enough to his hyper-attuned senses to wake or disturb Frank. He'd heard that some twins lost their bond over time, mainly due to lack of exercise. He almost got the feeling that Flint had begun to shut him out; if he knocked against something by accident and it hurt, Flint never responded with any indicators that he'd felt it. But he was a busy kid… and Frank was the one who felt he'd been wronged by the disappearance of his twin and had spent all the years since the alien's death fine-tuning his ability to tell what his brother was up to.

Today, it seemed, was a turning point in that endeavor.

Frank had stepped out onto the track, but he found he almost couldn't make himself run. He wanted to zigzag and fold back upon a certain area. If it hadn't been as big a track as it was, sporting as much open space as it did, that might have become an issue.

Since there was plenty of space to move in, though, Frank let it go – he'd follow Flint today, and try to figure out what he was up to. Like his missing twin, Frank was feeling rather good today. Since the boiling back in March, Frank had begun to pick up subtle hints that whatever it had been, it had something to do with a set of improvements to the human condition.

Flint had been… what was the word?… augmented.

Frank knew he was only as human as he'd been before, but there were days when he too felt somewhat better suited to harsher tasks than he should have been. Perhaps the depth of his attachment to the bond he shared was what had done it – the nervous system could only stimulate for so long before the surrounding tissues responded. Case in point – Frank could still see damn near perfectly, even through haze, poor lighting, and sometimes, the very pitch of darkness wasn't black enough to stop him from successfully navigating.

His following of his brother's motions kept him up to speed – almost literally – with what he figured was probably really going on. Still, somehow, Flint was fast as a speeding bullet now and every time Frank stepped after him, he always felt that while they both began and both stopped moving at the same instant, Flint had always covered more distance than Frank could.

Which only lent more still to the idea that the boiling had made physical improvements.

Today, Frank felt assured that Flint was doing some kind of mission. It wasn't long before several of the other students gathering to use the track began to sift into a crowd, watching him go seemingly nuts in a million directions across the track. Frank didn't care – they could watch.

When the football jock that was always giving Brandon hell for being black decided to step in, Frank turned to see him approaching right as he felt the knuckles of his left hand compress tightly.

Smack! Flint had just punched the living daylights out of someone.

Frank twitched, fighting to remain still as he watched the bigger, older boy draw near. When he got a little less than four strides away, he spoke.

"Something wrong with your brain, retard? There are people want to use this track and you're in the way."

Frank clenched his fists, trembling as he felt Flint bring down two more people, and then move on, all in a lightning blur of motion. He was fast – and efficient.

"Hey! Retard! I'm talking to you!" The jock insisted, stepping closer in an attempt to be intimidating. "Get off the track, already."

Frank tipped a blonde eyebrow at him, wondering if the next victim was soon or if he'd have to duck and run. He almost felt inadequate, but if he could borrow his brother's training techniques, he'd likely put the jock down without breaking a sweat.

Or getting hit. Angry at being ignored, and more so at the expression lent him when he finally felt he'd gained some of Frank's attention, the jock rolled his over-built shoulders back, and balled his own hands into fists. He waved one in Frank's face. "How about I feed you your face, retard? Would you like that?"

Flint balanced left.

He caught the reaching fist and turned it sideways, unbalancing his opponent, slugged his other fist into that elbow and completed his turn to roll the opponent over his shoulders and throw him onto the ground behind himself, using the broken arm as a lever. He dropped on his knees, curled for the pain and therefore not fully flattened yet.

Flint dropped the arm with the broken elbow.

He got a fistful of fabric off the back of his opponent with his right hand, lifted him so his back arched, and slugged the other in the kidney so he twisted involuntarily in his grasp. When he completed the turn and came about to face past Flint's right, he was already balanced left again so he brought up his right knee and buried it in his opponent's belly with enough force to tear the fabric out of his grasp and send the victim into a crippled sprawl on his back.

Flint moved on.


Frank looked down at the sprawled jock, a little awed… he hadn't taken a single hit, and he'd felled a boy bigger than him inside of a single minute. He wouldn't be playing much football for a while after this, either… but now Frank might be in a shitload of trouble.

They'd test him for performance enhancing drugs, then question his sanity, then give him detention. Any credits he had for college might get docked, too.

Dammit.

But at least he wouldn't have to explain to his parents why he'd come home with more bruises than muscles and a couple of broken bones to boot. Frank hadn't taken a single hit. Finally, almost a full minute after being dropped, the jock got in a good breath.

"Sorry." Frank offered, tentative. He knew without looking that everyone else watching had slack-jawed, wide-eyed looks on their faces. "I didn't… um." He turned to see them, backing away from the jock, then when he felt none of them would try to stop him, he ran flat out for the school building again, hoping to find Brandon or Steve and seek refuge.

Flint was running, too.

.

September 12, 2525

How in the world it all came down to the same sensations for similar ends, Frank was unsure. Indeed, he got all he thought he might, for twisting the football jock in half like he had. What got him was the fact that while he was really upset about the harsh punishment the school meted out for his behavior, Flint, too, was suffering from pretty severe, withering disappointment.

Like he, too, had just suffered disciplinary action for what he'd done to those… was it eight? Or twenty? Frank wasn't allowed back on school grounds. His parents – heck, both Brandon and Steve too, wanted to know just exactly where and how he had learned to fight like that. Having a combined report from some twelve other watching students had made it all abundantly clear.

Frank had dropped the jock like a rock without trying. But he had no answer they would believe, so he had to just shake his head and make them all think he was either getting into a proactive gang or sneaking martial arts classes on the side.

Neither were true.

But without school, there was nothing at all for him to do with himself. Flint, he felt, was having similar issues. Something was happening and he was being left out of it. Frank figured he'd never get into a good college, but now he didn't even have the credits to get into a bad one. He simply couldn't make it… it was go broke paying full price of admission like an older adult seeking a career change might, or just don't go at all.

Frank wasn't sure he was ready to give up, but as the days poured by he began to wonder if it wouldn't be better if he just went out there after his missing brother. If he could find him at all, he would be able to bring him home… right? By the way things were forming, Frank felt certain that Flint had been enrolled in some kind of juvenile military academy. How in the world he'd gotten so far from home at all – especially given the replacement – was still a mystery.

But on the final day he felt he could tolerate, Frank made his mind up.

He was going to go find Flint, and when he found him, he'd bring him home, and prove to his family once and for all that they were all wrong. He knew nothing else would be good enough for them. Given what he'd guessed about Flint's situation, a good path to meeting that end looked like the UNSC recruiter's office.

And why not? He could probably make it to the very top as one of the 'best' if Flint never got out of the game. He had been the best trainer in the world, truth be told… nothing quite like feeling the necessary motions on the insides of each needed muscle cluster, and being tugged in all the proper directions. Being told by someone external to himself would be entirely different, and it was no wonder so many people washed out of so many training exercises. Even simple ones like weight-loss programs for the obese.

Still… it would need to wait until November, if he could make it that far with his sanity intact… and even then he'd need his parent's approval.

Might as well get started with the campaigning for it. Likely it would take all the time he had left to get them to let him go.

.

November 2, 2525

Frank felt more apprehension than he felt he deserved to – the military was not a nice place to be, nor was the life it offered an easy one. He'd likely get sent out to do dirty things to the people the press referred to as Innies, and he well expected to spend a couple of years just going through the motions before finally being able to make a concerted effort to search for his brother.

But while he had finally managed to goad both parents into accompanying him to the recruiter's office… there was more to it than just leaving home for the first – and likely the last – time.

Flint was wound up about something. Had been all morning.

He felt the same apprehension, the same tension, the same confusion about entering the unknown. All the difference between them was that Flint seemed to be assured about what he was going to do about it once set loose with an objective. Frank still wasn't even really sure what boot entailed.

At the office, the walls plastered over with posters of military personnel and catchy slogans, the recruitment officer behind the desk looked up with some mild surprise.

"Oh, hello there. Good morning." He offered a warm, greeting smile. "What can I do for you today?" He let his hazel eyes flick between Frank's parents before settling on Frank.

"I wanted to join up." Frank answered, feeling the words as they passed his tongue. It was strange, standing there, willing and eager to sign his life away. If Flint hadn't gone missing, he knew he'd never have come this far. Frank hadn't ever really wanted to be a soldier before… it just seemed like a reasonable route to going after and finding his missing sibling.

The officer raised his brown eyebrows, the honeyed skin on his face pulling tight in a spot under the outside edge of one and revealing an otherwise concealed mark. "I take it since you're here with your parents, you've got their permission to do so?"

"Yes, sir." Frank told him. "I was just – " He hesitated, hearing the door to the sidewalk outside pull open, the soft crack of the cold, air-conditioned air inside meeting the warming air of spring outside. Turning halfway, Frank found himself looking back over his own shoulder past his mother at the newly entered other; it was Brandon.

He pointed a black finger at Frank. "You're not going anywhere without me, you half-pint." The other boy announced. Stepping up next to Frank, he looked the recruiter in the eye and dared him to rebuke his decision; "I want my name right next to his, and I want our assignments to be the same squadron or whatever the hell. If I don't get what I want, I'll hunt you down and hurt you."

The recruitment officer laughed, and twirled the stylus in his hand. "We do have a buddy program, you know. All of that is perfectly acceptable."

Brandon looked surprised at first, then split a grin and slapped Frank on the back. "Looks like you're stuck with me, Frank."

The officer wove his hands together, then said, "I'll just need an ID card to verify your age."

Brandon pulled his out, and handed it over. He was already eighteen – he didn't need his mother's approval nor endorsement. But if he hadn't at least informed her what he was about to run away and go do, Frank would have been shocked. With all the necessities squared away, and Frank verified and vouched for as the minimum age of sixteen, and with both parent's approval, the two boys signed their names on the data card with the stylus.

Frank wondered what he'd just gotten himself into… but as they left the office, he shot Brandon an appreciative smile, aware that so long as the other boy was with him, he at least had half a chance at making it out the other side in one piece.

.

November 27, 2525

Over the course of boot, Frank had reached for and excelled in pretty much everything he was presented with; in fact, he knew without doubt that while the basics of each aspect were being explained all while Flint was making sure he got through the actual execution of each. And the more Frank paid attention, the more Flint seemed to be actively pursuing mission after mission… some of them night ops.

Or, at least, night ops for the planet Frank was still on. The military base on Eridanus I was sufficient to induct recruits into trainees, so he hadn't gone far. Just a couple of time zones away from his old home.

Brandon struggled to keep up, but when he lagged behind in something, Frank would make a point of requesting time off from the trainer's regimen to help Brandon stay on the level. At first this attitude had earned him some significant scrutiny, but after watching him spar with Brandon a couple of times, most of the trainers felt confident that he really did know what he was doing… and they left him to it.

It wasn't long, though, before Frank got asked to help out with a couple of the other lagging recruits, too. One of them washed out anyway, lacking the resolve and determination it took to muster through. The other four came into their own, though, and soon everyone was up to speed and keeping in step.

Frank often felt that he was driving the other recruits as hard as the trainers were… but with Flint in the back of his mind and all the motions to go through and examine the merits of, he almost felt better equipped for this than he'd expected to be. Just to see what kind of prowess Flint really had to offer him, Frank asked the toughest trainer on base if he wouldn't mind sparring.

He waited until Flint caught someone too close to shoot… and Frank put him down inside of a minute.

He'd worked his reflexes to the point where his brain was a disconnected afterthought, and he could catch anyone inside of any motion, and usually long before he really needed to catch them. Try as he might, though, he couldn't seem to get anyone else to that level of readiness, although several of his class tried very hard.

Brandon, hardest of all.

But today, again, things were different. Frank felt Flint going through a rove of expressions; first a touch of apprehension early in the morning, then significant elation towards the afternoon, and barely had that passed – and Frank felt oddly inclined to move faster regardless what it was he was doing – then the apprehension returned.

He had about an hour of that before searing frustration burned a hole through his concentration and made him want to scream… but what he'd been up to had gone well enough. Useful on some days, the bond with his missing brother was often equally as annoying on others. Flint did not always do things conducive to Frank's day, after all.

And today, he had done something – likely in relation to that elation – that had gotten him a bad result. He was mad, and he wanted to let everyone and everything know it. Had he missed a shot? Failed something? Broken an expensive piece of necessary equipment? Lost something? Oh, but whatever it was remained unclear. All Frank knew was that his brother was mad, and he also got the feeling that he couldn't really express it the way he wanted to.

Must be some rough circumstances… maybe he'd gotten the short end of the stick from a superior officer, and now he wasn't allowed to hit him back? But it went deeper than that. Like all that had been worked for up until now was suddenly lost, and because of one simple act that had taken all of a few seconds to complete.

And then, and only then, after the fact, had Flint figured out it was a mistake that had ruined everything. Frank weathered down the feeling, really not wanting to be made to pick any fights.

He hadn't gotten that much training, after all, he'd only been here a couple weeks. Even Flint's assistance with the training couldn't make up for doing something stupid like picking a fight with someone best left alone.

Frank never did figure out what that anger was for.

A few months later, though, he found out about the First Contact battle over Chi Ceti IV. Aliens had arrived in Known Space, and they had picked a terrible fight. Harvest was gone, the agrarian planet reduced to a ball bubbling glass.

It seemed he'd joined up just in time to be handed something a bit meaner than Innies to fight with.
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Etsharrin Hopsarrith
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Re: Hammer of Thor Chronicles - Seen You Every Mirror

Post by Etsharrin Hopsarrith on Sun May 23, 2010 11:11 pm

3: DON'T GIVE UP ON ME

February 14, 2526


Private Frank James O'Neil frequently wished he'd stayed home, and just had the patience to wait for Flint to come back on his own. In as much as he knew that that attitude really wouldn't earn him much - perhaps more than a very shaken life while he tried to follow his twin's occupation at the same time - Frank still wished he'd stayed home more often than not.

Returning from one mission usually just meant he got to go back out on yet another, and nine times out of ten, it was drop, pursue and complete the mission, hit pickup, hit the decks of the ship, grab sack time and maybe a meal, refit for the next drop, and drop. Remarkably enough, Brandon wasn't dragging. Or if he was, he wasn't showing it. Frank felt like he was showing it as baldly and blatantly as they came, and he also felt he got given torture sessions like running point just because the team commander thought it was funny. Frank did not think it was funny.

Flint was almost as unmerciful; the missing twin was always up to something, but the more missions they both attended, the more Frank wanted to go back to "normal" and get a job and live in an apartment and maybe have a girlfriend, and the more Flint seemed to disappear down into the little soldier he was pretending to be. Frank rarely got emotional responses out of his twin anymore, unless it was something pretty severe.

Frustration seemed to be the all-time favorite. Flint would do something strenuous, get annoyed at it, then go back and do something else equally as punishing. Since Frank wasn't actually doing what Flint was doing, he only felt the aftermath, and didn't actually get saddled with the results of so much exertion. Though why Flint hadn't dissolved into a heap of twitching protein chains by now from the constant influx of lactic acid in his muscles was a mystery.

He just kept right on going, like the most badass, grouchy energizer bunny from hell. Usually, Flint would spend roughly five to ten minutes feeling tired, sitting still, then he'd shrug it off and go back to running or hitting people or shooting at them. The days when Frank didn't feel like he was going to bounce off the walls, he felt like he'd been drooled out into a long string of cooked spaghetti, as he just couldn't seem to keep up with his overly energetic other half.

His superiors didn't understand... and neither did Brandon.

So it really came as no surprise that everyone thought he was faking it... all of it. Even the energetic bits. What really hurt was that somehow, Flint usually managed to make him want to run in mad little circles when his own company wanted him to sit still, and Flint would be dead beat whenever Frank needed to be on his toes the most.

Somehow, getting past the "first kill" never hit home for him, though he did have to sit with Brandon until the bigger kid got over the shakes. That, at least, had been something honed down into nonchalance by his missing twin for him.

People died. It was normal. Sometimes, people died because he made them do it. And that was normal, too. Due to all of this, everyone always thought of him and referred to him as "that weird, fucked-up piece of work", because trying to psych-eval someone like him without asking any direct questions would leave anyone scratching their heads.

And there were days when Frank didn't blame them a bit... sometimes, he scratched his own head, too!

At 0500, he was up and scrubbed and tugging into his gear and wishing for just four more minutes of rack time, but everyone else was doing the same thing. He wasn't going to get any sympathy.

"Washington!" The voice of the platoon Sergeant was unmistakable; he was the kind of nails-tough guy that didn't appear to have a life beyond the one the UNSC had given him, and some of the guys speculated that he slept with his gun whenever he wanted company. Built like a tree stump, short but thick, and covered in rolling muscles that knew no failed effort, Stacy Adam Vargas was more the type of man nobody dared to tease about his name.

Frank looked up, momentarily distracted, but all it did was earn him a pointed look from the Sergeant. "You're not Washington, son, keep your eye on the ball." He was also the only officer-type to ever call Frank 'son' that he wished wouldn't. He had a way of saying the word as if he resented the addressed.

"Yes, sir." Frank mumbled, quickly ducking his head and quickly finishing with the boot he was lacing up. To the best that he could tell, Flint had already gotten up and long since been finished readying for whatever he was about to do, and had that kind of sense of waiting that usually forebode some kind of action sequence. Hopefully there was less of the hand-to-hand this time around... it made it hard as hell to aim his rifle when his twin was throwing his arms around all over the place. Getting neural signals from two different bodies was confusing, sometimes. He had to figure out which set were his own, and then figure out how to maintain that knowledge as he went through whatever series of motions, while following those of his twin.

Flint grabbed a rifle, slung it sideways, yanked on the action bar and pinched the crap out of the side of his thumb. Frank had just dropped his freshly booted foot to the floor when he emitted a choked squeak of protest, clamping down on the sound as soon as he realized he'd made it. Frank stuck his own thumb down into that fist, and clenched it as tightly as possible, going over a mental checklist of every cuss word he knew. It was the only way he could deal with not being able to complain to the actual guilty party. What was really irksome was that more often than not, unless he was shot full of holes outright, Flint generally tended to wince, grimace, or flinch, and then forget he'd hurt himself. The rifle went somewhere, but Frank was too busy shrugging into his web gear to truly discern which of the uncomfortable digs were real and which were imagined.

"Hey, O'Neil." Someone said, suddenly, distracting him.

Frank looked up, his eyebrows met. "Huh? Who was that?" Fully five of the available people were looking at him.

Second from the right raised a hand, and waved. A chunky man named Earl Grissom, the speaker had olive skin, brown-black eyes and a twisted grin that dimpled from shrapnel scarring when he really meant it. Being as he was a Corporal, he was one of billions of other troops Frank was expected to defer to... and salute.

But he'd been in the barracks with this particular platoon for long enough that one did not necessarily salute unless one was under greeting, departing, or parade circumstances. One did not need to elbow someone else in the eye saluting inside the weapon lockers, and one was absolutely forbidden from saluting in the field. So Frank just raised his eyebrows, and offered, "Sir?"

The other four grinned. He was, to them, still one of the "FNG's", so they often found him amusing. This was usually when they did not find him psychopathically haunting, and were giving him a wide berth. "Bite yourself, kid?" Grissom asked.

"What? Oh, no, sir." Frank grimaced. Damn... someone had heard that. He ran down the list one more time, wishing Flint was somewhere in earshot to really hear it. Double whammy! First he had to go and pinch the crap out of his thumb, and then he had to do it where Frank's troop could hear him squeak for it.

"Someone goose ya, then?" The Corporal pressed. "You're a damn strange kid, O'Neil, always out of sorts, most times not even paying any damn attention to the real world or what's happening around you. Gonna say I told you so when the Covenant paste your ass."

Frank's expression rumpled, but he couldn't argue unless he wanted to really get all the way down that shit-pipe...that usually involved military disciplinary action. "Yes, sir, I guess you will."

For some reason, this answer also made them laugh. "So, got everything squared up?"

"What? No, sir, I only just got it on me." Frank protested. "It's not even buckled." Quickly he amended that, though, aware where that might go. He didn't want to get roughed up for fun, but he also didn't want to get taunted for being 'sloppy' when he was merely not finished. Still, he was not entirely without ammunition; safe ammunition, shots he would not be called out on. And even if the Corporal tried it, he'd get called down, and Frank would get away with it. "What about you, sir, need any help with anything?"

He earned a slightly puzzled look for roughly half a second, but the grin returned. "Naw, kid, I'm good. How many drops you been on, so far?"

"You have to ask, sir?" Frank issued, beginning to get worried. Grissom didn't usually talk to Frank... he'd always assumed it was better that way. "You were there for all of them."

"Wanted to know if you were keeping count, that's all."

"Way I figure, sir, if I survived it, it doesn't count." Frank answered, tugging the harness down so it fit a little better. "I'm either scarred or dead, but not both, sir."

"Hey, little Private thinks he's got it all figured out!" Grissom decided. "Listen, kid, you - " He was interrupted when the Platoon Sergeant came back through, with things of his own to say.

"Alright, boys, the ODST's are aboard and locked in tight. Corporal, can it. We got five minutes to meet the pilots in the hangar and get strapped in or we get left behind. I don't want to see a single empty seat, you hear me? We drop in eight. Move out!"

Frank shuffled out of the room with his battle rifle hugged to his equipment-laden chest like a four-year-old might have hugged a beloved stuffed toy, but it was the only way to keep ahold of the thing without getting his elbows knocked into mercilessly by the other men. Out the door and up the hall, he finally spotted Brandon, already dressed and set to go, but the other Private didn't move a single step until Frank made his position. Falling in beside his friend, the pair made for the hangar deck at a shuffling trot, the whole platoon moving at roughly the same speed.

Frank rarely knew what the op was about until he made the Pelican... briefings were for the officers, after all. He'd be told what was happening and what was expected of him a few spare seconds before it would matter. Maybe the lack of a time lag had a purpose, but Frank mainly found it annoying.

And almost as soon as his bottom hit the seat in the Pelican's rear bay, he wished once more for some extra rack time. He was tired, even if Flint was not, and even if Flint was pretending he was not. While Frank took the Pelican ride down, he could feel Flint tuck down into one of the ODST's treasured drop pods, and belt in. Men died in those things - from little more than raw impact. Flint tended to use them to make up for lost time, though, and he had yet to be bothered much by impact at all.

In fact, it was a little necessary... and Frank got the impression that anything less would not jar his twin from the naps the idiot took while riding them down.

Staring at the grilled floor plating between himself and the Marine across from him, Frank wished he had that same luxury. But if he nodded off, he'd miss his own debriefing, and he'd be next to useless once their boots hit the dirt.

Quietly in his head, Frank ran down that age-worn list of cuss words one more time.

.

February 21, 2526

Daylight stabbed through the swirling dust under the racing phantom, the knives of light winking in and out through the dark, airborne dirt. In the thing's wake, and barely behind it at all, was a pursuing Shortsword, the booming nose gun a thunderous whine dropping brass all over the Marine's heads.

Frank ducked under the awning to his left, the decorative siding on the administrative building serving well for deflecting the sprinkle of fast-moving brass casings. Several of the others got sprinkled, but the brass was moving fast enough and was hot enough off the gun that the things struck their armored backs and helmeted heads with harsh, loud, ringing pling!'s, and bounced back high into the air. One Marine got one tucked down next to his neck where his armor stopped and the collar of his field jacket began, and it burned right through the ripstop into his skin.

His squall of protest turned many a reptilian head up the street.

There wasn't much to aim at, but then the plasma-gun wielders never seemed to really aim anyway. Digging the brass out of his neck and throwing it away, the Marine ducked away, into cover, avoiding being struck even once by the random splattering of plasma shots taken in his general direction.

The overhead traffic cleared for the moment, the dust surged up the street, carried by the horrific storm-front winds until it was past the enemy forces and behind them. Frank had realized what it was doing right away, and had taken off running as hard as he could towards the enemy, ducking last-minute into an alcove in the front of a bank to hide behind a handy, freestanding news kiosk.

With buildings stretching high into the sky on all sides, it was difficult to fan out and get comprehensive teamwork. But the pinch worked both ways... the Covenant forces they encountered merely had twice as much clout to throw around. They had shielding devices and superheated gas throwers and self-depreciating high-powered rounds and explosive ion charges in a high-tech mock-up of a rocket launcher. That the ion charges had a minor ballistic arc didn't seem to matter much... those what carried them, always knew the math.

Looking back, Frank knew he was all alone where he was. Why was it, whenever he saw a significant but temporary tactical advantage, he was the only one that did?? Now instead of pressing an advantage, he was only going to get himself killed. Nice.

He closed his eyes, and listened, trying to determine what kind of creature was positioned in what place without ever exposing his head for a peek. If he did that, he'd get it singed right off his shoulders, and he wasn't about to let himself die. He still hadn't found Flint yet, after all, and that had been the whole plan all along.

He hoped Brandon was there to see it when it happened... that way nobody could call him crazy when he returned home, triumphant in his own personal quest. Brandon, at least, had a fairly level, sane, normal psych-eval record! He wasn't going to spout utter nonsense for no damn good reason.

Two Elites on the right, one on the far left, standing behind a pair of Jackals. Six Grunts up front of the duo, four in front of the loner. Another Jackal in front of the duo, mingled with the Grunts. The task wasn't difficult when he knew what kind of guns the lot held - and what with all the Elites holding standard plasma rifles, the Grunts with a set of explosive-round-shooting needlers and the Jackals armed with a scaled-down version of the Elite's rifles called a pistol. Each had a distinctive sound when fired, and hearing the rounds whistling past him down the street helped immensely with distinguishing.

Opening his eyes again, Frank could hear one of the Elites snapping off orders, and without a sound in reply, there came the patter of feet on the paved street. The Covenant thought their position was good, and were therefore advancing now.

The working odds of Frank not getting seen for that stunt were abysmally small. He tried to wipe the sweat off his eyebrows before it dripped into his eyes and made his vision bleary, but he had to work his gloved fingers around the equipment built into his helmet to do so... and his gloves weren't exactly absorbent material, so all they did was smear the sweat across his slick forehead and make the problem worse.

Breathing out, Frank focused inward; the Covenant were almost on him, and there was one Grunt hooking around the backside of his kiosk. The thing would never protect him from an actual barrage of plasma fire, nor would the materials stop a Carbine round, but it was dandy visual cover, and he didn't want that to be stripped away before he was ready for it.

Flint had made groundfall. Impact was enough to shake a mountain out of its slumber, and perhaps it might have. If the resounding rumble returned after evacuating the drop pod was not mortar fire, that was. Flint hooked around behind his open pod, and crammed an armored shoulder up against it just in time to take a direct hit in the seat of the pod.

That impact jarred every bone in his body, and sent pain coursing through the braced shoulder; he circled back around the back of the pod, and stepped directly into a run. Ahead was his target; he hooked a jig to the side once, jigged back again, and jumped.

With a nimble leap, he curled his leading arm around the first target's head, and spun his whole body around behind his catch, bringing them both down and rolling over them. When he was on top, he cupped their chin in his hand and yanked, shattering their neck. Sprinting to the side, he caught a hasty, defensive swipe with a leading plasma rifle and yanked it out of the target's hand. The butt end of the weapon was jabbed into the former wielder's face, a grenade on his belt was primed, and Flint moved on.

On the left, he jerked out a frag and sent it downrange. On the right, he drew out his own weapon and emptied half the magazine in a concentrated, reflexively-aimed burst into another target. Reaching something tall, hard, and solid, he caught its edge and slung around it, in time to feel the earth shudder under his boots, and a cascade of falling debris off the barrier raining across his shoulders.

He caught a Grunt by the air-mask on its face, yanked it off, and cracked the butt of his gun into the Man-sized alien's face, shattering bones and brains. The next alien behind it died in a facial hail of bullets, and then Flint reloaded his weapon. He slipped into cover from a return barrage of bullets, plasma and mortar fire, and waited.


Frank exhaled. Looking around, he noted the trail of bodies he'd left in his quickened wake. He knew his brother's prey had been by far more spread out than his own, else the synchrony would not have worked quite as well. But it was surprising the amount of damage he could do when he borrowed his missing twin's mission perimeters for a moment or two.

He'd dropped two of the Elites, a Jackal that had been one of Flint's Grunts, and three of the Grunts. It had rattled the Covenant forces enough that they were in disarray, and now his own team was running up to reinforce him, using the chaos to close ranks and press the attack. Confused and disorderly, the Covenant turned and fled, though only one alien made it alive to the far corner of the block and around it, into more cover.

It was the last Elite.

"O'Neil!" The Sergeant's voice was distinctive; and he darted across the street into the adjacent alcove Frank had found, and stepped up to it, not quite in it but having no immediate need for the cover anyway. "O'Neil, what the hell was that?" He sounded astonished - something Frank had never known the man to be.

Flint was moving again, moving aggressively. Frank just looked up at the Sergeant like he'd seen a ghost, breathing hard from his imitation run. "Sir."

"Hold it together, kid." Vargas patted his shoulder with as much force as a hydraulic jack might use to yank dents out of ship-grade metal, but it was what it was. "One of these days you're gonna tell me how the fuck you do that shit you do, though. Let's move, one got away and I don't like that." He ducked away, and was back across the street and against the side of the same building the Elite had cornered, pacing with Grissom up the sidewalk towards said corner, guns first.

Frank whispered a silent thanks to his twin, reloaded his rifle, and stepped out of the alcove after them, careful to check all the available angles as he went.

Flint was chasing something down... something moving fast. He was also dodging harassing fire doing it, too.

So Frank felt his legs moving a little faster, more responding the presence of heavier stimulus than because Frank had told them to do so. He caught up to the Sergeant and forced himself to still, aware he was not on point and he really didn't want to be, either. Not chasing one of those seven-foot-tall monster types the Covenant used as field commanders... Elites were seriously bad news whenever he didn't have Flint to back him up on maneuvering.

To his chagrin, when Vargas pulled up short, planting a palm in Grissom's chest to make the other man stop, too, he looked back over his assembled troops and picked Frank out of them to wave up.

The following hand-signal told him to go a little farther "up" than merely the Sergeant's own position. He wanted a man on the other side of this street, on the next building up. Frank wasn't sure why, but he knew if he asked he'd only get in trouble. So, taking a deep breath, he gripped his rifle extra-tight to be sure he could keep the thing, and let himself begin to respond more to Flint's influential stimulus.

Run.

Frank was a hand's-breadth from the cover of the corner of the building he was approaching when he felt it hit. With the force of a freight train spun down into the surface area of a sewing pin, he was picked up and thrown to the side, sent tumbling over and over and over himself before he sprawled out and lay still, in the middle of the street and far shy of any available cover.

He could vaguely hear voices, but they sounded so distant he couldn't make out any of the words - he only knew they were screaming loudly at him. For a thousand years all he heard was the drowning thunderous hammering of his own heart in his head, but he only got his next breath in once the next century was finally through. By then he felt lightheaded as hell...

Gasping, breathing again at last, Frank raised a hand, and groped at his chest for a moment before he found the radio stuck to his combat harness. Crushing it in his grip, he managed, "C... can't... hear you... sir."

When that was said, he let go of the radio and tried to relax, too dazed and too out of it to know if the hit had left behind any residual pain... or even if it had wounded him. All he knew was the sky looked a long way away from where he was, stuck on his back against a concrete pathway tucked down between the reaching square spires of corporate office buildings.

It took a moment more for him to realize he couldn't feel Flint anymore. Either he wasn't moving at all now, or he'd somehow run far enough fast enough to get out of range of their twin's bond. Frank rather doubted the latter... but he smiled blearily to himself when he felt his twin clench and groan.

Jerking off your feet at your fastest dead run was never pleasant, no matter how prepared for it you are, it seemed. In hindsight, Frank supposed that lying there laughing his fool head off in the middle of the street while he bled a frightfully huge pool of hot blood all over the pavement did nothing to help dissuade his teammates of his theoretically psychotic disposition, but right then, he didn't care.

For once, Flint had felt Frank.

And Frank was happy.

.

May 3, 2526

Rehab had been cruel. Flint had been more so. Bruised by the fall he'd taken mid-run, the stubborn twin had gotten up, dusted himself off, and went right back at it. It seemed unless it was truly brutal, Flint didn't give a shit what Frank was up to.

Enduring nine hours of invasive correctional surgery to recoup from taking a sniper round through the chest and the following three months healing from that and getting back on his feet had done nothing to the missing brother. But he now had a Team Name... and not a frightfully polite one, at that.

Frank knew he'd never really live it down. They called him Animal now. Even Grissom. It was, they had told him, a shortened version of the actual - Rabid Fucking Animal.

He had his own thoughts, though, surrounding the reason for that nickname... Flint was an unmerciful driving influence, and even down with a bandage as big as his chest wrapped around him, Frank wanted to get up, wanted to run for it, wanted to beat the living daylights out of a boxing bag. Wanted to throw grenades, wanted to fire a few hundred types of gun. At the end of the day, climb into the back of a Pelican, go back to bed, and in the morning, he'd be back and at it again.

The rehabilitation orderlies had had hell enough keeping after him, but he healed well enough even though his inability to assimilate their medicine made every motion he made hurt like a secondary impact might. He still didn't remember if he'd even felt the damn thing hit the first time, and he certainly didn't recall if it had hurt much after the fact. The medic had theorized shock staving off much of the initial sniper round's impact on his system, but nobody before or since ever to be shot down in a blaze of glory had ever laid there in a puddle of their own blood and laughed.

That part Frank had all to himself.

In retrospect, it was actually kind of embarrassing...

.

June 12, 2526

"Animal! Get your rotten ass up here right now!" Vargas had not sounded that pressed in a while. But it was easy enough to meet his command - there was ample cover traversable between where he was crouched down and where Frank was hunkered.

"Yes, sir!" He was already on his way by the time the words came out of him, but that was okay. Frank kept himself low as he scampered the space between himself and his Platoon Sergeant, aware the enemy could just see him but not enough of him to peg him once or twice, and none but said Sergeant on his own side could see him coming.

That was also good. Frank had been hit by a sniper before, and he hadn't liked it much. And the fact that Vargas could see him coming meant he wouldn't sit there and bitch until Frank made his position at last.

Arriving, he hunkered down next to the Sergeant, reaching up to catch his helmet when he bonked it against the water-shorn rock and disturbed how it was sitting on his head. "Sarge?"

"I want you to get Vanilla and Washington and get into this building here on my left, get to the fortieth floor, and get across that connector and down to the tenth floor of that building and take out that god-damned sniper." Vargas said. "You're in charge of the fire team - bring my men back intact, Private. You got twenty minutes."

"Yes, sir!" Frank wasn't honestly sure he could do that - but he was mildly comforted in that he was allowed to take his right arm with him. Brandon was very good at imitating the limb, even if they shared nothing at all akin to what Frank shared with his long-missing twin.

The first mission following his misfortune with the last sniper, he was admittedly glad that he wasn't going to have to walk the choke point in front of the barrel of that gun. But walking a tight-rope on wire cabling on a connector bridge between the fortieth floors of a pair of corporate giants?? Gah! Frank didn't know if he was afraid of heights or not, but he knew that before this mission was done with, he'd know for sure. Waving the other Privates up, Frank led the way sideways across the firefight into the narrow alley and up to the razor-wire blocking fence panel stood between neighboring buildings to prevent the alleyway from becoming a frequented path. Brandon was chunky enough and spry enough that he just lifted Frank by his waist, stood him on a lifted knee for a second, then grabbed him by his belt and the bottom of a boot and threw him upwards over the barrier. He did the same to the other kid, then swarmed up the razor fence like it was a ladder.

That was Brandon's gift... Frank suspected it was his background in gymnastics, but he'd long ago learned to flex with the flow, and he hadn't even struck a knee on the other side... the other private had dropped right off his boots and went splat on his belly for a moment before gathering himself again.

Frank shook his head at the kid - Vanilla - as if he were a long standing vet watching a raw recruit stumbling over himself. Truth be known, Vanilla really was as green as bright spring grass, but he wasn't sharp enough to keep that from holding him back all of the time. He was lucky so far in that his clutziness had spared him a fatal mistake.

Dropping into a partial crouch behind Frank and then straightening, Brandon lifted his SMGs from his sides and at the jerk of Frank's chin, took point. Vanilla fell in behind Frank, but at a reasonably spaced distance. He was attentive enough, his rifle in both hands and held properly for once. Maybe he'd finally figured the thing out, and he'd quit being so clumsy with it after today.

Frank pulled up short at the other corner, behind Brandon, who risked a peek out both directions before glancing back and giving a single, silent nod. He darted out of the alley, ran hell for leather up the building for nine running steps, then dove into the alcove surrounding the main entrance. This he smashed with the hard polymer shoulder caps he wore, bullying his way through the plexi-glass front paneling.

Frank would have bounced. Impressed, he followed his friend up and in, aware the noise was a giveaway but perhaps not so much as it might have been, given that there was a noisy firefight going on just behind this very building. Brandon moved quickly across the dark, empty lobby and shoulder-slammed into the stairwell.

He raised his aim, circled around onto the first, bottommost step, looking up through the grills the steps were made from, then looked down at Frank and nodded again. So far so good... all clear. As one the three Privates ran up the steps, circling endlessly upwards on silent rubber treads, making about as much clamor as a single pair of high heels on a marble floor, and nowhere near as clearly punctuated.

By the time they had reached the fifteenth floor, all of their knees were sore as hell, but it had only been four minutes. They still had sixteen left before their assigned mission-clock went over. Frank reached out and patted the backside of Brandon's helmet twice, then stopped stepping high for a moment, wanting to catch his breath. Running on hills, on flat ground, or even over uneven, lumpy ground was nothing compared to the dreaded stairs of doom. Nobody liked stairs... especially if one had to climb them to the fortieth fucking floor of a high-riser!

The three of them stood there and panted in the echoing silence of the stairwell, staring at each other primarily, each wondering what the firefight was like and if anything had changed. If someone had died, or if the Covenant was being pushed back. With the sniper in place, though, there really wasn't going to be much advancing on the part of the UNSC ground forces, though... and it wasn't the only sniper in place.

Frank just hoped the building this one was bridged to was the one that Vargas had said it was bridged to... if it wasn't, they were in bigger trouble than being merely late for a mission perimeter. Finally, feeling his knees had recovered enough to do some more unmerciful pouncing, he gestured past Brandon and got them moving again.

Even Brandon hadn't been able to take forty floors of stair-stepping all in one go, gymnastic overlord or not. There was a limit to the number of times a body could repeat a process before it simply broke down the body and the action had to stop. When the fortieth floor finally did arrive, none of the three really believed it... they were so worn out from going endlessly up and up that it just had to be a mirage. But Frank kicked in the door, swept the room for hostiles and led the way through the corporate corridors past offices innumerable until they finally came to the supply store room with the back-exit over the bridge.

The "back-exit" turned out to be nothing more than a window showing them just that... and at this height, no shoulder was going to press through that window. Vanilla put a shaped charge on the transparent steel sheathing, lit the fuse, and then all three of them hightailed it back out the door and up the hall somewhat. The thunderous bang the charge made going off was drowned utterly in the horrid, howling wind of a fortieth-story window breach, and the trio felt the whole building shudder with the pressure change.

But the hole was big enough to pass a man unhindered, so their mission proceeded as planned; the clock read twelve minutes, fifteen seconds.

On the bridge, Frank could see down at the firefight, and could even see several of the Covenant cowering behind their cover. It was mostly ruined cars and haulers, neither of which truly worthy cover for a high-intensity firefight but good enough for comfort if one was used to that sort of thing. Focusing forward, Frank decided that yeah, probably this was the right building... inside of a minute the trio had trotted the wire and bracing beam structure bridge, and another charge on the adjacent window and they were in.

Now to go down... Vanilla clipped his rappel line to the railing and leapt for it, bouncing fast and haggard between the stair rails as he made massive headway down to the end of his line. When he reached the end of his line, he let it go, and started to run. Neither of the other two wasted the ingenious plan, willing as any to cut time and joint-wear off their mission. Frank went down next, and Brandon followed.

At the exit onto the tenth story, the trio paused, and Frank took an additional minute and a half to carefully pick the lock, and admitted the fire team quietly. In this building, there was Covenant presence, and especially so on this floor of this building. Confirmed Covenant presence... and who knew if the sniper had a spotter, or if the spotter was more than one guy, or if he even had a guard at all since he was "behind" his own forces' lines.

Foolhardy if he was that trusting, though, especially given to how people usually concentrated on picking off things like snipers, cos they were such a royal pain to have to bypass. Frank panned immediately right, Brandon panned immediately left, and Vanilla emerged between them, each one noting the details of the room.

Vanilla took point that time, trotting cautiously and quietly on his toes up the corridor towards the sound of rifle fire. Closer, they began to open office doors, looking for which one it was, until finally, Frank reached for a knob and found that whole chunk of the door was just utterly gone. Though rarely locked, this office door had been kicked in without checking. It had swung itself closed again, though, that or had been pushed to, but the hinges were silent as Frank pressed it open with an elbow, leading his tracing across the office space until he'd seen the whole room, and not found his target.

Brandon appeared in his rearmost peripheral, so he took a single, cautious step into the room, glancing down to be sure he didn't crunch a splinter of noisy wood under his boot. Assured that he could stay quiet, the Marine took another step forward, beginning to be able to see the hole cut in the high-riser's window. The slice in the transparent metal sheathing was perfect... it was either done meticulously with a laser torch, or...

With barely the front half of the helmet and one arm visible from around the desk, Frank froze in place. That was an Elite, lying on the floor, taking shots out the hole cut with the energy sword on his belt. He quickly stuck a fist in the air over his shoulder, hoping to all gods that the other two took it and stuck to it... none of them had come equipped to handle an Elite in close-quarters, and especially not one armed with one of those nasty energy swords.

But Frank had an idea - a totally nut-job whacked-out crazy idea - but it was an idea. And if it worked, they could complete the mission with some four or five minutes to spare and get out. If it didn't... Frank would be dead and in bits and pieces and Brandon and Vanilla would have to handle an angry Elite all by themselves.

Frank hoped it worked... cos he was about to try it.

Slowly, carefully, wincing when the Elite took another shot, he crouched down to the floor, and laid his rifle on it. Shouldering or slinging the thing would make too much noise, and he wouldn't need it for this plan anyway. The carpet allowed him to let go of the rifle without needing to settle it meticulously, and he stood back up again, slowly, taking another step forward.

Sensing Brandon start to follow him, he shot a disapproving look over his shoulder, and waved him back. Stay out of this, it only takes one.

Miffed, worried, uncertain, Brandon stopped where he was, his eyes boring into Frank with all the knowledge of what he was about to do... and all the odds it had of failing.

Straightening, Frank turned back towards the Elite, and stepped carefully, quietly, stealthily forward. He trembled the whole way, taking very small breaths through his mouth down a very widely open throat in the hopes that it was as quiet to the Elite as it was to himself. Mentally, he concentrated very hard on convincing the world around him that he did not, in fact, exist, and that the animal instinct of the creature he was sneaking up on would not get a sixth-sense alert and turn its head to look up at him.

Somehow, Frank reached the Elite's knees. There, very, very slowly, as if afraid to trip off a motion sensor, he lowered to his own, nesting first one and then the other kneepad in the carpet, and then rotating his weight forward.

Carefully extending his left arm, he reached for that sword... the instant his fingers made contact with the cool metal, the Elite braced, took a shot, and before the seven-foot-tall creature had finished bearing the recoil of his sniping tool, his sword was gone from his belt. Something told him to raise his head, something supposed he ought to glance behind him, just in case, and his beady black eyes lit on the web-gear-encrusted chest of a kneeling Human just a hearts' beat before the dual blades of his own energy sword plunged through his back and down through the floor.

Frank watched the Elite's expression jerk into absolute shock and surprise, his mandibles snapping open in soundless awe before he relaxed against his rifle, dead. He let go of a resoundingly noisy breath, and felt the pain of holding back for so long stitch through him. "Oh, man."

"Damn, you really did it." Brandon was saying. "You really pulled that off."

"Guys, we gotta go... I've got footsteps down the hall." Vanilla put in, from outside the door. "Grab that rifle, and hope to god they don't have another one on them when they get in here, and let's get the hell out of here."

"Good idea," Frank began, snatching the rifle out from under the Elite's chin and jerking back to his feet. Brandon grabbed his rifle off the office floor and tossed it to him. "I really, really like that idea."

As quietly as they had come, the three Privates slipped away again, circumventing the arriving duo of Jackals, heading up behind them once the party had been identified, and mowed both down before departing. Nobody would miss two Jackals, and surely they were two that the three Marines wouldn't need to deal with later on.

Mission timer read one minute, ten seconds.
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Etsharrin Hopsarrith
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Re: Hammer of Thor Chronicles - Seen You Every Mirror

Post by Kasrkin Seath on Mon May 24, 2010 7:44 am

onmg hops... this will take a while to read, im only on book 4 now


oh, and:

In the year, 2525!
That is if man is still alive
he wont... ummm. du duh nuuuh
NUH NUH NU NU NUH NU DU DUH!

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I AM THE LAW

[00:17:22] @ KrAzY : new law.
[00:17:28] @ KrAzY : the law can now be a person.
[00:17:28] @ XNate02 : The Law, can only be The Law.
[00:17:32] @ Gauz : I'd kick everyone....
[00:17:37] @ KrAzY : and that person is seath
[00:17:39] @ kasrkin seath : YES
------------------------------------------
[02:22:43] @ KrAzY : the reason we all come to TCF is because Seath is too Lord Pheonix damn sexy to stop.
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Kasrkin Seath
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Re: Hammer of Thor Chronicles - Seen You Every Mirror

Post by Etsharrin Hopsarrith on Fri May 28, 2010 10:33 pm

Um. I'm not entirely sure what your response means, Seath. 2525 is only about five hundred and ten years away, after all... give or take five years. It's been several thousand already and we've hung onto a M.A.D. existance for the past forty or fifty... I think we'll be around within the next five hundred or so years.

Just... might actually get around to popping some of those nukes. I dunno. It's not that far off.

So... was that an attempt at poetry that flopped prior to the first rhyme?

Yay, book 4... what's that... uh... *mumbles to self* ... Mjolnir Savvy, then? You'll catch up quick... book 5 is pretty short. Not as short as 3, but it's pretty short. Thanks so much for reading!

-Etsharrin Hopsarrith
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Re: Hammer of Thor Chronicles - Seen You Every Mirror

Post by RX on Sat May 29, 2010 12:16 am

Three weeks. Three weeks 'till summer vacation! Then I'll attempt this wall-o-text.
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Re: Hammer of Thor Chronicles - Seen You Every Mirror

Post by Etsharrin Hopsarrith on Mon Jun 28, 2010 6:09 pm

4; RABID ANIMAL ATTACK

September 20, 2552


Back in March of 2528, Steve got drafted. Frank hadn't been sure what to make of that, but at the time, he hadn't had a lot of time to sit and think about it, either. Mission briefing, drop, do the job, extract, sack time, do it again. That had been the routine for nearly his whole career... a career that had lasted far longer than some of the men he'd served it with.

Brandon was in another regiment, now. Grissom was dead, half his skull blown to vapor by one of those adhesive plasma grenades. His old Sergeant, Vargas, was forcibly retired after taking too many bullets to be justifiably alive but surviving it anyway. It left him crippled for life, and more or less useless as a soldier. He was reputedly on Mars. Frank was his own Sergeant now... and if things continued as they had, he wouldn't stay one for long.

There was a Pelican pilot he remembered the name of, but she'd been shot down over an outer colony a few years back. Keeping count of the people he knew who were still alive was becoming easier than keeping count of the ones he knew that weren't. That was rather saddening, actually. But they still, somehow, always knew to call him Animal.

The Covenant were a household theme now days. People had been born and grown up under the ominous cloud of oppressive news, people who had never known a time when Insurrectionists had been the worst of Humanity's problems. Frank carried a block of ice in his guts wherever he went... mostly because he knew acutely that his long-missing twin was right at the heart of every major battle the military engaged in. Some of those weren't even on the ground. But a small part of it was that after all this time doing the exact same thing as said twin, he hadn't found the missing other yet. That was disheartening above all else. The odds of them ever meeting before being cremated by the Covenant were slim, and got slimmer with every passing day.

Flint was, to a fault, magnetized to battles. Much in the same way those mystical Spartans were. Frank had seen a Spartan or two, had marveled at them and their efficiency, much like most every other Marine. He wondered often if his twin had met one, seen one, or even knew much about them. They were, so said intel, special forces times ten. That explained why they usually wiped out armies by themselves.

Oh, it took time. Everything did. But only a Spartan could just run in, do his thing, and run back out again without dying spectacularly. Frank actually remembered the name of the ODST who had tried that... he'd called it the 'Spartan jig' before he went in, claiming that Spartans weren't all that special and that anyone with enough equipment, and enough training, could do as good a job. He had hated the guys, hated them with a passion. Referred to them as 'walking tanks' with a sneer on his face.

Frank had watched him die through the scope of an SRS.

While hardly willing to try anything of the sort himself, his team had been selected to go in after the overly ambitious ODST and clean up the mess he'd started. Three large bulbous purple tanks lobbing fiery plasma mortars later, the plan was altered and they'd stood back and rained SPNKr rounds until they were out and the plain was scarred and hilly. It had helped. That left only one of the wormy orange behemoths with the arm-cannon-thing, and all those dozens upon dozens of man-sized leaf-bug aliens called Grunts.

Why in the nine hells anything would want to wear a tank so poorly armored filled with combustible gasses in a hostile environment - like one filled with oxygen - was beyond Frank. But it seemed they were the most numerous of all Covenant species, and he saw them wherever he saw Covenant.

In fact, he'd once seen a place that didn't have any other kind of creature there... it was all just Grunts, waddling around and on occasion treading their knuckles like some overgrown reptilian-bug ape.

Today, September the somethingth, twenty-five fifty-something, he got a notice over the COM that told him something very peculiar and interesting.

There was this commander type. Frank didn't recognize the... man?... 's name. Ack, it was Japanese, it could be a woman and Frank wouldn't know until he was looking the other in the eye. Anyway, the commander type had evidently gotten a peek at Frank and his squad in action, more than likely from a fighter pilot's nose camera or something, because Frank did not recall seeing anyone with epicanthic folds and wearing bars and pips out in the field. The sight had evidently given the commander type some ideas about Frank's use.

He was being transferred back of the line for a period of (no less than) fourteen days, for sequential training (whatever that meant) in advanced warfare and weapons. Uh, oh. Anyone could have guessed where this was going even without reading the rest of the notice. Skipping over the majority of the text, Frank looked for patterns in the typing like burrs in a plate of textured metal. He found it - an all-caps reference to a different branch of the UNSC, followed by a set of serial numbers and reference tabs.

He sighed.

"Yo, Animal. You look glum." The sound of his squadmate's voice raised Frank's gaze from the tablet, but he didn't bother to offer a placating smile to the greeting. Dodge (so named before Frank met him) was not particularly fond of being 'grinned away' as he put it. If Frank tried to brush him off, he'd get prodded further.

"They don't want me to be a Marine anymore." Frank answered.

"They? Your folks, or the brass?" Dodge asked. He had all-around blunted features, with a heavy brow and a large jaw, and ears that stuck out like regular jug handles. While some people could wear those features amiably, this guy managed to wear them as if they were badly affixed forehead appliances. With his hair cropped regulation-short, it made him look even worse.

"Brass." Frank answered. "I've got a transfer notice effective immediately."

"Transfer, eh?" Dodge echoed. "Oh, I was thinking they'd discharged you."

"I discharge like a bullet does. With a bang." Frank put in, half-grinning at Dodge's expression. "Nah, they want me to go be an arrogant overdressed pod-junkie."

"ODST? That's not fair!" Dodge suddenly whined. "I put in for that a year ago, and they never replied, even to tell me no!"

Frank gave the man a skeptical look. "You applied?" That Dodge was unqualified for such a position was something of an understatement... the man personified the quintessential dumb brute. He just didn't really resemble one much until he opened his mouth or tried to do something complex.

He could field strip a rifle, but that was about as technical as he got. Frank, on the other hand, would disassemble his radio equipment on a regular basis. It had taken him some six or seven times doing that (with help) to figure out how to reassemble it again, but he'd done it and successfully. Now he could go so far as to hotwire a Covenant door to make a locked one slip open.

Tinker-toes was a close second up next to Animal. But nobody actually called out Tinker-toes if they wanted his attention. "Ah, well, better luck next time, then." Frank wasn't about to engage Dodge in enough conversation to try explaining to him why he would never be inducted into the pod-junkie hall of flames. If he ever managed to get it through his thick skull, he'd promptly decide that it was all Frank's fault, somehow, and he'd never forgive Frank for it.

"You could put in a good word for me, right, Animal? They noticed you, I mean, we're in the same squad, they might notice me next, cos I'm like right next to you, man." Dodge rattled.

Frank just stood up, dropped his nose back into the transfer notice again and proceeded to wander off. When Dodge got started thinking up probabilities, he didn't tend to quit until his biology changed - which could sometimes take a while. Nature's call (in either direction) just wasn't all that motivational to the man.

He almost started to look forward to his transfer when Dodge got up and followed him.

Almost.

.

September 28, 2552

Flint was in distress. Large portions of Frank's upper chest ached, but it was a back-of-the-mind, miserable ache, as if he'd been pummeled but a while ago. The throbbing punishment felt weirdly ethereal, somewhat removed from what it usually felt like. Whatever had happened, though, it was serious. Flint had never, in all their forty and some-odd years of life, been distressed like this.

Even before he was mysteriously kidnapped and replaced by an alien. Frank stepped off the dock of the UNSC Rapture in Water, feeling his scalp pulling tight under his officer's cap. He was about to go from being a Sergeant to being a rookie again, so he felt it reasonable to wear it at least one more time before it became inappropriate to do so.

But as the undress-uniformed ODST sent to get him looked him over, Frank got that sinking feeling that he always had right before Flint did something terrible. Only this time it was much worse than terrible. Frank wondered absently as he exchanged salutes with the ODST if it weren't like comparing shoestring potatoes with a scorched world when using the word 'fried'.

It just wasn't the same...

Frank felt relieved when the greeting proved brief, but he didn't miss that the ODST noticed that.

"Most swabbies like you tend to want to yammer more than you do, you know." The fellow mentioned, turning to lead him through the dock platform to the training ground where he'd spend the following two weeks.

"I'm not Fleet." Frank grumbled, starting to feel sick. For the moment, whatever Flint was up to, it was gut-wrenchingly frightening, but whatever odious ending it had had not yet come to pass. All it did to Frank was make him irritable. "Don't call me swabbie."

The ODST laughed at him - it was a partially mocking laugh, but the man was observant to a fault... and Frank wondered if he weren't telepathic or something else equally as creepy. He'd noticed the wrinkle between Frank's bright blonde brows was not of indignation. Marines often squabbled with ODST's. This one had noticed right away that whatever was bothering this Marine, it was not that he was being needled by an ODST.

Reaching the first pressure door, Frank got a good idea of what might be so wrong when a sharp pain lanced through his head from over his left ear, and caused bells to ring in both ears. He tried valiantly to hide his grimace, and thanked whatever gods there were that the moment had come when the ODST leading him around had had his back fully turned, and his attention elsewhere. The door opened, and they resumed walking.

Frank's stomach flipped, so he set his jaw and tried not to breathe... it didn't help much but it gave him something else to think about than his endangered twin. Whatever in the ninth hell Flint was doing, it had not only rumpled Flint, it had rumpled Frank. The induction into the ODST classification was no time to be having twin-trouble, though. They'd ditch him for medical issues at the drop of a hat. And where he went from there would be very much in question.

Feeling himself start to sweat, Frank adjusted his grip on his duffel and pulled it upward to sling it over a shoulder, holding it at the crook of that wrist and trying to use the motions - each one however subtle - to offset his over-used link to his brother. For once, he wished he hadn't put so much effort into keeping that link so open. If Flint had done anything except the opposite, Frank would be rather surprised. Perhaps he'd been the smart one.

Being both in the war-besotted military, perhaps it was very much the smart thing to do. Frank had been shot full of holes enough times - and so had Flint - that he understood that each soldier got enough battle-wear to not need to share with someone else's. But Frank always had... for all this time, he'd justified the burden of non-injury-related pain in that it let him know his search for his twin was not in vain. Flint was out there. The massive amounts of trouble he was in was testament to that.

They reached the far end of a long corridor with doors along both sides and stopped again at the one with the keypad. Frank looked around, then back the way they'd come, then tried to focus on the ODST, wondering what the fellow looked like in full battle rattle. He was neither broad nor narrow shouldered, seeming more or less average with all average features. If his hair had been an unremarkable brown, he might have passed as the type of guy who could vanish into any crowd under any circumstances.

But it had distinctive auburn highlights, and Frank could tell that that tan was unnatural. The man had to have burnt bright red a dozen times in order to get that dark. And he was still paler than Frank. Being an O'Neil made him from the kind of bloodline that would make him white as a ghost if he avoided the sun for more than a week. Those types came in the redheaded and blonde variety, with the occasional rare brunette thrown in for spice.

Being a blonde looking at a redhead, Frank felt pretty sure he was looking at a variation to his own theme... Celts were notoriously difficult to kill. It made sense that this guy was an ODST... though Frank would have rathered not be one. He just hadn't been given the time to find and file the proper paperwork to tell the brass no on this one.

Bummer.

The thought struck, completed, and was off on its way to memory to be replaced by more recent thoughts when the ODST turned around and made eye contact at the exact same moment that Flint hit something so hard, it speared through him.

Frank's view of the world went topsy in a heartbeat, and he heard the ODST yell something, but he was already going down, and he knew it. Flint was fading out, too, but also painfully aware of what was happening around his person. The unverified sense of shattering glass raining around him, the unmistakable rush of unrepentant gale force winds, the stirring sensation of a fighter craft working itself to pieces around him.

In that moment, Frank knew his feeling of something wrong was more than just. His apprehension spiked into complete terror... in that moment, he knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that he was losing his brother, and when this was finished, Flint would die.

Frank latched onto the arm that reached for him, sinking his fingers through the flesh on it as if it were memory foam. After all this time, all that he'd been through, all the long searching he had done, all to come up dry, to have it end this way, without ever seeing his twin.

For the first time in thirty-four years, Frank felt Flint seem to look back, across their bond, at him, and acknowledge that he was still there. As the last of him faded out, Frank tried to reach for his brother, forgetting for a moment that he was nowhere within reach, and instead got a double fistful of the ODST in front of him.

"Flint..." Where the rasping voice had come from, Frank wasn't sure, but he knew he'd been the one to try to squeeze the word out. Tears streaked down his face, the searing, fiery agony pulling at the ligaments of his left shoulder sending tendrils of molten fire up his neck and across his ribcage. When the last of Flint had evaporated, Frank found the face in front of him was within focus again. His brows met in confusion, but the look was returned.

"Is there something wrong with you, man?" The ODST asked.

Frank wasn't even sure if he was capable of answering.

.

October 3, 2552

The medical officer sat back against the table behind him, and heaved a perturbed sigh. "So is there a trigger? Or is it random?"

Frank didn't even bother to look up. "You, like all before you, would never believe me if I told you."

"Let's hear it anyway, Sergeant." The ODST to Frank's left, standing there with his thigh-thick arms crossed, was some kind of exceedingly high ranker, but Frank hadn't looked at his bars to know what kind. He outranked Frank, though, so it was good enough.

Raising his eyes to focus on the medic's face, Frank set his jaw. "I am an identical twin. My brother is also in the UNSC. When he is hurt, I feel it happen."

The medic's expression registered just what Frank was used to seeing when he admitted that - incredulous disbelief. "That has never been documented. In anybody."

"Wilder, that's enough." The ODST issued. "I've heard of it. Milder." Frank felt the man's eyes focus on his ear, and start to bore. "Has it ever been a problem before?"

"Once or twice." Frank shrugged, finally casting a glance at the ODST. His rich sienna skin shone as if it had been oiled, but he had the strangest blue-on-magenta eyes Frank had ever seen. Each iris looked like an exploding supernova caught in a still frame.

"And do you hear voices when people speak to him?" Wilder asked, apparently seeking to probe and see how far the ridiculous notion went.

Frank shot him a dangerous look. "We share a nervous system. That's all."

"Mind explaining what that episode in the hallway was?" The ODST put in, gruffly.

Frank heaved a sigh, and looked back down. Sitting on the examination table, he felt like a bug in a jar... with no sign of his appeal going away in sight. "Hard to say. I think... maybe he was flying a fighter and got shot down. I don't know."

"You don't keep in contact with your twin?" The ODST asked.

Frank worked his jaw sideways, and looked back at the other trooper. "He was taken off the school grounds when we were six. I've been looking for him ever since then. Everyone else is convinced he's dead, but I know better."

"But you know better." The echo was to the same tune as the medic had used a moment before.

Frank frowned at him, too. "If you want to tell me you think I'm making it up, go ahead. You won't be the first and you won't be the last. I can't prove a damn thing."

"Why are you so convinced that everyone else is wrong in supposing your twin is dead?" The ODST asked, cocking his head to one side.

Frank rolled his left shoulder, trying to work some of the foreign ache out of it. If Flint even still had a left arm anymore, it would be a small miracle. "Because before he was taken, I could look at him and know. We felt each other through our fingertips... if I did something, he'd know what I was up to by interpreting the motions I went through. Afterwards... the boy they said was by brother was about as dead to the world as they come. I couldn't feel him. He never responded. He didn't feel me. But the sensations were still there. My brother was still alive, still ambulatory. Just... elsewhere. I don't know where, and I haven't found out yet. I watched the boy they said was him die a horrible death." He shook his head. "But all I could feel was the exertion of basic training. My twin is out there, and today he crashed. He's hurt, and probably isn't going to live."

"Why do you think that?"

"Because when something goes through you..." He poked himself in the shoulder, just under the collarbones, inward of the joint itself, "here... it tends to bode badly."

The ODST cocked an eyebrow at him. "That's just meat."

Frank shrugged. "Ever crashed a fighter craft, sir? What part of any given ship could come up through the cockpit and come and get you that would be spear-shaped? How big do you suppose that piece would be?"

"Captain, really." Wilder protested. "This is preposterous. He's got Anavetris Syndrome, at best - an overactive nervous system firing random signals. There's no way you could link the nervous systems of two people, especially if they haven't even met since they were six years old."

"Modern science knows next to nothing about the nature of identical twins or why they are the way they are, doc." The ODST mentioned. "They're simply impossible to study in a purely scientific basis. You have to take too much on faith. What he's saying could easily be true."

Wilder harrumphed, but left it at that.

"O'Neil..." The Captain began, catching Frank's attention again. "In the event that this missing twin of yours... dies... what do you suppose that will do to you?"

"I hope I never find out." Frank muttered.

"You said it yourself you think the crash was fatal."

"Yes, sir. But he's still with me... for the moment. Maybe if luck holds out someone will find him and pry him out before the bird pops."

"You're mighty optimistic." The ODST Captain mentioned. "Either way... I'm suspending your Shock Trooper training until I know more about this... twin-thing... or Ana Syndrome or whatever in hell it really is. I won't have one of my men go down in a nervous fit in the middle of a battle when I need him mobile and ambulatory most."

Frank heaved a deep sigh, and looked back down. "I figured this would happen."

"Why did you not see fit to inform us of this before? Or the UNSC in general?" Wilder asked.

"It's not a disease." Frank answered, looking up to glower at the medic. "And that I am a twin is noted on my personnel file. The UNSC does know."

.

October 18, 2552

Without incident for two weeks and a day, Frank was finally sent forward to go ahead and do the training regimen to get himself started into the Shock Troopers. Day one was okay. It was a little like basic training with all the variables amped up. Frank felt sluggish, knowing his twin was not moving. He'd gotten up and walked somewhat for a span, but he hadn't gone that far. His steps had dragged, his motions felt weak and slow to Frank. There was no doubt in his mind that the injury the crash had given him was significant - it was enough to slow his energizer bunny self down.

The fact saddened him considerably. At present, Flint had not moved hardly a muscle to even stand up in several days. If he was on medical leave, that was good. Hopefully someone was tending him properly.

On a thin foam pad facing off with a trainer who had told him to treat him like he was an Elite, Frank had just about put the man down when he felt Flint move again. He slowly stood up, seeming to amble more than walk. Frank finished his twisting flip and brought the mock-Elite down on his belly, both arms captured up behind his back and one of Frank's hands pressed into the back of the man's head.

Without even waiting for the call to do so, Frank shifted backwards, and let go, standing up apart from the trainer. The guy emitted a gag sound, though it was more than likely an expression than any exhalation. He pushed to his knees and twisted around to look back and up at Frank. "You got a grip like a vise."

"I practiced." Frank admitted, quietly. "Done this before."

"Jujitsu?"

"Nope... no formal training aside from boot." Frank shrugged. He'd refrained from mentioning the fact that he'd gotten most of his 'training' from his twin in the same manner that he'd done for most of his life. It had been scolded out of him enough times that he'd finally fallen out of the habit of finishing that sentence. Flint was not, after all, a 'formal' trainer. He'd just been easy to follow when he moved.

The trainer was not a small man, towering over Frank in much the same way that Brandon had, but Frank was used to seeing such men about and was not especially intimidated. Even once the trainer had gotten a hand around Frank's arm, it hadn't saved him much from being flattened in a tangled ball. He stood himself up, dusted his palms on his thighs, and turned around to face Frank again. "Again."

"Okay." Frank answered, obtaining the traditional stance of fight-readiness. He'd found over the years that he really didn't need it, but it helped his trainer opponent recognize that he was not ignoring the man or his instruction.

The trainer moved to engage right as Flint moved aggressively, twisting sideways. Confused, Frank followed, ducking right out of the way. Flint tore the other direction, grabbing a fistful of midsection and giving it a vicious yank. He brought up a leg, and seated that boot into the side under his fist, then let go and kicked hard enough to lift himself off the floor.

As the opponent staggered back, he hit the ground, yanked on something on the other side of him, twisted around and stuck his other leg out to sock the unfortunate other in the head with that boot. Frank's trainer didn't go down right away, but he looked shell shocked at Frank's sudden speed and his method of attack going so sideways. Before he could recover at all, Flint surged forward two steps, hauling something heavy along with, then backtracked into it, and on the rebound he shouldered into the initial target, and it seemed to slip right out of gravity when it fell away.

Had he just pushed someone off a high ledge?

Frank's trainer overbalanced and hit the mat with a loud whump. "Ugh! Damn, O'Neil! Quit a moment!"

Frank stepped back several paces, almost fully off the mat, getting that sinking feeling again. "Okay... okay..." This was bad.

Seeing his expression work down into a cross between apprehension and terror, the trainer sat up and looked at him curiously. "O'Neil...? You alright?"

"I... no." Frank decided, suddenly. Someone pulled Flint out into a splay, as if he'd been tied to two separate trees. Though if the trees were really trees, Frank wasn't sure. Regardless, the posture was not a good one, nor did it bode well given that he'd just had to fight off someone who was pulling him somewhere. Flint kicked someone else, and they too went off in freefall.

The sinking pit went deeper, as a welling sense of foreboding sank in with a sense of permanency. Frank watched as the trainer stood up, and walked towards him. "Hey, look at me." He grabbed Frank's chin, and peered into his eyes, checking first for some indication of a latent head injury. He had managed to smack Frank in the noggin once, but it had been a glancing blow and hadn't even hurt. Frank lifted his chin out of the man's hand and shook his head, clenching his fists.

Why was Flint tied up to two wide-set posts? Hadn't he been picked up by a UNSC ship and been sitting in a medbay all this time? To Frank's knowledge, the UNSC didn't have a medical procedure that involved being tied to standing pillars as if one were the vitruvian man.

"Simmons! Fetch me Wilder, I got me a feeling." The trainer beckoned, to a man across the room. Simmons jumped up and left the room almost instantly, but Frank was focused inward.

There was a moment of absolute calm, as if all that was wrong had suddenly been alleviated, but the moment passed, and right as Frank looked up at the trainer he'd been sparring with a moment before, he felt heat circle one wrist.

"Oh... fuck..."

"What?" The trainer asked, confused.

Frank knew what was coming before it came, but he didn't have time to react. He focused his blue eyes on the trainer with the most piercing expression for one single millisecond, and then he stiffened with a look of sudden pain. He got only a single gasp of air out as his arms hugged inward, clutching at empty air, then the whole world went black.

"O'Neil!!"

.

October 19, 2552

Frank railed off the table with the most pained scream he'd ever emitted. He caught the medic on his right in both hands and throttled him as he bore his whole weight down on him, bringing both to the floor. Hands grabbed at him from all sides and hauled him free of his victim before he could crush the larynx and seal the man's fate, but he only fought them for a moment, before all life seemed to drain away, and he relaxed completely into total limpness.

At first his breath was ragged, but as he blinked the film out of his eyes and tried to look around, he found the world a colorless place indeed. Masked faces floated in and out of view at all angles, and as the bands cinched around his wrists to hold him down, the monitor dots were reaffixed to his chest where he'd ripped them free by extending beyond the length of their attached wires.

He inhaled once, tasting the air. It was dry, and stale. Exhaling, he felt his whole body tingled as if he'd been recently stabbed by a thousand tiny needles. As the initial buzz of motion died back, an unmasked face joined the masked ones, and came to rest looking down at him from the right. The expression on the Captain's sienna face was grim and set, but he had a look in his eyes Frank decided he didn't like much at all.

That was the look of a man who had come to his own conclusions, and had bad news.

.

October 22, 2552

Frank felt empty. He wasn't sure which way was up, anymore, but every time he checked, it was the same direction as last time. The notion just didn't come naturally anymore. He didn't feel dead... not so much. But he did feel hollow, and as if the world had a wholly other quality that he'd never before witnessed. One thing he did not need to be told, though, was that his twin was finally and truly gone.

Flint was dead.

What held in the place of the broken connection was the seething, burning hatred of what had happened to him. Frank was now more or less convinced that the UNSC had not, after all, come for his brother, and rescued him from the crash. Instead, it was the Covenant, and they had murdered him after a brief stay in captivity.

What Frank was not expecting was to be called into the Captain's office on the second day after being revived... according to Wilder, his nervous system had spiked so hard it overloaded his cardiovascular system and shut it down... a self-inflicted heart attack, more or less. Frank knew it was because of what had happened to Flint. He'd felt it... whatever it really had been... and it had had the same after effects.

Sitting wearily in the chair across the desk from the Captain - his name was Cummins, Frank had learned, with the callsign Adept - Frank nodded his greeting to the man. If Frank ever did manage to become an ODST, he well imagined his career as one would be short indeed. "Sir."

Cummins began with the heaving of a sigh.

Frank quirked a brow. That was odd.

"I have something I want you to see." Cummins said, reaching up to the display of his office computing unit and turned it around so Frank could see it. Captured in still-frame was the opening shot of what looked like a video. Frank glanced at it once, looking back at Cummins before focusing on the screen. He couldn't see much... it was what looked like a bajillion colored que-tips lined up on the farthest possible shot of a Covenant super structure.

"What is...?" Frank began, but then Cummins hit 'play'.

The video clarified, and panned about to show a much closer image. The face of a strange creature Frank wasn't sure of the origins of appeared, and words poured through the speakers on the desk's top. "The Great Journey is not for the infidels, or the weak of heart. All Humans will burn in the fires of our ascension, and not one will live to witness our glorious salvation!" Frank suspected it lasted a bit longer than that, but Cummins fast-forwarded through the rest of the speech to the part where the camera swung away from the robed, bearded creature with the long neck. "Here, one of your wretched Demons... watch how helplessly he dies!" A thin, bony arm extended from the alien, to point at a Spartan in Mjolnir armor. He looked quite well beaten, with soot and dirt and old blood caked across his combat skin, the metal of which was pocked and dented heavily with sign of harsh wear. Across one side of his breastplate were the telling lines of traumatic fracture, with an angular hole punched through the armor itself just under the raised pauldron on the left. The fellow had been tied between a pair of freestanding pylons, but what held him were energy cuffs on invisible energy cables... and no matter how hard he pulled on them, they didn't budge more than a quarter of an inch.

Frank's brow knit as he watched the supersoldier haul back with all his might, digging coils of metal out of the flooring with his boots until a hairy beast that resembled a giant ape circled around in front of him and barked something. In response, the Spartan reached forward, smashed his face off the beast's snout, then kicked it in the guts so it flipped over itself and promptly tumbled off the far edge of the suspended platform.

"Why are you showing me this?" Frank asked, confused.

"This hit every channel, every frequency, on all the airwaves from here to the dark space outside our galaxy in the same hour you went down." Cummins answered, as a pair of ornately dressed Elites appeared. "ONI couldn't scrub it fast enough... everyone who had a screen to look at and a signal to pick up could see it, and now it's all over the news."

Frank cast him a glance. "I don't understand..."

"Watch."

Focusing back on the screen, Frank observed a stillness between the Spartan and the gold Elite on the left, with the white one earning not even a glance. There appeared to be some kind of staring contest going on.

Finally, the Spartan looked away, to glance up at one hand when that cuff came alight with brightly twitching energy. Frank's mouth opened in protest, but any words he had remained silenced. The other cuff lit up, and as the sound of the roaring crowd below began to fill the speakers with a static hum, Frank felt the only reason he didn't hear the foreground was because everyone was being silent.

When the lit cuffs suddenly stabbed inward with what looked like giant electric arcs of lightning, the Spartan's exoskeleton snarled with branching lines for just the briefest of instants... he pulled inward, stiffened for the breadth of a gasp, then dropped against the cuffs as if cut from puppet strings.

Frank twitched. "What... what happened?"

"They killed him." Cummins answered, deadpan. He twisted the screen around to face himself again, then looked at it long enough to shut down the media player. Focusing on Frank's face, he continued. "With a raw estimate of some three hundred volts of electricity straight to the heart... it killed him instantly. You want to know what got my attention, Sergeant?"

Frank's brows met. "Sir?"

"According to what I was able to gather from the data attached to this vid, there was a time delay of precisely five minutes between the live show and my seeing it on my screen here." He folded his arms across the desk. "I am then informed that at precisely oh-eight-thirty-five – precisely five minutes before the death-scene played - you performed an exact replica of that piece of theater I just showed you, and dropped dead in front of my hand-combat trainer. You died, O'Neil."

Frank's knit brow slowly relaxed apart, as pieces began to click into place.

"Yes, you get it, now." Cummins nodded. "My thoughts exactly. When the Covenant killed that Spartan, you folded up like a swatted fly. I regret to inform you that your twin... for whatever purpose this may have... is still as dead as you nolonger are." He breathed out through his teeth, then added, "I also will say that I do believe you, now."

Frank frowned. "That's impossible..."

"Why? Are you saying that somehow, the man you've been looking for, for all these years also managed to suffer the exact same fate at the exact same moment as you and this unfortunate Spartan did?" Cummins asked. "I'd say the evidence is rather irrefutable... especially considering what Wilder told me about what he found when he examined you post-mortem."

"Post...?" Frank breathed. "But... how long was I dead?"

"An impossible five hours." Cummins answered, with a sigh. "At the fifth hour, your nervous system began to fire randomly at your brain, so he elected to try to revive you. Remarkably enough, it worked. He then speculated that you were not truly dead, but in a state of self-inflicted hibernation... and all of you, down to the microbe, shut down completely for that time period."

Frank exhaled slowly. "Sir, I... there's no way my brother could be a Spartan. Aren't those guys supposed to be... orphans?"

"ONI keeps many secrets, O'Neil." He twined his fingers together. "I want to ask you something very important."

Frank's brow re-knit almost instantly.

"I can have you discharged on medical reasons, right here, right now. You can go home. Or, given that the source of your Ana Syndrome is now entirely gone, you can complete your training to become the finest ODST ever made, and you can make the bloody Covenant pay for what they did to your brother." He paused only briefly. "They did, after all, rob you of the whole reason you joined this outfit in the first place, you know. You will never find him, never see him, ever again."

Frank looked down at his hands, then up again, feeling mixed and confused. "I need... some time... to think."

"I understand. Don't take too long." Cummins advised. "But I'd keep this minor detail of who your twin was quiet... it might irritate the already irritated spooks up at Intel."

Frank nodded numbly. His little twin brother, a Spartan? Younger by about ten or fifteen minutes, the face in his memory still that of a small, freckled six-year-old boy, it was difficult to imagine Flint being the army-destroyer that all Spartans were renowned for.

It would explain, however, why he never came back home...

.

November 4, 2552

Frank had at first thought it would be more or less normal - sans Flint - to go on and do regular, normal daily things. More than once he wondered if he shouldn't just retire on medical leave and go and see his elderly parents. He was forty-two, after all. Not exactly getting younger.

But the sans-Flint part had begun to eat at him from the inside almost by the end of the first day. He found himself constantly groping for that lost, severed tie that had held them together for so long, catching at it like the stump of a lost limb and forgetting for an instant out of every moment that it was gone.

That Flint was gone.

Frank found it very hard to accept that he'd never get to see his twin, never get to meet his lost brother, get to see what his face looked like without a mirror and some guesswork. Doubtless identical twins didn't grow up to wear different faces. So it would be, theoretically, like looking at a mirror, without the mirror.

And of mirrors, Frank almost couldn't bear to look into them anymore. He felt he saw Flint, and not himself, shaving every morning, and his imagination would transform the reflection into the rotting, decaying form of skin and bones and mush that flesh turned into given some time. Eventually, he could take no more, and he smashed his fist into the one he'd been using until it broke and his fist was flayed by the fragments.

He picked the bits out of his knuckles himself, almost numb to the pain of infliction and extraction. Trying to feel his world now was like trying to squeeze water out of the dust of time. There just wasn't any.

Today, his bandaged hand in his other, Frank finally decided. He would go home, and he would try not to decay slowly into so much dust. There was no point in being here, after all... no point at all. He took the steps towards Cummins' office, when he met Simmons in the corridor, and paused to look at the man.

"Hey, Animal." He was short, stout, built like a tree with dark brown narrow-set eyes and sandy brown hair over an olive complexion. To Frank he almost seemed to smirk at everything he pointed his face at. "Made up your mind yet?"

Frank was about to answer when a thought struck him. "Simmons... have you ever - " Lancing pain shot up through his side and dropped him straightaway to his knees. Simmons jumped forward and grabbed him, keeping him from going any farther.

"Whoa, Animal! What the hell? You okay, man? What was that?"

Frank gasped several breaths, trying to measure them and keep from hyperventilating and passing out. Indeed, though... what was that? "I don't... I don't know..." Maybe he'd been wrong? Maybe he really was making it up? Doubts and fears swam in a mixed jumble through his head for a small eternity as what seemed to be a small caramel spot bloomed through the entire picture of Simmons, the corridor, his own sleeves...

Simmons pulled him back to his feet, holding him steady and watching him to be sure he didn't do something similar again. "You take it easy, there, Animal, you don't wanna die again."

Frank raised his hands, looking at them with renewed fascination. He raised his gaze to Simmon's face, and noticed for the first time that the man's eyes were three different shades of brown, and that there was a burn scar over his left eyebrow that said 'HOT' with a small semi-circular line over the top of the word.

He frowned at it.

"Why does your left eyebrow say 'hot'?"

Simmons gave a guilty grin. "I opened a Warthog radiator before it was cool, that's why. The cap blew off and stamped the warning stenciling into my head."

Flint buried a fist into someone's guts.

Frank recoiled, the horror on his face transforming quickly into an unholy glee. Luckily, Simmons saw the whole thing, even though he'd been doubled over by the hit. "What was that for??" he demanded. "Is there something wrong with you, man??"

Frank suddenly sprouted a feral grin. "Not anymore."

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Etsharrin Hopsarrith
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Re: Hammer of Thor Chronicles - Seen You Every Mirror

Post by Etsharrin Hopsarrith on Mon Jul 05, 2010 4:25 pm

5; ZELISEE, ZIPPEDY, SOMETHING LIKE THAT

February 14, 2557


Marine Master Sergeant Frank James "Animal" O'Neil stood leaned on his knuckles, looking down at a terrain map rendered in offset pixels three-dimensionally arranged across the top of the table he was leaned on. The relentlessly hilly terrain had about killed the offensive in the area, and without a whole lot of air support, the UNSC was about ready to let the hostiles have it.

The 'hostiles' were not, in so many words, the 'Covenant', anylonger. No, there had been a schism and a falling out and a 'don't call me' and all that. And the giant lizards who liked to chase you down and slice you in half with an energy sword had suddenly become real friendly with Humanity.

This left a fractured command structure but more or less the Grunts and Jackals and their flying insect friends had all stayed Covenant-esque. Then there were the formerly back-of-the-line folks, those ape-dudes that Frank had first seen in a video of his brother being publicly executed.

He'd gone and told the ODST Captain that he wanted in... but somehow had wound up going out. He managed to avoid a discharge from the services, but he stayed a regular Marine. Oh well... no especial loss there. At least he could guarantee that his ride down to wherever would always land softly enough for him to survive it. He still tensed and looked up with one hand on his magnum when the Spirit dropship shuttled in overhead, but he didn't precisely let go of it when all that came out were Elites.

Frank was not very fond of Elites.

The red-clad in front strode straightaway up to him and bobbed his horse-like head with the too-many-mandibles at Frank, a supposed indication of respect among their kind. Frank just jerked his chin at the fellow in response. "Zelisee, my troops have secured the western paths and driven the Brutes out of their trenches. The southern edge is under great pressure however and I have come to discuss possible diversion attacks to split the forces pushing there. It would allow us to divide and decimate the enemy troops without overt need to expend many warriors."

That being one reason for why. The pet name bothered Frank... the small collection of split-faced alien bastards who seemed to think they knew him, and who insisted on calling him by that same irritating Frisbee pet name, was impossible to get rid of. Over the past five years, only one had had the dignity to get a transfer to elsewhere and only one other had bothered to die in an engagement.

Frank hated the name, to be fully honest. It not only sounded too much like one of their names, but it also made his skin crawl to think that he could ever be like one of them. They had spent thirty years butchering Humanity... and then turned right around and buddied right up with a new pet name for him and everything.

Gag.

Frank frowned. "I don't like the dispersal rates."

"Ah, pessimistic as always. You never change, Zelisee." The Elite huffed. "I can have the pass's airspace secured in six of your hours, but if you do not wish the Brutes to own the lowlands by morning I will require some of your men."

Frank heaved a sigh. "I'll send up a scout to check it out... want some Human eyes to give me a Human opinion on where Humans would be best useful." It was always best to put it like that... otherwise they got their pretty feelings hurt. "If I see an opening, I'll send up a few men. I can't promise much."

"A few is enough. I will use them wisely." Again with the head-nodding. "It is an honor to fight at your side once again, Zelisee." Thankfully, after that part, the annoying split-lip turned and left, boarding his ship and zipping quickly away.

"...again, sir?" Thomas Derringer was the current go-between for Frank's currently missing second in command, a weather-beaten field officer named Viktor Magrasse. Derringer had made a really good replacement, with an amazing head for logistics and tactics and the ability to shut up when he ought. He also could finish Frank's thoughts most times, so Frank only needed to explain the parts he could get out in English and the rest would just come naturally.

Frank shook his head. "Don't ask me to explain split-lips, Derringer, they're alien and alien minds are alien. Always will be, you ask me."

"Any idea if what they call you is actually as honorable as they claim?" Derringer asked.

"No... but I don't think I want to get comfortable enough with it to bother asking." Frank answered. "I wish they'd just call me Sarge or O'Neil... hell, Animal would be okay. But Zipper? Or... zippedy... zee... eh, whatever."

"Zelisee, sir." Derringer helped.

Frank cast the man a frown. "I could have lived happily without ever hearing that stupid nickname ever again, thank you, Derringer."

Derringer suddenly popped a grin, and saluted crisply while bouncing on his toes. "You're welcome, sir!"

Frank shook his head, amused but fighting down the grin anyway. "Alright, let's have a look at that mountain pass he's got problems with..." He stuck a hand into the display and swatted sideways, sending the map zipping across-wise until it reached the mountain pass in question, where he stopped the scrolling motion with a pat. "I don't know why they decided they all liked me anyway."

"Did you do something particularly noble back in the war, sir?" Derringer asked.

"If I did, it's only noble and worthy of recognition through some backwards alien split-lip minded interpretation, because I don't remember it." Frank answered. He stuck his finger out over the display, and indicated several of the mountains. "Ah, I see where the issues are. I can bet you he's got sniper positions here and here, and on that ridge line, but with this peak being in the way, he can't get anything around that bend without it being picked off."

Derringer stuck a finger into the display, adjacent to the peak in question. "This is a recent slide, and on here and here are open rock faces. The Elites can't scale sheer cliffs and I would warrant the Brutes don't care to try. It would leave them exposed anyway. I got some eight men who could walk up that cliff face and afterward tell you it was only a shallow hill."

"Ack... mountain-born outlanders, are they? Had to scale six peaks just to get to the mailbox every morning?" Frank joked.

"Two of them, yes sir. The others didn't have a mailbox growing up, sir."

Frank choked.

.

February 16, 2557

Problems had arisen in many very interesting ways. Going over to the area in a Pelican to run his eyes over the terrain once just to be sure what he was looking at, Frank had encountered all sorts of interesting things; the first and foremost being that which blew the Phantom riding his Pelican's flank right out of the sky.

As the trailing debris sailed groundward to a steep slope dotted with high, jutting rocks, Frank shouldered into the rear of the cockpit. "Shit! Is there anyone else in the area?" He asked, staring down at the falling, burning debris with a strange sense of horror. He wasn't really used to feeling anger when Elite troops were lost, but that missile had not been aimed at the Phantom that it destroyed. The bird had nosed - and quite suddenly - in front of the Pelican without preamble or word, and very promptly erupted.

Frank had not seen the missile, if indeed that was what it had been, and nor had his pilot. The aforementioned individual shook his helmeted head. "No, sir, nothing that can get to that wreckage before the Brutes do. If there are any survivors in that debris, they'll be outnumbered and slaughtered."

Frank ground his teeth. Agh. "Alright, take us down - and fast. I don't want tube two to hit what tube one was aiming at!"

"Sir, there's only - "

"Just do it, Atwood!" Frank snarled. "Take us down! And get me as close to that wreckage as you can - but don't land."

"... aye, sir." The pilot spun the bird, and they began to drop, in time for Frank to feel a concussive wave shoot over the roof. He saw nothing.

That was close timing.

Towering evergreens soon masked the plummeting Pelican, the tumbling, splashed debris of the Phantom below already scattered amid the rocks. As the Pelican dropped, Frank grabbed a gear harness and pulled it on. He hadn't come looking for a fight, though he'd known he might well find one anyway, and there were six Marines in the bird with him for just that very reason. In fact, it was more because he had not expected the Phantom to take that fall for him.

It made him wonder more and more just what exactly 'Zelisee' truly meant.

Sixteen feet over the crags of a rocky knoll protruding off the elbow of the mountainside, the pilot called back the all-stop. Any lower and he would risk crashing the bird, either by banging it against the hillside or tangling up in the trees. And nobody expressly wanted to walk home over this terrain.

Three Marines on a side all clipped rappel lines at once and dropped out of the Pelican's back, with Frank hitting a catch line on an existing rappel and following number two from the left down. He'd save his own rappel line for later if he really needed it... there weren't any more rappel hooks on the Pelican anyway. On the ground, everyone pulled their battle rifles off their backs and first cleared the immediate area, then began to spread out.

The Marines picked quickly down the rocky slope, kicking over plates and pushing on chunks and trying to peel open things that looked hollow. There wasn't much left, truly, barring the very tip of the nose of the bird and the leading edge of what Frank guessed had been the left wing. If it was upside down it might have been the right wing, though. He went to it anyway, and dropped to a knee to look under.

There was a piece of an Elite under there, but nothing worth flipping the wing bit for, so he left it and moved on. Farther down the slope, two of the Marines called up that they had found a survivor, but Frank wasn't looking that far down... hung upside down from the crook of one of his ditigrade legs, nearly in the top of an absolutely ancient fir, was another Elite, and despite the distance, Frank knew the fellow was looking right at him.

He put a hand up, and the dangling Elite waved. That stalled him. The Elite waved. Very Human gesture, that. Befuddled and flummoxed, Frank trotted down the steep slope towards the base of the tree and walked across the top of a jutting rock to skip needing to climb the bastard from the very base. There were no branches down there, for one thing, true to fir genetics.

At the rock's peak, Frank was able to jump and get a branch, and begin to ascend. Roughly halfway there, he heard the Elite say something. He sounded amused.

"What's that?" Frank asked, beginning to suspect he was hearing a heartbeat whine much like that which a Phantom creates - the Brutes still had some of them, though the Elites had quickly painted all of theirs green so it was fairly easy to tell whose was whose.

And Atwood had said there were none of the friendlies close enough for a timely rescue sweep. That meant it was very more than likely enemy. Above him, the Elite gave a short laugh. If he'd taken a knock to the head, Frank wasn't sure, but being hung upside down in a tree for a while would probably make anyone a bit silly. Having all the blood run into their head wouldn't help.

Wriggling between a pair of close-growing, large branches, Frank got a boot on one and pushed upwards, before pausing to look over him and see which side of the tree he needed to be on. "You still with me, splitlip?"

"I do wish you would refrain from referencing my people like that, Zelisee, I do realize you are used to the term." The Elite responded, sounding demure and calm as ever. Even upside down, with his arms hung limp, he appeared entirely unrattled by his situation.

"Yeah, yeah, hold still." Frank grouched. "I'll get you down." He had to shimmy a bit to get around out from under the alien and up to where he'd gotten hung up, but after examining the catch-hold, he decided he'd either need a V-Tol with heavy-lift gear to pluck the big guy upwards out of his predicament, or he could just cut the branch off.

He jerked the rope blade from a back pouch and slung it outwards, to let it uncoil. The things were notorious for working their handle loops loose, but in all honesty this was the first time Frank had needed to use one. Hooking the blade under the branch, Frank braced his position and took a loop in each thumb. "Okay, when this branch goes, you got to be ready to grab the next branch down, right? There's nothing gonna catch you, you have to do that part yourself."

"As needs must, Zelisee." The alien answered, still sounding as if he were on the verge of laughter.

Frank just grumbled to himself, pulling the rope saw one way and then the other, alternating his hands like pistons until the blades had bitten away enough of the compromised branch that it began to snap.

Then it bent, and his blade got stuck.

"Dammit!"

Resting where he'd descended to, the Elite waved his hands at one another. "Whee!"

Frank bent over, and gave the dangling alien a curious look. "Are you all there?"

For the first time, the Elite bothered to curl his torso, and brought his head up to look back at Frank. There was fresh scoring across the top of his helmet, and purple blood all over the outside of his mandibles, but otherwise he didn't look like he'd taken all that much of a blow to the head. "I am, or at least I do believe I am."

"You're hung by your legs in the top of a sixty foot fir, and here I am trying to cut you down so you can get to the ground... and you say whee?" Frank asked. "I find you hard to believe, splitlip."

The Elite harrumphed. "My name is Ak'nausee, do please use it."

"Well, at least you're still sane enough to have preferences." Frank decided, standing up on his perch. "I'd concentrate on my next grab, if I were you." He only had to bring his boot down once on the broken branch, and it snapped almost completely free - but free enough for the Elite's weight to break it the rest of the way off, and dropped him loose. He nimbly caught the next branch down in both hands and swung up under it like a practiced gymnastics athlete.

For a heartbeat, Frank was reminded of Brandon, and he wished his old friend were near.

"Okay, then..." He moved to start descending branches, when he heard a terrible howl from the forest floor under the tree. The voices of his men overshot the sound, and then gunfire erupted. "Move, move, move!" Frank issued, starting to jump from branch to branch to make it down faster.

Ak'nausee did try to imitate, but there was just something about walking on your toes with a raised heel and having hoof-pattern toes that just didn't mix with climbing trees, and after the fifth branch, he slid off of the sixth and promptly tumbled through all the rest all the way to the ground. Thankfully, he didn't sweep Frank out of the tree with him, on his way down.

The Elite landed with a loud grunt, but barely had he hit ground than he rolled upwards and stood, pulling out and lighting his sword. "Oh, you are... already..."

Frank decided to let go about ten feet up and he dropped into an involuntary kneeling position, from which he also jumped back up. Seeing the Elite, he looked around to see what it was that had caused the sword-ignition, but when he saw the dead Brute, he burst out laughing.

The poor sot had been caught and garroted around the throat by his falling rope saw. If the thing had actually done as much damage as that at first or if the dumb alien had panicked and grabbed the thing to yank it off and cut himself to death instead was unknown, but Frank decided he liked the image. "Come on, we've a bird to catch and an assault to skirt."

"That is a most curious weapon of war, Zelisee." Ak'nausee put in, before he turned to follow the Human heading back up-slope.

"That's how we Humans work - or hadn't you noticed?"

.

March 4, 2557

At first, Ak'nausee had seemed just slightly this side of deranged and perhaps a bit sociopathic... Frank had the misfortune to walk into a pre-planned meeting in time to see the guy slash the living daylights out of a comrade. The unfortunate other didn't survive the incident, but none of the other six Elites in the room so much as batted an eye. Frank, on the other hand, had been more than a little revolted.

But like all mortal souls, he had his good days too - when he seemed entirely composed and from a Human standpoint, perhaps sane enough to be functional. That he was the dispatch commander was never in dispute... unless that was what that other, dead Elite had been doing.

Frank just didn't have the balls to ask.

Having gotten the Brutes out of the passes for the most part, and shelling their frontlines with artillery placed on sheer cliff faces to keep them thinking about other possible routes in or through, Frank had gotten enough spare time to think about the offensive, the defensive, and what was really going on. It also let him think about what the Brutes might be up to, trying to contest for such a difficult place...

Until today, when he got an unwanted - though not entirely unexpected - visitor. Plus one.

Ak'nausee arrived in his usual Phantom dropship, but Frank knew it was him already and didn't bother to look up. He was back in the plascrete bunker with his knuckles in the holographic map again, watching indicator tags move around. The tags represented his forces, the Elites' forces, and the Brutes'. The last flyover had gotten shot down, so the new one was a little higher up, and the weather promising to be stormy was making the resolution on the data somewhat fudgy.

Still, it was hard to concentrate on a holographic image when the sound of the boot of a seven-foot-tall, five-hundred-pound arthropod hit the decking behind him.

Frank sighed. "Did something change?"

"Indeed."

Ak'nausee was many things in his eccentric, alien mind, but he was almost never short on words. So the one-word intro turned Frank around, to see. Standing beside the towering alien was his missing second-in-command, Viktor Magrasse.

Frank's mouth dropped open, but no sound came out.

"Eh." Magrasse grinned. "Ye never did pronounce me name right anyway, suh." Then he saluted. "But it good to see yerself again too."

Frank split a grin, but he only wore it for a second before straightening his face and looking up at the Elite. "Where'd you find him?"

"I did not." Ak'nausee answered. "He dropped out of the forest on my warriors this morning and told us he was glad to see us."

Frank looked back at Magrasse, then, and quirked a blond brow. "You know you went missing in such a manner that you made us all think you'd died out there, right?"

"Oh, one me, nine Brutes, sixteen Grunts, two Jackals, suh..." Viktor Magrasse shrugged. "Ye got to understand their psychology." He tapped a blunt finger at a temple. "But I do not deny me was lost out there, suh."

Frank dropped his head and rubbed his eyes with one hand. "Okay..." he looked up again, tucking both hands behind his back. "Did you learn anything while you were busy being lost and pretending to be dead?"

"Yes, suh." Magrasse answered, starting to smile again. "I do believe... I know what they after, suh."

Frank glanced at Ak'nausee, but the alien seemed to be paying more attention to the Human at his elbow - as if Magrasse had failed to mention that tidbit while he was being hauled back to camp. That, at least, was a good sign... but something in the back of Frank's mind made him wonder just how much of this he wanted to be sharing with the splitlips.

If Ak'nausee ever learned of that thought, though, he might stop calling Frank Zelisee. That thought, however grim the first one might have been, put a small, half-smirk on Frank's face.

"Give me the short and nasty, we'll debrief in full later." Frank decided.

"Seems there's this Forerunner doo-dad in this valley yer sitting in, suh." Magrasse answered. "An they wants it."

.

April 17, 2558

This was different from that strange depressive mood he'd been in for a while, couple years back. At the moment, Frank felt scathingly caustic. He couldn't really define why, but he knew it had something to do with Flint.

There was also a feeling of finding something. Whatever it was, it certainly wasn't the Forerunner doo-dad Viktor Magrasse had told him about. A small dispatch of UNSC fleet forces had gotten the Brutes out of orbit, and there was an Elite patrol wandered boredly through the system every week or so, but the New-Covenant presence was dismally small and continuing to dwindle.

Frank had gotten the notice to pull out, along with his men, and head off to gods-knew where else. So he'd left the planetary gig to some clean-up troops, who had also been informed of the "Forerunner doo-dad" but reportedly had also been unable to find it. Or anything.

Maybe the Brutes were just after a rumor or something else as intangible. Frank was just glad to get off that world, and stop needing to deal with jagged mountains and deep, craggy valleys. Still, the fact remained that there were only two men who dared so much as get within ten feet of him now - Viktor Magrasse and Thomas Derringer. And even those two had begun to talk to each other more than to him.

Frank didn't feel right, didn't feel well, but he couldn't put his finger on it.

Until Flint gave him a galloping headache, and convinced him that whatever it was he'd 'found', it hadn't been good for his health at all. Frank spent more time sitting by himself in the general ship's mess with his forehead in his hands, trying to hold his skull together than doing much of anything else, until he finally gained some rather unwanted attention.

"Master Sergeant?"

Frank squinted, putting his hands down so he could look up. He frowned. It was the ship's medical officer. "Yes?"

"Is there something you would like to tell me, Sergeant?"

Frank shook his head. "No... I'm fine."

"Your men disagree, Sergeant. Your men say you're not yourself. They think you're not fine at all."

Frank stood up. "Well, there's nothing you could help me with."

The man cocked his head, and then an eyebrow. "Would you like to speak with the shrink?"

That made Frank scowl. "Not like that, doc! Jesus!"

The medic put up his hands. "Sorry... just offered."

"I'm fine, really... just... can't seem to think." Frank sighed. "Maybe it's just the regulated, recycled air after all that time in the high mountains." He shrugged.

The medic fixed him with an unconvinced look. "Why don't we take a walk down to the infirmary."

"I said I was fine, doc..." Frank began.

"That was not a suggestion, Animal." The medical officer warned.

Later, Frank wondered if he shouldn't have filed a formal protest to that one... because it took a long while to get back out of that medic's clutches. That wasn't truly what had him bothered, though. The headache - constant, merciless - was soon accompanied by overwhelming nausea, shaking, and an internal pressure. Like someone had given him an IV and used a pressure line instead of a drip line, and proceeded to fill him up like a balloon with as much fluid as he could possibly physically hold. The development from just a headache to downright sickly had been astonishingly fast, too.

What had Frank stumped was that he knew his twin was the same as he - they were both born hypermetabolic, so things like disease and drugs never seemed to affect them. Only physical injury or emotional tumult would cause biological changes for them. So what was this? Frank just didn't understand.

And neither did the medical officers. They didn't know, and he didn't tell them, that it wasn't really him with this strange, alien affliction, but they couldn't figure out why he was so very sick. Frank would have liked an answer to that one, too.

Really, the doctor's prodding aside, what bothered him the very most was the vomiting.

Frank hated the vomiting.

.

September 9, 2558

"Hey, Animal."

Frank looked up. He felt about as good as he looked, but all in all, since April, it wasn't so bad anymore. They still had him trapped in medical isolation aboard the UNSC Impetus of Agamemnon. He wasn't going anywhere until they found out just what mystery bug he had caught, that they could neither duplicate nor find.

In light of that, he'd been replaced temporarily in his command by Viktor Magrasse. The man had taken Frank's advice and opted to let Derringer fill in for himself while he was pretending to be Frank, and thus far he'd had no complaints about the guy. Or so, none that Frank had heard.

It was a strange isolation. They let him have open-air visitors, and they didn't make anyone wear hazmat suits. Still, he was going nowhere - not that he especially felt up to it - and the ship was staying out in the deeps of space just to be sure.

The theory was maybe it had something to do with Elite exposure, or maybe he'd gotten it off that last world he'd fought on, or... or... the list of theories was pretty lengthy. Frank stuck to his own, though.

It was all Flint's fault. And Frank still wasn't sure how.

"Man, you look... uh... better? Not great, sir. But at least now your eyes aren't so badly sunk back into your head." Derringer drew up to a stop some double-arm's length away, and folded his arms together. "Feel any different?"

Frank shook his head. Flint was up to something, now, unlike for the past five months, but maybe they'd finally let the poor guy out to stretch or something. God help him if the Covenant had caught him again... Frank surely couldn't even dream of trying to rescue the luckless sot like this.

"Oh." Derringer sounded uncertain - Frank didn't blame the guy, to be honest. Nobody really knew how to deal with him like he was. Even Frank wasn't sure. "Well... they give you anything to do, in here? Video games, dirty magazines...?"

Frank offered part of an amused smile. "Nah, I think they're afraid I might contaminate it."

"Bastards." Derringer griped. "Keeping it all to themselves."

"Ah, that's okay. I'm usually too nauseated to read or... anything." Frank took a deep breath in, and held it for a second before letting it out slowly. For himself, it helped marginally, but there was really nothing wrong with him in the first place. His stomach only knotted because his twin told it to. He doubted his body truly understood why it had to behave like this any more than he did. Neither of them had experienced sick before.

"They any closer to figuring out what the hell this bug is, Sarge?" Derringer asked, his brows knitting.

"Hell if I know... they just keep telling me I'm the same kind of mystery to them over and over, and it's been five months." Frank shrugged, spreading his hands. I just hope that eventually, it goes away again, and they let me off this tub."

"If they do, it's for a service discharge, sir, you can almost guarantee it." Derringer said. "Me and the guys... we're not so sure we want a new commander just yet. You're still new, yeesh."

Frank gave a small laugh. "Okay, okay, I won't croak or nothing. But really... I know I couldn't hit the broad side of a barn right now, but I really, really want to do something before I go utterly mad. And shooting random bullets around a bunch of targets seems better to me than..."

Flint curled around an impact that felt like an iron piston had come out of its sleeve special just to hit him. Pain stabbed fingers through his ribs, doubling him over, and when he hit the floor, that same iron piston came at him from the side, and kicked him while he was down.

"Whoa, fuck!" Derringer yelped, jumping forward like a stab of lightning - Frank had no idea the man could move so fast! - and caught him before he could actually hit the floor, himself. "Dude! Sarge - what the hell?? This is new, man, this ain't good."

"You're telling me..." Frank wheezed. He ran down the list of bad words he'd stockpiled to say to his brother over the years, having memorized every one. One more time, he said it inside his head like a prayer. What kind of absolute moron went and picked a fight with a... what was it, a Brute?... while so deathly sick like this?

"Medic!!" The sound of Derringer's shout made Frank grimace, but it was for more than just the sound going off next to his ear - he didn't need more prodding! They'd find the same as before. Nothing. "Hold on, there, stay with me. I heard you got spastic from time to time, Sarge, but I never seen you so I never believed it."

"I'm not a spastic!" Frank protested, getting a hand between them and pushing Derringer back, right as the medics arrived. "I'm okay... I'm okay... it's nothing."

"You looked pretty rough there to me, Sarge." Derringer mumbled, still holding on to the arm he'd caught at first. Rather than intervening, the medics stood there and watched, as if unsure why they'd been called. "You looked like someone had just nailed you in the guts with a... with a morning star."

Frank grimaced at him. "That's about how it felt."

"You wanna tell me why that happens, sir?" Derringer asked. "You have history with this shit, sir?"

Frank focused on him; the look on his face was confusion, but the look in his eyes was hurt. Like he felt he'd found out about something important that Frank hadn't seen fit to trust him with beforehand. But it wasn't a disease. Getting them to understand that - getting them to understand and just accept it, like Brandon had done - that was the hardest part of all. "I'm not obligated to fill you in on my history, Tom, regardless what it's with." Frank answered, his voice low. "Everything that... everything they're keeping me here for... none of it's mine. But I can't prove anything and nobody I've told thus far has ever believed me. So I learned not to tell... and it preserves their idea that I'm sane."

Derringer's brow wrinkled further. "Uh..."

Frank shot the medics a look. Figuring that there was nothing there for them to do except eavesdrop, the duo left again, at which point Derringer let go of Frank's arm and backed up.

"Sarge... Frank." Derringer paused to taste his lips, then heaved a sigh. "Man, you're pretty messed up."

Frank spread his hands. "I was born this way."

"Then how come nobody but you knows about it?" Derringer asked, stepping sideways to the next bed over and sitting on it. "Why is it secret? What's it got to do with other people thinking you're crazy?"

"Because they said he was dead." Frank answered, all in one breath. He looked down. "And that's the final word on everything."

"They said? Who is they and who is he?" Derringer asked.

Frank looked back up at him. "They is everyone. My parents, my superiors, the doctors that occasionally get ahold of me, like now. He... he is... special. Different."

"I never ever heard you use those words to describe somebody, Sarge." Derringer answered. "Who's this mystery amazing person?"

"My brother. My... twin brother."

Derringer quirked a brow. "Dude... you've a twin?"

Frank nodded. "Everyone thinks he's dead, that he died when we were six. But I knew better, and I have always known better. He's out there right now. Problem is, I have no idea where. I don't even know why he went missing, or who took him. Or..."

"Missing is not dead, why are they so convinced he's dead?" Derringer asked.

"Because they replaced him. So nobody would come looking, or some other reason. I don't know. I was six." Frank shrugged. "But that boy was not my brother. Everyone else was convinced, even when he died horribly of some bizarre condition. The real guy is still out there, and he's been through some ungodly shit. I'd know... I can feel it when they hit him."

Derringer gave a low whistle. "My next door neighbor had a pair of girls just like that. They did everything in this kind of alien synchrony... and when one was killed in a car accident, the other went catatonic at the exact moment of her death."

Frank gave a grim, but appreciative smile. "Yeah... when mine died, I did, too."

"B... wh... wait. Didn't you say...?"

"He crashed a fighter. Somewhere. I felt him make impact. The Covenant clawed him out of the downed bird and dragged him back to their base, where they killed him... with... too much electricity. That killed me, too. I was in the middle of trying to finish my advanced courses to become an ODST. There was a damn stubborn doctor involved, and he got me back... I felt dead. I was dead. I couldn't see, couldn't eat, couldn't breathe. Everything was in dull shades of gray and nothing mattered. It was as if I was animated, but not alive. When something happened... something brought him back... I felt that, too. And I have no idea how it happened, but I'm not going to give it up. The only reason I'm a part of the UNSC is because I thought it would help me find my brother."

"Shit." Derringer breathed. "How long have you been looking?"

"Nearly... forty years." Frank sighed. "You know you're the first one who hasn't told me I'm crazy. That it's impossible."

Derringer grinned. "You're not the only twin in Humanity, Animal. Eventually, you gotta find somebody who knows what you're about. Hell... someone like you."

Frank quirked a brow.

Derringer's grin shrank fast, then he stuck his hands out hastily. "Hey, not me, man! When I got started it was all just me in there, no buddy system."

Frank burst out laughing again.
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Etsharrin Hopsarrith
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Re: Hammer of Thor Chronicles - Seen You Every Mirror

Post by Etsharrin Hopsarrith on Fri Jul 16, 2010 1:06 pm

6: I WILL COME BACK FOR YOU

August 13, 2559


They gave him shore leave, though mostly just to get rid of him without getting rid of him. The idea, he'd gathered, was because he'd done all the right paperwork to convince enough people for them not to give him the boot, but not enough to convince them not to show him the door.

Sigh.

At least he could still find his brother, at some point, but for right now he was stuck on Mars, hanging out in a hotel and trying not to think about how much time he was wasting when he could be out in the stars, and maybe getting lucky and getting a drop next to his long-missing brother. And finally getting to meet said missing brother.

Frank peered at the foggy reflection of his own face in the window that overlooked one of the ugliest, smoggiest portions of the highway between that building and the next, and pondered if Flint even looked Human anymore.

He was... so the evidence suggested... a seven-foot Mjolnir-clad Covenant-killing monster. It was still hard to think of his brother as such a thing, as the only memory he had was of when they were six. When they had the fight at school, and Frank had been too cowardly to go outside for recess afterwards.

When Flint had been taken away.

He sighed, and looked down, at the equally as ugly shag carpeting on the floor. That, at least, didn't have a suggestion of the thing Frank had spent his whole life looking for. Why was it so hard to find one person? Why was looking for the closest thing to himself taking so long?

"Flint Jordan O'Neil, I have so many questions for you." Frank mumbled, looking over at the top of one of his boots. He hadn't bothered to get any civilian clothes, so he still had his patterned fatigue pants and a sable gray shirt on. He would likely not bother, either. But he was actually thinking about whether or not he had the money for a ticket to Earth. Mars was the place they had dropped him off for the shore leave, because there was nothing left of Eridanus I. Usually, the military would put you back where they found you, when they were done with you. Not this time... but Frank didn't protest. Not only was there nothing but nuclear char left of his childhood home, but his parents weren't up there anyway.

They were living on Earth.

Steven was... elsewhere. Just as predicted, Frank had not run into him, either. He hated to think of or try to weigh the odds, well knowing that he hadn't seen the brother that he did know the whereabouts of and that seeing a brother he wasn't even sure would recognize him anymore was going to be a long shot.

A really long shot.

Frank stood up, picked up the duffel and slung it over his shoulder, reminded somewhat grimly of what he'd gone through the last time he'd carried a duffel anywhere... ODST training had not gone well, or rather, had not gone at all. He'd gotten to go in, get to know a few names of a few trainers, take one course, take one test, then he washed out.

And by no fault of his own... it was not his fault that Flint had decided to get himself publicly executed - or whatever had happened if that was not him - on that day.

"I guess I'm going to head up to Earth, and..." Frank frowned at the window, and heaved a sigh. "And I have no idea why I've decided to start talking to someone who isn't here. Guess I should at least take comfort in the fact that that someone actually exists." Most people who talked to themselves were speaking to people who didn't exist, right?

Frank was still considering that, standing there holding his duffel over one shoulder, a puzzled look on his face, feeling Flint going a-tromping, when he hit something. And he hit it rather hard... and then it hit him back.

And Frank fell over. "Flint! Not now!"

As the pounding of his life was exchanged a bajillion lightyears away, Frank was grateful for one thing... this time, there were no spectators going to think Frank was having some kind of fit.

For no reason.

But daaaaaaamn... whatever the hellspawn Flint had decided to challenge to a fistfight was today, it was really taking those blows. And Flint was breaking his knuckles on it. Frank balled up against the bed, holding ribs he knew shouldn't be aching, and stared down at his abandoned duffel as he felt Flint get thrown into something that broke around his back... what would break around a Human body, without breaking the body also? He set his jaw, weathering down a rapid-fire pummel. It didn't seem to matter if Flint was delivering or getting... it all hurt like hell. He felt Flint get a hold of something, and he broke that something, but it didn't deter his opponent much.

What was this thing? Even Brutes went down easier than this!

"Flint... Flint..." Frank gasped, tears streaking down his face. He felt like he was being torn to absolute bits and there wasn't anybody there. The hotel room was empty, save himself. And furniture was not that bloody aggressive. Flint didn't stop, didn't take the hint and run. He kept at it.

Even when what felt like the end of a fragmented bone punched a gaping hole into his side. Through gritted teeth and a swirling pain-fogged image of the window, Frank began to wonder just exactly what it was Flint thought he'd picked a fight with. What kind of crazed fighter would use their own fractured, severed arm, sans a hand, to punch someone, and make a hole with the ragged end of the broken bones in it? What kind of fighter wouldn't try to get away upon the infliction of such an injury?!

Dizziness swept over him, as Flint took merciless blow after merciless blow, some to the head, some to the chest, none of them liable to leave something so innocuous as a bruise. This was, Frank realized, a fight to the very end, a fight to the death. And it really didn't seem as though Flint was winning it.

At least he was going to take his opponent down with him, whatever in the nine hells it happened to be, because nobody could survive abusing themselves after being so badly abused for very long at all.

They pitched off a hillside, or a short cutoff, or maybe the ground just gave way, Frank wasn't sure. Flint tumbled, impacting off of what felt like giant iron pylons some six feet thick at the base. When it settled, he got up.

"Flint... just stay down." Frank begged. "No more... no more..."

The feel of a gun in his hand when there wasn't one had never been more real. Flint fell more than knelt, but the discharge of the weapon was at an odd angle. Had he dropped by the head of his opponent, and shot him at point-blank range, past his own leg? If the fight was overwith, Frank was glad... Flint was going to black out if he kept pushing, and if he blacked out he likely wouldn't make it out of whatever hellfire arena he'd found himself in and get to medical aid in time.

Before those grievous wounds killed him. Again.

Frank was not prepared for that. Though battered and broken, Frank got up anyway. He couldn't be on shore leave, not anymore. He had to get back to the fleets. He had to. He'd make them understand, he'd find a way to convince them.

He grabbed the duffel, and shouldered out the door, gritting his teeth from the pain each time Flint moved. Thankfully, the injuries didn't respond to agitation from Frank's motions, and he was able to grin and bear it down to the ground floor, through the cab trip back to base and even on the trudging walk back up the shallow hill to the shuttle pad. Right as he made the crete circle, Flint passed out.

Frank ducked to his knees, and slumped forward, staring at the ground. "Flint... don't do this to me, little brother, please. I'm coming for you, I haven't given up. I promise."

The sound of running feet raised his gaze, and the commotion of a pair of MP's coming running to check out what had just happened allowed him to focus past the haze of his twin being unconscious. It took effort, but Frank pushed back to his feet, in time to miss having the MP's haul him up.

"What happened? Are you alright? I saw you drop like you'd been shot." The first MP exclaimed.

"He looks okay to me..." The second advised, running his eyes over Frank.

"I need a seat on the first bird up. I... have an important mission." Frank said, careful to keep his voice level. "I'm okay, I just..." his sentence trailed off as he saw the expression on the first MP's face seem to melt.

With very round eyes, the man whispered, "Oh, holy mother of Christ."

Frank's brow knit. "What...?"

"Were you in some kind of fight, sir?" The second suddenly blurted. "There's a bruise on your neck, sir... it's so black it's yellow."

.

August 24, 2559

Clearance had been a bitch - but thankfully, that had happened after the ship had left port, and it hung in the jump line for a while as things were sorted out. Nobody thought to question the "agent" who had been beaten to an absolute pulp but managed to make it back to base anyway. Not at first.

Frank had gone straight for the head, though, once he was aboard, and he'd pulled his collar open to see what the two MP's had been talking about. Sure enough, he was covered in very ugly, rather tender bruises, and the one on his neck really was a glossy, hideous, sick looking yellow, surrounded by concentric circles of darkening colors of wounded flesh. The yellow spot ought to have been a bullet hole, Frank mused, noting the spread and make of the bruise in his skin. From inside to outside, it was yellow, then brown, then black, then navy blue, then bloody purple, then it faded from the purple out to his natural ghost-white pale skintone.

And while it hurt to handle any of them, he found he could get by well enough without actually agitating any with simple everyday action. But while none were swollen welts, there were a couple of dark purple bruises decorating his scalp under his golden hair on the left.

Where Flint's head had hit the pylon... fifteen times.

The medic offered painkillers, but Frank dismissed them, saying they didn't really hurt that much. And... what was he supposed to do with painkillers, anyway? He couldn't even absorb them and have them do any good.

Finally, he got cleared in, and the ship went to jump. They wanted a full report on what had happened, but Frank really didn't feel like making something up to make himself sound like a psycho bar-fighter, and it wouldn't be the truth anyway. Still, people who bruised without reason tended to be too fragile for the military and he couldn't get away with telling them that because he'd been in long enough to have proven he was good enough, solid enough, to not get washed out right away.

He was a Master Sergeant, after all.

The trip out was fairly sedate, but by the time they made it to their predetermined destination, it had been finally figured out that Frank was nolonger on shore leave, like he ought to be, and he'd not been cleared or called back. So that raised yet another hooplah. But, the news also reached a forward regiment commander and he took the news in a new direction.

His words went something like, "Good, I need the sunovabitch, send him here."

Not exactly what Frank had had in mind, but at least it wasn't back at Mars, where Flint would never be. So now he was on his way out to another backwater world that had New Covenant on it and New Covenant ships in orbit, and the UNSC wasn't getting help from the Elites with it so they were, naturally, getting their spaceborne butts hammered. Luckily, Frank wasn't going to stay spaceborne for long once he made the system.

Hopefully.

.

October 2, 2559

On the day he got the Pelican ride down, a pair of Elite heavy cruisers dropped out of slipspace, right on top of the furball between the UNSC and the Brutes. Why they had come, Frank later found out, was because he'd been mentioned on the wavelengths. They wanted to stake a bit of a claim to the right to ensure the UNSC didn't expend him meaninglessly.

He was... gulp... one of their kindred, a hero among their peoples.

When he got into the atmosphere, the Pelican took several bad hits and the cockpit disappeared in a blaze of fire and plasma, sending the craft downward in a splintering spiral. Frank and all the other Marines in the back quickly filed out, leaping off the blood tray to fall without help from the death-trap their ride had become.

As he spread his arms and legs out to try to catch some wind, Frank smiled grimly as the ground came rushing up to meet him - so much for not being an ODST, and always having a reliable ride to the ground! It just wasn't official. That was all.

Yeah.

Impact hurt like hell.

But hey... water was water, and it was a damn fine cry shy of dirt. Or rocks. Frank survived it, winded, feeling all his body shaken by the hit, and he paddled ashore more than swam because it all still hurt so much. Marines were there on the beach when he got to it, and they hauled him out of the water.

Remarkably enough, only one dude had landed badly, and for that all he'd done was shatter an ankle. And only two had died... plus the pilot, who had ceased to exist with the cockpit he'd been sitting in. That somehow had left better than twenty dudes on the shore of the lake Frank had been hauled out of, though he wasn't entirely sure there had been that many total to begin with on his ride down.

This observation was clarified for him when the first one spoke up. "You're O'Neil?"

"Uh-huh," Frank spluttered, sopping some of the water off his face with a soaking sleeve. "Was that artillery?"

"No, sir, that was a mobile unit we'd been chasing down for a few days, now. We didn't know they had anti-air capable munitions, but then they hadn't had anything flying to shoot at before now either, sir. Sorry sir."

Frank waved the topic off, then tried to wring out the underside of a sleeve, without removing the occupant arm. "Okay, so where's our intended LZ, how far away from it are we and is Measom there or am I gonna have to commandeer a 'hog to meet this guy?"

The Marine cracked part of a grin, then shook it off when he shook his head. "Reporting back is slow. Brutes got all the channels filled with fuzz. You almost literally gotta spell every damn word, sir... you know, the military's ABC's. Measom's been dead about five days now. Sniper took his head off."

Frank grimaced. "Alright, fine. Who's in charge?"

The Marine looked left, right, then back at him again. "Uh... that'd be you, sir."

.

October 21, 2559

The planet's name was Fargo. It had two moons, a big one and a small one, a blue giant sun, and a population of well over ten New Covenant assault carriers' worth of New Covenant troops on it. Frank wasn't sure he'd signed on for what he was now experiencing. Maybe being in orbit wasn't such a bad proposition after all. The pocket of area where Measom's men had bunkered down was more or less the only Human-controlled portion of the planet thus far. According to word that was almost six weeks old, there were other pockets of Human forces, but they could all have easily been wiped entirely out after so much time.

And communications really were shitty as hell.

Frank found the accommodations gritty and often shaking from artillery fire, but they were mainly underground tunnels, so for the most part, they held up just fine. Still, under the circumstances, Frank more or lest kept a permanent knot in his guts. Whenever the next time Flint decided to pull a stunt would be, would more than likely do all kinds of wonderful things to Frank.

He couldn't afford to be hit by bullets that weren't there, or socked by a fist that had not been swung at him. And while he could follow without imitating, if Flint did something suddenly, he also didn't need to be surprised into punching one of his own men, either.

The situation just wasn't that friendly. And Frank was new on the block, so nobody really knew him or trusted him... they just did as he said to because he was the guy with the most stripes on his arm.

Trying to get a handle on what was what and where all what was at first was harsh... nearly every time he tried to get a meeting of some kind - even just himself and one other guy - there would be an attack on the bunker entrances or the artillery fire would have opened the top of another corridor like a sardine can, and there would be very distracting - and deafening - action to be had.

So it was difficult for Frank to understand how to divvy up his new forces and what he was really up against. On day one he was told somebody died. Not who, no name, wasn't handed any tags. Just "somebody". Up on something called "the ridge".

The next day, he was informed that they'd lost sixteen Marines, and he got exactly one-half of one dogtag. It was pretty dismal because each guy had two tags on his chain. Frank wasn't sure what to make of that. He wasn't even sure what had gone so wrong or what the men in question had been trying to do when they'd been slaughtered.

Or even if that had been a slaughter, and not just a built-up bodycount from between now and the last time these men had a commander to tell this sort of thing. It truly was a mess, and putting the bits and pieces together while under constant fire was difficult, at best.

It was why, for the first time ever, Frank wished he'd stayed on the ship. Being what he was, a Marine, he'd always known he ran a high risk of getting himself killed in the line of fire somehow on each and every encounter with the enemy. This time, though, it actually did feel as though he were going to die, and then Flint would have to come and rescue him.

Which would, of course, never happen, because odds were fair to good that the missing twin didn't even remember Frank. After forty-some-odd years of Covenant warfare, who would? Frank only remembered who his folks were because the first three had been there for the first sixteen years of his life, and then they wrote to him, too. And the fourth... well... look at any given reflective surface, and there he is.

Pretty accurate rendering of the guy Frank was looking for. Or so he hoped. If whoever had taken him away from the school grounds had turned him into some kind of psycho-freak, it would explain a lot of things, but it would also be rather hard to come to grips with when or if Frank ever did get to meet him.

Which was frightening.

It became something of a teetering balance. On the days when he had good shootouts and didn't lose more than a single guy, Frank imagined it would be nice to have Flint around. But on the days when it was nothing more than sitting under crumbling bunker ceilings under a constant rain of plasma mortars shelling the surface, or if too many of his men died, Frank wondered if maybe it weren't best that he didn't see what monstrosity had befallen his unfortunate twin.

Best he remember him as the innocent, headstrong, stubborn, somewhat pessimistic six-year-old boy who had picked a fight at school and gotten Frank in trouble for it.

They had had freckles then. Frank wasn't sure about Flint, but he'd lost all of his, the last one vanishing sometime around twenty-seven. Or so. But all the same, he was getting hammered to death, and he was losing too many men...

.

October 22, 2559

"Say again, you're still breaking in and out." Frank said, for what felt like the hundredth time. In fact, he spent more time and breath repeating that one line than any other words or sentences. The radio was just that bad.

Abruptly, the signal hissed badly, then cleared up for long enough for the man on the other end to say, possibly again for the hundredth time, " - pulling back from the system. All ships besides ours has been lost with all hands, we can't hold them. Sorry, Sergeant, you and the boys are on your own for now. I've got to pull out but I called in fresh reinforcements to help you hold the - " and then static washed back in.

Frank looked up when Corporal Allen Johns walked in. He was something of a square-featured fellow, with an olive complexion and glossy brown eyes. "Did it work, Sarge? We get a better signal?"

"For about six seconds." Frank confirmed. "Long enough for them to tell us we're up shit creek and it's time to kiss our asses collectively goodbye." He sighed. "Sorry, man."

Johns shook his head. "Kinda figured this'd happen eventually, sir. Hey, that Hansen kid got back from the ridge this morning, he says to tell you Magrasse is low on rifle ammo again."

"At least Magrasse is not dead." Frank answered. He reached over, and flipped the switch on the power on the comn unit, shutting it off. That part, the other end would hear cleanly. He'd gotten their message, or he hadn't, but they wouldn't know and would need to pull out of comn range anyway, so there was no point in wasting the thing's batteries.

"He's a damn fine shot at long range, sir, but he damn sure talks funny."

"And he bitches whenever you say his first name too softly." Frank agreed, standing up. "But Magrasse is a good, experienced soldier and we've worked together before. I just wish Washington were around, that would help immensely." Stepping past Johns, Frank turned up the crumbling corridor and began to walk. Johns turned on a heel and followed him out, tugging off a grimy glove to rub at a grimy eye with a semi-clean finger in a vain attempt to get the eye less grimy.

It didn't really work, but he stuck his hand back down into the glove again afterwards. "Screamed at me for that, yes." Johns nodded. "I asked him what his first name was. Said it readily enough. Friendly, or seemed it. But when I repeated it back to him he about blew my head off."

Frank snerked. "Magrasse wouldn't kill you, Johns, he's just good at making you think he will. Did that to me the first time, too, and I was his commanding officer at the time." He snorted. "Still am."

"And if you call him - heh-hem - Vihk-ter, would he do it again, sir?"

Frank smiled grimly. "Yes. Most assuredly. There are three things for certain in this world, Johns... the third is that Veek-tohr will always and forever be a hardass about the pronunciation of his first name."

"He spell the damn thing with a K or something, sir?" Johns asked.

"Sure does."

Johns whistled. "Bastard gets hung up on some of the weirdest things."

"Don't we all, Johns?" Frank asked. "So where is Hansen now, by the way?"

"Catching a bite to eat and getting some four minutes of shut-eye before he runs back out again, sir. I almost didn't understand what he told me because it was between mouthfuls of beans."

"Beans... damn, I wish we still had MRE's." Frank sighed. "I hope that those reinforcements come quickly."

Johns brightened visibly. "Sir? You shitting me?"

"Nuh-uh. That was part of the kiss-your-ass-goodbye message. They sent for reinforcements, but they had to pull out or get trashed. So, I'd prepare for some orbital bombardment."

Johns went quiet for a moment, then at the first corner, he looked back up at Frank and said, "We could always sneak a five-man team into their anti-air bracket and light 'em up like signal flares, sir."

Frank cast the man a glance, then looked at him squarely.

Johns' brows pulled together.

"That might work."

.

October 28, 2559

In the span of about a breath, Frank had leapt Corporal Johns' stooped form, landed on the fumbling, flailing Private, gotten the grenade yanked from his shoulder and had it flung back out the way it had come in. Private Hansen screamed anew with the massive spike grenade's removal, and sagged from the wall where he'd been pinned by it, clutching at the gushing wound in his arm.

Frank was turned around to face him, and halfway squatted when the grenade went off in mid-air, right over the heads of a phalanx of shield-bearing Jackals. The blast flattened them, but the presence of their shields spared the Marines grouped ahead of them a similar fate. Jerking the last can of biofoam from the harness on his hips, Frank crammed it into the Private's gaping wound and hit the trigger. Hansen grimaced as the substance swelled to fill the wound, but once it was closed, he slapped off the excess poking out of his skin himself, and got back to his feet. Frank watched him test his grip on his gun, but if he ever got the thing shouldered again, it would be a miracle. With the injury right through his deltoid, added to the restrictive needle of biofoam through the obstructed muscle, it would be hard indeed to raise that arm.

The muscles required to pull it up just weren't functional anymore. Satisfied he'd try, though, Frank turned back past Johns and got them running for the cover they'd all been caught outside of. All around them, ruins of buildings decorated the rubble-strewn pathways like freestanding barriers, most of which were not good enough to stop a determined bullet. Spikes stitched into one such wall behind Frank's head as he ran, but he didn't bother to duck or pause. If he did, it would only make him easier to hit.

Behind him, the Corporal grabbed a fistful of the Private's flak jacket and hauled him backwards against his momentum following Frank, and together they avoided another flurry of the bright-hot pink crystalline daggers that exploded after impact.

The Master Sergeant reached the wall's edge and turned to look back, just in time to see the embedded crystals detonate, blowing a hole out of the wall and showering both men below it in dust and rubble. Arms came down from over ducked heads, and both jumped forward to make the final stretch after Frank. Over their heads, a sleek black sloop shot past, leaving a rushing, punishing downdraft in its wake. The air slammed home like a gravity hammer, dropping all - Marines, Brutes, even the Grunts with them - to their faces in the dusty rubble. Hansen scrambled up first.

"Hurry up!" Frank yelled, waving an arm at them. That ship was their salvation; they'd been told to expect its arrival a week ago. It contained their reinforcements. Just a stone's throw past the edge of what had been the far end of the building they were "inside" of, he saw the first Brute step around the corner, a pair of massive, bladed spike pistols in hand. The lefthand one rose, and sprayed spikes all over the wall behind the pelting Marines, but just as Frank reached out and caught the leading Private by the collar and yanked on him to bring him around the wall and out of the direct line of fire, the second gun rose and sent spikes straight for Frank.

Hugging Hansen to his chest, Frank spun on a heel and shoved for all he was worth, aware it would buy the kid time to get away. They couldn't hold this place... but getting out of it in a cohesive manner was out of the question. He'd stayed behind with the two - both volunteers - to make sure the other Marines didn't get their asses harried by constant fire, but getting out themselves had always been a part of the plan.

It was a shitty plan.

The Master Sergeant's slinging action got him dropped atop Hansen behind the wall, and tumbled down the small hump of rubble into a depression where an earlier explosion had cleared some away. Raising his head, he saw the spread corpse of Corporal Johns draped over the top of that hump, more than a dozen spikes standing in his back. One was sticking out of his helmet, suggesting he'd never realized he was gone until he already was.

But he'd caught all of them, somehow, and Frank was unhurt. Snatching Hansen's scrambling arms, he jerked to his knees and hauled the kid upwards. Together they ran flat out for the next street, where the walls were taller and a little more complete, and some even still had some paint on them. The thunder of Brute feet and the patter of their counterparts following them resonated loudly as they made the next wall just ahead of another flipping spike grenade.

It embedded in the concrete just over Hansen's head, giving Frank a momentary thought that maybe the kid was somehow magnetic to grenades... but a moment later, they were around the next corner, and pelting hell for leather up the detritus slope even as the Brute's own grenade slowed their advance after the two Marines.

"Go, go, go!" Frank insisted, shoving the kid ahead of him. Stopping shy of the actual top of the rubble hill, he spun to a knee facing the other direction. Just a heartbeat after the spike grenade had gone off, he leveled his BR55 scoped rifle at head-level at the edge of that wall and found a head in his sights.

Too soon for a smart animal... but he put bullets downrange, causing the Brute to jerk back with a startled roar. Shielding popped out loudly as the bullets rattled harmlessly off the energy surface, but it was enough to back him into his fellow Brute, and it earned Frank enough time to dart up the remainder of the hill, and get over the other side of it.

He'd known he was out in the open, and in a lot more danger for it, but he was not about to allow a hairy ape the satisfaction of biting his meat off his bones later that night. Ahead, he saw Hansen making the last few running strides into an underground bunker at the bottom of the rubble hill, the shadowed faces of a dozen other Marines visible from where he was. He felt confident he could make it through, too, if he just kept running as fast as his legs would go. But if he slowed for just a second, the Brutes would catch up, and then that would be the end of Frank.

But as he made the last dozen-yard-mark before he would reach the door, he felt a cold chill creep down his spine, and he knew somehow, it hadn't been enough time bought. Ahead, he saw something massive step through the milling, observing Marines. Light falling in through the open bunker doorway shone green and ablative a moment before the Mjolnir slid out into the sunshine like a jeweled scarab, bright and defiant. One arm followed a Marine he'd needed to push out of the way to get out, but the big damn rifle in his other hand came up to meet that empty hand and it aimed past Frank's head, even as he felt his foot come down on a sideways brick.

Pain shot up that ankle, but he refused to let it drop him. The Spartan shifted his weight, his aim tracking. Only a yard from his destination, he felt the spike punch him in the guts, jerking his balance out from under him and sending him crashing into the Spartan like a limp rag. Instead of catching him, though, the Spartan crumpled.

Shock that he could have been moving that fast - fast enough to flatten a Spartan on impact - belayed the shuddering waves of agony wrenching at his middle. Frank pushed away, found his back against the cold concrete side wall of the bunker entrance, and looked down. One hand curled around the thirteen-inch spike sticking out of his middle, but though it hurt like hell and breathing hurt too, he raised his head again to look at that Spartan.

He'd rolled over a knee already, and gotten back up, the rifle in his arms belting thunderous death tolls out the bunker door, splattering the Brute's shielding and forcing them to retreat or die like the first one in the front had. Rounds zinged off the bunker, some zipping past the Spartan, others striking off his shielding and ricocheting back out. Casting that a look, Frank cinched the grip on the spike in his middle, and bracing his other hand on his stomach, tried to pull it out. He found he'd given it enough pull to make it slip just a mere half-inch within his middle, but the pain that caused him made him quit almost before he'd begun.

Almost right in front of him, the Spartan buckled, and hit a knee and one hand, the rifle's barrel dipping to clack against the dust-strewn floor before it was pulled back. Frank's brows met, frowning in puzzlement at the Spartan even as he gasped past his own injury. Interestingly enough, he at last had earned a direct look from the fellow, the shiny golden visor obscuring any return expression the fellow wore.

But once he looked, he kept looking. Despite the guising visor, Frank knew he was being frowned right back at... and perhaps in much the same manner. Shots slapping off his shielding regained his attention, though, and he raised to a braced kneeling position to shoot back. Frank almost wanted to twist the spike in his hand again just to see if the Spartan would react to that, too, but just as he was finishing the thought, a second Spartan in slightly different armor strode fast out of the dark bunker tunnels and up behind the first. Frank almost guessed woman right away, but hesitated to be sure.

No kidding - that was a woman's swinging gait, the dipping-hip, outward-slinging stride, even the way she brought up her equally as huge and loud rifle and fired it over the first Spartan's head screamed female. He grinned, wanting to laugh, thoroughly amused by the idea that a girl might kick the furry asses harassing his men. Wouldn't it be a wonderful insult to their ape pride? He looked up past the two armored behemoths when Satriani popped into view beside him, grabbing a double-fistful of his web gear and hauling him back away from the entrance.

He knew they'd close it eventually, unless those Spartans cleared out the immediate grounds outside it. Back around the first corner, though, he was propped against the wall again, and then the medic grabbed the spike out of his hands and yanked... hard.

Frank's gagging cry of protest was not, he suspected, alone. The answering sound was the cacophony of a half-dozen grenades going off at once, and then he heard the gunfire stop as the door screamed shut, landing with a booming bang. Frank grimaced as biofoam filled his innards, but he knew it was better than bleeding to death. He wasn't the only one to look up curiously, though, when the woman-Spartan came back around that same corner he'd been dragged around, one hand on her rifle, pointing at that door she'd kicked closed, and the other attached somehow to some handhold on the back of the first one to arrive, hauling him back away from the door and into cover.

"Holy shit." Frank croaked, amazed that one of those guys could get pasted that easy... that fast. But he was swiping at the grasp behind his head, pedaling at the retreating floor he was being hauled back across. When she finally stopped moving, he got a boot under him, and pushed back to his feet, sparing a look at the doorway, then at the woman-Spartan.

Frank saw her signal at him, but he just shook his head, tapped two fingers on his visor, and turned away, taking two steps back towards the closed door. Half a heartbeat later, it detonated, the shockwave throwing both Spartans from their feet. If he hadn't been already down, Frank would have dropped, too. Satriani grabbed him again, scrambling to his own feet as he tried to haul the Sergeant away, deeper into the bunker. Obviously, the Brutes weren't done with them yet, and had blasted that door open.

The bunker wasn't that deep, nor that large, nor were its tunnels anylonger that extensive. It had been made a smaller hiding hole more still when one of those tunnels had collapsed earlier in the week under the pressing blast of ordinance striking from above ground. Now they had roughly half the original bunker's span to work with. Luckily, it had more than just one or two original entrances. The medic dragged him hastily into a side chamber usually reserved for ammo depository, but was long since filled and then emptied again. Frank felt a dragging, obsessive curiosity, though, and he couldn't let himself sit still.

He looked at the rifle he'd hung onto stubbornly, checking to make sure it still worked, and as soon as Satriani had let go of him to look at another wounded Marine, he forced himself back to his boots and limped out of the door back into the hallway.

Up to the elbow where the blasted entrance and the two Spartans were, he could see a near-constant rain of bullets and plasma fire. Watching a spike fly past from the side was like watching a plasma bolt go by. They fired red hot, often cauterizing flesh wounds they embedded into. Leaning on the wall and pressing forward, Frank made his way towards the heyday, aware he couldn't hear anything except thunder for a reason. Between the Spartan's rifle fire and the Brute's ordinance - and the occasional Brute-Shot added to the fray - there was little room for other noise.

He was almost to the corner, and already debating on whether or not it was okay to peek around yet when hands closed around his shoulders and yanked him back. He was turned around, shoved back the other way, dragged along by the same medic who had dragged him before. The man was yelling something, but the words were lost, and he soon shut up and quit trying for possibly that reason. Frank felt like he'd been robbed of something. He'd really really wanted to see around that corner... even though he'd known he'd have seen nothing new. Brutes, Spartans... what ever changed, when both stayed inside combat situations?

He twisted around to look back just once, but he never did see the duo... only the stray rounds left in their wake.
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Re: Hammer of Thor Chronicles - Seen You Every Mirror

Post by Elabajaba on Sat Jul 24, 2010 6:48 pm

Great story hops, but it isn't finished yet and despite the short amount of time you seem to be doing chapters in, its hard not to get impatient. (cuz of good writing, boredom and a good story)

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Re: Hammer of Thor Chronicles - Seen You Every Mirror

Post by Nocbl2 on Sun Jul 25, 2010 10:27 am

Really good job Hops. I like it a lot even though I'm not very far in.
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Re: Hammer of Thor Chronicles - Seen You Every Mirror

Post by Etsharrin Hopsarrith on Tue Jul 27, 2010 7:45 pm

Wow, thanks guys. Very Happy I'm having problems with Bungie.net, the site won't load for me. I was simultaneously uploading a copy to here, there, and fanfic.net, but it looks like I'm going to have to quit Bungie for a while until I can figure out what the problem is.

Thus far I have concluded that they had a system update that made their user interface a very unfriendly place for us dial-up users. :'(

In the meantime, though, I'll go ahead and post the next chapter. A bunch of the readers at FF are starting to whine because I left off right before the meeting everyone's been waiting for.

HAHAHAHAHA

-Etsharrin Hopsarrith
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Re: Hammer of Thor Chronicles - Seen You Every Mirror

Post by Etsharrin Hopsarrith on Tue Jul 27, 2010 8:40 pm

7: PEEK-A-BOO

October 28, 2559


Marines were pretty much everywhere. Most of them looked like they hadn't had a decent moment of rest – or a bath – in almost a month. A month, specifically, of rolling in dust, grime, blood and sweat, not to mention other things found randomly lying around in a shelled-out city like this one. Some buildings were flattened, heaps of rubble with structural support bones sticking into the air. Some had some walls still up, but these usually never soared any higher than a little into the second story level. Mostly they were about six to ten feet high, and capped off at the top with ragged, bomb-shelled imitations of crenellations.

But the haggard, ragged conditions were hardly what was on his mind; sitting on the edge of the bunk with his helmet in his hands, Chief Petty Officer Spartan Flint 093 was staring at the reflection of his own face in the golden visor. He knew he'd seen the face somewhere else that day, but that wasn't why Spartan Tori 138 had had to drag him back from the fray.

He hadn't felt phantom pain without cause in forever. Hadn't looked into the eyes of his own face in about as long. Tori didn't know, or she hadn't mentioned if she did.

This mission was about to get majorly complicated… because those eyes had looked back. There was a certain instinct in every living being that could tell when another being knew something. Knew a communal thought. And Flint knew there had been a communal thought happen just then.

He'd felt it when the Marine took a spike through the middle of his back… had felt him pull on it. Had felt the medic yank it out, and fill that ragged hole with biofoam. Stepping over from the corridor, Tori ducked through the doorway, turned, and sat down next to him.

"Hey." She greeted.

"Hey."

Tori heaved a sigh. "You're not usually this quiet."

Flint just shrugged.

"What happened back there, Flint?" She pressed, sounding agitated. "You had me thinking you were hit. I thought you'd been broken in half, the way you doubled up. What was going on? Your armor isn't even scratched."

He heaved a sigh. "It wasn't me."

"Oh yes it was." Tori argued. "You did, I watched you. You doubled up like you'd been hit."

Lifting his head, he looked at her, meeting her gaze. Her large, liquid brown eyes met his round gray ones, and her arched eyebrows rose across her chocolate forehead.

"Is there something you left out of that admission, Flint?" She asked, softer.

"Yes." He briefly considered filling in the blanks, but there was too much time between the last time and this time. Understanding, at such a point as he knew he'd reached, could never be easily achieved. "I don't like the mission."

Then she really frowned at him. "Flint… we've blown through missions like these before. They're easy. Just break the line, let the Marines take over, and we're off." She started to shrug, but stopped shy of completing the motion. Dropping her Mjolnir-clad arms into her lap, she cocked her head at him and sighed. "Flint… come on, tell me the truth. What happened?"

When he didn't answer immediately, instead looking back down at his visor, she slid a hand up his arm, until she had it slung across his shoulders, her head tucked against his.

"I'm concerned, okay? I can say that." Tori said. "Can you say what I want to hear you say?"

He smirked.

"What happened? What do you mean that it 'wasn't you'?" She pressed.

Flint sighed. "I… felt him."

Tori tipped her head against his, leaning away far enough to look at his face without it being too close to focus on. He partly turned his head, to look back. "Felt who?"

"Frank."

.

October 30, 2558

By dusk, the Brutes had been run back somewhat, back enough that there was a quiet night for the first time all month. It really was a marvel what one – or two – Spartans could do, given time and room to work. Together, that duo that had come in the back entrance of the bunker cleaned out nearly the whole frontage, hinting at aggression towards the east for nearly a mile. As a result, the Brutes had pulled back to rethink their position.

One thing Spartans always did, though, was leave a wake of destruction in collateral damage – meaning the city – almost as wide as their sloop was long. Still, it had only taken them a day to get it done, and while it was only one battlefield, it was a start. It was, after all, only one day after their arrival. The lull gave the Marines time to lick their wounds and get some rest, and Frank had already gotten surgical attention. With his innards put back together and the hole through his skin patched closed, he felt better.

But he had questions, and there was only one person – or two, who knew? – that could answer them. Maybe ONI would howl at him for talking to a Spartan, but he knew he had to find out the truth. He had to know. Had to. So even though he knew that neither Spartan was around, Frank had walked across the mall parking lot to the sloop, and sat down against the forward strut holding under the nose of the craft. The strut itself was nearly as big around as he was, so it made a good lean-to to sit against. And the sloop – about the size of a small apartment building on the exterior – was nice and broad, so it made a dandy shade from the otherwise searing summer sun. Fargo was a little like Eridanus I in that respect – on All Hallows Eve, it was still feeling like an Earth-August.

Until it opened, there was really no telling just where the sloop's hatch was, so he figured he could wait until the Spartans came back and found him before he tried something as rash as going inside.

He dozed off sitting there, unable to tell if the Spartans were planning to run night ops, but even though he felt hungry before he felt tired enough to nod off, he didn't feel it enough to make him move and risk missing their return. He was still there, his chin on his chest, when the duo returned.

Tori pulled out the remote control pad and had keyed open the hatch before she even noticed Flint had stopped walking a few paces back. She turned to look back at him, but paused halfway when she spied the snoozing Marine tucked against the front strut.

"Oh, for goodness sakes." She grumbled, sparing the moment to tuck away the control unit and smear the Brute blood on her breastplate some more. "Those guys will sleep anywhere."

"Yeah." Flint answered, sounding distant. Looking back at her, he gestured at her to make her start walking again, but when she did, he only followed her a few strides before pausing again, and looking back over. "They do that…"

Tori disappeared inside the sloop, likely to spend a little while before returning. Having spent most of her life as a scientist in a sterile environment, she would always wash her armor and oil it down practically between shots fired. Flint found it amusing, but only when she didn't hold up his own progress by insisting on doing his armor, too.

Turning from the entrance, he walked across the distance under the ship to the strut under the nose, where he stopped. Doubtless it was the feeling of a half-ton creature stomping up to him that stirred him, but the Marine raised his head, and turned it to look at Flint's knees before tipping back and meeting his gaze.

Flint watched him get to his feet, aware of every single tender twinge he afforded to his middle. Making no personal move, spare to lift his head to follow the Marine with his eyes, Flint considered asking him what he was doing… but he already knew which one he was looking at. There was that communal thought thing again…

Lifting the bucket helmet from his head, the Marine spared a moment to scratch his grimy scalp with his other hand. Then, helmet at his side, he cocked his head at the Spartan. Flint crossed his arms.

"Hell of a greeting." The Marine mentioned, sourly.

"Greeting?" Flint echoed. "You're snoozing on my ship."

"Sure I am." The Marine answered. "Wanted to talk to you."

Flint wanted to rebuke him, wanted to tell him to go away, but ultimately, couldn't. How would he ever justify that? Defeated, he conceded the point; "I figured." The longer he stood there, though, the more he realized that long foggy memory wasn't as warped as time would have made him believe. The Marine stood about six foot four, roughly a little more than a head shorter than Flint. He had broad shoulders, and big arms – chunky in all the same ways. He wore the same round face, high cheekbones and all. He even had the bright golden blonde buzz cut and the same crinkled blue-silver-gray eyes in his head… if he was a little higher up, and there was a glossy sheen, Flint felt confident he'd be staring at a mirror, and not another man.

And despite the mirrored visor over his own face, he thought he already knew the Marine knew just exactly who he was. "Feel like I know you." He was saying, looking as if he were trying to peek through the visor at Flint's face. "From a long time ago."

Flint inhaled, tasted his lips, and – what the hell – uncrossed his arms. "Frank, then?"

Eyebrows bounced up. "Yeah… that's me… how'd you…?" There remained some doubt, then. Some need to verify, to explore. To be certain beyond a hunch.

Flint reached up, hit the catch seals on the throat of his helmet, and when it was loose, he lifted it off his head, taking it down in front rather than to the side to keep the Marine from freaking out before he had it all the way off. The world looked a little different at dusk without the visor tinting it, and the colors came back sharper, the wind evident against the skin of his face almost before the helmet was even off.

Looking at the Marine – at Frank – all he saw was blatant shock. Now the man also saw that same mirror image that Flint did. Taking a breath, he said, "Hello."

Frank stammered over his own tongue for a moment, before his brows met, and he tried a real word. "Wh…? Fuck…"

Flint half-smirked. "All I said was hello."

"Flint?" Frank squeaked, obviously still not over his shock. "It's really you? You're… you…? How did…? Why…? What the hell?" Gathering his wits, he added, "You're a Spartan?" Of course, there had been the implications, forewarnings, supposition and evidence… but how could it actually be true? Frank blinked twice just to be sure he wasn't seeing things.

"I well imagine that I am." Flint mused, tucking the Mjolnir helmet under an elbow. "What are you?"

Frank burst out laughing, but if it was either his last leg of sanity or merely amusement, it was hard to say. When he got a handle on himself, though, he sufficed with a grin only. Extending a hand, but hesitant to touch, he asked, "I watched you… die…" Morose concern etched abruptly through the grin, staining it with pain.

Flint nodded. "I get that a lot."

"I felt you die, Flint… I knew…"

"I am," Flint pointed out, "allowed to mess up once in a while. I'm still just Human."

Frank finally landed the extended hand on a Mjolnir-clad arm. "I felt you come back."

"That part hurt." Flint admitted.

"You never came home, Flint." Frank said, sounding hoarse. "They said that boy was you, they said you were dead. But I knew. I knew, and I was right… you're standing there… you're still alive, Flint. Why didn't you ever come back? Why didn't… you didn't write, or call… I was looking for you." The last came out like a bitter accusation, and it even twisted his grizzled expression.

Flint shook his head. "I work for ONI, Frank. Never going home is part of the job description. They made me a Spartan. I am the forefront of every war, every battle, and I will be until the day I don't come back from the dead."

Frank's face twisted again, this time more so. "You…" his voice failed for a moment, before he cleared his throat out and tried again. Defeat was clear in his voice this time, though, making evident that he'd changed what he was saying mid-sentence. "… got awful tall."

Flint smirked at him, earning an identical one in reply. "We all did."

Frank closed his eyes for a moment, seeming to waver. When Flint reached out to steady him, well knowing he really ought not be on his feet so soon after taking a stomach wound, he toppled directly into the Spartan, leaning his down-tipped head on the Mjolnir armor plating there. At a bit of a loss, Flint rested his free hand on his brother's shoulders.

"I remembered you, Frank."

"I know." Frank mumbled. "Saw you every mirror."

"I imagine I don't have much of a story to tell, do I?" Flint asked. "Seeing as how all you lack are the visual and audio?"

"Not all of the audio." Frank sighed, straightening and lifting his head to look back up. "Every time you got hit, I filled in the blanks for you."

Flint's smirk returned. "I'm sure you did."

"Can I ask, though…? What the hell was April to September of twenty five fifty eight??" Frank asked, sounding as though he had no fond memories of the date mentioned.

Flint frowned, thinking back, trying to place events around the date. Finally, he was about to shrug when he remembered at last – and his brows rose a little before he pulled his mouth out into a thin, flat line. "Oh, that."

"I thought I was going to die…" Frank grumbled. "They kept thinking I had this, or that, or the other… but I was clean. I knew it had to be you. What the hell did you get into? Do you know how hard it is to keep a good meal in a body when all you can feel is overwhelming nausea??"

Flint grimaced, but he did half-grin, too. "I, uh… that one's particularly embarrassing…"

"What did you do?" Frank demanded.

"Flood infection… minor… mostly… I lived."

Frank gagged at him, pushing away almost too fast, causing Flint to reach out and catch him again to keep him from dumping himself onto his ass. "Flood???"

Flint cast him a concerned look. "Are you sure you want to be getting excited in your condition?" There was an after-sound at the end of the sentence that made Frank wonder if he'd almost added "sir" on the end. Not unusual, but possibly omitted for a reason.

Frank grimaced, before lifting Flint's hand off his shoulder with both of his own. "I'm pretty sure you know just exactly what this momma feels like, so yes. I'm fine." The last two words came out through his teeth, though, causing the Spartan to roll his eyes.

"I do believe that I tuned you out because I was trained to tune me out, Frank. You, on the other hand, aren't quite so prepared." Flint told him.

Frank leaned bodily against the sloop's strut, then, and exhaled tiredly. "Flint… what were you doing… when you were… fourteen?"

Flint grimaced. "I'm not going to tell you." He looked away.

"Flint." Frank begged.

He looked back, but shook his head resolutely. "No."

"Why not? What could you possibly be expected to accomplish, at fourteen? You were… we were… just kids. What mission was that one?"

Flint shook his head again, his jaw tightly clenched.

Frank's eyebrows rose just a little. "Okay, hotshot… what about that girlfriend I know you're hiding somewhere?"

Flint groaned, and covered his eyes with a hand. "Good god, Frank."

Frank grinned. "Ha," he said, weakly. "Got you."

.

November 1, 2559

For all the attentive silence of the past forty-one years, Frank James O'Neil still couldn't get much out of his long-missing twin. Flint was, he discovered, still Flint, still plucky and sarcastic, but mainly quiet. There were scars, things witnessed, things performed, things lived through. Quite possibly surviving public execution was among them. If anything, the Spartan II was a little more bottled than the six-year-old boy that had left home and never returned.

Eking words out of him took effort, and sometimes Frank just didn't have the strength to try. Whatever bits of the story were not buried under black files in an ONI base somewhere still had a hard time coming out… and though the silence was still more or less an overwhelming factor between them, Frank got the idea that his augmented brother had one or two things he'd kept even from ONI.

Not surprising. That was another aspect of being Flint.

"Where'd you find her?" Frank asked, one arm wrapped around his middle, the fingers of that hand playing with the tendrils of drooling plasmic fluids weeping from his surgical slice. The wound would heal, but it would do so a lot better if he wasn't stubbornly on his feet all the time, yanking on it by trying to use his gut muscles to walk.

"Asteroid laboratory." The pair had found a flattened chunk of crete to sit on at the peak of a heap of rubble, and were looking out over the low end of the city's ragged remains. Towards the farthest end, the occasional blink of brief light suggested there was a firefight happening out there. The distance dulled the sound until it could barely be heard under the harsh, scraping wind.

"They need Spartans for scientist control?" Frank jibed.

"I guess."

Frank sighed. "I spend forty fucking one years looking for your ass and I can't even get three words out of you."

"I've said more than three words, Frank." Flint told him.

"Not in a string." Frank argued.

"You mentioned someone tried to replace me?" Flint offered, apparently in a bid to make peace.

Frank provided a feral grin, but it was more to hide the pained grimace from the twinge sent up from his spike wound. "Yeah, looked just like us."

"Did he tell you what his name was?"

"Frank."

Flint cast him a look, but said nothing to that.

"At first I thought he was just being hard to live with, but when I got him alone that first night, he kept on insisting… as if I wouldn't know which of us I was." Frank grumped. "I had to sit his ass down and tell him how it was before he backed off."

Looking back at the distant hints of battle, Flint said, "He wasn't lying."

Frank cast him a critical look. "What do you mean?"

"When my boots hit dirt on Reach the first time, I was Frank-057. So the flash-clone they replaced me with was, in exchange, also Frank." Flint said. "They wanted you, Frank. Not me."

Frank sat silent for a long time before finally asking, confused, "I don't understand… why did they take you if they didn't want you?"

"Because I lied to them." Flint said, tapping his armored fingers on the Mjolnir plating on his knees. "I told them I was you." He cast his brother a glance, then, meeting his gaze. "You were supposed to be the Spartan."

"Me?" He looked little better than shell shocked… as if that were the last thing he'd expected to hear. "Wh… why? What made me better than you?"

Flint shrugged. "I never asked that one."

Frank whistled. "Wow. That's a hell of a hitter. How come you never tried to come home, Flint?"

The Spartan's face wrinkled. "I was six."

"You're forty-nine, Flint. More than capable."

"Eridanus I is glass." Flint countered.

"Yeah, well, it wasn't always." Frank stated. "You could have returned before then. You didn't even try, though, did you? Why?"

"You're assuming."

"I'm not wrong." The Master Sergeant stuck a finger up at his twin. "You can't lie about what you were doing, because I was aware of every last twitch, every fistfight, every firefight, everything. I even knew when you crashed your plane."

"Home," Flint answered, softly, "was what I was defending. There was purpose."

"What about me?" Frank begged. "We never did anything separate until that mess happened, and you disappeared."

Flint just shook his head, and set a hand on the helmet he'd perched to his side. "I don't know how to justify it in ways you'd understand, Frank. You're outside the… system. You still value different things."

"Yeah, well." Frank looked back out over the city, pulling his hands down into his lap. It was more to make himself stop messing with his injury than anything else. "So about that shoulder. Was it really bad enough to make you ambidextrous?"

Flint nodded. "Had to, or I couldn't shoot."

"What made you wait so long before you let them fix it?"

He cast Frank a look. "What do you mean? They fixed it as soon as I got back to Human space… November sometime."

Frank shook his head. "I mean when they really fixed it, not when they patched it over for you. Some… what… two? Four months ago?"

"Oh, that." Flint looked away again, then, seeming to brood a little. "That wasn't the UNSC."

"It wasn't?" The comment earned him a look from the Marine, but when he refused to answer right away, Frank pressed. "Well, what did you do? Mine doesn't hurt anymore so yours mustn't, either."

"It's fine." Was all Flint would say.

"You are so very full of secrets, little brother."

"I'm bigger than you, Frank." Flint cast him a wry look.

"I'm older." Frank protested.

"Yeah, by five minutes!"

"Fifteen!"

.

November 5, 2559

"I can't see it."

Marines all around lifted their heads, and looked curiously at the Spartan standing in their midst. Of all the things they expected a typical Spartan to say, that wasn't among the imagined dialogue. For one thing, the "I can't" sort of stood out.

"What do you mean, you can't see it? He's right there." Frank stuck an arm out, pointing, though after about a thousand yards, the breadth of his fingertip could have swallowed whole city blocks, top to bottom. "Second story, fifth window on the right, second building from the crater."

"Yeah, but the scope… I can't make it… arg." Flint dropped the sniper rifle and tugged on the expensive range-finding scope on the top of the gun. "How does this thing come off?"

"Off?" Frank asked, puzzled. "Hey, stop." He reached over, brushed the Spartan's hand away, and dialed out the clamp screws holding the device to the rifle. Once it was loose, he flipped up the lock switch and lifted the scope off and away. "Like that."

Shouldering the weapon once more, Flint lined up a bead, so the Marine stuck his binocular up to his face and found the target in question. Jackals with beam rifles were difficult, but a Brute holed up with one wearing shielding and being more or less immune to everything they had that was outside the Brute's own gun range was more so.

When Frank had dragged up the high-powered sniper rifle with the plasma-display system scope mounted on the top, it seemed the perfect solution. But the gun was a refitted .60, making the recoil a bit too much for a pack of war-weary Marines that had been hunkered down behind MA5B's for so long. Handing the rifle to Flint had been the next logical step – Frank had never seen anyone hold so very unnaturally still for so long until he'd stood there and watched his brother try to find the target through the scope. This time, though, the Spartan took the shot – and then the second shot directly – almost as soon as he'd gotten his binoculars up to his face.

Through them, he saw the Brute first stagger, then when his shielding popped and died, the second round tore out the back of his head and dropped him like a rock. For the distance, a headshot was a bit beyond remarkable. Frank whistled. "Dead on."

"That was better." Flint mentioned, dropping his aim. "Could see him."

Frank looked up again, past his binoculars. "Something wrong with the scope?"

"Oh, no." Flint mused. He tapped a finger against his domed golden visor. "It's the suit. Older model of scope, doesn't synch well with the Mjolnir subsystems, so I have to jimmy the position and sometimes that doesn't work so well." He shrugged. "Scope's probably just fine."

"So you don't technically see through that visor, then?"

"Well, I do." Flint answered. "If the HUD lost power, I could still see out. It would just be… dark. Probably fuzzy." Tucking the overpowered weapon into an elbow, the Spartan scanned the area downrange with what seemed a nonchalant air.

"Or you could just take your helmet off." Frank offered.

"I could." Flint didn't sound willing, though. "Ties into those subsystems, though."

"So if you took the helmet off, your shields would turn off, too?"

"Yup."

Frank blinked. It was the first non-formal word he'd heard his brother utter yet. The significant lack of sir to anyone at all remained, but conversely, he didn't look inclined to make anyone here call him that. It had the Master Sergeant a little puzzled. "Which would be a bad thing?"

"Yup."

Frank couldn't help it; under his bucket helmet, he grinned from ear to ear. Either his twin was warming up to something naughty, or he was deciding it was okay to be friends with his brother again. "You're not too fond of having your shields turned off, are you?"

"I like my suit." Flint answered, nonplussed. "It does its job."

"I like your suit, too, that doesn't mean I get to have one." Frank countered, jokingly.

That comment, though, made the Spartan look at him. "If you tried to wear this armor, Frank, it would rip you apart." He held out a hand, as if to prove a point, and added, "It's an accelerator suit. The only reason it doesn't tear me up is because I was augmented to handle it."

Frank's expression sobered, and he narrowed one eye. "When you were fourteen."

Flint's posture sagged. "Not talking about that, Frank." He looked back downrange, then, and either did spot something or pretended to, but he didn't immediately raise the scopeless rifle. He looked like he might, though.

"Oh, come on." The Master Sergeant complained, resting his elbows on the concrete hump in front of him. They and some six or eight other Marines had come down to the front edge of a counter-push the Brutes had employed, but anyone trying to get any farther down the street had gotten their brains splattered by the Brute Flint had just serviced. "I already know all there is about it, and even when, so what's the big deal? Just don't you go and get boiled by anything else, understand?"

Flint emitted a sound not unlike a cross between a choke and a hiccup. The gold visor turned back to look at him. "Boiled?"

"That's how it felt." Frank admitted, carefully not looking back.

Flint grunted. "I don't recall… was too out of it to really note what anything specifically resembled at the time." Frank saw him give the slightest of shrugs, but that was all.

"And then you had to go and get up… couldn't leave me alone for a second. Think I must have busted Steve's eardrums when you fell over." The Marine grumbled, tucking his binoculars to his face again and roving some uninteresting scenery.

"I didn't fall over."

He looked up, then. "What?"

"I didn't fall over." Flint repeated, now actually sighting down the barrel of his scopeless rifle at something. "I was pushed." Punctuating the elaboration with a shot, he waited for the sound to diminish before adding, "Kelly, think it was… caught me getting up. Tried to stop me. Said it wasn't a good idea."

"Oh?" It was as much voluntary information as Frank had heard yet; he wasn't about to interrupt beyond a prompt.

"Staff came in about that point," he said, aiming again, and this time tracking something over the course of an inch before shooting that, too. "Kelly was all that was holding me up by then, really. Shaking like there was no tomorrow, the both of us. Staff tried to separate us, get us back to our original positions… gave me a push." He lifted the rifle to rest the butt on his hip, the barrel in the air, and then he looked back at Frank. "Over I went."

Frank wasn't sure whether to grin at the terminology, or grimace in sympathy, so he just stood there and stared blankly at the Spartan for what felt a small eternity.

"What?"

"Oh." It was all he could think of to add, though he felt cheap saying it. Some forty years had passed and it seemed neither could think of much to say to the other. It made Frank itch more than anything else.

"Who is Steve, by the way?"

.

November 9, 2559

Viktor Magrasse ducked under the crushed doorway, shimmying past the wrinkled, ruined door itself, to drop onto the floor beyond on his knees. He grimaced, having lost his knee guards a while back to excessive damage, and when he stood up again he dusted his legs off of the clinging bits of broken plascrete.

"Smelly apes." He griped, glancing back. Moving forward, he picked his slung MA5B up and began to trot, cutting a shorter path underneath a pair of large, sprawling malls to make it back to the bunker from the ridge. His SRS had been entirely ruined, nearly split in half, by countering a blow from a twin-bladed spike rifle, so he'd left it behind. The ridge had been lost, and he was really the only one up there anymore, so he'd had to abandon his post and come running back or be killed.

Without radios working worth a damn, it was that or make Frank wonder just what had happened up there, and when. And he'd be forced to send more people to get swarmed and killed just trying to find out. It was better this way.

Out the other end of the maintenance tunnel – a more or less straight line that was tall but not broad and had tubing and pipes running the ceiling overhead – Magrasse climbed out over the tangled, burnt-out remains of what had been a car. He couldn't tell if it was a generic econo-box or if it had been sporty anymore, but it still more or less resembled a mangled car, so he knew what it had been. There was one tire, slagged around the bent wheel, but all the rest of the flammable things were gone.

That was the thing about plasma fire… it would ignite anything at all. Even some low-temperature sensitive metals, like aluminum. Watching aluminum burn away was hard on the eyes, but also fascinating. Magrasse had seen enough non-flammable things scorch into vapor though that he'd lost the ability to marvel at it.

Ducking through a hole in the wall of the old hotel across the cratered street, Magrasse turned around the heap of desk crumbles and dropped nimbly out the mortar hole in the other wall. He landed next to another Marine, but the guy was missing some forty percent of his body and had been laying there for a while. The only thing brave enough to come and get him was bugs, so he looked and smelled pretty bad, but what there was of him had not been scattered or pulled apart yet.

Magrasse clamped a hand over his mouth and nose and pressed on, struggling not to breathe what was doubtless a bubble of nauseating air until he was well past the dead guy. There were quite a few fallen, bug-eaten carcasses in the city, but most of them were not Human. The fighting was so brutal, though, that nobody really had any time or gumption to do anything about them.

Past the carcass, Magrass trotted swiftly up the street toward an intersection where the lights had been blasted away. Here, left would take him around the shelled building in front of the main entrance of the bunker, and straight ahead would take him up the road two more blocks to the second entrance. Since both of these had been picked off and shelled shut already, either direction was fine. But when he went ahead and took the corner in favor of a long straight stretch, he ran right into a Brute patrol that ought not be there.

"Mein gott!!" Magrasse squeaked, backpedaling fast and ducking back around the corner again just in time to miss a dozen rounds of plasma and six hot twelve-inch spikes. "Ar, for the radio." He grumbled, tucking his back to the corner and checking his assault rifle to be sure he was ready for this.

"Come out, puny Human!" The Brute called, the sound of the patrol's steps drawing closer a little faster than before. "I just want to talk to you."

"Believe that, heh." Magrasse snorted. He jerked his leading elbow around the corner and half his head, sighted down the barrel already. The first target he found was a Grunt. He splattered it with bullets, then swung to the next one and did the same. Neither had been hit bad enough to die, but it gave them hesitance to rush so boldly forward, and that was mainly all Magrasse needed.

"After him, you worthless whelps!" The Brute protested, as Magrasse tore out from the corner and ran back the way he'd come with every ounce of speed he had to give. At the very first next corner, he swung himself blindly around it and tucked against the wall again, willing to take the risk of probable enemy in favor of taking the risk of known enemy. Magrasse wasn't about to test his luck quite that badly yet. And he would need cover if he was going to take down a Brute, four Grunts and two Jackals. By himself.

When he felt the sounds of their footfalls meant they were close enough but not too close, he flung a grenade around the corner without looking, then ducked into his knees and covered his helmet with both hands.

"Grenade!" The Brute called. When the frag went off, Magrasse was up and running again, hitting the alley's dead-stop corner with a boot and bouncing into the side of the building he'd been against earlier. He reached up and caught the decorative brickwork exterior and pulled upwards with holds barely as deep as his fingerprints.

For a heartbeat, his forward momentum gave him enough upwards momentum that he managed to get high enough to grab the lip of the first mortar hole. From there, he swung free of the corner and hooked a boot into the broken crete and glass wall, and tucked into a roll over the lip to freefall onto the other side just as the patrol made it into the alley.

"He's gone into hiding! Find him!" The sound of the Brute's voice was unmistakably agitated. He wasn't going to let Magrasse go that easily, but Magrasse had a few tricks, too. Here, the detritus had piled in slopes against the walls, so he rolled as soon as he hit until he was nearly in the middle of the building. Shaking the dizziness out of his head, Magrasse picked himself up, and checked his gun again.

He reloaded it, glanced at the wall he'd come over, then began to ascend the slope he'd just rolled down from. At the top, he took a fist-sized chunk of the detritus at his feet, bounced it in his hand for a moment, then flung it at an angle to hit and ricochet from the taller wall of the building he'd just come all the way around from.

When it hit the wall at the top and fell down into the street, Magrasse had to cover his mouth to keep from laughing; "Grenade! Fall back!"

He only had one more frag, and he wasn't going to waste it. But there was nothing here he could really use to his advantage… looking back up at the wall's broken top, he wondered if he could pick them off as they came over the wall. But that entirely depended on them climbing it, like he had.

He was about to make a decision based on the location and circumstances of the moment when he heard something affix to the other side of the wall between himself and the patrol. His brows met, then his mind conjured a good possibility for what that might be, and he jumped from the heap of detritus and ran for it. When he got to the other side of the broken building, where the front wall was entirely gone, Magrasse heard the charges detonate… and then the squeals and guttural screams of the Grunts and Jackals as the pile of detritus swallowed the alley. They hadn't counted on the wall holding up so much junk, and they'd paid for it. Turning around, Magrasse aimed his rifle and waited for the dust to clear.

When the first alien mounted the spread pile of settling detritus, the Marine opened fire, hammering the lone Grunt with half the magazine. At that range with an MA5B, it was necessary. The Grunt dropped onto its face, dead and oozing orange blood from a dozen different holes. But behind it came the shielded and better-armored Brute, and he had one of those switch-back bladed grenade launchers at his hip.

"Stupid Human!" The Brute roared, thrusting the weapon forward. Magrasse ducked and ran for it, sideways, to avoid the raining hail of flak and fire as the launched grenades came down around him.

"Fokking hell!" Magrasse found the shelled front of another building, but couldn't get in through the tangle of rebar, so he kept going. Running across the street, he jumped through a smaller hole punched through a glass front, and scrambled through the shattered glass fragments into the open back, the utter lack of a ceiling or upper story floors making it seem a very exposed place indeed. Grenade fire followed him across the street, then broke out the last of the glass front behind him.

"Come back here, Human scum! You cannot win, and you cannot escape! The Chieftain demands it!"

"What? Chieftain? Uh-uh, not me, not today." Magrasse tucked sideways again, shouldering through what had once been a wooden fence rail in the alley he was now in, but was now so burnt that it was just standing charcoal. It shattered around him, and he dropped straightaway into a crater. "Augh!" he tumbled as his footing disappeared, then splashed down in the bottom in the middle of a huge pool of water. "Ew, gross, eh…" But it wasn't sewer. Just a broken water main… it still had nasty crap floating in it, though, and he sloshed through to the other side quickly, trying not to look too closely at any of it.

The Brute came out the back of the building behind him, and blew the water into the air as he scrambled out of it on the other side. Shrapnel tore chunks from the buildings around him, clods of detritus, crete and dirt from the ground, and sent shattering fragments of the broken walls overhead down on him. What had Magrasse worried was that he could feel the shrapnel itself embedding in the armor on his back, too. As he got to the end where it opened up again, he jerked the grenade off his belt and hooked the pin out of the spoon. He spun around and flung it right at the Brute, then ducked through the new opening into the third street over.

He had to get rid of that tail before he got to the bunker door that still worked, or else the alien'd just report where it was and it would get shelled shut too. He paused at the opening, and turned around to face it, rifle first. There was no way he could hope to win a duel against a grenade launcher with just an assault rifle, but he couldn't get any closer to the bunker without doing something about the Brute. They had enough problems without needing to find somewhere else to hide.

The Brute shouldered through the alley up to the hole, and when Magrasse opened fire, the shielding popping outward broke the hole bigger, and showered both of them in collapsing fragments of the otherwise freestanding wall. The Brute roared, forcing his bulky weapon around in the tight quarters, and fired three consecutive rounds straight at Magrasse.

He dropped back, letting them sail over his head, but he kept firing, now from between his knees. When his magazine was empty, he looked up for a split second, having noticed something up there moving, and when the Brute saw his expression change, he too glanced up.

Neither had time to move before the wall crumbled down atop them.
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Etsharrin Hopsarrith
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Re: Hammer of Thor Chronicles - Seen You Every Mirror

Post by Etsharrin Hopsarrith on Mon Aug 23, 2010 2:50 pm

8: NOT AN EASY LEGEND

November 13, 2559


Even at two in the morning, the sky burned alight with the fires of atmospheric entry. Dropcraft and Seraph fighters sprayed from the massive whale-shaped ship like falling pieces of shattered sky, but each hooked around forward after coming free for about a half mile. Watching it happen was spectacular, especially since the shields were flickering brightly and the main cannons were discharging as rapidly as the fire from space came down in reply. The ship was making a fast run to insert as many troops as possible before something else blew it up from behind.

Frank was looking up, watching that, when he felt a massive shadow fall over him from behind. He jumped forward, looking behind him, expecting the worst. But when he saw it was only Flint, he relaxed. "Looks like we've got more company." He said.

"That's not a Brute ship." Flint answered.

Frank looked back up. "How can you tell?"

"It's something you get an eye for after a while." Flint answered, simply, looking up, too. "Those are our reinforcements."

"Should I turn the radio back on?"

"I wouldn't bother. Elites don't use our frequencies anyway."

Frank nodded. "Activity on the ridge has multiplied. I think we may have lost Magrasse up there."

"Now we get to take it back, and have a look for ourselves." Flint answered, deadpan. "Or I could just take Tori and clean it out for you. Take about two days."

"I want to see what these new guys do before that happens." Frank answered. "But this isn't the reinforcements I thought we'd be getting."

Flint looked down at him. "I heard they had picked up intel suggesting they had something to protect on this world, Frank. I wouldn't be so quick to dismiss them."

Frank turned, then, and looked back at him. "Flint… answer me something."

Flint folded his arms, but said nothing.

"Do the Elites call you Zelisee?"

Flint emitted an amused noise. "Thought you was me, did they?"

"What does it mean, Flint?"

"Indestructible." Flint answered. "It was an honorary title given after Delta Halo, and before the Ark. I was… playing catch-up with John."

Frank's face wrinkled. "Who is John?"

"The Spartan who found the first Halo, and destroyed it. He was hard to catch up to. Found him, though… while back. Sent him home."

"Oh, that guy. Saw him on broadcast once or twice I guess." Frank nodded, looking back up at the Elite ship. It was clearing away from the dropcraft and nosing back up out of the atmosphere. Anti-air from the Brutes encampments was already active, and had blown more than a dozen out of the sky. Thousands more were still descending. "How many exactly are there that call you that, and why does it make them like you so much?"

"I got them in, out, and the job was done." Flint answered. "It was my idea and I was leading their advance, so… I suppose it was their way of saying thanks for not getting them slaughtered. We drew out the Flood so John could chase Truth. Seeing as John actually caught Truth afterwards, it was worth it. They don't look at the world the same way you do, Frank. They considered it the most noble and honorable mission to ever cross their paths. I just so happened to be in the middle of it at the time."

"So why do they call me that?" Frank looked back at him. "You look nothing like me. I'm just a Marine."

Frank looked down, meeting his gaze. "What are you talking about? We're identical, Frank. And if you're talking about the armor… I wasn't wearing Mjolnir to that battle that they named me after."

Frank thought about that for a moment, then looked away, nodding. "Okay. So they'd know your face, then. My face."

"Yes."

Frank studied the way the new arrivals maneuvered in the sky as he contemplated the words his brother had given him; and while he knew Flint was about as immersed in the military lifestyle as anyone could possibly become, he still couldn't put his finger on why he never said 'sir'. To anyone, for any reason. That was very un-militaristic. It was also not something they were liable to have let slide back when everything hadn't fallen apart yet.

"Something else you wanted to add, Frank?" Of course he'd notice. Now he was bothering to pay attention again, that was.

"You're a Spartan, Flint." Frank sighed. "The best and finest the UNSC has to offer… a soldier's soldier."

"But."

"You don't really act like one."

Flint's visor could not have hidden the cat-like smirk even if Frank had been looking. "That's new. Ran with the Elites for a little too long, I guess. Had to teach myself some new tricks."

Frank did look back, then. "Ran with the Elites?"

Flint just nodded.

"Doing what?" Frank pressed.

"Assignments."

Frank shook his head. He still wasn't very talkative, and obviously preferred not to elaborate on a whole lot. Frank wondered if that would ever change. "Well, come on, then. Let's go and greet our reinforcements before they get picked off."

.

November 16, 2559

Tauk put his shoulder down, and pushed for all he was worth. When the top of the heap of rubble fell away, it revealed the head and right arm of Gurag and the gloved fingers of one hand on what had to be a Human. They were little, delicate fingers, barely as big around as the wires used to hook up electronics. Tauk prodded at Gurag's head, to see if he lived still, but the other Brute did not stir. He was stiff and motionless, but Tauk wasn't about to prod him enough to learn if his flesh had chilled.

He wasn't here for Gurag anyway.

More carefully, Tauk began to lift away the blocks and sheets of rubble from around where the Human was buried, until he had successfully excavated the diminutive creature completely. He was not a small Human, as Humans went, with sharpened, angular features, and broad shoulders. But he was still less than a third as big as Tauk, and he would be no problem to move.

This creature, Tauk did spare the time to tell if he lived. Though quite out of it at the moment, and more than likely having a couple of broken bones from being landed on so very brutally, the Human lived. Tauk flashed his yellowed fangs in relief. Returning from the conflicts empty handed had made Clan Chieftain Obivok very angry more than once. He was not an ignorant Chieftain, as no Brute ever achieved such a status with such an impairment, so he didn't kill anyone for their failing, but he always made it plain he would give them tough tasks or have them beaten and flayed if they kept failing. He had heard the reports back, had heard the names and seen the files attached.

That despicable demon Zelisee was rumored to be here, and Obivok wanted that demon's head. So if the rumor was truth, the hunt for said demon would begin. And Obivok had also made it painfully clear that no one was to so much as put scratch on the demon Zelisee's armor. The glory of tearing the demon apart would belong to Obivok and none other.

Should he ever be robbed of that glory, he would tear the robber apart instead, and all of the children of said robber, too. None of the potential robbers had much interest in trying it, though – there was really no glory gained by facing down a beast so very out of their league. Zelisee was unlike any Elite ever to walk the battlefields, and not just any Brute could take him down.

Where Zelisee's hooves hit, the blood of his enemies ran freely, and it was effortless for him. All other Elites looked up to him. The last one Obivok had captured had spoken highly of the demon, after all. And while he said he'd seen and fought beside the demon recently, he had not given them any recent locations, and so had died without satisfying Obivok's curiosity. The Chieftain was insane, in Tauk's opinion, but so long as he kept his anger pointed elsewhere, it was a tolerable insanity.

He'd mauled the last female he'd taken, a sure sign. Tauk wasn't capable of challenging the old Brute himself, but he hoped somebody did soon. Somebody who could actually win against him, and replace the deranged zealot.

Still, this Human would prove a good satiation for the Chieftain's rotten mood, surely. He would be pleased with Tauk at least, and then things would perhaps calm down for the clan a bit. Routing the Humans here was hard enough, but if the rumors of the Elites' favored and most revered warrior being among them were true… then the Clan of the Black Paw had bigger problems than a difficult Human infestation. Tauk wasn't looking forward to seeing the demon Zelisee in battle, and he hoped the demon was always occupied elsewhere, with other offensives, whenever Tauk went to fight.

It was a dying hope, really, especially if this Human confirmed any of Obivok's theories. If he confirmed that rumor as truth.

Absently, he flicked some of the dusty bits off the Human's armor, rather lost in thought. He wanted to sit for a moment and wait for his prize to wake up – sometimes people would go down and be alive, but never waken again. And he didn't want to bring a comatose Human before Obivok, because there was no way to question a being whose brain was shut down despite their body still living. Rather pointless, in fact.

Tauk looked back at Gurag, then, and reached back to pluck the dead Brute's weapon out of the rubble, tucked as it was under his hunched form. The entirety of Gurag's patrol was gone, wiped out by this Human. Tauk was glad he didn't have to fight to capture him, too. There was just too much of a risk of damaging the prey beyond repair, and then having them bleed out and die before they could be gotten back to Obivok. Too much, too much.

It was only good to slaughter prey when one's obsessive Chieftain didn't want to talk to them, ugh. Still, when one's Chieftain has a blood-vow against a certain powerful member of the enemy's ranks, information on the whereabouts of said certain member was often desired. And it was easier to just ask the nearest enemy about it than to try to dig through their maze of radio signals hoping to find the right one that happens to mention said individual.

People just didn't often say everything they knew on the radio during battles, after all. Very rare, very rare indeed.

Tauk was still picking at Gurag's bladed grenade launcher when he heard the Human give a start. Looking over, he saw the little alien jerk up onto his elbows, his little eyes wide in terror. He tried to scramble away, but Tauk just put the gun down and dropped a hairy hand around a passing ankle, and stilled the creature. "You are coming with me, Human." He told it, in his roughened, lisp-influenced variation of the Human's language. "Chieftain wants to see you."

"No!" The Human fought against Tauk's hold, pulling hard. Tauk suspected that the only reason he wasn't getting kicked by the other, free leg was likely due to injury to said other, free leg. "Ah soonah die than get fed to yer smelly leader, ya big ape! Let go of me leg!"

Tauk's muzzle wrinkled as he drew the skin over his nose back. This Human spoke almost as funnily as he imagined himself did. How curious! He stood up, lifting the Human by the hold on his ankle, until he'd been lifted right off the ground. The Human wailed a short note, but he dragged a double-fistful of the detritus he'd been on with him when he came up off the ground. This he threw at Tauk's face.

Tauk just blinked and rubbed the dust out of his eyes with his other hand, before blinking at the Human in his grasp. He wasn't fighting back very hard. Maybe that wasn't a good thing… maybe he needed to be quick in getting him back to Obivok, before he did die of some hidden injury. Tauk had known a Brute that had been hammered in the chest too much, and had died of internal complications several hours later, after the fight was well overwith.

"Tsk, tsk, must be on our way, now, little Human. Stop fighting and I will be nice."

"Ye don't know the definition o' the word." The Human gasped, letting himself dangle with his arms over his head for a moment. He closed his eyes afterwards, and just when Tauk feared he'd died suddenly, he reopened them, and shot Tauk the most curious grin he'd ever seen a Human wear.

"What…?" he started, only to be stopped shy of the rest of his sentence when his bronchial tubes were cut, and he saw the brilliantly glowing tips of a twin-bladed energy sword shoot out through his chest. Tauk's expression jerked into shock and denial, horrified that he had come so very close to a moment of glory before his Chieftain only to be slain at the doorstep of the moment. There was no pain, only the swelling, consuming wave of blackness that swallowed his eyes as he felt himself falling.

That fall didn't end at the ground, the blurry shape of a decloaking Elite standing behind him and the dropped Human growing smaller and smaller as silence enveloped the scene.

When the Brute's face had finished relaxing, and all the light was finally gone from his eyes, the Elite raised his long head, and focused on the Human spilled in the rubble alongside it. "And what have you to say for yourself, Human?"

Magrasse inhaled, with effort, and answered, "Ah know where Zelisee is."

The Elite stooped, and lifted him up. "Then that is where we are going next."

.

November 17, 2559

Flint was out in front, and Tori was off to the left, the Spartans having a rare solo day to themselves. Since their arrival, this was the first time Frank had noticed them not working in some form of tandem. Maybe there had been a change in plans, or maybe he just hadn't seen this was the original all along, but Frank didn't think too much of it. They were just as effective… although he could have sworn the woman looked pissed as hell.

Flint certainly seemed… agitated… more so than he usually was when being shot at. Frank and his Marines were taking the middle out of the advance, though he thought for sure they were cheating by using the two Spartans as a ready distraction. It was certainly difficult for the Brutes and their minions to decide whom to concentrate on – the Spartan on the left, the Spartan on the right, or the fifty some-odd Marines all working in a clump down the middle?

As a result, they became easy pickings. Every time Frank thought the enemy was about to get its act together, one or the other Spartan would appear down a side street, and blow that elbow off the enemy's offensive, then disappear again and leave them disoriented and unsure what to do next.

Frank had only lost one man… and only two others had needed to be dragged back for medical attention. With their perimeter growing each time they met the Brutes, it was easy to feel optimistic about the fighting on Fargo in general. But then Frank would think about the other Human bases, and wonder if they were doing half as well.

He was ducked back down, reloading, when he looked up, past all of his men, and saw an Elite go sprinting across the street several blocks away, headed for the bunker. Frank rocked forward. "Miller, Hansen, you hold this line – I need to go check something out. This won't take me five minutes. Pace those Spartans, you hear me?"

"Yes, sir!" Only Miller got a chance to respond, but it was good enough. Under their cover fire, Frank got up and ran back the way they had come, darting quick after that Elite. He'd been carrying something, something smaller than himself, something that looked familiar.

Frank didn't catch up until the Elite stopped at the half-hidden bunker doorway, needing a moment to figure out where it was before going inside, but the problem was solved for him when three guarding Marines stepped out of it. They had their guns pointed at him at first, but quickly dropped their aim and slung their guns over their shoulders to take the Elite's package from him.

By the time Frank made the gap, the Marines had taken it away inside the bunker. Hearing Frank approaching, the Elite turned halfway to see, but gave a start and straightened up when he saw Frank. "Zelis… you… er… are smaller than I remember."

Frank actually laughed at the poor alien. "I'm not Zelisee." He looked past the Elite, into the bunker, but the entrance corridor was empty. "What was that you had?"

"Not…? But you're… that was one of your warriors. I found him in the mangled structures at the base of a natural ridgeline where I entered the city." The Elite looked puzzled, though. He cocked his long head to one side, and clicked his mandibles together. "You say you are not Zelis…"

Frank met his gaze, then. "You'd be wanting my brother." Frank told him. "He looks like me."

The alien's expression pinched into an unmistakably confused look. "Human bloodkin have no differentiated features?"

Frank grinned. "Sure we do. Just not Flint and I. What are you looking for him for?"

"All the warriors with me were killed in the crash when our Phantom was shot down. I thought if I could find Zelis… he would know where the others were."

"He doesn't." Frank answered. "But we're cutting a path through their forces to get at one of your landing zones and we've been hearing Elites screaming insults for the last hour, so we're close. Want to come?"

The Elite lifted a plasma rifle off the armor on his leg. "Certainly… any bloodkin of the mighty Zelis is welcome to lead myself in an honorable battle for the preservation of fellow warriors."

Frank rolled his eyes, but he turned around and with a final, "This way," he took off at a sprint again, hoping the "human", as he'd been called, that the Elite had brought in would be okay. He certainly stood better odds now than he had by being out near the ridgeline east of the city. That was all Brute territory now.

Which probably explained why he was being carried.

Frank made the first corner he needed to turn when he felt Flint go through a wall backwards, and it unbalanced him, sending him sprawling to his knees. "Ugh!"

"Forerunners! What was that?" The Elite exclaimed, picking him up in his stumbling efforts not to run Frank under as he stopped himself. Setting Frank back on his feet, the Elite gave him a puzzled look. "Do your feet often fail you?"

"That wasn't me…" Frank said through gritted teeth, starting to run. "Flint's in trouble!"

Getting back up to the line behind the Marines was simple enough, though with the larger frame of the Elite shadowing his advance, it was harder not to get spotted and shot at a bit on his way in. As soon as Frank hit the tumbled storefront, he grabbed the nearest Marine to him and yanked him down, sending a few bullets skyward when the man's rifle bonked off the top of the heap.

"Gah! Sarge! What the hell?" The Marine demanded.

"Where are the Spartans?" Frank shot back, unsympathetic.

"One's out left and the other just dropped a building on himself, why?" The man answered, taking the opportunity to reload his rifle since he wasn't firing it.

"Where's the one under the building?" Frank asked.

When the Marine pointed, Frank let go of him and twisted around to see. Glancing past the edge of the heap of rubble, he slapped one hand on his helmet and ducked his head when several spikes zipped past his exposed noggin. He could see the enormous dust cloud, though, drifting as it was into the street and obscuring the Brutes. Some were trying to advance, others were backing up, and most of the Grunts had taken cover and weren't coming out.

"I do not pretend to understand how you knew about this without being informed first, erihan-zelis, but you have good instinct. What is the plan?" The Elite asked, from nearly across the street.

"I need to find out if he needs any assistance first, then we're gonna push these hairy bastards back far enough to dig him out." Frank answered.

"Sir, with all due respect, this is a choke point." The Marine behind Frank put in. "Unless that other Spartan opens up the choke, we'll be fighting over this spot for a couple more weeks."

"That's not good enough, dammit! Flint's under that rubble and I have no idea what put him there!"

"That'd be the big fucker with the hammer, sir."

"…hammer?"

"Clan Chieftains carry them, erihan-zelis. Something has brought this dispatch's leader out to battle. Either one of you has marked him and made him angry, or else there is something beyond this point he does not wish you to own." The Elite put in.

Frank growled under his breath. "My name is Frank, call me that, okay?"

The Elite just raised a hand, then looked away, as if suddenly more interested in looking for a likely target to shoot at. Frank was grateful for that.

"Fine, I'll take an infiltration team and go high. Where is Miller?"

"On your left, sir." The Marine next to him answered. "You sure you want to go yourself, sir? This is how Measom got wasted."

"That's my brother out there!" Frank snapped. "I'm going after him even if you miserable sissies won't!" Getting to a knee, Frank waited for a brief lull in the shooting, then jumped for it, running hunched over across the street to the next forward piece of cover. There, he crouched down beside Miller, and another guy who had his back turned. Miller cast Frank an expectant look, as if suspecting what all that shouting had been about.

"Sir?"

"One of our Spartans just got buried." Frank answered.

"Yes, sir, saw it happen. I know. The big fucker with the hammer thing punted him into the last load-bearing wall, and it made the whole thing come down." Miller answered. "Abraham and Doyle went up Parker Street looking for a way to make a hook and see if we couldn't drive the Brutes back far enough to get a digger team in, but that hammer dude isn't giving us a lot of elbow room. He looks pissed."

"Call back the other Spartan yet?" Frank asked. That was more information than last time. So Flint had taken a hammer to the guts? No wonder he'd gone through the wall backwards!

"No, sir, can't reach her. She's out of shouting range and the radio hasn't changed much, sir. Have a plan?"

"No, but I still liked your original theory. We need to get him unburied so he can do some good." Frank said. He extended a foot to the edge of his cover – part of a shipping crate and some bits of building – and leaned his weight in that direction to peer around the edge of it, to see what was happening. Right as he did so, he saw what looked like an explosion shred through the dust cloud, and several of the half-obscured Brutes dropped in their tracks from the blast. All had colorful things to say about it, but only a few turned around to see what it had been. "What the hell…?"

"Sir?" Miller asked. "What was that blast? Who did that, them or us?"

"I have no idea… but I don't like it." Frank answered. He would have said more, but then he saw something he hadn't seen in at least seven years; the wavering ghost of a cloaked Elite charging past him from behind. Instinct reacted for him, and he jerked back behind cover, his eyes wide and his heart pounding. The last time an Elite had failed to spot him like that had not gone well, but it still took him a moment to realize the Elite hadn't been after him, and had probably seen him there anyway.

"Sir? You okay?" Miller asked, patting the top of his helmet to get his attention.

"Yeah." Frank waved the hand away. "Yeah… I'm…" he bent over and peered out of cover again, curious to know what the Elite thought he was up to. He didn't see anything. "Is there – " the question went unfinished when he heard the distinctive displacement discharge of the hammer striking again, a Brute's arrogant roar of challenge, then a green suit of powered armor landed hard in the middle of the street and promptly slid for the next forty feet before stopping. "Flint!"

The Spartan rolled onto an elbow, shook his head as if dazed, then pushed back to his feet. He didn't have time to get any kind of gun in hand before the massive form of the Brute came charging out of the roiling dust after him, hammer poised for another hit.

"What is going on out there?" Frank wondered, fairly certain the alien had something personal in particular against the Spartan he was after. A split second later, a damning thought occurred to him, and he yelled back, "Everyone concentrate your fire on the hammer!"

The majority of the bullets swarmed the beast before he could reach Flint, but when the rounds pushed him back by hammering on his shields, it unbalanced his forward momentum and made him stagger in place. In the middle of the hail, Flint lurched forward and slammed a fist into the Brute's face, blowing out his shields with the one strike. In a blur of following motions, he first slammed the Brute back, then stole his hammer away and sent it to the side in a dismissed spin. Weaponless at first, the Brute punched back, but while it did move Flint, he didn't seem to really feel it.

Finally, at risk of toppling in defeat, the Brute brought up what was obviously a war-taken trophy, and he lit the hot sword between himself and the Spartan in time to miss having his muzzle grabbed. Flint's own shields saved him his arms, but then that was it, for his, too. He dodged the first blind swing, but rather than assaulting again, the Brute backed off, flung a plasma grenade point-blank into Flint's visor, then turned tail and ran flat out away.

Flint jerked back in alarm, but the grenade stopped in mid-air about six inches away from his face. He kept backing up, even as the thing reversed and followed the retreating Brutes into the dust, but when it exploded, the Elite faded into view at the grenade's pivot point.

"That was the damndest thing I ever saw, Sarge." Miller exclaimed.

"Me, too." Frank agreed. "I think the Brutes just gave us this intersection…"

"Yeah, but I got questions, sir." Miller pointed out. "I don't like this."

"Nobody does… stay on your guard, I'm going forward to find out whatever I can. And try not to shoot the Elite… overmuch."

Miller shot him a half disapproving, half amused smile, but that was mainly how Frank felt about the splitchinned aliens himself, and it didn't bother him much. Standing up, he moved out of cover, tentatively at first, but then when nobody shot at him, he stepped into a trot to meet up with the Spartan and the Elite. Neither of those two were under fire, so it was reasonable to assume the Brutes were pulling out.

Why remained to be seen, though, and it had a haunting feel. Reaching the duo in the middle of the street, Frank saw Flint flex a bit, and wondered if he were trying to ease the ache in his new bruise.

"What was that?" Frank asked.

"That was most curious, agreed." The Elite put in. "Have you met with this clan in battle before now?"

"That was Obivok, and yeah, he hates me." Flint answered, deadpan. "Stole something of his once."

"What did you steal?" Frank asked.

"Taramee's newborn. Wanted to eat it."

The Elite bristled visibly.

"Er…" Frank suddenly wanted to be far, far away from that guy. "So he's got a personal something against you?"

"Said he heard I was here. Said he was going to make a trophy out of my head. Hang it somewhere." Flint looked at his hands, and curled one into a fist. "Think I lost my gun."

"I can get you another probably just exactly like it." Frank offered, though he wasn't really thinking about that part.

"I doubt it, it was an upgrade." Flint responded, looking at him. "Tori still two blocks over?"

"Yeah." Frank let go of his rifle with his supporting hand, and let it hang at his side. "So if he wanted to… why'd they run?"

"Spineless cowards." The Elite growled.

"Because he was losing." Flint answered. "He thought he was big enough to take me down and he was wrong, so he fled before he could lose."

"I've heard of Brutes taking you guys down." Frank put in, quietly. "Guy survived it, somehow, but… it wasn't pretty. You looked like you were punching on a jellyfish, hitting that guy. Did you get into something I don't know about, Flint?"

All he got in reply to that was a look through a glossy golden visor, expressionless and cold.

"Come on, we're pulling back." Frank sighed. "Our new friend here brought someone in, I want to know who it was." Still shaking his head, he turned and walked back to the rest of the Marines.

"He claims your blood, Zelisee. It is good to see you again." The Elite mentioned.

"Practically is me, Vy'atree." Flint answered, quietly. Watching Frank walk back, he seemed more pensive than agitated. "Let's go get your friends out of that crashed dropship. Frank seems to want to call it a day."

"You defer to his judgment?" Vy'atree asked.

"This is his command, Vy'atree. Of course I defer to his judgment." Flint answered, casting the Elite a look. Without more words, he stepped past the alien, heading into the dust cloud after the Brutes. Just another block up, the downed craft lay propped up in the remains of yet another building, blowing hot, black smoke. Any of the survivors would be hunkered around its base, unwilling to step out and be shredded.

Vy'atree watched as Flint walked towards it, with only his sidearm, several clips of ammo for a rifle he nolonger had, and a couple of grenades to go with. Humans confounded him, but he'd thought for a moment he actually understood that one… now, though, he knew better.

.

November 18, 2559

"Satriani." Getting back to base with better than ten Elites in tow had been interesting. Few of his men really liked the aliens much, and fewer still wanted any of them to be hunkered down nearby. Their xenophobic behavior was understandable, and it helped that the Elites found a place off to one side and stood in a clump, failing to bother anyone.

The medic looked up, pausing to rub his thumbs in his eyes as he squinted past his sleeplessness to see who was attached to the voice calling his name. "Oh, Sarge. It's you. Hi there. Good hunting?"

"For now." Frank answered. "Who'd we get? Splitlip brought a man in last night."

"Oh, that. Magrasse. I got him stabilized, but he doesn't look too good. Tough son of a bitch hasn't even passed out yet. Want to see him, he's over there." Satriani pointed down the line of wounded Marines, though which one he was really indicating was up for debate. At that angle, all the men looked the same. Most still had most of their gear on, too.

Frank walked the line of boots until he saw the face he recognized, and stopped, noting his gaze was met. "Was about to write you off, there, Viktor."

Magrasse's face wrinkled. "Ye still can't say it right, suh. Maybe ye just give it up, eh?"

Frank smiled. "How's it look?"

"On the ridge, or in me guts, suh?"

"Either."

"Ridge was taken. Had to run fer it. Figured be better than dyin' there, let ya send men to die atop me trying to find out what happened." He gave a partial shrug. "Me guts… didn't see 'em. Doc says I might live, but he didn't say it like he meant it."

"You will… you've survived this long. Got to be something in there other than sinew holding your ass together." Frank assured him.

Magrasse smiled back. "When ye put it that way, suh…"

"Clan Chieftain came down today. Played punt-ball with one of our Spartans." Frank mentioned.

"Hey." Magrasse said, starting to push with an elbow. He never did get sat up, so eventually he quit trying and just laid there. "Brute what got me ass said that his boss wanted to talk to me. Din' say why. Me guess be they hurting for intel. Or want something."

"Want something." Frank sighed. "Chief Petty Officer Flint. Got a bit of a history going."

"Ehh." Magrasse growled. "Ye smart ye don't pick fights with Spartans."

"Evidently, this guy isn't the smart kind." Frank answered.

.

November 18, 2559

Tori stepped over the crumbled edge of what had once been a full-height wall, and settled balanced again on the other side. They had approached a bit of town where the highrises had been flattened into roughly mounded heaps, with only the occasional bit of rebar or structural steel poking into the air. Not that there was no cover, per se, but just that it was all so blockily arranged that there may as well not have been. Just stepping up onto one brick, Tori could see most of the first heap, and a large portion of three others, as well as the narrow low spot snaking between them all. Stepping down, she couldn't see much beyond the rising edges of the heaps to either side of her.

And the same was true for all the Jackals bounding along on the far side of the shelled area like a bunch of happy chickens. Chickens didn't carry beam rifles, though, and they also didn't tend to get a measure of sadistic glee out of shredding Human heads at long ranges, either. So far, Tori had managed to keep hers, but only at the repeated expense of her shields, and once, because she'd ducked just in time to be missed.

Whichever of the Jackals – if it wasn't all of them – was shooting at her, she rather imagined them getting quite peeved by now. She wasn't carrying the MA in her arms anymore, mainly because it was out of ammunition, but while she wistfully dreamed how nice it would be to have picked up the SPNKr earlier that day, she knew that a rocket was somewhat overkill for a scrawny little anthropomorphic bird. However, she did have more than just a magnum at her side – unlike Flint, Tori didn't really trust her battlefield skills nearly so much, so she tended to lean towards the use of weaponry that kept her from getting too close to the action.

Which was entirely why she raised the SRS when next a target presented itself. Barely had she gotten the barrel up than the birdbrained Jackal did the same; so Tori dumped herself onto her own ass, and tucked a leg around in front of her for bracing as she sought the alien in her sights.

As predicted, the first round zipped by overhead – a hasty correction that hadn't been enough sent it past at what had used to be waist-height. That was still not far enough down to make any kind of impact on her much-shortened profile. Finding the Jackal as he lined up his next shot, she put a round downrange, and put him out of his birdbrained misery. Still, from somewhere as-yet undetermined, a beam rifle shot came over and nocked her shoulder for her, punting her shielding entirely out of working order and sent lines of crawling static charge snaking over her combat skin.

"Dammit!" Tori groused, back-tracing the beam-rifle's bullet and aiming there with the SRS to see where the shooter was.

"Toreee!" The Marines called her that – mainly because neither she nor Flint had mentioned what her rank was. Which was more than likely good – it hadn't changed since she was fifteen, and XO for her Spartan fireteam.

"Huh?" Her head came up away from the sights on the gun and had partly turned, and so was out of the way by about a quarter of an inch when the next self-depleting round sizzled past her helmet. The punishing shudder of displaced air put cramps in her neck, though, and reminded her she'd let herself get distracted while lining up a shot on a bird that knew where she was. "Argh." Quickly she found the idiot, but her responding shot also missed, and the Jackal's ducking jump sent it tumbling downwards a ways, and out of the line of sight. "Oh the hell well." She slung the rifle, pushed to her feet, and twisted to see who had called her. Loudly she answered, "What?!"

A Marine darted around the bend in the snaking, gravelly pathway that had at one point been much wider, and better known as Traction Avenue. Now it was just that – a snaking gravelly path flanked on all sides by heaps of disarranged rubble. Huffing and puffing, the Marine drew up several yards shy of her position, waving at her to come hither. "We got a problem, ma'am, we need your help with it."

"What problem?" Tori asked, noting that this Marine was not one of the dozen or so flanking her position in the same way that a similar dozen or so went behind Flint, while all the rest followed Frank up the middle of their cut. Must be a problem elsewhere in the formation, then.

"Chief got buried, and there's a big fucker with a hammer punching the hell out of the front lines." The Marine answered, starting to get his wind back. Sarge'd like you to pull him out for us."

"Buried?" Tori echoed, confused. When the Marine didn't wait to turn and start back, she moved into a swift trot to follow him. "What do you mean by buried?"

"As in a whole building came down on top of him, ma'am." The fellow answered. "It may take him some time we don't have to get unburied again."

"When was this?" Tori asked, thoughtfully.

"Uh…" The Marine paused to look at his mission clock on the display in his helmet, at that point, and swore softly. "Ten hours ago. Took me a long damn time to find you, ma'am. You shouldn't get so far out ahead of us that we can't reach you anymore. Shit like this always waits to happen until times like that."

Tori smiled grimly. "Serves the bastard right."

"… ma'am?"

"Never mind, not important. I don't hear any shooting from center-point…"

Emerging from the side street connecting them to the scene of the incident described, the Marine and the Spartan stood a moment to take it all in. One building in the middle of a string of shelled out but otherwise standing structures had collapsed, spreading rubble and junk across the street – the dust rising from the stirred collapse had mainly blown upwards and to the north, clearing the immediate area for visibility. There were no immediate signs of Marines, Brutes, or anything else, for that matter.

"Uh." Was all the Marine could think to say.

"I think that whatever happened here, we're too late to have any chance at participating." Tori informed him, bluntly. She planted her hands firmly on her hips when he turned to look back and up at her. "Next time, run faster, or don't bother."

Disappointed or cowed, she couldn't tell, but he looked down and mumbled, "yes ma'am" anyway.

"I need reloads anyway. I'm cutting back for a resupply, then I'll probe the area north and east of here." Tori decided.

He looked up again. "You're just gonna keep going, ma'am? You been out here for nearly twenty-six hours."

"Yeah, that's why I'm out of ammunition." Tori informed him. "And why I'm going back to get a reload on the essentials before I push on."

The Marine shrugged. "Okay, but don't say I didn't tell you it was a bad idea."

Tori cocked her head.

"They say you Spartan types are monsters in combat, but… you guys started out Human, iffen you still aren't. That means you have to sleep some time, right?" The Marine reasoned. "You drop in the field, ma'am… with all due respect, your ass is too heavy for me to haul you out."

She laughed. "Understood."

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