I'm back. While I was away I had a ton of brilliant ideas and I feel completely rejuvenated to write this story. Expect great things from here on out. (Please keep in mind that the first part of this chapter was written up before my holiday, so it may seem slightly duller.)
Chapter 7: You Can have It Any Colour You Want.
The corridors of the UNSC Infinity stretched out to ridiculous lengths along the main dorsal highway but the closer you came to the bridge, the more of a maze it became. Weaving through the aforementioned maze was a certain Spartan, clad in red armour. Navigation officers walked past her in both directions while technicians worked on electrical conduits that ran the length of the corridors inside the ship, hidden by the metal wall panels. Some crew waved to her while others eyed her with suspicion and perhaps a hint of envy. 16 sighed. Becoming a Spartan may have been easier now but they still had that outcast feel around some personnel. She normally wouldn't walk around this part of the ship and would much rather spend her free time training on the holo-deck or crashing out in her room, but the Captain had requested her presence specifically and when the Captain requests your presence, you better show up. That is unless you had a death wish or something.
16 reached the end of the next short corridor and approached a bulkhead which connected to the elevator shaft. She pressed the 'open' button and stepped onto the small elevator platform before punching in the number for the bridge and command deck. The small platform slowly began grinding its way up the dull grey elevator shaft and towards its next destination, which would be the drop off point for 16. She used this brief pause as a chance to remove her helmet and breath the cool, recycled air from the ships filters. It had a slight metallic tang to it but it sure as hell beat the taste and smell of the air when it was pumped through her helmet. With her 'Recon' variant helmet tucked nicely under her arm she used her other hand to fix her hair into a less messy ponytail than the state it was in previously. Helmets and ponytails definitely did not work very well. The dull grey of the elevator shaft slowly turned into a lovely white plating as the lift slowed and a large red '1' was painted onto the back of the shaft. 16 fixed her helmet back in place and stepped out as the door whirred open with a small hiss.
This particular part of the ship seemed to be nowhere near as occupied compared to the lower levels she had just came from but she put that down to the fact that only the bridge crew were only ever needed on the bridge. She walked down the brightly lit area and listened to every footstep make a 'clank' sound as she pressed her feet against the metal floor. It was so quiet you could probably hear a pin drop. Reaching the end of this corridor, she placed her hand against a small scanning device to the left of another small bulkhead. The device sent a thin, blue beam up and down her hand as it scanned through the thick covering on her gloves and chimed a small acknowledgement tone before cracking the door open for her.
Stepping into the bridge, she was reminded of just how massive this vessel really was. Most bridges would be twenty square metres at the very most, but the Infinity's was absolutely massive. Aisles of consoles and computers stretched from one end of the room to the other in quirky and abstract layouts. The room was fifty metres square easy, possibly sixty and had a large ringed balcony above with yet more consoles lined around the ring. Further down the room was a big trapezium shaped alcove with three of the four walls being made of extremely tough glass, able to withstand one or two glancing impacts from plasma lances. The small alcove had a large grey swivel chair set slightly to the right from the centre and a ridiculous amount of thick wire tubing running to and from several machines in the alcove, to the rest of the room. Also standing in the alcove was a single, tall man. He wore a steel coloured naval suit and had greying hair stacked shorty on his head. He was facing out the window, watching the blue ethereal shit storm otherwise known as slip-space. He may have been facing away from her but 16 knew the captain when she saw him, everyone did. Walking forward, she passed a large hologram table that was currently showing the status of the ship in a blue diagram. She stepped up behind the captain and was about to speak when he spoke up first.
“Ah Katherine, right on time.” He turned to face her and she snapped off a quick salute but eased up when he put on a warm yet controlled smile and raised his left hand to indicate her to ease up. “At ease soldier. I need to address you about something serious and I cant keep my thoughts on track when a seven foot, red giant is standing still as a statue in front of me.” Katherine cocked an eyebrow but it remained unnoticed, seeing as she was wearing a helmet, but she decided to go with the friendly atmosphere anyway. She knew why the captain was being so nice, he always acted much nicer when he was setting a task he knew the recipient wouldn't like. So for Spartan IV's and Katherine in particular, it would probably be something very boring. It would also almost definitely be something extremely important though. Otherwise, why send a Spartan rather than Marines?
“Acknowledged sir. I believe you called me here for some sort of task?” The captain smiled as she nailed the issue right on the head.
“Yes. Well I am sure that you are aware of kill-team Alpha's and Bravo's deployment on an ONI spook mission.” Katherine smirked at the mention of a certain blue Spartan's kill-team. He may have been one of the best when it came to combat and intelligence among the Spartans but he was so funny to wind up sometimes. That didn't mean they didn't get along, in fact if anything, the teasing was more of a light friendly kind that Marines and ODSTs would do amongst each other.
“Yes I am well aware of the deployment of kill-teams Alpha and Bravo. Why? Has the op gone FUBAR?” She said the last part with a slightly curious tone but the Captain merely closed his eyes and shook his head slowly.
“No. The op was launched successfully with most of the pods making it to the targeted destination.” Katherine caught the keyword in that sentence instantly and expanded upon it.
“Most, sir?” She didn't like the sound of where this was heading.
“Yes. A mere ten seconds after the pods were launched, two were somehow accelerated and exited slip-space in the wrong location. One pod contained team Alpha's modified light transport hog while the other contained Alpha's team leader, Spartan A-042. While everyone else has been deployed flawlessly and is now exacting the op. We need someone to to retrieve 042 before his pod runs out of oxygen in deep space, or if he's landed on a planet by some miracle, you will need to secure him.” Katherine groaned inside her helmet but did not turn on the external speakers for that particular sound. If there was anything she hated, it was searching for something in space. Finding a lone pod in space would possibly take her weeks, maybe months if they couldn't deploy her close enough.
“What equipment will I have at my disposal and how am I going to do this?” She wanted to know exactly all the variables so she could work out how long this would take her.
“You'll be given a light 'Prowler' class ship with a concealed nuclear battery and air recycle system for long space flights. The ship already contains a complimentary armoury so weaponry won't be a problem. The teams were deployed mere minutes ago, so you should be able to drop off from slip-space with only a day or two travel time to find 042. Once you find him, drop off a beacon and stay close to it. We'll pick you up once we deal with our current task, so you may be in it for the long haul.” Katherine understood the gravity of the situation, but it didn't change the fact that this may be the longest and most boring mission she had ever been on. Although she could see the perks in being able to spend a few weeks away from the UNSC. She smirked under her helmet, this might be a mini-vacation, something she hadn't had in a very long time. She gave the Captain a crisp salute and turned to head toward the hangar.
Blinding. The sheer volume of light which erupted from the crowds cameras could only be described as blinding. Aidan squinted in their general direction before his visor automatically polarized to compensate for the gleaming flashes of light. With his vision sorted he focused on the situation that had quickly erupted. The crowd wasn’t hysterical, which was a good thing, but they did look ready to set off at any moment. Aidan did a quick glance across the whole crowd and tallied a rough count. The surrounding swarm of ponies was easily in the one-hundreds. Aidan grunted in distaste as his eyes settled upon the familiar mint green colour of the pony named Lyra. The situation could have been defused slowly with a more subtle approach but then she had to go and ruin everything by getting the whole town in his face. Something needed to be done about this now before things took a turn for the worst. Aidan gave a quick cough to moisten his throat and said the only thing he could, that wouldn't set everyone off in mass hysterics.
“Hello.” Hook, line and sinker. Most ponies tensed up as they heard his usually gentle voice get churned out with an abrasive quality through his helmet speakers. Some however, seemed to physically relax as they realised his ability to talk and thus must harbour some sort of cognitive thought. They now knew he was no longer the brute they thought he was but they still eyed him with an air of suspicion. Aidan turned to Celestia who was thoroughly rubbing her eyes to return her vision. “They look as though they're ready to strap me down and vivisect me at any moment.” Celestia gave him a worried glance in return. While she was sure her ponies would never do something of the sort, she was worried that they might try something stupid. Her expression turned into a small yet noticeable scowl as her eyes settled upon the mint green unicorn standing next to her cream coloured friend.
“Lyra. Would you come here please.” Celestia watched as Lyra jumped into the air at the mention of her name. Quickly descending from her hovering flight, Lyra slowly made her way across the short gap between the two crowds and bowed her head in front of Celestia. “Now Lyra. I am well aware of you fascination in extraequestrial life and your certainty of their appendages. I have read all your books so far and while I find your speculative thoughts on their society fascinating, I must admit that they are far fetched from what we have seen of this creature so far and I am extremely disappointed that you rallied the whole town to Twilight's doorstep.” Lyra looked utterly defeated and raised her head a little higher to try and look Celestia in the eyes with a puppy-dog, pleading look.
“But princess, surely you can see the ramifications of my actions. I mean look at it!” She pointed her left hoof over towards 42 whom was busy talking to Twilight while watching the crowd at the same time. “An alien. Who would have ever guessed one would land on Equestria and during my lifetime at that! I had to jump on the opportunity.” Celestia tutted and placed a hoof delicately on the side of Lyra's face and turned her head to facer 42. he had stopped talking with Twilight now and was watching Lyra in a stance that could only be described as nervous, impatience. His stance was leaning slightly and his right hand was gently caressing a small white object attached to his right thigh. Lyra instantly recognised it as the device he used last night to try and scare her off. She shuddered at the thought of that weapon being brought to bear on her and backed off slightly. Celestia pipped in again.
“Lyra. I thought it would interest you to know that he in fact did not land here. He crashed here and has no intentions of being here. I want you to think about the position he's in. He's trapped on an alien world with no way to contact his own kind and while he's still trying to settle in, you go and bring half the entire town to harass him. Now I'm not sure what you think of these events but I think you owe him an apology.” Lyra conceded and anxiously walked over to the creature. She stopped a few centimetres short of his boots and looked up. His massive imposing size definitely lived up to its name as she cowered slightly in fear. The blue clad creature shifted his attention downwards and watched Lyra as she quaked in fear. Sucking in her gut, Lyra proceeded to talk.
“Hi. My name's Lyra Heartstrings and I would like to apologise for my crude actions against you both this morning and last night.” Lyra instantly turned her head downwards and closed her eyes. She has no idea how an alien would reply to an apology in his culture. She expected a swift kick to the gut or maybe a slap across the face but definitely not what happened next.
“Okay.” She opened her eyes and looked up.
“Huh?” Was her simple reply. He bent down slightly in front of her.
“I said okay. I forgive you. What did you think I was going to do? Kick you?” Lyra gave a sheepish grin in response. That was kind of what she was half-expecting. He knelt down even further and kept the surprises coming as he scooped her up in his left, upper appendage and held her at a height so they were face to face, albeit at a fair distance as he held her away slightly. He raised what she remembered to be called his right arm and held the hand at the end of it, halfway between the two. It took her moments to figure out he wanted to give her a hoofshake, or handshake, or hand-hoofshake, or whatever you wanted to call it. She gladly returned the gesture and giggled like a school yard filly as she felt the hand tighten around her hoof. She had dreamt of moments like this since she had first started getting into the crazy endeavour of researching extraequestrial life, and look who was the crazy one now. The hand felt weird. It wasn't the cold grasp of a Griffins claw or the flat press of a fellow ponies hoof. It was five soft sensations as his delicate yet firm fingers and thumb wrapped around her hoof tightly and rubbed slightly as they moved their limbs up and down in rhythm. He spoke once more as they were shaking appendages for an extended amount of time. “The name's 42. Pleasure to meet you.” 42 set her down and she continued the hand-hoofshake with a more vigorous approach.
“The pleasure's mine 42.” She stopped shaking his arm and let go. Placing her hoof back on the ground she turned towards the large mob surrounding the library. “Okay everypony. You've seen the alien enough. Go away and give him some space. You can probably come back and ask questions later.” The crowd let out several variations of the sound 'awwww' and began dissipating back into the streets of Ponyville to continue with their daily routines. Lyra was the only one to stay with the group and as the last ponies left she turned back to 42. She looked at his hands once more and fought the urge to salivate all over the ground. Noticing that she had been looking at his general arm area, 42 lifted his hand into the air and observed it.
“What do you find so interesting about my hands?” Lyra was dumbstruck by this question. How could any species take hands for granted.
“What do you mean 'what do you find so interesting about my hands'?! They're hands! Do you have any idea how much I've always wanted those things?” He stepped back a bit, obviously creeped out by her sudden revelation of hand fantasies.
“That's real swell kid and I'm flattered. Really I am, but others may see that as kinda... y'know... creepy.” Lyra was disappointed that even a creature in possession of such appendages would not see the amazing, awesomeness that was 'hands'. Then again. For a creature that spent it's whole life with them, it probably didn't see the excitement any more. She perked up slightly when she came to her answer then an idea struck her like lightning would strike a twenty meter, metal pole.
“Say 42. You wouldn't perhaps be able to get me some hands, would you? I mean you obviously being an advanced civilisation and all.” He stroked his chin with his left hand.
“What. You mean like a robotic prosthetic, cause we have those.” Lyra practically jumped up and down in joy. 'Yes! Now she would finally get some hands of her own!'
“Yes! Real, robotic. I don't care. I just want some haaaannnddss!” He got up and scratched the top of his helmet.
“Uh. I don't think I have any on me... unless?” He turned around and walked over to his large metal, speed wagon and opened up the fairly large compartment at the back. Everyone huddled behind him as he searched through the items. He continued to talk with that half-occupied voice ponies put on when they were really busy trying to find something lost. “Hmm. I know we wouldn't usually pack prosthetics... but the mission was going to be a long one. So maybe... just maybe. Ahah!” He pulled a large grey, plastic container from the compartment and plonked it on the floor. Flicking both the latches he continued to open the lid, but alas, the lid flicked open so that only he could see the contents inside. He rifled through the container and then pulled out two long objects that flailed as he waved them through the air. He turned to face Lyra and pointed the two long objects at her, she now realised that they were robotic reconstructions of his upper limbs. “I don't know if you nervous-system will accept these but hey-ho. Hand or whole arm?” Lyra rocketed into the air so fast that even Pinkie would be impressed, and she was.
“Oh oh. Me next!” Pinkie rocketed into the sky after Lyra in a double whammy of 'fuck you physics'! Lyra landed at roughly the same time as Pinkie and ran right up to 42, glee barely contained on her face.
“Just the hands! And do you think you could paint them mint green?” 42 turned them over in his hands while Lyra begged for them like a dog would beg for for a bone to chew on.
“Well. It may take me some time to configure them and I was never a brilliant surgeon but it's a rather straight forward procedure. Otherwise we wouldn't bother bringing them out onto the field. The main problem comes from setting it up for a pony's nervous system but I'm determined to make a good impression here, so sure, why not. But as for the colour. As the old saying goes. You can have it any colour you want... as long as it's black.”
Phew. I really had fun writing this one and I thought incorporating the robo-prosthetics was a stroke of genius but that brings me onto the next part. I want you lot (my avid readers), to give me your opinions on the matter. Is giving Lyra her hearts desire a step too far or do you think it'll work.
“Crime doesn't pay. Good citizens do their part.”