A dream inspired after a very long night filled with Halo SWAT.

            “Stay low. Keep close to the wall. I see him out there.” Her voice was hushed and calm, though her heart beat painfully against her chest; tremors shook her hands slightly, and she gripped her pistol more securely to steady them. She lifted herself out of a crouch, but remained doubled over, keeping her head just below the rim of the curving wall. Taking small but quick steps, she moved silently along the length of the open corridor, her pistol firmly in hand and held at her waist. Bright white light filtered in through the spanning gaps in the divider above them. She kept to the inside of the wall, just out of the blinding light’s shifting reach, not wanting her armor to throw glare upon the opposite wall.

            Malek followed a half-step behind her- she could hear his boots softly click against the indurate floor beneath them- and matched her every move with calculating precision. They came to the end of the corridor. The pathway branched into two other directions; another corridor opened to their right, while a ramp ascended out of sight to the left. She turned around to find Malek’s golden face plate inches from her own. She pressed her back to the wall; Malek kept his large frame in a crouch. Finger resting close to the trigger, he cradled his sniper rifle gently in his lap. She tapped her left shoulder once and pointed above their heads, watching her golden reflection mimic the action in Malek’s visor. He nodded and brought the rifle to his shoulder. She holstered her pistol and brought her own rifle from the magnetic clamps at her back. She peered around the corner to her right through the scope. At the end of the hallway, large cylindrical structures hung like honeycombs from the ceiling in a tall, circular room. Blue electrical light raced up and down the sides of the large metal cylinders in twisting rivulets. More of the blinding white light poured in from above the clear ceiling. She could see three other hallways split from the main room.

            Malek lightly tapped her shoulder. Keeping in a low crouch, he stole across the hallway. She slowly walked backward toward Malek, never taking her sight from the long corridor across from the ramp. When her foot met the incline of the ramp, she glanced at Malek. His sight was trained on the opening above them. She motioned him forward. He brushed past her and up the incline; she followed, still watching the adjacent corridor for movement.

            The incline leveled off into a narrow platform before turning back around and ascending once more. Malek knelt just below where the ramp met the upper level of the structure. He motioned for her to join him, and she assessed the upper level. It was brighter than the first floor had been, making the glare of their armor or a scope a greater concern. It would be harder for them to remain in cover as well: the upper level was more open, though a low divider did line an outer walkway that circled a center platform. Above this circular walkway, the walls of the upper level curved in graceful archways. The middle of the structure was uncovered, letting the artificial white light illuminate and shine upon every object. Four catwalks convened in the center where more of the honeycomb-like cylinders were now inverted and rose to meet the sky. Small platforms ensconced by walls were nestled between the catwalks, providing superb cover while not obscuring the view of the outer walkway.

            “He’s there,” Malek whispered, his deep voice gravely. He tightened his grip on the sniper rifle and brought it closer to his shoulder. “I won’t be able to get a clean shot from here though, and the incline doesn’t help. We’re sitting ducks if we wait for him here, and there’s nowhere else to go but to that wall,” He nodded to the low divider, and then glanced at her from the side.

            She nodded. “I’ll go first.” She shifted forward to peer over the rim of the walkway, but Malek put out a hand and pushed her back.

            “No, Valla. Stay. I want you watching the sides for me,” he pointed at the platforms between the walkways. “Watch my blind spots. Once I get to the edge of the catwalk, you can follow, and I’ll watch the walkways for you. If he’s circled back around, I’ll be able to sight him from there, but getting a clear shot will still be hell.”

            She murmured agreement, and he rose slightly from his knees to look over the edge of the ramp. Seeing nothing, he quickly bounded from his position; his navy blue armor glinted against the light. He sprinted across the wide walkway, sliding to a stop with his back against the wall next to the closest catwalk. She shifted to the side to take Malek’s previous position, scoping the platforms while he set up his sniper at the corner of the divider.

            They kept still for a moment, waiting for any sign of the target. There was nothing except the gentle purr of machinery deep within the structure to give away any type of movement; she could feel the abysmal thrumming through the soles of her boots. She glanced at Malek, waiting for his sign to move. He didn’t take his eye from the scope, but gently flicked his thumb against the stock of the rifle. She rose without hesitation, stepping into the light, her armor a gleaming ebony in the glare. She checked the platforms once more before lowering her gun. She was almost to the divider when there was a flash of red from the center platform.

            Malek immediately leapt from his position, rifle against his shoulder, to get a clearer shot. “Valla get down!” he yelled. She dove for the divider, slamming against the smooth metal at Malek’s feet. A deafening crack resounded throughout the structure, and her vision blurred slightly. There was a sound of shattering glass, and then Malek’s head whipped backward from the scope of his rifle.

            Valla covered her head as she was showered in shards of gold. The jagged pieces clinked to the ground and against her armor and visor in an aureate cascade, carrying with them droplets of brilliant crimson. There was absolute silence for an instant, and then Malek’s rifle slipped from his fingers and clattered to the ground. Malek himself stood a second longer, suspended in weightlessness, before crumpling to the ground.

            Her breath caught, raw in her throat. Malek did not move: his fingers lay curled loosely at his sides, and thick scarlet already pooled around him. Valla sat up quickly. Her vision was blurry, and she tried shaking her head to clear the murk. When that did nothing, she tried to wipe at her eyes through her helmet and found that the tips of her fingers came away sticky with blood. She panicked, swiping her palm across her faceplate and leaving grotesque smears in the place of the spatter, but clearing away a small swath of vision with the action. She crawled on hands and knees to where Malek remained, still and unmoving. His faceplate was shattered beyond repair, the remnants scattered about the wide hallway with red droplets clinging to the edges. She couldn’t bear to look past the rim of the splintered visor.

            She stiffened as a low, malicious laugh roiled from the center of the structure. “One down,” the soft voice whispered, amusement poorly hidden behind soft chuckles, making her skin crawl.

            Valla felt her chest tighten while fear and rage overwhelmed her. She unclenched her fists, and reached for Malek’s fallen rifle with shaking hands. The scope hung almost entirely detached from the body of the rifle, hanging only by a thin piece of serrated metal. The metal surrounding the scope was curled outward, like a flower blooming with shards of shrapnel for petals. A single shot had torn clean through the barrel of the scope. She ripped the twisted metal from the rifle and let it fall to the side with a dull thud. She cradled the stock to her shoulder, as Malek always had, and checked the bolt. He hadn’t fired a shot. She would fix that. She sighted down the barrel, getting a feel for the gun’s modified weight. Malek had always prided himself on his adjustments to his favored piece of machinery. She wondered how strong the recoil would be. She lowered the stock from her shoulder and ran a hand down the barrel, thin crimson marks trailing behind her long fingers. ‘Volya’ was written in narrow lettering along the barrel’s length, curling and twisting in ornate patterns. She had never had the chance to ask what it meant.

The End

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