|This article, Halo: Golden Kill, was written by Spaceguy. Please do not edit this fiction without the writer's permission.|
Gem Chrystal System/Planet of Thyme
April 7th, 2537, Mile outside city of New Eden
The boy stood firmly against the soft soil, mushed between two rows of bare pink toes, coupled with dirty toenails. The spinning wind rustled through the cracks of the boy's loose hair, flopping strands in every direction. The long grass swayed and tickled the boy's smooth skin, giving the false intrepretation of small insects buzzing on his arm. The sweet air was moist with freshness and the boy breathed in numerous times, letting the honey baked air swirl through his body and exterminate out his long and pointed nose. The submerging sun, now dipped half-way below the horizon, cast across its dying sunlight, striking the young boy and illuminating his dirty and mud caked face. This was his one moment where he found salvation in a world smothered with war and death, struggling between the lines of morality. The boy knew this event happens always, on many planets, but one thing was special, here life was untouchted. Diverse indeginous animals strode, oblivious to the outside knowledge of the cruelty and death that cripples and strangles the very moral of each individual. The boy's everlasting wish was to look across this golden sea of plains and hope one day life will forgive one another and all creatures can live in harmony. One thing that will never happen.
A noise surged across the plains, snatching the boy's attention away from the miraculous hour of twilight and pinning his stare to a young girl approaching. The noise again, this time the boy could understand his name.
"Over here, Lecia," the boy's young and energetic voice replied.
The young girl glided closer, her face warm with a cheerful smile, revealing the rows perfect white teeth. The boy could smell the girl's sweet scent, a wonderful sugar diluted with a contingent of strawberries that seemed enriched by a chocolate background. Her long black hair relfected the dying sunlight and produced a brilliant saphire reflection, enamating her beauty. Wrapped around her peach smooth skin, was the traditional customs dress, a long piece of clothing looped multiple times around her body, letting the access couple of feet drag gracefully over the grass. Intricate designs of inner connected flowers crawled along the dress, strecthing from the very depths of her ankles to the bottom of her neck, radiating bright hues.
"Carlos, what are you doing up here?" Her voice full of a sweet harmony.
The young boy sliently smiled as his ears where filled by a sweetness, "Looking at the sunset. Its great, take a look." Carlos, the young boy, extended an arm that seemed to infinately stretch above the golden grass and touch the dipping sun, as the last of the light disapated from the area, allowing the prevailing darkness to swallow the orange sky.
"Sorry you couldn't see more of it. Its really great....," Carlos trailed off, a nervous twitch in his voice, ".....you could come with me tomorrow if you want."
A perfect smile parted Lecia's beautiful face, her eyes lit up as if the sun were no longer leaving, but returning with a brand new reign of golden sunlight. She twirled to face the darkening plains, not longer emitting their golden luster, and peered at the flustered looking boy through the corner of her eye.
"Sure, tomorrow is great. I can't wait," Lecia calmly replied and stepped closer to Carlos. Their eyes met in a endless gaze, while each moved in closer, like the entire process was natural. Once the space between them was filled, Carlos broke the gaze and leaned in, as well did Lecia, both preparing for a sweet filled kiss that would finally satisfy both.
The ground shook voilently, sifting the loose soil across the ground and over Carlos's feet. Lecia lost balance, but Carlos in a lightning snatch grabbed a fistful of her dress and prevented her fall. Above their head, high in the twinkling stars a great white light ripped apart the endless black void, creating ripples popping along the tear. A rounded egde of a massive object squeezed through the opening, causing the trees to rattle and the grass to vibrate. In mere seconds the full body of a destroyer sized Covenant ship filled the dark sky, erasing all evidence of stars. Lecia grabbed ahold of Carlos and the boy held her trembling body, as both young children had the voice stripped of themselves as they stared upon the massive war ship prepared to end their planet.
Omega Centuron System/Planet of Helion Prime
April 15th, 2537, Community Orphan Preparation Camp
Christopher Travers fell beaten and bloody to his knees, a dark red liquid oozed from his mouth and nose, dribbling off the boy's chin and onto the concrete basketball court below him. Chris glanced as his attacker, his vision slightly blurred, the images lagging in his brain but he manged to squint out the boy who hit him. He other was quit doughy, with a massive frame for a 15 year old, who bore a cap of thick red hair and was coupled with a fair complextion and small red freckles. Chris grunted and spat a clunk of blood from his mouth, splattering the ground and stood up, stiffining to crisp posture, his fists balled at his thighs.
"C'mon then, you little whancker, throw a punch and see what happens," the doughy boy said, thickened by an almost uncomprehensible Irish accent.
Chris could feel the anger rushing through his blood, fueling his rocketing temper and pushing the young boy to land punch after punch into the doughy boys pudgy face. His knuckles tighented and his mouth clenched, the rest flowed better than the ocean itself. Chris leapt forward, cutting through the cold and stinging air, landing a powerful fist into the pudgy boys jaw, the shockwave jerked the boy's head in a rigirous snapping motion. He fell to both palms and knees, utterly surprised by the sudden outburst and the burning sensation that wrecked havok on his jaw bone. The pudgy boy gently rubbed the raw skin and felt the growing lump of a bruise taking residence on the lower end of the bone.
"Ok, ok you made your bloody point," the pudgy boy whimpered, holding back tears from his nasty encounter.
Chris felt no emotion in his act, just pity for the boy who lay there severed from his egotistical world and cast out into the real one. The pudgy boy pushed himseld to his feet, wobbling on his toes and stubbling, deperately attempting to regain any source of balance to restore any reputation he might still hold. The surrounding group of children took one glance at the pudgy boy and their smirk looks spit at him with anger and content, the pudgy boy accepted the looks and ran off, his face buried in his hands.
Chris relaxed his tense and bulging fists, relasing his hands into a loose swing to return to the proper flow of blood. He ran three fingers over the bridge of his nose, feeling the rippling bruises and the dried blood glued to his upper lip and nostrils. Chris dabbed his fingers with his saliva and began brushing the stiff blood off his face while the bystanding children started to disappear one by one, until a few remained.
"Hey bro. Thats was some serious shit, I though Red was gonna beat your ass," a familiar voice chirped behind Chris.
Another boy, a year older than Chris, approached from behind, his face scrunched into a small grin, wielding a small towel and a full water thermus. The other boy handed Chris the materials and stepped off, still wildy grinning as if his adrenaline coursed through his bones.
"What are you smiling about. I could do this to your face," Chris answered in his dry voice.
The other boy held up his hands in defense, "No, no, its not that," shaking his head, "but uh.. there's a certain... 'someone'... who would like your company this evening."
Chris eyed the giddy boy, his plastered grin that nevered seemed to fade, held a much deeper answer. One that Chris knew he wasn't going to like.
"Jesus! What did you do this time Max," Chris rolled his eyes and scooped his torn and battered jacket off the court below.
"Well," Max began, sounding as if he were surgar coating the entire story,"as you may know already many chicks are dying to take the infamous Chris Travers to the moive tonight in the common tavern. Seeing how that is, this chick, who you may know as Rachel....with the big ones," Max signaled with putting his hands on his chest," asked me if you were available."
Chris shook his head in annoyment and pushed his way past Chris, "You know I'm taking Carmen right. The one with the huge..." Chris pointed to his rear. Max threw his hands in frustratement as the sound of the name.
"Gah! Enough with her! You need to expand your playing field and try new chicks, bro. I mean c'mon, you've been trying to get with this chick for how long. Five Months?" Max retorted, visably gaining extreme resentment.
Chris simply shrugged and made a frowned face, "I don't know, bro. But tonight it'll happen, just watch."
Max clenched his mouth and shook his head, "Your blinded by dumb love to see that there are a million other hot chicks in this camp too."
Chris turned away and started his walk to his cabin throwing a hand at Max singaling him to cease his endless ranting. "Ok, ok. You'll listen one day," Max yelled after him.
Chapter 2: New Beginings
Epsilon Eridani System/Planet of Reach
February 9th, 2544, Training Camp Eclipse
Sunlight broke through the metal doors as they split down the middle, fresh air soaring in and swirling around each marine as they greedily sucked the much needed element into their noses. Heads swerved, pointed in the same direction where the metal cage doors disappeared and a pack of figures formed, glued to a crisp stance and their eyes glowed through the burning sunlight. Not a word was uttered as the figures poured into the passenger bay, their features evolving into firm looking deck sergeants, more than ready to pounce on the new marines, who were complete with shining new armor and clean shaven faces. The pack of wild sergeants attended to the emergency break clamps while two others ushered the bewildered and confused marines into a huddle just outside the Pelican dropship.
"Ok," the head sergeant started, his serious eyes planted to the clipboard he held, "Juergens, Fredricks, and Pallmaer go to Sector C and report to Gunnery Sergeant Reichbolt. Egbert, Watson, and Namor go to Sector D and report to Lieutenant Oswalt."
The sergeant continued calling names off the list of new personnel, as Chris Travers, drowned in amazment, curiously stared at every small spec of military grade objects. To his right a stack of newly furbished assault rifles, lay gently, their black polymer finish glistening in the light. To his left, a convoy of olive drab warthogs skidded by, the last two catching traction and their wheels sending a wave of gravel raining down as they swerved around the corner. All around Chris action played on, two marines fighting a little ways off, the sounds of echoing gun shots originating from the shooting course popped through the air. His new dumbfounded look stayed plastered to his face until the sergeant whistled out his name along with a few others.
"Travers, Vesella, and Grodin, go to Sector K and report to Lieutenant Thompson."
Chris bent down and threw his mighty supply bag across his shoulder, securing the bulky thing with the safety straps. Two others applied the same technique and began wandering off, after the drill sergeant pointed them in the general direction. Chris took a last quick glance at the mighty setup, just in time to catch a squadron of longswords blaring across the sky, leaving white exhaust streaks in their wake.
"Hey, you. Uh, Travers I think."
Chris craned his head at the usage of his name, noticing the other two men that were called off the list as well. They stood side by side, distant opposites in many ways. The left one was very tall, along with a thin frame and a long face, however wieled the features of a boy no more than eighteen. The right one was shorter, with a complete set of white teeth, blonde hair, and deep brown eyes, but looked older than his counterpart.
"Yeah, Travers. You guys going to Sector k?" Chris replied.
"Yep," said the shorter one,"name's Vesella, this is Grodin," cocking a thumb in the taller one's direction.
Chris nodded at both men as the awkward silence that he had anticipated fell upon them like a blanket, shielding them from normal conversation. All three marines just stood, eeriely figeting with their pockets or over-stuffed supply bags.
"Well," Chris broke out with a less-than-entusiastic chime,"let's go to Sector K."
Gem Chrystal System/Orbit above Planet of Thyme
February 9th, 2544, On board rebel ship Invictus
A milky fog encased the city of New Eden, a direct consequence of the heavy covenant factory activity. Only the tops of the tallest buildings were visible from the highly maginified drone cameras launched to the surface from the rebel ship. The once lush golden plains and the exotic and breathtaking wildlife vanished, obliterated in the passing years from the scoundrel actions of the covenant. A once safe haven symbol for all life, now reduced to a mushed pulp in the now desolate and lonely space, controlled by the deadliest military force ever encountered.
"What happened to our planet?" Captain Frederick Danton rehtorically asked.
The other rebels stationed aboard the bridge stared in awe, unable to comprehend the destruction of their planet, now just a dead piece of rock. Each rebel officer removed their head caps and placed them over their chest, bowing in a respecting silence at the once great and beautiful planet.
The planet's sun, appearing to be a blue-silver ball of light crested the planets horizon, splashing a new wave of sunlight through the re-inforced bridge glass. The new light brought a ghastly sight that tickled Danton's back with crawls, and forced his hands into fists.
"Those covenant bastards. They'll pay for this, all of it!" Danton said, slamming a fist into a bulkhead, ignoring the stinging plain he had inflicted upon himself.
Danton glanced at the planet again, his eyes a smidge more adjusted to the horrific sight. The planet, before, a wonder land of green forrests and rolling hills, now, just a smothering rock tainted with the residue of past plants and fossilzed animals. The rivers that once held crystal clear water were now reduced into dried dirt and rocks, where a new musty wind slashed through the once sweet-filled air. Danton's face twitched, a flash of anger surged through him, his bright colored eyes were forecasted in a dark haze. He turned to face his crew.
"Men, this is what hell looks like. Those vicious animals tore our planet apart, tree from tree. They have anihilated our haven, killing it with their destructive presence. We will strike back....... take from them what they stolen from us all these years..... our lives. Our people will flourish on this planet again, our path to recovery ends here; we will take back this planet and crush any covenant resistance in our path."
Danton raised a fist above his head and tilted his chin back, signaling the end of his speech. The crew, spread through the various stations, came together as if connected by a single force. Together all the men and women aboard the bridge plowed a fist high above them and cheered the captain until he released his arm and spun around the face the wrecked planet.
"Men," he spoke, "prepare for battle. Tell the vulchers to prep for a combat drop and get the fly squadrons ready to deploy. We're taking this fight to the covenant."
Rebel ship Invictus
February 9th, 2544
"Carlos! Carlos, get your ass over here. It's time!" screamed a rebel soldier, clad in full battle armor and a rough setch of sergeant stripes sloppily painted on his breast plate.
Carlos Otierro jammed a magazine into his SRS99D-S2 AM sniper rifle and squezzed his too large head into a tight fitted helmet, also UNSC property. He fastened the straps of his leg enforcers and completed his routine by securing a dark pair of shades across his eyes, their dark luster blazing a beautiful reflection in the hangar lights.
"Hey, Carlos! That means now!" the same sergeant yelled.
Carlos smirked at the man and strode over, drifting through modified oncoming warthogs, squads of rebel soldiers, and finally a squadron of vulchers calmly soaring above. As he neared the sergeant, who's face was ready to explode, Carlos narrowly dodged three stolen scorpion tanks, their grinding treads sending a buzzing feeling across the titanium floor. Carlos stopped, directly infront of the sergeant, and smoothly removed his sunglasses, revealing the full extent of his arrogance.
"Do I need to remind you, sergeant major, of your rank. Or do I need to shove these leiutenant bars up your ass and teach you the proper chain of command?" Carlos coldly replied, his light brown eyes, snarled into deep black holes, that contained a fierce temper and strong arrogance.
"Now you listen here, kid," the sergeant major struck back, jabbing a finger in Carlos's face, "when your folded into this outfit that means everyone, including you, I am responsible for. Now you can be good little boy and sit your ass down and listen to this briefing or we can step outside and you can try to shove those bars up my ass."
Carlos, now sky rocketing with anger, stepped in closer. Both men faced off, their cold and battle-hardened stares continued to pile on the rising tension that thickened the air around them. After a minute, a woman appeared inside the hanger, her beauty cast a dominant cloud over them and Carlos immdediately noticed her.
The woman's peach smooth skin and long, flowing back hair, which reflected a brillaint saphire in the light, sent memories flooding through Carlos's head. The night in the plains seven years ago flashed in front of him, submerging him in past history that Carlos had once forgotten.
"Felicia," Carlos whispered.
The sergeant major stood beside him, "You know her?" he asked, as if the tension had evaported and their ordeal had been finished.
"Yeah. Felicia, an old childhood friend,"Carlos replied, his eyes trailing the woman as she passed through the crowded hangar, stopping to inspect a couple warthogs.
"Hehehe," the sergeant major chuckled, "that buddy, is our new CO."
Carlos cocked his head, surprised by the the comment and turned to face the sergeant.
"Your kidding, right?"
The sergeant major just grinned and shrugged his shoulders, before another soldier arrived behind them and said, "Hey lieutenant, Sergeant Major Welker, the captain just started the briefing."
"Ok then," Sergeant Major Welker said, turning to look at Carlos, "let's go lover boy."
Carlos, walking back to his commrades, peeked one last glance and saw nothing. She had vanished. He turned back, feeling empty, however decided to set his mind on the mission.
Gem Chrystal System/Planet of Thyme
February 9th, 2544, Covenant Headquarters
A blast richocheted the voilent tremors throughout the delicate walls of the cave, sending stalagmites crashing into the rocky floor. Three more followed in quick succession, delivering a wall of solid rock and earth shattering into the ground, revealing a deep corridor shadowed in blackness.
A pack of brute soldiers advanced, their massive arms locked at the ready, gripping spike rifle guns. Their deep eyes, heavily concentrated on the alien corridor just discovered, barely saw the flash of gleaming armor arrive on the scene. The brutes, as if the corridor was now just a faint past, formed into two lines, standing opposite. The gleaming armor, glued to a massive brute moving down the middle of both lines, halted at the end, just shy of the corridor.
The hairy alien laid two fingers on the left side of the corridor, burshing away the dusty rock, unveiling a cluster of symbols.
Two more brutes advanced, appearing from the rear of the lines, the left dressed in a solid gold armor, the right in a dark blue. Both weilded spike rifles clipped to the back of their massvie hides.
"Chieften, is this what the Prophets speak of?" asked the one, clad in golden armor.
The Chieften ignored the question, still fascinated with the mysterious symbols that crawled along the dull stone. As his hariy fingers ended the path of symbols, he twisted back around, speaking, "We shall carve the rock off this stone and claim it for the holy prophets."
The encompassing brutes broke formation and circled around their raidiating chieften, hypnotized by the wonderous discovery that would surely please the prophet's lust for forerunner technology. Their commander swayed into the middle of the pack and loosely drifted between his various brute allies, observing them in their natural habitat of war and violence, all of whom possesed an almost beautiful shine, gleaming off from their blue armor.
"Today, commrades, will be marked with great honor, as our bloodline has made the discovery that will please the prophets once and for all quenching their insatiable thrist for our God's remants. Your ancestors will go forth years from now and feast in our honor. Our courage and dedication has been sanctified and will proceed to continue in the young spirits who follow us. Our time has been marked, our legacy has just begun."
The chieften flashed glances at his subordinates, both of whom reflected the same glare, both understood the look.
"Dig the relic from rock, so we may lay our claim," the Chieften barked.
His pack of brutes, now revived with a sense of spirit, buzzed throughout the cave, ferrying much needed digging equipment from the surface. The rough echoes of the hard work richotcheted off walls, sending boulders crashing into the floor. They ignored all of it. Surrounded by a potentionally fatal death trap, every brute disregarded the sprouting dangerous situation and concentrated all of their efforts on the new discovery.
The chieften was not completely over joyed, but nonetheless felt the extreme pride of the moment. To him, this moment was double important, not only for the sake of the covenant, but for his promotion. He shifted his attention from the working calamity and focused on his subordinate, posing to his right, his thick arms folded by the shoulders. He would be the one assuming chieften command, while the chieften himself would be answering to the holy prophet alone.
A wicked smile spread his puffy lips, two rows of sharp teeth glimmered. To be with the prophet he thought, is all he wants, and nothing will stop him.
''''Epsilon Eridani System/Planet of Reach
February 9th, 2544
A cool breeze splashed against Chris Travers, as himself and accompanied by his two new friends, trecked to their unit's position inside the camp. The trip over was nothing less than a hike, a mile from the landing zone, plus an hour of stumbling around didn't help either.
As the three bewildered marines awkwardly approached the unit's camp site, comprised of a couple dome shaped barracks, a gang of veterans exited. Chris counted four in total, but he could tell they were more than ordinary marines. Each one possessed a tattoo of an HEV, ripping through fiery air, with sharp rocks hungrily awaiting their land.
"ODSTs. Fucking badasses, man," Vesella quietly murmured.
"Why aren't you one, then," Chris poked.
"Vertigo, man. I got it bad."
The responce shocked Chris, and he stared blankly.
"You do realize we fly in pelicans, right?"
Vesella chuckled, "Then don't sit next to me."
Chris looked at Grodin, who simply had to offer a shrug of the shoulders, coupled with a dumbfounded look. The three men watched as the four ODSTs slipped away into the cloud of bustling marines and warthogs.
"Badasses!" Vesella said, as the three marines gathered their large bags and hefted them towards the entrance to one of the barracks. As they drew nearer, a woman stepped out, a small cigarette clutched in her right hand. She caught Chris's eye in a lightining flash. She was blond, with her hair tied strictly into a bun, save for a small streak of her bangs which wildly coiled on her forehead. Green eyes shimmered in the burning sun, and her slender face melted into a fit body, which Chris drooled over. The woman eyed the newcombers and smirked, then ducked her head into the barracks and shouted, "Sergeant, our replacements are here. And, well, god help us."
There was a rustling movement originating from inside the bunker, and a man emerged, decorated in sergeant stripes and a look that reflected the grisly war. The sergeant snuffed his nose and discharged a yellowish spit onto the dirt floor. Without saying a word he stepped closer and examined all of the men, ending with Chris and spending a odd amount of time just staring with his browned eyes.
Then the sergeant burst into a jolt of laughter and sarcastically shook his head in disbelief. "You boys looked as if you have just pranced off the set of a show my eight year old daughter watches!" Chris cocked an eyebrow and peered at his adjacent marines and noticed the prestine condition of their armor and the newly polished faces of young recruits. When Chris looked back at his sergeant, he noticed how much of a horror story he represented. The sergeant's face was deeply wrinkled, home to crooked gashes that striped his shaved head and so tanned skin, it reminded Chris of an overused belt. The sergeant was also missing a few fingers and Chris could easily notice the metalic replacements stitched to his hand.
"My names is Sergeant Valens, you may call me sergeant or Sergeant Valens, but not in any circumstance may you call me sir! I work for a living, is that understood?" Silence from all three men. "Good. Now I want you squared away ASAP, squad introductions will be permanetly postponed, and after that be prepared at 0300 for a dive in course of the finest military training our gracious Marine Corps has bestowed upon us! Understood?" Again only silence responded. "Good, now get the hell out of my sight."
Epsilon Eridani System/Planet of Reach
February 9th, 2544
Camp Eclipse/Sector J
"You don't have to be an ass about this," said an ODST, clothed in black armor that displayed a successful days work of crawling through dense and unforgiving mud. He was traveling from his survival course to his barracks, accompanied by three others, all doned identical black surfaces glued with dark brown mud.
"I'm just saying, those plasma grenades the Corps. has back in those testing labs are bad business man. They're accidents waiting to happen and I ain't picking up the scientists when they're pieces on the wall."
The ODST commander chirped into the conversation, aggravated by the constant bickering between the two, "They know what they're doing, Carreras, leave it alone. Besides you see the covies use them with no problem. I don't see why we can't or did you forget who we are?"
Corporal Carreras smirked and stiffened into a crisp posture, "No staff sergeant! We are the best of best! We are ODSTs! Anything the covenant can do, we can do better, staff sergeant!"
The sarcastic tone was duly noted by the staff sergeant and he couldn't help but laugh at the childish phrase, Anything they can do, I can do better. That was the logic responsible for their headstrong tendancy to strike at the covenant when they have plasma turrets aimed right in their direction. But then again, the staff sergeant thought, Why else would I be an ODST.
Another ODST removed his helmet, staining the opaque visor with a muddy handprint. His skin was as dark as the combat suit he wore, but his teeth and eyes were drastically opposed in color, both were pearly white. "I could give a shit less about scientists on a field day, but I know I could use a little bugga' about a hundred meters away and my baby Jane all polished and pretty, dying to punch a burst of 9.5mm X-HP-SAP rounds straight between the eyes."
"God, Vado, you truly are a cold mother fucker. I love you man," Carreras removed his helmet as well, savoring the sunlight on his skin, the first true light he'd been exposed to since yeterday afternoon. "But seriously Staff Sergeant,when are we getting off this rock? Shit, it's been a week since poor Vado killed anything."
"9 days, four hours, and roughly 37 minutes," Vado energetically added, and then crunched his trigger finger, shaking his head at the open air between his hand. "There shold be a gun in this hand," he muttered.
The staff sergeant ceased walking and abruptly faced his unit, all of whom had removed their helmets by now, unveiling their corroded faces and sand-paper skin. These men were living examples of combat drugged marines, cocooned in shadowy armor and harboring a deep resentment for the enemy, in other words perfect combat efficent ODSTs. "When we get orders, corporal, that's when we leave. Until then our day is routine exercises and combat drills. Think of it as shore leave, I don't care, the point is that we are stranded here until our slit-lip friends give us some trouble to handle. Understood?"
"Got it, staff sergeant," Carreras and the others mumbled.
"Good. Dismissed to the barracks, we're done today."
The ODST unit shuffled away, knowning their future is doomed with boredom and worst yet, routine combat drills. The staff sergeant halted a moment and watched as his men lazily trudged through the gravel, yet even with the least of effort, they still seemed to glide.
An intereting thought, the staff sergeant bgean, When not in combat, ODSTs are very unsettled. They live for adrenaline boosts, rushing plasma fire, and perhaps most importantly and enemy to fight.
The loud speaker buzzed, an automated voice boomed,"Will Staff Sergeant Jarod Erikson please report to central command, Wing A2, special operations."
Erikson was puzzled, the special operations wing was reserved for top priority assignments only. He knew in light of recent events his unit had received much public attention, but this was a new level even for him.