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A General's Tale by The Meep

A General's Tale -- Prologue
Date: 4 January 2008, 3:42 am

      The situation was bad. And as Lieutenant General Marc Navrez stood in front of the field display; hands on the cool metal siding, elbows locked, arms straight, shoulders hunched, head bowed; he knew the battle was lost. His men were on the verge of breaking. The Covenant simply had too many soldiers, too much armor, too much air support. They outnumbered and out-teched the XVI Corps in every way. The fact that they were fighting on home territory, territory they knew, was the only advantage the Marines had. But even that was turning into a bane: the fact that Earth was under siege was a brutal hit to morale.

      The fight had been engaged for three long hours now. What once was the tranquil town of New Sirra was a smoldering pile of ruins. Only a handful of the hundred or so buildings remained standing, silent monuments jutting out of the destruction, as if guarding their home. Thankfully, the civilian population had been evacuated during the First Battle of Earth and so were long gone by the time the XVI Corps moved in.

      A sudden explosion rocked the underground bunker, streams of grit falling from the dirt cieling, making small mounds on the soil floor. The lights flickered and went out, soon replaced by dimmer ones powered by the backup generator. The TACMAP blinked on and off for a few seconds, before restoring itself to its original state. The explosion tripped several men, but Navrez's position had him already braced.

      After the detonation had shaken the bunker, one of the officers brushed himself off and joined Marc at the TACMAP. A worn silver eagle was pinned on his right shoulder, placing him at O-6 paygrade: Colonel. When he spoke, it was hushed, almost a whisper. "That was too close, sir. The Covenant must have brought in long range artillery."

      Navrez nodded and lifted one of his hands from the warmed metal, touching several places in and around the TACMAP's display of New Sirra. A topographical map overlayed itself on the screen, a series of circular lines indicating twin hills on the northern side of town. The man pointed to both of them, one finger each. "There and..." Marc paused, as if waiting. Another explosion, a little farther away, reached the bunker. "...there. Get me a confirmation from ballistics."

      The Colonel gave a slight nod and walked briskly through the dirt bunker to one of the stations. He whispered in the tech's ears and had a short transaction of brief orders and questions. The slightly bald man gave another nod, grabbed a sheet of paper and made his way back to Marc, careful not to trip in the dim light.

      "You had it right on the money, sir. The shots were identified as Type-90 artillery pieces. They got a range of three klicks." The Colonel broke eye contact. "Sir, we have to pull back our men or they'll be paste."

      Marc looked at the Colonel. "Do you think I don't realize that, Leon? The 4th and 5th platoons are positioned here," he said sharply, pointing to a raised highway about half a klick from the city. "If I have them retreat, they're going to have to cross a klick and a half of open territory. Even if we had the tanks lay down a supressing fire, the Covenant artillery is out of range. We'd have unacceptable casaulties!"

      Leon glanced back at the TACMAP, realizing what his superior was saying. "And we can't call in Pelicans... There's too much AA in the city. They'd never touch down." The Colonel leaned over the circular TACMAP desk alongside Marc. "Orders? Sir?"

      "General!" called out one of the communications officers. Marc stood up and turned, his back now to the TACMAP. The officer continued. "Incoming COM traffic, sir."

      "Toss it to me."

      The Lieutenant paused for a second, then took off his headset and underhanded it to Marc. Slipping it on, he opened the channel. "This is Lieutenant General Navrez."

      The channel burst into static before a voice punched through the white noise. "Good to hear from ya sir! We thought the CC bunker got nailed by the artillery."

      "Identify yourself."

      "O, this is Major Williams of the hundred'n'fifth outta Earth, atcha service!" the earpiece said enthusiastically with a noticable British accent. "We have a payload here we neva' got to drop off back in Ferros Valley. Mind if we lighten up a tad over New Sirra?"

      Marc was surprised. The 105th was a Longsword force belonging to the XXX Corps, which had been following up on an offensive in Ferros Valley, nearly 150 miles north of New Sirra. Ferros Valley must have been a total victory against the Covenant, else the Longswords wouldn't have a payload still on them.

      Keying the mic, Marc spoke. "Who sent you, Major? What's the situation in Ferros Valley?"

      Willams' response was quick in coming. "If ya don't mind me saying, sir, it's a helluva lot better there then it is here. Total rout, Covies neva' stood a chance. Brigadier General Andre redirected us to New Sirra after he took the valley. Orders, sir?"

      "Stand by." The Lieutenant General spun back to the TACMAP display, looking to chart a carpet bomb path for the Longswords. This was a welcome development in the situation. By taking out the artillery and most of the Covenant AA with long range bombs and missiles, Pelicans could--

      "Sir?" said Colonel Leon, an unidentifiable emotion tugging on his voice. "We got confirmation... There's a squad of Marines hidden in a parking garage about a quarter klick from the upper artillery. They have wounded."

      Marc's stomach clenched. Ordering the Longsword attack run now would wipe out that squad. A two level garage wouldn't do jack squat if the Longsword's carpet bombed the city. And they can't get close enough to use smart bombs; the AA would down them before they could loose a payload.

      The Lieutenant General clamped his mouth shut, his lips becoming a thin white line before speaking. "It's either a squad of men, or two battalions of Marines. They... They'd understand." Everyone in the room knew that was bullshit. The Marines would die not even knowing why they weren't evaced. They would think that they has been cut off from the Corps. And they'd be right.

      "Order the attack run," Marc said through gritted teeth.

      "Maria's with them," said the Colonel suddenly, as if he had tried to say it earlier, but couldn't bring himself to.

      "Belay that last order!" yelled Marc. Turning to Leon, he gripped his shoulders. "Are you sure? Maria was extracted with the rest of her platoon!"

      The Colonel backed up. "It's her. It's her for sure. We lost radio contact, but they identified her voice. I'm sorry, sir."

      The stony faced Lieutenant General turned back to the TACMAP, as if its steady blue light would provide solace and councel. Looking down at his hand, he fingered the golden band encircling his finger. He knew what the right thing to do was. Order the attack run, wipe out the Covenant, save two platoons of Marines. Bury his wife.

      But if he called off the bombing run, Maria would still be alive, but the artillery would shred the Marines when they tried to retreat. Chances are, the Covenant would find her and her squad anyway and--

      "Orders? We're approachin' the AA perimeter," said Major Williams over the COM. Marc stopped fingering the ring, instead clenching his hand and staring at the TACMAP. Could he do it? Save his men at the cost of his wife? Kill his men to save his wife?

      A tense thirty seconds passed. No one in the bunker spoke. Even the far off explosions of artillery and tanks seemed to not be able to penetrate the earthen walls. Even the background Longsword engine noise seem stifled coming through the Major's COM.

      Finally, Marc made his decision. The Colonel nodded and relayed it to Major Williams in the air. Activity resumed in the command bunker as it was before, albeit in a more solemn manner. As people started moving and talking again around him, Lieutenant General Marc Navres continued to stare into the TACMAP, the soft blue light illuminating his face, offering no comfort.

      May God damn me to Hell, for that is all I deserve.

A General's Tale -- Chapter 1
Date: 28 February 2008, 11:19 pm

A General's Tale -- Chapter 1

      I swear, by submission of self-protection, to defend and protect those who have, are, or are not able to take this oath. As a member of these armed forces of the United Nations Interstellar Republic, it is my duty, at risk of self harm, to defend those placed in my charge: the citizens of the United Nations Interstellar Republic, my fellow members of the armed forces, and any human being, no matter the consequences on my physical, mental, or emotional self...
- Excerpt of the United Nation's Armed Forces Indoctrination Oath

The headless body tumbled off the small rise, falling heavily on Sergeant Ricky Gum's back, earning a loud grunt as its pistol jabbed him between the shoulder blades. He shrugged it off, doing his best to ignore the lancing pains in his overused muscles. The body fell off him, rolling down the hill and coming to a rest halfway down, its foot caught in a rabbit hole.

      Gum ignored it; he was too scared to learn who it was. He wiped some of the the blood off his face, hand shaking ever so slightly. The SR99D-S2-AP (anti-personnel) sniper rifle was clenched in his left hand, the barrel resting on the ground. Pushing the headless man from his mind, Gum elbowed up the mound, a small rise in the earth that completely bordered the southern side of New Sirra. He had been told some ancient fortification was once there, long since buried by the soil, the mound being the only evidence of its existence. Looking side-to-side, Gum could see the other men of his platoon strewn out across the mound, taking pot shots at the swarming Covenant infantry and vehicles two hundred meters distant.

      And then the world exploded.

      He was thrown in the air, curling up on impact and absorbing the shock like he had been trained to do. Warm clods of dirt and cool chips of shattered stone peppered him, making hollow clicks as they landed on his combat armor. Now that the roar of the blast was gone, the Sergeant heard yelling off in the distance; angry and frightened, hurling out curses and accusations and cries for salvation. Gunfire punctuated the hoarse voices, mixed with the distinctive thump, hiss of plasma fire hitting dirt. A single piercing scream, one of pain, cut through the entire cacophony, quickly dying off as another thump, hiss arrived. The noises were more acute now than they had been before. Gum didn't think about it.

      He ignored the chaotic environment, instead focusing on checking his S2AP's barrel with his gloved fingers. He let out a grim smile. No damage.

      Gum stumbled to his feet, automatically crouching as electric blue light lit up the air, causing his face to break out in a hot sweat.

      Thump, hiss.

      "Too close," he muttered, wiping his forehead with one, dirty glove. Gum noticed his hand was shaking a little, but he didn't stop to think about it. Stopping now would mean stopping for a long, long time.

      Leveling his sniper rifle, Gum found a small lump of dirt. "Just like new..." he muttered dryly as he fell prone behind the mound. His helmet's CPU had gotten blocked by grit, probably fried by the plasma as well, so Gum resorted to the old fashioned telescopic scope. Zeroing in on one particularly slow moving Ghost, Gum pulled the trigger, a smile cracking his bloodied and bruised face as the powerful rifle bucked against his shoulder. It was good to be back.

Lieutenant General Marc Navrez paced the well-worn dirt floor of the bunker, his face an emotionless mask, sweaty hands clasped in the small of his back. He'd start at the TACMAP, looking over the blue display, cursing silently as the Covenant "Minerva Legion" chipped steadily away at his dwindling front line.

      The tall man would speak to the combat CO, Major Eneverro, briefly, speaking between of the loud roars of tank fire carried over by the radio. He would order him to reinforce certain areas or deliver SitReps on specific objectives. They were never good.

      Next he would move to the communications board, asking 2nd Lieutenant Rohensen if there were any updates from the top, even though he had ordered the young officer to alert him the moment word came through. The young, pale officer would shake his head, and Navrez would move on without further comment.

      Next was Colonel Leon. The somewhat aged looking, but relatively young, XO of the XVI Corps would be standing still as a statue next to the TACMAP, watching Navrez. Although the El-Tee-Gee outranked the short Colonel, Leon was seven years Navrez's elder and had more experience under his belt than his CO did, something Navrez saw and exploited to its fullest. He would walk up to Leon, who would shake his head, eyes aimed at the floor. Navrez would give a short justification of his orders.

      "We never leave one of our own behind, Leon. You know that," he would say, gesturing at the single chevron symbol on the TACMAP, buried amidst the wreckage of occupied New Sirra. Leon would nod, prompting Navrez to brood over the TACMAP display, starting the cycle over again.

      This assault originally called for an all out rout of the Covenant forces in New Sirra: go in gunning, root out the aliens, take back the town. However, after unexpectedly heavy Covenant resistance was encountered, the small XVI Corps (a mere 7,291 men and 489 tonnes) was forced to retreat from urban warfare, instead laying an impromptu siege on the town. Both sides had suffered heavy casaulties, and Navrez had been on the verge of enacting UNSC Wayward Traveller, a sort of fail safe protocol where the Corps' retreat would be covered by a nuclear warhead. The loss of the town, residual radiation damage, and the chance of civilian casaulties made this a very unappealing tactic. But now, given Humanity's current circumstances, UNSC Wayward Traveller had become standard protocol.

      The appearance of the 23rd Platoon, however, muddied the waters. The Corps couldn't leave twenty four of their own men and women behind to become Covenant target practice or radioactive dust. It was "The Law", an unspoken code of conduct, that no one was ever left behind in XVI Corps, no matter the circumstances. El-Tee General Navrez knew this, had established this, and so quickly called off UNSC Wayward Traveller, reverting back to the original plan: take the city away from the Covenant. He knew violating The Law would cripple morale; one of the major driving forces of the XVI Corps and all its subdivisions was that if you were cut off, you were not forgotten. Sit tight and survive because we're coming to get you.

      And then there was First Lieutenant Maria Numos, Marc's wife, CO of the 23rd Platoon. Navrez had rationalized his decision to retake the town by referring to his original orders and the The Law. When he had first heard of the 23rd Platoon, before knowing Maria was with them, he had been forced to order their death. Rescue had seemed impossible, and Navrez knew much more would be lost than gained if they went after them. It was the first time he had broken The Law, a regrettable action dictated by the hostile and all-too-real situation.

      But then he had a sudden change of heart. The Law would not be broken. The 23rd Platoon would be rescued. New Sirra would again fall into the grasp of human hands, no matter the cost.

      Although no one had so far, if asked, Navrez would answer that his decision was not brought on by his wife, but by his duty to the Corps and The Law. As an El-Tee General, Navrez would maintain that he could not let personal emotions and reservations interfere with what must be done.

      Marc had never been a good liar.

      Pushing the thoughts of his wife from his head, he studied the blue tactical display once more. Soft red lines tracked heavies: artillery shots, mortar blasts, and missiles. One heavy, yet another blast from the on of the two Covenant artillery emplacements, dubbed Alpha and Zulu, made its way in agonizing slowness over the ruins of New Sirra, finally coming to rest fifty meters before the Marine perimeter. Navrez let out a breath he had been holding. Finally, some luck. Whatever sonuvabitch that controlled the artillery positions must be blind; their accuracy was terrible.

      Colonel Leon came up next to him, now bathed in the TACMAP's blue light, not the sterile white that doused the bunker. His face was attempting to be expressionless, but a tableau of emotions were playing across it. Fear, anxiety. Dissapointment.

      "General Navrez. Marc. We need to retreat. With all due respect, the Covenant outnumber the XVI Corps, have superior positioning and support, and have open supply corridors." Navrez didn't respond, but his jaw muscles twitched slighty and he turned his head away from Leon. "Sir. Casualties would be unacceptable--"

      "Unacceptable?" the El-Tee General said, his eyebrow raised. "Retreat is unacceptable, Colonel. They'd be slaughtered before we could get 'em out. And we'd lose the 23rd Platoon." He paused. "And the city." His voice was slow and measured, but filled with conviction.

      Leon's slightly confused look turned angry. His stance naturally tensed, and one hand rose up to emphasize his words with gestures. "General, you sent back the Longswords that could've wiped out the Minerva Legion in one sweep!"

      Navrez's voice was still even and paced. "Leon, there are twenty two men and women trapped in the city. I would never order an attack that would kill them." He tried not to think about what his original order was.

      Leon was a good friend and a long-time colleague of his, but Marc felt only resentment for him now. He knew what he was doing was wrong-- No. He was in the right. There were men and women depending on him in there, on their Corps to come and get them. It was the right thing to do.

      Leon sighed, calming his voice. "Sir, either way, men will die." Leon's hand went to Marc's shoulder, pushing it back so that the latter was facing him. "But don't sacrifice entire companies to rescue half a platoon!"

      A nearby explosion punctuated his statement, shaking the command bunker, small clouds of dust billowing from the earthen walls and cieling. Navrez ignored it, concentrating on Leon's words. They made sense. He was--

      "Don't let Maria... Don't let her do this to your command," Leon said. His expression softened. He had known Maria; had been Best Man at their wedding even. The fact that she was certain to die hurt him deeply, but experience taught him to overcome grief. To prioritize. Navrez had to forget about Maria, and do his job.

      He had different ideas. Navrez punched him. Not a quick jab, but a full force, knuckled fist slam to the nose. Leon took a step backwards from the force, his hand flying up to his nose. He made no sound as blood started to flow between his fingers; the Colonel was too shocked by this violent act that was incredibly unlike Navrez.

      The General had turned back to the TACMAP, as if nothing had happened. As if he hadn't just lashed out and struck his friend.

      "Leon. I am going to rescue that platoon. Even if it takes the entire Corps. Even if I have to go in there myself, we will not let those Marines die. We have... We just have to." He made no mention of Maria, even though his voice cracked.

      Leon stepped towards Navrez's back, a bloody hand clenched in a fist as he shouted, "Marc! Wake up! Realize what you are doing! We could lose the entire Corps! Don't--"

      "I know full well what I am doing, Colonel. Don't make me have to restrain you."


      It was a small sound, but it caused Marc's stomach to clench. He turned, looking down an M6D's gun barrel. There was an audible result in the bunker. Only the guards had watched the escalating fight, and only because they had nothing else to do. But when one pulls a gun on another? The tension was palpable.

      The Colonel held the gun steady, looking at Navrez with determined eyes. "With all due respect, Sir, withdraw your orders from Major Eneverro. We are not attacking. We will not sacrifice these men for one person, no matter how important to you she may be." His eyes softened slightly. "Navrez. Marc. You're disillusioned. Maria's dead. There's no way the platoon could survive that long in New Sirra. You'd be throwing away your men's lives for nothing."

      Leon was trying to calm him down. He usually kept his gun loaded, but he had removed the clip before drawing on Navrez. He was bluffing, but he hoped the intimidation would subdue Marc, or at least give him enough of a reality shock to order the retreat. He prayed Marc's grief for Maria wouldn't push him beyond that.

      Leon, however, was unaware of the round still in the pistol's chamber. Even if you take out the magazine, the first bullet of the clip gets locked into the gun's chamber.

      Navrez's eyes were locked on the gun barrel, unaware that Leon had no intention of pulling the trigger. "Colonel, you are assaulting a superior officer." Marc swallowed nervously, then straightened out. "Stand down!" he barked.

      Before Leon could respond, a second detonation shook the bunker, this time much closer. Nearly everyone was thrown to the floor, the beams on the dirt cieling groaned loudly. If they had not been there, the bunker surely would ahve collapsed.

      Apparantly, the detonation damaged the circuitry. The lights flickered for a second, then shut completely off, dropping the subterranean structure into absolute darkness. Yells of surprise came from the throats of radio operators and technicians. Several people called out, trying to oreint themselves.

      Without warning, a deafening gunshot rebounded inside the bunker, the sound amplified by the earthen walls. Aside from yelps of surprise from several of the young officers, there was no noise.