Decisions, Chapter 1
Date: 14 November 2002, 3:01 pm
Walsh sat on the edge of his stool, alone in the backroom of the armory. He was thinking about how he had gotten to this place. Thinking about not only being stuck disassembling and cleaning MA5B assault rifles, but thinking about his entire life. How had he gotten to this place?
Cleaning rifles was easy to answer. Smart mouthing your superior generally gets you into trouble. But, why had he been so belligerent to Sergeant Freeman? Sarge was easy enough to get along with. Hell, Freeman had actually requested Private Walsh for his unit. This brought a smile to Walsh's face. Someone actually wanted him; he disregarded the fact that it was to kill. He did not mind killing. It was just part of the job and he certainlydidn't mind shooting the Covenant.
Why had he smarted off to the Sarge? He looked down at the completely assembled rifle that was lying across his knees. "One down" he said to himself, "twenty seven to go." He knew he would never get them all cleaned in the time remaining before the jump. He didn't mind being alone except for the fact that it left him with so much time to think. Strange, here is a man almost 42 years old, older than Sergeant Freeman, but still stuck as a lowly Private. What caused this?
Every time he started thinking like this, his mind always turned to the time he was called out of school. It had been an autumn day on Guilaint 4. A normal day for any 6 year old, playing and learning. The teacher had told him that someone was here to see him and to go to the teacher's lounge down the hall. As he trotted down the hall, he wondered if he should just open the door or knock first. He stood in front of the door wondering what he should do. When the door opened.
In the doorway way stood a lady. She didn't look much older than his mother. She asked him to come inside and to take a seat. He paused for a second because he was not allowed in the teacher's lounge. But his teacher and this lady had told him to enter so he strolled in and sat down.
There was a man standing in the corner motionless. The lady called him by his first name, "Stanley? You are Stanley Walsh?"
"Walsh, Everyone just calls me Walsh." He hastily added "ma'am" to the end of his words. Another smile crossed Walsh's lips as he realized how arrogant his was even at that young age.
The lady took a seat across from him and told him that they were going to do a little test. She laid three cards on the table face down. Walsh stared at the cards. They looked like ordinary cards to him. Sheturned the cards over one by one. She had turned over two black aces andone red ace. She said "Stanley" but quickly corrected herself. "Walsh, Iwant you to keep your eye on the red ace at all times. Remember where it is."Walsh nodded.
She turned all the cards back over leaving the red ace in the middle between the two black aces. She quickly started sliding the cards across the table. She moved her hands quickly but Walsh did as he was told and never let the red ace out of his sight. After about 20 seconds of shuffling the cards back and forth, she asked, "Which card is the red ace?"
Walsh knew which card it was. It was simple; the card was on his far right. He had watched her move it around the table. It had to be some kind of trick question. The lady spoke up "Walsh, do you know whichcard is the red ace?" He quickly pointed at the center card. The lady turnedthe center card over revealing the ace of spades. He saw her shoulders slumpa little and she continued turning over the cards. She turned the card toher left over showing the red ace.
He started to tell her, that he knew it was there, but she held up her hand to stop him. "Walsh please go back to your classroom," she said in an almost solemn tone. He was mentally kicking himself all the way back to his room. He had known that it was the right hand card. He HAD known. Why did he always second-guess himself?
He startled himself out of his trace when the bolt from the MA5B clattered on the floor. He must have knocked it off with his elbow. He looked around. Five clean and assembled rifles lay on the table next to him. Had he really completed five rifles? He had only been here a few minutes, hadn't he? He turned and looked at the clock. 0425 hours, he had been working for nearly an hour. He bent down and picked up the bolt that he had knocked onto the floor. He did a quick mental calculation of how fast he was working. A rifle every twelve minutes wasn't bad considering the condition these rifles were in. He figured he would have enough time to finish his current cleaning project plus five more before he had to report to Cyro Bay 2 at 0530. Better, make that four, giving him time to get to the bay and time to recheck the rifles. He might end up relying on one of these rifles in the next few days.
He turned his attention back to the rifles, but his mind quickly returned to his life. He wondered "What if I had chosen the correct card." Would his life have been any different? How could a stupid card make any difference in his life? Strange. He always had the same thought, choosing the correct card would have made a difference.
His thoughts flashed forward, nine years, he was 15years old. At 5'11", he already stood an inch taller than his father. Itwas a normal morning, as normal as it got during those days. The sirens started at a little after 0700. At first, he thought it was another drill until his parents came running in and screamed at him to get to the shelter.
They lived two streets over from the shelter. As he and his parents ran from their house, he spotted a Covenant dropship. They continued running toward the shelter when the Covenant dropship circled around and landednear the shelter. The sky was speckled a mixture of Covenant and UNSC ships.
Since the nearest shelter was cut-off, they turned and started for another shelter. They wove between houses running through front yards, hedges and backyards. Walsh stopped and watched as a UNSC Pelican descendedinto the street next to him. He stood in amazement as a dozen or more soldiershustled out of the Pelican.
One of the soldiers ran over to Walsh and yelled at him to get in the Pelican. He turned to find his parents, but they were gone. His first thought was to run and find his mother and father. The solider roared"Go!" and Walsh spun and sprinted toward the ship. He wondered if he wouldever see his parents again. The ship quickly filled with other civilians. The engines rumbled and the ship began to lift off.
Walsh flickered back to the present, but the rumbling didn't stop. He realized that the Pillar of Autumn's engines were firing andthe ship was turning. He looked at the clock. 0519 hours. The Autumn shouldbe accelerating for the Slipspace jump. What was going on?
He first impulse was to find Sergeant Freeman and figure out what was happening. Walsh looked at the half-assembled rifle in front of him, his orders were to clean these rifles and report to the cryo chamber by 0530. He suppressed his urge and continued to put together the weapon laidout before him. The minutes tick by at a snail's pace. He worked as hardand fast as he could, trying to keep his mind off what was going on. He lookedat the clock. It was 0524...Close enough.
He sprinted to Cryo Bay 2, panting as he waited for the doors to slide open. The doors made a slight whoosh as they parted in front of him. The cryo chamber was empty. As he entered the room, the technician overhead barked, "What are you doing here?"
"Reporting for cyro-sleep, Sir," replied Walsh.
"Sleep cycle canceled. Report back to your squad," responded the technician.
Walsh rushed to the elevator and descend a floor to the bunk area. He came into room and nearly collided with Sergeant Freeman. Freeman bellowed, "Private Walsh, where the hell have you been?"
"Cleaning rifles as ordered, Sir," retorted Walsh with a half-hearted salute.
"Walsh, prep your explosives. I want you carrying 2 packs of C-12 and as many fragmentation grenades as you can handle. Then report to Cafeteria 3."
"What is our mission, Sir?"
"Undetermined at this point. I just want you ready. You are the best demolitions man in the corp., aren't you?"
"Yes, Sir!" replied Walsh with a crisp salute and a slight smirk on his face.
He rushed back to the armory and quickly gathered his equipment. Walsh paused to debated over how many detonation receivers to bringwith him. He decided on four, with two packs of C-12 that could create fourrather larger explosions. He wondered if he should grab a few more receivers, but he decided against it. When his services were needed, they normally didn't require small explosions.
He checked the batteries in his transmitter and strapped it to his forearm. He ran through the receivers and found one slightly discharged. It was still well in the green, but he replaced it with another receiver anyway.He placed them in one of the pouches on his right hip.
Sarge had told him to stock up on frags as well. He filled his satchel with as many grenades as it would hold. He estimated that he hadnearly 30 stuffed into that bag. The satchel bulged all over looking like it was pregnant and about to give birth.
Walsh wondered what he must look like with two backpacks, one over each shoulder and a huge satchel hanging on his left side. He probably looked like a pack mule. He reached for the one of the AR's on the rack beside him, retracted his arm and moved to the backroom. He picked one of the weapons that he had just finished cleaning less than 10 minutes ago, butting the rifleagainst his shoulder making a sweeping motion. His luggage wasn't hindering him very much. Walsh's substantial 6'3" frame could carry a large amount ofweight without much trouble.
He started making his way to Cafeteria 3 with technicians and soldiers passing him in the corridors. He realized that he still had noidea what was going on. He entered the cafeteria and scanned over the crowdlooking for Sergeant Freeman. He never saw the Sarge but he did spot severalmen from his unit. As he approached them, Walsh gritted his teeth waitingfor the jackass comment that he knew was coming.
"Look, it's Walsh," snorted Benson. "You carrying enough shit? EEh Aaaw, EEh Aaaw" braying like a donkey.
Walsh ignored him while sliding the satchel off his shoulder and taking a seat at the end of the bench. The bag made a soft thud as he placed it on the floor beside his feet.
He wished Sergeant Freeman were there so he could ask what was going on. He certainly wasn't going to ask Benson or anyone else from his squad. As he sat there listening to all the conversations around him, he picked out that the Reach system was under attack from the Covenant. The UNSC Fleet had called all vessels back in defense of Reach. Some people were talking about the Spartans who were supposed to be on board the ship.
The PoA suddenly leaped out from underneath him. Walsh would have fallen to the floor if he hadn't grabbed the edge of the bench. Everyone who was standing suddenly found himself or herself on the floor. Walsh slid the satchel back close to his feet, wrapped the strap around his left leg and put his foot on part of the strap to keep the bag secure.
The noise level grew throughout the room, not only from the marines but also from the Pillar of Autumn herself. The rumble of the engines vibrated up through the bench. Walsh could hear the whine of the MACcannons firing. This continued for what seemed like ages, every marine hadgiven up on trying to stand. The few that had tried ended up with bruises or a fat lip. There where several explosions that rocked the ship. Walsh waswaiting for the room to decompress, but it never came. Where was Sarge? Hehadn't seen anyone over the rate of Corporal in over an hour.
Finally, a female voice came over loud speakers. "All hands report to your Cryo Chambers, prepare for immediate Slipstream jump."
A few seconds later the officers spilled out of one of the side rooms. One of them shouted, "You heard the lady! Store your gear and Go, Go, Go!"
The next twenty minutes were a blur. With marines moving everywhere, Walsh found himself undressing and preparing to enter one of thecryotubes. Not until this point did, he realized that his gray uniform wasalmost black from oil and grease.
This was one of the worst things in life, entering cyro sleep. At least it was for Walsh. Everyone else complained about exiting cyrosleep. That was simple-- a few coughs and your lungs were clear. But enteringcyro sleep was entirely different. The feeling of drowning was horrible. Hehad never heard of anyone else complain about this part. He started to askthe technician standing next to his tube but he held his tongue.
The lid closed and the chamber filled with a fine mist. Walsh breathed deeply, inhaling the analgesic. The tubes extended toward hisnose. He started to panic, but quickly calmed himself and forced his bodyand heart rate to relax. Walsh waited with his eyes closed.
Up in the control room, the technician watched Walsh's vital signs. "Ok, inserting tubes in cyrogenic number six. Injecting bronchial surfactant, now." The bars on the control panel jump into the red zone then quickly settled back down. "Whoa, did you see that?" exclaimed the technician with a shocked tone.
"See what?" replied the second technician.
"Number six's vitals jumped when I injected the fluid into his lungs. You don't think he was awake do you?"
"Did you wait the required 15 seconds?"
"Yep, sure did. Even gave him a few seconds more. Helooks like a very big guy. His vitals were stabilized too."
"Must have been a fluke. He's asleep now."
Decisions, Chapter 2
Date: 21 November 2002, 2:35 pm
Walsh blinked, trying to clear the haze from his eyes. His chest and lungsfelt heavy like the feeling you get after you spend the entire day swimming.His arms and legs seemed disconnected.
The technician in a yellow suit beside him ordered, "Sit up."
Walsh commanded the muscles of his arms and upper torso to push him off thebed. He half expected nothing to happen. He felt the weight shift to hislegs and feet. The technician reached out and steadied him as he steppeddown onto the coolness of the metal floor.
"You need to cough to clear your lungs. You better swallow it or spit itin the bucket! Because, I ain't cleaning up another damn mess!" Whinedthe technician.
Inhaling deeply was difficult. Walsh's body tensed with spasms as he coughed.Warm liquid filled his mouth. He resisted the urge to spit. He swallowedand the taste of the cyro inhalant washed over his senses. "Foul stuff."muttered Walsh. Just then, another bout of coughing hit him. This time hespit into the bucket.
"Are you going be ok?" asked the technician. "I still got more to get outof the freezer."
Walsh nodded. He turned to find his uniform that he had removed theday before. Had it been yesterday? He hated cyro sleep. "You never know howlong you were frozen." He looked up at the clock and thought to himself."They should include the date on all ship clocks." He realized that shipboardAI was the probably the only one who actually knew the correct date.
He grabbed his oil soaked clothes, slipped on his pants and boots. Walshdecided not to wear the shirt and started back to his bunk to get a freshuniform. He entered the elevator with twenty or more soldiers and rode itdown one floor. When the elevator opened he walked down the corridor pastseveral bunkrooms and entered his own.
Walsh opened his locker. His arm shot up quickly and caught the assault riflebefore it smacked him in the face. He spun around looking to see who wasin the room. He greatest fear now was that Sergeant Freeman would find outthat he had stowed his equipment in the lockers. He quickly opened the lockernext to him and proceeded to make a neat pile of the explosives and his ARon the floor. He mentally kicked himself for being so stupid. He had intendedto return the C-12 and grenades to the armory. However, after seeing everyonestoring their weapons in their lockers, he had stuffed the explosives intoan empty locker next to his own. Walsh realized how inanely dense this was,the C-12 could have exploded and done severe damage to the Pillar of Autumn.
Walsh grabbed the clean uniform and whipped on the shirt, kicked off hisboots, and slid off his pants. He was tucking in his shirt as Sergeant Freemanentered the bunkhouse.
"Attention all combat personnel. Please report to your action stations."Boomed Cortana over the loudspeaker.
"Hustle up marines!" commanded Freeman. Walsh and four other men rapidlyformed up in front of Sergeant Freeman. "Where are the rest of the team?"questioned Freeman.
Before anyone could reply, another message came over the loudspeaker. "FifthPlatoon, secure airlocks on Deck 11. Fourteenth Platoon, rendezvous with22nd Tactical at Bulkhead Charlie 14."
"Ok, combat team Kilo, let's look sharp. I want everyone combat ready. Pronto!Barked Sergeant Freeman.
The loudspeaker boomed again. "This is not a drill. I repeat, this is nota drill."
"Walsh same layout as before." Ordered Freeman.
Walsh snapped a quick salute. "Sir, yes, Sir." He hurried back to his pileof equipment and knelt down beside it. He strapped the transmitter to hisarm. Flipped up the cover plate and checked the batteries, green, it wasa go. He tested the four receivers and placed them into the pouch on hiship.
Cortana voice echoed through the Pillar of Autumn. "Attention all personnel.We are re-engaging the enemy. External and internal contacts imminent."
Walsh placed the backpacks of C-12 over each shoulder grabbed the AR andthe strap of the satchel containing the grenades. He stood and leaned therifle against his leg. He lifted the heavy satchel and placed the strap overhis left shoulder. He shifted his upper body and hips to make sure that everythingwas seated properly. He retrieved the rifle and slid the bolt repeatedly,checking the action of his weapon. He turned and started back toward thefront of the room. As he approached Sergeant Freeman, he slapped a full ammunitionclip into his MA5B.
"Way to move fast, Walsh." Grinned Freeman. Walsh avoided eye contact withthe Sergeant and fell into formation with the other marines.
"Cortana is expecting the enemy to try and board OUR ship. Let's make surewe are there to give them the greeting that they deserve!"
"Sir, yes, Sir!" they all responded in unison, followed by the click-clickof the bolts on their AR's. They sounded like a well-oiled machine, evenif they were missing a few gears or men.
"Walsh, I want you to hang back. You cover the rear." Ordered Freeman. "Idon't want those explosive getting hit, they could rip a hole clean throughthe Autumn."
Combat Team Kilo surged out of the bunk area and clattered down the corridor.Their boots clacking on the metal decking as they ran down the hallway. TheAutumn trembled under them, causing them to slow their pace. The halls becameclogged with marines and Ops personnel moving in different directions.
"Fire teams: sensors show inbound Covenant boarding craft. Stand by to repelboarders." Reverberated the loudspeaker.
"Ok, marines! Listen up...this is our section. Rodgers, Franklin, you keepthe point. You're with me Page." Barked Freeman as he pointed the directionshe wanted his team to go. "Slade and Walsh you've got the rear. I want thiscorridor locked down. If any uglies show their face...take it off!"
The team moved into their positions and didn't have to wait long. Walsh hearda huge explosion behind him, quickly followed by the screams of Franklinand Rodgers. The screams were still echoing down the hall when he caughtmovement out of the corner of his eye. Walsh turned to look at Slade whomoved from his half kneeling position to standing. The sounds of plasma andAR fire ripped down the corridors. Walsh watched as Slade ran around thecorner. He almost instantly stumbled back into view. Slade's body fell andlanded on its back. He was emitting a strange pink glow. Suddenly the bodystarted jumping around all over the floor. Walsh realized that it was severallittle explosions moving the body. He had seen it before, some kind of explosiveneedles that the Covenant used.
The noise of the firefight continued, the voice over the loudspeaker wasmuffled under the commotion. "Ops personnel on decks nine through twelve,report to evac stations now."
Walsh resisted the urge to check around the corner. He heard another explosion,this one he recognized as that of a fragmentation grenade. The sound of thefirefight stop for a few seconds, he heard the sound of assault rifles beingreloaded. Suddenly, a roar like a lion echoed from down the hall. "Fall back!"screamed Sergeant Freeman. AR's blasted. Walsh heard a blood curly screamthat seemed completely alien.
The corridor fell silent again. The silence was quickly broken by SergeantFreeman "Walsh, I need you up here now! Keep your damn head down!"
Walsh rushed to the corner and peered around. Freeman was crouched behinda pile of debris on the right side of the passage. Walsh hunkered down andtook a position opposite the Sergeant. The corpse of Page lay in the middleof the walkway. The body of some huge monster was beside him. Walsh had neverseen anything like this before.
"They have some sorta energy shield like the Jackals. It covers the entirebody." stated Freeman as he gestured toward the creature. "We emptied anentire clip into it."
Walsh stared at the creature, the head of the beast stared back blankly athim. He reached his foot out and kicked the head so that it faced the otherdirection. He had fought Grunts and Jackals before but he had never seenanything like this before.
Freeman continued "This must be the Elites that we have heard about."
Walsh peeked over his make shift barrier. Three Grunts and an Elite tookup an offensive stance at the end of hall. He opened the satchel. Freemannodded and opened his hands in a catching motion. Walsh tossed the grenadeover.
Freeman chucked the frag in an arch over his shoulder. The grenade flew throughthe air, hit the decking and took two large bounces. The grunts and the elitedove out of the way. Two of the grunts didn't jump far enough and were blowninto the air from the blast.
"Concentrated fire on the Elite!" barked Freeman.
Walsh hesitated, thinking to himself. "If the Elites are as tough as theSarge says then it might make more sense to take out the remaining gruntfirst." Walsh pushed this thought out of his head and nodded approval toFreeman.
Another voice rang out over the loudspeaker. "All hands. This is the Captain.Prepare to abandon ship. Combat teams, repel boarders until Ops personnelare away. Good luck. Keyes out."
Freeman nodded to Walsh. They both jumped up from behind their barriers andpulled the triggers on their MA5B assault rifles at the same time. The Elite'sbody shimmered with blue and white aura. It held its ground and began firingback at Walsh. The Elite was aiming too low and the plasma bolts were hittingthe blockade in front of Walsh. The Elite jumped to the side as it took cover.Walsh followed with his AR until the Elite was completely out of sight.
Walsh saw flashes of green light cross his firing line. He heard the screamsof Sergeant Freeman as he pulled his rifle in line with the Grunt's chest.He squeezed the trigger and saw the Grunt stumble backwards. He brought theweapon up the grunt's body and concentrated his bullets on the face of thegrunt. The corpse sunk to its knees and fell forward on its stomach. Walshrealized that his AR was empty and was making a clicking sound every timehe pulled the trigger.
Walsh spun and slid down into a sitting position. He didn't want to lookover at the Sarge. He decided not to. He still had the Elite to deal with,he remove the empty clip from his weapon and slapped a new one in its place.He looked down at the satchel that was setting beside him. While pullinga grenade from the bag, he moved into a crouching position behind the barrier.He had to get the angle just right.
Walsh's arm moved and the grenade left his hand just as the clatter of MA5B'sfilled the air. The noise of firing covered the thud that the grenade madeas it bounced off the wall. It also covered the two tiny tink tink soundsas the grenade landed behind the distracted Elite. The boom of the grenadecovered all other sounds except the death scream of the Elite. Walsh sawthe Elite fly through the air and land on the deck motionless.
"Report, who's there?" ordered a voice with authority.
Walsh gathered his gear and rounding the corner. "Private Stanley Walsh."He responded with a salute. He saw two techs, four marines and the Sergeant.
"Anymore of your team coming?" inquired the Sergeant.
"No, Sir. I am the only one left." Replied Walsh.
"Sorry to hear that, son. I am Sergeant Johnson. Looks like you're with us."
The voice of Keyes echoed over the loudspeaker. "Combat teams Alpha throughNovember, pull out to nearest evac station."
Sergeant Johnson looked into the lifepod. "We need a pilot for this bird.Anyone qualified?"
The technician in a blue uniform stepped forward. "Yes, Sir. I've had theappropriate training."
"Well, let's get some wings flapping then." Replied Johnson as he rolledhis eyes.
Walsh let the others enter the lifepod. The marine standing behind him motionedhim to enter first. Walsh removed the satchel and backpacks before enteringthe craft. He placed them under the seat and buckled the safety straps.
Johnson barked "Khoral get your skinny ass in here now!"
The marine standing outside rushed to enter the lifepod, tripped slightlyon threshold and landed very ungraciously in the seat next to Walsh. Khoralfumbled with his safety harness for a second or two then finally got it latched.The doors to the pod closed.
The pilot announced "Launching in three..." Suddenly the doors opposite theirlifepod exploded into the hallway. "Two..." Walsh saw an Elite jump throughthe wrecked doors. "One..." The Elite looked left then right and then spottedthe escape pod. It hunched it shoulders and let out a silent roar. "Away!"
Walsh's body was jerked as the pod sped away from the Pillar of Autumn.