Doing the Grunt-work by Dagorath
Doing the Grunt-work: First Part - The Ship
Date: 9 April 2005, 9:43 AM
Saphos and the rest of his regiment were slumped in their chairs, looking despondently at the large platefuls of thick, viscous yellow goo that lay in thick folds on their plates. The technological level of the Covenant might have advanced tenfold since its establishment, but the army kitchens still served the same old grunt-food from centuries ago: something they called a "Semi-liquid Starch Glutamate" but what the Grunts nicknamed "Monster Poo from Outer Space": as usual, the Grunts' imaginations had gotten the better of them.
But it was all that the kitchens had to offer, and it was their lot. With a collective sigh, the Grunts picked up their spoons and started picking at the mush. Saphos could taste both the disgusting tubers and the weak artificial flavours they had mixed in.
Halfway through his mush, something wet hit his skull above his earmuff. Putting his finger up, he touched it and smiled broadly. It was mush. And that only meant one thing.
Scooping some of his mush up (covered as it was with his saliva, which he couldn't help) he threw some at a Grunt a few seats to the left. After his cry of surprise, the whole regiment started hurling the stuff around. Their orange armour and respirators were soon covered with the stuff, making them look like little piles of custard.
Saphos mashed his whole bowl into another Grunt's face, but the other didn't respond. Turning around, he noticed that every Grunt was frozen, staring at something in the canteen doorway.
He turned slowly, shaking mush from his face to see clearer with his eyes. There was something large and blue in the doorway.
He raised his little hands to his eyes and brushed the rest of the goo off. What he saw made him know that he was in deep, deep trouble.
An enormous Elite (at least in his eyes) stood in the doorway, already in his armour, twin plasma rifles and four grenades slung on his belt. His small, dark eyes watched with disapproval and his mandibles twitched as Saphos tried to explain.
"We was....er....just tryin' tah...." He scratched his head, seeking inspiration. It came after almost a minute.
"We was tryin' tah....eat our food!" he cried with sudden glee and relief. Surely he would believe them? Everyone knew Grunts were messy.
Then again, maybe not that messy.
After his fumbled explanation, Saphos finally recognized who the Elite was. It was the Elite. Saphos had always referred to his commander with a capital H, i.e. His food, His orders, report to Him. Why he could never tell, but it was something to do with the fact that He always treated them better than the other Elites treated Grunts; that He actually cared for their welfare, that He always protected them in the fights. Saphos believed that it was only his non-brutality that prevented him from ascending the ranks very quickly.
Reminiscence over, Saphos stared at his commander again. He stared impassively back. The air actually seemed electric with tension, very rarely seen between a Grunt and an Elite. Usually the Elite just killed the Grunt on the spot, and applied for another one.
After staring at the floor for a minute, The Elite finally spoke.
"Come with me, all of you. We're starting for the surface."
Relieved that he hadn't received some kind of punishment or worse, Saphos followed the rest of the team down the corridor of the battle cruiser, clumsily trying to wipe the goo off his armour.
After a lot of running (The Elite was only walking, but the Grunts' short feet had to run to keep up) they arrived outside a tall door near the shuttle bay. Walking in, Saphos and the rest were confronted with a weapons specialist's dream: the long corridor inside was completely lined with every Covenant weapon available: plasma rifles, pistols, needlers, carbines, beam rifles, brute shots, energy swords and fuel rod guns.
"Pistols and needlers only", said The Elite.
There was a collective sigh from the Grunts as they picked up the same old weapons, while The Elite weighed a fuel rod gun in his hands appreciatively.
A few minutes later, they had all piled into a waiting Phantom, along with Jackals, Elites, Brutes and Drones: all the other races of the Covenant. Hunters were far too risky for this kind of operation.
The Grunts were endlessly optimistic. Having used the weapons they were now holding in their hands for every battle they had ever fought (and that was not many, because most Grunts were killed in the first charge. Blessed by The Elite's care for his troops and his own considerable cowardice, Saphos had survived a grand total of five battles, something which made him an object of admiration from the other Grunts.), the Grunts had concluded that they had a very high chance of winning, as they were so adept. They just couldn't figure out why all the other kinds of Covenant were so nervous, even the impassive Elites.
They still did not realise what was so serious about the whole operation until they crash-landed on the lush green planet beneath.
Doing the Grunt-work: Second Part - A Short Jog
Date: 11 May 2005, 12:15 PM
Sor the Jackal was staring at the sky, always on guard. Having gone renegade with a hundred of his fellows and some Brutes, his whole life had been one long, vigilant wait.
Why had he done it? In the beginning, everything had looked bright and hopeful. Having escaped the military life of High Charity and managed to hide on this deserted paradise, he thought he could finally do what he wanted to do. There was water, green grass, companionship....what more could he ask for?
They had found an abandoned Forerunner building deep within the jungle. It had been perfect: large enough that each could have his/her own space, small enough to guarantee safety within the pack. The group was mainly comprised of Jackals, but the Brutes did their bit with the clearing of the debris and posting guards around the installation. In the good days that followed, Sor had been able to appreciate the life in the jungle, the beauty of the sky, that primeval joy one had when one was in the great outdoors with not a care.
Their joy had been ruined three days ago. They had seen a Seraph make a cursory flight over their territory. It was obviously a scout.
In three short days, the renegades had been shaken out of their dormancy and into the state of highest alert. The Brutes and Jackals made regular patrols around the installation; in addition Shade turrets were mounted around the building with eager Jackals ready to shoot down any purple Covenant ships.
Sor swung round another 45¡ in his Shade. And then he saw it.
Two purple Phantoms were gliding down from space. They swept along smoothly, but suddenly blue sparks flew from the second Phantom. There were small explosions along its hull, and then while the first Phantom watched rather uncertainly, the second Phantom lost all control and plunged into the undergrowth. The first Phantom landed beside it, deep in the jungle.
It had finally come. His small frail body trembling wildly, Sor jumped off the Shade and ran to the nearby Jackal patrol which was rounding the corner. In his mind, there was only one thought.
I will find the bodies of the Covenant who crashed and throw them down a dark pit lined with spikes. They have stolen everything from me.
The Phantom smashed into the treetops like a purple flaming bolt from the heavens. All the passengers were thrown towards the nose of the transport. There were sounds of bones cracking and cries of pain, as well as screams of delight, all from the irrepressible Grunts.
The damaged transport finally came to a halt, having entrenched itself in the leafy forest floor.
Saphos and the rest piled out of the Phantom. Many of the Grunts nursed broken bones and/or bruises; Saphos himself was relatively unhurt, having only suffered a bruise when his arm collided with The Elite's hard thigh armour, no less.
They had emerged into a soft green paradise. The lead Elite, a stocky brown-armoured giant, stood before them.
"According to the pathfinder," he pointed to a luminous globe in his calloused hands, "the heretics' base should be due east of here. The other Phantom has landed nearby in a clearing. We will first move north to meet them before moving east."
He swept his gaze over the troops. A few Grunts had died from blows to the head during the crash, but the other races had suffered no casualties: only the Jackals had had some injuries amidst their number. He nodded: no one ever cared about Grunt casualties.
"Let's go," he said, and the whole troop jogged off into the undergrowth.
It was grueling for the Grunts: their height inhibited them as brambles that the Elites stepped over blocked them; roots that tripped the Brutes were a blow to the shin; what a Jackal might have shrug off were a hindrance to them.
Saphos talked through the whole march. In between his exhausted pants, struggling to hold on to his weapon, he let his imagination run wild and spun off story after story about his own exploits, embellishing so much that even he was embarrassed at its falsity. But the other Grunts loved it.
After half an hour of crashing through the undergrowth and general swearing, the contents of the crashed Phantom finally made it to where the other Phantom had landed. The Grunts, having completely exhausted themselves, flung themselves onto the ground, panting hard.
After a short break, they were off again, though at a slower pace as the other races were conserving their energy for the big fight when the reached the heretics' base. Two Shadow transports accompanied them, but as usual the Grunts had to run alongside, the seats having been reserved for the Elites and Brutes and Jackals.
The Elite, strangely, jogged lightly beside them, providing a commentary on how to handle needlers and pistols. Having finally realized that his Grunts' enormous casualties were largely due to pathetic aiming, they spent the entire journey practicing firing at trees and birds.
Saphos found that, in the end, he could actually aim better. Perhaps he was a faster learner; perhaps he just got repeated flukes. But he was the best shot in his team. Something to talk about on those long journeys.
With almost a tangible noise, the strike force appeared out of the forest. Before them lay a flat prairie, and smack bang in the middle was the Forerunner building.
The Brown Elite stood before them once more. His face looked even more menacing than normal. "Let's move in boys," he said.
As one man, the entire troop, even the Grunts (which had rehearsed it many times), cried: "For the Covenant!" and charged down the hill.
Doing the Grunt-work: Third Part - Assault
Date: 21 May 2005, 3:14 AM
"They're here!" cried Sor to the Jackal patrol coming round the corner. "The Covenant is here!"
An elder Jackal frowned. "What?" He frowned. "If you're lying - "
"Why would I lie about that? They're here, I tell you!"
The elder Jackal looked out, while the rest of the patrol stood by. The plains were hot and the heat haze affected vision but the blue trail of the crashed Phantom was clearly visible.
"I hoped I would never live to see this day," said the elder. He turned to the patrol. "Alert the colony! The Covenant is here!"
As one, the patrol ran off to notify the rest of the heretics, which was the Covenant's collective term for heretics, rebels and atheists alike. Sor was left all alone again. He could feel tears prickle his eyelids. Just when he had thought he had escaped them, they were here.
He was not alone. The elder Jackal put his gnarled hand on his shoulder. "You'll never have to do their grunt-work for them again, boy. Either we win or we fall. Those are the only two options."
Sor did not find it overly cheerful.
The Covenant troops charged down the hill, yelling various war cries as they pelted towards the Forerunner structure in a well-ordered formation. The Elites were on one ring, the Brutes on the other. The Jackals ran in the middle, swinging their shields, and the Grunts ran in a very disorderly crowd behind. The whole group strafed in a diagonal pattern, dodging the pink blasts from the heretics' beam rifles.
But it didn't work. Soon, the Grunts were utterly exhausted and even the Elites were finding it hard to sprint and shoot the heretics at the same time. They needed a change of tactic.
Retreating to the hoots of the heretics that carried on the wind, the strike team retreated to the cover of the forest. The Brown Elite, who had ordered the charge in the beginning, was unfazed and promptly presented his Plan B.
"You," he said, pointing at a few Elites and Brutes, seemingly oblivious of their ancient rivalry, "each pilot a Shadow each. The remainders sit in them or man the turret. Then circle the heretics' den while the rest of the team approaches the structure at a light jog. You should be able to distract them enough. Just remember to use the turret and shoot liberally, and strafe so they can't get a lock on you." He smiled self-satisfyingly. "Got it?"
There was a voice of dissension, and it came unexpectedly from The Elite. "That is ridiculous!" he cried, in a rare fit of temper. "The Shadows will get boarded or destroyed far too quickly. Even with the most advanced techniques and most accurate shooting, there is no way they can hold out until the main force arrives and still stay intact. Only a Demon can complete that kind of mission!"
The Brown Elite was livid. "You, a mere Elite Minor, dare challenge my authority?"
"Yes, I do! Your plan will never work!" He turned to the strike force, some of which were actually listening to him with interest, including the irrepressible Saphos, who, with the rest of The Elite's Grunt team, was listening rapturously, trying in vain to apply some peer pressure onto the rest of the strike team to listen. "Send one of the Ghosts back for the Phantom. It is heavily armoured and has powerful plasma cannons. Then we will all get on the Shadows and Ghosts. There might be a few Banshees back at the crashed Phantom as well. With all these vehicles, all Elites, Brutes, Jackals, and most of the Grunts can travel to the structure quickly."
There was a smattering of applause. The Elite smiled a bit shyly. He could see Saphos and the other Grunts clapping enthusiastically. Little fools. They probably understood ten percent of that.
"I will recommend you to the commander," said an aged Elite in red. "That is a good tactic. If it works I will have you promoted." He turned to the rest of the strike team. "Carry out his orders! Now!"
The enthusiastic Covenant soldiers ran off to do as he bid, including Saphos and the rest of The Elite's team. But if the little Grunt had looked back, however, he would have seen murder in the Brown Elite's eyes as he glared at The Elite.
Back at the Forerunner structure, all was chaos. The Jackals milled around, putting on armour and activating shields, while the Brutes got their rarely fired Brute shots and Brute plasma rifles and practiced forgotten techniques on them. Behind closed doors near the centre of the structure, a furious debate raged between the Brute and Jackal leaders.
"There are a total of about twenty Brutes here. We form two strike teams of ten. The Covenant forces number at about sixty, but they have much more powerful firepower and vehicles. How I see it is for all Jackals to take up defensive positions and the Brutes will slam into them in a pincer move when they get near." The main Brute, a Lieutenant back in his Covenant days, sat down, open to questions from the floor.
"We are in this together! The Jackals will aid the Brutes in the assault!" cried a Jackal, waving his pistol.
"At least thirty Jackals must stay on sniping duty," interjected another Jackal.
"I'm frightened," said whimpered Jackal.
"To hell with you weaklings! We did most of the work here! May the gods devour you!" cried an enormous Brute. "You lot have been nothing but hangers-on when - "
"Watch your language, you brute!" yelled a Jackal! "There's twenty of you and a hundred of us! I'll stick an energy sword in you one day!"
"Getting tough, huh, are we?" jeered another Brute. "You wanna fight?" He put his arms around another two of his fellows and bellowed.
"Let's not get this out of hand!" roared the Lieutenant Brute. "We're all friends here! Let us settle our differences afterwards. Why must brothers fight when the wolf is at the door?"
At his angry words, the audience quietened. He continued: "The Brutes will attack their Shadow transports. It is the job of fifty Jackals to follow us and give aid. You can be a shield for us to fall back on. The other fifty will man the turrets and snipe. Reserve ten of your best for preservation of our inmost chamber, where we keep - "
"We know what we keep there," said an old Jackal. "He is right. We should not settle disputes now: let us first take care of the Covenant. We outnumber them two to one!"
There was silence. Then gradually, applause broke out, ragged and not very enthusiastic. Hoots and jeers rang out, mainly from the Brutes.
The Lieutenant shouted for silence, and then said: "Nonetheless that is what we will do. Move it, you sluggards!"
One moment, there was nothing. The dry wind swept the ragged grass across the plain. The Forerunner structure fired yet another blue bolt into the pristine sky, like someone reaching for freedom. The next, two purple Shadows slid easily across the prairie, escorted by a few Ghosts and some whining Banshees. A small dark dot behind the vehicles showed the Grunts who had to run.
Saphos had actually managed to squeeze in between a few sweaty Jackals, and now he extended his small head as high as it would go and tried to taste the fresh wind. No time had he done an assault in such style. The previous times, he had been unceremoniously asked to charge in to an enemy infested area while the larger Covenant soldiers followed.
To him, war was all a game to him. There was always a childlike attitude about the Grunts. But it was hard to identify what really made them crack under the strain. They always joked, even if their dead comrades lay about them. Always cheerful, the Grunts ran into enemy dens and fired at will, until enough of them were killed that they got frightened. But it never seemed to make a very large impact on them if they saw fellow Grunts fall.
Saphos himself had a different view on such a matter. Unknown to most of the Covenant, the Grunts had a secret religious book, in which was described the heights to which the Grunts could reach if they banded together. However, any adherence to the vision, combined with the Grunts' natural stupidity, had simply branded the involved persons as heretics and they had promptly been exterminated. Saphos himself believed that one day, if they acted together, the Grunts could overthrow the Prophets' iron rule and establish their own empire. Before then, any losses were insignificant, compared to the great battle that will have to be fought to gain their independence.
In truth, Saphos cried when no one was listening: in lavatories, even in the dorms. He knew every single Grunt he saw die: Grunts actually had an amazing memory for names. He still thought about them when he was alone, but one had to move on. The Grunts, and especially Saphos, lived for today.
A smack on the chest from one of the Jackals nearby. Saphos jerked his head up to see that the Shadow had neared the Forerunner building and had now begun firing. The Shadow turret spat and glowed as the Elite controlling it fired at the turrets set upon the decks above them.
"Fire, you little bastard!" said one of the Jackals, bringing his own plasma pistol to bear.
Saphos, sighing lightly, picked up his needler, but he could find nothing to shoot in the chaos. The doors to the structure were carefully closed. Despite the serious mood of the day, he began to hum softly.
A loud bellow from the Brutes, and cries of "Heretics! Heretics!" as the two strike teams of Brutes with fifty Jackals emerged from the structure. They fired hard at the Shadows, and Saphos saw one of the Jackals next to him fall. He hurriedly scrambled away as another hit where he had just stood.
The Brutes, fueled by the steely desperation of despair, brought down one Banshee and two Ghosts, as well as many Grunts and Jackals, as well as a smattering of Elites and Brutes, before they were finally blasted to bits in a blaze of glory. The surviving Jackals, including the ones on the turrets and sniping, retreated into the interior of the structure. Saphos looked over the rest of the troop. The total was now less than fifty. He was happy to see, however, that The Elite had suffered no injuries and was currently swapping his depleted plasma rifle for a carbine.
The doors of the installation loomed up. The Shadows slowed, and then stopped. The Elite jumped lightly onto the grassy floor and said: "Call in the Phantom. We shall need its guns for this."
Over the hills, the undamaged Phantom swooped over and delivered powerful blasts into the door. Built though it was by the Forerunners, nothing could have survived that barrage, and it promptly smashed open, falling onto a few startled Jackals.
The strike team split up into small teams: Elites and Grunts, Jackals, Brutes and Jackals, and Elites.
Picking up his carbine, The Elite motioned to his Grunts. "Let's move in," he said.
Saphos ran gaily behind him, waving his needler. He had never had so much fun in his life.