Wake Up Dead
Posted By: Archangel_7<email@example.com>
Date: 4 July 2008, 3:49 am
Frost hung on the dead leaves, edging the brown surface with a thin, jagged rim of crystals. The light of the morning sun reflected brightly from the cold's handiwork. The effect gave the leaf an almost precious quality, although Corporal Willman knew there was nothing valuable about a dead leaf hanging from a once vibrant tree. Even now, in the midst of chaos, he found no beauty in the quiet solemnity of a world that would continue on, long after all the leaves on all the trees were gone. Although some might have found it a comforting thought, in his mind Willman knew he was the only one with a reasonable outlook. After all, even as someone who had seen so much death, he could not find comfort among the dead.
Corporal Willman had met this day with a grimace on his face. Today many good men had been stricken awake, screaming as their flesh burned away. This morning, like every morning before it, they had taken a gamble with their lives, and had finally paid the price.
A ball of plasma landed nearby, vaporizing the Non-Coms' tent and sending flecks of molten glass into the air. A small drop found its way onto the sleeve of Willman's coat. Wisps of smoke streamed up from the burning fabric. Would the they order him to run this time, or would they stand and fight? He found himself wondering that often. It didn't matter. The result would always be the same. He would need to run, or end up like the Non-Coms in the tent.
An alarm flared up. It came first from the Marines in their ramshackle tents, and then from the makeshift klaxons further on in the camp. Another mortar streamed from the sky, this time crashing beyond Willman's line of sight. Men scrambled, snatching clothes and weapons in their arms, scattering out among the canvas city. He snatched his rifle from next to the cold ashes of the fire and bolted upright, raising his rifle and pointing it meaninglessly into the sudden chaos. Would it still function? A night in the cold and frost couldn't have done it any good. But he didn't have time to worry about it. His first priority was saving himself.
Willman lowered his rifle and started sprinting into the forest, toward his fireteam's small cluster of tents. A scent resembling charred bacon wafted across the camp. Willman found the smell sickeningly appetizing.
He crashed through the brush, noting a faraway cry that he could scarcely make out as "Jackals!" The crack of rifle fire broke through the crisp morning air, lending the proceedings a familiar immediacy. Willman crashed into the familiar small clearing, seeing Private Ramirez and Corporal Starsky already picking shots at an unseen enemy.
A burst of green light forced the men to their stomachs, hoping that the rise of ground ahead would offer them some protection. Willman dove down beside them, raising his rifle and flicking the safety off in one fluid movement. Circles of a bright, whitish-blue flashed against the dark underbrush. Another stream of green light forced Willman's hands over his head. Starsky returned fire, slinging casings at Willman. Calloused flesh on the back of his hand began to burn. Was it the plasma or the hot brass?
"This is only a scouting party," Starsky said. "Five tangos holding position twenty meters off in the clearing. They're sighting out the camp for the artillery bombardment. Sending infantry into a bombardment zone ain't exactly the smartest thing to do, but I'll be damned if they aren't crazy enough for the job."
Willman grasped his rifle and pulled the trigger. Only then did he again wonder whether it was still operational, but the rifle coughed out a spatter of bullets regardless. He readjusted his aim, pointing the barrel toward the small slit on the inside of one Jackal's shield. He let loose another short burst, this time managing a lucky hit. The 7.62mm round smashed through the creature's spindly claw, spraying violet blood onto the cold white ground. Starsky and Ramirez continued firing on the approaching phalanx, only stopping to avoid another wave of plasma levelled in their direction. Willman continued shooting heedless of all danger. The only thought in his brain was to fire, and keep on firing. As far as he knew his rifle was the only thing keeping him alive. The entirety of his existence was consumed in the moment, the only feeling being the kick of the butt against his shoulder, the only sound being the crack as he pulled the trigger.
Another corpse fell to the ground, kicking mindlessly into the air as blood gushed from the hole in its throat. Two of them were left. Before the men could resume firing, however, the Jackals ceased fire. Stopping only to exchange meaningful glances, they bolted away, their bright shields bobbing among the tree trunks.
"You think we scared them off?" Ramirez asked, his voice trembling.
"No," Willman said, "I don't. I think we'd better start running."
It took a moment, but finally the other men had reached the same conclusion. They scrambled to their feet, slinging their rifles over their shoulders, and ran off into the line of trees. Willman kept at point, his boots flinging snow into the air as he ran. Puffs of mist streamed from his mouth as he continued, his breathing frantic, his fingers numb. His muscles screamed in pain, but he never once let up, knowing in his mind that the moment he did he would be in for a very rude awakening.
Orbs of plasma crashed behind them. The screams and splintering wood faded into one indistinct haze. Above it all, he could hear nothing but the jagged breaths rushing in and out of his body. The only thought in his brain was to run, and keep on running. As far as he knew, his feet were the only thing keeping him alive. His entire existence was consumed in the moment, the only feeling being the feeling of his feet kicking against the wet snow, the only sound being that of his own erratic breathing.
It was dawn again. In the night they had managed to gather enough men and armor to strike a counter-offensive on the Covenant position. The artillery was silent now, though the danger was not gone. But for now, the 402nd had returned to camp, and had taken to scavenging whatever supplies were left.
There, in the midst of the overturned camp, Willman sat, huddled on the shell of an overturned tree. Wisps of smoke filled the air as he puffed silently from a damp cigarette.
Frost hung on a dead hand, edging the brown flesh with a thin, jagged rim of crystals. The light of the morning sun reflected brightly from the cold's handiwork. The effect gave the hand an almost precious quality, although Corporal Willman knew there was nothing valuable about a dead hand hanging from a once vibrant man. Even now, in the midst of chaos, he found no beauty in the quiet solemnity of a world that would continue on, long after all the men in all the galaxy were gone. Although some might have found it a comforting thought, in his mind Willman knew he was the only one with a reasonable outlook. After all, even as someone who had seen so much death, he could not find comfort among the dead.
Private Ramirez had met this day with cold eyes and a look of terror forever stricken on his face. This morning, just like every one before it, he had taken a gamble, and he had finally paid the price. With every dawn that came, Willman knew he could be the one waking up in eternal terror. With every roll of the dice, he could be the one waking up dead.