The Tru7h of the Matter
Posted By: Bloodlust<email@example.com>
Date: 23 September 2009, 3:17 pm
"Weather report is in, and it's not looking good," commented Edy, the UNSC Persephone's artificial intelligence, "there is an eastern cold front meeting up with a south-western warm front. Prime windstorm conditions. With gusts of up to seventy-five miles an hour you should expect to miss your LZ by at least eight hundred meters." The six ODSTs in the 8th Battalion of the 105th Division were preparing for drop from orbit on the frigate. Captain McMillan, CO of the ragtag squad remarked, "If the forerunners built this godforsaken ring in the middle of goddamn space, why the fuck didn't they add a weather control?"
Four "Oorahs" swiftly answered his inquiry. The one unresponsive soldier in the group was Private Francis Richards. He was relatively new to the ODSTs, as he had just earned his certification last week, and was now wondering if he had made the right choice. The poster had said "We Go Feet First Into Hell!" and now he was thinking it was not just an advertising campaign slogan. After his mother died in the Battle of Miridem when Richards was only thirteen, his father became addicted to hard liquor and never recovered. Because of his alcohol abuse, he was deemed an unfit guardian by social services, and Richards was left on his own. As a sixteen year old, he registered for the marines in an attempt to fill the parental void in his upbringing. After two years and countless hours of training, he was finally accepted. When he reached twenty, he saw the advertisement, a trio of speeding HEVs entering the atmosphere of a foreign planet, glowing reddish-orange with the extreme heat of re-entry. One month later, he was on the Persephone, nervous for his first ever jump into a war zone--Installation 04. His transcripts called him a Helljumper, but he certainly didn't feel like one.
Private Richards snapped back into reality as Capt. McMillan grabbed his M90 CAWS shotgun and the thirty second countdown began. The officer yelled into the comlink "Get ready boys, we'll be coming in pretty damn hot!" and the other five marines each took a BR55HB SR Battle Rifle and spare clips of ammunition into their SOEIV drop pods. Just as he had finished his sentence, the pneumatic hatch on the six HEVs hissed shut, sealing the marines' fates. The ODST unit shouted, "We go feet first!" in perfect unison as the deafening blast from the release mechanisms rocked the passengers' compartments. Richards was still not accustomed to how unsettling it was to actually launch from a frigate in orbit than in the computerized training exercises. Before they even reached the ring's outermost layer of atmosphere he was hurling into a NAVSPECWAR certified paper bag.
A few seconds later, Capt. McMillan's brusque voice came over the comlink, somewhat distorted by the electronic encryption equipment. "Our directive is to rally up with Epsilon squad, they're running low on support and the covies are riding up their asses!" Private Richards was recovering from his bout with nausea just as the drag chutes deployed. With decreasing velocity, the squad cleared the thick cloud cover, and saw what they were in for. Human and covenant vehicles and installations alike scattered the horizon, and weapons fire combined with lightning strikes created a light show like none of the soldiers had seen before.
" Private First Class Williams remarked.
"You got that right son," McMillan responded "holy shit indeed
The awe-inspiring sight had the marines taken aback, and they were distracted from the real threats below by the spectacular view. The drop pods went hurtling past a flock of high altitude banshee scouts, missing them by only a few meters. Their cover was blown. With the covenant aware of their approach, an interception team comprised of a dozen or so grunts and jackal snipers would no doubt be sent to meet the squad on the ground, so much for a straightforward landing. Only moments after the close call with the enemy assault aircraft, a bolt of lightning struck Private Richards' HEV. The powerful charge ran down the length of the drag chute and blew out the electronics located at its base, shorting them out. This caused the entire chute to detach and go careening into the pod nearest it, which housed Lt. Henry Davis. The metal chute was moving with such force that it punctured a watermelon size hole in the side of the Lieutenant's drop pod. This hole compromised the climate-controlled interior and caused all the oxygen inside the pod, including that in Lt. Davis's lungs to exit, leaving him both suffocating and in flames at the same time.
"Richards, Davis, report!" Capt. McMillan bellowed over the comlink, "Richards, for Christ's sake you're coming in too fast! Pull the backup chute!" but the only sound coming across the headset was the hiss of static as Davis's pod was engulfed with the inferno. "Damn it, we lost Davis! Everyone else ge--" but before his sentence was broadcasted, Private Richards' HEV hit terra firma, hard, knocking out the rest of the electronic equipment onboard.
Sometime later, Richards groggily awoke to the tinny clink of metal on metal. He was stunned to be alive; every inch of his body was throbbing in pain. Practically upside down in his HEV, he was staring out of the thick, rain streaked view port into the six beady black eyes of a Huragok. The alien engineer had at least fifteen threadlike cilia working together seamlessly. It had disassembled an outer section of the drop pod and was tinkering with the electronics inside. Twenty seconds passed, and the apathetic extraterrestrial finished its work. After replacing the last panel, it floated lazily away through the tall grass, and a soothing female voice came over the intercom; "All systems are go." Richards was aghast, he had heard accounts of the docile creatures from other marines, but to actually see and be assisted by one was a completely different experience. Sure enough, as he pulled the release mechanism for the hatch, an electronic alert was emitted from the speakers and the door popped open. Richards sprawled out onto the ground, and rolled over onto his back. The storm had lulled down to a drizzle, and he realized he had landed in what looked like a field, staring up at an odd flower.
There was something familiar about the plant, but he couldn't quite put his finger on it. He wiped the water droplets off of his visor, and strained to reach out and touch the petals, suddenly pang of pain ran through his chest; he had at least two broken ribs, maybe more. He managed to pick off a petal and suddenly realized why he was mystified, the plant looked like an ordinary tulip, but the petals were covered with tiny ones and zeros, as if there was binary programming etched into the delicate surface. This observation sent a surge of emotions and memories through him, and once again he felt like throwing up. His hand dropped back to the dirt as every muscle in his body went lax with disdain.
He remembered that he was on an alien halo structure in the middle of space, light-years from Earth with no friends or family to live for. Just as this thought of loneliness came flooding into his brain, he reached for his standard issue M6C/SOCOM pistol, and brought it to his temple. Loud clicking noises reverberated within his helmet as his hand shook hysterically with countless emotions. Every second that he thought about his life he came closer to pulling the trigger, especially his military career; how he was yelled at, ordered about, tossed around, and just generally treated like shit. He squeezed the trigger a fraction of a centimeter more.
Then, just as he was about to finish it all, something rustled in the shrubs nearby. He looked to them, gun still at his head, but could not make out any shape of a living thing. Suddenly he heard an animalistic screech and a grunt tore out of the undergrowth. The arthropod was splattered with a reddish-brown mix of blood from both humans and brutes, screaming something about a demon
hundreds dead, more to come, a true massacre.
The grunt was running straight towards Richards, apparently not seeing him lying on the ground, or just assuming he was dead, and out of months of training and practice, the marine unconsciously double tapped two perfect headshots from his M9C into the oddly shaped head of the alien. The alien's methane re-breather hissed as the bullets punctured through its protective casing. The hysterical alien died immediately, but its momentum carried it on, and it landed face down on top of the flower Richards had woken up to.
After the close call with the grunt, Richards looked around for his battle rifle, but when he found it, he saw that its barrel was brutally bowed from the impact. As he inspected his surroundings, he recognized how lucky he was. After the lightning struck his drop pod, it had gained speed quickly, but luckily its computer controlled breaking rockets engaged, somewhat slowing his descent. He had come down in the lush, foliage rich center of a horseshoe-like outcropping of rocks. He looked where he had landed, and traced a 32-foot long patch of dirt through which his pod had skidded, tearing up the grass and earth. He looked up past the ragged ground into the tree line, and saw the perfect hole that his HEV had punched out, snapping branches and a few trunks along its descent. Although shaken up after his ordeal, and in pain from his broken ribs and strained neck, Richards' head was straight, and he knew his priorities. He needed meet up with McMillan and the rest of his company, but more importantly he had to find other humans.
This daunting task turned out to be easier than he had thought it would be; he just walked in the opposite direction from which the grunt had come for no more than a thousand yards and came across a small base camp of marines. There was a scripted 'ε' on the tent, and it hit him, this was Epsilon. He had accomplished his orders, now he just had to check in and meet up with his squad.
As he walked into the group of tents, an officer walked up to him and introduced himself as Major Mark Hawkins. He informed Richards of their situation, and told him that they had heard no word from the rest of his squad; they were probably blown a kilometer or two off course by the windstorm. Epsilon was currently entrenched deep behind covenant lines with nowhere to run, desperately needing backup. They had eleven men in combat ready condition, with more than four times that injured or dead. It seemed almost hopeless.
Richards' head began to spin and he had to take a seat, after miraculously surviving a fall from orbit, he had walked right into a death trap, he couldn't believe his luck. Seeing his new soldier's visible grief, he attempted to bolster his confidence. He told him in his gristly voice, "One of my scouts reported that he spotted a soldier more than two meters tall in shiny-fucking green armor headed east about four kilometers away to help there. It's the Master Chief, John-117 or Joe-117, or whatever. Once he is finished there he was told to haul ass over here and help us. As of now we're just waiting out the storm. It'll all be over soon."
With this promise of aid, Richards' mood lifted, and the Major dismissed him to have his wounds tended to. In the medical tent, he was making small talk with the attending physician and other wounded marines. The doctor was enthusiastically telling him about his wife he had back in Perth. That is the kind of relationship that Richards longed for. He was telling him about how they met, and how they planned to start a family as soon as the war was over. Richards really got into the conversation, and even made up a story just to humor the other soldiers about how he had a wife and two little girls waiting for him back on Beta Gabriel. The pain meds the medic was giving him through his IV were really starting to kick in, and he was fading in and out of consciousness. Less than five minutes later, he fell asleep.
Nearly seven hours after he entered his drug induced coma, he was awoken in pitch dark to the sounds of screaming and gunfire. The covenant had ambushed their encampment in the middle of the night, and the only light sources in the area were muzzle flares and the ominous glow of plasma bolts, which could be seen glowing periodically through the canvas of the medical tent. He rolled off of his cot and hid under it until the commotion ran down. The firefight lasted nearly forty-five minutes, and after its conclusion he lifted up the bed sheet, which was draping down over the edge of the bed to the floor.
What he saw made his heart sink. The hoof like feet of two-dozen assorted grunts and brutes clacked all around him, forming a chorus of clicks and thuds. Then a brute chieftain in gold shining armor roared in a garbled language. Richards did not need to understand the foreign tongue to comprehend what he had said, as a group of three grunts began turning over cots in search of survivors. They started at the end of the tent opposite Richards, and worked swiftly.
After only three attempts they had located another hiding human. Richards knew who it was by his accent. "No, please God no!" it was Lieutenant Graves, from Alabama. Richards had talked with him earlier; he had three little boys with his first girl on the way. "Just let me live, all I want is to see my--" The grunts each fired a plasma bolt from their pistols into Lt. Graves's chest, and he stopped pleading immediately as his ribcage melted into his heart and lungs, leaving the majority of his torso nothing but a frothing crater.
The trio of aliens was only five beds away and was working quickly. Four, three, only two beds left. Richards reached down for his pistol, only to find that the medic removed his holster when he came in for treatment. He looked out and saw that thankfully it had only slid about a foot away after his makeshift nightstand had been knocked over in the battle. He reached out and took hold of it. The matte finish of the grip felt icy cold in his clammy hands. He held the gun to his temple, in the same spot he had just half a day earlier, only this time, there was no clicking. The pistol's barrel was pressed right up against his flesh.
As the grunts flipped over the last bed before his, Richards was thinking about his conversations with the other soldiers, he was thinking about their families, and the family that he longed for but never had, or would be given the chance to have. Six diminutive hands reached under the cot and grabbed hold of the frame, and just as they began to lift, exposing his hideaway, he pulled the trigger