Deployment - From Tulane
Posted By: CaptainRaspberry<firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date: 15 May 2009, 4:21 am
People say that they will always remember their first deployment, that somehow it was particularly memorable. I mean, yeah we were all basically giving up our lives, and that first step onto the battlefield is usually the first time it hits most people. But for me, I can't say that it was that big of a deal.
I remember it fine, but it wasn't important until the guy next to me died.
Before Tulane, I was a pretty unexceptional guy. I didn't have any particularly strong feelings towards the war; at college I knew guys who didn't want to fight against other sentient species like it was okay to kill humans but not aliens, and I knew guys who were only in school so they could be officers and run off to war the day after graduation. For me, it was a conflict that was hundreds of light-years away.
I went to college on Sigma Octanus IV, though I had actually been born on Earth and my parents were born on Troy. I studied literature, philosophy, classics; anything flowery, vague, and devoid of math. Grad school was in my future, or so I thought until I got two letters the summer after my senior year: a rejection letter from SOU Graduate Institute, and a draft notice from the UNSC Marine Corps.
The Pelican was shaking as it dropped through Tulane's atmosphere. There were several Marines jockeying for the only window in the whole bird, the one in the middle of the rear hatch. The closest ones clung to the cargo net that hung from above, not wanting to fall out when the hatch finally dropped, but everyone behind them just stood loosely, nearly losing their footing when the dropship hit an air pocket.
I just sat on one of the available seats, holding my launcher between my knees and mentally reciting anything I could think of: instructions, orders, prayers, grocery lists. I was a nervous wreck. As a draftee I'd had four weeks of training: two basic, one advanced infantry, and one heavy weapons. The volunteers got at least a month of advanced and then however long they needed for anything else. It just goes to show you that my father had always been right: as soon as they start a draft, volunteer.
Next to me sat another rocketeer, also bound for the same company, and across from us was a similar story. We were part of the major reinforcement of key bases across what had been designated as "the front," though zones of conflict existed all over the planet at that point. There were others in the dropship as well, and I remember them about as much as I remember anyone from that trip: a Marine writing a letter or a poem or something, one girl talking on a chatter, another obsessively cleaning his weapon like an Elite would see how shiny his Battle Rifle was and spare his life; there were some other weirdoes on that flight, including one twitchy guy with a couple of fire extinguishers strapped to his legs, but none really worth mentioning.
It was February 2549 when I was heading down to Tulane, and it would be December 2551 before I headed back up; I talked to my fellow rocketeers, idle conversation, for about five minutes before they both died horribly.
We talked about sports teams (I always backed the Trojan Horses, never mind that it had been over ten years since the fall), girls, and had just started on homes when our Pelican got hit. The dropship flying in formation next to us was hit directly by an anti-aircraft battery, fragmenting it. Shrapnel peppered our Pelican, tearing a hole through my neighbor's throat and the other man's brain, as well as giving less-fatal injuries to several of the other Marines inside.
As I tried to help stop the blood flow from coming out of my neighbor - still can't remember his name - I couldn't keep my eyes off the man across from me. There was a whole straight through his head, yet God wasn't merciful enough to take him. He just sat there, perfectly upright, and if you could ignore the gaping head wound and the nonsense that he babbled at us, he seemed completely fine. All the words he spoke were real words, not slurred at all, but they made no sense together.
I always thought it strange that I can't remember his name, but I can recall with perfectly clarity some of the things he said: "Flapjacks obliviously tunnel under gigantic stack," "Clumsy superhero actually skipped mushrooms," "Frog blast the vent core," stuff like that.
The man next to me died shortly afterwards, giving one final spasm before passing into an indignant death. I'm not sure if the other rocketeer actually ever died; he was taken off the Pelican on a stretcher by medics, still talking. The poet was dead, the girl was holding her severed hand screaming in some other language into the chatter clutched in its dismembered grip, and the cleaner was weeping over his ruined gun with no wounds to speak of.
When we finally landed, and the horde of soldiers on board were dragged, limped, or ran out of the bay, I found myself alone in the city of Botan. Alone except for the dozens of like-displaced Marines, standing around slack-jawed and trying to find their units. Botan was a hole: it had seen heavy, and I mean heavy fighting. The Covenant had chosen it as a base of operations, and the UNSC had disagreed. I'm talking Scarabs, that's how hard the battle was. Just a few days before my ship arrived in system, though, the Covies had been pushed out.
All I had with me was my launcher, my M7, one MRE (I was blissfully unaware of the true nature of rations), and a slip of paper with the following scrawled across it:
4Ba., 7Re., NCom 1-1
So I wandered around the staging area for about half an hour, trying to find other people with similar slips of paper. Just when I was about to give up hope, a wiry and slimy-looking guy walked up. Wiry because he was thin and tall, slimy because half his BDU was covered in purple gore. He smiled, but it was cruel, the kind of smile a man is likely to give you before gutting you, or delivering a particularly vicious your-mom joke.
He sniffed. "You Private Holiday?"
I took notice of the chevrons on his sleeve. "Yes sir, sergeant. Private First-Class Walter Holiday."
Slowly he looked me over. "Just get outta boot?"
"Uh, yeah," I said. "On Reach."
He thumbed his boonie hat up. "Shit," he said. "A limp-dick conscript?" His eyes settled on my launcher. "Guess you're one of our new Wraith-hookers. Where are the others?"
"Two other rockets were comin' in with you. Where are they, you get separated?"
I had an overwhelming urge to scratch my head right then, but stopped myself. "No sir, they were killed on our way in. The Pelican next to ours took a direct hit and the shrapnel..."
Suddenly the sergeant's face was all rage. "Fuck me! Are you serious?"
Two other Marines came up behind him. "Problem, sarge?"
He jammed his thumb at me. "This dick says our other two rockets got hit on the way down, he's the only one left." They looked at me, then looked at him as if asking, "So what?" "He's fucking green, look at 'im!"
I tried to find other things to look at, but one of the Marines just shrugged. "Sarge, convoy's moving. We have to get on if we want to make it to Six-Sierra." The sergeant scowled but turned and walked away, muttering something I didn't understand. I think he might have been from Coral, judging by his outward demeanor, but I couldn't tell. I fell into step behind him and one of the other two soldiers settled in beside me.
"What's your name, rook?"
"Uh, Holiday. Walter."
"Welcome to first squad, Holiday," he said, extending his hand. "I'm Shaun McClure." He was a corporal.
The convoy was bound for Itana, where it would set up camp against a mounting Covenant force. All the vets said that it was going to turn into a hell-hole -- how right they were -- but fortunately my stop was elsewhere.
I'd never seen so much rolling hardware before. At the beginning and end of the column were massive M312 HRV transports, called Elephants, decked out with all the trappings of a ten-ton war machine. Between were all sorts of Warthogs, from the anti-air model to the caged troop transport, the latter of which I was riding in with some other members of my squad: two experienced soldiers, Adam Valenzuela and Myles Burnett, and up front in the passenger seat was a fellow rookie by the name of Man Hong Hendrix. The sergeant was up ahead in another 'Hog, and the others, including McClure, were behind us somewhere.
Valenzuela was smoking a cigarette and flicked the spent butt at Hendrix's head. "What kind of name is Man Hong anyway?"
"I told you," he shouted over his shoulder, "it's Chinese-Harmony!"
"Hey, Harmony?" Burnett looked up from his book. "No shit, I studied at Roger Young University!"
Hendrix nodded. "Yeah, my brother went there. Class of Forty-Eight?"
"No, just spent a year there. I'm actually from --" There was suddenly an unearthly screeching noise in the air, and I looked up just in time to see an oblong, winged shape flash by overhead. I barely had time to realize it was a Covenant flyer before there was a burst of heat and the driver screamed and slumped over the side.
"Shit!" Hendrix reached over and grabbed the wheel.
Valenzuela unslung his MA5B and pointed it up, scanning for the attackers. I was fumbling with my launcher. "Holiday, get that shit up! Fuck! Where are our Hornets?" He keyed his radio. "Sarge! What the hell is going on?! Where's our air support?"
"Fuck if I know!" The radio was full of static. "Just start shooting, we should make it out of here alive! And tell the rocket to make his ass useful!"
Burnett was loading his M7. "Rook, you got that launcher ready yet?"
"I think so!" I had never fired it in a combat situation before. I was trying to remember what to do, but all I could think of was, point at target, aim away from face. I raised it, put the only blur I could see in my sights, pulled the trigger, and forgot to lead my target. My rocket flew off into the sky, doing nothing but alerting the pilot to the imminent danger.
Fortunately, I wasn't the only one who wanted this thing dead. Small-arms and LAAG fire cut into its hull, gashing holes and rupturing whatever alien device it used to stay afloat. There was a loud whine and accompanying flash just before the Banshee nosed into the ground and went up in an inferno of blue fire and dirt.
There were a couple more strafing runs made by the others, blasting away with their Fuel Rod Cannons, before we drove them off. The convoy kept rolling and eventually reached our destination: firebase Bravo Orca Six Sierra. As we rolled up, we saw a group of soldiers standing around the entrance and watching us pass. When our Warthogs split apart from the group and approached the gate they stepped back and cheered. Hendrix was driving our 'Hog and Valenzuela had moved up to the front. When we came to a stop I hopped out the back, a few Marines patting me on the back.
"Welcome to the Boss," they said. "Hard ride, huh?"
"Yeah," Burnett said as he slid from his own seat. "Our Hornets bailed on us and we got chewed up by a couple of Banshees." He glanced back at the other 'Hog, a troop carrier, and I realized what was wrong.
"Where's the sarge?"
McClure was climbing out of the other 'Hog. "I don't know, I lost contact with him during the attack. Does anybody know what part of the convoy he was in?"
We all exchanged looks. Nobody said a word. That day we met Captain Kendrick Graves, our platoon CO, as he promoted McClure to sergeant-in-command of first squad and shook my hand for my part in fending off the attack. Not for success, he said, but for effort.
Over the next two years, I learned that's basically how this planet kept score.