The Way It Is
Posted By: CaptainRaspberry<firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date: 25 September 2012, 6:44 pm
For a moment, Vanessa forgets where she is. The glittering in the dark air are stars, hundreds of light-years away, not the glowing embers of what used to be a human being. They are stained red because that's just the way this world is, red above the clouds. Every light is the color of human blood.
That's just the way it is...
The parade ground was packed full. Despite the hundreds there, everyone looked the same.
Menacing drill instructors walked between the ranks. Their helmets were unmirrored, eyes full of contempt. Vanessa and the others met their gaze fearlessly; they'd all been through basic, none of them were green. Each had stared death in the face, and it was an ugly, squid-like face.
"You've each been invited," said a voice at the front, "but that doesn't mean you'll each get a place. Believe it or not, ladies, there are a thousand candidates but only a hundred drop pods."
Vanessa laughed. "Ladies" was meant to rile up the male candidates, but women like her only felt empowered. The drill instructor closest to her spun around, grabbed her shoulder, and got right in her face.
"Something funny, Candidate Larson?"
She answered by putting him squarely on his back and laughing. Her might versus his bulky, heavy armor. That's the way it was.
She wouldn't lose.
Sound slowly returns, a screaming from the distance. It is screaming, actually. She picks herself up, feels for injuries. No, she's okay, but her helmet's been thrown elsewhere by the blast. For a moment she's thankful to be fighting aliens with superior technology: plasma mortars atomize people, but there's very little overpressure. It's easy enough to survive the shockwave if you can dive clear.
Burning embers surround her, peppered here and there by composite and bone too stubborn to burn. Somewhere inside her there's a little girl, disgusted and crying and wanting to vomit. The same little girl that wanted to be a cellist, had worked hard through school to get into a university. The same little girl that had given up when she got two letters in the mail: a rejection from the New Alexandria College for the Arts, and her draft notice.
But now there's a special forces soldier, last woman standing among the ashes that had been her squad leader, and a tank that needs killing.
It was the unspoken terror of being a woman in the military, serving on the front lines. In basic and during her time in the infantry, sure, there had been harrassment. Vanessa was used to it, and besides, they were just words. They'd come through hell together and were like family.
The man who came for her in the night wasn't. To become an Orbital Drop Shock Trooper you were pulled from your old unit and left among strangers. They were all tough, the right kind of person for special forces, but they were anxious and angry, too. Not everyone could make it.
Her assailant was slipping in scores. He'd fought both beside and against her, enough to see that she was going to make it. He was angry, all right.
Vanessa was a light sleeper, so when she first felt his hand on her, she was awake and alert. He tried to cover her mouth but she bit him, hard enough that she tasted copper on her lips. A tazer in his hand crackled, just quiet enough to avoid waking anybody else.
That was his fatal mistake. He'd come equipped for non-lethality in a situation where his target was all too willing to kill in defense.
If their struggle didn't wake anybody up, his screaming sure did, before it was cut off in a wet gurgle. The MPs came, confiscated her knife, and took her into custody. An inquest was called. Evidence was brought forward. In just days the homicide was ruled justified and she was returned to training.
She wanted the kill reflected on her scores, but she didn't make a big deal out of it. It might make some people squeamish.
The rocket launcher is close, but as she starts crawling for it green bolts stitch up the ground between it and her hand. A Grunt is running towards her, unloading its plasma pistol. She goes for her sidearm, but it was torn loose by the blast, too.
It seems to think she's wounded, so it's not careful about getting too close. Once it's in range she lunges, pulling the knife from her boot. She isn't as familiar with its anatomy as she is with a rapist's, so she sticks to stabbing it a bunch around its unarmored head and neck. The Grunt squeals in pain and fear, but she drags it down, still working the blade.
The knife gets caught and breaks, losing half its length in the creature's armor, but it's already dead. Just cerebral twitching, nerve impulses checking the lights before they go.
But now the tank's noticed her and is turning to fire. She dives for the launcher.
There was no ceremony for the graduates of ODST training. They were given dress whites with all new unit insignia, but that went straight into storage. What Vanessa had waited for wasn't a patch or a medal, but the feeling of having come through. She was the best now, and she would only fight beside the best.
She wore her new armor with pride. When called to attention, she stood straighter than she ever thought was possible. It was her squad leader coming into the briefing room with a lieutenant.
"At ease," said the lieutenant. "A few days ago, the Covenant hit in the Leonis Minoris system. It's home to three colonies: Shir, Simha, and Artan. The Covies are just closing in from the system's edge, glassing them as they come across them. The Navy's got a plan to defend the colonists at Artan, the furthest one out from the enemy advance. They'll set up pickets and some orbital defense stations there to allow colonists evacuating from the other planets a place to fall back to.
"That'll take time, however, which you'll be buying at wholesale price. We're deploying stalling assets to both Shir and Simha, and your team will go to Shir." He licked his lips. "I won't lie. These aren't good odds you're dropping into, but I figure if anyone can stop these bastards cold it's the Helljumpers."
She joined in the chorus of oorahs. Her squad leader looked uncomfortable, but Vanessa paid it no mind. Odds of survival meant nothing to an ODST. They were the best. She'd meet her enemy head-on and kill them. Her own life was a moot point.
As the mortar swings around, Vanessa fires. The rocket hits the tank in its armor, making it wobble on its anti-gravity field. The magazine cycles the second and final rocket into the firing chamber. She sights and fires.
The rocket blows a hole in the side of the tank, destroying whatever systems it needed in order to stay running. With a whine it falls to the ground, flat on its bottom. The mortar swivels on some last reserve of power and then grinds to a halt.
She drops the empty launcher and breathes. Job well done, she tells herself.
It's as she turns to search for a weapon before rejoining her platoon that she hears the knocking. A hatch on the tank is forced backwards and a clawed, four-fingered hand grabs the lip, pulling eight-and-a-half feet of snarling muscle out of the cockpit. The Elite wears crimson armor, spattered here and there with violet blood currently leaking out of its mandibled face.
It sees her and roars. An energy sword flares to life in its grasp and a thin film of energy snaps over its body.
Vanessa considers her options. There's a broken knife and an empty rocket launcher at her feet. Nobody would blame her for running; she accomplished her mission, stopped the armor dead in its tracks. If the Elite chases her, she might be able to find another squad before she's overtaken, and they can kill it.
No. She reaches for the broken knife. The Elite roars again and leaps off the tank towards her.
She laughs. She can't lose. That's the way it is.