Waking the Dead (part eight): Dead by Dawn
Posted By: Chuckles
Date: 30 December 2005, 12:11 am
Waking the Dead (part eight): Dead by Dawn
The first complete skeleton was found outside of Gaza in April of 2263; and just like that, billions of history books became obsolete. Less than a month later in the same area, archaeologists unearthed a massive ancient tomb, its contents confirming once and for all something that had been taught in Sunday school for hundreds of years: giants were no fairytale.
Aside from gloating theologians and euphoric scientists, however, this revelation, though exciting, was purely academic. Over two thousand giant skeletons were thoroughly researched and exhaustively catalogued. But as the years passed, the generation that witnessed the discovery passed with them, and giants became as passé and familiar as dinosaurs.
And then, in 2525, the Covenant appeared and ONI geneticists began looking to our ancient past with envy. Within the year they were scouring medical records for carriers of a recessive gene consistent with the DNA from the giant bones. But, as is often the case in times of crisis, they were in too much of a hurry and thus made a crucial mistake. ONI rushed forward carelessly when they should have been looking backward carefully; towards the past and two thousand skeletons that spoke a tale of caution to unhearing ears.
Back in 2263, scientists were disappointed that the giant skeletons gave no clue towards their origin—at least, no clue that a scientist would willingly follow. The earlier skeletons, which there were much fewer of, were different from the latter ones in ways that were striking, and even a bit disturbing. The younger skeletons had the teeth and jaws of an omnivore, and save for the size, looked like those of normal men. The more ancient ones, however, were far different. They had teeth like those of a lion—only much larger. Their lower jaws were slightly elongated and connected to the skull by a simple hinge; giving them none of the side-to-side mobility needed to grind vegetation. They were the teeth and jaws of a pure carnivore; of a predator.
Of a monster.
Many theologians believed that Goliath and others that the Bible refers to as the Sons of Anak were likely part of the latter, more "normal" group of giants. Many of these same scholars also believed that scripture made reference to the early, more predatory group of giants by a different name. In many if not most Bibles, the word is either left un-translated, or defined simply as "giant"—but that is not what it means. It is a simple word that explains all that man ever need know about these terrible, ancient creatures.
It is the Hebrew word nephilim, which translates into English as the fallen.
It was only a few minutes before dawn, but darkness still clung to Seleucia, concealing its decay like a shroud draped over a rotting corpse. For the first time in many months the din of constant activity was absent, replaced by a silence that, for this troubled city, was both sweet and strange. If, however, any of its harried inhabitants wanted to step outside and savor the rare confluence of peace, they would need to hurry. A confrontation in one of the city's neglected parks was about to reach critical mass.
Peace wouldn't live to see sunrise.
Save for the different color armor, Caleb and Simjanes looked like mirror images: each held a pistol in an outstretched arm, aimed at the other one's head. Caleb spoke to Chuckles over his COM, his tone belying the escalating situation.
"I found MiNeS, but Simjanes was in the Prowler. What do I do?" Chuckles' reply was immediate.
"Run! Run now, or he will kill you!"
Simjanes began to move towards MiNeS; MiNeS started to walk sideways towards Caleb, and Caleb had to think fast. If he followed Chuckles' order, MiNeS, who was not wearing his MJOLNIR armor, would almost certainly die. On the other hand, Simjanes' skills were legendary. If Caleb stood his ground it would cost him his life—but it would at least buy MiNeS a little time.
"Better get here fast, Chuck. I'll hold him off as long as I can. Out." He closed the channel before Chuckles could reply: this was no time for a debate over the chain of command. Sensing that the lid was about to blow, MiNeS ran the final few steps and stood behind his armored friend. Simjanes stopped about five meters if front of them and spoke with all the emotion of a computer.
"This is your last chance, Caleb. Get out of my way and I'll let you live."
The young Spartan shook his head. "No, Chuckles will be here in a couple of minutes and I'm going to make sure you're still here to meet him."
"I might still be here to meet him, Caleb, but you won't. You'll be dead." Considering that the kid was little more than a rookie, Simjanes expected him to fight defensively and die quickly. But he was greatly mistaken. Caleb had already accepted the fact that saving MiNeS would cost him his life—and few things in this universe are as dangerous as a Spartan with nothing to lose.
Stepping quickly sideways, Simjanes fired three quick shots, but each bullet missed as Caleb, in a bold and unexpected move, somersaulted through the air, catching Sim off guard and slamming a MJOLNIR boot into his chest. The legendary Spartan flew backwards and hit the ground with a thud.
Looking up from the ground just as Caleb began to charge and his mission objective started to escape, Simjanes faced a dilemma. He could not let MiNeS get away, but shooting him was out of the question, since he could not risk killing the young Spartan before he had questioned him at length. He had only one option. Still lying on his back, he grabbed his pistol by the barrel and threw it with inhuman skill, hitting MiNeS in the head; knocking him out cold.
Caleb took his eyes off his opponent just long enough to follow the throw, but that was all the time Simjanes needed. He leapt to his feet and palmed his combat knife. It was his turn to charge.
Spinner around, the young Spartan wanted to fire, but Simjanes was already too close. Death's blade shot forward and Caleb stepped backward, knocking it clear with his pistol less than a centimeter from his throat. Death spun, slashed again, and again met the steel of the gun. The knife work was extremely quick and precise, and the fact that he had been able to repel both attacks filled Caleb with confidence. But as many a dead men could have told him, Simjanes often toyed with opponents at the beginning of a fight. Whether it was to measure the enemy's skill before attacking in earnest or merely to fill them with false confidence, not even the dead knew for sure. But one thing was certain: when the toying stopped the killing began. Beneath his dull white helmet, Simjanes smiled.
In a sudden explosion of speed and skill like Caleb had never seen, Simjanes attacked once more; his arms, hands and weapon dissolving into a single, lethal blur. Reacting with quickness he did not know he possessed, the young Spartan blocked the first few jabs before the gun flew from his hand and clanked to the ground.
Death was now so close that he could smell its stench, and every instinct cried out for him to run, to get out, to live to fight another day. But he was not listening to those voices. No, he remembered what he had vowed just moments ago, before the fight had begun. He was not here to win or even to survive. He was here for MiNeS; he was here to die.
Suddenly, with Death just inches from his face, Caleb stopped, lowered his head and ran straight into it—and for the second and final time in the fight, Simjanes was caught off guard. His knife hand slammed into Caleb's MJOLNIR helmet—which had appeared seemingly out of nowhere—and the weapon slipped from his grasping fingers. The young Spartan's head collided with Sim's chest, knocking him back on his heels. Simjanes tried to regain his balance, but Caleb struck too soon, smashing a gauntleted fist into the side of his head so hard that he almost blacked out. Pulling out his own knife, the young Spartan placed both hands on the handle and plunged it towards his opponents' neck with all his remaining strength.
Simjanes' foot flashed forward with insane speed, kicking the knife out of Caleb's hands. Whirling around in rage, he kicked again, striking the center of the young Spartan's chest so hard that he flew through the air like a rag doll in a storm and crashed headfirst into a tree.
Everything became peaceful and quiet for Caleb: no worries, no emergencies and no pain. Something grabbed him under the arms and yanked him upright; and as he moved the world around him smeared like wet paint. Slowly, things seemed to come back into focus and he saw something white standing in front of him. The white thing suddenly smeared and Caleb heard a flurry of muffled thumps. His MJOLNIR armor began to press hard against his chest and lower abdomen, and he felt a slight, distant pain. The world smeared again as Caleb's legs gave way and he fell to his knees.
More thumps, more pressure and it seemed that his lower back all but came out the other side of his suit. He tried to look down and see what was happening, but everything began turning black, and he could no longer tell where one thing ended and another began. Cool, refreshing air suddenly hit his face and it felt so good that he forgot about how weird his armor was feeling. He even forgot that the world had been painted black. From now on he would wear that stuffy helmet less and enjoy life more. How long had it been since he had felt this peaceful? Too long. Thoughts began to melt into the same dark paint that coated the world, and Caleb decided he was far too tired to think. Cold blackness poured into his mind, pulling him slowly into its permanent embrace. There was no life in it: only peace. Soon he would have no more cares and no more pain. It was only a matter of time.
When Simjanes had finally ended the savage beating, the young Spartan's armor looked like a crushed can and the tree he'd been propped against was nearly uprooted. Caleb swayed forward and back like a drunk and then fell to his knees; smacking his bloody helmet into Simjanes' leg and leaving a red smear.
"Careful kid, these suits are hard to clean." A merciless hand yanked Caleb off the ground and removed his battered helmet. Glassy, unfocused eyes darted this way and that; looking at everything and seeing nothing. Simjanes' chuckled. "Still alive? I'm impressed." One of the combat knives lay in the grass a couple meters away. Dragging Caleb along, he walked over, snatched it off the ground and placed it's razor edge against the young Spartan's throat—and froze as a familiar sound grew loud in his ears. Suddenly a Pelican cleared the nearest building at terrific speed and roared into the park like a comet. Before the ship even touched the ground, the ramp fell open and a huge figure jumped out, carrying a massive shotgun.
The Clown had come.
Somewhere deep in his twisted brain, Simjanes acknowledged a measure of defeat. Caleb's only goal had been to keep him in the park until Chuckles arrived and he had done just that. To make matters worse, Sim was armed with only a combat knife and had no time to locate his pistol. The young Spartan had, however, made one crucial mistake: he had stayed alive too long.
Jarred from their sleep by the thundering engines, people living in nearby buildings began peeking out windows and spilling into the streets to see what was happening. As the crowds neared the park, eyes went wide and mouths dropped open. They'd all seen Spartans during the UNSC's propaganda blitz, but that was on a video screen—this was in person. Supposedly these mysterious super-soldiers were almost single-handedly turning the tide of the war. What was about to take place under the haunting yellow glow of the park lights, however, was not a battle against the Covenant, but rather an old fashioned show down—and from the looks of things, it was going to be good.
Ignoring everything but the two figures standing near the tree, Chuckles lifted the six-gauge cannon to firing position and walked slowly across the grass. At first he was relieved to see that Caleb was still alive, but as he came nearer and saw the full extent of the damage, a lump formed in his throat. Blood streaked down the young Spartan's sleepy face like tiny red rivers and the eyes—the eyes told the rest of the story. The kid was fading fast. More than anything, Chuckles wanted to pull the trigger and blow Simjanes' head off, but the white-armored demon had placed himself directly behind Caleb, making the shot impossible. Coward. The Clown stopped about five meters in front of them and gestured towards the young Spartan with a slight dip of the shotgun.
"Get a little carried away, Sim?" His voice was pure poison. "I've gotta hand it to you; you're Hell on wheels against rookies and little girls."
"At least I don't leave my partners alone and overmatched. Did you send him to soften me up a little? I'm a bit surprised to see you here at all. I sort of figured you'd cut and run like you did the night I killed Lexicus." Time to twist the knife. "It's strange: you're never around when your partners are getting slaughtered. What was it this time? You have a girlfriend on this planet or something? I guess it doesn't matter whether they live or die, just so long as you get away."
The shotgun almost broke in Chuckles' grip. "Drop the knife and set the kid down now!" Simjanes laughed.
"Or what? You can't kill me without blasting a hole in Caleb."
Chuckles replied in a voice that chilled the air. "He's as good as dead anyway, and like you said; I don't really care if he lives or dies. Drop the weapon and back away!" The crowd around them, which now numbered in the hundreds, fell silent. This was better than a movie.
"I don't think so. If you had the resolve to do something like that, I'd be dead already. Here's my deal—and I'll only offer it once. Toss that shotgun into the bushes and pull out your knife. You do that and I'll let the kid go. If you don't, I'll slit his throat and take my chances." Pulling Caleb even closer, Simjanes pressed the blade hard into his neck. "I'll give you ten seconds to decide."
A dark red sky now loomed overhead and somewhere in the city a clock began striking five in the morning. Dawn was nearly upon them. But as precious seconds ticked away, Neither Spartan flinched. Seven . . . eight . . . nine . . .
Moving so fast that the entire crowd jumped, Chuckles tossed the shotgun and palmed his knife. Simjanes leapt forward like a spirit, attacking the Clown as he had attacked Caleb earlier; spinning and slashing faster than the eye can follow. In all his years as a soldier, Sim had never met his equal with a knife.
But he had never fought Chuckles.
Fueled by a bottomless rage, the Clown sprung to life, matching Sim blow for blow and pushing his surprised foe backwards. As their knives clanged together like high-pitched thunder, Simjanes pulled out every trick he knew in an effort to turn the tide. But Chuckles advanced with the relentless fury of a hurricane, crashing into his enemy with unstoppable power and hitting harder with each successive blow. Sim felt his back bump into something and realized too late that he had backed straight into the Prowler. He was literally against the wall—and Chuckles didn't even slow down. Simjanes jabbed desperately, but the Clown swatted the knife from his hand and sent it flying into the predawn darkness.
Chuckles lifted his blade.
Simjanes lifted his arms.
The Crowd lifted a cheer.
They didn't know that Sim had slaughtered Chuckles' lifelong friend Lexicus. They didn't know that he had broken the arm of five year-old Ellen Cutlass. They didn't even know that he had beaten Caleb so viciously that the young Spartan lay dying in the grass. They didn't know . . . but Chuckles did, and as he lowered his knife for the killing stroke, all of his anger came down with it.
At the last possible instant, Simjanes spun sideways and the blade struck the Prowler's hull and snapped off at the hilt. Before Chuckles even realized what had happened, an armored uppercut smashed into his chin so hard that he flew backwards three meters and landed on his back with a thud.
Chuckles tried to stand to his feet, but his limbs refused to obey. Something slammed painfully into his side and sent him flying across the park. Again, he tried to move, but he no longer had control.
"You know," Simjanes laughed as he gestured to the crowd surrounding them, "this really isn't fair to the paying customers." He began to walk slowly towards the fallen Spartan. "That thing with the knives was pretty good, but I never figured you for a glass jaw. Too bad they weren't here to see me fight the kid. Now that was entertainment—especially the ending when I beat his organs into soup." A tingling sensation went through Chuckles body like electricity and once again he was its master. He slowly stood to his feet.
"I think you're right, Sim; it just ain't fair." He began to walk forward. "Come on. Let's give the people their money's worth." Odds were given and money changed hands while the two unarmed behemoths neared each other. As the system's star threatened to peek over the horizon and illuminate the filthy city of Seleucia, both Spartans knew that, one way or another, this was the end. One of them would walk away from this fight; one of them would be dead by dawn. As to who the winner would be, nobody knew for sure—but the crowd was giving even money.
The two Spartans met in the middle of the park and fought toe-to-toe; swinging, ducking and blocking like prizefighters from Mount Olympus. Neither of them backed away and neither of them advanced, but both leaned in, absorbing and dishing out punishment that would have killed a normal man many times over. Amidst the flurry of punches, the Clown suddenly landed a vicious left, and the crowd gasped as Simjanes head snapped backward and—for only a moment—the Spartan froze. Chuckles' huge right fist blurred forward, smashing through Simjanes' face-shield and popping his nose like a ripe tomato. Sim staggered backward, tried to regain his balance, and finally dropped to the ground.
The crowd watched breathlessly as the huge Spartan dug his big shotgun out of the bushes and then returned to his white armored foe. He removed the broken helmet and then spoke in a voice that caused those standing nearest to shudder.
"Open your mouth." Blood bubbling from his broken nose, Simjanes smiled in defiance of the order. Chuckles grunted. "Have it your way." Without warning, he plunged the six-gauge cannon into Sim's face, pulverizing lips and shattering teeth as he forced it deep into the Spartan's mouth. By the time the Clown finished, Simjanes' smile was halfway down his throat. "You should've stuck to five year-olds and rookies." He pulled the trigger, the gun thundered and his enemy was no more. Chuckles pulled off his helmet and spat on the corpse.
The crowd cheered.
Chuckles turned around and saw MiNeS kneeling over Caleb. Dawn's first light slid between office buildings and apartments, illuminating the patch of ground where the young Spartan lay. Looking up at the Clown with tear-filled eyes, MiNeS shook his head sadly.
The crowd began settling their bets.
A horrible look came over Chuckles face as walked over to his fallen partner and knelt down. MiNeS looked at the older Spartan and tried to speak, but his mouth refused to work. He wanted to say that he had been friends with Caleb since he was six years old; that no two brothers had ever been closer than they had been; that ONI had already taken so much from him that he didn't know if he could bear another loss. In the end, however, he managed only an anguished, wordless stare. But Chuckles understood the look more clearly than any spoken words. He too had lost his best friend; he too had stood by helplessly as ONI snuck in and snatched his soul. He knew that some things couldn't be put into words without being shrunk down and lessened. Some feelings that are far too large and expansive to be forced into the confines of language can be easily, if painfully, expressed in an anguished look.
But this was not the work of some impersonal agency, and MiNeS knew it. His father's disappearance, the killing of Ian and Palatov and now the death of his best friend—all of it was Ackerson's doing, just as sure as if the Colonel had done the killing himself. A once happy and successful family had been torn to pieces because of one man's obsession—and that man was going to pay. Rage quickly replaced anguish and looking again at Chuckles, MiNeS said it all in four words.
"I need my armor."
Seven Days Later . . .
The situation had come to its bloody conclusion over and hour before, but they could still feel the cold immediacy of slaughter. Even though the room was the size of a high school gymnasium, the white walls and floor had been almost completely transformed to red. And then there were the bodies—or what was left of them. Shielding his nose with an empty hand, Colonel James Ackerson turned to Major Samuel Cousins Jr. and tried to speak without choking on the stench.
"When are they going to start cleaning this up?" The startling reply came in a tired monotone.
"Sir, they've been cleaning this room for the better part of an hour."
Ackerson sighed. Nothing was going right anymore. "Okay, what happened?"
"About halfway through its daily tests, 005 broke free of its restraints. Three scientists and one soldier managed to escape, but the rest of them . . . " Cousins looked across the room and shook his head sadly. "We lost eleven men in all." Ackerson winced. All sentimentality aside, that was a lot of personnel to lose in a single incident.
"What, was it provoked?"
"No," Sam said shaking his head, "As far as we can tell, it was hungry."
The Colonel looked at him with genuine horror. "Hungry?"
"It consumed nearly half of the men it killed. There is video of the incident, although I do not recommend you view it." After thinking for a moment, Ackerson's face brightened slightly.
"Practically speaking, this makes the giants quite a psychological threat. This could actually work to our benefit, in the long run I mean."
Cousins turned to his superior, face red with anger. "My God, James! Did you hear a word I said? It ate them! Frank Borman, Ty Miller, Sasha Bradnikoff and eight others!"
"Now look, Sam, I was—"
"No!" Cousins yelled, too mad to care that he addressed a Colonel, "You look! This is exactly what Imanov warned you about four years ago, but you ignored him. I told you as much at your last visit, but you wouldn't listen to me either. Do you even know how many men we have lost to date?" Obviously at a loss, Ackerson just stared. Sam softened his tone. "Over one-hundred, James. This was supposed to be about saving lives, not losing them."
The Colonel dropped his gaze to the ground, but before he could respond, a soldier approached and snapped a crisp salute. Ackerson spoke without taking his eyes off the Major. "What is it, Sergeant?"
"Sir, this, uh, crashed through a guard-tower window a couple of minutes ago." He held the offending object in between the two officers and, for the first time in his life, he saw Colonel's face turn white. Major Cousins stared at the object with terror and spoke almost involuntarily.
"Oh, my God. Simjanes . . ."
The Sergeant held a white Spartan helmet with a shattered face shield; and painted just above the visor in bold, blood-red strokes was a funny looking symbol—and that symbol took the Colonel's breath away. The message was clear:
The Clowns had returned to the arctic base and soon, Ackerson would be just as dead as Simjanes.