Return from Retirement: A Short Story
Posted By: Dagorath<firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date: 2 October 2005, 11:34 am
Author's Note: I wrote this story quite a while ago, and I haven't checked it since. There are probably a lot of grammar and spelling mistakes, so please don't comment on that. I've positioned the MC way after the novels, so no one can complain that he's not like that stupid, narrow-minded soldier he was before. Rather, he's more like in the game: strong and silent. Though a little less silent.
And watch out for my upcoming series: The Codex - A Novel.
John lay back in his chair and sipped a little of his pomegranate juice. The seabirds drifted on the breeze, crying softly into the wind. The sun shone down on his tanned skin, so different from its paleness when he still wore the MJOLNIR armour. It had been ten years already, but the artificial enhancements and regular trips to the gym had kept John’s body supple and agile.
“How bright the sun of Earth was!” That was a quote from a book by some author from a few hundred years ago called “Asimov”. John now knew why. There was some kind of warmth and cheeriness to the Sun that no sun on any other planet could hope to imitate, be it Reach, Sigma Octanus or his home planet of Eridanus II.
Or Halo. John could never forget the Halos. Not in a lifetime.
It’s over, he tried to convince himself. They’re gone. The Halos are destroyed.
He could never forget the horrors. All those dead Covenant bodies, dripping blood quietly onto the floors. Ripped apart by bullets, plasma fire, even those odd lasers used by the Sentinels. Human bodies too: line upon line of dead Marines, covering the floor before burial, disfigured by hideous wounds. He could never forget the blood.
And the Flood. He could dredge up no sympathy at all for the Flood. None at all.
He remembered them. The infection forms, like little octopi, running around on the floor, up walls, across ceilings. Their horrible little calls. The way they swarmed at you and jumped at you and tried to dig their little penetrators into your skin –
John shook his head, looking out at the blue waves lapping at the white sand. It was picturesque – no, it was perfect. A paradise on Earth.
The Flood. He could remember the combat forms, with their tentacled arms and their rotten skin. The unseeing eyes. The way they lurched and gurgled. An inexorable tide of horror. He still had nightmares about them. The dark rooms….those dark rooms….
No, no, no, he thought. He grabbed his juice and gulped it down, but it only reminded him of the Flood blood, splattered on the ground. Greenish-brown, like some kind of secretion.
And the carrier forms. Their waddling, bulbous shapes, all semblances to the Grunts and Jackals they had once been gone. Their suicidal explosions….spewing forth the horrible infection forms. The heat of the sun on his bare chest felt like the burning of a carrier form exploding across his front.
He thought of them as “incubation forms” sometimes. He could imagine them all strung up in a huge, dripping chamber, looking like so many Captain Keyes. Small apertures near their bottoms where infection forms spewed at the command of Gravemind or whatever Flood intelligence form controlled them.
John’s hand gripped the glass of pomegranate juice and fought with his demons. Demon. That had been what the Covenant had called him…. But he was no demon!
Am I? His mind churned….
But the sun was warm, and the sea breeze inviting. John closed his eyes….
“Chief….don’t be a fool….leave me!” He heard Captain Keyes’s voice again. His agonized moans. John pounded down the hallway, gripping his shotgun tightly. Little spatters of Flood blood dripped onto the walls of the Covenant cruiser.
He turned a corner, and walked straight into a combat form. Raising his shotgun, he blasted it to pieces.
More kept coming. More and more and more. Their stench wafted into his nose behind his air filters. Human combat forms, their distorted faces leering; Elite combat forms, heads bent right back like an unnecessary limb; carrier forms waddling over like incubators – John shuddered – and the omnipresent infection forms, crawling, crawling.
He ran out of shotgun shells and screamed as combat forms struck at him with their long tentacles….
With a jolt, John snapped upwards in his deck chair. His mouth was wide open and he was screaming like a siren.
He shut his mouth with an effort, but the screaming didn’t stop.
He realized that it came from over the sand dunes behind him. Jumping up, John ran up the beach slope. He stumbled slightly and overturned his pomegranate juice, but paid it no heed.
He dashed past the dunes and down the path towards the town. He could hear odd, slithery, liquid noises coming from all round –
A brown little pod, bouncing on short, little tentacles, leapt up in front of John’s face. Its smooth brown skin had little spatters of green Flood blood: an infection form just out of incubation?
It seemed as though all the experience of forty years of combat leapt back into him. With a smooth action, John punched the infection form, bursting it, vaulted over several more that had emerged from the bushes, and ran for the village.
All his nightmares seemed to be infringing on reality as John emerged over the top of a hill to see the dreaded brown pods streaming into the village which he lived near. He could see dead bodies littered all over the cobbled streets, little infection forms sitting on them, patiently digging into their chest cavities.
“No. No. It can’t be,” John muttered. “The Halos are finished. Destroyed! They’re destroyed! Cortana said so!” How could the Flood be on Earth?
Something pulled him on. Everywhere, men, women and children were screaming as the little pods streamed towards them, puncturing their skin and gradually seizing control. They writhed and yelled, suddenly falling silent as the Flood took control of their minds.
Already, combat forms had begun to be developed. He saw a few lurching around near the town square. A few people had gotten out rusted hunting rifles, firing hard. The bullets just seemed to go through them.
I must save them!
He stopped. Something held him back.
Duty. Duty. Was it his duty to defend Earth against this invasion? Of course it was. But why was he hesitating?
It was fear. Raw, primal fear. He had been relaxing for so long, supposedly free of all worries that his soldier’s sense had died completely. He couldn’t bring himself to do something. Even as a crowd of infection forms swarmed towards him, he stood rooted to the spot.
Survival instincts took control of John’s body. Jumping up, he landed in the middle of the pods and popped a few. He stamped around and punched until all of them had popped. There had been one moment when one managed to get its penetrator in; John had managed to squeeze it to bits before it managed to subdue him.
As the last pod popped, John ran towards his cottage. What drove him on was not duty, which was what might have spurred him on ten years ago, but completely loathing for the bulbous creatures. In short, he didn’t want to die.
Bursting in, John ran to the lounge and slammed his palm onto a portion of the sofa. That portion glowed and a part of the wall flipped around. On the other side of the wall was a weapons rack: battle rifles, SMGs, pistols, shotguns. He grabbed a shotgun and a battle rifle as well as a lot of ammunition and grenades.
More slowly now, John walked over to his study and keyed in a special command on his computer. A hatch opened in the floor; he walked down into an underground garage where sat a Warthog, its Gauss cannon gleaming.
His attention was not on it. Turning to the left, John approached a battered pile of dark green armour. He picked up his old Mark VII helmet and, with a little hesitation, put it on. Once more, he could see his shield indicator, ammo indicators and motion tracker. Somehow, despite having renounced war ten years ago, they were comforting, familiar.
He put on the rest of his armour: arms, legs, chest plates, belt. Everything fitted on perfectly, and with a soft hiss all the systems engaged. The vacuum seals closed, the shield reactivated, the helmet indicated the shells he had in his shotgun.
With superhuman speed, John leaped into the Warthog, pressed a button, and roared out of the garage, waving his shotgun with a wild yell.
The Master Chief was back.