ONI Section Two: A Short Story
Posted By: Dagorath<firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date: 20 November 2005, 3:21 am
On a battlefield of grass, bloodshed reigned. On one side was arrayed an enormous Covenant force, including Elites, Grunts and Jackals. Their slurry of plasma was directed at a company of Marines ten metres opposite them, who returned fire. The bullets and plasma flickered and slashed across the area, slamming into soldiers of both factions and flinging their limp bodies behind the ranks of their comrades. The loud whine of an assault helicopter pelting the Covenant positions was almost drowned out in the cacophony of screams and cries. Blood was splattered in wide arcs and pools all over the grass.
As the sun was setting, the humans finally gained the upper hand. A barrage of battle rifle fire and a rocket finally brought the last veteran Elites down.
A Corporal staggered to the camera, clutching his side, where a plasma bolt had glanced. Underneath his hand, the skin was blackened. He gazed, panting, into the camera with his wide frightened eyes before raising it and wheeling it over to the remaining Marines. There were only ten left, most of whom were slumped on the ground, clutching horrific wounds in their sides. The assault helicopter had long since been brought down by plasma grenades that destroyed the engine and scrambled the controls. Its fragments now littered the battlefield, smoking quietly.
As the Marine’s eyes roved over the survivors, he caught sight of a sprawled figure on the ground. “Sergeant Myers….no….” The poor man looked stricken with despair.
Ross Graham leaned forward, switched the screen off and turned to the other people arrayed around him. Jane Gray was sipping coffee and staring avidly at the now-blank screen. Matthew Heath was sleeping in his chair. Only Nathan “Nerdy” Sinclair was actually looking like he could work for another hour.
Not for the first time, Ross considered just letting it all go and sleeping in his chair like Matthew. But, no matter how hopeless the situation, he couldn’t just give up here and abandon the people of Earth to the Covenant’s ravaging forces. Weapons and soldiers were important, but so was the tiring and thankless task of raising morale. Every man on the home front had to give it the best he could.
He slapped his hand on the table. “Well?” he said loudly.
Matthew’s head snapped upwards and he slurred: “Protect Earth! Protect Humanity! Protect the UNSC!” before slumping back in his chair.
Ross slapped a hand to his forehead and groaned. Sitting up straighter, he said, even louder, “Well, what do you think?”
“Well,” said Nathan, “that seems to be a pretty useless video. Marines fight Covenant forces and get their asses kicked. That is really going to motivate humanity, Ross.”
Jane’s head turned slowly towards Ross. “We can comment on the accuracy of their fire?” she asked hopefully.
“Don’t be dumb,” Matthew snapped suddenly, straightening in his chair. All sleep seemed to have fallen from him. “One out of three shots missed! If they were like that on my son’s GameGlobe, they’d fall straight off the rankings.”
Jane’s head swiveled to his face and snarled, “You got a better idea?”
Ross made a slashing motion to Matthew, who shut his mouth with an effort. As Jane opened her mouth to gloat, Ross raised his hand. “Stop that,” he said authoritatively. “We need a new slogan for our posters. Who’s got ideas?”
“How about ‘Every Shot Counts?’” Nathan asked. “We can have pictures of Elites being shot by something recognisable. I dunno, a pistol. Or those old-fashioned AKs. Something like, ‘Join the UNSC. Every shot counts.’”
“Hell, the only successful one we ever had was the ‘The Master Chief wants you for the UNSC’”, Matthew said lethargically. “Thing is, people these days are too non-violent. We have to give any war footage –“
“Heavily edited,” Ross quipped.
“- a ‘Mature’ rating. Little fifteen-year-olds don’t even know what their fellow fucking humans are fighting. Just because of a little blood. If they saw the massacres the Covenant did, the good people of Mother Earth’ll despair. The whole planet’ll get glassed, and no one will lift a finger.”
“Well, at least you can say ‘I told you so’,” Jane growled.
“As if there’ll be anyone to say it to!”
Nathan rolled his eyes, and Ross covered his face. Those two were always at it. He had no idea why Colonel Knight, the Section Two head, wouldn’t transfer one of them elsewhere.
Ross had not always worked in propaganda. In his younger days, he had fought as a Marine in some insignificant civil wars and then as an ONI “spook” when he was older. He had even shot a few Covenant during his time in Section Three. He was however only in the lower echelons and when the morale of Earth was starting to hit rock bottom, the shadowy figures at the head of ONI had him transferred to Section Two without the fear of much confidential information getting leaked. Two ONI agents had tailed him for a few months after the transfer anyway, but as he had shown no intention about revealing anything he had learnt, they desisted after a while.
Section Two was not what he had expected. Much smaller than the universally feared and revered Section Three, Section Two was in charge of propaganda for boosting the near non-existent morale of the battered Colonies, which by now had dwindled to only a few backwater planets, and Earth. There were only forty four-men creative teams within Section Two. They had churned out posters, movies and even video games for the “good people of Mother Earth” on an astoundingly regular basis. In fact, without Section Two, Earth would have fallen long ago, but it was like trying to fight the tide: not even the strongest sea wall could ever keep it back.
Ross raised his eyes. By now, Jane and Matthew were having a shouting match.
“How would you know, you bitch?” Matthew yelled.
“Oh, bitch, am I?” Jane screamed. “How about you, deserter?”
The atmosphere in the room dropped ten degrees instantly. Everything went silent. Even the air conditioner had gone quiet. Matthew’s face had gone completely white. Jane’s face was purple and her blue eyes were flashing.
Ross moved very slightly forward in his chair. He could see Matthew’s hand working, clenching and unclenching.
To this day, Ross had never known whether or not the brand of “deserter” was actually true. In his report, Matthew had been kicked out of the ODSTs (he still refused to remove his “Feet First into Hell” tattoo) for running all the way back to base when faced with a squad of Grunts. But he had been accompanied then by five other Marines and two veteran Sergeants. Ross had serious doubts that his fellows would have allowed him to run away at all or even if Matthew had tried.
“What did you call me?” Matthew hissed, breaking the silence. He took a step towards Jane, who stared back into his eyes resolutely.
At this moment, Ross’s phone rang. The cheerful UNSC anthem rang out into the room. For the two opponents on the arena of the office floor, however, it had no effect whatsoever.
He put it to his ear. “Hello?”
“Hey,” came a female voice.
“Hi, honey,” he replied. “I’m sorry; I might have to stay here for a while longer.” He looked out of the corner of his eye. Matthew had unclenched his fists and Jane was looking at him with an odd expression on her face.
“It’s OK,” his wife replied. “Here, let me patch the baby on.”
There was the sound of footsteps, and then a small, babyish voice filled the phone. “Daddy!” the voice screamed happily.
Ross broke into a wide smile, despite his surroundings. “Hello, Clarissa,” he grinned. “Why aren’t you in bed?”
His wife’s voice came back on. “Well, I’ll see in a few hours then,” she said. He could hear a hint of her lilting laughter.
“Yeah, OK. And put Clarissa to bed. It’s nearly eleven.”
“Love you,” she replied.
He clicked the phone off and raised his head once more. Both Jane and Matthew were now sitting down. Matthew looked rather uncomfortable and was self-consciously rubbing his tattoo. Jane was fiddling with a button on her blouse.
Ross heaved a great sigh, and then pressed a button on the media player. The screen activated again, this time to show several UNSC destroyers and a pair of Covenant carriers.
“Well, next vid,” he said heavily.
Ross pressed the PLAY button and leaned back.
Thanks to: Bronzemage, Mainevent, MCC, sdn and thedarkfire for R & R-ing this short story before its release.