Posted By: Erico Beduschi<email@example.com>
Date: 26 February 2010, 6:44 pm
(A short story inspired on the characters of the HALO universe)
Spartan-068 extended his sight as far as possible, but in truth there was absolutely nothing to see except for mountain ranges and sand. The blazing sun on the reddish sky was scorching his Mark IV MJOLNIR armor, and if it weren't for the gel layer which regulated the temperature inside the suit he would probable die of dehydration in a matter of days. Due to the lack of information about the planet it was hard to know how many hours would that hellish temperature last before sunset if there were a sunset after all.
The Spartan turned his back to the cliff and focused on more important matters, such as finish salvaging whatever could be helpful from the wrecked crash-landed Longsword Interceptor. What used to be an effective and sophisticated star fighter was now reduced to a pile of melted and still smoking titanium that little resembled its former days of glory. Not very far to the left laid three small mounds of sand, each one with a Spartan helmet on it. No bodies, just the helmets. The corpses had been dragged half a mile away from the crash site, lined up and incinerated by a charge of thermite grenades. Not a chance in hell that '068' would leave behind three MJOLNIR armors to be captured and studied by the enemy. Even the helmets were stripped off their gizmos, gadgets and chips, and what was left was nothing but void, useless hulls. '068' was aware he shouldn't have wasted precious time with that cheap sentimentalism, but somehow the Spartan felt he owned his companions at least a small homage.
'068' still couldn't believe that only he had come out from that mess in one piece. The MJOLNIR outer shell was tough enough to take severe punishment, and should have saved all of them from the violent touch down. Then again, inside a thousand pounds of shielded metal there was a much more vulnerable structure, made of flesh, muscles and bones. Despite their look, Spartans were not machines, but merely humans, and watching those empty helmets reminded '068' about that. His memories from the last hours were still blurred, a sequence of images and sounds that mixed together inside his head like a symphony out of tune, dozens of instruments playing together but making noise instead of music. The day had started with a standard recon mission, like so many others he had already taken part of. The objective was to scan for any transmission sign that could imply the presence of Covenant on the perimeter. The four-ship squadron had already orbited the orange planet and found nothing of such nature, and they were about to return to the command ship when hell broke lose. A party of seven Covenant Seraph fighters came out of nowhere with their plasma cannons already firing at them. The first Interceptor that broke formation was also the first to be blown to pieces. They immediately sent a warning signal to the UNSC cruiser, but by then they had their own problems to administer, surrounded by Covenant battery and apparently not doing so well themselves. They were paddling their own canoes now.
The remaining Interceptors engaged in a fierce battle and despite their numeric disadvantage the Covenant fighters had a hard time dealing with them. When the skirmish was almost even '068' and his companions heard the UNSC cruiser's last transmission; in order to avoid being capture they were adopting a rather unique countermeasure maneuver known as UNSC Emergency Priority Order, a.k.a. 'Cole Protocol'; in more simple terms, self-destruction. The blast was devastating, not only rubbing out the Covenant ships from existence, but also reaching the small fighters with multiple cataclysmic shock waves. Both Spartans and Covenants lost control of their ships, and '068' will never forget the sight from his cockpit of fighters being swept away or plunging into deadly spirals towards the planet's orbit. The next thing '068' knew, he was caught in the wreckage and surrounded by his dead companions. End of story.
'068' stared down at the symbolic graves. Years ago, just as the Spartan-II program went public, the Naval Intelligence issued a directive to prevent the troops' moral to break down: 'Spartans never die; they are just Missing in Action'. The golden visor concealed '068's gloominess as he walked away from the graves and the empty helmets. Many Spartans were seduced by those words, starting to think they were actually invincible, he included. Well, the joke was on them; they weren't. For some reason '068' suddenly recalled a moment from the past, when he and a small group of friends not only Spartan companions, but friends were talking about their missions over a few rounds of beer. One of them, however, only listened with a brooding silence, his eyes going from one Spartan to the other. The funny part is that this particular Spartan was the one with the best tales to tell, but instead of showing off or bragging he simply watched between one sip of beer and the other. That was John, the incarnation of the 'strong and silent' cliché, and by far the wisest among them. On that day '068' learned that the real honor of being a Spartan did not rest in deeds or prowess, but in something much simpler: do your job, and do it well. The seven-foot Spartan steered his mind to a different direction. He had more important things to worry about now. He was not dead yet. He had a job to do.
The first rule in a crisis was to understand your status, which meant knowing exactly what a hell was going on. The facts: he was stranded on an unknown planet in the middle of an uncharted sector of the universe, and the only ones who could provide his rescue were now stardust. Conclusion: a search and rescue mission could take weeks, months, or most probably forever. All that considered, counting on help was a luxury '068' couldn't afford, which led him to the second rule in a crisis: provide yourself with all possible resources to ensure your subsistence. The components of his armor not only assured his physical integrity but also supplied him with basic medical intervention, so the need of med-kits was discarded. That and his unrelenting military training should be enough to keep him alive even in the most inhospitable environment. However, the scarce reserve of food and water retrieved from the ship would certainly demand further exploratory survey. It didn't make any sense to sit around and wait for that.
When a soldier's regular battleground is the outer space, he has a fair opportunity to visit a wide-ranging number of planets, and '068' had had his own share. If there was one thing he had learned was that before you chart and classify an alien world, you never know what type of creatures you may find living in it. Whatever planet he was in right now, it hadn't been neither charted nor classified. For that reason, the first thing he took from the wreckages, even before the bodies of his fellow Spartans, was the weaponry. Considering most of the passages were so small that even a Grunt wouldn't get through, he managed to take two MA2B Assault Rifles, three Magnum pistols and one AMB Sniper Rifle, besides a considerable amount of ammo for all of them. With that small arsenal a well-trained soldier could hold back an entire Covenant platoon for days. In this particular case, should '068' meet any unfriendly native dweller, he would be more than prepared to introduce himself in the best diplomatic, Spartan way.
Suddenly a long, grievous moan drew '068's attention to the other side of the crash site. He took a MA2B and calmly walked towards it. With all the procedures for his leaving he had almost forgotten about the eight-foot tall, half-ton Brute securely tied up under the shade of an Interceptor ripped-off wing. Just as he was dragging himself out of the ship's wreckage, '068' sighted this fireball quickly diving into the atmosphere and leaving a trace of thick, black smoke in the sky. '068' knew his primary obligation was to investigate, so he followed the descending route and finally spotted a huge crater on the ground. In the middle of it, just as damaged as his own ship, lied a Covenant Seraph. Brushing aside his disappointment, for deep inside he wished it were an UNSC fellow, the Spartan carried on. His efforts paid off.
'068' took a moment to check the magazine, and then started approaching with heedful steps. The Brute's head was pending down, making difficult to know whether his eyes were open or not. He could be still unconscious or be fully awake and faking. His prisoner was in a pretty bad condition when the Spartan found it, but the fact was that '068' knew very little about the Jiralhanae's physiology when it came to endurance, so at this point he couldn't tell how wounded that creature really was. The Spartan's personal experience regarding Brute anatomy involved only the basics: knowing the weak spots so he could make an easy kill, and that was pretty much it.
"Wake up time, Baby Kong" he said with a metallic voice.
At first there was no response, but then the Brute slowly raised his head and stared back at his captor. His eyes were filled with rage and his grayish, beastly face reflected on the Spartan's visor. That face justified why the Brutes were known as Servus Ferox among the Covenants; 'feral' was a suited adjective for those merciless, fearless warriors. '068' knew very well that if he hadn't found that creature unconscious near the flaming wreckage of the Seraph, he would've never been able to restrain him the way he did. The proof of that came a second later, when the gigantic creature forced his arms and legs with a deafening roar, contracting his massive body with unbelievable strength and violent spasms. The Spartan let his prisoner struggle, waiting to see if the ropes were firm enough to hold him down. After a moment '068' decided that his prisoner was secured enough, so there was no point in observing the Brute striving anymore. He raised the assault rifle and squeezed the trigger for a short round, the bullets piercing the fuselage inches from the Brute's head.
"Enough of that," the Spartan said.
The message had been clear, and the Brute stopped fighting. Always keeping a safe distance, '068' knelt down before him, his rifle close and set for instant action. The creature's attention was divided between the Spartan and his weapon, and '068' could read the Brute's mind: You don't need to untie me. Just come a little closer, so I can bite your head off.
"Can you understand me?" the Spartan asked. The Brute's answer was a low, continuous groan. "Do you speak my language, Baby Kong?"
Again, nothing. It was difficult to know if the Brute's silence was because of the language barrier or simply because he was too proud and pissed off to engage a conversation with the enemy.
"Anyway," he continued, "here is the deal: your friend from the fighter is dead, roasted. As a matter of fact, everyone's dead except for the two of us. The thing is that I'm the one with the gun."
The Brute grinned, showing his sharp teeth to the Spartan, and then uttered a series of incomprehensible words from his native tongue. Even not being an expert in linguistics, '068' was pretty sure that it was not a compliment. After spitting out his twisted speech, the Brute laughed and kept staring at his opponent.
"I see," '068' replied with sarcasm. "Maybe if you keep barking I'll even learn a word or two, but for now I'm afraid that communication will have to be performed in a more direct way."
'068' suddenly stood up, startling the Brute who instinctively tensed his entire body, his eyes widened and apprehensive.
"Very good," '068' smirked. "That's lesson number one: be afraid of me." He broadened his smile from behind the visor and without any warning stomped towards the captive and hit his face with a violent punch. The Spartan's own strength, added by the power-up properties of the MJOLNIR, inflicted a significant damage to the Brute's mouth, tearing up the gray flesh and leaving an instant bruise. "Lesson number two," the Spartan said calmly, "don't you ever forget about lesson number one."
Despite the pain and humiliation, the Brute's gaze was still fearless and defying. That did not surprise '068' at all. The Jiralhanae were not the Covenant's most important task force without a good reason. He was perfectly aware that his prisoner was not at all worried about living or dying. His only concern was to take the Spartan with him. '068' could ask why the Brute and his buddies were up there, but he was quite sure it would be a waste of time. There were no records of any successful interrogatory when it came to Covenant prisoners. Brutes were too tough even to be captured alive in the first place, and Grunts were too low-ranked to know any relevant information. Basically whenever UNSC wanted to find out the Covenant's plans they had to do it without their cooperation.
The Spartan turned his visor to the horizon. The blazing sun was starting to hide behind the mountains.
"So there is a night in this inferno, after all," he said to himself, and then looked back at the Brute while already walking away. "See you later, Baby Kong."
The Brute warrior narrowed his eyes and spit on the sand, a mixture of thick saliva and blood. He then tried to sit in a better position and followed the Spartan disappearing in the distance. '068' could feel the back of his armor burning with that vindictive gaze, but he was not at all concerned about it. There was more to be worried about, now that nightfall was upon him. Night was always a problem, no matter what world you're in. Weather was not an issue; after all, he had his own temperature control inside the armor. What really bugged '068' was something else; even though he hadn't seen any life form yet, that didn't mean the entire planet was destitute of it. If that would be the case, night brought darkness, and darkness always brought predators. With that in mind, '068' rushed back to his improvised camp in order to set everything up before the sun was gone.
* * *
'068' was back in business way before the light of day reached the campsite. He could have started earlier, but the Spartan didn't think it was a good idea to make any unnecessary noise that could call out the attention of a potential threat lurking in the shadows, so he spent most of the night sitting by the wreckage without moving a finger. Anyone who sighted him like that could easily have mistaken him for a deactivated cyborg. '068' finished packing only what he could carry without limiting his actions, then gave himself a nod of approval. Everything was ready, and so was he. There was only one more thing to do.
When the Spartan showed up from behind the dune the Brute immediately reacted, straightening up the best he could. He seemed healthier and stronger than the last day, what didn't necessarily mean it was a good thing. '068' had registered temperatures varying from eight to fourteen Fahrenheit during the night, so he could imagine how pleasant it would have been to his captive. Nevertheless there he was, staring at him without fright or hesitation. He's good, the Spartan said to himself, meditating on what kept that beast going. Loyalty to the Prophets? It could be, considering their religious fanaticism. Pride and honor? In that particular case, revenge would be more likely. Maybe he had a family, even though no one he knew had ever seen a female from the Jiralhanae species. If that guy has a wife, '068' couldn't help thinking, I sure don't want to meet her.
"At ease," '068' greeted the prisoner.
The Brute's answer was a growl, and nothing else. '068' could tell that, by the way the warrior was looking at him, the small changes on his figure hadn't gone unnoticed. Like before, the Spartan had his assault rifle with him, but this time the weapon was attached to the magnetic holder strip on his back. He also had a Magnum on the right side of his waist, but what really seemed to catch the Brute's eye was the UNSC carbon steel blade on the other side. Even though the combat knife didn't belong to a Spartan's standard arsenal, it was part of the survival gear of any small ship due to its multiple uses. The Jiralhanae themselves were rather intimate with blades, even though they used more for torture than for close contact. The truth was: why would a Brute need a weapon in a hand-to-hand combat anyway?
"I'll spare you from a long speech" '068' said, breaking the silence, "I'm leaving the camp, and you're coming with me."
The Brute's face remained just as unalterable as the Spartan's visor. When '068' started walking right towards him, however, the impassivity gave place to a surprised gaze. All of a sudden, the creature's eyes went from '068's helmet to his gauntleted right hand. The Spartan was drawing the combat knife.
"We can make this the easy way, the hard way" 068 said, looming before the Brute, "or the Spartan way."
By the way the Brute's eyes grew even wider, it looked that he could understand human language after all.
The task of dismembering and slicing the Brute's meat took a little more than '068' expected, but before the sun was on its peak the job was finally done. Evisceration was the messier part; however the Spartan's skills with the blade made it considerably manageable. The meat was salted so it could last longer, and everything else was disposed. While carefully wrapping the thick slices, '068' passed his plan of action one more time.
He was going to march north and see what he could find beyond those mountains. If there were nothing but more rock and sand, he would keep marching until he ran on something else. That was the third rule on a crisis: when you come up with a plan, make it solid, keep it simple and prevent yourself against setbacks. He was packed with as much ration and water as he could carry, but since the beginning '068' knew that if he ran out of supplies an alternative source of food should be provided. The Spartan couldn't rely on natural resources, so when he saw the Brute lying on the sand the idea crossed his mind.
Minutes later he was already walking towards the vastness stretching before him. His mind was now centered in one single purpose: to overcome any obstacle on his path. He was not dead yet.
And he still had a job to do.