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A Marine isn't a Marine...
Posted By: Kotno<sj_perez01@hotmail.com>
Date: 19 July 2005, 9:31 pm

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      "You've got to be kidding me Sarge, that's completely…", reasoning isn't one of my strong suits, but I could have sworn this one would make sense if the Platoon Sergeant would just let me finish a sentence.

       "A marine isn't a marine." He spouted back at me, staring into my eyes as if he could see right down into my soul. It worried me. What if he saw that I was as scared?

       "But Sarge…"

      The Sergeant cleared his throat. "A marine isn't a marine."

      Damnit, there was no way I was going to win this one. I sighed, immediately regretting it. You didn't sigh in this Platoon. Not on Sergeant Tobias' watch. "Yes sergeant. A marine isn't a marine… until he proves it."

       "There's my boy. Now get up there and prove it." Sergeant Tobias' eyes seemed to follow me, even as he lifted his head, and pointed to the top of the cliff on our north side.

      The top was hard to see, but maybe that was just my fear blinding me. It couldn't really be all that tall, could it? At about a click away from our base camp the huge wall of rock provided excellent concealment at the northern edge of our perimeter. One of the surviving Pelican Dropships had flown all around the valley we were in to drop ground sensors to warn us of any incoming enemy infantry. But most importantly, the deep valley meant that the enemy scout ships flying below the cloud line wouldn't be able to see us from an angle and at a distance. They would have to fly almost directly above us for observation, and then we'd just blow them out of the sky with a well-placed rocket or two.

       "Every marine in the LT's Platoon does it Private. Combat zone or no combat zone, you can't call yourself a Raider until you complete your rite of passage. And so, for just that purpose I've gotten one of the Pelicans to drop a favorite trinket of mine at the top of the cliff face to our north. Do you know what that is Private? Damn right you do! My flag!

       "You see, it's like a safety blanket for me son. I can't get to sleep when I'm not damn sure it's flying on its staff outside my tent! Like the teddy bear you slept with until you grew some cojones and joined the service. You know, the one your mommy gave you? Well son, I'm your mommy now. Your mommy, your daddy, and your god damn preacher! So when I give you the gift of my flag, you better get the hell up there and pick it up!" The Platoon Sergeant had told me, or rather, yelled at me, just after the rest of my squadies had ripped me out of the foxhole I called a bed and dragged me bootless, and for that matter, pantless, up in front of the Platoon Sergeant's tent.

      They had to be kidding. I knew that every new private in the platoon had to go through a rite of passage of some sort before they were allowed to call themselves one of the LT's Raiders. But wasn't crash-landing on this freakish ring world enough of a rite of passage? I had been assigned to the Pillar of Autumn right out of basic, less than a year out of the recruitment depot, and I'd already seen a number of major engagements against the enemy. Hell! I'd already been shot once. Plasma burn on my left thigh from one of those suicidal little covies with the green pistols. And they though I still needed a rite of passage?

      Ten minutes later I was trudging off into the distance in full battle rattle, carrying my normal combat gear, my rifle, seven extra clips of ammunition, and the god damn heaviest rocket launcher you've seen in your life. I wasn't a heavy weapons man, that job was reserved for corporals that had been in the gym for half their lives.

       "This is a combat zone Private! You think we're on a camping trip here? You think we're going to sit on our butts and roast marshmallows around a fire, singing songs and enjoying nature!? I'm not going to send one of my men to the top of that cliff just to get some stinking flag. You're mission is to go up there and scout for any enemy patrol ships within visual range. If you see any, take them out. And no, you will not get a Pelican drop-off because we don't want to alert any nearby enemy forces of our presence by flying a big hulking radar-trap above our position!" Sergeant Tobias had said to me, loud enough so that the command tent at the center of camp could hear us.

      Of course, that was before he quietly pulled me aside, and instructed me in no uncertain terms, that even if I blew a hundred Banshees out of the sky, if I dared to return without his beloved flag, he would have me strung up on the flagpole by the back of my unmentionables so tight that those newly grown cojones of mine would shrink to the size of mere peas. I was starting to think that I'd never be a Raider.

      The hike up to the base of the cliff wasn't so bad, I was used to long marches in heavy gear. It occurred to me though, that I had set off in such haste from camp that I hadn't bothered to acquire any rope for the ascent up the cliff face. No doubt all a part of the Sergeant's grand plan. The base of the valley was clear enough to give me a view all the way back to camp. The north side tents swayed slightly in the wind, and I could just make out a patrol moving to the west accompanied by a command hog. There was a Pelican sitting on the makeshift landing pad we had dug out the day before to the east of camp, and I nearly threw up upon realization that it wouldn't do me any good today. A marine's best friend is his rifle, but air transport isn't far behind in the contest for that lofty title.

      I turned around to face the cliff and placed a hand on the rock wall, doing my best not to look up. Of course, in trying not to look up, I did exactly that. The cliff face drifted up into the sky, hard and emotionless. I could feel small bits of dust puff out from the rock wall as I placed my other hand in a nearby hold. Twisting my shoulders to try and take some of the bite out of the straps on my rucksack I looked back down and saw a space of exactly zero between my feet and the ground. It was going to be a long morning.

      The going wasn't actually too bad for the first hour. I was feeling pretty good and making pretty decent progress, already high enough that I could make out each tent in the camp's circular perimeter structure. Military ingenuity I told myself. Precise and clean. Unfortunately, the view wasn't quite enough to make the second, third, and fourth hours as pleasant as the first.

      The cliff side made a slight angle outward beyond about the sixty- percent mark from ground to top. Now, instead of making a steady climb straight up, where I could rest my feet in a hold and safely lift a hand off the rock wall without putting to much pressure on the other hand, I was virtually hanging by one hand whenever I removed the other. The rock seemed to me to have grown sharper and even the flat holds seemed to rip into my skin, pulling away bits of flesh. By the time I made it to the seventy- percent mark I was leaving behind blood-red stains on the rock wall, marking the exact route of my ascent.

      My muscles burned and any moment I allowed my brain to turn on and think, I was quite sure the next moment would see me tumbling off the rock and falling face first into the ground. Hell, the prospect almost seemed inviting. My hands had gone completely numb and at one point near the top I shoved an open hand into a small crevice and then clenched my fist inside, able to lean back and take a brief moment of pause without having to exert any energy to hold on. It had seemed wise at the time, but the back of my hand had come out of that one practically shredded and covered in dust, the blood caking up around my fist. I didn't care. I was almost to the top.

      At ninety- five percent I got a lucky break and the cliff side eased out to give me a better than straight up advantage in the climb. And when the cliff finally leveled off I felt as if I had climbed to heaven, and it was flat. No singing angels, no misty clouds, no flowing water and lush pools. No rolling hills. Just flat, gray, barren rock. It was perfect.

      With one last ounce of energy, I pulled myself up over the edge and rolled onto my back, staring up at the perfectly blue sky. Far up into the horizon I could see the other side of the ring- world shooting upwards and arcing back towards me. Wherever this place had come from, it sure was amazing. I wondered if any survivors from the Pillar of Autumn's crew had crash landed on the other side and were staring back down at me. Or, back up at me I suppose, depending on whose perspective you take.

      I must have dozed off for a few minutes, because when I awoke I could hear a gentle grinding sound that had not been there before. Twisting around to my stomach I looked out into the distance and saw a beautiful sight. The Sergeant's flag fluttering in the wind, no more than fifty meters away. And then my heart sank, and all around me the world seemed to be collapsing. My vision went white, and I could see the whole cliff face rising up before me again, I was at the bottom and all my effort had gotten me no where. No, that wasn't it, I was at the top, wasn't I? I had made it, I was there. The burning in my muscles returned, and I could feel a stinging sensation all through my hands. I was bleeding, there was no way I hadn't made it.

      The grinding stopped. Standing before me, just beyond the flag, was a creature, a giant really, dressed in golden armor, his gruesome jaws dripping saliva to the ground. He spit on the flag. Covies. God damn covies. My daze continued, but I started to make out the shape of a Banshee scout ship parked another fifty meters beyond the flag. Why hadn't the ground perimeter alarms gone off? I had seen them get dropped by one of those glorious Pelicans the night before, if anyone had landed up here they would have, should have gone off.

      Yes, I had seen one of these creatures before, many times before. The LT had briefed us on arrival to the Pillar of Autumn, saying that these covies were commanders. The little ones seemed to fear them in battle almost as much as they did a marine with a rocket launcher. They weren't invincible though, the Master Chief had taken one out when they boarded our ship by slamming its head into a wall, crushing it's skull between two folded pieces of helmet metal. We had even killed a few during that engagement, and in subsequent ones. The little ones were easy, a lone marine could handle those, but these ones had some sort of shielding system, and we often had to expend two or three clips worth of ammo just to take them down. There was no way I could get that many shots off before he turned on me and burnt me down with the plasma rifle he had strapped to his side. I had tasted plasma before, and didn't particularly like it.

      Everything went white again. I was standing in a gray room, dressed in civilian clothes. My hair was longer, I could feel it brushing against the back of my neck. Where had my helmet gone? There was a man standing at the front of the room, flanked by two UNSC flags. Men and women around me on all sides, dressed in civilian clothes but lined up in military formation. The man said, "raise your right hand, and repeat after me".

      He was an officer, and had a golden infantry rope tied around his left shoulder. "I, state your name, hereby swear to uphold and protect the values enshrined within the…" I was numb. Every nerve in my body tingling. I couldn't tell if it was exhaustion from the climb or fear as I stared at this golden armored monster dragging his boots around in the dirt as he surveyed a burning drop pod. It looked like a proximity alarm from the bottom of a Pelican, but it was warped and charred black. Something tugged at my shoulder, a feeling breaking through the numbness. Pain. I reached around to where my rucksack was and grabbed the strap around my left shoulder, and pulled it off. Standing up with the strap in my hand, a weight pulling it towards the ground, I wondered why the pain didn't go away. And what the hell was I doing? The creature would see me, why was I standing up?

      The weight on my back was still there too. I hadn't taken my ruck off at all, but I had taken something off. Looking down, I remembered the rocket launcher. A little icon painted in black on the side of the metal tubing showed a man kneeling, and firing a rocket off his shoulder. "The idiot tube! Kneel down, take a look at what you want to kill, and fire! But don't you go wasting any of my rockets! These are for emergency situations only and are not a replacement for your rifle. These things are worth more than you are and aren't you're god damn Fleet Day Fireworks!" my drill instructor had told us back in basic.

      This sure seemed like an emergency to me. I took a step forward, and heard the grinding sound again. My boots crushing bits of rock against the hard stone ground. The creature turned away from the broken beacon and looked right at me. He was at least sixty meters away, but his eyes seemed as big as cannon balls and bore into me just as the Platoon Sergeant's did. I kneeled down and felt numb again, the rock didn't even seem to hit my knee as I fell to it, I was floating in the air and the launcher felt light as a cloud as I lifted it to my shoulder. I flipped off the safety, and clicked the trigger. It was better than Fleet Day. It was my day, it was my day to become a Raider.

      Everything went white again. When I woke I was back at base camp, lying on the floor of a Pelican's loading ramp. In my hands I was holding the flag, my knuckles clenched in a death grip, still bleeding.

       "Good job Private. Had a nice little climb didn't yah? Real tough that wall looks. I knew you'd make it though." Sergeant Tobias said, standing over me with his hands on his hips.

       "But I've got to say, we were a bit worried when the big guy showed up. Nasty ones those big covies are. Real soldiers, like us, not like those suicidal little ones. You sure gave him a licking though, I don't care how good his shields are, taking a rocket round to the head will give anyone a bad day."

      Everything was still numb, but I felt good. Something was different, all of the pain was gone. But it was more than that. I had changed. "A marine isn't a marine sarge. A marine isn't a marine until he proves it."