Posted By: Paul Shelley<Bzerker01@gmail.com>
Date: 23 September 2009, 7:42 pm
1634 Hours (Planet Time), September 19 2549 (Military Calendar)/Ruins of Verdun City, Paris IV.
A lone trooper carefully plodded his way through the smoldering ruins of the war torn city. This was Paris IV, or what used to be Paris IV until three days ago when the Covenant invaded the city and set up shop. Soon thereafter the UNSC was forced to pull out. This lone UNSC trooper had missed the boats and was left behind to die.
The bloodied soldier's jet black armor was splotched with red, purple and blue blood. He clutched his MA5B Assault Rifle in one hand and with the other he held a bandage over his burned and wounded left side. His helmet was scorched with plasma burns and his bruised and bleeding face could be seen through the cracked glass of his visor and the remains of his face plate. Even though all seemed lost, this one determined man, desperately clinging to life, continued to limp down the middle of the street.
His name was Lt. James McDonald of the 105th Orbital Drop Shock Trooper Division, 2nd Battalion, 10th Regiment, Fox Company. His company was aboard the UNSC Cruiser Dogs of War and was the first to respond to the distress call from Paris IV. They dropped into the city and almost immediately were intercepted by the Covenant forces. Within minutes his company was routed. By the time the UNSC called for a general retreat, Fox Company was cut off and one by one the remaining soldiers were caught and killed. Now the entire company was exterminated. That is, all except for Lt. McDonald. But he was burned, beaten and bloody and needed to find someplace to hide and regroup.
Maybe he was in luck. The ferocious battle had devastated most of the surroundings, but he noticed the shattered remains of a corner store which might offer him a refuge. He carefully approached and inspected the store. The remains of banners advertising its latest money-saving offers still hung from the smashed display windows. He tentatively stepped inside and raised his rifle so he could shine its flashlight into the ruined interior. This was one mother of a gift horse and his training taught him to never look a gift horse in the mouth.
The darkened aisles were littered with fallen food items and smashed jars. The floor was covered with dust and debris and a dried soup of various hardened spilled liquids. He looked around the store carefully for 10 minutes to see if there were any signs of post-battle activity in the shop. Finally he was satisfied that this store was a safe place to rest while the bio-foam in his side knitted his broken ribs and healed his burned skin.
When McDonald carefully sat his muscled body down behind the store counter the only sound was the soft rustle of his armor. He propped his MA5B Assault Rifle next to him and took off his broken and battered helmet revealing his chiseled face and his fiery red hair which was cropped short in a military buzz cut. Blood was trickling down both of his cheeks. With a heavy sigh McDonald leaned against the wall and looked up at the ceiling through which he could see the sky. It was rare to find a safe and comfortable place to rest in battle and he planned to take full advantage of his luck.
His mind began to wander. He wondered why the Covenant hadn't glassed this planet yet, like they had done to so many others. Maybe they wanted something first, but what? As he ruminated, he asked himself why he was even in this cursed place. Was it because his parents, both Office of Naval Intelligence lifers, always told him it was his 'duty' to protect humanity? He remembered the news vids of the fighting for Harvest which psyched him up for fighting elite armies, but battling these worthless insurrectionists was not what he signed up for. He recalled his first engagement with the Covenant, the first elite he killed and the first man he saw incinerated with plasma. However, his exhaustion was catching up with him. His eyes soon began to droop.
He began to dream that he is on New Corinth, the planet of his birth. Both his parents are there, in their ONI uniforms. He is on the obstacle course that his parents built for him as soon as he could walk. Whenever he asks his parents why he has to continually train on the course, they always tell him that it 'builds character.' Then he notices another person on the obstacle course--a short graceful and yet dangerous girl, his closest childhood friend--Grace.
They are playing on the obstacle course, laughing and joking like they usually do. He glances over at his parents. They look very official in their starched nicely and pressed uniforms, but their faces are shrouded by some unearthly haze. When he turns back to look at Grace, she begins to fade away and her face twists and she grows gaunter and sicker right before his eyes. Her face turns pale, her eyes become glassy and he notices that her hands are frail and burned. Just before she disappears completely, she collapses. McDonald panics. He looks to his parents for help but the strange haze has encompassed their entire bodies. They are now simply undulating blobs of unrecognizable shapes. He jumps off the course, but discovers he is not on New Corinth, but instead he is in his pod, descending towards some unknown planet at incredibly high speeds.
He is still a child and he is not even wearing his armor. Nevertheless, as the pod smashes into the ground and the hatch blows away, he instinctively grabs his assault rifle and jumps out into the mud. He tries to run, but can barely walk while his men are dying all around him. He tries to scream, but the only sounds that come out of his mouth are high pitched squeaks. Finally he looks around and discovers that he is the last left alive and that Brutes, Jackals and Grunts are approaching the lifeless corpses of his men. At first they sniff at the bodies but soon they began to devour them as if they were starving. He then looks up and sees a Covenant cruiser above him, charging its plasma batteries, aiming right for him. Apparently they are not satisfied with just killing all the humans but want to salt the ground so that nothing can ever live on the planet again.
McDonald awoke suddenly and his dream turned into a real nightmare. One of his motion sensor alarms was slowly beeping, meaning something was on the move towards him. He had taken care to leave behind sensors, just in case he was being followed by anything with cloaks seeking secrets the ODST might reveal. He peaked above the counter and saw through the smashed windows that it was now dark. He heard the sounds of night bugs that had already migrated into the shattered heart of the city. How ironic. Humans incorporated native plants, animals and insects from the planets they colonized into their societies because they wanted to return to nature. But their cities only truly returned to nature after all the humans were dead and gone.
Through the dark he glimpsed short shadows stumbling down the road. Behind them was a huge figure growling out orders. He realized the shadows were Grunts--short aliens with large methane breathing tanks on their back making them look like snails with cornucopia style shells. The monster was a Brute--a massive gorilla-like alien with tough hide and muzzles like rhinos. He counted five Grunts with the Brute, not good odds for the lone, tired and injured ODST. He knew hiding was his only chance of surviving, so he carefully lay prone amidst the dirt and debris. He listened to the chatter of the Grunts walking past, their high pitched squeaking reverberating off the walls.
Their Brute leader stopped by the door and approached the counter inches from McDonald's head. The Brute sniffed the air and drool began to spill down his hairy chin. For a moment McDonald thought that he was going to be discovered and then bludgeoned to death--just another victim of the barbarity of this strange culture which never considered peace as an option. But, then suddenly the Brute turned and joined his squad of chattering methane breathers.
McDonald didn't dare move for several minutes after the patrol left. With his adrenaline pumping, he moved towards the storeroom at the back of the shop as quietly as he could. He needed a more secure place to hide and he found it-a large walk-in freezer. Carefully he entered the fortified freezer and closed the door behind him. At least here, he would be less obvious to the Covenant patrols in the city.
As he settled down in the hot and humid freezer, he noted the metal barrels of intoxicating brews around him. These were evidence of the culture of the city, the remains of the good, carefree times before fire rained down from heaven and before monsters did battle with knights in black armor. He began to remember the gun fight in which his men were cut down by plasma, spikes and needles. He tried to force himself to think of more pleasant images and once again his thoughts turned to Grace, his childhood friend and his first crush. Why had she died so young? He was never happy with the explanation the doctors gave him. There was no way she could have died so suddenly, her body was too strong. She could keep up with him in everything athletically. If only she could have lived...
McDonald is now outside, in a field. The day is warm, his armor feels new and he no longer has a pain in his side. He breathes in the fresh air and watches the perfect blue skies. He is in a serene place, a place of peace on a war-torn planet. In the distance he can see the city, charred and crumbling, but it is far from his mind. He notices a figure of a woman next to a tree at the top of a nearby hill. She is in a white dress, her brown hair is long and flowing and she is watching the horizon. Instantly he knows it's Grace; she didn't die after all! As he approaches, she turns and smiles at McDonald. Their eyes meet in a perfect moment of harmony. Her face is smooth as silk and her eyes are beaming with hope.
But soon, the skies darken, the grass withers and dies and the tree ignites into flame. He sees bodies of Marines, ODSTs and civilians strewn about the ground. When he turns to look at Grace she has changed too. She is no longer wearing a dress, but instead she is protected by green armor. Her long hair is now completely shaved off, her perfectly smooth face is raked with scars and her eyes are filled with intensity. He is not scared, but instead is emboldened by the sight of this Valkyrie. She puts her helmet on and raises her M7 and says one word to him, "Escape!"
He awakened once more, this time more gradually. When he opened the freezer door, he noticed that the perfect dark of the room was now broken and light was seeping through the cracks of the storeroom door. His mind was still hazy, but instinctively he knew the Grace from his dream was right; he had to get out of there. He wasn't about to die on this planet; he owed it to his family and to himself to escape. He felt better than he had the night before. He inspected his wounds, but the bio-foam had done its job. His side was no longer a jumble of protruding bones and muscles covered with gooey bio-foam. Instead he just saw raw and red, but repaired flesh. He smiled and raised his assault rifle before he carefully opened the door. The daylight blinded him temporarily but as his vision returned he looked over his surroundings.
The shop was still as quiet and desolate as ever, only the wind sounded through the abandoned building. But the wind began to call to McDonald and he followed it. He carefully crisscrossed through the broken and abandoned streets, but met no patrols. He had left his ruined helmet in the store so the sun blazed down on his face. The warm sun felt good, it reminded him that he was still alive. He followed the wind until he stumbled upon an open square in the middle of the city. It was surrounded by the destroyed and crumbling remains of towering office buildings. There, to his amazement, in the middle of the square was an abandoned Pelican Dropship. Rubble covered part of the ship, but despite its appearance, it seemed to be in remarkable shape.
Before approaching the Pelican, he secured the perimeter, set up motion sensors and planted remote explosives along all four sides of the craft. Then he entered the ship and began to prepare it for takeoff. He was surprised when he discovered that it had a full tank of fuel, fully functioning navigation and communications systems and even its sensors were working! This struck him as being very odd; he had never been this lucky before. Why was it here and in such good shape? Before he could speculate, he heard his motion alarm go off.
"Fuck!" He exclaimed and carefully leaned out of the open troop bay. He saw a contingent of Grunts, Jackals and their Brute Captain. It had been some time since he had seen Jackals-small skinny lizard-like aliens who acted as the Covenant's scouts. Unfortunately, the patrol had seen the Pelican and was approaching to investigate. He was trapped. He couldn't give up his only ride off the planet, so he would have to fight. He did not like the odds but after all, he was one of the toughest soldiers in the UNSC and he was willing to test his skills and his luck once more if it meant he could escape.
He dropped into the prone position and waited for the Grunts and the Jackals to approach. Detonator in hand he watched as the Captain of the Brutes ordered his Grunts to hit him with everything they had. Super heated plasma flew within an inch of his head. Several clumsily thrown plasma grenades fell nearby. Nevertheless, McDonald was as steady as a rock. He wanted to wait for the perfect moment before setting off his traps. The clumsy and brash Grunts led the charge followed by their Jackal companions who carefully shuffled forward hiding behind their hand-held shields. Then suddenly, one of the Brutes charged in front of the pack, anxious to get into combat. McDonald saw his chance and pulled the switch.
A deafening explosion ripped through the square. Blinded by the bright explosion, it took him a moment before his vision returned. When his vision cleared, the square was strewn with various alien body parts and he heard the cries of the wounded. A few Grunts survived and kept charging so McDonald carefully aimed his MA5B at the one in front and squeezed the trigger. A burst of automatic fire cut into the alien, dropping it dead in its tracks. McDonald kept firing at the remaining few left, tearing into the group with the rest of his clip until they began to fall in crumpled heaps on the broken concrete.
Now, only the Covenant Captain survived. Angrily the beast hefted his large Brute Shot and with a mighty roar charged the ODST. With his adrenaline pumping McDonald let out his own war cry, and unloaded his last clip into the charging attacker.
Unfortunately the armor and shields of the Captain were far better than the other Brutes. McDonald soon found himself backpedaling in an attempt to distance himself from the charging alien. He lost his footing and fell and as he hit the ground, he lost his grip on his rifle. He heard it clatter across the pavement and reached for his last remaining weapon, his combat knife. Seeing his moment, the Covenant Captain smiled and grabbed the fallen ODST. McDonald desperately tried to stab the Captain, but the blade barely penetrated the Brute's thick hide. Annoyed the Captain smashed him against a nearby wall with incredible force. McDonald bounced off the wall, dropping the knife as he collapsed. McDonald's vision was blurry, he had to fight to stay conscious and he knew he was about to die. However, his last thought was of Grace and then he closed his eyes and waited for the end.
Suddenly, the sound of a single shot ripped the square. He opened his eyes to see the headless body of the Captain on the ground. Confused and woozy McDonald had no idea what had just happened. He assumed he was already dead. As a result, he wasn't surprised when, strutting up to him, came Grace. Her face was hidden behind a golden face shield and her body was draped in green armor, but he knew it was her. He smiled and said, "I did it Grace, like you told me to. I escaped."
However, she did not respond, but instead lifted him up and set him down inside the Pelican. McDonald noticed the bay doors closing and the hiss of the seal was like music to his ears. He wondered if every soldier was evacuated into heaven by an angel in green. Then he noticed that Grace's two companions were also wearing green armor. They studied him, as if they were not sure what to do with this strange creature. McDonald asked them, "Are you two angels with Grace?" They said nothing, or at least they gave no answer before McDonald's eyes closed.
The ride into the atmosphere was bumpy, but the three Spartans didn't mind, they were use to roughing it. They took off their helmets and breathed a sigh of relief. In a cold and calculating manner, almost robotic, one of them exclaimed, "He must be tough since he had to survive behind enemy lines and was then still able physically to prep the Pelican and fight off those Covenant forces."
The other one then turned to their comrade piloting the ship, "Hey Grace, how did he know your name?"
The short haired, stern faced woman looked back into the troop hold and studied McDonald's form for a moment, searching her mind for someone like him. But all she could think of was a blur, a faded memory from her other life, before becoming a Spartan.
The first Spartan said, "Well?"
Grace responded, "I don't know, maybe it was fate."
"Fate!?" The other Spartan retorted as if she had just uttered a forbidden word.
Grace narrowed her eyes and turned to her comrades, "Ok, maybe it was...luck."