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Through the Looking Glass
Posted By: ShroudedCloud<shrouded.cloud@gmail.com>
Date: 26 September 2009, 4:52 am

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      He went through the home, shutting off all the lights. Another early-ended day of work and adulthood. Down the hall, at the front door of the first-class apartment, the man's wife of six years was just leaving for her night-time job. It was all regular now: In the morning, all were home and spent free time together before the man left for work and his wife for sleep. Later, she would wake, run errands and return to the home for some quality evening family time before she worked and he slept. Neither believed this to be the perfect situation, but. . . .
      A sudden movement down the hall caught the man's attention. His little girl was emerging from the bathroom. And there it was, why both had agreed that they would deal with this less-than-ideal situation. Five years ago, she had hit the young couple like no other bit of news could; and, after they absorbed the reality of it all, both decided on the path they now followed. They would not let this little girl have anything less than what they considered the absolute best they could offer. This included the family times; keeping every standard (school, athletic, nutritional, etc.) fun, interesting, and high; as well as a nightly--
      “Story time!” his little girl shouted with zeal. He simply smiled at her youthfulness before moving with a much more controlled haste than his daughter to her room. Inside, she had made sure no one could mistake this room for any but her own. Posters of many different child idols, most half-covering the inspirational or educational posters her parents had insisted stay; dolls, though not many, sat interspersed on the various furniture; and a small mess of clothes that constituted some afternoon activity with her mother.
      “Now, Sheila, you can't go to bed with this mess here,” he said with the best paternal tone that he could muster when faced with his most proud achievement. “Take care of this while I pick out a story.”
      “OK,” she consented as he turned his back to select a story from her self. He let a small chuckle as he saw a flurry of clothes flying into the closet behind his back. Focusing back on his hand as it coasted along the spines of a much varied selection, he chose a collection of stories written by a local author of classically-styled fantastic children stories. Paging through the short descriptions at the beginning of the stories, he found the candidate that called on him and flicked to it.
      He found a comfortable spot on the bed and teasingly gathered his daughters blankets about himself, pretending to become an invalid old man as she ambled about the room finishing her nightly ministrations. She quickly switched off the main light, leaving only a bedside lamp to light the room, rushing to reclaim her covers from her father.
      “Alright, now that we are all settled in, I feel like a nap,” he told her as he got up to leave.
      “But--” she pouted.
      “Oh, I guess I can spare time for one story. . . . Let's see, this one seems good,” he said as he flipped back to the likely story for the night. His daughter took a passive, rapt position, comfortable against the warmth of her father.
      “There once was a little girl, chosen by destiny at a young age to be prepared to be the hero of the people. . . .”

      Six years old, she stood weeping for her father and for her mother. She hated these people who pushed her about in the secrets of the night. The had abducted her, leaving behind a similar, but doomed to a much shorter life, lump in her bed in a drug-induced somnolent haze. Her cries had been stifled by a gag before dying into unconsciousness. In the other room, despite the commotion there had been, her father had sat staring at some ghost that was to unlock the door and greet its husband at any given moment.
      The men had all worn nondescript clothing in night tones to blend in in the calm moonlight. They had carefully placed the unconscious child into the back of a sedan and had powered away from her childhood home. In a half-hour, she was aboard a dropship, leaving the planet; in another, she was aboard a UNSC vessel weeping where she stood as a tube for cryogenic freezing was prepared for her. The pushed her and she begrudgingly placed her hands on either side of the tube and took a step forward into. . . .
      A small amphitheater. Another of those hated men stood behind her, prodding her onward into the room to a designated seat. She sat with her handler firmly pressing on her shoulders, forcing her to sit without fidgeting in this room filled with other children, each accompanied by an equally-intimidating handler. She stared openly at them all, not bothering to pay the slightest attention to the woman at the front until she took a step forward, taking on a more vital tone:
      “You have been called upon to serve. You will be trained. . .” Images flashed: Twenty-five groups of children competing against each other to ring a bell atop a high wooden pole; of long hours filled with running and exercise; of cool rooms where she drifted her hand across holographic grass of a meadow as a pack of wolves hunted; of days isolated in the wild, learning to improvise; of lying in a bed in agonizing pain; and finally of a haze of advanced lessons mixed with days of training further as the hyperbole of humanity.
      “. . . And you will become the best we can make of you. You will be the protector of Earth and all her colonies.” More images: A man pleading with her before the shot tore through the bridge of his nose; donning the MJOLNIR armor for the first time to finally become whole; wading through a pool of dead civilians, not being fazed as she fires on a group of the bipedal aliens ahead; taking a step into the hold of a dropship with the measly three people that survived the extermination by those xenophobic beings; a blinding beam of light from the sky unleashing hell on the surface of the planet beneath it, destroying the last vestiges of a world that had never before seen blood spilt.
      “This will be hard to understand, but you cannot return to your parents.” She struggled against her handler, becoming oblivious to the woman speaking again. It was futile, though. She gave up the struggle, focusing instead on trying to hold back her weeping by focusing on the woman's speech again. “. . . Will be difficult. There will be a great deal of hardship on the road ahead, but I know you will make it.” Thirty-seven faces snapped in her direction with deathly faces and milky eyes. She shook her head and they were all still staring somewhere ahead, most in the vicinity of this woman on stage.
      “Rest now, we begin tomorrow.”

      “. . . And, after all these trials and training, she became a hero of the people. . .”

      “I'll just have a coffee, thanks. Yeah man, did you see the news? They're limiting travel. You can't transport anything. It's all under martial control now.”
      “There is a war going on--”
      “Fuck their war! We didn't do anything to piss off those- those--” the coffee-ordering man began before all eyes turned to a sudden disruption in the news feed coming from the corner of the little cafe.
      “We are sorry to interrupt this broadcast, but there is breaking news coming from an unannounced press conference being held by a vice admiral of the UNSC. It appears we won't be able to tune in directly, but news is reaching us that the oft-rumored super-soldiers are indeed more than legend: they are real and they are winning this war. The “Spartans” have been at the fore--”
      “I'm sorry, it seems we are receiving a press feed now, with images.” The news anchor was replaced by the titans in their hulking armor, performing various heroic acts in very select, disjointed embodiments of battles far off.
      “Wow, look at them. I wonder if all the rumors are true then. . . ?” one of the customers mused.
      The coffee-ordering man, after taking a sip of coffee, just let out a non-committal grunt. All around the man and his friend, the cafe erupted into a flurry of excited speech over this confirmation of the rumors of true heroes of the battlefield. All eyes seemed to lose come of the dullness that had seeped into the societal psyche; many of the occupants sat a bit straighter in their chairs, refreshed by the reassuring news. Those long considered crackpots were offered multitudes to recount their formerly crazy stories about green titans from the sky sent to save humanity.
      The coffee-ordering man sat with his coffee looking contemptible. Sure, they look heroes now, he thought, but what of when they were designed to cut their teeth on humanity? When their purpose was to squash all dissent among colonists?
      Denying their prowess was beyond even him, however. A bomb one day had become power for the citizens the next; he really saw no harm in celebrating these beacons in dark times.

      “. . . The girl and her allies came back to her home eventually, to free it of the evil scourge that beset it. . .”

      The ramp descended, behind it stood three armored Spartans, guns raised into danger ahead. They quickly moved ahead into the thicket that surrounded the city, melting into the environment. At the head of the group, a female Spartan who made several quick gestures to the others who immediately moved into the city to get to survivors; at the rear, a civilian scientist was ushered into the dropship they had just evacuated and taken away from the fray to safety.
      Left alone, the female Spartan took a moment to review her objectives: Get in, plant explosives, get out, unleash hell. She stepped forward, rifle still raised, took a few tentative looks around and rushed into the city. The buildings around her rose and fell as she rushed onward toward her goal. The mission was vague of where she was to place this hell-in-a-metal-case, so, she decided to rush into the enemy and hit them where it would hurt the most.
      She ran on, occasionally melting to shadows to take out a scout before setting out again. She saw it before long: a beam of light where the air inside seemed more still than its surroundings connecting to a small square and outlined by tall apartment buildings. She edged around the encampments and into one of the buildings, it was extravagant to the point of excess.
      “We've got the survivors marked and will be evacuated in ten,” announced her two partners. She sent an acknowledgement to them before quickening her pace toward the roof of the building. She passed many doors on the stairs until coming to an abrupt halt when she found the rest of the stairwell destroyed, open to the cold sky above. She ran to end of the hall, entered one of the rooms closest the beam. . . .

      “. . . And she defeated the evil and the world lived happily ever after,” the father finished. His daughter lay, completely out of reality and firmly within the sandman's grip beside him. Her face was calm, smooth; her green eyes did not flutter beneath her lids, no nightmare besieged her sleep. She snored slightly and he smirked. “Just like her mother.”

      She turned the corner to come face to face with a a large group of the aliens. Both groups froze for a moment. She reacted first, but to little use: There were too many in that confined space. She took out a few, but the rest simply filled the air with their munitions, the impact of it throwing her back where she crashed onto a bed. The visor that protected her face melted, her green eyes stared up at the beam. Her eyes saw none of it. Faintly, a voice issued over the radio inside her helmet calling her name, “Sheila?”
      The aliens crowded around her, tossing away dolls that sat in odd places in the room. The tallest knocked over a bookshelf that had had a wall backing it in the times past. They stamped through the ashes of posters on the floor to look at this demon laying peacefully on the bed.
      “Good-bye, Sheila,” one of the other Spartans said over the radio. A small sun lit in the room, obliterating the entire city and all those inside of it.
      An old man, who had refused to leave the world, sat guarding the grave of his lost daughter. He looked up at the wrong moment, bearing witness to the explosion and losing his sight for the last few moments before his life ended. He traced his fingers along the name on the grave once more before the end: “SHEILA MAY.”

Author's note: This story was created as a sort of practice before I went full-fledged into a story for the recent Feet First Into Hell contest. No, no ODSTs, was just a test in writing in the Halo universe, therefore, I apologize at it's lack of true polish, I don't have the time to spruce it up.