Posted By: Zephyr<firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date: 19 September 2008, 10:15 pm
I was always the scrawny one. Or the short one. The queer. Always the one to be picked on by all the others; always hated. I didn't really understand it; they called me a little pussy. They said he was the scrawniest one on the planet. And I knew I couldn't prove them wrong. They would tell me to point to a scrawnier kid. And I couldn't do it. I got in trouble for fighting a few times. I didn't win the fights. Maybe I resented the others for calling me scrawny, but I knew they weren't wrong. I thought I knew that I was worthless, or stupid. I didn't do well in the colonial schools. Never got top grades. But I didn't fail, either. For some reason they still called me a geek. A nerd. I admit, I wondered why.
They even made fun of me when I succeeded with girls. I got a few girlfriends. I lost them all just as fast, because I knew the others made fun of us behind our backs. They said I was weak. They ridiculed the fact that I couldn't just see girls as pieces of meat, things to hook up with, make out with, and hopefully to have intercourse with. I think I craved from girls the emotional connections I never got from boys, but I can't be sure anymore. I can't be sure of anything anymore.
I graduated high school, not first in my class, but not last, either. I wondered, then, why they called me a geek. He wondered how I could be a dumb geek, but supposed it was possible. Maybe they invented the concept. I graduated in 2532. We knew then about the Covenant, knew and didn't care. We all thought that it was nothing but a bunch of barbarian aliens. We even believed what the government disseminated about them; that they were losing, that we were driving them back.
We believed humanity was winning.
Looking back, I should have realized long before I did that not everything was the way they had framed it. If you believed the UN and the Colonial Administration Authority, then there wasn't any need to draft anyone. The all-volunteer forces were enough to stop the aliens. I should have realized it when the first rationing came down the line. When real luxuries started disappearing. Real food followed. People began to disappear. No one knew where they had gone; when questioned, the government told people that they didn't know, either.
All of it a huge lie.
Lies are funny things. They're like governments. The bigger they get, the more they start to take on lives of their own. They start to spiral out of control, and grow until, instead of being tools, used and controlled, those who created them begin to be controlled. Begin to be used.
The government lied in a very professional manner. The well-orchestrated lies deceived us all successfully until the Covenant arrived at that particular colony and killed everyone in fire and smoke and screaming metal death. Then the deception ended. A curious thing, how massacre and destruction shatter illusion.
I got my letter from the draft board for my planet on the 22nd of June, in 2533. A year to the day after I graduated. A year spent working away at a desk for some company that doesn't matter anymore. A year spent working for something that would no longer exist in only a few years.
My parents seemed neutral about it. They might have taken pride in me. I was, after all, being "called upon to serve humanity to the best of my ability." But I thought I knew they could never really take pride in me, or anything that had to do with me. I didn't know why. Perhaps the strange dimming in my father's eyes when he looked at me? The fact that my mother never told me she loved me, even on my birthday? I don't know. I won't ever know. I never told them much about school. It was painful enough while I was there. I didn't want to go over it all again with them. They didn't make the best audience, either. I could see that they didn't have any pride for me. No interest.
I shipped out for basic a week later. A shuttle arrived to take us to some military training center. Four others from my planet shipped out with me. Four others whose names I didn't even learn.
When we left the planet, I realized I had never before left its surface. Not even in an airplane. I was surprised at how little I cared.
Outside the window one could see the stars. Flat black sprinkled with a hundred billion little lights. In kindergarten they told us that some people back on Earth used to think that the stars were gods. I couldn't see anything so special about them. But it wasn't even given to me to enjoy the flight, enjoy the view, the solitude of it. They put me in a cryotube and the next thing I knew I was naked. I had to take some disgusting stuff. Pills or something. It tasted like mucus.
I learned moments later that the ship had arrived at Reach. I knew all about Reach; everyone did. The bastion of the UNSC's might. A smaller shuttle took us to an orbiting station, and then another took me down to the surface. Other shuttles took the people from my planet whose names I had never learned to other ships, other places.
Basic training was the hardest thing I'd ever done. Harder, even, than it was to stand and do nothing while they humiliated you. Oh, they humiliated us at basic. The noncoms, the sergeants and corporals, they were the biggest assholes I ever knew. But they did it for a reason. It all had a purpose other than, I suppose, making me crack and kill myself.
I didn't kill myself. We learned about all kinds of weapons. They gave one of my squad mates a shotgun. Another got a sniper rifle. Yet another received a Jackhammer. They told them that their scores on the aptitude tests had shown they would handle such weapons well. The other eight guys and I didn't get anything special. They gave us assault rifles. They didn't give us any real compliments.
I remember quite well the buildup before my first action. I was more frightened than I'd ever been. I sweated profusely. My uniform actually dripped. The sergeant laughed at me. I didn't know why. I didn't know how anyone didn't react to combat the way I did. You could get killed out there.
When we got to the planet where the battle was taking place, they briefed us
briefly. It didn't seem like they cared about us very much. The sergeant said some of us would die, and the rest would learn. I hoped I'd learn. I didn't want to die. None of us wanted to die. What we wanted didn't matter, as the sergeants made clear.
The Pelican we were in swept down low over the battlefield. We flew over a lot of the greenest jungle I had ever seen. I had never seen a jungle before. Then we came to beach. This, the pilot declared, was the LZ. Our squad was sent in to reinforce the battalion currently holding the beach. It didn't look to me like the battalion existed anymore. The battalion didn't defend the beach. Eight or nine companies did.
The battlefield was Hell. I gulped as I watched green and blue plasma crisscrossing the beach. Half of that beautiful white sand slagged to a burnt, glassy black. I could see the hunched figures of aliens, running here and there. Their movements were far more organized than those of the humans on the beach. The humans seemed to be fighting too hard to think about things like organization.
It was not a heartening sight.
We all felt the jolt when the Pelican touched down. The pilot screamed at us all to get out of his bird before the Covenant melted it. We ran down the lamp, onto the soft sand. My feet seemed to be stuck among the little grains. I didn't want to move. I tried to fire my rifle, found I couldn't. Some other soldier screamed at me to get down, so I did. I flopped down behind a rock. I tried to aim, but sweaty hands refused to hold the rifle properly. I nearly dropped it.
I was going to die.
When I realized that, everything got a little easier. My grip on my rifle firmed up. I popped up from behind my modest cover and started to fire off a burst.
Then a blob of plasma blew my face off. My body was knocked backwards as I left it, nothing but a seared hole where my head and neck had been. The wound didn't even bleed; plasma had cauterized the blood vessels. I saw a soldier near where I'd been mouth the words Oh, shit!
The only memorial I ever got.
My death didn't help anything. It didn't stop the Covenant. I never really saw an alien. I might have fired one round before I my body stopped working. Maybe my death bought a few other guys a little bit of time since some alien shot at me rather than them. It had only been one shot.
I had been in basic training for a year. During that year, my father had died of alcohol poisoning. My mother had been forced to begin working. They sent her a telegram. I know that humans haven't used telegrams for centuries, but the government still does it for military purposes. A long-used tradition.
The telegram began the UNSC PERSCOM (Personnel Command)deeply regrets to inform you that your son was killed in the field of battle against the Covenant on Sigma Octanus VII. His death, under heroic circumstances, enabled dozens of his comrades to live on.
It only went downhill from there. I wish that my mother had shed a tear when she knew I had died. But there was nothing. No sadness, no real emotion. She probably expected it, knew it would come.