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A Pilot's Life: Chapter 8-Dead Wrong
Posted By: Captain Rasc<Rasculia38@cox.net>
Date: 12 November 2003, 4:01 AM

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****To anyone who may read this series I am sorry for the delay. I have been sidetracked a couple of times by work, and have had problems with my computer. Hope you enjoy this one. ****

"Damn it's cold," I said as I lay concealed in a cluster of rocks that overlooked the valley below.

"You sure as hell got that right," grumbled Private Williams, the squad's heavy weapons specialist. We had been partnered up on guard duty, and now sat watching the snow filled valley below. We were awaiting the arrival of a large convoy of troops destined for a Covenant command post. We were under orders to attack the convoy and do as much damage as possible.

"I think I got something," said Williams.
"Where," I asked quickly.
"Over there, just to the left of those trees, it looks like a pair of Ghosts."
"You're right, there's a pair of Ghosts down there. I bet that they're acting as scouts for the main body." Sure enough, the Ghosts were followed by a number of transports and tanks, as well as a number of other Ghosts. They were proceeding slowly through the valley in a long, weaving line. We got up and ran back to where the rest of the squad waited with our three Warthogs.

"All right, the Convoy's approaching!" I informed them, "Let's saddle up and give them hell!" The Marines hustled to their Hogs and climbed aboard. Williams jumped into the driver's seat on the closest Hog, while I jumped up to man the heavy gun on the back. Since the convoy would undoubtedly have some tanks in it, we had been given a Hog modified for anti-tank work. It had heavier armor, and the LAAG had been replaced by an M60 AGL, giving it enough punch to take out a tank. When everyone had loaded onto the Hogs, we roared down into the valley towards the convoy. We closed on the convoy quickly, shooting towards a pair of tanks towards the front of the convoy. The gunners on the other two hogs opened fire at maximum range, scoring some hits but doing no real damage. As we got closer, I centered the guns sight over the lead tank and squeezed the trigger. The big gun barked loudly, and two shells exploded against the side of the tank. The tank slipped sideways in an attempt to dodge the incoming fire. I tracked the movement however, and two more shots slammed into the tank and it detonated in a huge fireball.

"YEEEHAAWWW!" shouted Jackson from the turret of another hog. We shot past the burning tank and I swung the turret around and slammed three shots into the second tank as we passed by. The tank went dark and dropped to the ground.

"Ghosts on the left!!" shouted Williams. I spun the turret towards the left and aimed at the leader. I fired just as Williams whipped the Hog to the right to avoid hitting a rock. The shots went wide, though one did hit a transport in the cockpit, stopping it dead. I muttered a curse and realigned my target. This time the shots connected and the Ghost exploded spectacularly. I turned to get the second Ghost, but it careened out of control as a gunner from one of the other Hogs killed the driver. We swung back around and ran along the length of the convoy. I kept up sustained fire, destroying two tanks and three transports. As Williams swung around for another pass, I discarded the spent ammo drum and replaced it with a fresh one. I yanked the bolt back and slammed it forward, then swung the turret around and tightened down on the trigger. I tracked fire up the side of one of the transports, and it exploded when one of the grenades hit a fuel cell. Williams swung the Hogs to the left, barreling through a group of Elites that were unloading from the back of one of the transports, scattering them like bowling pins. I swung the turret right and fired three shots into the back of another transport as the door opened to disgorge troops. Blood and guts sprayed through the partially open door as the shells exploded in the overcrowded confines of the cabin. Still holding the trigger, I swept fire across a quartet of Hunters that had jumped out of one of the transport. All three went down, but not before one of them got off a shot that blasted Private Littleton out of the side seat of one of the other Hogs. He hit the ground, rose quickly and began to run after us. Suddenly, he gave a cry and his face contorted in pain. He fell to the ground, his back a smoking crater.
"Damn it!!" I shouted. Yet another eager youth was killed under my command. I went ballistic, holding down the trigger and spraying rounds everywhere. I emptied the entire drum of one hundred shells in about ten seconds, destroying three transports and forty soldiers on foot. I was starting to reload when a shot hit me in the back, dumping me forward into the side seat. The armor absorbed most of the damage, but my skin still blistered badly. I bit back a curse as I struggled to right myself in the seat. By now we were past the convoy, and Williams was preparing to turn the Hog around for another pass.

"Forget it," I shouted at him, "We'll get torn apart if we make another pass. We did what we came here to do, now let's go." Williams nodded and stopped turning. We shot away from the convoy, heading back towards the hills above the valley. Four Ghosts tried to pursue us, but they gave up after two of them were destroyed by lethally accurate fire from the two LAAG equipped Hogs. With the pursuit gone, we sped into the relative safety of the surrounding hills.

* * * * * * * * * * *

We continued to drive for twenty minutes before coming to a halt above a small valley. Searching the hillsides, we located a large well concealed cave. After parking the Warthogs inside, we set a sentry and after starting a small fire, we settled down to rest. I tried to get some sleep, but couldn't. I was haunted by images of Littleton's death. Images of other men I had known flashed through my mind, Jones, Lathier, and others, all of them lying dead on some hellhole of a planet. Shaking away the disturbing images, I walked over to the mouth of the cave. I sat down there and began cleaning my pistol with a small rag. After polishing the pistol for almost a half-hour, I rose and walked out into the dark. It was snowing lightly, and I stood watching the small snowflakes float slowly to the ground. Memories of a life before the war came back to me. I remember going hunting in the forest near our home in Montana, our dog leading the way. I remember fishing down on the docks at summer time, seeing who could catch the most fish for dinner. I longed to be back home with my brothers, instead of out here fighting in this stupid war. Wishful thinking, my brothers had both died on the Pillar of Autumn two and a half years ago, just before I entered the service. Though I knew they were dead, no one would tell me how they died, which made me wonder if they were dead. I have often thought to myself that maybe, just maybe they are still out there... Pushing aside these thoughts, I turned and walked back into the cave. Inside I found Williams and Jackson, the squad's sniper, engaged in a game of cards. Seeing me approach, Williams turned and said, "Care to join us for a few hands of poker Lieutenant?"

"I'm not very good, but okay." I said. I sat down and they dealed me in and the game commenced. Ten hands later, I was in possession of five packs of cigarettes, two chocolate bars, a pack of gum, and an IOU on William's next paycheck.
"Didn't you say you weren't good at cards?" asked Jackson.
"I'm not good at cards, but people say I'm lucky."
"You got that right!" grumbled Williams.
"You two get some sleep, I'm gonna go and relieve Benson as sentry."
"Sure thing sir." The two men stood and walked to the back of the cave to get some sleep. I grabbed my shotgun and walked outside. I sloshed through the snow towards Benson's sentry post. When I arrived, he gladly swapped places with me, and he headed quickly towards the cave and the fire inside. I watched him go, the settled down with my back against a small tree. I scanned back and forth, my eyes alert for any movement in the snow. After two hours, I began to grow sleepy. I tried to stay awake, but my eyes were heavy, and I soon fell into a deep sleep.

I awoke a half hour later from a pleasant dream that included a warm bed and a soft pillow. I sat up quickly, wondering where I was and what had happened to my bed. The sudden shift dislodged the snow in the branches of the tree, and I was buried under a small mound of powder. The cold snow brought me full awake, and I remembered where I was. I started to stand, when I heard the sound of footsteps in the snow. I went absolutely still, my eyes scanning back and forth for the source of the sound. I wasn't difficult to spot, a dark silhouette against the snow moved slowly towards the entrance of the cave. I studied the figure for a moment, noting the jerking, staggering gait. When the figure was about ten yards away, I called out in a clear voice.
"Halt! Identify yourself!"

The figure stopped immediately. It turned slowly towards me, and stood facing me. I got the feeling that it was studying me. Suddenly, the figure gave a loud, gurgling yell and lurched towards me, moving with frightening speed despite its awkward gait. Filled with sudden apprehension, I put my shotgun to my shoulder and took careful aim. I slowly tightened on the trigger, and the shotgun bucked against my shoulder. The flash gave me a brief impression of long arms and yellow skin, and the creature staggered backwards with a startled bark. It quickly recovered and it lunged towards me again. I fired again, and this time the shadowy figure dropped to the ground with a gurgling death cry. At that moment, the other men came running out of the cave, guns ready. They had heard the shots and rushed outside to see what the problem was. I walked over to the shadowy figure, and turned on my guns light. We were utterly unprepared for what it showed us.

It almost looked like a human, but it was definitely not one now. The head had been pushed back between the shoulders. Its skin was a moldy yellow, and was torn in many places, revealing rotten organs underneath. Its legs were mangled, bone protruded from the knees and they were bent at an odd angle. Its left arm was twice as big as normal. The fingers were long and whip-like, and sprouted from the wrist. The other arm was short, almost stunted, and the torso was swollen. From a patch of brown lumpy skin on the shoulder protruded a cluster of tentacle like antennae. The whole body stank of rotted flesh, and thick green blood stained the ground around it.
For a long moment nobody spoke, we just stared at the grotesque...thing lying on the ground in front of us. Finally, Jackson stirred and spoke in a hoarse voice, "What the hell is it Lieutenant?"
Yeah, as if I had the faintest idea...

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

"This is fire team Alpha to Central Command, come in Central Command." I paused, waiting for a reply, but no voice issued from the radio's small speaker. Six minutes earlier, deeply disturbed by the zombie-like attacker, I had decided to send a report back to the command center. Having received no reply for the last three minutes, I was beginning to feel edgy. I decided to try one last time, but before I could speak a static filled voice burst from the radio.
"Fire team Alpha, this is Eagle one. Do you require assistance?"
"Indeed we do," I said, relieved that I had contacted someone, "Could you get in touch with command a relay a message for us?"
"Will do, give me a minute..." There was a pause, and when the pilot spoke again he sounded worried. "I sent a message but there was no reply. The system may be malfunctioning due to the cold."
"Not likely. If the cold ruined commands comm. gear, then I wouldn't be talking to you right now. Hmmm..." I thought for a moment. "What's you current position?"
"I'm about fifty klicks from your current position. Why do you ask?"
"I was wondering if you could give us a lift to the command center."
"I'm not sure. You're outside my area of responsibility. I am not sure command would be happy if I showed up with Marines from outside my grid."
"It's important Eagle one."
"All right, I'm on my way. ETA is thirty minutes."
"Appreciated Eagle one. Alpha team out." With that, I clipped the microphone back onto the radio and turned it off. I grabbed my shotgun, stood, and jogged over to where the rest of the squad sat near the Warthogs.
"Good news guys. I didn't get through to command, but I did reach a Pelican who is willing to give us a lift to command. He'll be here in about thirty minutes."
"What are we going to do with the Hogs?" asked Williams.
"We'll have to leave them behind along with any ammo and weapons we can't carry by ourselves. Let's get to work."

We moved quickly. Jackson, Williams, and I drove the Hogs deep into the cave where they would be unseen by the enemy. When this was done, we returned and helped the others gather equipment, but not before Williams and I each grabbed a Jackhammer from two of the Hogs. I grabbed two cases of shotgun ammo and attached them to my belt. I also grabbed a pair of frag grenades and a bag of pistol rounds. I then helped the rest of the squad move the extra gear into the cave with the Warthogs. We had just finished the last load when the whine of an approaching Pelican could be heard winding through the hills.

I spotted it shortly afterward, flying in the valley. As I watched I noticed that it was flying faster than most pilots liked, and it was hugging the ground, staying below the hills at treetop level. When the pilot drew even with our location, he banked the Pelican and shot up the hill towards us. As soon as it touched down, the pilot's voice came from the comm., sounding a little panicked.

"Hustle Alpha team, there's a pair of Banshees headed this way." We clambered quickly aboard, needing no further urging. As soon as the last man was aboard, the pilot brought the Pelican up. He made a sharp turn and shot away from the ground, heading north east towards the command center as fast as the big ship could. Not fast enough however. We could easily make out the approaching fighters as they rapidly gained on us. I watched their approach then turned and yelled to Williams, "Get your Jackhammer ready. We're going to have to take them out."

He nodded and shouldered the rocket launcher, the Marines sitting on either side of him moved out of the way. The men next to me likewise got clear as I shouldered my own launcher and waited. The Banshees soon came within firing range, and began firing at the Pelicans engines. I felt the craft shake as some of the shots connected. I quickly lined up my shot, and pressed the firing stud. The rocket shot out of the barrel with a loud whoosh and I felt a wash of heat from the exhaust. The rocket crossed the gap between the Pelican and the Banshees almost immediately. The missile hit my target dead center, punching through the front armor and exploding inside. The force of the explosion tore the ship in half, and the two pieces tumbled towards the ground. The other Banshee simply disintegrated when Williams shot detonated the fuel cells. Before we could celebrate however, the pilots voice came form the intercom.

"You might want to come up front and see this sir."
"On my way," I said into the speaker grid. I handed the Jackhammer to Jackson and went to the cockpit door. I opened it and stepped through, closing it behind me. I then climbed up the small ladder to the cockpit.

"What'd you want me to see?" The pilot merely pointed. I looked out the window where he indicated. What I saw filled me with apprehension. In the distance, smoke billowed up in great black clouds from the area of the command center.
"That's not good," I said.
"Yeah," said the pilot, "To make things worse, my radar has picked up a lot of Covenant activity about four klicks ahead of us. Whatever it is, it's between us and the command center."
"Give that area a wide berth, but continue to head towards the command center."
"Just do as you're told."
"Yessir," he said reluctantly.

He swung the ship to the south, on a heading that would take us around the Covenant. Meanwhile I just stood there, thinking hard about the problems arising from this new turn of events. Without a central command to coordinate our movements, the various units harassing the Covenant would be much less effective. Our chances of surviving had just dropped to almost zero. As I stood there, gazing out at the black smoke rising into the air, I though to myself that things couldn't get any worse.
I was dead wrong...