Waking the Dead (part two): Shattered Image
Posted By: Chuckles
Date: 5 June 2005, 10:08 AM
Waking the Dead (part two): Shattered Image
Bruised, bloody and misshapen by a smashed skull, the sad image of death haunted MiNeS like a badgering ghost. After all, the mutilated face had been his and life now seemed as alien as the Covenant. Would he ever hope or smile again? MiNeS had no answer—but he finally had purpose, and that purpose would consume him like fire. Remembering where it had begun he managed a sad, humorless chuckle. How fitting that he would find heaven, hell, judgment and purgatory in the same place—and that place would be named Pandora City.
"What the—" MiNeS heard the broken curse crackle in his helmet as they arrived at the edge of the trees. Shaking his head in disgust, Chuckles glared at the open ground between them and the city wall. "Gotta hand it to those intel guys, they were only off by about a decimal point." Although the map on his HUD showed the tree line coming within forty meters of the wall, he was staring at a distance of at least ten times that. With Epsilon Indi shining bright overhead the three Spartans were already somewhat vulnerable to snipers, but this—this was ridiculous.
"Well," Xraf said unslinging the sniper-rifle from his back and staring at several buildings behind the wall, "this won't be boring."
Chuckles grunted. "I don't mind boring." He thought for a moment, and then grabbed his own rifle and handed it to MiNeS. "Okay, I'm crossing first. They're not likely to score with the first shot, so don't give them a second one." With that, Chuckles took off with blurring speed towards the city. MiNeS and Xraf scanned the buildings, but everything remained quiet. Within a few seconds the big Spartan crouched safely against the wall.
"Xraf, you're next."
"Roger that. Okay kid, time to show off your legendary aim." The young Spartan laughed but never took his eyes off the buildings. Xraf had voluntarily mentored MiNeS since the day they met. The younger had come to see the older as a second father—and he was not about to let this one be taken away.
"You got it."
Xraf burst from the tree line, a gray blur in a sea of deep green. Suddenly MiNeS saw muzzle-flash from a window behind the wall and although he did not lower his scope to check, the silence of his COM was reassuring. In an instant the young Spartan sighted on the shooter's head, squeezed and felt the rifle buck slightly in his powerful arms. With a confident, smooth motion he brought the rifle back on target—and saw a second flash.
"Xraf!" Chuckles' voice exploded in MiNeS helmet, it's tone telling the young Spartan that he had just been orphaned—again. Such horror would have rendered a normal man combat ineffective. But MiNeS was not a normal man. The young Spartan's heart rate began to slow as his breathing became calm and fluid. Taking into account distance and wind speed, MiNeS eased his sights on the target with near supernatural focus. As he gently squeezed the trigger the rifle might as well have been frozen in stone. Finally the weapon kicked slightly and the 14.5mm high velocity round shot out of the barrel in a blossom of flame; impacting the target and removing the rebel's right shoulder from his body. Perfect.
Writhe in pain you dog—I'll see you soon.
"Okay," Chuckles said, his voice a mix of anger and emotion, "Your turn, kid."
"Roger that. The sniper is down. I'll check Xraf's status on the way over."
"Negative! You will get to this wall as fast as you can without going near Xraf!"
"What?" MiNeS replied, nearly busting Chuckles' eardrum. "I won't just leave him!"
"You will do as you are told, soldier! Stop wasting time and—"
"But the sniper is down!"
Chuckles had had enough. "I guess Palatov would never dream of having more than one sniper, would he kid?"
"Xraf is dead! Now get yourself over here! And God help me, if you even go near that body I'll shoot you myself! Move!"
MiNeS emerged from the trees and shot across the field, veering away from his mentor's corpse. Arriving at the wall a moment later he turned to the older Spartan in anger. "I can't believe that you—" Chuckles grabbed MiNeS by both shoulders and threw him against the wall. Then bringing his head so close that their visors clicked together, he spoke in a voice that made the young Spartan's mouth go dry.
"You can't believe that I what? That I brought somebody as green as you with me on this mission? Huh? Xraf is gone and now I'm stuck with a drooling infant who doesn't even know how to follow orders—that's what I can't believe." Finally letting go of MiNeS' shoulders he softened his tone. "Soldiers die kid, so get used to it. There's no place for grief out here; it will only get somebody else killed. Are we clear?"
A map of the city appeared on each of their HUDs. Pandora consisted of only a few dozen buildings, none taller than seven stories. "Assuming that our intel is correct," Chuckles said as two squares on the map were highlighted, "the rebels are based in these two buildings. Palatov supposedly controls a thousand men, but I'd be surprised if we encountered more than twenty. ONI's man inside says that he comes to Pandora twice a year to plan, bringing only a few leaders and a small security force." The Spartan took a deep breath. "We do not know which building Palatov is in, so we'll have to attack them simultaneously to keep him from skipping out. That means you'll be alone on this one."
"I'll take the nearest building," MiNeS said, choosing to ignore Chuckles' apparent lack of confidence. "That's where the sniper is." The older Spartan nodded his agreement, turned and headed towards an opening in the wall. But MiNeS did not follow—he had waited long enough already.
After backing up several steps, the young Spartan ran, leapt into the air and somersaulted over the wall. Landing on his feet he shot across the small road and smashed into the building's entrance with the force of a truck, knocking the thick steel doors off of their hinges. Eight rebels were waiting in the room with weapons drawn, but having never seen a Spartan they froze, if only for a moment—and a moment was all it took. Full of rage and moving so fast that he seemed no more than a blur, MiNeS jumped into the middle of the group swinging his shotgun like a baseball bat, killing rebels with each lethal stroke. Desperate shots rang out, but the blur—first here, then there—paid them no mind. At last a single cowering rebel remained, looking up at the Spartan as if staring at the Grim Reaper. In a single violent motion, MiNeS grabbed the man by his neck and lifted him up until they were face to visor.
"Tell me," Death said through clenched teeth, "how many rebels are upstairs?"
"N-n-none." Without warning a huge gauntleted fist crashed into the soldier's face, splitting his nose wide open. Death spoke again.
"O-only a sniper!" the rebel cried. "A w-wounded sniper—honest!" Death nodded slowly, lowered the rebel to the ground and, finally using his shotgun as intended, tore a hole through his chest with an eight-gauge slug.
The narrow building had seven floors connected only by stairs. MiNeS thumbed a shell into his shotgun and began to climb. Finally reaching the top he saw a man lying on the floor moaning in pain—minus a right shoulder.
MiNeS slowly removed his MJOLNIR helmet, revealing eyes set afire with hatred. No longer needing to control his anger the Spartan yanked the rebel violently from the ground and pinned him against the wall by his neck. Without a word he smashed his armored fist into the soldier's head, cracking his skull. Surprisingly, the rebel did not scream but looked up at the Spartan, eyes wide with surprise. He spoke in a thin, weak voice.
"How do you—" and it was only then that he saw it. Looking at the soldier before him he might as well be looking into a mirror—except that this mirror was horribly cracked. He dropped the rebel to the ground and backed away in horror. A friendly smile spread across the dying man's face and he spoke again.
"MiNeS . . . brother. Dad. Find d-dad." The Spartan backed away further, head shaking and his lips moving soundlessly. Finally reaching the far wall, he stood motionless and watched as the rebel pulled several pictures from his pocket, held them at arms length—and died.
A few minutes later MiNeS sat by a Pelican behind the building, flipping slowly through the pictures. Children playing in a yard, a small family on a boat, the same family at Christmas; normal pictures. But what did the young Spartan know about normal? At last he came to a photo of two five or six year-old twin boys in the lap of an older man—and MiNeS suddenly forgot how to breathe. Emotion swept over him and for the first time in his adult life tears began to fill his eyes. Years ago he had forgotten his father's face, but now he held it in his hands—hands that had killed his twin brother just minutes before; hands that had slain his father's son.
The final photo was his brother's identification card. MiNeS' mouth dropped open as he read the name. Ian Cutlass. He finally had a last name; MiNeS finally had an identity.
Chuckles' voice suddenly crackled in his helmet. "MiNeS, I am at the main building and all targets are neutralized. I repeat, all targets are down." Staring down at the ID card, the young Spartan spoke out loud without knowing it.
"Cutlass, it's Cutlass."
"What did you say?" Chuckles' voice was impatient, but MiNeS Cutlass did not care, nor did he reply.
Looking at the Pelican in front of him he knew what he had to do. Without hesitating, he jumped into the drop ship and roared into the sky. MiNeS would find his father and then make ONI pay for what they had done—and especially for what they had caused him to do. What MiNeS could not yet know or even guess was that these two goals were more than connected; they were one and the same.