Mission From SATU part 8—The Conclusion: Face to Face
Posted By: Chuckles
Date: 6 September 2004, 2:42 PM
Mission From SATU part 8—The Conclusion: Face to Face
Just a meal
A feast of human flesh. Having no lips, they couldn't smile, but as they looked down they were filled with warmth and expectation: they would feed well tonight. They would eat until their bellies threatened to burst, and then feast again. All human. All dead. All good.
No lips, yes, but they smiled inside. Circling. Waiting.
Can vultures hear Death's approach? Can they smell it's rot before the aroma is released? Perhaps not. But no special powers were needed this day. No, this day Death arrived bold and brash. This was Death's day, and it would be as loud and obnoxious as it wanted.
Death arrived, and the vultures danced in the sky. Carrion was their food, and Death was their caterer. They waited patiently as the table was set, and the meal prepared. Finally, all was ready, and they ate well. By evening, the carrion was picked clean and the wilderness was back to normal. Death had gone home, followed closely by its adoring birds. It was over. A good meal, to be sure, but nothing more.
Just a meal.
Moving the team along was easy: Turpertrator's death face was as bewitched as Simjanes', so nobody was in the mood to stick around. They had traveled swiftly and without hesitation. Did Lexicus know where they were going? The men had their doubts, but after what had just happened to Turper, they kept quiet.
Krusty heard a sound, and looked up. A lot of birds in the sky today. Big ones.
Suddenly the Spartans stopped, as the sound of distant gunfire echoed through the forest. Krusty looked up again: the birds were leaving.
John was within sight of Rhinox before he realized Lex's team was no longer moving. He had been following well behind since a little before dawn.
When Linda called with news that Chuckles had joined her, the Master Chief had his doubts. Of all the Spartans he had ever known, Chuckles was the least predictable. He was capable of cruelty and compassion; of genius and madness. With the Clown, you never knew what you were going to get. The Master Chief would not trust him. Not without proof.
The chance to test his intentions came when Chuckles asked Linda to take him to John. If Lexicus suddenly began to travel in the direction Linda was heading, they would know that the Clown was playing them. After only a few minutes of following Lex's team, it was clear: Chuckles was lying.
Not a minute after he he had informed Linda, he heard gunfire.
Her shotgun was poised mere inches behind Chuckles' head as she slowly squeezed the trigger. Suddenly, the sound of distant gunfire echoed through the forest. As he heard it, Chuckles turned, saw the shotgun and sidestepped as Linda fired. An eight gauge slug slammed into his shoulder, throwing him to the ground and dropping his shields. He quickly rolled towards her, making her next shot miss, but as he jumped to his feet Linda smashed the stock of her rifle savagely into his head. Going limp, he tumbled to the ground.
Could she shoot a helpless Spartan? No time to consider it: the sound of gunfire continued to fill the forest, and it was coming from the direction of their base camp.
NO! Not again!
Leaving Chuckles unconscious, she tore through the forest towards the children.
Sergeant Justin Timmer was annoyed. He and his four snipers watched through their scopes as twenty-seven nine year-olds and three fourteen year-olds played in a field. But these were no ordinary children: these were Spartans. And while the younger ones looked close to their actual age, the older ones looked nothing like normal teenagers.
They didn't act like teens either.
All three were much larger than any ODST, and had recently undergone the standard Spartan augmentation treatment. As a result they had supernatural speed, lightning reflexes, incredible strength and nearly unbreakable bones. Yesterday, when most of the fourteen year-olds had been slaughtered, their movements had been awkward and jerky, because they were not yet used to their new bodies.
That was yesterday.
Adapting quickly, they were already moving with precision and grace. The upshot was that although the snipers had been ordered to eliminate the older ones first, it was proving difficult. As they played with the younger ones, they moved fast—too fast to shoot at with any certainty.
Sergeant Timmer was done waiting. Screw this. "Okay boys, fire at anything that moves. I repeat, fire at will."
Shots rang out, and nine year-olds dropped to the ground, either dead or wounded. Vultures circled unnoticed in the morning sky, beating their huge wings lazily. Then, appearing seemingly out of nowhere and swooping down to obstruct their line of sight, was another large bird. But it wasn't a vulture.
It was a Pelican.
Aardvark was no boy-scout, much less a hero, but he would not sit back and let men slaughter children: even his own men. Bringing his Pelican in low, he swerved back and forth across their stunted half-moon formation, making it nearly impossible to aim.
"Shoot him! Shoot him!" Sergeant Timmer barked, not wasting the time to reason with the pilot.
"What the—" A sniper round crashed through the windshield and impacted the chair inches from Aardvark's head. Furious, he was about to try and scare them with the Pelican's guns when he heard a wet, smacking sound as lead slammed into his right shoulder, pulverizing muscle and bone. Blocking out the pain, he turned the Pelican away from the snipers, and toward the fleeing Spartans.
Aleesha, the leader of the three older Spartans, watched as the Pelican crossed the clearing. She was not yet sure how many of the young ones were dead, but it would have been a lot worse without the drop ship's intervention. It had bought enough time to get the survivors to safety behind a nearby hill. But she'd had her fill of running: now it was time to fight back.
Setting the ship down next to the three Spartans, Aardvark was starting to feel very sleepy. Touching his shoulder, his hand came away covered in thick, dark blood. Oh Crap. It was worse than he'd thought, and he needed medical attention—sooner, rather than later. Opening the door and rushing in, a female Spartan looked him over, pulled his harness off and lifted him into the back as if he were nothing but a child.
"Sarah," Aleesha barked as she readied the Pelican for take-off, "tend to his wound. David, it's time we did some killing of our own. Grab your rifle and get ready: we're going to send those snipers back to Hell." Hearing the Spartan's orders as if in a dream, Aardvark jumped.
"No . . . no . . . you can't . . . please . . ." As he felt the ship lifting, reality drifted away, the bad dream blurred, and the wounded pilot fell into a deep sleep.
Spartan-117 considered his options. Moments before, Linda had breathlessly informed him that the gunfire, which he continued to hear sporadically, had come from base camp. Stealth had served its purpose; now it was time to act, and act decisively. His mission? Eliminate four Spartans. One was wounded, but the other three were fully combat ready. Three top Spartans against only the Master Chief. A fair fight?
But it wasn't John's fault they had only four men, and he wasn't about to tie an arm behind his back to even things up. They came all this way to find him, and they were about to get their wish.
Rhinox was getting nervous. Three minutes before they had heard distant gunfire, and Lexicus had ordered them to stop. He had tried to wait patiently, but Rhinox had a bad feeling about staying put too long. Better call Lex.
And that was his final thought.
Not very profound, but then, Rhinox didn't expect to die. Creeping up behind him like a spirit of death, John had struck a vicious blow to his head, snapping his neck.
Without pausing the spirit moved on; silent and deadly. A quarter mile away, Xraf too wondered why they had stopped for so long.
"Rhinox, have you talked to Lex?" Dead air. "Rhinox? Hello?"
Grabbing his shotgun, Xraf turned—and saw his reflection in Spartan-117's visor. He tried to raise his weapon, but John grabbed the barrel and tore it out of his hands. In a blur of motion the Master Chief kicked Xraf's chest, slamming him into a tree; cracking it in half, and dropping his enemy's shields to zero. An instant later, flipping end over end and reflecting the sun's brilliance on its gleaming surface, John's combat knife pierced Xraf's thin neck armor, slicing an artery.
Moving undetected, he neared his next target. But as he crept up behind Krusty, he paused. The young Spartan sat against a tree, with his helmet on the ground next to him. Badly injured, and quickly deteriorating, John knew that the wounded Spartan posed no immediate threat. Almost against his will, the Master Chief began to feel pity.
Kneeling beside him, he said, "Did you have any medical supplies, soldier? Without some immediate attention, you may die."
Krusty only laughed. "Don't worry about me, worry about yourself. I might die from this wound, but Lexicus is after you: you're as good as dead already."
Kicking Krusty's helmet a safe distance away, John replied sadly, "Well, I guess we'll have to wait and see about that."
"Not for long, we won't" Krusty said, his eyes looking beyond the Master Chief.
Slowly turning, John found himself face to face with an old friend.
Standing straight, arms at their sides, they looked like two Greek Gods about to settle a score, old west style. Neither of them reached for a weapon and neither moved. After a long moment, John finally spoke.
"Is it true, Lex? You here to kill me?"
"Afraid so, John. I wish it didn't have to be this way."
John had to find a way to reason with him. "Why does it have to be this way? You were a close friend, Lexicus. I trusted you as much as Fred, Kelly or Linda."
"Your mistake John, not mine" Lexicus replied in a voice that chilled the morning air.
"Fred's mistake too. How could you order the death of a soldier that saved your life twice? You used to represent service and honor. What happened to you?"
Lexicus was unmoved. "What happened to me, John? I was kidnapped from my parents at six, that's what happened to me."
"We were conscripted." John answered in a voice that lacked conviction.
"We were kidnapped! My God, is it that difficult to face? They took everything from us John, everything.We were snatched from our families, and replaced by flawed clones. All of those clones died young, leaving our parents to mourn us; even as we were being trained, maimed and killed by ONI. You think you represent honor? Where is the honor in that?"
John hesitated. "Halsey and Mendez gave us purpose. ONI gave us purpose. Sometimes . . . sometimes the rights of a few must be sacrificed to serve the many."
"So that's it, John? In the interest of self-preservation the elite in our society resort to kidnapping six year-olds, killing off half of them in their youth and destroying their families?"
Again, the Master Chief hesitated before answering. "If it serves the many, yes."
"Then maybe the Covenant are right: maybe they are doing God's will." Lexicus sighed. "You can pretend that the SPARTAN program is good and moral, but not me. I am going to destroy it John, starting with you."
Although the Master Chief had hoped that talking could end this nightmare, he now knew different. He would have to kill Lexicus. He would have to kill a friend. "Very well, but this will sicken me."
Utterly without feeling, Lexicus replied, "Not for long, it won't"
John pulled his pistol and fired as Lexicus charged, hitting him twice in the head, and dropping his shields. But an instant before the Chief could shoot again, Lexicus fired his shotgun, missing the head, but blowing John's pistol out of his hands. Staggering backwards, the Chief spun to the left, averting another eight-gauge blast by mere inches. John reached for a shotgun, but Lexicus stepped into him swinging his weapon like a bat, smashing the side of his head and dropping him to the ground.
Lexicus rushed in for the kill, but moving with incredible speed, the Master Chief jumped to his feet palmed his combat knife, and using Lex's own forward momentum against him, he plunged the blade into his neck. John thought he had won.
But he had never fought an enemy like this.
Spinning so fast that the knife flew out of his neck, Lexicus backhanded the Master Chief's head so hard that he staggered backwards. John rushed back in swinging, and what followed was a brutal toe-to-toe, face to face brawl.
At first the Master Chief had the momentum, attacking with blurring speed and ferocity, until Lexicus was on his heels. But then, dismissing all caution, Lexicus stepped into the attack, and landed a crushing blow to the side of John's head. The hit staggered the Master Chief, and he tried to regain his balance—too late. Swinging as if all of his vows were held inside his fist, Lexicus struck John's chin so hard that it lifted him off the ground.
Stunned by the vicious blow, the Master Chief was unconscious for a moment. Lexicus was on him instantly, grabbing him around the neck in a stranglehold. "I wanted you to know," Lex spoke bitterly, "that I always respected you. Goodbye John." Lexicus heard a grenade drop to the ground beside him.
Letting go of the Master Chief, Lexicus dove to avoid the blast, but there wasn't time. It exploded, blowing both of their helmets off, smashing Lexicus into a tree, and hurling John twenty feet through the air.
Lexicus' left arm was twisted grotesquely behind him and would not move. His left eye was badly damaged, and for all he knew, completely destroyed. John hadn't fared much better. He could not move his right hand, and although neither of his eyes were damaged, a deep cut on his forehead was bleeding so bad that he could barely see for the blood.
Standing to inspect their injuries, both saw something strange. laying in the field, placed between them so evenly that it looked like a staged contest, were the two shotguns. A single pistol-shot to the head will kill a Spartan who is not wearing a helmet, but neither had his pistol. They dashed for the shottys, and diving at the same time, they came up, cocked one handed, and leveled it at the other's head. It seemed that they stared into each other's strange, old, scarred faces for minutes, but it was only a moment. Far overhead, large birds were gathering; watching; waiting. Finally, both triggers were pulled.
But only one gun belched flame.
Sergeant Timmer was the only one left: but he wasn't proud of it. He had survived by playing dead while the young Spartans slaughtered his fellow soldiers. On the ground, listening to the screams of his men, he found himself staring into the lifeless eyes of Helljumper: and he was shamed. The legendary ODST Captain would have fought fearlessly to his last breath, rather than hiding like a coward among the dead. Helljumper seemed to be smirking as he stared back at him. Coward.
Hearing gunfire not too far in the distance, Sergeant Timmer suddenly remembered the mission. His mission. Without checking for enemies, he stood, loaded his sniper rifle, and scavenged the bodies for ammunition. It was all clear now. He knew what he needed to do. He would fulfill his mission and in doing so find redemption. He would eliminate his primary target; eliminate him and then wipe the smirk off a dead man's face.
The shotgun blasted him point-blank, killing instantly. John, Spartan-117, the Master Chief, was dead. Lexicus dropped his weapon.
It was finished. He checked his neck, and was surprised to find little bleeding. Suddenly he remembered his wounded friend.
"Krusty?" Lexicus could see him leaning against a tree, but the young Spartan did not respond. He walked over slowly, wiped blood from his eye, and bent down—Krusty was dead; killed by the grenade blast. "Sorry kid."
Laying down on a hill nearly two-hundred yards behind him, a sniper fought to keep his gun steady. Slowly, he squeezed the trigger. The rifle bucked in his hands and he saw the big Spartan jerk, and then fall flat.
Standing silent, surrounded by the younger Spartans, Linda just stared. John lay dead at her feet; his head nearly blown off. She had shown up late.
Earlier, she had arrived at base camp only to find that the fight was over, and twelve of the nine year-old trainees lay dead on the field. Now she stared at the body of her dearest friend, cursed with the knowledge she could have easily saved him, had she shown up just a few minutes earlier.
Large, silent birds circled above, closer and closer to the ground. Seeing them, Linda gestured to the three older Spartans. "Help me load him into the Pelican."
Aleesha looked across the way, where Lexicus and Krusty lay dead. "What about them?"
Linda's voice was cold. "Leave them for the vultures."
THREE DAYS LATER
Sitting behind his desk, Ackerson read the report with mixed feelings. Almost beyond hope, both Lexicus and the Master Chief were dead. Years of work had led finally to success. But his joy was dampened by the fact that his trusted pilot had betrayed him. Wherever Aardvark was, the Colonel hoped he was dead, or at least suffering.
Armed with graphic pictures of dead ODST's littering the training grounds, convincing the brass that the Spartans were out of control had proved easy. Reluctantly, they had ordered the arrest of the few that remained alive, making them fugitives.
Lifting his eyes from the report, he addressed the man sitting across from him. "Sergeant Timmer, well done."
"Thank you, sir."
"You said that all of the Spartans at the training grounds were eliminated, except a handful of the young ones, is that correct?
"And we have the bodies to confirm?"
"Most of them, sir. Recovery is still in progress."
"Very well, son. I will see that you receive—"
Gunfire erupted in the hallway. Men screamed and the building shook, but as quickly as it had started, the guns fell silent. Heavy footsteps approached and suddenly the office's large metal door was torn from its hinges and thrown across the room, embedding itself in the wall.
The Clown had come; his huge frame filled the doorway.
Moving forward and grabbing the Sergeant, he tossed him against the wall head-first, knocking him unconscious. Throwing the large wooden desk aside like a toy, he grabbed Ackerson by the neck and lifted him until they were face to face. Chuckles removed his helmet. The Colonel tried to stare into his eyes, but after a moment, he turned away in horror.
"Look at me! Look at me!" Chuckles yelled. "Aren't you going to arrest me? I heard that I was a fugitive, so I came to turn myself in."
The Clown's eyes seemed to turn red, and almost involuntarily, Ackerson averted his gaze again.
Chuckles exploded. "I told you—" he said, striking the Colonel viciously across the face, "to look at me!" Ackerson looked, even as he swallowed several of his teeth.
The Clown lifted his shotgun, pressing the barrel painfully into the Colonel's chin. "If I pull this trigger, your jaw will be scattered over three states. But I'm not crazy like some folks say. I hate you. Oh yes. I would like nothing more than to grab you by the ankles, swing you like a club and tear this room apart with your filthy head. But I won't do that. I hate to say it, but Earth will need you in our war against the Covenant. Nothing much else matters now. Not until we've won."
Then pulling the Colonel's face so close to his own that their noses touched, Chuckles said, "I promise you this: if you do live to see the end of the war, you'll wish you hadn't. I'll be waiting for you on the other side, and before I'm through with you, you'll curse your mother for giving birth to you, just like the rest of us."
Without warning, Chuckles threw him against the wall, and disappeared through the doorway.
Ackerson stood to his feet, dizzy from the pain in his head. Walking over to Sergeant Timmer, he slapped him violently across the face; waking him up.
"Did he look dead to you, Sergeant?!" he screamed, causing his teeth and jaw to ache all the more. He needed some fresh air. "Follow me, Timmer."
Walking outside, he stood on the porch, followed closely by the frightened Sergeant. Several huge birds circled in the sky, but neither of them noticed.
"Okay, Sergeant, cut the crap! Which Spartans are dead, and which ones do you only hope are dead? And," he added, his voice pure poison, "I already know about Chuckles."
Timmer fought to keep his voice even. "Sir, we have yet to find the bodies of three fourteen year-old Spartans, and . . ."
"And what, Sergeant?!"
"And we have yet to find . . . Linda."
Forgetting about Chuckles' threats, his throbbing pain and even his lying Sergeant, Ackerson considered what he had just heard. Looking from the porch, he saw the trees and hills that surrounded the small base: seeing them, his blood ran cold.
Startling Timmer with his urgency the Colonel said "Back in the building! Now!"
Turning to enter the doorway, Ackerson was suddenly sprayed with blood and brain fragments. Sergeant Timmer tumbled dead blocking the doorway.
Ackerson desperately tried to move the body out of the way.
The rifle was aimed.
The rifle was fired.
The target was hit.
Slamming into his left side, the bullet tore through blood vessels, shattered ribs and punctured both lungs before finally exiting out his right side.
He fell to the ground, mortally wounded.
But Death was in no hurry. There was plenty of time. Blood gradually filled Ackerson's lungs, and breathing became harder. Slowly oxygen was depleted, and suffocation began. But not too fast. Death would be patient.
A large vulture landed on the porch, looking at him as one would an almost-ready steak. The carrion eating raptor walked lazily over to the Colonel's head, until the two of them were face to face. It stared into his eyes.
To Ackerson, whose death was mere minutes away, this bird was the very image of death. To the bird, however, the Colonel represented something much more useful, and much less profound. To the bird, Ackerson was no more, and no less than a meal. A good meal, to be sure, but nothing more.
Just a meal.