Ghosts of Erebus (part two): Postcards from Hell
Posted By: Chuckles
Date: 7 November 2004, 10:16 AM
Ghosts of Erebus (part two): Postcards from Hell
Fall of 2552—Seven years after the defeat of the Bishkek Rebellion
The pilot's eyes registered mirth, then pain and finally nothing, as his last breath flowed warm and moist over David's face. Cryo-sleep never failed to give the young intelligence officer bad dreams, but this nightmare had begun after he awoke.
Only a few minutes earlier David Sagus had arrived on the small ship's bridge full of excitement. Although he was born and raised on Earth, he had not been there since joining the Office of Naval Intelligence six years earlier. He was eager to lay eyes on his home again, but the planet that filled the screen before him was not Earth. Not even close.
Warrant officer Sam Charon, the only other soul on the small ship, spun around in his chair. "Good morning Lieutenant Sagus. Sleep well?"
David walked forward, shaking his head in confusion. "Umm . . . no, not really. Where are we?"
Pulling a gun from his belt and aiming it at the Lieutenant's face, Charon replied, "Hell, Sagus. We're in Hell." Rising slowly, he approached the stunned officer. A twisted smile crawled across his face, followed by soft chuckling. Whatever he was going to do, he was going to enjoy it.
"I've got a couple of questions for you, sir. If I like what you say, I might keep you alive. Refuse, and I'll blow your desk-sitting-intelligence-puke brains out the back of your head. Got it?"
Charon moved closer and pushed the gun hard into David's forehead, almost breaking the skin. "What's in the container you are transporting, and how do I open it?"
With blurring speed Sagus spun forward, putting himself beside the gun and his back to Charon. Grabbing the pilot's gun arm, he twisted down counter-clockwise with a single violent motion, loudly dislocating the shoulder. He then turned and jammed the weapon into the traitor's gut without ever removing it from his hand. The soldier screamed in agony.
"Four years in Naval Special Forces, you pig. Now tell me something, and if I like your answer I might just kill you anyway: who are you working for? WHO!?" A wicked smile began to spread across the pilot's face again, and by the time David realized why, it was too late.
Somehow, even with his arm twisted into a bloody pretzel, the pilot had managed to pull the trigger and kill himself. Letting the corpse fall to the floor with disgust, Sagus checked the controls. He found the ship on autopilot, and the manual controls permanently disabled.
This guy was smarter than I thought.
Finding the navigation panel, he checked the coordinates. No, that can't be right. He shook his head in disbelief and checked again. Same answer.
"The pilot was right," he muttered to himself, "we're in Hell."
When the Bishkek rebellion was finally defeated in 2545, the UN found itself with a new problem: What to do with the Clowns?
Back in 2537, Turpolev had announced his betrayal by attacking his fellow UN soldiers without warning or mercy. Nearly a million men had been slaughtered in a single day, and the UN had determined from the beginning that this great atrocity would not be rewarded, but punished. Once it became clear that an attack of sheer force would be too costly in both lives and equipment, they approached Naval Special Forces with the possibility of using Spartans. The Navy said that they could only spare two of their renowned super-soldiers. UN officials said that wouldn't be enough.
But they had never met these Spartans.
Ordered not just to kill, but also to make it as horrific and messy as possible, they instantly exceeded all expectations. Photos of the Spartan's first attack on the rebels were dubbed "postcards from Hell". As one General remarked, it was like color pictures of Little Bighorn—only much, much worse.
Several years passed before the UN learned that the rebels referred to the Spartans as "The Clowns." Apparently the two of them had come up with a "calling card" symbol that they left at the scene of their attacks. By scratching it into trees and rocks over a huge area they could both instill fear and make it seem as if they were everywhere at once. More than one officer had been killed by his own men after seeing the symbol and refusing to turn back.
The UN commanders were amused to find out that the symbol was supposed to be that of the mythical "Grim Reaper", but the Spartans were not as good at drawing as they were at killing. That might have been for the best: by the end of the war the Grim Reaper, be he real or imagined, held no terror compared to the Clowns. The Reaper symbolized death. The Clowns reflected man's greatest fears, bringing to life horror to which childhood nightmares paled—the Clowns symbolized Hell.
After the war, the UN realized that the great and horrible success of the Clowns must never become public knowledge. Some things, even things done in the cause of good, cannot be set aside, accepted or forgotten. The Clowns had single-handedly prevented a world-wide civil war—but slaughtering bug-eyed aliens was one thing while butchering human beings was quite another. In the end it was decided that the Clowns would be eliminated, lest the truth get out and the UN's reputation be damaged.
Apparently they had learned nothing from the war.
Colonel Ackerson was not contacted until the UN had lost over a thousand men trying to kill the Clowns. He was all too willing to help, but not in the way they thought. He would take care of the two rogue Spartans; in fact, he would adopt them.
For years Ackerson had tried to put Naval Special Forces on a better footing to fight the Covenant, only to see the needed funding sponged up by the ridiculous SPARTAN program. Somehow his superiors at ONI thought it wiser to equip a handful of Spartans than the millions in Special Forces. Deprived of needed technological improvements, his best soldiers were being slaughtered by the Covenant as though they were fresh from boot camp. Something had to be done, and sooner rather than later.
He snatched up the Clowns and established the Spartan Advanced Training Unit. Finding that the SPARTAN program was more expansive and less organized than he had thought, he began secretly recruiting Spartans into SATU. The lure? They would do nothing—nothing—but war games, day in, day out. The catch? They would use only live ammunition. This was essential, because the goal at SATU was not learning how to fight and kill the Covenant, but how to fight and kill fellow Spartans without remorse or hesitation.
Of all the Spartans in the unit, only the Clowns, Lexicus and Chuckles, guessed what they were being trained for. With both of them harboring moral reservations about the methods used to "create" Spartans, and convinced by Ackerson that Dr. Halsey herself had told the UN to eliminate them at the end of the war, they reluctantly agreed to head the unit.
[AUTHOR'S NOTE: FOR MORE ON S.A.T.U. AND ACKERSON'S PLAN TO USE IT TO DESTROY THE SPARTAN PROGRAM, SEE MY MISSION FROM SATU SERIES, WHERE ACKERSON ACTUALLY EXECUTES THIS PLAN. KEEP IN MIND, THOUGH, THAT THE TWO STORIES ARE NOT MEANT TO MESH PERFECTLY]
By 2552, after six years of hard, bloody work, Ackerson finally had the team he needed—only to have it all destroyed by one phone call.
Something horrible had happened, and his Clowns were needed again.
Lexicus and Chuckles felt like they were on display in a zoo. The Admiral sitting opposite them had never seen the infamous "Clowns" and he was staring. Chuckles found himself wishing he had stayed in his MJOLNIR armor. Ackerson, who was sitting to the left of the Admiral, spoke first.
"Soldiers, this is Admiral Thomas Kraft. He's here, frankly, because something has gone very wrong. Due to mechanical problems, a Naval Officer, Lieutenant David Sagus, had to ditch his ship on a planet during an urgent trip to Earth. He was carrying something very important with him."
"What?" Lexicus asked.
Speaking for the first time, the Admiral said, "Something very important. That is all you need to know, soldier."
"Quite simply," Ackerson continued, "we need you to retrieve both the officer and his cargo."
Chuckles was incredulous. "What's the catch? Why us instead of regular SAR?"
"Because of where he landed" Ackerson replied. "It is a prison planet called Erebus." The name, another word for Hell in Greek mythology, caused the Clowns to chuckle. "Four years ago a transport sent to Erebus did not return. Rescuers were sent, but they also disappeared. We cut our losses, and restricted all travel in that area."
After an uncomfortable silence Ackerson leaned forward, and the look on his face chilled the two Spartans. It was a look of warning. "Soldiers, no matter what happens, complete your mission. Is that clear?"
"Yes sir." He was trying to tell them something, and whatever it was, it bought him a damning look from his superior.
Once the Spartans had left the room, the Admiral spoke. "Don't play games with me, Ackerson. Botch this mission and I'll have you fighting Covenant with a dinner knife and a body bag strapped to your back!"
Ackerson turned, leveling an icy gaze at his superior. "Sir, do you have any idea who you're screwing with? If those two find out that we lied to them, there won't be enough of us left to put in a body bag."
Admiral Kraft replied derisively, "They're not coming back."
"Yeah? I have some postcards I'd like to show you, sir. Care to join me for lunch?"
The food at the OC was exceptional, as usual, but the Admiral didn't eat a thing on his plate. Strange thing too: spaghetti and meatballs were his favorite meal.