Derailed Part 11
Posted By: Dispraiser<Dispraiser@netzero.com>
Date: 4 November 2003, 4:15 AM
First, I felt the soothing effects of my environment. A gentle waterfall and the smooth noise of wind brushing my face flooded my ears. The smells of spring filled my nose, the aural pleasure of the situation budding as the flowers and trees were, tricked into thinking winter had ended as the planet warmed, a result of the Covenant attack and glassing.
Pain cracked my skull, a bolt of lighting shattering the paradise. An onslaught of painful memories of suffering and death filtered through my mind. I thrashed on the ground as the physical pain of the situation bared itself. My body was covered in cuts, a few large and most still bleeding. My clothes were horribly tattered. I rolled onto my side and struggled some more, moving to relieve the pain. My back, neck, arms, everything... Everything was pain. In hope I retreated to my last sanctuary, my mind. Sellers, Dust, Markson, dead. Friends lost to a cause that I fought idly against. As much as I endured to stop the Covenant I knew that no matter how hard I fought, and how greatly I won, I would still die. It was inevitable from my birth, I would die. I had no control, and there was no choice for me to make. However they had control over other's lives. They could kill me, or anyone, at any time.
I stumbled to my feet and walked drunkenly into the pool of water collecting at the bottom of the waterfall. It continued into a creek, but no water reached its lip yet. Much of the water had not thawed yet, Lunar 4 in a natural winter, unnaturally brought to a spring-like climate, a result of the glassing. I crashed into the shallow pond of water, perhaps two meters deep, and sunk to the bottom of the lake. I stared up through the water, seeing the world through an entertaining filter of ripples. At the moment I lacked the strength or will to return other world of demise and destruction from which I had temporary solace. The ripples were soon crimson, as my spilt lifeblood from the numerous wounds along my beaten body reminded me of my physical ties to the world that destroyed mind and body. A bubble slowly rose from my mouth, reminding me that I too needed to rise. For the first time in days, I followed something.
It was in that simple act that I realized that this suffering was not mine to control. With life would come death, and I would have no control over that, and with pleasure would spawn suffering. As the past days had demonstrated, I clearly had no control over my fate. I broke the surface of the water. I realized, I didn't need to lead, I needed something to follow. Faith and hope.
Before I had declared both as crutches of the weak. Granted not completely unfounded, my faith was excessively cynical. A cough crawled from my lungs, blood and phlegm hurtled from my lungs, as a forgotten belief was shed from my mind, and the pain I bore believing I was responsible for the deaths of my allies was exiled from my shattered body.
Thirty minutes after awakening the pain had reduced. I staggered forward, stumbling towards the Banshee's crash site. Pieces of the vehicle were scattered along the forest bed, nothing larger than a few feet across.
I searched the wreak and found nothing of any use, but I grabbed a few of the sharper pieces of shrapnel to use as makeshift knives, and sliced parts of my fatigues to create crude bandages for some of the larger cuts. I removed the Goxinus locator from my pocket and struggled uselessly to turn it on. I wouldn't be able to find my way back without it. Another half hour had passed before I was ready to move on, and hopefully to find Martes and the rest of the survivors. As I stumbled through the forest I heard gunfire near, and chose to head towards it in hopes of finding other humans. I pushed through the dense brush and vines, stumbling over the next hill. Slowly, I scanned the horizon for anything that looked familiar, but everything was completely unrecognizable. The jungle extended for a few hundred miles in any direction, and seeing anything recognizable was rare at best. I hadn't expected to tell where I was, so with unharmed valor I continued towards the gunfire. As I passed the next hill I came to a place of hellish fire. Most of the trees were leveled or shredded, tattered remains of some remaining in the moonscape. Bodies lie on the ground, both human and Covenant, some flaming, some partial, few intact. It appeared that the humans had won though, as a squad of Marines moved through the bodies, kicking some of the particularly intact to determine if they were still alive. Stricken with grief, they pulled dog tags from their dead comrades, and shot some who plead with them to die. I continued pitifully down the hill.
"Hey!" I shouted.
"Hola!" one of the Marines replied.
"I need help-" I said, interrupted.
"Siento. Mi no hablar inglas. Encontar Raul."
"What? Um... Raul?" I pointed at the body on the ground.
"No. Raul es alto y flacko."
"Um... Me no comprehende? Find Raul?"
"Si Senor! En el 'command APC'."
"APC, I get that, thanks, er, 'bien'"
"Nos vemos y bueno suerte."
"Yeah... Nos cemos."
Despite the confusion I managed to find the command APC, which lie a few dozen feet behind the furthest crater, a few Warthogs parked around, one destroyed. The APC itself seemed unusually damaged, though the chainguns atop it still spun slow orbits, patrolling for danger. I ducked into the APC, and uttered that I was searching for Raul. A minute later I found myself explaining my story to Raul, who seemed to be a very wise commander.
"Most interesting tale. I was wondering what that nuke explosion was. I think my men and myself owe you a debt of gratitude. We were facinga hopeless battle, outnumbered ten to one at least and dropping like flies, granted putting up a great fight. Suddenly there was a godlike flash on the horizon as your bomb exploded, and within minutes all of the Covenant forces had been scared away. I can assume why, but I still think god saved me and my men. We'll do anything we can to help."
"Well, my Goxinus locator is broken, and need to regain contact with my battlegroup. They'll be leaving position in an hour or so, and I need to return before then."
"We'll see what we can do. This APC has a Goxinus reader built into it, but I'm sure one of the troops has one, or one of the compartments in the APC."
"Sir," one of the soldiers operating the computers intruded, "I got a Goxinus reading. 008, 117, 344."
"Thank you cadet," The commander replied, "Well, it doesn't look like you're far from home. Close enough that a Goxinus reader won't help too much, but a compass would."
"Heh, where would you find a compass in this digital age?"
"Take this one." The commander held a compass in his extended arm, "It's always brought me luck, but it seems like you're my new lucky charm. I owe you my life, it's the least I can do. Head Southwest exactly and you should find your men."
"One more thing, bueno suerte."
For a brief moment my mind took this as an insult, luck was a crutch of the weak. But soon I reminded myself of one thing...
I wasn't living because I could control anything, I was living because I was damn lucky.
"Thanks." I replied.
I stepped from the woods, limping into the simple dirt road. A truck surrounded by 52 sets of eyes stared back. Slowly, I grinned, limped to the truck, and collapsed in the passenger's seat.
"How'd it go?", Martes asked.
"It's just one of those days.", I replied.
"Alright, Kaz. So anyways, next objective, radio HQ and tell em you're back and whatever you did to the ship, and then head to the city, right?"
"Yeah. It's time for the final judgement."
Warner circled to the front of the Warthog to talk to me, "Sir, I'd like to apologize, but I can't stop hoping. Right now I hope you'll accept that as an excuse, and soon I will hope to make it to Awwek. When you were away I only hoped you would make it back sir, because I knew that I had faith in you.
"Hope and faith, sir. Sorry." Warner continued.
"Nothing wrong with believing, that's something I've learned. Try, hope and believe, that's all we can do. I'm sorry for believing anything different, and would like to apologize to you for what I said on the train."
"It's okay, Kaz."
I smiled as the truck started, and we drove into the setting sun, a new star rising behind in an eternal day.
Gunfire continued to crackle in the city. Plasma explosions and the black clouds of flack explosions dotted the cityscape, arcs of blue and red gunfire tearing the otherwise beautiful city. The wall that had saved it a half dozen times from Mathean ground invasion was now a mountainous pile of rubble. A wall that was two hundred feet thick and nearly a hundred feet tall lie fallen, flaming. A short quarter mile of the wall still stood, half destroyed. What appeared to be thousands of flaming metal hulks decorated the cratered field before the wall. Almost every craft was a destroyed Covenant vessel, though few bodies were intact enough to tell what race they were. The Warthog continued through the battlefield at jogging pace, the civilians loosely assembled around the vehicle, jogging through the battlefield in a defensive formation. It seemed as if all of the Covenant forces were within the city or far from this particular area of the battlefield. Human weapons, which tend to use range, were especially effective in the plains before this portion of the wall. The lack of Covenant forces in the area made it an eligible area for us to reenter the city without driving through the Covenant frontlines. One of the civilians shot a surviving Covenant soldier, though it seemed he was nearly alone. As I paced in formation I noticed that my footsteps were almost as if in mud, the ground soaked in the blood of the Covenant soldiers. I accidentally stepped in what I believe was an Elite's torso, though I couldn't tell. Suddenly, the craters and bodies faded into houses and peaceful suburban yards. I spun, I recognized this place. I saw the road and knew it. I was home.
The distant gunfire and explosions faded as I stumbled down the street. The house to my right was my best friend's house when I was twelve. The house to my left was a boyfriend of the first girl I ever had a crush on, I remembered egging it. The road continued, and I was alone with my memories. I looked up at the horizon, and saw the wall. It was a reminder of something, a reminder of my life. This place was so peaceful, so perfect and utopian, but the peace faded into the wall, a symbol of war. Suddenly my memories became dark and sinister.
"You okay?" I snapped from my nightmare. A large hand rest on my shoulder. I turned to see Samuels.
"Yeah, fine." I replied, saved from torment.
We continued down the street for a few tranquil moments before the first gunfire fell upon the squad. Plasma gunfire streamed down the street, shredding white picket fences and peaceful homes. Instinctively I ran to the houses besides the street, though it seemed I wasn't only running from death but also against my soul. Those streets were my home, crimson blood now soaking the streets that once filled with the water of broken fire hydrants and happy memories. Mitchell fell to the ground, blood dropping from his falling body. The Warthog was pelted in plasma gunfire, and at least fifteen of the civilians died instantly, the rest scrambling for cover. One of the civilian rocketeers fired two missiles into the Covenant horde before he, too, died. I saw Marcus trip and hesitated to run into the house. Moments before I turned to help him he looked up, smiled, and shook his head in a loose no as a plasma grenade bounced to a stop a foot in front of his head. Samuels dragged me into the house as the plasma grenade exploded. One of the civilians that was fortunate enough to make it to the house before he was slaughtered. Samuels spun the bolt lock on the door before a line of plasma gunfire burned holes in the wall, one of the bolts striking Samuels in the throat, another killing the civilian. Two of the plasma balls passed almost lethally near to my neck as well. The civilian died instantly, but Samuels lie to suffer. He thrashed on the ground, blood spurting from his melted throat. I looked down with compassion as he struggled to point to the pistol I had slung over my shoulder. Solemnly, I slid the tiny death machine from its holster and aimed at Samuels' head. He smiled, thinking his suffering had ended, but I couldn't bring myself to kill him, even at his own request. "Sorry." I muttered before running up the stairs in the house. I nearly tripped over a small pile of munitions that had been left near the door. One of the Lunar 4 invasion contingency plans was that every family with weapons-grade munitions were to leave them inside the front door of the house for any who would later come through the area and need the ammo. I didn't have time to grab any, as I ran to the second floor and towards the windows facing the street.
The bloodbath in the streets was now visible. The flaming warthog lie, surrounded in human flesh and blood. A Wraith tank slowly crept around the corner as a few dozen Jackals and Elite regrouped. Many of their comrades, perhaps a half dozen, lie dead, but at least twenty of our fighters stained the road with their lifeblood. The Warthog rested in the center of the road, flaming, though as a distant reminder of the brief battle fought moments ago, the chaingun still spun. Assault rifle fire stuttered from the window across the street, gunfire striking one of the Jackals from its feet. I joined in to fire. The Wraith, realizing the threat, fired at the house across the street. I feet sadness and the pain of helplessness as the house exploded, and with it many more lives. The Wraith swiveled to fire at my shelter, and I ran to the backside of the house. The mortar struck the other side a few moments later, tossing shards of flaming wood and glass towards my new position, though I had quickly ducked and suffered no injury. I crawled towards the edge of the destroyed half of the house and started firing into the streets again. The Wraith's cannon suddenly began to glow. The cannon was about to fire into the house where I rest again, and I didn't struggle to run from it. Randomly, Warner leapt from behind a picket fence across the street and fired a rocket into the tank. It exploded, the charging mortar discharged into his ally's backs. A Pelican roared overhead, its chin chaingun roaring. It disappeared as suddenly as it had arrived though. More Covenant soldiers charged around the street's corner, a loose line of Jackals defending some Grunts. Bullets pinged off the Jackals heedless advance. I turned to the stairs in the house and began to run for the bottom floor. It had become apparent to me that this was not a battle that could be won, and that there was simply too many Covenant, and too few humans. As I ran to the bottom floor I passed a civilian in full military dressing who held a small chest wound. I left him and continued onto the main floor, where I found Martes in the house's kitchen, three nukes on the table.
"Colonel, we're getting killed out there! We need to get out of here!", Martes shouted.
"What, you think I can't tell?"
"Didn't mean to offend sir, it's just that we need to get these nukes into the city, our Warthog's dead along with a dozen or so of our best friends, and they're out there gloating about it. I want to kill them."
There was an inconvenient pause as the window suddenly flooded with light, another explosion flashing. "You call for a dropship, I'll get a few of the braver Civilians and try to draw them away."
There was another pause as Martes considered fighting me to go on this mission.
"Good luck, sir."
I reloaded, and ran into the streets, strafing to the fences on the other side and hurtling a set of grenades at the Covenant. Explosions tore through the Jackal perimeter. I threw a third grenade to the destroyed tank, which exploded several times, secondary explosions killing most of the surviving Covenant forces. Still, dozens more poured around the corner. I dropped behind the flaming fence to meet a dozen or so civilians, lead by Warner.
"Warner, I'm going to take a dozen people and try to draw them off. As soon as it looks clear radio me and get the nukes from the house across the street. Martes will help you carry them to the city. Stay out of the streets and remember not to use cover that can melt, like cars."
"Got it sir. I can only give you seven people though. Good luck."
I ran along the fence, straight away from my former cover along a road that ran perpendicular to the houses. Seven civilians followed as Warner and the others ducked, trying not to draw attention to themselves as the Covenant passed near. I hurtled another grenade down the road in hopes of killing more of the Jackals, but was only rewarded with one's death. I continued to run along the street as two rows of Jackals advanced along the street firing randomly in our direction. A bolt struck my leg, and I collapsed.
"Colonel!" one of the civilians shouted. He ran and grabbed my should straps to drag me form the road as I shouted no. I screamed as loud as I could to leave me, but it was no use, I had no control. Warm blood splashed on my face, as plasma melted through flesh. The foreign blood sat on my face for one eternal moment, before a lifeless body collapsed to my right, the dead face staring back into my eyes. Another one of the civilians finished what his friend had started, dragging me to cover. I knew it was no use, they couldn't outrun the Covenant with my dead weight, and they wouldn't outgun them. The other civilians tried to run for cover on the side of the street, but only one managed to make it. I coughed some blood from doomed lungs, and dragged myself to my feet. I leaned on the fence as plasma gunfire flew past my head. I stood though, impervious to their punishment, for they had already taken my life in many more ways than I could ever realize. I watched down the street as Warner panicked, clearly having had seen me fall. He stood from behind the fence and fired into a jackal less than a foot away. Purple blood flew from the dying beast as a dozen of its friends turned to bear arms on Warner and his allies, who now lie, a few yards away, completely unprotected. I screamed as green orbs ripped through human flesh, and Warner, once a man of hope and faith, fell dead. I dropped from the fence, now too weak to stand, and crawled back to the wall. One of the civilians peered around the corner and fired weakly into the horde before ordering the other to help drag me behind the house. Suddenly he panicked and ducked behind the wall.
"Granada!" he yelled. I was too tired to try to interpret what he was saying, and far too tired to get mad about the large Spanish speaking population that I couldn't understand. Suddenly, a blue plasma grenade landed at his feet. The other civilian dragged me as fast as he could as the first realized he would die. He dropped to his bell, covering the grenade as it detonated. It did little good though, besides to give him a quick death. I had at least twice the maximum recommended painkillers in my system from former wounds, at least, and I didn't feel any pain. I leaned up against the wall, my last escape, hope, destroyed. A Jackal ran around the far side of the house to find me and my savior resting against the wall. As he flung his shield wildly, pointing, a few gunshots burst his chest cavity. The civilian kicked the back door of the house down, and dragged my body into the house as three more Jackals passed around the corner. He dropped to the ground as a few dozen plasma pistols shredded the house in hopes that at least one of the shots would hit a human. I heard the clacking of hooves as the Jackals ran to the back patio of the house and reached the door. As the beast's hand contacted the door on the other side I fired through the door, a full magazine. After around half the clip the screams on the other side of the door had stopped, but I continued to fire, returning the favor that the Covenant had done for Samuels. I hated them.
I staggered to my feet, and sprayed some biofoam in the wound in my leg. I couldn't run or walk without the civilian to use as a crutch. He carried me to the top floor, and told me to hold out until he returned. He would run to ask Martes what to do. I simply replied by reloading and leaning out the window, shooting into the street at as many targets as I thought I could kill. Jackals and grunts were scattered loosely along the streets, confused and dying. Gunfire burst from almost every window on any side of the street and quickly the battle that had coated the road in crimson red now drew purple and blue blood as well. Together, indifferent, the blood rolled down the street. I franticly reloaded, killing as many targets as I could. Plasma gunfire burned the walls near me, but I hardly cared. They had already shot my leg and slaughtered my friends, paving my last sanctuary, my mind, with brutish force. I acted with the impunity of the doomed, giving my last words, or in this case actions with the truthful zeal that bled from my heart. Bodies fell and plasma bolts barely missed my position as I killed them, one by one. Suddenly the street exploded as a Longsword flew over the streets, very low, dropping a bomb into the group of Covenant. I ducked as Grunt's flaming corpse was launched through the window, and landed behind me, setting fire to the house. I fired again.
The mission was simple. We were to board a train.
Another Grunt fell to the ground, blue blood draining from its chest.
We had to secure four nuclear missiles.
A Jackal's skull was shattered as a sniping rifle round from a distant building's occupant.
We had to board the Pelican before the first junction, and fly the nukes to the city.
A few Jackals died in a secondary explosion from a Grunt's nitrogen sac.
Then something went wrong. Someone had to be responsible for this. Was it me? No, I had no control over the situation. Was it the Covenant? No, they simply appeared in the right place at the right time. I stopped firing.
Was it god? This whole quest could have been for me to learn something. There was no other explanation for my incredible luck. I was clearly meant to live, saved at least a dozen times from what should have killed me. I lived through the train, the plains, the forests and the downed ships to come to the inevitable conclusion that this was all fate, and that I had no control over my actions or the effects that they caused, but I now see where my former conclusion was fundamentally wrong. I had as much control over the Covenant as they had over me. It seemed the only person that was nearly impossible to control was myself, though in the end even I could kill myself. Perhaps there was no control at all, or perhaps no being had control, but instead fear. I didn't kill myself because I didn't want to die, I was afraid to. I killed them because I was afraid. They killed us because they were afraid. It has been noted for thousands of years that hate can move a nation faster than love and bliss ever could. I watched as the last Grunt fell, dead. Survivors of the ambush began to creep into the streets, Martes and the civilian who had informed him of my position charging towards my building, running valiantly through the middle of the street. Martes killed a wounded Grunt who lie on the ground, and kicked another flaming Grunt from his path. The torched beast still twitched, with only enough life left in his tortured body for him to suffer a few more moments. The two entered the house and ran to talk with me.
"Sir, we need to evacuate the area and move further into the city. Granted it won't be easy, it's our only option! It's our mission to get those nukes to the city, and we're probably almost too late! I know we have at least eight survivors, and more than enough ammunition to go around now that we've made it to the city. The Warthog is dead, I can guarantee you of that, and every Covenant vehicle was destroyed in the ambush. I have one of the smarter survivors working on the radio, seeing if it will still work, and if it does to call in reinforcements..."
"Do you know how many of my friends died in this war?"
"Sir, this is no time to mourn the dead if we are to have any hope of living! Darwinism says that right now what we have is the best of the best, and also the ability to use the city as cover. However, we're greatly outnumbered. We need you to decide on something, if you're up for it. We could try to hold out here, and given the radio works, call for a pelican to pick us up. It is a larger risk, because we are near the edge of the city, and more Covenant forces could move in, and it is a lot harder to defend something when you have less than a dozen people, most under trained. I'd call that plan B. The other is to march into the city and hope to make it."
"We march if the radio doesn't work. Otherwise, I'd like to call in a Pelican, but instead of fighting we'll hide."
"Alright, sir, I'll get the civilians in line. We'll hide in whatever house has a basement and windows to the outside." Martes started to leave but I stopped him.
"Martes, the answer is fifty-eight. Fifty-eight of my friends, dead, at their hands. I want to make the Covenant soldiers' families cry. Help me make that dream happen."
"Will do sir."