Christmas on the Frontlines 2
Posted By: Dispraiser<firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date: 24 December 2003, 8:05 PM
December 25, 2548
I lie in the snow on my stomach, one of the ten or fifteen that still guarded the trench. One of my friends lie dead in the trench, face down in a puddle of his own frozen blood; and two more lie wounded. The breaths of the living drifted upwards slowly, ascending like a dozen dancing ghosts of the dead that continued towards their distant Zion. A few hours ago I had forgotten that I was cold. Even through two winter coats, armor and with a few electric warmers I was still cold. I wasn't about to spend the last moments of my life shivering though. With wind chill the trenches on Narcos never rose above zero, and generally hovered around negative fifty. Today was an unusually cold day. It was so cold that it was hard to tell if you were numb from cold or death. My entire body was numb. Our rifles sat, carefully arranged on a shelf carved from the snow. It was of false hope that we left them idle, praying that we would be left to die in peace. It was probably better that the moon was so cold, as my mourning tears were frozen before they could exit my body.
As millions of snowflakes plummeted frantically into the ground, racing each other to obvious doom I prayed that I was not a snowflake, racing to my death. I wished, more than anything ever before that I could have even a single moment more with my family. Somewhere in one of the distant stars beyond the occluded Narcos sky they sat... In serene glory and ineffable grace the blue planet Earth hovered. Within the planet's graceful grasp lie all that mattered; my family.
Today was Christmas. Still, it is only 2 AM, Eastern Standard Time, and in my distant home I'm sure not a creature is stirring. Do they know that their father or husband is embattled? Lunar 4 may be another planet that the UNSC will simply lose contact with. My family will never know what happened to me. But already, I am sure that I have destroyed their Christmas. In six hours, give or take the holiday's latent timing, they will be expecting a video. This video will have but one purpose, a reminder that I care, and I am there. I wonder, how many hours o days will they wonder why I failed to send them a Christmas video before they discover the truth? That Daddy has been killed, the latest casualty in a war that my children don't understand. Personally, I don't think anyone does. The war has always been a simple game of self-perpetuating revenge. I sunk deeper into my thoughts, growing more detached from the physical world with each frozen breath.
"Hey." A crisp word shot through the crisp winter air. I turned to see that the Commander had uttered the lonely statement. "42nd Company encountered a group of Covenant soldiers three miles down trench. They repelled them, but there could still be stragglers heading our way. There's a city about a mile from here that we could retreat to, but a minefield between us and it. We could risk it or we could bunker down and try to kick some ass."
"My vote's with this trench. We spent a few hours digging it, might as well use it. All sarcasm aside, sir, I think we can take a few stragglers."
"I figured you'd say something along those lines. I just thought I'd talk to all of my platoon leaders. I don't know how I'd sleep if I forced them to tell their men to fight."
"Personally, I don't think any of us have one more night to sleep."
"Don't say crap like that. Smile, hold your head high, and know that the UNSC will come and bail our asses out. We're doing great. All of the other planets fell in hours. It's been a day and a half since the Covenant showed up and we are still here! Don't you think that means something?"
"I know we're doing the best we can, and the beast anyone has, but is that good enough?"
"I think so."
I smiled as the commander faded into the haze of the snow and dust. At least he showed that some had solace in hope. Perhaps my family could find the same.
An artillery shell exploded a few hundred feet away. I had seen enough combat to know that the artillery squad was never wrong. Their shelling was within audible range, and meant that the enemy was near. I brushed some of the snow from my rifle and pressed the cold steel sight against my cheek. I couldn't feel my fingers, so I checked to make sure they were on the rifle in their proper locations. As I checked to see if my rifle would work properly the first of the plasma streaked past my face. Green volleys flew from distant foes over the trench. I ducked as hundreds of gunshots arched overhead. The air was unusually cold, despite the plasma. I wondered if perhaps this was the essence of life; that good is hidden by the bad. I waited for a break in the fire and stood, firing back. Slowly more rose to fight, though more gunfire quickly killed half our numbers. To my left the Commander rose, shouting for us to retreat, moments before he was shredded by waves of plasma gunfire. I sluggishly threw my arm in a long, backwards arch, signaling for my remaining men to retreat. Clearly, the stragglers were many. I leapt over the back of the trench as fast as frozen arms could drag me. As I scaled the wall a writhing Marine on the ground held a blood-soaked arm towards me, begging me to drag him to safety. I knew there was no chance that I could help him, and was forced to run. I ran as fast as I could towards the town. Originally I was in a pack of three people, but soon found myself alone. One was killed by descending blue gunfire from the sky above, another who had stumbled upon a mine. As I ran I tripped and rolled into a small crater formed by one of the mine detonations. As I crawled up the other side, I found my best friend. He lie, a trail of blood running along his cheek, and a stream of lifeblood pouring from his shredded legs. Clearly, he had been one of the unlucky who stepped on a mine.
"Help... Me..." he whispered weakly. I was torn between facing certain death to help my friend, or to run on, morally vacant. Moments later my instincts answered my questions. I shouted 'sorry', and ran; there was no hope of me helping him. The clatter of automatic weapons fire and the shriek of plasma gunfire signaled my arrival to the town. Though most of my tears froze before they could run down my face, one managed to trickle to my chin. It froze to my face, a reminder of my moral scar. As I ran into the streets I saw a variety of Marines from different platoons panicking in the streets. Some of the wounded screamed, stumbling randomly. Other, formerly wounded soldiers lie in an eerie peace. I tried only to keep my balance as I ran down the icy street. I counted only twenty or so soldiers - wounded included - in the street. I ducked into the first house that was so forgiving as to have an unlocked door, and shuffled to the cellar. Three people already waited; hiding, resting, and hoping. I closed the door behind me and walked down the stairs, pressing my back against a water softener. One of the Marines held a smoking bazooka, and the other nothing but his bloody arm pressed against his wounded stomach. I could hear the screams of the wounded Marines in the streets as the enemy started to kill them, and the sound of the hooved Covenant entering the house next door. The clatter of hooves continued, down the street, searching houses. I heard them at the front step of the house I occupied. I looked down at my rifle, though I knew I had only a handful of bullets left. I could hear them breathing, smashing doors to the ground in search of the fleeing humans. Their footsteps came closer to the door to the cellar and I swallowed deeply. The door suddenly exploded inward.
I was sad. Not because I would die. Not because I had failed to defend the planet I had sworn to protect. Not because all of my friends would be killed savagly. I was sad because I didn't have enough time to see my son through one, last Christmas.
Tomorrow when you sit down around your Christmas tree, I want you to think about something that pertains to us more than ever before. As we face the cyclic, inevitable return of war, think of the families torn apart by the wars, and the happiness deprived of thousands. Think of the pain, and suffering in the world while you sit in front of a pile of presents in a warm home. Remember the soldiers wounded and killed every day fighting wars that you may not even have heard of, in countries that you couldn't even find on a map if you tried. Christmas is a time to remember many things, and one of them is a very simple, oft ignored fact. You are lucky.