Time: 5:45 a.m.
Date: October 16, 2553
Location: Fort Beuregard Shooting Range
Thomas Lode stared down the scope of his rifle. It was a chill morning, the wind swept in moisture from the nearby lake. He shivered slightly. Don't, he told himself,that'll cost you when you're actually aquiring a live target. He steadied his aim and exhaled slowly. Aiming the sight directly at the center of the 100 yard target, he squeezed the trigger. A loud report followed the gunshot, and he inhaled.
"Very nice," his spotter said. "Good shot. Dead center. Hit it again."
"Yes sir." He took his sergeant very seriously. When he said jump, you said how high. He pushed the thoughts away from his mind. He had to have complete concentration. He took a slow, steady breath, exhaled again, and fired. The loud report followed again. Wood splintered out the back of the target again, and he heard his instructor chuckle.
"Great job, rookie. We may actually make a sniper out of you yet." Thomas only nodded. He hit the clip release button on the bottom of the rifle, and opened the chamber for inspection. The sarge inspected it, then gave him the all clear to pack up for the day.
Time: 6:30 a.m.
Date: October 16, 2553
Location: Fort Beuregard Mess Hall.
Thomas sat down at the enlisted man's table, his stomach roaring with protest from lack of nourishment. He gobbled down his hash browns greedily, and quickly started on his grits. Some of the other soldiers eyed him with interest.
"You hungry there, Tommy?" his friend and spotter Joey Capone asked. Thomas eyed Joey with a "well duh" look, then continued eating. "You know, you'd better slow down if you don't want to see that stuff again." Most of the table laughed.
"Sorry if my eating habits disgust you, but I've got little time for eating these days. It's been sniper training since I got here."
"Yeah," an corpsman said, "you got it lucky. You don't have to go through all the stuff we put up with every day."
"You're right. I get to go through a little bit more." He laughed, and took a long draw on his coffee. "I'll see you guys around." He slowly rose from the table, and heard a booming voice shout: "Mail Call!" Everybody rushed up from their tables, and crouded around the unlucky corpral. "Get back!" He shouted into a bullhorn. "This is not a drill. GET AWAY FROM ME!" Thomas listened intently for his name to get called. Might not be, but you never knew. "Lockstein, Andrew. Lode, Thomas." This was it. He grabbed the thin letter out of the corpral's hands, and stared at it for a few seconds. It was from Colonel Halner's office. This couldn't be good. What had he done wrong. Slowly, the sniper pulled the tab to open up the parcel, and removed the message inside.
Dear Mr. Lode,
We are pleased to inform you that you have
been chosen to go on a hunt organized for
the camp's best snipers. You will be
hunting deer in the woods behind the fort.
This event takes place on October 18. We
hope to see you there.
A smile slowly crept across Thomas's face. This time, the targets would be moving, and living. This is what every sniper lived for. The stalking of a live target. He folded the paper back into the envelope, and sped off towards his next exercise in his physical training.
Date: October 18, 2553
Time: 4:54 a.m.
Location: Fort Beuregard Parade Grounds
Thomas was vaguely aware that he was cold and hungry. It felt like these signs that his brain were trying to send him were...alien, somehow. He didn't care about the messages his brain was sending to him. This was a chance for him to actually snipe a live target. His adrenal glands kicked into overdrive. Better to get it all out now than let it out at his position where the shaking would give him away. He checked his sniper rifle to make sure the safety was on, that there was no clip loaded, and that the chamber was empty. He strode across from the bunks to the parade grounds, where four other snipers waited.
"Hey, how you guys doin'?" Thomas asked as he strode up.
"I'm doing ok, I guess. Kinda nervous," one of the other snipers replied. "What're you nervous for, boy?" another asked, "We're just killing some deer."
Another sniper spoke up. "Just some deer? I don't think you realized the gravity of this situation. This, like everything else, is probably a test. Besides, if you don't have any respect for what it is you're hunting, the hunt itself is worthless." After this little speach was over, the sniper who had given it thrust his hand towards Thomas. "Alan Westhood." Thomas shook Alan's hand, and gave his name. They continued to small talk until a warthog rolled in next to them, exactly at 5:00. The colonel got out of the passenger's seat, and stared at the men.
"Well, looks like you boys are ready to go. I'll have some guys bring up the bikes, then we're outta here." He pushed a key on his wrist com, and the snipers heard small engines gun into life. "Now, remember, boys, this is just a friendly competition. You don't have to worry about getting graded on you're performance, 'cuz it isn't really a test." The sniper who had asked why the other was nervous looked back at Alan. Alan didn't seem to notice. "However, there is a way you can fail this hunt." Everyone bristled, slightly. "You cannot kill any more than two deer per person. Also, don't hunt in the same spot. That ruins everything for everybody. Ok, good luck, guys." The 4-wheelers pulled up on the grounds, and the snipers loaded their gear onto them. They kicked the shifter into gear, and rode off into the blackness.
When they got to the gate of the forest, they were stopped by the local warden. "Now, you boys got the proper clearance, right?" he asked. They all pulled out their identification, and their papers. "Very good," the old warden said. "Here are your maps. Now, currently, we are here..." he croaked, pointing at what must have been the gate entrance. "...an' your hunting blinds will be marked on by a red dot. Now, let's go over some of the basic rules before you go out there. Now, don't throw a fit! I just wanna make sure you guys know what you're doin' out there so I won't have to take anybody to the hospital. Ok. Rule #1: Never point your gun in the direction of anything you don't want to kill. Rule #2: If you can't tell exactly what it is, hold your fire. It could be another hunter, it could be a baby deer, it could be anything. Rule #3: NEVER CARRY YOUR DEER OVER YOUR BACK UNLESS YOU WANT TO GET SHOT! Got it?" They nodded assent. "'Aight. Here you go," he yawned as he hit the gate release button. "Have a good hunt and a good day." As soon as the snipers drove through, he hit the button again, and fell fast asleep.
Thomas clicked on his flashlight and looked down at his map. Ok,he told himself,that's a right at this fork, a left at the next one, and straight on to blind 3. He clicked his light off, and sped towards the blind. He splashed through deep muck, duckweed, and low branches to get to his blind. He slowly down-shifted as he got closer to the hunting spot. He kicked off the engine when he saw it. It was roughly ten feet tall, and had room for only one man. He climbed the rickety ladder into the post and sat down in the only hard, uncomfortable seat there was. He took a quick look around. He couldn't see very well yet. Might as well wait to load up. In the mean time, he leaned back, and listened to the frogs croaking merrily in the pond 30 yards off. He heard birds chirping in the boughs of a willow, swooping down every so often to nab an insect, stupidly fluttering about the ground. Slowly, the light got better. He stretched, yawned, and grabbed his gun-case. He pulled the rifle out slowly, grabbed a clip, and slammed it into place. He stared down the scope, and turned on the night vision. Not a thing to be found. I guess this really is an exercise, he mused as he looked around,one of patience.
Several hours later, there still was nothing to be seen. Thomas looked down at his watch. 10:45. That's it. There was not going to be anything coming his way at this time of day. From what he'd read, they liked to come out early in the morning and late in the afternoon. Seeing as he didn't have all the time in the world, he unloaded his gun, put it in it's case, packed up, and left the blind. He hopped on his bike, gunned it to life, and rode off on the same murky road he'd taken to get to the blind. What a waste of time. As he approached the gate, he began to think that something was wrong. It was nearly lunch time, and the base that was a mere 100 yards off was completely silent. Something was dead wrong. He hopped off the ATV, and crawled into the bushes, loading his sniper rifle as he went. He peered down the scope. Not a single live human in sight, but plenty of dead ones. What was alive there, however, was plenty of Covenant. So, the ******** had finally arrived. He looked for any high ranking targets. Any elites, or prophets. He found a red elite, barking orders at a hapless grunt. Oh, this would be sweet. The alien was standing completely still. He raised the rifle, targeted the elite's head, exhaled, and squeezed the trigger. There was a satisfying spray of blood from the alien's face, and a scream of pain as he fell over, dead. Thomas smiled as a blue elite emerged from the barracks to see if it could aide its fallen comrade. Dumb move. Again, the sniper exhaled and fired. Another hit, straight through the noggin. Soon, they were pouring out from everywhere, tring to find him. It looked like the grunt was about to figure out what happened. Not if I can help it. He squeezed the trigger, and the grunt's head exploded, showering his comrades with blood and spraying them with methane. Slowly, Thomas took out all 50 of the intruders. It was a good thing he packed extra ammo. Now that had to be what many had called before the thrill of the hunt.
A few minutes later, Thomas heard the others come in behind him. There were many cries of, "What are you shooting man? There's no deer out there!" "You've got a lot to explain." "How..."
"QUIET," he breathed, savagely. "There was a Covenant invasion of the base. I saw them, I killed them. What more do you need to know?" The other snipers stared at him. Covenant? Here? Let's go see what we can do." The all hopped on their rides, and high-tailed it back to the gate.
"Hey, man, open the gate! There's been an attack on the base. C'mon, man!" Thomas saw Alan lean over the gate, then retract quickly. "He's dead. I'll open the gate." He slid under the metal bar, and walked into the small booth. The gate opened a second later. None of them spoke as they rode back, but every one of them hoped for the best while expecting the worst.
Indeed, it was the worst when they returned. Bodies lay everywhere, mostly human, but there were some Covenant, too. Looked like one Covenant for every five humans. Rather disgusting. However, the snipers walked around warily, looking for any survivors. Suddenly, under a pile of rubble, a moan drifted out towards vigilant ears. Thomas sprinted for the pile, and began to shift the rubble. A comms officer was under it, the broken radio in hand. "T...tell...F...Fleetcom what...happened." After this plea, the officer's lungs gave a great heave, which made blood spew the room. He shuddered, and knew no more.
"So. What do we do now?" Alan asked. Thomas sighed. "We don't have much of a choice, do we? We've gotta contact Fleetcom somehow, and then fight the Covenant invasion here."
"And how are we supposed to keep up our morale while we fight this war?" another asked.
Thomas looked at him gravely. "The thrill of the hunt." Then he turned, and walked over to his bike. "I'm gonna go to the nearest town and see what I can do. You're welcome to follow. He hit the ignition on his bike, turned around, and rode off down the long, lonely road to battle.