Early Morning Walk - Bad Days, Chapter 2
Posted By: kabu<firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date: 20 October 2008, 6:01 pm
Read this first. I forgot to make it part of the series. Consider it Chapter 1. http://halosn.bungie.org/fanfic/?story=kabu1013081634361.html
Life just keeps throwing me surprises.
I had been booted out of the hospital in record time with a couple of medals and a shiny new insignia on my uniform. The top dogs paraded me around the city, showing off another war hero to shanghai young idiots into service and whisked me back into active duty so fast that I forgot to actually get some R&R. A half dozen centuries ago, people would be shot for "cowardice." Five centuries ago they finally realized what post-traumatic stress was. Now they just tell you to stay away from open flames if they scare you that much, you wuss, now take your rifle and put down the fire extinguisher. Such are the sacrifices we make for war.
An astounding amount of paperwork passed in a very short time. Apparently, when a platoon gets completely wiped out the UNSC brass like it just fine that way. A few letters to grieving families, recovery of any salvageable expensive equipment (you'd be amazed at how much of a soldier's gear has been died in a time or three), a funeral or two if there's anything left (unlikely) and that's that. A new platoon is formed, a couple of signatures are made and a few insignia are printed out. The Admiralty, however, hadn't ever guessed that someone would have the nerve to survive such an incident. There simply isn't a precedent, and usually the incidental survivor or two are too blasted to do anything but gibber in a wheelchair for the rest of their lives. So I got shoved into a recently vacated spot (I was told that another PFC named Chester had just retired) in a unit in yet another forest where I spent the first few weeks nervously checking fire alarms and praying for rain. My new commanding officer, Lieutenant Greene, was a little bit vague on the fate of my predecessor and the suspicious brown stain on the wall next to my bunk made me nervous. That and the little memorial in the hallway. And the teeth embedded in the stain.
Aside from the occasional twitch towards the fire extinguisher, everything was peachy. I could introduce myself as "Private First Class Isaac Meyers," complete with a shiny little chevron on my sleeve. My fellow marines had accepted me as one of their own with muted enthusiasm once I stopped trying to yank cigarettes out of their hands. "He's a hell of a lot better than Chester," I heard them say. "Man, that guy was weird. It was a relief when he finally -- oh hey, didn't see you there Isaac. What? Oh, no no no. Chester was a good soldier." Greene was a new-ish officer, just a year out of the Academy, and therefore had about as much real authority over the NCO's as a "no parking" sign had over a taxi. The sergeant, the most stereotypically grizzled veteran I was destined to meet, was more than capable of organizing patrols and handling the day-to-day affairs of Alpha Base Outpost 4. The routine was nice, patrols were relaxing and nothing was on fire or exploding.
We knew the Covenant wanted the planet intact, which was the only reason there was an outpost here in the first place. Whenever anyone asked why, the response received was generally along the lines of "shut up and stop asking questions." The aliens had a significant presence on the surface, but aside from the occasional skirmish they didn't run into us very much. Every week we sent out a patrol to observe there closest scout post, occasionally accompanied by some secretive ONI type who wanted a first-hand look. Mostly the half dozen Grunts would just stand around or sleep, not even breaking out a deck of cards. The Elite in charge would polish his fancy-looking armor and look bored, and the two Jackals would fight over rabbits. Really it wasn't much different from our outpost, except they didn't smoke and we didn't eat our enemies.
There's I theory I've been developing throughout my military career. Basically, it says that for every month that passes without anything terrible happening, whatever horrible event the universe has dreamed up for me will be even more terrible by another order of magnitude. So when three months passed without incident I became very nervous indeed, knowing that whatever was about to happen would be spectacular. I started keeping an extra fire extinguisher under my bunk and checked the smoke detectors twice a day.
Three months, one week and four days after my assignment to Outpost 4 I was tapped for another scout to the Covenant outpost. Four privates (including yours truly) and a corporal were hauled out of bed at one in the morning to escort some mysterious ONI spook to within visual range of the aliens. Four hours later, we were lying on a ridge in the dirt covered in flimsy bits of camouflage, watching enemy troops doing nothing. Grunts were sleeping, a Jackal was flicking his shield on and off, and the Elite was cleaning dirt off of a shoulder pad. The spook loved it, he was jotting down so many notes I thought he would shove the stylus right through his notepad. Predictably, that's when things went horribly wrong.
Private Harris dropped his binoculars, big, heavy, expensive night-vision type things. They promptly followed the example of Newton's apple and tumbled down to the rocks below, where the energy of their fall translated into a loud crash as they shattered in the pre-dawn silence. Everybody immediately freaked out.
The guy from ONI jumped up and nearly ate a face full of plasma. Everybody else backpedaled into the forest as the Grunts clambered up the ridge tossing grenades. We had the advantage of elevation; they had the advantage of wanting to rip us to pieces with their bare hands. Thirty seconds later the noise stopped and nothing was moving and there was way to much stuff on fire. The Grunts were dead at the bottom of the ridge, the Jackals had been mashed up against their shields by Harris' well thrown grenade, and the Elite had leapt ten feet horizontally into the forest away from us. I was pretty sure we were all alive. A burning tree branch fell in front of me and I promptly fainted.
When I came around, the Elite was in the process of finishing off my fellows, bullets pinging of its energy shield like red-hot lead popcorn. I found that I was pretty well concealed under a pile of leaves and I intended to stay that way. A minute later the Elite shut off his energy sword and slouched off into the forest, rubbing at a bit of dirt that had smudged his breastplate.
I stood up and checked myself out. I hadn't been shot, which was good. I wasn't on fire, which was even better. I took off my helmet for a moment and poked at my head, which hurt a bit, so I stopped. I walked five steps and came face-to-face with a very surprised seven-foot tall alien. We both jumped like spooked antelope.
Now, these creatures are scary. Really damn terrifying. This one had just taken out five people without breaking a sweat (do Elites have sweat glands? I would've asked the ONI guy if he weren't lying in chunks on the ground). They've got way too many teeth and their claws are way to sharp, and they carry swords. Swords, for crying out loud. I'm pretty sure nobody's actually gone hand-to-hand with an Elite and come out in less than two or three pieces.
But until that morning, I was very sure that nobody had ever seen an Elite activate his plasma sword backwards and slice himself in half.