Most Sincere Apologies - Bad Days, Chapter 5
Posted By: kabu<firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date: 10 December 2008, 9:21 pm
"Rodriguez... hey, um, I just wanted to-"
"Now is NOT the best time, Meyers!"
"Well, no, it's just that I haven't had the opportunity to talk privately wi-"
"Meyers, SHUT UP for just one second!" Rodriguez had to pause between "one" and "second" to wipe a bit of blood from his eyes. The shallow cut on his brow had broken open again and was slowly drawing a crimson trail along the left side of his face.
I dropped back to the freshly dug trench, still specked with bits of hastily uprooted greenery. A spent magazine was digging into my side. "Rodriguez, I-"
"Please, just call me Gabe. I hate it when people call me 'Rodriguez'." He had calmed down a bit now that he wasn't blinded.
"Right. Gabe, I just wanted to apologize for the, uh, the accident a few weeks back."
Private Rodriguez slid down into the trench, his rifle empty, and propped himself up on his elbows to peer over the edge. The loose soil on the forward slope popped and sizzled, sending droplets of molten glass hissing into the air. He quickly dropped down onto his stomach, where he lay panting for a minute. Catching his breath, he rolled over onto his side to look at me, perhaps just a bit incredulously.
Gabriel Rodriguez was a good four inches taller than me, but he was fairly skinny for his size. Not gangly like a stork, just thin-ish. If I had to choose a metaphorical animal, I'd say he was like a well-built antelope, or maybe an unusually bulky ferret, lots of springy muscle. His name and skin tone showed his distant Mexican ancestry, though he had grown up a ridiculous number of light years from Earth. His hair was longer than strict regulation, a bit longer than mine, but right now it was being shoved into his eyes by the rim of his helmet. His broken arm had healed nicely in the five weeks since I had hurled him eight feet through the air in his sleep.
"You can call me Isaac."
"Dios, Meyers, this really isn't-"
The radios in our ears crackled to life. "Meyers, Rodriguez, you've got a flyer bearing down on your position! Stay down! Michaelson, take it out!"
It was Sergeant Richards' voice over the radio again. Richards was probably holed up in the reinforced concrete bunker outside the Outpost 5 gate, not stuck out in the middle of a field. She didn't have to deal with all the superheated plasma or the bits of flaming vegetation, no, she could just shout orders at us hapless Privates. Yet another burning branch flew overhead, accompanied by the now-familiar "whump" of a shockwave and a bright green flash. Faster than you could say "immolation," I whipped a thin, foot-long red cylinder from a harness on my left shin. With speed and precision to put Wild Bill Hickok himself to shame, I swung the single-use fire extinguisher and slammed the button, nailing the burning bit of wood from ten feet away with a long stream of chemical foam. I tossed the extinguisher, still trailing a wisp of compressed carbon dioxide, to lie with its mate from my right shin on the ground behind us. Rodriguez's face was shifting between expressions of amusement and nervous anxiety. He was backing away very slowly, like you might back away from a nest of sleeping Tasmanian devils.
"Fire is very dangerous, Rodri- uh, Gabe. This body armor?" I tapped my shin guard to illustrate. "At high temperatures it'll burn like kerosene. That's why I, you know, flipped-"
I had to pause for a minute when the Banshee's wail drowned out my voice as streams of blue plasma strafed our position. The trench wall held, barely, sending up a plume of super-heated steam. Where the Hell was Michaelson? He had the rockets. A series of bright red flashes made me flinch until I turned towards the forward gate, forcing myself to take calming breaths. Lines of tracer were lancing out of the forward bunker towards the Banshee, but the few shots that connected at that range pinged uselessly off its purple armor. The flyer whirled in midair to meet this new threat, and flew head on into a pair of rockets fired right up its nose. More burning debris rained over the field as the smoking wreckage hurled towards Richards' bunker at 200 kilometers per hour.
"All right, Meyers, Rodriguez, you're clear! You have maybe forty seconds before the tanks and infantry show up, get your ASSES back to the bunker, right- OH SHIT, EVERYONE DOWN! FALL BACK! FALL BACK TO-" The transmission cut off as the Banshee slammed into the bunker and took out the radio mast before exploding in a ball of blue and orange flame. So I guess I was wrong in my earlier assessment, Richards did have to deal with superheated plasma once in a while. Looking at the blast, I was struck once again by the perfect elegance that the Covenant had incorporated into their machines of war. I had done quite a bit of research on the subject of explosions, and I can tell you that bright blue flame like that is harder to achieve than it looks. Anyway, the bunker looked mostly intact, though it was very much on fire. I can't be sure what happened next, but I think I passed out.
The next thing I knew I was fifty yards downrange, Gabe's hand clamped around my upper arm to drag me towards the gate. He was muttering a steady stream of curses under his breath as he pulled me along. I glanced backwards to see if we were being followed, just in time to see the first line of Wraiths smash its way through the tree line a thousand yards back. Grunts were scrambling alongside the tanks, taking potshots from long range. It looked like the Covenant were trying to take out Outpost 5 the same way they had laid the smackdown on Outpost 4, but this time we had a few minutes of advance warning due to the new, strictly-enforced drug screening policy. Unfortunately, Rodriguez and I had been going out to relieve the farthest sentries when the baddies rolled in, pinning us down in the makeshift trenches. Now, thirty yards from the Outpost, I twisted around a bit further in his grasp to see if there were any more incoming Banshees, tripped over my own feet, and slammed us both down into the dirt.
"Anyway, Gabe, um... what was I saying?"
Rodriguez glared at me, grabbing my shoulder to pull me to my feet. "Body armor, Meyers. You were talking about body armor."
"Right. Um. You can call me Isaac. Anyway, that's not important, I was just saying that I wanted to apol-" A Wraith mortar exploded on the ground fifteen feet away, knocking us both back into the dirt. Climbing to my feet, I spat out a bit of blood and ran a hand through my hair a little sheepishly (where was my helmet?), "...I wanted to apologize for breaking your arm."
"And my collarbone," he added with a scowl. We were running back towards the main gate. From this distance, I could see that while the hatch on the bunker had been well and truly slagged, it looked like most of the defense crew had made it out alive.
"And your collarbone." I jumped over an Elite's supine form, the pilot of the Banshee. "At the time, I was- AHHH!"
The Elite, whom we had assumed to be dead, had apparently bailed out just before he hit. He (She? It?) scrambled to his... hooves... with a scream of pain and rage and lunged clumsily at us, claws extended. I swung my rifle around (it was still inexplicably in my hands), but the Elite actually bit it out of my grasp - seriously, he almost took off my fingers - and went for my neck. Gabe snatched my sidearm out of my holster and emptied the whole thing into the alien's face in about half a second. The Elite screamed, blinded by the muzzle flash and the flare of its energy shield overloading right in his eyes, and tried to grab Rodriguez. I gave the snarling alien my best right cross, smack in the mandibles. Already badly injured and dazed from the crash, he dropped like a stone, dragging me to the ground under his considerable weight.
"Oof. Wow. Nice shooting. Um, Gabe, I was going through some really nasty morphine withdrawal at the time, so I wasn't, you know, in control of myself. Ugh." I rolled the most definitely unconscious alien aside and stood up to recover my MA5B, dusting myself off.
"I know, Meyers, I know," said Rodriguez, pulling me into a crouch to dodge some shrapnel. He was looking at the downed Elite and touching the side of his face, where a claw had drawn a cut. "I guess I was pretty pissed at you." He threw me a quick grin while wiping the blood off his face. "Nice punch, Meyers."
"Call me Isaac. And yeah, I guess I'd be pissed too."
I pulled Rodriguez away from a chunk of burning rubber as we ran past the perimeter defenses, stumbling a bit over the uneven terrain. Marines were running up to man chaingun emplacements and ground-to-ground missile launchers, franticly shouting orders. Sergeant Richards was evidently still alive, because her voice was screeching commands out of our headsets. I learned later that the Lieutenant had taken a direct hit from a mortar, at least, that was the coroner's best guess because only his boots and helmet were ever found. But with the rapid response from the rest of the garrison, it looked like Outpost 5 might actually survive this one. Yay.
"Look, Gabe, I am very sorry. I really wasn't in my right mind, if I had known you were there I wouldn't have freaked out and I just don't want you to be pissed at me and I know that-" Seeing a flash out of the corner of my eye, I shoved Gabe sideways. The green plasma bolt, fired by some crack-shot Grunt back in the trees, missed him by six inches. "I know that I was wrong, but-"
Rodriguez sighed in defeat as he stepped up to perimeter defense, taking me by the shoulders. "Meyers. Isaac. Slow down. It's okay, it's okay. Deep breaths. Okay. I forgive you, I've had worse. You were messed up; you didn't even know I was there. And thanks for the save. Saves, rather." He was chuckling to himself as he hopped up to a defensive emplacement, moving to fill a gap in the lines. Grabbing the controls of a missile launcher and swiftly targeting three of the Wraiths on thermal, he looked down at me and abruptly frowned. "Um, Isaac, you're bleeding."
"So are you."
"No, no, you're really bleeding."
I looked down at myself. There was a two-inch piece of purplish metal sticking out of my abdomen. "Wow. That looks bad." It didn't look like it had gone too deep, but there was quite a bit of blood. I touched it, which hurt. Come to think of it, it was hurting before I touched it but I was too busy pleading my case to notice. It must've happened when the beat-up Elite fell on me. Ironic, that I was almost killed by someone who was already down. "Huh. I should find a medic." Seriously, that did not look pretty. Right through the armor, too. At least I wasn't on fire this time.
"Yeah. You're looking a little pale, there."
"Okay. Um. Well, see you later, Gabe."
"No, hold up, just give me a second and I'll take you." Rodriguez keyed the targets into the launcher and hit the big red button. A second later, a half dozen plumes of exhaust whooshed out of the tubes above our heads. "Okay. Let's go before you bleed to death or just lose it and break my arm again."
"We're okay then?"
He sighed. "Yeah. We're okay, Isaac. Just make sure you get some methadone next time."
The medic, upon examining the wound, said that it probably wouldn't kill me in the next few hours provided he could keep the bleeding down, but that pulling the shard now could be dangerous. He wrapped me up, squirted some biofoam (that stuff stings like hell) and sent me to lie down inside a bunker with the other broken soldiers. It really did hurt quite a lot. I must have done some screaming, because the harried medic rushed forwards with a syringe of morphine.
I respectfully declined.