A Letter Home
Posted By: Kellen Squire<firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date: 25 May 2004, 6:28 AM
My lifemate, my friends, my family.
Whether by skill or luck- I am not altogether sure which- I have managed to stay alive through the past tendays. It has been a challenge to even find the time to write this quick letter to you, as my days have been consumed with fulfilling the orders of the Holy Warriors and Prophets, and doing my best to stay alive. I cannot say much about either, of course, but you understand that.
I do not care much for the Humans. I do consider myself lucky to be facing Humans and not the Kri's'ten, like our ancestors did. These beings, at least, have some sense of honor, no matter what you may hear at church. They do not have Prophets of their own, as we all know, but they do well enough despite their ignorance. This is their homeworld, and they fight like firaxa backed into a corner. Though the war is hard, I don't think we'll see any quarter from them.
But they can only take so much- eventually they will fall, and will either join our ranks or die.
I do not wish to end this letter, but I must. It is very late in the night here, and I must get at least some sleep before the dawn. You must know how to return mail by now, and I've included this money for you so that you don't have to pay from your own pouches. It is not as if I have much to spend it on here. I shall do my best to take care of myself in the coming days, and I pray that you all shall do the same. Go with the Gods, my friends and family.
Jai'an looked over his letter for a moment before scribbling his signature onto the bottom. Satisfied as he was going to be with what he had written, he carefully tore the sheet of paper out of the pad, placed a few payslips onto the page, and folded the letter into a neat triangle. After addressing the letter and tucking it into one of the storage folds on his armor, he leaned back against the trench wall and sighed softly to himself.
The night sky lay overhead, shades darker than the black of night skies he was used to back on his home colony of Ta'hakna. The city the Covenant were laying siege to was blacked out by earlier fighting, the Humans wary of making themselves better targets, so there were no artificial lights to dilute the sky. The stars, the planet's sole moon, and the pale band of the Galaxy, seemingly behind everything, were all that lit the world. Were it any other place, Jai'an would have found the sight beautiful. Thoughts of beauty came to him only in memories, however, especially after days spent in the bottom of a trench trying to stay alive. Such things as beauty would have to wait until after the war.
The Humans, despite the relative quiet of the time, were working hard at delaying the end of the war. They were excedingly efficient at it, in fact. A light, yet aggravating, rain of shells was falling among the Covenant positions, perhaps one shell within earshot every five or six beats. The deep trenches and shellfire defenses would save most, if not all, of the men in the trenches, but the harassing fire would do its job of killing at least their sleep well. At the westernmost edge of his earshot, small-arms fire rattled and hissed as patrols brushed by each other in the night. Jai'an was comforted by that particular noise: he felt safer hearing the Human soldiers shooting than having to wonder where they were.
Jai'an picked up a muffled rustlings noise signifying motion a few strides down the trench. By instinct more than anything else, Jai'an reached for his plasma rifle before realizing the form in the night was similar in shape to him. It only took him another moment to recognize the owner of that form.
"Night to you, Jai'an," Toknos'lee greeted, lifting his head slightly in salute to his friend. "I see you are taking the wiser route around things, as opposed to joining the celebration over there." Toknos'lee gestured in the direction of the small firefight in the distance, which was beginning to settle down.
"Wort wort wort. I suppose if you call staying in the trench smart, then, yes. I had my first spare time since before the invasion, so I was writing home."
"Good, good. I haven't faired any better than you in that respect. Perhaps I will get some time to let my Lifemate and Offpsring know that I have survived and am still doing the work of the Gods," Toknos'lee said, more to himself than anything else. He sighed. "I suppose it is just as well. I don't know what I would write, anyway. 'Two warriors in my unit died today. Sot'pata might survive his wounds, the next two days are critical for him. Got a sixth-day of sleep in the past five. And how are you?'"
"You deal with that by simply not saying it," Jai'an said. "The censors are not hard on mail to or from Errrth these days." He took his letter out of his pocket, looked at it for a moment. "There aren't any nonwarriors on this planet to disprove whatever I write, and you know that the warriors here would understand. What they do not know of at home will not harm them."
A true enough statement. Jai'an had first and foremost made a point to dance around the parts of the war on this mudball the Humans called Errrth which had become truly burned into his mind. His unit had been reduced to trench warfare twice, to say nothing of being reduced to a third of their pre-invasion strength. The trench fighting was only slightly less bloody than the fluid combat it replaced.
"Go with the Gods, brothers." Jai'an and Toknos'lee both automatically drew their plasma rifles and whipped about to reguard the unexpected intruder, relaxing only when they saw it was a fellow warrior from their unit.
"Go with the Gods, Wous'lu," Jai'an said, reholstering his rifle. "Do you enjoy a blast of superheated hydrogen gas in your torso? One would think so, sneaking up on your comrades like that." Wous'lu made an aggrivated noise.
"Oh, come now, Jai'an. I have come to give you and Toknos'lee good news!" Jai'an and Toknoslee reguarded each other with skepticism. There was never any good news on this planet.
"I have heard that the abominations that we have been facing in this sector are on the verge of collapse! We are to prepare for an assault on their fortifications immediately." That is, of course, unless one talked to a Most Holy warrior, one of the senior unit commanders. Either that, or a dim-mind, like Wous'lu appeared to be. Then, of course, the Humans were being driven into submission, and any day now the war would be over. That one more hard push- always just one more- would cause the Humans to collapse.
"Then this is evidently a definition of 'good news' I was not yet familiar with," Toknos'lee replied sardonicly. "Even with the lower castes populating the first waves, such an assault would be suicide."
"Heresy!" hissed Wous'lu. "These puny apes are no match for our warriors, not with the Gods on our side!"
Jai'an snapped, and abruptly turned to fully face Wous'lu. "These, these... abominations, you called them? Is that so? Then tell me- with the Gods on our side, with our superior technology, why did it take us the lives of so many warrior and twenty-five standard revolutions to even find their home planet? Why, when their planet is in ruins, and they no longer have a Navy to support them, are we being held at bay, and, indeed, even being pushed back!
"Our warriors are good warriors, but there's only so much of this they can take! Everytime we go outside, we have to beware! It seems that every one of the 'apes' you dismiss so easily has a high-powered projectile weapon, and they wait for as many tendays as it takes to get a shot at one of our warriors! And those shooters aren't even part of their military! Sometimes it takes a whole skirmish group to track down their position! And more often than not, they wait until our warriors get close enough to trigger explosive devices they have *strapped to their bodies beforehand*, just so they can kill some more of us before they go!
"And our orders tell us we're supposed to SUBJUGATE these Humans. The ones that do bow before us are either lying, and waiting until they can deal us the most damage possible, or are entirely spineless, and useless for our cause. And you have heard reports of their invincible soldier with the green armor, no doubt! Who is responsible for the deaths of thousands of our most holy warriors, and uncountless thousands more of the lesser castes!"
As if to punctuate his point, an unexpected hiss of air suddenly sounded, followed by a distressingly soft bang. Jai'an and Toknos'lee automatically dove beneath the overhang of the trench an instant before dozens of tiny explosions peppered the trench floor where they stood and the ground beyond it in all directions. Night became day, and tiny bits of shrapnel whipped around like a swarm of ravenous kalari. Toknos'lee winced as an intense pain seared through his right arm. Another three or four projectiles peppered the area around them, and then all was silent again, except for a thin, shrill cry in the distance- one of the lesser beings had probably been wounded.
Crawling gingerly out of the small shelter, Jai'an looked around to make sure the bombardment was truly over before helping Toknos'lee out after him. He checked himself quickly, deciding with some gratitude that he was still all there. Only then did Jai'an remember Wous'lu. He turned around to find Wous'lu sprawled out on the ground, his head resting a bodylength away from his neck.
Toknos'lee cursed as he brushed some of the dirt off his armor, before craning his neck back to reguard Wous'lu. "Ironic," was his only comment, as he began to assess the damage to himself. "I am armor-torn in several places." The armor on his right arm had three jagged holes torn in it by shell fragments. One hole was seeping blood, though it appeared to be more serious than it likely was.
"It is nothing bad," Jai'an reassured Toknos'lee, checking the wound for himself. "Just do not make a habit of standing in the path of submunitions in the future." As another volley of Human projectile shells landed in another sector of the trench, Jai'an finished brushing off his own armor, and then checked the letter he had placed into his pocket for damage. By the will of the Gods, it was intact.
Toknos'lee grunted softly. "I should probably get this looked at by a medic, at least. It doesn't look like they're going to be busy enough tonight to resent it. I can send the letter on its way for you, if you'd like."
"My sincerest gratitude," Jai'an said, giving the letter to Toknos'lee. "It is too bad we are spread so thin in this sector. I have been ordered to watch this segment of the trench in case the Humans decide to take an interest in it. It is either that or hide in the projectile shelter until morning."
Toknos'lee chuckled as he took Jai'an's letter. "I was ordered to prepare for a skirmish patrol before dawn. Too bad this isn't going to keep me away from that. I suppose we've all got to do our parts somehow."
"That we do. Go with the Gods, Toknos'lee."
"Go with the Gods, Jai'an."
As Toknos'lee continued down the trench, Jai'an set about trying to restore some order to his not-so-temporary home. After making sure the shells had not damaged anything important (although they had; one of his ration packages had sprayed onto the ground, and his good cooking bowl no longer deserved that adjective), he heard the roar of skycraft passing overhead. He tensed up in an instant, ready to dive into the projectile shelter again if need be, only to find that the skycraft was headed toward planetary southeast. Either they were going to strike the Humans, or were returning from an attack on the Covenant earlier. Either way, they were no longer his concern, and he relaxed. As Jai'an piled his undamaged goods back on the makeshift shelf he had carved out of the trench wall, an immense storm of projectile fire lept from the Human trenches, telling him whose skycraft they had been after all.
Once all was in order, Jai'an sat back in the trench and looked up at the sky, suddenly realizing just how tired he was. The sound of a few more Human projectiles slamming into distant trenches faded into background noise, and the roar of the Covenant Banshees tearing overhead were the only things keeping
Jai'an awake. But even the noise could not keep Jai'an awake any longer, and he fell into a deep and wonderful sleep.