Posted By: kr142616<email@example.com>
Date: 8 October 2007, 7:40 pm
Sergeant Pete O'Brian ran through the woods, his squad in tow. He knew the aliens were behind, but he didn't know how many. They'd kill them if they didn't keep moving, like Chavez's squad.
No luck since we landed on this damn ring, the sergeant thought. They'd been running from this patrol for half an hour. The aliens weren't particularly enthusiastic, though. They only just kept up with O'Brian's squad, and were far enough away they weren't so much a problem as an annoyance. It would be a different story when the caught up, though.
"Can you see them, Scott?" he asked his communications man.
"No, sir, they're just on the edge of the motion tracker. They're definitely following us, though," Waters said.
"Dammit," O'Brian said under his breath. He looked back to his men. "Keep up! These guys aren't trying really hard, and we might be able to outrun 'em." The men ran noticeably faster.
We might be able to outrun them, O'Brian thought, but then what? They'd been lost in the woods for four hours, and their long-range COM gear wasn't working properly. Waters had taken a shot to his pack, and it had ruined the equipment.
Running through the woods, O'Brian realized how similar this was to one of his first missions. But this time, he was in command of a squad, and not alone. And there'll be no Spartan to save me this time, he thought grimly.
"What the hell is that?"
O'Brian turned, to see one of his men pointing to a cavernous hole in a hillside.
"It doesn't look natural," O'Brian said, "but it's gotta be safer than out here. Let's go."
They ran towards the hole. Once inside, O'Brian realized it was a tunnel. The walls were a dull grey metal with weird designs along the walls. The sergeant couldn't tell if they were something religious, or simply directions. He didn't really care either way; at least they were safely hidden.
O'Brian led his squad down the tunnel.
It quickly got dark. "Everyone, lights," O'Brian ordered quietly. Throughout the cavern, his men flicked the lights mounted in their weapons and helmets on, and O'Brian followed suit. The harsh white light cut through the darkness and the thin mist that had been gathering as they had ventured farther into the cavern.
"I don't like this place, sarge," one of the marines said. "Gives me the creeps."
"Yeah, well get used to it," O'Brian said. "We may have to stay in here for a bit." O'Brian couldn't help but agree, though. The cavernous tunnels did seem more than a little sinister.
They walked for a half-hour more, until they reached a small hallway, going to a separate tunnel.
"This looks like a good place to set up for the night," O'Brian said. "Waters, Tinier, you've got first watch. Two hour shifts. Everyone else, get out your sleeping bags." The marines gratefully complied, and set up in the small hallway.
O'Brian rolled out his own sleeping bag, and slid in, in full armor. It was a tight fit, and more than a little uncomfortable, but he quickly fell asleep. It was a restless sleep, though, plagued by dark dreams.
O'Brian woke up with a start, and scrambled for his assault rifle, tangled in his sleeping bag.
"Calm down, sarge, it's just me," Chan said. He looked like he might laugh. "It's your watch." The corporal held out a shotgun.
O'Brian took it, grumbling, and crawled out of his warm sleeping bag. "Who's got next watch?" he asked.
"Waters and Tinier again, sir. We figured we'd let you sleep."
"Well, tell everyone thanks. And don't mention I almost smoked you," he said. The squad already had enough stories about their crazy old sergeant. They didn't need to hear any more, particularly one like this. The other squads were already afraid of him.
O'Brian took the shotgun from the private, and moved towards the end of hallway. Behind him, he heard Phillips waking Dalton for his watch. He nodded over his shoulder to them, and turned back to the hallway exit, where an unpleasant mist swirled.
O'Brian sat there, idly wondering how he'd ended up where he was from the scared private on some backwater planet, only alive through the grace of a Spartan. Now he'd been a marine for well over a decade, and the war was still dragging on.
It occurred to O'Brian that only one Spartan had survived Reach. He hoped it was his friend from so long ago. The awe-inspiring image of that Spartan tearing into a pack of Grunts bare-handed still stayed with him to this day. That mission lost in the woods changed him into the marine he was. He didn't even remember what the objective had been.
O'Brian sighed. He doubted that his Spartan was still alive. Just another casualty to this war.
The sergeant, bored, saw Waters' comm and sensors pack on the ground nearby, and, removing a datapad from his own pack, snaked a cable to the pack. After a few seconds of tinkering, he had the pack's motion tracker displaying on his 'pad.
What O'Brian saw, however, was puzzling. "Huh," the sergeant grunted. The tracker was a flurry of motion, although nothing registered large enough to be human or Covenant. Must be the fog screwing with the tracking, he thought, looking out and seeing nothing.
The sergeant went to place the tracker on the ground again, and jumped. What the hell? he thought. He could have sworn he'd heard something, but now it was silent.
"Hey, Dalton," he whispered over his shoulder.
"Sarge?" the private said in way of reply.
"You hear that?"
"No—wait," the private said. "What was it?"
"A kind of skittering," O'Brian said. "Like a rat or something."
There was a pause for several seconds, then the private's reply came. "Yeah, I hear it," he said. "What do you think it is?"
"Dunno," O'Brian said. "But it's setting the motion tracker off like—" the sergeant's reply was cut short, though, as the sound suddenly increased rapidly in volume.
"Everyone up!" he shouted. "Up! Up! Everyone get the hell out!"
All around him, dazed marines were thrashing out of their sleeping bags, grabbing for weapons and packs. "What is it, sarge?" Waters asked, the first up and ready. The sergeant thrust the motion tracker at him.
"We need to get out," he said. "Something's in here."
No sooner had the words come out of O'Brian's mouth than what looked like dozens of sickly yellow, tentacled bulbs formed out of the darkness towards the sergeant and his men. "What the—" Waters was saying, when he was cut off by the boom of O'Brian's shotgun. The blast tore through a patch of the creatures, and several around seemed to just pop, but more quickly filled their place.
"Go!" O'Brian shouted, backing up into the corridor and pushing his men back behind him. "Clear out!"
The marines were starting to come to their senses, and began backing out into the fog behind them, back to the entrance. O'Brian remained near the rear, firing into clumps off the odd creatures. The sergeant couldn't place it, but the little, funny-looking balloon creatures inspired an unreasonable dread that not even the Covenant had hours before. He fired another blast from his shotgun into the bulbs.
O'Brian ran with his squad, and again turned to fire behind him, but tripped. The shotgun skidded from his hands, and the sergeant landed hard on his side. O'Brian scrambled to get up, and fell again.
Suddenly, 'Brian felt soft tendrils swarm over his body, and then a lancing pain in his back. He saw Dalton turn to help, and raised his hand. "Go!" he shouted.
No Spartan to save me this time, O'Brian thought, the last thought before the dark claimed him.
For hours, or days, or maybe only minutes or seconds, Waters ran, the squad around him totally silent. The marines would glance over their shoulders for just an instant, hoping against hope that the odd bulbs wouldn't be following, that they wouldn't claim them like they had their sergeant, the wild and seemingly invincible man that had led them into battle after battle.
Then, they burst into light, dazzling light filtering through the trees around them. The beauty of the forest wasn't fitting. The incongruity of it bothered Waters, like he'd just woken from a horrible dream.
When he looked around him, though, the sarge wasn't there.
For a long time, no one said anything, mourning their sergeant in silence, moving through the trees. Then, Chan broke the silence.
"What the hell were those?" he asked of no one in particular, panting.
No one replied for a moment. Then, Waters spoke.
"Whatever they were, we need to tell someone."
That'd be what sarge would want, he thought. He gave his life to save us. Waters knew he'd expect all of them to do the same for every marine.
So, in the unsettling beauty of the woods, Sergeant O'Brian's squad marched on.