Our Cursed Souls: A Field Master's Tale
Posted By: MadJackal
Date: 11 February 2004, 3:55 AM
The light of the sun had not yet reached the snow-covered valleys around Halo's control center and would not reach them for many more hours. They still had a long fight ahead before dawn came. Field Master Neta Nolomee longed for the sunrise, even though he knew that he would never live to see it, and that it would do nothing to cleanse the valleys of the real darkness that lay within: the Flood.
"Field Master, the Phantoms are inbound!" one of the Squad Masters under his command said.
"Get your squad to the LZ, Elite. Gnashing Teeth Squad, Sharpened Talons Squad, Purity in Foresight Squad, withdraw to the LZ. Teeth of Justice Squad, provide a pattern of suppression fire to cover their retreat," Neta ordered over the battlenet.
A chorus of affirmatives rang out over the comm channels, filling Neta with pride. These were his men, and he loved them like he loved his own children. And Neta knew that he would die with them today. Of the five squads under his direct command, one had been completely wiped out. Teeth of Justice Squad had sustained massive casualties. The other three were still pretty much intact.
When the commander had finally given in to the seriousness of the situation in the canyons, he had given an order that he had never wanted to give. He had ordered all remaining troops to abandon the canyons and fall back to the control center to make a last stand. If the control center fell into Flood hands, everything was lost. Success or failure here could decide the fate of the universe.
Cut off from the control center and too far away to hope to make it on foot without taking unacceptable casualties was Neta and his Combined Arms Strike Team. Three Phantom dropships had been spared to pick up as many of them as they could. The problem was that there was only enough room aboard the Phantoms for three squads. The rest had to be left behind. Since the commander needed all the full strength squads he could get, Teeth of Justice Squad would have to stay behind and sacrifice their lives to keep the Flood from overrunning the landing zone.
Neta could not bear the thought of leaving his squad behind to die. It was an honorable death, to be sure, one that would assure each and every one of them a place in paradise. But it was a lonely death. They would die alone, without hope, full of despair. And Neta did not want to let them die that death alone. No, his other three squads would be in good hands with the other Field Masters at the control center. No doubt each and every one of them was looking to fill in their ranks with fresh troops and would take his squads in. Neta would stay behind as well. He would be there when his boys gave their lives in the battle to save the universe from the Flood. He would die here. They would not be alone.
Neta climbed on top of a rock to look out over the battlefield. The stuttering light of plasma fire and needles broke the night of the canyons, casting an eerie glow that was reflected by the snow that covered the ground. Shadowy figures that Neta knew to be Flood combat forms returned fire, adding to the light with tracer rounds from their captured human Assault Rifles and their Covenant weapons. He felt the undying hatred he had for the Flood build inside of him until he could hold it in no longer. Neta activated his plasma sword and raised it above his head, thrusting it into the sky. He emitted a roar of bloodlust and hatred that reverberated off of the walls of the canyon, making it seem as if there were ten of him.
Neta heard the roar of a Phantom dropship and turned to watch as three Phantoms came in single file down the canyon. They flared to a stop, opened their bay doors, and landed. "Get in. May the gods favor you in all of your battles to come," Neta ordered.
His men swarmed into the dropships. Once full, two of the dropships lifted off, closing their doors and speeding off into the night. Only one dropship remained.
"What is wrong, Squad Master? Why haven't you lifted off?" Neta asked.
"There is still some room on the dropship, Field Master. And, well, my troops, excuse me, sir, but they don't want to leave their Field Master behind," the Elite said, his voice choking.
Tears of pride welled up in Neta's eyes. "Go, Squad Master, get your men out of here. It is my time to go. Tell the men for me. Tell them that I am very proud of them, and that I have never served with a better group of soldiers in my long career. I will see them in paradise."
"Yes, Field Master. But, we can still take some of Teeth of Justice Squad," the Elite said.
Neta looked back at Teeth of Justice Squad. They were running past his position, firing behind them as they went, followed by a storm of bullets and plasma. Leaping down from the rock, Neta sent a call out over battlenet, "Teeth of Justice Squad. There is still room on the dropship for a few of you. Any of you who want to go can leave. I will understand. The dropship is waiting."
There was a break in the hail of fire from the advancing Flood combat forms, allowing Teeth and Justice Squad to stop behind the cover of some rocks to consider Neta's offer. Looking out over them, Neta saw that not a single one of them budged. A Grunt moved hesitantly towards the waiting dropship, but realized the shame of what he was about to do. He stood firm. They all looked at Neta, silently giving him their answer with their eyes. They would stay.
"Squad Master, lift off. Defend the control center valiantly. That is all that I expect of you," Neta said.
The bay doors closed as the dropship lifted off, blowing snow in every direction. Neta watched as the ship turned and disappeared into the darkness. Silence returned to the canyon. Neta turned and started walking straight towards the wave of Flood forms that was closing on them, his gold armor glittering in the faint light reflecting from the snow.
Teeth of Justice Squad followed his lead and burst from cover, firing their weapons. Plasma tore into the leading Flood forms, burning away their flesh and sending many of them to the ground. Some got back up. Others did not. But that did not matter, as there were many Flood here, perhaps a couple hundred. A few casualties would not do anything to stall their advance.
Neta's walk turned into a trot. He could see the closest Flood clearly now. It was horrible to look at them. They were nothing but grotesque images of horrifying mutations and decaying flesh. Many had sustained serious wounds. Wounds that would have been serious for any normal creature, but not the Flood. Some had gaping wounds that revealed jutting bones and putrefying organs. Others were missing limbs, and sometimes entire sections of their torsos had been blown away, and yet they continued to fight as if they had never been wounded at all. Neta felt a fear of these creatures, the living dead. The fear threatened to conquer him, but he stuffed it way down inside. He did not need fear now. What he needed was courage. And he found plenty of it.
He broke into a run, straight at the Flood. Behind him, he heard the battle cries of Teeth of Justice Squad as they charged right after him, right to their deaths. He watched as the front rows of Flood forms withered under the hail of fire from Teeth of Justice Squad. It still was not enough. Bullets stuck him all over, bouncing off of the rechargeable shields that his armor generated. The shields would not last forever, but they would be enough for Neta to get close enough to use his sword.
Neta snarled in rage as he met the first Flood combat forms. He sliced upwards, catching the first Flood, an infected human, in the stomach. Meeting little in the way of resistance, the blade went completely through the combat form. Continuing his upward slash, Neta watched as the sword exited through the shoulder of the combat form, cutting it almost completely in two. A spray of dark green blood followed the blade, some of it splashing against his armor, defiling it.
There were so many of the Flood forms that no matter where Neta swung, he would cut a Flood form. Around him, he heard Teeth and Justice Squad fighting with a cold fury. The ground beneath his feet trembled with the explosions of multiple plasma grenades. Looking to his left, he saw the harsh light of a Flood combat form being torn completely apart in a shower of blood as the needles embedded in its chest and head went off in a chain reaction.
Looking to his right, he saw a Jackal crouched behind its shield, firing its plasma pistol as fast as it could be fired without overheating it. Bullets hammered into the shield, unable to penetrate, but still very dangerous. The Jackal was fighting valiantly. He was earning his place in paradise. Another Jackal moved up behind it, crouched behind its own shield, and started firing at the Flood. The panicky Jackal had fired too soon, and two of its blasts hit the other Jackal in its back and neck. Gasping in pain, the Jackal fell forward to the ground. Four Flood forms leapt on top of it, tearing at it and killing it.
The Jackal that was responsible for his friend's death looked around, trying to see if anyone had seen what he had done. His eyes met those of the Field Master. Neta looked away. The guilt of that screw up would haunt that Jackal until the day he died, whether it be today or twenty years from now. It would probably be today.
Neta continued to fight, tearing into the Flood combat forms with a renewed vengeance. He cut the legs out from under one Flood form and cut the head off of another. Blood covered the snow beneath his feet. Neta could not see a single patch of pure white snow. There was nothing, nothing but blood. He raised his arm to hack another Flood form to pieces when another struck him from behind with its left arm, which had mutated into a mass of tentacles. Neta stumbled forwards. Another form wrapped its tentacles around his right arm, pinning his sword in place.
Neta struggled to free his arm, but even his extraordinary strength was not enough to free himself of the Flood form's grasp. Using his left arm, he punched the form in the chest as hard as he could. His fist smashed through the rotting flesh, crushing the infection form that was living inside of it. His fist came away stained with the dark green blood of the combat form. The form spasmed and died, releasing its grip enough for Neta to rip his arm free of the tentacles. Neta spun and sliced the Flood form that had struck him from behind completely in half.
Looking down at his armor, Neta saw that it was drenched with the blood of the Flood forms. Despite the situation around him, Neta laughed. It pleased him to see the Flood suffering and dying in masses. They deserved it for all that they had done. They had killed thousands of Covenant soldiers so far, stealing their bodies and erasing their minds, killing their souls. The more Flood forms he killed, the more Neta felt that he was doing the dead justice.
Teeth of Justice Squad was collapsing. Despite their heroic attempts to stay alive, they were dying. One by one, they fell. Neta saw an Elite stumble towards him, dark purple blood running down its sides from multiple wounds. A burst of Assault Rifle rounds tore into the Elite, and he collapsed. Neta dove in, killing the Flood form that had fired the burst that had killed the Elite. Looking back at the Elite's body, he noticed that it wasn't dead.
Struggling to a sitting position, the Elite raised his plasma rifle and continued to fire, biting back the pain. Inspired by the Elite's tenacity and courage, Neta fought even harder. He hacked away furiously, killing Flood forms as quick as they appeared. Neta turned to help the wounded Elite back to his feet so that he could make for the cover of some rocks. But what he saw shocked him. The Elite was dragging himself away, leaving a trail of purple blood behind him. And following him were five of the little Flood infection forms. They were going to try and infect him.
Not my soldier. Neta started for them, to kill them, to smash them beneath his armored foot when a Flood form attacked him from behind, wrapping its tentacles around him, pinning his arms to his sides. Uttering a cry of rage, Neta struggled to free himself. Using every last bit of his strength, he tore himself free of the Flood form and swung his plasma sword. The blade caught the form in the face, taking the entire top half of its head off in a spray of dark blood.
Turning back to the wounded Elite, he saw him fighting off the infection forms. But it was too late. One of them made its way to his chest and inserted its tentacles into him, searching for his spine. The Elite screamed in pain, struggling to kill the infection form. Neta ran towards him, but saw the Elite cease his attempts to fight the infection form. He had been infected. The infection form started to burrow deeper into his chest. When Neta reached the Elite, he smashed the infection form with his foot. The Elite did not move. He was dead.
The battle wound down as the last of Teeth of Justice Squad embraced death in their last acts of defiance. A carrier form exploded next to an Elite, taking down his shields and allowing the Flood around him to finish him off. The Jackal that had killed his friend was already dead, his corpse surrounded by the bodies of many combat forms. The last Grunt shot himself in the head with his plasma pistol as an infection form was about to tap its spine. Soon, all of the Covenant troops were dead. All except for Neta.
Neta felt no anguish for his troops. They had gone out in a blaze of glory and all were surely enjoying their first moments in paradise right now. That was all that any Covenant soldier could ask for. Now, it was Neta's turn. He fought for what seemed like an eternity, coming dangerously close to finally being killed on numerous occasions. As exhaustion finally claimed him, Neta collapsed to the ground, unable to stand. He lay face down in the bloodstained snow. He heard the sound of a Flood form as it approached him and stood over him. It reached down to kill him, to feed on him, but Neta still had some fight left in him.
He rolled over, swinging his sword as he came around. The blade cut the Flood form's arm off above the elbow. Blood spattered over Neta's armor as he thrust the sword through the form's chest, killing the combat form and the infection form within. The Flood form crumpled to the ground.
Silence reigned in the valley. Neta lay on the ground, watching the sky. It was beautiful. He had never really noticed the way the stars shone on nights like this one. Neta struggled to a sitting position and looked around him. All of the Flood were dead. Nothing moved in the valley. Neta was stunned. They had killed all of the Flood forms here. He noticed the corpses of Teeth and Justice Squad tangled with the corpses of the Flood and understood that a high price had been paid for this victory.
Neta saw a tall, snow covered tree off to his left. Underneath it was the only patch of unspoiled snow on the battlefield. Neta struggled to his feet, took a few wavering steps towards the tree, and collapsed. He started to drag himself over there. When he finally reached foot of the tree, he was at the end of his strength. He settled into a crumpled heap at the foot of the tree, his bloodstained armor defiling the purity of the patch of snow.
There was a lot of activity on the battlenet. Listening in, Neta realized that the battle for the control center had begun. Soon, the battlenet was filled with the sounds of battle. He heard the screams of the wounded and the dying. It filled his ears like the wailing of all of the cursed souls in hell. It was to this lullaby, the lullaby of war, that Neta finally fell asleep.
Neta woke. At first, he could not tell where he was. But, it all came back to him. Teeth of Justice Squad. The control center. The dead and the dying. Sitting up, Neta saw that a light snow had fallen while he was asleep, mercifully covering the dead in a blanket of pure glittering snow. Looking at the sky, he saw the first rays of the sun reaching into the darkness, pushing it back. Neta smiled. He had lived to see the dawn.
He tried to pick up any calls on the battlenet, but there were none. Silence. The valleys around the control center were still, unmoving. Neta did not believe that any of the Covenant had made it through the night. Hopefully, the control center was out of Flood hands, possibly barricaded in a last attempt to keep the Flood out. Neta tried to raise any troops on the comm channels, but he got no replies. They were all dead.
Neta sat against that tree for a long time, watching the sunrise. It filled the sky with beautiful colors, belying the carnage that had taken place mere hours before. Neta sat there for many hours, marveling at the peace in the valleys. Neta did not know it, but many kilometers away, the Master Chief was blasting his way out of the Pillar of Autumn in a Longsword Interceptor, getting away from Halo and to safety. Behind him, the Pillar of Autumn's engines were going critical.
When Neta saw the bright flash appear in the distance, he was not shocked or scared. He merely accepted it. That blast would destroy Halo, keeping the Flood from leaving. And keeping the Flood from leaving was a cause Neta would gladly die for. The bright flash overtook him, and for once, Neta was happy.