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Pictures - A Halo Christmas Submission
Posted By: offensivebias1<offensivebias1@gmail.com>
Date: 24 December 2009, 10:58 pm

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      "AA incoming, be on your toes Helljumpers!" A second later and explosions began to cut through the already deafening sound of the wind outside the HEV. Rocking back and forth, the ODST inside took hold of the dual joysticks on either side of the pod and began to muscle them back and forth. A storm had rolled into their drop zone in the late afternoon and was blanketing the entire area in over a foot of snow an hour but that hadn't stopped the Covenant from attacking the city and so the Navy sent the ODSTs in to stop them. This was his first jump and it couldn't have been any worse.
      "Sir, permission to maneuver out of the flak field?" he asked over the radio, his voice shaking and his throat dry.
      "Negative Sergeant. You're just as likely to die in this AA than if you landed away from the rest of your team." The bluntness of the ODSTs wasn't something he had gotten used to yet and a painful swallow was all he could manage. Clouds continued to obscure his vision but he was still able to see the bright pink shards, similar to the rounds a Needler fired, hiss past or explode just feet in front of the front window. His heart was already pounding in his chest but it beat even faster as he broke through the bottom of the clouds and snow started to cake against the window. The city below was already beginning to burn on the outer edges and he traced the source of the AA fire back to their guns to try and see if one was targeting him to try and avoid the fire. There was a jerk against the pod and he heard the parachute panels deploy and begin to slow the pod down but a second later he heard a second, louder explosion as the pod began to swing back and forth and then slip into a death spiral. With his arms against the pod's walls, blisters forming from the still superheated panels, his stomach began to churn and his head got light before he passed out a few seconds later from the g-forces.

      A distant explosion rumbled through the air depositing pieces of concrete on his bare face. For a few seconds as he woke up there didn't seem to be anything wrong and he opened his eyes to see a hole through four floors of some office building, the pod settling in the basement garage. Snow was fluttering in through the darkness and was depositing on the exposed bars and crumbled concrete all around his feet. Then a wave of pain shot up through his left leg and it took all of his strength to stay conscious. Looking down the bone was sticking out of his tight, just above the point where the armored boots stopped. His BDUs were soaked in blood and there was some that had pooled onto the concrete but it looked like it had stopped while he was still out.
      "Oh…shit…" was all he could manage while he let his head fall back. He began to wonder how he managed to end up outside of his pod and look backwards even more he could see the mangled remains of the metal casket in a pile of rubble, almost completely torn apart. Closer to him was what was left of his helmet which was missing the visor and a large portion of the mouth area. Battle chatter was audible over the speakers and it wasn't sounding good.
      "Fall back! Fall Back! I need an airstrike on grid- aaaagh!" A few more explosions shook the building and he thought that he could hear small arms fire nearby. His pistol was still strapped to his right leg but it wouldn't do much against anything other than a Grunt. Near his helmet was the BR55 that had been stowed in one of the equipment racks in the pod and he knew he needed to get to it and his helmet. Taking a few deep breaths he lifted himself up for a second but pain racked his body and he slammed back down onto the concrete but he didn't stop there. Dust and rubble surrounded him and then it went dark as his body was thrown around. The pain was overwhelming and this time he couldn't keep a grip on consciousness.

      The air was much colder now and the view of the tunnel and the parking garage had changed. He tasted copper in his mouth and spit out a tooth that had been sitting in his mouth since the accident. Trying to look around he saw and felt the concrete that now entombed his lower body but wasn't crushing it; a one in a million chance that the slabs would fall like that. He was immediately thankful that his back seemed broken since he lost all sensation below his waist which managed numbed the compound fracture that he had suffered. Amazingly his helmet was still working and was again just out of reach; the chatter still sounded dire and the troops were being ordered to evacuate.
      "What was that?!"
      "They said Hammer Down! What's left of the Navy is deploying SHIVAs to take out the Covenant ground troops!" When he heard this emotions flooded his system because he knew that a lone trooper who was probably already presumed dead wasn't high on their list of people they would try and evacuate. Quick, shallow breaths were followed by a few tears as he looked around and contemplated trying to pull himself out but there was no chance in hell he was going to be able to get the slabs out of the way in his condition. This lasted a few minutes before he took a few deep breaths and calmed himself.
      "Not so bad…at least it'll be fast," he said, his voice echoing in the empty parking garage. He lifted up his left arm to look at his TACPAD but it had been heavily damage and only the date was displaying. 25 December 2551. A small smile crept across his face and it he remembered the photos his Mom had emailed him a few days earlier of some of his Christmases when he was younger. Opening up one of the pouches on his vest, the pictures he had printed out where still in good condition considering everything that happened. The first one was of him as a small child with a huge smile revealing missing teeth everywhere and a red onesie, his younger sister at his side.

      It was still dark outside and he didn't have a clock in his room but it couldn't be too early in the morning. Jumping out of his airplane shaped bed he scurried across the room and opened the door. The house was covered in a blue darkness and he tip-toed past his parents' room, expertly avoiding the creaking boards beneath the carpet and moved past his sister's door without her noticing. Skipping steps, he arrived downstairs and walked into the living room where the tree sat in darkness. With his eyes already adjusted to the darkness he could see the presents underneath and around the tree. He buried his small head into the tree, inhaling the pine smell while his hand grasped for the plug for the lights and was rewarded when a golden glow engulfed the room. Stepping back he saw the presents everywhere in patterned paper, names written in pen on the top. Hurrying over to the plate that he left, only remnants of the cookies remained and the milk was almost gone. Excited that Santa had taken time to try his cookies he looked at the note that sat next to the plate but since he was still learning how to read he set down the almost alien writing. The allure of the boxes was proving too great and he started to look at them, his eyes fixed solely on the first letter of the name…

      "I didn't get it for him…" his Mom said, confused as her son stood at the foot of the bed.
      "Neither did I," his Dad replied, equally confused. Their son still had a beaming smile on his face as his parents tried to wake up, sleep still trying to pull them back in. He was holding a small box in his hand, an ornament nestled inside of it with his Dad's name imprinted on it. Groaning, his parents got out of bed and tossed night robes on as they followed their son downstairs but stopped on the stairs. "Oh…" The living room was full of wrapping paper and boxes were sitting opened, many of which were clearly not for their son.
      "Oh honey," his Mom said, laughing when she realized what had happened. She picked up some trashed wrapping paper and looked at the name then looked at one of the ones that had survived the assault. "Anything that started with 'M'," she said, the mystery already solved. His Dad laughed while walking up the stairs to carry their daughter down, her hands planted in her eyes to try and keep them open, a problem that disappeared when she set her eyes on the presents arrayed before them.
      "Well, Merry Christmas everyone!" his Dad said as their daughter dug into her presents and they set about opening what was left…

      He smiled as he kept looking at the picture. Even in her email to him his Mom asked if he was going to let his squad mates open their own presents or if he was going to do it for them, something no one in his family tired of ribbing him about. The next few pictures were also of his childhood but none were as memorable and they all seemed to blend into one large Christmas rather than the many that they actually were. There was a picture of him with his first game console which "Santa" had tested that night to make sure it worked; a story that at the time made the prize even more valuable but then was revealed to be merely an attempt by his Dad to get in some time with the thing before his son hogged it. He could see the shift in presents as the toys, enormous boxes, and towering piles grew smaller and were replaced with fewer but more expensive items. Then he came across one of him as a young teenager, hunched over a black and white guitar.

      "Hello?" he called out as he walked into his house, tossing his backpack to the floor and waiting for a response. None of the cars were in the driveway but there was always a chance that someone else was in the house with him at the time. Nothing. Leaving his backpack where it was he tossed his shoes into a wicker basket next to the door and ran down into the basement. His Dad was working an odd shift for a few months while he took on a new position and so he had commandeered one of their spare bedrooms and made it his daytime sleeping area. It was also where at least some of their presents were being stored. The others were in the back of his Mom's car but getting a hold of the keys or having an excuse to go out to the car was increasingly difficult and he was sure they knew he had gone out there. Cracking the door open to the room he immediately spotted a large box against a wall, partially obscured by the bed. Dashing over he saw the label of the guitar and its included amp. A few other items were nestled next to it but they were for his sister and he ignored them.

      "You know how I asked for that guitar…?" he asked in between bites of food at dinner. His parents both acknowledged him with a sense of disinterest. "I'm not sure I want it anymore. Just talking with a friend she said my fingers probably aren't long enough so I think I'd like a Bass guitar instead, or maybe not one at all."
      "Oh ok," his Mom responded without changing her tone but a few seconds later he caught her looking at his Dad who returned the look. He wasn't sure why he did it since the guitar was something that he'd been talking about for months but it was rooted in some need to be self-destructive that he couldn't put down. A week later and he opened the present and his response was lukewarm at most and there was some awkwardness between him and his parents who were trying to be happy while he put on a fake smile. He tried to play it for a few months but it sat for just as long and before a year had passed his Dad had sold it to a co-worker whose daughter wanted to learn.

      The warmth he felt when looking at the pictures of him as a kid melted away and he only felt regret knowing that his parents had tried and he threw it back in their faces. He had long ago told himself that every kid probably did it at least once and he had never gotten the courage to confront his parents about it. There was a temptation to crumple the paper up and bury it in the concrete next to him but he stopped. As much as it hurt to remember it all he knew that it was one of the lessons he'd learned in life that made him who he was and he couldn't just cut it out. Putting it behind the others he looked through the other pictures of Christmas. The rest were pretty much the same, the whole family in pajamas while his mom tried to dodge the lens or cover her face. He could still remember her getting irritated with his Dad who would try and get the pictures, worried about how she would look to the rest of her family who would never see the pictures anyways. The final one on was different, the whole family was dressed up and a new person was in the frame next to him. His onetime fiancé was holding onto his arm with a bright smile on her face, unaware that no less than a month later as she returned to Vespa to visit her family the planet would be glassed by the Covenant before a single ship could arrive to try and stop them. He wasn't sure why his mother had included the picture but he guessed it was because despite the pain of her loss he still considered it the best Christmas ever. Snapping him out of his remembrance was the sound of heavy footfalls and hurried breaths. He tensed up immediately and looked off to his right where the footsteps were coming from and couldn't see anything. Adrenaline flooded his body with the thought of his comrades coming to get him but then the fear took over that it might be a Covenant patrol…
      "Human…" he heard what he guessed was a Brute growl in the darkness. A different voice barked back at him and he assumed it was an Elite, the voice sounding more noble than the appropriately named Brute. The footsteps moved closer and the crimson armor of an Elite shone through the darkness and the alien climbed over the rubble, a Carbine in his hands. The beady black eyes of the Elite looked into the ODST and for a moment nothing happened. The fact that he wasn't dead yet at the hands of the Covenant soldier was amazing enough but on top of that there seemed to be hesitation. It was hard to tell but it looked like the Elite was looking at the pictures in his hands and he slowly turned them towards him, showing off the smiling faces. The Elite's hands shifted uncomfortably on the weapon and he seemed to loosen up a little after looking tense. All of the sudden the Brute he heard earlier emerged over the rubble as well and licked his lips before beginning to jump towards the ODST. In a flash of bright blue light the Brute stopped with a grunt and looked down to see an energy sword plunged into its gut. With a single thrust the Brute was pushed back and the blade disappeared into the handle as fast as it had appeared. Unsure of what he had just seen, the Elite clicked its mandibles and threw its head back before walking away, kicking the Brute's corpse in the process. Finally taking a breath after unknowingly holding it during the entire event he could feel his hands shaking and the sweat making his clothes clammy as it began to freeze in the cold air. He couldn't imagine his luck that the Elite seemed to take pity on him, or at the very least hate him less than the Brute, and had managed to survive the encounter but it really didn't do too much to stop it from being easily the worst Christmas ever. Folding the pictures up he put them in a pocket over his heart and laid back to wait for the nukes to hit. In his time he thought about what his family was doing, most likely getting ready to eat Christmas dinner while his sister messed around with her new toys and his other relatives started to come over and catch up since they'd last seen each other. Shutting his eyes he could almost smell and taste the Pumpkin Pie that was sure to be cooking and the Pot Roast that would be filling the air. He was about to close his eyes to go to sleep when he heard something through his helmet.
      "Negative sir! I've got a man down in that building who had a botched jump and I'm not leaving him behind. Yeah, the four story one right there, big ass hole in the roof. Once you get the Rook out of there we go home!"