The Sixty Minute War
Posted By: Vector40<email@example.com>
Date: 30 September 2001, 5:58 am
Author's Note: This one goes out to all the victims of the recent terrorist attacks. To all the families who have suffered a loss. To all the heroes who died, that others might live. And to those responsible.
May they rest in peace.
They're going to need it.
"I would rather reign in hell than serve in heaven."
-John Milton, Paradise Lost
"Go to hell."
-Anonymous, 21st century
The Sixty Minute War
"...and Eternity in an hour..."
-William Blake, Auguries of Innocence
Pummeling bolts of lethal power towards the shooter, Joseph Ramsey pelted down the long field of fire, screaming obscenities. His clean, sharp military fatigues were stained and torn; two matching burn marks adorned his left shoulder. The arm was trembling, needles of pain shooting up every time he contracted the muscle, but he managed to keep his grip on the stock of his rifle.
Luck must be... more with him than he had thought. One of the pelting volleys had gotten through, slipping between protective plates and burrowing into the Elite's cranial cavity. He made it to the firing pit, stepped up on the barricading wall, and vaulted in, not noticing the second Elite huddled below.
"They're targeting the wall! This damn thing is red hot!"
"Well, we built the thing about five minutes ago, Jason. It's not exactly professional!"
"Shut your ass!"
"I need a mag!"
"Take that, Bog, and stop whining. Say, does anybody happen to remember how the Comets were placed in the playoffs before we left?"
"Fourth, I think. Thirty to one!"
"Shit, we better make it out of here. I've got fifty creds on them."
"We-HEYheyOH SHIT GET D-"
"Sir! The transport is waiting!" The aide-de-campe was looking very, very nervous.
"Why don't you go ahead and board, Travis? I'll be right along."
"Go on. I'll just be a minute more."
Looking worried he might be breaking some regulation, Smithers saluted crisply, then reluctantly left the room. The general heard him clomping up the stairs.
He pinned the last medal to his breast, adjusting it carefully to match the row. Checking himself in the mirror, he line up the seam of his jacket with his fly, tapping his shoes together to flick off a few motes of dust. Turning, he moved off to find some cufflinks. On the way, he leaned over to the wall sensor and pressed a key. "Pilot?"
"Sir?! This base is going to be swamped in-" He turned off the comm.
Inserting the gold cufflinks, the general went checked himself one last time in the floor-to-ceiling mirror in the corner. Satisfied, he moved to his desk. He slid open a drawer and removed two items, setting them on the polished mahogany surface.
He sat in the padded leather chair, luxoriating in the soft resilience. Reaching forward, he picked up one of the items, tucked it between his lips, and lit it, puffing smoke from the expensive Cuban.
He set the lighter next to the other item, a Colt .45 slide-action.
Leaning back in the chair, he closed his eyes.
Claire Burnside swore, slamming her palm down on the door controls. "They've penetrated the entryway!" she roared behind her in a very unlady-like tone.
"Trip it, Claire!"
She kicked her foot against the glass panel in the wall. It shook, but held. Swearing, she grabbed her rifle, stood back, and swung around the butt in a long arc. The glass shattered. She reached in, grabbed the handle, and twisted.
"Son of a bitch!"
She heard another shout. "Claire! Done?"
Her eyes going blotchy, she slammed her fist on the door, splitting a knuckle. "Y- yes! Fuck! Get going, Gabe!"
"What about you?"
"I'll be right there!"
She heard the small group clatter away. Ramping up the cursing, she crossed herself, picked the rifle up again, and triggered the door open.
The Captain lifted the flask and swilled it around. "Might as well finish it." He passed it around. They each took a snort.
He looked around, as if trying to set their faces in his mind. O'Grady. Banning. Bowman. Randat. Wilbur. Samuel.
The sun glimmered off the blade as he drew his long, hybrid-steel machete. Thirteen inches. He thrust it into the earth before him.
Then he looked up, grinning. "Here lies the final resting place of 72nd squad, Division Three."
He stood up, clasping at his dual-rack shotgun with tired fingers.
"Or, as they'll call it... The Battle of the Burning Skies."
With his other hand, he grabbed the flamethrower, jacking it to the huge tank on his back. He threaded the fuel line through the rows of webbing, where one after another incendiary grenade was lined up. Around him, the others lifted their own flamers, attaching and making them ready.
The Captain gave another savage, weary smile.
"Ready to go out in a blaze of glory?"
"AIYEEE! Right on the button!"
"Nice work, Chavez."
The bombardier tilted his hat at me. The effect was rather lost, given the soft beret, but I got the point.
"Coming up on another!"
"Cocked and locked, jefe."
I peered out the wide viewport, trying to find another target. Or rather, to decide on one. Jeez, it's like Christmas down there.
As my gaze shifted, I felt an idea flicker through my mind. "Hey, Chavez?"
"Wanna be a hero?" I turned and looked back at him. He stared back, impassible.
"They name a high school after me, jefe?"
He broke into a smile. "Rock the boat."
I turned back to my controls, smiling. "Arm all loads."
"All of 'em."
There was a slight tremor as I shifted course. There was some slight irony in this, after all- I would finally get the last laugh over whatever idiot stenciled the "WARNING: Do Not Attempt To Engage Both Thruster Pedals Simultaneously" sign to the dash.
I pressed down on the pedals.
We flashed across the sky.
As we arrowed, perfect in our trajectory as a falling star, directly into the massive behometh that was overlooking the battlefield, the last thing I remember is my bombardier behind me, saying in his Earth-educated Spanish accent:
"He who liveth and believeth in me shall never die..."
"Give me a bearing!"
"Zero... zero mark three! Under the umbrella!"
"Goddammit! Brace for-"
A powerful explosion, deep and tremulous, rocked the base.
Shaking his head like a wet dog, Nick Cadmann dragged himself back to his feet. "Report!"
"Two of our independent point systems were slagged, sir. The bay door is damaged, but they think they can fix it."
"Still three ticks out."
"What about the squad?"
"They've holed up in Bunker Three. Exchanging fire."
"SHIT! Weren't they going to seal the entrance?"
The man looked down. "They... they did, sir."
Nick frowned. A story behind this, no doubt, but one he couldn't afford to follow up on.
"Divert power to shields. All emergency teams to the bay doors and alert stations- and anybody not essential, get them out."
He slumped down, wiping the sweat from his eyes with the back of his wrist. Bringing a display screen from beside him, he swung it around on a folding arm and tapped controls.
Snapping his arm up in surprise, he sent the screen flying in an arc that ended against the back of his seat. He twisted his head around.
The door to the control center, a massive, reinforced portal of triluminum and cry-steel, was reverberating in its frame.
As he watched, another heavy blow smote it, and a faint dent appeared in the middle.
He whirled, pointing a finger at the techs. "Out." Thumping his fist against a control, the partition against the wall slid open, revealing the escape pod behind.
"Everyone in! Right the fuck now!"
The men and women scrambled, pressing into the large emergency vehicle. As the last one entered, a rotund women dragging the briefcase with the command keys, he ran up...
and slammed the hatch shut.
He jabbed his fingers into the launch pad beside the door. The pod began to move, sliding along its tracks. Through the small window, he watched them go.
Then, as it rounded the corner to the firing rails, he turned and went back to his station.
He was starting to get whiplash from spinning around so much. Cracking his neck, he stared wide-eyed at the figure that was approaching.
"Matt? What the hell?"
The man, who had been crouched behind the folded partition, gave a smile. "I knew you'd pull something like this."
"You're supposed to be in the pod!"
"My ass. Sir. I notice you're not going anywhere."
Nice glared at him. "I- I've got something to take care of-"
"I can imagine. Scuttling the base? Well, you should have known better. I ain't going nowhere until I see the backs of your trousers goin' in front."
Nick was fixing him with a stare that could weld steel. They looked into each other's eyes.
Then a crunching, protesting report came from the door, and they both looked away.
A red, sweltering hole was smoking in the center. Cracks and ripples in the metal were beginning to radiate outward.
Matt bent down and grabbed his heavy rifle, swinging it up with his usual easy grace. "Deal with it," he said, and moved to the steps in front of the entrance. He lowered himself prone and rested the gun.
Nick watched his back for several moments, before reluctantly averting his gaze and backing into his station.
The keening, whistling noise emitting from outside was starting to grow painful, but he ignored it. Instead, he lifted the false top of his desk, revealing the heavy box beneath it.
Matt began to fire, single shots of deadly accuracy that lanced out of the numerous holes that were starting to appear. Nick swiveled his station away.
He drew out the red key from under his jumpsuit, removing the chain from around his neck. Pressing it into the crevice of the control box, he held it for a moment as it read his skin potentials, then twisted. The box beeped, and the top sprang open.
Inside, there was another key, of pure, glimmering azure flame-jewel.
He removed it from its clip, and carrying it carefully between two fingers, pulled it free.
A quiet cursing came from behind him. The firing was growing faster. A crackling noise filled the air, and Nick could feel the temperature rising.
He lifted his command board into place, pressing his palm down to reveal the swing-out door. He opened it.
And slowly, almost reverently, inserted the key.
From behind, Matt's firing stopped momentarily. He shouted something Nick couldn't hear. Then, there was the sound of him rising to his feet, and the gun began to spit angrily full-auto, roaring out a powerful tongue of flame. Matt was bellowing like an enraged bull, before the firing suddenly ceased, and the creasing sound of atmosphere-razing plasma fire filled the air.
Nick closed his eyes.
And turned the key.
"Grab that axle!"
"Hey, man, I got it."
"Who has the cord, dipshits?"
"Calm down, Michaels. Right here."
The column of men was advancing slowly, haphazardly, but the winding mountain track allowed little else. Fortunately, the same disadvantages applied to the Covenant chasing them, but it didn't make it any more pleasant.
"SHIT! Crap, this edge crumbles!"
"Well, don't stand there."
The man exploded.
"Holy shit! Incoming!"
The force scattered, scrambling to get as far as they could on the tight confines of the road. A spinning noise was coming from everywhere, as Covenant bombardment munitions cut through the air and impacted on the ground, sending rolling lines of power streaming through the hard earth. Several equipment trains lost their hold and broke free, tumbling down the nearby cliff face.
"Let's go! Move it!"
Bursting with adrenaline, the men ran.
<The human forces are in retreat>
<We are giving chase>
<Know as well>
<Do we have rightness?>
The field, high yellow grass swaying in the wind, bright flowers nestled among them like stars in the sky, was totally and completely unappreciated by Division Four.
Short of breath, burdened under pounds of gear and weapons, their muscles burning and their bodies protesting, they nevertheless pumped their legs and sprinted at their absolute fleetest break-neck speed.
Few begrudged it. Those few who did either saw another companion fall, skin melted and bodies smoking, or saw nothing at all ever again.
The entire force, the stragglers and remnants of the Fifth Army garrison, the crew and gunners of the Pillar of Autumn, the officers and drivers and foot sloggers, the muddy remains of a once-mighty armored fist had been reduced to less than a hundred men. And as they crossed the wide, open clearing, more and more fell.
Some didn't care. Beyond the clearing, there would only be another and another, until at last they too lay dead.
Some, knowing their true purpose, did.
The night before, Taylor had passed the time by spending two hours writing out a refined plan, sketching routes, devising various crafty schemes, and bringing it all together into a set of clever tactics in a brilliantly contrived battle plan.
Then it all happened.
To amuse himself, that morning before they left, he spent five minutes tearing the entire thing to shreds, then dumping it in the recycler.
Now, lowering his optics, he rolled over and looked at Biggs. "Well?"
"Well what? It looks fine."
"Okay. So, are we going?"
"I'll tell them."
He found his portable comm unit and opened up a channel. "Guys? It's a go. Let's roll."
A pleasant side-effect of this situation was that the idiotic mil-regs for radio discipline were out the window. He got three grunts, a remark about his mother, and two suggestions that, though amusing, were anatomically impossible short of major surgery. He replied in kind, and managed to receive some vaguely reassuring implications that his message had gotten across.
"Don't you feel kinda sorry for those poor bastards leading off the army, just so we can waltz on in here?"
Biggs looked back at him, a blank expression on his face. "Sorry?"
"Well, yeah. I mean, we're going to be heroes, but most of them are going to be dead."
Biggs averted his gaze, a glassy look coming into his eyes. He was silent for a moment, then said:
"At least they know what they're dying for."
Then they both were quiet. The scuffling noise of the rest of the men was loud in the crisp dawn.
"What were you doing two hours ago, Taylor?"
He searched his memory. "Reading a book."
"What were you doing an hour ago?"
He grinned. "Falling out of my chair from the shock wave."
Getting to his feet, Biggs said, "And does it bother you that, in an hour, this war will probably be over?"
He stood too. Gave a wry look. "Ask me in fifty minutes."
He picked up his sniper rifle and slung it across his back. Together, they joined the rest of the men, and walked easily down the hill and boarded the Covenant ships.