Posted By: Vector40<email@example.com>
Date: 23 April 2001, 10:56 AM
I do love a good challenge. And so, when I found these stories here, relating the lovely world of Halo, I couldn't help but to take it as a challenge. And thus, I took it upon myself to write the best story here.
Have I done it? No. Not by my reckoning. I'd say a good half-dozen of the stories already here give me a whalloping in the posterior. But it isn't my reckoning I'm writing for. It's yours, the readers, and whether I did well or not it up to you. Maybe you'll enjoy it, at the very least. I enjoyed writing it.
The rain made a light, hypnotizing patter against the hard-baked mud, turning the deep-churned earth into a sludge of dirt and blood. In another time, another place, it might have been called calming, romantic. But here, it was a maddening reminder of their mortality. Because the sergeant knew it was killing them.
Lance Corporal John Falcone reclined against the rock, inhaling the dusty scent of the underground passage. Corporal Jerry Michaels sat next to him, flipping plasticene playing cards into a pile. Despite their plastic coating, the cards had been soaked through to the core the day before, and the flayed edges pulled up bits of soil until it looked like he was playing with a dirtball. He finished the stack, then sighed and flopped back against the ground.
"It's over, isn't it, Falc? First thing tomorrow."
Falcone eyed the man with his best look of disgust. He blanched ever so slightly, then continued unfettered.
"I mean, it's true though, right? We're all dead!" Falcone just stared. "Well, I'm sorry! But it's going to happen whether I say it or not! And there's no goddamn wood to knock on around here, so don't bother checking. Unless maybe you count the head of our darling commander."
Falcone broke his trance, looking away as if embarrassed. "He's a good man, Kazinski. It's a bad time. Even for the good ones."
"Well, begging your pardon, but bullshit. If it weren't for him, we wouldn't be here, and that's ALL I need to know. And don't call me that."
Specialist Freebachi, the platoon's computer tech, plopped down beside them with a grin that betrayed in a heartbeat where he had been the day before. Or rather, where he hadn't been. What he hadn't seen. Bastard, Falcone thought halfheartedly, then immediately regretted it. It wasn't his fault that the leg had been just fractured enough to miss the patrol duty. He was lucky. Just a kid. He shouldn't be here. None of us should.
Falcone, watched, painfully bemused, as Freebachi waved the item in his hand with glee. "Check it out, guys! I had no idea it was here! I thought it was just lost, dropped in the crash... something... but it was here all along! Stored along with the emergency cache!" He stopped moving long enough for Falcone to discern the gleaming object he held. "My trumpet!"
Falcone remembered now. Freebachi had been a musician, before.
"What the hell are you going to do with a trumpet, Feeb? Lock and load?" asked Michaels.
"Oh, I know, I know I can't play it. Not here. We want until morning, at least, until they find us! But I found it! I can play it tomorrow, or the day after, or whenever I get a chance!"
Falcone shared a look of pity with Michaels. If any of them lived through tomorrow, trumpets would be the last thing on their mind.
The sergeant walked by, still in full armor, carrying his helmet. He must have been on sentry. He approached the trio.
"You guys... everybody's counting and amalgamating ammunition. You three can be a group. Split it up, spread 'em out."
He walked off. The three favored his back with a glare. "Bastard." Michaels said. "Does he think we can't handle this? Just because he's seen more combat than us, he thinks we don't know our asses from holes in the ground."
He glanced at the others for support- Falcone, giving a noncommittal look of neutrality, Freebachi, just grinning as usual. "Oh, forget it. Let's do ammo."
The three men pulled out their weapons and dropped the clips. One-two-three. "Three full," Michaels said. He slid his last two spares from his battle harness, dropping them in the pile. He followed them with his last grenade, then worked the magazine free from his sidearm and deposited it. The others quickly added what they had.
The final count was, to say the least, less than perfect. They had nine clips of the 12mm RunHard penetrators, only seven of them full. Four magnetic fragmentation grenades, three more pure concussion. A couple plasma charges for incendiary work. Michaels and Falcone had five clips of charger ammunition between the two of them, to be loaded in the pistols, and god knows where but Freebachi had found thirty-two static round for his shotgun. There were innumerable flares, several mass-sensor mines, and, of course, Falcone's sword.
He clicked the switch a few times to make sure it still functioned, watching the glowing energy run down the metal like St. Elmos fire. He swirled the air a few times, and did a sharp riposte that plunged through the rock that Michaels leaned against, causing him to jerk forward in fright. "I can't believe you still have that damn thing," he muttered in irritation.
Freebachi was more charitable, smiling as the custom-made weapon painted streaks of fire into his vision. "The Falcon rides again."
The rest of the night passed quietly, in taut, tight, anticipation. Around midnight, Falcone rose and went to talk to the sergeant. He came back, hours later, leaned against his backrest, and fell into a deep, untroubled, practiced sleep.
The birds chirped madly, as if they knew it was bothering the men.
"Feather-ridden peacock," Michaels muttered, making a reflexive motion to wipe sweat from his forehead. He arrested his hand a few inches from his faceplate. Times like this, no matter what the computer said, they were sure you could roast a pig inside one of the suits.
That pigs were indeed roasting therein was an old, old joke, and one they didn't consider very funny in the at these 100-degree moments.
Falcone shifted his rifle to lay across his knees, punching his system to run a diagnostic. Greengreengreenyellowgreenred. Not bad. The same, at least, as five minutes ago when he had run the previous diagnostic. His jump jets had gone away and weren't coming back, and there wasn't much he could do about it, but otherwise, he had everything he needed.
If it came to that, he would need nothing more for the plan.
He tapped the particle transmitter on his belt. The PPE beeped. At least something was working right. "Sergeant."
"Sergeant, this is Falcone. Hole one one is good to go."
"What about yours?"
"Sir, hole one one is-"
"I know, I know. Never mind. What about- uh... the, ah, thing we discussed?"
"It'll either happen or it won't. Pray we don't need it. Everything we can do is done."
"They'll be there or they won't?"
"That's about it. Just hope. And hope it's not necessary."
"Pardon me, corporal, but that's not going to happen. Not even in my wildest dreams have I dreamt we can hold this position."
"Just hope, sir. Anything can happen. If we get out of here, we'll have even worse problems to deal with."
"What? What's that?"
"Finding a way to get you to dream about things wilder than trenches." He keyed off the channel.
He ran down the list in his mind, as he ran his eye and his hands down his body. Weapon cocked, locked, and sighted in. Clean enough to eat off of. Breastplate fitted. The pistols were snugged to his belt, the one he had borrowed off Private Winters cleaned and checked. Grenades attached, ammo secure. Sword sheathed. The detonator had been gone over by six separate men.
He looked up. Now, it was just them. And the enemy.
As if in response to his summons, a distant rumbling, like steel lightning, resonated in his earpiece.
"Speak of the devil" he whispered, tracing the line of his blade with one finger.
Suddenly, unexpectedly, Michaels let out a laugh.
Falcone and Freebachi turned to stare at him. He grinned. "Don't you get it? The devil! It's the devil! Hell! It's the Devil! We're in hell!"He swept his hand his a massive circle, encompassing the air, the ground, all of their surroundings. "Don't you see? We're in hell!"
Falcone froze, closing his eyes. Whisperingly, wordlessly, he let his finger run over the words engraved on his sword, speaking them without a voice.
"AND WHERE HELL IS THERE MUST WE EVER BE".
The roar grew louder, as he felt the second line, along the opposite side of the blade. "YET I COME NOT TO BRING PEACE, BUT A SWORD"
A maddening grin coursed across his face as he swept up his sword, and spinning, rose in the air, his glimmering spike of light reflecting the sun like a shard of crystal, as he keyed onto the main channel and spoke the words recalled from days of long memory.
"Come on, you bastards! You wanna live forever?"
The tide roared, like a crashing wave.
TO BE CONTINUED