The Reason for Fighting
Posted By: Vector40<firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date: 27 August 2001, 7:07 am
Jason Hibbens crouched, sweating, panting, his heart throbbing and pounding mercilessly. The never-ending fire crackled overhead, filling the air with a heavy, thrumming charge; cries of distress and agony cut in from different directions, while the thump of weapons and the smash of explosions hammered in his ears.
Shaking, he reached for a better grip on his rifle, wiping his palms on his fatigues and repositioning the heavy weapon in his arms, settling the butt against the crook of his elbow like he had seen the other men doing. Checking his magazine nervously, he jumped and dropped the M-26 as a bombshell impacted several meters from his foxhole, shaking the ground and kicking up a cloud of smoke and burnt earth.
Agitated- terrified- he gathered up his rifle and replaced the clip. Another volley of glowing fire streaked through the sky above him.
He shouldn't be here.
The darkened room was warm but crisp, the fading Augustine season on Sirius 7 granting the air a light cheeriness. The cooler was barely ticking over, and Hibbens finally reached over to switch it off, leaving the room silent. He yawned quietly, arching his back and scratching slowly at his bare chest.
Jessica Lonehart Morningside turned her head, glistening tumbles of hair shifting in the dim light as she moved. Sending the blond folds astray, she rearranged herself and lay the side of her head back on his torso. She looked up at him.
"What time is it?"
Hibbens turned slightly, trying to find the indicator. The glowing digits remained invisible. He gave up a few seconds later.
"I don't care."
Jessica shifted a little, as if to argue, then decided it wasn't worth it. "You're due in at 0900," she said half-heartedly.
"I know it."
"You don't want to miss the shuttle."
She turned up her gaze. "Do you?"
He stared into the darkness. "I don't know."
Jason Hibbens, he thought, was not a soldier. Jason Hibbens was not a fighter. Hell, Jason Hibbens- the litany ran through his mind- Jason Hibbens was the one who avoided confrontation at all cost, talked his way out of bad situations, and took cockroaches outside to let them free.
Jason Hibbens was also a newly-minted Second Lieutenant, Combat class, of the SolCore fighting division Field of Lightning. 77th division, the Dual Bolts.
Jason Hibbens was expected to lead a unit of twenty men to fight and die under the banner of humanity.
He closed his eyes, feeling the old pain return. Why was he here? Well, why else but his father? Wasn't it his father who had urged him to join up? His father, Fleet Admiral Third Class Cherublain, Ret., the highly decorated hero of Montag Four himself? His father...
Whose last words had been "We all have to give something back, Jason! All of us!"- right before storming out and stepping in front of a loaded hovertram in the Bright City expressway?
Damnedest way of winning of argument he'd ever seen.
He had brooded for three days, trying to sort out his life. Cherub had left him his entire retirement package, a pension that had been virtually untouched for years due to the old man's frugal nature and urge to work for his money. Aside from that, there was the trust fund set up by the grateful citizens of the Montag colony, a fund that was now stretching into the tens of millions.
No, Jason would not find himself wanting for money.
So what was he going to do? He had no job, was just finishing college, and was without a place to live. Virtually anything he wanted was within his grasp, providing he spent sufficient time on it.
He had turned the matter over and over in his head a thousand times, pretending he was considering his options, but really only putting off the inevitable.
And on the second of November, solar adjusted, he had walked into the SolCore Marine recruitment office and pressed his palm against the plate that said,
If you agree to the above terms, sign here.
Young and foolish. That was the moment that his life changed.
He had no trouble finding his way in the Marines. Friends of his father were everywhere, helping him, guiding him, finding him the best assignments or the choiciest positions. He had been carted off to OCS, then Advanced, and then Basic in orbit around Sol where the drill sergeants had never seemed quite so hard on him as the others. Then his virgin command on Deep Fire 11, a tedious post that lasted a year, then a training job on Mars, then a logistics coordinator's desk in Centauri Station, then...
Around and around, always finding the safest, the dullest, the most utterly mind-numbing positions in the most backwater camps and sites in the galaxy. Finally, a cycler back to Sirius 7, home, where another temporary situation in an armory was waiting for him, millions upon millions of light-years from the nearest round of ammunition fired in anger.
It was the most wonderful posting in his career. Jessica was there.
He shifted positions and she stirred against him.
His life had been a dull excursion into the safest danger anywhere, and he had been happy.
Until three days ago when the word had come down the lines. He had heard while working in his office, the loudspeaker ringing across the compound.
The Covenant had taken another planet. No news. It had been happening with nearly clock-work regularity for the past several months.
But they had always, beneath their mourning for the lost, felt secure in their invulnerability. The newscasts' constant reassurances were invariably based upon one thing: the research station on Reach was still turning out its mighty cyborgs, unstoppable in their power, soon to be fielded. The Covenant could not possibly withstand the military forcefulness of the new soldiers, and they would be smashed and overridden as soon as the army was completed.
But now Reach was destroyed, the cyborgs, gone. The human race stood in shock.
The alarms had started to shriek as soon as the loudspeaker shut off. The base was being thrown into a frenzied alert, every available body instructed to begin mobilizing.
Their ace in the hole had been erased, and the SolCore army was amassing its strength to fight or die.
His quiet, peaceful life sitting behind a desk had been turned upside down.
Jessica had her eyes closed, but felt him shudder beneath her like a tree in a gale.
"What are you thinking about?"
There was a pause, filling the empty air around them. "Me. This. How I got here."
She waited, caressing the muscles of his abdomen absent-mindedly.
She rolled over, turning to look up at his face in the dark.
"I don't know if I can do it."
He bit his lip. She could see his black eyes glistening in the gentle light.
"I mean... We're shipping out tomorrow. We'll be going to the front lines. To "block the spearhead of the Covenant thrust with a shield of men and ships and blood," as the press releases say. Sounds a little more honest than usual. We're going to bleed.
"I'm not a warrior, Jessica. Hell, you know that. I've always been the one who sits in the back, preaching prudence and caution to the foolhardy hot-blooded fighters. If this was a story, I'd be the cowardly old man who stays at home, giving out advice to the soldiers but too afraid to leave his hovel.
"When... when I get there, Jessie... when I'm staring down the barrel of a Covenant energy rifle, when I have to fight or be killed..."
He looked her full in the face.
"I'm not sure if I can do it."
She sat in the dark, soundless. He lay absorbed in his thoughts, until she broke the silence.
"You don't like the military. Why?"
"Why?" He frowned. It was always something that he had felt, but not much considered the reason for. "I guess... it just seems like such a waste. I mean, here you have a nation, a tribe, a race, whatever, and it's probably doing just fine. But then, it grabs up its very best, the young people, the strong, the fresh, who have their whole lives ahead of them... and it sends them out to die. Usually, for no good reason. Maybe they think it's important at the time. But, twenty, thirty years later, who's going to care? And they'll still be just as dead."
"You don't think this... is a cause worth fighting for?"
He thought about that.
"Well... I guess. But... I mean, you know it's going to get done. Jesus, every planet with a bullet and a primer to tap together are launching for this battle. There's no way they can lose. Why... why should it be me who gets killed in the glorious victory?"
He stared at the ceiling. Jessica said something.
She rolled over and looked at him, deep blue eyes crystalline in their purity. "Because that's what everyone's thinking," she murmured.
They fixed their gaze. She sat up, the sheet falling away from her full breasts. "Don't you see? Unless they're crazy, nobody wants to die. They would all be much happier if this never happened. If the Covenant were just to be suddenly snuffed out like so much smoke.
"But what if they all said, "Oh, gee, we're going to win anyway, why don't I let the other guy die? Nobody would be fighting, would they?
"You think that nobody else is having these same thoughts? Lying in bed, thinking of all the grisly ways they can get killed. Trying to muster up the courage to do what they have to. Maybe considering the ways they could skip out and escape.
"But they won't, Jason. They're going to go and fight."
He sank into his pillow, rubbing at his face heavily. He sounded uneasy. "But why?"
She was still for a moment, then, almost in a whisper, she said, "I once asked my father that, you know."
Her father had been a general, killed in the "incident" with the Tau rebels.
"Do you know what he said?"
She closed her eyes. "He said, 'Go out there, thinking you're fighting the good fight. Represent the forces of justice and protect the innocent. Well and good. When it comes down to it, unless you're crooked, that is why you're there.
"But when the bullets are coming down the field, and the shells exploding around you, and maybe you're bleeding and your sergeant's dead, that's not why you do it.
"You do it for your mother, your brother, your sister, your daughter. Your girlfriend, your teacher, your husband, your father. You do it for your friends and your enemies alike.
"But, most importantly, you do it for the man beside you. You do it for the guy in the ditch down a ways, with the mortar fire landing all around him. You do it for the captain, two foxholes over, who's facing the charge all by himself. You do it for your bunkmate who shared a cigarette with you the day before.
"You fight, and if necessary, you die, so that they don't have to. You lead the attack, desperate and confused as you are, waving your bayonet in the air, in the hopes that the man next to you might make it.
"You fight for the private to your left, the corporal to your right, the non-com behind you or the officer in front. You could die, sure- you might.
"But if you do... they might not.
"And that's a cause worth fighting for.' "
Jessica put her head back on a pillow. "I had never heard him talk like that. I found out later that the man who had been his instructor in Advanced, a crusty old vet in his seventies, had told him that when he was gearing up to go fight the rebels on Tau 3. I called him the day before the battle and asked him why he was doing it.
"That's what he said. Then he went out and they killed him."
She turned and looked at him. He was staring at the ceiling, a blank look on his face.
She leaned over and put her lips up against his ear.
"Fight for your friends."
"And fight for me."
Lieutenant Jason Hibbens, SC Marine Corps nestled into the mud of the too-shallow fighting trench and clutched uncertainly at the synthetic handles of his rifle. Water and soil oozed into the cracks and chinks of the weapon. A light rain had begun to fall.
He squeezed his eyes shut, blood pounding behind them. His fists clenched, fingernails biting into his palms and drawing up blood.
But he knew. He knew.
Scrabbling in his pockets, he found a sheet of paper, miraculously almost dry. A grease pencil was in another pocket, and he pulled that out too. Trying to keep the sheet out of the rain and dirt, he pressed the scrap into his palm and scrawled something quickly.
Finished, he put the piece back into a pocket, and with unnatural calm, placed both hands on his assault rifle.
Then, he put a foot up on the ground above the trench and hiked himself onto the field of fire.
The trumpet, somber and slow, pealed out the warm notes of Taps into the dying wind. Jessica Morningside clutched her coat around her and wiped at her eyes.
The assembly of men, garbed in full dress uniform, were folding the flag into quarters. She didn't watch. The breeze bit into her icily.
Several minutes later, nothing was better. Footsteps approached, and someone cleared their throat. She looked up, wondering why she bothered.
A young man- barely eighteen, he must be, she thought- was standing before her, holding the flag of the Federation folded into a tight triangle. The medal, blue and gold and shining crystal, was affixed to the top. It caught the light, glimmering.
"For conspicuous valor involving the voluntary loss of life and limb," the man said, in a strong voice that nevertheless cracked. He had been there. "For knowing sacrifice above and beyond the call of his position. Thank you, Ms. Morningside, and on behalf of-" he looked down, breaking up, "-on behalf of a grateful race, please accept... my condolences."
Deliberately, he offered her the flag. And in a low voice, she heard him mutter, "He saved us all, you know."
She accepted the flag, wrapping her hands around the stiff silken cloth. The soldier spun around, rather quickly, and moved away.
Her eyelashes quivering, she reached into her pocket, bringing out the scrap of soiled, discolored, water-stained and torn paper. One last time, she read the words.
She broke down and wept.