Charge of the Grunt Brigade - Part Five: Deployed
Posted By: Walker
Date: 2 July 2004, 3:41 PM
Well, this is it folks. The second to last chapter of COTGB—and my return. My official return, anyway. It's probably a little weak in some places—I haven't written in a few months, and by the time I started up again with this chapter, I had already written everything but the end. If you find it's unimpressive, boring, or even cheesy (see the battle poem), I sincerely apologize. I can only do my best.
The orders came in two weeks later. They would be deployed in a week, moved closer to the front. They had been training hard the weeks before, and now they doubled their efforts. The sand pits, war games, and exercises seemed to go on forever. It was hard to simulate large-scale battles, because they had no one to train with—even though the whole division knew of their existence, their officers weren't allowed to know for sure, or in other words have continual visual contact. So the Grunt Brigade fought alone.
Would the top brass ever acknowledge their existence? At the time this wasn't the matter. It was their job to fight and their job to die for a people who hated them, against the people who had raised them. They did their job without complaint.
They jogged the troops around the compound, the Colonel in the front, followed by Vin and 'Kantamee, with the Grunts in back and the Jackals along the side. Sergeant Major Usak yelled at them encouragement and curses in the Covenant's inter-species language, and even went as far as to drag a Grunt from the back of the line and throw him in the front. The exercises went on.
At the firing range, Vin and D'Arcy took turns at the Covenant weapons, namely the plasma rifle. Its rate of fire was slow compared to that of the MA5B, but it would do if they needed to pick up a weapon that provided more firepower than their sidearms.
'Kantamee blew away individual blocks of wood lined up before him with his needler, expending all his ammunition as quickly as possible. Because the needler was more of a point-and-shoot weapon rather than one that needed to be aimed, the Lieutenant was at the firing range working on his speed. Which, with the slow-to-destroy needler, would be essential.
They pushed themselves to the limit right up to the last day, when, in the fading hours of twilight, all of the Grunt Brigade assembled at the head of the compound. Armor was polished, uniforms were worn primly and properly, and weapons were held in parade-ground marching position. There was a podium set up before them, and soon, within moments of their assembly, Colonel Asa L. D'Arcy walked up to the podium, sidearm tied down on his right hip, his cover in place over his head, and his face expressionless. If it had been quiet before, now it was so silent you could hear a pin drop in a soundproof room. Vin stood on his right side, 'Kantamee at his left, and the Sergeant Major beside Vin as the leader and father of the Grunt Brigade began to speak.
"We've been training hard for this past week. You've probably gotten no more than, on average, thirty hours of sleep per soldier. You've jogged, fought, climbed and crawled through every waking hour. You only stopped to be fed once you were finished, only took a break when your methane tanks ran low. Here we've simulated battle as best as possible, with the best equipment we could provide, and the most witty officers to challenge you. We've done everything we could to break your spirit. And now, I'm proud to say, it stayed alive."
At this D'Arcy paused, opened his mouth, exhaled. His tongue ran lightly over his lips, and he looked all along the lines of a thousand soldiers before him. At each corner was a Jackal, and some along the sides. A color guard of five Grunts held the colors of the UNSC, the flag of the Marine Corps, and the Brigade's own flag—a striking, unsoiled white with the words "Vencer o Morir" embroidered around an image of Earth. The words translated from Latin to English as "Conquer or Die." D'Arcy spoke again.
"When you're fighting, listen to your noncoms. Use your eyes, ears, and your nose. You know the enemy, you know their tactics, chain of command, everything. Use that knowledge. That's what'll give you a better chance to see another day, providing there will be another one.
"I'm not going to lie to you. If the enemy strikes, then we're going to be the first to fight. The first to die. Our division commander, General Kingsley, is under orders to spare as much human life as possible. Well, to the rest of the world, you don't count in that category.
"But don't ever forget that the rest of the world isn't going to be in that foxhole with you. The rest of the world isn't going to be covering your six. With the moment that battle commences, the rest of the world can all go to Hell, because to me, at least, every last one of you is human. Because it takes a man to die for a people that hate him."
D'Arcy looked over his lines once more, then turned back, and descended from the podium. "Captain, we'll be taking a separate ship than the rest of the division. See that all the men get onboard the right buses to the docks," he said to Vin. Vin nodded, and relayed the orders to the Sergeant Major.
'Kantamee overheard what was said and stopped Vin. "Do they think we're not good enough to ride with the rest of the division, sir?" he asked. Vin was slightly intimidated by the Elite. It wasn't any hard feelings on either party's part, but Vin was pretty sure anyone who had an eight-foot-tall alien leaning over them would feel an adrenaline rush.
Finally Vin shook his head. "No, it's just that the rest of the division knows they aren't halfway good enough to ride with us, Lieutenant."
The two officers stared at each other, and finally laughed. Vin's chuckle was drowned out by the deep-throated laugh from his subordinate that raised the hair on the back of his neck. He ignored it. They were family now.
Looking over the diverging men before him, Vin knew they all were. Every one of them was part of a family that spanned race, religion, nationality, and creed—and now, species. They were part of the Marine Corps.
The ships took off in the dark of night. To viewers on the ground they seemed candles ascending to heaven. Soon they joined the stars, transferred their cargo to the true spaceships, which in turn lit their engines, a distant luminescence, then were lost in the depths of slipstream space.
Commander Kit Jameson eased back into her command seat as the stars turned into star lines and then fell away. It was a familiar scene, and she saw more of that than open space. As the Skipper of the troop transport Archange], she was required to stay awake an hour after entrance into slipspace and an hour before exit. The Archangel had no AI, so if the human mind failed, the ship was doomed. And that was her life.
The Archangel had only seen action once while she was Skipper. Coming out of slipspace six years ago, a Covenant patrol boat had fired a few shots at her. Apparently far from home, the miniature ship soon realized its mistake and turned around as quickly as possible. Jameson ordered the gunners at the only weapons, two 50mm cannons, to open fire, and soon the little boat was obliterated. What the boat was doing out there in the first place, she had no idea. But its wreckage would stay out there.
Colonel D'Arcy strolled behind her, minding his own nonexistent business. His footsteps changed rhythm often and were becoming annoying. Jameson regretted granting him access to the bridge, but, then again, she was fairly sure he would have come up anyways. Besides, he had been very polite when she brought him to Reach. It wasn't as if she could just give him a flat-out "no."
"So, Colonel," she said. He stopped and turned to her. "What's it like, commanding the enemy?"
"They're Marines. Not the enemy," D'Arcy answered firmly. "But, to answer your question, not much different than commanding humans."
"No? I find that surprising," Jameson said, tapping her fingers on the arm of her chair. "Aren't there any problems communicating?"
"Not really. Most of them understand enough English to go on, and those who don't are learning," D'Arcy answered.
"So they obey orders?"
"Just as good, or maybe better, than some human soldiers," D'Arcy said proudly. "They're good men, all with combat experience. They know that you listen to your superiors or you're dead. In their army it was by their own officers' hand. Now it's by the enemy's."
"Hmm..." Jameson said. She caught one of her bridge officers, an Ensign, with his head slightly to the side as if listening to the conversation. Ensign Howell had been assigned to the Archangel after he graduated from OCS, and was ready to move on to a ship that would see more action. Troop transportation wasn't much to his liking. Jameson considered rebuking him, decided to let him be, and said, "Have you had any trouble keeping the unit a secret?"
"Well, everyone who would know about it—the division, satellite intelligence officers who can see us from space, those directly involved with the program—have either been ordered to not answer any questions about us from the outside or are under a vow of secrecy," D'Arcy answered. "Which, I'm sure, includes you and your crew."
"Yes... So, everything's still quiet?"
D'Arcy smirked. "Not at all. The media caught wind of us almost as soon as we arrived. It's no secret, except officially—which, I'm sure, it won't be for long. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if ONI's holding a press conference right now and announcing our existence. If you ask me, whoever was in charge of keeping things quiet did a pretty sloppy job."
"But, then, it's not my place to make such accusations, is it?" D'Arcy smirked again, then spun around. "I'll be in my quarters, if you need me." With that, he walked to the exit and left.
Jameson tapped her fingers once more on her chair's arm. D'Arcy had said his Grunts were good soldiers. He seemed a smart, hard man... yet, she wasn't sure. There must have been some reason they left the Covenant. That reason could likely be to escape ridicule for incompetence, among other things...
She thought about it for a while, and remained undecided on the issue. But, despite whatever his thousand defectors might be, she decided that Colonel D'Arcy was one hell of a Marine.
The dreams were shrouded in mists of bloody red, an omen of death looming near. The dreams were of his wife, and the smell of eggs and steaks on the frying pan. The taste of beer and his own cigarettes made his mouth water. The sight of home made depressed him, because he knew he would never see it again.
The dreams of home were swept away into a sea of black. He was on a ship—what ship he did not know—and he watched several Covenant ships approach with his face pressed against the viewport. He saw the plasma turrets glow, then lance out with beams of fire—
He was on the ground, a pistol in his bloody hands. He dropped it, shivering with weakness, and let his hands fall to his belly. They hit something soft, and wet. He looked down as he pulled his hands out of his darkened intestines, burned with plasma.
Then he blacked out, and he saw a casket being carried by six Marines in dress uniform. As his body marched to the grave, a twenty-one gun salute was fired and taps was played. He felt cold...
The mist suddenly became a heavy fog, and his eyes opened. He heard a hiss as his cryopod unsealed itself. The hatch popped open, and he rose from his chamber of slumber clumsily. He had to steady himself before he took in his surroundings.
Someone then grabbed him and pulled him down without waiting for him to exit. "C'mon, sir." A jumpsuit was tossed at him. "Put this on, and then we'll get you battle ready."
It was a young female speaking, blinking at him, ignoring the expanse of bare skin. "Sir, we should get you ready to get dirtside as soon as possible."
"Did you say battle ready, crewman?" Vin asked. He stepped into the jumpsuit and zipped up as he asked the question. The jumpsuit fit him fairly well, but the arms were too long and the same with the legs.
"Yes, sir. We've run into trouble. If you'd follow me, sir." The Seaman strolled off, expecting Vin to follow. He did.
They passed several people as they walked the hallways to the armory. Mostly they were enlisted personnel, but they did pass a Commander and Vin barely managed to salute, struggling to keep up with the female crewman. The Commander seemed not to notice.
The door to the armory opened as they approached it, and they passed through. Vin noticed that the Colonel was already putting on his armor as he entered. The crewman walked up to a closet, punched in a code, and the door swung open. She stood aside to let him see the full suit of standard Marine armor inside. "Here you are, sir. Will you be requiring assistance?"
At this D'Arcy looked up and grinned at Vin. Vin turned to the woman and shook his head. "Not at all, crewman. You're dismissed."
Vin approached the suit of armor and began piecing it together on his body. It usually took five minutes to do so, but Vin could sense the heavy feeling of suspense engulfing the ship and did it in three.
He laced up the arms, then he put on the chestplate, which he tied at the sides. The legs went next, and he had to seat himself to secure them. Finally he took his cap and placed it on his head, making sure it fit snugly. He stood up, and had there been a mirror in the room, he would have appeared to be a completely battle-ready Marine officer.
But for one thing.
He opened his pistol case, which was at the bottom of the closet. He made sure it was loaded, then placed it in his holster, which he clipped to the belt already fixed below his chestplate. He placed four extra magazines in their individual pouches on the same belt. Now he was ready for a scrap.
D'Arcy walked up to him from behind and rested a hand on his shoulder. "Ready, Captain?"
"Yes, sir," Vin said, turning around he snapped a salute at his CO, who returned it in an equally crisp manner. Then D'Arcy nodded and reached his hand out to the young Captain. Vin took it, and held it strongly.
"All right then. Let's report to the launch bays."
They exited the armory, D'Arcy explaining the situation as they went. "We came out of slip space just as the Covenant did, right over New Syracuse. They've sent troops down to the planet, and her defense is weakening. Seeing as this was our destination anyway, I figured that we should help the Marines down there with their little pest problem."
"We're going to land at the command center, where General Kingsley and the rest of the division are already fighting. We'll take our orders from there," D'Arcy said.
"Lieutenant 'Kantamee is already waiting for us to arrive at our launch bay. We'll be traveling in separate Pelicans, for obvious reasons. The noncoms are dotted along the enlisted men's craft, and we'll be placed in random ones. Commander Jameson is waiting for us, too, so she can get her ass out of here and join the battle group where there's some protection."
"Whatever part we're going to play in the coming battle, we're going to give them hell. Got a box of cigarettes?" D'Arcy asked, nodding to Vin's empty carry space on his belt.
"No, sir," Vin, said, searching the belt.
"That's all right. They weren't for me, anyway."
"Understood, sir." Vin nodded.
"Here we are," D'Arcy said. They had come to a wide door, which opened as they came near. Vin and D'Arcy walked through into a large launch bay where a fleet of Pelican dropships waited, their jets hissing.
'Kantamee approached them, sand saluted. "Colonel. Captain."
"Yes, Lieutenant?" D'Arcy asked.
"Sir, I know we don't have much time, but I feel obligated to present you this." As D'Arcy looked down, 'Kantamee extended his hand. In his outstretched palm were two cylindrical shapes, metallic in nature, about the length of a human hand.
"What are they, Lieutenant?"
"Plasma swords, sir. Please, take one. And I also brought you one, Lieutenant." 'Kantamme watched as both took one in hand. "Normally I would present them in full ceremonial dress and with the proper words, but the Ceremony of the Warrior lasts at least three hours in your time. Ah, but for another day." 'Kantamee paused in thought, then returned to the subject at hand. "These are carved with the crest of my clan—my former clan. I have been struck from the records."
Vin looked up at the tall alien. "Thank you, Lieutenant."
"No, sir. Thank you. For the honor." 'Kantamee saluted once more, and departed to board his Pelican.
A Lieutenant with a palm-computer and a headset approached them. "Colonel, you'll be flying on Delta Three Thirty-Six. Captain..." the Lieutenant trailed off, checking her computer. "You've been reserved a spot on Delta Three Twenty."
"Thank you Lieutenant," D'Arcy said, nodding. D'Arcy and Vin split away, with one last nod to each other, and boarded their separate dropships. It was go-time.
Vin was received by his Pelican full of Grunts by their senior yelling something in the Grunt's language, which seemed to translate into "Officer on deck." The Grunts stood up and saluted. Vin nodded to them.
The co-pilot of the dropship yelled back, "All right, everybody. Strap in, and hold your weapons tight. Stay erect and don't—" the co-pilot stopped talking as he did a double-take on his passengers, then continued as if he had forgotten that they were transporting defectors. "Don't do anything stupid."
"Thank you, Warrant Officer," Vin said. He walked into the cockpit. "Close the ramp."
"Yes, sir," the co-pilot said. The pilot nodded to him, and gave a thumbs up.
The engines, which had been previously humming idly, fired up and went full force. The Pelican shook, and the pilot asked him if he'd like to take a seat.
"Not yet, Chief. Not yet," he answered. He walked to the side, and pressed his face against the viewport. The Pelican lifted itself off of the deck, retracted its gears, and joined the rest of Delta squadron as they zoomed out of the launch bay.
Vin watched as they entered the encompassing black of space, and his eyes fixed onto the large Covenant ships off to port. His heart fluttered with terror at seeing the large metal beasts. He saw their plasma turrets begin to glow, then saw the beams lance out in an arm of destruction.
One cut through the Archangel, gutting it up the middle like a fish. Fire erupted from its wounds, and debris were flung out ward into space. The other human ships in the sector scattered, returning fire with a barrage of missile pods and a few MAC rounds.
They pounded the enemy ships, which were also attempting to scatter. Shields flickered, and fire splashed over them. Some died completely, gutted up the center just like the Archangel. Vin was suddenly ripped away from the scene as the fleet of Pelicans swerved down and to the right, towards the planet. He struggled to hold himself up, regretting not having taken that seat.
As he straightened himself once more, he realized that this was the end of the space battle for him. His eyes were fixed on the shimmering blue planet, New Syracuse, below. His own battle was soon to begin.
Lieutenant 'Kantamee, unlike Vin, took a seat rather than stand during the zero-gee free-fall, and to ease the paranoia of the pilots he took one away from the cockpit. The more at ease they were, the better they would fly—and he had no desire to be shot down.
The thought sparked his sense of irony—an Elite, sworn since he was old enough to speak to have complete loyalty to the Covenant, follow all orders without question, and be willing to trade his life and the life of all others in his command to fulfill the wishes of the Prophetic Council, was the bearer of a standard that countered all that with the image of Earth. If the Covenant ever got their hands on him...
He knew what the price was for treason... a slow, painful mutilation, and then death. He had seen it all over the holoscreens on his home planet. Whenever an insubordinate, labeled a traitor and sentenced without trial, went through this process, the entire population was glued to the images by their eyes. Squealing Grunts, gasping the oxygenated air for any trace of methane... shrieking Jackals, gutted up the middle with plasma swords... Hunters, stripped of their armor, then their skin, then each of their individual tendons cut and their muscles shredded before their eyes... and finally, Elites, to be eaten alive by terrible creatures from lands afar, kept alive by extensive medical technology until the final moment of death. He shuddered at the thought, felt the bile rise in his throat.
No Brute had ever been accused of treason. The fanatically loyal soldiers were known to kill themselves without a second thought if even a hint of offense was taken from their actions by the Prophets. Perhaps they had learned long ago, better than any of the Covenant races, that it was better to go this way than shrieking and squealing like a drowning child across hours of pain and suffering.
He didn't have to worry about that now. Down on that planet was where he would meet his death in battle, or in some other place where his services were required. He would not allow himself to be captured... he would kill himself first. If he had a weapon, it was simple. If not, there were other ways... shut down the life support systems in his armor... cut himself off from the air. If without armor, there were still other ways. He had thought about this for a long time. His decision was made.
He glanced down at the Grunts around him. Were they thinking the same things? Or were they too stupid, too simple-minded? Perhaps some of them were. But he had grown to appreciate his subordinates during the past few months. He knew their intelligences, their limits. They knew what they were facing, and they stuck with it. That was more than he could ask from any Covenant soldier.
'Kantamee felt a jolt, and the gravity suddenly returned. One of the Grunts let out a characteristic squeak of relief; there was no other sound but the pilot's voice. "We have entered the atmosphere. ETA to command base, five minutes!" The pilot yelled over his shoulder.
'Kantamee cocked his needler and closed his eyes. He fell into a state of meditation, remembering the days of old, when he fought under another banner, another creed. The memories were foggy at best, downright unintelligible at worst. Then, motivated by a sense of duty drilled into him—no, bred into him—he cleared his mind, took a deep breath, started to speak. He was going to recite his battle poem.
"Let loyalty be thy honor,
In glory let thy name shine
Turn not thy back to the foe
Never surrender the line
"Thy faith, crossed with death
The glory of the tomb
The heartbeat of the homeland
Heaven forward looms
"Treason met with death,
Obedience with reward,
Smite the blasphemous heathen
Wielding justice's sword
"Finally, a simple promise
A Covenant with the gods
Honor them with thy courage
Obey their sacred laws
"No more do they ask
No more do they command
Never surrender thy honor
Thou art the god's hand!"
'Kantamee placed his fist on his heart in salute. Now he was prepared to go into battle. He might die. He might be wounded. He might be maimed. But, despite any reward or punishment he would be receive in the afterlife, he was prepared to meet whatever gods were out there.
One of the Grunts tugged at his elbow, and brought him fully out of his declining state of a cleared, meditating mind. "Sir!"
'Kantamee turned to his left and looked down. "Yes, Private?"
"Sir, we're here."