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Last of the Walking Dead - Part One: Escape
Posted By: Walker<joebob@hotmail.com>
Date: 5 August 2003, 1:28 AM

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      Banshees screamed overhead, pounding the rattled base with their plasma cannons. The few remaining Marines scurried for cover, firing grossly ineffective rifle shots into the air. A Jackhammer missile sent a Banshee spiraling to the ground, landing in the middle of the middle of the now crater-filled parade ground where a squad of Marines had just been.
      "That was close, man!" Martinez yelled from his post at the stationary chaingun. He jammed his sore thumbs once more onto the gun's thumb triggers, sending smoke spraying out of the Banshees who weren't fast enough to dodge the bullets. A plasma shot landed right at the base of the stationary gun, sending both him and it flying.
      Lance Corporal Dirk Kennedy shouldered his Jackhammer launcher and ran towards the place Martinez had landed. His entrails were scattered all over the ground, his lower body fried and his upper body crushed by the weight of the flying stationary gun. He gasped with each breath, and by the odd angle of his ribs Dirk knew his lungs had been pierced.
      "I'm sorry, man," Dirk said, pulling out the M6D pistol he had taken from a dead officer. Only ranks above Sergeant and special classification soldiers such as drivers and snipers were issued sidearms. He looked from it to Martinez's face, which was contorted in agony. The dying man mouthed, "do it". There was pleading in his glazed-looking eyes. Dirk put the barrel to his head and sent a merciful .450 Magnum round through his brain.
      He took cover behind the overturned gun turret and swung his Jackhammer up. The Banshee that had hit Martinez was coming around for a second strafing run, and was just getting into position. Kennedy aimed right where the prone pilot's head would be through the targeting reticule hanging from his helmet, and pulled the trigger just as plasma shots crashed down in front of him, spraying him with cement fragments and knocking him backwards. Another Banshee spiraled to the ground.
      After eight hours of gruesome and unrelenting combat, the legendary fighters of the 1st Battalion, 9th Marines, known as the "Walking Dead", had gone from almost two hundred men to possibly less than five. In the almost six hundred years since Vietnam the unit had never been so decimated. Kennedy was one of the few and possibly the only survivor-but chances were he would be counted amongst his fallen fellow Marines before long.
      He had to get off the rooftop before it collapsed. Without a gunner, he was a sitting duck. There were plenty of Banshees just waiting to take a potshot at a lone human, not to mention a swarm of Grunts that had breached the walls of the base. Dirk peered over the rooftop and drew immediately back as a flurry of plasma shots whizzed past his face. He lobbed a grenade over the side, and peered over once more after it exploded. The ground was pasted with bluish Grunt blood and bodyparts. A Warthog sloshed through the blood, spraying it sky-high. Caught in the blast as he leapt down from the rooftop of the mess hall, Dirk wiped his face clean of the ooze. The Warthog switched to reverse and stopped in front of him. "Sorry about that, man!" the driver yelled over the deafening sound of the massive chaingun on the back of his vehicle. Dirk recognized the two, and they also knew him. They were in his now leaderless squad. "Need a lift, Corporal? Shotgun's open!"
      Dirk got up and ran over. He climbed into the side seat and rested the barrel of his Jackhammer on the windshield. "What's the news from the JOC? When are the dropships coming?" he asked the driver, Private Batonne.
"JOC got blown away, sir. Major Foreman and all his staff got wasted. I don't know when the dropships are coming, or even if they're coming. Hell, I don't even know if they know we're still alive down here. All I know is that everyone else on this godforsaken base is KIA and we gotta get outta here, and we're gonna have to blast our way out!"
"Then floor it!"
      Kennedy could see the open gates of the base ahead. The only thing that stood between the gates and the Warthog was a hundred yards of blood-soaked ground-and a horde of Covenant.
      Dirk and the gunner, Private Connors, blasted away at the Covenant. Grunts and Jackals were crushed beneath the treads of the tires and blown to pieces by the unrelenting fire provided by the chaingun. Elite and a single Hunter fell victim to Jackhammer rockets and heavy lead thrown by Connors. The Warthog bounced up and down as it rolled over fallen armored bodies. A single Jackal leaped out of the way of the chaingun and onboard the Warthog-right onto Kennedy. He kicked at the thing as it batted at him with its energy shield, trying to get a clear shot at close range with its plasma pistol. Dirk fought it off using his Jackhammer launcher to push it away, but the Jackal had a deathgrip on his leg. It saw an open shot when Dirk reached out to grab his neck and swung its pistol around. The Jackal pressed it against Dirk's temple-
      The Jackal flew off of his body just as the Warthog lurched through the open gates of the lost base. Dirk lay there for a moment, taking deep breaths and wondering what had happened. Then he looked up and saw Connors. His gun was smoking. The gunner nodded to him and then swiveled the devil's own weapon around, throwing a barrage of farewell shots into the temporarily disorganized Covenant forces. The less of them to follow the better chance they would survive to morning. And right now, those chances looked very slim…
      A Banshee was tailing them, trying to get a clear shot through the extremely thick treetop cover they had entered. Finally he gave up and began blasting away at the trees, setting them afire and kicking up dirt at the back of the Warthog. If he waited any longer, they would be fried. Dirk put the banshee in the sights of his targeting reticule and pulled the trigger just as the Warthog rolled over a thick root. The bounce of the chassis rocked his aim and the rocket went wide to the left. Luckily it managed to clip a wing down the middle, essentially putting the Banshee out of action as it fell shaking and smoking to the ground.
      "Where are we headed?" Dirk asked as he reloaded.
"Echo Base, sir. With any luck they haven't hit Major de Vires' 2nd Battalion stationed there," the Batonne said. He pointed to a series of hills in between which the base was located, across a short, rolling plain from the edge of the jungle. They slowly grew closer. "It should take us about to thirty minutes to get there. All I need you to do is keep up that covering fire, sir. The Covenant aren't about to give up the chase."
      "I'm almost out of rockets," Kennedy said. "After that we're gonna have to take out any bigger obstacles with the chaingun. I've only got one spare clip of ammo for my M6D and I already used all my grenades."
      "I'm not too good on ammo either, Corporal. I've got one more chain, and then we're out," Connors said as he put the new ammo chain into the gun. They had left the base behind, going at ninety miles per hour. No ground forces were going to catch them anytime soon, so their main priority was airborne attackers. They would have to rely on their heavy guns for that, and once Connors and Kennedy's ammo ran dry they would have to be fast.
      "How's you're ammo, Batonne?"
      "I've got an M6D and two spare clips. There's some fragmentation grenades and a flare pistol in the dashboard." Kennedy took the grenades and clipped them to his belt. Batonne turned to the Connors. "You've still got your MA2B carbine, right?"
      "Nah, must've fallen out. Damn, I had to go through a lot to get that gun."
      "Just be happy to get out alive," Dirk said. "If push comes to shove you can use this." He picked up a plasma pistol from the floor of the Warthog and handed it to the gunner. "I guess that Jackal dropped it on his way out."
      Dirk was now facing to the side and Connors to the back, turning occasionally to another side to check for enemies. "I'm Admiral Cole if those Banshees have lost our trail," Dirk said finally, irritable and nervous from the lack of enemies in the middle of a warzone. The sudden lack was getting to him.
      "Probably decided it was a waste of equipment to go after three humans and loose two more Banshees before they got us, sir," Connors said, scanning the skies. "Doesn't matter. They're still up there somewhere, way up where we can't hit them. They're waiting for us to get in the clear."
      "How long did you say to Echo Base?" Dirk asked.
      "Now, twenty-five minutes, sir, at our current speed," the Batonne said.
      "Can we go faster, Private?"
      "We're already going the max speed for this terrain, Kennedy-sir."
      "All right, that's good enough then. We'll have to radio Echo Base and tell them we're coming if we want cover fire. Does the radio in this thing still work?" he asked, reaching for the handset without waiting for an answer. He pulled it off its magnetic perch and flipped open the control board.
      "I think so, sir."
      "Do either of you know Echo Base's radio frequency?" he asked, his finger hesitantly hovering over a button. Connors looked to Batonne, and shook his head. "No sir, we don't. You'll have to use another frequency."
      "All right," he said, and punched in a code. "We'll use Guard channel." He held the handset to his mouth and turned it on. "Echo Base, do you read me?" he asked. No answer. "Echo Base, do you read me?" he repeated, and again there was no answer to be heard from the other end. Dirk looked to Batonne, who exchanged a worried glance with Connors. The silence was deafening.
      "Echo Base, do you read me?"
      "They're not going to answer, sir. No one's up there," Connors said.
      Dirk lowered the handset. "We don't know that, Connors. Their com system could have been knocked out, they could be blacked out, or they could be on lockdown. A million things could have happened. We don't know they're dead and we can't assume they are until we confirm that for sure-and that means visual confirmation, Connors. We have to go up there."
      "Sir?" Batonne asked skeptically.
      "You heard me, Private. We need to get up there and examine the base and find out for sure. If we find what we all hope we won't, and if the com system is still intact we can radio the Gorgon and have them get us out of here. Either way there's a very good chance that going up there is our only hope of getting off this rock alive."
      "All right, sir. Give me twenty minutes."
      Dirk leaned back in the seat and loosened the strap on his helmet. He reached for his canteen and shook it before opening and heard the sound of water sloshing around. He unscrewed the lid, tilted back his head and poured the cool liquid down his throat. After half of the contents were emptied he put the cap back on the canteen and clipped it back onto his combat belt. He needed water as badly as the rest of them, but he didn't know how long it would be until he could refill his canteen. If they were driven back into the hills around Echo Base and had to hole up in a cave or under an overhang, that might be quite awhile.
      Had they been left behind? No dropships had come for them, and because Delta Base had been lost the Gorgon would have more than adequate reason to assume there had been no survivors. His heart fluttered. Dying in battle he could take. A quick shot would fry his body and it would all be over. But to be left behind on a hostile planet to fend for himself, and eventually be hunted down by the Covenant, captured, and tortured as the prize of some Elite or Hunter unto death-he shuddered. He swore he would kill himself before he let them take him alive.
      "Fifteen minutes sir, we're almost there."
      He frowned. Eight straight hours of battle made this short pause seem so eerie. It also made him all that much more worried about what was waiting for them up ahead. Connors was probably right about the Banshees above preparing for them to come into the clear to take a potshot at them, for Covenant were always seeking to destroy every last human possible, even if it was extremely obvious they had already won the day. Their motivation was fanatically religious, and fear of all-powerful gods was motivation enough for the enemy forces to fight anyone. Dirk himself doubted the Prophets of the Covenant even believed in the gods they supposedly acted for. He was pretty sure they were just using them as an excuse to clear humans out of the way so that the Covenant could move in. His own god was nothing like theirs…
      "Ten minutes sir-were coming into the clear!"
      Dirk strapped his helmet once more and raised his Jackhammer, opening the breech to double check the loads. Two rockets lay in their magazine. He got into firing position and retested the sights on a squirrel-like animal that was perched on the branch of a tree. Perfect. Up ahead of them, the jungle split apart into open and rolling plains at the foothills of the hills up ahead. The Warthog pushed into the clear.
      Flashes of purple darted through the clouds until a formation of Banshees dove from the sky. Dirk, his aim undaunted by the pounding of the chaingun, tracked the point Banshee as it broke hard left. "Got you, you Covenant bastard," he said, and squeezed the trigger. The rocket screamed across the sky and hit the Banshee's exposed underbelly, where, just like a shelled animal, the armor was weakest. Shards of superheated metal broke away from the Banshee's corpse and it spiraled to the ground, leaving a twisting trail of smoke behind it.
      The Banshees broke formation and spread out, for the most part taking only potshots at the Warthog as it scrambled towards the hills across the plain, wary of the chaingun and fearful of the Jackhammer launcher. But a single Banshee dove low, made a diagonal cut as both heavy weapons tracked it, and then shot across their path in a strafing run. Plasma impacting all around them threw the Warthog completely into the air, and Dirk, with his Jackhammer launcher across his chest, reached across it and held onto the all-terrain vehicle for dear life. They landed hard, rocking the passengers. Kennedy felt shocks run through every bone in his body. The chaingun fire, which had kept steady throughout the whole time they were airborne, abruptly stopped. Dirk looked to Connors, who lay, slumped in the back, unconscious.
      "Shit," Batonne said.
      Dirk reloaded his launcher with the last two rockets and looked for the Banshee that had strafed them. It was nowhere to be seen. The other two remaining Banshees continued to fire at them with no real effect, their shots falling behind them. One cut across his comrade's path, causing the other to pull up abruptly. Aiming again for a belly shot, Dirk fired a rocket into the Banshee with devastating effect. It blew a hole into the cockpit and the aircraft fell right onto its wingman, dragging them both to the ground. Two birds with one stone.
      Dirk narrowed his eyes, searching for the last, most talented Banshee through his sights. "Where is the bastard?" he asked in a hushed whisper. Out of the corner of his eye a glimpse of violet passed through the cloud cover. He snapped in the direction and made a sweep of the sky with his Jackhammer launcher. Nothing, and this was his last rocket. If he missed, the chaingun was their only hope. Only a handful of shots remained in the ammunition chain.
      A plasma shot exploded before the Warthog, making the heavy vehicle rear into the air. Batonne swore as he was rendered blind of what was going on ahead. He stood up in his seat, throwing his weight forward in an attempt to keep the Warthog from overturning completely. The Banshee circled around, coming into position to finish them off. The Warthog began to reel backwards just as a series of shots exploded from the Banshee-
      "Jump!" Kennedy yelled, grabbing Connors and leaping from the Warthog. He hit the ground rolling, dragging both himself and Connors into the shelter of the long grass. He swung up his Jackhammer just as the Banshee tore the Warthog apart with a barrage of plasma, hesitant to fire his last rocket and reveal his position. It would be much better for them all if the Covenant thought they were dead…
      The Banshee circled the Warthog for a few moments, examining the wreckage from above. Ripped completely to pieces, the smoldering wreckage gave off black smoke that could be seen for miles. Satisfied that he had eliminated the humans, the Banshee gunned its engines and turned around to head back to the main Covenant force.
Kennedy lay panting in the long grass, holding Connors to the ground with one hand and keeping his Jackhammer launcher leveled at the sky in case the Banshee decided to come back. He lay there for several moments, then slumped over on his back and lay facing the blue sky. Streaks of smoke ran across it.
      "Batonne! You all right?" he called from his supine position.
      "Yeah! Did you get Connors?" he replied from the other side of the wreckage.
      "Yeah, I got him! He's alive and still breathing!"
      Kennedy got up and squatted in the long grass. He laid down his Jackhammer launcher and picked Connors firmly up, checking to make sure that there were no broken bones. He seemed to be all right. He set him over his shoulder, legs in front with his own arm wrapped around them. He picked up the Jackhammer launcher and hefted himself up slowly. With his Jackhammer launcher at the ready he strode over to Batonne.
      "What do we do now, sir?" he asked.
      "We've still got to get to Echo Base." Dirk looked up to the hills hopefully, scanning the area. He could see no smoke coming from them, nor did he see any debris spread over the area. Odds were, the base was still intact. But whether anyone was there or not was something entirely different. "If we were going to get there in ten minutes going ninety miles per hour, that means fifteen miles to go. Normally we could go about three miles per hour on foot, but with Connors out cold and having to climb the hills o foot that'll probably be cut down to a mile an hour. That means… fifteen hours till we reach Echo Base." He frowned.
      "A day," Batonne nodded. "It'll be zero two hundred tomorrow morning if we go nonstop," he said, checking his watch. The Covenant had hit them at the same time that morning. It was now ten hundred hours, and the sun had already risen high with the temperature. Batonne rubbed his finger along the inside of his color and removed his helmet, running a hand through his sweaty hair. "Well, we'd better get moving. What should we do about our tracks?" he asked, looking back at the grass they had flattened with their few steps. They had already left a clear impression upon the ground.
      "There's not much we can do," Kennedy said. "The Covenant are probably going to take some time to reorganize their forces before advancing to Echo Base, so that'll buy us some time. I'd say about six hours. After that, all we can do is hope they march right over our tracks. They usually put Grunts in the lead as cannon fodder, so that should also give us an advantage. Grunts aren't all too smart."
      "Let's move out. I'll carry Connors for the first hour and we'll switch off after that at the end of every hour," Kennedy said, and headed off. Batonne followed for a moment, his M6D out and ready, then pulled ahead of Dirk and assumed point position.
      The journey would be long, but Kennedy tried not to think about that. He shifted Connors on his shoulder. What he had to concentrate on was making it through. He'd been trained for situations similar to this one, where he could be cut off from the main force of UNSC troops and left to fend for himself behind enemy lines. He had just never thought he would actually have to use that training. Now he was glad he had paid attention.
      Even before joining up with the Marines he had learned a lot about fighting from books and internet research. The weakest points in the human body, areas where major blood vessels were located, even old Apache tricks from the classic Westerns of Louis L'amour. And, of course, he had grown up around guns. While still an early teenager he was able to point at something without aiming and hit it as long as it was fairly close. He could put ten shots in the space of a quarter with a bolt-action rifle at fifty yards. The first time he ever shot a shotgun he hit twelve out of fourteen clay pigeons, and he had never missed when shooting high-caliber rifles. And on top of it all he was an Eagle Scout.
      When it was Batonne's turn to carry Connors, Kennedy took point with his Jackhammer launcher, the heavy weight lifted from his sore shoulders. He yawned and knew they would not be able to carry on nonstop. He had already missed out on four hours of sleep and replaced them with the heavy and wearying exercise of battle. Perhaps they could find a cave to hole up in for the night. If Connors came around by then they could take shorter shifts on watch. More sleep for all of them. It was certainly necessary to get as much as possible. Sleep depravation was something they prepared for, and it made them appreciate rest all that much more.
      Several hours later, ascending the hill with Connors on his back was stretching his aching muscles to their limit. If they were hit by a Covenant patrol he wouldn't be able to last long. It was all he could do to keep on going, and as soon as they had a shelter set up for the night he would drop dead. Let Batonne take the first watch. All he wanted to do was drift away and find some peace from the storm.
      By nightfall he was beat. He sat down on a rock, making sure to keep off the skyline and sliding Connors off his shoulders. "Batonne, I can't carry him another step. We're going to have to find somewhere to hole up that's relatively close. Do you see anything?"
      "Let me go see," Batonne said, raising his M6D. He scurried over to the other side of the hill into a valley surrounded by two other hills. He scouted around, searching for a site to set up camp. It would have to be somewhere they would not be easily found and where they could be relatively comfortable. Only two sites fit this profile. A cave that could be easily accessed which was located just to his left, and another cave that was directly below him, just under a slope that dropped into depthless dark. He chose the latter. It would be tricky to get in and out of, but it would provide the best cover from any possible intruders. In fact, it was entirely possible that the entire Covenant force could march right pass them and never see the humans concealed within. These attributes outweighed its dangerous location. He marked the spot mentally and scrambled back up the hill.
      "Well?" Kennedy asked.
      "I found a spot," he said. He stuck his M6D into his waistband. And walked over to Connors. He picked up the tall, unconscious man and carried him over each shoulder. "You go ahead, and I'll tell you where to go," he said.
      Kennedy pushed himself up and grabbed his Jackhammer launcher. He sauntered wearily over the hill, his eyes wide in the moonlit dark as he descended down the opposite slope. "Be careful!" Batonne called. "There's a slide and then a drop. Wait right there, and I'll show you how to get down."
      Batonne advanced and stopped beside Dirk, panting. "There," he said, sparing an arm to point the place out. "See it? It's that cave under the slide, just below us and a little to your left."
      "I see it," Dirk said warily.
      "All right. Since I've got Connors, you'll have to go down first. I'll hold your Jackhammer launcher and give it to you once you get down. To the right of the mouth of the cave is a little gravelly path that cuts off right about where the cave is. There's a seven-foot jump from where the path stops to the little ledge at the edge of the cave. Do you think you can make the jump, sir?"
      "I should be able to," Kennedy said.
      "Good. After you get down, you can take the supplies in after you as I hand them down. Connors will be tricky, but we'll figure that out later. Ready to go?" Batonne asked, his legs trembling slightly from the combination of Connor's weight and fatigue.
      Kennedy started off without answering, his steps slow and wary of how easy it would be to slip and fall to his death. He soon was so inclined that he was almost sliding down the path on his back, holding only to the occasional root for support. Then he reached the end of the path as Batonne had identified it, seven feet above the foot-long ledge at the cave's mouth. His heart began to thump, and his legs shake more out of fear than weariness. He had always hated heights…
      He heaved himself off the path, landing at a bad angle on the ledge and slipping. He fell heavily but managed to hold on. He looked down and saw his right leg dangling over space. He pulled himself up quickly and rolled inwards. "I made it, Batonne! Send down the supplies!"
      "All right!" Gravel skidded over the slope and fell into the oblivion below. Kennedy inched forward on his knees, and saw Batonne at the end of the path, bracing himself between it and the cave mouth's wall. The Jackhammer launcher was in the crook of his arm. "Take it," he said.
      Dirk took it firmly in his hands and pulled it below, setting it aside carefully. He then took Batonne and Connor's packs and put them by his Jackhammer launcher. His own had been shot off his back by a stray plasma shot, blowing its contents into oblivion while just narrowly missing his spine.
      Batonne went off to get Connors, then, with a worried look on his face, inched down towards the cave. "Corporal, there's a cord in my pack. Tie it to something and then hand it up here so I can secure it around Connors. That way, if he slips down we can still pull him up."
      Kennedy rummaged through one of the packs, pushing aside other supplies, and removed a lightweight padded cord with a metallic core. He made a quick and tight bowline knot around a stalagmite, then snaked the cord up to Batonne, who took it in between his index and middle fingers and fastened it about Connors' waist while keeping the unconscious Marine stable in between his upper arms. Kennedy reached up and Batonne hooked his foot into a root, pushing Connors' body down. They slowly transferred the weight, inch by inch, so neither of them slipped. Finally Dirk had Connors with a hand under each arm, and walked carefully back as Batonne let go and jumped in after him.
They lay Connors down and untied him next to the cave wall, taking a blanket out of his pack and placing it over him. They removed his helmet and placed his pack under his head as a pillow. "Should we risk a fire?" Batonne asked as soon as they were done with Connors as he set up his own sleeping place.
      "No," he said simply. Kennedy removed his helmet and placed the grenades and his extra M6D clip inside, using it as a bowl. He had no blanket or pillow, but he would make do. A Marine's uniform didn't do a fabulous job of keeping its wearer warm, but it was good enough for one night if it didn't get too cold. If push came to shove he and Batonne could split the blanket.
      "I'll take the first watch," Batonne volunteered graciously, moving forward with his M6D. "Take my blanket. I won't be needing it for awhile," he said, tossing the blanket at him. Kennedy pulled it over him and barely had time to appreciate his subordinate's sympathy for his weariness before he fell asleep.