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Last of the Walking Dead - Epilogue: Marine
Posted By: Walker<joebob@hotmail.com>
Date: 26 August 2003, 12:16 AM

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      Lance Corporal Dirk Kennedy, UNSC Marine Corps, stood on the bridge of the Gorgon beside Admiral Ikaru as the ship rocketed away from the battle into Slipstream space. He knew not their destination, nor did anyone onboard the ship, save for the AI, Agesilaus. All he knew was that, for the moment, he was out of danger, and that he wasn't going to be seeing the Covenant for a long time. He hoped.
      The majority of the ship's crew were in their cryogenic tubes, sleeping away the trip through the black of interdimensional space and for a time forgetting the hard and bitter memories of the battle for a seemingly worthless colony that, previous to this little adventure, none of them had probably even heard of.
      Yet, they had fought. They had all fought tooth and nail for a scrap of inhabitable mass at the very edges of the slowly shrinking domain of the UNSC. They knew no one whose home was on that planet behind them, they knew not what made them settle there, what was their livelihood, their beliefs or their religion. All they knew was that they were fellow citizens of the UNSC, and they were fellow human beings, created in the image of whatever gods they chose to worship.
      And that was why they mattered.
      Kennedy turned away from the scene and closed his eyes. It was all hell, this Goddamned stupid war. He hated it just as much as he hated the Covenant he was fighting. He hated the planet, he hated this ship, he hated Admiral Ikaru and he hated the ODSTs and the Pelican pilot who had rescued them. At the moment, he hated everyone and everything. He just wanted to cry. He just wanted to die.
      He mentally kicked himself and swore under his breath. He could do neither of those things all for a number of reasons, all varying in origin and level of importance. Part of it was the fact that, even as one of the lowest-ranking servicemen on the bridge, he had to set an example and keep up his nerves, despite the fact that they were virtually numbed by all the battle and carnage he had witnessed—and willfully taken part in. Another was that he owed it to himself, and all he had ever done for his species. But, the most important reason was that if he broke down—right here and now, or anywhere else—everything that Batonne and Martinez and Caldwell had died for and Connors had shed blood for and that millions had been sacrificed for would all be in vain. And he just couldn't do that to them.
      He excused himself from the company of the bridge officers and took a stroll down to the sickbay. Two Marine privates on patrol saluted as he passed, and he managed barely to return their salutes with a sloppy one. He had too much on his mind right now to bother with them. He had too much he had to do.
      The female Marine on duty, also a Lance Corporal, exchanged the slightest of nods with him. She stepped aside, fingering her MA5B out of pure habit, and let him through. The doors parted for him and he stopped just past the threshold, examining the rows of empty medical pallets, only a few of them occupied by Navy personnel who had been wounded by the rocking of the Gorgon as it sustained Covenant fire. Finally, he found what he was looking for. There, next to two nurses and a Navy medical officer, lay Connors.
      Kennedy walked toward him and he sat up. "Hey, sir," he said, again smiling. He had, it seemed, gotten into the habit of it. One of the nurses threw Dirk a dirty look, and, like a defensive mother, told Connors very politely to lay back down. "Aw, Celia, it's all right, he's a buddy. He's the only reason I'm here right now," Connors said.
      "Don't listen to him, nurse," said Dirk, approaching the medical pallet. Connors began to protest, but defeated by a glare from Celia's eyes, the casualty shrugged and eased back down on his back. Kennedy took a seat next to him, trying to stay out of the way as the three-person medical team scurried back and forth.
      "How're you holding up?"
      "Damn fine. They've got the best food down here," he said, then his voice changed to a whisper. "Not to mention some fine-looking girls. Celia's already told me all about her parent's beach resort in Hawaii. She said if I ever got a furlough to pay her a visit."
      "The tiger strikes again." They both smiled.
      "Did you see...?" Connors asked quietly, his smile disappearing.
      "Yeah, I saw."
      "Oh," Connors said, nodding. "You know, I tried to go, but the sawbones wouldn't let me out of this place. I damn near introduced his ass to my foot, but It wouldn't have done me any good. I should have asked for them to record it for me..." he said sadly.
      "You wouldn't want to see it," Kennedy assured him.
      "Batonne was a good man. I'll never forgive myself for letting him get shot up and then getting shot myself just in time to miss his funeral. "
      Kennedy said nothing.
      "You know, he would have liked that trick you pulled, arming the nuke and having the pilot open the ramp so you could drop it out at ten thousand feet," Connors said, recalling to both their memories the picture of the mass of Covenant below them exploding in a ball of nuclear flame. "That's the stuff war heroes are made of."
      "Guys like Batonne have the stuff war heroes are made of."
      Again there was silence.
      They talked for a few more minutes, until finally the nurse, Celia, and her older and fatter counterpart hushed him out of the sickbay, aided by the Navy doctor. "He needs his sleep if he's going to be strong enough for the reconstructive surgery," the Medical Corps Captain said. "You can see him in a few days."
      Kennedy exited the sickbay, and this time he looked the guard over. Her hair was bright blonde and close-cropped, about ten centimeters. Her uniform didn't do a very good job of hiding her decidedly feminine figure, and neither did the hard look she wore. Dirk made a mental note to ask her for a drink when she got off duty, and hummed to himself as he walked down to the quarters he had been assigned.
      At first he didn't remember the tune, but then it awoke in his memory as if it had been fire-branded there. He smiled, remembering the image of a little boy, looking into the mirror hanging by his door, wearing a "uniform" of his own and sporting a pocketknife and a tied-down cap gun. The boy saluted, and began to hum the same tune:

      From the Halls of Montezuma
      To the shores of Tripoli
      We fight our country's battles
      In the air, on land, and sea;
      First to fight for right and freedom
      Then to keep our honor clean;
      We are proud to claim the title
      Of United States Marines.