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Decisions, Chapter 1
Posted By: Warbow<warbowhalo@aol.com>
Date: 14 November 2002, 3:01 pm

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    Walsh sat on the edge of his stool, alone in the backroom of the armory. He was thinking about how he had gotten to this place. Thinking about not only being stuck disassembling and cleaning MA5B assault rifles, but thinking about his entire life. How had he gotten to this place?

    Cleaning rifles was easy to answer. Smart mouthing your superior generally gets you into trouble. But, why had he been so belligerent to Sergeant Freeman? Sarge was easy enough to get along with. Hell, Freeman had actually requested Private Walsh for his unit. This brought a smile to Walsh's face. Someone actually wanted him; he disregarded the fact that it was to kill. He did not mind killing. It was just part of the job and he certainlydidn't mind shooting the Covenant.

    Why had he smarted off to the Sarge? He looked down at the completely assembled rifle that was lying across his knees. "One down" he said to himself, "twenty seven to go." He knew he would never get them all cleaned in the time remaining before the jump. He didn't mind being alone except for the fact that it left him with so much time to think. Strange, here is a man almost 42 years old, older than Sergeant Freeman, but still stuck as a lowly Private. What caused this?

    Every time he started thinking like this, his mind always turned to the time he was called out of school. It had been an autumn day on Guilaint 4. A normal day for any 6 year old, playing and learning. The teacher had told him that someone was here to see him and to go to the teacher's lounge down the hall. As he trotted down the hall, he wondered if he should just open the door or knock first. He stood in front of the door wondering what he should do. When the door opened.

    In the doorway way stood a lady. She didn't look much older than his mother. She asked him to come inside and to take a seat. He paused for a second because he was not allowed in the teacher's lounge. But his teacher and this lady had told him to enter so he strolled in and sat down.

    There was a man standing in the corner motionless. The lady called him by his first name, "Stanley? You are Stanley Walsh?"

    "Walsh, Everyone just calls me Walsh." He hastily added "ma'am" to the end of his words. Another smile crossed Walsh's lips as he realized how arrogant his was even at that young age.

    The lady took a seat across from him and told him that they were going to do a little test. She laid three cards on the table face down. Walsh stared at the cards. They looked like ordinary cards to him. Sheturned the cards over one by one. She had turned over two black aces andone red ace. She said "Stanley" but quickly corrected herself. "Walsh, Iwant you to keep your eye on the red ace at all times. Remember where it is."Walsh nodded.

    She turned all the cards back over leaving the red ace in the middle between the two black aces. She quickly started sliding the cards across the table. She moved her hands quickly but Walsh did as he was told and never let the red ace out of his sight. After about 20 seconds of shuffling the cards back and forth, she asked, "Which card is the red ace?"

    Walsh knew which card it was. It was simple; the card was on his far right. He had watched her move it around the table. It had to be some kind of trick question. The lady spoke up "Walsh, do you know whichcard is the red ace?" He quickly pointed at the center card. The lady turnedthe center card over revealing the ace of spades. He saw her shoulders slumpa little and she continued turning over the cards. She turned the card toher left over showing the red ace.

    He started to tell her, that he knew it was there, but she held up her hand to stop him. "Walsh please go back to your classroom," she said in an almost solemn tone. He was mentally kicking himself all the way back to his room. He had known that it was the right hand card. He HAD known. Why did he always second-guess himself?

    He startled himself out of his trace when the bolt from the MA5B clattered on the floor. He must have knocked it off with his elbow. He looked around. Five clean and assembled rifles lay on the table next to him. Had he really completed five rifles? He had only been here a few minutes, hadn't he? He turned and looked at the clock. 0425 hours, he had been working for nearly an hour. He bent down and picked up the bolt that he had knocked onto the floor. He did a quick mental calculation of how fast he was working. A rifle every twelve minutes wasn't bad considering the condition these rifles were in. He figured he would have enough time to finish his current cleaning project plus five more before he had to report to Cyro Bay 2 at 0530. Better, make that four, giving him time to get to the bay and time to recheck the rifles. He might end up relying on one of these rifles in the next few days.

    He turned his attention back to the rifles, but his mind quickly returned to his life. He wondered "What if I had chosen the correct card." Would his life have been any different? How could a stupid card make any difference in his life? Strange. He always had the same thought, choosing the correct card would have made a difference.

    His thoughts flashed forward, nine years, he was 15years old. At 5'11", he already stood an inch taller than his father. Itwas a normal morning, as normal as it got during those days. The sirens started at a little after 0700. At first, he thought it was another drill until his parents came running in and screamed at him to get to the shelter.

    They lived two streets over from the shelter. As he and his parents ran from their house, he spotted a Covenant dropship. They continued running toward the shelter when the Covenant dropship circled around and landednear the shelter. The sky was speckled a mixture of Covenant and UNSC ships.

    Since the nearest shelter was cut-off, they turned and started for another shelter. They wove between houses running through front yards, hedges and backyards. Walsh stopped and watched as a UNSC Pelican descendedinto the street next to him. He stood in amazement as a dozen or more soldiershustled out of the Pelican.

    One of the soldiers ran over to Walsh and yelled at him to get in the Pelican. He turned to find his parents, but they were gone. His first thought was to run and find his mother and father. The solider roared"Go!" and Walsh spun and sprinted toward the ship. He wondered if he wouldever see his parents again. The ship quickly filled with other civilians. The engines rumbled and the ship began to lift off.

    Walsh flickered back to the present, but the rumbling didn't stop. He realized that the Pillar of Autumn's engines were firing andthe ship was turning. He looked at the clock. 0519 hours. The Autumn shouldbe accelerating for the Slipspace jump. What was going on?

    He first impulse was to find Sergeant Freeman and figure out what was happening. Walsh looked at the half-assembled rifle in front of him, his orders were to clean these rifles and report to the cryo chamber by 0530. He suppressed his urge and continued to put together the weapon laidout before him. The minutes tick by at a snail's pace. He worked as hardand fast as he could, trying to keep his mind off what was going on. He lookedat the clock. It was 0524...Close enough.

    He sprinted to Cryo Bay 2, panting as he waited for the doors to slide open. The doors made a slight whoosh as they parted in front of him. The cryo chamber was empty. As he entered the room, the technician overhead barked, "What are you doing here?"

    "Reporting for cyro-sleep, Sir," replied Walsh.

    "Sleep cycle canceled. Report back to your squad," responded the technician.

    Walsh rushed to the elevator and descend a floor to the bunk area. He came into room and nearly collided with Sergeant Freeman. Freeman bellowed, "Private Walsh, where the hell have you been?"

    "Cleaning rifles as ordered, Sir," retorted Walsh with a half-hearted salute.

    "Walsh, prep your explosives. I want you carrying 2 packs of C-12 and as many fragmentation grenades as you can handle. Then report to Cafeteria 3."

    "What is our mission, Sir?"

    "Undetermined at this point. I just want you ready. You are the best demolitions man in the corp., aren't you?"

    "Yes, Sir!" replied Walsh with a crisp salute and a slight smirk on his face.

    He rushed back to the armory and quickly gathered his equipment. Walsh paused to debated over how many detonation receivers to bringwith him. He decided on four, with two packs of C-12 that could create fourrather larger explosions. He wondered if he should grab a few more receivers, but he decided against it. When his services were needed, they normally didn't require small explosions.

    He checked the batteries in his transmitter and strapped it to his forearm. He ran through the receivers and found one slightly discharged. It was still well in the green, but he replaced it with another receiver anyway.He placed them in one of the pouches on his right hip.

    Sarge had told him to stock up on frags as well. He filled his satchel with as many grenades as it would hold. He estimated that he hadnearly 30 stuffed into that bag.  The satchel bulged all over looking like it was pregnant and about to give birth.

    Walsh wondered what he must look like with two backpacks, one over each shoulder and a huge satchel hanging on his left side. He probably looked like a pack mule. He reached for the one of the AR's on the rack beside him, retracted his arm and moved to the backroom. He picked one of the weapons that he had just finished cleaning less than 10 minutes ago, butting the rifleagainst his shoulder making a sweeping motion. His luggage wasn't hindering him very much. Walsh's substantial 6'3" frame could carry a large amount ofweight without much trouble.

    He started making his way to Cafeteria 3 with technicians and soldiers passing him in the corridors. He realized that he still had noidea what was going on. He entered the cafeteria and scanned over the crowdlooking for Sergeant Freeman. He never saw the Sarge but he did spot severalmen from his unit. As he approached them, Walsh gritted his teeth waitingfor the jackass comment that he knew was coming.

    "Look, it's Walsh," snorted Benson. "You carrying enough shit? EEh Aaaw, EEh Aaaw" braying like a donkey.

    Walsh ignored him while sliding the satchel off his shoulder and taking a seat at the end of the bench. The bag made a soft thud as he placed it on the floor beside his feet.

    He wished Sergeant Freeman were there so he could ask what was going on. He certainly wasn't going to ask Benson or anyone else from his squad. As he sat there listening to all the conversations around him, he picked out that the Reach system was under attack from the Covenant. The UNSC Fleet had called all vessels back in defense of Reach. Some people were talking about the Spartans who were supposed to be on board the ship.

    The PoA suddenly leaped out from underneath him. Walsh would have fallen to the floor if he hadn't grabbed the edge of the bench. Everyone who was standing suddenly found himself or herself on the floor. Walsh slid the satchel back close to his feet, wrapped the strap around his left leg and put his foot on part of the strap to keep the bag secure.

    The noise level grew throughout the room, not only from the marines but also from the Pillar of Autumn herself. The rumble of the engines vibrated up through the bench. Walsh could hear the whine of the MACcannons firing. This continued for what seemed like ages, every marine hadgiven up on trying to stand. The few that had tried ended up with bruises or a fat lip. There where several explosions that rocked the ship. Walsh waswaiting for the room to decompress, but it never came. Where was Sarge? Hehadn't seen anyone over the rate of Corporal in over an hour.

    Finally, a female voice came over loud speakers. "All hands report to your Cryo Chambers, prepare for immediate Slipstream jump."

    A few seconds later the officers spilled out of one of the side rooms. One of them shouted, "You heard the lady! Store your gear and Go, Go, Go!"

    The next twenty minutes were a blur. With marines moving everywhere, Walsh found himself undressing and preparing to enter one of thecryotubes. Not until this point did, he realized that his gray uniform wasalmost black from oil and grease.

    This was one of the worst things in life, entering cyro sleep. At least it was for Walsh. Everyone else complained about exiting cyrosleep. That was simple-- a few coughs and your lungs were clear. But enteringcyro sleep was entirely different. The feeling of drowning was horrible. Hehad never heard of anyone else complain about this part. He started to askthe technician standing next to his tube but he held his tongue.

    The lid closed and the chamber filled with a fine mist. Walsh breathed deeply, inhaling the analgesic. The tubes extended toward hisnose. He started to panic, but quickly calmed himself and forced his bodyand heart rate to relax. Walsh waited with his eyes closed.

    Up in the control room, the technician watched Walsh's vital signs. "Ok, inserting tubes in cyrogenic number six. Injecting bronchial surfactant, now." The bars on the control panel jump into the red zone then quickly settled back down. "Whoa, did you see that?" exclaimed the technician with a shocked tone.

    "See what?" replied the second technician.

    "Number six's vitals jumped when I injected the fluid into his lungs. You don't think he was awake do you?"

    "Did you wait the required 15 seconds?"

    "Yep, sure did. Even gave him a few seconds more. Helooks like a very big guy. His vitals were stabilized too."

    "Must have been a fluke. He's asleep now."