Days of Freedom
Posted By: WONDERLIBERTARIAN<firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date: 13 December 2004, 8:39 PM
Intro: It was originally my intent to write a single Halo story, however with the widely enthusiastic response that 'Killing Machine' received I understood myself fated to write something else and as the word 'Regular' started to haunt its feedback thread I realized that this fate could bind me for some time. All of this is fine with me, I'm always glad to have something to keep me writing and keep myself on track, and I haven't had anything of that since I recently abandoned the realm of Civilization Three Fan Fiction. So here I am, with another bizarre first person perspective piece. I don't usually write in the first person, but apparently Halo brings out the surrealism in my writing.
Now objections can be made of this story, as they can be made of half the stories here, that Halo2's failure to follow the invasion of Earth plotline makes this an unlikely event to take place in the Halo universe, and especially I am weak to this as this story is written knowing full well its unlikely nature. In order to meet these I offer little in my defense, as little defends me, but I do confess this upfront.
I grow less satisfied with this story as I go, and so I put it up on the HFS forums for some feedback. I received none. So I'm going to put it up here as it is, even as unconfident as I am in its completeness.
My hands stink of dishwater and I stand outside the backdoor of the tiny diner, cigarette cradled gently in my fingers. Each time I lift it to my lips for another smoky caress the smell of the dishes strikes me. It's disgusting, I hate it. I spit out to the other side of the metal railing. The door hangs open behind me and the steam from the kitchen seeps out into the cold autumn air.
The sky is aflame, there's another battle somewhere and somehow the UNSC had gotten a handful of jets and was foolish enough to think that they would make a difference in the battle, I shook my head, exhaling a thick cloud of smoke.
I take another drag from the cigarette, it's not much of a cigarette but who has better in these times? Earth is under attack and the tobacco farmers aren't the only ones having trouble. Its probably not even real tobacco in here but that simulated crap they're making in the hidden factories. Life goes on.
The battles seem to be everywhere, the burning plasma scalding the earth black, Ames is the first city I've found so modestly affected by it. Here a pair of factories; not worth the plasma, still make stuff for civilians, the handful of us who still pretend to be civilians. Who's to tell them not to? Who's to tell them that in this urgent hour the plowshares must be warped into swords? The UNSC? ONI? They have other things to do.
I drop the last bit my cigarette, smearing it lifeless with my foot and look back at the sink, there are a handful of dishes there, not enough to bother stopping my break. I shake my pack; I know that I really can't spare another cigarette. I pull it out anyways and lift it to my lips, the smell of dishwater filling my nostrils before I light the cigarette and sit down on the cement stairs.
A manager or a waitress might have objected to me here, wasting my time as they worked furiously with the customers, they might have if they were a little less busy with the customers, but they're backs are turned now and who's to say that I shouldn't sit here and smoke my afternoon away?
The smoke is drifting carelessly upwards and I watch the lights flicker in the sky, maybe the jets brought down a Banshee or two if mankind was lucky today.
I feel the eyes on my back before I see them, and a flick of my head betrays a waitress, her disappointed eyes falling on my treachery. The shame nearly wells up inside of me and I nearly pull myself up and save the rest of my cigarette for later. I take another sip from the cigarette, the stink of dishwater slaps my nose. I shake my head and she returns to work.
I used to have dreams. I remember wanting to be a governor and working for the UNSC to bring law and order to this galaxy, but that was all a distant twenty years ago, before the Covenant started to pour into the inner colonies and mankind realized that every dream was broken.
I remember leaving college in a drunken stupor when the news of Hispania Prime and the other of the first inner colonies fell. The war hadn't been real until then, it had been something distant that may cost us the outer colonies, but which would never be a battle of survival. I realized on that day that my life and my dreams were over, that we would never survive this war and I left college in a sort of half panic, my courage fuelled by the alcohol that dragged my mind from the ruin of my life and my body from the University.
I remember wondering about the rest of humanity, what was wrong with them? We were dead and there was nothing to be done about it. How could there be so few like myself, sharing my barstools with misery? I could find nothing left to bring me to life and no reason why the others pretended to have something to live for.
The whiskey sits on the bar in front of me, smiling smugly like a loan shark who's managed to get his hands on what he's owed. Here is what all of that dishwashing is for, all of those hours of working below what the UNSC pretends is minimum wage, right now they come to fruit. I take another sip as my cigarette smolders next to me in the ashtray.
The radio sits on the other side of the room, its lights flickering as it brings us the monotonous woman who brings the news. It's never good news when there aren't any dreams left to be fulfilled. Her dreary voice lets the words of our latest defeat drip carelessly into our souls. ONI would have shut her down in former days, but these are the days of freedom, and the ONI has better things to do.
The bartender glares at me for a moment, only a moment. However he might disapprove I still pay him well enough so he can go out and buy his steroids, or whatever wonder drug he uses to keep his burly biker's frame. A man like that should be in the army at a time like this, downright treasonous for him to be tending bar when the world needs all the flesh and blood that can be put in front of the Covenant. I grin to myself as I lift the glass, and it shakes for a moment as I navigate it past my ragged beard to pour it down my throat.
My hair is gray; it hangs curled and tattered from my scalp. What sort of a man has gray hair at forty-one? These years have been cruel to me, sparing no torture. The glass is shaking in my long crooked fingers as I bring it up to my tan, wrinkled face for another moment of forgetfulness, another moment where there is no invasion, no Covenant, no plasma tumbling inescapably from the sky.
These are the only moments that I can even grin in anymore, I can never manage a smile, only a half hearted, self pitying forced grin that seems awkward on my face in this run down bar on my creaking stool as I am nearly sprawled across the bar.
The shattered radio in the corner stutters a few words about the fall of London and Oxford. My grin collapses, the glass shudders in my grip as I try to bring it up to my lips.
The oldest University in the world, a history beginning in 1096 and surviving all of the ancient wars, surviving the Klosovics, the Friedans, surviving overpopulation and every struggle, surviving me for three years, Oxford.
Every dream has fallen for humanity.
I lift my glass, knowing that perhaps I should stop, if only for today, if only for respect for all of those who I once knew. Professor Harris, Professor Jumpridge, all the great minds of Oxford at whose feet I had worshipped in the years before every dream was shattered.
My pale, wrinkled hand shudders with the glass before I throw the drink down my throat, the veins in my hand stand out and I watch them for a moment as the glass drops back to the bar. Oxford has fallen and I am left without a past and with a future that's been dead for years.
I stand weakly, my hand steadying me by gripping tight onto the bar; I look longingly at the door and begin to stumble outwards.
The sky is black with storm clouds and the backdoor hangs open, letting the cold November rain pound down on the kitchen floor.
The cook, a younger man with a belly and a round, red face glares at me, "Close it, Job."
I glare back, reaching my hand out to the door to flick it against the wind until it falls into place.
The dishes are in a pile and I scrub furiously, my eyes gaze hopelessly at the door. There is a rumble in the front of the diner, it's a busy day with everyone dedicated to keeping themselves out of the rain, picking up a coffee or a sandwich to keep the waitresses eyes from overflowing. This would be impossible anywhere else but here in Ames we do our best to ignore the war.
My manager is glaring at the old drunk he lets wash the dishes for some spare change, I'm scrubbing furiously, I can tell that he wants to talk to me. Every creak in the kitchen, every slap of dish becomes his first words in my ears; I stare over my shoulder suspiciously.
My eyes dart from side to side, capturing all of the kitchen, searching for escape routes, he's walking my way, he's going to talk to me, I'm going to loose my job. I remember days when I wore suits to class in a prestigious school, now I can't hold down a job washing dishes. I need a drink, I can feel the desire in my gums, on my lips, in my throat. Each step he takes thunders more terribly than the weather outside, My eyes shift and I pretend not to watch him and to be intent on the dishes. The smell of the dishwater, its warm and soapy touch searing painfully into cuts I would never have noticed otherwise, the thundering footsteps, all of this pours into my mind leaving me drowning and overwhelmed. God, I need a drink.
"Job, we need to talk."
He looks to his office, and I know full well that this is our last talk.
God, I need a drink.
I'm in the bar again, and I can't remember coming here, but isn't that the way it always is? What good are my memories anyways? Who's to say that it matters that I went to Oxford once, who's to say that the memories of dishwater matter? Why does it matter how I got here, all that matters now is that I'm here, and I have a drink in front of me. I start to wonder how I paid for it, but I brush that thought aside.
There were once laws against public drunkenness, and the papers that hold them survive, but the laws have long since crumble to dust. There were laws once, but there aren't anymore, there's only the war, and the UNSC and ONI are far to busy fighting to keep the laws intact. These are the days of freedom.
The building shudders, and I fall off of my barstool, smashing my head against the bar, I rub my face intensely with my palm and crawl up to finish my drink.
The building shudders again, I glance around and realize at once that I am alone. These days are over; the days of freedom have fallen.
I shudder out into the street, the Banshees fill the crisp winter air with Plasma, there are massive Covenant tanks and thousands of alien soldiers pouring into the town.
The ground is scorched already, there are bodies in the street and the buildings, what buildings there are, lay humbled and broken.
Plasma slaps the small pockets of resistance, forcing them to submit.
There are screams, the city stinks of piss and treachery. The ground shudders and the air cracks in my ears. Smoke billows up from scorched ground, it flees from shattered buildings, it fills the sky, forming thick black storm clouds in the clear sky.
And in the midst of all of this there is a pale wrinkled body standing outside a bar, a man who's run from this very fight for his entire life. I know shame, I've grown used to it every morning when I wake up after a day of drinking, but as I watch the city burn around me, knowing that I can help, knowing that I should, the shame is more than I can bear. I look at the bar in front of me, blackened from Plasma. The bartender isn't there, I could drink away my last hours in there, but that's the excuse I've been using for years. The shot glass drops from my hand.
There's a handgun across the street, in the mangled hands of a fallen Marine, I apologize as I wrestle it from him. I flick my head and my curled gray hairs float behind me, I try to make myself stand straight and I try to make myself walk without stumbling. I reach my hand out for the wall, God, I'm ashamed of myself.
There's one of the Covenant soldiers marching forwards ahead of me, I try to walk a little faster but, Lord, it's hard. I can see that there's a Marine crouched in front of him, trying to hide out in the open from the glowing gun that the Covenant soldier holds. The Covenant soldier is marching forwards, each thundering stride bringing another frightened gasp from the Marine.
I lift my gun towards the alien. My finger shudders before pulling back on the trigger.
The first shot goes wild, I should have known, but I have his attention, and his hideous face turns towards me and my little gun, the Marine looks at me hopefully. There is a battle around me, but it melts away as this furious Covenant soldier, tall and grotesque with a curved back and a hideously formed mouth and frightening armor.
The next shot hits the hideous soldier, but it doesn't do much, the next shot does a little more. He's lifting up his gun, my shot goes wild. We're marching towards each other, thundering titans embracing our fates. My gun clicks harmlessly.
If aliens ever smile, he did right now, and if that awkward contortion of his face was a smile then he smiled.
I lift up the hand that has my pistol in it; the covenant soldier is standing so close to me that I can taste his filthy breath.
The handgun slams down on his temple, and I hear a crack as he falls to the ground.
The Marine looks at me, crawling over to where I now sit, leaning against the wall.
I smile at him, "Well, I figure I owed you one."
It's been 54 days since I last had a drink. It feels better to say that every day, and every day my hands grow a little less used to holding a bottle and a little more used to the feel of my gun.
The Covenant don't let men behind their lines, they force the people they call civilians out in front of them to slow the human armies that come at them and causing confusion. They haven't learned yet that there aren't any civilians here, war isn't a spectator sport. A rifle hangs from my shoulder; my gray hair is cut down and disciplined, I look a little more like a forty-one year old. The stink of dishwater is long since forgotten, but what good would the memory do me anyway?
I can run away any time I want, no one can make me stay here. These are still the days of freedom, and no one can take that away from me. But freedom doesn't make it right to run away, and there are battles to be fought.