Ever wondered what would happen if The Galactic Empire decided to pick a fight with the UNSC in the Somme circa 1917? Well...here you go.
''Boots on the ground, move it Marines!''
Willie's boots hit the ground amidst the swirling dust below the Pelican's bay door. He heard the other ten men of his squad leave the troopship behind him, their boots crunching on the dirt of the LZ. As the Pelican moved to fly off with a surprising amount of grace for a ship of it's size, the dust began to settle. When he could raise his head without his eyes being torn out by the wind of the bird's turbine engines, Willie lifted his head.
Willie McBride had been born on Octiva Prime 18 prior to his enrolment into the UNSC Marine Corps. Having just completed boot camp, he and the better part of his company (all true blue Octiva boys) sighed in relief when they heard they're first deployment was on their home planet. What they didn't realize was why there was a need for the 82nd to go to Octiva...
Willie was one of the few who had had his suspicions. But he wasn't ready for this.
Looking at the landscape that was once his homeland, what Jimmy saw was more akin to something out of a vid about hell from his childhood. The hills were charred and barren of vegetation where once there was green trees and green grass. Where once he and his friends (mot of whom stood beside him in disbelief) had played as children at games of war. Funny that. Never thought...
''What the hell are you ladies starin' at?'' The familiar voice of their platoon sergeant barked.
Staff Sergeant Johnson was an imposing man. Not only was he imposing, but he had the skill and bulk to back up the authority he held as if from birth. He had terrified them, harassed them, screamed at them until he was hoarse and when screaming became too much of a bother, he simply slapped a poor Marine cold.
His platoon was in worshipful awe of him.
It was moments like these that only encouraged that opinion. Johnson walked in front of the shocked marines as if he had not a care in the world, as if none of the devastation even went past his black skin. Puffing his trademark cigar, he looked up and down the line.
''Well, one of you pansy-assed imperial cock-sucker's gonna tell me what the hell ya'll find so amazin'?''
It was Pat O'Mally who spoke up first. He always was an idiot...
''Sarge, they...they...they blew it all up...''
''Spare me the Shatner impression, O'Mally. Well boys, I want ya'll to take one real good look at what this is. This, boys and girls is what happens when the Empire gets at a planet. This is what we're here to stop and this...'' He looked pointedly at each and every one of them, ''is what the few of you who just might live through this will be seeing over and over again. This, is an engagement, marines. That's the Brass' fancy way of sayin' ass-kickin'.''
The Sergeant looked behind him, as if savouring the destruction about him and the prospect of battle. He seemed to pointedly ignore their broken-hearted loss of Octivus, it seemed to Willie. He was putting on a show, he must be. Who could look at this and say...
''Can't believe they pay me to do this! Hmmmmmhm, I LOVE the Corps!''
Willie sighed. At least he was on their side.
Fox Company of the 82nd Marine Regiment was ordered to move out to the nearby city-scape of New Sydney, not far from where Willie was born. Willie managed to remember it. A city like any others. Had its poor and it's rich, it's highlights and slums. He remembered his father taking him there for summer outings. He recalled it all with love. Mind, it was easy for him to remember his old man with love; after his mother had died of childbirth, his father had spent his life for his son. But it seemed to everyone as if he was withering away. It wasn't until Willie's fifteenth birthday that Alastor McBride finally let go to join his wife in the Paradise promised to them all on Octivus. Seems he was in a large company now...
The company walked in a dazed silence, as if through a dream (or nightmare). Everywhere one of them looked, they saw something that could've belonged to a memory, a memory that they clung to when boot camp or just life came down far too hard on them. Nothing spectacular. A tree they swung in. A large stone they kissed their girlfriends on. A hill they rolled down.
Not that they could really tell what was what anymore. All of it was gone, only to be replaced with craters. A bullet-ridden house. A dead cat no one bothered to bury. It seemed the further towards home they went, the worse the devastation got. Nothing alive was anywhere in sight. The background sounds they once knew, they relied on to be there for them were gone, only to be replaced by the chatter of automatic weapons, the dull thunder of cannonfire and the sound of imperial lasers. Yes, everything was gone. Nothing of their home was in anything they saw.
Willie looked around at the men and women of Fox Company. He knew these people, some of them from since before he could walk. It was surprising how much had happened to them since they'd all signed up for the Corps. He knew these people now as the hardened Marines they were. Yet he had also known them as they once were, as children who would ave bawled their eyes out at sight like this.
Nothing of that remained in them now. He saw in their eyes that despair that shadowed them all harden into an anger deeper than what is human during the hour of marching. Soon, he began to hear dark mutterings of revenge for this and that, that whoever would do this was one cold-hearted son of a sheep fucker. Willie let the same resolve harden in his own heart as he took in the destruction of his planet. He hefted his blocky MA5B assault rifle and kept marching, feeling something he never thought he'd ever feel for anything.
Hate, pure and strong. Hate, animalistic and deeper than anger. Hate, that seemed to come to him over the span of millenia from his evolved forebears. A Hate that no man should ever feel for another. Well, not outside war.
They made New Sydney at around noon were bunkered into the city's old mall, which was now beaten through with bullet holes and laser scorches. Willie looked around as his newfound hate only grew. Some of his platoon had hung out here every day almost. Most of their teenage years were spent here. For them to see it like this...
''Willie...it's all gone. Everything. The fountains, the stores...they didn't even leave EB standin...'' That was Matt Moloney. He was Willie's city friend who'd spent a lot of time here. ''Some bastards are gonna' pay for this Willie. They're gonna pay hard.''
There was a lot of that going around, Willie saw. Minds were becoming murderous. Pat had even chalked ''IM THE LAST THING YOURE SEEIN'' on his helmet, along with other such phrases on his brown ballistic armor. Willie supposed it was good. If they kept that hate through a fight, it should be a good thing...
The whistle of the artillery bolt came down and hit the street outside the mall with a crash of thunder, blowing out the windows and freaking the utter life out of every marine except for the Sergeant; who stood as he always did.
''Alright ladies, that's enough of that. Just a shellin', only a few of you should die.''
They barely heard him over the roar of the bolts hitting the ground. One even managed to hit the front of the mall, caving it in with a sound one would normally expect from a building being caved in by an airborne missile. Miraculously, nothing hit the mall proper, so the Marines managed to come out unscathed, though the seemingly endless booms just kept rolling on.
The shelling stopped almost as soon as it had started, and the ground even stopped shaking. It seemed to Willie that the world had frozen solid, so still was every Marine. It was blessed quiet, but seemed to drag on for endless minutes...
''Move out! Move out!!''
At that, Johnson went right into action.
''Aight ladies, on you're feet. Time to show the Empire what the Marine Corps can DO!''
They all got up, checking ammunition levels and securing equipment on the way. Willie didn't exactly know how he was moving. He looked at his hand which was shaking uncontrollably and it wasn't until then that he noticed his heart was firing like an assault rifle. The world was still tottering, but close to half a year of boot camp moved his legs outside, where not only his company but the better part of the Marines on Octivus had been set. Willie breathed deep to settle himself and stop the shaking as he stumbled forward. He tried to cling to the hate. They were here. They'd come. Now was time for revenge, for everything the Empire had done here. Willie forced himself to not look at the further devastation of the shelling and join his comrades.
They were being presided over by a man. While Captain Keyes was neither big or imposing like Sergeant Johnson, he definitely held authority in his strong posture and in the lines of command in his face. Willie looked at his Regiment Commander with an awe that almost rivaled that of Johnson.
''Men, I'm going to keep this brief. The Empire saw us come and have decided to take us out. They want Octivus and they want it bad and can't afford a few more Marine Regiments reinforcing this flank. New Sydney's one of the biggest cities here boys and whoever controls this spot, wins.'' The Captain looked from face to face at the circle around him. Willie wondered what he saw. Admiration for what they were doing? Awe at boys who threw away their youth to fight for their beliefs?
No, Willie thought. More like sadness. Each face Keyes saw was probably another face that he (or anyone else for that matter) would never see again after this fight. Lambs to the slaughter...and he was sending them to it. Willie almost felt sorry for the old man.
''Problem is, something's gone wrong. Something leaked. They knew we were coming, so we've got a little reception party waiting here for us.''
Johnson cut in. ''How big a party, sir?''
Keyes looked around the circle again, but his expression fell, as if he'd been dreading that exact question.
''About three times out numbers here, with full armour support.''
Willie closed his eyes a moment and bowed his head. He felt Matt Moloney next to him and Doris O'Shannesy on his other side stir.
''Did you hear that Willie? Three to one. We'll never make it.''
Keyes seemed to hear him and fixed Doris with a glare that could kill.
''Stow that, Private. Now I want you all to remember that you're Marines, some of the most bad-ass troopers in human space. Don't tell me that doesn't count for anything.''
Corporal Ling from Able Company spoke up at that point.
''Permission to speak freely sir, but where the hell's our own armour?''
''On it's way, Corporal. That's why it's so important that we hold this point and those trenches. The 1st Armoured along with three entire Regiments is getting here, but we need to hold for at least four days until they come. Fortunately, the Intel at ONI's telling me that the enemy has a minimum of a day to go before they're here. That gives us a day to prepare our defenses, gentlemen. Which is what I expect all of us to give our hardest.''
Willie opened his eyes again. He'd only heard one word of that speech.
''Permission to speak sir?''
''Permission granted, Private...?''
''Speak you're piece McBride.''
''You said trenches, sir?''
''I did indeed, Private. A problem with trenches, Marine?''
''None at all, sir. Just curious, sir.''
Willie had more than a problem with trenches. As Keyes went on about what they had to do, Willie went over in his head what he knew about trenches. He knew something about a great, great ancestor (one he was named after, actually) of his going back six centuries having served in a World War. The First World War, as it happens. But he'd seen the clips of the trenches. He'd read about them on rainy days.
They were things of nightmare.
Strangely enough, Willie almost had to the will to laugh. He'd known war wasn't guts and glory when he signed up (something unique from his comrades, he soon found out). He knew the age-old story that had been laid down by anti-war protesters since the war his ancestor had fought in. The young idealist who goes off to war and ends up figuring out it wasn't all romance. He'd known it before he signed up. He'd even agreed with it at one point.
He wished now that he still had before he signed up.
He was eighteen. He didn't want to see trenches, he didn't want to see people die and (when he was truly honest with himself) he didn't want to kill people. He wanted a home, a family, an education. He wanted things to live for. All the war had given him was the opposite. Things to die for.
And Willie didn't want to die.
Willie shook his head. Be that as it may, it was too late for caterwauling. He was here and he wasn't dying. When the order to move out and make ready for the attack came he'd squared himself, exchanged some words of support with Matt, Doris and the rest of his squad and clung to the hate. He was going to need it.
Willie found himself sitting in mud Next to Matt and Doris. His planet had decided to make things pleasant for him by raining, turning the dirt of the trench to mud and filling it with water and mud. While sitting in it all wasn't the best of ideas, Willie couldn't bear the standing about and waiting for the enemy to come. They'd spent the all of the day before setting mines, improving trenches, setting barbed wire, gun emplacements and shooting stands. When the work was done, Willie had looked about himself. They would make a stand here and by their own hands they'd made sure it would be one hell of a stand.
And then it started raining. Rain had a habit of getting into everything. Rifles, equipment, dirt. It made keeping clean harder than ever and staying warm and dry well nigh impossible. Willie had read that those were conditions of trenches.
Another thing he found pretty funny. In close to six hundred years of war, it hadn't changed much at all.
But the waiting was terrible. It put Willie in mind of plays he used to be a part of when he was in grade four. Shakespeare plays. Less than five minute scenes, but just the waiting before going on was terrible. Would he mess up his lines? Would he freeze up at the first sight of all those people?
This was more or less the same. Would he aim right? Would he freeze up in a fight and leave his friends to do the fighting? Would he let his heart have it's way and bolt as far away from here as possible?
Would he be able to kill?
He thought about that last one. Killing. Taking another life. Willie wasn't worried about killing another human being, the utter devastation he'd seen Octivus Prime suffer by the hands of the Empire had convinced him that they weren't human beings. But one was taught that killing, human or no, was wrong. Stark out wrong. Willie found himself tossing the age old question in his mind: why, when a man killed another anywhere but in war it was called murder, but when in combat it was called doing one's duty?
He'd been doing a lot of thinking lately.
He was about to start a conversation about such to Matt when there was a cry down the line. At first Willie couldn't make much of it, but as it made it's way down the line, it got clearer.
''STORM DOWN THE MIDDLE!''
Willie scrambled to his feet and watched the entire line do the same. Sergeant Johnson was in the back barking out orders (or insults?), though he barely heard them. He watched as Matt put his S2 sniper rifle on the high edge of the trench and take aim. Willie was left wishing he'd applied for Squad Sniper. His assault rifle was barely enough for the thirty yards in front of him, let alone the three hundred Matt's sniper had. He watched intently as Moloney steadied himself, then took a shot, one of many that rang out down the line. Again, Willie was left wishing he had one. At least he'd be able to do something...anything...
But then he saw them. White shapes through the rainy fog. The pitter of rain, previously only broken by the crackle of sniper fire, now held something more. The sound of marching feet.
Many marching feet.
Willie lifted the assault rifle in line with his cheek. The ammo counter still read sixty. Full. Good.
But the marching only got closer.
Then it got faster. Then the white shapes came out of the fog and were visible. Willie opened fire.
Along with the rest of the line. The sound was deafening. The clatter of automatic fire rang out and out again and it became so loud Willie couldn't even hold his eyes open at one point. He just fired forward and hoped he hit something. Deep thuds sounded as they reached the minefield. He was confident they were going to win now. Who could stand up against all that pepper being thrown at them?
But then a white form flashed in front of him and he felt a sharp whong on his helmet. He fell back and opening his eyes Willie saw that they'd made the first trench, though the combat that was going on was worse than barbaric.
Gun were left on the ground as each man fought (though it was more like grappled) with his bare hands, though some Marines had combat knives out. Willie recoiled as one Marine slashed at the throat of a Storm, at the flexible black fabric that held the white armor together. He flinched as he saw the Marine (he knew later was Patty O'Mally) stab the Storm bringing out a new gout of blood with each killing maneuver. Willie crawled on his hands through the mud as he started to shake violently again. He didn't want to fight. He didn't want to be apart of the chaotic melee that was driving men (boys, really) that he'd known as children to be peaceful creatures mad with a killing hate. They grappled, they strangled, they punched, kicked, shoved they did whatever they had to. They forgot their humanity to fight.
Willie wanted none of it, as the shakes became worse. He crawled in between fights into a niche, where he found Doris. Doris, who had always joked about being the toughest woman in New Sydney was now curled into a ball shaking worse than he was. Her eyes were blank. She'd never been especially attractive, but her features had always been strong. That strength was gone now. Gone in a wash of fear that had come with the melee.
It galled Willie to see someone so high sink so low. To think that fear could bring someone like Doris to huddle in a ball...
If she heard him, she didn't respond.
''Doris, dammit get up!'' Doris stayed as motionless as before (if one didn't count the shaking). ''Doris, you said you'd kill at least ten before you went. Come On! GET UP!'' He shouted that last. He didn't really know why he was so angry, but he found himself finding his hate. Not for Doris. Not for anything in particular. Just a hate that needed to kill something. Something...white.
''GODDAMMIT DORIS, GET UP!''
He didn't even wait for a reply. Willie reached into hiss boot for his combat knife, pulled it out and jumped right into the thick of it.
Willie found that there was a kind of ironic peace in the rage. He didn't have to think, he didn't have to consider all the little things (even the bigger things) that had been plaguing him ever since they'd landed on the damn planet. He just knew red and when it was crossed with white, he'd stab and slash until the white was red again. He kept this up for oh, not more than a millennia. Or was it five minutes? He couldn't exactly remember. He, just like everyone else in this god-forsaken trench, was hell-bent on not dying.
Willie had made a point of making that his main goal in life.
He wasn't doing too badly either, until something hard hit him in the head. He managed to get an ''Ow'' in before toppling over into darkness.