Chapter 4: The Wrong Decisions
|1200 Hours, March 25, 2487 (Earth-standard Calendar), underground building cluster, Asphodel City, planet Eridanus II, Eridanus System
"These Marines are starting to get on my nerves," Barrie said. "I'll make sure each and every one of them dies a slow and painful death if they so much as touch the Sanctuary."
Felix was worried. The Commander seemed to have become more irritable since they left the outskirts three years ago. He was adopting Watts' ideas, and more disconcerting, his tactics. He had difficulties walking since his injury in the medical facility, which gave him an air of ire. His authority over the former civilians of the Sanctuary had loosened as well. When he kept a low profile, some had opted to blend into the city. In contrast, he gathered many URF soldiers around Eridanus II, and his plans racked up more casualties on both sides in the first three month alone than in his entire career.
"I'm surprised they haven't burned it to the ground," Watts said.
"The UNSC obviously don't respond well to my lenience," Barrie continued, ignoring him. "So let's teach them a lesson they won't soon forget." Turning to the map screen, he said, "I got some of my men to set up a camp here, north of Asphodel. We'll get their attention, close them off, and then take them out."
"Sir, that won't accomplish anything," Felix said. "It'll just piss them off—"
"Shut up," Watts cut in. "Your commander's right, we need to show them what we're made of. So, what's the trap?"
There was a glint in Barrie's eyes. "You."
"What?" the Lieutenant Colonel said, confused.
"You're going to pretend you've been captured, and just escaped. Your Marines will come running at that."
"They're not my—"
"You will be escorted there," the Commander said, as two soldiers walked up to them. "Then we need to make this convincing. Boys, feel free to give Robert a beating. We can't have this look suspicious."
The former Marine officer began to stutter, but Barrie said, "It's all for our cause, Colonel. I'm sure you understand." He watched, emotionless, as Watts was taken out of the room.
"Sergeant, I assume you know what to do," said Rawley.
"Yes sir," replied Gunnery Sergeant Justin Roberg. "I'm just waiting for my replacements to arrive, and we'll be good to go. They should be here soon."
"Step on it," the officer replied. "If I'm right, then there's a chance you'll be coming back with Lieutenant Colonel Watts."
Roberg looked at the survivors in his squad. He had lost four Marines in the last skirmish, which had been a drop in the ocean compared to the total casualties the entire battalion had taken in the five years they were here. Things were getting nasty, and he didn't know how much longer they were going to cover up the open hostility that lingered in the air.
A quartet of Marines approached them, escorted by Corporal Ramsey, who Roberg had sent to fetch the replacements. "Here are the new guys, Gunny."
The Sergeant looked them over. They were young, mostly still in their late teens. One of them was female, and she looked a little nervous. He wasn't sure they would be suitable for the mission at hand. But he trusted Rawley knew what he was doing.
"Welcome to the team, boys and girls," Roberg said. "Names and ranks, if you please."
"Private Rob O'Donovan, sir!"
"Private Mikhail Miranov, sir!"
"Private Jess Morley, sir!"
"Private Owen Mackinley, sir!"
Good. They were attentive and disciplined. It would make the op a lot easier.
"You kids ever been in a firefight before?"
"Sir, no sir!"
"Well," Roberg said, watching as a Pelican landed at their pad and opened its hatch, "Get yourselves ready. You will, soon enough."
Private Jess Morley shook her head to clear the feeling of anxiety that held onto her. Relax, she thought. You've trained for this. But training was not the same as real combat, especially when you were killing other humans. She began to fidget with her Assault Rifle so she would have something to keep her mind off her apprehension. What would it be like, fighting to survive? To kill or be killed...
Jess accidentally thumbed the magazine release button, and her ammo clip fell onto the floor of the Pelican with a clatter. Sergeant Roberg, who was sitting next to her, picked it up and handed it back. He gave a slight smile. "Ease up, soldier."
"Sir...we're going to be alright, aren't we?"
"Course. These Innies are a pushover. Just follow my lead, you've got fellow Marines watching your back. This won't take too long." He stood up, and said, "Alright everyone, listen up. The pilot's going to drop us off north of Asphodel. Warson's intercepted a few transmissions, turns out the enemy's got Lieutenant Colonel Watts in a camp near the city. We'll press in with stealth, and locate him. Once we have him, we'll get out and meet the dropship south of the city. There's a lot at stake, so we can't afford to make any mistakes."
Jess couldn't help but notice that her first mission was very high-risk. Usually anyone fresh out of training wouldn't be assigned to this kind of stuff, but according to the DI, she and her friends were quick-thinking and used good judgement. Rawley had been very impressed with their CSVs, and assigned them as replacements.
All that's left to get is experience, thought Jess. It was something to be gained, not learned. She checked her rifle one more time. And we all have to get it the hard way.
"The Marines have taken the bait," one of the rebels reported. "They're headed for the camp now, sir."
"Good," Barrie said. "We'll watch them fall into the trap. Then I'm going to pay them a little visit."
Felix hoped he wouldn't be asked to come along. He was finding it more and more uncomfortable to be in the Commander's presence over the last three years. He already knew that the plan, which was most likely to succeed, wouldn't do any good to either them or the UNSC. Whether he was aware of it or not, the rebel leader was slowly moving further from his goals of peace with Imperial Earth. Everything had been falling apart, and it was likely to get worse.
"Okay, looks tough," a Marine said, ducking back under the rock cluster they were hiding at. "How are we going to do this?"
"Watts should be inside one of those tents," Roberg said, showing them a map. "We'll split into teams, and search the entire cluster. It doesn't look like the URF have a main force here, so by the time they bring reinforcements from wherever they are, we'll be out of here. We'll hit them hard, take them by surprise, get the Colonel, and get out." The Sergeant assigned the squad into teams, and indicated who was going to cover which area. When they were ready, everyone readied their weapons.
"Grenades, up and over," Roberg whispered. The Marines deployed explosives, and tossed them at the guards at the edge of the camp. The rebels gave yells of surprise but were quickly killed.
"Go, go, go!" the Sergeant ordered. "Fire at will! Farrell, Morley, cover me!"
The rebels heard the commotion, and rushed out with weapons. Jess opened fire, spraying groups of them with 7.62mm bullets. There were a lot of the rebels, but Corporal Ramsey and two other Marines joined the fight from behind them, with more leathernecks providing flanking fire. The Innies were quickly cut down.
"Good work, people, let's move!" Roberg shouted. The Marines immediately dashed into the camp and rushed in and out of the tent. Private Farrell quickly ran back out of one of them. "Not there, sir."
A sharp crack echoed through the camp. A bullet hit O'Donovan in the shoulder, and trail of smoke followed it. "Richardson, take that sniper out!" The sharpshooter moved to avoid a second bullet, took aim, and blew off the enemy marksman's head. The Innie's decapitated body fell from his outpost, and crumpled on the ground.
There were more coming. The Marines ducked behind tents. Bullet-holes began to tear through the fabric. "Mackinley, get over there and patch up O'Donovan." The Private complied, hurriedly helped his friend into cover, and took out his medkit.
Jess spotted an Innie running for Mackinley and O'Donovan, lined up her gun with the rebel's back, and shot him down. She poked her assault rifle around the tent's corner, and blind-fired until her clip was empty. The Private took a quick look to make sure all the enemies were down, reloaded, and said, "It's clear, Sarge."
"Good work, Morley," Roberg said, as they stepped into the tent beside them. "But next time, don't try to blind-fire—" he paused. Tied to a chair, facing downward, was Watts.
"Untie him," he said. Jess quickly moved behind the Lieutenant Colonel and worked at the ropes with her combat knife. "Sir, you're going to be okay. We'll get you out of here."
The officer was a mess. His uniform was tattered, his face was covered in bruises and cuts, and one of his eyes was blackened. He gave a humourless smile. "You came..."
"Yeah," Roberg said. "Christ, sir. How'd they keep you alive for so long?"
The ropes fell away. Watts gave a laugh, and stood up. "It's called...picking the right side." He grabbed Jess' wrist, wrenched the knife out of her grip, and placed the blade at her throat.
"Gunny, rebels coming into the camp!" Ramsey called from outside. "They've got hundreds—"
"You actually fell for it," the Lieutenant Colonel said. Roberg and Farrell were frozen. Rebels rushed into the tent, weapons raised. "Drop your guns." The Sergeant, still looking at his former CO in disbelief, placed his rifle on the ground. But Farrell turned, and raised his instead.
"Do as they say, boy—" Roberg began, but it was too late. The Private was riddled with bullets, jerked, and fell, oozing blood onto the ground. Watts handed Jess over to one of the rebels, and said, "Take them to Gerald. I need to get cleaned up." Spitting blood onto the ground, he left the tent.
The Marines were disarmed and marched into the URF camp, hands behind their heads. Felix stood next to Barrie, watching the ten UNSC troops standing tall, yet obviously defeated. He tried not to look at the gun in the Commander's hand. It was the pistol he had been shot with in the medical facility in the Sanctuary. He had carried it with him since he obtained his spinal injury, and sometimes gazed at it with an expression of hatred. It was unnerving.
"So few of you!" Barrie said, a chuckle entering his voice. "What did you think you could do against us?"
He went to the man standing tallest, the one wearing a Sergeant's cap. "Did you really think your Colonel was still on your side?"
The Marine glared at him.
"What is your name?" The Commander asked.
"Gunnery Sergeant Justin Roberg. 09175-25692-JR."
"Do you know what this pistol means to me?" Barrie asked, pulling out his gun. Roberg didn't answer, but merely glared at him. The Innie leader gave a nasty smile, then shot the man in the head. Felix couldn't help but flinch. The Sergeant dropped, blood spraying from his forehead.
There was a sharp intake of breath from the end of the line, and Felix looked to see. A young private at the end of the Marine line had momentarily lost her composure.
Barrie moved to the second soldier in line. He raised his pistol.
"To me, this is a symbol of revenge, you see."
"I'll give you fucking revenge!" The Marine leaped towards him. Two bodyguards immediately beat him down with their rifles. The Commander reached down and turned him on his back.
"Try again," the Innie leader said, a cruel smile on his face.
"Burn in hell," the Marine snarled, blood flowing from his mouth and nose. He moved to stand up, but Barrie aimed his weapon at the soldier's face and pulled the trigger. Stepping over the body casually, he looked to the third. "Your friends are very quiet. If you don’t answer me, I’ll make sure they stay that way." Without waiting for an answer, he shot the Marine.
"Sir?" Felix said quizzically. "Perhaps we should interrogate them. Or at least keep them captured." Gerald Barrie didn't randomly murder people. Then again, he hadn't seen him do so yet since they left the Sanctuary.
The Innie leader turned and smiled at Felix. He went to stand beside the next Marine and put his pistol to the Corporal's temple. The man just glared.
"How many do you think I can kill with one shot, Felix?" Barrie asked casually.
He fired. The bullet flew out of the soldier's head and killed a second. The Commander wiped the blood spray off his hand.
The executions went on. Felix wanted to squeeze his eyes shut and cover his ears, but could only stand there.
Barrie placed the firearm against the penultimate Marine's head.
"Sir, we can’t do this!" Felix cried out, unable to take it anymore.
"Why?" The Commander said, grinning at the young rebel.
"This isn’t accomplishing anything. We should ask them questions."
The URF leader stroked his chin stubble. "Yes, perhaps this is true. You are willing to get the information I want by any means necessary?"
Felix nodded stiffly. "I am." He had a feeling he wouldn't like it, but the alternative was letting the Marines die.
Barrie shot the soldier. Only the female Private was left.
"There. I've had my fun," the Commander said. He grabbed the Marine by the scruff of the neck and dragged her over to Felix. He dropped her and leaned in to Felix, his grin still in place.
"Now, you get to have your fun with her," he said, leering. "And once you’ve gotten what...I want, and you’ve gotten what you want, kill her."
The Private glared up at Barrie, but said nothing. The young Innie felt sick. He could only nod numbly. The images of the Marines falling one by one were still printed into his retinas. "Into the tent, now."
"Just remember," the Commander said in a whisper. "Who it was that killed your family at the Sanctuary."
Felix throat clenched. He pulled the Private into the tent.
She walked in to the tent and stood in the center. He looked into her eyes for the first time. The Marine's eyes were a light gray color, giving them a deep but attentive look that seemed to be rare even in soldiers. She had blonde hair, but the look was no less diminished despite the military regulation length. She was taller than him by several inches, and her build was slender but not overly thin. She had to be somewhere around 18 or 19. For a moment Felix could only stare at her.
"I don't care what you do to me, I won't say anything. Kill me if you want."
Felix closed the tent flap and turned to her. He took a knife off a nearby table and walked up to her. She reflexively took a step back. The blade looked mean. On one edge it was razor sharp and the other side was serrated.
"Don't move," he said, darting forward and wrapping an arm around her waist. She grunted, trying to push him off. He took a step back and she raised her fists, and then paused. The ropes fell to the floor of the tent. The Private gave him a surprised look.
Felix pressed a finger to his lips. "Be silent." He said, and went to the back of the tent. He stuck his knife in it and pulled, cutting a wide tear down the center of the canvas.
"Come on." He beckoned, peeking out. "It may not be long before they check."
The Private complied. "Why are you doing this?" She hissed under her breath as they stepped back out in to the cool evening air.
"Commander Barrie is not the man I used to know." Felix responded. "He's...changed."
"Don't we all, Felix?"
Felix whirled, placing himself in between Jess and the voice. The Commander stood, flanked by two of his bodyguards. Felix still had the rebel leader' pistol out, which he held just behind his back so they wouldn't notice. His knife glinted in the setting sun.
The young rebel’s eyes roved over the guards. They cradled their MA2s in their arms, but didn't aim them. He'd have time...
"I've done so much for you, Felix," Barrie said in a menacing voice. "I never thought you'd turn your back on us. Now I know I never should have."
"What about everything you worked for?" he shouted. "You used to hold values for your cause. Now you've become a heartless...!" He waited to raise the gun and fire, but couldn't. The thought of murdering was too much, and he was frozen.
"Sacrifices have been made," the Commander said. "It was for the best."
The young Innie felt Jess' fingers prying at the pistol. He let go slowly. "It was Watts," he said. "He's changed you." He quickly stepped aside, and the Marine raised the sidearm, aimed, and fired.
Her first round caught the left bodyguard between the eyes, dropping him instantaneously. Her next round went a bit wide, simply grazing the other bodyguard's shoulder. This did, however, cause the gunman to flinch and slowed his reaction.
Barrie moved for the dead bodyguard's rifle, but Felix knocked him down, hardly knowing what he was doing.
There was a single shot, and Felix looked over to see Jess rising from the second guard's body, holding the assault rifle in a perfect position. She settled the sight on Barrie.
"No!" Felix shouted, and she flinched.
"Why not?" she asked, not taking her eyes off the Commander. Felix understood what was going through her mind. He was asking her not to kill the one man who'd just put bullets into the heads of her entire squadron.
"He's...a good man. Just confused." Felix pleaded. "I wouldn't be alive if it weren't for him."
The Private glared at him. "Good God, you do like saving people, don't you?"
He rose and turned on the sidearm's safety. The Private shrugged, clapped Barrie on the temple, knocking him out. She stood up and grabbed the other rifle and their ammo.
"You saved my life, so I'll grant you that wish. You're going to have to come with me." She said, handing the other assault rifle to Felix, as well as a belt of ammunition and Barrie's pistol ammo. "But we don't want him following us, do we?"
Felix nodded. "Do you have a way out for us?"
Her face darkened. "Sergeant Roberg said there'd be an extraction vehicle south of the city when we were done. It's about a day's walk from here. Three if we want to avoid detection. I suggest we head there."
The young rebel hardly heard her. He was now staring at the bodyguards lying on the ground, and swallowed a lump in his throat. "What was your mission?"
"Rescue our CO." She grunted. "Doesn't look like that's going to happen now, does it? Turns out he was a traitor..." She began marching off.
Felix nodded again, forcing himself to look away from the bodies, and followed her, careful to avoid the other rebels.
"What's your name?" the Marine asked.
"Felix Martel." Was all he could manage.
"Private Jess Morley, UNSC Marine Corps." She responded, not looking back.
Jess, Felix thought. That's a nice name.