Chapter 2

Location: Reach

Timeframe: 1 month previously

“Jamie?”

The voice was cold, like the walls. Everything here was cold. Sterile. Not like home.

“Jamie, you in here? Mendez’ll do his nut if you don’t show up.”

Home. Comfort was there, a family. A life other than this.

“Come on man, I’m not taking the rap for you again.”

What gave them the right; to take everything he held dear, to torture his waking moments and torment his restless nights.

“Boy, if you’re in there you had better get your ugly behind out asap or I’ll make ya run round this god-dam planet three times let alone the track!”

The threats. Never a compliment, never a praise. Not like home.

“Move back cadet.”

They were getting restless. Now they knew his torment as well. Let them suffer as he had since… The time eluded Jamie, how long had he been alone, separated from his parents. Life hurt now, no mother to coddle him, no father to play with.

Hurried feet, sudden hammerings, man on wood, they were coming; the cowards who took children from the cradle. The door was splintering, fractures running along the grain; not long now.

“Trainee, this is your last chance. Come out. Or I’m gonna huff, and I’m gonna puff and I will blow your ass into orbit.”

Humour. Refuse of the weak in times of desperation. Why did they bother, better they come and get him.

“Sir, please, maybe I can talk him out.”

A friends wish, protect that which he holds dear. Or needs, to stay strong, to stay sane.

“You had your chance Riley.”

Coldness again, the voice and the walls, one grows with impatience, the other shrinks with each passing moment. And now something else. The cold steel, smooth shaft, delicate weight. This is hope, in every one of the twelve rounds. The safety is flicked off; the hammering on the door subsides. The revelation is heard by all present; death is waiting in the hand of the executioner and victim.

“Son, listen to me,”

And so the pleading begins, the begging; if only to save their own worthless hides. Man, in all his despicable glory, reduced to his knee’s for one’s own salvation.

“Please, just come out. We can talk about this. Don’t do anything stupid.”

Oh no, Jamie wouldn’t want to appear foolish, make sure a round is chambered, safety off, wouldn’t want to make a mistake. Not this late in the game. The door to the supply room is silent, its pain evident from the beatings. No doubt the fate Jamie would endure should he subside.

Home. A lone tear snakes down Jamie’s cheek, its path long and arduous to the tiny droplet. The pistol glints in the light cast from the solitary bulb. The beatings, they start again, but the door holds, a metal rack bracing it against the rallies of a furious man, one who calls himself a teacher, a father. The cold concrete walls press in on Jamie, the room littered with equipment, tools. But no hope. Only the gun and its twelve shining bullets can offer that. The door splits, light begins to slip through, but the barricade holds.

“Pass it here,” the false father orders outside, but it is not Jamie he is talking to. He alone understands the mindset of a child resigned to death. Fumbling outside, resistance, then the sharp snap of a pin removed from its hole. Jamie stands, the gun clasped in his steady hand by his side. A foot, a blur of motion, the door groans under the force, wood splinters, then shatters inwards. Jamie slowly raises his weapon, arms never faulting, gaze fixed upon the puncture in the wood. Another blast of motion, an object hurled into Jamie’s confined world, and then the realisation slips in, too quickly for a reaction, not enough time to put the gun against his skull let alone pull the trigger.

The small canister, rolled, knocked against the opposite wall and came to a rest. It’s contents rushed out, filling the room with a suffocating fog in seconds. Jamie felt his eyes roll, the weapon fall from his loose grip. Falling to his knees he hated every one of them, the god-dam cradle robbers. The…

Darkness came. But Jamie’s father was not there to protect him from the monsters under the bed. He was still at home.

Home.

-

“Hit him.”

Pain. Bastards. Home.

“Again!”

Jamie let his head roll from the impact against his jaw. His mind felt like it was running full pelt through treacle. Thoughts flickered through his mind, images timed between the poundings of the men around him. His eyes hurt, his nose felt off centre and blood flowed freely from his mouth. They had gone to work on him. And then some.

“Stop, let him breathe, let him savour every moment.”

The voice, it wasn’t Mendez, wasn’t anyone Jamie recognised.

“Take him back, let him rot with the rats for a while.”

Strong arms, unbelievable pain and Jamie was floating, his mind swimming in endorphins, barely conscious of the path his feet followed as he was dragged. It was cold, so very cold. But a new cold, the void left behind when something is ripped from its roots. A child from its home. A soul from its body. Scraping, metal on rough stone, then flesh on stone. Jamie rolled over as he was violently thrown into a cell. He didn’t move, not for a long time, he just lay upon the cold ground and thought of blissful oblivion. And just how far away he was. Could he just will his body to die, here, right now in this dank room so far from home.

The light through the small window waned and died, the sounds of unaffected routine echoed through the concrete, yet Jamie still lay where he had been thrown. Voices, new sounds, from outside. Jamie’s ears pricked at the slightest deviation, his eyes hurt to open, his left eye no more than a bruise. Rustling, a pant of exertion, then speech. A familiar voice in this claustrophobic prison.

“Jamie, wake up.”

Sam, the voice of his friend, possibly only friend. Maybe not even a friend any more. Jamie lifted a single finger on his outstretched right arm, it was a tiny movement, but Sam saw it for what it was.

“What the hell happened man, Mendez was screwing at us earlier. Made us all swim the Big Horn, my arms are still aching.”

Jamie grinned lightly, the false father was angry, lasing out at his children. Good, maybe he would learn the pain not of battle wounds, but emotional scarring.

“John had to stop Kelly earlier, said she wanted to ‘tear your fucking heart out’”.

Jamie laughed at his friend’s humour, then felt the spears in his chest, the ribs broken out of place. His amusement turned into a grimace.

“What the hell did you do?” Sam asked again, his concern obvious. “Riley’s holed up somewhere too, chief said he ain’t been debriefed yet, but we all know that’s bull. Mendez just don’t want him talking.”

The false father, locking the children in their bedrooms for playing too loud. Bastard.

Jamie picked himself up off the ground, his arms barely pained him, only his chest and head ached. Even now they throbbed dully. The world spun as he laid a hand upon the stone walls.

Outside Sam swore silently, “Patrols comin’ Jim, I gotta go. I’ll come back later.”

“Sam.”

The boy froze upon hearing his name and looked back inside.

“Don’t come back.”

Before he could reply Sam had dropped to the ground and dodged the wavering lights of the two guards.

Eventually Jamie felt the darkness sneak into his mind like a well trained infiltrator, but he had no energy left to fight it. This time sleep came peacefully, but upon a troubled mind.

-

The blast made every nerve fire continuously, every aching muscle to spasm and the mind to confront the brutal reality. Jamie picked himself up of the floor, his clothes drenched in the ice water that had been hurled at him. A guard stood in the doorway, silhouetted by the dim lights of the corridor behind. He wore a sadistic grin to match the mp band on his arm.

“Time to rise and shine.”

Jamie ran his tongue over bleeding gums, pooling the congealed blood in his mouth. Sucking back he spat over the guards shoes, ruining his immaculately polished finish.

“You little… oh you are gonna pay for that.”

Stepping forwards he planted a solid boot in Jamie’s chest, bruising still broken ribs. Rolling onto his other side, Jamie clutched at his abdomen and violently relieved his stomach of any contents it might have had. His throat burned terribly and he fell back against the rough floor coughing.

“Not so tough now are ya.”

He grinned manically, as if conquering a crippled child was an accomplishment.

“The Commander wants to see you so get up before I make you.”

“Do your worst.”

The words hurt to speak, but they were the only act of defiance Jamie could muster without risking extra injuries.

“Stand. Now!”

Nothing. Jamie would not justify the order with a retort. Let the guard build up his anger, maybe he would do what was necessary. But no. Grabbing Jamie by the neck he dragged him bodily from the room, swinging him into the walls at each turn. But Jamie lay there, oblivious to his contorted journey, and this only increased the pace at which the guard moved.

All too soon the ride was at an end. The burly guard was panting lightly, his brow slick with sweat. Knocking on the door he waited for a response before proceeding with his charge. Hastily moving Jamie to a seat he saluted and left, closing the door behind him.

“Tell me boy, what makes you think you’re any different to the other trainees here?”

Jamie let his head loll back on the chair, eyes closed in peace or pain the General couldn’t tell. But he wasn’t accustomed to being ignored, the slap he laid across the child’s cheek evidence of his impatience.

“Well?”

“There’s nothing you can say or do that will make me change my mind.”

Jamie knew the reply was childish, almost cliché, but he was enjoying this, the way a lunatic might look death in the face and laugh. Jamie began to grin, a manic sign of desperation and acceptance.

“Stop your grinning boy.”

Another slap; bigger grin.

“What the hell are you trying to achieve? What the fuck are you grinning for!”

Now the General stood over him, his face twisted with rage and arrogance.

“Peace.”

The word was whispered softly, ever so softly, as if the breath alone could blow it away like sand in the wind.

“There ain’t no such thing ’round here. You’re in the army in case Doctor Halsey and your trainers didn’t make it clear. You are gonna train in this here army, you are gonna fight for this army and by God you will die in this army. By the enemy’s hands or ours, it makes no difference to me.”

“I’ll take whichever one comes first.”

“There isn’t any hope for you is there boy.”

“You took that from me a long time ago.”

“We took it because you were weak; you have to earn things like that. You’re pathetic and only when you prove us wrong can you be afforded such privileges.”

“Quit your whining.”

The General stuttered, his face paling at such a blatant case of disobedience.

“Now you listen here boy.”

“Your threats are empty. Do as you promised or let the enemy take me. Either way fucking kill me before I have to listen to you ramble on and on!”

Jamie felt his chest roar with his words, blood collecting at the back of his throat. Why couldn’t they just kill him. Letting his head fall into his hands he felt his eyes well up. Not now, he couldn’t appear weak. It was too far gone, no longer an option. He had to face death like his father would.

“Very well. Sergeant.”

The soldier from before re-entered, sneering down at the child as he stood to attention.

“I want you to prep a pelican immediately and order the other trainees to assemble in the courtyard by 2100 hours.”

“Sir. Yes Sir.”

“Thank you Sergeant. That will be all.”

“Sir.”

Snapping off a final salute the soldier moved to the door in two quick strides and was gone.

“You’re going to die trainee, I’ll grant you that. But your death will at least serve a purpose.”

The General sat back in his high chair to allow Jamie to contemplate his ambiguous remark.

“You will be dropped at a random location in the vicinity of this base. You will carry only what you wear now, nothing more.”

The words hit Jamie like the bullets from the pistol he could of, should of, fired earlier.

“Your ex-teammates will be dropped nearby shortly thereafter. Their orders; search and destroy. I imagine you can guess their target.”

“And my target?”

Jamie felt a lump rise in his throat, why now, when death was assured, did he feel fear.

“Apart from survival? Well, lets see.”

The General swung side to side in his chair, obviously pleased at Jamie showing traces of fear.

“I’ll tell you what recruit, if you can get back to this office I will personally sign the release papers for you and order a ride back to your home world. How does that sound?”

“Home.”

It wasn’t a question, Jamie’s mind raced to comprehend what success could mean. He had found hope outside of death. Home. Hope.

“And naturally to be certain you get your wish I’ll triple all patrols and put the base on high alert. No reason everyone can’t benefit from your death.”

“Bullshit.”

The General narrowed his eyes at the expletive, his patience waning.

“There’s no way you’d release me, you couldn’t.”

“I assure you, I don’t think you’ll even make it to the drop zone, but if you do by some miracle find your way back here I will let you go. As long as once you’re out you never mention your time here. If the UNSC ever hears a single rumour we will eliminate you and anyone you’ve ever talked to or even glanced at. Do I make myself clear?”

“Crystal.”

“Now I said you couldn’t take anything, but there’s no fun in hunting limp prey. Report to the medical office before going to the pelican hangers. Can I trust you to do that?”

“As much as I can trust you.”

“Very well then, you have until 2000 hours to prepare. Time is ticking young martyr, make your death useful.”

-

Hope. How long had he been living without it. And now, when the figurative carrot was dangling in front of him, what did he have to do. Evade his enforced family, slip into a military base on high alert and then hope a man kept his word. Hope.

Jamie sat on a sterile bed within the medical bay of the base, his mind too occupied to really care what was happening around him. A guard stood beside the door, merely a precaution. Pointless at best. He probably couldn’t even raise his rifle in time should Jamie attack.

A medic worked quickly; there wasn’t much he could do. Bruising to the face and chest, fractured ribs, possible concussion. Carefully wrapping field bandages around the boys stomach he spoke to the soldier behind him.

“Please go to the supply room down the corridor and get me some more bandages private.”

“Sir, I was ordered to not let the trainee out of my sight, the commander’ll have my ass if I do.”

“This boy has suffered major internal trauma, he will hardly be able to stand, let alone fight. Now, the bandages if you please.”

With a last, begrudging look the soldier quick-marched out of the room, leaving Jamie alone with his doctor. He sat there, hands cuffed together while the medic moved to a cupboard.

“And why exactly did you send that soldier to get more bandages? I’m sure there are plenty left.”

“Silence Dejá.”

“Perhaps, Doctor, you wished to be alone with your charge.”

“I said enough Dejá, you try my patience.”

“And I should report you now.”

“For what, trying to ensure we do not run out of necessary equipment.”

“What is that Doctor.”

Jamie watched the interplay between his healer and the base’s AI. His suspicions were aroused, why had the doctor wanted to be alone with him.

“If you’re doing what I think you’re doing, then you will want to include a stimulant.”

“AI’s don’t think Dejá, and I am not finished yet.”

“Our friendly guard is making his return trip now Doctor, just thought you would like to know.”

“How knowledgeable of you Dejá, could you possibly be so kind as to err…”

“Delay him Doctor. Done. You have five minutes.”

“Very good. Now then.”

Jamie moved back on the cold metal table as the Doctor turned to face him, carrying an assortment of bottles and needles. He glanced quickly at his patient, then set to work. Within two minutes he had filled three of the injectors with a concoction of different liquids. Quickly slipping caps over the end of the sharp needles he grabbed a thick piece of gauze and carefully wrapped it around the needles. Jamie just sat, wondering what the hell this man was doing.

“Time Dejá?” he asked as he used medical tape to secure his little package.

“You still have over 2 minutes guaranteed Doctor.”

“Ok then,” he said at last, turning to face Jamie better, “arms up.”

Moving forwards the old man lifted Jamie’s left arm and slid the package between the bandages on his side, it only appeared as a small bump and would not be noticed by anyone, and even if they did it could be passed of as a piece of gauze to stench a flow of blood.

“Listen to me son,” he began very quietly, leaning forwards next to Jamie, “I have just given you three auto-injectors. Each contains a mixture of painkillers, stimulants and other assorted drugs. Place it next to the skin on your forearm and click the end, the needle will do the rest. They will give you a boost and should stave of exhaustion.”

“Why… why are you” Jamie began, but the Doctor cut him off.

“No time for explanations. The effects take less than five minutes to take hold, but do not use them within a space of thirty minutes or you’ll overdose. This is my security pass, it can get you into every room in this base save a few. I’m not going to use mine tonight so don’t worry about double-entry problems.”

The Doctor slipped the plastic card into the bandages next to the needles. He stood up straight, looked over to the cupboards he had raided before and seemed to come to a decision. Quickly moving towards them he turned his back to Jamie. Within sixty seconds he returned and carried a rack of small vials in his hands. Reaching for a strip of bandage, he began to secure each vial to it using tape, similar to a bandolier. Finally he secured it around Jamie’s stomach. He still looked like he had doubts in his mind about doing this.

“Each of those vials contains enough tranquilisers to knock out a grown man before he has time to even shout. I thought it would be better if I was treating sleeping men than dead men.”

“You think I’ll actually make it?” Jamie asked, bewildered at this mans faith in him.

“I will not give you false hope child. I’ve spent over twenty years in the army and I’ve seen too many brave men die because of it. No, I’m just giving you a better shot.”

“Doctor,” Dejá’s voice piped in, “time’s nearly up.”

“Thank you, Dejá.”

“Thank you Doctor,” Jamie said as he felt along the bandages around his body.

“No need son, just remember, never give up.”

“I won’t.”

As the doors to the infirmary slid open Jamie hopped down off the bed and walked towards the approaching soldier.

“You’re supplies Sir,” he stated, trying to keep the frustration out of his voice.

“Oh yes, just put them on the bed Private, I can sort them out in a minute.”

“Sir,” the guard replied, relieving himself of the weight, then escorting Jamie out of the room.

Turning to face the empty walls of the bay the Doctor let out a slow sigh, ashamed at what his fellow men could do to such young children.

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