In Now For The Kill
“You’re a prisoner of the dark sky
The propeller blades are still
And the evil eye of the hurricane is
Coming in now for the kill."
Mike Oldfield, “Five Miles Out”
“So… now what happens?”
Trust Sully to be the one asking the one question no wants an answer to. And now it’s hanging in the stale air between them, all the way from the transport that got them back to nearest UNSC base to the receiving area where they’re released to their next of kin.
Just like that. Sure, there was some processing as could be expected from the UNSC for the sole three survivors of the massacre on Circinius IV but almost too soon, they’re inside a meeting room of some sorts and a guy in civilian clothes looking vaguely like an older version of Sully engulfing the actual Sully in a bear hug. He’s pretty sure he just heard Sully gasp for air.
There’s also a young woman, maybe the age Cadmon would be now, as dark as Orenski and he realizes that this must be her sister, the one everyone in Cadmon’s class used to be terrified of. There’s nothing terrifying about her now as she clasps Orenski’s arm and hurls her into her arms, with something akin to a sob.
And there’s Colonel Marianne Lasky. No hugs, no sobs, no declarations of motherly love, no surprise whatsoever there. He’s pretty sure her only reaction to Cadmon’s death was a shrug and awriting down her speech to him, taking care not to show anything related to grief or, Heaven forbid, love.
As for him now, there’s an assessing glance, a once over of his clean, bruised face. He almost suspects that she can see through layers of uniform and wet suit, detecting all the raw and blistered skin the last cryosleep episode left him with. She nods.
“You have been debriefed, Thomas?” He forces himself to ignore the Sullivans and the Orenskis and all that overflowing joy at being reunited at last.
“Yes, sir.” Another measuring gaze.
“I trust you had an extensive OPSEC briefing?” She means all of them and from the corner of his eyes, he can see Orenski gearing up to make the first grave mistake she properly ever made.
He decides to save her. “Yes, sir.”
The Colonel nods again, signaling the Sullivans and Orenskis without even looking at them. “Report for conclusive combat readiness examination and new duty station assignment at 0800 tomorrow. You are dismissed.”
There’s a faint chorus of “yes, sir”s and he thinks he never hated the Colonel more than right now. Traumatized kids that were just reunited with loving relatives and all she tells them is that they’re gonna be reassigned as soon as possible. Screw her.
“Thomas, you’re going to stay here for the duration. I will accompany you to the quarters assigned to you and we will reevaluate your career options in the course of next week.” Reevaluating his career options, his ass.
He almost makes the mistake of voicing that out loud but in a small miracle all that comes out of his mouth is another pathetic, “Yes, sir.”
Not wasting any more time, the Colonel takes the lead. He follows, feeling oddly like he’s twelve again and she just caught him making a fool of himself by parodying various UN officials in front of his friends. He can’t believe he lets her make him feel like he needs to be punished instead of comforted, reassured, celebrated, dammit.
It’s been a long war. Your mother’s holding a lot of hands.
Just once, couldn’t she hold his?
His eyes are burning holes in her ramrod straight back – he wishes – as she stops shortly to talk to one of her subordinates. Mehaffey was one of them once, he can’t help thinking, don’t you grieve? If not for all the children, all the people slaughtered, then at least for a friend?
It’s festering, all that, deep inside of him. There’s still a rational part in his head that knows what he’s doing isn’t healthy. It has Chyler’s voice as she says, “Why are you still doing this to yourself?” and looks as impassionate as the Master Chief killing aliens. Something’s really, really wrong with him.
The pictures of bodies too young to be dead in tattered black and white uniforms, lying next to each other appearing on the screens along the walls of the corridor really aren’t helping at all.
Oh God, there’s Iwamoto from Antonius Squad, half of his left arm missing and Marshing from sophomore year, looking ten years younger without her perpetual frown and Dimah, oh God, oh God, Dimah…
“Thomas?” There’s Vickers, why is there Vickers? “Cadet Lasky!” Shit.
“I apologize, sir.” The Colonel throws him a look that tells him she suspects there’s something wrong with him as well and that doesn’t have anything to do with the blisters on his back.
“Apology accepted, Cadet.” Huh. She doesn’t look convinced but that doesn’t stop her from starting to march again and he hastens to follow her.
Corridor after corridor and in the rhythm of their steps, he finds temporary solace. Taking care to stay in step with her gives him a welcome distraction from all the destruction on Circinius IV. There’s no conversation, either and he’s grateful for that. It absolves him of thinking even further. It rescues him from the relentless “So… now what happens?” bouncing around his head, from aliens to robot super soldiers, from children’s bodies to blisters on his back…
“Your new quarters, Thomas.” He blinks. How embarrassing that he nearly ran into her from behind. How fortunate that he’s just too damn tired to have any energy left to be able to make any other face than impassive.
“Thank you, sir.” She nods, keyes in a sequence that he just can’t bother to remember now and the door opens. Not a glass door, like back at the Academy and he already knows that he’ll feel as he were lying in a coffin as soon as it closes behind him. It’s painfully appropriate.
He steps inside, determined to make the best of it. At least he doesn’t have to share the room with anyone else. “Thomas?” What, he wants to ask and whirl around to stare her down but all he does is throw a look over his shoulder, so he doesn’t have to look her directly in the face as she says, “Welcome… home.”
Home. Home is somewhere entirely else.
There’s a moment where he wants to tell her that, wants to tell her home was were Cadmon was or his friends or Chyler but he just… doesn’t have the strength anymore. So he just nods and the door closes behind him, leaving him in the dark. He doesn’t bother with a command for light, simply stumbles to the bed.
He all but collapses, combat boots and all and he turns on his back, seeing FORWARD UNTO DAWN etched into the ceiling over his head where there is just black, smooth nothingness. He hears a knock on the wall next to him, twice and when he realizes that is was his hand that knocked and that there’s only silence as an answer, he turns on his side, curls up and surrenders to the tidal wave inside of him.
She’s gone, they’re all gone and there’s just black nothingness and blinding whiteness, all rolled into one and making him suffer, suffer and sob and scream his heart out and whimper when it’s all too much and the sobs just won’t stop.
And round and round and round the question goes in his head.
So… now what happens?
It’s always there, all through the painful journey through his own grief and misery and fear and trauma. Going round and round and round.
So… now what happens?
It accompanies him, through the night and the sobbing just won’t stop and it’s just always there. Going round and round and round.
So… now what happens?
It takes him half an eternity to get enough space between sobs to be able to breathe and when he does for the first time, ragged and with physical pain that has nothing to do with the allergy, he makes a decision. And then it all starts again.
So… now what happens?
Now, he thinks as he’s being wrecked by sobs in the dark, I’m going to make Chyler Silva proud. I’m going to make all of Corbulo Academy of Military Science proud.
And what else is there to think when you’re lying on a strange bed, in strange quarters, the only familiar things your pain eating you up from the inside and the dog tags clutched in your hand? What else is there left for you?