Off Topic Writing Contest #4 (Voting!)

Which story do you think is best?

Poll ended at January 30th, 2016, 4:06 pm

The Fall of Reach
The Belated Winter
Total votes : 4

Off Topic Writing Contest #4 (Voting!)

Postby Carl » January 16th, 2016, 4:06 pm

At last, upon reaching a deadline, this contest actually has two entries. It's been a long one, and honestly I'm fairly disappointed that it only ended up with two entries. That said I'm thankful it wasn't down to just one still and I hope the next contest will fare better now that the holidays are behind us!

Usual rules apply, don't vote for yourself and don't vote for someone just because they are your friend. I'll leave voting open for two weeks, so take your time, but get the stories read and vote!

The Fall of Reach: show
There were three of us left on Noble Team—maybe four if Noble Three and Halsey had made it off of Planet Reach—as we delivered the package to the Pillar of Autumn in the shipbreaking yards of Aszod on the rainy day of August 30, 2552. Noble Four—Emile—was in the MAC gun turret, covering the skies so that Covenant forces wouldn’t prevent humanity’s last hope from getting off the planet before it was too late. Noble Two—Kat—stood next to myself on the landing platform as we awaited the Pelican Captain Keyes would be on, despite having taken a Needle Rifle shot to the head, Kat was still alive, her helmet’s shields having mostly protected her from the hit. Within moments, the Pelican approached the landing platform, Captain Keyes standing in the center of the opening with marines on either side of him. As soon as the ship was near enough, the captain descended to the platform and approached Kat and myself.

“Good to see you, Spartans. Halsey assured me I could count on you,” he said, as I handed him the package. The AI needed to be transported swiftly out of here and far from the reach of Covenant hands.

“Not just us, sir,” I replied solemnly. Kat lowered her gaze for a moment, and Captain Keyes gripped my arm in a supportive gesture.

“They’ll be remembered,” he assured me, turning to board the Pelican again. As he did so, he noticed a Covenant cruiser, and speaking into his communication device, instructed, “Cruiser, adjusting, heading for the Autumn. Noble Four, I need fire on that cruiser or we’re not getting out of here. Do you copy?”

Emile’s voice came through, “You’ll have your window, sir.”

Here, Captain Keyes and his marines got situated inside the Pelican once more as it took off, relaying the information that they’d retrieved the package on to the Pillar of Autumn. Kat and I readied our weapons, just in case we’d need them. At this moment, our eyes caught sight of an enemy drop ship approaching Emile’s location. Quicker than I and always prepared for immediate and direct action, Kat sprinted off the landing platform and moved towards Noble Four’s MAC turret. As a team of Elites dropped from the ship near him, one landing on the turret, Kat expertly took out the farther one with her pistol just as easily as Jun could have sniped it, Emile rising from the turret to push another one off of himself, and as it staggered, blast it with his shotgun.

“Who’s next?” he challenged, as another one let out a war cry and approached him. He cocked his shotgun and blasted the enemy, just as he had the last. Scoping in with my DMR, I fired at another one, aiming for the skull but hitting the midriff instead. The Elite staggered and jumped to the side, but not before I’d hit it a second time, once again, in a nonfatal area. Kat’s pistol let out a bang and the Elite fell. Before long, Emile was kicking the last one as it fell, and then he was dropping back into the turret and locking onto his target. Now, the Pelican swung back around to the landing platform, and one of the marines on board reached out his hand towards me, calling out:

“Spartans! Get aboard! We gotta get the hell outta here!”

“Negative,” Kat corrected him, “Noble Team has lost too many good men; I won’t be leaving Emile here to die.”

Emile’s voice over the comm interjected, “Go ahead, Noble. I’ll cover the escape. Get off this rock.”

The marines and Keyes turned their eyes to me expectantly. “Lieutenant?”

“Two is right. He’s one of us. We’ll get out of here as a team.” At this, Kat nodded, and the men on board the Pelican exchanged uneasy stares. I could hear one of them saying this wouldn’t make the higher ups happy, leaving behind Spartans, but after a moment of staring at our helmets, Keyes nodded solemnly. He knew there was no softening a Spartan’s resolve.

“Affirmative,” he said, before the marine could respond again, “Good luck out there Noble Team.” He said, a somber expression etched into his features as if he doubted the ability of three Spartan class soldiers to escape the planet on their own. Tactically, it would be wiser to abandon Noble Four, Kat and I could escape right now and ensure that Noble Team would continue to be available for the UNSC’s suicide missions in the future. We could go, Noble Four covering the Pillar of Autumn as it escaped the atmosphere and headed far, far away. I hadn’t been a member of this team for long, and I had been a bit of a lone wolf prior to being assigned as their Number Six, but I had grown fond of them and they had my loyalty. We’d already lost Jorge and Carter; Numbers Five and One on this planet, trying to save it and humanity. The planet was lost, and we had delivered humanity’s only hope to Keyes and the Pillar of Autumn. It was time for our priorities to be the team itself.

As the Pelican ferrying Keyes pulled away, I could hear a marine arguing with him over his decision to allow two Spartans remain unnecessarily on a doomed planet when we’d be better suited helping out elsewhere. I also heard him explaining to the marine that there’s no forcing a Spartan to do something he or she does not intend to do. We could not be saved if we did not allow it. For a moment, we watched them depart, until, in unison as if planned, Kat and I turned, making our way towards the MAC gun turret where Emile was waiting.

“We’ll use the Spartan Lasers near the MAC gun to help Four cover the Autumn’s escape,” Kat said sharply. I nodded, following her lead.

“You’ll make a fine leader in Carter’s place.”

“No one can replace him, Six,” she barked over her shoulder. I couldn’t see her face through the helmet, but I could imagine a stern look was being cast at the visor on my own helmet.

“Of course. I just meant it will be an honor to follow your lead,” I replied. She didn’t respond as we ascended the stairs, joining Emile on either side of the gun turret.

“What took you so long?” he taunted.

“Let’s clear the skies for the Pillar of Autumn,” Kat replied, as if he hadn’t spoken. Covenant vessels swarmed as thick as the clouds overhead, mostly the lighter Banshees and a slew of Phantoms across the area; there was only the one Corvette. Working together with the Spartan Lasers and the MAC gun turret, the three of us were able to efficiently, in what felt like both an instant and a few hours of combat, clear a path for their escape. The only thing in the way really was the Corvette, which had dropped nearer to the planet, and to our position. Its weak point exposed, Kat and I continued to pick off the smaller ships so that they couldn’t interfere with Emile as he blasted the cruiser, and did so again, dealing heavy damage and eventually sinking the ship. As it fell, the men on the Pillar of Autumn thanked us, wished us luck, and the vessel began to rise, making its escape. When it disappeared, our mission was over with and we had but one objective: escape.

“Now what? This turret doesn’t have enough rounds for the whole fleet,” Emile reminded us.

“Let’s get out of here. We’ll find another way off the planet,” Noble Two suggested. Not questioning her judgment, Emile dismounted the turret, I dropped the Spartan Laser and drew my assault rifle, and Kat, replacing her own Spartan Laser with her pistol, led the way back down the platform and into the building, the three of us dodging enemy fire from the Banshees above as we double timed it into cover. As we prepared to exit the building on the other side, we bore witness to a Spirit-class dropship depositing a squad of Grunts, Skirmishers, and Jackals to the ground.

“We need to appropriate one of those dropships,” I proposed.

“The question is: how?” Kat murmured. As the drop ship disappeared from whence it came, the troops it had deployed began to fan out, searching for any signs of survivors, but in a somewhat disorganized fashion, proving yet again that the greatest advantage the Covenant had was its sheer size and the vast numbers of pawns they had to throw at tasks like this one. The three of us alone had slaughtered hundreds, if not thousands, of the species of aliens before us now in our mission here on Reach. It was difficult to imagine how many of them had died in total here—and mind boggling to ponder how many would yet meet their demise in the war as it raged on.

“Let’s start by taking care of them,” Noble Four suggested, clutching his shotgun as if his finger were just itching to pull the trigger. At a nod from Noble Two, we fanned out ourselves, Emile moving directly out the door and generating aggro from the enemies. While he was distracting them, Kat and I moved out on either side of him—she on the right, myself on the left—covering him and taking them out as quickly as we could. A few needle rounds pierced my armor, damaging its shields, but otherwise, we defeated the troop with relative ease, remaining mostly unharmed as we did so, and then proceeded to make our way to the next available cover as more ships moved into position to drop off more Covenant squads.

“If we find some jetpacks and get close enough to one of the dropships without being detected, we can easily board while it’s stationery,” Kat proposed.

“Solid plan—if we had jetpacks,” Emile retorted.

“We may be able to find some around here; surely they came in handy in disassembling ships.”

“What are waiting for then?” I asked, gesturing for them to follow as I began sprinting towards the nearest wreckage of a building. Everything in the ship breaking yards here was in ruins, just about. Hell, most of Reach was no doubt in ruins by now. The Covenant invasion had been hard and fast, practically eliminating our chances of victory so swiftly we had scarcely had time to react. I heard the heavy pounding footfalls of Kat and Emile’s armored forms following after me, splashing in puddles on occasion as the rain continued to pelt us as it had been for quite some time. There was a heaviness to the air that had been present throughout most of our assignments, a sense of foreboding, like we wouldn’t make it. I wasn’t going to give up, though, just as I hadn’t in the other parts of our mission, and I knew that my surviving teammates wouldn’t either. We’d come this far. We could make it off Reach.

It was nothing other than dumb luck that there was a jetpack not far inside the ruined building I’d chosen to investigate. I snatched it up swiftly and donned it as expediently as possible. Without seeing any others around, it was a good choice for me to do it. As they knew, I had been a pilot before… if I could board a Phantom-class dropship and clear it of any… occupants… then I could safely lower it near enough for the two of them to board and we could make our escape. It was the best plan we had, and based on their posture and quick movements to the windows and doors to keep a watch, I guessed they’d come to the same conclusion.

“Six, there’s another one coming down a few yards from here. If we’re quick enough, you can board while Four and I distract the enemies it drops,” Kat commanded.


I joined her and Emile at the exit—silently delighted to see that it was in fact, Phantom-class—and on her signal, sprinted off to the side as they veered directly towards the Covenant ship, shouting and firing into the descending ranks of aliens, effectively drawing all of the enemy attention away from me. Bullets—both our metal ones and their plasma ones—flew back and forth, clanging and creating a dull roaring, the sounds of guns clacking as they reloaded punctuating the gunfire here and there, the screams of the Grunts, and squelches of blood as bullets tore through flesh being nothing but background noise I’d grown accustomed to by this point as I ducked into cover, slipped around behind bits of debris there, drawing ever nearer to the drop ship. All of this happened in a matter of seconds, and then I was jetpacking past dropping aliens, to the shocked cries of some of the Grunts, and into the Phantom.

I’d made it.

Before the baffled Jackals and Grunts still near the opening had time to react, I was blasting them with my assault rifle, mowing them down like the pawns they were. With this area cleared, I moved on into the next part of the ship, finding it mostly deserted, as expected, and making my way towards the controls. Here and there I had to dispose of another Jackal or Grunt, once or twice being forced to dodge a plasma grenade (I locked my armor at the last second once, barely managing to survive the encounter, but coming away mostly unharmed).

When I reached the command area, I wasn’t shocked to find an Elite there. He was unaware of my infiltration, as most of them had been, so I moved upon him as silently as possible, holstering my assault rifle and unsheathing my knife as I drew near, deftly reaching around in front of him to catch him beneath the throat from the back. He flailed, not willing to accept his fate, thrashing as I held on and tried to get an angle to end this. He backed up, slamming me against a wall, but I didn’t loosen my grip on him. The alien struggled to draw one of his own weapons as one hand gripped at my arm around his throat. With no one controlling it, the Phantom was unsteady, and not prepared to lose our chance at escape, I steeled myself and thrust my blade into his skull, pulling it down before removing it from his still squirming body until he began to go limp, at which point I relinquished my hold on the corpse and rushed over to the controls, taking the seat and stabling the ship. Soon I’d lowered it nearer to the ground where I hovered until Kat’s voice alerted me that my remaining teammates were on board.

I steered the ship upwards towards the atmosphere, and soon the rest of Noble Team joined me. With any luck, we’d be left alone traveling in a Covenant vehicle. They’d assume we were one of them and we’d go undetected as we fled the planet’s destruction. It was a victory, to be sure—we were getting out just in time—but it had come at a high cost. The air was heavy still, and I couldn’t help recalling Noble Five’s—Jorge’s—last moments as he’d given me his dogtags and tossed me from that Corvette-class Covenant ship back to the planet’s surface in a prior engagement, sacrificing his life in an act he thought would save the planet. My mind also jostled with visions of Carter’s suicide dive into the Scarab that had blocked the path for the rest of us en route to the ship breaking yards.

“They’d be glad we made it,” I said thoughtfully.

“It’s a shame they didn’t,” Kat sighed heavily.

“You were close. Carter and yourself.”

“We were the only surviving members of the original configuration of Noble Team,” she responded, “He was always Noble One, until today.”

“He was a good man. And a good soldier,” Emile added.

A silence descended upon us then as we broke through the atmosphere and into orbit. The Covenant continued sending ships the way we’d come from, as we traversed the stars unknown in their midst. I didn’t hurry to leave so as not to draw attention to us and put a target on our backs. As talented and resourceful as we were, three Spartans in one Phantom could never compete with the Covenant Armada, nor did we need to. Our services would be needed elsewhere, and we were on our way. It was certainly a solemn moment, but we’d done our duty. We’d helped the Pillar of Autumn and we’d made it off the planet. We had survived the Fall of Reach.

The Belated Winter: show
The air was chilly, but there was no snow and no sign of dark clouds, either. Maggie wouldn’t be complaining about it, except for the fact that it was mid-February, and there hadn’t been a single snowflake. The weatherman kept saying that if they didn’t get snow at all this year, there would be some severe fires in their area that might not be able to control. Maggie had never experienced a wildfire in her city, and she didn’t want to, either.

“Oh, stop worrying, Maggie,” her older brother, Thomas, said. “The snow’s just a little late this year, but I’m sure we’ll get some.”

“Have you not heard what the weatherman said would happen if we didn’t?” Maggie asked.

“Nope, because I don’t have time to watch the news,” he replied.

“He says that if we don’t get snow, we’ll get severe wildfires,” she explained.

“Like I said, don’t worry about it. Snow will come. I’m sure of it. When was the last time we didn’t have snow?” Thomas pointed out.

“I guess you have a point,” Maggie said, looking outside at the blue sky.

“So will you stop looking outside now and get ready for school? I’m leaving in ten minutes, and if you’re not ready by then, you’ll have to take the bus,” Thomas said.

“Okay, okay. I’ll get ready,” Maggie said. “Although I don’t see anything wrong with taking the bus.”

“Really? You don’t see anything wrong with riding with a lot of loud, rambunctious students?” he asked.

“Well you’re not much better when the radio’s on,” she retorted. Thomas rolled his eyes and walked out of the room. Maggie smiled to herself, before turning back to the window and frowning. She really hoped that snow would come soon. She stood up and got ready, quickly running downstairs afterwards and making it outside right as he opened the door to his truck. He turned to face her, a smirk on his face.

“So, you chose me over the bus after all, huh?” he asked.

“Only because Mom would be upset if I didn’t,” she replied. He simply rolled his eyes and shook his head.

“Well, get in, then,” he said. “I don’t want to be late.”

Once she arrived at school, Maggie talked with her friends about the snow problem.

“My mom says the latest snow has ever come to this city is mid-March,” Angela said. “I’m sure everything will be fine. Just give it some time.”

“I agree with Angela,” Julia said. “It’s only February. There’s still plenty time for snow to come. Now, if it’s May, and there’s been no snow, then we can worry.”

The bell rang, ending their conversation, but not ending Maggie’s worries about a snowless winter. She continued taking a glance outside of the classroom’s window, hoping to see a gray cloud or the descent of a snowflake, but nothing happened. She continued to wonder if it would ever come.

A month later and there had still been no snow. Her brother and friends continued telling her that it would come soon, but she stopped listening to them. She continued listening to the weatherman, though, but all he did was explain how the weather would keep getting warmer as they got closer to summer. That’s not what she wanted to hear from him, but she had never known the weatherman to be wrong.

“Good evening, everyone,” the weatherman said one night. “I know how many of you kids are looking forward to Spring Break, but it may not be as thrilling as you expect. Why? Well, we are expected to get rain within the next week. We don’t know how long it will last, but we expect it to last for a good portion of the break.” From behind her, Maggie heard Thomas groan. He was supposed to go to school every day for football practice during that time, and if it rained, that meant the field would be wet and slippery. Maggie hoped it wouldn’t be too bad; otherwise she would have to listen to his complaints.

Spring Break came around quickly, and the first thing Maggie noticed when she woke up the first morning of break was the grey clouds. She expected the weatherman to be right about the rain, and while that would somewhat keep the fires away, she wasn’t sure if it would be enough. She rested her head on her arms and waited for the first drop to come down.

When the first one came, Maggie was surprised to see what it was. It wasn’t, could it be? But it was. It landed on the window right in front of her face, proving that she wasn’t just imagining things. It was a snowflake. It was finally snowing! Maggie let out a loud squeal, which made Thomas come running into her room, already wearing his football uniform.

“Maggie, what’s wrong?” he asked.

“It’s snowing!” she exclaimed. “It’s finally snowing!”

Thomas rolled his eyes, but then smirked and said, “I told you it would. You just had to be patient.”

“Yeah. I guess so,” Maggie said. “I guess this proves the weatherman can be wrong sometimes, too.”

“No one can predict the future perfectly,” Thomas said. “Not even the weatherman.”

From that moment on, she remembered to trust her friends and family, and to not rely so much on the weatherman. Thomas ruffled her hair a little before walking out of her room and heading to football practice.

The following week, the snow was up to Maggie’s knees, and she called her friends over to play with her. They built snowmen, had snowball fights, and made snow angels for many hours that day. Once they were forced to go home, Maggie stayed outside for a few minutes longer, picking up a ball of snow and throwing it into the air. Little flakes fell all around her, and she grinned. This had been the greatest Spring Break ever, and she knew this would be the best belated winter ever as well.

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