[Despite the evidence of Planet Glassing in tell-tale scars around Bacigalupi Memorial, agriculture is still prevalent in Chi Rho's settlements. Vibrant isn't exactly the term I would use for some of the planet's country. The population has boomed since the flood of refugees but with the acres of unoccupied land between farms, "tranquil" would be the first thing that comes to mind, with its stable weather, hot climate and quiet atmosphere. Marcell Geza, a farmer from Reach, describes it as "safe" as he watches the distant activity of his neighboring farm. A Hungarian translator follows as I help Marcell lay a fresh layer of compost over their garden.]
We had been living alone, me and my seventeen year old daughter, Ibolya. After her mother died I just refused to be anywhere else. Our work in the fields was the only thing paying for my daughter's education and I did not want to imagine myself anywhere near cities. I still cannot bear to be among too many people.
Maybe it was my stubbornness as a working man, not to want to leave. But, we were managing well enough. Most of all, we were happy with where we were.
[Marcell laughs.] Ibolya hardly struck me as having a farming attitude but even she surprised me. [He pauses, looking down at the garden patch.] Anyway, that's not what you are here for. Where should I begin?
From the top. What was the first thing you remember about the day of the encounter?
It was the twenty-third. July, I remember. Visegrad had a rainfall that night so we were in no hurry. The machines we used didn't fare well once the ground began to soften up so we had to do things by hand. My daughter and I were bringing in the harvesting equipment when young Vencel had arrived with the salary from our last shipment of crop.
His face read disappointment when he noticed that it was only me and Ibolya. He was always on time, he and his labor force. Young and ambitious as he was, the boys respected him. Pay was collected every week. They had no reason to be late.
I told him that they were probably just drying off in the lodge. It was just up the hill from where we were. Though it was unsetting that no one thought to raise us or any other settlements on the short-wave to let him know. Vencel was more concerned than angry by now. "This isn't like them," he kept saying. He was just about to head over to their compound when we heard sounds coming from that direction.
I was certain it was gunfire. We heard plenty of guns while working in the field to know. It wasn't too unusual. Rebels use to exchange shots with the military during the winter seasons. This was far too close though and, coincidentally, there were soldiers in the area. They're never here on routine patrol if it isn't serious.
I didn't take a long to decide that I would investigate. I just knew I had to act faster than Vencel before he thought to go himself. If anything happened to him it would be on my hands. So, I dropped the harvesting equipment, told Ibolya to do the same and went in the house for the guns.
"Guns?" Didn't UNSC sanctions limit civilian carry to one firearm?
I only had one more than the legal limit. We gladly abided by that law until rebels started to wander too close. We would break ten more laws then if it meant insurance of our families' well-being. That's exactly why I went to investigate; to make sure the boys were fine and that the compound had someone to defend it if need be.
I left Vencel and Ibolya with my hunting rifle and told them to wait inside with the doors locked. Told them if I didn't return or reach them on the radio within the hour, then they were to call the other plantations and drive my jeep to our neighbor's. The compound wasn't that far away. I could be there in ten minutes at a steady pace.
[Marcell pauses.] I wish I had known what was waiting for me…Things would have gone better for all of us. I imagined someone would have at least called by the time I began walking. Five minutes into the travel the gunfire started to die off and then I was truly worried. All I thought about was getting there.
I was no more than two-hundred meters from the compound when I was nearly trampled by a herd of Moa*. They didn't scare too easily, though they weren't the bravest things either. When we ran farming tools in the field they wouldn't move until one of us approached them. They weren't bright either. Instead of running away, they simply ran to the nearest hiding spot even though we could see them. For something to have scared them so far away was not a good sign.
That's when I heard the first scream and I started to run. Not a moment after that, the gunfire returned. I was actually relieved because it might have been the soldiers. It was louder this time, definitely not something that a farmer would have.
["Moa" is a birdlike creature—closely similar to an emu or ostrich—indigenous to Reach's wildlife.]
By the time I arrived within forty meters of the compound around the bend, a vehicle was driving off to the north. It was speeding, fleeing. A second was coming in my direction. I tried to hide and ready my shotgun, but I didn't bet on the thought that they hadn't seen me. As it neared, I could see burn marks on it and blood spatter in the windshield.
What did the vehicle look like?
It was military without a doubt; jeep size, no doors, olive green, and a machine gun mounted on the back. The driver shouted something as he drove by, I don't know whether it was at me or his gunner. But I was able to find the meaning on my own. Seeing the hell that had become of the compound, and seeing military personnel on the run made me want to do the same.
So, I ran back; told Ibolya to get on the shortwave or her chatter to warn the neighbors that someone had attacked the settlement. Vencel had already started to scrounge what he could from the house while Ibolya and I began fortifying the garage.
You had a vehicle. Why didn't you just try to drive away?
There was really no place to run. That part of Visegrad was mostly a boxed canyon. We would only be running into a wall if we tried. The garage was the safest place at the time.
It had a trap door on the side that lead into the basement for access—easily barricaded, plentiful with tools, and nothing could open the front doors without power. We were all familiar with at least one emergency plan. Our neighbor Jenó even had a built in panic room inside his home.
Ibolya and I were in the garage waiting for Vencel. On his way with the radio, he stopped between the house and us—put the radio down and raised my rifle on something in the distance. Ibolya tried calling him inside through the window, but he was intent on whatever was out there. I was just about to go out there with my shotgun…but it was just then that my daughter told me "look."
Vencel…he…it was as if the air around him…
[The translator looks me and pauses for a moment before Marcell speaks.]
For a moment, it looked as if he passed through a magnifying glass. I was afraid—I didn't want to go out there, I couldn't even call out to him. Before I could do anything, there was a light—a white, two-pointed ray of light—and a moment later, Vencel was hanging from it. And to taunt the boy more, its user revealed itself in front of him.
Can you describe it?
Tall. About eight—maybe nine feet. Broad shoulders, dog legs, its body protected by a purple shell, like a beetle. The light in Vencel's stomach was coming from the monster's arm, or its fist. I'm not sure. But the way it appeared…it was as if it took shape from the rain. And it handled Vencel like he was weightless, lifting him, bleeding him like a pig.
Ibolya tried to scream, but she stopped herself, cupped her hands over her mouth. Even so, her whimpers might just have been as loud. I couldn't even think to urge her away from the window until after the beast threw the boy's body aside.
"Look away," I said and urged her away. When she did, I saw two more appear. The one that killed Vencel—I assumed to be the leader—issued them orders; pointing to the buildings and rambling something I couldn't understand. It vanished after that; headed toward the communications station.
We had to keep moving. They took their time with the compound. I was certain that they weren't going to stop with Vencel; they were going to search our settlement inside and out. Now that we saw who—or what—the invaders were, I knew that fortification would be useless.
So we did the last thing we thought we could: run. Just like the soldiers did, we tried to outrun them. Luckily, our jeep was inside so we could get a head start.
I thought you said that running would only get you cornered.
[Marcell slacks his shoulders with a bag of compost still in his hands as he is about to pour it into a JOTUN garden spreader.]
I'm sure the military has taught you the concept of "retreat." If they hadn't seen Vencel, then the three of us would have tried to stay in hiding. Since they saw one, it would be safe to assume that the rest of the locals hadn't had a chance to leave, or hadn't gone very far.
It's okay to run from a fight, and as far as I could see, there was no point in fighting these things. We planned on running our vehicle right through the garage door—maybe even take out a few of the bastards in the process—then alert the other parts of the settlement.
[Marcell drops the empty compost bag and sits down on top of the JOTUN's open tires.]
By the time we started the engine, they had already made it inside. I don't even know how they did it—it all happened so fast. I just remember the one of them that fell through the garage's ceiling. It was skinny—almost thinner than you or me—and it looked like a lizard with bird feathers on its head.
I backed the jeep into it and crushed it against the wall. I still regret that decision to this day.
Because the wall went next. I didn't expect our jeep to go right through the wall and down the slope just past our complex. I couldn't stop it. We rolled downhill in reverse all the way to the path leading to the northern complex, and we could hear them howling and growling the whole way even until we stopped against a patch of trees.
The impact rendered our vehicle useless, so we had to run the rest of the way. Ibolya wanted to take the dirt path, which was quickest to the complex, but I pulled her with me toward the tree line, rifle in hand. We wouldn't stand a chance in the open, I just knew. At the time, I felt that the woods were the best place to lose them.
But they caught up to you anyway?
It bought us some time but they were too fast. Those legs of theirs...they could almost outrun a husky on flat ground. And those little ones, the bird creatures, they used the surroundings as camouflage; running from tree to tree, screeching and cackling to get our attention.
I couldn't tell if there were three or thirty of them, but I knew they had surrounded us. We could have run for the edge of the forest, but that would mean going at our own pace and leaving the other behind, something that the monsters knew I wasn't going to do. They were toying with us, waiting for me and Ibolya to make the first move.
There was still a chance for one of us though. I still had my weapon and the complex wasn't far. The decision wasn't difficult to make, and when I made it, Ibolya knew right away what my intentions were. I kissed her on the forehead, told her to run.
She pleaded with her eyes, pleaded me to go with. But even then, my daughter still never made me ask more than once. I kept my eyes on her as she turned about and ran—raised my rifle and watched her movement.
With little surprise, the first ambusher revealed itself just as Ibolya ran from their circle. It was turning to pursue her, which made its head poke out of cover. That was enough for me to make a confirmed shot.
[Marcell laughs, muttering a curse in Hungarian]
Fast. But no one bested me with a rifle, at least not something that resembled a game bird. The first crumbled without trouble after I caught him in the eye. The bullet meant for the second one must have missed some important vitals though. I'm not even sure if I hit it come to think of it. It caught up to Ibolya by the time I chambered my next shot, but by then I couldn't fire without risking her life as it threw its claws around her shoulders.
I managed to make one step before one of the same monsters that killed Vencel appeared before me. I remember being thrown off my feet and my weapon being torn from my arms. I couldn't see though. Everything was black for a while, and when it wasn't, I could only see in red. My own blood was blinding me as I struggled to see Ibolya in the distance; see if she managed to escape. The monster that had hit me was now towering before me with two other little ones surrounding.
Ibolya's screams had stopped and I assumed the worst. All I could do was spit defiantly at the thing that murdered the last of my family. It laughed; a hoarse, guttural laugh that made its split mouth flare.
Its laugh was short lived by something that hit the back of its head. It didn't appreciate that one bit, but it actually prompted me to look, clearing the blood from my eyes to see. The head of that bird-raptor that captured my daughter was just laying there turning the grass purple with blood. The big one turned to face what had thrown it, and just beyond it was him.
Can you describe him?
Black. Jet black all around his armor. Each part of his body had some piece of metal protecting it. His helmet struck me the most. Teeth were painted just beneath the window over his face. They were sharp, more like fangs than teeth. Atop his head was a human skull, and on its chest was something written. I can't say what they meant, but I remember what the words were.
[Marcell gestures me to hand him my notebook. Upon returning it, the words "Semper Fi" are written at the base of the page.]
The monsters looked at him as though he had emerged from Hell, and before they could act, he threw a machete at one of them. The blade…it-it hit perfectly. Its head just split down the center. He wasn't finished. I could still see blood dripping off his fingers when he pulled out a pistol and shot the other one.
Without looking, he fired twice; one shot hit the bird's leg, the other missed entirely, or so I far as I could tell. They were lousy shots, but his focus was the big one, the one standing over me. It was still enough to drop the little bastard to one knee. That gave him enough time to turn for the larger one without worry.
Six shots. I think he fired six shots into the beast, but it still stood—it was protected by something, a shield of some type. On the fifth shot, the thing's shield seemed to break which caused it to drop its weapon when the sixth hit, and by then the soldier had already recovered his machete and turned on the other bird.
I would have thought it logical to reload the pistol, but he just threw it. Not even angrily, he just threw it at the bird's face, grabbed it by the throat and then ran it through with the blade. Its feet were still kicking as he lifted the blade. After that, he just threw it aside like a doll—pulled me up by the arm before turning to the leader, which had seemed to form a pair of glowing blades from either of its wrists.
He never said anything?
[He shakes his head.]
He did tell me one thing. Didn't say a word, but the look I got from that window, that mirror of a face and those fangs as he pulled out his knife just said to me that I did not want to be there.
So I ran. I didn't look back either. I wanted to at first, but that's when—in the midst of all that growling and roaring and clawing—I heard my daughter call "father." I was so relieved I just took her arm and kept running. We finally reached shelter in one of our neighbors' lodges. We hid there for an hour or so until help arrived.
They weren't regular soldiers either. They were taller than any person I have ever seen, and more armored than the one who saved me and my daughter. I've seen them in photographs of the Reach memorial.*
[Marcell may be referring to the Spartan IIIs from Noble Team]
One spoke our language, in fact I think he might have actually been from one of the settlements. His dialect was native to Pàlhàza when our neighbor explained what had happened. I don't remember what they said, just that we were told to stay inside. It was all silence after that. We waited, conversed a little, but mostly waited. It felt like a day before more soldiers arrived and took us away from the place.
So, after he saved you and Ibolya, you never saw the figure again?
[Marcell shakes his head, stands, and revs up the JOTUN spreader, which then proceeds to disperse the compost over his gardens.]
I long since questioned if he had survived, if I should have stayed and helped in return for saving us, though I feel as if I would have only hindered his progress by acting as an obstacle. It wasn't my fight.
[He turns to face the edge of his farm, then waves to another one in the distance. A figure waves back—a slim woman in her mid-thirties with blonde hair, donned in a tank top and work fatigues.]
As much as he wouldn't care, I still wish he could have at least heard me say thank you.
What makes you think he wouldn't care?
Men like that—men who paint skulls and fangs on their faces, men who depersonalize who they are and kill with blades—they don't look for thanks, they don't want help; they enjoy what they do. He may have killed to save our lives, but he would kill a hundred times again. It was sport for him just like hunting was for me.
How can you be so sure?
In your time of service, have you ever thought to use your knife against one of those beasts you fought?
Not unless if I had to. My rifle is always my first tool.
Then why did he leave his on his back?