Into the Breach

What’s your name?

New Constantinople
December 4, 2536 — 0158 Local Time

The summer twilight light was fading as darkness took hold over this part of New Constantinople. John Larson studied the strange soldier leading Andrea and him on the trail. They’d grabbed supplies and gone to the paddock and barn to pick out horses and saddle up. The soldier caught John by surprise when he declined to ride a horse. He was going to argue, but the soldier said the horse wouldn’t be able to support his weight. John was a little taken aback when the soldier said it wouldn’t be a problem for him to keep up.

A doubtful John considered the soldier was boasting about this. As a precaution he saddled a third horse to carry supplies, but was available for the soldier to use when he would inevitably fall behind them. His surprise grew along with a new appraisement of this soldier as not only was he keeping up, but was setting a punishing pace for both humans and animals. John glanced over at Andrea and saw her fighting to stay awake in her saddle.

She’s crashing… She’s never been in combat before, and she’s been through a lot...

John returned to studying their savior. The body armor the soldier wore was unlike any armor configuration he’d seen in his years of service. The armor looked something like an ODST would wear, but this was different... bigger and more dangerous. Plus, what this soldier did on the farm against the Covenant was still rolling around in his mind. This guy wasn’t an ODST... maybe an ODST team could have taken out the aliens, but not a single trooper. John’s military experience let him recognize a professional… a real killer… when he saw it. Anyone that could take out a whole enemy strike team by themselves wasn’t someone you messed around with.

John noticed that other than providing occasional directions or instructions, the soldier barely talked to either him or Andrea. The lack of talking added to the eerie quietness that seemed to surround them since leaving the farm. Only the occasional animal scurrying in the brush broke the silence.

Even the animals know the world is ending, John thought somberly. The Covenant attack on the farm hammered home the reality of the invasion on the planet, and that soon everything and everyone would be dead.

Absorbed in his thoughts, John almost missed Andrea passing out from exhaustion. He shouted a warning as she fell from her horse. Before he realized it, the soldier was catching Andrea before she hit the ground.

John watched with his mouth hanging open as the soldier gently set Andrea on the ground. He couldn’t believe someone moved that fast. The soldier’s reflexes and speed weren’t humanly possible, he wondered if this soldier was a robot. Yet, the armored soldier talked like and moved like a human.

John shook off his shock as the soldier turned to him. He couldn’t see the soldier’s face through the helmet’s gold visor, but he realized the soldier was studying and evaluating him too.

“We’ll stop for a rest.”

John shook off his shock, dismounting and going to check on his granddaughter...

Michael watched as John checked on Andrea. He gave his head a little shake at how sideways this mission was going.

Adapt and overcome, Michael thought as he tried to figure out what to do next. He wanted to keep moving, but he realized that John, Andrea and the horses could probably use a rest from the pace he was setting.

“Is she going to be all right?” Michael asked, glad he’d been able to catch her before she hit the ground.

“Yeah, it’s just exhaustion and shock. She just needs some rest,” John replied.

“We’ll wait until sunrise and then get moving again.”

“Why the rush? We seem to be clear of the Covenant.”

“I’ll feel better when we get to the pickup zone. I’ve just got a bad feeling and I’ve learned to go with my feelings,” replied Michael.

John studied the soldier, trying to get a handle on this character, “You know this is the most you’ve said since the farm. You’re not much of a talker, are you?”

The soldier chuckled, catching John by surprise, “There’s not much call for talking in my line of work.”

John couldn’t help himself as a small smile broke on his face. The smile faded as he realized he needed to address the proverbial elephant in the room, “Why were you at the farm? I don’t think it was a happy coincidence you just happened to arrive when you did.”

There was a long pause, John became unsettled at having that gold visor helmet stare at him, but not able to see the man behind it.

“I think we both know why I was there,” replied the soldier, his voice flat and serious.

John sighed as his shoulders slumped in exhaustion and the weight he carried.

I’m too old for this…

“So what now? What happens to us?” John asked. Resigned to his fate, his main concern was only for Andrea’s well-being.

“How about we get to the pickup zone first and then we figure out what happens next?”

The soldier’s reply caught John off guard. A glimmer of hope shimmered at the end of the dark tunnel they were in. His mind changed gears as a thought occurred to him, “You said you had a bad feeling. What makes you think that?”

“It’s all the Covenant air activity in this sector and that group of Elites at your farm. That was no simple assault team... that was a Special Operations team. They don’t send them out into the wild on a whim. They were there on a specific mission.”

John’s eyes widened in surprise, “Mission? There’s nothing of military value in this area. Just a few small towns and farms,” he replied.

“I know... that’s what worries me.”

Major Oan ’Valisee paced back and forth in the small clearing that his unit rested in. They set a hard pace following the tracks left by the demon and the others. He wanted to keep going, but the trail became harder to follow as it got dark.

Common sense and his Lieutenant’s advice finally made ’Valisee relent in his quest. The unit would rest until it got light enough for them to pick up the trail again. A part of him realized the sense of this decision, but the burning desire for revenge drowned out any coherent rational thought. Knowing the demon was still alive while Khurn was dead, stoked the fires of hate and vengeance inside him.

Soon demon… Soon, ’Valisee thought, impatiently waiting for the sun to rise.

John jolted awake as someone lightly shook him on the shoulder. He’d gotten some rest, but it was a restless sleep filled with troubled dreams. For a moment he didn’t know where he was. The gold visor of the soldier’s helmet quickly brought him back into focus. He tried to shake off the tiredness and his grogginess as he stirred and stretched.

Realizing it was still dark, John reached for his weapon out of instinct, “What’s wrong?” he asked as the soldier’s earlier musings about the Covenant returned.

“Nothing’s wrong. Sunrise is in less than an hour and we need to get moving.”

A sigh of relief escaped John, thankful that nothing was wrong, “Okay, I’ll wake Andrea. We can grab a quick bite and then get moving,” he replied, nodding.

A few minutes later Andrea was awake... exhausted and aching, but feeling better than she did a few hours earlier. Her grandfather passed her a cold emergency ration pack. The food looked and smelled unappealing, but she was famished and gobbled it down. She noted the funny looks she got from her grandfather as she stuffed the food down.

Michael stood off to the side watching Andrea and John eat and then get the horses loaded and ready to move out. It was strange watching the two civilians interact with each other. He noted the close bond between the two and in one sense it seemed like a foreign concept to him. It was a different bond compared to what he had with his brother and sister Spartans. They were “sort” of a family, but it was more out of the circumstances of the SPARTAN-II program that had thrown them together. That closeness grew out of the necessities of the environment and challenges they faced together.

He observed Andrea studying him as she loaded the horses. A strange sense filled him as he watched her watching him. He couldn’t place the sensation he was experiencing... it was like waking up from a dream and trying to grasp on and remember it. Andrea suddenly walked towards him, catching him by surprise. He noted her hesitation as she stopped a couple feet away.

“I don’t know if you had breakfast... would you like something to eat before we head out?” she asked, sounding a little shy and unsure in her tone.

“No… I’m fine.”

Andrea shrugged and turned away, but stopped, “I just want to say thank you for what you did for us back at the farm.”

This caught Michael off guard. He took a moment to respond, “You don’t need to thank me.”

Andrea looked at Michael’s visor even knowing she couldn’t make eye contact, “I-I know it wasn’t a coincidence you showing up at our farm. My grandfather thinks I don’t know who he’s involved with and what he’s doing. I-I don’t pretend to understand all the politics involved. Even though I should have reasons to hate the UNSC, I don’t hate them... or you. I just wanted you to know that. My grandfather is a good man and served the UNSC—”

Michael interrupted her, “It’s not my job to judge… I do my duty.”

A small frustrated sigh escaped Andrea, “I know. I just wanted you to know who my grandfather is and to say thank you,” she said turning to head back to her grandfather and the horses.

Doubts again surfaced as Michael watched Andrea walk away. It’s always so much easier and clearer fighting the Covenant, he thought, moving to join the others. To keep his thoughts and doubts in check, he set a hard pace as they hit the trail.

The journey became a blur as the group fell into a monotonous routine of moving at a hard pace then stopping, at John’s urging, to rest the horses. They would then start up again, moving until stopping to grab a cold meal and a few hours’ sleep before starting the whole process over again. During the rest stops, John and Andrea would huddle together while Michael either walked the perimeter or sat off by himself.

They were setting a good pace that getting to the new LZ within their schedule wouldn’t be a problem. Everything was going smoothly, and that was bothering Michael as his thoughts kept wandering.

It’s too easy. A Special Ops team shows up at the farm, and now nothing! I thought there would be more ships flying about trying to find us, but other than the occasional Phantom or Banshee in the distance... there’s nothing! It doesn’t seem right… something’s wrong.

Michael’s worry and edginess over the lack of Covenant activity caused him to detour and backtrack the group several times to throw off any potential pursuit. John and Andrea both noted the change in his behavior which also increased their own anxiety and worry too.

John used one of the rest breaks to find out what was going on. As he approached the soldier, he again tried to figure out the man sitting off by himself. All he could determine was that this soldier was an enigma.

I’ve worked with lone wolf operators before and most of them were grade-A certified psychos who enjoyed the killing. This guy is different… he’s something else.

John wasn’t surprised when the soldier turned towards him. There seemed to be no way to sneak up on the soldier.

“Do you have a moment?” John asked.

“Yes… Is there anything wrong?”

“No, nothing really. More of a concern… can we talk?”

There was a long pause and John observed how the soldier shifted. John noted that the soldier appeared to be uncomfortable with social interactions and conversations.

“What’s concerning you?”

“Is everything all right? We’ve been backtracking and moving at a pace that would make Marines think twice,” John said, trying to keep his concern in check.

“I just want to make sure we get to the LZ in one piece.”

The soldier’s tone didn’t reassure the older man, “You still have that bad feeling?”

“Yeah, it’s still nagging at me.”

“You could be wrong about it.”

“I’ve learned to listen to my feelings. They’ve kept me alive this long.”

John nodded, he wasn’t going to argue about it. He understood, only too well, the beliefs and superstitions that soldiers clung on to, “How much further to the pickup point?” he asked.

“We’ll be there in less than 12 hours… plenty of time.”

A sense of trepidation weighed on John knowing they would be at the LZ soon, “Then what?” he asked warily. He needed to know what would happen, “I’m ready and willing to face what I’ve done. My first and only concern is Andrea… she’s the only family I have left.”

Michael felt the weight of the question on him as he studied the older man. He’d tried to put off or delay thinking about what he would do with Larson and his granddaughter. Now, being so close to the end of this journey their situation now returned to the front of his thoughts.

Maybe that’s what’s putting me on edge… I don’t want to face what will happen and what I might have to do…

Michael glanced towards Andrea before turning his attention back to the older man. Even in the dim light, he could read the pain that lurked behind Larson’s eyes. It was a pain that spoke of a loss on a personal level.

Damn you ONI! Why do I feel so dirty?

Michael sighed, “How about we make a deal? You give me the information I need then I get you and your granddaughter off-planet.”

John snorted, “You’ve got that kind of pull? Just like that… we both get off planet.”

“I won’t lie to you. It won’t be easy, but I give you my word. I’ll get you both off planet.”

Even though John couldn’t see the soldier’s face behind the helmet visor, his tone made him believe the soldier was telling the truth. Despite the soldier’s offer, John shook his head, “I believe you when you say you’ll keep your word. But, I gave my word to my people that I would protect them. I can’t go back on my word, I can’t give you the info you want.”

Michael wasn’t surprised by the response. From what he’d read and seen of Larson, he wouldn’t have expected less of the man.

“You’re not making things easy for me… are you?” he said with a sigh.

John smiled, letting out a small chuckle, “I wouldn’t be doing my job if I made it easy for you… would I?”

John heard the soldier snort. It was strange, but the response reminded him of someone, “No… I guess you wouldn’t.”

A strange sense of déjà vu came over John. It was as if he’d had this same conversation before with someone, but couldn’t place it. He shrugged off the sensation as he turned to leave. He paused as a thought popped into his head.

“Can I ask you one more question?”


“What’s your name?”

John watched the soldier as he took a long moment to respond. At first, he thought the soldier wouldn’t answer, but then the soldier spoke.

“My name is Michael.”

John took a moment as a surge of emotions and memories came bubbling back up, “T-That’s a good strong name. My grandson’s name was Michael,” he said in a hoarse voice, blinking to clear his eyes.

There was a moment of silence before Michael spoke, “Where is he?”

Again, John blinked to clear his eyes as haunting memories danced in his head, “He died… He died a long time ago.”

In the growing morning light, the group was once again moving. As they moved along the trail, Michael struggled not only with his ongoing nagging feeling that something was wrong, but the feelings he had toward John and Andrea. They were getting close to the designated LZ area, and he debated whether they should do any more backtracking or head straight for the pickup point.

The sooner we get there… the sooner we get out of here…

With that decision made, Michael found his thoughts now dwelling on Larson and what to do with the old man. He had his orders, but a part of him didn’t want to toss the old man to an ONI interrogation team… it didn’t seem right. He decided that no matter what happened he would get Andrea off the planet... it was the least he could do. When they reached the LZ, he would tell John about his decision.

It can wait until then…

They still had several hours to go. They would make one more rest stop, then straight to the LZ and wait for the Pelican. It was now a simple walk in the park.

Major ’Valisee drove his unit to the point of exhaustion with the pace he was pushing them at. This killing pace paid off as they were closing the distance with the demon. Several times they’d almost lost the trail when the demon backtracked, but they now had a clear trail to follow. This re-energized the Major as his desire for revenge flared.

“Sir, can we rest for a few minutes?” ’Valisee’s Lieutenant panted, trying to keep up.

“NO! We’re close! Everyone can rest after the demon is dead. Maintain this pace! I will not stop when we are this close... if anyone stops or disagrees with me, I will kill them myself! Is that understood?”

“Yes, sir.”

John sat beside Andrea as they grabbed a quick break at their last rest stop before the final stretch of their journey. He studied his granddaughter’s face as she took a drink of water from a canteen.

She caught him looking at her, “What is it?” she asked curiously.

“You look so much like your mother, but you have your father’s eyes.”

She picked up on the tone in his voice and a sense of worry clutched her, “What’s wrong?” she asked.

He wanted to lie to her, but there wasn’t much time left. It wouldn’t be fair to her, she needed to hear the truth.

“I don’t know what will happen after we get out of here. I-I’ve done things… I’ve done things against the UNSC... I turned my back on the oath I once swore to uphold.”

Andrea shook her head, “Grandpa! You don’t have to—” she said.

He cut her off, “I won’t apologize for what I’ve done! It was my decision, and I had my reasons. I have to live with the consequences of those decisions and whatever happens to me,” his face took on a softer look, “Andrea, I’ve had a long life. I want to say how proud I am of you and that I love you.”

“Please don’t talk like that,” Andrea said as tears came to her eyes.

John gently touched his granddaughter’s face, “Your mom and dad would be so proud of you, and how you’ve turned out.”

Andrea hugged her grandfather tightly. He returned the hug with all his love. The moment would have lasted longer except for the horses suddenly acting restless and strangely.

“What’s wrong?” Andrea asked, turning towards the horses.

“I don’t know,” John replied, standing up to get a better view of the horses. His eyes darted back and forth along the tree line by the horses, looking for any threats.

I’ve got a bad feeling about this… Maybe Michael was right, he thought.

He turned to where Michael was sitting, but there was nobody there... the soldier was nowhere in sight.

Worry and alarm filled John as he looked around for the soldier, “Where the hell did he—”

John never finished his sentence as a sudden pain exploded in his side as his vision blurred and he couldn’t stand. He realized his pain was from being shot as Andrea screamed and more white bursts of plasma energy came from the tree line.


Pain flared through his body and it was hard to keep focus, but he realized that he was now being dragged across the ground. The dragging seemed to go on for an eternity until it mercifully stopped. All around, John heard enemy energy weapons firing with the occasional familiar sound of a human weapon firing. He fought through the pain, trying to raise his head, and saw Andrea crouching behind large rocks, firing her MA5 towards the trees. White bursts of plasma fire flew from the tree line, forcing Andrea to duck for cover as they struck the rocks she was using for cover.

Weapons fire filled the forest as John struggled to stay conscious. Alien roars echoed through the trees while loud explosions added to the cacophony of destruction taking place. The explosions temporarily overshadowed the shooting and John noticed the enemy fire at Andrea slackening…

Michael was contemplating his predicament once again, trying to find another way out of having to hand John over to ONI, but not having much luck. There wasn’t much time left before they got to the LZ and he would have to choose. His emotions and thoughts were pulling in different directions as his training and indoctrination tried to force the decision upon him. John was not your typical “Innie”, but he was still fighting against the UNSC.

It never gets easier… does it?

The horses suddenly acting strangely interrupted Michael’s contemplations. His attention immediately switched to the surrounding tree line as his bad feeling screamed warnings. Red hostile targets popped up on his motion sensors and in a flash, he disappeared into the brush to circle around.

“Where did the demon go?” ’Valisee cursed as weapons fire filled the woods. His unit stumbled upon the humans in the clearing in their rush to catch them. ’Valisee thought he’d spotted the demon off to one side, but by the time he’d gotten his warriors into position the demon disappeared. That wouldn’t stop his quest for vengeance as he ordered his unit to open fire on the humans.

The first shot caught the older human male, wounding him, but the female reacted, dragging the wounded human to cover and returning fire. The Sangheili commander knew the demon was somewhere close by. He signaled two of his warriors to sweep around and take out the humans from behind. Meanwhile, he scanned the forest for any sign of the demon.

Where are you, demon? You can’t hide from me…

Explosions tearing through the woods caught his attention.

I have you now…

A quick burst from his assault rifle took out the two Elites he ran into that were working their way around the clearing where Andrea and John were. He kept moving, reversing what the Elites attempted, to sweep around the enemy.

His motion sensors were targeting all the hostiles in the vicinity as shooting still echoed through the trees. That at least told Michael that someone was still alive and engaging the enemy. He hoped John and Andrea were okay, but if he didn’t remove the enemy, then nobody would make it to the LZ.

Coming up fast on an Elite firing towards the clearing, he pulled a grenade, armed it and tossed it in one fast smooth motion at the alien. Michael didn’t pause, arming another grenade as the first one exploded taking out the Elite.

Andrea glanced towards her grandfather as she swapped out the magazine in her assault rifle. His wounds were serious, but there was nothing she could do as she tried to hold back the aliens. Again, she glanced around, trying to find any sign of the soldier, but he was nowhere in sight. She wondered where he was. Explosions and automatic weapons fire among the trees, along with the enemy fire slackening told her that the soldier was still out there.

Out of the corner of her eye, she caught her grandfather struggling to sit up, “Grandpa! Stay down!” she shouted. The blood soaked left side of his body drew her attention. Bio-foam would stop the bleeding, but it was in the first-aid kit attached to the horses. There was no way she could get to it right now... the enemy would cut her down in the clearing as soon as she broke cover.

John heard Andrea yell at him to stay down, but he continued his struggle to sit up. It was funny, but the pain wasn’t there anymore... his left side was numb. A part of his mind told him to stop moving and to lie down and rest, but he couldn’t stop.

I’m so tired… It’s hard to focus… There was something I needed to do…

Somehow he got on to his knees, struggling to keep himself from falling back down. Weapons fire and explosions roared and thundered around him as he found the strength to crawl towards Andrea. He paused several times to catch his breath and wipe the sweat from his forehead, smearing blood and dirt across his face. It took all his effort to keep going as his mind wandered and it became harder to know what was real.

It’s getting hard to breathe… Andrea needs me! Why is Sonia standing over there? She looks just as beautiful as the day we met… God, I’ve missed her…

Only a few Elites remained, surrounding Michael as bullets and bursts of plasma streaked in all directions, looking for targets. Michael’s armor took hits from the plasma weapons, the reflective coating deflecting some shots while his armor absorbed others. The heat of the plasma energy from several hits burned deep into his armor, the pain from them registered, but he pushed it aside as he kept firing.

A long burst from his MA5 caught an Elite in the chest, throwing the alien back. Before Michael could turn and acquire another target, an Elite burst from the bushes charging at full speed towards him. The rampaging alien didn’t slow down as it barreled into Michael, hitting him full on. Michael reacted out of instinct, grabbing on to the Elite as it hit him. The Elite wasn’t expecting the human demon to grab on to his body harness as they now both tumbled out of control. They both grappled with each other as they flew out of the trees and back into the clearing.

Michael got his right hand free and punched the Elite in the side of the head. The punch distracted the alien, allowing Michael to roll away and get to his feet. As the alien staggered trying to shake off the hit, Michael charged not wanting to give the Elite a chance to recover. A heavy grunt escaped the Elite as Michael caught the alien in the mid-section with a flying tackle, sending them both flying again.

This time though, Michael controlled the fall, staying on top as they hit the ground hard, causing the Elite to grunt again. The alien struggled to fight back, hitting Michael on the side of his helmet with one hand while attempting to reach for its plasma sword with the other. Michael ignored the hits and blocked the Elite’s move for the plasma sword with one hand while his free hand went for the alien’s throat and squeezed…

The soldier and alien flying out of the woods tangled together and struggling caught Andrea by surprise. She tried to line up a shot on the Elite, but couldn’t get a clear shot as they continued their death struggle. Two Elites, rushing from the trees, interrupted any further consideration of the soldier’s plight.

The enemy soldiers fired towards the human soldier, and Andrea didn’t hesitate opening fire with her weapon. Her burst caught one alien, dropping it, and forced the other to dive for cover. Andrea and the Elite now engaged in their own death struggle as they exchanged fire with each other. Her entire focus was on her struggle, she missed seeing another Elite emerge from the woods near where the soldier and Elite still struggled…

’Valisee’s rage boiled over. Most of his unit was dead at the hands of the demon and the other humans. Now, he witnessed his faithful Lieutenant Toha engaged in a death struggle with the demon... and losing as the demon strangled him. Despite his Lieutenant’s plight, ’Valisee saw an opportunity to strike.

The demon’s distracted! Time to die, demon!

’Valisee drew and activated his plasma sword, his body quivering in anticipation as he closed the distance to the demon... to collect on his blood debt.

The Elite was gasping for air as Michael squeezed its neck harder. The alien continued to slap and hit the side of his helmet, but Michael shook it off as he increased the pressure. There was still firing going on around him, but he couldn’t worry about it until he removed this threat. The alien’s eyes bulged and its breathing became ragged as its struggling and hitting slowed, then finally stopped. Michael blinked, his breathing hard as he processed that the Elite was dead. He lost situational awareness in this moment of distraction.

A woman’s scream echoing through the woods brought him back into focus. His first fear was that something happened to Andrea as he spun towards her. He wasn’t prepared for the scene that greeted him... an Elite removing its plasma sword from John’s chest. Shock filled Michael as he witnessed the scene with the alien staring at John’s body falling to the ground.

A burning rage quickly replaced the shock, filling and consuming Michael. All he could see was John lying in a crumpled heap. A part of him noted the Elite’s distraction, but there was no rational thought involved as he charged the alien, yelling, “YOU BASTARD!”

Surprise filled ’Valisee as an older human male, covered in blood, staggered out of nowhere to block his path to the demon. He couldn’t believe this wounded human was daring to confront and trying to stop him. ’Valisee sneered at the foolish human’s pitiful attempt to deny him his vengeance. There was no hesitation on his part as he impaled the human with his energy sword.

’Valisee noted the look of death in the human male’s eyes as his sword sank into the human’s chest. The look of defiance etched in the dying human’s face caught the Sangheili by surprise. He paused as he hadn’t expected this from a species considered pitiful and unworthy. The pause only lasted a moment, but it was enough to distract him. It was only when the human female screamed that ’Valisee’s attention returned to his target. His attention returned to his intended target only to find the human demon yelling and charging at him...

Michael charged the Elite, yelling obscenities at the creature. The alien reacted, swinging its plasma sword, trying to catch him in the torso. Michael’s instincts and reflexes anticipated the move and he spun, leaving the Elite only hitting empty air. The Spartan was now in close, bringing his forearm up hard and fast, catching the alien in the head. The Elite staggered backwards, roaring as it tried to recover from the blow.

Michael’s blood was boiling, and he wasn’t giving the alien a chance to recover as he attacked again. This time he lashed out with his fist, catching the Elite with an uppercut, sending the alien flying backwards under the crushing blow. The alien hit the ground hard and there was no hesitation by a hate-filled Michael. He jumped on top of the Elite, lashing out at the alien, punching it in the head over-and-over again. He finally relented in his beating, only to draw his combat knife and drive the blade deep into the alien’s throat with both hands.

Andrea ran over to her grandfather as tears streamed down her face. She hadn’t seen the Elite come out of the trees, moving towards the soldier. It was only when she got a glimpse of movement in the corner of her eye she turned. She couldn’t believe it as she saw her wounded grandfather moving to confront the alien. Before she could react, the alien used its energy sword on him.

As she rolled her grandfather on to his back, she didn’t need to be a doctor to know his wounds were fatal. Yet, knowing her grandfather would die didn’t stop the shock and disbelief from overwhelming her.

“Grandpa… Why? Why did you do it?” she sobbed, kneeling next to him.

John knew he was dying as he felt his life draining away. He heard Andrea crying and talking to him, but he couldn’t make out what she was saying as he faded in-and-out. All he knew was that he’d seen the alien come out of the woods to attack Michael from behind. He couldn’t let that happen.

If the alien killed Michael then Andrea wouldn’t make it. It made sense, and it was an easy decision to make. Somehow he’d found a last burst of energy and strength to move into the alien’s path to slow the creature down. He had no illusions of defeating the alien... it was his sacrifice to make to save the others.

As he looked up at the sky, he marveled at how clear and blue it looked, taking in its beauty. Tendrils of darkness filled his vision, and he turned his head slightly to look at Andrea... her face was fading as the darkness grew. Regret filled him because there was still so much he wanted to say to her. His eyes looked past her and saw Michael, standing up from the dead Elite and walking towards them. It was strange that while Andrea was fading Michael was as clear as day. His eyes shifted around the approaching soldier as the darkness continued to creep in from the edges.

There’s Sonia again… she’s waving. David and his wife are there too! They’re all there! All those people I haven’t seen in such a long time. Where has everyone been? I’ve missed them all. I’ll be there soon, Sonia! We can all be together soon! That’s strange... where’s my grandson? He should be there too? Everybody else is there waiting for me…

John looked at Andrea and tried to smile as her face became clear one more time. His eyes shifted as the gold visor of a helmet appeared behind her. He realized that the soldier was looking down at him. John glanced towards the apparitions of long dead family and friends waiting for him. He understood that he only had moments left in his life and despite the sorrow of leaving Andrea alone, he looked forward to being reunited with everyone.

In those final moments of life, darkness filled his vision yet he could still see Andrea, the soldier and the apparitions. It was like the universe was trying to tell him a secret as he fought to figure it out. A sense of confusion and despair grew not seeing his grandson among those waiting for him... he should be there with his parents.

In that final moment, as his eyes returned to the soldier’s visor, clarity and understanding dawned as the universe revealed the secret to him. He didn’t understand how or why, but this surge of knowledge gave him one last burst of strength. As the final embers of John’s life faded, he reached out and grabbed Michael’s armored gloved hand, placing it on top of Andrea’s hand. With that John smiled, whispering one final word as he died.

Michael watched John Larson die. He was all too familiar with death, but this man’s death struck him on a more personal level than any other death. It was strange, but he found it hard to focus as his eyes blurred and he had to blink to see clearly.

Michael hadn’t backed away or resisted when John reached out, grabbing ahold of his hand and placed it on top of Andrea’s hand. He didn’t understand what the gesture meant, but assumed the old man was asking him to ensure that his granddaughter stayed safe. If that was what the old man meant to communicate, he was even more confused by John’s final word which struck him to the core of his being.

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