“When one human world after another fell… when my Spartans were all that stood between humanity and extinction… nobody was concerned over why they were originally built.”
— Catherine Halsey during interrogation – September 2553
December 29, 2536 — 1325 Local Time
New Constantinople was in its final death throes…
The Covenant was pushing in towards the final safe zones. The surviving countless numbers of civilians and soldiers overwhelmed these evacuation areas, looking for a way off the planet. Into this maelstrom, the UNSC Navy could only fly in a handful of dropships and shuttles to save a few of them.
The remaining defenders resigned themselves to their fate, they’d passed their breaking point a long time ago, but they continued to fight on. Civilians, willing to carry weapons, filled the depleted ranks to help buy more time for the evacuations to continue and also hurt the Covenant as much as possible. Desperate fighting continued and while some gave up and waited for death, others refused to bow and not go down without a fight. Everyone knew it was the end... it was just how you would go out that remained undecided.
Michael was still on the planet, still fighting. His mission was to help hold back the Covenant for as long as possible, so the evacuation could continue. His fighting comprised rushing from one hot spot to another to hold back the advancing enemy.
Today, he was behind the lines for a brief rest. He’d grabbed a couple of hours of rest in one of the defense bunkers. It wasn’t much, but it was better than nothing as he exited the bunker within the shrinking defense perimeter. He glanced up at the sky, the sun should have been bright and shining, but due to all the smoke the sun was a dull red orb that hung there. The sky took on a red haze it appeared as if it was on fire, giving everyone a view of what hell might look like. The scene struck him as he recalled his dreams, wondering if they were a foreshadowing of what was happening now. Michael’s communication system interrupted his thoughts as a tired voice came over the channel.
“Sierra-113, provide status update?”
He took a moment before replying as his eyes studied the sky, then to the surrounding terrain and horizon. Explosions from the fighting outlined the edge of the defense perimeter not too far off in the distance.
“Sierra-113, here. I’m at Defense Bunker Charlie-Twelve, over.”
The tired voice responded, “Command needs you in Sector-Eight. The Covenant are making a push and threatening the landing area in that sector. We have Pelicans inbound for pickup of civilians and they can’t divert. We need to hold that area to get the dropships in, load and then get out. Understood?”
“Understood. I’m on my way, Sierra-113 out.”
A NAV point flashed on his helmet display, orienting him in the direction he needed to head towards. He would move on foot, there were no spare Warthogs available for him to catch a ride with. All the remaining Warthogs and Scorpion tanks were on the line fighting the Covenant.
Michael’s mind wandered as he got closer to Sector-Eight, the sounds of fighting becoming louder and more intense.
I hope Andrea made it to Reach…
They’d buried her grandfather in the woods after the fight and made it to the LZ for pickup with no further problems. Michael reported to ONI that the Covenant attacked the target location and killed the target before he arrived. He omitted Andrea from his report and ONI accepted the report with no questions. They expressed disappointment in the mission’s failure, but were overall satisfied with another dead Innie no longer able to threaten the UNSC. When the ONI officer smiled and joked about how Michael should thank the Covenant for doing his work for him that severely tested his self-control.
With the Covenant making new inroads against the inner colony systems, ONI closed their file on Larson, promptly forgetting him as they moved on to deal with new threats. Michael got Andrea squared away while he planned to get her off planet. He used his ONI authorization to get her a seat on one of the evacuation ships, escorting her and putting her on the dropship. It wasn’t as difficult as he thought it would be. Everything was in chaos and everyone was too tired or too busy to dig deep or question a Spartan flashing ONI authorizations. It was three weeks since her evacuation transport made its Slipspace jump to escape the system.
A huge explosion going off near him interrupted any further thoughts. He dove for cover as dirt and debris rained down on him. Concerns for Andrea moved to the back of Michael’s thoughts as he stood up, shaking off the effects of the explosion. He opened a comm channel, “This is Sierra-113. I’m at the edge of Sector-Eight. SITREP?”
The radio channel crackled, the sounds of fighting in the background as a desperate, tired voice replied, “Sierra-113, this is Foxtrot Actual. Glad you could join us. We’ve got Covvies coming at us hard.”
“Where do you need me?” Michael replied.
A set of NAV co-ordinates flashed on Michael’s helmet HUD, and a new waypoint appeared.
“Hook up with Foxtrot-Three... they seem to be getting the worse of it. That platoon needs your support,” replied the weary voice.
“ETA to when the Pelicans arrive?” Michael asked as he headed towards the waypoint.
“Last report has them coming in on a hot approach... fifteen minutes to touchdown.”
“You ready to load once they get here?”
“We’ve got civilians ready to go. We need five minutes to get everyone loaded and the Pelicans can take off.”
“So, we need to hold for another 20 minutes.”
“That’s about it, and then we can fall back.”
Michael activated a timer display on his HUD, setting it for twenty minutes then started the timer to help keep track of the time. The fighting grew more intense as he got closer to his waypoint.
Waves of Grunts streamed towards the human defensive positions with the defenders responding with heavy automatic weapons fire, cutting swaths through the enemy ranks. Explosions thundered and roared as human and alien weapons exchanged fire across the battlefield. Drowned out by this roar were the screams of wounded, scared and dying humans and aliens.
Michael observed a group of Jackals moving up, to support the attacking Grunts, firing their needle rifles and carbines to suppress the defenders’ fire. Tracer rounds from machine guns flew towards this new threat, but the Jackals deflected this fire with their arm-held energy shield units. Michael realized that trying to take them straight on was not an option as he opened a communications channel.
“Foxtrot-Three, this is Sierra-113. Keep concentrating your fire on those Jackals. I’ll flank them and catch them in a crossfire.”
The channel crackled, “Understood,” came a terse reply
Michael used his speed advantage to sprint over terrain that would have slowed down anyone else. It didn’t take long for him to get into a position at an angle on the advancing Covenant troops. He swapped his MA5 for the battle rifle on his back, adjusting the scope as he took aim on the Jackals furthest out. His plan was to start with the enemy at the back and work forward. Hopefully, the aliens at the front wouldn’t realize they were under fire and delay their inevitable response, giving Michael more time to thin out their ranks.
Michael zeroed in on his first target, placing the red dot on the alien’s head, and pulled the trigger. The burst of bullets flew true, taking out the Jackal. The dead alien barely hit the ground before he shifted to another target, firing another burst. His aim was excellent as he took out each alien he targeted, but the problem was that there were so many targets still streaming towards the defenses.
Michael was in the zone, his movements were a well-honed killing rhythm as he swapped out and then emptied ammo magazines into the advancing enemy. Yet, in the back of his mind, he tracked how much ammo he had left for his battle rifle. Despite his dwindling supply of ammo for that weapon, he didn’t slacken his fire. He glanced to the timer counting down on his helmet display to see how long before the Pelicans arrived...
Time lost any meaning as each second felt like a minute and each minute seemed like an hour as the fighting continued to rage on. Michael was almost out of ammo for his battle rifle, so he switched back to his MA5 concentrating his fire on closer enemy targets. He noticed a large mixed group of Grunts and Jackals making a surge through what appeared to be a gap in the defensive fire coverage...
Michael armed a grenade and in a throw that only a Spartan could do, tossed the grenade towards the advancing enemy soldiers. His throw was on the mark as the grenade landed in front of the advancing Covenant. The explosion and fragments cut down the front ranks of the group, forcing the others to drop and seek cover.
Michael didn’t rest on his laurels, following up with another grenade. This time it landed among a group of aliens that were taking cover behind some debris. The explosion ripped through that group. He continued firing short bursts from his assault rifle on the remaining survivors to keep them pinned down. The timer was just passing the fourteen-minute mark when his radio channel came alive with a tired, excited voice.
“Heads up, everybody! Pelicans are here!”
Michael looked up to see a group of fifteen Pelicans come screaming in at high speed. Their approach was bringing them over the battlefield and his position. He realized the dropships were using high speeds on their approach to avoid and minimize their exposure to Covenant fire and air-defenses. Yet, he wondered if the pilots could slow down enough in time to land or if they would just plow into the ground.
The pilots flying those Pelicans knew what they were doing. At the last second, dropship thrusters roared as they fired in full reverse, slowing the dropships down enough to give them a hard, yet safe landing. The landings may have been hard and bumpy, but as long as the dropships could take off again, carrying evacuees, that’s all that mattered. Michael turned his attention back on the attacking Covenant and fired another burst.
Just need to hold for a few more minutes, he thought, continuing to fire short bursts at the enemy.
A shout on the channel jarred him, “JESUS!”
Michael whipped his head back around to the landing zone in time to witness two Pelicans explode, taking their crews and passengers with them. Red balls of plasma arched through the sky to rain down on the landing zone among the dropships, the soldiers and civilians gathered there.
Wraiths! Damn it!
He tracked back the arcing balls of plasma to their source. Zooming in with his helmet optics, he glimpsed the top of a Wraith cresting a low hill and firing a shot from its heavy plasma mortar. From the number of shots coming inbound, Michael estimated there were at least four Wraiths behind that hill. That also meant support troops, providing infantry cover for the vehicles. Normally, one would call in artillery counter-battery fire or use Scorpion tanks to engage, but these weren’t “normal” times. Michael didn’t hesitate, plotting his approach on the hill and the Wraiths behind it.
I’m going to have to sprint this! I’m also going to need something heavier, Michael thought.
With the Wraith fire bracketing the landing zone, Michael skirted the edge of it. Another Pelican exploded from a direct hit, yet even with the Covenant firing, loading operations continued there could be no stopping them... there might not be another chance.
Luck favored Michael as he came upon the wreckage of a Warthog, he snagged more grenades and extra magazines for his battle rifle. The real prize though was the M19 rocket launcher in amongst the wreckage. Michael scooped up the launcher and continued his run towards his objective. There were two rockets loaded in the launcher. It wouldn’t be enough to take out all the Covenant, but it might at least draw their attention away from the landing zone.
He reached a point that gave him a flanking view and position of the enemy. Three Wraiths were in clear view with a fourth one further back, partially hidden by a burned out building. Moving around and between the vehicles was a group of about twenty Grunts with Elites mixed in to provide ground support.
Only got two shots... Got to make them count, Michael thought, raising the rocket launcher to his shoulder. He targeted the middle Wraith in the aiming reticle. His aim point was where the heavy plasma mortar mated to the vehicle’s chassis. He took a deep breath and exhaled, pulling the trigger...
The rocket roared out of the launcher, streaking towards its target. Before the rocket even reached half way to its target, Michael shifted to another Wraith and fired the last rocket. The first rocket hit dead on, the warhead detonating, consuming the Wraith and a few of the Covenant troops surrounding the vehicle in a huge explosion. His aim with the second rocket was just as true as the rocket exploded, taking out another Wraith.
Confusion reigned among the enemy as vehicles burned and bodies littered the ground. Michael took advantage of the confusion, rushing the enemy while they were off balance. He sprinted in, moving like a blur among the enemy, firing bursts from his MA5. The surviving enemy soldiers, belatedly realized the threat among them and finally returned fire on the Spartan attacking them...
Michael ducked and weaved between plasma and needler shots as the surviving Covenant soldiers tried to engage him. Not all of their shots missed as the impact from needle rounds shook his armor and several plasma shots scorched his armor.
He let fly with a grenade, landing among a small group of Grunts being led by an Elite. The frag cut them down as Michael continued engaging the enemy. The plasma turret gunners on the two surviving Wraiths panicked and fired wildly, trying vainly to hit the Spartan. Their wild fire added to the reigning confusion, hitting some surviving support troops and driving others to cover which helped Michael by lessening their fire on him.
He was moving into position to board one of the Wraiths to take it out when a panicked voice filled his helmet almost deafening him.
“PERIMETER BREACH! WE’VE GOT COVENANT INSIDE THE PERIMETER!”
Michael swore under his breath, but didn’t hesitate as he turned away from the surviving Wraiths and sprinted back towards the defense perimeter. As he approached, he saw the surviving Pelicans straining to gain altitude to escape this hellish firestorm with their precious cargo. He opened a comm channel to get more information.
“This is Sierra-113… Foxtrot-Actual do you read?” Michael paused, nothing but static filled the channel.
“Foxtrot-Three, this is Sierra-113… do you copy, over?”
Again, nothing but static...
“Any UNSC forces respond. This is Sierra-113… at NAV coordinates Sector-Eight, Romeo-23, Delta-12… Respond?”
It was strange that no one was responding on the tactical communication channels and Michael briefly felt at a loss of what to do next. A faint voice on the communication channel caught his attention. The scared-sounding voice didn’t sound military.
“P-Please… Is there anyone there? The Covenant are slaughtering all the Marines! They’re inside the refugee areas! They’re killing everybody…! Please help us…! Please…!”
The voice faded out and Michael responded trying to get more information, but there was only static now. He sprinted towards the closest refugee camp within the perimeter.
As he ran, he broadcasted out across all channels, “This is Sierra-113 to all surviving UNSC forces. I’m moving to engage enemy forces attacking the refugee areas in Sector-Eight. Any units able to provide support, respond!”
He understood he was overstepping his authority, but he also knew they needed to protect the civilians. If they got slaughtered, then what was the whole point. He ran faster to close the distance…
As Michael closed to where the refugee areas were, he passed the remnants of UNSC units fighting to hold back other Covenant troops from breaking through. None of them could break off or send anyone to help him... he was on his own.
His audio sensors picked up the sounds of heavy plasma fire coming from over a low rising hill ahead. He heard another noise, but he couldn’t make it out at this distance. Upon reaching the crest of the hill, he looked down into a small valley that sheltered a refugee camp... he wished he hadn’t.
It appeared as if the entire valley was on fire as the tents and shelters used by the refugees burned. Covenant soldiers, made up of Elites and Brutes, moved through the camp systematically murdering everyone. He finally recognized the sound... it was the screams and cries of the people merging as one voice as they were being slaughtered.
The bodies of men, women and children littered the ground. All of them lying in the various contortions of having died suddenly and violently. At the far end of the camp, a few survivors were in panicked flight, trying to escape the killing onslaught. A pitiful handful of Marines and armed civilians continued to fight, trying to cover their escape.
Michael glanced up at the sky... it looked as if the air was on fire. In the distance, a Covenant cruiser hovered, launching waves of Banshees on the human defenses for the final kill. It was a scene straight out of hell.
It’s just like my dreams, Michael thought, finding himself momentarily mesmerized by the scene... the screams brought him back.
His blood boiled over and his anger grew as images and memories played through his mind. John Larson whispering his name as he died... Anders dying by his hand… The bodies of Gunny Schmidt and his squad floating dead in space.
Why? Why did they have to die? What’s the point?
As the screaming faded, another sound caught his attention over the fighting. He took a moment to realize what it was, but then he saw it. The Brutes were laughing... they were laughing at their victims.
Something in Michael snapped in that moment. Everything moved in slow motion as he tightened his grip on his assault rifle and ran towards the camp and the Covenant there. It didn’t take long for him to get their attention as he screamed and fired at them. The Elites and Brutes turned to face the attacking “demon”.
Michael was in the zone, doing his dance of death of moving... firing... change magazine... continue and repeat. The Covenant soldiers now came at Michael in waves which was fine with him, but a part of him noted he was running out of ammunition. A wrecked Warthog caught his attention. He tossed two grenades at the attacking front ranks to buy himself some time. Explosions roared as he sprinted to the wreckage.
The prize of a M247H heavy machine gun on its mounting with a full ammo loadout awaited him. In one fast smooth movement, Michael ripped the machine gun from its mounting and turned to face the onrushing Covenant. A smile formed on his face, but this was one that belonged on a predator just before it struck... one of anticipation. Michael pressed the trigger on the heavy machine gun...
A stream of bullets tore into the ranks of attacking aliens as he swept the machine gun back and forth. Michael screamed at the enemy, finding himself overwhelmed with a hurricane of emotions as he mowed them down.
The Covenant continued charging into the maelstrom of carnage of death, trying to engulf the Spartan like a wave. Their bodies littered the ground around him as a testament to their failure as he continued tearing into their ranks. Elites and Brutes filled the air with plasma shots and needler rounds to bring the Spartan down. Michael’s instincts and reflexes were running on automatic as he dodged and sidestepped to avoid the shots. Despite his augmented reflexes he was still taking hits as his armor absorb them. Heat and pain stabbed his body, but he shrugged them off as the blood lust consumed him and he continued his killing frenzy.
The machine gun clicking dry, told him he was out of ammo, but Michael’s blood lust wasn’t quenched yet. He tossed the weapon aside and moved forward into his self-created death ground decorated with dead and dying Elites and Brutes. The surviving Covenant soldiers were planning to retreat, but with the machine gun no longer firing they moved forward again. That was exactly what Michael wanted as he grabbed a Brute gravity hammer off the ground and moved forward to meet the advancing aliens…
The fighting continued for only another twenty minutes, but for Michael it seemed like a lifetime. To him everything was moving in slow motion, but he was moving at blinding speeds using every ounce of his augmented strength and reflexes to kill.
This is what I was born for… to be the ultimate killing machine…
Now, he stood amongst the dead and shattered remains of the attacking Covenant forces. The Elites refused to run, and died facing him while a few of the Brutes escaped his wrath. There were no thoughts of pursuing them... he didn’t even know what he would do next feeling emotionally and physically drained. His sweat drenched body labored under heavy breathing as he tried to get it back under control. His body throbbed with pain from several injuries, but luckily none of them were serious or life threatening.
Around him there was no movement or signs of life... either human or Covenant. There was only the sound of the wind blowing as the eerie quietness struck him and caused his soul to shudder. The wind sounded like the voice of death as it blew over the battlefield.
Everyone is dead… I’m still alive… Yes, I’m alive, but what does that mean?
He stood there finally getting control of his breathing and inner turmoil.
What do I do now? Where do I go?
He was trying to figure out his next moves when the communications channel came alive. At first, there was nothing but static, but then a faint voice came through. More static filled the channel, but then the voice came through clear.
“Sierra-113, can you read us, over? Sierra-113, respond?”
A moment’s hesitation flowed through Michael, but he took a deep breath as he responded to the call, “Sierra-113 here. Identify yourself? Over.”
An audible sigh came back over the channel, “Thank god, Sierra-113! This is Pelican-498. We’ve been looking for you. We didn’t think you were still alive.”
“What do you want Pelican-498?” asked a confused Michael.
“Send us your NAV co-ordinates. We’re picking you up.”
“What? Where am I going?”
“We have orders to get you off planet.”
A torrent of mixed emotions pulled on Michael as he considered his options, “Negative Pelican-498. I’m staying here. I’m needed here.”
“That’s a negative, Sierra-113. Admiral Whitcomb has implemented ‘Babylon Falling’.”
Michael’s heart froze at those words. Those were the code words to implement the final withdrawal of any remaining UNSC forces from the planet. New Constantinople was being abandoned and written off... no matter how many civilians still left.
It took Michael only a moment to decide what he would do, “Negative, I’ll stay...”
Another sigh filled the channel, “We read you, Sierra-113. The Admiral thought you might say that. This order comes direct from him... you are to board this Pelican and evacuate the planet.”
More emotions, thoughts and memories washed over him. He found he was too numb and empty to decipher what he was experiencing. He couldn’t decide what to do.
“Sierra-113, we’re ten minutes out from your general area. We’re your last ride off this planet. There’s a frigate hiding in a polar orbit waiting for us…” there was a pause.
“… This war is far from over, and we still need you.”
Michael sighed as his training and indoctrination reasserted itself. He stuffed all the emotions and memories down as he realized the truth of what the Pelican pilot was telling him, “Copy that Pelican-498. I’ll pop red smoke to mark my position.”
“Roger that Sierra-113. See you in a few…”
The frigate UNSC Dark Nights was breaking orbit, heading away from the planet before making a Slipspace jump back into human-controlled territory. On the observation deck, Michael stood staring back at the planet he’d spent so much time on. The night-time side of the planet glowed as once bright and thriving human cities, towns and settlements were now dead twisted piles of burning rubble. Covenant ships now swept unopposed, using their plasma weapons to eradicate all life and all traces of human existence from the planet.
As he stared at the planet, memories filled his thoughts. The faces of all those people he’d met there paraded through his head. Each and every one of them was as clear as day. It was his enhanced memory, a byproduct of his augmentations, that gave him this ability, but right now it felt more like a curse.
Maybe in time... Maybe, I’ll forget them…
He realized that was wishful thinking, and he would live with these memories for the rest of his life... however long that was. Among the parade of memories, the words from a poem he’d read when he was younger came to him.
But I have promises to keep… And miles to go before I sleep…He let the words sink in as he continued staring back at the now dead planet. Finally, he turned, leaving the observation deck for his cryo-chamber, and the long sleep home.