Prologue - Under Attack
I looked up from my book at my mom. Her graying, once dirty blonde hair brought out the color of her blue eyes. Those were the eyes I looked into every day when I was a baby, lying on my back, looking up at my protector. Those eyes signified gentleness and care, warmth and love. As I looked into them now, I still felt that warmth, although in a different way. It’s a more understanding kind of love, refined throughout my years of developing maturity.
But now, those eyes showed fear and anxiety, along with a different kind of love; a protective, worrisome kind of love. She fidgeted on her feet and tugged at the hem of her gray shirt. My brow creased in confusion.
“Mom, what’s the matter?”
“It’s your brother,” she said, her voice shaking a bit. I could see fear in her eyes. Now I was worried. My mother didn’t get this upset unless something really bad was going on.
“What about him?” I asked tentatively. She swallowed.
“He hasn’t returned from the market. I don’t know why; I tried calling him, but he won’t answer.” I relaxed slightly. It didn’t seem like a major issue. But then again, my mom seemed really agitated. I was about to reassure her that everything would be fine when she continued talking.
“This could be serious, Jason. When I turned on the news, the comm-casters were talking about something happening in one of the cities farther out on the colony. They said that they had started to lose communications with them, and that there had been military mobilization. I think that’s what’s happened at the market; the military is keeping in civilians.”
I frowned. “Well why the heck would they do that?”
My mom opened her mouth to respond when suddenly, her eyes went wide with shock.
My heartbeat quickened as I tried to figure out what was wrong. “Mom, what’s the matter?” She pointed a shaking hand out of my bedroom window. I turned to follow her gaze and froze in place on my bed.
A huge, dark purple ship was emerging from the clouds, moving slowly across the horizon towards our town. As it got closer, it started to take up the entire sky, blocking out the sun and casting my world into an unnatural darkness. The ship was ovular, with a wider, flatter middle and more rounded ends. Small fins jutted out of the underbelly of the front and the back of the bulbous, insect-like apparition.
“Holy shit,” I muttered. “It’s them.” I saw my mom’s face fall, and I could tell that she was starting to panic.
“Mom, stay calm,” I said, trying to keep my fear from showing in the tone of my voice. “It’ll be fine; it’s just some sort of . . . some kind of -”
BOOM! A bomb-sized blast shook the house as a bright green explosion flared outside our house. I fell out of my bed and landed on the wooden floor, landing on my wrist. I gasped out in pain, and my mom reached out to lift me up. Another blast rocked the building as we hurried out into the family room. The holoscreen was on, showing nothing but an error message.
“That was on the news channel,” my mom muttered. “The one I was watching before I went to get you . . .” She looked at me and I registered what she was trying to tell me: the news station was gone. We were under attack.
I couldn’t believe it. We’re under attack.
“It’s the Covenant! Nothing else would have ships like that” I protested, trying to wrap my mind around the fact that the things destroying my home were the same wretched creatures who had almost destroyed the entire planet eighteen years ago. My mom shook her head, her mouth hanging open as she tried to form words. Then another explosion broke the silence, followed by screams. The bomb must have hit one of our neighbor’s houses, probably the Donovan’s. I looked out the window at the smoldering wreckage of their home. I could see Mr. Donovan lift himself off the ground next to his overturned tractor. He had been doing work while his family stayed inside . . . and now they were . . . they were . . .
“Jason!” my mom yelled. “We have to go!”
I tore my gaze from Mr. Donovan’s shaking form as his wails began to reach our ears and nodded hurriedly. “You’re right. Let’s go to the car and go get Chris.” We ran outside to where our old car sat in the driveway. I looked off across the plains of wheat and farmland and saw plumes of smoke rising into the sky. If I wasn’t already panicking, then I certainly was now.
My god, I thought. They’re destroying everything! I didn’t know exactly who “they” were, but I was positive of one thing: they were fucking evil.
My mom and I just stood there for a second, trying to take it all in, when we heard a scream behind us.
“Get down!” I realized it was Mr. Donovan yelling the warning when a strange hum filled the air and another bright green explosion filled my vision. I was thrown from my feet and landed on the grass in front of my house, the force of the impact driving the air from my lungs. My ears were ringing and I could barely lift my head.
I groaned and attempted to stand up, wobbling around and almost falling over again. I reached out and found the side of my house for stabilization, trying to clear my head and think straight.
Oh shit, I thought. Mom! I looked around and saw her lying a few feet away from our now demolished car, a cut on her forehead leaking blood onto her face.
“Mom!” I yelled, trying to get her to wake up as I stumbled towards her prone body. “Mom, get up! We have to get to Chris!” I finally reached her and began to shake her. She had to wake up. She just had to.
Tears began forming in my eyes. I blinked a couple times to keep them from coming out, because I knew I’d lose it if I gave in. My mom was going to be fine.
“Mom! Wake UP! We have to get out of here!” I clutched her hand in both of mine, searching her expression for some sign of life. Nervously, I pressed two fingers to the side of her neck, checking her pulse.
Despite all of the pleading, the familiar beat of my mother’s heart that I had known so well as a child, always present when I pressed against her for comfort, was not there. I felt nothing. I frantically felt again, my throat aching from the effort of trying to hold down the sobs that threatened to burst from me. But there was nothing.
That was when I released the tears, letting them stream down my face and fall onto my mom’s green shirt. The sobs wracked my body as I looked up at the Donovan’s smoldering home and Mr. Donovan’s blackened body a short distance away. He had tried to warn us, even after he lost his entire family. And now he and my mom were dead.
The sound of more explosions shook me out of my daze. Some sounded close, others farther off. The ship was still blocking the sunlight, but now I could make out hundreds of other smaller ships flying around, like swarms of tiny gnats compared to the behemoth around which they flew. They must have been the ones bombing us; the ones making the strange humming sound.
The sight of smoke and charred earth reminded me of my mission. I had to get to Chris. I stood up, wiping the tears from my face as I looked down at my mom. I didn’t have the time to move her, let alone bury her. I fought off more tears as I thought of her lying here forever.
I began to walk away from the wrecked car and my mother’s body.
“I’ll be back,” I murmured, choking on the words as I said them. They were lies. I would never be able to come back here. “I’ll find Chris. Then I’ll come back for you.”
I began to run, running down the gravel path that wove through flat plains of golden farmland, now tainted with craters of blackened dirt, only a mere shadow of the destruction that I would come to know in the following years.
My home planet, Arcadia, was first attacked by the alien threat known as the Covenant in 2531. That year, the Covenant ended up killing millions of people in most of the continents on the planet, leaving the few survivors to seek refuge in my home community, Abaskun. In the year 2549, they came back again to finish the extermination they had started, which was when they destroyed my home. The people of Arcadia never threatened the Covenant. We did not make a preemptive strike or provoke any sort of conflict. They decided to kill us because we existed. Because we were not like them, or because we didn’t believe in the same things they did. They wanted to wipe out not only humanity, but every living thing in the galaxy, including themselves, to propel them on some “great journey” that would allow them to reunite with their creators. Well, if the slimy bastards wanted to meet their makers, I was more than happy to help them along.
I found my brother in the midst of a huge planet-wide evacuation effort. The entire population of Arcadia was struggling to escape the genocide that was occurring on their homeland. Chris and I were herded onto the nearest escape flight off the planet along with hundreds of other men, women, and children, all of which were completely innocent and had nothing to do with the ensuing conflict. Our own military forces were caught completely off guard from the attack, and were therefore woefully unprepared for any sort of defense or counter strike that might have saved the planet.
Despite the warnings of the soldiers on our evacuation flight, Chris and I positioned ourselves by the window of our ship. I stood there and watched the Covenant raze my planet, my home, with lasers so hot, they turned the ground to glass. My brother stood there next to me, my last pillar of strength as waves upon waves of grief, frustration, and fear engulfed me. Me, a 16-year-old leaning against my 18-year-old brother, crying in front of hundred of onlookers who were in the same situation I was in.
They probably needed the same support I did, and as a growing young man, I was sure my mother would have wanted me to be strong. She would have looked me in the eye and said, “Jason, you need to be more than this right now. You need to be strong. I love you, Jason, and I know you can do it.”
But I wasn’t. I stood there and cried. I witnessed, firsthand, the death of my mother, friend, and home; and there was nothing I could do about it.
I hated the feeling of not being able to help, of being so close to someone or something, and knowing that if it was possible, you would do anything to help them. But most of all, I hated sitting around and doing nothing when there was something you could do. Chris hated it as well. He was fortunate enough to have the opportunity, because of his age, to enlist in the UNSC. I would have to wait another year.
I was ready to go right then and there and fight for humanity and all of the people who had died, or lost loved ones, or lost their homes. I knew I had something to fight for. That’s what’s most important when you believe in something: to believe in it so strongly and with all your heart, that you’re willing to give your life for it. That’s sacrifice.
When you fight a war, you have to believe in something. If you don’t, then you’re just fighting without a cause, and without a real purpose. Mindless violence isn’t the answer to anything. Honor, courage, sacrifice; that’s what you should fight for.I sure as hell was going to do just that.