|This story, Halo: The Final Visit, written by slowfuture, was voted as the Best Short Fiction of 2018 in the Eleventh Annual Halo Fanon Wikia Awards.|
|This article, Halo: The Final Visit, was written by slowfuture. Please do not edit this fiction without the writer's permission.|
|The Final Visit|
| “A joy it will be one day, perhaps, to remember even this.”
― Virgil, The Aenied
A bright azure star burst into existence, ripping a hole in the fabric of space as it birthed a ship. In an instant, the star faded and collapsed in on itself; leaving no trace of its brief, brilliant, life. Inside the newly born ship, a young woman sat at its helm: her thin, ashen face drowning in the dim blue hue of the control panels. She turned to look at a holographic display of a man scowling at her.
“I’ll not be gone long, Frendsen,” she said, “I’ve something I need to do.”
The holographic depiction of her liaison officer stood grim faced: his arms folded; his lips pursed.
“What exactly is it you have to do, Amy?” Frendsen said, “Things have gone to shit; people are dying.”
“It’s Hera,” she corrected.
“My name,” she said sternly. “It’s Hera.”
Frendsen chewed his bottom lip. “Yes, of course.”
“I’ll contact you when I’m finished,” she paused briefly, “It’s important to me.” The transparent ONI officer sighed, his shoulders loosening. “All right, Spartan. You have two days.”
Hera shuffled in her seat uncomfortably, “thank you, sir.”
She keyed the com off. ‘Spartan’. The word drifted in her skull. It felt incorrect; like the word itself no longer described who she was anymore. It held no meaning. Small beads of perspiration began to trickle down her forehead.
“Shake it off,” she whispered to herself.
The navigation display began flickering green – she had arrived at her destination. Hera quickly got to work bringing her small tug out of slipspace; the blue expanse before her dissipated, leaving her staring into the black void of space.
The ship shuddered violently. Instinctively, Hera rotated her shoulder blades. She put the palms of her hands on the small of her back. Hera pressed deeply and moved her body backwards, hoping to ease the discomfort of long slipspace travel. There was no relief-only a faint phantom pain.
“Damn spine,” she cursed.
A few short weeks ago, Hera had been injured severely. Her spine had needed extensive repairs, and those within the Office of Naval Intelligence believed that, with things as dire as they were, Hera was the perfect candidate for an experimental cybernetic spinal interface. Hera, of course, had not been consulted on whether or not she wanted such a drastic surgery. The results were physically successful, but had significantly damaged Hera’s sense of self.
Hera turned to the co-pilot’s seat, “Still not used to it, Josh.”
She scoffed. Josh wasn’t there; she knew he wouldn’t have been there. Hera’s spine wasn’t the only thing she had lost in that engagement: Josh, her longtime partner and closest friend, had been killed.
He was the reason for her pilgrimage.
A fire raged throughout the interior, the sensors on Amy’s MJOLNIR suit bleeped warnings for her to move away from the scorching heat. Amy stood at the entrance to an escape pod. A gaping hole in the hull separated her from the Spartan still attempting to pilot the fading ship.
“Amy! Now! Jettison the pod!” Josh’s screamed his voice barely audible over the screeching alarms. From her position she could see as Kru’desh ships continued their strafing runs on the ailing prowler.
“No!” She retorted. She was forced to duck as another explosion rocketed the ship.
“Don’t be stupid Amy! I’m dead!” His voice cracked. ”Go!”
Hera took the ships controls in her hands, deactivating the autopilot sequence, desperate to keep out of her head. She gently fired up the engines and followed to the best of her ability the pre-plotted course. It required intense concentration and focus. The young Spartan’s eyes remained open throughout her journey. The silent emptiness of space had crept into the cabin.
After a few moments, her destination came into view. Merkin. A planet glassed by the Covenant almost six years prior. Hera glanced at it. Its surface was a mixture of circular hues of angry orange, and the lifeless turquoise of crystalised earth. She gulped hard. Turning away from the hellish visage before her, Hera reinitiated the autopilot sequence as they approached Merkin’s atmosphere. She stood up from her seat, and moved to the back of the ship. She keyed the code to unlock her personal locker. The locker’s hinges ached as she opened them, Hera winced slightly.
On her locker door, a mirror hung and Hera’s gaze was drawn to it. There was a figure staring back at her. Hera’s eyes narrowed as she scrutinized the figure. The eyes were sunk deep in a purple pool. The face: gaunt; the cheeks were sucked into the mouth. The cheek bones protruded significantly, and were tinged by a sickly yellow. Hera’s eyes next focused the red scar that prominently ran from the bottom the left eye to the opposite side of the jaw. Hera’s hand reached towards the mirror and lightly traced the scar. Slowly, she moved her hand to her own face; the mirror replicated.
“That’s me,” she whispered.
Her hands started to shake and she was forced to ball them into fists to stop them. Hera rotated her head; small cracking noises escaped from her spine. She reached into her locker and grabbed her PATHFINDER Mjolnir helmet. She spun the face away from her and put it on. The Heads-Up-Display came online.
At the top of the display, an icon was blinking. Hera keyed it with her neural interface. LANDING SEQUENCE ENGAGED it said in bold red letters.
Hera reached for the battle rifle that remained in her locker. She stopped briefly, unsure, before deciding to grab it. Hera attached it to the back of her armour just as she felt the thud of the ship as it landed.
Hera inhaled deeply, allowing the stale air to fill her lungs. On the exhale, she pressed the docking ramp button. The ramp hissed as it opened; the hydraulics screeching as it lowered. Hera took another deep inhale as she headed down the ramp, her boots thumping loudly on the metal.
As hellish as Merken had looked as a celestial body, it was even worse on the ground. A fierce wind whipped around Hera, glass detritus and hot ash pounding her body. The MJOLNIR armour she wore struggled at times to keep the worst of it out. Caution lights flashed up in her field of vision, alerting her to the ash build up. She keyed them off; a pernicious consequence of this pilgrimage.
The surface of Merken was brittle. The ground cracked underneath the armoured Spartan’s heavy boot. Hera had never visited Merken before its glassing, and was unaware of what it had once looked like. To her, it was a world of rolling scorched hills; where once snow had sat, lifeless molten rock now lay.
As she walked alongside a lake, it spat angry bubbles of sulphur at her. One could wonder what marine life had once inhabited this place before the glassing. On her first visit to Merken, finally being confronted with the scale of the Covenant’s methodical dedication to destruction had left an indelible mark upon Hera’s soul. Now Hera struggled to notice the carnage around her. It all bled into a shimmering grey that drowned the corner of her eyes.
After several hours of travelling, the lone supersoldier finally approached her destination. A small, seemingly innocuous cave indistinct from any other cave one would find. She began to breathe faster, her head started to feel light. She was forced to pause and lean against the mouth of the cave entrance as she tried to compose herself.
“Theirs was not to reason,” a voice said in her helmet, startling Hera.
“Don’t turn on your IFF,” said another, a female voice this time.
“Theirs was not to reason,” the first voice repeated.
Hera paused and bit down on her lip. She had not expected other Gammas to be here. Around her, the glass storm began to pick up in its intensity; lightening cracked violently in the sky above. The winds battered the young Spartan with increasing speed, detritus whipping up around her.
“Why? Do and die,” Hera replied, quieting her uncertainty and keen to get out of the rapidly deteriorating storm.
Three green flashes appeared on her heads up display.
“Welcome home, Gamma,” a third voice said.
Hera remained blank faced as she headed deeper into the cave. It wasn’t long before she entered the dimly lit purple chamber she had come here for. Hera was at The Missing Wall; an exclusive, Gamma run memorial to the fallen.
The chamber was lit by four lights at each of the corners; they revealed walls covered in etchings of hundreds of names: each of them a Spartan-III killed, each of them never allowed to be remembered. The etchings were faint and difficult to discern from the entrance of the cave.
“That was quite a trek in,” an unknown voice said.
Hera mused on who these Spartans were.
“You were able to track my ship?” she asked.
“Yeah,” he replied, “We weren’t sure why you had decided to land so far away.”
“Had to,” Hera said flatly. “I needed to clear my head.”
Hera took a step deeper into the chamber, her head moving around as she took in all the names on the walls; all the personal scribblings by those left behind. The Spartans in the room moved away from her, giving her space in her most holy ritual.
After a few moments, Hera stopped.
“You weren’t here the first time,” she said absent mindedly, “When we built this.”
“Who wasn’t here?” the female Spartan replied.
“Him,” she said as she pointed to another Spartan. “Ralph had to etch their names in, Jake.”
“My IFF tag wasn’t on,” Jake said flabbergasted, his arms gesticulating upwards.
“I know your posture,” Hera said soothingly.
“I don’t know yours,” he said. “I don’t know you.”
“You do,” Hera replied as she continued to walk around the room.
Hera lightly traced her fingers along the engravings; the indentations tickling her skin. The Spartans behind her looked at one another. Jake repeated his earlier gesticulations as Hera continued to walk around the chamber.
“Who’re you looking for?” the female Spartan asked.
“My team,” Hera replied.
Hera could hear a tut escape from someone’s mouth.
“You don’t need to be so cryptic with us,” a voice said, speaking for the first time. “Us Gammas are a family.”
Hera sighed and paused her search. She turned to face the Fireteam behind her.
“Xiphos,” she said.
“Xiphos?” Jake said. “Amy?”
Behind her MJOLNIR helmet Hera bit down hard; her teeth crunching under the pressure.
“Yes,” she said barely escaping through the gritted teeth.
“Don’t you remember us?” One said, “It’s me, Kody! And that’s Wynne and Shepard. Jake, well, you already guessed him.”
Kody laughed gently.
“I remember,” Hera softly touched the centre of her chest with the palm of her left hand.
Hello, brothers and sisters.
All but Jake returned the affectionate Gamma gesture.
“Last I heard you weren’t in this area of space,” Jake said flatly.
“We heard you and Josh were out tracking down some rogue Sangheili sect,” Wynne continued. Hera nodded, “things changed.”
“I bet it was this thing with the damn AIs,” Kodiak said.
“How badly did the AI thing hit you both?” Wynne asked before Hera had a chance to respond.
“The Created, isn’t that what they’re calling themselves?” Shepard interjected.
“Yeah, something to do with the Mantle,” Jake said. “No idea what that shit is.”
“Yeah we got hit,” Hera began, “Our own AI turned on us mid-jump.”
“Jesus,” Shepard said.
“What about your team?” Hera asked, quickly changing the subject. “Wasn’t Shepard your mission?”
Shepard laughed bitterly.
“They found me.”
“They sure did,” Hera said. “What about now?”
“Simon,” Jake spat, “That’s who we’re after.”
Hera felt beads of perspiration start to trickle down the back of her neck. Flashbacks of the prior week’s still burned in her retinas. She looked away from the group, her fists clenching tightly.
“Amy?” Someone said, bringing her out of her stupor.
“Still uh,” she stuttered, “still hunting traitors even with all this stuff going on?”
“It’s more important we find and root out collaborators more than ever,” Jake hissed. Hera’s shoulders shrugged. Loyalty to the UNSC seemed to be less of a priority to her now more than ever.
“I heard Earth was hit bad,” Hera said.
“Yeah,” Wynne started, “we were onboard the Infinity as it happened.”
“The ship managed to escape but we’re not sure what the next steps are,” Shepard said.
Before he continued, he looked around the chamber, “For any of us, really.”
Silence once again descended upon the chamber. Hera was not used to spending time with her fellow Gammas outside of Josh. It had been years since she had even seen John and Clara, the other two members of Violet-III. The awkwardness Hera felt was not disguised at all to the other Spartans in the room. Hera’s fingers twitched constantly, desperately trying to find something to grab on it. She’d run one index finger between the thumb and index finger of her other hand, or she’d run her fingers down her neck. To the Spartans in the room, she might as well have been screaming.
“Are you okay, Amy?” Kody asked as he took a few steps towards her.
Hera shook him off.
Something finally dawned on Kodiak, and his mouth opened slightly inside his helmet.
“Where is Josh?” Kody said as he gazed around the room, “Why ain’t he here?” Hera’s heart fluttered. She coughed drily. Each of the other Spartans turned to face Hera.
“Amy?” Shepard said; his voice was full of concern.
“Josh is… ah,” Hera spluttered, “He’s, the uh, the reason I’m here.”
“Josh is dead?” Shepard said, “Fuck.”
Hera nodded almost imperceptibly.
“Josh is dead,” Kodiak mimicked. “I don’t know what to say, Amy, I’m sorry.”
Hera’s leg collapsed slightly, forcing her to place her weight against the wall. Silence once again made its presence known in the room.
“I need to add his name to the wall,” she said after what felt like an age. Wynne spread her arms and waved them towards the exit.
“I’m sorry, Amy,” she said. Hera nodded.
“I hope the next time we meet, you’re not a name on the Wall,” Wynne said the traditional Wall farewell.
Hera’s Gamma compatriots began to filter out of the cave. Jake stopped and placed his hand on the edge of the entrance to the cave.
“I’m sorry, Amy,” he said softly. “Josh was one of the best of us.”
“No he wasn’t,” Hera replied.
Jake laughed, “I know.”
He stopped awkwardly and cracked his knuckles and then turned around to face her. He paused for a moment too long before placing his right hand on his heart, palm down and tapping it twice.
Goodbye, Gamma, I’m sorry.
Hera bowed her head. She watched as Jake left; finally, she was the only one left.
She continued to walk through the chamber, taking in the carvings etched into the walls of all those lost throughout the years. Each Alpha and Beta who had died nameless and unloved, had found themselves reborn by the painstaking etchings their youngest siblings had undertaken in a religious fervor. Kurt and Mendez had never spoken about those that had come before and Hera now wondered with Kurt’s death, if Mendez would simply forget him and the Gammas too.
Hera finally found her team’s grave. She traced her fingers over the three names, and her eyes were drawn to the epitaph Josh had written for them, which she had never seen before. Their strength kept me alive when mine failed.
A wry smile appeared at the corner of Hera’s mouth. Maria, Andrew and Colin had indeed been strong, and it was typical of Josh to find a selfish reason for their deaths. In his own way, he had needed their death to serve a purpose and this filled that need.
“You never were very good at this stuff,” she said.
I was always better than you were, she imagined him saying. As he said it, she could picture him cracking a rare smile, his teeth on display for the world to see.
“I’m going to miss you,” she said, tears welling up in her eyes, “I’m all alone.”
Hera wept for a moment, soft sobs echoed inside her helmet. She hiccupped as she tried to steel herself. Hera inhaled deeply and exhaled with as much force as she could muster.
“Okay,” she said and coughed. Hera put her head back and moved it from left to right.
There was a satisfying crack and pressure seemed to ease from the back of her neck. Hera fumbled through one of the many leg pouches attached to her MJOLNIR armour. She quickly found the etching tool she required. She gently placed the tip of it below Colin’s name and steadied herself. Hera turned the tool on and began to carve Josh’s name into the Wall. The shavings sprayed over her helmet and spiraled effortlessly to the ground. Hera had not been the one to engrave her fallen teammates, so her writing was not as tidy as Josh’s had been. After struggling for a few minutes, she finally was able to create a legible engraving.
Joshua-G024. Missing since October 28th, 2558.
Hera took a step back to admire her handiwork. It was clumsily done, but it was earnest. She turned the etching tool back on and wrote her own epitaph for Joshua.
I'll never forget you, Josh. I hope, wherever you are now, you're happy, it said.
The Xiphos survivor placed her palm over the names of her fallen comrades, her sobs coming back to her like a raging torrent, causing her to drop her tool onto the floor. After a few moments, the young Spartan finally stopped crying; her heart completely numb. She steadied herself as she got to her feet gingerly. There was nothing left for her in this chamber anymore.
“Time to go,” she said to herself.
Never again would she visit the wall.