|2107 Hours, March 3rd, 2553
Voi War Memorial, East Africa, Earth
Though the sun had long since set over the Kenyan plains, the hillside memorial site still shone in the darkness, illuminated on all sides by recently-erected floodlights that bathed the single picture-adorned Pelican wing in artificial light. Nearby, another dropship touched down on the dirt and cut its engines as the rear bay door clanked open. One by one, a trio of men clambered down and approached the memorial itself. Clad in immaculate black dress uniforms bristling with medals, they were easily identified as SPARTAN-II's, mankind's most famous defenders.
"Well, this is it," Jax-007 looked around, nodding in appreciation at the rather humble-looking monument. "Shame we missed the ceremony."
"It's for the best," his comrade spoke, patting him on the shoulder as he walked past.
By SPARTAN-II standards, Marco-035 appeared absolutely jubilant, striding up the ramp towards the lone dropship wing to examine the assortment of photographs, flowers, and messages scrawled about the base. Behind him, Kane-098 stood with his hands behind his back, slowly breathing in the cool night air.
"Twenty-eight years", he announced suddenly. "That's how long we've been fighting the Covenant."
Marco raised an eyebrow. "You think the fighting's actually going to end, Chief?"
"I doubt it."
The Human-Covenant War had been over for less than a day now, made official by the service held here earlier. For the Spartans, this was something that would take time for them to accept. They had spent hours in armour today, standing by at a nearby monitoring station and looking up at the CAS-class Assault Carrier Shadow of Intent as it loomed overhead, expecting an attack at any moment. It wasn't until the ceremony had ended and the Sangheili delegation departed that their sudden alliance with the alien species really dawned on the trio.
Marco stepped down from the memorial, his eyes pausing for a moment on the number somebody had carved into it before heading to stand beside the others. The trio stood in silence for some time, each mulling things over internally.
"Surprised the Threes didn't come," Jax spoke first, sounding a little disappointed.
Marco shrugged. "Wasn't their thing, They got signed up for Covvie cleanup detail while we're stuck here in these...monkey suits."
Jax smirked, knowing just how much his friend despised formal dress. Without the second skin that was their MJOLNIR armour, the Spartans all felt some level of discomfort and nakedness, though it was easy to ignore. His smile soon faded as he looked back towards Kane, who seemed to be staring off at nothing in particular.
"You okay?" Jax asked.
"Just thinking," came the reply. Kane waited a few seconds before swallowing. "I think I expected things to end differently; that we'd all be here together, or wouldn't make it out at all."
"It's better than nothing."
"It's..." for a moment, Kane seemed at a loss for words. "Confusing."
For the first time, Sigma Team's leader seemed rather disturbed. Horrifying as it was, the war provided them with mission after mission; an endless level of deployments that kept them busy for almost three decades without sign of slowing down once. Peace wasn't something they had ever taken into account, and without the looming threat of the Covenant in the background at was as though they had been cut adrift, now facing the endless sea of uncertainty that was the future.
Jax swiftly changed the subject. "Think we should head off? NAVSPECWAR's going to be gearing up for counter-insurgency ops soon."
"Yeah," Kane closed his eyes. "We've paid our respects. No point dwelling on the dead."
"Feels strange to think that it's finally over," Marco yawned, turning back towards their Pelican. "I'm sure they'll keep us busy."
"I'm sure they will. Let's move, Sigma."