Authors Note: It is highly recommended that Halo: Mercy Kill is read before this story for plot issues.
|1547 Hours, April 11th, 2554
Quito Space Tether, Earth Orbit
The entire room was bustling with activity. Hundreds of people walked to and fro across the departure area of the station atop the huge space elevator, which was safely latched into the Ecuadorian capital many hundreds of miles below. Even two years after the official end of the war, most resources on the orbital were still being commandeered by the UNSC, though commercial flights were becoming available again. One such flight was due to leave in fifteen minutes. A man clad in a long coat, sporting a shaven head and several tattoos, stalked across the main floor towards the terminal that would lead to one of many shuttles currently docked at the station.
This particular man didn't get many glances from the other passengers making their way to the gate. The particular shuttle here would be travelling to Circumstance, one of the very few Inner Colonies remaining after the war. However, when a second man, wearing black body armour sprinted into the lounge, calling after him, every eye was on them. Two security personnel took notice, and began moving towards the man, their hands going towards their weapons.
The man turned to face the armoured trooper, face concealed behind an opaque visor. He didn't seem to pay much attention to the two security guards behind him. He sighed, and ran a hand over his scalp.
"What is it Ash, come to say goodbye?"
The Orbital Drop Shock Trooper removed his helmet, revealing a pale face with a noticeable scar running across his chin. As the security staff reached out to grab Mal, he stepped forward, glowering at the pair of them. They backed off instantly. ODST's, commonly known as 'Helljumpers', were known for being about as hardcore as you got in the military just short of becoming a Spartan.
"Back off boys, he's not causing any trouble," said Ash Mitchell. They did so, returning to their post without a glance back. Mal smirked at this.
"Y'know, it's when you do stuff like this that you remind me of McNair."
"You keep saying that, Sergeant Roberts, but you ended up with the robot arm."
Mal frowned at this, his right arm moving over his prosthetic left instinctively. He had lost a week ago to a high-powered energy blast. "Oh, and I'm not a Sergeant any more Ash, I took the promotion and quit, remember?"
"That's why I'm here, Mal. You loved being a hellie. You were one of the best too. Remember our first mission, Draco III?"
"Ash, I really don't have-"
"Remember?!" Mal looked down and sighed at this. It had been their first mission as ODST's, nine years ago. The two of them had been dropped in as part of a forty-man unit under the command of Henry McNair, their former trainer. It had been a losing battle from the start, and by the end, only the pair of them, along with a group of Spartans and another ODST team, had managed to get out alive. It had been a harrowing experience, one that had shaped their lives as soldiers. Mal had always been something of a loud mouth, always cocky and confident. Now, everything about him seemed to look haggard, as if he had suddenly aged every day of his forty years in just a week.
"I remember, Ash. I see what you're doing, too. Look, attempting to appeal to McNair's memory or whatever won't work, I've made up my mind. I'm done with all this bullshit command is pressing on us. That last mission? Lost my goddamn arm, and for what? So the place gets blown up and the freaks rescue their buddy? That it?"
For the first time in all the years Ash had known him, Mal Roberts looked genuinely terrified. The trooper looked at his friend in silence as he attempted to regain his composure before continuing.
"And that's not all, too. They knew I wanted out. ONI knows everything about us. You think they'd let me retire in peace? I get my throat cut or catch a bullet and suddenly you get news that I've had a heart attack. I'm leaving, Ash. Only one place I can go where they'd have trouble finding me."
Mitchell was utterly dumbdfounded. "You're shacking up with Innies? Mal, you're not serious?"
"Why not? I ain't into that 'down with Earth' stuff. I'll find a place in the outer colonies, far away. Retire. Have a life, since I've wasted most of it fighting Covvies."
Ash had to admit, some of the stuff his old friend was saying had made a lot of sense. He doubted that ONI would take kindly to anyone telling the public about ancient alien death machines not long after the war.
"Look, I'm not asking you to join up again, I'm actually considering leaving myself. I just think you should stay on Earth with me for now?"
Mal snorted. "What, didya fall in love with me or something? I'm not into you."
His armoured friend almost punched him for that. "No Mal, you know that's not what I mean. Think about it, if you do leave, it'll only provoke more suspicion. You don't want that!"
A voice through the speakers announced that the flight to Circumstance was now boarding. Mal turned away from the ODST and began to stalk towards the exit before Ash grabbed his shoulder. Mal turned round, his robotic hand shooting towards his friend's throat.
"Fuck off, Ash. You want to play soldier boy with yer oonskie pals, fine. I'm done with this shit for good. Last mission opened my eyes to how pointless everything we were doing was. Fighting aliens? Fine, but I ain't playing curbstomper now the colonies are getting riled up. I'm-"
Looking down, Mal saw an M6D pistol pressing against his chest. Through his visor, he could see that Ash's eyes had taken on the hard, cold look associated with a trained killer. The robotic had released its grip, and he stepped back.
"Bye," Mal muttered, and turned away.
Ash Mitchell holstered the weapon. He honestly couldn't believe it had come to that. Mal Roberts had been his best friend for years, and now they were literally at each other's throats. As much as he had despised the Human-Covenant War, it had brought humanity together, his time fighting in the ODST's along people from all different homeworlds and backgrounds had taught him that. Now everything was back to some semblance of normality, the veil had been lifted, and people's true colours were being shown. It had just taken Mal a couple of years to snap.
He sighed, looking around glumly at passers-by. Ash had to get back to the frigate he was stationed on. As an officer, he had to control the men and women under his command and inform them of their next assignment: a counter-rebel op on an inner colony world where massive riots had broken out. He wasn't sure of the details, but had a bad feeling that the ODST's wouldn't be there to keep order-they would enforce it, probably with gunfire. Ash gave one last look at the transfer gate to the Circumstance flight before setting off in the opposite direction.
He had tried, at least. Hopefully Mal would find whatever peace he sought out in the colonies. He deserved that, at least. If not, then Ash prayed that they never met on the battlefield as enemies. He would kill his friend without a moment's hesitation, and that was what frightened him the most.
I might not be far behind you, buddy.