|September 28th, 2558
Nikol-Andat System, Joint Occupation Zone
"Do you hate me?"
What remained of the UNSC Good Vibes drifted through the cosmos, propelled only by the momentum of the blast that had ripped the corvette almost in half barely an hour before. Bereft of its primary power source, the ship was now lit only in dim red emergency lights that flickered across deserted corridors, dotted with floating corpses in bloody uniforms. Spent casings and burnt debris moved slowly through the low-gravity environment, past sealed security doors and out into the gaping void where the engine room had once been.
Aboard this lifeless piece of metal were only two living beings, ensconced in heavy armour and cut off from each other by the five inches of Titanium-A plating that separated the ship's starboard corridor from its tiny shuttle bay. Facing each other through a tiny window of reinforced glass, the pair stood still as statues as they conversed within their own private worlds.
"Do you hate me?" May repeated, peering through towards her black-armoured best friend.
"How could I?" came the immediate reply from Julian. "Never."
May and Julian were Spartans. Third-Generation. Gamma Company. G210 and G209. For sixteen of their nineteen-year lives, they had been completely inseparable, weathering the harshest military regimen ever inflicted on a human being alongside the burden of having to fight in an interstellar war immediately afterwards. There had been triumphs and defeats during that time; heavy losses and moments of levity. Now, after all this time, things were coming to an end.
"You should," May shook her head. Whereas Julian's suit was sleek and dark, her own angular armour had been painted over many times with a sky-blue coat that had been marred countless times in battle.
"It's not too late, May," her partner rapped on the glass. "The others will be here soon. They'll understand. They'll help fix this."
May shook her head, glad that Julian couldn't see her face, still streaked with blood and grime from her previous battle. Today had been her breaking point; a day she had seen coming for months. She and her other Spartans had lived to fight, being thrown at target after target with reckless abandon. It had been a distraction from things at first; a way of coping with lost friends as she and Julian and their new team carried out their duties as ordered. It could never have lasted, of course. She had felt something gradually chipping away at her; a presence that had existed since the first time she had watched a comrade's life snuffed out before her eyes.
It was fear.
Fear was something they had been taught to suppress. Something they had been taught to understand. Spartans knew how to use fear against their foes and how to ignore their own, replacing it with logical calculations and an even greater desire to adapt and emerge victorious at any cost. May knew all this, yet it was a horrible feeling that she could never quite suppress.
"It's for the best!" her voice rose sharply. "Just let me go. Forget about me."
Julian laughed. "If I were in there, I'd punch you for saying something so stupid."
"I'm serious, Julian. I'm done with all this. I'm going to go off and find somewhere I can live in peace."
"You say that, and yet you're still here. I'd have run off the moment the crew were dead."
"I would have, if it weren't for you."
"Aren't I supposed to kill you?" he fished a handgun out from his holster and tapped it against the window. "That's the policy for rogues and runaways, I've heard."
"It wouldn't be right not to say goodbye, and to apologise."
On the day May-G210 had chosen to run away from her life as a Spartan supersoldier, the UNSC Good Vibes had shown up without warning, with orders to take her and Julian on a classified mission. Such events were not uncommon, and the would-be runaway had accepted this without hesitation. Freedom, after all, could be gained another day. It was not until several hours into the flight that May, helmetless and tense in the confines of the corvette's barracks, had overheard two officers discussing her from several rooms away.
The Office of Naval Intelligence had discovered her plans, and they wanted to make sure that she never left them.
The crew of the Good Vibes had evidently not been properly briefed on the full breadth of a Spartan's augmentations, and were unaware that with her superb hearing she could hear a pin drop from the other end of the vessel if she really tried. Their false smiles and polite courteousness after she had emerged did nothing but incense May's anger even further, as did the realisation that they had brought Julian on board to act as her guard and if necessary, her executioner. Always one to take the initiative, May had gone straight to her weapons locker, fished out a small brick of C-12 explosives, and marched into the engine room with a gun in her hand.
In the ninety seconds it took to force her way into the sealed door without a card, plant the C12, return to her room and retrieve her helmet, every single member of the Good Vibes' crew sans Julian had been killed. Two engineers had fallen by the engines, while a further six armed crewmen died in their attempts to stop the frantic Spartan. The explosion took care of the rest and Julian, who had been lounging by the command room, had narrowly avoided being sucked into space before chasing her towards the starboard airlock and the only way off the doomed vessel: a tiny, slipspace-capable shuttle.
"I can get you help," Julian stowed the weapon away, pressing his blue-tinted visor against the glass. "They've got all these resources for Spartans like us. We-"
"I don't want help!" May snapped rather unfairly. "I want to be free."
Such a concept was alien to the pair of them, raised for most of their lives in a purely hierarchical military environment. There had been comfort in a chain of command and little to do but await orders. Some indulged in their little hobbies, while May and Julian, assigned to the notorious attack dogs of Thor Team, were either fighting or recuperating. Julian took a step back, drawing himself up to his full height before the airlock door.
He held out an arm. "May, I'm warning you, don't do this. ONI will find you, and you know who they'll send to hunt you down. Do you want Thor after you?"
The idea of fighting her former teammates was terrifying to May. Unlike Julian, they cared little for other Spartans outside of battlefield comradeship and would gladly end her life if told to do so. She soon wiped the thought with a smirk; this was a fear she could ignore.
"Let them come," she half-turned, and tapped the entrance code for the shuttle. "I'll ditch this ship, and the suit if I have to. It's a big galaxy to hide in."
"And what about your smoothers, huh?" Julian mimicked injecting a needle into his forearm. "What happens to your head when they wear off"?
Two days ago, May and Julian had received a longer-lasting version of a drug cocktail designed to stabilise their minds and counteract a series of harmful side-effects brought on by their unique mental augmentations. While it meant that they'd fight to the point of dropping dead if necessary, it also meant that neural degradation was a serious threat. With ONI as their only supplier, Gamma Company were hopelessly dependent on these drugs to remain sane, though there were a rare few who could go without them for longer without completely losing it.
"I'll see what happens," she shrugs. "Maybe I'll feel better, maybe I'll stick a gun in my mouth."
"You want that?!" Julian smacked his fist against the airlock window, though this only made May hasten her retreat into the shuttle. "May, I need you as much as you need me!"
If he was trying to cut deep, then it was working. Standing inside the open door of the shuttle, away from what remained of the corvette, May removed her helmet and tossed it back towards the cockpit. Teardrops streaked silently down her face, cutting through the dirt as she reached out with an armoured hand to touch the other side of the glass. This would be the single worst thing she had ever done, but it was the truth, and she hated it just as much as he would.
"I'm sorry Julian, but I don't need you any more. Goodbye."
With that, she turned and entered the tiny shuttlecraft, aware that without her helmet, Julian hadn't heard her final words. He slammed his fist into the opening again and again, creating tiny cracks that deepened and spread with each mighty blow from the supersoldier. May sat in the pilot's chair and quickly flipped through the departure protocol, detaching the ship from the corvette's airlock and kicking its thrusters into gear. As it lifted off, the window finally gave way, sending shards of glass spiralling out into space as Julian-G209 reached for the exterior door controls and forced it open.
He was alone now. His air supply would last long enough for the rescue shuttle to pick him up, that was certain. However, May was gone. She had left with little explanation besides a brief mention of having people to go to and a vague idea of living a peaceful life. To him, it was a ridiculous endeavour; foolish beyond belief. They would track her down and slaughter her for this. The faint light of the shuttle's engines had long since winked out of existence for Julian, though he kept his eyes fixated on their vanishing point. His brief anger had been ignored; compartmentalised with most of his feelings. Nothing seemed to really matter any more.
I don't need you.
Julian didn't have to hear her to know his greatest friend's parting words. They would have been callous and selfish if said by anyone else, but that final glance into her eyes had detected only sorrow and regret. Perhaps she would come back. Perhaps she'd die. Perhaps he'd murder her himself. As the rescue ship emerged from slipspace nearby and his COM crackled with several incoming messages, Julian sighed. Whatever happened, happened.