|1604 Hours, August 23rd, 2552
New Alexandria Spaceport, Eposz, Reach
"Six Echo Two, can you maintain altitude?"
"Negative! We're going down!"
"Son of a bitch! I can't watch this..."
"Fox Actual... Should we send search-and-rescue birds?"
"Negative, Dispatch. No point."
Ross looked on as his mother switched the radio off. Over the last few hours, the situation in New Alexandria had only gotten worse, the relentless Covenant bombardment killing thousands in the densely populated city. In the bunker, several hundred citizens cowered, and waited. It was only a matter of time before their defenders outside were overrun. A tired-looking man in military gear strode into the room, clutching a half-empty assault rifle.
"Okay people, last ship's about to head out. Everyone topside, now!"
At once, the people began to move forward. Not in a frenzied scramble, but in an orderly fashion, calmly heading towards the exit after the soldier. Ross held out his arms and allowed his father to lift him up onto his shoulders. He sat just above the crowd of strangers as they walked out of the bunker. The sounds of fighting were definitely getting closer.
"Get ready people!" called the soldier. "We'll move out on three. One, two-"
There was a flash of blinding light as the bunker exit exploded, sending Ross toppling to the hard floor as the civilians fell back. As his vision and hearing returned, Ross rolled aside as the people around him streamed past into the open ground of the spaceport.
The four-year old dived into his mother's arms as the last few people barged past. She knelt down in front of him, casting a glance towards his father before holding him close. Tears began to well in his eyes.
"Don't cry, hun. I need you to be strong like me and daddy, okay?"
Ross nodded, biting his lip. He noticed an odd tremor in her voice, and clutched his mother's hand as they made their way out into the sunlight. Across the concrete runway, the steel-grey hull of a transport craft could be seen, its ramp lowered. The runway was far from clear, littered with bodies and rubble. Halfway across, the smoking remains of a purple-tinted alien ship could be seen. A number of Army soldiers were dotted about the place, firing at unseen enemies.
"Okay," Ross' father began, looking towards the transport. "Ross, run as fast as you can, okay? Don't stop if we fall over."
"Do it. Let the Army men look after you, just get aboard that ship."
Ross nodded. Even at his young age, he knew the distinctive sight of soldiers that often patrolled New Alexandria. His father nodded forwards, and began to run. Ross and his mother followed, the child clinging to her hand for dear life as they emerged into the open. There were still a number of people running towards the ship as bolts of energy blasted the concrete around them. Ross looked around, his eyes wide as he did his best not to cry at the terrifying scene.
Then, they fell.
There was a burst of heat and light as Ross found himself tripping over his own feet and landing on the hard concrete, arms outstretched. He yelped in pain at his skinned and bleeding knees and rolled onto his back, staring up at the cloudy sky as he fought back tears.
Ross looked over and saw a uniformed body lying nearby, a radio laying discarded at his feet. A panicked voice called out from it.
"Civilian transport Seven Echo Three to Fox Actual: my engines are hot, waiting for your go."
Almost immediately, a calmer voice replied. "Copy that, Seven Echo Three. We're working on it."
More sizzling bolts flew overhead, prompting Ross to turn towards his parents. They had obviously ducked when the last one came towards them, just like he did. He prodded his father to let him know it was safe, the big man laying prone with his back to him. There was no response. Breathing quickly, he turned to his mother and started tugging at her sleeve.
"Mom? Come on, we need to go."
He felt like he should cry. He didn't, though. There wasn't anyone else around nearby, just bodies. They looked like they were sleeping. Ross peered closer at his mother, and stared at a dark patch on her back. Something was leaking from the wound, like blood but somehow darker. Then he saw them.
They were monsters, no doubt. A number of them clambered over the walls into the spaceport; squat ones with conical devices on their backs and pistols in hand, backed up by a number of huge, snarling creatures with bladed weaponry. Ross froze at the sight of them moving across the empty square, towards the transport ship. The boarding ramp was still open. Not taking his eyes off the creatures, he began to crawl away.
A loud roar from nearby stopped him in his tracks. There was a loud thud as one of the creatures, a massive hairy thing resembling a primate from one of his colouring books, lumbered towards him hefting a hammer. Ross was horribly reminded of those stories about the beasts that ate misbehaving kids. This monster looked like it would eat him.
Looking up with wide, tear-filled eyes, Ross saw a shadow close in on the big monster, smashing it into the ground in the blink of an eye. Across the corpse-strewn spaceport, the alien creatures dropped like flies before a barrage of bullets. Ross crouched, holding his hands over his ears to drown out the noise of gunfire behind him. He closed his eyes as something big moved swiftly past him towards the monsters.
"Spread out, secure the perimeter!"
Ross opened his eyes. The monsters were all dead. Massive figures strode past the corpses, clad in metallic armour. Their faces were obscured behind golden-visored helmets. He wasn't sure if he was frightened or in awe. At least he hadn't wet himself. From above, a voice spoke softly.
He sat up, uncrossing his arms. One of the men had crouched beside him. The visor flickered, and a face came into view. It was a short-haired man with rather lined, weathered features. He smiled in an attempt to comfort Ross, who stared back wordlessly. His eyes wavered toward the unmoving bodies of his parents. The man held out a gauntleted hand towards the child. Even with his imposing black armour, he seemed to be the only thing that wasn't trying to kill him. Ross took it gingerly, and was led towards the ship. Two men peered down the ramp, holding rifles.
"Take him," the big soldier said, gently pushing Ross forward. "Look after the kid, get off this planet."
Ross scrambled up the ramp, helped up by the men there. The soldiers looked terrified. Why didn't they help? he thought, the image of his dead parents swimming in his mind. He looked down the ramp one last time as it began to close, catching a glimpse of the black-armoured soldier walking away. The radio crackled again.
"Missile defense online. All evac transports, you are cleared for takeoff! Repeat, you are clear for takeoff! Go, now!"
Ross was led into the main bay, where hundreds of others clung to one another in desperation and fear. The ship rumbled as outside missiles flew forth and soldiers died and demons fought monsters in a dying city. It rose quickly, soaring away from the chaos that had once been the child's home. Ross sat sullenly in a corner, surrounded by strangers.
He didn't cry. Not once. There was no one to cry to. Even the four year old understood that. He knew his parents were dead, and nothing could ever bring them back. He'd seen the men in metal suits killing the monsters, the men who'd saved his life. Ross wanted revenge. He wanted to be strong and brave and unkillable like those he'd seen. He wouldn't be helpless any more. He couldn't. Never again.
The ship finally broke through into the endless void of space, leaving the doomed world to its fate as the child sat and dreamed of a future.