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Vigil
Vigil SPI Cover
"Memento Mori."
Protagonist Martin-A136
Author Brodie-001
Date Published Started January 19th, 2012

Finished June 2nd, 2012
(Major rewrites made in February 2016)

Length 8 Chapters (Roughly 14,376 Words upon initial completion)
Author's Rating 16+ (Some harsh language and violence)
Next Story Halo: Salvation
Story Series Sigmaverse
Soundtrack
[Source]

Plot Summary

The year is 2557. Humanity is finally getting back on its feet after the devastating Human-Covenant War and taking its place as a galactic power. With a new generation of Spartans emerging and the UNSC's most powerful warship about to be unleashed, a single Spartan looks back over his early years and the events so long ago that forged him into a supersoldier.

Dramatis Personae

Commissioning

0713 Hours, February 21st, 2557

UNSC Infinity, above Toronto, Earth


It was a chilly morning on Earth. The sun had barely risen, but the warship's flight deck was already bustling with activity. Crewmen in dark jumpsuits were setting up a large podium, and marking out positions for the incoming military and civilian attendees to stand during the ceremony.

"Seems like overkill, doesn't it?"

At the edge of the flight deck stood two armoured SPARTAN-III supersoldiers, watching impassively over the proceedings. The workers would stare at the pair from time to time, but otherwise got on with their work without bothering them. Martin-A136 turned to his comrade.

"What is?"

"Having us here. You'd think they might pull in a team from Gamma, or even some ODST's."

"It's an important day, Alex," Martin gestured round the lengthy flight deck. "This is the biggest, baddest ship the Navy's ever built. Who wouldn't want to try and blow it up on its commissioning day?"

The other Spartan shrugged. "Fair point. I'm going down to the main hangar to check with Lou. Think you can cover this while I'm gone?"

"Sure."

As Alex walked off, Martin began his patrol along the deck, passing parked Broadsword fighters and numerous engineers as he went. He knew full well that there were over two dozen ARGUS drones overhead sniffing out bombs, but he'd have to rely on himself to spot any potential attackers. His blue and gold armour gleaming in the sunlight, he stepped down a nearby gantry just as four unfamiliar soldiers exited via a nearby door. They stopped in surprise at his appearance, each clutching identical Recruit-class MJOLNIR helmets.

"Spartans," he nodded politely.

They saluted, realising who he was. The older SPARTAN generations were treated with a mixture of awe and respect by their successors, especially the living rarities of Alpha and Beta companies. One of them stepped forward.

"Sir, we've been assigned to patrol this deck before the ceremony."

He stepped aside. "Carry on then. I've been told to go where I think I'm needed."

"Yes sir."

They moved past him quickly. Martin checked the clock on his HUD, and saw that there was still plenty of time before the UNSC Infinity's commissioning ceremony began. There was something about SPARTAN-IV's that made him - a thirty-two year old - feel like an old man. He stepped inside the nearby airlock and strode over to a nearby observation room, which was unsurprisingly empty.

I've got a little time.

Taking a small, weathered data chip out from one of his armour pouches, he slotted into the back of his helmet. Today, if only for a short period, Martin was going to remember.

Payback

1156 Hours, November 31st, 2531

Scyllion Central Orphanage, Charybdis IX


"Martin?"

"Yes?"

"Hi. My name is Major Frederick King. I'm with the Office of Naval Intelligence. We-"

"I thought you were in the Navy?"

"Excuse me?"

"Major isn't a Navy rank," Martin recalled the lessons on the UNSC Military. The orphanage was largely run by the organisation, and so the children were educated about them in detail, whether they liked it or not. He wasn't sure if he could trust this man, and crossed his arms in defiance. Surprisingly, the man smirked.

"You're a sharp one, kid. No, I'm not in the Navy, but I do work for ONI, that stands for the Office of Naval Intelligence."

"What do you want with me?"

"You were born on Harvest, correct? Lost your parents and brothers in the glassing? Grew up here?"

Martin nodded solemnly. No one brought up the subject of parents around here.

"Well, do you know who killed them?"

"My family?"

"Yes."

"It was the aliens, the Covenant. They did it."

King smiled. It wasn't a friendly smile. It was the kind of smile that told you the person was up to no good. King continued.

"How does that make you feel, Martin?"

"I dunno. Sad, I guess."

"So, are you going to let them get away with it? Let those aliens, the ones who murdered your family, who ruined any life you would have had on Harvest, get away scot-free?!"

This made his blood boil. "No!" He yelled, louder than he expected to. People in the dorm were starting to stare. King's voice dropped to a whisper.

"I am giving you a chance for payback. You want that?"

"Payback? Like killing the Covenant?"

"Hundreds. Maybe even thousands. What do you say?"

Martin was troubled. One part of him desperately wanted vengeance against the monsters that had stolen everything from him, but a little voice inside kept telling him not to trust him.

"What if I don't go with you?"

"Then you stay here. Who knows what will happen? Like I said Martin, payback. You've got nothing to lose."

He was right. What future did he have here? He had no family, no actual friends here, and indeed, nothing to lose. He had what he wanted right in front of him: vengeance.

"Sign me up, sir."

This time, King smiled for real. He checked something on his datapad, tousled Martin's short brown hair in an almost friendly manner, and stood up.

"Excellent. Just follow my associate and she'll take you where you need to go."

A woman, also in a black suit, stood a few meters away. She smiled warmly and held out her hand for Martin as he approached. Glancing back, King was approaching another kid in his dorm, Kai. He took the woman's hand, following in her wake as she led him out of the orphanage, and towards a new life.

Chance

7:39am.

The Spartan stood with his back to the door, staring impassively out of the wide observation deck windows. A Vindication-class light battleship drifted by in the distance, high above even the tallest skyscrapers of the city below. Though an impressive sight, his vision was focused entirely on the recording playing within his helmet; flashes of gunfire and explosions playing across his vision. A sudden buzz in his ear snapped him out of his reverie.

"Martin, this is Alex. We've got some early arrivals down in the hangar but nothing suspicious. You?"

"Nothing important, no."

"Copy that. They've sent some Fours up near your level, too."

"Yeah, I've seen them."

"Good. I'll keep you posted, out."

The COM switched off. After a moment's silence, Martin sighed and resumed playback.

***
1947 Hours, December 27th, 2531

Onyx, Zeta Doradus System


It had been nearly a month since he had been plucked from the orphanage, along with a dozen others. They had picked up more recruits from other places, all orphans like Martin. They had been subjected to several tests during this period, mainly written ones or quizzes. Most of the other kids hadn't spoken much to him, though this wasn't a big surprise. They had their own problems. Martin just wanted to learn how to kill the monsters.

Martin had kept his head down and done as instructed by the men from the Navy. He hadn't seen Major King since the orphanage, though he was glad of that; something about the man creeped him out. One day, however, they had finally been taken down to a planet. By this time, there were several hundred others that had been collected from all across the colonies. Martin was packed into a tiny ship with others from his group, and sent down to the planet.

On the way down, all he could do was try not to throw up as the ship rattled towards the planet. It was a terrifying experience, being cooped up in a cramped, windowless box with twenty other kids. Martin finally looked up, reasonably sure he wouldn't spray everyone with his lunch, and glanced around at the others. He recognised the boy across from him. He had been at his orphanage!

"Hey!" Martin called over the rumbling of the dropship and the shouting of the others. The kid glanced up at him. He was probably having the same sickness problems. He managed a little smile, and gave a weak thumbs up before staring at his feet again.

Eventually, the ship touched down. Martin and the others spilled out onto the grass. There were other ships too, setting down and unleashing their noisy cargo onto the field. Martin stayed near the dropship, not sure what to do. The kid he recognised was last to get out, hitting the grass shakily, looking very pale.

"Hi" said Martin. There were a lot of strangers here. He'd need a friend. The only response he got was the sounds of the other kid being violently sick onto the grass. He got up, wiping his face with his sleeve.

"Sorry about that" He said. "I'm Kai."

"Martin. So, you wanted to kill some aliens?"

"More than anything."

Two navy men approached them. Nasty-looking batons hung from their belts. The two were herded towards the main crowd. As they got close to the mass of shouting, screaming children, the men backed off a little. Martin listened to them.

"Whew, glad that drop is over. Where were yours from?"

"Harvest, I think. Pretty quiet compared to some of the other kids."

"You're telling me. I got saddled with a load from Eridanus II. I swear, some of these kids are damn psychos, man."

Martin hoped that he wouldn't run in to any of these 'psychos'. He was here to learn how to kill aliens. A loud rumbling sound cut off his train of thought and he froze. The crowd of children fell silent. Across the field, a giant stood before them.

The giant towered above everyone else, even the tough-looking military guys. He was clad in shining green armour from head to toe, his face hidden behind a reflective visor. At that moment, he was everything Martin aspired to be.

"Attention recruits." The giant's voice boomed across the field. At least he sounded human.

"I am Lieutenant Ambrose. You have all endured great hardships to be here. I know each of you has lost loved ones on Jericho VII, Harvest, and Biko. The Covenant has made orphans of you all."

Unexpectedly, Martin found himself welling up with tears. Why? He never cried, at least not in front of people. He blinked several times, determined to be strong like the Lieutenant.

"I am going to give you the chance to learn how to fight, a chance to become the best soldiers the UNSC has ever produced, a chance to destroy the Covenant. I am giving you the chance to become like me: A Spartan."

A chance. That was what the Major had said to him back at the orphanage. Martin imagined himself in the same armour as Lieutenant Ambrose, wiping out thousands of aliens as he avenged those he had lost. He could think of no better way to spend the rest of his life.

"We cannot accept everyone, though." These words filled Martin with dread. What if he wasn't good enough? What if he failed some way? He couldn't let that happen.

"We have three hundred training slots. So tonight, Senior Chief Petty Officer Mendez has devised a way to separate those who truly want this opportunity from those who do not."

Another man, smaller than the Lieutenant, but looking tough as nails, observed a datapad handed to him for a second before looking up at the hundreds of children.

"You want to be Spartans?" he barked, his voice every bit as loud as the intercom-enhanced Lieutenants. "Then get back on those ships."

Martin groaned internally. Not flying...' Mendez began questioning kids nearest to him if they wanted out. They both shook their heads, and with a rumble, the children-no-trainees began heading for the dropships. Martin and Kai ran faster than the others, straight for the ship they had touched down on. They bundled into the back, closely followed by over a dozen others.

Within minutes, they were in the air again. This time, however, the back hatch had been left open. The Drill Instructor had passed out strange backpacks to the other trainees. Martin made sure it was securely fastened to his back. He wasn't going to fail.

The Instructor was shouting orders at them from the rear of the dropship. They were fairly easy to remember. Count to ten, pull handle. Even at six years old, Martin could manage that. After a few more minutes, the time came for them to jump out into the cold night sky. He'd been preparing for this mentally the moment the hatch didn't close when they took off.

One by one, they were ordered to jump. Martin was second from last. Another trainee stood behind him, whistling impatiently. Four children refused, and were made to sit back down without a word. Kai gave Martin another thumbs up, and jumped, disappearing as the wind caught him. Now it was his turn.

Martin gulped, looking down. The ground seemed so far away. Was he going to do this? If he had any chance at all of becoming a Spartan, he had to. Why weren't his legs moving?

Someone patted him on the back in a friendly way. It was the trainee behind him. "Don't worry man, you can do it!". His accent sounded strange, yet familiar. Martin could do it. He grinned, and jumped, just as Kai had done moments before. It was a spinning world of stars, trees, and mountains.

Pull the handle! A voice yelled within him. He grasped it and tugged with all his might, letting out a sigh of relief when something unravelled from his backpack.

Martin slowed down. Using the ropes with the parachute, he tried to steer himself back to where they had taken off. Ignoring the wind tugging at his clothes and whipping his face, he concentrated on the lights of the field they had taken off from, far below. He wouldn't be the first down, there was no doubting that, but he had made it, at least.

Hitting the ground didn't hurt as much as he thought it would. Scrambling with his pack, he unclipped the parachute and attempted to stand up. A wave of nausea washed over him, and he fell to his knees.

Then he was sick. A lot. As he picked himself up, two others approached him. One of them was Kai.

"Did you see me? I nearly hit the Lieutenant!" He jerked a thumb back towards where the huge Spartan stood, sounding half amazed, half terrified. He looked down at the sick. "At least I wasn't the only one, right?"

Martin nodded. He didn't have it in him to say anything at the moment. The other trainee stood, smiling at the pair of them. Martin looked at him. He had black hair, slightly longer than his. He seemed to radiate confidence.

"Told you that you could do it" he said.

There was a brief moment of recognition. Martin knew this guy!

"Daniel?" He asked. The kid he remembered from the orphanage nodded. "Good thing that the three of us are here, right?"

"Damn right." said Kai.

The three of them looked around in awe. Everyone had made it down safely, as far as they could see. The DI's were beginning to shepherd the others towards a row of bunkhouses. He stared at Lieutenant Ambrose for a few seconds. The Spartan, who had been standing stock still as the trainees landed, glanced his way and nodded approvingly.

Martin, Daniel and Kai joined the other trainees in the walk to the bunkhouses. They were tired, cold and hungry, but happy. This was their family now.

FNG

1245 Hours, August 8th, 2534

Camp Currahee, Onyx


"Fire, 'nade, go. That's what Dom told me it meant."

"He's messing with you man. It can't mean that."

"Well what did the DI mean then, smartass?"

"Maybe we should ask the Chief, he'll know."

"Good luck with that, I ain't going near him."

"Fine. I'll ask some of the others."

Martin-A136, Daniel-A105 and Kai-A019 sat at the end of their usual table in the cafeteria. It had been a long morning. After their usual mile of jogging, Mendez had decided that it would be funny to have a dozen DI's ambush them with paintball guns, in 'preparation' for this afternoon, where they would be fighting in the dense forest that surrounded Camp Currahe.

The general consensus around Alpha Company was that revenge would be on the menu this evening. Martin agreed. Unarmed, most of the company had scattered, running from the hail of paintballs. Those who tried to run at straight at the DI's came off the worst though. One such trainee sat down next to Kai.

"Hey Nelson."

"Sup."

Nelson-A122 had a black eye, and winced with almost every movement. His team had been 'killed' in their suicide run at the trainers. The rest of them sat a few tables away, plotting their revenge.

"How bad is it?"

"Nurse said there'd be no permanent damage, just bruising for a few weeks. Lieutenant Ambrose said I was lucky I didn't lose an eye."

Martin shuddered at the thought. He had taken a few hits to the chest as they fell back. There was a clamour, and shouting from a table across the room. He didn't even have to turn round to check who it was.

"Emile?" He asked Kai, who was sitting across from him.

"Yep. And Alex."

"Oh crap."

He turned round, craning his neck to see two of the other trainees going for each other. Emile-A239 and Alex-A121 were known for being two of the most violent trainees in Alpha Company. Coincidentally, they had both originated from Eridanus II. They had never been on the best of terms, and were usually seen trading insults. They hadn't actually fought yet, unlike many other trainees. Martin watched in amazement as they traded punches and kicks, each one attempting to gain an advantage or incapacitate the other. The sound of marching boots could be heard from the corridor, and Alex jumped back into the crowd.

Three DI's sprinted through the door towards the fight. Emile punched the first one in the groin, and kicked him as he collapsed to the floor in a foetal position. The other one, wary of the kid who had just dropped a fully-grown man, pulled out his shock baton and smacked him across the face. Emile shuddered as the electricity hit him, and fell down, screaming in pain. Cuffs were placed on him, while the other DI looked around.

"Who else was fighting?!"

No one said a word. The injured DI got to his feet, aiming a kick at Emile, who was being securely held. Two more DI's entered the cafeteria, followed closely by Chief Mendez. A chill seemed to fill the room. There were a dozen trainees who had been watching the fight still standing. Mendez looked around, once, his cold black eyes looking into everyone.

"You heard the man!" He barked, his voice making Martin sit up straighter in his seat. "Who else was fighting?!"

Silence. No one dared to look around.

"Well, if no one owns up, then no one gets fed! How does that sound?"

After a few seconds, someone stepped forward. He was slightly shorter than many of the other trainess, with brown hair and dark circles beneath his eyes. He strode up towards Chief Mendez, and stood to attention.

"Trainee Alpha One-Two-One, are you admitting to starting this fight?"

Alex-A121 met the Chief's gaze. "No sir, I'm admitting to fighting. We both provoked each other."

Mendez turned to face the handcuffed Emile. "Trainee Alpha-Two-Three-Nine, is this true?"

Emile nodded. "Yeah, it was both of us."

Chief Mendez nodded to a nearby DI, who walked over to Alex, and handcuffed him, ignoring the trainee's glare.

"Twelve hours in the brig, until you learn that you should be concentrating your anger on Covenant, not each other!"

He turned back, facing the assembled Alpha Company.

"Trainees! You are the lucky ones. You will all be participating in this afternoon's exercise, thanks to One-Two-One's confession. Eat up, You've got half an hour!"

Mendez, stalked out of the room, closely followed by the DI's, Alex, and Emile. Kai let out a low whistle.

"Why do you think they did that? Alex and Emile hate each other's guts."

"Probably because it would be better to piss off the Chief than to piss off the whole Company," replied Daniel. "Let's eat. I'm not going into battle on an empty stomach."

***

Two hours later, 298 trainees trudged through the open gates of Camp Currahee, armed with paintball guns and light armour, towards the training zone that Chief Mendez had created for them. Three years ago, when they had stepped off of the dropships onto Onyx for the first time, they would have probably ended up in a free-for-all, screaming and shouting and fighting amongst themselves.

Now, they were quiet, speaking in low voices and contemplating the trials that lay ahead.

It had rained at noon, and the ground was still damp. Martin knew that knowing Mendez, and how the day was going, things would probably get worse. As they neared the training zone, the crack of thunder from above confirmed his suspicions. A collective sigh was raised from the young trainees.

"What, does the Chief control the weather now?" Kai asked with annoyance.

"I wouldn't put it past him. Lieutenant Ambrose too." This had come from Carter-A259. He was taller than most of the others, probably the oldest trainee in the Company. He seemed to command respect from the younger trainees, and was shaping up as an emerging team leader. Not that it mattered to Martin. He knew his place was alongside Kai, Dan, and the other members of 'Falcon Team', a name they had all agreed on.

Eventually, they had reached the grounds. Chief Mendez and Lieutenant Ambrose waited for them, alongside two dozen DI's. The Lieutenant hadn't worn his shining green armour since the night he had greeted Alpha Company. Even without it, he was massive.

"Trainees!" The Chief's voice cut over the sound of the wind. "You will all separate into teams of no more than ten. You will then be led to your starting points by your Drill Instructors. When, and only when you hear the klaxon, you will all be permitted to head into the training zone and capture this flag!"

Lieutenant Ambrose took out a bright red flag, holding it up for the entire Company to see. They were all watching with rapt attention. Mendez continued.

"The first team to return with the flag will be rewarded. You may take the flag from another team, but not by shooting them. Your weapons are loaded with Tactical Training Rounds. If you are hit in the leg, you will not be able to move that leg. If you are hit in the head, you get knocked out. If you are unable to move, you are officially 'dead' and must remain in place until I, or another instructor, deactivate the rounds with these batons. Clear?"

Every member of Alpha Company knew the response. "Sir yes sir!"

Competition

8:02am.

Aside from the odd report from the other Spartans, everything seemed to be going well for the upcoming ceremony. There were a few protesters down below in Toronto, though it had been made clear that any attempts to fly up to the Infinity would be met with lethal force. Some idiot had shot up a firework and so security had been trebled down below with several Spartan teams, just in case. The recording in his helmet stopped and the second one flashed up. There were only a few more stored here.

Gotta keep going. I'll just finish these and head back up.

Martin knew he should be up top, keeping an eye on the proceedings alongside the other Spartans. Some part of him, despite everything, didn't completely trust the skills of the SPARTAN-IV's, despite some being many years older than he was. Perhaps it was his own decades of military experience that fed his slight disdain. Still, he felt like they had the situation well in hand, and relaxed slightly as he activated the next recording.

***
1528 Hours, August 8th, 2534

Spartan Training Grounds, Onyx


"Cover me, I'm going for the flag!"

Martin was crouched in the bushes alongside Kai-A019 and Dan-A105 as TTR rounds whizzed overhead. Responding to the shout from Nelson-A122, he leaned out, raising his rifle as he did. There was a twitch of movement by a tree a dozen meters away. He fired several rounds. A yell told him that he had hit someone. The thunder from above and the light drizzle that came through the forest canopy was making it difficult to detect any hostiles.

Nelson sprang from his position, and ran for it. Two members of his 'Lion Team', Jordan-A111 and Dom-A178, had already been hit as they made a break for the flag. Dan jumped up after Nelson, eager to get the flag as well. Martin tried to stand up, but Kai grabbed his leg.

"Don't be stupid, Mart, they're going to get tagged. Best we stay with the others and storm the place."

Martin shook him off. "Dan needs our help. We're not gonna win by sitting here!"

He jumped up, closely followed by a visibly worried Kai, who signalled for the other team members to move with them. Dorian-A188, Chris-A189, Sal-A142, and Eugene-A133, the rest of Falcon Team, ran too, firing rounds at the concealed trainers as they made their way to the flag.

"Left side! Chris, he's by that tree, We're going to win this one!"

TTR rounds flew in from all directions. Eugene was hit in the head, and dropped instantly. The Drill Instructor that shot him was instantly peppered with rounds from Chris and Martin as they got closer to the flag. Many more Alpha Company trainees were closing in as well; children in combat fatigues sprinting between trees, trading fire with DI's as the bright red flag came into view, in a clearing at the centre of the forest. Dan called back to the rest of his team:

"C'mon, we're taking this one! Martin, Kai, everyone else, we have to-"

The rest of his sentence was interrupted by a TTR round hitting his leg. He fell, rolling to avoid more fire as he attempted to level his gun. Martin ran forward to help his fallen friend, picking him up and helping him along while the others provided cover.

The Flag was right in front of them. So were the prone forms of half a dozen trainees. He put Dan down by a tree, crouching beside him. Kai moved in next to him.

"They got Dorian and Chris. What's up here?"

Martin looked around. He couldn't see anything. Sal arrived, crouching by the others. She spent a few seconds catching her breath before reloading her weapon.

"Seen anyone else?" asked Kai.

"Carter's group ran into a bunch of DI's to the west, they're still fighting out there. They took out Louie and Frank just after they hit Chris. Jun climbed a tree and is shooting down everything that comes near. A few teams are going for the other flag in the north. It's just us now"

Dan looked down at the TTR round paralysing his leg. He couldn't move it. "Crap" he muttered. "We're heading for the flag. We get that thing out of the forest no matter what. Got that?"

The trainees nodded, and began to move towards the clearing. Almost immediately, a rapid stream of TTR rounds began firing from between the trees, sending them diving for cover. Dan kept moving, crawling for the flag even as rounds shot up the grass around him.

Suddenly, the trees exploded around the source of the hostile fire, which stopped instantly. Dan dragged himself to his fleet, and plucked the flagpole out from the ground, gazing in awe at something so simple. Martin patted him on the back.

"Y'know, this wasn't so-"

Time seemed to slow as Dan fell forward, a TTR round in the back of his head. The flagpole slipped through his fingers. Martin caught it, wheeling round toward the source of the shot. He found himself locking eyes with Senior Chief Petty Officer Franklin Mendez. He felt his blood turn to ice as the Chief's rifle scope turned towards him. Kai pushed him down as the first shots whizzed overhead.

"Run!"

The other trainees began firing madly at Mendez, who seemed to simply melt into the bushes as more Drill Instructors emerged from the trees. Martin sprinted as fast as he could towards Camp Currahee, ducking and dodging through the forest. Other trainers kept up covering fire on the instructors.

Almost there...almost there... Martin kept going, leaping over the edge of the hill, flag still in hand, before landing in a muddy puddle. He rolled over, pulled himself to his feet and kept running, looking back to check for Mendez and the DI's. Then he ran into a brick wall.

Martin lay flat on his back, still clutching his prize as a shadow loomed over him. He hadn't hit a brick wall. Worse. He had cannoned straight into Lieutenant Ambrose. He held out a hand, and helped Martin to his feet.

"Nice work today son, I'm surprised anyone made it out. Where is your team?"

Martin thought back to the others, who had either been 'killed' or were still fighting. "They stayed behind to help me out, sir," he replied. Ambrose nodded, and knelt beside the eight-year old. "Let me tell you something about teamwork, Martin" He seemed to remember the names of every recruit, unlike Mendez, who called them by their numbers.

"On my first day of my training, a good friend of mine went through a training course. It was much easier than this, and being faster than everyone else, he got through it first, ahead of his team. He lost. Do you know why?"

Martin shook his head, looking up at the Lieutenant.

"He may have been quicker than anyone else at achieving his goal, but because of that, his team lagged behind, and made it out last. They were punished for that mistake. My friend learned from this, and never abandoned his team. Do you see what I'm getting at?"

"I think so, sir. We all make it out, or it's not a victory, right?"

"What I'm saying is, while getting the job done quickly is important, getting your team out alive will always take priority. What's the point in winning if there's no one left but you to celebrate with?"

The Lieutenant stood up, and took out his radio. After a brief exchange with Mendez, a siren sounded over the woods, signalling the end of the exercise. He looked down at Martin, standing silently with the flag held tightly in his hands.

"The exercise is over, Martin. I'd recommend getting to the cafeteria first if you want some food, I'm sure that everyone else will want to see who captured the flag."

Martin ran back to Camp Currahee as Kurt Ambrose strode off into the forest.

***

An hour later, Alpha Company sat in the cafeteria, talking excitedly about the day's events. Martin was surrounded by his fellow trainees, many eagerly asking him to retell the story of his victory. There were many other stories being told, like how Jun had to be shot out of his tree with tranquilliser rounds, believing the end siren to be a trick, and how someone had apparently shot Mendez in the leg, something that a little over fifty people had claimed to have done.

Mendez himself was said to have been in a particularly bad mood that night, glowering at the trainees from a dark corner of the room. It was never discovered who had shot the Chief, and Martin never captured the flag again, but the conversation he had with Lieutenant Ambrose regarding teamwork was never forgotten.

Trial by Fire

The next few years had passed quickly, until one day it was announced that Alpha Company would be leaving Onyx for the first time. Martin could remember the excitement in the air as the pelican, packed with trainee Spartans, flew towards a huge station that had arrived in the system a few hours before.

Once they were all on the station, the 300 trainees had been told that they would be made into Spartans. This would be the culmination of all those years of training and hard work. Finally, they would be unleashed on the Covenant. They would have revenge.

They were herded into individual rooms, where they were asked to lie down on an operating table. Looking back, Martin couldn't quite remember the details of his own augmentations. Maybe he had been put to sleep, or maybe, like most of his life outside battle, his mind just put it all aside. It wasn't important.

However, once the augmentations had been completed, he could remember joining the others, still feeling groggy and weak. One the whole of Alpha Company had returned to the main docking area, two days after their augmentations, they were told by an ONI officer that they were being shipped out to combat. For the three hundred orphans in the room, this was the news they had been waiting for since they had first touched down on Onyx, that cold night five years earlier.

As Martin stood, dressed in his fresh uniform, alongside his squadmates as they were marched through into the waiting transport, he glanced at Lieutenant Ambrose and Chief Mendez. The former was standing tall, arms folded, looking over them with nothing more than his highest approval. Martin could've sworn, though he couldn't quite be sure, that next to the Lieutenant, he saw a smile on the old man's face.

He never saw them again.

***
2437 Hours, December 29th, 2536

Agadir, Mamore


Several weeks later, Martin was lying on his stomach in a pile of rubble, his MA5K rifle pointing forwards. He, like the 299 other Spartans, was clad in Semi Powered Infiltration, or 'SPI' armour. It had taken some getting used to, but he was glad to be getting into the fight.

"Marty, see anything?" Eugene was crouched several metres to his right. To the naked eye, however, he would be little more than a shimmer, the photo-reactive panels on his armour acting as camouflage.

"Nothing yet. We moving?"

"Copy that. Stay low, watch out for traps."

That was Dan's voice. The whole six-man Falcon Team was hiding in the rubble of this building, levelled by UNSC artillery fire several weeks before. Mamore, most of Alpha had decided, was an absolute hellhole. The Company had been dispatched to quell the large Insurrectionist movement there. The Spartans, who had volunteered to get revenge on the Covenant, were not quite content with fighting there own species, but no one complained.

Martin, on point, edged forward, keeping his weapon levelled while looking out for traps. Mines, tripwires, motion sensors and improvised explosives, alongside an impressive amount of firepower, had prevented UNSC forces from taking the city. With the War against the Covenant in full swing, there hadn't been time to divert troops. So, they sent in the Spartans. He'd heard rumours that it was a suicide mission, that no one had even got close to the enemy base. Until now.

All 300 Spartans in Alpha Company, after being deployed several kilometres away, had gotten into the rebel-held city limits. The various teams were spreading out and eliminating outposts silently. No alarms had been raised, but now the real test was about to arrive. Stepping out from cover, still crouched, into the street, Martin moved swiftly to the adjacent wall. Lieutenant Ambrose had taught him not to rely on technology for everything, and he wasn't taking chances, even with his camo systems enabled.

The rest of the team moved in around him, watching carefully for any movement. Checking the TACMAP, Martin saw that the entire company had encircled the main rebel compound. No alarms yet. He waved his hand forward, and two shimmers moved silently past him to the corner. He noticed that their camouflage patterns shifted imperfectly. They would probably be seen if they tried to sneak directly past patrols.

"Contact. Three rebels, twelve o'clock."

That had come from Kai. He was peeking round the corner at the end of the street. Martin, Dan and Chris moved up beside him. Through the swirling dust in the demolished street, several men came into view. They were clad in makeshift, patched clothes and body armour, wielding outdated MA2B rifles as they trudged towards the hidden Spartans.

"We'll have to take them down" Dan said, his voice flat and emotionless. The four of them raised their rifles slowly, marking targets. "Chris, go with Eugene, Jun and Trevor, get the high ground over there" He gestured to a partially demolished building to their right. The others moved away, leaving the three alone in the street, facing down the unaware rebels.

"This is Falcon Team, we are in position to engage hostiles. Is everyone else ready?" This was broadcast to the entire company. Status lights winked green and there were several affirmative responses. Dan clicked the safety off his carbine.

"On my go. Three..."

Martin took a deep breath. His hands shook as he sighted down at the man in front of him. Thoughts crawled into his mind. He had signed up to get revenge on the Covenant, not put down people because they didn't want to follow the UNSC's rules. Not this.

"Two..."

The man pulled down his facemask, and turned to one of his comrades, who produced a packet of cigarettes and handed one over. He could see the man's face. Even at this range, his augmented eyesight made sure that he noticed every single detail. Oh no. In his head, he began to panic. I can't do this, I can't do this...

"One..."

Two rifles cracked alongside him. Two rebels dropped like sacks, the third jerking up in shock, hands going for his weapon. Martin could feel the gazes of his squadmates turning upon him. He couldn't do it. His hands felt paralysed. He couldn't kill him.

"Martin, shoot!"

Before he could respond, the alerted rebel fell back as a smaller figure impacted with him, sending the man sprawling to the ground. There was a glint of steel as a knife was raised, before jerking down. The rebel jerked for a few seconds, then went still. A Spartan climbed off him, splattered with blood as he sheathed his weapon. His tag identified him as SPARTAN Alpha Two Three Nine.

"Shoot faster next time" said Emile, a faint trace of disgust in his voice. He disappeared back into the ruins. Martin slumped against a nearby wall as the gunfire began around the compound, followed by several explosions. Dan and Kai ran to him, keeping an eye out for any more hostiles. Martin couldn't bear to look up at them. He felt like a failure. All those years of training, simulated battle and exercises, for nothing. He would kill an alien if faced with one, but something prevented him from pulling the trigger on another human.

"Martin, what happened back there?" Dan seemed genuinely concerned. Kai was crouched beside him, keeping watch.

"I don't know, I couldn't do it."

"What?"

"I couldn't do it. Let's go."

He stood up and checked the still-full counter on his MA5K. Dan immediately began to move down the street, towards the high-walled and heavily fortified rebel compound, which Alpha Company was currently making a very good job of destroying. Two rebels ran round the corner, and were immediately hit in the head before the trio could raise their weapons.

"Nice shot, Jun."

"My pleasure."

The trio advanced, gunshots beginning to ring out across the area. Suddenly, one hit the dirt only inches away from the three Spartans, sending them into cover from the unseen sniper. Two more shots struck not far away, with startling accuracy, particularly since their SPI suits would make them difficult to see from afar. Whoever this guy was, he must have been unnaturally good to zero in on them this quickly.

"Who the hell is this guy?" Kai whispered, ducking as another shot narrowly missed them.

Dan activated TEAMCOM. "We're pinned down by a sniper outside the compound. Jun, do you see anything?"

More sniper rounds could be heard in the distance. Over the COM, news arrived that a member of Lion Team had been hit in the chest, forcing them to fall back. If this is one guy, Martin thought, then he's pretty damn good. Jun's voice crackled in over the COM.

"Dan, I can see your shooter, he's hold up in a tower east of-"

The rest of the sentence was cut off as a shot whizzed overhead, prompting Jun to shout a stream of expletives before getting back to them. "Bastard missed me by an inch, might've skimmed the suit."

"Copy that Jun, I'm going to bait him," Dan said calmly. Martin and Kai didn't say a thing. It was risky, but they needed to flush him out to advance safely.

"I've moved, Dan. Ready when you are."

The young Spartan took a deep breath. "Okay then," he muttered, looking back at his comrades. "When I say go, you fire over the top, okay?"

"Got it."

"Get ready...Go!"

The two Spartans raised their carbines and began to fire over their cover as Dan took off. Immediately, two shots hit the dirt, barely missing him as he ran for a nearby building. More bullets struck the ground, getting closer and closer until a crack from behind them signalled Jun's intervention.

"Gotcha."

Martin peeked over the top of the demolished wall they had hidden in just in time to see a body drop from a tower across the city. Had it not been for Jun, any one of them might have died there. He and Kai reloaded before joining Dan in there advance.

"Nice shot, rifleman," Dan said happily to Jun as they walked off.

"You know it, boss. The other guy was a pretty good shot, I don't mind saying."

"If he was that good, you and I wouldn't be talking right now. We're moving.

The three Spartans moved up through the streets, until they came across a high perimeter wall. Judging by the gunfire and explosions coming from inside, this was the main rebel compound. A large hole in the wall had been made, courtesy of a C-12 charge from another team. Dan clambered through first, closely followed by the others. The young Spartans moved slowly into the first building, keeping their weapons raised. Dan motioned for Martin to watch their backs while he and Kai kicked in a door. Martin knew why they were doing this: They couldn't completely rely on him. The bond they had forged over the last few years had been broken by a moment's hesitation. Muffled shots rang out in the next room.

"Clear!"

Martin moved inside with the others. Two more rebels lay dead on the floor. Kai moved to the window and looked outside. The Insurrectionist base was falling apart under the might of Alpha Company. With this place taken out, the UNSC would have little trouble in retaking Mamore. Dan reloaded his weapon and placed it on a nearby table before turning to Martin. His visor depolarised, revealing an unfamiliar look of worry across his usually calm face.

"Martin, I need to know what's up with you." Dan put a hand on Martin's shoulder, an unfamiliar gesture for a Spartan. "Look, we need to know that when it comes down to it, you can eliminate anyone or anything, okay? A second of hesitation like what happened back there could lead to your teammates dying."

Dan was right. He was always right. Martin recalled that lesson that Lieutenant Ambrose had taught him about working as a team. He nodded sullenly. Kai raised his carbine and fired a few bursts through the window. "Two down" he muttered. Then, it happened. Even now, nearly a century after, Martin could remember this moment, clear as day. One of the rebels had hidden behind a crate in the room, and leapt out, holding a rifle in one hand, and a grenade in the other. The first few shots impacted on Dan's SPI armour, breaking through the photo-reactive panels, causing his suit's camo system to flicker and fail.

Dan gasped in pain as several more rounds hit his upper torso. Kai began to turn, but he wouldn't have been fast enough. Martin was. He didn't have time to think or process what he was doing. His weapon moved upwards and he squeezed the trigger. Rounds ripped through the man's torso and neck, causing him to fall sideways, gun still firing. Before he had hit the ground, he had been shot twice in the head. Martin grabbed Dan, who had staggered back onto the table. Nothing vital had been hit, but he was still bleeding profusely.

"Dan, are you-" Martin began, but was cut off by a small noise from the ground. A grenade rolled away from the rebel's outstretched fingers, the pin missing. Martin immediately threw Dan at the open door, out into the compound while Kai leapt out of the window. His eyes darting around, Martin dived back through the way they had came in as the grenade detonated. Everything went black.

"Martin! Martin, can you hear me?"

Martin was lying in the dirt. The gunfire had more or less stopped, and the familiar roar of a Pelican's engines filled the air. As he sat up, he noticed his helmet on the ground next to him, badly dented, with part of the visor missing. Kai and Dan were crouched next to him, the latter's armour partially filled in with biofoam. "I'm okay" Martin said, shaking his head. He had a jagged cut just above his right eye, but other than that, there was nothing really to worry about but a few bruises. The others helped him to his feet.

"You saved me." Dan was clutching his side, but still smiling nonetheless. "You did it Martin, I knew you could" Martin wasn't sure if he was right to be so happy about his friend killing someone, but Dan was correct. He had eliminated a hostile, to save a teammate. Around them, the rest of Alpha Company had gathered for extraction. There had been a few wounded, but no casualties. Not bad for their first 'suicide mission'. It wasn't so different from the end of one of their training mission, really. Many Spartans were boasting about their various feats of bravery. There seemed to be a large crowd around Emile, who had 'liberated' a rather large and nasty looking knife from a rebel armoury.

Martin picked up his helmet as the first of the Pelicans touched down. The rest of Falcon Team had gathered, and greeted the trio enthusiastically. Jun helped Martin, who was still feeling a little shaky, into the back of the dropship. He sat down, and looked around at his teammates. They were all looking a little worse for wear, armour covered in dirt and weapons by their sides. Though they hadn't had a chance to battle the Covenant yet, something that the entire company so desperately wished for, they had gone into the fire, and all made it out alive. He was eleven years old, and a fully-fledged Spartan.

Ashes

8:22am.

Martin was shocked when he finally tore his eyes away from the recording. He'd been so focused that he'd lost track of time, standing alone in the observation room. As he turned to leave, he caught a glimpse of the final recording on the list. The one he hadn't viewed in years. Some part of him wanted to ignore it and resume his patrol aboard the ship, but a feeling of grim nostalgia had crept over him.

Last one, he thought to himself. I can't afford to forget this.

***
1610 Hours, August 2nd, 2537

Asteroid K7-49, Covenant Space


Operation: PROMETHEUS. That was what they were calling it. Alpha Company had been active for several months, and had seen action on New Constantinople, the Bonanza Asteroid Belt and six other engagements. Martin had his fair share of kills under his belt. It had been satisfying to finally bring the fight to the Covenant. He could recall the first alien he killed: an Elite, clad in dark red armour. While it had attempted to fire on another team, he had gotten in close, raised his pistol and shot it thrice in the head at point blank range. The alien's indigo coloured blood had sprayed his armour as his fellow Spartans moved in to butcher the rest of the Covenant forces on the planet. It felt good.

The rest of Falcon Team were currently covering Team Wolf Pack as it set charges on another reactor. They had been there for nearly seven days, ambushing patrols, and destroying or shutting down the plasma reactors that the Covenant were using to refine metal for their starships. Dorian-A188 was on overwatch duty, keeping an eye out for enemy activity. Since they had slaughtered the response team the Covenant had sent several days earlier, there had been little sign of Covenant forces. Dorian's status light winked green, a sign that there was no trouble.

Dorian had been assigned to Falcon just before the operation. For some reason, half a dozen members of the company had been taken out for unknown purposes, including Carter, the oldest company member, Emile, whose departure was met with rejoicing and sadness in equal measure, and Falcon's own sniper, Jun. While the removal of these Spartans would not seriously hamper the effectiveness of Alpha Company, it was seen as quite odd. Martin heard Shane, Wolf Pack's leader, over the COM.

"Charges are rigged and set to blow. This'll be number twenty."

According to their tactical readouts, they were very close to taking the asteroid, named K7-49, out of commission for good. A few more and the entire place would have cooled sufficiently to become useless to the Covenant. Then they would get to their Calypso-Class Extraction Craft and be off this godforsaken place. From the shelter of the ridge, half a mile away from the nearby reactor, the Spartans watched as Wolf Pack detonated their charges, crippling the Covenant machine. They watched in fascination as gouts of plasma burst out and metal twisted before the structure finally crashed to the ground.

"Reactor down."

"Nice work Shane, let's move on to the next one." That was Dan. He was crouched on a rocky outcrop, looking over the tactical data for the mission. Alpha Company was moving fast. Suddenly, a signal came over the emergency COM, being broadcast to the entire Company.

"This is Raven Team, we've got a massive Covenant force inbound. We're in for a fight!" The COM winked off, and in the valley to their right, gunfire and explosions could be heard, along with the familiar whine of Banshees. The Spartans gathered round, checking their weapons. They were out for blood. Dan lifted his MA5K above his head, and waved it in the direction of the battle.

"Let's get to it!" He shouted, and sprinted into the fray.

***

"I'm calling Code Omega Three! Everyone get out of here while you still can!"

This was bad. Really bad. Two thirds of Alpha Company had engaged the Covenant on the rocky landscape of the asteroid, while the rest went about destroying the reactors. The battle had been evenly matched until the Covenant brought down an entire army to flank the young Spartans in the past half an hour. Now, they had a simple choice: Run or die.

Martin rolled from cover and fired his MA5K on full auto into the nearest elite, ripping through it's shields and taking the alien down. The entire company was in full retreat. Missiles from Kai and Eugene's 'Jackhammer' launchers streaked overhead and felled incoming banshees. According to his HUD, their Calypso craft were only a few kilometres east. After reloading, he took down a trio of grunts before calling back.

"Go, I've got this!" Several more of the squat aliens fell before Dan grabbed his shoulder and pulled him back.

"Martin, let's go. We all go home or nobody goes home!"

He was right. With a single glance back at the approaching Covenant forces, Martin turned and ran. The others ran alongside him. The COM was a real mess. There was no real cohesion now, no protocol or plan other than to run as fast as they could.

"...can't raise Python team..."

"We've got casualties! Can anyone cover us?!"

"Sarah? Oh God, I think she's..."

"...Will hold this position as long as we can!"

Falcon Team kept going, sprinting over the rocks of the asteroid as a furious battle was being fought below them. In that sense, they were quite lucky, having been assigned to an overwatch position on the cliffs. Then, they saw it. Kai groaned. "Oh no..."

In front of them, protecting one of the last plasma reactor, was an entire Covenant legion. Lines of Unggoy and Kig-Yar led by fearsome Sangheili warriors marched forward in unison, followed by lumbering Mgalekgolo, better known as Hunters. At the back was an entire line of wraith tanks, their plasma mortars raining down on Alpha Company. Worse still, their extraction craft were hidden not far past the reactor. They were cut off.

"This is bad. Real bad." Dan sounded truly afraid for the first time in his life. They had very little chance of slipping past an entire Covenant army undetected. Checking the tactical readouts, the K7-49 facility was still, if barely, active. If they escaped now, everyone else would have died for nothing. They would have failed their mission. Death was a better option. There was a single reactor in front of them, both an obstacle and a target. The Spartans looked at each other, not saying a word. There were only seven of them up here: Dan, Martin, Kai, Eugene, Chris, Dorian and Sal. That had to be enough.

"Falcon Team, we're moving in. Nothing is going to stop us. Clear?"

The entire team replied with affirmatives. No one was backing down here. They had all had their chance to do that, years ago on that Pelican, one cold night on Onyx. One by one, they activated their SPI suit's camo systems and began to move down from the ridge. Most of the Covenant forces had their attention drawn towards the bulk of Alpha Company, who were in full retreat. Taking shelter, their suits providing some degree of cover, the team waited at the bottom of a rocky embankment as several wraith tanks passed. The moment they had gone, the Spartans were up and running again, moving as quickly as they dared towards the reactor.

"This is Lion Team, is anyone still alive?" That was Nelson. His team had been one of Falcon's main competitors during training.

Dan responded immediately. "Yeah, this is Falcon, where are you guys?" His voice was calm, despite the slaughter that was going on behind them.

"There's eleven of us, we broke through the Covvie ranks and are headed for the evac zone."

On his TACMAP, several yellow dots winked up, showing their comrades not far away, fighting in a narrow crevice. Looking over there, his visor zooming in, Martin could see the small arms fire and occasional missile from behind the rocks they were holed up in. Dan waved them forward, and they began sprinting towards the battle. The Covenant had diverted the Wraiths to deal with Lion Team. That could only mean that the rest of Alpha Company wasn't a threat any more.

Martin checked the rosters for Alpha Company. Most bio signs had flatlined or were extremely low, and more were winking off before his eyes. The signs for Team Wolf Pack went out, one by one, as more explosions and plasma fire were heard from the main valley. After getting into cover, Kai and Eugene fired their missiles at the unprotected rear of the tanks, hitting the rotating exhaust ports, which had been identified as the main weak point. Both tanks exploded, killing several nearby grunts. As the other wraiths attempted to turn to face the new threat, they were hit by several more missiles. The Spartans leapt over their cover and advanced, combined fire dropping those who opposed them.

They didn't have long. Dan lead the team up into the rocks where Nelson and the others were. Two bodies lay side by side in the crevice, clad in the remnants of their SPI armour. They looked so small in death. Nelson greeted them, jumping down from his position in the rocks, hefting a captured plasma rifle.

"We lost Ian and Ome in the last attack. Fucking Covvies..." It seemed a surprise that anyone had managed to get through at all. There were now nine survivors from Nelson's group, and the seven from Falcon Team. They had a chance at completing their mission now. "How did you survive?" Dan asked.

"We managed to take cover from the wraith bombardment and move up while the Covvies were distracted. Couldn't say the same for the rest of the Company though. Goddamn Hunters cut them off."

Dan nodded, not saying a word. Martin noticed that there was none of his 'no man left behind' mentality here. Nelson had saved as many as he could. There was nothing more he could do. There was a loud explosion from above as a bolt of green energy struck the cliff face above them. The Spartans followed Nelson through the crevice, getting into cover before the banshee fliers could get a bead on them. After reaching the other side, their target was in sight. They had to take out that reactor. Failure was not an option.

Martin moved across the open plain that separated the crevice from the plasma reactor. They were forced to move as slowly as possible, the camo on their armour becoming almost useless if they dared to move at anything more than a slow jog. Most of the Covenant forces were likely focused on butchering the rest of the Company in the valley. He hadn't activated his larger COM system in a while, and decided not to. He didn't want to hear if there was anyone still alive back there. In his mind, Martin knew that his friends, the people he had trained with, who were closer to him than his biological family had ever been, were being massacred. They couldn't go back. He put it aside, focusing only on the task at hand.

As the familiar whine of the banshees came back into earshot, he threw himself to the floor, giving a silent prayer to whatever Gods there may me in the universe to save him. Whether by luck or divine intervention, he was still alive as the fuel rod blasts hit the surface.

"Oh fuck! Everyone run, now! We're taking this damn thing out now!"

Dan again. This was the first time he had heard him swear on a mission. He had finally lost his cool. Checking the BIOCOM, he saw that Kristoff-A035's signals had flatlined. Looking to his right, beyond the smoking hole where something that might have been a piece of armour lay, Martin could see Louie-A199 carrying Dorian away while his longtime friend, Alex-A121, began firing towards the Covenant forces guarding the reactor, a stream of creative and colourful expletives issuing from his mouth.

Martin ran as fast as he could, meeting with Kai and Dan at the entrance to the reactor. They waited for another Spartan to toss a grenade in before storming in, MA5K's blaring. Several grunts dropped to the floor, twitching. Kai immediately began unpacking the explosives from his pack. Martin and Dan did the same. Alex, Louie and Dorian made it inside while Jordan-A111 and Frank-A103 moved to cover the other exit. The Covenant army would be closing in on them soon. Dan activated TEAMCOM. "Everyone, get to the extraction vehicles, now. We'll handle the charges!"

After a few affirmatives were made, Dan ordered the others to place their det-packs on the structure. They had already placed enough to blow this place three times, but Martin guessed that he wanted to leave the enemy with something to remember them by. Dorian, whose armour had been badly singed, managed to walk to the other exit and shoulder his weapon before dropping to his knees. Frank and Jordan grabbed him, and injected biofoam into his armour. His signs were dropping into the red zone; he would need medical attention soon.

"Jordan, Frank and Martin, get Dorian out of here. We've got this."

"No!"

Martin's mouth had responded quicker than his mind. He wasn't going to be the one sent away while others ran. Flashes came into his mind, evoking memories long hidden. A woman pushing him onto a container packed with strangers, watching with wide eyes through a window as a planet was consumed by fire. More recent things, too. Being told to run while the others took on the man who had become their sole source of fear, back in that forest. Being made to watch guard the rear while others went ahead.

"Martin?"

"Louie, you go with them. I'm staying with them." He spoke clearly, with obvious authority. Louie-A199, who had always been quite friendly and agreeable, nodded and began to move. Dan stared at him in disbelief as he motioned for the others to go as the plasma fire died down for a moment. Martin them calmly went back to placing his pack next to the reactor.

"Soldier, I gave you an order to-"

"Don't pull that crap on me, Dan. What's that catchphrase you love? We all go home..."

"...Or nobody goes home," Dan finished lamely. He took a breath, stood up, and saluted. Martin returned it. Kai stood up too. Here they were, the three of them, standing there just as they had that cold night on Onyx, the night they had chosen to become Spartans. A cough from Alex, who had been leaning nonchalantly against a wall, brought them back to their senses.

"Charges placed, people," Kai said with satisfaction. "Let's go."

There was a violent explosion from the exit as a plasma mortar detonated next to it. Enemy wraiths had zeroed in on their position. Looking around in desperation, Martin saw that the reactor had an upper deck for patrolling guards. He pressed a button on a nearby wall, hoping it would do what he thought it did. A shimmering blue light confirmed his suspicions as the gravity lift activated, lifting the four Spartans to the upper level. Kai grabbed a beam rifle from one of the dead jackals and immediately unloaded a few shots on incoming elites, dropping a few and sending more into cover.

"Evac's this way, we can jump from here and sprint the rest of the way!"

Martin turned to see Dan gesturing over his shoulder towards the valley where their extraction craft were stowed. Alex immediately made a run for the edge, leapt off and landed, rolling, on the rocky ground before heading off as fast as he could towards the others. Though Alex was a vicious and stubborn fighter, he would not abandon Louie, who had been his best friend even before he joined the program.

Dan, Kai and Martin began to run as well, catching sight of the massive Covenant attack force heading towards them. As the three Spartans neared the edge of the platform, Kai cried out in pain, and fell to the ground. A pink, crystalline shard had buried itself in the back of his knee. He yanked it out with a grunt and tossed it away, but the damage was done. He wouldn't be running. Martin turned back to help his friend, only to see the large frame of an Elite land on the other side of the platform, several others in tow using what appeared to be jet packs. It was just the three of them now.

Dan immediately tossed a grenade their way, scattering the four of them and allowing Kai and Martin to take one down with combined fire. One launched itself towards Martin, who was barely able to dodge as the alien crashed into a wall. Unsheathing his combat knife, he leapt up onto it's back and plunged the blade into the neck of his enemy. As the Elite choked and died, another one grabbed Martin and slammed him into the floor. Had it not been for his augmentations and his armour, he would have most likely broken his spine. The Elite roared at him, spittle hitting his visor as an energy dagger was unsheathed from its gauntlet.

A burst of MA5K fire hitting its shields distracted the massive alien for a moment as it span round, unleashing a flurry of bolts from a plasma pistol against Kai, who was sat on the floor. Martin's hand shot for his pistol, which he raised and fired twice into the elite's head. It dropped like a sack. Martin pushed the bloody corpse off of him and crawled over to where his friend lay. The plasma rounds had burned through his SPI armour like paper. One shot had melted part of his visor. Kai pulled his helmet off with shaking hands and tossed it aside. Dan, who had just finished off their last assailant with a burst of rifle fire, ran over to his two friends.

"Is it bad?"

Kai looked up at him, and spat blood onto the floor. "Nah man, I usually spend my time in a pool of my own blood. It's-"

He began coughing more, laying a hand on his chest. Martin was no medic, but he could tell that his old friend was way beyond the help of biofoam. A plasma burn had scorched his right cheek, and the armour in his lower torso had been burned away.

"C'mon, we're getting you out of here."

Martin went to grab Kai's shoulder, but his hand was swatted away. If they didn't leave immediately, they would almost certainly never made it. Kai lifted up something in his bloody hands. It was a detonator.

"Dan, are we...are we clear?"

His face was drawn and pale. Dan nodded, expressionless behind the opaque visor. Clear. That was the term for use when all the explosives were armed and ready for detonation. He knew what Kai was going to do. Martin took out a can of biofoam from his pouch, and handed it to his friend. It wouldn't make much of a difference, but it might ease the pain.

"Kai, no..."

At this moment, he didn't feel like a Spartan. He wasn't one of those invincible green-clad warriors that he had always aspired to be. He was a scared 12-year old kid, stuck on an alien asteroid far from home, watching one of his best friends die. Dan put a hand on his shoulder. "C'mon, Martin. We have to go, now."

There was no emotion in his voice. He gave Kai a quick thumbs up, which was returned in kind, before turning away. It was the same gesture they had shared on the dropship as they had arrived on Onyx several years before. Kai reached into the back of his helmet and fished out a tiny data chip: His helmet recorder. With a shaking hand, he passed it to Martin, who stowed it away in one of his belt pouches.

"Martin, go. I've got this one. I'll make them-" He let out another grating cough. "I'll make those bastards remember Alpha Company. You boys do the same, promise?"

"I promise."

Martin meant it. He had signed up to kill aliens, to avenge his lost homeworld and family. Now, he merely had another reason for revenge. He turned away, and ran after Dan, leaping from the platform and sprinting as fast as he could towards the extraction zone.

Everything seemed to pass like a blur from then on. The two of them had ran and ran, making it to their Calypso-Class extraction vessel, where the other survivors were waiting, and had gotten away from K7-49 just as a blinding flash lit up the rocky valley behind them. They had used a lot of explosives. There were twelve of them. Twelve survivors out of just under three hundred Spartans that had landed on that asteroid not long before. They had done it, though. They had won. Tactical readouts showed them that they had destroyed enough reactors to cool the place down to a level that it would be of absolutely no use to Covenant forces.

Everyone in Falcon Team had survived, except Kai. His death seemed to hang over the team like a dark cloud for the entire return journey. At least, like many of his dead brothers and sisters, he had taken down more than a few aliens with him. In the end, that was what they had all signed up for. Martin and the others sat in silence, bruised, beaten and tired. That fact wouldn't erase the cold, hard truth, that Kai was gone, but it made things slightly easier. The fact that the twelve of them had even made it was nothing short of a miracle. The two teams had been acting as a rearguard for Alpha Company, and were able to run away in time. That was all there was to it. Sheer luck, not combat skill, had saved them.

After some time, they were picked up at the arranged point by a UNSC Prowler, and put into the hangar bay. Martin was the first out of the craft, staggering out onto the metal floor, helmet in hand. He was greeted by an unusual trio of people. In the middle was an aged, frail-looking woman, clad in the garb of an admiral, with piercing blue eyes that seemed to cut right into him. Martin saluted her tiredly. To the right of the woman was a middle aged, thin man with thinning brown hair and a beard. Both hands were clasped behind his back, and he was surveying the Spartans with the look of a potential buyer at an auction. The third figure was a man with dark hair, in typical officer's attire. A Colonel's insignia gleamed on his grey uniform.

"So Colonel, it seems that we did have some survivors from PROMETHEUS." The older woman glanced at the second man.

"Yes ma'am."

"Well Doctor Roe," she addressed the scientist in the white coat. "You get a group of Spartans to use. I know how much you missed Sigma."

The Doctor grinned. "Yes Admiral, they will do nicely, but how are we going to get a group this size past Ambrose?"

The Admiral paced forward, circling the Spartans, who were still standing at attention, like a predator. "I'll deal with that. As far as he is concerned, all of his Spartans were killed on that rock."

A chill ran down Martin's spine. Something seemed very wrong here.

Roe nodded, evidently satisfied. "Thank you, ma'am. I'm sure that you will agree with Colonel Ackerson and I that these Spartan survivors can be put to better use on things other than suicide missions."

The Colonel, evidently Ackerson, glanced over at Roe, but did not say a word. The Admiral stopped her pacing, and addressed the Spartans.

"Okay boys-" She noticed Sal. "-and girl. As the mission reports will now state, every single one of you has just been killed during the operation, and until I, or any of my successors says so, you all stay dead, clear?"

"Yes ma'am," twelve voices echoed round the room. Admiral Parangosky turned and stalked away, closely followed by Ackerson. The Spartans were stood with Doctor Roe, who still had a strange look about him, like a child looking at a new toy. It reminded him of the look that Major King had upon his recruitment into the SPARTAN-III Program, six years ago. Finally, he spoke.

"I am Doctor Calvin Roe of the Office of Naval Intelligence. You are all now part of the second generation of Project SIGMA. The twelve of you will make up UPSILON and TAU Teams, as part of a new Spartan initiative. Your work for humanity has only just begun."

Catharsis

0845 Hours, February 21st, 2557

UNSC Infinity, above Toronto, Earth


8:45am.

Martin took the data chip out of his helmet as the recording finished, looking it over. Suddenly, the observation room doors slid open and two familiar figures stepped in.

"There you are," said Louie-A199, clad in silver armour. "Was your COM off? We nearly raised a damn alert looking for you."

"Oh, sorry." Martin went to stow the chip away, only for Alex-A121 to step forward and grab his arm.

"You've been watching them again."

"So?"

Alex shook his head and let go. This wasn't the first time Martin had gone off to rewatch footage of their earliest battles, though in the past few years it had become something of an obsession for their fellow Spartan. Martin crossed his arms.

"Look," said Alex, "You've got to get your head together, Martin. I know it's been rough after Shrike disbanded, but you've got to keep focused."

"He's right," Louie spoke up, the Spartan removing his helmet. "We've got a job to do."

Martin took his own helmet off, revealing a tired, guilty face. It was easy for Alex and Louie, he felt; they'd been friends since before they became Spartans, and watched each other's back for years. He'd lost Dan and his entire team on Reach, and had to deal with six members of Shrike - a team he'd commanded - dying over the course of barely a year in their fight against the Insurrection. With the sudden introduction of the SPARTAN-IV's to most major duties, he felt horribly out of place.

"I can't help it," he muttered. "Look at us, we've been glorified security guards for this ship for the past week. Is that what you wanted when you signed up to become a Spartan?"

The others glanced at each other, Louie looking slightly crestfallen.

"We take what we can get," replied Alex eventually, his face concealed behind an opaque visor. "You want to kill Covvies, then ask for a transfer to Thor or the Headhunters and kill as much as you like, bud."

"You saying you don't get bored with the RCT's?" he asked; the pair had been among ONI's elite Remote Contact Teams for the past two and a half years.

Louie opened his mouth to speak, only for Alex to hold up a hand to silence him. "Hold up, ceremony's starting in five. We're wanted at the other end of this deck ASAP."

"Trouble?" Martin asked as they put their helmets on.

"Shipboard AI just had a few cameras go dark and the ARGUS picked up a whiff of something. Let's go."

The trio sprinted along the empty corridors, their armoured boots clanking loudly against the metal deck. A waypoint had flashed up on Martin's HUD, indicating the source of the commotion.

"Al, maintenance tunnel," Louie pointed out a corridor and the dark-armoured Spartan broke off.

"I'll check outside."

Martin moved away from his comrade, typing in an access code at a nearby airlock. It slid open and he stepped out onto one of many gantries that ran the length of the Infinity. Moving carefully, the Spartan edged towards the area, hoping to cut off any intruder from the outside. As he moved towards one door, the he caught a glimpse of another one opening further down the line. A thin man in a maintenance uniform crept out, a heavy rucksack swinging from one arm.

"Got eyes on the target," he hissed over the COM.

The man didn't notice him at first, creeping slowly along the gantry. The commissioning ceremony would start in around five minutes, hundreds of officers and important officials gathering atop the Infinity's flight deck before it set off into the stars in the name of mankind. And some asshole wants to ruin it.

"Freeze!" he yelled as the man spotted him, his eyes widening in fear.

Surprisingly, the man didn't stop at the sight of a seven foot armoured supersoldier or detonate his explosives, and elected to run away. Martin sprinted ahead, stowing his rifle and drawing a combat knife. Any gunfire would likely ruin the nice ceremony up top, after all. He spend a fraction of a second lining up his shot, and threw the blade forward, where it buried itself into the back of the man's skull. The rucksack flew from his hands and over the side.

"Crap!"

Martin leapt forward at an impressive speed, flinging himself over the railing and after the bag. He caught it in seconds and was relieved to find that none of the bombs had detonated, and activated his armour's thrusters to propel him back towards the gantry. He rose for a few seconds, only for it to begin losing power. The thruster stabilised him mid-air for a few seconds as he reached vainly towards the ledge with one hand, only to cut out after a few seconds.

"Gotcha!"

A pair of gauntleted hands closed around Martin's arm as he began to fall. Alex-A121 was leaning over the edge, with Louie helping him to pull the other Spartan up. With one mighty heave, Martin was pulled back up onto the metal gantry, where he gingerly set the explosives down by the rebel's corpse. Alex prodded it with his toe.

"Don't go killing yourself again, please," he said half-jokingly to Martin.

"I'll call for a cleanup crew," Louie activated his COM.

"Couldn't have those bombs hitting the city."

The trio stood for a moment and laughed as a voice echoed down towards them. The speech had begun. Martin only caught a few words here and there over the wind, but felt oddly relaxed. Free. Perhaps it was the sudden adrenaline of the pursuit or the excellent feeling that came with saving Humanity's greatest starship from a terrorist attack, but he hadn't felt this refreshed in months.

"So, any room for another Spartan in your RCT?" he asked.

Alex chuckled. "I think I can arrange for that."

"It'll be just like old times."

"Yep. Alpha's not dead."

"Not yet."


THE END

Author's Note: Martin-A136's activity in the turbulent years following the Human-Covenant War can be read in Halo: Shrike.

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