In the Post-War galaxy, mercenaries, pirates and assassins are in high demand. Winston Zhou is regarded as one of the most sought-after for his complete indifference to morality, class, creed, or species. He rose to infamy for being an instrument of destruction in the criminal underworld, both lauded and despised for his actions across numerous systems. Known for his loyalty only to the next paycheck, Zhou achieved remarkable success as for a solo operator at quite a young age and would appear frequently on battlefields across the frontier of civilised space. Though well-regarded for his talents, his flexible loyalties would earn him few friends and many enemies, eventually forcing him into the employ of the Office of Naval Intelligence to save his own life.
Born on the turbulent world of Talitsa, Winston Zhou never knew his parents, being abandoned in one of planet's many orphanages not long after his birth. Even his name was not that of his biological parents, it being given to him at the orphanage. Winston was a solitary child, never having any friends and often being pushed around my others growing up. He was noted for being quite intelligent compared to others, possessing an excellent memory, performing well in school, academically and physically. As he grew older, Winston found himself reacting to his bullies more and more, until one incident in the orphanage had him beating another boy to within an inch of his life before he could be restrained. This led to him being ostracised by the other children, fearful that he would attack again. Weeks of being shunned by the others led to Winston running away from the orphanage at the age of nine, fleeing into one of Talitsa's dangerous cities.
Winston wandered through the slums for some time, a mixture of anger and self-pity in his mind for several hours until he realised that no one from the orphanage had come to look for him; they hadn't even noticed his absence. Dejectedly returning to the only home he'd ever known, Winston found that while he'd been away, a number of armed men had arrived there. The people who ran the orphanage had in fact sold the children to a group, whom Winston assumed were gang members, as child soldiers. The forty terrified children were transported to a warehouse, where they would undergo harsh military training, some dying due to the brutality of their new 'instructors'. For the young Winston, confused and easy to manipulate like the others, this would be their new way of life.
After a few months, Winston's unit of child soldiers were driven off to another part of one of Talitsa' sprawling cities, whereupon they were unleashed by their handlers into a vicious firefight against a rival organisation. Frightened, and facing an execution by his own side if he attempted to flee, Winston and the other child soldiers opened fire on their foes, killing several. The general mindset that the children had been put in was that what they were experiencing was like a game, many of the others rationalizing what they were doing that way. Winston, however, held few illusions of what was happening, even at a young age, and remained in cover until a grenade exploded dangerously close to his group, killing several and trapping him under a pile of rubble.
The nine year old was eventually able to claw his way out, bleeding and exhausted. Looking around, he saw that most of the corpses around him belonged to the children from the orphanage, forced to fight in a pointless battle. Wandering through the ruins, having lost his rifle, Winston attempted to get help from some of the people living nearby, but was turned away time and time again. Heading into a partially collapsed building, Winston came across a nest of snipers working for the opposing faction. However, without a gun and any kind of uniform, the soldiers assumed that he was merely a wounded child, and patched up his relatively minor injuries before returning to their work. It was only then that Winston noticed that they were gunning down more of the forcibly recruited child soldiers in the street below. Taking a knife, which had been discarded by the snipers, he cut their throats from behind, the savagery and speed of these attacks surprising his foes, three men being brutally killed by the child, who merely wandered away, a blood-soaked blade in hand.
Winston as a child soldier on Talitsa.
Having taken his first few lives, Winston made his way through the ruins until he stumbled upon the survivors of the brutal battle that had just occurred. His superiors were surprised to see him returning, considering the fact that most of the casualties had been children. He and the others were loaded up onto a truck once more, and taken to a far-off outpost in the Tatlisan countryside, whereupon he was presented to several leaders of the 'Insurrection', a word unfamiliar to the young man. The unit of child soldiers that had survived the battle were rewarded with decent food, fresh clothes and somewhere safe to sleep in return for their 'valiant service', Winston and the others taking this in immediately, it being announced that they would be moulded into better soldiers by their trainers there, that battle being the first of many. One of the main people in charge, a man named Mal Roberts, would attempt to inspire the young soldiers with speeches about freedom from tyranny and oppression, something that Winston, unlike many others, never really took to. One of the main men in charge of training Winston and his peers was Jonathan Ulan. While the training courses were harsh, Ulan treated the children with more respect than their other trainers and seemed to be genuinely concerned for their safety. Winston found himself genuinely liking the man who trained him and the others to survive on the battlefield.
Over the years, Winston proved to be an avid learner, both on and off the battlefield. By the time he was thirteen, he was already leading his own unit into battle against rogue factions on Talitsa, those who fought against the centralised leadership that governed the majority of the planet. He was well-educated by his superiors, finding a much better life in the hands of the insurrectionist military than he ever had in the poverty of the orphanage. A solid day of work, which generally included going into combat, killing everything that fought back, and looting what they could from their foes would lead to Winston and his comrades being rewarded, while failure, though rare, would end up in harsh punishments. During this time, Winston became well-versed in managing his weapon, obsessively cleaning and keeping his rifle in pristine condition for use almost every day. The mid-2550s were a troublesome time to grow up in, particularly with news of heightened activity from various groups across the colonies filtering in over the years and causing more and more outbreaks of violence across the planet. When Winston was nineteen, he and his soldiers came up against their greatest foe yet: The United Nations Space Command.
Battle of Talitsa
Following a series bombings in early 2555 that were traced back to groups on Talitsa the UNSC dispatched a fleet numbering forty vessels, carrying hundreds of thousands of troops, in order to reclaim planet and bring it back under UEG control. Having been in control for decades at this point, the Insurrectionist leadership were able to put up a fight, successfully destroying several enemy ships before they could deploy their forces on the planet. However, with the losses of key leaders like Roberts and Ulan not long before, squabbles quickly broke out amongst the remaining leaders over what to do, some favouring retreat over fighting and vice versa. Winston's unit was sent out in April, venturing into the besieged city of Bedinka. While before, Winston and his allies were used to dealing with poorly-armed gang members, traitors, and fugitives, they were now going up against well-equipped and trained UNSC Marines, supported by a number of the elite Orbital Drop Shock Troopers.
The teenagers never stood a chance against their foes, the battle turning into a massacre as most of them were quickly surrounded and killed, Winston barely escaping by using the corpse of one of his subordinates as a shield as he crawled through a grate into the city's sewer systems. There, he fled through the city, unarmed save for a stolen machete, eventually surfacing in a safer area, one of the few places still held by the Insurrection. There, he was forced back into the fray once more, being given a rifle and told to fight once more. By this point, seeing his comrades slaughtered, Winston attempted to hide the moment they came into contact with the enemy, attempting to act as a frightened, innocent child, as he had done years before. However, once he was discovered by a group of ODST's he found that throwing himself to the mercy of his foe was not the best idea, as they prepared to execute him. Panicking, Winston was able to stab one of the men with his machete, attempting to use the body as a shield from the others, who immediately opened fire, one shot wounding him. Before they could finish him off, the troopers were cut to pieces in a hail of bullets.
Winston meeting his mentor.
Before he could flee once more, Winston came face to face with a middle-aged man, wielding a large machine gun. Unlike the distinctive uniforms that many rebel soldiers wore on Talitsa, this man appeared to be a rogue or a mercenary. Giving a friendly introduction, the man introduced himself as Carlos Driscol, and offered to take Winston to safety. Not having any real options at this point, Winston followed him through the ruins, avoiding firefights until they were able to ambush a UNSC patrol. Driscol, using his machine gun, massacred the soldiers in seconds, stealing their warthog transport and trusting the teenager with an assault rifle as the pair drove out of the city. Winston did not trust his new companion, deciding to interrogate him at gunpoint as they drove. Rather then fearing him, Driscol calmly explained that he was merely passing through the city when the battle began, and had taken Winston with him to act as a partner, reasoning that anyone able to stab an ODST to death would be a formidable opponent.
The pair eventually arrived at a Talitsan spaceport, which had been seized by the UNSC. The fact that they were both armed and driving a stolen warthog would instantly mark them as rebels, Driscol deciding to incinerate their vehicle to catch the attention of those patrolling the area, allowing them to infiltrate the spaceport unseen. The plan worked, Driscol and Winston managing to enter via a hole in the perimeter fence, slipping into the detainment camp for refugees attempting to flee Talitsan. Here, Winston was given new clothes to replace his tattered and bloody uniform, and sent around the camp to gather information, while Driscol attempted to find a ship. Walking around, Winston recognised a few others as former fighters who had slipped in amongst the civilians and were trying to get offplanet. While this strategy might have worked, Driscol revealed that he was wanted by the UNSC for taking part in large-scale attacks two years previously, reasoning that their only way out would be to steal a ship.
Introducing his new partner to his old comrades, Winston was used as a distraction for Driscol and a dozen others to gun down the guards in the refugee camp before fleeing towards some of the civilian ships in the spaceport. While it took some time for the Marines to return from investigating the torched warthog, the rebels were still outnumbered, most of them fleeing towards the grounded civilian ships rather than fighting. Winston was wounded as a bullet hit his shoulder, the teenager dropping instantly. To his surprise, rather than abandoning him to his fate, Driscol began to carry him, taking him towards a ship that had been commandeered by the fighters. Allowing Winston to climb aboard, Driscol attempted to kick away a fragmentation grenade that had been thrown by one of the Marines, only to have it detonate, blowing off a large portion of his right leg in the process. Still under heavy fire, Winston dragged his saviour aboard the transport as it took off.
While aboard, Winston and the few survivors tended to Driscol's wounds, mending his leg as best they could while they slipped past the UNSC Fleet unnoticed. Eventually, the decision was made to place him in cryosleep for the duration of their journey to other frontier worlds. Winston, who by the age of nineteen had killed dozens of men and survived several massacres, was completely unsure of what to do with his life, and resolved to do whatever he could to save Driscol's. After two weeks aboard the transport, they arrived at the Caucasus Asteroids, a large, independent settlement that had lost the majority of it's military protection due to an attack by the UNSC the previous year. Once there, they were able to get Driscol to a proper doctor, allowing him to recover and fitting him with a robotic prosthetic leg to replace his lost one. As a token of gratitude, the old insurrectionist allowed Winston to accompany him on his travels throughout the frontier worlds.
"You've got talent, kid, I'll give you that, but no real skills. I'll teach you how to fight."
―Abd-al-Qadir ibn Asad, upon meeting Winston.
For several weeks, Winston and Driscol worked as freelance mercenaries on many lawless worlds that dotted the very edge of UNSC-controlled space, eking out a decent living in spite of the latter's advancing age. Winston, on the other hand, had become stronger, faster, and much more proficient in a variety of weapons. On April 21st, the pair arrived on the small planetoid of Escalera, which was home to a thriving independent community of Humans and Kig-Yar. They stayed there for a few nights before encountering an old ally of Driscol's, Abd-al-Qadir ibn Asad, a former Private Military Contractor also known as 'The Lion'.
Carlos and Winston arriving at Asad's home.
Though in retirement, the old soldier took Winston in for training in the art of combat. The next day Winston found a note from his partner. Driscol had grown weary of their partnership and left the planet in secret the previous night, though this was partly due to him caring for the boy's well-being after sustaining several wounds on the battlefield. Winston was left alone with Asad to begin his training. While as a child soldier he had mastered the basics of combat and killing, Asad's specialised training would teach him a number of lethal skills that would come in handy over the years, including infiltration, marksmanship, and several forms of close quarters combat, honing the teenager into a well-trained soldier. The older man was a harsh, if fair teacher for Winston, ensuring that his mistakes were punished, while successes were rewarded well. It was this effective method that greatly improved the boy's already formidable talents to higher levels, on par with most talented soldiers in the military.
While Asad was certainly not the warrior he had once been, his brutal training regime, which would take place on all but one day of the week, also gave Winston a sense of discipline that he had never quite possessed, as well as the important virtue of patience. More than once he failed a test by rushing in too quickly, only to be 'killed' in training sessions. Winston would often ask questions about his trainer's past, learning a great deal about Asad's work heading a PMC that worked largely on the UNSC's payroll, against both the Insurrectionists and the Covenant until they were forcibly dissolved, having lost a great deal of funding and members. Winston also had a great interest in the Human-Covenant War which had not affected his homeworld at all, learning in great detail about mankind's former foes and more importantly, the best ways to kill them.
Winston came to appreciate his apprenticeship under Asad, the two becoming good friends in the year of training they spent together. The old soldier, who had been initially suspicious of the disturbed boy left to him by Driscol, had come to put a great deal of faith in his abilities, hoping that his skills would be passed on for the better. Likewise, Winston saw Asad as a sort of father figure, as opposed to Driscol, who had been more of an aloof, unapolagetic ally. However, by the end of his training, Winston had no ideas of what to do with himself, knowing about little else aside from killing and war. Seeing talent in the boy, Asad was the one that finally suggested taking up solo mercenary work, giving him the equipment, weapons and money to start out in the business before sending him offworld on a transport shuttle towards the nearest colony world.
For several months, Winston drifted from settlement to settlement, finding work where he could as an enforcer, though he was often rather picky about what his jobs entailed, usually concerning the people involved. Having grown up in the slums of Talitsa, he was very reluctant to act as little more than a thug collecting money from the poor. As such, Winston found it very difficult to maintain a steady stream of paying jobs. More than once he was confronted by hirelings from local crime lords demanding payment or his services. His generally violent reaction to these threats gained him a few enemies while starting out as a mercenary, though in terms of power these were little fish in a massive pond.
In March of 2556, Winston was offered his first big time job, which offered nearly a million credits for the assassination of Toby Maxwell, the heir to a massive corporation that supplied many human colonies. Due to the importance of the target and the handsome payoff, he was one of dozens to apply for the mission, various would-be assassins and mercenaries working against each other for the winnings. Being barely twenty at the time, Winston was looked down on by many of his older competitors who had been taking on dangerous contracts since before he was born. Their target was located in a high-rise building in Kuiper, the capital of Circumstance, in the Inner Colonies.
Setting off with the others, Winston was well aware that the others would gladly kill one another to be first to the prize, and was proved right when another mercenary attempted to shoot him in the back, only to have his gun jam. Enraged, Winston easily killed his opponent, and set out to kill their target first, murdering or incapacitating any of the others he came across. It was this ruthless efficiency that got him into the company tower first, successfully breaking into the apartment of Maxwell with little trouble from security. The target was not present, as their informant had told them. Instead, nearly two dozen guards were waiting for the mercenary to arrive, opening fire on Winston seconds after he entered.
Winston loses his right eye.
The young man was able to kill nearly two thirds of his attackers despite being heavily outnumbered, but wounds and a lack of ammo began to take their toll. Eventually, one of his foes, a man named Gordon Mills, forced him out of cover with the pretence that he would not be killed. With little choice, Winston stepped into the open, throwing his weapons down. Mills introduced himself as a fellow mercenary, and revealed that their entire mission had been a sick 'game' set up by the target himself. Then, he promptly shot Winston in the face.
Out of sheer luck, the bullet did not kill Winston, though it did destroy his right eye and cause major damage to the side of his face, knocking him out cold. Believing him to be dead, Mills ordered his body to be taken to an incinerator at the base of the tower. Before his body was burned, Winston awoke, surprising and overpowering his captors in seconds, snapping the neck of one while forcing the other into the incinerator. Badly wounded, he was able to escape from the tower and into the lower district of Kuiper, where he eventually passed out due to blood loss.
Winston awoke some time later in a medical bay, strapped down to a bed with his wounds cleaned and bandaged. Thinking that his foes had captured him, he attempted to struggle free until several armed guards entered his room, followed by a woman in the garb of a typical freighter captain. Once Winston was calmed down, she introduced herself as Amanda Wade and informed the assassin that they had discovered him passed out in an alleyway near the spaceport. He was initially confused as to why Wade's crew had saved him, thinking it to be some kind of trick. Winston refused to reveal anything about himself to his saviours, and was essentially made a prisoner in the room for several days as his wounds began to heal. On the fifth day, he finally spoke to Wade, questioning her on her loyalties and asking for news from the outside. The freighter captain told him that Maxwell's attempted assassination had been all over the news and that she intended to leave the planet as it was none of her business. Upon learning of Maxwell's survival, Winston asked if he could leave in order to finish his job.
For the first time in a while, Winston had been saved by someone who wanted nothing in return. Amanda Wade wished him good luck as he departed from her ship, the Dynasty, and made his way back towards the tower. With one eye and several wounds healing up he was at a major disadvantage, and spent most of the day looking for some kind of entrance to the heavily fortified building. That night, Winston used a pistol he had borrowed from the Dynasty to kill three guards, though he did not attempt to go any further. This only attracted more attention to Maxwell's tower and forced Winston to return to the ship, asking for assistance. To his surprise, Amanda agreed and took him into her crew while he regained his strength. Over the next few days he got to know the others and was taken to buy some black market gear in Kuiper's undercity. He took note of what Amanda was purchasing, namely military-grade equipment that would serve little purpose on her modified ship. He was eventually taken to a cybernetics expert and offered the chance to gain a prosthetic to replace his lost right eye. He accepted, and underwent several hours of surgery as a result. When he woke up, he found that his sight had been fully restored and even improved with little notable physical difference to his person. It was here that Winston asked that Amanda and her crew directly assist him in killing Toby Maxwell.
The Dynasty's captain accepted, even before Winston offered an exuberant sum of credits to her. They had discovered that due to the numerous threats on his life, the young millionaire had arranged to leave Circumstance for Earth and the heart of Maxwell Industries, giving them a perfect opportunity to attack. Once his luxury yacht had been sighted leaving the planet, the Dynasty followed it to the edge of the system and launched a barrage of missiles on the vessel before it could jump into slipspace, damaging but not destroying the ship. Amanda's ship moved in close enough for Winston to launch a boarding tube containing a heavily armed Winston to Maxwell's crippled ship. The moment the airlock opened, Winston set about slaughtering the survivors, guards and civilians alike.
By the time he found Toby Maxwell he was under the protection of Gordon Mills, the same man who had taken Winston's eye not long before. While the older gunfighter outmatched Zhou at range, he was well aware of the Dynasty's capabilities and threw the young man at his attacker to escape the ship in a smaller emergency vessel. Winston spent some time beating and torturing Maxwell for his actions in killing the other mercenaries for sport and ignored his pleas for mercy even when millions were offered for his life. He eventually broke the man's arms and legs and left him in an observation room with a view of space and a timed explosive. Winston made it back to the Dynasty just before it went off, finally killing Maxwell. However, the ordeal had drastically changed the young assassin's perspective on morality. The prospect of money offered in exchange for one's life intrigued him greatly and as a result made Winston abandon the code he had followed in his early mercenary work. His moral scruples had gotten him in trouble before, so he reasoned that having none when it came to paying jobs would make his work much simpler.
Winston was still pondering this when the Dynasty emerged from Slipspace in the Caucasus Asteroids, the location of a thriving settlement he had visited in the past. While he still intended to hunt down and kill Gordon Mills, he announced his departure from the freighter's crew, thanking Amanda for saving him and promising that he would repay her one day. Winston then began to take jobs for many local crime lords on the settlement, wiping out rivals and minor gangs for a few weeks before he decided such jobs were beneath him. Through an information broker there, he discovered the locations of a number of firms hiring assassins for controversial missions, and left aboard a small passenger ship for the Inner Colonies the next day with the intent of making a name for himself in the criminal underworld.
Winston became the scourge of the criminal underworld.
Following his relentless pursuit and assassination of Toby Maxwell, Winston gained a great deal of notoriety and was sought after for his skills. While he spent a short amount of time as an enforcer for an Insurrectionist group, he soon found that working as a contract killer was a much more lucrative business and began to offer his services to paying clients. Winston had few qualms about who his target was or how defended they were, as long as he was paid the agreed amount. However, his loyalty only extended as far as his paycheck and he occasionally murdered his employers in exchange for large sums of money after carrying out a contract. For some time, Winston moved from world to world offering his services to mercenary groups, criminal gangs and even the UNSC so long as they kept paying.
It was during this period that Winston was first contacted by a man named Frederick King, who worked for the Office of Naval Intelligence. Much to his surprise, King offered Winston a job working for him as the newest recruit for Project BRUTUS. With decent pay and significantly less danger than his current life as a freelance assassin, Winston considered it for some time, though in the end he declined. This was largely influenced by his experiences on Talitsa as a child and the strong anti-UNSC stance that both Carlos Driscol and Amanda Wade had taken while he worked with them. Three days after his refusal he was attacked by one of the infamous BRUTUS assassins in his safehouse, resulting in a prolonged firefight. After nearly half an hour of fighting he emerged as the victor, having collapsed part of the ceiling to distract his foe before taking the assassin out with a bullet to the head. Though Winston fully expected a reprisal for his actions, he instead got a contract to assassinate a prominent advocate of colonial self-rule on Mars with a promised payment of 300,000 credits. Within four days, the target was dead and Winston was allowed to go free by ONI.
While he did accept paid contracts from ONI, Winston's lack of scruples regarding his employers would lead to him taking jobs from the rebel group known as the New Colonial Alliance. He had paid little attention to their rise to power in the Outer Colonies and even dismissed them as an insignificant organisation before they managed to gain control of three worlds within a month, prompting a quick counterattack by the UNSC. Shortly after, he was contacted by Robert Amenwae, a NCA Major responsible for recruiting hundreds of people for their cause. For a handsome sum, Winston would work alongside other mercenaries to eliminate the leaders of several other rebel factions, preparing them for assimilation into the NCA. He accepted and spent several weeks tracking down and murdering his targets. His last assignment would involve attacking a depleted mercenary group known as the 'Minutemen', who had fallen on hard times after being ousted from Andesia by the UNSC in March. Winston lay in wait as the Minutemen advanced before springing his trap, gunning down most of their force and entering a lengthy firefight with the rest. The mercenaries were surprised to find that they were facing a solitary attacker, Winston's elevated position giving him a massive advantage as he slowly picked off the survivors.
After nearly an hour of fighting, the survivors tried to flee into the surrounding jungle rather than continue fighting the assassin in open combat. After dispatching one, Winston moved in to finish off the others before hesitating at the sight of their leader. It turned out to be Carlos Driscol, the man who had been his first friend and teacher. While his contract did entail the extermination of the Minutemen, Winston decided that it would be better to take Driscol and the other survivor, Alistair Travis, back to the NCA's base camp as prisoners. Much to his surprise, Amenwae had heard of Driscol from his days in the United Rebel Front and offered him and Travis a place in their army. As the alternative was execution, Driscol and his lieutenant accepted and were placed in a unit with Winston that very day. The pair spoke for some time about what they had done since they last met, Winston surprising Driscol with his lethality and experience in spite of his rather young age.
Later that year, Winston would be contracted by Amanda Wade, the woman who had saved his life on Circumstance. Following the coordinates she sent him, Winston arrived at Emerald Cove, a colony world that had been abandoned by the UNSC during the Human-Covenant War. There, Wade had founded an independent settlement named Avalon with the goals of creating a new society away from the control of the United Earth Government. While impressed that she and her followers had built Avalon without being noticed, he privately believed that it would swiftly be destroyed if it got involved in the current conflict. Amanda revealed that she was preparing for a mission to Mamore to rescue Ash Mitchell, an infamous mercenary, from NCA captivity. Winston had heard of Mitchell in the past, and knew that he was a wanted man with a large bounty on his head for his participation in a terrorist attack several years ago, earning him the nickname 'Butcher of Kuiper'. While the bounty was tempting, Winston put his deal with Amanda first and joined the crew of the Dynasty once more for the rescue mission.
Accompanying Amanda and a number of armed militia from Avalon, Winston and the others were briefed on their mission. Mitchell was being held in an abandoned military prison used by The NCA to hold captives; his location had been leaked by an insider within the rebel army. The plan was to launch mortar strikes on the encampment from several locations to draw the majority of enemy troops out while a team infiltrated the base to rescue their target. As the best shot among them, Winston would be situated in the nearby hills, where he could eliminate enemy soldiers with ease. As the mission began, he singlehandedly assaulted one side of the base, making their foe believe there was a platoon's worth of soldiers firing on them from above. However, before the infiltration team could move in he spotted a truck speeding away from the enemy convoy, and soon discovered from enemy transmissions that it was Mitchell himself. Due to his marksmanship and the timely intervention of a SPARTAN-II supersoldier, which took Winston by surprise, Mitchell survived the mission and ended up agreeing to join Amanda Wade's forces in Avalon after he recovered on board the Dynasty.
While Winston intended to leave Avalon immediately after to pursue more lucrative missions in the Inner Colonies, Amanda requested his help on a second mission. He agreed, and joined her, Mitchell and several others in a daring raid on an inner colony world to capture Hadvir Erikkson, a wealthy information broker who had provided details for Winston in the past. Though they encountered resistance from security and police forces; Winston saved Mitchell's life when a security guard blindsided him, the crew were able to return to the Dynasty safely and returned to Emerald Cove within a few days. After being paid, Winston Zhou soon left the settlement behind, though Amanda's offer of him having a permanent home there tempted him greatly. It was not until after a lengthy assassination mission several months later that he heard of the burgeoning colony's fate.
Ciudad de Huesos Incident
In March of 2557, Winston was given an incredibly high-paying contract by the new head of ONI's BRUTUS division, Alexander Redford. He was to board a Destroyer, the UNSC Agrippa, and plant a number of explosives aboard the vessel as it departed for a reconnaissance mission to Madrigal with the intent to destroy it as it moved into the glassed planet's orbit. Winston correctly guessed that this had something to do with the little-known independent settlement on the planet's surface, 'Ciudad de Huesos' - City of Bones', though unlike Redford he was aware that the man currently running it was Carlos Driscol. While the reasons behind ONI willingly destroying one of its own vessels and presumably the crew eluded him, Winston could not turn down the credits involved. He accepted the contract and was discreetly transported aboard the Agrippa with false documents as an engineer.
While certainly one of Winston's most dangerous missions to date, the assassin was able quietly set over two dozen C-12 charges across multiple levels, including spots in the engine room, bridge, and multiple escape pod bays. Having surveyed the Destroyer's layout before setting off, he decided to risk using one of the vessel's many SOEIV's to reach Madrigal's surface before heading to the city for help. Having targeted an off-duty ODST beforehand, Winston swiftly subdued him moments before detonating his explosives and stole the man's armour as a disguise before racing to the pods. Surprisingly, numerous other troopers had already reached the room and were preparing to abandon ship when he arrived. Winston decided to remain quiet and go along with the group, joining them as they escaped with just minutes to spare as plasma weapons from Ciudad de Huesos opened fire and ripped the damaged Destroyer apart.
Landing in Madrigal's barren glasslands, Winston regrouped with the other survivors as they followed the command of Second Lieutenant Michael Green. Moving through the wasteland, their group encountered a child who led them to a small settlement hidden in what had once been one of Madrigal's larger cities. As it turned out, a number of civilians had been forcibly driven out of Ciudad de Huesos after Driscol and the NCA had taken over and had been forced to set up a makeshift camp in a ruined stadium. While Green and the others conversed with them and learned about the hidden city, Winston was able to directly contact Driscol's lieutenant Alistair Travis via a hidden communicator and alerted his men to their location. Then, under the pretence of securing the camp, he planted a small demolition charge on a nearby water purifier and detonated it just as NCA troops launched their attack.
This move saw the swift elimination of most of the civilians and Green's men, though a few were able to board a large mining truck and escape the firefight. Still disguised as an ODST and with no way to distinguish himself from the troopers to their attackers, Winston joined them on board and made sure to continually send updates of their location to Travis over their private COM channel. As the truck entered the mountainous region outside Ciudad de Huesos, he set up his last charge on the lower deck of the vehicle before heading up to inform Green that he was needed elsewhere. Believing that he had tricked the ODST leader, Winston slit the throat of the civilian driver and prepared to lock himself in the cab until reinforcements arrived. His plan did not go as expected as Green raced back into the room and attacked the disguised assassin.
The two engaged in a brief fight within the truck's cab, Winston battling in close-quarters with his own underhanded style against the trained ODST. While fast and strong, he could not match Green and was eventually brought to the ground. The two shared a brief exchange as the officer tried to interrogate Winston, only for him to quietly trigger the explosive below them that blew most of the truck's lower portion in half and flung both men from the vehicle. Though dazed and slightly injured from the blast, Winston managed to crawl away and moved down the mountainside, contacting Travis again as several Pelicans moved in to eliminate the stragglers. He was picked up soon after by Travis and his men, though he did not divulge his mission to the man. After being taken back to Ciudad de Huesos, Winston was paid for helping eliminate both the exiles and ODST's, and allowed to stay within the city until Carlos Driscol could see him. To his surprise, his former mentor failed to turn up for the entire day, and it was not until the early hours of the following morning that Winston's presence was detected in the city's administrative headquarters.
As Winston arrived, the surviving ODST's launched an attack on Ciudad de Huesos, disrupting Driscol's control over the city and inciting an uprising against the NCA from the settlement's disgruntled inhabitants. Though he intended to fight alongside his old mentor, he soon discovered that Driscol's men had taken Amanda Wade and her crew prisoner and killed their guards before freeing them. Unwilling to let either Wade or Driscol die, he ordered the former to leave and pretended to be oblivious about their escape after meeting the latter. As he sat in on a meeting with Driscol, Winston found that one of his top lieutenants was Gordon Mills, the man responsible for the loss of his eye on Circumstance. Though he suppressed his anger, the young assassin soon made it clear to Driscol that he intended to kill Mills and warned him that ONI had sent him to Madrigal to clear the way for an imminent invasion by provoking the UNSC with the Agrippa's destruction. As he assisted Driscol in preparing for a hasty retreat from Madrigal, Winston encountered yet another face from his past: Abd-al-Quadir ibn Asad.
Asad, who also seemed to be working for ONI, greeted Winston and Driscol and informed them of his own mission to uncover a long-lost cache of nuclear weapons on Madrigal. Realising that that was why Wade had come to the planet, Driscol set off to kill her and take the weapons for himself with Asad in tow, leaving Winston to pursue Gordon Mills on his own. Seized with a sudden crisis as he realised that the only people in the galaxy that he truly respected were likely about to kill each other, Winston considered going along as a negotiator, though he put off the idea in favour of seeking revenge first. Setting off into the city alone, he joined a group of rioting citizens in their fight against the dwindling NCA forces and eventually sighted Mills attempting to flee to the spaceport. He pursued the mercenary on foot, disabling his vehicle first before following him aboard a civilian Yacht. However, Winston's eagerness overrode his cautious nature for once, allowing Mills to ambush him with a stun grenade before knocking him out.
Winston awoke unable to move, having been fitted with a neural-inhibitor collar while unconscious. To his surprise, Mills had no intention of killing him and revealed that he was actually a member of ONI's BRUTUS division who had been informed of Winston's mission on Madrigal. Having been specifically ordered not to kill Winston , Mills kept him captive until he could contact the UNSC Caspian, which had arrived alongside a portion of the UNSC's Sixth Fleet to reclaim Madrigal. After being taken aboard Winston met with Captain Alexander Redford, who freed him and gave him both his payment and free transport to the colony world of his choice. Humiliated by his failure and unable to attack Mills, he departed the 23 Librae System and headed for one of his safehouses on Gilgamesh.
It was not until several weeks later that Winston received news that Carlos Driscol had been killed on Madrigal, and that though Amanda Wade had survived her infamous vessel Dynasty had also been lost during the fighting there. Though saddened by his mentor's loss, Winston did not dwell on Driscol's passing for long and continued to seek work in the criminal underworld, though there seemed to be little in the way of jobs for a man of his talents. He would spend several months traversing the colonies alone, picking up information from contacts and accepting jobs wherever he could find them. Though his financial situation was more than stable, Winston began to worry that the rapid re-stabilisation of the colonies and increased policing would force him to either join up with a more legitimate military group or head into the frontier alone to actively seek out conflict.
Having come to the conclusion that he needed some kind of battle to fight, Winston was mere days away from heading out for the frontier when he was suddenly attacked by a group of well-armed mercenaries working for one of his former clients. Barely escaping his temporary housing on Nephis, he was pursued for over a day until he killed his attackers and left the planet, only to discover that several of his old contacts had cut ties with him shortly before the attempted hit. Confused by this, Winston tracked down and interrogated one informant, who eventually revealed that he had essentially been blacklisted by many criminal groups after his willingness to work for anyone had gotten far too many influential people killed across numerous organisations. Shocked at this sudden turn of events, Winston changed his initial destination and travelled to humanity's homeworld of Earth, seeking the only ally he had left.
Using a contact number given to him by Frederick King, Zhou was picked up by ONI agents shortly after arriving on Earth and was taken to Sydney for another meeting with Alexander Redford, the head of BRUTUS. After explaining his situation, he expressed his desire to take up King's earlier offer of joining BRUTUS, having become desperate enough to sacrifice his freedom in exchange for the support network that ONI provided. Though Redford explained to Winston that there was currently no need to recruit new agents, the older assassin made it clear that he had no issue with an existing one being replaced, allowing Winston Zhou to assume a new identity while disposing of an underperforming member of BRUTUS. To secure his place in the organisation, Zhou was asked to kill none other than Gordon Mills, his old nemesis. He accepted the mission gladly, and departed the planet with Redford's blessing shortly after.
Personality and Traits
Contractor: "You got any particular rules about your work?"
Winston: "Pay in cash. Don't screw me over."
Contractor: "Is there anything you won't do?"
Winston: "Turn down money from the other guy."
―Winston discussing work with a potential employer.
As a child, Winston was something of an outcast at the orphanage he grew up in, becoming rather withdrawn and surly as a result. He would rarely speak to the other children and was rather unsociable for the majority of his life. After he was sold to become a child soldier in one of Talitsa's many cities, he became much more vicious towards others in general and only looked out for himself. He did become intensely loyal towards his superiors in the Insurrection, though this was more out of fear than any genuine compassion towards their cause, which he understood little of. His travels with Carlos Driscol changed his attitude somewhat, seeing places beyond Talitsa for the first time and despising the injustices he saw, though his companion cared little or others.
Following his training under Abd-al-Qadir ibn Asad, a man of strong moral convictions, Winston became very methodical and pragmatic in his line of work. Though he still had several restrictions on what jobs he would take, the young man's ruthless efficiency came into being for the first time, remaining quite cold and distant from everything while on a mission. However, after seeing the galaxy at its worst, Winston would abandon all sense of morality in regards to his contracts. He would accept any job that paid well enough, regardless of who he killed or why they were to be killed. This had the effect of making him a valuable asset for hire, while gaining Winston quite a few enemies.
By the time he rose to infamy, Winston had few defining character traits that could be used to exploit him. With his entire life devoted to little more than killing for profit, he had few hobbies aside from maintaining and upgrading his supply of weaponry and searching for new jobs. While he was certainly an efficient killer, many would identify Winston as 'boring' in a social situation while not discussing business. He did not drink or smoke, as many other mercenaries did, and was known for having little interest in sex despite his notorious reputation. While this would make him hard to bribe, large sums of money aside, he would unsettle many of his would-be employers with this attitude. He had a great aversion to physical contact and would threaten people who tried to get close to him.
While he preferred to remain detached from events surrounding him, Winston did have a tendency to be quite arrogant when it came to competing mercenaries. Even famed bounty hunters such as David Kahn and Ash Mitchell were regarded as inferior for their supposed deaths or imprisonment, Winston believing that the greatest ones lived to see retirement just like Asad had done. As such, he would often become frustrated when outdone by others and was generally regarded as a sore loser by the few who were able to beat him, no matter the contest. However, Winston would genuinely show sympathy for those who looked out for or rescued him; wanted criminals like Carlos Driscol and Amanda Wade who had shown him kindness where no one else had were regarded as the only friends Winston possessed as he preferred to operate alone.
Skills and Abilities
"Its all I'm good at."
―Winston, when asked about killing.
Being taught from an early age to kill, Winston became one of the deadliest known assassins in the criminal underworld by his early twenties. His early years as a child soldier were spent learning to use cheap, basic weapons for combat, due to the survival rate of his kind being so low on the battlefield. As time went by, Winston mastered the art of cleaning and taking apart guns and would always keep his weapons in immaculate condition. As life on Talitsa was harsh, he and his comrades also learned how to steal or forage for food to survive and how to live through the harsh weather conditions that often affected rural areas of the colony world.
Winston remained in the best physical condition possible for his work at all times.
Winston gained a decent knowledge of most basic weaponry as time passed, becoming capable with many firearms, both Human and Covenant. He would often favour a military-grade sniper rifle on missions so to eliminate his target from afar without being seen, though if this was not possible Winston preferred silenced pistols or other light weaponry for missions. He was not overly fond of explosives due to the possibility of a target surviving the blast, though he was an able demolitionist when needed. While not the most talkative of people and lacking much of a formal education due to becoming a soldier at a young age, Winston was quite an intelligent and analytical man when it came to combat and strategy, if little else.
Furthermore, Winston would consistently strive to stay at the peak of physical fitness. While periods of near-starvation as a child would keep him rather thin, he later worked to maintain his form. He would use this strength to his advantage in close quarters, coupling it with the various fighting styles taught to him by Abd-al-Qadir ibn Asad during his training. Winston's prowess with a blade is something that worked well with these skills, having taken his first life with such a weapon. While he would ensure that death was brought to his foes swiftly, Winston would occasionally have to resort to his knives during close encounters.
Behind the Scenes
The pictures used for Winston are of a young Frank Jaeger from the Metal Gear series, and Duke Togo from Golgo 13.