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Halo: Bridge to DuskEdit
One doesn’t dream in cryosleep, not in the traditional sense of the word. Instead, fragments of their memories arrange themselves in an ever-moving collage of scenes that the rememberer, trapped in an enforced and chilly slumber, has no choice but to view, one after the other. Because viewing these past events is an involuntary action on the part of the sleeper, the powers that be have decreed that these memories are rarely pleasant ones.
The nightmare construction of rusted plates and wires hefted Mary into the air, examined her gaping chest wound, and hesitated only a moment before ramming its mechanized fist through her spine...
SPARTAN-G294, although he had renounced that title and all it represented, floated in a dark haze of fear, regret, and pain. He had no idea of how long he had been drifting like this, lost in the parade of his ruined life, alone and cut off from the universe. He was no longer even sure if he was alive or merely trapped in some hellish purgatory as his sins were laid bare before his Creator.
A searing headache greeted him as he awoke to find himself strapped to a cold operating table, wires connecting his head to a black box... the growing horror as he realized the female voice emanating from the box originated from his own mind...
The deaths of comrades he had barely known, cut down by men they would have given their lives to save in battle... the sheer terror and fury as he realized that he had been right about the UNSC all along...
He tried to speak, to announce his continued existence to all that could hear, but the only noises that sounded in the darkness were those that came from the evil memories, whispering to him, reminding him of his failures, his cowardice.
Pleading and sobbing on a rocky floor as the pitiless soldiers beat him, the knowledge that he was going to die and that there was nothing he could do to save himself...
There was nothing corporeal about him now, nothing solid or real. He was merely an essence that floated to each terrible memory, one after another. I must be dead, he thought, and for some reason the idea did not bother him. Sometimes living was worse than being dead.
The kick of his sidearm knocked his arm upwards as Captain Lierne’s head exploded in a grotesque burst of blood and bone fragments. The corpse slumped back against the smoking Warthog and the captain’s murderer stood alone amidst the flames and smoke, alone with his sin and guilt...
Diana’s voice faded into ambient noise as he collapsed into the Symbiote’s pilot chair, deaf and mute with shame. He had forgotten his friends, had left them for dead as he pursued an insane and quixotic quest for a revenge he no longer wanted. A shudder or self-revulsion knocked him from the chair and onto the metal floor. The guilt was too great, too overwhelming to even consider...
He had seen all of these memories countless times in the endless circle of memory. He had memorized each feeling and detail, and he knew exactly what was coming next. But no matter how much he struggled he could not resist the inexorable force that pulled him inexorably towards the approaching horror.
He lay on the hard ground, oblivious to his enemy as he strained to reach the bag that contained what Diana claimed to be the medicines and equipment necessary to keep Cassandra alive. His gauntlet brushed the bag’s strap, and then there was only pain as a burst from Jake’s assault rifle tore through his hand and into the bag. He tugged the mangled appendage away as sustained fire ripped the bag-and its precious contents-to shreds. He stared at his hand and realized with a jolt that he could see directly through it. As his thoughts turned to the bag, he forced himself back into the fight before the despair rushed in. He turned away from his ruined hopes and resumed trying to kill his friend...
Simon had been forced to review each and every memory for an unknowable amount of time as he floated alone in the darkness. He had long ago despaired of ever returning to the world, had decided that he was damned to remain in this hellish limbo for eternity. But something was happening now, the darkness was vanishing, replaced with surroundings of blue and purple. Simon felt his body once again, felt his naked body, felt the cold of the Covenant stasis tube he had been placed in...
For better or force worse, he was alive again.
Strong hands seized him and dragged him from the tube.
Simon, now clad in a ill-fitting robe of roughly woven cloth, was shoved none too gently to the floor. He was in a simple, dimly lit chamber constructed with the smooth purple metal that typified Covenant interior decorating. As he gazed about the dirt-specked floor around him, a single name flashed within him.
“Cassandra?” he whispered desperately.
“I’m here, Simon.”
She was huddled beside him in similar garb, hunched and shivering from the cryo pod she had undoubtedly come from. Something within Simon desperately wanted to help stop the shivering, but he was so cold himself...
He pulled the robe tighter around himself as the two of them sat in silence, waiting for something to happen. Simon kept sneaking glances in Cassandra’s direction. She did not return any, instead keeping her gaze focused on the ground before her.
After several minutes spent in this manner, the door before them beeped and slid open, admitting three Sanghelli in full combat armor. At once Simon’s conditioned mind sprang into action, analyzing their weapons (Plasma Rifles and Energy Swords), their ranks (two blue-clad Minors and a single golden Zealot), and the different parts of their body. The head was where the shields were weakest, but for one as inaccurate as Simon the best place to shoot for was the chest. Once this product of years of combat training ended, the true Simon emerged and began scanning the room for a means of cover and escape. After this search had failed to produce any viable results, he remembered where he was and the circumstances under which he and Cassandra had come to be with the Sanghelli.
Memories that hadn’t existed in the netherworld from which he had emerged flooded back to him.
We’ll fight for you when you really need us...
Although a pang of fear slashed through him at the realization that he would be going into battle and danger once again, another pang spoke in tones of relief. Such a development assured him once and for all that he was getting a second chance at life.
The two minors flanked the doors, folding their well muscled arms over their chests. The Zealot himself gazed down at the trembling forms at his feet. Although Simon was no expert at identifying Sanghelli facial expressions, he could have sworn that the creature was sneering at him.
Swallowing his nervousness, he gazed up at the shining armor. “So what’s the situation?” he asked, struggling to keep the tremor from his voice.
When the Sanghelli officer spoke it was in bass-deep English. “Situation?”
Confusion sparked within Simon’s brain. “When we were put in stasis, we agreed to fight for you when you needed us. Why are we awake?”
The officer’s supposed sneer deepened. “Ah yes. I was instructed to read your files. You are-”
Cassandra cut in. “How long?” Her voice was barely audible. “How long have we been asleep?”
“By your human standards, twenty four years.”
Another shock to add to a growing pile of surprises. Simon hadn’t thought it possible for the galaxy to hold itself together for such a long time. Evidently he had misjudged it, just as he’d misjudged so many things before.
“So what’s the problem?” he pressed. “Have the Brutes attacked again? Is there a rebellion? Why’d you wake us up?”
The Zealot shook his head. “There are none of these things, and no evidence that they will happen within the next century, or the century after that.”
“You see, there is no evidence of us ever needing ones such as yourselves ever again. You see, we’ve gotten hold of your classified files, the ones with comments from your instructors and superiors. It seems you greatly exaggerated your combat usefulness, Number G294.”
Anger stirred at the mention of the service tag, but Simon kept his voice level. “I didn’t promise you anything when you took us in.”
With a snort, the Sanghelli began to pace. “Those that healed you and placed you in stasis were... taken in by the word SPARTAN. That name held much meaning for us then, and they were worried that a new war could begin at any time. But they were wrong. Quite the contrary, the galaxy has entered a new era of peace. There is no more war, no more enmity amongst species, but trade and economic growth. We have no need for the two worst SPARTANs ever produced by the UNSC war machine.”
The comment about his capabilities did not offend Simon, for he had come to terms with that particular failure long before New Africa. But the part before the quip threw him into a panic.
“But... I can’t... what happens to us?” he spluttered.
The Zealot stopped pacing. “We do not want to risk harming our relationship with the UNSC by harboring traitors and deserters.” Simon could have sworn that the Sanghelli looked positively smug. “You will be returned to a UNSC colony planet where-”
“But I can’t go back!” Simon had finally lost his cool. “They’ll get us, they’ll kill us! We won’t last a month back there!”
“That,” declared the pitiless alien, “is not our problem.”
“I thought Elites honored the agreements they made,” Simon hissed, intentionally using the hated nickname.
Instead of taking offense, the Zealot merely clicked his mandibles. “The decision was not made by me,” he remarked calmly. “Although I must say that I agree with my orders most heartily. We have no need for parasites like you.”
Simon rocked back on his heels, stunned. Beside him Cassandra continued to stare at the ground, apparently unfazed by the brutal turn of events.
“The planet that has been chosen for you is extremely cold, but it is on the fringes of UNSC space. They will not think to find you there.”
“How generous of you.”
The guards stepped forward then, ushering the two teenagers to their feet. Lost in a haze of renewed fear and betrayal, Simon felt his body rise and allow itself to be escorted away. There would be no second chance. He had damned himself when he decided to desert the UNSC, damned both himself and Cassandra in the bargain.
No, he thought numbly. I damned myself when I agreed to become a SPARTAN.
Hekate. That was the name of the hell the split-jaws had chosen for them. It was cold and perpetually dark, the perfect place for someone to wallow in their despair.
A cabin had been constructed for them, wooden and reminiscent of ancient settler dwellings back on Earth. Two beds in a single room, a small closet, and a kitchen barely larger than a toilet stall. The only source of heat was an obsolete stove that hummed in the kitchen. Every day Simon made the lengthy trek to the nearest settlement, where the man at the general store sold wood to the crazy old hermit whose face could never be seen under the layers of clothing. Every day he stumbled back under a load of the logs and cooking materials, and every day he watched as Cassandra drifted further and further from the land of the living.
Ever since she had asked the officer how long they had been asleep she had barely uttered a word, instead choosing to stare blankly out the window of the ever falling snow. Every attempt by Simon to talk to her, to comfort her, was met by the same sad indifference. And he knew that she wanted to die.
It was in the way that she took hours to finish her meals, if she even touched the food at all, and the way she had first looked longingly at the little SMG that they had been given to protect themselves with. After keeping an unwavering eye on the accursed weapon for three long days, Simon had taken it apart and scattered the pieces around the woods on his daily hike to the settlement.
But Cassandra’s silence was only one of Simon’s woes.
The Elites had neglected to give him his armor, his one link to the AI that had been surgically placed inside his head, her only way to interact with the world around them. Simon could feel her at times, could sense her desperation and anxiety. But most of the time he felt nothing, and that distressed him most of all. If she somehow went under, he would die as well as his brain shut down. Of course, every day he spent in misery decreased his will to live. At times he actively willed her to shut down, to end the half-death he was living.
With both Cassandra and Diana cut off from him, the only thing he could do was turn his thoughts inward, reflect on his life. And every day his hatred of the UNSC and all that it stood for grew stronger, became more than just a feeling and more like an active organ of his body. That hatred was what was truly giving him the strength to go on.
They tore us down and only built us back up partway. They lied to us about what he were trained for, went and asked toddlers to sign up for a suicide unit. And those that didn’t sign up were kidnapped. Where was the freedom in that? Our lives didn’t matter to them. All they did was sit down at a conference table and sign our death warrants. I bet no one in ONI besides the DIs even knew our names.
It was this realization that everything he had suffered had been caused by someone signing an approval form. Just a few seconds of pen to paper and he had been doomed to this... insanity.
They decided that we all needed to die so that their greasy hides could be washed clean of liability, and even after they decided they did a very silly thing they were still prepared to put Cassandra down like an animal. Less than an animal really. A broken machine, or a typo on a statistics sheet. Cheaper to eliminate the problem than it is to fix it, isn’t it?
Sometimes he cried himself to sleep, sometimes he paced the cabin and drowned in his dark thoughts. The dreams kept coming, still memories but more distorted now. Often he was running from some inexorable force, pushing his lungs to sustain him just a little bit longer. Other times he traversed a field filled with the corpses of SPARTAN-IIIs, peeking under the visors to see the faces of the people he’d grown up with. Maybe he had hated them, maybe he had respected them, maybe he had cherished them. No matter what his thoughts of them in life, he only felt the gut-wrenching sorrow of loss as he took in each face, every one contorted in the throes of death.
Ash. Jake. Ralph. Mary. Terrence. Cassidy. Daniels. Vincent. Nathan. Alex. Benjamin. Each new face never failed to bring a sob or scream of despair and hatred.
He was no longer a true human any longer, just a complete freak who kept himself alive on the fumes of his own spite and hatred.
Do I truly deserve this?
The answer to the question was yes almost as much as it was no. No because he had had no idea what he was signing up for back at the orphanage. Yes because of the mistakes he’d made, the suffering he had so clearly brought upon Cassandra.
It was truly ironic. The coward, the one so interested in staying out of harm’s way, hated his continued existence just as much as he protected it. He did gain satisfaction out of knowing that the UNSC was burning up funds in a vain attempt to find him. At least the Elites had been that honorable.
But he should have known that the UNSC, with all of its spies and resources, would find them someday.
And they did.
He was sitting on his bunk, watching Cassandra stare out the window as she was accustomed to do, when he saw the smallest of involuntary movements as she stiffened. And he knew within his broken and battered heart that they had found them. That they had them.
Two teenagers out in the wilderness, both lacking much will to live, with nothing but the wood of the hut to defend themselves with. Arrayed against them were well trained special forces operators, any one of which could have taken them both down without breaking a sweat.
There was nowhere to run anymore. For all his halfhearted scheming and planning, for all his efforts in the past that had gotten him out of impossible situations alive, he was going to die here, alone and hated by all.
As this realization dawned on him, he began to realize that only one person truly mattered to him any more. And then that person spoke, the first words she had said to him in God knew how long.
“Cassandra.” His voice was on the verge of breaking.
“They’re here.” From the rather calm and routine tone of her voice, he could tell that she would welcome death even more than he would.
“I know,” he told her, fighting back all the things he wanted to tell her, fighting the urge to go over and stand by her, to be with her at the bitter end. Instead he remained seated and watched the distant figures maneuver outside. An entire platoon wasted on a job that would have taken a single special forces trainee. Something to show him or her what it felt like to hold a life in their hands and decide that, for whatever reasons they had been given by their superiors, that that life deserved to end. An exercise to introduce another young person to a life of murder and violence.
One last desperate feeling of longing forced its way through the fortifications he had set up to keep such things in. “Was there anything you wanted to say to me?” Please, oh Jesus please don’t let her die hating me. Let there be someone who cares...
A single syllable, that was all it took. What was left of Simon’s heart was burnt to ash with just that brief pronouncement. She did despise him, and how right of her to do so. Any last desire to live was vaporized in just half a second.
And then he saw the SPI suits out in the darkness, and a bitter smile played across his face. Coming to finish what Jake started. How nice of them to keep this within the family. But they were not his family, had never been his family. No one had ever cared enough to call garbage like him family. Only Team Jian, and even they had turned on him.
“This is the UNSC special forces. Lay your weapons down.”
The noise shattered the silent wall of misery he had been building up, and let the hatred rage again, become part of him again. The hypocrites. As if they won’t kill us anyway.
“We aren’t armed, just for the record. You should note that in the op briefing next time before you send a whole strike platoon to kill us, you know, make sure that J-2 has that noted in the tac sack before you guys check out.” It was a voice layered with all the contempt he had stockpiled over all the weeks spent suffering here. Just as a doomed soldier resorts to sticks and stones as the enemy closes in around him, so Simon hurled the last ammunition available to him at his own enemy.
“Who do you think those IIIs are out there in the SPIs?” Cassandra again, her voice still steady with sad acceptance.
“Black and Vulcan teams. Chiefs Cassidy and Daniels commanding. I recognize them through the suits.” How many times had they shared a meal or joke or story together? How many times had one of them helped him up after he had fallen? And how many times had he gazed down upon their bloated faces in the battlefields of his dreams? How easy it is for them to gun us down. How easy to follow orders and take us out like any other Covie or terrorist.
“We never knew them.” It was a funny time for her to start thinking like him, to abandon her naive little dreams.
“No, we didn’t.” Yes, Simon had been a poor judge of character with just about everyone in his life.
The hopeless longing rose up again, struggling to break free, to ensure that when he died he wasn’t completely forsaken. “I’ve always cared for you.” It was the truth.
He waited for the Well you had a funny way of showing it that would completely obliterate him. It was the kind of cynical, hurtful comment he would have tossed out. But Cassandra proved herself incapable once again of such intentional cruelty.
“Okay.” Perhaps she didn’t know how much pain she was causing him with every word she uttered.
Tears began to well up in Simon’s eyes. “You’re not even going to look at me?”
“No.” He was beyond pain now, drifting in some calm harbor of utter despair. His head lowered for a moment, and when it lifted itself up the tears were gone.
“Good bye, Cassandra.” For all his faith, for all his scripture readings, he was certain that heaven was not his destination. He would never see her again.
“Good bye, Simon.” Maybe she agreed with his unspoken conclusion. Maybe she would truly miss him. It was too late to find out now.
SPARTAN-G294, for that was all he was now, a title and a number, turned to the door, closed his eyes, and waited for the bullet.