A wise man once said that the natural state of man is war. Peace, he added, is just a time for preparation.
I don't think anything could have "prepared" us for what happened, though… maybe Armageddon. Yeah. Armageddon might have whipped us into shape.
Harvest fell. In a storm of fire and alien hatred, it fell, and millions of lives fell with it.
Nobody saw it coming. I mean, there are spooks and spies and masterminds high up in the hush-hush intelligence bracket, but I doubt even the smartest sleuth out of all of 'em could have seen the way it played out. It just… happened. It happened, and all we could do was sit there, paralyzed, during the whole ordeal.
Correction: not all of us sat there and gaped like fishes. A few good men and women went to do something about it. They were the bravest of the brave… the cream of the crop, as my grandmother would put it. They went into the valley of the shadow without a second thought, doing their duty to protect and preserve their fellow man. They ran headlong into hell like it was just another day on the job. Straight into the jaws of death… knowing they probably wouldn't make it, and not caring.
Nobody could fix the situation. How do you reverse the end of the world? But even though the worst was about to happen, lives could still be saved. While hellfire and brimstone rained down from the sky, ordinary citizens answering the call of duty… angels in uniform and armor… went in on a mission to pull out as many people as they could, or die trying. They put up a fight instead of turning tail. In the midst of all the blood and flames and agony, heroes rose to the occasion.
They never surrendered. Never gave up. Stood their ground until there wasn't any ground to stand on, and it had all come down on top of them.
Before we knew it, we were looking at a body count beyond our darkest imaginings, and staring down an enemy whose capabilities are overshadowed only by their religious fanaticism. We didn't know what we were getting ourselves into, and we almost didn't want to know. The enemy is alien to us; our ways of life are completely different, our beliefs and philosophies as opposite as day and night. They want us dead. Gone. Poof. Exterminated like the insects we are in their eyes. "Heretics," they call us. An affront to their fanatical suppositions. Until our culture and way of life is eradicated, they will not stop, because we are the "infidels" which they are bound to destroy.
The destruction of that not-so-long-ago day has led us down a path we have come to question. A path of blood, destruction, deceit, wrong moves and regret. We've had our share of victories, but they are hollow when we look at our losses. No matter how hard and long we fight, it seems that the enemy will not be shaken. They cling tenaciously to their course, never passing up an opportunity to deal a blow; our casualties are proof of this. We have become disheartened and skeptical. Maybe that's a good thing. Maybe it isn't. Our patriotic pride has been replaced by uncertainty, as the years slide by and we suffer defeats left and right. Is there a cause? Is there a reason for all this madness… this war? Questions like these ring through doubting hearts and minds. The refugees, the survivors, the ones who are scarred for life; where is justice in all this? they cry. How will the suffering be justified?
I don't know. I don't know if we'll ever really know.
The Covenant will not stop until every planet that has ever been touched by the sole of a human foot is engulfed in flames. They will not cease fire until our species, the entire human race, has been eradicated from the face of the universe. This is the turning point of the war… our war… the war that we wage in defense of freedom. The freedom to choose, to think, to act. The freedom to exist.
Now we have reached the turning point. The Covenant showed us what they could do at Harvest; they burned an entire world alive, and have done so to hundreds of worlds since then. We retaliated, sending our best minds and bodies to fight back at the monsters… a suicide mission at best. We've seen gods and heroes come and go. We've seen some "demons" too, lethal and noble and bred to fight… but even demons go MIA and never return.
Our casualties mount daily. Hourly. Our defenses grow weaker. Our armor has been battered and pounded, and it's covered with cracks. We're all bleeding inside. Fear eats away at our entrails like a hellish cancer and erodes our will to stand and fight. What's the use of fighting? we complain, nursing our wounds and huddling in our foxholes. We're all going to die anyway.
Unimportant. We do what we have to do. Even if it ends in annihilation. We will show them that a few of humanity's best and worst had the mettle and the honor to die in battle, giving their last efforts for the sake of our brothers and sisters. The Covenant may step on us, but even in our dying throes we'll sink our teeth deep into that alien foot and clench our jaws until the end. We will draw their blood. Even if it means spilling all of our own in the process.
As I write these jumbled, adrenaline-fueled words down, I hear a technician babbling worriedly to his fellows. I'm just a journalist; I'm stuck in here with twenty other sweaty civvies, holed up like so many rats. He says that Reach will fall by the end of the day. That in a few short, precious hours this planet will be nothing but a ball of burning glass.
Will Reach fall?
I can't say that I believe the UNSC has the ability to prevent it. This battle was never ours to win, and we all know it. Our defenses are like tissue paper against the serrated blade of the Covenant. As of now we're pulling back and sending in our last, best hope, the one chance we have at making a last stand…
Yet I doubt that even the Spartans will be able to turn the tide of this fight. Not on this day, not on this battlefield. Maybe someday. Maybe in a week. But not now. They march onward, though, veritable titans in their inhuman armor, ghosts in the clouds of ash and smoke.
Reach will fall. Everyone knows it. You know it; I know it.
But we can still believe.
We can still believe because we have something to believe in.
After this fight has ended, and the sun rises over a burning, barren landscape, and the presence of humanity on this once-proud planet is but a fading memory, we will still believe.
We will still believe because we will remember.
We will remember the selfless sacrifices made; the blood, the death, the sweat and the tears; the broken bodies and burning forests and plains; the rebellious, raging war cries of soldiers charging half a league, half a league onward into the jaws of death. We will remember the inevitable triumph of the Covenant against our bravest and finest. We will look back on this day and feel sorrow unlike any other welling up inside us, causing our façade of courage to crumble, and we will whisper… "No…" utterly lost in a moment of bleak despair.
We will remember Reach…
… and with that remembrance will come the righteous anger, the indignation, the pure and unadulterated fury that will enable us to make our final stand when the time comes.
The ground shakes. I hope you can still read this; I should have typed it on a datapad instead of writing it out the old-fashioned way. Humanity may be extinct, and you may be a Covenant warrior glancing over this piece of infidel trash, unable to understand the words written here. Or you may be one of my kind, a survivor… one who can hopefully appreciate what I've jotted down and commit it to memory, should you choose.
They are close now. Everyone is heading for the exits like so many crazed ants in an anthill. But I have a few more words to say before I go.
Remember Reach. Remember the ghosts that roam its scarred surface, the lives that were lost. The honor and commitment demonstrated in the face of total decimation.
Today is August 30th, 2552. It will be remembered throughout history—if we even have one, after all's said and done—as "The Fall of Reach."
It will be a fall like no other.