It wasn't an impending air raid, but it sure sounded like one. The girl moaned and rolled over in her bed, her eyes fluttering open unwillingly. She tried to reach for her alarm clock, but got tangled in her sheets and, in the ensuing struggle to get free, fell out of bed, taking her covers with her. She landed in a heap on the floor and made an "oof" sound, then extricated herself awkwardly and staggered to her feet, finally able to turn the hated device off.
It was 6:00 in the morning, still a bit dark outside. The girl drew in a hasty breath as the chilly morning air nipped at her bare toes. She immediately attacked her chest of drawers, pulling out a black and yellow jogging suit and a black tank top, which she put on hastily. She glanced in the mirror and went over to her cabinet, where she took out a jar of hair gel and slicked back her short, wavy auburn hair. This done, she went back to the bureau and put on some socks, then running shoes. Then she exited her room, leaving a mess behind, but obviously not caring.
She went out of the house as quietly as she could, punching in the security code so she wouldn't set off the burglar alarm as she left. She pulled the door shut with care, making sure the latch didn't click too loudly, then bounded down the steps, heading out to a grassy field. She jumped the fence and went out about fifty feet, then began to stretch. After stretching every muscle group, she popped her joints and started to do jumping jacks, which were followed by sit ups, pushups, squats and leg lifts. She took a moment to set her watch and pop one last stubborn joint, her left hip, and then broke into a loping stride which quickly evolved into a full sprint.
After going around the entire field ten times—covering at least three miles—the girl stopped, panting heavily. She wiped the sweat from her face and checked the antique watch on her left wrist. An eyebrow drew up as she surmised that her total running time was five minutes less than last week's. Pleased, she began to jog back to the house, past trees and oddly blackened rocks. She paused and took a moment just to stare out at the landscape. As far as the eye could see, green grass and trees spread out, but the backdrop of high mountains was a bit off; there were huge gaps in the mountains, as if something had punched through them, and they were all a black color, like the rocks, only covered by snow at the tops.
When she entered the house, she could hear her mother banging around in the kitchen. Unlike most families, this one preferred to make food the old-fashioned way rather than program a device to do it. She could smell grease in the air, and a hint of frying bacon. She inhaled deeply, enjoying the smell, then headed down the hall to her own private bathroom, where she stripped down and got into the shower.
Ten minutes later, she was fully dressed in her usual clothes—olive cargo pants, a loose-fitting off-white T-shirt, a black hooded jacket, some tennis shoes—and went into the dining room, where she found her younger brother slumped at the table, bleary-eyed and only half awake. He looked vaguely like her in the face, with black hair that straggled down almost over his brown eyes, and freckles sprinkled across his cheeks. He made a grunting sound when she lightly popped him on the shoulder with her fist. "Jó reggelt kívánok," the girl remarked, shaking her head. "If you got up early like I do, you wouldn't be such a lump."
"Yeah, well I'm not a fitness fanatic, so I don't care," her brother rasped.
"Kristof, be nice to your sister. Rebeka, don't annoy your brother while he's cranky," their mother admonished while she transferred bacon from the frying pan to a plate.
Rebeka rolled her eyes. That was anya for you; always trying to keep the peace, even when it was perfectly evident that Kristof was being an arse.
She sat down opposite Kristof and looked up expectantly as her mother deposited a serving of bacon onto her plate. There was a bowl full of steaming oatmeal in the middle of the table, and she eagerly spooned out a large amount of it for herself, and watched as the steam roiled up and tickled her nose. "Are we still going to that thing today, Mom?"
Their mother sighed, sitting at her place. "For the hundredth time, yes. I know you don't want to go, but please cooperate—it means a lot to those of us who know what happened. Remember, your grandfather died when the Covenant came to Reach in '52. I was too young to understand what was happening then, but I still want to honor him by attending the memorial today. Our family has lived on Reach for many generations. Not even the Covenant glassing it could keep us away."
"But I already made plans to go buy new tires for my 'Hog today, and some new clothes—"
"You can do that tomorrow. I mean it, you're both coming with me, if I have to drag you there by your ears."
Rebeka sighed. "Fine," she muttered, feeling somewhat blue. She had made grand plans for today, plans that did not include spending three whole useless hours at a stupid memorial dedication. This put a major dent in those plans. She ate her breakfast in silence, then took her dirty dishes to the sink and went back to her room.
Half an hour later, she was sitting on the roof, her legs dangling down nearly fifteen feet off the ground. It had been quite easy to get up here; all she had to do was climb a tree and drop down onto the far corner of the house. Now she sat watching as the sun grew brighter and brighter, rising above the land. Birds sang and quarreled in the treetops, and a few Moa ran skittishly through the front yard, leaving tracks in the soft dirt.
She turned to see her brother climbing up the drainpipe, now dressed in some jeans and a T-shirt advertising an old flip band, "Face of Hades." His hair was uncombed as usual and he gave her a lopsided smile. "Not lookin' forward to that ceremony today, are ya?"
"Nope," Rebeka admitted, leaning back, resting on her elbows. "I had a few things I wanted to do today, but I guess they'll have to wait. It's stupid, though. How many dedication ceremonies have we had to attend in our lifetime? Like friggin' six million or something! I mean, every time a flower so much as blooms here, everyone has to get all excited. This is 2602, people. No need to be all jumpy."
"I heard it's some kind of huge monument out where an old military complex used to be," Kristof remarked, sitting down beside his sister. "Hey, y'know what? Maybe instead of riding with Mom we could, say, head out that way on our 'Hogs with Tycho and his friends—"
"No, no no no." Rebeka held up a finger. "We are not going anywhere with Tycho on our 'Hogs. Remember what happened last time?"
"I try not to," Kristof muttered. "Look, it wasn't my fault, Ren was the one puttin' his hands over my eyes…"
"And you were the one driving with no hands on the wheel," Rebeka said curtly. "See? I know everything."
"Friggin' spook," Kristof snorted, elbowing his sister. "Hey, instead of joining the O-D-S-Tards, you should go for ONI."
"Ha, you wish. You think I wanna be one of them, always sneaking around, having to shred half the paperwork I handle, cutting throats in the dark? Nuh-uh. I prefer direct confrontation. Like, shotgun to the face. Bam."
"Maybe the memorial won't be so bad," Kristof commented, looking down at the yard. "I mean, I know we've had all this 'Remember Reach' stuff drilled into our heads since we could talk, but maybe we should at least try to understand what happened, y'know?"
"Yeeeah," Rebeka groaned. "I dunno. It's just an inconvenience today, that's all."
An hour later, they were riding in Rebeka's Warthog, a sleek and powerful vehicle specifically manufactured for off-road civilian use. It was a dark gray color with red detail on the front that faded to white flames as it went toward the doors. The engine growled as it sped across an open stretch of plain, over hilly country.
"Are you sure this is a shortcut?!" Rebeka hollered at Kristof, whose long hair was flying wildly in the wind. "We shoulda just taken the main road!"
"I'm positive," he yelled back. "Me and Tycho come this way a lot on our way to the paintball range, which is really close to where we're going!"
"I feel so reassured," Rebeka called sourly. "You two have about as much navigational sense as a lost goose in a hailstorm, on drugs—"
Suddenly the Warthog jolted and jerked wildly, then righted itself. Both teenagers were jostled, and Rebeka slowed down and spat a Hungarian curse, a bit bewildered. "Did we hit something?" she wondered, glancing behind.
"Wait wait wait, hold on! Stop!" Kristof shouted, his attention on something behind them. "I see something!"
Rebeka put on the brakes and gave Kristof a look. "If we're late, Anya will have our heads," she reminded him.
"I know—I know. Just let me look at this real quick," Kristof insisted, getting out of the 'Hog. Rebeka sighed and keyed off the ignition, getting out and following her brother.
Kristof squatted on the ground, looking at something. Rebeka looked over his shoulder and frowned when she saw what he was scrutinizing. "What is that?" she breathed, intrigued.
"It's some kind of… helmet," Kristof said, touching the half-buried object.
"It's not ODST," Rebeka mused. "Looks more like it could be… aw, no way…"
"Spartan?!" Kristof blurted.
"No bloody way," Rebeka almost squealed, which was rare for her. "Here, lemme see…" She hooked her fingers around the brim and pulled, and when that didn't work, she used both hands and yanked it up out of the ground. A cloud of dust rose as chunks of hard earth fell out. She shook it, getting rid of the last few clods, and held it at arm's length, gazing at the faded gold visor. It had a cracked hole almost in the center where something had pierced it. The helmet wasn't rusty, but blackened and scorched instead, and coated with dirt from where it had been halfway buried.
"That kind of looks like it could be Spartan…" Kristof bit his lip. "I know about a few armor classes, like the CQB and EVA and Mark IV, V and VI… but I've never seen anything like this before."
"It has to be Spartan. Couldn't be anything else. I mean, ONI uses Recon helmets, but this is way different. Besides, didn't you pay attention in all your history classes? A lot of Spartans died defending Reach from the Covenant. This could be a piece of equipment the cleanup crew from ONI missed."
"Do you think it's worth a lot of money?" Kristof asked, and Rebeka shot him a dirty glare.
"Do you honestly think we should sell it on freaking GalacTrade?! Good grief! This is a relic of history, a piece of our past! We should keep it!"
"Or donate it to a museum or something," Kristof offered.
"Yeah, maybe." Rebeka tucked the helmet under her arm and walked back toward the Warthog. "You wanna drive?"
"Sure." Kristof bounded up and jumped into the driver's seat. "Still, though… just think how valuable that thing is."
"There's more to it than monetary value, Kris," Rebeka sighed, easing into the passenger's seat. She set the helmet in her lap and looked down at it, holding it face up. "A lot more. Someone died wearing this thing, more than likely. It's got… I dunno, a soul attached to it. Almost like I can feel it…"
"You are weird, you know that?" Kristof told her, revving the 'Hog's engine and sending it forward. Rebeka stuck out her tongue at him, then sat back and reached down to a compartment where she kept necessary things like band-aids, biofoam, repair tools and various odds and ends. She pulled out a rag that she normally used for engine cleaning purposes and began to wipe down the helmet, getting off the dirt and grime. There. After some work, she could see the luster of the metal, even though most of the burn marks would not come off. It was a dark gray color, peppered with nicks and various battle scars. She turned it over and glanced at the interior. Time had erased whatever evidence, be it blood or anything else, could remain inside. So she dared to raise the helmet up and put it on. Of course, it didn't work, having lost power decades ago, but it was still an eerie sensation, looking through the ruined HUD at the world outside. The splintered screen gave everything a jaded, foreboding look. She pulled the helmet off just in time to see Kristof staring at her, incredulous.
"Like I said, you are weird," he declared.
They got to the ceremony half an hour late, thanks to Kristof not remembering how the shortcut connected to the main road, or exactly how far the paintball range was from their destination.
There was a huge crowd, which meant that Rebeka and Kristof couldn't get close to the main presentation, or really hear what the speaker was saying, because they were too far away. So they leaned dejectedly against their 'Hog and imagined how their mother was going to punish them for their idiocy.
"I bet I get grounded from gravball after school," Kristof guessed.
"I bet I get grounded from hanging out with my friends," Rebeka sighed.
"I bet we both get grounded from vids," Kristof countered.
Now and then they would be able to understand snatches of the speech, when the noise from the crowd got low; they heard things like "ultimate sacrifice," "died with honor," "never surrendered," all those commemorative sayings one hears at these sorts of ceremonies. The crowd would get loud after that, cheering and hollering and clapping and screaming. Many people cried.
An hour later, it began to rain lightly, and people started to leave in small droves, unwilling to stand there and get wet. Half an hour after that, the speeches ended, and everyone retreated into the military complex, where food and refreshments waited under a dry roof. As soon as most of the crowd had gone, Rebeka started toward the monument, the helmet tucked under her arm. It was starting to really rain, but she didn't care; she watched as Kristof fled into the complex, lured by the smell of barbecue. She would have followed him, but was curious about the monument. Finding the helmet had aroused her curiosity, and now it would have to be sated.
As she got closer to the monument she began to recognize what it was. It was a massive thing, made of many statues. Around the base were the likenesses of Covenant aliens, wielding needlers and plasma guns and the like, as if they were trying to climb up a mountain. Higher up were humans—Army troopers, Marines and ODSTs. But higher still, on top of the mountain, were the carved images of six prominent beings, the sight of which made Rebeka's hair almost stand on end. They were Spartans.
She edged closer to the monument, almost as if she were afraid of treading on hallowed ground. She gazed up at the stone visages of the Spartans, wondering what faces had been behind those visors. Perhaps the world would never know. She studied each one, noting how they were each different from the other, unique yet the same. Spartans all. She finally came to the last one and balked. Here was a surprise! The stone helmet she was looking at looked exactly like the real helmet she now held in her hands.
Her eyes drifted downward to the plaque tacked onto the front of the monument, between an ODST and a ravenous-looking Jackal.
"When all hope on Planet Reach seemed lost,
Noble Team stood united in defense of humankind.
In honor of their heroism we come together.
Remember Noble. Remember Reach.
The monument to Noble Team burns brighter
with each who remembers their courage."
She looked back up and saw that at the feet of each Spartan was a similar plaque. So she began to read them.
"Chief Warrant Officer Jorge S052
Adorned with battle scars of wars past,
His armor told the story of a true Spartan.
A testament to the conflicts waged over decades,
He inspired Noble in their darkest hour.
And with his hardened voice ringing louder
With each Covenant salvo on his homeworld of Reach,
The destiny of Noble Team was realized
And the survival of humanity secured.
In recognition of this, his endless courage,
We honor him as the fighting spirit of Noble."
She looked up at the Spartan, who was gargantuan even compared to his fellows, an armored warrior wielding a wicked machine gun. "Fighting spirit" was an apt term, indeed.
"Lieutenant Commander Catherine 'Kat' S320
Strong both in mind and spirit,
Key to the success on Reach.
Her cryptanalytic genius
Cleared Noble's Path.
A true Spartan, armed with an intellect
More dangerous than any weapon.
She deciphered the unknown
To change the course of an entire war.
In recognition of this, her unparalleled brilliance.
We honor her as the true genius of Noble".
This Spartan was not as heavily armored as the first, but appeared just as lethal, holding a pistol in a firing position. Rebeka grinned despite herself. The lady kicked butt, she thought approvingly.
"Commander Carter S259
If not for his leadership on Reach.
All would have been lost.
An everlasting testament to fortitude,
Defiant in the face of adversity.
Born of unbreakable will,
It was he who led Noble in its finest hour.
Courageously guiding them to victory,
No matter how high the cost.
In recognition of this, his steadfast resolution,
We honor him as commander of Noble."
He definitely looked the part of a leader, Rebeka mused.
"Warrant Officer Emile S239
Striking fear into all he encountered
While wielding the wrath of a crumbling planet.
Equally vicious and strong,
His blade sharpened by battle.
He fearlessly cut through enemy forces,
Instilling hope in an entire race.
Marked by the skull scratched into his helmet,
He was the last his enemies ever saw of this world.
In recognition of this, his warrior's spirit,
We honor him as the merciless wrath of Noble."
This Spartan was truly a fearsome one, even as a graven statue. The death's head was very evident on the faceplate of his EVA helmet, and his kukri looked ready to tear something to bits.
"Warrant Officer Jun S266
Blessed with the talent of a steady hand,
He stood guard over the path ahead.
Patiently combing the surface of Reach,
Marking the location of each target.
Holding his breath before taking that of his enemies,
His rifle echoed with the loud crack of defiance.
Hidden in the shadows,
His was the first shot in our fight for survival.
In recognition of this, his tireless diligence,
We honor him as the vigilant eye of Noble."
Overhead lightning flashed and thunder growled, illuminating the display in blue light for a moment. Rebeka blinked and continued reading, having arrived at the last plaque, the one belonging to the Spartan whose helmet so resembled the one she clutched in her hands.
A grim reaper, a hyper-lethal vector;
A lone wolf who never surrendered.
This Spartan, 'Noble Six,' was a replacement,
Sent to fill a role left by a fallen hero.
Never hesitating, always ready for a fight,
The faceless, nameless soldier followed orders,
And saw the mission through till the end.
Delivering hope to humanity,
Trading personal preservation for our kind's salvation,
We honor this Spartan as the final sacrifice of Noble."
"You don't even have a name," Rebeka murmured. What had happened? Had ONI simply erased its records, lost some files during the war? Was there some kind of cover-up going on? Or was the Spartan simply a mystery, meant to remain anonymous despite his or her achievements?
She was drenched thoroughly, her hair slick against her head, her clothes soaked, but somehow she just couldn't tear herself from the monument. The statues gazed down at her like mighty ghosts, looking straight into her soul. She looked down at the helmet she held in her hands, and a cold feeling welled up in her gut, the realization that she was indeed holding the helmet of Noble Six. So this was all that was left… a broken, scarred helmet, left half-buried in the wilderness for a pair of meandering teenagers to run over and subsequently retrieve.
She turned to see an old man standing there with an umbrella. He had on a black dress uniform, unlike any she'd ever seen before, and his head was shaved. The left side of his face had been scarred long ago by plasma, and he stood straighter than any old person she'd ever seen, and when he moved, it wasn't slowly or shakily. "Here, come on. You're soaking wet," he said, indicating that she should come under the umbrella too. His accent was almost like her own, but sounded vaguely Asian. "I just came out here to avoid the crowd—too much hype."
Rebeka turned, revealing the helmet, and she walked over to stand under the umbrella. The old man saw the helmet and his face paled slightly. "Where did you get that?" he asked, almost sharply.
"I found it, in a field not far from here," Rebeka answered. She looked down and bit her lip. "I think I just figured out who it belonged to."
"You found it," the old man said, almost faintly. He recovered his composure and fixed her with a steely look. "Now do you understand what you're holding?" he asked, gesturing at the monument.
"I think I do," Rebeka said softly. She looked in the old man's dark eyes and cocked her head. "Did you fight here back in '52?" she asked.
"I did," the man muttered.
"Well, uh…" Rebeka was at a loss for words, but then she held the helmet out toward him. "Then, um, you should have this. If you want it, that is. I don't—uh—I don't need it, sir. You deserve it."
When the man turned his head, thinking it over, Rebeka saw the remains of a tattoo where the plasma scarring was. "It's not yours to give, and I don't think it's mine to take," he muttered, uncomfortable.
"I'm sorry. I just… I felt like you should have it, y'know?" Rebeka felt badly now; she didn't want to bring back unwanted memories for this man. "I can't explain it. Uh, I haven't made you… I haven't offended you, have I?"
"No, no." The old man smiled, the ghost of a smile. "You're all right. And you can keep the helmet. You found it."
"My name's Rebeka," she replied, tucking the helmet in the crook of her left elbow, extending her right hand. "Rebeka Juhász."
He shook her hand, but did not offer his name. "I'm just an old man who remembers it all like it was yesterday," he said, sighing. "Don't you think we should go indoors now?"
"Uh… just a minute," Rebeka said quickly, then dashed out from under the umbrella and approached the monument. She lifted the helmet, standing on her tiptoes, and very carefully placed it at the feet of the Noble Six statue. Rain streaked down the ruined visor and pooled in the cracks. She gazed at it for a moment, then scurried back to the shelter of the umbrella as a crack of thunder pealed overhead.
Once she was inside, she turned to thank the old man, but he had vanished. She thought she caught sight of him heading toward another exit, but she wasn't sure. When she went looking for him, he didn't turn up, and when she asked people about him, describing his appearance, no one seemed to know who he was. One man knew him by sight, but only remarked, "Geezer keeps to himself."
That night she stayed mostly in her room, looking up information about the Battle of Reach on her computer. After reading through several hundred articles and documents, and scrolling through an archive of pictures (most of which were graphic and tragic), she noticed it was nearly midnight and decided to go to bed. She changed into her pajamas, consisting of a tank top and some parachute pants, and crawled into bed, burrowing down into the heap of sheets and blankets that she'd forgotten to arrange. As her breathing slowed and she began to drift off, she thought about the events of the past day. Something inside of her had changed; she didn't know quite what, but somehow she felt older and wiser, as if coming into contact with the helmet had given her some kind of power. It was a stupid thought, and she smiled slightly as she fell asleep. Her last thought before she went unconscious was, Now I know what it really means to 'Remember Reach'…
She dreamed of fire raining down from the heavens, of armored titans standing fast against hordes of alien warriors, and a pair of eyes staring back at her from behind the cracked visor. When she jolted awake, she thought she saw an armored silhouette cast on the wall by her holographic nightlight, but blinked and the illusion vanished. So she went back to sleep, contented to dream of death and glory, while the ghosts of Reach kept a silent vigil over her.
Meanwhile, the old man stood once more in front of the monument, gazing up at the stone Spartans. He clicked his heels, saluted, then went on his way, wiping something more than rainwater from his eye.