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|This article, Simon-G294, was written by Actene. Please do not edit this fiction without the writer's permission.|
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- "There, out in the darkness, a fugitive running; fallen from God, fallen from grace."
- ―"Stars", Les Miserables, the Musical
|The Wandering Stray|
DATE OF BIRTH
When a wolf is cut off from his pack he has no choice but to wander, drifting aimlessly through the harsh wilds. Without the strength of the pack behind him, he must forsake the larger, grander prey for weaker pursuits, surviving off of weakened stragglers and scavenging carrion. The outcast beast continues this lonely existence until his old pack finds and devours him, or until he finds a new pack to call his own.
Simon-G294—also known by the pseudonym “Stray”—was a Gamma Company who was raised and augmented as a child supersoldier during the final years of the . Lambasted as both a coward and the worst-performing Spartan in his company, he gained infamy when he deserted from the and fought for the on . Ultimately betrayed and abandoned by the rebels, he was left with a lasting hatred for both of his former allegiances and found himself selling his skills to the highest bidder as a mercenary in order to survive. Consumed by doubts and self-loathing, he nonetheless possesses a keen survival instinct and boundless tenacity in pursuit of his goals. In spite of his crimes and selfish tendencies, he found lasting companions in the rogue Insurrectionist AI Diana and fellow Gamma deserter Cassandra-G006. After a fruitless effort to score big as a solitary freelancer, Simon found himself hired on to the smuggling freighter Chancer V, which became his new home and base of operations. His status as a fugitive, as well as his penchant for becoming involved in broader galactic affairs, often brought him into conflict with agents of the and , particularly and his former squad, Team Jian.from
- "Spartan, rebel, traitor, hero, murderer, savior. You are many things, Simon—'the one who is all.' And yet you are nothing. In the end you belong to no one. You are a wanderer and will forever stand alone."
"There's More To Life Than This"
- "As long as I'm with you, I'll look after you, I promise. But I can't always be here for you. You have to learn to be like me, to take care of yourself on your own."
- ―Arthur Onegin to a young Simon
In early 2540 on the Inner Colony world of Iskander a wealthy businessman was discovered in a long-term adulterous affair with Tatiana Onegin, a young member of his estate's cleaning staff. In order to dissuade the anger of his wife he dismissed Tatiana cutting her off from her only means of support. Unfortunately, the woman had already borne him one son and was heavily pregnant with another. Unable to access any form of birth control, the now-impoverished Tatiana gave birth to another boy. Crushed by her lover's betrayal, Tatiana sank into a deep depression and deliberately neglected the newborn son who so reminded her of his father. The boy only survived infancy thanks to the efforts of his brother, Arthur, who cared for him as best he can. Tatiana remained completely indifferent to her second son and Arthur took on all the responsibilities of raising his brother, whom he named Simon.
Despite Arthur's efforts, Simon was a sickly infant and only barely survived several early illnesses. Though local clinicians told Arthur that his brother would not survive, the infant Simon recovered against all odds and continued developing at a normal rate. Meanwhile, Tatiana was forced to do degrading odd jobs and menial labor in order to make ends meet. Though she loved Arthur dearly, she resented Simon and projected her hatred for his father onto him. Faced with routine physical and emotional neglect, Simon spent most of his time away from his mother's squalid apartment complex as he explored the streets with Arthur. A clever, inventive boy, Arthur taught the young Simon to steal wares and credits from local vendors as the two boys took what they could to keep from starving. Simon quickly developed a loose view of law and order, particularly after witnessing Arthur receive beatings from local police patrols. During these early years, Simon became acquainted with a strange man who frequented their neighborhood. Calling himself "Toby," the man routinely checked in on the boys and was, Simon later learned, responsible for the medical treatment he had received as an infant. Arthur openly resented Toby's attention, though Simon was too young to understand why. When Simon was five years old, Arthur attacked Toby in public after an argument and was arrested by passing police. Stunned by the loss of Arthur, Simon was left alone in an uneasy coexistence with his unstable mother. Tatiana was left deeply distraught by Arthur's arrest and continued ignoring Simon, who spent most of his time as far away from his mother's apartment as he could. Shortly after Arthur's arrest, Simon accidentally broke a plate near his mother. The unhinged Tatiana tried to stab her son with one of the plate shards and only the intervention of the family from the adjacent apartment saved his life. Tatiana fled the scene before the authorities could arrive, and Simon was promptly declared a ward of the colony and taken to an orphanage.
Simon was extremely unhappy in the orphanage, missing both Arthur and the freedom he had felt living with his brother. Nevertheless, the young boy appreciated the security of shelter and regular meals that it provided. He did not get on well with the other children and was often caught stealing and hoarding food. Incidents like these, coupled with the area's low adoption rate, made it seem as if he would merely be cared for until he was old enough to be given back to the streets to fend for himself. But this bleak future would change in 2545, when Simon was "interviewed" by anlieutenant who had been dispatched to recruit applicable candidates into the program. Although not taken in by the lieutenant's talk of honor and duty (these concepts hollow and meaningless to him), Simon was swayed by the officer's talk of a brighter future and the enriching nature of the program. Simon agreed to be recruited into and was shipped to a on for training along with several hundred other young children.
"I Won't Go Back"
- Main article: Simon-G294/The Stumble
Simon's arrival on Onyx alongside more than three hundred other candidates for the program was met with a test that the man in charge of the program's training division, Lieutenant Kurt Ambrose, had utilized with every batch of candidates since the beginning of the program: a "night jump" from a high-flying Pelican dropship. Simon froze up when it was his turn to jump and was very nearly kicked out of the program on his first night. As he gave up and stepped away from the edge of the Pelican's open troop bay, another child pushed him and he plummeted out of the dropship. Only a hasty opening of the parachute he'd been issued saved him from a messy landing on Onyx's surface.
Along with the other children who passed the first test, Simon plunged into an intensive six-year training program that sought to turn the young trainees into Spartan supersoldiers. During the first year of physical conditioning Simon was indistinguishable from the other trainees. His instructors noted that he was one of the faster candidates and he proved to have high levels of endurance during the field exercises the trainees were put through. But as time wore on and the training branched out into more advanced fields such as marksmanship and small unit tactics he fell behind the vast majority of his peers. Lacking the natural talents displayed by many other trainees, Simon found that none of the military training came naturally to him. Frequently punished for his shortcomings, Simon learned to blend in with his peers, avoiding the unwanted attention of Mendez and the other drill instructors. Before long he gained infamy as one of the worst-preforming members of the company. From sparring to weapons training, his performance scores were consistently amongst the lowest of the Spartan trainees. Though he resented some of the top performers for the ease in which they mastered the training, Simon was fairly personable when not under the drill instructors' watchful gazes and formed casual friendships with many of his fellow trainees.
- Drill Instructor: "What the fuck was that trainee? Why the hell did you back off? You were winning!"
- Simon-G294: "I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I just didn't want to hurt him."
- Drill Instructor: "Hurt him? You mean like this?"
- — Simon receives a punishment beating for holding back during hand-to-hand combat training.
Faced with routine punishment and humiliation for his under-performance, Simon adapted by falling back on the cunning and deviousness Arthur had ingrained into him years ago. Unlike the more physically and tactically gifted trainees, Simon turned to more "creative" measures in order to succeed. Though he believed whole-heartedly in the heroic ideals of service and self-sacrifice that were key to the Spartan program's martial doctrine, Simon began employing underhanded tactics that many of his peers balked at. During training exercises he would hide from combat, fake being tagged out or eliminated, and even bribe some of the less conscientious trainees with extra food from stashes of stolen rations that he began setting up throughout Camp Currahee. While often caught and punished by various DIs and occasionally Lieutenant Ambrose himself, Simon was learning a different kind of warfare from the tricks and cheats he used to keep up with the Spartan program: one of adaption and survival.
Though some trainees admired Simon for his ingenuity, many more despised his attitude and believed he was not taking the training seriously. Isolated from his peers, Simon spent more and more time alone and often sneaked off into Onyx's wilderness in order to escape the endless military drill and regimentation .Despite his poor reputation amongst both trainees and instructors, Simon found an unlikely mentor in Tom-B292, a SPARTAN-III graduate who had been assigned to help train Gamma Company along with his fellow survivor, . Struck more by Simon's tenacity than by his many failings, Tom took Simon under his wing even when other drill instructors gave up on him. Hungry for acceptance, Simon looked up to Tom as a personal hero despite knowing very little of the Beta Spartan's past. Tom took time to instruct Simon in several fields, particularly close quarters combat. Simon would carry Tom's principles of knife-fighting with him the rest of his life.
"Give Me A Chance. Maybe I'll Surprise You"
After two years of combat exercises under randomly assigned teams and leaders the Gamma Company trainees were divided into permanent five-person fire teams. These teams would live and train together in order to forge the closely-knit squad families that were the backbone of Spartan battlefield effectiveness. It was inevitable that any potential teammates would dread being saddled with a teammate who would drag their combat scores down, but fortunately for Simon he was not the only problem trainee sorted into Team Jian. Though under the command of Jake-G293, one of the best-performing trainees in the company, the rest of the team consisted of Mary-G130, feared amongst the other trainees for a short temper and casual sadistic streak, Terrence-G150, a kleptomaniac who had been disciplined by both his superiors and his fellow trainees for his thieving habits, and Ralph-G299, a trainee notorious for starting fights and who had antagonized Simon for his shortcomings many times in the past. Jake was less than pleased to be assigned to such a ragtag team (Team Jian quickly gained the nickname of "Problem Squad"), and at first the group's performance was substandard.
Team Jian struggled in the months that followed its formation. Constantly outmaneuvered and outperformed by drill instructors and other teams, it seemed as though Jian's flaws and weaknesses would always be dragging it down. But Jake's patient, meticulous style of leadership slowly began to bring the squad together. Simon would never be close to the straightforward and focused Jake, but respected him as both a leader and a highly capable trainee. Though Mary would often blame Simon for Jian's failures, she valued his unorthodox approach to the problems the teams encountered during training and took it upon herself to help him improve his substandard skills. Terrence had often accompanied Simon on ventures to steal food and cared little for the competition and rivalries that were rampant within Camp Currahee, but Ralph despised Simon for his perceived incompetence and the two trainees were often at odds with each other. Jake, meanwhile, found uses for Simon's devious tactics,cleverly employing his "failure" teammate in situations where his trickery and cunning would give Jian an advantage without drawing the ire of the drill instructors. Though Jian enjoyed more success as Jake played each members' strength to their full potential, Simon became even less popular amongst the trainees that were forced to deal with his unique brand of competition. Ralph continued to harbor animosity towards his teammate; when one disgruntled trainee, Galen-G322, cornered Simon and attacked him with a stolen stun baton, Ralph witnessed the beating but did nothing to intervene. Simon endured the brutal attack, earning Galen's grudging admiration, and blamed Ralph for not helping him. Encouraged by Mary to settle things with Ralph, Simon ambushed his teammate in the woods outside of Camp Currahee. Although he was badly beaten in the ensuing brawl, the incident was enough to convince Ralph of his teammate's sincerity and afterwards the two trainees formed an uneasy friendship.
- Mary-G130: "How come we always have to stick our necks out for Simon?"
- Ralph-G299: "Oh come on, I think we all had a pretty good time."
- Terrence-G150: "I can't feel my face... I think my ankle's broken..."
- — Team Jian after brawling with Team Scythe
The "unified" Team Jian quickly gained a reputation as a band of irreverent troublemakers, much to Jake's chagrin. When another squad, Team Halberd, beat Jian particularly badly during a training exercise, Ralph, Terrence, and Simon collaborated to get back at them by demolishing a latrine on top of Halberd with stolen explosives. Terrence evaded punishment, but Ralph and Simon were severely disciplined. After Simon attempted to use stolen food to bribe the members of Team Scythe into throwing a training match, the angry trainees cornered him and used a toilet to practice their interrogation techniques for several hours. When the other members of Team Jian learned what had happened they waited until the training match and, abandoning all of the match's rules and objectives, turned the exercise into a full-scale brawl that lasted until drill instructors pulled the trainees off of each other. Jian became known as an unorthodox squad, low in the overall company rankings but not a group to be taken lightly. Though Simon's combat scores remained low, he no longer feared washing out of the program. Despite his lack of respect for military customs and courtesies, he was fully committed to his purpose as a Spartan and believed that with the help of his teammates he could do his part in the ongoing war against the Covenant—a conflict that the Spartan trainees were constantly reminded of amidst the daily grind of conditioning and training exercises.
Despite the constant demands of Camp Currahee's military environment, Simon and the other children remained spirited and dedicated to their training. Simon harbored some misgivings about how he would perform on the actual battlefield, but was inspired by Tom's continued support and the examples set by the likes of Lieutenant Ambrose, Mendez, and Lucy. Although he kept mainly within the confines of Team Jian, he developed quiet rapports with other trainees such as Dyne-G217 and Amy-G094. He also took note of another trainee, Cassandra-G006. Like Simon, Cassandra sported relatively poor combat ratings but had made up for her shortcomings by becoming one of Gamma Company's few medical specialists. Simon and Cassandra shared a discrete friendship during the years on Onyx, relating to each other's struggle to distinguish themselves amidst a company full of top performers. About a year before Gamma Company's graduation, the trainees were administered drugs that hurried the onset of puberty within their young bodies. Simon was confused by unusual feelings he began to develop for Cassandra. Worried about what his teammates might think of him and intimidated by his own foreign urges, Simon distanced himself from Cassandra in order to focus his mind on his team.
"Everything Feels Different"
As the time approached for Gamma Company's graduation, Simon's performance continued to lag behind that his peers. Though settled within Team Jian and confident that he could do his part on the battlefield, Simon often suffered bouts of anxiety about what the future held. The years of living in the shadow of his peers' talent and success had instilled him with deep-seated insecurities that troubled him even as he fought to suppress them with an attitude of cheerful acceptance for who he was. Although Camp Currahee employed several ONI-trained psychologists in order to deal with problems such as these, Simon avoided bringing his anxieties to their attention and instead chose to confide in Tom, with whom he had maintained a trusting relationship over the years of training. Simon also found an outlet in Tom's fellow Beta Company survivor, Lucy-B091. Though other trainees mocked Simon for his one-sided conversations with the mute instructor, Simon developed a strange rapport with Lucy, who few other trainees had taken the time to know on a personal level. Though his doubts and anxieties remained, Simon focused his mind on the exercises at hand as the final phase of Gamma Company's training drew near. When the time for the trainees to receive the chemical augmentations that would improve their combat abilities and complete their transformation into Spartans, Lieutenant Ambrose made a point of emphasizing the danger that the procedure entailed and gave every trainee the opportunity to back out of the program. Despite his failings and private doubts, Simon found the idea of abandoning his family within Gamma Company unthinkable. Simon and the rest of the company were taken to a medical facility aboard the . There they were injected with the :
- Drug 8942-LQ99: A carbide ceramic ossification catalyst to make skeletons virtually unbreakable.
- Drug 88005-MX77: A fibroid muscular protein complex that boosted muscle density and strength.
- Drug 88947-OP24: A retina-inversion stabilizer drug. It boosted color and night vision capabilities.
- Drug 87556-UD61: Improved colloidal neural disunification solution, which in turn decreased reaction time.
Aside from the standardized enhancements, the trainees of Gamma Company would be the only Spartans to ever be augmented with compound 009762-OO. This mutagen altered key regions of the subjects' frontal brain lobes, enhancing aggression, strength, endurance, and tolerance to injury. Lieutenant Ambrose had personally authorized the use of the illegal drug in the hopes of increasing the Gammas chances of survival on the battlefield; however, the mutagen's effects were known to increase in response to stress, driving the Spartans into animalistic, instinct-driven states unless suppressed by the proper counter-drugs. Though he was completely oblivious to the chemical's implications, Simon would encounter the true potency of the brain enhancement in the years following the augmentation.
Like the rest of the Spartans, Simon's body benefited greatly from the augmentations, but he emerged from the augmentations unsure of how to view the permanent changes that he had been subjected to. He was shipped back to Onyx with the rest of the company, where they spent a short period adjusting to their new bodies. Each of the graduating trainees were presented with their own suit of to signify their full transformation into Spartans. While waiting for their coming deployment, every squad in the company competed against each other for "top honors" in a series of training skirmishes using non-lethal stun rounds. Although Team Jian did not make it far in the competition, they still did much better than what was expected of the "mongrel squad". When all but three teams had been eliminated, the rest of Gamma Company departed Onyx and readied themselves for war. Prior to Jian's departure, Simon met with Tom one last time. Proud of how far his low-scoring pupil had come, Tom gave Simon a combat dagger as a graduation present, which Simon proudly added to his combat load.
"One of Me Against All of Them...Shit"
- Main article: Halo: Ocean's Shadow
"Don't Leave Me Behind!"
Following the battle at Londor, Team Jian was rotated out of the Tantalus theater and deployed to the area of human space known informally as the "buffer territories." With the Covenant's military war machine coming closer and closer to discovering Earth's location, most Spartans were being moved away from the front lines in preparation for a wave of enemy offensives against the Inner Colonies. However, some of the more stubborn Insurrectionist factions were not content with sitting back while the battle for humanity's survival played out. Deployed to a known rebel staging area, Team Jian raided an encampment of rebels suspected of possessing stolen nuclear weapons. Simon himself killed three enemy fighters during the one-sided slaughter and though he had seen more than his share of combat at Red Sea he later confided in a sympathetic Cassandra that it felt strange to kill a fellow human being. The nukes were not at the camp, but Jian recovered data files that traced the weapons to the nearby colony of, a world known for its history of rebellion and insurrectionist sympathies.
Jian was quickly redeployed to Mamore, where they set an ambush for the rebel convoy carrying the warheads. Cutting the convoy in half with hidden explosives, the young Spartans hijacked the warhead-bearing truck and one of theescorting it. But as they fled back to their landing zone, an explosion knocked Simon off the back of the Warthog and the pursuing rebels forced him into a ravine. Although his teammates tried to come to his rescue, the rebel's massive response force pushed them back. Over the team's objections and Simon's pleas over the radio not to be left behind, Jian was ordered to withdraw with the warheads to their waiting dropship. A terrified Simon could only flee deeper into the ravine as his friends took off without him, leaving him alone on a planet crawling with hostile rebels.
"First You Mug Me, Then You Want To Be Friends?"
- "I'd been through a lot before then, of course. Onyx and the Spartan program were my childhood. Gamma Company was my family. But Mamore was where I finished growing up. Mamore is what made me what I am now."
Marooned on an unstable colony teetering on the brink of full planetary insurrection, Simon knew that he lacked the ability to survive in such an environment on his own. Without a viable UNSC outpost in the region, he had no way of communicating with the military unless Team Jian came back in to recover him. Simon had not been outfitted for long-term survival and realized that he would have to make his way to a nearby town or risk starving to death. In order to hide his identity as a Spartan, he buried his armor and weapons in nearby cave before scavenging civilian clothes off rebels who had been killed during the firefight with Jian. Disguised as a regular--albeit ragged--civilian boy, Simon headed for the nearest population center, a town called Concord, in the hopes of finding food, water, and some way of contacting the UNSC.
- Emily: "Alright, we get it. If you're not from the city, then where are you from? And where'd you learn to fight like that?"
- Simon-G294: "Not here. I'm getting off this dirtball and going... somewhere else."
- ―Simon-G294 and Emily following Rat Pack's attempt to rob him.
- Main article: Rat Pack/Mugging
Upon arriving in Concord Simon found the poverty-stricken town overrun by the gangs of rebel militia who were waging war against Mamore's battered colonial garrison. Trusting no one, he spent several days by himself on Concord's dusty streets, fighting to come to terms with being cut off from his fellow Spartans and nursing a growing anger at Jian and their superiors for abandoning him. On his third day alone he was attacked by a gang of orphaned children who called themselves "Rat Pack". He easily fought them, impressing their leader, a street girl called Emily. She offered him a place in the group, but Simon scornfully refused, seeing the urchins and their behavior as being beneath him. Only after yet another fruitless day on his own did he relent and agree to join the band of orphans. He believed that Rat Pack would be a good cover while he worked to escape to a pro-UNSC settlement. In spite of himself, Simon quickly adapted to life back on the streets, a throwback to his life before the Spartan program. The urchins of Rat Pack made their home in the dried-up sewers beneath Concord, keeping clear of both Mamore's violent dust storms and the militia thugs who passed for law enforcement in the region. Though Concord's violent poverty reinforced Simon's trained contempt for the Insurrectionist cause, his conditioned faith in the UNSC was called into question more and more as he got to know the children who had taken him in. Most of them had lost their parents in the crossfire between the rebels and the colonial government; what's more, the children blamed much of their suffering on the government and the UEG policies many of Mamore's citizens felt were the root of Mamore's poverty. For his own part, Simon kept his identity hidden from Emily and the others and instead passed himself off as another victim of Mamore's broken infrastructure.
- "These urchins have spirit, which is more than I can say for you and your gang of thugs. Now leave them alone, or I'll kill every last one of you. Maybe then I can get some soldiers who do more than just sit on their asses and steal from the locals!"
- ―Redmond Venter interceding on Rat Pack's behalf.
Still nursing the pain of Jian's perceived abandonment, Simon was drawn into Rat Pack's strange family dynamic. Though hunger and malnutrition began to eat at his physique, his augmented strength and speed made him an invaluable asset to the group's daily efforts to survive. The local militia hid much of its supplies in the Concord sewers and Simon took the lead with Emily in helping the children steal odds and ends from the rebel stores. The loss of both his position as a Spartan and the sense of purpose it had given him cut deeply, but as the weeks on Mamore began to turn into months, Simon began to open up more to Emily and the others in Rat Pack. The introverted failure Spartan accepted them as friends, though he never stopped waiting for a chance to make his escape and return to the UNSC. But as every passing day continued to expose him to the hard realities of Rat Pack's daily survival as well as civilian notions of childhood—notions that had been utterly denied to the Gamma Company trainees—Simon's convictions continued to be challenged and shaken. His anxieties came to a head when news reports on the Humanity Liberation Front, an organized rebel faction seeking a foothold on Mamore. One of the HLF officers, an armored soldier named Redmond Venter, ordered the militia to stand down and personally executed those disobeyed. Following the incident, HLF soldiers took over rebel operations in Concord and—under Venter's orders—ensured that rations were given to Rat Pack and the rest of the town's homeless population. With his face now known to the rebels in the area and the HLF's tightened security, Simon resigned himself to remaining trapped on Mamore for the time being. Amazed at the ferocity with which he had killed Adam's attackers, Emily dubbed Simon "Stray"; the nickname stuck and before long Simon answered to it more readily than he did his own name.began to trickle into Concord. Fueled by his duty and obligation to his fellow Spartan, Simon could not justify remaining on Mamore while his brothers and sisters fought and died to save humanity from the Covenant. After seeing news footage of Spartans fighting on Earth, Simon hatched a risky plan to steal a rebel Warthog and take his chances getting off-world. The night of his planned escape one of the Rat Pack children, Adam, was caught stealing from the militia and savagely beaten. Compelled by Emily to step in, Simon abandoned his plan and attacked the rebels holding Adam. Armed only with Tom's knife, Simon stunned Emily and the others by attacking the militia head-on; in the heat of battle he killed four grown soldiers and wounded several more. Furious, the rest of the thugs planned to kill Simon and his friends but were stopped by soldiers from the
"It's Our Dirt"
Stray was still roaming the streets of Concord when humanity emerged victorious from the, effectively ending the war against the Covenant. With the alien threat diminished and the UNSC in shambles, Mamore's dominant Insurrectionist factions seized at the opportunity they had been dreaming of for nearly a century: secession and independence from the UEG. With the weak and corrupt colonial government crippled the rebel factions united and seized control of the planet, declaring Mamore's independence. Knowing that UNSC reprisal was inevitable, the rebels began organizing every resource they could muster to defend the planet. Under the direction of the HLF, Concord's local militia groups found easy recruits in the Rat Pack orphans, using them as couriers and spare labor in exchange for extra rations while also teaching them the basics of soldiering—basics that Stray knew all too well.
- Main article: Simon-G294/Independence
Unlike his Rat Pack friends and most of the adult insurgents, Stray was keenly aware of how brutally efficient the attacking UNSC forces would be when pitted against the poorly equipped rebels. But while he tried to draw his new family away from the war preparations, he found them gripped in the secessionist fervor that was sweeping across Mamore. Emily and the others were convinced that independence was the magic key that would help them escape their lives of hunger and poverty. Torn between his lingering duty to the UNSC and the bonds he shared with the orphans, Stray refused to abandon Rat Pack like Jian had abandoned him. Rather than seeking a way back to the UNSC or finding a way to undermine and sabotage the rebels—as would have been expected of a Spartan—Stray chose to stay with Rat Pack and hopefully shield them from the worst of the fighting to come. His hope was that the rebellion would be put down without much violence and that he would turn himself into the UNSC once Rat Pack was out of danger. But even with this optimistic future in mind, Stray couldn't help but wonder if he really wanted to return to life as a Spartan at all.
"We'll Make It Through This"
- "You are my real family."
- ―Simon, to Emily
The UNSC's campaign to quash the Mamore revolt began four months after the end of the Human-Covenant War when a small naval task force arrived in system and blockaded the planet. In the meantime, the planet's various factions had come to terms with each other and were united under the banner of the Insurrection and the ideal of an independent Mamore. But while public support for the Insurrection soared, the news of UNSC ships in orbit raised doubts about the Insurrection's ability to defend the planet. Nevertheless, new recruits from a population sick of UNSC ineffectiveness during the Human-Covenant War continued to swell the rebellion's ranks.
From where Concord sat in the grand scheme of the escalating crisis, Stray had only a very basic grasp of what was unfolding. Now fully committed as child soldiers in service to the cause of Mamorian independence, he and the rest of Rat Pack spent their days hard at work constructing fortifications around Concord and doing whatever the adult rebels asked of them. By now the bonds he had formed with Emily and the other Rat Pack orphans were just as strong as the ones he had once held with Team Jian and though Stray had failed to draw them away from the rebel cause he was determined to keep them safe from the coming violence. One month after the naval task force arrived in orbit a ground force ofand landed on the planet and assaulted several rebel hardpoints, securing landing zones for further UNSC forces and establishing forward operating bases in multiple regions. The battle for Mamore, dubbed Operation: UNION by the UNSC, had begun.
The region around Concord was left relatively unscathed during the first weeks of the fighting. Stray and the rest of Rat Pack were sent out into the foothills surrounding the town in order to watch for signs of UNSC incursions. Occasionally vehicles carrying wounded or bedraggled Insurrectionist troops from other regions would arrive in Concord, their occupants telling stories of well-equipped UNSC forces overrunning position after rebel position. With his predictions of a one-sided slaughter coming true, Stray continued to try to draw Rat Pack away from the fighting. But when the war finally came to Concord, the Rat Pack orphans remained a staunch component of the rebels defense. Though the insurgents fought stubbornly against the invaders, their second-rate weapons and equipment were no match for the UNSC's mechanized military forces. Stray and Rat Pack were used to scout out enemy positions, plant improvised explosives, and even participate in a few ambushes of UNSC troops. At first Stray held back from engaging the Marines, focusing instead on keeping his friends alive, but after seeing one of the Rat Pack orphans fall to a sniper's bullet he realized that he couldn't protect his friends without fighting back. In the end, Stray's ultimate betrayal of the government that had raised and trained him as a soldier came far more easily than he could ever have imagined: he simply began applying his training against the Marines threatening his friends. Once that line was crossed, the once-loyal Spartan cast aside the last of his reservations about betraying the UNSC. Mamore was now his home and Rat Pack was his family; the same loyalties that had motivated him to fight for the UNSC now drove him to join the fight against it.
By the time UNSC armored units arrived at Concord, Stray was fully committed to giving his all in the fight against them. The rebels defended Concord with the passion that was by now an indelible hallmark of Mamore's infamous secession; in spite of the UNSC's vastly superior force it took the Marines a full week of fighting street to street in order to capture the town. Emily and Simon led the Rat Pack through rubble and body-strewn streets and alleys as they darted from one firefight to the next, planting satchel charges on, ambushing fire teams, and leading rebel soldiers through the underground sewer systems that had been their home all this time. But in spite of Stray's excruciating efforts, the chaos of war swiftly took its toll on the orphans. Stray could only watch as UNSC and rebel shells obliterated his new home and his friends were cut down in storms of machine gun fire, killed by the same mechanized warfare that he had been raised to be part of. By the time Concord's rebel garrison surrendered, every one of the Rat Pack children save for Stray and Emily lay dead in their town's dusty streets. The two survivors fled through the war-torn streets and managed to slip through the UNSC's lines. They made their way into the foothills before collapsing from exhaustion and grief. With only each other for comfort and companionship, the two child soldiers constructed a small grave marker for Rat Pack with an abandoned assault rifle. A vengeful Emily was now firmly determined to find a way to fight on against the UNSC and Stray, adrift in a haze of confusion and grief, could only carry on trying to protect the last remnant of his urchin family as they set off across Mamore's war-torn plains.
With the battle for Mamore still raging across the planet, Stray and Emily were easily overlooked by both sides of the conflict. Stray shared Emily's fury at the UNSC, clinging to the ideals of the Insurrection as he struggled to find meaning in the savage violence that had torn away the rest of his friends. He would not dream of abandoning Emily, but was torn between the urge to fight on and a growing fear of sharing Rat Pack's fate and becoming simply another shattered corpse amidst the mountain of dead Mamorians that grew larger by the day. In the end he gave up trying to sort out a drive of his own and simply allowed himself to be towed along after Emily as she fervently searched for more Insurrectionist forces to link up with. For the next month the two young fighters wandered from battle to battle, lending their guns to any militia band desperate enough to use children against the UNSC juggernaut. Though the gangs they joined were always swiftly cut to pieces by UNSC forces, Stray and Emily kept each other alive and always survived to fight another day.
"This Is My War Now"
- "War's a cruel parent, but an effective teacher. I can draw more out of these two then I ever could from these imported militia they keep sending us."
- ―Redmond Venter
Stray and Emily spent two months on their own, staying alive on the battlefields of Mamore and fighting the UNSC as best they could. Stray adapted the advanced survival skills drilled into him on Onyx in order to keep them fed and mobile. Despite their youth, he and Emily made an excellent team during raids on UNSC positions. Together they rigged explosives, sabotaged equipment, and stole supplies from any military target they encounters. Emily adapted quickly to life outside of Concord and Stray did his best to pass his own training onto her, though he still kept his true origins a secret. Even with his new-found willingness to wage open war on the UNSC, Stray's treason left him feeling aimless and confused. The only certainty in his life was Emily, the last of his Rat Pack family, and keeping alive and fighting became Stray's driving force amidst the chaos of war. The wandering saboteurs finally fell in with a detachment of rebel troops from the Humanity Liberation Front. The unit's field commander was Redmond Venter, the same officer who had witnessed Stray's attack on the militia back in Concord. Venter recognized the urchins at once and took them into his ranks. Venter saw the potential within his new recruits and quickly drew them into his inner circle. There Stray met Venter's lieutenant and close friend, a freighter turned rebel named Gavin Dunn. Gavin instantly took a shine to both of the young recruits but it was Venter who commanded Stray's full attention. The fierce and cunning warrior reminded Stray of his instructors on Onyx and he quickly came to admire Venter as both his commander and mentor. Through Venter and Dunn's guidance, Stray found purpose again not as an urchin trying to survive but as a soldier fighting whole-heartedly for the cause of Mamore's independence. Amongst Venter's ranks, Stray met another new figure: the "smart" AI known as Diana.
Taking the two youths under his wing, Venter made a point of teaching Stray and Emily every technique he knew for surviving on the battlefield. A harsh but effective instructor, Venter was highly skilled in close quarters combat his proficiency with knives and unarmed techniques on to his young proteges. Stray had previously honed similar skills with Tom back on Onyx, but under Venter he learned a far more brutal way to apply his strength and speed in close combat. Living, fighting, and training with the rest of Venter's detachment, Stray and Emily remained close but they gradually spent less time together. Stray was drawn closer to Venter while Emily began spending time with Gavin Dunn, Venter's lieutenant and the more idealistic of the pair. As the HLF force continued to fight a guerrilla war against the UNSC, Stray began to see the imposing and reassuring Venter as the father figure he had never had in a life spent standing in the shadows of others' talents and achievements. Even as the UNSC continued to crush rebel resistance across Mamore, Stray experienced a new wave of commitment to the rebel cause; unlike his past drive to simply keep his friends alive, he now hoped to help create the free world that Emily, Gavin, and Venter were fighting for. Unbeknownst to anyone, the rebel AI Diana had taken a keen interest in Simon and was watching him closely. Though their conversations were far and few between, Diana had determined that there was something strange about him and was eager to learn more about the tenacious child soldier.
Still fighting doubts about his role in the rebellion, Stray now put his dedication as a Spartan to full use as a tool in the service of the Insurrection. All Spartans were trained to consider themselves vital parts of the war effort and they all shouldered the enormous responsibility for humanity's survival in the battle against the Covenant. Plunged into a much different war, Stray simply re-purposed his conditioning and reasserted his identity as a supersoldier. When the HLF force passed through the site where Team Jian had left him stranded on Mamore, Stray revisited the cave where he had first taken refuge and recovered the SPI armor he had left there. Presenting the armor to Venter and Dunn, he revealed the truth about his past as a Spartan in the hopes that he could do more for the rebellion if he was considered more than just a fit and talented child recruit. Gavin was stunned to learn that one of the UNSC's famous supersoldiers was in their midst and even more shocked that the UNSC had trained and augmented children to be its soldiers. Venter quickly realized the potential he had stumbled across in discovering the only known Spartan to turn on his former commanders and join the rebellion. Stray's willingness to expose himself and the time he had already spent in the rebellion gave Venter little cause to doubt Stray, but others among the HLF were afraid and mistrustful of the exposed supersoldier. In his hope to expand his potential as a soldier of the Insurrection, Stray had miscalculated how deeply his revelation might cut those closest to him. Suddenly wary of the boy she had thought was just another war orphan, Emily kept her distance from Stray as rumors about his true loyalties circulated amongst the rebels.
- "I won't have any of you questioning the convictions of someone who gave up a position of power and prestige to fight for our cause. He could still be the wind-up soldier they raised him to be, taking orders from them as some so-called 'savior of Earth.' But he's not. He's here, fighting for a planet that's not his, for an army that doesn't have a fraction of the military might he used to be a part of. Stray, you told me that you'd give everything for Mamore's freedom. I believe you, but some of the people here think you're a sham. Prove them wrong. Prove your loyalty."
- ―Redmond Venter addresses HLF troops before having Stray kill a UNSC prisoner.
With his soldiers pressuring him to either execute Stray or turn him over as a prisoner to their HLF superiors, Venter instead arranged for the Spartan to prove his conviction by executing a Marine officer captured during an ambush. Fueled by a desire to prove himself to the doubting rebels, his own anger at the destruction the UNSC had brought to Mamore, and personal loyalty to Venter, Stray gunned the captive down. Although Gavin Dunn and a few others were made uncomfortable by Venter's loyalty test, the execution assuaged the doubts of most rebels. Stray himself found that while the killing had solidified his new position as the rebels' secret weapon it had intensified—rather than assuaged—his own private doubts about what he was truly fighting for. Urged on by Dunn, Emily later approached him and they reconciled, though Stray feared that the familial bonds he had shared with her could never be the same. In recognition of his new place in the rebel cause, Venter presented Stray with one of his own custom-made combat machetes and assured him of his value to the fight for Mamore's independence. The AI Diana also took a greater interest in Stray and began engineering situations where she could talk to him in private. Though Stray was wary of the rebel intelligence, she quickly picked up on his misgivings and probed deeper, quietly expanding their acquaintanceship as Stray began to undertake more dangerous missions for the HLF.
- "I was so caught up in the fighting—in my own feelings, my own doubts—that I never realized the things that were going through Emily's head. Maybe I never understood what was going on in her head. What I do know is that I tried to stop her. I tried to talk, and when talking didn't work I thought of more desperate measures. But in the end I couldn't go through with it. I couldn't stop her. I couldn't shoot her. I couldn't take her place. She was stronger than me, that beautiful, grubby urchin. She had her convictions, and I only had doubts. And so she went off and killed herself. People died; soldiers, civilians, the guilty, the innocent, did it really matter? They all went up in flames together. The rest of us survived and the killing went on."
- ―Simon on Emily's suicide bombing
Shortly after the execution, Venter's forces took part in the Insurrection's last concerted offensive on Mamore. In a coordinated effort to divert UNSC forces so that key units could regroup and consolidate themselves, dozens of groups like Venter's were ordered to intensify their attacks on government troops. Over the course of several days Stray raided and sabotaged key targets in order to soften them up for Venter's main force to attack. Though the attacks succeeded in drawing UNSC troops away from the retreating rebels, Venter's forces suffered heavy casualties as they were hunted and hemmed in by the troops they were drawing in. Refusing to sacrifice his remaining fighters, Venter chose to break off and fall back to the HLF's last remaining stronghold on Mamore. But the pursuing forces continued harrowing the weakened attack force and it ended up trapped between mountains crawling with Marine platoons and a small, UNSC-occupied town. Needing a distraction to divert UNSC forces and give his own troops an avenue of escape, Venter called for a volunteer to carry out a bombing within the town—a common opening to insurrectionist offensives that would certainly prompt the town's garrison to call reinforcements from the surrounding area. Tired of watching her friends and comrades die around her, Emily volunteered in the hopes of becoming a martyr in the fight for Mamore's freedom. Torn between loyalty to Venter and his friendship with Emily, a distraught Stray did everything he could to dissuade her from the mission. When he couldn't change her mind he even considered shooting her to prevent the attack and the carnage that would come of it, but in the end he couldn't bring himself to kill the friend who had come to mean so much to him. In the ensuing attack, Emily killed herself along with nearly a hundred others, Marines and civilians alike. The town's garrison commander panicked as expected, calling in reinforcements and letting Venter's troops retreat to safety. Stray was utterly devastated by the death of the last of Rat Pack. The rest of his friends had died at the hands of the UNSC, but Emily had killed herself on the orders of the man he had trusted and idolized. Suddenly alienated from Venter and the cause he had given himself over to, Stray found himself alone and helpless amidst the ongoing insurgency.
"Is There Anything Left?"
- "Simon, why do you insist on letting everyone decide what direction you live your life in? So much potential inside you, and you throw it all away by making yourself a slave for others. And why? Because you think it will make you happy? No one can give you happiness; that's something you have to find for yourself. I can't give it to you, but stick with me and I just might help you find it. But you have to trust me. And you have to start deciding things for yourself."
- ―Diana to Stray
With Stray's faith in Venter undermined, Diana seized on the opportunity to influence the renegade Spartan. Unbeknownst to the rebels she served, Diana was a highly advanced experimental AI with no loyalty programming to shackle her to any cause save her own. She had grown bored with Mamore's lost cause and took to probing Venter's conflicted pupil, ostensibly in search of information on the Spartan program. Stray, isolated and desperate for someone to confide in, quickly buckled under her teasing interrogations and told her about his own doubts and fears. In the meantime, the HLF force withdrew to a former CAA outpost that was serving as one of the last bastions of resistance on Mamore. Although he kept the details to a minimum, Venter wasted no time in arranging for a rebel science team to analyze Stray's DNA and body structure. In the hopes of identifying and replicating the UNSC's augmentation procedures, Venter's researchers withdrew large amounts of genetic samples from the traitor Spartan. As the UNSC closed in on the makeshift fortress, Venter made plans to flee the planet with Stray and his surviving forces in tow.
Knowing that she was running out of time to separate Stray from Venter, Diana continued to attack the young man's faith in his mentor. She preyed on Venter's role in Emily's death, carefully prompting Stray to question the validity of the rebel cause without openly broaching the subject itself. Stray felt betrayed by Venter's interest in recreating the Spartan program rather than decrying it as a war crime. With the commander's treatment of Emily in mind, he began to suspect that Venter only cared about using him as his own private Spartan operative without regard for the loyalty and affection he had given him. Stray felt his suspicions confirmed when Venter ordered him to assassinate several rebel leaders who opposed the decision to abandon Mamore. Even as he carried out the killings, a bitter and disillusioned Stray began to conspire with Diana to turn on Venter and escape both the Insurrection and the UNSC together. Burdened by the guilt of what he had done under Venter's command and frightened by the idea that his life no longer had any meaning away from the battlefield, Stray resolved to kill Venter to avenge Emily before turning his back on both sides of the war permanently.
But before Simon and Diana could put their plan into motion, the UNSC launched an assault on the Insurrectionist facility. As air strikes ripped the fortifications apart and Marine assault teams stormed the perimeter, Stray hastily donned his armor and prepared to make a run for one of several Slipspace-capable shuttles that Venter had planned to flee the planet in. Stealing Diana's memory crystal chip, he fought his way towards the hangar where he hoped to ambush Venter and steal his shuttle. But before he could reach the hangar he came face to face with the surviving members of his old squad, Team Jian. Stray quickly realized that this was no happy reunion; ONI had learned of his defection and dispatched his former teammates to capture him. Unwilling to fight his friends and horrified at their willingness to attack him, Stray fled to the hangar. The pursuing Jian were slowed by rebel forces but Jake-G293, determined to apprehend his former subordinate, pushed through alone and confronted Stray in the hangar facility.
- "You're all just blindly following orders! Now that the Covenant's gone, you don't care about what they make you do so long as you can keep fighting! You don't care about all the people you kill, because Spartans aren't even human!"
- ―Stray rails at Jake-G293 during their violent confrontation.
A cornered Stray faced his friend in the hangar as the battle raged in the facility above them. Although Stray struggled to explain his actions, Jake would hear none of it and accused his former teammate of betraying both the UNSC and their brother and sister Spartans. Confused, hurt, and frightened, Stray in turn channeled his hatred for the UNSC and denounced Jake and the other Spartans for their blind loyalty to the government that had laid waste to Mamore. A disgusted Jake moved in for the kill, believing that even without his teammates he could easily defeat Gamma's failure Spartan, but Stray was no longer the Simon that Jake had known. In the brutal fight that ensued, both Spartans struggled to incapacitate each other in spite of their past experiences and friendship. Drawing on the skills he had learned from Rat Pack and the Insurrection, Stray managed to gain the upper hand and knocked Jake unconscious. Refusing to kill a fellow Spartan, Stray was preparing to steal a shuttle when Venter arrived in the hanger alongside a squad of rebel troops.
- "You're making a habit of biting the hands that feed you, Stray. It's going to get you into trouble some day."
- ―Redmond Venter to Stray
Oblivious to Stray's betrayal, Venter praised his operative for taking Jake prisoner and was preparing to leave the planet when the rest of Team Jian arrived and assaulted the hangar. In the midst of the firefight Stray again tried to reach a shuttle only to find himself confronted by Cassandra-G006. Unlike Jake, Cassandra hoped to convince her friend to surrender peacefully but in her distraction she was blindsided and incapacitated by Venter. Faced with the painful realization that he still harbored feelings of loyalty to his fellow Spartans, Stray finally turned on his commander and tried to kill him. Clad in PISCES power armor, Venter proved to be far more formidable than Jake had been and Stray was heavily injured as he threw himself into battle against the man he had thought of as a father. As a delighted Diana observed the combat, Stray gave into the violent urges that had plagued him since the start of the Mamore conflict. His more rational sensibilities dulled, Stray attacked Venter with a near-feral level of savagery and beat back his mentor's attacks. Gaining the upper hand, Stray drove a knife through Venter's helmet and into his right eye. Leaving Venter for dead, a wounded and delirious Stray dragged the unconscious Cassandra aboard the shuttle; whether he wanted to help treat her wounds or simply needed a human shield to cover his escape, he couldn't say. Diana took the helm and plotted a course through Mamore's atmosphere and past the UNSC picket as Stray tried to treat his own wounds. Under fire and with UNSC ships bearing down on them, Diana forced the damaged shuttle into a hasty Slipspace jump. The force of the sudden transition and the extent of his own injuries finally overwhelmed Stray and he faded into unconsciousness.
Although damaged by enemy fire, the shuttle survived the violent jump to Slipspace and escaped from Mamore and the UNSC military. Stray awakened to find that the worst of his injuries had been tended to; Cassandra had awoken after he'd passed out and seen to both of their injuries. Reeling from the shock of all that had happened, Stray could not understand why his former teammate had not killed or restrained him. Though Diana's presence had partially kept him safe, Cassandra was also tired of the endless combat and destruction she had witnessed as a Spartan. Struggling to come to terms with the fact that they had wound up as enemies, neither Spartan could bring themselves to reignite the the battle now that they had been cut off from the source of the violence. Though Diana privately urged Stray to kill or restrain Cassandra, he refused. Though his painful encounter with Team Jian had opened up the raw wounds of his friends' abandonment, the moment of calm after the storm reawakened his memories of the life he had known as the Spartan Simon-G294. Both Spartans remained wary of each other, but agreed to a truce as long as they were on the same shuttle. The damages the ship had sustained were such that they had know way of knowing where they might end up and until they found out for sure Simon and Cassandra chose to recover from their injuries and come to terms with everything that had transpired between them.
- "Are they all SPARTAN-IIs? Or, as I suspect from their inelegant personas, are they substandard versions of the SPARTAN-II? Perhaps from a parallel program... All disturbing. Without proper indoctrination and scientific methodologies... potentially disastrous."
- ―Excerpt from 's regarding SPARTAN-IIIs.
"We Can Build A New Life"
- Diana: "The best course of action is to kill her. She'll let her guard down eventually, and then you shove a knife through her heart."
- Simon-G294: "I can't do that. Don't ask me to do that. And you leave her alone, too."
- Diana: "I thought that Mamore taught you not to let those silly feelings of yours get in the way. Well, have it your way. If you want to keep her around, so be it. She could make a nice pet, if you play your cards right."
- — Simon and Diana argue over how to deal with Cassandra-G006
After a brief stint in the shuttle's cryo-pods, Simon and Cassandra awakened to Diana's signal that they had preached a habitable planet. Their apprehension of each other had not lessened, but neither Spartan had any way to reach out and contact the wider galaxy. Unwilling to risk another Slipspace jump, they were effectively stranded in uncharted space. With no recourse but to investigate the world they had encountered, the Spartans landed the shuttle and discovered that the planet sported several habitable biomes. Making an encampment by their landing zone they maintained their truce while exploring the surrounding area. They were surprised to learn that not only was the planet inhabitable, it sported a wide variety of flora that despite their alien nature proved edible. Diana busied herself monitoring for any signs of UNSC or Covenant activity while the Spartans expanded their attempts to mapthey had discovered. For Simon, the act of exploring this peaceful garden planet proved to be a welcome balm for the trauma—both physical and mental—that Mamore had inflicted on him. Having finally escaped from the battlefield he did his best to embrace the simple day to day activities of gathering food and tending to his equipment. The solitude of exile reawakened the old feelings for Cassandra he had experienced during training. As confused as ever over how to respond to such impulses, Simon distanced himself from his fellow Spartan but soon convinced himself that both he and Cassandra could remain on this planet in peace without ever having to leave and risk the pain and perils of war in the wider galaxy again.
- Simon-G294: "This place is all I need. All we need. We can stay here and be safe forever."
- Cassandra-G006: "Do you really believe that? We can't just hide away from the galaxy for the rest of our lives. There's still things out there, places we belong to, people who care about us."
- Simon-G294: "Maybe for you."
- — Simon-G294 and Cassandra-G006 debate whether or not to leave the uncharted planet.
But while the tensions between Simon and Cassandra had cooled, his fellow Spartan was not so eager to simply settle down into a life of blissful exile. Simon's influence had made Cassandra see opportunity in life outside the militarized Spartans, but she did not wish to spend the rest of her life stranded in an alien forest. She was concerned over the depletion of her supply of Smoothers—counter-agents for Gamma Company's brain augmentations that Simon had gone without throughout his time on Mamore. Unsure of what the loss of the medication would do, particularly when coupled with the unknown chemical makeup of the planet's food and atmosphere, Cassandra began to see herself as a prisoner, outnumbered by Simon and a rebel AI who so far had been content to watch the situation unfold. After nearly a month of living on the uncharted world, the Spartans made a discovery: an alien citadel built into a cliff face a few dozen kilometers from the shuttle's landing zone. Simon had no idea what to make of the imposing structure, but Cassandra recognized its architecture asfrom briefings given to the Spartans after the at the end of the Great War. Cassandra's explanations regarding the ancient alien civilization only served to instill an intense feeling of foreboding within the traitor Spartan. Deeply wary of what might lie inside the citadel, he tried to convince Cassandra to leave the structure be. But it wasn't long before she ventured out on her own and gained entry to the citadel.
Even when Diana cheerfully told him what Cassandra had done, Simon refused to go into the citadel after her. His inability to reach Cassandra over the radio intensified his fear of what lay inside the Forerunner structure. Only after several hours of tense silence did he worked up the nerve to ascend the rocky stairway leading up to the citadel entrance. Though he found no discernible interface or control panel, Simon discovered that the entrance simply opened at his approach; using the young Spartan's helmet frequency as a conduit, Diana managed to find a non-physical access point into the complex alien system. Spartan and AI ventured into the foreboding complex in search of Cassandra. As he groped his way through identical, darkened hallways, a terrified Simon encountered the flying robotic an armored figure amidst scenes of carnage and destruction. The energy rift collapsed in on itself and Simon and Cassandra were thrown back into the chamber as the ovoid device collapsed in on itself and the citadel's systems entered into an alert status.that patrolled the citadel's interior. After a brief struggle with the automated defense systems, Diana amazed Simon by asserting control over a handful of Sentinels and guiding him to the center of the Forerunner vestige. There he finally found Cassandra contemplating a within the central chamber. Cassandra had encountered a control panel and was trying to access the Forerunner technology, but it was only when Simon approached her that the device sprang to life. Both Spartans were caught up in a sudden rift of energy that emanated from the device. Simon did not comprehend much of what happened next; adrift in a strange netherworld, his consciousness was torn into a dozen different perspectives. At one point he believed he was looking down on his own lifeless body; at another moment he found himself inhabiting Cassandra's body and she his. Only Diana's intervention spared Simon's mind from experiencing total sensory overload and as the tumult subsided he witnessed a vision of
- Cassandra-G006: "What just happened to us?"
- Simon-G294: "I don't care, and neither do the angry flying death machines. Let's just get the hell out of here!"
- ―Simon and Cassandra flee the Forerunner citadel.
With the facility's Sentinels suddenly alert and hostile, the two dazed Spartans fled the citadel. They barely escaped through the main gate and made their way back to the shuttle. It soon became abundantly clear that the Spartans had awakened far more than a few Sentinels with their trespass. Hordes of the flying machines swarmed the forest in search of their landing zone and Diana noted several seismic disturbances originating from the citadel. The Spartans realized that their haven was no longer safe and agreed to flee before they were cornered by the Sentinels. The shuttle lifted off and blasted away from the Forerunner world, making a risky jump into Slipspace just ahead of pursuing Sentinel craft. But they had not entirely escaped the newfound perils of their erstwhile home. Both Spartans soon fell ill with an unidentifiable disease that both suspected originated from their exposure to the alien energy wave. The two castaways experienced nausea, fever symptoms, and sudden hair loss. The stress from this sudden decay served to finally break down the truce they had held throughout their weeks of exploring the planet. Though Simon's heart was not in the battle, he armed himself and engaged in a tense firefight with an equally reluctant Cassandra. As an amused Diana looked on, the shuttle became a cramped no man's land.
- Simon-G294: "We really suck."
- Cassandra-G006: "You got that right."
- Simon-G294: "You want to call it off and kill these assholes? Promise not to shoot you in the back."
- Cassandra-G006: "Guess I'll just have to take your word for it."
- ―Simon and Cassandra band together to fight the Covenant raiding party.
Though the Spartans had resumed their hostility, neither could push themself to kill the other. The weakened fighters instead resorted to holing up in two separate areas of the shuttle and maintaining a terse vigil on the other's position. As the true farce of their combat dawned on them, Diana alerted them to an alien contact on the shuttle's sensors. Aassault craft honed in on the shuttle's signal and its crew, a troop of Sangheili, Kig-Yar, and Unggoy of boarded the ship to investigate the human vessel. The Spartans' conflict ended as quickly as it had begun with the arrival of their old, common enemy. Simon and Cassandra set their differences aside and ambushed the surprised boarders. Nearly all the Covenant were killed in the ensuing firefight but one Sangheili did the last thing either Spartan expected: he surrendered. Though Cassandra wanted to kill the enemy warrior Simon convinced her to instead disarm and restrain him. Simon's experiences as a guerrilla soldier on Mamore had taught him the importance of prisoners as a source of information. Simon had come to fear the UNSC more than the defeated Covenant and saw the unexpected prisoner as a means by which he could gauge the state of the galaxy following his and Cassandra's cryo-sleep. Interrogating the Sangheili would reap the information he needed and Venter had taught him many ways to coax prisoners into cooperating.
No stranger to facing Sangheili on the battlefield, Simon had little sympathy for his captive and planned to execute him after learning what he wanted to know. However, he was surprised by Cassandra's vitriolic hatred for the alien; the time spent fighting human enemies on Mamore had dulled his own memories of the fearsome Covenant juggernaut. But Cassandra and most of the other Gamma Spartans had lost their families to the aliens' genocidal crusade and Cassandra wanted to dispose of the captive as quickly as possible. Simon found another surprise in the warrior—who identified himself as Tuka 'Refum—and his willingness to talk openly with his captors. Though he had assumed the role of interrogator Simon was suddenly caught between his desire to talk with the reasonable Tuka and his fear of reigniting the conflict with Cassandra by appearing too soft on the enemy. Through Tuka, Simon learned that the Covenant had reformed under the Sangheili in the wake of a on their homeworld. Tuka accusations that humanity had plotted to tear down the Sangheili enraged Cassandra to the point that she attacked the helpless warrior; Simon physically intervened to prevent his friend from killing their captive. His spontaneous defense of Tuka very nearly brought him back into direct combat with Cassandra, but his fellow Spartan regained her composure and coldly left him to continue the interrogation. The young warrior had little else to offer, aside from the news that the UNSC was currently fighting the renewed Covenant for control of Forerunner artifacts and that renegade human elements had established a handful of independent colonies that made trade with the former Covenant client races. Though he worried that Tuka might bring reinforcements back after them, Simon could not bring himself to execute the warrior. He found surprising encouragement from Cassandra, who had reevaluated her intentions following her outburst and did not want to prove Tuka right about humanity's ruthless nature. A stunned and grateful Tuka was set adrift aboard the Lich his troop had arrived in while Simon had Diana plot a course for one of the nearby independent colonies.
"I'll Just Keep Running"
- Simon-G294: "You should run. Go back to them while you still can."
- Cassandra-G006: "Maybe I should. It's the smart thing to do. But they always did say you were a bad influence..."
- ―Simon and Cassandra discuss their next move.
The battered shuttle took weeks to limp through to an inhabited system. The slow crawl of time aboard the cramped ship served to bring Simon and Cassandra together even more so then their exile on the alien planet. Their long cryo-sleep and the events that had transpired since then had left both Spartans feeling alienated from a strange new galaxy. With their tenuous friendship as the only reliable constant, the two exiles agreed to stay together as Diana brought their shuttle in to port on the human colony of  while she absorbed information about the local state of affairs. Talitsa was a prosperous colony with strong independent sentiments, though Simon found himself unable to take advantage of the anti-government atmosphere; recent uprisings had prompted the UNSC to station a garrison on the planet and Simon rightly feared that ONI agents were on the prowl. As he tried to come up with his next move, Cassandra surprised him by choosing to stay with him rather than returning to the military. His fellow Spartan had begun to develop her own doubts about her place in the galaxy and was beginning to hunger for the independence of civilian life she was now free to experience. Cassandra wished to start a new life for herself on Talitsa and she invited Simon to set aside his weapons and seek peace on the independent frontier. The suggestion both enticed and frightened Simon, who both hungered for a permanent escape from the UNSC and yet feared the implications of choosing to simply fade away into civilian life. Furthermore, the offer forced him to confront the strange feelings he'd felt for Cassandra since before he'd been stranded on Mamore. Uncomfortable with his own impulses, he turned to Diana for advice. The AI's unflinching critique of Simon's feelings left him ashamed of what he now saw as lust and a willingness to exploit Cassandra's desperate situation. Unfortunately, he was never able to fully come to grips with his situation. Despite Diana's digital safeguards and the Spartans' attempts to remain hidden, ONI was even more watchful than they had predicted. Within a week of Simon's arrival on Talitsa, he had been positively identified by Naval Intelligence agents who immediately alerted their chain of command of the Mamore renegade's reappearance.. Simon's reintegration into human society began as he went to ground, relying on Diana to secure safe lodging for himself and Cassandra. The wily A.I. arranged for the Spartans to hide in a spaceport apartment complex
- Simon-G294: "They'll never stop coming after me. I'll never be safe from them."
- Cassandra-G006: "So what will you do?"
- Simon-G294: "Just keep running. It's the only thing I can do."
- Cassandra-G006: "You won't be doing it alone."
- ―Simon and Cassandra following the escape from Talitsa
Without Diana, Simon would have died before he even knew ONI had learned of his survival. Less than a day after his presence on Talitsa was confirmed, atask force led by herself was dispatched to eliminate him and recover his "hostage," Cassandra. Only a warning from Diana gave Simon the chance to escape from the apartment mere minutes before it was stormed by the newest generation of Spartans. Realizing he had no chance against a platoon of -armored supersoldiers, Simon formulated a desperate plan to escape the planet by stowing away aboard an outbound smuggling freighter. Cassandra again refused his suggestion that they part ways, humbling a confused Simon who struggled to understand her earnest support for a traitor like himself. The pair boarded the freighter, which took them safely off of Talitsa and past the UNSC naval patrols. While listening in on the pursuing task force's transmissions, Simon was stunned to recognize the voices of Jake-G293 and Ralph-G299, his squadmates from Team Jian. Though he had not forgotten his violent encounter with Jake on Mamore, his former friends' presence amongst his pursuers forced Simon to face the fact that even his brothers and sisters from Gamma Company would not hesitate to to hunt him down. The situation did not improve when the fugitive Spartans realized that the freighter they had boarded was headed for Reach, deep within the Inner Colonies and even closer to the seat of the government they were trying to escape. Counting on the the Covenant had wrought on Reach during the war to help them go to ground, the Spartans planned to seek refuge within the once they arrived on humanity's former fortress world.
When the freighter touched down in Reach's desolate glasslands, Simon and Cassandra slipped off and took refuge within a criminal compound meant to house smugglers and their families. Clad in their SPI armor, the Spartans disguised their youth and passed themselves off as mercenaries as they struggled to plan their escape from ONI's indomitable pursuit. Reach had become a strange hybrid of UNSC stronghold and criminal nesting ground, and Simon hoped that he and Cassandra could find temporary solitude amongst the covert network of compounds and safehouses spread out among the planet's vast stretches of burned surface. But their escape from Talitsa had not gone unnoticed; Palmer and her Spartan task force arrived not two days after they did, surrounding the compound and demanding that the panicked smugglers turn over the fugitives. Simon wanted to use the criminals' resistance as a cover for his own escape, but Cassandra convinced him to make a show of fleeing into the Highland Mountains so as to draw the UNSC forces away from the civilians in the compound.
- "Like the UNSC isn't enough, now we have to deal with this crap again..."
- ―Simon-G294 upon discovering Forerunner artifacts within the Highland Mountains
As Cassandra had predicted, the Spartan task force abandoned the compound and pursued them into the mountains. As the fugitives eluded the hunters through the mountain range's labyrinth of caverns, they lost contact with Diana. Without the A.I. to help coordinate against the UNSC, the utter futility of his escape efforts finally dawned on Simon. In a fit of panic he attempted to lose Cassandra within the tunnels in the hope that without him she would return peacefully to the military before they deemed her to be a traitor as well. But Cassandra stubbornly pursued and in their pursuit the Spartans stumbled upon a chamber containing alien architecture similar to the Forerunner structures they had encountered during their exile. Wary from their last encounter with Forerunner artifacts, they tried to leave only to encounter Ralph-G299. For Simon, it been less than two years since Ralph had been his friend and teammate, but his fellow Spartan saw only a traitor and an enemy of the UNSC. Ralph pinned the fugitives down while summoning Palmer and the rest of the Spartan task force. Forced back into the room, Simon desperately tried to access one of the artifacts. To his horror, the strange artifact reacted to his presence and teleported him from the subterranean chamber—leaving Cassandra behind to be captured by the Spartans.
- "Look around. They call these things the Pillars of Loki. This is where the IIs were born here. Our predecessors. And here we are now, two IIIs ready to show their ghosts what we're made of. Come on, Runt, one last round. Give it your best shot."
Deposited on the mountainside, Simon was overcome with grief and found himself unable to press on. Diana, who had infiltrated the smugglers' communications network, finally located him and urged him to find a way offworld. Stricken with guilt over Cassandra's capture and disgusted by his own feelings of relief that she was gone, Simon was only roused from his stupor when a team of ONI operatives were deployed on the mountain slopes to hunt him down. In a running battle with the commandos, Simon entered the shattered remains of athat, unbeknownst to him, had once been used to raise the . Without Cassandra he found himself lapsing into the kind of instinctive violence that had characterized his fighting on Mamore. After dispatching the last of the commandos, he reached the bottom of the mountain and entered the , a forest of booby-trapped training poles. There he was once again confronted by Ralph. His former teammate was loyal to his mission, but was struggling with his own doubts over the direction the UNSC had taken since the end of Human-Covenant War. He told Simon that the rest of the task force had withdrawn, taking both Cassandra and the Forerunner artifacts back to Earth. The two friends sparred for the last time amidst the Pillars of Loki; though the MJOLNIR-clad Ralph held the clear advantage in strength and speed, Simon was able to navigate the still-armed pillars, using the aging booby traps to overwhelm Ralph's shields and armor. Braving the explosions and shrapnel, Ralph closed in on Simon and would have killed him had the desperate fugitive not sprung one final ambush and buried a combat dagger—his graduation present from Tom-B292—in his brother Spartan's throat. With the killing of a fellow Spartan, a friend he had been raised and trained with, Simon knew that he had passed a point of no return, making himself an enemy not only of the UNSC but of the Spartans who had once been his brothers and sisters. Drawing a distorted strength from this knowledge, an injured Simon appropriated Ralph's prized before leaving the body amidst the ruins of the Pillars. He would wield the shotgun as a memento to his teammate for the rest of his life.
Diana re-established contact with the wounded Spartan and guided him to another smuggling settlement. There, he was surprised to find a contingent of aliens mixing with the human criminals. One young Sangheili instantly recognized Simon as the human who had spared his life out in the depths of space. Tuka 'Refum, still attempting to serve the Covenant Remnant, approached Simon and stated that he owed his life to Simon and Cassandra. In Tuka, Simon found an unexpected new ally in his plans to rescue Cassandra. Diana had also been busy; using old rebel channels she arranged a meeting between Simon and elements of thefaction. The leader of the NCA contingent was , herself a Spartan-candidate turned Insurrectionist. Although nonplussed by the young Spartan and his Sangheili companion, Zane was eager for a chance to take on Palmer and her Spartans. As payment, Simon promised the rebels the Forerunner artifact the UNSC had taken. However, Simon despised the Insurrection just as much as he did the UNSC. He held little regard for the lives of Zane and her strike team and planned to use them as fodder to cover his rescue of Cassandra. A final face from the past emerged when Simon spotted Gavin Dunn, his former HLF superior, working as a smuggler in the settlement's spaceport. Gavin was stunned to see "Stray" alive, but wanted no part in any sort of action near Earth. Holding Gavin just as accountable as Venter for what had transpired on Mamore, Simon had no qualms about hijacking Gavin's ship, the Chancer IV and forcing Gavin to transport him and his makeshift rescue team to Earth. During the journey through Slipspace, Simon prepared his armaments in anticipation of the battle to come. Along with Ralph's shotgun and his own collection of knives, explosives, and sidearms, he acquired one last "tool" from Zane's rebel contacts: the highly experimental stimulants known as " ."
"All For Her"
- Gavin Dunn: "This is suicide. Come on, Stray, back out before it's too late."
- Simon-G294: "I'm not going to lose anyone else. Now shut up and get us to where we need to go."
- ―Simon and Gavin Dunn prior to the raid on Philadelphia.
- Main article: Bombing of Philadelphia
Diana's skillful navigation of ONI reports allowed Simon to track Cassandra to an ONI facility within the metropolis of Philadelphia. Gavin's experience as a smuggler allowed Simon and the rebels to infiltrate the urban metropolis undetected. With Diana covering them from within the city's infrastructure, Simon and Zane's team approached the black site while Tuka caused a public disturbance some miles away in order to incite fears of a Covenant terrorist attack and draw attention away from the black site's interior security. With Diana inside the system, Simon was confident that they could locate Cassandra covertly. But Zane, eager to get her hands on the Forerunner artifact, ordered her troops to forge a path on ahead, sparking a bloody firefight with the ONI security forces. Simon promptly abandoned the rebels to their fate and fled deeper into the facility. Diana guided him towards the holding cells while warning him of the SPARTAN-IV presence within the black site. With the infiltration plan in ruins and Spartan fireteams hounding him through the facility, Simon desperately tried to reach Cassandra. He was cut off by Ilsa Zane, the only rebel left from the head-on assault against the Spartans and security forces. Zane blamed Simon for the botched mission and would have shot him if not for the arrival of Tuka. The Sangheili tipped the confrontation in Simon's favor, but the three infiltrators were interrupted by the arrival of Sarah Palmer and Spartan reinforcements. Under heavy fire, Simon used a wounded Zane as a shield while he and Tuka retreated. Leaving the unstable rebel for dead, Simon realized that Palmer was more interested in apprehending him than defending the facility. Although terrified by the prospect of facing the Spartan commander, he sent Tuka on to the containment cells while he used himself as bait to lure Palmer down into the facility's maintenance levels.
Forced to trust in his Sangheili friend in order to save Cassandra, Simon entered the maintenance level. There, he encountered Palmer; confident in her ability to make short work of Gamma Company's "failure Spartan," the SPARTAN-IV had left her fellow supersoldiers behind and come alone. Faced with Palmer's superior augmentations and MJOLNIR armor, Simon drew upon every weapon in his arsenal to stand up to her onslaught. Palmer weathered his barrage of bullets and grenades in order to close the distance between them, using her enhanced strength to deliver debilitating blows to Simon's body. The rogue Spartan would have died there had it not been for the rumbledrugs he had received from Zane. As the stimulants flowed through his system and allowed him to ignore his wounds and even the limitations of his own body, Simon renewed the fight with a manic intensity. Pushed beyond anything his body could be expected to endure, an exhausted Simon lapsed into a brutal, feral state unlike anything he had experienced in past battles. His ferocity allowed him to match Palmer blow for blow in the brutal, close-quarters brawl that ensued. Both fighters were heavily wounded, and as they closed in to finish the battle they seemed poised to kill each other off. But the fight was cut short by a series of unexpected tremors that shook the facility and caused the maintenance level to collapse, burying both Spartans in a storm of rubble.
Unbeknownst to Simon, Tuka had succeeded in freeing Cassandra in the facility's upper levels. Believing the Forerunner artifact too dangerous to be left in human hands, Cassandra resolved to destroy the device and the unstable machine triggered a series of seismic events that began ripping the black site and the surrounding city blocks apart. Badly wounded and trapped beneath the wreckage, Simon clawed his way out of the rubble only to come under fire from more SPARTAN-IVs. Terrified and exhausted, Simon broke down and begged Diana to save him. The AI's "salvation" came in the form of a hijacked UNSC frigate that rained destruction down upon Philadelphia. In the most catastrophic Earth-side event since the, the metropolis was set ablaze, its streets choked with smoke and rubble from collapsing buildings. A horrified Simon drifted through the carnage in a daze, unable to fathom the horror now laid at his feet. After pulling an unconscious Palmer out of the rubble, he tried to search for Cassandra and Tuka among the wreckage before finally succumbing to his own wounds and collapsing. He was only saved from the blaze when Cassandra and Tuka chanced upon his body and carried him to the waiting Chancer IV, which fled the destruction and managed to escape the Sol system.
Simon awoke days later to find himself on the independent colony of. He soon learned that the colonial media had proclaimed the Philadelphia a calculated Insurrectionist attack and named him as the mastermind. Gavin, also implicated in the bombing, had taken him to Venezia and left him in Cassandra's care before fleeing even further into the frontier. Tuka had returned to the Covenant, leaving Simon alone with the comrade he had given everything to save. Cassandra, for her part, thanked Simon for rescuing her and told him of her intention to make the most of the "new life" she had been given away from the military. However, neither of them could forget the destruction of Philadelphia; Simon quickly realized that he could no longer remain with his former teammate. He parted ways with Cassandra before he had even fully recovered and she, painfully, made no effort to stop him. While Cassandra remained within the Venezian city of , Simon set out for one of several smaller towns on the outskirts of the city in the hopes that he could lay low and weigh what few options remained to him. He was soon contacted by Diana, who revealed that she had networked herself throughout Venezia's makeshift satellite system. Simon angrily blamed her for the colossal loss of life, but could not deflect her assertions that he was alive because of what she had done. In the end, Simon could not reject the AI who had become his sole remaining companion. Instead, he accepted her continued assistance as he set out to seek his fortune in a galaxy that no longer seemed to hold a place for him.
"It's A New Galaxy"
- "Maybe I'll feel more helpful once you quit sulking and get back to doing what you do best. Until then, you're on your own."
Unfortunately, peace did not suit the young renegade. Although Simon no longer had to fear ONI assassins, he had next to no experience with living off the battlefield. Within a week of setting out on Venezia, the rogue Spartan was completely broke. Diana offered little help and as usual seemed to take an inordinate amount of amusement in overseeing her partner’s plight. Without a credit to his name, Simon dug himself a foxhole on the outskirts of a small settlement on Venezia’s sprawling plains. Too proud to return to Cassandra and unable to bring himself to rob the local farmers, Simon tried his best to hunt local wildlife. When his attempts proved unsuccessful, he resorted to stealing castoffs from the settlement’s trash bins. Eventually the farmers caught wind of the armored stranger’s presence. Spooked, they tracked down Simon’s foxhole and destroyed it. Rather than fight the mob, Simon simply fled and headed to the next settlement. Receiving the same treatment there and still haunted by the memory of Philadelphia, he surrendered himself to the farmers in the hopes that somehow fate would act through them to render him the punishment he felt he deserved.
Although the farmers were surprised by Simon’s youth, they quickly became suspicious of the armored vagabond’s purpose on Venezia. After discovering a UNSC insignia still etched on his armor, the colonists declared him to be a military spy and handed him over to a passing militia patrol. Although several of the militia soldiers wanted to execute the “UNSC spy” on the spot, patrol sergeant Nhat Tram took pity on the worn-down captive and insisted that they take him to their headquarters at the nearby settlement at . En route, Sergeant Tram was surprised to discover an Insurrectionist tattoo on Simon’s arm. Simon reluctantly told her that he had fought on Mamore, a claim corroborated by a picture of Rat Pack—one of his only mementos of the hellish fighting--discovered among his belongings. Believing her captive to be a rebel patriot, Tram advocated for Simon’s release but was rebuffed by her superiors, who agreed with the militia soldiers that they had picked up a UNSC infiltrator. Faced with execution, Simon finally broke out of his fatalistic stupor and fought his way out of captivity. Holed up in the Weymouth headquarters and surrounded by militia troops, Simon regained the desperate survival drive that had kept him alive through all the battles he had faced so far. Before the standoff could result in all-out carnage, a man named Min Ai intervened. Simon was surprised to see the unassuming businessman defused the situation and was even more surprised when Min offered to hire him as an “enforcer.” Unsure of how else to proceed, Simon agreed to Min’s terms and departed Weymouth under his protection.
- "I like you, Stray. Maybe you can't go back to wherever it is you came from, but there's a place for you in the Syndicate. It's a new galaxy out here; you should make the most of it."
- ―Min Ai
Min, Simon soon discovered, was removed from the political dynamics he had been raised to understand. The businessman represented the interests of an entity known as “the Syndicate,” a sprawling organization that had taken over much of the criminal underworld in the wake of the Great War. As a high-ranking Syndicate member on Venezia, Min was charged with ensuring that all elements of the planet’s infrastructure, from politics to commerce to underground dealings, worked towards the Syndicate’s larger interests. Admiring the Syndicate’s subversion of both the Earth-based and Insurrectionist ideals that he had come to resent, Simon agreed to work for Min despite his misgivings about the true nature of the criminal activities he would be perpetrating. Once again assuming the alias of “Stray,” Simon joined Min’s cadre of mercenary enforcers and put his skills to use protecting the agent and eliminating rival groups opposed to the Syndicate’s expanding influence. Very much taken with the mercenary lifestyle, he traded ideals for credits and competed with his fellow mercenaries for Min’s contracts, honing his skills with each consecutive job. The Syndicate eliminated the barriers of history, politics, and even species; Simon worked alongside humans, Sangheili, and all manner of former Covenant races over the course of his work for Min. In the new order the Syndicate was creating on Venezia and frontier worlds like it, the only things that mattered were money and power, a sentiment Stray understood all too well in the wake of his failure at Philadelphia. Over the course of his work for the Syndicate, Stray rekindled his partnership with Diana. In exchange for the rogue AI’s cyber-warfare skills, Stray followed her instructions and covertly networked her into computer stations that he encountered across Venezia. If power was the only end worth seeking, Stray was determined to achieve it by cultivating both his own skills and the capabilities of the AI he was lucky enough to be working with.
Some time after becoming a mercenary, Stray returned to the central hub of New Tyne to support Syndicate efforts in collecting payments from the city's merchants. Min sent him to work with Ro'nin, an abrasive Sangheili mercenary who Stray had clashed with on previous assignments. Competing with each other for a greater cut of the pay, the two enforcers grudgingly worked together to extract the Syndicate's money by any means necessary. While canvassing a slum on the city outskirts, Stray saved Ro'nin from an ambush by a shooter clad in SPI armor. Stray was shocked to reunite with Cassandra, who had set up a small medical clinic in an effort to help the poor and forgotten in the slums. Their reunion was less than pleasant, as his fellow fugitive berated him for his role in propagating the Syndicate's injustices. Stung by her rebuke, Stray angrily left the slum but convinced Ro'nin to forget squeezing profit out of the slum district. Irritated at owing his life to a rival like Stray, Ro'nin "evened the score" by giving his fellow mercenary a set of Covenant-made . Finding the drones to be excellent sources of subterfuge and misdirection, Stray quickly incorporated them into his arsenal. However, Cassandra's anger weighed heavily on his mind and in the days to come he began taking stock of the injustices he helped perpetrate for the Syndicate in his new line of work. Deeply troubled by what he saw, Stray wondered if he had really given himself over to the kind of corruption he had once fought against and began looking for a way to fight against the entrenched criminal system. Two weeks after his encounter with Cassandra, Stray was sent to help bodyguard a Syndicate loan shark as he collected "debts" from local merchants. Ordered to make an example of one dealer's family, Stray instead turned on the criminal representative and killed him along with several Syndicate enforcers. Now wanted dead by the criminal network for his impulsive rebellion, Stray fled into the Venezian plains with enforcer search parties hot on his tail.
"Another Pointless Struggle"
- "I don't care if it's the Syndicate or the militia or the damned Covenant that's after you. Killers like you are all the same, bringing death and misery wherever you go. I'm doing my duty by God and letting you stay the night, but after that I want you gone. Stay away from this farm and stay away from my daughter. I've worked too hard and too long to see her life ruined by the likes of you."
- ―George Hunsinger
It did not take long for the Syndicate to track the rogue enforcer down. A search party headed up by a Sanhgeili mercenary named Ger 'Hullen attacked Stray amidst the plains foothills. The mixed-species hunters were nowhere near as deadly as the Covenant and UNSC professionals Stray had fought in the past and he quickly broke free from their encirclement. However, 'Hullen was determined to bring down his quarry and he relentlessly pursued Stray into the plains, calling in even more enforcer teams to help expand his reach. After several more skirmishes, Stray was injured, tired, and running out of tricks. Unable to keep the running battle away from populated areas, he took shelter in the crop fields outside a small farming community. As he hid within the wheat stalks, he was encountered by a young girl named Zoey Hunsinger. He convinced the curious girl to conceal him from the Syndicate search teams and take her back to her parents, George and Lily. George was less than willing to give shelter to an enforcer wanted by the Syndicate, but reluctantly agreed to let the armored mercenary hide out for the night in his machine shed. As Stray planned his next move, he was pestered by questions from Zoey, who was enthralled by the idea of a broader life away from the family farm. Early the next morning, Stray honored George's wishes and slipped away. But before he could get far he was forced to hide in the fields as a Syndicate convoy rolled up to the Hunsinger homestead. Accompanied by Min Ai himself, Ger 'Hullen had tracked his prey onto fo the Hunsinger's land. As Stray watched from the fields, 'Hullen and his enforcers tortured George for information. When, at Min's suggestion, 'Hullen threatened to kill Zoey, Lily opened fire on the enforcers from the homestead. Both of the Hunsingers were killed in the ensuing firefight and the enforcers proceeded to set fire to both the homestead and surrounding fields. Stray intervened in time to drag a terrified Zoey out of the burning homestead, dragging the girl with him as he fled, the Hunsinger lands burning all around them.
After escaping through a large irrigation pipe, Stray hurried to put more distance between himself and the pursuers. But Zoey, traumatized and grieving the loss of her parents, refused to go any further. Haunted by the idea that his presence had led to the Hunsingers' execution, Stray could not bring himself to simply abandon the girl to her fate. Drawing on memories of his own vicious training on Onyx, Stray stifled his own guilt and began acting cruelly to Zoey, speaking indifferently about her parents' deaths and repeatedly threatening to abandon her. As expected, the girl's anger and resentment gave her the boost she needed and she pressed after him, determined to spite him by surviving. After stealing a Warthog from a Syndicate patrol, Stray managed to finally make real progress across the plains. However, Ger 'Hullen doggedly kept up the pursuit, employing Falcons and Banshees to hem the Warthog in. Ambushed by a pack of Jiralhanae mercenaries, Stray fought the hulking warriors by himself in order to give Zoey time to get clear. Wounded during the brutal close quarters fighting, Stray used a Mongoose ATV to deliver himself and Zoey back to the outskirts of New Tyne. With Zoey suffering from injuries of her own, Stray fought off more Jiralhanae trackers while desperately contacting Cassandra. Only the timely intervention of his fellow Spartan drove the mercenaries off, allowing Stray to deliver an unconscious Zoey to Cassandra's clinic for treatment.
- Stray: "How do you do it? How do you keep it all up? I tried doing the right thing, like you said. I tried fighting the Syndicate. And all I have to show for it is one more orphan and a price on my head."
- Cassandra-G006: "I... I don't know. I tell myself I'm doing God's work and that He works in ways we don't understand. Some days I believe it. Others... I'm just sorry I pushed you into all this."
- Stray: "You just cut it straight about what a scumbag I've turned into. Not your fault I never think these things through, or that everything I try turns into a disaster."
- — Stray discussing the death of Zoey's family while recuperating in Cassandra's clinic.
As Zoey recuperated from her injuries, Stray took stock of his predicament. Although Cassandra was happy to help resist the Syndicate, both of the Spartans knew that her tiny clinic would not survive any concentrated Syndicate attack. Struggling to find a way out of this latest deadly predicament, Stray was further wracked with guilt when Zoey awakened and was forced to fully accept the reality that her family, home, and life as she knew it had been reduced to ashes. Unable to face the newly-orphaned girl, Stray left Cassandra with the responsibility of comforting her and turned instead to trying to work his way out of the mess his small act of rebellion had become. Though he had managed to throw off Ger 'Hullen's search teams, the Sangheili enforcer was already gathering the resources he needed to search New Tyne. Conferring with Diana, Stray confronted the reality that to prolong the fight would be a death sentence not only for himself but also for Zoey and Cassandra. His fears were confirmed when Ro'nin led a small Syndicate force to attack the clinic in the hopes of collecting the bounty on his rival's head. Escaping the slums, Stray and Cassandra fought a running battle with Zoey in tow. With every Syndicate enforcer in the city now alerted to their whereabouts, Stray asked Diana to give him Min Ai's whereabouts. Upon learning that his former employer was observing the chase from a safehouse in downtown New Tyne, the rogue Spartan sent Zoey with Cassandra while he confronted their pursuers, ostensibly as a diversion. When he was sure he had bought enough time for the others to flee, Stray made his way downtown and approached Min Ai's safehouse.
- "You think I care about a few dozen hired guns? My job is to dig the talent out of this cesspool of thugs and incompetents and put it to work for the Syndicate. I like you, Stray. Always have. This mess just proves that you're the best merc on this dustball, and with that in mind I think it's more than reasonable for me to smooth over this little misunderstanding. We've all learned a little something these past few days and the fact that you've come to see me tells me we'll be able to put it all behind us. Of course, we'll need to hammer out a few guarantees, re-negotiate your contract. And you'll have to work with me to close this game out. Someone has to take the fall for this mess, after all."
- ―Min Ai
Infiltrating the safehouse complex, Stray confronted his former employer. Min Ai, unflappable as ever, was not the least bit intimidated by the mercenary's arrival. Knowing that Stray had come to capitulate, the Syndicate representative happily agreed to end the pursuit in exchange for the formidable enforcer's return to the Syndicate fold. Renewing his contract with Min, Stray bargained for his own life along with the lives of Zoey and Cassandra: in exchange for his services, the Syndicate would let Zoey live and allow Cassandra to operate her clinic unmolested. Finalizing their deal, Min dispatched Stray to eliminate the agreed upon scapegoat for the entire affair: Ger 'Hullen, who had repeatedly failed to capture the fugitive Stray. Taking orders from the Syndicate once more, Stray tracked 'Hullen down and killed the isolated mercenary while Min fabricated reports to implicate the Sangheili as the true threat to the Syndicate's interests. With 'Hullen dead, the bounty on Stray was lifted and Min vowed to uphold his own end of their bargain. The lives of Stray's companions were now collateral to ensure his continued services to the criminal empire.
- Cassandra-G006: "What have you done?"
- Stray: "What I had to. We all get to stay alive now."
- ―Cassandra questions Stray over his resolution of the conflict.
Returning to Cassandra, Stray concealed the full truth of what he had done from Zoey. His fellow Spartan was less easy to fool. Cassandra realized that the status quo had been sated and the Syndicate was once again her friend's employer. With her clinic now free from Syndicate interference—and protected, on Min's orders, from harassment by other parties—Cassandra could not object to Stray's solution. Encouraging him to operate from within New Tyne, she also pushed him to take charge of Zoey, the one who had suffered most during the whole bloody affair. Stray reluctantly offered Zoey a choice between staying with him and being turned over to Venezia's militia, who would undoubtedly make sure she was cared for. Quickly learning about the brutal realities of life in a frontier controlled by the Syndicate, Zoey surprised Stray by choosing to stay with him, insisting that he make her an assistant and teach her how to survive and get ahead. Although he had no idea how to deal with his new ward, Stray put her up in his small apartment in the slums. Zoey became an accomplice to his future work for the Syndicate, another painful reminder of the suffering that followed him wherever he went.
"Just The Way Things Are"
- Stray: "Look, sorry about before. I know I'm not the easiest person to get along with. Sometimes I can be a bit of..."
- Zoey Hunsinger: "An asshole? A bully? A good for nothing dirtbag?"
- Stray: "You little brat."
- — Zoey returns to Stray's hideout
Now back in the Syndicate's employ, Stray was quickly pressed by increased tasks by a demanding Min Ai. With little experience in domestic functions and norms, he was not interested in babysitting Zoey and took to giving her menial chores to perform while he worked Syndicate contracts. Zoey, still recovering from the trauma of her ordeal, was not amused by Stray's dismissive attitude and quickly turned on her mercenary caretaker. Slathering his armor with feces when ordered to clean it, she fled the hideout and went to stay at Cassandra's clinic. Although initially relieved at the departure of his unwanted responsibility, Stray soon came to miss the presence of a new face in his life, particularly after another of his many arguments with Diana over the amount of assistance she offered on jobs. Zoey surpised him by returning after only a few days and Stray allowed her to return without incident. He soon caved in to her repeated badgering and agreed to start training her as his assistant. Though the pair's relationship was fraught with arguments and disagreements, Stray had grown inexplicably fond of the young orphan and discovered a newfound sense of purpose in training Zoey, who reminded him of Emily and the other outcast urchins of Rat Pack. Zoey, for her part, frequently chafed under Stray's harsh instruction but slogged on, determined to adapt and survive in the harsh world that had taken her family. Before long Stray was entrusting his young charge with odd jobs around New Tyne; always low on funds, he used Zoey as an extra source of income to help cover his meager living expenses. In the meantime, he continued to assist Min Ai in enforcing the Syndicate's interests on Venezia. Many of his assignments required him to simply guard arms shipments or intimidate merchants; for these less dangerous jobs Stray soon began bringing Zoey along as an assistant, using the field work to give the girl more insight into the mercenary way of life she had been thrust into. As he now spent more time around New Tyne, Stray also took the opportunity to reconnect with Cassandra. Busy with her work at the clinic, his fellow renegade disapproved of drawing Zoey further into a life of crime and violence but did not attempt to interfere with Stray's questionable guardianship. Despite the brutal series of events that had brought him to this point, Stray felt truly connected to other people for the first time since Philadelphia.
- Zoey Hunsinger: "I've seen you fight. You could have saved them."
- Stray: "Yeah. And then we'd be right back where we were before. We'd be out in the cold and we wouldn't have changed a thing."
- Zoey Hunsinger: "I understand. It's just the way things are out here."
- — Zoey and Stray after departing a human trafficking warehouse.
Though he once again enjoyed the Syndicate's protection, Stray found himself unable to shrug off his guilty feelings over his complicity in the injustices perpetrated by the criminal underworld. Some months after his attempted rebellion, Stray returned to his apartment to discover that Zoey had not returned from an errand he had sent her on. With Diana's help, he learned that his young ward had been snatched by a local gang. Stray tracked the kidnappers to a New Tyne warehouse where he discovered that Zoey had been taken for a human trafficking ring that found most of its "merchandise" in the form of young frontier orphans. Forcing his way in, he strong-armed the kidnappers into releasing Zoey but knew that he would endanger his own position if he interfered further with Syndicate business and left the rest of the prisoners to their grim fate. Convincing himself that there was no sense worrying about the state of things on the frontier, Stray busied himself with seeking out greater profits from his Syndicate employers. Assured by Min Ai that he would soon be granted larger contracts, his ambition was to advance within the underworld and win greater opportunities for himself and Diana, who continued expanding her digital influence in Venezia's infrastructure. Following the incident at the warehouse, Zoey became more determined than ever to learn how to defend herself and embraced Stray's training with even greater vigor. Despite the dangers, Stray brought her with him on more and more assignments. After Zoey impressed him with her marksmanship while hunting for food in the wilderness, Stray began training her with rifles and planned to use her for long-range support fire in the near future.
With Zoey now accompanying him on nearly ever one of his Syndicate contracts, Stray became more willing to expand her training and teach her skills similar to what he himself had been drilled with on Onyx. After Stray was wounded during a firefight, Zoey helped apply first aid and even took on a few minor errands to bring in income while he recovered. Impressed by the girl's resolve, Stray finally gave in to her repeated requests to be given a more active role in his contracts. Tasked by Min Ai to make an example of a New Tyne drug peddler who was not paying the Syndicate his dues, Stray set Zoey up with a rifle and had her assassinate their target from afar. Zoey pulled the kill off easily and in that moment Stray felt as if he had finally accomplished something worth being proud of. However the triumph was short lived; Zoey's moment behind the scope had finally driven home the reality of the lifestyle she had pushed Stray into teaching her. Deeply troubled over what she had done, Zoey approached Stray a few days later and told him she intended to leave Venezia. Suddenly grappling with his own doubts over what he had done to the orphan, Stray made no effort to stop her and instead gave her what credits and supplies he could spare. The girl who had stumbled into his life departed just as suddenly, using the credits to book passage off of Venezia. Adrift in his own doubts and regrets, Stray returned to Cassandra's clinic in search of solace. Instead, his fellow deserter was angry at his irresponsible guardianship of Zoey. Stung by her rebukes, Stray lashed out as well, finally giving voice to the resentment and frustration that had plagued him since Philadelphia. Feeling rejected and manipulated by everyone, Stray realized just how adrift and empty his life had become but could see no viable way to escape the cycle of credit-fueled violence that seemed to run the new galaxy. He and Cassandra quickly reconciled, united by their shared guilt and doubts surrounding their abandonment of the UNSC and their fellow Spartans. Admitting to feelings that had simmered since before Philadelphia, the two deserters lowered their respective guards enough for an unexpected moment of physical intimacy. The experience both thrilled and terrified Stray and he surrendered to his passions only for Cassandra to break off the encounter at the last moment. Embarrassed and confused, he left the clinic the next day in search of some way to turn his life around.
"This Galaxy Belongs To Us"
- "Well... fancy meeting you out here."
Unfortunately trouble, as always, was not far behind Stray. As he tried to negotiate a way out of his contract with the Syndicate, he was ambushed by Ro'nin. His long time rival caught him off guard and looked to settle the score between them by thoroughly beating Stray, stealing his armor and weapons, and leaving him naked and humiliated in the Venezian wilderness. His inspiration to change his ways instantly replaced by a burning thirst for revenge, Stray trekked naked for several miles in the scorching heat until he chanced upon a militia convoy led by his old Venezian contact Sergeant Nhat Tram. Bemused to find the formidable mercenary in such a state, Tram provided Stray with spare clothes and agreed to let him remain with the convoy until they reached a settlement, where Stray intended to use the planetary network to contact Diana and track down Ro'nin. But he was shocked to discover that the militia were escorting a party led by Galen-G322, another Gamma Spartan that Stray recognized from his training on Onyx. Galen, it turned out, had deserted from the UNSC as well and was heading up a cell of Insurrectionists. Stray was surprised to learn that he and Cassandra were not the only Gamma deserters and was even more surprise for a fellow Gamma to treat him not with scorn or derision but with praise and an offer of companionship. After Galen promised to help him track down Ro'nin, Stray agreed to sign on with Galen's party despite his own mistrust of the Insurrection.
- Stray: "So, the big bad Office of Naval Intelligence finally sent someone to take me out. They sure took their time about it. Did Palmer get cold feet after Philadelphia?"
- Wynne-G327: "Don't flatter yourself. You aren't nearly as dangerous as Section Three used to think you were. I'm more interested in traitors who are capable of causing actual harm."
- ―Stray encounters another former comrade in the slums of New Tyne.
When the convoy reached a small settlement Stray was finally able to access the planetary network. Diana, amused at his plight, told him that Ro'nin had returned to New Tyne. Eager to reclaim his armor, Stray parted ways with Galen. His fellow renegade warned him to watch out for ONI agents in the capital and Stray agreed to rendezvous with him at a rebel outpost in Venezia's wilderness. Stray moved with Sergeant Tram's convoy back to New Tyne. He quickly located the Sangheili mercenary and discretely followed him to a local warehouse in the hopes of ambushing him. Stray was surprised to discover Ro'nin in the middle of a meeting with a young woman. Unused to working without his armor, Stray was quickly detected and attacked by both the Sangheili and the human. He barely escaped from the warehouse but was surprised when the woman easily caught up to him. During their rooftop confrontation Stray found himself faced with yet another name from the past: Wynne-G327. Unfortunately, Wynne did not share in Stray and Galen's desertion and was instead diligently pursuing the latter as a loyal ONI operative. Her cold dismissal of Stray as even a viable threat dredged up painful memories of the humiliating years spent at the bottom of the Gamma totem pole and struck a blow to pride he had not realized he had left. Using a concealed flash grenade and his superior knowledge of New Tyne's back alleys to escape, Stray contacted Galen to warn him of Wynne's mission. Though the close call had reminded him of the dangers found in crossing ONI operations, Stray hoped to get another chance to bring down Ro'nin and get his armor back. Eager to avenge himself against those who looked down on him, Stray departed New Tyne and set out for Galen's rendezvous point.
- Stray: "You know, as fascinating as it is watching you work, I really don't think you need to be so gung-ho about cutting on her. You're starting to get a bit weird about it."
- Galen-G322: "Do me a favor and don't bother me while I'm busy, kid."
- Stray: "'Kid?'"
- — Stray and Galen following their capture of Wynne
Stray arrived at Galen's hideout, an abandoned CAA bunker, in time to join his fellow rogue Spartan and the other rebels in setting up an ambush for Wynne. The ONI agent had not anticipated that Stray would be in contact with Galen and believed she still had the element of surprise. Her attempt to infiltrate the bunker complex brought her into the jaws of Galen's trap. Caught off guard, Wynne was quickly overpowered, though Galen was careful to take her alive. In the wake of Wynne's capture, Stray learned that the focus of Galen's efforts was to research and enhance. Galen was particularly interested in enhancements that had been made to the Spartans' frontal brain lobes. Stray had never realized that his brain had been tampered with during the augmentations. Suddenly fearing for his own mental health, he remained with Galen as the renegade Spartan set out to continue his "research" with Wynne as the test subject. Stray's initial triumph over the ONI operative's capture was soured by the enjoyment his new ally found in making Wynne suffer. His thoughts turning to Cassandra, Stray was galvanized into interrupting the torture and suggesting that Galen might make better progress with more conservative methods. When his advice was casually dismissed, Stray faced the bitter realization that Galen held as little regard for him as Wynne and the other Spartans did. Understanding that he was less than a pawn in Galen's estimation,a humiliated Stray slipped out of the bunker only to encounter Ro'nin. Realizing that his Sangheili rival was trying to preserve his ONI contract by freeing Wynne, Stray saw his chance to get back at Galen and offered to help Ro'nin in exchange for the return of his stolen armor.
Stray returned to the bunker and let Ro'nin inside. The two mercenaries discretely killed several of the rebel guards before the rest realized what was happening and sounded the alarm. As Ro'nin took on the remaining Insurrectionists, Stray descended into Galen's staging area. The other renegade had not anticipated his betrayal and Stray caught him off guard, shooting him several times at close range. But true to the augmentations he had been researching, Galen took the wounds in stride and angrily fought back. Without his armor and usual arsenal Stray was dangerously outmatched and took a beating from the better armed and armored Galen. But Stray had anticipated that Galen would underestimate him and lured his opponent into an explosive trap he had set beforehand. The ensuing tunnel cave-in buried Galen and though Stray wanted to sift through the rubble to make sure his erstwhile ally was dead he was forced to abandon the search in order to free the injured Wynne and help her reach the bunker's upper levels. Ro'nin covered the two Spartans' escape as Insurrectionist reinforcements arrived and they escaped into the surrounding foothills.
Ro'nin and Stray fled with Wynne to a Syndicate safehouse where they would be protected from any pursuing Insurrectionists. Stray noted Ro'nin's willingness to bring an ONI agent under Syndicate protection, confirming long-held suspicions of ONI cooperation with the criminal network. Though he feared Wynne might try to apprehend him after all, a strange sense of pride compelled Stray to remain in the safehouse in the hopes that his triumph over Galen would win him some measure of approval from another Spartan. He confronted the recovering Wynne as she grappled with her own doubts over having been rescued by a wanted traitor. Stray still considered ONI and the other Spartans to be his enemies, and facing one of his former brethren after all that had happened rubbed at feelings of guilt and remorse that he had struggled to bury under his new life on Venezia. As if sensing Stray's shame over what he had become, Wynne tried to convince him that to be a Spartan was to be a selfless soldier in the name of humanity's greater good; if he wanted to make good on his identity as a Spartan, he should turn himself in and face justice for his crimes. Realizing that Wynne neither understood nor respected him any more than Galen had, Stray angrily abandoned any pretext of reconciliation and left Wynne after bitterly dismissing her shallow ideals.
Stray's angry embarassment over being found wanting in the eyes of his fellow Spartans was the final nail in the coffin for his life on Venezia. No longer content to simply eke out a living in the shadow of galactic affairs, he decided to strike out into the broader universe to make something more of himself. Reconciling with Ro'nin over the successful escape, he retrieved his armor and made arrangements to leave the planet and expand his responsibilities as a Syndicate enforcer. One of the first names to cross his assignment list was another old comrade: Gavin Dunn.
"Not Your Average Bounty"
Thanks to Min Ai's recommendations, Stray quickly achieved a level of notoriety that many enforcers spent years achieving. His continued partnership with Diana, who followed him off Venezia, made him adept at tracking down and apprehending anyone foolish enough to defy the Syndicate's underworld authority. Stray rarely questioned Diana's motives in helping him; grateful for the support and companionship, he happily performed small tasks for her whenever the need arose. With her help he racked up a string of successful jobs, earning far more credits than he had ever made on Venezia. Stray aspired to someday join the likes of David Kahn within the Syndicate's elite inner circle and worked tirelessly to please his criminal employers. During the string of jobs for the Syndicate, Stray learned that Diana had developed a method of forestalling by absorbing the of other AI and grafting them to her own. Though realizing that Diana was essentially cannibalizing other AI to prolong her own lifespan, Stray had few qualms in aiding Diana's drive for survival and on occasion even procured AI for his partner to consume.
- "Nice try, Stray! Better luck next time!"
- ―Gavin Dunn eludes Stray's efforts to capture him once again.
As Stray tracked and eliminated the Syndicate's targets, he kept one mark in particular at the top of his priorities: Gavin Dunn, his accomplice from the Philadelphia disaster. Gavin's continued freedom as a freelance pilot irritated Stray, who could not help but hold him at least partially accountable for the loss of Emily on Mamore. With Diana's help he began setting ambushes for Gavin at spaceports. But the smuggler proved far more resourceful than Stray had anticipated, somehow managing to get the upper hand and escape with each successive capture attempt. Humiliated by the repeated failures and with his reputation in jeopardy, Stray grew increasingly more determined to capture Gavin. After learning that Ro'nin had also left Venezia in pursuit of the bounty, a frustrated and desperate Stray traveled to Talitsa, another colony under the Insurrection and Syndicate's sway. There he planned to target Judith Ives, a professional thief and known associate of Gavin's, in order to draw out his prey.
Arriving on Talitsa, Stray tracked down Judith and interrogated her for Gavin's whereabouts. The thief refused to sell out her old friend, but the conversation revealed something else of note: Zoey had come to Talitsa and briefly been mentored by Judith. Careful not to harm anyone close to Zoey, Stray relented and released the thief. But the encounter was not a wasted effort: Diana hacked Judith's personal datapad and confirmed that Gavin was indeed on the planet. Stray discovered the smuggler's personal ship, a rugged freighter named the Chancer V, docked in a private hangar and slipped aboard. He ambushed Gavin upon the smuggler's return and was surprised to find Zoey tagging along with his quarry. Stray easily subdued Gavin, making him a prisoner on his own ship. Nervous that Judith might learn of Gavin's capture and orchestrate a rescue, Stray forced Gavin to pilot the Chancer away from Talitsa and make a slipspace jump to Famul, a Jiralhanae pirate haven where arrangements could be made to turn the captive smuggler over to the Syndicate.
- "How could you do that to her? To a child? You of all people...! Coming after a crook like me is one thing. You don't turn little kids into killers!"
- ―Gavin Dunn learns of Stray's history with Zoey.
Keen to prevent Gavin from turning the tables on him yet again, Stray kept the smuggler under tight guard during the jump to Famul. His careful security precautions left him little time to reconnect with Zoey, who remained intent not to involve herself in his mercenary activities. Stray's former ward was determined to seize a new life for herself by any means necessary and made it clear that she wanted nothing more to do with the Syndicate. Though a part of Stray felt responsible for Zoey's desperate situation, he was mostly concerned with turning Gavin in and collecting the bounty. Stray landed the Chancer aboard one of Famul's many orbital stations and left Zoey on board while he escorted the captive Gavin to the Syndicate rendezvous. On the way, Gavin—already suspicious from conversations with Zoey on board the Chancer—pressed Stray for the details regarding his relationship with Zoey. Upon learning that the rogue Spartan had not only used her as an assistant but also made her kill a Syndicate mark, an enraged Gavin tried to attack his captor. Stray was caught off guard by the smuggler's anger but still managed to easily subdue his prisoner. However, during the scuffle he noticed security footage showing the Chancer taking off and blasting out of the hangar. Stray quickly realized that Zoey had planned all along to steal the ship at the first opportunity. Pressured by both Gavin and his own guilty conscience, Stray agreed to postpone handing the smuggler over until after they recovered the ship and prevented the inexperienced Zoey from running afoul of Famul's unscrupulous denizens. With Diana's help Stray learned that Zoey had already made arrangements to sell the ship at another orbital station. He and Gavin conned their way onto another transport and hurried to the hangar where Zoey planned to meet her buyers. As he positioned himself to slip aboard the stolen ship, Stray was shocked to see another face from his past: Redmond Venter, the insurrectionist commander he had left for dead on Mamore.
Spurred to action by repressed memories of the violence on Mamore, Stray attacked Venter and his soldiers while Gavin used the distraction to board the Chancer.
Personality and Traits
- "He isn't interested in duty, ideology, or any sort of creed. He allies himself with criminals, if it suits his purposes. He hires himself out to the highest bidder, but when we trace his activities the money itself rarely seems to be his ultimate concern. He is, in effect, a rogue vector, a loose variable, and we have no idea what he wants or how to control him. This makes him dangerous beyond words." ,
- "You're no monster. You've just spent too much of your life convinced that you are."
- ―Gavin Dunn
- "He's a lot like me, that masterless little Spartan: Unimpressed by grandeur and never at a loss for a trick."
Molded by a life of loss, pain, and betrayal, Simon possesses an extremely cynical understanding of both the galaxy and himself. A lifetime spent at the bottom of the heap—particularly the years spent growing up in the hyper-competitive training environment on Onyx—has conditioned him to expect nearly everyone to be faster, stronger, or smarter than himself. Having had to struggle and fight for even marginal successes, Simon's self-image has largely been shaped by the perceptions of others, particularly those of his fellow Gamma Company Spartans, most of whom condemn him as a failure, a traitor, and a mass murderer. In order to combat his own insecurities, he has embraced the image of a deceitful, self-serving coward willing to use whatever methods are necessary to win the daily battle for survival. His professed disdain for the world around him actually masks his own doubts and insecurities regarding his own place in the galaxy. Guilt over his crimes—both real and imagined—haunts him on a daily basis and he balances such feelings with a marked contempt for the perceived hypocrisy of those who hunt and condemn him. He has become adept at using the preconceptions of others against them, playing up his role as a cowardly failure before catching them off guard with focused, deadly brutality.
- "Spartans aren't human."
As a person, Simon is at times sardonic and irreverent and at others contemplative and self-aware. Though never the most dedicated of Spartans he is viciously stubborn and possesses a fortitude of will that drove him to keep trying to better himself in spite of his constant failures. He took to the battlefield of the Human-Covenant War determined to prove himself a hero and live up to the Spartan legacy he had been raised into; his humble idealism held fast even after he joined Rat Pack and betrayed the UNSC for the Insurrection. Even after losing faith in the rebel cause Simon still believed in his own good intentions and fought to do as well as he could by those few still faithful to him. It was only after the Bombing of Philadelphia that Simon, believing himself responsible for the deaths of thousands, descended into a spiral of despair that was at once self-serving and self-loathing. No longer believing himself capable of redemption (or, for that matter, that he was worth saving) he embraced a violent mercenary lifestyle and focused on material gains even as his lifestyle drove him deeper and deeper into the galactic underworld. But in spite of his selfish outlook Simon was still capable of occasionally performing acts of kindness and even selflessness. He despises injustice and his own experience of being used as an expendable pawn sometimes pushes him into risking his own safety to help those who are often ignored by the rest of the galaxy. While he is well-known for deceit and treachery, he is in fact steadfastly loyal to his small circle of friends and will go to whatever lengths are necessary in order to keep them safe.
- "Over the years I've come to realize that it's in humanity's nature to create monsters. And it's in the nature of monsters to destroy their creators."
- ―Redmond Venter
Onyx's supervisor AI Deep Winter feared the unintended side-effects of the illegal frontal lobe augmentations might have on the young Spartans of Gamma Company and in Simon's case his misgivings were entirely justified. As long as his augmentations were held in check by ONI-administered anti-psychotic medication, Simon was able to function normally. But after being stranded on Mamore Simon was cut off from the medication with only a week's emergency supply to sustain himself. Though he attempted to replicate the prescribed medication with alternate pharmaceuticals stolen from Insurrectionist medical supplies, Simon could not halt the side effects entirely. Cut off from his Spartan brethren and assimilated into Rat Pack, Simon's sense of alienation caused him to gradually lose sense of the Spartan he had been and view himself more and more as "Stray," just another urchin from Mamore. The trauma of losing his new family during the Mamore uprising and the stress brought on by his conflicting loyalties to the UNSC and Insurrection worsened the side effects. In times of extreme stress Simon's higher brain functions would begin to erode, making him impulsive, instinct-driven, and prone to acts of extreme violence. Cassandra-G006 proved to be a stabilizing influence on Simon during their time in exile together, but the UNSC's attempts to eliminate him re-awakened Stray, which Simon was beginning to see as an alternate persona. During his raid on Philadelphia, Simon used a combination of and neural stimulants in order to fight Spartan-IVs such as .
Following the Philadelphia bombing, Simon fled to the colonial underworld and began living a violent day to day existence as a mercenary. Using the name of Stray on a full-time basis, Simon continued experimenting with neural stimulants in the hopes of harnessing his own potential. He soon began relying on a variety of neural drugs to keep his mind intact and the feral "Stray" traits became more and more extreme over time. Simon's dependency on the drugs came to a head in 2559 when he slipped into a life-threatening coma. He was saved by the efforts of Cassandra-G006, who managed to develop a drug to completely eliminate the dependency on neural inhibitors. But while the involuntary lapses in higher brain functions were eliminated, the changes made to Simon's frontal lobe were irrevocable. Egged on by Diana, he continued to experiment on ways to tap in to Stray's "potential."
- "I like you better this way."
- "So do I."
Prior to Cassandra's operation, the Stray persona was little more than an feral state characterized by a loss of higher brain functions. Following the operation, Stray took on a new manifestation: rather than a loss of awareness, Stray is now characterized by a highly driven and focused intelligence. As Stray, Simon experiences acutely heightened senses but loses his sense of restraint. Stray is a skilled and comprehensive fighter as well as a cunning and ruthless strategist; he is also possessed of a violently cruel streak that borders on sadism. Unlike Simon, Stray has no compunctions about minimizing the amount of lives he takes and revels in triumphing over his opponents. It is presently unknown whether or not Stray is a true manifestation of dissociative personality disorder or if he is a phenomena created by Simon's unique experience with the frontal lobe augments; Diana herself suspects that Simon's exposure to unknown Forerunner entities may be at the heart of the matter, but as usual she keeps her theories to herself.
Always a scrawny individual, Simon's size and stature earned him many nicknames during his training on Onyx and he was referred to by such monikers as "Runt" and "Shorty" just as much as he was by his own name. The augmentation procedure did little to rectify the situation and Simon can pass himself off as an regular human when not in armor. Simon’s body is covered with scars inflicted over his life of brutal training and combat. His back in particular is heavily scarred by punishments he received during his time as a slave to Jiralhanae pirates, marking him as living property to anyone familiar with the Jiralahanae and their customs. His arms and torso sport several tattoos, including one depicting the Spartan eagle insignia, several images popular among insurrectionist groups, and even Kig-Yar and Sangheili cultural images.
When not clad in armor, Simon generally dresses in a ragged, patchy overcoat and underclothes of similar quality. Perpetually scruffy and unkempt, his hair is a tangled mop that resists any and all attempts to groom it. Although cleanliness has never been of much concern to Simon, he does make some effort to conduct routine personal hygiene in order to make himself at least somewhat presentable around others.
- "There's that look. They always give me the same look. You all despise me. Traitor. Murderer. Selfish, twisted, evil monster. I never wanted to be a hero like the rest of you did. All I wanted was for someone to tell me I wasn't so bad, that I wasn't such a disappointment after all. I just wanted to help the people I cared about. But it always went wrong. It always ends with more blood, more guilt, more pain. I can't even explain why I'm even trying anymore. But it's the only way I know how to live. As long as there's a tide to fight against, I'll keep on struggling."
- Main article: Simon-G294/Relationships
- "A 'shotgun'? A rather graceless weapon, even by your human standards."
- ―Tuka 'Refum
- "I'm a pretty graceless person."
Life on the run has forced Simon to adapt and improvise his combat strategies in order to make up for his lack of resources or support. Without the UNSC’s arsenal to draw from and no consistent source of income outside of his mercenary work, the renegade Spartan must scavenge or steal much of his equipment from the battlefield. He has accumulated an impressive cache of sidearms and can be counted on to always have a backup pistol stowed away somewhere to be used in a tight spot. A notoriously poor shot at longer ranges, he makes use ofand other such light firearms. His weapon of choice is the he took from the body of Ralph-G299 after killing his former teammate amidst the Pillars of Loki on Reach, wielding it both as a memento to his friend and for the M45’s deadly stopping power and surprising versatility. Utilizing tactics learned from fighters, Simon has made a hobby out of preparing improvised shells for the M45, creating unorthodox ammunition that range from miniature explosive pellets to miniaturized EMP pulses.
- Simon-G294: "Always carry another pistol. If you lose your rifle, use the first one. If that one gets knocked away, use the second one. If they take that from you, shoot them with the third."
- Cassandra-G006: "I thought there were only two pistols."
- Simon-G294: "So did they."
- — Simon-G294 discussing self-defense tactics with Cassandra-G006
Simon’s deadliest skills lie within the brutal confines of hand to hand combat. He has always had a penchant for Redmond Venter he trained to use a machete alongside his more traditional firearms; even after abandoning the Insurrection Simon kept the machete Venter had given him and continued to use it in combat. During his time in exile with Cassandra-G006, his fellow Spartan helped improve his accuracy, particularly with . Simon often wields a pistol alongside a machete or combat knife, using his augmented speed and strength to move through battle and clsoe in on his targets. His time spent fighting alongside Sangheili such as Tuka ‘Refum has given him a working knowledge of most Covenant weapon systems, particularly the compact and deadly Sangheili . Upon realizing that MJOLNIR-equipped Spartans would always be hunting for him, Simon made sure to incorporate a plasma pistol into his fighting load., a trait that was recognized and encouraged by Simon’s instructor who trained him in a uniquely Spartan form of Sambo that was geared towards fighting larger, stronger opponents. Simon’s hand to hand training expanded after he defected to the Insurrection and under
Simon is also known for employing a wide range of grenades in combat. Alongside standard fragmentation ordnance, he also makes use ofand EMP grenades to disorient enemies and level the playing field against better-equipped opponents. Simon carries an impressive array of both military grade and homemade explosive charges with him in his assault bag. As inventive and resourceful with explosives as he is with his other fighting methods, Simon has often used remote charges to devastating effect against enemy forces, hard points, and even the occasional warship.
A relic of the Human-Covenant War, Simon’s suit of PISCES and its structure acts as a load-bearing aid similar to the frame on a ruck pack, enabling Simon to carry his extensive fighting load without losing mobility. With large portions of the armor irreparably damaged in combat, Simon has replaced chunks of the original SPI with components scavenged from , , and even .is as battered and scarred as its owner. The body armor was originally intended to provide its Spartan-III owner with light protection and stealth capabilities; while the reflective paneling that made the SPI’s camouflage system possible has long since worn out, Simon has kept his weathered combat armor functional while augmenting it with his own custom improvements. Though the SPI armor lacks the speed and strength-enhancing abilities of powered armor systems such as the
During times of respite, Simon has taken it upon himself to graft additional features into his armor’s frame. His gauntlets have been upgraded to feature Sangheili-style Juno) to access his neural implants when linked in with his armor.as well as micro-magnets linked to his weapons for quick retrievals. In addition to practical upgrades to his helmet’s sensors and Heads Up Display, he has been known to stow a variety of poisonous spores in his armor, releasing them in the midst of combat to incapacitate or even kill his foes. His helmet has also been upgraded to feature a , permitting Diana (and later
- "I can't believe you fell for my oldest trick, even Cassandra sees through those holograms by now! And if that one got you, I know you won't see this one coming..."
Among Simon’s most prized possessions are a set of Covenantgiven to him by Tuka ‘Refum. Designed to misdirect the enemy in the heat of battle, the drones were heavily modified by Simon and Diana as a result of their exposure to Forerunner technology. Incorporating elements of Forerunner , the drones can mimic the heat signatures and density of an organic being in order to fool electronic sensors as well as the naked eye. The highly mobile drones have become one of Simon’s most frequently used deceptions, keeping his opponents off-balance in combat and even making people believe they are speaking with Simon himself when they are in fact conversing with nothing but light and sound.
- "Spartans are all inhuman monsters, but at least the rest of those bastards have a purpose. Everything I've ever believed in has been ripped away, one right after the other. There's nothing left for me now, just survival. But nothing I do can ever change the fact that I'll never stop being a Spartan. So if I'm just a monster without a purpose, what does that make me? Some kind of dog? Or something even worse?"
- "You dumb piece of shit. When it comes to living with disgrace I wrote the book. There's not a damn thing a loser like you could ever teach me. When you fight somebody, either you kill them or they kill you, there's no goddamn in between. Now I'm sick of all your pissing and moaning, so why don't you just shut the hell up and get over it!"
- ―Simon-G294 to Blake Mordaunt
- "I hate my job."
- "Damn it, I'm hungry..."
Notable Related Articles
Behind the Scenes
- Simon was Actene's first character on Halo Fanon
- The name "Simon" was taken from The Lord of the Flies which Actene was reading at the time of this article's creation. Simon-G294 bearsno resemblance to the boy from the novel.
- A growing list of tropes associated with this character can be found here.
- ↑ Term used by Simon when referring to the Chancer; "base of operations" in this sense means "the place where I eat, sleep, and use to keep under ONI's radar, but don't you dare put me on Zoey's level, the jobs I do are way different... most of the time."
- ↑ Having found endless amusement in the Spartans' awkward interactions aboard the cramped shuttle, Diana continued to exploit her young charges by ensuring that they sheltered in a small, one room apartment.
- ↑ The armor took days to scrub down and even longer to lose the stench of freeze-dried beef.
- ↑ Most of his teammates in Jian shared a laid back nonchalance during their time on Onyx.
- ↑ Though he sometimes has a funny way of showing it.
- ↑ Or as normally as any augmented child commando could be expected to function.
- ↑ Lieutenant Commander Ambrose had anticipated such an eventuality and drilled Gamma Company in how to procure substitute doses in the field.
- ↑ Despite his professed disdain for the Spartans, he has never even considered having it removed.