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Starry Night: Why Spartans Dare to Fight
John lay next to her in the grass. He couldn’t remember her name, yet he knew that they were the closest of friends. Friends closer than siblings, friends that not even death can part.
They both gazed up at the infinite stars, so wonderful and amazing and awing, and yet…something told John they were evil, terrible. No, that couldn’t be. He was here, she was here, he knew her, loved her in a way, with that childish, foolish kind of love, and the stars were good and beautiful. The stars couldn’t be terrible.
He still couldn’t remember her name. Without looking he knew that she too gazed up into the night sky, and John realized he watched the stars and wondered with her. He knew, somehow, he had to ask a question.
“Do you ever wonder what’s up there?”
His voice drifted across the night, soft, young, shy. John knew it shouldn’t sound that way, and yet it seemed so right.
She answered, and he knew her voice…and didn’t. “Like what?”
Her words, awed, pure, flowed though him and calmed him like a cool sea-breeze. John basked in their beauty, the filling light of their innocent lilt. He realized abruptly that the words had meaning, that she had asked him a question, and thus he replied.
“Well, what if someone up there is wondering what it’s like here?”
She skipped from point to point of brilliant light in the perfect dark, taking in each prick of distant brilliance with her blameless eyes, wondering, pondering, and awed all the more.
“I guess.” She turned and looked at him, and he saw himself reflected in her eyes, his face small, childish, unmarred. He knew it was his face, and yet…it seemed too young, to unmarred, too innocent, to be his.
“Do you think we’ll ever meet them?” Her eyes asked wtih her voice.
John looked back up at the stars. “I hope so. Don’t you?”
He turned again to look at her, and he saw it. Lying next to her, an anachronism from years and stars away.
A helmet he knew well, too well, a helmet he both loved and hated. It was the helmet that was the face of all his family, the helmet that symbolized strength and power and love. The helmet that was the face of courage, and of the love behind strength of heart, and of the greatness hidden in the souls of man.
The helmet also meant death. Twenty-six helmets had outlived the heart behind, and twenty-seven helmets had watched the human race slaughtered by them. Twenty-six had died to stop them, and now one lived to save the race of man. One last heart behind a Spartan helm lived to kill them.
The idyllic vision shattered into a trillion bits of scattered memory, and the pain took him.
Pain consumed him. It came in waves, throbbing, unbearable. He pushed it down, fought it back, numbed it. The pain took shape, the shape of his body. He analyzed it; nothing hurt too much, no ruptured organs or broken bones. Only bruises, however painful.
He blocked out the pain.
Sensation came next. His skin pressed against the familiar confines of his armor, encasing and protecting his scarred, battered body. Except...he felt something cold, coarse against his cheek. A breeze blew across the smooth contour of his skull.
He opened his eyes and saw his helmet, lying there, in the same position as...sometime, that he couldn't remember, sometime long ago. A bolt of plasma artillery screamed and hit the ground behind. He noticed not, for saw the helmet. Dull green plating, gold-tinted visor. The face of a dreadful automaton, or the helm of Mars. The face of death itself.
The dull, muted scream of artillery filled the air all around, yet it shrieked at deafened ears. John pushed himself up onto his knees. Two Banshees crossed the sky. A voice, childish, far away, from a place many years and many stars away, whispered in his ear, "Do you thing we'll ever meet them?"
He grabbed the helmet's edge, and pulled the familiar weight onto his head. The suit pressurized with a whisper, a hiss, like vacuum claiming flesh. The sound of friends dying.
John crouched, steadied himself with his hand as battered flesh and bruised bones cried out. Artillery hits shook his aching body, their shrieks and thumps as of yet unheard. The radio yelled desperate shouts of men whose cries this warrior could not hear.
He found what he was looking for, half buried in the thin layer of fresh-fallen snow and dirt. His weapon, an automatic rifle.
Sound returned, suddenly, no longer blocked out, free in all its chaos and beautiful desolation. Comets of cold, blue fire arced, tore the sky, ripped the very air apart as they fell and struck the earth with thunder. A voice, a youthful, desperate voice of a young embattled warrior not yet ready to die, shouted, "Marines! Fall back now!"
John pulled himself to his feet, slung his AR on his back, watched the next volley of plasma artillery arc into the sky.
An old friend's voice. "Any sign of the Chief?"
"No, I think we lost him."
And now, now John remembered his name, remembered who he was. And so it was not John but a man simply known as Master Chief cued his broadcast and said in that deep voice so rarely heard, a voice that meant that maybe there was still a chance to win, that meant humanity still had hope, "Not yet."
Off his belt he pulled a bubble shield, pushed the actuator, threw it to the ground. The humming bubble of light surrounded him, shielded him from the hot, hungry rain that fell to consume him. It spent its cold, raging fire on the Chief's impenetrable shelter. Static flared as the icy fire screamed, shook, tried and failed to claw through and devour him. Snow melted to steam and dirt vitrified to glass. The Chief fought down the panic and fear, and simply tensed, waited. For he wasn't falling back. This Spartan knew only command, and that was to attack, and only one direction: forward. The Spartans resurrected followed the maxim of a long-dead Spartan king the same as their ancient brothers: "We Spartans do not ask how many but where they are."
The rain of blue, icy fire stopped, its strength and ire spent. The bubble shield overloaded, its energy gone, and the transparent, golden refuge dissipated into static and heat, and so the last Spartan began his charge..
The Chief ran. The fire came down, and yet it could not catch him. Thought he sprinted he did not feel the aches and pains of his body, a being tired yet strong. He ran for humanity, for it was not against other humans he fought, but against those who would burn Earth until its surface is but glass. He ran to keep alive everything that is sincerely good and perfectly divine. And as he ran, he saw his brothers and sisters running with him. All of them now dead, dead in the defense of humanity. Killed by the others, tortured as demons. All clad in the same armor, that armor named for the hammer of Thor, that armor of Achilles, of Leonidas, of humanity’s best.
The phalanx of one hero living and a host of heroes dead charged and joined the soul of battle.
The artillery could no longer reach them, but still they ran, rushed to a hopeless battle, and yet a battle that was the only hope. There, the end, a cliff, and at the bottom, the others, those who would turn the human race and all his works into ashes and glass.
These best of humankind leaped into the air, dropped down at their enemies. Immortal, unstoppable, invincible, relentless, merciless, ruthless. Killer angels. Men possessed of fire and strength. Men who could make one final effort. Men who could finish the fight.
Into the midst of the onmiclasts Chief plunged, alone to the eyes of the others, but they could not grasp the human spirit, they did not understand humanity. They could not see seventy-five ghosts enter the spirit of this one last hero; they could not see the fire that burned in his soul. All they could see was the gold tinted visor, the helm of a dreaded god of war. The face of a killer angel. The face of death.
John descended, the specter of immolation, one man, flesh, bone, metal, and fire.
One man cannot stop an army. However good, however well trained and equipped, one man could not stem this tide unaided. Neither the bravest, nor the swiftest, nor the strongest could hold off an army alone. The strongest, the swiftest, the bravest of twenty-seven had already fallen. But John 117, though strong and swift and brave, had something else, something different. He had luck. But luck is something that comes not from outside but from within. Luck is a will to fight, a will so survive, a special knowledge. John knew more than any of the others that he was chosen for great things, and so he pushed himself a little harder, fought a little harder, survived a little better. He survived because he couldn't die. He couldn't die because everyone was lost. He couldn't die because if the war was to be won, it would be won the things that he had done.
But he had a second advantage.
Though no other charged at his side, John 117 did not fight alone.