After their successful first mission to capture an Insurrectionist Colonel, the Spartan-IIs seem ready to take on any challenge put to them next. However, a new threat soon manifests itself, and could prove to be exponentially more detrimental to humanity than a burgeoning civil war.
Just weeks after the incident at the rebel base, all active Spartan-IIs are brought to Reach and debriefed on the UNSC’s most pressing crisis: contact has been made with aliens referring to themselves as “The Covenant”, and they definitely do not come in peace. After being given a rundown of what is known about the aggressors so far, and notification that they will now progress to the final stage of their training (Project MJOLNIR), the Spartan-IIs are dismissed. Chief Mendez gives his recruits some parting words of respect and praise, and shares a private moment with John-117 where he offers him a few final words of wisdom about not giving up in the face of adversity. Advice that would serve the Spartans well for the rest of their lives – though perhaps applied even sooner than any of them, particularly John-117 and Kelly-087, might have anticipated.
Heavy Price Paid
Without being told precisely what Project MJOLNIR entails, the Spartan-IIs are shipped out on the frigate Commonwealth en route to a UNSC R&D facility on the distant planet of Chi Ceti IV (‘The Fall of Reach’, chapter twelve). On the way they are deployed to a few minor “clean up” missions involving rebels and black market dealers, all of which go off without a hitch. But for now, with little else to do until their arrival to the planet, John-117 observes his teammates and contemplates their current situation:
He turned and surveyed the squad. Although this bunkroom had one hundred beds, the Spartans still clustered together, playing cards, polishing boots, reading, exercising. Sam sparred with Kelly – although she had to slow herself down considerably to give him a chance.
I really like this scene, even though it’s brief, because it perfectly demonstrates the casual way the Spartans interacted with each other when not in the field. It shows the type familial atmosphere and normalcy they were able to maintain in spite of their very abnormal living situation. And of course I just enjoy the fact that John knows his two best friends well enough that he can easily see Kelly-087 is essentially humoring Sam-034 during their sparring match.
Unfortunately this moment of peace is short-lived, as John is summoned to the ship’s bridge by Dr. Halsey and the other Spartans make their own preparations for if they’re needed to go into action. Once in the command center John witnesses the abrupt arrival of a Covenant vessel from slipspace, which immediately begins to attack the UNSC frigate. After a short but intense firefight, the Covenant ship is driven off – but not without doing serious damage to the Commonwealth, and proving itself to be resilient to both MAC cannons and a Shiva-class nuclear missile (thanks in large part to it’s energy shielding).
Upon reaching Chi Ceti IV, the Spartan-IIs are brought to an underground testing facility an introduced to the equipment that constitutes Project MJOLNIR – the eponymous Mk. IV power armor (‘The Fall of Reach’, chapter thirteen). All of them are eager to try it out, and John is selected by Dr. Halsey to go first:
John held himself as motionless as he could. The armor shifted and melded to the contours of his form. It was like a second skin…and much lighter than he had thought it would be. It heated, then cooled – then matched the temperature of his body. If he closed his eyes, he wouldn’t have known he was encased.
They set the helmet over his head.
Health monitors, motion sensors, suit status indicators pulsed into life. A targeting reticle flickered on the heads-up display.
“Everyone move back,” Halsey ordered.
The Spartans – from their expressions, they were concerned for him, but still intensely curious – cleared a ring with a radius of three meters around him.
“Listen carefully to me, John,” Dr. Halsey said. “I just want you to think, and only think, about moving your arm up to chest level. Stay relaxed.”
He willed his arm to move, and his hand and forearm sprang forward to chest level. The slightest motion translated his thought to motion at lightning speed. It had been so fast – if he hadn’t been attached to his arm, he might have missed that it had happened at all.
The Spartans gasped.
Sam applauded. Even lightning-fast Kelly seemed impressed.
Sam is such a bro, it’s fantastic. And naturally John takes note of Kelly’s reaction as an estimation of just how well the suit is preforming, once again showing how he has the utmost respect for her unique skill. After going through some more motions, further testing is deemed safe and the others are all outfitted with their own armors. An obstacle course is also made available for the Spartans to use and further adjust to their new equipment. All of them are able to adapt to the suits’ systems with incredible ease:
On one level, John moved the suit and, in return, it moved him. On another level, however, communication with his squad was so easy and natural, he could move and direct them as if they were an extension of his body.
Over the hangar’s speakers, the Spartans heard Dr. Halsey’s voice: “Spartans, so far so good. If anyone is experiencing difficulties with the suit or its controls, please report in.”
“I think I’m in love,” Sam replied. “Oh – sorry, ma’am. I didn’t think that was an open channel.”
“Flawless amplification of speed and power,” Kelly said. “It’s like I’ve been training in this suit for years.”
Their elation doesn’t last long though, as the Covenant ship reappears and seems intent on resuming it’s attack on the Commonwealth (‘The Fall of Reach’, chapter fourteen). The Spartans use a Pelican to return to space in an attempt to aid the crippled frigate. John proposes leading himself and the other Spartans in a direct assault against the alien ship. Using thruster packs, they’ll each carry a warhead with a detonator and board the enemy vessel, thus bypassing the ship’s energy shields and destroying it from the inside. With few other options at hand, the plan goes forward and the Spartans prepare themselves – with Sam and Kelly acting as John’s direct points of team management as always. After a dangerous traverse through space, John is able to exploit a gap in the shields and latch on to the cruiser, finding that only Kelly and Sam were able to do the same. With no time to lose, they enter the ship through a hole in the outer hull and explore the interior of the alien craft. After John and Sam forcibly open some sealed doors, Kelly suggests a more subtle method – and becomes the first Spartan to successfully manipulate Covenant technology. Unfortunately something else is waiting for them on the other side:
The ceiling was three meters high. It made John feel small.
“You think they need all this space because they’re so large?” Kelly asked.
“We’ll know soon,” he told her.
They crouched, weapons at the ready, and moved slowly down the corridor, John and Kelly in front. They rounded a corner and stopped at another set of pressure doors. John grabbed the seam.
“Hang on,” Kelly said. She knelt next to a pad with nine buttons. Each button was inscribed with runic alien script. “These characters are strange, but one of them has to open this.” She touched one and it lit, then she keyed another. Gas hissed into the corridor. “At least the pressure is equalized,” she said.
John double-checked his sensors. Nothing…though the alien metal inside the ship could be blocking the scans.
“Try another,” Sam said.
She did – and the doors slid apart.
The room was inhabited.
This marks the Spartans’ first encounter with aliens they would later come to know as “Jackals”. They easily dispatch of the creatures with their guns, but as they continue deeper into the ship they run into another patrol. As John and Kelly take point during the ensuing firefight, Sam makes a selfless move in order to protect his best friend from the aliens’ plasma-based weaponry:
The creature held a clawlike device in its hand – leveled at John.
John and Kelly fired. Bullets filled the air and pinged off a silver shimmering barrier in front of the creature.
A bolt of blue heat blasted from the claw. The blast was similar to the plasma that had hit the Commonwealth…and boiled a third of it away.
Sam dove forward and knocked John out of the blast’s path; the energy burst caught Sam in the side. The reflective coating of his MJOLNIR armor flared. He fell clutching his side, but still managed to fire his weapon.
John and Kelly rolled on their backs and sprayed gunfire at the creature.
Bullets peppered the alien – each one bounced and ricocheted off the energy shield.
John glanced at his ammo counter – half gone.
“Keep firing,” he ordered.
The alien kept up a stream of answering fire – energy blasts hammered into Sam, who fell to the deck, his weapon empty.
John charged forward and slammed his foot into the alien’s shield and knocked it out of line. He jammed the barrel of his rifle into the alien’s screeching mouth and squeezed the trigger. The armor-piercing rounds punctured the alien and spattered the back wall with blood and bits of bone.
John rose and helped Sam up.
“I’m okay,” Sam said, holding his side and grimacing. “Just a little singed.” The reflective coating on his armor was blackened.
Sam waved him away.
Continuing on, the trio manage to come across a large room housing a device that appears to be of some importance to the ship – either as a power reactor or weapons system. At Sam’s suggestion, the Spartans agree that this is the best location to deploy the bombs they’ve brought with them before more alien reinforcements arrive. With the plan finalized, John has to make a command decision that he will never forget:
He turned to Sam. “You’ll have to stay and hold them off. That’s an order.”
“What are you talking about?” Kelly said.
Sam nodded. “I think I can hold them off that long.” He looked at John and then Kelly. He turned and showed them the burn in the side of his suit. There was a hole the size of his fist, and beneath that, the skin was blackened and cracked. He smiled, but his teeth were gritted in pain.
“That’s nothing,” Kelly said. “We’ll get you patched up in no time. Once we get back…” Her mouth slowly dropped open.
“Exactly,” Sam whispered. “Getting back is going to be a problem for me.”
“The hole.” John reached out to touch it. “We don’t have any way to seal it.”
Kelly shook her head.
“If I step off this boat, I’m dead from the decompression,” Sam said, and shrugged.
“No,” Kelly growled. “No – everyone gets out alive. We don’t leave teammates behind.”
“He has his orders,” John told Kelly.
“You’ve got to leave me,” Sam said softly to Kelly. “And don’t tell me you’ll give me your suit. It took those techs on Damascus fifteen minutes to fit us. I wouldn’t even know where to start to unzip this thing.”
John looked to the deck. The Chief had told him he’d have to send men to their deaths. He didn’t tell him it would feel like this.
“Don’t waste time talking,” Sam said. “Our new friends aren’t going to wait for us while we figure this out.” He started the timers. “There. It’s decided.” A three minute countdown appeared in the corner of their heads-up displays. “Now – get going, you two.”
John clasped Sam’s hand and squeezed it.
Kelly hesitated, then saluted.
John turned and grabbed her arm. “Come on, Spartan. Don’t look back.”
The truth was, it was John who didn’t dare look back. If he had, he would have stayed with Sam. Better to die with a friend than leave him behind. But as much as he wanted to fight and die alongside his friend, he had to set an example for the rest of the Spartans – and live to fight another day.
John and Kelly pushed the pressure doors shut behind them.
“Goodbye,” he whispered.
In my opinion this is probably one of the most powerful scenes in Halo fiction. And is one of the most pivotal moments when it comes to defining the core members of Blue Team’s characters. The pain they are all feeling is so evident. Sam just projects a air of acceptance, though not without sadness, as he urges his lifelong companions to leave him behind. Kelly is beside herself, and it is left to John to issue Sam his final orders as a solemn gesture of respect. I find it interesting that John then must use Kelly as a physical (and in some ways emotional) anchor as he forces them both to escape the Covenant ship. In fact part of me wonders that if Kelly had not been there for John to latch onto as someone he needed to protect, if he would have indeed stayed at Sam’s side. Both the real and hypothetical scenarios in this instance just go to show how much John cares for both of his closest friends.
Yet in spite of the weight of this deeply personal loss, which perhaps to them was one even greater than the total cost of the augmentations, John and Kelly manage to do what is needed for the best of all their remaining Spartan family and make their way out of the doomed vessel:
The countdown timer ticked the seconds off inexorably.
They ran down the corridor, popped the seal on the outer door – the atmosphere vented.
They climbed up through the twisted metal canyon that the MAC round had torn through the hull.
“There,” John said, and pointed to the base of a charged pulse laser. They crawled toward it, waited as the glow built to a lethal charge.
They crouched and held onto one another.
The laser fired.
The heat blistered John’s back. They pushed off with all their strength, multiplied through the MJOLNIR armor.
The shield parted and they cleared the ship, hurtling into the blackness.
The Covenant ship shuddered. Flashes of red appeared inside the hole – then a gout of fire rose and ballooned, but curled downward as it hit and rebounded off their own shield. The plasma spread along the length of their vessel. The shield shimmered and rippled silver – holding the destructive force inside. Metal glowed and melted. The pulse laser turrets absorbed into the hull. The hull blistered, bubbled, and boiled.
The shield finally gave – the ship exploded.
Kelly clung to John.
Again I’m left intrigued by a certain choice of words here. Specifically, Kelly “clinging” to John. This term has a secondary definition beyond just referring to a physically tight grip. It also means: “to stay very close to someone for emotional support, protection, etc”. Which I think adds a very meaningful layer of subtext to this scene. Kelly is always portrayed as being the one her teammates can look to for support. But in this moment, she is turning the tables on John and silently using him as her own source of strength. It demonstrates the unspoken understanding these two have, and how much they rely on each other as more than just partners in combat. The moment concludes with John determined to make Sam’s sacrifice count:
A thousand molten fragments hurled past them, cooling from white to orange to red and then disappearing into the dark of the night.
Sam’s death had shown them that the Covenant were not invincible. They could be beaten. At a high cost, however.
John finally understood what the Chief had meant – the difference between a life wasted and a life spent.
John also knew that humanity had a fighting chance…and he was ready to go to war.
Without Sam, it is left up to John and Kelly to press on as the core of Blue Team – continuing to keep each other close. And taking with them this newfound level of resolve to the other Spartans, they would be able to endure a fight that would continue for many years to come.