Do Spartans dream of electronic sheep?

John dreamed for the first time in decades.

His mind shifted through cluttered memories: his childhood on Eridanus 2, his first fateful meeting with Dr. Halsey, and the strange, eagle-headed coin she had given him.

He'd been just six years old.

They came for him in the middle of the night, crabbing him from his room as his parents slept. They drugged him, and he felt the cold caress of cryo-sleep touch him for the first time.

Reach, the world he'd called home for most of his life. 74 other children his own age, taken from across human space, selected for the Spartan II project, just like him. Dr. Halsey telling them their destiny, giving them a purpose. Deja, the all-knowing A.I. who'd been their teacher, and the ever-reliable Chief Petty Officer Mendez, then man who would be like a father to all of them.

Years of constant training, their bodies and minds growing at an amazing rate thanks to the hash but fair regime imposed upon them by the UNSC. The other Spartans, his friends, had been like brothers and sisters to him. They worked together as a team, not only because they were told to, but also because they wanted to.

Years of training, followed by the agony of the argumentation that claimed so many of them, killed or crippled. Those that remained where stronger and faster than ever before, and they never forgot the sacrifice the others paid.

Lives wasted? Or lives spent? That's what he's asked Chief Mendez at the funeral. He'd never decided which was the case.

Their first mission, carried out in complete secrecy, and a total success. He'd received his first commendation, a Purple Heart for wounds received in the line of duty. It was the first of many.

Then the Covenant came, and everything changed.

They'd been fitted with the Mjolnir battle-armour that would be their near constant companion. They'd attacked a Covenant ship, armed with nothing more than assault rifles and the warheads from a few missiles.

He remembered the pain he felt when he was forced to leave Sam behind; the other Spartans battle-armour had been breached, and he'd never have survived the hard vacuum of space. He could have staid, could have died with his friend, but the mission came first.

The mission always came first.

But every victory on land ended the same way: a world glassed from orbit by Covenant ships. All the killing, all the pain, all the death, everything, meant nothing in the end as the colonies fell one by one.

For the first time since he was inducted into the Spartans, John felt doubt.

He'd been more than ready for Dr. Halsey's mission to capture the Covenant leadership, and had been the first to volunteer. They had been issued the latest variant of the Mjolnir armour just days before the mission had begun, and he'd met Cortanna, the A.I who'd been his constant companion and guide ever since.

Then came the battle for Reach, and his home fell, just like the others. The Spartans had fought hard, giving their lives freely to try and defend that last bulwark between Earth and the Covenant onslaught.

But they'd all died, leaving just five Spartans out of the original seventy-five: Linda, so badly hurt during the fighting above Reach that she'd been placed in a cryo-chamber on the Pillar of Autumn to try and keep her alive until they reached a proper medical facility, three on a mission too far away from Reach to be called back in time, and him, the Master Chief, Spartan 117.

John.

Then the slipstream jump away from Reach had taken the to the Halo, and the Autumn had been forced down, the crew abandoning ship as Captain Keys attempted to draw enemy fire by taking the ship in for a landing. He remembered the escape pod entering the atmosphere, the hull groaning under the stress.

"Chief? Can you hear me?" Cortanna sounded worried, her disembodied voice echoing around his helmet, "Good: I thought I'd lost you there for a moment."

"I'm still here." John got to his feet, ready for action: The mission always came first.

He'd grieve if he lived.

The End