"A hero need not speak. When he is gone, the world will speak for him."
For us, the storm has passed. The war is over. But let us never forget those who journeyed into the howling dark and did not return. For their decision required courage beyond measure, sacrifice and unshakable conviction that their fight, our fight, was elsewhere.
As we start to rebuild, this hillside will remain barren, a memorial to heroes fallen. They ennobled all of us and they shall not be forgotten.
Lord Hood spoke those exact words, long ago to him it seemed. He remembered that day and would never forget it. The memorial commemorating the end of an era was just a battered piece of a Pelican airframe, a bare-bones symbol of sacrifice. The Honor Guard detail composed of seven Ceremonial Guardsmen had carried out the tradition of ages by enacting a three-volley salute, a tribute to all those who made the ultimate sacrifice. It was the first such occasion shared by the representative of an alien race, the Arbiter, who until that day Hood still considered a member of the Covenant who so mercilessly ravaged mankind in a harrowing twenty-eight year conflict spanning many of the galaxy's star systems. It was a bitter-sweet end to a war: mankind was saved, yet so much was lost.
Morning—a beautiful, sunlit morning it was then. Mount Kilimanjaro prevailed over the distant horizon, the sky vast and open around its snow-capped summit. Only pink hues smeared in broad arcs with the blues across the entire, majestic expanse above as if the heavens themselves mourned.
And today was a day much like that one, the third of March in the year 2553: the day the War came to an end.
Presently, the grounds were empty. No people, not yet. Too early in the morning. Only dust swam over the plateau.
But for Sir Terrence Hood, the quiet was appreciated. This day especially. Standing here this moment meant the world to him.
It was the last Monday in the month of May...
Though, this was not the first time he visited this particular hillside in Kenya since the end of the War. Presently, he strode across the barren vestibule before the foot of the monument that had been erected at War's end, wearing the same service dress attire as that fateful day. Pinned amidst the torso of his broad, gleaming-white coat were the chromate sheens of metal signifying various military occupational specialties he held throughout his career, and a rainbow swath of ribbons was stacked like a brick wall on the other side representing his myriad of achievements. He'd made it a mission to look his finest this day.
Between March and May, he had frequented this memorial. The entire hillside resided in a special place in his heart. He grew rather fond of his visits here as if the ethereal spirits of those fallen could see him now. More than just to pay respects to all the names scribed in the olive-green composite of the war-torn Pelican fragment or to glimpse at the many portraits stuck to its surface, he sacrificed his off duty hours now and then to stare back at three numbers impressioned into the gravestone and to quietly reflect. Those three, simple engravings filled him up with something—an irrevocable sense of courage and selflessness, of hope.
Unified Commander of all the Fleets, Lord Hood was in the highest of echelons that served in the projection of Earth's peace and prosperity. He had given up most of his life in its defense. Twenty-eight years this War had raged on with seemingly no end in sight, but it was one man who in the darkest of humanity's hours saved all from total annihilation. He was neither commander, nor governor, nor great speaker. He was the Master Chief Petty Officer, Spartan 117.
Hard to believe he's dead.
A single tear streamed down Lord Hood's face. The Admiral had never been a man of sentiments, never the kind of leader to let emotions cloud a sound judgment for duty. At least, he didn't emanate that. Much of his profession entailed empowering others to act; he needed to exude the utmost confidence in doing so. But there were simple truths that every commander eventually came to grips with...
People die. Whether in service or not, people die, heroes included.
But what was built by them in their living years and how they met their end was what they were truly remembered for.
Hood wiped away the tear with one sleeve, slowly and gracefully. He averted his eyes from the tranquil sky. After a few deep and cleansing breaths, he looked toward the monument again, and with a sigh became motionless.
Memorial Day was a timeless tradition at this day and age, deep-seeded in more than 600 years of rich human history. Throughout centuries passed, certain amounts of celebration carried on over the course of the yearly holiday, though the single most memorable activity was the simple act of remembering. Just like the patriots of old, Hood stood there in silence. As he remained, taking in the sight of the numbers 117 for possibly the fiftieth time since March third, he now reflected on the billions that had laid down their lives in the defense of Earth and all her colonies throughout the Human-Covenant War. He looked down upon his accoutrements and softly frowned—even they paled in comparison.
And at the core of humanity's enduring triumph was a single soldier—half man, half machine. Looking back on everything that had transpired in this great war, Hood suddenly realized what the Spartan had truly achieved in his own sacrifice: he had transcended from soldier, to hero, now to a belief. It was belief that even in death there was victory, there was peace for all those saved.
Was that something John believed? Hood thought to himself. Would he have said that?
There was no way to be certain. 117 had never been a man of words. He never needed to be.
Fighting back more tears, Hood traced his sights back into the heavens high above. The particulars of John's death were never fully established. Somewhere in the far reaches of Hood's thoughts was the possibility that he was still alive, somewhere far away. But…the portal was closed forever. The chance of a search and rescue was next to nothing. The human race would never see its savior again.
Nevertheless, Lord Terrence Hood still did believe.