I...uh...wow. Just wow. That's basically all that's been going through my mind, these past few days.
When I first started writing this, I'd no idea that I would be writing a 100-chapter story... I mean, fuck; I'd just come off writing a 70-chapter story, and I'd thought that was bad! But I can honestly say that I am truly happy with how everything turned out. I think my earlier stories were more prototypes—transitioning from shit writing to (apparently) good writing.
I mean, sometimes I go back and read parts of Spartans of Gamma Company...and there are parts of that story that just make me cringe! And then I'd read through parts of Survivors, which had a lot of slow sections and a lot of things that were just plain bad...as well as some review whoring, early on. That made me cringe even more.
But this story, I feel, was different. I'll always love my Team Rapier characters, but I think Alley Garris ended up striking closer to the heart than Alex-G004 ever could. There was something liberating about writing from the perspective of a normal guy. I mean, yeah, he had more luck than fucking Fortuna, but beyond that...he's just a man. And I also was leery about doing first person for the whole time...but somehow I pulled that off, too. I think it helps being an actor—I'm used to immersing myself in different personalities to become a character in a play.
It'll be weird without having anymore chapters of this to write...it had become a part of daily life, for me. But at the same time, I'm glad I was able to wrap it up in a dignifying manner—I think the story itself and its characters deserved nothing less.
Thank you all so much for reading my work and giving me almost constant feedback. I do not write on here for reviews; I write for personal pleasure...but I doubt this story would have turned out nearly as well without the constant positive feedback. Thank you again, and I wish you all well in your writing endeavors.
I'll be going to college in a couple months, so if I do continue writing in the future, I'm afraid updates probably won't come at the rate they've always come in the past. But I'm getting well ahead of myself, here... I can't really promise anything Halo-related in the near-future because...well, I'm kind of burned out on Halo, right now. Not saying I'll never come back to it, but it won't be like before where I finished a Halo story and had a new one started within the next week.
I'm still writing on this website, though. If you're ever bored, check out some of my other work. I have two in-progress stories set in the Left 4 Dead and Runescape universes that I've been working on for a while. I haven't updated either of them lately because I've been on a writing splurge for this story, but now that this story is done, I can focus on them once more. And before you're turned off by the fact that one of the stories is a Runescape story, read it before you judge! It's nothing like the game!
I hope all of you have a fantastic summer, because I sure as fuck will! Graduation parties are where it's at!
Well, I think this Author's Note has gone on long enough; just read the goddamn epilogue.
"Thirty second break!" the coach spoke loudly, but not quite at the point of shouting. Loud enough for all the members of his middle school summer track team to clearly hear him. "Get some water down your gullets, boys! I will not have my team die of heat exhaustion until we crush Elbridge at next week's meet!"
The twenty or so 11-14 year olds quickly jogged over to the water table, grabbing their water bottles and chugging down H2O for a few seconds until the coach chirped his whistle again.
Coach Hadley and Coach Aimes—the two assistant coaches—took the short-distance sprinters and the relay runners to the other side of the track. Once they were situated, they got to work having the runners stretch, exercise, and practice their hundred-meter dashes, working on constantly tightening up their sprinting times.
The head coach got back to work with the 1500-meter group. They were basically the milers—1500 meters was longer than a mile, but it was one of the most common lengths for middle-distance runs.
"Alright, you boys have worked hard, today, so I'll go easy on you," the coach said. "Four laps, on my whistle, then we'll finish up for the day. Alright, let's go! I want toes on the starting line!"
The six middle-schoolers who were competing in the 1500-meter run all lined up at the white start line. The coach blew his whistle twice, and the six pre-teens hunkered down into their ready positions. The moment their coach blew his whistle a third time, they all set off, sprinting forward.
The coach scratched his beard and swatted at a fly that tried to buzz into his ear. He eyed each of the six kids as they ran around the length of the track. When they passed the start line and completed their first lap, the coach joined them, running alongside them on the grass just inside of the track's circle.
"Pick your feet up, Westfield!" the coach hollered over to the tallest kid in the group. Nigel Westfield had always had that problem for as long as the coach could remember—he had long legs, perfect for taking longer strides, but he lost speed because he tended to drag his feet.
The others were all doing exceptionally well. The coach wasn't even able to keep up with the leading runner—a shorter, fair-haired boy of eleven years. He was new to Riverside Middle, but was quickly proving to be the fastest runner the school district's track program had ever seen.
"Don't burn yourself out, Ambrose!" the coach called out to the boy, but Ambrose didn't seem to hear. If anything, the kid started running even faster. He was on his fourth and final lap by the time most of the others were only just beginning their third.
The coach muttered under his breath. He'd warned the boy to stop pulling those kinds of stunts, but his warnings seemed to be falling on deaf ears. He'd have to have a chat with Ambrose after practice was over.
Once everyone finished their four laps, the coach gave each of them their times. "Westfield: six-twenty-one. Keep working on it; someone with long legs like you should be able to cut that time down by at least half a minute. And finally, last but not least, Ambrose: four-thirty-two."
"Fucking gazelle…" one of the other boys muttered.
"Language, Gleeson," the coach growled. "You can't say fuck until you're thirteen."
"Yes, Coach Garris," Gleeson nodded sullenly.
The coach waited for his assistants to finish with the rest of the team before ordering everyone onto the track for a cool-down run. After a single lap, he dismissed the team. "I'll see every one of you Saturday afternoon. Summer of 2564, boys! It's a new year…let's keep up the tradition of crushing Elbridge Prep, alright?"
The team dispersed, leaving the track and heading up the hill to the school. Coach Hadley unlocked the gym doors and let everyone inside.
Garris, the head coach, pulled Ambrose aside before he could enter, though. "Go ahead, Hadley, I'll be with you in a sec," the red-haired, older man nodded to his colleague.
Coach Hadley propped the door open with a doorstop and headed inside, not wanting to spend a moment longer in the sweltering August heat. Garris, the head coach, didn't mind the heat nearly as much. He'd spent the earlier years of his life on Harvest, which had summers that made the Sahara Desert feel like room temperature.
August in upstate New York wasn't really much of a comparison.
"Alright, Robin, I think you already know why I've pulled you aside," Garris sighed. "We've talked about this, already. You have to restrain yourself, out there. If you want to run faster than a cheetah in the woods behind your house, then knock yourself out; but not in public."
"But I'm not even running at half my speed," Robin started to complain, but the older man silenced him with a sharp glare.
"Then run at a quarter of your normal speed; I don't care what you have to do," Garris declared. "But if people start noticing how unnaturally fast you can run, they'll start asking questions…and that's the last thing your parents need, right now."
"Fine…" the boy grumbled. "I'll jog around the track, then, and get second place. It's so not fair, though…"
"Of course it isn't fair," Garris chuckled, straightening up and holding the door open for his student. "You're the only member of the team with genetic augmentations inherited from parents who happened to be supersoldiers during the Great War. And unless you want to spend the rest of your life in a testing facility, you'd do well to keep on the down-low."
"Yeah, yeah, my mom and dad tell me the same stupid thing every day," the boy waved his the older man off.
"Then listen to them," Garris had to restrain himself from shouting in the kid's face. "There are people out there, ruthless people…and if they ever find out about who you really are, they'll take you away. Your family, your friends, your home…you'll never see any of them again. Do you want that?"
"Then stop running like a superhuman and start running like an extremely talented middle-schooler," Garris advised him. "Your parents are risking enough by allowing you to run track in the first place. Don't make them regret it."
"Alright, alright…" Robin held up his hands in mock surrender. "I'll slow down. Sheesh…"
Coach Garris wasn't quite sure if he'd gotten through to the boy, but he knew he'd lose him completely if he pressed any further. "Alright, then. Go get changed. Your parents will be waiting out front."
Garris headed to his office in the athletic wing of the middle school, picking up his wallet and car keys before locking up. The aging man headed through the halls of the Riverside Middle School until he found himself in the main lobby. The parents of the track team members were all parked outside in their respective vehicles, waiting for their kids to arrive.
The older man headed over to one of the smaller cars towards the back of the line, rapping on the window.
The passenger side window was lowered, revealing a woman in her mid-twenties with red hair and bright, green eyes. Sitting in the driver's seat was a slightly shorter man of the same age, with short, blondish hair, and piercing, electric-blue eyes.
"Gunnery Sergeant!" the blue-eyed man exclaimed in surprise and delight, extending his hand to the older man, reaching over his wife.
Garris accepted the handshake, a grin tugging at the corners of his mouth. "Mister Ambrose, how many times do I have to remind you that I retired a Sergeant Major?"
The blue-eyed man shrugged. "You'll always be a Gunnery Sergeant to me."
"And you'll always be Alex-G004 to me—forget the fake last name," Garris chuckled. The older man then adopted a more serious tone as he got down to business. "Look, your son was starting to get ahead of himself again during practice, today."
The red-haired woman gave a weary sigh, rubbing the curve of her nose. "How many times do we have to talk to him about this?" she murmured. "If ONI ever finds out about him…"
"They won't," Garris assured her. "I've told you before, my friend in ONI altered both of your files. As far as they know, you perished on the Ark. But if your son keeps showing off in public, people are going to start asking questions. Hell, people already talk about how fast he is on the track…he's walking a very fine line, here. Just see if you can get him to tone it down, alright?"
"Thanks for telling us, Gunny," Alex exchanged another light handshake with his friend.
"For the last time, you can stop calling me Gunny," Garris chuckled as he backed away from the Ambroses' car. "I'm fucking retired, alright?"
"Yeah, bullshit!" Mr. Ambrose shot back as he rolled up his wife's window. "Once a Helljumper, always a Helljumper!"
"Take care of yourselves!" Garris waved goodbye as the window closed, walking away down the sidewalk that surrounded most of the school. He headed down from the front entrance a little ways and crossed the traffic lane, walking over into the faculty lot, where his rust-red pickup truck was parked.
The middle-aged, former-ODST climbed into his truck and started it, revving the engine just a tad before throwing it into gear and backing out of his parking space. It took a minute to get through the traffic lane and onto the main road that passed by Riverside Middle School., and it took an additional ten minutes for him to reach his home on Donegal Lane, which was located in the quiet suburbs south of the town proper.
The older man pulled into his driveway, into his garage, and killed the pickup's engine. He swung himself out of the driver's seat and closed the garage door before heading into his home.
Garris grabbed the necessary ingredients from his fridge and pantry, and ended up making himself a stir fry for dinner. After he was finished, he grabbed a can of beer from the fridge and plopped down onto the couch, flipping through the news and seeing if there was anything good on the tube.
The TV was a bust—just the same old shit about efforts to terraform Reach, the new joint Human-Sangheili colonies, etc. etc. It had been eleven years since the war ended, and life still had yet to completely return to normal…but Garris himself had finally managed to carve out a normal routine for himself, and he didn't like to be troubled with outside issues like the ones discussed on the news.
The older man finished his beer and crumpled the can, throwing it in the recycling. With nothing else useful to do for the rest of the evening, he decided to go out for a short run. That 'short run', however, ended up taking him almost around the entire town—he didn't get back home until nearly nine o'clock at night.
Garris got out of his sweaty clothes and took a quick shower before changing into his pajamas—a white Helljumper T-shirt and boxer shorts.
After brushing his teeth and taking a sleeping pill, Garris headed to his bedroom. He lay in bed awake, waiting for the sleeping pill's effects to take hold, but it seemed to be taking a lot longer tonight than it usually did.
The former-Helljumper decided to pass the time by looking at the pictures, again.
There was a shelf lining the wall next to Garris's bed full of pictures of his old comrades from the Great War. Tonight, Garris focused on the ones on the middle shelf—the most important ones.
There was a picture of Patrick O'Shea, one of Garris's old squadmates from his days as a Helljumper, along with his wife, Aileen. The picture had been taken at their wedding, nine years ago.
It had been a funny story, really; the two of them had met in an officer's club the day we got back from the Ark. Both of them had been drunk out of their minds, and what was originally intended to be a one-night-stand turned into a three-month-stand…until Aileen had twins, prompting her and O'Shea to get married.
They'd managed to start loving each other last Garris had checked, though, and were still living in Belfast. Garris still visited them once in a while.
Garris's other surviving squadmate, James Eyota, was also in that picture. Eyota had ended up moving out to one of our new joint colonies with the Sangheili, and Garris had never heard from him again. Garris had resolved to track him down, one of these days…
But the picture the former Helljumper was looking at was an image of two of his oldest friends from the war—Matthew Dempsey, who had fought in the Harvest Militia with him in the very beginning of the war, and Sophie Devereux…the woman he would have married and had a family with, had she not died on Alpha Halo.
"I wish you could see her today, Soph…" the older man murmured to the picture of his deceased lover. "She's got your eyes, you know. She has my hair, too…but definitely your eyes."
Garris spoke of his daughter. Yes, he had a daughter—it was, in fact, Samantha Ambrose, the red-haired woman in that car. Garris had been acquainted with the Ambroses ever since they'd moved to Riverside ten years ago—he'd fought alongside Mr. and Mrs. Ambrose during the Battle of Kiev. They'd been teenaged Spartan supersoldiers, at the time.
Garris had never told Samantha Ambrose about this, however. Years ago, he'd been on the verge several times…but, ultimately, he decided against it. She'd already grown up with a family of her own—her Spartan teammates. Garris knew that if he suddenly announced that he was actually her father…well, things would get slightly weird.
The former Helljumper didn't mind withholding the knowledge, though. He counted himself lucky that he had a daughter at all, and even luckier that he was able to live right near her…even if she would never know it.
Before he knew it, Garris was falling asleep. He shut off the lights and hit the fan before crawling under a single sheet. One sheet was all he needed in this heat. Within another minute or two, he was sound asleep.
The next day, Garris woke up a precisely six o'clock and did his morning run. He then went through the rest of his morning routine—breakfast, morning exercises, quick shower, an hour of reading, a walk through the woods behind the house, lunch…and then, for the afternoon, he headed into town.
Sometimes he ate lunch at Ignacio's Pizzeria—that place had steadily grown on him, over the years. He'd jog through the park and relax on the benches for a little while, go for a swim in the local pool…he'd find something else to occupy the rest of the afternoon until heading to town's Irish pub for the night.
Garris wasn't Irish to his knowledge, but he'd earned himself a place with the pub's regulars after proving himself time after time again in the frequent drinking contests. Nearly thirty years of constant warfare had taught the former Helljumper how to hold his liquor.
Garris would then return home and go on a nighttime run around his neighborhood—he may still be a heavy alcoholic, but was just about the furthest thing from a slob. Then he'd sometimes make himself dinner if he didn't eat at the pub, flip through the TV channels, shower once more, and then head to bed.
There was something strangely comforting about the whole idea of the routine. Garris believed it was because if he stuck to the routine and didn't try to change it all that often, it would take his mind off of his past, which had been an extremely difficult thing for him to do in the past.
Friday morning, however, was different. Garris woke up at six o'clock and went for his morning run. After he got back and poured himself a bowl of cereal, however, someone shattered the sanctity of his routine by knocking on his door. The former Helljumper frowned when he heard the noise—he rarely ever had visitors in his home.
Garris set down his spoon and swallowed the ceareal he'd been chewing, rising from his table and making his way over to the door. He opened it and came face to face with a policeman with whom he was familiar.
"Detective Waters?" Garris opened his door the rest of the way. "Something I can help you with?"
"Can you step outside for a moment, Mister Garris?" the police detective asked the former Helljumper. Garris complied, stepping out onto the front porch and closing the door behind him. Waters led the older man down across the front yard and onto the sidewalk.
The passenger side door of Waters's police cruiser opened, and a tall, thin, pale-faced man emerged, dressed in a generic black suit.
Garris recognized the man almost immediately. "Commander Angiers?"
The pale man smiled. "It's Captain Angiers, now. Good to see you again, Sergeant Major."
"Please don't take this as simple rudeness…but what the hell are you doing here?"
"Something…troubling has happened several days ago," the pale man, Angiers replied, climbing back into the police car and inviting Garris to do likewise. "I took the case and covered most of it up before the rest of ONI could find out about it…after all, I am the one who altered the files on those two SPARTAN-IIIs, for you. If ONI found out about them, it would be my head on a platter…"
"You still haven't answered my question," Garris persisted. "Where are we going?"
Detective Waters climbed into the driver's seat and belted himself in, starting the engine and pulling out into the street.
"We will be going to Clearwater, Florida. An old friend is waiting for us, there," Captain Angiers turned away from Garris and settled back into his seat, facing forward as Water started to pick up speed. "We're taking a little trip, Sergeant Major; I'm afraid Robin Ambrose has been kidnapped."