"Three more laps, kid," George Newton grunted for some reason. H always needed to declare things-in a minute he'd let his nephew know that there were two more laps.

Jack didn't care. He was used to it. Since his parents randomly left, when he was about four, Jack had been raised by his uncle. He was used to his little eccentricities. Like the running, sit-ups, push-ups, and other five AM pre-breakfast things.

George Newton was a combat veteran-six years in the Navy Seals had given him a lot of things to forget. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder was a weird thing, but he'd been considered sane enough to raise a four year old kid.

The running was normal. As were a lot of other things that might be considered non-normal, like a homemade rifle range, martial arts dojo, and obstacle course. In the great state of Montana, however, not only was weirdness accepted, it was expected. Jack and his uncle lived about ten miles from a little backwater town where Jack went to school. And got the groceries, and other worldly things that George really didn't like doing.

"Two more laps, kid," The middle-aged vet grunted. Jack didn't like being called a kid-he was fourteen, for god's sake. But one thing he'd learned out there was that George was not a guy to change his ways. It was easier to adapt, and Jack was fairly comfortable, if bored.

Thanks to satellite high-speed internet, Jack had gotten acquainted with an Xbox and Halo 3. What was initially a here's-this-don't-bug-me-anymore present turned into a hobby that put Jack completely in the gamer clique at school. His room was packed with Halo memorabilia-all the games, books, and posters. Jack wanted to get some Matchmaking in before the school bus arrived, but George wouldn't allow it. Sometimes Jack felt like his life was a stretched-out boot camp.

"Last lap, kid," George said.

After this would be another two hours of exercise before a five minute breakfast, a five minute shower, and then the school bus.

First period was not something that Jack considered important. It was barely worth staying awake in.


It was tough, but George didn't accept low grades, and the freakin' school forced Jack into progressively harder math each year. It sucked, but Jack's Xbox privileges and truck privileges depended on As and Bs.

Jack tried to do a mental juggling act-paying attention to the content so he wouldn't fail the test, while at the same time picturing the number of ways he could kick his smarmy, pompous teacher's ass.

He didn't get much math in that period.

Second period was much better for two reasons: first, the slightly-too-nice art teacher let them get away with pretty much anything, and second, because Jack's best friend Carter was in it. It was a fairly lethal combination.

Jack finished up a watercolor of the Master Chief kicking an Elite in the nuts. It was a creative assignment, and Jack was feeling pretty impressed with himself until Carter, the skinny nerd who got straight As in every class, pulled out a water color of himself with bulging muscles in a dramatic pose.

Jack busted out laughing.

"I give it a nine for quality, but a negative two for realism," Jack said. Carter leaned in close to whisper maniacally.

"At least I didn't draw myself makin' out with Katie," Jack punched him in the throat-not enough to hurt him, but enough to shut him up.

"Dude, never mention that again," Jack whispered furiously. Carter coughed, but still managed to laugh. The period went by far too quickly, considering what happened later that day.

Third period. Shop class. Jack liked it, and would've loved it had it not been for his fear of slicing off a finger in one of the shop's three power saws. Unrational fear notwithstanding, he still managed to make a kickass birdhouse.

The bell rang, and kids poured out of every class to get to lunch. Jack grabbed a sandwich and sat at the gamer table, occupied by the nerds and nerdettes who proudly worked out their thumbs every day. Jack was the leanest and fittest of them all.

"Dude, you get Reach yet?" Jack asked an awkwardly tall kid, who shook his head.

"Man, you have to. It's the best one," Jack enthused.

Fourth period wasn't anything special, for the most part. Health class. It was a strange mix of PE, CPR, anatomy, and chemistry. It was taught by a four hundred pound, fifty-something old gal-something that Jack thought was friggin hilarious.

Health's one redeeming feature was Katie. Soft brown hair, expressive blue eyes… and ill-covered c-cup.

Ok, Jack wished it was a little deeper than that. He'd seen how nice she was-always helping people out, always smiling. But Jack couldn't work up the nerve to talk to her, let alone ask her out. He usually spent most of fifth period wondering if she liked him.

But she wasn't in class today, so his primary mode of killing time was gone.

"Mrs. Shutz, can I use the bathroom?" He asked.

"Of course, Jack,"

He got up and left, but he walked past the bathroom. He walked to his locker. He looked through the mess at the bottom for about ten minutes before he found Halo: the Fall of Reach. He'd read it about five times, but it would kill enough time for fifth to end. He slipped it in one of the big thigh pockets in his pants.

He was walking by the bathroom on the way back when he heard a high-pitched scream from from the classroom opposite. He looked in the small window in the door…

And saw three things. In the corner of the room, a patch of the wall was gone. It was replaced by white light. A body lay in a pool of blood near the door.

Three feet away, holding a teacher by the throat with one hand, energy sword in the other, was a massive crimson-armored Covenant Elite.

Jack gasped as the sword stuck in Mr. Sander's gut. The Elite's snakelike head snapped around and growled at Jack. Then it snapped something, and Jack saw a blue Elite that he hadn't seen head towards the door with a plasma rifle.

Jack didn't have time to process anything. He couldn't think about the fact that there was a very real eight-foot tall alien heading for him.

But he remembered what the books and games taught him. The Elite was a fast and agile runner. He couldn't get away. The Elite was protected by an energy shield-he would have to break through that to kill it. And that Elites usually carried a backup plasma pistol.

Jack juked left, ducked low, and scrambled as quietly as he could back right. The Elite saw him go left-and the position of the door's small window meant that the alien hadn't seen Jack go back right. The doors of the school opened out-and to the right. It would give him a little cover.

The door opened and the massive Elite walked out, facing the left, with his back to Jack. Jack saw the plasma pistol on his left hip-and even better, a tiny metal bar that produced an energy knife on the right hip. Jack knew what this was… when an Elite assassinated a Spartan on Halo: Reach, it used a small knife like that.

In two long strides, Jack gathered every scrap of momentum he could. With all the mass of a two hundred-ten pound athlete, he slammed his shoulder into the small of the Elite's back, using his hands to grab the pistol and knife. He set his full hands on the Elite's shoulders and kept pushing, working his legs.

The Elite was massive, incredibly strong, but Jack had put it in an awkward position. It had already been leaning forward and moving when Jack had tipped it over-it was all it could do to not fall over.

In the three staggering steps of the Elite's hooves, Jack had activated the knife and charged the pistol. He jabbed the pistol into the Elite's kidney and discharged it. Green plasma instantly evaporated the stunned Elite's shielding… with a quick, hard jab of the knife in the neck, it was over.

The body fell over with a loud thump. Jack froze for a split second.

The red Elite in the classroom must have heard that, even if it hadn't seen Jack rush the blue Elite. That meant it was coming.

With an energy sword.

Jack jumped away from the corpse and charged up the pistol. Instead of using the knife again, he snatched up the dead alien's plasma rifle. He backpedaled-the more distance he got from that sword, the more likely it was that he could survive-

The red Elite left the room, entered the hallway. It snarled when it saw the body of it's subordinate, and the human standing over it. It raised its sword-

Then a green burst of superheated plasma hit it in the head, temporarily blinding it-burning it's skin and mandibles. It roared in pain, before Jack pumped plasma at it in a continual stream. The Elite was tough-it took three furious, slow steps through the fire before collapsing. Jack didn't move any closer. Instead, he took better aim and blew off its head.

Then he stepped carefully around it. Into the classroom.

The teacher was dead. Four students were dead. The rest were huddled in the back, terrified. Some of them were crying-one of them had soiled himself.

"It-it's ok," Jack said. "I killed them,"

They didn't respond. Jack looked to the forward corner of the room-which was replaced by a patch of blinding white light.

"Oh, shit!" He felt himself being pulled into it! He resisted, tried to grab a desk-but it was no use. The portal pulled him through.