What little information I have been able to glean from around all of the redaction gives the impression that S-312 is more akin to a hyper-lethal vector than a soldier. A lone-wolf assassin that has broken organizations and made entire militia groups disappear.

Reach

Manassas Storage Sectors

Zero Hour

Alec Romanov did well to ensure he wasn't being followed, systematically making nonsensical stops to look at a false point of interest—only to get a glimpse over his shoulder on the way to his real destination: a hideout established in the long-forgotten parts of Manassas' warehouses. It was a dangerous gamble that they were taking, conducting their meetings at night rather than in the day when a UNSC counteroffensive would be less likely to pick up their trail with the vibrant city life.

Nonetheless, they were in a heavily populated area, too heavy for a search and seizure to go unnoticed, and if Alec had learned anything about being in the Insurrection it was that the UNSC didn't like witnesses. He must have told himself that fifty times from when he saw the man-sized door to the abandoned warehouse to the moment he tapped his knuckles twice against the cold metal, its orange paint flaking off at his feet.

Almost immediately, a set of eyes emerged from behind the improvised peek hole cut into the door. The hole slid shut, followed by the rhythmic clicking of a disengaging door lock. Rylar, the middle-aged lookout poked his narrow, boney face out of the doorway and scanned the surroundings.

"You're late. You run into any trouble?" he asked.

Alec slouched his shoulders and frowned. "You know me better than that."

"I hope so. Come on." He patted a hand on Alec's shoulder, ushering him inside. "They didn't want to start without you. Best not keep 'em waiting."

"It's clear, Mahew," Gregory said into his chatter, knuckling onto the railing as he peered below his lookout point on the warehouse. "Alec's inside. We're on lookout now."

As Gregory began pacing along the walkway, he kept a hand over the loin of his trench coat to steady his MA5 from rattling against his leg. There was still no response from his fellow watchman. "Mahew?" he tried again, tapping his chatter. Still nothing. The visor of his makeshift helmet fogged up from a frustrated sigh. This was only the third hour on watch and the lazy bastard can't even work his phone, he sneered as he made his way to Mahew's crow's nest.

The insurrectionist was in a chair propped up against a crane control room, his head down and body hunched over the rifle in his lap. Gregory let out a grunt, taking another drastic set of steps forward. "C'mon, man. Are you kidding me? I haven't even had a sip of coffee and I'm good to go."

Mahew bested the man's whiney voice with his ability to be a sound sleeper, staying motionless in the chair. "This is ridiculous." Greg yanked the man back by his shoulder, causing his helmet to smack against the wall…and reveal the thick streams of blood trickling down his neck, soaked up by his matching flak jacket.

"Jesus!"

In a startled panic, Gregory's MA5 found its way out from under the concealment of his jacket and into one hand. The other was reaching for the chatter taped next to the helmet speaker. The sound of a blade filled the air and his whole right arm lost all feeling before a screaming pain shot through his muscle. Worse yet, his hand went limp—never had the chance to fire his weapon.

He was then forced to turn facing his attacker as a gauntleted hand looped beneath his arm and prevented it from reaching his chatter, grabbed the back of his head, and smashed visor-to-visor with a strong headbutt. Broken glass and a solid red blinded Gregory, the disorientation made it impossible for him to tell if the crunching sounds were from his shattered faceplate or his own skull as he tried to open his jaw to yell.

The one thing he was sure of just before the world went completely black, was that the walkway had vanished beneath his feet and the sensation of gravity following.

As Alec entered the hideout's planning room, which was once the warehouse director's office, he was greeted by three other Insurrectionist comrades, two of which were seemingly geared for combat. Not only that, but the table was cleared of all information (maps, photographs of targets, field notes) and through the window he could see that the main floor was arrayed with stolen weapons and various equipment.

"Something happening I don't know about?" Alec asked the third man, a balding man by the name of Liam Stokes.

"All will be explained," he said, holding out a hand. "Take a seat. We're going to be here a while."

"I'd rather stand."

Alec tried making it clear in his words that the time they had at these meetings was a privilege, not a right. But that only seemed to frustrate Stokes, and before Alec could interpret the man's next hand gesture, he felt the butt end of a civilian M90 shotgun land an impact deep into his kidney, forcing him to crumble onto one knee for another fist to the side of his head. Shortly after a long wince, he opened his eyes, blinking twice to clear the trickle of blood from his right eye.

"What the f-?"

Alec struggled only to realize that it was useless. One of the Insurrectionists had a firm hold on his shoulders from behind, and Rylar was holding a security sidearm to his head. Alec wasn't built for soldiering, but he was stocky enough to be certain that he could have taken on the asshole who was handling him. That changed with the old man and his constable pistol.

"What the hell is going on, Stokes?"

"Cut the act, Alec," one of the lackeys snapped, muffled by his makeshift helmet. "We've been seeing our enclaves get systematically ghosted. We both know you have something to do with it."

Alec's hands balled into fists. He wanted to pretend this was their idea of a joke but they had already gone beyond making clear that it wasn't. The taste of blood that forced him to spit reminded him of that. "Are you testing me or something—trying make sure I can hold my water?"

He heard the safety click off of Rylar's pistol. "Don't be coy, kid. It won't help you now."

"This is bullshit! I've been with you since we started planning for the strike on the Manassas spaceport!"

"And after that we've lost camps Oscar, Yeoland and Charles within four months, all of which you've exchanged our information with," Stokes spat, agitated. "UNSC has been cracking down harder to find Insurrectionist sympathizers, and yet they haven't shown up anywhere near your district."

"That doesn't prove shit and you know it."

"What about your chatter history? Are you going to tell me next that all of your calls to people outside of Manassas were family related? How many people do you even know in Aszod?"

Alec was treading on thin ice. Stokes was fairly reasonable when it came to making a case but he was known for being jittery. He wasn't afraid of him though as much as he was of Rylar, an old fashioned cop. He wasn't a bad guy; on the job he got things done properly with law abiding methods. But he wasn't on duty at the time.

Worse yet, Stokes was right about his calls, or so he believed. If he saw it in his call history, then he'd find a way to rationalize it against Alec. He couldn't say anything that would make the man think otherwise by now. He wasn't sure why he was wasting his breath when he almost mumbled "I'm innocent."

Rylar let out a deep sigh at the plea before nodding past Stokes to the man nearest the window, who proceeded to drop the blinds. "We gave you a chance to come clean, Alec." As he spoke, Rylar plopped a small wooden box onto the table and removed the various items inside. Most of them were household items, harmless when considered for their every day needs. But Alec knew the many uses items such as pliers, rock hammers and jumper cables, which he was relieved wasn't among the collection. He knew what was coming—he had done it himself many times for information.

"You mind if I," the guard at the window stammered, "you know…wait outside?" It was clear he lacked the stomach for this line of work. He's the one Rylar should have his gun to.

Stokes nodded respectfully. "Go ahead Kyle."

As the man left, Alec gathered the nerve to speak again. "You really don't trust me…"

"Sorry, Alec." Rylar said, now standing in front of him with the pliers in hand. "You're a good kid and all, but I'm not taking any chances-"

Suddenly, the room went completely dark; the lights gave out without so much as a flicker, the computers and radios all ceased, the only sound was their cooling fans slowly whirring to a stop and the panicked voices of the four terrorists in the room with Alec.

"What the hell-?"

"Everyone stay put!"

"What happened to the lights-?"

"Shut up! Rylar and Nicks, you keep an eye on him. Jack, go find Kyle and figure out what the hell happened to the power. Make sure everyone's at their posts too."

Alec felt the sudden crushing sensation of Nicks' arm over his throat—paranoia was making it cloudy for the handler if he had to use this much force to keep a prisoner in check. It was bad enough that Rylar's gun was nearly drilling into his skull.

"You had better hope by now that they get to you, Alec." Anger and malice hissed through Stokes' words as he could hear his voice getting nearer. "What you've done is unforgivable—"

The loud clatter of an MA37 cut him off, immediately followed by the blinding muzzle flashes plastered on the window, through which Alec could see Jack's silhouette flailing violently in a dance of death. It came with some amazement that the shooter hardly missed even spraying as he did—less than a handful of shots hit the window behind the fallen terrorist and narrowly missed Alec by a foot.

In the moments that he tried to escape Nicks' grasp, Alec could see fluttering glimpses of Stokes scrambling for a weapon next to the computer array. He had a moment of freedom as his handler fell back—seemingly grazed by a stray round—until he found himself pinned face-first to the table. This didn't matter; in fact it made looking away from the chaos much easier, not out of fear or terror, but because, once again, Alec knew what was next.

As soon as Rylar's sidearm started to crack away at whatever was firing, a black, palm-sized cylinder shattered its way through the already cracked window, and not a moment later filled the room with a brilliant flash and bang that left Alec discombobulated, ears ringing, and vision bleached white. While he couldn't see it, he knew that the next sound that followed was the door being smashed in.

Blinking frantically in hopes to clear away the obscuring spots in his eyes, Alec made out the image of a black clad soldier storming in, weapon raised in one hand and firing at Rylar while the other hand was catching Stokes's shotgun at the front, forcing it downward. After firing about four rounds, the soldier turned its head and slammed its visor into Stokes' face, pulled back and fired twice into his chest. Face bloodied, broken with its jaw hanging, the man's body slid lifelessly down the wall.

Alec blinked again and again, trying to get a better sight of the thing as it turned to him. It was no doubt in full armor—that was simple enough. Its visor reflected a brass-like hue, which seemed more like gold as he was pulled up from the floor and brought face to face with the helmet's angular design. It was easily a half a foot taller. Whether it was a man or a woman, Alec couldn't tell. But was even more apparent was that it was from the UNSC, as the acronym was printed neatly along the helmet's jaw line.

It tried to say something to him, but Alec couldn't clarify the sound—disorientation replaced the fading ring in his ears and muffled the voice. He felt his body jolt as the operative shook him.

"Are you hurt?" it repeated. "Can you walk?"

Weakly, Alec gave a nod and straightened himself out. He wiped a hand over his face, brushing the blood and sweat away. He opened his mouth to ask "what are you?" but was quick to dismiss pursuing the obvious answer. The soldier had already made it clear that he—or she—was part of the raid. "They found out I switched sides, I'm sorry. I didn't know they would catch on—"

It cut him off. "Not now. Give me your chatter." Alec complied, watching the operative go to work, planting the communicator on Nicks' body. As it stood, it swung its armored head around at the noise of Insurrectionists mobilizing through the warehouse floor. "I need you on your feet and able to find an exit. Can you do that for me?"

Alec shook his head. His body was still screaming in pain; his balance wasn't at its best and the blow to his kidney surged through him whenever he tried to shift his weight. "Not like this…"

The operative slapped a fresh magazine into its pistol and flipped its handle for Alec to take. "I'll cover you."

He gave a reluctant nod and took the magnum in his hand as the operative headed back for the door, MA37 assault rifle in hand.

As the two made their way down from the office, the operative waved a hand toward the shipping crates. "Use those as cover. We'll make our way out through storage."

"But the exit's back the other way."

"It's not opening again with the power out. We need another way." As soon as they were enveloped in the tall shadows of the warehouse crates, the agent jerked its chin at an imaginary mark through the walls of iron. "I saw some ordinance boxes in the center of the floor. What are they packing?"

Alec shrugged. "It could be anything."

"Explosives?"

"Definitely. We get expired C7 from—"

"It'll do," the agent said and, without warning, bolted up from the crate. "Wait here."

Alec pressed himself against the inside wall of the crate, holding the M6 in his hands tight against his chest in his trembling hands. He was once again alone, surrounded by the sounds of his former comrades now out to kill him for his treachery. With all of the pain hindering his movement, the cold interior of the shipping crate, and the feeling of shame for what he had done, in the middle of all of it was death.

How does one fear death after all of this, he asked himself. He had just turned his back on everything that his people stood for. He felt like a stranger, like the real Alec Romanov was dead and he was just a shadow, a doppelganger. Years he had been a so-called Insurrectionist, and now his mind was changed, altered by a simple desire to live. It was either that or be part of a war that would eventually be too costly for both sides.

And now here he was running off with some UNSC black op, some assassin. Frankly, he admitted to himself, he was afraid of the operative they sent. It was bad enough when ODSTs or UNSC Army Rangers were the ones who were sent in to raid enclaves, but this was something else. He smacked the back of his head against the container. "Good Christ, what have I gotten myself into?"

Just then, he heard the nearing footfalls of the remaining Insurrectionists inside. He sat up, fighting to keep balance on bent knees while bringing his pistol to bear. There was a resounding pair of shotgun blasts that echoed between the crates and then not a moment sooner, the operative had returned, snatching Alec up by the jacket. "Time to go!"

The voices and clattering was getting closer as they ran, navigating through the maze of crates against the little time they had.

"There they are! There they are!" one of the Insurrectionists shouted from above. "Take 'em down!"

Within a heartbeat, Alec and his new "friend" were surrounded by gunfire, the bullets sending sparks off of the containers from near misses. The agent shoved him ahead—nearly sending him flying—and returned fire to cover their escape. A searing pain shot through Alec's leg, forcing him to hobble down the isle until he stumbled and fell to a complete stop, looking up at the two terrorists at the other end of the hall, both wearing improvised combat gear that bested his M6. The two had him dead to rights when the agent suddenly ran out in front of Alec and dropped into a crouch while dropping the shotgun for the MA37 over its back.

Alec was expecting to watch in horror as his savior was gunned down, torn apart by combined fire…but the bullets never came close. Instead, they bounced off of what seemed like an invisible barrier around the agent's armor, which became slightly more visible with a yellow glow with each hit.

The same was for Alec's sudden realization: he was just saved by a Spartan. He wasn't sure whether or not to be terrified at his new predicament, but he sure as hell wasn't about to complain. The Spartan hauled him back to his feet and lead him through the smoke. Alec winced as he tried to hop over one of the two dead terrorists.

"I know. Nearly there."

"What happens when we get outside?"

The Spartan shrugged off his question and reloaded its rifle, sweeping left to right as they entered a jagged clearing. The Insurrectionists were still hunting them; the clattering was coming from all sides now and the voices were getting louder as they debated on how to attack. It was as if they just didn't care.

"It's just one guy!" one of them finally shouted. "Get in there and drop the sonuva bitch!"

The Spartan waved a hand back at Alec: Take cover. It's about to get ugly. Another terrorist emerged from behind a crate just ahead of the clearing—right in the direction they were headed. "I got him by the front shutters!"

They both fired at the same time, they both scored equal number of hits, but between the two, the Spartan ended up getting the better end of the deal. However, the terrorist still managed to call out his position, which only meant more were coming faster than they were before.

"There he is!" a voice called out from above the crate Alec was leaned against.

"Take 'im out!"

The Spartan swung around and opened fire, cutting the two down before Alec could hit the deck and cover his ears. One of the men even tumbled over, hitting the ground in front of him as he painfully slid back around the corner.

The terrorists didn't stop there. Not a second later, a third—followed by a forth—dropped down into the clearing and rushed the Spartan, who immediately responded by firing at the first one in sight. While the one was killed, the other managed to get a hold of the Spartan's rifle, which warranted a firm left hook to the side of his helmet followed by a backhand that sent him into the hard crates.

By then, five more had shown with a fourth standing up top with a rifle clattering away at the Spartan's shields. The two shooters on the ground were marching closer, firing at the same time, trying to at least breach the shielding in hopes that it would help in taking the target down at close range. The barrier around the Spartan seemed like it was growing volatile, wanting to expand and pop like an overfilled balloon as it retreated for the nearest source of cover.

Alec knew he had to take action. More were on their way. He couldn't make it out alone and he knew the Spartan wouldn't last long against this kind of fire. He raised his pistol, leveled his sights on the man high, and fired. The first shot totally missed his head by a distance Alec would never repeat to anyone, but it grabbed the attention of some of his friends on the ground. He fired again, this time landing the shot right through the man's visor, sending his limp body falling backward.

A vicious salvo of rounds against his cover confirmed that Alec's efforts had worked. He helped take heat off of the Spartan and seconds later it was back in the open, bolting for the nearest terrorist, who turned just in time for an elbow to the face. It then emptied the rest of its MA37's rounds, firing two-round intervals at the other four, dropping only one of them.

Still advancing, the Spartan discarded the assault rifle for a terrorist's fallen M6 and began firing. Two more were finished off, hitting the ground with holes the size of pre-era half-dollars in their flak jackets. The last one standing dropped his spent rifle and returned fire with his sidearm, only to watch his shots ripple over the shield barrier protecting the Spartan's advance, knife drawn from its shoulder.

The slide on the man's M6 locked back. He tried to reload but fumbled the magazine, ultimately dropping his gun and running back down the nearest isle. "Shit! Shit! Sh-i-it!"

At first, the Spartan only stood there but finally flipped its knife around, sliding it back into its sheath while nodding to Alec. As he rose, Alec looked around at the bodies now littering the floor, almost wanting to count them. But he was taken once again by the jacket and ushered forward to the warehouse shutter. From where they stood, it looked like another dead end.

"This was your big plan?" Just then, the Spartan shook out a can of C7 explosives. "Oh…right."

"When you get out there," the Spartan began while spraying the foam in a wide circle around the aluminum shutter, "there'll be a Warthog and a squad of troopers waiting. Tell them your name; they'll know it's you."

Alec furrowed his brow, ignoring the stinging laceration on his face. "What about you?"

"This area isn't secure yet."

The Spartan pulled him back from the shutter, detonator in hand. The blast was little more than what Alec was expecting (this was his first experience with C7 HE foam). For once, the warehouse fell silent once the echo died. "Go. I need to stay here," it said, picking up a fallen rifle.

Alec made it ten staggering steps out of the charred hole in the shutter before he stopped, looking back at the Spartan. The towering soldier only looked once to give him a nod: I got your back.

Alec Romanov began his march to freedom across the grassy clearing of Manassas' outskirts, out of the storage sector, crossing the dirt paths that branched all around. Eventually, he would link up with the awaiting troopers to take him in, just as the Spartan had directed. Eventually he would be debriefed, given a bullshit story that the UNSC would have him stick to should anyone ask questions, given a clean record and sent on his way back to Aszod. But for now, he walked, thinking: That'll be the last time that Spartan saves my ass.

Interstellar News

Manassas, Afold, January 1, 2551.

Early this morning, Manassas authorities confirmed local reports of gunfire at a storage sector near the city outskirts. It has been revealed by members of the Office of Naval Intelligence that the location was raided by UNSC Special Forces after receiving confirmed intelligence that it was being used as an Insurrectionist base of operations. Local constabularies took part in a joint press conference with some of the men and women who took part in the raid, reporting that while the raid was a total success, this is still a time of mourning over the outcome.

Twenty-eight year old Preston Nicks was an Insurrectionist defector who made this operation possible by acting as an inside man and gathering information on related activities. Reports say that he was killed during the raid by his own people upon discovering that he was an informant. The UNSC plans to hold a memorial for Preston and pay benefits to his family for his sacrifice.