Author's Note: So I came up with the concept of this story a couple of weeks ago when I was replaying the single player campaign for Halo: Reach. I was thinking to myself "Gee, we really don't hear much about the UNSC Army." Then I thought, "Gee, forget the Army, we don't hear much about the UNSC Air Force." That led to "Gee, we really don't hear much about the rear echelon support personnel." So I thought, "Why don't I write one?" So here's my attempt to depict some parts of the UNSC that isn't really shown in the games.

Couple of quick points I'd like to bring to people's attention:

Story takes place in 2549, so three years before the Battle of Reach (as according to Halopedia.)

Almost all of my information pertaining to the Halo Universe I've gotten from .

All characters are Original Characters. Might be a cameo from one of the cannon characters, I don't know yet.

Most of the chapters will take place in the viewpoint of a different character.

I am not/was not in any military so if I get some details wrong, I do apologize. Not trying to offend anyone.

Thanks for stopping by, I do hope you enjoy.


Rookie

The UNSC Navy D77-TC "Pelican" dropship shook and groaned violently as it descended through the planet's atmosphere causing Private John "Marcus" Olsen to shift uncomfortably in his Army issued body armor as he looked up in alarm, convinced the Pelican was moments away from shaking itself apart. He glanced around the cargo bay at the other occupants but no one else seemed too concerned so Marcus tried counting up to ten in an effort to calm himself down. It didn't really work.

The Marine sitting next to him shifted suddenly and Marcus jumped, startled by the unexpected movement. The Marine glanced at him and scoffed.

"Fucking Boot," the man said scornfully. "We haven't even touched the fucking ground yet and he's about ready to piss his pants." He elbowed the man sitting on the other side of him. "Hey Steiner, how long do you think this Boot is going to last?"

Steiner leaned around him to look at Marcus. "Hell. Look at those soft hands. I'd be surprised if he makes it off the Pelican without breaking a fucking nail."

Marcus felt his face red with embarrassment as the other passengers in the Pelican burst out laughing. He opened his mouth, trying to think of something witty to say or at least something to shut the Marine up but words failed him and he closed his mouth with an audible click. The man sitting directly across from Marcus however, looked up from the data pad he was reading.

"Hey y'all, shut the fuck up and leaving the rookie alone," the man barked.

The Marine next to Marcus snarled and lifted his head to retort but caught sight of the Combat Medic Badge pinned to the man's Army BDUs. The Marine shrugged. "You got it doc," was all he said before turning away.

The Army Medic glared at the Marine before nodding in satisfaction and turning back to his data pad. Marcus looked at the Medic with a grateful look on his face.

"Thank you sir," he started to say before the Medic look up at him, glaring.

"Hey Rookie!" the Medic barked. "Did I fucking give you permission to talk to me?"

Startled, all Marcus could do was shake his head.

"Then shut your fucking gob and don't fucking look at me with those fag eyes," the Medic bellowed. He waited until Marcus looked away before returning to his data pad.

"Fucking cherries are all the fucking same. Fucking talk too much, and don't fucking listen," Marcus heard the man mutter and all Marcus could do was hang in head in embarrassment.

Rookie. Cherry. Boot. Fresh Meat. Greenhorn. Different terms with all the same meaning. And all thrown in his direction as an insult. It had been like that since Marcus left Reach three weeks ago. Marcus understood the insults. He really did. He was the newbie. The fucking new guy. Nobody like getting saddled with the new guy.

But at the same time, it wasn't like it was his fault. Marcus didn't ask to be the novice, the unexperienced virgin. He didn't ask the Army to take him, barely a week after he'd graduated from combat engineering OSUT, and throw him aboard an Air Force aircraft carrier to be shipped directly to the front lines. He didn't want any of that. And he didn't really get it either. Everyone who kept insulting him, everyone who kept looking down on him, they were all the FNGs at one point in their careers, right? Even the Spartan's had to start somewhere, right? It's not like they were breed for war after all. So, shouldn't they know how Marcus was feeling right now? Much like he'd been tossed in the deep end of the pool without a lifeguard in sight? But the last thing Marcus wanted was for people to consider him a whiny brat so Marcus kept his mouth shut, head down, and took the insults and contempt without complaint.

The Pelican shook again, distracting Marcus from his thoughts. At the end of the Pelican, the Navy crew chief stood up.

"Thirty seconds 'til we touch down!" he yelled.

All around him, the Pelican's passengers began stowing items in preparation for the landing and Marcus quickly followed suit. He didn't have much, only whatever the Army issued to him which was stashed in a duffle bag. The only personal item Marcus had was a picture of his family, but that was secure in his back pocket so Marcus settled for making sure his duffle bag was secure underneath his seat.

The noise from the Pelican's engines increased in pitch and Marcus felt his stomach churn as he felt the Pelican dropping through the sky. He clenched his fist, trying to prevent himself from throwing up over himself. He had never like flying and interplanetary travel was always the worst.

Fortunately, the effects didn't last long. With a bump, Marcus felt the Pelican touch the ground and the whine of the engines that had filled his ears for the last thirty minutes finally disappeared. With a hiss of pneumatics, the ramp at the back of the Pelican opened and all around him, the occupants began unbuckling their safety harnesses and headed out into the sunlight. Marcus waited until the Steiner and his buddy, as well as the Army Medic walked out, before unbuckling his restraints. Or at least, he tried.

With a start, Marcus realized he actually had no idea how to undo his restraints. When he had first boarded the Pelican, there had been no instructions as how to wear the safety harness so Marcus had waited until everyone else had strapped themselves in so he could watch them. But during the course of the trip, he had forgotten about that little detail and failed to pay attention as everyone had taken it off. He studied the buckle, as if it would magically inform him how to release himself, but as the Pelican quickly emptied, Marcus settled for tugging on the straps. For obvious reasons, this failed to work.

"What the fuck is wrong with you asshole?"

Marcus looked up to see the crew chief marching over to him, face red with anger.

"What, you think you can stay here?" the crew chief demanded. "You fuckers have already stunk up my Pelican. GET THE FUCK OUT!"

"I don't know how to undo my restraints," Marcus admitted helplessly.

"Christ almighty, I didn't realize the Army was recruiting retards now," the crew chief said with a sigh before reaching out and grabbing hold of the buckle all the straps were feeding into. He twisted the metal disc and then punched it so hard, Marcus swore he could feel a bruise forming on his chest. But fortunately, the straps sprung lose and Marcus was finally free.

"Get the fuck off my Pelican, NOW!" the crew chief roared into Marcus' face, coating it with spit and Marcus hastily grabbed his duffle bag and sprinted down the ramp. He had barely cleared the Pelican when the ramp slammed shut with a loud clank and the Pelican's engines started up again. With one hand holding his duffle bag and the other holding on to his patrol cap, Marcus dashed across the open landing pad as the Pelican shot straight up into the sky before it was a safe distance away from the ground and the people below. Marcus watched as the Pelican's nose angled upwards before its engines flared, heading for high orbit.

Safe for the moment at the edge of the landing pad, Marcus decided to take a moment to look around. He didn't know much about the planet he'd been deployed to; hell, he didn't even know the planet's name. What he did know though was that the Covenant had attacked three months ago and for whatever reason, they had decided to deploy ground forces instead of just glassing the colony from orbit, as per their standard MO. UNSC Command had seize the opportunity to confront the Covenant on open ground, so to speak, and sent in an entire Army Group, backed by an entire Marine Expeditionary Force, an Air Force Carrier Strike Group, a Navy Task Force, and whatever forces were on the planet to begin with, to take back the planet. From Marcus understood, there had been non-stop fighting ever since then.

And it showed. To begin with, the landing pad was massive. If Marcus had to guess, two Navy Stalwart-class light frigates could land on the landing pad and there'd still be room for some Longswords. For now though, a wide variety of aircraft were coming and going from the pad, ranging from Army UH-144 "Falcons" to Navy Pelicans, and Marcus could even see three Air Force AC-220 "Vulture" gunships in the distance. Surrounding the landing pad in all directions were olive green pre-fabricated shelters of all different shapes and sizes. Walking between the shelters were military personal from all four services. In the very far distance, maybe fifty kilometers away, Marcus could see heavy damaged skyscrapers leading to an equally damaged city. Just below the roar of incoming and outgoing ships, Marcus could just barely make out the sound of thunder in the distance, which he concluded probably wasn't thunder but artillery. The thing that struck Marcus most was just the fact everywhere he looked, everything just looked rather… used. He couldn't really describe it but even to his inexperienced eyes, he could tell this landing pad and base had been paid for in full with blood.

Marcus gulped nervously at that thought before steeling himself. The Army might not have told him much about this planet he'd been deployed to, but they did at least tell him where to report in. Reaching into his pocket, Marcus dug out a small holographic project containing his transfer papers and activated it. He was supposed to report to the 4th Platoon, K Company, 223rd Combat Engineer Battalion of the 97th Mechanized Infantry Division. The hologram helpfully provided a picture of the division's shoulder sleeve insignia, which was a double headed hammerhead shark. That should have been easy enough to locate but as Marcus looked around at the army personnel scattered across the landing pad, he realized none of them were wearing that patch.

Marcus sighed. Great, that meant he had to ask someone for directions and fit the stereotype of a clueless rookie even more. He supposed there wasn't much else he could do and he didn't want to be declared AWOL on his very first day on the front line so he gritted his teeth and headed to the nearest person wearing an Army uniform.

The man's back was turned to him to Marcus approached but the man didn't seem to be busy so Marcus cleared his throat. The man didn't react to his presence. Marcus cleared his throat again. The man shifted his weight from one foot to the other but still didn't react. Marcus sighed.

"Excuse me sir?" Marcus called out, tapping the man on the shoulder. "I was hoping you could help me."

The man whirled around and Marcus instantly realized he made a mistake.

"Sir?" the soldier, who was most definitely a woman hissed. "Motherfucker, let's start with the fact that I'm a fucking woman. Second, you see these fucking chevrons?" She jabbed a finger to the rank insignia sew in the center of her chest. "It means I'm a corporal in the fucking UNSC Army. That means you don't call me sir, because I actually have to work for a living! Now fuck off before my CO comes by and thinks I'm slacking off!"

"CORPORAL PENDANSKI!"

"Shit," the corporal hissed before snapping to attention as another soldier wearing the insignia of a 2nd Lieutenant came marching up.

"Corporal, the army does not pay you to sit on your ass all day," the Lieutenant said. "Get these cans of ammo in the Warthog, now!"

"Sorry sir," Pendanski said hastily, picking up a box of fifty caliber rounds. "This guy was distracting me." She jerked her head in Marcus' direction and as the Lieutenant whirled on Marcus, quickly made her escape.

"Who the fuck do you think you are, coming here and distracting my soldiers?" the Lieutenant yelled, jabbing a finger at Marcus' chest. "Get with the program soldier, there's a fucking war going on, don't you know? I need my guys at one hundred percent and the last thing I need is for you to come here and distract them from their task!"

Marcus could feel sweating forming on the back of his neck. "Sir, sorry sir!" he yelled at the top of his lungs, like he was addressing his drill sergeants back in basic. Evidently it was the right thing to do as the Lieutenant nodded in approval and started to walk away.

"Uh sir?" Marcus called out tentatively. The Lieutenant looked back at him. "Uh, I was hoping you could help me sir. I'm looking for the 223rd CEB of the 97th MI Division." "Sir," Marcus added.

The Lieutenant sighed. "Are you illiterate soldier?"

Marcus started. "I'm sorry sir?"

The Lieutenant sighed again and pointed at something over Marcus' shoulder. He turned around. Right behind him, a sign post had been set up. Arrows were pointing in all directions and on one of them, in big black letters, the words "223rd Combat Engineer Battalion" were written.

Feeling sheepish, Marcus turned around to thank the Lieutenant for his help, only realize the Lieutenant had already walked away.

"Not a good start Marcus," Marcus told himself. Strapping his duffle bag onto his back, he followed the signs until he reached a tent that had the words 'K Company, 223rd CEB' stenciled on the side. He pulled out his transfer papers and glanced at them, checking to make sure he was indeed at the tent to the right unit. Confirming that he was, Marcus looked around, wondering who he was supposed to report to. All the tents looked exactly the same and there wasn't one say "check-in here" or some variation, but outside one of the tents, there were three soldiers dressed in their battle gear, loading some magazines.

Hoping these soldiers would be nicer than everyone else he'd encountered so far today, Marcus walked over to them. This time he made sure to check their rank insignia and their genders.

"Excuse me sergeants?" Marcus called out, noting the three chevron insignias of an Army sergeant stenciled on their armor. "I'm looking for," Marcus checked his transfer papers again, "4th Platoon, K Company, 223rd CEB? Could you tell me which tent they're billeted in?"

The nearest of the three soldiers looked up at him. "The fuck do you care?"

Marcus mentally sighed. "Uh, I was just assigned to that unit," he replied irritably.

"What?" the same sergeant stated while the other two sergeants looked up, disbelief written on their faces. "Let me see your transfer papers."

Marcus handed over the holographic tab and watched as the sergeant skimmed through the document with the other two soldiers reading over his shoulder.

"Are you fucking kidding me?" the first soldier demanded to know as soon as he finished reading the document. "We're hours away from moving onto the front line and command decides to give us a snot nosed brat to babysit? Who the fuck the retard running this campaign?"

Marcus was getting tired of people insulting him. "Well that's where I'm supposed to be Sergeant," Marcus retorted, somewhat heatedly.

"Rookie, shut your fucking mouth before I blow it off," the sergeant warned, lifting his (fully loaded) MA37 assault rifle for emphasis. Marcus quickly subsided.

"Well, I guess we better figure out which squad he's getting assigned to," the lead soldier said, looking back at his two companions.

"Not it!" both instantly said.

"What? Come on guys!"

"Dude, Fish, I got the last rookie," one of the soldiers retorted.

"Oh come on, that was hardly a rookie," Fish protested. "He had at least had some combat experience."

"He was a fucking Innie! His 'experience' came from fighting UNSC forces!"

"It's still better than a fucking rookie!"

"Come on Fish," the third soldier said, placing hand on Fish's shoulder. "Koupaki's got a point. He did get the last rookie."

Fish glared at the man. "Why don't you take him Roer?"

The third soldier, Roer, shrugged. "You know I've got my own rookies to deal with."

"Are you kidding me? Your 'rookies' were on the front line for over a week! Everybody knows if you survive one week on the front line, you're no longer a rookie."

Koupaki threw his hands in the air. "Look dude, if you really don't want him, we'll send him to Moss' squad, let him deal with this cherry."

Fish's face contorted with anger. "No, fuck that. Moss has got enough issues on his plate as it. He doesn't need to deal with a rookie who doesn't know which end of the rifle to hold." Fish let out a huff. "Alright you assholes, you win. I'll fucking take him."

Fish turned back to Marcus, who had been standing patiently, waiting for their argument to conclude. "I'm in charge of 2nd Squad. Our tent is right there. Go find a place to throw your shit, but don't get too comfortable. As soon as the Warthogs get here, we're moving out."

Marcus nodded. "Understood Sergeant," he said in what he hoped was a professional voice. It clearly wasn't as Fish snorted before turning his attention back to loading his rifle magazines. Marcus recognized he'd been dismissed but waited there nonetheless.

"What are you still standing around for rookie?" Fish demanded to know, once he notice Marcus was still there.

"Uh, I was wondering what I should call you Sergeant?"

"You can call me God for all I care," Fish replied. "But my name is Sergeant Julian Perez. There here is Sergeant Kosa Koupaki of 3rd Squad and Sergeant Cliff Roer, Machine Gun Squad."

Marcus nodded in greeting. "Well, I'm…"

"Rookie," Koupaki interrupted. "No one gives a shit what your name is. You are officially now known as Rookie. If you survived a week against the Covenant, then you get a name."

"In the meantime," Roer spoke up. "Do everybody a favor, keep your mouth shut, and your ears open. Got it?"

"Yes…" Marcus started to say.

"What the fuck did I just say?" Roer demanded. "Shit, he can't even follow basic instructions? Covies are going to eat him alive."

"When he gets killed, I call dibs on his knee pads," Koupaki stated.

"Dude, I am telling you, you need to go buy your own," Fish told him. "The shit the Army provides doesn't last."

"With such a large budget, you think the Army would at least provide us with the good stuff," Roer mused.

Koupaki snorted. "Are you kidding me? Then the generals wouldn't be able to afford another medal!"

All three of them burst out laughing when Fish noticed Marcus still standing there. "You can leave, by the way," Fish told him. "In fact, consider that an order. You're interrupting our last moment of peace around here."

Marcus sighed as he picked his duffle bag off the ground and headed in the direction of the tent Fish had indicated. So much for a nicer reception. He supposed he only had himself to blame; there had been nothing to indicate there was anyone but assholes on this base. Stopping outside the tent, Marcus braced himself for a frosty reception before pushing aside the entrance flap and walking inside. He promptly froze at the sight that greeted him.

The tent was arranged in a barracks-style arrangement, with single bunks lining both sides of the tent. A number of soldiers, seven in total and all dressed in battle gear, were lounging around. What caught Marcus' attention though, was a half-naked woman lying on her back in the middle of the tent while a man sat next to her, working on a tattoo on her stomach. All occupants in the tent looked up at him as he entered and Marcus felt his cheeks involuntarily redden, though he wasn't sure if he was embarrassed by naked woman or the fact everyone was staring at him like he was a disguised member of the Covenant.

"Buddy, I think you're in the wrong tent," the soldier lounging on the bunk nearest the entrance reading a comic book finally said. "The brownie scouts are billeted nine tents in the other direction."

Marcus sighed as the room broke out in laughter. "I just transferred," Marcus said before anyone else could throw any more insults in his direction. "I just talked to Sergeant Perez, he told me to come here."

The tattoo artist looked dismayed. "They sent us a…"

"Yes I know," Marcus interrupted tiredly. What it serious too much to ask to be treated like a person? "I'm the Rookie. I'm sorry but I'm just doing what I was told to do."

The room feel silent as the woman getting tattooed calm climbed to her feet and marched over to Marcus. Marcus shuffled nervously as he realized the woman was easily twice his size.

"Boy," the woman said softly. "You better watch your tone. The people here are far better men than you will ever be. You treat them with respect, you hear?"

Marcus wanted to point out that respect went both ways but he found all he could do was nodded his head in agreement. There was a tense moment of silence before the woman broken out in a smile.

"I'm just fucking with you," she said with a laugh before returning to her original spot. Marcus stood there, confused, as everyone else returned to whatever they had been doing before his arrival. After a full minute of him standing there awkwardly, the comic book soldier finally looked up at him.

"Rookie, find a place to sit down, you're making me nervous."

Marcus nodded and walked over to the nearest, unoccupied bunk. He dropped his duffle bag to the ground but just as he was about to sit, a dirty rag landed on the bed. He looked up to see the tattoo artist had been the one to throw it.

"Not there," the man said. "That's my bunk."

The comic book soldier snorted. "Levi, does it fucking matter? We're about to leave."

"Griffon, I don't know about you, but I intend to survive long enough to make it back here. And when I do, that last fucking thing I want is to sleep in a bed with rookie scent all over it."

"That's fucking stupid," Griffon said, shaking his head.

"Hey Griffon! Fuck you. Go back to your comic book heroes you ass."

"Dude, I don't know how many fucking times I have to tell you. This is a fucking graphic novel, okay? Not a fucking comic book."

Levi waved his hand in dismissal. "Whatever, it's all the same geeky shit."

"Says the druggie," Griffon shot back. "How many brain cells do you have left? Or did you smoke them all away?"

The woman abruptly sat upright. "Okay, you two can suck each other's dicks later, okay? In the meantime, Levi, I want you to finish my fucking tattoo before we push off."

"Fine, whatever Noren," Levi said dismissively. "But I fucking mean it Rookie," he snarled, turning back to Marcus. "Don't fucking sit in my bed."

Marcus rubbed his eyes before deciding he didn't want to cause any more trouble today. Picking up his bag, he moved onto the next available bunk.

"Not there," Noren said without looking up. "That's my bunk."

Griffon threw his hands up in the air. "Really! You too?"

"Griffon, in case you haven't notice, I still need to get fucking dressed," Noren pointed out. "Which I would do if Levi would hurried the fuck up!"

"You can't force art like this," Levi said calmly. "You've got to let it flow."

Griffon snickered. "Don't lie Levi," he said drily. "We all know you just want to stare at Noren's tits some more. They are, after all, the only pair of breast you're ever going to see. Well, aside from your mama's titties."

Levi glared at him. "Griffon, don't you ever talk about my mama's titties. Got it?"

"Could you all just shut up and stop distracting my artist?" Noren said loudly. "Let's try that."

The entrance to the tent opened abruptly. "Alright!" Fish called out loudly. "Warthogs are here, everyone on your feet, now!"

"God dammit!" Noren swore. Fish raised an eyebrow.

"Excuse me Specialist? What was that?"

"Sorry Sergeant," Noren said. "That wasn't addressed to you. I was hoping I would have my tattoo finished before we left." The last part was said in a growl, aimed at Levi, who shrugged helplessly.

Fish in the meantime had cocked his head, studying Noren's half-finished tattoo. "Is that a zombie?" he asked her.

Marcus discretely maneuvered so he could see her tattoo, taking pains to avoid looking at her bare breast. Sure enough, it was the upper torso and head of a zombie girl that was missing half her jaw. Part of the zombie was green in color but not all of the color was in place yet.

"Yeah."

"Why a zombie?"

Griffon snorted. "Because, Sergeant, we're all dead men walking."

Noren pointed at him. "What he said Sergeant."

"Morbid, but apt, I suppose," Fish mused before growing serious. "Put on your armor Noren. Let's go people!"

Fish's gaze turned until it fell on Marcus and his lips curled up in a snarl. "That's means you Rookie!" he yelled, walking over to him and grabbing him by the front of his vest. "Move it!" Fish yelled, pushing shoving Marcus out of the tent. Off balanced, Marcus stumbled outside and ran straight into a small Asian woman carrying an M247 machine gun, almost knocking them both to the ground.

"Watch where you're going asshole!" the woman yelled, shoving Marcus off her. He tripped and landed on the ground in front of the entrance to the tent.

"Watch that first step!" Noren called out as she hefted a DMR and stepped over him.

"Sure is a doozy, ain't it?" Griffon commented as Marcus quickly rolled out of the way to avoid getting stepped on.

"No one uses the term 'doozy' anymore Griffon," Levi stated with confidence as he strolled out of the tent, a M739 light machine gun in his arms and a heavy rucksack on his back.

A shadow fell over Marcus and he looked up to see Fish looming over him. To Marcus' anger, he could see amusement dancing in Fish's eyes.

"Stop lounging around Rookie," he said. "We've got a war to fight." He turned to walk away without bothering to help Marcus up.

White hot anger surged through Marcus. "Why is everyone such an asshole?" he muttered to himself as he climbed to his feet.

"What did you just say?"

Marcus started and looked up to see Fish had stopped walking and was now staring at Marcus with murder in his eyes. Marcus involuntarily gulped.

"You think we're assholes?" Fish asked him, his voice low and menacing. He began stalking towards Marcus and behind him, Marcus see all the soldiers in the area had stopped whatever they were doing to watch the scene unfold.

"You want to know why we're being 'assholes?'" Fish demanded. Marcus suddenly regretted his words but he wasn't able to get in a word as Fish continued to speak.

"It's because we were supposed to have been taken off the line three fucking weeks ago. But apparently, taking over four hundred casualties out of a battalion of only six hundred and fifty men isn't enough for some fucked up general to get another medal. No, we've got to stay on the line so that when some fuck-nut officer goes to a gentleman's club, he won't get laughed at for not losing enough men."

By now Fish had gotten uncomfortably close to Marcus so Marcus started to slowly back up, only to run into the tent wall. But Fish kept stalking forward.

"But there aren't enough people to man the line, you say? Well that's why they send motherfuckers like you. Dumbasses who don't know which end of the rifle bullets come out of, but think they're the shit. But when shit hits the fan, the first thing you assholes do is stupid shit, shit that gets other people killed! AND I WILL NOT LET THAT HAPPEN!"

Fish leaned in close until their faces were only a breath away. "Not while I'm in charge of this squad, asshole," he hissed.

"Is there a problem here?" a quiet voice asked from behind Fish. Marcus didn't recognized the voice but evidently Fish did as Fish instantly backed off.

Marcus turned gratefully to look at whoever is was that intervened and instantly regretted it. The newcomer, quite honestly, had one of the most terrifying faces Marcus had even seen. It look as though someone, at one point, had decided to try and melt the entire left side of the man's face. Marcus could see the scars extending downwards until it was covered up by the man's collar. The man's entire left eye was no one longer in line with his right eye but that wasn't as noticeable as the fact the man was missing his left eyeball entirely, leaving behind an empty socket. As the man shifted the MA37 assault rifle in his arms, Marcus noticed the man's right hand had a different skin tone from the rest of his body and it took Marcus a few moments to realize that was because the hand was fake.

In the time Marcus had been studying the newcomer, the newcomer's remaining eye had shifted so that he was staring at Fish, waiting for an answer.

"No Sergeant Shen, no problem at all," Fish answered and Marcus was surprised to hear a tone of respect in his voice. "Just explaining to our Rookie how things work around here."

Sergeant Shen's expression didn't change (could it even? - Marcus wondered) but Marcus caught a hint of surprise when Sergeant Shen said, "We have a Rookie? Since when?"

"Transferred in almost ten minutes ago Sergeant. Came straight from OSUT." Fish stepped aside so Shen could get a good view of Marcus. Marcus instinctively straighten as Shen's eye fell upon him. Shen studied him for a moment before glancing to the side where Koupaki and Roer were standing.

"Why wasn't I told?"

Koupaki, Roer, and Fish exchanged glances. "We didn't think it was necessary to bother you with such trivial matters," Fish finally admitted.

"Gentleman, knowing whom I'm about to bring into battle, is not, and never will be, trivial." Shen shook his head. "We'll discuss this more later. In the meantime, which squad you guys assign him to?"

"My squad," Fish answered.

"Your squad?" Shen replied, incredulously. He glanced back at Koupaki and Roer. "I thought we agreed Fish would never get any of the Rookies. He scares them too much." His words sounded insulting but Marcus thought he caught a hint of humor in Shen's voice.

Marcus watched as Fish shrugged. "That's what I tried to tell them. But they wouldn't listen."

"Well, you are not taking him because we need soldiers, not placeholders." Shen looked thoughtful. "I'll take him."

Fish looked like he was going to protest but one look from Shen and he subsided. He shrugged and walked away, leaving Shen and Marcus alone. Shen headed towards Marcus and stopped right in front of him. Marcus didn't have much experiences with such high ranking soldiers and if people like Fish was cowed by him, then that didn't bold well for him. Unsure what to do, Marcus snapped to attention, like he was on the parade ground. He tried to avoid staring at Shen's damaged face, instead just stared straight ahead, like he been told to do in basic training. He was taken off guard when Shen abruptly thrust out his right hand.

"Staff Sergeant Moss Shen," he said brightly. "Welcome to 4th Platoon. I'm your new platoon sergeant. Well, okay, that's not entirely accurate. I'm acting platoon sergeant. I'm actually 1st Squad Leader but our CO was killed a week ago and we haven't received a new one since. So, as per chain of command, Sergeant First Class Ferguson is acting platoon leader and I'm now acting platoon sergeant."

Marcus couldn't help but stare at Shen dumbly. He saw Shen roll his eye and lower his hand. "You got a name soldier?"

"Uh…" Marcus hesitated. Did Shen really want his name or his new "nickname?" Shen seemed to understand his confusion because he clarified.

"What's your actual name?"

"Private Olsen, John M." Marcus barked. "Sir!" he added.

Shen frowned. "Okay then Private Olsen, John M. I see your Drill Sergeant's didn't bother teaching you the protocols regarding the usage of the term 'sir.'"

"Sir?" Marcus asked, confused.

Shen shook his head. "You don't call sergeants 'sir.' Sir is reserved for warrant officers and commissioned officers. Which means if you see anyone between the ranks of Warrant Officer One to General, you call them 'sir.' Or 'ma'am' if they're a woman. Non-commissioned officers on the other hand, you call them by their rank. So, for example, you call me Staff Sergeant, Sergeant, Sar'nt, or if in a pinch, Moss. Whatever you do though, don't call me 'Sarge.' Makes me feel like I'm a hick. Understood?"

"Uh, yes Sergeant."

"Good." Shen slapped his the side of his arm. "Come with me."

Marcus followed Shen to where a large, gravel road ran through the length of the camp. Sitting on the road was a convoy consisting of several M12 "Warthog" variants. Marcus saw members of 2nd Squad climbing aboard an M831 troop transport. Marcus thought Shen would be leading them to one of those Warthogs but instead, he led Marcus to the last vehicle convoy. It looked like an M12 light reconnaissance vehicle Warthog variant, but the rear mounted machine gun had been ripped out and replaced with a couple of seats.

"So, Private Olsen, John M.," Shen began in a conversational tone, nodding in greeting at the soldier sitting in the driver's seat. "I don't know what you've learned in training, but things are run a bit differently here." Shen paused and then looked over Marcus again. "Actually, let's prioritize here. First off, do you have a weapon?"

"No Sergeant."

"Really? Fish has been leading you around by the nose and he didn't even bother giving you a weapon?" Shen reached into the cab of the Warthog and pulled out a loaded MA37. "You know how to use one of these things?"

"Yes Sergeant," Marcus answered as he took the offered weapon. Making sure to keep his finger off the trigger and the muzzle down, he ejected the magazine to make sure it was loaded. After reinserting it, he pulled back on the chambering bolt enough to verify there was a round in the chamber. Finally he flicked on the digital counter and waited until it showed that there were 32 rounds loaded.

Shen, who had been watching Marcus as he played with the rifle, nodded in approval. "Good. I only ask because our last replacement literally had no idea which end the bullets came out of."

His surprise must have shown on his face because Shen laughed. "Yeah, I know. It was weird. But anyways. Second thing. Your pauldrons and your groin armor." He pointed at the objects in question. "Get rid of them."

"But in basic," Marcus protested before Shen interrupted him.

"Yeah, I know what they tell you in basic. Like I said, how TRADOC thinks things are done versus how they actually are in the field is radically different. They say always keep all components of your armor on while out in past the wire; past experience has shown that's a bunch of bull. Fact of the matter is, this armor," he tapped his chest plate, "does nothing to stop plasma weaponry. To be fair it's great against shrapnel, but if we're going to be carrying that much weight, I'd rather we dump some armor and carry more ammunition. Speaking of which, do you have any?"

"No Sergeant," Marcus replied as he shed his pauldrons and looked around for someplace to put them. Shen took them from him and tossed them in the direction of the tent. Marcus looked at him in surprise but Shen ignored him, instead opening a compartment on the side of the Warthog and began digging around inside it.

"Typical," Shen said with disgust, though Marcus got the feeling Shen' ire wasn't directed at him. "You know, I can deal with Command giving us replacements minutes before head for the line. I don't like it, but I can live with it. But is it too much to ask that they be properly equipped? Take this." Shen handed him a pouch of magazines and an assault bag. Curious, Marcus cracked open the bag to look inside. It was filled with plastic explosives.

"Uh, Sergeant?" Marcus said nervously. "I don't know how to use explosives."

Shen gave him an odd look. "You are a combat engineer, are you not?"

"Uh, yes Sergeant. But they didn't teach us how to use explosives in training."

"Did they change the curriculum again? Man, every freaking year they teach less and less things to recruits. Just trying to throw more meat to the grinder I suppose," Shen complained. "What did they teach you then?"

"Just how to dig fortifications Sergeant."

"Hate it when I have to teach replacements how to do their job," Marcus heard Shen mutter. He suddenly lifted a hand to his ear. "Yeah, okay."

It took Marcus more time than he was willing to admit, to realize Shen was talking into his radio, not just spouting words out loud.

Shen looked up at Marcus. "We're moving out. We'll figure it out later. In the meantime, just hang on to that. Let's mount up."

Tossing his rifle aboard the Warthog, Shen climbed aboard the back and turned around to help Marcus on. Shen gestured for Marcus to sit down in one of the seats and just as he did, with a lurch, the Warthog began moving forward.

"So," Shen began as he picked up his rifle off the floor, "Private Olsen, John M. Where you from? Are you a volunteer or a draftee?"

"Um. I'm from Harmony, Sergeant. I uh, volunteered." Marcus told him.

"Good for you Private Olsen, John M!" Shen said brightly. "I did the same thing! Definitely made me the man I am today." Shen continued in a more sarcastic voice. "A kind of fucked up, freaky looking, sub-human thing, but a man none the less! Because after all, that's what's important, right? Being a man! At least, that's what my uncle always told me."

Marcus wasn't sure how to respond to that, so he decided to keep his mouth shut. Shen seemed to notice his discomfort and laughed. "Don't worry Private Olsen, John M. I'm only kidding."

They lapsed into silence. Marcus shuffled uncomfortably in his seat. He had a lot of questions that he wanted to ask, but he didn't want to irritate the one person who was treating him like he was more than dirt. Shen suddenly glanced at him.

"I see you got a question. Ask away Private Olsen, John M."

For a one eyed man, Sergeant Shen really didn't miss much, Marcus noted.

"Is there, a reason why you keep calling me Private Olsen, John M?" he asked hesitantly. "Not that I don't mind Sergeant," he quickly added. "It's just that, no one else has done that before."

Shen stared at him before laughing. "Man, you are far more polite than I was at your age. Shit, my first question to me would have been 'what the fuck happened to your face?'" He shook his head. "To answer your question though, Private Olsen, John M, I'm trying to remember you name. Repeating it helps."

Marcus knew he should just be appreciative of the fact Shen even bothered to use his name, but he could help himself when he opened his mouth and asked "Could you stop calling me John?"

To Marcus' surprise, Shen didn't ask why. "Sure. What would you like to be called?"

"Uh, my middle name. Marcus."

"Okay then Private Marcus Olsen," Shen said, nodding his head. "So that's what the 'M' stands for."

Marcus felt like he owed Shen an explanation, even though he hadn't asked for one. "Only my mother called me John. But she, um…"

"It's okay," Shen interrupted. "I understand. Marcus is fine. Private Olsen, Marcus. Private Marcus Olsen," he muttered to himself.

"By the way," Shen suddenly said. "If you've got any questions, feel free to ask them. I'm sure a lot of people have told you to keep your mouth shut, but I operate under a different philosophy. I mean, if you don't ask questions, how are you going to know what you don't know, you know?"

Marcus reflexively nodded even though he really didn't know. Shen fell silent as Marcus thought about what he wanted to ask, now that he'd been given a blanket permission to ask questions. He honestly really wanted to ask Shen about how his face got damaged but now that Shen had brought it up, it just seemed rude. His fingers closed around the rifle in his hand and he wondered where it had come from. Shen obviously had his own rifle. Was this one a spare? Should Marcus do something similar, bring a spare rifle everywhere he went? He decided to ask that question.

"Sergeant, do you always carry this much ammunition in the Warthog?" Marcus asked, gesturing to his rifle and the backpack of explosives he'd been given.

Shen nodded. "First rule of a firefight: there is no such thing as too much ammo. You will never ever hear someone in a firefight say 'gee, I wish I didn't bring all this ammo with me.' There is a limit on how much you can carry though, so I always make sure whatever vehicle I'm riding in is stocked up. Even if I might not be bring said vehicle into battle with me."

"We're not keeping the Warthogs?"

"No. They're just our ride into the city. As soon as we cross the river and enter the city, we'll proceed to our objective on foot."

Marcus thought about it. "Wouldn't it be faster just to drive the entire way?"

Shen held up a finger. "First rule in urban warfare: stay out of the streets. You stay in the middle of the street, next thing you know, you've got a ton of artillery falling on your head. Or a sniper will decide to use you for target practice. Plus, city is being bombarded almost every day by both sides. Streets are so choked full of debris, even our Scorpions are having trouble getting through."

Marcus had a hard time believing that. He had seen videos of Scorpions in action. They were so large and powerful, it seemed impossible for anything to stop them. But one glance at Shen's face and Marcus reminded himself that Shen would definitely know better than him.

"What is our objective Sergeant?"

"Standard rotation," Shen said with a shrug. "3rd Platoon has been spending the last couple of weeks providing engineering and demolition support to infantry units fighting on the line. Now it's our turn." He gave Marcus a serious look. "I don't want to sound discouraging but quite honestly, this was about the worst time you could have joined. If we were just building fortifications, I could have had some time training you up some. Maybe increase your chances of survival a bit."

Marcus felt a pit of dread forming in his stomach. "Sergeant," Marcus began hesitantly. "Everyone so far keeps telling me I won't survive a week on the front line. But, that's just because they're just trying to scare me right? I'm the rookie after all. I mean, it's not that bad against the Covenant is it?"

Shen stared at him long enough for Marcus to being to feel uncomfortable under his gaze. He sighed suddenly. "I'm not going to lie to you Private. According to statistics, fifty percent of all replacements don't survive their first three days on the front."

Marcus was shocked. "But the news is always…"

"All new pertaining to the war is processed through the Office of Naval Intelligence," Shen interrupted. "Part of their job is to make things sound good, even if they have to lie about it. Truth of the matter is, every day this war continues to drag on, we draw closer and closer to utter annihilation. And there is not much we can do about that."

Marcus wanted to protest, accuse Shen of lying. But one look at his face, and Marcus knew he had to be telling the truth. "Is that why everyone is being such a dick to me?" was all he could say.

"It's a defensive mechanism," Shen said somberly. "Most people aren't able to handle losing so many friends in such a short amount of time. It's really not natural. What usually happens is, most people close themselves up. They stop trying to know people, that way it won't hurt as much when they die."

Marcus was tempted to ask Shen why he was different then, but Marcus didn't want to offend the only person who was being kind to him. Besides, the more Marcus thought about it, he wasn't sure he wanted to know the answer.

His mind reeling, Marcus didn't ask any more questions as they drove through the base

Marcus didn't ask any more questions as they drove through the front gates of the base. They continued to ride in silence as the Warthog drove down a four lane parkway. Everywhere he looked, all Marcus could see were the signs of war. The parkway was completely devoid of civilian vehicles; only military green trucks and armored vehicles could be seen driving up and down the parkway. Small dirt roads branched off the parkway, leading to open clearings in the woods, which contained a wide variety of military gear. In one clearing, Marcus saw a massive stockpile of artillery shells. In another clear just down the road, Marcus saw the guns the shells belonged too. In yet another clearing, he could see what looked like a small refueling and rearming area for Marine Corps AV-14 "Hornets." The massive amount of equipment he saw seemed to contradict what Shen was telling him just moments ago. With all this firepower, surely they couldn't be losing, could they?

Marcus held onto that hope until they reached the bridge that Shen said would take them into the city. Marcus felt his jaw drop.

"Welcome to the Highway of Death," Shen said wirily.

The bridge was massive. It was almost five kilometers long and it had four lanes traveling in both directions, along with a single break down lane at either side of the bridge for a total of ten lanes. However at the moment, only two lanes in either direction were passable. The rest of the bridge was covered with destroyed vehicles. Burnt out hulls of public transit buses, soot covered ruins of civilian cars and trucks, and shattered remains of semi-trailer trucks blocked the road. Interspersed among the civilian vehicles were also a lot of military vehicles: M12 Warthogs, M313 Elephants, Scorpion main battle tanks, M274 Mongooses, and even some M9 "Wolverine" anti-aircraft tanks. And it wasn't just ground vehicles either. Scattered all over the place were parts belonging to Falcons, Hornets, Pelicans, and near the middle of the bridge, the front half of an Air Force GA-TL1 Longsword. A swarm of military personnel were crawling over the wreckages, probably looking for stuff to salvage, but the sheer amount of destruction stunned Marcus.

"What the hell happened here?" he asked in a hushed voice.

"When the Covies attacked, this was the first city they landed ground forces in," Shen answered. "First thing they did was take out the space elevator. With the air space contested and the elevator down, there was only one way out of the city: the roads. Unfortunately, civilians begin civilians, ran without regard. Really ruined the military's evacuation plans. This bridge in particular, Army tried to set up some anti-aircraft artillery, give the fleeing civilians some cover, but everyone got in their way. As a result, Covenant Banshees had free rein to strafe anything that moved here for over twelve hours."

"How many people were killed?" Marcus couldn't help but ask. He saw Shen shrug.

"As far as I understand, there aren't any official death counts just yet. And even then, it wouldn't be accurate. Who knows how many people were vaporized? Or their bodies burned until not even ash was left? And how many people tried to dive into the water below, thinking they could escape that way? Not only that, the Covenant controlled this bridge for a couple of days before pulling back into the city. Who knows how many bodies they ate? And yes, that's not a myth, some Covenant species, specifically Jackals and Brutes, will eat humans."

Marcus shook his head in disbelieve but couldn't dispute anything Shen said. He continued to stare at the vast amount of wreckage, only tearing his eyes away when they finally crossed the bridge and entered the city.

If Marcus thought the city looked damaged from the distance, then he definitely thought the entire city was destroyed when he finally saw it up close. Everywhere he looked, there was nothing but destruction. He couldn't see a single window intact, and every single building had holes in them. Some buildings had outright collapsed. The highway, for example, only continued about a hundred meters into the city before it was cut in half by what looked like the top half of an entire skyscraper. Not only that, everything was covered in a thick layer of gray and brown dust. Even the air seemed to be brownish in color and when Marcus took a deep breath in, he almost choked as his lungs were instantly coated in dust. Gunfire and explosions echoed throughout the city but given the acoustics, he couldn't exactly pinpoint which direction it was coming from. Overhead, he heard the roar of a jet engine but he could see where it was. Moments later, with a yelp, Marcus reflexively ducked as there was a massive explosion somewhere in the distance and the entire city shook, causing a cloud of dust to rise up from the ground.

"You can get up you know," Shen commented as he looked at Marcus with a sideways glance. "That was one of ours. My guess? 500 kg bomb. Probably the Air Force. Don't worry, if you need to duck, I'll let you know."

Marcus picked himself up, a little bit shaken. He watched as the convoy continue down the road a couple dozen meters before taking a small exit ramp off the highway. The ramp took them three blocks into the city before ending into a large clearing that, in another life, might have been a park. The area was clearly being used as a forward operating base. All roads leading further into the city were block either by roadblocks covered by pillboxes manned by soldiers and covered by rocket launchers and machine guns, or they were blocked by mass amounts of debris protected by mines. A couple of Scorpions tanks were parked nearby, their guns orientated towards the interior of the city. Aside from a couple of soldiers running from one building to another, Marcus saw no one out in the open. The convoy grounded to a halt.

"This is our stop!" Someone near the front of the convoy bellowed. "Everyone dismount and get into the Central Station! You aren't dead yet so let's move!"

Marcus scrambled to follow as Shen jumped off the end of the Warthog. He stumbled, and almost fell but Shen grabbed him by the back of his vest and pulled him upright. He quickly led Marcus to a nearby building, where the rest of the platoon was gathering.

Inside, the lobby of the building had been converted into military outpost. Holes in the two of the walls led into the next building; beyond that, Marcus could see more holes leading into the next building, and the building after that, forming tunnels that feed into the city. Guarding the entrances to the tunnels were sandbags and tripod mounted .50 caliber machine guns. Next to one of the entrances, Marcus noticed a handwritten sign that had been mounted on the wall that read "Underground Railroad, curtesy of the 223rd CEB. 'When in doubt, just use more HE.'" Coming out from one of the tunnels, there was a small squad pushing a cart.

"Welcome to the city of Kiel," Shen said cheerfully from behind him. "Or as I sometimes like to put it." He paused as the squad exited the tunnel and Marcus was horrified to realize the cart they were pushing was stacked full of body bags.

"Welcome to the first day of the end of your life."


Author's Note: The scene where Marcus first enters the tent is partially influenced by the 1949, American war film, Battleground.

The "fifty percent of all replacements don't survive their first three days on the front" is the number provided by American WW2 historian and writer Stephen E. Ambrose, from his book, Citizen Soldiers. (Part III, Chapter 11 "Replacements and Reinforcements.") Furthermore, Marcus' treatment was influenced by accounts provided by WW2 veterans, which can also be found in the same chapter.