- "I've been following the odyssey of the Master Chief since the very first Halo, which hooked me in with its epic scope and rich game world. I'm thrilled that I finally get to tell a story in a universe that has given me so much fun as a gamer - it was great to revisit the end of the Covenant War in my tale Breaking Strain, a human drama about the fears that can divide us and the hopes that can unite us."
- — James Swallow
Breaking Strain is one of several short stories in Halo: Fractures: Extraordinary Tales from the Halo Canon. Written by James Swallow and taking place in the immediate aftermath of the Human-Covenant War in 2553, the story follows the crew of the shipwrecked UNSC Dark Was the Night and their uneasy coexistence with the small colony of Losing Hand.
Having been stranded on the colony of Losing Hand for almost a year, acting Captain Darren Leone of the UNSC Dark Was the Night is awakened by First Lieutenant Maher, who tells him of an anti-UNSC message that someone had spray-painted on the front of the ship. Tired, and having been forced into a duty-bound position of protecting both the ship and the colony, Leone tells Maher to turn on the autocannon targeting lights—for show, as their weapons are incapable of firing due to the damage that caused them to crash-land on the colony in the first place. Having lost their A.I. in the attack, the crew are now stranded, unable to take off—much to the hatred of the very anti-UNSC settlers living nearby, whose wind farms were taken out when the ship crashed.
Leone is soon approached by a soldier who had found and apprehended a local who had picked a fight with him, a young woman named Aoife Larsson. Taking her back to town in a Warthog, Leone is caught off-guard when Aoife asks him how long they are going to be here and is forced to admit that he doesn’t know, as the last message they received from command was to explain the Fall of Reach. Upon arriving in town, Aoife’s older brother, Ryan, antagonizes Leone even as Sergeant Robertson defends him by pointing out that the ship’s SPARTAN-III, Kevin-A282, would stop them, despite the fact that, unbeknownst to the settlers, Kevin had left the ship a long time ago and had been watching the locals from afar, with every attempt to get him to come back in vain.
Before things can escalate, Aoife and Maher send word to either side of an incoming ship, but to Leone’s dismay, Maher reveals that although it is broadcasting an older UNSC code, the ship itself is a Covenant light corvette. A meeting is held in the town hall, but despite Leone’s best attempts to keep order, it becomes clear that there is no unity between the crew and the settlers, with individuals on both sides beginning to question Leone’s leadership.
Following this, a frayed Leone is approached by Aoife, who offers him comfort and her sympathies. Sharing their first names, the talk soon turns to what might happen, either an insurrection by the locals, already very unhappy about the UNSC presence, or a Covenant invasion from the ship. As both plans will result in bloodshed, Leone is at a loss at what to do and vents his frustrations to Aoife, even revealing the scars he gained from a Sangheili’s energy sword, but is suddenly struck with inspiration.
At dawn the next day, Leone and Robertson make their way up the coastline to find Kevin, but when they find him, he still refuses to come back, even when they tell him about the Covenant ship. On the way back to Dark Was the Night, Robertson brings up the possibility of martial law, and while Leone considers it, a subsequent call from Maher reveals that the Covenant ship has noticed them and will be here very soon. To make matters worse, the anger harbored by the settlers has now reached the breaking point, and they are on their way to the ship to confront the crew.
Despite Robertson’s reluctance, Leone decides to meet with the angry settlers alone. Walking out into the rain, he tries everything, but fails to placate the crowd, and is eventually forced to admit that the guns won’t fire. Refusing to believe him, Ryan accuses Leone of purposefully deactivating the guns despite Aoife’s attempts to get him to listen to reason, and tensions begin to rise between both sides as they begin to point weapons at each other. Leone quickly gets his own men to stand down, pleading to Ryan to not tear them apart, as doing so would doom them to the Covenant.
Ryan, however, doesn’t listen, and is about to execute Leone, but Kevin, having changed his mind and followed the group all the way from the coastline, saves the captain at the last moment by shattering Ryan’s gun with a shot from his sniper rifle. Kevin’s appearance is more than enough to break the angry mob, but it is already too late, as the Covenant ship arrives at their location.
Much to everyone’s surprise, the new arrivals turn out to be both Sangheili and human. Introducing themselves as Major Kyle Stallock and Yar 'Dosaan, the commanders of the vessel reveal that they had thought that the star system was barren, and had only decided to survey it on the insistence of their Huragok friend, Slight List. Seeing how dumbfounded everyone looks at the sight of a human and a Sangheili not trying to kill each other, Stallock begins to answer their questions.
Two weeks later, as the ship, The Lookout, prepares to leave, Leone and Aoife ponder the new state of the galaxy. Following the visit, the Dark Was the Night was stripped and turned into the colony’s power station, and much needed supplies were given to those staying behind—including some members of the crew, though most of them decided to leave. Leone reveals that Kevin will be returning to human space. When Aoife asks if he will be leaving, however, Leone decides to stay, wanting to protect the colony and its people—including Aoife, with whom he has formed a relationship with.
Technology and equipment
- Darren Leone identifies Slight List as a Huragok and claims that the "Covenant call them 'Engineers'". This is actually backwards, as "Engineer" is the human nickname for the creatures with "Huragok" being their proper name used by the Covenant.
- After Kevin-A282 fires a round from his SRS99 sniper rifle, he is described as manually cycling the bolt to remove the empty shell casing from the chamber. The SRS99 series is gas-operated, meaning that the casing would already have been ejected at the moment he fired the rifle, and so pulling back the charging handle would not have the described effect; assuming he had more rounds in the magazine, the action would actually remove the new cartridge that would already have been chambered when the weapon was fired.