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Dirt is the fourth short story in Halo: Evolutions - Essential Tales of the Halo Universe, written by Tobias Buckell. Dirt tells the story of Gage Yevgenny from his time before the Human-Covenant War, time with the Colonial Military Administration, and later his career in the UNSC Defense Force.
The story begins as The Rookie, an Orbital Drop Shock Trooper, discovers a crashed Pelican dropship. Not far from the crash site, he finds a mortally wounded veteran ODST, Gage Yevgenny. Despite the Rookie's objections that they don't have time, Yevgenny insists on relating his life story, saying:
|“||Shut up and listen, rookie! There's something important I have to tell you. About friends. Betrayal. Loss. If you keep your head up and do what I tell you, you might even live long enough to tell someone what happened here...||”|
Gage tells the Rookie that he was born on Harvest on January 3rd, 2506. He worked on the family farm with his father, though he resented the agrarian lifestyle, often arguing with his father. On January 3rd, 2524, the hour he turned eighteen, Gage joined the Colonial Military, wanting to do more with his life. After getting out of boot camp, Gage met Felicia Sanderson and Eric Santiago at the Utgard Spaceport. The three quickly became friends. They participated in Operation: TREBUCHET on Eridanus II, doing small jobs, such as investigating possible insurrectionist activity and riot control in Elysium City. After two months, they made friends with Allison Stark, a CMA Pelican pilot, who often flew them to parties on weekends. One weekend, after the four flew a Hornet to a night club, an insurrectionist bomb detonated inside the club. The blast killed Allison, sent Eric into a coma, and heavily injured Gage and Felicia, who were pulled out of the rubble by ODSTs.
While recovering in the hospital, Gage, inspired by the ones who saved him, decided to join the ODSTs. Felicia, who had nothing else to lose, decided to join along with him. However, after several weeks of hard training, they were informed of the Covenant threat and Harvest's destruction. Felicia fell into horrified shock and screamed at Gage for his long-standing disrespect toward the planet.
Felicia was transferred from Gage's squad. Gage lost track of her, and for the next twenty-seven years, he fought hard in the war against the Covenant. He participated in many vicious battles and soon stopped making friends after seeing so many die. The war began to take its toll on him after countless crushing defeats, and he became a very serious, hardened person.
During the Battle of Skopje in 2547, Yevgenny and another ODST were rescued from approaching Covenant forces by a strange soldier clad in gray-green armor. The soldier led the survivors to safety while engaging smaller aliens with impunity and meeting Sangheili and Jiralhanae on equal terms. The ODSTs were led to a castle that was being used as the Marines' command center. Yevgenny, awed at the sight of the super-soldier, asked a comrade what he had encountered; he learned that he had been rescued by a SPARTAN, part of a top-secret project that had recently been unveiled by the Office of Naval Intelligence. Yevgenny became disturbed by the realization that the ODSTs were no longer humanity's most elite soldiers.
While holed up in the castle, he encountered Felicia for the first time in over two decades. She had shed her grief over Harvest and had become a colonel. Felicia had Gage transferred to the ship she was on, the UNSC Chares. While retreating the planet after another defeat, Felicia showed Gage that Eric had come out of his coma after five years and had become a pilot. The three were delighted to be together again, and already were having talks of retirement.
In the fall of 2552, five years after reuniting with his friends, Gage was involved in an operation to infiltrate Mount Haven, a city on an unknown UNSC colony that was under siege by the Covenant, who were looking for Forerunner artifacts. Simultaneously, several former CMA members were performing a clandestine operation to extract a massive supply of gold from a bank. However, after infiltrating the bank, the ODST team discovered a class of school children and their teacher, Julian, hiding in the underground vault, hoping to survive the planet's inevitable glassing. After loading two Pelicans full of gold, the ODSTs knew there was no room for the children. To deceive the civilians, the troopers claimed that the gold would be used in the UNSC's war effort. Gage, who had seen too many people killed by the Covenant, was in strong favor of postponing the theft to save the civilians. Believing that the civilians would certainly die, the other ODSTs, Sita, Dale, and Orrin, began to argue. Felicia stepped in, wanting to call in more Pelicans, but the other ODSTs had already raised their weapons at one another. In an instant, Gage was shot in the abdomen, three other squad members were dead, and Felicia was fatally wounded. Gage rushed to her side, but she died in his arms.
Gage, in shock, went outside to find Eric, who informed him that the UNSC were falling back. Gage knocked him out with his gun and called for more Pelicans, claiming they were under heavy fire. He then flew Eric's Pelican to the pickup point and collected the artifacts the Covenant were looking for, as well as a Shiva-class nuclear device, then flew away from the city. Gage believed that the Covenant forces would follow him in pursuit of the relics. As he was being pursued by Covenant Banshees, he was shot down by a pair of ex-CMA ODSTs, Amey and Charleston, who knew of his betrayal.
Gage crashed near the mountains outside the city, where he was found mortally wounded by the Rookie, who had arrived with Gage's reinforcements. The Rookie, who had listened intently, promises to remember Gage and do whatever he can against the Covenant. Gage then tells the Rookie that Covenant forces and the rogue ODSTs are on their way to the crash site, and warns the Rookie to get as far away as possible, as he is going to detonate the Shiva, killing them all. The Rookie drops most of his gear and runs until he reaches the other side of the mountain, at which point Gage detonates the nuke, killing himself, his renegade teammates, and thousands of Covenant troops. The Rookie, being the only survivor, hails a Pelican and is informed that Reach has been attacked, and that the survivors are retreating to Earth. They escape as the planet is glassed, but the Rookie vows not to forget Gage Yevgenny and his long and tragic life.
- The story was heavily influenced by the films Three Kings and The Rock. Elements of both films' plots are present in Dirt, such as soldiers plotting to get rich by stealing gold but having second thoughts when civilian lives are at stake, disenchanted veterans wishing to steal from the government they feel has betrayed them, a standoff that takes place due to soldiers disagreeing over whether they should save civilians or get money, and said standoff turning into a firefight when one gunman changes targets at the last second.
- At the bottom of page 118, an ODST recruitment officer speaks with Gage and his friend Felicia, saying "Raw meat for the ODST grinder, huh?" This is most likely a reference to a scene in the film Starship Troopers, wherein a recruitment officer states "More meat for the grinder, huh?" when speaking to civilians who wish to enlist.
- The story features the first two openly gay characters in the Halo series, Felicia Sanderson and Allison Stark.
- Yevgenny erroneously describes the SPARTAN's MJOLNIR armor as weighing two tons. However, MJOLNIR armor only weighs a half ton when operational.
- A fan-made film adaption of Dirt called Halo: Helljumper was released January, 2012.
- Halo: Evolutions - Essential Tales of the Halo Universe, "Dirt": ("The Covenant just attacked Reach," the pilot reported.")
- Halo: Evolutions - Essential Tales of the Halo Universe, Dirt
- GoingRampant Blog, Tobias Buckell's comment to "Examination of Female Characters - Part 3 (Halo)": "The novella was a set up as a classical tragedy (everyone who's a major character dies except for the guy who frames the story, who is the recruit from ODST, I was trying to write this to flesh him out a bit for fans)."
- Halo: Evolutions - Essential Tales of the Halo Universe, Dirt, page 132