Halo: Evolutions - Essential Tales of the Halo Universe is a collection of short stories set in the Halo universe written by several different authors. Some tell stories from the perspective of the Spartan Super Soldiers, some from the perspective of ordinary human troops, and some even from the Covenant themselves.
Halo: Evolutions provides examples of the following tropes:
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Animated Adaptation: The Mona Lisa, The Return, Midnight in the Heart of Midlothian, and Headhunters have received them.
Ascended Fanon: A contest was held for the reprints where fans could submit artwork for the short stories' covers.
Pariah, written by B.K. Evenson, tells the story of Soren-066, a trainee in the SPARTAN-II program who was adopted from a troubled childhood. After choosing to go with Dr. Halsey to participate in her program, he does his best to remain adequate as a soldier, but not enough to draw attention to himself, because he only wants to survive. Then when the augmentations for the S-IIs begin, Soren's body reacts badly to the surgery and he emerges incredibly powerful but crippled. Useless to the rest of his team, Soren is reassigned to a desk job to languish... until gradually he begins to listen to a friend of his named Partch, who has Insurrectionist sympathies. By cooperating with him, Soren hopes to be able to find himself a place in the world.
Karmic Death: Soren's paranoid father wouldn't take his sick wife to a hospital, which led to her death. Later he too got sick and Soren refused to take him to the hospital.
Never Found the Body: Soren and Partch's Longsword is shot out of the air and crashes back onto Reach. Partch's body is found in the wreckage but Soren's isn't.
Token Evil Teammate: Grayer than most examples, but Soren is the Spartan with the most troubling backstory, compared to trainees who grew up in comfort like John-117. He's also the only known Spartan to defect to the Insurrection.
Troubling Unchildlike Behavior: At six years old Soren attempted to murder his father in revenge for not taking his mother to a doctor. When caught he ran off and hid in the woods, and later when his father got sick Soren stood above him and watched him die.
Stomping on the Heels of a Fuss was written by Eric Raab. It is about two characters, the ONI operative Connor Brien, and the Covenant Brute Ceretus. Brien had visited the minor colony of Beta Gabriel on hopes of observing the behavior of Brutes, but ended up being captured by them and held hostage with other prisoners, who they plan to eat.The Brute clan that caught them, however, is slowly degenerating from the friction between their Chieftain Parabum and one of his Captains, Ceretus, who have differing ideas on how the clan should be led. While Ceretus secretly plots over how to overthrow his chieftain, Brien and the other prisoners plan together their means of escape, eventually settling on the impending civil war itself.
Enemy Civil War: The Brute clan of Parabum is actually made up of two tribes that have been feuding for over a century, only to have been forced together when the Covenant took them over.
Downer Ending: Brian and Dasc are the only prisoners to escape, and Dasc kills Brian shortly afterward to keep his existence a secret.
Gambit Pileup: Ceretus plans to overthrow Parabum. Parabum hopes to stay out of sight of the Covenant. Their human prisoners plan to exploit the Brutes' feud to escape.
He sensed hostility before; now he smelled the beginning of an inevitable clash. "Stomping on the heels of a fuss..." Brien said to himself, but loud enough to confuse the others who heard him. They all looked oddly at him. He caught their eyes. "It‘s from an old song my mother used to sing to me. Hold no court, know no rust, just stomp, stomp, stomp, on the heels of a fuss. "What‘s it mean?" Dasc asked. "It means I think we might have a chance to get out of here."
Midnight in the Heart of Midlothian was written by Frank O'Connor. Its protagonist is the ODST Michael Baird, who one night while under for surgery, woke up to find his ship the Heart of Midlothian had been invaded by the Covenant. He is the only member of its crew left alive, and with the help of the malfunctioning AI Mo Ye, must reconnect her to the ship's computers and keep the Covenant from discovering the location of Earth.
Auto Doc: Baird is put in one to have his cancer removed, but the process will require him to be out for several hours. However, this ends up saving his life as it keeps his vitals in a low enough state that the Covenant could not detect his life signs under its shielding with their scans, passing him over and leaving him the Sole Survivor.
Cure For Cancer: Baird starts the story getting ready to have a brief surgery for cancer, which he's never even heard of.
I Surrender, Suckers: Baird pretends to surrender and give the coordinates to Earth to the Covenant on the bridge so that they'll let him reconnect the ship's AI.
Sole Survivor: Michael Baird is the only human left alive in the Heart of Midlothian because he was sedated at the time of the attack.
Taking You with Me: Shortly after reconnecting, Mo Ye blows the ship up to kill all the Covenant aboard.
Three Laws Compliant: As a warship AI, normally Mo Ye can ignore them, but the partial shutdown of her core has caused her to revert to being unwillingly pacifistic. It's enough of a hinderance that she can't even use needles to give medicine to Baird because that would qualify as hurting him.
Troll: After regaining control of the Heart of Midlothian, Mo Ye activates a countdown to the self-destruct. All the Covenant aboard panic and try to flee, but then Mo Ye reveals she was just joking about the countdown. Immediately, she blows the ship.
Cover art by James Bible.
Dirt is a short story by Tobias Buckell, who also wrote Halo: The Cole Protocol. It takes place on the colony of New Jerusalem, as a rookie ODST finds a fellow dying ODST, who stops him to relate his life's story.Gage Yevgenny was the son of a Harvest father, who resented living in his family's farm and ran off to enlist the very moment he could. He befriended three other fellow Colonial Marines, Eric, Felicia, and Allison, and participated with them in battles like Operation: TREBUCHET. But their revelry came to an end with an Insurrectionist bomb blew up the night club they were partying at. Inspired by the elite Orbital Drop Shock Troopers who saved them, Gage and Felicia enlisted in the ODSTs, but training was accelerated when the Covenant threat was discovered. Worse, the aliens' first target turned out to be Harvest. For 27 years Gage fought in the war, turning colder and colder as the war went on and more worlds were lost. By 2552, the war had nearly taken its toll on him before he discovered Felicia and Eric were alive. The three gladly reunited and planned to retire together, but their scheme to leave rich would involve wading into gray area. When a dilemma of his own happiness or the lives of others emerges, Gage has only one choice he knows is right.
Batman Gambit: Part of the reason for the length of Gage's speech was because he was waiting for all the Covenant and traitorous ODSTs to be lured to the city, so he can blow them all up with his nuke.
Bury Your Gays: Alison gets taken out by an Insurrectionist bomb, and Felicia is killed by some rogue ODST's.
Headhunters is by Jonathan Goff, about a two-man team of SPARTAN-IIIs. Deep behind enemy lines, the two Headhunters Jonah and Roland slowly sneak their way into a Covenant camp, setting up traps of all sorts to take down as many aliens as they can. They plan out their raid over and over again, in hopes of making sure that absolutely nothing goes wrong.
Blood Knight: Both of them, even if Jonah is more vocal about it.
Buffy Speak / Mamet Speak: Jonah and Roland's banter is full of this, unusually for Spartans. They call Brutes and Elites "apes and alligators", and pepper their speech with plenty of swears.
Combat Pragmatist: Jonah and Roland use sneaky tactics such as mines and EMP field generators to take down dozens of Covenant by surprise. An Elite calls them out for it.
Roland: Ha. You’d think that’d teach you to have some sympathy for—
Jonah: Sympathy? Shit. If getting my ass bruised every other week taught me anything it was the simple truth that it’s better to be the bully than the bullied.
Roland: You are one enlightened individual, my friend.
Jonah: Hey, I tend to think I turned out okay.
Taking You with Me: Jonah blows up himself and six Special Ops Elites along with any other surviving Covenant for a mile.
Cover art by Bryn Casey.
Blunt Instruments is written by Fred Van Lente, following Team Black during the events of the battle of Tribute. As they plan to assault a helium-3 mine to cut off fuel for the Covenant ships above, an interrogated Covenant Drone named Hopalong tells them he can get inside the mine in exchange for his and his fellow Drones' freedom. The Spartans reluctantly let him lead the way, unsure about whether they can trust him.
Action Girl: Black-Two is most certainly one, albeit of a heavily armored super soldier one.
Curb-Stomp Battle: Amazingly, a swarm of Drones towards a Hunter. They actually manage to lift the five-ton hunk of worms and metal off the ground and tear him apart.
Enemy Mine: Black Team teams up with a Drone named Hopalong, who will help them into the mine in exchange for freeing his fellow Drones. Team Black is very uneasy about him, and don't know if he can be trusted. He couldn't. The Drones are all psychotic "Unmutuals" who were being imprisoned to keep them from being a danger to others.
Oh Crap: Black-Two gets one when she realizes that the drones the Covenant had imprisoned were insane convicts, and she'd just helped freed them en-masse. Her realization complimented by a freakin' Hunter hightailing it.
Poorly Disguised Pilot: Blunt Instruments is meant to introduce Team Black for the comic series Halo: Blood Line.
The Mona Lisa is the seventh and longest story, written by Tessa Kum and Jeff VanderMeer. It follows the crew of the UNSC Red Horse as they are sent to investigate the fate of the prison ship Mona Lisa, which has mysteriously come to rest near the destroyed Installation 04. After boarding the ship, the team of Marines stumbles upon a parasitic nightmare, and begin a desperate struggle for survival against the Flood.
Achey Scars: Lopez has some scars on her body that throb as she nears combat. Most of them are from the Covenant, except the one on her wrist, which from her cat.
Bolivian Army Ending: The story ends with Sergeant Lopez and the Elite "Henry" fighting for the last escape pod as the Flood approaches and the Red Horse prepares to fire a nuke at the ship.
Came Back Wrong: Your friends may die, then rush at you, howling and screaming...
The Chains of Commanding: Commander Foucault hates being in command, preferring his days as a private. Back then the only people he had to kill were the Covenant.
Lopez and Benti also hate the responsibility, and the guilt it brings when your men turn up dead.
Chekhov's Gun: When Benti says that nothing good ever comes from ONI, Clarence tries to look like he's not paying attention.
Cloud Cuckoolander: Benti most certainly is one. Though a competent Marine and leader, she sometimes has strange thoughts in the midst of intense situations, such as imagining a horde of Flood chasing her to be friends coming to her birthday party.
Dwindling Party: Lopez imagines her men to be rosary beads, counting each as they get picked off one by one.
Enemy Mine: The prisoner Rimmer convinces the Marines to not attack his friend "Henry", a Sangheili prisoner. Despite their unease about him, "Henry" turns out to be a powerful ally.
Humans Are the Real Monsters: The Flood and the Covenant may be bloodthirsty and cruel, but it breaks Lopez to learn that humans can be just as evil, since the Mona Lisa was hosting experimentation by ONI to test the Flood on prisoners. Not for a cure. To control the Flood.
Lopez: I guess I thought we were better than the Covenant. Not just a little better. Really better.
From Bad to Worse: It starts with an extremely bloodied and dying man falling out of an escape pod...
I Did What I Had to Do: Smith claims this when confronted with the fact that he knowingly infected both Elites and humans with the Flood for the sake of research.
It's the Only Way to Be Sure: Midway through the mission Rebecca starts urging Commander Fouchalt to destroy the Mona Lisa even though his troops are still aboard. Because she knows the Flood is there.
It's Probably Nothing: Lopez decides to not mention the strange growth she saw in Rabbit's corpse. Bad idea.
The Mole: Clarence is an ONI operative, and he shoots Rimmer to make sure no prisoners get off the ship.
My Species Doth Protest Too Much: Most Elites are arrogant Proud Warrior Race Guys, but "Henry" is very docile for one. Notably, several times he saves his human allies's lives rather than letting them be killed, and even consents to using a human assault rifle, when Elites have been seen choosing to fight barehanded rather than use a human weapon.
Determinator: What all the Spartans were. John's luck augmented that.
Ideal Hero: What Icon describes them as, and why they were so important to humanity.
Cover art by Michael James Chua.
Palace Hotel is written by Robt McLees, and stars the Master Chief during the events of Halo 2. The SPARTAN-II leads a squad of Marines through the city of New Mombasa, and they maneuver through the under-siege city in hopes of reaching the Palace Hotel, where John meets an unexpected friend.
Broad Strokes: Palace Hotel only vaguely follows the events of the Halo 2 levels "Outskirts" and "Metropolis", changing the geography, encounters, and characters.
Childhood Marriage Promise: At the end of the story Master Chief meets Lieutenant Parisa, and discovers they were friends as children, learning this when he sees her photograph of herself and him as kids. She tells him that young John had saved her from drowning, and promised to marry her, but he (or rather, his degenerate clone) died soon after. The adult John's decision to not tell her who he is was quite the Tear Jerker.
Clone Degeneration: Flash clones are highly prone to mental disorders, organ failure and an early death. Thus Master Chief learns from a now-grown childhood friend that his clone was dead within a few years.
Took a Level in Jerkass: John in his story. In previous media John is a stoic professional soldier who is respectful towards unaugmented troops. Here John is quite cocky about his abilities, yells at Marines that bother him, and has a somewhat creepy sense of humor.
Cover art by Michael Rookard.
Human Weakness takes place between Halo 2 and 3, and is written by Karen Traviss, author of the Kilo-FiveTrilogy. It stars John's AI partner Cortana, and her battle of wits between her and the Eldritch Abomination Gravemind. Things quickly go downhill. Very, verydownhill.
Break the Cutie: Which Gravemind does by drawing attention to her rapidly diminishing lifespan (7 years for all AIs), then offering her to join him for immortality.
Continuity Snarl: Cortana feels sorry for James Ackerson's death... which hasn't happened yet. Not for another week. There's no way she could even learn about it while aboard High Charity.
Determinator: Despite all the Gravemind's attempts, he cannot succeed in making her give up Halo's index. Cortana is very broken by the end, though.
Eldritch Abomination: Gravemind is shown to be more than just a mass of corpses. By the end of the story it doesn't even sound like it's on the same plane of existence at all.
Gratuitous Trochaic Heptameter: Cortana calls out Gravemind for speaking everything as a poem. It seems rather offended by her "lack of taste", and speaks more simply afterward.
Least Rhymable Word: When the Gravemind brags how it can speak in perfect trochaic heptameter and form complex poems thanks to having absorbed the minds of poets, Cortana snarks that she won't be waiting for him to find a rhyme for orange. The Gravemind merely responds "Orange, in what language? I have consumed so many."
Mind Rape: The Gravemind does this to Cortana, forcibly hacking her and filling her mind with overwhelming visions.
More Than Mind Control: The Gravemind manages this to Cortana, along with the mind raping, somehow hijacking her audio output to alter whatever she intends to say. This is what's causing the psychic visions John receives in Halo 3.
The Impossible Life and the Possible Death of Preston J. Cole
The Impossible Life and the Possible Death of Preston J. Cole is a series of email transcripts from Codename: SURGEON to Codename: USUAL SUSPECTS, which details in length the life and times of UNSC military leader Preston Cole, leading up to the events during his famed last stand. It was written by Eric Nylund, author of Halo: The Fall of Reach, Halo: First Strike, and Halo: Ghosts of Onyx.
"Listen to me, Covenant. I am Vice Admiral Preston J. Cole commanding the human flagship, Everest. You claim to be the holy and glorious inheritors of the universe? I spit on your so-called holiness. You dare judge us unfit? After I have personally sent more than three hundred of your vainglorious ships to hell? After kicking your collective butts off Harvest - not once - but twice? From where I sit, we are the worthy inheritors. You think otherwise, you can come and try to prove me wrong."
Big Damn Heroes / Enemy Mine: The Insurrectionist Fleet at the Battle of Psi Serpentis. Despite being treated as the worst kind of traitors by the UNSC, and even blamed for the early colonies lost to the Covenant, they still show up in the heat of the largest single battle in the history of the war, proceed to rip through the Covenant lines, and give Cole enough time to implement his successful last stand. Of course it helps that Cole's ex-wife (whom he was forced to leave after she was outed as an Insurrectionist) is in charge of the fleet.
Dating Catwoman: Unintentionally. Cole meets his match in the captain of the Insurrectionist frigate Bellicose, which manages to outwit him three times. She turns out to be his wife, Lyrenne Castilla.
Four-Star Badass: Preston J. Cole, undoubtedly. He's the only reason the Covenant had any reason to pause, after all.
Framing Device: The entire story is a set of email transcripts from ONI agents about Cole's life.
I Surrender, Suckers: After gaining command of theLas Vegas, Cole signaled the Insurrectionist ship Callisto, declaring the crews' surrender. However, he then ordered his crew to place their last missile in the docking bay. When the Callisto docked with the Las Vegas the missile was fired directly into the corvette.
Cole's faked distress signal was both a stroke of genius and breach of protocol so severe that UNSC CENTCOM dithered over whether to award him the Legion of Honor or to have him court martialed. Ultimately they did neither, to avoid setting precedent. However, from that point on Cole resolved to never again send a distress signal in enemy territory; no one would believe it. As he stated in his personal log: "Surrender, quite literally, is no longer an option for me.”
Heroic Sacrifice: Subverted. Cole faked his own death at the Battle of Psi Serpentis.
The Last Dance: Admiral Preston Cole. After being depended upon for so long in the Human-Covenant War by the UNSC (compared to in-universe as being in command of the battles of the Alamo, Termopylae, Stalingrad, and Cold Harbor, and repeating them over, and over), it was believed that he began to fall under the psychological strain, to the point it was speculated that he fell into another Heroic Blue Screen of Death... but one that led him to face three hundred Covenant ships around a gas giant, killing plenty of them with slingshot maneuvers, using gravity as both a lure and a shield against the Covenant plasma shots, mocking them with a Badass Boast that angers them and drives them towards him, and ending with an implosion turning said gas giant into a goddamn sun, killing all three hundred Covenant ships.
More Dakka: At the Second Battle of Harvest, Cole's fleet faces a single Covenant super-destroyer whose shields have shrugged off all attacks. Cole decides to ramp up the strikes and orders his fleet to fire everything at once into the ship. It took the armament of over 27 ships to do it, but the alien ship was finally destroyed.
Cole himself manages to destroy over 300 Covenant ships on his own in his last stand, with the help of nukes and a gas giant.
Screw This, I'm Outta Here: SURGEON and USUAL SUSPECTS theorize that Cole faked his death because he was tired of fighting the Covenant and wanted to retire in peace. That left humanity with another ten years being wiped out, though, and the two ONI agents wonder if they might be able to find Cole and convince him to return to the post-war UNSC.
Shotgun Wedding: Double subverted. Cole was accused of getting Admiral Volkov's daughter pregnant, but the child turned out to not be his. However, Cole ended up marrying her anyway, though SURGEON cannot confirm if that was out of his own will or if he was still forced into it.
SURGEON: History looks upon this time as an unfortunate (and perhaps inevitable?) misunderstanding between Earth and her colonies, but those fighting for the last decade also realize that it was the most amazing piece of blind fortune the human race has ever stumbled upon. Had we not been armed and learning how to fight in space... what would have happened in the years that followed, when we faced an enemy a hundred times worse? Oblivion, no doubt.
The Return is written by Kevin Grace, and is the first story taking place after the events of Halo 3. Its protagonist is a Sangheili Shipmaster, who has returned to Kholo, a human colony that he and his fleet destroyed. Now in doubt after the shocking reveal of lies to the Elites, the Shipmaster travels across the abandoned colony in hopes of discovered what to do with his life now that the war is over.
And Then What?: The Elites succeeded in overthrowing the Prophets, but now do not know what the gods want of them.
The Atoner: The Sangheili Shipmaster, who is the protagonist of the short story. He has returned to the glassed colony Kholo where he burned millions of humans to death.
Enemy Civil War: The Great Schism between the Elites and the Brutes is still ongoing, but is not going well. The Elites are better tacticians but are backwards in science, causing their loss of ships to hurt harder. After the Prophets disappeared the Brutes began warring among themselves, but this is only a silver lining to a grueling war.
Dangerously Genre Savvy: The Prophet of Conviction knew the shipmaster would come to kill him after his betrayal and tried to surprise him with a plasma pistol. However, it wasn't enough to save him.
Driven to Suicide: Conviction's honor guards committed suicide after finding out he had betrayed them.
Only a Flesh Wound: A human archaeologist wounded by Jackals is mistaken for dead by the Shipmaster. Later he examines the man more closely and finds he's alive but unconscious. Immediately he calls for medical aid to help this human, in hopes of interrogating to find out the results of the man's discoveries.
Proud Warrior Race Guy: Deconstructed. Because the Human-Covenant War is over, the once-mighty Elites have no idea what to do with themselves next. Additionally they have little knowledge of science and thus don't know how to repair their tech and ships.
Technology Porn: The process of "glassing" (bombarding a planet with plasma from orbit) is described in specific detail. It involves a religious ritual where the fleetmaster must, upon the order of a Prophet, carve a glyph into the surface, which takes carefully guiding of the stream of plasma and magnetic field through the atmosphere. Done correctly, and the full bombardment will commence with the Prophet now the holy patron of their fleet.
What Happened to the Mouse?: The Prophets have all disappeared by the time of The Return. Some say they went extinct, some say they went on the Great Journey, but nobody knows for sure.
From the Office of Dr. William Arthur Iqbal
From the Office of Dr. William Arthur Iqbal is an email transcript from Dr. William Arthur Iqbal to his colleagues, and details the progress of their research on the Forerunner structure in Kenya.
Enemy Civil War: The Covenant has fallen into disarray, and Iqbal fears they will not be able to rely on the Elites to keep them safe for long.
Sequel Hook: Several mysterious elements are pointed out: the Portal at Voi containing labyrinths inside, strange human-like ruins on uncolonized worlds, and further Forerunner relics.
Shout-Out: The Rozz-Ziegler Blip mentioned is named after Bonnie Ross-Ziegler, the studio head of 343 Industries.
Soma the Painter
Soma the Painter is a short story exclusive to the Volume 1 edition of Evolutions. It is written by Frank O'Connor, and takes place from the view of a Forerunner painter who witnesses the Flood arrive to their galaxy.