Authors Note: It is highly recommended that Halo: Mercy Kill is read before this story for plot issues.
|1113 Hours, June 27th, 2554
ONI PILLAR Base, Mount Everest, Earth
The war is over. We've won.
Those were the first words they had said to him, two months ago. Victory. It didn't seem possible, but humanity had survived the Covenant onslaught. More shocking than that was the revelation that the Elites - or Sangheili, to go by their proper name - were now officially their allies. That had taken some getting used to. Of course, after being dead for nine years you tended to lose track of things.
Hank-136 walked along the corridor, striding past various personnel, who flattened themselves against walls to allow his passage. A door slid open, revealing a room lined with weapons. He picked up one, a new model of the Battle Rifle, and M6 Series pistol, the favoured sidearm for a SPARTAN.
A smooth female voice sounded through the intercom. "Sierra One-Three-Six, the training room is ready now."
"Thanks, Janie, I'm going in."
Hank was suited up in the latest variant of the MJOLNIR armour, fully customised and painted to his liking, the silver paint still reasonably fresh. It felt natural to him, after all these years. He flexed his latest addition in front of his face: A robotic prosthetic arm. It was surprisingly strong in spite of it's almost skeletal appearance, and hadn't taken long to get used to. Then again, there had been so much to get used to since Hank had awoken in that sterile hospital room, surrounded by strangers in surgical masks. Even with his Spartan training and stoic disposition, he couldn't help but panic. Breaking free from his restraints, he had pushed his way through and fled, disoriented. In his state, Hank hadn't made it far before the suppressants kicked in, and had woken up a second time clothed, and in a normal bed, with a familiar face. That was a few weeks ago.
Walking into the circular training room, the SPARTAN-II checked his weapons a second time, and stood on the pad in the middle, and waited for Janie, the facility's 'dumb' AI to reconfigure things. He'd spent the last few weeks going in and out of testing, re-learning how to use his MJOLNIR suit, going through the basic weapons and equipment training that he'd mastered before he was ten years old. It was a bothersome and arduous process, but he'd endured for the time being, if only to learn what he'd missed. Most of the people he'd known, served with or under, were dead. Mack and Roe, the men who had trained him. As for Sigma's Spartans, only a handful remained of the eighteen who had left the facility on Earth, thirty years ago.
"Challenge begin. Level: Medium."
Immediately, doorways on each side slid open, and a dozen slim, metallic drones rolled out. These were new, considering that years ago the trainees would have gone up against other men and women. Still, this meant that Hank wouldn't have to be as careful...
"Drones active. Good luck, Sierra One-Three-Six."
Hank dived to the side as a solid block of metal rose from the ground to act as cover. More began to rise, forming a sort of maze around the SPARTAN. At once, the drones began to move, their dim flicker of artificial intelligence prompting them to fire at anything that wasn't them. A stream of TTR rounds impacted against a wall as the intended target dashed away, bursts of rifle fire cutting down targets as he went. Hank leapt over another wall, rolled, and seized one of the drone's by it's 'throat', span around and fired on it's fellows, before decapitating it with a sweep of his combat knife.
It was too easy, and a little insulting, he thought, to be put through these simple exercises; he'd breezed through easier ones by the age of fifteen. So, at forty-four, he'd be more than a match for a couple of pissy combat drones. The rest went down in seconds.
"Hey Janie, I'm done, can I go yet?"
"Of course, Sierre One-Three-Six. Combat telemetry indicates that you are still performing at optimal capacity."
"Damn right I am," Hank muttered as he stalked towards the exit. It's all part of the recovery process, he reminded himself. That's what she said, and she never let us down before.
Walking through the armoury, he replaced his weapons and began the long walk towards psychiatric testing. All he wanted to do was get back with the others, those who had survived the damn war. The door chimed once, and slid open, allowing him to step into a darkened room.
"Please, take a seat," came a deep male voice. "We also need you to remove your helmet."
"Yes, sir." He knew that whatever his rank, an ONI agent would usually supersede the authority of whoever they were speaking to. It was something that they were good at; he'd been trained to do so as well. Hank sat on a nearby chair, ignoring the audible creak under the weight of his MJOLNIR suit, and removed the silver-visored helmet.
"Chief Petty Officer Hank-136, SPARTAN-II and former member of Sigma-Beta Team?"
"Yes, sir." They already knew everything about him, this was just a formality. Still, something irked him. Former member?
"You've been out of action for a while now, soldier. How are you feeling?"
"I'm fine, sir. I've gotten used to the prosthetic arm."
Hank could just about make up the physical features of the man sitting across the table of the darkened room, his augmented eyes allowing him to, unlike many others, see his interrogator. Early forties. Weathered. Probably seen action. He wondered if he'd learn the man's name, though it would be doubtful.
"Chief, please relay the last events you recall before you were resuscitated." He'd seen this coming.
"We were falling back from ONI's facility on Schönheit, carrying data pertaining to MJOLNIR armour upgrades that were being developed there."
"Do you know what they were?"
"Largely experimental plans for energy shielding, circuit amplifiers and the like. We'd been ordered to get them off the planet at all costs."
"The planet was being overrun by the Covenant, we came under attack by a large force as we headed for our extraction zone."
"Define 'we', Spartan."
"Myself, SPARTAN-071 and SPARTAN-127, along with a platoon of Marines covering the extraction." The interrogator nodded, and looked down at a datapad. He had a feeling that it was a checklist of sorts.
"Tell me about the battle. You never made it off Schönheit, did you?"
The words were oddly blunt, even a little mocking in nature. Hank closed his eyes for a second, before looking up.
"No, sir. We were taking casualties, and I engaged several Hunters at close range, killing most of them before retreating. As I fell back, a survivor was able to fire it's cannon at me. That's the last thing I remember."
"Well, that corresponds with the helmet data from SPARTAN-071. You've talked with her, yes?"
Elena. She was the first friendly face he'd seen, a little older than he remembered, but recognisable as his leader all the same. "She informed me about the deaths of the other SPARTAN-II's, sir."
"What about SPARTAN-127. What about Pierre?"
"You weren't told about him, were you?"
"He was killed on Schönheit, wasn't he?"
"In a manner of speaking. SPARTAN-127 survived the battle, placing your body in a stasis capsule while he lived on the planet for almost a decade, surviving within a facility built by aliens of an unknown origin. Eventually, a long-distance transmission was picked up, with 127 declaring that he had officially left the UNSC."
Elena hadn't told him anything about this! "What happened to him?" he asked, leaning forward.
"SPARTAN-071, SPARTAN-099 and a team of Orbital Drop Shock Troopers were deployed to Schönheit, where they eliminated 127, his Covenant allies, and destroyed the alien facility. This was twelve days ago."
"Right." He'd been fully prepared to accept the deaths of Pierre and the other Spartans in the war, he'd been trained to. This, however, was another matter entirely. I have to talk to her, find out what's going on...
"We recovered your body from the stasis pod, and were able to revive you, which brings you up to this point, Chief. What we're going to do with you."
"I'm returning back to the SPARTAN unit, aren't I?"
"I'm afraid not. We have something else in mind."
The ONI man obviously hadn't expected to be questioned, least of all by a SPARTAN-II. He exhaled, and glared at Hank. "Do you not understand what I'm saying, soldier?"
"Sir, I'm asking why. I'm functional enough to return to-"
"No, you're not. We're assigning you to Fireteam Thor, 136. I'm afraid that we can't have you working in a unit with the others any more."
"Don't question orders."
"Sir, I'd like to-"
"You will do as instructed, 136. Now, leave and proceed to the hangar bay."
"Not until I get my answers, sir."
Hank was speaking automatically, without thinking. Something was up, and he knew it. He was a SPARTAN. He should be following orders immediately. He should be obeying his superiors without question. He wasn't. The man pressed a button on his desk, and stood up. Hank stood up too, realising the marks where he'd been gripping the desk.
"You are not functioning properly. So, we're putting you in with the other broken toys. Dismissed."
Not functioning? Broken toys? Hank didn't like that, and stepped forward, towering over the man. He could hear the tramp of boots from outside.
"We're not machines, asshole," came the reply. Swearing at a superior officer. That was new. The ONI man's eyes widened at this, and he took a step back as the door slid open, revealing a trio of heavily armed military police, wielding automatic weapons. Hank assessed the threat. Minor.
"Men, escort this 'man' to the hangar immediately."
Hank began to slowly walk out of the room, and delivered a backwards kick to the table, sending it flying into the man, slamming him against the wall to the accompanying sound of breaking rib bones. The MP's raised their weapons, but did not fire, allowing him to leave as they went to aid the interrogator. Bastard deserved it, Hank thought as he stalked towards the hangar bay. Something was wrong with him, he felt it. Whatever this THOR thing was, he'd have to put up with it. Besides, so what if being dead for nine years had messed him up. He was a SPARTAN, and there were still plenty of covvies, innies and more out there.
As for her? Fine, screw it. She can keep her secrets with the others. I'm off.
The security cameras watched the SPARTAN-II storm off angrily. Sitting at a table, far away, two figures tracked him down the corridor and out of sight.
"So, your suspicions were correct, then."
"Looks like it."
"Whatever happened to the conditioning they went through as children? Something like that shouldn't break, ever."
"He was dead in that tube for so long. Who knows what happened. Putting him in Thor is the best solution."
"I thought you said that he wouldn't be a team player?"
"They're not a team. You've seen the rosters. A Gamma who were a bit too unstable for ONI's liking, and Beta One-Oh-One."
"Christ, you're putting her in there?"
"They're still Spartans. They can rein each other in when things go bad. Hank's angry, but he's not stupid. He'll adjust."
"I hope you're right, Commander, for suggesting this course of action. You're his friend, after all."