MATADOR: C'mon, we all know [REDACTED] wouldn't initiate communication between three, no, make that four separate systems just so he could tell us about his new armour. It's not that, is it?
BULLDOZER: From what I can tell, there's been some extensive cybernetic modification. Not civvie-grade, either; he's been built up into fighting form in the last few years. Heavy scarring and hair loss, too.
ARCHANGEL: For now, I agree. That being said, as soon as we get a positive ID back to command, we should be the first to volunteer to eliminated [REDACTED].
BULLDOZER: That's fair. Thanks for responding, everyone. Like it or not, [REDACTED] is - or was - one of us, so I couldn't not tell you that he's alive.
ARCHANGEL: Should be something more conventional coming up, [REDACTED]. Pirate cleanup, most likely, but at least you won't be undercover.
BULLDOZER: Same reason I let him to thirty years ago, [REDACTED]. Five years ago I thought that'd be the end of it, but he keeps coming back. Last week was a near miss, but when I finally do catch up to [REDACTED], I'll make sure to confirm the kill.
TO: SPARTAN BRANCH CHIEF OF STAFF
FROM: CODENAME: CAESAR
Thank you for your prompt reply to my previous message. I am aware that contacting Admiral Musa can be troublesome due to his limited availability, and that your role would be more suited to handling my request. As previously detailed, my Defender Initiative has already been approved by CINCONI,
while the recruitment of its operatives have been left to me. As such, I feel that despite your concerns regarding manpower, it would be for the best if Spartan Operations could spare some of its members to take part in Defender's 'trial run' in the near-future.
I will admit that prior to your response I was unaware of how much sought-after your Spartans are by other branches and Naval Intelligence itself, and so have provided a number of reports alongside this message that I believe will prove the effectiveness of Defender based on my own field experiences. Provided we find compatible personalities, partnerships between a trained BRUTUS agent and a Spartan supersoldier in the field may prove incredibly useful, particularly with growing dissent in the Outer Colonies. Furthermore, I believe that extended Spartan/non-Spartan interaction may be a personal boon to any taking part; I'm sure you more than anyone else can understand the psychological issues regarding augmented soldiers and their relations with regular personnel. This coupling was initially done on a strictly temporary basis between myself and SPARTAN-B101 by order of my predecessor, and I feel that the espionage of my own operatives may compliment the combat skills of your own.
Considering your scepticism, I would like to request only five Spartan recruits for Defender, ideally picked by you as a show of good faith. Should we not return satisfactory results within our usual three-month infiltration/action procedure, then I will ensure that your assets are returned immediately and with compensation. While I would prefer SPARTAN-IV candidates, I have also attached a shortlist of known SPARTAN-III operatives whose experience would be greatly valued as part of Defender. However, the choice of candidates is ultimately up to you, should you choose to take part in this project in light of my reports.
I do hope that you see eye to eye with BRUTUS on this matter.
[Message intercepted by ONI Waypoint Monitor 220-E8, pending further investigation.]
I've not contacted you in a while, for reasons that are pretty obvious by now. I'm not even sure if I should be sending this, but I feel like I have to explain myself. Not just to you, but to the rest of the family. If you don't want to hear it, or want to cut me out of your life completely, then I understand. I won't know either way.
In all the times I came to see you and Harold and the kids after the war ended, I never really spoke about what things had been like out there. You didn't ask because you wanted to give me space, I get it, but maybe this is one of those things where you need to sit down and spill your guts to someone who'll listen for five minutes. I'm not blaming you; I should've opened up, but you know how stubborn your little brother can be, right? So in short, the war sucked. I watched a lot of my buddies die and killed a lot of aliens in a lot of nasty ways. It's just how things went. Maybe I should've seen a therapist or whatever, but I thought I was rock solid. I mean, I was a goddamn Helljumper, right? We were the baddest of the badasses, out there kicking Covvie ass from one planet to the next. Maybe it was an unspoken thing between us or maybe it was just me, but I was ready to die fighting. Problem was, the war ended. That's when shit started to go downhill for me.
I'll say now that staying with you guys for those months was one of the best decisions I've ever made, and again, if I weren't an idiot with a thick skull I would've made sure to leave for good and start up as a mechanic or something in town. Once they rebuilt most of Cleveland, I mean. But I didn't. I went back with my ODST buddies to mop up any aliens still looking at us funny, and soon found myself pointing a gun at rebels, too. Y'know, you spend nearly ten years killing Covvies and you forget that your fellow man are also targets. Maybe I was just (un)lucky enough to only fight Covenant, but something about shooting people bothered me. Apparently a lot of guys who'd enlisted during the war had trouble with it. Most adapted, some left, and others started to doubt everything a little too hard. I think I was a little of each myself.
Anyway, I kept going for a couple more years. Every so often we'd be called in to fight some warlord or shoot some Innie dickhead who thought that strapping bombs to innocents would get his dirtball planet 'freed' or whatever, and things were fine as long as I had my fellow Helljumpers. Once a guy saves you from getting your head chopped off by an Elite, or manages to carry your wounded ass out of a crossfire most men wouldn't take a second look at, you trust him. Problem was, my buddy Mal started to get real vocal about how much the life was starting to mess with him until the poor bastard lost his arm on some ridiculous secret op that nobody's ever going to know about. Long story short is that he signed his papers, packed his bags, and made it pretty clear that he was leaving to sign on with some pretty bad dudes. I hung around for a few months after that, but soon enough I found myself spouting the same lines he was about unfair treatment and all that crap. I got word that a couple of higher-ups were getting fed up with me, and got out before I was kicked out - or worse, got a visit from some ONI spook. Sounds harsh, but they were a little worried about deserters.
So this is the part where I apologise again, but saying that I'd left of my own accord sounds better than me running from a potential hearing. Once again, staying at your place was great, but that's when I realised that home wasn't home any more. Grounding myself and putting down roots like you did simply didn't sound good to me, especially when I knew what was out there, beyond Earth. That's when I made up that crap about getting colony work. You see, I knew a few ex-troopers who'd set themselves up on the frontier, where things had gotten pretty wild after the war and there was a lot of demand for men and women with my kind of skillset. Saying that I was going to work as a starship welder sounded like a good enough excuse, right? Instead I found work as a mercenary, which is a little nicer than saying I was a hired killer. Granted, most of the guys we went after were real scumbags, but that's what everyone tells themselves. The worst part about it all? I was really, really good at it. Even painted a little skull onto my faceplace to make myself scarier when I went after folks. I liked the reputation I was getting and well, that's what got me the wrong sort of attention.
I'm getting to where things went really wrong for me now, so if you're still reading this, thank you again. Life on the frontier was tough, but I liked it. The pay was good - mostly - and I'm not gonna lie, it felt damn good to know that people were scared shitless of you. The only problem was that I was a big fish in a gigantic pond, so it was only a matter of time before someone bigger came for me. After I found out Mal died - I never could find him again, which hurt a lot - I was drinking in some bar when a guy comes up to me. Now I don't know if he was some genetic freak, lab accident, runaway Spartan or what, but he had this kind of aura that made me realise I'd be dead if I messed with him. Instead, this seven feet tall, half-cyborg monster offers me a job. Dangerous, but good pay. Being frightened and stupid, I say yes, and become a goddamn terrorist.
This guy's name was Magnus. Wasn't real of course, but nobody had a clue of who he really was. Now he wasn't your average contractor or merc leader with a few scruples stopping them from becoming a pirate. Magnus hit targets hard, got what he wanted, and made damn well sure nobody followed him. I soon worked out he was in with some rebel group, though in the three months I worked with him we sure as hell weren't spreading the good word of whatever group of angry colonists he belonged to wanted the UEG to hear. I won't lie to you here, Sue: I killed people who didn't deserve to die. Never executed any innocents, but watched as his crew did. All that time, I just shut it out. Didn't acknowledge what I was doing. I knew it was wrong, but I didn't want to die. Problem was, three months of hitting hard targets attracts a lot of attention, and once the UNSC were doing everything they could to find us, Magnus decided to get rid of us by pinning the blame on me.
You know what happened on Circumstance. Everyone in the colonies knows that Ash Mitchell and his buddies walked into a bank, killed everyone inside and robbed the vault before blowing up several city blocks to cover their escape. Right? Sort of. Sue, if this seems like I'm making excuses, then I'm sorry but I'm really not. We were told to walk in and take some data files from storage there. I don't know what was on them, but Magnus probably needed them for something or other. I reckoned we could be in and out in five minutes without casualties. What I didn't know was that most of my crew had been ordered to kill everyone in sight, and when the shooting started, the rest of us couldn't do much more than carry out the job. You know who I killed that day? Four cops. We were being chased, and I fired back. Nobody told me about the massacre, or that the buildings had been rigged to blow. When the few of us who survived made it back to our meeting point, what did Magnus do?He killed us. Every loyal man he had died, except me.
I just realised how much I've written, and Jesus, I think I needed to get all this off my chest. Storytime's nearly over now, anyway. Magnus tossed me out of a window, I lived, and got offworld as soon as I possibly could. When I woke up the next day, I was the Butcher of Kuiper. See, Magnus was like a ghost. Nobody knew him, nobody could see him, and anyone connected with him for too long died. In this instance, he decided that I'd be his fall guy. he'd made sure that every hit we'd undertaken in those last few months was pined solely on me by making sure that the UNSC found just enough evidence to get a full story. It's been a month since then, and I'm still running.
Sounds crazy, doesn't it? Blaming all the horrible things I did on some mysterious criminal who nobody who can find. It's true, though. I'm not trying to clear my name, because frankly I don't deserve that, but I just want to make it clear that there's someone out there worse than me. Someone who I'm going to dedicate the rest of my life to taking down because I don't have anything left to lose. I'm sorry, Sue. I don't know if this message is a cry for help or my attempt at getting the record straight or what, but I'm sorry. I can't really think of what else to say, so I'll end it here.
From your little brother,
[Message ends here. As per standard security protocols, the original recipient has not received this transmission, which will be withheld until authorisation is given by a ranking agent.]
[Addendum: Upon review by ONI/SEC2 and BRUTUS, the contents of this message contain sensitive information that may not be revealed due to the Official Secrets Act and other protocols. Mentions of subject 'Magnus' have been deemed spurious and may be subject to further investigation. No content is to be delivered to the recipient, Royce S.]
[Correspondence between S-136 and S-G209, dated October 18th-23rd, 2558]
[MESSAGE DATED OCTOBER 18, 2558, 2203 HOURS (STANDARD ADJUSTED TIME)]
As you have already been informed, THOR's next target is one of its former members. The Commander wanted to break it to you gently or even cut you out of the loop entirely, but I convinced him otherwise. The simple facts are that ONI wants May dead. Not captured or cut a deal. Dead. I can't say that I've known her as long as you have, nor could I even pretend to understand whatever bond developed between you two over the years, but I'm still unhappy about our orders. Nonetheless, it is our duty as Spartans to do the dirty work so others don't have to. Gamma's still a dirty secret as far as the higher-ups are concerned, which is why they won't assign a SPARTAN-IV unit to deal with May.
Right now, you're only two hours past the return deadline from your leave. Commander Cuaron is willing to forgive a little tardiness, but consider this a friendly reminder before the threats start coming in. I've already had you filed to remain at base during our operation, so all you have to do is come home and let us deal with May. If reports of the degeneration in Gammas who've gone off their Smoothers are accurate, then perhaps it will be for the best if you didn't see her. We can help you deal with whatever comes after, either as a team or via professional help. Don't take this entire mission on your shoulders, Julian.
You've got six hours. Come home.
[MESSAGE DATED OCTOBER 21, 2558, 0736 HOURS (STANDARD ADJUSTED TIME)]
Sorry for taking so long to get back to you, but I needed the head-start and sending a message would've tipped ONI off too soon. I know the procedure with STOLEN GAUNTLET, and the measures you're going to undertake to find me. I wish it was someone else than THOR being sent after me, but I guess ONI has to prove your loyalty too now. Since I doubt I'll be able to handle the three of you at once, even with prep time, I fully intend to surrender if you catch me before I find May. That's a big 'if', but I'm not so far-gone as to kill my fellow Spartans. I've seen what someone like you can do to a III in close-quarters, and know it's not a fight I'm going to win.
After I've sent this message, we can start this thing for real. I'm going to try and find May and bring her home. If she's beyond help, I'll deal with the problem myself. No ulterior motives or long-hidden plans of betrayal here whatsoever, just a simple disagreement with how a situation is to be handled. I am, despite everything, loyal to the UEG and its principles, and have no intention of going full Innie on you. Sorry if it makes things harder, but the truth is the truth. Hopefully my little journey will go well, I'll get a slap on the wrist for being a bad boy, and we can all go back to being one horribly messed-up family together.
Or we could all kill each other, we'll see.
[MESSAGE DATED OCTOBER 23, 2558, 0401 HOURS (STANDARD ADJUSTED TIME)]
To Julian (and the ONI spook reading this, no doubt)
Just in case you're still reading these, we're already out on the hunt. Layla's taking to this with her usual enthusiasm, and Mordecai's probably secretly enjoying this even if he isn't showing it. I'm not compromising OPSEC on this since you're a priority target now, but if it makes you feel any better, the Commander has put in a request for Layla to be brought in instead of killed. It's a slim chance there's a 50/50 chance that they're lying anyway, but I thought I'd let you know.
Also, as a note of personal pride, I've become pretty damn good at discerning fake tracks from real ones. I give it a week at most before we're face-to-face, and hopefully not trying to kill each other. Personally, I'm hoping that you track down May before we do, because let's face it, she's the crux of this issue. She says no, doesn't come quietly or has lost her mind, and things are going to turn bloody. If she's still got her suit - and she almost certainly does - then we're facing a potentially psychotic S-III who happens to be your closest friend. That's when loyalty's going to come into play, Julian. Better make that choice now.
[Hand-written letter dated October 2nd, 2558, passed to █████ █████ within HIGHCOM.]
On the Civilising of the Galactic Frontier