|1223 Hours, December 4th, 2551
Camp Häyhä, Reach, Inner Colonies
Standing in a long line of men and women in grey military fatigues, Layla-B101 knew she stuck out like a sore thumb as she edged into the cafeteria's serving area. She held out her tray and waited as her meal was dished out, hunger overriding any sense of disgust over the slop being dished up before moving away. Unlike some of Reach's cushier military outposts, Camp Häyhä doubled as a boot camp for would-be Marines and sought to keep them alive and fit, not comfortable.
Which is why they've sent me out here.
Layla strode down an aisle, ignoring the stares from some of the trainees before settling at an empty table to eat. She'd been dropped off two days prior while ONI worked out some new test to put her through as part of their 'rehabilitation' procedures, dangling the promise of being sent back to the frontlines in front of her every time she complained about the endless waiting. After five years as a POW, she figured she could wait a little longer as she regained her strength. Glancing up from her meal, Layla peered at her reflection in a nearby window and sighed.
At least I'm starting to feel like me again.
Nearly half a year ago, there would've been an emaciated, wild-eyed girl with long matted hair staring back at her. Now there was a fit, tired-looking soldier, running a hand over her freshly-shorn scalp. As she returned to her meal, a group of young Marines stopped at her table for a moment before moving away to the next one. Every so often some moron would come to ask questions, but a glare and the old favourite of "It's classified" would send them packing soon enough. Alone in a bustling room filled with chattering voices, she felt both a familiar sense of belonging and the ache of being utterly alone.
No, it's not like Onyx.
For the briefest of moments though, it had felt as though she was sat amid the ghosts of the long-dead Beta Company, her old comrades. She and a had been spared their cruel fate, only to be faced with years of torture and humiliation. In truth, she missed them. She missed the Headhunters, too; whatever was left of them, at least. Finishing her food, she shoved the tray into a nearby receptacle and moved to leave, intent on spending some time at the camp's gymnasium. The numerous Drill Instructors prowling the grounds knew not to question her, as one who'd grabbed her yesterday had found the hard way. Striding out the cafeteria's doors, she began to move down a hallway before a voice called out.
Layla turned sharply, her near-constant scowl dissolving into a puzzled gape Before her stood a man in dark armour, towering above all others around him. He took a few steps forward, removing his gold-visored helmet to reveal a youthful, if slightly scarred face. Everything else suddenly seemed hazy and unreal to the Spartan at this point as she looked with awe at the suit; a symbol of the mighty Covenant-slayer she had sought to become years ago.
"Grantley?" she breathed, looking at her former partner for the first time in years.
"In the flesh," he rapped an armoured knuckle against his suit. "I've got two weeks 'til I'm supposed to head back to the front, and ONI said you needed a proper sparring partner. Why don't we catch up while we can?"
"Yeah," she nodded, forming the first smile she'd had in a very long time. "I'd like that."