|This article, The Best We Can Make of You, was written by Sonasaurus. Please do not edit this fiction without the writer's permission.|
“Vital signs stable. No signal hyperintensity from the putamen or caudate nucleus.”
“Electroencephalogram transients are within expected parameters. Accumulated prion folding has remained dormant and glycoform ratios are holding steady.”
“IHC reader detecting no anomalies. Lymphoid and brain tissues showing no unexpected agents or folded amyloids. He’s all yours, sir.”
Despite the pneumatic hiss heard over his coughing, he caught every muffled word through the layer of glass before it lifted away. The first thing he could make out were a trio of blurred figures as he groggily blinked frost from his eyelashes. He felt himself being lifted out of the cryopod, too disoriented to even hold up his head upright, and was placed carefully on a nearby bed. His shivering body was covered by a blanket as his vision finally cleared.
A uniformed officer peered down at him, his face lined with years of tribulation that made him appear older than his middle-aged appearance suggested. But the warmth in his eyes was still recognizable despite the shadows that had grown underneath. “It’s good to see you again, Felix.”
“C...Commander Jeromi?” Felix uttered, focusing on the details of his friend’s weathered features as bits of his distorted memory refocused itself.
“It’s Admiral now.” Jeromi’s smile still possessed a hint of its irrepressible spirit, strained as it was. “You have...missed a few things.”
Turning his head slightly, Felix saw the four-star insignia on the officer’s shoulders. “How long?”
A faraway look crossed the Admiral’s eyes. “Nearly thirty-four years. Given the recent developments, I’ve requested your transfer onto my hospital station, the Hopeful.”
“You found...a cure?” Felix whispered. “Th-the others? Gladys...Hector...Jess...?”
Jeromi straightened slowly, mouth moving in an attempt to form words. But before he could convey whatever news Felix was dreading, the facility doors slid open, turning the gazes of the Admiral and his medical team away. “Catherine,” he said in surprise, seeing the black-haired woman gliding in on a mobile chair. “You’re supposed to be resting.”
“I can run my own diagnostics better than most of your staff, believe me,” the woman responded briskly. Felix noticed the distinctive bulge in her stomach and figured out the rest. “Besides, I wanted to see him for myself. Have you already briefed him?”
“I was about to,” Jeromi told her, with a touch of annoyance in his brow that matched his slightly pointed tone. “If you wouldn’t mind returning to your ward—”
“Give us some privacy, gentlemen,” Catherine told the medical crew. She was clearly not an officer, and the authority with which she spoke prompted a few uncertain glances in the Admiral’s direction. “Feel free to go somewhere less classified.”
Jeromi sighed. He gave them a non-verbal nod, glaring fixedly at the newcomer as his staff silently filed out of the facility. “Really, Catherine, you take my leniency for granted far too often,” he admonished after the doors closed again. “And this is a matter that requires sensitivity.”
“We don’t have the luxury of taking our time, Admiral. You received the same briefings I have, and if my hypotheses are correct, you’ll be thankful ONI was ahead of the curve on this one.”
“Almost wish I wasn’t,” he muttered. Felix, however, slowly sat up to listen as Catherine turned to him for the first time.
“Lieutenant Felix Martel. Born February 29, 2472, service number 16642-11236-FM. Project ORION candidate 014.” A datapad was held at her side upon which he saw his service record displayed, but her observant blue eyes did not leave him as she recited the details. “You were diagnosed with Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease on January 7, 2492 and placed in cryonic stasis ten days later—although to you it must have seemed like yesterday.”
Jeromi, who caught the puzzled look Felix wore, stepped closer hastily. “Dr. Catherine Halsey is one of ONI’s chief scientists and one of my most brilliant students,” he explained. “She has devised a method of counteracting your condition, but the procedure is...risky.”
Felix laughed weakly, nearly breaking into a coughing fit as he did so. “I’m...already dying, sir...lay it on me.”
“You may not be so eager, once you hear it,” the Admiral said grimly. “I insisted that Dr. Halsey receive your consent first.”
“I have extensively reviewed the records from Project ORION throughout the years,” Halsey continued. “Muscular and sensory augmentations, retina-inversion, even brain enhancement—which is where things went wrong with you. But we’ve come a long way since then, enough for us to try again.”
“You—you’re going to make more of us?” Felix croaked, a cold pit forming in his stomach. Now he understood.
“We’ll do it better,” the pregnant doctor corrected. “The Binobo chimpanzees provided by Admiral Jeromi have proven enlightening in their results, but now we need to conduct the tests on an actual human subject before we proceed. At nineteen years old, you are the most suitable candidate in ORION.”
Jeromi winced at her choice of words. “What Dr. Halsey means is that the two of you could be mutually beneficial to one another. ONI intends to minimize the risks to her...trainees...and this is the best cure they can offer you.”
“Assuming there are no ill effects, your body will not only restore itself but surpass even ORION’s expectations,” added Halsey. “You will be reassigned to my SPARTAN program, of course, and placed into active service should your augmentations take.”
Out of the corner of his eye, Felix saw Jeromi’s averted gaze. “This wasn’t the deal,” he hissed, without turning his head. “You said...promised me...a full discharge.”
“I know,” the Admiral murmured with genuine sadness. “I’m sorry, Felix.”
Halsey cleared her throat. “You’re still in the early stages, Lieutenant, but should you refuse my offer, only suffering and pain awaits you. Dementia will claim your mind within days; after a few weeks you will lose motor functions and your body will deteriorate. Eventually you will experience blindness and loss of memory. If you are still resilient enough to ward off a comatose state by then, you won’t even feel the relief of death at the end of it all.”
“Put me back under,” Felix pleaded, his voice now barely a whisper. “When you...find a cure...”
“It’s not that simple, I’m afraid,” Jeromi said grimly. “Two weeks ago, the colony of Harvest went dark after making contact with an unknown entity. We have next to no data of what could have occurred, but Dr. Halsey has her suspicions that we are no longer alone in the galaxy.”
“Which is why it’s imperative that my SPARTAN-IIs receive their augmentations soon,” Halsey finished. “You may return to cryostasis if you wish, Lieutenant Martel, but understand that we may be facing a war for our survival as a species. Our priorities will more likely be diverted toward ensuring that survival, and consequently our current studies in the medical field will take a backseat. Full disclosure, there may not be a humanity when you wake up—if you wake up.”
The words lingered in the silence that hung over the room. Felix slumped back, spent from his ordeal and the weight of the choices placed before him. He was out of time in more ways than one, and with each feeble breath he felt despair threaten to overwhelm him. This is not what I hoped for. Not what I wanted when I joined ORION...and now ONI wants to use me as their guinea pig again.
“You could make enough of a difference to matter, Felix,” Halsey informed him quietly. “My Spartans will undergo augmentations in less than a month, and many of them will not survive. But with your cooperation we could curtail the losses, and every Spartan we can put on the battlefield will save that many more lives.”
Felix had been backed into a corner and he knew it. Even if he survived the procedure, he would have to face death again and again in the coming days. But it’s the only chance I’ve got...and it’s why I signed up in the first place. He was trembling as his eyes closed, but when he spoke his voice held steady for the first time since he awoke. “I’ll do it.”
Author's Note: (see talk page)