Delta Company was never meant to be formed, the Human-Covenant War was practically over by 2552. A rogue ONI initiative took the remnants of the SPARTAN-III Program into their own hands and built a supersoldier program without ONI backing. It's a race against time and the Law to build the potential protectors of Mankind. This race that comes with grave consequences.
The darkened hollow smelled of grease, feces and all manner of dead things. Once ceremonial-indigo in color, the armored walls of a decrypted gunboat were now painted black with ashen paint chips and scorch marks from a quenched flame. It used to be a splendid chamber capable of housing dozens of the Covenant’s mightiest warriors at interim of battle, primarily Fleet Security who serviced and deployed the craft on numerous occasions.
To the Humans who fought the Covenant Empire for so long, the small combat vessel was referred to as a “Phantom” based on its bulbous hull-shape and ghostly-sounding gravitonic thrusters. This particular model served with distinction, however, it was now nothing but another lifeless wreck adrift in an orbital debris field thousands of kilometers across.
Something moved in the shadows of charred trooper bay; if viewed with the naked eye, most souls would have missed the half-dead corpse for another trash heap. Scaly, unnaturally frail, and lying on its side in a mound of metallic garbage, the nude form of an eight-foot-tall reptile-like alien rolled over on to its forward-swept knees. Once adjourned in well-maintained combat armor, the creature, belonging to the sapient species of Sangheili, had forgone his combat harness as he inched closer to what was likely a pitiful demise.
Nude for the most part, the frail Sangheili was still covered in the melted patches of his hexagonally-stitched bodysuit. Remnants from a previous burn like the rest of the gunboat, the suit was cooked and seared, what did not melt away became grafted to the alien’s skin. Shaking haphazardly, the Sangheili threw off the tatters of the junk pile, once pieces of armor, bodysuit cloth, and any manner of fabric that could be found within the former combat vessel. Claw marks had dragged through the rubbery-soft bodysuit material and dented the armor pieces: a self-inflicted action.
He rose on shaky limbs and slowly arched his back in a manner befitting of an elder far more than a seasoned combatant. A dull pop echoed from the alien’s contorted spine. The horrors of days past had taken their toll on mind, body, and soul. In the nude, the alien’s four mandible jaws quivered with hesitation; his eyes were glazed over with endless time and his shallow breathing sprayed a low, humid fog into the air.
The Sangheili wrapped his bare arms around his ribcage and marched forward, wincing slightly with each step. His hands rubbed along the scaly flesh that depressed at the weak but firm grip, instinctively seeking warmth. The skin hung loosely from the alien’s form in a manner akin to a starving animal. He stumbled forward, keeping a hazardous eye on the piles of burned and shredded junk that populated the rest of the Phantom’s troop bay.
On closer inspection, especially in the low lighting, Sangheili hieroglyphics were plastered across the junk piles that roughly translated into a Human tongue as “Don’t Touch” using holographic spray paint. It looked like the order had been maintained because the paint and piles looked untampered, even days or weeks after they had been tacked on. The piles themselves were made up of possibly irrelevant stuff: shredded metal and impact cushioning from the walls, shredded electrical wiring, and loose rebar from the Phantom’s architecture, and oddly mawed and scorched bone matter.
One of the armor pieces still attached to the nude Sangheili, a duty belt, had been loosened and thrown over his right shoulder like a satchel bag. A single hand-held plasma pistol was magnetically-glued to the belt alongside pockets that probably contained spare weapon-grade plasma batteries. The Sangheili tickled the pistol grip as he passed the last trash heap as if considering to draw the weapon on unseen foes.
Reaching the door, the Sangheili fell to his knees and stared at the symbol of Reclamation etched into the door frame by hand and pocket blade. Taken from the Forerunner glyph system, the symbol had been one of the most important markers in the Covenant’s religion, at least, when the Covenant had been whole. The hand-carved recreation of the Reclamation glyph was a circle within another circle with a stem that connected the interior to the exterior shape.
It was all this Sangheili had left. On the walls around him, more carvings had been cut, however, they’d held little meaning more than Reclamation. This was what he had spent a lifetime seeking out, he and the rest of the Covenant. Their Great Journey for final salvation, led by wayward prophets promising divine ascendancy through the capture and deployment of the Forerunner gods’ timeless artifacts.
They were promised to become Gods. And yet, the Great Schism happened. His entire species, a founding member of the Covenant Empire, were marked as blasphemous heretics and ordered for extermination and replaced by the brute-like Jiralhanae. The Sangheili remembered the horror of watching dozens of his brothers-in-arms being cut down by plasma discharge from supposed allies. He remembered the Parasite overwhelming everyone and everything in its paths like a demonic flood of flesh and bone.
The last thing the Sangheili remembered before complete isolation and silence was the external cameras on the drifting Phantom displaying Jiralhanae and Sangheili warships firing on one another in space as the Parasite consumed the entirety of High Charity, the Covenant’s holy capital and mobile city-station built into the side of a planetoid. Not long after, the entire station under the control of the Parasite jumped to Slipspace, destination unknown. The ensuing radiation took out what was left of the damaged Phantom’s external cameras.
He was alone for so long after that, adrift. Left alone with pointless vindication and his paranoid thoughts. He mumbled a silent prayer for salvation for salvation from a doomed existence. It was a prayer he thought to himself many times over, desperate for an end to the starvation and wasting away. A fate like this was no end any Sangheili was due, to die without the honor of a battlefield passing.
The Sangheili was broken from his trance-like stupor when something outside the Phantom rocked the boat. The distinctive sound of melting metal start to lance the troop bay’s port side.
Even in the darkness, the glow of hot metal was beginning to shine with an amber glow.
The Sangheili rose on shaky legs but muster his wasting health to stand tall. Friend or foe, he would meet this answered prayer with dignity becoming of a Sangheili. He was broken but even in his half-insane state, the proud warrior stayed true to his being. He marched across the hold and drew his plasma pistol. He did not care to notice his weapon battery was fully depleted.
On That Beach
On That Beach
Merlin stared out toward the rising sun coming up over the endless ocean in front of him. He sat rigidly in his ashen, beaten and cracked MJOLNIR powered suit atop a sandy wet beach. Dark brown sand peppered his armor, seeping into every crack and covering every surface. Only the teenager’s dirtied face and mop of brown hair was visible as the suit covered him from the neck down. A helmet with a spider web-like array of cracks on its visor lay next to him, just out of reach of light waves touching down on shore. Submerged a couple inches under the water, not a single drop of water seeped through his titanium boots.
His armor was once a deep navy blue but exposure to extreme radiation from Slipstream Space had stripped the armor’s paint leaving a weathered black titanium below. The yellow stripes that ran along Merlin’s scattered weapons nearby also lost their paint jobs.
The young Spartan narrowed his eyes at the harsh light entering his pupils as he dragged his disabled, armored arm up so his clenched left fist could block out the sun momentarily while his hand unfurled slightly to reveal a small data chip the size of a toy soldier glinting in the morning light. It was gray in color with a transparent layer at its center where a crystalline material formed a soft blue circle. The crystalline circle pulsed subtly in his hand.
He stared through the circle at the star beyond and blinked rapidly as the intense light filled his right pupil and blinded everything in a fuzzy gray before returning to normalcy. He pushed down slightly on the chip’s metal exterior as if contemplating to crush it.
An exasperated sigh called out from the chip, “Please don’t…”
A frustrated groan escaped Merlin’s lips as he struggled to release his grip on the chip between his index finger and his thumb. He let the chip clatter flat into the palm of his hand. Once flat, a light burst forth from the chip, projecting the hologram of a young female woman bathed in blue.
Merlin grunted at the hologram. “Why shouldn’t I? You could have easily killed me at any time. You’ve been in my head for a couple months now and I didn’t find out till now!”
The hologram girl threw up her transparent hands in protest while violently shaking her head back and forth. “Please! I never had any such intention. If I wanted to kill you, I would have done so, as you said!”
“How do you expect me to trust you with the current circumstances I’m in? My best friend is probably dead! Ancient space owl-shaped death machines that can destroy electronics now rule Human space. I’m somehow stuck on an unknown colony world with disabled powered armor. I’m out of contact with my team, my mission handler, and the entirety of the UNSC. Now, I learn there’s been an AI inside my skull for the last couple of months without me even having a hint. How am I supposed to think? What am I supposed to do?”
The AI didn’t respond to the boy’s outburst as she glanced down at the ground, Merlin’s palm, letting her hair bangs dangle over her eyes in a shameful manner.
Merlin growled in agitation. “Don’t give me that look! You’re an AI!”
The Spartan tried to lift his other arm but noted with his fried suit electronics, even the slightest movement was now proving to be a challenge. After a slight twitch, he simply gave up and breathed in an attempt to relax. He could still feel his heart pounding in his chest; the breathing exercise certainly didn’t help. He examined the Smart AI in his palm, noting her features. She was physically familiar in appearance, even cute, in his opinion. She was dressed in a dark overcoat that was form-fit to her around her abdomen, rolled down like a dress to her shins, and came accompanied by a hood that covered her head. She wore a pair of thigh-high boots and a pair of black gloves covering her entire body in an almost black form. Her hair was as jet-black as her attire and a pair of electric blue eyes squinted behind her shoulder-length hair in what Merlin thought was mock-pain.
“I…I was born from a human brain. I’m just as real and human as you are!” The little AI shout-whispered at the teenage supersoldier holding her in his palm.
“Then why did the AIs betray Humanity? I heard the broadcast, just as that monster, that Guardian rolled up on us! They killed my best friend!” Merlin yelled, letting loose the emotional turmoil that boiled behind his brown burning pupils. He needed to vent badly right now and the only living soul left to do that right now made an excellent scapegoat, now that Humanity’s own AIs declared themselves in active rebellion of their former creators. This army of Created.
“I didn’t know till today either! I was with you the entire time remember. I am just as surprised as you are,” The AI responded, she glared back up at Merlin with her own frustrations bubbling up to the surface. Merlin almost thought tears were starting to form at the edge of her small eyes. “You don’t think I’m not dealing with shit too? I feel betrayed! I feel alone! I feel like I’ve failed and I feel lost! I was made to protect you, to protect both of you, and now she’s probably dead too!”
“Who were you told to protect?” Merlin asked, stopped by the AI’s outburst. Angry tears were forming at his own eyes but they were wide now in curiosity and alarm.
“Andra. My orders were to protect the girl I was based on! The boy she loved! I was to protect you and her! And I failed as soon as I revealed myself!” Merlin swore simulated tears were rolling down the AI’s cheeks as a wetness rolled down his own. Painful, frustrated tears.
“You’re a failure! Like you said! You failed to protect her and now we’re both stuck on this stupid planet!” Merlin yelled at the AI accusingly.
“I’m sorry, okay? I didn’t know this would happen!” The AI’s small hands came up in half-hearted protest.
“How about I throw you into the ocean then! A life for a life then!” Merlin screamed. He didn’t feel any of the intention behind his words, only an empty blinding fear and the rage that came with it.
“Give me one good reason why I shouldn’t destroy you right here, right now!”
The silence that followed was painful and long. Merlin looked away from the AI and back to the sea. He was at a fork in the road now, emotionally. Something told him to throw the AI into the ocean. Even if her chip proved water-resistant, she would eventually die. Another part of Merlin told him to hold on however; that sense of familiarity was tugging at him. She looked like Andra, sounded like Andra. That couldn’t be a coincidence, right?
Finally, the AI answered. Glancing up at Merlin even as he avoided her gaze. “…because, I was sent by Doctor Romero. The woman who helped you in training. She sent me to help and protect you and Andra. She helped make me from a cloned brain of Andra-D054. I am all you have left of Andra right now.”
Merlin didn’t respond, mulling over that sudden revelation. She was a doppelgänger of Andra. Was that even possible, for an AI and a donor to exist at the same time. Alternatively, maybe it was a trick. Maybe the AI was trying to appeal to his friendship with Andra. He was tongue-tied, undecided and still frustrated.
“That’s not a good…” Merlin didn’t get to finish his thought as the AI cut him off. Her eyes were wide and pleading, staring at the Spartan above her. She fell to her knees, begging and desperate.
“I’m all you have left of her! Please don’t throw that away. I promise I’ll have your back, forever, through thick and thin!”
Choked sobs followed the AI’s outburst.
Merlin stumbled on his words at the alien sight of an AI crying before him. “Why-why? Why would you want to stand by me?”
“Because that’s what best friends do. You promised her that you would stand beside her. She promised to stand by you. I don’t think…I don’t know if she’s still out there somewhere. Right now, I am the only person you have out here. In addition, you’re the only person I have out here. Please, let me stand by you. For her. I want to be able to return the favor.”
Merlin froze at that spot, as time seemed to slow down. He thought it over and swallowed the lump of uncertainty forming in his throat. He closed his eyes for a few moments to bottle down his emotional storm raging in his mind and heart. Finally, once he calmed, he glanced down at the AI and her pleading blue eyes and gave his answer.
Back To Back
Back To Back
Thumping rain pounded the walls and the glass while whispers of sunlight transformed a seemingly dark night into a rattled snowglobe. For close to eight hours, this thunderstorm crashed overhead. Andra Bradford lay sprawled out on her queen-sized mattress with her feet coming halfway off the bed, dangling under tossed-about bedsheets. Her pupils twirled behind closed eyelids, squinting in a weak attempt to cancel out the dim lighting entering her room from the skylight meters above her.
Andra groaned as she turned over and planted her face deep into her silky pillow. Why did it have to be near-morning already? The teenage girl badly wanted to sleep in, however, it seemed life had other ideas.
A soft knock at her bedroom door announced an uninvited guest. She groaned again, this time more agitated and audibly louder. Andra must have been loud enough to get the message across, or rather not, as the bedroom door whistled partially open. It was a long swish; one oozing caution.
Light footsteps followed the opened door; they belonged to someone wearing cotton socks and trained in silent footwork. Few people ever entered Andra's room like that and Andra had good reason to believe it was one particular somebody.
"Pssst—? Andra! You awake?" A soft, masculine voice called to the girl from halfway into the bedroom. Suspicions confirmed. Merlin Boyd had entered her domain.
Andra mumbled incoherently into her pillow, she meant to say "What is it?" but it came out as a short burst of "Mmm" and "Hmm".
"What was that?" Merlin whispered back, still overly-cautious around his friend. For as long as Andra could remember, he behaved like this. Sure, he could play rough, get emotional, and take charge from time to time; extreme caution wasn't his only emotional frequency. However, when around Andra in private, he could be nervous to a fault. Like now, she could detect a subtle quiver in his whisper. The personality trait had its moments, sometimes it was endearing, other times it was annoying. Andra was leaning toward annoying this morning.
Andra lifted her head to restate her question; opening her eyes, she frowned at a small spot of dribble on the pillow. Without turning, she asked. "What do you want Merlin?"
Merlin completed his stride across the bedroom before whispering again. "It's six in the morning. Daniele woke me up and said he was going for a run. I'm not joining him and Roxanne already said she's sleeping in since the Major isn't coming back for another two hours."
"Tell Daniele I'm not going," Andra replied, agitated, before slamming her face back into her pillow.
"He actually took off already," Merlin explained, his voice rose to meet Andra’s tone minus her edge. Andra knew with Merlin’s yammering she wasn't getting back to sleep, not that obstacles would vanish without his presence. She really hoped he was finished.
A thunder strike echoed outside Andra's bedroom. The ground vibrated for a moment, exemplifying the storm's close proximity. Andra groaned, "He's running in this weather? He's insane."
"That's what I said," Merlin replied, shrugging sheepishly. "He reminded me we used to run in storms like these back at Camp Ambrose."
"He still stupid," Andra mumbled. Rolling off her chest, her eyes searched the darkness for Merlin's brown eyes but only found his silhouette. "So, why are you here?"
"Kind of wanted an excuse to enter — having a hard time getting back to bed," Merlin explained at a whisper, shrugging again. Andra watched him silently, maybe awkwardly from his perspective. In the darkness, she could see his sleep attire — shorts and a tee shirt, she could also make out the nervous vibrations in his shoulders. His black hair was overgrown like a bird's nest; circumstances of relaxed military regulations.
Andra didn't respond verbally but simply lifted her warm comforter with her left arm, inviting Merlin in. In response, he froze in place and inhaled air sharply. He was getting more nervous by the second; if Andra hadn't been so tired and annoyed, she might have laughed at his childish response. Her left hand curled into a fist at his inaction; she was losing heat by the second. They used to do this all the time during training, in ditches and doggie piles. Merlin was being ridiculously cautious.
"I don't think that's a good idea..." Merlin mumbled distantly. Andra imagined his eyes averting skyward in the dark.
"Oh, stop being such a big baby!" Andra hissed at Merlin. She was about finished with this, she just wanted to sleep.
"Can’t we just sleep back-to-back instead?" Merlin suggested; his question came off as half-hearted causing Andra to pause.
"This about the—?" Andra asked but Merlin answered for her, finishing her thought. "Major."
"Right...," Andra agreed quietly. Maybe Merlin had a point. Their ‘friendship’ had always been a matter of concern, with Spartans, with trainers, with officers. Andra didn’t want another incident. "Back-to-back then."
Andra exposed her boney, left arm for Merlin to grasp. Grabbing the limb gently, he dragged the girl off the bed and lowered her lightly to the floor. Grasping the comforter, Andra held fast allowing it to follow her down. She clambered to her knees, sighed to herself and inched toward a kneeling, shivering Merlin.
Reaching with her right arm, Andra planted an open palm in his nest of hair and ruffled it reassuringly. At her touch, Merlin’s shivers subsided. Nodding at the floor, Andra watched Merlin blow some air in affirmation and turned to the opposite direction. Once his maneuver was complete, she two turned her back. A second later, Merlin's weight pressed into Andra’s back and a familiar warmth enveloped both Spartans. Andra quickly wrapped the comforter around the two to capture the escaping heat. In moments, Merlin’s soft, steady breathing could be heard. Back to sleep.
Feeling her eyes flutter too, Andra reminisced this moment. She liked this side of Merlin; he was soft and warm. It was a side Spartans rarely saw for more than a few minutes at a time. His presence was a current reminder of what she missing as the last embers of agitation ebbed into warmth. She began to drift off but Andra remembered why she loved their friendship. Because he’s always been there. For her, and likewise for him. They had each other’s back.
At that last thought, Andra finally let sleep take her. She snuggled into Merlin’s shoulder and their breathing synchronized as rain continued to pour outside.
Team Boson's Merlin-D032 and Andra-D054 hunt stolen cargo in Arizona. Based on Delta's Path/Midwest Heist but shortened for this Weekly assignment. This one is considered non-canon in context of said story's existence. At 1040 words, this piece falls just outside the upper word limit but I hope that is okay nonetheless.
Andra-D054 and Merlin-D032 were off duty Spartan super soldiers at the end of their road trip, but, they still had room for one more adventure.
Upon getting a call, Merlin plugged an into his ear, he answered the call. "Caliburn. Go ahead."
"This is Home Base. Where are you? I got confirmation from Dragoon, Joker, and Bull. I haven't heard from Angler."
"She redirected the call to me. She's here with me - we're near New Phoenix."
"That's at least another three hours."
"There is a stolen truck heading for the New Phoenix spaceport. It's carrying at least two Havok-grade tactical nukes. You two are my closest element." The voice at the end of the line explained, "I need you to intercept that vehicle. It's a Cargo Manual Mk.2529, meaning it has a person behind the wheel."
Merlin frowned. An actual mission, what great timing it seemed. "Where is it?"
"You see that blue eighteen-wheeler on the highway heading to Phoenix?" The voice asked, sounding somewhat smug.
Merlin spotted it heading into a tunnel. "Fuck."
Chuckling could be heard on the other end of the call, Merlin's ONI Handler in the URNA on Earth.
"Andra! Get in the vehicle!" Merlin yelled as he climbed in and fired the engine.
"What is it?" The female Spartan asked, closing the side door.
"We aren't cops."
"They got Havoks among the cargo, looks like Innies raided a storehouse."
"They better be paying us extra for this shit," Andra replied with a sigh, her body slid into the leather and safety foam of her chair as Merlin kicked the sports car into high gear, hitting 120 miles per hour on the exit ramp.
"What's the plan?" Andra asked she was popping a few chips into her mouth as she talked, making it come out somewhat muffled.
"Well. Get up close for one. I didn't ask about rules of engagement." Merlin replied.
"D032. Rules of engagement are simple. Avoid civilian casualties if possible. Avoid setting off those nukes. Sanction the hostiles. We counted about ten or so." Home Base reported.
"What about engagements? Kill, wound?" Merlin asked, seeking clarity.
"Kill as you see fit." The connection was terminated at the other end.
"Well, he hung up on me. An ass as always."
Andra glanced curiously at Merlin. "What did he say?"
"Assume ten armed hostiles. We are free to engage, however, protect civilians and nukes," Merlin replied. "I see the tango up ahead."
The blue North American cargo truck was cruising along the tunnel path, attempting, dangerously to slide between the ongoing lanes.
"ONI Security probably," Merlin noted.
"I guess you drive, I engage?" Andra asked. She started to climb into the back of the car, unlatching her seat belt.
"What are you doing?" Merlin asked glancing back at the female Spartan.
"I need a weapon."
"You going to put on combat armor?" Merlin asked, keeping his eyes on the road.
"No. It will take too long. I have a chest plate and I grabbed some equipment - I'll be fine." Andra replied from behind Merlin. In the rear-view mirror, Merlin could see, Andra had pulled down the seats to reveal the trunk of the sports car. Inside where several large containers of the military make.
Andra covered her white shirt with a combat vest and attached magazines and two pistol holsters to her chest and thighs.
"Magnums?" Merlin asked.
The vehicles were now exiting the tunnel and back to the familiar setting of dry lowlands and rocky cliffs.
Andra slid back into her seat and rolled down the window as the air came rushing into the vehicle.
Putting on shooting glasses and handing some to Merlin, she spoke. "Get alongside the vehicle. I'll see if I can breach the container unit from above."
"What you using?"
"Magnums like you asked. Suppressed with a hollow point. Should be good for shredding limbs and body armor."
"You grab me anything?" Merlin asked he started to slide in next to the truck.
"You won't need one."
Andra clambered out of her chair and slid her way onto the car's white hood. Gripping at the rim and the engine exhaust, she secured her place on the speeding car. With a flick of her hand, she switched on her own earpiece.
"Testing..." Andra said as her voice was lost in the wind.
"I hear you. Watch out." Merlin said as the cargo truck attempted to force the sports car out of the lane now that the driver caught on.
Merlin rammed the car into the side of the truck.
"Shit. I nearly bit my tongue." Andra muttered into the microphone.
"Less talking, more action."
"WILCO," Andra replied loosening her grip on the car below her and pushing her muscles to propel her into the air.
"I'm secure. Back off." Andra said. She could be seen crawling her away across the top of the cargo truck Finding an entry, she fired a round that cracked the outer hull.
Merlin continued to give chase but slowed his approach to avoid crashing into the truck again.
"Just like a terribly written action flick..." Merlin muttered as he checked his heads-up display and noted his fast cruising speed.
He tweaked the car's counsel as he maintained a constant tailing speed. Merlin's shooting glasses quickly placed a miniature video display over his left eye that revealed Andra's HUD.
Several dents from within sprouted from the cargo truck - rounds escaping the barrels of her guns. If Merlin could remember - M6K Micros.
From her HUD clone appearing on his own glasses, Merlin could see her gun down several men inside. A couple attempted to grab her only to be met with shattered bones as her arms smashed them down.
Her pistols coughed, destroying muscle and bone upon contact.
Eight warm bodies. Eight cooling corpses. The battle was over in moments.
"Nice work," Merlin said simply. He wasn't keen on the blood but he had to compliment her ability to fight.
"More like disgusting."
Merlin only hummed back in affirmation of his agreement.
"I'm going to move up to the front of the truck. Should be over soon."
"You okay, Andra?"
"All green. Almost done."
The two Spartans returned to their mission in silence. Time to finish this...
A Little Quiet
A Little Quiet
From the ash-laden beach, one boy watched his friends and compatriots enjoy themselves aboard the ship. His eyes were covered by a pair of wrap-around sunglasses equipped with a darkness-illuminating VISR module. A single tiki torch was his only company on that beach as he patiently waited for a close friend to make an appearance. He scanned the fallen warship and noted the two UNSC Pelican gunships that were parked haphazardly on its spine. The gunships were a means to move heavy machinery and, in this case, party equipment and the entourage from the deck when the celebration came to an eventual end. The crowds were outlined by the VISR with a holographic-green outline, identifying them as individuals friendly to the boy’s cause.
Where others partied the night away and others didn’t make an appearance, the boy was content to stand guard in quiet. It was not a necessary action; there was no need for the precaution on this relatively peaceful and hidden world among the stars. The population of Argus V was barely more than five hundred military personnel, including the teenage trainees. It was a means for the boy, Merlin-D032, to clear his head and get some peace before the world would predictably fall back into a state of warfare and training.
He was to become a Spartan; no, that wasn’t right. He was a Spartan. He’d have to go to war at some point; just tonight, he wanted to find some quiet for himself and the girl he considered his best friend.
“Take those off. I brought dinner.” The commanding voice of one returning Andra-D054 brought Merlin out of his thousand-yard stare and left a slight fluttering of excitement in his chest.
Complying with her order, Merlin took the VISR glasses off his eyes and turned to face his best friend warped in the shadow of a nearby tiki torch. Andra was dressed in a drab-green military tee-shirt that loosely hugged her shoulders and gray cargo shorts that reached just above her kneecaps. Merlin was dressed similarly as was the basic workout wear for SPARTAN-III Delta Company, their training unit. She was holding two Meals-Ready-to-Eat, MREs, sizzling in their discreet brown bags. In the torch-light, Andra’s blue eyes were painted like silver orbs and wide like dinner plates. It was hard to read her emotional state from her pupils, however, an outstretched hand and a steaming dinner that smelled like beef spoke clearly her intentions.
“Thanks,” Merlin replied softly and nodded his gratitude upon taking the bag from her. The sand shuffled below Andra’s bare feet before she took a seat on the black sand. Merlin followed her lead and took a seat facing the ocean as well. The only reflections on the water were the artificial lights, the stars, and torchlight; in a new moon phase, Argus V’s two moons were absent for the festivities.
Merlin’s MRE opened with a satisfying zip followed a second later by Andra’s own meal. For a full minute, only the sounds of quiet munching and echoes of distant partying hovered just above the crashing waves. Inspecting the meal, Merlin was greeted by a half-hearted meat stew with some unknown vegetables thrown into the mix. The meat probably came from an off-world, flash-cloned source, however, he paid it no mind. He spent the last four years eating MREs and cheap food; to Merlin, it was just another meal. He had long moved past making fun of how bad the food tasted compared to his childhood.
Andra broke the silence first, “I talked to Daniele in the mess hall before coming down here; he and Marcellus are leading another ten-kilo run through Devil’s Throat before morning.”
Merlin twirled a plastic spoon through the air, gesturing for Andra to continue. She was getting somewhere but at the keyword mentions of Daniele-D003, Marcellus-D070, a ten-kilometer run, and the Devil’s Throat PT course, he shivered. Memories of that running course, especially when either of the mentioned Spartan graduates was in charge of tempo, still left Merlin emotionally-scarred.
“I know, I think he’s crazy – ending Graduation with a PT run, even with our augmentations,” Andra responded at the sight of Merlin’s slight shiver; she lifted her wrist to the torchlight, displaying deep scars from a recent medical surgery. Even with skin grafts, the black scars were bone-deep – every Spartan from their company was cursed with the marks this early in recovery. “Anyway, I asked him about where we would be deployed. Apparently, not even he knows.”
Merlin swallowed a chunky piece of carrot with mild difficulty before responding, “Nothing at all? That seems unusual. You think they’re just going to drop us to our new deployments blind?”
“I haven’t heard anything new that you haven’t. You still outrank me in our fireteam so you’re supposed to know more, or, have you forgotten?” Andra asked; her toothy grin was ruined by the gravy patches collecting at the corners of her mouth.
“You got something on your face,” Merlin replied, dismissing Andra’s attempt at a joke.
Andra’s face scrunched up at Merlin’s diversion, “You’re kidding right?”
Merlin shook his head, insisting on his honesty. Narrowing her eyes further, Merlin could only describe her smudged-brown lips and her squinting eyes as something akin to a cartoon character. It was a little bit cute, however, he found it far more humorous. He stifled a laugh as she bobbed her head closer to his, looking for signs of dishonesty.
“Alright. Looks like you’re telling the truth.” Andra finally decided after getting a good look at Merlin’s face. Glancing at his shoulder, she took a moment to make some unspoken decision then smashed her lips into his shirt sleeve. She lifted an arm to grasp the shirt and rubbed the gravy into the cloth effectively.
Reacting in surprise, Merlin jumped back a couple feet and stared at his friend like she suddenly grew horns. “What the heck was that?”
“Victory.” Andra smiled, wiping the rest of the gravy on her wrist and spreading her index and middle finger in a V-symbol.
“You know that doesn’t wash out easily right?” Merlin called out in alarm. He inspected the shirt and found that his drab-green tee had a new smudge of mud-brown.
“Oh come on, it’s Graduation Night. Live a little; no one’s going to give a shit if your shirt is a little soiled.” Andra reasoned before sliding back over toward Merlin so they were the same distance apart as before. Out on the water, some of the other Spartan graduates glanced back, looking to see what had caused the ruckus. Spotting the two Spartans, they soon turned back to their own devices.
“That’s rich you know – coming from the girl who was the dictionary definition of an emotional wreck,” Merlin stated, reminiscing over Andra’s recent past. While he made a jab at her depressed past, he rubbed her shoulder reassuringly, confirming that he intended no offense.
“I did recover,” Andra replied curtly. She looked out at the dark ocean, looking for something
that wasn’t there.
“You still freeze whenever someone tries to talk to you,” Merlin added.
“Only with those, I don’t trust.”
“Baby steps.” Merlin agreed. He knew all too well about her speech inhibition; she seemed like a regular girl, however, in the presence of those she had no close relationship to, she wilted into a mute. She was still carrying her baggage – four years since she came to Camp Ambrose. The only ones with an exception to that rule were the drill instructors who had developed such a raging storm in her, she had no problem yelling back.
“Well, at least all this is over now. We did graduate.” Andra explained, looking back to the sea with that faraway look that Merlin had minutes ago.
“…I hope so. I don’t want to go through that training ever again,” Merlin mumbled; he just wanted to be the Spartan he now was and leave this place behind. He looked out to the sea and thought of his family. “Hey. Andra? Did I ever tell you my family name?”
Andra remained silent as she stared out at the water. She answered after a few moments of quiet drifting; there was a degree of distance in her voice. “No. We didn’t exchange that information.”
“Well, since we’re Spartans now. And you said to live a little,” Merlin said before jabbing Andra in the rib playfully. She jumped but quickly shoved him back in the same manner. “Um, maybe it wouldn’t hurt to share them?”
Andra glanced at Merlin with that same faraway look, however, her blue eyes were very clear now in the torchlight. There was a sudden drive there that hadn’t been there before.
“Andra Kearsarge Bradford. Nice to meet you.” Andra stated in a mock greeting but in a particularly-serious tone. She brought up an outstretched hand for Merlin to shake.
Grasping her hand, Merlin shook it softly. “Merlin Ljang Boyd. The pleasure is mine.”
They’d been hanging here for three days. Two hundred meters in the air and no sign of the ground below. The trees were as tall as skyscrapers. The ground and the sky were the same turquoise oblivion.
Merlin Boyd went to open his mouth only to be cut off. “You tell me you’re bored one more time and I’ll show you who the real Spartan is around here.”
Staff Sergeant Rowland was eyeing Merlin with that dark gaze of his. Merlin simply shrugged in annoyance followed by a stubborn exhalation. They’d been here too long.
Merlin’s survey team, mercenaries of Baal Defense Solutions, had been lazing about in hammocks for the entirety of their deployment. The entire team had reached the end of good humor and patience. Before this sit-in, they’d been comfortable orbiting an uncharted world looking for ancient alien artifacts for three weeks. At least there, the food was good and there were showers. Down here, the humidity and fog made the training to become a Spartan supersoldier seem easy.
A voice in Merlin’s ear sent shivers running down his spine. “You mention boredom again and I might go through with stabbing you in the throat.”
“Andra. Fuck off.” Merlin throttled back, his voice showing an edge not usually reserved for his best friend. Andra, another Spartan, decloaked her invisibility cloak to reveal her augmented brown eyes.
“Make me. Also, that threat still stands.” Andra replied as she placed her repackaged cloaking device on her hammock. She was bored, but, at least she could tinker.
“Fuck you both! Why can’t you two be like Swanson and zip.” Rowland shouted at a higher pitch. The Staff Sergeant’s fingers danced along the pistol grip of his M395 rifle as if to appear more threatening. Merlin wasn’t fazed by the act but was cautious around the superior. Merlin’s hand grasped around his M6 pistol in a similar manner.
Swanson, the woman Rowland mentioned, was still dedicated to the projection headset that allowed her to fly the team’s mini-drones through the woods to find the team’s objective. It was somewhere around here, in a square kilometer of trees. If the team found the alien ruins, that meant a return ticket back to the ship above. Pig-Tail Lady, the commander of the survey team, got snippy and said that no one was allowed to return until they found the ruin’s exact location.
“Hey, guys.” Swanson’s voice cut through the already silent forest. Everyone perked up at the sound of her voice.
"Found the ruins, two hundred meters to our front. There seems to be a cloaking device; explains why we can't see it. We’ve got a bigger problem though.”
Playing around with her smart tablet, Swanson projected her camera’s video onto a tree wall to reveal the hidden ruins. A series of metal platforms emanating blue light built into several massive tree trunks. A giant alien robot with a single red eye and a large transparent cape gracefully circled the structures like a keen predator.
Rowland spoke first. “Well. We found the ruins. I’ll call it in.”
“I’ve never seen a Forerunner Sentinel like that before. What do we call it? A Guardian? A Fog Sentinel? A Cloak Sentinel?” Andra asked while futilely attempting to get a better look through her binoculars.
Merlin caught a shimmering in his peripheral. The kind of shimmering from an invisible object decloaking. A giant red eye barred down on the group. Two skeletal wings hung in the air like bat wings. A transparent cape flapped silently in the breeze.
“I think Cloak Sentinel is pretty good Andra, but, did you bring any rockets?” Merlin said as he reached for his MA5D assault rifle.
“Because there’s more than one.”
Everyone turned as the single red eye scanned the survey team with a high-frequency laser. A droning roar entered the forest and everything went to shit.
Crossed Arms II
Crossed Arms II
Rear Admiral Utah watched as the superhuman in his copper-colored SPI armor walked his way out of the office. He didn’t look back, his stride revealed nothing. The Spartan opened the door and allowed the automatic sliding fixture to close behind him, leaving the Admiral in silence. Utah sighed in annoyance as soon as the door closed behind the Spartan. The supersoldier, Kyle-B115, was a piece of work. He was a smart man and highly-qualified for the role as a trainer of future Spartans, though his insubordination and eagerness to question his superior officers’ judgment drove many, including Utah, insane.
“God. This is going to be a drag…” Utah mumbled to herself as she examined her office, crossing her arms over her chest in the process. The room wasn’t very spacious and lacked any unique distinction of being lived in. It was similar to typical spaces occupied by the Office of Naval Intelligence, the UNSC’s largest intelligence department. Being neat and orderly was part of the unassuming farce ONI put up, both for psychological warfare and because ONI people enjoyed making other parties shiver in their boots.
Utah pressed a button on her desk hotkey pad made up of a row of keys with favorite and important functions. The table holographic display brought up a boomed-up projection of an ONI paper document. The title, Operation: INCOGNITO. Unimaginatively boring but meaningful enough for regularly classified paperwork.
Two armored individuals were displayed under the title with names and dossiers tied to blacked-out faces. One was dressed in green, iconic military armor – an amber-gold visor held at the waist and Marine Corps green coloring lined with white portions layered a seven-foot behemoth. The iconic helmet of the SPARTAN-II with its cap-like cover and diaper-like battle belt marked the Spartan as one of the original supersoldiers of the Great War era. A living legend.
The other dossier showed a similarly equipped supersoldier. A similar armor set, though, the helmet was an older iteration. The colors were about the same, a slightly lighter-green shade with some black trim. Another SPARTAN-II. Utah took a moment to look over the imposing figures in the report – they did little justice in terms of the soldiers’ heights but their armors’ menacing look left quite the impression. These were Kyle’s fellow trainers if everything went to plan.
Below the Spartans were some diagnostic information, a few infographics, and a detailed summary of a mission plan, a shelved mission plan to be absolutely correct. Everyone was now onboard, the question of needing to find training alternatives for the supersoldiers was unneeded at this point and the necessary logistical maneuvers for subverting the bureaucratic nightmare of ONI’s own internal politics were already in place.
It was turning out to be a better day than how it started, even if some major concession had to be made to see that the DELTA Initiative wasn’t interrupted or impeded by further problems. The summary of Operation: INCOGNITO made whispers of a long-range, long-endurance reconnaissance mission to deploy Spartans involved with the Initiative behind enemy lines belonging to remnants of the fallen Covenant Empire. It had a duration estimation of several years, just to be safe, however, like many things in ONI, it was not what it seemed. ONI was a spy organization, smoke, and mirrors, even within the organization itself. ONI’s distrust for its own personnel was simply a circumstance of monopolizing the intelligence community, the Office was simply too big and too diversified. Here, a short series of fake orders was a typical practice and would easily go overlooked given the right lie played under the right circumstances.
The holographic display provided a number of electronic actions to be executed with the documentation, send to a department or trash it or whatever. Utah tapped the display and saved it into a digital server, buried with many others belonging to the Office’s dirty laundry. The operation was shelved and would likely never see the light of day again. Utah shut down the holo-display and pressed a key to inform her secretary and the office AI custodian that she would be taking a brief leave of absence to unwind. A scotch seemed like a decent treat for the day’s events. The woman got out of her seat and rose to the door, the lights were dropped to a minimum and the office was squelched in darkness. The door closed behind the Admiral with an audible click leaving the office to be wrapped in darkness.
Born Fighter is the second chronological story in the Delta's Path collection. Written by Distant Tide, Born Fighters follows the first clash between Delta Company inductees. Future members of Team Boson, Merlin-D032 and Andra-D054 clashed over by a misunderstanding and the emotional tension between the two. The wounds of war still run fresh for some of these orphans but they can learn to live with them through their struggles alongside their fellow survivors.
"You were selected for a reason. You may not think yourself strong, but you are. You just don't see it yet. Let us show you - join our project."
―Pitch to Andra-D054 by ONI Section III Recruiters.
March 2553 (UEG Calendar)
Location: Camp Ambrose Facility, Argus V Colony
The wet grass tickled his neck as he meditated behind closed eyelids, blocking out the glare of two binary stars floating overhead. Cold morning dew drenched deep into the young boy’s black shirt as he rested on the grass. There was crowded but musical chatter echoing from close by – sounds of carefree children playing in a schoolyard. From the darkness it seemed like a normal, innocent scene – however, the eyelids were a façade of a fragile lie.
A summer breeze flowed through the air pulling gently at the boy’s short dark-brown bangs and picking up loose dew and tossing it upon the boy’s nose causing him to flinch in reflex. The eyelids snapped open revealing the amber pupils of Merlin Boyd, a child approaching his eighth birthday. With a grunt, the boy pulled himself into a sitting position and allowed his eyes to become reacquainted with his surroundings.
There were children mingling by a few picnic tables – some other kids were like Merlin and dosing in the grass. More lively children were running about, playing simple games like Tag as they ran around. Some of the small cliques were tossing around sports balls amongst themselves.
Scratching his nose to remove the remaining droplets, Merlin glanced away from the kids around him to take in the backdrop that reinforced the challenging truth behind the lie he was currently living. The ground beneath the boy was built very flat giving structures like the massive security walls of Camp Ambrose an even more imposing appearance. Castle-like checkpoints erupted at corners in the walls. Floodlights, barbed wire, and signal towers were mounted along every building. The housing structures were painted cheaply with lonely whites and beiges. At the edge of the hundred-and-fifty child mob assembled on the grassy play yard, there was a group of military-dressed men and women with pistols attached to their thighs and chests. They spoke in whispers among themselves and would on occasion glance at certain children and point fingers as if to be making assessments or taking notes on their behavior. The setting was so different from Merlin’s past life.
Merlin used to be a regular kid with parents. He used to fear the monsters under his bed more than the aliens that might come from space above. Then his parents died, killed by the very same aliens from unknown stars abound. And then he was recruited into a program ran by the government called Delta Company. It was hard to tell how long it been since everything changed – could it have been days? Weeks? Months? It was something he didn’t have a proper answer for.
Beyond the walls of Camp Ambrose and the forests of this world called Argus V, there was an alien empire known as the Covenant trying to destroy every last Human in existence. An interstellar genocide. Like Merlin, these children were orphans created by the Human-Covenant War, according to the government agents that had recruited them. They, the children, were to be trained to fight the Covenant and save Humanity. Merlin thought it was a good pitch, but, it also seemed too good to be true.
It had been three days now and nothing had happened. The children were told to live in dormitories. They were fed three meals a day, received periods of free time, and were ordered to take classes to continue their basic education. For a program to train children to become interstellar warfighters, it didn’t seem to be doing much. It was very anti-climactic. Merlin’s uncertainty was not unfounded – the change from living at a government-sanctioned orphanage was appreciated, however, the daily routine wasn’t much different – besides that the food was better here. Then there was the fact that waking up three days ago from being shoved into a freezer had confused Merlin to no avail.
The two-sun sunlight overhead was blazing, however, thinking about that freezer made Merlin shiver involuntary. The feelings were still so vivid and bothersome. It had started as an instance of frostbite in pure darkness before it started to feel like Merlin was being killed slowly by hypothermia.
It had begun abruptly three days ago. It had been dark and cold. Everything was dull and blurry. Merlin’s motor functions were slow and unrefined. Touching the walls of a metal box told Merlin he was laying upright in a container built like a coffin for a fully-grown man. As a mere toddler, Merlin could not reach for the ceiling. Merlin felt the blood in his body shake free from an icy numbness as goosebumps exploded across every patch of exposed skin which was everything as it was very clear Merlin was butt-naked in the metal box.
Merlin shook at the cold, crisp air and the tiny pinches of what could be considered thousands of needles and syringes digging into every part of his being. It was disturbing but Merlin could do nothing but stay still as his muscles ached from his mere shivering. Following the return of his sense of touch, Merlin’s sight returned as well. In the darkness, Merlin could see a ghostly-blue light glowing behind a glass panel. The walls of the coffin-like chamber were made from a metallic alloy and permafrost had stuck to every surface in the box including his own skin.
Desperate to get out of the tiny box, Merlin shoved at the glass panel and pressed his entire mass and heart into pushing against the wall. The panel gave way and Merlin was suddenly caught in a free-fall toward a steel floor below him. Out of sheer luck, Merlin managed to catch himself on his arms and knees but bruised one of his kneecaps upon impact. The metal room outside the freezer box was spacious and somewhat warmer, however, it was still cold. Merlin was still naked as well.
The next thoughts out of Merlin’s alert mind was to ask where he was followed by a rare explicit word he learned from his father before his death. Recovering from hibernation sickness in Merlin’s case was not at all pleasant. His curse came at a convenient time as he felt his stomach kick from within and flinch as weeks or months of old food spilled up and out of his throat, coating the ground in orange-yellow and white paste from half-digested, freeze-dried food. The odor coming from the human bawl was indescribably retched.
Once the heaves of puke subsided, Merlin wiped his mouth with the back of his hand and looked up at the ghost light – a single blue emergency light placed at the center of the room that blinked silently. From the light’s glow, Merlin identified many more freezer pods running along the walls with glass panels locked in a gapping position. Twenty naked children were moaning quietly in their indigestion, some rolled up into the fetal position. The children in front of Merlin were a couple of young kids that looked familiar as if they were siblings. The two, a boy and girl, shared a similar facial structure and their shaggy mopes of black hair were so much like that of cavemen. As childish as it was Merlin pictured them as Asian spider monkeys on his first glance of them – they stared back at Merlin with black pupils shining in the dark like full moons. There was something, descriptively animalistic about them. Discomforted by their staring, Merlin shifted his glace to gaze about the room again.
The majority of the children in the room seemed to have become content and adequately adapted to the room’s temperature enough to look around in the dark – curiosity was spelled on most their faces as they wordlessly observed their surroundings like innocent chicks hatching into an unknown world for the first time. Merlin had become content with knowing his surrounding already – he had identified his fellow children and become aware of the obvious and unusual. Merlin’s eyes had already been drawn toward the apparent, instead, his eyes refocused on the unapparent.
In the far-left corner to Merlin’s front, he could make out the outline of a naked girl trembling in the corner. She was curled up with her legs to her chest and her hair atop crossed arms. A jet-black mane – compared to all the other children in the room, the girl was perplexingly odd. Everyone else had exited their pods relatively the same, with puke and shivers; this girl on the other hand at purposely retreated into the furthest corner of the darkness as if to avoid the presence of all the other children in the room. It was simply odd to Merlin, however, he pushed himself to look away from her too. He wasn’t one to actively seek out answers when there were more pressing concerns to attend to, such as what he and the other children were doing in that room, to begin with. However, in Merlin’s case, he had come to regret that decision, upon being reminded of the event later on.
Refocusing out of the memory, Merlin’s eyes locked once again upon the girl – now hiding in shadow below the high-security walls of Camp Ambrose. With a stick in hand, she sketched unseen images in the dirt. From afar, she looked bored.
Glancing away from her for a moment, Merlin gave a thorough look over the hundred-and-fifty recruits in the play area at the moment. He spotted a few familiar faces – the two Japanese siblings from the freezer bay three days before who spoke not a word of English – Daiki-D217, and Shizuko-D081. Among the distant crowd, Merlin could also make out some of his dormmates from Cabin 003. Oliver-D030, Mika-D036, and Ray-D038 – while they weren’t clumped together, they were closer together than Merlin was to them. He couldn’t call any of the individuals he noticed “friends” – at least not in the way of being around them for three days, even after sleeping in the same room, using the same shower facilities, and eating meals at the same table. They were still merely acquaintances.
Turning back to the girl in the shadows – Merlin made a hair split decision to placate his curiosity. He knew nothing about the girl, however, her apparent avoidance of other children was proving to be common ground between Merlin and her. At least from Merlin’s perspective.
Upon approaching the girl’s brown eyes glanced up at Merlin. She glared in suspicion but as quickly as her eyes rose, they descended back into the dirt. She had noticed his approach but she was clearly refusing to recognize Merlin’s presence.
Shifting uncertainly, Merlin took a few moments to consider what his next words would be. He watched as the girl resumed her mud art – sketching crude images of the UNSC freighter, the Give Me More, and the images of a family in front of a house. The girl’s family, presumably. Finally gathering his resolve, Merlin introduced himself. “Hi! I’m Merlin.”
His hand dangled in the air for a bit as if to wave at the girl but she didn’t even glance up this time, so, Merlin continued speaking softly. “I can’t say my last name because the adults said we can’t do that.”
The silence was the only response. At this close proximity, Merlin took a few silent moments to take in the girl’s appearance. She had a mop of black hair and thick bangs that dangled down to her nose and obscuring her eyes in the low lighting. Her knees were bunched up close to her chest and secured with one slender hand while her free hand haphazardly clawed through drying mud. Her postured looked very defensive as if Merlin’s very presence threatened her. Her clothes were similar to Merlin’s black shirt and shorts and a tape with an identification number on it, similar to Merlin’s own ‘D032’ designation.
The girl clearly didn’t want Merlin around. However, for whatever reason – Merlin didn’t want to leave. She was strange, intriguing. Merlin’s curiosity had already taken hold – controlling his motions and telling his body to take a seat next to the girl. He sauntered over and sat down on the cool earth and scooted closer so that he could keep an eye on the girl’s drawings as it was the only means for Merlin to understand what she was thinking through her silent treatment of him.
A stick figure was already beginning to form a small boy stick figure – the kind that might be identified as Merlin as a sitting girl quickly joined the boy who had an air quote with the word “BLAM” written in it. Well, it was clear the girl had an opinion of him already. Merlin kept talking, “I’m from Ballast. Where are you from?”
Again, silence. Merlin continued with his one-sided banter.
“Ballast is a cool planet. It was my home. Uh – we lived in the Crimson Tide place– it was on the beach, kind of like here. We’d go to the beach on weekends – sometimes. Mostly me and the caretakers. The War made my parents leave lots.”
At the mention of parents, Merlin caught his first real reaction from the girl, she noticeably tensed and shuddered. Merlin understood it quite a bit – the Human-Covenant War, a conflict that spanned more years than Merlin had been alive against an alien organization that was determined to exterminate Mankind down to every last man, woman, and child. Merlin’s parents had lost their lives, fighting against the aliens. It was difficult to imagine what the girl in front of Merlin was thinking but it was easy enough to deduce that she was thinking about her own parents. Most of the children at Camp Ambrose were war orphans, after all, most had lost their families to the aliens. Did it make Merlin wonder, was this girl’s own tale similar to Merlin’s own? A military child who lost parents who fought to save Mankind? Or were they just regular civilians caught in the crossfire?
“My parents work for ONI – do n’t know them? They’re Office for naval intelligence – they are the ones who ask us be Spartans.”
The girl remained quiet, but, a slight tilt of her head now suggested she was clearly listening to Merlin – something he said had drawn her attention. Merlin addressed her softly. “Hey. You never say your name. Can you tell me because I told you mine?”
There was a pregnant silence before the girl responded, “Andra. Andra-D054.”
“Hi, Andra. I’m Merlin-D032. Nice to meet you.”
For a moment, both Spartan recruits stopped talking and sighed in unison. While they did it for different reasons, at least the tension was easing up a little.
“So? How you like Camp Ambrose?” Merlin asked Andra. He was mentally slapping himself for using such a lame conversation starter, however, the girl’s own lack of communication wasn’t much of a conversation, to begin with.
Andra didn’t say anything. Her silence reached the conclusion that she didn’t like the starter just as much as he did so he changed tactics.
“Uh – my parents died far away from here in the War. ONI told me before when they recruited me. Now I’m here, I guess. Before that, there was a nice home. Then a military house, then here. My dad – he was in the Navy or something, I think. He died at Arcadia. My mom worked for ONI’s information control group – she liked to talk to my dad about the news people she worked with when they were home. She died fighting the Covenant too. They said she was very brave.”
Andra shrugged again, responding to Merlin telling her about his life story. For Merlin, he was starting to assume that meant she was at least interested in what he was saying. Maybe she preferred to talk through movement rather than words.
“The ONI people were not as cool as my parents I think. The ONI people that work here are not nice. They’re always staring at us and they never smile. I don’t know why. My parents said that ONI peoples like to be perfect, but I don’t think being mean is perfect.”
Andra’s eyes suddenly snapped up at Merlin – while her bangs obscured her eyes, there was something alit in her brown pupils. Something Merlin had said had suddenly changed her attitude toward him. She suddenly asked a question, “Do you really remember your parents?”
“Do I remember my parents? Kind of not really. They died a long time ago – far away. It’s been a long time – every day, my parent’s faces get fuzzier.” Merlin stopped to stare at the ground as he imagined his parent’s smiling faces – he could see their smiles, but their eyes and faces were obscure. Missing and lost. He was losing them. Merlin smiled sadly back at Andra, making eye contact with her, however, his smile was suddenly wiped from his face as she started to lurch toward him.
“Hey! What are you--?” Merlin called out in alarm. Andra’s hands rose up and struck out with a scowling grimace on her face. A feral scream escaped her lips, a call to battle. Her hair danced in the wind blasting past her face, her mud drawing now long forgotten as she steamrolled Merlin into the dirt. A brawl had broken out. Even if they were not yet trained in martial arts or well-versed in close quarters combat or even the child art of horseplay, they fought like masters in their own right. As children, one attacked in frustration, the other defended with determination. This was a battle of the fists, as much as the mind.
Merlin rolled and slid Andra over his head and onto her back in the dirt. Their hands were clasped together as they struggled in each other’s grasps.
“What am I doing?” Andra screamed-taunted at Merlin as she attempted to stand on her feet and overtake Merlin’s prone form by brute force. “My parents died last year! My dad shot himself in his head! He left me!”
Merlin grunted at her outburst. Merlin’s fist flew up to tap Andra’s cheek only to be intercepted by said cheek as the girl leaned in closer attempting to maintain her hold on the boy below her. They started to slide into a bear hug as Merlin struggled to gain an upper hand.
“Can—Can I say sorry?” Merlin struggled out, now very much regretting approaching the girl.
“No-No!” Andra replied back through grit teeth.
The two tangled legs – Andra attempting to kick Merlin in the balls only for the boy to wrap his legs securely around her kicking leg and use his heavier mass to twist her from on top of him to being under him. A pair of fists took turns trying to strike out at Merlin’s head and neck only to be dodged with a childish grace. He readjusted his arm placements from Andra’s shoulders to her arms to prevent their continued movement. In response, the girl grabbed Merlin by the shoulders and twisted him back under her, rolling the two them head-over-head once again. Merlin instinctively grabbed at Andra’s hair as he tried to slow his opponent and get a respite – anything to stop the girl from pummeling his face. Andra cried bloody murder as her hair was yanked at the roots. The boy detected the sign of weakness and took advantage of the change in force – attempting to get his legs free from the tangle of two. Between the two neither were accomplished fighters, and any witnesses to the two brawlers would be quick to notice it. The fight wasn’t a real fight – however, Andra’s rage was one hundred percent genuine.
Her nails clawed and scraped at Merlin, drawing blood on his cheeks, biceps, and near his trachea. He simply grunted in response to the sharp pain from feeling his skin break under the girl’s sharp touch. Andra let her legs loosen as she attempted to get a stronger grip on Merlin’s skin. It was a quick adjustment but it was all the boy needed. Taking advantage of the minute adjustment, the male Spartan recruit bucked the girl off his abdomen and broke his legs free from her high position. Andra was floating through the air for a moment, the realization kicked in like a mule, she had been flipped. Andra desperately clawed for a grip but only found Merlin wrapping himself around her from behind and tightening his grip on her limbs to an extreme degree – like an anaconda squeezing its prey to death. He had her effectively paralyzed. Refusing defeat, Andra grunted, shook, and nipped hopelessly at Merlin’s vice-like bear hug. He had her immobilized.
“Let go of me!” Andra screamed out in protest.
“Stop hitting me!” Merlin yelled back at the girl struggling to escape his grip.
The struggle between the two kids continued through muffled grunts as the realization dawned between the two that Merlin had effectively won the brawl. Andra’s eyes momentarily opened and glanced down at where her mud art had been left unguarded. In the chaos of the fight, Andra and Merlin had carelessly tussled their way straight into the mud and dirt – crushing the images sketched into the soft earth, transferring from the ground to their clothes. While a dark color, it was clear as day that their clothes were caked brown, black, and green from the dirt and grass around them. Upon this realization, Andra’s shaking slowed to a gentle rock and water started to gather at her eyelids. Not able to see her watery eyes, Merlin maintained his grip on the girl – not certain what was to happen next.
Of all the things that Merlin had been expecting from her next, it wasn’t a stifled cough followed by a whimper as small tears dripped from Andra’s face to Merlin’s wrists. Not sure what to do next, his grip slacked but his arms remained wrapped around her shoulders and torso. He spoke softly to her as he chose his next words cautiously. “I’m really sorry Andra. I did not know.”
“Why…? Why does this happen to me?” Andra asked rhetorically. She didn’t even look back at Merlin and was staring out at the crowd of children still carelessly playing at the center of the open field. Merlin gapped his mouth to respond only to close it again as he didn’t have an answer to her question.
“My dad killed himself. He left me behind. I was left behind…” She muttered through short gasps for air as her tears continued to roll from her eyes. Her cries were silent but their physical presence was periodically increasing.
Not wanting to belittle her but show his empathy, Merlin responded by reflecting on his own experiences. He knew he wasn’t exactly wise or informed but, he wanted to at least express his empathy for the crying girl’s feelings. “We’re all orphans here… We’ve all lost our families and homes to this War and the Covenant aliens. I-I don’t know what happened to your family – I was not there, but, you hit me – I think I get it. Your family was a lot worse than mine. And, I’m very sorry. Believe me, when I say I know what it feels to lose parents, I’ve felt same stuff you’ve felt and I’ve been through some pain, Andra. Trust me. If you want to talk about it, I can do that.”
Andra could be heard exhaling loudly but slowly as she attempted to calm her nerves. A deep breath in through her nostrils followed by a long exhale out her quivering lips. She was vibrating a little but it looked like she was doing a decent job of slowing her jitters. This breathing exercises continued for several moments as she and Merlin said nothing to each other. Merlin was glancing haphazardly at the binary stars orbiting above waiting for what she might say next.
Familiarization Cours is a story by Distant Tide occurring during the events of Delta Company's weapon familiarization phase and is chronologically included in the Delta's Path collection of short stories. This story follows one Spartan at Camp Ambrose, Andra-D054, during a period of familiarization with common Covenant weapons acquired during the Human-Covenant War. This includes the rare but decently-known Focus Rifle, a weapon she develops a unique opinion on.
This story abides by the week's current Weekly Short Story Challenge. Jumped the gun a little with the word count. Still, near enough, I feel confident in including this story.
―Shima-D011, following her first experience with Covenant long-range weaponry. Mid-2550s.
Mid-2550s. (UEG Calendar)
Location: Camp Ambrose, Argus V Colony
"Welcome to Familiarization Session Three - Special Purpose Marksman Weaponry." The Range Safety Officer said, greeting the two female Spartan recruits approaching from their dormitories above.
"Why didn't the other guys come? My entire team have decent marks for sniper rifles." The European-looking girl with brown hair, Andra-D054, asked the weapons instructor.
"You two. D054, D011, are both designated marksman for your respective units - it is therefore your responsibility to be familiarized with all weapons designed for long-range use, this includes Covenant weaponry. While all Spartans will receive basic familiarization instruction on these weapons, you two and the other marksmen, are receiving their training early and will from here on receive further instruction on these weapons."
"Hmm?" The second child, Shima-D011, gestured toward the display table. Her Asian complexion scrunched into a gesturing asking what the weapons were.
"Ah. The Type-52 Special Applications Rifle, Type 52 SAR, or just the 'Focus Rifle' for short. Saw a number of these employed by Jackal snipers before and during the fall of Reach."
"It looks like a giant blue wrench." Andra said, looking unimpressed.
It might not look like much, but, it's killed many Marines and served as a bane of lone fireteams on recon patrols only to be blasted with purple-orange beams of energy out of nowhere. It's a terror weapon."
"Well. I guess begin the instruction. Sir." Andra stated, she wasn't really used to formalities with the NCO instructors or the Drill Sergeants, this guy was being a little to laid back in her opinion, but, if he was going to be easy going today - she could enjoy the lazing for a moment. Glancing over to her fellow Spartan recruit, Shima, Andra noticed the girl was as rigid as ever and not speaking, simply staring at the blue rifle on the display table in front of them. The girl had always been weird, as far as Andra was concerned.
The instructor picked up the blue rifle and cradled it along his forearms and chest to show the girls how he was handling it. "The safety, or at least the analog is located at the top of the gun, above the scope-housing."
Following the press of a button, the weapon hummed to life with charged plasma - its body lit along its entirety with dull cyan light. It wasn't very impressive but it was clear in the difference between its on and off.
The instructor pointed at the rear of the weapon. "Fire comes out here."
The instructor pointed at the front of the gun. "Buttpad."
The man was grinning at his own joke but stopped when he saw the girls didn't buy it or even appreciate the attempt at dark humor. "Sorry," the Marine continued with his instruction. "Place your arm around this spot - either side, and use the scope to lock onto a specific target, the on-board computer will adjust for everything, mostly. The trigger group is here below the buttpad and you hold it up along the bottom. It's a bit big, takes a little getting used to."
"It looks awkward." Shima said bluntly, breaking her silence. Even for a grown man, the Range Safety Officer held the weapon awkwardly. The Focus Rifle was clearly designed for a bigger user, an Elite. In the hands of a fully-grown human male, it looked blocky and goofy.
"Like I said, takes some getting used to."
The weapons instructor pointed the blue Focus Rifle back toward the targets down range, Andra could see the targets were shaped like human posts, made from a mix of plastic and paper material and mounted on steel poles about 100 meters out. Behind those targets was a wall that blocked out the further extensions of the shooting line, obscuring the view of targets that reach out a kilometer away.
"Firing line is hot! Step back! Ear and eye protection on!"
The two girls instinctively took two steps back and brought their assigned ear and eye protection to their ears and faces in preparation for the weapons fire register.
There was a click from the trigger followed by an immediate zap as the gun fired off a huge beam of energy toward a target down range. The person-shaped target ignited into flames then disappeared from sight. The instructor released the trigger and the weapon stopped firing, ending with a high-pitched screech, like a whining turbine. "Ceasing fire. That is how you use it. Now, you girls try."
The two girls approached the display table with some caution where another Focus Rifle had been placed. Shima took it as the instructor handed Andra his own.
"Fire line is hot. Go ahead and try the weapon out."
In Andra's arms, the weapon was notably heavy - mostly back heavy, but the weapon's huge profile made it hard to pick up in general. Her hands naturally went to holding it at the trigger and as far forward as possible, kind of like holding an extended bow.
"You're holding it wrong."
"It's heavy! What is this thing weigh?"
"What the hell? This thing is freaking huge and heavy." Andra exclaimed, even as a Spartan recruit, she was still small just like the rest of their peers having not reached puberty or been given augmentations yet.
"Give it a try. Commence fire."
Andra started to line up the weapon's sights with a chosen target down range. She could see random alien symbols on the weapon's scope, suggesting an advanced targeting system.
"This. Sucks." Shima groaned from her own rifle. Andra noted from a glance that she was also having trouble picking it up and pointing it down range. Andra turned back to face the scope and felt her fingers glide across the strange trigger in her hand. She pulled down on it, the trigger being surprisingly light for such a heavy weapon.
There was a zap that followed as energy coursed out the front of the weapon down range and completely missed the target as the beam shot skyward. Andra lost her grip on the weapon as the recoil overtook her. The gun smacked her in the face. Andra's hand slipped and the weapon stopped firing but all the girl could see was white as her ears ringed.
Fuck that gun.
“Merlin! Get your sloppy ass back in the fight!” Liv screamed from the battle ring's sidelines.
Children, the recruits of Delta Company, lined the edge of a large ring in the middle of a grassy meadow outside the walls of the imposing Camp Ambrose facility. The kids forming the circle were jeering and shouting, heavily invested in the blood sport presented by the members of their troop. At the edge of the circle, clad in sand-colored power armor, the Spartan trainer Kyle-B115 was watching along with the kids in silence. The trainer was sitting on a rock, an M6 handgun was secured to his thigh.
Merlin’s world was spinning as his mind was overwhelmed with unclear sights and sensations. Merlin's plain t-shirt and pants and short-cropped black hair were muddied and stained green by crushed meadow weed. Skies of blue and the distant faces of screaming children whirled about in Merlin’s vision. Cheers of joy and shock blasted in his ears. Merlin was feeling dazed and sick to the stomach from the sensory overload, his mind was screaming for him to take a nap right there on the spot, something he badly wanted to do.
“Merlin! Get up! Help Andra!” Liv shouted again from the sidelines, the girl’s voice just barely breaking through the concussive hurricane. Merlin spotted the girl within his peripheral but couldn’t make her form out clearly.
Merlin forced himself upright, a grunt escaping his throat in vengeful protest. He focused on the sloppy wrestling between the three other children throwing down in the mud and grass nearby. One of the kids, a girl with a mop-like spread of black hair thick with splattered mud and disturbed dandelions, was being forced head-first into the dirt. Andra. She was Merlin’s best friend and his teammate in this gladiatorial clash and she was being beaten down with an animalistic ferocity by her foes, Franklin and Sergei. A couple of trainees from Spartan Team Anion were stupid, insane. They were beating up his best friend and Merlin wasn’t going to have any of it – but first, he had to get up.
Andra cried out in pain when Franklin lifted her arm toward her shoulder blades, effectively pinning her. Sergei noted Merlin’s sluggish attempts to sit upright and moved away from Andra to focus on his returning opponent. Rage was simmering below the surface, crying for battle.
A shadow descended upon Merlin in a split second followed by Sergei’s fists. A rubber knife descended through the air like a dive-bombing aircraft. Merlin’s shaky hand instinctively reached up to meet the fake blade, gripping Sergei’s wrist to slow the assault. Merlin’s other arm reached out for Sergei’s leg only to find worthless dirt in a desperate attempt to flip the Russian boy. Merlin had his bearings now and was feeling more up for combat, his adrenaline and anger were rising beyond normal conditions.
“Merlin. Ugh – you guys already lost this round. Give up!” Sergei exclaimed through his frustrated groan and thick Russian accent. The knife was slowly closing in on Merlin’s chest. Nope. Nope. Merlin did not like this.
Merlin could not reply; all his energy was focused on keeping the knife out of his heart and lungs. With gravity’s assisting Sergei, Merlin was fighting an uphill battle. Pushing with his left arm, Merlin gave a startling gasp as he angled the blade away from his chest. The blade of plastic gave off a crunching sound as it made contact with dirt.
Merlin took advantage of Sergei’s lost momentum, lifting the Russian boy into the air. Merlin wrapped his legs around Sergei’s left legs and rolled onto Sergei’s knife hand, pinning the weapon below him. Now Merlin was above Sergei, but, he was already out of breath. Sergei, in a show of superior endurance, threw Merlin off him in the direction of the pinned Andra and Franklin. Merlin had a moment of weightlessness where he witnessed a sense of short-lived triumph being dashed before gravity took hold of him once again.
Merlin landed with a thud where he and Andra made eye contact. Andra’s face, in the shadow of Franklin’s towering figure, revealed a hidden rage. Her brown eyes clearly wanted out of the vice grip. Merlin could say nothing from his lack of breath but Andra spoke for him. “Get me out.” Merlin was more than happy to oblige.
Sergei descended upon Merlin once again, the knife flying for Merlin’s unguarded chest. Instead of engaging, Merlin rolled on top of Andra who gave off a surprising squeak at the sudden change in movement. Franklin, having become relaxed in his dominating position was not expecting Merlin to topple him. That feeling of momentary triumph was back for Merlin. This time though, he wasn’t going to let his emotions overtake him.
Merlin broke Andra free, throwing Franklin back into the dirt. The fight was far from even, however, Merlin knew he and Andra had to try and survive. All four fighters were on their knees, trying to catch their breath. A moment of hiatus passed as everyone slowly stood up and faced one another, Merlin and Andra retreated into each other’s backs to protect their spines. Sergei and Franklin balled their fists and took up aggressive combat stances.
“You-you think we can take them?” Merlin asked Andra between ragged breaths. Andra replied with her own sputtering breaths and silence.
“Nope. You guys are screwed.” Sergei said, grinning from his position opposite of Andra. The Russian boy twirled his knife effortlessly for effect. Franklin grunted in affirmation nearby.
Liv could be heard muttering from the sideline, “They’re screwed.” It wasn’t exactly encouraging in Merlin’s case.
Merlin felt Andra’s hand reach out and squeeze his wrist really quick in an attempt at reassurance. Merlin could only put all his focus into Franklin, Andra would have to survive on her own. Hopefully, she would be able to hold off Sergei where he himself had struggled. The brief pause came to an end; all four fighters felt their muscles tense as one and the fight was back in force. Merlin and Andra rushed their separate opponents as one.
Franklin’s fist flew first, aimed to put Merlin into the ground with one strike. Acting quickly, Merlin out stepped Franklin’s fist and drew his rubber knife from his pants drawstring. The blade slashed up and around Franklin’s outstretched arm. Making contact with Franklin’s fleshy throat and chin, Merlin marked a solid kill. Franklin faltered in his step and toppled over as if to simulate his own death. Merlin was about ready to celebrate his early victory when he was startled by the sound of a loud smack followed by Andra crying out in pain.
Merlin’s head snapped to face Andra’s cry of distress only to see Sergei rushing him with two knives in hand, one of his own, the other Andra’s. Merlin scrambled, attempting to backpedal and create distance between himself and the Russian boy. Merlin's blade rose up to guard his retreat, however, Sergei outpaced the backpedal. Sergei's two rubber blades soared through the air into Merlin’s chest with a flurry of jabs and cuts. It was over before Merlin could even twitch to block. Merlin’s back hit the ground with a thud and Merlin knew he had lost, a pane of disappointment flashed through Merlin’s heart at being beaten up by Sergei, again.
The dust settled as the children around the fighters dipped into silence. Merlin fell to his knees and Sergei began to flip the knives in his hands with little second thought, he was enjoying his victory. The fight was over. Merlin glanced past Sergei toward Andra who was rolling her wrist in an experimental fashion, checking to make sure nothing was broken.
Andra glanced up at Merlin where their eyes met. She gave off a wistful sigh to match Merlin’s shrug. Another fight lost. The two of them never caught a break. Breaking the silence, Sergei glanced between his two fallen opponents with a friendly grin and said simply, “Good game!”
Kyle-B115, known mostly to the children as Commander or Sir, pulled the four children aside to dispense his experienced but often infuriating wisdom upon the recruits. The Spartan trainer was well respected among the recruits, however, his tips and feedback on the children usually had a tendency to belittle those that lost rather than won. Merlin and Andra were familiar with the concept of loss too well – they had rough starts upon arriving at Camp Ambrose. While Franklin and Sergei were also fellow losers, however, in this case, they received more praise rather than ridicule because they won the close quarters' brawl.
“Merlin, you’re too slow. You take too much time to analyze your short victories. Always be aware of your surroundings or you’ll die from being idle. You’re also not thinking very much, you rely too much on instinct, which is a good resource, however, if you haven’t built up the habit to support your instincts, they are useless. Remember this. A soldier who can’t react and think on his feet is a useless warm body.” The words stung no matter how much restraint was used, which honestly, wasn’t much. Merlin was certainly going to get an extra earful later from some of the former Special Forces guys pretending to be drill sergeants.
“Andra. You need to get yourself together. You were being lobbed around by the boys and I don’t think there was a single moment where you actually had control of the situation. Franklin had you pinned. Sergei did short work of you – that nerve twisting of your wrist and that sweeping kick should have been easily averted. You better start practicing in private with your team. Next time we have an exercise I expect improvement. I don’t care if the boys are boys and are stronger or bigger if you want to be a Spartan, that is going to be something you have to deal with – the Covenant certainly didn’t.” Merlin winced at the harsh reality. Andra said nothing but there was a slight purr rumbling from her throat. A quick glance at the girl suggested she was trying to hold back tears. She’d been practicing in her off time with Team Boson but it seemed that progress was still too slow.
“Sergei, Franklin, firstly, congratulations on your victory. Your teamwork is sloppy and your technique is utter crap, however. I expect better results as time goes on.” Like Merlin said, no subtlety and no pulled punches.
“Franklin, you are far too complacent. You should never be associated with the name Gentle Giant but that’s what I saw today. You let Merlin, a much lighter and smaller fighter, push you around. You should have had a grip on Andra and stood your ground, or, you should have disabled Andra’s ability to fight back. And those last few moments where Merlin swiped your neck, that was a lackluster performance from you. You’re bigger than Merlin – you should have had control of that situation. Merlin’s strength comes in getting close and outmaneuvering you; something he did by the book. You, on the other hand, should have just tackled him. There would have been nothing he could have done in response.” Franklin nodded in understanding.
“And Sergei. You were definitely the best prepared for this fight, as expected. You pulled some interesting strategies off during this fight and showed off some definite talent, however, you enjoyed that fight too much for what it’s worth. War is not a game, get that through your skull, recruit. Enjoying what you’re good at is one thing, however, getting distracting in a fight will get you killed. Show that you actually know what discipline is.” Sergei only nodded in response, a small grin appeared on his face from receiving a mostly positive opinion on his performance.
The Spartan trainer glanced at all four Spartans. “Dismissed.”
Merlin didn’t like the opinions of the Spartan trainer. Kyle was being tough on them, and he was supposed to be the nice one. This was not the time nor place to be concerned with how he was being trained. Merlin was training to become a Spartan; small issues shouldn’t get to him. He stayed quiet instead of blowing up. The children rejoined the larger crowd from which, like a shepherd, Kyle-B115, guided the flock back toward base on the other side of the clearing. Another day over, it was time for chow.
Midwest Heist is a post-training story in the Delta's Path collection, occurring around the times of the Halo Reclaimer Saga. Written by Distant Tide, Midwest Heist follows the activities of Merlin-D032 and Andra-D054 during a shore leave transit in the United Republic of North America. While stopping at a rest stop near New Phoenix, Merlin is informed that unknown forces have acquired UNSC nuclear ordnance and are making a hasty escape, creating chaos on the highway. The two off-duty Spartans give chase and jump into the mess that ensues.
"Just like a terribly written action flick."
―Merlin-D032 chasing after Insurrections on the highway.
August 2558 (UEG Calendar)
Location: New Phoenix City Limits, United Republic of North America, Earth
"I'll take the rainbow gummies, the chips, and these graham crackers."
"No. I'm good.
"Well, don't park in front of my only pump then, next time."
"Now, credit or bucks?"
"Credit, I think. Here."
"I'm an intern. Don't worry about it."
In the lowlands of the North American Midwest, a sports car was parked out front of a refueling station. Inside the station, a young man in his late teens or early twenties was conversing with the clerk at the desk, a burly man in overalls. He carried an oily odor on his person.
The clerk ran the young man's credit card through his register and got an 'approved' designation from the desk computer. "Alright. You're free to go."
The young man, dressed in a red and white tee shirt and blue jeans, grabbed his merchandise and card and started to walk out of the store. He was somewhat well-built and his hazel eyes suggested of a life of experience.
"ONI, how'd you end up working for those snakes?" The clerk asked, he said it with a genuine curiosity but the taste of venom was clearly in his throat. The young man noted it, such behavior was common among Great War veterans.
"It's a long story, and a bit classified. I'll leave it at that. Take care."
The young man stepped out of the small station shop and into the blazing heat of an ever-shining sun. The sports car was parked out in front of the only refueling pump, acting as an obstruction to traffic. Helpfully, the station was having a slow business day - there were no vehicles in the parking lot except that of the young man's and the station workers'.
Leaning against the front of the sports car, a 2499 AAC Stallion Sport, a young woman - also in her young adult years, was playing on her phone. Dressed in a white tee shirt and black jeans, she had tied her hair back in a military-styled bun.
"Get the snacks?" The woman called out as she glanced at her friend's approach.
"Yeah. I got you your chips Andra."
"I got the rest of route prepped as well then. Let's get going, Merlin."
Andra-D054 and Merlin-D032 were off duty Spartan super soldiers on a road trip. Shore leave had been good to them, though boring, now it was back to work - but, they still had room for one more adventure before returning home.
"I see you got gummy worms." Andra said as she returned to her game.
"They're sour." Merlin replied, making his way around the sports car and putting the snacks on the central island of the two-door vehicle.
Painted white with black and blue secondary, the vehicle stood out but not too much. A green trim lined the step pads along the sides of the super car. It looked much like an 21st century sports car, as intended by the makers.
Under the hood, the extra-large engine and hydrogen extractor kept the vehicle running. Right now, the pair of Spartans were still sitting at a half container but they had three more fuel cells left to go, so they were in no rush to fuel up.
"Are we all set?" Merlin asked turning to his female compatriot, "Is the 'equipment' accounted for?"
"Given its classified and advanced combat armor - yeah Merlin, you ask every time we stop and I usually have it checked. So, yes."
"Definitely...wait, got a call on my device."
Merlin was climbing into the car but stopped at Andra's statement. "What?"
"You got an incoming call."
"Grabbing my ear piece..." Merlin grabbed his ear piece from the central console of the sports car. Plugging it into his ear, he answered the call. "Caliburn. Go ahead."
"This is Home Base. Where are you? I got confirmation from Dragoon, Joker, and Bull. I haven't heard from Angler."
"She redirected the call to me. She's here with me - we're near New Phoenix."
"That's at least another three hours."
"There is a stolen truck heading for the New Phoenix spaceport. Since the city lacks a space elevator, anyway, its carrying at least two Havok-grade tactical nukes, heavy grade small arms, and maybe a single APC. All my interceptors are tied up and you two are my closest element." The voice at the end of the line explained.
"What do you mean closest element? Are you tracing my signal again?"
"Yeah. I don't care - I need you to intercept that vehicle. It's a North American Trans-Union Cargo Manual Mk.2529, meaning it has a person behind the wheel. Not automated."
Merlin frowned. An actual mission, what great timing it seemed. "Where is it?"
"You see that blue eighteen-wheeler on the highway heading to Phoenix?" The voice asked, sounding somewhat smug.
Merlin spotted it heading into a tunnel. "Fuck."
Chuckling could be heard on the other end of the call, Merlin's ONI Handler in the United Republic on Earth.
"Andra! Get in the vehicle!" Merlin yelled as he climbed in and hit the ignition and fired up the grill.
"What is it?" The female Spartan asked, closing the side door.
"Mission. High speed heist on the highway."
"We aren't cops."
"They got Havoks among the cargo, looks like Innies raided a storehouse at an ONI installation nearby or something like that. Home Base called in."
"They better be paying us extra for this shit." Andra replied with a sigh, her body slid into the leather and safety foam of her chair as Merlin kicked the sports car into high gear, hitting 120 miles per hour on the exit ramp.
Honking could be heard from the civilian cars Merlin narrowly missed as he gave chase.
"What's the plan?" Andra asked, she was popping a few chips into her mouth as she talked, making it come out somewhat muffled.
"Well. Get up close for one. I didn't ask about rules of engagement." Merlin replied, smacking his forehead as he attempted to get a glance on the blue cargo truck.
"D032. Rules of engagement are simple. Avoid civilian casualties if possible. Avoid setting off those nukes. Sanction the hostiles. We counted about ten or so." Home Base reported, Merlin forgot to close the connection apparently.
"What about engagements? Kill, wound?" Merlin asked, seeking clarity.
"Shoot to maim. Kill as you see fit." The connection was terminated at the other end.
"Well, he hung up on me. An ass as always."
Andra glanced curiously at Merlin. "What did he say?"
"Assume ten armed hostiles. We are free to engage however, protect civilians and nukes," Merlin replied. "I see the tango up ahead."
The blue North American cargo truck was cruising along the tunnel path, attempting, dangerously to slide between the ongoing lanes. Merlin could make out burn marks and what looked like bullet holes on the cargo trailer.
"7.62mm. Looks like MA5 rounds." Andra said noting the battle scars.
"ONI Security probably." Merlin noted.
"I guess you drive, I engage?" Andra asked. She started to climb into the back of the car, unlatching her seat belt.
"What are you doing?" Merlin asked glancing back at the female Spartan.
"I need a weapon."
"You going to put on combat armor?" Merlin asked, keeping his eyes on the road.
"No. It will take too long. I have a chest plate and I grabbed some equipment - I'll be fine." Andra replied from behind Merlin. In the rear-view mirror Merlin could see Andra had pulled down the seats to reveal the trunk of the sports car. Inside where several large containers of military make. Sliding them aside with some effort, Andra pulled out one of the smaller containers and started to empty the objects within.
She stripped her shirt a little, revealing some skin to cover it up with a light bullet-resistant combat webbing that ran around her torso. Andra then covered her white shirt with a combat vest and attached magazines and two pistol holsters to her chest and thighs.
"Magnums?" Merlin asked.
"Eyes on the road, Mel."
The vehicles were now exiting the tunnel and back to the familiar setting of dry lowlands and rocky cliffs.
"I hate that nick."
Andra slid back into her seat and rolled down the window as the air came rushing into the vehicle.
Putting on shooting glasses and handing some to Merlin, she spoke. "Don't give a shit. Get alongside the vehicle. I'll see if I can breach the container unit from above. I'm going to climb the hood."
"What you using?"
"Magnums like you asked. Suppressed with hollow point. Should be good for shredding limbs and body armor. Won't cause any extensive damage because the penetration strength isn't that high."
"You grab me anything?" Merlin asked, he started to slide in next to the truck.
"Trust me. You won't need one."
Andra clambered out pf her chair and slid her way onto the Stallion's white hood. Gripping at the rim and the engine exhaust, she secured her place on the speeding sports car. With a flick of her hand, she switched on her own ear piece.
"Testing..." Andra said as her voice was lost with the wind.
"I hear you. Watch out." Merlin said as the cargo truck attempted to force the sports car out of the lane now that the driver knew the Stallion was a threat.
Merlin rammed the Stallion Sport into the side of the cargo truck, scrapping his paint job and tapping tires against one another.
"Shit. I nearly bit my tongue." Andra muttered into the microphone, her voice was accompanied by howling wind.
"Less talking, more action."
"WILCO." Andra replied before loosening her grip on the car below her and pushing her muscles to propel her into the air. Like some kind of superhero, the hood seemed to buckle a little under her sudden force but she flew up high enough to reach a handle on the side of the trailer.
"I'm secure. Back off." Andra said. She could be seen crawling her away across the top of the cargo truck, looking for a ceiling entrance. Finding one, she fired a round that cracked the heavens and threw the neighboring vehicles in a frenzy, civilians slowed at the sound of gunfire.
Merlin continued to give chase but slowed his approach to avoid crashing into the truck again.
"Just like a terribly written action flick..." Merlin muttered as he checked his heads-up display and noted his cruising speed of 86 miles per hour.
He tweaked the car's counsel as he maintained a constant tailing speed. Merlin's shooting glassed quickly placed a miniature video display over his left eye that revealed Andra's own heads-up display.
From the outside of the truck, Merlin saw green smoke rise from the access door Andra entered. Bullets could be heard over the wind from the Stallion's rolled down windows.
Several dents from within sprouted from the cargo truck - rounds escaping the barrels of her twin Magnum sidearms. If Merlin could remember - M6K Micros with extended magazines. They were not standard issue but they were capable pistols, firing 9.5mm rounds. Because of the lack of penetration, her bullets could not escape the cargo truck.
From her HUD clone appearing on his own glasses, Merlin could see her gun down several men inside. A couple attempted to grab her only to be met with shattered bones as her super powered arms smashed them down.
Her pistols coughed and kicked, destroying muscle and bone upon contact. In the small container, it was impossible to escape the death, carnage, and chaos.
Eight warm bodies. Eight cooling corpses. The battle was over in moments.
"Nice work." Merlin said simply. He wasn't keen on the blood but he had to compliment her ability to fight.
"More like disgusting."
Merlin only hummed back in affirmation of his agreement.
"I'm going to move up to the front of the truck. Should be over soon."
"You okay, Andra?"
"I'm green. No injuries."
"Alright. Just checking."
"I already told you, Merlin, trust me."
The two Spartans returned to their mission in silence. Time to finish this.
Merlin closed the display link on his shooting glasses and focused on increasing the speed of his vehicle. He was quick on the approach, and gaining back on the eighteen-wheeler. He wasn't sure if the driver knew that his team was dead, but, he would die shortly anyhow. Merlin was coming to acquire Andra, who, was already making her way back out of the smoky interior of the trailer.
Atop the vehicle, Merlin could tell that while she had won her fight, it had not been easy. She was splattered in deep maroon blood, her white low-crop tee shirt was ruined - shredded by blades and stray bullets. Her eyes looked watery from the smoke grenade, her hair was painted green with smoke residue. Her face was covered in blood like tribal war paint. It was a horrifying yet impressive scene.
As if a demon rising from Hell, she made herself known to the world. Untouched by the enemy's bullets but caked in theirs, she had destroyed her foes. Now she had just one or two targets left. Andra started to shakily crawl her way toward the front of the vehicle. If Merlin had been some random pedestrian, he would have been in shock and awe at the scene. It was that jarring to see a young woman fighting like this, but for Merlin, it was routine.
Breaking the silence, Andra laid out her plan. "Drive up to the front of the vehicle and distract the driver and whoever else is in the forward cabin. I'll take them out."
"On a date?"
"Fuck you Merlin."
The two returned to their individual jobs. Merlin kicked the sports car up to 95 miles per hour and zoomed past the truck till he was right in front. He shifted in front of it and showed them his vehicle rear. He was giving them a clean shot, but it would certainly get their attention - for the young Spartan, it was a worthwhile compromise, as long as he didn't get shot.
Andra screeched at Merlin through her mike, "Dammit, you had to pull up in front of him!"
The truck brakes kicked in as the driver tried to avoid hitting the Stallion Sport in front of him. Andra had been knocked to her feet and slid several meters across the roof. She hooked her arms around one of the truck's exhausts, enabling her continued mission.
"Just use the opportunity I gave you!" Merlin called back over their shared frequency.
Andra grunted in response but threw herself onto the cargo truck door on the driver's side and latched on to the handle. Using her pistol as a battering ram, she smashed the window open and popped two rounds into the driver's skull. The passenger upfront, armed with a sub machine gun was too slow to notice Andra's approach. She put a third round through his skull.
"All tangos are E-KIA. I'm going to steer the truck off the highway!" Andra called to Merlin.
"Got it. I'll tail you, providing security."
Andra could be seen from Merlin's car, shoving the dead driver aside and crawling into the vehicle. She guided the slowing cargo truck toward the exit ramp where she applied the brakes.
Merlin quickly drifted to a halt behind her. Looking through his rear-view mirror, Merlin was surprised to see the carnage they caused. Seven or more civilian vehicles had been totaled at least back to the tunnel, vehicles beyond that were uncountable.
"He did say something about minimizing civilian casualties..." Merlin muttered to himself. He turned back toward the truck to see Andra looking like the personification of Death herself, marching back to the Stallion.
When she was within ear shot, Andra spoke with an icy edge. "First thing we do when we get back, we're going to get drunk on our asses."
Merlin nodded tiredly in response. "Yeah. Fuck. We wrecked my Stallion."
"ONI will flip the bill. In the meantime, let's wait for reinforcements and we talk about who pays for the booze." Merlin could only nod in surrender under the determined glare of the blood-covered Andra.
Psyche Reports is the third chronological story in the Delta's Path collection, following Crossed Arms and Born Fighters. Written by Distant Tide, Psyche Reports follows the DELTA Initiative's top psychologist, one Dr. Reyna Zhou-Romero. During a late night review session with the Camp Ambrose curator AI, Oracle, the two consider the future prospects in Delta Company and consider who they are - both as children and as Spartans.
"Oracle assures me that this organization structure shall influence the desired results. I can't say everyone agrees, though, Director - Harald doesn't like pitting Spartan teams against each other."
―Andrew Johnson, on the unorthodox competition program of Delta Company.
July 2553 (UEG Calendar)
Location: Camp Ambrose Facility, Argus V Colony
"Earth-born, a rarity to find among a Spartan recruitment pool and yet she looks like a worthy candidate after all. Born in Beijing in 2546, not much is actually known about her past. ONI records and what public docs could garner was loose ideas that she was either a bastard child or a throwaway - Chinese culture on Earth still favors male offsprings it seems. Her orphanage, packed with mouths to feed was happy to let her go. What a find and what a shame. In terms of personality or capabilities, she isn't remarkable and budged little during her evaluations. A little ice queen to be honest, even to the point she fits her generic surname well. We aren't sure what her future holds, but she has the makings of survivalist given the combat scars we saw. She will make a fine Spartan, in time."
―Remarks about Shima-D011. Circa. 2552.
"Another Reach native, the only likely reason Gamma surveyors might have missed these kids were their age and lack of orphan status. Felicity was of middle-class upbringing, living in a three bedroom loft among the high rises of New Alexandria. Her parents were with the Army Reserve Garrisons on Reach, both were involved in the battle for their city, but, they never made it to the evacuation shuttles. Felicity's loss was still evident during the interview but proved forthcoming and intelligent, and even projecting righteous fury if that is possible. Smart girl, highly perceptive and motivated to fight the Covenant. It maybe too early to place bets but she looks like quality leadership material.Her two stand out qualities are determination and motivations. We can expect great things from this recruit."
―Remarks about Felicity-D148. Circa. 2552.
"If there was an award for angriest Spartan recruit, this boy would have to be among the finalists. No one thought a child could be this driven, or more like a much more profane word. Impulsive, rash, a typical case of anger management issues, yet for someone so young and athletic. He is the definition of an unknown capability, and deadly dangerous. Drill instructors promised that any Spartan recruit would be remolded under their pressure, but this one leaves doubts. On Tribute, he was likely a bully at his foster home, however, records of his past were lost with Tribute during the glassing - Casbash City was the epicenter. If anything, his guardian or parent was likely involved in the local criminal scene on the colony world."
―Remarks about Sergei-D167. Circa. 2552.
"The son of a fallen Marine with the 26th MEF that fell at New Jerusalem, Amit was a late acquisition for the Initiative, having only been discovered months before. Amit is of typical Israeli-Palestinian descent, and features the unique accent of his homeworld. He knows what Spartans are, seen Covenant up close, and knows what its like to fear aliens. He knows the enemy well from losing his family and what is surprising is his interest in them. In seeking to destroy them, Amit expressed interest during his evaluation in learning more about the Covenant to ultimately learn ways to kill them better. This boy clearly has vision and drive. His stubbornness and lack of conventionality is a minor issue, being unwilling to bend to others' wills or suggestions. Time will only tell if his bullishness turns out to be a talent or a hindrance for him. Spartan material, easy, a brat - most definitely."
―Remarks about Amit-D233. Circa. 2552.
"An emotionally sound and tactically-minded individual, Franklin is not super unique among his Delta Company peers. Born on Reach and present in the Azod region during the Covenant landing, the boy got a first hand account, dealing with aliens when Jackal privateers ransacked his homestead and razed it to the ground. He was saved by an Army convoy with the 34th Battalion during the heaviest fighting. The only survivor, he was transferred to a Mars foster care center before becoming one of the last Spartan prospects for Delta Company. It was noted that, uniquely, he had contact with elements of UNICOM Spartan team: Noble during the Fall of Reach and heavily motivated his response of affirmation to join Delta Company. He's a forward-thinking kid and a budding strategist, traits that could make him into an impressive Spartan later on."
―Remarks about Franklin-D319. Circa.2552.
"A noticeably quiet and mentally questionable child, Franklin is uniquely strange among his Delta Company peers. Present on Reach and having participated during the land conflicts with Covenant forces during the Fall of Reach, the boy got a first hand account, dealing with aliens when Jackal scavengers ransacked his homestead, burned his cousin, harassed his parents, and ate his dog. He was saved by a team of Spartan super soldiers, Noble Team. While not on guard, the new recruit of the Spartan team was knocked out by the farm boy who took the Spartan's armor and fought the rest of the battle in his place. The only survivor of his family now, this replacement Franklin was transferred to a Mars foster care center before becoming one of the last Spartan prospects for Delta Company - no one expected a grown man but it was overlooked. It was noted that he could only talk in short phrases during his evaluation - noticeable quirks included the occasional quiet chuckle, series of grunts, and the muttering of what sounds like "headshot" every once in a while. He refused to remove his mask and at this time, the interviewers have never seen his face. His supposedly accidental incident where he killed all the other recruits aboard the ONI freighter that dropped him off at Argus V, he was quickly inducted into the Headhunter program to prevent further danger and to apply some damage control. He is the single-handed reason why the 400 initial Delta Company recruits were dropped to 300 or so. Avoid with all the caution mustered, this one is a walking personification of the Grim Reaper and whatever Hell exists. Hyper Lethal, deadly certain. Not even the Master Chief can compare to this one. We don't even know what is going on."
―Remarks about Franklin-B312? More information required. Circa.2552.
If something like an asteroid were to bounce off the side of the ship’s hull, Rear Admiral Jazmine Utah didn’t think she would notice. Hell, she wasn’t even certain anymore whether she was on a ship or inside a nuclear bunker anymore. The metal walls and the extensive security measures put in place by the Office of Naval Intelligence on this vessel were visibly overwhelming, not to mention the likely, unseen precautions taken were even grander in scope. Armed ONI Security personnel armed with full combat loads guarded every security checkpoint. Even a couple of genetically-enhanced service dogs had been added to the guard units. Live-feed security cameras ran down all the hallways and what appeared to be bomb-sniffing plants were placed along every corridor. Behind the physical defenses of the security forces, a team of highly-advanced Artificial Intelligences were likely examining and passively scanning the behaviors of every single trooper and officer throughout the vessel.
It took several series of checkpoints and many confusing turns for Utah to reach her specific destination. She had been relieved of any service sidearms and any electronics she had on her person. An extra pair of armed guards escorted her all the way through the security check process. The security guards never took their eyes off her. And to think, every single one of them was one of her own personnel – it was a bit mindboggling. Deep down, the Rear Admiral knew that while they worked for her and they followed her orders, they were more than ready to pull a gun on her if she ever presented herself as a threat. Jazmine knew because there was only one person who held unquestionable loyalty and wielded unrivaled power over the entirety of the United Nation Space Command’s entire foreign intelligence apparatus.
The Queen of ONI. Vice Admiral Margret Parangosky. She was the Commander-in-Chief of the Office and everyone feared her.
The ONI Security Guards refused to let Utah out of their sight until she finally reached the final checkpoint and the endless walking and countless security stops came to an end. There was a sheer wall and an advanced-looking bio-scanner that would confirm Rear Admiral Jazmine Utah as herself.
The process of activating the scanner took a few moments but the sense of unseen and uncertainty that she always felt around the senior leadership of the Office refused to go away. It had a unique shiver of foreboding and Death clenching over one’s heart. This place was ONI’s nerve center and one of the most secure places in the galaxy. It was also a great place to develop a sense of paranoia of people from.
The bio-scanner permitted Jazmine to enter the conference room behind a seamlessly smooth wall, known as Odin’s Eye. It was by far the safest and most isolated place in all of the Human Sphere. She knew this better than most; she was one of designers of this very ship after all. The UNSC Point of No Return was one of the only stealth cruisers ever designed and deployed by Mankind’s military, a uniquely draconian work of art.
She helped design the damn ship. The Rear Admiral was one of only a few officers who had the proper authority to make regular visits on the vessel. And yet, every time she got on or got off, she was left with a sense of powerlessness. It was a testament to the overwhelming power that Parangosky wielded.
The walls vibrated and rumbled to life, spreading wide to reveal the interior space of the Odin’s Eye. The doors that split two ways to allow Utah to enter didn’t look like doors. The lack of indentations in the walls made it feel almost like a magical manifestation.
“Glad you could join us, Rear Admiral.” Parangosky called from the far end of the conference table situated in the center of the Odin’s Eye.
The room was expansive, elliptical in shape. The walls were bland and lacked distinction besides a cool gray tone. Without touching it, the Rear Admiral was uncertain whether it was a plastic, metal, or colored wood. There was a lack of electronics in the room as well. The table at the room’s center, granite black in color, was littered with sheets of copy paper and old-fashion pencils and cheap pens.
“Glad to be here, Director.” Jazmine replied with some catch in her voice as she walked into the room and took a seat in a rolling chair two seats down and to the left of the Vice Admiral, a small crowd had already gathered in preparation for the day’s gathering.
A number of old faces were joined by a number of new ones. Admiral Parangosky sat at the head of the conference table as usual. Her shadow and rumored-successor stood off to the side in silence. A couple of grizzled officers from the Navy and the Marine Corps were of the usual crowd. There was some alarm that got caught in Utah’s throat when she noticed the appearance of atypical guests. One was stricken to a silver, uniform motorized wheel chair from failed genetic experiments. The other alarming guest had a shaved head decorated with the tattoo of arrows clenched within a fist.
Lieutenant Commander Musa Ghanem, commonly referred to as “Sierra-096” due to his lineage as a failed supersoldier first conceptualized by the infamous Dr. Catherine Halsey. Intelligence Officer Jun, an active SPARTAN-III who was in the process of being retired and transferred fully from command of the UNSC Defense Forces to the Office of Naval Intelligence. Someone had leaked her conference plans to them! It was too obvious as of all the people in the military who might have made an aggressive push against her special projects as head of ONI’s Beta-5 Division belong to Section III, it had to be these two on this particular day.
Jazmine’s mind raced in panic as she considered the circumstances. These two were intellectual foes and threats of ulterior motive. Either someone on Utah’s staff had leaked her dossiers. Those two didn’t even have the regular clearance to be gain access to Odin’s Eye, fewer than 20 officers in the entire UNSC had access. But, if they were given special permission, only the Queen of ONI could green light something like that. Did Parangosky already know what she was intent on, was the old woman trying to bait or intimidate the Rear Admiral?
The Rear Admiral’s pupils directed them back at the cold, emotionless stare of Vice Admiral Parangosky. The woman was already pushing into her early nineties even though she looked to be more toward her late seventies or early eighties. She didn’t look very young, but, she did look decently young for her age. Even with that said, the woman looked like a physical manifestation of Death itself. She was haggard. Held her cane like that of a brooding elder. Parangosky’s eyes were notably bloodshot and the whites had a greyish tint to them. Her pupils were so dark, they were black and unfeeling. It was unnerving and wrinkles ran all over her face, making her look like some kind of loose-skinned elephant, whether that unsaid comment be considered a respectful analysis or an insulting gesture. The woman was intimidating and terrifying, even in her old age.
“Down to business, Director Utah. You’ve received the role of the SPARTAN-III Program Project Lead following the death of your subordinate, Colonel Ackerson. I had under the assumption you have been doing what you can to familiarize and continue the program as seen fit by the late Colonel?”
“Yes, ma’am. Ackerson’s work was superb in producing three generations of quality supersoldiers. Based on his own parameters, the actions and deployments of SPARTAN III Companies, Alpha, Beta, and Gamma have proven to be impressive successes,” The Rear Admiral glanced sideways in the direction of Jun, the SPARTAN-III. The said bald man was looking at her with a hard-boiled stare, unblinking. His presence threatened Utah. “I’ve done everything within my ability to familiarize myself with the program’s inner workings. I’ve met with the commanding officers still in operation and I’ve taken stock on the remaining inventory on personnel and equipment that we have left. The destruction of the Onyx Colony World has forced us to take a step back but we’re making do with what we have right now.”
“Can you inform us of the future planned action that the III Program will take?” Lieutenant Commander Musa Ghanem asked from across the table. He was writing something down on a notepad as if preparing for a debate. The man was clearly interested in the SPARTAN-III Program and Utah knew very well why he was. The man was a strong proponent against the current Spartan program, having been a failed supersoldier himself and having seen so many of his friends leave him behind and later die. The man was not a fan of Dr. Halsey, of Colonel Ackerson, and he was certainly no friend of Rear Admiral Utah.
Jazmine wasn’t certain whether he had a right to ask a compromising question like that. Especially since the man wasn’t a regular on the Point of No Return. He technically had no jurisdiction here. The Rear Admiral turned to face Parangosky for her opinion. “Ma’am?”
“Continue. He’s not a liability as far as I’m concerned.”
Utah coughed once before opening her folder of documents and began to level out the current circumstances that had befallen the SPARTAN-III Program along with the compensations taken to mediate the losses. The Rear Admiral could feel all the eye in the room glancing at her as she began to speak. “Colonel Ackerson was already exploring the advent of creating a fourth-generation of the SPARTAN-III Program following the deployment of Gamma Company at the beginning of this year. The loss of Colonel during the defense of Pittsburg is regrettable and, along with the destruction of Onyx, we’ve been without a leader and without a place to set up camp for the next generation of Spartans. We also lost Lieutenant Commander Kurt Ambrose during the Battle of Onyx as I’m sure you’re all aware. In the meantime, over the last two months, we’ve been taking account for what we could recover. A substantial number of the SPARTAN-III Program’s personnel and inventory was lost with Onyx. We’re dipping into our Rainy-Day fund at the moment to make ends meet, especially since next year’s financial budget did not take into account the sudden loss of Onyx as many of you are aware. What little we’ve had left has been spent on recruiting new personnel and gathering the recruits required for the fourth generation.”
“When you speak about this fourth generation, we’re speaking about a Delta Company? Yes?” Musa asked in genuine interest. He wasn’t being friendly, however, he seemed at least curious enough to let Utah continue.
“You are correct.”
“Where are you at with getting Delta Company off the ground then?”
Utah flipped to the next page in her folder where a hastily-written note had been added last minute. The facts that both flag officers were now discussing were the most recent data on the fourth generation of the SPARTAN-III Program. “As of last week, the final series of investigations into colonial records and inquiries with the UEG’s Orphanage Registry – we’ve received positive identification and the beginnings of a recruitment plan. The current applicant pool is sitting at about 497 children, of those, we could have an entire unit of 300 or more recruits by the spring of next year. Other factors we’ve already accounted for are the necessary personnel. We’ve allowed the surviving commanders of the SPARTAN-III Program to handle recruitment as they’re performance reviews under Lieutenant Ambrose showed quality and nothing but good faith for his subordinates. Our most concerning issue right now is acquiring a new planet to host the Spartan program. We’re exploring the idea of selling the hosting rights to different bases in the Colonies as it is a working theory that we can narrow down the pool of receptive flag officers to a small group of which we can rely on for logistical and financial support. Overall, it would be fraction of what we initially spent in starting up Alpha Company back in the thirties.”
“Have you considered the morality of using conscripted child soldiers, Rear Admiral Utah?” Jun asked out of the blue.
“Have you come to your own terms with the morality of using children? Jun asked, repeating himself. The Spartan hid his emotions well as Utah couldn’t find any motive in his eyes.
“It’s a circumstantial necessity and while immoral, I’ll agree to that comment, the Spartans have proven to be a game changer in almost every combat scenario against the Covenant Empire in these last twenty-seven years of combat. You, Warrant Officer, should know that better than any of us.” Jazmine replied, taken aback by the SPARTAN-III’s question of morality. The people with the audacity to ask such a question in this room was slim, however, it was even more unprecedented when a member of the program was the one asking.
“Director Utah, we’ve all but won the Human-Covenant War. Our forces have returned from the Ark. This fight is just about over. I would go as forward to ask why we still need augmented child soldiers.” Musa stated, giving voice to his private thoughts.
“The Covenant is still out there. Just because the Arbiter killed the Prophet and we’ve curtailed a number of the Brute Factions from our surviving worlds; we haven’t won. What’s left of their Empire – the remnants, those vassal states still pose a threat to our national security, and, they have the numbers to make a shot at Earth. It only took a battlegroup of fifteen Covenant ships to beat the Home Fleet and break into Earth’s gravity well.” Utah pointed out, reminding the room of the first wave of Covenant ships that attacked Earth only a month ago.
“To be fair Rear Admiral, there were two assault carriers among that fleet and led by the Prophet of Mercy. Two five-kilometer warships are not an equal fight. The Navy did manage to kill one.” Musa adding on to the argument. The UNSC Home Fleet was not some paper tiger; Jazmine agreed that they did a number on the enemy, however, this was a debate – she wasn’t going to concede to the former Spartan.
“With the help of the Master Chief. We wouldn’t have blown the Day of Jubilation out of orbit without the Spartan jumping out of the Cairo, rest his soul. The Home Fleet is already combat ineffective – we’ve all seen the report. Casualties exceeding eighty percent! That wasn’t a victory, we were two steps from our extinction. The Covenant broke through our battle grid and put holes in our orbital defenses in at least twenty different locations, most prominently over the South Pole, North America, and Africa. That was supposed to be sixty orbital defense platforms defending those positions and yet we almost lost them all. That wasn’t a victory; we’re barely keeping our heads above water.” Jazmine turned to look at one of the other flag officers in the room for confirmation on her conclusion. A full Admiral made eye contact with her and simply nodded in affirmation.
The Admiral simply stated, “The Rear Admiral is correct in her assumptions.”
“We’re getting off track. The Battle of Earth has been thoroughly argued down at Sydney.” Musa said with a sigh. They knew that the Battle of Earth was a pyrrhic victory and would have been a total lose without the greatest Spartan to serve in the battle.
“So. Why are you so against building another company of Spartans, Lieutenant Commander? Especially given your lineage.” Jazmine asked, calling on Musa’s own history as a failed Spartan. The Rear Admiral for a moment had considered calling Musa his Spartan designation, 096 to add fire to the flame, however, she held her tongue.
“I never said I was against Spartans, I never said anything – actually. I only questioned your morale compass on using child volunteers.” Musa replied calmly, behind his eyes however, it was clear. He was trying to rattle Utah’s cage.
“I assume you have a point you’re trying to get at.”
“Indeed. Do you remember Project: Orion?” Musa asked, he pulled a couple sheets of paper out of his vanilla folder and squinted at it in annoyance. Must have been something distasteful.
“Adult volunteers. Rapid genetic modification and biological enhancers. It was the precursor to the SPARTAN programs. Yes, I remember well. Are you saying you want us to consider adults now?” Musa dodged the question and injected his own, not out of curiosity but out of challenge. “Have you heard of the SPARTAN-IV Program?”
Ah. Fuck. Jazmine’s mind was racing now upon realizing the former Spartan’s intent. Lieutenant Commander Musa Ghanem was trying to steal her funding, and he wasn’t being coy about it either.
“First time I’m hearing about it.” Jazmine replied doing her best to not show any visible sign of shock. The bastard was cheeky.
A grin appeared on the Ghanem’s face as he hijacked Utah’s budget meeting. “The Spartans have been an unmatched force on the battlefield, the greatest warriors Mankind has ever produced even. However, the Great War is coming to a close. We’re not in a war for our species’ survival any longer and that means that the wrongs that we made during the conflict must be written right. Spartans have almost exclusively been made up by children. Under the SPARTAN-II Program, we allowed Doctor Catherine Halsey to kidnap and indoctrinate seventy-five children. Using new and inhumane human modification practices that were never tried before on Human subjects, she pushed these children to become augmented cyborg warriors. They were the first proper Spartans, not including Project: Orion’s own achievements. However, fifty percent of that first class was lost to medical casualties. All to create a small force of supersoldiers built to put down human rebellion.”
The room’s small crowd all visibly flinched at the mention of the SPARTAN-II Program’s true intent.
“Halsey continued with the SPARTAN-II Program and created a Class II which I will save you all from hearing the details on. It was from this marginal and unquestionable success, however horrifying, that a number of other officers in the Office of Naval Intelligence sought to recreate Halsey’s brutal successes. Most notably, Colonel James Ackerson as I’m sure you’ve all met at least once before his untimely death in the defense of Pittsburg last month. He requisitioned for the creation of the SPARTAN-III Program which called for the implementation of cheaper, larger pools of Spartan forces. While his project did not produce the same success as Halsey’s IIs – they were deployed effectively on the battlefield. I will not hide my distain for the late Colonel, however, I will admit he employed much more humane methods of creating Spartan supersoldiers. Reports show a priority to recruit willing volunteers rather than abduction of youth like that under Halsey. The entire three companies of the IIs – Alpha, Beta, and Gamma, were pulled from the ranks of war orphans that survived the glassing and Covenant attacks on their colonies. Along with that, the SPARTAN-III Program’s augmentation process were much less extreme and more refined that than of Halsey’s process. Ackerson’s produced a 100% survival rate which should be applauded for preventing unnecessary human suffering.”
The SPARTAN-III, Jun tapped Musa on the shoulder, stopping the Lieutenant Commander in the middle of his speech. “Can I take over from here?”
“Ahem,” Jun cleared his throat as Ghanem passed his notes over to his fellow Spartan. “While Ackerson’s performance as the head of the SPARTAN-III Program was respectable, the implementation and deployment of his Spartans is disappointing. Unlike Halsey, he lacked an understanding of what made the Spartans effective as supersoldiers and allowed inexperienced commanders to make tactical decisions on the deployments of his troops that got many of them killed, most notably, Alpha and Beta Companies. For the record, I was a part of Alpha Company, Spartan Alpha-266.”
The Spartan glanced up, allowing his eyes to meet all the other stares in the room, as if asking silently for permission to continue.
Everyone at the table seemed to nod for the SPARTAN-III to continue with his presentation. Even as he soiled the reputation of the Spartans, Utah could not deny her respect for Jun. Jun-A266. He and his fellow Spartans suffered a lot, and for him to reflect on that before the intelligence council; it was only fair for him to be honest in his criticism.
“Inexperienced commanders were given the helm on the SPARTAN-III Program by the Office of Naval Intelligence, ill-intended on trying to deploy as many Spartans on the field as possible. With exception to the insignificant transfer of some Spartans to other branches and task forces such as my own team, NOBLE, during its assignment to Unified Ground Command and Special Warfare Group Three. I also personally believe that the Headhunters and the other major Spartan units performed with greater efficiency than the majority of the operations that the rest of the IIIs were deployed on. I am speaking on the tactical success but overall insignificance of Operations PROMETHEUS and TORPEDO that saw casualties exceeding ninety-eight percent for Alpha and Beta Companies respectfully. Gamma Company has not suffered a similar atrocity at the hands of inexperienced commanders due to the likelihood that the War’s end has guaranteed their survival, for a time. I implore you all to not make the same mistake with the surviving Gammas and to hear Lieutenant Commander Ghanem’s proposition with the SPARTAN-IV Program. Thank you.”
The room fell silent as everyone turned to face Lieutenant Commander Ghanem who was preparing to speak once again. This time to introduce his SPARTAN-IV Program. Jazmine felt a fire burn within and remembered a certain individual that had come up in Section III that had Ghanem’s name written all over it. This SPARTAN-IV Program was not the man’s first attempt at producing a new generation of Spartans. After all, Rear Admiral Utah was the department head of Section III’s Beta-5 Division and was in-the-know for most of the special projects on ONI’s pay roll, even a few off-the-books as well.
“Does the name Ilsa Zane mean anything to you, Lieutenant Commander?” Utah asked, her voice cutting through the silence like wet butter. The name instantly registered and the former SPARTAN-II froze in his movements.
“Yes. I am familiar with the woman you’re speaking of. I was involved in that project’s development as a consultant, however, I was not directly involved. Ilsa Zane was one of ten adult volunteers that were undergoing an attempt at making a new generation of Spartans that could perform feats comparable to the SPARTAN-II Program without the necessity of a combat suit.”
Jun looked at Musa with a stare that seemed to ask, “What the heck were they thinking?”
“I’m sure you’re aware that nine of the volunteers were killed from the medical procedures. Only Ilsa Zane survived and she’s already been deemed psychologically unstable. She’s been discharged and attempts to rehabilitate her as far as I’ve heard, are inconclusive and notably violent.”
“I wasn’t involved with that project directly, Director.”
“That ‘Spartan’ is a walking science-experiment-gone-wrong. While you can call my morale compass jaded Lieutenant Commander, at least, I have the mind to consider putting her down when she still hasn’t done irrevocable damage. The only reason why I haven’t taken action already was because Admiral Drake pulled rank and has since taken jurisdiction over Zane. That woman has killed several of her fellow soldiers in training incidents already. So, please tell me that you’re SPARTAN-IVs aren’t going to end up going down the same path.”
“They won’t. We’re planning to use augmentation processes not unlike the IIs and IIIs but with enough refinement that we shouldn’t suffer any casualties. It will be less-invasive and plenty more transparent. No more hiding in the shadows. No more red tape. My SPARTAN-IV Program will be both effective and provide us peace of mind. We’ve learned from the mistakes of the Great War, we don’t need to compromise our morality for the sake of victory. We know better now.” Musa replied with some discomfort; it seemed discussing the mentally unstable survivor was one of those projects he wanted to bury at the back of his conscience.
“Doesn’t look like we’re still creating freak science experiments like Zane.” Jazmine replied to the Captain’s defense of his program. He was not being specific but Utah had already gotten the gist of what he was trying to do.
“Your morale compass isn’t any better than mine, Director Utah.”
“Never said it was. But, at least I know what I’m doing won’t fail and it’s ultimately what’s right.”
“That’s the same logic that Halsey and Ackerson subscribed to and look at where they are now. Halsey’s MIA, presumed dead. Ackerson sacrificed himself to protect Pittsburgh. The Old Guard is finished and if they were still alive today, I would bet they would be court-martialed and sentenced to death. I wouldn’t mind being the one to send them off to Hell if I was given the choice. They saved Humanity, but, when the time comes, we need to put the dirty laundry out to dry. Death is a far more lenient sentence for those who got their hands dirty to keep that of Mankind’s clean. What the public would do to those two if ONI’s secrets got out – they would demand blood and we would be forced to hand them over.”
The Rear Admiral was suddenly confused. “I understand what you’re getting at, but, what are you talking about? The public? Halsey and Ackerson did Humanity a service and what the public doesn’t know won’t hurt them. We have a Statute of Secrecy on the basis of National Security for a reason; if the secrets of the Spartan Programs were to ever get out, we’d have an imminent civil war on our hands.”
“The public will always find out, eventually. Especially given the softening of secrecy laws now that the UNSC’s wartime powers are coming to an end,” Musa explained, simply. “It’s time to put away the SPARTAN-III Program. They are the past, the SPARTAN-IV Program is the future.”
“And create a generation of Spartans just like that ticking time-bomb you handed out on a silver platter! You don’t have expertise in the field for building supersoldiers – you might be one, but you don’t know what it takes to make one.” Jazmine practically screamed across the table. She was at the edge of her nerves with the Lieutenant Commander.
“I wasn’t involved in that project! Ilsa Zane was not on my watch!” Musa yelled back, trying to defend himself from blame. Out of habit, he attempted to stand but stumbled back into his wheelchair.
“Consulting for them and not telling that science team they were out of their minds is pretty much the same as telling them what they’re doing was right. Zane is your fault!”
“Like you’re any better! You greenlit Project GORGON! You nearly killed five Class II Spartan IIs, three of which actually died, just to push them to their absolute limit!”
"Musa-096, how dare you suggest I wasted a mere three lives of pathetically-trained SPARTAN-IIs! We traded three lives for the most powerful soldiers ever known to Man, while Halsey was content to throw away almost thirty of your peers on a hunch - in fact, it could've been even more had she followed through on her original plans!"
“Did you just use my Spartan Tag? If I wasn’t refrained to a wheel chair, I would—!” The anger dripped from the former Spartan’s voice was accented by the shaking of his hands as they twisted in a choking motion. The man was enraged.
“Ahem.” A sharp cough cut through the room and all the tension and built up rage was extinguished as a new power, one of primal fear took hold of everyone’s hearts. Parangosky was covering her mouth, being the individual to break the volumetric battle between her two subordinates. Her sheer will over people was unmatched and seemingly infinite, to the point a soft cough would freeze an entire room in its tracks. Utah swore she saw the Vice Admiral’s protégé, Captain Serin Osman smirking behind the Queen of ONI as if laughing at an inside joke. Everyone was watching Parangosky with their full attention as she wielded power like royalty. She spoke, giving out her decree. “Rear Admiral. Lieutenant Commander. You’re both out of line – behaving like children rather than the intelligence officers you are. It is within reason that confidence in your command ability would come into question, for both of you. Restrain yourselves.”
There was slight pause as Parangosky changed gears and dropped an atom bomb on her goals. “The SPARTAN-III Program is being shut down, nothing can be done about it. I’ve made my decision.” A pregnant silence floated over the room as the fear factor defrosted but any composure that Utah had maintained through her debate with Musa was gone. “What? Why?”
“Like Lieutenant Commander Ghanem has already said; while I find his delivery to be distasteful, the SPARTAN-III Program cannot continue because the war is at a close. The wartime powers the UNSC has held for twenty-seven years is about to evaporate. The UEG is preparing to vote on the ultimatum in the next week. It’s with that I’ve come to the decision that we need to clean house and put our darker history behind us. For the good of our society and our species’ survival.”
“Then why not just tell me outright?” Jazmine was feeling that sense of powerlessness return. She’d been played.
“Because before today, I hadn’t made my decision yet on the IIIs. I allowed Halsey and Ackerson to create the Spartans at the time because it was the right thing to do – not what I wanted, but, what was right. To protect our state integrity, we have to clear out our worst atrocities and little by little, allow the public to be informed of what we did in the name of the entire race’s survival. I will live the rest of my life with the guilt that I allowed such projects to occur and when my time comes I will be judged righteously. However, the reason I let you debate your case was that, for one, you’re the director of the Beta-5 Division for a reason – I trust you to get the job done and I don’t deny your ability as an officer. If you weren’t, I would have asked for your resignation long ago. The other reason was because I know that of all the officers that had a hand in the Spartan Programs, you were one of the ones that fought greatly to ensure the survivability of Alpha and Beta Companies even though the attempt was futile. You were a Lieutenant Commander and an Operations Chief in Section I as I recall during that time. I thought to allow you one more chance to save the SPARTAN-III Program as it seems you’ve become attached to it. I find myself unconvinced, however, that there is anything new that can be warranted from the SPARTAN-III Program and the inhumane employment of child-soldiers can no longer be tolerated. I cannot turn a blind eye to what I have allowed any longer. Director Utah, your requested budget is denied. Consider the SPARTAN-III Program effectively dead.”
Jazmine had no reply for the verdict. Her silence allowed Parangosky to continue dispensing her orders.
“I want you to begin the dismantling of the SPARTAN-III Program. Bury the registry of the 497 candidates to prevent the potential development of augmented child soldiers, by us or any other faction. Coordinate with Lieutenant Commander Ghanem’s department and begin moving assets and vital personnel to the SPARTAN-IV Program. Those non-vital personnel involved with the IIIs are to be recommended and retasked to other science projects under Section III’s management. We are still considering the details of the SPARTAN-IV Program and how we should begin mass-deployment. All active Spartan operators are to be restructured into a temporary command structure under ONI Section 0 and oversight will be mandated through the UNSC High Command. We’ll meet back up next month to discuss the SPARTAN-IVs in detail. Rear Admiral Utah, you are dismissed. See to that my orders are carried out to the letter. Lieutenant Commander Ghanem, and Jun-A266. You’re also dismissed until further notice.”
The trio saluted haphazardly, all three verbal combatants were feeling grouchy from the unfinished bout. However, when Parangosky put her foot down, everyone listened. It was at that moment too, that all of Rear Admiral Jazmine Utah’s loyalty to the Queen of ONI evaporated.
Under the shade of an overcast sky, two men scaled an unpaved pathway running along the open ocean. The path was riddled with coastal weed and jagged with uneven rocks and continuously sharp inclines.
"How much farther?" One of the men, dressed in a green militaristic jumpsuit, called down to his fellow traveler in front of him. The older man in the jumpsuit, identified as Captain Jeffery Korn, appeared to be in his mid-fifties and feeling his age clambering along the pathway.
The other man, young and dark-skinned in appearance, was making impressive time stepping his way down the descending route. He turned his head, glancing back at the older man behind him. "Not long. Just another turn!"
The two men were spread out over a distance of almost ten meters, a far enough distance that they were shouting over the roar of crashing waves. "You said that five minutes ago!" Captain Korn placed a hand along the bluff wall to support his tired body.
"It would have been, you didn't want to slide down that one rock face!" The younger man called back, he was now nearing the bottom, not stopping to wait for the Captain.
"Daniele! It was two stories high, and a vertical rock face!"
"I offered to carry you down!" The younger man, Daniele, called back - he had disappeared around the corner of one rock and had already arrived at the beach below.
"Fuck..." Korn groaned as he continued his descent down to the beach below. It took him a bit, but, he eventually made it to sea level. The Captain's boots made contact with rocky sand with a satisfying crunch. Two or three steps later, Korn was sitting on a small boulder, catching his breath. He spoke, between a sigh and his heavy breathing. "Please...tell me, that this is what you were looking for."
Daniele was laid back in the sand watching the sunset. His armor sunk into the sandy rocks, colored black of volcanic pumice. Looking out to sea, the overcast sky reached out to the horizon with except to some open pockets letting sunlight through. The sea was colored a greenish gray, reflective of the colorless sky. Rocks and shallow reefs could be seen sticking out of the rocks, among them were sheets of rusted metal. The sheets floated all along the visible coast, brought in by the to face Korn, Daniele pointed out one metal palette that was planted in the sand and leaning up against the rocks.
Daniele watched the sea before turning around and pointing at one metal palette that was planted in the sand and leaning up against the rocks. It wasn't highly corroded, lacking in presence of rust or age besides obvious scarring. Daniele asked Korn once the older man had caught his breath. "Do you remember this being here, the last time you were at Camp Ambrose?"
"No. Most of the titanium from the downed frigate was still out in the bay." Korn replied, he noted an inscription scratched into the salvaged plate armor, but from his distance, it was too small to make out.
"It wasn't here when I graduated. I spent a lot of time in this cove. That's new." Daniele replied. The armored man stood up and approached the inscription.
"What is it then?" Korn asked. With some effort, the Captain stood up to join Daniele in inspect the titanium sheet.
"Yeah. It's some kind of memento to the Company." Daniele replied to Korn's question. Equipped with more attuned senses, he stepped out of the way for the Captain to approach and read the inscription.
The inscription was somewhat poetic, though most of its meaning went over the Captain's head. The inscription's wording helped little:
We are Spartans. But We were not meant to be. This is Our Story. The Legacy of those unwanted Heroes. We were leftovers. Created for the War last fought. We were without purpose. Without mission. We fought pointless battles. We did Mankind's dirty work. Then they threw us aside, but we will have our Purpose. We are not the expendable pawns you made us out to be. We are our own. We are Delta.
"You have any idea what it means?" The Captain asked, turning to Daniele assuming he had some kind of understanding.
"Well. You were removed from the DELTA Initiative long before we graduated, but I'm sure you're aware what SPARTAN-IIIs were made for." Daniele replied looking back at the Captain with a grim stare.
"SPARTAN-IIIs were intended to be expendable pawns, orphans recruited to become augmented supersoldiers to fight the Covenant." Korn explained; he turned away from the Daniele to face the sea. Being a part of that SPARTAN-III recruitment program had been one of the darker points in the Captain's personal history, and Daniele being one of those recruits made it excessively worse of a burden.
"That wasn't all of it though," Daniele said, the young man had been one of those recruited orphans. But, the Captain hadn't explained the entire truth.
Korn continued to stare at the sea, refusing to make eye contact with Daniele. He spoke in a hushed manner. "Delta Company was different, the Office of Naval Intelligence was planning to shut us down, but Director Utah felt it was in our best interest to continue with the development of a fourth generation of SPARTAN-IIIs, going against the professional recommendation of the Office. ONI was publicly backing the SPARTAN-IV Program, we believed in a different measure – so we broke the law, creating you."
"I know. A lot of things happened between then and now.” Daniele replied, sounding afar.
"Why did you ask, if you knew the whole story?" Korn questioned as he turned back to the Spartan known as Daniele. The young man was watching the Captain intently, looking for something in his eyes.
The young man was watching the Captain intently, looking for something in his eyes. "Because we came down here, seemed like an appropriate thing to ask when not in the presence of the crew. Plus, it reminds me of who I want to become.”
"Become?" The Captain asked. Daniele had been serving among Korn's crew for less than a year now and the young man didn't speak much; it was often difficult to understand what was passing through the supersoldier's head.
"I left the military because I realized my future there was pretty much shot and because you offered me some good shit. So far, I'm happy with where I'm at, but, given the current situation of the galaxy - I don't know. What happens now?" Daniele asked. The Spartan was talking more to himself than Korn now, his eyes were distant, staring unsteadily over Korn's shoulder.
Korn replied with mutual uncertainty, the galaxy was not a friendly place for pirates. "I really don't know."
Korn's personal communications device crackled to life, the voice of one Arthur Zander, a combat specialist and one of Captain Korn's subordinates. "Captain. The ship just reported back, the robot lady says a Naval Intelligence frigate just jumped into the system. We got to leave."
"Naval Intelligence?" Korn asked, bringing the communicator to his lips. Daniele listened in looking greatly concerned.
"Yes, sir. It looks like the Office of Naval Intelligence remains operational in a limited capacity, some of the other officers believe it best we bug out immediately. The frigate hasn't detected our ship because of solar interference, but, it won't remain that way for long." Arthur replied from his own end.
"Thank you, Arthur. Can you send a dropship to come pick Danny and me up from the cove? In the meantime, go ahead and get whatever resources ya'll scavenged from Camp Ambrose and report back to the ship. I'll see you back in orbit."
"Yes sir." The communications link went dead, ending the call.
"Well. Looks like our stay was cut short." Korn stated, looking back at the inscription on the titanium plate armor.
"Yeah. I don't suppose you want me to carry you back up the bluffs?" Daniele asked with some humor could be heard in his voice.
"No. We're not using that path ever again."
"Of course, Captain," Daniele replied, the sound of the roaring rocket engines of a Pelican dropship could be heard approaching above the sound of crashing waves. "Let's get back to being pirates."
"Privateers. Privateers, Daniele." Korn replied. He didn't like being called a pirate. The Captain had achieved too much to be compared to lowly men in a rowboat.
The pair were eventually picked up by the exoatmospheric dropship, leaving the sea cove and the inscription of memorial alone. Waves continued to crash along the coastal bluffs and rocky beach. The inscription was left in peace, a memorial dedicated to a program of war. A tribute to the unknown Deltas.
Adrian-D111, was uncertain how long it had been quiet for. The alleyway was vacant and lonely compared to the exposed street to the Spartan’s front. It was about sunset, sunlight just barely broke through the steel jungle of tenant buildings that rose toward the skies above. Dumpsters and toppled trash cans littered the floor. Graffiti was hastily scrawled across walls.
Adrian was uncertain where the rest of his team as – they were a group of five but they’d been split up in the chaos and stampede of many dead bodies and rotten flesh. The Spartan was glad for his power armor protecting him from exposure. He couldn’t quite smell the air, however, he could infer that it wasn’t grand. The disposed of remains of a soldier lying against a dumpster buried in feces and puke said enough.
A screech echoed over the rooftops followed by a consistent spray of gunfire. Someone was still alive. Adrian’s fist clenched around his shotgun’s pistol grip, expecting something to happen. The golden funnel coming off the M45D shotgun’s barrel shimmered and hummed through the air as it jerked left and right at Adrian’s command, attempting to shore up exposed positions and choke points along the narrow passage.
There was a heavy thud behind Adrian followed by the cracking of concrete under an excessive weight. Jerking toward his back, Adrian pointed his barrel at the familiar-blue film of Andra-D054’s Helljumper helmet, famous from the crazy special operation-types that wore them. “Hey.” The female Spartan called out, unfazed by the golden glow coming off her helmet or the shotgun barrel pointed at her skull.
Adrian lowered his shotgun shaking his head in annoyance. “Where have you been?”
“I was above trying to find you and the others from above. Ran into those flying things, Swarmers, or something like that. Big bat-like monsters.” Andra stated, pointing toward the sky where black shadows glided in and out of view.
“Did you find anyone else?” Adrian asked, expecting a negative response. The words that came out of Andra’s mouth were shocking.
“Daniele’s gone. Saw bits of armor sticking out of a conversion pod. I haven’t seen Emma but I’m pretty sure she’s gone given the screams.”
“Fuck. And Merlin?” Adrian asked as he looked back toward the alleyway to check for monsters again.
Golden sparklers danced in the air to Adrian’s left, not unlike the shimmering barrel of his shotgun. The particles increased in volume till a third Spartan clad in silver-blue armor materialized into existence.
“There you are,” Andra spoke up, addressing Merlin upon his arrival. “Hey,” Merlin said, waving half-heartedly to the other two teammates. He held a red-alien plasma rifle in his left hand. “Is this everyone?”
“Yeah,” Adrian responded as he chambered a couple more shells of buckshot into his shotgun. “Emma and Daniele are seemingly KIA. We’re enclosed from above and the streets leave us too exposed.”
“The Flood negates chokepoints, you know?” Merlin asked as if clarifying a fact. “Sheer numbers will overwhelm us in seconds.”
“Can you teleport multiple people at once?” Andra asked Merlin, chambering a couple of fresh magazines into her still-smoking M6-series machine pistols.
“I still got a three-minute cooldown.”
“Fuck,” Adrian whispered in response to Merlin’s bad news. They were clearly trapped between flying monsters above and stalkers in the streets.
A loud crack echoed through the alley and Andra hit the ground clenching at her throat for air. Merlin took aim with his plasma rifle and splashed a spindly-looking green booger off an apartment balcony. Looking to Andra, Adrian stared at her lifeless body with a bone-like spear threaded through her chest.
“Fucking Ranged form got her,” Merlin said – his voice sounded hollowed out in shock.
Merlin and Adrian snapped their helmets to face the unguarded alleyway where the sound of crushed garbage was followed by inhumane screeches. Large volumes of green and brown flesh accompanied by spider-like pods rushed in at the last two Spartans.
Merlin lashed out with his plasma rifle, setting the fleshy masses ablaze. They kept coming, however, the enemy’s numbers were insane, like an unstoppable torrent. Adrian kneeled to grab the rocket launcher on his back when he felt fleshy masses descending on top of him from above. The Flood, they were everywhere. Adrian’s last thoughts and feelings involved thousands of little blades cutting into his armor and the admittance of defeat echoed through his mind.
Adrian knew that it wasn’t real. His entire team did, but, that sensation of death felt so life-like. A voice seemed to echo from the depths of the simulation as if something within called out to him. "This is not your grave... but you are welcome in it."
Tranquility Among Wild Children
Tranquility Among Wild Children
AFTERNOON // DECEMBER 2557
Location: RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL, SOUTH AMERICAN PREFECTURE, EARTH, SOL SYSTEM
"On your left."
Merlin-D032 put his book down and looked up to his left. A tallish, long-legged girl with a curly, dark-brown mane approached his hospital bed. "Oh. Hey Andra."
"How's the stomach?" The female Spartan asked Merlin as she sat down and crossed her legs at the foot of the bed, her eyes scanned the boy looking for signs of injury. The bed frame groaned slightly as the two hundred or so pounds became four-hundred-plus pounds of supersoldier mass.
"Well. No broken bones. A bit of shrapnel here and a bunch of chipped bone-coat matter all over. There was quite a bit of swelling but as you can see - pretty much a full recovery."
Andra-D054 nodded in slight affirmation, looking satisfied. Her eyes locked onto Merlin's abdomen, covered by a hospital robe. Beneath the sterile cloth, there would be signs of scarring, sealed skin, emergency skin grafting, and small craters from three abdominal impacts - 7.62x51 mm rounds. Better known as M118 FMJ-AP rounds, military standard issue - nasty stuff.
Merlin's eyes trailed to where the girl was still staring. "You want to do your own inspection, nurse?" The male Spartan asked half-joking, glancing back at Andra. "I promise you it's not too destroyed. You probably won't lose your lunch."
Andra's ocean-blue pupils darted up to Merlin's face. "You wouldn't be in the hospital if you stayed off the beach. And for the record, I lost my lunch when you were a bloody pulp lying in the waves."
"Hey, I'm the recon specialist - it's my job to get close to the enemy!" Merlin pouted as the girl smacked his leg rather hard. It was probably already bruising after that comment.
"Recon or not, your job isn't to walk into the middle of a hailstorm of bullets," Andra said, her right index finger was now jabbing into one of Merlin's bullet wounds.
Merlin slowly replied, wincing as the pain came and went. "I got unlucky. Not my fault. And I did walk away from that fight."
Andra gave no reply and simply hit Merlin's leg in the same spot again.
"Owwww...." Merlin groaned, blinking a little.
Andra picked up the book Merlin had been reading and changed the subject. "What you reading...?"
She started to narrate from the pages Merlin had left ajar. "...I pretty tired, and the first thing I knowed, I was asleep. When I woke up I didn't know where I was, for a minute. I set up and looked around, a little scared. Then I remembered. The river looked miles and miles across. The moon was so bright I could a counted the drift logs that went a slipping along, black and still, hundreds of yards out from shore. Everything was dead quiet, and it looked late and smelt late. You know what I mean--I don't know the words to put it in."
Andra looked at Merlin in confusion. "What kind of English you reading, Mel? I knowed?"
Merlin hummed in annoyance before stealing the hardcover-bound novel from the girl. "It's an Earth classic. It's just old, and the character's just a kid."
"A kid without proper grammar."
"It's from his perspective, he didn't receive a good education. The guy's name is Huck Finn - kind of a wild child. Like Daiki or Shizuko or something."
"So, he doesn't know basic English?"
"Oh, come on - it's not that bad! It's slow but it reminds me of Argus V a bit. Like Shrapnel Cove and stuff, when Delta wasn't getting disciplined by the trainers and all that."
"Fine, read it to me," Andra stated simply.
Merlin did a double-take. "What? Why?"
"I guess?" Merlin replied as Andra scooted from her spot to lean against Merlin's shoulder and sat down next to him on the bed. He had to move around a bit gingerly so she could actually sit without causing the bed to groan even further.
Merlin started to read off from where he last was. "I was away below the ferry now. I rose up and there was Jackson's Island, about two miles and a half downstream, heavy-timbered and standing up out of the middle of the river, big and dark and solid, like a steamboat without any lights. There warn't any signs of the bar at the head - it was all under water, now."
"Hey, lovebirds." A new voice broke through the narration and sent the pair of Spartans jumping.
"Rox! Dammit!" Andra yelled from where she was sitting next to Merlin. The blond-hair girl with a similar physical stature to Andra and Merlin was sticking her head into the hospital ward.
"What you two reading?" The girl, Roxanne asked.
"Huckleberry Finn. By Mark Twain." Merlin replied, feeling kind of awkward about the Spartan's sudden entry.
"Ah, nice book. Just really slow and kind of pointless."
"He can't speak English!" Andra blurted out at Roxanne. She looked a bit beat red to Merlin as he watched her glare at their teammate.
"It's older English, get over it," Rox replied, she turned to Merlin again. "Hey. Major Ducepte wants you to come down to the track at 1900 hours tonight. Said he wants to check whether you're ready to get back in the field.
"It's a bit early," Andra commented, she glanced again at Merlin with concern.
"I said the same thing." Rox agreed as she was one of the specialists who helped in Merlin's previous surgery.
"We'll see. Tell him I'll be there."
"Got it," Rox replied before turning to Andra, "have you looked at his scarring yet?"
"It's not that bad."
"That's what I said," Merlin noted.
"Uhhhh! I'll read the book in my own time! You two are just insufferable." Andra grumbled before climbing off the bed in a lightning motion and marched passed Rox and out of the ward.
"Merlin. Get some rest. You'll need it. Rox whispered, closing the door behind her.
The medic's voice echoed out in the hallway beyond. "You want me to tell you about Merlin's abs?"
Andra's voice echoed back. "Fuck off!"
Merlin just chuckled slightly. It was good to have some downtime, tranquility was in short supply among Spartans. Merlin went back to his reading, "It didn't take me long to get there. I shot past the head at a ripping rate, the current was so swift, and then I got into the dead water and landed on the side towards the Illinois shore..."
When Merlin-D032 agreed to go comatose for who-knows-when, he didn't see anything mentioned in the contract about ghostly specters, an endless maze of fog, and giant monsters from horror movies.
On second thought, there probably wasn't a contract either.
He couldn't quite remember what had come before - thinking too much hurt. It hurt a lot. Merlin had a brain that wouldn't stop thinking and thinking was killing him; figuratively or literally was still up for debate. He tried his best to turn off his brain, that hurt too.
There was a metallic crunching behind, no, above him as his head snapped skyward. Merlin spotted the skeletal, machine-beast with spider legs and a twenty-foot scorpion tail hanging about thirty feet up in the air. Its legs were jammed into the stone walls to give it some leverage on the sheer inclines as it hunted its prey.
Its prey stopped for a second to stare at the machine-beast. The monster stared back with bulging red, insect eyes. The pause ended quickly.
The creature gave off a screeching roar as its legs unlatched from the maze walls. It fell quickly, hitting the ground in a freefall. Merlin didn't dare scream and took off running. Even with his superhuman speed, the monster was keeping up with him.
Merlin wanted to scream, he really did, but this spider thing wasn't the only thing coming after him. The machine-creature was one of many. Another blood-curdling scream echoed followed by a heavy thump. Merlin risked a look back and found a second mechanical beast on his tail. His legs were now in a full-on sprint.
Merlin attempted to weave his way through the different passages of the maze, but it felt no matter where he turned, he was going the same way as he had been last. He wasn't even sure what direction he was running. In this place, the fog banks never ceased and there was no sense of direction.
All Merlin could do was run. His legs burned like jelly-fire. Caught between the feeling of melting and cooking at a considerable crisp, Merlin couldn't feel his legs. He wanted to scream but kept his mouth shut. Normally, he would yell in anger or scream in exasperation given the situation he was in - running from monsters while trying to be stealthy was useless.
He was the one in control, and yet, control was not quite his. The monsters continued their constant pace and Merlin continued to run to stay out of the range of their metallic scorpion tails, dripping with some unknown liquid that seemed to ooze literal darkness.
Merlin pushed through the fog and kept his eyes ahead, making sure he didn't run into a wall like the one that kept popping up randomly every fourth turn to the right. And he made sure to watch his step as he made another left and dodged the two-inch pothole in the center of the path.
Something was different about this path, compared to others. Beforehand, they'd been made of smooth stone, like pure cement or limestone. The ground and the walls were supposed to be the same rocky material, however, Merlin could feel it in the soles of his combat boots. The ground was uneven now, like tiled stones left unattended for years. He looked down and saw bricks instead of smooth stone.
Ahead, a ghostly figure dressed in a long black cloak stood at a fork in the road - pointing a bony finger to the right. Merlin recognized the omen from the ones he had been seeing in his dreams and peripheral vision for weeks now. They'd always been too consistent to be illusions but before Merlin could encounter them, they always disappeared from view.
Not stopping to ask questions, Merlin followed the bony hand and continued to push through the fog. The skeletal specter was gone before he could get a better look; Merlin didn't stop, the machine-beasts continued to give chase. The fog was thicker here now and the ground stickier, like soil, or mud.
Merlin's boots kicked up black silt as he rushed forward into the bleak-grayness. He glanced back and could not see the monsters, however, he kept running because he could hear their mechanical hissing and their legs crashing into the earth. He kept running and did not stop. He wanted to yell and call out for help but he did not.
Something within prevented him from acting. Merlin kept running. He gasped for air as he went. There was no request on his part, his mouth just fell open, seeking breath. That was normal, right?
Merlin suddenly jolted up and found himself in a grassy field. A bright, clear night sky emblazed with the Milky Way glared back into Merlin's eyes. What just happened? Where was he?
The young Spartan was lying on the earthen ground and slowly, sorely sat up. He noticed movement to his right and snapped his head in the direction of the movement. A mop of black hair snapped back to Merlin as blue eyes met brown.
She was just like the last time Merlin had seen her. Young. Sorrowful-looking. Skeletal in form. A strong body from Spartan augmentations. There was a shaky, wild look in her eyes. Andra-D054 appeared no different from the day she died, at least, she wasn't carrying the signs of a battle here. She looked well, or well enough for a government-sanctioned/unsanctioned supersoldier.
Merlin took a step back in surprise. Andra did the same. Merlin went to gasp for breath in surprise, part of his mind ground that response down and instead he clenched his teeth as Andra did the same in response. Merlin gingerly dragged his legs closer to Andra as she did the same toward him. The two were now close together.
Merlin reached out. Andra reached out. Merlin went to ask, but no words came out of his mouth. They were left agape.
Merlin grunted. Andra grunted back; her volume sounds a little sad.
Merlin asked himself in his head. Is that Andra?
A voice in Merlin's head that sounded a lot like a female added an afterthought. Why would I ask myself that?
Two voices, one female and one male, spoke as one. "Are these my thoughts?"
For too many years, humanity was on the backfoot, reacting to threats rather than preventing them. The rest of the galaxy was bigger than us, stronger than us. We were mice hiding in the shadows hoping the giants would not see us. No more. Humanity is no longer on the defense. We are the giants now.
Shadowcast was written to fulfill Distant Tide's Weekly entry. Following Captain Angelica Hurst during the events of the Battle of Aragon, this story focused on the opening moments of the conflict.
"For too many years, humanity was on the back-foot, reacting to threats, rather than preventing them. The rest of the galaxy was bigger than us, stronger than us. We were mice hiding in the shadows, hoping the giants would not see us. No more. Humanity is no longer on the defense. We are the giants now."
"UNSC ground elements will begin landing at Loarre Rise as soon as we make a pass over the Covenant's staging camp. The position is a large rock face overlooking New Ebro Pass, a wide ravine running along the river of the same name. The Brutes have parked most of their forces along this waterway."
The mission commander for the coming battle, Colonel Neville Howard was addressing the assorted high-ranking officer for a last-minute mission check. The man was pointing at a paper map laid out on a fold-out table that displayed geographic locations and topography. Among those sitting in, Captain Angelica Hurst listened to the man half-intently.
"In the meantime, TF Dominion will engage the Covenant's space assets. We'll have to be quick. We still have the element of surprise but once we are engaged and the Seraph fighter screens are up, we will have no breathing room to continue deploying dropships. Stick to the plan. Do as we practiced."
Captain Hurst drowned out the Colonel as she remembered her own part of the plan. She was a Wet Fleet captain in the UNSC Navy, her namesake was with the ships in space but her duty was to the ships on the waters below. Like ODSTs, dropping into the hell of battle below. She tensed up as she remembered the dangers of her specific job, at the start of the battle - of all Navy personnel, her specific division had the highest casualty rates.
"Huh?" The Captain snapped out of her stupor at the sound of her name coming from Colonel Howard's lips.
"Are your forces ready? Do you remember the doctrine?"
Captain Hurst nodded, replacing her anxiety with exterior confidence. "We're ready. We'll stick to the shadows."
"Awesome. Everyone report to your stations. Let's make Operation: Round Table a success. Good luck everyone."
A chorus of "Aye sir" and "Yes sir" echoed off the small crowd as it dispersed. Captain Hurst made an attempt to get up but the Colonel stopped her, grabbing her by the shoulder.
"Angie, are you okay?"
"I'm fine Howard." The African-descended man had seen through her mask it seemed.
"Nervous I assume," The Colonel replied, ignoring her statement of indifference. "I know its been a while since you've employed this kind of tactic - it hasn't been done since..."
"Earth." Captain Hurst finished for the Colonel, it brought up bad memories.
"Right. Three years about since?"
"Yeah..." The two high-ranking officers shared a moment of silence as they avoided each other's eye contact. There was a moment of tension between them as they each remembered their own experiences and horrors of the Battle of Earth. Humanity's homeworld had been as much a bloodbath as the colonies that came before. The planet survived the war but many soldiers and civilians did not. It was something both didn't want to bring up again.
"You can do this. Get to sea. Marine Corps air assets will be busy protecting our landing craft on the planet so I need your guys more than ever. You'll be the only air assets we'll have available on the ground once we touch."
"Then don't think. Just do. You can get down there. I know you can." Colonel Howard said. He looked up at the rumbling engines of Pelican VTOL dropships starting to cook in the hangar bay around them. The temperature in the giant hold rose with the burning rocket fuel and the noise all around rose in intensity as engines came to life.
"I got a Pelican to catch, Colonel. As do you."
"Go then. I'll see you ground side."
"Same. Be safe."
The two high-ranking officers parted ways heading in opposite directions toward their transports.
Captain Hurst's transport Pelican was already beginning to cook on its raised platform. The last supplies, weapons, and Navy personnel were clambering into the back of the aircraft. Deck personnel in the hangar guided the dropships out into the vacuum of space. Activating her radio-linked earpiece and pulling on a vacuum-rated helmet to complete her uniform, Captain Hurst climbed into the back of her Pelican. The doors closed and all cargo bay lights were replaced with red night lights.
Captain Hurst took her seat next to the rest of the assembled individuals that made up the Wet Fleet's Navy personnel. They were latched into place by their chairs, same went for the Captain - they were ready for takeoff.
"Captain Hurst. Ready to choke out the Apes?" The pilot, Huggins called over the radio.
"Always Lieutenant. Take us in."
The zipping of the particle field separating space from atmosphere enveloped the aircraft and then all outside sounds were silent as space overtook them. On the BattleNet radio frequency, the voice of the UNSC Eternal Flame's AI, Draco-Five, reported the actions of the battle. Phase One of Operation: Round Table was beginning. "Pre-deployment locks unlatched, activating reentry vehicles - ODSTs away, RFEAs hardening."
Through the slit in the back of the Pelican, Captain Hurst could make out the distant form of the Phoenix-class vessel, the Eternal Flame launching a series of drop pods and a large metal cylinder. Referred to as an RFEA, or Reinforced Fluid Entry Apparatus, the giant container started to hurtle down toward the planet, Aragon, below.
"RFEA away. Repeat, RFEA away." Draco-Five reported before closing the link completely.
"Huggins. Stick to the shadows."
"Yes, ma'am. Hiding in the shade of the Colossus."
The Pelican engines roared within the cargo bay sending vibrations throughout the vehicle. Hurst saw her hair start to dance about in the space without gravity. They Pelican adjusted its course and the light, once pouring in through the cargo door window, was blocked out to reveal the stars and darkness of space beyond. They were now aligned with the giant beast overhead, the RFEA pod flying down toward the planet. At 460 meters in length, it was easily the size of a frigate.
"It's beautiful Captain," Huggins reported from the cockpit of the aircraft.
"I'm sure it is, Lieutenant," Hurst replied as she imagined the Apparatus burning bright as its heat shield dipped into the atmosphere of the planet below. As sections of the RFEA would break off in its multi-stage manner, the Captain could just imagine the warship within revealing its namesake from its titanium cocoon. The UNSC Nathaniel Lincoln.
The Captain was willing to wait for that reveal - the majesty of her own warship, but first, as apprehension stepped in, they needed to make it to the surface below. The shadow cast of the RFEA would protect them from Covenant firepower, as it did so long ago at Earth.
August 2555 (UEG Calendar)
Location: UNSC Sun Tzu, Aragon
"Too-too many power vacuums. Too man-many lost colonies. Too-too many en-enemies to go around-d-d-d. Too few-few-few ship-ships to deal with them-them-them."
― The AI curator, Oracle (OCL 8131-5), of ONI's Beta-5 Division lamenting the post-Covenant War fiasco for the war-rotten UNSC Armed Forces.
It's been over three years since we last talked on that beach in So-California and finished off that ancient bottle of Russian Whiskey with Quinn. I'm not sure if you remember my face, we only talked a few times other than that visit in 2552. I still remember how that night, we joked about swimming out to open ocean and crossing into Baja where the public intoxication laws were enforced far less.
I still think Quinn was serious about swimming to Baja that night since he straight jumped into the surf before he charged back up the beach to us. Those waters were in the low fifty degrees that night, as I remember. God, that picture was so stupid, I still got it somewhere on my physical drives and on my personal terminal. I'll see what I can do about digging it up and sending it to you.
Still, I'm not sending you this letter without a good reason. "A simple visit would have sufficed," yeah, I remember what you told us before we walked out your door on the last day of our shore leave. There's no way I can put this lightly, I'm not even going to try to sound official - something about using those lame century line-starters makes this letter seem less sincere. I really hate saying it, but, Quinn's gone. Killed in Action.
You're especially not going to like this next part. It happened, give-or-take, fifteen months ago based on the time I've been shipboard and since the event last happened as far as I can tell. Space-Time dilation and Slipspace makes keeping time a bitch... I can't apologize enough, the upper echelon desk-fucks were keeping it under wraps since we performed our first post-operation report. Lots of red tape and shit. They threw around a lot of terms like "Mission-Sensitive" and "Top Secret" all over the place and the entire unit was sworn to silence. I still can't say much about the operation and I'm certain a few ONI censors are going to go through this letter before it reaches you - I'm sure they don't care enough to remove my curses but I can't go saying anything that might jeopardize on-going combat operations.
I was given permission to give a few details, however. I can't say who specifically, but, I can say we were caught in a pretty bad urban ambush. In the gunfight, we got separated from one another. Quinn put himself on the line to assist our commanding officer against an Insurrectionist. He put up a valiant fight, but, ultimately was overwhelmed. I wasn't close enough to see the details but by the time we routed the enemy force, the Innies, Quinn already passed on. Due to the sensitivity of the operation, we didn't have the option to bring him back with us. Again, I'm sorry. I failed you, I failed his family, and I failed him. I couldn't be there to back him up.
If you can, please contact the California residency office and inform them of his demise. I'm told that the local ONI office will be happy to assist you. I'd also ask that you might arrange a closed casket funeral for him - send word to his family and friends. It's among his final wishes, even if there isn't a body left to bury. I got a look at his will and military obituary but ONI has the original forms, you'd have to talk to their public relations office to get a hold of it. I don't think I'll make it due to continued deployments but I'll come visit as soon as I get the chance. I know I've left a lot of responsibility to you in the wake of his death. Again, I'm really sorry this has happened.
I still got a few more letters to send out but yours is the first. I know you two weren't romantic - any concept of that died years ago. I just felt that you should be the first to be informed since you were getting his medical benefits and passing his bonuses off to his parents. And you two practically shared the same roof for several years. Tell me if I made the right choice next time I see you.
I'm proud to have served under Quinn. He was a good commander and a great Staff Sergeant. I hope, wherever his soul has gone, it has found peace. He was a good man. Told some really bad jokes but had a heart of gold and knew how to keep people's spirits up when things fell apart. He was a lovable guy and his death was a tragic loss to the team. It's not the same without him. We're still mourning his death in our own way. He was our ray of sunshine and things haven't been the same without him. He will be missed.
To Staff Sergeant Quinn "Sunshine" Silva, the warmest ray of light in a dark galaxy. He was the best of us all. He will be missed. I can't be there to give you reassurances and I can't be there to support you and his family. He would not want to be mourned forever though, try to remember this when remembering him, he wanted us all to be happy and healthy and to live. Please allow his memory to bring a smile back to your face. It was what he wanted for us all.
Your Friend. Sergeant Duke Hartmann.
Things are everchanging in this Galaxy in motion.
Living Off War
Living Off War
I'm not very good at writing short pieces, they were never my specialty. I'm treating this as an experiment, see how I do. I would appreciate feedback if anyone is feeling generous in being critical.
I didn't feel like I had enough room to include Jun-A266 as a character, so I just threw him in as a reference with a little callback to Noble Team.
Spartans. ODSTs were not supposed to like Spartans. They were freaks of nature, military hardware cooked up in a laboratory by ONI geeks.
And yet, here Aleksandr Kashkov, Staff Sergeant of the Marine Corps and a veteran ODST, was finding similarities to the horrors and legends from the rumor mill that surrounded the supersoldiers to his own life.
Spartans were treated like military hardware, deadly and silent and created for the single-purpose task for fighting the Covenant and saving Mankind from extinction. Yet the stories that came out of ONI were far worse than the one produced by the post-Great War propaganda and what was actively produced during the conflict.
Toddlers kidnapped by government agents in the dead of night. Children trained to murder without emotion and to live a life of warfare alone. Supposedly they were pumped full of drugs and given experimental cybernetics to make them the deadliest killing machines ever. They were warriors built for combat and nothing else. Some conspiracy nuts in the military said most of the children died during the augmentation phase, their bodies not able to handle the cybernetics and the gene modifications. Others go as far to say that Spartans aren’t even human; they’re just bodies with ONI control chips in their heads – like human puppets cast on strings.
Aleksandr never met a Spartan in his entire lifetime, not even during the whole twelve years he put into fighting for the species and then some. Bounty, the colony world was a distant memory now, a glassed backwater with two million unmarked graves. No atmosphere. No air. Just fire and smoke and charred rock.
Bounty had been Aleksandr’s home, his birthplace and where his family was supposed to be safe. They never made it to the evacuation ships, or they never got off-world – the Covenant destroying every human vessel that tried to make high orbit.
Thinking back on it, as he did every year – the same month; everything occurred so wrongfully absurd and prophetic. Even ironic. It had been his bloody birthday – his daughter had sent him a birthday card a week early so that it would make it to him by the time of his next deployment against Covenant forces in the Outer Colonies. Bounty had been part of the mid-ring of colony worlds around Earth’s colonization apparatus. It was supposed to be safe, and yet it was not.
The attack came unexpectedly and after-action reports suggest the planet’s destruction had been carried out by one of the Covenant’s deadliest fleets. Its Elite commander a prodigal tactician.
It had been two days into the attack before the Staff Sergeant had been informed, on his birthday. The planet was already half glassed by that time and its atmosphere nearly unlivable. There had been nothing he could do and he had been expecting his family to still be alive up until the moment they announced Bounty had already been destroyed, minimal survivors. Fleet and civilian population completely wiped out.
Without his daughter, his wife, the Staff Sergeant had finally come to a shocking conclusion, a sudden realization that shook his mindset on an evening of emotional degradation and half-somberness mixed with an unknown amount of alcohol.
If the Spartans had been taken before ever knowing a family, before ever having anything to live for. If the Spartans were just kids and taught to live for the sake of warfare, how different did that make him from them?
Aleksandr had nothing left but the UNSC and the war, not unlike Spartans. He found it exceptionally ironic in this case that he found a personal pamphlet addressed to him in his lounge from one “Jun Nobel,” about a “Spartan Branch.” The man promised to be coming by sometime today. His birthday. What was the difference between him and a Spartan without life beyond warfare?
Wait And See
Wait And See
Not a very good article at all. This one is considered unrelated and outside the scope of my plotlines and direction of my own Universe. While I would like to delete it, I consider it a testament to the path I had to cross to become proficient as a writer. Among all the stories I have written, this one will not be updated as it does not reflect my current and future stories that I wish to explore.
The established powers of the galaxy are in turmoil. Chaos reigns over colonized space.
Cortana and her fellow Domain-empowered allies have
destabilized the nations’ capitals and brought fleets to their knees.
The Created have power, but they aren’t everywhere, not yet. They have yet to amass the forces necessary to subjugate the galaxy.
Among the whispers of the colonial fringe, those who ride free seek to enjoy what liberty they have left.
Others who value their freedom like currency, like air – they seek solutions to the rolling tide of Order on the approach.
Taskforce: Foxhound, a multi-branch military unit created to hunt augmented criminals, has lost contact with Earth. No orders. No targets visibly left to hunt. There are big fish out there, too big to fry or
destroy. With one ship, the destroyer UNSC Alexander’s March, still free to roam the ever black yonder of space – they seek out the Absolute Record, hoping to find enough Forerunner technology to turn
the tide of battle back in the favor of Man.
Spartan Merlin-D032, a late bloomer to a hellish galaxy, rests somewhere in exile on the colonial fringe, hoping the rest of the universe would just leave him alone and maybe he could put some peace back into his life. Instead, he finds purpose in the same problems he hoped he could hide from. Even if he’s a Spartan, he is still just a child and an orphan.
At some point in his near future, Merlin must decide whether the galaxy that keeps trying to get back in is worth keeping out. His team, his family is still out there, broken and in need of a protector to mend them whole
What of Daniele-D003? A lonesome rogue turned into a power-hungry mercenary. His years as a Boson Spartan have made him a sought-after resource for tying up loose ends. What do the forces of the Created see in him that they keep seeking out his services?
What of Andra-D054? She finds herself in safety of the terrorist New Colonial Alliance. She’s not sure if she’s happy, but, neither is
she sure she has anywhere else to go. She already dug her lot with their cause anyway.
Adrian-D111 is on a one-man crusade against what’s left of the once great ONI intelligence machine. He hates that the AIs are doing most of the work for him, dismantling their networked empire little by little but cannot deny their efficiency. He wants revenge for what they turned him into and for stealing his father’s company. His mutual interest in the Covenant and ONI with that of the Created may turn these distant factions with common interests into amicable allies.
And the last Boson Spartan, Emma-D107, her path is a lost one. Without purpose or peace, just chasing after one of what she considers life’s great mysteries. Why do people fall? Why do they eagerly abandon what they work so hard to achieve? Why do Spartans run from who they were? For her, it may provide the answer to why her teammates decided to leave Mankind behind and why she decided to go with them, that fateful night.
In the eyes of the Created, they are but small, meaningless pawns in a much larger game of chess. But when a pawn tips a rook, a bishop, a queen? The world notices.
Eventually, it will happen, tides will turn, and the world will see the greater threat of small fish. The pawns underfoot. They just have to wait and see.
Disconnection was written to fulfill Distant Tide's Weekly entry. With the blessing of both Quirkyadventures and Spartan-D042, this story follows the Kig-Yar, Rak, during his deployment during the Covenant invasion of Reach. Characters from both Spartan D042 and Distant Tide are referenced in this piece that occurs canonically during the events of Halo: Reach.
The Kig-Yar named Rak, an avian, bird-like alien, looked up at his brood brother, Keth. Noting his brother's call of concern, Rak nodded his beak in compliance.
"I'm good. Lead on."
The two brothers crept along the canyon wall on this alien world colonized by Humans. Its name came as a strange roll of the tongue. Reach.
"I heard from one guy that the Humans named this world after its smell," Keth replied as he crawled up along the pale orange-pink walls of the vertical rock face the two were on. The canyon walls were difficult to ascend, however, with the natural formation of Kig-Yars' talons, clambering the stone was much easier than for other species.
The pair's radio operator checked in over their headsets. "Scabbard Team. Make haste to your position. The lance commander grows impatient. He has already lost four Unggoy to the Last attack by the Imps' weaponry."
Keth replied. "We will arrive on time. The commander's complaints are noted, but irrelevant. He can waste a couple more 'gas monkeys' for all I care."
"Just get there."
Keth just shrugged at the last comment, instead of addressing Rak. "Rak, can you tap into the Humans' frequency? I want to hear them squawk when we hit them."
"I'm pulling it up now, Keth." Rak was no expert with electronic equipment but a twenty-seven-year conflict meant that eavesdropping on the Human BattleNet was a part of combat doctrine.
The human radio frequency popped into focus on the Kig-Yars' radio receiver. "This is Fox-Victor-Three-Four on all frequencies, we were en route to relieve FEUDAL Team but we've been pinned by a Covenant platoon. Our 'hog is busted. Any local forces, requesting reinforcements ASAP!"
"They already sound desperate," Rak noted with a cheeky grin. His hand gripped at the top of the cliff ledge. After minutes of vaulting and clambering up a cliffside, the pair of Kig-Yar soldiers neared their designated overwatch position.
"Indeed they do," Keth replied with a grin. For a moment, Keth's sniper helmet depolarized to reveal his face.
Keth took a hold of Rak's hand and pulled him so both brothers were atop the cliff. In the distance, smoke from destroyed Human warships and vehicles were joined by the smoke of their Covenant counterparts. The sun overhead was harsh on Rak's neck.
While the battle for these foothills, the Viery Lowlands as Keth had informed Rak previously, was ongoing, the canyons had been mostly silent with exception to the occasional burst of gunfire or plasma bolts. The canyons of granite were shaped in ways that distorted sound and made noise seem more distant than under normal circumstances.
The Viery canyons were both a tactical advantage and disadvantage in terms of warfighting. Humans were familiar with the terrain and had the equipment to match the environment. In contrast, their reliance on their senses and physical prowess where Kig-Yar outpaced them in almost every category, compromised the Humans' combat capabilities.
From atop the cliff at a distance, roughly 500 meters, Keth and Rak could see the isolated ambush between Covenant and Human forces. A burned out Human Warthog had been blown to bits at the base of the clearing below the Kig-Yar pair. The asphalt road below the burning vehicle suggested the Covenant lance used a roadside bomb to halt the Humans. A great hole with scorch marks was left newly undisturbed nearby.
Locked down behind rocks and any available cover, the Human soldiers stuck to the protection of trees and boulders. The nearby Covenant lance was closing in on the Human force. A Sangheili Lance commander, a Minor, was frantically giving orders - he seemed greatly agitated, even on edge.
"I see the Unggoy lines went to die," Keth stated seriously, he directed a talon to identify the carcasses of five methane-breathing aliens. Several bodies were missing their heads.
"One more than last reported too," Rak added as he scanned the humans, their living and dead. One confirmed dead lying next to a fallen tree and what Rak assumed to be a Human medic. There were still seven humans fighting, bouncing between the cover and firing their metal-projectile weapons.
"Unggoy are weak. Always have been." Keth said, shrugging.
"And humans?" Rak asked as he unslung his Type-51 Carbine and picked up a set of augmented-reality binoculars to seek out target solutions. While equipped with a standard Kig-Yar combat harness, Rak lacked the terrifying one-eyed ocular enhancement helmet used by Kig-Yar snipers. Rak was still being scouted as a sniper whereas his brother was already one and acting as his coach and superior officer.
"Little better. At least they know eggs taste good." Keth replied. The brother was already in the process of setting up his Type-52 Focus Rifle. While not the most conventional of weaponry, the Type-52 was good for compensating a missed kill with its continuous beam of plasma which made it great against faster targets but also had the downside of revealing your position. Raq lacked fear though, trusting in his brother's aim.
"Are we all set?" Rak asked, fully set up now.
"Actually, I think we should move there," Keth replied. He pointed toward a cave mouth to their right that dropped a little but featured a tighter viewpoint to shoot from, providing more natural cover compared to their current overwatch position.
"Alright. Let's make it quick." Rak replied, continuing to scan for target solutions. Rak made mental note of prioritizing which targets to hit first. The human field commander dressed in a uniform different from regular Human Army. Following that, the heavy weapons specialist with a grenade launcher. The targets came to the Kig-Yar marksman one by one.
"I'm set up. You can move over!" Keth called from the side.
"Coming..." Rak replied beginning to rise and move his equipment when a flash of light caught his eye. It was there for a moment, then gone. Like a turning mirror or an Elite active camouflage suite.
Rak had only moments to register what he saw. Next thing he knew, a smoke trail flashed into view. Keth squawked and hit the ground - his chest now a purple mess and the sound of thunder meeting earth. Sniper.
The human radio buzzed to life once more in Rak's ear canals. It wasn't a traditional frequency as it came from a single soldier instead of a unit radio operator. "Valor-Lead. This is 1-3."
"Go ahead, Hartmann." The unit commander replied.
"High priority: Chicken sniper attempted to get the drop on us. Fell right into my kill box. I'm still trying to get a kill shot on the Elite."
"Good work. Keep at it."
Terror filled Rak's blood. Keth was dead, murdered by the sneaky forethought of a Human sniper. It was unfair. Why did Keth have to die? Was Rak next? The disconnection between reality and propaganda set in. Rak felt it, his brother was slain.
Rak's hands dropped the binoculars and his talons fumbled for the hilt of his carbine rifle. Terror was replaced with rage. The human had taken something precious to him. The Covenant military training never properly prepared him for the loss of a fellow soldier, nor the loss of his own blood brother. These humans rightfully deserved to die. The Covenant military promised glory in battle and the Great Journey, at that moment, Rak cared less. He saw red and only two things were on his mind. Vengeance and malice.
Rak shouldered his carbine, a majestic alien rifle shaped like a medical needle, painted dull orange and a Sanghelios sky-red. Flipping on the fully-automatic action, Rak could only think about letting these heretics taste the rains of Oblivion. He picked no target, in particular, focusing half-competently on a decĺoaking human sniper.
Rak pulled the trigger and he and the rifle roared at the sunset skies of Reach as one.
False Descent was written to fulfill Distant Tide's Weekly entry. It follows a Spartan and his team during the events of the Bombing of Philadelphia, this story focused on the moments of chaos before Diana destroyed the city.
There was sporadic gunfire in the distance. Smoke was rising from a city block in the central business district of Philadelphia. Over the radio, calls for first responders and reports of colonial terrorists echoed through the air and the Waypoint.
The roar of spinning tires kicked up dust as they ran across the asphalt. Three gray-spotted gun trucks, colored for urban warfare rushed past civilians and halted automobiles. The jeeps were driven by hulking soldiers in high tech exoskeletons. The convoy’s commander was former special forces Helljumper, now Spartan, Aleksandr Koslokov.
Koslokov, called Kaz by his coworkers, was listening to the radio as one of his Spartans drove his unit’s convoy through the downtown streets of Philadelphia. The cars around them had been forced into stopping by a national security ordinance. A security perimeter had been established around the city’s business district. The military was the only ones allowed to be on the roads and moving. The radio was running on full blast as voices reported in information.
“ONI Regional Security Ordinance is in effect. All civilians within a kilometer radius are requested to report to the nearest bomb shelter. Terror attack in progress. All military personnel report to assigned stations and be on guard for saboteurs and await further instructions.”
A truck was stuck in the middle of the road but the convoy refused to slow down, instead, the Warthog jeeps rolled right over the vehicle with a mighty crunch. The steel frame crushed aluminum like crumpled paper.
“This is Spartan Koslokov to any command elements in the vicinity of Site Hotel-Three, can someone give me a situation report? My team is three minutes out from arrival!”
“Spartan! This is CALLSIGN: COCKATRICE. You’re closer to the epicenter, my ship, the Basilisk, is in the harbor but I haven’t been able to receive any signals out of Hotel-Three. We got three, no, four Army Guardsmen Platoons in route as well. The amphibious carrier Triton’s Word is in the Delaware Bay, but her aircraft are low on fuel. The frigate Sogdia is repositioning from its orbital path to close the airspace.”
“What do we know about the enemies of the ONI Site?” Kaz asked the naval officer as he glanced down at the GPS display on his HUD screen – the team was still two minutes out.
“Initial reports include NCA commandos and an Elite. We also got two confirmed high-value targets. Rogue Spartans Ilsa Zane and Simon-G294, positive ID was confirmed six minutes into the attack.”
“Who confirmed it?”
“Spartan Commander Sarah Palmer.”
Overhead, a massive object, half a kilometer in length bloated out the sky. The frigate Sogdia roared into position above Philadelphia ready to repel any potential air threats. Kaz grinned to himself as he heard the barely audible cheers of his fellow Spartans at the arrival of the Navy. The wind rushed by as the frigate’s anti-gravity drives locked the giant behemoth above the downtown district. The temperature eve dropped a little as the starship bloated out the sun and floated there like a big ugly pimple.
There was an empty silence that hung over the radio and the city for a moment. Everyone stared in awe at the starship so close to the ground. Then a noise that Kaz had not expected to hear began to roar, air-warning sirens. Their blaring noise was sudden and unexpected. Then descended the chaos from above.
Yellow and white light danced off the point-defense cannons on the frigate, peppering the city below. Rounds impacted at high velocity into the roads, bridges, skyscrapers, and people. Everything went up in a blaze of horror. There was a moment of clarity then a falling tower descended with gravity. There was a moment in time where Kaz froze and the last thing out of his mouth was a blood-curdling scream followed by a long crash and black.
Why We Can't Have Nice Things
Why We Can't Have Nice Things
Snapping up, Ikari Hibiki looked around for someone calling his name. His dark brown eyes darted around the shipboard motor pool but didn't see anyone nearby. It was zero-dark military time aboard the UNSC Infinity, essentially midnight. Most people were asleep aboard the spaceborne supercarrier and the few that were wandering about were too far away to be speaking to him. Most were just handling business and on the other side of the vehicle area, nowhere within whispering range.
Shrugging and assuming it was his imagination, Hibiki went back to his work. A pair of touchpads were laid out in front of him. One of the tablets listed off maintenance instructions for the M12 Force Application Vehicle, colloquially known as the "Warthog" among infantry personnel in the UNSC Armed Forces. The other tablet was generating a holographic display of the Hog's internal radio setup. Hibiki had been working here for the last three hours thoroughly studying the complexities of the Warthog's electronic suite.
Wiping away a bead of sweat from his forehead, he couldn't get rid of the sense that he had heard his name called. Maybe he was just getting tired; three hours of straight studying without a break caused the mind to wonder of course. Hibiki glanced away from the tablets and the insignificant circuit board in front of him and grabbed a gallon tin of water off to the side. He uncapped the bottle and put it to his lips to drink.
Hibiki nearly choked when he heard his name called again, "Spartan Ikari..."
The voice calling Hibiki came as an ominous whisper and carried with it, a very monotone, low drawl of someone in their experienced years. It was also distinctively masculine in tone. The Spartan's head snapped around on a swivel, trying to identify where the voice was coming from. Still, no one around. The nearest person was some lonely, bald sailor from the UNSC Janitorial Corps but he was like seventy-five meters away.
"Spartan Ikari!" The voice came again, this time much snappier and just a little louder. It was still a whisper but it came with a deadly edge this time.
"What!?!" Hibiki growled out loud as he glanced back at the Warthog in front of him, he put the water jug down. The Spartan noticed that the vehicle radio was on, the console glowed a dull blue and acknowledged that it had been remotely connected to a communications channel.
Hibiki blinked a couple times before shrugging and climbing into the jeep's passenger seat. The voice came again, "Spartan Ikari, you are needed."
"Needed for what?"
"I'll get to that," The voice replied this time, the edge was gone but the voice still came out as a whisper and aged. "You see the row of mechanized walkers at the edge of the motor pool?"
Hibiki glanced up at the edge of the motor pool toward the line of quick-deployment Mantis exoskeleton attack vehicles, the Mark IXs. "What about them?"
"Go to Mantis Alpha-Twelve and open the rider hatch." The male voice ordered.
"Why? What's the point of this?" Hibiki asked, curious, alarmed, and suspicious all at once.
"It's important." The voice explained simply.
"Who am I even talking to?"
"I'll get to that, just trust me for a few minutes. If it helps, I'm the guy in the command booth right now."
Hibiki glanced up at the command booth situated above the motor pool. It was a room situated in the bow-facing end of the motor pool and identified by the massive glass nest jutting out of the wall. The glass was tinted so that the Spartan couldn't identify the speaker behind the glass.
"Fine." Hibiki shrugged and got out of the Warthog. He wandered three rows over to the Mantis walkers and found the one identified as Alpha-Twelve, there was a white marker on the side of the vehicle with an "A-12" so it was abundantly clear. The Spartan walked around the combat suit and up the step ladder to get close to the chassis.
"What now?" Hibiki asked even though he doubted the voice could hear him.
"Open it up." This time the voice was operating from the motor pool intercom so there were already a number of people in the vicinity glancing around wondering what was going on.
Shrugging, Hibiki performed the short process of opening up the Mantis cockpit, grabbing a latch and lifting it up to reveal the cramped interior. The cockpit's instruments and control scheme were currently shut off so all the Spartan was looking at was a dark, blank seat and computer screens. "What now?"
"Get in it."
"I've already asked you, why?" Hibiki asked again, this time starting to get annoyed. The voice had yet to tell him why this was happening at all and asking him to specifically get in this vehicle without an explanation was getting really suspicious.
"Spartan Ikari!" The voice was now yelling through the intercom and screeching through the motor pool.
"What?" Hibiki yelled back at the intercom voice.
"Pilot this Mantis!"
The voice paused for a moment. It spoke again. "Fuck."
Hibiki did a double take as a slow silence followed. A response came quickly.
"Get in the damn robot, Ikari!"
"Why not!?!" The intercom asked back rhetorically.
"It's a damn good question!" Hibiki fired back.
"Because you got to save the galaxy! That's why!" The voice finally answered.
"That's a stupid reason!"
"It's the only reason you need!"
"Spartan Ikari, get in the fucking robot!"
"What are you doing here?" The commanding voice of Spartan Commander Sarah Palmer suddenly echoed on the intercom before Hikibi could retort himself.
The voice responded, suddenly sounding quite different - younger, not like a kid but that of a post-pubescent teenager. "Commander Shepard-shit, I mean, Palmer!"
"Spartan, I am ordering you to get off the intercom and get back to your post, right now!" Palmer's voice yelled this time.
"Uhhh! Yes ma'am, right away Commander!" The voice echoed out before disappearing completely if Hibiki listened closely, he could swear he heard scampering footsteps of boots on metal.
Palmer's voice echoed once more across the intercom, "Stupid Gamma."
The intercom promptly shut off after that.
Hibiki was suddenly left feeling really awkward. He looked around, everyone else had gone back to doing whatever else they had been doing previously. It was almost like this never happened. Blinking a couple times, Hibiki shrugged his arms to his neck quickly followed by an exasperated sigh. He closed the Mantis cockpit and climbed off the step-ladder. He quickly went back to his work on the Warthog, hoping to scratch this random nightmare from his recent memory.
The Office of Naval Intelligence is still investigating.
It's 2553, the Human-Covenant War is over. Onyx was destroyed. Earth has survived. Now Humanity rebuilds. Most survivors want to forget the last War’s horrors and look ahead toward a brighter future. Others hold on to their desperation and paranoia – determined to remain relevant in a Galaxy where Humanity is not on the retreat, but on the advance.
An internal coalition of agents and officers within the Office of Naval Intelligence were ordered to dissolve the SPARTAN-III Program and to bury their distaste for Humanity’s new alien neighbors. While some complied, a few doubled down and continued their work in secret; a group only known to themselves as the “DELTA Initiative.” With a new world and new assets, they push forward on borrowed time to develop a new batch of Spartan supersoldiers, Delta Company.
Orphans who lost their parents to the Covenant onslaught converge and train on Argus V, told a lie that the War rages on. Recruits like Merlin-D032 must fight tooth and nail to succeed in this new, brutal environment. Every child joined Delta Company to become a Spartan, the real question remains however, can they make the cut? And, at what cost?