|This article, Halo: Restitution/Movement I, was written by Spartan-091. Please do not edit this fiction without the writer's permission.|
MARCH 27, 2569
UNSC LONG AND DARK DECEMBER, HANGAR BAY
IN ORBIT, ANOMALOUS READING ALPHA-ONE, PELAGIAD-3 DEBRIS FIELD
The Pelican pilot smiled friendlily behind her depolarized visor, turning around in her seat to get a better look at her recently-arrived passenger. The Pelican's troop bay was well-lit with the deep red of the flight-lights, intermixed with the flat white of the solar-imitation floods inside the large hangar. Shadows of the many harnesses and webbing clung to the compartment walls nearest the lowered ramp like apprehensive spiders, interrupted by the massive shadow of the Mjolnir-clad super soldier who stepped onboard, ducking slightly to avoid some low-hanging electronics cables.
"Welcome aboard, Captain," the crew chief said cheerily, his face split by a gleeful, boyish grin that made a viewer feel completely at home. His vac-resistant flight suit was rolled up to his elbows, his burly forearms smudged and smeared with bluish synthetic grease. Gloves hung from his utility belt nonchalantly as he wiped his hands with an already-filthy rag which he stuffed into a side pocket before offering his hand to the Spartan. "Not every day you get to meet a Spartan, sir!"
Jared took his hand gingerly and gave it a gentle shake, making sure not to apply any sort of force whatsoever. He had had bad experiences with that before.
"Good to meet you too," he said, pausing slightly as the neural implant provided him with the correct name, "Sergeant Ntumbo."
He dropped his duffel on the blood tray, the slight amount of dirt that had not been washed away from his last operation puffing into the still air of the troop bay.
"Where would you like me to put my stuff?" he asked in a gruff, somewhat awkward voice that the two didn't seem to notice.
"Just anywhere you please, sir," Sergeant Ntumbo said, obviously proud of some work that he had done but that Jared could not notice. His eyes flicked to the cargo stowage webbing over the seats, and the panel containing the cargo door control systems. The Spartan picked up on this quickly, smiling behind his faceplate.
"Nice work putting the bay door wiring back without messing with the web," he said casually. "Upgrading the back door's speed a bit?"
Ntumbo's toothy grin widened considerably, pleased that the Spartan knew what he had done, and not knowing that the supersoldier had seen the modification time and time again. "Yes, sir, thank you, sir. Ol' girl will be just a bit more safe with her backflap zippin' up faster. What you got in the bag, if you don't mind my asking, sir?"
"Oh, nothing much. My weapons. What time are we scheduled to get out of here?"
Ntumbo checked his neural implant's assignment log, eyes fading out as he glanced at the relative data being projected onto his retinas.
"Five minutes or so, sir. Just have to complete the last pre-flight checks and then we'll pop the bay doors and get her cruising. Hey, Hala! You almost done up there?"
The pilot turned around from what she was doing and glared at him, waving her arm as she said, voice muffled behind her faceplate, "I'm waiting on you, asshat! Now stop jawing and get the bay sealed!"
Ntumbo chuckled good-naturedly, and hurriedly wiped the grease from his hands. As he tugged down the sleeves on his jumpsuit and yanked on his gloves, he jogged to the control panel and elbowed the hydraulics-control switch. As the ramp met up with the plexi-steel viewport, he slid on his helmet and checked the pressure seals, then sat down heavily in his crew chief's jump seat.
"Gonna get a little rough with the mag field, sir. You may want to grab a harness," he said, addressing the Spartan.
Jared shook his head in the negative and glanced at his HUD's icon display. Staring at the activator for magnetic grip, he blinked once and felt the familiar sensation of the soles of his boots clamping to the floor.
"Ready when you are," he said, hoisting his duffel up to his shoulder.
The pilot tapped a button and grasped the throttle lever, and with a shudder, the Pelican dropped from the bay and into open space, the stars swirling outside the cockpit as the pilot smoothly leveled the course off. The familiar hum of the quad-mounted thrusters brought back a great many memories for Jared. He closed his eyes and felt the sensation of bright sunlight...
"Trainee! What do you think you are doing?" The Drill Instructor's stentorian voice seemed to drown out the chirping of the birds and the quiet whisper of the wind through the pine trees. Gravel crunched underneath the boy's miniature combat boots as he fell from the structure and caught himself on the ground below, heart pounding with surprise and shock, legs poised to run. When he saw that it was one of the camp's Instructor Sergeants, he stood to, arms trembling just a bit as he tensed them at his sides. His short blond-brown hair was soaked in sweat and traced with blood from where he had fallen without catching himself, and dirt caked his body and sweat suit in funny splotches. Across the chest of his sweatshirt was stenciled in rough UNSC black the number, "091."
"Sir, this Trainee was attempting to navigate the Chief's obstacle course, sir!"
"That answer is unacceptable, Trainee! You are not authorized to be here during chow time, especially unaccompanied! Now, you will evacuate this area immediately and get your hindquarters geared for a five-mile run! And you best hope that your feet can carry you fast." He flicked out the shock-prod from his belt and gestured towards the long gravel road back to the main base. Blue sparks arced between its tips as he thumbed the power up a notch and swung it through the air. Jared needed only a glance of the prod and he was off and jogging out of the area, the Sergeant following on his heels, weapon swishing just centimeters behind him. It was a long and tiring return run to the central compound, one that was only made worse by the dry heat of Reach's summertime climate. Burning the back of his neck and heating the air that he sucked into his heaving chest, it enveloped the area in an oppressive aura. The Drill Instructor, having spent most of his career on Reach, had no problem negotiating with the heat, but for the young Spartan trainee, it was a different story. By mile three he had slowed enough that the shock prod began grazing his back, sending him lurching forward again and again to avoid further pain. By mile four, he had resolved himself to not be caught again, and sped up considerably, burning lungs aching from the greater stress he had induced, heart pounding from exertion, sides cramping with uncomfortable stitches.
The pair reached the dining hall just as the other recruits were filing out, and with one last swat of the shock baton, the barely-winded DI forced Jared into formation with the rest of his comrades. There was nothing but sidelong glances and rolling eyes to greet him, so he slunk into ranks next to his friend Maria. Across her PT sweats was printed "062". She smiled at him as he ducked in next to her, mouth smeared at the edges with something that resembled cinnamon spice. Leaning over subtly she whispered excitedly, "Did you get it?"
Jared kept his posture steady, small hands clasped at the small of his back in parade rest while Mendez berated a trainee at the front for something he had spilled on his sweatsuit. He only allowed his mouth to twitch slightly upwards, but that was all Maria needed to know. She swallowed an oncoming giggle and tried her best to look stern and serious, an effort which failed immensely as a huge grin slid over her face. Mendez, already on the prowl for disciplinary issues, immediately caught wind of this display and stalked over to face the little girl. Bending down, he glared intimidatingly as he said in an uncomfortably calm voice, "Is there something funny about my formation, Trainee Sixty Two?"
Maria shook her head, still trying to kill her gleeful expression. "No, Senior Chief!"
Mendez quirked an eyebrow at her. "Then why do you have that disgusting smirk on your face? I don't know about you, Oh-Six-Two, but I regard serious personal appearance as a sign that dedication is present. You're obviously not feeling very dedicated at the moment. So, you know what we're going to do, Trainee?" He turned his back to her, waiting for her response.
Maria kept quiet, hoping the Chief was being rhetorical. He wasn't. Rounding on her, he yelled, "You will answer when a superior asks you a direct question!"
"Senior Chief! This recruit believes that the Senior Chief will take her and her squadmates on a two-mile run, Senior Chief!" Maria yelled, eyes directed upwards, focused on something nonexistent in the distance, beyond the clouds.
"I am going to take that as a suggestion, Trainee! But instead of two miles... let's make it six! Followed by an hour of calisthenics! We'll see how funny formation is then!"
The other boys and girls knew better than to groan or complain by now, but Jared could read the disgust and annoyance on their faces as they left-faced and double-timed it away from the mess hall. It was a good thing he hadn't eaten, or else it would have been more than just his sides hurting.
Maria was his only friend in the program, the only one who had really reached out to him and clicked with his personality. The rest of them either had their own groups of friend, like John and his clique, or preferred to keep to themselves, like that strangely-quiet Leonid-144. Maria fit in well with everyone, though. It was her gift, she was able to float around and socialize all she wanted. Jared wasn't like that, though, and he envied her for it. He just couldn't make small talk to save his life.
Hours later, back at the barracks, after the DIs had called lights-out, Jared opened his eyes and checked his wristwatch. It was 0100, the arranged meeting time. Softly pushing back the covers on his bunk, he nimbly dropped to the cold concrete floor and snagged his running shoes from beneath Fred-104's bed. Hopping on one foot, he made his way to the door as he struggled to get them on his feet. With a hiss, the door was open and he was outside. Looking both ways into the blue-tinged darkness of the night, he jogged off down the gravel road to the sign that marked where it diverged, one way lit sporadically by the occasional military streetlamp, the other swallowed into the stygian night. He paused at the sign, then crouched down in the tall grass nearby, just in case someone came down the road. With a grumbling whine, one of the staff's Warthog LRVs ground past the sign and paused to turn at the intersection. Jared froze. Were they looking for him? Or were they just doing one of the innumerable things that the DIs did once their trainees were asleep? As the 'Hog turned down the road that led away from the O Course, he let out his breath. No one knew yet. He scooted back into the deeper parts of the grass, only to bump into what felt like feet... His heart skipped a beat as a hand fell on his shoulder, and he almost would have cried out if another hand had not quickly covered his open mouth.
"Geez, you big scaredy cat! It's just me! Remember? We were going to meet here...?" The voice was Maria's, and Jared rolled his eyes and pulled at her arms. She let him go and he jumped up to face her.
"Don't do that again! I was expecting you to give me some kind of signal, not wallop me like an Instructor Sergeant!" he hissed in a low whisper, lips tucked into an upset frown.
Maria punched him playfully in the arm. "Quit being so serious. It's not like they haven't found kids out here before. Trust me, I've been outside the Senior Chief's office when he's talking to his staff, and I swear, he thinks these things are funny!"
Jared rubbed his shoulder and glanced over to the O Course road. "If you say so," he muttered, then continued in a slightly louder tone, "We better get going if we wanna pull this off in time."
She grinned at him and took off into the dark, making sure to avoid the gravel that wasn't already packed down by vehicle treads and tires. Packed gravel was quieter and easier to run on than the loose kind they had discovered after a few weeks. Jared followed her, and within a few minutes they were nearing the entrance to the proving ground. Their eyes had adjusted to the gloom by now, which was good, since they hadn't been able to get any flashlights without arousing suspicion. With a few furtive glances to the perimeter of the mulched "playground", they made their way towards the center, near where the bell was. Grabbing a dangling rope, Maria slung herself into the air and caught hold of the ledge of one of the wooden platforms, then hoisted herself up.
Jared took a much more formulaic approach, shimmying up and then leaping out onto the platform. Together, the two crouched in silence, double-checking to make sure no DIs were there on a smoking break or following them from the barracks. After a moment's hesitation, Maria spoke.
"So where'd you hide it?"
Looking up to the higher platforms, Jared squinted as he tried to make out what was shadow and what was reality. Finally getting his bearings, he pointed to a duffel utility-taped on the underside corner of an adjacent platform.
"Geez," Maria hissed, "How in the world did'ya pull that off?"
He shrugged. "I don't remember."
"Don't remember?" She lapsed into a fit of frustrated mumbling.
"Kidding!" Jared grinned like a maniac and jumped out into the darkness, bear-hugging the pylon that supported the platform. With a great deal of effort, he clambered upwards until he reached a lip where the pylon ended and the framework of the deck began. Flexing all of his muscles, he heaved himself onto the lip and began to undo his utility-tape handiwork. When he was done, he chucked the bag at the waiting Maria, who caught it gracefully and set it by her feet. In a few minutes, the two were back on the gravel road, this time heading to their pre-established hideout. This time, it was the roof of the instruction hall, where Deja taught them tactics and Human history. For Jared and Maria, it was a fun place that always came with crackers, but tonight another one of its positive properties was at the forefront of their minds: the excellent sight lines from the roof.
"Do you want first watch or should I take it?" Maria asked. Jared checked his UNSC-issued wristwatch and noted that the time was 0230 hours before replying.
"You go ahead. But wake me up if I sleep too long, okay?" She nodded, he closed his eyes, and the world was silent and peaceful, only made more soporific by the soft thrum of the building's climate control unit.
"Sir!" Ntumbo's friendly shout woke the SPARTAN from his reverie. "We're ready to drop you, sir."
Jared opened his eyes from concentration and looked around the compartment. The red low-lighting system had shifted in color to ready green, and Ntumbo had sealed up his flight suit for vacuum exposure. Harnesses for the seats floated in the zero gravity, and the congenial crewman swam through the air towards him. He stirred, lifting the magnetic seals from his feet and retrieving his duffel bag of equipment. Slinging it across his back, he flew to the back of the compartment, impelled by his sudden motion. The two cloth carrying handles cinched over his shoulders, and he was ready to deploy. Knocking on the hatch twice, he signaled that he was prepared to go. His helmet speakers registered the slight hiss as oxygen was sucked from the chamber, and then it was quiet.
The drop door opened as he grabbed hold of two of the sturdy HV-train-style loops hanging from the top of the compartment. Outside was the beautiful gold and purple cloud of a nearby nebula, painting the blackness of space with a breathtaking display of colors. The system's blue dwarf star shone its pallid light across the debris field, casting bizarre and disturbing shadows across the scene and illuminating Jared's objective in an eerily haunted aura. Jared smiled wanly as he took in the view, then slung himself out into space, straightening his body like a spear.
He flew across the distance, towards the biggest object in the wreck, what looked like a massive conglomeration of ship parts and broken asteroid bits, a misshapen ball of a junkyard. His visor marked for him the entry point determined by the December's scans, and his miniaturized T-PACK fired to adjust his momentum and encounter vector.
"Good luck, sir. We'll be back in two hours," Ntumbo said, voice clear as crystal over the helmet speakers. Jared flashed his acknowledgment light and continued his flight.
"Juliet," he murmured, "Pick out some nice music, would you please?"
"Aye aye, Captain," the AI replied, spending a brief nanosecond sorting through the vast collection of music files the two had collected over their years together. The one she selected was very old but one that she knew he found very relaxing, the Eridanus Symphony Orchestra's rendition of "Adagio for Strings" by an ancient composer. She heard him sigh in approval, and she felt glad she had chosen correctly.
With a few slight puffs from the T-PACK, helped along by her calculations, the SPARTAN had cleared most of the initial debris and made it to the main body of the wreck itself, a twisted mass of balled ship parts and space junk that fooled the eye into believing it was a small planetoid. At the center of it all was the silhouette of an ONI Prowler, blatantly recognizable to Jared's experienced eye. While it may not have been in the best condition, it was certainly distinguishable as the main component of the jumbled mess. The front section of it was caved in and buckled as if it had been grazed by some object moving at a great speed, and the name emblazoned on the foredeck in UNSC white was too worn and damaged to make out clearly.
"Airlock looks workable," he said, manually adjusting the thruster controls to jet him towards the pressurized hatch. Slowly extending his legs, he activated the magnetic seals on the soles of his boots and felt them adhere gently to the slight lip at the edge of the lock. Tapping at the vacuum-sealed computer panel, he was surprised to find it powered, and responsive to the ONI override codes he had memorized. The door ground open, then jammed part way, motors failing. Jared imagined the squeal they would have made had they been in atmosphere, then shouldered his way into the airlock prime.
"Oh. Oh my..." Juliet said, horrified. Propped up against the wall, bony hands laying at its side, was a skeletal corpse, blue eyes glazed and icy with the lack of atmosphere, cheeks pulled tight against its skull, shrunken lips drawn over the pearly teeth and partially-open mouth in a silent plea for the end. A dusty ONI uniform encased the figure, baggy against the malnourished frame of the former agent.
Jared shook his head. "Not anything we haven't seen before."
Stepping over the body, he checked the other door. It was powered as well, so he turned and pressed the cycle button at the console near his elbow. The compartment was obviously designed for efficiency, and by turns, not built to house such a massive person as a SPARTAN operative, so he found himself compelled to hunch over uncomfortably. This was the usual routine in every other prowler he had been aboard in the past; worked for speed and stealth, they weren't much on the comfortable side. The outer hatch managed to recover itself and slide back into position, and the red warning light on the inner console turned off, replaced by the yellow of standby mode. Tapping another key, he initiated the pressurizing process and heard the faint whisper of the chamber filling with stale air from the ship's reserve tanks. The inner hatch made a whining noise and a thin wisp of smoke from burnt-out servos plumed out from the mechanisms inside.
With a sigh, Jared braced himself against the wall and rammed his MJOLNIR-encased foot into the hatch, bowing it inwards with an explosive crash. Another kick and the door went flying, tumbling end over end into the darkened abyss that lay beyond the dimly-lit airlock. No artificial gravity there, either, he noticed. Interesting. A powered and half-working airlock leading to a derelict ship seemed to him as being more and more of a trap the longer he thought about it. Creeping through the door, he toggled on his exterior helmet lights with a blink of his eyes and swept the chamber for any hostile activity. Nothing. No life whatsoever. As secure an area as he was going to get, though. Unslinging his pack, he gently positioned it in mid-air, then unzipped it, removing each component with a gentle and respectful movement and letting it hover in the null-gravity. When it was empty, he focused his attention on assembling them into their proper order, hands moving on rote. In all these years, he hadn't forgotten the feel of a BR55. He could put it together with his eyes shut, clean it, unjam it, and fire off three rounds in the time it took for most Marines to simply disassemble theirs. Now that was something to be proud of. Sliding the rubber safety barrier off the top of a clip, he slid it home into the receiver with a resounding and reassuring clack, then pulled the bolt until it clicked, released it, and heard the familiar click. He slid the weapon over his shoulder, onto the magnetic gription pads housed on the back of his armor, where it rested with a heft that he'd felt since he was a young boy. The custom pistol at his side was already loaded, but he thumbed a few extra clips into the holsters around his waist, then filled the fabric webbing hanging at his abdomen with battle rifle ammunition. Carefully, he resealed the bag and floated it to the darkest corner he could find. Making sure it was motionless, he activated its IR pulse tag and stepped away. It would be there if he needed it in the future. Unlikely, but it was best to have a backup should he need it. Funny, he thought. The bag was of the same design as the one he and Maria had kept that marker rifle in so many long years ago. If it ain't broke, don't fix it, he thought wryly to himself, activating the mag fields in his boots and settling slowly to the deck plating. Though the suit's onboard computer recognized the pseudomotions involved in walking and automatically released the magnetic locks as he lifted his legs, his steps still felt ponderous and weighty. He resolved to keep even more on the alert, as even a second's hesitation in an encounter could mean all the difference.
This situation was not one that he liked; it smelled too much like an ambush to him. He pressed on into the depths of the ruined Prowler, navigating the darkened corridors with cautious concern, checking corners and running sensor sweeps on electronics panels. None he came across had been used in months, and most systems in the immediate vicinity of the airlock had apparently been deliberately shut down to conserve power.
"Juliet, any sign of the ship's AI?" he asked, narrowing his eyes at the deadened interface panel beneath his gauntleted fingertips. The physical signs in the area marked this particular terminal as being part of the prowler's small medical bay, but no systems or any sort of activity could be detected.
"No, actually. This shutdown must have been done manually, since I can't even detect subsystem power drains. My guess is one of the officers onboard might have done it to save air or minimize drain. My normal suggestion would be to attempt to restore power to the generators, but with that Slipspace drive crack, I'm not so sure that's a good idea."
"Got that right," the Spartan mumbled gruffly, eying his air reserve timer slowly counting down. "I'm not sure I trust the air in here."
"Scans say that other than a bit of dust and the fact that it's stale, air should be fine."
"Call me paranoid," he said quietly, "but I'll keep this on for now, thanks."
"You are paranoid. It says so on your ONI psych files."
"Yup. Thanks for the reminder, wasn't aware already or anything," he growled, rolling his eyes and refocusing on the task at hand. "Mind giving me a waypoint to the generator room?"
Juliet complied silently, and the light grey double triangle of the marker popped up in his field of vision. He enjoyed the small customizations he had made to his HUD, from the recoloring of the interface itself to the remapping of the icons to suit his personal habits. It felt like home away from home. Or maybe it was home, he mused as he picked his way through the increasingly warped interior decking, thinking of all of the hours he had logged inside the heavy titanium composite shell.
The Slipspace core had wreaked havoc on the surrounding area, and the interior of the ship near the room housing the drive was an alien moonscape, with bent hatches and curling plates arcing crazily across the floor, contorted by the gravity-distorting forces housed inside it. The room itself was lit with a strange blue-purple glow, bright white in intensity, but casting bizarre and unrecognizable shadows when it struck objects. For a moment, the Spartan stopped in his tracks, considering the orb of energy that hung between the partially-destroyed containment rings of the drive housing. It was awe-inspiring. That such massive power could be harnessed by something so simple... used to cast humanity across the stars. He shook his head, smiling sarcastically at how intellectual he could be at the worst of times. Scanning the room for any sort of control devices, he spotted a lone intact console on the far wall, and cautiously picked his way through the metal stalagmites of the deck towards it.
"Alright. I have no clue about how these things work, aside from that basic class I had back in the day. Tell me what I need to do."