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Entrapment by Arthur Wellesley

Entrapment: Part 1
Date: 6 August 2004, 11:29 PM

0200 Hours, September 24, 2533 (Military Calendar)/
Plant Farrius V, Gamma-Onagus System

       It was cold. Damnably cold.

       The Warthog skidded dangerously on the icy road. A frozen wind howled and screeched outside the vehicle's armor plating. It's noisy engine was scarce heard in the vast, snowy plains. All around it were unending stretches of white; mountains of ice, fields of snow, and a sky without color. Such was the plainness of the planet that it was almost impossible to tell where the land ended and the sky started. It was a world that stood testament to a silence that never began and would never end.

       To Lieutenant Shirley Steeves, it was the loneliest place she had ever been. It was so still and lifeless, her presence seemed unwelcome. She did not like this planet, and she wanted to leave as soon as possible. Besides her superstitions, her more earthly senses were also discomforted. The Warthog's climate regulator said it was 18 degrees Celsius, but it certainly didn't feel like it. She tried to control her shivering, but she had a feeling that Colonel Anderson detected her weakness. She knew any attempt to warm herself by rubbing her hands together or shaking violently would displease her commander, so instead she did the only thing that would take some of the numbness away: she talked.

       "Might I inquire as to why we are here, sir?" She had not asked any questions about their mysterious journey to this dead planet, but now she felt the time was right - and necessary for the sake of her frozen body.

       The Colonel did not look at her. At last he spoke, but it was not to her. "Private, ETA Goddamnit!"

       "Five, sir," the man driving the vehicle replied.

       After this brief exchange had finished, Colonel Anderson sat back in his seat and was once again silent.

       Colonel Anderson was not a happy man. He was constantly angry at something was prone to blow up at the smallest thing. Shirley was one of the few to have witnessed the full extent of his fury. It was when she had accompanied him during a training mission and one of the trainees had struck him after enduring nearly ten minutes of the Colonel's taunts and mental games. Anderson had beaten the man badly and pushed his face into the mud until he nearly died. Shirley shuddered to think of the man's fate.

       It was thus that she was deeply afraid of her commander, but her curiosity got the better of her. "Sir?" she asked in a voice that did not quiver despite herself.

       Anderson made a sort of throaty growl to show his displeasure at being pressed, but he did not ignore her a second time. "We're here to interrogate a prisoner, Lieutenant." His voice was harsh and gruff, and he said no more.

       Lieutenant Steeves, of course, already knew the basic objective of the mission. Her briefing was anything but extensive, but she did know that. Her question did not strain on the why but on the here. Like most ONI personnel, she was privy to all inhabited planets, classified and otherwise, but she had never heard of Farrius V. Granted, she was not high up, but judging by the planet's emptiness, she assumed she was one in only a handful who knew of its existence. Farrius V was beyond the range of where frozen water could exist in the system. Planetary environmental regulators kept it hospitable enough around the equator so that humans wouldn't become an ice cube if they were outside for more than a minute. It did, however, guarantee a horribly uncomfortable environment as well as the perfect cover; no one would expect a military base on a planet like this.

       After about five minutes passed, Shirley peered out the front window, struggling to see over the hulking soldier who sat in the passenger seat with his rifle on his lap. She was somewhat shocked to see their proximity to the base. They were almost at the gates, and she had not seen a thing, despite the fact they had been driving across a mostly open plain. It was built in the side of a great column of ice, a veritable mountain, formed by the great pressure of the moving glaciers. The installation, of course only a third of it being above ground, had buildings that were made of titanium and concrete but were masterfully covered in ice. Its perimeter was merely a vertical sheet of ice. It was imperceptible from satellite imagery and even from someone on the ground. A man would have to be very determined to find this base, and who would look here?

       As they approached the wall, a section of the ice moved aside. Just inside the compound were several small checkpoint buildings with tired-looking guards in snow camouflage uniforms standing lazily inside. From the looks of it, they too did not feel the effects of the air conditioning.

       The Warthog pulled up alongside the largest building. The soldier driving it turned the engine off. He turned in his seat to face Shirley and the Colonel. "Pull your scarves around your mouth and nose and fasten your goggles, if you please, ma'am and sir." They already had their equipment on and they waited for their guests to do the same. Once they had, the opened the door.

       Shirley had not quite understood why they were making such a big deal of it, for the walk from the warthog to the building's entrance was no more than ten meters, but once she stepped outside she understood. Her thick jacket and scarf could not keep out the biting cold. It felt like her face was being peeled off with a knife. Their two-man escort moved slowly towards the building, enjoying the opportunity to torment the two ONI officers who were used to the comfortable worlds of the Inner Colonies. The Colonel did not seemed to be bothered by the intense cold, so she tried to walk as slowly and as steadily as her frozen muscles would allow.

       Inside the building it was several degrees cooler than the Warthog, but Shirley had never been so warm in her life. After her silent prayer of gratitude and taking off her goggles, she examined the building she was in. It was much larger than it appeared outside, probably because most of it was built right into the mountain of ice. It was a long, wide corridor than ran about two hundred meters down, and several smaller hallways lead to adjacent corridors of equal length. To Shirley's right was a flight of stairs leading down, and next to that were two elevators. Obviously the facility extended down into the ice.

       The worst part of the building was its atmosphere. It was dark and cold and eerie, but there was something more. It had a crypt-like quality, a smell of death and the feel of sorrow and pain. It made Shirley very uncomfortable. She suddenly had a bad feeling in her stomach, a feeling that this mission was going to get a whole lot worse and plunge her into the mysterious underbelly of ONI's secrets.

       Before she could ask, Colonel Anderson suddenly spoke. "Lieutenant, welcome to Juan-Rodriguez." His voice was almost cheery, as if he reveled in the feeling of misery and pain. "This is ostensibly a military outpost, in reality a prison, and is the last Goddamn place you want to be in the galaxy."

Entrapment: Part 2
Date: 6 August 2004, 11:35 PM

0215 Hours, September 24, 2533 (Military Calendar)/
Plant Farrius V, Gamma-Onagus System

       The elevator at last stopped at what Shirley could only assume was the bottom floor of the facility. The trip from the top to the bottom had taken an unusually long amount of time. She must have underestimated the size of the prison she was in.

       Shirley stepped off the lift and followed Colonel Anderson, who was walking briskly down the hall. His walk seemed to suggest he was confident and eager as to whatever lay ahead. Shirley noticed with some discomfort that the their two-man escort, that had been with them since their shuttlecraft had landed, did not follow them and instead rode the elevator back up. She suddenly wished desperately she was going with them.

       Colonel Anderson stopped wheeled around on his heel to face a door with such abruptness Shirley nearly knocked into him. The door had a grim-looking guard with an rifle that was not safetied. Anderson slipped a keycard through a slit to the right of the door and it opened with a soft hiss.

       Inside was a hole of a room. It was freezing, it was dark, and cramped. It had the stench of vomit, excrement, and urine, but also the faint but certainly detectable smell of blood. In the middle of the small room was a rotting wooden table and a man seated at the far end. The man was filthy and inadequately clothed for the temperature of the building. His face was covered in grime, but Shirley could nevertheless tell the man was not handsome, but nor was he ugly. He was of medium build and medium height. Everything about him was average and seemingly unforgettable, but she somehow felt awed in his presence.

       The Colonel pulled a chair from the side of the room and placed it on the opposite end of the table. Shirley was left to stand.

       "Ah!" the man said with feigned friendliness. "My old friend."

       "Captain," Anderson acknowledged with a nod. "Why are you here, Tom? Fell into a hole and didn't like what was at the bottom?"

       "Why are you here, Anderson?" the man returned without answering. "I'm a dead man walking, so this seems to be waste of your talents."

       "But Tom! This is where I am most talented."

       Shirley leaned up against the wall, watching all of this in silence and confusion. She felt superfluous and out-of-place. She had no idea what was going on and neither men so much as acknowledged her existence. She was incredibly uneasy, however, for the Colonel's disposition was highly unusual. It kept her on edge with the feeling that at any second the seemingly friendly conversation would violently explode.

       "I've got nothing to say," the man called Tom said.

       "Everyone's got something to say, old friend," Anderson returned. "It's the just matter of getting it out of them." He placed his elbows on the table and pushed his face closer to Tom's. "Tell me what you saw, Tom. Tell me what you were told."

       "I've got nothing to say," he repeated laconically.

       Anderson nodded to himself and leaned back in his chair. With seeming absent-mindlessness took out a pistol from his belt and placed in to the table. His index finger tapped gently on the hilt. "I see," he said in a light tone, as if he had done nothing.

       Shirley almost smiled with relief. This was more like the Colonel Anderson she knew. Intimidation was the Colonel's expertise.

       Tom looked at the gun on the table, but did not seemed to be bothered by it. "You gonna shoot me, Colonel?" he asked in a steady voice that did not quiver.

       "What do you think, Tom?" Anderson asked. His tone had still changed from his uncharacteristic lightness.

       "I think that I'm dead no matter what I say or do," Tom said, a hint of anger now rising in his voice. "I think that what I saw or heard is unimportant. All you care about is who told me and how I know what I know." He rubbed his eyes tiredly. "You think I'm a total fucking idiot, Colonel?"

       "I think you misunderstand the situation," Anderson replied. "Think about it logically. You've got a better chance of survival if you just tell me everything you know. You either die right now, or you die in a couple of years... or not at all."

       "Forgive me if my faith in the system is limited," Tom said sarcastically, "but I can't say I believe you. I refuse to condemn my contacts to the same fate I must now face because of a misplaced trust in your damnable lies."

       Shirley was amazed. This Tom certainly seemed to know Anderson, and yet he was openly criticizing and belittling him. Shirley now knew why she was awed in his presence. This man was braver than any war hero that had ever existed.

       In contrast to his regular behavior, Anderson did not seem to be in the least irked by Tom's comments. "Oh, come on, Tom," he said, now twirling his pistol around on the table. "We're fighting a war against a vastly superior enemy and you're defending traitors to the UNSC. Ten million have died so far, and you're one man. We must make sacrifices for the greater cause, and you and the lives of the men and women you dealt with are those sacrifices."

       "Correct me if I'm wrong, Colonel," Tom said quietly, "but was that not the maxim of the Soviets? Of the Koslovic Regime?"

       Anderson ignored the comment. "You would do well to heed my advice, friend," he said, dropping the light tone and any other emotion in his voice. "Tell me: is this your final decision?"

       Tom lowered his head and his necked quivered ever so slightly as if he was silently wording a prayer. Shirley was sure he was going to give in, but when he raised his head, his face was as defiant as ever. "It is." He was resigned to his fate.

       "You always were stubborn," he said with a hint of fondness in his voice. Then he raised the gun on the table and fired.

       Tom's head exploded. A massive burst of blood drenched the cement wall behind him, speckled with darker bits of brain. The chair teetered on its back two legs, and at last fell to the ground. Tom's face, now staring up at the ceiling, looked calm and defiant even in death.

       Anderson stood up wordless and walked through the door. He looked at the guard and gave him a slight nod. Then he turned to Shirley. "Come with me Lieutenant."

       Shirley was not in so much shock that she did not obey the Colonel, but she did hesitate. She gawked for a moment at the gaping hole in Tom's forehead and his peaceful face. She then wiped a speck of blood from her chin and turned to follow her commander from the room that had just changed her life forever.

Entrapment: Part 3
Date: 6 August 2004, 11:37 PM

0230 Hours, September 24, 2533 (Military Calendar)/
Plant Farrius V, Gamma-Onagus System

       "Take a seat," Anderson said to Shirley, gesturing to a cold, metal chair at the table. Shirley sat down.

       For a fleeting second, Shirley had the ridiculous idea that the Colonel would shoot her too. Anderson had taken her silently to this room, not twenty meters from where Tom had been murdered. Maybe she had seen something she wasn't supposed to. Her instincts screamed at her to get up and run as far away as possible, but her senses kept her planted to the hard surface of the chair.

       Anderson took a seat opposite her. He looked at her with a faint smirk but didn't say a word. Anderson was the master at psychological games, and right now it was working its miracles on Shirley's confused mind. She couldn't take it anymore. "What the hell just happened here, sir?" she blurted out, her fear of Anderson's reprisal momentarily forgotten.

       "Oh, our dear captain back there found out something about us that he shouldn't have," he said. "But let me tell you something. I'm going to tell you exactly what he died for right now... if you're willing."

       This was all a little too much too fast for Shirley. "Sir, I want some answers. I saw you murder a man..."

       Anderson slammed the table with his fist. So sudden and forceful was this movement that Shirley jumped in her seat. "Don't be so Goddamned naive, Lieutenant! It pisses me off to see you rookies! You all turn out the same." He rubbed his temples, gave a small, relaxing sigh, then continued. "Okay, I'll tell you everything you want to know about Tom."

       "How long has he been here?" Shirley asked.

       "Truth be told, I don't know exactly. The last time I saw him was four years ago on the Karzen missions. The incident happened shortly after."

       Four years. Four Goddamn years in the freezing shithole. Shirley couldn't imagine it. She strained to understand how Tom had been so relaxed and mentally stable.

       "He was not tortured, if that's what you're thinking," Anderson added without invitation. "At least not in the way you're thinking."

       Shirley did not really want to know what the Colonel meant by this, so she didn't ask. She did, however, want to know what would condemn a man to imprisonment in an icy, inhospitable world such as this. What did a man have to know to make him so dangerous that he had to be placed in a facility that did not exist? The knowledge that Anderson would tell her everything she wanted to know was too tempting to resist. "What did Tom know, sir?"

       Anderson smirked. "Yes, there's the reason you're here. There's that itch, the insatiable lust for knowledge you crave, even though you know what it means for you." Anderson paused a moment to see if she would refute this, but she continued to stare stonily ahead, her face pale but resolved. "I would like to tell you the full extent of what he knew, but I'm afraid those bastards in the administration are uneasy enough as it is, so I will tell you what I can.

       "As you know, an alien species called the "Covenant" have effectively declared war on humanity. Admiral Cole, of course, defeated their fleet at Harvest two years ago. I assume you know the real figures?" Shirley gave a brief nod. The real numbers conflicted heavily with the propaganda reports of the media. An opponent of only a third of their numbers had eradicated half of the human fleet. "Well then, you know it is a sensitive time for us? You know we cannot have any leaks to the people? It could cause a calamity in the colonies."

       "You killed that man because he knew the real statistics?" Shirley asked, appalled by the prospect.

       "No, for Christ's sake!" Anderson boomed, highly irritated at being interrupted. He wordlessly slid a datapad down to table to Shirley.

       The datapad was very small and displayed a picture of seemingly no relevance. It showed a picture of space, obviously taken from a ship or space station, and a number of stars. One particularly bright star was circled in red to show some sort of significance. The date at the bottom was the 21st of June, 2519.

       Shirley did not want to sound stupid by asking what she was supposed to be saying, but it occurred to her that she couldn't possibly know what the picture was showing unless she was told. She would not be made a fool of any longer. "What am I supposed to be looking at, sir?" she asked, lowering her tone of stiff respect a little.

       "This is a picture taken from the UNSC Glory about four and a half billion kilometers from Chi Cheti IV," the Colonel explained. "The figure you see circled was less than one million kilometers away from the frigate. Sensors from the Glory picked up an unknown frequency emanating from the area of the light source. Those frequencies have now been matched to those of the Covenant ships at Harvest."

       It took only a moment for Shirley to absorb all that had been said. She looked at the datapad once more. 2519...

       "You knew..." she began.

       "Of course we knew, lieutenant," Anderson said with a grunt. "You didn't think we were totally fucking incompetent? And this is only visual confirmation. We've been intercepting alien transmissions for almost one hundred years!" Anderson stood up and walked slowly around the room. "You understand, this cannot come out. It would... be bad for us. We cannot let such harmful information to fall into the hands of a blundering military man."

       Shirley thought, suddenly, of Tom's composed, educated face, his grim resolve just before Anderson ended his life. He did not seem the blundering military type to her. But Anderson had worked his magic on her; she offered no resistance. "I understand."

       "Good," he said gruffly. With a quick, sudden move, he thrust his face into Shirley's. He placed his large hands firmly on the arm rests of her chair. "Now understand this. You're life has just changed. You now know a secret that could cause havoc for millions... billions. With that power comes sacrifices. You may not speak with anyone about anything without my consent. You may not see your friends nor family. Shirley Steeves will cease to exist." Anderson allowed a brief pause for Shirley to comprehend fully what was going on. "Do you agree to comply with what has been said?"

       And that is why I am here, Shirley thought dismally. I have no choice but to concede. I have seen what ONI does, and I have learned their secrets. If I say no I will never leave here alive. It was then that she understood the simple brutality of Anderson's mind. But with such a Neanderthal mentality, she reasoned, would not be effective on all those brought in here, appalled by the true nature of the government they had dedicated their lives to. "Yes, there's the reason you're here" Anderson had said. "There's that itch, the insatiable lust for knowledge you crave, even though you know what it means for you." Was that enough? Was the Colonel's psychological profiling enough to guarantee ONI's discreetness?

       For Shirley, it was. She realized that now. She realized that this was the life she chose, despite some consequences being forced upon her. Anderson was right; her thirst for knowledge was insatiable, and her life up until now had to be sacrificed to quench that thirst. "I agree to your terms, Colonel," she said coolly.

       Anderson nodded to himself. There was no hint of triumph on his hard face, but neither was there surprise. Everything was happening exactly as it should. "Follow me, lieutenant," he said, and walked out of the door.

       Shirley followed her commander once more. As she did, she remembered what the Colonel said earlier. "It pisses me off to see you rookies! You all turn out the same." Was that her fate? Was she destined to become like Anderson, a cold killer who could view human life as nothing more than a hindrance to a greater cause?

       More importantly, did she care?