Date: 10 January 2008, 11:56 pm
There was a stillness about the cool night air, a peacefulness as the ambient sounds of the night sang across the grounds. Linda remained immobile, loathe to disrupt that calm until necessary. For hours she had been in her position, alone. A spotter—normally a necessity for any regular human at such lengths of time—was something a Spartan could do without. In fact, Linda preferred it this way—alone.
From her position in the shrubbery Linda could see the mansion, about 300 meters away. It was an extravagant building, surrounded by neatly tended gardens lit brightly to show off their shrubbery and flowerbeds. The lights were a possible problem for the Spartans on standby, but Linda knew none of them were worrying. She wasn't.
For possibly the hundredth time since first seeing the mansion she shook her head—a minute movement. The mansion grounds were scarcely guarded, and nearly every room was visible through massive windows running the length of the wall. The whole building was an extravagance, an effort in arrogance.
Linda hated extravagance. She was Spartan in more ways than one.
Her target, however, was a wealthy man, and he relished showing it. He was intelligent, well-respected by the community for his philanthropy, and, most importantly, a benefactor of the United Rebel Front. For that, he had to die.
The Office of Naval Intelligence, working with local colonial authorities, had retrieved plans for the building and grounds, all belonging to one John Faulkner. Linda had read the file on him, all the details of his life, public and private. None of them were important, though, none but his face. She'd committed the false philanthropist's face to memory, every neatly-combed salt-and-pepper hair, his brandy-colored eyes. She'd memorized his face, and now she waited for him.
ONI had been eager to help the Spartans, about as eager as they were to be rid of Faulkner, and had been thorough in their collection and dissemination of information. They'd discovered that every evening without fail he had dinner overlooking the grounds from his stately dining room, the glass-walled room Linda saw before her. They even knew what he'd asked to have for dinner this night: the kitchen staff was told to prepare a steak and potato dinner, Linda saw, scrolling through the report on her HUD. They're eager to test our capabilities after all this training, all this money, Linda thought. The Spartans had already completed several missions successfully, and she knew this one wouldn't be any different. We—I—won't disappoint them.
After several minutes, servers began entering the dining room, as visible as every other room in the mansion. They placed dinnerware across the table—the URF's sponsor had company. She also noted that each plate had steak and mashed potatoes on it. ONI would be pleased their information was accurate.
Now Linda was completely focused, viewing the world through her scope. It would be only minutes now.
And then she saw him. He was a tall man, something that wasn't apparent from the images ONI provided, and moved with a certain dignity, one Linda instantly disliked. This man was a liar, a murderer, an insurrectionist. He was everything the Spartans were created to destroy, and yet he had the gall to act so proud.
Linda followed him with her scope as he leisurely walked to the head of the table, a woman and young boy following. The Spartan briefly remembered the report mentioning a family, but it wasn't important. It was simple, really. They were collateral, in the way. The man's death was worth more than their lives, and that was that. Lucky for them ONI didn't decide on a bombing, Linda thought.
The man neared the head of the table, pulling out the seat to his left for the woman before he sat down himself. The boy took the seat to the right of the man, and Linda sighed. He was directly between her and her target.
So be it, she thought, opening a comm channel for the first time in hours. "Control, firing," she said.
"Shooter, acknowledged," a voice replied. "Take."
Linda blinked. She recognized that voice. It belonged to one Petty Officer First Class A. Scott. The man had been an officer in the 10th Navy Sniper Group before becoming a trainer for the Spartans, reshuffled as an NCO under Mendez. He was the best, Mendez had said, and that that was all the Spartans needed to know. It was by luck they had even discovered his first initial.
He's not the best anymore, though, Linda thought, and almost smiled. Scott had made sure of that. Undoubtedly he'd been chosen specifically to evaluate his protégé.
Linda lined up a shot on the man, the boy still in the way. Looks a bit like his father, she thought idly. A bit like John. The boy's brown eyes and hair matched both, but neither the father nor his son had any of the toughness of the Spartan squad leader, she could tell. Life hadn't been as hard on either.
Through the midsection, Linda thought, refocusing, and her finger tightened on the S2 sniper rifle's trigger. Don't want to risk a headshot, no clear view. Linda was the best, and she and Scott both knew it. She wasn't going to foolishly risk a showy shot to impress her superiors, though. Two shots, to be sure.
For a long moment the Spartan watched the scene, and after several seconds, she felt her finger slackening.
Linda's nostrils flared beneath her helmet. She shouldn't be hesitating. The Spartans had been given the best marksman training by Petty Officer Scott and his snipers. This man's death wouldn't even be the first, and certainly not the last, and would bring the Insurrections one step closer to ending. The UNSC couldn't afford a two-front war against both the rebels and this new Covenant. Why was she hesitating? The man was scum, and deserved to die.
But did his son? Linda wondered, her thoughts turning to the boy. Would he, like his father, support the URF? Linda reflected on the mission to the Eridanus rebels' asteroid base, and all the lives lost there. She hadn't been bothered then, by her own kills or the massive loss of life due to their escape. They were all rebels, like this boy's father. But was the boy guilty by association?
"Shooter, confirm kill," Scott's disembodied voice repeated flatly.
"Control, firing," Linda said, her voice forceful. The Spartan imagined the petty officer sitting in a darkened room, head in his hands in disappointment. Her anger flared, but directed at herself rather than her trainer. Once again her finger tightened on the trigger, and with it came a tightening in her chest. The father deserved this, but did his son? Without his father, would he still follow in is footsteps?
Scott's voice came again, still without worry or confusion, and Linda was about to snap, to lose her professional cool, when the boy moved. He stood from his seat and approached the dining room door, opening it to reveal several well-dressed men. The Spartan felt a flood of relief at the strangers' arrival, but quickly clamped it down.
"Control, firing," Linda said for the final time, and she felt the trigger break.
Immediately, Linda knew a second shot wouldn't be necessary. The round entered through the full-length window and the man's head, shattering both. The latter exploded in a shower of brain matter and skull fragments, his life ripped from existence in an instance.
Linda knew he was dead, but she continued watching with a grim satisfaction. The woman was screaming, although the Spartan couldn't hear her, and the boy stood agape before the guests, tears streaming down his anguished face.
He'd be tougher for it, Linda thought. The corrupting influence of his father was gone, and maybe the boy wouldn't grow into an insurrectionist. But Linda doubted it. At least he had the chance to grow up different, though. At least he had the chance to grow up at all.
Linda took one last look at the scene: the headless corpse slumped amid its own gore, the hysterical woman, the shocked, heartbroken boy. It was moments like these that defined people, she knew, and this would shape the boy's life to come. Linda knew how it would shape him, however, and she regretted her charity.
"Control, confirmed kill," she said, an edge in her voice, all compassion for the boy suddenly gone.
She had given him a chance to be different, but he wouldn't take it. He would never see the wrong of his father, and follow in his footsteps out of blind loyalty. He had never really had a choice. The boy, like his father, would oppose the UNSC, and likewise die in his opposition.
"Congratulations, 058," Scott said, and Linda grinned despite it all. There was pride in Scott's voice, however slight, and Linda knew that her hesitation would never make the report. As the Spartan moved her legs for the first time in ages, she remembered the petty officer recounting his own first kill, remembered his own words. "I almost didn't take the shot," he had said. "After ten minutes of command asking for confirmation and some verbal abuse from my spotter, I came to my senses and realized what I had to do." She remembered him smiling. "I never let it happen again." Linda knew she wouldn't, either.
She had completed her first successful assassination, a flawless kill, and she had Scott's approval. She was sure Mendez and the other trainers would have been proud, too.
"Control, ready for extraction," she said, her voice a little warmer as she disassembled her rifle piece by piece.
Yes, they would have been proud.
Date: 25 July 2008, 1:45 am
"Control, this is Sierra Oh-nine-two. Objective Lima is in sight."
"Roger, Oh-nine-two," the anonymous voice of the Spartan control officer replied. "Proceed with care."
Jason grunted with derision. With care. No respect, no recognition, only some Academy kid who's never held a gun telling me to take care. He had, however, grown used to ONI's, and as a whole the UNSC's treatment of Spartans over the course of the war. They treated the Spartans like costly machines, but for now, Jason was content to be their weapon. There is a war going on, after all.
The Spartan sighed, and clicked open his comm. "Roger," he said, none of his vexation escaping through his voice. "Oh-nine-two out."
Jason patted his belt, making sure the storage matrix was still there, and dashed across the street, through the shattered front door of an abandoned apartment building. He clicked on his helmet spotlight and waded through the dark, cautious of the slightest sound. This part of the city had fallen weeks ago, all humans killed or evacuated. Scouts reported Covenant patrols still in the area, though, and that was a significant cause for worry. Especially considering what ONI had left behind.
The lobby of the building was already falling into a state of disrepair, a fine coating of dust covering ruined furniture and torn carpeting. Jason's eyes darted to the stairwell, but he dismissed that option. Too many angles of exposure, too many chances for an ambush.
Instead, Jason's eyes fell upon a set of lifts, their operating lights dim. Whenever a part of the city fell it was cut off from the main power grid, and there was no telling how reliable the backup generators were. He didn't intend to take the lift, however. He made his way swiftly to the stairwell, appearing as nothing but a discolored shadow in the dusk.
Sticking his fingers between the crack in the lift's door, Jason spread it open, and poked his head into an empty shaft. His spotlight swept through the darkness until he found what he was looking for: a maintenance ladder, off to the side.
The Spartan grabbed a rung and yanked, and satisfied it could hold his weight, mounted the ladder two rungs at a time. He brought up a map of the building on his HUD. Objective Lima, one of many ONI messes in need of cleanup in the ruins of the city, was conveniently only three stories up, no doubt by design.
Within moments, the Spartan had reached the floor. With a little effort he leaned from the ladder to the lift doorway, barely cracking it open. He stuck an optic probe through, receiving the image of a long hallway lined with doors. Its condition was a little better than the lobby—there was less dust, and most of the doors were intact. That's good, Jason thought. The objective should be untouched.
The Spartan withdrew the probe and replaced it in the proper pouch, when he heard a sound. At first it was a rustle and clatter, followed by an excited yipping. Shit
Jason checked his HUD again. Several contacts appeared on his motion tracker and the Spartan compared them in relation to the objective. He closed his eyes and sighed. He'd need to pass right by them. So much for an undetected grab.
The Spartan hung silently from the wall, unslingning his battle rifle one-handed and visually checking it over. Silencer and scope secure, magazine snug and full. Jason knew the weapon was fine, but the process cleared his mind. He'd have to be careful to get by the patrol. Checking the hallway once more, the Spartan made sure it was clear, and, once again slinging his rifle, pried the door open.
Keeping an eye on his motion tracker, Jason climbed through the lift door and into the hallway, weapon ready. He moved silently until he neared an open door, light pouring out, and as before slid his probe around the corner. Inside was a patrol of Grunts and Jackals, their attention focused on a representative of each species struggling over what looked like a blender.
Jason again checked his motion tracker. All traces picked up appeared to be coming from the one room. One grenade would have silenced the lot of them, maybe two, but an unresponsive patrol would bring unwanted attention, and ONI didn't know for sure how many Covenant were in this part of the city. Satisfied that he went unnoticed, the Spartan moved on, finally reaching his destination.
It was an ordinary door, like all the others except for the fact that it was mostly intact, and its keypad still glowed. Quickly punching in the combination, Jason slid inside. The room he entered, however, was far from as ordinary as the door.
Lights flicked on to reveal a comfortable-looking apartment, littered with computer and communications equipment, papers strewn across the floor, and several handguns conspicuously left on a coffee table.
"Greetings, Spartan Oh-nine-two," a female voice said from the air, and Jason smiled, turning to a tall ghostly figure of yellow light floating above the coffee table among glowing dust motes.
"Hello, Eta," he said, scanning the mess for anything important that may have been overlooked. He shook his head. "ONI sure left in a hurry."
"Indeed," the AI replied. "I've been able to clean up after my operators, and cleared all sensitive data, but there is still me here."
"That's why they sent me, Eta," Jason said, allowing some cheer to creep into his voice. "You've done well, regardless."
"Thank you, oh-nine-two," Eta replied, her hologram appearing noticeably brighter as the Spartan moved to her memory core, a long and low case of computing and storage equipment encased in a plain metal shell. "I've had little to do since soon after the evacuation, and I was beginning to worry I'd be left behind."
Jason slung his rifle and removed the data matrix from his belt. "Don't be," he replied. You're not just equipment, as much as ONI believes it. The Spartan plugged the matrix into the core's access slot, next to a small keypad, and prepped it for storage. His head whipped around, though, when Eta shouted a warning.
"Spartan, move!" she said, and without thinking, Jason dived to the floor and readied his battle rifle in one movement, a flash of green splashing into the core where he'd been moments before. At the doorway to the safehouse stood a Jackal and a pair of Grunts, the plasma pistols of each glowing. Jason fired a pair of quick bursts at the heads of the Grunts, sending brain matter and skull fragments flying. Too quick, though, the Jackal had covered itself with its shield and returned fire, forcing the Spartan behind a couch for cover.
Jason glanced up to see two more Grunts and another two Jackals spread out near the apartment's entry foyer, two shielded Jackals covering the Grunts and their unshielded comrade. The Spartan did a quick tally of the aliens he'd seen in the other apartment, and realized they were all there. Good, he thought. No surprises.
Jason slung his battle rifle for the silenced submachine gun on his hip, and once again popped his head out. The aliens fired into and above the couch, but the Spartan was already moving. Jason slid to the side of the couch, spraying fire below the coffee table at the unshielded legs of the Jackals and Grunts. One of the birdlike Jackals fell forwards with a shriek, and taking the advantage, Jason poured fire into the unguarded Grunts and unshielded Jackal, all three falling with squeals and shrieks of pain. The last Jackal covered its head with its shield and knelt, and the Spartan leapt forward, collapsing the Jackal's shield and skull with a pair of swift blows.
The whole encounter hadn't lasted a minute, and Jason rushed back to the core to check the damage. A smaller hologram of Eta appeared above the construction, frowning down at the Spartan.
"Dammit," Jason said under his breath. The data matrix, slot, and keypad were all fused into a mass of metal and plastic by the plasma round. There was no hope for saving Eta, Jason knew, not now. ONI's AI cores were designed for security, with only one hardpoint for data removal. It'd take several techs a few hours to crack it open and remove Eta safely.
Jason looked up to find the hologram still frowning, and switched his helmet's external speakers off.
"Control, this is Sierra Oh-nine-two," he said. "Enemy patrol down at objective Lima; package's core was damaged. There's no possibility for immediate extraction. Operational security is compromised." Jason knew the answer to his next question, but asked it anyways. "Will retrieval be possible at a later date?"
There was a pause, followed by the voice of Control. "Negative, Oh-nine-two. Initiate shutdown of the package."
"Control, I'll volunteer to return," Jason said, again glancing at Eta. She's not just equipment, he thought. Spartans take care of their own: marines, civvies, even AIs.
There was another pause, much shorter than the former. "Negative, Spartan." Jason bristled. From control's mouth the word sounded like an insult, lacking the kindness in Eta's voice. "Covenant have or will become aware of the package. Shut it down. Out."
Jason nodded stiffly to himself and rose, Eta's ghostly gaze following him. He switched his speakers back on. "I'm sorry, Eta," he said simply.
The AI nodded, as if to say it was alright. The frown, however, remained on her face.
Jason shook his head. It's not alright, but I still have to do it, he thought. "Eta, code file access Alpha-Foxtrot-48939."
"Acknowledged, Spartan. Fail-safe code verified." Eta's ghostly form flickered, and her glow began to dim. "Keep safe, Oh-nine-two."
Jason nodded grimly behind his helmet. Equipment
The Spartan removed a grenade from his belt, the device unnaturally heavy in his hand.
"I will, Eta. Thanks."