The Making of a Man
Posted By: Al7eredBeasT<firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date: 1 December 2006, 4:36 pm
May 13th 2502
Sol Sector, Earth.
"Alpha juliett juliett 20114, what's your status? Over."
"This is juliett20114, in position and awaiting orders, sir."
"Good, the target should be coming into view in approximately one minute, be ready to take him out on sight."
"Aye aye sir."
"Good man. Wilhelm out."
The comm. Channel crackled and went silent. Corporal AJ Johnson reached to the belt around his waist and turned the device off. He was in a room viewing a main road in Sydney, Australia, and this particular mission was the highest priority. It had come straight from the top, right from the head of ONI Section Zero, and the orders were to assassinate a General who, according to the mission report, "knew too much."
Quite what "too much" was, he didn't question, that wasn't his place. His place was on the battlefield, to take orders and carry them out. To win. Winning was all that mattered, losing was not an option.
His partner, Sierra10582, sat with his back to the wall, a portable nav. Console in his lap, studying the screen intently.
"Come on you bastard
where are you
" Johnson muttered under his breath, one eye closed, the other staring hard down the scope of the gauss cannon out into the street.
The room around them was bare, the tiles on the floor were cracked, and the only furniture was a plain wooden table pushed up against the window to offer support for the gun. Outside the heat of the afternoon sun beat down on the population of Sydney, and streamed through the window, throwing the immediate area into a pool of brilliant light, whilst the rest of the dwelling lurked in shadow.
"He's coming. Get ready." Came the voice of Sierra10582.
Johnson tightened up his grip on the weapon and kept focused on the point at which their target's life would be ended.
The clock on Johnson's mission recorder read 14:49:12:07; the target was due any second now. A small bead of sweat formed on the mans temple and trickled, slowly, down to his collar.
"Target due in 10 seconds."
Johnson counted down in his head, and pulled the trigger.
"This is coming along nicely; those ONI fools won't even know what's hit them!"
"Once this gets out to the public then there's going to be panic, you do realise that?"
"Of course, but it will be a good diversion for them whilst I take control of their databases and learn all I need to know about just what sort of abominations they're cooking up."
"You still view the ones as freaks then?
"Of course I do! They would be good, normal marines if those scientists at ONI hadn't gone and messed with them. And what happened to them? Half of them are slavering, broken creatures kept in pens in one of their secret bases."
"What do you mean? From what I heard they were just crippled by the surgery that was performed on them?"
"Ha! That show's how much you know, I tell you, those boy's aren't crippled, hell, they aren't even still hu---"
Herzog exploded. His body parted at the waist and the top half of his torso was flung skyward, the bottom half of his body pushed down into his seat and he felt no more.
His companion, sitting in the seat next to him, was knocked to the side as blood coated everything in a sticky red paste. He screamed and then passed out, as the man he had been listening to moments before was blown skyward.
"Okay, time to bug out. Gather up the gear and let's get out of here fast, the media are gonna be all over this place soon."
Sierra stood up and began to quickly pack all their equipment. Johnson simply leant back and stared at a small spider slowly making its way across the dusty, grime covered ceiling. He didn't know if it was the right thing to have done, but orders were orders. Herzog was dead, the mission was complete.
Johnson and Sierra piled into a Warthog and drove into the centre of town, towards Sydney's massive Space Elevator that dominated the skyline. After the usual checks to make sure a person was ready to go into space, they boarded a shuttle and began the ascent up to the station high above. The station was situated just outside the atmosphere, where the mission report said they were to board a ship waiting in Dock 7. This would then make a quick jump and drop them on Mars, for debriefing.
At the top of the lift, they passed security easily, and then found their way to Dock 7. Johnson was nervous, this mission had been too easy, and something didn't seem right about the ease with which they were just walking away from the scene. The airlock behind them hissed shut, and a moment later another door in front of them slid silently open.
Johnson stepped forwards, and immediately knew he had made a mistake. He dived to the side, and the net meant to ensnare him clanged against the back wall of the lift. He brought himself to his knees behind a crate, and peered out into the open area before them. He looked to his right, and saw that Sierra had dived the opposite way, and was now also taking cover behind the door of the lift. In front of them were three dozen Orbital Drop Shock Troopers, or Helljumpers, arranged in a tight semi-circle, and behind them were several UNSC officers, standing silent. Amongst them were two ONI officials, talking amongst themselves quietly and pointing at a set of papers.
Damnit. Thought Johnson to himself, We've been stood up. Those ONI creeps never intended for us to get away with this.
Sierra glanced over at him, and he shook his head, the guards were too heavily armed to be taken on. Sierra sighed silently and looked back towards the ODST's, who were still pointing their rifles firmly at the two marines' positions.
One of the ONI operatives stepped forwards and began to speak.
"Alpha Juliett Juliett 20114 and Sierra10582, you are under arrest for the murder of Commander Herzog, at fourteen-fifty hours today. Surrender and give yourselves up now and we will ensure that your punishment is fair. Resist and we will be forced to use all force necessary to bring you in. You have no escape, give yourselves up. Anything you say can and will be used against you in the UNSC war court."
"You betrayed us! You gave us the orders to kill him!" Screamed Sierra, and broke out from cover, and ran towards the man, who was now walking back towards the ring of soldiers.
"Sierra stop! Stay back!" Yelled Johnson, but Sierra wasn't listening, he ran at the ONI operative and smashed into him, seconds later an audible crack resounded around the cavernous chamber as an ODST brought the butt of his rifle down on the back of Sierra's head.
He pitched forwards and lay motionless on the floor, and several more marines rushed forwards to secure his unconscious form. Johnson watched in horror from behind the crate, and then weighed his options up, if he resisted, he'd get a far worse punishment than if he surrendered
.but that meant losing. The marines in front weren't going anywhere, so Johnson made up his mind, and left his hiding place. He placed his hands in the air, and then let himself be tied and bundled into the security vessel waiting in Dock 7 in the place of their fictional escape ship.
Johnson and Sierra were herded onboard and then tied to the seats in the aft of the ship. Sierra was still out cold, and had been dragged in behind Johnson by two of the ODST's. His head was slumped against his chest and his breathing was laboured and heavy.
He moved his gaze away from Sierra's unconscious form and studied the inside of the ship they were in. The compartment they had been locked in was small, big enough for maybe five people, and had a medical bay embedded into the far wall. A set of three steps led up to a hatch on the wall to his left, leading to the main deck of the ship.
After testing the locks on the handcuffs holding him, he sat back and waited. Sierra was still slumped in his chair in the corner, and the only light came from the dim emergency lights that ran around the edge of the ceiling, bathing the bay in a dull red glow.
The only noise Johnson could hear was the low humming of machinery and the occasional, very faint whining moan of the engines as they changed direction.
After what seemed like an eternity, Johnson heard footsteps approaching the other side of the hatch, and a split second later, it hissed open, bathing the dull bay in harsh, brilliant light. Johnson squinted and looked away for a second as his eyes got used to the brightness, and then looked back towards the door. The ONI official they had seen in the Space Elevator was standing at the top of the steps, looking down at them, still clutching a wad of papers and a data packet, presumably from Sierra's mission log.
He noticed that the man had a pistol strapped to his belt, a sure sign that if things got ugly he would have no qualms about finishing their trial right here. The newcomer was, as far as Johnson could tell, in his middle 50's, and had black hair that was greying at the edges. His jaw was long and narrow, and he had a sinister, mouse-like look about him that made one automatically assume he was of the sneaky, backstabbing sort.
Perfect for an ONI spook. Johnson thought grimly.
After taking a brief glance around the room, first at Johnson, sitting, tied to the seating, and then at Sierra, still unconscious on the other side of the bay, he made his way slowly down the stairs and into the middle of the room. The door slid silently shut behind him, and the room was once again plunged into darkness.
"Lights, please." He muttered, and the lights in the bay flickered on. He turned to the medical table and pressed a switch on the wall to activate it, and it dropped down in front of him. He placed the files and the data packet on it, and then turned to Johnson.
"Not awake yet I see?" He nodded towards Sierra, and then shook his head slightly, before beginning to pace the length of the bay.
"Corporal Avery Johnson, you, and your comrade, are, as you are already aware, charged with the murder of Commander Herzog, which you committed several hours ago. I'm just here to clear up a few facts before we get to Reach, where you will be taken into custody and shall remain there until your trial, scheduled to occur in approximately three days time. You will, of course, get a lawyer and will be able to defend yourself adequately
Though I highly doubt you will get out of this one due to the insurmountable evidence that points to you having been the one to pull the trigger."
"Just get to the point. You ONI creeps set us both up for this one. You knew that when you gave us the mission you were going to nail us for it afterwards."
"I have no knowledge of that. No member of ONI would deliberately order the assassination of one of the UNSC's top military commanders."
"Well then you've got a lot to learn about your precious organisation then." Spat Johnson, and strained at the tethers around his wrists.
"Please don't struggle, you'll only hurt yourself if you continue. Anyway, as I was saying
You are both in very deep trouble, and at this moment we have the media crawling all over the case trying to get as much information on what exactly happened as possible. Thankfully, for your sake, we've not allowed them to get hold of your names or details, and everything regarding this case is so far held under strict supervision by my superiors."
Johnson let out a fake yawn, and then stared hard at the officer.
"So what's going to happen now?"
"Well, the two of you will be detained until your trial, then, depending on the outcome, I suspect one or both of you will be executed."
"We're being charged with treason?!"
"Yes, and that surprises you?"
Johnson looked at the deck plates and shook his head slowly, then back up at Sierra's unconscious form. The ONI creep was sifting through his papers, and plucked out a single sheet.
"What's that?" Johnson asked, nodding towards the paper.
"You'll find out. But we need your friend here to wake up first before I begin."
Johnson growled and stretched his leg out, and kicked Sierra in the shin.
"Hey you lazy fool, wake up!"
Sierra stayed motionless. The officer placed the paper back onto the table and opened the medical bays supplies cabinet. He found a stimulant that Johnson couldn't quite recognise, and stepped smartly over to Sierra.
"What are you going to do to him?" Johnson asked, suspicious.
"Just waking him up, we really can't waste any more time here."
The nameless officer injected Sierra with the medicine, and then stepped back to the table to clear up. He sat down opposite the two marines and studied them thoughtfully, his hands clasped underneath his chin, as both he and Johnson waited for the other man to regain consciousness. After a minute or so, Sierra let out a soft moan, and opened his eyes.
"Welcome back to the land of the living." Chimed the ONI official, and then reached over and picked up the paper he had selected previously.
What happened? Where are we?" Sierra asked Johnson, still groggy from his lengthy sleep.
"You're under arrest on the UNSC ship Swiftwind, and I am here to sort out a few things before we arrive at Reach where you will be placed under trial for the murder of Commander Herzog." Cut in the officer sitting calmly on the other side of the room.
Johnson glared at him and then settled back into his seat to listen to what the ONI creep had to say, Sierra did the same, albeit a little clumsily, obviously a side effect of the drugs used to wake him.
"As you two know you're under arrest for the murder of --"
"Just get to the point." Johnson cut in.
"Hm. Fine. As I was saying, you two are going to be placed under trial, and the punishment will be severe, there is no doubt about that. I can almost guarantee that you'll both be executed for what you've done, and there's not much I can do to stop that. However, one of my superiors may be able to help you, I received an encrypted transmission from him about a minute ago that you both might find interesting."
"Hurry up and tell us what it says, stop babbling about nothing."
It's a set of orders, from somewhere in Section Three. They want at least one of you to continue active service as punishment for your crime, and to be entered into a little secret. I can't tell you that now, but what I want from you is to know which of you is going to accept their fate and die."
"You can't be serious; we have to choose one of us to die?"
"Of course. The public and the rest of the UNSC's command want to see some form of serious punishment for your crime, and they're not going to settle for bribes and false promises like in the past. One of you has to go on trial and accept the punishment, the other we can get out of it and erase the record of your crime."
Johnson stared at the deck plates, Sierra sat and looked up at the ceiling, then they looked at each other, and in that moment, both knew what they had to do.
"Have you decided?"
" Said Sierra, "I'll go on trial."
"You're willing to potentially sacrifice yourself for your team-mates sake?"
"Of course I am. Johnson is ten times the man I'll ever be and the most rock solid marine you'll find this side of the galaxy, if anyone deserves to live, he does."
"Sierra, you sure about this?" Asked Johnson, concerned that in his weakened state, his friend was making a mistake.
"Yeah, you get out there and keep fighting, do it for me, alright? I'll accept whatever fate they throw at me, I can die easy knowing that you're still out there kicking ass. I'd be one hell of a lot worse if I knew we'd both be walking to the gallows at the same time."
Thank you. I won't forget this, ever."
"Don't worry about it; at least I get my five minutes of fame before I die!" Sierra grinned and winked, and Johnson couldn't resist a smile. Even in the face of death Sierra was still trying to be happy, even though in less than a week he could be nothing more than a casket of ashes. The ONI officer was shuffling his papers, and looked back up at them when they had stopped talking. He studied Johnson intently for a second, and then switched his gaze to Sierra.
"Very well, I shall inform my superiors that a decision has been made, and they will set the gears in motion. As soon as I leave this room, that's it, there are no changes. If this is your final decision and you're sure about it, then I'm going to leave, there's no sense in me staying in this cramped locker any longer now that I've got all the information I need."
He stood up, and walked to the door, taking his papers with him. The man turned and took one last look back at the two marines, then exhaled deeply and hit the door switch, and left.
Four hours later, Johnson felt the ship shudder and creak slightly as they entered the atmosphere of a planet. Reach. He remembered all the other past times he had been here, too many to count, as he had spent most of his childhood here, before being conscripted into a secret military project codenamed "ORION" and then sent out along with Sierra into active duty as a marine.
Reach was a huge planet, similar to Earth in both atmospheric conditions and life forms. The majority of the planet was covered in large swathes of pine forests. Mountain ranges soared into the skies and the oceans of the planet were, from space, still a startling blue. There were many cities dotted across the continents, but what made Reach special was that it was almost on Earth's doorstep, and was a treasure trove of natural resources needed to build and fuel the UNSC's growing navy, and became the largest and most important naval dockyard in the entire of the Human controlled space.
However, that wasn't why they were here. Reach was also home to an immense, fortified underground base known as CASTLE, in which ONI housed themselves, and where project ORION had been born, and developed into adulthood. Throughout his training, Johnson had been sent on missions into the mountainous terrain surrounding CASTLE, usually to tangle with various other marine platoons posted throughout the region.
After they had been press ganged into the ORION project, their lives had changed. The scientists at ONI had operated on them and performed tests on them, supposedly to help find cures for some of the as yet incurable diseases that still roamed the galaxy. Johnson suspected however, that their excuse was just that, an excuse to stop anyone knowing the real truth, which even Johnson didn't know.
Just why had they been experimented on? And for what purpose? Granted, both himself and the rest of those recruits were now stronger than before, and had improved reflexes and senses, but what else was there that they didn't know? Over half of the recruits had mysteriously died or been crippled during the process, but was that also just another excuse conjured up by ONI to hide the real truth?
The ship touched down in one of the spaceports on Reach, and Johnson and Sierra were herded from the compartment, still bound, and out into the back of an armoured Warthog. Two armed guards sat with them in the back of the vehicle, and the ONI officer that had come to talk to them got in the passenger seat. The sergeant that had knocked Sierra's lights out in the space elevator back on Earth started the jeep, and they began to trundle out of the port and onto one of the main speedways that criss-crossed the landscape. They headed for a city that was less than ten miles from CASTLE, and Johnson found himself recognising most of the terrain as they neared their destination. In the distance, the largest mountain on Reach stood tall and proud, stretching into the sky like a giant knife, dominating the skyline with its solid presence. CASTLE was hidden under it, after all, what better protection than thousands of tons of solid granite?
As soon as they arrived in the city, they were driven to the nearest prison, and thrown into a cell with a guard posted outside. After a few minutes of silence, Sierra piped up.
"Avery, you don't have to feel bad for me. It was my choice to come on the mission, and I took the risk. As I said, you're ten times the marine I'll ever be, so don't be bitter about my death, when it happens."
"If it happens."
"No, when. You know as well as I do that it's a question of when they decide to execute me. That trial is just to satisfy the public's appetite, we both know that they've already got the information and made their decision. That trial is gonna be a complete set up".
"I don't like it. I can't just let someone take my punishment."
"Johnson, listen, think about it. This is ONI we're talking about; they're not going to let either of us get off without any form of reprimand for what we did. I have this nasty feeling that they've got something big planned for you, and it's not gonna be pretty."
"Yeah I know what you mean. Still, I'll take it like a man. As long as I'm alive I can continue to fight for your honour and your name."
"I appreciate it, thank you."
The conversation died, and they both sat there in silence, in the half darkness, pondering their fates. Sierra looked grim, but the life hadn't disappeared from his eyes yet, Johnson could tell he still had the will to live, even though condemned to death.
A day passed, and still they were locked in their cell. Food and water had been brought to them at intervals throughout the day, and the sun was now beginning to swing low on the horizon. Suddenly they heard a 'hog pull up outside, and then the sound of several marines snapping to attention.
"At ease, men." They heard, through the grating near the ceiling.
After several moments footsteps were heard echoing down the hallway to their cell, and then they stopped outside the door. Someone tapped in a command on the prison control panel, and the door hissed to the side, revealing four armed marine sergeants and a smartly uniformed Captain.
"Corporal's Sierra and Johnson." The man spoke, but seemed to be addressing neither of them, simply confirming his thoughts out loud.
"I am Lord Hood. You two committed treason, and it's time for one of you to meet your maker. Sierra, come with us. Johnson, you come too, but stay in the jeep. You're wanted elsewhere."
Johnson and Sierra both snapped off crisp salutes, and followed two of the guards out into the hall where they were handcuffed again, and then prodded out of the prison and into another Warthog that looked remarkably similar to the one they had arrived in. They drove for several minutes, out into the country, and stopped next to the road. To their left was a clearing in the trees, and Hood took one look around, and then stepped out of the 'Hog. The marines removed the handcuffs from Johnson and Sierra, and then stood guard as the two men clambered out of the jeep.
"Sierra, you have been sentenced to death by the UNSCDF High Court, and as such here today you will be executed. Please stand in the centre of the clearing."
Sierra slowly trudged out across the snowy ground, and stopped in the middle of the open space. He looked back at Johnson, and nodded, then smiled. Johnson nodded back, and stood to attention, saluting him.
Sierra stood and waited. Just in front of Johnson, a camera was filming the event for ONI and UNSC records, and Lord Hood stood off to one side, and motioned the firing squad forwards. The four marines, who had been in the prison stepped into the clearing and raised their rifles in a salute, then took aim.
"Sierra10582, do you have any last requests?"
"Aye, sir. If you would, can you please tell Miss Halsey that I've always admired her, and please can you make sure that Johnson here does something useful with his life, instead of sitting around moping about me, sir?"
"Your request has been noted and shall be carried out accordingly. Farewell."
Sierra closed his eyes, and a split second later, knew no more.
The rifles report echoed through the trees, and Johnson stood there rigid as Sierra's lifeless form pitched forwards onto the frozen earth. Lord Hood listed out the time of death, and then halted the cameras recording. The marines saluted, and then began wrapping the corpse for transportation back to CASTLE. Hood moved back across the clearing to Johnson, and then stopped several feet away.
"Son, you can stop saluting now. He's gone."
"Yes sir." Johnson slowly dropped his hand down to his side.
Shouldn't be saying this
But I know what happened. I know you're both innocent, and I know that you were only carrying out orders. Let me just say, that I've noted it, and I will do my very best to make sure that one day your friend gets his true justice. As for you
I don't know what's going to happen now, but you're wanted at CASTLE, so you can either ride there with your friend's corpse in about an hour's time, or I'll drive you there now myself. What's it going to be marine?"
"Speak freely; right now I couldn't care less about formality."
Yes sir. I'd like to go there now; Standing out in this wilderness any longer is going to drive me insane."
Hood laughed, and nodded. "Alright, get in the jeep, let's get moving, we mustn't keep those ONI creeps waiting otherwise they'll get even more upset about things."
Johnson took one last, meaningful look back across the clearing to the body of his fallen comrade, then sighed, and got into the jeep. Inside his head, he vowed to find justice for his fallen friend; and that, one way or another
this was only just the beginning.