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Secrets Best Hidden - The MARINER Directive
Posted By: CaptainRaspberry<jptaber@gmail.com>
Date: 15 August 2010, 2:53 pm

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1. Secrets Best Hidden

1359 Hours, 2 February 2542 (Military Calendar)/
UNSC His Glittering Eye -- high orbit around Reach

The Office of Naval Intelligence was not the public's favorite organization, but even within the various departments of what everyone assumed was a shady, clandestine network, there were pariahs. Shane Conway was well aware of the stigma against his own kind: Section Two was spat upon by the directors, agents, and inter-office memos as a pointless drain on the budgets.

Conway was one of the worst offenders: a public affairs specialist. The purpose of his job was to lie to the public, make them think the Covenant's inexorable march through the inner colonies was no more than a brushfire conflict. At any point in time, he was falsifying victories in battles that never happened, standing over the shoulder of an artist as he "glorified" war photos. He was surprised the glares other ONI personnel were giving him hadn't burned through his uniform yet.

But it was a job, and not the front lines. It suited him fine.

Given his status as "official jackass," he also had been surprised when the order came for him to evacuate his cushy, secure office and report to a prowler in orbit. Maybe he had finally pissed off the wrong people? A blood-stain had slipped through, or the public had finally seen through his utter bullshit.

His escort, a thick-necked Marine armed with a Battle Rifle, waved at a door up ahead. "Inside," he said.

When do I get my cigarette and blindfold? Conway wanted to say it. Instead, he just nodded and stepped through the door as it automatically irised away.

The room was blank: no insignia or decoration. There was a square, black-polymer table with a reflective surface. It was flanked by two chairs, one of which was occupied. A man sat there, staring at Conway as the door shut behind him. Physically the man was unremarkable, but he had an aura. Despite himself, Conway felt sweat prickling on his neck.

"Sit down, Lieutenant," the man said. As he did so, Conway caught sight of the Army Colonel nova on his lapel. "Do you like your job?"

A million snappy comebacks dashed through Conway's mind, but he didn't dare let them out. He was intimidated by this colonel, this unknown quantity. He had seen some twentieth-century cartoons as part of his training, and though the physical resemblance to Snidely Whiplash was passing at best, there was still a sinister feeling hanging in the air.

This man was a back door and dark alley personified.

"Sir, yes sir."

The colonel regarded him, apparently unimpressed with the answer. "No, Lieutenant Conway, you don't."


"You don't like it at all," he continued. "It's unpatriotic and a waste of your otherwise cunning talents. In fact, I believe you have submitted dozens of complaints to that effect to the directors ever since you received your assignment to Section Two."

It was becoming unbearably hot under Conway's collar. He had never submitted a complaint before in his life. Making up lies on Reach meant not being deployed on other, more dangerous worlds. "Sir, I --"

The colonel put his hand on the table. Complaint forms materialized on the surface -- which Conway now understood to be a three-dimensional projector -- written and stamped as from his desk, replete with his signature at the bottom. Many of them.

"So, given your eagerness to contribute effectively to the war effort, you will be receiving a reassignment." The forms flickered and vanished, replaced by a single folder icon. It hovered directly in front of Conway, and was described underneath by only one line:


The colonel stood up. "Take your time reading it, Lieutenant, as this is the only time you will be allowed to view it before you reach your new destination. We'll be departing in two hours, and you should be in your cryo-tube by then."

Conway watched the colonel leave, stunned into silence. After the door had irised closed, he looked numbly back at the folder. With a wave of his hand, it opened, and he read the first line:

"Welcome to the Beta-5 Division. Your new codename is MARINER."

1039 Hours, 18 July 2544 (Military Calendar)/
Tropicas, Pearl -- three klicks from main battle line

Malcolm-059 watched the flurries of snow settle outside the Pelican dropship as it landed. The thump barely carried through his thick armor. He had read the planetary report on his way down: a near-Earth type world, it had required little terraforming to become habitable to humans. The only notable hardship was the climate, currently exiting its Ice Age, which had forced the colonists to adapt to the harsh environment.

From what he had seen during the Pelican's descent, they had done well. The city of Tropicas was less like a series of buildings and more like one large, interconnected structure. Walkways with retractable covers crossed between buildings like a cracked pane of glass, and the maps described an intricate series of tunnels below the surface. Most of the power came from geothermal vents nearby -- coincidentally, the reason why he was here.

He rose and stepped off the end of the troop-bay, noting the relaxing groan of steel as his considerable weight no longer stressed the dropship. Between his hyperdense musculature, reinforced skeleton, and his half-ton MJOLNIR Mark-IV armor, Malcolm wouldn't exactly be allowed into the featherweight division of the UNSC's boxing league.

The personnel dotting the landing pad gaped. Malcolm had become used to this reaction, though he noted with some disappointment that a lone Spartan didn't seem to attract the same degree of slack-jawed staring as a whole team.

He quickly scanned their uniforms until he had pinpointed the highest rank present: a gunnery sergeant with a crate of MREs clutched in his hands. Malcolm walked up and nodded. "I'm looking for Colonel Havis."

The sergeant pointed over his shoulder towards one of the skyways. "Next building over."

"Thank you, sergeant." Malcolm turned and moved off, magazines and other small items rattling on crates and tables as he passed. People moved quickly out of his way; he didn't blame them for being surprised, confused, maybe even pensive. Few people had heard of the top-secret SPARTAN program, and even fewer had had experiences with them. Malcolm was no longer fazed by their ignorance.

Rather, he was concerned. He had been diverted from his original deployment -- his team -- engaging the Covenant on the planet Miridem. It had been so last minute he only had time to say goodbye to Sheila-101 before he was hustled onto a Mako Corvette bound for Pearl.

Now here he was, alone. Spartans were never meant to be alone; maybe stranded, cut-off, derelict.

But never alone.

With a few more directions, he found himself in the battlefield command center. Unlike most other areas, the operations personnel didn't have time to gawk at the seven-foot-tall behemoth that just walked in. A few glanced up from their stations, but if they were surprised they didn't show it. They couldn't afford the distraction.

One woman, however, gestured impatiently to Malcolm. She looked old, but it could have been an effect of the unsightly burns on her face, probably caused by plasma. Though the skin around them was wrinkled and deformed, her eyes burned with an emerald and sage determination.

Malcolm saluted. "Sir! SPARTAN-Zero-Five-Nine, reporting for duty! Sir!"

Havis returned the salute. "Good to see you, soldier. How was your trip?"

"Sir, nothing to speak of, sir."

"At ease, Spartan, before you strain something." Malcolm relaxed his stance slightly, but maintained the proper posture. He was sure nobody could see through his gold-tinted visor, but opportunity didn't excuse misbehavior. His eyes remained locked forward.

"Were you briefed in transit?"

"No, sir. I only received a dossier containing planetary information and basic information on Covenant activity."

"Right," she growled, glancing at a nearby captain, who found something immediately more interesting to occupy his time. "Come over here, I'll fill you in." She led Malcolm to a nearby briefing table, already displaying a soft-light hologram of a real-time situation at the main battle line.

"Three klicks away, we're barely holding the Covenant back from the city limits. Given our supply situation and the daily loss of life, we're estimating full line dissolution by the end of the year. Maybe sooner, if you can't accomplish your mission."

The map changed. Suddenly, Malcolm was looking at a dig site -- a rather large dig site, judging by the scale hovering on the display. Covenant mining equipment was set up around the edges, with what appeared to be regular supply lines leading to the site. There was an obvious defensive ring, as well as several other structures that he had seen in the past and he identified as some manner of basic support. His orders usually were to blow things up, not figure out what they were for.

"At first," continued Havis, "we thought they were just trying to pull up some extra resources. This entire area is a geothermal hotspot. But when they set up camp, they demolished the power plant already there and started digging their own hole. Seems a little counterintuitive to an easy resource grab, huh?"

Malcolm said nothing.

"ONI now believes they're smashing up against us trying to get to Roland, a city six klicks north east of us. They've already attempted landings there, but the anti-air defenses have kept them out of arm's reach."

"What's in Roland, sir?"

The colonel pursed her lips. "Nothing I'm at liberty to discuss. Suffice to say, however, there may be other methods of access." She tapped the map, holograms shivering as her fingers passed through. "They'll be using the vents to try getting under us and reach their objective in Roland."

Malcolm studied the map. An infiltration mission, breaking through a heavily-defended Covenant position in order to sabotage their operations. He could understand that fewer numbers would draw less attention, but...

"Something on your mind, son?"

His head snapped to the colonel. She was looking at him. "Sir? Nothing, sir."

"I brought you here to do your job, which as I understand is damn tough. If you have any concerns, I want to hear them."

"Sir." He hesitated. "Why isn't the rest of my team here?"

Havis sighed and pulled lightly at her hair. Its growth seemed uneven; Malcolm wondered what the true extent of her scarring was. "Truth be told, Petty Officer, I requested the entirety of your team. You're the only one ONI was willing to spare."

That was unusual, but then again almost nothing about this mission made any sense. Spartans were almost never deployed alone: as much as they were walking tanks, they still relied on each other.

"I've taken up enough of your time, Spartan," she said, saluting. He returned it automatically. "Hit the armory, get kitted up, and be on the helipad in ten. You'll be inserted via Falcon about two klicks out from your target."

"Yes sir."

1843 Hours, 18 July 2544 (Military Calendar)/
Pearl -- Covenat perimeter, Target Hotel-One-Alpha

Malcolm quickly lost count of how many times he saw a Jackal patrol go by. He had been in his observation position for about six hours, undetected. On his back, a Hound-model radio interceptor hummed almost imperceptibly, a sensation he felt more than heard. This infiltration was strictly reconnaissance, and as such he had eschewed his normal choices of weaponry for a silenced M6 and a combat knife.

A wire ran from the transmitter on the Hound to the back of his helmet so he could listen in on the Covenant BattleNet. ONI's current translation protocols were atrocious, but they were better than nothing. Malcolm's ears were filled with unintelligible chatter with a gender-neutral voice attempting to translate. Early on he had considered just disconnecting it and letting it archive the aliens' communications for the spooks at ONI, but now he was starting to understand the tone of conversation, if nothing else.

There was a deep, baritone voice that resonated across the BattleNet, and whenever it sounded he could various responses. Likely a commanding officer. He double-checked that he was recording.

Far away on the other lip of the dig site, a Scarab walked across the edge, seeking a sloping path down to the point of interest. Malcolm had already seen a second one go down, heard its plasma drill firing. A few times in the war the Covenant had turned the titanic mining machines against human forces, wielding them as massive weapons platforms. Each time they had been difficult to kill. If his infiltration went wrong, the Spartan knew that they would be a tough obstacle to overcome.

Another Jackal patrol came by and stopped, apparently chatting. They faced away from him, sharing his observation of the Scarab as it began a cautious descent. The angle of the dig site walls was steep, indicating a fast dig. Whatever was under here, they were in a hurry to reach it. He checked his instinct to shoot the aliens, even though it would have been easy: a silent weapon, two targets close but not paying attention to each other; on any other day it would be an ideal assassination.

Instead he sat stock-still, head bowed slightly so the fading light had less of a chance to reflect on his visor and give away his position.

Something blinked.

Not daring to move, he searched with his eyes. The flickering motion came from inside his own helmet; status lights were winking on and off, burning green lights in the shadow of his post. For a moment he was confused and irritated. A malfunction here and now would be problematic. There was no way for him to do field repairs without alerting the two nearby sentries, and killing them would buy him only a few minutes. If he were to do anything, he'd have to wait for them to leave and then retreat to a safe distance.

It dawned on him that these status lights were coming from his communications channel. Not errors, but status lights meant for voiceless communication with his squad.

But they were worlds away.

He watched as the distant Scarab seemed to slip on its descent, port foreleg swinging wide from a step. A stream of smoke appeared to come from the offending limb, followed by a small explosion from the deck.

Malcolm activated his video recorder. The two Jackals were fully attentive on the distant spectacle now, and one unslung a beam rifle from its back. The Spartan silently drew his M6 and shot them both in the back of the head, then moved forward and took up the alien weapon. ONI's SmartLink software was still shaky on acquiring Covenant weapon signals, and he had to wait a full five seconds before it synced up.

He zoomed in on the Scarab, watching as the ponderous machine tipped and fell, more smoke trails billowing from the head and body. Covenant soldiers were converging on it, some with weapons and others carrying devices -- Malcolm presumed -- used for fire control.

Through the smoke and growing azure flames the Spartan picked out movement away from the downed vehicle. He reflexively tracked it and caught four shapes as they moved quickly through the smoke. They were hard to see; their profiles kept changing as they moved into the surrounding area, but for one brief moment there was a familiar shade of green and tinted orange visors.

Malcolm immediately dropped the alien weapon and retreated back the way he came. The Covenant would be on high alert now, and though most of the attention would be on the downed Scarab, it wouldn't be long before they started questioning why two sentries on the far approach weren't responding. He had to fall back to the Falcon and scrub this attempt.

As he moved, he couldn't shake the thought that plagued his mind.

There are more Spartans on Pearl.