Everything In Threes - The MARINER Directive
Posted By: CaptainRaspberry<firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date: 26 August 2010, 10:19 pm
2. Everything In Threes
2316 Hours, 18 July 2544 (Military Calendar)/
Tropicas, Pearl -- secure location
Upon his return, Malcolm-059 had reported his findings to the colonel. She dismissed him, sending him for food and sack time. He had undone his armor with the help of the local techs, stored it in secure bins -- even surrounded by Marines, Section Three didn't want his equipment accessed by unauthorized personnel -- and fallen asleep. Not two hours later, he found himself awoken by a staff sergeant and told to report for debriefing.
This has to be a mistake, he thought. I was already debriefed by Colonel Havis.
Still, he didn't object. It was possible that a committee wanted to review the data he submitted and required his personal input. That was known to happen.
It was not the case now, however. He was led into a small room, featureless except for a table and two chairs. A man in a black uniform sat before him, no name or rank identifiers except for a matching logo on his sleeves.
Malcolm automatically saluted. Only officers were allowed to wear the operative uniform of the Office of Naval Intelligence.
The man returned it. "That will be all, sergeant," he said to the escorting Marine. He left shortly. "Have a seat, Zero-Five-Nine."
As the Spartan eased himself onto the metal chair, it gave a short squeal of protest. He was reminded of disembarking from the Pelican earlier; it seemed not even unarmored could he avoid being a burden to furniture.
"My name is Lieutenant Sanforth," the operative continued. "I act as a liaison with Section Three, Beta-Five Division. I was asked by my superiors to review the data you submitted after your mission, and I've come to speak with you as a result of my analysis. Do you follow me?"
"Are you aware of Beta-Five?"
"Few are, and after you leave this room, you will pretend to the rest of the galaxy that you're not one of them. Everything we are about to discuss is considered classified, level Black. You won't mention a word from here to anyone. Not your superiors, not the guy who pours your coffee, not even to your fellow Spartans. Understand?"
The lieutenant slid a data pad across the table towards Malcolm, gesturing at it. The Spartan picked it up: it displayed a still frame from his surveillance video, the four shapes as they moved through the smoke, caught in an instant where their olive armor and orange visors were plain to see. He wanted to ask the obvious question, but he checked himself. The liaison wasn't here to satisfy the Spartan's curiosity.
"Do you recognize those individuals, Zero-Five-Nine?"
"You've never seen them before, encountered them prior to the Scarab crashing?"
Prior to when they crashed it? "No sir."
"Why didn't you pursue them after you caught sight of them?"
"Sir." That was a strange question. "My mission was recon only, not recon and recovery. I had also not been made aware of another Spartan team on Pearl, or that my mission was simultaneous with theirs. Had I remained or attempted pursuit, my own objective would have been compromised." There. He had gotten the idea out in the open. Not that anyone with any level of familiarity with the SPARTAN-II program wouldn't have made the connection, but now he only needed confirmation that they were what he thought.
Sanforth maintained eye contact. "You think they're Spartans, Zero-Five-Nine?" he asked at length.
"Well, you're half-right. And we never expected them to be on Pearl, either. They have their own objective to secure, and they were given" -- he hesitated, seeming at a loss for words -- "considerable leeway as to how they wanted to proceed. Still, my superiors have been concerned over their progress and want a status report. Until now we've been unable to contact them, and they're still operating in radio silence. We need you to rendezvous with them and report back what you find."
"What about my mission?"
"Your objective to stop the Covenant's progress is still primary, Spartan, but I'll need you to get in contact with them before you proceed. We're having a special high-power transceiver installed in your armor so you can radio me as soon as you have the information I need."
The lieutenant made no move to dismiss Malcolm. They sat a moment longer, staring each other down.
"You have a question for me, Zero-Five-Nine."
"Sir... who are they?"
"Their designation is Team Echo."
Echo. Malcolm fought to keep the shock off his face. His Spartans -- his brothers -- operated in teams with color-based designations: Red, Blue, Green, etc. More to the point, they were variable, changing based on situational requirements; the only two that were permanently assigned were Gray and Black, both of which were special operations.
But this new piece of information, no matter how insignificant it must have seemed to the lieutenant, was a treasure trove of intel for Malcolm. In fact, it brought an end to the speculation the Spartans endured whenever left alone for a long enough time: were there more of them out in the galaxy? Was there a second class of Spartans?
This was a definitive yes.
2325 Hours, 18 July 2544 (Military Calendar)/
Tropicas, Pearl -- Main Battle Line Command Center
"Lieutenant Sanforth" dismissed SPARTAN-059 with instructions to contact him after his newest objective was complete, using the keyword MARINER -- the lieutenant's Beta-5 codename.
After he was gone, Seamus stood and stretched. His muscles were aching and his brain felt heavy inside his skull: he had been, until just a few hours ago, several dozen lightyears away attending to a different matter entirely. With SPARTAN-III Beta Company performing so well out in the field, his superiors -- Colonel Ackerson in particular -- were eager to begin work on a third class. Seamus was involved with selecting candidates for the new Gamma Company when he received encrypted orders to come to Pearl and deal with a "potential leak."
He didn't realize the leak involved a missing team of Spartans.
The hallway was empty. Seamus made his way towards the top of the building, passing through the command center. No one stood in his way, only a few staring at his uniform. At last he found himself in an observation room looking out over the city. If one could ignore the columns of smoke and distant flashes of combat, it was a serene view.
His thoughts drifted back to Malcolm, and he clicked his teeth. From his briefing, the SPARTAN-IIs were a tragedy. Children, kidnapped from their homes and families, conscripted at the age of six to become the ultimate tool against the insurrections. At least the Spartans he was concerned with -- the Threes -- had been orphans. There was nowhere left for them to go.
The COM bud surgically planted behind his left ear chimed. Conway reached up and gave it a squeeze. "MARINER, go ahead."
"This is COALMINER. Secure channel alpha-alpha-niner."
Conway's neural interface buzzed. "Roger that, secure. Go ahead."
"Has contact been made?"
"Affirmative. I have confirmed that the subjects witnessed by Sierra Zero-Five-Nine are Team Echo. All four were visibly recorded. I've tasked the Two to get me a progress report."
"Can he be trusted?"
"Section Three trusted him to disrupt the Covenant presence here on Pearl. That's enough for now."
A pause. Conway wasn't sure if his contact was thinking it over, or if the Slipspace COM buoy was malfunctioning. "That's acceptable. Wetwork on Spartans never goes smoothly anyway."
"Have you taken care of the recorded data?"
Conway reflexively put his hand in his pocket, feeling the smart-chip inside. "Please," he said, not bothering to hide his disdain. "I may only have been doing this for two years, but I was with ONI before that. I know how to secure data."
"Need I remind you, Captain, your role of liaison extends to the operation as a whole. This is only a fraction of the matter that requires your attention."
"Yes sir, I understand." He pulled his hand out of his pocket and massaged his temple. He was going to be jet-lagging hard over the next couple of days. "So long as the Covenant can't break Tropicas, our excavation in Roland should be secure... so long as they don't breach Hotel-One-Alpha. I haven't had time to catch up with the official Section Three on-site director yet."
"Understood. Keep me in the loop, MARINER. COALMINER out."
0643 Hours, 19 July 2544 (Military Calendar)/
Pearl -- Covenant perimeter, Target Hotel-One-Alpha
Pale morning light was scything through the trees, prompting Malcolm to disengage his nightvision. There were few mountain ranges on Pearl -- a general lack of overt volcanic activity helped spur on the planet's reputation as an ice ball, not to mention larger tectonic plates than Earth which led to less buckling. Early scans had revealed the planet's crust was shot through with deposits of silicon, making the crust brittle and allowing the planet to release its core heat in low, inobstrusive geothermal vents.
None of this particularly mattered to Malcolm, except for the fact that no mountains meant no shadow to hide in. The newly-risen sun shone directly on him. In addition, the forest around him was waking up, and his motion tracker was being flooded with phantom signals: birds flitting from tree to tree, small rodents darting about underfoot. He keyed down its sensitivity, all the while cursing the need to do so. At its highest sensitivity, ONI boasted the latest software/hardware combination could detect fast-moving cloaked Elites. Malcolm didn't want to test it, but a part of him was eager to find out if they were right.
He was a little less than half a klick from the edge of the forest, where old Colonial Authority teams had made a large clearing to access the geothermal vent below -- where the Covenant currently made their home. This was also the general area where he had seen the other Spartans flee, disappearing into the brush.
This was not a reconnaissance patrol like last time. He was carrying an MA5B, an M7, and several grenades. After he made contact, his orders were to continue to his primary objective: stall the Covenant from accessing the geothermal vents.
Honestly, he thought to himself, Team Echo had already done a fantastic job. Without a Scarab, the Covenant's digging efforts were significantly damaged. He reminded himself that there was still another stomping around, and they'd likely be on higher alert.
Malcolm kept up his steady, quiet pace, keeping an eye on his motion tracker. No contacts. He swept his eyes back and forth across his path as he moved, carefully absorbing every detail. When a leaf moved, he was careful to make sure other leaves along the same vector did the same; otherwise, he was dealing with more than a gust of wind.
When the strike came, his only warning was a flash of green lights at the bottom of his visor. The communications channel was briefly alive with activity.
Two shapes seemed to come out of nowhere ahead of him. They moved fast, but the split-second alert provided by his COM system had been enough: Malcolm lashed out, getting a punch in below a golden visor, hitting his aggressor in the throat. The other had a combat knife drawn and brought it down in a stabbing motion; the force of the blow was enough for Malcolm to feel it, but it didn't penetrate his MJOLNIR armor.
Malcolm caught the other's arm and pulled, slamming his opponent to the ground. He held his grip, taking stock: whatever armor these Spartans were wearing, he could tell it was nothing he had ever seen. It captured environmental patterns from all around them and displayed them in a strange version of chameleon camouflage. His own gauntlet's color was currently being copied by the armor around his target's neck.
Other than that, he was struck by their size. All the SPARTAN-IIs, as a result of their modifications and ideal genetic profile, were in the neighborhood of seven feet tall; these Spartans were considerably less than that, about average height, if not shorter.
A shot rang out and the dirt by Malcolm puffed. His head snapped up to find two shapes in the trees above him. Like the two on the ground, they hadn't set off his motion detector. Both clutched weapons -- MA5K carbines, if he was correct.
"Get up slowly," said one, "and put your hands on the top of your head. No sudden moves."
Malcolm wondered if their response time was as good as his. He decided it wasn't worth testing right now. He did as directed, careful not to make it look like he was going for a weapon. His rifle was still secure on his back and the submachine gun on his hip.
The one below him got up and helped the other he had neutralized, who appeared shaky at first.
In the trees, the other spoke. A high voice, probably female. "Who are you?"
Malcolm looked directly at her. She was definitely smaller than any Spartan he had ever seen. "Petty Officer SPARTAN Zero-Five-Nine. And you?"
She hesitated slightly, the barrel of her weapon wavering. Her helmet twitched to one side briefly; Malcolm could only assume they were carrying on a conversation that he couldn't hear. He tongued the contact inside his helmet to cycle through radio frequencies, but couldn't pick anything up.
After a moment, her attention seemed to zero in on him again. "What are you doing here?"
"I'm on a mission from ONI," he replied. "The Covenant are accessing the geothermal vent nearby. I was sent in to disrupt their operations, whether they're trying to tunnel under Tropicas or just utilize the source of power."
One of the ones on the ground slapped the other on the shoulder, who shrugged off the blow. In the trees, the female Spartan continued regarding him. Their helmets were different than his, not with a linear visor and overhang. Theirs were more rounded and dull, less likely to catch light and offer a greater range of visibility, particularly overhead. Combined with their choice of armament, an Army-issue carbine, it wasn't likely that they were part of the normal Naval Special Weapons division.
Were they really Spartans?
At length, the female dropped out of the tree and attached her carbine to her back. The camouflage pattern vanished, revealing a very familiar shade of olive in a marginally recognizable shape. It was more streamlined than his Mark IV; he could only assume, given their kit, that they weren't meant to be seen.
"Chief Warrant Officer SPARTAN Beta-Zero-Two-Nine," she said, extending her hand. Malcolm took it. "You can just call me Raquel." She indicated the Spartans behind her. "That's Charlie One-Four-Nine, Benjamin Two-Five-Seven, and Sofija Two-Nine-Five. We're Team Echo."
They each shook his hand one by one. "Malcolm," he replied.
"First time I've ever seen a Two," Sofija said as she disengaged her greeting.
Too much of this information didn't add up for Malcolm. Their voices were in the higher ranges, adolescent, even prepubescent. Furthermore, their designations were wrong based on what he knew: there had been less than two hundred initial candidates for SPARTAN-II, so their numbers could only be as high as 150; and he wasn't sure what the Beta could mean. Plus the tone of Sofija's comment...
A chill ran up his spine.
"Who are you, exactly?"
Raquel cocked her head to the side. "We're Beta Company," she said. "Spartan Three."