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First and Foremost
Posted By: Jadomaster<cornbreadhighway@adelphia.net>
Date: 14 September 2006, 6:10 am

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1236 hours, June 5, 2525 (Military Calendar)
Epsilon Eridani system, UNSC Training Center
Facility B-184, planet Reach.

Spartan-109, Alex, slapped a chunk of C-4 onto the building which he was hunkered next to. Bullets zipped overhead, thudding into the concrete above, and sending fragments of dust and debris flying into his face. He was nervous.

Spartan-104, Fred, fired off a few shots from his MA2-B and yelled at him to hurry up. Alex couldn't hear him over the rattle of gunfire and explosions. It was dark, but frequent flashes of light from bombs illuminated surroundings enough for Alex to see what he was trying to do without his headlight. He fumbled with the mess of wires and switches. He dropped them, picked them back up. A round pinged a meter to his right.

Fred hit him in the shoulder. "GET GOING!" He yelled as mortar fire erupted near them. Alex swallowed, and began again.

He was the best demolitions man his team had. Or he used to be. Alex was 14. Before the augmentation, he was the best. He could do any job, any time. Rig any explosion, anywhere. He used to be able to blow away stuff to the precision of a foot. But no more. The augmentation had left him... scattered. His body had come out fine, for the most part. Aside from uncontrollable spasms of violent twitching, that is.

As the twitching began to interfere with his normal functions, Alex's self-doubt began to grow. It was no longer just a physical problem. He was now unreliable, self-conscious, and unsure. It didn't help the situation at all.

They were in the middle of a jungle on some island, without air or ground support, in a large compound sort of like a prison camp. They were crouched next to the corner of a large building which happened to be where the enemies stored their provisions of food and ammo. It was pitch black, cold, and very, very dangerous.

Spartan-043, Will, dropped out of nowhere and next to them. Alex connected the charge.
"Ready!" he said, rolling up and around to join his comrades by the corner of the facility.
He knew it was just training, but training was yet another term used by the military to shield the reality. Like the word interrogation. This, in reality, meant torture. Training or not, he would be just as dead if he got slotted.

"GO!" Fred yelled, and they sprinted away from the building. They fired nonstop at the overwhelming number of targets, who were firing nonstop at them. Rounds chewed up the dirt floor around them. Alex saw everything in slow motion as he ran. It was like running a movie frame by frame. It gave him an edge. John's trainer had said it was just his heightened awareness from augmentation combined with adrenaline, combined with Alex's gift for it.

They dove down a foxhole, and Alex pressed the detonator. Everything became silent, and then a wave of heat and fire erupted towards them. Sound came, and a roar tore through the night. He tumbled down the stairs, cursing, as chunks of twisted metal and concrete reined down, crushing earth and flesh.

They got out of there. Fast. Alex flew forward as a massive block of building crashed behind them, cratering the earth. He landed hard on his head, it snapped downwards onto his chest, but he twisted onto his shoulder before he broke his neck. They got up, and kept going, fleeing into the simulated night.


Alex sat apart from the other Spartans, hanging back. He watched the others talk, laugh, play cards. They were all in a corner of the barracks at 3:30 AM enjoying the privacy and chance to get away from the trainers. A chance to say what they could not on the field.

He snuck a glance at Linda, who was also hanging back from the light of the single bare bulb. She was leaning back in a chair in the dark, arms folded across her chest. He could see her eyes glinting in the dark as their gazes met. He blushed, and looked down at his feet.

He knew he had feelings for her, but he always tried to ignore them. He wondered if she felt for him. He doubted it. They did have something in common, though. He and Linda could sit back, watch the others, and think the same thing. They looked at the others and wished they could be like them. That the mental scars of augmentation would go away. It was comforting to know someone else had your problems.

Alex looked up at Linda again. She met his gaze again. He wondered how she knew when he was looking at her. She gave him a challenging look. Buzz off, it said. So he went to polishing his MA2-B.

Zoning out of reality for awhile could help a lot. It saved him from a lot of grief. He could shut off his feelings, shut everything down and just sit. He knew Linda did it also. He knew that vacant stare of hers. He knew she saw it in him. That gave him comfort too.
So he did just that. He shut out the voices, the light, the pain, and zoned out.

He was jerked back into reality by Linda's voice. Alex blinked and looked around, disoriented, and then looked to her. She was sitting in the same place, but Fred was now behind her. He leaned down and whispered in her ear, brushing his lips on her cheek. She elbowed him.

"Cut it" he heard her growl. He smiled. Nobody noticed what was happening, they were so engrossed in discussion and word games. He kept listening to Fred, and tried to hear what he was saying.

"and then there's Alex." He heard Fred say to her. Alex couldn't make out the rest, as it was jumbled up in the others voices. But he didn't have to wait long. "What about Alex?" an unintelligible voice asked.

Fred called back. "He is not the type of person our squad can use anymore. He is not made for action. He can do the slow methodical stuff while we do the more swift termination."

Alex leaned back in his chair, pretending to be at ease. He was angry. It grew quieter, as more Spartans paused to listen. Fred had been chaffing him the whole week, and he wouldn't leave Linda alone. He was sick of it.

"Yeah, you kill everyone in sight and some of us think first." It was instantly silent. No-one moved, no-one spoke, except for Fred.

"And we have the complete clean mission record." Fred leered back.

"Yeah, because we clean all of your messes up. And get away from Linda. Now." Fred chuckled and turned to look at Alex with a mocking grin.

"You can't do anything else. You can't even shoot straight anymore."

Alex yanked Fred forward, and slammed his face into the side of his forearm with a crack. Fred took it with a grunt and tackled him, bodychecking him hard against the wall. Alex slammed his palm into Fred's rib cage, rocking him backwards, and driving the air out of his lungs. He launched a front kick at him, but Fred was now inside the arc of his foot, and past his defenses. He punched Alex, who couched flecks of blood up, but grabbed his vest and launched him into the table anyway. Fred landed hard on top of the table and chairs, wrecking them. He rammed both fists upwards as Alex crashed on top of him. Alex gagged. He needed to breathe, but he couldn't. He wrenched his arm around Fred's neck, and squeezed hard. Fred was hammering his sides the whole time, but he couldn't feel the pain anymore. He could only see his dead brothers broken body tumble from the augmentation tube. Blind rage forced him on, as he throttled Fred, tightening his hold like a vice.

Alex couldn't see anything anymore, just red. His strength failed and he hung limp as someone ripped him off of Fred. He was thrown onto the rough concrete floor and pinned there. The cool of his cheek against the floor brought Alex back. And he regretted being able to feel again as his face and sides pulsed with a dull hurt. Blood pooled around his face, and he guessed from the pain that he had a broken nose and a few missing teeth.

The Spartan took a few deep breaths (as best he could with the knee of some Spartan grinding into his back) and sucked up the pain.

"I'm good. Get off." The other Spartan got off. Alex pulled himself to his knees, and spit blood. He wiped his nose with his arm; it came away with dark red smears. He gingerly felt his nose, and decided that yes, it was very broken. He got to his feet, swayed a minute, and turned around.

"Don't do that again." Linda growled. He was taken aback at her ferocity. "But thanks anyway." She added, smiling slightly. She looked him up and down, and tossed him a can regeneration foam. Alex caught it while stepping around her to look down at Fred, who was sitting on the floor, wheezing.

"You all think just because you didn't come through augmentation with any scars that you're so cool. You think you're better than us. You have no idea what the word loss means." Alex laughed, bitterly. "Idiots." He walked off.


1416 hours, June 22, 2525 (Military Calendar)
Epsilon Eridani system, UNSC Training Center
Demolition strip, planet Reach.

Alex tensed, crouching in the dirt. Sweat trickled down his damp forehead as the 95 degree weather took its toll. The TDT, or Timed Demolition Track, was not made with shade in mind. Alex nervously checked his charge, wires, and thermal plastoid explosive, and rehearsed the run in his mind.
As soon as the light on the pole beside him turned green, he would run down the length of the track. As soon as he reached the target at the end, he would plant his explosives on a section marked by red spray-paint. (which he had to find) The explosives would detonate within five seconds. He had to estimate the amount of explosive correctly or he would be toast. Each time the target was something new. Pieces of discarded battleships or debris were hauled in, and used for training. After the detonation, he would run back to the pole and hit the BRB, or Big Red Button. Alex studied the target. It appeared to be a ripped off chunk of hallway from some ship. The blast doors were still in place, and he guessed that would be his target.

The light dinged, and turned green. Alex exploded from the starting line, Kelly following him close behind. Even though Alex was going his top speed, she easily kept up with him. He gave her a quick wave as the wind whipped past, and concentrated on pounding his legs up and down as fast as he could. A few Spartans watching from the side lines cheered. By the time he neared the target, he was almost horizontal.

Alex hurriedly skid to a stop beside the door, boots grating the dirt. He whipped around while gauging the size and strength of the door. The Spartan slapped a lump of TPA at the center, and a marble sized lump at the top.

Kelly watched him (from a good 10 meters away) furiously insert wires, connectors, and finally the activator. It beeped, and flashed red. Alex scrambled to the side, grabbed a handhold near the top of the shaft, and flipped up on top of it. He crouched down low, bracing himself. Kelly backed up another two meters, and wondered if Alex was just insane or if he really, really trusted his own judgment.

It was silent for 1.7 seconds as they all watched apprehensively, and then, with an anticlimactic pop-BANG, the metal door blasted inwards. Cool, Kelly thought. Alex even got it to go the direction he wanted. She cheered, and ran with him back to the pole. He slammed into it, slapping the BRB down ferociously. Kelly slapped him on the back and congratulated him on his best run he had ever done which beat his previous one, making a new record.

1801 hours, September 16, 2525 (Military Calendar)
Epsilon Eridani system, UNSC Training Center
Mess Hall, planet Reach.


Alex stuffed down what the UNSC called a meal as fast as he could. It would be their last good meal for a long while. They were leaving on yet another 'training' mission. Hah. Training indeed. The other team would, Alex was certain, be using live rounds again.

He was better now... If only mentally. He could control his actions and thoughts better so he didn't panic, which helped him channel his concentration into what he was doing. The shaking, however, still remained. And lately it had been getting more and more painful, so much so that Alex was occasionally left gasping for breath on the floor.

The Spartan pushed the thoughts out of his mind for now, and concentrated on running down the lengthy set of halls and corridors towards the hanger where a Pelican was docked. The dull grey panels lit up with red flashes of light. Other Spartans tumbled out the doors while hurriedly slipping on combat armor and boots.

Linda burst out her room to his right, almost running into him. Alex jumped to the side, nimbly ducking in and out of the swarm of bodies. He waved to her as she worked furiously to connect the knee-joint of her ODST armor. She grimaced at him and, with a SNAP, popped the joint in and locked it. She stood up again, shoved her helmet onto her head, and turned around.

"Lock it." She said gruffly. Alex obliged, reaching to the helmet's back. It was split open an inch to allow the wearer to barely get their head in, and then, when locked and sealed, it sucked down to a snug fit. He hooked a panel from one side around a bar from the other, and then pushed the end of the panel down, forcing them together. "Thanks." Linda motioned for him to turn around, and she locked his. They nodded to each other, and started running again.

Five minutes later:

Mendez paced back and forth in front of them, a permanent scowl pasted onto his face. He was yelling at them despite the absolute silence, briefing them on what their mission would be. The Spartans would split up into two different groups, and dropped off into the jungle for a period of five days. After flying the pelican in the background to the checkpoint, the Spartans would receive their weapons and further instructions. That was all.

Alex didn't like the idea of splitting the team into groups, but he supposed it was helpful because they were fighting against an extremely skilled enemy. Each other.

"Move out!" barked Mendez. They snapped to attention, boots clicking together in unison, and saluted. Mendez returned the salute and walked crisply off. The group relaxed and swiftly walked to the pelican.

Vinh called pilot, and Alex was glad she had. She was an extremely good pilot, master of many different vehicles. It was, he guessed, her little skill. They all had their own strengths that revealed themselves in different ways.

Alex jumped nimbly into the back. He signaled Spartan-093, Grace, to sweep the exterior for any bugs, ridiculous as it sounded. You never knew what Mendez would do; it paid to be careful.

Spartan-117, John, yelled at them to stuff into the minimal amount of space available as fast as they could. Light would be fading when they arrived at the checkpoint. Alex worked his way up to the front, where he stood to the right of Vinh. John was on her left.

Grace popped back in, and tossed three bugs to him. She smiled, and he gave her a thumbs up. Alex discretely stashed them in an armored pocket in his armor. They might be useful later.

Fred was coming up to Alex, who sensed his approach, and readied himself for trouble. Fred still hadn't forgotten what happened three months earlier. Alex chuckled to himself and had to admit that he didn't blame him.

The other Spartan jostled Alex in the back, and whispered in his ear,

"See ya on the field." John gave Fred a warning glance, who ignored it. Alex chuckled.

"Frickin' right you will." He snarled back. Vinh broke the wall of hate with a few words.

"Brace yourselves!" She called back. The back of the pelican slowly closed shut as Vinh fired up the engines. Alex grinned. She loved this stuff. Vinh whooped, and with a roar, they blasted away at full burn from the launch pad.