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Remembrance ─ Part Three
Posted By: Mark Lieberg<malieberg@msn.com>
Date: 20 June 2011, 2:36 pm

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1028 Hours, October 01, 2522 (Military Calendar)
Epsilon Eridani System, Longhorn Valley, Planet Reach
Zeal Team's Spartan Training Mission, 30 years ago.

      "Where are we supposed to take him?" asked the young boy, Willis, who knelt down next to a prisoner caught as part of a monthly exercise. Grabbing a handful of the bag, covering the prisoner's face and hair, Willis aggressively shoved him to the ground. The Spartans did not like playing 'war', so they made it as realistic as allowed.
      Richard shrugged and pulled out a canteen of water. Gulping the lukewarm liquid down, he wiped his mouth and turned to Kathy.
      "What do you think?"
      "We should tie him up. Use him as bait." Richard smiled at that remark.
      Near the three young Spartans, out of the shadows, another figure stepped up from the nearby tree line lowering his training rifle.
      "We can't. No matter how much he slows us down, we need to get to rally point bravo for extraction. Red Team will link up with us there and together, proceed to Camp Hathcock."
      Kathy paused to examine her team leader and then the prisoner. With that, she turned beginning to head east in the direction of the rally point. Richard and Willis glanced at each other, then at their team leader. They both knew he did not like stalling time.
      "We need to head out. Richard, you found him so you get to carry him."
      With a short salute, Richard replied, "Wilco, Team Leader." He then picked up the injured light sized man and followed after Willis.
      The Team Leader examined his surroundings and grimaced.
      Keiichi, Spartan-047, an oversized eleven year old boy with broad shoulders and a stocky neck, swiveled his head listening to the clatter from the trees above.
      Birds were singing and it disgusted him.
      All his life, from as far back as he could remember, he wanted to be in a war. Dreams of fighting in a battle so intense, so dangerous, seemed so right to him. Movies and story books his mother always pestered; childish boyish fantasies. Now five years older and trained to be a fighter, he still intended to fulfill that fantasy. He was happy Dr. Halsey had selected him to be part of a new generation of soldier.
      At the time, there was nothing stopping him from attempting to run away after being kidnapped a few months after turning six. He hated his parents, he hated his two-faced friends back home, and he hated his home world, which rot in its own demise of the criminally insane.
      If there was one person who actually looked forward to training to become a soldier, to be a part of something bigger, something unique like the UNSC, it was Keiichi.
      Brushing his tightly cut sweaty brown hair; Keiichi spat out the built-up saliva in his mouth and began following his team. Keeping watch as rear guard, his gaze shifted towards Kathy.
      She could have easily been the shortest in their company, yet one of the most attractive. Her bundled blonde ponytail, sky-blue eyes, bright skin complexion and a smile to daze any boy to give up anything for her, gave off a sense of unique distinction and dominance amongst the other females of the company. She was also easily one of the most deceitful, yet competent girl, he had ever met; except he never had seen Kathy act like a girl before.
      Who am I kidding? Keiichi asked himself. Kathy was merely a few months younger than him. He could not begin to imagine where Dr. Halsey had found her. He was even surprised she put Kathy in as second in command of Zeal Team. Half of the other children at Hathcock could not fathom how the doctor had convinced Chief Mendez to consent the request.
      Whatever the case, their purpose in the United Nations Space Command superseded personal queries and feelings, not to mention attractions.
      I hate touchy feelings, Keiichi thought agreeing to himself, and she's too much of a tom boy. The Squad Leader continued to observe the trees along the dirt road.
      Five years on Reach could change any man, woman or child's opinion regarding what was beautiful and mysterious in the universe. The planet's lustful lakes, beautiful landscapes and wondrous mountains kept Keiichi, and possibly the other seventy-four children, from quitting all together. He was proud to have been what Dr. Halsey had identified them the first day they arrived as, Spartan-II's.
      Keiichi loved the title. It gave him a weird sense of pride he had never been able to muster before.
      Feeling a slight chill roll down the back along his neck, he looked up.
      All of a sudden, Richard threw the man he carried and jumped into the bush to his right. Willis shot left over a meter high hedge, followed by Kathy. Keiichi frowned and did the same.
      Face down, he noticed small amounts of rocks and pebbles bounce at an increasing speed. Curious, Keiichi realized that it was not even a strong enough sign to indicate a seismic tremor; but strong enough to know something big was coming.
      A low rumbling noise, similar to the sound of a mini-pickup truck reached his ear. Pulling out his fiber optic probe by instinct and months of drill, Keiichi raised it over the top of the bush.
      Three massive vehicles drove by, but something caught S-047's eye on the last truck.
      A blindfolded child.
      There were not many children being carried around in military caravans on Reach, especially so close to the base camp. Dr. Halsey never mentioned other training facilities housing recruits either, but the kid did look familiar. Keiichi was positive the boy he saw did not come from Camp Independence.
      Then it hit him.
      Feeling bad about not recognizing one of his teammates, he would be damned if some rebels got a hold of one his brothers.
      Rising after the trucks vanished into the woods, Keiichi whistled to signal his squad to regroup. Kathy, Richard, and Willis came running in front of him; Richard still carrying the bagged prisoner.
      "Did you guys see who was in the back of that last truck?" asked Keiichi. He checked his rifle and then his team.
      "No, what did you see?" Willis questioned.
      Kathy answered, "I did. I'm pretty sure it was Sam."
      "Sam? As in Blue Team's, Sam?" Richard replied.
      Kathy nodded.
      Keiichi faced Willis. "Is it possible to contact John?"
      Willis shook his head: no.
      Thinking, the Team Leader turned to scan the road the trucks recently drove through. The caravan headed west; away from any UNSC compound.
      He examined their current predicament and determined that it could only be one of three possibilities.
      If this was Blue Team's trick to mislead Zeal Team, it was intentional and there was no need to indulge them during their own training mission.
      Two; John and his team were on their own mission and if Zeal Team stayed, they would run into Blue Team, which seemed highly unlikely now with the amount of time that had passed.
      Lastly, there was the worst case scenario. Something he brought himself to accept, feeling tightening knot form in his stomach.
      What if Sam had been captured? Could Blue Team have lost one of their own during their exercise? Are there rebels in hiding in secret camps throughout Longhorn Valley?
      Whatever the answer was, it was obvious what to do.
      "Ditch the prisoner, we're leaving him; time to go rescue a Spartan."

      It took Keiichi's team all afternoon to track down where the convoy headed - deep in the forest near the Menachite Mountains west of Camp Hathcock. The weather in the area had begun to grow foggy, causing Keiichi to squint to see past the mist.
      Training rifles, loaded with stun rounds, raised, Kathy, Richard, and Willis kept a close diamond formation. Keiichi, in the lead, his eyes surveyed the area using his training rifle as a compass.
      The fog had brought his team's visibility to a near perfect zero. He felt like it was going to be trouble, but immediately knew this would not be a problem, despite having never trained with this type of weather anomaly.
      Snow or rain he could do, but fog? You could see through rain and use infrared during a blizzard, but you could never do anything with fog. Keiichi still dimly remembered his home world never had fog.
      Holding his left closed fist up, he flattened it out and motioned downward. The entire team lowered as if preparing to hug the ground. Something caused a disturbance in the fog and low organized voices could be heard ─ then the sound of a door shutting.
      Signaling Zeal Team to proceed, Keiichi continued as lead. Eyes down the sights, he swiveled and pivoted at any unknown disturbance in the fog. Hardly being able to see past five feet, he would have to careful, and to remember to suggest to Mendez about training in this area sometime after their mission. Keiichi smirked.
      After a minute, he reached the first solid object since the trees his team came out of. A large black matte truck was parked in front of a small single story shack. The cargo area was empty.
      Keiichi, moving around the truck, examined the house. He had never seen any type of housing such as the one before him, but he automatically knew this was not a civilian home. The walls, the roof, and the neighboring area all looked recently constructed. Keiichi knew of no civilian personnel living so far away from the main base either.
      Double checking if his team had managed to keep up and not get lost, he silently ordered them to each side of the door; Kathy and Willis on the left, Richard on the right.
      The fog covered up his team's vision, but he decided being exposed to other housing units by noise showed a low probable risk due to the concealment. Other houses, if any, in the nearby vicinity would have trouble locating any intruders.
      A smile formed on Keiichi's face. Finally…real combat, the young Spartan thought as he gave the signal to breach.
      His second in command released a strong, forceful, and powerful kick. The entrance blew open as if a fragmentation grenade went off on its' doorstep. The door splintered, sending bits and pieces of wood all over the inner living area.
      Four young children entered, storming in perfect unison. Rifles moving as if attached to their heads, eyes down the scope, and coordination no other eleven year old could learn – until they had gone through boot camp – reached each corner of the main room.
      Chief Mendez trained them for this; to become silent, swift, and deadly. Keiichi definitely had no problems with two thirds of that.
      Three shots rang.
      A body collapsed behind a medium sized couch, hands clutching his head, from a pointblank shot. Richard chuckled at the damage the stun rounds had done to the man's face and kicked him unconscious.
      Foot steps could be heard immediately from an adjoining room and as soon as Kathy saw the tip of a rifle she blurred into motion. Grabbing the muzzle, she twisted it over her head, ducked and shot a stinging left side kick into the rebel's torso causing him to collapse.
      The second man raised his rifle towards Kathy, but was taken down almost intuitively by Willis and Keiichi's stun rounds.
      Surveying what appeared to be the common room; Keiichi noticed there was no Sam.
      "Search the house, and find Sam." Willis and Richard disappeared around the corner.
      Kathy walked over. "What if he's not here in this house? Should we call in for reinforcements?"
      Keiichi stepped towards the unconscious man his second in command left on the ground. Staring at the unmoving body, his eyes shifted to a metallic weapon a foot away. Kneeling to pick it up, he felt a hand on his shoulder.
      "I don't think we're ready to kill yet Keiichi," Kathy stated worryingly. Keiichi shrugged the hand off in disgust and picked up the unfired rifle. He had read about the weapon in books from Déjà. Rebels mainly used them regularly when they became heavy in the black market trade.
      The HMG-38 rifle was something to be fearful of, but not entirely when in proper hands; Keiichi's hands.
      Slinging his own training weapon, Keiichi picked up the rifle and attached another sling to it. He double checked the cartridge and nodded in approval. By now, Richard and Willis were back from investigating the house.
      No Sam. He did not like this one bit.
      "Let's move out and continue." Turning around and stepping one foot out the breached door, he was greeted by a solid punch in the face. Keiichi had never been hit like that in a long time. Five years long. He fell flat on his back nauseous.
      Shaking her fist in disapproval, a young girl muttered, "Shit."
      Kathy came running to the door and yelled out, "Stand down!" Keiichi moaned and attempted to open his left eye, but the blood running down his nose nearly filled his socket. He did manage to catch a glimpse of the girl, with his other eye, who punched him. Barely seeing the nametag sewed on her right chest shirt, it read 'ALICE-130'.
      "Keep it quiet," replied in an authoritive voice, "or the whole rebel compound will be on to us." Rounding the corner came two more soldiers. The male voice which was heard turned into a young boys'.
      "Are you four crazy to be here? Mendez will have our asses in a sling. It took us forever to catch up."
      Keiichi managed to crack a smile before shutting his right eye. In front of him was a fellow brother, Fred Spartan-104. The boy next to Fred that chuckled at the sight of Keiichi was Team Leader Jerome, Spartan-092.
      Red Team had arrived.