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Let This Be Your Last Battlefield: The Colonel
Posted By: QuantumSheep<quantumsheep@optusnet.com.au>
Date: 16 December 2010, 8:18 am

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The Colonel
October 13th, 2552
UNSC High Command Facility Bravo-6, Sydney, Australia

The vista that was Sydney harbour was well improved by the bright sunshine that shone across the entirety of the city. A few thin, wispy clouds hung up at high altitudes while a passenger jet trailed along even further up, leaving behind a thin white contrail. Seagulls cawed and some pecked at the scraps of food left on the tables on the balcony, fighting each other for some of the larger pieces. The facility was a large, circular shaped building that sat on the harbour and went miles underground. It had been nicknamed "the Hive" by the people who worked within, for the interior was taken up by massive multiple-floored rooms with walkways crisscrossing and personnel, visitors and workers alike, wandering along as they went about their own business. There were plenty of sealed and restricted areas, including the ONI offices that were several floors underground. Armed guards stood or sat at desks by some of the bulkhead doors while surveillance cameras watched the interiors of the facility from every corner. It was one of the most secure facilities on the planet, complete with all the latest in security systems and even multiple AIs that ran assorted functions.

The landing pad on one of the larger balconies that overlooked the harbour was also home to one of the many eating areas for the people who worked at the facility, providing one with a view of coming and going airborne traffic as well as exposing people there to the fresh sea air. At this time of the morning the place was fairly quiet and empty with a few low-level technicians seated outside the food stall, talking amongst themselves as they had breakfast. Some did manage to provide a passing glance to the new arrivals on the nearby landing pad, most of which were ordinary soldiers and officers. One stood out from the rest, being somewhat taller and certainly more muscular than those around him.

First Lieutenant Leon-A091 walked up to the security checkpoint that lead into the facility from the landing pad, being greeted by a rather uninterested gaze by the burly security officer standing guard. Leon placed a finger on a scanner at the checkpoint, watching as the computer monitor above flicked through countless files before finding his own and indentifying him. The security officer ushered him through the metal detector and into the facility within.

Leon was dressed in a grey casual uniform. His luggage had been left on the transport that had taken him to the facility, awaiting his return. Whatever Colonel Ackerson had in mind for him would probably mean being shipped off somewhere since it was very unlikely Leon would be staying here at the Hive. He supposed his next assignment would not be a very exciting one as even he knew that most of the higher-ups in the UNSC still saw him as unfit for service. If what he had heard was true, then Ackerson and his lackeys had been pulling strings in order to get this Spartan-III back in the action. Colonel James Ackerson had always been a master manipulator, known to put even his closest associates at each other's throats if it meant that he would get what he wanted. He had been the so-called "father" of the Spartan-III program, aiming to create a much more efficient means of making super soldiers than the Spartan-II program had provided. In all ways he had succeeded, Leon was proof of this. He was also partly to thank for Leon's survival over the last several years: Ackerson had singled out Leon's squad, excluding them from Operation PROMETHEUS which had resulted in the deaths of nearly all of the Spartan-IIIs. Instead, Leon and his squad had been sent on some other, somewhat smaller but still quite important operations. Those had continued up until the fateful day on P7H-910.

Leon had only met Ackerson in person a few times in the past. The Colonel had always thought somewhat highly of Leon, oddly enough. It probably had something to do with the Spartan's amazing results during the first years of his training that outmatched a good portion of his peers. Even so, Leon had proved to be a bit reckless…and as such had not made team leader, instead Thomas-A055 had become team leader. Leon had Ackerson to thank for fixing up the costs of the surgical procedures and physical rehabilitation he had endured in the last few years, the very procedures that had enabled him to walk again. There was still some pain at his lower back on occasion, a mere side effect of all the surgery as his doctors had assured him. Leon knew he was lucky to be walking again, even luckier to be just plain alive. If anything, he owed a lot to Colonel Ackerson even if he had barely seen much of him. The last time they had met was on Reach, right before Leon had gone into the first surgery to have his lower spine repaired. Ackerson had visited him in the hospital, delivering a rather typical "hope you pull through" speech that was standard fair for officers visiting wounded soldiers in hospitals. If anything the Colonel was probably hoping that Leon would be up and walking again as soon as possible, in order to carry out whatever operation the Colonel had planned.

Leon wandered into one of the larger, multiple-floored interiors of the High Command facility. The signs on the walls and directional arrows took him to a reception where a bored looking and young female Chief Petty Officer sat, typing away at a computer terminal. Her blonde hair was tied back and she seemed to only just notice Leon's presence about thirty seconds after he stopped at the reception desk. She looked up, eyed him carefully and turned her attention from the computer terminal towards the Spartan.

"Lieutenant," she said, "You must be the one the Colonel's expecting."

"Does he know I'm here?" Leon asked. He looked down, noticing that his right hand was shaking again. It was beginning to happen more frequently, something that annoyed him but kept reminding him of just how lucky he was to be alive. The psychologists he had seen in the past few years said it was just another effect of his "survivor's guilt" or "post traumatic stress disorder". Whatever was causing it did not last too long as the shaking subsided after about half a minute.

"I'll tell him you've arrived," the Chief Petty Officer replied. She thumbed a button on the intercom terminal on the desk, speaking into it: "Colonel? Lieutenant Leon is here. Should I send him in?"

"Tell him to wait a few minutes. I'm in the middle of an important call." The Colonel's voice was stern and typically authoritative for a man in his position. He did not sound too pleased at the interruption either judging from his flustered sounding tone.

The Chief Petty Officer looked up at Leon, providing a typical friendly customer service smile. From the look in her eyes, Leon could tell that she did not like the Colonel very much. Then again, not too many liked Colonel James Ackerson.

"Take a seat, Lieutenant," she said, "I'm sure the Colonel won't keep you waiting for too long."

Leon nodded and for a moment was unsure on what to do, eyeing a few vacant seats nearby before heading over. There were a few other offices nearby, each home to some sort of high-ranking officer and each in charge of something different. There was an obvious ONI liaison officer in one office, the door leading inside being marked with the eagle's wings insignia of the organization. Leon had a feeling he could be waiting a fair while so he sat back, trying to relax but finding this more difficult than it should have been. There were too many things on his mind: What did Ackerson have in mind for him? Would it be some lousy assignment until he was deemed fit enough for proper duty or would he be thrown straight back into the fire again, so soon after getting fully recovered.

Leon felt a dull ache at his lower back and shifted in his seat, rubbing the hurt area with one hand. The pain subsided almost immediately but he was sure that it would return.

A minute or so passed and Leon's mind had begun to wander, unsurprising for someone waiting in a relatively dull waiting area. There were a few potted ferns around while sunlight streamed in through a large window on the far wall. The harbour outside looked blue and pristine, thanks to the numerous pollution filters in the water. The Sydney Opera House, which had been rebuilt at least seven times during its long lifespan, sat on the far edge of the harbour and had since been overshadowed by countless tall, monolithic skyscrapers that had sprung up over the years of the city's existence. Australia, as a whole, was one of the few countries that had been left untouched by the civil wars and rebellions that had occurred across the world since the twenty-first century and as such had grown almost unhindered.

"Fancy seeing a Spartan here," a gruff, German-accented voice said from behind. Leon turned around, meeting gazes with a tall, greying haired man of about forty-five who stood in the casual uniform of an army Sergeant. He had only one arm and even that one was prosthetic, grasping a cigarette which he took a lengthy drag on as he looked down at the Lieutenant.

"I don't believe we've met…" Leon began but the Sergeant interrupted.

"No, we haven't," the Sergeant said, "But I'd know one of you Spartans anywhere. You're all big, tall and somewhat out of place. Hell, you look like a damned fish out of water in a place like this."

Leon did not know what to think of this comment, but he supposed his lack of social interaction did show. He had never been much of a people person, confiding in only the Spartans he fought alongside while keeping professional relationships with his superiors. He found crowds of civilians uncomfortable, which might have explained his anxiety now. In his training he had been taught to fire a weapon, treat wounds and everything else a soldier needed to know. He just had not been taught how to socialize with civilians or even regular army people like the Sergeant standing near him.

The one-armed Sergeant sat down on the vacant seat next to him, dabbing out the end of his cigarette in the ashtray on the glass table in front of them. With the cigarette out of the way the Sergeant snatched up one of the news computer pads that were lying on the table, using the thumb of his robotic arm to flick through the displays as he sifted through the latest news.

"If you don't mind me asking," Leon said, getting the Sergeant's attention, "But you've only got…"

"One prosthetic arm when I should have two?" The Sergeant smiled at Leon's off-guard expression. "I get asked that a lot. Simple enough answer: I lost both arms in a grenade explosion and my soldier's salary could only get me one replacement. I'm saving up for another and until then I'm stuck doing clerical work." There was a pause before the Sergeant spoke again:

"I'm Sergeant Steiner, by the way," the Sergeant said.

"Lieutenant Leon-A091," Leon replied.

"You should get yourself a proper last name," Steiner said, "Serial numbers lack personality. I've encountered you Spartan types before: you're damn good at your jobs but you're all a bit…too into the work."

"I'm not sure what you mean…"

"You live and breathe the military," Steiner continued, "You haven't anytime for anything else. That's what I feel is the biggest flaw with you Spartans: you're missing out on things that make you human. For all the augmentations you have, you're still flesh and blood humans." He paused, shaking his head. "Sorry if I'm offending you…"

"You're not…"

"I can ramble on a bit," Steiner said, sitting back in the seat. Leon could tell that Steiner had seen a lot during his time in the army. There was a weary look in his eyes, as if he was tired of war yet had little else to do but to continue fighting.

"What do you mean, about us missing out on what makes us human?" Leon asked, curious. He had never had many conversations with ordinary soldiers like the Sergeant as his team had hardly ever worked with any other branch of the military. It had always just been him and his team, heading off to blow up a Covenant factory or something similar.

"I'm sure you have friends, comrades in arms," the Sergeant continued, "But have you ever loved someone, Lieutenant?"

"What do you mean?"

The Sergeant sighed.

"You've never genuinely loved someone, have you? I have a wife and daughter and I love them more than anything else. Now, I'm wondering: what about you? Anyone who's genuinely close to you?"

Leon had no idea on what to say as a response. Being brought up solely by the military, with superior officers coming and going had never really left any room for genuine feelings of love for anyone else, at least for Leon.

"Well, if you ever do get out of the military," the Sergeant continued, "And you find someone who's right for you, you'll know exactly what I'm talking about. I can't really explain it, though."

The Sergeant returned his gaze to the news computer pad in his hand, flicking through the various articles with startling speed and coordination, his robotic arm obviously an improvement over an ordinary organic one.

Leon sat quietly, unable to help but think about what the Sergeant had said. For all the biological augmentations he had undergone he was still human, the Sergeant was right about that. The people that Leon had been closest to had been those in his squad and they were all gone, although Livia's fate still ate away at his mind like a parasite. He had never found out what had happened to her, whether she was dead or the Covenant had taken her alive for whatever reason. And maybe the connection Leon had felt towards her had been more than just as a comrade and a friend…even the psychologists had suggested the possibility of attraction between the two of them from what Leon had told them and from the superior officers who had known his squad well. Nothing had ever come of whatever connection had been between the two of them, inciting the feeling of a definite missed opportunity. It would haunt Leon for the rest of his life, this much he knew. Just like he had learned to live with the pain that came and went in his lower back and the vivid recollections of the death of all those on his squad, he would have to learn to live with not knowing Livia's fate. And this hurt more than anything else, physical or mental.

"They're building a massive memorial in Oregon State National Park, over in the US," Steiner said, breaking Leon out of his thoughts. He had found a news article on the computer pad held in his robotic hand concerning the memorial: "It's to remember those who fell at Reach, civilian and military. All the millions killed are going to have their names listed on a computer terminal at the base of the structure."

"I don't think they'll list everyone," Leon said, somewhat sullenly.

"What do you mean?"

"A lot of Spartans died on Reach but they're always going to be counted as 'missing in action'."

"If you ask me, it's a damned waste," Steiner said, "This whole war is one damned waste. Then again, we're fighting in it. Maybe we could be counted as those causing some of the wasting."

Leon frowned but decided to say nothing. Steiner's cynical view on the war could have offended some of the more military-minded people. Leon's squad dying had not been a "waste", at least in his eyes. They had died like any Spartan should, as much as it hurt to think about. Obviously Steiner saw things a bit differently. Still, he did have a good point. And that very viewpoint would soon be accepted by Leon, even if he did not think so at this point in time.

Colonel Ackerson's office was impeccably maintained, with dust almost non-existent on every surface except the pristine clean blue-grey carpet. The desk was an expensive looking wooden one, made from the signature timber that came from a rare tree that could only be found on one planet in the Outer Colonies…a planet that had since been completely glassed by the Covenant and as a result the desk was probably worth a fortune. The UNSC emblem was on a flag draped across the back wall of the office, above the window behind Ackerson's desk. Some boxes were lying around in the corners of the room, spoiling the near perfect tidiness. It appeared that Ackerson was packing away his personal effects, most likely in preparation for a transfer.

Leon A-091 snapped to attention as he entered and saw the Colonel. Ackerson was dressed in a typical white dress uniform and was seated at his desk, speaking in a frustrated tone into the video phone on his desk. Leon could not see who it was he was talking to from where he stood and knew it was none of his business. As far as Leon could tell, Ackerson was still in the middle of the "important call" the Chief Petty Officer outside the office had mentioned. It did sound like Ackerson was nearing the end of it, though.

"…damn it, just tell him that things will be fine! That I've got everything under control!" Ackerson certainly sounded annoyed. Leon did not hear the response from the person on the other end of the video phone as the Colonel had the audio coming through an earpiece he wore at one ear.

"Look, Halsey's as good as dead. We don't need to worry about interference from her." Ackerson paused for a moment, having barely noticed Leon's presence. "I don't know about you, but if I was on a planet that got glassed I don't think I'd be looking too good, what do you think?" Another pause as the recipient spoke. Ackerson seemed to breathe a sigh of relief.

"Finally, you're seeing things my way," the Colonel replied, almost smiling (not that Ackerson ever really smiled), "Get things ready and I'll be right over. I've just got a few things to take care of. I'll see you on Mars."

Ackerson put down the earpiece and flicked off the video phone, effectively ending the call. He looked up, seeing Leon and his gaze appropriately brightened. Whatever frustration he had felt while talking over the phone had suddenly vanished.

"Please, sit down Lieutenant," Ackerson said in a friendly manner, gesturing to one of the chairs before his desk, "I'm glad to see you back on your feet again…" He trailed off, realizing the double meaning behind his words. Leon relaxed and sat down.

Colonel Ackerson was middle-aged with greying hair and weary, weather-beaten features. His reputation preceded him although Leon had done his best to try and ignore the rumours that circulated concerning the Colonel, if only to keep the perception Leon had of him clear of any third party interference. Ackerson had done a lot for him and the Spartan-IIIs, even if the man was a master manipulator and ruthless military man. His rivalry with Dr. Catherine Halsey was almost legendary, although Leon had steered clear of the main extent of the stories behind it. Hearsay was something he did not want clouding his perception of the man who had funded his recovery.

"It's been a while since we last met," Ackerson said, "I'm glad to see my favourite Spartan is up and moving again as he should be."

"Uh, sir…"


"Last time we talked, you said I was your second favourite Spartan."

"Yes, but my favourite Spartan died on Reach," Ackerson replied rather bluntly, "And there's hardly any of you left anymore. There are plenty of new ones training on Onyx but they're not quite ready to get in on the real action. As you should understand, Reach was a disaster. You were lucky you left when you did."

"Two weeks before the attack, sir." Leon briefly wondered what might have happened if he had stayed on the doomed planet. Chances are he would have died with everybody else who did not make it off the planet before the main bombardment from the Covenant fleet began.

"We're trying our best to keep it quiet, to keep the illusion up that we're holding out against the Covenant," Ackerson continued, "But it's not going to last. Rumours are spreading and the media's already started launching investigations." He held up his right hand in front of his face spacing his thumb and forefinger a mere centimetre or two apart. "We're this close to losing the war, Lieutenant. This fucking close. We need all the assets we can get and that's why I pulled enough strings to get you back on duty." Ackerson lowered his right hand, taking a breath. Leon could tell that he was passionate on the subject, understandably so since the loss of Reach meant that nothing stood in the way of the Covenant and Earth. The Cole Protocol had done a good job of keeping the Covenant from finding Earth but there were numerous instances where ships did not adhere to it, an act that was considered treason but the culprits were always too important to get arrested. Who could really blame the Captain of a civilian ship that jumped right into Slipspace and to Earth when an entire Covenant fleet showed up?

"Thing is, and there's always a catch," Ackerson continued, "Is that hardly any of the other higher-ups think you're fit enough to be sent back into the action. The military psychiatrists and psychologists…they've provided reports that more or less say you've got problems. Serious problems, such as post-traumatic stress disorder."
Leon simply nodded. He was unsure on what to say or if he could really say anything at all in response.

"And there's not a hell of a lot going on at the moment in the form of 'real action'," Ackerson said, "The last big thing was the fall of Reach. Now, it seems, all we can do is sit and wait for the Covenant to show up here on Earth. It'll happen eventually unless, by some act of divine intervention, the Covenant either miss us completely or get held up."

"That sounds uncharacteristically pessimistic coming from you, sir," Leon said.

"I'm not a pessimist, Lieutenant," Ackerson replied, "I'm a realist. And the reality is we can't do anything to halt the Covenant onslaught. The orbital defence grid around Earth is as yet barely functional, with only a third of the three hundred MAC platforms in proper working order. There's nothing between here and Reach save for vacuum. And the vacuum of space isn't much."

Leon was silent as Ackerson spoke, digesting all of this information. He had only just heard of the destruction of Reach by the Covenant. It had been somewhat painful to hear that the planet he had called home for most of his life had quite literally gone up in flames. Even so, he considered himself lucky to have left the planet when he did. It seemed that he had been blessed with good luck from the very beginning, as some of his trainers had said during his early years.

"You've been out of the loop for a few years, Lieutenant," Ackerson continued, "My aim here is to get you up to date. Reach is gone, Earth is vulnerable and the few Spartans left in active service are effectively useless. They're scattered and they're weak. Now, I've never been a big fan of bio-augmenting soldiers, such as yourself for example, but you can get the job done. That's all that really matters in the end: getting the job done. And your service record is near impeccable, save for the anger you stir up when you do something reckless. To top things off, a lot of people think you're mentally unstable. As such, I've been put into a bit of an awkward position." He paused for a moment, eyeing Leon carefully.

"Some want you sent to a rehabilitation centre, just so you can endure yet more sessions with an army shrink until they're absolutely certain you're in peak mental condition," Ackerson said, "But I know that'll be a horrible waste of talent. I've made a few calls, met a few people and I've come up with something a bit better, but it's not the best. For starters, you better get used to living on Earth. It's going to be your new home."

Leon nodded. Earth did not seem all bad, especially since efforts had gone into returning the planet to its former, unpolluted glory. Cities such as Sydney were prime examples of this.

"Earth has its flaws but some places are considerably better than others," Ackerson added, "Sydney's a nice city. Unfortunately, you're not going to be staying in Sydney. You're going to North Africa."

Leon did not know much about the different regions of Earth and as such did not know how to take the news.

"North Africa?" He asked, "What's it like in North Africa, sir?"

"Well, for starters it's a desert. And it's hot. It's dry. You can expect to sweat a hell of a lot while you're there." He paused for a moment, his expression neutral. Leon frowned, if only slightly. He was being sent to North Africa? That's the best place Ackerson was allowed to send him?

"There's always been a lot of public backlash against the UNSC, but it's peaked recently," Ackerson continued, "Especially with taxpayer money being used to build ships and orbital defences, rather than going to things like education and health. People are angry, they're bitter about the war. Most don't know how close we're coming to extinction but even so there are groups causing trouble. The Tunisian Secessionist Forces, or TSF for short, are just one of many groups. As you've probably gathered, they operate in Tunisia, which is in North Africa. They're completely anti-UNSC and they've so far managed to bomb some UNSC installations in the country. They're enough of a threat to warrant an increased military presence in the country, especially since they're getting funded by wealthy people who think too much about politics. To them, we're just right-wing oppressors, fascists. And they've probably got the ultimate, if somewhat unachievable goal of making Tunisia independent of the UN. Naturally, we can't let that happen."

Leon listened carefully. He knew immediately that he was going to be relegated from fighting alien to fighting rebels. He was just surprised to hear that there were rebels on Earth, right at the heart of the UNSC. He supposed that dissent could turn up anywhere, as it had done so in the Outer Colonies years before. Since most of the Outer Colonies had been destroyed it seemed likely that most of the dissent would turn up elsewhere.

"You're going to get sent to the main military base in Tunisia, Fort Oasis it's called. And you're going to be responsible for training the new soldiers that are at that base." He paused, noticing Leon's confused expression. "I know, it's probably below you but it's the best position I could get for you. And look at it this way: you'll be helping plenty of people by getting rid of rebels. All the rebels do is cause trouble. If they can't get what they want they blow things up."

"Rebels on Earth, sir? That seems a bit…"

"Unlikely? It isn't. A lot of people don't like the war, even if it is for humanity's survival. And a lot of people seem to think the UN is fascist. I, personally, would prefer right wing over the left wing bullshit the TSF is proposing. But my political beliefs are beside the point. The point is, you're back in active service even if your new position is going to be a bit below you. And I can guarantee that once those rebels realize that a Spartan is on their tail they'll quite literally crap their pants."

"So, that's what this is, sir? A scare campaign?" Leon was beginning to dislike the whole idea. He knew that he was probably in no position to complain, seeing as Ackerson had obviously tried to get something better for him, but Leon could not stop himself. "And I'm going to be doing the scaring?"

"I just said that it's probably below you," Ackerson replied, "That you would probably be better off fighting the Covenant but the people above me, the ones that run this show…They don't think you're mentally fit for that. I can guarantee that if you help with this rebel problem you'll get sent on a much worthier assignment. Until then, you're stuck in North Africa. There's nothing either of us can do about it."

Leon simply nodded. Ackerson was right: neither of them were in a position to change it.

"I've taken the courtesy of having your MJOLNIR armour sent down to the workshops on the lower floor," Ackerson said. Leon was about to ask why but Ackerson answered the question before the Spartan could ask it: "You've been out of the loop for a while, Leon. Personal shield technology is standard-issue for all Spartan soldiers on active duty. It's only prototype stuff but it works. And if you get into a firefight with some rebels it'll probably save your life…or at least stop you from getting hurt."

Leon nodded again. Personal shield technology had only ever been hinted at until he had been put out of commission by his wounds received on that fateful day a few years ago. It did seem likely that the scientists had perfected it and had installed it on MJOLNIR armour for Spartans, who deserved such extra protection because of all the high risk operations they carried out.

"I think I've just about said all I wanted to," Ackerson said after a moment's pause, "Have you got any questions, Lieutenant?"

Leon shook his head. He had no questions, no complaints. Ackerson had made things pretty clear. Reach was gone, Earth was vulnerable and Leon was to have his talent wasted training new recruits in a far flung country. He supposed he should be grateful at being able to get back into proper work. And he supposed he should thank Ackerson for all the man had done to help him through his recovery. Instead, Leon simply gave a simple farewell to the Colonel and departed the office. The Spartan was suddenly not in the mood for talking anymore.