Posted By: Trivun<firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date: 25 January 2012, 8:40 pm
Tom was so busy reminiscing about the early days of the Beta Company Spartans, those first steps in boot camp and the pain of the augmentations he and the others had received, that he almost failed to notice someone walking towards him from behind. Of course, to him, 'almost' was the key word - as a Spartan, Tom had reflexes and instincts greater than any normal human, even if he wasn't quite as powerful as the Halsey's own Blue Team. As the figure behind him got close, Tom spun around and grabbed the intruder in a fierce grip, holding their hands together in a defensive position and taking complete note of his surroundings. It took a few seconds for him to realise that the person was, in fact, Halsey.
"Interesting. Not as quick as Kelly, but certainly faster than any Marine. Looks like Kurt did a decent job after all." Halsey was calm, almost too calm, though Tom noted to himself that she'd seen Spartans in action before and would have known better than to try sneaking up on one. It was a test, nothing more. She hadn't had time to make a detailed analysis on the Spartan-IIIs, nor did she have an AI to do it for her, and Tom could tell this annoyed her. Though he had to give her credit - she concealed her emotions well.
"Doctor." Tom had tried to figure out her motivations in the short time the party had been trapped inside the Dyson Sphere. As far as he could tell, Halsey was driven by nothing more than knowledge, and yet he could sense there was something deeper. Some emotion he couldn't quite put his finger on. Was it guilt? Remorse? Regret? Halsey was an enigma to him, and he knew there was no way he could engage in a battle of wits with her to find out more about her. Though he knew he could always just be blunt, speak plainly and to the point, and hope that somehow she would decide to lower her defences even for a moment. He could tell from her treatment of the Spartans that she felt somehow responsible for them, as if all she wanted now was to make sure they were safe. Ironic, given they were all career soldiers from childhood. Surely they would be the ones keeping Halsey protected? Though Tom knew better than to say that out loud.
"I merely wondered what your thoughts were on the other Spartans, Tom. My Blue Team." Unlike Tom, Halsey was certainly up front about her reasons for talking.
"I think they're Spartans, like us. I think they're good at what they do. And that's all."
Halsey seemed disappointed at this. "Nothing more? You're second in command, after all."
"No ma'am. Nothing more."
"Hmmm. I wonder..." Halsey looked away from Tom, at the scarlet sunset over the grassy plains beyond the cave they were camped in. "Tell me, Tom, what do you know of Noble Team?"
That brought back a new memory with a start. Noble Team... where had he heard that before? Of course, he knew. It was nothing more than a long-forgotten reference, dredged up in the current circumstances, but Tom could recall it perfectly now. It was after the slaughter on Pegasi Delta. Operation TORPEDO. He and Lucy had been the only survivors of that battle, the rest of Beta Company wiped out in a slaughter inflicted by the Covenant. And yet, the operation had been deemed a success, the Covenant presence on the moon wiped out. The payoff? An entire company of Spartans, with one survivor so badly traumatised she would never speak again. After that battle, Tom had been separated from Lucy, and from his instructors. Lucy had almost been declared unfit for duty, only regaining her position after pleas from their commander, Kurt. Tom, meanwhile, had been requested for special duties in a squad under the direct command of Colonel Ackerson, the original instigator of the Spartan-III program. It was a black ops team, equipped and trained for only the most desperate and extreme missions against the Covenant threat. Tom had been spared, again by Kurt's request, but not before Tom had found out the name of this squad. Noble Team.
"Not much," he answered. "All I know is that Colonel Ackerson wanted me to join, but I was kept on Onyx instead. I was needed to help train Spartans."
"A noble aim, no pun intended. Well, perhaps you were better off. Noble Team was wiped out on Reach, when the planet fell. You may be interested to hear that Ackerson is dead too."
"Oh yes, when Earth was attacked he was on the front lines. Don't ask me how he wound up there, I can honestly say I have no idea." A lie, of course - Halsey knew full well what her 'child', the AI Cortana, had done. "He was captured and tortured by the Covenant, though at least he did something good in his final moments. He did save thousands of lives in delaying tactics."
"How do you know all this, ma'am? I thought you weren't on Earth when it was attacked." Tom could tell Halsey was simply playing for time, he'd already figured out these past few days that it wasn't like her to chat idly about nothing.
"You're right, I came here straight from the Eridanus system. Blue Team told me. They filled me in on all the details, what they briefed you all on was merely part of the information they have. Classified, naturally. ONI orders." Not that Halsey had ever given a damn about ONI's 'classified orders' before.
There was something else, Tom was sure. As he watched her, she hesitated. As if deciding whether or not to tell him whatever she had come here to say. Tom decided to take the initiative. He decided if she wouldn't talk about one thing, he'd simply question her about something else, until she cracked.
"The battle on Earth. If we lose the home planet then we've lost the war, yes?"
Halsey looked up with a start. "Yes. No. Oh, I don't know. We always survive in some form or another, humans adapt remarkably well. It's the one advantage we have over the Covenant, they're imitative rather than innovative. If we lose Earth it will be a setback, and a tragedy, but certainly not the end of the war. Who knows, it may even give humanity the final push we need to take the fight back to the Covenant, and really give them a challenge. It could be what gives us the final motive to win."
She paused. "My daughter is on Earth."
Tom was surprised. He hadn't expected such a blunt comment, and such a private and emotional one, from someone who made a point as Halsey did of remaining so aloof and cold and logical. "Your daughter?"
"Yes. She's fighting, you know. Her father would be proud."
Tom tried to think of words to say, something that would be appropriate, yet nothing came. He simply stayed silent. If Halsey wanted to speak, then he would let her speak. If it opened her up enough to reveal her reason for being here (because he knew that this couldn't be the real reason), then surely it would be worth it.
"I have faith in her. She's a good leader, she has her father's skills. She even has her own ship. The In Amber Clad. She'll never let the Covenant take Earth, I know that much. Even if I never leave this place, even if it becomes my tomb, I can be proud of her. I simply wish that we spoke more..."
With that, Halsey fell silent. They stood there, at the mouth of the cave, both looking out toward the horizon, for what seemed like an eternity, though in reality it was mere minutes. Eventually, Tom broke the silence. "What was her name?" He almost regretted the words, speaking as if she was already dead. But Halsey didn't seem to notice, as she answered.