Waking the Dead (part one): Juggling Snakes
Posted By: Chuckles
Date: 22 May 2005, 11:35 AM
Waking the Dead (part one): Juggling Snakes
Dr. Halsey tried her best to communicate the danger, but he mistook her passion for paranoia and she was quickly running out of angles. "Well, whatever you think of those studies, Dennis, we would be fools to do nothing."
"Catherine, I don't know what to say. Am I talking to a scientist or witchdoctor?"
"Please, that is hardly—"
"Fair?" Dr. Dennis Farina took a deep breath and tried to conjure a reasonable voice. "What would be fair, Dr. Halsey? For me to pretend that this 'mystical bond' of yours is scientific? You want me to confirm your fear in something that has as much basis in fact as the bogeyman? Either you are losing your edge or you are truly desperate for more funding." Dennis braced for her reply, but only cold silence filled the phone. Nearly a minute passed before Dr. Halsey's thin, weary voice answered.
"Can you stop being a bureaucrat long enough to listen? We've been friends for over thirty years. I think I've earned a little humoring. Keep it off the record if it makes you feel safer."
"Fine." Coward. "Now assuming that these studies are valid, what should we do?"
"If bonds of various strengths really do connect parents to children, I am not sure what you can do. Pray, I guess."
"Now you're being unscientific!" Halsey said with more humor than anger. His reply surprised her.
"No, I'm not. These studies make it clear that this 'bond' cannot be measured or altered. You've already put—how many children through this program?"
"I'm not at liberty to—"
"Fine, but you see my point. I would say that you were closing the barn door after the horses escaped, but in this case you would never know—unless something went wrong. So if you can come up with something more useful than prayer, I'm all ears."
Catherine was silent for a moment as she digested Dennis' words. "My God, you're right. This could destroy the SPARTAN program, and we wouldn't even know until it was too late. My God, what if . . . "
"What if what?"
Dr. Halsey sighed deeply and then voiced her greatest fear. "What if we have already messed with the wrong family? What if we have already turned such a child into a Spartan?"
"Calm down, Catherine. Take my word for it; such a person does not exist."
The grenade rolled to a stop in front of the two steel doors, precisely where the huge Spartan had intended. Backing up several steps he pressed his armored bulk tight against the side of the building. Chuckles knew that he was still too close to avoid injury, but he didn't care: these filthy rebels had already killed one of his men and they were going to pay dearly. Quickly palming his eighteen-inch combat knife, he crouched and counted.
Dressed in black and heavily armed, ten rebels waited inside. Things had been quiet for the past ten minutes, and some believed that it might be over. Palatov, however, was not so na•ve. In the ten years that he had fought the UNSC, he had never seen them give up or even retreat. Light flashed and the ground shook as an explosion blew the doors from their hinges and into the building, narrowly missing the rebels inside.
Suddenly something came in, moving among them cloaked in smoke and dust. Dull thumps and muffled shrieks filled the room, moving nearer and nearer. Confused and disoriented Palatov whipped his rifle this way, then that, but dared not fire blindly into the cloud. Without warning a huge hand snatched his weapon away and slammed him violently to the concrete floor. The largest boot he had ever seen came down on his chest, pinning him to the ground.
"Where is Palatov?" The voice was cold as death, but the rebel leader was no coward.
"I am Palatov." For a moment Chuckles' anger subsided. It was not often that he saw courage among rebel troops.
The big Spartan grunted. "I am here to deliver a message from a former friend of yours, Colonel James Ackerson." The rebel felt a tinge of hope. He and the Colonel had once been close. Perhaps Ackerson would want to meet with him.
"Yes, what is it?"
"He wanted you to know," Chuckles said as he grabbed his shotgun and chambered a round, "how sorry he was that he couldn't do this personally." Leveling the barrel at Palatov's head the Spartan pulled the trigger and splattered his surprised expression all over the room.
Staring down at the headless body Chuckles tried in vain to think of the mission as a success. But he had lost a man—more than a man, a Spartan—and no living rebel was worth that high a price. Rage filled his bulky frame, and more than anything else he wanted to fight, to kill, to use his anger against an enemy. But there were no one left to fight. Not here anyway. Time to regroup.
"MiNeS, I am at the main building and all targets are neutralized. I repeat, all targets are down. Report." The young Spartan's voice crackled in Chuckles' helmet, but his words made no sense.
"What did you say?" Seemingly in reply a Pelican roared to life a few hundred yards to the north, quickly gained altitude and disappeared behind the clouds. MiNeS' friend or foe tag blinked twice before vanishing from Chuckles' HUD.
Colonel Ackerson stared at the report on his desk as if he were studying a ransom note. Major Samuel Cousins Jr. sat a few feet to his left, his presence leaving no doubt in Chuckles' mind that something was very wrong. Once the Colonel finished reading he lifted unfriendly eyes to the huge man sitting on the other side of the desk.
"You lost two men—two Spartans—on a single op?"
Chuckles' eyes narrowed. "No, sir. I lost one man. The other got lost on his own."
"But he was your responsibility!"
"Sir, I am not a baby-sitter. If you expect me to hold hands with the men on each assignment, then it would be best to leave them behind. I can't fight and play mommy at the same time."
Before becoming an ONI spook, the Colonel had spent several years as a leader in Spec Ops. As much as he hated to admit it, Chuckles was right. Again, he glanced down at the report.
"Xraf was dropped by a sniper?"
"How did it happen?"
"How did it—" Chuckles fought to keep his temper in check. "It happened because we were attacking the enemy on his own ground in broad daylight. Have you ever been to Pandora City on Epsilon Indi Four, sir?"
"Then perhaps you're the one who supplied our intel, because whoever-it-was apparently hasn't been there either. And, may I ask, why in God's name were we sent there in the first place?"
"Palatov?" Chuckles shook is head in disgust. "You sent us eleven light-years away to fight a rebel who commands less than a thousand men?"
"Soldier, I will not waste my breath defending my orders to a subordinate. I do not submit them for your approval, and frankly, I don't care if you like them or not!"
Chuckles only glared.
"Sir," Sam said, eager to get the meeting back on track, "We need to talk about MiNeS."
Ackerson took a deep breath and then nodded. "Soldier, what can you tell us about the young Spartan's disappearance?"
"Sir, not much. He spoke a word into the COM, and then apparently left in a Pelican."
"What did he say?"
Ackerson nearly fell out of his chair and the Major looked as if he had just seen a ghost. The two of them exchanged alarmed looks, and then just as quickly tried to mask their concern. Chuckles had never seen the Colonel scared before and now his own interest was piqued. When Ackerson finally spoke his voice was overly friendly.
"Soldier, may I ask why this detail was left out of your report?"
Chuckles shrugged. "It didn't seem important."
"Are you sure that was all he said?"
The big Spartan nodded.
Leaning back in his chair, the Colonel shook his head and sighed. "Very well. Would you please step outside for a moment?"
Please? "Yes sir."
Once Chuckles had left the room, Sam turned towards the Colonel, his face no longer hiding his alarm. "I don't believe it. How could he have found out?"
"I don't know, and at this point it no longer matters. There is only one reason he would have taken off after learning his name."
The blood drained from Sam's face. "Do you think he knows?"
"No, I don't think he has anything but a name and we need to keep it that way." Ackerson shook his head and stared at his desktop. "We should have killed him the day he arrived." Sam nodded his agreement. Although executing MiNeS would have caused him a few sleepless nights, the possible alternative—which was now threatening to become a reality—was much, much worse.
Ackerson punched a button on his phone. "Send the Spartan back in." As Chuckles entered the room he could almost taste the fear. The Colonel took a deep breath and looked straight into the big Spartan's eyes; something that few other people could do.
"Unfortunately, MiNeS has become a liability to this facility. As long as he is still alive all that we hope to accomplish here will be in danger."
"Oh?" Chuckles said, a wicked grin spreading across his face. "And just what are we doing here? If I don't know after five years in this deep freeze there's no way that kid knows anything."
"He knows his last name," Sam said calmly, "and that is enough." Chuckles shook his head and laughed. None of this made any sense. As far as he knew every Spartan knew his last name—save himself. Maybe MiNeS had been orphaned too. Why did these guys care?
Guessing Chuckles' thoughts, Ackerson spoke. "For reasons that I cannot reveal it was vital that MiNeS never have any connection back to his family. Upon entering the SPARTAN program ONI wiped all memory of his last name away using selective neural paralysis. It was for his own good, but apparently it was not enough." The Colonel dropped his gaze to the desk for a moment and then looked up at Chuckles again. "I am sending you to find and eliminate MiNeS."
The big Spartan's eyes turned cold as the arctic air, and for a long moment he said nothing. When Chuckles finally spoke his voice sent a chill down Sam's spine. "No. I think the UNSC has taken enough from the Spartans without taking their lives as well." Leaning forward and staring at the Colonel with unrestrained menace he added, "Do you know how easy it would be to kill you?" Sam immediately reached for his sidearm, but Ackerson waved him off.
"Yes I do, soldier. And if I ever jeopardize our fight against the enemy, I hope that somebody does kill me. But there's something else that you had better get through your genetically thickened head: if you ever threaten me again I will have you shot! Is that clear?"
Unmoved, Chuckles spoke matter-of-factly. "Sir, I did not threaten you. Threats are worthless. If I wanted you dead I'd do it without the monologue." Ackerson smiled. As much as he hated to admit it, he loved Chuckles' style. Had the Colonel owned a twisted greeting card company he would have made a fortune off of the quotes.
Time to close the deal. "You leave me no choice but to send Simjanes. I'm sure MiNeS will appreciate your sentiments. If you like, I'll have Sim give him your regards just before he tortures the young Spartan for information."
For a moment, Chuckles was too shocked to speak. He had heard rumors that Simjanes worked for Ackerson, but had never believed it. He had been certain that Sim was dead—but one look in the Colonel's eyes told him that this was no lie. Somehow he had to talk Ackerson out of this madness.
"What makes you think he could even find MiNeS? When ONI sent Simjanes after Lexicus all he ever got was wounded." But even as Chuckles said the words, he knew that they were empty. Although MiNeS was full of potential, he was no Lexicus. Relentless and utterly without emotion or pity, Simjanes would eventually flush him out—and the young Spartan would die screaming.
"Two weeks ago," Sam said with sincere disgust, "an ODST decided to leave without authorization and Simjanes was sent after him. In less than twelve hours he tracked the soldier to a small village and slaughtered him, along with every man woman and child that the ODST could have possibly come in contact with. In this case nearly one hundred people were killed. MiNeS has lost himself in one of our most densely populated systems." Sam leaned forward, his face etched with concern. "If we send Simjanes he will kill everyone that young Spartan goes near without a moments hesitation."
"We estimate," Ackerson said picking up his data pad, "a minimum of three thousand collateral deaths if Simjanes is sent. That is minimum. I am sure that you already know that it makes no difference to him—he'll kill as many as it takes."
Somebody else might have thought the Colonel was bluffing, but Chuckles knew better. For Simjanes killing was as natural as breathing—and he did both with equal emotion. No, he could not abandon MiNeS to that monster. The Spartan sighed with resignation. "Fine, I'll go."
Ackerson smiled. That was easier than I thought.
"I'm taking Caleb with me."
"Caleb?" Sam said. "We were thinking Rhinox or Turpertrator."
"I'm going to need somebody who knows how MiNeS thinks; Caleb was his closest friend."
Ackerson nodded. "Very well. Now get moving, soldier."
The big Spartan stood to his feet, turned and walked out of the room. The moment the door closed, Sam looked at the Colonel with scolding eyes.
"You should have been straight with him, James."
Ackerson smiled weakly. "Don't worry Sam, I know what I'm doing."
"That's what bothers me." The Major's eyes went wide with concern. "You do know what you're doing—yet you still do it. Be careful who you toy with, sir. If you juggle rattlesnakes long enough you'll eventually catch one by it's fangs."