07 August 2012 @ 09:59 pm
Fac Fortia et Patere (16/16)  
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2247 hours, March 4, 2558
Requiem Shield World
Forerunner Installation SW-0043


John held up a fist.

His team stopped behind him noiselessly.

After being officially assigned to be part of the Infinity crew, John had been given the responsibility of running the Alpha Commando Task Force Team. He and Lieutenant Commander O’Day, Infinity’s Chief of Security, had worked together to form the best team for the Spartan to have. It had taken nearly two weeks before the Spartan had been satisfied with the group of soldiers commissioned to elite force.

Thomas Lasky had been the easiest choice. The middle-aged man had combat experience and a healthy dose of common sense and determination. After Chief Mendez’s injuries had been tended to, Lasky had relinquished command over the Spartan IVs and joined the team.

Thet ‘Reftam was the only member of the team that was not human. The former Elite had been aboard the Shadow of Intent when the Flood had attacked Earth and had travelled through the Portal to fight the on the Ark. The Sangheili had personally requested permission to be a part of the exclusive team. When John had reviewed his record, which included a recommendation from the Arbiter, he had agreed to ‘Reftam’s request.

The final two members of his team were both Spartan IVs: Miller, the young man John had first met when he came aboard the Infinity, and Sandra, a young woman who had quickly impressed John with her observation skills and speed. Both Spartans were adept at every form of fighting, their augmentation allowed for their bodies to have superhuman strength similar to that of John.

Tensions between Lasky and ‘Reftam had been high when they first met. John knew that Lasky had never forgiven the Covenant for what they had done to X--and would be unlikely to ever do so. Despite his officers’ history, John needed his team to completely trust each other. It had taken several dozen exercise drills and a couple of intense confrontations, but over the past months, there was a sense of continuity amongst his team.

Now, they were working together to help clear out a landing zone for a travelling Pelican to land.

“Lasky, ‘Reftam,” John said through the team’s comm, “get into position. When Miller gives the signal, be ready. Sandra, you’re with me.”

Less than a second later, four green acknowledge lights winked on. John watched as the former ODST and the Elite melted into the shadows of the cliff face. He nodded to Sandra and they started to make their way through the narrow corridor.

John knew not to underestimate the enemy, but he was confident in his team’s ability to reach the LZ without incident. Together, he and Sandra moved through the terrain with barely a sound. He scanned the area closely for any signs of the Prometheans, but so far, there were no signs of the hulking warriors.

When they were halfway to their objective, a single green acknowledgment light blinked.

Miller was ready.

John resisted the urge to move faster. Miller would be well-hidden until everyone got to their positions.

Just as they approached the final ascent, Lasky said, “We’ve got a bit of a problem, Chief. There are double the patrols than we were expecting. And they’ve got some friends in the sky.”

John frowned briefly. The addition of more Knights and Sentinels would make an already difficult situation more complicated.

“‘Reftam and I will deal with the hostiles on the ground. You and Sandra take the Sentinels,” John ordered. “Miller, be ready. The transport will be here in ten minutes. If they haven’t lost their tail, you will need to deal with it.”

“Got it, Chief.”

John peered around the rock face to get a look at the clearing ahead of them. There were eight Knights standing guard and over a dozen Aggressor Sentinels buzzing overhead. Across the open field, tucked behind the large trees, Lasky and ‘Reftam were hiding in the shadows. To the east, on a plateau a half-mile away, Miller was waiting.

It was time to complete their objective.

John plucked a plasma grenade from his armor and clinched it in his hand. Sandra readied her scattershot, looking ahead.

Then, John gave the go ahead signal. Sandra ran ahead as ‘Reftam and Lasky emerged from their spot. John hurled the grenade towards the Knights, satisfied when it landed squarely on one of the Promethean’s chest. When it exploded, he reached back and grabbed his scattershot, plowing forward.

Lasky and Sandra were making quick work of the Sentinels. John dodged the falling debris as he took aim at a Knight. He fired one shot, then another. The Knight staggered backwards, but held tight to his own weapon. The persistent Promethean raised his rifle, but before he could pull the trigger, John fired one last lethal shot.

The Knight collapsed to the ground.

John turned around and faced the next Knight that was taking aim at Lasky when the Pelican made contact with him and his team. “This is Delta 151. I’m going to need a little help losing this tailgater if you guys aren’t too busy.”

Cortana.

John’s brow furrowed. She wasn’t supposed to be piloting that transport.

He dodged a shot from the Knight then opened a comm channel. “Miller, are you ready?”

“Don’t worry, sir, she’ll get to the LZ in one piece.”

John didn’t reply; a barrage of bullets hit him from behind. His shield levels dropped precariously low as he spun to find his attacker. Before he could take aim at the Knight who attacked him, the Promethean slumped forward, molten bursts of plasma still glowing on his back from where he had been shot. Behind the Knight, ‘Reftam stood, plasma rifle in hand.

John nodded his thanks as his shields’ power levels returned back to normal. He scanned the battlefield. Nearly all of the Sentinels had fallen from the sky; only three Knights remained standing.

They were doing as well as John expected.

When the last of the Sentinels had fallen, John and Sandra worked together to take down another Knight as Lasky and ‘Reftam teamed up to attack another. The pairs made quick work of the Knights, leaving one single Promethean in the middle of the quartet.

Before John or the others moved towards the Knight, an explosion sounded from the east. Miller’s voice cut across the team’s channel. “I’ve got some hostiles coming on my six. I’m going to need some help if that Pelican is going to lose that tail.”

John looked at Sandra. Even hidden behind her mask, John knew she was eager to help Miller. John nodded. “Go.”

“I’m on my way, Miller,” she said over the team’s comm as she started to sprint ahead. “Don’t think I’m going to let you live this down.”

Lasky raised an eyebrow at John. “Spunky, isn’t she?”

John silently agreed. The Spartan IVs had their personality quirks. All of them were professional when on the battlefield, but they had been embedded with a civilian mindset that allowed them to be more well-rounded than the impassive Spartan-IIs.

As Sandra disappeared behind the trees, John looked forward. The three men stood with their weapons aimed at the remaining Knight. “Your people are an abomination, an atrocity of your ancestors,” he taunted.

John refused to respond to the jeer. “Call off the attack on the transport,” he demanded.

The Knight shook his head. “Never. I do not fear you, Warrior. The Intellect will die as she should have months ago.”

John tensed. His finger itched to pull the trigger, but he would allow for the Knight’s surrender, if the Promethean chose to give in.

The Knight’s helmet peeled back. The flames from his skull brightened the darkened sky. “I would rather die than concede defeat.”

“That can be arranged,” rumbled ‘Reftam. Then, before John took the shot, he pulled out his light sword and slashed it across the Knight’s throat. The head dropped to the ground as the Promethean’s body fell forward.

“You should know by now their kind don’t negotiate,” ‘Reftam said disapprovingly.

“And you should know by now that our kind is always willing to give the enemy a chance to admit they’ve been a bunch of idiots and come crawling to us for help. That’s what happened with the Arbiter, right?” Lasky shot back.

“Your ignorance--”

“Not now,” John said, putting up a hand. Then, he opened a comm channel. “Blue Four, Blue Five, what’s your status?”

Neither answered.

John listened for the sound of a firefight in the distance, but heard nothing. He opened another comm channel. “Delta 151, please respond.”

“I’m here, Chief.” Cortana’s voice was calm, he noted.

“What’s your status?”

“Impressed.” He heard the smile in her voice. “I’m watching two members of your team working to hijack an attack runner. In midair.” She paused for a half-second. “How come you never did that?”

Lasky snickered. Even ‘Reftam seemed amused by Cortana’s inquiry.

Yeah, John thought. She was fine.

Another half minute passed, then Sandra spoke. “Blue Four here. We’ve got ourselves an attack runner, Chief.”

“Good work,” he said sincerely.

It took another three minutes for the two aircrafts to come into view. John watched as the transports landed in the middle of the clearing. Miller and Sandra emerged from the attack runner first. Then, Cortana stepped out from the Pelican’s blood tray.

She was bundled up in a parka, her face peeking from the furry hood. In her hand, there was a tablet. She walked around the fallen Knights, her eyebrow raised. “No one can accuse you and your team of not taking your training exercises seriously. It’s a good thing these drones are easily replaceable.”

“The talking program was new,” noted Lasky.

Cortana shrugged. “The commander thought you guys were ready for a more life-like scenario. And what’s more realistic than a backtalking hostile?” She looked at John, studying his armor. “How did the live rounds work out?”

“Fine.”

A faint amused smile touched her lips. “I didn’t expect anything less. You are the Alpha Commando Team for a reason.” She looked at the others. “The Infinity is almost ready for take-off. Buck wants all personnel back on board ASAP.”

It had taken just over six months and thousands of man hours, but the crew had finally been able to restore the Infinity to working condition. They would continue their mission of space exploration, locating and studying new Forerunner planets and installations.

“We’ll take the attack runner back to the Infinity. I’m sure Miller and Sandra want to show off their prize to all the other Spartans,” offered Lasky. “The two of you can bring back the Pelican if that’s alright with you, Chief.”

John suspected that the seasoned officer was trying to give him and Cortana a few minutes away from inquisitive eyes. Since their arrival on the Infinity, the crew had taken an unhealthy fascination in the Spartan and former AI that had saved the universe.

He nodded and looked at his team. They weren’t like the Blue Team made of Spartan IIs, but John had confidence that like his former team, the five of them would be able to accomplish great things.

“Come on,” Lasky said. “I can’t wait to drive this thing back.”

I have more piloting experience,” ‘Reftam countered as they started walking to the craft.

“Hey! We were the ones that got it in the first place,” Miller replied.

Their voices faded when they entered the ship.

Cortana raised her eyebrows. “Quite a team you’ve got there.” There was a wistfulness to her voice.

The two of them had been unable to work together since she had come aboard the Infinity because she was classified as a civilian personnel. Until High Command officially changed her status to that of an UNSC officer, there would be no chance that she could accompany him during his missions.

Even then, it wasn’t certain if they would be assigned to the same unit.

“Cortana...”

He didn’t get a chance finish his sentence because she suddenly held out the tablet that she was holding. “I thought you should read this.”

John knew whatever was on the tablet was important. Entering a training exercise with live rounds was reckless, even for Cortana. She took a step towards him. She always stood that much closer to him than anyone else. An attempt to try to get in that head of his again, she had once confessed.

He took the tablet from her and read the information on the screen.

“You heard from Lord Hood.”

She nodded. “It took them long enough to make a decision.” She pulled out a set of dog tags from under her jacket. “He convinced High Command to not only recognize me as a valid member of the UNSC, but to also attribute the work I did as an AI to my service record. With that, I have been given an official rank. You’re looking at Lieutenant Cortana Halsey.”

“You kept the name,” he noted, surprised.

“I’m not ashamed of my background,” she replied confidently. “If Admiral Hood could convince High Command to look past the fact that I am an AI-turned-human, what’s a last name that’s tied to the most despised-yet-respected doctor in the fleet?”

“But,” she said, tapping the screen twice, “that’s not all. I’ve also been given my own three-man team: Data Infiltration Team Alpha. Officially, we’re going to study Forerunner technology. Unofficially, our job is going to be hacking into the Forerunner systems and using it to our advantage. Because we’ll be going planetside so often, as head of the team, I’m going to have to coordinate with the leader of the Alpha Commando Task Force on a consistent basis.”

That was his team.

“Seems like you’re not getting rid of me yet,” she said mischievously.

AI or human, there was no one on the Infinity whose skills and intelligence John trusted more. He felt a faint smile tug on his lips.

“Well...good.”

A faint blush dusted her cheeks. “Come on, John,” she said, walking back to the Pelican. “We’d better get back to the ship before Commander Buck starts asking questions. Again.” She sat in the pilot’s seat. John stood behind her. “You know, for someone who is in charge of sixteen thousand people, you’d think he’d have better things to do than fuel the rumor mill.”

“People are always going to talk,” he said from experience. There was no ship or planet that he had ever gone to where he or the other Spartans hadn’t attracted attention.

She didn’t say anything as she continued to navigate through Requiem’s skies. They flew through the snow dusted hills, passing the now fully-functional Station they had first gone to when they had crashed on the planet.

A tiny colony had been established in the Forerunner structure in the weeks since the Schism’s destruction. Several hundred ONI officers had volunteered to stay on the planet to study the Forerunner technology. The Librarian had offered to oversee and assist them as they learned about the history of the universe.

Soon, the Infinity came into view. The repaired ship stood proudly at the base of the control center. He watched as the final cargo was being loaded into the ship. As the last of the Marines walked up the ramp, he glanced at Cortana. “It’s finished.”

The Pelican turned backwards as it finished its landing sequence and settled on the floor of the cargo bay. She stood up, walking to the back of the transport. John followed. Her hand brushed against his as they started making their way down the ramp. “Actually, John, I think we’re just getting started.”

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