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"Do you know how expensive this gear is, son?"

Chapter 2 (v.1) - Chapter Two: One Size Fits All

Submitted: November 10, 2018

Reads: 833

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Submitted: November 10, 2018



Chapter Two
One Size Fits All


It was October 2552 when Master Chief Petty Officer John-117 was called down to the armoury on Cairo Station to be outfitted with his new armour. The MJOLNIR powered assault armour was the most cutting-edge military hardware within the United Nations Space Command (UNSC), and was about as expensive as an entire starship. In its simplest description, it consisted of a thick, black, full-bodysuit and an outer shell of thicker green titanium alloy with gaps in sections for flexibility displaying the bodysuit underneath; but the MJOLNIR was far more than that.

John-117 was one of very few soldiers for whom it was physically possible to equip the MJOLNIR power armour. As a Spartan-II, John had been a soldier in training from the age of six. His indoctrination, overseen by Doctor Cather Halsey, was now a distant memory. He and his fellow Spartans received the biological augmentations that improved their bodies enough to be able to wear MLONIR without the armour ripping their bones out of their sockets when they moved or being crushed under its extreme weight. It was due to this weight and the multiple parts that made up the battle-suit that John required an entire team of technicians to dress him.

The children chosen for the Spartan-II program had been selected via a scrupulous screening process across a number of human colonies. They were abducted and taken to a major UNSC stronghold, the planet Reach, where they underwent operations that enhanced them in almost every way physically and intellectually, all the while receiving constant education and physical training to become the most efficient and obedient soldiers possible. The original intention for the Spartans was to be a method for ending the Insurrection, a war between the UNSC and numerous terrorist factions across the colonies.  That all changed when the Covenant arrived.

While there were some clean-up jobs concerning the insurrectionists, the Spartans spent most of their time running around in their MJOLNIR power armour fighting the alien empire. It was unknown exactly why the Covenant had declared war on the human race. The extinction of humanity was commanded by the gods themselves according to the Covenant. Where this idea came from exactly was a complete mystery.

In addition to the Spartan’s biological enhancements and the general durable defence capabilities of the armour, the technical marvel that was MJOLNIR also further increased the speed, strength and agility of the super-soldiers. MJONIR included a highly advanced user interface and heads-up-display within the helmet that was linked directly to the wearer’s neural implants. It included automatic biofoam injectors to prevent bleeding out as well as a hydrostatic gel layer to control the suit’s temperature, amongst other impressive features. The model John had just relinquished had also contained full-body energy shields, reverse-engineered from Covenant technology, and a port for the housing of UNSC Artificial Intelligence.

John stood in a T-pose staring out the armoury window as the technicians fitted him. Cairo Station was an orbital defence platform situated over the planet Earth, mankind’s homeworld. Long ago the entire human population had existed solely on Earth. Over the last few centuries they had located and constructed many suitable environments to inhabit within the Orion Arm of the Milky Way galaxy. Eventually, humanity existed on countless colony worlds. In time, they had expanded far enough to make contact with the Covenant, and then, they lost it all. 

John’s skin went cold at the touch of the armour. It was incredibly pale, almost translucent due to the lack of sun exposure he’d been having. He’d spent so much of his time covered head-to-toe in his armour during mission after mission leading up to the Covenant attack on the planet Reach. John focused on the view of Earth. He stared intensely at the giant blue marble that was the origin of his species. In many ways, it was very similar to Reach. Like Reach, it was one of the UNSC’s most valued worlds and a military stronghold. Many military operations and commands had been made on both planets, but they also both housed hundreds of thousands of civilians. Earth even looked a lot like Reach. John’s job was to ensure Earth didn’t meet the same fate.

The technicians stopped. John looked down and saw that his green and black armour completely enveloped his body, all except his head. His helmet sat on a workbench in front of him beside the few pieces of hardware left over from John’s old armour that could no longer be salvaged. These had been damaged beyond repair in the days leading up to John’s arrival at Earth. The technicians cleared the room, pulling a trolley behind them containing the now unworn armour John had been in when he entered the armoury.

The wide, heavy blast door shut closed behind the last of the technicians, leaving John and the armourer alone in the room. Master Gunnery Sergeant Peters picked up one of the pieces of broken hardware and sighed.

“Junk. The damn thing’s useless,” Peters said flat.

He glanced toward the metal blast door as if seeing the technicians still hauling their cart of armour away, and then glanced back at John-117.

"Your plating was about to fail. There's viscosity throughout the gel layer," He continued, shaking the hardware in the air. “Optics? Totally fried, and let's not even talk about the power supply. Do you know how expensive this gear is, son?”

John stood stern. He wasn’t sure whether to be amused or ashamed. Most people found the seven-foot-tall Spartan super-soldiers too imposing to talk with other than when making commands as superior officers or necessary communication in battle. Even without his armour, John was a figure to behold. He was somehow both larger than any known body-builder while still lean enough to remain extremely fast and agile; a perfect soldier, and yet, here was this armourer scolding him like a child for damaging his MJOLNIR.

It wasn’t like John’s MJOLNIR had been mistreated. To be fair, he’d had the armour for a far shorter period than expected, but Master Chief Petty Officer John-117 had only ever done what was necessary to complete his goals. He had not made any rash decisions or foolish mistakes that lead to damaging the advanced power armour. …Well, perhaps except for an initial blast of superheated plasma to his energy shield during the defence of the Pillar of Autumn.

It had been one month since the Covenant assault on the UNSC Pillar of Autumn. Covenant infantry had boarded the Halcyon-class battlecruiser, which was an uncharacteristic act for the alien collective. Usually they attacked from a distance. It had been revealed later that the Covenant chose to board the Autumn in order to prevent any damage from plasma misfire to the ring-shaped structure they’d just found. John was tasked with escorting Cortana to a lifepod, escaping the ship and landing on the ring.

“Keep your head down! There’s two of us in here now, remember?!” Cortana had yelled at John as he’d made a sharp turn down a corridor, receiving a blast of plasma straight to the face.

Of course, the energy shielding his suit emitted prevented the plasma from actually making contact with him. The invisible shields protected his entire body against enemy fire, but enough of it would have caused the shields to deplete, leaving both John and Cortana vulnerable.  

Cortana was a third-generation “Smart” UNSC Artificial Intelligence. The term “Smart” was used to differentiate between the two types of AI; those who were made up entirely of programming without a true mind of their own and AI like Cortana, who were created using the brain of a recently deceased human being. John had often wondered about the human used to create Cortana during their time on the ringworld. Naturally, their identity was a secret.  

John had not entirely approved of the AI when he first met her prior to the destruction of Reach. Her civilian-like humour and bubbly manner had been far from what John was used to after having spent almost his entire life amidst military personnel, which mostly just consisted of the time spent with his fellow Spartans who were not altogether chatty. Cortana had two physical forms. The form that was used for carrying the AI from one place to another was a data chip, a hard piece of rectangular metal with an octagonal cut-out in the centre. A light glowed from the centre of the octagonal hole when Cortana’s sentience was present within the chip. The other form was Cortana’s avatar, a holographic display that could be projected when Cortana was inserted into holopanels.  

After Cortana’s creation approximately three years ago, she chose the form of a human woman for her avatar. Some AI went to the extreme, creating gods or goddesses, angels or demons, astronauts, robots and even inanimate objects to represent themselves. Cortana’s appearance was simple. She was slender, but with a notably feminine body and a pretty face. Her hair was fairly short with the sides of it hanging down just past her jawline and the back cut a little shorter. Cortana’s hologram would glow completely purple or blue depending on her emotions, and instead of clothes, she had numbers and patters running up and down her body that would speed up or slow down based on her thought process.

Having been forced to leave his fellow Spartan-IIs on Reach as the Pillar of Autumn blind-jumped out of the system, John had believed he would be facing future missions alone. He knew he’d have the support of various marines and naval officers when necessary, but he did not foresee the companionship he’d develop with this AI.

Cortana’s chip had been inserted into a port at the back of John’s helmet. She was able to access the battlesuit’s systems and surrounding technology while communicating with John and external personnel to assist him in completing his missions. Together they fought through waves of Covenant, hacked into the Covenant battlenet, uncovered the secrets of the Halo ring they’d stumbled onto and then destroyed the damned thing. Had Halo been detonated, its energy would have spread out across the stars, extending to the edges of the Milky Way, wiping out every lifeform in its path. By the end of the process, the galaxy would be left completely devoid of all sentient life.

The ringworld had been built by a long-lost civilisation called the Forerunner. It was designed as a weapon to be used against an equally ancient species they called the Flood. There had been some Flood on the ringworld itself, buried beneath its surface, the last remnants of a prehistoric war. When the Covenant accidentally unleashed the parasitic creatures, it was not long before they covered the entire ring consuming human and Covenant life alike. John and Cortana had been forced to enter the Pillar of Autumn’s crash site on Halo and detonate its fusion reactors. When the ship exploded it was of sufficient enough size to destabilise the ring and take out the Flood with it.

Only one other human survivor had made it back to Earth with John and Cortana. Obeying protocol, the trio could not jump directly to Earth at risk of the Covenant following. They made a roundabout trip that included a stopover at Reach to see if anyone had survived the destruction. Few were so lucky. Then finally, on the way back to Earth they discovered something. The Covenant had already learned the location of the human homeworld, and they were preparing for an invasion. It wouldn’t be long before the aliens were all over them. 

John reflected. Do you know how expensive this gear is, son? John pondered Peters’ words as he lifted the heavy green helmet from the bench and placed it over his head.

“Tell that to the Covenant,” he replied to the Gunnery Sergeant in his low grainy voice.

Perhaps Cortana’s humour had started to rub off on him, John thought.

The helmet clicked into place. Its visor appeared gold on the exterior. It was completely reflective from the outside, showing no hint of the forty-one-year-old face underneath. On the interior, the visor projected a heads-up-display for John to see at all times unless he chose otherwise. The blue projections appeared semi-transparent over the inside of the visor, not large enough to obscure his vision, but still easy enough to see at all times. Most prominent was the energy shield gauge which took the form of a long, solid rectangle at the very top.  At the bottom left was a blue circle, his motion tracker. Currently the circle was empty. Had there been any movement from John or the Gunnery Sergeant then their dots would show up yellow within the circle; John’s at the centre to convey his position and Peters’ above it to show his proximity to John. Aside from the energy shield bar and motion tracker, the heads-up-display was also filled with small scrolling blue text, attaching itself to different objects and features in the room. It was all irrelevant information that John decided to switch off using the direct link between the suit’s interface and his mind.

“Well, it was all obsolete anyway,” Peters replied. “Your new suit's a Mark Six. It just came up from Songnam this morning. Try to take it easy until you get used to the upgrades. Move around a little, get a feel for it. When you're ready, come and meet me by the zapper.”

The armoury was a moderately large four-sided room. On one side was a wall with two windows facing out into space. From this view, John could see other sections of the space station, large cube-shaped platforms and long walkways, as well as one incredible tower-sized Magnetic Accelerator Canon or MAC gun. Behind that was Earth. Between the two windows was a wide grey and yellow blast door that opened from a horizontal split in the middle. Most of the Cairo’s rooms, following traditional UNSC spacecraft design, was covered in flat, grey, rectangular plating with yellow beams and markings to indicate varying levels of elevation or to separate different rooms. Occasionally, other colours such as blue, green or red might be painted in rooms for decoration, to help maintain morale.  

On the opposite side of the armoury was another blast door but without windows beside it. Instead, the wall contained metal panels that would automatically open for UNSC personal to provide them with weaponry. These panels also made up the walls at either end of the room. For the time being, they were all locked closed. The centre of the armoury was scattered with different stations made up of metal frames and desks covered in colourful screens and buttons. John currently stood in front of a large circular frame with four flashing lights. This was the targeting station.

Peters turned to John’s right and began walking away to another device, the zapper as he called it. John moved to follow and instantaneously noticed how free-flowing the MJOLNIR Mark Six felt over his former Mark Five. It was clearly less bulky and allowed for much smoother, fluid movement as a result. He walked over to stand within a painted red square on the metallic floor in front of the shield test station. The heavy clunking of metal meeting metal echoed around the room as John’s armoured boots hit the grating of the floor below. The room had a level underneath with two trap doors for access.

Peters stood in front of a buttoned panel while John stood on the red square across from him. Two metal poles protruded down from the ceiling on either side of the square.

“Pay attention 'cause I'm only going over this once. This station will test your recharging energy shields,” he told John. “The new armour’s energy shields are extremely resilient. Much better than the Covenant tech we used for the Mark Five.”

The Gunnery Sergeant pressed some buttons and the station sprang to life. The poles lit up bright yellow and began to hum aggressively. Then they started spinning around John, progressively getting faster before – Zap! The previously invisible shielding around John’s MJOLNIR armour lit up the same yellow colour as the polls before expanding outward and disappearing. The energy shield had been completely depleted by the machine, which is exactly what would happen if it were to receive too much damage from enemy fire, or from any source for that matter.

The polls began to dim, and the spinning slowed down. A high-pitched beeping came from the inside of John’s helmet. It was an alarm to alert the wearer that the energy shield had been brought down. The previously solid rectangle at the top of John’s heads-up-display was now hollow, empty, but not for long.

The beeping ceased, and the rectangular gauge began to refill as yellow energy flickered around John’s armour before turning invisible once more.

“Bingo! As you can see, they recharge a lot faster!” Exclaimed Peters.

John noticed a yellow dot appear at the edge of the motion tracker on his heads-up-display. The window-side blast door opened, and a familiar face walked in.

“If your shields go down,” Peters continued, “Find some cover and wait for the meter to read fully charged."

“That,” chimed in Sergeant Major Johnson, “Or he can hide behind me. You done with my boy here, Master Gunns? I don't see any training wheels.”

“His armour is working fine, Johnson, so shut your chilli hole.” The Master Gunnery Sergeant turned to John, “You're free to go, son. Just remember, take things slow.”

“Don’t worry. I’ll hold his hand,” said Johnson.

John followed the Sergeant Major back toward the still open blast door. On the other side was an elevator. The pair stepped into the lift, and the doors began to close behind them.

“Hey, Johnson,” Peters called out, “When are you gonna tell me how you made it back home in one piece?"

“Sorry, Gunns. It’s classified.”

“Classified my ass! Well, you can forget about those adjustments to your A2 scope, and you're sure as hell-"

The door sealed shut, drowning out the Gunnery Sergeant’s voice. Johnson turned back to John as the elevator moved downward.

“Well, he's in a particularly fine mood. Maybe Lord Hood didn't give him an invitation.”

Avery Johnson was taller and stronger than the average human soldier, though not quite the height of a Spartan-II like the Master Chief Petty Officer. His dark skin was a gift from his African-American heritage, and his strong jaw was covered in black stubble with a closely trimmed moustache. Technically, Johnson could be considered an old man at this stage of his life, but due to much of his time being spent in and out of the UNSC’s cryogenic freezers between battle, he neither looked nor felt anywhere close to his age. The cryo-freezers were glass tubes used to hold UNSC personnel in slumber between long space journeys. Their use became very frequent after the invention of the Shaw-Fujikawa drives that allowed ships to rip their way through slipstream space, travelling faster than lightspeed and emerging safely on the other side. The freezers either completely halted the aging process or slowed it down enough that no identifiable changes could be determined on an individual, even if they were to spend years sleeping inside one.

John had noticed over the last few years of the Human-Covenant War that the faces of the UNSC Marines soldiers who often fought beside him were starting to repeat. It seemed that enough people had died in the war that those who remained were beginning to become familiar. Sergeant Major Avery Junior Johnson was one of those familiar faces. John had fought beside him on a few missions prior to the fall of the planet Reach, and was not at all surprised to find him there before they joined the crew of the Pillar of Autumn prior to fleeing the system.

Aside from perhaps the Spartan himself, Johnson had likely been on more missions for the UNSC Marine Corps than anyone else on the Autumn. He was certainly the most seasoned, and due to both his loud, gruff, drill-sergeant voice and oddly whimsical demeanour, he was impossible to miss while on board despite the Autumn having been an over-one-kilometre long cruiser.

When John and Cortana had found Johnson alive above the rubble left behind from the broken Halo ring, John had been faced with a choice. On the ring, he had seen Avery Johnson get taken by the Flood, just as he’d seen Captain Keyes, Private Jenkins and all the rest fall to the parasite. Somehow Johnson had survived exposure to the ghastly creatures, and John could not understand how. Had John forwarded the details of Johnson’s encounter with the Flood, the officials working at the Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI) would have had him dissected and his corpse examined purely for an attempt at discovering how he’d rejected the parasite.

As a young Spartan in training, John’s coach had once told him, “Your duty to the UNSC supersedes your duty to yourself or even your crew. It is acceptable to spend their lives if necessary.” A Spartan’s goal, a soldier’s goal, was to complete their mission no matter the cost. John had lived by these words every day since his training. By allowing ONI to open up and study the body of Sergeant Major Johnson, they might have found a cure for the Flood infestation, but at the certain death of the man. Despite John’s training, despite everything he knew, he had withheld the details of Johnson’s encounter with the Flood from ONI and let the man keep his life. Had he made the right decision?

John examined the man. Johnson was currently clothed in a white dress uniform topped off with a flat-capped military beret covering his black buzzcut hair. They were on their way to a short ceremony to honour their actions during the battle of Halo. As the elevator stopped, the two men stepped out of it and straight into a larger sideways-travelling cart with seats and windows. The doors shut, and it started moving. On one side, they could still see Earth and the rest of the orbital defence platform outside the window. On the other, they could see Commons Room 01, an open interior courtyard down below. Like the rest of the station, it was made from metal, but had small gardens with palm trees and other plants.

“Earth,” Johnson began, looking out the window toward the planet he’d been raised on, having left for the Marine Corps at the age of eighteen, decades ago. “I haven't seen it in years. When I shipped out for basic, the Orbital Defence Grid was all theory and politics. Now look. The Cairo is just one of three hundred geo-sync platforms. That MAC gun can put a round clean through a Covenant capital ship. With coordinated fire from the Athens and the Malta, nothing's gonna get past this battle cluster in one piece.”

Several UNSC frigates and cruisers flew passed the window, temporarily blocking the view of Earth. The frigates, about half a kilometre long, looked like giant, long, narrow, handle-less rifles constructed from grey, blocky chunks. On the back were the massive cylindrical exhaust ports emitting fire, appearing like rockets shooting the frigates through space. The cruisers, much fewer in number, were more than double the size of the frigates with a heavier, hexagonal-prism shaped design. Several smaller spacecraft could be observed flying between the enormous vessels, including the fast, manoeuvring Longsword fighters with their manta-ray-shaped design.

“Ships have been arriving all morning.” Avery glanced at John with a deliberate look in his eye. “Nobody's saying much, but I think something big is about to happen.”

The cart stopped moving and the doors slid open. They both new exactly what was about to happen; the battle for Earth, humanity’s final stronghold. The Covenant would be arriving very soon.  

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