Three months could be a long time for some, depending on one's view, and much could change in the ninety days or so that comprised such a period. On Thrace, a lot did change in that time, most of it in regards to the independent government under the late Colonel William Carson. The planet had always been a backwater, unknown to most inhabitants of the Inner Colonies and Earth, and it had only been through Commander Laura Boone's Operation Distant Thunder that the colony had become a focal point, although even that had fizzled out ever since the failure of that operation. For now, Thrace and other worlds like it, remained independent and traded amongst themselves, and even with the former Covenant races.
It was not a place that Linda-058 would have normally visited. As a Spartan-II, she had been to many different worlds and fought many different enemies, and walking the streets of Thrace reminded her of the insurrectionist worlds she had visited before the Human-Covenant war. She recognized the settler types, rough and rugged, and the uniforms of the soldiers who patrolled the streets. She had seen it all before, and whereas in the past she might have come to such a place to kill people, this time around she was here purely for personal reasons. Outfitted in unassuming civilian clothing, comprised of a freighter pilot's jacket and a set of grey cargo pants and military grade boots, she kept her head down and weaved through the crowds on the narrow streets with a singular purpose in mind. It had taken some doing, ever since she had first heard of the 'incident' nearly three months prior, but she felt that she had finally had some success in her search.
This much was confirmed by the presence of the two guards at the front of the unassuming restaurant on the edge of Deckar's Stand. They stopped her as she approached, giving her odd looks as they regarded the tall, muscular woman before them, and the narrowed view she gave them as they patted her down and checked her for any listening devices and weapons. Satisfied, they allowed her to proceed. Linda would not normally have travelled to a place like this unarmed, but for the one she was to meet, she felt she could put some faith in her. In all accounts, the one she was to meet was a traitor, but Spartan-to-Spartan, there was a much stronger layer of trust there.
Inside the restaurant were several patrons, men and women and even a Kig-Yar who was seated at the bar, downing shot after shot as if intentionally trying to get drunk. Music played from a set of speakers near the counter, and an elderly couple danced slowly along with what could only be described as 'easy listening' music. In the far corner a lone figure was seated, tall and dressed in similar clothing to Linda. She had her head down, and a glass of water by one hand. By all appearances, she looked like someone who was waiting.
Linda approached the corner table and the other woman looked up, a flash of recognition appearing on her features.
"Petty Officer," the woman said.
"Senior Chief," Linda replied. She sat down across the table from Leah-022, watching her fellow Spartan carefully. It had been years since they had last spoken, yet when Linda had heard about what had happened here on Thrace she had decided to pursue her own line of investigation. She needed to know what had happened herself, rather than what she could gleam from any reports written by ONI, which tended to blur the truth and warp it into something unlike what it had originally been.
"I didn't think you, of all people, would come all the way out here to find me," Leah said. She spoke in a level tone, yet there was a tiredness to her voice. The mark of someone burned out by the weight of the world on their shoulders, or of someone who had simply been through too much in too short a time.
"To be honest, a bunch of us drew straws," Linda replied.
"Three of us."
Leah nodded in acknowledgement of this, and she let out a light huff, as if she had been expecting to hear something like it.
"What do they say about me?" Leah asked. She sounded genuinely curious.
"Nothing. ONI's struck you from public records. They want to make sure no one in the general population learns of the rogue Spartan and the trouble she caused." Linda frowned as she said this, still unable to quite believe that one of their own had gone off the deep end like Leah had. "Why did you do it, Senior Chief? That's the question we all want answered."
Leah was silent for a moment, tapping the fingers of one hand absently upon the table. In the other, she held an oval-shaped blue crystal of some design, and she rolled it about in her palm almost as absently. It seemed to be imbued with an inner light, and Linda found her gaze going for it as she waited for Leah's response.
"It was the right thing to do," she finally replied.
"Was turning against the UNSC really the right thing to do?" Linda returned her eyes to Leah's own. She saw nothing but determination within them, and she knew that Leah meant what she said.
"Have you ever loved someone, Linda?" Leah asked her. The question struck her as an odd one, yet she could see the seriousness in Leah's eyes.
"How do you mean?"
"Actually loved someone. A man, a woman, anyone. Loved, and be loved, yourself?" Leah slipped the oval shaped crystal into a pocket in her jacket. "Because if you ever feel the way I did about someone, you might find yourself doing things you would not have normally considered."
"So it's true, then?" Linda found herself leaning forwards slightly, keen to learn more. "The Forerunner. You did it all for him? For an enemy?"
"He wasn't our enemy," Leah countered, as sure of herself as ever. "Perhaps if you'd met him, you wouldn't be so quick to judge. You have to remember, Linda, you and I, we're human beings. We might have been conditioned to be as inhuman as possible, to do nothing but follow orders and kill bad guys, but no amount of conditioning can get rid of it all. One day it'll come flooding back, like it did for me, and when it happens to you, you'll feel like your whole life has been a mistake until that point. That's what it felt like for me, and I did what I could to fix that mistake." Leah paused for a moment, allowing the words to sink in. Linda did not buy it entirely, despite the genuine nature in which Leah spoke.
"I know you don't believe me," Leah added. "But you will, one day." There was another silence between the two of them, this one longer than most. Linda looked about the restaurant, at the ramshackle nature of it, and the seeming innocence of the ordinary people within. Inside this establishment, they did not strike her as the rough colonial types she was used to. They were people, pure and simple, human beings with lives and loves and ambitions and flaws. Maybe Leah had been around them for too long, but for a moment there Linda thought she could believe in what Leah was saying.
"Have you come to kill me?" Leah asked. It was phrased as a straight question, despite its nature. Linda slowly shook her head.
"Maybe one day you'll come here to do just that," Leah she added. She rose to her feet then, and Linda saw the somewhat noticeable bulge at her stomach. She knew better than to assume it was mere weight gain. "For now, though, I think you should leave. I can't guarantee your safety here, not for much longer anyway."
"What about you?" Linda rose out of her chair as Leah went to leave. "You can't stay here. Someday, someone's going to come here to kill you, and I don't want it to be me. We're practically sisters…"
"No, we're not." Leah stopped by the table and shook her head. "You had your brothers and sisters, I had mine. Thing is, everyone of mine is dead." She motioned towards the front entrance. "Go home, Linda. Forget you ever saw me. It'll be for the best."
Linda was not sure how to respond. Leah was a Spartan-II, one whom she had fought alongside with on more than one occasion. She would not be able to forget her, no matter how hard she tried. There were so few of them left after all, and she had thought that maybe Leah might have wanted to come home. Looking at her now, it was apparent that Leah had found a new home for herself, despite its rough-looking nature.
"Go on," Leah said. "Before the guards outside realise what you are."
Linda knew then that there would be no persuading Leah, who had long since made up her mind. She turned and started out of the restaurant, all the while Leah watched on. The elderly couple continued to dance, and Linda offered one last look back at Leah before she stepped out of the door and into the warmth of the street outside. She felt like she was losing one of her own, despite the circumstances, and it occurred to her that she would never see Leah again. The saviour of Thrace from the Covenant, and its newest leader. Still, nothing lasted forever, and sooner or later the UNSC would want to do something about the rogue Spartan and the independent planet she had come to be in charge of.
Until then, Linda had other duties to attend to. Leah's words would certainly ring on in her mind, but after a while they would fade, and any doubts she had about her purpose in life would also fade. She was a Spartan at heart, more so than Leah may have ever been.
Author's Note: I can only hope you enjoyed this story, as I certainly enjoyed writing it.