Onyx, Zeta Doradus System
1203 Local Time, August 4th, 2545 UNSC Military Calendar
From an outsider's perspective, Onyx was a very familiar planet. Green continents, blue oceans, and a wispy cloud-cover made for a familiar sight in the vacuum of space. But Onyx wasn't like an average human colony world for a variety of reasons. It lacked any of the signs of terraforming, it's Earth-like wildlife hadn't been imported, and it was devoid of any tectonic activity. But the most interesting thing on the planet was a pair of small, top-secret military installations.
The first was a training camp, aptly named Camp Currahee. The word was of Cherokee origin, and meant "Stand Alone". It was a fitting name, given that the only other sign of civilization in the star system was a small research installation nearby, Zone 76. Such a remote location and strict secrecy was not without its reasoning, as Camp Currahee was home to one of the most secretive projects in the history of the UNSC. The Spartan III program only had one goal, to create an elite force of humanity's finest warriors.
The camp itself was made up of everything needed to complete the project. Barracks, Storehouses, configurable arenas, firing ranges, a large parade field, medical facilities, and more. Today was a special day for Camp Currahee, as today the newest class of candidates for the Spartan III program arrived for their first day of training.
Standing on a podium on the parade field, the overseer of the project, Kurt-051 double checked his notes as he spotted the Pelican dropships approach for their landing. As a former Spartan II, Kurt had assembled the most effective and brutally unforgiving training regimen he could devise, and if the candidates wanted to become a Spartan, they would complete it. The dropships touched down, and dozens of dreary-eyed kids, aged anywhere from four to six walked out of the dropships, corralled by the instructors.
Every single candidate had been personally approved by either him or his assistant, Senior Chief Petty Officer Franklin Mendez, who stood next to him on the platform. Besides Mendez were his other two closest assistants, Tom-B292 and Lucy-B091, who were dressed in their suits of Semi-Powered Infiltration armor. While they would be helping train the new class of Spartan IIIs in the future, today, they served as examples as to what the candidates were hoping to achieve.
Once all of the candidates stood on the field, staring at him and his subordinates with weary eyes. All of them would have recently been thawed out of cryosleep, so their exhaustion was to be expected. As soon as they quieted down and the instructors had everyone organized, Mendez stepped up to the microphone. He had once admitted to Kurt that he improvised all of his speeches, something that made his commanding aura even more impressive.
"Stand to attention, and listen up!" Mendez yelled, some of the kids actually jumped, startled out of their sleepy states. "You all know why you're here, but before we get to anything, we will cover basic introductions, do you understand?"
There were murmurs of acceptance.
"What was that?! I couldn't hear you over all of that pathetic mewling!" Mendez shouted into the microphone, which ensured that everyone was now fully awake and attentive. "You will respond with either "Sir Yes Sir", or "Sir No Sir", depending on what I demand of you, do you understand?!"
"Sir Yes Sir!" The kids shouted in an uneven chorus of yells and screams.
Hmm, not as loud as Beta Company. Kurt thought, slightly disappointed. Then again, there aren't quite as many this time around...
Mendez first gestured to Kurt. "This is Lieutenant Commander Kurt Ambrose! You will answer to his Commands as if they were given to you by god himself! He is your Commanding Officer, and over the next few days you will all find out exactly what that entails!"
Next he gestured to Tom and Lucy. "This is Tom-B292 and Lucy-B091, both of whom are Spartans. They will be serving as some of your instructors, and if you follow our instructions to the letter, you may just end up like them!"
Finally Mendez placed his hand on his chest. "And I am Chief Petty Officer Franklin Mendez. I am the senior drill instructor here at Camp Currahee, and you will refer to me as "Sir"."
The earlier feeling of exhaustion was gone, replaced by a familiar sense of attentiveness among the children. They had learned how to keep the kids focused from the earlier companies, and those lessons were paying off. Even though they were undisciplined, they were at the very least listening.
"Now, raise your right hand if you want to be a Spartan!" Mendez shouted. Kurt could feel the authoritative energy radiate from the man as he spoke.
Every single candidate raised their hand. There was hesitation in some of them, something that Kurt was expecting but still disappointed to see. Maybe that's unreasonable on my part, they aren't Spartans, they're still just kids.
"Hmm, that's good." Mendez calmly noted. "Now turn around and get back on those dropships, double time!"
Some of the kids looked confused, but the instructors guided them slowly back onto the dropships. Some of the kids refused, and were taken by the other instructors to a different group so that they wouldn't get mixed up. Once they were all aboard the dropships took off into the air. Mendez turned off the microphone and turned to Kurt, Tom and Lucy.
"So what do you think? Any deaths this time around?" Mendez asked, his hardened exterior cracking for a moment to display his concern.
"Alpha and Beta companies both did the jump with only a few injuries, I have faith in them." Kurt answered, confident in the safety of their parachuting equipment.
"I dunno, they looked pretty tired." Tom noted.
Lucy made several hand gestures towards Tom, who relayed what she was 'saying'. Her mute nature meaning she now communicated in sign language.
"Lucy is confident they'll make it." Tom relayed.
"I hope you're right Sir." Mendez said, looking at Kurt. "We haven't had any fatalities yet, and I'm sure as hell hoping it stays that way."
Echo 330, Pelican Dropship
Camp Currahee, High Altitude
Ben looked around the crowded dropship as it ascended higher into the air. It was filled with kids, all just like him. It was cramped to the point that he barely had any room to move, and the instructors were wading waist deep in children to move through the vessel. He assumed all of the kids had all gone through a similar set of events that lead them to this moment. Some of them looked a bit older than him, around six or seven years old, while others looked even younger than him, and he was only five.
Ben had been sitting in an orphanage on a backwater colony whose name he could barely even pronounce, living a miserable day-to-day life. Everything changed the day that the Navy Man in had arrived and offered him the chance to get revenge on the aliens who murdered his family and burned his home planet. The recruiter hadn't even finished talking before Ben had said yes.
He hated the Covenant, he had watched as his father, mother, and his baby brother had been butchered in front of him. The tall alien, which looked like a giant gorilla, had shot him as well, striking his face with its energy gun. When he passed out, the aliens must have assumed he was dead, because he was alone when some soldiers had found him. Despite the best efforts of the doctors, his face was permanently deformed.
He didn't want anyone else to go through what he had, to never be powerless again. He wanted to go back in time and shoot the aliens with a weapon of his own, something like the soldiers had been carrying. He wanted to be a hero, like the kind he saw on the recruiting billboards.
"Listen up! I'm only going to say this once!" An instructor said from the back end of the Pelican. "You will be performing a High-Altitude jump! What that means is that you will be handed a parachute, and then you will exit the rear of the dropship at five-thousand meters above the ground! As you are falling, you will activate your parachute, and you will not be killed by the fall. Am I clear?!"
The nervous butterflies in his stomach suddenly doubled their activity. He had assumed there would be some sort of steady increase in difficulty with the training, but apparently they were starting off by jumping out of an aircraft. His heartbeat started to rapidly increase, but he swallowed his fear.
Come on, you can do this. You've survived the impossible before, remember? He thought, trying to reassure himself.
After a moment's further instruction, Ben was handed a parachute. After a few misguided attempts to put it on one of the instructors stopped him and helped him put on.
"Thanks." Ben said.
"Shut up kid, keep your eyes on the door, and listen to the man with the eagle on his hat." The instructor coldly replied, not even looking him in the eyes.
Ben didn't question him, and did as he was told. The instructors walked around the crowded dropship ensuring that they were all wearing them correctly. Ben watched as some of them refused to have parachutes equipped. They were sent to the front of the dropship without second thought, away from the door, and were not given any further attention.
Once all of the kids willing to wear parachutes had them on, the dropships bay doors were opened and cold air flooded the compartment. Ben shivered at the sudden change in temperature, it was much colder than he had been expecting.
Don't think, just act, and follow instructions. Ben told himself, which did a decent job of calming his nerves. We wouldn't be jumping if it wasn't safe... right?
"Form a line, and take nice steady deep breaths! The oxygen's a lot thinner up here, so let's make this snappy!" The instructor yelled over the wind. The kids did as he asked.
"Good, now pay close attention!" The instructor howled over the wind. "I will now demonstrate the process of using a parachute!"
The instructor then explained how to open the parachute, using his own as an example. He repeated himself three times. The first time Ben got lost halfway through, but the second explanation cleared things up. He also explained that there was a grassy field they should attempt to land on once their parachute was deployed.
"Everyone got that?" The instructor asked after the third explanation. "Good, you're up first!" The instructor said tapping the kid on the front of the line on the shoulder. The kid looked over the edge, screamed in panic, and immediately ran back into the Pelican, where he cowered in the corner.
Ben only felt a tiny amount of sympathy for the kid, he had to have known this was going to be difficult. But at the same time, his own fears reminded him not to judge too harshly.
"Disappointing, next!" The instructor loudly commented, his face displaying not even an ounce of sympathy.
The second kid looked over the edge, and after a second's hesitation, she leapt into the sky. She rapidly vanished, and the instructor only watched her fall for a second before turning back towards the rest of them.
"That was an excellent jump, everyone, follow her example! You're up next kid!" The instructor said, patting the next kid on the shoulder, who waddled towards the edge and threw himself out of the Pelican.
He didn't hesitate at all, how did he do that? Ben wondered, now inspired to perform similarly.
The line progressed until Ben was the one standing at the edge. Looking over the edge he peeked through the clouds, catching a brief glimpse of a small green square on the ground surrounded by thick forest. He promptly threw himself out of the Pelican without second thought or ceremony.
Ben then fell gracelessly for several seconds, spinning wildly out of control, tumbling in the air, for a brief, horrible moment, terror filled his mind. He had very little influence over his actions as the world seemed to zip by around him. His terror was interrupted as without warning he remembered what the instructor had said.
Spread out your arms and legs. Make yourself as wide as possible, you'll tumble less. Ben mentally repeated. Rather suddenly, his fall steadied out. He quickly stopped spinning and he could somewhat control himself.
Next, the parachute. Pull the big cord. Ben thought, before grabbing onto the cord with both hands and tugging it.
Nothing happened. For about thirty seconds he panicked as he fell uncontrollably, although he managed to keep himself from screaming out in distress. Not that it would have mattered, as the howling of the air around him would've drowned it out completely. Dread filled his mind as he realized that he was in very real danger of dying.
Suddenly, he remembered his reserve parachute. He grabbed the release cord for the primary parachute, and it exploded out of his bag on his back, knocking him back into a deadly spiral. He was thrown back into a panic for a few more seconds until he spread out his arms and legs as he had done earlier. Once he had regained his stability he pulled the reserve parachute cord, and much to his relief, it opened without fault. He felt a sudden painful jolt as his descent suddenly slowed to a crawl. The straps around his shoulders ached, probably from the sudden force.
Steering himself towards the intended landing site he could see a handful of other parachutes gliding through the air. He managed to reach the square and slammed knee first into the ground, which hurt quite a bit, and would probably develop into a nasty bruise. Ben struggled up to his feet until a poorly timed gust of wind caught his parachute and pulled him back to the ground and dragged him a few meters. Eventually he managed to untangle himself from his parachute and looked around to see the other kids making a much more graceful landing than he had.
I guess I missed the instructions on how to land. Ben thought bitterly as he sat on the ground, not sure what to do next. Eventually an instructor walked up to him before frowning at the parachute that was lying on the ground next to him.
"That's your reserve chute." The instructor quietly noted to himself, obviously surprised and with a hint of concern. "Cadet, did your primary parachute fail?"
"Yes." Ben simply said. He was more bitter at the parachute then the instructor, and he saw no reason to be angry at the man.
"Well shit, that's no good. Good job keeping yourself in one piece." The instructor said. "Any injuries?"
"My knee hurts, I think I landed badly." Ben said, the affected area starting to swell slightly.
The instructor gave the injury a quick inspection before coming to a conclusion. "You'll live, it'll swell for a few days, but it'll heal. Now, come on, you're going back to the parade grounds."
They walked for a long time, around half an hour, until they arrived back at the big field they had first been dropped off at. Ben realized the crowd of kids had shrunk by about a hundred people. As the crowd reformed, the man called Mendez tapped the microphone to get everyone's attention.
"To those of you who have completed the initiation, congratulations, you've completed the first step of your training." Mendez stated. "The rest of you will be sent back to where you were found. Should any of you choose to or fail in your training, you will also be sent back. Anyone who wants to do so, board the first three dropships to the left."
To Ben's absolute amazement, several of the kids did it. He didn't understand, they had volunteered for this, they had to know it would be difficult, so why would they back out? He swore to himself in that moment, he would never give them reason to remove him and that he would never back down on his own.
"Are you going to leave?" The instructor from before asked with a curious look on his face, noticing that Ben was watching the kids leaving.
"No, I'm staying." Ben answered, only receiving an
The instructor nodded to himself before looking back up at stage Mendez was standing on. Once all of the children who were going to leave had gone, there were still a couple hundred kids left standing.
"Well I'm afraid to be the bearer of bad news." Kurt said, supplanting Mendez on the microphone. "But we only have funding for 300 candidates, and there are slightly more of you than that. You will continue your training as normal for now, but the lowest scoring amongst you will be sent home as time goes on."
That won't be me. Ben promised himself.
"With that out of the way, let's continue on with some basic exercises. Chief Petty Officer Mendez will oversee your progress." Kurt said.
What followed was about an hour of grueling exercises. From push ups to pull ups to curl ups to squats. The instructors taught them how to properly do each exercise before running through each activity hundreds of times. Several kids threw up from over exertion, others passed out. Those who passed out were dragged off to the medical bay while the others continued. Seeing as Ben was only five, it was safe to say he was nowhere near ready for that level of exertion, but he did better than some of the other kids did. He stayed conscious, and managed to avoid throwing up, although he had a few close calls.
At long last they were done, and water was distributed by the instructors. Even though it was hot and unpleasant to swallow, it was certainly a relief. After the basics they went for a jog around the base, partly to continue their calisthenics and partly to introduce the students to the environment they would be staying for the next few years.
Ben picked out a few key sights during the jog. There were classrooms, training courses, and arenas for competitive matches. There was a lot more, but it all glazed over in his mind as exhaustion started to kick in towards the end of their run.
"Alright, two minute break, then we're beginning your first lesson!" Mendez shouted to the recruits.
After those two minutes the recruits were split up into groups of thirty and distributed into different classrooms. Once Ben was in one of the classrooms with a bunch of other kids they started a lesson about the Spartans of ancient Greece. Despite his exhaustion, Ben was enraptured by the lesson. Learning about how a small force held off overwhelming odds with strategic use of a choke point intrigued him a lot more than school ever had.
They also learned about other things, like the phonetic alphabet that had been in use for hundreds of years. The instructors also refreshed them on things that most of the kids already knew, like the regular alphabet and counting, as well as some basic math and how to read a clock.
I guess no matter where I go, I'll never escape math. Ben jokingly thought to himself, slightly delirious from exhaustion and hunger.
By the time they were done with their lessons, it was already starting to get late, all of the recruits were reunited in one big formation as they headed towards the mess hall for dinner.
To Ben's surprise, military food was actually tolerable. He'd heard several of the instructors complaining about what they were having for dinner, but it was fine to him. Maybe it was because by the time he ate he was absolutely starving, that and he'd always been a fan of meatballs.
Once they'd been fed the kids were led off to the barracks for the night. Ben was assigned the bottom bunk somewhat near the door, where he promptly fell asleep almost instantly.
Camp Currahee, Main Overview Room
2230 Local Time, August 5th, 2545 UNSC Military Calendar
"How'd we do Chief?" Kurt asked as he walked in with a mug of coffee for each of them. It was getting late, but neither of them would be resting tonight, there was too much to prepare for the next day.
Tom and Lucy were already setting up their ambush on the training course for the next day, supported by some of the washouts from Alpha and Beta Company.
"We did alright, nowhere near as good as alpha company, but they performed well enough for their first day." Mendez said.
"Any injuries?" Kurt asked.
"A couple kids passed out during PT, and another few got sprained ankles during the run." Mendez said. "The drop was the worst, a few broken legs, and we had a close call with one of the kids when his parachute failed."
"Wait, one of the chutes failed?" Kurt asked, suddenly horrified. "Why was I not told?"
"Not as bad as you think, his reserve deployed fine." Mendez said. "He landed fine, in fact, Instructor Miller said he didn't seem resentful at all."
"What was the kid's name?" Kurt asked.
"Benjamin, designation G021." Mendez said after double checking the report he had been given.
"I want to talk to him tomorrow once all the recruits are awake." Kurt said. "Work it into his schedule during academics, I'll be keeping it brief."
"Understood Sir." Mendez said with a nod. "I'll make some space."
"Thank you, now about that supply shipment..." Kurt began.
Camp Currahee, Chemistry Laboratory #4
0921 Local Time, August 5th, 2545 UNSC Military Calendar
Ben had quickly learned that the academic lessons were not to be ignored. Some of the kids were clearly using them as an opportunity to rest from the gruelling exercises, but they would pay for that mistake, Ben would not. Even though his bones ached and his skin was flushed red from overexertion, he forced himself to pay attention to the instructor.
He was actually so focused on the lesson that it took the instructor poking him in the back of the head to get his attention. The instructor silently gestured towards the hallway, so Ben got out of his chair and followed the man out of the classroom.
"What's wrong Sir?" Ben asked once they were in the hallway.
"I am not a "Sir" Cadet, I am an Instructor, you will refer to me as such." The instructor replied dispassionately. "Lieutenant Commander Ambrose asked to speak with you, I will take you too him."
Ben decided to remain quiet after he recognized the name, Kurt was the Commanding Officer of the whole Program, and being summoned by him made Ben extremely nervous. He tried to think of anything he could have done to deserve getting kicked out, but came up empty. It took some time before they arrived at the Commander's office, when they did arrive there the instructor knocked on the door. A few seconds later the door opened, revealing Kurt.
"This is him, Sir." The instructor said as he gave Ben a push into the room.
"Thank you, Instructor Thompson." Kurt replied. "You may wait outside until we're done."
"Of course Sir." The instructor said before standing outside. Ben walked into Kurt's office as he shut the door.
Kurt returned to his desk and sat down."Have a seat."
Ben did as he instructed, taking a seat in the chair in front of him.
"Am I in trouble, Sir?" Ben asked, unable to keep his nerves entirely out of his voice, despite his best efforts.
"No, I just had a few questions for you." Kurt mercifully answered. "Yesterday, when you did the paradrop, your parachute failed, is that correct?"
"It did." Ben confirmed as he silently sighed with relief, he wasn't getting kicked out after all.
That's no reason to get lazy, it's only the second day, we might still mess this up yet. Ben pessimistically thought.
"But you recovered, and you activated your backup parachute." Kurt said, obviously expecting some sort of response.
"Yes, I did." Ben replied, unsure as to what exactly Kurt wanted him to say.
"Instructor Miller said that you didn't feel angry that you were nearly killed by faulty equipment." Kurt continued, again, expecting some kind of statement.
"Well I was, but not at any of you." Ben replied, now starting to see where he was going.
Kurt raised his eyebrows in a sense of curiosity and surprise. "Explain."
"Well, it's not your fault my parachute broke, right?" Ben asked.
"That's correct, every chute was inspected for faults." Kurt confirmed. "Yours was just an outlier, all equipment can break."
"Well then, I don't see a point in getting mad at you, or anyone." Ben explained. "It wouldn't be fair if I got mad at you for something you didn't do."
"I see." Kurt replied, his curiosity now replaced with doubt. "And you didn't leave, even after nearly being killed, and given the chance to go back home."
"I'm not leaving." Ben simply responded. "I have no home to go home to, and even then, I want to fight the aliens."
"We all do Ben." Kurt sympathetically responded. "But why stay here? Surely you don't have to become a Spartan to fight the Covenant?"
Ben thought carefully for a moment before speaking. "No, I want to be a Spartan, I can do this."
"Hmm." Kurt thought to himself for a moment before speaking. "Thank you Ben, this has been enlightening. Instructor Thompson will take you back to class."
Ben simply nodded before leaving. While he went back to the classroom, Kurt waited, once they were out of earshot Kurt reached for his earpiece and tuned it to the Command frequency.
"Mendez come in, over." Kurt said.
"I read, go ahead." Mendez replied after a moment.
"I want an instructor assigned to G-021 for one on one training, preferably Instructor Miller if he's still available." Kurt said.
"This early on? Why?" Mendez said. "And yes, Richard is still available."
"Richard's the man for the job, he's been a handler for ONI agents in the past." Kurt said. "As for why... call it a hunch, we'll pull Richard back if I'm wrong."
"Understood, I'll make sure it's done." Mendez stated. He had learned to trust Kurt's sixth sense a long time ago.
"Thank you." Kurt said before stopping his transmission.
Camp Currahee, Main Observation Room
0934 Local Time, August 5th, 2545 UNSC Military Calendar
Richard had been called up to the Main Observation Room. He didn't know why, all he knew is that Mendez needed to speak with him about something. He arrived to find that the only person in the room was Mendez.
"Reporting as ordered Sir!" Richard snapped to attention.
"At ease, Instructor." Mendez said. "Wait here just a moment, would you?"
Richard did as he asked, and a few moments later, another Instructor led one of the Cadets into the room. It was the kid whose parachute had failed, Ben.
"Here he is Sir." The instructor said.
"Thank you Instructor Thompson, you may leave." Mendez stated, the Instructor offered a brief salute, before leaving. "Now, I've got a very busy day today, so let's make this quick, shall we?"
"What can we do for you Sir?" Richard asked.
Mendez looked him over, as if mentally examining him. "You're already familiar with Cadet G-021 here, right?"
"Yes Sir." Richard confirmed.
Mendez turned to face Ben. "Cadet."
He snapped into a salute immediately, although not only was his timing dramatically off, but he messed it up as well. Richard flinched, expecting to hear Mendez's wrath, instead, he just chuckled.
"You see Instructor Miller? They do learn quickly." Mendez commented with amusement. "Put your hand down Cadet, I'll let you get away with that exactly once, and only because we almost killed you on your first day."
"Thank you, Sir." Ben replied, letting his arm fall to his side.
That wasn't mercy, he's luring him into a false sense of security for the training course later. Richard quickly recognized, but he kept his mouth shut.
"Now, this is Instructor Richard Miller, I believe you've already met him, right?" Mendez asked.
"Yes Sir, I have." Ben answered.
"Good." Mendez said. "Instructor Miller has been placed directly in charge of your training, you will continue your training as normal for now."
Directly in charge of his training? Richard thought, curious as to what exactly Mendez meant.
"Instructor, you are to keep an eye on G-021 and his future squadmates for the foreseeable future. You will have future instructions related to you, do you understand?"
"Yes Sir." Richard confirmed.
"Good, now take the Cadet back to his class, Chemistry Lab Four. Keep your earpiece tuned for further orders." Mendez instructed.
"Yes Sir." Richard replied. "Come on Cadet, let's get a move on."
They left the Observation Room, and after double checking his directions, Richard began heading towards the labs.
"Instructor Miller, Sir, may I ask you a question?" Ben interjected into the silence.
"Go ahead." He replied, curious as to what the kid had to say.
"Did I do something wrong?" The boy asked.
"I'm not sure, to be honest." Richard replied, not knowing why he had been assigned to assist with Ben's training. "I've learned that most of the time, when an Officer has a complaint about what you're doing, they typically let you know about it."
"That's good to know." Ben replied, seemingly making a concentrated effort to remember the bit of information.
Hmm, I'm starting to see what Mendez meant by "They do learn quickly." Richard thought. "I imagine we'll figure it out at some point in the future, for now, let's just get you back to class."