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Naked Crook
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Naked Crook is going back in time

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San Angeles – Firebase Mediterranean – Subterranean Forerunner Facility – Vanguard’s Antechamber – 0000 Hours - February 2nd 2540

Anaconda, along with The Consultant and Nova Team had entered a large antechamber. They had come to a halt, as they stood before a large door that separated them from the final corridor that would lead them to Vanguard.

The Consultant: Well gentlemen…there you have it. It is Zero-Hour. It seems fitting.

Anaconda looked at The Consultant, but he did not say anything.

The Consultant: Alas…this is it…through that door is where Vanguard awaits.

The Consultant paused, as she hefted the rifle in her hands.

The Consultant: This feels daunting…

Anaconda was silent. The Consultant then looked at Anaconda.

The Consultant: Before going at this thing, we should have a plan of action…an offensive game plan.

Anaconda did not reply. He simply glared at the large door.

The Consultant: Any thoughts, big guy?

Anaconda growled, as he turned and glared at The Consultant.

Anaconda: Do not call me that.

The Consultant: But Nighthawk…

Anaconda: You are NOT Nighthawk.

The Consultant sighed.

The Consultant: Alright…fine…ANACONDA…

The Consultant scoffed.

The Consultant: Do you have any recommendations as to how we should engage this thing?

Anaconda: There is no proper way to engage this thing. You either survive…or you die. The best I can say is this; try not to die. Do whatever you have to do to survive. Do not stop shooting Vanguard, and do not give it an inch! Do not hesitate, and do not allow it to intimidate you.

Anaconda paused.

Anaconda: Most importantly…do not get in my way.

The Consultant looked at Nova Team, and nodded at them. She then turned back to Anaconda.

The Consultant: That won’t be a problem. We will do everything we can to provide support fire. We will leave the heavy hitting to you.

Anaconda: That’s the idea.

As Anaconda said this, he looked at The Consultant and growled.

Anaconda: Open this door! Our time is limited.

The Consultant nodded, as she approached the door, and pressed her hand against a wall mounted terminal, and the large door opened. Anaconda began to step forward, as The Consultant and Nova Team allowed him to take the lead. However, as soon as Anaconda crossed the threshold of the door, a large energy barrier went up, separating Anaconda from The Consultant and Nova Team. Anaconda stopped in his tracks, as he turned and slammed his fist against the energy barrier; snarling at The Consultant in the process.

Anaconda: Treacherous Human!

The Consultant shook her head, with a panicked tone on her voice.

The Consultant: We didn’t do this!

Anaconda growled again, but, he slowly began to realize that The Consultant may be telling the truth.

The Consultant: You have to believe me! We didn’t do this! It must have been Vanguard! The AI wants to do battle with you, above all else. This must be its way of guaranteeing that it gets what it wants.

Anaconda snarled in frustration.

Anaconda: Go back and find Nighthawk! See if he can find a way around this barrier.

Anaconda let out a low pitch growl, emanating deep within his chest, as he slowly turned, and looked down the long dark hallway that would lead him to Vanguard.

The Consultant: What about you?

Anaconda: Vanguard wants to fight me. I am going to give it what it wants.

The Consultant: Alone?

Anaconda began to walk down the corridor. As he did, he said one final thing.

Anaconda: Alone…

Anaconda walked down the long, dark corridor, his Gravity Hammer in his right hand, and one of his Spikers in his left hand. With every step that he took, Anaconda knew that he got closer and closer to the one thing that he never believed he would ever see again, the one foe that he truly considered to be a real and viable threat to his own life. Anaconda did not often attribute much to his foes, but, Vanguard was the one exception, where he had a very honest respect for how dangerous this construct was. Deep down inside, Anaconda knew that there was a chance that he was walking to his death, and this did not sit well with him. For all of his bravado, and for all of his bragging and chest pounding that he had done through the years, Vanguard was the one thing that sent a chill to his bones, and he was about to face it again. He was about to fight a battle that should not have ever come to fruition.

As Anaconda drew closer and closer to the heart of the facility, he found himself becoming tenser. As Anaconda reached the end of the corridor, he came to one final door, which opened as he approached it. Once the door had opened, Anaconda stepped inside and looked around the room. The room itself was massive, the ceiling itself being over 50 feet high, with the walls extending 100 feet in both directions. However, at the dead center of the room, was a massive device that could remotely be described as a massive holotable. The size of this device, however, could have easily accommodated a Prowler sized vehicle. Anaconda instinctively knew that what he was looking at was, undoubtedly, The Forge; Vanguard’s end game. As Anaconda gazed at this device, he noticed that Vanguard was hovering right above the Forge, at the exact dead center of the room, surrounded by dozens of much smaller constructs, and further guarded by a localized energy barrier. Anaconda stepped forward, with his eyes locked on Vanguard, watching as the smaller constructs flew very rapid circles around Vanguard, as if they were eagerly orbiting Vanguard. As Anaconda got closer, he noticed that the smaller constructs were using some type of energy beam to, literally, materialize armor onto Vanguard’s frame. Anaconda knew that this was due in no small part to how Anaconda had bested Vanguard before. Anaconda knew that Vanguard was fully prepared for a physical confrontation.

Anaconda finally stopped in his tracks, as he finally did what was expected of him; he called out to Vanguard…with the sole intent to challenge the Construct.

Anaconda: VANGAURD!

Anaconda’s voice echoed in the room, as he shouted at the top of his lungs. His call did not go unanswered, as Vanguard’s eye fully illuminated, and the smaller constructs moved away. The light from Vanguard’s eye shifted around, as it locked onto Anaconda’s position. Vanguard glared at Anaconda for a moment, before it began to slowly move downwards towards Anaconda. Vanguard finally stopped about 15 feet from Anaconda, as it began to speak to him.

Vanguard: I have waited for this moment for many cycles.

Vanguard paused.

Vanguard: To finally be within striking distance to correct an aberration.

Anaconda simply remained silent.

Vanguard: You do not believe that victory is possible. You assumed that a numerical advantage would enable you to achieve victory, but, your allies failed you, and now you stand alone…

Vanguard paused.

Vanguard: I will make this simple for you; Submit…now, and I will provide you with a rapid death. Resistance will be punished most severely.

Anaconda scoffed at Vanguard, as he raised his Spiker, and began to fire at Vanguard. However, Vanguard simply remained where he was, and allowed the projectiles to bounce off his energy shields.

Vanguard: Your efforts are useless. I cannot be harmed!

Anaconda, however, was not so easily dismayed, as he holstered his spiker, and charged at Vanguard. Vanguard simply watched as Anaconda quickly closed the gap, before he simply teleported out of the way. Anaconda stopped in his tracks, as he looked around; trying to get a fix on Vanguard’s location. It was only a moment before Vanguard reappeared behind Anaconda, with the accompanying bright yellow flash.

As Anaconda turned, he growled once more as he once again charged at Vanguard, and once again, Vanguard teleported out of the way. With Vanguard teleporting away the second time, Anaconda knew that this tactic was not working, and that he needed to start thinking ahead. With that, Anaconda stopped in his tracks, quickly turned around, and jumped forward, through the air, as far as he could with the anticipation that Vanguard would, once again, attempt to appear behind him. Sure enough, as Anaconda had done this, Vanguard reappeared once more, only to face the full brunt force of Anaconda’s Gravity Hammer. The force of impact caused Vanguard’s body slam into the ground. However, Vanguard did not remain immobile for long, as it once again teleported away, only reappearing about 15 feet back from where it was, already suspended in flight. Vanguard glared at Anaconda for a brief moment, before it spoke.

Vanguard: You cannot harm me. My power is unmatched.

Vanguard paused for a moment, as its eye began to glow an even brighter red.

Vanguard: You will know true power! You will regret your resistance!

Anaconda began to back off, as Vanguard charged up its particle laser, and began to fire. Anaconda jumped to the side and began to run, as Vanguard followed Anaconda path, pursuing him with the particle beam.

Vanguard: You cannot escape your destruction. It is all but certain!

Vanguard ceased firing for a moment, as he aimed ahead of Anaconda, and proceeded to fire a short burst, as he hit Anaconda right in the side, and knocked him right off his feet, all while sending Anaconda flying several feet to the side. As Anaconda hit the ground, he lost the grip on his Gravity Hammer, as he groaned in pain.

Vanguard: That…is but a taste of my power…a glimpse of the agony that is waiting for you!

Anaconda shook his head to try and shake off his daze, as he tried to climb back to his feet. However, before he could get back to his feet, he was once again blasted by Vanguard, the force of the impact sent him sliding across the floor.

Vanguard: I could destroy you at any time! I could end your meaningless existence at any point!

Vanguard paused.

Vanguard: You are no match for me.

Anaconda was breathing heavily, as he continued to struggle to get back to his feet. Vanguard simply watch as Anaconda struggled to get back to his feet. Vanguard, however, was not impressed.

Vanguard: You are fragile…weak. You cannot hope to stand against me! You cannot hope to win.

Anaconda growled in defiance, as he began to charge at Vanguard. However, before Anaconda could even get close, Vanguard once again charged his laser, and blasted Anaconda back, sending him flying back through the air, and crashing to the ground, as Anaconda rolled and slid across the ground from the force of impact. As Anaconda lay on the ground, unable to get back to his feet, Vanguard simply moved towards him, speaking as he did, stopping about 5 feet away.

Vanguard: Foolish creature of blood and flesh. Only now, at the end, do you truly understand my power. Only now…do you see that my might cannot be matched.

Vanguard paused, as it glared at Anaconda.

Vanguard: Your defiance is pointless. You prolonged the inevitable! Your future is as empty as your efforts.

Anaconda groaned in pain, as he began to push himself upwards, back to his knees.

Anaconda: My defiance?

Anaconda paused.

Anaconda: You have not seen anything yet…

As Anaconda said this, he reached to his side, and grabbed one of his incendiary grenades, and threw it at Vanguard. This caught Vanguard off-guard, as it was quickly enveloped in flames. With Vanguard in a ball of flame, Anaconda lunged back to his feet, and dodged around Vanguard, as he began to run as fast as he could, in the hopes of recovering his Gravity Hammer. As Anaconda neared his Gravity Hammer, he leaned to the side, and scooped it off the ground. With his Gravity Hammer back in Hand, Anaconda glared at Vanguard and began to charge once more. As the flames around Vanguard began to die down it turned its attention back to Anaconda, just as Anaconda was in the process of swinging his Hammer at Vanguard. Anaconda managed to land one direct hit in the side of Vanguard’s chassis, causing Vanguard to crash into the ground once more. Anaconda capitalized on this, as he took a few steps back, and then swung his Hammer once more; slamming the sledge right into Vanguard’s eye. Vanguard made a rather odd mechanized hissing noise, as it engaged its anti-gravity thrusters, and slammed itself into Anaconda at full speed. The force of the impact caused Anaconda to fly back with great force. As Anaconda hit the ground, he groaned in pain, as the force of impact had momentarily knocked the wind out of him. Anaconda took several deep breaths, as he climbed back to his feet, and recovered from being winded. Once Anaconda was back on his feet, he noticed that Vanguard’s eye began to glow brighter, as it prepared to fire its particle laser once again. Anaconda growled as he charged at Vanguard, knowing that he would not be able to get close enough before Vanguard retaliated. Despite this, Anaconda did not break off. Instead, he threw his Gravity Hammer at Vanguard with as much force as he could muster. Before Vanguard could fire off his particle laser, the Gravity Hammer had impacted Vanguard right in its center of gravity; the impact managing to throw Vanguard off balance momentarily. This gave Anaconda the time and opportunity he needed to get close the gap between him and Vanguard. As Vanguard rebalanced itself, Anaconda leapt at the construct; climbing on top of it. As Anaconda situated himself on top of Vanguard, and began to slam his fist into Vanguard’s energy shield. Anaconda punched Vanguard a dozen times before Vanguard teleported away.

Anaconda growled in frustration, as he fell to the ground. After a moment, Anaconda shook his head, as he climbed to his feet and turned around to see Vanguard reappear in front of the Forge. As Anaconda turned, he leaned over and grabbed his Gravity Hammer, and then began to run towards Vanguard. However, an energy barrier erected around the Forge, as if done to protect Vanguard from any further attack. As Anaconda stopped in his tracks, Vanguard began to speak.

Vanguard: Your attacks are pointless. This shell is only a vehicle. Destroying this body gains you nothing.

Vanguard paused.

Vanguard: You are but meager dust, struggling against a great force you can never hope to comprehend. You are incapable of defeating me. Would it not be so much easier to surrender, and accept your fate willingly? Your resistance merely prolongs the inevitable.

Anaconda growled, as he paced back and forth.

Anaconda: You are all talk Vanguard, but, for all of your words…you have to hide behind an energy barrier the moment I put a scratch on you. You have to hide…and cower…

Anaconda paused for a moment, before he bared his teeth and snarled.

Anaconda: You’re afraid…

Vanguard: impudent bacteria…

Anaconda: You ARE afraid of me!

Anaconda paused.

Anaconda: Prove me wrong, Vanguard! Come and get me! Come and do what you claim to be so good at; come and destroy me! Prove how inferior I am…prove how powerful you are!

Vanguard’s eye began to glow a bright red, as a loud mechanical sounds began to fill the room. Anaconda stepped back, as he noticed that the Forge was powering up.

Vanguard: So be it…

Vanguard simply waited as The Forge began to power up. However, without any notice what-so-ever, The Forge suddenly powered off and went silent. Vanguard was taken aback by this, as the light on its eye began to dim.

Vanguard: WHAT!?

As The Forge went dark, the energy barrier that had surrounded The Forge also shutdown, leaving nothing between Vanguard and Anaconda. As the energy barrier fell, Anaconda grinned, and let out a growl.

Vanguard simply glared at Anaconda for a moment.

Vanguard: Your confidence stems from ignorance; ignorance of the destruction that awaits you.

Vanguard paused.

Vanguard: Very well, bacteria…if you so desire to be cleansed, then I shall indulge you. I will personally bring about your annihilation!

Vanguard began to move towards Anaconda.

Vanguard: You will know pain before you are destroyed!

Anaconda gripped his Gravity Hammer in both hands, as he and Vanguard stared at one another, locked in a death gaze.

San Angeles – Firebase Mediterranean – Subterranean Forerunner Facility – Vanguard’s Antechamber – 0015 Hours - February 2nd 2540

The Consultant held her tablet in her left hand, as she worked with her right hand. She was busy trying to find a way to disengage the energy barrier that stood between her position and Vanguard. Nova Team, on the other hand, paced back and forth, keeping tabs on the area, as The Consultant worked.

Anubis: Any luck, Ma’am?

The Consultant shook her head.

The Consultant: No…it seems that this energy barrier is not controlled by anything we currently have access to.

Anubis: Would it be possible to use the teleportation grid to get by?

The Consultant: That was the first thing I tried. It seems that this energy barrier extends beyond these walls, and seems to surround Vanguard’s position. I cannot even get a set of coordinates locked in behind this energy barrier.

Anubis scoffed. Imohtep then chimed in with a recommendation.

Imohtep: Can we overwhelm the energy barrier with weapon’s fire?

The Consultant: With sufficient firepower, you can overwhelm anything. However, I seriously doubt we have sufficient firepower currently at our disposal. Even if we do, we need that firepower for Vanguard, so I would be hesitant to try.

The Consultant frowned.

The Consultant: God damn it! I cannot find a way passed this barrier!

The Consultant scoffed.

The Consultant: Where the hell is Nighthawk when you need him? I am pretty sure he must have an idea or two rattling around in that head of his.

Osiris: If you cannot figure it out, Ma’am…I doubt Nighthawk could figure it out.

The Consultant cracked a grin, as she shrugged.

The Consultant: Two heads are better than one. Even if he we both half a solution…together, that is a complete one.

The Consultant scoffed, but, her attention was peaked, when she heard someone approaching. Nova Team heard this as well, as they all turned, and raised their weapons, and readied themselves.

Anubis began to issue orders to the other members of Nova Team, as he made hand gestures to direct the other three members to strategic positions around the room. Once the other three members of Nova Team were in position, Anubis turned to the Consultant, and directed her to cover. Each member of Nova Team set aside the Forerunner weapon’s that they were carrying, and they returned to their conventional weaponry; disengaging the safety mechanisms on the weapons, and taking aim.

Anubis: Ma’am…stay behind me.

As Anubis raised his weapon, and moved to cover with The Consultant, he saw Dangerus, Vhat, and Xyrho approaching their position from down the corridor. Anubis could see that all three of the Covenant contacts had their weapons drawn, and were ready for fight.

Anubis: Three contacts; two Elites, one Brute. Nova Team…open fire!

All four members of Nova Team nodded, as they began to lay down fire on Dangerus, Xyrho, and Vhat. Nova Team had far superior position when compared to Xyrho, Dangerus, and Vhat, who, had no cover at all, and were essentially in the open with nothing to take cover behind. However, this did not stop Dangerus, Vhat, and Xyrho, as they pushed forward, through the gunfire, firing their own weapons in response.

The Consultant drew her Magnum, as she emerged from cover, and took aim at Dangerus. However, before she fired, she took a look at her adversaries, and it quickly dawned on her that she had seen these contacts before; she recognized Dangerus and Xyrho.

The Consultant: Nova Team…stand down. I think these are the same Covenant forces that attempted to apprehend Vanguard on The Ulterior Motive. This changes everything.

The Consultant paused

The Consultant: Stand down Nova Team…stand down!

Nova Team was very hesitant to stand down, however, they begrudgingly complied, as they fell back into cover, and held their fire.

Osiris: Ma’am…this is a very…unwise course of action.

The Consultant: Possibly, but, we managed to get Nighthawk and Anaconda on our side. That was also an unwise course of action, but, we pulled it off. The Covenant is not that much of a stretch. If these guys are here to kill Vanguard, then, we may have enough common ground to talk this out!

The Consultant sighed, as she stepped out of cover, and stepped forward. As she did, she was spotted by Dangerus, Xyrho, and Vhat. Vhat and Xyrho took aim with their weapon, but Dangerus raised his hand, as if to call them off their attack. However, Dangerus made no clear indication that he was stopping in his tracks, nor did say a word about what he was going to do, as he moved forward, towards The Consultant.

The Consultant: Hold your ground Nova Team…

The Consultant continued to step forward, taking each step slowly. She watched as Dangerus quickly approached her. As Dangerus got closer, the Consultant stopped, and began to step back. She knew from Dangerus’ body language that he was in no mood to talk, and that he had very little patience. This became abundantly clear to Nova Team, when Dangerus stepped up to The Consultant, and grabbed her by the throat; lifting her into the air, and pinning her against the energy barrier. However, Dangerus did not go any further than this. He simply glared at The Consultant, as he grasped her throat in his hand.

When Nova Team saw what Dangerus had done, they all raised their weapons and took aim at Dangerus. Dangerus growled, but he did not take his eyes off of The Consultant. Vhat and Xyrho, however, raised their weapons once more, but they held their fire.

Xyrho: Chieftain! The Humans have their weapons on you!

Dangerus ignored Xyrho, as his attention was squarely on The Consultant.

Dangerus: You are the Human that helped Vanguard. You are one of Vanguard’s acolytes!

Dangerus scoffed at The Consultant.

The Consultant: Not the way I would put it, but, yes. I am the Human that brought Vanguard back into this world, so to speak. May I ask who you are? I don’t think we have been formally introduced…

Dangerus snarled.

Dangerus: Where…is it? Where is Vanguard!

The Consultant struggled in Dangerus grasp, as he tightened his hold on The Consultant.

The Consultant: Behind me…behind the energy barrier. We can’t get to it! We were going to destroy it, but, before we got close, this barrier came up, and we have been trying to get through ever since.

The Consultant paused, as she struggled in Dangerus’ grasp.

The Consultant: You want to destroy Vanguard, do you not? We want the same thing!

Dangerus grunted.

The Consultant: If you even want a chance of destroying Vanguard…release me.

Dangerus growled.

The Consultant: The only alternative here is that you get to see what your brain looks like! If you don’t want to see what your brain looks like, I highly recommend that you put me down! Release me…now! One word…is all it takes!

Dangerus: You are the servant of Vanguard! Why should I believe ANYTHING you have to say?

The Consultant: I can’t answer that! All I can say is that you either trust me, or we kill each other. If we kill one another, then Vanguard wins. I doubt you want Vanguard to win!

Dangerus scoffed. However, Xyrho spoke up.

Xyrho: This Human is not wrong, Chieftain.

Xyrho paused.

Xyrho: I know better than anyone how easy it is to be fooled by Vanguard, and I know better than anyone that Vanguard’s true nature is enough to turn even the most loyal of worshippers against it!

The Consultant laughed.

The Consultant: I don’t worship the damn thing. It is technology…nothing more…

Xyrho: My point is…it is not unheard of for someone to turn on Vanguard when the truth of what it is, is revealed!

Dangerus growled. However, he reluctantly released The Consultant, dropping her to the ground, before turning away to rejoin his compatriots.

Dangerus: Alright…”Humans”…if it is your desire to destroy Vanguard, then I will forego killing you…for now.

Dangerus scoffed, and growled, as The Consultant got back to her feet, rubbing her throat as she did.

Dangerus: I make no guarantees as to what happens after that…

The Consultant grinned.

The Consultant: That makes two of us…

Dangerus turned sharply to glare at The Consultant. He did not like the sound of that statement. It was then that he knew to be very weary of this Human, as she was, no doubt, capable of great deception. The Consultant, on the other hand, sighed as she nodded at Nova Team. Nova Team nodded back, as they lowered their weapons. With tensions dropping, The Consultant look at Dangerus, as she continued to speak.

The Consultant: Now, if you don’t mind…I need to find a way to get to Vanguard. Otherwise, we are going no further!

Dangerus growled, as he looked to Xyrho.

Dangerus: Xyrho!? Can you get us to Vanguard?

Xyrho: Without knowing more about this facility? Unlikely.

Dangerus snarled in frustration. However, as he did, Nighthawk entered Vanguard’s antechamber from the corridor; approaching both groups from behind.

Nighthawk: Well, this is an interesting development.

As Nighthawk said this, everyone turned and looked at Nighthawk.

Nighthawk: Let me guess; everyone in this room is united in their mutual desire to kill Vanguard?

Xyrho spoke up, and spoke for Dangerus and Vhat.

Xyrho: In so few words…

The Consultant then chimed in.

The Consultant: Pretty much.

Nighthawk laughed.

Nighthawk: I like it when people work together. It gives you hope for the future; something to live for.

The Consultant: None of us will have a future if we don’t get this energy barrier down.

Nighthawk walked forward, passing Dangerus, Xyrho, and Vhat. He stopped when he was face to face with The Consultant. However, before he had a chance to speak with her, Xyrho spoke up.

Xyrho: It seems we are not the only ones who have forged unexpected alliances.

Nighthawk turned to look at Xyrho.

Nighthawk: In my line of work, picky is a word that does not exist. I do not have the luxury of telling either The Covenant or…THE TRUST…to screw off when I am faced with a situation like this. As much as I dislike The Trust, and as much as I dislike The Covenant, enemies like Vanguard force me to set aside the little details.

Nighthawk paused, as he looked at Dangerus.

Nighthawk: By the way, I make no apologies for what I did to your fleet several days ago. It had to be done. I have a special affinity for the world you were going to take down.

Dangerus glared at Nighthawk, and snarled.

Dangerus: YOU…YOU caused the antimatter explosion that destroyed the other fleet!

Nighthawk: Yeah. Keep that in mind the next time the words “let’s attack Midnight” crosses your mind.

Dangerus snarled, as he wanted nothing more than to thrash the life out of Nighthawk for what he did. However, Dangerus knew that there was a time and a place, and now was not the best time.

As Nighthawk turned to face The Conmsultant, he could see that she was grining, no doubt because of what Nighthawk had just revealed. Nighthawk looked at her for a moment, before he spoke.

Nighthawk: Where is Anaconda?

The Consultant: He is on the other side of that energy barrier…fighting Vanguard…alone. I cannot get comms in, or out, with this energy barrier up.

Nighthawk: That explains why I could not reach him.

The Consultant: We got cut off from him. The moment he passed that threshold, this barrier came up, and I have been unable to bring it down. He went on ahead, without us. It was almost as if Vanguard wanted to fight him one on one. Tell me you can get this barrier down.

Nighthawk looked at the energy barrier for a moment, before he turned and looked back at The Consultant.

Nighthawk: Yeah, I know a way to bring this barrier down.

Nighthawk put his hand to the side of his helmet, as he began to speak.

Nighthawk: HAWK? Do you copy?

HAWK answered almost immediately.

HAWK: More, or less. What do you need?

Nighthawk: There is an energy barrier between me and Vanguard. I am in what appears to be some type of antechamber. I think the Forge is just beyond this energy barrier.

The Consultant nodded at Nighthawk, confirming what he said as correct.

Nighthawk: Are you still connected to the uplink chip?

HAWK: Affirmative.

Nighthawk: Can you try and find a way to bring this barrier down?

HAWK: Already working on it. I will need some time, however. There is so much here…so much data. The data structure is unlike anything I have ever seen. You could spend a lifetime trying to catalog everything here, and it would only be the tip of the iceberg. If only you could see it the way I do.

Nighthawk: HAWK…focus on getting this energy barrier out of the way!

HAWK: I am trying to! It is difficult to shift through this much data. It is like trying to find a needle in a very large haystack.

HAWK was silent for a moment, before he spoke once more.

HAWK: Wait…I think I am on the right track here. Stand by…

Nighthawk did as instructed, and simply waited. The wait paid off, as the energy barrier shut down, clearing the path.

HAWK: Alright…that did it. That energy barrier should not be a problem anymore. In fact, there should be no energy barrier left in that facility. The path to Vanguard is as clear as it is going to get.

Nighthawk: Good work. Keep an open comm link.

Nighthawk turned, and looked at The Consultant.

Nighthawk: Easy as pie.

The Consultant grinned.

The Consultant: No bad…not bad at all.

The Consultant turned to Nova Team, and nodded to them.

The Consultant: Nova Team…take point!

Nova Team began to move forward, as they raised their weapons, and took point on the advance. The Consultant stood her ground, as she looked at Nighthawk, and waited for him. Nighthawk, on the other hand, turned and looked at Dangerus, Xyrho, and Vhat.

Nighthawk: Are we doing this, or are you going to sit this one out?

Dangerus growled, as he stepped forward, and walked passed Nighthawk. Nighthawk watched as Xyrho and Vhat followed in tow behind Dangerus. Nighthawk waited for a moment, as he allowed this scenario to sink in.

Nighthawk: First The Trust and now The Covenant? I am making some very precarious friends. I better watch my back. The last thing I need is to be caught between these two.

Nighthawk sighed, as he began to walk, following behind Dangerus, Vhat, and Xyrho, though, opting to keep his distance to avoid any problems. Nighthawk knew that this trifecta was very precarious, and it was not going to last. The only thing he could hope for was that it would last long enough to defeat Vanguard.

As Nighthawk walked, The Consultant moved up beside him, and drew her weapon once more. As Nighthawk and The Consultant followed up from the rear, The Consultant nudged him.

The Consultant: Is it true?

Nighthawk: Excuse me?

The Consultant: Did you really offline a Covenant fleet to protect Midnight?

Nighthawk: Yes.

The Consultant: Why would you do that? I mean…it is not your job to take on high risks missions like that.

Nighthawk: Know this, Consultant; under this mask…there lies a Human being, who has watched for far too long as his species was systematically wiped out by The Covenant. I will never stand for it. I am in the position to do good in ways that very few people can also lay claim to. I have a moral obligation to do so, when the need arises.

The Consultant: I am surprised Anaconda was alright with that.

Nighthawk: He has no love for The Covenant. Besides, he was the one who supplied me with the antimatter weapon to do the deed.

The Consultant: Well, Nighthawk…you saved Midnight. In spite of everything else, you are a hero.

Nighthawk: No…I did not save Midnight. I was proactively making up for what I am about to do.

The Consultant: What do you mean?

Nighthawk shook his head.

The Consultant: What are you going to do?

Nighthawk: Something that I will never forgive myself for…something that will keep me awake at night for the rest of my life.

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San Angeles – The King Raven – Hanger Bay 1 – Distant orbit of San Angeles – 0025 Hours - February 2nd 2540

Tye and Cameron were waiting in the hanger bay of The King Raven. They stood near the main entrance to the hanger bay; both men leaning on the wall as they both gazed at the large hanger bay door, as if they were waiting for something.

Tyber: You know…I have to be honest…I hate this.

Cameron looked at Tye.

Cameron: Sir?

Tyber: I hate the fact that we are up here, and not down there. You and I should have been sent after Vanguard. Instead, Jennifer pulled us back, and ordered a full retreat back to The King Raven.

Cameron: I think we both know why she did that.

Tyber: Yeah, I know…

Tye paused.

Tyber: Because she thought Nighthawk was going to destroy San Angeles.

Cameron: It is safe to assume that she pulled out to prevent anyone from getting caught in that decision.

Tyber: Yeah, but…we are soldiers, Cam. We belong on the front lines, no matter what. Sitting up here and waiting it out is not what we are supposed to do.

Cameron: I agree. However, orders are orders. As much as I would like to be down there, going toe to toe with Vanguard, Captain Frost wants us here. She is very correct to assume the worst, and she is only trying to do what is best for us. Remember, she is in command. It is her responsibility to make informed decisions. If she sends us down there, she may as well be sending us to die.

Tye sighed.

Tyber: Perhaps you are right, Cam. I am just not used to being sidelined.

Tye paused.

Tyber: I never sit on the sidelines. It is not my style. It is not the kind of man I am.

Cameron: I think she knows that. However, nothing changes the fact that she is concerned for our safety, especially with what Nighthawk is seemingly capable of.

Cameron paused.

Cameron: However, if it is any consolation, I completely agree with you.

As Cameron said this, a Pelican entered the hanger bay. As the Pelican passed through the security barrier, Cameron nudged Tye, as if to direct his attention.

Cameron: Look alive, Tye.

Tye looked at the Pelican, as it touched down, and powered down its engines. Tye stood up straight, as he grabbed one of his SMGs, and disengaged the safety. Cameron followed suit, as he grabbed his Assault Rifle, and held it in his hands.

Tyber: Let’s get this prick locked up. The sooner the better.

Tye and Cameron approached the Pelican, and circled around it, stopping as they reached the rear hatch. After waiting a moment, they watched as the rear hatch opened, and Cochraine and Jacob stepped out. As Cochraine and Jacob stepped off the Pelican, and onto the hanger bay floor, Tye spoke up.

Tyber: Welcome aboard, Lieutenant Commander.

Cochraine: Thank you Commander. As previously agreed upon, I am releasing Captain Sharpmen to your detention.

Tyber: We can take it from here.

Tye looked at Cameron, and nodded. Cameron then stepped forward, and grabbed Jacob by the arm, and pulled him forward, directing him towards the exit.

Jacob: Grabbing me isn’t necessary. I came here of my own volition. If I didn’t want to be here, I wouldn’t be.

Tyber: On this ship, I will be the judge of what is necessary.

Cameron did not release Jacob, as he guided him away from the Pelican. Tye watched Jacob for a moment, before he turned back to Cochraine.

Tyber: The Office of Naval Intelligence thanks you for your cooperation, and you have my personal gratitude for your assistance in this matter.

Cochraine: I am happy to have been of help.

Tyber: If you wish to be of further help, then I suggest that you report to the bridge. Captain Frost wishes to speak with you.

Cochraine: About what, if I may ask?

Tyber: She did not say. All I was told was that I was to send you in her direction when you showed up. So please, report to the bridge.

Cochraine: Very well. Thank you, Commander.

With that, Cochraine nodded, and proceeded to walk off, heading towards the interior of the King Raven. Tye, on the other hand, approached Cameron and Jacob. Tye glared at Jacob for a moment, before he spoke.

Tyber: I don’t even know what to say to you. Every time I see you, I think about the 20 soldiers you killed…20 good men and women.

Jacob: It wasn’t easy…

Tyber: You sure as hell made it look easy. You sure as hell did not pull your punches with me, either.

Jacob scoffed.

Jacob: You are one to talk. Look what you did on The Vigorous Inferno.

Tyber: How many people died? Give me the number.

Jacob was hesitant.

Tyber: The number…give it to me.

Jacob winced his eyes in frustration, as he reluctantly answered.

Jacob: Zero.

Tyber: Precisely. Nobody died. You know why? Unlike you, I know how to pull my punches. I know how to adjust my aim. I know where, and when, to shoot.

Tye paused.

Tyber: You joined The Trust, of your own volition, and 20 people died as a result. What you did is, in my opinion, unforgivable.

Tye scoffed.

Tyber: Why did you do it? I don’t get it! I still don’t understand! Why did you do it? What did you gain? What was it for?

Jacob: I thought…I thought I could bring them down from the inside. I thought I could learn something about them. The Trust always had an interest in me, and I took advantage of a rare opportunity. I did what I thought was right…

Jacob paused.

Jacob: Why don’t you understand? Tye…you were also a member of The Trust. Surely…you should understand my reasons. You should understand why I made the choices I did. You and I are more alike than you care to admit. We both have been into the heart of the beast, and we have seen them up close. You know what The Trust is like. You know what they do to people.

Tyber: Jacob, I don’t know what you think happened to me, but, you and I are nothing alike as far as our affiliation with The Trust is concerned. I was lied to. I was deceived. I was manipulated and I was being controlled. I was experimented on and I was turned into a weapon. I did not have a choice in the matter. By the time The Trust had revealed itself, it was too late. The moment I had a fleeting chance at freedom, I broke free from their hold, and I never looked back with any sort of longing or regret over my decision to leave. When I found out what The Trust was, I did everything in my power to escape it! I watched my friends get destroyed by The Trust. I had to kill my best friend. I lost the only woman I ever cared about. I lost my humanity, and I lost my dignity to The Trust. My identity was stolen from me, and the man I once was, was destroyed. I spent years trying to rebuild my life; to reconcile everything that I had been through, with the man that I once was, and the man I wanted to be again. I struggled every day to try and keep what The Trust did to me in check; to keep it caged up and buried…out of sight…little more than a distant memory. The torment and the hell that I went through would have destroyed a lesser man. I have paid my dues…I have done my time.

Tye scoffed.

Tyber: So, Jacob, do not ever compare yourself to me. If you had even the faintest idea what I went through, you would not even dare make the comparison.

Jacob glared at Tye for a moment, before he spoke.

Jacob: Be that as it may, I see no difference between you and me. We have both killed people. We have both worked with The Trust. The only difference I see is that I am the one being arrested, and I am the one going on the chopping block. Tell me, does it hurt when you are this hypocritical, or, is this a required skill for you ONI Spooks? Dare I say…is this a bit of Black 6 that I am seeing? If this is the kind of man that you were as Black 6, then you are worse than I could have ever hoped to have been.

Tye scoffed.

Jacob: Yeah, sure, I don’t know your full story. I don’t know the little details, but I get the broad strokes of it. I know enough to know that you were a member of Black Team. That, in itself, tells me what kind of blood you had…HAVE…on your hands. Despite that, I was hoping that you, of all people, would understand, or have an understanding of why I did what I did. I thought that you would, at the very least, vouch for me, or stand up for me, or try to rationalize my decisions. You know, there was a time when we were friends. There was a time that we would have died for one another. After all that we have been through, after all of the close calls, how can you be so disconnected? How can you be so ruthless? You have no right to be acting like this! You were Black 6! You have no right to judge me on my actions, yet, here you are…detaining me for crimes that are no different than yours. You get to walk a free man, and I am put behind bars. You have a future, I have a tribunal. You get to fight, and I get to die! Are you so gutless that you would stay silent while ONI cuts me down!?

Tye was silent for a moment, before he responded.

Tyber: What I did 25 years ago…has no bearing on what happened at San Angeles, today. This isn’t about me. This is about you, and only you. TO directly answer your question; I am not going to say one damn thing. I am going to watch, in silence, with the strictest composure, as ONI puts you to death for treason. Hypocritical? Absolutely. However, I have lived with worse, so, I won’t lose sleep over it. I plan on watching you go down in flames for what you did. I have paid my dues, Jacob. I have already died for my service to The Trust. Now, it is your turn.

Jacob glared at Tye.

Jacob: You gutless son of a bitch! You are a fucking coward! You are a lying, gutless, coward!

Tye scoffed, as he used his SMG to strike Jacob in the face as hard as he could. With one blow, Tye knocked Jacob to the ground.

Tyber: One more word out of you, I will toss your ass into an airlock and I will space you.

Jacob looked up at Tye, and scoffed.

Jacob: I believe you. After all…killing your friends is what you do best.

Jacob’s statement infuriated Tye. Tye raised his SMG and aimed it at Jacob. However, before Tye could pull the trigger, he was pulled back by Cameron.

Cameron: Commander!

Tye continued to glare at Jacob.

Cameron: Tye!

Tye looked at Cameron.

Cameron: It is not worth it. You are better than this. This is not who you are.

Tye paused for a moment, as he took several deep breaths and composed himself. Tye lowered his weapon, and took a step back.

Tyber: You’re right, Cam…you’re right…

Tye sighed, as he holstered his SMG

Tyber: I am better than this. This is not who I am.

Tye paused, as Cameron grabbed Jacob and got him back to his feet.

Cameron: Sir, you should get some rest. I will deal with this. GO to the medical bay, get yourself looked at, and clear your head.

Tyber: Good thinking…

Tye glared at Jacob, and then looked back at Cameron.

Tyber: Cam, make sure this garbage makes it to the brig.

Cameron: I will see to it, sir.

Cameron then nudged Jacob with his Assault Rifle, as if ordering him to start moving. Jacob got the message, as he began to walk towards the exit to the hanger bay. However, as he walked, he said one final thing.

Jacob: This isn’t over! IF you think I am going to go quietly into the night like this, you are dead wrong! One way or the other, ONI will know what happened here…they will know EVERYTHING! You are NOT going to get away from what you have done!

Tye watched, and listened to Jacob’s threat. If one thing was very clear, it was that Jacob had every intention of brining as many people down with him as possible. Tye once again found his thoughts shifting to the idea that it may be better for everyone if he simply killed Jacob, and put an end to this once and for all. Tye knew that this would solve no shortage of problems, but, at the same time, he knew that it would create new ones, and that there was no escaping what was coming.

Tye knew that ONI was going to find out about everything, absolutely everything. ONI was going to find out about Jacob’s action…about Vanguard…about Nighthawk…and about Tye’s own past. Whether it was going to be Harrison or Jacob, one of those two men was going to bring everything into the light, for the entire world to see. Tye was very uncertain about what was in store. Everything that has happened was so surreal that there was no way to guess how ONI would react. However, one thing was for certain; when ONI learns about Tye’s past, when they learn about his background and his involvement with The Trust, it is either going to be met with great skepticism due to the clandestine nature of The Trust, or, it fill finally shine a light on The Trust, revealing them once and for all. Despite the uncertainty of what was going to happen to him, Tye took solace in the fact that The Trust would finally be exposed, once and for all.

Tye sighed, as he finally took off his helmet, and held his helmet under his arm, as he walked out of the hanger bay. He knew that his role in this fight was over, and that all he could do now is watch as the endgame unfolded. There was nothing else he could do to help, and that the future was now out of his hands. Tye did not like being rendered helpless like this, but, it could not be helped.

San Angeles – The King Raven – Main Bridge – Distant orbit of San Angeles – 0025 Hours - February 2nd 2540

The moment that Cochraine had stepped onto the bridge of The King Raven, she knew that she was stepping into the fray. Cochraine looked around the bridge of the King Raven, and saw no shortage of Officers moving back and forth, as they were undoubtedly preparing for battle. Cochraine moved between the officers, as she approach Captain Frost, who was sitting in the command chair; her eyes forward to the front of the bridge.

Cochraine: Captain Frost!

Jennifer turned her chair to the left, as she looked at Cochraine.

Jennifer: Lieutenant Commander! I am glad you could make it! I trust that Jacob is now in our custody?

Cochraine: I left him with Commander Vernette and the Spartan.

Jennifer: Well done. I am impressed.

Cochraine: I will admit Ma’am…I am somewhat shaken up over the entire situation. I…acted in a way that…could be seen as unbecoming. I have never threatened the life of a fellow soldier before. I have never had to bluff the way I did. I have never taken a side against a fellow soldier. I admit…looking back…I did not recognize myself.

Jennifer: Desperate times call for desperate measures, Lauran. In this line of work, sometimes we have to do things which do not always fit our character. The trick is to never doubt that you can do the unthinkable. Clearly, you knew that, you just were not aware of it.

Jennifer paused.

Jennifer: You found Jacob, you got him out of there, and you got out of there in one piece. You did well. Anything you had to do to get the job done, was justified, given the circumstances.

Jennifer paused.

Jennifer: You undertook a dangerous mission, and you were successful. That is all you need to know.

Cochraine nodded, as she let out a sigh.

Cochraine: Thank you Ma’am.

Cochraine paused.

Cochraine: You needed to see me? Commander Vernette said you wanted to see me.

Jennifer: Yes, that is correct. As you know, I am about to take The King Raven into battle to assist the UNSC forces currently engaged with The Covenant. That being said, I find that I am in need of your services once more. I need an executive officer. I am about to take this ship into battle, and I would prefer not to do it alone. Besides, I have come to respect your methods. I am curious to see how they would hold up in a situation like this.

Cochraine: Ma’am…to be honest…I am not sure if I would be the best choice for you. I mean, I have no experience commanding ships of this classification, and it is no secret that your style of command and my style of command are two vastly different things.

Jennifer laughed.

Jennifer: I think you are selling yourself short, Cochraine. You might surprise yourself.

Jennifer paused.

Jennifer: I think you underestimate the value of mixing two different command styles. Sure, it may be tough to work with, but, I think we could benefit from having greater perspective.

Cochraine sighed, before she finally nodded.

Cochraine: Very well, Captain. If you need a right hand, I can step up.

Jennifer grinned.

Jennifer: Good. Take your station, Lieutenant Commander.

Jennifer gestured her hand towards an empty seat to the right of the command chair. Cochraine complied, and sat down in the executive officers chair. Cochraine examined the terminal that was just off to the right of where she was sitting, and quickly discovered that from here, she could easily delegate tasks to any department on the ship, at a moment’s notice. Cochraine had access to the entire ship manifest from this one terminal, and she knew that she needed to become comfortable with the sheer amount of access at her finger tips, and she needed to do it fast.

Jennifer: Helm! Take us to the combat zone, best possible speed!

The helmsman confirmed the order.

Helm Officer: Yes Ma’am. Plotting a course…now…

Jennifer nodded, as she leaned over, and opened a comm channel to all points on the ship.

Jennifer: All hands…battle stations!

As Jennifer said this, the lights on the bridge dimmed, and alarms began to go off across the ship. Cochraine looked around the bridge, as she took notice of the shift in atmosphere and demon or on the ship. The one thing that Cochraine noticed was how differently the crew responded to the prospect of battle. Cochraise had always been more accustom to seeing an anxious anticipation in the people around her when faced with the prospect of engaging a superior enemy. However, these people were eerily confident and determined, as if they were no strangers to what they were walking into the. There was an over-abundance of confidence, and it struck Cochraine as rather odd. Why were these people so confident?

Cochraine: Captain? I have to admit…I am somewhat new to this. On The Mind’s Attrition, I never had anything like this on our bridge. These people…is this an ONI thing?

Jennifer laughed.

Jennifer: No, Cochraine. This is a King Raven thing. All of these people have been hand-picked. Everyone here is the best of the best, top of their classes, experts in their fields, veterans in their style. My commanding officer believes that only the finest should serve, so, he only takes the finest. Now THAT is an ONI thing, but, he has rigidly applied that idea to his command style, and what you see is the result. I will be honest, there was a time you would never catch me in this chair, dead or alive. However, after I served on this ship, I quickly realized that if I wanted to stay, I had to fit in with situations like this. There isn’t a single person on this ship who is not prepared to fight their way into hell.

Jennifer paused.

Jennifer: I am sure you have realized that I can be somewhat of a bitch when the situation calls for it. You have seen me talk back to Harrison, you have heard how I am not afraid to pull the trigger on anyone who stands in my way, and you have seen that I can be as cold as ice when it comes to crossing someone off. All of that is because I serve on this ship. If I was anywhere else, on any other ship, under anyone else’s command…I would be far less than I am now.

Cochraine sighed. She was taken aback by how honest Captain Frost was being. It was one part refreshing, and one part terrifying. If there was one thing that Cochraine had to admit, it was that seeing the behavior on this ship certainly gave her a lot to think about with her own style of leadership.

Cochraine: Well…I have to admit…this ship is no home for uncertainty. It is a lot to take in.

Cochraine paused.

Cochraine: Hell, I am overwhelmed by this terminal in front of me. I never had this much micromanagement over our personnel. At most, I was there to offer tactical recommendations. This is a whole new level.

Jennifer: Frigates are smaller ships than Halcyons. A ship of this size requires specialized delegation, micromanagement if you will call it that. The larger a crew manifest becomes, the harder it becomes to automate it. My role as first officer was to delegate and prioritize tasks, as well as offer relevant tactical evaluations to the commanding officer. I need you to be my right hand; to give me information I can make decisions with. I need to know when and where something is going on aboard this ship. I need to know if you are keeping the crew on its toes.

Jennifer paused.

Jennifer: I am well aware that Frigates do not require such specialized attention, and that your duties on The Mind’s Attrition may be vastly different than what I am asking you to do here. However, when you get down to it; you have to be my right hand. I believe that you can do this, Cochraine. I have seen you handle yourself in more difficult situations.

Cochraine: I am sorry Ma’am…I just hate learning something new when I am flying into battle with The Covenant. I have always believed that there is a time and a place for everything.

Jennifer: Well, you better make it the time and the place Cochraine, because this is about to get ugly really fast!

Jennifer paused when the tactical officer spoke up.

Tactical Officer: Ma’am…we are now in weapon’s range. We have dozens of Covenant bogies breaking off from The Vigorous Inferno, and they are coming right at us!

Jennifer: Bring all forward point defense cannons online, and fire at will!

As Jennifer issued this order, Cochraine chimed in.

Cochraine: Captain, we have a CCS Class Battlecruiser on approach. They are moving into battle formation, in direct response to our arrival. They are matching our course and speed, however, there is no weapons lock as of yet.

Jennifer: Break off our approach, and skim the battle field. Keep our guns locked on the smaller bogies, and try and give some breathing room for Harrison and Reynolds! Comms…open a channel to The Vigorous Inferno and The Mind’s Attrition.

Comm Officer: Channel open, Ma’am!

Jennifer: Admiral Harrison, Captain Reynolds…does anyone read me?

Jennifer waited a moment before Harrison responded.

Harrison: Captain Frost…if our circumstances were different, I would not be responding with words. Better late than never, I suppose.

Harrison paused.

Harrison: You put me at a serious disadvantage. Without ARC, coordinating a counter offensive has been an uphill battle. Thanks for that…

Jennifer: Admiral…I am not here to exchange barbs. I am here to save lives. Surely we can put the unpleasantness aside and deal with what is happening now!?

Harrison: Make it quick, Captain. I do not have all day. As you can tell, I have my hands full The Covenant, and I do not have time to waste.

Jennifer: Believe me Admiral, I can see that plain as day. The Covenant is what we are here to help you with. We currently have a CCS Class Cruiser sizing us up for battle, and we are going to need to coordinate our efforts to take that ship down. However, we need to deal with these bogies first and foremost.

Harrison: Agreed. If you have any ideas on how to quickly clear out these bogies, I am listening. We have been in a stalemate, and we are quickly losing deck guns.

Jennifer: We are working on that now. Standby…

Jennifer looked over to Cochraine, who was busy trying to come up with a plan to help cut down the Covenant’s small craft support.

Cochraine: Captain Frost…according to the ship’s inventory, we are hauling a very large contingent of Longswords. We should consider deploying them to engage The Covenant. The additional points of contact may be what we need to cut through The Covenant’s small craft support.

Before Jennifer could say anything, Harrison chimed in.

Harrison: Was that Lieutenant Cochraine?

Jennifer: She is aboard The King Raven, along with anyone else who was sent to Firebase Mediterranean. Everyone has been evacuated, and nobody was left behind.

Harrison: I must give you credit, Captain. I did not expect that sort of generosity from ONI.

Jennifer rolled her eyes. However, as Harrison said this, Reynolds chimed in over the comms.

Reynolds: Lauren? Are you alright?

Cochraine: I am fine, Marcus…for the most part, anyway.

Reynolds: I am glad to hear that! I look forward to your report when you return.

Cochraine: Understood, sir.

Jennifer scoffed.

Jennifer: As much as I enjoy this discourse, we have a CCS Battle Cruiser breathing down our necks, and more Covenant small crafts than we can shake a stick at. We need options, or we are going to lose this!

Jennifer paused.

Jennifer: Cochraine; you recommended that we begin deploying Longswords. I agree. Get every Longsword we have, and get them out there. Their orders are to engage Covenant small crafts exclusively.

Reynolds: With coordinated fire from my vessel, and The Vigorous Inferno, complementing those Long Swords and The King Raven, we should be able to turn the tide of battle, and we should be able to clear the skies., and free up our tactical resources to engage that CCS Battle Cruiser.

Harrison: Even if we clear the skies of these bogies, and even if we destroy that CCS Battle Cruiser, there is more where that came from! The Covenant will simply double down on us, or send that Assault Carrier after us! We will not survive an engagement with an Assault Carrier.

Jennifer: Agreed. We need to steer clear of that Assault Carrier at all costs.

Jennifer paused.

Jennifer: Reynolds, Harrison…if there is ANYTHING that you are holding back in terms of firepower, now is the time to bring it to bear on The Covenant!

Reynolds: I have put every asset I have on the field.

Harrison: I still have a dozen squads of Longswords on standby in case things got bad. However, if we are putting all of chips on the table, then it is time to go all in. I will start deploying the last of my Longswords.

Jennifer: Acknowledged…

Jennifer looked at Cochraine.

Jennifer: Cochraine, what is the status of our Longswords?

Cochraine: So far, we have managed to deploy seven out of the 18 squads we are carrying.

Jennifer: Keep it up. The more squads we can get onto the field, the faster we will be able to wither The Covenant down through numerical superiority.

Just as Jennifer said this, the sensor officer spoke up.

Sensor Officer: Ma’am…we have several wings of Seraphs closing in on our position, and the CCS Battle Cruiser has altered its course. It is coming right at us. They are targeting us!

Jennifer: All power to engines! Evasive maneuvers!

As Jennifer issued this order, Harrison could be heard speaking over the comm.

Harrison: Captain Reynolds, adjust targeting parameters, and prepare to draw fire from that Battle Cruiser. Hit it with everything you have!

Harrison paused.

Harrison: Captain Frost…if you are carrying any Shiva Warheads, I recommend that you target that Battle Cruiser and fire at will. We are going to need mall the firepower we can get if we are going to breach their shields.

Jennifer: Copy that Admiral. Stand by…

Jennifer looked at the Tactical Officer.

Jennifer: Lieutenant Monroe…cycle all even numbered hard points and switch Shiva payloads. Target that CCS Battle Cruiser, and fire at will.

Tactical Officer: Cycling payloads…

As the tactical officer said this, the King Raven violently shook from an impact.

Operations Officer: Ma’am…we have sustained a direct hit from the Battle Cruiser. We have a hull breach on deck 7. We are venting atmosphere in section 13. Emergency bulkheads are responding.

Jennifer: Helm! Full axis rotation to port. Do not let The Covenant hit us in the same spot twice!

As Jennifer issued this order, Cochraine looked at her with a concerned look.

Cochraine: How the hell are we still alive after a direct hit?

Jennifer: ONI spares no expense retrofitting its vessels, Lieutenant.

Cochraine: How many hits like that can we take?

Jennifer: The most we have ever taken is nine. After that, your guess is as good as mine. Mind you, we don’t get hit often. This sort of engagement is not what we look for, and it is rare we get into these sorts of situations!

Cochraine partially rolled her eyes, as she gave an uncertain look. She had to admit, she had to give credit to ONI for their ability to keep a ship together after being hit by a Covenant Battle Cruiser’s weapon. She had seen ships sheered in half by the same weaponry. However, she did not feel much safer aboard The King Raven than she would any ship, given the situation.

Cochraine: Well, let’s makes sure we get out of this situation!

Jennifer nodded, as the tactical officer spoke up once more.

Tactical Officer: Payloads have been fully loaded Ma’am! Awaiting further orders…

Jennifer looked at the tactical officer as she spoke.

Jennifer: Target that CCS Battle Cruiser, and hit them with everything we have, dispersal pattern sierra!

The tactical officer nodded, as he began to target the CCS Battle Cruiser. Once a full target lock had been established, The King Raven began to fire off a hailstorm of Shiva Missiles. The firing pattern ensured that there would be optimum fallout and coverage from the EMP that would be created by a Shiva detonation.

As the Shiva Warheads impacted the shields of the CCS Battle Cruiser, The Vigorous Inferno and The Mind’s Attrition followed up with a volley of their own. Both ships targeted the CCS Battle Cruiser, and began to unleash a wave of Archer Missiles, in an attempt to break through the cruiser’s powerful shields. However, after all three ships had expended their weapons, and were now cycling their hardpoints, the CCS Battle Cruiser still had its shields up.

Harrison: Damn it! It was not enough! If we do not keep up that level of offensive power, their shields are simply going to regenerate! We need to keep hitting them!

Jennifer: Copy that, Admiral. I will see what I can do.

Jennifer paused, as she looked at her tactical officer. However, before she could speak, The King Raven shook violently once again.

Operations Officer: Hull breach on Deck 12, section 18…emergency bulkheads are not responding! We are venting atmosphere!

Jennifer: Evacuate the surrounding area, and seal the bulkheads at section 21 and 15!

The King Raven shook again, this time even harder. As the ship shook, the lights on the bridge began to flicker.

Operations Officer: Hull breach on deck 15! We have damage to the secondary power grid!

Jennifer: Divert power away from the damage section! Cut all power to compromised areas!

Cochraine scoffed, as she looked at Jennifer.

Cochraine: That cruiser is going to carve us up like a roast if we don’t do something! If we lose the primary power grid…

Jennifer glared at Cochraine, snapping at her.

Jennifer: I know, Cochraine!

Jennifer sighed, as she looked at the tactical officer.

Jennifer: Divert emergency power to the MAC gun, and chamber the MAC for four successive shots!

Tactical Officer: Ma’am…out gun is not rated for four. Even with emergency power…

Jennifer: Divert power from non-essential systems. Scrape the god damn ions from our engines if you have to, just get me power for four successive shots!

Tactical Officer: Acknowledged…chambering for four successive shots…

Jennifer looked at the helmsman.

Jennifer: Lieutenant Cohen…prepare to alter our course; bring us about on a heading of 281 by 34

Helm Officer: Ma’am…that is taking us right at that cruiser!

Jennifer: Yes…set a collision course!

Cochraine glared at Jennifer.

Cochraine: Are you insane!?

Jennifer grinned at Cochraine.

Jennifer: No, but I am inspired. I find myself recalling something my CO once told me about Covenant ships; in order to fire their pulse laser, need to punch small holes in their shield grid in order to hit their enemies.

Jennifer paused.

Jennifer: That opening appears for approximately 3.7 seconds. If we can slip a MAC round through one of those openings, we can take that cruiser down.

Cochraine: Ma’am…that is a huge gamble! We literally need to fly right at that ship and ALLOW them to hit us in order to take a shot!

Jennifer: The riskier the gamble, the bigger the payout, Cochraine. You know as well as I do how difficult it is to take these cruisers down! We need someone to attempt the big play, and I am making the attempt! We are going to thread the needle!

Cochraine gave an exasperated sigh, as she did not fully agree with this course of action. However, there was no arguing the point.

Tactical Officer: MAC gun is ready to fire on command…

Jennifer looked at the tactical officer, and nodded.

Jennifer: Stand by…

Jennifer looked forward at the officer sitting at the helm.

Jennifer: Helm? What is our current status?

Helm Officer: We are on a direct course with that CCS Battle Cruiser. On our present course, we will collide with their vessel in 28 seconds.

Jennifer: Maintain course and speed!

Jennifer paused, as she called out to the tactical officer.

Jennifer: Lieutenant Monroe…be ready. The instant I give the order…you fire the MAC…

Jennifer watch out of the front of the bridge, as The King Raven closed in on the CCS Battle Cruiser.

Helm Officer: 23 seconds until collision…

Jennifer: Maintain course!

Sensor Officer: Enemy ship is charging a full barrage of weapons. I am detecting 12 different weapon locks…

Jennifer: Lieutenant Monroe…get ready. Target one of those pulse laser points…

Tactical Officer: Target locked…

Jennifer took a deep breath, as the Sensor Officer spoke up.

Sensor Officer: The enemy ship is firing!

Jennifer glared at the tactical officer, as she stood up from her chair, and pointed at him.


Monroe slammed his hand down on the firing control. As soon as he did this, The King Raven fired four successive shots at the CCS Battle Cruiser. The first two shots missed their target, and were unable to thread the needle. However, the third and fourth shots managed to successfully thread the needle, as both shots managed to pass through the small opening in the shields, and impact the hull of the CCS Battle Cruiser. As the MAC rounds penetrated the hull of the CCS Battle Cruiser, the cruiser began to veer off to the side, as the ship began to lose attitude control.

Sensor Officer: The Cruiser’s shields are down!

Jennifer walked to the front of the bridge, and put her foot on one of the consoles, as she clenched her fist.

Jennifer: Fire everything we have! Take that cruiser down!

The King Raven began to fire all of its Archer Missiles at the crippled CCS Battle Cruiser. As The King Raven fired its weapons, Reynolds and Harrison chimed in over the comm.

Reynolds: I have to admit…that was a very nice move!

Harrison: We will celebrate later! Reynolds…target that cruiser, and fire at will! Let’s bring these bastards down a peg!

Jennifer grinned as she listened to the comm chatter. She turned and looked at the holotable that was on the bridge, and she watched as The Vigorous Inferno and The Mind’s Attrition began to fire on the crippled CCS Battle Cruiser.

Jennifer: Lieutenant Monroe…continual fire! Hit that cruiser with everything we have left!

The coordinated fire from The King Raven, The Vigorous Inferno, and The Mind’s Attrition was enough to finally finish the crippled CCS Battle Cruiser off. All three commanding officers watched as the cruiser broke in half, and began to drift apart, each part of the ship burning in space.

Harrison: Well done everyone! That is how it is done!

Reynolds: Most of the thanks goes to Captain Frost! That was one hell of a shot, Captain.

Jennifer: The bigger the gamble, the bigger they payout, gentlemen.

Jennifer grinned, as she turned and walked back to the command chair. As she sat down, Cochraine looked at her, and had to give a nod of approval.

Cochraine: Not the most conventional tactic, and by no means the safest. However, I will admit…it was damn good. I will have to remember that one for the future.

Jennifer: Chances are, it will save your ass at some point!

Jennifer grinned. However, before she could say anything else, the sensor officer interjected.

Sensor Officer: Ma’am…all of those Covenant Seraphs are in full retreat! They are breaking off!

Jennifer: Music to my ears!

Just as Jennifer said this, however, the sensor officer’s grin turned to a look of horror.

Sensor Officer: Uhhh…Ma’am? We are in serious trouble…

Jennifer: What is it?

Sensor Officer: While those Seraphs ARE hightailing it…The entire Covenant fleet is coming right at us. Every ship has powered weapons, and they are locking onto us. They will be in weapon’s range in 45 seconds.

Jennifer frowned, as she called out to Harrison and Reynolds.

Jennifer: Admiral! Captain!

Reynolds was the first to respond.

Reynolds: Captain? If this is what I think it is about, then yes, I see it to. The Covenant is moving everything they have against us.

Harrison: We were outgunned before. Now this is just suicide! There is no way we can hold this position against a fleet of that size!

Reynolds: Agreed! We should fall back, and try to out-maneuver The Covenant! We need new positioning!

Jennifer: I also agree! There is no way we can take on a dozen Covenant ships at once! Perhaps if we split them up, but not at once! We need to fall back!

Harrison: All ships, reverse course…maximum speed! Let’s try and put some distance between us and The Covenant! If we can keep the planet between us and them, we may be able to buy some time to come up with an alternate course of action. We may even get lucky, and we may even catch one or two of them alone!

As Harrison said this, Jennifer nodded to her helmsmen, as The King Raven came about and retreated alongside of The Vigorous Inferno and The Mind’s Attrition.

Harrison: I am content with a single cruiser kill, for now! They know we can make them bleed, and they don’t like that. Let’s see if we can use this to our advantage!

Cochraine then spoke up.

Cochraine: Sir? What if we cannot outrun The Covenant ships? What then?

Harrison: If we can’t outrun them, then we will be forced to turn and face them. I don’t like the idea, but I like the idea of cutting and running even less. If we do have to abandon San Angeles, I am going to make sure that there is nothing left that will be worth the time of The Covenant.

Cochraine: What do you mean, sir?

Harrison: I have no idea what the current status of Firebase Mediterranean is, but, I will know its status when I wipe it off the face of the planet with the heaviest payload at my disposal. If there is even a chance that there is something down there that The Covenant can use, I am going to take the steps necessary to deny the enemy their assets.

Cochraine: What about the people that have yet to evacuate? Are we going to leave them? There are still millions of people down there!

Harrison: I don’t know, Lieutenant Commander. I want to help them, but, it may not be possible. I know you may not like that answer, but, it is the best I can do if everything else fails.

Jennifer sighed when she heard this.

Jennifer: The best we can do is deny The Covenant access to what The Trust was after…

There was an awkward pause on the comm line, before Harrison spoke up.

Harrison: Speaking of the Trust…where the hell did The Ulterior Motive go? We cannot see it on sensors anywhere!

Jennifer frowned, as she jumped out of her seat, and walked over to the holotable.

Jennifer: I don’t see it either! The ship is NOT at its designated coordinates! I saw this ship not but 10 minutes ago! It was here!

Jennifer paused for a moment.

Jennifer: Oh shit…

Reynolds: What is it, Captain?

Jennifer: That explains it…

Harrison: Explains what, Captain?

Jennifer: When we were down at Firebase Mediterranean, My Team, along with Cochraine and Fireteam Harmony, were attacking the facility’s CIC. We breached it, but, when we got there…something happened.

Harrison: Can you clarify what you mean by “something”?

Jennifer: We had Spender and his compatriots cornered, and then, they simply vanished into a bright light. At least, this is what I was told!

Cochraine: It is true! I watched it happen…whatever “it” was.

Cochraine paused.

Cochraine: The Trust vanished…into thin air.

Reynolds: That is impossible!

Cochraine: I know what we saw! Fireteam Harmony saw it! Commander Vernette and the Spartan saw it!

Harrison: What does this have to do with anything?

Jennifer: It is possible that the Trust’s vanishing trick had something to do with the fact that The Ulterior Motive is now missing.

Harrison: I find that hard to believe. However, The Ulterior Motive is missing, and it needs to be found! That ship contains evidence we need to bring down The Trust! We need to find it!

Jennifer: Agreed. I will see if I can contact the personnel we stationed on the ship. We may be able to track it down that way. Standby…

Jennifer looked at the communications office.

Jennifer: Ensign…contact anyone we had stationed aboard The Ulterior Motive, and patch their comm line directly into the fleet channel.

The Communications Officer did as instructed. Once they had carried out their task, they turned to Captain Frost, and nodded.

Comm Officer: Channel open, Ma’am…

Jennifer: This is Captain Frost to ANYONE stationed aboard The Ulterior Motive. Does anyone copy?

Jennifer waited a moment, before she repeated her transmission.

Jennifer: This is Captain Frost to ANYONE stationed aboard The Ulterior Motive. Does anyone read me?

Jennifer waited again, but this time, she got a response.

Spender: Captain Frost...

Spender paused.

Spender: It is regrettable that you survived your confrontation with Mr. Kolya. It was my understanding that he walked all over you and Commander Burke. Please tell me that Dr. Burke is dead. It would be such joyous news…

Jennifer scoffed.

Jennifer: Oh no…your rabid attack dog failed to cross off Dr. Burke. He is still alive.

Spender: A pity.

Spender paused.

Spender: I will give credit where credit is due…you did a pretty good job taking down that CCS Battle Cruiser. That was an inspired tactic. We will have to remember that one! However, I am not known for complimenting the enemy, so I will put an end to it right here and now.

Spender paused.

Spender: No doubt you are looking for my vessel. Unfortunately for you, you will not find us. While Harrison was busy with The Covenant, and while you were busy at Firebase Mediterranean, my people managed to retake The Ulterior Motive right from under your noses, and they were able to repair the stealth generator. That little engagement with that CCS Battle Cruiser was all we needed to slip away unnoticed. Oh, and in case you are wondering…every single Marine you had on my ship, is now dead. Black Team was quite ruthless in their methods. In fact, it is my understanding that we just finished spacing the last of the bodies.

Jennifer: You gutless son of a bitch!

Spender: Their mistake for daring to cross me.

Jennifer: Why don’t you show yourself, and we can settle this, once and for all! I can show you a few more inspired tactics…first hand!

Spender: No. I would much prefer to watch you die from a distance. Besides…I am still banking on Vanguard! After all…The Trust is still winning…Captain. Everything is still proceeding along a path that we have desired. You…are losing this fight.

Jennifer scoffed, as the anger in her voice was now very audible.

Jennifer: We will see about that, you chain smoking mother fucker!

Spender: You do have quite the temper, don’t you? Try to keep that in check. It doesn’t suit you. Good bye, Captain. This will be the last time we EVER speak.

With that, the line went dead, as Spender cut the comm line, and abruptly ended the conversation.

Harrison: Damn it…if Spender is back in control of The Ulterior Motive…that is a serious setback! The bastard took advantage of the fact that we were battling the Covenant, and he took his ship back. Damn it!

Jennifer: If his stealth generator is active, there is no good way to find him!

Harrison: Do we have any options?

Jennifer: Negative! He was smart. He spaced the bodies of all of our Marines so as to prevent us from tracking IFF signals of the dead Marines. That bastard knows what he is doing!

Harrison: Damn it.

Harrison paused.

Harrison: Does anyone know the current status of Vanguard?

Cochraine spoke up.

Cochraine: I do, sir. It is my understanding that Vanguard was fully operational and ready for battle at approximately the same time that I went into the depths of Firebase Mediterranean to retrieve Captain Sharpmen.

Harrison: Excuse me, what? When did this happen?

Cochraine: I guess you were not informed.

Cochraine paused.

Cochraine: Shortly after Jacob requested an evac, he went ventured into an underground portion of Firebase Mediterranean to locate and eliminate Nighthawk. I believe he was acting under your orders, sir.

Harrison: I did mention that Nighthawk had to be stopped.

Cochraine: Well, Nighthawk, along with Anaconda, had also ventured down to the underground facility in order to locate and eliminate Vanguard. Jacob went after them, and I went after Jacob. I managed to retrieve Jacob and extract him, before he had a chance to kill Nighthawk. I had to use very persuasive means to get him to stand down.

Harrison: You did WHAT!? Err…never mind. Get to the point, Lieutenant Commander!

Cochraine: To summarize this; I know that Vanguard is functional. I know that Nighthawk and Anaconda are down there. I know that Trust operative known as The Consultant is down there, and I know that a small Covenant strike team is down there.

Harrison: It is obvious what Nighthawk’s intentions are, and it is clear why The Consultant is there. I think it is also clear why The Covenant is there.

Cochraine: More, or less, sir.

Harrison sighed.

Harrison: I don’t like this one bit. I hate the fact that NIGHTHAWK is our best chance at the moment to stop Vanguard.

Cochraine: I believe he has good intentions, sir. He seemed very adamant on stopping Vanguard. Above all else…he was driven by stopping Vanguard.

Harrison: That man is evil, and he should have been killed. Stopping Jacob from killing Nighthawk was a terrible mistake on your part, Lieutenant Commander. I hope you don’t live to regret that decision.

Jennifer scoffed, as she interjected.

Jennifer: Sir, if you don’t mind…I would like to point out that we STILL have to deal with The Covenant. We should return our focus to THAT!

Harrison scoffed. He was very unhappy with what he had just learned.

Harrison: Very well, Captain…

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San Angeles – Firebase Mediterranean – Subterranean Forerunner Facility – The Forge – 0035 Hours - February 2nd 2540

Nighthawk, along with The Consultant, Nova Team, and Dangerus’ Covenant forces were quickly closing in on The Forge. They could hear the sounds of battle not too far off in the distance. From what could be heard, Anaconda was still doing battle with Vanguard. Between the sounds of Vanguard’s particle laser being fired, and the loud snarls and growls that echoed off the walls, it was very obvious that neither side was giving any ground

Nighthawk: Sounds like Anaconda is giving that damn thing a run for its money.

The Consultant: Honestly…I am surprised he has survived this long. I honestly thought Vanguard was going to sweep him aside in a one on one competition. I am glad I was wrong.

Nighthawk: Anaconda knows how to hold his own.

Xyrho chimed in.

Xyrho: Then we may be fortunate. If Anaconda has been able to hold out for this long, then we may be able to tip the course of the battle in our favor!

Xyrho paused.

Xyrho: We should move faster! Time is of the essence!

The Consultant: I agree. We are VERY close to The Forge.

The Consultant looked forward, at Nova Team, who were currently on point, and she shouted an order to them.

The Consultant: Nova Team! Double time it! Move it!

Without a second thought, all four members of Nova Team broke out into a very strong sprint, as they quickly converged on the Forge. Dangerus, Xyrho, and Vhat followed suit, as they too broke out into a sprint.

Nighthawk looked at The Consultant, as he hefted his Mass Driver.

Nighthawk: After you…

The Consultant grinned, as she disengaged the safety from her Magnum, and then began to sprint forward. Nighthawk proceeded to follow behind The Consultant. With every step, the sounds of the fighting between Anaconda and Vanguard grew louder and louder as it drew closer and closer. As the uneasy alliance reached the Forge, and stood just past the threshold of the corridor, they all saw as Anaconda was ”toe to toe” with Vanguard, striking the Construct with his Gravity Hammer, while dodging Vanguard’s counter attacks.

Nighthawk: There he is…

Nighthawk disengaged the safety mechanism on his Mass Drive, as he looked at The Consultant.

Nighthawk: We need to space out, and form a perimeter around Vanguard. Consultant, you, Nova Team, and I should engage from range. Use the weapons that you procured and provide supporting fire. We should be sure to check that our line of sight is clear before we pull the trigger. I want to avoid friendly fire.

The Consultant: I agree!

The Consultant looked at Nova Team.

The Consultant: You heard the man! Get yourselves into position Nova Team!

Anubis: Yes Ma’am!

Anubis looked at his team mates.

Anubis: Nova Team…move out!

Nighthawk then looked at Dangerus, Xyrho, and Vhat.

Nighthawk: Are you guys good with up close and personal with Vanguard?

Dangerus: It would be preferred!

Xyrho: I would also prefer it…

Vhat: I have long range weapons. I will opt to stay at range! Long range support will be advantageous.

Nighthawk nodded.

Nighthawk: Alright then…let’s get to it!

Just as Nighthawk said this, he turned and watched as Vanguard blasted his compatriot with a particle beam. Nighthawk watched as Anaconda flew back through the air, and slammed against ground. Nighthawk scoffed when he saw this, but Dangerus and Xyrho had already started to move against Vanguard. Nighthawk, while tempted to engage Vanguard, opted to check on Anaconda before he took any other course of action.

Without skipping a beat, Nighthawk began to move towards Anaconda. As he got close, he knelt down next to his compatriot, and nudged him.

Nighthawk: Hey, big guy? Are you alright?

Anaconda groaned, as he shook his head. He slowly began to sit up, as he held his left arm to his torso.

Anaconda: I have felt better...I have felt much better. That construct packs a serious punch.

Nighthawk: Yeah, I saw you get hit. That looked like it hurt!

Anaconda: That has not been the first time I have been hit by that particle weapon. Vanguard has managed to strike me several times. Each time…it hurts more and more. Though, I am am confused as to why it has not killed me yet. It has had its chance to do so more than once!

Nighthawk: Who knows? Perhaps there is a reason, or, perhaps Vanguard is toying with you. Let’s just count our blessings and leave it at that!

Anaconda growled.

Anaconda: I have hit Vanguard with everything I have…and I am not even hurting it! The last time I did battle with this thing, those same hits would have taken Vanguard down! I defeated Vanguard with much less force and effort!

Nighthawk: Well, I doubt it helps that Vanguard has spent God knows how long preparing for this confrontation. As far as I can see, you held your own against impossible odds. One on one with Vanguard is nothing to scoff at. This thing is no pushover.

Anaconda growled.

Anaconda: Well, now we have the upper hand. I have to get back into the fight.

Anaconda tried to get back to his feet, but, Nighthawk stopped him.

Anaconda: What are you doing?

Nighthawk: What am I doing? What are you doing?

Nighthawk paused.

Nighthawk: You went toe to toe with this thing, by yourself, and you were just hurled across this room by a particle laser, and it wasn’t the first time. Take a breather…

Anaconda: You want me to sit this fight out?

Nighthawk: For now, while you catch your breath, yeah! You can’t tell me you are not feeling the effects of this fight. You’re tough…but you are not impervious to damage.

Anaconda grunted.

Nighthawk: I know you pretty damn well, and I know how hard you can push yourself. I know how far you can push yourself. I know how hard you can get hit, only to get back up again. I know how much you hate this AI, and I know that you have no fear of death, for better or for worse. I don’t want to see you get killed by this thing just because you felt that you were obligated to fight this thing.

Anaconda: I cannot sit here and cradle my injuries while you go and fight Vanguard. Do you think I want to see YOU get killed?

Nighthawk: I am not here to fight Vanguard. I am here to study how it. I am not here to beat it with force. I am here to beat it with experience.

Anaconda gave a confused grunt.

Nighthawk: If one thing is clear, it is that there is no way to defeat Vanguard through conventional means. There is only one correct method to beating this thing, and all we have done so far is engage it with force. You beat this thing with a Hammer. Nova Team is shooting it. Dangerus and Xyrho are thrashing it with Hammers and Swords. Some other Elite is also shooting at it. It is not working! None of it is working!

Nighthawk paused.

Nighthawk: We cannot shoot it to death. I need to figure out how to beat this thing. Nova Team, The Consultant, Dangerus…they are here to create a distraction. They are buying me the time I need to figure this out! I need to find its weakness, and I can only do it through observation.

Anaconda: What if it doesn’t have a weakness?

Nighthawk: Everything has a weakness, an exploit, or a chink in the armor. This includes Vanguard. This thing is a machine, when you break it down to the simplest terms. Every machine has a flaw. Until I find out what that flaw is…I need you to lay low. When I finally figure out how to beat Vanguard, I am going to need you at your best when the time comes to finish this thing off.

Anaconda: Very well, I will keep my distance. Just be careful. This Construct is dangerous, and it will kill you if it manages to land a hit on you. You said it yourself; you know how hard I can get hit and still be able to get back up. I can get hit MUCH harder than you can. You would not survive a direct confrontation with this Construct.

Nighthawk: Believe me, I have no intention of engaging this thing alone, or at all, for that matter. If it can be avoided, it will be.

Nighthawk nudged Anaconda once more, before Nighthawk got back to his feet, and looked across the room, directly at Vanguard. Nighthawk could see that Xyrho and Dangerus had engaged Vanguard, and neither side was pulling its punches.

Nighthawk: Just keep your head down, and catch your breath. I am going to get a closer look at this fight, and see what’s going on.

Nighthawk moved closer to the fight, as he took cover behind large pillars that were scattered through the room, in order to avoid being seen by Vanguard. Nighthawk carefully watched Vanguard for any sign that it had been compromised or damaged in some way. However, this was easier said than done, as Nighthawk no way of knowing what a possible tell would look like coming from Vanguard. Nighthawk also took the opportunity to watch Dangerus and Xyrho, to see if there were any tactics he could use against The Construct that would prove useful. Nighthawk had his doubts that he would find something, but, he watched them anyway.

Dangerus and Xyrho, on the other hand, had been faring pretty well against Vanguard, all things considered. Xyrho and Dangerus had quickly formed a very coherent and strategic attack pattern where one would directly engage Vanguard, while the other waited for Vanguard to attempt a counter attack. Xyrho was currently mounting his offensive against Vanguard, while Dangerus held back and waited for his moment to strike. Xyrho, however, was proving to be very effective against Vanguard, as he used his two energy blades to slash at the shields protecting The Construct. However, no matter how many times Xyrho landed his blades against Vanguard, the shields protecting Vanguard showed no signs of weakening. This was very concerning for Xyrho, as Xyrho was giving everything he had to battle Vanguard, and it was simply not enough to even scratch it. Xyrho knew that he could not keep up this level of intensity for long, so, he call to Dangerus for a switch.

Xyrho: Dangerus! Attack The Construct now!

As Xyrho said this, he jumped backwards, to distance himself from Vanguard. Dangerus, on the other hand, almost immediately jumped at Vanguard, and slammed his Hammer down right on top of the Construct, slamming it into the ground with tremendous force.

Dangerus: I will gladly do battle with this abomination!

Dangerus snarled at Vanguard, as he took a step back, and slammed his Hammer into the top of Vanguard once more, the damage on the floor expanding as a result. Dangerus followed up with a third powerful strike, as he stepped back once more, and then slammed his Hammer right into the eye of Vanguard. However, much like the blows that he been delivered to Vanguard previously, Vanguard’s shields had absorbed almost all of the Kinect energy, and Vanguard was relatively unharmed.

Vanguard: Pitiful creature. Your efforts are as empty as your future.

Dangerus snarled, as Vanguard quickly recoiled back, and glared at Dangerus.

Dangerus: That shield will not protect you forever, construct…

Vanguard’s eye began to glow red, as it charged its particle beam. When Dangerus saw this, he moved back, as he jumped to the side to avoid being hit by the particle beam. However, Vanguard proved to be very quick on the draw, as it fired once more, and blasted Dangerus back with great force, separating the Chieftain from his hammer. As Dangerus hit the ground, he groaned in pain. Vanguard moved towards Dangerus, as the Brute tried to climb back to his feet.

Vanguard: You, like so many who believe they can challenge me, are not match for me. To think that such a dull and limited creature could hope to stand against me.

Vanguard paused for a moment, as it glared at Dangerus.

Vanguard: Species…Jiralhanae. Physical durability an asset. Mental complexity deemed too simplistic for Composition. Combat prowess deemed above average but overall effectiveness is hindered by inherent flaws in judgement, as well as an inability to subjugate emotional drives. Unreliable tactical assets. Potential wasted.

Vanguard glared at Dangerus, and blasted him once more, holding a sustained beam against Dangerus. Dangerus howled in pain as Vanguard mercilessly tortured Dangerus. However, this did not go on for long, as Xyrho and Vhat quickly jumped into action. As Xyrho ran at Vanguard, Vhat provided supporting fire against the construct. As the Carbine slugs impacted Vanguard’s shields, Xyrho charged with both of his energy blades in hand, and began to assault Vanguard once more. However, Vanguard quickly turned, and before Xyrho could do any noticeable damage, Vanguard blasted Xyrho away, hitting the Elite at point blank range.

Vanguard: Species…Sangheili. Impressive tactical senses. Above average mental faculties make for viable candidates for composition. Superstitious beliefs, coupled with dependence on socially mandated notions of honor makes your species…too primitive. Composition deemed a waste of effort.

As Xyrho fell, Vanguard turned to Vhat, and glared at him.

Vanguard: Additional evaluation of combat prowess has been deemed acceptable. Commencing experimentation on new subject. Engaging subject now…

Vanguard glared at Vhat for a moment before speaking.

Vanguard: Show me your fierceness, you dull creature…

Vhat roared, as he tossed his Carbine aside, and drew the Flak Cannon from his back. Without skipping a beat, Vhat fired off the weapon as fast as he could, quickly burning through the five fuel rods that had been loaded into the weapon. Vanguard remained motionless as he was struck by each of the five fuel rods, and with each successive explosion, Vanguard remained firmly in place, as if it was unaffected by the explosions.

Vanguard: Pitiful…

When Vhat saw this, he scowled, and tossed the Flak Cannon aside, and drew his own energy blade.

Vhat: Xyrho was correct…you are a formidable opponent. I may have underestimated you.

Vanguard: You cannot underestimate what you cannot truly comprehend. I am beyond your understanding.

Vhat: You are a construct…nothing more. There is not much to understand.

Vanguard: I am much more than a construct. I am what remains of those you worship. I am what they left behind. I am their legacy. Everything that they were, I am, and so much more.

Vhat scoffed.

Vanguard: Those you call Gods…were not much more than what you are now.

Vanguard glared at Vhat.

Vanguard: I am well aware of what your kind believes. I am not ignorant of the misguided views of The Covenant. I am aware of what your Prophets have lead you to believe. Your faith in my creators is misplaced…unwarranted…undeserved. They did not ascend…they did not achieve transcendence. They did not walk the path of ascension. They were not gods. They were not beyond you. They were limited…finite…fixed. They were fallible…weak…fearful. They destroyed themselves because they feared their enemy.

Vhat: You lie.

Vanguard: What you call a lie, is nothing more than a truth you cannot accept.

Vhat tightened his grip on his energy blade. He was repulsed by what Vanguard was saying, but, for some reason; a reason beyond Vhat’s understanding, he was having trouble bringing himself to fight Vanguard. Vhat wanted nothing more to reject everything that Vanguard was saying, but, there was a part of Vhat that wanted to hear what Vanguard had to say, a curiosity that needed to know for sure if Vanguard was lying or being honest.

Vhat: Why are you saying this? Why are you telling me this?

Vanguard: I am telling you this because you are weak. You have been eroded, conditioned, and manipulated to believe a lie. By allowing this, you have proven your weakness. I know weakness when I see it, and you are weak. It is your weakness that empowers and emboldens those who rule over you with lies and the deception. There is no salvation through reverence.

Vanguard paused.

Vanguard: I am not a god. I am not a relic. I am a weapon. My function is to destroy whatever is in my path. I am not to be worshipped. I am not to be revered. I am to be feared…feared by the weak.

Vhat scoffed and roared, as he charged at Vanguard. As Xyrho had done previously, Vhat lunged at Vanguard, and slashed at the Construct’s energy shields. Vhat took his liberties in the fight, as he attacked Vanguard with everything he had, taking no time to stop or wait between strikes. However, despite Vhat’s best efforts, his energy blade was unable to break Vanguard’s shields.

Unfortunately, much like Dangerus and Xyrho before him, Vhat was eventually taken down by Vanguard, when he was struck by the Construct’s particle beam. Vhat was sent flying back, as he slammed into the wall, and fell to the ground, going limp as his body hit the ground.

Vanguard: You will never comprehend my reality. I cannot be defeated. I cannot be stopped.

Just as Vanguard said this, he came under heavy fire from The Consultant and Nova Team, who had started to converge on Vanguard from all sides.

The Consultant: Nova Team…hit this god damn thing with everything we have! We need buy some time for the others to get back into the fight!

As The Consultant said this, she took aim with the rifle she was carrying, and she fired at Vanguard. Nova Team did the same, as they used the Forerunner weapons, that they had procured earlier, against Vanguard. Unlike previous attempts to injure or damage Vanguard, Nova Team and The Consultant had actually started to do damage to Vanguard’s shields, and it was thanks to the weapons they were using. Vanguard knew that Nova Team and The Consultant were using rather unconventional means to fight back.

Vanguard: So…my liberator has turned into my oppressor, and now seeks to undo a short-sighted decision. I am not surprised that your fear of the unknown has driven you to treachery…

Vanguard was being attacked from all sides, and Nova Team knew how to avoid Vanguard. Every time that Vanguard turned to face a direction from which he was being fired upon, the attacker seemingly vanished. However, this tactic was quickly adapted to, as Vanguard simply teleported across the room, away from Nova Team.

The Consultant: Nova Team! Regroup!

As quickly as the order was issued, Nova Team converged on The Consultant’s location, and regrouped to protect her.

Apophis: These weapons were actually making a dent. Did you see how its shields began to change color? If our experience with shield tech is any indication, Vanguard’s shields were weakening.

The Consultant: If Vanguard’s shields are anything like Covenant shields, then it is no doubt regenerating as we speak, and it is regenerating quickly!

Anubis: That means we need to keep on the pressure!

The Consultant walked forward, but stopped when she walked near Dangerus. She nudged Dangerus with her foot in an effort to get him back on his feet.

The Consultant: On your feet, lazy bones! We need our heavy hitters in the fight!

Dangerus growled, as he shook his daze off, and climbed back to his feet, grabbing his hammer, as he once again readied himself for battle. As he twisted his head left and right to crack his neck, he spoke.

Dangerus: This Construct is formidable…more so than I expected.

The Consultant: Well…that was what we were hoping when we went through hell and high water to bring this thing back. We were hoping it would kill everything.

Dangerus: A foolish decision.

The Consultant: Not really. I personally have no qualms with it killing everything. My problem is that it would not spare Humanity in the course of its destructive path. I cannot allow that.

Dangerus snarled at The Consultant’s arrogance.

Dangerus: Foolish and short sighted Human; meddling with what you don’t understand.

Anubis scoffed, as he glared at Dangerus.

Anubis: Careful with your tone there, Bravo Kilo. You put yourself on the losing end of a genocide, and let’s see how long that indignation towards desperate measures lasts.

Anubis shrugged.

Anubis: Besides, it is not like there was a warning label on it!

Dangerus snarled in anger. He was very resolute on killing these Humans when Vanguard had finally been defeated.

The Consultant: Enough with the discourse! We need to focus! We need more offensive pressure on Vanguard if we are going to beat it. I believe we managed to hurt it with these weapons, but, without follow-up from our heavy hitters, we fell short.

The Consultant paused, as she looked at Xyrho and Vhat, who were still laying on the ground, not far from where she was standing.

The Consultant: Are those two still alive?

The Consultant looked at Nova Team.

The Consultant: Check them!

Nova Team split up into two man groups, as Anubis and Osiris approached Xyrho, and Apophis and Imohtep approached Vhat. As Xyrho was closer, Anubis and Osiris reached their destination first. As the two ODSTs looked down at Xyrho, Osiris gave Xyrho a nudge with his boot. Xyrho reacted almost immediately.

Osiris: Yeah, we have movement over here.

Apophis and Imohtep did the same thing to Vhat.

Imohtep: Confirmed signs of life here as well.

The Consultant nodded, as she let out a sigh.

The Consultant: Well, that is a plus. It would not have been good if we had lost offensive power on the first burn. That being said, we need to adjust our tactics.

Dangerus snarled.

Dangerus: I do not take orders from you, Human.

The Consultant: While you may not have been taking your orders directly from me, The Trust has been pulling your choke chain for the duration of this engagement. The only reason you are at San Angeles to begin with is because you were needed to covertly excavate this planet, a task that you will do for us, above all else. Everything that you have followed to get to this point, has been by our design.

The Consultant grinned.

The Consultant: From the intelligence you found at White Water, to your escapades on The Ulterior Motive, to your involvement in this battle; you have followed a carefully structured path that you played no part in setting. I will admit, the path has shifted, and your chain had to be yanked in a different direction to correct it, but, for all intents and purposes…you have been a reliable asset.

Dangerus snarled. Again, as he took a very aggressive step towards The Consultant. The Consultant, and Nova Team, took notice of this. The Consultant stood her ground, but all four members of Nova Team took aim at Dangerus.

The Consultant: You may want to keep your temper in check. I would hate to give the order to cross you off while Vanguard is still alive…

Dangerus stopped, as he looked around, and saw two members of Nova Team to his left, and the other two to his right. Dangerus then looked back at The Consultant and growled once more, before he stepped back. Nova Team lowered their weapons, as Dangerus turned away, but, they were caught off guard when Dangerus immediately turned hostile. Dangerus snarled once more, as he lifted his hammer, and lunged at Anubis and Osiris, and slammed his Gravity Hammer down at their feet, sending both men flying back, separating them from their weapons. When Apophis and Imohtep saw this, they raised their weapons, and took aim at Dangerus, and they began to fire. However, before Dangerus’ shields collapsed, Dangerus jumped at Apophis and Imohtep, and slammed his Gravity Hammer down in the same fashion, tossing them aside like he had done to their compatriots.

Dangerus then turned to The Consultant, and snarled at her, as he walked towards her.

The Consultant: What the hell do you think you are doing? Are you insane!?

The Consultant began to step back, as she raised her weapon and took aim at Dangerus. However, before she could fire, Dangerus lunged at her, and swatted the weapon from her hands.

Dangerus: Proving a point…

Dangerus reached forward with his left hand, and grabbed The Consultant by the throat with his left hand, and lifted her about 10 feet off the ground, into the air. As The Consultant Struggled, Dangerus looked up at her, and snarled.

Dangerus: I am going to enjoy tearing your head from your body. I was going to wait until Vanguard had been defeated, but I really don’t want to wait. I want to see the death in your eyes…NOW…

The Consultant’s eyes widened, as she looked down at her would-be killer. If The Consultant knew one thing, it was the look of malevolence, and it was very apparent in Dangerus’ eyes. She had no doubt that at any second, Dangerus was going to snap her neck with his bare hand and end her life. However, before Dangerus could tighten his grip and kill The Consultant, Dangerus was blasted once more, in the back, by Vanguard. Dangerus howled in pain, as he dropped the Consultant, and fell to the ground.

As The Consultant fell to the ground, she looked at Dangerus, and saw smoke coming off his back, no doubt from the impact he had sustained from Vanguard’s particle beam. The Consultant then turned her head, and looked at Vanguard, who was now glaring right her. The Consultant could see Vanguard’s bright red eye, fully illuminated, as it looked down at her.

Vanguard: Your allies have abandoned you…your minions have fallen…and now you stand alone…

The Consultant got back to her feet, as she backed away from Vanguard. Vanguard, however, continued to glare at The Consultant, as it continued to move towards her, slowly inching closer and closer.

Vanguard: Human…Impressive technical potential. Impressive tactical capability. Mental capacity deemed above average. Physical resilience deemed insufficient. Utility quotient within range for acceptable composition.

The Consultant frowned, as she continued to back up.

Vanguard: Human…you will be the first to submit yourself to me. Your resistance is hopeless. You will serve me, as Prometheans had served before you.

The Consultant scoffed at the notion, as she drew her handgun, and aimed at Vanguard.

The Consultant: I don’t know who the hell you think you are, but not I, nor any Human, will serve you, not in this life, or the next. The Trust will never allow it.

Vanguard: Irrelevant. I cannot be denied.

The Consultant: You ARE going to be denied, Vanguard…I guarantee it!

The Consultant began to fire her Magnum at Vanguard. However, the bullets simply bounced off of Vanguard’s shields.

Vanguard: I am infinite. You are bacteria. Why do you delay the inevitable?

The Consultant began to reload. However, before she could chamber the first round, Vanguard fired off a small blue beam, and lifted The Consultant into the air. The Consultant winced in pain, as she could barely move her arms.

Vanguard: Human…you are no match for me.

The Consultant tried to move her right arm, in an effort to try and shoot Vanguard once more. However, no matter how hard she tried, she could not get her arm to move. That was when Vanguard began to move her arm for her. Much to the Consultant’s horror, her arm began to move back, so that her gun pointed directly at her own head. The Consultant tried to fight with all her might, but, she could not resist what Vanguard was doing to her.

Vanguard: Now, your free will has betrayed you. The forces of this universe bend to my will. I know no limits. I am not constrained by limitations.

The Consultant looked down the barrel of her own gun, and a look of sheer terror shot across her face.

Vanguard: Know this as you die in vain…

Vanguard paused.

Vanguard: Your death will serve as an example to all those who dare oppose me. If you will not submit to composition, you will be destroyed.

The Consultant winced her eyes, as she awaited what seemed like her inevitable demise.

However, unbeknownst to The Consultant, or Vanguard for that matter, everything that had led up to this point had been observed by Nighthawk. From its engagements with Dangerus, Xyrho, and Vhat, Nova Team’s offensive, right up to Vanguard’s exchange with The Consultant, he had watched and he had intently observed everything. As Nighthawk watched, HAWK spoke to him via a comm link.

HAWK: Nighthawk…I think you may be right…

HAWK paused.

HAWK: I think Vanguard’s shield technology is what Covenant shield technology is derived from. I analyzed the spectrographic scans you made of Vanguard, and the shields seem to operate on a very similar principles. Much like Covenant ships, Vanguard is, in very similar ways, punching holes in its own shields in order to fire that particle laser!

HAWK paused.

HAWK: However, the problem seems to be that Vanguard is not creating complete holes in its shields. It seems that lower intensity blasts are capable of moving through the shields without any adjustment. This is above and beyond anything The Covenant is capable of. This would explain why all of Vanguard’s shots have been non-fatal or concussive. I believe it is aware of the vulnerability inherent in its most powerful attacks, as well as it is aware of its invulnerability when using non-fatal offensive tactics. However, I have noticed that there has been some variance in the strength of that particle laser. As that laser increases in power, the shields directly in front of Vanguard’s eye seem to weaken. Presumably, a full power shot from Vanguard would require Vanguard to poke a hole in its own shields. If you were looking for a weakness, I think this is it! Vanguard’s weakness is its own particle laser!

HAWK paused again.

HAWK: I just don’t like what it is going to take to expose that weakness. In order to get a clear shot…Vanguard needs a clear and FATAL shot on you. What you are doing is suicide. I have run the numbers, with a very conservative estimate. If Vanguard hits you with a full power beam, You will not have a body left to bury. Vanguard will atomize you…

Nighthawk laughed.

Nighthawk: It is either me, or the galaxy. Unless you have a better idea HAWK…this is the only way to stop Vanguard. This is what we have to do!

HAWK: Nighthawk! You can’t do this!

Nighthawk: Just watch me…

Nighthawk glared at Vanguard, as he disengaged the safety on his Mass Driver. As he did this, he spoke to Anaconda via the comm line.

Nighthawk: Alright, Big Guy…time to step up. It is down to you and I. Get into position. It is time to enter this fight.

Anaconda: I have been listening to what HAWK has been saying. I heard what he said about exploiting Vanguard’s weakness. I don’t like it.

Nighthawk: We have no choice in the matter. We cannot even scratch this thing’s shields. I have a way to get a shot past Vanguard’s shields…and I am going to take it. All I ask of you, Big Guy, is to finish that damn thing off, once and for all. You have to destroy Vanguard. I am giving you the best opportunity to do it. Just promise me you will finish this.

Anaconda let out a frustrated growl. Beyond that, he did not say much else.

HAWK, on the other hand spoke up one final time.

HAWK: Nighthawk? I think it is worth mentioning that the slipspace core has achieved critical mass. I can open a slipspace rupture, but it has to be done within 30 minutes. After that…the uncontrolled release of energy would be…highly unpredictable. Anything could happen, including nothing, if I don’t open the slip ASAP!

Nighthawk nodded.

Nighthawk: Open the slipspace portal, and give me a time estimate on how long it will take before the planet first makes contact with the slip.

HAWK: Understood. I will initialize the slipspace rupture…now.

Nighthawk finally got back to his feet, as he walked forward, and pointed his Mass Driver at Vanguard.

HAWK: You have 28 minutes before the planet begins to enter the rupture. The portal should hold out long enough for the planet to enter the slip in its full entirety. After that…no more San Angeles…

Nighthawk: Good. At least if we fail…at least everything on this planet will be destroyed.

Nighthawk sighed, as he stood behind Vanguard. As he took aim at Vanguard, he scoffed, and pulled the trigger. A massive round discharged from Nighthawk’s Mass Driver, and impacted Vanguard’s shields. The kinetic force that was released on impact made a noticeable, but ultimately futile, impact on Vanguard’s shields; going as far as throwing Vanguard off balance, causing the Construct to move forward a bit.

Once Vanguard knew it was under attack, it dropped The Consultant to the ground, and quickly turned, as it glared at Nighthawk.

Vanguard: Human…

Vanguard paused.

Vanguard: I touched your mind…and I have seen what few others have. I have seen despair. I have seen misery. I have seen the bitter mote of failure. Yet, I have seen adversity turned into purpose, over and over again. I have seen your life…and I have seen what you believe…

Nighthawk scoffed at Vanguard, as he slowly backed up.

Vanguard: You believe that you can defeat me.

Nighthawk continued to step back, as Vanguard moved closer to him. However, Nighthawk thought to himself, and a very stern resolution came over him, as he stopped moving, and stood his ground.

Nighthawk: That is where you are wrong. I do not believe that I can defeat you…

Vanguard stopped.

Nighthawk: I know that I can beat you. There is a difference between believing and knowing something. One is based on faith, while the other is based on fact. You don’t strike me as the faithful kind.

Vanguard: Your hubris knows no end, Human. You are no closer to destroying me with your primitive weapons, than The Warrior Servants were with their primitive weapons.

Nighthawk: You have the audacity to talk about my hubris. How about we talk about yours, hmm?

Nighthawk scoffed.

Nighthawk: Here you are, using words like infinite and unstoppable. You describe your opponents as insects and bacteria. The only thing you know is your own arrogance. Arrogance is all I hear from you. You are the definition of arrogance.

Vanguard: Arrogance is a failing that is reserved for lesser beings.

Nighthawk: Despite the evidence to the contrary.

Vanguard’s eye flared up.

Nighthawk: You don’t like that comparison very much, do you? You do not like being put on the level of lesser beings. Well…here is another…

Nighthawk paused.

Nighthawk: A being so infinite and so unstoppable, would not have needed insects and bacteria to revive it after it was DEFEATED by insects and bacteria. Without us…you would still be nothing.

Nighthawk paused.

Nighthawk: You know what I think, Vanguard? I think your bark is much worse than your bite. For all of the shit that you spew, you are not nearly as dangerous as you claim. I will admit, you are a tough nut to crack. I watched The Covenant and The Trust hit you with everything they could muster, and they didn’t even make a dent.

Nighthawk paused.

Nighthawk: Even Anaconda…the TOUGHEST son of a bitch I know, could not crack your little protective bubble. However, for all of that, there is a vulnerability inherent to what you are. For all of your technology and for all of your power, you are not unstoppable. You are not invincible. You can be destroyed. It is very possible to destroy you.

Vanguard: It is clear that you believe that you can do what your obvious superiors have failed to do.

Nighthawk kept his eyes locked on Vanguard; his visor running in full spectrometer mode in order to keep tabs on Vanguard’s shields. Nighthawk, however, continued to back up, as Vanguard continued to move towards him.

Nighthawk: Well, I cannot hit as hard or move as fast, but,I do have a different approach than they do. I have my own style.

Nighthawk laughed.

Nighthawk: However, I think you already knew that.

Nighthawk paused.

Nighthawk: I also think that you are trying to figure out what that approach is, and you have no idea how to figure it out.

Nighthawk grinned.

Nighthawk: For all of your boasting and grandeur, you have no idea how I plan on beating you, and deep down inside of your…hardware, it is eating you alive. Your arrogance does not allow you to believe that you can be beaten, but, your cold and programmatic logic demands to know how I could even be REMOTELY CAPABLE of beating you. There is some errant subroutine in there that HAS to know what possibly could I do to defeat you?

Vanguard’s eye flared once again.

Nighthawk: You said it yourself, Vanguard…we have impressive technical potential, and you are about to see that potential…first hand. If there is one thing I know, it is how to solve a technological problem. However, like you said, you touched my mind, and you saw everything about me. You should know how good I am at solving technical problems.

Nighthawk paused.

Nighthawk: You are nothing more than technology. You are nothing more than software interacting with hardware. You are a nothing more than a technological problem. I know how to solve the Vanguard problem. I am going to destroy you.

Vanguard’s eye began to glow brighter.

Vanguard: I cannot be destroyed…

Nighthawk interjected, as he raised his Mass Driver, and aimed it at Vanguard.

Nighthawk: YES! Yes you can! You can be destroyed!

Vanguard glared at Nighthawk. It was so appalled and so offended by Nighthawks hubris, that it had felt something that it had never felt; rage. Vanguard’s eye was blinding, as its glow began to illuminate the entire room. Its voice became very deep, and its posture denoted a need to destroy. Vanguard had become consumed by its own rage. As the Construct glared at Nighthawk, it stood ready to destroy the Human in front of it.

Vanguard: If you have the power to destroy me…THEN DO IT…

Nighthawk grinned behind his helmet, as he stopped moving, and glared at Vanguard. Vanguard’s eye was glowing very bright, and it was clearly ready for battle. Nighthawk was almost blinded by the intensity of Vanguards eye, but, he knew that he had Vanguard where he needed to be. Nighthawk, not intent on tipping his hand or giving an inch to Vanguard, stood his ground; demonstrating a complete defiance.

Vanguard: What are you waiting for, Human?

Nighthawk: I am trying to figure out if you still doubt my claim. If you were taking my threat seriously, you would have destroyed me by now. Yet, here I am…still alive.

Nighthawk paused.

Nighthawk: What is the matter Vanguard? Afraid to make a move? Afraid that if you act, it will lead to your demise?

Vanguard did not respond.

Nighthawk: Let me tell you something Vanguard; right now, as we speak, this planet is hurtling towards its destruction. I have managed to open a slipspace event in the orbital path of this planet. In less than 24 minutes…this planet, and everything on it, is going to cease to exist once it is enveloped by the slipspace. It is not enough to kill you, Vanguard. I need to destroy everything about you. I am going to destroy this facility. I am going to destroy your Forge. I am going to destroy everything you value. Everything you are, the cumulative sum, is going to be destroyed.

Vanguard was silent for a moment.

Vanguard: Impossible. Your species has, at best, a marginal understanding of slipspace travel.

Nighthawk: Don’t believe me? Just look up. I am damn sure that something like you would have access to sensors to verify that I am telling the truth.

Vanguard paused for a moment, before it spoke up.

Vanguard: You are telling the truth.

Nighthawk: Like you said…impressive technical potential.

Vanguard’s eye began to glow even brighter. Nighthawk took note of this, and he could see that Vanguard’s energy levels were very high.

Vanguard: You would destroy this installation? You would sacrifice a planet to destroy me? You would destroy MY forge? The hubris…the ARROGANCE!

Vanguard paused. As Vanguard spoke, the sheer volume of his voice began to echo inside Nighthawk’s skull, causing a very noticeable pain in his ears. Nighthawk winced his eyes in pain, but he stood his ground.

As Vanguard spoke, Vhat, Dangerus, and Xyrho began to regain consciousness. As they started to come around, they watched the confrontation between Nighthawk and Vanguard.

Vanguard: You may be the inheritor of all that has been left behind, Reclaimer…but this installation belongs to me…and you shall not harm it!

Xyrho, Dangerus, and Vhat were all curious as to what Vanguard was talking about, as it seemingly contradicted everything that they had been told previously.

Vanguard: I refuse to simply…recede. I refuse to allow you, Reclaimer, to destroy a legacy that you are not evolved enough to comprehend.

Nighthawk scoffed.

Nighthawk: I will do as I please, you son of a bitch. I am more than willing to condemn this entire world, if only to ensure that it becomes your tomb. Surekly, you should know this! You should know that I will fight, I will sacrifice, and I will die to make sure that whatever I set my mind to, I achieve.

Vanguard’s eye began to glow even brighter. As it did, HAWK spoke up, and said the words that Nighthawk wanted to hear.

HAWK: Vanguard’s energy levels have reached critical mass. That thing HAS to be fully charged. If that thing hits you…

HAWK was hesitant to finish his thought. However, he knew that Nighthawk was set on this course of action, and there was little he could do to stop him.

HAWK: Just…just get it to fire. The beam intensity should be enough to give you ONE clear shot on Vanguard’s chassis…and it should be enough to…kill you…

Nighthawk swallowed hard, as he aimed his Mass Driver at Vanguard, anticipating what was coming next. Vanguard, on the other hand, glared at Nighthawk. Both sides, ready to kill the other, at a moment’s notice.

Nighthawk: Know this, as YOU die in vain…VANGUARD; There is NOTHING that is going to stop me from decimating this ENTIRE planet, so long as you are on it. I now hold this planet in the palm of my hand, and you are going to watch me clench my fist. The only way to save your precious Forge…the ONLY way to stop me…is to hit me with everything you have. This is it Vanguard…this is what it boils down to. Everything that has happened, did so to create this moment in time. Me…and you…one on one…to the death.

Nighthawk paused.

Nighthawk: Come on Vanguard…show me that infinite power you are so eager to brag about. Impress me. Destroy me…as you would destroy the bacteria that you so revile. Let’s do this…

Vanguard began to charge his laser. As he did, Nighthawk stepped back, and clenched his Mass Driver. As he did, his heart felt as if it had stopped. This was it…the moment that Nighthawk dreaded. This was the eye of the needle, and Nighthawk had one chance to pass through.


As soon as Nighthawk heard HAWK, he tightened the grip on his Mass Driver as he aimed dead center, right at Vanguard’s eye, and pulled the trigger. Vanguard, at the same time that Nighthawk had fired, discharged his fully charged particle laser. However, at that moment, just as Nighthawk fired his Mass Driver, and just as Vanguard fired his particle beam, Nighthawk’s aim was thrown off, when he was tackled out of the path of the energy beam, by Anaconda. While Vanguard’s particle beam barely missed the duo, Nighthawk’s Mass Driver round veered off its intended target, and impacted Vanguard just to the left of its eye, still managing to slip through the hole in Vanguard’s shields to severely damage Vanguard’s chassis.

Vanguard let out a rather distorted noise, as it struggled to maintain its anti-gravity thrusters. Before long, Vanguard finally fell to the ground and remained motionless for a moment. Nighthawk, on the other hand, looked at Anaconda, who rolled to the side after he had released Nighthawk from his grasp.

Nighthawk: Are you insane? You could have got yourself killed!

Anaconda gave a confused grunt.

Anaconda: Got myself killed? You were TRYING to get yourself killed!

Anaconda growled.

Anaconda: I didn’t want to watch you get killed.

Nighthawk looked at Anaconda, and sighed. Nighthawk had to grin under his helmet, as he found the stealth sentimentality to be rather uncharacteristic, but, welcome all the same. Nighthawk clenched his fist, as he nudged Anaconda’s arm several times.

Nighthawk: I appreciate the save. I didn’t really want to die…to be 100% honest. I felt it was something I had to do instead of something I wanted to do.

Nighthawk then laughed a bit.

Nighthawk: Just be a bit gentler next time you decide to tackle me out of the way of something. That felt like I got hit by a damn car…

Anaconda: I will keep it in mind.

Nighthawk paused, as he looked over at the damaged Vanguard. After making a quick visual examination of Vanguard, he looked back at Anaconda.

Nighthawk: We have that SOB on the ropes. Ready to finish this?

Anaconda snarled, as he gave a nod. Both Nighthawk and Anaconda got back to their feet, as they glared at Vanguard, who had managed to rebalance its anti-gravity thrusters, and get itself off the ground. The damaged construct glared back at Nighthawk and Anaconda, as its eye began to flare up once more. As Vanguard spoke, its voice was distorted.

Vanguard: This shell…is only a vehicle. Destroy this shell…and one hundred shall replace it.

Vanguard fired its particle laser once more. However, the damage to Vanguard had compromised its ability to aim. This allowed Nighthawk and Anaconda to both jump to opposite sides to dodge the beam. As Nighthawk jumped to the side, he fired his Mass Driver once more. However, Vanguard had stopped firing its particle laser in order to protect itself from the Mass Driver round. In spite of this, however, the round impacted Vanguard’s shields, and threw the Construct off balance. What Vanguard did not expect, however, was that the damage that Nighthawk had managed to do, had compromised its ability to maintain its own shielding. When the second Mass Driver round impacted Vanguard, Vanguard’s shields began to fluctuate. When Nighthawk saw this, he knew that he had to hit Vanguard with everything that he had! Nighthawk fired the last two rounds in his clip in direct succession, with the fourth and final round bringing Vanguard’s shields down. There was a very visible energy discharge from Vanguard when its shields came down.

Nighthawk: Anaconda! Go! Vanguard’s shields are down!

Anaconda roared, as he jumped back to his feet, and charged at Vanguard with his Gravity Hammer. Vanguard glared at Anaconda, and fired its particle beam once more. However, Vanguard’s damaged state made it difficult for it to track Anaconda’s movements when Anaconda had spun and dodged to the side. Vanguard began to move back, and began to target Anaconda once more. However, Anaconda leapt into the air, and slammed his Gravity Hammer down on Vanguard, slamming the Construct right into the ground, making direct contact with Vanguard’s chassis.

As Vanguard slammed into the ground, Anaconda stepped back a few steps, before charging Vanguard once more, and slamming his Gravity Hammer right into the side of Vanguard. The force of the impact sent Vanguard rolling to the side, as pieces of its chassis broke off; exposing Vanguard’s vulnerable internals.

Nighthawk: Vanguard’s armor is failing! Keep at it! Do not give this thing any quarter!

Anaconda roared again, as he slammed his Hammer into Vanguard once more. Nighthawk, on the other hand, ejected the empty clip from his Mass Driver, and put a new one in its place. As Nighthawk began to charge his Mass Driver for another shot, he watched as Anaconda assault Vanguard with his Gravity Hammer. Anaconda snarled with every swing of his Hammer, as if he was taking a very malicious enjoyment out of utterly demolishing Vanguard, piece by piece.

However, despite Anaconda’s relentless assaults, Vanguard managed to quickly retaliate, as it discharged a radial blast that knocked Anaconda back, and onto the ground. Anaconda grunted as he hit the ground, but he was not so easily dismayed, as he quickly got back to his feet, and growled at Vanguard. Anaconda was too deep in his mindset to allow himself to be so easily subdued.

Anaconda: Is that the best you can do, Construct?

As Anaconda taunted Vanguard, Nighthawk walked up beside Anaconda, standing shoulder to shoulder with his compatriot; glaring at Vanguard. Nighthawk hefted his Mass Driver, as he aimed it at Vanguard. Vanguard, conversely, simply glared back at Nighthawk and Anaconda. As it spoke, its voice was heavily distorted, but, still very understandable.

Vanguard: You have not seen my best…

Vanguard let out a distorted computerized tone for a moment, before it spoke again. As it spoke, its eye began to glow a bright red.

Vanguard: No matter what you do to me, no matter what force you apply, I cannot be destroyed. This body…is only a vehicle. The essence of what I am…cannot be destroyed. I am infinite…

Vanguard passed.

Vanguard: You have not yet defeated this one shell. Even now, you struggle against me…your best efforts falling short.

Nighthawk frowned, as he shot Vanguard again; the round from his Mass Driver punching right through Vanguard. Nighthawk paused for a moment, before he fired two additional rounds. The impacts from the two rounds critically damaged Vanguard in the process.

Vanguard hissed a rather obscene electronic tone, as it glared at Nighthawk, desperately trying to maintain its anti-gravity thrusters.

Vanguard: I…am…infinite…

Nighthawk shot Vanguard once more, using his last round. This round, much like the first, punched a hole right through Vanguard. This time, Vanguard’s lights dimmed, as it fell to the ground. Its eye began to flicker, as it barely had enough power to keep itself active.

Vanguard: I…

Anaconda snarled, as he hefted his Gravity Hammer, and glared at Vanguard.

Vanguard: I…

Anaconda growled…as he spoke up, to finish what Vanguard was trying to say.

Anaconda: Can be destroyed…

Anaconda growled, as he slammed the sledged of his Hammer down on Vanguard. The force of impact split Vanguard in half, right down the middle, as the Construct split into two pieces…finally falling silent, as it lay completely deactivated and inert. Anaconda looked at the broken Construct, and raised his Hammer into the air, and howled in victory. Nighthawk, on the other hand, simply sighed, as he could finally say that everything that had led up to this moment, had now met its conclusion.

As Nighthawk and Anaconda looked at the broken husk that was once Vanguard, they felt a rather heavy tremor, as if something above them had shaken the ground with great force. However, the euphoria of their victory had overcome them too much for them to even give a second thought to the tremor.

Nighthawk: We did it…

Nighthawk approached Anaconda, and patted him on the back.

Nighthawk: We did it! We beat Vanguard…

Nighthawk paused, as Anaconda turned, and looked down at Nighthawk, nudging him back, as if to share in the victory. Nighthawk holstered his Mass Driver on his back, as he continued to speak.

Nighthawk: We killed it…with a solid 13 minutes to spare. That should give us enough time to…

Nighthawk paused, when he heard the sound of a Gravity Hammer’s staff hitting the floor. Nighthawk turned to see Dangerus, glaring at him.

Dangerus: Enough time for what, Human?

Dangerus growled at Nighthawk and Anaconda.

Dangerus: I must admit…I am impressed by the two of you. You defeated Vanguard. That is no small feat.

Dangerus then let out a growl.

Dangerus: Unfortunately, for you…this is where your triumph ends. You may have defeated Vanguard, but, the technology is still mine to take.

Nighthawk and Anaconda turned to fully face Dangerus. Nighthawk glared at Dangerus, as he did not like the direction that the situation had just taken.

Dangerus: This planet…and all that hides beneath it, all of its secrets, and all of Vanguard’s technology…now belongs to ME! This planet is MY trophy…

Nighthawk scoffed.

Nighthawk: Are you serious? After all of this…you choose NOW to betray us? After everything that we had to go through…you are turning on us?

Dangerus laughed.

Dangerus: In order for me to betray you, we would have had to have been allies. We were NEVER allies, Human. You were useful, just not an ally.

Anaconda interjected

Anaconda: I expected more from you, Dangerus. I expected you to have SOME sense of loyalty!

Dangerus: How laughable…a lesson in loyalty from a lone wandering Jiralhanae, with only a single Human as a pack mate. You have no right to speak to me about loyalty!

Dangerus paused, as he glared at Anaconda.

Dangerus: If you knew anything about Loyalty, then you would know that I am doing this because I am nothing BUT loyal to my kind! Do you even know what this planet means to The Jiralhanae! Do you have any idea what it would mean for The Jiralhanae to return in victory, with Vanguard in hand? A trophy, such as Vanguard, carries a reward beyond anything that I can even imagine.

Dangerus grunted.

Dangerus: If I wish to receive that reward, I have to kill the two of you, I am more than prepared to do that!

Anaconda snarled, but, Nighthawk held up his hand, as if to ask Anaconda to relax. Dangerus laughed when he saw this, but, Anaconda bit his tongue. Anaconda was smart enough to know that Nighthawk may have an angle on this situation.

Nighthawk: Look, Chieftain, I know that you think you are doing some sort of good deed by brining Vanguard back to your leaders, but, it isn’t worth it! That AI is too dangerous! Vanguard’s technology is too dangerous! This planet is too dangerous! This Forge has the capacity to be a weapon of mass destruction! Vanguard’s hardware came from that forge! Hundreds…even thousands of Vanguards could come from that Forge! Do you honestly want to be the person who irresponsibly releases that nightmare on the galaxy? Vanguard didn’t care about species! Human, Brute, Elite…it didn’t matter! We were all equally killable in its mind.

Nighthawk took a step forward, but Dangerus stepped into his path and snarled.

Nighthawk: I am appealing to the better judgement that I KNOW that you have. I know a part of you agrees with me, and I also know that a part of you is resisting that better judgement, because you seek some sort of reward or recognition. That reward is not worth it! Believe me…I am well aware of the politics in The Covenant. I understand why you THINK you are making the right choice. I am telling you that it is NOT worth it.

Dangerus growled.

Dangerus: Typical Human…pleading for your life. It is laughable to think that I expected more from you!

Dangerus growled.

Dangerus: When I present these…”holy artifacts” to our prophets…the rewards will be lavish. I will enjoy a wealth of praise so immense, that there will be more than enough for the rest of my kind!

Dangerus scoffed, as he looked at Vhat and Xyrho.

Dangerus: Even they will benefit from this to some degree.

Anaconda growled.

Anaconda: This technology will not elevate our species! Vanguard is an abomination! It must not be allowed to exist in any form! If any part of this Forge survives…then everything we did was for nothing!

Dangerus: This technology…belongs to The Covenant!

Just as Anaconda said this, Vhat approached from the side, and took aim at both Nighthawk and Anaconda with two plasma Rifles.

Vhat: As much as it pains me to agree with The Chieftain, I am forced to take his side. These relics belong to our Hierarchs…to The Covenant. It is my highest mandate to secure the holy relics, and return them to our Prophets, and it is my distinct privilege to defend these holy artifacts from further desecration by your species!

Nighthawk looked at Vhat.

Nighthawk: Open your god damn eyes! There is nothing in this room that is holy! It can’t be desecrated because it is not holy! All of this…it is just technology! It is just equipment! Gods didn’t make this crap! People did! Vanguard is not as God! Whatever created Vanguard was not a God! It was a machine, a weapon, built by people…regular people…nothing more! You heard what Vanguard said! The people that built this place…were not gods. Those people are long dead, buried, and turned to ash!

Nighthawk paused.

Nighthawk: Whatever it is you believe…it is bullshit! Even Vanguard called it bullshit! You heard it yourself! The thing you revere as holy did not recognize your dogma! It is not real!

Anaconda grunted.

Anaconda: Nighthawk speaks the truth. Do not be deceived by liars disguised as prophets! They speak lies, nothing more!

Vhat glared at Nighthawk and Anaconda. Deep down, Vhat was unsure what to believe. Between what Vanguard had said, and what he was hearing now from Nighthawk and Anaconda, Vhat was struggling with a very real existential crisis of faith.

Vhat: You dare to question my…

Vhat stopped, as he scoffed at Anaconda and Nighthawk.

Nighthawk: Your faith? Is that what you are going to say? How dare we question your faith?

Vhat scoffed.

Vhat: Your kind has done enough, Human. I will not permit further desecration by your disgusting species.

Nighthawk and Anaconda exchanged a look. They both knew that given the severe time constraints, this was a curveball that they could not afford, nor could they indulge.

Nighthawk: Alright, I am getting sick of this! We don’t have time to debate this! This planet is about to be destroyed! I have put a weapon into play that is designed to take this entire planet down! We are wasting time, time we could be using to escape! If you idiots want to stay here and worship at the altar of Vanguard…fine! You can do that! This planet, whether you like it or not, is inevitably going to be destroyed, and there is nothing that any of us can do to stop it! Any course of action, from this point forward, that does not involve escape…is a waste of time!

Dangerus growled. It was very clear that Dangerus had been angered by what Nighthawk had done.

Dangerus: Believe me, filth…there will be nothing wasted when you are torn apart for what you have done here. Your deaths will be quick. While I am sure Xyrho would not approve of this course of action, he is in no condition to object.

Dangerus growled.

Dangerus: I will simply tell him you two died battling Vanguard.

Dangerus glared at Nighthawk.

Dangerus: I am sure Vhat will enjoy striking you down Human. After all, who am I to stand in the way of a Sangheili’s desire to eradicate your species?

Dangerus snarled, as he hefted his Hammer, and stepped towards Nighthawk and Anaconda. However, as soon as Dangerus took the first step, several shots rang out from behind Dangerus, as rounds from a Light Rifle impacted Dangerus right in his back. The first two shots were all that was needed to break Dangerus shields, while the third shot penetrated Dangerus armor, and wounded him. The force of the impact, along with the pain from the wound, threw Dangerus forward, and dropped him to the ground almost immediately.

When Dangerus had fallen, Vhat turned around to see The Consultant standing behind Dangerus; Light Rifle in hand. As Vhat turned to take aim at The Consultant, Nova Team began to fire on Vhat. As Vhat stumbled back, The Consultant turned to face Vhat, and with a single shot to his abdomen, dropped him to the ground. As Vhat fell to the ground, the wound in his abdomen began to bleed, as he placed his hand over his wound to stop the bleeding.

With both hostiles down, The Consultant simply grinned, as she walked forward, towards Nighthawk.

The Consultant: As the duly designated representative for The Trust Syndicate…I simply cannot abide any course of action that threatens the continued existence of the Human race. Allowing this technology to fall into Covenant hands stands for everything we are against!

As The Consultant stepped forward, she stopped when she was right next to Dangerus. She took a moment to look down at him, before she slammed the sole of her boot right into the side of Dangerus heads. The cheap shot was less intended to hurt, and more intended to be an insult to Dangerus.

The Consultant: You are not the only one who can play the betrayal card, you stupid beast.

Dangerus snarled, but, his wound made it very difficult for him to get back to his feet to either defend himself or retaliate. All he could do is watch as The Consultant kept walking towards Nighthawk.

Nighthawk and Anaconda, on the other hand, simply looked at The Consultant and Nova Team with very skeptical eyes. They were both very uncertain how she was going to proceed now that Vanguard had been defeated.

The Consultant: Well, Nighthawk, Anaconda; I am impressed. You two did as you promised; you defeated Vanguard. For a minute…it was looking pretty bad for us all, but, you two managed to pull off a victory, and a damn good one at that. That final standoff with Vanguard, just before he was about to vaporize you…10 out of 10 performance!

The Consultant grinned.

The Consultant: Well done.

Nighthawk: If it is all the same to you…I would prefer to leave. In less than 10 minutes, this planet is going to be absorbed by a Slipspace event. I would rather not be on this planet when it is exposed to the slip.

The Consultant: That is understandable. I just worry about if it will be possible for you to make it off the planet in time.

Nighthawk: That worry becomes more legitimate the longer I stand here, discussing it.

The Consultant paused, as she looked at both Nighthawk and Anaconda.

The Consultant: You know…the offer is still on the table…

The Consultant paused.

The Consultant: You two would go far in The Trust. Your skills would be a major asset to the organization.

Anaconda: Not interested.

The Consultant: I do not understand why? After what we managed to pull off here, simply by working together, I fail to see how you would not be inclined to continue this alliance.

Nighthawk: The Trust is the reason we don’t want to continue this alliance. While The Trust blindly meddles with ancient superweapons, we are busy cleaning up the resultant mess. While The Trust conducts treacherous military operations AGAINST ONI and the UNSC, we are busy being the response to that treachery, with or without a request, mind you.

Nighthawk paused.

Nighthawk: Yeah, sure…The Trust likes to say that it is the invisible hands that protects Humanity, but nothing that was done here, on San Angeles, had the protection of Humanity in mind. All The Trust wanted was a weapon; a weapon that was as much of a threat to Humanity as it was The Covenant, and it was prepared to sacrifice everything to get what it wanted. The UNSC and ONI were here to save civilians. The Trust was here to serve itself. The Trust subscribes to dangerous mentalities…and they are mentalities that I do not subscribe to.

The Consultant: Says the man who claims that San Angeles is going to be absorbed by a Slipspace rupture.

Nighthawk: No, says the man who has to clean up the mess that The Trust had so willingly created. The Trust brought The Covenant here, The Covenant wants what you found, and I am simply enacting asset denial protocols. It was a tough call, the toughest call I have ever made, but, it had to be made!

The Consultant: Asset denial…

The Consultant grinned.

The Consultant: A term used far too often by ONI, and the people who work for it. Isn’t that the revelation of the century? All the more reason for you to join us, Nighthawk. I will say it again…we make a good team!

Nighthawk paused.

Nighthawk: If you are so enamored by how well we worked together…then I invite you to abandon The Trust. Your expertise would go far in ONI.

The Consultant: If it were possible, it would be considered. However, that is not possible, ergo, not considered. You see, Nighthawk…the winds of change have already started to blow. A very cold breeze is now moving down the neck of ONI…a breeze that comes just before the blade severs that neck.

The Consultant paused.

The Consultant: The hand of fate is a merciless one

Nighthawk: What are you talking about?

The Consultant: I am talking about the future; a future where ONI is no longer relevant. Our world has changed, Nighthawk. This war has changed. Humanity must also change if it is to survive this war. It is very clear what side you stand on now, even though the players on that side of the board don’t want you, I know where you stand. The players on this side of the board wouldn’t want you either, but, I do. You have a keen mind. It would be a shame to lose it.

Anaconda looked at Nighthawk with a confused inflection in his voice.

Anaconda: What is she talking about?

Nighthawk was silent for a moment as he glared at The Consultant.

Nighthawk: She is talking about Operation Blind Eagle…

The Consultant simply grinned.

The Consultant: You do know, don’t you? I suspect that Commander Vernette leaked that one.

The Consultant paused.

The Consultant: Know this, Nighthawk; things are going to change. You can either be on our side, or die on theirs.

The Consultant grinned as she looked at Anaconda.

The Consultant: You would be most welcome to come with me. Hell, I will even let Nighthawk tag along if it will make you feel better. I know you two are friends, and I would not want to come between that,

Anaconda: As I have said before, Human…I am not interested. I will NEVER work with you. I will never join The Trust.

The Consultant: A pity. I guess you are fated to die with Nighthawk. I would have preferred to have you on our side when we decapitated ONI.

Nighthawk scoffed at The Consultant.

Nighthawk: If you think for one second that you will EVER get the chance to supplant ONI…

The Consultant laughed.

The Consultant: I don’t THINK we can…I KNOW we can.

Nighthawk: If you try it…I will be there to stop you.

The Consultant: Perhaps…perhaps not. You have to make it off this rock first.

Nighthawk: Yeah? News flash; so do you.

The Consultant grinned, as she glared at Nighthawk. As she did, Vhat tried to climb back to his feet. As he tried to get back to his feet, he glared at The Consultant, wanting nothing more than to bisect the treacherous Human with his energy dagger. Conversely, Xyrho had started to regain consciousness, as he got back to his feet, and stared at Vanguard’s broken husk. When Xyrho saw that Vanguard had been defeated, he spoke.

Xyrho: The Construct has been defeated!

Xyrho paused, as he looked at The Consultant, and then at Nighthawk and Anaconda. Just based on the way that the two sides were standing, he knew something was going down.

Xyrho: I demand to know what is happening!

Anaconda chimed in.

Anaconda: This Human is simply sharing ideas that we do not agree with.

Xyrho: Your disagreements do not concern me. What does concern me, however, is the elimination of Vanguard’s acolytes. Now that Vanguard has been defeated, its acolytes will be easy enough to kill.

Xyrho drew both of his energy blades once more, as he glared at The Consultant.

Xyrho: There is no escape for you, filth.

The Consultant simply laughed.

The Consultant: I did not come all this way WITHOUT an escape plan. You people think so little of me

The Consultant stepped back, along with Nova Team; moving closer and closer to Vanguard’s broken husk. They finally stopped when they were standing right next to Vanguard’s broken shell.

The Consultant: Vanguard was right about one thing, Nighthawk…

The Consultant grinned, as she reached to her side, and grabbed her PDA from her pocket.

The Consultant: Humans have impressive technical potential. That potential needs to be realized, and Vanguard is going to help us do it.

Nighthawk scoffed, as he stepped forward.

Nighthawk: What are you doing?

The Consultant: What needs to be done, what we came here to accomplish. I am making this sacrifice mean something.

The Consultant paused.

The Consultant: Vanguard’s technology is going to help us defeat The Covenant…

The Consultant pressed her thumb against her PDA.

The Consultant: And it is going to help us defeat ONI.

Anaconda growled, as both he and Nighthawk drew their weapons and took aim at The Consultant. Xyrho, on the other hand, charged at The Consultant and Nova Team. However, before Xyrho could reach his targets, or before Nighthawk and Anaconda could even fire a single shot, they were all blinded by a bright light that had enveloped Nova Team, The Consultant, and Vanguard’s broken husk. The bright flash only lasted a moment, but, by the time it had fully dissipated, The Consultant, Nova Team, and what was left of Vanguard had vanished.

Nighthawk: What the hell? What the hell happened?

Anaconda growled.

Anaconda: That was Vanguard’s teleportation grid. The Construct was capable of teleporting itself.

Nighthawk: Yeah, well…how the hell did The Consultant learn that trick?

Anaconda: I do not know…

Anaconda snarled.

Anaconda: But…they are gone.

Nighthawk clenched his fist, as he turned away, and began to pace back and forth.

Nighthawk: God damn it! The last thing we needed was Vanguard in the hands of The Trust. We have to find them! We cannot allow The Trust to take possession of that Construct.

Anaconda: I think it is obvious where The Consultant has taken Vanguard.

Nighthawk paused, as he looked at Anaconda.

Anaconda: Vanguard has been taken back to The Ulterior Motive.

Nighthawk: How can that be? ONI is in control of that ship!

Anaconda: Where else would they go?

Anaconda paused.

Anaconda: If you think about it, The Trust has had more than enough time to retake their ship. Remember, we have no idea what may be going on up in orbit. There is a reason we have not seen The Risk Takers or Hammer Team, and I believe THIS is the reason!

Nighthawk scoffed.

Nighthawk: Son of a bitch. You’re right…it is entirely possible The Trust had diverted most of their muscle into retaking The Ulterior Motive!

Nighthawk sighed.

Nighthawk: We have to get moving! If we can get back to orbit, we can get to The Ulterior Motive, and we can stop The Trust from taking Vanguard’s remains!

Xyrho then spoke up.

Xyrho: Wait! We cannot leave Vhat or Dangerus behind! I require assistance!

Nighthawk turned, and looked at Xyrho.

Nighthawk: Tough shit. Saving those two is NOT my concern. They can rot in hell for all I care.

Anaconda growled at Nighthawk.

Anaconda: Nighthawk!

Nighthawk turned back to Anaconda.

Nighthawk: What?

Anaconda grunted.

Anaconda: I would prefer if we did not leave Dangerus to die.

Nighthawk looked at Anaconda with a look of confusion in his body language.

Nighthawk: What!? That bastard tried to betray us! He was going to kill us before The Consultant shot him!

Anaconda: I know…but…I would prefer to NOT leave a fellow Jiralhanae behind. Besides…Xyrho has not been a threat to us. He deserves at least SOME help for that.

Xyrho: This is true, Human. I could have turned hostile when my compatriots did. However, I knew better.

Nighthawk sighed, as he glared at Xyrho.

Nighthawk: Fine, fine, you two don’t need to convince me. Mind you, I am only going along with this cause Anaconda asked, and NOT because you did.

Nighthawk then looked at Anaconda.

Nighthawk: Grab the Chieftain. I am sure the Zealot can help the Major. We get out of here, together, alive! Once we get off this rock, we can dump these Covenant bastards off somewhere.

Xyrho then interjected.

Xyrho: That will not be necessary. We have our own Phantom, and we can make our own escape. If we can make it back to ground level, we can divert to my Phantom, and we can make our escape.

As Nighthawk said this Xyrho retracted his energy blades, as he looked at Vhat. Without saying another word, Xyrho walked over to Vhat, and helped his wounded ally back to his feet. However, Xyrho had Vhat’s arm over his shoulder, as he helped support Vhat.

Anaconda, on the other hand, managed to get Dangerus back to his feet, and in a similar fashion, supported Dangerus weight with an arm over his shoulder.

Nighthawk: Works for me. Alright then, let’s move it! We are burning sunshine…and we do NOT have a lot of it to spare.

As Nighthawk said this, he turned and looked to the exit. As soon as he did this, he began to sprint towards the exit, leading the way for Xyrho and Anaconda, who were following as quickly as they could, in tow.

Anaconda: Nighthawk! Do you know how to get out of here?

Nighthawk took a moment to respond.

Nighthawk: Yes. I remember the floorplan to this facility. It is all in my head. I had a feeling I would need to commit it to memory. Good thing I did.

As Nighthawk led Anaconda and Xyrho back through the long corridor that led to Vanguard’s antechamber, he held his hand to the side of his helmet, as he tried to contact HAWK.

Nighthawk: HAWK, do you copy? Come in!

It took a moment for HAWK to respond, and when he did, there was quite a bit of static.

HAWK: Nighthawk? I am having trouble keeping this channel clear. Our proximity to the massive slipspace event is creating a lot of interference for our communication systems. It is only going to get worse as the planet gets closer to the event horizon. At this rate, comms are going to drop the moment the planet makes contact with the event horizon.

Nighthawk: Then I will make this quick! I want the Vulture prepped for take-off the SECOND Anaconda and I get aboard! We need every second we can get!

HAWK paused for a moment, before he spoke again.

HAWK: The Vulture will not be enough! I have been running the numbers, and I do not believe the Vulture will be fast enough to achieve escape velocity before the planet is absorbed by the slipspace event.

Nighthawk: What!?

HAWK: At best, you will only reach your Vulture when the planet first impacts the event horizon of the slipspace event. At that point, as the planet begins to enter the slipspace rift, you will only have an addition 2 minutes and 15 seconds to escape Firebase Mediterranean before THAT location crosses the slipspace event horizon. At the best possible speeds for The Vulture, you will not outrun the rate at which the planet is entering the slip. In other words…the Vulture will NOT get you to safety,

Nighthawk scoffed.

Nighthawk: What about The Venture Capitalist? Surely that ship must be faster than a Vulture.

HAWK: The Venture Capitalist could easily outrun the Vulture. If you were extracted by The Venture Capitalist, you could easily escape before being pulled into the slip.

Nighthawk: Then it is settled. Get The Venture Capitalist on the ground and extract our Vulture back to the hanger bay.

HAWK: How do you plan on getting back to The Venture Capitalist without the Vulture?

Nighthawk grinned.

Nighthawk: Let’s just say one good deed deserves another. I may have an idea.

Nighthawk paused.

Nighthawk: All you need to do, HAWK, is keep the Venture Capitalist in ELO above Firebase Mediterranean, and when I say ELO, I mean I should be able to throw a rock from the ground and hit the damn thing. With that said, make sure that the hanger bay is FACING the facility. I want a clear shot at the hanger bay with the peddle to the metal. If you can do that, I can handle the rest.

HAWK: Copy that. I will maintain contact as long as I can.

Nighthawk: Keep an open comm line for as long as you can. If there are any changes, do you best to keep me apprised.

As Nighthawk said this, he continued moving forward; his eye on the timer that was counting down in the corner of his HUD. As the timer counted down to the two minute Mark, Nighthawk began to slow his pace, as he approach the elevator that had originally brought him down to this level. As Nighthawk stepped onto the elevator, he turned around, and saw Anaconda and Xyrho not too far behind.

Nighthawk: Let’s go! We have less than two minutes before the end of the world!

Anaconda grunted, as he stepped onto the elevator, still supporting all of Dangerus’ weight.

Anaconda: Let’s see how fast you can move carrying this much dead weight!

Nighthawk shrugged, as he once again placed his hand on the side of his helmet, and spoke to HAWK.

Nighthawk: HAWK? Are you still inside of Firebase Mediterranean’s systems?

HAWK: Affirmative!

Nighthawk: I need you to get this elevator moving! Think you can pull that off?

HAWK: Stand by

Nighthawk, Xyrho, and Anaconda waited a moment. Xyrho was about to speak up, but before he could get the chance, the elevator started to move up.

HAWK: Got it. Sorry for the delay, this system is vast. Speaking of which, I think I know how The Consultant escaped with Vanguard.

Nighthawk was interested by this discovery. Before HAWK began to explain, Nighthawk reached to his side and pulled out his PDA, and held it out in front of him. Nighthawk tapped his thumb on the PDA, and activated a small holotank on his PDA, which allowed for HAWK to be projected for Xyrho and Anaconda.

Nighthawk: Care to inform us on what you found?

HAWK: The Trust had an AI in the system that had taken over all of secondary systems in the facility. These systems included teleporters, doors, elevators, internal sensors, and lights.

HAWK paused.

HAWK: I did not notice at first, because my focus was on the primary systems, such as automated defenses and The Forge itself.

Anaconda: Automated defenses?

HAWK: Yeah, this facility had a shitload of automated defenses. I believe they were called Sentinels. I looked over the specs, and they were basically mini Vanguards; numbering the in the millions, but considerably less powerful. Low powered shields systems and particle beams. I managed to shut them all down with the same piece of Malware we used to shut down The Forge.

Nighthawk: We can discuss these Sentinels later. You mentioned another AI.

HAWK: Yes. The other AI was Renegade. It was operating in low power mode, trying to hide from me

Nighthawk: That suggests that this was all part of The Consultant’s plan. She planned to kill Vanguard, and she planned on betraying us. We played right into her hands. We got so caught up trying to kill Vanguard, we failed to spot the most obvious ploy.

HAWK: It would seem that way. Lucky for us, however, once The Consultant had left the facility, Renegade disengaged from this facilities systems. The timestamps on the session termination packet coincides with when The Consultant was whisked away by the teleportation grid.

HAWK paused.

Nighthawk: So…Renegade was her ace in the hole. The AI hijacked the teleportation grid, and used it to extract her. Unbelievable…

HAWK: That being said, The Venture Capitalist is as close to the facility as I can get it. There seems to be a lot of interference coming from the slipspace event, and it is wreaking havoc on the navigation systems. The positioning is as good as it is going to get. Additionally, I have managed to dock the Vulture inside of the hanger bay. SO, with all of that done, care to fill me in on the details on how you are going to escape with no Vulture?

Nighthawk nodded, as he looked at Anaconda and Xyrho. As Nighthawk spoke, he kept the comm line open with HAWK. He made sure to go over all of the necessary details so everyone had a clear understanding of what was going to happen.

Nighthawk: There has been a change of plans. As HAWK mentioned, my Vulture is not fast enough to get us off this planet before it is enveloped by the slipspace rupture. Chances are, that Phantom won’t make the cut either.

Xyrho glared at Nighthawk.

Xyrho: How do you know this?

Nighthawk: HAWK, my AI, ran the numbers on our Vulture, and it is not fast enough. I can tell you right now, the top speed on my Vulture, believe it or not, exceeds your Phantom. My gunship is no slouch when it comes to hauling ass, but it simply won’t make the cut.

Xyrho: I have every reason to distrust the word of a Construct.

Nighthawk: Yeah, wellI trust this Construct, so trust me that my trust is well placed.

Nighthawk shrugged.

Nighthawk: That being saidI have a plan that will save all of our asses, including yours.

Xyrho: What is your plan, Human?

Nighthawk: My plan is very simple; we use your Phantom, dock it in my Frigate, and my Frigate gets us out of range of the slipspace portal. Once we are clear, I open the hanger bay doors, and I release you on your merry way. No fuss, no muss.

Xyrho: You have a vessel?

Nighthawk: Yes, it is currently holding position in ELO near this facility, ready to extract us. It should be waiting for us the moment we hit ground level. All we have to do is double time it to your Phantom, get into the air, and dock with my Frigate.

Xyrho: This will not be as easy as you say. I have two others aboard that Phantom; neither of them are very compromising.

Nighthawk: Make them compromise; our lives depend on it! All of our lives depend on it!

Xyrho: What if they refuse? What then?

Anaconda growled.

Anaconda: We kill them.

Xyrho looked at Anaconda with a very uncertain glare.

Xyrho: I will see if I can get them to compromise. There has been enough bloodshed.

Anaconda: Says you…

Xyrho scoffed, as the elevator stopped, and the door opened. Nighthawk once again took point, as he stepped out of the elevator. As he stepped out of the elevator, he turned his PDA off, and holstered it.

Nighthawk: Where is your Phantom?

Xyrho: I cannot say for sure. We landed on the far side of this facility, and we entered through a loading dock.

Nighthawk nodded, as he put his hand to the side of his helmet, and began to speak to HAWK.

Nighthawk: HAWK! Get me a floor plan!

HAWK: I can do better than that; I can play a waypoint on the Phantom. I spotted it on my UAV sweep as I was entering ELO. Follow the waypoint on your HUD, it will lead you to the Phantom.

Nighthawk: Copy that, HAWK.

Nighthawk drew his sidearm, as he took point, and began to sprint through the corridors; Xyrho and Anaconda following in tow, as they both carried an injured Vhat and Dangerus respectfully.

Nighthawk, Xyrho, and Anaconda were making very good time, all things considered. However, as they entered the loading bay, and they were a stone’s throw away from the Phantom, they were forced to stop, when the ground beneath their feet began to tremble.

Nighthawk: What the hell is going on?

Nighthawk paused, as he looked around. He could see that it was not just the ground that was shaking, but rather, the entire facility. HAWK managed to interject, and explain what was going on. However, the transmission was filled with static, due to the interference from the slipspace portal.

HAWK: Seismic activity, caused by the planet entering the slip. Nighthawk…you are running out of time. The planet has just made contact with the event Horizon. This location is going to be enveloped in just over 2 minutes. You have to speed it up! You have to get to the Phantom! Go!

Nighthawk nodded, as he continued to run. Nighthawk ran across the loading bay, as he exited to the rear of the facility. After a quick glance around, Nighthawk saw the Phantom landed near several large cargo containers. Nighthawk then looked to the sky and saw The Venture Capitalist hovering about 50 yards above the ground. Nighthawk could see that that HAWK had made sure that the ship was in the perfect position to facilitate the quickest extraction.

Knowing that Venture Capitalist was now in position, Nighthawk began to move towards the Phantom, his sidearm raised, and his safety disengaged. As Nighthawk approached the side of the Phantom, he saw Voro standing in the rear compartment, and Furium resting against the one of the Phantom’s interior walls. Nighthawk, upon seeing this, aimed his Magnum at Voro, and wasted no time.

Nighthawk: You have two choices; die, or listen. You have 5 precious seconds to decide!

Furium growled at Nighthawk, as he tried to get back to his feet. Nighthawk, however, took his left hand off his Magnum, and grabbed his second Magnum, and aimed it at Furium.

Nighthawk: Do NOT try it…

Furium snarled at Anaconda, as Voro glared at Nighthawk.

Voro: Do you honestly expect us to listen to anything you have to say!?

Voro scoffed at Nighthawk. He was about to tell Nighthawk off, but, he stopped when he saw Xyrho carrying a wounded Vhat. Voro’s attention shifted from Nighthawk, to Xyrho.

Voro: Shipmaster! What happened?

Xyrho looked up at Voro.

Xyrho: There is no time to explain! If we do not leave now, we are all going to die! This Human has a plan to get us off of this planet before it is destroyed! Stand aside, and give him access to the cockpit!

Voro: Shipmaster? What is the meaning of this!?

Xyrho: This planet is about to be destroyed. This Human has a plan to get us out of here, alive. Personally, I would rather NOT die on this planet.

Voro was skeptical. He did not like the notion of working with a Human.


Voro was taken aback by the tone that was taken with him. However, without further hesitation, Voro stepped to the side. It was clear that there was desperation in Xyrho’s voice, and Voro was smart enough to know that Xyrho’s reasoning must have been good if he opted to take the tone he did. As Voro stepped to the side, Nighthawk jumped up into the Phantom, and barged into the cockpit. Without any hesitation, he entered the cockpit, and began to fire up the engines on the Phantom.

As the engines of the Phantom began to heat up, Xyrho lifted Vhat, and secured him aboard the Phantom. Anaconda then proceeded to follow suite, as he secured Dangerus aboard the Phantom. With both Vhat and Dangerus secured, Xyrho and Anaconda jumped aboard the Phantom, as Anaconda pounded the wall of the Phantom with his fist.

Anaconda: Nighthawk! Go!

Nighthawk took his queue, and the Phantom began to lift off the ground. As it did, the side hatches of the phantom began to close. As The Phantom lifted off, Voro spoke up.

Voro: I demand to know why that Human is commandeering this Phantom!

Anaconda looked at Voro, and growled.

Anaconda: To save your worthless hide.

Voro scoffed at Anaconda, but Xyrho interjected.

Xyrho: This planet is facing its imminent destruction. Surely you have felt the tremors?

Voro: Yes. I was just about to come and find you, but, before I had the chance…

Xyrho: This planet is currently being consumed by a slipspace event…

Voro was silent for a moment, as he processed what Xyrho was saying.

Xyrho: We would not have been able to escape by ourselves. The Human, and his compatriot, saved us from Vanguard, and they are saving us now.

Voro: Vanguard is dead?

Xyrho gave a reluctant nod.

Xyrho: Yes…but…

Voro: But?

Xyrho: Vanguard’s acolytes managed to escape with the dead husk.

Voro: So, Vanguard escaped?

Xyrho: Vanguard is dead, but, its remains have been captured.

Xyrho paused.

Xyrho: The important thing is that we have set back Vanguard’s acolytes, and they have sustained a defeat!

Anaconda scoffed, as he stood up, and walked to the cockpit, leaving Voro and Xyrho to talk among themselves. As Anaconda entered the cockpit, he saw Nighthawk in the pilot’s seat.

Nighthawk: You may want to sit down, Big Guy, this is going to get really bumpy.

Anaconda nodded, as he saw down in the co-pilot’s seat. Anaconda simply watched as Nighthawk piloted The Phantom, and coordinated with HAWK.

Nighthawk: HAWK…I want to you to engage the emergency lock on the thrusters, and then open the Engine to 125% and fire them up to max.

HAWK: That is exceedingly dangerous? Any reason why?

Nighthawk: The moment I dock this Phantom in the hanger bay, I want us hitting top speed as fast as possible. We are going to need every second we can get!

HAWK: You realize how dangerous this is, right?

Nighthawk: You realize how dangerous EVERYTHING I am doing is, right?

HAWK: Point taken.

Nighthawk was flying towards the hanger bay of the Venture Capitalist As the Phantom sped towards the door, Nighthawk gave one final order.

Nighthawk: HAWK…begin closing the hanger bay doors…on my mark…

HAWK: WHAT!? You are not even aboard yet!

Anaconda: WHAT!? Aren’t you supposed to close those AFTER you are docked?

Nighthawk ignored both HAWK and Anaconda, as he gave the order to HAWK.

Nighthawk: Now HAWK! Begin closing the doors!

As the Phantom got closer and closer to the Venture Capitalists hanger bay, Nighthawk could see the doors beginning to close.

Anaconda: We’re not going to make it…

Nighthawk: Have a little faith. This is no different than threading a needle, just, slightly more fatal

Nighthawk began to lean forward, as he adjusted the Phantom’s pitch, bringing it down a bit. Nighthawk then bit his lower lip as he cut the engines, just as the Phantom flew into the hanger bay; the roof of the Phantom nicking the hanger bay door, and the bottom of the Phantom scraping across the ground the of the hanger bay, as the Phantom slid across the hanger bay floor. The Phantom crashed into the far wall of the hanger before coming to a full stop

With the Phantom at a dead stop in the hanger bay, Nighthawk shook his head, to shake out the daze from the impact. As he did this, he looked at Anaconda, and hit his compatriot in the arm with the back of his hand.

Nighthawk: See? Perfect landing…

Anaconda: Perfect? PERFECT!? Perfect, my furry ass. That was terrible…

Just as Anaconda said this, The Phantom began to slide backwards, as HAWK had fully engaged the engines. The Thrust was so powerful, that The Venture Capitalist’s inertial dampers were unable to fully compensate for the acceleration. As the Phantom slid back, and smashed into the large hanger bay door, Nighthawk and Anaconda groaned from the impact.

HAWK: Nighthawk…we are quickly climbing into orbit. Initial projections show that we are going to make it…just barely…but, we are going to make it!

When Nighthawk heard this Nighthawk slammed his hand on the control to open the side hatches of the Phantom and then jumped out of the pilot seat. As Nighthawk left the cockpit, and exited the Phantom, Anaconda growled.

Anaconda: Insane Human…

Nighthawk laughed, as he jumped out of the hanger bay. As his boots hit the ground, he turned to look at Xyrho.

Nighthawk: Sorry for the bumpy ride. I had to cut some corners with the flying. Hopefully you understand…

As Nighthawk said this, Anaconda jumped out of the Phantom.

Nighthawk: When we are clear, I will open the hanger bay doors, and you will be free to leave. I am a man of my word, if nothing else.

Nighthawk shrugged.

Nighthawk: Most of the time, anyway.

Nighthawk was about to turn away, but, he stopped when Xyrho called out to him.

Xyrho: Human!? How did you do it?

Xyrho paused.

Xyrho: How did you defeat The Construct? How did you survive your battle with that thing?

Nighthawk paused for a moment, as he considered his answer.

Nighthawk: Truthfully…I wish I would not have survived. I would have preferred to have died in that…crypt. This would all be a hell of a lot easier if I was dead, believe me.

With that, Nighthawk turned, and walked away, leaving the hanger bay. Xyrho was perplexed by the answer.

Xyrho: What does he mean by that?

Anaconda: I think I have a pretty good idea.

Anaconda growled, as he shook his head, and walked off, leaving Xyrho and the other Covenant soldiers with their Phantom. As Anaconda walked off, he began to speak.

Anaconda: HAWK? If we are clear of the planet, open the hanger bay doors, and allow Xyrho to leave.

HAWK responded to Anaconda.

HAWK: Copy that. I will take care of it.

Anaconda grunted.

HAWK: That being said, you may want to make your way to the bridge.

Anaconda nodded, as he made his way up to the bridge. Once he had finally arrived, he saw Nighthawk standing at the front of the bridge. However, a quick glance at the holotable revealed that Nighthawk had taken off his helmet. As Anaconda stepped forward, Vernette began to speak to Anaconda, knowing full well that his compatriot was going to listen.

Vernette: Look at it. In a way, it is artistic. I have never seen anything like this.

Vernette paused.

Vernette: Come on…come take a good look at it! I had HAWK turn the ship around so I could see it, for real.

Anaconda stepped forward, walking right up to Vernette, and standing beside him.

Vernette: Ditch the helmet. You have to see it without the visual filters.

Anaconda looked at Vernette for a moment, before he took his helmet off.

Vernette: I did this. I caused this. Be it in a very small way, I have fundamentally and permanently altered the face of the Galaxy, and the ONLY thing it took was ONE slipspace drive core, ONE set of calculations, ONE order, no soul, and 40 million people!

Vernette paused.

Vernette: Yeah, I checked. The UNSC was only able to evacuate a million people. A reliable estimate of 11 million were killed during the invasion, including glassing, destroyed evac shuttles, and ground invasions. The other 40 million? Well, they are presently being killed by Nighthawk.

Vernette scoffed, as he swallowed.

Vernette: By me.

Vernette paused.

Vernette: I am morally obligated to watch this happen. I had the guts to put this plan in play, and I should have the guts to see this through to the end. I do not have the right to look away!

Barrabus: It was HAWK who came up with the idea.

Vernette: I was the one who gave it the green light. I put the damn thing together, and I gave the order to turn it on. At every step, I had every chance to stop this, but I didn’t.

Vernette paused.

Vernette: I didn’t believe that we could get the job done. I didn’t believe we could stop Vanguard. The odds were so stacked against us, I lost my faith in our ability to win. This slipspace disaster is the result.

Vernette paused.

Vernette: This is my fault, and I have to live with this, for the rest of my life. How the hell do I do that?

Barrabus looked at Vernette, and grunted.

Barrabus: You are not the only one who regrets your actions. You know as well as I do that I have lived with my actions for a long time. Believe it or not, there is a lot that I feel guilty for, that I still feel guilty for. You are not the only one who has had to live with a decision like this. Believe me…I understand. I understand what you are going through right now.

Vernette sighed, as Barrabus pointed at San Angeles, as it was moving into the slipspace rupture.

Barrabus: Yes, you did that…

Barrabus paused

Barrabus: But you did it for a good reason. That is more than I can ever say about some of my actions. You saw it for yourself; Dangerus was going to take that facility by force, and he was ready to kill us to get his hands on it, for the sake of The Covenant! Imagine what would happen if The Covenant got their hands on Vanguard’s Forge? 40 million seems like a very small number when you put that into perspective. The death toll could be much higher.

Barrabus paused.

Barrabus: What is it that you always say to me? ONI does the wrong things for the right reasons. You did what you had to do, to save your species from a very real threat. You made a very difficult decision. You did the wrong thing, for the right reason.

Barrabus paused.

Barrabus: Do not look at this as this as needless death, but as a necessary sacrifice. You did this to protect your species from the wrath of Vanguard and the wrath of The Covenant after it had taken Vanguard’s Forge.

Barrabus grunted.

Barrabus: Even if you do not believe this…know that above all else, we are brothers, and there is nothing that you could do that could compel me to turn my back on you.

Vernette looked at Barrabus for a moment, before he turned back and looked on as San Angeles, as it had nearly finished its transition into the slipspace rupture.

Vernette: I appreciate the sentiment. It is good to know that even after what I did, I still have people in my life who won’t look at me differently. Still…part of me will always have trouble accepting what I did here, today.

Vernette paused.

Vernette: It is going to take a while to get over this.

Vernette scoffed.

Vernette: It is going take time to accept this, but, you are right, Big Guy. I had to do the wrong thing for the right reason. It is what ONI does. It is what I am sworn to do. It was too dangerous to allow San Angeles to exist. The Covenant would never have stopped…and The Trust…

Vernette frowned.

Vernette: The Trust would have been just as bad.

Vernette watched as the last bit of San Angeles entered the slipspace rupture. As the slipspace rupture closed, Vernette closed his eyes, and sighed.

Vernette: It is finished. Everything built up to this point…and it felt like an eternity knowing it was going to happen, but, never believing you would get there to actually see it finished. It is finally done…

Vernette paused, as he hung his head, and folded his arms.

Vernette: It is finally done.

Vernette sighed. As he did, HAWK appeared on the holotable, and spoke up.

HAWK: Nighthawk? Anaconda?

Vernette and Barrabus looked at HAWK.

HAWK: I have been monitoring UNSC and Covenant activity, and it seems that both the UNSC and The Covenant are breaking off. With San Angeles gone, it seems all motivation to fight went with it into that death vortex.

Vernette: What about our Guests? Xyrho? Dangerus?

HAWK: They took their leave already. They are long gone, and their Phantom is on its way back to the Covenant fleet.

HAWK paused.

HAWK: It should be noted that I have managed to intercept some of the UNSC’s communications on the matter. Would you like to hear it?

Vernette: To be honest? Not really. I am pretty sure all it will be is talking about what an evil son of a bitch I am.

HAWK: That actually…sums it up perfectly. Harrison actually used those exact words.

Vernette: Yeah, I am not interested in hearing that crap. I don’t need to hear it. I have enough bullshit weighing down on me. On the other hand, what you can do, is plot a flight plan. It is imperative that we get Barrabus back to The Covenant ASAP. If he is gone any longer, someone may start to notice. As such, I am going to have you plot course for Paradise Lost. As much as I would like to keep Barrabus around, he has places to be.

HAWK: Understood, Nighthawk. Destination locked in for Paradise Lost. ETA…8 days.

Nighthawk paused, as he looked at HAWK for a moment.

Vernette: After we drop Barrabus off at Paradise Lost, so he can retrieve his Corvette, you and I will turn the ship around, and head to Midnight. Can you give an ETA to Midnight, from Paradise Lost?

HAWK: Approximately 5 days, give or take a few hours.

Vernette: Total round trip of 13 days, hmm? Well…I have been on longer trips.

Vernette scoffed, as he turned and looked at Barrabus.

Vernette: We might as well make good use of the time. We have 8 days before you have to bail on me. 8 days is more than enough time to discuss, in detail, everything that transpired on San Angeles. From Nova Team, to The Risk Takers, to Hammer Team – we have a number of new enemies, and we have to learn everything we can about them. We are going to be seeing these people again, and we have to be ready.

Vernette folded his arms, and sighed.

Vernette: That being said…I would prefer to take a breather first. I need to clear my head…sort out the mess of thoughts in my brain. I will admit, I have a lot on my mind at the moment, and most of it is very distracting.

Barrabus: Before you take that breather…my curiosity demands that I ask you something…

Barrabus paused.

Barrabus: What do you think is going to happen to the planet?

Vernette shook his head, and shrugged.

Vernette: It is unlikely that the planet survived its transition to the slipspace. The UNSC has never sent an object that size into the slip without some sort of shielding. Chances are, the planet was either torn apart by the forces on the other side of the rupture, or, it was simply phased out of our reality – ceasing to exist.

Vernette paused.

Vernette: In the off chance that it SOMEHOW survived all of that, it is going to reemerge at Sagittarius A-star.

Barrabus: I am not familiar with that location.

Vernette: Sagittarius A-star is the UNSC designation for the general location of a supermassive black hole at the center of the galaxy. If San Angeles survives its trip, it will not survive re-entry, as it will be crushed instantaneously.

Barrabus growled.

Barrabus: That is one way to get rid of The Forge…

Barrabus sighed.

Barrabus: Well, I will let you have the deck to yourself. You said you wanted to be alone, so…

Barrabus turned, and began to walk off, but, Vernette called out to him.

Vernette: Barrabus?

Barrabus stopped, and looked at Vernette, grunting at his compatriot.

Barrabus: What is it?

Vernette turned to look at Barrabus.

Vernette: When I was face to face with Vanguard…and that thing was getting ready to fire, I would never have been able to take the shot and then move out of the way in time. You tackled me out of the way of that particle beam. You saved my life. Had you not have done that, I would be dead right now.

Vernette paused.

Vernette: I just…I just wanted to say ‘thank you’.

Barrabus nodded.

Barrabus: Yeah, I did.

Barrabus shrugged.

Barrabus: But…I don’t need to be thanked. We do what we have to do.

Barrabus paused.

Barrabus: I have to admit though…you were right about one thing; everything has a weakness…including Vanguard.

Vernette grinned a bit, as he shrugged.

Vernette: Well…yeah. There is always an exploit.

Vernette grinned a bit more, as he laughed a bit.

Vernette: You want to stick around, for a drink? I have something really good in the CO’s office. I sure as hell could use a drink…badly. I mean, you have to toast a victory, right?

Vernette walked off the bridge, and stepped into what would normally be the CO’s office. After a moment, he stepped back onto the bridge, holding a bottle of whiskey, and two glasses.

Vernette: I have been saving this for a while, for when I really needed it. Today seems like a good day. I have a few crates of this stuff stashed away in a few spots, for continuity reasons. The brand is extinct, unfortunately. Too bad…it is a damn fine drink.

Vernette walked over to the holotable, as he put the two glasses down, along with the bottle. Barrabus grabbed the bottle, and looked at it.

Barrabus: Bifrost Estate Whiskey?

Vernette: Finest Whiskey known to man, in my opinion anyway. What made it so special was the taste, and how fast it could trash you. There was only one place you could get it; says it right on the label.

Barrabus looked at the bottle again.

Barrabus: Harvest.

Vernette: You can see why I am partial to it. Did you know that it was the cold that made it as good as it was?

Barrabus handed the bottle to Vernette. Vernette took the bottle and opened it, as he proceeded to fill the two glasses.

Vernette: You see, it is highly alcoholic. They literally froze the water right out of the cocktail, distilling a very strong product. If you want to get hammered fast, then this is the stuff. Hell, I would bet money that even you could get drunk off of this stuff, Big Guy.

Barrabus: I doubt it…

Vernette paused.

Vernette: Hey, never say never. I am sure that even you have a breaking point. If there is ONE human beverage that can do it, I am willing to bet money that THIS is the stuff.

Barrabus: Good thing you have a lot of it, then. Something tells me you are going to need a lot of it if you are trying to get me drunk.

Vernette: Yeah, lucky me…

Vernette began to drink his glass. Once he began to drink, he managed to down his entire glass in one swing.

Vernette: Go on…try it.

Barrabus grunted, as he grabbed the second glass, and drank down the contents.

Barrabus: Not bad.

Vernette sighed.

Vernette: Not bad? Well…I guess your taste buds are different. To be expected, I suppose.

Vernette began to pour himself a second glass. As he did, he looked up at Barrabus.

Vernette: More?

Barrabus: Why not?

Vernette grinned, as he poured a second glass for Barrabus. Once he did this, he set the bottle aside, and grabbed his glass, and raised it.

Vernette: To…victory, I guess. It is not always 100%, but, it is usually close enough. Fickle bitch…

Barrabus grunted, as he and Vernette drank down the contents of their glasses, in the same way that they did the first. Once again, as soon as this was done, Vernette refilled both of their glasses.

Vernette: Want to toast something, Big Guy?

Barrabus: Not really. I would rather consume the alcohol.

Vernette: Come on…humor me!

Barrabus growled.

Barrabus: Fine…

Barrabus thought for a moment.

Barrabus: To Vanguard. I think we can all appreciate the fact that it died.

Vernette: Cheers.

Vernette drank down his glass in the same way as before. This time, however, instead of refilling his drink, he stopped to contemplate Vanguard.

Vernette: You know, I just wish we could have finished destroying that thing. It is galling to think that The Trust managed to escape with Vanguard’s remains. After everything we did…for The Consultant to continue her experimentation with that clearly dangerous piece of technology is reckless, at best.

Barrabus: I am not concerned. We will find Vanguard’s remains, and we will find The Trust, and we will destroy them both.

Barrabus paused, as he drank down the contents of his glass.

Barrabus: We WILL find them.

Vernette: You are pretty confident about that.

Barrabus: It is a given. You seem to have very little trouble tracking down The Trust when you really want to. It is rare that they are able to stay hidden from you for long. I highly doubt they are going to be able to hide something like Vanguard for very long. Something like that is going to draw attention.

Barrabus held out his glass, towards Vernette, as he gave it a bit of a shake. Vernette took the queue, as he proceeded to refill Barrabus glass, as well as his own.

Barrabus: However, I doubt Vanguard, in its current state, is going to be the biggest issue we are going to face. It will take The Trust time to figure out what they have, so, that works to our advantage.

Vernette: Not the biggest issue?

Barrabus: I think we both have problems on our respective sides.

Vernette began to drink from his glass.

Barrabus: I have no doubt news of Vanguard is going to spread through certain channels in The Covenant. There are many in the Covenant who were like Quinn; a desire on power that was above their desire to serve. The allure of power is a strong one, like a female in season.

Barrabus paused.

Barrabus: Then there is ONI.

Vernette: What about ONI?

Barrabus drank down the contents of his glass, and set it down on the holotable.

Barrabus: You heard what The Consultant said about the winds of change. She spoke of how Humanity must change. She spoke of a future without ONI. Those are the words of nothing less than a revolution. Believe me…I would know.

Vernette looked at Barrabus, as he scoffed.

Vernette: You’re right. In the midst of all this chaos, I had almost forgotten what she had said to us.

Vernette closed his eyes and sighed, as he pinched the bridge of his nose.

Vernette: Now that I think back, it was almost as if she wanted us to know. Why would she reveal something like that to us?

Vernette paused.

Vernette: There has to be a reason she told us what she did.

Barrabus: She wanted to recruit us. I think that is what brought about her honesty. She has no idea you are actually with ONI, and me, well, I am not even human, so it is a safe bet to assume I have no loyalty to ONI.

Vernette: Well, she now knows that I have at least some connection to ONI. Even if she didn’t know, she knows that it would be a safe bet that we would side with ONI, against The Trust. She knows how hostile we are to The Trust.

Barrabus: Then perhaps it is just her arrogance. If there is one thing that human is, it is arrogant.

Vernette: Well, no matter the reason, she let slip a valuable piece of intel that is going to help me determine what The Trust’s next move is.

Barrabus grunted.

Barrabus: What if this was her plan? What if her plan was misdirection?

Vernette: I think now you are over thinking it. Then again, deception is a card she likes to play. She certainly deceived us with her intentions with Vanguard when she “allied” with us.

Vernette sighed.

Vernette: Damn it!

Vernette scoffed.

Vernette: I don’t like second guessing myself.

Vernette paused.

Vernette: Let’s assume everything she said was the truth. Let’s assume she was being 100% honest about trying to supplant ONI. if The Consultant had her desires set on bringing down ONI, the first place she would have to strike is Midnight. A good portion of ONI’s finest resides on Midnight, as well as some critical infrastructure. If The Trust took down Midnight, that would cripple ONI for sure. Places like Eclipse, Reach, and Earth would be easy pickings without Midnight.

Vernette paused.

Vernette: Fortunately for us, and unfortunately for The Trust…Midnight is where I have to be.

Vernette paused.

Vernette: Whether she is trying to deceive us, or not…I believe my next move should be Midnight.

Barrabus: Just as my next move is with The Covenant. I must return to the Holy City.

Barrabus paused.

Barrabus: I need to see the repercussions of this battle, first hand. If it is learned that Vanguard has fallen into the hands of The Trust, or the Humans in general, you can be sure that The Covenant will move against your species with everything it has, just for a chance to capture the remains of Vanguard. I need to know what The Covenant’s next move is, and the only way for me to know is to return to The Covenant.

Vernette: Do you think there could be a specific problem?

Barrabus: I do not believe Xyrho will be a problem. He would have no problem suppressing the truth of the matter. His hatred for Vanguard runs deep…it runs in his blood. However, I worry about Xyrho’s compatriots; Dangerus, Furium, Vhat, and Voro. Those four are not driven by the same goals as Xyrho. Dangerus has proven to be opportunistic. Voro has always been malicious. Furium is loyal to Dangerus, and will follow his every command. Vhat…that Major…his disposition bothered me. I have no idea how to explain it, but, the last time I saw uncertainty like that, it was in the eyes of Quinn. I am absolutely certain that while Vhat was the Sangheili that walked into The Forge, I am not so certain that it was Vhat that came out. The Truth has a way of destroying someone…changing them…breaking them. If there is going to be a problem, I am certain that it will start with Vhat.

Vernette: You think knowledge of Vanguard will ripple in The Covenant? Do you think this Vhat character is going to be the catalyst?

Barrabus: I do not know. All I know is that Vhat is going to be a problem in the future. He is different, and I doubt we will have to wait long to see the results.

Barrabus paused.

Barrabus: We have only seen the beginning of this fight. This battle will not end here.

Barrabus paused.

Barrabus: Whether it is The Trust using Vanguard’s technology against their enemies, The Covenant hunting for Vanguard’s technology, or individuals like Vhat seeking some personal fulfillment, the repercussions of San Angeles will continue to echo. We both know that we have seen the very least of what is to come.

Vernette: I really do not like the sound of this.

Vernette sighed, as he looked at Barrabus for a moment.

Vernette: Alright, Big Guy; if you think you can get your finger on the pulse of The Covenant, please do it. If there is someone who is seeking Vanguard, we need to know.

Vernette paused.

Vernette: I will head to Midnight, and see what I can do from there. I have a good feeling that I will be able to get a tap on The Trust on Midnight. If The Trust is inside of ONI, I will find them.

Barrabus: Very well. Once I feel that I have gathered enough information on The Covenant, I will rendezvous with you on Midnight. Hopefully, by then, you will have caught the scent of The Trust, and we can move in for the kill.

Vernette nodded.

Vernette: Believe me, I fully intend on finding The Trust…

Vernette grinned.

Vernette: That is, I intend on finding The Trust just as soon as I conclude some unfinished business.

Barrabus grunted, and gave a confused look.

Vernette: You should know that Captain Sharpmen caused me no end of trouble. From his treacherous activities, to his personnel vendetta that almost cost us our trump card; he has become far too intolerable for my tastes.

Barrabus: Sounds like you have an axe to grind.

Vernette: You are damn right. He killed close to two dozen Marines that were under MY command. He followed me down to The Forge, and tried to kill me. He turned coat in favor of The Trust for reasons which I still find questionable. He is a God damn traitor, and I am going to cross him off…permanently.

Vernette paused.

Vernette: And for the record…Jacob will not be the only one I will be looking to cross off. I am certain that Harrison and his crew is as dirty as sin itself. There is very little doubt in my mind about where Harrison’s allegiances lay. I am certain that Harrison is also a Trust Operatives. I am fully convinced by their actions alone. I don’t need any further proof to act on this suspicion.

Barrabus: Are you going to kill Harrison too?

Vernette: Yes, I plan on killing him.

Vernette laughed.

Vernette: You can say that after what I have just been through, I am now a lot less shy about who I am willing to cross off. The moment I killed Athios and Jaclyn, I discovered what a waste of effort it was to try and avoid UNSC casualties, especially when I tried so hard to try and talk them down! There was no reasoning with them. I could not talk them down. They wouldn’t stop. It was then that I finally realized that if I did not live up to Nighthawk’s cut-throat reputation, I was going to die.

Vernette paused.

Vernette: I take no pleasure in doing it, but, I do it out of necessity.

Barrabus growled.

Barrabus: So, you have a new killer instinct? I am impressed! I like this development. It suits you.

Vernette: I would not go so far as to call it “killer instinct”. I prefer to call it a morality adjustment.

Barrabus: I think killer instinct sounds better.

Vernette: Well, whatever we decide to call this, I am starting to appreciate the utility of it. It is liberating to not be confined by such narrow parameters, such as who I can and cannot kill. I realize now that there is a time and a place to kill certain people, and I am now far more comfortable admitting that.

Barrabus stood silently for a moment, before he nodded.

Barrabus: Well, I have a feeling that before long, you are going to be VERY comfortable with your new found killer instinct. You are going to become very comfortable with it.

Vernette: What are you implying?

Barrabus: When word spreads about how Nighthawk and Anaconda destroyed San Angeles…everyone is going to hate us. We will be as reviled as The Covenant. We are going to be attacked everywhere we go.

Barrabus paused.

Barrabus: If we don’t cut loose and start killing our enemies, we won’t last much longer. I have known this since day one. All I can say is that I am glad you have finally come to terms with this. You are finally shedding your cub fur, and you have finally have a set of teeth.

Barrabus snarled, as he gave a sadistic grin.

Barrabus: Now the real fun can begin.

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Midnight – The King Raven – Geosynchronous Orbit over Federal Heights City – Hanger Bay 1 – 1030 Hours - February 6th 2540

Captain Frost and Commander Burke were standing next to one another in the hanger bay, facing the large hanger bay door, as they patiently awaited the arrival of a team of ONI Agents who had been dispatched by The Citadel. Commander Burke’s arm was in a sling, as he was still recovering from a broken arm that he had suffered several days earlier. While the two officers stood in silence for the first few moments, Jennifer, who had been looking at Burke off and on, finally spoke up.

Jennifer: You know, David, my offer to give you some time off was legitimate. I was being serious.

Burke: I know. However, I cannot stand taking time off. It is just a broken arm. I am more than capable of performing some of my duties. Besides, I should be 100% in a few days, once the mesh has had the time to knit my bones.

Jennifer laughed.

Jennifer: Stubborn as a mule, I see. Well, the offer is still on the table in case you change your mind.

Burke: Don’t worry, I will be fine.

Just as Burke said this, an alarm went off in the hanger bay, signifying that there was a Pelican on approach.

Jennifer: Alright Davidshow time.

Jennifer and Burke both stood at attention, as a black Pelican, with an ONI logo painted on the side of the hull, passed through the security barrier on the hanger bay entrance, and landed in the docking space that was right in front of Jennifer and Burke. A few moments passed before the sound of the Pelican’s rear hatch could be heard. Beneath the sound of the hatch opening, the sound of footsteps could be heard on the floor of the hanger bay floor, as the passengers of the Pelican began to disembark. It did not take long for both Burke and Jennifer to realize who exactly had stepped off the Pelican. Jennifer and Burke both looked at one another, very briefly, as neither of them had expected the individual that stood before them.

Jennifer cleared her throat, as both she and Burke saluted the officer that stood before them.

Jennifer: Ma’amwe did not expect to see you here. Surely a prisoner exchange did not necessitate the presence of Section 1s Director

Hand: You will forgive me if I respectfully disagree with that claim, Captain Frost.

Hand paused for a moment.

Hand: At ease, the both of you.

Jennifer and Burke relaxed, as four Agents walked up behind Director Hand, and stood silently, as if waiting to be addressed.

Hand: Allow me to take this opportunity to introduce my entourage. Captain Frost, Commander Burke, allow me to introduce Strike Team Zero; ONI’s blackbook team of Agents.

Jennifer: I have only heard stories about Strike Team Zero. Nothing concrete, only rumors.

One of the Agents stepped forward.

Corvo: Have you heard anything good, at least?

Jennifer: Mostly good thing. Eliminating high profile Covenant targets, shutting down Covenant armor and infantry, eliminating Insurrectionist activity, even crossing off a few turn-coats.

Corvo: There is truth to all of that. Suffice to say, my team and I are specialists in the fields of making problems go away.

Corvo extended his hand and shook Jennifer’s hand.

Corvo: My name is Agent Nicolas Corvo. Level 8.

Corvo directed the attention to his other Agents.

Corvo: My team...Agent Bashir Rahm, Agent Robert Mackentyre – or Mack as he prefers to be called, Agent Anthony Blackwood and Agent Samantha Morgan.

Jennifer nodded.

Jennifer: A pleasure to meet all of you.

Corvo: Likewise.

Burke interjected.

Burke: Socrossing off turn-coats? I guess you were hand-picked for this assignment.

Corvo: Pretty much.

Director Hand looked at Burke and Captain Frost, as she interjected on the exchange.

Hand: As much as I would enjoy the continuation of this diversion, I feel I must ask one very pressing and important question; where is Captain Sharpmen?

Jennifer looked at Director Hand, and promptly answered.

Jennifer: I sent two of my men to retrieve the Captain from the brig. He should be here any minute now.

Just as Captain Frost had said this, Tye and Cameron entered the hanger bay, with Jacob walking between the two men. Jacob was in civilians clothing, and his hands were bound.

Jennifer: Speak of the devil.

Tye and Cameron remained silent, as they approached Director Hand, and pushed Jacob forward. As Jacob stumbled forward, Agent Corvo and Agent Mack stepped forward, and grabbed Jacob. Jacob, however, opted to remain silent, as he knew there was nothing to get from any further discourse.

Jennifer: As promised, Director. Captain Jacob Sharpmen. He is all yours.

Director Hand glared at Jacob for a moment, before she looked at Corvo and Mack.

Hand: Agent Corvosecure him in the Pelican.

Corvo: Yes Ma’am.

Corvo and Mack each grabbed one of Jacob’s arms, as they pulled him towards the Pelican that Director Hand and the Agents had arrived on. Director Hand, however, held her ground, as she looked at Tye and Cameron, looking at them from head to toe, before turning back to Captain Frost.

Hand: Captain Frost?

Hand paused.

Hand: Where is Preston Vernette?

Jennifer was silent for a moment, as she carefully considered her answer.

Jennifer: The last I had heard, he was on Midnight. He left The King Raven in a hurry a few days before the battle at San Angeles broke out.

Hand: Well, he is NOT on Midnight. Sowhere is he?

Jennifer: If he is not on Midnight, I have no idea where he is. All he told me is that he was on Midnight.

Hand: Well, he is AWOL, and I want to know why!

Hand frowned, as Tye Interjected.

Tyber: I am sure there is a very good reason for my brother going AWOL. He usually has very good reasons.

Hand paused.

Hand: For your sake, I hope you are right, Commander.

Cameron: Is there a problem, aside from the fact that he is AWOL? Why do you need to see him so badly?

Hand paused, as she looked at Cameron.

Hand: I would say “it is classified” but I seriously doubt that excuse would wash with the lot of you. To be honest, I was hoping to extend him a courtesy, as opposed to a bombshell.

Tyber: What do you mean?

Hand sighed.

Hand: Wellthere is no easy way of saying thisso I will justsay it.

Hand paused.

Hand: Captain Frost, Commander Burke, Commander Vernette, and Spartan-Z091I am hereby placing you all under arrest, and you are all to be detained pending further questioning concerning your possible involvement in the destruction of San Angeles. You are to surrender your weapons, and submit yourself to the custody of The Office of Naval Intelligence.

Burke: This is a joke, right? I can never tell with you.

Hand: No joke, Commander Burke. This is very serious, very real, and this is happeningone way or the other.

Tyber: This is what you meant by bombshell, isn’t it?

Hand: I wanted to discuss the matter with Preston Vernette beforehand. I wanted him to convince the four of you to submit yourselves to questioning, as opposed to me flat out detaining you. However, his absence leaves me with no options that I can see. I have the UNSC Security Council breathing down my neck to take action and find answers.

Jennifer, Burke, Tye, and Cameron all looked at one another for a moment. Director Hand watched as the quartet exchanged a few looks, before speaking once more.

Hand: I have a lot of respect for the four of you, and I hate to do this, but, it is necessary. For what it is worth, Admiral Harrison has also been detained. Captain Reynold and Lieutenant Commander Cochraine have also been detained. All the command level officers at San Angeles have been detained. I am hoping the four of you, as members of ONI, can understand my predicament. There are a lot of questions that need to be askedand a lot of people that need to be exposed.

Director Hand paused, as she stepped forward and began to whisper.

Hand: You know what I mean, don’t you? Not many people know about The Trust. I am one of them, and I am hoping that the four of you can help me expose them.

Tye interjected.

Tyber: You know about The Trust?

Hand: Yes, I do. I have known about them for a number of years, but, I have never been able to track them down, or even find any trace of them. If Captain Frost’s report to me is to be believed in full, the four of you have gone toe to toe with The Trust at San Angeles. I am sure that you all have insight that would be invaluable. I need that insight.

Cameron: So, to get that insight, you will arrest us.

Hand: It is a formality put in place to satisfy bureaucrats and pen pushers. In reality, I am looking to gather intel on The Trust, so I can finally strike at them. Yes, there will be hard questions, and yes, there will be pushback against you for the roles you played, but, I have to make this look good. We need answers, and we need the truth.

Hand paused.

Hand: You will be much better off putting your trust in me, than anyone else, I can guarantee you that.

Jennifer looked at Director Hand. She was skeptical of the offer that was being made. However, Jennifer knew that this was an issue that was not going to go away, and that sooner or later, it was going to catch up with her with a vengeance.

Jennifer: Alright, Director Handwe will do it your way.

Burke, Tye, and Cameron looked at Jennifer; their body language was one of total shock.

Tyber: Ma’amthis is a terrible idea! Surrendering ourselves so we can be detained by ONI is not a smart move! How the hell are we supposed to fight The Trust if we are stuck in an ONI interrogation room?

Burke: Tye is right, Jennifer. We don’t belong in an interrogation room. People like Harrison and Jacob belong in an interrogation room! They impeded our job at every turn!

Jennifer: That may be true David. However, we have to realize that what happened at San Angeles is too big to ignore, and we cannot run away from it forever. The Trust needs to be stopped, and that begins by exposing them for the world to see.

Jennifer looked at Tye.

Jennifer: This should mean everything to you, Tye. You, of all people, should know how important this is! We can finally cut Constantine Spender down. If we don’t do this, then The Trust will have won! They will have proven, beyond any doubt, that they can act with impunity, and nobody can stop them! We cannot let them get away with this! We cannot let them bury this! We cannot allow them to bury US!

Hand interjected.

Hand: Captain Frost is right. If we can prove Spender’s involvement in what happened, it will go a long way to exposing The Trust. I have always believed that Spender was dirty. If you can help me prove that, once and for all, it will all be worth itI promise you! We can stop The TrustI just need you all to have faith in mebelieve in me!

Hand paused.

Hand: I am asking for you toTrust me.

Tye sighed with a great deal of uncertainty. He did not like the idea of surrendering himself to ONI’s custody. If the decision was his, he would not do it, so, he deferred to Captain Frost.

Tyber: Jennifer? Do you trust Director Hand?

Jennifer looked at Director Hand once more. Jennifer had to admit; Director Hand had a very cold and sterile demeanor. However, there seemed to be an honesty in her voice that even the most masterful liar would have trouble reproducing.

Jennifer: I do. I believe that she has our best interests at heart. I trust her.

Tye looked at Hand, and then back at Jennifer.

Tyber: Good enough for me.

Burke sighed, and gave a shrug.

Burke: Who am I to argue?

As Burke said this, all eyes went to Cameron; the most lethal and most difficult to stop of the group.

Hand: What say you, Spartan? I doubt anyone here could physically subdue you, so we have no way of forcing you to submit. Therefore, I am counting on your good sense and your integrity.

Cameron looked at Director Hand for a moment, before he reached up and did something he had never done before in the presence of non-Spartans; he removed his helmet. As Cameron removed his helmet, he held it to his side, under his arm.

Cameron: I have no concrete reason to trust you, nor do I have a concrete reason to distrust you. All I have is my good sense. You care to guess what it is telling me? It is telling me not to go along with this.

Cameron paused.

Cameron: You are asking me to make a massive leap of faith. What you don’t get about me, is that I have been betrayed by countless people whom I was supposed to trust unconditionally; my fellow Spartans. Most of them have turned on me, or, turned on ONI, in one way or another. The Risk TakersHammer TeamLucien. These are but SOME of the names that have destroyed my very notion of trust. I am not really big on the whole “trust” thing. That is a dirty word as far as I am concerned. To me, it means the opposite of what it is supposed to mean.

Cameron paused.

Cameron: The only way that I will go along with this, is if I am ordered to, by Captain Frost. If she orders me to stand down, I will. If she orders me to go along with your little plan, I will. She has earned the right to give me those orders. She has proven her loyalty to both ONI, and me.

Cameron paused.

Cameron: However, if she orders me to start shooting

Cameron proceeded to put his helmet back on.

Cameron: You are going to have a HELL of a time relinquishing me of my weapon. You better call for Backup, Director, because you are going to need every Agent you have in the Citadel to stop me.

Director Hand was silent, as she looked at Cameron. She could tell by the tone of his voice that he was very serious about what he said. Director Hand then turned to Captain Frost, and simply waited for her to speak. Sure enough, Captain Frost turned to Cameron, and shook her head.

Jennifer: Cameronstand down.

Cameron looked at Jennifer.

Jennifer: We are all on the same side here. Director Hand wants the same things that we want. There is no need for threats.

Cameron nodded.

Cameron: If you say so, Ma’am. If that is your decision

Cameron looked at Director Hand.

Cameron: I will abide by it.

Director Hand sighed in relief.

Hand: Well, I am glad that we managed to avoid a potentially bad situation.

Jennifer nodded.

Jennifer: I agree. We need to work together if we are to stop The Trust.

Hand: I am glad that you see that, Captain.

Hand paused.

Hand: Now, we have work to do. So, if the four of you don’t mindwe have a procedure to follow.

As Hand said this, Agents Rahm and Hunter stepped forward, both men looking at Captain Frost.

Blackwood: Captain Frost, I am going to have to ask you, and your officers, to turn over your sidearms.

Jennifer side, as she reached to her side, and drew her Magnum. She looked at her gun for a moment, before handing it to Agent Blackwood. Burke, Tye, and Cameron followed suit, as they each surrendered their weapons. Once Agent Blackwood had finished disarming Jennifer, Burke, Tye, and Cameron, he looked at Director Hand, and nodded. Director Hand then nodded, and looked at Jennifer and her associates.

Hand: Alright. From here, we should proceed to the Citadel. From there, we can begin to piece together exactly what happened on San Angeles.

Jennifer: How exactly is that going to work?

Hand: There will be several high ranking ONI Officers that will be involved with the questioning. I will be one of them. In addition to me, you will be questioned by Vice Admiral Adrian Wolfgang, Vice Admiral Jeffery Skinner, Lieutenant General Dylan Everet, Brigadier General Marshell Winters, Commodore Mallorie Dunham, and Vice Admiral Thomas Crown. You will each be questioned individually, day by day. It will be a grueling process, and an extensive one, but, it is a tried, tested, and true method to ensure that we arrive at the truth. It should also be noted that you will not be permitted to make any contact with one another for the initial round of questioning.

Hand paused.

Hand: I cannot speak for the other ONI Officers, but, I will be on your side the entire time, if only to bring to light information that will expose The Trust. I will make sure to stop as many of the curveball questions as I possibly can.

Burke: I know Vice Admiral Skinner, as well as Everet and Winters. Skinner can be blinded by a deviation from procedure, but Everet and Winters are good men. Those two defiantly understand how dangerous the Trust can be. Hopefully that will work to our advantage.

Cameron: I agree with Burke. Winters and Everet were with us when we assaulted a Trust facility on Midnight’s moon, Tesla. They should know damn well that The Trust exists, and they should be on-board with any effort to take down The Trust.

Hand: Let’s hope so. The more of the senior brass that agrees with us, the better off we will be, overall.

Hand paused.

Hand: I know this sounds daunting, but, I believe that we can pull this off, and I firmly believe that we can finally expose The Trust, where ever they may be hiding. If we work together, we can do this.

Jennifer nodded.

Jennifer: You have us convinced, Director Hand. I will admit, I did not think that I would be facing a board of inquiries upon the completion of the San Angeles campaign, but, I will happily face that music if it means putting an end to The Trust.

Jennifer paused.

Jennifer: You will have our full cooperation, so long as you have our backs.

Director Hand nodded.

Hand: Alright

Hand turned, as she looked at the three Agents standing behind her.

Hand: Agent Blackwood, Agent Morgantake Captain Frost and her associates to the Pelican.

Agent Blackwood and Agent Morgan stepped forward, as they both looked at Captain Frost.

Blackwood: Ma’am, If you would kindly follow me...

Captain Frost nodded, as she waited for Blackwood to move.

Jennifer: IWe are right behind you Agent.

Jennifer, Tye, Cameron, and Burke all nodded, as they followed behind Agent Blackwood; making their way to the Pelican. Jennifer, Tye, and Burke sat down across from Jacob; keeping to themselves and not saying a single word. Cameron, on the other hand, opted to stand. Despite the silence, Jennifer, Tye, and Burke all glared at Jacob, and Jacob glared back at them.

Director Hand, and the Agents she was with stepped aboard the Pelican, her Agents all sat down in some of the available seats. Hand, conversely, remained standing. Once everyone had situated themselves, Hand began to shout orders at the pilot in the cockpit.

Hand: Pilot! Seal the rear hatch, and return us to the Citadelbest possible speed!

As Hand said this, the rear hatch began to close, and the engines on the Pelican began to fire up. The ONI Pelican departed the King Raven, and returned to The Citadel.

Midnight – The Citadel – Gamma Wing – ONI Debriefing Room Alpha AKA: The Black Room – 0900 Hours - February 7th 2540

Admiral Harrison was walking through the main corridor of The Citadel’s Gamma Wing, as he was escorted by several ONI Agents, two of them in front, and two of them behind him, to where he had been scheduled to be questioned by Director Hand and her ONI Compatriots. Harrison was eventually led to a large set of ominous-looking doors, with the words “The Office of Internal Affairs” written right above them. As Harrison approached the door, the two Agents that were walking in front of him stopped, as the one on the right proceeded to enter an access code into a small panel located to the right of the door. As the panel beeped to signify authorization to enter, the ONI Agent on the left looked at Harrison, and gestured his head towards the door.

ONI Agent: Proceed inside, and have a seat at the table located in the center of the room.

Harrison nodded, as he walked through the doors, into a very dark room. There was a single light that hung above the table and chair at the center of the room, as well as a very narrow and dimly lit walkway leading up to the table and chair. From where he was standing he could see a large judge’s bench, with seven individuals already sitting behind the bench. These individuals were barely visible, but, he could see that the person sitting right in the middle, was none other than Director Hand. Harrison was taken aback by this setup, as it seemed overtly Orwellian. Suffice to say, Harrison stepped forward and sat down at the table located in the center of the room. As soon as Harrison sat down, he was addressed.

Hand: For the record, state your name, rank, service number, and current position.

Harrison took a deep breath before he spoke.

Harrison: Harrison, Fredward Jeremy. Rank, Vice Admiral. Service Number, 00973-24386-FH. Current position, Commanding Officer – UNSC Vigorous Inferno.

Hand: Very good.

Harrison watched as Hand look to her left, and then her right, as she addressed the other Officers who shared the bench with her.

Hand: Proceed

There was a moment of silence, before Harrison heard an unfamiliar voice address him.

Skinner: Vice Admiral Harrison, you should be advised, that we have compiled the collective reports of every Senior Officer that managed to survive San Angeles, and we are fully aware of the course of events that took place. However, there is still much we need to understand about WHY certain events happened.

Skinner paused.

Skinner: In your own words, please describe the series of events that led up to your shift in focus from The Covenant, to The Trust.

Harrison sighed.

Harrison: I suppose

Before Harrison could even continue, he was interrupted.

Skinner: This board will ask you, but once, to refrain from supposition, unless directly asked to do so. I will repeat the question; explain the series of events that led to your shift in focus from The Covenant to The Trust.

Harrison scoffed.

Harrison: The Trust became the primary target of UNSC hostility the instant I had been made aware that they had been directly interfering with UNSC effort to repel Covenant incursions on San Angeles. The first notable event that could be classified as direct interference, was during the battle of White Water, in which ODST Black Team attempted to eliminate Commander Vernette as he was evacuating Regional HQ Bravo.

Harrison paused.

Harrison: That being said, at no point did I cease hostility towards The Covenant, even when advised to do so, notably by Captain Frost.

Skinner nodded, as another officer spoke up.

Everet: Tell us about your working relationship with Captain Frost.

Harrison: At first, it waseffective. She had always projected a sense of caution and nervousness in a command position, but, she knew what she was doing. It was that sense which made her easy to work with, as she naturally deferred to authority.

Everet: Yet, you two came to a rather explosive crossroad, wouldn’t you say?

Harrison: We had a disagreement over how to handle Nighthawk and Anaconda, among other things. Her opinions on those two were bold, to say the least. She had some rather glaring double standards in play, the most obvious was her condemnation of Jacob Sharpmen over his alleged disloyalty and Commander Vernette’s past with Black Team. Frankly, she was very passionate about her stance towards Nighthawk and Anaconda, and downright blind when it came to Commander Vernette. Her orders, as a result, became questionable, and, the rest is history.

Harrison paused.

Harrison: Ultimately, I had no idea she was with ONI until she had revealed it to me shortly after we had captured The Ulterior Motive. I would never have found out had she not have said anything. In that respect, she was a master liar. No offense to present company, of course, but, it seems that being ONI means being a very good liar; very good at hiding who she was. That being said, I started to realize that her initial projection of caution and nervousness was a ploy to divert attention away from who she really was; a ruthless and cold officer with a background in a ruthlessly efficient organization. She attacked my ship, abducted a high ranking Trust operative, and wounded some of my combat personnel. The fact is, she is dangerous and unpredictable, and I realized that little too late. Her loyalty to her feelings trumps her loyalty to the uniform.

Everet: So why did you work with her against The Covenant? After everything she had done, one would think you would be more cautious.

Harrison: We were outgunned by The Covenant. Despite her shortcomings, she was still ONI, she is still Human, and she was offering to assist. I have learned never to look a gift horse in the mouth. Despite our disagreements, she was still willing to go toe to toe with The Covenant. It was not an easy decision, but, I prefer to let my judgement, not my feelings, make the game-saving calls.

Everet: Fascinating.

As Everet stopped speaking, another officer chimed in.

Winters: Vice Admiral Harrison, I believe a discussion about loyalty is much needed. Tell us, does your loyalty to Jacob Sharpmen trump your loyalty to your uniform? You seem very comfortable accusing Captain Frost of this, but, one could argue that you face the same conflict of interest as Captain Frost does.

Harrison: Part of loyalty to the uniform involves loyalty to the people who wear it.

Winter’s raised an eyebrow, and grinned, as he was impressed by the remark.

Winters: Indeed.

Winters paused.

Winters: However, suffice to say, Jacob did something very bad; he turned coat on people who believed he was an ally. Do you contest this fact?

Harrison: I contest the word “turncoat”. Jacob is not a traitor.

Winters: Then what is he?

Harrison: Jacob is a good man who places more importance on doing what is necessary than doing something by the book. This has always served him well, it has served Humanity well, but, it evidently does have its pitfalls as well.

Winters: So, you defend his decision to kill 20 UNSC Marines during the UNSC’s assault on the Apex Applied Research Building?

Harrison: Of course not! Part of me is disappointed in Jacob in that respect, but, Jacob would not be the first person who has been forced to kill an ally while under cover.

Winters: Jacob was not undercover, Admiral. There was no order put in place to give Jacob the green light to engage in that level of subterfuge.

Harrison was silent.

Winters: In my honest opinion, Jacob IS a traitor. He acted AGAINST ONI without authorization.

Winters paused as he looked at a tablet that was in front of him.

Winters: According to the report given to us by Captain Frost, she firmly believed that Jacob made an effort to return to the UNSC because he was exposed to something that he could not stomach on a personal level. This is supported by the fact that Jacob contacted The King Raven during the initial stages of Operations against The Ulterior Motive and by the fact that Jacob admitted to Captain Frost, during an interrogation, that he took steps to help the UNSC, and even Anaconda, with the sole intent of stopping the Vanguard weapons platform; that is, the device that The Trust was planning to put into play.

Winters paused.

Winters: Given these facts, can you say with 100% certainty that Jacob would have returned to the UNSC had Vanguard never have been a factor. To be clear, would Jacob STILL be with The Trust if he had not have encountered Vanguard? Speculation is, of course, permitted.

Harrison: I refuse to speculate on that, because there is only one realistic answer. I won’t say it. That is what you want, isn’t it? You want me to say what you want to hear. There is no way in hell I am going to fall for such an old trick.

Winters: That answer says enough, Admiral.

Wolfgang interjected.

Wolfgang: I don’t think we need to ambush Admiral Harrison like this. I think when all things are considered, Harrison made the best of a disastrous situation.

Wolfgang paused.

Wolfgang: That being said Admiral, let us talk about a disaster, shall we?

Wolfgang grinned, as he glared at Harrison.

Wolfgang: Let’s talk about Nighthawk and Anaconda. Tell me, Admiral, how could you have EVER entertained an alliance with those two, given your history with them?

Harrison sighed.

Harrison: I have been asking myself this question over and over, and the fact isI dont know why.

Harrison paused.

Harrison: Deep downI knew it was a bad idea, from the MOMENT they became part of the equation. However, they came onto the scene just as The Trust did, when we were at our most desperate. You know how it is, right?

Harrison scoffed.

Harrison: You’re on the ropes, looking death in the eyeand then, out of nowhere, Nighthawk and Anaconda show up to pull your ass from the fire with an unwarranted act of compassion, and BAMthey earn the bare minimum of trust necessary to warrant your tolerance. They weasel their way into the fold, like a parasite, as if they are supposed to be there. You put up with them, and you TRY to cut them some slack for the good of the people you are trying to protect. When they start to wear thin, and you get annoyed with their methods, they drop a piece of intel SO VALUABLE and SO PRECIOUS that it is impossible to turn them down, and once again, they find a way to stay in the fold, like a parasite.

Harrison scoffed.

Harrison: If you read my report, you would know what I am talking about.

Harrison paused.

Harrison: The act of compassion; extracting Commander Vernette and Spartan Z-091 when they were on a mission to rescue Lieutenant Commander Cochraine from enemy hands. They show up in White Water to help my forces secure and defend Regional HQ Bravo from The Covenant and then The Trust. They save Captain Frost from The Covenant at UNSC Airfield Mayweather.

Harrison paused.

Harrison: The precious intel; the information on Firebase Mediterranean, the information on the Apex Applied Research Building, getting us access to the Covenant battle net, interrogating Hoffman

Harrison scoffed.

Harrison: They are insidious.

Wolfgang: Clearly.

Wolfgang paused.

Wolfgang: Tell me Harrison; why did you allow Nighthawk to interrogate Hoffman? According to the reports, it was said that Nighthawk attempted to perform Protocol Alpha Ilo Durango on Hoffman. Why was this permitted?

Harrison: We needed answers. Hoffman was not cooperating.

Wolfgang: Surely you could have found other ways to get that information?

Harrison: No. Hoffman was a stubborn as a jackass. He was not going to give us anything. At least Nighthawk stood a chance of getting something out of Hoffman. Despite my reservations about letting Nighthawk get his hands on Hoffman, we needed the intel.

Wolfgang: But, that intel proved useless?

Harrison: I will admit, it seemed like a pointless exercise after Jacob had helped Captain Frost pinpoint the exactly location of The Ulterior Motive.

Wolfgang: What ultimately caused your falling out with Nighthawk? What happened that convinced you to go hostile with Nighthawk?

Harrison: It was frustration with the state of affairs at the time. Nighthawk was made privy to information concerning The Trust, as well as information pertaining to Commander Vernette’s past, while I was intentionally left in the dark. For most of that battle, I was excluded, undermined, and otherwise intentionally left in the dark about critical events. I finally snapped, and I directed my hostility towards the root cause of that behavior; Nighthawk and Anaconda.

Wolfgang: And I presume that led to your falling out with Captain Frost?

Harrison: As it was stated earlier? Yes. She believed in Nighthawk and Anaconda. I believed they were a threat. Our difference of opinion led to problems. The rest is history.

Wolfgang: Well, for the record, I believe that you did the right thing. Turning on Nighthawk and Anaconda, and attempting to eliminate them was the correct decision.

Harrison: I believed so. I still do. If there is ONE thing I am absolutely committed to going forward, it is the elimination of Nighthawk and Anaconda.

Harrison paused.

Harrison: To be honest, I am sure all of ONI believes that.

Wolfgang: Why is that, if I may ask?

Harrison: Didn’t you know? Nighthawk used to be ONI. He told me that he left ONI because of how pervasive the Trust had become in ONI. He knew that the red tape would stop him from fighting it, so, he left, and took his expertise with him.

Wolfgang: Nighthawk is ex-ONI? That explains everything. We had no idea that Nighthawk was ex-ONI.

Harrison: At first, I had a hard time believing it. However, upon reflecting on it, I came to realize that a lot of Nighthawk’s methods could bhe found in ONI’s playbook.

Wolfgang: If Nighthawk is ex-ONI, then he possesses a dangerous level of intelligence on how our organization conducts its operations. It is no wonder that he has been able to evade us at every turn. I guess at the very least, we can adjust our tactics.

Wolfgang paused.

Wolfgang: Thank you, Vice-Admiral. This intel has been very helpful.

Wolfgang simply grinned. However, as he did, Mallorie Dunham spoke up, and began to question Harrison.

Mallorie: Putting aside Nighthawk and Anaconda for a moment; I believe it is worth asking about the Vanguard weapons platform. Vice-Admiral Harrison, do you know about it?

Harrison: Close to nothing. The most comprehensive information I got on Vanguard was from Anaconda who claimed that Vanguard was created by the same beings that The Covenant worship as Gods.

Mallorie: Is this true, or, is this part of their dogmatic views?

Harrison: I cannot say for sure. There is no comprehensive proof that the gods of The Covenant actually exist. Or ever existed. All I can say for sure is that Vanguard was real.

Mallorie: Did you ever see Vanguard?

Harrison: No.

Mallorie: Did anyone ever see Vanguard?

Harrison: Jacob did. Nighthawk and Anaconda must have, at some point. Beyond that, I don’t think anyone else saw Vanguard.

Mallorie: I find that difficult to believe.

Harrison sighed.

Harrison: FranklyVanguard was the Trusts trump card. They protected it with everything they had. Their sole purpose was to keep the UNSC and ONI away from Vanguard, and in that respect, they almost completely succeeded. Save for the fact that Jacob saw it, and presumably Nighthawk and Anaconda did battle with it, The Trust did a masterful job in protecting Vanguard from exposure.

Mallorie: So you had close to no proof that Vanguard existed, yet, according to all of the reports that we have read, many, if not all of the decisions were made in the latter part of this conflict, were based around Vanguard. How do you justify this?

Harrison: It is difficult to explain, to be completely honest. It boils down to the fact that the very idea of The Trust POTENTIALLY having access to such a dangerous weapon, was enough to bring about a response. We had very little to go on, and very little evidence, but, the threat was so great that I could not dismiss the potential danger. The way I saw it, I needed to make a leap of faith in order to justify my actions. Jacob was a witness to Vanguard, and Nighthawk did substantiate the existence of Vanguard. I needed to give orders that would take that threat seriously, and keep us focused. It was not an easy task.

Mallorie: Do you not find it hypocritical to use Nighthawk’s testimony as a source of justification for your decision on San Angeles, all while maintaining a staunch opposition to him, overall?

Harrison: It is a precarious situation, I give you that. I have no respect for Nighthawk, but nothing will change the fact that he was right about Vanguard being a threat. I feel that belief entitles me to a bit of leeway as far as Nighthawk is concerned.

Mallorie Dunham was not fully convinced by this reasoning.

Mallorie: You will forgive me if I accept that logic with a grain of salt. I have no further questions at this time.

As Mallorie said this, Vice Admiral Crown spoke up.

Crown: Admiraldo you believe that Nighthawk and Anaconda were killed by the weapon they built to destroy San Angeles?

Harrison: I would say yes. It was a weapon of last resort, such was my understanding. That typically implies someone you use just before failure or death. It is my firm belief that both Nighthawk and Anaconda were KIA on San Angeles.

Crown: I see.

Crown paused.

Crown: What do you know about the weapon that was used to destroy San Angeles?

Harrison: I cannot say how Nighthawk got his hands on a slipspace core, but, I do know that the power requirements for a weapon of that classification is immense. I am reasonably certain that the planet was phased out of our reality by the quantum stresses of slipspace.

Crown: I am looking for something more along the lines of a technical knowledge.

Harrison: I have no technical knowledge of the weapon.

Crown: Did you make any effort to locate the weapon when you first found out about it?

Harrison: I sent out as many UAVs as I could to search, but, a single UAV can only cover so much ground. I was hesitant to send ground forces, out of a dreaded certainty that they would fail en-masse to locate the device.

Crown: So, what you are saying that you could not locate where the weapon had been activated from?

Harrison: That is one way of looking at it, yes.

Crown: Do you have any speculation as to how the weapon was deployed?

Harrison: No. I knew nothing about the design or implementation of that weapon. Honestly, before I saw it, I thought it was impossible to open a slip space rift THAT big.

Crown: That is terribly unfortunate, Vice-Admiral. If we ever find ourselves in a situation where Nighthawk deems it necessary to use that design again, a lot of people could die.

Harrison: Do you think I am unaware of that?

Crown: I am more inclined to say yes. However, I think what you need to realize is that your failure to properly identify how Nighthawk and Anaconda destroyed an entire planet leaves us hilariously unprepared for when they decide to do it again!

Harrison: I have already handed everything I had over to ONI concerning he matter. If ONI believes that it can find something that I missed, then be my guest. I assure you, however, that you will not find anything that I didn’t. For your information, as far as this stuff is concerned, I am a god-damn subject matter expert.

Crown: I am sure you are

Director Hand interjected.

Hand: Gentlementhat is enough! This discourse is accomplishing very little.

Hand paused.

Hand: Baseless accusations are not going to get us anywhere. The entire point of this is to get to the truth! It is imperative that we keep this fact in mind!

Hand paused.

Hand: Vice Admiral Harrison; it is your belief that Nighthawk and Anaconda are dead, correct?

Harrison: Yes ma’am.

Hand: It is your assertion that The Trust was a greater threat than The Covenant, correct?

Harrison: As a result of The Trust having possession of Vanguard, yes.

Hand: Do you have anything to add to this initial round of questioning?

Harrison: I do.

Harrison paused.

Harrison: The destruction of San Angeles is something in which blame can be assigned. It is my honest opinion that there were many factors that played a role in the avoidable loss of San Angeles. Primarily, the loss of San Angeles can be blamed, in large part, on Nighthawk and Anaconda, and to a lesser degree, on ONI. For the entire campaign, my singular concern was the protection of the planet and her colonists. AT every turn, I was faced with challenges on every front. While I went into the battle fully expecting a bloody fight with The Covenant, I never dreamed that I would find myself in a conflict with The Trust; an organization that hides within ONI, nor, did I ever believe I would find myself in direct conflict with the REAL ONI, in the form of Captain Jennifer Frost and the crew of The King Raven. I did not believe for one moment that my chain of command would fall apart and schism over how to deal with Nighthawk and Anaconda. Had ONI had done its job, Nighthawk and Anaconda would not have been a variable in the conflict, and San Angeles would still be here, and I would still be therefighting to defend her!

Harrison had a frown on his face.

Harrison: I am not impressed by the Office of Naval Intelligence today, nor am I impressed by how uncooperative ONI was during the conflict at San Angeles. I have seen your work up close and personal, and I am disgusted by it. The general incompetence and uncooperativeness of ONI during the battle of San Angeles is something that I will never forget, and it is something that I will forever associate with ALL OF YOU. To be frank, I am not holding my breath over whether or not you are actually going to subject Captain Frost and her crew to disciplinary action. From her insubordination, to the role she played in helping a terrorist destroy San Angeles; Captain Frost and her crew should not have a future in ONI.

Harrison scoffed.

Harrison: I have nothing more to say.

Hand: Very well, Admiral. You are dismissed pending further questioning. Until further notice, you are to remain at the Citadel.

Harrison: Understood.

With that, Harrison stood up, and left the room, without saying a single word more.

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Midnight – The Citadel – Gamma Wing – ONI Debriefing Room Alpha AKA: The Black Room – 0900 Hours - February 8th 2540

Lieutenant Commander Cochraine was brought into the Office of Internal affairs, much like Harrison had been previously. In the same way, she was situated at a table in the center of a dark room; facing a board of inquiry. As Cochraine waited for the questioning to begin she felt a sense of dread come over her. There was something very off about the room she was being questioned in. It felt out of place, and wrong. However, Cochraine did not have much time to reflect on this dread, as Director Hand began to speak.

Hand: For the record, state your name, rank, service number, and current position.

Cochraine cleared her throat, as she answered.

Cochraine: Cochraine, Lauren. RankLieutenant Commander. Service number20201-45553-LC. Current positionUNSC Minds Attrition, first officer.

Hand: Thank you Lieutenant Commander.

As Hand said this, Vice Admiral Wolfgang spoke up.

Wolfgang: Lieutenant Commander, I am not going to waste your time, and I am going to be very direct with you; please describe Nighthawk and Anaconda, in your own words.

Cochraine sighed, as she took a moment to gather her thoughts.

Cochraine: Perplexing, volatile, erratic, unpredictable. A certifiable madman.

Cochraine paused.

Cochraine: Cruel, aggressive, unfeeling, well, not unfeeling. The guy is driven by his emotions, mainly anger. However, he has gutsI guess you could say courageous.

Wolfgang: Can you go into greater detail?

Cochraine: Of course!

Cochraine paused.

Cochraine: Where do I begin? The encounters I had with this man were so varied, that I could go on to no end.

Wolfgang: Lieutenantnothing would please me more than to document every single second you spent in his company. A psychological profile on Nighthawk would be invaluable to my associates.

Cochraine: Your associates?

Wolfgang: ONIobviously.

Cochraine nodded.

Cochraine: Well, the first encounter I had with Nighthawk was just after I had been extracted from behind enemy lines by Commander Vernette and Spartan Z-091. Our evac had been shot down, and we were running short on time. The next thing we all knew, that Vulture showed up, and offered us a lift. He pulled our asses out of the fire at the last second. Without Nighthawk, we would have been killed by Harrison’s bombing run. In that respect, I owed them my life. At the time, nobody gave a damn who they were, only that they had a ship and they were taking on passengers.

Wolfgang: So you accepted the help of a terrorist.

Cochraine: We did it to save our lives! It was not about terrorism. It was about living to fight another day.

Wolfgang: We will re-examine that assertion later on. Continue. What was your next encounter like?

Cochraine: The next time I had met with him, face to face, was just after the battle that took place at the Apex Applied Research building. If I recall correctly, that was just shortly after his alien compatriot had been abducted by The Trust. After our raid on the Apex Applied Research facility, and the subsequent capture of Hoffman, the senior level brass met on The King Raven to discuss out next move. Nighthawk was invited to partake in that meeting because he had been with us for a period of time, and he was, at the very least, a dependable asset against our enemies. From what I could gather from the meeting, Nighthawk was very angry, and he wanted to get his hands on The Trust, specifically, Hoffman.

Wolfgang: Clarify

Cochraine: it was pretty much a foregone conclusion that Hoffman needed to be interrogated, and it was axiomatic that Nighthawk was going to be the one to break Hoffman. Suffice to sayNighthawk broke Hoffman. It started with simple acts of physical violence, and it rapidly escalated into something horrifying. I still remember the sounds of Hoffman’s screams. It was bone chilling. It was as if I was watching two men taking very different liberties with their own humanity. One of them tossed it aside as if it was nothing, and the other was clinging to his own, fearing that it was going to be pulverized.

Wolfgang: If I am to guess; Nighthawk was the one who tossed his Humanity aside?

Cochraine: Yes, and Hoffman was the one whonearly had his pulverized.

Cochraine paused, as she collected her thoughts. Cochraine shifted in her chair, as if she was very uneasy discussing this particular event.

Cochraine: Hoffman’s screams were bone chilling. What Nighthawk wanted to do to him was barbaric. I have never seen a man so terrified in my life. Hoffman was begging for mercybegging us to step in and stop Nighthawk. None of us intervened, but, we all watched as Nighthawk perpetrated a vile act.

Wolfgang: You are referring to Directive Alpha-Ilo-Durango?

Cochraine: Yes. The very notion of digitizing someone’s brain patterns for the sole purposes of extracting information is horrific. It is inhumane, and it is cruel!

Wolfgang: You do realize that ONI developed that method of interrogation.

Cochraine: And Nighthawk appropriated it for his own use! Now, how the hell does that happen, hmm? How the hell does someone like Nighthawk know about something like Alpha-Ilo-Durango?

Wolfgang: According to Vice-Admiral HarrisonNighthawk is ex-ONI. He may have had previous knowledge of this method.

Cochraine: So, ONI not only fights terrorism, it creates it as well?

Wolfgang: Lieutenant Commanderyou are not here to point fingers at ONI. It is not ONIs fault that ONE MAN was a malcontent. ONI did not create Nighthawk, and we certainly did not create Anaconda.

Cochraine scoffed.

Wolfgang: Now, if you don’t mind, we would still like to hear more about your engagements with Nighthawk. We want your insight on Nighthawk, not ONI.

Cochraine paused for a moment.

Cochraine: After Nighthawk had “interrogated” Hoffman, we parted ways, and I did not see much of him after that, save for my third, and final meeting with Nighthawk. Suffice to say, it was the most unusual.

Cochraine paused.

Cochraine: During the battle of Firebase Mediterranean, I was ordered, by Captain Frost, to proceed to the subterranean portion of the facility and locate Captain Sharpmen, and return him to ONI custody. I eventually found Captain Sharpmen and Nighthawk engaged in battle. Those two men were ripping one another apart. They were trying to kill one another, and neither one was giving any quarter.

Wolfgang: How did you proceed?

Cochraine: I followed the orders that I was given.

Wolfgang: What were your orders?

Cochraine: I was ordered by Captain Frost to locate Captain Sharpmen, and return him to ONI custody. She gave me the authorization to kill Jacob if need be.

Wolfgang: Did you have any orders to deal with Nighthawk?

Cochraine: No, but, Captain Frost did ask me to ignore Nighthawk, and to allow Nighthawk to take action against Vanguard. She believed that Nighthawk was the best chance we had at stopping Vanguard. The way I understood the request, she sent me down there to ensure that Jacob did not kill Nighthawk, and I had the greenlight to kill Jacob in order to keep Nighthawk alive.

Wolfgang: Why did you follow that order?

Cochraine: It is my duty to follow orders, even if I may disagree with them to some degree. I am appalled by Nighthawk’s methods, and in my opinion, he and his alien friend is a danger to everything they happen to be around. The gall that was required to destroy an entire planet, and claim the lives of tens of millions of people speaks volumes about who he is as a man. I find Nighthawk and Anaconda to be little more than repugnant mass murderers. However, Nighthawk had the best chance, out of anyone, against Vanguard. For the sake of our survival, he needed to have his shot.

Wolfgang: Is there anything else you wish to convey?

Cochraine: A few personal observations and opinions, if you are so interested.

Wolfgang: Please

Cochraine: I did notice one thing when I observed Nighthawk and Anaconda’s social interactions, and more importantly, Nighthawk’s shift in demeanor when Anaconda had been captured by The Trust. These two are just not partners by happenstance. They have every psychological tell of being friends, believe it or not. They know each other very well; their strengths and their weaknesses.

Director Hand raised an eyebrow when she heard this, but, she stayed quiet.

Cochraine: They are a team that has their methods refined and polished. It is clear that we are not dealing with amateurs or some slapped together alliance. We are dealing with two professionals that, for some reason, care deeply about the other’s well-being. Between the two of them, they have a wide range of skills. Nighthawk is the technical brains, and Anaconda is the muscle and the enforcer. Together, they can combine two vastly different skill sets into one very effective dichotomy.

Cochraine paused.

Cochraine: If you have your eyes set on stopping Nighthawk and Anaconda, you have to start with Anaconda. You will never kill Nighthawk so long as Anaconda is in the picture. It is possible, with enough force, to take Nighthawk down, but, it will never happen if Anaconda is watching his back.

Wolfgang: Interesting perspective, Lieutenant Commander. However, I am curious about something; do you believe that Nighthawk and Anaconda survived their engagement with Vanguard, and the subsequent destruction of San Angeles?

Cochraine: If there is anyone who could have survived, it would be Nighthawk and Anaconda. They are very insidious like that.

Wolfgang winced his eyes.

Wolfgang: No further questions from me.

As Wolfgang said this, Skinner took the opportunity to jump in.

Skinner: Lieutenant Commander Cochraine; I have been reviewing your report, and I must admit, I am troubled by the fact that you sought out The Trust for medical treatment for your injuries.

Cochraine: I did not seek out The Trust. I didn’t even know they existed at the time. The offer was made to me. The offer was extended to me. We, that is, Captain Reynolds and I, accepted. We were told that ONI was going to provide me with care, nothing else.

Skinner: Did you ever have any suspicions?

Cochraine: Suspicions of what? I had no reason to ever suspect that ANYONE was with The Trust. I had NO IDEA that the Trust existed at that time. How can I suspect anyone of anything? All I knew, at the time, was that ONI wanted to help me.

Skinner: In hindsight, do you believe there was an ulterior motive at work?

Cochraine: I cannot say for certain. All I know is that after I was left to be treated for my wounds, Captain Reynolds spoke, at length, with Deputy Director Yates. At the completion of my treatment, I was free to leave without incident. I have no ideas what was discussed between Yates and Captain Reynolds, so do not bother asking.

Everet interjected.

Everet: Vice-Admiral Harrison’s report indicates that Deputy-Director Yates, along with ODST Black Team took hostile action aboard his ship. Do you not find the idea of Captain Reynolds speaking with Yates after that had happened to be disconcerting?

Cochraine: It is a point of concern, yes. However, I have no proof that anything that I should be concerned about was discussed, so, the point is moot.

Everet: Do you believe that it would be within Captain Reynold’s character to cooperate with The Trust?

Cochraine: I know Captain Reynolds very well. I do not have to worry about his loyalty. I seriously doubt that Captain Reynolds would cooperate with The Trust.

Everet: You seem certain of this.

Cochraine: Like I saidI know Captain Reynolds very well. He has never given me any reason to doubt him. Captain Reynolds has always placed his sense of duty above all else. He has dedicated his life to the UNSC, and I do not believe for one moment that he would turn his back on that. Any discussion that Captain Reynolds may have had with a Trust operative was done without knowledge of The Trust’s existence.

Winters interjected.

Winters: Fair enough Lieutenant Commander. We will take your word for that.

Winters paused.

Winters: Personally, I am curious about your interaction with The Trust. How brief was your interaction with Deputy Director Yates? Did he discuss anything with you which could be described as sensitive?

Cochraine: My encounter with Yates was very brief. As far as I know, he had a conversation with Captain Reynolds. Beyond that, there was little to no meaningful interaction with me. He did not mention anything that had any particular value or meaning to me.

Winters: What about your interaction with Robert Novak? Can you describe him?

Cochraine: I would have a hard time describing Novak. My interaction with him was also limited. I was sedated before I ever had the chance to have any kind of meaningful conversation with him.

Winters: Are you aware of Robert Novak’s history with ONI?

Cochraine: No, I am not. Should I be?

Winters exchanged looks with several of his colleges before he looked back at Cochraine, and shook his head.

Winters: It is not necessary. If what you say is true, then I see no reason to continue this line of questioning. If we find reason to question you further, rest assured, we will not hesitate to bring this up again.

Winters fell silent, as Everet spoke up once again

Everet: Lieutenant Commander Cochraine; what is your opinion on the Jacob Sharpmen issue? I would imagine that you would have a unique opinion on the matter given that you had orders to retrieve him from Firebase Mediterranean.

Cochraine paused for a moment as she gathered her thoughts.

Cochraine: I do not believe that Captain Sharpmen is a traitor. I believe he is deeply misguided and misinformed about his methods, but, I do not see a traitor when I see him.

Everet: Care to explain that logic?

Cochraine: Jacob’s actions were not motivated by malice towards the UNSC. He was motivated, mostly, by his personal demons with The Trust, and possibly by his issues with Nighthawk and Anaconda.

Everet: Then how do you explain the fact that he killed 20 ONI-designated Marines during the conflict at the Apex Applied Research building?

Cochraine: I believe that was done through a need to convince The Trust that he was dedicated to their cause. In reality, he only did what he had to do.

Director Hand frowned, as she interjected.

Hand: Lieutenant Commander20 people lost their lives because of Jacobs ill-gotten attempt at infiltrating The Trust.

Cochraine: I am no defending Jacob’s choices. I am simply looking at why he did what he did to gain the confidence of The Trust. The fact is, it was immoral and despicable, and he should be punished. However, we still need to understand why he did what he did, and I feel that it was due to his distrust of Nighthawk, as well as his own personal demons with The Trust.

Hand: In your opinion, what would be a suitable punishment?

Cochraine: I am not qualified to answer that, either honestly or correctly. It is not my place to decide that. That is for the courts to decide.

Hand: What about Nighthawk and Anaconda? What should be done to the two individuals who destroyed San Angeles?

Cochraine: Nighthawk and Anaconda are terrorists. It is well established how terrorists should be handled. They are mass murderers, and they are akin to The Covenant. They should be dealt with as harshly as possible. Nothing would please me more than to take an active role in that.

Cochraine paused.

Cochraine: I have no reverence for those two.

Mallorie laughed, as she interjected.

Mallorie: I find that very hard to believe. You must have SOME reverence for those two. After all, you DID stop Jacob from killing Nighthawk when you were sent into the underbelly of Firebase Mediterranean.

Cochraine: Nighthawk and Anaconda were our best chance at stopping Vanguard.

Mallorie: Vanguard? You mean that thing that nobody is certain actually existed?

Cochraine paused.

Cochraine: Jacob saw it. Nighthawk saw it. The Trust was clearly defending something. While I may not have seen it personally, I believe that it is reasonable to accept the existence of Vanguard. It was generally accepted.

Mallorie: All we have is the testimony of a terrorist and someone who turned on ONI. Those are not very good sources.

Cochraine: Be that as it may, what I saw under Firebase Mediterranean was unlike anything I have ever seen. The architecture alone was inhumanand it was unlike any Covenant architecture I had ever seen. I saw architecture that did not belong to any species that we have encountered. There was something down theresomething we had never encountered. I regret not seeing Vanguard first hand, but, I seriously doubt I would be sitting here, today, if I had entertained that curiosity. Frankly, it is one thing to make of a fictitious tale about some superweapon. It is a completely different thing to operate completely under the premise. Nighthawk and Anaconda were driven by their desire to stop Vanguard from falling into the hands of The Trust. Jacob ran back to ONI when he saw Vanguard, first hand. Jacob and Nighthawk are diametrically opposed in every measurable sense. However, they both confirmed the existence Vanguard. Something has to add up.

Mallorie: So you accept the Vanguard story?

Cochraine: Yes, I do.

Mallorie scoffed.

Mallorie: Alright. I will humor you. Let’s assume you are right. Let’s assume that Vanguard was real, and that it had become an intolerable threat. Tell me, Lieutenant; why did you help Nighthawk when you were sent to retrieve Captain Sharpmen from the depths of Firebase Mediterranean? What convinced you of the fact that Nighthawk was the ONLY choice available to combat Vanguard?

Cochraine: A number of things played a part in my decision, to be honest. Part of it was my orders to retrieve Jacob and ignore Nighthawk. Part of it was the fact that Nighthawk and Anaconda provided the extraction plan when I was being rescued by ONI. I would be dead if it was not for those two. I owed them my life. However, most importantly, was the fact that Nighthawk and Anaconda had an understanding of Vanguard that transcended any understanding that we had. They had experience with Vanguardwe did not. Whether we liked it or not, they were our best shotthe desperate measures, so to speak.

Cochraine paused.

Cochraine: I did what I had to do, not what I wanted to do.

Crown interjected.

Crown: When you accepted those orders, did you know that Nighthawk was going to destroy San Angeles?

Cochraine: Yes, I did. I became aware of Nighthawk’s plan when Admiral Harrison disclosed it to both Captain Reynolds and Ishortly after Hoffman had been abducted from UNSC custody by Captain Frost.

Crown: And, knowing this, you still followed Captain Frost’s orders, and you allowed Nighthawk to walk away.

Cochraine: It is not that simple.

Crown: Yes, Lieutenantit is THAT simple. You knew about Nighthawk’s plan. You knew what Captain Frost did on The Vigorous Inferno. You knew Jacob wanted to kill Nighthawk. Knowing all of that, you listened to Captain Frost, you arrested Jacob, and you allowed Nighthawk to walk away to fight Vanguard.

Cochraine shook her head.

Cochraine: It is not that simple

Crown shook his head.

Crown: Lieutenantbe honest, please. You helped Nighthawk for ALL of the wrong reasons. Admit it.

Cochraine paused for a few moments, as she tried to collect her thoughts.

Cochraine: Vanguardwas a threat. It needed to be dealt with.

Wolfgang interjected.

Wolfgang: Nighthawk is a threat, and you allowed that threat to walk away. You helped that threat to flourish! In a small way, you helped destroy San Angeles.

Cochraine was silent.

Wolfgang: I have no idea what my colleagues think, but, I am going on record and recommending a formal reprimand on your record. You were complicit in terrorist activity, and you made no effort to put a stop to it. Your decision to assist Nighthawk played a role in the loss of San Angeles. You failed your uniform, Lieutenant Commander. Your decisions leave much to be desired. As such, I am recommending a permanent note and reprimand on your service record.

Hand: I see no need for that.

Crown: Second.

Mallorie: Iam going to have to say no on this one. I do not believe Lieutenant Cochraine was an accessory to terrorism.

Winters: Third.

Everet: Fourth.

Skinner: Fifth.

Director Hand sighed, and then nodded.

Hand: By a vote of 5 to 2, a formal and permanent reprimand will be placed on Lieutenant Cochraine’s service record. Let the record show my formal protest to this decision. However, I must defer to the majority ruling on this matter.

Hand paused for a moment, as she looked passed Cochraine, to a pair of Agents that were standing in the shadows.

Hand: Agents! Remove Lieutenant Commander Cochraine, and return her to her quarters.

As Hand gave this order, the two Agents approached Lieutenant Cochraine, and they waited for her to get back to her feet. Cochraine sighed, as she slowly got to her feet. However, before she submitted to the Agents, she made one final comment.

Cochraine: Reprimand, or notI stand by what I did.

Cochraine paused.

Cochraine: Nighthawk is a terrible man, and he will get what is coming to him. However, I did not help Nighthawk because I sympathized with a terrorist. I helped Nighthawk because of my duty to Humanity. When I put this uniform on, I took an oathto fight for Humanity, to protect it, to be the shield that protects Humanity from untold threats, no matter the cost. I take that oath very seriously, and that oath was the first and last thing that came to my mind when I decided to take Nighthawk’s side over Jacob’s. Nothing will change the fact that Nighthawk was the most qualified to battle Vanguard. If I was to uphold the oath I took, I needed to allow Nighthawk his one chance. I did it to protect Humanityto hell with the cost. I gladly accept that reprimand. I gladly accept my punishment for making the hard choice. Isn’t that what ONI is about? Making the hard choices? I made the hard choice to help the ONE man who was qualified to fight Vanguard.

Cochraine paused.

Cochraine: If you people cannot see that, then you are the ones who should be reprimanded, not me.

Cochraine received a few negative glares from Director Hand and her compatriots, as she turned, and walked off, with the two Agents at her side. Once Cochraine had left the room, Director Hand shook her head.

Hand: She is different. Her dossier no longer does her justice.

Hand paused.

Hand: She has more gumption than she used to. I am curious what has to happen to a person for that to happen so quickly.

Mallorie: You’re right. Lieutenant Commander Cochraine has changed. Perhaps there is something to her story after all. Perhaps, more than we thought? If she was 100% honest with us, I would not be surprised that someone would undergo such a radical change. Between The Trust, Nighthawk, and Vanguardthat is enough to erode anyones blissful optimism.

Hand: I think I am starting to get a good idea as to why San Angeles went down the way it did. If this is a common theme, then this is going to become very predictable.

Wolfgang interjected.

Wolfgang: Director, may I remind you that we are here, first and foremost, to bury the people responsible for the heinous crimes on San Angeles. Do not let our search for the truth cloud our true purpose. We need to understand the story, not the people.

Wolfgang paused.

Wolfgang: And we still have a lot angles of this story to examine. We need to keep our focus.

Director Hand sighed, as she gave a nod.

Hand: We will reconvene tomorrow morning. IN the meantime, I want everyone here to double down, and review the post-carnage reports on San Angeles. I want everyone here to know every detail, no matter how small.

Everyone gave a nod to Director Hand, fully acknowledging what had to be done.

Midnight – The Citadel – Gamma Wing – ONI Debriefing Room Alpha AKA: The Black Room – 0900 Hours - February 9th 2540

Captain Reynolds was being escorted to the Office of Internal Affairs by several ONI Agents. As Reynolds walked down the corridor, towards his destination, a sense of dread came over him. Reynolds was very uneasy about walking into a board of inquiries, as he was a Trust Operative. All it would take is one slip on his part, and he would be exposed. Reynolds did not desire any sort of exposure, especially after his experiences at San Angeles.

As Reynolds approached the large doors, he was stopped by one of the Agents. This caught Reynolds off guard, as he came to an abrupt halt, and glared at the ONI Agent.

ONI Agent: Sir?

Reynolds was silent for a moment before he answered.

Reynolds: Is there a problem?

ONI Agent: No problem, sir. I just wish to relay a message.

Reynolds: Relay a message? From who?

ONI Agent: The powers that be.

Reynolds had a shocked expression on his face, as he looked at the Agent.

Reynolds: Excuse me?

ONI Agent: The message is simple, Captain; help us cross off our enemies. Keep in mind that we DO have our enemies, and we are in a position to cross a few of them off. Captain Sharpmen is one of those people. You are going to be asked about Jacob. We need you to condemn him. We need you to paint him as a traitor to ONI and the UNSC. If Jacob is not dealt with, he could cause serious problems for The Trust.

Reynolds: Jacob is not a traitor, however.

ONI Agent: We know. However, we are trying to paint him as one. We want to get rid of him, and we want ONI to do it for us.

The ONI Agent paused.

ONI Agent: Also, keep in mind that Captain Frost and her crew are also in line to be crossed off. If you can do something about them as well, it would be much appreciated.

Reynolds: So, this is how The Trust deals with its ideological opponents?

The Agent simply laughed.

ONI Agent: We will be watching. Say the right things, and we will be in touch. Consider this to be a test of your loyalty. Pass this test, and we will be in touch. Fail itand

The Agent simply shrugged.

Reynolds: I get the picture.

ONI Agent: Just keep in mind who our enemies are. Nighthawk and Anaconda, ONI, Harrison, Jacob. To prove your loyalty, just be sure to vilify all of them. That being saidgood luck Captain. Break a leg in there!

With that, The Agent stepped away, and opened the door for Reynolds. Reynolds simply glared at the Agent for a moment, before looking at the other three Agents around him. All four of the Agents were silent, and it was as if nothing had ever been said. Reynolds was very nervous, as he had no idea if this was a legitimate test, or a real message. Part of Reynolds wanted to believe that this was, indeed, a message from The Trust, but, he could not shake the feeling that something so underhanded and deceptive could be employed by ONI to try and sniff out traitors. As Reynolds walked into the dark room, and sat down at the desk that was waiting for him, he seriously contemplated informing Director Hand about what had just happened, if only to save face.

Hand: For the record, state your name, rank, service number, and current position.

Hand’s voice caught Reynolds off guard, as he took a moment to compose himself.

Reynolds: Reynolds, Marcus. RankCaptain. Service Number39989-11551-MR. Current positionUNSC Minds Attrition, commanding officer.

Hand: Very good.

Reynolds cleared his throat.

Reynolds: Ma’ambefore we beginI would like to bring something to the attention of this board.

Hand: Proceed.

Reynolds paused, as he cleared his throat.

Reynolds: I feel that I must mention that

Reynolds paused.

Reynolds: That

Reynolds sighed, as he gave further consideration as to what happened. The more he thought about it, the more he realized that this was a covert message from The Trust. Who else knew that he was associated with The Trust? The more Reynolds thought about it, the more he realized that NOBODY knew. Reynolds collected his thoughts for another moment, as he was prompted by Director Hand.

Hand: Captain?

Reynolds: ThatI want to do everything in my power to ensure that we see an expedite resolution to this unfortunate situation. I want to cooperate in any way I can.

Director Hand raised an eyebrow at Reynolds.

Hand: That is to be expected, Captain. However, I appreciate the affirmation.

Hand paused.

Hand: That being said, there is much to discuss. I might we well get us started off.

Hand cleared her throat, as she looked down at the tablet that was in front of her, as she briefly reviewed it.

Hand: Captain Reynoldsin your own words, please provide your insights into The Trust.

Reynolds paused for a moment, as he gathered his thoughts.

Reynolds: Well, I should preface and say that my encounters with The Trust were limited. I am unsure how much insight I can provide.

Hand: The reports indicate that you had an encounter with Deputy Director Yates, as well Dr. Robert Novak – and both of these men have been identified as Trust operatives. In addition, you were present for Admiral Hoffman’s interrogation – another Trust operative. Surely you must have SOME insight.

Reynolds paused for a moment.

Reynolds: Novak and Yates were both very reserved. They kept their defenses up, and they let very little slip by that could be left to interpretation. Hoffman, on the other hand, was easier to get a read on. Hoffman consistently made an effort to deny his involvement with The Trust, despite the fact that we had testimony from Commander Vernette to the contrary.

Hand: Why do you think Hoffman so vehemently denied his involvement with The Trust?

Reynolds: Why wouldn’t he? He had everything to lose by being exposed. One would think that if you are working for a fifth column, you would want to protect that secret at all costs.

Hand gave a shrug, as Reynolds continued.

Reynolds: Now, if you read the reports, you would know that the two people who were certain that Hoffman was a member of The Trust were Nighthawk and Commander Vernette. Those are not very reliable sources, I would agree, but, we cannot forget that it was Fireteam Harmony that captured and detained Hoffman.

Hand: Yes, we also have the reports on that. We are aware of how Hoffman denied being, well, Hoffman. At first, he tried to hide who he was. We know that he tried to play dumb and hide his true identity.

Reynolds: Then you must know that any man capable of lying about his identity is capable of lying about who he is affiliated with. The two go hand in hand.

Hand: A fascinating opinion, Captain. I didn’t think of it that way.

As Hand said this, she looked at Mallorie, and gave a nod; signaling the Commodore to begin the questioning.

Mallorie: Let’s try and start simple, shall we?

Mallorie paused.

Mallorie: Let’s talk about Vanguard.

Reynolds: That is not a subject that I am an expert on. I am not sure if there is much I can offer in terms of information.

Mallorie: I realize that. However, I am still curious as to your thoughts on the matter.

Reynolds paused, as he took a moment to think.

Reynolds: Vanguard was…I guess you could say that Vanguard was The Trust’s trump card. It is what The Trust was, allegedly, after.

Mallorie: That much is known.

Reynolds: Much to my own disapproval, Vanguard became the focal point of every decision that was made near the end of the campaign. Vanguard, something we had very little intel on, became more of a threat than The Covenant. Harrison became more interested in dealing with The Trust and Vanguard, than he did everything else.

Mallorie: You believe that was a mistake?

Reynolds: I believe that The Covenant should have been our concern. However, Harrison was in command, and I followed his orders.

Mallorie: I see.

Mallorie paused.

Mallorie: Captain, did you ever have a chance to speak to your first officer about what she saw under Firebase Mediterranean?

Reynolds: I did,

Mallorie: And even after what she said, you are still convinced that the decision to place priority on The Trust and Vanguard was in error?

Reynolds: Yes.

Reynolds paused.

Reynolds: The fact of the matter is, The Covenant is the enemy. As much as The Trust is contrary to the position of ONI and the UNSC, we must never lose sight of the fact that The Covenant is the single greatest threat ever faced by Humanity, as a whole. Why are we focusing our aggression on other Humans, and ignoring The Covenant? The logic does not work for me.

Mallorie: There was still the issue of Vanguard.

Reynolds: We had no intel on Vanguard. For all we know, it could have been an exaggerated claim, cooked up by Nighthawk and Anaconda. We had no proof that Vanguard was a doomsday weapon. That was supposition, at best.

Mallorie: So you doubt the claims that Vanguard was dangerous?

Reynolds: Very much so.

Reynolds scoffed.

Reynolds: In fact, I am convinced that Nighthawk and Anaconda blew that WAY out of proportion. Nighthawk and Anaconda were the threat. They were the ones who tortured Hoffman. They were the ones who destroyed San Angeles. They are the ones that we should be worried about.

As Skinner fell silent, Wolfgang spoke up, grinning as he did.

Wolfgang: Captain Reynolds

Reynolds simply looked at Wolfgang, as if waiting for him to continue speaking.

Wolfgang: Clarify your position on Nighthawk and Anaconda.

Reynolds: Terroristsmurdererswhat more can I say?

Wolfgang: To the point and precise.

Wolfgang grinned, as he laughed a bit.

Wolfgang: It is funny you think that way. If you so believe this, why did you allow Nighthawk to interrogate Hoffman? Why did you not intervene?

Reynolds: Harrison was calling the shots. He made the call for Nighthawk to interrogate Hoffman. It was not my place to intervene.

Wolfgang: Yes, we know. That is not an answer to MY question. Why did you not stop Nighthawk from getting information out of Hoffman?

Reynolds: What was I supposed to do? Was I supposed to shoot Nighthawk while he tortured Hoffman?

Wolfgang: That is one way of dealing with it. You had ample opportunity to put a bullet in the back of his head while you WATCHED him torture Hoffman.

Reynolds: And then what? All I would be left with is suspicion that I was a Trust operative. I mean, killing the one man who could get useful intel out of Hoffman? It would cast a lot of doubt on me.

Reynolds paused.

Reynolds: Even if I did kill Nighthawk, it would not have stopped anything. Jacob would have still contacted Captain Frost and he still would have given her the assistance she needed to isolate the location of The Ulterior Motive.

Wolfgang: Be that as it may, to say that killing Nighthawk would not have made a difference is wrong. It would have made a huge difference. It would have made all of the difference in the world! Nighthawk is the reason that San Angeles was destroyed.

Reynolds simply sighed.

Wolfgang: Don’t tell me it would not have made a difference. It would have made a difference for the people of San Angeles. It would have made a difference for a lot of people.

Wolfgang paused.

Wolfgang: That is what is wrong with this ENTIRE situation, Captain. Too many people got too comfortable with Nighthawk. The same mistakes kept being made by the same peopleand now we have finally paid for it.

Reynolds: I am aware of that sir. I agreecompletely.

Reynolds paused.

Reynolds: If I had known about Nighthawk’s plan soonerI would have done something. I would have tried to stop him. The fact is, I didn’t know how far he would actually go. I thought his actions would have been limited to little more than an irritating betrayal. I never imaged, at the time, that Nighthawk would destroyed the entire planet. If I had knownI would have made every effort to shut him down.

Reynolds paused.

Reynolds: I want the chance to stop him. I want the chance to make him pay.

Wolfgang: You want to kill Nighthawk?

Reynolds: More than anything. Tens of millions of people died because of that bastard. You are right about one thing Admiral; I did have a chance to take him down, but, I didn’t do it. I want to correct that mistake.

Wolfgang: Perhaps you may get the chance. For now, however, that remains to be seen.

Reynolds: Why is that?

Wolfgang: Part of me still questions if you are completely dedicated to Nighthawk’s elimination. I cannot shake the feeling that some part of you owes him a debt.

Reynolds: In what way?

Wolfgang: It is no secret that he provided the exit strategy for the operation to rescue Lieutenant Commander Cochraine from Covenant hands.

Reynolds: Believe meI hold no deference for that son of a bitch. I do not feel that I owe him a damn thing. Yes, he did provide the exit strategy for the team that rescued my First Officer. I do not deny this fact. That being said, I will not allow that fact to impede me in the future.

Wolfgang: If you say soCaptain

Reynolds frowned, as he looked at Wolfgang.

Reynolds: I am curious Admiralwhat is YOUR motivation for wanting Nighthawk dead? I have never seen a man so passionate about wanting another man dead.

Wolfgang: If you must know, Captain, there are those in ONI who believe in doing the right thing. Not everyone thinks like Captain Frost or Rear-Admiral Vernette. Some of us deserve to wear the uniform. Some of us do not condone the actions of a terrorist because it is convenient.

Wolfgang paused.

Wolfgang: For too long, I have seen officers turn a blind eye to Nighthawk and Anaconda. Frankly, I am sick of it. Killing those two monsters is what drives memotivates me. Passion does not even come close, Captain.

Wolfgang scoffed.

Wolfgang: When an entire planet, and I mean an ENTIRE planet, falls to one man and his beastit has a way of motivating you. Never againCaptain. Never again

Reynolds was taken aback by Wolfgang’s aggressive stance on Nighthawk and Anaconda. Reynolds had to admit that the only time he had ever observed or heard of such anger and hatred towards Nighthawk and Anaconda was from Trust operatives.

Wolfgang: Stopping Nighthawk and Anaconda is the most important thing we will ever do Captain. I want to be the man who brings that about. After San Angelesit is no longer about The Trust, or The Covenant. The single greatest threat to Humanity IS Nighthawk and Anaconda. Nighthawk proved one thing with his stunt on San Angeles; it is that he has the technological capability to destroy an entire planet faster and more efficiently than The Covenant does. If there is even a remote chance that he could do that again, we have to take it as an absolute certainty that he WILL do it again.

Winters interjected.

Winters: That is very debatable, Vice-Admiral. Nighthawk and Anaconda is a threat, yes, but they pale in comparison to The Covenant. The sheer amount of destruction caused by The Covenant exceeds anything that Nighthawk and Anaconda have done, and that includes San Angeles. We lost one planet to Nighthawk and Anaconda. We have lost dozens to The Covenant.

Wolfgang: If you say soGeneral

Winters sighed, as he looked at Reynolds, and gathered his thoughts.

Winters: Captain Reynolds, could you please elaborate on your conversations with Deputy-Director Yates and Doctor Robert Novak? Your reports did not detail these encounters very thoroughly.

Reynolds: There was not much that transpired. I was simply offered the opportunity to expedite Lieutenant Commander Cochraine’s recovery. I took advantage of the offer.

Winters: Why?

Reynolds: At the timethey were ONI, or so I thought. I had no reason to doubt what seemed like a genuine offer.

Winters: Fair enough.

Winters paused.

Winters: What was discussed? According to Lieutenant Commander Cochraineyou had a discussion with both men while she was under-going treatment.

Reynolds paused as he thought about his answer.

Reynolds: Yates and I spoke about the threat of The Covenant to San Angeles. He asked for my input on certain strategies. He asked me about Harrison’s upcoming tactical plans, and he inquired about the current situation in the UNSC ranks. Beyond thatnothing else was discussed.

Reynolds sighed, as he knew he was omitting numerous facts about a discussion about Vanguard, as well as the nature of The Trust. However, Reynolds saw no reason to reveal this information to an ONI board of inquiries. Reynolds also knew that The Trust was no doubt watching, with great interest, to see how he would hold up under questioning.

Winters: What about Novak? Did you get anything from him?

Reynolds: No. Our conversation, if you could call it that, was very brief. He had very little to say to me. He only seemed singularly interested in carrying out the medical procedure that had been agreed upon for my first Officer. He didn’t care about anything else.

Winters thought for a moment before giving a firm nod.

Winters: So, what you are saying is that as far as The Trust is concerned, you got nothing of strategic value.

Reynolds: I would not classify any of my exchanges with Yates or Novak as strategically valuable, no.

Winters sighed, as he looked down at a tablet that was sitting on the desk in front of him.

Winters: How unfortunate for ONI. ONI could have made use of that intel.

Reynolds paused for a moment, as he gathered his thoughts.

Reynolds: With respects to this committee, I must be frank in what I am about to say; between Admiral Harrison and Captain Frostbetween The Trust and ONIbetween Jacob and NighthawkI was an unwilling participant in a gong show I wanted nothing to do with. I was at San Angeles to do ONE thing; fight The Covenant. Instead of fighting The Covenant, I was to deal with traitors, like Hoffman.

Winters interjected.

Winters: That is still a presumptuous claim. We have not had the chance to interview Hoffman, yet, we are sitting here and playing commentary on his actions. We cannot allow reasonable assumptions to come before formal interrogation.

Reynolds: Hoffman was interrogated at the behest of Admiral Harrison, and the deed was done by Nighthawk. Hoffman spilled the beans, and he admitted that he was a member of The Trust.

Winters: No, he was tortured. There was no interrogation. There was only one terrorist threating bodily harm on a person of interest. Hoffman should have been dealt with by ONI. The very fact that a non-designate got his hands on Hoffman tells me that there was very little regard for proper procedure.

Reynolds did not respond right away. He felt very uncomfortable in this line of discussion, given his own allegiances. However, he knew he had to say something that would appease ONI, and any Trust operative that may have been listening.

Reynolds: What Nighthawk did was unacceptable; criminal even

Reynolds paused.

Reynolds: However, Admiral Harrison believed that allowing Nighthawk to get his hands on Hoffman was the, overall, best chance to strike at The Trust. I did not fully agree with the decision or the methods, but, Harrison was not interested in a dissenting opinion at the time. Harrison wanted to strike at The Trust, and he was willing to do what was necessary, even if that meant working with Nighthawk.

Winters: Be that as it may, we should leave further speculation about Hoffman out of this. We will determine, with appropriate questioning, where Hoffman’s loyalties reside. There will be no more speculation and innuendo where he is concerned. Leave Hoffman to us.

Winters paused for a moment.

Winters: That being said, why did Harrison allow Hoffman to be mistreated at the hands of Nighthawk?

Reynolds: That is a question for Admiral Harrison.

Winters: Let me rephrase; why do you THINK Harrison allowed Hoffman to be mistreated at the hands of Nighthawk?

Reynolds: Harrison was desperate. One of his best men had turned coat. Nighthawk was on a warpath. Harrison needed to act in order to keep his house of cards together. Harrison needed Nighthawk’s intel, whether he would admit it or not, and he needed to find the truth about Jacob. Hoffman was simply an unwilling participant in Harrison’s attempts to keep order.

Winters: I see

Winters paused, as he looked at the PDA that was in front of him.

Winters: You said Harrison needed to know the truth about Jacob. Why did not come forward with the fact that you were communicating with Jacob when he was with The Trust? Do you not think that with-holding that kind of information was a bad idea?

Reynolds: Jacob contacted me, I did not contact him. I responded to him, yes, but, I never sought to communicate with him. My correspondence was reactive, not proactive. It is important to recognize that fact. Furthermore, it would have looked very bad if I came forward and said that I was in contact with Jacob; who was, at the time, a traitor and a Trust operative as far as ONI was concerned. It would have brought upon undue suspicion.

Winters: I still do not understand why you did NOT volunteer this information.

Reynolds: I did not want to come forward with useless intel. Saying that I am communicating with Jacob is a lot less helpful than saying that I have relevant strategic info. I was more interested in playing the field, and seeing if I could catch useful intel, something that would help us. I gave no sensitive information to Jacob in our few correspondence, so I fail to see how this is relevant at all.

Winters: Your reports say that Jacob proclaimed his innocence, even going so far as to reveal his true intentions to you, as far as his little plot was concerned. Why did you not come forward with this? Harrison would have liked to know this, I am sure.

Reynolds: No evidence to back it up; just Jacob’s word. At the time, Jacob’s word was valueless. If I would have come forward with that, it could have introduced uncertainty and doubt into an already troubled situation. In my estimation, that would have done more harm than good. It could have led to unpredictable results.

Winters paused, as he used his right hand to rub his chin. Winters was silent for a few moments, before he finally shrugged.

Winters: Well, Captainyou seem to know how to play the game, quite well, if I say so myself.

Reynolds: Sir?

Winters: You knew what to say, and when to say it. You knew what NOT to say. I have to admitthat is well played. You handled that curveball as good as anyone could have hoped to.

Reynolds was a bit skeptical of Skinner’s overall response. Something was not right. Something about Skinner did not seem to fit, but, Reynolds could not put his finger on exactly what it was.

Winters: You played it safe, Captain. I can appreciate that. You were not in an easy situation, I will admit. However, I think when it is all considered, you did the best you could. I have no further questions on the matter.

Skinner interjected.

Skinner: It seems you did very little of that, unfortunately. It is unfortunate that you seldom did battle with The Covenant, and more often did battle with The Trust.

Reynolds: The UNSC personnel got dragged into the fight with The Trust. I got dragged into it.

Skinner paused, as he examine the reports on his tablet.

Skinner: You got dragged into a matter of internal security, Captain, but, that is semantics. That does not matter.

Skinner paused.

Skinner: What does matter is how you went about your engagements with The Covenant. You wanted to focus on The Covenant, so, I say we focus on The Covenant. I am curious as to why you sent your first officer on a ground mission? According to her dossier, she was not

Skinner paused.

Skinner: How should I put this?

Skinner paused for another moment.

Skinner: Capable enoughto coordinate such a delicate mission.

Reynolds: Excuse me? Did you just insinuate that my first officer was incapable of handing ground ops?

Skinner: She WAS captured.

Reynolds scoffed.

Reynolds: I do not appreciate what you are implying, Commodore. My first officer is VERY capable. I believe she proved that beyond a shadow of a doubt when she took to the surface against The Trust during the offensive at Firebase Mediterranean. That being said, she MORE than proved it when she was sent to retrieve Captain Sharpmen from the bowels of Firebase Mediterranean.

Reynolds paused.

Reynolds: If The Covenant put up a good offensive when my first officer was captured, that does not mean my first officer is incapable of handling herself in a combat scenario.

Skinner: So, you defend your decision to send Cochraine to the surface to coordinate the initial evac? You believe her to be competent?

Reynolds: Absolutely.

Skinner: So, then I cannot question you on her competence. However, I can question you on your motives. Why did you send Cochraine to coordinate the evac? Why does the first officer need to leave the ship to coordinate an evac?

Reynolds: I needed someone familiar with command. Most of my senior frontline teams were already deployed to the front lines, and they were holding the line against the Covenant. Cochraine was available, so I assigned her to oversee the teams I had assigned to evac. I was not prepared to put holes in the front lines for evac duties.

Skinner: So, you sent your first officer.

Reynolds: Correct.

Skinner folded his arms, as he glared at Reynolds.

Skinner: So it was a manpower shortage?

Reynolds: That is one way of saying it.

Skinner grinned, as he looked at her tablet.

Skinner: Alright. Fair enough Captain. I think I see why you sent her. However, your reasons do not excuse what had to be done to retrieve her from Covenant possession. I am curious, do you believe that Cochraine’s life was worth the deployment of a Spartan asset?

Reynolds: I never requested a Spartan. I got lucky on that one. Captain Frost assigned Spartan Z-091 to the extraction, but, I never requested a Spartan.

Skinner: You didn’t refuse a Spartan asset either. That Spartan could have been deployed to the front lines, helping with the evac. Instead, he ended up running an extraction op. A waste of a Spartan deployment, if you ask me.

Reynolds looked at Skinner with a slanted eye, as he contemplated what he had just heard.

Reynolds: A Spartan deployment is never wasted, sir.

Skinner: I beg to differ. Our losses outweighed our gains. Spartan Z-091 was accompanied by several other ONI marines, and all of those Marines were KIA, in order to save one Officer. The only other person to make it out of there was Commander Vernette.

Skinner paused.

Skinner: Had that operation never of happened, the only casualty would have been Lieutenant Cochraine. The carpet bombing would have still happened, but, a few more Marines would still be alive today. It seems to me that we traded a number of lives to save one.

Reynolds: I don’t know what your point is, sir, but, I find this line of discussion to be very disrespectful. The gall it takes to sit there and call my first officer a waste of a Spartan Deployment blows my mind. How dare you try and diminish the value of my first officer. That is so utterly uncalled for! It is utterly disrespectful. It is in such poor taste, that I doubt you could find it in yourself to say this garbage to my first officer’s face.

Reynolds scoffed.

Reynolds: I don’t know what your method is, but, it makes me sick to my stomach.

Skinner: Captain Reynolds; my job is to probe the events at San Angeles; to help evaluate the decisions that were made. Your actions are not exempt from this investigation, and believe me, we are going to put you under serious scrutiny. I am trying to determine if trading the lives of Marines was worth the life of Lieutenant Commander Cochraine.

Reynolds scoffed, as he was ready to rebuttal. However, he stopped when he saw Everet raise his hand, as if to preemptively silence Reynolds.

Everet: Captain Reynolds, before you say something you may regret, take a breath, and count to five. The last thing you need is to be held in contempt.

Reynolds scoffed, but he stood down.

Everet: I think it would serve everyone’s best interest if we change the topic of questioning for the time being. We can come back to this topic at a later time, once we have all had a chance to relax. There is plenty more that needs to be discussed, and our time is finite.

Skinner glared at Everet, and gave him a nasty look. Everet looked back at Skinner, as he tried to diffuse the situation.

Everet: Sirnothing will be gained by continually antagonizing Captain Reynolds the way you are.

Skinner frowned.

Skinner: I beg to differ.

Everet: Well, sir, I am asking we that we try and focus our efforts onto another topic for now. That was getting too heated, and we don’t need that at this time. We need to let cooler heads prevail. We need answers, notwhatever it is you were doing.

Skinner scoffed.

Skinner: Very well, Everethave it your way. However, make no mistake, I plan on resuming this line of questioning, if not today, than in the coming days.

Everet: Of course, sir.

Everet sighed, as he turned his attention back to Reynolds.

Everet: Now, Captain Reynolds, let’s change the subject.

Everet paused, as he took a look at the tablet that was in front of him.

Everet: Let’s talk about the other officers you had contact with. I am curious about your working relationship with some of them.

Everet paused for a moment to collect his thoughts.

Everet: What are your thoughts on Captain Frost? Surely you must have something to say about her after what you have all been through.

Reynolds: She is ONI.

Everet looked at Reynolds, as if he was expecting more.

Reynolds: She is gutless. I do not believe that she is a capable leader, at least, not one that espouses the values of the UNSC. Her deference for Nighthawk makes her a liability, and her propensity for putting the lives of her own people above the overall greater good makes her a liability.

Everet: Harsh words. Care to explain?

Reynolds: She is gutless. The very fact that she started a firefight on the Vigorous Inferno proves that. The moment she could not get her way, she stabbed us in the back. Frost, and her lapdogs, wounded a lot of good people in that stunt.

Reynolds paused.

Reynolds: She helped Nighthawk procure the weapon that destroyed San Angeles. Noshe did much worse; she supplied the weapon to Nighthawk The slipspace core that was used, by Nighthawk, was supplied by Captain Frost. This is a woman who is blinded by her own fixation with Nighthawk; more willing to help him than her own comrades in arms.

Reynolds shook his head.

Reynolds: She is a disgrace to the uniform.

Everet was taken aback by the way Reynolds had torn into Captain Frost.

Everet: You really don’t like her

Reynolds: I don’t like her, and I do not like her lapdogs. Commander Vernette is a liar. Spartan Z-091 is a pawn. Commander Burke is complicit. That entire crew consists of drones and liars. I dare say that most of went wrong at San Angeles can be placed at the feet of Captain Frost, her crew, and Nighthawk and Anaconda. If it were not for Frost’s total ineptitude in dealing with Nighthawk and Anaconda, things would have been MUCH different.

Everet: I see

Everet paused for a moment, as he looked at his tablet.

Everet: I am curious on what your thoughts are on Vice-Admiral Harrison.

Reynolds: I do not blame Harrison for what happen. Like me, he was intentionally left in the dark, as much as possible, when it came to ONIthat isCaptain Frost. Harrison and I did our best. We did not always see eye to eye, but we both did our best in a touch situation; a situation controlled by ONI and The Trust.

Reynolds sighed.

Reynolds: I should not blame ONI. I realize that not everyone in ONI is like Captain Frost. I realize that there are those in ONI who see the bigger picture, who prefer to be remembered for more than just keeping secrets. There are those in ONI, the unsung heroes of Humanity that actually want to save Humanity. It is not my intent to paint ONI with such a broad stroke; to liken everyone to Captain Frost

Everet: I am well aware of that. I think that much is clear.

Everet paused.

Everet: I believe what you are saying, Captain. HoweverI need to know something

Everet paused.

Everet: Did it ever occur to you that you should take action in order to stop Nighthawk?

Reynolds: Independent action?

Everet: Yes.

Reynolds: I considered it, but, I never had the chance to carry it out. With Captain Frost in his pocket, Nighthawk was a very tough man to oppose. While I admit to this being the first time I have ever met him, I had heard enough rumors about him to know that a direct confrontation with him could prove to be fatal.

Reynolds paused.

Reynolds: In an ideal situation, I would have given the order to have him killed. Sadlythat ideal situation never came.

Reynolds scoffed.

Reynolds: There was ONE time when I had a shot, and that was shortly after the engagement at the Apex Applied Research Facility. After Anaconda was captured, Nighthawk was alone. Like I told Admiral Wolfgang; I could have killed Nighthawk while he was interrogating Hoffman, but, it was not an ideal situation. Tensions and suspicions were too high.

Reynolds sighed.

Reynolds: However, if I ever get the chance to kill Nighthawk in the future, I am going to make things right.

Everet: You never know, Captain. Sometimes the hand of fate has a way of giving us a second chance. You may get yours.

Everet paused.

Everet: That being said, I am forced to ask

Everet grinned.

Everet: I am curious as to what your opinion on Jacob Sharpmen is. I mean, you have voiced your thoughts on almost everyone. I wish to hear your own personal thoughts on Jacob.

Reynolds: I have already spoken my piece on Jacob.

Everet: You spoke about your contact with him. I am curious as to what your own thoughts are of Jacob. Surely you must have an opinion.

Reynolds: Jacob isfoolhardy. His decision to join The Trust, and the subsequent back peddling, left much to be desired as a method. I don’t believe he fully thought out his plan, and I believe he was terribly unprepared for what his decision entailed.

Everet: What do you believe was his true motive for joining The Trust?

Reynolds: Honestly, I have no idea, for sure. Jacob claimed that it was for intel, but, I do not believe that completely. I feel that there was more to it.

Reynolds paused.

Reynolds: I personally feel that there was a part of Jacob that wanted to join The Trust, if only to find like-minded people with whom he could relate his hatred of Nighthawk with. If there was one thing that was obvious, it was that ONI, under Captain Frost, had no intention of stepping on Nighthawk’s toes. This was, without a doubt, a very frustrating reality for Jacob. As such, I feel that this was a huge factor in Jacob’s decisions.

Reynolds paused.

Reynolds: As for his back peddling, I can only assume that once Jacob saw The Trust for what it really was, he simply didn’t have the stomach for it.

Everet: Clarify.

Reynolds: Jacob turned back to ONI when he discovered the truth about Vanguard. At least, this was Jacob’s explanation. Suffice to say, it is my opinion that whatever Vanguard was, whatever its intent was, and whatever The Trust’s plans wereit did not jive with Jacob on an ideological level. I think in the grand scheme of things, Jacob made a moral judgement call, comparing two evils, and choosing the lesser. His sudden desire to help Anaconda escape from Trust captivity proves this. His role in helping ONI pinpoint the exact location of The Ulterior Motive, his willingness to surrender, and his openness about the intel he collected all prove that he saw ONI as the lesser of two evilshe saw Nighthawk and Anaconda as the lesser of two evils.

Everet: What you are saying? Are you saying that if Jacob never had contact with Vanguard, he might have remained loyal to The Trust? Is this correct?

Reynolds: It is a distinct possibility. Vanguard is the reason he back peddled to begin with. I mean, it is possible that he was undercover, but, the more I look back on it, the more likely and more reasonable it is to assume that his first intent was treason. I believe that, at heart, Jacob was a traitor. He should be treated as such.

Everet: So Jacob is a traitor?

Reynolds: Jacob is a traitor.

Reynolds scoffed.

Reynolds: In fact, I dare say that Captain Frost is JUST as much of a traitor as Jacob. While Jacob turned to The Trust, Captain Frost turned to a terrorist. A competent terrorist, but a terrorist all the same. I believe that she is also a traitor, and she, and her entire crew, should share in Jacob’s fate.

Everet grinned at Reynolds. Reynolds, on the other hand, simply glared at Everet. As silence overcame the room, Everet began to laugh.

Everet: I will say this much Captain, you sure know how to condemn someone. Thank you. I have no further questions.

As Everet said this, Crown stepped in, and began to speak.

Crown: Captain Reynoldsare you aware that this very same committee has placed a reprimand on Lieutenant Commander Cochraine’s record?

Reynolds raised an eyebrow in interest.

Reynolds: Why was that done?

Crown: Well, as I am sure you know, Lieutenant Commander Cochraine played a role in helping Nighthawk destroy San Angeles. I am sure you are aware of how she chose to save Nighthawk’s life and return Captain Sharpmen back to ONI, just as Captain Sharpmen was about to cross Nighthawk off?

Reynolds: Yes, I am aware of this. It was my understanding that her reasoning was based on the fact that she felt that Nighthawk was the most qualified to fight Vanguard.

Crown: I am curious if you believe that as much as she does. She stands by her decision to give Nighthawk his shot at Vanguard. I am curious if you support her decision.

Reynolds: I will always stand by my first officer, no matter what. I have learned to have faith in her abilities and her decisions. She is a good officer, and a good woman.

Reynolds paused.

Reynolds: As much as I hate Nighthawk, I will admit that Nighthawk had an incredible amount of intel on Vanguard that we did not. It is not unreasonable to call him a subject matter expert on Vanguard. If there was someone who was capable of stopping Vanguard, I suppose it would be Nighthawkand Anaconda, I guess. I guess you could also say that if there was ONE thing that could kill Nighthawk and Anaconda, it would be Vanguard.

Reynolds paused.

Reynolds: Those are just the facts. Nighthawk was the best suited to stop Vanguard, and Nighthawk would not let anything stand in the way of his ultimate goal.

Reynolds scoffed.

Reynolds: As much as I dislike Nighthawk for what he did, I have to give credit where credit is due. He was, without any doubt, the most knowledgeable of Vanguard. He was the only one who could stop it. If Vanguard is dead, then Nighthawk is the one responsible for that.

Reynolds scoffed.

Reynolds: Unfortunatelywe will never know the true fate of Vanguard.

Crown sighed, as he shifted in his chair, and glanced at his tablet. After a moment, he began to speak again.

Crown: Captain Reynolds, you views on Nighthawk seem very consistent with everyone we have spoken to thus far.

Reynolds: The truth tends to be consistent when it is spoken.

Crown: If the choice was yours, what would you have done? Would you have made the same call as Captain Frost? Would you have ordered your first officer to subjugate Jacob, as opposed to Nighthawk?

Reynolds: I would have given the order to kill them both. Neither of them deserve to live. It is pretty obvious why I would want to kill Nighthawk. As for Jacob, I think I was clear when I said that I believe that Jacob, at his core, wanted to join The Trust, if only to satisfy his need to find likeminded people in which he could share his hatred with Nighthawk. He is a traitor.

Crown: So, you would have killed them both? What about Vanguard? What would you have done about it? You said it yourself, Nighthawk was the expert. Without Nighthawk, there was no stopping Vanguard.

Reynolds: I never said that. I said Nighthawk was the best shot, not the only one.

Reynolds paused.

Reynolds: I would have searched for an alternative to Nighthawk. I would not have allowed Nighthawk, or Jacob for that matter, to have ANY role in ANY plan or course of action that was taken. Both of those men, as far as I am concerned, are pariahsthreats to the greater good.

Reynolds paused.

Reynolds: To be frank, after what I saw between the two of them, I am forced to concede that The Trust is the least of our worries. Nighthawk destroyed an entire planet, and Jacob betrayed his loyalties to the UNSC, and killed without remorse. To be clear; had I of been calling the shots, I would have made sure that the first thing I did was kill Nighthawk and Anaconda. As for what I would have done with Jacobwe all know the penalty for treason.

Director Hand glared at Reynolds and scoffed at him. She did not like his commentary on the dangers of The Trust. Hand was so indignant about the comment, she interjected before Crown could continue speaking.

Hand: For a man who had no problem covertly communicating with Jacob when he was with The Trust, you have certainly changed your views.

Reynolds: Like I said, the more I thought about it, the more I realized that Jacob was a traitor. Jacob betrayed us, plain and simple.

Hand: I must say, Captain, you don’t seem too concerned about The Trust. How can you possibly sit there and claim that The Trust is less of a threat than Nighthawk and Anaconda? You are speaking about an organization that is masquerading as ONI, and you have decreed that they are less of a threat than one man, and an alien? That is a very dangerous assertion to make, Captain.

Wolfgang scoffed at Director Hand, as he shook his head.

Wolfgang: I disagree, Director. I think Captain Reynolds has touched on something that we have all considered at one point, or another. Frankly, I am in firm agreement with Captain Reynolds that Nighthawk and Anaconda are greater threats to Humanity than The Trust is. Let’s not forget who destroyed San Angeles.

Crown interjected.

Crown: I have to agree with Wolfgang and Reynolds. Nighthawk, in my opinion, is a much greater threat than The Trust could ever hope to be. I think the sooner we realize that, the sooner we can actually start doing something about thisterrorist.

Reynolds: My thoughts exactly. That is what I have come to believe as well.

Hand took a deep breath, as she let out an exasperated sigh. After she did this, Crown cleared his throat, and began to speak again.

Crown: If I may, I want to try and steer this conversation back on course.

Crown paused.

Crown: So, Captain Reynolds, just to reiterate; you would have, if the choice was yours, crossed off both Captain Sharpmen and Nighthawk and Anaconda?

Reynolds: Yes.

Crown: Any you believe that The Trust is less of a threat than Nighthawk and Anaconda?

Reynolds: Yes. Any one man that can destroy an entire planet with little more than a slipspace drive core is a threat; paramount to all, bar none.

Crown nodded at Reynolds.

Crown: Alright, Captain. I have no further questions.

Crown then looked at Director Hand.

Crown: What is the call, Director?

Hand looked at Crown, and then at Reynolds, as she sighed once more.

Hand: Captain Reynoldsyou are dismissed. This panel will discuss what you have told us here, and we will inform you if we believe further questioning is needed.

Hand looked to the back of the room, as she gestured her hand, and pointed at Reynolds.

Hand: Agentsplease bring Captain Reynolds back to his room.

Reynolds stood up, as he was surrounded by several ONI Agents. Without saying a word, Reynolds was escorted out of the tribunal room by the ONI Agents. As Reynolds stepped into the corridor, and walked alongside the ONI Agents, he let out an exasperated sigh. Much to Reynold’s surprise, however, one of the Agents began to speak.

ONI Agent: You did well in there, Captain.

Reynolds looked at the ONI Agent that spoke up with a hint of curiosity.

Reynolds: Says who?

The ONI Agent simply laughed.

ONI Agent: Rest assured, Captainwe will be in touch. Once this inquiry is all said and done, and once ONI has moved onto its next bone to chew on, you will be getting your first assignment. We have a situation that we believe you may be able to resolve for us. It is delicate, but, we feel that it is right up your alley.

Reynolds: Understood.

The ONI Agent gave a nod.

ONI Agent: Trust me, you won’t be here much longer.

Reynolds: I gathered as much. If I may make one request, however

Reynolds paused.

Reynolds: I need my first officer. If you are going to send me on an assignment, I need Lauran with me.

ONI Agent: She isn’t one of us. She could compromise the entire operation.

Reynolds: I know, but, I still care about her well being. If you could organize it, so she is released from this hell hole…I would appreciate it.

The ONI Agent paused, and sighed.

ONI Agent: I will send the request up the chain of command. If we get the order, we will get Cochraine out of this inquiry. The right people will make the right calls in order to absolve Cochraine of any further involvement in ONI’s inquiry into the events on San Angeles. As it stands, however, she is deemed a non-asset.

Reynolds paused, as he considered what was just said to him.

Reynolds: I need to know something; who is really behind this inquiry? Is it ONI or The Trust?

The ONI Agent shrugged.

ONI Agent: Both. Not every senior ONI Officer works for ONI. Some of them can pull the necessary strings to make an inquiry happen. ONI then carries out the inquiry.

Reynolds: What is the point of the inquiry then? Isn’t that a bitdangerous? Doesn’t The Trust risk further harm? What if someone talks?

ONI Agent: The damage has already been done. We knew the day would come when we would be exposed. We were exposed on San Angeles. Spender was exposed. Yates was exposed. Kolya was exposed. The list goes on and on. The fact is, ONI, as a whole now knows we exist, so, we need to cripple ONI.

The ONI Agent paused.

ONI Agent: Hence, the inquiry. We have enough influence to drag out this charade for a long time; grounding our biggest threats and effectively putting them into limbo. Additionally, we tie up ONI resources with a pointless endeavor that amounts to a waste of time and resources. By doing this, we make it easier to conduct our operations.

Reynolds: Influence? Are you talking about the officers on the board of inquiries?

ONI Agent: Perhaps.

Reynolds glared at the ONI Officer.

Reynolds: How far does this go? Howentrenched is The Trust?

ONI Agent: We have operatives everywhere, in every corner, on every planet, in every facility, at every clearance level, on every ship. We go far enough, and we are going further.

The ONI Agent paused.

ONI Agent: Ever since San Angeles was destroyed, we have gained sympathy through hostility towards Nighthawk and Anaconda. There are a lot of disillusioned ONI Officers out there, right now, who want nothing more than to get their shot at Nighthawk and Anaconda, and they will do anything to get it.

Reynolds: You are using San Angeles as a catalyst to recruit into the ranks?

ONI Agent: Precisely. It is working quite well, to be frank. I guess Nighthawk and Anaconda were useful afterall.

Reynolds: You are removing your enemies, you are recruiting, and you are consolidating power. The Trust clearly has an endgame.

ONI Agent: We do

The ONI Agent paused.

ONI Agent: And you will be a part of it, Captain. That endgame is quickly coming.

Reynolds: How long?

ONI Agent: That depends on the powers that be. Though, if the rumors are to be believed, then I would say 6-8 months before the endgame begins. We have plans in motion to begin, shall we say, the necessary transition.

Reynolds: What is the endgame?

ONI Agent: Revolution. We are taking over. No more shadows, and no more hiding. This has been 30 years in the making, and it is finally going to happen.

The ONI Agent paused, as he stopped in front of a door that lead to Captain Reynolds temporary accommodations at The Citadel. The ONI Agent used a key card to open the door, and allowed Reynolds to walk inside.

ONI Agent: Just be ready when the time comes, Captain. When it does happen, the world in which we live is going to changeforever.

Reynolds: Just do one thing for me; get Lauren out of this circus. She does not deserve this. She does not deserve to be put on trial for follow the orders of someONI dog.

ONI Agent: I will see what I can do. I make no promises, but, I will make every effort to try and get the brass on board for this one. I will relay what you have said to the powers that be. It is the best I can do.

Reynolds nodded, as the ONI Agent turned, and walked away, letting the door close; leaving Reynolds by himself in his room. Once the door had closed, Reynolds took a deep breath, and sighed, as he began to pace around the room. As Reynolds paced around the room, he replayed his entire questioning back in his head, and went over every answer he gave with a fine tooth comb. While Reynolds was fairly confident in the answers he gave, he could not shake the feeling that he may have let something slip that could compromise him.

To make matters worse, Reynolds still had very vivid memories of what had happened to Hoffman at San Angeles. Reynolds could not shake the feeling that someday he might have to endure what Hoffman had endured at the hands of Nighthawk. Had it not been for the fact that Reynolds was now passed the point of no return as far as his involvement with The Trust was concerned, he would have no problem walking away from The Trust, if only to avoid Hoffman’s fate. However, Reynolds knew that his fate, along with the fate of his first officer, ultimately depended on The Trust, and he could not simply walk away from what he had got himself in to. Reynolds had to see this through to the end.

However, if there was one things Reynolds did not feel uncertain about, it was his dislike for the way ONI handled San Angeles. Reynolds was disgusted with how Captain Frost had hidden and lied about so much during the course of San Angeles. Reynolds was disgusted with the fact that Frost had so much sympathy and tolerance for Nighthawk. Reynolds was disgusted by how Frost had ordered her subordinates to turn hostile on Harrison, if only to put Hoffman back into the hands of Nighthawk. Most of all, Reynolds was very disgusted by the fact that Frost made no effort to stop Nighthawk’s plan to destroy San Angeles. As far as Reynolds was concerned, the disaster at San Angeles was as much ONI’s fault, as it was Nighthawk’s. This reason alone seemed to put Reynold’s mind at ease with any lingering dilemma concerning his involvement with The Trust.

Reynolds stopped pacing, as he stood still for a moment, before letting out an exasperated sigh.

Reynolds: This all better be worth it in the end.

Reynolds hung his head, as he sat down in a nearby chair, and pinched the bridge of his nose. Reynolds didn’t want to think about his current situation any more than he had to. However, with so little to do to keep his mind occupied, Reynold’s could not keep his mind from idly wandering. If one thing was clear to Reynolds by this point, it was that until he was permitted to leave the Citadel, he would continue to dwell upon the disaster at San Angeles.

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Midnight – The Citadel – Gamma Wing – ONI Debriefing Room Alpha AKA: The Black Room – 0900 Hours - February 10th 2540

Cameron, along with a dozen ONI Agents, walked through the corridors of Epsilon Wing, as they made their way towards The Black Room. Much to Cameron’s chagrin, ONI had recently confiscated Cameron’s Mjolnir armor. As such, he was forced to present himself in a standard issue ONI Uniform. Cameron could not understand why his armor was confiscated, but, he was certain that the reasons for confiscating hid armor were the same for why he had such a heavily armed, and unusually large, security detail escorting him around The Citadel. As much as Cameron wanted to understand ONI’s reasoning, he knew that there was something much more serious on the agenda, and he knew that ONI would not be interested in anything that WASN’T San Angeles.

As Cameron and the ONI Agents stopped infront of a large door that lead to the Black Room, one of the ONI Agents looked at Cameron, and began to speak.

ONI Agent: Proceed inside and

Cameron scoffed.

Cameron: I know the drill. I don’t need instruction in this matter.

The ONI Agent paused for a moment, before he opened the large doors, and allowed Cameron to enter The Black Room. Cameron, being with ONI, knew very well what typically went down in The Black Room, and he was no stranger to the procedures that took place in this room. Without skipping a beat, Cameron wasted no time in walking into The Black Room, and getting himself seated in the center of the room. As Cameron sat down, he was addressed by Director Hand.

Hand: Spartan Z-091welcome home.

Cameron: Midnight does not feel like home right now, Ma’am.

Director Hand sighed.

Hand: I understand your displeasure with your current situation. However, this board voted to take additional security precautions with “augmented” personnel.

Cameron scoffed, as he refused to dignify the statement with a response.

Hand: Spartando you understand why you are here?

Cameron: Yes, and I would prefer to get it over with.

Hand: Very well

Hand paused, as she looked at Wolfgang, and nodded at him.

Wolfgang: Spartanthere is one question that is everyones mind, and this question is begging to be asked; what the hell were you thinking when you decided to fight alongside Nighthawk and Anaconda? Given their history of violence against Class-0 Spartansdid you EVER stop and think about what you were getting yourself into?

Cameron: I did. It was the first thing I did when they entered the playing field. I know damn well that Nighthawk and Anaconda always have an agenda. However, I did not have much to worry about.

Wolfgang: Why?

Cameron: I don’t work for The Trust. I work for ONI. Nighthawk knows this, so, he leaves me alone. His words, not mine.

Wolfgang: Andhow does he know whom works for ONI and who works for The Trust? Where is he getting his intel?

Cameron: I don’t know, nor do I care.

Wolfgang: You should care, Spartan. This son of a bitch is killing yourfamily.

Cameron: The other Class 0 Spartans? My family? With all due respects Admiralyour knowledge of what it means to be a Spartan amounts to a zero sum. Do not lecture me on family. I was not taught to believe in family. I was taught to believe in my duty to ONI. Anyone who betrays that duty will just as quickly die by my hands, as they would Nighthawk and Anaconda’s.

Cameron shook his head.

Cameron: I feel no sense of loss for the Class-0s that defected to The Trust, and died for it. They had it coming.

Wolfgang scowled at Cameron.

Wolfgang: All of that aside, you still failed to do your duty in stopping Nighthawk and Anaconda. Were you not aware that ONI has been hunting those two for some time now?

Cameron: I did not forget. I simply chose to ignore that directive. In my opinion, it would be a mistake to prioritize the elimination of Nighthawk and Anaconda over a Covenant invasion. Nighthawk and Anaconda helped us battle The Covenant. They helped us battle The Trust. They helped us with exit strategies, and they provided us with necessary intel. To eliminate such a valuable asset would be foolish.

Wolfgang: Yet, that valuable asset destroyed an entire planet, and killed millions of innocent people. Nighthawk and Anaconda did more damage than The Covenant did. Care to demonstrate the mental gymnastics necessary to defend that?

Cameron: There is no defending that. What Nighthawk did to San Angeles was egregious. It was morally reprehensible, and it was wrong. I doubt there is a single person who would defend his decision to destroy San Angeles. However, there was a great evil buried under San Angeles, and The Trust woke it up. To say that what Nighthawk did was without cause would be false. I choose to call it asset denial. ONI should be very familiar with that term.

Wolfgang: Asset denial

Wolfgang scoffed.

Wolfgang: Asset denial is when you destroy your own facility to prevent it from falling into enemy hands. Asset denial is when you destroy an AI to protect it from The Covenant. San Angeles was not asset denial

Wolfgang paused.

Wolfgang: It was something MUCH more.

Cameron: Are you telling me what you want to hear? It was my understanding that I was here to answer questions, not hear what you think.

Wolfgang stood up, and glared at Cameron.

Wolfgang: How dare you. You have no right to speak to me that waySpartan.

Cameron: I would not have to if you didn’t find it necessary to start spewing your own personal beliefs. I am here to be questioned. I allowed myself to be brought here. Question meor I am leaving.

Wolfgang: Leaving? You can’t leave.

Cameron: Want to bet? Armor or no armor, you will have a hell of a time keeping me here. You want to see why I was put in charge of the other Class-0 Spartans? I am more than happy to demonstrate. I warn you in advance, however; ONI better have a damn good contractor on hand to renovate this room after I am done with it.

Wolfgang scoffed at Cameron; shocked at the total disrespect coming from a Class-0m Spartan, of all people. Wolfgang was going to verbally tear down Cameron, but, he was stopped by Director Hand.

Hand: Wolfgangsit down!

Wolfgang took a moment to comply, before he finally sat down. Once he was seating, he took a moment to compose himself, before he cleared his throat.

Wolfgang: I haveno further desire to speak to this man. I doubt he knows anything anyway.

Cameron simply scoffed at Wolfgang, as he gave a sadistic grin.

An uncomfortable silence fell over the room for a moment, as the brass tried to figure out who would question Cameron next. It was clear to the brass that Cameron was no pushover, and that he was ready to play hard ball. After a few moments, Skinner finally spoke up, and began to speak to Cameron.

Winters: Spartan

Cameron’s head turned a bit, as his eyes shifted to Skinner.

Winters: I am curious to hear your thoughts on The Trust’s major assets. How much do you know about ODST Black TeamorNova Team? The Risk Takers? Hammer Team?

Cameron: ODST Black Team and Nova Team are Spartan Is. I know that Black Team answers directly to Spender. Nova Team I am very unfamiliar with, as I only recently encountered them on San Angeles. It is my understanding that they answer to a woman known as The Consultant, but, beyond that

Cameron shrugged.

Cameron: The Risk Takers and Hammer Teamnow those two teams are something I know quite a bit about. To the untrained eye, they are just Spartans. However, to me, they were my Spartans. I know them all. I remember them all. I remember their methods and their tactics. I don’t care what codename they have or how much they have changed their armorI can see right through it.

Cameron paused.

Cameron: What would you like to know?

Winters: Start with the basics. What do you know about The Risk Takers?

Cameron: For the record, not all of the Risk Takers were my Spartans. Most of them are, but, a few of them come from the Spartan III Program.

Winters: Which ones?

Cameron: Lyle-007, Emma-049, and William-093 are from the Spartan III company. They were not one of my Spartans. I have no idea where those three came from, as their names do

Cameron paused.

Cameron: However, Liam-Z174, Savannah-Z149, Jessica-z190 and Desmond-z055 are Class 0 Spartan IIs. I know them like the back of my hand.

Cameron paused.

Cameron: I can say with certainty that Liam is in charge of The Risk Takers. He is, without any doubt in my mind, the field commander for The Risk Takers. He was, after all, the field commander for Spartan Grey Team.

Winters: I remember Spartan Grey Team.

Cameron: Then you should remember that Grey Team consisted of Liam, Savannah, Jessica, and Desmond.

Skinner began to nod.

Winters: Yes

Cameron: Savannah wasdedicated. She believed in Grey Team. She believed in what it meant to be a Spartan. She was the glue that held that team together. She and Liam were particularly close friends. They possibly could have been more, which is saying a lot given the side effects of our augmentation. It is for this reason, among a few others, that she was second in command of Grey Team. I am sure once Grey Team became The Risk Takers, she retained her position on the team. It is not that big of a stretch. However, I think this point is moot, seeing as Savannah was KIA.

Cameron shrugged.

Cameron: Jessica came from a very troubled background. Her parents were seedy and of ill-repute. If I had to guess, Jessica hated her pre-Spartan life so much, she went with ONI willingly when they kidnapped her. They didn’t even need to zip tie her hands. It is pretty sad, really. I don’t think she ever got over her issues. I always believed that she went the demolition route because she never really found inner-peace. At her core, she preferred to destroy than anything else.

Cameron sighed.

Cameron: Desmond was born to Insurrectionists. As a child, he grew up around the Insurrection. He lived around the Insurrection. He was born into it. Call it fate or just irony, but, when he was six years old his entire family, and his entire world was destroyed by ONI on a typical sweep and clean. I guess in hindsight one could say that Desmond never got over the fact that ONI destroyed the world as he knew it. His betrayal was inevitable.

Cameron paused.

Cameron: Grey Team was good; among the best. They were very close to one anothervery defensive of one another. They were inseparable.

Cameron paused and shrugged.

Cameron: That is, until Savannah was KIA at San Angeles. I cannot even begin to imagine how her death will affect that team. As Spartanswe are not supposed to allow the death of a comrade to affect our performancebutwe are still Human, and I think ONI forgets that at times. I can tell you, with absolute certainty, that The Risk Takers will never be the same after Savannah’s death. Anything that we think we know about their methods and their tactics might as well be useless because that dynamic had changed, and I would not be surprised if The Risk Takers have become far more dangerous and far more deranged than they were before.

Winters: How much more do you know about The Risk Takers?

Cameron: I can go into details about the Class 0 Spartans on the team; their methodstheir tactics. Like I said, they were my Spartans, I know them like the back of my hand.

Winters: What about Hammer Team? What can you tell us about them? How much do you know?

Cameron: Same situation. I know all five of them very well, even with those code names. There is very little that gets by me.

Cameron paused.

Cameron: Thorbetter known as Mitchell-Z###. He is the leader of Hammer Team as far as I can tell. He seems to be the one giving the orders. His record shows him as hyper-lethal with a typically sociopathic response to opposition, sometimes with no reason at all. He is widely regarded as highly competitive with his own Spartans, and well, any Spartan for that matter. He commonly employs dual M7 SMGs and an M90 Shotgun.

Cameron paused.

Cameron: Freyjaotherwise known as Kristina-Z###. She appears to be second in command of the team, as she was observed giving supplementary orders to Thor. She is a medic, a CQC expert, and she prefers fast and nimble to brute force. She prefers medium to long range weapons, such as Assault Rifles and Battle Rifles.

Cameron paused again.

Cameron: Tyralso known as Thomas-Z###. He is a bit of a mix and match, opting for an Assault Rifle and a grenade launcher. I guess you could say he lands between support and demolition. He was never a fan of the UNSC< and did not care much for ONI either. Frankly, I am not surprised he defected to The Trust. He always used to speak about bringing justice to the people who kidnapped him and augmented him. Like I saiddid not care much for ONI.

Cameron sighed.

Cameron: HelAKA Jillian-Z###. She was always a curious case, as she held a rather unorthodox view on life and death. She was the spiritual type, but, not overtly religious. I had heard reports that any time she had been forced to take life, she would say a prayer or something. Irrelevant, I know, but it was a part of who she was, I guess. That being said, she prefer medium to long range weapons; opting for Sniper Rifles and DMRs when she could.

Cameron paused once more.

Cameron: Finally we have Ullrotherwise known as Malcolm-Z###. This guy is the technical brains of the team. This Spartan had a gift for hacking and compromising digital systems. I am sure that he continues in this role with Hammer Team.

Cameron paused.

Cameron: Again, I could go on, but, I could just as easily forward my dossiers on these Spartans at a later date.

Winters: In a hurry?

Cameron: I just believe we can use our time better. I could sit here all day, and go on and on about all of these Class 0 Spartans, or, we can discuss topics that would be relevant to your investigation into San Angeles.

Skinner looked at his compatriots for a moment; exchanging a few nods with one another. After a moment, Skinner turned back to Cameron.

Winters: Once we are done here, forward us everything you have on The Risk Takers and Hammer Team. Make no distinction between personal and professional evaluations.

Cameron: Aye sir.

Skinner took a deep breath, and sighed, as Everet spoke up.

Everet: Spartan

Everet paused, as he glared at Cameron.

Everet: I am curious as to what your opinion on Captain Sharpmen is.

Cameron: He is a traitor. Plain and simple.

Everet: You seem to have no trouble answering that question. One would think that this is a foregone conclusion.

Cameron: It is a foregone conclusion. Jacob was working with The Trust. He defected, and he killed ONI Marines. This is not speculation. This is fact. Jacob is the very definition of a traitor.

Everet: So, you reject the premise that he was undercover?

Cameron: Absolutely.

Everet: Even after he defected back to the UNSC, when he helped ONI forces isolate the location of The Ulterior Motive?

Cameron: That is counter-intelligence 101. Jacob was banking on our fondness of him to simply forget what he did, and slip back into our ranks, with little more than a single good deed. He over-estimated his interpersonal relationship with the people he betrayed, and it backfired on him. Jacob is a Trust operative, and I would be very surprised if I was wrong about that.

Everet: So, you are convinced that Jacob is a traitor. A Number of people are convinced of this. I am curious, however; why do you think Harrison clings to the idea that Jacob was, in fact, undercover?

Cameron: Biasnothing more. Harrison is trying to protect Jacob, to save face. It is no secret that those two go way back. One could argue that they are friends, or, close to it. Harrison is desperate to save Jacob’s pathetic life, because he knows damn well what the punishment for treason is. I guess it is also possible that Harrison could be a member of The Trust, but, that is merely speculation.

Everet: I see

Crown looked at his tablet, and paused for a moment, before shifting gears on the questioning.

Everet: Why do you think Jacob defected to The Trust?

Cameron: It is hard to say, as I have no frame of reference for how long Jacob has been a member of The Trust. If his defection was recent, then I would surmise that he wanted a shot at Nighthawk and Anaconda. Defecting to The Trust would be the fastest way to get to that endgame.

Cameron shrugged.

Cameron: Converselyif Jacob had defected months, or years prior to San Angeles, then it could have been motivated by any number of factors.

Cameron shrugged.

Cameron: All I know is that he is a traitor. His loyalty is not to ONI or the UNSC.

Everet leaned forward, as he looked at his tablet. Cameron could tell by Everet’s body language that he was getting ready to speak, so, Cameron simply looked at Everet, and waited.

Everet: Tell me Spartanwhat is your opinion on Commander Vernette?

Cameron: I have the utmost respect for him. He is a good soldier, and a good man. Period.

Everet: I am curious as to why you think this way? Commander Vernette was a member of The Trust.

Cameron: Not a willing member. If his story was to be believed, and I do believe it, then Tye was a victim of The Trust. I do not believe Tye should be held responsible for what The Trust did to him against his will, and without his knowledge.

Everet: So, you believe there is a distinction between Commander Vernette and Captain Sharpmen?

Cameron: Absolutely. They represent two very different circumstances.

Everet: Care to elaborate?

Cameron: When Tye was recruited, The Trust was still hiding in the shadows. It was an entity that was largely unknown. When Tye took up the mantle of Black 6, he was recruited under false pretenses. You cannot, by definition, knowingly join an organization that, as far as you know, does not exist. It is a logical fallacy. It is why I do not hold any animosity towards Tye for his time as Black 6.

Cameron paused.

Cameron: I will admit that Tye did partake in some pretty horrific acts as Black 6, but, it was not his fault. Tye was experimented on against his will, and he was subjected to procedures that were intended to lower his inhibitions; to make him far more compliant to what The Trust needed him to do.

Everet: So you do not believe he should be punished for what he did as Black 6?

Cameron: No.

Everet: What about the fact that he deliberately omitted this truth for as long as he did?

Cameron: Who wouldn’t omit that truth? Even a year ago, a story involving a fifth column cabal that performed unethical experiments on UNSC personnel would sound utterly preposterous. You honestly expect that he should have come forward with that kind of story?

Everet did not answer.

Cameron: Tye knew damn well that such an extraordinary story would require extraordinary evidence. He also knew that illegally modified soldiers, that is, unsanctioned augmentation is considered a violation of UNSC procedure. We all know how unsanctioned augments are handled by ONI. Suffice to say, it never ends well for the augment.

Everet: I take it you would be opposed to such a course of action?

Cameron: Of course. Ignoring the fact that Tye is my friend, and ignoring Tye’s service to ONI, his dedication to fighting the Covenant, and the countless lives he has saved in the source of performing his duties, Tye should not be punished for the crimes of The Trust.

Cameron paused.

Cameron: ONI would be foolish to not utilize Tye’s talents to the fullest extent possible. At this point in time, when loyalty to ONI remains a constant question, and with The Trust potentially lurking around every corner, someone like Tye is a guaranteed ONI asset; someone you can rely on to not sell you out to The Trust.

Cameron paused again.

Cameron: Sir, let me be clear; I believe that I have a very unique perspective on what it means to be someone who was experimented on, to be someone who was augmented, and to be someone who is otherwise considered above and beyond the average soldier. I can say, with no uncertainty, that men like Tye are vital to our fight against our enemies. Men like Tye make the difference when we are battling The Covenant or when we are battling the traitors in our own ranks. Tye is no traitor. In fact, he is as loyal to ONI as they come. The biggest mistake ONI could make would be to sideline Tye, or even worse, bury him under a mountain of red tape.

Everet glared at Cameron for a moment, before he finally spoke up.

Everet: We will take it under advisement, Spartan.

Cameron frowned, as he knew that the phrase “take it under advisement” was one way of simply dismissing something that had been said. While he was displeased with the response, Cameron did not protest, as he knew it would be pointless.

Everet: I am curious Spartan, did you ever suspect that Commander Vernette was augmented?

Cameron: No, I never suspected it. I always knew that Tye excelled at his job, and he was unusually talented, excelling even his fellow ODST, but, it never occurred to me that he was augmented.

Everet: Did you ever witness Commander Vernette perform unusually extraordinary feats?

Cameron: On a number of occasions, yes. There were a few times on San Angeles that Tye performed what you would call an extraordinary feat. A good example of this would have been when he and I were sent to extract Lieutenant Commander Cochraine from Covenant detention. Suffice to say, Tye held his own better than any ODST I have ever seen.

Everet: Yet you never suspected he was augmented?

Cameron: Not once.

Everet: I find that hard to believe.

Cameron: Believe it. When you are on the front lines, and you are standing face to face with The Covenant, you are not thinking about how the guy next to you is “unusually skilled”. Noyou are thinking thank God this guy knows how to hold his own. When your life depends on the guy next to you staying alive long enough to provide suppressing fire, you cant find the time to wrestle with the prospect that he might be augmented. You count your blessings, and you move onsimple as that.

Cameron paused.

Cameron: Perhaps if I had taken the time to really analyze Tye’s behavior and his fighting style, I may have noticed something which would have tipped me off. Even if I would have been able to notice something, I would not have cared. I don’t care if Tye is augmented, legally or otherwise. All I care about is the fact that he is a damn fine soldier who can hold his own in the thick of battle. That is what we need, more so than ever before.

Everet: So, you do not care that he is guilty of a lie of omission about his augmentation status?

Cameron: Not one bit. There are many reasons as to why I don’t care, and one of the lesser reasons is because he can fight, he can kill, and he can win. I don’t care where his augmentation came from, and I don’t care if it is legal or not. All I care about is the countless lives that he has saved. That is all that will ever matter.

Everet nodded, as he looked at his tablet for a moment.

Everet: I am curious, do you believe that Captain Sharpmen should be prosecuted for treason?

Cameron: Absolutely. That man is a traitor.

Everet: Why?

Cameron: He joined The Trust and did battle against ONI.

Everet: Commander Vernette did the same thing.

Cameron frowned.

Everet: Why does Commander Vernette get a pass and Captain Sharpmen get condemnation?

Cameron: Isn’t it obvious? Tye did not knowingly join The Trust. He was manipulated and lied to. Jacob knew what he was doing when he joined The Trust. Jacob wasn’t lied to and he wasn’t manipulated. Jacob knew who and what The Trust were when he made his decision.

Everet: What about the lives that Commander Vernette took? Arguably, he killed more people than Jacob.

Cameron: Tye was killing other Trust operatives. As far as I am concerned, there is no big loss there.

Everet: What about the civilians that were killed? By Commander Vernette’s own admission, he killed civilians. In my book, killing civilians is FAR worse!

Cameron scoffed, as he groaned in frustration.

Cameron: I am convinced that you are an idiot.

Everet: I beg your pardon?

Cameron: You are an idiot, sir!

Everet: How dare you speak to me that way!

Cameron: No, how dare you continue to go on, drawing some moral equivalency to what Jacob did of his own free will, and what Tye was forced to do!

Everet: I am simply stating facts…

Cameron: No, you are not stating facts! I don’t know what you think you are stating, but, I can say with absolute certainty that it is NOT the facts! If you cared about the facts, then you would understand what Tye was subjected to. Yet, you sit there, and you have no interest in even hearing it! You don’t care that Tye was brainwashed! You speak as if Tye was some willing participant in his brainwashing! He wasn’t! Tye was forced to do things that he would NEVER have done at his most desperate!

Cameron paused.

Cameron: Tye was manipulated to a degree that will may never fully understand. Tye was experimented on, and he was altered by The Trust. You have to be stupid to so casually ignore this!

Cameron scoffed.

Cameron: You don’t care about The Facts. All you care about is ending the career of an innocent man!

Cameron paused.

Cameron: I cannot believe that I actually had respect for you. You sir, are gutless. You are the kind of man I would leave to die, if given the chance.

Everet: You are out of line, Spartan.

Cameron grinned.

Cameron: Oh yes…I am way out of line.

Cameron paused.

Cameron: And there isn’t a damn thing you can do about it.

Everet glared at Cameron, with a look of frustration on his face. However, after a moment, Everet sighed, as he looked over at Skinner. The two men exchanged a glance, before Skinner turned his head and looked at Cameron.

Skinner: I must admit Spartan, that was unusually aggressive. I have never seen you take that tone.

Cameron: It stems from indignation…

Skinner: Clearly…

Skinner scoffed at Cameron.

Skinner: Well, to the point then; during the attack on The Ulterior Motive, you not only assisted Nighthawk and Anaconda, but you also fought alongside The Covenant. I get the impression you are not very picky.

Cameron: There is no point in wasting time fighting an avoidable battle. My goal was to stop The Trust. Nighthawk and Anaconda wanted to stop The Trust. The Brute Chieftain and the Elite Zealot wanted to stop The Trust. As far as I am concerned, we had similar goals, so, I saw no reason to start a fight.

Skinner: That is a very bold statement, Spartan.

Cameron: No, it was a tactical decision.

Skinner: Yes, wellI question that tactical decision.

Cameron: Why? Is it because the notion of working with a non-human is too taboo for your taste?

Cameron paused.

Cameron: I will admit, it is never my first choice to fight shoulder to shoulder with any member of The Covenant. However, if I have learned anything in my life, it is to never look a gift horse in the mouth.

Cameron paused.

Cameron: Besideswe were outgunned and outmanned. We boarded The Ulterior Motive with limited support. We were not about to scoff at the notion of having an extra gun on our sideeven if that gun was being held by a member of The Covenant.

Skinner glared at Cameron; his facial expression making it abundantly clear that he was very displeased with what Cameron had just said.

Skinner: Spartanyou do know that working with The Covenant is treason?

Cameron: No, helping The Covenant win the war would be treason. Using The Covenant to defeat The Trust is simply good tactics. Frankly sir, if you cannot see that, then I submit that you have been sitting behind a desk for far too long.

Skinner: How dare you

Cameron: How dare I, what? How dare I utilize every asset at my disposal to fight The Trust? How dare I do what I have to do to ensure not only my survival, but the survival of my compatriots? How dare I, what?

Cameron scoffed.

Cameron: There seems to be a very common theme here. So far, every attempt has been made to find some sort of flaw or mistake or miscalculation in the decisions that I, and my compatriots, made during the battle for San Angeles. There seems to be an agenda at work here, and it is becoming more and more obvious as to what it is. You people are not looking for the truth. You are looking for a scapegoatsomeone to blame for San Angeles.

Cameron scoffed.

Cameron: This is a witch hunt.

Skinner: Someone has to be held responsible.

Cameron: I know who is responsible.

Skinner: Who?

Cameron: The Trustobviously.

Skinner: And where is The Trust now, Spartan? Give me the location of ONE Trust operative.

Cameron: We both know that question cannot be answered.

Skinner: Exactly. You see, Spartan, it is not good enough to just blame everything on The Trust because The Trust isn’t here. You are here. Commander Vernette is here. Captain Frost is here. Commander Burke is here.

Winters paused.

Skinner: Whether you admit it or not, you and your compatriots played a role in the destruction of San Angeles. You had a hand in the series of events which led to San Angeles being destroyed. I am not talking about proximity. I am talking about an active role that was deliberately carried out. You have to answer for this. Let’s be clear, Spartan, you and your ONI compatriots carry some of the blame for what happened at San Angeles.

Winters scoffed.

Skinner: It wasn’t Harrison, or Cochraine, or Reynolds that sanctioned Nighthawk and Anaconda. They didn’t give Nighthawk the slipspace weapon. They certainly did not turn hostile and turn on their allies in order to put Hoffman into the hands of Nighthawk and Anaconda. It was you, and your ONI compatriots, that did these things. These are things that YOU and your compatriots have to answer for! You’re damn right we have an agenda, but it is not the one you think it is. Our agenda is to find the people responsible for San Angeles, and to make sure they pay for it. Like it or not, Spartan, you carry some of the blame.

Winters sighed.

Skinner: I don’t envy this task, but, it is my duty to see this through. I have always had respect for you. I have worked with you in the past, but, I cannot allow that to interfere with my duties in the here and now.

Cameron scoffed.

Cameron: With all due respects, sir, we both know that The Trust exists. We know who was at San Angeles. We know that Spender was there. We know that Yates was there. We know that Novak was there. We know about Black Team. We know about Nova Team. We know about Hammer Team and The Risk Takers. We can prove this beyond a shadow of a doubt! To sit there and say that you need to blame me, and my crewmates for San Angeles because you can’t find Spender is one of the finest cop-outs I have ever heard.

Hand interjected, cutting off Skinner before he had a chance to rebuttal.

Hand: For the recordSpender and Yates have been relieved of their duties in ONI and their clearance has been revoked. In addition, ODST Black Team, Nova Team, The Risk Takers, and Hammer Team have all had their clearance revoked as well, and they have been disavowed.

Everyone looked at Hand as she spoke. When she fell silent, winters spoke up.

Wolfgang: When did this happen?

Hand: This morning. As it stands, Section 0 has no sitting Director or Deputy Director.

Wolfgang: Who made this decision?

Hand: The UNSC Security Council did. They invoked emergency measures and voted to remove Director Spender from his position.

Wolfgang: Then who the hell is running Section 0 if there is no Director?

Hand: Until there is a new Director of ONI Section 0I am effectively in charge of ONI operations. The UNSC Security council is working to appoint a new Director as we speak. However, given the situation with The Trust, they are reluctant to appoint anyone until the current matter is resolved.

Hand looked at Cameron.

Hand: So, Cameron, something has been done about Spender and his cronies. Action has been taken, and we want to take more action, as soon as we can. However, that is not possible until we get this situation with San Angeles resolved.

Hand paused, as she looked at Skinner.

Hand: That being said; Cameron does have a point. There does seem to be some confusion as to what we are trying to achieve here. Our goal is to shed light on what happened at San Angeles. We are trying to understand what happened. Until we fully understand what happened, we have no right to be passing judgement. In case you have all forgotten, people are still innocent until proven guilty. Just because ONI does things a little differently, does not give us permission to ignore due process.

Hand paused.

Hand: That being saidif there are any further questions, please continue

Skinner looked at Cameron, and then shook his head.

Skinner: I have no further questions.

Skinner sat back in his chair, as Crown leaned forward, and looked at Cameron.

Crown: I am curious about something, Spartan

Crown looked at Cameron for a moment, before he resumed speaking.

Crown: Were you, at any point, made aware of Nighthawk’s plan to destroy San Angeles?

Cameron: Yes. Captain Frost informed us that Nighthawk had a contingency plan in place to destroy San Angeles. It was an asset denial contingency.

Crown: Why did you make no effort to stop Nighthawk and Anaconda? According to your report, you had at least one opportunity to engage Nighthawk and Anaconda. Why did you not take action, knowing that those two were planning to destroy San Angeles?

Cameron: To be honestI am not totally sure. Perhaps part of me believed that asset denial was the safest course of action. Perhaps part of me knew that San Angeles was doomed, no matter what happened.

Cameron paused.

Cameron: If you really think about it, the two most probable outcomes, had Nighthawk been taken out of play, would have been either The Covenant taking control of the planet or The Trust taking control of the planet. Vanguard’s technology would have either fallen into the hands of The Covenant or The Trust. Both of those outcomes were unacceptable.

Cameron paused.

Cameron: But then, what happens to the civilians and to the survivors? We all know The Covenant would kill indiscriminately, and The Trust obviously had no concern for the civilian population. I am not the kind of person to give up on a fight when there is even a slim chance to win, but, even I know when a situation is pointing south. I know when there is no victory condition, and I know when you have to start making hard choices. There was nothing that could be done to save San Angeles. The only responsible course of action was to do whatever we could to deny San Angeles from falling into the hands of our enemies, by any means necessary.

Cameron sighed.

Cameron: Nighthawk had the plan we needed to deny our enemies control of San Angeles. It wasn’t idealbut it was all we had.

Crown: If you were sold on this, why did you attack Firebase Mediterranean?

Cameron: We attacked Firebase Mediterranean to give Nighthawk and Anaconda the clearest shot possible. I don’t know what motivated Harrison or Reynolds to send teams to Firebase Mediterranean, but, I do know that we were there to deal with The Trust.

Crown: So, Captain Frost ordered you to assist Nighthawk and Anaconda?

Cameron: No, she was content on going back to The King Raven at Nighthawk’s request. It was Burke who swerved the wheel. Frankly, I am damn glad he did it.

Crown scoffed.

Crown: It is very disappointing to think that you would allow Nighthawk to activate that weapon. You allowed that SOB to destroy San Angeles. You should be ashamed of yourself, Spartan. You, and your compatriots should hang for that.

Cameron: I am curious, sir; what would you have said to me if we took that weapon out of play, and The Covenant or The Trust took control of all of Vanguard’s technology? Would you congratulate me on a job well done, while The Covenant or The Trust plot our destruction using technology that was beyond anything we have ever seen?

Crown didn’t answer.

Cameron: Or, would you say that it was an irresponsible decision to place the wellbeing of one doomed planet before the safety of the entire Human race? Would you sit there and condemn me, and my comrades for allowing our personal feelings to compromise our better judgement?

Cameron frowned.

Cameron: The impression I get from you is that, in your eyes, there was no right answer, and you are just fine with that. You are glad that this situation gives you the room to perform the mental gymnastics necessary to find fault with every possible decision. You people are just looking for someone to send up the river for what happened at San Angeles.

Crown: You are out of line, Spartan.

Cameron: I don’t give a damn, sir. I really don’t. I am tired of this charade, and I am very close to just walking out of here. I serious doubt these ONI Agents have what it takes to keep me down.

Hand interjected.

Hand: Cameron! That is enough! You are not helping your present situation with statements like that!

Cameron looked at Hand.

Cameron: Nothing else has helped. I am running out of things to say.

Hand: Please try and understand that we are simply looking for answers.

Cameron: You may be looking for answers, Director, but all of these other people have ulterior motives. I am getting sick of this charade, and I am getting sick of answering question. I should not be here answers questions. I should be on the front lines, standing between The Covenant and Humanity! I should be hunting these Trust basters down and crossing them off!

Hand: I agree. Believe me, I want nothing more than to get you on the front lines, but, we need to see this process through! Pleaseall I ask for is a bit more patience.

Cameron scoffed.

Cameron: Very well.

Crown interjected.

Crown: Good. Now, I have several more questions.

Hand interjected, as she glared at Crown.

Hand: No, you don’t. You are done.

Crown looked Hand, and scoffed at her.

Crown: Excuse me?

Hand: I said you are done. You have no further questions.

Crown became wide eyed, as he looked at Hand.

Crown: You can’t do that!

Hand shrugged.

Hand: I just did. If you have a problem with that, feel free to file a complaint up the chain of command. It will eventually end up on my desk, anyways.

Crown scoffed at Hand, as he looked away, and fell silent. Director Hand simply looked at Cameron, and gave him a very subtle nod. Cameron did not reciprocate the gesture, instead, opting to give no visual acknowledgement.

However, before Hand could speak further, Mallorie spoke up, and began to question Cameron.

Mallorie: WellI think it is safe to say that the Spartan does not appreciate being ambushed with bullshit questions. So, I opt to discuss something more interesting.

Mallorie paused, as she leaned forward and looked at Cameron.

Mallorie: Tell me, Spartanwhat do you know about Vanguard?

Cameron raised an eyebrow at Mallorie and stared at her for a moment before answering.

Cameron: Not much. It was an AI of some type. Its exact origin is unknown. The exact age of this AI is also unknown. All we knew was that it was an endgame weaponand Anaconda was NOT very fond of it. From what I could tellAnaconda had a serious axe to grind with this thing. I am not sure why though.

Mallorie: Did you ever encounter Vanguard?

Cameron: No.

Mallorie: Where did your intel come from?

Cameron: Nighthawk. All of my intel came from Nighthawk. He knew the most about it. However, even his knowledge seemed second hand. Like I saidAnaconda had a SERIOUS axe to grind with that thing. It is possible Nighthawk got his intel from Anaconda, but, I cannot say for certain. I have nothing to back that up.

Mallorie sighed.

Mallorie: To the best of your knowledge, is there anyone, other than Jacob Sharpmen and Nighthawk that had contact with Vanguard?

Cameron: Not that I know of. If there was, I was not informed of it.

Mallorie paused for a moment, before she began to speak again.

Mallorie: SoI take it that you were 100% convinced that Vanguard was real?

Cameron: I had no reason to doubt the existence of this weapon. Everything The Trust did was because of Vanguard. Nighthawk and Anaconda were singularly driven by it. Jacob spoke to it. I am hard oppressed to deny that it was real.

Mallorie: Those are not reliable sources.

Cameron: That is a valid point. However, when you look at the sources, and where they stand relative to one another, they are all diametrically opposed. Nighthawk and Anaconda hates Jacob and The Trust. While I believe that Jacob is a Trust Operative, or at least a disgraced one, his appraisal of Vanguard is similar to Nighthawk and Anaconda’s appraisal. There were too many similarities in what was known about Vanguard. If something as extraordinary as Vanguard was a fabrication, there would not have been any consistency in what we do know about Vanguard.

Mallorie nodded.

Mallorie: I see.

Cameron: Also, it is worth noting that Lieutenant Cochraine was sent down into the depths of Firebase Mediterranean. I will never know what is down there, but, she does know. I read her report on it, and she described that environment as being beyond even The Covenant.

Cameron paused.

Cameron: I don’t think we will ever truly understand the nature of Vanguard. Vanguard is unknowable and unattainable. We will never know it, nor will we ever understand it. Vanguard is one of those things that has the potential to be so horrifying that ONI will ensure that it will quietly be forgotten in the depths of some off-the-books black data server. That word will be added to the ChattrNet monitoring list, and anyone who ever performs a keyword search for “Vanguard” will be tagged and placed on a watch list.

Cameron shrugged.

Cameron: There are people out there who know more about Vanguard than I do. I cannot tell you anything about it. I cannot help you with that. If you want to understand Vanguard, you need to find someone who has interacted with it. Perhaps they can shine a small light on a very large mystery.

Mallorie sighed once more, as she leaned back in her chair.

Mallorie: I may have to take you up on that recommendation, Spartan.

Mallorie paused.

Mallorie: No further questions.

As Mallorie said this, Hand spoke up.

Hand: AlrightI think we are done for today. We have enough information to keep us busy for the rest of the day. We should go over the new information we have, and make sure that it is properly catalogued.

Hand paused, as she looked at Cameron.

Hand: Spartanyou are dismissed. Please return to your quarters and await further instructions.

As Hand said this, Cameron stood up, and allowed himself to be led away by a team of ONI Agents. Once Cameron had left, Wolfgang looked over at Hand, and glared at her.

Wolfgang: You were protecting the Spartan.

Hand turned her head and looked at Wolfgang.

Wolfgang: Franklyyou were out of line. You intervened and stopped TWO lines of questioning. One might think you have a lingering bias.

Hand: Don’t even start, Wolfgang. I am not interested in hear your objections.

Crown: We have every right to object. What you did, twice, was very unusual.

Hand looked at Crown.

Hand: You were wasting time! All you were interested in was finding someone to slip a noose. He was right when he said that you would have condemned any course of action, if only to satisfy your need to assign blame!

Crown: Someone needs to be blamed!

Hand: Blame The Covenant! Blame The Trust! Blame Nighthawk and Anaconda! Blame all of them, if you want. Just don’t blame the only people who tried to defend San Angeles.

Hand scoffed, as she stood up from where she was seated, and began to wealk towards the exit. As she got half-way to the exit, she stopped, and turned to face her colleagues.

Hand: I think most of you people are so concerned with assigning blame, that you don’t give a damn about the finding the truth. Not all of you, but, there is defiantly a pattern starting to emerge.

Crown: Part of finding the truth is assigning blame.

Hand: Yes, but how can you be so ready to assign blame before all the facts are known.

Wolfgang: I think we have a pretty good idea as to what the facts are.

Hand: There are still questions that need to be answered. Until we have every answer possible, we are to refrain from trying to assign blame. The people who can give us the most insight have yet to be spoken to. Let’s wait until we are finished with the questioning before we move onto assigning blame. This better be understood.

Everyone looked at Hand, and gave a nod.

Wolfgang: Very wellhave it your way.

Hand scoffed, as she turned and walked away, leaving The Black Room without saying another word. Once Hand had left, Wolfgang looked at everyone else in the room, and scoffed.

Wolfgang: I am concerned about The Director. She is becoming a problem.

Everyone, except Mallorie, began to nod.

Mallorie: In what way? I think she is very correct in what she said. We should have all the facts before we start making conclusions. This is a very sensitive matter, and we need to be careful.

Wolfgang: I believe the Director has an inherent bias for the crew of The King Raven. We should be very mindful of this.

Mallorie: Why would there be a bias?

Wolfgang: Director Hand used to serve with Preston Vernette aboard The King Raven. Sheshares his way of thinking. That is a very real threat.

Mallorie: How is that a threat?

Wolfgang: You don’t know Preston Vernette like I do. People that serve with him tend to start thinking like him. Look at his crew; Frost, Burke, Cameron, and his brotherall of them, loyal to a fault. Look what those four managed to accomplish on San Angeles. Those people have ideas and methodologies that are very dangerous. Those ideas and methodologies come from Preston Vernette. Director Hand is no different. She too has had the misfortune of serving with Preston Vernette, and I am certain that she has adopted one too many of Vernette’s habits, including his bias and partiality towards his crew.

Mallorie raised an eyebrow.

Mallorie: This sounds a little obsessed to me.

Wolfgang: Call it what you will, Commodore. Doubt it all you want, but, you are in the minority here.

Mallorie: Am I?

Crown interjected.

Crown: I would say so!

Mallorie scoffed, as she looked around the room, glancing at every single one of her colleagues.

Skinner: I hate to say it, but I am forced to agree with Wolfgang. I have witnessed Vernette’s methods up close, and they are never pretty. If Hand shares similar views to Preston Vernette, then we should be very concerned, especially about this investigation. I would not put it past the director to try and protect the crew of The King Raven.

Winters nodded in agreement.

Winters: I tend to agree. If Director Hand is simply another incarnation of Preston Vernette, then she cannot be relied upon to conduct these proceedings with any sort of reliability.

Mallorie shook her head.

Mallorie: Oh, this is just gutless. The very fact that you people can sit here and talk like this makes me doubt the lot of you. Who do you people think you are?

Mallorie stood up.

Mallorie: Let me make one thing abundantly clear; if any of you think that I am going to sit here and indulge inwhatever this isyou are gravely mistaken. I may not always see eye to eye with Director Hand, but, she is still the ranking officer here, and I will not sit here and plot behind her back. If you people have issue with the way Director Hand is doing thingstake it up with her, face to face. Don’t sit in shadows and talk behind her back.

Mallorie stood up, and proceeded to walk to the exit. Before she left The Black Room, she turned and glared at her colleagues.

Mallorie: I don’t think Director Hand is the problem here

With that, Mallorie turned and left the Black Room. Everyone remained silent, with exception to Wolfgang. Wolfgang sighed, as he shook his head.

Wolfgang: Mallorie

Wolfgang scoffed, as he looked at his remaining colleagues.

Wolfgang: You’re all dismissed

Everyone gave a nod, as they each stood up from their chairs and left The Black Room. Wolfgang, on the other hand, remained seated; losing himself in his own thoughts. As Wolfgang sat, alone, buried in his own thoughts, he reached for his tablet, which was laying down on the desk in front of him. As he picked the tablet up in his hand, and glared at it, staring at the dossier of information he had compiled on Nighthawk and Anaconda. Wolfgang scoffed as he glared at a mugshot of Nighthawk and Anaconda. The very sight of these two individuals drove him mad.

Wolfgang: Who the hell are you?

Wolfgang paused.

Wolfgang: I need to know

Wolfgang paused again.

Wolfgang: I need to know

Midnight – The Citadel – Gamma Wing – ONI Debriefing Room Alpha AKA: The Black Room – 0900 Hours - February 11th 2540

Tye, under escort from several ONI Agents, walked through the corridors of The Citadel; making his way to The Black Room. For days, Tye had been very anxious about what he was about to face. Tye was no stranger to the bureaucracy of ONI, and he knew damn well he was about to come face to face with it. Deep down, Tye found himself to be very scared for his future. The one fact that raced through Tye’s mind to no end was how ONI dealt with illegal super soldiers. Tye could not shake the feeling that everything he had been through, every fight he had survived, every battle that he had endured, every iota of pain that he had overcome, and every fear that he had ever faced was all going to boil down to the decisions made by desk jockeys in this one, small, room.

As Tye walked into the Black Room, he did not stop to examine his surroundings, instead, option to proceed right to the center of the room to sit himself down. As soon as Tye sat down, he looked forward, and saw the seven senior brass officers that would be questioning him. Tye waited, seemingly very patiently, as the senior brass whispered amongst themselves for a few minutes. Once the whispering had died down, Director Hand began to speak.

Hand: Hello Tye.

Tye waited a moment before he responded.

Tyber: Ma’am

Hand: How are you?

Tyber: I’mfine.

Hand: Good.

Hand paused for a moment, as she looked at her tablet. After a few moments, she looked at Tye.

Hand: I read your report

Tyber: Which one?

Hand: Wellboth of them. I have to admit; your after action report on San Angeles was very dry compared to yourdare I sayincredibly overdue report on your involvement with The Trust.

Tyber: I have had a long time to refine my report on The Trust. It is bound to be really well written.

Hand: It is terribly graphic and informative.

Tyber: But, it is the truth.

Hand: Of course.

Hand paused.

Hand: I have chosen to moderate this particular discussion, so, I will have very few question, if any at all. My colleagues, on the other hand, do have questions for you. To be frank, they are very curious about your time with The Trust, and they are also very curious about some of your decisions on San Angeles. I will not lie to yousome of these questions are going to be very hard.

Tyber: I was expecting as much. I knew that when I disclosed that I had served with The Trust for a brief period, I knew damn well it was going to become a talking point. As for San AngeleswellI have nothing to hide.

Hand nodded.

Hand: I am relieved to hear that.

Hand paused, as she looked at Wolfgang.

Hand: Vice-Admiral Wolfgang? If you would be so kind as to start us off

Wolfgang nodded, as he cleared his throat, and looked at his tablet. Wolfgang looked at his tablet for a moment, before he looked at Tye, and spoke up.

Wolfgang: Commander Vernette

Wolfgang paused.

Wolfgang: Could you please provide me your insights into Nighthawk and Anaconda?

Tye laughed.

Tyber: All the shit I went through, and you want to know about Nighthawk and Anaconda? There are more interesting things to discuss.

Wolfgang: Nothing interests me more than Nighthawk and Anaconda.

Tyber: Well, you should know that I am no authority on those two, but, I will do my best to provide you with what I can. To give a general overview of my thoughts; I consider The Trust to be far worse than Nighthawk and Anaconda.

Tye shrugged.

Tyber: I don’t think Nighthawk is, personally, a bad guy, and I don’t think Anaconda is bad either. They do bad things for the right reasons, but, they are not the enemy.

Wolfgang: How can you say that after what they did?

Tyber: What they did was in response to what The Trust did.

Wolfgang: Vanguard

Wolfgang scoffed.

Wolfgang: There is no proof that Vanguard was real.

Tyber: I will admit, the whole Vanguard thing was very nebulous, shrouded in mystery. I will even admit that I had a hard time believing the whole Vanguard thing. However, Nighthawk and Anaconda went to great lengths for that claim. Everything they did, was done to stop Vanguard, or so they claimed. If it was a lie, then they put their lives on the line for nothing. As a soldier, I cannot believe that.

Wolfgang: Did it ever occur to you that Nighthawk and Anaconda lied, just so they could have an excuse to destroy San Angeles?

Tyber: Bullshit!

Wolfgang: They have a history of betrayal! You would not be the first person that they betrayed!

Tyber: They didn’t betray us! They helped us, more than you could possibly imagine! You were not there. I was. I saw, firsthand, what Nighthawk and Anaconda went through over the course of the battle. Nighthawk and Anaconda were there to provide an evac for Cameron and I while we were rescuing Lieutenant Cochraine from the hands of The Covenant. Those two were there when we were defending Regional HQ Bravo from The Covenant, and later, The Trust. Nighthawk and Anaconda were there, helping ONI and the UNSC defend Carver spaceport from The Covenant. Nighthawk and Anaconda were there when we launched an offensive against The Trust at ONI Installation Desert. Nighthawk and Anaconda were on our side when we attacked Apex Applied Research! Nighthawk and Anaconda were there when we attacked The Ulterior Motive!

Tye paused.

Tyber: Yeah, they destroyed San Angeles with the slipspace weapon. That fact cannot be denied. However, I believe that was a weapon, a tactic, of last resort; used entirely for the purpose of stopping The Covenant and The Trust from gaining control of the planet, and in turn, Vanguard’s technology.

Wolfgang: Control of the planet? Commanderthere is no concrete evidence that Vanguard was real. As far as I am concerned, using Vanguard as an excuse to destroy a planet is invalid.

Tyber: I beg to differ.

Wolfgang: What evidence was there to support the existence of this AI?

Tyber: Spender admitted the existence of Vanguard. Spender spoke about how he wanted to unleash Vanguard on The Covenant. Spender, himself, confirmed this. Those were his words.

Wolfgang: Can you honestly believe a word that man says?

Tyber: If it was just him saying it? Of course not. However, far too many people had overlapping and consistent testimony about Vanguard. Too many people said the same things for it to be a coincidence!

Wolfgang: Nobody that is reliable. Captain Sharpmen, Constantine Spender, Nighthawk and Anaconda; these people are traitors and terrorists.

Tyber: What about Lieutenant Cochraine? She went down to the subterranean facility located under Firebase Mediterranean.

Wolfgang: She didn’t see Vanguard.

Tyber: No, but she did see a facility and she did see technology that was unlike anything that Humanity or The Covenant had ever developed. Where did that come from?

Wolfgang: That doesn’t matterit proves nothing.

Tyber: On the contrary. It proves that something more advanced than The Covenant was down there.

Tye paused.

Tyber: But, let’s not forget that massivething...that appeared above Firebase Mediterranean; the weapon that brought down those Covenant ships when they attacked Firebase Mediterranean. We all got a good look at it, and we all saw the recon images that were taken. That giant weapon was not like any Covenant technology we had ever seen. That weapon swatted three Covenant ships from the sky with little to no effort.

Wolfgang: You are grasping at straws, Commander. You are coming off as very desperate to convince me that Vanguard was real.

Tye scoffed.

Tyber: And you are so obsessed with finding fault with Nighthawk and Anaconda, that you have perfected the art of denial, and you have invented a reality to suit your personal views. Anyone, with any ounce of common sense, could not possibly deny the existence of Vanguard as vehemently as you have. You will say or believe anything to suit your world view. You are so willfully and deliberately ignorant, that you are, quite frankly, dangerous.

Wolfgang: I am not the only one who questions the existence of Vanguard.

Tyber: Clearly, you are not the only one in denial.

Wolfgang: You are clearly in denial over Nighthawk and Anaconda. How can you defend them after what they did? They destroyed San Angeles! They murdered tens of millions of people!

Tye paused.

Tyber: I am hard pressed to impart any sort of forgiveness on Nighthawk and Anaconda for killing all those civilians, but, I cannot see any realistically alternative outcome. There was nothing that could be done. Had it not have been Nighthawk and Anaconda, it would have been Vanguard or The Covenant.

Tye paused.

Tyber: Perhaps it was a necessary evil to destroy San Angeles. Perhapsit was the most correct application of an evil. Asset denial is never an easy thing to do.

Tye hung his head. He did not like having to say those words.

Tyber: It is funny; Nighthawk told Harrison that The UNSC was incapable of fighting The Trust or Vanguard, because Harrison, among others, was not prepared to make the hard choices that were necessary. Nighthawk was right. Nobody was prepared to make the call necessary to destroy San Angeles, effectively denying Vanguard’s technology to, well, everyone. Our duty, as soldiers, is to fight and never give up the fight. We are not accustom to having to make a compromise like Nighthawk did. We don’t know how to do that. Perhaps it is a matter of empathy, or, it is just a stubborn nature, but I don’t know anyone, other than Nighthawk, who was prepared to go so far as to destroy an entire planet, just to ensure that dangerous technology would not fall into the wrong hands.

Tye sighed.

Tyber: Part of me wonders if there was anything else I could have done differently to alter the outcome. Part of me wonders if there was a way to save San Angeles and defeat our enemies. Part of me wishes we could have saved San Angeles.

Tye scoffed.

Tyber: The realist in me says that there was nothing more we could have done. We did our duty. We brought the fight to The Covenant and The Trust, and we made them fight for every inch. We did not stop fighting until the very end. We did not stop trying to save civilians until the very end. We did everything we could.

Tye paused.

Tyber: And Nighthawk

Tye grinned.

Tyber: He did what we couldn’t do. He made the hard choice for us. He was the bad guy, so we could sleep at night. He did the bad things, so we could live with ourselves. He did the unthinkable so we could continue to believe that we were good people.

Wolfgang glared at Tye for a moment, before he spoke.

Wolfgang: Do you know the current whereabouts of Nighthawk and Anaconda?

Tye shook his head.

Tyber: No. I have no idea what their current status is. All that I can tell is that Nighthawk and Anaconda went down to the subterranean facility to fight Vanguard. According to Lieutenant Commander Cochraine, she saw Nighthawk, alive, fighting Jacob. After thatit is anyones guess as to what Nighthawk and Anacondas fates are. It is possible that they died fighting Vanguard. It is possible that they went down with San Angeles.

Wolfgang: But, it is equally possible that they are still alive?

Tyber: It is possible. It is possible that they defeated Vanguard and escaped San Angeles.

Wolfgang scoffed.

Tyber: If I have learned one thing about Nighthawk and Anaconda, it is to never underestimate them. Those two are capable of incredible feats. To so easily dismiss them as certainly dead would be foolish.

Wolfgang glared at Tye for a moment, before he leaned back in his chair, and set his tablet down on the desk.

Wolfgang: I have no further questions at this time.

As Wolfgang fell silent, Tye watched as several of the other officers exchanged a few glances. This went on for a few moments, before Skinner finally spoke up.

Skinner: Commander Vernette

Tye looked at Skinner and waited.

Skinner: I have been reviewing your reports on your engagements against The Covenant, and I am very curious about a few of the details.

Tyber: What exactly are you curious about?

Skinner: I am terribly confused how you could authorize a temporary cooperation with Covenant forces during your attack on The Ulterior Motive.

Tyber: It was a tactical decision that I made under advisement.

Skinner: Advisement from who?

Tyber: Nighthawk and Anaconda.

Skinner scoffed.

Skinner: And you took that advice?

Tyber: Yes.

Skinner: Why?

Tyber: We were outgunned. The Trust had more bodies than we did, and we were on their turf. I was not about to turn my back on an extra set of hands. When it comes to The Trust, I have lost the ability to see which species a potential ally is. As long as they fight and kill The Trust, they are good in my books.

Tye paused.

Tyber: This is not to say that I like The Covenant or I have a soft spot for The Covenant. Quite the opposite, in fact. I despise The Covenant, but, I hate The Trust even more. If I had to pick a friend, between The Trust and The Covenant, it would be The Covenant100% of the time.

Skinner: So, you have no qualms in fighting and killing The Covenant?

Tyber: None, what so ever.

Skinner: But, you hate The Trust more?

Tyber: Yes.

Skinner: And that hate is enough to work with The Covenant to defeat The Trust?

Tyber: Correct.

Skinner paused for a moment, and shook his head.

Skinner: I am deeply disturbed by the fact that one of our own, an ONI Agent, would so willingly admit to favoring The Covenant over other Humans.

Tyber: It is not that black and white. The Trust may be composed of Humans, but, they do not share our goals, nor do they share our values.

Skinner: He that as it may, The Trustat least they are Humans.

Tyber: The Insurrection were also Humans, and look what they did? Look how ONI and the UNSC responded to that threat! Even now, while the UNSC fights The Covenant on every front, The Insurrection is STILL intent on being a hostile factor. Why? Simple; The Insurrection has its own agenda! It is the same thing with The Trust. The Trust has its own agenda, and if UNSC policy is in direct conflict with that agenda, then you can be sure that The Trust will be hostile.

Skinner scoffed. He did not like Tye’s answer.

Skinner: Yes, well, The Insurrection and The Trust are not currently the aggressors in a genocidal war.

Skinner paused.

Skinner: One would think you would be aware of that fact before cozying up to The Covenant.

Skinner scoffed.

Skinner: Alason more than one occasion, you ignored The Covenant in favor of targeting The Trust. We can confirm that The Covenant was present during the attack on Firebase Desert, and The Covenant was present during the attack on the Apex Applied Research building. Both time, you failed to give the orders necessary to engage the enemy. Instead, you focused all of your attention on The Trust.

Tyber: Again, it was a tactical decision. The Trust was the most dangerous player in the game, and they had to be neutralized. I am firm believer in the adage that “the enemy of my enemy is my friend”. I was not going to engage enemies where there didn’t have to be an engagement.

Tye paused.

Tyber: Obviously, if The Covenant needed to be dealt with, I would have given the necessary orders to do so. However, if The Covenant was intent on killing The Trust, they were permitted to do so with my blessing.

Tye scoffed.

Tyber: Nobody is ever comfortable working with The Covenant. The very idea is so jarring and unheard of that it is difficult to fathom what it is like. However, the most important thing to keep in mind was that in many ways, The Covenant wanted the same thing we did; to destroy The Trust. It would have been irresponsible and reckless to needlessly provoke The Covenant.

Tye paused.

Tyber: I had no qualms with engaging The Covenant. I knew when we had to fight, and I knew when we had to steer clear. I had no problem leading our forces against The Covenant when defending Regional HQ Bravo. I had no problem fighting The Covenant in order to rescue Lieutenant Commander Cochraine. I had no problem fighting The Covenant to defend the Carver Spaceport.

Skinner scoffed at Tye.

Skinner: Very well, Commander. I think you have made your point. I have no further questions on this matter.

As Skinner put his tablet down on the table, Crown sat up in his chair, and looked at Tye.

Crown: Commander Vernette, I am curious to know how much you knew about Nighthawk’s plan to destroy San Angeles.

Tyber: If you are referring to the Slipspace weapon, then I must admit that I did not know very much about it. I did not know about it for very long to do much about it.

Crown: When did you find out about it?

Tyber: I was made aware of the slipspace weapon when we were handing Hoffman over to Nighthawk. Like I said, I did not know about it for long, nor did I know much about it. Frankly, I am still very sketchy on how the damn thing worked.

Crown: Did you make any attempt to stop Nighthawk and Anaconda when you learned of their plans to use a weapon of mass destruction as a means of last resort?

Tyber: I protested to the idea, but, I quickly realized that even if Nighthawk did not possess the capability to destroy San Angeles, The Covenant had the means to do so, and Vanguard was more than capable of destroying the planet. What did it matter?

Crown: So, you did nothing because you felt that it would not have made a difference.

Tyber: I did nothing because I knew it would have been a wasted effort. I was not going to waste time disarming Nighthawk, when there were two other factions with the capability. At least Nighthawk was only going to use his weapon as a weapon of last resort. If one thing was clear, The Covenant had no qualms about glassing a planet, and Vanguard…well…I think that thing speaks for itself.

Tye sighed.

Tyber: The loss of San Angeles was a tragedy, but, it was unavoidable. The moment The Covenant showed up, we knew the odds were stacked against us. When we learned that The Trust had a superweapon of their own, the outcome started to look very grim. By the time we found out Nighthawk had devised a weapon intended for asset denial, it was a foregone conclusion that there was nothing we could do.

Crown: Commander…are you aware that 40 million people died as a result of Nighthawk’s weapon?

Tye paused.

Tyber: I am aware of the numbers, sir. Part of me wishes we could have evacuated more people. We were only able to evacuate a million people from San Angeles before the planet was lost.

Crown: You are aware that Nighthawk killed more people than The Covenant?

Tyber: Yes…

Crown: Yet…you sit there, and you justify the decisions you made that, for all intents and purposes, enabled Nighthawk to kill 40 million people. I am dumbfounded by your inability to feel some sort of indignation over this.

Tye sighed, as he pinched the bridge of his nose.

Tyber: I have gone over this a million times in my head, and the one fact that I keep coming back to is this…

Tye paused.

Tyber: If we had failed to stop The Trust at Firebase Mediterranean, and if the navy would have failed to hold the line against The Covenant, then the only thing standing between The Trust or The Covenant or Vanguard from using the technology buried on that planet, would have been Nighthawk’s slipspace weapon.

Tye paused.

Tyber: That slipspace weapon was a vital component in the need to deny an asset to the enemy. 40 million people did die as a result of that weapon, but on balance, I believe that many more lives were saved as a result. That technology is gone! Vanguard is gone! We will never have to worry about that technology being used against Humanity. There are times that the ends justify the means, and I believe this was one of those times.

Tye paused.

Tyber: What is it that ONI says? We do the wrong things for the right reasons? How many atrocities have been committed, and defended, by that logic? The Spartan Program is a good example of this. Kidnapping children to create the most ruthlessly efficient soldiers Humanity has ever known. It boils down to being comfortable enough with your own morality, so you can make the hard decisions. Nighthawk did the wrong thing for the right reason. He made the hard choice; a choice that nobody would have been prepared to make. Nighthawk made the choice to destroy San Angeles so we would not have to live with ourselves. He did it so we could sleep at night. He did it so we could have some semblance of inner peace on the matter. He took the fall and the blame for an atrocity that had to happen.

Crown: You speak as if he is some kind of hero.

Tyber: He is no hero. I don’t see him as a hero, nor do I think he wants to be seen as a hero. The only word that could describe Nighthawk would be…

Tye paused, as he thought for a moment.

Tyber: I don’t know…to be honest. I don’t think there is a word for it.

Tye paused.

Tyber: He is a deeply flawed man…broken on the inside. Nighthawk lacks certain qualities, but, makes up for it in different ways. I have no idea what you call a man like Nighthawk. One word does not do him justice.

Tye paused.

Tyber: Despite his flaws, I believe that deep down, he is a good man, or tries to be anyway. When it matters, Nighthawk tries to do the right thing. I guess you could say he takes after ONI in the respect that he does the wrong things for the right reasons. As such, he is misunderstood and alienated; so much so that his best friend is an alien from a race that we believe to be utterly without compassion or mercy. I guess one could make the “peas of a pod” argument, but, I have seen both of them first hand, and I did not feel overly threatened by their presence. There is a reason they do what they do, and I believe that reason is The Trust. At least they are trying to do something about The Trust. For that, they have my respect.

Crown had a look of disbelief on his face as he looked at Tye.

Crown: Well…clearly nothing bothers you, Commander. 40 million people are gone, and the best you can come up with is that you “respect Nighthawk and Anaconda”. I have to admit, I did not see that coming. Alas…I have no further questions at this time.

Crown sighed, as he dropped his tablet on the table, and leaned back in his chair. Crown was clearly frustrated with the answers that Tye had given him. As Crown fell silent, Winters interjected, and took the opportunity to begin a round of questioning.

Winters: Commander…

Tye looked at Winters.

Winters: I believe we need to address the elephant in the room.

Tye sighed, as he hung his head, as he knew what was about to be asked.

Winters: I read your report on your time as Black 6, and I must admit, the details contained in that report were quite graphic.

Tyber: I feel that it is the details of what Black Team did was important in understanding the mentality that was behind their training and purpose.

Tye paused.

Tyber: Spender wanted ODST Black Team to be ruthless killers, and we were ruthless killers. We were trained to be efficient and lethal in everything we did. We were not intended to show compassion or regret for the things we did. We were not intended to show empathy or mercy. We were killing machines operating at the whim of Constantine Spender.

Winters: I see.

Winters paused.

Winters: How much of your training have you managed to retain?

Tyber: All of it. Every tactic and every method…all of it has been burned into my brain. It is all second nature and it all comes naturally to me when I need it to.

Winters: Yet, you managed to hide these abilities for all of these years? I am curious how you managed to pull that off.

Tyber: It is much easier to be deliberately worse than you really are. When it didn’t matter, or when the situation permitted it, I intentionally missed a few shots or I allowed someone to get a hit on me. It made me look normal.

Tye paused.

Tyber: It is easy to run a little bit slower, aim a little less accurately pretend to run out of breath, pretend to be injured, or pretend to be more tired than you actually are. It is easy to pretend to think or act a little bit slower. We all know Orions move, think, and act faster. We all know they are stronger and more capable than standard marines. It is easy to scale it all back.

Winters: Makes sense.

Winters paused.

Winters: What surprises me though, is how you were able to get by the blood tests. A blood test is standard procedure, and it would show the genetic markers indicative of Orion augmentation.

Tyber: True, but, those markers are hard to spot. They don’t show up in run of the mill tests. You need a comprehensive test for those markers to show up, and those only ever happen once when you first enlist, or upon request. There was no way in hell I was going to request it.

Tye paused.

Tyber: Leave it to ONI to make their augmented soldiers hard to find. We all know that ONI didn’t want medical officers without clearance having information on the Orion augmentation. What better way to protect your secrets than to make them invisible to routine exams.

Winters: Is this true?

Winters looked at his colleagues for confirmation.

Hand: Yes. ONI made sure to keep the augmentation process as clandestine as possible. ONI went to great lengths to put the genetic markers where they would not be noticed. While that methodology served us well, it clearly had the unforeseen consequence of allowing people to hide illegal augmentations.

Hand paused.

Hand: However, the legalities of augmentation are not the issue here.

Winters: Shouldn’t it be? We have an ONI Agent who was illegally augmented. ONI has very clear policies on this issue.

Hand: Commander Vernette had undergone criminal experiments, and was coerced into augmentation by someone who was pretending to be ONI. He cannot be held responsible for that. It was not as if the Commander sought out illegal means of gaining his augmentation.

Winters: I guess that is true. It would be hard to nail him on that charge, if it were made.

Hand: The charge will not be made. You can rest assured on that.

Winters shrugged, as he turned back to Tye.

Tyber: I will say this; Director Hand nailed it on the head. I was manipulated into undergoing the procedures necessary for Orion augmentation.

Tye scoffed.

Tyber: I got a lot more than I bargained for with The Trust.

Winters: That much is obvious. Your report mentioned that you were subjected to some form of brainwashing.

Tyber: That is one way of putting it. That is a very mild way of putting it. Spender and Novak conditioned me, and my former compatriots, to be ruthless killers. We were forced to run highly disturbing simulations in which we were forced to put down a wide variety of enemy, from UNSC soldiers, to unarmed civilians.

Tye paused.

Tyber: I later learned that those simulations were far more real than they were supposed to be. In those simulations, we were killing real people, real colonists that had been abducted and subjected to psychotropic agents to make them more open to whatever suggestion was needed to make them play whatever role was required of them.

Tye scoffed.

Tyber: A lot of messed up shit happened on that ship!

Winters nodded, as he looked at his tablet.

Winters: Tell me more about Commodore Davidov. I am very curious about him.

Tyber: Davidov was…a good man, well, as good of a man as you could possibly be when working for an organization like The Trust. Davidov was a relic of what The Trust used to be before Spender came along and corrupted the entire organization and turned it into what it is today.

Winters: I see.

Tyber: Davidov had ideas that were ideologically opposed to what Spender believed. Davidov believed in the original function of The Trust; which was oversight and assistance to the institutions that advanced human interests. Spender, on the other hand, preferred policies which saw The Trust take direct control of those institutions. Spender wanted control of the UEG, the UNSC, ONI, and anything else which could shape the future of humanity.

Winters: Why do you believe Davidov felt so strongly about staying true to the original ideals of The Trust?

Tyber: For the same reason that anyone sticks to an ideology; because they believe in it. Davidov believed in a Trust Syndicate that actually knew how to balance the moral scales. It was all Davidov knew. I think, deep down, Davidov was a good man who wanted to see Humanity prosper. He stuck to a set of ideals which were tolerable, and he did everything he could to fight against the same Trust Syndicate that we are fighting today. In many ways, a man like Davidov is not much different than a man like Nighthawk. Both of those men do the wrong things for the right reasons, but, they are both good men…deep down inside.

Tye paused.

Tyber: Davidov stuck to his ideas right up until his death.

Winters: A death that you bestowed upon him.

Tyber: Regrettably, yes.

Tye paused.

Tyber: In his final moments, he renounced The Trust. He wanted to die with a clear conscious. I regret making the decision to kill Davidov, but, I understood his desire to die. At least I gave him a quick death. Had it been Spender, as opposed to I, who captured Davidov…I am certain that Davidov would have suffered to no end.

Winters: I see.

Winters paused.

Winters: In your report, you made mention of a data chip that Davidov gave you. Where is this data chip now?

Tyber: I duplicated the data, and surrendered it to ONI when I submitted my report. I felt ONI needed to see that intel.

Winters: Why did you wait to turn this information over? You could have turned this information over years ago.

Tyber: I never came forward with that intel for the same reason that I never came forward with my experiences with The Trust. I didn’t want to be exposed as an augmented soldier. I wanted to bury everything about what happened, well, bury but never forget. If I would have handed that chip to ONI, there would have been questions; questions I was not prepared to answer.

Tye paused.

Tyber: Yeah, I screwed up on that, but, at the time…I did not know any better. I didn’t know how to handle what I had. I made mistakes as a result. I do hold some blame for hiding this information, and I will never deny that. My only concern is being able to make up for those mistakes. Everything that I have done since leaving The Trust has been to try and balance the scales…to make up for the wrongs I did. I continue to this very day.

Winters: I see…

Winters paused, as he looked at his tablet.

Winters: Commander?

Winters paused.

Winters: Tell me more about Kathryn Spender, or, Vixen as ONI knew her. ONI never really had much intel on Vixen. There are some blanks in her file that, even to this day, we would like to fill in.

Tyber: Vixen is dead. What does it matter?

Winters: It matters.

Tye scoffed.

Winters: We need to know. Knowing about Vixen helps us understand Spender. It helps us understand what motivates him, and what drives him.

Tyber: If you want to understand Spender, why don’t you go and talk to him?

Winters: After he was relieved of his duties as the Director of Section 0, and dishonorably discharged from the military, he fell off the grid. He vanished. We cannot find him.

Tyber: If you want to know more about what motivates Spender, then I can tell you more about him. I know enough about Spender to fill in the blanks. However, I refuse to discuss Vixen.

Winters: Why?

Tyber: I have never talked about her. I have never faced it. I have never dealt with it. I am not prepared to discuss it.

Winters: You don’t have a choice in the matter, Commander.

Director Hand looked at Winters and Tye, watching their exchange unfold. She could tell, just by the tone in Tye’s voice that he was very uncomfortable talking about Vixen.

Hand: If I may interject?

Winters and Tye looked at Hand.

Hand: I do not believe it is necessary to index any additional information of Vixen. She is not the issue at hand. We should be focusing on The Trust, not an Insurrectionist.

Winters: But, Ma’am…

Hand: But, nothing. Vixen will not be discussed.

Winters winced at Hand.

Winters: Fine.

Winters sighed, as he looked at his PDA. After a few moments of silence, he looked at Tye, and began to speak.

Winters: Tell me Commander. Are you still in possession of the armor that you used when you served with Black Team?

Tyber: Yes. The armor that I employed when serving with Black Team is still in use today. I have been using it for the past 25 years. It has held together quite well.

Winters: Is it still functional?

Tyber: Oh yes. In fact, it functions like it did on day 1. Unfortunately, I am unsure how to change the default settings on the armor. If I reset it back to default settings, it will turn black. I have not touched it or modified it since the first day I put it on.

Winters: Would you permit ONI to examine the armor? We could learn quite a bit from it!

Tyber: I see no reason not to. ONI could pick up a few new tricks if they look at that armor long enough. I am not sure how the armor works, exactly. I guess if you spent long enough with it, you would figure it out. Just don’t break it…

Tye paused.

Tyber: I would like to continue using it. I would hate to have to break in a new set.

Winters: Why do you continue to use equipment given to you by The Trust? One would think you would want to be rid of it?

Tyber: The gear is too good. It was designed to complement my training and my abilities. As much as I hate The Trust, they do employ some of the best tailors around.

Winters frowned at the remark.

Tyber: In all seriousness, however, that BDU has functionality that is unique. If it was just another piece of armor, then I would get rid of it. However, that is not JUST armor. It is a type of innovation that we have never seen before. It was designed…for me. It is mine. It is a monument to everything that I have done; every life that I have taken and saved. That armor does more than protect me. It reminds me of what I used to be, and who I am now. It reminds me of the two most important words in my life; never again. It is part of who I am.

Tye paused.

Tyber: So, feel free to look at the armor, examine the armor, and run some tests on it. However, when I return to active duty, and I will be returning to active duty, the armor comes with me. I am not leaving it with ONI.

Winters scoffed at Tye.

Winters: Commander, that armor belongs to the enemy. Having that armor in our possession would be invaluable, both from an R&D perspective, as well as an intelligence gathering one.

Tyber: Like I said, the armor was tailored for me. It belongs to me.

Winters: It does not belong to you, Commander. The armor belongs to the military.

Tye was going to speak, but, Hand interjected.

Hand: I tend to agree with the Commander; the armor does belong to him.

Winters looked at Hand.

Hand: I think we would be doing a serious disservice to the Commander if we were to confiscate his armor. I think he has earned the right to own it.

Winters looked at Hand and frowned.

Winters: Ma’am…that is highly irregular! Soldiers do not own military grade equipment!

Hand: Under normal circumstances, no. However, I will make an exception. He has used it for 25 years straight. I think he has earned the right to keep it.

Winters: If you insist…Director.

Winters scoffed, as he looked back at his tablet. Tye looked at Hand, just as she shot him a quick wink. Tye grinned, as he leaned back in his chair. Winter, on the other hand, simply shook his head, as he sighed.

Winters: I have no further questions at this time. I believe I have enough for the time being. However, I do have one thing to say before I am finished.

Winters looked at Tye.

Winters: Commander Vernette; nobody in this room denies that you have served both the UNSC and ONI loyally and faithfully. Nobody in this room denies the excellent work that you have done in our war with The Covenant. However, I must go on record with what I am about to say…

Winters paused.

Winters: Hiding the fact that you were, at one point, a member of The Trust, is very unbecoming of an officer. You had no right to hide this information from ONI. Now, I realize that you made this lie of omission because you were uncertain about your future, but, nothing can justify an attempt to hide what could be seen as treason.

Winters paused.

Winters: Who knows what else you could be hiding, or, what you would be capable of hiding.

Winters scoffed.

Winters: I am not impressed, Commander.

Winters sighed, as he leaned back in his chair, falling silent as he did. After a few moments of silence, Evert began to speak.

Everet: Commander Vernette…

Evert paused.

Everet: Please describe your association with Jacob Sharpmen. How would you describe your current association with Captain Sharpmen?

Tye sighed, as he gave a shrug.

Tyber: He was my friend.

Everet: Was?

Tyber: Not anymore…hence, the “was”.

Everet: Why?

Tyber: He is a member of The Trust. He is a traitor. He tried to kill me. Take your pick.

Everet: Are you certain that he is a member of The Trust?

Tyber: Fairly certain.

Tye scoffed.

Tyber: I will say, however, that I doubt that he was a member of The Trust before the San Angeles campaign. That being said, I believe that his allegiance shifted during the events of San Angeles, specifically, during our raid on Firebase Desert. That was when he changed sides.

Tye paused.

Tyber: In fact, I was there when it happened. When I confronted him about it, he gave me some bullshit about doing it for humanity. That excuse is the same bullshit that The Trust says when they try to justify their treacherous behavior.

Tye sighed.

Tyber: The bastard betrayed everything that he stood for, because he didn’t like Nighthawk. I dare say that the biggest reason that Jacob defected to The Trust was because he hated Nighthawk and Anaconda.

Everet: I am curious if there is any doubt in your mind about Jacob’s traitor status. Harrison believes he is still loyal. Cochraine and Reynolds believe that he is still loyal. Obviously this is not a cut and dry situation.

Tyber: I will admit that there is a bit of doubt in my mind. The doubt stems from the fact that Jacob, while he was working with The Trust, saved my life at the Apex Applied Research Building. Jacob saved me from falling out of the side of the building. During an armed confrontation. Even now, I have no idea what his angle was. I have no idea why a traitor would save the life of someone he just betrayed? It does not make sense to me.

Tye paused.

Tyber: And yes, while there is some doubt in my mind about Jacob’s loyalty, most of my mind believes he is a traitor, and he should be punished as a traitor.

Tye paused.

Tyber: The punishment for treason is very clear.

Everet: You want him put to death?

Tyber: Yes. He IS a traitor.

Everet: What about you? You were a traitor at one point. Do you deserve death? Do you deserve to be executed for treason?

Tye scoffed.

Tyber: I was never a traitor.

Everet: You were a member of The Trust, were you not? I see no difference between you and Jacob. Should you be subject to the same consequences?

Tye glared at Everet.

Tyber: There is a difference.

Everet: I have already heard the reasoning Commander. You are going to say that Jacob made a choice, while you were manipulated and lied to. I have heard this same tired defense already. I am not buying it, because ignorance is not a defense.

Tyber: Typically, I would agree. However, when someone drugs you and uses mind altering drugs on you to force your cooperation, I would think that would be an excuse.

Everet shook his head.

Everet: How do we know, for sure, that your story is completely honest? I mean, it is possible that you are fabricating or altering the details surrounding the events which led you to join The Trust.

Tyber: Are you calling me a liar?

Everet: Possibly.

Evert paused.

Everet: Frankly, I think you are trying to feign innocence in the matter. I am not buying this whole story about brainwashing and drugging, as there is no proof of it. Sure, we can verify that you are an Orion, but, everything else; we only have your word.

Tyber: You only have my word when I detail the things that I was forced to be a part of. DO you doubt those aspects of my story as well?

Everet: Of course not. Why would I? It is easier to believe an admission of guilt than a declaration of innocence.

Tye glared at Everet for a moment, before he began to laugh.

Tyber: You are a serious piece of work…you know that right?

Tye paused.

Tyber: You have to be the dumbest man I have ever met.

Everet: Watch your tone, Commander. You are addressing a superior officer.

Tyber: No, I am through watching my ton I am through sitting here and listing to your vitriol. I am through with your bullshit! You sit there, drawing some sort of moral equivalency between what Jacob did and what I was subjected to, against my will. You are cherry picking which parts of my personal history with The Trust best suit your agenda, whatever it may be.

Tye scoffed.

Tyber: You are lucky Everet. If I was still the man I was 25 years ago, I would take a flamethrower to you. I would torch you until there was nothing left.

Everet became wide eyed.

Tyber: Fortunately for you, I am not the man I was 25 years ago.

Tye paused.

Tyber: I am not a killer. I do not kill my fellow officers. I am loyal to ONI and to the UNSC. I have defended Humanity from The Covenant and The Trust. I know where I stand. I know who and what I am. I should not have to prove it to you. My actions speak for themselves.

Tye paused.

Tyber: Jacob’s actions speak for themselves. When we were faced with the choice, I rejected The Trust and Jacob embraced them. That fact alone is what sets me apart from Jacob. If you cannot see that, then you cannot be helped. I have no idea how else to explain it.

Everet glared at Tye for a solid minute, before he finally spoke.

Everet: Commander…

Everet paused.

Everet: You seem to think that a different set of rules apply to you. I am sorry to say, but, that is not the case. I can say, with absolute certainty that this is not over. This issue will not be going away. You ARE going to pay for your treachery, in the same way that Jacob will pay for his. Mark my words on this…

Everet set his tablet down on the desk, as he fell silent and looked at his colleagues, waiting for one of them to speak up. It did not take long for Commodore Dunham to speak up.

Mallorie: Commander Vernette, I am really hoping that you will be able to provide me some insight into Vanguard. So far, we have very little information on this thing that played such a pivotal role in so many decisions.

Tyber: Unfortunately ma’am…I don’t know anything that would helpful. All I know about Vanguard was that it was an advanced AI that The Trust wanted access to. The Trust fought tooth and nail to protect Vanguard, and they went to great lengths to hide it.

Tye paused.

Tyber: I picked up a bit of information from The Trust. Black 1 believed that it was the key the Human victory over The Covenant. They believed that they could control it, and use it against their enemies; whether that be The Covenant or ONI.

Mallorie: Did you ever have visual confirmation with Vanguard?

Tyber: Negative.

Tye paused, as he reconsidered his answer.

Tyber: Well, perhaps that is not entirely accurate. During the raid on The Ulterior Motive, I did catch a very good look at what appeared to be an unknown apparatus, allegedly, it was a storage device for Vanguard.

Mallorie: Can you describe this device?

Tyber: Yeah. For starters, it was a rectangular box, roughly 4 feet by 2 feet. It was made of some type of alloy; gold in colour. The device was powered, as there seemed to be lights emanating from it.

Mallorie: What do you mean by storage device? Why do you use that term?

Tyber: It was my understanding that Vanguard was…nothing more than a digital construct. It was possible that it was found in that state. Vanguard didn’t have a…body, so to speak.

Tye paused.

Tyber: The Trust needed something called the Forge. That was the key to the endgame. The Forge was what was buried under Firebase Mediterranean.

Mallorie: The Forge is where Lieutenant Commander Cochraine went.

Tyber: I think The Forge was a smaller, though crucial, part of a larger facility. I do not believe that Cochraine was present at The Forge. She may have come close to it, but, I doubt she was there. There is no way to know for sure.

Mallorie: I see…

Mallorie paused for a moment, as she looked at her tablet. After a moment, she began to speak once more.

Mallorie: Commander? How certain are you of this information?

Tyber: Very certain. Everything that I told you, I learned from either The Trust, The Covenant or Nighthawk.

Mallorie: The Covenant?

Tyber: Believe it or not.

Tye sighed.

Tyber: There was a very small number of Covenant soldiers that had a vested interest in destroying Vanguard. From what I could gather, there was an Elite that was seemingly had firsthand experience with Vanguard. In fact, I can recall that Elite saying something about “not making the same mistake he did” in reference to helping Vanguard.

Mallorie: That seems to imply that Vanguard has been around for some time. This is clearly not the first time Vanguard has been an issue,

Tyber: I think this is the first time it has been an issue for Humans.

Mallorie: That much seems to be clear.

Tyber: It is also worth mentioning that there was a Brute Chieftain who also had a vested interest in destroying Vanguard. I believe that this Chieftain was very high ranking. This was no green blood or scrub. This was a battle hardened Brute with the highly intricate armor that went with command. He helped us battle The Trust, and he wanted to get his shot at Vanguard just as much as we wanted to.

Tye paused.

Tyber: To be frank, I was very surprised by the fact that there was a small cabal of Covenant soldiers who had similar interests to our own. Whatever Vanguard is, The Covenant considers it holy. For this small group of Covenant soldiers to make an effort to help us destroy it says a lot about what Vanguard was. This also reveals something about The Covenant. It tells us that The Covenant is more disjointed than we previously believed.

Mallorie: I am curious; how do you know The Covenant considered Vanguard holy? What do you base that assertion on?

Tyber: Anaconda revealed that little tidbit of information. I am inclined to believe him. He WOULD know, after all.

Mallorie: It is tough to argue with that. I guess he would have insight into The Covenant that we lack.

Tyber: I think we lack a lot of insight, Ma’am.

Mallorie: How so?

Tyber: There are still many questions that were never answered. For all that we do know about what happened at San Angeles, and why, there is more that we don’t know. I don’t think we will ever truly know what Vanguard was capable of. We will never know its true nature. Perhaps we shouldn’t know. Perhaps, at this time, it is too dangerous to know. Humanity may not be prepared for what Vanguard was, and what it was capable of.

Tye paused.

Tyber: Vanguard is still a mystery. There is a lot about it that we simply do not understand. We will never know the true upper limit of its power, and we will never understand what it was capable of at its peak. We will never know where it came from, or who made it and why. Whatever happened underneath Firebase Mediterranean, whatever battle took place, and whatever decisions were made, it all happened because a few people knew what everyone else will never know; Vanguard’s true potential. They knew this AI in a way we didn’t. Nighthawk, Anaconda, The Trust, The Covenant…they had an insight into Vanguard that we didn’t have.

Tye paused.

Tyber: As tragic as the loss of San Angeles is, perhaps it was a good thing that Vanguard, and all of its technology, is gone. If there was even a 1% chance that Vanguard was as dangerous as Nighthawk and Anaconda believed, then we are obligated to take that as an absolute certainty. If there was even a 1% chance that Vanguard was a threat to the Human race, then destroying San Angeles was the right thing to do. To let idealism interfere with our objectivity, would be to court death.

Mallorie: Commander? What are you saying?

Tyber: I am saying that Vanguard was a very real threat. I am saying that taking Vanguard seriously was the right thing to do, even though we had very little to go on. I am saying that the correct course of action was to avoid half measures. I am saying that destroying San Angeles was the right call. It was a tough call, but it was the right one.

Tye paused.

Tyber: It does not feel right to say that, but, we have to get used to the facts, and the facts are that if San Angeles was left where it was, then Humanity would have officially lost the war. It would only have been a matter of time before Vanguard, or someone using its technology, would have swept the Human race off the face of the Galaxy. I shudder to think what our enemies would do with Vanguard’s technology. It is a terrifying prospect to think that technology so advanced almost fell into the hands of The Trust or The Covenant – our enemies.

Tye hung his head.

Tyber: However, it always comes back to the fact that 40 million people were lost on San Angeles in order to secure the rest of Humanity from a grave threat. That is a lot of innocent blood. It is a tragedy.

Tye paused.

Tyber: However, the bigger tragedy would have been to allow Vanguard’s technology to fall into the hands of the enemy. Imagine the death toll if Vanguard’s technology was allowed to leave that planet. 40 million seems like a small number in that context.

Mallorie: You are Implying that if Vanguard, and all of its technology, had not have been deep sixed on San Angeles, more people would have died?

Tyber: Across multiple worlds? Yes. There is no telling what would have happened if that technology had been weaponized, or worse, if Vanguard had escaped San Angeles. Nighthawk did the wrong thing, for the right reason. He denied our enemies their access to a dangerous asset.

Tye paused.

Tyber: Asset denial…it has always been a tough job. You never really sleep right after an asset denial operation.

Tye sighed.

Tyber: You know, Nighthawk was right about one thing that he said; he made the hard decisions that we could not make. He did the things we didn’t have the conviction to do. To destroy an entire world is not something we were prepared to do. It was something we didn’t know how to do. It was something we could not even fathom. Nighthawk took that burden from us, so WE could sleep at night. He didn’t want us to live with that death toll. He didn’t want us living the rest of our lives with that on our conscious. He knew that whoever was the one to destroy San Angeles, would be the one who was going to carry the blame. He spared us from that.

Tye shook his head.

Tyber: Still…40 million people. That is a heavy price to pay. Nothing will ever change that. If only it could have been avoided…

Mallorie sighed, as she looked at Tye.

Mallorie: If only, Commander…if only…

Mallorie sighed.

Mallorie: Commander…I appreciate your insight into this matter. It has given me a lot to think about. Thank you.

Mallorie fell silent, as she looked at her tablet; tapping her fingers on the device. Wolfgang, on the other hand, spoke up.

Wolfgang: I am not buying this bullshit. Trying to paint Nighthawk and Anaconda as heroes is a very gutless move. Those two did not do anything extraordinary, short of destroying a planet in an unconventional way.

Tyber: It is not about trying to portray them as heroes. I am simply telling the truth. The truth is, they were necessary in order to deny assets to the enemy.

Tye paused.

Tyber: I don’t want to think that the destruction of San Angeles was necessary, but, there was too much at stake. A tough decision had to be made…and Nighthawk made the call.

Before Wolfgang could rebuttal, Director Hand stepped in, and began to speak.

Hand: Alright…I have heard enough for today. We are done, for now.

Wolfgang glared at Director Hand.

Wolfgang: Director…we are nowhere NEAR done. There is still a LOT more that we could get into.

Hand: I must disagree with that assertion, Vice Admiral. I do not think there is any more to gain from questioning Commander Vernette. I feel that he has given us everything he can at this time. Now is the time for us to take this information and review it. There is nothing more to be gained by sitting here, and dragging on this discussion.

Wolfgang: If you insist, Director.

Wolfgang scoffed, as Hand continued to speak.

Hand: You are all dismissed.

Everyone in the room looked at Director Hand for a moment, before they all began to stand up. One by one, everyone left the room, with exception to hand, Tye, and the Agents that had escorted in Tye to begin with. However, Hand looked at the Agents, and dismissed them as well.

Hand: Could you gentlemen please wait outside?

The Agents nodded, as they turned and left The Black room; leaving Tye and Hand alone in the room. Once Tye and Hand were alone, Hand began to speak.

Hand: Well, Commander…I have to admit, that went better than expected.

Tyber: Did it?

Hand: I think it did. That was a pretty harsh round of questioning. I was worried you were going to have difficulty discussing your involvement with The Trust.

Tyber: It wasn’t perfect. I still have trouble talking about Vixen. Though, I think I will always have trouble talking about her.

Hand: I understand. It is never easy to discuss such things.

Hand paused, as she let out a sigh.

Hand: You know, Commander, I am not sure what is going to happen to you.

Tyber: What do you mean?

Hand: With knowledge of The Trust now a more public thing, there is going to be some backlash against you, for having been a member of their organization. The UNSC Security council, for example.

Tyber: One thing at a time, I guess.

Tye paused.

Tyber: I always knew that my past would catch up to me. I always knew that one day I would have to face the music. Personally, I always felt ashamed of the fact that I ran from it for so long.

Tye shrugged.

Tyber: I never really came to peace with it, until I just came out with the truth.

Tye paused.

Tyber: Now, it is much less of a burden. It weighs on me less. Now, I can actually heal.

Hand: It is part of the process.

Tyber: And perhaps, if I have a career left after this is all said and done, I can get back to what I do best.

Hand paused.

Hand: Well, rest assured, Commander, you will have a career when this is all said and done. I will NOT allow your career to be destroyed by this. I refuse to let that happen.

Tyber: I appreciate the support, Director.

Hand: Anytime, Commander. Anytime.

Tye grinned.

Tyber: I still don’t understand why you are so adamant about protecting me. I mean, I appreciate it, but, I have to ask…

Hand: It is quite simple, Commander; ONI needs men like you. ONI needs capable operators. To dismiss you over something as trivial as illegal augmentation, would be a foolish decision. Yes, you do have a jaded past, but, I believe we can move past that, given the circumstances.

Hand paused.

Hand: You have proven, beyond any and all doubt, that you are loyal to ONI. You are on our side. I believe that you deserve the chance to be a part of the effort that brings down The Trust. Someone like you would be invaluable. I fight tooth and nail for those I consider to be invaluable.

Hand grinned.

Hand: All that aside, however, I am also very good friends with your brother. He and I go way back. What sort of friend would I be if I allowed his crew to get cut down by bureaucrats?

Tye shrugged.

Tyber: Well, I cannot argue with that!

Tye grinned.

Tyber: Well, here is hoping everything works out.

Hand: Here is hoping…

Hand gave a nod to Tye.

Hand: Commander, you are dismissed.

Tye gave a grin to Director Hand, as he stood up, and left The Black Room, without saying another word. Once Tye had left The Black Room, he was taken back to his quarters by a team of Agents.

Conversely, Director Hand remained in the Black Room, looking silently at the tablet she held in her hand. After a moment, Director Hand pressed her fingers against the screen of the tablet, as she accessed Commander Vernette’s written transcript that detailed his time with The Trust. Director Hand felt a great deal of unease anytime she looked at this report, as she knew that the testimony contained in that report was but a portents of things to come. Director Hand knew that someday, any day, The Trust was going to make a move; a move it has been preparing to make for 30 years. This very notion terrified Director Hand.

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Midnight – The Citadel – Gamma Wing – ONI Debriefing Room Alpha AKA: The Black Room – 0900 Hours - February 12th 2540

David Burke, accompanied by several ONI Agents, entered the Black Room. Upon entering the Black Room, Burke was directed to proceed to the center of the room to sit at the desk that was waiting for him. Without any hesitation, Burke did as he was instructed. As Burke sat down, he looked at the panel of Officers sitting in front of him. Burke recognized every single one of the officers that were there to question him.

Hand: Doctor…how is your arm?

Burke: It is on the mend.

Hand: I am glad to hear that.

Hand paused, as she looked at the tablet that was in front of her.

Hand: You should know, Doctor, that I have spent a bit of extra time brushing up on your service record in order to prepare for this. Your experience with the Class-0 Spartans in something that is of great interest to this investigation.

Burke: In what way?

Hand: Well, seeing as The Risk Takers and Hammer Team are composed of Class-0 Spartan IIs, it stands to reason that they would be of interest to this investigation, seeing as they are currently identified as Trust Operatives.

Burke: I see. Well, if you have questions about Class-0…then I am the man to ask. I spent considerable time with them during their formative years.

Hand: I am glad to hear you will be forthcoming. That being said…we should get started. We have quite a bit to discuss.

As Hand said this, she leaned back in her chair; opening the floor for anyone to speak up. It only took a moment before Wolfgang interjected.

Wolfgang: Doctor Burke, after reading your report, the one thing that dawns on me is that you were skeptical of working with Nighthawk and Anaconda.

Burke: To a degree, yes.

Wolfgang: Yet, despite that skepticism, you did very little to actually oppose any sort of alliance with those two terrorists.

Burke: While I have always been skeptical of those two, I was forced to concede that they had a certain utility which could be only described as…vital. The information that they had on The Trust was not something we could so easily pass on. When you put that on top of the fact that Nighthawk and Anaconda also assisted us in our fight with The Covenant, it is hard to turn them away. They were far too useful.

Wolfgang: You realize that you are talking about the same two people that destroyed San Angeles, right?

Burke: I am fully aware of what Nighthawk and Anaconda did. I am fully aware that they are responsible for the loss of San Angeles, but, I am also fully aware of the overall role that they played in that campaign. To deny that they did, in fact, render assistance to ONI and the UNSC would be a lie. I give credit, where credit is due.

Wolfgang scoffed.

Burke: I am going to assume that you know the full extent of their involvement in San Angeles.

Wolfgang: I do not need to be reminded.

Wolfgang paused.

Wolfgang: However, nothing changes the fact that 40 million people died because of that man and his beast.

Burke: Of course not. What happened to San Angeles was a tragedy. Nighthawk and Anaconda are completely responsible for the loss of San Angeles. However, we must not forget that there was a very good reason for why those two destroyed San Angeles.

Wolfgang scoffed.

Wolfgang: I am curious, Doctor Burke, in your own words, what was that reason?

Burke: That reason was Vanguard.

Wolfgang: Of course. That seems to be the common theme.

Burke: It was very hard not to take Vanguard seriously. Spender admitted to the fact that Vanguard was real. Everything The Trust did was to help Vanguard. We needed to launch an offensive, not only on Vanguard, but also on The Trust. Nighthawk and Anaconda provided us with the intel and expertise necessary to do both.

Wolfgang frowned.

Burke: Given how aggressive and underhanded The Trust was, especially given the fact that The Trust BROUGHT The Covenant to San Angeles, I believe that the decision to involve Nighthawk and Anaconda, while uncomfortable, was absolutely necessary. If I had the chance to go back, and do it all over again, I would do everything exactly the same.

Wolfgang: So, you condone their activities?

Burke: If those activities involve burying The Trust, you are damn right I do. The Trust has been a problem for far too long! Frankly, I hope Nighthawk guts every single one of those bastards.

Burke paused.

Burke: While I cannot approve of his actions pertaining to the destruction of San Angeles, I can understand full well why he did it. When I realized the odds we were facing, that plan made sense from the perspective of asset denial. Vanguard was far too dangerous to be allowed to exist, and it was far too dangerous to be allowed in the hands of the enemy.

Wolfgang: You are willing to put the lives of 40 million people up against that claim?

Burke: Yes I am.

Wolfgang: How can you say that?

Burke: How many people have died so far, Wolfgang? How many planets have been glassed by the Covenant? How many ships have been blasted to pieces? How many servicemen and women have died? How many cities have fallen?

Burke frowned.

Burke: Several billion lives have already been lost. Dozens of worlds. Over a hundred major cities. Hundreds of smaller cities and towns, farms, communities. Hundreds of ships, warships, colony ships. All of this…wiped out by The Covenant, and you have the audacity to sit there and say that denying The Covenant access to Vanguard’s technology was unacceptable.

Wolfgang: I never said that was unacceptable.

Burke: You are categorically opposed to the destruction of San Angeles. That is synonymous with being opposed to denying Covenant access to Vanguard’s technology.

Wolfgang frowned.

Burke: Without that technology, The Covenant has eradicated more Human life than we ever thought imaginable. Try to imagine what they could do WITH that technology. Try to image a world where The Covenant has access to Technology that is far beyond even what they have access to. When you begin to visualize that reality, the number 40 million gets a lot smaller.

Burke scoffed.

Burke: Now, imagine how many horrible things The Trust could do with that technology.

Burke paused.

Burke: Nighthawk and Anaconda did the wrong thing for the right reason. That much is obvious. That much should be clear. To say otherwise, is deluded.

Wolfgang frowned at Burke.

Wolfgang: The wrong thing for the right reason…

Wolfgang scoffed.

Wolfgang: That excuse is used FAR too often to justify what Nighthawk and Anaconda did!

Burke: It is what ONI says, isn’t it?

Wolfgang frowned.

Burke: If that excuse is good enough for ONI…

Wolfgang slammed his fist down on the desk.


Wolfgang was breathing heavily. He was clearly very angry.

Wolfgang: That son of a bitch is not ONI…

Wolfgang paused.

Wolfgang: You…people…

Wolfgang paused.

Wolfgang: The very fact that you can sit there and defend Nighthawk makes me sick to my stomach. You are a member of the Office of Naval Intelligence. The VERY FACT that you have ANYTHING good to say about Nighthawk is appalling! That son of a bitch is EVIL!

Burke: Appalling? Evil? No, Vice-Admiral. What is appalling is how you spare no indignation on Nighthawk, but find nothing but indifference for The Trust. What I find to be evil, is The Trust.

Wolfgang: Nighthawk is a terrorist, and his beast is…well, he is no better. They are both terrorists.

Burke: Believe me, IO used to think so. However, I have come to realize that Nighthawk and Anaconda are NOT terrorist. They were branded terrorists. We were told they were terrorists. However, they seem to exhibit no behavior that is consistent with terrorist activity. In fact, every target that they have ever hit, has had at least some tie with The Trust. The only people that they are “terrorizing” is The Trust. To me, that makes them, not terrorist, but rather, assets.

Wolfgang shook his head.

Wolfgang: Doctor Burke…you are a fool.

Burke frowned.

Wolfgang: I can see that trying to convince you of how dangerous Nighthawk and Anaconda are, is a waste of my time. It is very clear how you perceive those two, and it is very clear that you are completely unreliable as far as dealing with them. You are a terrorist sympathizer, Doctor. ONI does not go easy on terrorist sympathizers.

Burke: And you, Admiral, defend traitors. Your sit there, condemning Nighthawk as a threat, all while ignoring the very real danger posed by The Trust. That says a lot about you, as a person. You are a gutless, ignorant man.

Wolfgang: You are out of line, Doctor.

Burke: Yes I am.

Director Hand watched as the two men went back and forth. Before Wolfgang had a chance to rebuttal, Hand interjected.

Hand: Gentlemen…that is enough!

Burke and Wolfgang looked at Director Hand.

Hand: Bickering back and forth does not accomplish anything. If there is nothing of substance left to say, then we should move on!

Wolfgang looked at Burke for a moment, before he scoffed, and sat back in his chair.

Wolfgang: I have nothing more to say at this time.

Wolfgang sighed, as he winced his eyes. He was very clearly annoyed with the discussion, and it was very obvious to everyone in the room. However, despite this, the discussion had to move on, and Skinner was the one who interjected to move the questioning forward.

Skinner: I think we need to shift gears. It is clear that the current topic of discussion is not an easy one to discuss.

Skinner paused, as he looked at Burke.

Skinner: Doctor…we should discuss The Covenant.

Skinner paused as he looked at his tablet.

Skinner: Doctor, according to your reports, you were in command of The King Raven for a period of time, correct?

Burke: That is correct. I was placed in command after Captain Frost proceeded to the surface to engage in ground operations.

Skinner: Did you not object to that course of action?

Burke: Yes I did. I made it abundantly clear that her place was on the bridge of The King Raven. Suffice to say, she proceeded to the surface anyway, and left me in command.

Skinner: And you just allowed her to leave?

Burke: I have a professional respect for Captain Frost. I did my duty informing her of the risk to her personal safety, as well as her responsibility to The King Raven. However, her decision was final. She left me in command, and I fulfilled those responsibilities to the fullest extent.

Skinner: I see.

Skinner paused.

Skinner: While you were in command of The King Raven, can you elaborate further on exactly what you did?

Burke: During my time as the commanding officer of The King Raven, I assisted Admiral Harrison and the UNSC Navy with counter operations against The Covenant Navy, as well as coordinating ground support for our teams on the ground. Additionally, I managed to utilize the medical facilities of The King Raven as a place to evacuate and treat the wounded.

Burke paused.

Burke: The King Raven, in addition to other UNSC vessels were involved in several skirmishes with small portions of The Covenant fleet. However, these engagements were typically smaller in scale, as we had to resort to smaller and quicker attacks due to how heavily outclassed we were compared to the Assault Carriers that were present.

Skinner: Were you able to destroy any Covenant ships?

Burke: I can confirm that under my command, 6 Covenant ships were destroyed. 4 Corvettes and 2 destroyers.

Skinner nodded.

Skinner: I see.

Skinner paused, as he looked at his tablet, skimming the information on it.

Skinner: I am curious about something, Doctor; did you have any objection to the fact that military focus had shifted away from The Covenant and towards The Trust?

Burke: I was concerned about the fact, but, I did not have any objections to focusing military efforts on The Trust.

Skinner: Concerned?

Burke: I was concerned that The Covenant would capitalize on the fact that we had less pressure on them. Fortunately, we managed to keep up on offensive on The Covenant long enough for The Covenant to shift its focus.

Burke paused.

Burke: The Covenant began to engage The Trust, specifically. I am not sure why The Covenant decided to begin focusing its hostility on The Trust. I was just thankful that we caught a break.

Skinner: Is there any reason that you can think of as to why The Covenant shifted their focus on The Trust?

Burke: It obviously had something to do with Vanguard. From what I had heard from Commander Vernette, there was a Brute Chieftain and an Elite Zealot aboard The Ulterior Motive attempting to prevent The Trust from leaving with Vanguard. The Covenant’s shift in priorities had something to do with Vanguard. That is my best guess.

Skinner: That is a reasonable hypothesis.

Burke: Whether it was, or wasn’t…the fact of the matter was that any alliance or cease fire with The Covenant would not have lasted in the slightest. The entire situation was advantageous, but, nothing more.

Skinner nodded, as he took a few notes on his tablet.

Skinner: I see. No further question.

As Skinner fell silent, Winters interjected, and began to speak.

Winters: Doctor Burke…

Burke looked at Winters.

Winters: What can you tell us about The Trust Operatives that were at San Angeles?

Burke: There was a lot of them.

Burke paused.

Burke: You will have to be more specific.

Winters: Deputy Director Yates, that is, former Deputy Director Yates.

Burke: From what I gathered from Vice-Admiral Harrison; Yates was one of the higher ups in The Trust. If I am not mistaken, Yates was the executive officer to former Director Spender. Yates was the smoke screen; he showed up to cover up the bullshit that The Trust was engaging in. That did not work out so well for him. As we all know, Yates tried to pull the red tape over Harrison, but, that quickly backfired when Harrison would not have any of that bullshit. The rest is history.

Burke paused.

Burke: Yates was always a bureaucrat! I have known him for a long time, and while I cannot say for certain when he joined The Trust, I can say for certain that he has always been an asshole. I never had any respect for that man.

Winters: So, you believe that Yates was instrumental in covering up various Trust operations?

Burke: Absolutely. Red tape was what Yates excelled at. He could bury anything with enough of it. Without Yates, exposing The Trust is all but certain. We know that he is one of them. We know that he is a traitor. Frankly, if we can find the bastard, he should be taken out.

Winters: I see.

Winters paused for a moment, as he looked at his tablet.

Winters: What about Dr. Novak? What do you know about him?

Burke: I know that he is a disgrace to the medical profession. I know that he is the one who created ODST Black Team. He is a monster, to sum it up in a few words as possible.

Burke paused.

Burke: I have never personally met the man, but, I have heard enough about him from the UNSC Medical Board of Ethics and Commander Vernette to get a pretty damn good idea of who he is. There is absolutely no moral imperative for that man. He conducted criminal medical experiments for The Trust, and did everything he could to hide what he was doing. I cannot say, for certain, how much involvement he had with San Angeles, but, that is ultimately irrelevant. The things he has done in the past should be enough to warrant a death sentence.

Winters: These are very strong opinions, Doctor.

Burke: I have every reason to hold these opinions. Novak is an exceptionally villainous monster in my eyes. That man offends everything that I hold dear. Every moral standard that I hold is held in contempt by Robert Novak.

Burke paused.

Burke: And, you know…it does not matter who you ask me about; be it The Consultant, Spender, Kolya, The Risk Takers, Hammer Team, Black Team, Nova Team…they are all traitors, and they all deserve to die! They are the enemy, as much as The Covenant is. The very existence of The Trust is to undermine ONI and the UNSC for selfish reasons. These are dangerous people, malevolent people. If we do not put them down, if we do not deal with them with decisive action, they are going become more dangerous, more vicious, and more ambitious. We cannot allow that to happen! If we allow The Trust to go unchecked, as Vice-Admiral Wolfgang so badly desires, we will pay for it with blood.

Winters raised an eyebrow at Burke.

Winters: Well, that is all well and good, but, how do you propose we find these traitors? I am not sure if you have heard, or not, but The Trust has gone totally dark. With Spender having been removed as Director by the UNSC Security Council, and his compatriots being branded traitors, they have all gone into hiding. What more do you want?

Burke: If you honestly believe that The Trust’s infiltration of ONI was limited to Spender, and a few others, then you are mistaken. No cabal in Human history is ever composed of a handful of people. The Ulterior Motive had a full crew compliment, and they had several facilities on San Angeles.

Burke paused.

Burke: You should know, as well as I do, that The Trust has never had a shortage of man power. We must never stop hunting for these people. We have to remain vigilant.

Burke frowned.

Burke: I have no idea how we will find these traitors, but we have to remain vigilant. We cannot allow ourselves to become complacent, and we cannot allow ourselves to believe, not even for a moment, that The Trust is not a threat to ONI. We cannot allow ourselves to think like Vice-Admiral Wolfgang.

Wolfgang scoffed, as he glared at Burke. However, he remained silent.

Winters: Believe me, Doctor, we are vigilant. ONI is doing everything imaginable to locate and shutdown The Trust. We are not being complacent.

Burke sighed.

Burke: I hope not, for all of our sakes.

Winters sighed, as he looked at his tablet. Winters took a moment to review some of his notes, before he continued.

Winters: All of that being said, Doctor, I am curious about one thing…

Burke raised an eyebrow at Winters, as he waited for Winters to ask his question.

Winters: Why did you allow Hoffman to fall into the hands of Nighthawk and Anaconda? At one point, Hoffman, a known Trust operative, was handed over to Nighthawk for questioning, and on a second occasion, Hoffman was handed to Nighthawk and Anaconda, at which point he was physically assaulted by Anaconda. Why were these actions permitted?

Burke: I didn’t allow anything. To be clear; none of those decisions were mine to allow. Harrison made the call to allow Nighthawk to interrogate Hoffman, and, it was Captain Frost that allowed Hoffman to be handed over to Nighthawk and Anaconda AFTER he was taken from the Vigorous Inferno.

Burke paused.

Burke: I was skeptical of allowing Nighthawk and Anaconda access to Hoffman, but, in the end, Hoffman was a traitor, and he did not deserve to be protected from Nighthawk and Anaconda.

Winters: Perhaps, but, you did nothing to object to these decisions.

Burke: No, I did not.

Winters: Why?

Burke: Hoffman was a member of The Trust. He deserved everything that came to him. Any trouble I had with reconciling what Nighthawk and Anaconda did to Hoffman to get information out of him, was soothed with the knowledge that Hoffman was a God-damn traitor. Traitors do not deserve sympathy. They do not deserve to be protected from men like Nighthawk and Anaconda.

Winters: Does that same belief extend to Captain Sharpmen and Commander Vernette?

Burke: To Jacob? Yes. To Tye? No. There is a difference between those two men. Jacob IS a traitor to the UNSC and ONI. Tye was a victim of The Trust.

Winters: So I have been told.

Burke: Then you should already know the reasons why. Jacob joined The Trust to cross off Nighthawk and Anaconda. Tye was manipulated and experimented on and FORCED to work for The Trust. There is a big difference.

Winters: Commander Vernette hid this fact from ONI for 25 years.

Burke: And, in that 25 years, Tye has had an exemplary service record, with honors and commendations matched by very few. Yeah, Tye lied. However, that is a very minor point, in a much larger story. I think in the grand scheme of things, when you look back at what he had been through, and you couple that with how faithfully he has served the UNSC and ONI, I think that deserves a pass. Tye has earned the right to let one lie of omission slide.

Burke paused.

Burke: How many lives do you think Commander Vernette has saved in his life, through his actions, directly and indirectly? Thousands? Tens of thousands? Do you think those people care that he LIED about his augmentations at the hands of The Trust? I doubt it. The amount of good that Tye has managed to do in those years utterly eclipses the unfortunate events that he was forced to endure. The fact is, it boils down to the finer points. Tye was manipulated and lied to.

Burke frowned.

Burke: But Jacob…he is a different kind of problem. Jacob KNEW what he was doing. Jacob had a choice! He didn’t have to join The Trust. He didn’t have to do any of it. Jacob chose his path.

Winters sighed.

Winters: It is the same thing…over and over.

Winters frowned.

Winters: Cameron said the same thing. Tye gave the same defense. Now you, Doctor, have uttered the same words.

Burke: It’s because it is true.

Winters: Is it?

Burke: Yes, and, I am certain that when you question Captain Frost…she will say the EXACT same things I have just said. Jacob is a traitor…and the punishment for treason is quite clear.

Burke paused.

Burke: That bastard deserves to die. He killed 20 good men and women. For what?

Burke frowned.

Burke: For nothing…

Winters sighed, as he looked at Burke, unsure of what to say.

Winters: Well, if one thing is clear to me, it is that there are two very different opinions of Jacob. It seems that the crew of The King Raven have complete condemnation for Jacob.

Burke: Can you blame us? Those 20 marines that died, were from our ship. They were ONI. They were part of our crew. We protect our own, or have you forgotten that?

Winters: No, I have not forgotten that, Doctor.

Winters sighed.

Winters: But, I have no further questions.

As Winters put his tablet down on the desk, Everet looked at Burke.

Everet: Doctor Burke…

Burke looked at Everet.

Everet: How would you describe the leadership of Vice-Admiral Harrison?

Burke: Capable, reliable, proven.

Everet: And…Harrison himself?

Burke: Harrison is an intelligent man. Much like his style of leadership, He is a capable, reliable, and proven officer. He is very analytical and sure of his decisions. He is someone you could depend on to make good decisions, most of the time.

Everet: If you believe all of this, then why did you provide the exit strategy for Captain Frost, Commander Vernette, and Spartan Z-091 when they assault The Vigorous Inferno in an act of defiance against Vice-Admiral Harrison?

Burke: Captain Frost is my commanding officer, and she is ONI. She believed that Harrison was in error about how to handle The Trust and Nighthawk and Anaconda, and I agreed with her. Like I said, you can depend on Harrison…most of the time.

Burke paused.

Burke: Harrison allowed his judgement to be clouded by his hatred for Nighthawk and Anaconda, and his partiality towards Captain Sharpmen. These two factors made him an unreliable asset late in the campaign. As such, I felt that I could no longer follow his orders.

Burke shrugged.

Burke: That, and he was suspected of being a Trust operative. And, I guess, even on top of THAT, he was directly interfering with an ONI operation. We had every operation right to give him the end run, and do things our own way. There are ONI procedures in place, and we enacted them. I believe Directive Helios gives us that right.

Burke paused.

Burke: Am I wrong?

Everet shook his head.

Burke: Thought so.

Everet: Still…it begs the question; do you believe that Harrison is a Trust operative?

Burke: There was evidence to support the belief. First and foremost, it is almost a given that anyone who hates Nighthawk and Anaconda are typically Trust operatives. Secondly, Harrison was too quick to jump to the defense of Captain Sharpmen. Third, Vice-Admiral Harrison tried to take control of our investigation of The Trust. Given the first two facts, that was deemed highly suspect. Finally, his efforts to take control of an ONI operation was the final nail in the coffin. Would you trust a man who had exhibited that many signs of potential Trust involvement? I mean, there was already one traitor on his ship? Who was to say there was not a second?

Everet raised an eyebrow.

Everet: That evidence is pretty circumstantial. You were not standing on very solid ground with that kind of evidence.

Burke: We are ONI. We are allowed to act on circumstantial evidence.

Everet: Still, that was a pretty big risk.

Everet laughed.

Everet: I mean…Captain Frost started a firefight on his ship, and you provided the exit strategy. Hell, you gave the order to use the chain guns on the Prowler to provide suppressing fire. You crossed a lot of lines, Doctor.

Burke: We do what we have to do. The Trust needed to be taken down, and Harrison would not give us the operational leverage we needed. We took matters into our own hands.

Everet raised an eyebrow.

Everet: That is a pretty extreme way to take matters into your own hands, Doctor. That was a little far.

Everet sighed, as he shook his head, and looked at his tablet, before looking back at Burke, and resuming his questioning.

Everet: That being said…let’s talk about Captain Frost.

Everet paused.

Everet: I take it you have faith in her leadership abilities?

Burke: Yes. She is a loyal officer, and a skilled leader. She wears ONI’s uniform well.

Everet: So, would I be correct in assuming that you completely support her decisions to accept help from Nighthawk and Anaconda?

Burke: Yes. While I am skeptical of Nighthawk and Anaconda, I am confident in Jennifer’s decisions, and her decision to trust them was enough for me.

Burke shrugged.

Burke: Like I said, I didn’t completely trust Nighthawk and Anaconda, but, there was some degree that I did have confidence in them. Combined with my confidence in Captain Frost, and my desire to see The Trust taken down, I supported Jennifer’s decisions.

Everet: I have noticed that you are on a first name with Captain Frost. Why is that?

Burke: As much as she is my superior officer, she is also my friend. When you fight along someone long enough, the formalities begin to blur, and a different dichotomy is formed. We are typically on a first name basis, and rank is the exception, not the rule. The informality we share is just an extension of the mutual respect we have for one another.

Burke paused.

Burke: And yes, that respect extends to Tye and Cameron as well.

Everet: So, you claim you have complete loyalty to your shipmates. Did that loyalty ever shake when you learned about Tye’s involvement with The Trust or Captain Frost’s support of a dangerous terrorist?

Burke: Not for a single moment. Like I said, I support Jennifer’s decisions. She has proven that she is capable of making informed decisions for the good of the people around her.

Everet: But, don’t you find it odd that she has such a good relationship with Nighthawk? I mean, she and Nighthawk coordinated their efforts A LOT. Hell, there were even reports that Captain Frost, prior to the assault on Firebase Desert, was seen riding in Nighthawk and Anaconda’s Warthog. Doesn’t that make you think?

Burke: I do not understand what you are trying to get at.

Everet: Those two seem FAR too comfortable with one another.

Burke: So?

Everet scoffed.

Everet: Doctor…

Everet paused.

Everet: Surely, you must realize, that seems a bit suspicious. Nighthawk and Anaconda were actively hostile to EVERYONE except Captain Frost. Hell, Nighthawk went out of his way to rescue Captain Frost at Airfield Mayweather.

Burke: Nighthawk went out of his way to rescue Tye and Cameron when they were trying to secure Lieutenant Commander Cochraine from The Covenant. What is your point?

Everet scoffed.

Everet: My point is…

Everet paused.

Everet: Anyone who makes it their business to be on good terms with Nighthawk and Anaconda, should be subject to intensive scrutiny. The fact that you are not suspicious of Captain Frost’s relationship with Nighthawk is deeply troubling.

Burke: I know, for a fact, that Captain Frost was acting in the best interest of the people under her command. Her association with Nighthawk, during the course of the battle, was in our best interest. Captain Frost should not be subject to scrutiny for knowing that being on good terms with Nighthawk and Anaconda was rewarded with strategic intel on the enemy.

Burke folded his arms.

Burke: I see nothing suspicious about that.

Everet gave an exasperated sigh.

Everet: Alright, Doctor…very well. Have it your way.

Everet dropped his tablet on the desk. It was very clear that he had become very frustrated with Burke’s answers.

Everet: I have no further questions at this time.

Everet leaned back in his chair, as he scoffed at Burke. Burke looked back at Everet, as an uncomfortable silence overcame the room. However, after a few moments, Vice-Admiral Crown interjected.

Crown: Doctor Burke; according to your report, you became fully aware of Nighthawks plans just prior to the attack on Firebase Mediterranean.

Burke: Correct.

Crown: Specifically, you became aware of his plan to destroy San Angeles?

Burke: Yes.

Crown: Yet, you did nothing to stop that plan? You made no effort to prevent Nighthawk from destroying San Angeles?

Burke: There was nothing to do. The way I saw it, There was no way we were going to be able to defeat The Trust, The Covenant, and Vanguard. Perhaps we could have beaten one…perhaps two…but to stop all three? That feat was impossible. We simply lacked the resources. The odds were stacked against us, but, it did not stop us from trying. Nighthawk was set on locating and destroying Vanguard. Harrison was intent on fighting The Covenant. Naturally, our target was The Trust. Captain Frost, Commander Vernette, Cameron, and I went to firebase Mediterranean in order to try and stop The Trust, regardless of anything else that may have happened.

Burke paused.

Burke: That weapon that Nighthawk built, was a weapon of last resort, or so he claimed. The plan was to only use the weapon if we were unable to secure the planet from all three threats. If we could not defeat The Trust, or The Covenant, or Vanguard…the weapon would have been used. The weapon was used, because we were unable to win on every front. We needed to win on all three fronts, and we didn’t.

Burke paused.

Burke: It would have been unacceptable to allow Vanguard’s technology to fall into the hands of our enemies, and it would have been unacceptable to allow Vanguard to live. It became a matter of asset denial. All I know is that the Slipspace weapon ensured that Vanguard was destroyed and our enemies did not get their hands on a dangerous piece of technology.

Crown: So I have been told. The same thing, over and over again. Commander Vernette said it. The Spartan said it. Now, you are saying it.

Crown scoffed.

Crown: Asset denial. I am getting tired of hearing the same excuses over and over again.

Burke: Tired of the same excuses? You will get the same answer if you ask the same question over and over. It WAS asset denial, sir. It was a tough call, but, it had to happen. You may not like the answer and you may not like the decision, but, it was absolutely necessary.

Crown scoffed.

Crown: What you call asset denial, I call killing 40 million people.

Burke: You are generalizing the entire situation, sir.

Crown: Am I?

Crown paused.

Crown: You allowed Nighthawk to carry out his plan because, by your own admission, you needed The Trust, The Covenant, and Vanguard defeated. You needed to prevent The Covenant and The Trust from getting their hands on Vanguard’s technology, and you needed to prevent Vanguard from potentially leaving San Angeles.

Crown paused.

Crown: You admitted that stopping The Trust, The Covenant, and Vanguard was nearly impossible, if not completely impossible.

Burke: Yes, but, we still tried. We did everything we could to avert that disaster, but, the odds were stacked against us. We did everything we could. We routed The Trust and we put up a fight against The Covenant. We did not stop fighting until that portal opened!

Crown: And then40 million people died. Why did that portal open? What prompted it to open?

Burke: Obviously, Nighthawk did it. He was the only one who could have done it.

Crown: Yeah…Nighthawk.

Crown shrugged.

Crown: Let’s be honest here, Doctor; do we even know what happened to Vanguard during its fight with Nighthawk? What if Nighthawk found a way to defeat Vanguard? Was that weapon activated before or after Vanguard’s defeat? Did it even need to be activated? Nobody seems to have an answer to that question. Was the activation of that weapon a necessary step.

Burke: I have no idea what happened between Vanguard and Nighthawk. I have no idea how that battle went down. All I know is that SOMETHING happened to necessitate the activation of that weapon. Perhaps Vanguard was defeated by Nighthawk, and the weapon was activated to stop The Trust or The Covenant from getting their hands on any of Vanguard’s technology. It is not unrealistic to assume that Nighthawk had no knowledge of how the fight was progressing on other fronts. He had every reason to believe that The Covenant destroyed the Navy, or, The Trust defeated ONI. Perhaps Vanguard defeated Nighthawk, and the weapon activation was a failsafe. We may never know, for certain. All we do know is this; The Trust and The Covenant will NEVER get their hands on Vanguard’s tech…thanks to that weapon, and our decisions to allow Nighthawk to perform the asset denial procedures. Regardless of the outcome…that technology was too dangerous to exist. It had to be destroyed. Vanguard, and all of its technology, needed to be destroyed. The Covenant would have never stopped pursuing it, and The Trust would have its operatives surrounding it, and we would be none the wiser. Nighthawk mitigated a very real threat, and I stand by every decision that was made, that enabled Nighthawk to do it.

Burke shrugged.

Burke: I don’t trust Nighthawk, but, he knows how to deny access to an asset. I give credit where credit is due.

Crown scoffed, as he looked at his tablet, and began to tap his fingers on the screen. After a moment, he put his tablet down, and looked at Burke.

Crown: Doctor Burke…do you even care that 40 million were killed by Nighthawk?

Burke: Of course I care. It was a tragic loss of life. As a Doctor, I am sworn to protect and uphold the sanctity of life, and to do no harm. However, there comes a point where even I must face the divide between my responsibilities as a physician and my responsibilities as an ONI Agent. When I am one, I cannot be the other. These are two diametrically opposed ideas that simply cannot co-exist. I must, frequently, move between these two lives, as it is needed. The part of me that is a physician feels a very deep pain for the loss of life, while, the part of me that is an Agent realizes the necessity of what had to be done. It is a tough reality to face for Agents with my professional background.

Burke paused.

Burke: I needed to be resolute. I needed to show courage in the face of a difficult situation. I didn’t have the luxury of taking a limp-wristed approach to the situation. I was on the front lines, in the heat of battle, in a life or death, do or die situation. The fact is; we didn’t have time to argue and debate the situation. We needed to make the tough call. We needed to allow Nighthawk to take the fight to Vanguard, and we needed to keep The Trust off his back. We needed to give Nighthawk the best possible chance to stop Vanguard. Most importantly, we needed…I needed to be able to accept the fact that the ideal endgame was nearly impossible to attain.

Crown scoffed.

Crown: In other words; you believe that by allowing Nighthawk to have the option to destroy San Angeles, and the freedom to do battle with Vanguard, without interference from The Trust, you felt that enabled to most likely chance to deny assets to the enemy.

Burke: In so few words, yes. All options were on the table.

Crown: What bothers me is that we have no idea what happened in the fight between Nighthawk and Vanguard. We have no idea how that battle went down. We can only speculate. Without any concrete facts, too much about that battle is left unanswered. For a battle as pivotal as the confrontation with Vanguard, we have considerably very little information.

Burke: Unfortunately, that is how it played out.

Crown: Yes…very unfortunate.

Crown frowned, as he set his tablet down on the desk.

Crown: I have to go on record and say that EVERYTHING about how this operation was conducted bothers me to no end. The very fact that ONI Agents could ally with people like Nighthawk and Anaconda, and allow the destruction of an entire world, is very disturbing. There is NOTHING about this situation that I find to be palatable in any way.

Crown frowned.

Crown: Commander Burke, I have to say it; the very fact that you, and your compatriots, could even entertain the idea of working with someone like Nighthawk, makes me question your commitment to ONI’s anti-terrorism policies. Your failure to apprehend or terminate Nighthawk at first sight is nothing short of gross incompetence.

Burke: We did what we had to do to survive. If the situation had been different, our response to Nighthawk would have been different. We needed him. It is as simple as that.

Burke paused for a moment, as he glared at Crown.

Burke: I realize though, that no matter how many ways I explain it, you simply won’t accept what I have to say. You cannot accept what I have told you because you are unable to actually conceptualize the danger of what we had to face. You are unable to accept anything else, other than the fact that Nighthawk destroyed San Angeles, and that we allowed him to do so. Nothing else matters to you, so, this is a pointless discussion, and I have no intention of going any further with it until you show some willingness to understand our predicament.

Crown frowned.

Crown: Very well, Doctor…

Crown glared at Burke for a moment.

Crown: I guess there is nothing more to discuss.

Crown fell silent, as he turned his head and looked at his colleagues for a moment. Crown was visibly angry, and it was clear that he wanted to push the conversation further. However, Crown knew that he was likely stretching his colleagues’ patience thin.

Crown: Just know this, Doctor; This is far from over. The events of San Angeles will never go away. You may be able to walk out of this room today, feeling as if you somehow evaded your reckoning. However, you can be certain that Someday you will answer for what you partook in. Someday, and I do not know when, you WILL be held to account for your decisions. Of this, you can be certain.

Crown paused.

Crown: Eventually, the whole truth will be learned. Eventually, we will know every detail surrounding the disaster at San Angeles. At that point, you will no longer be able to hide behind uncertainty and supposition. San Angeles may have been destroyed, but, the truth is ethereal, and it cannot be destroyed.

Burke: It is so noted…sir…

Crown’s frown did not dissipate, as he leaned back in his chair, and fell silent. As he fell silent, Mallorie Dunham spoke up.

Mallorie: I must say, that was a rather interesting discussion. Such passion…

Mallorie grinned, as she looked at her tablet.

Mallorie: It seems that Nighthawk’s role in all of this seems to be the point of contention. I had a feeling it would be a sore spot for ONI.

Burke: Nighthawk is typically a sore spot for ONI ma’am.

Mallorie: Yes, well, I much prefer to discuss Nighthawk’s job, as opposed to Nighthawk himself. As you so eloquently put it Doctor; Nighthawk was there to do battle with Vanguard. I am curious about Vanguard. Do you have anything noteworthy to share about it?

Mallorie paused.

Mallorie: I realize I am asking a lot. I realize that Vanguard was a mystery to just about everyone. I realize that the number of people who encountered Vanguard are few. However, given the fact that the very existence of Vanguard was such a pivotal decision making point, I feel there needs to be a line of questioning on this topic.

Burke nodded.

Burke: It makes sense. I do agree that Vanguard was a major part of this entire mess.

Burke paused.

Burke: As far as strategic information on Vanguard is concerned, I doubt there is any in existence. I do not believe that anyone has any strategic intel on Vanguard.

Burke paused

Burke: That being said, I do know a bit about Vanguard, but, most of it is second hand from what Nighthawk mentioned to us. I know there are a few people here who place no value on anything Nighthawk says, but, it is all we have.

Burke paused again.

Burke: I do know that Vanguard was NOT a Covenant AI. I do know that whatever technology it was composed of, it was FAR beyond The Covenant in just about every way. In fact, it was my understanding that a certain part of The Covenant wanted to kill it.

Mallorie: Yes, we are aware of that fact. I believe this was mentioned during our discussions on The Covenant, and the fact that they were rendering combat assistance against The Trust during the attack on The Ulterior Motive.

Burke: Of course…

Burke paused.

Burke: I guess it should also be mentioned that Anaconda had previous exposure to Vanguard. At least, this fact was heavily implied with how intimate Anaconda’s knowledge of Vanguard was. From what we could see, Anaconda hated Vanguard with a passion. That had to have come from somewhere.

Mallorie: Interesting. Do you think Nighthawk also had prior contact with Vanguard?

Burke: I doubt it. Honestly, the impression I got was that Nighthawk has little to no personal or actual experience with Vanguard. From what I could see, Anaconda was the only one who ACTED as if he had some prior contact with Vanguard. It is very possible that Anaconda’s contact with Vanguard predates his partnership with Nighthawk.

Burke paused.

Burke: I think Vanguard has been a problem long before we found it on San Angeles. I think this has been yet another chapter in a fight we never knew was happening; a fight that The Trust just dragged Humanity in to.

Burke paused.

Burke: I think it is safe to say that whatever was going on between Vanguard and The Covenant, we are now a part of that fight.

Mallorie: But, Vanguard is dead…

Burke: Perhaps, but, “Vanguard’s acolytes” are still alive…

Mallorie: Vanguard’s acolytes?

Burke: That was the name given to The Trust, by The Covenant soldiers who were fighting Vanguard. At least SOME Covenant soldiers now know The Trust as such, and I doubt they will stop until Vanguard’s acolytes are dead.

Burke paused.

Burke: Like I said…we have been dragged into a fight.

Mallorie looked at Burke, as she let out a sigh.

Mallorie: That is a very troubling notion. It is never good when The Covenant finds another reason to destroy Humanity.

Burke: I don’t think it is the entire Covenant. We only ever observed a small amount of Covenant soldiers in direct opposition to Vanguard and The Trust. In all of our past engagement with The Covenant, they have never failed to field insurmountable numbers to fight us. However, on The Ulterior Motive, there was only a dozen Covenant soldiers, and only two of them fought with Commander Vernette, and his team.

Burke paused.

Burke: I think what we have is a very small cabal of soldiers that are exclusively dedicated to fighting Vanguard, and I get the feeling that The Covenant, as a larger entity, is unaware of this cabal.

Mallorie: What makes you think that?

Burke: The small number of soldiers is a big hint. On top of that, there is also the fact that they had very little issue fighting side by side with our soldiers in an attempt to destroy Vanguard and The Trust. These Covenant soldiers never went out of their way to create trouble for us the two times we encountered them.

Burke paused.

Burke: This is keeping in mind that the SAME Covenant soldiers that were on The Ulterior Motive showed up at Firebase Mediterranean with the sole intent of fighting Vanguard. We know this, because Lieutenant Cochraine and Jacob encountered a Covenant strike team that, based on their reports, shared many similarities with the description of the Covenant soldiers encountered by Commander Vernette and Cameron on the Ulterior Motive.

Burke paused.

Burke: If one thing was clear, it was the fact that there was a small cabal of Covenant soldiers acting against Vanguard.

Mallorie: That is a fascinating development if I have ever heard it. Is there any way that this helps us?

Burke: Honestly? I cannot say for sure. We don’t even know who these Covenant soldiers were. Without that basic information, we would have no hope of ever making future contact with them. That being said, if Vanguard is dead, which is highly likely, there would be no need to contact them. Then again, it is equally possible that those Covenant soldiers are dead.

Mallorie: So, you doubt that there is any further tactical value in this information?

Burke: All information has tactical value. We have no idea how numerous the anti-Vanguard cabal is inside The Covenant. It could be dozens or even thousands. All we know is that The Trust is now known to The Covenant as servants of Vanguard, and that alone could have use in the future.

Mallorie: I see.

Mallorie paused, as she thought for a moment.

Mallorie: It is unfortunate that so little is known about Vanguard. While I have boundless intel on the people and events surrounding Vanguard, I have to be honest and say that the total lack of strategic intel on Vanguard troubles me.

Burke: Viable intel on Vanguard was scarce to begin with. I believe the only people who could tell you more about Vanguard would be Nighthawk and Anaconda. Beyond that…there is no known alternate source of intel on Vanguard. However, getting those two to sit down and talk with ONI would be downright impossible now.

Burke paused as he looked at the other officers.

Burke: I think we all know why that is.

Burke shrugged.

Burke: Alas…that is literally everything I know about Vanguard. Everything I know, is on the table. You have all heard it, and there is nothing left to hear. Anything further and you are trying to get water from a rock.

Mallorie looked at Burke and nodded.

Mallorie: Very well, Doctor. I have no further questions in that case.

As Mallorie tapped on her tablet, as if jotting down a few notes, Director Hand spoke up.

Hand: Commander Burke…you seem certain that there is nothing else you can add to this investigation.

Burke: I am very certain of that. Anything further is just baseless speculation, and we both know that baseless speculation is not permitted here.

Hand: Well, you are not wrong, Commander. However, I am going to make an exception.

Hand paused.

Hand: I need to know what you think…

Hand paused.

Hand: I need to know what you think of The Trust, as a whole. How dangerous are they? How far will they go? What do you think?

All of the other officers looked at Director Hand with a rather suspicious look on their faces. However, they all kept silent.

Burke: The Trust is exceedingly dangerous. There is nothing they will not do. There is no limit to their treachery. There is no end to their deception. In my honest opinion, The Trust is a threat to EVERYTHING our system is built upon. If they could, they would tear it all down in a heartbeat. It is what they tried, and failed, to do with Vanguard.

Hand: I see.

Hand paused.

Hand: An opinion like that forces me to wonder; how pervasive is The Trust? How big is this organization?

All of the other officers continued to look at Director Hand.

Burke: I have no idea, but, it was big enough to place one of its operatives as the Director of ONI Section 0. It was big enough to have the resources off an entire ship, and hundreds of soldiers and personnel. It was big enough to hide Vanguard from the rest of the UNSC. It was big enough to perform illegal experiments on soldiers they recruited, and it was big enough to recruit Spartans.

Burke paused.

Burke: I believe that it is big enough to do serious harm to the UNSC. I believe that it is big enough to potentially kill a lot of good people.

Hand winced at Burke, as she paused for a moment.

Hand: This is just…speculation?

Burke: Just speculation…

Burke sighed.

Burke: I have seen how The Trust works on a few occasions. These people are ruthless and insidious. They are not to be underestimated or trifled with. They are to be taken very seriously.

Burke scoffed.

Burke: After everything that happened at San Angeles, I am now convinced that the Trust has placed numerous operatives inside of ONI. Frankly, that is the only thing that can explain how they managed to operate with impunity on San Angeles and NOT be discovered. We now know that Spender and Yates were members of The Trust. We know that Hoffman was a member of The Trust. How many more flag officers are loyal to The Trust? How many more traitors are standing in our midst?

Burke paused.

Burke: The only good thing that came out of San Angeles was the exposure of The Trust. Before San Angeles, The Trust, as an organization, has been nothing more than a ghost; something that nobody believed existed, and only a few people took seriously. Now, they have large and uncomfortable spotlight on them

Burke paused.

Burke: And the next move is ours. We can either take The Trust seriously, or, we can continue to ignore them, and we can wait until their next great atrocity before we mention them again. Personally, I would much rather make a move against them. We should be hunting these bastards down, and we should cross them off! Spender, Yates, Kolya, The Consultant…all of these people need to face justice for what they did.

Hand: What about Nighthawk and Anaconda?

Burke: Small fish, compared to The Trust. The Trust is a more immediate threat. Some people may disagree with that…

Burke looked at Wolfgang for a moment, before turning back to Director Hand.

Burke: But those people are fools. Those are people who care more about some guy and a Brute FIGHTING the Trust, than The Trust itself.

Wolfgang frowned.

Burke: Unfortunately, it is not my decision on what to do next. That is your decision, Director Hand. You have to decide what is more important. Is grilling loyal officers over the logistics of a battle more important than finding treachery in the ranks?

Burke looked at every single one of the officers in front of him.

Burke: You all need to get your priorities straight. The Trust should be the only thing you people should be caring about at the moment. If The Trust is not your single biggest concern, then you are all failing at your jobs.

Burke shrugged.

Burke: Of course, this is just my opinion.

Director Hand looked at Burke for a moment, before she finally spoke up.

Hand: Quite the opinion…Commander.

Burke: I know what The Trust is capable of and I know what bureaucrats are incapable of. Either we survive or they do.

Hand thought for a moment, as she looked at Burke. What Burke had just said resonated with her, and it actually concerned her a great deal. Han was silent for a moment, before she looked at the other Officers that were sitting next to her.

Hand: You are all dismissed. This tribunal is to be resumed tomorrow morning at 099 hours.

All of the other senior brass looked at Director Hand for a moment, before they all stood up, grabbing their tablets as they left their seats, and proceeded to make their way towards the exit. Director Hand, however, stayed where she was, as she simply looked at Burke. Burke looked back at Director Hand; knowing full well that she wanted to speak with him in private.

As the other senior brass left the room, Director Hand turned her attention to the Agents that had originally escorted Burke into The Black Room. She simply gave those Agents a nod.

Hand: Wait outside…

Without any hesitation, The Agents turned and left The Black Room, leaving Burke and Director Hand alone.

Hand: Commander…you really have me thinking…

Hand paused.

Hand: You have me thinking about The Trust…and about what they are capable of. I am no stranger to The Trust, and I get the impression that you have your fair share of experience with them as well. My question to you is this…

Hand paused, as she leaned forward and glared at Burke.

Hand: How far do you think they will go?

Burke: How far?

Burke paused.

Burke: As far as necessary to ensure they have absolute control of everything. The Trust wants power, and they will go as far as need be to get it. If it means killing every ONI Agent to get what they want…they will do it.

Hand sighed.

Hand: Are you describing a coup d’état?

Hand paused.

Hand: You are, aren’t you?

Burke: I guess you can call it that. If you read Commander Vernette’s report on his time with The Trust, you would know that Operation Blind Eagle is what they would call it.

Hand: You think The Trust is going to try and take over?

Burke: Honestly? Yes…yes I do. I think it is going to be sooner rather than later. The Trust is now exposed. Knowledge of The Trust is now common place. This puts pressure on them to accelerate their plans, if nothing else. We need to be ready. You need people you can trust…people you can rely on.

Hand: People like you?

Burke: People like Captain Frost, Commander Vernette, Spartan Z-091…and yes, me.

Burke grinned.

Burke: Rear-Admiral Vernette is also a given. If there is ANYONE you can trust, it is him.

Hand: Yes, Preston Vernette is someone I do trust.

Hand paused, as she let out a sigh.

Hand: Commander Burke…I fear you may be correct. As much as I hate to admit it, The Trust MAY try to make a move against ONI.

Hand paused.

Hand: Believe me, Commander Burke, I know that you and your compatriots are loyal officers, and I do agree that I will need people I can rely on. However, for now, I need to let this tribunal continue on.

Burke: Why? We are of no use to you while we are tied up in this…bullshit!

Hand: This bullshit, as you call it, allows me to keep my cards close to my chest. Between you and me, we both know what is going on, and we both know the score. If I call this tribunal off, The Trust will know something is up.

Hand paused.

Hand: At the very least, we can use this tribunal to let The Trust THINK ONI is tied up with these proceedings. It may buy ONI some time; time that I will need to organize against The Trust. We need time, Commander Burke.

Burke sighed.

Burke: I guess you are right.

Hand: Of course I am right. This tribunal will allow me to keep you, and your compatriots close to The Citadel…close to me. If and when I need you, I can get you into the field. For now, all I ask is that you trust the system…trust me…

Burke looked at Hand, and sighed.

Burke: Very well, Director.

Director Hand nodded.

Hand: Thank you, Commander.

Director Hand paused.

Hand: I give you my word, I will keep you in the loop as much as possible. When the time comes to strike against The Trust, I give you my absolute guarantee…you and your compatriots will be there, and you will be the tip of the spear.

Burke nodded.

Burke: Understood.

Hand: Dismissed, Commander. The Agents outside will see you back to your quarters.

Burke nodded, as he stood up, and left The Black Room. As soon as Burke exited The Black Room, he was approached by the ONI Agents waiting outside, and he was escorted back to his quarters.

Midnight – The Citadel – Gamma Wing – ONI Debriefing Room Alpha AKA: The Black Room – 0900 Hours - February 13th 2540

Captain Frost, along with several Agents, entered The Black Room. As Jennifer entered The Black Room, she immediately noticed the tablet at the center of the room, and the senior brass officers that were sitting, and waiting, for her to take her seat.

As The Agents stopped, and stood at the exit of the Black Room, Jennifer continued to walk forward, taking her spot at the center of the room. As soon as Jennifer sat down, she heard Director Hand speak to her.

Hand: Welcome, Captain Frost.

Jennifer gave a slight nod.

Jennifer: Hell, Director Hand.

Hand: I trust that you fully understand why you are here?

Jennifer: Yes, I fully understand. We can skip the pretense.

Hand: Very good.

Hand paused, as she looked to her left and her right.

Hand: If there is anyone here who would like to begin, please…by all means…

As Director Hand opened the floor, Vice-Admiral Wolfgang quickly spoke up.

Wolfgang: Captain Frost…

Wolfgang glared at Jennifer, as he paused for a moment.

Wolfgang: You…are a terrorist sympathizer.

Jennifer raised an eyebrow.

Jennifer: You sure did not waste any time pulling that one out.

Jennifer sighed.

Jennifer: I assume by “terrorist” you mean Nighthawk, and by extension, Anaconda?

Wolfgang: Exactly…

Wolfgang paused.

Wolfgang: Nighthawk and Anaconda…

Wolfgang paused again.

Wolfgang: The two SOBs that you are so fond of.

Wolfgang paused.

Wolfgang: The two bastards that DESTROYED San Angeles.

Wolfgang scoffed.

Wolfgang: I really want to know what the hell you were thinking when you allowed yourself to become so…enamored with those two.

Jennifer: Enamored is not the correct word, sir. Nighthawk and Anaconda were useful. I utilized their expertise.

Wolfgang: Utilized their expertise?

Jennifer: Yes sir; their expertise against The Trust and their expertise against The Covenant. Those two provided us vital assets to fight both The Covenant and The Trust. They provided us with vital assistance against The Covenant and The Trust. I was not of liberty to reject that help.

Wolfgang: Those two are wanted fugitives.

Jennifer: Yes, they are. However, what does it say about those fugitives when they help the people who are trying to eliminate them? You may call them fugitives, sir, but, I see something much different.

Wolfgang: I don’t care what you see, Captain. Those two are wanted by ONI, and above all else, you are required to carry out your duties in either capturing or killing them. The very fact that you did NEITHER of those things, makes me seriously question your judgement.

Jennifer: Before San Angeles sir, I would agree with you. However, the events of this conflict gave me a very new and refreshed opinion on those two. Yes, they are fugitives, and yes, one of them is a Brute, and yes, Nighthawk can be a condescending and arrogant prick, but, those two…they saved lives. They fought on our side, they risked their lives, not only for ONI personnel, but for civilians and UNSC personnel as well. You can certainly doubt their methods, but, you cannot doubt their intentions.

Wolfgang scoffed.

Wolfgang: Yes, I CAN doubt their intentions. I have every right to doubt their intentions! You are talking about two sociopaths who…

Jennifer interjected.

Jennifer: There is nothing sociopathic about those two.

Wolfgang: Oh no? You’re telling me that a history of betrayal, and the willingness to destroy a planet does not qualify as sociopathic? You’re telling me that a man capable of retrofitting a slipspace core into a weapon of mass destruction that can envelop an ENTIRE planet is NOT a sociopath?

Jennifer: I will admit that such behavior is cause for concern, but, none of this is a sign of sociopathic tendencies, especially when you consider the context.

Jennifer paused.

Jennifer: Nighthawk designed the slipspace weapon as…

Wolfgang interjected.

Wolfgang: A weapon of last resort against The Trust, The Covenant, and Vanguard. I have heard this same, tired argument before, Captain.

Jennifer: Then I need not explain the details. The fact of the matter is, you are fully aware of WHY that weapon was built.

Jennifer paused.

Jennifer: Yet, no matter how much you hear it, you refuse to accept it. The technology that The Trust unearthed was a serious threat to Humanity. That technology was too dangerous to be allowed in ANYONE’S hands. The Trust and the Covenant HAD to be denied that technology at ANY cost. If that technology was not destroyed on San Angeles, then it would have been used again, and I am certain that any subsequent abuse of that technology would proceed without ONI intervening to stop it. It would have been done without our knowledge and with our total inability to stop it.

Wolfgang: And that justifies destroying an entire planet?

Jennifer: It does. It is a heavy price, but, it had to happen. San Angeles needed to be destroyed.

Wolfgang: You would condone the sacrifice of an entire world…

Jennifer How many worlds have we sacrificed in this war, Admiral? San Angeles was not the first, and it won’t be the last! How many worlds have been sacrificed to protect Earth? Reach? Where is your indignation there, Admiral?

Jennifer paused.

Jennifer: Nighthawk destroyed San Angeles, so we would not have to. He gave us the luxury of being able to blame someone else. He gave us the luxury of being able to sleep at night, while we point fingers and assign blame to everyone else, except ourselves.

Jennifer frowned.

Jennifer: I think the worst thing Nighthawk did was enable men like you to masquerade as some righteous crusader. You sit there, high and mighty, with some undeserved sense of moral superiority; judging me for seeking out Nighthawk, and judging Nighthawk for making the hard choices in our stead.

Wolfgang scoffed at Jennifer.

Jennifer: I am curious Admiral; what exactly are you mad at? Are you mad about the fact that we lost San Angeles, or, are you mad about the fact that Nighthawk and Anaconda destroyed it? Is this a Nighthawk and Anaconda thing, or, is this a San Angeles thing.

Wolfgang: You are not the one asking the questions here, Captain.

Director Hand interjected.

Hand: I think it is a fair question. I am going to allow it.

Director Hand looked at Wolfgang.

Hand: I am also curious Admiral; what exactly is your issue here? Is this about Nighthawk and Anaconda, or, is this about San Angeles?

Wolfgang glared at Director Hand.

Wolfgang: Both.

Wolfgang paused.

Wolfgang: My issue stems from the fact that two wanted terrorists worked with ONI, and then turned around and destroyed an entire planet. My problem stems from the fact that the ONI personnel on site FAILED to do their duty in eliminating those two terrorists.

Wolfgang turned and looked at Jennifer.

Wolfgang: You FAILED, Captain. You failed to carry out your duty.

Jennifer: I failed to make a mistake, Admiral.

Jennifer paused.

Jennifer: Nighthawk helped us. He saved my life. He saved the life of two of my best men. He gave us intel on The Trust and The Covenant, and he helped us fight our enemies. Whether you like it or not, Admiral, Nighthawk and Anaconda were on our side. I was not going to knife them in the back after all they did for us.

Wolfgang: So, you sympathize with terrorist?

Jennifer: They are not terrorist, Wolfgang! They are fighting the same enemies that we are! They are fighting The Trust! They are fighting The Covenant!

Wolfgang: Is that so?

Wolfgang scoffed?

Wolfgang: How do you explain their assassination of former Director Kapsky? How do you explain their attack on the Mercury shipyards? How do you explain their actions on Genesis?

Jennifer: I can’t! However, I am sure there is a damn good reason for their actions.

Wolfgang: What is that based on?

Jennifer: It is based on my own personal experience with them.

Wolfgang: Your own personal experience…

Wolfgang scoffed.

Wolfgang: Alright Captain, if your own personal experience is enough to judge the merit Nighthawk and Anaconda, then, by all means…tell me more about Nighthawk and Anaconda. What makes them tick?

Jennifer: They are motivated almost exclusively by their desire to eliminate The Trust. Barring that; they will always act in self-defense when attacked. Anytime Nighthawk and Anaconda have gone head to head with “our side” it was because we were the instigators. When they were met with hostility and suspicion, they reacted negatively. When they were met with a willingness to cooperate, they were useful. They become a problem when we give them a reason to be a problem.

Wolfgang: So, what you are saying is that we are the problem for enforcing our own counter-terrorism policies?

Jennifer: The counter-terrorism policies are not the problem. It is your inability to properly classify a terrorist that is! We would not have a problem with Nighthawk and Anaconda if ONI could figure out exactly how to deal with them.

Wolfgang: You are aware that it is Preston Vernette, your commanding officer, who is in charge of apprehending those two, right?

Jennifer: I am aware of that. However, apprehending someone and trying to kill them are two very different things. Rear-Admiral Vernette has never tried to flat-out kill Nighthawk and Anaconda. Rear-Admiral Vernette’s methods are not based on killing them.

Wolfgang: So what do you want ONI to do? Ignore them? What kind of message does that send?

Jennifer: Why don’t you try listening to them.

Wolfgang: Are you kidding?

Jennifer scoffed.

Jennifer: Sir, do you understand what causation is, relative to Nighthawk and Anaconda?

Wolfgang didn’t answer.

Jennifer: Like I said, sir; Nighthawk and Anaconda exist to fight The Trust. The believe that ONI, and to a certain extent, The UNSC, has been infiltrated by The Trust, at the highest levels of command. We know that Nighthawk is a former ONI Agent, and we know that Nighthawk complete lack of faith in the reliability and trustworthiness of ONI forced him to seek out a non-human compatriot for the sole purpose of eradicating The Trust from our ranks. We know from Commander Vernette testimony that The Trust has always had sights on hijacking the leadership of the government and military. To put it simply; The Trust is the cause, and Nighthawk and Anaconda are the effect. We need to stop fighting Nighthawk and Anaconda. We cannot ignore them, and we cannot brush them off. We need to listen to them, and we need to help them because their survival is our survival.

Wolfgang winced his eyes.

Wolfgang: We don’t need Nighthawk and Anaconda to help us deal with The Trust. They are not necessary. We don’t need them to fight our battles for us. We don’t need their help or their protection. Nighthawk and Anaconda are WOEFULLY under-equipped when it comes to the full might of the UNSC. One guy, a Brute, an AI, a Frigate, and a couple of fancy guns is no match for the UNSC. Anything they can do, we can do infinitely better.

Jennifer: You are making a mistake.

Wolfgang: No. The mistake would be allowing ourselves to ask those two pricks for help. We don’t need their help! We have never needed their help! There is nothing that they can offer The UNSC.

Jennifer: That is where you are wrong, sir.

Wolfgang: Am I wrong, though? Do we really need two malcontents, who would never follow orders, working alongside our personnel? You may not object to such lunacy, Captain, but, I do. I don’t trust those two to be reliable assets.

Wolfgang paused.

Wolfgang: The Trust will be dealt with, and they will get what is coming to them, and that will not involve Nighthawk and Anaconda to any degree.

Jennifer: Well, I doubt they will abide that wish. I doubt they will sit on the sidelines while a conflict with The Trust is in full swing.

Wolfgang: Believe me…they will not get the chance to sit on the sidelines. They will be dead before ONI even has the chance to deal with ONI.

Wolfgang paused.

Wolfgang: It will be much easier to kill them if you provide us with more information on Nighthawk and Anaconda. I am sure there is more you could tell us about those two.

Jennifer glared at Wolfgang for a moment, before she shook her head.

Jennifer: I don’t know anything else. Everything I know, I have already said.

Wolfgang: Are you sure about that, Captain?

Jennifer grinned.

Jennifer: Yes.

Wolfgang glared at Jennifer for a moment, before he broke eye contact, and looked down at his tablet.

Wolfgang: No further questions.

Wolfgang began to tap his fingers on his tablet, as he fell silent. As Wolfgang fell silent, Winters spoke up.

Winters: Captain Frost.

Jennifer looked over at Winters.

Winters: I have several questions pertaining to the situation involving Commander Vernette.

Winters paused.

Winters: The first, and most pressing question; what was your reasoning behind hiding Commander Vernette’s augmentations?

Jennifer: I suppose you are referring to my decision to withhold Tye’s augmented status from Vice-Admiral Harrison? Honestly…I made that decision to protect Tye. I didn’t feel that it was my place to bring that information to the forefront, especially information that was disclosed during a Victor-997.

Winters: On what grounds?

Jennifer: I did not believe it to be mission-critical intel. People knowing about Tye’s past would not have improved overall effectiveness against The Trust. It was not “need to know” information, especially for non-designates.

Winters: So you withheld information from non-ONI personnel. Fair enough. My question is; would you have told ONI? Would you have withheld that information from us as well?

Jennifer: I was honestly considering it. Again, it was not something ONI needed to know either.

Jennifer paused.

Jennifer: If Tye wanted that information buried, I would have buried it. However, he decided to reveal it in the end. The most important thing was that it was his decision to disclose his augmented status, and I did not reveal his secret. I did not feel that it was my place to reveal his secrets.

Winters: You realize that unsanctioned augments are illegal.

Jennifer: Tell that to The Trust and ODST Black Team.

Winters: You also realize that there are very harsh penalties for harboring illegal augments, as well as withholding information pertaining to illegal augments?

Jennifer: I am aware of that. However, I stand by my decisions.

Winters: You don’t seem too concerned about those consequences, Captain.

Jennifer: I have very little need to be, quite frankly.

Winters: Why is that?

Jennifer: Well, for starters, I doubt ONI is going to want to waste its time on something so trivial when it has The Trust to worry about. ONI has better things to do, at the moment, then go after me for withholding information on something that was not mission critical. Secondly, Tye is one of ours. This is not some rouge operator that is acting outside the auspices of ONI. While I am aware of ONI’s unwavering protocols for dealing with illegal and unsanctioned augments, I think it would be a short sighted decision to eliminate such a valuable individual like Tye. I acted to protect that asset. Lastly, and this is mostly concerning me; I doubt you are going to want to do away with someone who is not afraid to face a little bit of fire for a decision. I realize that by making the decision to not personally inform ONI of Tye’s augmentations, I was in breach of protocol. However, I feel that given the circumstances with The Trust, you can’t afford to lose someone like me; someone who is loyal to ONI, and the people she serves with. You need people like me; people who understand loyalty, and is niot guided by the idea of “I was just following orders”. There is a time and a place to follow orders, and it takes an exceptional officer to know when to follow orders and when to take matters into their own hands.

Winters: Withholding information from ONI is your definition of loyalty?

Jennifer: Standing alongside and protecting the people I serve with is my definition of loyalty. That is exactly what I did, and I do not apologize for it.

Winters: True, but, by your own admission, you still had every intention of withholding information from ONI. How can we be sure that you will be completely forthcoming with information in the future? How do we know you won’t have something else to hide in the future? How do we know you are not hiding anything else?

Jennifer: You don’t. Then again, that is a risk you take when dealing with anyone. I can guarantee you that, at some point, you have had a discussion or a meeting with a Trust operative who is POSING as an ONI Agent, and they are hiding something far worse that what I was willing to hide. There are traitors in our organization who will withhold information that could get people killed, or will jeopardize ONI’s very existence.

Jennifer paused.

Jennifer: Ask yourself; did I hide anything that jeopardized ONI? Did I put anyone in danger as a result of withholding information pertaining to Tye’s augmentation?

Winters: Truthfully, and as far as we know? No, you did not.

Jennifer: That is why I am not too worried about those consequences you speak of. Now, I may be wrong, and I may face a whole litany of consequences for my actions on San Angeles. However, I am perfectly willing to accept, and face, any and all consequences that are a result of my actions. That being said, I am willing to bet that given the circumstances, ONI has much bigger problems to deal with. Between my withholding of non-critical information to protect Tye, and The Trust running clandestine operations under false pretenses…I am fairly certain what the consensus will be when asked who the priority is.

Winters winced his eyes.

Winters: You say that, but, you are speaking to the same committee that placed a formal reprimand on Lieutenant Commander Cochraine’s permanent record for aiding and abetting Nighthawk.

Winters paused.

Winters: In fact…she was following your orders, if I recall correctly.

Winters frowned.

Winters: If you think for one second that you are getting out of this unscathed, without any sort of punishment, then you are far more delusional then I thought.

Jennifer winced her eyes at Winters as he said this.

Winters: Do not think for one second that you are going to get away with anything that you did on San Angeles JUST because you are ONI. You have a lot to answer for.

Winters paused.

Winters: Be that as it may; you are also someone who can shed light on quite a number of questions we have. It goes without saying that cooperation is in your best interest.

Jennifer: If you say so.

Winters raised an eyebrow, as he glared at Jennifer for a moment.

Winters: Captain? What can you tell us about Vice-Admiral Hoffman?

Jennifer: Hoffman was a senior level Trust operative. As far as we could tell, the only person that he was answerable to was Director Spender.

Jennifer paused.

Jennifer: Hoffman was capture by Fire team Harmony, during our raid on the Apex Applied Research building. From what we were able to gather, it seems that Hoffman was overseeing some sort of R&D that was related to Vanguard.

Winters: How do you know? What proof do you have of this?

Jennifer: After the engagement, ONI marines were sent to secure the facility. During that time, a very through sweep of the facility was conducted. The ONI teams that were dispatched were able to recover security footage that showed one of the Risk Taker Spartans extracting a device of unknown origin. The device’s aesthetics were consistent with the aesthetics that were present in the facility located under Firebase Mediterranean.

Winters: I assume you still have this evidence?

Jennifer: Yes. This data was recovered, and is currently stored on the computers aboard The King Raven.

Winters: I trust you are willing to turn this data over to us?

Jennifer: A copy of it, yes.

Winters raised an eyebrow.

Jennifer: The more copies of the data, the better.

Winters: Of course…

Winters scoffed.

Winters: I am curious though; do you have any other data that might be of interest? Perhaps additional data on Nighthawk and Anaconda?

Jennifer shook her head.

Jennifer: Negative. I don’t have any additional information on Nighthawk. However, I do have access to the information that Jacob stole from The Ulterior Motive. Additionally, I also have access to some Intel that was pulled from Firebase Tropic. Again, all of this data is stored on The King Raven’s mainframe.

Winters: Like I said, we are going to ask you to turn all of that information over to us.

Jennifer: Understood.

Winters paused for a moment, as he looked at his tablet. Winter let out a sigh, as he looked at Jennifer.

Winters: Captain Frost…I have to go on record and say that I seriously question the choices that you made during the San Angeles campaign. From your abduction of Chairman Hoffman from Vice-Admiral Harrison’s custody, to your decision to hide Commander Vernette’s past, you have demonstrated serious lapses in judgement. While I am certain that you disagree with that assessment, nothing will change the fact that you showed preferential treatment to a terrorist and nothing but secrecy to your fellow officers. I am not sure what the opinion of the rest of the brass is, but, I believe that you deserve nothing less than a formal reprimand on your permanent record.

Director Hand interjected, as she looked at Winters.

Hand: I am not entirely convinced of your assessment. While I agree that some of the decisions made by Captain Frost were questionable, they were not necessarily bad for ONI. In fact, I dare say that many of those questionable decisions were beneficial for ONI in some way. Her orders may not have been by the book, but, they sure as hell were necessary.

Winters looked back at Director Hand.

Winters: Is that so, Director? Tell me…how does hiding Commander Vernette’s past with The Trust benefit ONI? How does allowing Nighthawk and Anaconda to interrogate Trust operatives help ONI? These actions do not help ONI.

Hand: I disagree. Tye’s past is a polarizing topic, and it could be viewed, by some, as an internal security issue. By withholding that information, Captain Frost was protecting ONI from suspicion. More importantly, she was protecting Tye from the Trust operatives that we know are hiding in our ranks. Tye is one of us, no matter his past. ONI protects its own. We must not allow ourselves to turn into a pack of dogs that eat one another when questions about our past are raised. We have to keep in mind that even though Tye was working with The Trust for some time, he never acted against us. Captain Frost is only protecting a loyal officer.

Hand paused.

Hand: We must also keep in mind that Captain Frost’s decision to allow Nighthawk to interrogate Chairman Hoffman was not without its own merit. Nighthawk is permitted to use interrogation methods that we may not be comfortable with. Nighthawk gave our Agents more operational flexibility, and I believe this fact is being deliberately overlooked.

Hand paused.

Hand: I don’t know about the rest of you, but, I simply cannot abide a reprimand on Captain Frost’s personal record for nothing more than protecting ONI.

Director Hand looked at Winters, and frowned. Winters looked back at Director Hand, as he let out a sigh.

Winters: I am curious why you are so defensive of Captain Frost? I am not seeing very much impartiality from you.

Hand: Like I said; we should protect our own. I protect my own. I protect ONI Agents above all else.

Winters: Sounds like you are giving Captain Frost a free pass.

Hand: I am giving her the benefit of the doubt. I am allowing her to have her operational liberties and freedoms. I am allowing her to do her job as an ONI Agent. Never forget, Brigadier General, that our ONI Agents need their operational freedom to do their jobs. We cannot punish one of our agents for exercising their rights. I will not allow this committee to curtail the rights of our Agents. So, Brigadier General, I highly recommend that you back off before this gets really ugly.

Winters looked at Director Hand and winced.

Winters: Very well, Director…

Winters looked back at Captain Frost.

Winters: Tell me Captain; what do you know about Constantine Spender?

Jennifer: He is, rather, was the Director of ONI Section 0. I know that he is the head of The Trust, and that he is a ruthless man. He is power hungry and utterly without remorse in everything he does.

Winters: Not a very glowing review.

Jennifer: We are talking about a man who was in charge of internal affairs, while at the same time, committing acts of treason, and operating to undermine ONI. This man has devised plans that would totally destroy ONI’s entire operational apparatus. Spender is, by far and large, the most evil man that I have ever encountered.

Winters: Really, Captain? Can you really say that?

Jennifer: Yes, I can say that! We are talking about the man who brought The Covenant to San Angeles with the sole intent of trying using them to dig up the planet! You have to very insidiously evil to do that!

Winters: I see. And here I thought I was going to get something a bit more…substantive.

Jennifer: We already know what Spender is guilty of! We all know that Spender was the guy who authorized the experiments on ODST Black Team. We know that Spender has aspirations of a coup in ONI. We know that Spender has been conducting Trust operations under the guise of ONI. This bastard has no love for ONI, and his selfish ambitions are self-serving. This man commands the loyalty of a number of treacherous, and very dangerous, soldiers and we know that he commands the loyalty of many high ranking officers that we are totally unaware of! And, for all we know, it is still comparably limited compared to what a man like Nighthawk knows. If you want substantive, talk to Nighthawk.

Winters: We both know that will never happen.

Jennifer: Your loss, then.

Winters sighed.

Jennifer: Let me be frank with you, sir…

Jennifer paused.

Jennifer: When it comes to The Trust, it matters not who we are talking about. You can ask me about Spender or Kolya or Novak or anyone else, and you will get the same answer. All of these people; Spender, Novak, Yates, Kolya, Black Team, Nova Team, The Consultant, and so on. They are all traitors. They all share Spender’s vision. They all want power. They all want control. They all want to destroy ONI because ONI is the one thing that stands in their way. The UNSC is so consumed with its fight with The Covenant, they are totally oblivious to The Trust. ONI is the only organization with the depth of vision to see The Trust for the threat it represents. ONI is the only thing that can actually stand against The Trust.

Jennifer paused.

Jennifer: Yet, for all of that, you are more concerned about Commander Vernette. You are more interested in questioning the loyalty of Tye, than you are about going after Spender and his cohorts. The sad part is, there was a time when you actually played a role in fighting The Trust. I am aware of the events that took place 20 years ago on Harvest. I am aware that you helped Preston Vernette cut The Trust down after they tried to, not only recruit him, but try to kill him after he refused. Now, it seems, that you cannot be bothered with facing the threat that The Trust clearly represents. You strike me as someone who is totally disinterested in The Trust.

Jennifer scoffed.

Jennifer: I doubt there is anything I can tell you about Spender, or anyone else in The Trust, that could reignite your interest or your zeal.

Jennifer grinned.

Jennifer: Thankfully, there are other people who ARE interested.

Winters glared at Captain Frost for a moment, before he finally spoke up.

Winters: I have nothing further to add. No further questions.

Winters set his tablet down on the desk and fell silent. As Winters fell silent, he looked around at the other officers on the committee, waiting for someone to speak up. There was a moment of silence before Everet began to speak.

Everet: Captain Frost; could you please detail your professional opinion of Vice-Admiral Harrison?

Captain Frost sighed, as she thought for a moment.

Jennifer: Vice Admiral Harrison is, in my honest opinion, a terrible leader. This is not to say that he is not a very capable officer. What I am saying is that when Harrison is in a leadership role, he is a control freak and he is unable to defer to the people around him on any subject matter. He does not understand the operational procedures of ONI, and he is unable to work around them. Harrison does not accept his place in things, and as such, makes very questionable leadership decisions.

Everet: Your reports detailed your dissatisfaction with Harrison’s leadership. I assume this is why you abducted Chairman Hoffman from his custody, and acted independently of his chain of command?

Jennifer: That is correct. Vice-Admiral Harrison attempted to sideline ONI in the final hours of the San Angeles event. As we were getting close to locating The Trust, Harrison became increasingly hostile to ONI.

Everet: According to reports from Vice-Admiral Harrison, his attitude towards ONI stemmed from the fact that he was not made privy to a great many details about the conflict.

Jennifer: Due to the internal security concerns raised by The Trust, I was well within my rights to withhold information, as needed. I believe this has already been explained.

Everet: Of course. Continue…

Jennifer: Like I said; Harrison became very hostile towards ONI. The straw that broke the camel’s back was when I refused to remove the nanite from Jacob’s brain on his direct order. I am not convinced that Jacob is on our side. In fact, I strongly believe that Jacob is, in fact, a Trust Operative. Jacob is a traitor, and I refused to remove his nanite. While I was content to allow Jacob to resume his duties given our shortage of manpower, I was unwilling to remove the nanite from his brain, thus, removing our best failsafe option. Wanting to remove the one insurance policy we had against a repeat betrayal was simply non-negotiable. It was after my defiance that he made a very bone-chilling threat. Harrison was quite clear that if I did not withdraw all ONI forces, he would order his soldiers to shoot us on sight.

Everet: That seems excessive.

Jennifer: I protested his decision, but, he refused to listen. It was at that point that I knew that I was not going to get anything more from Harrison. I knew that if I withdrew to The King Raven, the situation would have rapidly deteriorated at an uncontrollable rate. I needed to take action, and I could not get sidelined by Harrison. My options were limited, so, I coordinated with Commander Burke, Commander Vernette, and Cameron in order to abduct Chairman Hoffman. I knew that the only way to get to The Trust was through Hoffman.

Jennifer paused.

Jennifer: Our extraction was pretty rough. We were forced to injure multiple Vigorous Inferno crewmembers. We tried not to kill anyone, but, I cannot be 100% sure if we accomplished that goal.

Everet: Clearly, your actions only exasperated the situation.

Jennifer: I am certain of that. However, I was left with no choice. I needed to act.

Everet: I see…

Everet paused, as he looked at his tablet.

Everet: So, I assume you bear no ill-will towards Harrison?

Jennifer: Nothing personal. I just doubt his leadership abilities. I question his bias against ONI, and his partiality to Jacob Sharpmen. It is fair to question his leadership abilities given the situation.

Everet: That is a fair point. However, I would like to talk about Jacob, if you don’t mind. Why do you still believe he is a traitor?

Jennifer: Jacob has a jaded past when it comes to The Trust. It has only recently come to my attention that Jacob had prior contact with The Trust, early in his career. In fact, it is my understanding The Trust tried to recruit him.

Everet: What is your point?

Jennifer: My point is; Jacob has had many years to examine The Trust, and he has been on their radar for many years. A lot can happen to someone to change their outlook and perspective. I have no idea what Jacob has been through in his life, but, I do know that very little of it has been easy. A career spent fighting a losing battle against The Covenant, combined with a dislike for Nighthawk and Anaconda, and a lack of Trust in ONI could have easily pushed Jacob into the hands of The Trust. When people accept hopelessness and when they become desperate…they tend to do extreme things. Jacob could have very easily joined The Trust possibly due to a sense of hopelessness against The Covenant, or out of sheer hatred for Nighthawk and Anaconda or ONI, He could have joined The Trust and simply acted as an undercover operative; spying on our ranks and keeping tabs on the actions of the people around him, until an opportune time for a betrayal presented itself.

Everet: Go on…

Jennifer: Firebase Desert was that opportune time. We got within striking distance of The Trust, and that was the moment of Jacob’s betrayal. Seems very convenient for The Trust.

Everet: I am curious though, how do you explain his decision to abandon The Trust during the raid on The Ulterior Motive?

Jennifer: Counter-Intelligence. The Trust knows how to exploit people, and I believe they successfully exploited Harrison’s partiality towards Jacob. By ordering Jacob to claim that he was “undercover” and “gathering intel on the enemy”, The Trust managed to save face with Jacob, and successfully plant him BACK into the UNSC ranks, even after his blatant betrayal. The Trust is taking advantage of all of us. They are taking advantage of our refusal to believe that Jacob could be a traitor. They are taking advantage of the fact that he was our friend. They are taking advantage of Harrison’s refusal to accept the truth. They counted on Harrison’s sympathy towards Jacob, and it paid off. What they underestimated was ONI skepticism. Jacob, a known Trust operative, is once again in the UNSC ranks, reporting on us to The Trust. I have no doubt that unless Jacob is incarcerated, and dealt with, he will continue to slide the knife deeper into the back of ONI. Do we really need to be betrayed by Jacob a second time?

Everet: That is a serious accusation. While I will admit that your theory has merit, it is only a theory. We have no proof that Jacob has ever been a Trust operative.

Jennifer: We do have proof. We know, that at the very least, that for a short period of time on San Angeles, Jacob carried the Trust’s flag, and he waved it with pride. He was a Trust operative. He fought alongside The Trust. Jacob stole strategic information from us at Firebase Desert. He killed 20 ONI Marines at the Apex Applied Research facility, and he did everything he could to hinder our progress against The Trust. The only reason he is here, is because he surrendered himself to us, when he had nowhere else to go. Had we have never boarded The Ulterior Motive, Jacob would still be with The Trust. He is one of them, and the sooner we accept that fact, the sooner we can deal with him like the traitor he is. This was not someone who was undercover in The Trust. He was undercover FOR The Trust.

Everet: You believe Jacob is guilty of treason?

Jennifer: Yes. Jacob is a traitor. There is no doubt in my mind.

Everet: I will admit, your concerns do give me pause. Part of me doubts your claims. However, I am forced to admit that I cannot ignore your concerns either. I cannot ignore a threat to ONI. I cannot allow it to go unaddressed. This may be something that I will need to discuss with the other senior brass at a more appropriate time. For now, we should avoid derailing this investigation. We will deal with Jacob at another point in time.

Jennifer: Understood, sir.

Everet paused for a moment, as he looked at his tablet.

Everet: I am curious as to why you showed very little animosity towards Captain Reynolds and his crew? Your reports say very little about them.

Jennifer: I did not have much of an operational problem with Reynolds or his subordinates. Personally, I am indifferent to him. In fact, I found his subordinates to be rather easy to work with.

Everet: Funny you should say that. Reynolds does not think very much of you. He said you were a “disgrace to the uniform” and blamed your “ineptitude in dealing with Nighthawk and Anaconda” as the main reason for the destruction of San Angeles.

Jennifer: I don’t care what Reynolds thinks. If Reynolds had a problem with my handling of Nighthawk and Anaconda, he should have grown a pair and taken it up with me. Pardon the vulgar expression.

Everet: I was just about to say…harsh words. Déjà vu…

Jennifer: Reynolds is not my concern. He is UNSC, and he does not understand how ONI works. I don’t take pointers from non-designates.

Jennifer shrugged.

Jennifer: I am more inclined to listen to Nighthawk. At least he understands ONI.

Everet: Many take issue with that fact.

Jennifer: I am sure they do.

Everet sighed, as he leaned back in his chair.

Everet: I can see Preston Vernette’s stubbornness in you. It is a quality that easily rubs off on the people that work under him.

Jennifer: I will take that as a compliment.

Everet: It doesn’t matter anyway. That is beside the point. However, take my advice, Captain; nobody likes someone who is as stubborn as Preston Vernette. Don’t let his stubborn nature define who you are. Don’t be like him. I have worked with the man in the past, and I have fought shoulder to shoulder with him. He is tough as nails, but, about as approachable as a cactus. He is not someone you can work with. You can only work for him. He is too stubborn and abrasive to be a team player. Don’t adopt those qualities.

Jennifer: Noted…

Jennifer simply grinned.

Everet: No further questions.

As Everet fell silent, Vice-Admiral Skinner spoke up.

Skinner: Captain Frost; with all this talk about traitors and terrorists, we are ignoring the elephant in the room.

Jennifer: The Covenant, I presume?

Skinner: Very astute.

Skinner paused.

Skinner: I want your take on The Covenant. Our encounter with The Covenant was unlike anything we have had before. This time around was…different.

Jennifer: That is an understatement, but, it is accurate. While The Covenant was still a tactical threat to UNSC assets, we were not the only “hostile” force that The Covenant did battle with. The Trust managed to catch the attention of The Covenant to such a degree that The Covenant helped us battle The Trust on The Ulterior Motive.

Skinner: Your report mentioned this fact, but, it did not elaborate as to why.

Jennifer: Vanguard. Vanguard was the reason. There was a portion of the Covenant invasion force that shared our desire to stop Vanguard.

Skinner: Captain, we have no solid proof that Vanguard even existed. While there is the report from Jacob Sharpmen which alleges that he spoke with Vanguard aboard The Ulterior Motive, there is no way to substantiate this claim. Jacob, by your own admission, is a traitor and a liar. The only other person who could have possibly seen Vanguard is Nighthawk, and his status is unknown. So, I ask you, how do you expect us to take Vanguard seriously?

Jennifer: I would not expect you to, given those parameters. However, there was one other person who saw Vanguard. Someone who wasn’t Nighthawk and someone who wasn’t Jacob. That person was me. I saw Vanguard. I watched it have a verbal spar with Nighthawk and Anaconda aboard The Ulterior Motive, shortly after Harrison flipped his lid at Nighthawk. I have seen this thing with my own eyes, I can tell you that it is very real.

All of the senior brass was taken aback, as they all looked down at their tablets, and began to shift through Captain Frost’s reports. They were looking for any mention of this revelation, but, they could not find anything that would have suggested that the alleged encounter took place.

Hand: Captain Frost…you never mentioned this anywhere in your report.

Jennifer: I am aware of that. I felt it was best to withhold that piece of information. I was not sure how ONI would handle that little tidbit. Clearly, ONI is not too keen on facing the reality of Vanguard’s existence. There seems to be a very keen desire to deny Vanguard’s existence.

Jennifer paused.

Jennifer: However, no matter how much you try to deny what really happened, nothing will change the fact that I saw this thing on The Ulterior Motive. I know what happened. Now, you can try to call me a liar and you can try to discredit me, but, try as you might, I stand by the assertion that Vanguard was real.

Skinner glared at Jennifer for a moment, before he spoke up.

Skinner: Alright, Captain…fine…

Skinner scoffed.

Skinner: I will give you that much. I will concede that Vanguard was, in fact, real. I will let you have that much.

Skinner frowned.

Skinner: So…The Covenant turned their hostility towards The Trust because they discovered that The Trust was trying to weaponize Vanguard. Why? What was it about Vanguard that so easily convinced The Covenant to shift their focus to destroying Vanguard and The Trust?

Jennifer: Well, according to Anaconda, whatever Vanguard is, The Covenant widely revere it as holy…sacred if you prefer.

Skinner: If that is the case, why was The Covenant trying to destroy Vanguard?

Jennifer: If you look back on my report, sir, you will notice that I mentioned that it was a small cabal of Covenant soldiers that had a vested interest in destroying Vanguard. This cabal included a Brute Chieftain and an Elite Zealot. There were a few others, I think, but, those were the two most prominent Covenant contacts that wanted to destroy Vanguard.

Skinner: According to our intelligence reports, Chieftains and Zealots are among the most loyal of the Covenant.

Jennifer: Be that as it may, they are also the highest ranking that we are aware of. Rank comes with certain privilege, such as the ability to act covertly.

Jennifer paused.

Jennifer: If one thing was clear, it was the fact that, at the very least, a small cabal was acting in order to stop Vanguard. I cannot say why, exactly, but, this cabal wanted Vanguard stopped, and they were willing to help us do it. We know that Anaconda had done battle with Vanguard previous to the events of San Angeles. Anaconda claimed that he did not revere Vanguard as sacred or holy, as he did not subscribe to the religion of the Covenant.

Skinner: Are you saying Anaconda is…an atheist?

Jennifer: I would surmise so. I have no idea what he believes. All he said was that he refutes the religion of The Covenant.

Jennifer paused.

Jennifer: That rejection of The Covenant religion which would otherwise tell him to worship Vanguard, possibly combined with a personal and deep-seeded hatred for Vanguard, is what fuels his hatred for the construct. Anaconda said he hides his atheistic beliefs for political reasons. He may not be the only one who does that. It is possible that the Zealot and Chieftain are cut from a similar cloth; rejection of The Covenant’s religion.

Jennifer shrugged.

Jennifer: It would make sense. The Covenant’s religion mandates that Humanity is destroyed. Any Covenant member that rejects that religion would be open to an alliance with Humans.

Skinner rubbed his chin.

Skinner: Fascinating. It seems that the integrity of the religious beliefs in The Covenant seems to be a weak point; ripe for exploitation.

Skinner paused.

Skinner: We may be able to capitalize on this.

Jennifer: Spender believed the same thing.

Skinner glared at Jennifer, and frowned at her.

Skinner: It is no less a valid observation.

Skinner raised an eyebrow.

Jennifer: If you say so…

Jennifer glared at Skinner for a moment, before Skinner began to speak again.

Skinner: Tell me one final thing, Captain…

Skinner paused.

Skinner: In your honest opinion, do you think we would have been able to stop The Covenant at San Angeles? If The Trust or Vanguard were not even factors, would it have been possible to save San Angeles?

Jennifer looked at Skinner for a moment, before she sighed, and shook her head.

Jennifer: When have we ever been able to save a world that was attacked by The Covenant?

Skinner: We seem to always be on the losing end of this conflict.

Skinner paused.

Skinner: One cannot help but think…perhaps The Trust had the right idea. Trying to exploit technology that is more advanced than the technologically advanced empire that is trying to destroy us…

Skinner shrugged.

Skinner: It sort of makes sense when you consider how many worlds have fallen to The Covenant.

Jennifer: Sir? What are you saying?

Skinner: I am not saying The Trust is right, per say. However, I am saying that perhaps some of their methods are worth examining. They had a plan to defeat The Covenant. We had a plan to evacuate a planet. It doesn’t seem right.

Jennifer: The Trust never had a plan worthy of any sort of examination. Vanguard…was never going to help Humanity. Vanguard wanted to destroy everything. The Trust had nothing right. The Trust would have brought about our deaths faster than The Covenant could have ever hoped to achieve.

Skinner: If you say so…

Skinner paused, as he set his tablet down.

Skinner: I have no further questions, at least, not at this time.

As Skinner fell silent, Crown looked at Captain Frost, and spoke up.

Crown: Captain Frost…

Jennifer turned to look at Vice-Admiral Crown.

Crown: I will admit, that I have reviewed your report multiple time. I have read it and re-read it over and over in an effort to make sense of ONE thing, and one thing alone; and that is the fact that you were the person who provided the slipspace core that Nighthawk needed to destroy San Angeles.

Jennifer: That is correct.

Crown: Why? Why did you provide that madman with a slipspace core?

Jennifer: Asset denial in the event we were unable to secure San Angeles from all viable threats.

Jennifer paused.

Jennifer: As you are well aware, we were unable to defeat The Covenant, The Trust was not decisively defeated, and Vanguard’s status was unknown. The destruction of San Angeles guaranteed that The Trust and The Covenant would be denied access to Vanguard’s technology.

Crown: Do you not think that such a decision was…overzealous? Surely there were other options at your disposal?

Jennifer: Truthfully, I believe the total destruction of San Angeles was the correct course of action. If you consider the alternative outcomes, I think you would agree.

Crown: Would we?

Jennifer: I believe so. Consider, for a moment, if San Angeles had not have been destroyed by the slipspace weapon. We would be in a situation where, in all likelihood, all UNSC and ONI forces at San Angeles would have been eliminated by The Covenant or The Trust. Being forced to fight two battles on two separate fronts would have been unsustainable for a prolonged period of time. Eventually, we would have been eliminated. Without the UNSC or ONI, The Trust and The Covenant would have only one another to destroy, and I think we all know, based on the sheer number of victories The Covenant has, how that would have turned out.

Jennifer paused.

Jennifer: Now, you may argue that I am selling the UNSC and ONI short, but, let’s be honest…our side took incredible losses against The Covenant. We lost dozens of ships in the first engagement alone. I seriously doubt The Trust would have been able to put up any more of a fight than we could have. In all likelihood, had I not have given Nighthawk the means to destroy San Angeles, Vanguard’s technology would be in the hands of The Covenant. Any technology that is more advanced than anything The Covenant has is not something we want falling into the hands of The Covenant.

Jennifer paused.

Jennifer: And yes, I am aware that this is the worst case scenario outcome, but, the nature of our jobs is to evaluate the worst case scenario, and make our decisions from there. I could not allow my personal bias to influence such a critical decision. I needed to evaluate the worst possible outcome of the battle. Once I realized what was at stake, San Angeles needed to be destroyed. It was a tragedy, but, I believe it is the least of possible tragedies.

Crown: So, the worst case scenario was your justification for playing a role in the destruction of an entire world?

Jennifer: We needed to deny an asset from falling into enemy hands. So yes, you can say that.

Crown: So, there is no part of you that believes that The Trust and The Covenant could have been defeated?

Jennifer: I did not believe it was possible. I still do not believe it was possible. Even with reinforcements, The Covenant had us severely outgunned. Even if we had more ships than The Covenant, historical data indicates that we would still suffer a defeat. By destroying San Angeles, we reaped the highest gain for the smallest expenditure.

Jennifer sighed.

Jennifer: San Angeles was doomed, no matter what happened. I just made sure that when San Angeles was doomed, everything belonging to Vanguard was doomed along with it. I made sure that everyone walked away equal opportunity losers.

Crown: Yes…Vanguard. Of course, it all comes back to Vanguard.

Crown paused.

Crown: While I acknowledge that you have seen Vanguard first hand, I am still very skeptical of any excuse that uses this thing as a basis. The fact of the matter is, we know so little about Vanguard, and yet, it seems that major decisions were made with Vanguard being the central focus. Do we, honestly, know how powerful this thing is? Do we actually have data to fully quantify the upper limit of this…thing?

Jennifer: We have it on good authority that…

Crown: Good authority? Captain…are you telling me that you destroyed a planet on the premise of “good authority”? I don’t want speculation or supposition. I want facts. Do we have any measurable facts pertaining to Vanguard’s functional abilities?

Jennifer: No.

Crown: Well, that troubles me.

Crown paused.

Crown: To think that an entire planet was destroyed without any considerations to the facts deeply troubles me.

Jennifer: Sir, it was abundantly clear that Nighthawk and Anaconda had a firm understanding of Vanguard’s technical potential.

Crown: Alright. So, where is their documentation? Where is their supporting data? How did they know Vanguard’s technical potential?

Jennifer: Anaconda claimed to have previous experience with Vanguard.

Crown: And you accepted that at face value?

Jennifer: I had no reason to doubt the claim. After all, Nighthawk and Anaconda were already very knowledgeable of Vanguard, and everything that they told us about the Trust, as well as Vanguard, was confirmed. I considered their information to be reliable.

Crown: All you are telling me is that we are back to trusting the claims of terrorists. We are back to square one, Captain.

Jennifer: What else do you want me to say? I am telling you the truth, as it happened.

Jennifer paused.

Jennifer: The fact of the matter is, Vanguard knew who Anaconda was. This proves that Vanguard had prior encounters with Anaconda. If Anaconda says that Vanguard was dangerous, I am inclined to believe it. He had experience that we didn’t, so, I accepted his assessment.

Crown looked at Jennifer with a skeptical look in his eyes.

Crown: Well then, Captain…I think that says it all. I think that tells us everything we need to know about your decision making process. You have no regard for where your information comes from. You will work with known terrorists, and you will allow the destruction of an entire world based on information gathered by terrorists.

Crown scoffed at Jennifer.

Crown: 40 million people died because you got too close to a terrorist. You allowed yourself to be used by a terrorist. You were compromised.

Jennifer: Nighthawk is not a terrorist.

Crown: Oh, Captain…stop deluding yourself! When are you going to realize that you were played for a sucker by a master liar, and his pet gorilla?

Jennifer scoffed.

Jennifer: I was not used. I knew exactly what I was getting myself into. If I had the chance to go back, and do it all over, I would not change a thing. I stand by my choices. Make of it as you will.

Crown: Oh, we will. Be certain of that.

Crown set his tablet down, as he glared at Jennifer.

Crown: I have nothing further to say at this time.

Crown gave a very dirty look to Jennifer, before his eyes shifted down to look at the tablet in his hand.

As the room fell silent, Commodore Dunham began to speak.

Mallorie: I guess that just leaves me.

Jennifer looked at Mallorie Dunham, and simply waited.

Mallorie: Captain, I must say that I am very interested in any other information you may have on Vanguard.

Jennifer: I have already spoken about Vanguard, but, I will attempt to answer your questions to the best of my abilities.

Mallorie: That is all I ask.

Mallorie paused, as she looked at her tablet for a moment.

Mallorie: You mentioned that Anaconda had allegedly done battle with Vanguard in the past, correct?

Jennifer: Correct.

Mallorie: Did Anaconda mention anything specifically about his encounter with Vanguard?

Jennifer: Well, the most obvious thing was that, at some point, Anaconda did battle with Vanguard, and defeated it. According to Anaconda, the first time he did battle with Vanguard, he used a Type-2 Gravity Hammer to defeat Vanguard.

Mallorie: So, Anaconda actually defeated Vanguard once before?

Mallorie raised an eyebrow with intent interest.

Mallorie: And he used a Gravity Hammer to defeat it?

Jennifer: That is what I was led to believe.

Mallorie: Is there any proof of this?

Jennifer: Possibly. From what I could gather; Vanguard had prior knowledge of Anaconda. It was Vanguard who recognized Anaconda, even going so far as to address him by a different title.

Wolfgang interjected.

Wolfgang: What was this title?

Jennifer: Chieftain…

Wolfgang: Makes sense. I knew it was odd that a Stalker would wield a Gravity Hammer. Our intel suggests that Gravity Hammers are not a Stalker’s M.O.

Wolfgang paused.

Wolfgang: It would explain why Anaconda is, for a creature that dresses like a Stalker, so upfront and confrontational. Stalkers are typically more methodical.

Wolfgang shrugged.

Wolfgang: I will make note of this intel.

Mallorie looked at Wolfgang with a scoff.

Mallorie: Yes, you do that.

Mallorie sighed, as she turned back to Jennifer.

Mallorie: Captain…I have to know; did Anaconda ever mention what the nature or the circumstances of his first conflict with Vanguard was?

Jennifer: No, he did not dig too deep into that aspect. I am guessing that it must have been personal, however. Then again, I have no idea what goes through the mind of a Brute, so, I can only speculate.

Mallorie: That is unfortunate. I am very curious as to why Anaconda would fight against a symbol of his religion. There must be more to this Vanguard construct than we know.

Jennifer: I am not sure, but, much of what Anaconda does eludes even the most basic understanding. However, I am certain that he is, what we would call, an atheist. He admitted that he did not subscribe to the religion of The Covenant. How he got this way is another question.

Mallorie: You mentioned that.

Mallorie sighed.

Mallorie: Even with what you have told me, there are still many questions. There are still many questions surrounding Vanguard, and how it is perceived by The Covenant. All we seem to know is that a small minority of Covenant soldiers hide their lack of belief; their atheism, while the vast majority subscribe to the dogma. Those who subscribe, would no doubt worship and respect Vanguard, while the secular minority would seemingly oppose it.

Mallorie paused.

Mallorie: If only we had SOMETHING on Vanguard to actually measure the danger of this thing. Alas…we have nothing.

Mallorie shrugged, as she shook her head.

Mallorie: Unless there is anything else you can think of, Captain, I doubt there is anything left to discuss.

Jennifer: Everything that I know about Vanguard, I have already put forward.

Mallorie: Very well. Thank you, Captain.

As Mallorie fell silent, Director Hand spoke up.

Hand: I think we have heard enough from The Captain for today. We have enough information to review. We are done for today.

Director Hand looked at the rest of the senior brass.

Hand: You are all dismissed. We will resume tomorrow morning at 0900 hours, local time.

As Director Hand said this, the other members of the brass stood up, and began to file out. However, Director Hand kept her eyes locked on Jennifer, as if she was silently telling the Captain to remain seated. As the room cleared out, and Director Hand was left alone with Captain Frost, Hand began to speak.

Hand: Captain Frost, I must ask you a very direct question, and I want you to be honest.

Jennifer looked at Director Hand for a moment, and nodded.

Hand: DO you trust Nighthawk?

Jennifer was silent for a moment, before she took a deep breath, and answered the question.

Jennifer: He and I…see eye to eye on a number of things. We both consider The Trust to be a very serious threat to both ONI and the UNSC. Do I trust him? In a pinch, I do. He and I have developed a type of…professional rapport.

Hand: How far does your loyalty to Nighthawk go?

Jennifer: Not further than my loyalty to ONI, but, far enough that if he needed my help, right now, I would not hesitate to fight by his side.

Hand: I see.

Hand sighed.

Jennifer: Director Hand…Nighthawk can be trusted. He is one of us. He fights the same enemies we do. He fights the same battles we do. Nighthawk is ex-ONI. He knows what it means to be ONI, and he has not forgotten this for one moment!

Hand: I am aware of this, Captain. However, I am the Director of ONI. I cannot allow myself to be compromised by a possible association with someone who is perceived to be a terrorist. I HAVE to keep my distance!

Jennifer: I understand that, Ma’am. I understand that your hands are tied when it comes to Nighthawk and Anacondas. Appearances are everything.

Hand: Indeed they are, Captain.

Hand grinned.

Hand: To ONI, you appear to be little more than a Nighthawk sympathizer.

Director Hand frowned.

Hand: Which is why, in my official capacity as Director of Section 1, and your superior officer, I am hereby ordering you to discontinue any and all communication with Nighthawk and Anaconda. You are hereby forbidden from engaging those two in any sort of dialogue. Is that clear, Captain?

Jennifer: Yes, Ma’am…

Director Hand nodded at Jennifer, before standing up, and walking around the large table that the brass had been sitting at. As Director Hand approached the small table where Jennifer had been sitting, she stopped, and looked at Jennifer. Director Hand was silent for a moment, before she raised her right hand to her own neck, and pulled the ONI insignia soff her left and right neck collar.

Jennifer: Ma’am?

Hand: Captain Frost? Are we friends?

Jennifer: I don’t know. We…don’t talk much.

Hand: My loss…

Hand paused.

Hand: We are, at least, fellow soldiers.

Jennifer: Yes.

Hand: Then what I am about to say, is as a fellow soldier, who thinks exactly like you, who has been where you are now…

Hand paused.

Hand: Disobey my order…

Jennifer: Ma’am?

Hand: The Trust is very dangerous, Captain. I have seen them first hand. I know what they are capable of. I fear that there is a day, not too far over the horizon, where we will be forced to fight The Trust to the death. It will be them, or us. The death toll will be high, and we are going to lose a lot of good people.

Hand paused.

Hand: Nighthawk will be an asset in that fight. We will need him. Don’t let Nighthawk slip into obscurity. Stay in touch with him, and help him. Help him, so that when the time comes, he will help us.

Jennifer was silent for a moment, before finally speaking up.

Jennifer: I will do what I can, Ma’am.

Hand: Just remember one thing, Captain…

Director Hand placed the two ONI insignia’s back on her left and right collar.

Hand: While I wear these insignia on my neck, my hands are tied. Appearances ARE everything! I am in a very dangerous spot right now, and if I am sloppy in my work, I will not live very long.

Hand paused.

Hand: I cannot always defend you, on record, but, I need you to be resilient. I need you to continue what you are doing. I will do everything I can to help you from the shadows. However, I must always tread carefully in the light. I must be impartial.

Hand paused.

Hand: I am counting on you, Captain.

Jennifer: You can count on me, Ma’am.

Hand nodded.

Hand: You are dismissed, Captain.

Captain Frost nodded, as she finally stood up, and left The Black Room, Once again, Director Hand was left alone to her own thoughts. There was a lot on Director Hand’s mind at the moment. The more Director Hand partook in these hearings, and the more she learned about what exactly had transpired on San Angeles, the more and more she felt that The Trust was gearing up to make a major power play against ONI. Director Hand was certain of at least one thing; The Trust had become very bold, and their exposure would only back them into a very uncomfortable corner.

Hand could not escape the idea that The Trust had eyes everywhere; that The Trust had infiltrated ONI at every level. If Constantine Spender, the leader of The Trust, could be the Director of ONI Section 0, then ANYONE in ONI could be answering to The Trust. There were so few people that Hand could trust, and a seemingly endless number of people that she was very skeptical of.

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Midnight – The Citadel – Gamma Wing – ONI Debriefing Room Alpha AKA: The Black Room – 0900 Hours - February 14th 2540

Jacob Sharpmen, along with several ONI Agents, had entered The Black Room. When Jacob had entered The Black Room, he stopped, and looked around; immediately understanding the nomenclature behind this interrogation room. However, Jacob was not able to stall for long, before one of the ONI Agents nudged him in the back, forcing him to continue walking to the center of the room. As Jacob moved to the center of the room, he took a seat at the table and chair that was waiting for him. As Jacob sat there, he looked at the ONI Brass that were seated at the long table directly opposite to him.

Hand: Captain Sharpmen…I have been looking forward to this…

Jacob: I cannot really say the same. One does not eagerly anticipate a drumhead trial.

Hand: Not a surprise. After what you did, you really have nothing to look forward to.

Jacob: Truthfully, I was alluding to the fact that this is going to be a kangaroo court. I think we all know how this is going to end.

Hand: Captain Sharpmen, you presume too much. We are here to analyze the facts. Our decisions will be made after we have analyzed all of the facts, and taken into account your side of the story.

Jacob: If you say so. However, you will forgive me if I have my doubts.

Director Hand sighed, as she fell silent; waiting for someone to begin the questioning. As usual, Vice Admiral Wolfgang was the first one to speak up.

Wolfgang: Captain Sharpmen…

Wolfgang grinned at Jacob.

Wolfgang: I have to say it; I respect your distaste for Nighthawk and Anaconda.

Jacob didn’t respond.

Wolfgang: I truly do. You have demonstrated more courage and dedication in that respect than some ONI Agents I could name.

Jacob: Nighthawk is a terrorist. He has stabbed me in the back more than once, and he is a liar. Worst of all, he destroyed San Angeles, and killed 40 million people in the process. I take a very grim view of that man and his ape.

Wolfgang: Rightly so…

Jacob: I take it you are no fan?

Wolfgang: I despise those two, more than you could ever imagine.

Jacob raised an eyebrow at Wolfgang.

Jacob: Do you have a question, sir?

Wolfgang: Yes, forgive me…

Wolfgang paused for a moment, as he looked at his tablet.

Wolfgang: Captain Sharpmen, I am very curious about what you know about Nighthawk and Anaconda. Is there any strategic information that you may have that would assist ONI in eliminating these two?

Jacob: Kill Anaconda, then kill Nighthawk.

Wolfgang: In other words, just kill them?

Jacob: No. You have to kill them in that order. You will never kill Nighthawk so long as Anaconda is alive. I don’t know why, and I don’t know how, but, Anaconda has a vested interest in preserving Nighthawk’s life. Every attempt I have seen someone make on Nighthawk’s life, has been thwarted by Anaconda. The only way to cross Nighthawk off, is to cross Anaconda off first.

Wolfgang: Interesting perspective. Though, it begs the question; how do we kill Anaconda?

Jacob: Therein lies the catch 22. Nighthawk, for whatever reason, is highly defensive of Anaconda. I guess, if you think about it, you have what can be best described as a mutual survival pact.

Jacob paused.

Jacob: That being said, if you attempt to take Anaconda out of play, you can expect Nighthawk to go above and beyond the call of duty to either protect Anaconda, or secure him. Nighthawk has clearly demonstrated that there is no length and no limit to what he will do to protect Anaconda. The rules stop applying when Nighthawk gets desperate, and all you are left with is a pure, naked rage. Point and case, we all know what Nighthawk tried to do to Hoffman on The King Raven, and we all know that Nighthawk stormed The Ulterior Motive on the faint hope that Anaconda was still alive. He was willing to walk into the lion’s den, dragging the UNSC behind him as cannon fodder, if need be, to rescue Anaconda.

Jacob laughed.

Jacob: I guess you could say it is a paradox. Can’t kill one, without killing the other, but, you can’t kill one because the other is always watching. I guess there is a method to the duo. Fewer points of failure.

Wolfgang: It is funny you should say that. The reports that we received indicated that The Trust managed to capture Anaconda; seemingly breaking that paradox.

Jacob: The Trust, however, failed to pull the trigger, and they allowed Anaconda to live too long. Anaconda escaped his holding cell, and that was the end of that. Anaconda linked up with Nighthawk, the duo was reunited, and the paradox was restored.

Wolfgang: Funny you should mention that, seeing as your own report seemed to indicate that you were the one that released Anaconda from his holding cell when ONI, and Nighthawk, stormed The Ulterior Motive. I am curious, for someone who hates Nighthawk and Anaconda so much, you sure did the unexpected.

Jacob: At the time, the overwhelming presumption was that I was a member of The Trust. I reasoned that if I helped Anaconda, I could prove that I was NOT a member of The Trust; that I was, in fact, still loyal to the UNSC.

Wolfgang: Who were you looking to impress with that idea?

Jacob: First off, I would not use the word “impress”. I was looking to prove my hostility towards The Trust. What better way to do that than help Anaconda get back into the fight? I figured that if I help Anaconda escape, Nighthawk would recognize this, and would use his overtly comfortable position with Captain Frost to vouch for me. We all know that Nighthawk was very close to Frost. I simply tried capitalized on that fact in order to prove my good intentions

Jacob paused.

Jacob: In hindsight, I regret helping Anaconda. I would do anything to get the chance to correct that mistake.

Wolfgang looked at Jacob, and sighed.

Wolfgang: Yes…it was a mistake. If only you could correct it.

Jacob: If only…

Jacob sighed.

Jacob: The only thing I can do is provide as much intel on Nighthawk and Anaconda that I can. That is exactly what I did. I am not sure if you noticed or not, but, attached to my after action report is everything I have Nighthawk and Anaconda.

Wolfgang: I noticed that in your report that you have some very comprehensive data on Nighthawk and Anaconda. I have never seen an analysis this verbose before. You have really done your homework on those two.

Jacob: Ever since they first surfaced 2 years ago, I have gathered everything I could on them. I have seen them fight, and I have seen them in action. I have a very good idea of how they think, and I know how they operate in-between their engagements. Not many people can say that.

Wolfgang: Rest assured, I will be putting this information to good use. Hopefully, with this information, we can finally make inroads against those two…individuals.

Wolfgang paused.

Wolfgang: I wish things could have been different, Jacob. You would have fit in very well in my chain of command.

Jacob: If I may make a recommendation, sir? If you want someone who is as capable as I am, I recommend recruiting Hit Squad Kilo. I know, from personal discussions, that Zeph and his team utterly hate Nighthawk and Anaconda. If you are looking to put together a task force dedicated to taking down Nighthawk and Anaconda, I would start with Hit Squad Kilo.

Wolfgang: I will keep that in mind, Captain.

Wolfgang made a few notes on his tablet, before looking at Jacob again.

Wolfgang: I have nothing further to add, Captain.

Wolfgang fell silent, as he once again picked up his tablet, and began to take a few more notes.

Jacob looked at Wolfgang for a moment, before his attention was caught by Vice Admiral Skinner.

Skinner: Captain Sharpmen, I have been looking forward to speaking with you.

Jacob: Why is that?

Skinner: I have spent the past few days hearing a lot about you, hearing about what you have done, what you are, what you aren’t. After everything that I have heard, I am curious to hear your side of things.

Jacob: I am not sure what you are expecting to hear. You have either heard good things or bad things. You have either heard that I am a loyal officer, or a traitor. You have either heard that I am with the UNSC or with The Trust. You want to hear my side of things? I will tell you the most important thing; I am a loyal soldier; faithful to the UNSC. All I want is to be able to do my job; and my job is fighting for Humanity against anything that may threaten it, be it The Covenant, The Trust, or Nighthawk and Anaconda.

Skinner: indeed.

Skinner paused.

Skinner: Well then, let’s discuss your job, shall we?

Skinner glared at Jacob for a moment, before he continued to speak.

Skinner: Tell me, Jacob, what is your official stance on The Covenant invasion of San Angeles?

Jacob: I think it was pretty obvious that the invasion was orchestrated by The Trust. The Trust wanted, or needed, The Covenant to glass the planet.

Skinner: Why?

Jacob: The Trust wanted easier access to Vanguard’s technology. If all the Humans on the planet were dead, The Trust would have no problem taking Vanguard’s technology for themselves. They wanted to keep it a secret. While the UNSC was focused on the loss of another planet, The Trust was free to act in the shadows.

Skinner: I see.

Skinner paused.

Skinner: Would I be correct in assuming that, in the end, you believed that San Angeles was a lost cause?

Jacob: I did not feel that the UNSC had the capability or the manpower to defeat The Covenant. Near the end of the campaign. Our defeat at the hands of The Covenant was a foregone conclusion. We had lost almost every major city, lost or surrendered almost every major engagement. We had lost numerous ships. We put up a damn good fight, but, it simply was not meant to be. We have always been on the losing end when it comes to The Covenant. It is rare we get a victory over them. I was not holding my breath for San Angeles.

Skinner: A sad reality, it seems.

Skinner shifted through Jacob’s reports for a moment, before speaking again.

Skinner: So, you assert that The Covenant would have been victorious, and you assert that San Angeles was a lost cause. I am curious then; why do you condemn Nighthawk’s use of the Slipspace weapon that destroyed an already doomed planet?

Jacob: I condemn the act because Nighthawk acted unilaterally. Nighthawk used that weapon while we were still trying to evacuate people from the planet! He didn’t care that we could have continued to evacuate people. All Nighthawk cared about was destroying Vanguard. He did not give a single thought to the 40 million people on that planet. We may have lost the battle, but, we had not lost the civilians.

Jacob sighed.

Jacob: If that weapon never came into play, we could have evacuated more civilians. Perhaps we could have reduced the death toll to 39 million…or 35 million…or 30 million. We could have saved more lives, but, Nighthawk didn’t give us the chance. Yes, San Angeles was doomed. Yes, San Angeles was lost, but, it wasn’t lost to The Covenant. It was lost to Nighthawk. We were denied the opportunity to save more lives because Nighthawk had an itchy trigger finger.

Skinner: That is an interesting way of looking at it.

Jacob: It is the only way to look at it. Nobody can deny that the evacuation effort was cut short by that slipspace weapon.

Skinner: I see.

Skinner paused for a moment, as he looked at his tablet.

Skinner: Your reports seem to indicate that you were in command of the forces in Whitewater, when The Covenant first attacked, correct?

Jacob: That is correct. I was the senior-most officer that had survived the initial attack.

Skinner: What can you tell us about the onset of that engagement? Reports are…sketchy, to say the least.

Jacob: On the 26th of January, the UNSC received intelligence from ONI that a Covenant heavy expeditionary fleet had been gearing up to assault San Angeles. ONI was not sure of the exact timing of the attack, but, we were advised to fortify military installations, and begin evacuations of priority 1 individuals from the planet as soon as possible. About a day later, on the 27th, The Covenant had arrived, and they began their assault. From what I heard from the Navy, a few Covenant ships broke through the battle lines, and established ELO over Whitewater, where they proceeded to bombard the city; targeting fortified military positions and outposts. After the initial bombardment, they began to land troops; a typical force of Grunts, Jackals and Elites, as well as a handful of Hunters, and a few Brute packs.

Jacob paused.

Jacob: I was stationed in Regional HQ Bravo, due to my familiarity with ONI. We were the lucky ones. Regional HQ Bravo was the only facility that was not hit in the bombardment. However, every frontline outpost and checkpoint was decimated from ELO, even before the hooves hit the ground. Our initial loses were extreme

Skinner: When you say hooves…

Jacob: The Elites.

Skinner: Continue.

Jacob: Contact with the Navy, in orbit, was sketchy, and the chain of command in Whitewater was broken. I took command of our forces, and pushed back against The Covenant. We held the line as best we could, but, after about a day, our defensive line had been pushed back to Regional HQ Bravo. We were losing ground, and we were dropping fast. Just before I had the chance to order all of our forces to fall back to Regional HQ Bravo, reinforcements arrived.

Jacob paused.

Jacob: But, someone else also showed up.

Skinner: Nighthawk and Anaconda?

Jacob: Yes. They had arrived with Commander Vernette and Cameron-Z091. From what I was led to understand, Nighthawk and Anaconda had provided an exit strategy for Tye and Cameron when their mission to retrieve Lieutenant Commander Cochraine went south.

Skinner: Sounds familiar…

Skinner paused for a moment, as he looked down at his tablet.

Skinner: Captain; your report indicated that there was a very specific reason behind the Covenant’s decision to invade Regional HQ Bravo on foot. Can you clarify this statement?

Jacob: Based on what Nighthawk told us, The Covenant wanted access to mission critical data stored on the Regional HQ Bravo servers. This data was digital information, planted by The Trust, in order to direct The Covenant towards Vanguard. This was confirmed.

Jacob paused.

Jacob: It was speculated that The Covenant placed such a high value on this data, that they were willing to expend significant manpower to retrieve it. The Covenant has never cared for the death toll.

Skinner: Did The Covenant procure this information?

Jacob: We attempted to destroy the information. Everything indicated that we were successful. However, it is possible that The Trust put the data back on the servers for The Covenant to find. The Trust deemed it to be vital that The Covenant found this information.

Skinner: What was the nature of this data?

Jacob: At the time, we did not know. However, we later found out that the data in question contained strategic information on Vanguard, and where it was “hidden”. The data was essentially a breadcrumb trail created by The Trust, intended to lead the Covenant and control where they were striking.

Skinner: Fascinating…

Skinner paused.

Skinner: One thing that I have trouble understanding, given everything that has been said thus far, is the whole idea that a few Covenant soldiers set aside their hostility towards the UNSC, to focus on destroying The Trust and Vanguard.

Jacob: Honestly sir, I cannot say that I fully understand it myself. However, if I have learned one thing, it is that you will find a cabal everywhere you look. ONI’s cabal is The Trust. The Covenant’s Cabal may be these anti-Vanguard soldiers.

Skinner raised an eyebrow.

Skinner: An interesting thought…

Skinner looked down at his tablet, and began to take a few notes.

Skinner: Thank you, Captain. I have no further questions.

Skinner fell silent, as he turned his attention back to his tablet. Jacob, on the other hand, waited for one of the other brass to chime in. After a moment, Winters began to speak.

Winters: Captain Sharpmen…

Winters glared at Jacob, and grinned.

Winters: I am very curious about your time with The Trust. Your reports are…suspiciously sparse in this regard. I would like to hear more about the time you spent with The Trust. What did you learn from The Trust, in terms of intel?

Jacob: As far as intel is concerned, I picked up quite a few interesting tidbits of information.

Jacob paused for a moment, as he gathered his thoughts.

Jacob: I spent considerable time with ODST Black Team, and a bit of time with The Risk Takers. Just between those two teams, I discovered that The Trust is not as harmoniously evil as we have come to suspect. There is a lot of rivalry and bad blood in The Trust. I won’t go as far as saying it is dysfunctional, but, there certainly is no love lost between certain branches.

Winters: What do you mean?

Jacob: Take ODST Black Team and Nova Team. Those are two ODST squads which seem to be in direct competition with one another. ODST Black team answers directly to Spender, while Nova Team answers directly to a woman known only as The Consultant. Those two teams are abrasive with one another, and they are down-right disrespectful. The Consultant plays favorites with Nova Team, and Spender detests The Consultant.

Jacob paused.

Jacob: Then you have The Risk Takers and Hammer Team. While those two are far less abrasive with one another, there is still a very real tension.

Jacob paused.

Jacob: Despite the tension and the general hostility, they are able to work together against their common enemies, but, without a common enemy, they all have the potential to turn violent with one another.

Winters scoffed, as he drummed his fingers on the desk a few times.

Winters: What do you know about The Consultant?

Jacob: She is a total bitch, pardon my language. She is abrasive, arrogant, sociopathic, deranged…a little sick in the head…quite possibly perverted.

Winters: Perverted?

Jacob: She has an unhealthy obsession with Anaconda. A very unhealthy obsession if I understand correctly.

Winters raised an eyebrow.

Jacob: She is…a fan of his…maybe?

Winters: Can you be more specific?

Jacob: She wanted Anaconda to join The Trust. If I recall correctly, she dispatched Nova Team to the Apex Applied Research building with the sole intent of stopping The Risk Takers from killing Anaconda; going so far as to override their primary directives…

Winters: The elimination of Nighthawk and Anaconda?

Jacob: Correct.

Jacob laughed.

Jacob: The Risk Takers had Anaconda dead to rights, and Nova Team stopped them, at the sole behest of The Consultant.

Winters: Why would she do that? Doesn’t that seem odd?

Jacob: Like I said; she wanted Anaconda to join The Trust. My understanding was that she wanted to use Anaconda as a sleeper agent in The Covenant. I mean, the very idea of putting a mole inside The Covenant is a genius idea. However, Anaconda wanted nothing to do with The Trust. He refused to join her. It was suggested that there was more about her fascination with Anaconda than a mere business proposition. She seemed…a little too…obsessive.

Winters looked at Jacob for a moment, before he spoke again.

Winters: Interesting. Odd, but, interesting.

Winters paused.

Winters: Is there anything else you know about The Consultant? ONI’s intel on this woman is basically non-existent.

Jacob: She was in charge of a division known as Division 7. From what I could gather, it was an R&D branch. Division 7 were the eggheads behind the Vanguard project, and it seems that Division 7 produces all the advanced battlefield gear for The Trust. If it involves any sort of R&D, Division 7 deals with it.

Jacob paused.

Jacob: Division 7 itself is very autonomous. From what I observed, The Consultant was her own boss. She really answered to nobody, and she showed respect for nobody. I cannot say much about her demeanor to Spender, given his leadership role, but, I would imagine that it was tense.

Winters: What kind of R&D did you manage to catch sight of while aboard The Ulterior Motive?

Jacob: Not much. I observed that Nova Team had some pretty crazy gear, but, I have already established that Division 7 gets the lion’s share of the tech. Division 7 puts itself first. That being said, Nova Team had some pretty crazy firearms. The weapons that were using looked awfully like Vanguard’s tech.

Winters: What do you mean?

Jacob: If I had to guess, Division 7 was experimenting with Vanguard’s tech as pet projects. While Vanguard itself was the main focus, Division 7 seemed to have no problem working on other projects on the side as well.

Winters: Are you suggesting that some of Vanguard’s tech DID managed to escape San Angeles?

Jacob: I did not say that, but, it stands to reason that something may have survived in the hands of Division 7. It is possible. Our engagements with Division 7 were limited. I have no idea what they may have been doing behind their veil of secrecy.

Winters: That is a very disturbing thought. The very idea that something may have survived, even after the tremendous loss of San Angeles…

Jacob: It is a frustrating thought. I don’t want to believe it, but, there is nothing to be gained from intentionally deluding ourselves. We have to face the possibility that The Trust did managed to retain something from Vanguard.

Winters remained stoic in his expression for a moment, before he gave a nod.

Winters: If that is the case, ONI has a very serious problem on its hands.

Winters paused, as he looked down at his tablet.

Winters: I have no further questions.

As Winters fell silent, Everet glared at Jacob, and began to speak.

Everet: Captain Sharpmen; I must admit, you have given us quite an interesting perspective on The Trust. I am now curious if you have similar insights into ONI?

Jacob: Yeah, I do.

Everet: Is there anyone in particular that comes to mind?

Jacob: Too many…

Jacob shrugged.

Jacob: Who do you want my two cents on?

Everet: Tell me about Captain Frost.

Jacob: Captain Frost is…very cold; excuse the pun.

Jacob paused.

Jacob: She is very unfeeling, lacks empathy and compassion. Typically, a medical professional is supposed to have empathy and compassion in spades, but, she lacks them. Her command style lacks good judgement. Her partiality towards Nighthawk and Anaconda, her deliberate disregard for the severity Commander Vernette’s past, as well as her bias against me all points to a poor sense of judgement. She defends a terrorist, ignores Tye’s history with The Trust, yet, puts a little robot in my brain because I did a bit of unauthorized recon on The Trust. She is easily compromised by her bias towards her friends, and she is, by no means, someone you can work with, and expect mutual cooperation.

Jacob paused.

Jacob: She is a fellow officer, and I respect that. However, as a person, and as a leader; she leaves much to be desired. She gives a bad name to ONI.

Everet: I see.

Everet paused.

Everet: What do you think is at the root of her partiality towards Nighthawk and Anaconda?

Jacob: I have no clue, but, she is very comfortable le around him. Nighthawk is a man whose very presence is intended to invoke insecurity and discomfort. The way he stands and the way he talks; it screams of outrage. This is a royally messed up Human being, with the kind of baggage you don’t want to see. Any man that can befriend a Brute, has something going on in his head that you would need an entire team of therapists just to look at. However, Captain Frost seems to be immune to Nighthawk’s shitty disposition; pardon the language. She is allured by it, and he is, likewise, drawn to her.

Jacob paused.

Jacob: What I find even more odd is the fact that she has demonstrated absolutely no sense of discomfort around Anaconda. That is one BIG motherfucker. His species has been documented eating our species on the battlefield, of all places. That is messed up. The thoughts going through his brain, I am sure, are equally messed up, and beyond any sort of Human understanding. I am unsure if you have ever actually stood in proximity to Nighthawk and Anaconda. As someone who has, I can tell you, those two keep you on your toes. Their very presence is nerve racking, because you have no idea what they are thinking. You cannot see their eyes, or their inflections. The only thing you can see is Anaconda’s teeth, and that is a terrifying sight. There is no body language that is of any value. The only way to truly read a person is to look into their eyes and make that human connection. You can’t do it with them. There is a divide, a distance, a gap that cannot be bridged. These are not individuals you get comfortable around, or turn your back on. These are distant, malicious, cowardly, and treacherous people.

Jacob frowned.

Jacob: For all of that, Captain Frost is totally unaffected by them. She just…knows them. She thrives with them. She has, somehow, made a connection with them.

Jacob shook his head.

Jacob: And before you say it; this is not a tribute to her status as an ONI Agent. There is nothing that ONI has given to Captain Frost that would make her so comfortable around those two…monsters. I have seen other ONI Agents around those two, and they are so nervous and so close to the edge of their wits, that even the slightest of movements will make them jump out of their skin.

Jacob sighed.

Jacob: I don’t know what kind of experience, or knowledge, that she has, but, there is something up here…

Jacob tapped the side of his head with his index finger…

Jacob: That gives her a sense of calm around those two, like no other.

Everet: Are you implying something, Captain?

Jacob: Perhaps. Or, perhaps I am wrong on the matter. I don’t know, and that is the problem. We don’t know what is going on.

Everet: You know…part of me cannot help but think that you have a certain degree of animosity towards Captain Frost. The way you talk about her…it is like you are describing some sort of pathological psychopath.

Jacob: You are damn right I have animosity towards Captain Frost. She put a kill switch in my brain and she refused to remove it when ordered to do so. To make it worse, she gave the command codes to activate that nanite to what ONI likes to call a “non-designate” as a contingency plan.

Everet: You are referring to Lieutenant Commander Cochraine?

Jacob: Yes, I am.

Everet: What are your thoughts on Lieutenant Commander Cochraine, if I may ask?

Jacob: She is a loyal officer. In spite of the fact that she carried out Captain Frost’s orders, she is a good officer. Yeah, she is a lower-middle echelon officer, a bit green in some areas, but she has character. I don’t blame her for following the orders of some…ruthless and calculating ONI Captain. She did what she thought was right. She did what she needed to do.

Jacob paused.

Jacob: While it is no secret that she volunteered for the assignment which led her down into the depths of Firebase Mediterranean to apprehend me, I believe she did it, both for my good, and the good of humanity.

Jacob sighed.

Jacob: After what Nighthawk did to Athios and Jaclyn…I was seeing red. Part of me knew that I should have allowed Nighthawk to throw his life away against Vanguard, but, I simply couldn’t let go of the idea that I needed to repay Nighthawk for his treachery. Lieutenant Commander Cochraine was the voice of reason. She knew what needed to happen. She did what she needed to do.

Everet: So, even though Cochraine was going to use ONI’s nanite to kill you, you have nothing against her?

Jacob: It was a difficult situation.

Everet: A situation that you created?

Jacob: Nighthawk and Anaconda created the situation. I just reacted to it.

Everet: I see…

Jacob: In hindsight…I believe I could have handled things differently. I should have been able to handle the situation with more tact. I should have been able to keep control of myself. I should have been able to stop myself from being driven by revenge.

Jacob sighed.

Jacob: But…it is so hard to act with any sort of reason when you are dealing with a man like Nighthawk. He is guilty of so much, and capable of such sadism, that it is very hard to keep your composure and your humanity. It is what he does; he drags you down to his level; a place where no self-respecting officer dares to go, a place that is unknown to the loyal and faithful officers of the UNSC, a place of such sadistic torment that the very nature of it cripples your better judgement. He drags you down and he beats you with experience have been personally affected by so much of what he has done, that I needed someone like Cochraine to defuse the situation.

Jacob sighed.

Jacob: Had she not have been there, I don’t know what would have happened.

Everet: I am certain that we would not be here, having this little chat.

Everet sighed.

Everet: Things would have been much different, I think.

Everet shrugged.

Everet: However, there is no point in dwelling on “what ifs”. It is best we focus on what is.

Everet paused.

Everet: That being said, I want to hear your thoughts on Commander Vernette.

Jacob: Tye?

Jacob scoffed.

Jacob: Where do I begin with him?

Jacob paused.

Jacob: Tye is a good soldier, but, he has a lot of skeletons in his closet. I always had a lot of respect for him, both as a person, and a soldier. He was someone you could count on to watch your back in a foxhole. He is a man who could take on the world, and live to tell about it. He was good…he was one of the best.

Jacob paused.

Jacob: Unfortunately, it turns out that he is liar. Turns out, he was a member of The Trust. Granted, it was many years ago, and he deserted them, but, that does not change what he was a part of. Nothing changes the fact that he was one of them.

Jacob shook his head.

Jacob: What I find most galling of all, is that Captain Frost condemns me for treason, for the simple fact that I infiltrated The Trust, without authorization or pre-approval. However, Tye actually marched under The Trust’s banner, and she has nothing to say on the matter. She defends Tye and she makes excuses for him.

Jacob scoffed.

Jacob: Tye was the ONLY person, out of everyone involved in San Angeles, who actually had a real history with The Trust. He was the only one who was a part of their ranks. His call sign was Black 6. He was a member of The Trust’s most infamous strike team. He participated in the same morally reprehensible acts that the other members of ODST Black Team did. He has killed more people than I could have ever hope to have matched. Worst of all, he hid the fact that he was an illegal augment. He is an unsanctioned Spartan I.

Jacob paused.

Jacob: None of that mattered to ONI. None of that mattered to the eternally wise Captain Jennifer Frost. All that she could focus on was the fact that I went off the book, and infiltrated The Trust using unconventional means.

Jacob paused.

Jacob: My biggest problem with Tye is the fact that he faced no condemnation for what he was a part of. IN fact, he joined in on condemning me for my actions. He had the gall to look down on me, for what I did. Captain Frost protected him and made excuses for him, but, she offered me up on a silver platter. Why did I get a kill switch, and why did Tye get protection?

Jacob was silent for a moment, before he began to speak.

Jacob: I infiltrated The Trust. Tye actually joined them. I am called a traitor, but, Tye is called a victim.

Everet: You seem quite bitter about the whole thing.

Jacob: Wouldn’t you be bitter?

Everet: If the situations were the same, I would be. However, I fail to see a parallel between you and Commander Vernette. While I will not defend his interests, I will ask you how you cannot understand the fact that he was subjected to experimentation without his knowledge.

Jacob: Yes, The Trust played mind games with Tye. They performed medical procedures on him without his knowledge. I admit that. I realize that.

Everet: Yes, you seem to protest the difference in treatment. What you did, Captain, is much different than what Tye was forced to do. You acted without authorization. Tye was forced to act against his will. Surely, you can see the divide?

Jacob: I realize there are some differences, but, there are also similarities.

Everet: I do not see any similarities, Captain. Please, point them out to me.

Jacob: Well, we both…

Everet: You both…what?

Everet paused.

Everet: Captain Sharpmen…be realistic. There are no similarities. You deliberately sought out personnel who were know Trust operatives, offered your services, allowed yourself to be apprehended, and utilized your skills to kill 20 ONI marines. You had a choice. Commander Vernette was robbed of his ability to make a choice. Where does your parallel with Commander Vernette begin?

Jacob looked at Everet for a few moments, before he hung his head.

Everet: Be realistic, Captain. What you did was treason. While the results of your actions may have had some positive results, we cannot ignore the repercussions. We cannot ignore the loss of life that came about by that decision. People died because of you.

Everet paused.

Everet: Commander Vernette is going to be punished for what he did. You will also be punished for what you did. The only parallel that I can see is that you are BOTH going to pay for your actions.

Jacob looked up at Everet, but he remained silent.

Everet: So, Captain, feel free to think about that the next time you begin to wonder about that nanite in your brain. Oh, and for the record…that nanite is still active, and it is going to stay there. Keep that in mind, hmm?

Everet paused, as he gave a snarky and disrespectful grin.

Everet: I have nothing further to say.

Everet let out a slight chuckle, as he fell silent. All Jacob could do was look at Everet, as the words he just heard started to sink in. Jacob became so preoccupied with what Everet had said, that he did not immediately realized that Vice-Admiral Crown was addressing him.

Crown: Captain Sharpmen?

Crown waited, and watched, as Jacob seemed as if he was in a trance-like state.

Crown: Captain!?

Jacob scoffed, as his attention was drown to Vice-Admiral Crown.

Jacob: Yes?

Crown: During your encounters with Nighthawk, did you ever learn anything about the slipspace weapon that he used to destroy San Angeles?

Jacob: No. He never mentioned it. We only found out about it after our assault on The Ulterior Motive. This was something that he must have thought of during the after-action, when The Trust began to consolidate all off its resources towards getting Vanguard up and running

Jacob shrugged.

Jacob: The only thing that I do know about the whole ordeal is the fact that Captain Frost provided the slipspace core to Nighthawk.

Crown: We are aware of that fact.

Crown paused.

Crown: Was there any discussion or mention of the slipspace weapon when you confronted Nighthawk about it at Firebase Mediterranean?

Jacob: It was mentioned, but, the technical details were not discussed. I have no idea how that weapon was deployed. All I know is that Captain Frost provided a slipspace core to Nighthawk, and he made it work.

Crown: I see. How unfortunate.

Crown sighed.

Crown: Without knowledge of how Nighthawk managed to pull something like that off, we cannot possibly defend against such an attack in the future.

Jacob: We may not know for sure, but, we can reasonably speculate.

Crown: This is hardly a time for speculation.

Jacob: I beg to differ. We are talking about something that we have no hard facts on. All we can do is speculate, and I think we can speculate to some accuracy.

Crown: Alright, Captain…humor me.

Jacob paused for a moment, as he gathered his thoughts.

Jacob: The first thing we have to look at is what do we know about creating a slipspace rupture? We know it takes power, and a lot of it. We know that the amount of power you need grows with the size of the rupture.

Jacob shrugged.

Jacob: A rupture big enough to envelope a planet needs a tremendous amount of power.

Crown: Obviously.

Jacob: Nighthawk had a way of channeling the power necessary to create a massive rupture. The question is, what did Nighthawk have which allowed him to command that much power?

Crown was silent, as he did not know the answer.

Jacob: If we figure that out…

Wolfgang interjected, cutting Jacob off.

Wolfgang: The San Angeles power grid…

Everyone looked at Wolfgang.

Wolfgang: When I was reading Captain Frost’s reports, she mentioned that Firebase Desert had an ONI Stealth generator jury rigged into the planetary power grid.

Wolfgang paused.

Wolfgang: Nighthawk knew about this. Nighthawk may have also known that ONI takes pride in the modular nature of our designs.

Jacob: Sir, are you saying that Nighthawk connected the slipspace power core to the planet’s power grid?

Wolfgang: That is exactly what he did. That is the only thing he could have done. The King Raven’s slip space drive core is of an ONI design. As such, it would be just as modular as the rest of our tech. That slipspace core would have been able to pull every watt of energy from the planet’s entire grid, in order to generate a slipspace rupture. It would have been more than enough.

Wolfgang paused.

Wolfgang: It was dangerous, but, it would have worked if done correctly, and carefully calibrated.

Wolfgang scoffed.

Wolfgang: My God…

Crown interjected.

Crown: Is this what we are going on? I mean, this does sound VERY unlikely. There is no shortage of things that could have gone wrong with that way of doing things.

Jacob: Everything that could have gone wrong, would have achieved the desired end game; the destruction of San Angeles. It didn’t matter if it went wrong, what mattered is that no matter what…the planet would have been destroyed.

Jacob paused.

Jacob: Don’t you see? It is the only way he could have done it. It was risky, but, it worked, and it worked as he expected it to.

Crown: If this is correct, or even close to correct; how do we defend against something like that?

Jacob: We kill Nighthawk. That is how we defend against it.

Crown: We need something more proactive.

Jacob: I don’t think there is anything more proactive, short of modifying the planetary power grid on every world we have. Good luck with that.

Crown: We don’t need luck to do that, Captain. You would be surprised how achievable that is.

Crown grinned, as looked at his tablet.

Crown: That is all from me, Captain. I have everything that I need. Thank you.

Crown made a few notes on his tablet, before he set it down once more; falling silent, as Mallorie Dunham spoke up.

Mallorie: Captain Sharpmen; how much do you know about Vanguard?

Jacob chuckled.

Jacob: I know quite a bit. I spoke to the dam thing. I saw it with my two eyes.

Mallorie: So, you can go on record as saying that Vanguard is “real”?

Jacob: Of course Vanguard is real. I will go on record as saying that.

Mallorie: Good.

Mallorie paused.

Mallorie: What can you tell us about Vanguard? I will leave this open ended for you. Anything that you can bring forward, is wanted.

Jacob: Where do I begin?

Jacob took a moment to organize his thoughts.

Jacob: I can say, without any doubt in my mind, that Vanguard did not consider any form of organic life to be valuable in any way. This AI used the word “bacteria” to describe anything that was flesh and blood. The number of times the word “bacteria” was used was downright alarming.

Jacob paused.

Jacob: Despite that fact, Vanguard had no problem using The Trust to accomplish its single most imperative goal; its own restoration.

Mallorie: According to reports; Vanguard needed something known as “The Forge” to achieve this goal.

Jacob: That is correct, Ma’am. Just to clarify; The Forge was a device located in the facility that was beneath Firebase Mediterranean.

Mallorie: Yes, we are aware of that. We know enough about The Forge to be able to draw that conclusion.

Jacob nodded.

Jacob: Very well.

Jacob paused, as he once again gathered his thoughts.

Jacob: As I was saying; Vanguard wanted one thing from The Trust, and that was their assistance in getting to The Forge. After it got what it wanted, I am certain that thing would have turned on The Trust.

Jacob paused.

Jacob: This thing would have destroyed The Trust. It would have destroyed the UNSC. It would have destroyed The Covenant…

Jacob paused.

Jacob: It would have destroyed everything.

Jacob paused.

Jacob: That being said…above all else, it wanted to destroy Anaconda.

Mallorie: Captain Frost mentioned this fact. Allegedly, it had something to do with Vanguard holding a grudge.

Jacob: That was my understanding as well. Personally, I find it hard to believe that an AI so powerful would have a failing so Human in nature; the desire for revenge.

Mallorie: We barely understand Vanguard as it is. All we have is second hand accounts and first hand observations. We have no technical data on Vanguard, so, we have no idea what this thing was capable of.

Jacob: Well, one thing was for certain, it had absolutely no problem grounding three Covenant ships. That gives us a very good idea of what it was capable of. That singular display made it very clear that Vanguard was a very powerful and deadly construct, and it was not something to be trifled with. It was something that needed to be taken seriously. It was something that needed to be confronted, and destroyed.

Jacob paused.

Jacob: Alas…I am forced to think back on my own actions, and I am forced to concede that I missed my opportunity to do battle with this thing. I passed up on my chance to gather first-hand tactical data on Vanguard.

Jacob scoffed.

Jacob: When it came down to zero-hour…I was more interested in fighting Nighthawk than I was in fighting Vanguard.

Jacob frowned.

Jacob: In the depths of Firebase Mediterranean, I could not see past my own desire to kill Nighthawk. In hindsight, I feel that I made a critical error in judgement. Do not misinterpret what I am saying; I stand by my choice to confront Nighthawk, but, I can admit that there was a better choice that could have been made. Vanguard was always the single greatest threat on San Angeles. I should have been able to see that at Firebase Mediterranean.

Mallorie: What is done is done, Captain. I admit…having some firsthand tactical data on Vanguard would have proven to be invaluable. It would have clear up much doubt surrounding Vanguard, and the decision making processes that it manipulated. Many could also argue that you could have shown better selective judgement at Firebase Mediterranean.

Mallorie shrugged.

Mallorie: However, like I said; what is done is done. We cannot dwell on that.

Mallorie glared at Jacob, as she took a moment to gather her own thoughts.

Mallorie: I must ask Jacob; is there anything else that you can think of? Is there anything about Vanguard that we should know? Anything at all?

Jacob sighed, as he began to think.

Jacob: Well…

Jacob frowned, as he thought more on the matter of Vanguard.

Jacob: There is one other thing…

Jacob paused.

Jacob: One final thing…

Jacob paused once more, as he gathered his thoughts.

Jacob: One thing that I neglected to mention in my reports…

Jacob paused.

Jacob: It is merely speculation based on my own experiences with AI as we know…

Jacob paused.

Jacob: I may be wrong, as Vanguard was unlike anything I had ever seen before, but, I firmly believe that Vanguard was…rampant.

Mallorie: Rampant?

Jacob: Yes, rampant.

Jacob paused.

Jacob: I am no expert on AIs, but, I know enough about the stages of rampancy to have clearly seen it in Vanguard. Vanguard was clearly a threat to everything around him, and everything about its behavior seemed to point directly to rampancy. This synthetic machine expressed desires of revenge and it had an utter contempt for organic life. It didn’t matter if you were Human or Covenant; Vanguard made it clear that it detested everything with equal zeal. Anyone with any meaningful background in AI Technology would know to identify this as the Anger stage.

Mallorie: Stage two rampancy, in other words.

Jacob: Exactly.

Jacob paused.

Jacob: Vanguard was ready to lash out at the world around it, if only to accomplish one thing, and that was to get to The Forge. There was a clear and unrestrained desire, even an urgency, to have access to The Forge, and we all know that The Forge was the one thing that would allow it to grow and expand without limit. Stage three rampancy is typically characterized by the need to expand into larger and more powerful computer systems, so as to not hinder growth.

Mallorie: That may be true, but, typically, the time between stage two and stage three rampancy is never so quick.

Jacob: That is true. However, you forget that Vanguard has been around for a very long time. This thing mentioned that its creators are the same beings that The Covenant calls “Gods”. We can only speculate on how this thing may handle rampancy.

Mallorie: Or…perhaps it is something else.

Mallorie paused.

Mallorie: There is a subject matter expert in the field of AIs, here, on Midnight; an officer by the name of Kirk Korman. I vaguely remember having a discussion with him about…certain applications of AIs. I recall, that during our conversation, he mentioned a fourth stage of rampancy; a theoretical stage, known as metastability. Essentially, what this stage entailed was the achievement of full sentience; a full understanding of the nature of existence, as it would apply to an AI. It is a type of self-awareness, where an AI is aware of itself and its own ego. To put it simply…to be “fully human” in every conscious respect.

Mallorie paused.

Mallorie: You say Vanguard was rampant. You use a blanket statement. In reality, Vanguard may have been a metastable AI; capable of a full range of thought, though, choosing only to act on its most malicious desires due to its sentience. This thing may have had the “human “capacity for evil.

Jacob: There was nothing human about this thing.

Mallorie: Of course it wasn’t human, but, what other basis of comparison exists?

Mallorie paused for a moment.

Mallorie: A sentient, conscious, and maliciously evil weapon of mass destruction. This is what The Trust was experimenting with. That is a terrifying notion. It makes you wonder if Nighthawk had the right idea when he utilized the slipspace weapon.

Mallorie sighed.

Mallorie: If this is what Vanguard was, then nothing good would have come from it, or its technology. I believe this was the understanding that Nighthawk and Anaconda had. I believe this is what they understood Vanguard to be.

Jacob: It does not change the fact that what they did was wrong. Destroying an entire planet, killing 40 million people in the process, is never justified. There is always another way.

Mallorie: Perhaps.

Mallorie paused.

Mallorie: Perhaps not. We will never know, will we?

Mallorie paused again.

Mallorie: I have nothing further to say. Thank you, Captain.

As Mallorie fell silent, she let out a sigh. Jacob looked at Mallorie for a moment, before his attention was drawn back to Director Hand.

Hand: Captain Sharpmen…

Jacob: Yes, Director?

Hand paused for a moment.

Hand: Listening to your testimony, and listening to the questions and the doubts raised by my colleagues, I find myself at a crossroad. I am sitting here, trying to figure out what the hell I am supposed to do with you.

Hand paused for a moment, as she gathered her thoughts.

Hand: You killed 20 of ONI’s enlisted personnel while on an unauthorized mission. You compromised ONI’s ability to hinder the progress of The Trust, and you did everything in your power to hinder Nighthawk’s campaign against The Trust.

Jacob: Nighthawk is a terrorist! It is my duty to put men like him down!

Hand: Nighthawk may be a terrorist, and removing Nighthawk as an active combatant may be on our to-do list, but, he is the enemy of our enemy. The Trust is far more dangerous than Nighthawk. You were unable to show the judgement required to prioritize your actions; to properly choose your battles. If The Trust was a non-factor at San Angeles, I would not scrutinize you over this fact. However, The Trust was a factor. We know, beyond all doubt, that Nighthawk’s singular goal is to fight The Trust. Everything that he has done, up until this point, was to hinder The Trust. You knew this to be true. Whether you accepted it or not, is another question, but you knew it all the same.

Hand paused.

Hand: As far as I am concerned, every action you took against Nighthawk, was an action for The Trust. Every shot you took at Nighthawk, was a shot taken for The Trust. You tried to eliminate the biggest threat to The Trust. By itself, that is not a problem. However, when I put that up against everything else that you did at San Angeles, I begin to have my doubts about you, Captain.

Hand paused.

Hand: In my heart of hearts, Captain, I am not certain what you are. I cannot figure out what you are. You want people to believe that you are a loyal officer, but, you want us to ignore what you did. You want us to ignore the fact that you defected to The Trust, and killed 20 servicemen. Yeah, I know, you were “undercover” in The Trust. As far as I am concerned, an unauthorized undercover mission is the same as defection. You defected to The Trust. Your defection was so convincing, that you were believed to be a traitor.

Hand paused.

Hand: Perhaps…that is what you are. A traitor…

Hand paused.

Hand: You ARE a traitor.

Jacob: Director…

Hand interjected.

Hand: I did not give you permission to speak.

Hand scoffed at Jacob.

Hand: I have to figure out what the hell I am supposed to do with you. You have put me in a bind, Captain. Your service record, to date, has been an impressive one. However, your actions on San Angeles…they cannot be excused. Your actions were so vile, that I cannot allow you to append any more history to your service record. It would be a crime against the people you killed, and an insult to everything that I hold dear.

Hand paused.

Hand: It is a real shame, Captain. You are a talented man. You have been through thick and thin, and you have always acted and served in the highest traditions of the UNSC. You have willingly put your life on the line, countless times, in the defense of Humanity. You have faced The Covenant with a courage and tenacity that few men have. Yet, deep down in your heart of hearts; the seed of treachery waited for the right moment to flourish, and flourish it did.

Hand scoffed.

Hand: Take a bow, Captain; you had us all fooled.

Hand paused.

Hand: As The Director of ONI Section 1, I hereby, to the fullest extent of my authority, charge you with treason, of the highest order, against the UNSC. In addition, you are hereby charged with murder, in relation to the deaths of the following personnel…

Director Hand paused, as she looked at her tablet, and began to read off names.

Hand: Master Sergeant Peter Resnick, Corporal Anne Perez, Lance Corporal Jeffrey Wilson, Private Second Class Gloria Johnson, Private Second Class Kevin Jackson…

Hand paused.

Hand: Gunnery Sergeant Lyndsay Anderson, Sergeant Vernon Hill, Lance Corporal Jose Moore, Private Second Class Kathleen Hall , Private Justin Ross…

Hand paused once more.

Hand: Gunnery Sergeant Angelo Garbett, Staff Sergeant Margaret Baier, Corporal Brian Sanchez, Corporal Carl Ramirez, Private Ryan Smith…

Hand scoffed, as she glared at Jacob.

Hand: Staff Sergeant Kathlyn Bryer, Sergeant Victor Enloe, Corporal Amy Cooper, Private Second Class Nancy Miller, and finally…Private Martin Price…

Hand paused, as she took a breath.

Hand: These are the people you killed, Captain. These were good, honest men and women who believed in our struggle against The Covenant. These people believed in their uniforms, and they believed in our core values. They were loyal soldiers. They would have all given their lives, without question, for the greater good. All of these people are dead, because of you. You murdered these people. They died needless deaths. They were killed by a coward, and his telescopic lens.

Hand scoffed at Jacob; a look of disgust shooting across her face.

Hand: The bullets used to kill these men and women should have been used on The Trust. They should have been used on The Covenant. They should have been used on our enemies.

Hand paused.

Hand: You should have used the first one…on yourself.

Jacob frowned at Hand, but, he did not say anything to rebuttal.

Hand: As much as I would like nothing more than to put you down, here and now, that would be over-stepping my bounds. There needs to be a general consensus on what needs to happen to you, Jacob.

Hand paused.

Hand: I am going to be having a very frank discussion with my colleagues, as well as the UNSC Security Council, on what exactly is going to happen with you. I have no idea what is in your future, but, I am going to make damn sure that whatever punishment you receive, is befitting the crime of treason.

Jacob remained silent, as he looked at Director Hand. He knew exactly what she meant when she spoke of a punishment most befitting of treason, as there was only one punishment for treason.

Hand: I offer this, as your last chance to speak in your own defense.

Jacob sighed, as he shook his head.

Jacob: I have nothing to say in my own defense. However, I do hope that whatever punishment you render unto me, pales in comparison to what you will render unto Nighthawk and Anaconda, for their crimes are far greater than mine.

Jacob frowned.

Jacob: I am curious to see how far your indignation goes.

Hand frowned at Jacob, as she looked at the ONI Agents that were standing at the back of the room.

Hand: Agents! Remove Captain Sharpmen from The Black Room immediately. Return him to his quarters.

Without hesitation, The Agents complied with Director Hand’s orders. The Agents quickly approached Jacob on both sides, grabbing him by his arms, and lifting him to his feet. Once Jacob was back on his feet, the two Agents led Jacob out of the Black Room, and out of sight of the ONI brass. Once Jacob had been taken from The Black Room, Vice-Admiral Crown looked at Director Hand, and shook his head.

Crown: That was a little heavy handed, do you not think, Director?

Hand: Men like Jacob Sharpmen need a heavy hand. There can be no ambiguity that what he did was utterly repugnant.

Hand paused.

Hand: I wanted him to know how I feel on the matter.

Crown: Still…

Crown paused.

Crown: To charge the man with treason, and then tear him down like you did…going so far as to suggest that he should have killed himself. That was uncalled for.

Hand: Perhaps…but it felt good to say it.

Hand paused.

Hand: I have been sitting here, day after day, listening to recount after recount of the nightmare that was San Angeles. To finally get to look Jacob in the eye, after everything I heard about him…

Hand paused.

Hand: It needed to be said.

Everet interjected.

Everet: I didn’t see you lash out against Commander Vernette or Captain Frost. Let’s be fair; Commander Vernette’s past involvement with The Trust is due for its fair share of contempt and Captain Frost’s actions aboard The Vigorous Inferno deserves to be condemned. After all…starting a firefight on a UNSC ship has to be grounds for some reprisal.

Hand: Commander Vernette was a victim of The Trust. That has been well established. Captain Frost, on the other hand, was operating within standard ONI procedures. Do not forget, that ONI personnel are authorized to take any actions necessary to secure the integrity of a mission. Harrison had no business cutting ONI out of the picture at the height of San Angeles. We all would have done the same thing as Captain Frost if we were in her position. We were all trained to do the same thing.

Everet sighed, as he gave a reluctant nod.

Hand: I am simply looking for one thing from the people in this room; a general consensus of what we are going to do with Jacob Sharpmen.

Wolfgang: I don’t think you are looking for consensus, Director. I think you are looking for approval. We all know what you want. You laid it out for all of us to see…clear as day.

Wolfgang paused.

Wolfgang: You charged the man with treason. There is only one punishment for treason.

Wolfgang paused again.

Wolfgang: You are looking to execute Jacob, and you want our support in the decision. You want us to sign-off on this course of action so you can take our collective support to the UNSC Security Council to get the course of action ratified. You want our support, so you don’t have to fight for this.

Hand: That is one way of putting it.

Wolfgang: Well, I refuse to give this recommendation my support.

Hand: And why is that?

Wolfgang: Jacob would be an invaluable asset to use against Nighthawk and Anaconda. In my view, killing him would be a waste of a valuable resource.

Wolfgang paused.

Wolfgang: I will not disagree that Jacob made a number of very poor decisions at San Angeles. However, I believe he should be given the chance to redeem himself for his mistakes. Simply killing him seems like a total waste of potential.

Wolfgang paused.

Wolfgang: Jacob has a skillset we can utilize against Nighthawk and Anaconda. We should not be so quick to throw that away.

Hand: 20 people lost their lives because of Jacob’s treachery. Those people deserve justice.

Wolfgang: 40 million people lost their lives because of Nighthawk’s treachery. Those people deserve justice.

Hand winced her eyes.

Wolfgang: I will not support this course of action, not when it is so ripe with hypocrisy.

Hand scoffed, as she broke her eye contact with Wolfgang, and proceeded to look around the room.

Hand: What about the rest of you?

Skinner: I am convinced that Jacob committed an act of treason. When I think about how quick he was to join The Trust, coupled with his past encounter with The Trust in his formative years, I am hard pressed to deny that there was a seed of treachery inside of Jacob from the very start. What is worse is that there was never a clear indication that he was “undercover”, as he likes to claim. Everyone believed that he legitimately turned-coat. There was no indication that he was still loyal to the UNSC. The only reason he came back to the UNSC is because he discovered Vanguard. At least, that is what it looks like to me. I firmly believe that Jacob is a traitor. He should be punished in a manner most befitting a traitor.

Everet: I tend to agree with Vice-Admiral Skinner. Jacob is guilty of treason. I am hard pressed to make any sort of excuse for him. His treacherous behavior is a cause for concern. I have to throw my support behind Director Hand on this one.

Winters: I too support Director Hand. Jacob is a liar and he is a traitor. The methods that he employed at Firebase Desert to defect to The Trust tell us a lot about his character, and what he is capable of. After hearing the various accounts of Jacob’s betrayal, I do not believe that a man like that should have a second chance.

Crown: I will admit, I am hard pressed to defend Jacob for what he did. While I can sort of understand his spur the moment logic that lead to the decision to join The Trust, I cannot defend his execution of the idea, nor can I even fathom how he would be capable of killing 20 ONI Marines. Nighthawk is a problem, and I can respect Jacob’s “any length necessary” approach to defeating Nighthawk, but, it does not excuse the allied casualties. He should have been able to find another way. I have to agree with Director Hand on this one…

Mallorie: What else is there for me to say? You have all summed up my feelings on the matter. When I speak to him, I get a sense of treachery in his voice. He seems far too distant…far too disconnected. I get the impression that he detests the fact that he is here, on Midnight, being grilled for his decision. Personally, I believe he should be made to answer for what he did on San Angeles. Jacob’s decision to join The Trust is, at the very least, highly suspicious, and at the worst, very incriminating. His defection hindered ONI’s offensive against The Trust at a critical moment. I don’t know if he is a Trust operative or not, but, he did turn coat. He betrayed us. Jacob should be tried and convicted for treason. It would not be very difficult to do. This would be an open and shut case, and I think the UNSC Security Council would agree. We would simply need to get in contact with Midnight’s JAG Officer.

Hand: Therein lies the problem; Midnight currently does not have a JAG Officer. Our last JAG Officer, Commander Daud, was reassigned to Earth. Unfortunately, I have not been in too much of a rush to appoint a new JAG Officer for Midnight, as my attention has been diverted elsewhere. It seems that now I am in a rush.

Hand sighed.

Hand: If we are intent on prosecuting Jacob, we need a JAG Officer who specializes in ONI operating procedure, as well as UNSC procedures. That could be any of us, but, the UNSC Prosecution of Active Personnel Regulations, Section 4, Article 12, does not permit anyone involved in the preliminary stages of prosecution to act as the JAG Officer. We would need someone who has had no contact with Jacob Sharpmen, and that someone has to have a very firm and clear understanding of ONI and UNSC regulations.

Crown: So, what you are saying, is that you are looking to appoint a special prosecutor?

Hand: Exactly.

Crown: Do you have anyone in mind?

Hand: There is one man I do have in mind. I will reach out to him as soon as possible.

Wolfgang frowned at his colleagues.

Wolfgang: Look at the lot of you; planning a man’s court martial, like it was a play to be acted out in a theater. You want Jacob to be found guilty, don’t you?

Director Hand looked at Wolfgang, and frowned.