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Posted By: Trivun<im_here_an_im_lovin_it@hotmail.co.uk>
Date: 25 January 2012, 8:41 pm

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There was more to this meeting than met the eye. Tom knew that even with the brief moment of weakness (weakness? More like humanity, he thought) that Halsey had just shown, there were still things she wasn't telling him. Things that she was hiding. And yet he knew she had come to him specifically to say those things, so why was she holding back? The only explanation Tom could come up with was that whatever these secrets were, they would be tough for him to handle. There was nothing for it. He was going to have to be direct.

"Doctor, I appreciate you speaking to me like this. I even sympathise with you about your daughter. I know what it's like to potentially lose loved ones to the Covenant. But there's something else, isn't there. Something you aren't telling me."

Halsey was silent for a moment. Then she spoke, just five words, but devastating nonetheless.

"Some of your Spartans survived."

Tom was shocked, and confused at the same time. For years he'd thought that he and Lucy were the only non-Gamma Spartan-IIIs left, that everyone else had died. PROMETHEUS, TORPEDO, those two operations had been responsible for the deaths of almost six hundred of his comrades, his predecessors. Gamma Company were almost gone too, wiped out by the Sentinels on Onyx - with the remaining few safe here inside the Dyson Sphere. So what could Halsey be talking about?

"I don't understand, Doctor, what do you mean some Spartans survived?"

"I mean that you and Lucy are not the only members of Beta Company to survive. Some Alpha Company Spartans did too. They were Noble Team."

With that, Tom realised, it made sense now that he would be considered for a unit such as Noble Team. If Ackerson had been in charge of a new generation of Spartans, then of course he'd use such soldiers in an elite black ops squad. Why use ODSTs when you had men and women who could each outmatch a dozen of them?

"It took me a while to realise exactly what they were. I had my suspicions, exacerbated by Ackerson's files, but I couldn't be sure until I arrived here on Onyx. Some of the Spartans you fought with, and your predecessors, were spirited away before the operations that would end their respective companies. It was done in the same way as Kurt, and they were brought into Noble Team. Unfortunately, they were all killed on Reach. Most died fighting the main Covenant invasion, one sacrificed himself to help me get away. We encountered a patrol of Elites as we were making our way to my lab in CASTLE Base. If it wasn't for Jun, I wouldn't be here now."

As she told her story, Tom felt regret, that he hadn't been around to see his old friends still alive and fighting. And remorse that he hadn't been there to comfort them as they died. Not really sentiments a soldier should have, on a battlefield, but nevertheless, he felt them all the same.

"But why tell me now? What purpose does this serve aside from new information that I can't do anything about?"

Halsey paused. "You're right, there's no real purpose. But I've seen how you are with the others. I raised my Spartans to care for each other, to trust each other. I raised them to have bonds beyond basic teamwork and friendship. That's what makes them unique. Not special armour or a lifetime of training. They fit each other perfectly. I wanted to see if it was the same with you. And I was right - your bonds are just the same. Kurt knew the value of those bonds, and he made sure they were instilled in the Spartan-IIIs just as I did with my own. Maybe not as a whole - three hundred people can't care for each other as implicitly as thirty, but within your teams you have a bond that is stronger even than those forged by me. And Lucy. I've seen you with her, these past few days, and it reminds me of someone. Someone I thought was lost."

Halsey was of course referring to John, though there was no way for Tom to know that. He'd heard rumours during his training of a great Spartan warrior, feared as a 'demon' by the Covenant, and he'd heard Kurt speak of him sometimes. But he couldn't possibly understand who she was talking about now, nor was he ever likely to if they couldn't find an exit to the Dyson Sphere soon. As Halsey continued, Tom realised she seemed to be speaking more to herself than to him.

"I know how much you care for Lucy, and I know it's more than anything superficial like friendship or love. I tried to form those kinds of relationship myself. A test, I thought. An intellectual exercise I set myself to prove how clever I am. I was always one for such frivolities. But it couldn't have worked, not truly. I found I'd failed, despite my best efforts, and it burned me inside. Until a few weeks ago when I realised the true success of my experiment. Such bonds were formed, not through artificial means, but naturally through fire and flame. When you risk your life for someone, when you spend your days fighting against overwhelming odds to support them, that's the mark of a such a bond. John and Cortana have that. So do you and Lucy."

She fell silent. Tom could barely speak. He knew she was right, he cared about Lucy more than anything, anyone, he had ever known. It wasn't merely love. It was so much deeper than that. They'd fought through desperate odds so many times, saved each other from death more times than either of them could remember, and they had both survived Pegasi Delta. They had come through the fire together, and been reformed together. It had created the bonds that Halsey spoke of, something never spoken but that they both understood implicitly. They would never leave each other, they were tied together now.

It was this thinking that gave Tom an idea. He knew that Lucy had refused to speak ever since Operation TORPEDO, assuming she still had the ability at all. Maybe the good doctor could provide some help, or advice. He knew it was a long shot, but there was no harm in asking.

"Doctor, what do you know about Lucy's condition?"

She looked at him. "I know she won't speak, that's about it. If I recall correctly, from what you and Mendez told me earlier, it was sometime after your last operation with Beta Company?"

"That's right. The doctors then said it was Post Traumatic Vocal Disarticulation. Kind of a mouthful, but I wondered, is there anything you could do for her?"

Halsey looked thoughtful for a moment. "I'm sorry, but I'm not that kind of doctor. The question you have to consider is whether she can talk, and won't, or if she simply can't at all. If the latter is true then there's nothing we can do. If it's the former, then unless she chooses to speak, there's still nothing we can do. We can hardly force her, and that would be cruel by any means. We could attempt to persuade her, but again, there would be little chance of success."

Regardless of her words, Tom was grateful. At least he had an understanding of her condition, it may not be much use to her but it certainly made him feel better. If there was a chance of helping Lucy then he would take it, but if such chances weren't available then he would simply have to accept his friend's silence.

Halsey, of course, realised there was something that could help. She didn't understand much about Lucy's circumstances, but nevertheless she had seen studies some years previously about similar reports from Marines in the field. It was exceptionally rare, but on at least one occasion the afflicted soldier had been able to recover the power of speech by learning, over time, to deal with the trauma that had caused it. Perhaps if Lucy could learn to come to terms with her tragedy, she would be able to learn to speak again, though even then it would be a slim chance and a long road to recovery. As Halsey searched through her memory for something useful, she remembered reports from a black ops mission some years ago, that seemed to have taken place roughly six months before TORPEDO. It had been notable as it had been one of the first missions to use her 'smart' AIs for combat purposes. The technology had improved over time of course, with this op using an AI inside a TACPAD, nothing like the MJOLNIR interface Cortana used with John. But there was something about that operation that she now knew hadn't added up. At the time she'd found it curious, but nothing too noteworthy, and certainly not worth chasing up given how much time she was devoting to the Spartan-II project and to MJOLNIR. The question was how a small black ops team could have completed such a dangerous and risky mission behind enemy lines in such a place. She'd originally assumed it to be ODSTs or some NavSpecWep plan, but now she realised it had to be Spartans. Her suspicions had been raised with Noble Team, and were confirmed when she saw Ackerson's S-III files. Explicit reference to the operation, a fully detailed account rather than the censored version that had reached her, had confirmed the involvement of Spartan-IIIs. More to the point, it had been Tom's own squad that took part. It had finally started to make sense, and she had realised then the memory wipe her AI had undergone to keep this from her. Ackerson had been tenacious, she would give him that much. But now, it gave her an idea. She would have Tom remember that operation and talk to Lucy. With any luck, their memories would be the trigger Lucy needed to begin her road to acceptance of the Pegasi Delta slaughter. In the end, all it took was a single word to persuade him.