They’re just dreams…
The SPARTAN-II program was a classified Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI) black project that sought to create the ultimate special operations soldier. The plan was to deploy these soldiers to deal with the growing insurrectionist movement among the human colony worlds. Directed by the brilliant Dr. Catherine Halsey, she employed controversial techniques to identify and “recruit” candidates–six-year-old children–that met the genetic requirements for the program.
In 2517, under secret UNSC protocol–Naval Code 45812–ONI “conscripted” the children identified by the recruiting process, kidnapping them from their families. To cover-up for the missing children and hide the program, ONI substituted flash clones in their place. To ensure no suspicions would ever arise, these clones had genetic flaws programmed into them, causing all the clones to die of an untreatable disease a short period afterwards. Taken to a secret ONI facility on the planet Reach in the Epsilon Eridani system, the “recruited” children underwent intensive physical and military training/indoctrination.
In 2525, when the children turned fourteen, they underwent the second phase of the program. The biological augmentation procedures enhanced their bodies to allow them to wear the MJOLNIR exoskeleton battle suits being developed for the SPARTAN program. Of the original seventy-five candidates, thirty candidates died with twelve candidates suffering crippling side effects from the augmentation procedures and reassigned to other duties within ONI and the UNSC. It was also this same year the UNSC made first contact with the Covenant — a multi-species military and religious polity spanning a vast area of the galaxy.
By 2535, the Human-Covenant war was into its 10th year with the outer human colony worlds destroyed or abandoned in the face of unending genocidal attacks by the Covenant. Time after time human forces stood their ground to hold back the onslaught. Despite desperate, ferocious and bloody fighting, Covenant technological superiority would overcome the human defenses resulting in another defeat and retreat. The result being that the Covenant would lay waste and “glass” human-occupied worlds by plasma bombardment.
Despite what seemed like an endless series of planetary sieges and evacuations, there had been a few scattered victories by human forces. Most of those came with the SPARTAN-II’s deployed against the Covenant. The success and propaganda value of the SPARTANS quickly buried the original reason for the program’s development for public consumption.
In 2536, the Covenant begun its invasion of the inner colony worlds. Those surviving SPARTAN-II’s along with the next generation SPARTAN-III’s continued to stand and defend against the unrelenting genocidal Covenant advance
Reach, Epsilon Eridani System
May 23, 2536 — 0935 Local Time
Doctor Sarah Reeves was at her desk caught up in her daily routine of work. Since being recruited by ONI five years ago, her work revolved around the SPARTAN program. Her job was to review and evaluate the mental and psychological health of all Spartans in the program focusing especially on the SPARTAN-II’s. Her work days comprised reviewing records, listening to audio recordings along with watching videos of the Spartans to analyze their mental health. Sometimes she followed up in person with a face-to-face interview with individual Spartans. Unfortunately, from her perspective, those were very rare occasions due to the war, and the demands placed on the Spartans.
Even though Doctor Reeves had access to the Spartans and their records, there was still much about the SPARTAN-II program above her security classification level. When she first started this job, she’d raised a few protests about this lack of information. It was important to understand everything about their backgrounds and history along with knowing the training they had undergone so she could make an effective psychological analysis. Her world view took an abrupt turn as the world of covert and black operations introduced themselves to her. Her ONI superior–in a somewhat joking tone–said if she knew the whole story behind the SPARTAN-II program, they would have to kill her.
With the implied warning in mind, Reeves focused on working within the narrow confines and restrictions of what information she could access and questions she could ask the Spartans. Over time she had gathered enough information to deduce the background details of the SPARTAN-II program. Horrified by what she discovered, she kept her thoughts to herself and recorded nothing of what she had found.
The scope and moral implications of what she’d discovered about the SPARTAN-II’s tore at her. Her actions made her an accomplice by helping to perpetuate the program causing her many sleepless nights as she wrestled with her conscience. She debated whether to stay with ONI and the program or go public with what she’d uncovered.
What settled her mind were the reports from the war. The harsh realities of the Covenant exterminating human world after world made her realize the Spartans were providing the most effective defense against this unrelenting enemy. With humanity facing genocide her moral quandaries faded, providing her a way to rationalize her continued work with the program. Even though the SPARTAN program violated her medical oath and ethics, she buried them to focus on her job to support the Spartans and keep them fighting. She still suffered the occasional sleepless night, but sedatives and continuing to lie to herself that her work was for the greater good overcame them.
With her personal qualms shelved, she continued on with her work. That work discovered a worrying and disturbing trend developing among the SPARTAN-II’s. She noted there seemed to be a marked rise in anti-social behavior among the Spartans. This rising trend could lead to an increased risk towards developing psychotic behavior. The medical records showed that all the SPARTAN-II’s reporting problems sleeping and achieving dream states or disturbed dreaming. Each Spartan showed different symptoms and appeared to be at different stages. Yet, when taken together as a group they showed a definite pattern curve to their behavior.
In the more extreme cases, individuals stayed in their battle armor, leaving their helmets on most of the time — even when not on missions or in combat areas. Her professional diagnosis was that those extreme cases were isolating themselves more from human contact. The worry was this isolation would cause a continued downward spiral in their mental health, affecting their combat performance. She’d written up a memo outlining the problem with her concerns and sent it up the line. The only reply to her memo was a terse response acknowledging receipt, and that her concerns were being taken under “advisement”.
A sigh escaped her, knowing the military bureaucratic mindset was one mind she would never understand as she returned to reviewing her files. Accessing the file for a Spartan–Michael-113–she reviewed the latest medical data for this soldier. A grim look etched her face as she cross-referenced his medical data with the limited information she had on his military record. The information available showed Michael-113 primarily assigned to solo missions. What type of missions and what they involved was beyond her classification rating. Her grim look became a frown as she continued studying his medical data and comparing it to the other Spartans.
The medical monitoring recorded indicated Michael-113 suffering from increased incidents of disrupted and troubled sleep, with indications of frequent nightmares. He wasn’t in the high risk category, but as a precaution, she noted on his medical records to keep him under closer observation when not deployed in the field. She also added a recommendation to reduce his solo missions and integrate him into a team/unit structured environment to reduce the psychological pressures on him.
As Doctor Reeves finished updating Michael-113’s medical records, the Spartan of her concern was undergoing a mission briefing at another facility on Reach…
As the ONI officer entered the briefing room, the Spartan stood to immediate attention. The officer noted the Spartan out of his battle armor, wearing a standard UNSC Navy uniform. There was no insignia on the uniform except for one shoulder tag — the emblem for the Spartans. The ONI officer, an older man with missions under his belt, found it hard to believe how many and types of missions these SPARTAN-II’s had been on.
Despite their size–being bigger and taller than average–on the outside Spartans gave no sign how “special” they were. The only hint they gave of who and what they were, was in their eyes and how they looked at you. Some called it the “thousand-yard stare”, but this differed from what the ONI officer had seen in other veterans and himself. Studying this Spartan’s eyes, he saw the familiar look of having seen war and death. Yet, there was something else in there... a level of determination and drive he’d never seen in anyone else before.
The officer reminded himself that despite his youth, this Spartan had nearly twenty years of military experience. This Spartan belonged to an elite group of soldiers that took on the most difficult missions and were right now the UNSC’s best hope for fighting the Covenant.
“At ease, Michael-113,” the officer said, studying the Spartan as he sat back down. Even sitting down the Spartan looked ready to move in an instance to strike out or deal with any situation. His eyes always seemed focused, analyzing everything around him, noting every detail.
“I was going over your mission logs. Everything seemed to go as planned and you retrieved the data module and take out that insurrectionist cell on Paris IV. Do you have anything to add to your mission report?” the ONI officer asked.
“Sir, I have nothing to add about the mission… Everything went according to plan,” Michael-113 replied.
The officer heard the Spartan speak. His experience detected from the tone of the response that the Spartan was holding something back.
“You have a question?”
“More of a concern… Permission to speak freely, sir?”
Michael-113 didn’t hesitate, “With the current state of the war against the Covenant, I’m wondering why most of my missions are to deal with human insurrectionists? The Covenant is the larger threat right now.”
The officer locked eyes on the Spartan, “Even with the Covenant threat, the insurrectionists are still causing problems with the UNSC. That we have to divert precious resources like you to dealing with this threat speaks volumes to the impact the Innies are having on our war effort. We can’t afford to have these traitors to humanity undercut us during this war against the Covenant. You have a stellar record in operations against the Innies. That’s why you’re being tasked with these missions.”
“Understood, sir… But I would like to contribute more against the Covenant.”
A small smile flashed on the officer’s face, “Well, you’re in luck! As you’re probably aware, the Covenant has moved against our inner colonies. Two months ago they attacked and invaded New Constantinople. Vice Admiral Whitcomb has been organizing and conducting the defense of the system and planet. So far, he has been fighting the Covenant to a draw with them only gaining a small foothold planet side... for now. HIGHCOM is organizing a relief task force to reinforce the system. Your assignment with the relief force is to provide Spartan support to the ground forces there…”
The officer noted the beginning of a small smile on the Spartan’s face, “We have a secondary mission for you while planet side. We’ve intercepted communications from several insurrectionist cells on New Constantinople. You’re to track down these cells and eliminate them with ‘extreme prejudice’. Do you understand?”
The officer saw how the half-formed smile quickly disappeared at hearing the secondary mission objectives.
“Yes, sir… I understand,” the Spartan replied with no hesitation.
“Your mission briefing package is available for download for you to review. The relief task force is still assembling, and they plan to head out in three days’ time.”
“What kind of support will I have for achieving my secondary mission objectives?”
“None… The secondary mission is on a ‘Need to Know’ basis. The Vice Admiral already has SPARTAN-III Alpha Company in-system. You will provide support to those forces, but they will not assist you with your secondary mission objectives… Questions?”
“No, sir,” the Spartan replied not showing any emotion.
“Then you’re dismissed,” the officer said watching as the Spartan stood up to attention and saluted.
As the Spartan started to leave, the officer spoke again bringing him back to attention, “Michael-113… one more thing.”
“Sir?” replied the Spartan.
“Good hunting, Spartan!”
On the outside, Michael-113 displayed no emotions while walking back to his room. But while he displayed no outward emotions, on the inside he was a torrent of emotions.
Damn it! Another wet-op! I’m so damned tired of going after Innies… I should be fighting the Covenant… That’s where I’m needed…
Michael briefly considered contacting Doctor Halsey to get the mission orders changed, but he recognized she wouldn’t override or question ONI mission orders.
The depressing reality sank in was he would follow and carry out all his orders as instructed. He was too good of a soldier to disobey his orders. He understood the Innies were causing major headaches for the UNSC. It bothered him that the Innies didn’t seem to realize that they were just as much a target for the Covenant as everyone else was.
A sigh escaped, I guess we’re the only race in this universe that can fight ourselves and an alien race trying to exterminate us at the same time...
Upon entering his room, he moved straight to his computer terminal bringing up his mission package. Information rolled across the screen outlining the situation on New Constantinople including the latest intel reports from the battle and disposition of forces — both UNSC and Covenant. He spent the next several hours reviewing all the data, memorizing all the details and info he thought he would need to complete his missions.
The dream came again as it always had… There was fire everywhere. He heard people screaming for help and crying… There were monsters swarming everywhere… It wasn’t the Covenant… The enemy were actual monsters that were feeding on people…. He couldn’t move. All he could do was stand and watch helplessly as voices called out. The voices taunted him, calling him “Murderer”. He wanted to help, but there was nothing he could do. All he could do was scream back in a helpless voice, “I’m just following orders…” The voices laughed at him and his feeble excuses. “Who are you? What are you?” the voices asked him over and over…
Michael woke up with a start, covered in a cold sweat. He took deep breaths to relax and calm down as he ran a hand down his face. After every mission the nightmares were coming with more frequency and becoming worse. He realized being a valuable resource, they constantly monitored him.
From talking to his brother and sister Spartans, he deduced he wasn’t the only one having problems sleeping and suffering nightmares. What concerned him was how each of them was dealing with it. John was on the extreme side... it was now rare for the Master Chief to take off his battle armor let alone his helmet when not in combat. Michael knew the others were trying to deal with their problems by burying their feelings, focusing on their training to become better. He knew what he was and what his purpose was, but he didn’t want to cut himself off like the others…
I’m still human… No matter what happens… I’m still human, he kept thinking to himself, trying to relax his body and clear his mind of the disturbing images.
Finally relaxing enough to lie back down, he closed his eyes. Though it took time, he drifted off to a less disturbed, but still a restless sleep. Thoughts of — Who are you? What are you? — still echoed in his mind.
Despite the troubled sleep, Michael was up early and doing his daily workout in the base’s training facility. He pushed himself extra hard this morning on the weight benches. He was bench-pressing weights in the 1000lb range.
Focus on the weight… Just focus on lifting… Nothing else matters, he thought, concentrating on his breathing and trying to push all other thoughts from his mind.
Finishing his set, he eased the weights back on the bench rack. A female voice from behind caught him off-guard, “You’re Michael-113 aren’t you?”
Sitting up, Michael turned towards the voice. He studied the woman who appeared to be in her late-30′s to early-40′s. Out of habit, he noted details about her body and how she projected herself. The woman was about 5′ 4” in height with a slight/slim build and short brown hair. She projected an air of knowledge and intelligence as he noted she was studying him.
Must be a doctor… She has that look, he thought. Michael had been around doctors most of his early years he found he could easily pick them out of a crowd.
“Yes… I’m Michael… What can I do for you?”
“I’m Doctor Sarah Reeves… I was wondering if you have a few minutes to talk.”
Michael considered the request for a moment. The constant questions along with the accompanying poking and prodding from spending most his life around doctors was tiring. He considered brushing off the doctor as his focus should be on reviewing his mission package again and putting together his equipment. The words formed in his mind when an unusual feeling and thought hit him... he realized he wanted to talk.
“Okay Doc… I can spare a few minutes, but then I have to go finish prepping for my mission. I’m shipping out soon.”
Michael arched an eyebrow in surprise as he saw Doctor Reeves smile at his response.
“Excellent… If you’ll follow me I have an office setup where we can talk in private,” she said trying to keep her excitement in check. Most times when she requested face-to-face interviews with Spartans they were resistant and didn’t want to talk unless ordered to. She cherished the opportunities when she got a chance to do an actual interview session.
Michael kept a gap between them, as he followed the doctor, as to not make her uncomfortable as most people got uncomfortable by the towering size of the Spartans. Entering the doctor’s office, he noticed just a desk with chairs on each side and a computer terminal on the desk. He sat down on the chair the doctor offered, settling in as the doctor took her seat on the other side of the desk from him.
Reeves didn’t waste her opportunity as she quickly started off the conversation, “So Michael… How are you feeling these days?”
“I’m fine… No worries,” he replied with a shrug.
“How are you sleeping at night?”
Warning signals rang in his head, he knew he had to be careful answering this question. He knew they monitored him on base, tracking his behavior and noting his sleep disturbances.
“I’ve been having some troubles sleeping, but you know how it is. When you’re on an operation and in the field, you don’t get enough or proper sleep. Sometimes you may not get any sleep until you’re back on the ship or back at base. There’s just an adjustment, and it takes some time,” he replied using a matter-of-fact tone of voice.
“Uh-huh… Is there anything particular in these dreams that bother you?” Reeves asked, typing notes on the computer terminal.
“No… I just have these dreams. They don’t mean anything,” Michael replied trying to keep the hesitation out of voice.
The doctor picked up on the hesitation in his voice, “What do you dream about, Michael? Are the dreams always the same?”
“It’s nothing… They’re just dreams… They mean nothing.”
Reeves sighed in frustration, “Michael… I’m not the enemy here. I’m here to help you and the other Spartans. I’m here to listen… not judge you.”
Michael took a deep breath. The dreams were becoming worse, it was at this moment he took a chance and opened up to the doctor. He described some of his dreams… the monsters, the fire, the people screaming and crying for help. Despite taking a chance, he minimized his risk by holding back some of the more personal details from the dreams.
I don’t need to be held back for “further evaluation”… not this time, he thought with some concern, watching as the doctor took notes.
“Is that everything? Are you sure there’s nothing else you want to tell me?” Reeves asked.
Studying the Spartan, her experience and training was telling her he was holding back from her. She found herself drawn to his eyes. She saw and felt the strength radiating inside him as he returned her gaze. Yet, she also saw pain behind those eyes. It surprised her how much that bothered her.
“I’m fine doc… I’m mission ready. Is that it?” Michael said breaking the doctor’s concentration.
Sighing again in frustration, the doctor realized she wouldn’t get anything more from this Spartan right now. Even though she had concerns about Michael’s mental well-being, she had limited power within the program. Despite her concerns and misgivings, she knew ONI wouldn’t accept her reasons and grounds to hold this Spartan back for further follow-up.
A momentary sense of guilt hit her, but she pushed it down, “Yes, that’s all… for now.”
Quickly leaving the doctor, Michael displayed no outward emotions, but again inside he was a raging sea of emotions.
Maybe I should have told the doctor what I’ve been going through, but I’ve spent most of my life being studied and analyzed. I’m tired of doctors and everything to do with them. I just want to do my job… My duty…He tried to push thoughts about dreams and doctors out of his mind as he went back to his workout. He tried to focus on that and preparing for the mission, but he found it hard to keep his concentration.