You can never wash the blood away…
On approach towards Ravenna
June 16, 2536 — 2251 Local Time
The Pelican roared low over the ground towards its objective. Michael sat by the open cargo door of the dropship, looking out as it flew through the night sky. With his augmented vision and helmet optics, he could see everything as clear as day as the ground pass underneath the Pelican.
A voice came through his helmet comm system, “Sierra-113… Two minutes to LZ.”
“Copy that…” Michael replied as he did a final check of his weapons and equipment bag attached to his battle armor. The dropship slowed down, starting its approach to the landing zone.
The pilot added, “After dust-off we’ll move to our holding station. We’ll hold on station for four hours. If we don’t hear from you then, we’ll make a pass over the LZ and then return to base and return at the designated alternate pickup time. Understood, Sierra-113?”
“Roger. Hopefully worse case is a long walk home for me,” Michael replied, trying to cut the tension.
“Copy that Sierra-113. Hope you brought your walking shoes just in case.”
Michael’s heart beat faster, and he took deep breaths as the Pelican slowed down even more preparing for a touch-and-go landing. He watched as the ground grew closer. The cargo drop light turned green and the pilot’s voice came through loud and clear in his helmet.
“Go! Go! Go!”
The six-foot drop to the ground from the Pelican was nothing for a Spartan as Michael’s training and instincts kicked in. He moved quickly away from the dropship, to avoid any engine back blast, towards the surrounding tree line of the clearing they were using as a landing zone. Michael knelt as the Pelican’s engines roared as the dropship took off into the night sky. It wasn’t long before the ship’s engine sounds faded and he was alone in the night. Michael used the motion sensors, thermal optics and audio system built into his MJOLNIR battle armor to scan for any threats. They found no threats with only those nocturnal animals indigenous to the area prowling about.
Orienting his NAV system in his helmet to mark Ravenna’s location, he moved towards the town. He set a quick pace as he’d planned at making the edge of the town in fifteen minutes. As he moved through the night-time countryside, he pulled up the layout of the town in his memory and the approach he’d chosen to his target’s house.
Ravenna was a fair-sized town with a population of just over 25,000 based around agriculture with some light industrial capacity in the town and surrounding area. The terrain around the town wouldn’t be much of an issue as it was low rising hills with a mix of forested and heavy brush areas. New Constantinople was one of the older inner colony worlds with the colonists terraforming the planet over the years. The indigenous and imported wildlife to the planet wasn’t considered a threat either.
There was no issue about how Michael would locate his target. Anders ran a small–and successful–import/export business in town along with being well known and highly visible around town. ONI suspected Anders of using the business to provide the insurrectionists a way of moving supplies and equipment along with a way to launder money to support their operations. The business also provided Anders the perfect cover for him to travel to different places, acting as a courier for the Innies.
Anders’s business was on the south-east side of the town. There was no expectation of Anders being there at this time of night, but ONI’s orders were for Michael to investigate the site. He was to search for and document any evidence of supplies and equipment that the Innies could use. His orders directed him to take out all buildings and facilities along with those supplies. That was the first stop in his mission. Once he’d checked out the site, he’d plant delayed-action incendiary explosive charges to torch the buildings and any supplies and equipment.
After his visit to the business, Michael would then visit Anders’s home to grab his target. He already had the address for the house along with photos and a layout of the inside. There appeared to be no extra security precautions to hamper him from getting access to the residence.
The glow of the town’s lights guided Michael as he got closer. Going over his targets and mission objectives, his mind drifted onto other avenues. He realized with the Covenant having located this planet and establishing a foothold it was also inevitable that the Covenant would bring in reinforcements. A part of him again questioned using a Spartan–a valuable resource–to track down and eliminate insurrectionists. The focus should be on eliminating the Covenant forces on planet and in-system and evacuating the civilian population. Michael’s analysis of the strategic situation, UNSC resources available and variables, and estimated the UNSC would be lucky to evacuate even 10% of the civilian population. If the Covenant brought in massive reinforcements and achieved space superiority, the Navy and Marines would defend as long as possible, but the planet’s fall became a foregone conclusion.
He recalled the tone of his meeting back on Reach and the briefing material. The tone ONI was taking on these missions was verging on fanatical vengeful tones. “Remove these traitors to humanity” was the term the briefing officer had used.
Michael wasn’t naïve about his role or purpose. His experience fighting Innies was extensive. It still bothered him that with the Covenant trying to destroy humanity that rather than waste time and resources fighting each other, humanity should be uniting. As he hit the town limits, Michael pushed away further thoughts on the subject as his focus returned to the mission. Even as his focus returned to the mission, one last thought wondered how many of his brother and sister Spartans were experiencing similar thoughts and feelings.
Michael located Anders’s business facilities with no problem and without being seen. Being a “ghost” was his specialty as he circumvented the security system and accessed the facility. His perfect memory recall of the satellite recon photos allowed him to move quickly between the different buildings and warehouses. He’d already plotted the optimum places to plant the incendiary charges to maximize destruction and damage. He used the darkness and shadows, looking for and documenting evidence while planting charges. Doubts about his mission crept back as he discovered crates of UNSC emergency food rations and medical supplies that shouldn’t have been here. All it would take was one call and a company of Marines and a flight of Pelicans could be here to seize them for redistribution to the refugee camps.
The temptation to break radio silence to contact ONI to abort this portion of the mission grew. Michael even considered contacting Vice-Admiral Whitcomb to notify him of this cache of supplies and have him send in troops to seize them. Fanciful daydreams of going off mission collided with the reality of ONI’s orders. They didn’t allow for any deviation as they’d been firm on destroying all supplies, materials and buildings. More doubts came as he noted how close other businesses and buildings were to the targeted areas. Even with exact placement of the demolition charges there would be collateral damage to the neighboring buildings and businesses. ONI wasn’t worried about the collateral damage to other buildings or even the potential injury or death of innocent bystanders. All that mattered to ONI was removing the insurrectionist threat... at all costs!
Michael pushed his doubts aside as his mission orders were clear. There was still the rest of his mission to complete and the longer he stood around debating with himself the more he put the mission at risk. He went about placing all the demolition charges, giving himself two hours on the timers. This would give him enough time to grab Anders and have a nice “chat” with him.
Kevin Anders was trying to get a decent night’s sleep. Like many others on the planet it was hard getting a good night’s sleep ever since the Covenant invasion and landing on the planet. The news continually trumpeted the UNSC’s valiant and heroic efforts at containing the alien invasion... for now. Yet, Anders hadn’t survived this long working for the insurrection or in business being an optimist. He was a deep-seated pragmatist. He realized if the navy couldn’t hold the Covenant in the outer colonies they sure as hell wouldn’t stop them here.
There was much for him to do and arrange before the planet fell. Not only did he have to make sure the insurrectionist supplies and equipment stored in his warehouses got off planet. There were also arrangements to get him and his family off planet. The navy was already evacuating civilians, but the priority was on refugees and civilians in areas closest to the fighting. Even then the numbers of those being evacuated off planet were small. Most people moved away from the fighting were sitting in refugee camps located across the planet.
Despite the UNSC’s commitment to the defense of the planet and its people, this didn’t help Anders sleep patterns. As well as being a pragmatist, he was a committed insurrectionist. Anders was against the overreaching power of the UNSC with laws and taxes they’d imposed taking away people’s freedom. Yet for all the hatred and distrust he harbored for the UNSC a part of him rooted–secretly–for the UNSC in its war against the Covenant. It was surprising how an alien species bent on killing you, your family and your race would make you consider your political position.
His mind was racing in all directions as he worried over this latest job for the Innies and making sure his family stayed safe. Normally, the shipments he did for the Innies were small, hidden within larger legal shipments to avoid detection. This time the risk was greater as he was being pushed to get a huge shipment of stolen UNSC rations and medical supplies out. This went against his normal operating patterns, but it was the price being extracted to get off the planet and to another world away from the fighting.
He’d made arrangements for an old freighter to come in-system, under the guise of picking up refugees. The freighter would fake an emergency and divert to Ravenna. There the ship would load, launch and quickly head back out system. Anders never knew where the shipments he was moving ended up, but this time he knew these supplies were heading to a hidden insurrectionist supply base in the Eridanus system. Any risk or discomfort he experienced over this deal was worth it to get him and his family out of the system. Once the supplies arrived at their destination, he and his family would get evacuated. The threat of the Covenant to his family was more than enough motivation for him to take this risk.
Anders gave up on sleeping, and he didn’t want his toss-and-turning to wake up his wife. He decided on going to the living room and check on the latest vid-cast reports on the fighting. He paused at the bedroom door to look back at his sleeping wife. They’d had a good ten years of marriage and said a silent prayer they would have another ten years together. He also paused at the door of his children’s bedroom to look in on them. Watching them sleep, he let out a sigh and said another prayer. He shook his head slowly, noting all the toys and models of UNSC spaceships and planes on their shelves they collected and played with for hours. The boys were both too young to understand what was happening, and the politics involved.
He closed their door, making his way to the living room, his thoughts centered on his boys, hoping they would have a chance to grow up and live their lives. As Anders reached for the remote control to turn on the wall-mounted display screen, a noise behind him caught him by surprise. As he turned around a heavy blow caught him in the back of the head. A confused and surprised Anders staggered as unconsciousness tried to pull him down. He tried to react, but a gag forced into his mouth and a black hood thrown over his head disoriented him more. His mind surrendered to the darkness as his legs failed and he collapsed to the floor...
The Spartan caught Anders’s body before it hit the ground, so there was no noise. Michael lifted his target as if it was a feather and quickly exited the house... like he’d never been there.
It was the pain going through his body that Anders noticed first as the darkness and fog cleared. His head ached which was the topping on the throbbing burning pain in his shoulders, arms and wrists. As his senses returned, he found his hands tied together, over his head. As his vision cleared more, he saw the plastic restraint, tying his hands together, anchored on a heavy tree branch. He struggled, but then realized his feet weren’t touching the ground. Craning his neck down, he saw his feet dangling just out of reach from ground and he was naked. Suddenly aware of his nakedness, the night cold added to his discomfort.
Confusion and panic filled Anders as he cried out for help, hanging from the branch. His mind struggled to figure out who he’d wronged to end up like this. Unable to find any immediate answers, he tried to rein in the panic gripping him by taking deep breaths. A part of his mind refused to deal with the reality of his situation. As the panic surged back, he muttered to himself “this isn’t real” and “wake-up” over-and-over again.
His panic induced more struggling as he tried to break or loosen his restraints and reach the ground with his feet. All his efforts rewarded him with was the restraints cutting into his wrists more. The pain, cold and his predicament disoriented him further. A voice from the darkness surprised him causing him to jump in fear, his restraints bit into his wrists more.
“You don’t look very comfortable…”
Anders struggled to turn his head towards the voice. He wished he hadn’t as a huge armored robot-looking man came out of the darkness like a ghost, not making a sound.
“Your name is Kevin Anders. You live in the town of Ravenna on the planet New Constantinople. You own and run a small import/export business. Your wife’s name is Helen and you have two children… Josh age seven and Trevor age nine. You’re also a member of the insurrection.”
Anders stared in disbelief at the robot as it recited all his personal information.
Michael’s battle armor systems recorded everything. Even with his augmented memory and perfect recall, he was nothing but professional and thorough when he conducted his field interrogations. He knew you only got one chance in these situations and he had a lot of experience doing these sorts of jobs.
Panic gripped Anders. His mind still argued that this was all a bad dream. His mouth was dry as he tried to wrap his mind around what was happening to him, “W-Who… Who are you? W-What do you want?” he asked.
“Just answer my questions and you may get out of this alive…”
Michael’s voice betrayed no hint of a lie. ONI’s orders were explicit in these regards, but he needed Anders to believe he still had a chance.
Anders didn’t know what to believe as a small voice in the back of his head warned him he wasn’t getting out of here alive. Survival instincts kicked in, “S-Sure I’m K-Kevin Anders… I-I own a business… But, I’m no insurrectionist! Y-You’ve made a mistake! It’s just a misunderstanding! P-Please!” he pleaded.
Michael studied the prisoner. His experience told him it wouldn’t take much work to get Anders to talk.
“I want the names and locations of your contacts on this planet,” Michael said, observing the prisoner’s facial expressions.
The reality of the situation sank in and desperation filled Ander along with panic, “I-I don’t know anything! Y-You’re with ONI aren’t you? T-There’s been a mistake! It’s just all a misunderstanding!” he continued pleading.
Michael let out a sigh knowing what his next move would be, “I had hoped we could do this fast and clean and avoid all the nasty and messy business. You still seem not to fully comprehend the situation you are in,” he said, pulling his combat knife from his shoulder scabbard.
Anders’s eyes widened, locking on to the knife. His voice became higher with a shrill, “Oh God! Please! No! Like I said you’ve got the wrong guy!”
Michael noted the prisoner was close to breaking, but time was of the essence and he needed to enforce the point. He pulled a roll of duct tape from his equipment and ripped a strip off, placing it across Anders’s mouth.
“There’s been no mistake. We know you’ve been shipping supplies to the Innies and laundering money from their criminal activities. Bank robberies… Drugs and weapons smuggling… Human smuggling and prostitution… What would your wife say about all that?” Michael said, studying his prisoner.
Michael pulled out a small blow torch, igniting it and adjusting it until the flame was an intense blue color. Anders’s eyes bulged as whimpers leaked through his duct tape gag.
Anders was helpless as this evil looking robot turned the blow torch on his knife blade. It wasn’t long before the blade glowed from the heat. Any self-control Anders had left vanished as the knife blade got hotter.
Michael knew Anders was close to breaking as urine ran down his leg. Yet, he hesitated on his next step. He didn’t have to go to the next step, there was the option of continuing the mind-fuck on him until he broke. There was no guarantee on the reliability of the info and then there was the time factor. One of the rules in interrogation was having the prisoner understand who had the power and there was only one choice for them.
Michael grabbed one of Anders’s leg, lifting the foot as the prisoner struggled. Anders’s eyes went wide as the red hot blade pressed against the bottom of his foot. The duct tape muffled his screams as he struggled to break free of the robot’s vise-like grip.
“You understand this will continue until you co-operate?” Michael said, seeing tears of pain run down Anders’s face.
“If you refuse to answer my questions or if I feel what you tell me is not truthful. You will force me to pull more tools out of my bag. You don’t want to know what I have in there,” he said in a flat voice.
To emphasis his point, Michael applied the knife blade again to Anders’s foot. Muffled screams and cries answered back as Anders lost control of his bowels. Michael tore the tape from Anders’s mouth. Cries and whimpers along with hard ragged breathing filled the night forest.
Anders labored to speak, “P-Please... If I tell you anything… They’ll not only kill me… They’ll kill my family! If I talk… You got to promise to protect my family… Get them off-world!”
“You’re not in a position to negotiate anything,” Michael replied.
“In my warehouses... Supplies… Lots of supplies… For the Innies… Going off-world…” Anders got out between heavy sobs.
“I already know about the supplies,” Michael answered, checking the countdown timer on his helmet display, “in about eighteen minutes, the supplies and your business will be ashes.”
Anders’s tear-filled eyes widened, “Oh God! No! Please, if those supplies get destroyed… I won’t be able to get my wife and kids off-planet! You know the Covenant will kill everyone! P-Please… Please,” he sobbed.
A part of Michael sympathized, looking over the broken man, with his desire to save his family, but ONI’s orders were absolute.
“I-I…” Michael hesitated as he started to continue the lie. He realized he could say anything... promise anything to Anders as the man was desperate enough to believe anything. The man hanging in front of him was already a dead man, but wasn’t there something he could do.
If I can’t protect and save one mother and her kids… What’s the point of it all?
“I’ll see what I can do,” Michael replied.
Anders cried out, “SWEAR IT! P-Please swear you’ll get my family out when the time comes, and I’ll tell you everything!”
Anders realized he was a dead man. If by some miracle he didn’t die here, the Innies would kill him–and his family–for losing the supplies. There was a slim thread of hope... if he died here with his business and the supplies destroyed there wouldn’t be reprisals against his family. The problem was that there was no going back. He couldn’t trick his captor otherwise his family would remain on the planet and the Covenant would most likely kill them. There was no real choice available other than the hope and trust that this “robot” would save his family.
Michael found himself torn. His orders were explicit, but his conscience screamed at him he also had a duty... a greater duty and oath. He stared at the broken, burned and bleeding man hanging in front of him and a sense of guilt washed over him. There was nothing he could do for Anders, but maybe there was something he could do... something he should do.
Anders stared wearily at the armored suited man waiting for his captor to say something or do something to him. He didn’t expect for this “robot” to remove his helmet. His surprise grew as he faced a young looking man.
In his current state, Anders almost laughed, He must be only in his mid-twenties… He sounded so much older, he thought.
The scar running down the left side of the other man’s face made him look menacing. Yet, it was the eyes that stood out. There was a power and an intensity there that Anders had never seen before, but there was also a pain and sadness in there.
A glimmer of hope flared as Anders met the young man’s eyes, “You tell me everything and I swear that I will protect your family. I will get them off-planet if we can’t hold off the Covenant,” the young man said.
Anders was familiar with the oaths and promises men would make and then break without a second thought, but this was different. This young man was something different. It was possible he was just imagining what he wanted to believe, but the tone in the voice made him believe. He would swear this young man–who’d kidnapped and tortured him–would move heaven and earth to keep his word or die trying.
“T-Thank you… T-Thank you,” Anders replied weakly.
Michael stopped all video and audio recordings before he took off his helmet. He well knew that he was going off script and ONI would be furious, but where did his duty lie? If this was a stand-up fight against the Innies, then there would be no second thoughts or doubts. This was different as he gave Anders his oath as a Spartan.
Screw ONI on this… I’ll get their information and destroy the supplies… They’ll get what they want…
Michael put his helmet back on, turning back on all recording devices. Anders spilled his guts, giving out names and locations not only for the cells on New Constantinople, but for anything he knew off-planet.
A drained and exhausted Anders hung his head after spilling everything he knew on the Innies. He glanced towards the young man who’d put his helmet back on. He experienced a sense of peace he’d never known before even being aware of his impending death. That his wife and kids had a chance brought him some comfort in these final moments.
“Y-You’ll make it quick… W-Won’t you?” Anders asked, trying to sound calm.
“Yes… I’ll make it quick.”
Anders felt lightheaded now, “If you don’t mind me asking… What are you? Do you have a name?”
Michael stepped closer, sadness filled his voice, “My name is Michael… I’m a Spartan.”
Anders nodded, and Michael slashed his knife across Anders’s throat severing the carotid artery. Anders twitched as blood flowed from the wound. It didn’t take long for Anders’s eyes to lose focus and he passed out. Blood flowed down his body, dripping off his feet, pooling on the ground.
Michael didn’t look away as Anders died. He finally glanced down at his blood stained armored covered hands. Distant explosions caught his attention, and he turned toward Ravenna. The glow of flames lit the distant darkness. He turned back to the dead body hanging from a tree branch, gazing into Anders’s lifeless eyes.
Michael’s training kicked back in as he cut down the body. There was no time to bury the body, but this wasn’t the first time he’d disposed of a body. He concealed the body in the heavy brush and made his way back to the LZ.
He made it back to the LZ with time to spare before the Pelican arrived. Michael took up a position in the tree line, waiting for the dropship to arrive. His thoughts raced replaying the night’s events. The oath he’d made was at the forefront of his thoughts as he glanced down, seeing the blood still covering his armored hands and arms.The approaching sound of the Pelican’s engines caught Michael’s attention. His focus turned to the extraction, knowing in a couple of hours he would be back at base. He glanced down again at his hands and wondered if he would ever get the blood off…