MINUTEMEN: THE CRUCIBLE
Chapter 6: “The Prisoner’s Dilemma”
UNSC Administration Post 53
City of Boston
United North American Protectorate
September 19, 2552 (Three weeks before invasion of Earth)
“Some of the guys think the Sox don’t stand a chance going deep in the playoffs.”
“Some of the guys are idiots.”
A wall of translucent emerald and turquoise sped toward Master Gunnery Sergeant Gus Reynolds’ face and stopped dead two feet from it. With weathered but agile fingers, the UNSC soldier navigated through the mass of data, pushing away statistics and sliding down pictures until he reached his destination. “There,” Reynolds chuckled, turning in his chair and poking the Private First Class hard in the shoulder, “look at that. In the past six years the Red Sox have gotten to the sol system championship. Six years! You tell those New York transfers to look at those numbers before I shove ’em down their throats.”
“Yes, sir,” the Private First Class sighed mockingly. Reynolds spun back around in his chair, rolled his eyes, and smiled to himself. It would be a few weeks before the new arrivals got used to his tough love style of humor. Until then, Gus decided he would have as much fun squeezing the comfort out of them as he could. The dark-skinned UNSC soldier sighed and got back to work, twitching his hand making the data on the Boston Red Sox fall from view in an instant waterfall of ethereal holograms.
As the view screen cleared, the Master Guns took a moment to take in UNSC Administration Post 53. Sunlight spilled through the large, glass front doors and washed over the black and marble United Nations Space Command coat of arms. Secretaries spoke politely and clearly though their headsets at the front of the office and waved soldiers through the body scanners to the left. From his station, Gus could see the busy Boston street through floor-to-ceiling windows, happy civilians crossing the street carrying their ubiquitous coffees and dodging shiny cars.
Inside, Gus let the sounds of near-silent whooshes and beeps fill his ears, a hum-drum drone of office work that was far superior to the cacophony of war. The pristine whites and grays of the working space gave an air of cleanliness and order to each boxy work station, and Reynolds truly felt as if everything was in its place. It was hard to look at all this around him and remember the Covenant were mopping the floor with the human race.
As the day’s duties sprang to life in front of the Master Gunnery Sergeant, Gus caught sight of the back of a friendly head. Reynolds put two thick fingers to his lips and blew a piercing whistle that made several new soldiers jump in their seats. Captain Jack O’Shea only turned and looked disapprovingly at Reynolds, holding up an empty coffee mug and jabbing a finger toward the back of the UNSC office and O’Shea’s personal office. Gus shrugged innocently and followed.
The Captain placed his mug next to his coffee replicator and put both hands against the edge of the table leaning down and stretching his back as Reynolds approached. For the age of forty, Jack was in remarkable shape, which contradicted the salt and pepper creeping through his otherwise full head of brown hair. O’Shea exhaled in what sounded like a growl through a clenched jaw.
“I’m getting too old for this,” Jack said with closed eyes.
“You are getting too old for this,” Gus agreed, pushing his friend’s mug into the replicator’s beam. In seconds a steaming mug of perfect coffee filled the mug and filled the Captain’s nostrils with rejuvenating aromas. Jack groaned, picked up the mug, and walked slowly toward his desk, waving his hand over his desk and summoning up his view screen. Reynolds sat in one of two uncomfortable chairs in front of the desk, putting his immaculately shined boots up on the other chair. O’Shea frowned at the Master Guns own coffee mug sitting on his desk and promptly slipped a coaster under it.
“Today,” Jack said as his eyes flitted across the display, “we are running Pelicans toward the New York space elevator, conducting another test of the city readiness system, clearing airspace for the Telemachus, and asking you once again to blow my brains out to save me from boredom.”
“I prefer bored at home to busy off-planet, sir.”
“I know, Gus. Just getting a little stir crazy knowing what’s out there.”
“I hear ya.” Reynolds nodded, shifting his weight and taking a slip of paper out of his back pocket. He held it in front of his face for moment then tossed it through O’Shea’s holographic view screen. As Jack reached for it, Reynolds hopped to his feet and sauntered toward the replicator, eagerly anticipating his friend’s reaction.
“No freaking way.”
The Master Gunnery Sergeant held up his mug in a half shrug/half toast, still facing the coffee machine. “Big way, sir.”
“Do you know how much these tickets are going for?”
“More than the UNSC pays its undervalued officers?”
“If this is a bribe—”
“If I wanted to bribe you, Jack, I would give you money. Red Sox playoff tickets are worth more than money.” Reynolds could no longer contain himself. He turned around, beaming. Gus knew his friend was stressed with his duties; it felt good to give him a rare token of appreciation. O’Shea wagged the tickets toward the dark-skinned soldier, a wry smile on his face as if Reynolds had just pulled a great practical joke on him.
“These are for today.” Jack finally said after a pause.
“Then we better put the Telemachus job on someone who needs the work.”
“Open to ideas.”
“The New York transfers have been a pain in the ass.”
“I’m sure they’ll appreciate the honor of clearing the way for an esteemed and celebrated UNSC warship.” The Captain fought to keep a straight face.
“I’ll make sure they do, sir.”
O’Shea laughed for the first time that day and took a slug of his coffee. For the past year and a half Jack had been running UNSC Admin post 53, a placement that most officers called a “final resting place.” It was the Navy’s equivalent of a golden handshake; the chance to collect on pay, stay and properly raise their families, and finally retire in relative comfort. Jack realized that officers rarely lasted long enough in this war to get that post, and he was infinitely grateful to be placed back in his hometown…but the itch just doesn’t go away, O’Shea thought. I should be happy. I am happy. I am happy.
“That’ll be all, Master Guns.”
The Master Gunnery Sergeant stood and saluted the Captain. The salute was smartly returned and Reynolds turned on his heel to leave the office. With one hand on the door, Gus turned and unnecessarily adjusted his already perfect pressed cuffs. “You better call Laura, sir,” he said, “and tell her you’re going to be home on the late side.”
“I don’t need to call my wife,” Jack said with false assurance. “I don’t need her approval.”
Jack fought the urge to throw something in his subordinate’s direction, and before he could make up his mind, Reynolds was already out the door. O’Shea was now left with a small mound of paper on his right and the glowing view screen imploring him for his attention. A knock on the heavy wood door got Jack’s attention as the Captain’s orderly took one step in and held position as a sea of molten lava stood between him and his officer.
“What’s going on this morning, Greg?”
Ensign Gregory Hawkins crossed the distance between him and the desk in a few smart strides and produced a manilla folder. “Morning news report for you from General McDonald, with his compliments, sir.”
Jack flipped open the cover stamped “classified” in red stencil. At this point in the war, the UNSC had become so tight-lipped over what information came out that they classified nearly everything, no matter how trivial. In fact, Ensign Hawkins was always under strict orders to observe O’Shea’s perusal of the morning news document and destroy it after the Captain was done. What a load of bullshit, Jack often thought to himself. This morning was no different.
O’Shea took a sip of the now tepid coffee and laughed through his nose, his shoulders rising and falling in one quick motion. “They classified a medal ceremony on the Cairo orbital station,” Jack said, still looking down at the paper. He glanced up, knowing that Greg savored any morsel O’Shea threw his way. “In fact, they’re going to have a Spartan on deck.”
I might as well have said Santa Claus, the Captain thought. The Ensign’s eyes went wider than car tires. “A Spartan, sir?” The Ensign nearly whispered it.
“Yep. Looks like they really do kill a lot of Charlie.” O’Shea heaved a heavy sigh and slid the folder back across the desk. The Ensign picked it up as if it were made of porcelain.
Before leaving, Hawkins gulped quickly and found the strength in his small frame to ask, “Sir, have you ever seen a Spartan in action?”
O’Shea weighed his answer carefully. The last thing he wanted with Sox tickets on the line was to play story time for three hours, but Jack realized telling anything to the young soldier was better than just leaving him with nothing. “Yes, Hawkins, I’ve seen a Spartan in action.”
“And?” The Captain half expected to see drool coming from Greg.
“The rumors are all true. Dismissed.” Jack slowly shook his head as the Ensign left, knowing the boy would have visions of killing machines dancing in his head all day. They’re so goddamn eager to get out there, and they’re lucky if they come back with half their limbs. What have they got those kids on?
O’Shea stood and walked toward the wall to the left of his desk. Hanging there were several pictures of a young man grinning a foolish, toothy grin; his other buddies standing alongside him with arms on shoulders and grinning the same grin.
Breathtaking views of oceans, plains, and snowy mountains commanded attention behind them, but Jack couldn’t tear his eyes away from the soldier in the middle, questionable stubble on his chin and looking into O’Shea’s heart.
The Captain walked slowly on to the final picture. It was placed, but more like banished, to the far corner of the office. In contrast to all the other pictures, this one was of the same group in all the others, except the group numbered half that of the others. The grins were gone. The astonishing views were gone. The piercing eyes remained. Each soldier sat around a campfire and huddled around futuristic thermoses, each facing the photographer save one.
That one was looking over his shoulder as if the camera had said something disagreeable. The expression was one of concern and gravity and the eyes only added to that intensity, boring their way through Jack and into the great beyond. O’Shea had to fight to turn away, and was happy to hear the sound of his intercom to entice him further. If he could have run, he would have.
“Captain O’Shea,” Jack said.
“Hey, Jack, Reynolds here. Be advised, I’m off to oversee that ‘Hog maintenance. I’m on the COM, contact me when your duties are through and we can rendezvous for our fact-finding mission.”
“Exactly what facts are we finding out, Master Guns?”
“How many beers you can drink before I have to carry you home.”
“My last fitness test says thirteen.”
“You used to be twice that.”
“What can I say? I’m getting old.”
“You’re not allowed to say that for the rest of the day, sir.”
“Agreed. O’Shea out.”
Jack snapped off the COM and was about to get to work on the city readiness program before the intercom beeped urgently. O’Shea frowned at the device and got ready to lay into Gus as he opened the channel. “What?” He asked sternly. The dead air on the other end told him it was someone much more junior than Gus.
“Uh, s-sir,” the filtered voice barely filled the room, “there’s two men who need a meeting with you, sir.”
The Captain’s head tilted to one side in moderate confusion. “I don’t have any meetings scheduled. Are they civilian or military?”
“If they’re of rank, escort them to my office.”
“Sir…I’m not even sure I’m cleared to talk to them.”
O’Shea swore under his breath and closed the channel. He strode purposefully out the door, wondering the entire time what had happened to these kids to make them so timid. As he walked down the rows of workstations and entered the main reception foyer, he realized what exactly had scared the young soldier so badly.
Members of the Office of Naval Intelligence are chosen by their ability to make other people feel uncomfortable. The two men standing inside the reception area were picks of the litter. Their very presence created a three-foot radius around them that no one seemed to want to enter or pass through.
Every inch of them was pristine and threatening at the same time. From their gray trench coats to the glittering emblem on their hats that they carried under their left arms; they commanded a second, then a secret third, look. Jack was sizing them up from the moment he saw them. As soon as they became aware of O’Shea’s approach, they turned as one and the Captain could immediately tell he was being scanned. It was hard not to try to adjust his posture just a little.
They saluted quickly and crisply as Jack got in range. Jack returned their salute, then crossed his arms over his chest and tried to look as pissed off as he could without looking unhelpful. It was very rare that ONI was ever welcomed. The taller of the two operatives, a Lieutenant with bright green eyes and spoke with a voice that sounded like the man enjoyed scotch and cigarettes.
“Sir, I’m Lieutenant Junior Grade Ricardo, this is Ensign Philips. Thank you for meeting with us.”
“I’m not meeting with anyone yet, Mister Ricardo,” O’Shea responded. “I don’t like to rely on procedure, but when The Office comes knocking I like to know why in advance.”
“I apologize, sir,” Ricardo said, letting his eyes drop for a split second.
A petty trick to make me think I’m in control, Jack thought.
“We wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t important, sir. We’ve traveled with time-sensitive materials and need to borrow transport to New York City.”
The Captain sighed. They always show up when you want them least. “We have a Pelican group heading there at 1300 for the elevator. That’s the best I can give you.”
Ricardo’s face tightened. “That’s not going to work out, sir. Ground transport would be best, immediately.”
The nerve on this cocksucker, Jack said to himself as he tried to ease his heart rate. “I don’t believe you heard me, Lieutenant Junior Grade,” O’Shea said slowly and clearly, “there’s a Pelican transport, which will get you there much quicker than if you took ground transport now, that I may get you on for 1300.”
The black-clad intelligence officer took brief stock of his surroundings. “Sir, may I speak with you in your office? I wouldn’t ask if it weren’t important.”
The officer in charge of the UNSC post had had enough. “No, as a matter of fact, you may not. You’ve imposed on my post, disturbed my duties, and flatly turned down an option which I don’t have to give you. So no, Mister Ricardo, you may talk with our front door. It’s a very good listener.”
“Sir, you do meet with me—”
Jack leaned forward menacingly. “Dismissed.” O’Shea stated firmly. The ONI officers saluted the Captain. The salute was not returned. As the men exited the building, Jack turned to the receptionists.
“They don’t get back in unless myself or a fucking general tells you,” Jack nearly snarled. My day is officially screwed with. The Sox better win big. O’Shea marched back to his office and was promptly greeted with yet another call on his intercom. He nearly stabbed a finger through the device.
“What?” O’Shea got out through gritted teeth.
“We know you think they’re coming. You’re right.”The voice was heavily filtered, but Jack knew enough to know it was Ricardo.
“You continue to fuck with me and I’ll have you brought up on charges.”
“You wouldn’t have the time. We have some of your acquisitions, Captain. You’re tracking Charlie and you think you know their progress. We know better.”
Jack was stunned. He even risked a glance around the office, wondering for a second if his office had been compromised. It was true; for the last few months O’Shea had been leaning on friends for signal intelligence and other methods of tracking the Covenant advance.
Somehow ONI knew…of course they knew! Jack berated himself. Who the fuck did you think you were dealing with? The day was starting to go very badly.
“Captain, you can be angry at yourself in silence or you meet with me and gain some very timely intelligence.”
O’Shea knew the game that was being played, but he wouldn’t make it a home game. “Loading dock behind the building. Five minutes.”
“Five minutes.” The COM snapped off. Jack took stock of his office and found himself staring at the banished picture in the corner again. The eyes were boring into him again. O’Shea retreated to the loading dock.
The Captain was shocked to see Lieutenant Junior Grade Ricardo smoking by the brick and steel loading dock. Most ONI operatives would have been immediately screened out for having any kind of dependency. As if reading O’Shea’s mind, Ricardo tossed the butt away.
“You have some brass balls, Mister Ricardo,” Jack said, slipping on a jacket in the crisp autumn air.
Ricardo chuckled. “They have said that, sir.” His bright green eyes flashed down towards his trench coat jacket and he withdrew a small envelope. “I propose an exchange. You want this intelligence badly, and we need transport to New York.”
“I can’t spare anything,” O’Shea said, shaking his head.
“Yes you can,” the shorter ensign piped up, “you tell the Master Gunnery Sergeant to list one of the ‘Hogs they’re looking at under ‘disabled’ and it’s done.”
The Captain glared at the spooks from the raised platform he stood on. He might have been looking down on the men, but they certainly betrayed no intimidation. “What section are you, and what are you transporting?”
“We’re section two,” Ricardo said, looking Jack in the eyes, “and we need to get vital Spartan components to the Cairo in time for the ceremony.”
Bull and shit, Jack thought. You act like Section Three and you sure as shit wouldn’t transport Spartan components by ground. But Jack couldn’t argue with the fact they had him by the balls. It would look extremely bad for the officer in charge of the UNSC force in Boston to be preoccupied with watching the stars. “I can spare you one, and that’s all.” Jack said. Both operatives nodded at once and O’Shea swore at himself for caving.
Ricardo tossed the envelope back and forth in his gloved hands as if he were handling a baseball, not government secrets. After a half second of contemplation, he flipped the envelope to the Captain. “These are satellite and Clarion spy drone feeds of recent Charlie activity. They’re mobilizing en masse and unifying.” O’Shea caught it but did not look inside. Ricardo lit another cigarette.
“Why are you telling me this?”
Ricardo exhaled a cloud of mystery and looked piercingly into Jack’s eyes through it. “Because you’re wondering, just like I did, if it’s really up to one man. You’re wondering if one man makes a difference. These make you look at it with fresh eyes.”
“Don’t worry. You do.” With that, the two officers walked away from the loading dock and down the alley just big enough for a truck to pull through. O’Shea was left with the uncomfortable feeling that he had just been told something important that he would not understand.
The Captain pulled a mobile COM unit out of his jacket pocket and got through to Reynolds.
“You finish already?” Gus asked. “Hot damn!”
“Almost done,” Jack said, looking at the envelope in his hand. “I need you to set aside a ‘Hog for two ONI guys. They’ll find you.”
“Spooks? That’s never good.”
O’Shea put the envelope in his inner jacket pocket. “Nope. Let’s just hope they pass through and we don’t have to deal with it.”
Ricardo and Philips walked down the street for a block, and after melting into the crowd as well as men dressed head to toe in black can do, emerged and hailed a cab. Securely inside, Philips turned to his superior.
“AirTran just made contact. We’ll pick up the beacon on the way to the facility.” A long pause went by as the Ensign summoned the courage to speak his next sentence. “If Ackerson knew you did that, he’d kill you.”
Ricardo stared straight ahead. “Maybe, but it doesn’t matter.”
“You know why.”
“The intel’s dated.”
“Badly. It’s too late already.”
Another pause went by. Philips looked out the window, and when he spoke his breath covered his reflection in a deathly fog. “For him, you mean. Right?”
“Be quiet for a while, Ensign,” Ricardo said calmly. “You’re making me nervous.”
CHAPTER SEVEN “Non-Essential Personnel.”
Filed under: Minutemen | Tagged: boston, fan fiction, gus reynolds, Halo, halo 2, halo 3, jack o'shea, Minutemen, office of naval intelligence, ONI, telemachus, the crucible, UNSC, Warthog, woody tondorf |