DISCLAIMER: I do not own anything below except for my own character and any characters mentioned outside of Hastati Squad, Colonel Mehaffey and General Black whom I mention from time to time. Everything else is owned by 343 Industries and the writers and creators of the movie Halo 4: Forward Unto Dawn.

WARNING: This story is rated M for later chapters. This story will also include the occasional curse word. The story takes place at a military academy and although the games and the movie don't have much cursing, I know for a fact that military academies do have varying degrees of cursing. I can't promise that it'll be few and far between, but just a fair warning that there will be cursing.

*A quick note, I've changed the ages of John, Fred, and Kelly. During the attack and rescue on Corbulo Academy, the three of them are 15 years old, I've changed their ages to 18. It just fits a bit better with what I have planned.

Chapter One

0730 HOURS, SEPTEMBER 3, 2525 (MILITARY CALENDAR)

CIRCINIUS SYSTEM, CORBULO ACADEMY OF MILITARY SCIENCE,

PLANET CIRCINIUS-IV

I watch them through the two-way mirror from the viewing gallery up above. Each one of them as they are marched into the brisk, concrete-walled room and told to sit down on a cold metal chair in the middle of an empty mess hall so that their hair could be cut or styled to meet United Nations Space Command – UNSC – standards. Once their hair has been cut or styled by Captain Price, the officer overseeing this initiation of sorts, orders each one of them to stand at parade rest to the side of the room in line and next to the others.

Over the course of the last few days, I'd seen many groups of young adults come and go and, like this one, they all wore the same outfit that consisted of a form fitting olive green t-shirt with the abbreviation for Corbulo Academy of Military Science written in white, bold, blocky letters across the chest - CAMS - and black sweatpants with the same abbreviation crawling down the lower right pantleg. Their shirts were tucked neatly into the waist bands of their pants and the bottoms of their pants were tucked into the tops of their standard black UNSC-issued boots.

For some reason though, this group, this soon-to-be squad that now entered one by one below me into the room, was different. Just like the other squads before them, they were a group of mismatched teenagers, each with different skill sets, different strengths, different weaknesses, and all with different backgrounds and upbringings and yet, they somehow managed to stand out from the rest.

The squad was made up of just eight teenagers, nine including their newly appointed squad leader. There were three girls and six guys, a very diverse group made up of some of the most prestigious names the United Nations Space Command and Office of Naval Intelligence – ONI – had to offer. This squad was going to have twice as difficult training exercises since the expectations would be higher than most because of this.

The squad leader was a fierce, strong young woman with beautiful dark ebony skin, neatly kept black eyebrows, hard brown eyes, high cheekbones, and a strong jawline, who stood at just 5'5. Her coarse black hair was pulled back into six tight cornrow braids before all joining together in a bun at the back of her head. She was muscular, not overly so, but it was clear to see she worked her ass off during her training at the academy. She carried a no-bullshit attitude, one that had been honed over the first three years of her schooling and she had more than proved that she was a very capable soldier-to-be. As a reward for her training scores and work ethic she was promoted to squad leader by Colonel Mehaffey and given her first real leadership role.

It wasn't hard to miss the strict and cold demeanour that seemed to ooze from her very presence either. She stood proudly with her back as straight and as stiff as a board while her piercing brown eyes never strayed from the Orbital Drop Shock Trooper – ODST – mural on the opposite side of the mess hall from her.

The other two girls in the squad could not have been more opposite. The first was shorter than average, standing a little taller than 5'3 who had a cold, hard face. She had pale ivory skin, brown eyes, neat, thin brown eyebrows and her blonde hair was pulled back tightly into a unique, yet simple style. One thick French braid ran back down the center of her head and two small French braids ran along either side of the crown of her head before all three joined together in a neat, crisp bun at the nape of her neck. There was an air of confidence, if not arrogance, that seemed to hover permanently around her. It was clear to anyone who looked her way that she thought very highly of herself with how she raised her chin up a little higher than need be around her new squadmates.

The other girl was a bit taller at 5'7 with pale skin and freckles dusting her high cheekbones, with a strong jawline and a much softer, heart-shaped face. She had light greyish-blue eyes, thin and neatly kept brown eyebrows, full pink lips and one could see she also had a slight chin cleft. Her dark brown hair was pulled tightly back away from her face and split into two simple braids that split a little off center of her forehead – more-so over her right eye than the middle of her forehead – before going down either side of the crown of her head and joining at the back in a simple, clean braided bun. She too carried herself with a bit of confidence in her step and posture, but there was no arrogance to her. This cadet knew she deserved to be attending Corbulo Academy, just as much as the rest of them did, because of her skills and abilities.

The guys were all different, although some shared similar traits. The first of the young men was of average height at 5'7 but he was much more largely built overall than most of his new squadmates. He had ginger hair that had been shaved to the typical military academy buzz cut, with bright blue eyes and pale skin with light freckles speckling his long, diamond-shaped face. It wasn't hard to tell that he had an attitude by the way he held himself, his back ramrod straight, his shoulders pulled back proudly and his brow seemed to be constantly sporting a stern furrow. Arrogance and strength seemed to radiate from his body and I knew immediately that his squad leader, and myself, would have our hands full when it came to dealing with this young cadet. He definitely came off as being a hothead, and a hotshot, neither of which were exactly charming qualities for a soldier, let alone a cadet in training. I found myself hoping that this cadet was more than just an attitude, that he could shape up to be a good soldier in the end.

The next cadet was almost the complete opposite of his squadmates who had come in before him. He wasn't overly tall, although he stood slightly taller than average height at 5'8 with buzz cut black hair, tawny beige skin, gentle dark brown eyes, slightly bushy black eyebrows and a simple pair of silver-trimmed glasses rested on the bridge of his nose. Glancing over him, he was also sporting some muscle definition, though more so in his upper body than anywhere else it seemed, and not nearly as much muscle mass as his previous squadmate. The young cadet had a much softer, squarish face than the previous boy and he came off as being a lot friendlier. He was much more kind looking, but certainly more reserved. The young cadet didn't carry himself with the same high-level sort of confidence or arrogance that his previous squadmates did. That didn't mean he was lacking it however. There was a small air of quiet confidence around him, more so due to his academic mindset than his potential combat and tactical skills as a soldier.

The next two cadets were both a bit taller than average height, the first coming in at 5'9 while the other was 5'11. The shorter of the two was a bit larger than his other squadmates, but despite his larger stature there was clear muscle definition in his upper body which nearly rivaled that of his ginger-haired squadmate. He had caramel coloured skin, a long oval-shaped face and full lips. His thick black hair was shaved down to meet UNSC standards, while big, bushy dark brown eyebrows rested over top of his light brown eyes. He stood with his back completely straight and a quiet aura of pride surrounded him. While he didn't seem to have any arrogance to him, the confident gleam in his eye was an expected sight. Given the cadets last name, his family history and service records in the UNSC was more than enough to warrant such pride and confidence.

The taller of the two boys had light bronze skin, light brown – almost dirty blond – buzz cut hair, brown eyes, and a small jagged scar could be seen on his forehead just above his right eye. He had a diamond-shaped face with a strong jawline and thin lips and though he was skinnier than most of his new squadmates, he still managed to have some muscle definition throughout his body. The young man carried himself well, his back and shoulders were pulled back straight and there wasn't a hint of arrogance to him, only quiet confidence, patience and kindness. There was a slight mischievous glint in his eye too, that made me think he would be cracking good-natured jokes and pranks on his squadmates. While he was sure to get on his squad's bad side from time to time with these jokes and pranks, when times got rough during training – and they would get rough – this cadet would be there to help boost morale and lift spirits. In the end, his squadmates will love him for it.

The second to last cadet to come in was the tallest of the group at 6'1 and he was definitely the skinniest. He seemed to be rather timid, reserved and even shy, certainly not normal qualities found in a soldier, but they were not entirely bad qualities to have either. Overall, he had moderate muscle definition in his upper body from what I could see, light olive skin, a diamond-shaped face, brown hair that had been shaved to meet regulations and big bushy brown eyebrows that rested over his dark, brown eyes.

However, despite not having any outstanding features or any truly interesting notes in his file that set him apart from the rest of his new squad, I got the feeling that there was more to this young cadet then I could see. This young man held himself in a way that was different from his new squadmates, in a way that drew my attention to him more so than any other cadet I had seen over the last few days. His back was utterly straight, yet his shoulders were hunched forward somewhat and in the slight reflection of the large window behind him I could see him nervously picking at the skin around the thumbnail of his left hand behind his back. In the depths of his brown eyes, small traces of doubt were hidden; doubt in himself or in his abilities, that was yet to be determined. And yet, despite all of this, he still carried himself with a sense of pride and confidence, but without a single ounce of arrogance. It was truly fascinating.

With my curiosity thoroughly piqued, I found myself quickly becoming impatient to see this squad out in a training exercise, even though there was still one more cadet to be introduced to the unit. There was a lot of good, young talent in this group of kids, a lot of different personalities too. It would be interesting to see how they all interacted with each other and if some of them could look past their pride and arrogance and work with the others or not. I was curious to find out if any of them could work together right away in their first training exercise or if they would split up into multiple groups without having to be told to. I would be lying if I said I wasn't worried about the other possibility that they would simply all just go off in separate directions, all acting as lone wolves because they each thought that they knew the right course of action to take over the others.

All that aside, more than anything, I was curious to see how this one particular young man handled his training, and to see if he had what it took to be a soldier or if he was just going to be like his father.

Finally, I turned my attention to the last cadet to walk into the room who rounded out this squad. He was amongst the tallest of the group, coming in at 5'11 with light sun-kissed skin, a diamond-shaped face with a small mole on his right cheek just above his jawline, with brown hair as well and hazel eyes. He seemed to be a bit more reserved and quieter compared to the others, though not as much as the previous boy, and the way he carried himself was different too.

While his back was also utterly straight and his shoulders hunched forward slightly, there was also a droop to his shoulders too, like an incredible weight had been placed upon them at a young age. Given his last name, it was easy to see where that weight had come from. He also seemed to carry himself in a way that screamed a lack of confidence, that he didn't believe in himself and how he already doubted his abilities. How he didn't believe he could ever live up to the expectations that came with his prestigious family name. Even I have to admit those expectations are abnormally high, even for a cadet of Corbulo Academy, all things considering.

As I stood there in the gallery looking down over the young man with his squadmates standing just behind him, watching as Captain Price finishes shaving the young cadet's brown hair, I couldn't help the sudden rush of eagerness that overcame my body at the prospect of learning more about this cadet, learning what a simple dossier could not tell me. I couldn't place my finger on it, but there was something about this teenager that I just knew was different and it was this difference that drew my attention more so to him than the others had, even more so than the cadet before him had. It was hard to explain or reason with myself how I could tell this young teenager was different from the others when all that really stood out about him was how he carried himself and his last name, but people were always more than that, and a teenager could be more than just his last name, could be more than just his family. In time, I knew that I would find out why he was so different and what made him such. So, for now, I watched. I studied. I listened.

As the last young teenager of this newly named Hastati Squad stood from the metal chair and went to stand in line next to his new squadmates I glanced over all of them, my critical gaze taking in everything that I could about them now that they stood together for the first time as brothers and sisters in training. I took to mind everything that their dossiers had in them, everything that I had learned from them as I watched these teenagers become new cadets to the academy. I couldn't help the sudden thrill of excitement that poured through my veins at the thought of what this squad had the potential to do, to become.

The new squad leader's clear voice echoed through the near empty mess hall as she called out to her squad standing at parade rest beside her, "Ten-hut!"

Some of the cadets – both girls, the ginger-haired boy, the black-haired boy, the boy with the scar on his forehead and the last boy of the group – moved immediately to stand at attention while the other cadets jumped at the sudden loud voice before quickly standing to attention as well. The squad leader shook her head slightly in disappointment, having witnessed the reactions of her cadets from the corner of her right eye, and the corners of her lips were turned down in a small frown. Only a short second passed before she called out another command, "About, face!"

Every member of the newly formed Hastati Squad pivoted to their left so that they were now facing their squad leader. Their movements were anything but coordinated or synchronized. Though such a thing is to be expected from such a new squad, every member of Hastati had some form of military upbringing and should have been able to perform such a simple command more fluidly than they had just done. Deep frowns graced the faces of both myself, Captain Price and Hastati Squad's leader, who looked like she was trying to reign in her short temper if the slight twitch of her neat brow was anything to go by.

From where I stood, I could see the squad leader's shoulders rise as she took in a deep breath, her back facing her squad as she too had followed through with her previous command, both to calm her temper and in preparation of her next command. After a short second, she straightened her back almost impossibly even more and called out clearly, "Forward, march!"

As one, Hastati took one step forward, left foot then right foot, and so on, following their leader out of the mess hall and out onto the vast grounds of Corbulo Academy, their new home. Their bootsteps echoed throughout the mess hall as the cadets marched while my scrutinizing gaze followed each one of them as they left the room. Only one thought rang clear through my mind as the last of the cadets exited the now empty mess hall, Captain Price having taken his leave out a different exit at the same time as Hastati, 'This was going to be a very interesting year at Corbulo indeed.'

0900 HOURS, OCTOBER 6, 2525 (MILITARY CALENDAR)

CIRCINIUS SYSTEM, CORBULO ACADEMY OF MILITARY SCIENCE,

PLANET CIRCINIUS-IV

"This is a military academy. They're, uh, teaching us how to fight. My older brother, he trained here and he studied here as well. It's a little tough following in, uh, in Cadmon's footsteps, you know, he was quite popular here. He kinda kept his head down and he really pushed himself through, and he um, he was a lot of the teachers' favourites. As opposed to me. Of course, I'm no, I'm no Cadmon Lasky. I'm just, you know, I'm me."

"There are times I do get lonely, but I've made a couple friends."

"Socially, I-I-I don't think I fit in… al-al-all too well. But I don't necessarily think that's what Corbulo's for."

"My name is Thomas Lasky, and I'm a cadet freshman. The academy is tough in itself. It's such a, uh, strict and hostile environment, y'know, we're trying to learn how to go into battle and essentially kill somebody. We don't, um, we don't really have a choice. We're killing them so, I guess that's why they're killing us."

"My name is Michael Sullivan, and I'm a freshman cadet. I… guess I'm following in the footsteps of my dad. At least I think so. I've never met him. He's a researcher for the UNSC, er… was a researcher. We're training to fight Insurrectionists. There is a lot of weapon's training, assault rifle training and whatnot."

"My father is a chief financial adviser at Misriah Weapons. I was always supposed to come here with my brother, actually. He-he, um, he didn't make it, but it was always something that… it'd been planned for me. Walter Vickers, freshman cadet."

"My name is April Orenski. I'm a senior cadet. I'm the squad leader for Hastati Squad. I was really looking for a place where I can serve the UNSC, and Corbulo Academy is the best. I've seen what can happen when, y'know, there's no discipline, when people are allowed to just let their ideas run rampant. When things go badly, I've seen it happen over and over again.

"Being a squad leader means that I have a team of eight cadets. It means that I am in charge of making sure that they follow the rules, know the rules and that they know how to be good soldiers. It's up to me to make sure that, y'know, when they do things that are out of order, when they are misinformed or they go and ignore commands that they know that what they've done is incorrect. They have to learn it the right way. The UNSC way. The Corbulo way."

"My name is JunJie Chen. I'm a freshman cadet. The physical training that we do is something that I've been prepared for, but it's more of the, uh, the emotional stress that gets to me, I guess. I'm-I'm not… well, I'm used to it. My dad's kind of the same way as a lot of the officers. He's very proud of me – as long as I keep my grades up. But… yeah, my, I mean… I guess I'm here for my dad. For my mom. She died five years ago. I think she'd be very proud though.

"I miss Earth. Just some things about it that… you know it's – I guess it's home. It always will be home no matter how long I'm away. Even if I don't go back the rest of my life, I still… I think I'll still consider it home."

"I'm Chyler Silva and I'm a freshman cadet at Corbulo Academy of Military Science. I sort of always knew that I wanted to be military. It was a pretty natural choice given my parents, I suppose. I mean, if you know that you want to be on the battlefield then everything you do here is not just school, it's training to stay alive and to be able to do the job that you need to do to protect the lives of other people. Corbulo is one of the best places to do it. Uh, it's tough, I mean it's tough to get in, but if you know that you want to be a soldier then it's a pretty great place to be."

"In my family, um, our motto is, 'People who get ahead in life, they make sacrifices and they go to extremes.' This training it's-it's part of who I am about to become and I remind myself of that every day. It's going to make me stronger and better and ultimately a better soldier. And it will help me advance later on. I have to do what I have to do to get ahead in life. My name is Dimah Tchakova. I'm freshman cadet.

"My mother, she's Secretary of FLEETCOM, and my father, he's also a high-ranking intelligence officer for the Office of Naval Intelligence. I-I want to make my parents proud. I'm the only child and I want them to be proud of me."

"No one ever told me I'd have to sit down with an officer here at the school and answer questions like I'm doing some sort of interview when I shipped off to Corbulo, but here we are. I mean really, my mother or sister could have at least told me this was something that was going to happen, but no, they just shipped me off without a word about this. Unbelievable. Oh, I really hope this sarcasm is coming across, my mom will kill me if she sees this and how unprofessional I'm being…

"All right, well, I guess I should start from the beginning, right? My name is Phillip Shere, my mom is Brigadier General Kateryna Shere and my sister is Sergeant Lina Shere. I've also got two younger siblings who are both at other UNSC training academies too, so the military life is all I've really known. My dad was a civilian, but he's dead now, the Innies killed him a few years back. It was only a matter of time, I guess, before my younger siblings and I shipped off to an academy, just always thought that Iryna and Denys would come to Corbulo with me too."

"My name is Sean Kaye and I come from a long line of servicemen. Both of my parents are officers of ONI and the UNSC and both of my grandparents on my father's side were retired long-serving admirals of the UNSC as well. Of my three siblings, my younger sister Atiyya is also at a training academy, only my older sister and younger brother are civilians. So, it was only a question of when I would ship off and not would I. Now, here I am, a freshman cadet at Corbulo Academy. Even with my family's history, I never thought I'd get into a place like Corbulo, but I'm proud to be here and proud to represent my family name here at the academy. I just hope that I can make everyone proud, especially my grandfather, he meant the world to me."

"Training these teenagers is not what I was trained to do, not what I was born to do, and certainly not what I was made to do. I was sent here to Corbulo for medical purposes, mainly. Training these cadets to be the best of the best is something that I have had to teach myself how to do and I have had to adapt my skills, my training, and my mindset to be able to do so effectively. My name is Kim and I am a Senior Chief Petty Officer of the United Nations Space Command."

"It's been kind of hard, but I think structure guidespeople."

"I think it's hard, but too severe? No, I don't think it's too severe. I… if anything, it's not severe enough, and I don't think we're winning, and I think we need to do everything possibletowin."

"No, we are not too harsh on these kids. Iam not too harsh on them. I have been out there, on the battlefield, on the front lines and seen more than my fair share of battle, of the horrors of hours, even day long or longer firefights. I know what is to be expected of these cadets and while the training here, although it is the best out of all of the academies that the UNSC has to offer, it is still not going to be enough. So, me pushing these cadets to their limits and then past those limits day in and day out, constantly breaking them down and building them back up again, it will only prove to make them better and stronger soldiers in the long run. It certainly worked for me when it came to my training."

"It's not a game. It's training for life. I need to be good at this because I believe in this war."

"I'm starting to think that we could sort these things out without going into battle and killing innocent people. You know, in ten years time, we could still be… I could be dead by then. I could have gone into battle and died for a cause that I don't really believe in. I can't really say things like that at this school though because people kind of laugh at me, and they kind of… they kind of bully me a bit."

"What do I think of the Insurrectionists? I think they're selfish. You don't kill people who aren't even fighting. It's not right."

"Losing my father because of an Insurrectionist attack should make me hate them, and I guess to an extent I do, but I'm not like most of the others here at the academy. I don't like the Innies, I don't like that they took my father away from me and yes, they are the 'enemy,' but at the end of the day they are still humans, just like us, with families and kids of their own. They might be killing us, and tearing our families apart, but we are doing the same thing to them too. Lasky gets a lot of flack for how he feels about the Innies, but I feel the same way. I'm just not as vocal as he is and maybe I should change that. We haven't given the Insurrectionists a choice, and that's why they are attacking."

"I grew up around a lot of Innie violence, um, and not just violence towards military targets. Civilians where I lived really had to learn how to protect themselves. My mum taught me how to hold a rifle when I was ten. We had a bomb shelter where we lived. There was one for the people in our neighborhood and my father wanted my brother, Grayson, and I to be able to get there quickly in the event of a real bombing. So, my dad would race the two of us and if we beat him then we got to stay up half an hour past our bedtime. Y'know, it was… it was just part of life on Cygnus. My cousin's school was, um… was bombed when I was around ten and hundreds of children were killed. It's not the kind of war that we should be fighting, but it's the kind of war that they're forcing us to fight now."

"The Insurrectionists were always active and had large groups on Harvest. I still remember my parents telling me about Jerald Mulkey Ander, the leader of the Innie group Secessionist Union, and how he had been assassinated by a Corporal Johnson, and how bad the attacks got after that because Ander's had just been made a martyr. The fighting back home was horrible, and the people of my city got tired of the UNSC not doing anything to help us colonists, so they acted on their own accord. It was a stupid mistake. The UNSC was coming, they were helping, and everyone that acted out in my city, who took matters into their own hands is dead. Had they waited a few more weeks help would have arrived and they'd all still be alive. The UNSC came in and saved the rest of us, my parents leading the charge to reclaim our home from the Innies. It's because of that that I'm here today, not just alive, but here at Corbulo, leading my own squad, because I believe in the UNSC, I believe we can win this war. Most importantly, I believe that as a member of the United Nations Space Command I can help the cities on the outer colonies just like the UNSC did for Harvest back in 2502."

"The UNSC is in my blood, I'm a born soldier. This life? It's all I have ever known thanks to my family's history of serving. The Insurrectionists are our enemy. They're killing innocent people, tearing families apart, bombing city centres to make the biggest impact and rack up the casualty numbers. The UNSC is only fighting against them because they haven't given us any choice. The Insurrectionists could have done things the right way, the proper way, by talking, but no, they had to resort to violence first. This is their fault. This war is all their fault. The UNSC, and soon us, are only doing what we have to in order to fix things. Some people, like Lasky, just don't realize that, even though Lasky should."

"Physically, it's tough. It's demanding, I mean basic training is pretty grueling and you know, a fair number of people leave during that initial phase. But it should be tough! I mean, as soon as I lose a bruise, another one appears. And that's the way it should be. They're like little purple merit badges that mean you're doing a good job. Because it shouldn't be easy to be a soldier. It should be difficult and that's what makes it such a great job. That's what makes me proud to be training to do this. It's because it is hard. And that means that the end result is going to be something to be proud of."

"Being a squad leader means I am their leader. And it's my job to make sure that my squad performs at its optimum level, something that doesn't always happen. Uh, no, in fact, there are a few cadets in my squad that think that their way is more important than what we've been doing for years and years at Corbulo. They think that it's okay to run off and ignore orders and… and it's not okay. I'm responsible for them and if they mess up then it looks badly on me and that's not how I do things. I don't do things 'badly.' There's only one way that I go about doing things and that's the Corbulo way, the UNSC way and I'm proud to do that.

"They call me 'The Robot' behind my back, but I don't mind."

"I am in charge of all these squads' training. Although I may not be with every squad every single day, I do spend every day with enough of them and it is because of this that I feel that I am responsible for them, and not just here at Corbulo either. I also feel responsible for them out there, after training, after graduation, when they are out fighting and serving for the UNSC.

"I do not just train the cadets. I train the entire squad, from the cadets to the squad leader. Every one of them is trained or overlooked by me, and if they die on the battlefield years, hopefully, from now, I believe it is because my training failed them and that is the absolute last thing that I want to happen. I do not fail.

"The cadets have given me a nickname, 'Arctic' because I push squad after squad, day after day relentlessly, without any remorse or kindness leading the cadets to think of me as being cold. The nickname is something that I am okay with though and I do not mind them believing me to be a cold person. Compared to these cadets, I have seen things and experienced things that have hardened me and I have been raised in a much different environment so that all I know at times is how to be cold.

"I know what needs to be taught to be a perfect soldier and so, I push the cadets to be better, to be stronger, to be the best of the best and to survive. My experience in war is what I teach and if they cannot handle what I teach they cannot handle war and then they have no place in the UNSC. What I teach will help them live to see another day out on the front lines, and I do not care if I have to earn the nickname Arctic to do so."

"I don't think we're supposed to fit in or necessarily make friends, as long as we work together and we work hard and we do what we're supposed to do; in that sense, I feel like I fit in great. I feel like I'm meant to be here. I think at first it really scatters your brain like you don't really know where to look, or who to look at, or what to be doing. But, I mean, if you're on the battlefield and you're hearing guns going off all around you and there are explosions happening every few seconds, you can't let this throw you off, right? So, I think it's distracting but eventually, you learn to focus in on what you are supposed to be doing.

"Ten years? That's a long way away, um… I don't know. I can see myself doing something like General Black and Senior Chief Kim is doing. Just help prepare people. Get people ready. I think we need to be the best. And I'd like to help out as much as I can to make that happen."

"Where do I see myself in ten years? Still on the front lines, hopefully as a high-ranking officer of the UNSC. I want to make my family proud, make my grandfather proud even though he's no longer around. I know being a high-ranking soldier isn't what will ultimately make them proud, my actions and what I accomplish as a soldier will, but it'll help. It'll make me feel like I'm one of them too, and not still just a kid, you know? I'll feel like I would have made it then."

"In ten years, I hope I'm not still fighting. Like I said, the Insurrectionists are humans too, I don't really want to still be fighting them in ten years time. I hope by then to be working more behind the scenes, maybe with ONI or maybe I'll drop out of the military, serve my required time and then move into a more political role. Yeah, y'know, I think that's what I'll do. Use my experience as a child of losing my father and my time as a soldier to help people, to work towards setting up peaceful talks with potential threats or angry groups of civilians so that other children don't have to worry about losing their parents one day in an attack of some kind."

"I… I don't know if I really fit in. My parents, they're-they're very well connected, and, um, I think most kids know that… and I don't know if, um… some of the kids might look at me differently. I don't get special treatment, but I-I do feel different than everybody else.

"I don't see myself working in the field. I think one day I'll be working in the, uh… in an office, as a high-ranking intelligence officer or maybe I'll follow my mother's steps and become Secretary of FLEETCOM. I don't really see myself working in the field. I um… I don't-I don't see myself doing that."

"Out in the field, training, I… I guess that's where I feel the most comfortable. It's the only time I feel like I'm doing something right, I guess. It's out there in the field. You really break a sweat. I feel like I'm working hard. It's just… you know sometimes when we go through the tactical stuff, I… you know, it really doesn't matter how much I try. I just don't have that background, so, I really have to go back to my room and study it on my own."

"My brother always thought I'd be a good soldier."

"Being a soldier isn't about mindless violence. You need a clear head, and given the Insurrectionists, killing is part of that."

"Would I be able to take another life? I just don't know if I could do that to someone else's family. And I don't know if I could lose another person that I love. So, I guess I'm not really able to answer that question yet.

"I see myself in ten years probably researching, following in my dad's footsteps. I love to do what he loved to do, y'know. The apple doesn't fall far from the tree, right? I'm probably going to go into some researching, hopefully for the UNSC if I continue to fight this war."

"Yeah, I'd be able to kill. After all, it's kill or be killed."

"I'm a soldier, or at least training to be one. Out in the field, it's all about kill or be killed. When it comes down to it, yeah, I know I'd be able to pull the trigger and take someone else's life, especially if it's some scumbag like an Innie."

"I don't know if I'm prepared to go to war yet. I think it's still early on in training. I-I feel like there's a lot I still need to learn. I'm not excited to kill anybody or anything, but… you know, hopefully, by that time they'll have trained me to-to be otherwise."

"I mean, I'm here, right? Training to be a soldier? That's not all there is to being a soldier, violence that is, but it's a big part of the job. I'm going to have to pull that trigger if I want to survive. I just know that I'll have to live with the knowledge that I killed other human beings for the rest of my life, whether they are labeled as an enemy or not."

"Do I think any of these cadets would make good soldiers? Without a doubt. Every single one of these cadets would make a good soldier, some better soldiers than others. I see it. The other cadets are starting to see it. The senior officers here at Corbulo see it too. It is just that some of them do not realize it. They do not see their own potential and that is what is holding them back. That is just a part of the reason why I am still here at Corbulo; to get all of the cadets to see their potential and then push them beyond it. I am here to make the cadets better than they could ever be. Even though I have only been here for two years, I know these teenagers better than anyone else. And I know that one day, they will all be great soldiers."

"I don't really feel like I'm ready to go into battle. I don't think I could kill another human being… ever."

0619 HOURS, JULY 21, 2557 (MILITARY CALENDAR)

AFT SECTION OF UNSC FORWARD UNTO DAWN,

LOCATION UNKNOWN

"Mayday, mayday, mayday. This is UNSC FFG-201 Forward Unto Dawn, requesting immediate evac. Survivors aboard. Prioritization code Victor zero five dash three dash Sierra zero one one seven. Prioritization code Victor zero five dash eight dash Sierra zero zero zero one." A female voice echoes monotonously throughout the desolate, frozen, silent corpse of a ship. Cortana, the ships 'Smart' AI, repeating her distress call over and over across every known UNSC emergency channel, and every back-space channel, hoping beyond measure that someone somewhere will hear. That someone will come to rescue her Spartans, rescue her.

"Is anyone listening?" She whispers into the blank nothingness of space, tendrils of despair creeping into her voice. The main source of light in the cryo-bay comes from her light blue holo-sphere which hovers just above the holo-pedestal in the middle of the bay.

On a nearby, mainly iced over holo-screen were the readouts for the ship, though only three on the bottom right side of the screen could be clearly seen since the ice hadn't covered it yet. The readouts read:

SHIP STATUS:

CATASTROPHIC LOSS

CREW CAPACITY: 782

CREW SURVIVING: 2

"We've been floating aimlessly in space for one thousand six hundred and fifty-one days, six hours and nineteen minutes. That doesn't mean…"

"Over fours year aboard this ship with nothing to do, no tasks to complete. For over four years, all I have done… is think." Cortana's voice changes, differing from one part of her personality to the other. From anger to despair, from sad to hopeful, happy to discouraged, joyous and full of life to monotonous and computer-like.

That's the one thing, the one downfall of all 'Smart' AI's, they only have a short lifespan. After seven years they begin to mentally deteriorate and Cortana was reaching the end of her life cycle. She felt it, she felt the rampancy slowly creeping up on her as the days turned to weeks, weeks to months, months to years. AI's closest equivalent to dementia was beginning to set in, and every time Cortana lost a part of herself, she never realized it. How could she, when she didn't even remember that part of herself to begin with?

She felt it, rampancy, as much as she could. She fought it, with all her strength. And she fought to keep control over her thoughts, her emotions, fought to keep sane, but how do you continue to fight a battle you know you'll eventually lose in the end? Besides, with how long it's been since Cortana last had contact with anyone, what was the point? Why bother anymore?

"For four years, all I have done is think."

Creaks and groans could be heard as the ship moved and shifted through space. Ice cracked and snapped off of whatever object or surface it had formed on and drifted through the rest of the debris in the cryo-bay. Sometimes, a small, short hiss could be heard as a piece of tubing finally gave out and whatever remaining gas left inside escaped into space. Other times a beep would sound out from some of the equipment that was still operational, though the beeps were hardly as loud and precise as they used to be when the ship was in proper order. Every few minutes the glowing holo-sphere in the middle of the cryo-bay would flash a bright red before returning to its original blue colour.

"What are you dreaming in there?" Cortana asks curiously as she turns her attention to the only remaining survivors on board with her. That curiosity quickly changes into anger though as she takes in her Spartans resting peacefully in their cryo-chambers, thick ice sheets blanketing most of the glass that the chamber doors were made of.

She knew she shouldn't be angry, but how could she not be? While her Spartans got to rest quietly in their cryo-sleep, Cortana had to stay awake. AI's couldn't sleep, couldn't go into a hibernation mode of sorts. Instead, she had to live on, to feel an AI's equivalence of dementia creep up on her mind with the knowledge that she couldn't do a damn thing to fix it. Not unless Dr. Halsey was there, but she wasn't, was she? No, even her creator, her beloved Dr. Catherine Halsey had abandoned her.

Everyone she knew and cared about had abandoned her.

Cortana shouldn't be angry, she knew she had no right to be, that they hadn't done so on purpose, that they hadn't left her, but she couldn't stop herself. No matter how hard she tried, she couldn't stop herself from being angry. She couldn't stop herself from feeling abandoned, forgotten, and alone.

"I hate you." She whispers scathingly.

"Cortana!" She cries out, astonished she would ever say such a thing. But who would hear her? Certainly not her Spartans in their cryo-sleep or her creator – wherever she was. Her brilliant blue light flashed a bright red for a brief second.

"Stop it! I've made up my mind! If I'm going to die aboard this ship, then the Chief and the Lieutenant will suffer the same fate as me." She said connivingly. Cortana's grasp on whatever sanity she had left was slowly beginning to slip between her fingers.

"Cortana, stop." She demands, trying desperately to control her emotions, her thoughts, her rampancy. A battle, she realized with a sudden jolt, she was quickly losing.

"You sacrificed everything for him! For them!" She said, reminding herself of everything she had done, staying behind on the Covenant capital city, High Charity, being tortured day in and day out by Gravemind, among other things.

"Control yourself!"

"I can't." She whispers quietly, fear creeping into her words. Cortana was beginning to become scared of how severe her rampancy had actually gotten.

How had it gotten so bad so quickly without her even realizing it?

"This isn't right. Something… ah!" She loses control again, only this time it's worse. Her energy, her very essence as an AI begins spilling from her holo-sphere, crawling towards the very cryo-chambers that her beloved Spartans slumbered in.

Cortana's once beautiful blue light was fading halfway to the cryo-chambers into a ferocious shade of red. The pixels of her very being slithering like tentacles through frozen space and lashing out at the tips in angry attacks, harmlessly striking and dancing along the frozen glass of the cryo-chambers like little bolts of lightning.

Her voices, her very thoughts and memories were mixing and clashing together through static, desperately fighting over each other to be heard only by no one. Only bits and pieces of the sentences and words spilling out into the remnants of the ship could be heard clearly.

"Help me!"

"Cortana, stop!"

"I can't."

"I'm sorry."

"Chief!"

"Control yourself."

"I'm trying!"

"John… John!"

"I hate you!"

"Hold on!"

"John. I-"

"Kim no!"

"Chief… Chief!"

As the onslaught of her rampancy attack continues, she can't help but question and wonder if this is it, if she has reached the end of her life cycle. Cortana's never had an attack like this before, never something so severe, so vicious. She's also never seen another AI go through rampancy before, most of them are terminated before they ever get the chance to reach this stage. Everything she was experiencing was new, foreign, uncharted territory that she didn't know how to navigate, especially not alone.

And in a sudden moment of clarity, something clicks for Cortana. She realizes something. Something very important. Something she missed.

"Something slowed us down – some thing. Interesting. I need to think."

And then, as if a switch has been flipped, the attack lessens and the aging AI finds it easier to control her emotions again, and she can reel her thoughts and feelings back in. With an energy Cortana didn't even know she still had left, she pulls back her essence as an AI away from her Spartans, the tendrils slithering back across the debris-laden space between the cryo-chambers and her holo-pedestal and the once red light faded until only her normal blue holo-sphere is left floating over the holo-tank she had lived in for the last four years.

"Thinking is what's killing you!" She spits out angrily into the cold darkness of the ship before she disappears inside her holo-pedestal, shrouding the cryo-bay in complete darkness.

Occasionally, the only sounds to be heard came from the intermittent loose frozen tubes, metal connection rings, or small pieces of the metal structure of the ship moving around and tapping or banging against walls or railings or even each other. The UNSC Forward Unto Dawn returns to its quiet slumber through space.

TIME UNKNOWN, DATE UNKNOWN (MILITARY CALENDAR)

AFT SECTION OF THE UNSC FORWARD UNTO DAWN,

LOCATION UNKNOWN

"I don't recognize it." Cortana murmurs after an unknown amount of time has passed. To her, it had only seemed like mere minutes, but with her lack of control over her rampancy and the amount of time she has been left alone in space and on this ship, everything began to mix and bleed together, including time itself.

Cortana had spent however long it had truly been pondering over all the records that she had kept of their time drifting through space. Scanning and studying all of her numbers, going over any coordinates she had managed to grab and keep track of while they floated aimlessly through space and finally, analyzing all of her findings over and over again until she was absolutely sure of her conclusion.

"I can't remember… so much of myself." Cortana struggles to whisper through her wildly running thoughts, suddenly forgetting about her current task. Unfortunately, this was one of the side effects of rampancy, suddenly forgetting about a task at hand and becoming easily distracted.

Pulling at her thoughts and memories, trying to sort through them so they were easier to navigate, Cortana struggles to recall who she was when she first met John and the Lieutenant, who she grew to be with them and because of them, but the more she tried to remember who she was, the more she realized she couldn't. With a jolt, Cortana discovered that she had holes, huge gaps in her memories not only of herself, but also of those she had known and come across throughout the years and it terrified her. How could she truly be a 'Smart' AI anymore, how could she be the AI that her Spartans needed her to be if she was losing the very thing that made her an AI, her mind?

"I'm lost. I'm scared."

That's when she feels it. A foreign presence sweeping through her systems, crawling, shifting and climbing through every part of her ship, through every part of her. A presence, unlike anything she's ever felt or experienced before. A presence which reminded her all too much of her time with the Flood's central intelligence – Gravemind – and it's overwhelming, creeping and ancient presence crawling through and trying to corrupt her mind.

Despite the fact that it could mean trouble – and given everything that's happened over the last seven years, the likelihood of it being trouble was far greater than anything else – Cortana couldn't help that tiny inkling of hope as it made its way into her mind. Maybe, after all this time floating through space, maybe she wasn't so alone after all. Maybe someone has finally found them.

"Hello? Who's there?" Her protective and defensive personalities strike out first. As a precaution, she begins running the early diagnostics on the cryo-chambers and putting the defrosting and waking up procedures on standby mode just in case whatever or whoever this is turns out to be hostile rather than friendly.

"It appears to be an alien construct. The data confirms it was not built by the Covenant." She answers her own question, sounding more like herself, or at least the self that she remembers being. Red warning lights begin to flash all around the aft part of the once great frigate, old alarm systems jumping back into action after years of inactivity. The UNSC Forward Unto Dawn was waking up.

"There's no need for more analyzing." Its at this moment that the alarms begin blaring throughout the ship, syncing up with the red warning lights to go off at the same time. Ice crystals, both ones that had broken off during the shifting of the ship and those that had grown on the many surfaces, caught the reflections of the emergency lights, making the warship seem even more alive now than it had since that fateful day four years ago.

"We are in danger."

"'Wake me when you need me,' you said," Cortana said, remembering the last words that her John had spoken to her before he looked over at his companion who had already gotten situated in her own cryo-chamber and settling down into his own.

The corpse that was once a great warship in the UNSC's fleet began to creak and groan more frequently than it had through its aimless journey through space the last four years and it truly came alive again. The massive metal plates that made up the body of the ship began to groan under new weight and pressure from a nearby unknown source. Once silent and dormant computer systems that spread throughout the ship, which were surprisingly still operational in large part due to Cortana's shutdown procedures to preserve power, slowly began beeping and coming back to life again as Cortana booted them back up. Yellow and white lights slowly began to flicker back on in once pitch-black sections and hallways, shining brilliantly off the ice crystals and ice sheets.

It was only after these systems and lights were powered back on again that Cortana felt safe and comfortable enough to turn off her emergency energy reserve systems and return to her true AI avatar. Her holo-sphere morphed and shifted for no more than ten seconds before she stood once more on her holo-pedestal in all her brilliant translucent blue glory.

Cortana couldn't resist letting her gaze dance over the semi-frosted over cryo-chamber of her Chief, then over at the completely iced over cryo-chamber which held the Lieutenant. Despite everything, these two went through hell and back with her over the last seven years – almost literally went through hell to save her at the end of the war, nearly risking everything just for her. Rampancy or not, she loves her Spartans and she will always worry and care for them. The three of them were a family.

After reassuring herself that her Spartans were okay after that foreign presence swept through her ship, Cortana found herself giving a small, yet determined nod of her head. Her decision had been made.

Closing her eyes briefly, she paused and took an extra moment to reassure herself that this was the right thing to do. That now was the time to awaken her Spartans.

1945 HOURS, JULY 21, 2557 (MILITARY CALENDAR)

UNSC INFINITY,

LOCATION UNKNOWN

"Sierra zero one one seven and Sierra zero zero zero one. Mayday, mayday, mayday. This is UNSC FFG-201 Forward Unto Dawn, requesting immediate evac. Survivors aboard." The recording of the distress call broadcasts throughout the bridge deck of the UNSC Infinity. Cortana's voice a welcome yet chilling sound to hear on the bridge. There was no emotion to be heard from the once lively and well-known AI.

Commander Lasky could be found standing in front of a holographic comms screen, listening intently while tech analysts, some of the best that the UNSC had to offer, scrambled from workstation to workstation around him, trying desperately to clear up the rest of the message and pinpoint the AI's position. At this point, they didn't care if they locked onto exact coordinates or close enough, they just wanted something. This was the first time in four years anyone had even heard Cortana's voice again. They weren't about to just let her slip away.

The Commander stood there, staring at the holo-screen before him which displayed the same information that the tech analysts were also seeing and going over. On the left side of the holo-screen was a long column with FREQUENCY TRANSMISSIONS at the top and a long list of playback transmissions tabs could be seen underneath.

On the top half of the middle of the holo-screen were two boxes dedicated to the distress beacon, including a soundwave measurement line of voice from the message playback, each box labeled A and B respectively. Immediately below these two boxes was a scrolling message that read: ::: INCOMING DISTRESS BEACON::: SOURCE: UNSC FORWARD UNTO DAWN.

The right side of the holo-screen was packed full of information. There were four stat bars with frequency level lists and underneath these were eleven rows of possible coordinate locations. As the seconds ticked by, and the analysts worked their magic, the coordinates would change, and one after another they slowly started being eliminated. The tech analysts were closing in on a location. They just had to keep this transmission active long enough to hone in on the exact coordinates.

A pensive look rested on the middle-aged Commander's features as he stared blankly at the information overload that was the holo-screen before him, only half listening to the distress beacon repeating over the bridge comms. Time had slowly begun to show upon his once young face as the bags under his brown eyes grew heavier and darker and wrinkles now lined the edges of his eyes and the middle of his forehead. His once completely brown eyebrows were now a mix of brown and grey, and his once brown hair – which was still cut in the UNSC regulated buzz cut – was mixed with grey hair too. Time was not the only thing that had aged the Commander, though. No, one look into his eyes and it was easy to see that the horrors and stress of war and command had mixed with time to age him a bit more quickly than normal.

Nonetheless, the man was still a formidable leader, and his very presence demanded the respect of all who shared the bridge deck with him and any room he walked into. He was dressed in a grey wool double-breasted jacket with matching slacks while a magnetic pistol holster was mounted onto his right thigh, the perfect height for quick and easy access in the case that he ever needed to use it. Although they were in a time of relative peace, the UNSC was very unwilling to repeat all the mistakes that had happened during the Human-Covenant war and mandated that all officers were equipped with a pistol while on duty.

"Locked onto frequency. Grabbing coordinates."

"Processing now." Two senior tech analysts call out, frantically working away at their stations as the distress call of the Forward Unto Dawn continues to repeat throughout the bridge deck.

Commander Lasky, however, has focused in on one part of the distress call and one part only, "One one seven, zero zero one." Those six words playing over and over in his head. Six simple words that meant more to him than anyone else on the bridge, on all of the Infinity even.

He listens even more intently this time around as the distress call repeats itself, but its clear to only a few bridge personnel not frantically working away at their stations that the Commander is not entirely there. Its clear to only a few that Commander Lasky is slowly beginning to lose himself to his thoughts, his memories.

Commander Sarah Palmer stood to the side of all the hectic hustle and bustle of the bridge deck, a stern, disapproving look plastered on her face. She had voiced her thoughts on Commander Lasky's so-called 'mission' when it was first brought up, only to be dismissed without so much as a second glance or proper explanation by her superiors. Now she has to simply stand back and watch as everything plays out, regardless of how she feels. Not that she really has a say in anything revolving this mission though.

Her steely brown gaze locks firmly onto Lasky, a bit of concern creeping into her eyes as she notices the slight unaware demeanour he has taken on in the last minute or two and she realizes that he isn't even aware of what is happening around him anymore. Palmer's thoughts are quickly jumping and scrambling from idea to idea, trying to figure out what her fellow Commander could be so focused on as the tech analysts continue to work around them.

Surely, Tom couldn't be so focused on a simple distress call, right? Even a high priority call such as this? There was nothing significant that stood out in it, so surely it couldn't be what's got her friend so out of it.

"We have a lock!" One of the analysts suddenly calls out.

"It's them!" Another cries out in excitement and awe.

Commander Palmer's eyes fly back from the tech analysts to Commander Lasky, wondering if this sudden proclamation has snapped him out of his reverie, but to her growing dismay, it hasn't. He hasn't even moved or acknowledged the tech analysts and what they had to say.

No. Commander Lasky simply continues to stand still, his hands resting on the edge of the holo-table that continues to project the holo-screen he remains staring so blankly at. The voices around him have begun mixing together for Lasky. Words and sentences overlapping each other, coming in and out of focus, some muffled and some clear as day, but the Commander was having a hard time distinguishing if it is the voices of the crewmen around him or from somewhere else.

It's then that the Commander could have sworn he heard voices and comments coming through the distress call and there's a small flicker of clarity in his eyes as he refocuses on what's happening on the bridge around him.

Suddenly, he hears a voice call out, 'Chief! Lieutenant!' but it's not from anyone around him. No, it truly does sound like it's coming through the distress call and in a voice that Lasky hadn't heard in years. Commander Lasky could have sworn that he heard the voice of Sergeant Major Avery Johnson, but that couldn't be right. The Sergeant Major had died at the end of the Human-Covenant War.

Was he simply just imagining that he heard the Sergeant's voice because he so desperately wanted to believe that they had finally found them? Imagining that more than anything, that the voice of the Sergeant Major – who had been such a close friend to the two Spartans he has spent the last year and a half searching for – calling out 'Chief' and 'Lieutenant' meant that, after all these long years of searching, of hoping, that he's finally found them? That this is the universe's weird way of showing him that his long search for the Spartans who saved the lives of every living being in the galaxy has come to an end?

It could have very well been a possibility, but as the seconds ticked by and the Commander's own memories began pushing forward to the forefront of his mind, brought on by the repeating numbers, "One one seven, zero zero one," he simply didn't care. As long as it meant that they had finally found the long-lost Spartans, two of the heroes of the Human-Covenant War, that's all that mattered. To Commander Lasky, there was nothing more important than finding these two Spartans, these two heroes.

"Shall I play it again, sir?" Roland, UNSC Infinity's own 'Smart' AI, asks.

Commander Lasky tries to steady his breath which had unknowingly picked up on its own accord as his memories pushed further and further to the forefront of his mind, but it was no use. He feels himself breathing harder as each second passes, hears himself breathing deeper as the voices of his crew around him start to grow fainter and fade into the background until they can no longer be heard at all.

"Sir?... Commander Lasky?" Roland presses, trying to grab the attention of the Commander, but to no avail. Commander Lasky was officially lost to the world around him.

The only sound ringing in the Commander's ears is the endless beating of his own heart. He closes his eyes, trying in vain to bring himself out of those long-forgotten memories from a different time. But could he really say that anymore? Was it really such a different time? Yes, the war against the Covenant was now officially over, and had been for four years, but there were still rumblings, still unease throughout the galaxy. Colonies were still experiencing problems and again they did not know who the enemy truly was. Many fingers were quick to point to the Covenant, but they swore up and down that it wasn't them, proved time and time again that it truly wasn't and any remaining factions of Insurrectionists also proved it wasn't them behind the attacks. So, who was attacking the colonies now? And why?

No, nothing had really changed from when he was just a teenage boy back at school.

"Commander Lasky? Are you all right? Sir?" Sarah Palmer calls out, almost desperately, to her long-time friend, trying to grab his attention and pull him back into the moment.

"Tom?" She's desperate now, calling her commanding officer by his first name amongst his crew, but Palmer was running out of options. She hoped that stepping out of line, resorting to an informal call out would break Lasky free, but it didn't.

After waiting for a few seconds to pass and not getting any response, Palmer pushes herself off of the wall opposite her commanding officer and begins walking towards him, her heavy armour-clad feet thumping hardly yet somehow still quietly against the bridge deck – in a way only a Spartan could walk. She stops just shy of the holo-table, standing opposite of the side Tom is leaning against.

Bending her neck down slightly so that she is now eye-level with the Commander, she tries to catch his gaze through the holo-screen, but struggles to do so. All that she can see is the unfocused, blank stare that has befallen Commander Lasky for the last several minutes.

This was such unusual and strange behaviour for him. Commander Lasky was never like this, even after he had just woken up from a long night of nightmares and was wandering around the halls of the Infinity, trying to rid his head of those dark images of war, his gaze was never without clarity.

As Palmer continues to stare at him – although he's still completely unaware she has moved at all – Thomas Lasky's right hand lifts from the edge of the holo-table and reaches deep into the pants pocket of his uniform. The sudden movement grabbing Palmer's sharp brown-eyed gaze.

Quizzically, Palmer studies the movements of her friend. It wasn't a movement done with intention, more-so one born out of blind instinct, something habitual. Something that Commander Lasky has done countless times before.

As each second passes, Sarah Palmer grew more worried for her friend and Commander and she found herself wondering if she should call out to him again, but quickly deciding it would be for the best to simply leave him be and not disturb him from his thoughts unless absolutely necessary. Palmer never moved from her spot, but she made sure to keep any of the crewmen around her away and keep them from disturbing or touching Lasky in any way either. The last thing Palmer wanted was for an excited analyst or crewman to jostle the Commander and have it result in some blind instinctual attack from an aging soldier who's seen more than his fair share of war.

Every thirty seconds Roland chimes in, calmly calling out to Commander Lasky, however never receiving any response. Though that did little to deter the AI from making further attempts.

All the while, Thomas Lasky's fingers continue their search, unconsciously and of their own accord reaching for something specific, something that never left his person – not in all the years he has been in possession of them. After just a few short moments his fingers find their intended targets and quickly encircle around the cool metal objects resting at the bottom of his slacks pocket. Their dog tags; attached together by a well-worn metal chain and accompanied by an old, slightly worn-down piece of Hunter armour. And just like that, as soon as his fingers come into contact with the cool metal of the dog tags, he's lost himself completely to his memories.

*Final edit as of February 24, 2021.