"What were you thinking, Temple?" Childs asked. Trent stepped out of the Pelican into the hangar of what he had finally learned was called the Sunstrider. He was exhausted. After leaving Jason's head with the angry ONI operatives, he'd headed back to Outpost Thirty One and talked with the others for a while. They spent two hours commiserating, the men telling him stories about Pace, Clarke and Norris. Then everyone had smoked a joint in a toast to the dead. Trent liked to think that those who had died might have approved.
Unfortunately, after a while, he hadn't been able to ignore Childs' messages anymore and had gotten onto the Pelican to take him back up to the ship. Trent just wanted to sleep, but knew, somehow, that he would still have trouble doing so. His mind began wandering to the medical kit he kept in his bedroom and the morphine injection there.
"I was thinking that I was sick of this shit, and that I hated that bastard," Trent replied, finally. Childs, surprisingly, didn't sound angry. More like genuinely confused. He frowned, his mouth twitching.
"That's not good, Trent. Brass is pissed. I managed to smooth things over but..." Childs sighed suddenly. "Come on, Trent. Have a drink with me." Trent pulled out a Yeheyuan and lit up as he crossed the distance between them. Once he reached him, Childs turned and started walking, leading Trent out of the hangar and into the small network of corridors. The ship seemed...empty, almost. They'd dropped off all the others. Passing only the occasional technician in black featureless jumpsuits, they eventually came to an empty lounge. While Trent took a seat at the bar, Childs walked slowly behind it.
"What's your poison?" he asked, crouching and hunting through the collection of bottles hidden there.
"I don't know...gimme some...you got any J & B Rare Scotch?" Trent replied after a moment's contemplation.
"Matter of fact I do. Here, we'll share the bottle." Childs stood back up, reappearing with a square bottle and a pair of mugs. He filled each up, then came and sat down heavily next to Trent. He took a long drink and then stared at the wall for several moments before talking. Trent smoked and drank and let him think. Finally, he spoke up.
"Trent...I'm gonna say it straight. You're probably one of the best Survivors we have in this whole thing. But...well, there's a lot of mitigating and incriminating circumstances at play here. Pros and cons, you know? Things working for and against you. First off...the Brass, the guys up top in ONI Section Zero...they're not entirely convinced that this whole Survivor Initiative is a good thing. I mean, this project, it's my baby. My brain child. I was the one that started up the research program ten years ago on the concept of luck." Childs paused for a few seconds, took another drink, then shifted his gaze towards Trent.
"Think I could get one of those cigs?" Trent responded by reaching into the front pocket of his uniform, pulling out the pack and Zippo and setting them both down on the counter in between them. Childs thanked him and took one, lit up, blew a perfect smoke ring.
"Okay...so...I've always had my theory about luck. That it was a real, tangible force that can be measured. Luck Particles, I called them, that stuck to some people and avoided others. I mean, life just seemed like that. What so many other people chalked up to circumstance or chance or happenstance...I saw a scientific method there. I worked my way up through ONI, got into Section Zero and carved a name for myself.
"I finally talked the Brass into giving me a team and some funding. Did a decade of research...finally found what we were looking for. The elusive Luck Particle. Though it was dubious at best...still not a hundred percent on it. But it makes sense. You know Section Zero is basically just Internal Affairs for ONI? I spent eight months putting together my perfect idea of the Survivor Initiative...funding, personnel, Survivors themselves, a screening process, equipment...you were at the top of the list, you know?
"Yeah. You popped up on my radar even back when you were in the Marines. When you hopped up into the ODSTs, only made it all the better. And that stunt you pulled on New Jerusalem...and surviving in New Mombasa...good stuff. But, back to my point, one of the only real ways I managed to get the Brass to agree to let this whole project work was to agree to devote a considerable amount of our resources to policing the other ONI sections.
"And there's other things going on, too. I mean, the Brass knows about your...treatment and your...condition. Me and the team that took care of you gave you a full bill of health, but, they're still paranoid. I mean, they're impressed to all hell with your record so far. You're a great soldier. You can get things done. We like throwing you against situations knowing you'll more than likely come out on top.
"But you've still got that insanity thing, and that, combined with the uncertainty of this whole project...well, Trent, I guess I'm just asking you to be more careful, you know? I need your help on this, all of you guys. I need you guys following orders and getting the job done. Can I count on you for that, Trent?"
"Yeah..." Trent felt bad now, guilty. "I'm sorry, Childs. I won't do it again. I...you've given me an amazing opportunity here. I'll do whatever I can to make sure we stay afloat." Childs laughed and slapped him on the back a few times, then killed the rest of his booze in one go.
"Thanks, Trent! Knew I could count on you. Now that we've got all that heavy shit out of the way...got a new mission for you."
Before Childs could continue, Trent held up his hand. "I want to hear about it, but first, a question. Who were those guys? Cross and the others? They didn't seem like regular guys. Not Marines, not ODST. Well, maybe the other guys were ODST, but Cross...something was special about him. He wasn't another Survivor, was he?"
"No, no he wasn't. He was Black Ops. They agreed to work with us on this one...though, after your stunt, I'm not sure they will again." Trent winced.
"No, no...it might actually be a good thing. One of the other reasons Section Zero allowed this little project to work was because they're getting...nervous, about Black Operations. They're reporting in less and less, even to the top echelon, who are my actual bosses. How it goes is, my bosses, the Admirals and Generals and a few select others that make up the Board of Operations for Section Zero, they all have Q-5 clearance. You and me, we've got Q-4. For a long time, I thought Q-5 was the highest clearance known to mankind...then I ran into Black Ops. They've got ST-8 clearance...I've never run into it anywhere else.
"I mean, it makes sense...but the Brass, they don't like not being talked to. By anyone. When they put Black Ops into effect, years ago, they gave them that clearance for the good of humanity, so that they would be able to do whatever needed to be done, to bypass the bureaucracy, cut through the red-tape bullshit and do something. It's worked, several times. There have been lots of situations that Black Ops has had the insight to salvage ships and colonies by acting fast and decisively. But...something's been wrong lately.
"Brass never trusted Black Ops, but begrudgingly accepted them as a necessary evil. But lately...I don't know. Like I said, they haven't been talking to us much. This operation was pretty shady. We hardly knew they were coming to get Jason in the first place. We were surprised they came to us at all. I think they were testing us out...seeing what we're capable of..." Childs drifted off again, and Trent wondered how much the man knew, or suspected, about Black Ops. Obviously, he thought something was up. He perked back up suddenly.
"So, that's the answer to your question. Now, you get to listen to my wonderful voice some more. Your mission is...difficult. Like most of them. But this time you'll have some backup at least. We're heading back to Earth." Trent felt a cold wave of fear shoot through him. Childs stood up and motioned for Trent to follow him.
"Did something happen to Earth?"
He still had nightmares about Voi, about burning buildings and an endless wave of things that used to be men. Childs led him out of the lounge and down the corridor to a briefing room. It was dim and cool. Trent slipped into one of the chairs, Childs settled into another.
"No, nothing major. There's a problem with a small settlement called Silent Hill," he began, then typed something into the laptop embedded in the table in front of him. The lights dimmed further and a holographic projection sprang to life in the center of the broad table, showing a far view of a small town nestled against a lake and surrounded by a forest.
"Interesting history, Silent Hill. You can read up on it on your way there, but basically lots of cult activity, lots of mysterious disappearances, lights in the skies...that kinda deal. Whole town has been destroyed several times. Way back in the day, 2014, whole place was wiped off the map by a bomb. No one knows who or why, but the file suggests a government cover up. It was rebuilt not but a few months later. There's been a great deal of rebuilding and abandonment. The city becomes a ghost town about every fifty years, sometimes for a good reason, sometimes for no reason at all. It's all very...curious."
"Why hasn't it been investigated before?"
"It has, several times. Nothing was ever very solidly turned up, but a lot of men were lost investigating it. And, more often than not, the government and the military rarely have time for curiosities. As for the most recent history, the town has been doing decently...until it was abandoned again last year. No one knows why. Half the town's population just...disappeared. When interviewed, the other half that made it out have very little to say. Lots of them just...left. Left their things behind, and all. Apparently, they'd rather be broke and, in some cases, homeless, than live in Silent Hill," Childs explained.
Trent realized he was enjoying this mysterious briefing. "So...what happened?"
"As technology develops, we have the ability to scan more and more spectrums. Someone doing a routine scan of the area, with that new technology garnered from the Forerunners and the Elites, picked up some very strange activity in the area. What they've called paranormal. I was fed the information and I sent a team in to investigate...they haven't reported back. And that's a big deal, considering they're being led by a former Spartan Two." Trent blinked in shock at that. Childs grinned and typed something again.
The image of the town was replaced by the image of a tall, deathly pale woman with deeply crimson hair, as though it had been soaked in blood. She was thin and cut with lithe, lean muscle. Trent was immediately attracted to her, perhaps more so knowing that she was a Spartan. Getting it on with a Spartan was something he'd often thought about.
"Traditionally, Silent Hill has screwed with technology and communications, so it may just be that. But you never know and-"
"Hold up. Whoa. Time out. How did you get a Spartan Two in on this?" Childs chuckled. He reached into his pocket and took out one of the Yeheyuans he'd taken from Trent's pack, lit it up with his own custom Zippo lighter.
"When the war ended, Linda was one of the few Spartan Twos left alive. She was offered an opportunity to join the new Spartan Four Program...which, by the way, keep under your hat. It's still officially classified. But, she declined."
"She got a better offer." Childs grinned. "I offered her Survivor Status. She took it almost immediately. She was the first. I've had her running missions for me for a couple months now. She's there now, in Silent Hill. I had her shuttled there about half a day ago with a group of ODSTs." Trent frowned.
"I thought these Spartans were all...lone wolf types." Childs nodded.
"Yes, they traditionally are. Especially her. She has been for a while now. But she's been...trying new things out. I've been speaking to her for a while now and she says that, while she'll always be a Spartan, she's at a point in her life where she needs to try new things. Something about coming through to the other side...she'll explain it to you, once you two meet and get some downtime. Anyway, I want you to go in after her. There's been...a development. Someone, a lot of someones, have begun landing in Silent Hill, and we don't know who they are. More than likely, it was the same guys that you bumped into on that Forerunner ship."
"Oh. Fantastic. Loved those guys," Trent muttered. Childs punched something into the laptop and the hologram died, the lights came back up to normal.
"Also, you won't be alone. We're picking up your friend, Cann."
Trent grinned. "Cann, huh? Cool. I liked that guy. What kinda timetable am I looking at?"
"With the stop to grab Cann and then get to Earth, about ten hours."
"Good, time enough for a nap. Wake me when it's time. Not before. I'm exhausted." Childs nodded as they made their way out of the briefing room.
"All right. See you in ten hours." Trent turned and made his way towards his cabin, rubbing at his eyes. Morphine. It was all he could think of. Do it right, and it'd help you sleep. He remembered hitting the stuff in his early days as a Marine, a friend of his told him about it. A painkiller, a sleep aid. He wanted some more weed, but he hadn't thought to ask Windows for any. He considered asking Childs to get him some as he slipped into his room and pulled the medpak from its place on the wall. Unzipping it, he found the injection of morphine.
Just a little, to help him sleep.
"Trent, you okay, man?" Trent blinked awake and stared up at Cannioto, who was standing over him, frowning down at him.
"Yeah, man...how'd you get in here?" Trent asked, rubbing sleep from his eyes. Had it been ten hours already? He glanced at the clock, found it had been eleven. That wasn't right. He couldn't remember having any dreams. What did they put in that stuff? He remembered injecting the morphine, then laying down...then Cannioto, standing over him.
"Door was unlocked. Childs sent me to wake you. We're getting ready to drop, man...are you okay? Your eyes are kinda bloodshot." Trent shook his head and sat up. He pulled the blankets aside and stood, swaying slightly.
"I'm good, man." Cann's eyes slid to the abandoned injector on Trent's bedside table, then flicked back to Trent. Neither man said anything. "Lemme take a shower, change, then I'll be out. Real quick, five minutes." Cann nodded silently and slipped out of the room without a word. Trent made a mental note not to take the whole thing next time and quickly gathered up a fresh black uniform. He showered as quickly as he could, turning up the water as hot as he could stand it. When he was done, he toweled off and dressed.
Trent stared at the medical kit for a few seconds as he finished dressing. There were some uppers in there, a shot of adrenaline. It would do good to get pumped up for the mission. No telling what he could run into down there. Trent grabbed it and stared at it. Epinephrine, good. He gave himself a quarter of an injection, then replaced it in the kit, threw away the morphine injector and resealed the medpak. He replaced it on the wall, then hurried out to catch up with Cann. He could feel his body reacting, his blood pumping faster.
A few moments later, he was pulling on his armor, staring at a drop pod. It had been a while since he'd used one. Both he and Cann slipped into matching, sleek black sets of armor. Trent noticed several modifications had been made to his armor since he'd taken on Jason. He was impressed, it hadn't been but twelve hours since he'd come onboard. It was repaired and smooth, looking clean and new. He found a few new features hooked into his HUD, including several filtering programs for his VISR and an upgraded comms unit.
He took his regular compliment of silenced weapons, an SMG and a pistol, as well as spare ammo for both and grenades. He slipped a combat knife into its sheath.
"Ready for this?" Trent asked as they got into their pods.
"You know it," Cann replied through their comms link as the doors closed.
Seconds later, the pods were shunted from the ship, dropping down onto familiar turf from a high orbit.