1130 Hours, December 17, 2520 (Military Calendar) / Epsilon Erandi System, Reach Military Complex, planet Reach

The morgue was cold and clean, lit with bright and hard fluorescent lighting that was exaggerated by the white walls and white tiles.

Up until a few days ago the place had been completely unused, lying completely dormant since its construction some five years ago. Unfortunately though, that uneasy peace had been shattered when medics wheeled in the battered and broken corpse of Sergeant Hughes for autopsy and disposal.

Mendez had been briefed by one of the hospital corpsman on what had the killed the big man. Apparently when 137 had reversed the Sergeant's pin and slammed him hard up against the wall it had severed his fifth and sixth cervical vertebrae, killing him quickly, but painfully. A nasty way to go, Mendez thought, but he couldn't dwell on that now or hold it against the girl.

Despite protests from other officers he and Halsey went through with their plan and had 137 released and neither of them had intention against levying disciplinary action against her.

Some of the more vocal officers took in shame in expressing how they were out for 137's blood. Others, like Sergeant Rivers, tried to hide by a masquerade of protocol, but Mendez had been around long enough to know that they were just as bad and had the same malicious thoughts of revenge.

Luckily though, Mendez did not find himself and the doctor alone in their defence of their Spartans. Surprisingly they received support from a number of the children's other handlers and instructors for their decision to release 137. These men and women who worked so closely with the Spartans, had appreciated the delicacy of the situation as a whole and the fragility of the children themselves.

Mendez did think that fragile seemingly was a good term to describe the children at the moment, they were only ten yet had been put through more hardships than most see in a lifetime, while at the same time having to endure growing up and coming to grips with their own newfound strength. It was hard for them, and incidents like this could throw the whole programme into jeopardy. Mendez knew he would just have to work harder when all this had blown over, he would still make them the ultimate soldiers, whatever the cost.

But for now while the programme as a whole was sitting relatively stable, they were still sitting at an uneasy seventy four out of seventy five Spartans.

Despite her release, 137 had spent the last day in the infirmary and it looked likely they she would be there for several more days. The Spartans' usual rate of recovery from injury was immensely impressive, thanks to a mixture of their honed fitness and drug supplements of course, but with the extent of 137's wounds it would still take her a little while to get back to her feet.

Thinking about it left Mendez with a very sour taste in his mouth and he intended to launch an enquiry into what the hell had happened and find out what the marines were not telling him. When he had the time, he would grill the members of the response team that went to Hughes aid until they were burnt black and he knew everything he needed to. Heads would roll, they had overstepped the mark.

Mendez eyed the men stood around him with a piercing stare, they are all saluted as he fell in and joined the rest of the members of the wake. He recognised all their faces, he knew every marine on site, and he knew some of these men had been members of the team that assaulted Carris. Mendez could tell they still looked angry but most of them merely looked at their boots as he gave them permission to stand down. While he was furious with them for what they had done, he knew they would be at him too for what he and Halsey had done. All things aside, these men had lost a friend and comrade, and that was a wound that always cut deep.

Two marines in dark blue dress uniforms and white caps lifted the red flag emblazoned with the gold of the UNSC insignia from atop the simple brown casket. The pair folded it end to end and stowed it away quickly, before giving a rigid and firm salute.

The casket began to roll forward on the conveyor it was sat upon towards a perfectly sized whole in the wall and towards the incinerator. Mendez watched quietly as it disappeared into the darkness. The other men around him gave a series of small salutes, to which he joined in, paying his respects. While it was his job to be on the Spartans side, he would still say his goodbyes. Whatever else Hughes may have been, he was still a soldier and he was still a man.

As the last corners of the casket disappeared and the shutters closed behind it, Mendez turned quickly and made for the exit. He would leave the other men at the wake be, they should be allowed time alone with their grief without having their CO breathing down their neck. What grief he felt was hidden away somewhere in the back of his mind, he had others who needed his concern, others who were much more vulnerable.

Making his way hastily through a series of narrow corridors and then up a set of steep spiralling stairs, Mendez quickly found himself in the infirmary. Heading straight for the lift to the wards, he quickly flashed his authorization badge at the young receptionist behind the central desk; nothing more than a formality really, nearly everyone knew who he was.

Mendez was waved through and stepped into the elevator. Quickly he keyed in the passcode that allowed him to access the second of the two restricted wards that were set aside specifically for Spartans. The lift hummed into life and lurched off the ground, quickly delivering him to his destination.

Mendez stepped off the elevator and was greeted by one the ward' hospital corpsman, a short man but broad shouldered man with thinning hair in a white coat; Mendez knew him as Petty Officer Third Class Jim Mew.

"Good afternoon sir" Mew said as he approached, holopad in hand, flicking through a series of notes and stats.

"And too you Jim" Mendez replied, stopping and shaking the man's hand.

While strictly speaking Mendez should have expected a customary salute and snapping to attention as he was the enlisted doctor's superior officer, there did seem to be a slight disconnect between the main body of the marines and the hospital corpsman. Mendez saw it as a respect thing, these 'docs' put it all on the line to drop into combat zones and make sure they all stayed the hell alive whatever the cost, no marine in their right mind could help but respect the hell out of them for that.

"I'm guessing you have come to see 137?" Mew asked.

Mendez nodded.

"You best follow me then sir" Mew said before turning about and heading down the well-lit and clean hallway.

On the hall there were four different wards, each housing ten beds and fully equipped for nearly every injury you could think of. With two wards with the capacity to house eighty Spartans between them, they had more than enough room to have every recruit be treated and cared for should the eventuality arise. God forbid, Mendez thought as he mulled this over.

Quickly Mew led Mendez to an observation window looking on into one of the sub-wards. Within there were nine beds free, but in the tenth sat alone and solitary was 137. Carris. As Mendez looked he could tell she was more than a little bit messed up, as he had expected. The Spartan had numerous stiches criss-crossing her bruised and swollen face, her right arm was in a sling, her left leg in a cast and lopsided wrapping of bandages wrapped tightly around her temple. But Mendez had seen injuries worse than this before, what really struck him was how vacant her eyes looked as she stared unseeing into the two way mirror he and the doctor were hidden behind, she looked lost.

"How bad?" Mendez said calmly, keeping his concern in his pocket.

"It could have been worse" Mew said, bringing up her profile on his holo-pad "She was treated while sedated by field-medics, albeit very poorly, so that staved off some of the damage but not as much as if she had been brought straight here"

Bastards, Mendez thought.

"The Spartan's enhanced metabolism has helped the healing process significantly" Mew went on "If she was normal she would have been dead, but luckily the worst of the injuries is resigned to some mild internal bleeding and contusions. The vast majority of the damage is skin-deep by Spartan stands, broken bones, cuts, bruises, that sort of thing. Halsey's programme of enhancers seems to be working quicker than expected"

Mew sounded impressed, but Mendez shot him a deathly glare quickly quelling his building enthusiasm.

"How soon do you suppose we can bring her out into the field?" Mendez said.

"Hard to say, her healing rate is fast of course, but it's also inconsistent, we need to carry out some more observations" Mew supposed, thumbing through more notes on his pad.

"Give me a timescale doc"

"If I had to say" Mew shrugged "At least a fortnight"

As much as Mendez would have liked to have turned around and told Mew that that was unacceptable, he knew he couldn't this time and that he didn't really want to either. The Spartans were too valuable and at too crucial a stage in their training for him to be pushing the boundaries of how far he could stretch them. He needed her fighting fit fast, but he wasn't going to have her fighting before she was fit. But while the physical injuries were worrying, he and Halsey both were more concerned about the psychological impacts that this may have had on her.

"What's her psyche-profile like?" Mendez said, watching as 137 took a sip of water from a straw and winced as she swallowed.

"We did a brief evaluation yesterday after her initial treatments, but I do not think it is indicative sir" Mew shrugged

"How so?" Mendez asked

"Well" Mew mused "The results have come back almost what I would call 'normal' for a child that has been through what she has. But I know that Halsey is not looking for 'normal', so I assume this is a bad sign"

While some of the higher ups may have thought that this suggested a failure in conditioning, or see it as an argument for higher doses of inhibitors, Mendez was pleased to hear it. To him it showed that despite all the children were going through, and all of their hijacked developed, they were still at their core human.

"No doctor, this is good news" Mendez said with a nod and the indulgence of a slight smile

"Oh" Said Mew surprised "Well good"

"Would you mind if I spoke to her?"

"I don't see why not. She's slightly dosed on a painkillers at the moment so she maybe a little sluggish"

"That's fine doctor, thank you"

While Mendez didn't say anything, Mew took the hint and headed off back down the corridor, leaving the chief alone at the observation window. Mendez turned to the door and made his way inside.

Mendez saw Carris groggily turn around and lock eyes with him as he entered. She looked almost frantic as she saw him and tried to salute, only bucking the straps that hold her damaged body in place and being rewarded with a sharp dose of pain.

"At ease soldier" Mendez said softly as he crossed the room, he thought it would be best if this was one of the rare times that he would keep things informal.

"Yes sir" Carris said weakly.

He noticed her voice had an out of character lisp to it, probably caused by the missing teeth and swollen tongue that he had seen listed on Mew's chart.

Mendez pulled up a chair from the far side of the room and brought it to Carris's bedside, sitting down next to her. At first they both just sat silently, Mendez couldn't tell if the look in the Spartan's eyes was fear or relief. In reality it was probably a bit of both, he thought.

"How are you feeling?" Mendez said, keeping his demeanour soft but still with the unmistakable commanding presence he had mastered through years of work training marines from every corner of the colonies in boot camp.

While he wanted to have the closest thing he could to a 'heart-to-heart' with the Spartan that he could, he still wanted to maintain a high level of respect and authority. He was not about to undo three years' work of building their firm foundations of he and the Spartans relationship for one moment of sentimentality.

"Sore sir" Carris replied softly.

"You look it soldier" Mendez said "But that wasn't really what I meant. How do you feel?"

A brief look of terror flashed across Carris's battered face when Mendez called her out on her mistake, but quickly it subsided as she considered the question and was replaced by the same vacantness she had had earlier.

"I don't know sir" Carris said meekly after a pause.

"Well then would you like to tell me what happened out there solider?" Mendez went on, he wouldn't pressure her too much, but there was one thing he needed to know.

Carris paused again and sat silently for a moment, chewing the question over, formulating a response. Mendez put her delayed reactions down to a mixture of shock and painkillers.

"I don't know sir, it all happened so quickly" She said "He was so cruel and I was so angry, I wanted to hurt him and I thought I could"

"Did you mean to do it?" Mendez said, staring heard into her rather vacant looking eyes.

"No sir" She replied, staring back.

She wasn't lying.

And that was all he needed to know.