Having an extra number was strangely refreshing. Normally Jun was the quick one, always light on his feet (as scouts had to be), but this new Spartan-- Six-- moved with an eager swiftness that bespoke confidence and determination. Thom's death had slowed Noble down; Jorge was ready for the team to get back up to speed. Perhaps 312 would be the breath of fresh air they needed.
The way she talked about her past only made her eyes look more hollow and her skin look more pale, like she felt sick when she said the words. Kat had referred to her as a grim reaper, but he knew that records and reports could only say so much about a person. Jorge knew that the IIIs, for all their good points, didn't have quite what his class had. Six was steely, but even steel could have cracks. It made her more of a person in his eyes, and oddly enough, he wanted to tell her so.
"Keep your head in the game, Lieutenant," Kat warned, jolting Six out of her reverie. The blue-armored Spartan paused in front of her and a little line appeared between her eyebrows. "I've been watching you. Whatever it is you're feeling, put it aside for now. We have work to do."
Six resisted the urge to say something back and watched as Kat sauntered off. Six wasn't stupid; she could see clearly that the Lieutenant Commander shared a close bond with Carter, a bond that went beyond command and protocol. But they had been together for a long time now; it was probably easy for them to dismiss their feelings for the greater good. Or was it? Kat had always been good at hiding things.
Six gritted her teeth and tore the turret off its hinges, laying down unrelenting fire to give the Army troopers a chance. The three Elites yelped as their shields were hammered down to nothing, then merciless bullets pierced through their armor and sent them to their deaths.
After the danger was neutralized, Six made her way over to the troopers, and was surprised to see Jorge emerging from the treeline. He took one look at the scene and tilted his helmet to one side. "Leave the heavy stuff to me, Lieutenant," he said, in a tone more amused than annoyed.
Six put the turret down and refused to acknowledge the slight ache in her shoulders.
She watched as he paced along the edge of the ravine, his shadow long in the waning afternoon sun. The danger was long past, but he was still on the lookout, daring something to come out of the bushes so he could kill it. It had been a long time since Six felt particularly attached to anything, or bothered to notice such things, but she could almost feel the connection between Jorge and his home planet. It was the reason why he stalked back and forth with his minigun out for all to see; it was a challenge. There was a bitter fight to be had as long as Reach's self-proclaimed son was on the prowl.
Jorge knew enough about instinct to recognize when it forced itself upon him. Eight years of intense academic studies had put more than enough information in his head, yet still he found himself at war with the fleeting whims that sometimes came into play. It was hard to watch Six sleep and not think about how little she was compared to him. It was like she somehow needed protecting, and that created an itch in the back of his mind, one that nearly bothered him. He made a mental note to ask Dr. Halsey about it if he saw her again, and went back to simply watching.
"I know that one's Turul," Six said, pointing upward at one of the serene orbs that adorned Reach's night sky. "And that one's... um..."
"Csodaszarvas," Jorge told her, and there was a rustle as she turned her head in the short grass and looked at him.
"Jodasarvash?" she said hopefully.
Jorge gave a low, barking laugh and shook his head. "You'll get the hang of it."
Six fell silent. Reach was a paradise at night... the sky was many different colors at once, shades of blue and purple and green, thanks auroras cast by the nearby nebula. If she could, she would paint it on a huge canvas and keep it forever, to remind her that there were still beautiful things left in the universe.
She rolled over and flinched when her shoulder bumped Jorge's arm. Her mouth opened and sound started to come out, the beginnings of a "sorry," but he cut her off with a quick "shhh." Six blinked and settled down, somewhat rattled by the closeness, but comforted at the same time.
Five minutes later, she broke the silence with a whisper. "What does it mean? Jod-- uh, that long word?"
"Enchanted," came the reply.
"That's a strange name for a moon," Six said, because she wasn't sure what else to say.
Six was a professional eavesdropper. So it didn't bother her to listen in on a conversation between Jorge and an Army officer who didn't seem uncomfortable conversing with Spartans. As their talk turned to politics, she heard Jorge stating his opinion on the rebel uprising, how he believed the colonies had the right to demand independence, but that they were going about it completely the wrong way. She had never heard a Spartan talk about the Insurrection in that light. Her thoughts turned to all the rebel blood that figuratively stained her hands, and she stole away from her post at the doorway. What was it like to have beliefs beyond what your superiors fed you?
Six's somersault propelled her right into the path of a plasma grenade, and she vaulted away from it, heels skidding and digging into the crumbly dry ground. The Covenant patrol party charged Noble Team, led by an Elite Ultra and two Minors. “We've been engaged!” Jorge yelled, and his exclamation attracted the attention of the Ultra. The alien barked something in its garbled language and charged him, concussion rifle spitting rounds at the Spartan. Jorge's response was to let out a roar nearly as deep and fear-inducing as the Elite's; he pointed his turret directly at the enemy soldier and kept firing even as concussion blasts wore on his shield and pushed him back. Six took aim with her DMR and, once the Ultra's shields were down, shot it in the left eye. As the alien fell, Jorge gave her a nod of thanks. Six couldn't help but thank the cosmos she wasn't his enemy. If that roar had come from anyone or anything but him, it would have been terrifying.
Six hummed to herself as she walked toward an intact Warthog. Jorge thought about telling her that she hadn't cut off the comm link between their helmets, but decided to wait. Her voice was well suited for the melody, whatever it was. It sounded like something between a ballad and a dirge.
Ta-ta-ta-ta! Six's rifle sang, and several Grunts screamed and reeled as a result. Her eyes were drawn to the fiery blue orb that sailed toward her, a poor throw from an injured Grunt. She moved to dodge the plasma grenade, rolling to one side, but she lost her balance coming up thanks to a Grunt being propelled by its spewing methane tank. The Spartan-III careened over, one hand still clenched around the grip of the MA37 while the other frantically sought purchase, and before she knew it she had gone off the edge of the hill. She slammed into something solid and when she opened her eyes she realized she had hit Jorge. Ever the immovable object, he looked down at her, and she wished she knew what was going on behind that dratted visor. Their armor was bulky, but still it felt... odd.
"Did I miss something?" Emile yelled from thirty feet away, before blowing holes into a Skirmisher's narrow head.
She could hear the screams of desperate civvies and she knew Jorge had heard them before she did. Emile ran on ahead, drawn to the sound of chaos like a moth to a flame, and Jorge picked up his pace to keep up with the assault specialist. Six trailed behind, a sour taste entering her mouth as she listened to the raw cries of innocent people begging for their lives. The Covenant were deaf to their pleas.
"People put faith in gods because they feel as if they need purpose," Jun said matter-of-factly, trailing behind Jorge, who toted the massive briefcase as if it were a duffel bag full of socks. "Me, I know my role. No need for divine guidance when you've got one of these." The statement ended in a laugh as he gestured with his sniper rifle.
"I always thought it was a more personal matter," Jorge answered, tilting his helmet upward to look at the mouth of the cave. There were three yellow dots waiting for them inside. "That people believe in gods because they need protecting. To know they're in good hands."
Six brought up the rear, her yellow dot joining his and Jun's. "Or to know they're not alone," she added, the first thing she'd said since they landed after the Grafton's destruction. Jorge gave her a nod, appreciating the honesty of her statement, and started up the incline toward the cave. He could hear something big close by, probably a Scarab. They needed to get to cover.
“You think she's up to snuff?”
Jorge turned his head toward the sound of Jun's voice. The sniper approached him and sat down on the edge of the Falcon beside him. The rest of the team was still en route, and the Army pilots hadn't prepped for flight yet. Jun clasped his gauntleted hands together and waited for the answer to his question.
“She's got skills,” Jorge grunted, glancing down at the hollow helmet in his hands. “Fast, too. Shoulda seen her up against those Zealots.”
“She's no Thom.” Jun's tone was neutral, but Jorge knew what was on his mind.
“Sure she ain't,” Jorge replied with a shrug. “But it's good we've found our new Six.”
“Think we'll end up keeping her?” the sniper asked, a hint of curiosity in his voice.
“Hope so.” The sound of a distant Covenant dropship made Jorge instinctively look up at the sky, where gray clouds threatened to spill their rain. He allowed himself a tired smile despite the danger that loomed. It was almost like a godsend, getting Six on the very day the Covies showed up. Miracle wasn't a word Jorge used often, but now, he found himself wishing he could.
Alarms buzzed in Six's ears, as if she didn't already know her own shields were down. She dodged a series of needles that curved in an attempt to home in on her, but she was too fast for them. The Elite Officer roared in fury and reloaded his needler, firing off more bursts. Six's shields were trying to recharge, but more needles impacted the fragile barrier and wore it down to nothing. There were Grunts taking potshots at her with their plasma pistols from behind the rocks, and she clenched her teeth as heat washed over her forearm--
Then a shadow fell over her as Jorge put himself between her and the incoming fire, and his minigun growled and spat death at the invaders. Six leaned out from behind him and picked off the Grunts with her pistol, one headshot for each. When they were all dead, he lowered his gun and asked if she was okay, and she told him so.
Getting her to say anything beyond three words at a time was tricky work; it was almost like coercing an AI to go against its algorithms, which was damn near impossible. At first he expected her to be like Emile, or maybe Jun; cocky, confident, perhaps grim and aloof. She was all of those things, but she'd been acting differently since they first met. It was satisfying to actually talk to Six instead of trying to read her from a distance. He hadn't really counted on her saying anything about her blacked-out past, but in a way, it made the current situation a bit brighter. Maybe if time and circumstance were kind, he could get her to open up even more, and do the same for her.
The high-pitched squeals of a terrified Grunt were drowned out by an overhead burst of thunder. The pack of squat aliens scattered, disoriented by the angry weather, and Six watched from her little nook in the rock wall as they ran in uneven circles, waving their guns in hysteria. She and Jorge remained motionless so they wouldn't show up on the Covie's sensors; while she huddled in a cranny, he simply stood like part of the mountain, rain dripping off the massive angles of his armor. Lightning flashed close by, and Six's visor automatically polarized to save her eyes from the glare, nearly as bright as that of a flash-bang. The wind roared through the trees, making the Grunts even more hysterical as branches snapped and fell. There was a crackle in her helmet as a comm channel opened. "Ain't that something," Jorge said, and he sounded pleased. "Like Reach is fighting back, in its own way."
The way Emile shoved his way past her made her flinch. Six wondered why Kat had paired them up for this op; they were too much alike, both of them geared toward agility and quick, efficient destruction. She was too used to fighting alongside Kat and Jorge and Jun to feel fully comfortable having Emile watch her back.
“Problem?” Emile asked her, and she allowed herself a mental curse. How had he detected her flinch?
“No problem,” she replied, and she hoped her tone was cold and sarcastic enough to come across as believable. “Unless you have one.”
She stopped dead in her tracks as the skull-masked Spartan rounded on her. She wondered what his face looked like at the moment. “When I heard all that stuff about you, I thought you'd be different. According to your file, you're some kind of hyper-lethal grim reaper. Very descriptive words. But they seem to be a little off.” It sounded like he was either mocking her or trying to make a point.
“You've seen my kills,” Six replied, injecting a bit of venom into her tone. “I never hesitate. Never.”
“Uh-huh.” Emile turned and kept on walking, then stopped and sighed. “Look, Lieutenant, we both know I'm not talking about your performance in the field.”
Six was silent for a moment. She remained perfectly still. Then she took a few jaunty steps forward, almost mimicking Emile's swagger. “Then drop it, because it has nothing to do with our mission, Warrant Officer,” she retorted, hoping he got the message.
“Yes ma'am,” the assault specialist answered flatly.
Six briefly mused over his words. And as she followed him through the dark woods, she wondered if, just maybe, Emile was disappointed that she wasn't more like him. Perhaps if she had never met Jorge, that would be the case.
Jorge's hand shot up and snapped around the drab brown plastic packet, and he studied the blocky letters on it with narrowed eyes. He looked up at Six. "Where'd you get it?" he asked, knowing full well that it wasn't Noble rations.
"I confiscated it,"; Six said innocently. She had one of her own, and she peeled off her helmet almost as fast as she tore off the top of the pouch. "Thought we could use a decent meal."
"Confiscated." He didn't believe her, but that was irrelevant. She's beginning to sound like Kat now. That thought amused him, and he looked down at the MRE, reading its contents off the back. "Well, Lieutenant, can't say I mind."
Six sat down beside him, her armor scraping against the rock wall. They ate in silence, enjoying the brief tranquility and the late afternoon sun.
As her boots crunched over brittle earth baked dry by plasma bombardment, she checked the last few rounds in her DMR's magazine and mouthed the number to herself. Seven. Maybe enough to pick off a few Grunts or a single Elite, but that would be all. Her AR was similarly famished, and the few dead UNSC troopers she had come across so far had emptied their rifles against their alien murderers, leaving only dregs for her to scavenge.
She looked up at the hazy flame-warm sky and tasted blood in her mouth and knew it wouldn't be long. She wondered whether, when she was glass, anyone would remember her. That's all this world is now, she thought, and it was more of a delirious half-musing than a thought. That's all my life ever has been. Broken glass. The most important shard, the one that allowed her to see herself reflected as more than a serial number, was long gone, taken to oblivion. She wondered if the flames of her demise would be half as beautiful as the brief luminous sphere that had stolen him away.