Chapter Eight: Angst and an SOS
"Dude, we should so totally annoy Dare into letting us do this next year," Romeo whispered loudly, elbowing Mickey, who had his eyes shut and was breathing deeply. It would have looked like an ordinary calming exercise to any passerby, but Mickey's squadmates knew exactly what he was doing: inhaling the smell of food that hadn't been freeze-dried at some point in time.
"I heard that, Lance Corporal. And it's Captain Dare," the woman in question sneered, pushing past the grinning ODST. She was taking everything in with a look that was part disbelief, part amusement.
"I thought Spartans and ODSTs have a relationship that's, well
er, touchy, if I may say so," Six said quietly, standing by Kat, who was watching as Dare's squad made themselves at home.
"That's true, but there is an old saying that says 'the way to a man's heart is through his stomach.' I think that applies to ODSTs as well," Kat replied, and Six smiled slightly.
The Rookie stood apart from everyone else, looking kind of lost and overwhelmed. He had removed his helmet and now everyone could see his still-boyish, ruddy face, framed by tousled sandy hair that was over regulation length. He clutched his helmet like a talisman. Apparently he wasn't sure how to proceed in front of the Spartans, even though his squad was acting like it owned the place.
It was kind of odd how everyone was acting more or less normal around each other, despite rank and branch differences. Jacob Keyes and Colonel Holland were cheerily discussing battle maneuvers, exchanging advice on space and ground tactics, while Carter put in his two cents and answered questions from the older men. Dare stood off to the side, listening to them babble, all the while keeping a watchful eye on her men, like a mistrusting mother hen. Rosenda was nowhere to be found, while Emile stood in a corner, looking disgruntled. Jun was attempting to make conversation with Miranda Keyes, who seemed preoccupied (or was it intentional?), and Kat and Six were merely observing the fun while Jorge helped Buck and Dutch haul in a container full of the ODSTs' stuff. Romeo, Mickey and the Rookie were all gawking at the tree like little kids, as if unable to believe it actually existed.
"Um, where's Rosenda? I thought she was excited about all this," Six asked Kat.
Kat shrugged. "I thought I saw her bumming around in our quarters. I can't imagine why she's not out here, but it's none of my business."
Six frowned. "Since when is anything not any of your business? Tell."
"Fine." Kat sighed like petulant child. "Apparently something happened between her and Emile and it's bothering her."
That hit Six like a ton of bricks. She glanced over at the sour-faced assault specialist, then looked at Kat. "Are you serious?"
"I'm not joking, if that's what you mean." Kat certainly looked serious. "The Commander's put me on hospitality duty for now, so why don't you go find our dear 344 and see what's up?"
"Me? But I
" Six felt awkward. "I'm not very good at
you know. I'm no therapist."
"Oh, just go give her a little pep talk and if that fails, use those skills of yours and drag her out," Kat said cheerily. She pushed Six in the direction of the hallway. "Bon voyage!"
" Six found her legs taking her down the hallway, toward the women's quarters. Today was certainly an odd, unusual day. First a Christmas tree, then Moa burgers, then high-ranking guests, now relationships? It literally made no sense. Period. The Spartan was used to routines and pre-organized drills and code of conduct. Not chaos like this!
She found the elusive woman laying flat on her back across her cot, staring up at the dull, lifeless ceiling. Six walked in, stood there for a minute, then crossed her arms. "Kat told me to come get you," she blurted, not really liking the position the Lieutenant Commander had put her in.
"Oh, I'll be along. Don't worry." Rosenda sat up and sighed. "Sometimes I wonder, Six
are men blockheads or just plain mentally challenged when it comes to interpersonal relations?"
"Uh, come again?"
"Gah. I'm just rambling to myself. What do you know? You're lucky, you know. You're not being stalked by a psychopathic wannabe boyfriend," Rosenda mused. "Who sleeps with his knife and collects Covie body parts he's dismembered."
"I think Emile just doesn't know how to express his feelings," Six admitted. She drew on her own experience, grimly thinking of how she could never quite say the words she wanted to around certain people. It was the plague that harassed all Spartans. They hadn't been trained for etiquette, they'd been trained to break necks with a pinky. "Being cynical and stubborn seems to be our default mode nowadays. Unless you're Jorge." She suppressed a small smile, thinking of how determined said Spartan-II was to cheer her up when she got lonesome.
"I don't want to hurt him, but I also don't want to get involved in something I shouldn't. Ack, this is going to haunt my nightmares, I just know it," Rosenda complained. "As if dreaming about burning planets and horrifyingly ugly aliens wasn't already bad enough
"Why not just
go out there, forget it ever happened, and start over? Or at least try to find a happy medium," Six suggested. Where am I even getting these ideas from? My usual modus operandi is a) shoot it, b) frag it, or c) assassinate it. Must be my "inner woman" directing me
wow, she actually exists! "It wouldn't hurt to at least try."
"I guess you're right," Rosenda confessed. She smirked, her sassy personality coming through. "And just so you'll know, you look like an adorable blonde fluffy stuffed animal that needs to be squashed in a hug."
"HEY!" Six sputtered. "I do not!" I'm muscular, tall and covered in numerous scars, plus I smell like military soap. And the sweater is atrocious. "I'm trying to help you and you're making up silly stuff!"
"It's not silly." Rosenda stood in front of Six and played with her hair for a bit, biting her lip in concentration. "There ya go. Now you look adorable."
"I AM NOT ADORABLE," Six hissed, as Rosenda rolled her eyes and tsked.
"Awww, she's blushing. C'mon, let's get this over with," Rosenda sighed, walking toward the door. "I guess I'll grin and bear it, at least until the moron makes a move. Then there's no telling what I'll do."
Six followed Rosenda, still perturbed over being called "adorable" and secretly looking forward to the events which surely were to come.
And that one goes there," Mickey insisted, pointing at a bare branch on the tree. "Ooh! I call that spot!" He hung a paper snowflake on "his" branch and observed it with satisfaction. "Hey Rookie, how's yours comin'?"
The Rookie looked up from his work and held up a small paper crane. Romeo made an exasperated sound. "We're makin' snowflakes here, not origami," he complained.
"I think it's lovely," remarked Dutch.
For some reason or another, Romeo had brought up the idea of making paper snowflakes, so the ODSTs were gathered round the tree, snipping pieces of copy paper with their combat knives, since there were no office scissors available. Dare had given up on putting them to any intelligent use and was glowering in a corner, now and then consulting her ONI "spookbook," Buck's pet name for the datapad.
"I'm picking up a scrambled signal on our comms, sir," Kat said suddenly, squinting at a small holographic viewscreen that popped up from a data terminal built into the wall. "It's fuzzy, so its location of origin is uncertain."
"Just work your magic, Kat." Carter disengaged himself from Colonel Holland and Commander Keyes's conversation and walked over to join his subordinate. "The weather outside is probably interfering with our signal reception."
"Got it. It's a secure channel, very high priority. Someone with big clearance must be using it," Kat deduced, her fingers, both human and artificial, dancing over the tiny keyboard. "Ah. We're being hailed by someone going by the name of Charlie Hotel."
"Wait, did you say Charlie Hotel?" Jacob Keyes was beside them in an instant. "Can you establish a connection?"
"That's like asking if I can scratch my nose, sir," Kat said dryly, clicking a few keys, then voila! A little icon lit up green to signify a successful link. "Done."
"Your technical skills are amazing," Keyes mused, bewildered how Kat could accomplish in a few simple clicks what took his technicians at least ten minutes on a simple wall console.
"Jacob? Is that you?" a female voice asked sharply, as if shocked.
"Catherine?" Keyes said, somewhat fondly.
Jorge, who had been minding his own business across the room, became very attentive. "Dr. Halsey
" he muttered, interested.
"This is certainly a surprise," the woman on the other end said stiffly. "Perhaps you could do an old
friend a favor?"
"Such as?" Carter spoke, scowling down at the active speaker.
"Well, for starters, gathering up some shovels and ice picks and breaking me out of this tomb," Halsey said, not mincing words. "It seems that the door to my current residence has become blocked by a massive buildup of snow and ice. There was a small avalanche earlier, and because I prefer to work alone, there is no one here to assist me in getting out."
"You mean you were working alone,, in an underground lab, and now you're sealed in by an avalanche?" Keyes sputtered, while Miranda shook her head and rolled her eyes.
"I can take care of myself, Jacob," Halsey chided. "I'm simply requesting some assistance. I'm sure there are several pairs of strong arms available to meet my need?"
" It was obvious that there was no shortage of strong arms in this one room. "Um, of course. Don't worry, Catherine, we'll be there in no time. Where exactly are you?"
"Given the nature of my work, I am unable to state this in wireless communication, but I am sure that Lieutenant Commander 320 is capable of ascertaining my location," Halsey said calmly.
Carter glanced at Kat, who smirked. "Already done. It's not far from here, easily accessed if we go via Mongoose travel." She pointed to a particular spot on the holographic map of the region. "There."
"Need us to assist, sir?" Dutch inquired, while Mickey and Romeo shook their heads in negation.
"Negative. A small team of Spartans should do," Carter said. "Jorge. You're more familiar with Halsey than us III's. You'll take Jun and Six along with the necessary equipment and extricate Doctor Halsey from her predicament."
"Yes sir," Jorge answered, almost gladly.
"Nooooo," Jun moaned under his breath, dreading having to go out in the uncomfortably cold weather