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[Quest] Reenlistment (There are No Lines)

#1
Caleb had heard about Earth’s towering skyscrapers with luxuriously decorated balconies, towering skylines of flying vehicles and hovering roadways, and all the other splendors of the metropolises that dotted the blue marble home of humanity. He had heard tales and seen the pictures, but nothing could have prepared him for what lay ahead of him now.

Beyond the checkpoint manned by more of the small, white-armored troopers that notably, to him at least, shrunk in his presence as he stomped past, he beheld the majesty of Coruscant. Massive, decorative buildings that defied conventional architecture, flying vehicles that arrayed themselves in lines of traffic flowed to and fro in-between the metal and glass pillars, and pedestrians crowded everywhere he could see on the walkways that connected it all together. Altogether, it almost set him off-balance trying to take it all in. He was so used to devastated wilderness, god-forsaken wastelands, and fire-blasted plains that seeing a real civilization, one that wasn’t in the process of being ground to dust by an overhead Covenant cruiser, was astonishing.

Walking the streets, though, he could tell that all was not quite well. People parted at his passing, eyeing him with suspicion and barely veiled apprehension. They were used to military patrols and the like, keeping a wide berth between them and the Stormtroopers and police officers that dotted along the walkways. This place was fiercely guarded, but against what, he did not know. There was no sign of it in this pristine part of the city. No recent damage from terrorists, no debris from an invasion, and certainly no ongoing assaults that he could tell or hear.

“You there!” a Stormtrooper pointed and barked out with a loud, modulated voice, “halt. Show some ID.” The white armored man stormed past Caleb, who peered over his shoulder. A man held his arms up, having already been surrounded by three other Stormtroopers and what looked to be a camera drone hovering above him. He seemed panicked, and that aura of fear drove the pedestrians outward and away in a wide circle around him.

It wasn’t any of his business to interfere in police actions, so he continued to walk. His heavy boot falls against the skywalk announced his presence clearly, and most others continued to steer clear of his path. Caleb didn’t have any particular direction in mind, he merely walked, watching and looking.

Though, as misfortune would have it, direction came to find him. A pristinely black-uniformed officer, complete with glistening insignia, and whose rank would have possibly impressed Caleb, were he able to tell what rank it denoted, stepped onto the skywalk ahead of him. On either side she was flanked by two Stormtroopers, one of them was marked with an orange-colored shoulder guard. The woman, older looking, with trim black hair and piercing blue eyes, intercepted Caleb and stopped in front of him, studying him.

‘Great, a shiny.’ Caleb thought to himself, stopping in front of the officer and towering over her. To her credit, if she was intimidated by his presence, neither her face nor posture betrayed such.

“You are far too well-equipped to be a mere bounty hunter, and you’re not as imposing as a Space Marine…” she noted aloud, eliciting an internal sigh from Caleb, “tell me, what are you Prime?”

Again with that ‘Prime’ thing.

“I am Chief Petty Officer Caleb, service number Sierra oh-nine-five, ma’am.” The Spartan replied crisply. The officer was taken aback with mild surprise, eyeing Caleb through the visor that hid his face. He enjoyed that look of shock.

“You’re a soldier?” She asked.

“No ma’am,” he replied, suppressing a note of smugness in his tone, “I’m a Spartan.”

Quote:Transition from the Nexus
Quest Started: There are No Lines
Word Count: 614, according to Wordcounter
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#2
Caleb stepped into the spacious, sterile, tiled room filled with technicians, scientists, and expensive-looking equipment, including unfamiliarly configured computers, sensors, cameras, and a verisimilitude of measuring equipment, complete with automated graphs and charts that flowed across the many hanging screens. Certainly, it was a well-funded and maintained research facility, not that that was what drew his attention.

No, all of the mesmerizing gadgetry in the universe couldn’t draw his attention away from the singularly most important person –and the one he least expected to see– that stood in the center of the traffic, directing it with curt orders and sharp movements. He studied her carefully, just to be certain, noting her short, greying hair kempt in a bob-cut with her bangs swept to the side; her blue, all-knowing eyes scanning carefully through a variety of streaming reports and charts on her data pad; her face, locked in a perpetual almost-scowl as she parsed through the information; and lastly, the self-assured, demanding way she commanded those around her. There could be no doubt in his mind about who he saw. That was Doctor Halsey. The tidy beige uniform didn’t suit her, he felt, but it didn’t matter what she wore. She was still UNSC.

“I’ve brought another potential subject for the experiment, director,” the officer that escorted Caleb here announced herself, drawing the attention of a couple of the researchers and Halsey.

“Ah, so you have…” She spoke, and Caleb couldn’t help but note the subtle double-take she made at his appearance.

“He claims to be a soldier. He refers to himself as a-“ the officer began at first, but was cut off with a swift raise of Halsey’s hand as she moved to address Caleb directly.

“Spartan.” Halsey finished for her as she studied the titan of a soldier, her work, standing before her. Admittedly, he had gone through a touch more hell for the journey compared to when she last saw them all off.

“Doctor Halsey.” He replied shortly and entirely on reflex.

“Caleb, what have you done with my armor?” Halsey rose an eyebrow with a subtle accusing glance at the plethora of burn marks that adorned his suit. He hated that she always knew it was him under the helmet. How did she do that every time?

“The Covenant gave me a hard time, ma’am. I lost a few pieces along the way and had to make some 'field repairs.'”

“Indeed,” she looked towards the surprised officer and nodded, a signal that she was free to leave. A signal she did not waste, and so promptly disappeared beyond the doorway they had entered from.

“It’s good to see you again, Caleb. I didn’t think I would live to see one of my Spartans here,” her tone softened as she spoke, taking a quick glance to the other researchers before she continued, “though it took you long enough.”

“Sorry for the wait, ma’am. I died.” He reported, a tinge of regret striking his mind at being the only survivor of that hell.

Died?” she repeated with a note of surprise and confusion, “Spartan, what is today’s date?”

“August thirty-first, twenty-five fifty-two, ma’am.”

“Twenty-five fifty-two?” Halsey stepped back and looked to the side, lost in thought for a moment. She sighed softly before turning her attention back to the Spartan, “I see. Well, you stumbled upon a rare opportunity the rest of us never get, Caleb."

Caleb looked confused, though such an expression was lost behind the visor.

"Ma'am?"

Halsey motioned for Caleb to follow, and began striding across to a doorway opposite where he came in. The door opened and she motioned him to enter. Inside was a tall, lanky man chatting away enthusiastically with what appeared to be a subordinate, both standing in front of a wall-sized window overlooking into an arena of some sort. Unlike the other researchers and his subordinate, the taller man was attired in a stained white lab coat, a black plain shirt, and blue denim jeans. More striking were his crimson eyes and black, messy hair. Behind them both, the door shut, and Halsey began walking over to the two men.

"You've found a second chance.” She said in passing.

Quote:Wordcount: 698, according to Wordcounter
Total: 1,312
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#3
The Spartan stood, watching and waiting as his fate was being discussed in front of him. Halsey and the other man spoke quietly and rapidly, outright ignoring the poor subordinate researcher that stood beside them, confused and unable to keep pace with whatever their conversation entailed. Halsey, as always, was calm and careful, but the other man was, by and large, overly enthusiastic. It contrasted weirdly with the low volume of his voice. Every time he flung his arms up or over exaggeratedly motioned, he expected shouting to follow.

Well, whoever the man was, the fact that he kept pace with Dr. Halsey to the point that she conferred with him over everyone else here was telling enough. He just wished it wasn’t about whatever they were going to do with him. He hated being out of the loop like this.

Several minutes passed before the duo finally approached him, Halsey taking the lead.

“Caleb, this is Dr. Jason Reeds. He is an associate that has been helping me with my research as of late.” Halsey motioned in the tall researcher’s general direction, who stepped forward upon his introduction.

“Pleasure to meet ya, Caleb.” he offered his hand, and Caleb took it lightly, trying not to crush it, “Oh, very nice armor indeed, Cat. Nothing like a Space Marine’s… It’s a tad beat up though.” He remarked, studying the gauntleted hand intently.

This man gave off a weird vibe to Caleb. One moment he felt dangerous, the next, hapless and frail. His crimson eyes certainly weren’t helping, either. Caleb was certain they glowed whenever the man intently focused or was truly excited.

He looked over at Halsey as though she might be of some assistance. She just shrugged and continued, however, as Reeds’s mildly uncomfortable examination continued up to the Spartan’s arm.

“Your armor is a wreck, Spartan, so we’ll need to repair it. As well,” Halsey drew up her data pad and remotely linked it into the MJOLNIR’s systems, deriving diagnostical data from it. She studied the results, frowning ever more with each listed item.

“… As well, you’re not in any fighting condition.” She concluded, looking up at the Spartan with that slight accusatory gaze.

Caleb offered no response beyond a silent glance through his visor, before suddenly ripping his arm out of Reeds’s grasp.

“In the meantime, we can prepare the trials while the technicians repair your suit’s damage.” Halsey looked over at Reeds with a sharp glare. Reeds, for his part, smiled in return, unaffected by the icy treatment.

“Shouldn’t take them more than a few hours. I’d ask if I could tinker with the suit, but you’d just tell me off. Although… do I need to modify the serum?” he turned upward at Caleb, his hand holding his chin as he looked less at him and more through him with a pensive gaze, “Those are some rather heavy augmentations… You may have gone a tad overboard, Cat.”

Caleb shifted uncomfortably from his increasingly studious and intense staring. He was increasingly worried about this eccentric scientist Dr. Halsey acquired.

“I did not go ‘overboard,’ Reeds.” Halsey sighed in indignation, “Though yes, a stronger dose would be required.”

“Required for what, ma’am?” Caleb interjected, trying his best to ignore the black-haired scientist’s prodding glances.

“The Empire funds us for as long as we can provide useful research. You came in just as we were beginning to test new medicines and serums to see if we can improve the combat abilities and mental faculties of the Stormtrooper Corps and the EPD officers.” Reeds responded before Halsey could, “normally we would be requesting the use of Space Marines or a suitable Prime, if given the chance, but I’m eager to see if a –what did you call him, again? A Spartan?” Reeds turned to Halsey briefly, but didn’t give her a chance to answer.

“Yes, to see if a Spartan, hand-picked, trained, and augmented personally by my protégé, can withstand the serum’s effects in a series of intense combat trials, and so give us more interesting –and hopefully useful– data to parse.” Jason looked back at Caleb and smiled again, his eyes definitely glowing bright and tripping every alarm in Caleb’s mind, “This is going to be so exciting!”

’You’re going to be the reason I die a second time, aren’t you?’ Caleb accused Reeds mentally.

Quote:Wordcount: 727, according to Wordcounter
Total: 2,039
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#4
While it may have taken the technicians mere hours to recalibrate and configure the testing grounds, all for the new guinea pig to be subjected to whatever horrors Dr. Reeds had concocted, it took considerably longer for Caleb to heal up and for his armor to be repaired. Dr. Halsey had seen to the latter personally, both directing his medical treatment and, in her nightly hours, modifying and restoring his armor to her standards of operation. All told, it took the better part of two days, and several pots of cold coffee, before Caleb was deemed fit for duty.

He regarded his gauntleted hand with curiosity. It felt right, as it always has, and yet different somehow. As though it were newer and as alien as on the day when he first saw MJOLNIR. His armor was fully repaired, and Halsey even kept the “field repairs” he had affected; the parts of formerly ODST armor that he had modified for his use. The ODST engraving on the inside of his right pauldron was still present, much as he was sure it irritated the good doctor upon seeing it.

“Your armor is mostly fully functional, though the shield system will take some time yet to rebuild.” Halsey explained to Caleb, having watched him don the armor with the help of mechanical arms, “I also took the liberty of upgrading your suit’s operating systems to connect with Imperial systems remotely.”

Caleb flexed his arms and legs, then stood, idly reading the diagnostics data that streamed along the digital display in his helmet.

“It certainly feels better than when the mechanics patch it, ma’am.” Caleb complimented, but Halsey waved her hand dismissively.

“Your average UNSC mechanic is far too eager to apply a welding torch than any actual finesse,” she harangued Caleb, and through him, ship mechanics as a whole, “My armor requires a more subtle touch than a sledgehammer.”

Caleb merely nodded. He knew better than to try and contradict Halsey ever since the last time. That was an argument that lasted the better part of two hours before Mendez decided to intervene.

He heard the hiss of one of the automatic doors and turned to see Reeds enter the pristine and bright med lab. The lanky man whistled softly at the sight of an intact Spartan, and Caleb resisted the urge to immediately reach for a non-existent weapon when the eccentric scientists approached to take a closer look.

“The armor does look better fresh off the factory line!” Reeds commented, hands thankfully still in his pockets.

“If you’re here, I take it then that the test grounds are ready?” Halsey asked, drawing his attention away from the armor.

“Ready as it’ll ever be. Calibrating the holo-droids to your standards was busy work, but the engineers got it done with a remarkably low amount of whining.”

“Holo-droids?” Caleb interjected, curious. Reeds turned back towards him, his eyes gleaming with excitement and anticipation, as a tinge of regret stung in Caleb's mind.

“Oh yes. The Empire doesn’t let us use live test subjects for our experiments, given the oft-destructive nature of them, so we use droids with holographic emitters to make them take on the appearance of anything we want,” Reeds began explaining emphatically,

“It can be a Stormtrooper, a Space Marine, an animal, or a bird. Well, so long as it’s flightless, I suppose. We haven’t been able to program the droids for proper jetpack control yet… and the technicians said that if they had to patch another hole in the ceiling, they’d be using me as a ceiling tile.”

“Doubtless they would make good on that threat.” Halsey quipped, garnering a momentary glance from Reeds.

“Regardless, the droids were programmed to mimic some of the Covenant’s ground forces alongside Imperial soldiers. I spent the better part of the last two days programming the behavioral coding myself, given all the free time I had to wait on you. I hope you appreciate it.”

’What did I do to God to deserve you…?’ Caleb internally sighed, knowing full well that the next few hours were going to be a nightmare for him.

Quote:Wordcount: 689, according to Wordcounter
Total: 2,728
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