Forging Steel

Time has come for another story post. This week I’ve got a story that was inspired by the Halo Universe, the Spartan program to be exact. Yet, it has my own twist on the general idea of creating the perfect soldier, who isn’t meant to be as perfect or as anonymous as a Spartan-II. But that is all I’m going to say on that as I might (if you know Halo) have given away too much already. If on the other hand I’ve piqued your interest you’ll have to read to find out what’s going on and what happens. Enjoy!

Having had an extensive tour of the Jacinta facility based on a planet without a name, General Venetia Barton is eager to get to the focus of her visit.

Yet, this facility, as lush and sprawling as it might be with every included amenity, does not sit well upon her shoulders. Alas, it is a throwback to her predecessor. A man who believed victory should be attained using any tactic available. Venetia does not agree and yet the program was too far along for it to be cancelled. Perhaps if Systems Command were not aware of its existence things might be different. Alas, they are seeing as they greenlit the use of these funds for what has been dubbed Project Honour. Subsequently they are expecting results. Whether those results prove to be beneficial in terms of money put in to product output is an entirely separate manner. One which may be analysed at some point in the future, maybe. Though, with Systems Command there is no guarantee on that. Unless something were to leak to the public, well the civilian press and then to the public, but you get the idea.

None of that is of concern to General Barton, who having grown weary of the ramblings from the facilities chief scientist, Doctor Samuel Vargas-Hines, feels there is no better time than now to interrupt. He won’t like that. Of that much she is sure, largely based upon his theatrics thus far, as well as his the poorly veiled arrogance. After all, it is clear to her, that it lies much closer to the surface than he would probably wish to admit, if anyone ever questioned him on it. It is doubtful anyone ever has, Venetia could. She would be well within her jurisdiction if she did seeing as Doctor Vargas-Hines, in her approximation, has an ego the size of an iceberg, which he doesn’t, is showing but suggests he thinks this research has been a one man show. It isn’t, far from it in fact.

Rather, this project of his has been paid for by Systems Command money, lots of it. And it isn’t, contrary to some people’s popular belief, limitless. It is guaranteed, assured, but at the end of the day it is taxpayer money. It’s just it’s been slotted into the column that never gets mentioned or reported on.

In fact, the only people who are aware of Project Honour are top ranking brass, like her, who are on a need to know basis. Still, few will be as need to know as the current Head of Special Projects, Programs and Operations. That is General Barton’s current, recently granted, title. It’s a step up, in a form, from her previous role and yet it felt more like being shoved aside, into obscurity, when it came.

“Doctor Vargas-Hines, this is a very nice facility and all, and I do appreciate you taking time out of your day to show me around… But this is not why I am here. I’m here to see the output. The end result of the work that has been done on Project Honour. So, could we perhaps… hurry this along a little? Get to the showcase. I assume you have one prepared.”

Stopping mid flow during a rambling explanation, put in the simplest form he believes he could manage, Samuel does what he would do to anyone who interrupts him, he gives them a look. It’s one filled with burning intent, mild anger, condescension and arrogance from his pair of unblinking blue eyes.

Right after the look there is a twitching of the man’s nose alongside a screwing up of his mouth. The purpose, if there is one, Venetia cannot fathom. Nevertheless, she gives the head of Project Honour the benefit of the doubt, says nothing and simply waits for a reply. It should be forthcoming before long. Especially as all reports state that Dr Samuel Vargas-Hines is a brilliant man. Into that she read; overly ambitious, occasionally sanctimonious, always opinionated, blunt sometimes to the point of being rude and obsessed.

Standing here waiting for his reply, and having had him as a tour guide for the last two hours, there is nothing she has seen or heard to make her believe otherwise. Likely, he would think himself unique. Honestly, Venetia has met a plethora of men who just as perfectly fit that exact description and many more on top of that who marry nicely to sections of it, in various configurations.

When finally Samuel answers he only does so after having twisted his face into something meant to convey understanding. Unbeknownst to him he’s failed miserably, and yet exclaims with a clearly overly forced tone, “Of course, General. I am happy to accommodate. After all, we wouldn’t be here without…”

“Save it Doctor. I’m not anything like my predecessor. He liked buttering up. I don’t. I’m here to see what you’ve got, write a report, and submit it for evaluation. Now, if you don’t mind…” General Barton interjects cutting Doctor Vargas-Hines off for what is the second time.

This time around the response from the project lead is immediately clear because veins along his temples begin to throb angrily.

If she were not on duty Venetia might giggle at his reaction, but that would be unprofessional. She knows this is not a game for her enjoyment. Though, she does take great pleasure in cutting down anyone who dares to deem themselves automatically superior because of some title or another.

Biting his tongue, having decided General Barton is not his sort at all and that there is no hope of them getting along, Samuel mutters, “This way general.”

There is disdain in his voice, a hint of it only and nothing else. Sadly that hint is something he could not nix before it slipped out alongside his reply. It was inevitable. Or that would be his excuse if anyone were to ask him about it.

Honestly, he would greatly prefer General Marvin Armitage being back in the position he had held until a few months ago. Regrettably, everyone gets old and is forced to face being ushered into retirement. A waste Samuel continues to believe as Marvin proved to be in possession of a mind far superior to men and women half his age. Alas, there was no preventing the changing of the guard in Systems Command. They are the bosses, the paymasters and like it or not Samuel has to abide by whatever decisions they make.

However, there is one nothing that will never transpire; no one will ever be allowed to take Project Honour away from him. It is the future. There is no doubt about that. General Barton might not like it, but he will show her the necessity of it.

To boot it could not be coming at a better point in time with civilised humanity being engaged in a number of separatist and faction related skirmishes across its hundred systems borders. These same skirmishes have, in turn, resulted in more than fifteen million service personnel deaths.

Leading the way out of a pair of double doors released by his access card, Samuel followed a quarter step behind by Venetia, exit the lab used for growing the muscle strengthening threads to once more be under the shining brilliance of the triple suns that clutter the skyline of this unnamed world.

Beneath their feet is green grass, cut short and perfectly manicured. Put plainly it is little more than a field within a walled enclosure, except the walls extend further than the open training ground to encircle the entire facility of more than eleven buildings. These aforementioned buildings are in turn protected by three battalions of SC Marines.

“How are the marines working out for you, doctor?” Venetia asks trying to engage in idle chit-chat.

As with everything involving General Barton it is a test, of sorts. Principally for her own interest rather than for Systems Command. And as for what she is testing, it is the capacity for Doctor Vargas-Hines to move past an interaction that did not go as he would like or wish it to. When little more than a shrug followed by, “They serve their purpose,” is given in response, Venetia settles on him being about as adept at overcoming what would be to most other people barely of note about as well as most others with his personality type. That is to say, poorly. And while it might not seem it according to his use of words, it is the accompanying body language and tone used that give him away.

Moving swiftly on, Venetia asks, “This is the training ground? It looks… primitive.”

It is an observation and a fair one at that; seeing as with all the trillions this program has received she would have thought that dummies would not be that which had been chosen to be dotted about this field of imported turf to serve as bodies for target practice.

“This is but one training ground, General. But I assure you, it is not as primitive as it looks.”

Again, Samuel’s pride slithers through to strike like a cobra at the exposed vein of opportunity. After all, he sees Venetia’s comment as an accusation of mismanagement, where in actual fact it is nothing of the sort. To the General, having caught the overly defensive nature of the reply, it smacks of Doctor Vargas-Hines having been caught with his pants down, because it is primitive. Regardless of whether this is one of fifty training grounds or not.

Well aware of exactly how many training grounds there are, Venetia, who has studied the layout of this facility with interest, intrigue and ferocity, quickens her pace so that she falls in step alongside the facilities head scientific mind. Yet, she cannot help but compare herself to him. Not that doing so takes a great deal of time or effort for she soon concludes that where Samuel is arrogant, brash and loud, Venetia is quietly confident, meticulous and studious. That is not to say that the head of the project is not capable of those things. It is just that the General is those things, where as Samuel simply wields them, if and when they suit him. More likely to be if rather than when in all honesty.

Having crossed the training ground which does not impress, save for the imported grass, brought in for… Venetia cannot say. To her there seemed little reason to make the surroundings more… amenable. After all, this is a facility meant for training the next generation of soldiers. Not a place meant to act as a throwback to established, ceded worlds that have similarities to humanities homeworld of Earth.

Yes, humanity continues to frequent the planet. Though, only after its climatic deterioration was prevented. Currently it is undergoing reversal through the use of recent technological breakthroughs that are being repurposed to instead of terraform, undertake the process in reverse. The science behind it is… revolutionary, but way above Venetia’s understanding. She’ll freely admit that.

If she felt like testing Samuel, as they stride through an education structure fabricated from pre-formed sections that have been slotted and welded to form this building, she could ask if he is capable of explaining such developments. However, that would be cruel of her if she did as she is acutely aware that Samuel’s area of expertise involves a technological slant sat firmly in the human physiology and biology spaces and not on climate.

Looking around as they continue toward their destination, Venetia cannot help but note how it does not feel as though all this equipment does not in her eyes justify the money that has been spent establishing what is essentially a small, tiny really, colony on an unnamed world. Especially considering that it lies outside the borders of human space and could just as easily have been earmarked as the next world for colonisation.

“We are almost to the testing site, General.” Doctor Vargas-Hines announces out of the blue, shattering Venetia’s train of thought so utterly that she instantly forgets what her considerations had been in regards to.

Deciding they must clearly not have been of great consequence the uniform clad woman issues only a curt nod of understanding, nothing more. It’s a gesture that alongside her shaved head, Samuel cannot say suits the woman who is several inches in deficit to his own meagre height.

To be honest, Samuel was under the impression that SC had a minimum height requirement and that, seeing General Barton, the woman would be below the threshold he was convinced existed. Perhaps she wasn’t when she…

She isn’t that old! Is the exclamation that rings loudly inside his head from the facility AI which, unbeknownst to General Barton, has a direct feed to the lead of Project Honour.

You should tell her that, you know.

Why? What purpose would it serve? Samuel fires back in response to the words which are not spoken but felt inside his head. This connection a by-product of the overall project which Doctor Vargas-Hines thought beneficial enough to have it implemented within himself for better running of the facility. Or at least that was the excuse he had lined up, if he were ever queried about it.

Purpose; there is not one. But she is a System Command General, and now head of this…

I’m the head on this project. Samuel reminds interjecting over the facility AI, Control. A name the doctor feels does not properly convey the brilliance of its creation, a rare instance of Doctor Vargas-Hines complementing another scientific pioneer.

As to whom it was that created Control he hasn’t a clue. He could ask. Truthfully, simply think it and almost certainly he would be provided an answer. Alas, his interest in the matter is not sufficient enough for him to wish to do so. Ultimately, it could dislodge a vital piece of…

We’re here, Doctor. Is the declaration from Control, who he shoves and restricts from his mind using a zone blocker. Not because Control cannot be a part of what comes next, as the AI is Jacinta, but because it should seem as though there is no further insight held by Samuel than would be normal for a man who is the lead on a secret military project.

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