So awesome to see him on TV now! (even if for a small interview).
“Right this way, Chief.”
He could hear it, the rush of blood, pounding in his ears.
“Step up to the armature, Chief - we’ll guide you into position, and then we’ll get started.”
The sour taste in the back of his throat, sharp and overwhelming as words caught there, choked off before they could even be given voice.
“What’s wrong with him-
“I don’t know, I’ve never seen-“
“Shh, they can hear really well, can’t they-“
“-acting like a psych-“
“Big damn deal, gotta put it back on someday-“
The shudder that ran up his back at the sound of voices behind him was enough to make him take a single shaking step forward, closer to the station, and he was suddenly aware of just how vulnerable he was, all but naked in his bodysuit and subarmor, laid bare for the prying eyes of the others that lined the room behind him watching as if he were the most spectacular show in the universe. How dare they stand there, staring at him, making wagers like children about a struggle they didn’t understand, never would understand? How dare they even look at him, without his-
“That’s it, 117, come right up, we won’t bite.”
The white-coated technician’s voice would have rankled him under any other circumstances, if he could stop thinking about how cold he was, how his hands felt like slick ice encased in his bodysuit’s gloves. She smiled at him with her eyes, just over the top of the little blue paper mask she wore, as she gestured him forward. And he did, mounting the short flight of steps up to the armature to gaze up at it, augmented eyes searching for any hint of the well-worn sage green of his armor, more familiar to him than the sight of his own face in a mirror-
“There we go, now turn around, like that. Okay, arms out to the side, like this.”
Her voice was soothing, and he was sure that put people at ease, but right then any and all thoughts of caring were thousands of lightyears away from his mind, as she opened beautiful blue eyes to gaze directly into his, backing away from him slowly. His eyes widened even as his vision tunneled, his arms dropping to his sides before he even realized it as everything came crashing back to him.
He had no idea what she said, but whatever it was didn’t matter - it wasn’t what he heard. Instead it was her last words that rang in his ears again, and the realization once more came crashing over him like an icy wave that as soon he put on that armor he’d be left sealed away in silence, as isolated as he’d been in that timeless span spent aimlessly adrift amidst the wreckage of the Composer.
Like a prisoner in solitary confinement where nothing, no one, could reach him now that she was gone.
He was halfway out of the armor bays before he’d even registered moving, and it took until he’d reached the doors that had barely opened enough to allow his passage to realize that he’d been running for all he was worth, a flood of whispers and chattering and conjectures filling in the void left in his wake. His senses spun, and his breath caught in his throat as black flowers blossomed before his eyes - it felt as though he couldn’t breathe, but he couldn’t stop running either. He couldn’t stop, wouldn’t stop, until at last the halls around him were quiet and he couldn’t hear anything but the sound of his own heartbeat, fluttering as quick as a caged bird in his chest, and by then it took the wall to support him on unsteady legs as he felt the remnants of breakfast rise up in his throat and swallowed it back down as hard as he could, eyes closed as the shuddering overtook him.
“… what’s wrong with me…”
He breathed the words for the first time to empty air, as if it were blasphemy to say it aloud, so much as for anyone else to hear. What was wrong with him, when the idea of the most integral part of his identity, that ‘face’ he showed the world, became the most abhorrent thing imaginable?
“… Maybe tomorrow…”
Adrian smiled as he watched John with his cigar, taking a long drag off of his own before letting the smoke out slowly.
“I love that name” Adrian said in a dreamy yet still matter of fact tone.
“I’m Adrian, by the way. How’s the cigar?”
“Surprisingly pleasant,” He admitted - whether it was that the two complimented each other as well as the ODST had said, or if the experience was enhanced by both the company and the knowledge that it was forbidden, he wasn’t sure. “And it’s a pleasure to meet you, Adrian.”
Aside from the towering cannons that rotated about the axis of golden energy that supplied the power for their weapons, most of the Line Installation had been constructed underground in an extensive bunker. As it had been designed purely as a defensive firebreak to keep the Flood from pushing further into Forerunner territory, it was one of the few Forerunner facilities that did not possess a lab dedicated to Flood research. Instead, its science facilities were dedicated to the development and refinement of weapons, as well as providing the necessary tools and components to keep the anti-ship cannons and slipspace sensors in pristine condition.
The end of the path terminated in a slanted door built into a slight rise on the ground, made of the silvery metal that was endemic to all Forerunner buildings. It opened automatically as Offensive Bias approached, tall enough even in its slant to allow his eight-foot figure to pass through the portal without needing to stoop. Inside awaited what amounted to a funicular attached to maglev rails on either wall, several seats for any who would be riding it up and down into the earth. Offensive Bias remained standing, his face still void of any true emotion as he entered and turned to watch John come in after him.
The door sealed once the Spartan was inside, a sky-blue holographic panel appearing for the ancilla who was so reluctantly hosting him to access. A few taps of slender fingers upon the panel and the funicular was moving, the ride smooth enough that the only indication that it had started being the soft hum emanating from the maglev rails. Turning to the Chief, Offensive Bias spent a short while in study of the green-armored supersoldier. His expression should nothing, though the light reflected in his eyes revealed them adjusting and focusing like camera lenses as they darted from piece to piece of his armor.
“I am surprised that you have managed to survive this long wearing such an archaic form of combat skin. Or perhaps I should say that your survival has been statistically unlikely. As much as I dislike deviations from the standard order of things, it is plausible that some people might such a feat impressive. I might as well, but I get the impression that it was through something augmenting your skill on combat, not the skill itself.”
If the comment was designed or intended to rile the Spartan, John-117 certainly did his species and military credit. Outwardly, he didn’t rise to the occasion, and inwardly the momentary flicker of annoyance he felt was quickly brushed aside as being a tertiary concern at best and not worthy of an emotional response. It was interesting, if not slightly disturbing, to see what the Ancilla knew about his past exploits - enough to be surprised that he’d survived, and to be derisive about it.
He didn’t, however, let it go entirely unaddressed.
“Every soldier’s skills in combat are improved upon by the tools they use,” He replied dryly. “My training in combat and tactics, in addition to the armor and physical augmentations, were the key to my survival. Archaic though it may seem to you, it’s served me well.”
There was no need to bring up the tedious subject of the luck that everyone seemed to attribute to him - John was a believer in making one’s own luck by considering every variable and thinking outside the box in terms of his response to a situation. He’d never believed his own luck a factor, or even the concept of good and bad luck existing beyond a stretch of human reasoning meant to justify one’s own shortcomings in the face of another’s deeds.