Early life of John-117
From Halopedia, the Halo wiki
The childhood and early adolesence of John-117 were marked by formative years which saw the young boy mature far beyond his age as he was stolen away from his home and family and forced through a grueling regimen of training and indoctrination in order to make him one of the United Nations Space Command's deadliest assets. Born on the Outer Colony of Eridanus II, when he was just six years old John was abducted by the Office of Naval Intelligence and taken to Reach for conscription into the Spartan-II program. There, he and seventy-five other children were shaped into the ultimate fighting force for waging war on the UNSC's enemies. Their bodies and minds alike were trained for almost a decade before this process culminated in drastic alterations made to their physicality via inasive surgical procedures. John was one of the few to come through these augmentions relatively unharmed. As the leader of the Spartan-IIs, John was one of five to embark on their first true deployment against the Insurrection; he and his team infiltrated the secret United Rebel Front base Eridanus Secundus and captured Colonel Robert Watts. Upon returning to Reach John and the thirty-two other Spartans were briefed on the emergence of a deadly new threat to humanity: the Covenant. This alien superpower had already annhilated the colony of Harvest and was openly making clear it intended further genocide. As such, the Spartans' training was accelerated to its final phase—that which would see them outfitted with the most advanced form of powered exoskeleton ever created by modern humans. John and the rest departed shorty for Chi Ceti IV, where the suits awaited them. On the way to the Chi Ceti system they undertook additional operations against the Insurrection. John's first true introduction to the Covenant did not come until the UNSC Commonwealth, the frigate ferrying the Spartans, came under attack just before reaching its destination. The Spartans still managed to acquire their Mjolnir armor on the surface but while returning to the Commonwealth John decided the time had come to take the fight directly to the enemy vessel which had engaged it. This began a struggle for John against the alien aggressors which would last decades and which would laregly define his life and legacy.
John was born on March 7, 2511 on the Outer Colony of Eridanus II. He was raised by his mother and father and by the age of six he attended school at Elysium City's Primary Education Facility 119. Decades after he last saw her, John could still remember his mother as being very kind and smelling of soap. She sometimes took him down to the beach where he would play in the sand. John's closest childhood friends were three girls: Katrina, Parisa, and Ellie Bloom. John, Ellie, and Katrina would often compete against one another in obstacle courses they built out of random bits of junk in a vacant lot in their neighborhood. He and Ellie, who lived just a few houses down on the same street as his family, would be permitted by their parents to go out to a green space on warm nights to lie in the grass and stargaze. On one of these nights as they lay next to one another John asked Ellie if she ever wondered about aliens and when she in turn asked if he thought they'd ever meet them, he said that he hoped so. At school, John was known for being competitive and for being particularly good at winning games of king of the hill that took place on a grassy hill at the end of Primary Education Facility 119's playground. He considered chess to be boring and too easy. By the time Dr. Catherine Halsey met John, he reportedly was not allowed to play gravball anymore due to his always winning. When John wasn't playing various games, bowling among them, he spent the rest of his free time watching vids. In April of 2517 John had his picture taken and it was the resulting image which the Office of Naval Intelligence later provided to Catherine Halsey. On August 3, 2517, John and Parisa were playing with one another at Lake Gusev. Parisa walked too far out into the lake and might have drowned but John saved her life. Afterward, he promised to marry her and always keep her safe. Parisa's father took a photograph of the two friends as they laughed hysterically at John's father's antics. Parisa would keep the photo with her long after she thought John had died. Over the next two weeks following the incident at the lake, John went on to score forty-five victories in king of the hill at school, leaving his opponents with a dozen broken bones, be they arms, clavicles, or fingers, and himself with a chipped tooth.
On August 17, 2517, John became the first child that Dr. Catherine Elizabeth Halsey, civilian consultant and scientific adviser for the Office of Naval Intelligence, paid a visit to. John was one-hundred and seventeenth among one-hundred and fifty children of similar age that had been selected based on specific genetic markers for inclusion in Project: SPARTAN-II, which only had facilities and funding for half that number. Halsey and Lieutenant Junior Grade Jacob Keyes found John at around 1130 hours on the playground at school while posing as parents inspecting the school for their little girl. John was in the middle of an intense game of king of the hill with eleven other boys and was clearly the dominant contender. When a pair of boys teamed up to take him down, he resorted to kicking, punching, and biting to get free before tearing back up the slop, declaring excitedly that he was king. As soon as the children were unsupervised due to the only other adult present taking a hurt girl inside to the nurse's office, Halsey made her move. She half-jogged over to the hill at the edge of the playground, halting just four meters from the hill's base. The game stopped at her approach, and some of the others teased John, thinking he must be in trouble for his aggressiveness, even though he was sporting a bruised cheek and a cracked lip himself. Halsey singled him out and asked if they might speak, to which he grudgingly agreed, coming down the hill and walking a short distance away with her.
When she asked his name, John introduced himself and offered a handshake. When she asked what he had been doing, he simply said "Winning." Seeing that the boy liked games, she suggested that he try one of hers: she produced a quarter, once used as currency in the United States of America on Earth, and dared him to guess which side would land face-up when she tossed it into the air. If he guessed correctly, she told him, she would let him keep the coin. Halsey released the quarter, sending it spinning end over end, but as it fell to the ground John caught it in his upturned palm, confidently exclaiming that it had landed with the eagle facing upwards. To Halsey's great curiosity, he was correct in his declaration. Satisfied that he would make the cut, she bid him farewell and returned to Lieutenant Keyes. Without hesitation, John ran back to the boys on the hill, eager to show off his prize.
At some point during the weeks that followed, John was abducted by ONI and replaced with a flash clone of himself. His flash clone died soon after replacement procedures. ONI operatives initially stole John directly from his bed while he was sleeping at around 0516 hours (local time) and were set to swap him for the clone then and there, but John woke up and had to have his mouth covered and be given a drug to knock him out. John was put into cryostasis and whisked through slipstream space to Reach, the nexus of the United Nations Space Command's armed forces. Once revived on September 23, 2517, he and seventy-four other children were led into an amphitheater through four sets of double doors, each accompanied by a naval drill instructor. There, at around 2300 hours, far beneath the surface of a FLEETCOM military complex (specifically within an ONI facility known as CASTLE Base), Halsey informed them that per Naval Code 45812, they were thereby conscripted into SPARTAN-II. She explained that they had been called upon to serve and that they would be the protectors of Earth and all its colonies. John wrinkled his forehead in confusion at this, but sat up straight and listened to the doctor's words with rapt attention. Halsey told them they could not return to their parents and that from this moment on, the complex on Reach would be their home and their fellow trainees would be their family. And though the training that lay ahead of them would be difficult, she expressed her full confidence in their ability to overcome it. With that said, she told them to rest and that they would begin the next day. Chief Petty Officer Franklin Mendez had the children escorted to their barracks, fed, and put to bed. As they were being led away from Halsey, John kept his gaze on her, stoic and unmoved by the drastic turn his life had just taken. Trainers took away the quarter that Doctor Halsey had given John but he fought against them doing so, even breaking a few fingers in the process.
Whilst dreaming about his mother John was shouted awake the next morning at 0530 hours by Chief Mendez and prodded with a humbler stun device when he did not pull himself off his cot right away. The same scene played out across the barracks with other children and drill instructors. Chief Mendez addressed them all, saying they were to shower at the barracks aft and then return to their cots to dress. At the prodding of Mendez's humbler, John stripped down and joined the other children on a conveyor to be washed in lukewarm soapy water and then rinsed in an icy cold spray. A trunk at the foot of his cot held underwear, thick socks, combat boots, and a matching set of gray sweats with "JOHN-117" stenciled on the chest. Once everyone was clothed, Mendez marched them outside and had them form five rows of fifteen children each. From there, they were ordered through a series of calisthenics which included one-hundred each of jumping jacks, sit-ups, deep squats, knee bends, and leg lifts. After the leg lifts the kids were finally given a respite in the form of water. John had just enough time to flop down on the grass and then roll to his knees briefly before Mendez was ordering them to join him on a run. They jogged through the military compound, past more barracks, along a river, and over a bridge, finally coming to a stop in the courtyard of a naval officers' academy. There John and the others met Déjà, a so-called "dumb" A.I. who had been given the job of continuing the trainees' formal education. Within the building, John and the others were served crackers and milk and treated to a history lesson concerning the Battle of Thermopylae. John, still hungry after finishing his crackers, swiped those that belonged to a girl next to him when she wasn't watching. After the lesson the trainees were told they were heading for the playground, but this turned into a two-mile run to a forest of twenty-meter-tall wooden poles, rope cargo nets and bridges, knotted climbing ropes, pulleys, and baskets. Mendez had them form three lines and declared that each row of three would be a team. John found himself in the third team, paired up with a boy to his right named Samuel-034 and a girl to his left, Kelly-087. John could tell that Kelly was not happy about the arrangement. Chief Mendez explained that they would be playing a game called "Ring the Bell" in which the objective was for every member of each team to ring a brass bell that hung from a slide pole next to the tallest wooden pole and then make it back to the start. John asked what they would win for finishing first, to which Mendez responded that they would win dinner. The last team to make it back, conversely, would go hungry that evening. As soon as the Chief shouted permission, John took off as fast as he could, scrambling up a cargo net and across a platform. He made it to a basket attached to a pulley, but rather than trying to lift his own weight that way, he opted to ascend directly up a nearby hanging rope. John easily outpaced all the other children and made it back to the starting point first, having rung the bell three times. Elated as he had been to be the winner, Sam and Kelly came back last, as they had gotten stuck in a line that had formed around the end of the course. Mendez congratulated everyone but singled out the members of Team Three, including John, as the ones who would be skipping dinner. He made it clear to John that although he had been first, his team had been last, and thus he had lost. John was greatly upset by this all the way back to the barracks, where he received a liter of water and was soon fast asleep.
The second day of training began just like the first. The trainees spent the morning doing calisthenics and in the afternoon reported to Déjà to learn. This day, she taught them about the hunting strategies of wolves and emphasized the importance of the pack over the individual in accomplishing a challenge, such as taking down a moose. Once again, John stole someone else's crackers. When it came time for the "playground" again, Mendez declared that they were to keep the same teams they had the prior day. When Sam and Kelly approached John, Sam gave him a shove and threatened to knock him off one of the poles if he didn't help the two of them. Kelly added to this by saying she would jump on him. John reluctantly agreed to help them as long as they didn't slow him down. The teams had a brief moment to strategize, as the course had been made more complicated as compared to before. Noting that there was still a large basket and pulley at the opposite end, however, John insisted they should all make a run for it as their best option. Kelly claimed to be fast, so John told her to hold the basket for them if she got there first. When Mendez shouted, "Go!" Kelly did indeed make it there first. Another boy tried to get her to give it up to him but both John and Sam came up behind him, pushing him away and telling him to wait his turn. By the time Team Three managed to raise themselves up to the bell, two other teams had already gotten there via other routes. John could tell that Mendez seemed pleased with the change in how he tackled the game. Sam clapped he and Kelly on their backs after their return across the starting line and suggested they should be friends. Both agreed. Three days later, on September 28, all the trainees were given haircuts. John had a picoliter of blood drawn on November 4 of 2517 for analysis by a biochemical analysis lab. On May 24, 2518, the children were forced at 0920 hours to run through a course while being shot at with paint pellet guns. Each trainee that was hit was made to do an exorbitant amount of push-ups. By December 10 of 2518, Doctor Halsey and CPO Mendez had identified John as one of four potential leaders for all the trainees, the others being Kurt-051, Jerome-092, and Frederic-104. Though Chief Mendez wanted to wager on Kurt, Halsey was confident John would be their leader eventually.
Taking the initiative
John learned more during the first few years of training on Reach than he almost certainly would have ever learned at Primary Education Facility 119 on Eridanus II. Déjà taught he and the others algebra, trigonometry, and the history of numerous battles and the rulers they happened at the direction of. Human history classes included a module devoted to Earth in which John first saw images of whales. Through simulations the trainees learned to pilot various crafts, including the predecessors and variants of the GA-TL1 Longsword. These simulations even included what to do in the event of a crash landing. By mid-2519, John could string a trip line, fire a rifle, and treat a chest wound. Much of the Spartans' early training took place at Military Reservation 01478-B, known as "Painland" to the soldiers made to endure exercises there. As a result of the demanding challenges Chief Mendez put the children through, John spent plenty of time in Painland's emergency first-aid station. Fenyot Basin was a favorite training spot for John and his comrades; there they played month-long games of sniper elimination and stealth tag within its hoodoo maze. Training often involved obstacle courses and mock patrols. Mendez tricked, trapped, and tortured the children to the point where they hated, but then eventually, admired him. John and the others regularly made covert treks to Camp Hathcock in the Highland Mountains to pilfer food and supplies. John often teased Serin-019 for her habit of taking the leftovers of every other kid she could. Training in the Highland Mountains was split between Painland, facilities within CASTLE Base, and another location. At these locations, John and the others began to be tested against a company of orbital drop shock troopers in jungle maneuvers. Amazingly, the children, who averaged around eight years old, often won. By the time John and the rest had all reached that age they had already earned every combat rating. All were subjected to endocrine therapy and medical interventions to make them stronger, more resistant to injury, and in possession of quicker reaction times while they were still prepubescent. Combat psychology training also supplemented the trainees' education. At some point during their training, John and the others accompanied Mendez to the colony of Emerald Cove, where they were given a mission that involved spending time underwater. Mendez sabotaged half the air tanks provided to the trainees, and in response they ended up stealing his. Afterwards, they all ditched the Chief for a whole week while they camped on an island with nothing to do but light bonfires, eat clams and calamari, and surf. At some other point a training mission found John, Kelly, Sam, Fred-104, and Linda-058 descending Black Iron Gorge. The five of them rode through the gorge atop rafts of lashed logs and only nearly got through the worst of the rapids in one piece thanks to Sam's natural skills as a riverman.
On July 12, 2519, all seventy-five children were transported, via D96-TCE Albatross, to a military wilderness training preserve in the Highland Mountains. While en route at 0630 hours, Chief Mendez explained that each trainee would be dropped off alone in different locations throughout the preserve with only a piece of various maps provided to them. Their goal was simply to reconvene at a designated extraction point, but the last one to arrive would be forced to walk back to base. Mendez announced that John would be dropped off first. He had just enough time after this revelation to sight a lake and the river which fed it out the Albatross' windows and point it out to Sam, who understood John's plan and passed it along to the rest. Dressed in fatigues, a heavy parka, and boots, John ran down the ramp and into the snow-covered forest when the dropship landed just before 0645 hours. He immediately set out in the direction of a particularly sharp mountain peak since he knew from getting an aerial view that the river was in that direction. When he found a stream which led to the larger water body, he followed the direction it took but still kept to the cover offered by the forest. Wild blueberries served as a brief snack as he hiked. Once he eventually arrived on the shore of the lake that he'd meant to meet the others at, the sound of someone hooting like an owl signaled that Sam was near at 0801 hours. John and Sam traversed the shoreline, eventually adding Kelly, Fred, and Linda-058 to their number. Sam decided to carve a mark into a tree that they could remember the location by for years to come. They soon after gathered everyone else together in one place. John had Sam take James-005, Linda, and Fhajad-084 to scout around them while he watched Kelly piece together the maps from everyone's pieces. It turned out that the extraction point was a full day's hike from where they were so John told the children to move out as soon as the scouts returned. Several miles into their trek, Sam told John he thought that the mission was too easy so far and John agreed that there was likely some part that Mendez hadn't told them about. At noon the children stopped to stretch and eat berries they had gathered along their journey. During the break Fhajad broached the subject of who among them would be left behind, to which John replied that he didn't intend for anyone to be left, but that if someone had to be, he would willingly volunteer.
It was near sundown when they finally came upon their destination in a meadow where another Albatross dropship sat. This one was guarded by six men without any uniforms. John and Sam were the ones who scouted ahead and saw the scene first, so they were then also the ones who explained the situation to the rest. John was certain that the men wouldn't just let them board peaceably, so he devised a plan wherein someone who play the role of a "rabbit", luring the men into a trap but being quick enough not to get caught themselves. Kelly enthusiastically took this job. It would be up to her and Sam to convince the guards that Sam had broken his leg. When their guard was down, that was when the rest would strike. John accompanied Kelly to the meadow and gave her the chance to let him be the rabbit instead. She responded with a hard punch to his shoulder for daring to doubt her. When she revealed herself she managed to get one man to chase after her. John crept back stealthily to where Sam lay on the ground, watching for the right moment. As soon as the man, unprovoked, was about to use a humbler stun device on Sam, John launched a rock at his head. The projectile missed but it signaled the rest of the children to suddenly pelt the man with stones from their hiding places. He was bleeding on the ground and barely conscious when John walked over to kick him in the face and ribs. This basic strategy was repeated, but the second time the remaining five men were set upon at once by the trainees, who assaulted them with rocks, fists, and boots. John opened a link to Déjà within the dropship and asked if she could teach him to fly it. Déjà responded by saying he was in no way authorized to do so, but that she could take control of it herself if he gave her access. Once all seventy-five children were aboard, Déjà lifted them off the ground and returned them home.
Safely back, John was personally summoned to Chief Mendez's office. The Chief glowered at the trainee as he read over a report from the exercise. Doctor Halsey joined them by 2104 hours, shortly after John had arrived himself. Mendez pointedly asked John why he had chosen to attack the men he'd set to guard the dropship and then essentially steal it. John defended his actions by citing their lack of any distinguishing insignia and a failure to identify themselves. Mendez had to admit that it indeed appeared they had not. He exasperatedly asked Halsey what they ought to do about John's actions. She suggested that the answer was obvious: that he be promoted to Squad Leader over the others. In the third year of training in 2520, John and the others began physics courses, which included the study of classical mechanics. For his part, John was more interested in tactical theory than Newton's laws of motion. On September 20 of that year, the candidates experienced their first casualty in the form of a handler who was accidentally killed by Carris-137. Memorial services were held and all of the trainees attended. Following the loss, Halsey had Déjà emphasize that throughout the history of military training lethal force had often been employed and that deaths were an inherent risk. After John turned ten years old in 2521, he and the other children began to learn counterinterrogation techniques, in particular that of of seizing the initiative. They were also eventually trained in how to employ five different interrogation techniques themselves. At some point during their training, the Spartans went through a fleet tactics course wherein they were taught a particular planetary assault doctrine. At some point in 2522 the entire class was ordered to paint a set of food-dye horns on the flank of every goat in the Bull's Blood wine region without being seen. This took three nights to accomplish, and John and the others making up Blue Team spent the intervening daylight hours hiding in the network of sandstone slot canyons that cut through the Ujeger Highlands. By the final night, there were so many locals watching for them that they had to extract via a night climb down the Ujeger Cliffs.
Facing Tango Company
As the years of training proceeded, the children were routinely matched up as teams against one another. John usually led Blue Team. Years later, he recalled often losing whenever his team had to compete with Green Team, led by Kurt-051. By 2523 the trainees had begun to be matched up in exercises against Tango Company, a unit of UNSC marines. On July 12 of that year, four years to the day since the exercise that made John Squad Leader, he led a six-person team in its seventh operation against the company. They hadn't lost yet. Their objective on this date was to capture their opponents' flag and exfiltrate with it. John's team was comprised of himself, Sam, Linda, Kelly, Fhajad, and Fred. On the twelfth they managed to capture a sniper-spotter team that had been tasked with hunting them down. From them they learned that Tango's captain had given orders to win no matter what, even if it meant bloodying some of the kids this time.
During the evening of the next day, they stole shards of mirror from Tango Company's latrine. In addition, they hunted a squirrel, which Fred combined with unripe berries and the antibacterial ointment in their first-aid kits to make a paste to poison the marines' dogs. On July 14, the game was still ongoing. John returned from peering over a rise which overlooked the Longhorn Valley to report that everything looked clear at the moment. He had Fred and Linda, both armed with SRS99C-S2 AM sniper rifles liberated from their captives, check their weapons to ensure they were in working order. For his part, John had been issued a narq-dart pistol by Chief Mendez. Fhajad had been able to modify the 114mm APFSDS rounds the sniper rifles fired so that they could carry the narq-dart capsules at a much further effective range than his pistol ever could. John used a twig to outline their plan in the dirt. In order to get the flag he would lead Sam, Kelly, and Fhajad as Red Team into the base. Linda and Fred would be Blue Team and would be responsible for dropping the men guarding the flag outside. Fred complained about having to stay back with Linda, but John reminded him that in addition to being their second-best sniper, he was also their best spotter. Though it was only a little after 1000 hours then, the trainees planned to spring their attack at 0500 the next day. Once Red Team had used stun grenades to incapacitate the marines inside their base, they would grab the flag and make a run for it, with everyone reconvening at the designated LZ. John made sure to stress that no matter what happened, nobody was to emerge from hiding near the LZ until he gave the all clear signal: a six-note singsong tune that Déjà had taught them.
John led Red Team to crouch and crawl through the forest until they reached a gravel road. Two large rocks were rolled onto the road and it wasn't long before a supply truck came along that had to stop when its occupants found the way ahead blocked. Two marines emerged, both expecting an ambush, but as they moved the rocks away John and the others silently rushed the truck and wedged themselves against the undercarriage so that when it set off again, they were carried along underneath. The truck took them about a kilometer to the unit's base. When the time came for the vehicle's bottom to be inspected at a security checkpoint, Red Team produced their mirror shards. They had spent the entirety of the previous night practicing how to match the movement of the mirror used by the opposition so that they were able to perfectly use misdirection to make the truck's undercarriage look clear. Once it was parked inside a warehouse and left there, the trainees allowed themselves to emerge. John had Sam fill up canteens with battery acid while Fhajad picked the lock on a door nearby. John was bleeding from one of his ears as a result of gravel striking him during the commute so he took time to bandage his head before moving to patrol their surroundings with Kelly to ensure no dogs, cameras, or guards were present. One Fhajad got through the lock, each preteen split off to move through the shadows to different portions of the base. John sent Kelly to secure an exit at the perimeter fence and each of the boys went to a different barracks and crawled underneath. As soon as he was beneath the one he'd selected, John began chewing three sticks of gum whilst applying battery acid to the plywood bottom of the building with a rag to weaken the wood. The gum was then used to stick each of his three stun grenades to the bottom. With only around thirty seconds until 0455 hours by the point he was placing the grenades, he set them to all go off in five minutes' time before sprinting back to the warehouse at 0458 hours.
When all the stun grenades went off, confusion and panic swept the camp. In the midst of the chaos, one of the men who had been raising the company's flag as was customary for that time was dropped by Linda. John ran toward the second man who had been assisting with the flag. He missed his first shot with the narq-dart pistol, but Sam and Fhajad put two in the man's back which John followed up with two to his chest. Another marine got a shot off at John that went wild before he took one of Blue Team's darts to his skull. John stuffed Tango Company's flag into his shirt and ordered everyone to run for Kelly's exit, where she had weakened the chain-link fence with acid so she could push right through it. John was barely surprised that the marines were using live ammunition to shoot at them this time. By the time they were running from the camp reports of machine guns firing were behind them and a tank had rumbled to life in the compound's center. Red Team took cover under a series of logs to hide from a Pelican when it flew overhead. It was at 0545 hours when the team reached the LZ where they were to meet Mendez at 0700 hours. Each trainee hid and remained completely quiet. At 0610 hours a Pelican landed nearby and John had to grab Fhajad to stop him from moving out of cover. He reasoned that the Chief would never arrive earlier than he had said. John moved thirty meters away from the others before choosing to reveal himself, almost certain that he was springing a trap by approaching the Pelican. He was urged aboard, but John could tell this was a bluff by Tango Company and said as much. As such, the craft emptied and he was soon surrounded by four marines with assault rifles pointed at him. One doubled John over with a punch to the abdomen before patting him down, shaking him, and demanding that he return their flag. John could only laugh at the man, because both Red and Blue teams at once fired a series of darts into each of the men. John grabbed a pistol from the one who'd been accosting him and clambered into the Pelican. He discovered that another was flying around fourteen kilometers out. Running back across the field, it took whistling the all clear signal to get his teammates to emerge and police the marines' weapons.
On August 22, 2524, the Spartan-II candidates were rerouted during a training exercise to the opposite side of Reach from which they normally trained. This was done at the behest of interested parties in ONI who wished to observe them firsthand. At some point after the trainees had began to physically mature, an incident in which one of them, Margaret-053, was blinded during a beating meted out by four other teens, caused Chief Mendez to replace everyone's mess hall time with a period of fasting until the perpetrators were identified. It was not uncommon at this time for two trainees to spar one another with pugil sticks while trying to balance on floating logs while the rest watched. Doctor Halsey had the opportunity to have a lengthy chat with John on February 23, 2525 and was surprised to learn that he could tell they were about to enter a new, more severe phase of training. She had not yet divulged the details of the upcoming augmentations each teenager would be undergoing. John could sense that she was worried about something, however, and told her that he and his team were ready for anything.
On March 9 of 2525 John and the other Spartan-II candidates were transported to Medical Facility Endurance in orbit over Reach in order to undergo a series of invasive procedures designed to physically, chemically, and genetically augment their bodies. By a little after 1130 hours, John was in pre-op within a surgical bay. Doctor Halsey and Chief Mendez both stopped by to find John with his head shaved, an intravenous line already delivering a sedative, and incision vectors lasered onto his body. Other medications administered beginning on this date included dopamine for hemodynamic support and a tacrolimus/mycophenolate mofetil combination for immunosuppression. When Halsey asked how John was doing he replied that he was trying to see how long he could fight off the sedation for. Only then did John notice the Chief and attempt to sit up and salute, but find himself unable to. He said that he knew this must be one of the Chief's exercises, but asked Halsey if just this once, she could tell him how to win. Halsey told him that he would win if he survived. The various augmentations, under the purview of Project: ASTER, were carried out the following day, though some preliminary work had begun by 1552 hours on the ninth. With the assistance of surgeons, biotechnicians, and automated robotic machinery, the surgical procedures John endured included occipital capillary reversals, the carbide ceramic ossification of his bones, the insertion of a catalytic platinum thyroid implant, injections to enhance muscle strength and endurance, and the fibrification of neural dendrites to make them superconductive. He also was treated with gene therapy and underwent transgenic hybridization.
When the procedures had been completed, only thirty-three of the teenagers had ostensibly been augmented successfully. As far as John was made aware, twelve others had been injured during the operations so severely that they would be unfit to be Spartans and the remaining thirty had died. The truth, conversely, was that those pronounced dead were in fact cryogenically preserved in the hopes that they could be revived later, and some of those that were crippled would go on to be rehabilitated and join the ranks of Spartan-IIs in the future. But at midnight at the start of March 30, John had been made to believe that forty-two of his people had become casualties. The thirty-three to have officially come through the procedures unharmed and the twelve to have been grievously injured both gathered together at that point within the missile launch bays of the UNSC Atlas, an Epoch-class heavy carrier heading for the Lambda Serpentis system. Adorned in black dress uniforms, they bid farewell to what they thought were twenty-nine of their lost brothers and sisters as stainless steel canisters were ejected into space. John and the others saluted in unison. When orderlies began to wheel away the dozen who could not move on their own, John stopped them to ask where they were taking his men. At this, Mendez requested a moment with John and advised that he let them go, assuring him that the Navy would continue to care for them and offer them opportunities to serve as they were able. John relented and then asked what the orders Mendez had for he and the others. The Chief commanded two full days of bed rest to be followed by microgravity physical therapy aboard the Atlas until they had all fully recovered. The surgeries had been performed twenty days ago but John was still dealing with regular headaches, pain and bleeding in his eyes, aching bones, and general clumsiness as he adapted to his new physical form. Mendez also informed John that in the days ahead Déjà planned to run the teens through some dropship pilot simulations and to cover some more organic chemistry and complex algebra, as long as they were up to the challenge. Before they separated, John asked what he must have done wrong as Squad Leader to lose so many of his soldiers. Mendez walked with him to a view screen where they could observe the canisters as they vanished into the void and told him that a leader must be willing to send those under his command to their deaths. He made sure John understood that there was difference between spending lives and wasting them, however. John openly wondered whether the majority of the trainees' lives had just been spent or wasted and got no answer from Mendez. Sam joined him once Mendez had gone and guessed at what the Chief had said to him, surmising that it had amounted to telling John to accept his duty and "suck it up". John angrily rebuffed Sam's suggestion, saying that it sounded nothing like Mendez, and when Sam invited him to go to the shooting range later, he instead went off on his own to hit the gym.
For the next three weeks, John and the others were put through a routine of stretching, isometric exercises, and light sparring. They were also under orders to consume five high-protein meals per day, each followed by mineral and vitamin injections in the ship's medical bay. The Atlas was patrolling the Lambda Serpentis system by April 22 and it was on this date that John first meant to resume weightlifting. He visited the carrier's gym at 0430 hours to find it empty. John initially began with arm curls and then moved on to the leg machine, but in both cases discovered that the weights felt far lighter than they should have. In order to correct for this, he had to use all the machines on the side of the rotating conical space that simulated two times Earth-normal gravity. When he moved on to use a speed bag, he found that it seemed to move far slower than it should from his perspective. In order to ensure it was indeed he that had changed and not various parts of the gym that were off, John took a pin from the locking collar on a bench press and dropped it where there should be one standard gee of acceleration toward the floor. Four orbital drop shock troopers entered the gym after John's experiment and before long one whom had lay down to use the bench press had all the weights slide off one side of the bar. John apologized, since he had been the one to remove the pin, and was met in return with hostility from the men. Two on either side of him grabbed his arms and another moved to put him in a headlock from behind. John responded by breaking one of the ODST's nose and slipping away just as their sergeant called for everyone to stand down. The sergeant suggested that if they wanted to fight, they should do it inside a nearby boxing ring, so John climbed up and slipped through the ropes immediately. The largest ODST joined him there. By this point a number of other troopers had entered the gym as well and were watching. John began by striking the man twice in the face and then breaking some of his floating ribs with a hook. He brought his heel down on the man's knee and after three more punches he was dead. Aghast at the shocking display, the three others who had come in with him all rushed the ring at once, one wielding an iron bar as a weapon. John wrenched the bar from its owner, breaking his wrist and shattering his spine in the process, and used a single kick to crush the genitals and break the pelvis of another. The last man was sent flying over the top of the ropes when John swung the bar at his chest, stopping his heart. All had been taken out in less than five seconds. John heard the voice of Chief Mendez calling for him to cease. The Chief directed the bewildered sergeant to report to Ops for debriefing and then told John his workout was over for the day. Unbeknownst to John, the sergeant, or the ODSTs, the confrontation had been engineered by ONI as a test of his augmentations. John let the Chief know that he had been confused as to whether he should treat the ODSTs as teammates or targets, but Mendez assured him that he had been right to neutralize what had been threats to his person. John had followed the chain of command and protected himself, and Mendez reiterated that these were to always be chief among his priorities. John retired to shower and rinse the blood from his body, not giving the two dead and two injured men a further thought.
Once the Spartans were returned to Reach, it became evident that the facilities they had used up until that point would no longer be suitable for training. On the first day back, three trainers were killed during hand-to-hand exercises. On September 10 John and the thirty-two others were relocated to a titanium mine that had been used to store Mark I powered exoskeletons. The teens were put through a number of exercises against trainers who now wore the exoskeletons for their safety. And though they hadn't left the cavernous room they'd been dropped into, by the next day they had somehow acquired a length of rope and black suits that made completing their objectives easier. In addition, they continually managed to locate hidden cameras to disable them. Halsey visited on the eleventh shortly after 0930 hours to observe their progress and got to witness John dropping into a bunker during a game of Capture the Flag, where he sent one trainer flying eight meters with a kick and disabled another's exoskeleton with a flurry of strikes. John also managed to dodge a barrage of stun rounds fired at close range before ripping the 30mm minigun from the suit and using it against its owner.
At 0400 hours on September 12, 2525 the teens were mustered and ordered aboard the UNSC Pioneer, a Halberd-class destroyer bound for the Eridanus system. They gathered within the Pioneer's briefing room while in transit at 0600 hours and by 0605 were greeted by the entrance of Halsey and Mendez. Halsey informed them that word had come down from Fleet Command permitting the first real mission for the Spartans. A team would be tasked with infiltrating an insurgent base in the Eridanus asteroid belt thought to be harboring United Rebel Front leader Robert Watts. In order to find the asteroid the rebels had been using, they would need to stow away aboard the Laden, a Parabola-class freighter that would be departing dock over Eridanus II in just six hours. The ship was slated for routine recertification of its engines, but its current manifest and its captain betrayed it as almost assuredly being set to deliver supplies to the hidden insurgent base. For this mission, codenamed Operation: TALON, John was promoted to Petty Officer Third Class and given his pick of whom to bring with him to complete it. He chose Sam, Linda, Kelly, and Fred and told the rest that they would have the harder job of having to stay behind. Over form-fitting body armor, each member of the mission donned grease-stained blue coveralls that matched what the crew of the Laden wore. John told the other four to stock up on their own preferred gear and weaponry at the destroyer's weapons locker on the condition that save for Linda's SRS99C-AM, everyone use weapons that fired .390-caliber ammunition so they could share their collective supply. John took an MA2B assault rifle, a combat knife, and five ammo clips. In addition, he would carry a panic button—a tiny single-shot emergency beacon that could mark the location of the base for the UNSC or alert the Pioneer via a prowler on standby that they needed rescuing.
After disembarking at the space dock above Eridanus II at 0300 hours, the Spartans slipped past the lone guard in the freighter's cargo bay and took up residence in its deserted central rotating section. It made for a perfect hiding spot, as the large volume of water that ringed its inner surface masked their thermal signatures and blocked any motion sensors which might have detected the five of them otherwise. Through the ship had originally been scheduled to leave on the twelfth of September, it was not until shorty after 1210 hours on September 14 that it finally departed from dock. John checked in with the UNSC Athens, the prowler on standby, shortly before it left via a secure burst transmission. He let the prowler know that they were in position and would send another update at 0400 hours the next day. John and the others rigged support nets among the upper girders in the center of the spinning tank. Kelly was able to determine that their ETA was in around ten hours, so John gave instructions to sleep in shifts. Kelly additionally was able to pull up the Laden's cargo manifest, which exhibited several luxury items almost certainly meant for Watts or his officers. John decided to tag the items in question so they could track them once they docked with the asteroid hideout. Fred expressed some doubts about the mission but John reassured him by reminding him that every task they'd been assigned in training had been accomplished successfully. John lay down to sleep, telling Kelly to wake him in four hours. While he slept, John dreamed that he was alone in a desert environment when suddenly Kelly appeared before him, her face covered in blood. When she spoke, he was then faced with the real Kelly, who was waking him up to let him know they had begun to decelerate and would evidently be arriving sooner than initially expected. John commanded all lights to be shut off before he popped a hatch above them to take a peek with a fiber optic probe. Seeing that the space above was clear, they all entered it and rappelled ten meters to clear the tank. Once they were free from the spinning section, they changed into their disguises and made sure all weapons and other pieces of equipment were stowed in duffel bags. The arrival of simulated gravity once they reached the cargo bay signaled that the Laden had docked to a spinning body larger than itself. Kelly led them to the crate of luxury goods and John, Linda, and Sam stood guard while she and Fred planted a tracking device inside it. John came very close to shooting a dockworker that almost noticed them, but the man moved on and John kept his finger from pulling the trigger of his MA2B. After confirming he could track the crate through his helmet's HUD, John stowed it and led the others onto the base. The Spartans casually made their way to the dock's public showers to discuss their next moves. John decided the showers would serve as their fallback position and that a Pelican they'd noticed on the dock would be their chosen means of escape. Slipping on his helmet showed that the crate was on the move, so John had Blue Team move further into the city in pursuit. After pinpointing it one more time in an alley which they ducked into, he could see it was now being carried on a robotic tram. Following it at a discrete distance led them to a twelve-story building, where John and the others saw three men unload it and carry it inside.
Two guards flanked the outer doors to the building. John gave Kelly the go-ahead to approach them. She surprised one man by grabbing his rifle and twisting, yanking him inside the building in the process. John got the drop on the second guard and snapped his neck from behind. Both corpses were hid out of view as everyone shrugged out of their coveralls and put on their helmets. On the other side of another set of doors, John and Linda took down five individuals, with John specifically killing two uniformed guards near an elevator. He then directed his team to take the stairs all the way to the top floor, where the tracker showed the crate of items had been taken to. After nine double flights of stairs, John determined that they would need a better entrance once they reached the final floor due to the distribution of the thermal signatures detected on it. He had his team cross an empty hall on the ninth floor to the elevator and then proceed to climb up the cable extending the length of the shaft. At the top, he counted down from three before yanking the doors open with Sam. Within, five armed guards were taken by surprise and killed quickly by Linda, Kelly, and Fred. John could see that the navigation marker they had followed was behind a door in the room they were. Without only the slightest hesitation, he kicked it in and came face-to-face with three more guards and behind them, Colonel Robert Watts. John couldn't risk hitting their target, so he was forced to dive to cover instead of opening fire. In the process three rounds from the URF guards found their mark, with one penetrating his suit and pinging off his ribs. Undeterred, John rolled to his feet and fired a three-shot burst into one of the men's forehead from his new position off to the left. The other Spartans were able to similarly do away with the other two, leaving only Watts. From behind a wet bar, John signaled Sam and Fred to fire over Watts' head so that he ducked. John vaulted over the bar at this and jumped on top of the rebel leader, wrenching his pistol away and breaking one of his index fingers and one of his thumbs in doing so. John then chocked the colonel into near-unconsciousness so Kelly could easily administer a dose of polypseudomorphine to sedate him. She followed this by injecting biofoam into John's wound so that he would be stable for a few more hours and helping him up from where he had collapsed after taking down Watts. John directed his Spartans to seal Watts inside the crate from the Laden as he secured a rope to an outer balcony and used it to rappel down into an alley. The others followed suit with the crate in tow once he signaled the coast was clear.
They all put their coveralls back on and entered the building adjacent to what had apparently been a barracks of some kind for the URF. They exited half a block away and walked briskly back to the showers at the docks. John made everyone check the seals on their suits and sent Sam off with C-12 to create an exit. After pinging the Atlas and tossing the panic button into an empty locker, he and the others hijacked the stolen Pelican noted earlier. A series of explosions at the end of the dock tore through and airlock door and the emergency doors that tried to seal the breach. The explosive decompression that resulted sent many workers and others tumbling into the vacuum of space outside. Once Sam had caught back up with them, the Pelican blasted away from the station. John ordered Sam to check on the status of their prisoner at five minutes out and was satisfied to hear he was still alive. Kelly reported that they had two hours before they would reach their extraction point. She could tell John was bothered by the loss of life they had caused among the civilians on the asteroid, but John pushed his feelings away and told her nothing was wrong because they had won. John was later awarded the Purple Heart for the wound he had sustained during the mission.
The Pioneer did not return to Reach until November 2 of 2525. John rode a Pelican to the military complex on the surface with the other members of Blue Team and was met by Chief Mendez, who told them they were to assemble in the amphitheater with haste. There, at 0600 hours all thirty-three Spartans gathered, in their dress uniforms, to hear from Vice Admiral Michael Stanforth. John sat in the third row. All the Spartans rose and stood at attention when Mendez entered and remained standing until Stanforth gave them permission to be seated. The Admiral informed the teenagers that the Outer Colony of Harvest had been annihilated some time ago by what appeared to be alien attackers. The adversary responsible called itself "the Covenant" and had broadcast a message announcing that the destruction of humanity was the will of its gods. John stood to ask whether the language had been translated after the message was played for them but was told that it had been originally broadcast by the aliens in English. Stanforth told them that the UNSC had been ordered to full alert and that the largest fleet action in human history was being mobilized in response. And because of the UNSC-wide mobilization, the Spartans' training was to be accelerated to its final phase: Project MJOLNIR. The briefing on the new threat and the UNSC's reaction to it concluded, Stanforth then let them all know that Mendez would be leaving them to begin the training of a second class of Spartans.
John called for everyone to stand and salute the Chief a final time. Mendez made his way over to John once everyone began to disperse so they could talk briefly alone. He asked him to recall what options existed when facing a stronger opponent and John answered that one could attack their weakest point swiftly and forcefully before they had a chance to retaliate or one could choose to retreat. The Chief reminded him that a third option existed: surrender. He warned John that surrender might eventually seem like the most reasonable choice for many, but that for people like them, it was never an option. Before he left for the final time, Mendez returned the quarter that had been taken from John the day he had arrived as a child. John thanked him. Mendez told John it had been an honor to serve with him and instead of saluting, simply shook his hand before saying goodbye.
By November 6, all the Spartans had departed Reach aboard the Paris-class heavy frigate UNSC Commonwealth. The next three weeks were spent handling a variety of minor missions under the guidance of Doctor Halsey on their way out to Chi Ceti IV on the edge of UNSC-controlled space. All of the Spartans worked together to put down multiple insurrectionist factions on Jericho VII and also to remove a black market bazaar near the Roosevelt military base. During the final of these deployments in which Blue Team worked together as a singular unit, John sustained severe injuries to his shoulders and his right flank. It was at 1750 hours on November 27 that the Commonwealth finally emerged in real space in the Chi Ceti system. During the last leg of the journey through slipspace, John had used the ship's education database to look up the word Mjolnir and determined the project must concern some sort of weapon. Immediately after their arrival in the system Halsey summoned John to the bridge. Before he left the bunkroom where the thirty-two other Spartans were, he told Sam to get everyone ready in case they were needed soon. John took an elevator, saluting Captain Wallace and nodding to Halsey once he arrived. The doctor called his attention to a screen displaying deconvoluted radar signals, including one that may have been a ship eighty million kilometers away. In the event that the anomalous ghost on the radar signal signified a Covenant vessel, Captain Wallace ordered all hands to battle stations. Halsey let John know that they needed to take the frigate's dropship to the surface of Chi Ceti IV to get to Project MJOLNIR at the Damascus Materials Testing Facility in Vhalkem. John accordingly relayed this information to Sam and told him to have everyone mustered in Bay Alpha with a Pelican ready for drop in just fifteen minutes. With barely any warning, an alien ship suddenly emerged from slipspace just three thousand kilometers of the Commonwealth's prow. John could only watch as the frigate was forced into battle against a sleek craft a third its size but with much better defenses. John finally spoke up after they had sustained a significant amount of damage and suggested that Captain Wallace direct GA-TL1 Longswords to distract the enemy to but them time to offload the Spartans and Halsey at Chi Ceti IV. Wallace agreed to sacrifice Longsword Squadron Delta to fulfill their mission as they neared the planet and asked that those going to the surface try to rendezvous in orbit by no later than 1900 hours.
After landing, it took around fifteen minutes for a freight elevator to carry Halsey and the Spartans down into the depths of Chi Ceti IV, finally depositing them in an underground hangar at around 1845 hours. There, the doctor introduced them to Project MJOLNIR, an initiative to outfit each of them with the most advanced armor ever created by humans in the modern era. Halsey walked the teenagers through the various ways Mjolnir armor would improve their abilities in combat but also made sure they each understood the risk they would be taking by agreeing to use it. Tests with unaugmented volunteers given the armor had ended catastrophically and computer modeling for the Spartans had been insufficient, meaning that whether their enhancements would actually allow them to use the armor was still an unknown. Despite the risk, each one of them volunteered at once to be the first to try Mjolnir, but Halsey ultimately decided on John being the one to demonstrate it first. Once a team of technicians had taken fifteen minutes to fit the various pieces in place Halsey asked him to slowly raise one of his arms to chest level, which he managed very carefully. She then coached John through the basics of walking and gradually built up the speed and complexity of his motions. After fifteen minutes, John could walk, run, and jump almost without thinking about the difference the powered armor made to his movements. Doctor Halsey directed him to try running through a nearby obstacle course with the armor while the remainder of the Spartans were fitted with theirs. On the course John leaped over a three meter high wall, shattered concrete targets with punches, sunk knives up to their hafts when thrown into target dummies, and even felt confident enough to let bullets deflect off his armor. To his own amazement, he even dodged one or two of the rounds when he tried. The others ran through the course as well, but John could see that there was a lack of coordination to their movements. He expressed his worry regarding this to Halsey, who reassured him they would all get used to the suits soon enough. She let him know that each of them had even been given subliminal training to prepare them during their last trip through slipspace in cryostasis. The Spartans spent thirty minutes drilling in their new armor before Captain Wallace contacted them to say that the they had made contact with the Covenant ship again. Though its slipspace capability was evidently still damaged from the previous engagement, it was moving toward them through normal space. Wallace offered to try to draw the enemy away to buy them more time, but Halsey decided the time had come to fight instead.
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