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Benjamin Giraud: I couldn't believe it. According to the document I was looking at, John, the boy that would go on to become the Master Chief, died 41 years ago. My protagonist, the greatest hero of our time was dead at six. It was a major discrepancy, and I needed to find a way to fix it. I'm Benjamin Giraud, and this is Hunt the Truth.
Operator: Continue to hold.
Giraud: (voiceover) If you ever happen to happen to obtain sufficient clearance to call the Office of Naval Intelligence, you'll be on hold for at least an hour. If you ever happen to get a call from them, you will also wait an hour. And in the end they never unblock the video. So you just end up talking to a really crisp insignia. (waiting for call) I am waiting to talk with Michael Sullivan, hoping he can help me with my little... records problem.
Operator: Continue to hold.
Giraud: And it's been... 85 minutes. (voiceover) Michael Sullivan, also known as Sully, works for the ONI in Public Relations. If it seems odd to you that the most secretive agency in our government has a P.R. department, you're not alone, but that's not something I'd mention to them. Besides, Sully hooked me up with the assignment in the first place. I was grateful for the opportunity.
Operator: (continuing) Office of Naval Intelligence: Public Relations.
Michael Sullivan: Ben!
Giraud: Sully! Yeah, thanks for taking my call.
Sullivan: Absolutely. How are the sources?
Giraud: (voiceover) Up until this point, I'd had no problems with the story. All my facts had been lining up nicely, but now I had an obscure document from the far reaches of the galaxy that listed John as deceased. This contradicted everything. I needed Sully to make it make sense, and thankfully he did just that.
Sullivan: (continuing) Welcome to the Outer Colonies. Nothing makes sense out there.
Giraud: No, I know, it's just, I want to make sure that I button up all the details.
Sullivan: And that's what you're doing! Look, Ben, it's the far reaches of space out there, and the planet you're talking about was glassed to hell. You know just as well as anybody that if there are any local records, they're a mess.
Giraud: (voiceover) Okay, so I felt a little stupid. Sully was right. It's a real problem in the Outer Colonies: planets destroyed by glassing have bad records. Every researcher knows this and every researcher knows that questioning that fact is standard fodder for conspiracy theorists.
Mshak Moradi: It's a cover up! That's government secrecy 101.
Giraud: (voiceover) That's a message I received last week from a man named Mashak Maradi. He's one of many truthers out there who've come out of the woodworks since I started doing this story. Apparently, he heard I was investigating the Master Chief. Mashak seems less ridiculous than most of the characters who have been filling up my inbox, but he's definitely been the most persistent. He's left me a message every day for the past two months. I never respond, but I did find the timing of his last message pretty funny.
Moradi: (continuing) Let me guess, the government is telling you that the records don't make sense because the planet was glassed, right? That's what they tell you!
Giraud: (voiceover) Technically Mashak was right. That was what the government was telling me. But unfortunately for Mashak's theory, it was true. Glassed planets have bad records. John's childhood friend Ellie Bloom has dealt with this reality her whole life. I'd recalled what she'd said in her interview.
Ellie Bloom: I mean, it could be hard enough trying to do business between planets that haven't been glassed. There's so much upheaval. Keeping track of personal records, financial documents, medical records, it's a total crapshoot.
Giraud: (voiceover) In retrospect, I'd probably been asking for this kind of hiccup. Getting cute with the research, opening up a rat's nest of old paper records, and for what? All I dug up from slogging on my own was a few hazy kindergarten stories from Ellie and a nonsensical death record. But thing were looking up. Sully had arranged a face to face interview with ONI Vice Admiral, Gabriella Dvørak. That not only got me off world, but it was onboard the newest Autumn-class heavy cruiser, the UNSC Unto the Breach. Got a private shuttle up, full luxury. They had me riding in style. When I came aboard Dvořák even greeted me personally. Now, civilians aren't normally allowed onboard an active duty ship, let alone given this sort of attention. (starting interview) Uh, I...
Gabriella Dvørak: Please, call me Gabriella.
Giraud: (voiceover) This was not the kind of hospitality I was used to.
Giraud: (continuing) What brings you way out here?
Giraud: (voiceover) She told me she was on a detachment and in the neighborhood. I guess I lucked out. The white glove treatment continued, too. Captain's nest, officers' quarters, the whole thing. By the time we actually got to her office for the interview, Dvořák could have said anything and I'd have been thrilled. But she's the real deal, and she jumped right into it.
Dvørak: (continuing) It was that "finally" moment. After all the fighting was done I was helping lead all of the prisoners out of the containers.
Giraud: (voiceover) As a lieutenant of the UNSC, Gabriella not only took part in the ground operations that freed John and countless others from the rebel labor camps in Elysium City, but she remembered the thirteen year old, as well. She described the liberation:
Dvørak: (continuing) When you saw them, what had been done to them, you realized who you'd been fighting to save. The aftermath of it, well... it was ugly. Every one was streaming out into the daylight squinting, limping, just gray and fragile and sickly. Their... backs were hunched. All their eyes just staring at the ground, and they looked... they looked dead.
Giraud: (voiceover) That's when she saw John.
Dvørak: (continuing) He was sticking out like a sore thumb. In the middle of all this, just beaten humanity there's this tall young kid walking toward me, towering over the others. His shoulders back, his eyes forward, and when he passed me he looked right at me. Looked in my eyes! Yeah, I mean that doesn't sound like much, but that eye contact coming from someone in that moment who'd been in that circumstance... was shocking. He looked malnourished and dehydrated like everybody else, but he was so young. And whatever had broken all these people... it hadn't broken him.
Giraud: (voiceover) In the aftermath, Dvořák remained stationed in Elysium City, working in the refugee camps. From the first day, John stepped up to help Gabriella with her duties. She came to know him well over the next several months.
Dvørak: (continuing) There was a point where he told me about his parents. That they'd been abducted along with him. He didn't say much, but, um... they didn't make it...
Giraud: (voiceover) Her understanding was that it had gotten ugly in there. They died a couple days apart, a few weeks before the liberation, and John was there when it happened. On the rare occasion when John opened up about this, Dvořák says it was memorable.
Dvořák: (continuing) He would get this look on his face when he'd talked about it. I-it's hard to describe. I'd see it on him other times, too. He seemed to feel the weight of all that had happened, but still... he was calm. Not angry, not desperate, just... resolute. He was a remarkable young man.
Giraud: (voiceover) Like so many people at the time in Elysium City, and throughout this region of the galaxy, John had lost his home. His family. Everything. People packed up whatever they had left, got out of town, and most never looked back. But Deon Govender, John's boxing coach, said many of them found a way to get some measure of closure.
Deon Govender: We all got separated and spread across the planet and all the colonies, but some of us were able to cobble together a list of names. I don't know, kind of a memorial. It grew longer as we got more information. I remember seeing John's parent's names on the list early on, but... but not John. After he missed that last practice, I never saw him again but, I remember thinking that's okay. You know, as long as I never see his name on this list. That's okay... and I never did.
Giraud: (voiceover) His will to survive left an impression on then lieutenant, Gabriella Dvořák, as well.
Dvørak: (continuing) I think John just didn't want to be a victim anymore. I remember him telling me he was going to enlist. He said he was gonna make a difference. I've never been more sure of another person than I was of him when he said that.
Giraud: (voiceover) Out of the chaos of war, from the rubble, a young John was able to forge a purpose for himself. A purpose that would drive him to become the hero the galaxy would one need him to be. This is the kind of turn in a story that gives me patriotic goosebumps. I was feeling genuinely moved on my trip back home. When I got there though, Ellie Bloom was going to ruin all of that for me.
Bloom: Hey, I just wanted to follow up with you about your story. I'm really confused.
Giraud: Okay, uh, what's-
Bloom: Remember how I said I was going to tell my friend Katrina about it?
Giraud: Katrina was that other girl in John's neighborhood. The third wheel in Ellie's childhood stories of playing with John. Ellie had moved off planet in 2517, but Katrina had stayed.
Bloom: She said that John was dead. He died when he was six.
Giraud: Wait, what? What?
Bloom: John was perfectly healthy, but then he just started wasting away. At first they thought maybe it was some autoimmune thing and then they thought it was something else and then something else, and meanwhile he's getting all these tests but the doctors couldn't figure it out at all and his parents were panicking. It sounded horrible.
Giraud: (voiceover) Then, John died, just like that. I had no idea what to make of this. Ellie seemed convinced though, so I got her to put me in touch with her friend, Katrina. Katrina wouldn't let me record the interview, but this woman was adamant. I wanted to discount what she was saying, but she seemed to remember it so vividly, providing extensive detail. I couldn't ignore it. As far as this person was concerned, John was dead. Before I could even begin to wrap my head around that claim, though... here was the kicker from Katrina: John's parents were alive and well in Elysium City all the way up until Katrina left the planet in 2528. Four years after their supposed death. She was wrong. She had to be thinking of someone else, or she was lying. Why would she lie, tough? I had to admit, she seemed pretty convincing but, it didn't make sense otherwise. I still thought I could fix the story though. Make the pieces fit, make it make sense... but what I didn't realize was that this crack was only the beginning, and the whole ugly mess was about to split open. Please join me for the next episode of Hunt the Truth.