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Hunt the Truth Episode 05: Out of Time

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Benjamin Giraud: Hi, I'm here to see Michael Sullivan.

ONI receptionist: Do you have an appointment?

Giraud: Uh, yes. I'm Ben Giraud, I have a one o'clock.

Giraud (voiceover): Checking in with the receptionist at the Office of Naval Intelligence is a bizarre formality: announcing myself, her asking me who I was there to see, it was all just an antiquated conversation. Part of their efforts to put a more human face on the operation. In reality, surveillance knew where I had been every minute. Since I had stepped onto the transit back at home. Throughout the morning, as I had made my way from the Boston terminal. This receptionist had likely been prompted with dynamic updates of my exact arrival time, deviations from my optimal course, bathroom breaks, my average walking speed, however they did it. They'd been expecting me.

ONI receptionist: I'll let him know you're here, Ben.

Giraud: Okay. Thank you.

Giraud (voiceover): The whole ONI facility was sleek and stark; everywhere you look, its sharp lines, the highest quality materials. Most striking though was the overwhelming amount of space and silence. This waiting area was particularly sparse. Two, minimalist carbon fiber chairs set twenty feet from each other. I also noticed the seats seemed oddly low to the ground. I picked one, and sat down. This chair was really low to the ground. It was awkward. I was probably looking at sixty to ninety minutes of customary wait time here, and squatting like this was not gonna help my anxiety level. But I was just pulling up some busy work, when the door behind reception suddenly slid open.

ONI receptionist: Ben, mister Sullivan will see you now.

Giraud: Now?

ONI receptionist: Yes.

Giraud (voiceover): I awkwardly struggled up from the chair and crossed the room. My heart was racing.

Giraud: Uh, thank you.

Giraud (voiceover): She didn't respond... I stepped into a narrow, empty hallway full of closed doors. I was about to turn around and ask where I was supposed to go but the door immediately closed behind me. The lighting in the hallway shifted, indicating a closed door at the far end. I walked down the hallway pass what I assumed were offices. Everything was soundproof though; so I had no idea if there were actually people working in there. When I got to the end of the hall, Sullivan's door opened at the last possible second. When I walked in Sullivan didn't look up. He was sitting behind his desk and intently working on his COM pad.

Giraud: Hey.

Sullivan: Ben, I'm glad you made it.

Giraud (voiceover): I stood there awkwardly for a bit. I realized that this must be the room he'd always talked to me from. It was furnished as minimally as the rest of the building. There were was a few shreds of actual personality on display behind him though. A couple of knick-knacks, and this antique simulated analog clock. Sullivan still hadn't looked up.

Giraud: Should I uh... should I...

Sullivan: Make yourself comfortable.

Giraud (Quiet): Ok. Yeah.

Giraud (voiceover): He continued swiping on his COM pad. I sat down on the chair, just like the other one, my knees were at my ears. I felt oddly far from his desk too. I tried some small talk.

Giraud: So I didn't take you for a antiques guy, Sullivan. Wh-Where did you get the clock?

Sullivan: Oh, I always had it.

Giraud: Nice, nice. So um...

Sullivan: How's the story, Ben?

Giraud: It's good. It's good.

Sullivan: You getting what you need?

Giraud: Absolutely.

Sullivan: Wanna make sure you get all your uh... your questions answered.

Giraud: Great, no th-, well, uh yeah, yeah, I-uh, I am. I mean um...

Sullivan: Perfect.

Giraud (voiceover): I was still desperately trying to figure out what was happening, when Sullivan stopped swiping. He looked up at me for the first time and he had this little twinkle in his eye.

Sullivan: There is someone who would like to talk to you, Ben.

Giraud (voiceover): I'm Benjamin Giraud, and this is Hunt the Truth. Sullivan was walking fast and I was trying to keep up. The buildings were all connected underground, and the whole complex was far bigger than it had seems outside. As he led me deeper into the maze, the feel gradually became less corporate and more military, and the more military it got, the more nervous I was getting.

Giraud: Did'n- didn't realize they let civilians in this far.

Sullivan: It's a special day Ben.

Giraud (voiceover): Sullivan's department seems almost vacant, but now there were more and more people moving through the halls. Mostly in uniform, they didn't speak or look up, they just stared down at their COM pads like Sullivan, swiping as they walked. The ice cold efficiency of everything was striking.

Sullivan: We're here.

Giraud (voiceover): Sullivan led into a large, dark conference room and the door closed behind us. In the center of it, there was massive, well lit conference table with several chairs around it. Beyond the lights, the edges of the space and high ceiling, faded into shadow.

Sullivan: Have a seat.

Giraud (voiceover): I did as I was told, and sat into one of the chairs. It automatically sank beneath me. I squinted into the darkness, and made out one of the walls was entirely black glass. Probably for observation.

Sullivan: Need any water?

Giraud: Uh, no uh, I'm uh, I'm all good, I'm all good, thank you. Who am I um...

Sullivan: Oh do you need to do a mic check or anything?

Giraud: A m- mic check, mic check? Are we...

Sullivan: I want to make sure you get all of this.

Giraud: Get all of... what? Listen I just...

Sullivan: Relax, Ben, this is gonna be big.

Giraud: Sully, I just wanted to say that I uh...

Sullivan: Ben, he's about to walk in, focus.

Giraud: Sully, Sully I just, I just wanted to say that I had every intention...

Sullivan: May I present to you Senior Chief Petty Officer Franklin Mendez.

Mendez: Hi Ben, how are you?

Giraud (voiceover): I stood up, the man who walked in was extraordinarily decorated. Gold Stars, Silver Stars, Bronze Stars, Purple Hearts, The Legion of Honor; he looked gritty and hardened, probably from decades of battle.

Giraud: Good, uh good afternoon sir.

Mendez: Are we gonna talk about the Chief?

Giraud: I uh, I uh...

Sullivan: Mendez is the man who trained the Chief, Ben. I told you I'd take care of you. You're gonna have everything you need for this story.

Giraud (voiceover): It was an interview. This was not at all what I was expecting. I don't know what I was expecting, but it was a high-profile face-to-face. All my anxiety completely evaporated.

Giraud: Right! Yes of course! (laughs) S-so you're the man to talk to when it comes to the Spartans hun?

Mendez: That's correct.

Giraud (voiceover): My conversation with Thomas hadn't been flagged. Petra was right. There was no way Sullivan wouldn't have at least said something. I couldn't believe it. My relief blossomed into full awe. I was about to get a insider's perspective, from the man who personally trained the Master Chief.

Mendez: Yeah, Chief's got a bad habit of jumping out of the dropship instead of waiting for it to land. Let's his armor to absorb the fall, but that's his prerogative at this point I guess. And it gets him a hell of a drop on the enemy.

Giraud (voiceover): No civilian, had ever heard this kind of detail about the Master Chief. Mendez told me that it wasn't long after boot camp that John's unique combination of abilities and drive, established a fledging reputation for the young man.

Mendez: That kid blew me away. His acumen, his mental quickness, his physical abilities, tactical judgment; I could tell even from a young age that John was burgeoning complete package. There was no question in my mind that he was ready for the augmentations, and he couldn't wait.

Giraud (voiceover): Once John had the procedures done, Mendez said everyone was blown away by the results.

Mendez: Medical engineers said his systems integrated flawlessly with the tech, his recovery time was impressively brief, but what was most incredible was how quickly his brain was able to acclimate to the upgrades. It can be like starting from scratch again after those procedures, you're remapping your whole neurology, but while the other guys were still trying to learn to walk, John was running, and jumping, and kicking ass. I'd never seen anything like it.

Giraud (voiceover): This was the birth of the Master Chief, he advanced rapidly, proving himself time and again in the field, constantly re-raising the bar for what a Spartan could be asked to do. Throughout his career, Mendez had gotten to analyze everything these elite soldiers have done in the field. He regaled me with accounts of the Spartans single-handedly taking out dozens of the Covenant. He spoke to the insuperable speed, strength, and accuracy; that continued developing over the years. He spoke to Chief's unwavering dedication, insurmountable will, but according to Mendez it was something else that would ultimately inform, this military legend.

Mendez: I've never seen a man, augmented or not, be able to make such extraordinarily high-stakes decisions so quickly. Chief, would find himself in a complex scenario in a dense field of variables, and almost instantly weigh the costs and benefits immediately generating a creative solution. He faces dilemmas: ethical, tactical, tough situations that would buckle most human beings if they had a year to mull it over, but he makes the call—usually on the fly—and it's the right call, it's extraordinary. Not to mention of course, that he then makes a super human jump onto an enemy craft in midflight, yanks the pilot out of the cockpit, commandeers the bird, and then rams it back down the enemy's throat. The man can execute too.

Giraud (voiceover): Mendez tells me that the Chief has come to expand and deepen the definition of what serving is. In many ways, Mendez thinks it's that decision making ability that sets the Chief apart. It's what makes him a leader. It's what's made him a hero.

Giraud: Wow.

Mendez: I'm glad you're doing this story Ben, it's about time the Spartans finally get their due. People need to understand the level of sacrifice that the Chief and all the Spartans make to keep us safe.

Giraud: You talked a bit about Chief's personality, uh his dry wit, his loyalty. I'm sure you guys don't sit around talking about your feeling much, but uh in- in your opinion, do you think being held at level of responsibility, is hard for him? Protecting a whole galaxy it- it seems like it would be an unimaginable heavy burden.

Mendez: Well lucky for you, you don't have to imagine it, heh. No, it is a heavy burden, but Chief has broad shoulders. He's able to make those decisions and get it done, and he takes on that task willingly and with vigor. It's inspiring.

Giraud: Absolutely, absolutely. It's amazing, but do you think one man should have that much power?

Mendez: You see now, it's your phrasing there that could get you into trouble. It sounds like you're making a presumption that I could find adversarial, which in turn would make your tone condescending, and this conversation decidedly unpleasant. Now that's not something you want son.

Giraud: Uh, no, no, I...

Mendez: Would you like to rephrase the question?

Giraud: Of course, of course, I'm sorry, I uh...

A chime sounds.

Giraud (voiceover): At that moment, the lights suddenly changed in the room, and Sullivan started swiping through his COM pad.

Sullivan: Uhp, uh room's turning over, ah I apologize for the inconvenience gentlemen, but uh, we are about to get a change of venue.

Giraud: I'm sorry, wha- what I, sorry, what I should of said was i-if we're leading these kind of decision in...

Sullivan: Sorry Ben, hold on a second, um looks like we've got access to Jasper nine now, so we can just head down there if that's alright.

Mendez: Fine with me.

Giraud: Okay, okay.

Sullivan: Yeah it's a short walk.

Mendez: Uh gentlemen hold that thought, uh looks like I've got somewhere else I need to be.

Giraud: No problem. I-I can wait.

Mendez: Shouldn't be long, Sullivan can reschedule us for around 1600.

Giraud: Perfect, I appreciate it.

Mendez: You should appreciate what my Spartans did instead. The only reason you're breathing the air you need to even ask these questions, is because they sacrificed more than you'll ever know.

Giraud (voiceover): Mendez split off down the hallway, as a line of large men in suits silently filed past and disappeared into the conference room behind us. Sullivan was on the move again, buried in his COM pad. I followed after him.

Giraud: S-s-Sullivan!

Sullivan: Yep?

Giraud: Yeah, wh-wh-where should I report at-at 1600?

Sullivan: It's not up yet. Let's see, uh, oh no, um, what a minute...

Giraud: What, what?

Sullivan: Looks like we're getting a request for raw, now. Yep.

Giraud: For me?

Sullivan: Yeah you-your shipping raw files off for edit, by mmm, 0900 Thursday.

Giraud: No, hold on, I can't, I can't...

Sullivan: All right.

Giraud: ...ship off the raw files, it's all back at home, it's-I

Sullivan: You just received boarding docs for the five-thirty, that leaves you twenty-four hours to upload when you get back.

Giraud: Wait, I've only done mockups for the first few episodes.

Sullivan: That's editorial Ben, let them worry about it.

Giraud: But wh-wh-what about Mendez then?

Sullivan: That was awesome.

Giraud: But I didn't finish with...

Sullivan: You got amazing stuff from him man, killer interview. Love it, if the other stuff is even half that good the story going full distribution, wide screen.

Giraud: I just, no I'm still in the middle of it though, so I,I can, I can just wait for him, I, Sullivan, Sullivan, I, I, I can wait here and finish the interview with Mendez, I've got time.

Giraud (voiceover): Sullivan stopped walking when I said that. He turned around and walked right up to me. For the first time all day, possibly for the first time ever, I felt like he was giving me his complete, undivided attention.

Sullivan: Ben, you don't have time. You have a deadline and a boarding pass for the five-thirty. Okay?

Giraud (voiceover): In that moment, it dawned on me that perhaps my Waypoint conversation with Thomas Wu had been flagged. Sullivan turned back into Sullivan and kept moving.

Sullivan: Seriously though man amazing stuff, and remember, once this story hits, they're all going to be eating out of your hand. Travel safe. You earned this buddy.

Giraud (voiceover): For those of you that don't speak ONI, that was me getting fired.

Security AI: Your pass will expire in nine minutes.

Giraud (voiceover): And according to the AI, I was no longer a welcomed guest. I was about to take the long trip home. Taking a second interstellar trip, after less than twenty-four hours sucks enough when you haven't just lost your job. Once I was buckled in, all I wanted to do was get some sleep, but as we started to lift off the platform, something was bothering me, actually it was someone.

Giraud (to his COM pad): So there's a guy complaining to the attendant in the next cabin, it sounds like he's on his first trip out of the solar system.

Giraud (voiceover): These long flights to the edges of the inner colonies from Earth always had at least one 'that guy'. Some entitled Earth VIP who feels the need to yell about the outrageous inconveniences of slipspace travel.

Giraud (to his COM pad): So I definitely recognize his voice. It took me a minute, but, that's got to be, him? I think it's Jakob Walker.

Giraud (voiceover): Jakob Walker, the military retiree I'd spoken to a few weeks back. The happy beach bum who'd been in boot camp with John? That didn't make sense though, he was on permanent vacation near Saturn. Walker was the last man I'd expect to see on a flight leaving Earth.

Giraud (to his COM pad): So I'm about to take off here, but I got to know for sure.

Giraud (voiceover): I unfastened the belts, made my way down the aisle, and when I peeked around the partition, I saw him, sitting there, arguing with the attendant, but this man was wearing a suit and tie, and his hair was combed neatly on his head. He looked nothing like the unkempt Walker I saw during our interview. I went for it anyway.

Walker: I'm not trying to be difficult here, but...

Giraud: Jakob?

Walker: ... you can't have air quality this bad and expect it...

Flight Attendant Caroline: I'm sorry sir, but unfortunately there is nothing I can do about the air quality...

Giraud: Ja- Jakob Walker?

Giraud (voiceover): All the color drained out of the man's face.

Flight Attendant Caroline: Sir, you need to sit down.

Giraud: Jakob Walker?

Giraud (voiceover): If you're thinking I was mistaken and I just freaked out some random business traveler, listen to his reaction when I tell him who I am.

Giraud: Ben Giraud, we- we talked a few weeks ago.

Walker: Oh, yeah, course. The old boot camp stories, yeah I remember ya.

Giraud (voiceover): That, was the Walker I remembered.

Giraud: Are you- are you here on business or something?

Giraud (voiceover): Walker bumbled awkwardly in the conversation. He looked like he desperately wanted to get away, but he was stuck there.

Giraud: But wh- wh- wh what are you doing here on Earth?

Walker: Oh, I uh, yeah I'm just, you know, taking a little trip.

Flight Attendant Caroline: Sir, we are airborne, please take your seat.

Giraud: I- I thought you were retired.

Walker: Yeah, yeah I am, that's right, but oh hey Ben...

Giraud: I- I- I mean I thought you were permanently stationed on a beach.

Walker: Yeah, I...

Flight Attendant Caroline: Sir, last warning, you need to sit down immediately.

Giraud: Okay, hold on a second alright.

Flight Attendant Caroline: No, you're done.

Giraud: No, just, take, don't touch, what are you doi...

Giraud (voiceover): That's when the flight crew sedated me. I blacked out, and my conversation with Walker was over. I woke up in the terminal, back at home with a pounding headache. By the time I got back to my place, I had a nasty surprise in my inbox too. It was an order from the Inner Territories Transportation Administration.

Giraud: Notice of Violation: Benjamin Giraud this is to inform you that attached is a ITTA order assessing several penalties for the in-flight incident. What? Oh god, they're fining me 50,000 Credits?

Giraud (voiceover): At least ONI was paying me well for this story. I checked the time, I still had twenty-three hours to deliver the raw files to Sullivan. That left me ample opportunity to tuck tail, and follow orders. I may have been fired, but I wanted the next job, so I needed to just put all of this ugliness behind me. This story was going to be someone else's problem now. I was queuing everything up to send off to Sullivan, when I noticed my COM pad was still recording. It had been recording the whole time. The file was massive, I scanned by to the beginning, most of it was me sleeping, but then I heard something I hadn't remembered happening. It was right after the flight crew had put me down.

Walker (recording): Yeah, I...

Flight Attendant Caroline (recording): Sir, last warning, you need to sit down immediately.

Giraud (recording): Okay, hold on a second alright.

Flight Attendant Caroline (recording): No, you're done.

Giraud (recording): No, just, take, don't touch, what are you doi...

Giraud (voiceover): They hit me with the sedative, but then, this happened.

Walker: We'll take it from here.

Flight Attendant Caroline: Wait, what?

Flight Attendant: Just let them do their job, Caroline.

Walker: Mr. Giraud, you are legally obliged by ITTA regulations to comply with crew member instructions at all times.

Giraud (Slurred): Wait a minute, what did you jus- what did you just do to me?

ONI Personnel: Grab his feet.

Walker: Hit him with another half of...

Giraud (voiceover): More sedative? No wonder I felt so awful.

Giraud (more slurred): Wait what did you just do to me- what did you just do to me?

Walker: You'll be fine Ben.

Giraud (voiceover): Ben, they called me. I scrubbed through the rest of the recording, this is them carrying me through the transfer terminal, to my connecting flight.

Walker: Yeah, he'll be out for another twelve, we're good.

ONI Personnel: What the hell was he doing on that flight?

Walker: I don't know, but...

ONI Personnel: The no intersect was max priority here. How could that even happen? The system shouldn't even let you cross itineraries like that.

Walker: Yeah, it's bad, and Sullivan is going to here about it.

Giraud (voiceover): They had to be talking about Walker and me, but why? They didn't want me to know he was on Earth for some reason. They loaded my limp body into the shuttle, propped up, and strapped me in. They even said goodbye.

Walker: Have a safe trip, 'Ben'.

Giraud (voiceover): Ben, like they knew me.

Walker: C'mon let's get outta here.

Giraud (voiceover): I played the recording again and again, I sat their listening to it, over and over. I spent my career working for these people, doctoring photos, trimming threads, making tragedies a little less tragic, and patriotic stories a little more inspiring. I'd always taken every story they fed me, and obediently vomited it back out to the masses. And to be honest, I'd always been okay with that in the end of the day. Even on this story, after all the accusations of atrocities, all the gaping factual holes, I was just supposed to ignore, I'd still been willing to play along. I wish I could say it was my principals, or some moral stand that finally set me off, but it wasn't, it was my pride. Listening to that recording, the way they tossed me aside, every time they called me 'Ben', I checked the time, I only had a few hours left to turn in files if I wanted to keep on Sullivan's clock for the story. I cancelled the transfer. I was going to take that time for myself. I sat down in front of this very microphone, recording a quick intro, and uploaded the beginnings of my story, the real story of the Master Chief, loose threads and all, into the galaxy.

Walker: Have a safe trip, 'Ben'.

Giraud (voiceover): Please join me for the next episode, of Hunt the Truth.

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