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Hunt the Truth Episode 07: Who's Listening?

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Mshak Moradi (Recording): Hello?

Benjamin Giraud: Come on, Mshak.

Maradi (Recording): Ah! If you think this is Mshak, think again: It was Mshak!

System: Seventy-one hours.

Giraud: What makes you think that these are funny? What makes him think that these are funny? Alright-this-this is what you choose to leave on your phone for that. I mean- It's not even funny. It's not funny!

Maradi (Recording): Good luck!

Giraud: Mshak, it's, neither of them are funny, they're not even-

Giraud (Voiceover): It had been three days since the Deon bomb. That friendly old boxing coach I'd interviewed, the guy whose facts weren't lining up. Turns out that he'd been dead seven years. Who had I spoken to? I had no idea. Whatever we'd thought this cover-up was, it now seemed like something far more sinister. Ray and Petra did the smart thing: they cut ties and left. Mshak was the only one who hadn't bailed.

Giraud: Oh god, You know what? It's not funny, Mshak-

Giraud (Voiceover): Instead, he'd give me a potential breakthrough. Apparently I was about to be contacted by FERO, a mysterious insurgent with intimate knowledge of ONI's tactics and buried history. That was the good news. The bad news: I'd heard nothing since. FERO was a no-show. Mshak was AWOL, and I'd spent the past seventy-two hours listening to these two ridiculous pre-recorded messages over and over.

Giraud: You know what? Who do you think you're outsmarting?! I'm the only human in existence who wants to find you!

Mshak (Recording): Good luck!

Giraud (Voiceover): *sighs* My team had been reduced to this man. In a weird way, I'd been comforted by the idea of Mshak's constant surveilance. I like knowing that at least somebody was out there, even just to corroborate my existance.

Giraud: Mshak!

Mshak (Recording): Not reaching me!

Giraud: Are you there right now?

Mshak (Recording): -another recorded message-

Giraud: Are you listening?

Mshak (Recording): You ididot.

System: Connection: failed.

Giraud (Voiceover): And now, he was gone. I was beginning to worry something had happened to him.

Giraud: Mshak! Are you listening? Just tell me if you-if you are!

Mshak (Recording): Wait! Is that you-

Giraud: Mshak?

Mshak (Recording): *pants* I'm so glad you got through!

Giraud: Oh man! C-where have you been?

Mshak (Recording): So I could rub it in your face that you're now three full days-

Giraud: Oh come on! Oh my god! Oh my god, if I ever get ahold of him I'm gonna kill him!

Giraud (Voiceover): I'm Benjamin Giraud, and this is Hunt the Truth.

Kurzig: Hey, Ben. It's Ray. Um, listen. Is there any chance we could grab a drink?

Giraud (Voiceover): Okay, I was really glad to hear from Ray. With Mshak MIA, my imagination had been running wild. If anything had happened to either of them or Petra, that was on me. So getting this call was a huge relief. But Ray's never exactly been a "Let's-grab-a-drink" kind of guy. So something must've had him spooked. I rushed over to meet him at this dank dive bar over near his place.

Giraud: So, I'm here with Ray, and uh, a lot of loud, drunk people.

Ray: Think of all them as providing cover, allowing us to talk in secret.

Giraud: Exactly. Exactly. And uh, Ray is aware I'm recording.

Ray: Yes. Uh, I'm trying not to think about it, honestly but-

Giraud: Oh, do-

Ray: It's fine.

Giraud: So, uh, why'd you hit me up?

Ray: Well, my scavenger finally got back to me. He had been waiting on some additional military records on Walker.

Giraud (Voiceover): I did not see that coming. I figured Ray would want to stay as far away from the topic of government cover-ups as possible. But if he was talking, I was all ears.

Giraud: And?

Ray: All the ONI military records still check out.

Giraud: And ONI handles all military records, so...

Ray: Well, almost all.

Giraud (Voiceover): Ray explained that every enlisting soldier as to sign an affidavit that their service was voluntary. That way, later on, if some grieving family member tries to claim it was involuntary, ONI's covered. But the office created to handle all those records is a rubber stamp joke. Of the roughly two-hundred thousand involuntary service claims they've received over the years, they have ruled the exact same way: Family loses, ONI wins. Every single time. The process is so automatic, Ray says, that when his guy pulled the records, it was the first request the system had received from a human being in fifty years. And Ray was giddy, so I knew he was about to deliver the punchline.

Ray: One-hundred eighty days after a soldier's service period ends, the system is supposed to refile the record. From active duty to retired.

Giraud: No.

Ray: Yes.

Giraud: Walker's records weren't retired.

Ray: And, they weren't active either.

Giraud:What?

Ray: Jakob Walker is the only soldier in the entire military database that is neither active nor retired.

Giraud: They missed that? How could they miss that? Nobody checks? 

Ray:Nope. Nobody but me.

Giraud (Voiceover): Ray had caught ONI in a major admin snafu. And I guess he was on a roll, because what he said next blew my mind. Mild-mannered analyst Ray Kurzig had used my recording of Walker's voice as a template to scan the slush for voice matching audio. That was straight-up pirate stuff!

Giraud: You what?! Ray. You're an animal right now! Who are you?!

Ray: Oh you are gonna love what I found, Ben!

Walker (Recording): Get ready to take back the road, Ganymede! This is your chance to be one of the first on the planet to have your very own 'Hog! More than three tons of-

Ray: Here's our boy Jakob nineteen years ago, hocking utility vehicles for some random dealership!

Giraud: Oh my god... it's a commercial?

Ray: Yeah... he's an actor.

Walker (Recording): Visit or call qualified dealer! It's beauty and the beast!

Giraud (Voiceover): I couldn't believe it. I was listening to one of the military sources ONI provided me doing a commercial for a 'Hog dealer on Ganymede! When records had him stationed on the other side of human space. ONI had completly faked Walker. And Ray had caught the stupid bastards red-handed.

Giraud: That's incredible!

Giraud (Voiceover): Sitting there, having that drink, all the fustration and anxiety that had been blaring in face for weeks, started to fade. We ordered another round. Ray was actually being funny! I don't even think we were even talking about the story any more, and for a little bit, I felt...normal. It didn't last though. Implications were percolating in the back of my mind and it wasn't long until it all came roaring back. If Walker's boot camp stories weren't real, then the fog around the Chief's origins extended beyond his fabricated age sixteen enlistment. How far did it go? Where did the truth even begin? All I knew at this point was who I had to speak to the moment I walked out of that bar. It was the only person that Walker's tale had contradicted, and it was somebody I had totally blown off. I just hoped Anthony Petrosky would take my call.

Petrosky: Oh so now, now you want to hear my story, huh?

Giraud: Yeah. Yeah, hey. Look I owe you an apology.

Petrosky: Mhm.

Giraud: When we spoke, I didn't know what to believe and I... I really should have given you the benefit of the doubt.

Petrosky: Ok, ok, ok, just don't- don't get too weird, alright?

Giraud (voiceover): It was awkward, but after a few minutes, Petrosky eventually started warming up.

Petrosky: I, uh... I've been listening to your story.

Giraud: Really? What do you think?

Petrosky: Well, I mean, ONI's lying. It's disgusting-

Giraud: Yep

Petrosky: -ya' know. They just- they just make up whatever the hell they want like we're all stupid or something, ya' know, like "Oh, where's the problem? Deep space? Well lets just throw a glassed planet at it, toss in some Insurrectionist bad guys and story's good to go", ya' know? It's ridiculous. So ridiculous. But all your outer colonies people though, th- the listeners. Man, they're tearing that crap down. It's great. It's great.

Giraud: Oh, I know.

Giraud (voiceover): I knew exactly what question I had to ask Petrosky, but I didn't want to ask it. If I was being honest, I've been avoiding it my entire career. The Spartan program had a dark, dark cloud around its origins. Civilians had no idea, but soldiers had always whispered about it in the ranks. Even the few scattered details I'd gleaned during my years reporting from the front had been enough to convince me that this was one stone I didn't want to overturn. I was embarrassed to admit I'd just avoided it, but I couldn't avoid it anymore. Anthony would tell me everything. I just had to get up the courage to ask and when I did, here's what he said.

Petrosky: Look, all I know is the rumors, but everybody whispers about it. How ONI kidnapping little kids, leaving behind decoys to cover their tracks. Those clones... clones that were doomed to get sick and die. And all the families thought they were burying their kids. But really though, their little kids were now government property, kept by ONI, training to be Spartans for years. And then, when they're barely like teenagers, they start biologically augmenting them, which is just a fancy way of- of saying they tore the kids to pieces and rebuilt them with tech. Whatever tweaks could give the government tactical advantage. Jesus, man. Survival rate on something like that, it... but- but the kids who did live through it, ya' know, ONI eventually cut them loose just... sent them out the clean up the ugly in the galaxy. Ya' know all top secret: "the Spartans are super-classified so hush, hush soldier." But then the Covenant showed up. Earth got a front row seat and all of a sudden you got people throwing parades for them, kneeling at their feet: the pinnacle of humanity. But they're not human. Nobody really knows what the hell is under those Spartan masks, but sure as hell not a hero. It's not a person, whatever they are... it ain't us.

Giraud (voiceover): That was the story I never wanted to hear. I couldn't prove it. I couldn't report it as more than just rumors, but his story was the only explanation I'd heard since this mess began that actually made sense with the facts and it gave ONI more than enough motive to bury the truth, because the truth was a nightmare. The truth was treason, planned and carried out in the shadows with impunity. When you let those in power operate in the dark for long enough, sometimes the dark creeps in. Without checks and balances, it's in our nature to cut corners in the name of efficiency. Trim off pieces of our humanity a chunk at a time, justifying every cut until eventually all your left with is horror. By coming forward, Anthony had just broken a rigid code of silence. I asked him why.

Giraud (voiceover): Don't- don't you have, like a... a code of conduct or something that you have to follow?

Petrosky: Whose code, huh? ONI's? Yeah, I don't care about that. Look, I don't blame that John kid, Master Chief, whatever the hell they call him. Just did as the masters programmed him to do. Now ONI- ONI that's the boogeyman. Some sadist CPO wants to test out his Spartan toy so he oils it up with the blood of my brothers? No man, no I'm not keeping quiet for them.

Giraud: Aren't you afraid of retaliation?

Petrosky: What are they gonna do? Tell me. What, are they gonna make my life suck? Even more than it does? It's too late. I mean, I understand Ben, you haven't- you haven't seen where I live, what my house is like. But let me just tell you this: you might prefer the shelter. I eat canned proteins, man. I am one missed check away from living on the streets all, the damn, time. I got, I got this, I got a titanium arm. Huh? Vets' benefits? On this planet, it's a joke. And this is how they repay me for running through their meat grinder for fifteen years, for laying down your life every damn day for them, and you think I owe them some kind of responsibility to be quiet? No, I don't owe them a damn thing, not after what I've been through.

Giraud: Uh, yeah good thanks. I uh- I got to go. I got to go.

Giraud (voiceover): I'm sure this sounds callous of me but as Petrosky described his hardships, I was drifting away. His story had left me dazed. I said I wasn't feeling well; I had to go. He understood.

Petrosky: I hope it, uh... I hope it helps, ya' know.

Giraud: It did, it did. Thanks.

Giraud (voiceover): I needed to step back and look at the full picture of what ONI had done, but my mind just wouldn't do it. Instead, I was fixated on one odd piece: the doppelgangers made to replace the kidnapped kids. Out of the disgusting quilt Petrosky had laid out, I was stuck imagining the tragic life of one of these clones. They were human, they were created in a lab, altered so their bodies grew painfully fast, their bones stretching by the hour, newborns inflated into six year olds. Someone taught them to walk, to speak. Did their handlers touch them? Did anyone look in their eyes? Did they have names? When it was time, ONI plopped them into some other kid's life, leaving them alone in a dark, unfamiliar room in a bed that was probably still warm. In the morning, a family would walk in, strangers who wouldn't even know to explain any of this to them. No one would comfort them, they were completely lost. And then, these small children would begin to die. Breaking, withering away surrounded by confused heartbroken strangers who were powerless to help them, all the doctors making frantic attempts to stop the spreading rot from eating this little terrified person alive. It was all just desperate wailing against the inevitable and they would be forced to endure all of it, because no one knew the truth, that these children had lived in chaos until they died in excruciating pain because someone had designed them to do just that. The nightmare the clones endured was not a byproduct of ONI's plan, the nightmare was the plan.

FERO: Did you hear an unpleasant story?

Giraud (voiceover): It was still dark outside when I was awakened by that voice. I live alone and someone was calling me from the shadows. "Ben, come in here." I was petrified. Then I realized it was coming in over one of the networks. My communications system had been hacked. I started recording. FERO was finally here. And apparently, she let herself in.

FERO: Did you listen this time?

Giraud: Yes, I did. I feel like if people knew this story, if we could prove the cover-up, it could really start a fire.

FERO: Maybe, but you only have so much reach. With ONI controlling 90% of communication, that fire may take a while to spread, and we're not sure we have that much time, not with what's coming.

Giraud: What? What's coming?

FERO: The anomalies in deep space, your friend Mshak has been tracking. We don't know what it is yet, but it's getting stronger. Pieces are moving out there and we have to move faster.

Giraud: Ok, how?

FERO: There are friendly ears in the UEG, people who have been kept in the dark, many of them with real power, and if they heard your story... they would come down hard.

Giraud: Who are you talking about? Politicians? Wh-who-who's ONI been keeping in the dark?

FERO: There are high ranking senators who don't know about any of this. You need to tell them. Speak truth to power. Get ONI brass in the same room when you do it so they don't have a chance to spin it, and the senators will be able to blow it all up, right there.

Giraud: Ok, but wh-what am I gonna do? Arrange a round table with ONI chiefs and senate leadership? Even if those people ever were in the same room, they wouldn't invite me over to ambush half of them. I don't see the opportunity.

FERO: We create the opportunity.

Giraud: How?

FERO: By creating panic. We give the public a hard truth: ugly information that ONI can't contain.

Giraud: The cover-up, the Spartan program stuff.

FERO: No, that's what will ignite the senators. The public needs a headline, imminent and explosive. Your story will make waves in the outer colonies, but on Earth and everywhere else, it's too complex and historical to cut out the noise. We don't have time for a slow burn. The public needs to hear a simple message: that we all might be about to die... and that's what we'll give them.

Giraud (voiceover): FERO was a force of nature, and something big was about to happen. It would get sympathetic politicians and ONI leadership all in the same room and set the table for me to lay out my proof, expose the cover up... and blow it all open.

FERO: ONI will be right where you want them, and then I'll open the door. And once your in, you go for the throat.

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

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