Over the course of their training, the young Spartan-IIs forged powerful bonds of friendship and came to see each other as family – which in turn created a level of unit cohesion and efficiency that had never before been seen in the UNSC. This was a primary goal of the program, and subsequently helped maintain the Spartans’ psychological and emotional health throughout their lives.
After seven years of rigorous physical conditioning and top flight military education, the 14-year-old Spartan-IIs underwent their augmentations. A series of extensive surgical procedures that would increase their already above-average strength, speed, and intelligence (along with various other improvements to their physical and mental constitutions). However, the surgeries were not without high risk. In the end nearly half of the 75 Spartan-II trainees died as a result of complications, while a dozen others were crippled.
In spite of this gut-wrenching loss, the core members of Blue Team survived and progressed in their recoveries. And soon after would be put to the test in their first official mission in the field – giving us a prime example of John-117 and Kelly-087′s trust in each other and how that plays an integral role in their team’s success.
Into the Fire
After their rehabilitation is largely complete, the Spartans are assigned to infiltrate an insurrectionist stronghold and capture a rebel Colonel (‘The Fall of Reach’, chapter nine). John-117 leads the strike team, partnering with Kelly-087 and Sam-034 (naturally), and selecting Fred-104 and Linda-058 to join the mission as well. John assesses his teammates as they examine and prepare their equipment before being deployed, and his comments about Kelly are interesting for a few reasons:
Kelly, in contrast, had taken the longest to recover. She stood in the corner with her arms crossed over her chest. John had thought she wasn’t going to make it. She was still gaunt and her hair had yet to grow back. Her face, however, still had its rough, angular beauty. She scared John a little, too. She was fast before…now no one could touch her if she didn’t allow it.
What strikes me is John’s use of one particular word: “beauty”. This is the first and only time in canon we see him use this word to describe anyone. And his comments about Kelly’s physical condition prior to that remark make it stand out all the more; even when she is still suffering from some of the ill-effects of the augmentations, John finds Kelly beautiful. The word beauty, by definition, also implies a level of aesthetic value beyond simply what is visible on the surface. Which we can gather from his next statement as he notes just how impressive her enhanced speed has become – enough so that he says what she is capable of scares him. And considering what it takes for a Spartan to be scared, I would say John could regard her skills no higher. This is one reason why I enjoy their relationship so much. John acknowledges and respects Kelly in her entirety; as both a beautiful woman, and as one of the most deadly soldiers under his command.
The Spartans successfully board a rebel supply ship that will take them to their destination (‘The Fall of Reach’, chapter ten). While stowing away in the water tank, an exchange between Kelly and John shows how well they’ve come to know each other and how they are comfortable having a relatively playful and informal conversation even when in the midst of a mission:
“I’ve got something,” Kelly whispered, and handed him her data pad.
It displayed the cargo manifest for the Laden. John scrolled down the list: water, flour, milk, frozen orange juice, welding rods, superconducting magnets for a fusion reactor…no mention of weapons.
“I give up,” he said. “What am I looking for?”
“I’ll give you a hint,” Kelly replied. “The Chief smokes them.”
John flicked back through the list. There: Sweet William cigars. Next to them on the manifest was a crate of champagne, a Beta Centauri vintage. There were fast-chilled New York steaks, and Swiss chocolates. These items were stored in a secure locker. They had the same routing codes.
“Luxury items,” Kelly murmured. “I bet they’re headed straight for a special delivery to Colonel Watts or his officers.”
“Good work,” John replied. “We’ll tag this stuff and follow it.”
John trusts Kelly’s intuition on this so much that from thereon out their entire strategy to locate Colonel Watts hinges on it. Once their ship has docked and the supplies they’re following marked with a tracking device, Kelly takes point for the majority of their traverse through the base. She is also the team’s designated hacker, and is the first Spartan to neutralize a rebel guard – with John acting as her back-up:
Kelly glanced at John. He nodded, giving her the go-ahead.
She approached the two guards, smiling. John knew her smile wasn’t friendly. She was smiling because she was finally getting a chance to put her training to the test.
Kelly waved to the guard and pulled open the door. He asked her to stop and show her identification.
She stepped inside, grabbed his rifle, twisted, and dragged him inside with her.
The other guard stepped back and leveled his rifle. John sprang at him from behind, grabbed his neck and snapped it, then dragged his limp body inside.
The entry room had cinderblock walls and a steel door with a swipe-card lock. A security camera dangled limply over Kelly’s head. The guard she had dragged in lay at her feet. She was already running a cracking program on the lock, using her data pad.
John retrieved his MA2B and covered her.
From there the Spartans continue to discreetly make their way through the compound, each member of the team working together flawlessly. They hit a snag however when they finally corner Colonel Watts. They are able to take out his guards and apprehend Watts without killing him, but John is shot during the brief firefight. Along with being the hacker and the scout, Kelly also fills the role of the team’s medic; she tends to John’s wounds with biofoam and patches up his bodysuit:
Kelly went to John and peeled back his black suit. Her gloves were slick with his blood. “The bullet is still inside,” she said, and bit her lower lip. “There’s a lot of internal bleeding. Hang on.” She dug a tiny bottle from her belt and inserted the nozzle into the bullet hole. “This might sting a little.”
The self-sealing biofoam filled John’s abdominal cavity. It also stung like a hundred ants crawling through his innards. She pulled the bottle out and taped up the hole. “You’re good for a few hours,” she said, and then gave him a hand up.
Her concern for him is evident, but she helps keep both him and the team together for the remainder of the mission:
John took out the panic button. He triggered the green-mode transmission and tossed it into an empty locker. If they didn’t make it out, at least the UNSC fleet would know where to find the rebel base.
“Your suit is breached,” Kelly reminded John. “We better get to the ship now, before Sam sets off his fireworks.”
Linda and Fred checked the seals on the crate then carried it out. Kelly took point and John brought up the rear.
The Spartans manage to extract Colonel Watts in a cargo crate without drawing attention to themselves and steal a Pelican from the docks, using high explosives to blast their way through the airlock doors. Kelly also adds pilot to her list of jobs for this mission. With their success all but guaranteed, John can’t help but reflect on the resulting collateral damage of their operation. Kelly senses his physical discomfort, and possibly his moral dilemma as well, but he promptly assuages both their worries:
After five minutes at full power, Kelly eased the engines back. “We’ll hit the extraction point in two hours,” she said.
“Check on our prisoner,” John said.
Sam popped open the crate. “The seals held. Watts is still alive and has a steady pulse,” he said.
“Good,” John grunted. He winced as the throbbing pain in his side increased.
“Something bothering you?” Kelly asked. “How’s that biofoam holding up?”
“It’s fine,” he said without even looking at the hole in his side. “I’ll make it.”
He knew he should feel elated – but instead he just felt tired. Something didn’t sit right about the operation. He wondered about all the dead dockworkers and civilians back there. None of them were designated targets. And yet, weren’t they all rebels on that asteroid?
On the other hand, it was like the Chief said – he had followed his orders, completed his mission, and gotten his people out alive. What more did he want?
John stuffed his doubts deep in the back of his mind.
“Nothing’s wrong,” he said, and squeezed Kelly’s shoulder. John smiled. “What could be wrong? We won.”
I really like the last line of this chapter. There are two things here that happen in quick succession that speak volumes. Firstly, we see John reach out and touch Kelly in a gesture of reassurance and solidarity. This is something we don’t see him do very often, and we know just how much is communicated between Spartans through simple acts of physical contact. This seems even more significant when considering John’s words about Kelly from earlier – no one touches her unless she allows it, and he knows that. Secondly, we then see John smile openly. This is something that also becomes quite rare for him to do as time goes on, but here, after a successful first mission, he is perfectly willing to be free with his expressions. And it is exclusively with Kelly that he shares this moment of triumph. It would be the first of many victories, and sadly even more defeats, that they would endure together in the future.