Two Hundred And Four Reasons: Part 4 – Unwavering Trust

In the wake of the loss of their mutual best friend and teammate Samuel-034, John-117 and Kelly-087 continued to operate as the foundation on which SPARTAN-II Blue Team would be built. Over the next 27 years, and the team’s various roster changes, John and Kelly remained nigh inseparable. Whether combating the aliens or human insurrectionists, John’s proclivity for leadership coupled with Kelly’s invaluable support skills stood the test of time and trial by fire. And through both victories and defeats, Blue Team achieved almost legendary status within the UNSC, the ranks of their fellow Spartans, and even among their enemies.

Though most of the missions the Spartan-IIs participated in during the years of the Human-Covenant War remain essentially “classified” to this day (with John-117 and Kelly-087 being involved in over 200 military operations respectively – more than any other Spartans), a few of the battles we do have on record demonstrate Blue-One and Blue-Two’s effectiveness as a team. As well as how their partnership helped keep each other grounded throughout their careers.

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Unwavering Trust

In 2531, six years after Sam’s death, Blue Team (still regularly consisting of John-117, Kelly-087, Fred-104, and Linda-058) is finally assigned a new fifth-man: Kurt-051. Their first mission together in the field is to infiltrate a Insurrectionist base on the planet Victoria and retrieve some stolen nuclear warheads (‘Ghosts of Onyx’, chapter one). The mission starts off with no complications and all the members of the team preform their duties without fail. Unfortunately, even with Blue Team’s flawlessly executed strategy, the warheads’ location is revealed to be a set-up designed to capture the Spartans. Using gravity-manipulating technology that cripples their MJOLNIR armor, all but Kurt (who figured out the trap but was unable to warn the others in time) are incapacitated. Upon regaining consciousness, John is taunted by a rebel leader named General Graves – who has taken an interest in the Spartans after their multiple successful counterinsurgency operations. Luckily Kurt is then able to bust in with a Warthog and free his teammates; eliminating Graves in the process. Blue Team then regroups, gathers up the nukes, and makes to rendezvous with the UNSC Pelican intended to pick them up. After a few close calls during their escape, they are extracted safely. It is here John is reminded that gut-instincts are just as important as tactics. And though he wishes to express his gratitude to Kurt, articulating what he wants to say proves difficult. Fortunately for him, Kelly has his back:

CPO Mendez had made then all train so hard, lessons in fire-team integration, target prioritization, hand-to-hand combat, and battlefield tactics were part of their hardwired instincts now. But that didn’t mean the underlying biological impulses were worthless. Quite the opposite.
John set a hand on Kurt’s shoulder, searching for the right words.
Kelly, as usual, articulated the sentiments that John never could. She said, “Welcome to Blue, Spartan. We’re going to make a great team.”

I like the addition of “as usual” here. Implying that Kelly often has the right words whenever John has trouble finding them, and that she knows him well enough to know when to interject. In this way we also see how valuable Kelly is to her friends when it comes to supporting them in other aspects aside from combat. She wordlessly takes the pressure off John while simultaneously extending the hand of fellowship to their new teammate – helping to maintain Blue Team’s unit cohesion.

Sadly, Kurt is “removed” from the Spartan-II Program several months later, and for the second time it is left up to John and Kelly to continue on as Blue Team’s core. In 2535 the Spartans are deployed to the planet Jericho VII in an attempt to neutralize the large number of Covenant ground troops (‘The Fall of Reach’, prologue). I already covered the most significant moments showcasing John and Kelly’s teamwork and friendship from this battle in what became the preface to this series of writings, but I think it does merit a quick repeat examination. Once again not only do we see John show Kelly the utmost regard in terms of his confidence in her speed and his ability to rely on her to preform the risky maneuvers their combat strategies often require, but also we see Kelly engaging John in rather casual dialogue about their mission status – showing the level of comfort they have with each other even in the midst of battle. And then later when they are forced to give up their fight, we have this poignant moment where she puts aside her witticisms and speaks honestly to him about her concerns:

Blue-Two took off her helmet and scratched the stubble of her brown hair. “It’s a shame to leave this place,” she said, and leaned against the porthole. “There are so few left.”
The Chief stood by her and glanced out as they lifted into the air – there were wide rolling plains of palmgrass, the green expanse of ocean, a wispy band of clouds in the sky, and setting red suns.
“There will be other places to fight for,” he said.
“Will there?” she whispered.

This makes John and Kelly’s partnership the longest standing relationship that exists in Halo canon in terms of when it was established within the franchise (though their 35 year friendship within in-universe canon is nothing to sneeze at either). Something else about this entire prologue that I find particularly interesting as well is that, out of the five Spartan-IIs compromising Blue Team for this mission, John and Kelly are the only ones that can be identified beyond a shadow of a doubt without either of their names being revealed. Their personalities, skillsets, and the roles they inhabit on Blue Team are simply that distinctive.

Nearly a decade later in 2544, Blue Team is sent on a crucial operation to rescue Dr. Hasley, who was captured by Covenant forces following the battle of Miridem (‘Halo Legends’, “The Package”). As the squad races through a fleet of Covenant ships to reach their objective, Spartans Solomon-069 and Arthur-079 are killed in action. And once inside the flagship, Fred-104 elects to stay behind and fight off a squad of Elites in order to cover John and Kelly as they press forward to get to where Dr. Halsey is being held. Growing desperate, the Fleet Master then elects to scuttle large sections of the ship in an attempt to stop the Spartans’ advance. Kelly easily outpaces John, but she continues to look behind so as not to lose him as he attempts to keep up. As the ship completely falls apart beneath them, and out of surface to run on, Kelly uses the last of her momentum to propel John into the intact portion of the Covenant vessel.

Prior to this moment, we see John cope with the loss of his other 3 teammates with stoic determination, even reminding Kelly to stay focused on the mission when she expresses distress. However, the instant she releases his hand, he desperately calls out to her and continues to reach for her in spite of the futility of such an action. And once he is safely aboard the ship John stops completely, just standing there and facing the sealed doorway to the vacuum of space, and says her name again under his breath. This is quite a significant change in reaction compared to what we saw before, and clearly communicates just how much Kelly means to him and how the possibly of losing her gives him pause. Following his own credo though, he retrieves Dr. Halsey as per the mission demands, and they manage to commandeer an escape pod while being pursued by enemy ships. Help unexpectedly arrives in the form of a Seraph piloted by Fred and Kelly, who have managed to escape unscathed – and they are all picked up by a waiting ONI stealth ship. In spite of their overall success, the cost of this operation was high; and John contemplates needing to be stronger. Luckily though he does not have to do so without Kelly by his side.

Towards the end of the war in 2552, a three teams of Spartan-IIs (Blue, Green, and Red) are deployed to the planet Sigma Octanus IV in an operation to stop the Covenant invasion of several major cities as they search for Forerunner relics, staring with Côte d’Azur (‘The Fall of Reach’, chapter twenty). Right away we see John relying on Kelly as his second in command as he issues her orders to give to the rest of the Spartans:

The Master Chief surveyed what was left of Camp Alpha. There were only fourteen Marine regulars left – balanced against the four hundred men and women who had been slaughtered here.
He said to Kelly, “Post a guard on the dropship, and put three on patrol. Take the rest and secure the LZ.”
“Yes, sir.” She turned to face the other Spartans, pointed, made three quick hand gestures, and they dispersed like ghosts.

As usual John-117 and Kelly-087 are partnered on Blue Team as Blue-One and Blue-Two, with Fred-104 and James-005 as the team’s third and fourth members. And again we see him trusting Kelly with not only carrying the nuke they intend to take into the city to wipe out the Covenant, but also their medical equipment (which unbeknownst to them will come in handy later):

He switched to Blue Team’s frequency. “Time to saddle up, Blue Team,” he called out. “RV back at the bunker for orders.” Three blue lights winked acknowledgement in his display.
A moment later, the other three Spartans in his squad trotted into position. “Reporting as ordered,” Blue-Two announced.
The Master Chief quickly filled them in on the mission. “Blue-Two.” He nodded to Kelly. “You’re carrying the nuke and medical gear.”
“Affirmative. Who’ll have the detonator, sir?”
“I will,” he replied. “Blue-Three.” He turned to Fred. “You have the explosives. James, you’ll take our extra COM equipment.”

As they make their way through the planet’s jungle-like landscape and into the heart of Côte d’Azur, John and Kelly continue to work like a well-oiled machine. Kelly acting as John’s right-hand as he manages Blue, Green, and Red Team’s deployments simultaneously:

The Master Chief signaled for Blue-Two. He pointed to the access-way that led under the building. He held up two fingers, pointed toward her eyes, and then down the passage, and then slowly balled his hand into a fist.
Kelly proceeded very slowly down that passage to scout it out.

Blue-Two returned. She opened the COM link and reported in. “There’s access to the building – a ladder and a steel plate welded shut. We can burn through it.”
The Master Chief opened up the team COM channel. “We’re going to assume that Red and Green Teams will remove the civilians from Côte d’Azur. We will proceed as planned.” He paused, then turned to Blue-Two. “Break out the nuke and arm it.”

However, after noticing an unusual amount of Covenant activity at the city’s Museum of Natural History, Blue team decides to investigate further. Though John does so with great concern for the safety of his team (‘The Fall of Reach’, chapter twenty-two):

He could leave and destroy the Covenant occupation force. He should leave – there was an army of Jackals and Grunts, including at least a platoon of the black-armored veterans, on the streets above. There were three medium Covenant dropships hovering in the air as well. The advance Marine strike forces had been slaughtered, leaving the Spartans no backup. His responsibility now was to make sure his team got out intact.
But John’s orders had an unusual amount of flexibility…and that made him uncomfortable. He had been told to reconnoiter the region and gather intelligence on the Covenant. He was positive there was more to be learned here. Certainly they were up to something in Côte d’Azur’s museum. The Covenant had never before been interested in human history – or indeed, in humans or their artifacts of any kind. He had seen a disarmed Jackal fight hand to hand rather than pick up a nearby human assault rifle. And the only thing the Covenant had ever used human buildings for was target practice.
So finding out the reason they seized and were protecting the museum definitely qualified as intelligence gathering in his book.
Was it worth exposing his team to find out? And if they died, would he be wasting their lives…or spending them for something worthwhile?
“Master Chief?” Kelly whispered. “Our orders, sir?”
He opened Blue Team’s COM channel. “We’re going in. Use your silencers. Don’t engage the enemy unless absolutely necessary. This place is too hot. We’ll just poke our noses in, see what they’re up to, and bug out.”
Three acknowledgment lights winked on.
The Master Chief knew they implicitly trusted his judgment. He just hoped he was worthy of that trust.

I like how this time it is Kelly that breaks John out of his musing and keeps him focused on the task at hand. It shows the type of give-and-take that always seems to be present in their relationship; instinctively acting as each other’s support whenever needed. I also like how we see John once again reflecting on the lesson he learned a long time ago about the worth of his teammates’ trust, and what it means to spend lives for the right reasons.

After entering the museum, Blue Team encounters a Jackal patrol and a Hunter pair – who appear to be doing something curious with a crystalline stone. After neutralizing the aliens with some difficultly (with James losing an arm to the Hunter’s plasma cannons), Blue Team looks to recover the artifact that had the Covenant so interested. And, like so many times before, John depends on Kelly to perform a clutch maneuver that practically no other Spartan could pull off:

The red case was balanced precariously on the edge the hole. It teetered – no way to reach it in time.
He turned to Kelly – the fastest Spartan – and yelled: “Grab it!”
The box fell – and Kelly leaped.
In a single bound, she caught the rock as the case dropped, she tucked, rolled, and got to her feet, the rock safely held in one hand.

With the nuke primed, and the strange stone with yet-unknown significance in hand, Blue Team makes for the rendezvous point with Green and Red Teams – who also successfully completed their objectives. Once all are aboard the evac Pelican, Kelly does what she can for James’ injuries while John readies to detonate the bomb they left behind:

James had regained consciousness. Someone had removed his helmet and propped his head on a folded survival blanket. His eyes watered from the pain, but he managed to salute the Master Chief with his left hand. John gestured at Kelly; she administered a dose of painkiller, and James lapsed into unconsciousness.
The Pelican lifted into the air. In the distance, the suns were warming the horizon, and Côte d’Azur was outlined against the dawn. The dropship suddenly accelerated at full speed straight up, and then angled away to the south.
“Sir,” the pilot said over the COM channel. “We’re getting multiple incoming radar contacts…about two hundred Banshees inbound.”
“We’ll take care of it, Lieutenant,” John replied. “Prepare for EMP and shock wave.”
The Master Chief activated his remote radio transceiver.
He quickly keyed in the final fail-safe code, then sent the coded burst transmission on its way.
A third sun appeared on the horizon. It blotted out the light of the system’s stars, then cooled – from amber to red – and darkened the sky with black clouds of dust.
“Mission accomplished,” he said.

These missions are just a small fraction of the time John-117 and Kelly-087 spent together both on and off the battlefield. But each of these moments is a fine example of how the years shaped them into two of the most renowned Spartan-IIs in their class. And not just because of their individual abilities, but due to how they used those abilities – and most importantly their complete understanding of one another – to bolster their team’s strength and efficiency. Which they then harnessed to fight their enemies, to protect humanity, and to protect each other as well.

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