When you want to stay away from the prying eyes of ONI, contacting people over ChatterNet a much better option over of Waypoint where ONI software is crawling for keywords eavesdropping on every conversation. It isn’t foolproof, but would prevent a conversation that Benjamin Giraud had last episode with Thomas Wu from getting flagged. In Ben’s own words, he had just done a unsanctioned follow-up interview with a war camp survivor, accused Wu of lying during his first interview getting him to admit that he lied, and imply ONI had bribed or coerced Wu into telling the lie. There’s no way to know for certain it was flagged. We hear Ben trying to think of ways that the conversation he just had could be justified if it was flagged. Regardless, the conversation had been processed and there was nothing he could do.
Getting desperate, Ben reaches out to Mashak Maradi’s after numerous unsolicited theories he sent Ben’s way. He was now soliciting information from the one person he was trying to ignore. Ben had Mashak triple check the security of their call before starting to ask questions. Mashak tells Ben that the military forces have been chatting up in bars and notably upset backed by the graffiti drawings everywhere. Mashak believes people in Army, Marines, ODST are rebelling and up in arms over the Master Chief. Sloppy communications amongst military members in the mass amounts of unsecured transmissions that Mashak has been able to piece together puts some weight to his claims. FLEETCOM is claiming they have eyes on Master Chief and know what he’s doing, but the lightly scenario is that he’s off the grid and the lower ranks are not happy. The word “traitor” has even been used to describe the Chief. Even if Chief was disobeying orders, Ben was shocked to hear the word “traitor” even associated with someone who’s legitimately saved humanity on multiple occasions. As Mashak points out, a job that big is the precedence for free reign in the military. To do a job as big as protecting all of humanity in the galaxy, it requires a large amount of power and responsibility. Ben cuts in saying that the power and responsibility has always been hidden from civilians not knowing who or what is out there, something where their ignorance may blow up in their faces.
There’s something else happening out in deep space, Mashak continues. Strange things he was hoping were only random occurrences, but lately, seems to not be as coincidental; Extra-magnetic fluctuation, Slipspace disruptions, epidemic data corruption; all seemingly rippling across star systems everywhere. This is something unheard of, to just happen out of no where, without warning. As Mashak begins to explain his theory on what was happening, Ben gets a disturbing reminder of reality: an appointment from Sully with no message. Ben had to end the interview and catch his flight heading to Boston in three hours.
On the flight back to Earth, all Ben could think about was the conflicting stories he had heard, the possibilities of what might happen in Boston. Before heading to ONI, he called on a colleague of his, Petra Janicek, to meet up with him at a local pub near the campus. She had been there with Ben the day he saw the Master Chief in New Mombasa. Afterwards, they went their own ways, he to the outer colonies and her staying close to home making a name for herself. She takes the opportunity to rub it in that Ben got the assignment. She also points out that the assignments are pretty simple to the point where all Ben has to do is sit in a chair and conduct interviews over Waypoint with how easy ONI makes the assignments. One of the reasons, as he begins to explain, why he think he’s been called in by Sully was because of the follow-up interview he did with Thomas Wu where he accused him of lying to what he assumed would be Sully’s selling point of the story. It caught Petra’s attention when he mentioned that he did it over Waypoint.
He messed up getting caught in the inconsistencies in the ONI approved sources and his own sources he managed to make acquaintance with during his time in the outer colonies. Sully likely wasn’t expecting Ben to have his own sources out in deep space. Petra points out to Ben that the assignment he was given, to cover the Chief, was a bone from Sully to help get him back in the game since being in the outer colonies. It was supposed to be an easy assignment and Ben was throwing it away with wanting to go the extra mile. It was a bad position to be in, now worrying that everything he had worked on is now at risk. Ben mentions to Petra that there’s already rumblings in the outer colonies and bad things happening out there. Before he even mentions him, Petra knows Ben talked to Mashak, keeping up with being an actual journalist. Ben goes on to say the things he’s found out are so big in contrast that he can’t begin to reconcile anything he’s heard with the story he’s supposed to tell. As he begins to rattle off the list of things he had multiple confirmed reports of, Petra interrupted him talking about shore leave and the beach. At first, Ben was confused, not knowing what that had anything to do with his story. Then it hit him: they were being listened in on. He knew there was video surveillance everywhere, but Petra’s ongoing rambling and the occasional glance at her datapad indicated something else was happening. He froze and pondered the concept of audio surveillance also at play.
After once last glance, Petra addressed him in a serious tone and he found out that the last forty-five seconds of their conversation had been isolated and recorded. Apparently, the video surveillance picks up on visual cues of intense situations, like his little outburst. The system flags the video and temporarily isolates the conversation. Thanks to Petra’s little diversion, she just saved him from more possible trouble. She doesn’t doubt what Ben has discovered is untrue and terrible, but the path Ben’s taking doesn’t really fit with his past record of doing what he’s told. Petra points out that he’s sloppy, out of touch with the game, but he tries to make her buy into breaking the story. While she admits it would be interesting to cut the story loose, for her today wasn’t the day and it certainly not going to be Ben to break a major story like that.
What Petra said was brutal and it hurt Ben, made him pissed off, but he knew she was right. She told Ben to take the money and just do the job. There’s no way to know for sure his conversation was flagged and the worst thing that could happen is the story gets cut and Ben not included in anymore ONI stories. She picked up the bill for Ben, but before he left, she told him to upload backups everything he had to someone he trusted, just in case.
As Ben left the pub, he took Petra’s advice and began queueing up his files to be backed up. He started heading across the street to the ONI campus that was integrated in with the rest of the city. The courtyard was surrounded by dark buildings, oak trees and grass bordered by a wide sidewalk. Something particularly strange about the sidewalk was the black border that no one walked on. Amongst all the pedestrians walking by, everyone was walking single file, with no one was walking anywhere near the obsidian. Another thing was off about the courtyard: there was no sound or movement. He began the transfer to Ray’s hard drive and crossed over the black line.