Petra Janecek was the last person Ben expected to hear from after their last encounter. She had called Ben in the middle of the night looking for an explanation to an event that happened while he was asleep. Immediately after he listened to the message, he called Petra who was asking for an explanation of what happened, what he had done with whatever new info he had gathered during his hunt. Ben, however, didn’t have any idea what was going on, so Petra told him to check his news feed then to call her back. By the time Ben checked up on the latest news, thousands of reports from around civilized space had people in a panic. Journalists, social hubs, just about everyone was talking about one thing: the leak.
The leak pertained to the Master Chief and managed to hit the open network overnight. Spartan activity is typically unknowable in the public eye, but for some reason now, it was front page news everywhere with headlines such as collusion with the enemy, civilian casualties, abducting a hero, assassinating an icon. These were tags just used by journalists, where the public was already dividing people with both sides trying to justify their own moral high ground given the situation. Ben went looking for the source material, which wasn’t hard to find since everyone had access to it. The suppressed report from an embassy in the outskirts of civilized space had been viewed more than half a billion times and painted a clear picture.
Ten days ago, the Master Chief appeared in the outer colony in a densely populated city at a regional embassy where peace talks between human and alien delegates were about to come to an historic agreement. In the footage, Chief was seen storming the embassy, taking out the body guard of the Outer Colony’s ambassador, Richard Sekibo causing a firefight that claimed nineteen human lives. Chief kidnapped the ambassador, then blasted his way through security leading the alien delegation out to safety to a waiting evac ship. The next day, locals discovered a beacon that lead to a field close by where the human ambassador who lead the peace talks was found dead.
Ben called Petra back posing the same questions as to what was happening only to learn that the Earth politicians are calling him the fallen Spartan. Petra asked if this was FERO’s doing and Ben honestly didn’t know, which was true, but he was sure this was her doing; now the only question was why. He couldn’t understand why FERO would want to taint Chief’s image after everything he went through with ONI and how many lives he saved in the past. He shouldn’t have had to bear the weight of all the burden of responsibility for making those hard calls, but not he’s shouldering all the blame in this attack. The more and more Petra told Ben what they were calling the Master Chief, the more frustrated he got, until suddenly, their call was interrupted. Waypoint went down, all of his networks inaccessible eventually leading to all of his access disabled for 12 days. ONI was trying to shut Ben down. Mashak’s hacks helped keep him ahead of ONI, but at this crucial moment, he couldn’t just let ONI silently take him offline. Ben had to know if what they had been working towards was actually stirring things up and to do that he would need to get in touch with Mashak. He grabbed some essentials before heading out to a place he knew he could get access to secure comms. He had needed to find an undisclosed place to move his workspace and ONI finally convinced him to do so.
When he got to his new place, he met his contact there and set up shop. When he got online, he had a nice message from Mashak waiting. He said he really liked what Ben did with the last episode, but didn’t fail to mentioned that there was a certain lack of his presence on the episode. After mentioning he was around, Ben gave the most frustrating man he’s ever worked with a call. When Ben asked what happened, Mashak said he needed to go dark, not because of the strange occurrences in deep space but because of a secret project he was working on for Ben, so secret that he couldn’t even warn Ben he was going dark. Getting back on track though, it turns out people were listening to Ben’s latest episode, taking it to heart, and getting mad over what they heard. Playing to ONI’s disregard for the Outer Colonies after what they heard happened to John reopened ancient wounds and hatred for ONI. Back when the outer colonies were vouching for their independence, ONI was fully intent on suppressing insurrectionists, but when the Covenant showed up glassing planets, they stepped back, leaving the outer colonies to fend for themselves. It was this selective intervention for them that made this story reignite their hate for the UEG, and the leak brought it to a blaze.
Mashak’s take on the story brings into focus the different effect the story has depending on where you live. People on Earth, who expect to see Spartans protecting them no matter what, after seeing something like this panic when the word rogue is tossed into the mix. In the outer colonies, the UEG was the problem, but to the inner colonies and earth, Chief was the one they were worried about. ONI used the chief the same way the UEG used the outer colonies: for utility when useful, but completely disposable. His fury towards Mashak for abandoning him subsided; he was happy to have him back, because if he was going to have any fighting chance at confronting ONI and explaining everything to the senators, he needed all the help he could get.
After hearing Ben’s interview with Anthony Petrovsky, Mashak went to work diving through the slush, the massive pool of data utilizing decades of research from his predecessors and produce a “greatest hits” of ONI’s misdeeds. Mashak showed Ben a scatter graph of reported cases of exotic pediatric auto-immune disorders, what the clones died of, within the first few decades of the 26th century overlaying it with the known populated space of the galaxy based on density. What he discovered is that the location of the cases were not random at all, but mostly favored the outer colonies when it came to the abductions for the Spartan program. There was nothing that would have set the kids apart from the inner and outer colonies genetically to meet the qualifications for the program, but as Ben puts it, it was easier for ONI to cover their tracks in the outer colonies and to Mashak’s point, are of lesser value and easier to justify.
While Ben wasn’t sure if the data was enough to convince the Senators, just the implications of ONI taking kids for the Spartan program to fight the Insurrectionists may hold enough influence to get them thinking. The place ONI took the kids from were the same places ONI was looking to put down the rebellion. After they were trained, they were sent back to their homelands fighting for the political agenda against their own, serving the government that showed no respect to their people. Mashak had done more digging and found two distinct cases where soldiers met their clones that were supposed to die, but didn’t. Running into perfect copies of themselves learning that these clones lived out the lives they could have had, resulted both times in suicide. While these kinds of stories are hard to listen to, they would be hard to ignore, perfect for Ben’s case to the Senators. Now it was time to get back in touch with FERO. Ben only hoped she knew where he was, but Mashak reassures him that she’ll find him and probably already knows where he is. Her lair of secrets is vastly more secret than Mashak’s but he tells Ben to keep him in the loop on developments when they go to the meeting and bring forward the truth; he’ll be standing by to track the results.
Ben had a hard time sleeping in his new place, but FERO paid a visit, this time sounding a little more human than their first encounter. When he was asked, Ben told her he didn’t like what he was seeing, how people were denouncing the Master Chief. FERO told him when something this secret is let loose, the outcome can be unpredictable. Ben tries to blame FERO for smearing Master Chief’s image of saving humanity, claiming the full story behind the incident may not be fully known. FERO argues everything she leaked was real, not targeted at tainting chief’s image, but implying that an aging Spartan possibly becoming mentally unstable, where Ben’s story actually set the table for. She explains that taking kids like they did for the Spartan program training them to become soldiers adopts an inherent risk of deep, but lasting physiological damage, something that is an increased liability for critical decision makers, such as Master Chief. She didn’t know why the Chief did what he did and what he’s doing now, but all she did was expose what is possibly happening to him, the liability created in the depths of ONI secrecy leading to his unprovoked actions.
Hearing all of this made Ben uneasy; it felt wrong to him. FERO knows Chief is a hero and so do the true patriots. The sad, painful truth right now is that Master Chief is being denounced by the outer colonies and disowned by the UEG, but FERO assures Ben he will be vindicated. Sacrificing him in the short term will generate their opportunity to cut to the core and eventually leave ONI as the one being scrutinized in the long run. It was hard for Ben to hear everything the outer colonies were saying about him, all the hate that had been generated wasn’t the way he expected things to go down. FERO tells Ben that chaos come at a high price, but the pieces have been moving and their opportunity had arrived.
FERO told Ben that as of that morning, the meeting between ONI brass and the senators had been scheduled with personnel already en route to Earth. In just a few days, ONI would be briefing their story in closed sessions, but FERO would hack in providing a direct, unbroken feed for Ben to lay down his story exposing ONI’s darkest secrets to the most senior governing officials in the UEG. Ben was worried there wasn’t enough time to pull all of Mashak’s data together to make it convincing enough, but FERO provided an idea that may be the extra bite his story needs. Ben called Anthony Petrovsky and asked him if he wanted to take down ONI. After moments of unsettling silence, he was on board and Ben gave him his marching orders, FERO pleased at the outcome.
Ben asked FERO if what he was hearing was her real voice. For the most part it was, but altered just enough to not be identified. Ben asked her why she dropped the scary voice and why did she use it before. She told him it was so he knew who would be fighting on his side, which he appreciated. It was hard to imagine Ben was about to really do this, and he was pumped up. Before she left, FERO told Ben of one more leak that was coming: the icing on the cake just to keep the pieces moving. By the time he asked her what it was or when it would hit, the leak was out. He checked his public feed and sure enough moments later a security video from the regional embassy of the outer colonies surfaced. Millions of people were now watching a video feed of Master Chief seemingly unprovoked shooting up the peace consulate on Biko.