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Halo 2: Defense and Offense by Dagorath

Halo 2: Defense and Offense - Chapter 1
Date: 26 July 2005, 4:52 am

Foreword: This is an ambitious new project: a complete novelization of Halo 2. This is not going to be in Eric Nyland's style, as I don't like the shouting, reloading, and using of the assault rifle. I will be able to add a lot more extra stuff.

Ninth Age of Reclamation, Step of SilenceCovenant Holy City "High Charity"

A Covenant cruiser glided past the still-smouldering ruins of Halo, its lights glinting like the ancient language of some forgotten race.
      Next to the moon Basis was an enormous structure, shaped like a mushroom with a long stem. Lights also winked on it, revealing a cold, austere beauty, like something spawned by artificial means, as opposed to the gentle hand of Nature.
      An enormous armada of Covenant cruisers made slow patrols across the space around High Charity. Computer scans swept the surrounding area, analyzing every single piece of rubble or wreckage with the utmost scrutiny. The number amounted to more than two hundred powerful cruisers, with many thousands spread around the massive empire.
      Two Banshees swooped into formation with several others outside a platform protruding from the mighty Sanctum of the Hierarchs. This seemed to be some kind of pedestal for displaying, as there were many tiers of balconies beneath it. Several thousand people could easily fit on those tiers.
       "There was only one ship."
      Inside the building was a lofty hall. Purplish light filtered onto a semicircular dais inside, where a single Elite in golden armour stood. A short distance in front of him was a much higher dais, where three Prophets floated on their levitating seats, one of which was a hologram.
      Around where the Elite stood were several tiers of seats, on which was seated the Council: Minor Prophets in much smaller headdresses than the three on the taller dais on one side, hulking Councilor Elites in deep blue armour whispering amongst themselves on the other. The Brute Chieftain Tartarus stood with his arms crossed in a satisfied fashion somewhere behind the Elite. The floor was lined with Elite Honour Guards in orange and red armour with long ceremonial spears.
       "One? Are you sure?" asked one of the Prophets on the taller dais, who floated behind the other two.
       "Yes. They called it….Pillar of Autumn," said the Elite.
       "Why was it not destroyed, with the rest of their fleet?" demanded the Prophet on the dais who hovered in front, next to the hologram one.
       "It fled, as we set fire to their planet," the Elite replied. "But I followed with all the ships at my command."
       "When you first saw Halo, were you blinded by its majesty?" asked one of the Prophets, a little mockingly.
       "Blinded?" asked the Elite.
       "Paralyzed? Dumbstruck?"
      The hologram Prophet spoke. "Yet the humans were able to evade your ships," here he spread his arms, each hand with three long, tapering fingers, "land on the Sacred Ring, and desecrate it with their filthy footsteps!"
       "Noble Hierarchs," said the Elite quickly, "surely you understand that once the Parasite attacked - "
      The roars of disapproval from the crowd on the stands drowned out his voice.
      The Prophet next to the holographic one pounded his fist on the arm of his floating chair. "There will be order in this Council!" he said loudly.
       "You were right to concentrate your attention on the Flood," said the Prophet at the back, now moving to the forefront between his fellows. "But this Demon, this 'Master Chief'…."
       "By the time I learned of the Demon's intent, there was nothing I could do," said the Elite.
      There was a collective roar from the Council on the stands as the Minor Prophets stood up and shouted, gesturing with their thin limbs. The congregated Elites in blue whispered again. The Elite in the central dais was confronted by a sea of accusing mouths, pouring abuse upon him. At the back, the Brute Tartarus chuckled softly.
       "Prophet of Truth," the holographic Prophet whispered to the one who had moved forwards, leaning closer, "this has gone on long enough. Make an example of this bungler. The Council demands it."
      Truth raised his hand, halting the other's words. "You are one of our most cherished instruments." His face seemed to loom up in the Elite's field of vision, obscuring all else. "Long have you led your fleet with honour and distinction, but your inability to safeguard Halo was a colossal failure."
      A Minor Prophet on the stands stood up and raised a fist, saying, "Nay, it was heresy!"
      There were renewed shouts from the Council. The Elite could discern the words "heretic", "traitor", and "filth" among them.
       "I will continue my campaign against the humans," said the Elite decisively, silencing the shouts.
       "No! You will not," said Truth, looking at Tartarus. The Brute gestured at two of his fellows, who walked forwards and made to pull the Elite off the dais, but when he turned, they backed off. The Prophet continued.
       "Soon the Great Journey shall begin." The two Brutes walked to either side of the Elite as he was led out of the chamber. "But when it does, the weight of your heresy will stay your feet, and you shall be left behind."

1056 hours, October 20, 2552 (Military Calendar)Sol system, Earth Defense Platform "Cairo", planet Earth

Light years away, the opposite end of the spectrum to the Covenant was preparing for the inevitable assault against Earth. The enormous Earth Defense Platforms were evolved versions of the Super MAC gun placements on Reach, except there were a lot more of them. Ever since the fall of Reach, Earth's defences had been geared up. Each platform could fire a super-dense ferric tungsten shell, weighing four, not three, thousand tons at amazing speeds with astounding accuracy. If the emplacements at Reach were pistols, then the platforms in orbit around Earth were SPNKR rocket launchers.
      Inside Cairo Station, the Master Chief, survivor of Halo, victor of a hundred battles and slayer of many thousands Covenant, from Grunts to Jackals to Hunters to Elites to Brutes, was being told off by a Marine.
       "The plating was about to fail, there's viscosity throughout the gel layer," said the Marine, pointing to the Chief's battered Mark V armour lying on the floor with all its scratches and bloodstains.
      He placed an odd-looking rectangular object on the table. "Optics, totally fried." He picked a long cylindrical battery pack. "And let's not even talk about the power supply." He waved it at the Master Chief. "You know how expensive this gear is, son?"
       What, one month of fighting and you expect mint condition? The Chief felt slightly annoyed.
      The Master Chief picked his new helmet up. The responses from his new armour was not a lot stronger from the old friend he wore on Halo 04, but the movement was a lot smoother and, in the childish part of the Chief's mind, it was a lot cooler. There were more armour plates, including one on the back of each hand that he could use to swipe with, as well as a thin layer of gold on the visor to block radiation.
      The helmet hissed on, closing the vacuum seal. "Tell that to the Covenant."

Halo 2: Defense and Offense - Chapter 2
Date: 29 July 2005, 1:51 am

1100 hours, October 20, 2552 (Military Calendar)Sol system, Earth Defense Platform "Cairo", planet Earth

"Well, I guess it was all obsolete, anyway," the Marine continued as the Master Chief watched him through his new visor. "Your new suit's a Mark VI, just came up from Songnim this morning. Try and take it easy till you get used to the upgrades."
      The Marine proceeded to lead the Chief through a series of tests like the ones he had done after waking from cryosleep on the Pillar of Autumn. The facilities were better on the station, of course, and the Chief discovered, to his delight, that the shields seemed stronger and recharged faster.
      The elevator doors in the room opened, to reveal Sergeant Johnson, a survivor of the destruction of Reach as well as Halo, in a crisp white dress uniform that contrasted with his dark skin.
      The Marine gave a little advice to the Chief as Johnson walked in. "If your shields go down, find some cover; wait for the meter to read fully charged."
      As if I didn't know that already, the Chief thought with a little annoyance.
       "That or he can hide behind me," Johnson barked. "You done with my boy here, Master Gunns? I don't see any training wheels." He looked around, as if to see treadmills and weights.
       "His armour's working fine," said Gunns. He turned to the Chief. "You're free to go, son, just remember, take things slow." He said the last word in a long drawl.
       "Don't worry, I'll hold his hand," said Johnson.
      They stepped into the elevator, and Gunns called, "So, Johnson, when are you gonna tell me how you made it back home in one piece?"
      Johnson smiled slightly. "Sorry, Gunns, it's classified."
      Gunns snorted. "Huh! My ass! Well, you can forget about those adjustments to your A2 scope!"
      The elevator door hissed shut as Johnson said, "Well, he's in a particularly fine mood. Maybe Lord Hood didn't give him an invitation."
      The elevator slid open again to reveal a white tram on monorails. As they sat down, the Master Chief stared out through huge bay windows to a stunning view of planet Earth. He realised that he had never been to Earth before, and had never called it home. Somehow, that made him regret his soldiering career.
       "Earth. Haven't seen it in years," said Johnson wistfully.
      The tram slid off as Johnson continued. "When I shipped out for Basic, the orbital defence grid was all theory and politics. Now look! The Cairo is just one of three hundred geosync platforms. That MAC gun can put a round clean through a Covenant capital ship. With coordinated fire from the Athens and the Malta, nothing's getting past this battle cluster in one piece."
      The Chief, however, was doubtful. True, Reach did not have as many Super MAC guns, but the enormous fleet that attacked it was able to quickly drop infantry onto the planet, taking out the generators and effectively rendering the stations useless. There were obviously far more generators on Earth to support three hundred stations, but with the might of the Covenant and the fact that, truth be told, Marines couldn't stand against such overwhelming numbers, Earth didn't really have much of a bigger chance. When they came, things were going to be a bloodbath.
       "Ships have been arriving all morning," said Johnson. "Nobody's saying much, but I'll bet something big's about to happen."
      The tram slid to a stop, and they stepped out, to be confronted by a crowd of Marines, clapping and cheering. Little robotic cameras from all major TV stations on Earth zoomed overhead, as the Chief admonished Johnson. "You told me there wouldn't be any cameras."
       "And you told me you were going to wear something nice!" Johnson retorted. "Folks need heroes, Chief. Give 'em hope."
      He smoothed his hair under his hat as he said, "So smile, would ya? While we still got something to smile about!"
      They stepped towards a pair of door that slid apart, with a relatively small yellow sign saying "Bridge". Two other soldiers saluted them as they walked into the light bloom.

14th Cycle, 15689th Unit, Ninth Age of ReclamationHigh Charity, Sanctum of the Hierarchs, platform

The Elite walked onto the platform where the Banshees had patrolled earlier, flanked by the two Brutes with Tartarus padding alone behind. The Honour Guards guarded the doorway from which they had emerged, but the rest of the passageway to the tip of the platform was lined by every single race of the Covenant: mostly Grunts and Jackals, calling out with harsh cries, with the other races scattered between. As he walked past, a group of Grunts in gold chanted, "Heretic! Heretic!"
      They reached the tip of the platform, where there was a small indentation. Two hand-width energy rings floated above it; each tier below was filled with more of the Covenant, all come to gloat and jeer at his humiliation.
      The Elite was strapped into the hoops by the Brutes, who then withdrew. He wriggled and pulled, but the forces on the ring made sure it was secure.
      Tartarus turned to him. "You've drawn quite a crowd," he growled.
       "If they came to hear me beg, they will be disappointed."
       "Are you sure?" Tartarus challenged, raising an eyebrow.
      There was an uncomfortable sensation in his right hand, and the Elite turned to it. A small flame had ignited near his finger, sending shivers of pain up his arm. Suddenly, it magnified into a gigantic gout of energy that inundated his entire arm, burning into his flesh. A second one ignited on his left arm.
      The Elite writhed in pain as the people cheered.

The bridge of the Cairo was enormous, covered with crystal-clear glass that showed Earth, the MAC gun that was the station's primary weapon, and a magnificent view of space.
      Johnson and the Chief walked up a wide flight of steps to a platform, where the Lord Hood stood next to a small pedestal. Behind him were several more officers in dress uniform. On stands to the side, many more officers clapped politely at the heroes.
      Both men emerged at the top of the steps. As one, they saluted Hood, who saluted back. Behind was an emblem with the acronym "UNSCDF".
       "Gentlemen, we're lucky to have you back," said Hood quietly.
      One of his aides walked up to his ear and whispered something. Hood turned to the pedestal, which the Chief now realized was a holographic projector. "Go ahead, Cortana," he said.
       "Another whisper, sir, near Io. We have probes en route." Cortana looked a little different: not as pretty, and with a new hairdo. The experiences on Halo had probably disturbed her personality algorithms.
       "I apologise, but we're going to have to make this quick," said Hood, turning back to the Chief and Johnson with Cortana's blue glow on his chest. As he turned, Cortana looked up at the Chief and Johnson.
       "You look nice," she said, smiling up at them.
      The Master Chief and Johnson both thanked her simultaneously, and then looked at each other.
      They turned back to Lord Hood as he retrieved a medal from an aide, who was holding a velvet box. "Sergeant Major, the Colonial Cross is awarded for acts of singular daring and devotion, for a soldier of the United Earth Space Corps." He pinned the medal on the sergeant's chest.

"There can be no greater heresy! Let him be an example for all who would break our Covenant!" Tartarus snarled to the crowd. The crowd cheered once more, louder than before.
      He turned to the two Brutes who had escorted the Elite to the platform and grunted. In response, they took off the Elite's charred chest armour.

One of the officers, a young woman with shoulder-length dark hair and a striking resemblance to her father, stepped forwards from the four officers behind the pedestal to stand beside the Chief.
       "Commander Miranda Keyes. Your father's actions were in keeping with the highest traditions of military service. His bravery in the face of impossible odds reflects great credit upon himself and the UNSC," he said as he put another medal in her hand. "The Navy has lost one of its best."

A blackened helmet hit the ground with a dull thunk as the Elite was completely stripped. From the ground, a horrific torture device emerged. On one end was a long, lethal-looking spike; the other, a flat, circular brand with four knobs sticking up on the edges, glowing red-hot.
      Tartarus picked it up by the middle and gazed at the glowing brand, pointing it slowly towards the Elite, whose skin was now completely burnt. His head hung down in exhaustion and fear.
      Tartarus raised the device, and drove it into the Elite's chest. It made a horrible hissing sound as his skin cooked.
      The Elite endured the excruciating agony for a full two seconds before letting out a low, echoing wail, his fingers stretched and taut in agony.

Lord Hood turned to his officers, but then heard Cortana's voice. "Slipspace ruptures, directly off our battle cluster," she said with arms folded.
       "Show me," said Hood, turning to the "UNSCDF" logo behind him.
      The logo slid away to show a representation of Earth space. Earth was to the right, and superimposed upon it was the rest of the battle cluster: the Athens, Cairo and Malta amongst them. Two Covenant ships represented the alien fleet and were to the far left of Earth in the projection; lower down and to the right of the aliens were two battle groups of human ships, representing their fleet stationed there.
      The holograms of the two battle groups were moving in front of the Covenant ships on the projection, and a voice came through FLEETCOM. "This is Fleet Admiral Harper. We are engaging the enemy."
       "Negative, Admiral," Hood replied. "Form a defensive perimeter around this cluster."
      He turned to Keyes. "Commander, get to your ship, link up with the fleet."
      She saluted, and said, "Yes sir," before moving off.
      Hood turned to Cortana, who was standing, looking grim on her pedestal. "You have the MAC gun, Cortana. Soon as they come in range, open up."
       "Gladly," she replied, deactivating her projection on the pedestal as she devoted more of her memory space to targeting the Covenant ships.
       "Something's not right," Hood muttered. He looked at the projection again. "The fleet that destroyed Reach was fifty times this size."
      Suddenly, a sensorman at a computer raised his head. "Sir, additional contacts! Boarding craft, and lots of 'em!" He looked worried.
       "They're going to try and take our MAC guns off-line," Lord Hood murmured. "Give their capital ships a straight shot at Earth." He raised his voice. "Master Chief, defend this station!"
      The Chief nodded his visored head. "Yes sir."
      He turned to Johnson. "I need a weapon."
       "Right this way." Johnson walked off as the Chief followed. Out of the bridge windows, they could see Longswords streaking towards the enemy ships, trailed by two enormous destroyers.

Halo 2: Defense and Offense - Chapter 3
Date: 9 August 2005, 4:47 am

1105 hours, October 20, 2552 (Military Calendar)Sol System, Earth Defense Platform "Cairo", planet Earth

The Chief followed Johnson to a set of weapons lockers, where he viewed the new weapons that had been developed by the scientists back on Earth while he was on Halo. These seemed to be the same weapons as the then-prototype weapons Dr Halsey had given him after he had rescued Fred, Will and the other Spartans off Reach. The Master Chief hefted a battle rifle and clipped an SMG to his belt before moving on.
      A voice blared out from the loudspeakers. "Alert. Boarders inbound."
       "How's it going, Malta?" Johnson asked at his side, also hefting a new battle rifle.
       "Stand by….they're latched! Check your targets, watch the crossfire. They're in standard formation; little bastards up front, big ones in the back." He paused slightly. "Good luck, Cairo."
       "Field of fire on that bulkhead," Johnson yelled as they neared a sliding door on the bridge. "Soon as that door opens….let 'em have it!"
      The Master Chief stood to one side of the door as it burst open. Elites and Grunts boiled out, and he began firing.
      The battle for Earth had begun.

The Chief worked his way steadily through the station, suppressing the enemy as necessary. He had grown up from his alien-weapon-loathing days: now, he used the plasma pistol's overcharge judiciously to knock out the Elites' shields. The loudspeakers overhead constantly yelled requests and damage reports.
      He cleaned some of the blood spattered over his armour as they paused after a particularly fierce battle. Covenant soldiers had streamed out of a boarding craft latched onto the windows of a large hangar; now, however, they seemed to have retreated to lick their wounds. The Chief looked out of the wide windows, breathing more slowly now. Out in space, he could see the Malta. The Malta was like the Cairo: a long tube-like central barrel that was the Super MAC gun surrounded by a ring connected to it, which was the station's main battle stations and living quarters. It fired at the Covenant ships overhead, the giant piston moving up and down.
       "Hey, check it out!" said one of the Marines. "The Malta's already driven off its boarders!"
      Indeed: the boarding craft were disengaging from the platform, streaking back to the carriers overhead, carrying the aliens away. A rousing cheer came from the Malta, resonating through the COM system. "I don't believe it! They're retreating; we won!" yelled a voice from the Malta.
      There was a sudden radio silence as, soundlessly, the Malta detonated in a swirl of orange, gold and electric blue, scattering into pieces with the sturdy MAC gun spinning away.
       Oh shit, thought the Chief, his fists clenched. He could not even hear any screams from the dying station.
      The other Marines were gaping at the awful spectacle. "This is bad. Real bad!" said a Marine. "We're done for!" he wailed.
      The Chief hefted his battle rifle, saying, "Don't stand there staring. We'll make the Covenant pay."

16th cycle, 15689th Unit, Ninth Age of ReclamationHigh Charity, Sanctum of the Hierarchs, platform

Tartarus withdrew the brand slightly, allowing the Elite a slight breather. In fact, most of the spectators had already withdrawn, tired of the spectacle. The Council and many Elites and Brutes, however, remained, reveling in that perverted satisfaction one got from others in agony.
      The Elite panted, sweat streaming down his face and mandibles to evaporate on his seared chest, which was completely cooked into the instantly-recognisable Mark of Shame.
      Tartarus looked at the brand. Powered by a small reactor inside instead of having been heated in some furnace, the brand glowed as brightly as ever.
      Great things are happening, he thought. Soon, there shall be a power shift. I can taste it in the air.
      His silvery skin gleamed, and his hair quivered slightly. He, too, sweated from the exertion and the heat of the brand.
       "Is there something personal in this?" the Elite panted with his head down.
      Tartarus raised an eyebrow. "Hmm?"
       "You seem to torture me with particular venom."
      Tartarus allowed him five more seconds' rest before answering "Yes," and plunging the brand into the Elite again, on the exact same spot.
      The Elite renewed his screaming.

It was like a nightmare repeated. The Master Chief fired one last shot into the head of an Elite in the veterans' red armour and paused. They had vanquished all of the enemies within the dropship. Out of the windows, he could see the Athens, which looked very much like the Malta and Cairo. He saw the same frantic scene of fleeing boarding craft and dropships.
       "Uh oh. They're leaving the Athens," one of the Marines breathed.
      They watched with absolute horror, eyes transfixed and bodies frozen, as the Athens exploded in the same silent, horrible detonation. A piece of the station thunked into the Titanium-A armour plate on the wall of the Cairo right next to the windows. They could see a ship personnel screaming in the room that had broken off.
      The image of utter despair on the man's face shook the Chief as nothing had before. That complete hopelessness and certainty of fate reverberated in his soul, which had seen friends and foes die alike. Perhaps it was because the Master Chief had always won.
      The Chief swore; a soft, short word that conveyed only a little of his anger and sorrow. He could recall every single Marine he had fought with. Every single one, from Chief Mendez and the instructors in the Spartans' training to Captain Keyes and the Marines aboard the Autumn. This one, he knew, he would never know.
      Over the COM channel, the Lord Hood's voice blared on. "Cortana, assessment!" The Chief could hear the very slightest whisper of insanity in his voice.
      Cortana, as usual, sounded cool as a cucumber. "That explosion came from inside the Athens. Same as the Malta. The Covenant must have brought something with them." She paused for dramatic effect. 'A bomb."
       "Then they sure as hell brought one here." Lord Hood's voice seemed to have steadied. "Chief, find it."
       "Yes, sir," the Chief replied, started walking.

Tartarus twisted the brand into the Elite's chest. He had long stopped screaming, and now hung there like a slab of burnt meat. The mark of his brand could be seen clearly on his chest.
       "For the Brutes," he muttered as he pushed. In all the hours of the torture, the brand had never grown cold.
      He pushed it in with venom. The Brutes had been trodden underfoot by the Elites for literally thousands of years. This was their only way to take revenge.
      But there was hope. A few cycles ago, the Almighty Prophet of Truth had invited the Chieftain to his private chambers. His private chambers! And alone! It was beyond Tartarus's wildest dreams.
      Merely seeing the Elite Honour Guards (curse them) dismissed with a wave by the Prophet had been worth all the torment he had ever endured under the Elites' iron foot. What was more, the Prophet had discussed what he called "a slight modification in the hierarchy" with him.
       "We have long observed the behaviour of the Elites," the Prophet had said. "Before, in eons past, I remember that - " he had looked at Tartarus then, "yes, I remember to that distant time, faded and twisted though it is in myth, that the Elites were honourable, and strong, and wise."
      Tartarus had snorted involuntarily, and he shivered slightly, afraid that he had incurred the Prophet's wrath.
      Truth seemed to, however, concur with the Brute's opinion. "Perhaps I remember wrongly," he said, slightly wistfully. "But now, it is certain that they have fallen into decay, faced as they have been with feeble human battles and opulent idleness between the conflicts." His wise eyes had looked at Tartarus then, on his knees with his head bowed. "We, the Prophets that is, need better escorts on the Great Journey than the feeble Elites, gone to seed. We need a race, tempered by the fires of time, strong as the ancients' structures, and loyal. Very loyal."
      And he had looked at Tartarus then. And he knew, in that one contact, that however downtrodden the Brutes were, they were reaching the end of their torment. Finally, there was a chance.
      But the Prophet had merely said, "Return to your duties, child," and smiled.

The Master Chief paused before a sliding door, regaining his breath. He had rushed headlong through the station from where he had seen the destruction of the Athens, pausing only to help his comrades, but moving, always moving. The fights behind him were a blur. Nothing broke the pattern, as he fired burst after burst after burst into the Covenant invaders. He couldn't even remember how they screamed.
      Cortana spoke up over the station's COM system, to the rhythm of the MAC gun. "The bomb's in there. There are a few Elites guarding it. You may have to get creative."
      The Chief drew a short, grey rod from his belt. There was a loud sound as a white, translucent energy sword materialized around the rod. He had acquired this little toy from an Elite in grey during one of the fights after he left the bridge.
       "Is this creative, Cortana?" he asked as he stepped through the door.
       "Very," she replied.
      There were six Elites inside the hangar, grouped around an oval, spiked object the size of perhaps two men lying on top of each other. It was bluish-grey, and on it was an upraised knob, where there was a flashing red light.
      Mmmm, he thought.
      He took a deep breath, and then ran straight at the first Elite. Before he had a chance to react, the Master Chief had already sliced him in half with the sword.
      A similar fate awaited the four other Elites, but there was a tiny hiccup at the end.
      The last Elite had a sword too.
      Cortana, it seemed, wanted to give the Chief a crash course in using the energy sword, drawing upon existing data on fencing, battle accounts of how the Elites used it, and what seemed like her own imagination.
       "OK, Chief," she started. "Basic pose is to keep the sword at your side, since it's more of a slasher than a stabber. Other hand out so you can use your waist to give it more power. Now practice blocking. With the sword – "
       "Shhh," said the Chief.
      He advanced upon the Elite, his sword raised. The other was not cowed. However, when the Chief activated a plasma grenade and held it out in front of him, the Elite backed off.
      He advanced closer. On the COM system, Cortana was not amused. "Chief, that is not a good idea. That grenade is going to explode in exactly 1.356 – "
       "Oh," the Chief replied, and threw it at the wall right behind where the Elite had backed off to. It bounced, and stuck onto the back of the Elites head.
      The alien gave a wail of despair before the grenade exploded. Gobbets of flesh and gouts of blood splattered the wall. The Elite's energy sword flew in a lazy arc just over the Chief's head to sink itself to the handle in the wall behind him.
       "The cleaning staff is going to love this," he mused.
      Cortana, however, was in no mood for jokes. She appeared on a pedestal next to the bomb. "Me, inside your head, now," she snapped.
      The Chief placed his hand over the hologram, and Cortana transferred herself into the layer of crystal in his suit. He could feel the familiar cool presence again, but also a very slight sting. Over the years, he had interpreted this as the result of Cortana's emotion algorithms. The light stinging meant that she was in a no-nonsense attitude.
      He placed his hand over the red light on the bomb. After a short pause, the light winked to a cool bluish-white, glowing serenely amongst all the blood and gore littered around it.
       "How much time was left?" the Chief asked.
       "You don't wanna know," Cortana replied.
      The Chief could hear transmissions over FLEETCOM. "Cairo, this is In Amber Clad," he heard Miranda Keyes's voice say. "The carrier's shield is down. I'm in position and ready for immediate assault."
       "Negative, Commander," he heard Hood's voice reply. "Not against a ship that size. Not on your own."
      This seemed an ideal time to deal with both the carrier and the bomb. The Master Chief opened a COM channel to Lord Hood and said, "Sir." He rested a hand on the bomb. "Permission to leave the station."
       "For what purpose, Master Chief?" He sounded preoccupied.
       "To give the Covenant back their bomb," he replied.
      Lord Hood seemed to hesitate for a split second.
       "Permission granted," he said.

Halo 2: Defense and Offense - Chapter 4
Date: 10 August 2005, 6:59 am

1130 hours, October 20, 2552 (Military Calendar)Sol System, Earth Defense Platform "Cairo", planet Earth

The Master Chief seized two long, protruding spikes near the cool blue light on the bomb, hauling it across the metal floor, showering the blood-bespattered walls with sparks. It was hard, even for him. The spikes on the bottom screeched like nails on a blackboard.
      He lugged the bomb into a service lift, and it dropped swiftly down.
       "I know what you're thinking, and it's crazy," said Cortana.
       "So, stay here," the Chief replied.
       "Unfortunately for us both, I like crazy."
      The lift stopped, and the doors hissed open. The Chief emerged in a medium-sized room. There was a set of glass-paneled doors at the opposite end. In the centre of the chamber, there was a pillar. The arrow pointing into the room read "Airlock."
      The Chief walked forwards into the white glow of Earth. He could see long, dark pods dropping towards the planet, some detonating as they were struck by bullets from the Cairo. A Seraph streaked past the airlock, pursued by two Longsword fighters.
      He pressed a button on the pillar. A bar snapped out. Just before he grabbed the bar, however, Cortana asked, "What if you miss?"
       "I won't," he replied. After all, he had done it before, hadn't he?
      He pulled a lever, and the doors started to open. Anything that was not tied down was sucked out into the void. Even the bomb started to slide towards the opening, heavy though it was.
      The Master Chief let go of the bar and, as the bomb swung past, he grabbed onto one of the longer spines. Both man and bomb were swept out into space.
      A Covenant carrier passed beneath him as he fell towards Earth. There was no sound at all. He couldn't even hear the explosions.
      The carrier opened up twice with a purple pulse laser, narrowly missing him. Perhaps the controller had not counted on such a small target and misfired. Whatever it was, the Chief knew that he would have been instantly incinerated if he had been hit.
      A human frigate passed beneath him and exploded in the third burst from the pulse laser. The Chief flew on.
      Two Longsword fighters zoomed towards the frigate, dropping bombs on its unshielded surface, biting a large hole. The Chief flew on.
      The Longswords were destroyed by a phalanx of Seraphs. And still, the Chief flew on.
      In the eerie silence, the Master Chief arrived in an enormous chamber, inside of which was a massive fusion core. It glowed with a whitish-purple light, pulsing like a weak heart.
      He crashed into the bottom: in space, there was no friction, so he went at the speed that he had left the Cairo at. He slammed onto a spine, but his shield protected him.
      Having steadied himself, he pressed his hand onto the light to resume its timer. Using the magnets on his shoes, he crouched, and then jumped off the bomb out of a crack in the underbelly of the carrier. Behind him, the light glowed brighter.
      The Master Chief could not turn his head back far enough to look as small blue explosions rippled along the carrier's length. There was a final, silent explosion of gigantic proportions, and the carrier disintegrated into thousands of pieces.
      A human frigate glided serenely in the wake of the carrier's debris field as the Chief flew on a trajectory towards it.
      There was a loud thunk, and inside the small, cramped bridge, both Sergeant Johnson and Commander Miranda Keyes looked up.
       "For a brick, he flew pretty good!" smiled Johnson.
      The Commander did not seem to have heard. "Chief, get inside, gear up." In Amber Clad swooped towards Africa. "We're taking this fight to the surface."

1200 hours, October 20, 2552 (Mombassa Military Calendar)Sol System, East African Protectorate, planet Earth

Out of In Amber Clad, three golden Pelicans swooped towards the city laid out before them. Mostly medium-height buildings, there was also a tall tower and, spoiling the scenery, an enormous Covenant capital ship, hovering over the city with its purple gravity lift extending down like a leg.
      The Master Chief looked out of the rear of the lead Pelican at the cradle of humanity. Some said that the first humans were from Africa. He felt a strange, overwhelming feeling of protection for this planet, like any other, and yet so very different.
       "The message just repeats. 'Regret. Regret. Regret.'" Cortana sounded slightly puzzled.
       "Catchy. Any idea what it means?" Commander Keyes asked from In Amber Clad.
      The Sergeant had, of course, a snappy answer ready.
       "Dear humanity," he began, "we regret being alien bastards, and we regret coming to Earth!" The Pelicans flew lower over the sprawling city. The Chief could just hear Johnson say through the cockpit door, "And we most definitely regret that the Corp just blew up our raggedy-ass fleet!"
       "Hoo-rah!" shouted the pilot and copilot in unison.
       "Regret is a name, Sergeant," Keyes admonished. "The name of one of the Covenant's religious leaders. A Prophet. He's on that carrier and he's calling for help."
      The Pelicans glided over a wide highway, where three Warthogs raced forwards in the same direction.
      On a rooftop, the Chief could see a Marine sniper team. "Immediate. Grid kilo-23 is hot. Recommend mission abort."
      On the lead Pelican, the pilot acknowledged, "Roger, recon." He turned to Johnson behind him. "It's your call, Sarge," he said.
      Johnson did not hesitate. "We're going in," he said, pointing forwards. "Get tactical, Marines!"
      Inside the hold of the Pelican, Marines primed their weapons and hung tight. One sniffed the ammo inside a clip for his sniper rifle before loading it.
       "Master Chief, get aboard that carrier, and secure the Prophet of Regret," came Lord Hood's voice over the COM channel. "This is the only place on Earth the Covenant decided to land. That Prophet is going to tell us why."
      In the cockpit, the pilot said to the copilot, "Standby to – wo." He gaped. In front was a massive Covenant walker of some kind. As tall as the buildings and mounted on four thick, silvery legs, it looked invincible. One foreleg squashed a truck like a man stepping on a grapefruit. What was more, its "head" seemed to have split into sections to reveal a huge plasma cannon that was powering up. And fast.
      The gout of plasma seared the top off the lead Pelican, but the other two veered off its path. A plasma turret on the walker's back fired a steady stream of red plasma at them.
      The Chief could see the cloudy sky through a hole in the roof. He was lifted off his feet and slammed into the roof as the Pelican flipped and slid along a low rooftop. His head banged painfully and, despite the layers of armour, gel padding and shielding, he blacked out.

Halo 2: Defense and Offense - Chapter 5
Date: 12 August 2005, 6:28 am

1205 hours, October 20, 2552 (Mombassa Military Calendar)Sol System, East African Protectorate, planet Earth

The Master Chief groaned. Something large and heavy seemed to be slamming itself repeatedly into the inside of his skull.
      It seemed to change shape periodically. In the beginning, it was a large, heavy pike. A few minutes later, it was more like a knobbly iron ball. Now, it was a round, smooth rock.
       "Hey," he heard Cortana's voice blare in his ears. "Wake up." She said something about CPR. And he had the horrifying thought that it was Cortana's head that was kneading his brain into dough.
      The Chief heaved his body up like a labourer hauling a sack of lead. Groping for his battle rifle, he saw Sergeant Johnson, sporting a new cut upon his forehead, jump up from the wreckage of the cockpit and grab his own weapon. "Shake it off, Marines!" he yelled, every word slamming into the Chief's head like a hard fist. "Clear the crash site! Go, go, go!" How he had recovered so quickly, the Chief didn't know. Perhaps it was the Flood DNA that Dr Halsey had found in his bloodstream.
      The Chief stood up, but his fingers felt like hard sticks, and he couldn't pick up his SMG to clip onto his belt, so he grabbed his battle rifle by the stock and cradled a few grenades in his arms, which felt like they had been stepped upon.
      He looked behind him to the wreckage of the Pelican. Some Marines were stirring, but a few, he was sad to see, did not. His headache felt worse than when the escape pod from the Pillar of Autumn crashed, but he was glad to see that at least some Marines survived the landing this time round.
      Johnson walked forwards, supporting the co-pilot on his shoulder. He approached the Chief. "Dramatic landing, eh?" he asked by way of greeting. Obviously, he could not see through the Chief's visor and assumed that he was fine. "Let's go, Chief. I have a feeling we're going to get a warm welcome."
      The Chief started walking towards a doorway, trying to work his limbs without appearing to, while Cortana ran minor electric currents through his primary muscles to stimulate them. Feeling better now, he managed to clip his grenades onto his belt and heft his battle rifle better. Thinking about his SMG, he decided not to bother.
      The courtyard they emerged onto was fairly spacious, and someone had the good sense to set up a turret on top of the second floor. After clearing the Covenant soldiers running down the stairs (had they set the turret up?), the Chief directed his considerable energies to repelling the waves of Covenant warriors swarming in from left, right and centre. After directing the Marines to several fortified positions (namely places where they wouldn't be able to cause any trouble), he proceeded to warm his muscles up with some hard-core killing.
      What broke the monotony was what looked like a purple blob floating over the courtyard. On closer observation, the Chief saw that it was in fact a Covenant dropship of some kind, armed with three plasma cannons.
      He crouched down behind a truck and surveyed the scene through the gap between the cab and the storage area. The obligatory Grunts and blue-armoured Elites were being dropped upon the centre of the courtyard from what looked like a mini gravity lift on the dropship, which the Marines called a "Phantom". What did interest him, however, was an Elite in gold, holding an energy sword.
      Over the COM channel, he told the Marines to stay put. No point in getting them slashed apart by the Elite.
      The Chief crept behind some bushes and leaned his battle rifle on a branch. There was a loud gunshot, and one of the Elites crumpled, probably courtesy of Sergeant Johnson's sniper rifle.
      The gold Elite started, peering around the courtyard, but the Marines, camouflaged by their armour, were not discovered.
      The Chief pressed his visor onto the scope. Very carefully, he fired three-round bursts into the Grunts' heads.
      He picked up a plasma pistol nearby and overcharged it at the second blue-armoured Elite, who was turning his way. When it hit, he saw the telltale crackle of electricity. One final burst from the battle rifle was enough to kill him.
      The gold Elite was bewildered. Gunshots seemed to have come from nowhere, mowing down his underlings. All of a sudden, he was completely and utterly alone. He had a strong desire to take out his temper on someone.
      The Elite peered around. He spotted a round, armoured head with a gold visor, and started towards it.
      When he arrived, the head had disappeared. What had replaced it was a small, round blue ball with plasma fire crackling around it. To the Elite's eyes, it looked like a plasma grenade.
      Plasma grenade.
      Plasma grenade.

      It exploded in his face, and the Master Chief caught the sword with his left hand as it swung away from the Elite's eviscerated body.
      As the Chief caught his breath, a Pelican hovered overhead. "My girl's a little big for that courtyard, Sergeant," came the pilot's voice. "I see a good LZ on the other side of these buildings. Meet you there, over."
      There were loud banging sounds on one of the locked gates in the courtyard. "Copy that," said Johnson. "Someone get a satchel on that gate!" he shouted.
      The gate fell to the cobbled floor in a loud clang, and two Hunters strode in. Towering over even an Elite, covered with armour and spines, a Hunter could quash a whole platoon of Marines with relative ease. The addition of its enormous shield and fuel rod gun made it near invincible. Even the Chief paled slightly inside his helmet.
       "Hunters!" said Cortana unnecessarily.
       "Stand back Marines, let the Chief show you how it's done!" yelled Johnson confidently.
This is the way, the Chief thought. Climbing up to the turret, he fired repeatedly at the Hunters until even their hard armour gave way. Orange blood spattered all over the courtyard to the applause of the Marines.
       "Yes, well done," said Cortana sourly inside his head.
      She changed the subject so quickly that the Chief felt a little bewildered. "Second squad, this is Cortana. What is your status, over?" she asked through the COM system.
       "We're operational, ma'am, barely," came the answer. "Our pilots didn't make it."
       "Find a hole, stay put. We'll come to you."
      The Chief and his Marines moved through the demolished door towards the LZ the pilot had indicated. They rushed through dark alleys and small courtyards. As he rounded a corner, however, there was a flash of purple light and something hit him hard in the chest. The force blew him bodily backwards into a Marine, and both men hit the ground.
      The Chief got up quickly and helped the Marine up. The Marine was bruised from his hard landing, and the Chief helped him into some cover.
      He crept out again. The Marines were hiding inside the buildings, except for Sergeant Johnson, who was peering through his sniper scope.
       "I think it came from over there," said the Chief. Swinging his rifle barrel over, Johnson fired once, twice, and lowered his weapon.
      He handed the Chief a set of binoculars. "Look, over there, behind that pillar."
      The Chief stared at one of the ugliest carcasses he had ever seen. Blood was splattered all over it and it was splayed on the wall behind it. Closer observation yielded that it was probably a Jackal without its shield. He saw a dark weapon with little purple knobs, presumably the weapon it had used to snipe the Chief with.
       "I want one of those," he said to Johnson, and mowed down the other Jackals that were flocking to the sniper's body.
      After they had cleared the area, the Chief went to retrieve the "beam rifle" from the dead sniper.
      Miranda Keyes's voice came over the COM system. "Sergeant, I need you on that bird."
"Ma'am?" asked Johnson, puzzled.
"My Pelicans are going to start airlifting armour and reinforcements into the city. They'll need an escort that isn't afraid of a little hostile ground fire.
      Johnson obliged. "Understood. I'll keep an eye on 'em. Chief," he turned to the Spartan, "good luck."
      When you have skills, you don't need luck.
      Johnson climbed onto the Pelican and it flew off.

After battling past scores more of the Covenant troops that seemed to have taken up permanent residence in the city, the Chief, with his embattled Marines, finally arrived at a derelict hotel, the Hotel Zanzibar.
      A Marine with a bandage around his head approached him: one of the soldiers of the second squad, presumably. "Chief!" he called. "Glad you could make it. Crash site's on the other side of this hotel, Chief. Covenant are crawling all over it. Follow me."
      The hotel was horribly dark. Whenever he passed rooms, he could see unmade bed sheets, strewn paper, and bloodstains, some small, some large. Many times, he thought he heard voices: grunts, screams, whimpers. It spooked him. Veteran of a hundred battles indeed. Perhaps, if –
      Two Elites loomed up out of the darkness in front of the Chief, and the Marine behind him jumped. "Argh!" he yelled.
      One hand pushing the Marine back and the other priming a plasma grenade, the Chief stuck the latter onto the red-armoured veteran in front of him. In a flash of blue light all that remained of the ambush were purple bloodstains and fragments of armour and flesh. The Marine behind him gaped.
       "Oh, nice work, sir," said the Marine faintly.
      Without further ado, the Chief left the hotel and emerged upon a view of the dark sea. Overcast and gloomy, the sky looked like a woollen blanket made by Aunt Margaret (the expression was not his own).
      A Phantom zoomed in, firing hard at anything that moved. Second Squad was holding its own, however: the new weapons were certainly an excellent upgrade to the Marines' arsenal.
      He plunked the weapon he had purloined from the Jackal sniper on a block of stone. As the Phantom dropped Grunts and Elites upon the promenade, the Chief started to learn using it. With the obvious advantage of not needing to reload, he sniped down the Grunts and did the Elites in with his energy sword, to which he had grown a deep liking. When the Phantom departed in defeat, there was a ragged cheer from the Marines.
      A LAAG 'Hog skidded into view. As the driver honked the horn, the Chief jumped down.
      The driver showed the Chief his driving license and grinned.
       "No," said the Chief, and pushed him onto the passenger's seat.
      The beach, too, was covered with Covenant troops, including plasma cannons, little sniping platforms and Ghosts with a new "boosting" ability.
      He reviewed his options. What was his primary mission here on Earth? Protecting Mombassa? Or getting to the Prophet of Regret?
      Regret. He drove past the hordes of Covenant troops, leaving the Marines to deal with them.
      Crashing through a load of rubble, the Chief's Warthog emerged on a long, smooth underground tunnel. The walls were scarred with plasma fire and bullet holes.
      He got off the Warthog. "Get in the driver's seat," he said to the Marine riding shotgun. He rested his beam rifle on the windshield. "I have a feeling I'll have some heavy shooting to do."
      They reached the first Covenant blockade a few minutes later: an assortment of blocks and a large amount of Jackals.
      The Chief advocated the "unorthodox" method. "Drive right through them," he said to the driver. "And keep shooting," he said to the gunner.
      It worked. When the Warthog approached, with huge tires, headlights, blaring horn and gigantic LAAG, every single Covenant soldier turned tail, jumping with surprising agility onto the curb as the Warthog – with the whooping gunner – sped through the blockade.
       "Hah!" the driver yelled.
       "Hah!" the gunner yelled.
      The Chief tried hard not to join in.
      The Warthog continued on its journey through the underground highways of New Mombassa (they having left Old Mombassa after veering off the beach). Cortana provided some brain stimulation while they did the dirty work.
       "I've been analyzing the Covenant tactical chatter. They're surprised, confused…. I don't think they expected us to be here. Not you and me, all of us. Humanity on Earth. Odd, I know," she said in a posh English accent, "but it does help explain why they came here with such a small fleet."
      They sped past a few other blockades before coming upon a rather spectacular gout of plasma tunneling its way into the highway.
       "Whoa," said the Chief, "what was that?"
       "That must have been a super stationary plasma cannon," said Cortana.
       "What, very stationary plasma cannon?"
       "No," she replied. "Idiot."
      They were approached by two Ghosts, the drivers of which were rather surprised when the gunner blew their vehicles to pieces, and a new Covenant vehicle the Chief had not yet seen: a ground transport of some kind consisting of a purple "bridge", with a cage for the driver and a large turret, called the Shadow. They sped past it, every Covenant soldier within firing at them and missing.
      They sped past a few other Shadows, and the Chief decided to put his mediocre sniping skills to the use. Leaning his beam rifle on the windshield over the driver's head, he proceeded to snipe the drivers in each Shadow. While the first he killed in four shots (he was a little rusty), he finished off the rest with one or two. Each Shadow stalled and was left behind as the Covenant struggled to regroup.
      They drove past a few more Ghosts, another blockade and through the central arc of a Shadow before going uphill into the afternoon light and the center of New Mombassa.

Halo 2: Defense and Offense - Chapter 6
Date: 5 November 2005, 3:15 am

Author’s Note: I decided to get rid of the whole “1205 hours, October 20” thing because I think that 1. it’s not really necessary: it’s quite easy to tell that time has passed in a story and it’s hardly necessary to be exact and 2. because I myself can’t keep track of the time using the dates in novels (which is why I hate reading diaries) and it would be heresy to try and estimate the time between for instance when the Chief leaves New Mombassa to when he arrives at Delta Halo. The dating is a nice touch, but it reminds me of Nyland and I don’t like it.

Author’s Note 2: This chapter is kind of long and boring, so you can skim it if you like.

The Master Chief skidded along the top of the bridge, jumping off and waving his Marines off too.

He walked forwards. In front, a young Marine lay gasping. The Chief could see that the poor boy was absolutely terrified.

A female Marine stood a little way back. “It blew right through us!” she said, staring at the bridge. Near the end of the bridge was the retreating back of the Covenant walker, or “Scarab”. “Fifty cal, rockets, didn’t do a thing!”

A Pelican flew over and dropped a Scorpion tank down. A brawny black man jumped down as well, springing lightly onto a tread and then leaping down. The Chief and the two Marines started toward him.

“Where’s the rest of your platoon?” Sergeant Johnson asked.

“Wasted, Sarge,” said the female Marine.

“And we will be too sir, if we don’t get the hell out of here!” the second Marine whimpered.

Johnson put his hand on the man’s shoulder as he turned away. “You hit, Marine?” he asked.

“Er – no sir,” he replied, a little shamefully.

“Then listen up!” he growled, turning to the Chief and the female Marine.

“When I joined the Corp, we didn’t have any fancy-shmancy tanks,” he lectured. “We had sticks – two sticks – and a rock for a whole platoon. And we had to share the rock.” Behind his visor, the Chief smiled slightly. “Buck up, boy! You’re one very lucky Marine!”

“What about that Scarab?” the female Marine asked.

“We all run the simulations,” said Johnson, putting a cigar into his mouth. “They’re tough, but they ain’t invincible. Stay with the Master Chief,” he said, turning away, “he’ll know what to do.”

“Yes sir, Sergeant” said the female Marine. The other Marine still looked rather scared.

Thanks for the tank,” said Miranda Keyes from In Amber Clad. “He never gets me anything.”

“Oh I know what the ladies like,” said Johnson inside the Pelican, smiling evilly.

As the Pelican flew off, the Chief climbed into the Scorpion. He had had quite a lot of experience with these lumbering leviathans.

The UNSC had not been idle while he messed around on Halo 04. The new tank boasted improved armour, a quicker-firing turret and a small compartment under the seat where MRE (Meals Ready to Eat) could be warmed by the heat of the tank’s engine. The Chief found it rather unhygienic.

The two Marines on his Warthog and the two on the bridge jumped onto the tractor pods and they lumbered off.

The Covenant had taken a lot of precautions to guard against Marine assault on the bridge. As the Chief’s tank rumbled forward, they were set upon by what seemed like twenty Ghosts.


A Ghost burst into flames.


Another was flung onto the side of the bridge, exploding in a cascade in blue sparks.


The Chief’s tank rolled on.

While the Chief’s journey over the bridge would have been viewed as “life-threatening, terrifying and completely idiotic” by the horrified Marines aboard his Scorpion, to him it was not particularly eventful. True, he blew up a few more Ghosts. True, he was very nearly eviscerated by a Wraith tank. True, a Banshee pilot got off his Banshee and tried to pull him out of the Scorpion before one of the Marines put a few battle rifle bursts through him, but compared to all the other odd things he had done before, the Chief found it only mildly interesting.

A little puzzle presented itself when they reached the end of the bridge. Here, in happier days, cars had sped over the bridge and reached the toll booths. Instead, two Wraith tanks had not paid their tolls and set up camp outside the tunnel entrance. If the Chief focused his attention on one, the other would kill him.

A long history of cooperation with Cortana had made the Chief much more creative and less narrow-minded than he had been before. Stopping the tank outside the Wraiths’ range, he pushed open the cover of the cockpit and asked one of the Marines, “Have you ever tried boarding enemies?”

“Hell yes, sir,” he replied, “though I think it’s a bit suicidal.”

“Maybe not,” the Chief replied. “When I say ‘Go’, you are all to jump out of the tank and jump onto one of the Wraiths. You got your combat knives?” The female Marine waved hers. “Good. On my word, then.”


The Chief fired a long-distance shot to get the Wraiths’ attention.

He drove nearer. As the Wraiths boosted to get nearer to him, he yelled, “Gogogo!” The Marines jumped off and ran at the Wraiths. The Elite drivers, preoccupied with the Chief and his tank, didn’t notice them until they had jumped on and started stabbing. The combat knives, made of carbon steel, similar to large butcher’s knives, cut through their shields easily. Torn between firing at the Chief (who was annoying them with his machine gun) and the Marines frantically stabbing them, the Elites succumbed to multiple head wounds before they could reach a decision.

They had not a long way further to go. Up ahead was a road-block, where the Chief was forced to abandon his Scorpion.

“Pile out!” one of the Marines yelled. They jumped off.

Moving up the ramp that went over the roadblock, the Chief saw a telltale purple glimmer to his left. It was one of the Jackals’ beam rifles. Its late and unlamented owner lay beside it. He switched his old rifle for the new.

A Covenant infantry force was down below. “What on earth are they doing?” Cortana said. The Grunts seemed to be walking in circles around a burning car, while the Elites laughed.

Something was obviously wrong. Even the Chief had never seen anything so bizarre in his entire career.

“No time to find out,” he replied. With two rapid head-shots, he killed two of the Elites.

The change between the dancing Grunts and Covies charging at the Marines was instantaneous. Without any sort of coordination, as though they were enraged that they had been distracted in some gravely important ritual, the entire force ran straight at the Marines in a mob. A couple of rockets and some battle-rifle fire were enough to mash them.

They continued onwards. The Chief was able to put an invisible Elite and an Elite with a sword down with very cool sticks (he chucked one from the roadblock and it landed on the head of the sword Elite on the other side), the latter’s sword which he swapped with his own. Then his intrepid team moved on.

“Welcome to New Mombassa!” a Marine yelled outside. They emerged onto what resembled a park, albeit filled with Covenant merrymakers. The whole place was swarming with them. Beam rifles spat and plasma fire drenched the area.

With a fancy spin, a Gauss ‘Hog emerged around the corner. It was driven by a Staff Sergeant Atherton. “Use you on the gun, Chief,” he yelled.

For once, the Chief complied. With his Marine with the rocket launcher on the passenger seat, he re-acquainted himself with the ‘Hog’s Gauss cannon, a highly accurate gun similar in concept to the MAC gun, albeit much smaller. The first round blew a Jackal sniper apart; the second slammed into a Ghost and flung it onto the central paved area.

Unfortunately, that still left three Marines with no jobs to do. The Chief again worked out a plan. After creeping round for a while (funny what the Covenant could miss if a Warthog with a Gauss cannon was firing at them), he gave each of the leftover Marines a beam rifle, taught them how to use it, and said the most welcome phrase in the military textbook: “Cover me,” which amounted to “Shoot everything”.

“Sure thing, sir,” one of the Marines grinned.

The rest was easy. The Gauss cannon and his rocket-launcher Marine blasted apart the enemy, while pink beams zapped around. The Marines, initially very bad shots, quickly improved under the stress.

The Warthog moved on to the exit, where two Wraiths and Ghosts were patrolling. The Chief placed his beam rifle Marines on the central paved area, while he harassed the Wraiths.

Boom, boom, boom, boom.

The Gauss cannon shouted. One Wraith, then two, exploded into flames.

The Chief drove on. His beam rifle Marines signaled for evac.

They reappeared onto another open area in New Mombassa. Many brown-coloured skyscrapers reared like jagged teeth around them. The road, blocked at one end by a barrier, wound on for a little while before taking a ninety-degree turn to the left and ending in a roundabout. Two Wraiths were practicing their driving, as was a chain-gun ‘Hog.

The Warthog swung side on to the first Wraith.

“Fire!” the Chief shouted. As he fired several times, two homing rockets slammed into the Wraith. It exploded into blue flames.

They took care of the second Wraith in the same way. A Phantom glided over the rooftops, bearing two Ghosts.

“Time for a little payback,” the Chief quoted. He fired two accurate shots, destroying first one Ghost and then the other. The Phantom retreated.

They left the beaten-up Warthog at the foot of the steps. His two Marines, plus the three on the other Warthog, humped to the entrance of one of the buildings around the roundabout.

Striding through a hallway and up some stairs onto a higher level, the Chief saw the Scarab clunking over. There was no point engaging it, so he headed yet higher. The glass door opened onto a series of walkways elevated high above the ground. On the floor, he saw a rocket launcher. A reload was nearby.

He picked them up. The Scarab was now lumbering beneath the first of three catwalks. Marines all around were firing with battle-rifles and rocket-launchers at the Covenant that were standing on the back of the Scarab.

Taking a big breath, the Chief jumped from the first platform onto the back of the Scarab.

He had no idea how such a small hold could hold so many enemies, but there it was. No less than two Elites, two Jackals and a pair of Grunts were crowded onto the back, and another Elite was striding up the passage from the inside.

He threw down his rocket launcher and activated his sword. Sticking a plasma grenade onto one of the Elites’ face, he sliced the other soldiers apart.

As the Scarab reached the second bridge, many more of the Marines jumped down. They diced the Covenant, which actually included a pair of Hunters. They were quickly blasted apart by the Chief’s rockets.

Cortana uploaded herself to the Scarab’s computers. “Hmm,” she mused. “Let me work out the controls.” There was a pause. An odd, warbling music blared out suddenly.

“Nope,” she said. The music switched off, there was another pause, then she said, “Self-destruct in five.” As Cortana uploaded herself back to the Chief’s suit, the Chief and his Marines ran back to the top of the Scarab. It had by now stopped at the third bridge, and a ladder was dropped down by some other Marines.

They climbed up, just as the Scarab burst at the seams. Blue fire licked out and the mighty monster staggered, jerking slightly before finally falling apart. Through the smoke, a Pelican dropship flew down.

“That’s right you mothers, run!” Sergeant Avery Johnson shouted from within the cockpit.

The Chief looked upwards. The enormous Covenant flagship had deactivated its gravity lift.

Not if we can help it, Sergeant,” came the voice of Miranda Keyes. “Extract the Chief and return to In Amber Clad.”

“Roger that,” Johnson said.

In her frigate, Keyes switched channels. “Sir,” she said to the image of Lord Hood, “the Prophet is bugging out. Request permission to engage.”

Negative, Commander,” he replied. “That flagship’s too powerful for starside intercept.”

Meanwhile, the flagship was moving slightly forwards. Purple light, like a web, was appearing and parting before its nose.

“Ma’am!” Keyes’s navigation officer reported. “Slipspace rupture – they’re trying to jump inside the city!”

“There’s no time sir!” Keyes shouted. Out of the screen, the Covenant flagship was getting more and more of its bulk within the rupture.

Green light. Green light to engage!

As the Chief’s Pelican, dwarfed by the frigate, docked, In Amber Clad, dwarfed by the flagship, raced to pursue its enormous opponent. Twin jets of flame roared out behind it as it circled the central tower of New Mombassa.

“Punch it! Get us close!” Keyes shouted.

“Ma’am, without a destination solution –“

“We are not losing that ship!” Keyes said authoritatively.

The tiny frigate took up position right next to the flagship. The Prophet inside was probably so concerned with escaping from the failed assault of the city that he did not notice the tiny vessel hiding on its flanks. As both ships went through the rupture, the imbalances within space and time aligned themselves abruptly, right in New Mombassa. The resulting energy exploded outwards in a brilliant ball of white fire. Roads, cars and thousands of Marines and Covenant alike were blown outwards and consumed. Where there once was a city, there was only a flat, charred plain.