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Shattered Skies by Webbo227

Shattered Skies - Chapter 1
Date: 15 October 2008, 6:51 pm

Shattered Skies

Chapter 1

Sam's eyes flicked open as dawn broke through the reflective panels of glass. The computer, which he was working on, was emitting its steady glow, as it remained silent, awaiting its next inputted command. Sam yawned and positioned himself on the comfortable chair, which was already starting to fall to pieces. The Defence Structure Manager lay dormant waiting for an input to edit the default commands. Sam sighed and leant back on his seat. It had been three weeks since he enrolled for the Epsilon Alpha Defence Manager at the UNSC. During the Covenant War, he had enrolled at the finest universities on Marcrena II in hopes that one day, he could take his place onboard a frigate so he could help secure victory over the alien scum. But afterwards, there was no need for him, or any of the 20,000 students that had shared the same aspiration. Of course ships still patrolled the areas of space where Covenant resistance was strong, but there was no reason to swap out the staff that had served loyally during the hardest of times. There was also no work on any neighbouring planets, because of the mass produced robotics and the lack of computer talent needed. Sam sighed, he was lucky to have even secured this job; from what he could gather, perhaps only a hundred of the twenty thousand qualified technicians could get an occupation within the UNSC. But this wasn't what he had hoped for. The past three weeks had slowly merged into one painstakingly long day that never showed signs of stopping. No enemy resistance was ever sighted even though he was promised into a harsh and unruly environment that was mainly governed by the remnants of the Jiralhanae. As with many of the other areas the UNSC had neutralized these opposing forces, the "Brutes" remained within the solitary ruins of sandy, dry terrain.

Sam exited the computers program, and executed the video feed from the twenty cameras stationed around the dusty perimeter. The system loaded sluggishly, often stopping for moments at a time, before abruptly resuming itself. As the program attempted to establish a connection, Sam found himself wondering what his life would have been like if he was a Marine on the front lines, fighting the Covenant and destroying their suicidal plans for the entire galaxy. Sam smiled as he pictured himself as a fearless War Hero who would take on Brutes with a MA5B Assault Rifle and a handful of powerful fragmentation grenades. As he was dreaming of the life that could have been, he noticed something peculiar about the camera feed, which had now been initialised. Many of the cameras were registered with a red dot, which signified either broken or destroyed. Even though this was common due to the torrential sandstorms the planet faced, it was odd that none of the stationed soldiers, who were instantly alerted in case the enemy planned to sneak through, did not fix or replace these cameras. Sam made a mental note to speak to the commanding officer about the situation regarding this, but at this ungodly hour, he knew that disturbing the CO's hard earned sleep would have dire consequences upon himself.

Shaking the feeling away he closed the program, immediately wishing he hadn't, knowing he would have to suffer the wasted time it took to start the damn thing. He went to switch the whole unit off, when he noticed a remaining program still running. It wasn't like Sam to leave a program running while using another, as it consumed so much memory that could not be wasted. He slid the cursor across to the bar and clicked on it, waiting for it to appear on the screen. The following window showed detailed reports and complex schematics on some sort of funded project. Certain words stuck out such as, Spartan and augmentation, which led Sam to believe this could be some kind of project to help battle a war, but whether this was established before or after the war, Sam could not tell. He opened the schematics and a picture of an ODST melted onto the screen, along with a long list of coded chemicals. Sam wasn't a man chemist or a professor, and had no idea where to start looking at this. He also had no idea how he had managed to get onto the file. It was a highly restricted file, which not even the CO had access to. He frowned, wasn't happy at what he was seeing. Would this turn into another SPARTAN-II project? Even though he was thankful to their heroic deeds, the only reason they were captured at youth was to transform them into war machines. No one should have to go through that, to live life under the servitude of his or her heartless captors. The technician was confused and decided to leave the whole matter alone, maybe just delve into it with the CO to see what he knew. He hit the button on the lower end of the screen, and realized that the window did not open.

"Damn!" he thought. The window had begun to change frantically; numerical coding flashed and died as soon as they had appeared. Sam took a step backward, pushing the chair towards the cold wall. The built in speakers in the monitor began to stir.

"LEVEL 1 CLEARENCE HAS BEEN GRANTED" a cold, voice spat out, "FREELANCE O B 88 X5 SECTOR HAS BEGUN SCANNING." A short pause gave Sam time to think about what had just happened.


Sam looked on with horror at what the computer was planning to do. Would the UNSC thank him for purging their highly invested project? No. They would probably sentence him with capital punishment, for destruction of valuable UNSC property. Or would it be murder? Whatever the case, Sam dashed towards the keyboard and hammered the Esc button until the computer gave a response.


The monitor shook wildly as the confusion the computer was experiencing took control of it. After moments it spluttered and died, leaving Sam with a smoking wreck. Sam leapt away from the computer, afraid of what could possibly happen next. He quickly donned the protective suit that all Non-Combatants were forced to wear if going outside, and typed in the code for the reinforced to slide open.

Outside, sandstorms rolled off fallen buildings and clashed against the stone columns, abundant to the region. Without the N.C.P.D.S (Non Combatant Protective Defence Suit) Sam would surely be buried by the gale force winds and the howling sand dunes. But with the suit on, the torrential downpour of sandy rain felt like a mild drizzle. Sam was lost as soon as he got out of the door. He had been confined to the same terminal during his time here, as there was nowhere else that required his skills. However, Captain Lucas Jones was a vain person who constantly showed how impressive and superior he was compared to the recruits that came here reluctantly, meaning that he could only have commandeered the tallest, most extravagant tower in the area. Slowly, battling the winds wishes, Sam moved himself towards the titanium-plated door. He went to place his hand on the scanner situated on the doorway, when he realized it was fragmented and shards of glass littered the doorway. The door itself was undamaged, but open, which worried Sam dearly. Jones knew that people hated his arrogance and would do anything to lash out at him, in revenge or spite. Pushing the weighted metal door aside, Sam ventured inwards, unsure and scared about what he would find.

Empty. It was strange to see such a room virtually untouched. His bed had not been disturbed and the luxurious furniture was neatly in place. Sam, still cautious, looked around the room, hoping to find some clue as to the Captain's whereabouts. He had just finished searching the command room, when he heard murmuring from the first room he had entered. At a quicker pace, but still as silent as he had been, Sam peeked round the corner to see a torn corpse of a commanding officer, slung to the floor. Sam snapped his body towards the wall. Of course priority should be to help the superior, but personal survival out won Sam, if the CO was dead, then his assassin must be close by. Sam had no weaponry, he wasn't called upon to fight a battle physically, and so he reached for a shard of glass that lay scattered around a broken glass table. Captain Jones had the strangest desires when instituting a base, many Captains would look away in shame if they saw this, but at the same time would admire his strict training regimes. Sam rounded the corner, treading lightly as to not gain attention from any entity. Captain Jones was dead. His throat was slit and blood trickled ever so delicately and stained the beige rug. Murmuring echoed back once more, this time coming from the upper living areas.

Sam was reluctant to start his trek up the stairway; why not alert patrolling forces to storm the building? Because this was the only chance he would get. The unknown assailant would escape; forces would question his reasons for entering the Captain's quarters and "murdering" him, and then he would receive his capital punishment. At least this way, he could prove that there was a murderer and that he just happened to be in the right place at the right time. He shuddered as he placed a cautious step on the stair, hoping it would not alert his presence to the individual. The shard of glass was still gripped tightly in his fist, not too tight that it could penetrate the suit, but tight enough to get the most control over the jagged edge as he could.

The stairway ended and the upper rooms came into view. The base finally looked like military standard; computers dotted the walls, a simple bed was found in the corner, and the furniture was the same as regular Marines were accommodated with. However none of them rooms revealed the one thing he was truly looking for. Sam headed to the middle of the room, saw a luminous orange door, and even though his instincts told him to avoid it, curiosity was drawn towards it.

It opened up to the outside, a balcony suspended high from the ground, higher than Sam assumed he had escalated. It was beautiful out here, despite the ugly lumps of mineral that littered the entire military camp. The sun rose from the sandy hills and shone with unprecedented force over the entire weathered area. The fragmented rock flew in spirals under the gales command and fell graceful as the winds moved onwards, blowing more sand as it did so. He looked down, through the translucent material that separated Sam from gravity, and saw that the door had indeed been ripped apart by the savage airs. Then a strange feeling occurred within him, and as soon as it had come, it ended to be replaced by a blade of metal perturbing from his stomach. Agony soon kicked in, he was raised into the air and flipped over his head, metal still jammed within him. His gaze was soon thrust onto the wielder, the Captain's assassin. A helmet with an emerald visor, which shut out any the planet's sun, blocked its face. Its shoulders were curved, and were extremely blackened, unlike the rest of its armor that was coloured a silver-white. Its arms were coated with small lines that led off in different directions. The soldier, if that what it was, stared for a moment as red blood seeped from the injury it had inflicted. It then walked forward and positioned the sword, a katana, over the edge with Sam's flailing body still fixed to it. He brought the katana up and flung it downwards towards the ground.

The impact affected the suit. His visor was chipped, and a crack started to form where multitudes of particles rammed against it. He was unable to feel his arms or his toes, but the katana was still providing pain as blood squeezed from the sides of the suit and the sword and rolled of his body. The crack stretched from one side of the visor to the other, and was on the verge of cracking. Unable to move, Sam tried to shut his eyes but failing that, he relaxed his body and prepared for what he knew would come next. The soldier had also jumped from the balcony, but had landed squarely on his feet, unaffected by the freefall. He strode over to the dying man and reached for his weapon and watched as the bloodied steel slid effortlessly from the man's chest. He stared for yet another moment and walked off, no doubt to torture the remaining company. Sam took one last breath as the visor was struggling to retain its structure. The last few moments were painless. Even though the shards stuck to his face and the sand reached his insides and choked him from within, it did not register to his brain he was dying. Just emptiness as the life flowed out of him, like the crimson blood that bathed him.

At the control terminal that Sam had worked at however, things were stirring. The computer used a backup power supply to feed its components, and to change the log that Sam Edmore, last of the Epsilon Alpha outpost, was dead, just like the unaware Marines beforehand. Just as the computer returned to its dormant state, it read that a process had not been completed beforehand and resumed the half started input. Codes flashed on the screen once more, stopped, and a green tick appeared on the lower right corner.

While the cycle of the planet carried on as it had done for the last 500 millennia, 216,000 light-years away, a computer had finished receiving a complex instruction from a far off transmission. It processed the ancient directive, and machinery whined as it received an order to carry out its primary programming. The cryo-tube that was the only one that had remained closed began to move and the seal on it began to break. The lid rose gracefully, and the facility was flooded for a brief moment by a cold mist. Above the cryo-tube, a loudspeaker went off, a pre-recorded message rung out throughout the empty rooms.


From the seemingly never-ending smoke, a figure stirred, his identity silhouetted against the grey miasma. He reached out with one hand and gripped the side of the tube and did likewise with his other hand. With some effort, he hoisted himself out of his container and looked around. A helmet was worn, which was coloured a dull steel, and written on the neck was the words, "UNSC – 227". His armor was light, designed for training work around the dead training halls, and his boots were standard Marine equipment, unlike the rest of his body.


And as the speaker stopped its communication, Freelance-227 stepped forward, a smile played across his lips.

Shattered Skies - Chapter 2
Date: 19 October 2008, 10:30 am

Shattered Skies

Chapter 2

The verdant overgrown jungles of Mondcano IV were proving to be a nightmare to the PFC Joshua Greenwood. The UNSC saw it fit to plunge him into some proper action against vicious troops, but from what the thermal imaging could show the rookie, only towering trees, minute creatures and luminous plants scattered the planets surface. The officers at ONI sought to prove otherwise, assuming that the Covenant survivors were using a cloaking tower to scramble the waves that the overhead satellite beamed down across the planet. Even so, the Marine thought, the structure must be producing plenty of energy to make the thermals go crazy. His nervousness about the mission couldn't be seen from the outside, but from the faces of the other Marines who accompanied him, it was all too clear that they were sharing the same thought. Something wasn't right. Two of the Marines were trailing at the back of the formation, hefting M19 SSM Rocket Launchers each, whilst Sergeant Taylor leaded the company through the thick, mutated growths that trailed between trees, delved into the ground, and sprouted from the ground in the far off mists. The base had provided the heavy firepower of the rocket launchers, in case deactivating the supposed "tower" proved too difficult or too boring, whichever took their fancy. Joshua was loaded with his own weaponry designed for regular combat, his MA5C Assault Rifle with two spare ammunition clips, a M6G pistol, which he hoped he didn't have to use, and two M9 Fragmentation Grenades which proved their worth when tossed into a standard Covenant formation. The same trend carried on for the other Marines, minus the two Marines who couldn't possibly heft more than one weapon. Sergeant Taylor however was armed with an exceptionally powerful M90 Shotgun that many Sergeants seemed to carry, and a polished combat knife that, once the battle was over, would have to be cleaned again; Sergeant Taylor was a savage soldier.

The trees parted into a vacant clearing, only scattered boulders littered the ground. Orders were signalled over the COM link, and the eight soldiers split into two directions, a rocket following each team. Nothing was out of the ordinary about this place, except from the eerie silence, but previous encounters with the Covenant and the stories survivors had to tell, seemed to indicate that what they were hunting for was hidden here. The Covenant had planned dominance, but they most obviously prepared for hiding. The clearing had unnerved him, Joshua had not seen open ground on this planet; even the encampment was squashed against the lack of space the tree trunks offered.

"The Covenant are here," Joshua thought, "But what are they doing?"

Before his thought could fade into the jumbled thoughts the nineteen-year-old soldier was experiencing, Sergeant Taylor's voice echoed through the small speakers in his helmet.

"Boys. There can be no doubt that beyond this glamour, Covenant uglies are welcoming our surprise party, just for us. I feel it only fair that we let everyone know what great pals they are."

No one broke the radio silence, but it was plain to see that they all agreed that the Covenant had to come out and play.

It was impossible to gauge how strong the cloaking field was, how big its range was, and if the Covenant were aware of our presence. The barrier was silencing all sound waves from inside it; a Grunt couldn't stop moaning unless it was dozing off. Joshua and the other Marines fell on their stomachs and crawled slowly towards the centre field, hands clenched tightly around the loaded Assault Rifle, knowing that in a few moments it would be mowing down cowardly Grunts, birdlike Jackals, and the ferocious Brutes. Joshua smiled as he thought of the fun and bloodshed he would have to inflict today.

Perhaps half a minute later, the team disturbed the barrier, sending small ripples to stretch around the spherical surface. Joshua rose to his feet, leant against the bubble as though it was a solid wall, rifle to his chest, and burst through, Marines following obediently, trusting the rookie's initiative for danger, unaware of what could be lying in wait for them.

The flimsy barrier encased the flipside to the secluded valley. Massive, towering machines gathered around the centre, hammering into the soft land underneath. Walkways had been erected from metal supports, and a dozen jackals walked along them, armed with Type-51 Carbines cradled in their arms. Across the ground were small huts that could just about fit a grown Brute into it, but was instead reserved for the cannon fodder race, the Grunts. From a distance, Joshua could make out two of them sleeping peacefully, despite the thundering racket the digger was creating, and another refilling its methane reserves at a elongated stand that reminded Joshua of an old water faucet. But prowling round with Type 25 "Spikers" at their sides, the eight foot, hulking, masked monsters, the Brutes, scowled hatefully at everything around them, wondering how they had wound up hiding away from the human stain. About ten meters ahead of him though, was the tower that was making their elusive dig possible. Black, polished metal stood twenty meters tall by five meters wide, with a lime crystal emanating a soft, radiant aura that melted to transparency as soon as it hit the atmosphere. Joshua had no idea how defensively capable this base was, or how fragile the tower could be. No word from the Sergeant, either he was apprehensive about the shield, or was already evading the regular patrols; Joshua was certain that he wasn't found yet, or else the whole base would know it.

Waiting behind a small metal lump of a building, Joshua, his two armed Marines, and the bulky rocket wielder waited in silence for the all clear from Taylor. He was glad to see that none of them were frightened, just confused. He had to admit, he had no idea what the dig would relinquish. A minute. Two.

After three minutes and forty-three seconds, static pounded the PFC's already fragile eardrums, but it soon melted out into a smooth transmission.

"Greenwood, we are in position. Be ready to fire at the support beams holding this thing up. Fire in precisely twenty seconds. Out."

Joshua did not need telling twice, his helmet's small visor already printed his time limit for him. He signalled for the men to move into more open ground for a clearer shot. The Marine with the rockets crouched against the ground; launcher perched on his shoulder. The 2X zoom activated, and the Marine took careful aim, locked on to the large legs propping the structure up and waited for the signal. Six seconds. Five. As the counter reached four, a Grunt in red armor, a Major Grunt, rounded the corner lazily, unaware of the four humans and their lethal explosive weaponry. He screamed and was prepared to run off, when one of the Marines took his Assault Rifle and panicked as he squeezed the trigger. What Joshua had thought was a clean head shot turned into a hail of eleven bullets aiming for the small alien's methane tank attached to his back. Eight of the bullets pierced the tank, and as the alien took off in blind fear, the methane ignited, causing an explosion to blast a small chunk of the ground away. And alerted every enemy of the unwanted guests.

A rocket had already flown by and hit its target dead on. The rocket blossomed into a deadly inferno, with the shrapnel its jagged petals. The structure moaned under the force acting against it, causing the barrier to flicker wildly. However it stood tall, damaged, but operational, with one missing leg. Joshua's Marine tried to concentrate again, when he slumped to the floor, a bolt from a Covenant Carbine passing through his skull. Joshua hastily retrieved the launcher and headed to the only piece of cover available, the metal building. Seconds later, he was joined with his surviving comrades, one of them burned by an encounter with a Grunt's Plasma Pistol. Spikes of metal were being fired at the metal wall, so close that Joshua could hear the spikes cooling down from the heated flight. He armed himself with his rifle and peeked his head round the corner, aimed at the nearest Brute and fired at the centre mass. The Brute staggered backwards under the force of the 7.62mm rounds bombarding his chest and roared violently for the Grunts to gather round and burn the humans. Joshua paused, grabbed one of the two grenades, pulled the pin, counted to three and threw the primed grenade into the middle of the bunched Grunts, causing them to fly in different directions, mostly into walls, cracking their skulls as they did so. The Brute roared again, and this time charged towards them unarmed, prepared to tear them to shreds. The other Marines were fighting their own battle, so Joshua crouched against the building, angled his gun downwards and waited for the clumsy footsteps to arrive. He twisted his body and fired at the approaching entity, firing upwards as he did, cracking the damaged chest plate, shattering its shoulder and blinding it in its right eye. It stumbled in agony, hands clutching its useless eye, giving Joshua a chance to side step round it and, using the butt of his rifle, whacked the beast in the back, and watched it as it slumped to the floor, dead. Joshua ran back to the invaluable cover, and picked up the discarded rockets. Fumbling with the launcher, Joshua tried to figure out how to operate it properly without blowing everyone up. He had managed to find the trigger, but was still fiddling with the controls to find the zoom. Another rocket flew by and hit another of the three remaining legs. This time, the leg didn't respond to the explosion and carried on as usual.

"Greenwood! What happened?" shouted the COM link.

Joshua activated his microphone and responded.

"We were spotted sir! We couldn't get a clear shot either. There's too many Jackals, they took down one of ours with no effort."

No response came from the speakers, but from the Jackal's vantage point atop the supports, came an almighty detonation as a rocket crippled the metal walkways, plummeting the dozen Jackals to the ground below.

"Hope you're happy son, that was our last rocket. You'd better make those two of yours count, out."

Priorities had changed with the enemy, as they investigated the origin of the rocket and prepared to strike the small task force, leaving Joshua's group with no resistance. Lifting the launcher as high as he could hold it, he rested it on his shoulder, flicked the zoom switch, and let loose the launcher's first airborne explosive. It sailed quietly across the field and hit the leg that had been previously damaged. This time, its metal couldn't brace the flaring rocket and the tower was snapped off its support, wobbling as it was been slowly pulled towards the ground. Wasting no time, Joshua unloaded his last rocket, aiming at the third leg. Hopefully, if he was correct, he could make a bit more of a bang then his Sergeant. Previous detonations had already made the rest of the tower delicate, so the leg snapped off with ease. But the best was yet to come. It shook violently, and then pulled away from its largest mass, the one last leg, and fell…directly onto the digging machine. The result was a white-blue cloud of energy that swallowed surrounding Brutes, encased the dead Jackals and crippled everything they had worked towards. What a shame.

Satisfied with his work, he contacted the Sergeant with requests to pull back. Hastily granted, they worked with the enemies confusion and fled the scene, sprinting towards the forests edge, spikes of metal flying around their heads in an inaccurate trajectory. The Brutes large hands couldn't operate the Carbine; so long range offence wouldn't be a problem.

Safely shrouded in the forest the seven Marines celebrated their exceptional work. One of them inquired however, "What do we do now sir? We can't just leave them alive, they'll hunt us down, and in close quarters I don't think we can jest."

The Sergeant sighed heavily, "Didn't your mama teach you any manners? They gave us a lovely present so we have to give one back."

He keyed a series of codes into his tablet, while the other Marines looked round in confused with their CO's plan.

"Taylor to Triumphant. Do you read me?"

A calm voice replied to the Sergeant, "We hear you Taylor, what is the status of your mission?"

"In progress, but mostly complete. We could use some help. We destroyed the tower, you should be able to pick up the base in our surrounding area."

A pause as the Triumphant re-did their scan.

"Yes we see it Taylor, what's your plan?"

Taylor smiled, "Why, just being courteous to our guests. Perhaps some nice bombing runs just to let them know how much me and my boys care."

The person at the other end chuckled and thanked the Sergeant for his work. The Marines had eavesdropped on the conversation and were already cheering about the bombing run they were expecting. Joshua stared out into the Covenant camp, watching the Brutes, which were unaware of the added explosions they would have to deal with today.

However from the corner of his eye, he saw a glimmer of light shine towards his face. It wasn't the neon blue plants, this light was green, jade green. He leapt over the fallen log and investigated the source, for some reason he felt it wasn't natural.

Lying on the floor was an ODST. His helmet obscured his face, jade green, just as he had saw reflected but there was no way to identify him. He was odd; he wore the same military standard boots that he himself was wearing but his chest plate was slightly reminiscent of the legendary SPARTAN-II program. He was coloured a dark grey just like an ODST, but, he had never seen an ODST like this before. He looked for any identification, and gave up when all he could see was a small message on the helmet saying "UNSC-227". He signalled for the Sergeant to come over here and identify him. Sergeant Taylor frowned and re-established contact with the Triumphant.

"Triumphant? Did you send another task forced down here before us?"

No response, but after a couple of seconds the same voice echoed, this time loud enough for the whole group to hear, who had gathered round the mysterious Helljumper.

"No, the only force on the planet should be you and your seven Marines."

Taylor scowled, he didn't like been kept in the dark. Someone had ordered these ODST's to come to the planet prior to their arrival.

The Triumphant responded again, "What identification can you get from him?"

Taylor looked at the body. He was still alive, but only just. He looked around him and found the same number as Joshua did.

"Its strange, he doesn't have the original identification, just "UNSC – 227"."

Silence again, but this time keyboards could be heard hammering away.

"Oh God! It can't be. This can't be right!"

Taylor was getting annoyed at this point. "Goddamn it Triumphant, tell me what's going on right now or so hel-"

"Is he alive?" The Triumphant cut in.


"Bring him back now. We need to know how he got there. How he's still here…"

Sergeant Taylor ended the broadcast, picked up the soldier and slung him over his back, ordering the remaining troops to fall back to the base. And as they navigated to the bunker they had been placed in, the screams of Brutes and Grunts could be heard over the sound of C709 Longswords, bombing the entire encampment to ruins.

Shattered Skies - Chapter 3
Date: 12 November 2008, 5:11 pm

Shattered Skies

Chapter 3

      The halls of the UNSC frigate "Triumphant" were bursting with half-shadows and soft lights. After picking up the ground team and their mysterious soldier, the frigate was forced to cut her engines and keep power usage to a minimum. Covenant technology had dwindled as the UNSC wrecked it time after time, but they always found a way to bite back after a crippling blow. The now destroyed frigate "Fates Hand" proved a monument to the destructive power they could unleash to the orbiting metal fortress. Of course, important functions were boosted to high priority such as sensors and navigation, but the ship's AI "Gary" had decided that hall lights were too much of a luxury and thought the flow of energy used to maintain them would serve a greater purpose fuelling the Magnetic Acceleration Cannon in case of an airborne attack. As such, the seven adrenaline pumped soldiers were bumping into each other aboard the narrow walkways that weren't built to accommodate their stature. Around the corner, a door slid open, and a smartly dressed officer stepped out to salute the men now bathed in the ambient glow of the adjacent room. Sergeant Taylor was the first to step forward to return the salute, his men mimicking him in every way.

      "It's good to see you again Taylor, I was worried this mission would be too difficult for you to handle." The officer said, a stern yet sarcastic tone echoing through his choice of words.

      The Sergeant frowned, "Tell that to the recruit that got his head fried by a goddamn Carbine. I'm sure he'll agree."

      The rest of the team failed to mimic him this time, taking their grief from their own personal experiences. Joshua stared at the floor; the recruit that was so willing to help out and carry the heaviest gear was the only tragic loss of the expedition. He didn't even know his name, his dog tags weren't on him at the time, or he would have retrieved them with the rockets the poor soul was eager to fire. It was better this way though; even though he had lost a member, at least it didn't feel like losing a friend. Sergeant Taylor's attitude had also changed. On the ground, he was optimistic about the outcome, but during the flight on the D77H-TCI Pelican Dropship up towards the drifting ship, he started to feel guilty for the one person he couldn't save. Taylor was ruthless, yet defensive. He would beat himself up about a dead Marine for over a week, unless his duties detered him from reminiscing.

      The officer looked up at Taylor and looked at the body slung like an animal over his shoulder.

      "I assume that's him," the officer enquired.

      The Sergeant shook the unconscious ODST and watched for a brief moment as it flopped around.

      "If you can define him, James, I might be able to help you."

      The officer, Commander James King, looked down at the floor and replied in a solemn tone, "I guess you'd want some answers?"

      He strolled towards the door and invited the team inside. The room was bright compared to the bleak hallways that Joshua had travelled on; computers were winking different coloured lights, as the people controlling them, typed on their respective keyboards in blurring motions. The center table was a shining steel which reflected the overhead, sparkling light which made looking at the holo-tube situated at the center of the table, unbearable to look at.

      James walked towards his seat and motioned for the others to sit down. Before Taylor could however, the weight of his back was lifted, as a pair of medics set the ODST down on a trolley and wheeled him out of the room and down the pitch black corridor.

      "Please, sit."

      The commander took his seat and gained the attention of one of the hard working technicians. He walked over to the holo-tube and activated the power supply. No sooner had he booted the specifications, the "Triumphant"'s AI, Gary, sparked into a neon blue image. All AI's were given a choice as to what "physical" form that would imitate when they divulged their information, but it was strange to see an AI to take the form of a fifteen year old boy, especially seeing as AI's were drawn to the form of large sentient creatures from far off planets.

      "Greetings Commander. I assume that the mission went as planned." The image voiced out. On the ship, commanding officers and all personel with roles heavily tied with the AI's programming, were equipped with neural implants to give the illusion that they were talking to them as a human. But for the run-of-the-mill Marines, they would have to deal with the standardised speakers that were intergrated into the tube.

      "I sent you the mission log, the entire mission was a success with minimal UNSC casualty." The Commander replied.

      "Hmmph." The Sergeant huffed, causing the AI to swivel to his position, opposite the Commander.

      "Oh, this must be UNSC slash dot one Sergeant Brad Taylor of the mission. Are you unhappy with the result?"

      Taylor shifted in his chair and replied with a slight tone of anger, "You may be happy with the numbers scrolling across your processor, but to the one lost digit that should be sitting with us, his family will have to be informed of the sombre news that their pride and joy has been killed by a mutated birdman. I'd rather keep the death count to a maximum of zero."

      The AI responded almost instantaneously, "Losses have been made in the war, just as in any war, just as in any battle. I would register some emotion, but primary programming deters me from accessing it."

      "Enough! Both of you!" The Commander was on his feet. "You came here for answers Brad? Then sit down and listen to what Gary has to conclude."

      The Sergeant was silent, only Joshua had the built up nerve to ask.

      "The Brutes had established a miner, a digger, and were whittling away at the ground like wood. Do you have any idea what it is they were looking for?"

      The other Marines looked at Joshua in shock; it wasn't in their nature to ask about a mission, it was a straight forward procedure with no questions asked. The AI turned once more and the beams of light changed into a replication of a smile.

      "We do not. The Covenant remnants have been rallied under the supervision of a Prophet, a minor in the old Covenant, it is now the driving force behind the decreasing army. Even though we have secured many of the enemy's Forerunner technology, it is likely that they have access to information we have no such clue about. Perhaps the destruction of the Ark triggered this event. A thought, but with no sufficient evidence to back it up."

      This news depressed the men futher. The Forerunners weren't stupid, they must have created failsafes for the Flood outbreak, even if they didn't get to use them. But if it was a weapon they were looking for, what was it?

      Gary continued, "I see this hypothesis has troubled you to a greater extent. I apologize, I didn't mean to act upon growing concerns."

      No one spoke for a while. The fight over the Halo rings had cost the human race plenty over the years they had fought, the Marines who had experienced the dedication that the Covenant put into their campaigns knew that if Gary's hypothesis was correct, it would mean more bloodshed in the name of survival. Commander King and Gary were quietly discussing the operational status of the ship, running re-scans of the planet surface to see if any similar operations had gone underway. James was ready to leave the Marines to themselves when the silence was broken by a quiet whisper by the Sergeant.

      "And what about him?"

      James turned to the Sergeant quickly, flashed a sharp smile, and retook his seat, ordering Gary to open up restricted files from the memory banks on the nearest UNSC colony. James smiled once more, and spread his hands across the desk.

      "What do you know?" he asked politely.

      "I know that he's one of ours; a crazy one, probably reckless too. That's what you expect from an ODST. But I get the feeling that he's mighty important to get the first-class treatment."

      James chuckled again, and waited for Gary to re-appear. He finally did so, signalling the AI to open up the certain files he requested.

      "I suppose you've heard of the SPARTAN-II program? Of course you have, it's common knowledge. Children stripped of their freedom and humanity for the sake of war. The legendary supersoldiers of Reach. You've heard the story, the lucky break that won us this war. But before Dr. Halsey's detailed research could be accepted, the UNSC took different approaches to the idea of creating heroes. A twinned project was created alongside the SPARTAN project, dubbed FREELANCE by the lack of UNSC involvement they took."

      "You mean like the HAYABUSA project rivalling the MJOLNIR project?" a young Marine piped up.

      "No," James replied, "Those were merely armor designs, and although they helped tremendously, the soldier underneath counted for more. No, the two projects were aiming for the same goal, but with different means of getting there. SPARTAN took raisng the young to be strong, with the help of bio-augmentation, but the FREELANCE project theorized that the time taken for the final result was far too long, and decided to alter existing soldiers."

      James got up out of his chair. And stared out towards the planet's surface, a lavender coat surrounding and entoxicating the sphere.

      "In their youth, the Spartans could take the shock of the chemicals as their whole body was changing, but with grown adults it would be catastrophic. They decided to slowly adminster the drugs, observe the effects and train them upon it, then isolate them in cryo-tubes and finish the job. The result: the chemicals bonding with the body harmlessly and with little problem."

      The Commander waved his hand, and a image of an ODST, similar to the bed-ridden soldier, flashed from the projector for everyone to see. A long list of chemicals scrolled upwards, and Gary quickly summarized the important ones.

      "Conezium-D33, Muscle stimulant. Benezamat-G19, Brain enhancement, the list goes on. In some areas, the predicted results of the effect was far more drastic than the Spartan program. However it wasn't just chemicals that were used. Augmentation was touched upon, replacing weakened muscle with mechanic versions, sharpening nerve pathways for increased reaction time. But the most significant change was the neural transplants. They implanted a prototype device into the cranium that received and projected mental brainwaves to other participants of the same experiment. In short, telepathy to a certain extent."

      Some of the Marines had rose to their feet in shock and disbelief. Sergeant Taylor simply shook his head as he had resigned himself from thinking too much on the delicate subject. Joshua went to ask for a repeat of the last sentence, convinced that he was mistaken, but closed his mouth when it became apparent that Gary was not in the habit of spreading sordid lies.

      "Freelancer 227", the Commander went on, "and the others were expected to read the brain patterns of their allies and act accordingly without words, just reaction. It was going to be a revolution for winning, and went as they hoped during test runs. That was when the freelancers went beserk."

      Silently, James moved to the technicians once more, whispered in their ears, and one by one, they departed the room and occupied the vacant room next door.

      "It was…difficult for the freelancers to get accomstumed to the modifications that were made to them. They wanted revenge on the people who had stripped their basic essence of life and replaced it with a cold unfeeling heart. They used the telepathy unit and worked as though they were possessed, slaughtering everyone that had anything to do with the project. They were eventually beaten by the sheer multitudes of forces the UNSC sent to neutralize them and, to prevent the same scenario from playing out again, they executed the others that were not awoken."

      Sergeant Taylor looked blank for a moment, then reached over the desk and whispered in such a low voice, that it would be barely audiable if the keyboards were in use.

      "Well if he's such a threat, then why haven't you executed him?"

      James sighed, swivelling around to face the lost soldiers, and simply replied,

      "…We need him."

Shattered Skies - Chapter 4
Date: 27 November 2008, 4:58 pm

Shattered Skies

Chapter 4

      The cold mists of the morning rolled down the soldier's neck, as he navigated his way through the monstrous foliage of Mondcano IV. Freelance 227 felt like a different person since he ventured from the isolation cells he was trapped in on the desolate planet, which he had called home for an untold amount of years, and was now rushing through neon blue bushes and hurtling through time-weakened branches. But this different person was brand new, and the memories, which he treasured so dearly, were stripped away from him like pages ripped from a book. Shaking the lonesome feeling that creeped into his skin, the soldier raced ahead to the source of the disturbance that ran across his emerald visor in orange lettering, "COVENANT ACTIVITY, MONDCANO IV, RIGBILA SECTOR, IMMEDIATE RESPONSE REQUIRED." That was one thing that the mysterious soldier would never forget. Covenant.

      It was strange for him at first, flitting about past tree trunk to tree trunk, to experience such an overwhelming advancement to his ability. While not immediately visible to him, he could feel the responses flash to his mind quicker than before, react to the nocturnal avian creatures that plagued the forest like a vicious disease and dodge their mindless flight, and listen to the melody of the alluring forest over the under-worked heartbeat that pumped blood at an alarming rate.

      An opening; forests gave way to a vacated clearing that only boulders and twigs seemed occupied. The freelancer's stomach started to clench, and he wondered if it was a sign to stay cautious, but immediately realized that he was starving from the food that he had been refrained from due to his cold sleep. It didn't cause a problem to his performance yet, and when he succeeded with his mission, he would signal for any forces that were unknowingly following him to extract him from the ghostly planet.

      His eyes narrowed and the visor responded giving him a 3X zoom from his normal vision, which allowed him to see into the center of the field. There was no mistaking that something was hidden from his vantage point shrouded in the earth-like bushes that dotted the area amongst towering trunks. Edges of the land were distorted and stretched as though looking through broken glass, and the mists did not penetrate the clear dome that encased most of the field. Armed with his fully loaded BR55HB SR Battle Rifle, his ten spare magazines of spare ammunition, six fragmentation grenades, and two confiscated Type-1 "Plasma Grenades" that were being observed by scientists in the small weapons chamber, 227 was ready to start a one-sided fight. That was his last thought on the matter, as he froze in mid-action and slumped to the floor, conciousness fleeing from his shivering body, his last thoughts being the voice that echoed through him. Again. And again. And…

      Mutterings stirred him from his uncontrolled slumber, and he was greeted by a pitch-black room that seemed to be never ending in the eyes of the tired soldier. Voices rattled on speakers that were placed in disorienating places that confused his rattled mind.

      "Er…ah, excuse me sir! Please don't try to move, you've been through a lot…a hell of a lot. We'll put the lights on a gradual power-up, your skin would react to the shock of these lights."

      As soon as the broadcast ended, the dark room came to life, chasing the shadows into the corners until they melted into the light. Slowly, the lights grew and shone from the polished walls, startling his eyes from the shock of pure light, that seemed to be lost from the planet he was snatched from. The words of the young man floated through his mind, how he had been called sir; no one had ever called him sir before, but of course he couldn't remember if that was the case. The freelancer rose from the flat panel bed he was resting on, and looked at the bare, scarred flesh that enveloped his body. It was pale, so pale that he was convinved he would vanish if he continued to deteriorate like this. Scratches and large scars tattooed his arms and his chest was abundant with stitches. They didn't hurt, and the flesh had healed around them, leading him to believe that they weren't recent. He was loosely clothed and he was without his armor, giving him the feeling that he was defenseless against these people. By the time he had assessed the damage that his body had taken, the light was at full power and were beaming down on him like sunlight.

      Two men walked in through the shining doorway, one, a doctor, carried a clipboard in one hand and a steel ballpoint pen in the other. The other man was not a medical expert. He wore the standardized uniform for active duty upon a UNSC vessel that everyone wore, and bore the insignia of an commander on his chest. The two whispered to one another for a moment, and afterwards the commander walked over to the woken patient.

      "How are you? My name is James King, Commander of the UNSC frigate "Triumphant". May I ask for your name?"

      The freelancer opened his mouth to speak, but all that came out was a rasping croak. His vocal chords had not been used since his previous training excersise, and were serving of little use in their current state. Swallowing, he tried again to respond but failed to do more than "I". James shook his head apologetically.

      "I apologize, I was too eager to ask for your co-operation, when you have been through so much already."

      He looked to the doctor and asked for the soldier's medical condition. When the doctor responded with an enthusiastic response on his health, he turned back and sighed.

      "I'll be brief," he started, "I have no idea why you're still here, and to be honest, I don't care. You're part of the UNSC whether you like it or not, so if you have any objections to what I say, there's nothing you can do about it." He paused and strolled casually around the room, giving the freelancer a chance to look at the officer more carefully.

      His face was tired from months of unyielding battles, evident in the small dark circles that surrounded his eyes. His blonde hair was slightly longer than regulation length that threatened to cover his left eye. But his stare was piercing. Blue eyes seemed to burn through the soldier, and even though he knew that in a straight fight he could snap his neck in two, he felt threatened and afraid by the authority that he wielded. Mandatory grey uniform was worn smartly and his black shoes smiled at him with glaring brightness.

      "I don't mean to be rude, after all I don't know you. But I did know the innocent people that your buddies slaughtered all those years ago. I suppose that could be why I find the need to detest your guts."

      The freelancer looked at him puzzled at his message. His peers were ruthless, but they were filled with pride and noble intentions. Killing the people they had fought to protect was not something they would ever dream of. He mustered the power to his voice, struggling to shape the chords into audiable words, but as before only crackles of dying words managed to part his parched lips.

      "But as it happens, this mistake could turn out to work in our favor. The Covenant are on the run, and they are desperate for an advantage."

      Eyes snapped apart, his mind working feverishly. "The Covenant were on the run?", he thought. How long had he been asleep? Why was he not woken? Floods of thought drowned out whatever James had to say as he lay there in disbelief.

      "…collpased a digger on the planet you were on. They weren't digging their graves. They were looking for something. So when you've recovered, I'm sending you down there to find out their false ace in the hole. I hope we got that into perspective soldier."

      Striding to the door, he bid goodbye to the doctor and slid through the opaque door of light, only to return a few seconds later. "Son, we have no idea what your name is. We have no files and little records. I hope you have a name to go by, because the Marines won't like "227" for long." Seconds dragged as his mind started to work again, searching through his blanked memories, searching. After a full minute, he returned with no trace of his life.

      "I see. Then for now, until we find evidence otherwise, you can be identified as…" he typed into a grey tablet which beeped at different intervals. "…Jack Prowler. I will sort out all the paperwork Jack. I hope you won't begrudge me for my arrogance, but you probably will."

      As he turned to leave, the timid yet amplified voice rose in the speakers, "Mister Prowler?" The freelancer turned around. Already this new name stuck to him, even though he was aware this wasn't his true name. "We received a package from a transport carrier only moments ago. Something salvaged from your previous base of operations." This was a surprise. Jack had scoured the entire base for any adavtageous equipment that lay scattered here and there. It must have been something critically important to have been specially carried from the planet. "Could you come to Docking Bay Gamma please?"
Wandering around the frigate was a strange experience for Jack; even though he had no idea how to reach "Docking Bay Gamma", he saw this as a perfect oppourtunity to keep in line with the shifted reality he had woken to. Turning right as he exited "Medical Chamber C", he found himself travelling down a dimly lit corridor, light entering only by the sleepy star that Mondcano IV orbited. The first noticable landmark was the bridge, a multitude of computers were positioned around the captain's chair, currently vacant, and hummed as the connected keyboards transmitted the data that the whizzing hands of the lieutenants typed in. No-one took time to notice the ghostly monster that stood above them, more pressing work had to be done then wonder why a medical patient had started to stalk the corridors.

      Doorway after doorway. Passing the Shaw-Fujikawa translight system that bore essential to slipspace travel, watching the cautious engineers through the reflective panel, as alpha and beta particles were being emitted by the engine. Looking in on the weapons storage and the personnel that carried the ship's "Archer" missles and inserted them carefully into the slots, as a "Shiva" nuclear warhead was carefully loaded as well. Turning to leave he noticed a renevated room that had been transformed into a minaturized firing range, loaded with a limited amount of weaponry, mainly M6 pistols and M7 Caseless Sub-Machineguns. Marines, fresh out of training, honed their skills on the Covenant shaped targets at the far end of the room, with many missing their marks or scraping the lower leg. One of them had a pistol in his right hand, focused down its sights and fired five shots in quick succession, three of them penetrating a Brute's cranium, the other two landing in its windpipe. People started to applaud him briefly then resumed their miserable attempts at a gunfight. Jack stared on, again with no-one watching him, asking himself how the war had ended with men such as these as the backbone of Earth and all her colonies. Jack closed his eyes and shook his head. On opening them however, a magnum was pressing against his head, barrel threatening to blow off the side of his head and his delicate brain within.

      "I could kill you right now, just squeeze the barrel and redeem the lives of everyone. Finish the pathetic excuse of salvation and wake everyone to cold facts. You were created by good to cut out the evil. And their attempts at a better life brought pain and suffering for the families that had to bury the mutilated carcasses of the hopeful."

      Jack turned around slowly, no rash movements as they could be his last, and confronted the man in the face. Even though the amber light of the training room proved to be his only shred of light, he could not make out the face of the vengeful warrior. He had a deep voice, strained by the anger that would not subside inside of him, and the barrel of the magnum was still warm from when it was previously fired, but at whom?

      "But orders are orders, and I have to let the false hope cling to innocence once more and tear it to pieces. Here's hoping that you have a pleasant time being digested by a starved Grunt." And with that he walked away, blending seamlessly into the cold empty space that surrounded and engulfed him.

      Confused for the millionth time in such a small time, Jack found the collosal, expanded docking bays that created the underbelly of the frigate and the masses of polished war-machines and carriers, that were most ultimately, destined for a life of brief moments before being left as a smouldering pile of semi melted metal. "Albatrosses" were being loaded and unloaded with supplies, orange suited men walked bristly from each aisle, checking that each piece of machinery was in utmost condition. Oil stained the air, as dotted around were half a dozen mechanics worked their hardest to fix from a broken "Warthog"s shattered gearbox and the gauss turret, that hung feebly from its shredded, fixed position, to a "Pelican" that looked fine from one end, but on the flipside, revealed to be missing it's right wing. "Scorpion" tanks were being hosed down with high pressure hoses, trying to remove months of battle hardened mud from the matt-black treads, and "Hornets" were being stripped of battered 50mm chainguns, and replaced with gleaming missle launchers. A bunch of men were whispering to one another, risking a glance at the white soldier that could have layed in the snow for years on end without so much as trace of him being found. Eventually one of the men stepped forward, head down averting his gaze.

      "Mister…er…Prowler? We…I…they," he waved his hand in the general direction of the different coated men, "recovered something that the UNSC gave special clearence for. Apparently, whatever task force you're from, never got to use this stuff. Don't know why." Jack huffed, hardly daring to believe that word had not spread of the psychotic loony that bounced from the corridors, murdering anyone who so much as whimpers in his presence.

      "It's in that container over there," he continued, "We can have it moved to you're a more private area if you like…"

      Jack stared at the man, the soldiers, and the tanks that invited him ever so closer to the battlefield once more, and nodded, walking over towards the container and peered inside at the immaculate armor, coloured a heavenly white over dreary steel. But by the end of this, his first day to his new life. It would be painted with violet blood of the cowards, and the lava like substance from the towering Hunters.

Shattered Skies - Chapter 5
Date: 4 December 2008, 10:15 pm

Shattered Skies

Chapter 5

      "You're not staying here private! Why do you have to be so much more goddamn difficult then everyone else?!"

      Two hours had passed since Sergeant Taylor and his team had their initial briefing with the commander, and word had spread that the freelancer was up and around, but no one had seen him for the past half hour. At this time however, a newly equipped Pelican was loaded with the battle weary Marines that Taylor commanded, readying them for transport to the Mako Class Corvette "UNSC Blue Moon", which was under strict command to transport the Marines to one of the inner colonies so that the Marines could undergo advanced training, aided by PFC Greenwood who had passed it on his first attempt. But the young soldier refused to entertain the idea of joining them on a course that he had already completed. It was his duty to remain behind, a duty he had called upon himself.

      "Son, I am not having another incident when my own men get killed out of lack of knowledge and skill. I'm not asking you to join them, I'm ordering you to." Sergeant Taylor spoke, his voice returning to its stern standard.

      Joshua stood there, eyes unwavering under Taylor's fierce gaze, mind made up about the whole situation. He knew that the Covenant had some information on a weapon, and that wasn't going to be enough time to be training recruits if they were going to die before the Covenant did.

      "Likewise sir, this is not a request, this is what I will be doing. The only way you can make me leave this place is to boot me out of the UNSC for good and I don't think you're willing to do that."

      The Marines shifted awkwardly in their seats unsure of the outcome. The Sergeant was stubborn, but so was Joshua, the argument could swing both ways. But they didn't care that much about the outcome; they were tired and hungry, still chained to the boundaries of human morality and would have loved to doze away as the Pelican glided them safely towards civilization.

      However, a voice rose from behind the squabbling men. An armour-clad soldier stood proudly against the two Marines, ceasing the argument before greeting the red-faced warriors.

      "Sergeant Taylor? May I have a word please?"

      Sergeant Taylor looked at the man, face returning to its impassionate state. He was dressed ready for combat, an SRS99D-S2 AM Sniper Rifle slung on his back, a varied assortment of grenades around his belt, including two thermite grenades, five fragmentation grenades and three sonic grenades, carefully ordered and positioned for immediate use. His boots were a faded gray and stood out against his gleaming olive armour. On his chest was a pinned insignia of a silver star with three gold bars directly below it, belonging to Field Major Samuel. And clutched in his right hand, was a modified M6C Magnum that had spent all of its ammo. Taylor was the first to snap to attention.

      "I apologize sir! I wasn't under the impression that we were receiving a high ranking soldier such as yourself." Taylor stuttered.

      Samuel cast him a menacing look, "I don't have time to hear songs of praise on my behalf, you should always be ready for the unexpected, it's what you're job is, isn't it?"

      Taylor looked down ashamed. The roles had been reversed, and now Taylor looked like a misbehaving schoolboy.

      "…Yes sir…"

      Samuel smiled, "Good. Now to the matter at hand, it seems that the young private here will not be joining you on the course as he has been called upon to remain here."

      "Sir? I don't…" Taylor started before falling silent once more.

      "Private First Class Greenwood has shown commendable courage during your previous mission and all subsequent missions beforehand. The commander felt it necessary to keep him back under my control. However, General Eckenbauer deemed it necessary for you, Sergeant, to accompany your remaining Marines."

      "Eckenbauer? Why would he want me to leave?"

      Eckenbauer was a high-ranking general at the UNSC and controlled a fair amount of force from his desk, back on a peaceful planet nestled securely in a cluster of spatial defences. Sam paused, then walked the small distance between them, twin footsteps echoing on the titanium floor.

      "Because I am under direct order from him to inform you to stand down from the mission. You do not need to challenge that, do you Sergeant?"

      "…No sir…"

      The near vacated docking area, which only contained 12 other people besides the six worn out Marines, looked on in awe at the arguing soldiers, silently cheering on the superior warrior. The Major turned to the private and ushered him out of the area, as the disgraced Sergeant boarded the impatient transport.

      "Joshua! We were worried that you would have left already, weren't we Sam?"

      Joshua had found himself again back in the briefing room, a slightly flustered commander pacing around it, happy yet troubled. The major however stood like a statue of unmoving flesh against the door. He didn't answer James but instead responded with an unconvincing grunt.

      "Oh lighten up son. You could be pushing pencils in a dreary office or…"

      "I could be pushing pencils on a floating hunk of metal." Sam quipped, "How thankful I am, really."

      James shifted his gaze and waved a hand lazily in his direction. "I wanted to see you before you were pushed onto a course that has already and successfully gauged your skills. After your last mission went so well, we felt that you should be part of the Triumphant's next mission. Whatever that may be."

      Joshua had occupied the nearest seat and was staring at the commander in awe. Had his skills really turned the heads of such a high ranking official? It was hard to believe that a commander had picked him especially for his own agenda of victorious skirmishes. A small light flashed on a console near the commander, and was activated moments later to reveal a larger light of the ship's A.I.

      "Sir? Mako Class Corvette "UNSC Blue Moon" is attempting to activate a live broadcast feed. Saving under public key, file triumphant. From Sergeant Taylor to you sir. Would you like to accept the broadcast feed?"

      "Affirmative Gary." A short pause before a familiar voice echoed through the room and the ears of everyone in it.

      "James? We've made it aboard the corvette and the Slipspace drives are nearly charged. We'll be making the jump in about a minute. I hope you come through for us. I'll have the rooks trained before you know it. We'll…what the? James! Look out they're…STRUCTURAL INTEGRITY 31%…"

      A tremendous explosion rattled the ship as a bolt of lightning blue plasma hit "Blue Moon". Joshua dashed from his seat and peered through the re-enforced panel that separated man from vacuum, anxious to see the ship pull from the cloud of energy that engulfed the panels of metal.

      "…Goddamn. Covenant! Came out of nowhere! Quick you've got to get us into Slipspace! …I don't care if the engine will fry, we'll all fry if we don't get out. Watch out; get the shields up or something. …Ok good, get us out of here…ok men, hang…"

      The transmission cut off abruptly, as a second bolt flashed by and hit the ship again, this time nothing replaced the plasma, just flickers of shining metal.

      "Sir; we've lost communication and there was no indication to say they were able to jump to Slipspace. They didn't make it."

      Joshua's eyes were a flurry of tears. Boiling energy bolts from a large purple monstrosity snatched the people, who he had worked alongside only mere hours ago.
"What the hell? Why is the Covenant here, why did they just destroy a defenceless corvette?" James yelled, his face nearly awash with salty beads of water.

      "What did you expect? You just destroyed their excavation, you didn't expect they wouldn't be pissed off by that did you?" Sam shouted back, resigning from his position to confront the two men. No time for arguing, James sprinted to the door and sped towards the bridge, Joshua and Sam following in his wake. James was stood near his seat, his left hand clenched on the arm of the chair.

      "What have we got Lieutenant?" he asked.

      The Lieutenant turned round from his seat and gave a quick glance at the Commander.

      "Sir. We've got confirmation of a damaged Covenant Destroyer, hull integrity 23%, four Seraphs, and…" he paused and rechecked the scanners. "A Phantom? Yes, I.D. checks out. What are they doing sending dropships in?"

      "They're desperate. This is their full fighting force. Listen up; the Covenant just destroyed Blue Moon and the onboard passengers. If I find anyone giving the Covenant mercy, I'll court martial you with a shotgun up your…" He stopped; the crew were staring with fear, partially from the upcoming battle, mostly because of his promise he made, and sensing that the speech had stopped, quickly resumed with hastened speed.

      "Gary!" James shouted, "Status report!"

      The holotank on the right of the Commander's chair lit up and the familiar figure of Gary rose in mere nano-seconds.

      "Greetings sir. Oh," he looked at Joshua and smiled. "I see you managed to catch up with Private First Class, Joshua Gree"

      GARY! I HAVE NO TIME FOR THIS! Prime the Archer missiles and ready the MAC Cannon. I won't be letting anyone else die without a fighting chance." James's face was sweltering under the sudden attack. He had dealt with fiercer battles, but none had started with the death of his trusted friend.

      "Of course sir. Priming pods A through H … firing solution obtained. Ready to fire on comma." The avatar froze for a second and resumed almost as quickly, its hue changed to a blood red. "Warning proximity to Seraph class ship detected. Trajectory indicates direct course with port hull."

      The furthest Lieutenant activated the camera and was greeted with a speeding teardrop of a ship threatening to detonate. Sam quickly analysed the situation and inquired the status of the 50mm cannons.

      "Operational. But out of range of current target. Delaying Archer launch, diverting 43% of MAC Cannon energy to thrusters. Attempting evasive maneou."
He was immediately cut short by a metal churning explosion that dimmed the lights of the entire frigate and short-circuited the holotank. Joshua and a handful of others were thrown off their feet by the resulting force, but leapt to their feet with no serious injury.

      "Sir!" a panicked Lieutenant shouted out, "A.I. system not responding, we have to use manual controls till Gary is rebooted."

      "Understood Lieutenant. Make sure to get the best possible aim you can get, that explosion was much more powerful than usual, they probably packed the ships with explosives then use the ships as suicide bombers. Do not let another one hit us, understand?"

      Sam stood to attention and gained the Commander's attention. "Sir, me and the private will go and restore A.I. systems ASAP. It shouldn't take too long to do…that…Sir! What is the status of the Phantom?" he asked, his face drained of blood. It was evident that he had figured out a sinister plan, and by the matched expression the Commander wore, he had also thought of the same scenario.

      "Lieutenant! Phantom status report, now!"

      "Approaching with decelerating speed. Oh. Sir, the Phantom has managed to bypass defences, the manual commands haven't been fully issued yet. They've touched down in "Docking Bay Alpha". No reports on size of force, but in these cramped corridors, it'll be a bloodbath if it's Brutes."

      No response, just a click of a button, and the speakers littered across the halls and rooms woke with a wave of static.

      "Attention all personnel. Covenant boarding parties have infiltrated the "Triumphant". All non-combatants seal doors with lock codes. All Marines, prepare for our visitors. Gain any additional ammo from the armouries then congregate at key points. King out." He released the button, wished the pair luck and sent them on their way to the bottom of the frigate to restore A.I. capabilities.

      Emptiness. The hit had knocked out the light in some of the sections of the ship, which left the Marines with the night-vision capabilities in the helmets. At the end of long corridors, were makeshift defences and a huddle of four or five Marines ready to fire on a moment's notice at any inhuman contacts. Had he been left without a direct order, Joshua would have lent his help to them, but orders were orders and he was forced to leave them to win or fail.

      The lifts lowered the pair deeper and deeper into the metal fort, till they reached dead centre of the ship, where the A.I. was supposedly kept behind grand defences, as the Covenant had a habit of stealing A.I.'s for their own purposes. And it was evident in the bath of purple blood and gaping Jackal corpses that decorated the rounded, locked door. Armed with the release codes, Sam went to work unlocking the numerous locks and passwords that protected the delicate equipment, leaving Joshua to scour the remaining halls for any survivors. He had done a full sweep of the three hallways and five rooms, all vacated, and returned to a near unlocked vault door.

      "Nearly done now…they never really wanted anyone to get in here. Not easily anyway…"

      A beep and the hissing of metal turning and the door sliding away smoothly to reveal a mess of wires and terminals. The middle section, a metal dome, glowed a dim red and sparked occasionally when approached. Following instructions, Sam worked again, attaching wires and rebooting essential software, all the while a lone soldier armed with a Battle Rifle, was his only defence in case of a sneak attack. A computer squealed with delight, and the entire room was lit up with usual bog standard UNSC ambience.

      "Sir?" Sam voiced over the COM link, "We've been successful in fixing the computers. Have you re-established contact with Gary?" A delay as the message passed through the multiple layers of metal.

      "Negative Sam, we're still without automated control. The manual commands were too slow to be established, and the Destroyer has moved up to point blank range. Scans show a lack of weaponry, but we can't use our weaponry in case of blowing ourselves up. For now just get yourselves up here, the Marines have done well with the enemies. Plenty of blood."

      Sam left first and called the lift down. The doors squeaked, as they were forced apart by the mechanisms inside. Joshua locked down the doors, which proved easier than unlocking them in his opinion. However, as the last lock slid into place, the shadows parted to reveal a bloodied monster, rampaging towards him at breakneck speeds. It waved its fists around in a barbaric fashion and fixed its glare on the green demon. Sam had nearly intercepted the beast, when the doors snapped shut, and sent him skyrocketing towards the surface, leaving the private alone, with a snarling Brute. It pinned him against the wall with ease, and wrapped its hands around his neck, slowly squeezing the air out of him. Slowly and surely, his life began to unravel; there was no way Sam could coax the lift back down in time. The Brute grinned with yellow teeth, which stunk of rotted meat. And that was the last thing it did as its grip released and slumped to the floor, head leaking precious fluids, but ultimately killed, killed by a trio of bullets from a Battle Rifle. But not Joshua's Battle Rifle. As the lights regained their power from the greedy MAC Cannon. The lights illuminated a pearly white warrior, with boots stained with a swirl of purple blood. He wore a bulky shoulder on his right, and an angled one on his left. His head however, was covered with a helmet of an ODST with an emerald visor. He stood proudly; smoke fuming from his Battle Rifle that dispatched the monster.

      "Now…" he spoke with a deep yet young voice, "Now we're even."

Shattered Skies - Chapter 6
Date: 18 December 2008, 7:28 pm

Shattered Skies

Chapter 6

      The lift doors sealed shut and refused to budge. Even from behind the reinforced doors, Sam could still hear the gasping breaths of the bloodthirsty Brute, as it continued its speedy campaign of mutilation. Then the lift started to rise, with more force than it did coming down, crippling the balance that he controlled for a brief period as he ascended alone.

      Would Greenwood make it? Perhaps, he thought. He had never seen him in battle, but if what his records stated were true, then he could pull through. But even so, the Brute had caught even him, a seasoned soldier of destruction, off guard. They were too relaxed; they assumed that the area was clear. That assumption could cost Greenwood his life. The lift controls were useless, even though the panel was reasonably intact. Even as he jabbed his fingers at the buttons, the lift would not acknowledge his command, but continued its ascent with a mind of its own.

      The lift was nearing the floor Sam had witnessed mindless brutish slaughter. He immediately activated the radio, and contacted King. Maybe he could get a Lieutenant to control the erratic lift, or if Gary was restored, get the A.I. to do it. Greenwood would probably be dead by then, but he had to give it a try. Sam expected the young Marine would do the same.

      "Sir! I need help re-activating this goddamn lift, its trapped the private down in the A.I. room with a Brute."

      A hiss of static answered his call until the Commander finally responded.

      "Samuel, it's fine."

      "No it's not fine! He's stranded down there, and I don't know if he can cope or…"

      "Samuel, it's fine," he repeated, "We've just got word, he's in a good state, the Brute is well and truly dead this time. It was really close, he couldn't have survived on his own."

      Sam relaxed and pondered at the same time. Who else was down there with them? No one had followed them; at least he didn't think so. He also thought all threats were dealt with. What a fool he had been.

      The hair-ridden feet of Brutes were being unwillingly dragged by the adrenaline pumped soldiers into a disorderly slump in a corner as the doors snapped open. Prowleral eyes bulged from their crowded sockets and threatened to pop out as they were thrown out of corridors and into empty rooms. No Grunts however, Sam noticed, perhaps they were littered around the dropship, their life spans incredibly short in the heat of battle. He had underestimated the cold discipline these Marines wielded.
Commander King stood at the head of the ship, frowning at the Destroyer; now dangerously close to the ship, yet unable to act on its manoeuvre. The Seraphs had tried to wreck more turmoil onboard, but were outgunned by the 50mm superiority that tore through metal and shields. Only two remained, hovering eerily outside the guns rotation range.

      "Sir? Who else..." Sam immediately asked as the Commander acknowledged his presence.

      "Who else? Only one person could have saved Joshua without such blunt execution." He replied, a glimmer of a smirk tearing at the corners of his mouth.

      Sam knew only too well. The Freelancer. Prowler. Cold as the Marines were, there was only a limit of accuracy a SMG could contain without spewing bullets in frenzy at friend and foe. Only calm precision could cut through such a barbaric machine.

      "Sir, why?"

      Frown re-instated, James turned and looked at him in near disappointment.

      "Sam, no matter what your opinion of him may be, Prowler is still a soldier. He did what any soldier should have done, drilled into him over the years, bolstered by a sense of gratitude. And because of him, another soldier gets to fight on."

      The doors slid open another time, and this time a white faced Marine stumbled into it, clutching his Assault Rifle like a plank of wood in the middle of an ocean. Joshua had not fully recovered from the shock of being squeezed nearly half to death and struggled to cling onto a surface more solid until his legs solidified. Behind him, Prowler walked in, purple footsteps lingering on the floor, and stood to attention in front of the Commander.


      "Ah, Prowler. Thank you. I suppose you've already met…"

      "Samuel? We've met."

      Samuel stared yet again in shock. How had he been able to figure out who he was eluded even him.

      "We've had no word from Gary," the Commander went on, "The system keeps failing to acknowledge his presence. Like he isn't even here." He reverted his gaze to the crippled ship that found refuge near the titanium walls of his own. "The destroyer. It can't do anything, and neither can we. If we try to move to a decent range, in the time it takes to prep the weapons, they'll have moved back to our position. We're in a fashion, trapped."

      The Marines looked on in puzzlement. A destroyer this size would surely house more than a dropship's worth of troops. Why didn't they try a stronger offensive?

      Almost in response to their thinking, the pedestal flickered and the avatar of the ship's A.I. spluttered to life once more.

      "…Systems nominal. No lasting damage obtained. Efficiency decrease 0.02%…hello Commander, is everything all right?"

      "Gary! Thank god. What happened?" James eagerly asked.

      Gary swivelled round in a fashion the Commander would be proud of, "Impact with the Seraph class ship knocked out some of my primary sources, and I was forced into standby until a secondary source could be booted."

      James smiled, as he should. A.I.'s were expensive and weren't fixed. Just replaced.

      "Do you understand the situation?"

      Gary stared at the Commander for a moment, blue numbers whizzing past his body as he did so. "Yes sir. Covenant Destroyer at point blank range; Unable to use conventional weapons against it, a desperate tactic." Gary summarized, a hint of boredom echoing through his voice. "Expected time for weapons prep is drastically cut now. It would be advisable to move to a greater range and allow me control of the weapons."


      James stood back and signalled the three soldiers for their attention.

      "I assume that the Marine's role in this skirmish is over. Samuel, inform the men to stand down from their position. Perhaps they would enjoy a ship to experience nuclear missile bombar…"

      "Sir." Gary pitched in, volume heightened for effect, "The Destroyer is moving. Detected Slipspace rupture, they are beginning to jump."

      "Ok. Gary, make sure they don't leave." James replied, and returned to the men.

      "Sir that would be inadvisable."

      James froze, and walked towards the pedestal, eyes livid.

      "Gary! The last time I checked, I am the Commander of this ship. And as I see it, I am your commanding officer. I will not ask you again; fire the "Shiva" missiles now!

      The whole room had grown deadly silent. A.I.'s were normally co-operative. What was it doing denying orders?

      "Sir. We could destroy the ship here and be pleased with our meagre victory. Or, we could follow the ship into the Slipstream and see where it's going. Chances are, it will go to find reinforcements."

      The Commander sighed. He had never dealt with any personnel like this. The plan was only drawn together with chance. It was only on rare occasions when a ship 'dogged' the enemy when it began to jump. It was even more rare that the ship actually survived. From what survivors of 'In Amber Clad' had told of the 'New Mombassa' Slipspace event, weapons systems, engines, they were cut out when they emerged. His plan hinged on the ship fleeing in terror and not leading them into a trap. But it could be worth it if they could wipe out a large portion of forces. Cripple them once more.

      "Sir, what Gary says makes sense." Sam piped up, "If it gives us a big advantage, then let's take it."

      "Commander," Gary continued, "If you are going to make a decision, you must make it now. The destroyer is nearly ready for a jump."

      The Commander closed his eyes, exhaled sharply and snapped his eyes open. His mind set, he walked to the rails and leant over them.

      "Lieutenant, power down all systems except for life support and engines."

      The Lieutenant nodded and went to work, lights beginning to fade.

      "Scratch that, keep the lights as well."

      The Lieutenant grunted and the lights grew in intensity till they shone again.

      "Gary, take us as near as possible towards the Destroyer. If the Seraphs…"

      "The Seraphs have docked sir." Gary noted.

      "Very good. Handle all calculations and inform me as soon as we start to hit regular space. I think we all deserve some rest. They don't know we're coming; this will be easy."

      Exiting the room, a full squadron of Marines following his footsteps admirably, Gary paused, swivelled then faded, a flicker of blue light all that remained of his hard work.


      "Come in."

      Sam sat at his desk, hastily scrawled on papers surrounding a detailed document prepped for delivery. The outlandish turn of events since his arrival here had given him plenty to write about and plenty for the General to read. Cowering Brutes, wavering forces, and of course the dirty sordid secret, more secluded than Spartans. The General would embellish his power upon this with utmost attention, more than he deserved.

      "Come in." A note of irritation responding in unison to the twinned knocks at his door.

      Sam hoped that the message wouldn't take that long to be delivered. He wished he had sent the message before they had clung on to the twisted, violet monstrosity. But the situation had arisen, and he himself had approved it. It was too late to point fingers.

      Again the door vibrated with the familiar knocking. Sam stood silently, drew his firearm, and cautiously approached the door. He didn't expect hostility, but that didn't rule it out.

      Pulling the door back, only a grey shadow met him. 'Surely the Marines were not immature enough to play pranks,' he thought. He began back to his room when his throat was immediately clasped from the right.

      "Now. I really don't like playing games. But it's the only thing that you accept so I'll go along with it for now."

      No light, no breathing, all done through the filters in the UNSC headgear the man wore. It was obvious who it was. He mustered his mouth open but was clenched shut almost instantly.

      "No, you don't talk. It's my turn. I have no idea how long I've been trapped, but in whatever timeframe we're talking about, my comrades have already been branded traitors and labelled me a monster. I assure you, I'm no monster."

      His grip loosened and a glimmer caught Sam's eye as an entity clunked away from dome of light.

      "You don't know me, and if your antics continue, you won't know me at all, just the people who trusted and died for you…have a nice sleep."

      Gone, just a bounced whisper dying swiftly. Sam recovered, fled into his room, grabbed the keyboard and discarded the previous message. His fingers were filled with the fluent movements that would detail every action the Freelancer had made. Hopefully there would be enough time.

      "Approximately 3 hours till jump out of Slipspace." A speaker said sweetly.

      Yes, plenty of time.