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Halo 2: Defense and Offense - Chapter 2
Posted By: Dagorath<hoyinshan@gmail.com>
Date: 29 July 2005, 1:51 am

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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.