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Halo 2: Defense and Offense - Chapter 3
Posted By: Dagorath<hoyinshan@gmail.com>
Date: 9 August 2005, 4:47 am

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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