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Chapter 1: Unyielding Hierophant, through an Oracle Scope.
Posted By: Havoc_legionnaire<Havoc_legionnaire@Yahoo.com>
Date: 6 December 2005, 8:59 pm

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There are some skipping arounds for good and obvious reasons like not repetitiously typing parts of First Strike again or incurring the wrath of copy write laws.

1820 Hours, September 13, 2552 (Revised Date, Military Calendar) Aboard Covenant Battle Station Unyielding Hierophant.

"Get out of here, John" the seven foot tall, blood red hair Spartan Linda-058 muttered under her breath. Hanging on a rope under a bridge and hidden by a brilliant white light, she did her best to cover her fellow Spartans with her SRS99C Sniper Rifle. She was shooting with just her right hand, her left holding on to the rope. The station was on full alert now, and it was only a matter of time before the Covenant zeroed in on her location. It didn't mattered, though, as she could tell by the shaking of the entire station that blue team had done their job, overload the reactor and set the station to blow the station to blunt the Covenant offensive against Earth. The entire Covenant army in the station was on search and destroy, but blue team was near the airlock and escape. They'll have to leave her behind as their chances of saving her was, at best, slim to nil. Linda took solace in the mission's success, the billions of lives on Earth saved, and John, Fred, and Will's survival. Like before on Gamma Station near Reach, she was ready to meet her fate.

That was, before the Master Chief, John-117, made other plans for her. Linda took aim at yet another banshee, and as she zoomed in on the cockpit, she saw the distinctive reflective visor that can only belong to a Spartan. Against all the odds, John was coming back for her! John had always walked the fine line between tactical brilliance and lunacy, but this was completely insane! To risk one Spartan to save another that was pinned behind what could be hundreds of thousands of Covenant went completely against everything CPO Mendez taught.

John and two banshees slipped into a dogfight. Two more bullets flew from Linda's rifle, and two more Elite pilots was shot out of their Banshees. Both rounds sent shockwaves through her injured body. Linda was still recovering from her death at Gamma Station, and the subsequent surgery on the Gettysburg where Doctor Halsey revived her. After covering her teammates for over eleven hours, the awkward position and repeated rifle recoil had taken its toll on her. Linda could feel the wounds on her chest tearing at itself with the last shot. She ignored the pain and concentrated on covering John. The chief still hadn't found her. The Spartan sniper slapped in her second to last full magazine and kept radio silence, hoping the chief would see the fleet of Banshees closing, come to his senses, and leave her.

"Position report, Linda. That's a direct order!" John yelled through the comm.

Damn you, John, Linda thought. What choice does she have now. In a short range data burst, she sent her coordinates and the Spartan six note song "Oly Oly Oxen Free" as confirmation. The chief finally spotted her outline against the light, and put the banshee several meters under her. Linda dropped in behind the chief, denting her armor against his. The concussive force sent her gasping in pain, coughing up blood, as she grabbed on to the chief. She lost the sniper rifle on the drop, but at this point, it won't help them anymore.

The two sped off in the overloaded banshee, the cowling up to make room for them both. They was headed straight for the shuttle bay where a meter thick wall of an unknown translucent material prevented decompression or, for them, escape. She hopes the lotus mines that Fred planted was enough. Linda took a look behind, and nearly froze when she saw the largest fleet of ghosts and banshees that she ever saw at extreme range closing fast. They weren't in range, but they've already opened fire on them. Potshots of plasma managed to hit them, but the range weakened the burst enough that it only scratched the hull. Fred and Will took up wingmen position, forming a flying delta.

The clock was ticking, less than eight minutes left before the station core detonates. What is left of the Cortana copies opened the bay doors, and Fred detonated the Lotus mines. Grunts and floating Engineers was sucked out into the vacuum, along with everything else that was bolted down. But the glassy wall still stood when it should have vaporized. The three banshees fired on the wall with everything they had left.

The wall finally shattered, and with it came explosive decompression. Linda and the Chief was thrown out of their Banshee and tossed about the hangar bay. The Spartans crashed into the bay walls and flying debris. With each high speed impact, agonizing pain shot through every part of Linda's body. She felt her wounds starting to bleed again, each limbs had gone completely numb. Blood soaked into her already blood-red hair. Even her suit's comm array took some damage. She spotted John, Fred, and Will, being toss around just like her.

Finally, they were drifting in Zero G, and the team climbed aboard a nearby Harbinger Dropship. They took one more look a the Covenant Fleet. Linda couldn't see her teams' faces form her position, but she knew exactly what they were thinking.

Is this it? Did we stop the Covenant?

Most of the Covenant Fleet was still in station keeping around Unyielding Hierophant. The overload should destroy the balance of the fleet. With Admiral Whitcomb's warning, Earth's Orbital Defense Grid should be able to give the rest of the Covenant a run for their money. Still, a battle like that would claim thousands more of human lives. But what more can they do?

"Where to, Chief?" Linda said as she took the pilot's seat, skillfully masking her pain form her voice. The Chief had enough to worry about.

"Away" The Chief replied with a shallow sense of relief. "Take us into the moon's shadow, But slow. Try not to attract any attention."

"Roger that" Linda push the ship into half-throttle. Another minute passed before Fred found something on the comm system.

"Sir, if this translation program is working, that's the E-Band. That's one of ours" Fred said as he activated the comm squawk. A six tone song played.

Oly Oly Oxen Free

1850 hours, September 13, 2552 (Revised Date, Military Calendar)Aboard UNSC Frigate Gettysburg, in Slipspace en route to Sol System.

It's over. We won. Linda thought to herself as she manned the NAV station of the bridge of the Gettysburg. The price was heavy, Grace was killed by Brutes on Unyielding Hierophant, and Lt Haverson and Admiral Whitcomb sacrificed themselves to lure almost the entire Covenant fleet into the station's blast radius. It was worth it, though, Earth is safe. John, Fred, Will, Sargeant Johnson, and Cortana was still with her.

Her vision was beginning to blur, and she was losing concentration. Linda knew what it was, she had lost a lot of blood in the battle. She'll have to get to the med bay and patch herself up. It won't be complicated, just some biofoam and a unit of blood. Nothing to have John worry about.

"Chief" Linda said with all her focus, hiding her weakening condition. "With permission, I'd like to go to the med bay."

"What's wrong?" Were you hit?" Linda noted the very visible touch of concern in his voice.

"Just a scratch, Sir. I'll be back in fifthteen minutes."

"Take Your Time, Linda. We still got about one and a half day to Earth anyway. Don't forget to take a look at your comm unit."

"Will do, Sir" Linda struggled to keep her composure as she left for the elevator. Maybe I should have told him, Linda Thought to herself. No, I got this. On her way down, she felt chills from her forehead to her toes. When the elevator decelerated, she nearly collapsed. This is bad. Must have lost more than I thought. If a Spartan is falling apart like this, it got to be bad. The valves on the suit was starting to leak out blood to pump out the pool building inside to stop her from drowning. When the elevator finally arrived at med deck and opened its doors, the Spartan fell to the ground, unconscious and barely breathing.

The Chief had taken his helmet off and was staring into the nothingness of slipspace. This was the first moment of peace he had after almost 24 hours of near continuous heavy combat. Still, there is no rest for the wicked. They were almost finished with some basic repairs, trying to hold the Gettysburg together long enough to get to Sol. Fred was focused entirely on the maneuvering thrusters. John updated his casualties list. He wanted to stop there, but there is one more thing he has to do before they arrive at Sol. John remember the four that didn't made it for their original mission before Reach fell. Thomas, Mikhail, and Ahkeem was in the Chi Eden system, a one month trip to Reach, and Cassandra was still recovering from severe injuries at M2SL medical station at Earth orbit.

"Yo, Chief." Johnson said as he approached him from behind. "I'm no psychic, but I can tell when something's buggin a soldier, What's up?"

"It's nothing. Well, nothing you can help me with"

"Chief, I'm a man of many talents. Being God on a battlefield is just one of them. So, try me. People always tell me I'm wise beyond my years."

"Alright, if you must." The chief may had been initially suspicious of the sergeant considering how the man survive the flood, but after seeing the man fight and Dr. Halsey's analysis, John trusts him as much as his Spartans

"As you know, I lost most of my squad at Reach. But I, Fred, Will, Kelly, and Linda are not the only Spartans left. There are still four more of us left, probably waiting on Earth right now."

"Ahhh, So you worried about what you gonna say to them when you get back."

"What can I say? How do I tell them that we are all that's left?"

"Well, Chief. You and I both know there's no way of getting around that.", Johnson said as he took a seat near the chief and started chewing on his old cigar stub. "Let me give you some advice, son. You ever heard of Paris IV"

John bristled at that name. He remembered that planet from Dr. Halsey's explanation of Johnson's immunity to the flood. "Yes. As I recalled, you held up an entire company of Covenant by yourself, and won a commendation for bravery."

"Damn, Chief. You must of read a lot. Well, what's important about this story didn't make the press, thanks to ONI section 2. Yes, I held that pass that day, but I lost my entire squad doing it and got some wacky condition called Boren Syndrome. Everyone of the boys that I lost that day had family in the UNSC. I spent 27 weeks tracking them down to talk to them myself. I had the same problem you have right now, and let me tell you, trying to think of something to say before they're right in front of you isn't worth shit. In the end, I just told them everything. It didn't made it all better, but it helped. And that's what matters."

"I'll have to try that." I'll have to tell them everything, and hope that they can forgive me. "Thanks for the help, Sargeant"

"Call me AJ. Only my friends call me that, and believe me, the Spartans definitely make that list!"

Something is nagging on John, and he had just caught it. It's been 18 minutes, and Linda is never late. She might need a hand with her repairs to the armor, even though she's rarely ever needed any help from anyone. Still, after everything they've been through in the last few days, he couldn't blame himself for wanting to check in on her.

John put his helmet back on and tap the comm. "Linda, report." No answer. She could be repairing suit's comm array right now, so the chief called the med bay via intraship comm. Still no response.

"Cortana, find Linda and have her radio in."

"Alright, chief. Give me a moment." the multi-colored hologram had a facial expression of warm confidence as she search for the missing Sparta. The expression quickly changed into shock.

"Chief, Med deck, now. No time to explain, GO." the AI sounded as if Linda was under attack. The chief ran out of the bridge and into the elevator, and grabbed a battle riffle and a few clips.

Something extremely bad must have happened to Linda. Maybe camouflaged Elites snuck over to the Gettysburg, or perhaps a radiation leak incapacitated her. Possibilities raced through John's mind as he descended to the med deck. When the door opened, John saw Linda on the ground, barely breathing and surrounded by a pool of blood.

"Fred, Will, Sweep the ship. We may have boarders." Their reply came instantaneously. John swept the hall, then took her helmet off to help her breathe. Quick inspection show no additional damage on the armor that wasn't already there went they left the Unyielding Hierophant cataclysm. Linda must have purposely understated her injuries to him.

"Damn you, Linda", the Chief whispered as he heft her to the med bay. He may not be a surgeon, but all Spartans have medical training. If he's quick enough, he can still save her.

0350 hours, September 14, 2552 (Revised Date, Military Calendar)Aboard UNSC Frigate Gettysburg, in Slipspace en route to Sol System.

Linda woke up, though the grogginess is slow to dissipate. She looked around and saw that she was in med bay, on a recovery bed, with a unit of blood dripping into her artery. She was in a medical gown, her armor in its components next to her left.

"About time you woke up!" Linda instantly recognized John's voice. The grogginess, however, made it seemed as though the Chief's voice was coming from all direction. A hand fell into Linda's right palm, she turned to see the Chief, working on a report. John had his helmet and gloves off, and was wearing one of his very rare smile. He put down the pad. Thanks to his rank as the Spartans' commander, she can barely remember the last time that showed any emotional outburst.

"How long was I out?"

"Thirty three hours, we're only a few minutes before entering Sol System."

"I'm sorry, Sir. I should have told you. I didn't think my injuries was this bad."

"It wasn't that hard to patch you up. Just some biofoam and two units of blood. Don't take it out on yourself that hard. You're still with us, that's what matter's." John's hand move to her face, straightening one of her stray locks of blood red hair.

There was that soft look of benevolence and concern in his deep, brown eyes and a genuine smile. Linda knew that look well, it was the look that every injured Spartan first saw when they wake up in a recovery room. She herself first saw that look during a training exercise at Reach when they were all still just teenagers, when a stun grenade detonated right in front of her. When she woke up in the hospital, John was next to her, with that same look that he is wearing right now. John was always the one to lift spirit. She was glad that that part of him hadn't died over the years. Linda met his gaze with her emerald green eyes, and returned his smile with her equally rare one.

"I guess I owe you another one" Linda said through her smile. "How many does that make it."

"About as many time as you saved my ass with your rifle."

"Which was as many times you purposely blew your cover, so I could keep mine." a few minutes of peaceful silence passed before Cortana appeared.

"Chief, we're leaving slipspace in ten minutes. You should get to the bridge. The slipspace probes have probably already spotted us. The boys at Earth ODG should be jumpy when they see us. I've slowed down a bit to give them some time, though"

"Right, I'll be there in a few minutes. Linda, let's get you suited up.

John help Linda out of the bed. She should be able to move a lot easier once she is in her armor. He couldn't help but smile as Linda disrobed to suit up. He wasn't aroused, the augmentation would continue to suppress his sex drive for a little while longer. He was trying to suppress a burst of laughter. The memory of that tech on each whose face turned completely red at the sight and shear pace of Linda getting out of her uniform to get into the Mark V flushed back to John as he help her put on the components.

"You washed it" Linda said referring to her fresh smelling, spotless armor. "You shouldn't have." She put on her helmet, a perfect fit despite the longer than permit hair.

"Actually, I had Will and Fred do it. They said they have a score to settle with the both of us now." They both gave a small chuckle. The Mjolnir was not made with consideration giving to those who had to clean it up.

They made their way to the bridge, taking a slower than normal pace for a Spartan. When they arrived on the bridge, Cortana had just dropped them out of slipspace. As expected, an entire UNSC battle group of cruisers, destroyers, and an entire flight of Longswords was waiting, with all their weapons locked on them. Finally, after a few tense seconds, Johnson spoke up.

"Chief, them boys on that destroyer are hailing us"

"Patch it through." A hostile female voice came through the speakers.

"Unidentified Vessel, you have ten seconds to transmit ID and confirmation codes or will open fire!"

"This is Spartan-117 aboard the Gettysburg, we are transmitting our ID and Confirmation codes right now." Suddenly, the comm traffic among the battle group and to the ODG tripled. It didn't surprised any of them on the bridge, though. FLEETCOM probably had the Gettysburg and all the Spartans written off.

"Gettysburg", the voice sounded a little less hostile. "This is In Amber Clad, we are sending a boarding party to confirm your claim. Hold position and take no further action." In five minutes, a pelican came out of In Amber Clad's launch bay and headed straight for them. They all wondered what to do next, until Johnson proposed his idea.

"Come on, Chief. Let's give them a big welcome." They all left the bridge without saying another word.

They were all in the Gettysburg's small launch bay control room, even Cortana's hologram was there. All of them were unarmed. The Chief didn't want to give the incoming marines any reason to fire on them. When the pelican touched down and the bay depressurized, they all headed out to greet their guests. When they were in the launch bay and the doors shut behind them, an entire platoon of ODSTs came out from behind the various crates and debris lying around, with their weapons trained on them. After a second, all the ODSTs lowered their BR55 Battle Rifle, but they kept their hostile look. No one was surprised by this, though, for the ODSTs always had a bone to pick with the Spartans.

One of the ODSTs took off his helmet and approached him. He middle aged, had dark hair, and deep brown eyes. John could help but feel a sense of familiarity with a this man. He must of met him before, but even with the enhanced memory John couldn't pin it down. When the ODST was just a meter in front of John, he finally spoke.

"I am Sergeant Mark Solon of In Amber Clad." Even the voice sounded familiar to John. "I assume that you are the Master Chief Spartan-117, am I correct?"

"Yes" John replied curtly.

"Sorry for the hot reception, we've been told that you were all dead." The man's expression warmed up, he actually seemed friendly. Solon turned to his mike.

"Marines, secure the ship. I want a full sweep in twenty minutes. Commander Keyes, LZ is clear, no hostiles for now. Send in the others." All the ODSTs except Solon left the bay with weapons ready.

Commander Keyes? I didn't know the Captain had family in the UNSC, John thought to himself. Looking at Johnson, he could see that they were thinking of the exact same thing. Then, it occurred to John that he'll have to explain the Captain's death at the hands of the flood to whoever this Commander Keyes is. That is, if FLEETCOM is willing to let him divulge such sensitive information to this commander.

"Chief" Solon said a the other Pelicans were landing. "I have orders to the Orbital Defense Station Cairo, Admiral Hood wants to see all of you. I am to escort you there."

"Alright, Sergeant." John and the team took one last look at the Gettysburg. In a way, he was sorry to leave a ship that had seen them through so much. John took a moment to download Cortana back into his armor. "Alright. Everybody on the Pelican. We're going to the Cairo." John saw in his Spartans the little signs of relief. Johnson, though, was not about to join their silence.

"Finally, let's see those navy nurses."

The Spartans couldn't help but chuckle, and Solon join them. Who is he, John thought to himself, he'll have to have Cortana find out for him. The Pelican left the Gettysburg and headed straight for Earth. They vectored towards the Cairo once they were in high orbit above North Africa. John went to the cockpit to take his first ever look at Earth. So this is what we've been fighting to protect. He wished that Grace, Haveson, the Admiral had been here to see the fruit of their sacrifice.

"Everyone," Will said with his helmet off. "Looking at North Africa just reminded of a question that I've been dying to get answered. Who would win in hand-to-hand combat, a grunt or an orangutan?"

Everyone let loose a decent chuckle. Even John smiled, not at the joke, but over Will and the fact that his precious sense of humor seems to be returning. He turned and saw Linda place her hand on his shoulder.

Cortana stepped in to this conversation. "I could run a probability analysis, but do you really want to know?"

John was relieved to see that everybody was finally starting to unwind.

"You did good, John. Chief Mendez would have been proud." John took her hand in his. He kept looking out the window at Earth, remembering the Chief's words.

1700 hours, July 12, 2519 (Military Calendar)/ Epsilon Eridani System, Planet Reach, Camp Hathcock

"Trainee-117, come walk with me" Chief Mendez said.

It had been a big day for John. He had just managed to get all 74 of his fellow Spartans home without having to leave anyone behind in the forest. John expected to get grilled for stealing the Pelican, but instead, Dr. Halsey and Chief Mendez made him squad leader. John was proud, but he was confused. When the Chief told John to walk with him, he had no idea what to expect. Another test, Maybe, John thought. The possibilities raced through his mind.

They were outside, walking in the snow. This time, though, John had a coat on. They were about a quarter kilometer away from the camp when Mendez started talking.

"John, I know you don't understand this right now, but there is a very good reason why I agreed to Dr. Halsey's suggestion to promote you."

John was in shock. This was the first time the Chief used his name since he first arrived on Reach. "Sir?" John asked with curiosity.

"Just bear with me, John. I'll explain it to you" the Chief said in an almost fatherly tone. "Let me share a secret with you, one that not many people know. There are always three types of commanders. There are the common ones that can marshal his men and take them into battle. Then there are the special ones, the ones that can lead his men to victory against impossible odds."

"am I one of these special commanders" John asked with great enthusiasm. "I mean, I always win"

"No John, you're not either one of those. You're something even more special. I agreed with the Doctor because the Spartans must have a commander that is of the highest caliber, the rarest of them all. Today, you proved that you are one of them."

"What kind of commanders could that be, Chief. I mean, if you win, what else is there?"

"John, the greatest of commanders are those that can lead his men into battle against impossible odds, who can bring them victory, and then bring them home."

ODG - Orbital Defense Grid
ODST - Orbital Drop Shock Troops