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A New Threat: The SPARTAN Chronicles
Posted By: InkSikes<inksikes@yahoo.com>
Date: 10 August 2006, 8:52 pm

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Part Deuce


Ladies and Gentlemen, let me be the first to introduce you to HALO 1 2/5- A New Threat. Due to the complaints that I received mainly centered on the fact that nobody got some extended action scenes, everybody has at least one chapter dedicated to them. (Hip-Hip, HOORAY!)

Also, I would appreciate it if you could find some more people to put into the final story, HALO 2 5/7- Your Moms Cheesecake. Actually it won't be done till the beginning of next year. Sorry, Seniors!

And for those wondering why this message from the author is not, ahem, unusual, it's because I finally caught and consumed that demented burrito from under my bed. (It tasted like newspaper though. Don't ask.) And I also used up the 45 SPF sunscreen and cleaned the exploded hot-pocket in my stereo. Oh yeah, rehab might have a little to do with it. Maybe not. My instructors are all rubber chickens in ballerina tutus with yarn coming out of their noses and they smell like old water.???????WTF??????WDTCF??????

Okay, well enjoy. I want to quickly thank Mr. Forehead, (Squishy) for his inspirational books, (Halo, of course.) and Mr. Buddha, (Goose) for his satisfactory job on sppell checking this whole miserable story. Also, thank YOU for reading it.

So enjoy this, astonishing, remarkable, wondrous, inquisitive, marvelous, amazing, gripping, nail-biting, hair raising (and no there are no barbers.), stupendous, ludicrous, disproportionate, crude, spontaneous, (indeed.) absurd, fantastic, surreal, outrageous, grotesque, blameless, worthy, lengthy, desperate, depressing, attenuated, aggressive, copyright infringing, morally constructive, (not really, it's hazardous to your mental health.) feel-good-about-yourself, cool, supercalafragilisticexpealadotious story. Sorry, I got pretty desperate near the end to reach over thirty descriptive words.


Hey, everyone. Goose here. Just wanted to go over a short review before we launched ya'll into another amazing epic? (Can it be called that?)
First off, just so ya'll don't think down on me, I have left the author's message completely untouched, I think. This was Pickles' area to write and should reflect his own personality.
Next, a rundown of the main characters:

Pickles = Rune
Nikko = Cortez
Alex = Shrouded Death
Aliana = Lily
Smooth Talker = Mandible/Jaw
Goose = LBC
Squishy = Le Grunt
Admiral Raziel

Finally, a word to all. Wow! This is a fantastic story. I'm a bit jealous, actually. Pickles, you did a wonderful job on this, and I can't wait to take care of Halo 3 for you. Readers, are you ready? Well then fasten your seatbelts, because you are about to be blown away by the best story to hit paper since the Halo books themselves. (Actually, I wouldn't know, I haven't read them yet.) Anywho, enjoy this fully satisfying second part of the SPATAN Chronicles! Oh, and one last thing. Great Googily Moogily!


June 12, 2560 (Military Calendar)/
Deployment +13 hours:05 minutes: 45 seconds
(Master Chief Rune Mission Clock) / Earth
Shaw Space-Fleet Docking Base (USA)

"Can you take these last ten miles, LBC? Huh? Can ya?" Mandible, or Jaw as he was now called, picked up his pace and sprinted around the jogging SPARTAN. LBC continued to jog ignoring the feeble attempt to get at his ego. After two miles he came upon Jaw sitting down and breathing heavily while wiping his forehead.
"Can you take these last eight miles, Jaw? Huh? Can ya?" Jaw stood up but didn't pursue. Goose turned another corner around a squat building and saw that a system transport was making its final approach. He watched it land and continued on his way.
Shaw Spacecraft Docking Base was located in the Sumter division of the mega-city Columbia. It was located in the Providence of Carolina, a part of the USA. After the incident at Sodom IV, there were no more sightings of any Covenant life form. Still, it gave the human race a chance to recover from the steady degrade of morale and economy. The SPARTANs were all stationed back to Earth for further training in their suits and physical reconditioning.
After a few miles LBC rounded the last corner and saw the other group of already fit SPARTANs walking towards the finish line. Rune held the front followed by Cortez, Lily, Le Grunt, and Shrouded Death. He caught up and they began to run to cross over the finish line in the same order.
Jaw came an hour and a half after that and met them in a coffee shop where they were just finishing breakfast. "Hey, guys, did you hear about that craft that landed this morning?"
Rune looked up from behind his thermos filled with Espresso. "I saw it land. Why?"
Jaw got his I'm-so-important stance on. "I overheard two captains saying that it landed illegally and when they searched it, there was nobody in it. They can't get inside much farther than the medical bay."
A beep sounded and Shrouded Death pulled out his text pad. "Hey guys. They want us to help check the ship. Crap... We also need to get that parcel to the Secretary of Defense today, too."
Rune looked over the report. "Tell them later. The Secretary will only be here for two days. Let's go. Jaw, get something to eat. We need to go in Combo-1 uniforms."
Later, at the State House, while Rune was finishing his conversation with the Secretary of Defense, LBC flirted with the desk lady and the rest of the SPARTANs listened in on a tour. There was a loud creak as the Secretary appeared out of the heavy oak doors and saluted them, before leaving immediately. Rune appeared in the door, framed by carvings of long ago laws with a solemn face.

He took a deep breath. "I'm afraid I have some bad news. The Government agrees that we have long exceeded our expiration date. The contract for funding SPARTANs expired eight years ago and since there hasn't been any Covenant presence in our systems they consider them beat." He tossed a file into Alex's hands. "We're out." The SPARTANs looked around. LBC finished his conversation quickly and joined them.
"I say we T.P. the Capitol." He said trying to lighten the mood.
"Let's not," Rune replied.
They sat in the Grand Room awaiting their transport and discussing their present situation. "I don't get it. Almost all of our stuff came from 'No Market Policy' money... How can you cut funding from No Market Policy? It's not fair. They're just hiding," Lily said sadly.
"Only three years. Only three years and we're comfortable enough to start laying off military personnel." LBC got up and looked at the massive stained glass window that let most of the light in for the room. He looked back at the forlorn group, "You know we could enlist as normal personnel." After he said this Shrouded Death stood up. He stared at the window quietly. "What is it," LBC asked. Shrouded Death sat down again.
"I just thought..." At that moment a bright flash lit up the entire window, temporally blinding every one who looked at it. Then the window exploded and a wave of debris blew in. A huge concussion wave smashed the remaining framing and cracked the tile floor until it looked like mosaic. Rune could hear buildings falling outside and people screaming. Dust billowed through the gaping holes in the walls and the SPARTANs ducked under the desk. LBC huddled next to the desk lady who wrapped her arms around him, much to his pleasure. The floor shook as more shock waves destroyed the foundation.
"Earthquake!" Someone shouted, but all of the SPARTANs knew otherwise. There was a loud CRACK! as the front section of the building gave way. I-beams and concrete boulders with re-bar spikes fell hundreds of feet down to pummel the fleeing civilians. More dust filled the lungs of the SPARTANs. "Let's go!" Rune shouted choking on the thick pasty dust. He jumped out and led everyone across the debris-strewn floor. A section of the second and third floor collapsed onto the desk where they had been. They ducked again under a flight of stairs.
Rune could see outside now. The dust obscured his vision but he thought he saw a building move. Sure enough there was another monstrous crash, tremor and more dust as it fell across the street and into another building. Rune looked up in time to see more I-beams and concrete pile up on top of the stairs. The steel steps whined as the bolts pulled out of the walls. They all jumped out and ran farther into the building.
They saw a hall labeled "Tornado Shelter" that led underground. Another section collapsed and more people disappeared. A crack appeared in the ceiling and split the hallway in two. The lights finally went out and dust filled the hallway as the rest of the building collapsed above them. "Watch out!" Rune ducked and looked around to see the top of the hall bowing inward and buckling under a million tons of debris.

They ran to a security door, which lay almost sideways. They easily removed it and entered the room. A dead end. The rumble stopped and the room filled with dust. A faint cracking was heard. Rune looked up in time to see the ceiling fall. He jumped away in time as a hole opened up and feeble light poured through. He approached it and felt some thing hit the back of his head. The last thing he saw was a bright flash before he blacked out.

* * * * *
Rune awoke with lights flashing in his eyes. Yelling suddenly filled his ears. His head hurt but he felt okay. He turned away from the light and looked to the side. A woman in her early forties lay beside him with deep cuts all over her face. Bits of glass still glistened in her skin. Dry blood encrusted her filthy face. He looked the other way and saw that he wasn't in a hospital, but a warehouse that had been hurriedly converted.
Gurneys filled it wall to wall. People constantly came in, nobody went out. The smell of rot was in the air. A steady beep quickened and then became a long wail as the woman beside him flat-lined. He tried to jump out to help her but found out that he was bound to the gurney. A nurse with blood over her scrubs hurried by and grabbed the monitor off of the dead woman and whisked it away.
Rune flexed his muscles and broke the bindings. He stood up, a foot and a half above every one else. He turned to a wide-eyed old man. "Excuse me, sir, where do you need help?" He stared for a while. Rune took a step forward, "Listen, sir, from the looks of this place you need help, where?"
"Zat waz impozzeeble! Your zkull woz frazured in zree diverent plazez! Yooz zoodiv been dead!" Rune glared at him.
"Forget it." He said rubbing his scabbed cranium. He picked his gurney up, folded it and put it over his shoulder. He strode through the screaming people until he reached a throng of horribly maimed human beings, still alive. Some had limbs missing, fingers, hands, legs. Others just weren't going to make it. A man stumbled through the doors holding a woman in his arms with her abdomen close to revealing her entrails. She was still alive, though, and she had a chance.
Rune threw the table down and took her from the man's arms. "Do you know any medical procedures?" He asked him.
"Yes, I'm only a dentist but I can do some thing... Will she live?" The man began to cry; that messed with Runes nerves.
"I'll do my best, you need to ask everybody's names who might not survive. Write them on any uninjured part of their body, there's going to be a lot of dead people." The man wiped his tear streaked dusty face. Just then LBC came through a door with a box, which he put down, and ran to Rune.
"Good to see ya up." He said stopping suddenly at the sight of the woman.
"I think her name is Samantha." The man said. "I don't know her last name but she worked the desk at the capitol building." Runes gut wrenched. Under the blood matted hair and dust he recognized the face of the woman LBC had flirted with and who had been lost behind them after they ran from the desk. LBC grabbed a medical pack from under the table and opened it quickly. Two scalpels, a steel dish, eight clamps, ten feet of steel wire, and one can of bio-foam and Gut-glue. Not much to work with.
He pulled his belt off and secured her midsection. Next, he pulled the scalpel out and quickly cut the ripped skin away…not much. He took the clamps and closed her leaking arteries. He pulled out the little pieces of dirt quickly, putting each in the steel pan. The woman grew pale. Rune began CPR as LBC quickly cleaned the gaping wound. He pulled the wire out and began closing the arteries at illegal speeds for such a delicate procedure. He took the Gut-glue and sealed the seams before sewing the wound up. It closed almost perfectly except for the area where the skin had to be cut off. He quickly filled these areas with Bio-foam.
Rune stood up. "She needs blood, lots of it. You can scan her ID badge and find out what kind. Hurry." LBC pulled a scanner from a nearby doctor's pocket and zipped her card through. The screen lit up and, "Samantha Hull, Secretary/ NAVY Executive// Classified:// Blood Type: B+/ (organ donor)*// medical.../43358-576-6876...end" Appeared on the screen. LBC looked around and saw, at the other end of the warehouse, a Red Cross crate with blood across the front. He strutted through the crowd and smashed the wooden side. To his dismay only empty packets and blood giving devises were enclosed. Then he had an idea; he had type "B+" blood. He pulled a packet out and stuck the needle into his arm and ran back to the woman. The packet was full by the time he returned. He quickly changed the needles and stuck it into her arm. He gently squeezed the packet and then filled it again. He emptied that one and the woman's cheeks turned pink as new blood filled her system.
"LBC, she'll be fine. Lets go." LBC looked at the woman one last time. He then sprinted after Rune. "Do you know what happened?" Rune asked.
"Nobody knows what happened exactly, but the rest of us are in a ship. We need to get out quickly before something else happens." Rune stopped.
"Why? And leave all of these suffering people without our help? I don't think so."
LBC stopped. "Look I know that you... We need to stay but it isn't safe, especially for us." They reached the door.
"Prepare yourself for a sorry sight." He said. LBC opened the door and Rune stepped out. The first thing he noticed was a wall of fire on the horizon billowing acrid black smoke. And as he looked above them, the top of a white thunderhead was showing. He took a second look, it was no thunderhead, it was the crown of a decaying mushroom cloud. It was so immense that it flatted out as it hit the troposphere. He could see the air disturbed as fallout came back down and hit the ground. He looked over the horizon…he shouldn't be able to do that. Every building was either in shambles or a pile of rubble leaning away from ground-zero. A few buildings stood with only blown windows where people now crowded in. Suddenly, he felt a great sadness. There wouldn't be just a lot of people dead by the end of the day, there would be hundreds of millions.
LBC touched his shoulder, "Rune, lets go. We are the only people who were at ground zero before this that are alive." He turned slowly and saw a medical ship descend. He had hoped that he would never have to see the ship again. Inside, he too wanted the Covenant to be defeated. Rune entered the ship and felt it rocket away. They passed a fleet of Relief Corp ships. The sun was setting on the mega-city Columbia, and on three years of false peace.

June 15, 2560 (Military Calendar)/
Aboard Super Destroyer Ghale's Revenge
Grand Admiral Krao's Personal Chambers
Docked at Moon Station No.786

Admiral Haba' knocked cautiously at the door that led into the room of the Grand Admiral. Over the past three years, this powerful figure had grown to become, as some say, even more powerful than the Prophets. In three years, the 15% military population grew to over 80%. The Imperial Navy had nearly a half-million ships and billions of soldiers and personnel. And the cherry on the top of this political sundae was the three hundred choice soldiers who were selected and altered in so many ways that they no longer looked normal.
Flood genes were inserted, weak ones removed. Questionable motives were replaced with killer instinct. And they were biologically capable of cloaking themselves without their suits, rendering them immune to EMP. Very few Covenant knew of the project, code named "Forerunner". And even fewer people knew of the plan that the development of the super soldiers spawned said to be called 'SETA'. Some Prophets only had sketchy info on this killer group of individuals.
Some were superior to others in this army, and some were altered in so many ways that they could no longer support themselves naturally, so cybernetics had been introduced to create the ultimate super-soldier. All were different in some way; some secreted a fatally destructive gas in huge amounts that dispersed quickly. Others had the capability of controlling other life forms after they were infected by controllable Flood proteins. Still others were covered with thick plates of skin that were impervious to most hand-held weapons. There were even some Hunters selected for the project, only eight survived, but the final product was a grotesque monster with all the charm of a grizzly turned inside out and added to a half ton of muscle. The Forerunners were a force to be reckoned with.
Krao' knew each one by name and had interviewed them before, during, and after their augmentations and mutations. And now, after the final health tests and checkups, he was ready to congratulate them on a job well done on their first mission: surviving the changes.
"You may come in, Haba'." Krao' said loudly. Haba' opened the door and shut it quietly behind him. A hulking figure was standing beside the Grand Admiral. "Sir, your transportation is waiting to take you to the debriefing area."
"Very well, I will be down in a few units. There are only three more left to interview." Haba' nodded and made his way cautiously past the massive soldier. Probably a Hunter. He thought.
Soon, however, Krao' was in his hover platform going towards the Proving Grounds at the Academy of the Elites to inspect the Forerunners overall performance in the battlefield. There had been many human prisoners who were collected over the years. They had been given all of the physical training equipment that they needed and any kind of weapon they wanted. The kink was that it would be one hundred humans per every ten Forerunners. And the Forerunners would not have any firepower but his own bodily functions.
When they arrived, Krao' was escorted into a huge zoom-screen room. He sat down and activated the screen, which showed nearly a dozen humans making a fortified area. They were all heavily armed. He switched the view and it showed ten deformed figures in two rows of five waiting to be given their orders. He watched them to see if they would move out of formation. They stood stone still for three minutes while Krao' watched them carefully and signed a few data sheets. Finally he pressed the button, giving them the go. Instantly, they disappeared and moved across three miles of harsh terrain quickly.
* * * * * *

This was it. The Grand Admiral is watching us... Well, trying too. Orghik' thought. His mechanical arm sliced through a tree, moving it away while the others stormed over the forest to his right. His buddy, Ough', a Grunt, floated ten feet above them, watching for any signs of the humans. He had gasbags on his back and left shoulder, which gave him an advantage, because if he was shot, the gas would instantly kill any organic life form without the proper Flood genes within a hundred foot radius. It was also lighter than air if there was no oxygen present. He pushed another tree to the side and looked to his left for any activity. Just then, Orghik' thought he smelt something. Something like a decaying animal. Humans.
The others already caught it. They moved slower now, watching for the movement of an unwary human being. He felt his head buzz, and then got a message from his half mechanical brain. "Do not engage enemy until we all know where they are." But that was unneeded. They were sitting in trees, covered by loose vines and branches. Others were under bushes or behind old logs. Orghik' went silently over to a skinny soldier who was looking nervously around. He was accompanied by an M-19 rocket launcher. Orghik' wheezed so that the soldier turned over. He slammed his foot into his stomach, paralyzing his diaphragm leaving him unable to scream. He stuck his hand behind his head and let a tentacle slide under the humans skin and into his spinal cord. Instantly the man's face turned grayish. He pulled his hand free, letting the tentacle rip off and wriggle into the man's body. The human was now under his control. He and the others used this same method until more than half were infected. The Forerunner team pulled out.
Ough' then went to the other side of the valley where the human encampment was. He deflated his bags just as a gust of wind blew against his back. Trees, grass and bush leaves turned brown and soggy. Bugs dropped out of midair and the humans began to have convulsions as their innards were liquefied. Suddenly, the infected men poured through the camp and began to slaughter the remaining humans before turning on themselves. Ough' finished of the last one before returning to their grounds with the human flag in time for the Grand Admiral to arrive.
A highly decorated pod floated down from the tower on the side of the mountains. Brutes formed a double line and saluted as the Grand Admiral stepped out. Orghik' clapped his legs together and stood motionless for a half hour as he was debriefed. Then the word came, "Fallout and fall in at the lecture hall."

They vaulted up the mountainside, watching another platoon of Forerunners go down the other side and a transport with the humans appear. "They're dead," Ough' whispered indicating the foolhardy humans who ran into the woods. They reached the double glass doors and took their stances in the room. There was the heavy, rhythmic thump-thump! as the Brutes marched down the corridor behind Krao'. He entered and sat in his chair. A screen clicked on showing Earth.
"Congratulations. Mission accomplished. The human base has been eliminated entirely." As he said this a section was enlarged into a continent, then a grid appeared and another section was enlarged to show an immense cityscape. Once again it was enlarged. A huge spaceport appeared. Then suddenly the screen turned white. The screen switched again to the cityscape, which was crumbling as huge shock waves, reduced the massive skyscrapers to rubble. "As you know, the SPARTANs were here at the time of the landing and were requested to aid in the search of our stolen, erhem, ship. With luck, they were probably the ones who activated the 'malfunction'." The screen shifted again and the top of a small building appeared and blinked white. It switched again to a field of glass still orange and smoking. "As you can see, they have been eliminated and the thread that has held humanity above the gaping maws of the mighty Covenant has been cut. Soldiers, without their precious SPARTANs, they cannot win this war."
He paused for a moment to activate another program. The Earth appeared, but it zoomed in onto another spaceport in a different country. "This is France National Spaceport. It is your next target. But this time, I want you personally to conquer the compound. No weapons and no resources but what you own and can gather. You will depart immediately. That is all." Orghik' felt himself fill with pride. Another vital mission. "Sir, it will be done," they all said in unison. They did a left face and marched out.

June 28, 2560 (Military Calendar)/
Deployment +06 hours:45 minutes:28 seconds
(Master Chief Rune Mission Clock) / Earth
Central Intelligence Agency HQ (Langley, Virginia)

"Sir, I'm just saying that this explosion was meant for us!" The short, skinny man looked over his desk and right into Shrouded Death's eyes.
"And I'm telling you that there is no evidence of foul play. It was an entirely devastating accident. All satellite images proved so. There were no radio transmissions that could have somehow detonated the nuclear reactor or its spare fuel rods!" He glared at the SPARTANs. "And further more, you are still denounced and your contract is still terminated. Now be gone with you or I shall throw you in the prisons!" Rune stood up and was out of the room with a few steps. The others followed him. They walked down the hall passing few people.
"As of now, we are abandoning our crappy call names. We go back to our originals and assume new identities. I'll make sure Chell-C labels us as MIA or KIA on the records." Rune, now Pickles, said wiping his bald crown with his sleeve. Pickles, Goose (LBC), Alex (Shrouded Death), Aliana (Lily), Smooth Talker (Mandible/Jaw), Squishy (Le Grunt), and Nikko (Cortez) all entered the elevator.
"We need to find a good hide away. Far from any heavily populated area." Goose said. The door opened and a group of nervous looking office people took a step forward, then paused as Goose shook his head. The door closed and they went to the bottom floor. They walked through the lobby and out into the street.
The town was a metropolis of hoodlums, ghettos, and the occasional high-rise apartments beyond the highway. On this side, there were multi-million dollar businesses and huge skyscrapers. They walked down the sidewalk and into a shaggy restaurant for lunch. They all sat down in the creaking chairs and were handed a menu. "I got a small plot of land in New Hampshire." Aliana said hopefully. Goose stood up and went across the street to a news stand. Pictures of the mushroom cloud and the devastated city were posted all over it.
"Sell the land, Aliana." Alex said. "All real-estate will be repossessed when our records are changed. We'll need all the money we can get." Goose came back in with a stack of real-estate handbooks. They looked around a bit and a waitress came over and took their order.
They ate while discussing their options and flitting through the handbooks. They settled on a large piece of land in southern France. An old granary with two storage containers and an underground facility. It had brand new fencing and an old airstrip near a road. "It'll have to do." Pickles said finally, standing up and retrieving their meals. "You know, we can apply for Veteran Retirement Funding Program and get tons of money. We're unemployed, soon to own no real-estate, have no living relatives, own nothing but the clothes on our backs and have no other source of income. We could be basically given all of the stuff we need if it's legitimate enough." He said handing out the food.
There was a long stretch of silence between the SPARTANs as they slowly ate through greasy hamburgers and oily fries. Ideas were passed through full mouths as news about the Shaw incident blared out of the holo-screen in the front of the counter. The occasional employee would stop and shake their head as new death tolls were posted. "The National Disaster Relief Committee arrived at the disaster site today to pay their respects to the Secretary of Defense, Dimitrios McCloghry, and all who perished in the incident. The death toll has reached a staggering 9,345,754 victims. It is only days after the incident and the air around ground zero quote, 'Smells like he**,' according to Senator Joshua Robertson. Immediately afterwards the Committee was flown over ground zero." Goose looked down. Squishy spoke up,
"Notice how they said incident and not attack."
An air view appeared from a plane flying over the still raging fires that engulfed most of the outskirts of GZ (Ground Zero). It continued to pass until a wall of glass hills appeared. "This....Rim of the crater......Mile deep.......Seven miles wide......fifteen hundred mega-ton explosion.....Worst accident in world history......" Static kept interrupting the reporter as the ground below them fell away. They weren't going higher, it was getting deeper. The camera panned out and showed the distant, glass horizon that was reflecting the suns light like a mirror. Huge billows of black smoke filled the air beyond the crater rim.
A woman started crying in the back. A tissue was handed to her from somebody. The SPARTANs had seen enough. They paid the bill and left. "We need to contact some old friends." Goose said as they approached a taxi station where a lone yellow transport lay with an obese driver sleeping on the wheel. Goose knocked on his window. The man jerked his head up and said innocently. "Sorry, sir, I'm off duty!" Goose rounded the cab and opened the door. He handed the man fifty credits. "I'll give you that to put it in duty. To the old Tarcia Building please." The cab driver smiled and activated the hover pads.

* * * * * *

The room was in the basement of a derelict building, deep in the heart of ghetto London. The various faces were bathed in shadow from the one battery-powered light that hung from a rusted I-beam. The SPARTANs were awaiting the arrival of various military personnel from past encounters with the Covenant.
Goose gave a look at Nikko as if the leaders wouldn't think of showing up at the building, much less give them aid. Just then there was a knock on the cast iron door. The beads of water vibrated and ran down the rivets. There was a creak and a whoosh of air as a copper-haired Admiral stepped in looking at the dim figures. Captain Barella, Chief Mechanic Darren Bivens, and a hand full of guards followed him. "You boys can wait outside," the Admiral's gruff voice said to the lead trooper. The soldier turned and told the team to take up defensive positions.
"Gentlemen, unfortunately Anna could not be contacted so we'll have to make do with who we've got. As you have undoubtedly heard, Shaw was destroyed. How and for what reason it was is up to you. The Department of Defense has terminated our contract and has voiced strong opposition for reinstating it. As of yesterday, we no longer exist. Our names are on the "Victims of the Incident" list database. The bank has adopted our financial resources and our previous residences are now vapor. I am here to ask you one question and I need one answer." The two men looked at each other, "Was it an accident?" Barella looked at his watch. "No. It was too clean to be an accident. But if you are asking whether or not it was the Covenant, I don't believe it was."
The Admiral side-glanced him and took his starched white hat off to wipe his brow. "Captain, everybody wishes deeply for the war to be ended. It has." He replaced his hat, adjusting it so none of his bright hair showed. "Six hundred years ago a man named Adolph Hitler from Germany tried to take over the world. He failed. Many people wanted the war to end. It did. That was the end of World War One. Years later the same enemy attacked the same world. And once again, he failed. That was the end of World War Two. 52 million perished in that blood feud. Lots more than WWI. The world power of Britain was overthrown and the US of A became the lead power until the struggle between it and China sevnty-five years later.
I'm afraid that the First Extraterrestrial War was fought and the Covenant defeated. Now they are back for round two and the toll will be higher. If their first attack was on our threshold, no, on our soil, then we are in for a long haul."
Barella winced at the comparison. Darren raised his eyebrows but didn't say anything. There was a knock at the iron door and a soldier stuck his head in. "Sir, there is a craft scanning this building with radar. You need to get out." Everybody began to go to the door when a distant whoosh announced that it was landing outside. They decided to retreat to the back of the basement and pointed their sidearms toward the door. They listened for gunfire above.
"Put your hands up and exit the ship immediately!" Said somebody. "Stop right there or I'll shoot." There was a muffled voice in return. "Well…then I need to see some ID." There was a shout followed by a lengthy speech, which the SPARTANs could not hear despite their enhanced hearing. There were heavy footsteps and some yells. They followed them across the hall, down the stairs. "BAM BAM BAM!" The door rang with the fist of the newcomer. Raziel cocked his gun. "Get away from that door or I'll shoot!" The door opened.
"What the he**!" Anna put her hands up in mockery. "Those Covenant really did shove a log up your a**, didn't they?" The guns were lowered and the SPARTANs exchanged greetings. "Can we have an extra pair of ears? My sister is still in the ship. She just graduated from the Academy and had a higher final solo grade than I did." Alex put his magnum in his boot holster.
"Oh boy, somebody who can drive better than Anna. I guess she got a higher grade cause she didn't nearly kill the instructors or lose eight ships while in training." Goose's eyes were still glued to something. Anna saw it.
"You haven't changed a bit, Goose. Jesse, come on in." Anna depressed a button on her new pilot's suit. She also had a set of boots by her side. Instantly an almost perfect Anna-look-alike stepped through the door. Goose did a double take and gulped. Jesse had a fairer face than Anna, which was splotched with light freckles, and wore her hair down to her waist. Her determination was clear by the immediate reaction to having superiors in her presence. She snapped to and saluted.
"That won't be necessary, Jesse." Raziel said. The group re-oriented themselves and continued their conversation.
"We have acquired a rather large plot of land in southern France that has everything we would need if we could just outfit it." Smooth Talker said. Barella looked around.
"Well, we would have to use our personal accounts to erase the paper trail if you wanted to fix it up. You might as well use the land for its natural purpose and grow something for a little extra income." Raziel wiped his brow again.
"I like the idea of signing up for veteran benefits. They would buy the land, give you transport, food, and any other thing that you would need to live. We would have to buy the equipment, though. I still can't believe what happened. Ten million dead..." Pickles looked around. The light above them flickered for a moment and dimmed.
"So are you agreeing to help us?" Squishy asked hopefully. Raziel replaced his hat and approached the door to leave.
"Son, I never stopped."

June 30, 2560 (Military Calendar)/
Aboard Super Destroyer Ghale's Revenge
Logistics Room (Rm. 56543)
Docked at Moon Station No.786

"…And from there, team two will take the control tower and set up the last detonator." Orghik' looked at his troops. "All teams will pull out to the field, here, and move into another field in the surrounding farmland and await evac. This is our second and most vital mission." Ough' stood up and went to the front.
"After our first success, the humans have put most of their transports under surveillance if they carry extra fuel rods or have large, high-powered reactors on board." There was a beep and a door in the back of the blue room opened.
"All rise!" Krao' entered and walked gracefully to the front and greeted the group. They all sat down again.
"It is a pleasure to be with the best group on the sheets so far. You had the highest success rate in the Proving Grounds." There was a loud, odd mixture of grunts, squeals, and clicks as they cheered. "Unfortunately, Group 3 failed miserably. They are being terminated as we speak. In this corps, there is NO room for failure." The soldiers looked around, waiting for some reaction to this news. There was none. Group 3 had always been last, to chow, in training, inspection, drill, and was considered a burden to baby-sit during training routines.
"As you already know Groups 1 and 6 were eliminated previously. You and Groups 2, 4, 5, 7 and 8 are the only remaining, successful units."
Finally, after an hour long lecture from Krao', the troops headed to the barracks to rest until the ship left for a remote planet called "Jupiter" the next day. They felt the ship lurch and move as it left the dock. Orghik' felt himself slip in and out of sleep. He couldn't stop thinking of how he got to be where he was. He remembered the first day...
There was a loud knock at the door. "Come in!" Orghik' said wearily after looking at his ship reports again. A tall Brute stepped in.
"You are hereby drafted into the Forerunner Project. If you refuse, you will be terminated." He was shocked at the short but definite act. He had heard rumors of the Forerunner Project. The Grand Admiral had proposed it the day he returned and gave his first speech. He was in that crowd when he did so.
"Are those the only choices?" He asked half jokingly. The Brute looked irritated. "YES."
He was taken from his office that day and thrust into brutal training. If he didn't bleed enough for the DI's then he was made to. Orghik' and the group of soldiers were reduced to nothing. Their minds were so distorted after the intense testing and steroid applications that they couldn't retain anything other than basic bodily functions. Six months of intense physical training had broken him.
"How is Number 46 doing?" Orghik' opened his heavy eyelids. His skin was mottled and his head throbbed from the latest injection. A tall Elite hung over him, important looking.
"He is one of our most extensively tested subjects. Muscular, gastro-intestinal, ocular, circulatory, nervous, lymphatic, cardio-vascular, and skeletal systems are all ready for augmentation, just needs your approval, sir."
Orghik' opened his eyes again. "How are you doing, 46? Don't answer. I know how you feel. Bogged down, drugged, delirious. You want to die. I know exactly how you feel. To have your whole life ripped away and be forced into something that you didn't want, but you knew that whatever this new thing was you were going to do something big with it and that it had to be done for the greater cause. I know." He nodded his head as if agreeing with himself.
"When this, this is all over, these experiments, you will be more than even I could imagine. The ones who will carry the Covenant race on their shoulders into Paradise. The ones who will ultimately crush the humans and the SPARTANs." The Elite stood up from the seat near Orghik's pod. "Hold on to your mind and don't slip." He began to walk away. A purple cape fluttered behind him. The Grand Admiral.
He awoke again. His entire body hurt. He could feel the skin shift where the scientists had made incisions. He tried to move his head. Something snapped. A surge of pain shot through his back and into his head. His vision got blurry and then he blacked out again.
Next time he awoke, he had a head brace on and his body was strapped down. The ceiling was different. A voice announced over the intercom, "Projectile resistance test 1-Subject 46." His bed began to lift and he slid down. A force field wall was all around him. He somehow knew that there were exactly eighteen pairs of eyes watching him and only one was armed. He looked down at his chest. Stitches still crisscrossed his body. Or was it his body? Muscles bulged out of every possible place, veins pulsed across the skin that looked cold and almost rotten. And it all hurt with a dull pain.
He looked at his arms, or where they were supposed to be. One was just a stub with a mechanical inlet and the other was a mass of tubes that ran from his chest to his shoulder and elbow. Where his fingers were supposed to be was a wad of wormy looking things that had three pointy prongs on each of their tips.
The force shield flickered and a Grunt stepped in with a pistol ready. "Proceed with the test." A voice said. The Grunt looked at his pistol and then at Orghik'. He charged it and aimed at his head. A surge overtook his body and he ripped the restraints off of himself. The scared Grunt shot and missed.
He only meant to punch him. Instead, his hand ripped through the Grunts abdomen and into his methane tank, which exploded and set the body on fire. Orghik' pulled his hand out of the burning mess and watched as the burned skin on his arm grew back. There was a sharp crack and he felt a needle in his neck. He blacked out again.
Once again he awoke. This time, he knew he was paralyzed. His body buzzed with numbness. His head hung on his neck and he forced his eyes to look down. There were odd growths that were spreading in a plate-like fashion across his torso and chest. They were sparse around areas where joints and bendable places were. "Projectile resistance test 18-Subject 46." He tried to do the same thing. He couldn't, his body was bound fast and his entire body hurt at the thought of moving a muscle. There was a high whine and the reflection of the charge lined the tiles on the floor. Orghik' closed his eyes. There was a thump and it felt like someone with a very hot fist had punched him. He struggled to get his breath back. "Subject 46- Passed." He blacked out again.
There was a loud siren. Lights blared. "Orghik'? Orghik?" Wait, this wasn't part of his past. Subconsciously he jumped out of his bed and saluted. He was jabbed with a plasma rifle. "Next time you sleep in you'll be pulling KP duty with the vermin soldiers!" The gruff sergeant wobbled out of the barracks. Most of the others already had their cybernetics attached and were pumping fluids into their arms. Rations. Orghik' pulled out his. A black sticky fluid flowed inside of a huge syringe. Without thinking secondly, he put it into his arm and injected himself while looking at his mecha-arm, which was still hanging in its rack. Immediately, the high-protein amino acid mixture took hold and sped his heart rate way up. He took his arm with his other and shoved it into its socket. A small screen lit up on its wrist. Objectives were instantly downloaded and he checked them off.
OBJ. 1 Rations
OBJ. 2 Cybernetics
OBJ. 3 Select optional weapon for possible massive h2hc
OBJ. 4 Prepare for briefing
OBJ. 5 Departure
Orghik' sighed again and pulled out a case from under his bed. It contained two other attachments. One was a huge sickle, which heated up to 1200 degrees. The other was a multi-functional gun-mount, on which almost any Covenant weapon could be mounted and shot with pinpoint accuracy. He un-hooked his hand unit and set it into the self-molding foam. He pulled out the scythe and stuck it in its place. After a bit of screw twisting and a tune up, he was ready.
The entire ship was active. They had made it just past the humans sensor systems in their own solar system. They were stationed somewhere on Jupiter's north pole where no radar, sensors or infrared scanner would ever be able to look. The plan was to insert at night while a heavy meteor shower from a passing comet took place. Just a few small land impacts in southern France, a day at the spaceport and all would be well when a heavy rain blew in. Not only crippling all S&R operations but also killing many humans without power for the city pumps when the bomb went off.
The briefing was but a wish of luck and a quick blessing from Krao'. Soon there were odd blue shimmers that resounded around the outside of the ship. Micrometeorites were pelting the shields. Soon they became bigger. There were small explosions on the shield that had some Engineers watching them closely. Soon, however, the pods were deemed ready for departure. Orghik' was strapped into the organic looking pod and prepped for jettison. Ough' was put into the pod across from him. They nodded to each other before the hatch was closed. The pod filled up with sub-zero embryonic fluid. It filled his lungs and made his brain clear of any thought. He felt his heart slow down, first time after the rations, and then he fell asleep. The last thing he saw or felt was a mass of red and pink swirls and a huge thumping jolt.
Physical Testing Course. Nobody normal had ever completed the PTC. In fact, the last mile and a half was never used because of this. But now, Orghik' and the Forerunners were made to use it three times a week. First, there was a simple obstructions range, then an obstacle course. In the middle there was a mile long field with posts that you had to cross in less than three minutes. He was the only one in his platoon a year ago to do so before he graduated from the Academy of Elites. After that, there was a swimming and bomb disarmament test. Finally, there was a mountain, which was covered in a fabricated city. There was one item in the whole city that had to be recovered in one hour or you failed. But that was the standard tests. After you got to the top of the mountain, there was usually evac to get you out.
But now that the last stretch had been redone, they had to get to the top of the mountain with the object and put it in its own place. Then, live soldiers engaged them in combat on the far side. He was to neutralize the targets, not kill them, and then proceed to a building where he would encounter many mind puzzles and answer academic questions in a certain time. Once on the roof, there would be a number of wounded soldiers who were made to 'die' at certain times depending on how long it took the Elite to complete the mind tasks. It also taught Orghik' how to prioritize victims of an impossible attack. Three times a week, fifty-six weeks a year. But this was the final test, and everybody was being challenged.
And now, with all of the augmentations, genetic engineering and cybernetics, he felt that he could run the course in a minute. He was at the start point with the rest of the Forerunners, all two hundred and sixty-two. His blood pounded in his ears. He felt chemicals surge through his body making him shake. A Brute stood next to him and loaded a charge round. He raised his arm and ignited it. BANG! Everybody else took off but he hesitated for some reason. Then he began to walk, and then slowly break into a run. Simple maze. Premature wire challenges. Vermin soldiers could do this. Orghik' thought after jumping thirty feet over a climbing wall. The posts began sparse but grew to such a dense forest that he was forced to squeeze through them sideways. A shadow flitted over him. Ough'.
Soon he too was leaping from the top of one post to one a hundred feet away. A small lake suddenly replaced the posts. He landed with a slight splash. He exhaled and sank to the bottom. A destroyed ship lay at the bottom with various explosives on it. He was only supposed to do one. Too simple. He quickly disarmed eighteen bombs before he had to resurface. He swam quickly to the opposite shore.
The mountain course loomed above them. There was a quick clue on his hand screen. A human skull. It must be reunited with the rest of it's self at the top of the mountain. A Grunt began to float as he inflated himself. Orghik' saw an advantage to having a partner with that ability. Many of the others had chosen a partner in which they did everything. Ough' was a Grunt and was not considered worthy of being sided with another Elite. But his fierce determination to prove himself made him a force to top other Elites.
Orgik' sent him a message. Ough' immediately joined him, excited at he thought of being wanted by a top Elite. It was close to fifty minutes before Orghik' got a message from Ough' saying that he smelt human. A quick picture was taken of the place and forwarded to him. It was on the other side of the city. There would be no way he could run to the area before the others did.
He looked around to see if there would be some clue. He found it connected to his right shoulder. He looked at his hands and then at the concrete wall of a tall building. He pulled his mecha-arm back and rammed it into the wall. It fractured and was suddenly filled with a spider web of fissures and holes. He found a wide enough crack for his other hand. The wormy wad easily fit into the cracks. He quickly scaled the wall and was soon on the roof looking across the city-scape. He leaped to the next building and then to the next.
Soon he was on the same block where the building was. He jumped over another building and saw three other Forerunners running to the same stricture where Ough' had said it was. Another Elite appeared on the building next to him. A surge of chemicals made him jump farther than before. He had hoped to land right on top of the selected place but upon clearing the one before it by a mere three feet, he realized that he was going to fall short and end up breaking something when he hit the wall. In a quick motion he spun with his back towards the building and swung his arm backwards and over him. His back slammed against the wall, which gave way when the arm hit it just milliseconds before.
He quickly got up in the dank room. Sunlight streamed through and illuminated his prize. A cleaned human skull lay partially covered by the bits of wall and old furniture. He quickly snatched it up and put it under his arm. He turned to face the hole just as an Elite darkened it. "I'll be taking that. I'm not going to lose this one." His arms, which were both cybernetics, twitched as he made ready to tear Orghik's head off. The air hissed as he made the first swing with his right arm. Unfortunately this left his back and side exposed and at that moment, Orghik' slammed his fist into the Elites ribs sending him into the wall and creating a comically accurate impression in it. He slumped to the ground in a heap. Both of his arms were leaking fluid and sparking. Orghik' jumped out before anybody else would think of trying to take his prize away.
He landed on the road, cracking the pavement. Ough' suddenly snatched it out of his arms. "Good, take it to the top!" He looked around and saw that he had landed in an intersection with Forerunners coming from all sides. Ough' was far above the city and struggled against the wind of an oncoming storm as he floated towards the top of the mountain. Somebody threw a rock, a large one, at him, which hit squarely between his shoulders. He dropped the skull. And then it almost stopped in mid air. Orghik's body seized up and became hard to move. He saw the skull falling lazily towards the ground. He leaped into the air to catch it, except he hung in the air on his way towards it. The skull came closer. He reached out and right when his metal fingers brushed it, he fell straight down. He landed on his feet and with the skull miraculously in his arms. Ough', who had fallen onto a building, was pinned down and was unable to help him.
Orghik' looked and quickly counted thirteen Forerunners. One Jackal, one Hunter and three Grunts. The rest were Elites. He saw that he would not make it to the top of any buildings in time to make an escape. Orghik' began to feel that he would be mauled right then and there. He tried to think of something, if only he had chosen a better weapon that just his bare hand. But just then his skin burned fiercely and he saw that it began to turn mottled and gray. The other troops had slowed and were watching him writhe in pain. It wasn't until it reached his legs did he notice that he was becoming transparent. Biologically.
Soon he was completely gone. The Forerunners stopped, knowing that they would have to listen for him. Once again, Orghik' quickly scanned the ring of soldiers. They began to sense that he wasn't going to move and began to close in.
Orghik' suddenly awoke. He was uncomfortably warm. The embryonic fluid was draining and he threw up the liquid in his stomach and lungs. The sides were too hot to touch after it had gone. He closed his eyes as the pod began to shake violently. Hotter and hotter. His body began to pour out chemicals to keep him cool. His arm shut down. The shaking got even more violent. Even hotter. Suddenly with the force of a speeding ship into a wall, it stopped.
The sides instantly shot away and he got out. The wheat around him was on fire and his face was sprayed with dirt as another pod landed close by. Other shooting stars streaked across the sky, meteorites. There was another thump and shower of hot dirt as the last pod landed. Orghik' primed his gun and looked up in time to see a human ship approaching in the far distance. This was not expected. The Forerunners quickly destroyed the pods and filled in the craters before it had time to get a good look at them. There was no time to put the small fires that burned here and there out before they flew overhead. They cloaked and began following the roaring ship towards the lights in the distance, which shined at France National Spaceport.

June 30, 2560 (Military Calendar)/
Deployment +20 hours: 34 minutes: 02 seconds
(Master Chief Pickles Mission Clock) / Earth
France International Spaceport (Republic of France)

"Looks like somebody's field is on fire," Aliana said looking out of the window. Pickles looked out at the small fires below them.
"Must be burning chaff," he said. The window lit up with the lights that lined the runway a few seconds later. Nikko tapped him on the shoulder.
"Sir, all of our suits are ready and the cargo is secure." Pickles chatted with him for a few minutes as Anna corrected information with the tower and verified their cargo as "water-heaters". A red light winked on.
"One-niner-niner to tower. When did the last ship come in-take off, over?" There was jumbled static.
"Roger that, one-niner-niner, approx half hour. Over." Anna double-checked her charts.
"One-niner-niner to tower, I want to report an ozone spike in sector eight-six-one. Over." There was a brief pause.
"Roger that. Meteorites might have hit the fields. They were too fast to be tracked on radar. Nothing dangerously large. You are all clear for landing, remain on current traffic pattern and begin your descent."
Jesse, Anna's self-appointed co-pilot put the landing gear down and took the schooner off of autopilot. This was followed by a perfect landing. "Tower to one-niner-niner, good landing, proceed to docking bay 34. Tower over and out." Jesse expertly maneuvered the ship and let the extendible hallway edge towards the hatch and the cargo droids congregate under the ships belly, eager to carry something.
"Okay, I want my money." Anna turned red and handed fifty credits into Jesse's hands.
"This doesn't mean that you're a better pilot than me." She said defiantly. The hatch hissed open and the white light of the hall spilled into the dank schooner. Anna quickly opened the cargo doors and shut the engines down. She un-strapped herself and followed Jesse out into the rubber lined corridor.
"Let's get some dinner, that looks like a good place." Jesse sprinted over to a sub-sandwich shop while the rest went to a Chinese buffet.
Goose looked at the waitress, "Wow, they actually have real Chinese people working here!" Anna looked at him disapprovingly. The COM announced final boarding for a flight.
After a round of Saki and a third plate of sesame chicken, they began to discuss their new acquirement. "We can begin moving in tomorrow morning. Meanwhile, we'll sleep here." Smooth Talker downed another glass of hot Saki.
"Wha? In the restaurant? Fine. Fine with m-m-me. BURP!" He went cross-eyed for a second and passed out.
Jesse showed up. The spaceport COM went off again announcing the departure of a ship for Antarctica. "What the he** happened to him?" She motioned to the apparently drunk SPARTAN. A bit of drool was making its way down his chin. Nikko scooted away from him when Smooth Talker tried to lean his head on his shoulder.
Pickles whipped out his bankcard and swiped it over the table. "$45.93, Thank you for eating at Fu Garden, the nations fastest growing foreign food chain. Merci tu et manages un Fu Garden..." The rest of the message was interrupted by the spaceport COM. They all stood up and went out, leaving Smooth Talker to sleep in peace.
A scooter droid went to Pickles and handed him a data sheet. "All of our cargo is loaded onto...Pod 9. It'll be ready to move tomorrow morning." They were heading into a pod lodge to sleep for the rest of the night when Squishy began to talk with a black, chubby, bald-headed janitor. He had a thick accent and wore sunglasses.
"Yea, man. Day sey dat da cuv'net 'redy dead, yanow I mean?"
Squishy replied, "They also said that the SPARTANs were killed. They were right outside the ship according to the last COM output." The black man wrinkled his brow. he took his sunglasses off to reveal milky white eyes: he was blind.
"No dats a har' shame. Ain't nobody luv da Spotans lie me. My whole bildin' loved dem. he**, humanidy did. Pidy. Dats juss a cryin' shame." His radio blared. He lifted it up and listed for a moment. "Yellow, dis id Terry. No I ain't know whea he id. Call da abulanse." He adjusted his glasses and continued moping up a stain on the floor. "Yeah, my whole... Now whered dat boy run off too?"
Squishy had run to Pickles who was throwing himself on his bed. "Pickles, somebody had a bad run in with a knife slinger. They have to call for help, they said he was bleeding all over and there are no emergency medics in the port."
"Darn French." Pickles, who, among others, had profound medical experience, stood up and followed Squishy. Goose joined them as they went down the hall to a crowd of people around a gurney. Police officers were clearing the way. They left the metal detectors unattended. The man was pale as a sheet. His entire side was cut all the way to his spine. And nothing was spilling out but blood.
"That sure as he** is no knife cut, that had to be like a freakin' machete!" Goose exclaimed. Pickles rushed over to the man. He was babbling something aimlessly.
"Sir, could you tell us what the man looked like?" His eyes were wide open and were unfocused. "Teeth, Jaw...He was dead...I'm dead...I...Walking the dog...I'm dead...He smelt dead...I...I..." The man shuddered and heaved a sigh. His hand went limp and the medic pulled a sheet over him. "Wait, hold it." Goose said grabbing his hand and pulling the sheet back. "Pickles, look." He tried not to look at the intestines, severed in half. "It's cut about six inches, the rest of the wound's cauterized. Like the weapon heated up." He ventured to take a look. Sure enough it was true. The intestines and liver were cauterized and didn't do as much as leak their own juices. The man however had died because what ever cut him hadn't completely burned his arteries shut.
They stopped and watched as the crowd moved with the dead man out of the hall and into the next. The corridor was then quiet and very empty except a lone police officer who was drinking coffee in the cubicle next to the metal detectors. The SPARTANs sat in a bench quietly in case the officer needed a hand when more passengers came through. They quietly discussed their options for the following day. "Man, I'm never going to sleep after that." Pickles said. There was a thunderclap outside. A wave of rain suddenly descended upon the spaceport. Special runway lights automatically turned on.
"I think it's something evil and dark. A phantom of the space port." Goose said, eerily smiling. He then stood up and walked away silently. Squishy pushed himself up to stretch. He meandered around the hallway scratching his head. But just then, Goose came back charging around the corner to tackle Squishy.
"Bonsai!" He yelled leaping into the air. Squishy moved out of the way and watched as Goose sailed past him and face first into the arm of the bench. Squishy laughed and helped him up off of the floor. Goose's eye was turning blue and he had a small cut under his eye. "Think I can sport this to the ladies?" Goose asked hopefully.
"Not a chance. Now sit down before you kill yourself." Pickles said.
They all sat back down and quietly discussed again what they might do with the old granary. After a silent debate about who gets what bedroom, there was a loud beep. They looked over at the metal detectors, which lit up. The officer in the cubicle did too, and he was just as dumbfounded. He licked his lips and continued gulping his coffee. After a while, the metal detector went off again. Then it stopped, on again, then off. After a few cycles of it's maniac beeping the officer slammed his mug down and went over to the devices. He looked around them and then kicked it. After they got a decent beat-up he sat down again and, after looking at the detectors, took another sip of the strong Colombian.
Squishy lightly nudged Pickles on his arm. "Sir, there is something big and ugly dripping water over the floor that we can't see." Pickles was about to laugh but stopped when he saw his face. He looked over behind the metal detectors. There was something there all right. The rainwater dripped off of it and onto the floor. BEEEEEEEEEP! That was all the man could take. He got up and jumped onto the metal detectors and right into the thing's path. "No, wait! Don't!" Squishy yelled.
The officer turned and was about to say something but he was cut short, literally. His legs fell out from under him with a sick hiss of steam. His head jumped off his shoulders in a similar fashion. They were packin' before it hit the floor. They ran down the deserted hallway. They passed a door with the label "CARGO BAY" on it. They did a double turn. Pickles, while skipping five stairs at a time radioed Anna. "Anna, no time to explain. Get down to the Cargo Bay now, and lock every door behind you."
The Cargo Bay was a huge room filled with Pods and boxes. Number nine was close to them, thankfully. Squishy swiped the card through the slot. He dashed into the mini-storage building and turned the lights on. Guns lined the wall on one side and their suits on the other. He climbed up into his and activated the automated fitting sequence. Pickles and Goose did the same.
Before they finished putting them on, Nikko, Aliana, Jesse, Anna and Smooth Talker skidded into the small mobile facility. "What's going on?" Nikko demanded. Pickles began to speak as the chest plates were being fused shut. He quickly recounted the incidents.
"What ever it was, it was completely invisible, not even a shimmer."
"It may have been one of our suits…"
"Naw. It's loose and we are the only ones who can stop it." Anna put her hands on her hips.
"Well, I don't know about you but I'm a little fishy on this. How did you see it if it was 'completely invisible' as you say?" Pickles helmet was now being secured, so Goose spoke up.
"It was wet, rain was dripping off of it. It was about eight feet high. Now get your suit on."
Smooth Talker suddenly piped up. "Hold it, hold it! How do we know that this thing isn't some psycho man trying to freak us out, just call the police! There's no way to assume that this is some kind of attack." The suits activated. Pickles stood up and said through a mechanized voice. "Get your suit on, that's an order."
They were milling through the Cargo Bay when Goose posed a question. "What about the other civilians. How do we get them out?" There was silence as they made their way to the door.
"Maybe call for an evacuation. I don't know. All I know is that it won't stay contained forever." Pickles rounded a corner. "How did you contain the thing?" Anna asked running to keep up with them. "We shut a fire wall door... Anna, you're a genius, you've done it."
She looked up. "Uh, yes of course I have. Uh, how have I?"
"We'll pull the fire alarm. They'll get out of the building and then we'll have to find and kill whatever that thing was." They found the door and opened it. There was a trolley coming in. They scooted to the side to let it pass.
"Anna, is there anything deathly important in our ship?" Goose asked politely.
"Yes, me. I'm going to take the Pod out of here. Goose, will you accompany me?" The two split off and headed up a flight of stairs and inside to get to the schooner. They had to stop to let a fuel truck park. They continued running toward the ship. Pickles had an idea. He pulled a grenade from its case and pulled the pin. He reached out and took the rubber band out of Jesse's hair, much to her annoyance. He wrapped it tight around the lever and went towards the truck.
"Just find a fire alarm. Leave me to this. Jesse, go follow your sister, NOW." She was still heated about him stealing her rubber band. Her long hair stuck to her wet forehead. But not wanting to argue with someone who was in that kind of a suit, she took off towards the ship, too.
Pickles activated the repulsors in his suit and glided silently over the top of the truck. He slowly twisted a pipe loose, ship waste spilled onto the tarmac. It was a highly flammable and volatile mixture of oil, gasoline, and nitrous. He coated the rubber band that was wound around the grenade and set it under the tank. Pickles then accelerated towards the Radio Tower.
A technician had just stood up to end his shift at the odd stretch of no incoming ships. He saw a hideous flying monster flying towards his window. He screamed like a woman and ran down the stairs. Pickles tapped on the window but the other radio operators backed away. Finally one slowly approached and opened it enough to let him in. His eyes drifted towards the MJOLNIR-X mark on his shoulder plates. "You, you died!" The translator changed it from French to Standard. Pickles looked down at the man.
"That's what you were supposed to think. Listen, we have a situation." At that moment, a huge explosion resounded. Every body rushed towards the North windows. They began to yell and scream. "Listen people. Please that's just... Excuse me.... WILL YOU SHUT THE HE** UP!" The tower was left in silence. "I did that. There is an oddity of killers loose. You need to jam your doors and re-route all air traffic to another port. It may be that this is just a psycho scientist with one heck of a suit." A wail sounded and lights flashed. "You all stay here, that was to get the people out of the building and to safety." Pickles looked at the various radio equipment.
"Why do weez believe dat a mad scientis, eh, eh? It proby Larry wit doo mush booze." There was a collective laugh.
Pickles didn't partake of the joke. "Because, we can't be narrow minded, we need to consider all of the possibilities." He said.
"Vat udder pussiblies are dere?" A Frenchie asked in Standard.
"It could be a Covenant attack."
"Zat iz impussibull! Dey were all desdroyed!"
"You have no clue how persistent these sumb*tches are."

June 31, 2560 (Military Calendar)/
France National Spaceport
Runway 32R: Taxiway 6

The ship that had flown past them had landed and was being unloaded. Little cargo droids dashed in and out from under it. Orghik' got a message from Sagwi', another Elite. "Sir, it seems that a storm has gathered and is about to rain. Will this impede our mission?" Orghik' replied saying plainly "No." They cut through the fence and proceeded onto the flight strip.
There was an odd silence as they did so. No ships came or went as they crossed the tarmac and into the hangar. He decided to go in a side door. Suddenly there was a group of people crowding the hallway, all coming from an arriving flight. He turned around and went back outside. He instructed the small force into an older building filled with ships that were in need of repair. He de-cloaked. "Listen up soldiers. We need to keep our contact with the humans minimal. If we somehow encounter one, kill. We will enter from a normal entry point so as not to be caught on any cameras or somehow be seen. We need a diversion to keep the humans away until we can reach the strategic locations and find out where they store the fuel rods." He looked around. "There is no need to split up, so I want everyone with scythes at the front, plasma rifles in the back. Now lets go."
They cloaked themselves. Ough' floated across the tarmac while keeping an eye on a fuel truck that ran to and fro. They went back up another flight of stairs. "Activate your weapons," somebody hissed. A lead Elite pushed open the door and jumped inside. The group followed him in. A lone man wandered around looking at his watch. He looked at the door and then began to approach it. Orghik' looked the situation over quickly. Down the hall, not too far, was a metal detector station. "Kill him," he said after deeming the action safe for the moment. There was a hiss as the blade of a scythe sliced into the wet flesh. The man let out a yelp and collapsed onto the floor. A police officer looked over his cubicle and pulled a radio to his mouth.
All too predictable. "Get back outside, and wait till he is gone," Orghik' growled, wincing as a large raindrop hit his eye. He listened and looked through the windows farther down the outside of the building as people wheeled the dead man out. He waited for a small group of humans to leave. Instead they sat down in a bench. And at that moment a flash of lighting announced the arrival of a very cold downpour.
Greatly annoyed, Orghik' opened the door quietly and stepped inside. The others followed him. "Stay here," he said once on the slippery tile floor. He silently padded up to the metal detector. He looked at the uniformed human, sitting in his cubicle, drinking a foul smelling brown liquid and eating ring shaped pastries, completely oblivious of Orghik's presence.
The human was only lightly armed and the humans on the bench were still conversing. He noticed that one had a very black eye. Orghik' stuck his arm in the detector. A loud beep sounded. The human only looked up. Orghik' waited for a time and then he waved his mecha-arm in the detector which seemed to infuriate the human, much to the Forerunner's pleasure. The human got up and came out saying something and jumped across the detector.
The human walked around the detector and then kicked it. He sat back down, mumbling. The other humans stood up and were looking at the detectors. One more wave. The human yelled something and came back out of his cubicle; he walked right into the midst of the Forerunners.
One of the humans took a step forward and yelled, "No, wait! Don't!" The uniformed human in front of Orghik' turned to face them as he sliced its legs off. As the human's torso fell, Orghik' lopped the human's head off with his super-heated scythe. The smell of burnt man-flesh filled his nostrils, bringing another surge of chemicals into his systems. Then the other humans took off running. Orghik' jumped after them, digging his heels into the tiled floor. One tore a panel out of the wall and a huge firewall shut just as he reached out to grab them.
The others came up to his side. Ough' looked to the two sides and then punched the door, which crumpled easily. Orghik' rammed his arm through and ripped a hole in the door. The others punched their own way through. Once out, there was nowhere to go except down the hallway. They slowly made their way down hall, passing several doors. They tried one: locked.
Orghik' brought the objectives up on his arm-screen. "Okay, you've all done this before. We need to find three good places to assemble the detonators and find a COM link station, if one exists." With a wave of his mechanical arm they continued until they heard human voices. They slowly opened the door to reveal another human fumbling with a bunch of wires. He kept mumbling in his language despite the clinking of one of the Forerunner's cybernetic foot on the paneled floor.
Ough' and another Elite disposed of him. The room, as it turned out, was the main power center. Huge conduits ran above them and large panels of illuminated circuits lined the walls. They silently stalked throughout the multi-floor room until they found what they were looking for.
"Sir, I found the communications link," Orghik' went up a flight of stairs and approached a panel labeled "COM. LINK." He watched as one of the Elites silently undid each of the screws. He counted 124 on the panel and the Elite was on 3. Irritated greatly by the delays, he instead ripped it off the wall and tossed the panel into a layer of wires, which sparked and hissed.
"Now, get me in." He barked to the Elite. He quickly hooked the flimsy wires into a headset which Orghik' put on. "My Lord, we are in and we are requesting that you begin prepping evac, this is all to simple." There was a moment of silence as he listened to the Grand Admiral. "Yessir." He took the headset off and stuck his arm into the panel ripping a huge hole in the wires. Sparks shot out and he felt his body tingle at the electric jolts. A stray wire hit Ough' in the face. He quickly healed and returned to his normal activity. "The Grand Admiral says begin the assembly," Orghik' said, pulling his piece of a detonator out of his pack.
The individual Forerunners took up defensive positions and began to assemble one of the three detonators that would trigger the main explosion. Various sections of walls were cut to allow for the power cables they were covering to be used to complete the weapon. The small device was no bigger than a human but weighed twice as much. Orghik' entered the arming code and whispered for them to retreat back to the door.
The body still lay where they had left it, in pieces. "Ough', you, me, and Sheevra' will cover the left wing and find the fuel dump. Yghezbaa', you'll stay here and cut their power. The rest of you will sweep the upper levels and find the control tower. Let's go." Ough' and the Elite followed Orghik' down the hall and away from the detonator. They came at last to a large intersection. "Okay, Ough', you stay here. Sheevra', follow me."
Ough's face still burnt where the wire had struck him, just below one of his methane pipes. He de-cloaked to feel the actual air on his aching face. He heard footsteps but thought them to be Orghik's. He continued to rub the funny feeling spot and he pulled out a piece of fiber optic cable still in him. The only problem with us is that whatever is inside of us once we heal, stays inside us... he thought to himself as the small hole healed.
There was a small clatter and Ough' let the juices flow into his gas sack and felt his weight disappear. Just then he received a message from Sheevra'. "Ough', nobody is supposed to see us. You are making a serious breach in protocol." By the time he had finished, Ough' had recloaked himself.
Orghik' looked into an empty office. Nobody. Just then the power went out. "Mission accomplished, sir," Yghezbaa' said over his earpiece. Orghik' nodded and found a locked doorknob. There were voices on the other side. Sheevra' smashed the door down and made easy work of the female inside. "Human females are so repulsive," he said letting the blood drip off of his cold blade. Just then there was a series of footsteps. "Some more fun," Orghik' said, activating his scythe.
He went back out into the hall and signaled Ough' to be alert. Orghik' crossed the hall and flattened himself against the wall. Then something appeared that Orghik', nor any other Forerunner, expected. A towering figure in glossy black armor rounded the corner. It had a beetle-like appearance and moved something inside of him. It yelled something like it was addressing another. He was about to jump at it when there was a loud CLICK! from behind him. He spun around only to sense Ough'. Could he see something he didn't, this 'Pickles', could he be cloaked as well? For the first time, Orghik' felt the sting of fear. It was the worst thing that he could ever imagine, the doubt of winning. If one of these things couldn't be seen and was close at hand and made that click, I am in trouble.
"We will have to dispose of the other one that can be seen," said Sheevra', who felt just what Orghik' did.
Orghik' waved his arms in front of him, Just in case, he thought. Ough' came back down the hall in front of him. Suddenly time slowed. He heard the steady hum as a human gun's hammer slid forward to detonate a percussion cap. There was a muffled thump as it did and a loud scrape after that as projectile sped out of the barrel. He jumped forward and took the black armored thing around its waist and began to slice at it. There was an explosion as the human weapon found its target: Ough'. So there were two. And they are cloaked as we are. He sliced at the chest plate of the dumbfounded thing on the floor. The material was extremely tough and he had to hack at the joints in order to kill it. They quickly dismembered the suit and jumped into the false ceiling to back track and retrieve Ough'.
They dropped through the fiberglass tiles and almost on top of Ough'. He collapsed on the floor, not yet fully healed to stand up for long. He laid his head back, surrounded by putrid juices and small pieces of flesh. "Why is it always me, sir?" He said in a raspy tone.
They heard a loud beeping. Time slowed again. There was a crackling as something jumped out the window. Maybe the 'Pickles'. He felt something in the air suddenly. His skin pricked at the feeling. Radiation. He tried to turn faster, so as not to be looking down the wrong side of the hall. As fast as his reactions would let him, he kicked Ough' into the hall that connected with the one they were on. He jumped next to him and flew slowly to the hall, as if in zero gee. He landed just as the air heated up and the hall behind him turned to dust and fell into a pile of rubble. His ears shut at the loud roar that the explosion made. His back boiled up and skin fell off only to be disintegrated before it landed. The pain was met with an itchy feeling of flesh growing over blackened bones. How could I have been so stupid?
"That's it," he said after it was over, while looking out onto the rainy tarmac where a bunch of humans were standing, finding what cover they could under the many eaves and wings of the parked ships. Ough' groaned as his ribs healed. He activated his link to his comrades. "I want all of you to come to me. We have a killing spree to attend and we're going to be late." He heard sirens outside in the distance.

June 30, 2560 (Military Calendar)/
Deployment +22 hours: 45minutes: 27 seconds
(Master Chief Pickles Mission Clock) / Earth
France International Spaceport (Republic of France)

Pickles reached the bottom of the elevator and then cut the cables. He quickly checked his ammunition and continued. People were still coming out of their offices and were slowly walking towards the exits. Not wanting to start a panic, he cloaked himself and moved from the elevator and into a janitor's closet. As soon as the crowd exited, he opened the door and continued to find the group. "Squishy, where are you right now?"
"We're just outside the fire door. It broke through. There is nothing left but a, wait, there is more than one. There're at least ten different fist impressions on this door. I'll secure the outer doors."
Pickles rounded a corner and looked down both ways. He turned left then thought better and turned right. There in his path was a de-cloaked monster. It had the looks of a Grunt. But it was six feet tall and had huge empty looking fleshy bags hanging from it's back. Pickles thought it was a Flood, but it was too calm and too controlled to be. Something else moved. This seemed to disturb the creature, its bags began to enlarge and fill up with some gas. Then its skin began to become mottled and, within a minute, it had almost completely disappeared.
Pickles was about to shoot it when he thought better and turned his heat vision on. There was another creature, no two, slowly making their way behind the first. They had very low profiles and were hard to keep on the scanner. Suddenly the power went out. Emergency lights cut on and filled the spaceport with ghastly red and yellow glares.
The two figures stalked down the hall, looking into the offices to see if there was anybody left. They found a door locked. They listened, and sure enough there was somebody in the room, apparently oblivious to the fire alarm and power outage, or it was one of the SPARTANs. The last thought hit Pickles hard. He began to edge towards the door, hoping to slip in before they did. Too late. The creatures kicked the door in, pulverizing it into splinters. They slowly went in. There was a quick yell and then sound of liquid being spilled on the floor. He fingered a grenade, debating whether or not to us it in such close quarters. He pulled it off of the belt and slipped it into his launcher.
He began to back away from the door in order to give himself some room in which to run. He put his finger on the trigger, began to squeeze. Just then a louder, more definitive sound came from down the hall. The steady thump, thump of an MJOLNIR-X suit, not in stealth mode and completely oblivious to the threat around the corner. The aliens heard it too. They looked out the door and one ran across the T-shaped hallway into the next. The SPARTAN rounded the corner: it was Smooth Talker. "Pickles! Where are you?" Suddenly the heat profiles on the creature's weapons went way up. The sickles glowed bright white on the heat vision.
Their backs were toward him. Perhaps he could shoot one of them, to warn Smooth Talker. He leveled his gun to one of their grotesques heads and silently stalked them. He squeezed the trigger just as he came within fifty feet. CLICK! The sound resounded through the hall. It sounded like it would blow his eardrums. The monsters swirled around quietly as the other SPARTAN looked for the source of the 'click'. "Pickles? Is that you?"
Their visages were becoming all too clear in the heat vision. They began to sweep their arms out across the air in front of them. Pickles was ready to get out, but nowhere ready to leave Smooth Talker. It's what Smooth Talker would have done in this situation, he hoped.
He turned around and took a quick, quiet step forward. A large but shorter profile appeared and settled on the shaky screen. It was the Grunt look-alike. He hovered three feet above the ground and was headed straight towards him. Could he see me? Pickles thought. Visions of his life flashed past his eyes. It was very boring.
He pulled the safety off of the launcher this time. He pointed at the bags that held the creature aloft. There was a loud screech followed by a sickening explosion as the grenade penetrated through the flesh and dug deep into its back. The results looked very messy. His helmet blared red with a disclaimer that his air intake vents were closing. The stuff that carried the thing, apparently, was very deadly.
After he kicked the mass of flesh he turned around to face the other two. He looked down the hallway, the creatures were gone and so was Smooth Talker. Pickles ran down the hall until he heard moaning. He looked back and saw something that couldn't have been possible. The Grunt thing was back on its feet and re-growing. Sickening pops echoed as bones slid back into place and an overall feeling of grossness washed through Pickles. His air vents opened back up. But the smell of something foul prevailed the air, like burnt hair and vomit. He shuddered and continued down the hall. He made a left and saw something lying on the ground.
He quickly switched to normal vision. A piece of the black armor lay on the ground, then another. There was a full arm section lying on the ground. Then a helmet. No blood. There was a slight burn mark on the ceiling where he probably put up a fight. He followed a trail of the seemingly un-destructible armor. He realized that they ripped it off of him right at the joints, though newly grown armor had filled in any cracks on their plates. Foot pad, right hand, back plate, two groin plates, helmet. Soon, as he turned the next corner he had seen all of the armor, but no Smooth Talker.
Suddenly, a sick feeling washed over him. He remembered the policeman, how nothing fell out of him when he was cut. He slowly turned and looked into what should have been an empty helmet. He lifted it up and a white face slipped out and hit the floor with a smack. Pickles felt as though he were going to puke. He pulled the Vid-Cam chip out and put it in a special slot on his arm. A loud wail came from inside Smooth Talker's helmet, "Self detonation in three".
"HE** NO!
"One" He dropped the helmet and jumped out of the window as Smooth Talker's reactor self-detonated. The entire wall collapsed behind him and fell on a cargo pod underneath the three-story section. The repulsor units kicked in and allowed Pickles to land in a crowd of wet and angry people. They had been out in the rain and were now more disheveled after the blast. He de-cloaked. A ring of Police officers immediately formed around him.
"Kill it!" Somebody shouted. Pickles pulled his helmet off with a hiss. "Listen, I need for all of you to get as far away from here as you can!"
"Put your hands up now!" A scared sheriff cocked his magnum. Pickles pulled his launcher out.
"Sir, I really would think twice before threatening a SPARTAN." He said slipping another grenade into the barrel. Most of the guns went down instantly. The sheriff didn't buy it.
"No you...You're not, they were killed!" Pickles walked right up to him. The man had to point his gun straight up to keep it on Pickles forehead. He leaned down so that his eyes met the sheriff's.
"You want to bet your life on that? Hmm?" They looked at each other for a long time.
Then the sheriff said over his shoulder. "All right, people, you heard him, as far as you can get!" The crowd immediately began to migrate toward the highway a quarter-mile away; some went back to their cars and busses. Fire sirens were heard as the red blinking lights filled the sky. After a minute fire trucks had put the burning wall and fuel truck out and the FFDCU had established a perimeter
Pickles proceeded to the French Fire Department Command Unit. "Chief, I need to borrow a radio." The gruff French man merely looked at him.
"Who the he** are you?" Just then Nikko came up.
"Your worst nightmare." He said brandishing an automatic Needler rifle.
"It's in the back, code's Baugette101." The two SPARTANs moved to the back where a man sat barking commands into a microphone.
"Sir, I need you to tell your men to escort this crowd to safety." The tall, black man looked at him quickly, even in their suits he needed only to look slightly up. The translator activated.
"Under what authority do you give me this command? Huh? I take orders from one man, the Chief."
"Sir, the Chief sent us back here." He merely continued talking into the microphone. "Sir, if you don't tell these people to move they are all going to die!" The area suddenly froze. The man swallowed a lump in his throat.
"What do you mean?" Pickles retold the incident upon finding Smooth Talker in shreds, and the tale of the police officer.
"If we don't get all we can over here, there are going to be a lot of dead people. I think they're going to do the same thing they did at Shaw." There was a sudden gasp and a slowly rising panic.
"And how would you know this, Robo-cop, and who is 'They'?"
Nikko stepped forward. "Because we, as SPARTANs, are bound to the human race. As long as we live, 'They', the Covenant, cannot defeat us. But if you can't cooperate with us then we all die here and now as a fifteen hundred mega-ton bomb is assembled five hundred yards away!" The man handed the microphone to Pickles.
"Nikko, sweep the parking lot for anybody left behind." He said. Pickles inserted the microphone into his COM outlet. "Attention all FFD units, switch protocol to escort. Move the civilians towards the freeway and call in the military. This is a code red operation, repeat, code red!"
The tankers dropped from their conspicuous height and began to put older people into the cab. Extra men jumped out and let in children. Some ships took off for the freeway immediately. Nikko radioed in, "Pickles, parking lot is all clear."
Pickles confirmed it and looked at the gaping hole in the side of the port. Just to make sure, he switched back to heat vision to make sure nobody was left behind. A huge lump formed in his throat. Six flaming white silhouettes moved across the field at a quick pace, eager for more bloodshed. "Nikko, we got six bogies coming in, hurry."
Pickles cloaked and ran after them. It would be impossible to reach them before somebody died. A lone bus suddenly ramped over the cement liners and sped towards one of the creatures. Pickles was only fifty feet away when the three-ton bus slammed into the alien, sending it flailing his way. Before it landed however, it was met with a grenade from Pickles. It fell in a miserable heap. He switched to his field knife. He jumped on the groaning creature and sliced time after time at its face, that wasn't enough. He began to pound it with his fists. No skin broke. There was a huge jolt in his side and he flew into the side of the bus.
He looked up and the creatures began encircling him like ravenous wolves. The people were now panicking at the sight of the bloody thing and began to trample others. Just then the bus came back to life and reversed. Nikko was in the drivers seat. One of the creatures began to follow it, but every time it tried to slice at it from the side, Nikko maneuvered it out of the way. After what seemed like a long time trying to keep the aliens away from the crowd, the thing found itself on the wrong side of the headlights. There was a loud squeal as it found out what kind of tread the tires had. The bus stopped with the double back wheels pinning it down.
Pickles turned around and there were only three of the things left. The others were headed into the crowd. He heard some shots fired from an officer. Pickles jumped over quietly and left the creatures to stare at empty space. He grabbed one of the things by its head and gave it a mighty jerk. A sickening pop resounded followed by something he did not expect. The body fell leaving the head in his hands. He threw it as far as he could into the fields. He told every one to keep running. He shot a hole in the chest of the still moving body. But before it healed, he slipped three sonic grenades in. He ran to the next one. There was a screech followed by the sound of glass windows blowing out three hundred feet away. He jumped on the thing and wrapped his arms around its waist. He squeezed until he felt something crack, then he realized that it had twisted its body to face him. It made a wild punch at his head. Luckily, it missed. Pickles threw it onto the ground, hard. He grabbed it's legs as it got up, ready to kill.
Pickles tried to pick it up again but was met with a kick to the stomach. He fell into the muddy dirt. The entire set of groin plates was collapsed inward. He gasped for air. Then all six of the figures surrounded him. The gored one had slipped out from under the bus tires and was completely unscathed. Nikko joined his side. He tapped his left shoulder behind him. "Look at their faces, they're Covenant."
"Where are you other people?!" Pickles yelled into the COM.
"What do you mean?" The sound of gunfire was heard through the COM as Nikko and Pickles backed away from the ever-closing aliens.
"We're pinned in the lobby, we heard a huge explosion. Are you all right?" Squishy yelled.
"Other than the fact that Smooth Talker's dead and we have six of these things surrounding us, I'm having a marvelous day." There was more gunfire. Nikko threw a grenade at the creatures. It just tossed them into the air and bought them only a few seconds. Their backs hit the bus' side. "Anna, we could use some help! Somebody!"
Loud hisses filled Pickles earphones as a scythes cut through the rain. "Nikko, do you remember the third training mission?" The things got closer. Luckily the crowd was well out of the way now.
"What do you mean, in the BT course or the introductory one."
"No, the other one."
"Ooooooh. That mission..." At that moment they squeezed off a few rounds and ducked under the bus. The things ran at them full tilt. Their bloated arms waved their super heated scythes under the bus trying to get them in any way possible. Pickles got out on the other side and grabbed the undercarriage. Nikko came and did the same. "Ten, nine, one!" They pulled and tipped the bus on its side, which was met with a sickening squish. They activated their boosters and Nikko shot the gas tank. The creatures were enveloped in a fireball. They landed and watched the bus fall inwards.
"Hey, why did you start the party without me?" Squishy suddenly appeared. "Anna, Squishy is here, where are you?"
"Somebody blew up the fuel truck that was supposed to have us fueled. It took me forever to haul more canisters to power this sucker."
Squishy grabbed Pickles shoulder and pointed at a writhing mass. One of the things began to run after them completely aflame. It was re-growing just as fast as it burned. "They just don't know when to give up!" Pickles yelled.
"They're Covenant what do you expect?" Nikko said putting a new magazine in his gun. Then the remnants of the bus flew into pieces and all six flaming creatures began to pursue them. Nikko, Squishy, and Pickles ran towards the spaceport, meeting Alex on the way.
"On second thought, maybe this party isn't for me!" Alex took one look at the grotesque life forms and ran off next to them. His heat vision was still adjusting to the quick change of temperature when he spotted four more of the creatures making their way toward them. The group skidded to a halt.
"Anna, we really could use your help right about now." They were hopelessly surrounded.

* * * * * * *

"Go go go!" Goose shouted under the crappy schooner. Anna pulled back the safety and activated the engines. Goose removed the gear lock and jumped into the cargo hold before the ship gained any speed. "Anna, where are the straps on this thing?!" Goose looked around the cargo hold so he could secure Pod 9.
"There are none, I was going to have them put in next Tuesday!" She yelled while Jesse took the controls.
"Does this thing have any fire power?" Goose asked looking behind a box.
Anna looked at him. "I had ordered three turbo cannons, they should arrive, maybe Tuesday."
Goose franticly looked around for something he could use to help his comrades. "When will we have any kind of improvements on this piece of crap?"
"Like I said, it will all be installed most likely on Tuesday."
Goose exhaled slowly. "Do we have any empty tanks or trash?" Anna un-strapped her self and entered the bay. She opened her mouth when Goose interrupted her, "Let me guess, Tuesday?" Anna raised her eyebrows and gave him a haughty look and pointed at the half empty fuel barrels behind Pod 9. Before reaching them he felt the ship take off the runway in a clatter of metal. He pulled the three cans to the hatch. "Anna, one last thing, slow this ship down as slow as it can go and be ready to pick up Nikko, Squishy, Alex, Aliana, and Pickles!" Goose went into the pod and pulled out a huge wooden crate. He quickly threw the top off and stuck his hand inside.
He pulled out the fuel rod multi-barreled rifle. He took out a length of Dura-chain and attached it to his left side and to the far end of the cargo hold. Finally he opened the hatch. The chain was just long enough for him to lean out at a 45-degree angle. There was a burning bus below him with two MJOLNIR-X clad SPARTANs and ten of the ugliest things Goose had ever seen.
"GREAT GOOGILY-MOOGILY! WHAT THE HE** ARE THOSE THINGS?" Goose shook and almost lost his footing.
"They look like living a**holes, that's what." Anna said. He activated his gun, which spun once to feed the belt through until it got the first round.
"Ladies and gentlemen, its time to open up a can of WHOOP A**!"

June 31, 2560 (Military Calendar)/
France National Spaceport
Field in front of Main Facility
Between Runway and Parking Lot

Orghik' felt the fire slowly eating his flesh. It hurt badly, but he knew that if he tried to put it out he would only feel worse. He could hardly see through the green tinted flames. He could smell himself burning. Sick. Slowly but surely the rain put it out. "Sir, sorry we're late, somebody destroyed the elevator and we had a rough time getting out of the shaft." The last four of his troops were running towards them at fill tilt. It ends now, Orghik' thought while taking a step toward the armored things.
Suddenly he felt a spike of radiation. The raindrops froze in midair and fell as slow as paper. The vibrations of a ship's engines filled his ears. He twisted backward just as a sizzling fuel rod grazed his chest and imploded the ground next to him. Then another, and another and another. There must be hundreds of them, he thought while falling slowly through the boiling dirt. He saw two more of his fellow soldiers downed by the rods. His back hit the ground. A crappy-looking human ship flew over him as slowly as the rain fell. Each drop hissing on the glass encased crater. Suddenly everything turned back to normal time. The ship zipped pass them, still firing hordes of the fuel rods.
Orghik' felt it again, the stinging, dreaded feeling of fear. It crawled from the tips of his mechanical fingers to the top of his skull. Every single one of his soldiers were down and the robots were gone. The fear revived itself as the thought of them being cloaked flashed in his mind. Instinctively, he too cloaked. The ship passed back over and shot at the others. Ough' had floated to the ships height and quickly cut the chain holding the armored thing in its place. It fell with a thud thirty feet away from him and disappeared from his view. Ough' then tried to get into the ship, but was whip-lashed in the face by the chain as in swung outward. Then a bright light filled his eyes. His body became weightless. A purple gravity lift beam sparkled around him.
"Evac," he said. Again, fear filled his mind, body, and soul. The mission was a disastrous failure. Or was it? They had gotten one detonator up. Maybe it was enough to get past extermination. The ship passed below them as they rose higher into the atmosphere. Suddenly they stopped and a blurry door closed under them.
As training had told them, they each ran to their pods. The doors closed and the fluids filled up. The pod jerked and was shot out before they had fully been put to sleep. This was a new tactic created by the Grand Admiral; the force was pulled out via grav-lift or by the ship itself. They were immediately put into pods and shot to a pre-selected point before enemy forces could destroy the ship. After the pods were launched, though, the relay ship would have to fend for itself.
Orghik' felt the G's press him into his seat. The fluids filled his lungs, causing him to gag on the vile-tasting liquid. His vision blurred and he fell into a deep sleep.
They all wanted the skull. They all wanted to win, to get promoted, to do their best and have awards piled upon their chest, but not Orghik'. He wasn't pushing to be the best, the fact that he had the skull already proved he was. But now, with his position threatened, he felt like he would do anything to defend it. An action that the Sergeant would later call, "A real soldiers sense."
He looked at the faces of the other conscripts. They were looking at other places than where he was, he still didn't know how he did what he did, but he was completely invisible. Something bumped his back. He whipped his arm around and caught another soldier in the groin. He crumpled over, bright blood dripping out of his multi-mauled mouth. The others suddenly jumped upon him. They all dog-piled until he could no longer breathe.
Hands reached out, trying to find the skull. Somebody hit him in the head, hard. He fought to stay conscious. A hot pain ran down his neck as the Elite kept pummeling his cranium. Orghik' tried to pull himself deeper into the pile of writhing soldiers. Suddenly, he felt the skull get ripped out of his hands. He let out an unnatural roar and slammed his fists into flesh. Soon the pile disintegrated. Then they saw that another Elite had the skull and they all descended upon him. His head ached and his skin became translucent. Soon he had come back into the visible spectrum.
Orghik' watched as the skull continued to switch hands, only to be buried under all of the soldiers. This was getting nowhere. Bare hands and iron fists would not do enough damage and deterred anybody. He looked around and saw a destroyed Banshee used as prop. He approached it and grabbed the barrel of the plasma cannon. He wrenched it off. The end had broken into a hideous fray of carbon-compound strips. Orghik' tore the next one off, it broke too easily so he discarded it. He would have to do with one.
He approached the pile and waited until the skull exchanged hands again. Then something happened. The scream of the soldiers, all fighting to get the skull slowed to a deep moan. His steps became slower and he felt like his body was being constricted. What is this thing that keeps happening?
Orghik's arm made a wide arch. An Elite looked at him out of the corner of his eye before the twisted metal made contact with his face. Time went back to normal. The Elite flew thirty feet and landed in a bloody heap. Orghik' looked at his weapon. A glob of flesh hung on the end. There's no stopping now. He roared as loud as he could. He began to swing.
The soldiers scattered and the skull was left in the puddle of flesh bits and blood. He picked it up and carefully placed it under his arm. He slowly backed up. He almost stepped on the body of another soldier. He felt something inside of him move. He saw that they would not be able to ever get the skull to its place. Less than fifteen units left. Orghik' quickly thought the situation over.
Before he had the chance to speak, the soldier on the ground before him got up. His face writhed in pain and he grabbed his mauled cheek. Orghik' continued to back up. The skin on the Elites face stretched across the bloody bone and re-grew. The others got up and their flesh grew back over their ripped bodies. Not good. He thought. And to make matters worse, more Forerunners had appeared and all wanted what he had.
He tried to turn invisible again. Nothing. He flexed every muscle in his body hoping to trigger some gland or discover some new power he had. Nothing. Still, he continued to keep a cool head and looked around. He had almost backed up onto the broken Banshee. He kept his pace in backing up. Then, right when his calf hit the cold metal, he dropped the skull, grabbed the rim of the vehicle and lifted it above his head and sent it flying into the group. While it was still in the air, he grabbed the whitewashed bone and ran.
Thirteen units left. He heard the stampede behind him. Roars and taunts filled the air as Orghik' vaulted over another prop vehicle and almost fell. He exhaled after regaining his balance. That would have been deadly. Twelve. He turned a corner and saw the road suddenly go up the side of the mountain. He ran. Eleven. Thunder resounded off the mountain, making it sound deep and mysterious. Ten. The top was closer now, but his legs were burning. He must have run ten miles and the air was getting thinner. He was far ahead of the others but would only be able to keep them off for a short time. Nine. He stopped running and walked at a brisk pace up the road.
A trickle of water slipped between his toes. He looked up and saw that the top of the mountain was covered with a black thunderhead. Eight. A sheet of rain made its way down the street. It drenched him until he couldn't see. That gave him an idea. Seven. There was a flash of lightning and he ducked into a side alley. He began running again. Six. The top was in front of him now. He leaped up the few steps onto another city level. Five. So close.
The cloud had enveloped him and lighting flashed around him. Four. Just one more level. The skull was becoming as heavy as lead, his legs burned and his head hurt. Still he kept running. Three. There it is. The last city level, dominated by a bunch of low squatting houses which were covered on top with bristles to deter anyone from getting on the roofs. Two.
Went through the houses. So painful. Orghik's eyesight blurred. He heard the voices of the Forerunners behind him. They were close. One. Bottom step. One hundred to go. Forty-five micro units. Second floor. Thirty. Half way there. Steps are gone... The escalating crevices gave way to a tall rocky pinnacle, which was covered with tiny waterfalls that reflected the flashing lightning. Ten. Almost there. Nine. Keep going. Eight. Seven, Six... I can see it, skeleton. Five... Going to win! Four three... Right here... Two... One. At that moment, Orghik' opened his maw and let out a roar that shook the entire mountain. He raised the skull above his head just as a bolt of lightning hit the ground behind him. He dashed the skull against the rest of the human skeleton, which shattered into pieces as he jumped off the peak.
Just as he began to celebrate his triumph in his head a plasma bolt sizzled by. He ran faster. I don't have time for this. Orghik' picked up a huge rock and tossed it at the source. It landed perfectly on the arm of a hidden Elite. More bolts of plasma rushed passed him and each one was dealt with accordingly. Finally the live fire course fell behind him.
He pumped his legs until his brain hurt and he couldn't feel any of his limbs. He reached the first building. Answered a few easy questions of the Code of the Elite and the Imperial Anthem. Quickly went through officer respect and how-to in meeting new recruits, officers, superiors, and other member of the different branches.
He ran out to the next building. The rain was lighter now but still showed no signs of stopping. He took his time on the mental tests, for if he got one wrong, another one was added to the end of the testing, and he still had the 'injured' soldiers to get to. He reached the last one when the next Forerunner came in; he was a towering Hunter with three flesh-bags on his back. He cast a look of purest hatred at Orghik' through his slit-like red eyes.
Without looking, Orghik' quickly finished the little puzzle and dashed up the stairs. There was an officer at the top waiting. He pointed towards a group of soldiers. He realized when he approached them that the injuries that they bore were not fake and unreal like the ones he had encountered in basic. These were real citizens of the empire bleeding real blood and hanging on for dear life.
They were ready for immediate transport in no time after being fixed up as best he could. He watched, with what he could call 'sympathy' as the others died because their designated Forerunner had not completed a task or was just plain stupid enough not to do them. Ough' came up. Then the massive Hunter. Two Elites. Jackal, Hunter, Elite, Elite, Grunt. All but eight arrived and he was allowed to treat them before they were airlifted back to boot.
There was a roar of the Dropship's engines. He felt pride in his heart. The roar got louder. He got inside the ship and felt it take off. Somebody began pounding on the ship. It got louder and louder...
"Orghik' get your slimy self out of the pod!" Instinctively, he obeyed, recognizing the sergeant's voice. He felt the cold floor under his wet feet. A headache gripped his brain, and all of the bright lights didn't help. Suddenly, the mission flooded back to his brain. He had failed. The humans would have by now had time to evacuate everybody and disarm the one and only detonator, which would have only destroyed half of the area. He could already feel the needle under his skin, the sting as the fluids ran throughout his blood stream and killed him.
"Sir, we need to report to the de-briefing room." He opened his eyes and Ough' was in front of him.
"Yes, yes. Let us." He waved his arm. They had a quick moment to clean up before they delivered their report. Yghezbaa' continually rubbed his neck.
"Soldier, do you need to see a medic?" Orghik' asked on his way out.
"No, sir, it just felt weird, sir." He said, still rubbing.
Orghik' looked at him, "What did?"
"Having my head wrenched off and tossed three hundred units away by some super-cyborg. I don't think it healed right after Jilleedee' got it back for me."
Orghik' chuckled. "That is going to be the hardest thing to explain to the Admiral. Those things. They made me feel..."
"Afraid?" Ough' said from behind them, injecting a ration into his skin.
After that nobody spoke until they all were outside the door of the Grand Admiral's room. The door slid open quietly, begging them into its dark innards, where a table with eleven chairs around it sat. Each customized to fit the proper Forerunner. A small holodeck activated and re-played scenes from their mission.
"I can't believe this." Sheevra' said quietly taking his seat. The tall chair at the head of the table slowly turned to reveal the Grand Admiral. He did not look at all happy.
There it was again. The feeling of fear. He swallowed hard on a dry throat. He saluted quickly before Krao' motioned him to sit down. An overall air of despair hung in the dark room and the fact that the Grand Admiral wasn't saying anything was even worse. His eyes drifted from one weary face to the next. When they rested on Orghik' he maintained eye contact until the feeling appeared again. His gut wrenched and his brain cracked at the first word.
"What happened?" He said coldly. Orghik' tried to lubricate his throat so that he could speak.
"S-s-sir. I best not waste your time, we fail..."
"I don't care for your condolences, young Orghik'. What happened?" Orghik' felt like he could die. "Ough' what happened?" He looked at the Grunt, whose skin turned whiter than usual.
"W-w-w-w-ell. W-we were... We were going..." The Admiral ground his Mandible together.
"Perhaps somebody who didn't have their rations too early? Anybody? No?" He stepped up and opened his arms as he said this. He swung to the left, causing the chair to swing in its place. "I will tell you what happened." He said directing their attention too the holodeck. "They did." The scene froze as one of the armored things raised its weapon from the ship. "Apparently, the humans' life-line was not severed, which means you failed your first mission already." Orghik' just stared at the image, wondering why the thought hadn't occurred to him sooner. They were SPARTANs. "You missed."
Krao' came up behind Orghik' and laid his hand his cold shoulder. "But this is not your fault." There was a silent, collective release of breath from around the table. "You carried out your mission to the fullest. Think of it. You killed one of them, all of you are here. Thank the Prophets that they did not impede you on a vital mission."
Orghik' turned to face him. "Sir, we were on a human planet, the human planet. What is not vital about that?"
The other soldiers agreed. Krao' looked at them then clicked his mandible together. The Grand Admiral seemed to swell up. "Because, Orghik', while you were gone, we have discovered another Holy Ring."



July 1, 2560 (Military Calendar)/
In hold of Drop Ship Docking Port # 4
Aboard Gale's Revenge
Enroute Covenant Core Worlds/ Claghonoa

"Alex, Alex, wake up!" Alex opened his eyes slowly. A dull blue light filled the room. Empty pod ejectors stood next to them.
"W-w-what happened? Where are we?" Squishy looked around as if he was unsure also.
"We're on a Covenant Cruiser headed towards their home land." Pickles leaned upside a window when he said this. Nikko was at the door.
"Are we caught?" Alex asked standing up. Nikko cocked his gun.
"No, they took us up in the Grav-beam when we were invisible. They don't know that we are here." Alex looked around quickly. He had to lean forward to allow himself headroom.
"So what is the plan then?" He looked at Goose, whose frequency scanner was out of his pack and beeping periodically.
"Well, according to what I have been able to gather, this is the ship. The Grand Admiral is on board and so are the things. They call them Forerunners. The Admiral also has some kind of secret that is to be announced tonight." Goose switched to another frequency, "Thank you! Anna, can you hear me?" The SPARTANs switched to Goose's COM channel.
"Yes," she answered, "where the devil are you?" Squishy explained their current situation in two sentences
"Yikes. You realize that you could uncover so much of their technology and everything by being aboard that ship. But then again, you are without any food, water, or supplies, and I still can't track you."
Just then, a familiar voice appeared. "It's about time I found your darn frequency. Gosh you people really have gone paranoid." The AI sounded cheerful but burdened.
"Hello, Chell-C. What's got you down?" Goose asked
"You haven't heard? Pickles hasn't told you?"
Goose side glanced Pickles. "No, I guess not."
"Goose, Smooth Talker is dead," Pickles said sadly.
Goose sat in silence for a moment. "So... The Forerunners killed him?"
Chell-C sighed, "Apparently so. We aren't the most powerful any more. Your armor wont be able to stand those superheated hand weapons, but you can still wreak havoc on normal soldiers."
Goose didn't say anything for a long time. "Well, it was bound to happen some time. Better to put up with it and thank God it wasn't a useful soldier."
"We need to make a plan fast, we won't have contact with you much longer, this ship has some kind of filtering device that changes every hour. When it detects us, we'll be done for."
"Okay, fine. Alex, Chell-C told me that you have a large cannon on your back. It doesn't work right?" Pickles asked.
"Yeah, been a burden at the spaceport."
"Well, the codes to activate it are inscribed on your left middle finger. Activate it only before you get into combat, it houses an experimental device that could just change the tide of this war."
"Okay, we need to get going. Be ready if we need some advice on the way."
"Will do." Chell-C said.
Within minutes, the SPARTANs had noticed a heavy flow of living traffic toward the southern end of the hangar bay. As they crowded around the only window in the transport, they were able too see the vast size of the ship and how many units it took to run it. "I say we kill the lot of them." Alex commented after Squishy let out a long, slow whistle before giving up the small window.
"Don't be absurd, there could be well over a hundred thousand." Chell-C said over the COM. "You could join them though." They all looked at the window and them nodded. They had trouble getting through the small side door since they couldn't open the cargo bay without being seen. But in no time they were high in the girders above a sea of Covenant kind. They were all cloaked and very careful not to attract attention when vaulting from one rafter to the next nearly five hundred feet above the ground. Ships darted below blowing hot air past them.
Soon the steady hum of voices, clicks, grunts, and growls subsided. All attention was turned towards a small raised platform. The sea parted and ten of the most hideous Forerunners marched proudly up and onto the platform followed by a richly dressed Elite, whom the SPARTANs guessed was the Grand Admiral.
"Will somebody start relaying this to the proper authorities, like all of mankind!" Nikko activated his Vid-Cam and put the right codes in before handing it off to Goose, who took it gingerly, trying not to look down. "Chell-C, is it possible to hack civilian broadcasting channels this far from Earth?" The AI thought for a second.
"Goose, with my programming, any thing is. You are live for all to see..." There was a small flicker of static as she made the connection. He looked down on the amassing Covenant. Pickles swung across a girder to Goose's side.
"Turn your translator on." Goose did so. It seemed like the assembly had quieted down more. He zoomed up to the Elite's face. He spread his arms wide and spoke with a booming voice.
"Brothers, followers of the Great Ones, an astounding discovery was made today by our Engineers when selecting a new fleet assembly destination. This discovery is of top priority according to the Great Ones. All care must be taken so as to not lead the humans to this miraculous find." Goose chuckled at the thought of the eight billion humans who were seeing this. The speaker stopped and left the audience in suspension. "We have discovered another Holy Ring!" A sudden wave of sound filled Goose's ears as the Covenant stomped their feet, clicked their jaws and roared at the top of their lungs. Just as soon as it started, it quit, all eager to learn more.
"Every soul on board this vessel will be the first to arrive on it. All precautions are being taken to prevent any outbreak of the Parasite. Our Forerunners will first secure a clear landing area and we shall fortify the Relic and send in a force to activate it!" Once again there was a loud roar. The Elite stopped just as he was about to say something and then slowly turned towards the Forerunners who stood by his side. After this he faced the crowd. "Now, we will be joined by our Expeditionary Force in two weeks time to colonize the Ring before we activate it to prevent the human SPARTANs from destroying it before we can open our gateway into Paradise!" The crowd let on to a long steady roar after this.
Chell-C's voice appeared again over the SPARTANs' COM, "Uh, guys I'm picking up another heat source but, it should be within Nikko's vision range..."
Pickles looked over, "Oh crap, cover's blown!" Before he could finish the high pitched whine of a super heated blade cut through the roar. It hit a thick pipeline traveling along the girder that exploded, ripping the alloy I-beams to shreds and sending the SPARTANs to the floor five hundred feet below them. There was a sudden change in the tone of the roar, from excitement to anger. Plasma shots suddenly lit up the room, zipping by Alex's head before he had a chance to land. His repulsors activated and he landed softly, after he had faded out of the visible spectrum.
Goose switched his rotating fuel rod cannon on and pointed it at the aliens below him. He let loose a torrent of radioactive projectiles that blacked the flying corpses of the unwary creatures. He dug his heels into the floor and fired 360 until the other SPARTANs had landed and armed themselves. "All SPARTANs, infrared!" Their visors switched and they could see the individual Covenant now, their onboard AI's still hadn't been configured so they couldn't identify top-priority. "Goose, find us a way outta here!" He looked around for away to gain the advantage. 100,000 to us, real fair advantage! Goose thought while blasting a nearby Elite. Suddenly, the light above him dimmed. Goose turned to face a wall of alloy armor and flesh. The fuel rod cannon found its stomach but didn't leave a blemish. He looked up, disturbed, into the irritated eyes of a Forerunner Hunter.
The massive spines on its back sprung up, and it let out a blood-curdling roar as it grabbed the gun and squeezed the barrels together. Goose drooled in his helmet. He tried to pull his toy free, but to no avail. The flesh mountain then grabbed him around the waist and tossed him clear across the massive docking bay. In the air Goose swore and let the useless gun slide off his arm and onto an unlucky Jackal. He spread his legs to absorb the fall. The repulsors let in just in time to save any bones. Goose slid back along the floor, denting the polished blue tiles. And before he could orient himself the Hunter was on him again, this time with his bond-brother. The massive behemoths glared at him with red eyes and flexed their tree-trunk cybernetic arms. Just then one stepped forward to make the kill. Goose flipped through his options. Only two, live or die. He mused. "Great googily-moogily man! Why is it always me!" He pulled out his field knife and waved it towards the Hunters. One growled deeply before letting an eight-foot-long superheated blade slide out of its case and onto his arm.
"Oh, sweet Jehosephat. Like butter knives to machetes." The blade lit up to a ghastly white. Goose gulped and flung the knife at his adversaries before activating the boosters on his pack. He skipped to the side in time to see the heavy weapon slam into the floor, burning and carbonizing the tiles. The second Hunter, however, wasn't to be fooled. His fist caught Goose in the back and flung him into the floor. In the split second it took the Forerunner to do this Goose realized that he was going to be in major pain afterwards. Floor met SPARTAN and the armor gave away to the heaving bulk of its own self, along with his active camouflage. Before the pain registered in his brain, he heard something snap and he was back in the air again.
Suddenly he felt something hot crawl up his chest. It burned every time he inhaled. Is this the end? Is this how I'll die, with a huge burning blade slicing me in half? Goose's mind wandered through his life before he once again found out the texture of the floor. The pain in his chest suddenly erupted and he could taste blood in his breath.
The Hunters appeared again, watching their prey die amid the chaos. Apparently the other SPARTANs were putting up a good fight. Goose remembered his training, what he should do in this kind of a situation. "Don't show your pain, take it like a man! Act invincible cause you are, you're a SPARTAN!" He heard the DI scream at him.
Goose pulled his arm out from under the armor. He propped himself up. The Hunters still looked at him, enjoying what they thought was a last and futile attempt to combat their massive bulks. Goose was on his feet now, his chest burned, and he felt the broken ribs scraping across his lungs.
He wished he could heal quickly like the Forerunners. He straightened his back, despite the extreme pain shooting through his body and shortness of breath. He then managed to pull a sonic grenade from his pack without the hulks noticing. He fingered the pin loose and held the latch down.
He took a step back and then looked up. The ceiling of the bay slanted steeply to the sides and almost met the floor in the particular area that he was standing, as did hundreds of pipe lines and conduits. Then his sternum shifted, and the pain wasn't quite as bad, he was healing, but nowhere near as fast as the Forerunners. But all he needed was time. Time enough to get physically fit enough to make a run for it. He backed up against the wall and collapsed, purposefully. He still held the latch down.
Another rib slid back into place and he felt the lung seal itself shut, he still couldn't get a full breath though. Goose looked up again, maybe fifty feet to the roof, just enough room. He felt his chest expand and the last rib crack back into its normal position. But it was too late; the Hunters had waited long enough.
The largest stepped forward and reached his massive hand for Goose's throat, but he didn't move very quickly. Goose jumped, and with the help of the boosters, lifted himself above and behind the Hunters. They spun around and faced him. Goose smiled and held up the pin. But before the Forerunners could comprehend what a pin and no grenade meant, their backs were shredded by the resulting explosion. They fell onto their faces as Goose jumped onto the largest one's back. He grasped one of its spines and wrenched it out of the skin. He grasped another and ripped it loose with a sick squelch. A plasma shot zipped past him and splashed into the fire behind him. A Grunt appeared and aimed his weapon at Goose. But before he let the shot fly, he was impaled by a well-aimed spine from the SPARTAN.
Goose quickly pulled the steely spike out of the aliens face and also the methane tank from its holster. One of the Hunters was moving again. Goose needed a little more time, so he stuck a grenade under the faceplate of the Hunter before it regained consciousness. The result was not pretty, but it gave Goose an idea. He approached the other Hunter with his spines. He must have weighed a ton and a half by the looks of things, but who said he had to be in one piece?
He dug the spine into the back thigh and easily separated the leg from the body. The Hunter was unusually smaller than he expected, they just hauled around a half-ton of armor to make themselves look big. He tossed it to the side and turned back to the bloody stump. "Crap!" Goose watched as another leg sprouted, sickening pops and mushy sounds were emitted as it took shape, but it did lack armor. He looked back at the other leg that lay on the ground. It hadn't changed.
The other Hunter was trying to get up again, but something wasn't right. Its head was at an odd angle and it kept grasping at its throat. Goose jumped back and speared the eye socket of the beast with his last spine. It tried to roar, but it sounded more like a squeal. It clawed at the spine, grabbed it but then squeaked again. Before it had the chance to pull it our again, Goose leaped up towards it and drove it all the way through its skull and out through the back. It squeaked again, fell down, and didn't move.
Suddenly a small explosion ripped the head apart and sent Goose toppling onto the next Hunter. A spine ripped into his back plates but was stopped by the hardened armor underneath. Goose then, afraid that he might have awakened the Hunter, grasped the helmet of it and threw it off.
He noticed something at the base of its skull that looked foreign. He didn't like it, so before he investigated it further, he drove a spine through the skull and wrenched it around in its brains before shooting it through the face. The hulk only shuddered once. Just then Goose turned and saw the richly dressed Elite running up a flight of stairs across the small section of space, blasting at somebody. Bright blue blood ran down from his arm, which hung limp at his side.
Goose looked at the two corpses, half expecting them to be back on their feet, but they weren't. He took two more spines out and stepped cautiously over towards the Grand Admiral. He saw bullet holes appear in the wall near him. He was glad that his comrades were still putting up a fight, despite being outnumbered. Goose looked at the spine in his right hand. It was straighter than the other. Can I do this? He thought looking at the Admiral. But before he answered himself, he threw it at the Elite. It wasn't straight enough to hit him but it distracted him enough to admit two more human bullets to his side. He collapsed, but was pulled up by an unseen force. He disappeared from view behind a door.
A beep sounded in his helmet. "Goose! Were pinned down! The COM link to Earth is fading out! Squishy's almost gone... Are you there?!!" Goose swore and then let out a loud yell while waving the spine above his helmet. A Grunt in front of him turned and ran. He swung the spine and decapitated two Elites. He swung again and more heads rolled. Goose hacked his way through the mass of aliens. Body parts and blood filled the air around him. The Covenant weren't attacking him anymore; they were running for their lives, even the Elites. He sliced through the helmet of another Jackal and crushed a Grunt under his foot. Blue and orange blood covered his entire suit, as did bits of flesh and black plasma marks.
What the devil am I doing? This isn't me! He could now see where Pickles, Nikko, and Squishy were bunkered down, right behind the platform, and they were being pelted with plasma fire. Goose swung the spine over his head and brought it down onto another Elite and approached his friends.
A lone Grunt appeared in front of him and fired at his head. Goose shoved the spine through his body and into the stage. He lifted it up with the dead Grunt still on it to kill another Jackal. He pointed the spine downwards and stepped on the mangled body before pulling the serrated spike out. He held his hand down to Pickles, who took it gratefully.
"Goose, we need to get out of here, Alex and Aliana said that they found a service corridor which is used only by Engineers." He nodded. They ran across the path of corpses only to add more to the pile. In a short time they were back at the site where Goose had impaled the two Hunters. They still sat lifeless on the floor. Pickles pointed at a door, which was cracked enough so that they could see Alex beckoning them inwards. The din behind them still didn't know what had happened or who they were fighting. Many veterans thought it another Grunt revolt and killed them freely. Others just shot for the heck of things only to be shot themselves.
They entered the small hallway and picked their way through the many side corridors and entryways. They finally found an empty room in which they could gather their thoughts and attempt to establish a link back to Earth.
"I can't, the filtering field in the ship has been coded again, there's no way I can get through it without an onboard AI. Sorry." Goose folded his scanner back up and set it back in its compartment.
"We need to find some way out of this place, we're too deep in Covenant territory for any human craft to retrieve us." Aliana said. "Does any body have an extra cold pack? Squishy's regained consciousness." He mumbled a bit and rubbed his head. His helmet lay to his side; a small pool of blood had collected at the bottom of it. Squishy jerked his head and then looked at Goose for a long time.
"Hey, Goose, instant thought, is that Vid-Cam headset still on?"

July 1, 2560 (Military Calendar)/
Deployment +16 hours: 45 minutes: 21 seconds
(Master Chief Pickles Mission Clock) / Earth
DEFCON 6 Meeting Room for United States

"Yes sir, Mr. President, the footage is authentic. But the FBINSC still can't track its source." Admiral Raziel wrapped up his presentation. "Also, the local link was traced to a particularly intelligent AI, coded Chell-C, which is aboard the impounded SPARTAN craft, which a pilot by the name of Anna visited this morning." Raziel put the last data sheets in his brief case before looking at the President.
"So are you saying that the SPARTANs are still alive and are now on a Covenant ship?"
Raziel looked at the politicians. "Not just any ship, sir, this is the ship. That one Elite," the holodeck instantly recalled a picture of Krao' on the steps. "That Elite is the Grand Admiral. And these," the footage rewound itself to capture the faces of the Hunters. "Are the Forerunners, a Covenant version of SPARTAN."
"My God." The President stood up. "So our boys are in enemy territory, no supplies, no possible way out, and no back up or reinforcements, with no way to track them?"
Raziel closed his hand computer, "Yes, sir."
"May God help them. General Stewart, how quickly can we have the entire Navy mobilized and ready for departure on a search and rescue mission?"
"Sir, the entire Navy will take two weeks." The President adjusted a pen in his pocket.
"I want it done in two days, get on it." Stewart brushed beads of sweat from his brow and exited the room. "Raziel, I want you to personally over see this mission. I'll call upon the other colonies to be ready for a possible offensive Covenant retaliation in any direction."
"Yes sir." The President followed Raziel out of the room and into the elevator.
"Mr. President, now that the Covenant have obviously been behind these attacks, will the SPARTANs have their contract renewed?" The President adjusted the pen again and the looked up.
"Admiral, if we get them back they will have whatever the he** they want. I never authorized anything about the SPARTANs contract; it's not my department. And if it was they'd be on for life. We need good soldiers and now, since the entire world saw what we did, we won't need any recruiting paraphernalia."
The lift stopped and two Secret Service members took a side of the President. "I still think we may need to attempt to destroy the Halo before the Covenant establish a formidable presence there."
"Please, Raziel, I said that this mission is yours. If you feel that it must be done, then do it. You have my personal permission to access all level three security devices and weapons. Here," the President handed a card over to Admiral Raziel. "In the left top corner is a small blade with a nano-chip on it, cut any finger you choose and you'll be instantly logged in to any system you will ever need." He looked at it before cutting his pinky.
"Thank you, Mr. President." But he had already disappeared into the Oval Office. Raziel continued down the hallway until he came to his office. He found a note on his door. He took it down and put it on his desk. Then he closed his blinds and picked up his private COM line. "Mr. Carter, I received the note. Yes, sir. Yes, sir. It says," the Admiral opened the note. "'Six o'clock at the Cathedral.' Yes, sir. I'll be there." He switched it off and then read the note again. He dug his hands into his pocket and pulled out a butane lighter. He lit one corner of the note and dropped it into the waste bin. Raziel looked at his watch and sat down. "This is going to be it. The fulcrum will be set and whoever loses will be eradicated." He activated the holodeck again, "Get me my wife please." He commanded. The face of a beautiful elderly woman appeared in the screen. "Megan, hey, I'm not going to be home tonight."
"This must have something to do with what we saw doesn't it?" She asked quietly.
"Yes it does, I've been granted full authority over the search and recovery operation for the SPARTANs and the destruction of that Halo."
"Oh, please be careful, you know how I worry about you whenever you deal with the Covenant. They're so merciless."
"I know, Megan, but this isn't for me, it's for the world. If we lose them we lose mankind's last hope." Raziel sighed.
"Promise me you'll come home." Megan said.
"You know I can't do that, I don't know what will happen, only the Good Lord knows what will, and I don't have any intention on making you a promise that won't be kept."
Raziel closed his eyes and shook his head. "I promise to be with you until, if, I come back. Will you promise to wait for me?"
"Yes. I'll miss you though... I love you." Megan said sniffing.
"I love you, too. Just think, two more years and I can retire."
"Two more years and you won't want to retire, just like you didn't eighteen years ago."
"I'll be seventy five, Megan, that's mandatory. We'll spend the rest of our days on the beach." Raziel said looking at his wife. A loud whistle sounded from her end of the line.
"Oh dear, tea's boiling. I have to go. I love you Raziel."
"I love you too, dear. Goodbye." Raziel watched his wife disappear from the holodeck before switching it off. He rubbed the bridge of his nose and thought about any possible battle tactics he could develop during the last hour before he had to set out to the Cathedral.
Nothing came to mind and when he opened his eyes again, he was astonished to see that is was already close to six. The Admiral grabbed his white coat and starched hat, which he fitted over his copper head. He looked out his window and saw that it had been raining. Orange streetlights reflected in the small pools of water in the roads.
He exited the Pentagon and took a taxi to the Cathedral. The tall spires dripped silently and the mouths of the gargoyles still spit water off of the roof. Raziel stepped onto the steamy walkway and jogged up the stairs to the heavy oak doors. A Priest exited one and passed him.
"Why, Mister Raziel, I did not know that you are a man of God. Good night to you, sir." The Priest hurried down the street and into the darkness. Raziel shook his head and entered the huge narthex. He went down a small passage to arrive at the Crypt. He looked behind him before taking a glowing lantern down the damp stairs.
He finally arrived at the bottom and followed the narrow passage to another vault with a pyre in the center. He passed it and went down another passage, this one less frequently used and full of cobwebs. "This'll cost me a fortune in dry cleaning." He said pulling a kicking spider off of his hat. "Lets see, right, left, left, right, down, and right." He continued down different passages and went down an old ladder. "I should never have made this bargain," he said, approaching an oak door studded with heavy bolts and bands of iron.
He knocked eight times and was met with a muffled, "Who is it?"
Raziel nodded his head and, feeling stupid, called out, "It is I, Lucifer!"
There was a pause and an airy sigh as the door creaked open to reveal a brightly lit room. "Admiral, you got my note."
"That I did, Mr. Carter." A tall man in a leather jacket wearing glasses held out his hand.
"I trust that your trip here was uneventful?"
"Indeed." Raziel looked along the far wall where an assortment of illegal weaponry stood. "So, eh, would the incident of a few hours ago have something to do with the volunteer of your services?" He asked Mr. Carter.
"Well, sure. I know Mr. President can't have his fleet ready in two days and we were ready in two hours, three million credits will do." Raziel glared at Mr. Carter. "You know I can't pull that much money out of the defense budget without anyone knowing. Besides, it's too high."
Mr. Carter pouted. "But the price is right, according to your databases, you spent nearly a billion on the SPARTAN-X project. This is a very small fraction of what you could lose if you don't act now. Besides, you and I know that it doesn't have to be a lump sum, it could be in favors, say like, more equipment and weapons, and perhaps a better ship."
"You ask too much."
"Do I?"
"Fine, you get your money in installments over ten years. If you get caught for anything or if I am put under investigation it goes dry, got it?"
"Got it." Mr. Carter said rubbing his hands together.
"You Mercenaries charge too high."
"Mr. Raziel, we are bounty hunters, pirates, rouges, politicians, criminals, hit men, mercs, and whatever the he** you want to call us, and a bag of flippin' potato-chips. And just call me John."
"Fine, John, how many other groups can you rally to our cause?" Raziel continued picking cobwebs from his bleached uniform.
"Not many, but whoever I can get will want mullah too. And given your attitude towards my prices, you don't have enough of it."
The Admiral looked at John. "No, but I could get you all a Presidential Pardon for all of your crimes and you could start fresh."
John stopped cleaning the rifle in his lap. "Would he even?" Raziel knew he had him now.
"Yes, he would have too or risk losing his top Admiral and fleet."
John looked up. "A full Presidential Pardon, would that also include and sort of change in housing?"
"No." Raziel said pulling more spider webs from his uniform.
John fiddled with the trigger of the gun he was cleaning. "Do I still get the three million?"
Raziel laughed out loud. "Of course, that deal was already made, I just had to put the cherry on top." John put the gun down and waved his hand, instantly eight men surrounded him. He was handed a knife, which he cut his middle finger with before handing it over to the Admiral who did likewise. They let the blood run down their palm in one streak. Then they shook hands. "Then it's a done deal. I'll save your precious SPARTANs for three million credits and a full Presidential Pardon and a new life. How 'bout it boys?"
"John, this is a lot of money and a lot of blood. Can I trust you?" Raziel fanned his face with his hat.
"Master Raziel, when have I ever let you down? From milk runs, drug busts to the works. Here, have a straight shot before you leave." John handed him a glass of clear liquid. Raziel smiled and downed it. He coughed a few times. "It seems that your mouth has forgotten the taste of goodness. Here, have another."
Three hours later, Raziel was back in his office with a blinding headache, gathering the last of his papers before he left for his house for the night. He knew it would be pointless to do so for this would certainly be one of the many sleepless nights to come. He closed and locked his door and turned to find the President approaching him. "Mr. Raziel, I was hoping to catch you before you left again. Before you leave I wanted to personally thank you for your contributions to the military and our Navy. General Stewart informs me that we are working full-tilt in prepping our Navy for launch." Raziel put his hat on as he walked down the hall with the President.
"Well, Mr. President, I don't think that our Navy will be enough. Were going to need every space-worthy piece of metal armed to the teeth if we are to even show our faces to those blue blooded ba***rds." The President chuckled.
"Just like a real man-of-war, always wanting to go in guns-a-blazing. You should, I think, attack the main ship, and then leave them alone. It's a three to one battle for defense. Don't worry, we'll be prepared this time." Raziel stopped walking.
"Sir, were we prepared for Shaw? For France? For any of this? Sir, there is no possible way we can prepare for the war to come. I'm going to tell you what I told the SPARTANs before they left." The President winced. "In World War one there were five million killed by Hitler. He was suppressed for some time, then he attempted to rule the world again, World War two claimed fifty five million lives."
"Raziel, I do not need a history lesson."
He ignored him and continued. "This is the World War two of our time and there has already been more than eleven million civilian and military casualties with one single explosion that was felt around the world. And the count will not stop there. If we are to win this war, we will have to chase the Covenant to their graves. We cannot beat them and then let them hide until they regain power."
The President shook his head. "Raziel, I know that, but it is my job as the leader of a nation and indeed the world, to keep a face on to keep morale up. That's my job." The Admiral gritted his teeth.
"Then, Mr. President, do your job and I will do mine." He saluted. "Goodnight, Sir." He turned on his heel and exited the hall. It was raining again and he walked back to his apartment fuming about the incidents to pass. He swiped his finger over his door handle and went into the small abode.
He pulled his coat off and threw it onto his couch. He took his other military attire off and got into dry, civilian clothes. He then went into his study to put his briefcase away. He slid it onto his desk and was about to leave. The holo-pad on his desk blinked on just as he switched the lights off. He sighed and approached his desk slowly before he pressed the button and sat down. It was John.
"Ah, Admiral, have you traced the SPARTANs location yet?" Raziel gave him a look of steel. "Guess not, well we found 'em, and they're within our operational limit." "With all the money I'm burning for, you shouldn't have a limit" he said.
"Right, well, we leave tomorrow and so does your last ticket out of this mess and another chance to relive the glory days." Raziel opened his eyes and looked at John, he was serious. "So what do you say Admiral? Want to take a ride?"

July 2, 2560 (Military Calendar)/
Aboard Ghale's Revenge
In Orbit Above Incad'lousae Ice Nebula
Site Proposed For Existence of a Halo

"What's the latest?"
"No sign of them, sir, they're using the Engineer's corridors, That's all we know." Krao' sighed and looked out towards the nebula. Bands of ice swirled around under the ship. Little ice crystals and moon-sized chunks floated lazily around a barley discernible ring in the center. He looked on the nearest monitor and saw that some ice chunks had wreckage in them.
Jaka' was looking too. "Sir, what do you suppose the debris is from? Surely we didn't have any sort of battle out here." The Grand Admiral felt his soul ache.
"No, Jaka'. Ten years ago my eldest son, Saghleeka', commanded the Heratic Vengeance. Three weeks after his promotion, he disappeared and the ship was traced here, destroyed. Statistics showed that only eight escape pods were launched. We should have investigated. We would have found the Ring long before the humans were aware of their existence. Poor Saghleeka'. We automatically assumed it was the Armored Ones, because of the horrible devastation. But had it been them, they would have destroyed the Holy Relic. No, we may never know why my son died. " Jaka' swallowed hard. The Grand Admirals sons was a touchy subject, especially since Ghale', his last living son, was killed three years before.
"Anyway, Jaka', how are the Forerunners after this incident? When will the two fallen soldiers be able to come back from the medical bay?" Jaka' shifted his weight. "Well, see, one SPARTAN killed the Hunters. They aren't coming back. Our medics say that after the grenade exploded under Givrovich's helmet, the skin fused with the carbonite and he suffocated and then, his biotics were destroyed by his own spine. Shoved clear through his head." Krao' nodded his head.
"And what of Illudisixe?"
Jaka' shifted again. "His biotics were smashed."
Krao' slammed his fist down. "So is this their weakness, these, these, biotics?!"
Jaka' shrugged his shoulders. "No, sir, not really. They can have their brain partially destroyed, as long as their memory is kept imprinted on the biotics, it will be re-grown. See," he gulped, "he left the spine in the brain, it couldn't re-grow hence his memory couldn't be put back since the biotics were destroyed and therefore he couldn't support himself before his systems failed. There has to be something that is still in the ceremrum and the biotics for the to 'die'."
Krao' fingered his teeth. "So are you saying that one human bullet lodged in the skull of our soldiers will render them useless? What makes them different from all of the other soldiers! Biotics and cybernetics? Mental stability and strength? What is it?" Many of the console operators were looking at the enraged Grand Admiral.
"Sir, the biotics have to be destroyed first before they can die. It's sort of a safety thing in case they thought themselves too powerful."
Krao' inhaled deeply. "Well, you best hope that your safety mechanism doesn't send us all to our unhonorable deaths."
"Yes sir." Jaka' bowed and left the bridge. Krao' squeezed his jaws together tightly.
"Bring us about. Inform all cleanup crews to be ready for departure in three. Take us down in the outer rim." The scene on the screens suddenly changed. The ice chunks grew larger until they were just below the ship, some bouncing off the shields lightly. "Captain, come here please." A lone Elite locked the controls in place and saluted to Krao'. "How old are you, son?"
"Sir, I'm about to be admitted into Eldest." He said dropping his hand.
Krao' clicked his jaws. "What's a green Elite like you doing piloting my ship?"
"Sir, serving the Elite's Creed to the fullest."
"Good. Now, do you see those?" Krao' put his arm around the young captain's shoulder and turned him towards the screen showing the ice clusters.
"Yes sir. They are a hazard towards our mission." He said.
"Right, now do you know what I want you to do to them?" Krao' pointed to the largest of them.
A console operator across the room whispered, "Blow them to bits." To his partner.
"No, you wouldn't." The captain said loud enough for them to hear. "You couldn't just 'blow them up.'"
Krao' took his hand off of his shoulder. "And why not?" He seemed perplexed why a simple blast with a plasma cannon wouldn't clear the way.
"Because, sir," the captain pulled out some gambling spheres from a pouch on his side. He set them on the console keyboard. "If you set one on a collision course," he lined the balls up on the highest point on the slanted plane, they rolled slowly down. "It will knock every one off course and it will be much more of a hazard for us and the Relic." He took one ball and rolled it sideways through the streams of balls, which sent them off in different directions as they collided with one another in disarray.
Krao' clicked his jaws loudly. "Then do you think you can maneuver around these?" He waved his hand towards the floating comets.
"Yes, sir, I know I can." Krao' dropped his arm.
"Do it, begin an orbit around the Relic until the drop teams have relayed news back about the surface."
"Yes, sir, it will be done!" The captain jumped back to his station and took the ship into a spin between three ice clusters. He entered a clear area, but they were surrounded by ice now with no way out.
"Well, young captain, it seems..." Just then an opening appeared in the next band. The ship lurched and jumped into it and back through a set of criss-crossing, spiraling, and twisting ice mazes. He finally saw stars and pulled the ship into a steep ascent and there appeared the center of the Ring's origin. He clicked his jaws quietly.
"Congratulations, captain, you've just earned your self another promotion." Krao looked longingly at the green surface on the Halo. Blue lakes and rivers crossed its surface and white clouds floated lazily across the ground. It had been a long time since Krao' and the others aboard the ship had been on solid soil. Small specks shot towards the surface, drop team. He watched them hit the atmosphere and disappear under a cloud.
An hour later, they radioed back in that they had found a valley in which the ship could land. Krao' went down to the bay where the blood still filled some tile cracks and dried bits of flesh hung lodged in piles of debris.
"I want every box and parcel opened up and inspected. A ring of guards must be present around the Grav-lift at all times and at every auxiliary entrance and exit. I want the main encampment to be right in front of the main plasma cannon in case somebody decides to attack. SPARTANs are never alone." Soldiers ran from one side of the dock to another, rolling barrels and pushing racks of weapons. The ship suddenly bucked and the lights dimmed.
"All hands, brace for atmospheric insertion!" Said a voice over the ship wide COM. The cruiser tipped slightly and accelerated. The temperature slowly grew hotter and Krao' steadily walked across the bay past others hanging on to small craft and sitting down.
He walked back into the lift and went up to the bridge. When he arrived the ship had pulled back and flared. It vibrated heavily while Krao' approached his chair. Suddenly it stopped and the ship tipped forward. "Extend all flaps and drag fins, activate repulsor drive." The captain said coolly. The speed monitor indicated that they were almost past their limit for atmospheric conditions.
"We're slowing down, sir, well be fine." Jaka' said to him.
"Jaka', please come here!" Clouds zipped past the monitors and a mountain range appeared far ahead. "I want you to oversee the establishment of the main camp. I'm going to lead the scanners across the land to locate any entrances to the Relic."
"Yes sir."
Night closed over them quickly and the huge lights on the side of the ship lit the entire valley. Neat rows of bio-tents filled it and the soldiers were amusing themselves by hunting the small wildlife that populated the valley. Curious little mammals with small feet and shorthaired bodies that were thick with sweet tasting meat. Many Elites came back with their arms full of these creatures, but it was the Grunts who ended up dragging in their own body weight in game. They ate good and enjoyed the cool night air while setting up thick defenses with no way for anything, big or small, visible or invisible could pass through without being vaporized by plasma fire, or so they hoped.
Krao' himself engaged in these hunts in which he brought back more half burned animals than the others. "It is odd how this Relic is the only one with sentient life on it. Besides the Parasite, but they're not all that smart. More like a plague, only fighting to live and reproduce."
Jaka' repositioned his store of the creatures on his back. "But is that not what all intelligent life does? Us and the humans?" They continued in silence for the remainder of the trip back to the edge of the valley where a group of Elites hung around something on the ground.

Curiosity got the better of Krao' and he went to investigate. "What is it that has you weary soldiers staring down?" They opened their circle and let Krao' look at the object. It appeared whitish, splotched with green mold. It had a smooth surface with a single crack penetrating the middle. It sat buried in a thick layer of leaves. Krao' first thought it to be a magnificent stone of some kind but then he saw a metal piece sticking out next to it. He bent slowly and pulled the white object free. A dirty and grimy skull, its eye sockets filled with moldering leaves, appeared. Four jawbones hung lazily in their sockets. "A moment of silence please... It is one from the Heratic Vengeance." The Elites bowed their heads and looked down at the skull.
After some time, they quietly uncovered the rest of the skeleton and carried it back to the ship, it was identified as Assistant Captain, Tintabilee' Greevin of the Heratic Vengeance. They arranged his bones and rusted armor in a pod and put it in the Ceremony room for all to see before he would be cremated the next day.
Later that night, Krao' lay in his bed, thinking about the skeleton. What if the DNA identification was wrong, but DNA never lies... He tossed and turned in his bed thinking about all the possibilities. Finally he could stand it no longer. Krao' got up and padded down the cold hall to the Ceremony room, where three Elites played a game with a Grunt, who was obviously losing. He stepped up to the clear pod and gazed at the skull. Suddenly Orghik' appeared beside him. "Sorry, sir, didn't seem appropriate to be hidden in the same room you were in." Krao' nodded and looked back into the empty sockets. "Thinking about your son, sir?" The Grand Admiral shrugged, nobody had ever asked him about his family after Ghale' had died.
"I just had hoped that all of my children were still here. My line has ended. Along with my dream of... Never mind. Just an old Admiral and his ramblings." Krao' opened the case and picked up the skull.
"Sir, does protocol allow that?" He ignored Orghik' and turned the skull upside down and looked at the cranium. A zigzagged design was etched into the base of the skull, not the fluid circles and curves of his clan's sign. No, this was not his son.
DNA never lies.

July 2, 2560 (Military Calendar)/
Deployment +20 hours: 15 minutes: 29 seconds
(Master Chief Pickles Mission Clock) / Halo
Ghales Revenge/ Grav-Lift Generator Room

Alex had drawn the short straw and had to go and activate the Grav-lift generator to operate on the auxiliary frequency so that the SPARTANs could get off the ship. Alex looked out from behind a maintenance trolley. Two Grunts were scraping something vile off of the floor and cleaning the surrounding area. They conversed between themselves while doing this, unaware that the towering SPARTAN was in their midst. After two minutes of observation a beep sounded and the two Grunts stumbled over themselves to reach their COM. "This is me here. It me, oh, uhhh... 3483. Uhhh. 8665. Oh... Kaybye." The Grunt who had reached the COM first turned around. "Bosses say SPARTANs may blow this up," he indicated the Grav-lift generator, "Day sending more bosses don here." The other Grunt known as 8665 nodded and continued scraping the stuff on the floor.
"I know, get the black stuff!" 3483 yelped in agreement and he went over the trolley, which Alex tried to crouch behind. He pulled off a can of watery black stuff and took it to the brown stain on the floor. "Heee heee, do it." 8665 sprayed it on the stain, which began to smoke before sizzling quietly. 3483 mopped it up and they looked happily at the shiny blue spot. They put their stuff away, not wanting to be around when the Elites got there. Alex managed to scoot between two support beams before they rolled the trolley away.
Alex looked from side to side, steam and vapor squeezed itself from various pipes and the blue light gave an eerie feeling to the place. He took a step forward only to yank it back when both Grunts came back in. They had left the mop right in front of Alex. 8665 picked it up and went to see the blue spot again. He dropped the mop and ran back to 3483 who stood adjusting his methane flow from his tank.
"You not gonna like dis." They went over and looked down at the blue spot, which was now indented as the delayed acid slowly corroded the floor. Alex stepped quietly behind them and powered his assault rifle up.
"This is not good, not good at all." 8665 said.
"And it's about to get a lot worse." The Grunts squealed and turned around in time to see Alex blow their abdomens out. They fell back into the puddle and began to decay. Suddenly, shadows appeared in the hall leading to the room. Alex jumped back into the shadows in time to see ten Elites march into the room.
"The Forerunners said that this might be a hot spot for SPARTANs if they planned to sabotage the ship. What's this?" The lead Elite noticed the half eaten carcasses of the Grunts in the middle of the room. "Vermin, only their kind would play in acid puddles." Alex exhaled silently, there was only one way out of the room and now it was being guarded.

The generator stood elevated above the ground by twenty large stilts to allow Engineers to get underneath it for repairs. It would be easy work to toss a grenade under it and disable every Grav-lift in the ship. But that was not what Alex had in mind. He had left the other SPARTANs in hiding in order to find their way down to the surface of the Halo. Once they got off the ship they would be able to establish a contact and get out of the shadow of the Covenant.
The Elites posted themselves in the shadows and by any air ducts and entrances. Their armor reflected the bluish light from the walls and their plasma rifles. Alex waited and waited and waited. The steady hum of the generator began to have its affect on the soldiers. Every now and then a gun would clatter to the ground only to be shamefully snatched back up. But after a lifetime Alex could spot only four awake Elites. He made his move and stalked under the generator. A small door was in the center, which allowed smaller beings through. He looked through the small opening and saw what he was looking for: a small panel to manually activate and deactivate Grav-lifts. He reached his arm up through the portal only to come inches short. "D*mnit!" He said.
Alex strained his arm and still couldn't grab hold of the panel. Just then he heard footsteps and a loud roar. "Get up, filth! Only vermin soldiers sleep on guard duty! Don't you know that if the humans get off the ship, the Grand Admiral will have your heads for a wreath on his door!" The huge shaggy feet of a Brute were visible from under the generator. "If they have already activated something you're all dead, check it." Alex pulled his arm back out of the door, but only half way. The elbow joint was shaped just so it would slip in the hole but would never fit coming back out.
Alex cursed again. He pulled and tugged as he watched the feet of an Elite approach the rim of the generator and bend down to look under. Alex's arm spasmed from the weird contortion he pulled off to make sure his active camouflage wouldn't deactivate. The Elite's face appeared. "Nothing, sir." The Brute approached him and looked under too. The Brute looked towards the Elite.
"Check it."
"Yes sir." He crouched and approached the small door, which Alex's invisible arm still blocked. He stopped fifteen feet in front of Alex and touched the surface above him. It opened up and the Elite disappeared inside. Alex nodded his head at his stupidity for not looking for another way in. A shadow flitted over his faceplate. The Elite was right above him.
The Elite looked at the panel and took a step forward and hit Alex's arm. Crap. The Elite looked down and was immediately knocked out as Alex thrust his arm up and into its face. Blue blood dripped out of his mouth. He fell through the hole and hit the ground. Just what I need. The Brute looked under the rim again and growled. "Vermin! Can't see where you're stepping! Never send lesser soldiers to do my job!" The floor vibrated as the Brute thumped under the generator. Alex winced at the pain in his arm while listening to the footsteps of the Brute as he disappeared behind the larger door. He felt the steps of the Brute as he approached the smaller door. His ugly face appeared in the hole before he grunted at the sight of the Elites body.
"Sir, what if he is in there? Don't you need a weapon!?" An Elite called out.
"Of course not! They're only humans!"
The black Brute then looked towards a pad on the wall. He pressed the button and the door closed. Or tried to. It hit Alex's arm and went back. The Brute grunted loudly and pressed the button again and again. The door kept bouncing off of Alex's arm and retracting back into the floor.
Miraculously, the door had pushed Alex's elbow joint enough for him to finally pull it free. In an instant he had a plasma grenade in one hand and his rifle in the other. The Brute at this time had given up on closing the door and moved on to another part of the small room in the generator. This gave Alex the moment he needed to slip into it unnoticed by the Elites standing around. The Brute poked thoughtfully at some control panels when he noticed Alex's visible bulk behind him. He turned around and brandished his Brute Shot. Despite his nasty attitude towards the Elites, his fear was very apparent from his stance.
Alex approached the Brute. The streams of light reflected off of his black MJOLNIR-X armor, giving him a truly terrifying appearance. Alex decided to use the fear to his advantage. He slowly walked toward him. The range was too close for the Brute to use his heavy weapon. The Brute backed up into the wall. He looked back, then lunged forward. The blade dug itself into the armor but it didn't pull out in time for him to avoid Alex grabbing his arm. His height and the size of the armor easily let him over-power the Brute's strength. He pulled him up by his arm and slammed his fist into the Brutes chest, cracking ribs and sending him into the wall. Alex grabbed his throat and lifted him up off the ground. "What- what are you!" His yell muffled by gurgling blood. Alex brought his face close to the Brutes.
"I'm only a human." Alex squeezed hard and felt flesh rip and the bones part as the head rolled off the shoulders and onto the ground. He kicked the head down the open door. He then activated the Grav-lift closest to the other SPARTANs location.
Alex stepped over the body and went down the steps and back under the generator. He activated his camouflage and went back into the open. Now instead of ten Elites there were twenty, somebody had tipped them off. Alex looked back under the rim and saw that the other Elite had awoken and escaped. He stood arguing with another Elite. "You said that you were punched? And did you see your attacker?" He looked down.
"No, sir."
"So you could have tripped." The other said.
"Yes, sir, I could have, but it felt more like a punch." They continued talking until they looked at the faces of the other Elites. Alex looked down and noticed, too late of course, that the blood from the Brute still covered his hands. He wiped them over his faceplate. The grisly specter had an effect on the Elites who retreated into groups and began firing at Alex.
The MJOLNIR-X soaked up the energy and diverted it toward his cannon, which he had never used. Remembering what Chell-C had told him, he ducked behind a girder and punched in the set of numbers on his middle finger. He reached back and pulled the heavy cannon from its holster and aimed it at the first group. There was a high-pitched whine before the machine jumped to life. He pulled the trigger and a loud screech sounded, but then something happened that nobody expected.
The Elites in the group broke out in steaming boils before splitting and nearly exploding seconds after. The walls sparked with an unseeable energy. Chunks of the flesh slid down the generator, steaming, but not burned. He aimed at the next group who ran away, but were each targeted and killed by the screaming cannon.
Within the minute the entire group was reduced to steaming chunks of flesh. All of the guns and ammo was still intact and showed no signs of damage. Alex the radioed back to the other SPARTANs. "The Grav-lift is open, get out ASAP. I'm going to have some fun first." He sprinted down the hall and into the docking bay. Cargo was still being searched before it was sent down the lift and everyone was questioned if something came up through it. "Now to test its range." He said to himself aiming at a Jackal who stood looking up at the ceiling two hundred feet away. He pulled the trigger and the squeal sounded. It took a few seconds for the weapon to affect the soldier at the distance. Boils erupted and the Jackal screamed before his side exploded in steam. He fell down dead and was surrounded by others.
They looked around trying to find the source of the unusual attack, if that's what they thought it was. They had never seen a wound like this before. Alex moved along the walls, popping anybody within the immediate radius. The word was spread, and soon more soldiers appeared looking around. Every now and then they would say that they saw something and look at some shadow. Alex exploded an Elite who was looking up into the ceiling. "It's coming from the ceiling!" Plasma shots flew upward, only to dissipate before reaching the rafter girders hundreds of feet above the floor.
At this moment he jumped across the bay and to the rim of the Grav-lift. He fired downward and killed all of the troops guarding the bottom. Instead of jumping down, he ran back to the wall. He followed it along until he had made a full circumference of the bay and he had killed well over a hundred confused Covenant soldiers. He put some grenades on whatever ships he found and tore any fiber-optic panels out of the wall.
After doing this for some time, the lights went out, and the bay became black as night. Shadows shifted as confused plasma shots were fired in different directions. Alex saw an Elite who was backing up to close to him. He squeezed the trigger and watched him split open and explode on a nearby cargo crate. Alex stepped past the carcass and saw a wad of pipelines and wires.
One such duct was labeled as fuel, so there would have to be a tank somewhere and some good fireworks. He turned the corner and saw the small cylinder up on the wall with a hose dangling from it attached to a larger tank on the ground. He tossed a grenade up onto it and let it explode before shooting his cannon at the pilot of a ship trying to take off. His entrails splattered the inside of the window, and the steam condensed in little fog patches on the inside of the cockpit. The fire burned its way down the hose before reaching the larger tank and setting the eastern end of the bay on fire. He entered a small door to his left and went up a flight of stairs.
Alex then went into another door and up a lift. This took him to a maintenance floor. He followed a yellow line until it turned into another hall. Then Alex turned the opposite way and opened the next door. The small room he entered had a personal Grav-lift for a fire escape and emergency vehicle docking station.
He jumped down the purple stream and was met by the other SPARTANs who were waiting for him on the ground. "It's about time, Alex. Did you decide to take the scenic route or something?" Goose nudged him.
"Oh, I took the scenic route, all right, but the sights weren't pretty." He slipped his cannon back into its holster and then checked his inventory, which was extremely depleted after his little show in the loading bay.
They silently approached the wall of turrets and Wraith tanks. They all began to come online and the aliens who manned them woke up as the siren went off. They easily picked off three Grunts manning the Shades closest to the woods.
They silently ran into the forest and up the side of the mountain. They didn't stop until they were on the other side and out of sight of the Banshees, which circled overhead like angry bees looking for them.
"What the he** did you do to them in there?" Squishy asked, jumping under a tree to dodge a probing spotlight.
"Just started a fire and let it consume itself." Alex said looking up at the Banshees. They rested for a half hour, then continued through the mountains. They reached the bottom in which a river flowed into an ocean not far beyond the mountain range. Something glittered on the riverbank that caught Alex's eye. "Hey, guys, come look at this."
The SPARTANs gathered around a cylindrical pod lodged deeply in the soil and covered in moss and small plants. "It looks like a Covenant escape pod." Aliana said. "But why would one be here? It looks so old." Goose looked inside. "And why would they need to launch it if we had no presence in this place ever before?" Nobody answered.
Just then Nikko pointed toward the next mountain. "Looks like their ship broke up." A huge chunk of wreckage had lodged itself in the side of the mountain. Vines grew out of it along with trees and small waterfalls.
They hiked up the steep mountainside and entered the hulk. Small furry animals darted out of their way, but followed them as they went down the crooked halls. "We'll stay here for the night. Squishy, you're on guard duty first. One hour." He nodded and went to the entrance of the hall and set up a sentry probe. He followed the hall down to its next turn and set one up there as well. He went and sat against the wall in front of the other SPARTANs, who were sliding out of their suits.
"Do you suppose that they crashed?" Pickles asked.
"Not likely, this looks like a carrier. It's only a piece, too. Had it crashed, there would have been a debris trail," Goose replied. "It was probably intentionally destroyed, but not by us. Humans have never been in this part of the galaxy before."
The SPARTANs set out their mats and fell asleep immediately. Squishy walked to the entrance of the hall and looked out at the opposite mountain. The top of the huge Covenant ship showed just above its peak. The Banshees had given up looking for them. Instead, he saw the headlights of Wraith tanks tearing through the forest, blasting obstructionous rock formations out of their way. They silently made their way to the river and stopped. They unloaded some troops. Squishy couldn't tell what kind they were, even in the dim light.
Squishy looked up into the shy and was astonished to see that the stars kept moving. The ice crystals and chunks reflected and refracted the light, turning one star into a dazzling universe. Just then, he saw a reflection that was no star. He followed it as it danced across the ice and watched it fade as the object came closer to the Halo. A shooting star streaked across the sky. "Pity it'll all be destroyed," he said to himself.

July 2, 2560 (Military Calendar)/
Deployment +20 hours: 11 minutes: 51 seconds
(Master Chief Rune Mission Clock) / Space
Aboard Burning Fetus Mercenary Ship
Halo Discovered in Incad' lousae Ice Nebula

A fat, bearded Merc pulled the ship back just as another ice chunk blocked their path. "If these obstructions keep forcing our computers to plot a new course every step we take then we'll never get there!" John's pilot, Dane waved his hands at the ice chunks that slowly filed there way past them.
"Well, don't lose your temper and break something. We have no spares since we cleaned out the utility room for extra weapons." John looked out the window. "There." He said pointing at two chunks passing in front of each other.
"Gotcha, sir." Dane pushed the throttle forward and accelerated through the opening. He scrapped the tail fins on a jutting piece of ice as he pulled out of the frozen chamber. "Sorry, sir. She's a bit bigger than I remember." John flipped the searchlights off.
"Oh, come on now, Dane, it hasn't been that long since we had a job." Dane continued to weave through the ice maze, finding his way deeper into the core. John, however, went back into the cargo bay where ten other Mercs and the Admiral were waiting. "We're coming closer to our drop zone. Admiral, it's time you met my crew." He motioned towards a short Italian looking man. "This is Bigelow, ex-convict, expert assassin. This is Ryan, says he's a Hunter trapped in a human's body," he motioned toward another short but heavily muscled blonde almost beach man. "Jack and Jonathan are father and son." Two men sat in the corner, the resemblance could be discerned from under their heavily scarred faces, must have been only fifteen years apart. "This is Seth, one hundred and ten percent human cause and steel muscle." He patted a mountain of flesh only to be acknowledged with a grunt.
"These are our three amigos. Busted them out of a mental facility. All three were partners in stealing, destroying, and sabotaging millions of dollars of government equipment. They pleaded insane and won their case. They're not really insane, I hope not." Jaymes was almost as big as Seth, but looked more like a Viking with his hair and braided beard. Preston was a shorter but almost snakelike in appearance with slitted eyes and a buzz cut. He stood against the wall picking his nails with a knife. Then there was George. He sat on the floor with his hands bound in a straight jacket.
"Not insane you say?" Raziel asked looking at George trying to suck drool back into his mouth.
"Well, George is a bit, ahh... sticky fingered. He's good with a rifle, though. But even better at close quarter combat." He finally went toward two men cleaning an assortment of guns. "And these are two of the fastest soldiers you will ever lay eyes on. Trained all of their life in every possible fighting technique."
Tyshawn was a thick muscled, towering black man with dreadlocks reaching to his lower back. Each one was studded with an array of trinkets and heavy stones to weigh them down. Damien was a pale man with a ghastly scar across his left cheek. "scars seem to be a fashion statement in this outfit." Raziel said. John lifted his sleeve to reveal a chunk of missing flesh on his shoulder. Raziel winced.
"Well, now that we all know each other, we must review our plan." He spread out a heat-sheet on the table. It was blank.
"Eh, we're not close enough to scan yet guys so this is kinda useless, sorry." John rolled it back up and tossed it over his shoulder. "Once there, Bigelow, Jack, Jonathan, and Seth will set up the COM array to transmit our position and coordinates to the closest human populated planet. Raziel, you, me, Dane, Ryan, Jaymes, Preston, and George will establish a perimeter and Damien and Tyshawn will begin setting up camp." The men nodded and went back to their individual niches in the ship.
"John, I need to talk to you," Raziel said, pulling him into an empty corner. "How do you expect to rescue the SPARTANs with these?" He motioned towards the cargo bay. "Half of them are serious criminals and the other half are mentally insane." John looked to make sure nobody was listening.
"And I'm on three anti-depressants and narcotics and I've killed well over a hundred people. Are you gonna argue with experience?"
Raziel massaged his temples. "I've killed hundreds of thousands of Covenant and never needed medicines to live normally."
"What?" Raziel shook his head.
"Personally, did you kill the hundred thousand personally? And if you're an Admiral I would say that you lived your life well above normal."
The Admiral exhaled. "You had better not run out of your pills on this one. I plan to destroy this God-forsaken Halo and every Covenant on it."
John looked up suddenly. "Whoa, hold on. The three million was for the SPARTANs. There was nothing in our agreement about destroying this place, this Halo. Besides, you would need a nuke to do so if it is as big as you say it to be. And we're not that illegal. We don't carry anything above a M-19 rocket launcher."
Raziel smiled. "Oh no, once I get my SPARTANs back, we can do it easily without your help. And when I do get them, you can leave with your three million. You're only a temporary task force. Remember that, John." Raziel left him in stunned silence. He felt anger toward him... For what? For being right. John laughed to himself and went back to the cockpit where Dane had navigated them to the last band of ice.
"Sir, sensors are detecting a stable atmosphere just beyond the innermost band of ice. Proceed?" John looked out the window and stared at the wall of blue ice.
"Affirmative. Guys! Get ready for action in one hour!" For the first time in the entire trip the men moved and donned on harnesses, grenades, knives, face paint, ammo, mines, and every other military issued item illegal to civilians. The ice chunks cleared away as Dane weaved through them. Then a bright sun filled the window. There in the center of the nebula was a huge ring. "OMG. It must be a thousand miles in diameter." Dane said out loud.
"Actually, according to SPARTAN 117's readings, 1,683.566 miles in diameter. There's an actual band of land inside too." Raziel said folding his arms.
Dane piloted the ship across the icy, outside surface of the Halo and then turned inwards. The ship slipped into the atmosphere and soon they were speeding over a plain. Odd rock formations gave way to mountains. "Sir, according to the rotation and angle of the Halo, it's early morning here." John leaned on the dash.
"Land over there. Oh, sweet Mother!" The topmost part of the Covenant Cruiser appeared over the mountains ahead.
"Land right there. We... Why didn't you tell me about that Dane!"
"Sorry, sir. Must have slipped under the sensors. These are very big mountains and that is a very big ship." The ship touched down and the back fell to the ground. By the time Raziel had entered the cargo bay again the Mercs were gone. John followed him out with a heavy rifle.
They went to the nose of the ship where a picture of a under developed baby on fire shooting a M-19 rocket launcher was painted. "Burning Fetus, huh?" John smiled and then pointed towards a rock out cropping.
"We'll set up in there. You need to go to the woods and put these sentry probes out there. And dig a hole while you're at it. The best defense is a natural defense." After handing him a box of heavy oval shaped sensors, John sprinted across the woodsy mountainside and up onto a pillar of rock. Raziel slowly walked to the farthest reach of the woods where a line of rocks stood. He followed the trough they lined until he saw something covered in vines and roots. It looked to be a huge half melted piece of wreckage. Almost as big as a three story house.
Raziel pulled his COM to his mouth. "Hey, John, lets move HQ to the woods. I found a good hideout." Raziel chuckled as he put the COM back on his vest.

July 2, 2560 (Military Calendar)/
Aboard Ghale's Revenge
Mountain Range Skirting the Coast on Halo
Located in the Incad'lousae Ice Nebula

"Sir, we had an incident in the generator room." Jaka' winced as he heard the news from the lower brackets.
"How bad is it?" He asked, imagining Krao's rage when he heard about it.
"Well, everyone's…"
Jaka' finished the sentence, "Dead?"
The other Elite shrugged. "Yes, sir. But the SPARTAN used a different weapon. it... It made them explode."
Jaka' looked up. "One SPARTAN killed twenty Elites and a Brute? Was he even hit?"
"No, sir, site team says we never returned fire, and the Brute his head was squeezed off."
Jaka' was sure he would be demoted, sent to a torture chamber, dishonorably discharged, or all of them. "Not one?"
"No, sir, not one shot. And, sir, he... He didn't stop there." The Elite shifted from side to side.
"Go ahead." Jaka' didn't care any more. He knew there would be repercussions on his part and punishment too. But protocol demanded him to tell everything to the higher brackets.
Just then Krao' burst in, several oozing boils pockmarked his face and body. "WHAT HAPPENED!? WHAT WAS THAT!?" He nearly tripped on the steps and hit some of his boils on the chairs arm. Various medical staff followed him trying to deflate the boils and give anti-biotics.
"Sir, I'm still being briefed." And again somebody burst in. A distraught Jackal with some data sheets in his hands.
Krao' settled down in his chair and allowed the medics to swab the boils and cut the skin off. "Jaka', you're looking at everything bad that I can throw at you if I don't have some kind of explanation of this incident. And I've heard rumors that the Generator room was ransacked? Confirm or deny?"
Jaka' shook inside. He grabbed the data sheets from the Jackal and read over them in record time. "Sir, twenty-two units ago, sensors picked up a huge amount of microwave activity in the generator room. At sixteen units ago, sensors picked up even larger spikes in microwave activity in the hangar bay. Coincidentally, fuel tank 23 exploded and a pilot was found exploded in the craft that he was piloting. Just like all of the other fatalities, they were exploded from the inside out due to microwaves."
Blood seeped out from under his swollen eyelids. "You know that I'm going to have my eyes taken out. I can't see any thing." Krao' clicked his jaws angrily.
Jaka' didn't know what to say to this mixture of emotions, so he continued. "Eighty-five fatalities and four hundred twenty-three wounded. All wounded exhibit massive hemorrhaging, rupture of entrails, skin boils, blindness and loss of hearing, and smell." Krao's eyelids were cut out to reveal pulsating tendons and remnants of his corneas.
Jaka' exhaled, had Krao' seen him shaking as he was he would have been demoted for cowardice. "It's pretty safe to assume that the SPARTANs have overcome our Forerunners' weapons." Krao' jumped up, blood dripping out of his eyes and boils still oozing.
"MY FORERUNNERS HAVE NO EQUAL!" Jaka' took this opportunity to regain his footing in the military ladder.
"Sir, not equal, better. They have experience, technology, weapons, computer simulation systems, and artificial intelligence and we don't. We need to do something to drastically advance our Forerunners if we are to combat these monsters. For the Prophets' sake, they put the chaos and the slaughtering of the two warriors across the human frequencies all over the galaxy!" Krao' sat back in his chair. "Do you think they'll have a problem recruiting soldiers to their cause?"
Another Jackal entered and stopped a good distance away from Krao', not a good sign.
"Sir, they've escaped." With a single fluid movement, Krao' shot him. He then turned his gun towards Jaka'.
"Sir, this is being unreasonable!" The Grand Admiral held the gun steady, all of the medics were frozen, not wanting to irritate the fuming Elite.
"You got one hour to locate and kill them before I do the same to you. And don't think of running away because it's you against me and you've already lost." His words hung like ice in the air.
Jaka' exited the bridge and Orghik de-cloaked along with his other troops. "Sir, we are ready to serve you, even if we die, for it is written in the Elites Creed, 'In peace, war, life, and death.' We must serve you. May we go after the SPARTANs? We have the ship and every weapon available. Here they have no..."
Krao' waved his hand, "I know what we have and what they don't. I will not needlessly sacrifice you until we fully understand how we may combat this new weapon." It was Ough' who spoke now.
"Sir, if it was only microwaves, a simple sheet of any metal would stop them from penetrating our skin. Look at your self, you have no boils or burns where your armor is." Krao' turned his head in his direction and let the fact that he couldn't look at himself sink in.
"Very well. Wait until tomorrow, though. After Jaka' has failed and I have a good excuse to liquefy him for my next meal. He was then escorted to the medical bay for treatment.
"This is not good. We are supposed to have the upper hand!" Orghik' sighed and looked at a monitor. "We can no longer use our scythes to attack them. They can see us when we are cloaked, but we cannot see them. They have a weapon capable of killing us even with our growth steroids and from what had happened to the Hunters in group 7, they know about the biotics. It would fry every piece of electronics in our cybernetics. If anybody is more vulnerable to that weapon, it is us. No, it seems that we have been out dated even if the Admiral doesn't like it."
Ough' deflated and settled onto the floor. They walked out following the Admiral and his trailing medics. "Do you know why the Relics were built?" Orghik' asked him.
"No, only vague rumors of the Parasite."
Orghik' turned into the medical bay and sat down in an uncomfortable chair. "The Relics were built by the Forerunners, the real ones, not us, to contain the Parasite. Also it served as a sterilization weapon. The Parasite cannot be destroyed and it created beings like you and me with our cybernetics, and it controls them. Humans and Covenant alike." He shifted in his seat. "The point was, if the Parasite ever got off a Holy ring and contaminated the Galaxy, the Forerunners would activate the Relics and every living thing down to microorganisms would die. Thus, the Parasite would starve and be reduced back to the bare minimum capable of surviving only on the Ring. Like I said, there is no way to kill the Parasite." Ough' looked at the window that separated them from the Grand Admiral.
"So they did in fact get out and contaminate the Forerunners?"
"Yes, they activated the Rings and life began all over again."
Ough' looked at Orghik', "Rings? There is more than one?"
"Nobody knows the actual number, between seven and ten. One has been destroyed by the Armored Ones and another one was nearly destroyed."
"So this is where we find our technology, from our Forerunners who left it for us?"
"No wonder we can't develop anything to counter the SPARTAN threat. We're not innovative, were imitative. We are imitations of the SPARTANs, this is an imitation, built upon the Forerunners!" Ough' punched a wall, which crumpled like paper.
"We are locked in an inevitable chain of action and counter-action. They develop SPARTANs, we increase our military might. They create MJOLNIR-X, the Covenant people created us. And now the humans create this, this microwave emitter, which makes us explode. What can we think of that they haven't that will not be over come?"
"Unfortunately, the humans are extremely adaptive and are insanely stupid and do not know when to give up."
"But that's how we fight, to the last soldier."
"Maybe, but we at least know when we have lost."
"We may have. We need to activate this Ring before the SPARTANs have a chance to." There was a sudden scuffle in the medical room. The Grand Admiral came out with instruments still clamped in his eye sockets.
"You," he pointed at Orghik', "I have an idea..."

July 3, 2560 (Military Calendar)/
Deployment +4 hours: 12 minutes: 48 seconds
(Master Chief Rune Mission Clock) / Halo
Fore section of Heratic Vengeance Wreckage

It was Nikko's watch. The light was still hidden behind the cruiser's hulk, which stuck above the mountain ridge in front of them. Its pink rays streamed over its purple surface, creating a picture-perfect shadow on their mountain wall. Each SPARTAN on their watch had strolled around the ship and let the inactive onboard computer create a map which they would never be able to use unless the AI was given its codes and a specific circuit was completed in its network.
The wreckage, as Nikko could now see in the light, was about fifty stories tall and appeared to be the tapering section of the front of a Covenant Carrier. Moss covered craft-stat computers, which filled the great rooms where normal combat observations would have taken place had the ship not been destroyed. He looked up and watched as the sunlight fell downward and illuminated each floor. Mist fell off the sides of the craft as the morning dew evaporated.
Nikko went inside and woke Squishy. He jumped up and rubbed his eyes. "Oh, slept like a baby." He got out of his bag and noticed the sunlight streaming through the rusted hull. "Reminds me of Sodom IV. Never want to go back to that moon." Nikko nodded and went around waking the other SPARTANs out of their slumber.
Pickles tossed his bag into its compartment on the back thigh of his MJOLNIR-X suit before climbing in and activating the automated suit assembly. He dozed off as his chest plate locked into place and his helmet hissed shut. Nikko went out again and disappeared up the slope. The suited SPARTANs followed the halls to get to a higher level. Little streams found their ways through the chunk of wreckage and collected in pools and small lakes in the slightly tilted rooms. They went up the moldering stairs until they reached the top floor and exited out a rusted hole. Nikko led the way through the woodsy slope in the morning mist. Around noon they reached the pinnacle and looked down on the piece of wreckage. A name, now shining through the fuzzy moss, appeared pronouncing it as the fore section of the Heratic Vengeance. Nikko wished that his AI was working so that he could register the ship and looked up its history in combat. If it was a powerful ship, why would it have crash-landed on a Halo and have the Covenant discover it years later?
As Nikko looked at the cruiser peaking above the other mountain ridge, he saw a group of ships rise out from behind it. Seraphs. "Everybody, time to start packing!" He leaped off the steep side of the mountain and fell through the tree canopy. Unfortunately, he and the other SPARTANS landed at the edge of the forest. An open field that sloped downwards lay before them. "Run the Dickens out of ya's!" The SPARTANS pumped their legs as fast as they could. Flies and insects flew out of the tall green grass they ripped through. The sound of the engines grew louder and suddenly jumped in volume as they cleared the ridge behind them. Nikko didn't look back. He expected to feel his back shattered and burnt to a crisp once the Seraphs shot at him. But then, their shadows flitted over them and the Seraphs continued in a line twenty wide down the mountain and across the fields below them and off into the distance.
The SPARTANs stopped in the field and looked back expecting to find a more formidable fate awaiting them. Instead they noticed another piece of wreckage. This one was much smaller and hidden more by woods. Nikko looked back at the shrinking purple dots, and then back up at the other side of the Halo. The wind waved through the grass and set many little insects flying in its wake.
"It's funny how this Halo has life forms on it. If I am correct, if they were activated this would have been the first place to be sterilized. Weird huh?"
Aliana tapped Nikko on the shoulder. "We need to go back, they would have radioed our position back to the ship and sent out more fighters." The SPARTANs got a spike of static in their COMs as they approached the woods. "Wait, initiate your active camo. There is somebody in there." Nikko pulled his grenade launcher from his pack and aimed it into the trees.
The SPARTANs slowly moved through the woods until they came to the small tower of scrap metal. Nikko activated his heat vision. Nothing. He looked from side to side and noticed a movement. He acted as if he did not see it and indirectly approached it. Just when the warm lump was next to him, he thrust his grenade launcher into the apparent head. He then felt something hit behind his helmet. He turned to find himself staring down the wrong side of a very big gun held by and even bigger man. Big enough to compare in size with the MJOLNIR-X armor itself. Nikko saw that the man had heat vision goggles on.
"It's kinna funny, ya know?" The man said, picking his teeth while still pointing his gun at Nikko's face. "We was supposed to go and find ya's. But, uh, ya'll found us first. Makes the job easier." Nikko looked behind him and saw that there was another mountain of muscle rising from out of the ground. He had been hidden under a deep pile of leaves. Bits of humus stuck to the sweaty black mans face. He leered as he grabbed the barrel of the other man's gun and lowered it.
"You heard Raziel, no harm done." The white beast pouted.
] "But den we ain't gonna see any action!"
"Seth, lay off." A man in an aged black trench coat appeared holding a shotgun. He appeared in his mid-thirties and had reddish brown hair with a gaunt look about him. He was followed by Admiral Raziel.
"The name is John, John Carter, man for hire. And this is Seth, and Tyshawn." Raziel nodded to Nikko, even if he still couldn't see him. Feeling bad about himself, Nikko deactivated his camouflage and watched as the other SPARTANS did so and the groups of men pull their guns away from the SPARTANS and escorted them to Raziel and John.
"What is all of this?" Nikko asked determinedly.
"I, well, we came to get you off the Halo before the Covenant had any chance to kill another one of you but, instead," Raziel opened his arms. "You found us."
Nikko looked doggedly at Raziel. "You know we can't do that. They're going to activate this Halo and..."
John interrupted, "Raziel, if they don't come with us that is still their decision, the three million is still mine." Nikko suddenly was filled with anger.
"You hired mercenaries to fetch us?" Raziel's smile vanished from his face.
"I-I thought you would be happy for this, I mean, nobody wants to be stuck on a Halo with a ship load of Covenant next too them, eh?" The Admiral tried to smile but was halted by the unnerved look of Johns face.
"Look, this is a ticket off of here before the Navy shows up and destroys the Halo" John said, dictating what Raziel had said to him in the ship. Nikko waved his massive arms in the air.
"The Navy won't be able to get its britches on before the Covenant have stuck their size fifteen boot up their a**."
"Hey, I wear a size fifteen!" Pickles shouted.
"No offense Pickles. You gotta be kidding me. More than likely, those Seraphs are looking for the way in. They will have activated this thing before they will find us. No, the only ones who are going to get of this Halo is the Covenant." Raziel looked down, he looked sad for an Admiral.
John still looked worried. "Raziel, the three million..."
"Each. Three million each if you stay here and destroy the Halo before the Navy gets here." John involuntarily jerked away, so did the others. "And if you do it before the Covenant find their way in, I'll throw in my corvette." The Mercs were obviously intrigued by the offer. John thought the deal over.
"On terms?"
"Just don't get yourselves killed." Raziel said holding out his hand to John again. He took it.
"We got a race to save," John said smiling, "and it's not the Covenant."
"Good, then we need to find an entrance first before they do." Aliana said.
"No, we let them find it, we just get in before they do."
"So how will we find out?" Nikko asked.
"Well, somebody has to get back on the ship and set up a relay." John said. Alex immediately volunteered.
"I can do it, I got this." He brandished his cannon. John was impressed.
"What is that thing? Shoot it, over there." He said pointing to a stand of trees. Alex aimed the cannon and pulled the trigger. The Mercs covered their ears as the screech filled the air. Steam began to seep from the trees and then they exploded along their sides and then crackled into splinters as the tops fell onto the trees behind them. John's mouth was open in wonder.
"Amazing. I never thought that they would ever get it to work." He ran his hand across the guns cold barrel.
"What is it?" Alex asked sheepishly.
"Microwaves, never could get them to go in a straight beam though. They usually spread out in a wave before they hit anything. It uses microwaves to heat up water in organic substances. Hence if your target has water in it, he or it explodes. It's very high powered but very simple in design. Just, never got in to go into a stream. Amazing." He looked down the barrel.
"Well, sorry to bust this little party up, but we've got company." They looked up and saw a dozen Banshees circling over where the Seraphs had seen the SPARTANs.
"Take care of them, men." John said, regaining his dark composure.
"With pleasure." Tyshawn said, heaving the gun onto his shoulder. Another man, with a jagged scar on his face picked up a M-19 rocket launcher and stuffed a projectile into its barrel. The SPARTANs followed them to the edge of the woods where they hid behind the bushes and took aim as the Banshee's drew closer.
"Steady on big guy." John said quietly as the scarred man fingered the trigger. "Now, leave one, Nikko, tag it." As soon as he had finished talking they all launched their arsenal and disappeared back into the woods. Five Banshees plummeted to the ground.
Nikko shot his grenade which sent another spiraling into the mountainside. Plasma shots filled the woods as they fired at them. Another rocket found its target followed by two more from inside the woods. The remaining three ascended and were about to zoom over the mountain, but were caught by two more rockets and a grenade launched transmitter from Nikko.
"C'mon boys, pack up and let's move. They're gonna pummel this place now." They all ran back towards the small piece of wreckage before any more Covenant showed up. John crawled onto the side and pulled a large piece of alloy to reveal a door. Nikko wondered why he didn't notice the ship hidden under the pieces of metal and vines, maybe because of its low profile shape and the similar looking sections of debris. The engines fired up and the Mercs ran in and out of the tower of wreckage with boxes and bags of utilities. Nikko crammed inside the ship along with the Mercs and the other SPARTANs, it was a tight fit with all of their massive bulks, and nobody was happy. The ship leaped into the air before the cargo door even closed and sped across the field with bits of scrap metal still clinging to its sides.
"If we go over already charted territory then they won't know what our most current position is," John said to Nikko, whose head was hanging outside a gun port, which was opened to let fresh air into the hull. He nodded and let his suit do a systems check before they landed. They could be in for some heavy warfare if they were found. He quickly switched through his different light filters. Red, blue, green, yellow, polarizing, infrared, heat, ultra-violet...
"Huh?" Nikko said. He swallowed and switched back to infrared. He saw a line, then another and then a circle. Strange patterns revealed themselves on the plains far below. Geometric circles and lines intersecting like they did on the outside surface of the Halo. Only these lines didn't look straight, and the farther they went, the more curved they seemed to be. Suddenly he saw something, a convincing rock formation, but he knew otherwise. The lines had become circles, and this pile of granite formed the origin of them all. Every line wound outward like a spider web, strangely illuminated by the infrared filter.
"Dane, mark this position!" He shouted.
Dane pressed a button then turned around, "What's so important?" Nikko looked back.
"I thought I found something. Maybe one of the phase pulse generators." Dane raised his eyebrows.
"Nice." Before he turned back around, the panel in front of him turned red. "We got eighty Covenant craft in pursuit, closing at eighteen miles. John, do we keep going or land and deploy for combat?" John looked at the panel with Raziel.
"No, there would be to many, and we're not leaving this Ring. I want that corvette." Dane nodded and placed his hand on the throttle. He accelerated to the ship's top ground speed.
"Sir, if we go faster than this in an atmosphere, we risk over heating." John sighed quickly. "Fine, just try to lose them in those clouds. Nikko, close the gun port! This bird needs to go as aero as she can."
Nikko looked out of the hole before he shut it and spotted a line of massive thunderheads dumping sheets of rain onto the plains ahead of them. Then he looked behind them and saw the purple haze that followed. He swore as he shut the port and let the airlock suck it into its place.
"Everybody, hold on to your gut!" The ship lurched as Dane side-winded as he entered the black clouds. The engines' roars were muffled by the rain interrupted by the occasional plink! of hail. The ship jumped from side to side as updrafts and downdrafts grabbed hold of it and threw it around inside the belly of the storm.
"Dane, I can't get a darn reading. All the lightning, rain, and hail is disrupting the radar. I don't think they would have been able to wrestle with that." Just then the hull of the ship crackled as a plasma bolt smacked the side. "We're losing pressure. Put on what you got and for heavens sake get an oxygen mask on..." He turned upward, or what he thought was upward and looked back and said something to John. Then he turned and grabbed a mask and handed it to Dane while he took the stick. When he had finished he yelled through his mask, "Make sure that you stay away from..." Before he finished a gaping hole appeared in the far corner where the plasma projectile had hit. Every mercenaries' eyes suddenly went bloodshot and their ears began to drip the crimson life-water. John hung on to the back of Dane's seat as every un-tethered item was sucked out into the stormy abyss. There was a muffled yell.
"Seth! Where's Seth?" Ryan stood up and looked out the hole. A single booted foot was all that held Seth from free-falling fourteen thousand feet. "Seth!" Ryan pushed Nikko to the side and stuck his head out of the window. His profile was out lined as another plasma shot whizzed by the ship and singed the hair on anyone close to the hole. Rain poured through it and hissed as it hit the orange-rimmed hole.
But Nikko had more pressing matters than looking at his surroundings. He found what he was looking for, a long pole with a hook in the end used to clean unfortunate birds from the engine blades. He reached out and grabbed it before moving towards the hole where Ryan looked into the inky blackness, trying to see if his friend was alive or not. Nikko let the pole fall to its last few inches before bringing it back up to hook on Seth's torso. Another plasma bolt hissed by, lighting up the soldier. Nikko pulled until his shoulders were within reach before letting Ryan reach out and pull him back into the ship.
His face was red and he seemed to have passed out from merely hanging upside down for too long. His left side however was red with blood and burnt flesh. His heel was in much worse condition. The carbonite plate that had saved his life had dug in between his leg and anklebones and had nearly severed his foot. It was amazing that so little flesh and muscle held the two hundred and fifty pound man. "John, we need to get out of this storm! Seth needs immediate surgery!" John scowled.
"You heard the man, Dane, get us the he** out of here!" The ship bucked left and right, then up and down. Nikko suddenly had the feeling of vertigo.
"Sonovabit**!" Raziel said blinking his eyes at the lighting bolt that was still in his eyes after a few seconds. Suddenly, Dane, John, and Raziel were blinded by an even brighter light. The sun poured into their eyes and the wall of thunderheads fell away behind them. "Lose some altitude, these masks are made for only half an hour!" The ship immediately fell straight downward. Nikko gripped a handle hard and watched as the rainwater floating in droplets bounce off the walls of the ship. A fierce wind ripped at the Mercs whose ears still bled.
Suddenly the water fell and the ship leveled out. Only to be accompanied by two Seraphs on their tail. The Mercs opened up every gun port and began to fire their weapons at the Covenant craft.
"Does any body have a bigger gun!?" Jaymes yelled. Alex looked at his and then lifted it up.
"Move away from it! Here goes the neighborhood!" Alex leaned out and let the water on his visor disappear as the wind blew it away. He aimed his gun at the first one and let the inner workings scream to life and boil the pilot alive. The Seraph first began to move left but it just as quickly fell from the sky. The other, however, stayed on its course and began to fire as fast as its mechanism allowed. It scored various shots across the hull, but none as bad as the one that had nearly taken Seth. Finally, the moment Alex had waited for. The last Seraph's guns had overheated and the cowling opened up to cool. The entire engine was exposed. But before he could let his microwave emitter activate a lone grenade flew past his helmet and stuck to the various optic cables and tubes on the ship. There was a sudden fireball and the Seraph began to accelerate as it spun out of control.
"Hit the deck!" Nikko bellowed in time for the fighter to slam into the back of the ship. His neck whip-lashed and he fell on top of Tyshawn who was robbed of breath at his weight.
"Sh**, sh**, SH**!" Dane franticly pressed buttons and flipped switches. He jumped out of his seat and was about to head out of the cockpit when John grabbed him. "We lost every single engine. It's a brick. We can bail before anybody gets hurt." John shoved him back down into his eat.
"Listen, man, there is no way Seth can parachute out of here and there is no way we're going to leave him! Now you land this thing like you always do or so help me I'll make you wish you were never born!" Dane gripped the stick and pulled back as hard as he could. The low clouds cleared and the tall canopy of a swampy forest emerged.
Alex saw the sun gleam off the water under the trees and grabbed onto the top handlebars in the small cargo bay. "All hands, brace for impact!" Nikko looked at him. "I've always wanted to say that." Suddenly the ship smashed into the top of a tree and dropped straight down like a rock. The windshield shattered and everyone fell onto the ceiling then the floor again, only to be met with acrid mud and stagnant water that rushed in to fill the ship.
"Everyone get out!" Nikko could see small branches still falling from the tree that they had hit. Water rushed to fill the interior of the ship before they had a chance to get out.
Nikko pulled himself out of the ripped hole and stood up. Because he had an MJOLNIR-X suit, he could breathe and move freely underwater for sometime. He tried franticly to block the water from filling the ship up, but the ship seemed to be sinking in the muck.
"Get every weapon you can get your hands on! John roared from inside. "Don't you leave without being armed to the teeth!" A rifle flew out of a porthole and Niko grabbed it before it became lost in the murky waters depths. Seth was pushed through the hole and Niko dragged him onto dry land. One by one the battered and bleeding Mercs slipped out of the hole draped in ammo belts and carrying huge sacks of rations, tents, and other necessary supplies. But as each one came out and went back in, the ship sank another inch.
Soon, however, the amount of boxes, bags, guns, and ammo that each one carried became light and the ship had sunk half way. The group of muddy and bedraggled Mercs stood at the base of the huge tree that they had slammed into. Nikko looked up to see exactly how high it went. He was suddenly shocked to see that it was no tree.
Instead it was a massive metallic needle with smaller trees growing out of the crevices that spiraled upwards. "This looks important," he said aloud.
John came up beside him. "Good, let's destroy it."

July 3, 2560 (Military Calendar)/
Medical Bay Aboard Ghale's Revenge
Mountain Range skirting the coast on Halo
Located in the Incad' lousae Ice Nebula

The Grand Admiral lay back down after holding a long conversation with the super soldiers. "How long will it take," he asked, spitting out more blood.
"A day, maybe two, sir, it all depends on how much damage there is." Griis', the head medic, looked him over and removed his armor carefully. The skin under the plates was normal, pale blue. But whatever was exposed to light and air was mottled, bruised and covered with small boils. "Exactly the same when some bodies' space suit malfunctions and is exposed to cosmic radiation."
Krao' lifted his head up. "What did you say?"
"Nothing, just wondering about the certain supplies needed." Griis' lied. He pulled the black sheets between the different sections of Krao's naked body. "Just shut your eyes and let the anesthetics work.
Krao' growled. "Fool, I haven't got any eyes."

* * * * *

He decided to let the two hours needed for the anesthetics to settle in by organizing the hundreds of scalpels, tweezers, picks, clamps, thermometers, electrode emitters, light pens, and countless other instruments into nice neat rows. Finally, the door opened and the team of medical specialists filed in. To amplify his stature and higher rank in the medical community, he did not turn around to face the lower ranking medics. When he did turn, however, the beings facing him were no mere medical students.
"My lords, you come unexpectedly, forgive me." He said stooping onto the floor before a Prophet.
"Had it not been for your importance in our decision, you would not have lived to turn around after defying us for so long," said the icy voice of an apparently vain Prophet. Six more of the wrinkled aliens stood behind him.
"I am honored to be of such need. Why do you require of me, my liege?"
"Two years ago, you were the only being who had fully understood the Forerunner program's area of cybernetics, yes?"
"Yes, my lord, in fact..."
"Silence! I am not here to flatter you!" Griis' cowered.
"Yes, majesty, you are always correct."
The Prophet looked back at the others in mockery. "Then you were the one who developed the concept for SETA?"
"You don't mean..."
"I most certainly do." The blood drained from Griis's face. They wanted to use the Admiral for SETA.
"M-m-m-my lords, I have designed the system and everything but… it still has a lot of kinks. We still don't know how to make him breathe!" A golden armored Brute stepped forward and brought his had across Griis's face hard.
"You will not raise your voice in contempt against the holy ones."
"It doesn't matter what you didn't finish on your initial plans. What is it that this SETA project will require?"
"Sir, I-I-I need uh, staff, trained staff, the tools, supplies, samples, I have to study them, everything, I'll have to begin from scratch."
"We have a team of Medics and Cybernetics Technicians who have been studying you material since you created it. My Forerunners have a wonderful ability that you will soon learn of, it was not created by you but by our Biology department. They have finished what you didn't and are more than capable to assist you in the initiation of this project." As the Prophet said this, eight more medics stepped in.
"But that was my material, only the Grand Admiral was able to access it." The Prophets looked highly offended and the lead one gritted his silver teeth.
"Do not forget your place and his. There are higher powers than those of the Grand Admiral, no matter how high in rank he is or how many people think he is the "Elite Prophet" we are the ones who will send us into Paradise, not him. Now finish SETA or else."
"Yes, my lords. It shall be done."
"I know it will. The main superstructure has already been assembled. You need to complete the most delicate part, the body suit. Now begin." The Prophets filed out followed by the Brute. Two medical assistants pushed in two carts of the equipment needed. Griis' grimaced and then cursed under his breath as he turned around and dipped his arms into the sanitizing jelly, which coated his skin.
"Do you know any thing about subject 46," he began; the medical staff behind him was silent. Griis' continued to ready himself as he did for every operation. "He was the one I originally had in mind for the SETA Project. I developed SETA after creating three Forerunners, for they had too many weaknesses. I took them away in the Forerunner schematics and created a self sustaining warrior with all the possible abilities as the Forerunners and one extra, and it yielded the ultimate super-soldier, SETA." He began to unsheathe each of the fifty different scalpels. "Unfortunately, after the augmentations, he, subject 46 that is, required too much support on cybernetics to continue life. SETA requires more than eighty three percent body mass and one hundred percent stable brain matter still intact." He looked at himself in the blades reflections.
"The Grand Admiral exceeds these requirements and, as you all now know, he will be SETA's first and possibly only subject. You might have found many unfixable problems with SETA when you studied it, did you not?" Finally somebody spoke up, "We did, the Great Ones said that it was your way to keep the most important things in your mind so that nobody could copy your work." Griis' smiled.
"You are correct, and while I am filling in the gaps, none of you will be present in the room, SETA is too delicate for any one being to fully comprehend, which is why I never finished it in the first place. Initiate!" Different machines suddenly whirred to life. Schematics of cybernetics and of Krao's body sprung up on holodecks around the room.
"The SETA project can be divided into five phases, each more complicated than the previous. During each phase, most of you will not be present in the room and each of you will be sworn to silence after performing your necessary tasks to continue the project." Griis' smiled weakly.
"Phase one," Griis' pointed to a 3-D version of Krao'. "We will remove every piece of damaged tissue and use the cells to grow new limbs and organs for a possible clone." As he said this a quick rendition flew by the screen and a list of different actions that they must take to do so appeared. "Phase two, we map out the entire nervous system and create a double..." A Medic opened his mouth but Griis' interrupted him. "This is a time where you will not be present, this is my part. Phase three, cybernetics will begin replacing what was taken out in phase one. Once completed, he will be placed in a flesh pod which, hopefully, you have finished designing while studying my schematics."
"We have." Stated another Cybernetics Technician.
"Thank you. Phase four, He will be placed inside SETA, which we will all create and then destroy" A steady silence filled the room. "No weapon like SETA was ever meant to be built, just as the Parasite was never meant to live. So, for the sake of all of us, we must activate the Relic before SETA is completed or we will all perish."
"You will do no such thing if it not be the will of the Great Ones!" Spurted a lanky but well learned Elite. "We have strict orders to hold you to your original plans and not let anything like this interfere with SETA." Eight Brutes thumped into the room and surrounded Griis'. Disbelief filled his mind.
"You cannot kill me, fools!" The vain Prophet appeared again. Griis', outraged by being forced to complete a killing machine, leered at him. "You cannot kill me, Prophet, I'm the only one who knows the missing material! SETA will never be completed! It never was meant to be!" The Prophet brought his face very close to Griis's and held up a holo pad.
"Maybe you won't but the slow torture of your family might force you to make a better decision." Griis' stared in shock at the scene of his soul mate and his eighteen unborn children being shoved into a military holding cell on a handheld screen a Brute was holding.
"No! You cannot do that!" Griis' shouted.
"Oh, we can, vermin. And we will. Finish SETA as it was meant to be, and for every day spent dawdling over plans trying to figure out some sort of flaw, one of your children will die in this very room as I personally remove its innards for my next meal." The Prophet grinned menacingly, "And any more of these patriotic outbursts and your whole family goes straight to the processing plant." The silver teeth of the Prophet gritted across each other. "Now finish it," he said and then he left the room. The Brutes stood against the walls and made the point that they weren't going to leave very clear.
"Lets get to work." Griis' growled picking up his scalpel and headpiece. The Prophet would never do that. He couldn't. He will kill them but... Not eat them... Griis' thought as he watched the medics read the holodecks, which featured the first steps of phase one. His anger was lost as he put forth his mind completely into the task at hand.

* * * * *

He had done this before. Twenty other patients he had practice on for this procedure, but this was the Grand Admiral, not some mindless super soldier. And this was SETA. "Right there, get the vacuum," he instructed to one of the aids. He held his breath as he moved his scalpel and exhaled when he removed each piece of destroyed tissue. He looked over to his assistants who were equally skilled but just as nervous. The Brutes were very interested in what they were doing but also kept a close eye on Griis' to make sure that he didn't kill the subject before phase one was even completed.
He slowly moved the blade across the last piece of sinew in the left eye socket. The pearly white bone reflected the bluish light at odd angles in the depression; pulsating veins covered the interior, further back down towards the base of the socket. "How is the back looking?" He asked aloud.
"It was completed five units ago sir, I already told you that."
"Yes, of course, please check again will you? Any destroyed tissue could send us back to the beginning." He said.
"This isn't some cheap shot at buying yourself more time is it? Because if it is it's not working." The Medic still checked the warm fleshy back of the Admiral with a device, ensuring that not one damaged cell escaped the hungry scalpel. "Sir, he's all clear, and as soon as you are finished with him, we can proceed to phase two."
Griis' looked up for the first time to see that the rest of the staff had indeed cleaned the body up very well and Krao' was ready for phase two. "Very well," he said. "Begin nervous system scan." A large machine with a long arm warmed up and traced a green line the across Krao' over and over again. "We can rest now, this may take a long time."

July 3, 2560 (Military Calendar)/
Deployment +14 hours: 54 minutes: 12 seconds
(Master Chief Rune Mission Clock) / Halo
Base Camp 34 Below Ghales Revenge: Grav Lift 2

Seth was going to live, but he might never be able to walk or breathe properly again. The vision and sound of Seth squirming and screaming as he bit hard on the fifty cal. bullet when they had to sew his foot and side up without anesthetics stuck in Squishy's brain. He and Alex had had made it to a minor Grav-lift without being discovered, but the real challenge was getting back on the ship to insert the relay probe so that the entrance into the Halo could be disclosed to the SPARTANs before the Covenant had time to assemble an expedition.
Squishy looked the situation over: Grunts guarded the entrance to every tent. Two Elites, a Hunter, and about a dozen Jackals sat at the bottom of the lift. Eight Shades up on the mountainside had their precarious barrels aimed for the landing area along with a Wraith. They sure as heck weren't going to get in unnoticed. Unless they weren't looking. Squishy pulled himself back behind two crates and switched to Alex's COM frequency.
"Alex, you saw what I did right?"
"Of course, why?"
"Well, there's no way we can get in there without at least one of these morons noticing."
Alex moaned, "And what part of that didn't I know already?"
"The part where you stay down here and have fun while I go up instead." Said Squishy, not noticing the annoyance in Alex's voice.
"What weapons are you armed with?" Alex said after a few seconds.
"A hand full of grenades, a Needler battle rifle and a full harness of ammunition, nothing fancy like your handheld kitchen appliance."
"Jealous. Go, I'm going to pay these sons of b*tches a little visit."
"Roger that." Squishy said. He pulled out the rifle and checked the ammo count; it was full. All grenades had straight pins and every thing seemed in order. He sent the go signal to Alex who had already gotten into a good position for his attack.
Only a moment, the few precious seconds where the confusion is imminent and then they suspect a diversion and shut down all grav-lifts and send out the Seraphs and crap. Squishy had already stepped into the open and began walking toward the grav-lift. Just then there was a massive explosion behind him. The moment. Squishy vaulted into the lift and was catapulted upwards. But just as he was looking up at the ceiling of the bay, the lift shut off and the doors began top close. Moment's over... Squishy cursed and activated his boosters. He would make it now.
He was only six feet above the floor when the doors closed beneath his feet and locked themselves. Sirens were already blazing and pilots dashed to the far end of the hold where six hundred Seraphs hung in their docks. Squishy went the other way, careful not to collide with any of the unaware pilots. The hallways were much less crowded since the majority of the soldiers were on the ground now. Squishy then thought of Alex, who would probably have more than eight thousand Covenant on his hands.
Just then he saw something that caught his eye. The medical bay was off limits and guarded with Brutes. He saw that Grunts and Jackals were wheeling in cart after cart of what looked like prefabricated parts for a machine. He marked the location and continued farther into the ship where the information was stored in a mainframe.
Finally after many close calls and one collision, which was easily taken care of, Squishy now looked at the massive pillar which glowed with a bright blue light. It seemed to pulsate as the millions of crystalline cubes rearranged themselves constantly, receiving and storing data from thousands of different sources in themselves. Squishy had an urge to touch it but the force field and tall plasma fence around him said no, and that this was very important.
He pulled out the small data sheet and entered the specific codes on a nearby control panel. A single cube suddenly appeared behind a covered compartment. He typed the specific commands in, following the data sheet that Goose had given him after translations. He finished programming the cube and reactivated it. It zipped away and joined the countless others in the ever-shifting mass of memory. He was just about to leave the Mainframe when he thought about putting a remote activated explosive. It could prove invaluable. He thought to himself.
He set it for a vacant frequency and tossed it over the plasma fence and under the mass of crystals. He left the room as if he had never been there and ran down the hallway toward the Grav-lift. It wasn't until he was entering the last corridor that he remembered that the ship was on lockdown. He'd have to wait till they opened the doors and activated the Grav-lifts again.
He decided to see what the commotion in the medical bay was. He sneaked through when the Brutes admitted yet another cart of mechanisms. Squishy flattened himself against the wall and watched as a deranged doctor inspected each piece. He seemed to be the head of whatever was going on in the medical bay. But why the tight security and all this? Squishy thought looking at a particularly complex piece of mechanics. Suddenly, he saw something flash by on the monitors which lined the walls. He began recording the bits of information so that he could give them to Goose later on to translate. This must be where they do the stuff to those Forerunners... He thought.
There was a sudden commotion in the hallway and Squishy saw that it was a group of Jackals heading back towards the barracks. "I guess the lockdown is over." He wondered aloud. He quickly slipped out and jogged towards the bay.
Instead, two drop-ships were leaving. And because of this, the hangar doors were wide open. He made it across the hangar easily and then looked outside and saw how far down the ground was. Even my suit might not be able to survive that. He also noticed that the camp was extremely organized and Alex probably had only fired a few shots before he had to run. Small fires still burned among the bio-tents from Alex's little excursion. But just then, a nifty idea crossed his twisted mind.
He turned around and went through a different door. This one led to the under belly of the ship where engine lines, reactor, utilities, and life support ran. Security became tighter. Engineers became more frequent as did the Hunters and Elites who stood in little alcoves in the wall suspiciously eyeing every Engineer that floated past. Finally, after passing through a set of security doors, he finally reached the super structure section.
The main beam ran out of sight before him and the walls were lined with control panels. He saw in the distance, the mass of twisted pipes and fiber optic cables that lead to the main reactor. He quickly covered the distance, careful not to bump into the occasional Engineer or Hunter who maliciously guarded his or its post. He arrived at the core where a sphere of white light rotated in the middle of a mass of needles that bristled with energy. Squishy took the second of his three remote detonated bombs and set it between two floor panels. He switched it for a radio frequency that was vacant. After he made sure that nobody would see it there he went back to the Repulsor Generators.
It took Squishy only a moment to find them, guarded by two Elites who were tossing gambling balls. The spiral-shaped structures looked like a V-8 engine except that they were fifty feet tall and bristled with anti-matter and probably cost a bit more. Squishy easily slipped past the Elites, one was really losing badly, his frustration showed clearly as he inspected his companion's ball, looking for some cheating device.
Squishy walked quietly around the device before leaping up into the space between the eight massive cylinders, which hummed quietly. He looked around for some sort of inlet, but found none on any of the cylinders or the floor beneath him. He jumped back down in the space between the wall and the generators so he couldn't be seen. He felt for some weak point where he might be able to rip open but it was locked up tight. He finally decided to go back out and check the out side for a weak point where he could slip in a remote det bomb. He pulled himself out and went back to the place where he started and, sure enough, there was a maintenance panel that came loose with a few screws. He pulled out the last remote controlled bomb and set it inside. He set it to the same frequency as the Mainframe bomb. This is too easy. He thought to himself as he slipped the panel back into place. He turned around and discovered that the two Elites were gone, so were the Engineers... Everybody was gone.
A rock landed in Squishy's gut. He could feel the presence of something foul... Something only one SPARTAN had ever seen and no SPARTAN ever wanted to see. Small movements appeared in the shadows. Fear crept up the SPARTANs spine. He instinctively looked up and behind himself. He wished he had Alex's gun now. Just then, only feet away from him, a Forerunner decloaked. Then another and another. Squishy counted twelve. But then that's when they appeared. Little balloon looking creatures with three waving tentacles that danced around making squeaking noises. The Flood.
They did just that, they poured out of the doorways and from behind crates; they bobbled between the legs of the Forerunners but didn't attack them. He noticed that there were only infection forms, no carrier or combat forms. But that was enough. They surrounded Squishy, but not one went in after him.
"Human, you are out numbered and over powered. You have no chance to survive, make your time." The thing said in standard. Squishy tried to send a distress signal to Alex whom was safe back at the base by now, the ship had a communications jammer.
"You underestimate me, Forerunner scum." Squishy felt his gut fall as the words came out of the speakers. I'm about to be mauled by one of the greatest Spec Ops groups in the universe and I had to go and taunt him.
"Unusually confidence for one in your position." Another said.
"Unusual stance for one whom so willingly wants death." Squishy said, trying to use fear to his advantage, despite the fact that he was still invisible. "So how did you find the way to see us."
"We didn't, they did." The Forerunner directed Squishy's attention to the Flood. "They don't have any eyes to see, so it doesn't matter. They smell your fear." Squishy decloaked.
"Are you scared?" Squishy asked seriously, taking a quick step towards the Forerunners who almost stepped back in response.
"You forget, human, that we have the Parasite under our complete control. You are at our mercy now."
"Fools, this entire ship will collapse at the will of my mind. For starters, I'll first destroy your mainframe and every piece of memory, guidance, navigational tracts, enigmatics that goes with it, everything will be lost." Squishy changed the frequency of his radio to the vacant one. Unfortunately, he could never set it off with his back up against the Repulsor Generator and its bomb, especially with the power core so close, he'd be vaporized, despite the fact that the bomb for it was set to a different frequency.
"You could never have gotten in there. The fences were never disturbed and the Parasite never sensed you."
"I told you that I will use my mind, this suit gives me powers even your Prophets would drool over." Squishy put his arm behind him and tried to undo the panel.
"Ha! Your brain matter isn't at all massive enough for any kind of mental activity let alone manipulating your environment at your own will!"
"And yours is? We know your weakness." Squishy lied.
"W-w-we have no weakness!" Spurted one of the disfigured soldiers.
"Oh, you do, your two big fiends found that out the hard way." Squishy remembered Goose's new I'm-a-man story. The panel was loose now, he slipped it off. The Forerunner shivered suddenly.
"They are back alive now. Shall I call them in to prove you the true might of our race and the insignificance of yours."
"Show me." Squishy growled.
"Show me that you can destroy our mainframe, then."
"You don't want that." Squishy tried to remember which knob on the box changed the frequency. Was it number three or five? All he had to do was change it by one notch and he could continue. Three or five? Three or five? What was it? He twisted three.
"Oh, I really would like to see you use your mind human. For once in your puny and short existence, impress me." Squishy took a few steps forward until he was helmet to grizzly visage with the Forerunner.
Squishy smiled behind his helmet, "Shazam."
The superstructure suddenly creaked and a low thud reverberated through out the ship. Sirens went off and things went dark. When the lights came back on seconds later, Squishy was hovering behind the dazed Forerunners and zipping towards the exit.
He didn't care who he hit while zooming down the halls before the things caught up to him. He went up the last flight of stairs and burst into the huge hangar bay. To his dismay, there was a mass of Flood and Forerunners coming out of a Dropship piloted by a very nervous Elite. Those monsters are controlling the Flood to keep their ship safe. He thought to himself.
He knew that they were aware of him already. The little flesh sacs quivered with anticipation for new blood. He walked steadily onwards though. To his utter amazement, the other group had managed to keep on his tail and more of the grosqueteries filled the area. "Do not let him escape!" Yelled out a floating Grunty thing.
"Have you learned nothing?" Squishy bellowed, "I guess I'll have to prove my power again."
"You have no power, that was just, just coincidence, besides it wasn't the Mainframe that exploded..."
"Oh really, what was it, and oh by the way, where are your hulking friends?"
"Fool, use your mind to defend yourself now."
Suddenly the infection forms began to jump on him. Squishy had no time to react. He heard their little needles break against the armor plating, but then he felt it. A surge of pain in his back and then an icy presence forced its way into his mind. Squishy fell on his knees clutching his head. Blinding light flashed in his eyes. He fell forward and felt the weight of the creatures bear down on him, all wanting to get their piece of his mind.
Squishy began to lose touch with his body, something foul entered it, pushing his consciousness down and back as it claimed most of his cerebral cortex, polluting his brain with a hunger so base that it would have made him vomit had he had possession of his body. This hunger was more than a desire for food, for sex or power, or even thirst. This hunger was a vacuum, a never-ending vortex that consumed every impulse, every thought, and every measure of who and what he was.
Memories flashed in his mind and then they began to disappear, never again to be remembered as the creature sifted through them, trying to find a way off of the Halo. This was it. This is what a person feels before he dies at the hands, tentacles, of the Flood. Squishy thought while struggling to keep consciousness, then all went dark.

July 3, 2560 (Military Calendar)/
Deployment +16 hours: 12 minutes: 09 seconds
(Master Chief Rune Mission Clock) / Halo
At base of Phase Pulse Generator Needle

Jaymes, Preston, and George lay hidden in the bushes on a small island next to a tree in the swamp. The heat brought out small flies that made their skin burn horribly if they swatted them. Little fish-like creatures darted around in the water, nipping at the flies if they landed on the surface. Suddenly, a ripple appeared in the water as they looked at it. They looked up and far behind the trees was a SPARTAN. "Alex?" Jaymes asked haphazardly.
"It's me, Squishy should be along any moment." Alex pushed over a rooted tree into the water and passed the three soldiers, almost unnoticeable in their ghille suits, half submerged.
He trudged through the thick undergrowth and deep mud until he came upon a huge tree that was recently felled. He merely boosted himself over it and almost landed on top of Raziel who was leaning against it drinking out of his canteen. He choked on his water and waved his hand out in front of him. "Don't ever do that, you're the friggin ugliest thing that I've ever seen." He took another swig. "Besides my ex, she looked like an Elite."
"Can't say that I've had your luck." Alex said.
"Yeah, but that was thirty years ago, I think she looks like a d*mn Prophet now." Alex chuckled. "Nope, after her I found Megan, and we've been together ever since." Alex nodded and leaned up against the tree with the Admiral.
"Did she ever get tired about moving all of the time?" He asked.
"Ah, no, she likes to travel. Heck, I met her in Minnesota and she lived in Georgia." He laughed and drank some more out of the canteen. "Gaw I wish this would all end, this useless war and...carnage." He wiped his brow. "Can you imagine how many lives could have been spared had we not tested that one deepspace radar on Harvest? Geez, I would have been retired by now but we ain't got nobody who can handle as much as I can... I hate to know what would happen to the Navy if I just kicked off in the middle of the night."
"That's what we're here for, sir. To make sure the job gets done." Alex said quietly. A small group of flies collected around the Admiral who constantly swatted them away.
"Thanks Alex, you don't know how good that makes an old man feel. Yeah. I've always told Megan that I loved her before I left on a mission or something. I feel bad about leaving her so suddenly to catch a ride with these guys. I feel almost as if my luck has run out now..."
"Sir, with all respect, what does this have to do with the mission?" Alex interrupted.
"Son, you may be too young to know it but a mission is more psychological than physical. If you keep a cool head and use psychological elements such as fear and pride to your advantage, then the battle is won."
"I know that, sir, but what about, I mean, what does your wife have to do with completing the mission?"
"Boy, I just done told you! What do you live for every day? What keeps you going after all is lost? After you are beaten and bruised, torn rejected, and hated by all? What drives the Human race to fight for survival? Why not just lie down and die? It would sure as h*ll be easier than suffering all of this heartache as our loved ones are lost. Have you lost anyone in this war?"
"More than I can say."
"My point exactly. You know, my grandsons would have been captains by now. Instead they were promoted to Vice Admirals once they lay six feet under. Dern near broke my heart after I saw that."
"Sir, I didn't know that you had children or grandchildren."
"Oh yeah, three. Rick, Chad, and Lucy. Don't ask why the four letter names, it all comes from my wife's side."
"So where are they right now?" Raziel wiped a tear from his eye despite the fact that he wasn't crying. "Huh? oh... They all died on Harvest. Chad was the only one who got married. Some colonist named Marissa. They had my two grandsons; they died in combat at Reach, like honorable men do. It's them who I fight for. It's my grandsons who I fight for and for my wife and for all of those whom I love. I want to give mankind the right that the Covenant didn't give my family."
"And what right is that?"
"The right to live."
"Well, you know what they say, Admiral, freedom isn't free."
"But life should be paid by a life? That just confuses things and we have to get all philosophical about stuff. Everything has the right to live and the right to die. But no one has the right to kill."
"Then what do you do, sir?"
"Son, along with those basic rights, every creature has a right used only in these kinds of times, to defend ones own life by the destruction of those who threaten it. If you kill then you must be dealt with, either in this life or the next."
"You believe in Heaven and Hell?"
"I believe we are here for a purpose." Raziel threw his hands up in the air.
"So what purpose is that?"
"What is this twenty questions? We aren't just given a life to live and do what we please, we must earn our existence as all the living beings have done in this galaxy, even the Covenant. They got like, I don't know, five different species that they have assimilated into their, uh, religion. To them they have earned their existence by becoming one of them. They don't think we are strong enough to live on. And if our species isn't strong enough then we die as our most natural and base right is destroyed. Well, I'm here, you're here, we are all here to prove otherwise, despite what the Covenant may think. That's why this thing needs to be blown to kingdom come because it purposely violates life."
"Sounds plausible." Alex said straightening up. "Uh... So what's been going on here?"
Raziel wiped his sweating brow. "Life must go on... Oh yeah, Goose thought he received something from Earth. He hasn't gotten off the radio box since. Um, could you do me a favor?"
"Yessir." Alex said.
"Could you give this to my wife, you know, if this is it... Just in case." Admiral Raziel held out a small box with a letter on top.
"Admiral," Alex said, "Nobody is going to die here."
"Please, for my sake." He said shaking it.
"Very well. I'm going to give it back to you as soon as we get off." Alex said accepting the small package.
"If we get off... Well, talk to you later, I'm gonna get in some shade." Raziel began to walk farther down the tree; the murky brown water swirled behind him as frothy yellow bubbles collected in twisting bunches.
Alex strode up onto a larger land mass covered with trampled grasses and bits of twisted metal. Just then he saw Goose. He was out of his suit and asleep under a mass of grass with earphones on. He felt the weight of fatigue on his eyes suddenly. He decided to take his suit off somewhere where it would be harder to find. He still didn't trust John or any of his men. Alex approached the massive spire and then saw where everyone else was. Panels had been ripped off and the group was in the process of boring their way into the towering needle. Nikko waved him over.
"Where's Squishy?" He asked looking behind him.
"There was super tight security, so I provided a distraction, he got in and it's only a matter of time before he gets back out when they open everything up again." Nikko nodded and went back to work hauling bits of metal out from the small cave. Alex walked behind the structure and looked up at the hot sun. It was about three hours after noon, in earth time that would be. He still hadn't set his solar clock to the Halo's rotation.
This Halo rotated on two axis which were always dark. Around noon there was a brief eighty-minute darkness as the other side of the Halo crossed over the star's rays. However, shadows constantly shifted across the surface when the ice masses crossed in front of the star. The swamp would be in darkness before long.
Alex found a good tree and activated the suit to disassemble itself. He crawled out and lay down on the warm dirt. Alex looked over and pulled all the grass he could on top of his self to stay dry. He mashed a smaller stump of grass and laid his head on it and closed his eyes.

* * * * *

It was a gray abyss with a steady whooshing sound with occasional cracks and bleeps. It was a boring dream but Goose was glad for the sleep, even if he wasn't dreaming about beach babes or the secretary. And then, when the gray started to fade into a bedroom, someone tried to wake him up. "Hello, SPARTANS, do you copy? This is Anna, do you copy?" Goose mumbled and turned over on his sleep. "Ughhh. No, Anna, I don't want to sleep with your sister...numnumnum....."
"GOOOOOOSE!" He suddenly jerked upright and looked at the swampy blackness.
"Anna, is that you? I can't see you."
"I'm on the headset, you dummy." Anna said in a mechanical voice.
Goose rubbed his eyes and looked up at the black sky. "Oh..."
"What did you say about my little sister?"
"How did you find the frequency?" He asked, not paying attention.
"Don't change the subject. The Navy did, but I nabbed it before they could get it sent out." Goose stood up and rolled his bag into a bundle while looking at the stars. "So the Navy is finally here?
"No," Anna said forlornly. "Politics is stopping them, but I'm sure any time they'll get the go, especially after what happened just after you..."
Goose cut her off, "Politics... Always the liberals. Where are you?" Goose could here her pressing buttons on a keyboard.
"I'm chilling between two ice hulk thingies and I'm trying to set the location into the computer but... It's not going in right..."
Raziel, who was now in fatigues, suddenly appeared from behind a bush pulling his cargo pants up. "Ahhh, that was well deserved. Goose, is there somebody on there?" He nodded and waved Raziel over who jumped to his side and listened.
"Anna, the Admiral would like to speak with you."
"What! You're on the Halo! We thought you were kidnapped back on earth! Three million credit reward and all, h*ll I'm liable to drag you back for the money."
"Anna, when will the cursed Navy get here?" He asked, getting straight to the point.
"I told Goose, when the politics is done. See, there was..."
"For heavens sake! What do they want a war declaration or some da**ed piece of paper! Why is it when I leave everything goes to h*ll?"
"Sir, they're rallying the entire Navy, everyone is coming here to join the party. And something else happened, see when you were..."
She was cut off by Raziel's anger, "What! Don't they know that earth will be wide-open for destruction! What about the outer colonies, who's gonna defend them!?" A long silence.
"Sir, I've been trying to tell you, there are no more outer colonies." Raziel went from beet red to pasty white.
"N-n-no colonies... What happened?" His voice shook.
"Nobody ever saw what exactly happened but, we lost contact with one after another, and when we went to investigate. They were glassed, nothing was left... Not even the space docks." Raziel sat down and rubbed his forehead.
"Did we even get a clear shot?"
"We got only three living survivors, all from the same ship which jumped to slipspace just as... as..." Anna went silent.
"As what!?" Raziel said.
"Well, they all suffered head injuries, but they said, they said that the entire space around them suddenly was filled with countless ships, Covenant ships."
"That can't be, did you scan slipspace?"
"We did but...if the force is the size that the survivors claim it to be then it could be easily mistaken for a mass shadow. We would be searching every star and planet and cross-referencing its location to the mass shadow it casts for decades. Even Chell-C says it would be near impossible. Only our ships were there," static welled up in the earpiece.
"I never should have left." Raziel said, wiping his eyes.

Goose had trudged off to find a good place to use the restroom. He was still half asleep and half surprised that Anna had finally found them. Perfect spot. He found a large clump of grass. He unzipped himself and did his business. But then the pile of grass moved. "SH*T!" Goose jumped and fell on his back as a soaked Alex emerged from the ground.
"What the h*ll do you think you're doing!" He exclaimed pulling his soiled shirt off.
"Taking a piss! What the heck were you doing in the grass anyways?" Goose finished in time to get socked in the jaw.
"Now you've pissed me off!" Goose said holding his massive fists up.
"Better me to piss you off than you piss on me." Goose swung and hit Alex on the shoulder. He fell back into the water and they began to exchange blows. Suddenly the water turned red with blood and Goose jumped off at the same time Alex did.
"Dude, did I stab you or something?" Goose said looking himself over in a sudden change of mood.
"No," Alex said with the same change, "Are you alright?"
"Yeah, I guess so." They turned to look back at the place where they were. There was something floating in the froth. Alex picked it up. A finger. They both pulled their weapons out at the same time and began to back up to the spire.
"I hate not knowing where the enemy is." Alex said. He jumped up into his suit and let it finish securing itself while Goose provided cover. Then they worked their way back to where Raziel was, with John at his side, still hunched over the radio scribbling something. Goose jumped into his suit and let is secure itself.
"Sir, we have a problem." Alex said.
"Quiet! John hissed writing more stuff down.
"Sir, somebody was just..." There was a sudden whoosh and a smack as a leg with a boot attached and warm blood still flowing hit the radio and knocked it over.
"Oh, change that Anna, stay away until we call, we have a serious problem." He hung up and shot the radio with his magnum. It exploded in a spray of sparks and wires. Just then the huge tree that served as a barrier began to splinter. Bark and wood flew up over the top of the log as if somebody was hacking at it with extremely large blades.
"Where's my men!" John screamed. A head flew by him and landed in his path where he nearly tripped over it.
"Ryan?" He said in disgust. "Where are my men!?"
"All over the place! Run!" Alex said deflecting another leg.
They continued to run to the spire where they had ripped a hole. There was still a decent amount of debris filling the small cavern. Alex jumped at it and slammed it with his fist. To his surprise a large piece of the wall crumpled to reveal that the needle was hollow. He tore at the hole trying to make the opening bigger for them all. "C'mon, man, I don't know what could be doing this but I sure as h*ll don't want to find out!" Suddenly Nikko, Aliana, and Pickles darkened the hole and tried to help but the small space prevented any more.
The tree had stopped moving but now the constant firing of plasma weapons filled the air, just like the rising cloud of splinters did. Finally, Alex pushed himself through the hole and pulled the Admiral through it, followed by John and the four SPARTANS. Alex quickly looked over the spiraling balcony that led deep into the Halo. "Grab hold of somebody!" He yelled picking the Admiral up and tossing him over his shoulder. Then he vaulted over the side.
He waited until the bottom appeared before activating his boosters, which slowed his descent enough to let him land with out falling over. The others did like wise. The darkness enveloped around them. "Nobody turn your lights on, use heat, let's go!" A sudden flurry of blues, blacks, and grays filled their vision as the cool tones of what appeared to be a huge coil that ran the entire length of the needle appeared before them.
With John on his shoulders, Goose picked his way over the large sections of pipes and conduits that ran away from the coil. "C'mon, three hundred feet of air isn't going to stop whatever the h*ll that was!" Alex vaulted over another large pipe and into a small hallway. Soon they were running away from nothing and none of them felt that they needed to continue to get lost.
They let the two men off of their shoulders and looked round. "Where are we?" Raziel asked holding his hands out in the blackness.
"Sorry," Goose said, activating his LED shoulder lamps. Just then the entire hallway lit up. The walls glowed enough to illuminate the passageway and show them that it led into a lift ahead.
"Okay, maybe not," Goose said as he turned the lights on his suit back off.
The SPARTANS deactivated their lights and heat vision and approached the lift. They looked at it and then at the control panel, which had no visible markings. "I guess you just touch it." Goose said stretching out his hand. Just as the walls did, the panel illuminated itself and made the lift descend deeper into the Halo. Floor by floor rushed past them until the lift slowed and stopped at a derelict door. It squeaked open for them.
"You all remember what this thing was built for right? We need to get to whereever the Index is before the enemy does and before we're caught by the Flood." Admiral Raziel said. John shrugged and pulled his double magnums out and walked into the room.
"I think it would be best if one of you kept your heat vision on." Pickles reached up and switched his vision. Nothing, except for a small hot spot rushing down a hall next to them. "We have incoming!" He yelled pulling his rifle out and diving behind an old control panel. Everyone did likewise. Just then the door opened.
"Greetings, humans, your presence has been predicted well by the Leader. Please, follow me," said a disembodied voice in a cheerful tone.
July 3, 2560 (Military Calendar)/
Medical Bay Aboard Ghale's Revenge
Mountain Range skirting the coast on Halo
Located in the Incad' lousae Ice Nebula

Griis' wiped his brow after counting the fiber cables a third time. "Okay, we can move on to the torso. How is he looking?" Jaka', who had just come in to watch was now helping out with the mechanic since he was employed in that field before he was promoted. "He's still good, I mean, he's not dead yet." Griis' nodded. "That's good enough," he mumbled. He used his hand to feel the inner surface to make sure that he did not leave any of his hand tools in the shell. Confident that the neck section was complete and ready for activation, he pulled his hand out and set the cover back in place.
He stood up and stretched his back in time to hear the sirens go off. He heard yelling and the sound of the exterior doors locking themselves shut. Griis' smiled. "I must speak with the Forerunners now, it is vital for the continuation of SETA that I do so."
"It is in the plans, let him speak." Said one of the Staff. A Brute handed him a headset, which Griis' slipped on, and tuned to the Forerunner frequency. "Foot, armor, man, unit, pilot, dropship, reverse, attack, mighty, weak, Prophet, stop, begin, Parasite." He said slowly and clearly. "If the pilots are ready, have them send our friends the entrance."
A Brute nodded and talked into his set ordering the entrance to Halo be disclosed only to the Forerunners. "This will mark the middle of Phase four. And the test of SETA's first weapons system to see if it is indeed, probable." The doors opened and more carts of equipment were pushed in. They stayed open until the Jackals went back out. Griis' shook his head and muttered as he lifted each piece to make sure that the fittings would be well enough to be connected with the rest of SETA. "These are leg unit pieces, we're only on the torso. Send these back and get me the right pieces!" Griis' yelled.
"Sir, there was a problem with it, we thought you would know the design."
Griis' shuddered. "So every time you ran into any small problem, you quit looking for solutions and decided for them to be dumped on me, eh? Ball and socket joints." The Medic opened his mouth in surprise and turned to tell the Elite next to him who was equally surprised as he thought the plans over in his head.
"Sir, I'll have the pieces manufactured right away!" He said leaving the room.
The sirens continued to wail. "Will somebody find out when the Forerunners will get back!" A Brute nodded and went back to talking into his COM. "Sir, they have reached, point Fallout?" Griis' raised his hand in weariness. "Good, then we have not lost anyone. Keep all exits shut and check every ship for stowaways. There is a SPARTAN on this ship and he was standing right there." Griis pointed to an area next to the door. The Brutes almost jumped away from it.
"How do you know this?" Asked one.
"Unfortunately, their suits can deflect and not refract light. But air and smoke cannot pass through them. He was giving off heat from whatever their suits run off of. I saw the waves and, if you check the sensors, you may find that the high source of heat moved out of the door." A Brute went back to the COM.
"He is correct, we lost the heat when it went farther down the hall. We don't have sensors that far into the ship." He grunted.
Griis' nodded. "That may very well be our down fall. I want you to clear off any vital areas so that the SPRTAN will have no reason to arm himself. Surprise is key. Even if it is on our own ship."
"I don't know if you have the authority or the knowledge to do that." A Brute said loudly. "After all, you're just a doctor."
"I may be just a doctor, but the greatest weapon in the universe is being created from my designs and has been. The Forerunners were designed by me to combat the SPRATANS and because of that I studied every scrap of information about their tactics, style of warfare, personalities and even got their records from earth. Now, if there is somebody else on this ship who knows more about human battle tactics please, point him out." The Brute shrugged and then began to talk into his COM again. After a lengthy conversation he approached Griis' and told him a frequency, which he tuned too.
"This is Griis'," he said.
"Griis' we have a surprise for you, where must we go?" Griis' clicked his jaws loudly.
"So it works then... I mean they're following you?"
"Yes, just clear the halls. Nobody should ever have to see what I'm about to deal out to who ever is on our ship," came a raspy voice.
"So be it, he may be in the belly of the ship, just let your minions search, they're more efficient."
"Yes, I will." Said the voice. Griis' sat up and went to the door and told it to open very slightly.
"I want you all to see this." He said motioning for every one in the room to look into the hallway. "If you shoot, I will have to kill you." A silent skittering noise filled their ears. Suddenly a little balloon shaped creature bobbled past, then another and another. Soon the hall was filled with masses of the creatures followed by the striding Forerunners. One of whom stopped at the door where the terrified Brutes cowered. "Griis'," said the alien in his gurgly voice.
"Yes, number forty six, what is it?" Griis' answered pushing a Brute aside with some difficulty.
"They're camped out at the base of sector eight nine two zero. Around twenty, but night is coming on fast and we can take care of them."
"No, no. Please remember that politicaly I do not have the power to order you, but since our leader is currently serving a better purpose and I am your creator... I have a better plan. Wait till we have the SPARTAN in our custody, then we will see what we can do from there." Griis' said, rubbing his eyes.
"Yessir. You need to get some sleep." Orghik' said, walking away after the moving sea of Flood.
"No rest for the weary." Griis' said quietly to his self. He turned back around and approached the staff who were conversing about the Flood. "They might decide to go against us, you remember the revolt back on that human moon?" Said one.
"Nothing like that will happen. My soldiers have the ability to control the Parasite as they did infected men. They control where they go, what they do and what they want. And in this case, SPARTAN blood." Griis' picked up a steroid shot and pumped it into his arm to keep him awake. "Let us continue."
The steady clanking of tools on carbonite filled the room again as the nervous crew turned their head occasionally towards the door expecting to see the Parasite leaping into the air at their faces. They ran some tests on Krao' to ensure that he was still physically able to support himself. He proved to still be in peak condition.
"Once my super soldiers finish their task, we can finish my study of the Parasite and we can begin planning for the next part of phase three."
Griis' went to the data pad and began filling in the progress of SETA. Silence settled upon the room until the COM suddenly blared to life, "Sir, the cartographers have returned as did the second ship of the Forerunners and Parasites. They said that they should be able too..." There was low creaking followed by a loud 'THUMP'. The data screen in front of Griis' went black. So did the room for a split second. "No! I should have known! The Mainframe!" Griis' slammed his fist into the projection crystals. The noise levels in the hall escalated and a steady thumping was heard. "Stay away from that door. The SPARTAN is coming."
"Shouldn't we intercept him?"
"No, he's right where we need him. Between the Parasite and the Forerunners." Griis steepled his fingers and approached the door. It opened just as the floor tiles cracked from an invisible intruder running from the universe's worst nightmare. The Flood suddenly skittered into sight followed by the Forerunners, who were crawling on the walls and ceiling trying to stay out of the way of their more efficient counterparts. Griis' followed them out into the corridor, which led to the hangar bay. The SPARTAN was still standing in the bay slowly approaching the group of soldiers and Flood that poured out of the last Dropship.
He watched as number forty-six and the SPARTAN exchanged a few words before forty-six stretched his hand out and the SPARTAN was overwhelmed by the mass of Flood which penetrated his armor quickly. Griis' ran over to see the transformation.
"Somebody record this! Active camouflage is turned off, voluntarily possibly. Subject continues to writhe for... Ten units after penetration, but the reaction slows, possibly dulled by chemicals released into bloodstream. Moaning... No movement after twenty three units." Griis' waved the Flood away and stood to look at the one infection, for that still had it's tentacle in between two back plates. "Somebody needs to take the armor off so the transformation can be completed." He knelt down and looked at the parasite form which quivered. A Jackal came over with a cargo trolley. The Forerunners carefully lifted up the massive bulk and placed it on the floating pad which made its way out of the docking station and to the medical bay.
Griis' followed the trolley, making sure that the Parasite wasn't harmed as a surgeon would an open wound. "You will have the mightiest weapon besides SETA at your disposal against the SPARTANs, themselves. That is if this Parasite can survive long enough." They reached the medical bay where the Brutes jumped back suddenly seeing two of their worst fears enter the room. "You, all of you, put him on that table." The Brutes, still uneasy about the Flood that still bobbed around in the hall outside the door, lifted the SPARTAN heavily onto the table next to the flesh pod where Krao' floated in the pink gel with sensors measuring everything from brainwaves to heartbeat.
Griis' ran his hand quietly across the smooth black armor of the MJOLNIR-X suit. "Amazing..." He said, seeing the parts of the organic armor that had regrown. "We learn much by just looking at them closely." He said.
"I wonder how much they know about us, then?" A Brute said looking at the Flood's infection form disgustingly.
"You never know. Ah, here it is." Griis' unlocked the suits helmet with a clasp and pulled it off slowly. He looked down at the back of somebody's head. The pale white skin now had black veins pulsating through it, giving the skull a ghastly appearance. He leaned over to look at the SPARTAN's face. "He looks like any other human scum." He took a scalpel and cut his head. Thick brown blood welled up but didn't drip.
"Is it supposed to do that?" Asked one of the assistants. Just then the door opened and the Brutes jumped away from the body. The group of Prophets hurried in to see the SPARTAN.
"Excellent. This is to be kept strictly secret." One said. "As is SETA."
"My Lords, " Griis' bowed, "SETA requires more room than this." He waved to the medical bay behind him. "We must move our base of operation into the docking bay if we are to have room enough for SETA."
"Of course..." Another said. The group was too interested in the infection form and the face of the SPARTAN. "What a large forelobe..." One observed. Griis' waited until they had their fill of sights before trying to take more armor off. But as soon as he went to work, the Prophets left in a hushed mutter about the Flood. He managed to unlock the arm units, which were carried away. Just then Griis' cursed, "I can't get the back plates off without unattatching the Parasite. It will find a way to complete its process. There is more than enough space for it to maneuver." Griis', with the help of two assistants, pushed the table to the far corner of the room and pulled a curtain around it after securing the suit to the wall.
"Now let us move whatever we need to out of here..."

* * * * *

After eight hours of heavy work in assembling SETA, it was nearly complete. The massive bulk lay with its back section suspended with a cargo crane while Krao' still lay inside the gel. "Sir, we need to clear out the medical bay of any SETA related technology. The SPARTAN will be brought here." An assistant said pointing to the table with a sheet over it. Griis' looked at the ominous lump on the seemingly body shaped profile under the black sheet.
"Very well. Keep an eye on it." He said looking over SETA. The bulk of it made it look more like two gigantic cylinders sitting on the back of a squatting figure with no backside. "Make sure the area is clean, Phase four is coming to an end and the beginning of the end of the Human race is finally, for the third time, at hand." The group chuckled as the systems raised Krao' out of the gel and slowly placed him in an upright position. "Affix the ocular relays." Griis' said to an Elite holding two small instruments that were meant to be inserted into the eye sockets to transfer real images to the brain using fiber optics. They were slowly pressed into place and the secured to his skull with eight screws. In the mean time, a section of delicate overlapping plates was inserted over Krao's head which was also secures by eight screws.
Griis' stood looking at the face of the Admiral. "I'm sorry, Sir." He said entering the code to complete the sequence. His body was lifted high and inserted into the empty body chamber. With a loud thump!, thousands of micro-needles were injected into his body sending his every move into a computer which was waiting to be activated and download all of its battle information into Krao's brain. "Sir! Sir! Urgent message from the medical bay!" A Jackal handed over two data sheets. "Is he still alive?" Griis' asked.
"We think so, but he's losing blood fast." The Jackal said out of breath.
"Fine, hold on, everyone out of the room." The staff left to see what had happened. Every beep of the buttons echoed throughout the quiet bay as Griis' entered the final code. The crane hissed into motion and closed the back section very slowly. Griis' wanted to see it secure itself.
"Sir, we're losing him fast!" A yell sounded. Instinctively he nodded and left the bay. He entered the room just as the failure alarm sounded. "What happened?" He asked aloud as he approached the patient. He gasped suddenly at the sight of who the patient was, though. It was the Prophet that had threatened to kill his family. "How…how did this happen?" He asked loudly looking at the gaping cauterized wound that split the Prophets chest cavity in half.
"It's the Forerunners, they did this." The Jackal said.
"It was, they're all outside... The camp is lost already."
"But how? Why? What is this!?" Griis' asked squeezing his forehead.
"It your fault... I remember reading your doubts on the sidelines of your initial plans..." An assistant said pointing an accusatory finger. "You wondered if the Forerunners could handle controlling so many life forms. You thought the brain patterns would be come confused and nobody would not know who was controlling who. It's all your fault."
"No! It's to late now, we have to leave! Kill the SPARTAN! Kill the Parasite on him! We must leave!" The sudden realization that the Forerunners could be getting on the grav-lift right now caused one of the Brutes to jump out of the room and out into the bay. Every one ran out with him with their guns drawn. SETA stood casting its immense shadow over the SPARTAN. Griis' ran over to look at SETA.
"Wait!" Siad one of the medical assistants. "I have an Idea. Move SETA over to the Grav-lift, He'll take care of the Forerunners!" Immediately, everyone began to help in transporting SETA to the lift.
"No, make sure the back section was secured!" Griis' yelled.
"Forget it! Let it go!" A brute screamed as a Forerunner appeared over the edge. Plasma bolts filled the bay as the group exchanged fire. The Forerunner roared and brought its hand down onto the shoulder of a Brute. There was a sickening pop and rip and his arm was ripped off. SETA still teetered on the edge of the lift, eighty tons of armor and tubes of special fluids rocked back and forth as two Elites tried desperately to push it over the side.
"Kill it!" pleaded a Jackal whose face was suddenly all over the floor. Griis' suddenly got over his initial shock and ran over to a Dropship. He jumped into the cockpit and activated its turrets. The screen turned blue as they made a lock on. Griis' fired. The bolt sizzled across the bay, making the temperature jump fifty degrees hotter. The Forerunner turned in time to see the bolt zoom across the floor.
"Griis' heaved a sigh of relief as the bolt passed over the spot where he had been standing. Luckily, A Brute had called every one out of their bunks and hundreds of the soldiers that hadn't been down in the camp swarmed into the bay, eager for a fight. But then, the Forerunner stood up. His side was grizzly and cauterized but new flesh appeared rapidly. Griis' fired again and again, and only to miss as it side-stepped the bolts faster than Griis' eyes could process.
Then a plasma bolt splashed over the viewing screen. They thought he was the enemy. "Stop! No!" He yelled. But then the Forerunner began to attack the Elites who grouped around him for cover.
Then in a split second the shooting stopped as all in the chamber took in what they were seeing as the back of the Forerunner split open and monstrosities poured out only to be killed quickly enough so that nobody was infected.
A grenade found the thing but did nothing more than create a mass of flesh and blood to spray over the faces of the nearby Elites, who's plasma rifles were overheating. Massive tentacles ripped out of the arm of the Forerunner, which clawed at another Elite, who was soon reduced to a quivering, steaming mass of flesh and bone. He fired once more, but this bolt hit SETA, which leaned hazardly backwards, then fell suddenly through the lift. The SPARTAN, however, was still secured to the table where three Elites and a Jackal ducked behind for cover. The black sheet hung precariously on to the armor. If they find out what that is, then our next greatest achievement id doomed. He thought hoping that they had secured the cover.
Griis' quickly pulled out his keypad and entered the code remotely to activate the Covenants most deadly weapon in hope that it would kill whatever lay beneath the ship. The Forerunner looked over for a split second and then something happened that Griis' did not expect.

July 4, 2560 (Military Calendar)/
Deployment +01 hours: 4 minutes: 58 seconds
(Master Chief Rune Mission Clock) / Halo
Docking bay of Ghale's Revenge

Squishy fought with the entity in his mind. He could barely hear or feel. He had lost control of his body, which felt cold and limp, but his brain was firing so many thought and Ideas that the Flood had decided that sorting through his memory was useless. It had instead stopped its advance and waited for him to stop as the chemicals slowly ate away his skin.
He could sense its impulses. It was trying to find a way to attack the Forerunners that had controlled it and steered it away from so much flesh. The battle at France National Space port was viewed again and again. Then their encounters with John and the crashing ship. It sent a thought to its neighbors who would most likely get to the humans before it did.
Squishy found it easier to fall prey to its senses than try and make his eyes open to see. Many possible candidates for infection surrounded them, but a faint brainwave of control kept the Flood from following its impulses. The urge to free itself from the impenetrable armor grew. It could sit here and sort through the chemicals in his body and his memories, but it would never be able to get in and fully affect its host. Squishy felt almost relieved after a long time when it sensed that the space around them had suddenly opened up. As if they were in a larger room and it allowed for more hosts to fill.
It yearned for the thin tendril of control to stop so it could abandon its host and select one that would not prove to be so aggressive in keeping itself alive. It sent out the memory of the battle on earth to its counterparts, who in turn relayed it among themselves. But then, just for a split second, the control wavered. Squishy saw a faint glow of a transmitted picture of a knife slicing into a red-clothed chest. Then it disappeared. The natural sense of hunger flooded his brain again. Squishy felt the base sense of joy as the needle left his back as the infection form gave up, no longer under then control of the Forerunners. It felt to him like they were now under the Flood's control. Thousands of years in exile and their mental capacity was still honed. The last emotion he experience was the excitement of having an already immobile host. Then once again, all went dark.

* * * * *

Screams. Loud screams. Squishy opened his eyes only to see blackness. Am I dead? Is this hell!? Boiling heat filled his lungs as the screams did his ears. Oh, God, please no! But then his feeling returned. Those were Elites, and the heat was from plasma. The smell of seared flesh filled his nostrils. Wait, nostrils!? Squishy looked down and saw that his helmet and arm units had been removed. A black sheet hung over him. Squishy jumped up quickly and looked for the Forerunner, which everyone was yelling about. D*mn, he's uglier than I remembered. Squishy thought as his feet, moved effortlessly under him. He jumped and grabbed him around the waist, which threw the creature off balance. He pushed as hard as he could towards the grav-lift, which was turned off. Almost there! Squishy let go and the thing fell below his line of vision. But a tentacle did not. It swung over the edge and caught Squishy in the face. He felt the claws dig through the flesh and try to crush his skull. He lifted his leg as he felt the pressure increase and brought it down heavily onto the floor. He thought he had missed because he felt nothing between his foot and the tiles, but the grip relaxed and the tentacle fell away. Squishy opened his blood-covered eyes and saw that he was being held back from the hole by two Elites. There was a massive structure on the ground that Squishy did not remember seeing when he entered the ship so long ago.
"Leave him be!" Said the Elite he had seen stressing out in the medical bay. "Human, you have saved your enemies. Why?" Squishy looked around at the Elites, Brutes, Grunts, and Jackals that looked at him in his armor.
"Well, that's a good question." Squishy said regaining his defiant composure that he had with the Forerunners. "Because, I guess, my life was in danger, too." The blood drained from the Elites face. "Turn around!" He screamed. Squishy did so feeling that his bluff had been called. "No! It's gone! Human, where did it go! Where is it!?"
"What!" Squishy asked.
"The Parasite! Did you kill it!"
"No, it left." He replied feeling fear well up again.
"By the Prophets! What did you see! I must know!" The Elite came around and began to pace in front of him.
"I felt it, it saw, I guess, another host and left."
"Just one host?"
"Yes, it thought it was immobile or dead already." Squishy said wondering why the Elite was so shaken. Two red armored Elites appeared.
"Haba', Jaka', we must leave the Ring before SETA becomes conscious. Hurry we have to get off now." The Elites were completely confused. The SPARTAN, the Flood, SETA, all of the dead Prophets. "Please, do it or we're going to all die."
"We all will eventually anyways..." Squishy mused.
"Silence, human, there is more to this than your kind can possibly ever imagine!" The nervous Elite screamed.
"Very well, but I'm not leaving the Incad' lousae until I get an explanation for what just happened." Jaka' said lifting his hand. Squishy looked around at the Covenant. "What do I need to do?" He asked precariously.
"Get off the ship!" Somebody yelled.
"He will not be touched!" Griis' said. "The Great Ones said he shall not be touched!" Two Brutes pushed through the crowd and put themselves on either side of Squishy. "He has earned our respect, and possibly saved your lives, our ship and the entire galaxy. Let him be until the fleet arrives."
"Whoever you are, I need to get back down to the surface." Squishy said.
"No, that is not possible." The ship felt weightless as it began to ascend into the air.
"No, me staying on this vessel is. Give me my armor back and put me back on the Halo."
"The what?"
"THE F*CKING RING! GET ME BACK ON THE RING!" Squishy leaned towards the Elite.
"Fine, after you are briefed on what SETA is."
"I don't care what you did to those freakshows, just get me the heck down there with my armor."
"You must understand that we do not share the same vocabulary, I cannot decipher many of your words." Griis' waved his hand and Haba' scooted closer. "Get him what he wants. Human, once you exit this ship, you will nullify the Prophet's orders, and now that they are dead, they cannot renew them. You will be killed once you reach the surface."
The mass of Covenant dispersed as the ship took flight. Squishy was led up into the bridge. Monitors filled the walls. Most were blank. "Thanks to your little excursion into our mainframe, everything is done manually now. We have no proof now of anything that had transpired on this ship or the Relic after you destroyed it." Squishy felt a slight pang of guilt. Two cargo crafts appeared bearing his armor sections, which he slipped on easily.
"Human, find some way to stop it…SETA. After it becomes conscious, Krao's brain will be mechanized and his memories will be imprinted into its mainframe. His anger towards you will become the motive of the machine. Even if you activated the Ring, it would not kill him. His body decays from this point on, slowly, as SETA assimilates him into its system. Just as a Parasite controls the body of it's chosen host, SETA will operate using the mental entity of Krao'." Griis' waved his hands around as he said this.
"But how does that make it bad?" Squishy asked.
"Because, SETA is the program. It houses to hollow compartments that can hold...Well I mustn't tell you but it has the capability to destroy anything. Even stars." Griis' wiped his forehead. "Only with incredible mental effort and a strong desire to defy the technology will Krao' ever be able to live again, but that is not my concern, for SETA will already have copied him into its system, and, if I am correct, your Parasite left you for the fresh body of Grand Admiral Krao' just as the back section closed and I left the room."
"You're straying from the point." Squishy said recording every second of the conversation.
"No, that is the biggest problem. SETA has no flaw, for if it had even the slightest problem, the immense power it conceals will self-destruct, with the same catastrophic consequences as the Ring does. So now, we are not concerned for this life, the activation of the Ring will not kill it; none of our weapons can kill it. None of yours can penetrate its shell, even your nuclear technology will only feed its growth; above all, keep any form of energy away from it. Even kinetic energy from your projectiles will be transferred from its shell into its core where it keeps...just don't shoot at it." Griis' finished his lecture with a final wave of his arms.
"So...what do you want me to do? What about the Forerunners?"
"I forget much! Because the Forerunners shared a connection with the Parasite, theoretically their signals may have become confused and now, they are all under the base impulses of the Parasite. They all share the same connection now, and since SETA is most likely infected, it will be turned against the both of us. Human and Covenant alike." Squishy nodded in understanding.
"I understand, can I please get back on the Halo now. My comrades are still there."
"It will do you no good. You would have no way to get off," Jaka' said, looking at one of the monitors.
"Jaka', we can lend him a dropship for the retrieval of his comrades, that way we can tell the Great Ones that we did all in our power...human, steal a dropship, don't kill anybody. I wish you good luck in your mission, even if it is against great odds." Griis' bowed slightly. "Run, human..." He whispered. Squishy looked around him quickly then vaulted across the room onto the lift that was going down.
"Stop him! Get him!" Griis' yelled. The lift was already zipping down the shaft before any faces appeared above him. But there was no plasma fire. The lift stopped and he stepped out into a hallway. Something told him that he should take a left so he did. And after a few hectic seconds, he stopped at a dead end. He could hear the footsteps of pursuing aliens far down the next hall. He cloaked himself and walked quietly over to the intersection. Three Elites with rifles drawn made the corner and left just enough space for Squishy to get through. It wasn't until he was flying down the corridor that they recognized their mistake. This time Squishy went directly ahead in front of the lift. With two left turns, a flight of stars, and one last right turn he was back in the docking bay.
The aliens caught wind of his idea and began to group around the Dropdships and shoot at his footsteps. There weren't enough to sufficiently cover all of the ships, though. Squishy headed for the nearest unguarded one. But then the docking bay doors began to shut. Squishy landed under the last dropship and caught a bolt to his visor. He stumbled backwards, then climbed up into the ship. He jumped into the cockpit and took off as fast as the engines would let him. A thousand feet in front of him the doors were creaking shut. He would have to turn sideways.
Then a thought crossed his mind. He switched his COM to a vacant frequency and activated it. The bomb in the repulsor generators would cause enough disruption. The floor panels in the bay below him bulged outwards with a screech. Smoke seeped from vent shafts and the power went out, stopping the doors in midway. Barley enough room for the Dropship. "This fit is going to be tighter than me in the mouth of Smooth Talker! " he exclaimed pulling the throttle back. "aaaaaAAAAAAAAHHHHH!" The ship squeezed through the doors just as any fins were ripped to shreds, along with some external equipment. Squishy's visor blocked out the bright sun that filled his view. He rocketed towards the Halo. But just then something else appeared on his sensors. He was being targeted by somebody else's ship.
"Identify your self!" Chell-C said.
"The lovable, huggable Squishy!" He said in response.
"What are you doing in there?" Anna said in surprise.
"Watching the game, havin' a Bud. Look I got no time to explain. We have to get the others."
"They told me to stay here until they call." Anna said innocently.
"If we stay here any longer they won't be able to call. Let's go!"
"Okay, I'll follow you. Explain on the way." Chell-C sent a link to the ship to establish a secure line.
"We have an even greater threat to face. He called it SETA, but if it's deciphered, to us it would be called POCO, Parasite Operated Cybernetic Organism..."

July 4, 2560 (Military Calendar)/
Deployment +3 hours: 09 minutes: 37 seconds
(Master Chief Rune Mission Clock) / Halo
Section 345-564 of Halo-Analytic Chamber

The weary group of SPARTANs, John, and Admiral Raziel had been following the little floating robot for hours now. He didn't seem to understand that humans needed rest. "Oh, do come along now, the Leader is waiting patiently. You may make him mad." He said in cheery disposition.
"Somebody shoot him, please." Pickles said quietly.
"Impossible, your projectile type firearms will have no effect on my shielding, it simply won't do. This way!" The robot sped down a hallway and into a room.
"Finally!" Aliana said in exasperation. They all grouped outside the door before entering. Bright white light filled the room showing that two sides were massive windows and the others were control panels. But there was something else, too; items that were not supposed to be native on a Halo lay strewn across the ground. Pieces of plasma rifles, weapons boxes, armor, older control panels from Covenant ships. The robot appeared again.
"Please do not delay, the Leader is anxious to see you."
"Leave us alone freak!" Alex finally said in anger.
"Freak? I'm sorry I do not comprehend your usage of this word. I am not 'Freak", my name is 419 Anterior Tabulate."
"First Recorder." Pickles said.
"Yes. I was the first of my kind; you are on the first, if I may use your language, 'Halo' to be constructed. Now please follow me." They trailed 419 through another door and into another room just like the last one, but this one had one wall with windows and even more junk in it. Bones, piles of bones filled the corners. The smell of rot hung in the room. More pieces of metal and control panels filled the room as well.
"What is this place?" Pickles asked.
"These rooms are part of the Analytic Chamber, this is where the Forerunners studied the Parasite as the Leader assumed. See for yourself. The darkness outside of the windows lit up to reveal a large room. They all ventured to look out of the windows and down to the floor.
"Sick." Alex said. The floor was swarming with hundreds of infection forms. They slowly meandered from place to place, particularly around the many doors that lined the walls. As they watched, a door opened and the Flood froze still as something stepped into the room. A Forerunner.
"A cybernetic Combat form! Impossible. Oh dear, he is violating many established laws! He mustn't interact! That is my purpose! To release them as I see fit and this most definitely is not the time." Suddenly, a group of Flood moved out of the door. The others stood motionless in place until the door closed. Then, as if a barrier had been removed, they swarmed over the door looking for a way out.
"419, has that ever happened before?"
"No! Of course not! I must send the Sentinels to eliminate him at once. They are not to be disturbed unless I permit him to do so! This is most disturbing. He must have been controlled by another force. A cybernetic combat form, impossible! Follow me." Anterior Tabulate said happily. He took them away from the window and through another door.
"The Leader will be in the last section of the Analytic Chamber. He has been expecting you, as you know, for eleven years." The SPARTANs looked at each other. The last door appeared behind a large carbide panel, which lay against the wall with small bones falling out from behind it. "Here we are, you may go inside now." 419 Anterior Tabulate said zipping away out of the room.
"Hey, wait!" Aliana called.
"John, Raziel, get behind us." Alex said pulling his gun out.
"What're you treatin' us like babies for, I'm a hard a** too." Raziel said pulling his magnum out and raising it to eye level with the door. Nikko opened the door quickly and stuck his gun in.
"No, no don't shoot me!" A voice said in the darkness.
"Come out where we can see you!" Pickles yelled. A naked and very bedraggled Elite appeared. He had dirt caked all over him and scars from old wounds. He blinked his eyes as the light filled the chamber and then he gasped. "No... You're SPARTANs! You cannot have... No no no no... Shoot me, just kill me now, all hope is lost." The Elite bowed his head and got on his knees under the barrel of Alex's gun. Alex looked from side to side confused.
"Get up." He said finally. "Get up now."
"B-b-but why? SPARTANs are supposed to kill their enemies. I am Covenant, you are human are you not?"
"Indeed we are but we do not kill those who are unarmed and have no chance of survival. You would have to attack us first if we were to kill you."
"You're going to let me live?" The Elite asked surprised.
"Yes, we will not deny you your right to life." Raziel said. The Elite leaned back and sat down on the filthy floor.
"How many of my kind have you killed... Are they all dead now?" He asked quietly.
"No, they are very much alive." Nikko said. The Elite jumped back up.
"Then we are still at war!" He said suddenly.
"Yes, we are still fighting, after twenty six years we still have not settled this dispute." Pickles said putting his gun away.
"Then... we still have a chance." The Elite backed up into the darkness.
"Come back out into the light or we'll have to shoot." Raziel said putting his gun back into the air. Then the SPARTANs turned their shoulder lamps on. The room lit up with the blue glow. The Elite was fumbling with something that looked like an old plasma rifle .It was clearly obsolete and broken.
"Put that down." Alex said charging his rifle up. He shot the gun out of the Elite hands, who dropped it with a yelp.
"Listen I don't know who you are or why you have been on the Halo for eleven years, but we need to know how to destroy it." Aliana said.
The Elite straightened up, "My rank is Ship Captain of the Heratic Vengeance and my name is Saghleekee 'Ghammeele, Son of Krao' Ghammeele." John's jaw dropped.
"You were the commander of that ship?" He asked, remembering the chunks of wreckage strewn across the surface of the Halo and frozen in outer space throughout the Incad'lousae nebula.
"Yes, there were many survivors. Where they are now and what fate has done to them I know not, but I survived and I plan to rejoin my brethren. Even if it means tearing through the Parasites." The Elite looked around, quite obviously for another weapon.
"I don't mean to hurt your pride, but you don't seem so devoted to killing us." Pickles said holstering his weapon for good. The Elite stopped rummaging through a box and stood with his back facing them.
"You are correct. Most beings wouldn't be able to survive alone for eleven years alone most of the time. And living in the constant fear of 419 Anterior Tabulate letting the fear loose would send any sane creature to the brink of suicide and beyond. I have the extensive training of my kind to thank for that." Saghleekee' turned around. "And I have to thank your kind for doing what my species didn't, finding me." The SPARTANs felt very uncomfortable with being so familiar with the enemy. They stared warily around waiting for some monstrosity to emerge from the shadows.
"There are still many questions that need to be answered." Raziel said looking behind him back into the Analytic Chamber.
"Yes indeed. With each league we cover on ground, I will answer one question." Saghleekee' said, picking up a time worn grass sack. It was only then that they noticed how many items from the surface had been brought down.
"Is there easy access to the surface around here?" Aliana asked suddenly. But then 419 Anterior Tabulate appeared again.
"I'm sorry but now that you have arrived, code instructs me to secure all doors leading in and out of the Construct until it is activated. For so many worthy hosts, I can finally complete the experiment that I was left to do so long ago. Any volunteers?" A grim silence and hatred towards the robot hovered above the group. "Leader, do you have the Index?" Everyone looked back at Saghleekee'.
"Yes, I do. But your experiment will have to wait." He pulled an item out of the grass sack that looked like a key to something destructive; indeed it was. Then quick as lighting, he snapped Pickles M6D pistol from its holster and pointed it at the Index.
"This is a violation of six codes! You cannot use the Index as collateral, it simply doesn't comply!" 419 buzzed. Nikko pulled out his rifle and aimed it at the Index. The other SPARTANs followed suit. "This cannot be tolerated! Biological life forms are so completely unpredictable sometimes!"
"Let us go or the Index is destroyed!" Aliana shouted.
"I cannot. Because so many of you are present, all entrances are sealed shut unless the Index is used to activate the Construct. Oh, and it can be manually activated, but you must break all codes for my programming to allow me to do so. It was programmed so long ago... Surely you know that. Besides, this is a situation that you lose in. If you destroy the Index, the Parasites will be released, if you use it to activate the construct, you will still die. I would choose the latter, it is indeed a great deal less painful, I assure you." 419 hummed with delight.
"And what would happen if we found a way out?" John asked fingering the trigger to his magnum under his coat.
"Oh, do not worry about that. As the Forerunners got familiar with the technology needed to contain the Parasite, they let their guard down as you might say. But because this was the first Construct, it has all of the amendeties. Instead of the usual three hundred, this Construct houses eight hundred Sentinels. It was set inside of this nebula to prevent stellular objects colliding with it. But over time the nebula has decayed and not too long ago, the Leader arrived when his vessel was brought down." Saghleekee' cringed at this reminder.
"It was your fault that it happed." He said quietly.
"Indeed it was. But it was my duty and my programming. As I was saying, the Forerunners didn't take chances on this Construct. If there was an auxiliary route created, it was detected and repaired by a special group of machines that would not die upon activation of the Construct. Your crude entry way in the Prime Convergence Spire was the first time their purpose was served." The loud rumble of three Sentinels foreshadowed the fact that the entire time that they were conversing, 419 had sent for the Sentinels. "Now if you will relieve your self of your fire arms..." At that moment three plasma grenades were tossed at the three Sentinels who exploded into flames much to the surprise of 419.
"Goodness, I apologize but code requires me to release all Parasite forms at first sight of violence." An alarm sounded in the Analytic Chamber. Then there was a shot fired and a bright flash filled the room. "No!" Exclaimed 419, "You have permanently disabled the Construct! Leader! Why!" The Index lay in pieces at Saghleekee's feet.
"Because the death of eight does not constitute for the death of trillions." He ground his scabbed foot onto the pieces. 419 blinked once and then sped away.
"We must go, follow me." Saghleekee' said, picking the grass sack up once again.
"Alex, take the rear! Arm yourselves and don't look back!" Pickles trampled over the junk in the rooms and looked out into the hall. His heat vision was still on and there was something moving twenty yards down. "C'mon! Lets go!" He turned around and took the rear with Alex, who was running backwards.
"Raziel," Nikko yelled, "you're too old, get on my back!" The Admiral gave Nikko an evil glance, but jumped on his calf and shimmied up onto the micro-fusion reactor.
"Ah, yeah, this makes me feel real safe!" He exclaimed pulling his magnums out. Saghleekee' twisted and turned in the hallways until they came to a dead end.
"This is one way out, but when ever I passed under it the door must have been three feet thick." Saghleekee' said, placing his hand on the door.
"Size doesn't matter." Alex said. He looked all around the edges. "Saghleekee', look up there in between the seams. Is it gravity assisted, hydraulic, or what?"
"No time to tell, we've got company." Pickles pulled his rifles out and started blazing the hall. Infection forms formed a solid wall as they pushed slowly forward.
"D*mn! Pickles, try to undo the door!" Alex pulled his gun out and activated it. The small corridor echoed with the screech of microwaves. The Flood recoiled and filled up the areas where the field of fire didn't reach.
"Alex, I can't reach! Just get back here!" Pickles tossed grenade after grenade to keep the Infection forms away. Alex went back and looked up.
"Counter weights! Thank God!" He pulled the pin on a frag grenade and set it in the crack. "Fire in the hole!" He yelled covering the Admiral. The pressure wave knocked the wind out of the Raziel despite Alex's huge bulk protecting him from the blast. The door began to lift but stopped two feet above the ground.
"John, Admiral, get out of here!" Alex yelled. Shells flew in all direction from their weapons. John fired his clips dry, then ducked out into the sunlight under the door. The Admiral was not as ecstatic about the idea.
"Son, I'm a soldier and this is what I do, die for my country!"
"Sir, this is not a battle for your country, this is for life, remember, for Megan and your children and grandchildren, for life. And we need every able bodied man to keep his a** ready for war!"
"You had to bring my wife into this!" Raziel said from the other side of the door.
"At the count of three we toss all grenades and try to pick the door up! One, two, three!" The air was filled with the blast waves and shrapnel that pelted the backs of the SPARTANs as they gripped the under-edge of the door. "Heave ho!" Alex grunted. The door came up slowly.
"How the h*ll are we going to be able to hold this if we're gonna be under it!?" Pickles yelled lifting the door up, two more inches.
"Use this!" A voice yelled from the other side. A ship jack got pushed under the door and lifted it clear off the ground. There stood Anna and Squishy, armed to the teeth with the Admiral and John behind him aiming their weapons into the hallway.
"Hurry! Get out!" She screamed seeing the wave of Flood coming back. Alex was the last one out. He fired his microwave gun for one second before Goose blasted the jack out of the way. The door slammed shut with a puff of dust. They were in the field on the other side of the mountain. The small tower of wreckage could still be seen in the trees some distance away.
"Anna, do you have any heavy weapons?" Pickles asked urgently.
"No, this baby was fresh from the impound yard. They stripped it of all of that, there is only the extra suit left that they couldn't figure what to do with. And I think the six hidden IMPACT missiles are still active, but that's it." Anna said strapping her boots back on.
"Squishy, you need to put the extra suit on the Dropship, and wire it for self-destruction." Alex said.
"Why what's going on!?" Anna said loudly. Everyone ran to the black ship and helped put the suit into the Dropship's hold. Goose quickly wired it.
"Anna, get the coupler ready, the Dropship can't accelerate fast enough out of an atmosphere." Goose said, inserting the wire scraps into a field pocket. The ground vibrated slightly. Anna crossed her arms and looked at the sky. "Anna, now would be a good time!"
"What... Is... Going... On???" She said stressing every word.
"The Halo is, the Halo is being activated and if we aren't airporne by the time it activates then kiss humanity and any other life form goodbye." The ground gave a lurch and a super bright beam of light exploded out of the ground miles away casting shadows in the sunlight.
"Anna?" Goose looked back from the beam. Another one appeared in the horizon and across the sky on the other side of the Halo. "ANNA! HURRY THE H*LL UP WOULD YA?" The ship's engines fired up and Goose vaulted inside just as it leaped over the Dropship and coupled on before rocketing into space.
Chell-C appeared on the holo-deck, "Anna, I can't access the Dropship's flight controls, they were damaged and some are just plain missing." Anna pressed buttons and switched switches causing the ship to fish tail, which sent the nose back towards the Halo. "So what does that mean?" She asked jumping out of the seat to equalize the pressure in the back compartments.
"It means that the ship won't be able to guide itself into one of the Phase Pulse Generators on the Halo. Someone has to pilot the ship."
Anna jerked her head around. "That's not going to happen."
"Then the destruction of all life will. We have two minutes and eight point three seconds to destroy the Halo before it is fully activated. And it will take one point eight minutes to reach it with the Dropship's engines." Goose pulled the wires from his pocket and handed them to Anna.
"You can't go, somebody needs to pilot this bad boy." Goose said turning around. A tear slid down Anna's cheek.
"I can't do this!" She yelled.
"Look, this is our purpose, to serve mankind. Even if it means death, now bend the wires into different lengths." Alex said turning around to face the inferno at the center of the Halo. Anna quickly bent the wires with out looking at them the held them out. They were all quickly pulled.
"Why did you have to make me do that!" She said running to her chair and sobbing. Alex, who had pulled a long wire, went to comfort her. Every one looked at their straws. They were all the same length.
"D*mnit, Anna!" Goose yelled throwing his wire on the ground. John looked at the wire he was holding.
"Uh, is it by color?" He asked, scratching his head.
"Anna, the Dropship has uncoupled!" Chell-C blurted out. Every one rushed to the windows lining the walls to see the Dropship accelerate towards the surface of the Halo.

July 4, 2560 (Military Calendar)/
Deployment +7 hours: 36 minutes: 34 seconds
(Master Chief Rune Mission Clock) / Halo
Stolen Covenant Dropship

"Admiral?!" Anna screamed. Raziel looked out at the bright origin of the Halo.
"Don't take this personally SPARTANs." He said over the COM.
"What are you doing?! We need you! Humanity needs you!" Alex said, his voice getting staticy because Raziel was so close the massive energy that built up along the circumference of the Halo.
"Boy, what did I tell you?" He said pushing the throttle to full. His hands shook as he did so. "This is for more than humanity, this is for life, for life to continue, for Megan, my children, and my grandchildren. For you."
"Admiral, come back. The Navy can't afford to lose you!" Aliana choked.
"H*ll, the Navy doesn't need an old coot like me, look, you're all making this hard." Just then the screen on the panel in front of him turned red.
"Admiral!" Someone screamed. A massive plasma projectile flew pass the Dropship and into the Halo. The Ghales Revenge emerged from behind the ice and fired again.
"Let it be humans! Let it be!" A familiar voice yelled over the COM.
"Brethren! This is not of natural doing!" Saghleekee' said over the COM from the SPARTANs ship. The Admiral shook his head and kept his eyes of the Halo, which grew ever bigger in the windshield. The screen turned red again for a split second before it went black and the ship lurched and buzzed with energy as another projectile skimmed it. The hull began to become decompressed as the pressure was lost. A fire exploded behind Raziel. He was thrown forwards into the monitors. He felt something break as he rolled off and onto the floor.
"No! Admiral, get back here!" Anna screamed over the COM. The timer on his watch read twenty seconds. He reached up pulled himself into the chair. Blood spurted from his neck where a piece of wire was lodged.
"Alex," Raziel said in a gurgling voice as his knuckles grasped the yoke aiming the nose of the ship at the Prime Convergence Spire, which was covered with a blinding white light that shot off into space. The swamp had already been evaporated. "Can you do me one last favor?" He asked taking a deep breath.
"Yessir?" He said lowly.
"Tell Megan that I love her. Tell her that I'll miss her." Raziel said diving at the spire.
"Yessir. I will." Alex replied.
"Thank you Alex, SPARTANs, keep fighting... For life. Yippy Keiay mother f*ckers and happy Fourth of July! YEEEEHAWWWW!" Raziel closed his eyes as the wave of neutrons penetrated the microfusion reactor, which imploded with the force of a hydrogen bomb.
Back on the ship, Alex put his right hand across his visor, "Goodbye, sir." The other SPARTANs saluted as well. Saghleekee' got on his knees and began to mumble something while making hand motions.
"No... Admiral!" Anna sobbed with her face in her hands. The fireball grew until a large crack appeared in the Halo, then another. The streams of light dissipated. Chunks of land and masses of ice sped away from the surface as it vented its artificial atmosphere into space. There was a sudden flash as the origin of the massive ring pulled all the chunks of the Halo inwards.
"What the h*ll is going on?" Goose said quietly. The ship lurched sideways as the Ghales Revenge shot at them.
"Humans! You have ruined it, you have destroyed the Relic!" said a voice over the COM.
"They have done nothing wrong!" Saghleekee' said getting off of his knees. "These SPARTANs, these humans, have spared the galaxy, which is more than I can ever say to the entire Covenant race!"
"Who are you? Who is this!" The voice asked.
"It's Anna Cody! And if I had any of my weapons then I would have laid into you a long time ago!"
"Stupid human, our technology is far superior to yours, even your nuclear missiles wouldn't be able to destroy us!" The voice said.
Squishy looked away from the ever-shrinking mass of what was left of the Halo and said into the COM, "Who is this? Is this Griis', Jaka'?"
"Ah, human, we gave you a chance for life, but you have ruined it."
"Bullsh*t, the Halo would have killed me by now, and your super weapon SETA is destroyed, too. And, uh, don't you remember what happened when I used my mind?"
"Foolish human, you never fail to amaze me whit how unadvanced you are, technologically, physically, and mentally. Do you see what is happening, that is SETA's work." Every one looked back out at the small sphere that used to be the Halo. The ice chunks around them began to drift in its direction, slowly tumbling out of their orbits.
"It's doesn't matter, now I shall use my mind powers to immobilized your ship." Squishy said. The SPARTANs gazed in awe as the sphere suddenly exploded with a blazing white light. A wave shot out which sent any nearby ice chunks spinning rapidly. "It's just like a star..." Anna said quietly wiping her eyes.
"Go ahead, human, immobilize us." The voice on the intercom said pompously. All of the ice chunks were rushing towards the small ball now. Every one shrinking and disappearing before it ever got to it. Chell-C activated the small orbital engines to keep the ship from being sucked into the fiery ball.
"I really don't want to." Squishy said switching his frequencies.
"Squishy, what are you doing?" Pickles asked quietly.
"Human, you are bluffing. Prepare to be eliminated." The sides of the Cruiser began to glow bright red as they powered up a full torpedo.
Squishy turned the volume way up over the COM, "Hey, alien. Shazam!" The ship went black and the COM link went dead. It began to slide across space.
"Anna, we need to get out of here," Pickles said, shaking her shoulder. She looked up and saw that the star had not grown but shrank and the nebula was all but gone.
"Right." she sniffed. "We can't make a jump into slipspace until we have charged up, they cleaned the system while they impounded it." She activated the solar cells, which quickly began to gather energy. Ghale's Revenge suddenly lit up again.
"Human, you forget that all of our ships are equipped with emergency power cores. And unless you had enough remote detonated bombs to litter space with then you're 'mind tricks' won't work on this one." Squishy cursed. Anna slammed her fist down on the seat next to her. The last pieces of ice zipped quickly past the ship, occasionally bouncing off its shields and causing a shimmer over the monitors that filled the cockpit. Anna maneuvered the ship so that it faced the Covenant Cruiser head on. Ice had accumulated on its hull.
"Mr. alien, if that Halo was so precious then why don't you find another one?" She taunted. The sides of the ship turned red again.
"You have gone too far this time human, and this time you have no tricks." The Covenant Cruiser sped up on a collision course as the torpedoes gathered in strength along the sides.
"Covenant, it's my Fourth of July and I am going to make my own fire works." Anna said activating the only six IMPACT missiles the ship had.
"Anna, no, their shields are to strong!" Nikko yelled.
"Hmm, emergency power, full speed, and charging torpedoes very slowly. I hardly doubt they have anything left for shields." The SPARTANs looked at the nose of the ship, which grew larger.
"Anna, target the under belly, that's where everything is." Squishy said, pointing at the bottom of the holodeck.
"This is for all you alien b*stards and for Shaw." The IMPACT missile flew from its tube and zoomed across the bottom of the ship until it leaned upwards and tore away at the armor.
"This is for France National Space port... For Smooth talker." Two more missiles were launched and met their targets. The lights on the ship flickered off. Alex leaned over and put his hand on the launch switch,
"This is for Raziel..." The missile sped away and hit the back most part of the Cruiser, which was slowing down. Pickles grabbed the switch next, "This is for the Dallas Cowboys..." The fifth missile zoomed away as the SPARTANS looked at Pickles oddly.
"And this..." Chell-C said before Goose put his hand on the switch.
He flipped it, "This is for mankind." He said. The last missile erupted and buzzed the ship until it impacted the place where the last engines were supposed to be. The fireball dissipated, as did the ship's chance for survival. Escape pods flew out of the sides only to be caught in the micro-star's gravity and pulled away from safety and into the fiery furnace. The ship began to somersault as it fell backwards into the star. Wreckage was pulled from it as it got closer until the SPARTANs could no longer look into the white-hot micro-star.
"Anna, Chell-C indicates that we should get out of here. The core of the star is very unstable." Aliana said, looking at the intensifying brightness.
"Okay, we're fully powered up. Here we go." The strange feeling over came the ship as it entered slipspace. But the field disappeared.
"What happened?" Anna asked looking at the controls.
"The mass shadow of that star is to great for us to make the jump. It's beginning to attract the other star." As she said that, tendrils of gas reached out to wrap around the white dwarf.
"I'm scanning it again, there's a foreign body immensely close to the new star..." Chell-C turned red along her lines. A diagram appeared of a monstrous machine that was hovering three hundred miles off the surface of the star.
"The pressure at that distance is immense and with those new gases, thirty thousand degrees Celsius. I don't get it, every molecule would have been in pieces by now." Chell-C turned blue again as she tried to analyze the data. A second later she said, "It's seems to be unaffected by either temperature or gravity. I can't scan anything more, the sensors are being disrupted." Just then the star emitted a series of pulses of white light that caused the monitors to completely polarize the screen. When they could see again, the star had shrunk even more.
"Let's get outta here!" Goose yelled. Anna turned the ship around and put the throttle on full. The ship slowly pulled away from its orbit around the star.
"We need eighty thousand kilometers for us to be able to enter slipspace." Chell-C said. But then the monitors went black again and the ship lurched horribly. Pickles fell and rolled almost on top of John. The monitors slowly showed the scene again, one that didn't look pretty. The star had disappeared and in its place was a giant disk of nothing.
"What the h*ll is that?" Alex asked getting up.
"It's a black hole," Goose said in awe, "the first ever recorded in birth. It has the mass of every planet in our solar system compressed into the size of a human cell. Sh*t, the sun is going in." Sure enough, the star that had been keeping that Halo warm had swollen as its gasses were sucked into the oblivion, but it too now was slowly moving across space rotating around the black hole.
"Seventy thousand kilometers." Anna said. The sun had begun to decrease in size but intensify in brightness. Soon, the cockpit window had completely polarized the star. The gases vented into space and were sucked into the foreboding vortex of nothing. "Sixty..." the star had been reduced to a minuscule glowing ball which simply slipped over the event horizon and disappeared. "Fifty..."
"Anna, That black hole is...." Chell-C stopped for a second.
"Forty, is what?"
"Is coming after us. And that thing is still.. It's staying just beyond the event horizon..."
"Thirty... Crap, we're decelerating!" Anna flipped switches. "What is that thing?"
"It's SETA..." Squishy said quietly.
"Only twenty thousand kilometers left to go... If we can't go any faster then that thing will over lap our limit and we won't be able to ever enter slipspace!" Anna yelled. The black hole slowly moved across space towards them. The stars behind it bent in odd shapes as they rimmed the outer circle.
"Anna, a black hole isn't a hole..." Goose began.
"I don't care for a lesson in stellar physics." Anna said, stressing over the controls.
"No really, it's a sphere... We've been going on a curved course but... it's a two dimensional sphere... I can't explain it to you..."
"Just shut up, please. Ten thousand, please, please, please!" Anna folded her hands. The ship continued to slow down as its force was counteracted by the immense gravity behind them.
"Anna, use the solar cells to power the engines as they run, that way they won't pulsate as each power cell runs dry." Chell-C said glowing red as she analyzed SETA again. Anna reached over and typed a quick code in. The engines flared and spit and came back with a new life in them.
"YES!" Anna screamed. She activated slipspace, which bent around them.
"We're in slipspace, where to Anna?" Chell-C asked.
"Earth..." She said quietly as a tear slid down her cheek again. "We need to tell them what happened and somebody has to lead the Navy, no, humanity, to final victory."

July 6, 2560 (Military Calendar)/
Deployment +13hours: 45 minutes: 56 seconds
(Master Chief Rune Mission Clock) / Halo
Mars Outpost Naval Headquarters

Hundreds of thousands of refugee stations were floating around earth. Panicked humans from the Inner Colonies had left their planets and returned to earth, some for the first time. Among the asteroid belt between Mars and Pluto lay the largest MAC blockade ever conceived. Three thousand Magnetic Accelerator Cannons lay in hiding, waiting for any sight of Covenant presence for them to be thrown into action. And new ships kept coming in every day to be registered at Mars. But an overall air of hopelessness hung around mankind, their greatest Naval warrior was lost and they did not know it, and so was the human morale.
Goose stepped out of the black transport. His heart was heavy as he opened the door to let the other SPARTANs out. They were all dressed in Combo-1 uniforms and each bore a white rose in their lapel. Alex held the small box Raziel had given him on the Halo.
He felt the pain well up inside of him as he looked at the innocent cottage on the shoreline. Picket fence with a brick walkway, carefully planted flowers on each side. It looked like something from out of a book.
'C'mon guys, lets go." Alex said, stepping slowly toward the house. The door opened and an old lady stepped out. She had a beautiful smile that faded as she looked the SPARTANs' grim composure over. How do you do this? How do you tell a woman whose husband of thirty years is dead? Alex's brain wriggled.
"Good morning, gentlemen." Meagan said sweetly. "What brings you here?" Alex felt something move inside of him. How am I supposed to do this?
"Miss Megan...Brettele..." Alex choked and wiped his eye. He held out the box. The woman looked down and her complexion faded. She took the box slowly. When she looked back up her face was streaming with tears.
"Thank you." She said quietly. "Will you please come in?" She asked hugging the box close to her. Alex swallowed hard and looked back. Aliana and Anna were in tears and everyone else looked wretched. Alex followed her into the picturesque house. There were family photos hanging on the walls. Medals and plaques in frames adorned the living room that they all sat down in. Every thing was old fashion, from the early 2000's. Five pictures of the children and grandsons of the Bretelle's were on the mantelpiece; each had a candle in front of it. Alex remembered how each of their sons, daughters and grandsons had died at the hands of the Covenant. He turned away from the picture to look at the silent old lady. She was in the kitchen, pouring drinks. Alex felt ashamed that he couldn't be as coolheaded as she was. He understood why he and his wife were together for so long.
"Do any of you take lemons with your tea?" She said dabbing here eyes with a napkin. Nobody said anything, only nodded their heads. She brought out a tray of perfect glasses with eight cubes of ice each and the exact level of tea in each glass with an equal sized slice of lemon stuck to it. Anna lost it again and Megan brought a box of tissues over after fetching some for herself. She sat down in a timeworn red chair, which had a blue one just like it next to it, on which the box was placed.
She took a tender sip of her tea and set it down on the table between the two chairs where an old book and a pipe lay. "Hmm. He used to read his book and smoke his pipe every time he came home." She sighed and another tear slid down her cheek. "So..." She said wiping it off. "Who did he give the box to?" She looked around innocently at them all. Alex raised his hand.
"Me, ma'am. He gave it to me." Alex said.
"Then you're a SPARTAN?" She asked picking the box up.
"We all are, except John...And Anna... They were both very good friends," Alex explained.
"I thank you for befriending him... He always thought of you SPARTANs as the family he never saw grow up. He talked about you as if you were his own sons and daughters every time he came home." She wiped her eyes quietly. Aliana and Anna wept freshly again.
"He used to worry about you every time you were dispatched to a mission, used to say things like, 'I hope I trained'em enough' and 'I hope they keep their heads on'... Things like that. The same thing he said about our children and grandchildren..."
"He told me to tell you that he's sorry and that he loves you." Alex said. Megan looked at him smiled and then burst into tears. She couldn't hold it back anymore. The SPARTANs rushed to her side. Tears ran down her face as she pulled the letter free from the box. She cried harder as she opened it.
"P-p-please, s-s-sit down..." She said waving her hand. She read the letter. Smiling at parts, shedding tears all the while. "Alex," she said. "this box is for you, all of you." She said. Pickles leaned out and took the box and handed it to Alex.
"He said do not open it until everyone knows that he has gone to be with Jesus." She said. Alex noticed that the book on the table was a Bible.
"Miss Bretelle, I speak for everyone when I say that as Raziel treated us as his own family; deep down, we felt him as the father we never had. We..." Alex swallowed hard, "we loved him, too. But he is your husband and it is you who should tell everyone," he said.
"No, he told me to, but I'm telling you to do it. People don't listen to a little old lady; they will listen to the saviors of the galaxy. I just pray to God that he hasn't lifted his hand from you yet."

* * * * *
"I can't believe he's gone..." Captain Barella's head hung in his hands. Chief Mechanic Darren punched the wall hard enough to make his knuckles bleed. The SPARTANs had broken the news to the top authorities first and asked them if it was appropriate to let the populace know. It didn't matter. Stories of the ghost fleet of Covenant kept getting stranger. Talk of a new enemy circulated; more people got scared. Suicide was now ranked the number one killer on earth.
"This really helps us... Ya know?" Darren growled.
"Listen, we need to access the emergency alert system." Pickles said
"Why? To alert humanity that their last hope for a Naval success against this ghost armada is dead?" Barella stood up.
"No, to tell them that their last hope for survival rests in their hands and in their heads. Bull crap if mankind every relied on one person. That's only happened once and sure as heck ain't gonna happen again on my watch." Pickles replied. The Captain shook his head.
"Fine, I'm going to bed. To h*ll with life, to h*ll with the Covenant." He walked out of the room. Just then Alex got a beep on his COM, which lay in his pocket. He exited the room for sometime before returning with a grim face. Alex looked at them. "Guys, Miss Bretelle said she wants us to be with her when one of us makes the speech. She said that she has nothing to live for anymore. She wants us to be there when she joins Raziel." Everyone stepped forward to follow Alex into the transport. "You all can't go." Alex said. "Somebody, a SPARTAN, must stay and tell everyone. Nikko? Squishy? Pickles?"
"I'll do it sir." Pickles stepped back.
"Thank you. Here's the box. Open it just before you address us." Alex stepped onto the transport and gave Pickles a thumbs up. Pickles looked down at the box. It seemed awkward in his hands. He approached the briefing room where the automated emergency alert system awaited for someone to enter the codes and sit in front of the broadcasters, which would cut into every human radio and visual channel across the solar system.
Pickles slowly approached the desk, which he sat behind. He slowly undid the clasp that held the box shut. Inside lay various items with numbers on them. He picked up item number one. It was a holo-message cube that activated itself and projected a fuzzy image of the Admiral onto the desk.
"If this message has been activated then I am dead. My full authority is to be transferred over to the SPARTANs, who will lead the Navy. Message end." The figure shrunk back into the box. Pickles put the cube down. He picked up number two. A small message written on paper. "Open # 3 while addressing," it said. Pickles pulled out number three and placed it on the desk and put the box by his feet. He entered the codes and the broadcasters whizzed to life. Pickles looked at them for along time.
"My fellow humans, mankind... It is my solemn duty to inform you of the death of the greatest man who ever lived in our time. Two days ago, on July Fourth, America's Independence Day, Admiral Raziel H. Bretelle gave his life to destroy a Halo and save humanity. He knew that this would send us into deep despair, but he has told us that all is not lost. We still have each other, and one man should not be the decision to your choice of life and death." Pickles picked up item number three and opened it. "Fight for Life," was printed in bold, black letters across the paper.
"Fight for life." Pickles said showing the paper to the broadcasters. "Not for satisfaction in your ego, not for bragging rights, not for yourself. Fight for what you hold dear. Your loved ones... Fight for them. For their lives, not just yours." Pickles put the paper down.
"If one man decided to not fight, he puts the lives of those who fight for him in danger. If we all fought for life, no one could stop us. No enemy, no power, no Covenant, and no human ever has the right to kill. But we all have the right to live and die. To kill in war is not to kill, it is to justify. To justify and eliminate those who do not believe that every living thing, everything that breathes, and everything that ever existed has the right to life. If we are to not fight for life, then what good are we? Are we to just lay down and die when those who love you take up arms to keep you safe from your own stubbornness?
We have always been caught up in petty wars against our nations, colonies, and criminals. But we won't have life to fight for if the Covenant have their way. Admiral Raziel died defending you against the most powerful weapon in the universe. And if you still lay back and say it's all useless and there's no point to life anymore, you can join the Covenant. That's all they do, is try to wipe life out. But not while I have a breath of air and a bullet in my gun, and not while the memory of what he did for you and me back on the Halo haunts my brain!" Pickles looked quickly down into the box again.
"So what do you fight for? Raziel fought for you. Will you at least fight for him? For the memory of the one great man who saved you more than once in many great ways? Give others the right that the Covenant did not give Admiral Raziel." He hesitated. "Life. Yours. Mine. His. Hers. Ours. Fight for life." Pickles pressed the button under his desk. He picked up the last item in the box. It was a mass of heavy glassy cubes that looked like memory blocks for an AI. Our suits. Pickles thought.

* * * * *

After three days of intense recruitment and masses of volunteers, the Navy finally had time to recognize their eight new Admirals. "Thanks to you men and uh, woman, there is no such thing as a 'civilian' or 'military budget'. It's all for the better good and all for life," Barella said.
"Who do you fight for?" Aliana asked. It had become a very common question among mankind.
"Me?" Barella thought, "Well, Raziel, my wife, and my daughter." He smiled at the thought before continuing his inspection of a stack of data sheets. After a thorough inspection of combat experience and military history, the SPARTANs, John, and Anna were sworn as Admirals of the Navy. They were taken to MNHQ deep underground, where only top level authorities resided. Even Captain Barella wasn't allowed below level three, and they were on twelve. They were met by a short woman in full dress uniform with long, blonde hair and high cheekbones with almost white-blue eyes.
"Greetings, SPARTANs, I am Admiral Iorga. You will be taking over ships from mine and my partner's division. We both have battle hardened ships and astronauts from previous engagements... What's so funny, SPARTAN?" She looked coldly at Goose who was snickering.
"Astronauts... I haven't heard that in a long time."
"Really? Space men, then, if it pleases you. Any ways, as I was saying, you all will be taking twenty ships each. You will meet your captains tomorrow before we do a shakedown and drill. Is that understood?" She asked turning around and stopping in front of a door.
"You know, we're Admirals, too." Goose said.
"Indeed, for ten minutes. I've been an admiral for ten years." Admiral Iorga opened the door after a retinal, fingerprint, and voice-pattern scan. "Samantha! They're here!" She yelled across the sea of engineers working on control panels under the supervision of a tall woman whose back was to them.
"And don't look at her wrong, Goose. I've read your record. Eight accusations of verbal and visual sexual assault. She'll have you balls for bearings. She's done it before." Iorga walked across the room.
"She will, man, I'd stay away. She's hard to get." An engineer said from under a panel. Goose stared at the woman in question. There seemed to be something very familiar about her... It wasn't her backside... Not her hair... Then she turned around and both of their mouths dropped as they saw each other.
"You!" She said pointing at Goose. "Where have I seen you from?"
Goose approached her. "How's your stomach?" he asked.
The woman's eyes bulged in shock. "How do you know about that!?" she asked loudly, putting her hand on her waist.
Iorga approached them, and as she passed Goose, she whispered, "Good luck..."
"How do you know about that!?" She asked again. Goose smiled.
"Because, I put you back together." He said.
"You're that dork from the Capitol building, aren't you?" She asked evilly as if he had done something wrong.
"Yes, and I saved you life." Goose said quietly. The woman stared at him for a long time.
"Thank you," she said quietly. Goose thought he saw a smile flicker across her lips. But then the room went dark for a split second before red lights and klaxons activated. "COVENANT CRAFT DETECTED IN AIRSPACE! ALL HANDS TO BATTLE STATIONS!!!! THIS IS NOT A DRILL, REPEAT, THIS IS NOT A DRILL!"
"Shoot! Everyone to the ship!" Iorga screamed.
"Iorga! We need to get our armor; we'll meet you up there. Just don't start the party without us." Pickles winked at her and ran out of the room. They ran through the complex until they got to the specialized room where technicians had restored their armor and added the appropriate insignia for the rank of Admiral.
"Hurry, people, you remember how quickly they finished off those other planets. There's no saying what they're gonna do here." Alex said.
"Except die." Nikko added. They all got into their armor as Iorga contacted them on the COM. "You need to hurry up and get here. We have a hundred and twenty ships with no admirals and Sammi is about to take them over."
"We're coming. Help is on the way," Goose said loudly.
The SPARTANS were trudging down the hall in their MJOLNIR-X armor when Barella pulled them inside a control room where a massive holographic battle field was. Earth lay in the center with its moon. Venus lay in the far bottom right corner with Mars dead center in the left side and the asteroid belt coming from far side and spanning out the top. Every unit was marked with individual dots. MAC guns were blinking as each was activated. Controllers all around were confirming activation and all systems go. Thousands of green dots began to move across the map as ships got into place. Barella pointed to a single purple dot.
"Do you see that?" He asked. "That is a single Covenant Cruiser."
"And?" Pickles asked.
"Do you know what they want?" He asked seriously.
"What?" Pickles eyed the ship precariously.