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Operation False Prophets, Chapter Nine: You Can Run, But You'll Still Die!
Posted By: Ian Barnes<panzerschreck15@netscape.net>
Date: 22 April 2002, 1:58 am

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     John smiled as he released his grip on his old teammate. He wished he had time to have a decent conversation, but he didn't. The ship lurched to a halt as it reentered real space.
     "Random Exit Vector Jump Complete. Calculating course for...?"
     John glanced at his counterpart, and they reached an agreement seemingly without words.
     "Earth." John stated with a confidence Cortana had not seen in some time. It was as if John had finally realized, that from the lion's den, they had procured a tool which could keep the human race from teetering into the abyss, into nonexistence.
     The cockpit turned an eerie green once again as the ship's generators connected a point in space next to Earth, and their present position via a wormhole. The voyage only took a couple minutes.
     When the ship once again lurched to a halt, a bright blue, green and white planet filled the view screen.
     "We're home." John glanced at his counterpart. And was just as ecstatic to see Earth as his friend was.
     John thought he heard Cortana mumbling random equations to herself, but John didn't care. He was safe on Earth, for the moment.
     Cortana sounded off the various identification codes to security outposts, both in orbit, and on the surface. As the Covenant ship descended into the atmosphere, John noticed several immense space stations constructing ships in orbit. They had to be twice the size of a normal Marathon-class cruiser. Hadn't the UNSC figured out that Covenant plasma was just as effective on large ships as small?
     One of the ships seemed to be nearing completion. In fact, a small band of people in space suits floated on the outside of the hull, on a platform extended from the station. A christening. Several seconds later, the party threw their hands into the air and cheered and the platform was retracted. The ship's engines flared to life, just before a pearl-colored film formed around the hull, then disappeared.
     John glanced at his teammate, then back at the ship. Shields. Now the UNSC might stand a fighting chance in space. The Master Chief also noticed the ship had no rotating segments. UNSC engineers had been busy.
     The Covenant ship slowed to a halt as it landed at a military base in Norfolk, Virginia. John unplugged Cortana, and the two Spartans marched out of the ship, and found the nearest officer, and inquired as to where they would find the nearest ONI building. John decided it best to retrieve his precious cargo later, in cryo-sleep, they weren't going anywhere.
     When the duo found the ONI building, they marched inside, and waved their identification at the guard. Strangely, John felt at home, but at the same time, felt like a stranger. He had been away from Earth for far too long. He had been here several times to be awarded medals by Admiral Stanforth, but that was years ago, John wasn't even sure if Stanforth was alive anymore. The answer to John's question was about to make itself known.
     Stanforth, balding and quite aged, stepped from his office into the hallway. John snapped a salute, and Stanforth returned it.
     "Ah, 117, good to see you. We haven't had contact with you for some time. Glad to have you back."
     John used a standard reply. "Thank you sir."
     Stanforth cocked an eyebrow at the other Spartan.
     "And you, 087, pleasure to see you again as well."
     Kelly snapped a salute. John glanced at her, and he realized he felt as if a part of him had been restored. He vowed never to lose her again.
     "All right 117, time to tell me where you've been for the past month."
     John spent the next hour and a half recounting his tales of the trip to Halo, the rescuing of Captain Keyes, the releasing of the Flood, John's escape and trip to the Covenant home world, and his trip back to Earth.
     "Wait, so what of the Prophets?"
     "Admiral sir, they're in cryo tubes inside the Covenant ship."
     "Right, I'll send a squad out there to defrost those bastards and get them into a nice prison cell."
     John smiled.
     "And 087, how'd you get tossed into this mix?"
     John was just as anxious to hear Kelly's tale as was Stanforth.
     "Well, it started when Reach was attacked. I was sent down to the surface to repel Covenant attackers. Many of the Spartans, including myself were there, and we were ordered to defend the reactors which fed power to the Orbital MAC guns. To say the least sir, we failed. As the Covenant ships prepared to glass Reach, all the Covenant drop ships and troops transports were clamoring to get back to orbit, before they were vaporized along with the rest of the planet.
     "Anyway, in the confusion, I snuck aboard a medium sized drop ship, probably able to hold several hundred troops. I tried to round up as many Spartans as possible, but the ones I could locate were either dead or beyond help. I found a ventilation shaft, and stayed in there.
     "What seemed like days later, I felt the drop ship moving again, and I could tell we were passing through a planet's atmosphere. The drop ship landed, and began to unload troops and supplies, I simply assumed the troops had either been reassigned or were on some sort of shore leave. The ship had landed in front of a small bunker, and I waited until night, then went inside. I managed to find what seemed like a mess hall, and managed to hide in there for weeks, I think.
     "I would sneak down for a meal, and surprisingly, Covenant army food is much better than that junk they serve us here."
     Stanforth shot her a glare, but smiled afterwards. Kelly continued.
     "Then, I would sneak back into a ventilation shaft above the mess hall for most of the day. I had almost come to accept the fact that eventually my luck would run out and I would be found. I wasn't sure where I was, and I didn't know what to do. But one day, I was rummaging through food bins, when I started hearing screams. Outside the mess hall, I caught a glimpse of a greenish blur. I followed easily, it wasn't hard to keep up."
     John cocked his head towards Kelly, and she managed a wry chuckle.
     "I decided to follow, but not make myself known, I couldn't be sure it was who I thought it was. Finally, I tracked John to the Prophets' quarters. When he captured them and tried to escape, I was sure it was him, and stowed aboard. Then finally, once we had escaped, I let him know I was there. All in all, I was extremely lucky."
     "Mmmhmm. Very well. You are indeed lucky 087." Stanforth turned his attention to John.
     "By the way Master Chief, whatever happened to old Keyes?"
     John hung his head.
     "Dead sir."
     "I killed him sir, in a way."
     The Master Chief told how the Flood had captured Keyes, and attempted to mutate him into a form capable of piloting the Truth and Reconciliation off of Halo, and how John had risked his neck to find Keyes, and had to kill him in order to reach the access codes used to detonate the Pillar of Autumn, which turned out to be a vain effort in the end anyway.
     Stanforth grimaced. "He was a good man. The UNSC will miss his bravery." John nodded in agreement.
     "Anyway, it's time to get both of you reassigned back out where you can do some good."
     "Yes, sir. What do you have in mind?"
     "Mars. It seems a likely place for the Covenant to strike, destroy our ship yards. But then again, if they find Mars, they find Earth. So on second thought, you and 087 will stay here."
     "Very well sir."
     "I'll have you assigned to the Orbital Drop Shock Troopers division here. They're the meanest bunch of marines you'll find around here, maybe you can toughen them up a little. I'll get someone around here to show you to your quarters."
     Stanforth found a marine who was standing guard, and instructed him to take the Spartans to the nearest apartments. Apparently Stanforth felt that because they were Spartans, they deserved better than plain barracks. John stopped the marine and told him to take them to the nearest barracks. The marine complied.
     John and Kelly walked into the barracks, a single fluorescent light bulb kept the room from being plunged into complete darkness. John removed is helmet and flopped down on a bed. The mattress was rock hard, but John didn't care, it was great to just get off of his feet.
     Kelly simply sat on the edge of the another bunk, thinking.
     John closed his eyes and instantly fell asleep. He was awakened several hours later by the sounds of yelling outside. People giving orders, Warthogs racing past, Pelicans loading up and taking flight. John donned his helmet and ran outside. He caught a marine by the arm, and inquired about the present situation. The marine replied.
     "We're all heading out, going to go kill us some Covenant, sir!"
     The answer wasn't very precise, but it would do. John raced back into the barracks to get Kelly, and they ran to the nearest weapons locker and broke it open. John reached in and grabbed two fragmentation grenades, an MA5B, which housed a grenade launcher, and an M6D pistol. John then decided to take two more grenades.
     Kelly hefted a Jackhammer, with two additional rockets, and like John, an MA5B with a grenade launcher. She grabbed four grenades as well.
     The Spartans didn't need orders. They ran outside and found the nearest Pelican and hopped in. John hoped what he thought was happening wasn't really happening. But if it was, he had an idea how. They had found Earth using some sort of tracer. The Prophets were too important for them to lose, the ship or the Prophets themselves must have been bugged.
     John hoped the new ships he had seen in orbit could defend Earth. He wasn't sure how many there were, but he guessed at least a dozen between the shipyards at Earth and Mars. Coupled with the Super MAC guns, Earth might stand a fighting chance.
     The Pelican lifted off, and its back door closed, sealing the inhabitants from the harshness of space. The Pelican flew into orbit and docked with one of the immense cruisers, which was labeled "Fire of Reach". Nice, commemorating his old home.
     Even now, the MAC guns were being repositioned near some Orbital Sensor Platforms, as they had done many times before. The only purpose of the Sensor Platforms being to shield the MAC guns from oncoming plasma. John looked out a window, and counted twenty Super MAC guns, ten of the new cruisers, and thirty-five destroyers, frigates, corvettes, and several Marathon-class cruisers.
     John looked in the other direction, and one by one, dozens of Covenant ships winked into view. The Master Chief took a deep breath and slapped a fresh clip into his MA5B.