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Annual Award Best Novel This story, Flight of the Phoenix: Book 1, written by Maslab, was voted as the Best Novel of 2009 in the Second Annual Halo Fanon Wikia Awards.


Terminal This article, Flight of the Phoenix: Book 1, was written by Maslab. Please do not edit this fiction without the writer's permission.
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The author of this article, Flight of the Phoenix: Book 1, urges anyone who reads it to provide feedback on the quality of the article. Thank you!


Prologue

Spartan-D339 sprinted behind the rock as plasma thudded overhead. The squeal of an Unggoy was heard as he fished out another clip for his MA5C and rammed it home. He fervently wished that Commander had been able to get the new Spartans their augmentations in time, but funding was short.

A high pitched squeak made him look up. A grunt was on the rock staring down at him, pistol coming around.

Dammit, dammit, dammit.

He pushed off the rock as a bolt burned the grass where he was not a split second before. He spun and put three rounds in the villain's head.

Rising from his position on the ground, he assessed the situation with a practiced eye. He was only 13 years old, but seven years of military training was more than enough to assess danger.

Spotting two nearby ODSTs, he made for their cover.

He rushed over and spotted the Brute hurling a plasma grenade.

"Get down!" He screamed, grabbing the ODSTs pushing them away. The grenade landed behind him, and glowed brighter. There was no time to move.

Hot plasma boiled along his back, cooking skin and flesh, eating him hungrily...

Chapter One: The Egg

0900 Hours, August 5th, 2555 (UNSC Military Calendar)

The young boy jerked awake as the hatch opened, spilling three thousand ten year old boys and girls out on to a large field. Blinking in the early morning hours, they began doing what most six year olds do.

They played, and fought, until a bunch of men brought them under control with glowing rods.

He was spared, not being the playing kind. He never was the playing kind, not since the monsters burned his mommy and daddy...

He was roughly shaken and ordered to watch a man. The man was very direct.

"Greetings, recruits. My name is Commander Damian Lash. You have all been called here for a specific purpose. You are to be Spartans, the best soldiers we can create."

The children shifted, knowing of what he spoke of but not comprehending.

"Each of you has lost someone. Many humans have after the Great War. But you will be given a chance that few humans will ever have. It is my duty and responsibility to prepare you to take vengeance for what you have lost."

Vengeance, thought the young boy. Yes, vengeance is a good cause to fight for. The man continued to speak.

"You will be furnished with the best technology and training that we can provide. I will only be with you for a short while, but in that time I hope that you will begin to show who you will become. Handlers!"

The men with glowing rods shepherded them to a very large building, in which they were each given a small bed and locker. Looking inside the locker he found several uniforms similar to the ones the "handlers" had worn. These seem custom tailored to fit him, which was odd, considering he had never met these strange people before.

After and hour (he was told the time was 1000 now) the handlers fetched them, split them all in to groups, and put them in large, round rooms with seats around the walls facing inward. He took a place at the front of the seats, nearest the center of the room.

A large human, motherly in nature, sprang in to life. The kids shrank back a bit, never having seen an AI before.

"Greetings", said the AI. "My name is The Librarian." The Librarian smiled warmly. "My job is to teach you the history of the human race and other subjects, such as math and science."

For four years their days were much the same. The young boy chose the the name Wings, and he was soon became a great influence in the camp. He made friends, and when the time came to form teams they all joined him, and named themselves Phoenix Team.

Chapter Two: Formation

0900 Hours, November 19th, 2559 (UNSC Military Calendar)

The young Spartans stood at attention out on the parade grounds. Commander Lash was leaving, and they were to receive a new commander.

Phoenix Team was first out on the grounds as always, front and center. Therefore his team got the honor of being first to see the new commander.

A Pelican soared down over the trees as Commander Lash walked to greet the incoming commander. Many of the other Spartans shifted, and Wings glanced over to make sure the rest of his team remained still. They did. Good.

The Pelican touched down, and the hatch opened.

Out marched a giant, encased in entirely in green armor, minus a helmet, which Wings spotted attached to his pack as the soldier turned to greet Lash. Phoenix was close enough to hear the conversation between the two. Thankfully, Lash was good enough to call "at ease". Some of the recruits were rocking on their feet, about to faint.

"I trust your trip was comfortable, errr...", Commander Lash slipped, looking for some semblance of rank on the giant's armor.

The giant filled the void: "Lieutenant. And yes, it was comfortable, sir, thank you"

"Then I trust you are ready to begin your duties?"

"I am."

"Then I hand over the base to you. Good luck in the coming years, Lieutenant."

"Thank you."

The Lieutenant helped Lash and his orderlies with the former Commander's luggage. As the Pelican took off, the orderlies carried away the Lieutenant's small amount of luggage and the giant stood on the platform examining the trainees. They all stared back, awed.

Then the Lieutenant spoke. "My name is Ezekiel-254. I have little to say to you, except that someday, you will be like me. This I know will happen." He glanced around. "I plan on running this camp like a meritocracy. If you do well, you will be rewarded. If you do wrong, then you will be punished. Now, where is Phoenix Team?" His face did not change as Wings and his team took one step forward. "I hear you are the team that came out ahead in the initial education tests."

Did we? Thought Wings frantically. All he knew was that his scored were excellent. "Aye, sir."

"Very well", said Ezekiel. "For this, you will have the first choice of barracks. No go make your decision. Everyone is dismissed!"

All of Phoenix's eyes widened. The purpose of the nearby barracks had made for interesting debate over the years. The children told not spook stories, but more often talked about which barracks they would want if ever they lived there. Shaking with glee, they all yelled, "Thank you, sir!" and ran off to claim their barracks.

While they were examining the barracks, they all made decisions based on their preferences within the group. Itzia and Peec, the medic and computer expert, respectively, didn't care where they go as their specialties did not have terrain requirements. Zero, the long ranged expert, wanted a barracks on a hill, while X wanted a relatively large area. So Wings proposed a compromise. They take a barracks on the border of the woods, slightly farther away from the other barracks while allowing Zero to climb to a high place.

Each barracks was 700 square meters. Five Spartans to each barracks meant that each one had a space of 140 square meters for themselves, the dimensions varying depending on positioning of living quarters and the personality of the particular Spartan.

In each living area that was to be rearranged there was a cabinet of clothing, a weapons locker, and an armor locker that held smaller versions of ODST suits. The weapons lockers were currently empty, but a note on the center table said that the ODST armor was for TTR training, and that weapons would be issued sometime in the near future.

That future turned out to be right the next morning. After getting acquainted with their new living quarters, everyone had fallen asleep or stayed awake playing cards. A favorite was a game called gapatos, a variant of the Spanish words gato, meaning cat, and zapatos, meaning shoes.

When the trainees awoke the next day, they found notes attached to the weapon lockers. X was first to have his locker open, him having the most dexterous hands.

His mouth made a silent "oooh" shape, and he lifted a brand new service pistol in to view. Everyone else had their lockers opened in a jiffy, and the team gathered around the central table to admire the pistols.

Zero ran her fingers along the barrel, examining every surface, and announced:

"Standard fare SM6D pistol. An old weapon made new. Every piece has been re engineered to give maximum power with the lowest possible recoil. The magazine has also been extended to 18 rounds."

X sighted down his. "I wonder how often it-"

"Shut it", Wings broke the conversing.

The call-to-parade-grounds bugle was being called.

They dropped the pistols on the table and ran out, as usual, being the first team there.

Ezekiel was standing there on a small raised platform, waiting for all the teams to join. By the time the last team walked out, yawning and rubbing their eyes sleepily, and stood to attention all of Phoenix's team members were getting dizzy. There is a danger to standing at attention for too long. Locking the knees decreases blood flow to the brain, and causes fainting, so they were beyond relief when the Lieutenant said "at ease".

Wings let out a relieved sigh as he felt blood pour back in to his head, waking him. He looked up, but Lieutenant merely jerked his head behind him and to the left and stated, "follow me", and took off at a run designed to let them keep up.

Grumbling and complaints were heard as all 3,000 Spartans ran after him.

After about half an hour of running, the Lieutenant stopped and lined all the Spartans up along the edge of a valley. He activated a mic set in to the collar of his uniform and said: "There are five things for each team here, in this valley. Going outside the boundaries marked by the handlers will result in disqualification. Go." And then he watched.

Wings first had his team pause and watch. Ezekiel may run a meritocracy, but he knew that the people on top would just have things made harder for them. And they were on top right now...

Dammit. He thought to himself. He's smart so he may have hidden them in hard places for us to find, but he know we're smart and would put them hidden in plain sight.

"Zero, X, you take the depressions and clearings. The rest of us will take the hills. Start south and comb your way forward."


Ezekiel-254 watched the trainees. The corner of his mouth twitched upward, then was stilled.

It was amusing, watch most of the trainees bumbling about, and surely, many of the handlers found hilarity in it.

Then his eyes rested on Phoenix team, and he saw the leader. He asked the orderly for his name.

"He goes by the name Wings, sir. Not sure why."

"Wings on a Phoenix, soldier, can't fly without them, that's why." Interesting, surely he knows my plan.

And surely Wings did. They combed the entire area, and while they weren't the first people back, they were the first full team back.


Ezekiel sat in his office thinking. He had to get Phoenix a challenge. The best work when they get stressed, if they get coddled, then they become weak.

Maybe we should... no, its stupid to consider.

Then he smiled. Stupid could be good. He just had to prove they could handle stupid.


"He wants us to do what?

Itzia let out a small sigh. "Like I said. He wants us to fight Alpha Company in a one way CTF."<

"TTR rounds?"

"Stun."

"Well, at least its more like real ammunition, which is what we've mostly been using at the range."

"Do you have a plan?"

"No, guess I'll just have to hatch one."

Wings stood, folding his hands behind his head, and proceeded to mumble. The rest of the team activated the holo-table and started a game of gapatos.

Over the duration of the game, Wings alternately paced and lay on his bed, thinking.

Almost the instant the game was over, he stood, and went to the holo-table.

"Normally we're limited to our resources in the room, right? Armor and pistol."

"Of course, but how does that help?" Interrupted X.

"The thing is, Lieutenant's breaking the rules, so we need to do the same. Get more resources. Raid the armory."

"And then what?" Peec queried.

"Then we put my other plan in to action."

"Raiding the armory can get us disqualified."

"Giving us a challenge five years ahead of time is grounds for reckless endangerment of personnel, and yet he had to go to another base commander and a Fleet Admiral to get permission. Everyone's rules are breaking. Besides, the only way I can see us doing this is with some extra guns."

Chapter 3: Talons

0200, November 19th, 2559 (UNSC Military Calendar)

"Huh, that was weird."

Wings crawled over to Peec, who was supposed to be working on the lock.

"What?"

"Its... unlocked."

"Well then, lets get in there and take what we can. EMP?"

Peec grabbed a small cylindrical device and tossed it in. He and Wings stood back and waited for it to go off. Contrary to what popular media would have them believe, the EMP went off without a flash or sparkling of electricity. There was just a crackling in the air, and their hair stood on end.

"Go."

Four of them ran in and starting ransacking the place, grabbing explosives, weapons, ammunition, and technical gadgets. Itzia remained outside, on watch. The team had at most two minutes to get what they could before the cameras went back online, and they didn't waste it.

One minute and thirty-two seconds later, they all got out, locked the door, and sneaked back to the barracks.

Once they returned to the barracks the loot was dumped all over and organized.

Wings examined the pile and proclaimed proudly: "Better than expected. Now, here's the plan..."


Zero sniffed and shuffled a little bit. The ghilli suit she had made was uncomfortable. She decided that that was a good thing, the constant prod of a twig or whatnot kept her awake. She blew out a small breath and focused on the scope attached to the sniper rifle that she had purloined and settled down. This was where she belonged, eying her enemy in the face from several hundred meters away.

A primitive old gate slammed shut. Time to take action.

She took careful aim at a dog kennel and fired.

Not a bullet, or even a TTR round. She fired a small canister that contained high-pressure ammonia through the door of the kennel. Traces of another chemical compound contained at the tip of the round were released, dispensing the gas in aerosol form. The gas quickly filled the room, and the dogs were freed of their sense of smell smell. A couple whined, but the handler just shushed them.

Now she loaded the stun rounds, and waited.


"That's the gas, go."

Wings waved his team forward, and X roadie ran to the fence, followed by his squad mates. Pulling a vial of spray-acid, he applied it liberally and tugged.

The fence fell away, silently.

Wings almost grinned as they walked right by the dogs. The genius of his plan lay in its stupidity. With sound-proof walls and no windows, and no sense of smell, the dogs were rendered useless as a deterrent and sensor. Most bases kept dogs due to a recent shortage of motion tracking sensors and spectroscopic cams. As a result, rendering the dogs useless took out a significant portion of the base's defenses.

Now for the hard part. Wings thought, then ordered to Zero, "Hit it."

A bullet shot out of nowhere (Wings told her to set up somewhere and not tell them where) and sliced the cord holding the flag to the pull.

The crack woke the entire camp, who promptly headed for the fence and bunkers.

Once it was apparent that they were relatively safe, Wings flicked a finger forward and charged to the flag.

They had to be quick, or else...

"Oy!"

Dammit.

Wings pounded his feet even harder against the ground, and he and his team flew over the parade ground dirt, scooped up the flag, and kept going, straight ahead.

In his earpiece Zero's voice crackled: "Down, now."

Wings dropped, as did the other three, as 7.56 mm rounds flew over there head, then Zero's rifle silenced them.

Phoenix jumped up and kept running, with X whipping out the acidic aerosol, and covered him while he applied it.

Wings scored three "downs" before he felt a tap on his shoulder, and allowed himself to be pulled through the hole in the fence.

They kept running. Wings took the flag and said, "Split up, we'll rendezvous at the camp.

The nodded and sped off, hoping he could get back safely.

So did he.

He took off parallel to the fence, as dogs began barking. Even deprived of an amazing sense of smell, they still had incredibly acute hearing and sight, and he was swiftly discovered.

Now he sprinted off parallel to his team. It was a two kilometer run, and he had to do it in ten minutes before they got the Pelicans fueled...


Wings was last back to camp, and they could not be happier. They had just outgunned, outmaneuvered and outsmarted forty men who had fought toe-to-toe with the Covenant for years.


Ezekiel smiled as he watched the video from the gun-cams he had placed on the weapons Phoenix stole. Looks like they can handle stupid He thought happily.

One year, then they'll be ready.

Chapter 4: Spreading the Wings

2235 Hours, August 1st, 2562 (UNSC Military Calendar)

"Well, we have come far."

"But actual fighting?"

"We do have to start sometime." Peec sighed and turned back to the card game with X and Itzia. Zero and Wings were having another discussion. Wings wasn't happy with it again. This was understandable, he was the smart one, who did all the planning and leading stuff. Not that Peec was an idiot, he'd worked hard to be the best hacker in camp. That's why he had his name, a mispronunciation of PC, from the old computer from the 21st and 22nd century.

Now Zero was coming to join them, and Wings was pacing.

Peec turned to Zero. "Whats the story?"

Zero scowled and replied "Lieutenant wants us to help an ODST battalion take out a Covenant beta on Zeta-9.

X and Itzia looked up. After the death of Truth the Covenant had fallen in to remission, and begun to actually develop new methods of fighting. Now they had started defensive tactics, building hyper-advanced bases. The good part is that so little experience actually defending left the Covenant using terrible building layouts and terrain location. However, they still possessed ample defenses and arms, and could take a hell of a pounding before being crippled.

Itzia spoke first, "I take it the ODSTs will have the support of the Separatists?"

Zero sat and stared at the frozen mid-air cards. "Of course, you know what this is about."

They knew. A few months ago, the Lieutenant had announced that he was trying to open communications and establish an alliance instead of just a truce with the Covenant Separatists. Most agreed, but still, many had watched Sangheili and some of the other alien species that had joined them burn planets and slaughter innocents. They were only young when it happened, but the memory enhancement drugs had allowed them to remember what happened before they were born. And that was early enough to remember a small amount of time before the Sangheili separated from the Covenant.

Peec had in fact been about to be speared by a Sangheili commando when the call came for them to refute the Covenant and that a truce had been formed with the humans. The commando had gone slack, as if his soul had been burnt out of him. That had given Peec time to leave before a Wraith plasma mortar disintegrated the small, single-floored home where his parents lay, torn asunder.

But Peec had studied Intel of Sangheili culture in his time on ONI servers, and during their studies of Sangheili language and customs from The Librarian, and found that the Sangheili had been fooled, and that this was their punishment, to regain their lost honor. So he could understand and forgive, but he could never forget.


Thel 'Vadam paced the bridge of the Shadow of Intent, as Rtas 'Vadum tapped his fingers against the dormant command chair holo-keys.

Rtas decided to throw caution to the winds and speak his mind, "I still do not think that an alliance with the humans is possible."

The Arbiter stopped his pacing and turned to study the renowned fleet commander. "They are an honorable species. And we are going to be working with some best warriors."

Rtas snorted silently. "That is the problem, Arbiter. When a species puts forward their best, then the other is left with an inflated view of them."

The Arbiter took his words silently, finishing his last few steps to stand opposite to 'Vadum at the control holo-table.

Rtas waited. Finally, the Arbiter spoke.

I agree, which is why we are working with some of the best, the humans call them "Helljumpers". And I believe five of their younglings will be working with them..."

"Younglings!? They let their children fight for them!?"

"These are special. They are young Spartans, and the best they currently have. After the campaign on Zeta-9 I will be with them, watching these warriors mature. If we do not see the best in species, then we underestimate their full potential. Have patience, Fleetmaster, we will see the worst as well as the best in humans."

Rtas 'Vadum bowed his head and concentrated on the diagrams showing the units left until they reached the human planet, and toyed with the Type-2 Energy Sword prototype attached to his leg.

"As you say, Arbiter."


Lieutenant Jacob Forge checked his BR-55 for the fourth time in the last ten minutes. Despite outward appearances, he was awkward about working with Elites. The tattoos on his arms attested to how effective he was at killing them, but he wasn't so sure about working with them. The bastards were the stuff of nightmares. He would know, he had them most every night.

And about the young Spartans who were supposed to be helping them...

Dammit, what was the galaxy coming to? They were supposed to expect help from twelve-year-olds? What could they do? They were Spartans, but they had no combat experience of any kind, and none of the augmentations or armor that made them a real asset.

Sergeant Aqil Hafsa marched up to him. They were currently under the cover of high tech sensor scrambling camouflage.

"Sir, the Spartans are here."

"Thank you Sergeant. Report back to the mess."

Forge let out a sigh and slung his battle rifle. Time to greet the newcomers. He thought.


On the other hand, maybe we're the newcomers. Forge thought dryly as he examined the small figures. They were small, but they were obviously more military in posture and practice than his men, even in the relatively heavy ODST suits they wore. Hell, even Forge didn't stand that straight, or keep his eye from wandering. The design of the ODST helmet prevented anyone from looking around too much without turning their head. And they didn't even twitch. Most of the other ODSTs were coming out of tents and the mess, staring and gesturing. A couple laughs arose, then were silenced as Hafsa shut them up.

All five of them saluted in sync, and the one in the center spoke: "Phoenix Team reporting for duty, sir."

"At ease."

Forge turned and stared at the other ODSTs, who went silent and back to their jobs.

Turning back to the Spartans, he saw that they had adjusted to the at ease stance, but had otherwise shown no other body emotion. Forge could tell that two of them were female and three male by the movement in their hips, but no other indication of personality came out of them.

Perfect soldiers he thought.

"Names."

"Spartan D339."

"D576."

"D1074."

"D102."

"D2552."

Forge let out a small breath. True Spartan rhetoric. Names mean nothing to them, they don't even remember their names. Its just numbers. But he had to ask.

"No actual names?"

"We do, sir, but we prefer to keep them private, if that's not a problem."

"Its not, Crewman. Report to you quarters. Dismissed."

"Yes, sir."

They marched off, and Forge release his breath, then realized how relaxed he felt. Their presence had made him tense. He wasn't tense taking on three elites but these little children made him nervous.

Glad no one could see him shivering in his suit, Forge went to his quarters.


"Fleet Master, we're exiting slipspace."

'Vadum nodded towards the navigation officer, and space bent back in to reality.

Zeta-9 was in view. A small, green planet, very much like the old versions of Earth that 'Vadum had studied in the Covenant temples when being initiated as a warrior of the Prophets.

His came out of his reverie to the beeping of his com. He opened it. "Yes?"

It was the Arbiter. "Phantoms are prepared for departure. Are we close enough?"

"Yes Arbiter, proceed with launch.

'Vadum closed his com and leaned back in his chair. The Arbiter and his team would destroy the base's shields, then the Shadow of Intent would fulfill its duty.


Ipla 'Ihpor slid his hand forward on the throttle and grabbed the flight handle. Easing the ship forward, he took his Phantom smoothly out of the hangar, the first of three. The Minor Domo felt honored that he should be the pilot for the renowned Arbiter.

A light on the com beeped, and 'Ihpor opened a channel.

"Yes?"

"This is Sergeant Hafsa of the UNSC, please identify yourself."

Here we go. "Minor Domo Ipla 'Ihpor of the Separatist forces, from Carrier Shadow of Intent."

"Ah, good, you're here. Sending landing coordinates."

Not half a second later a list of coordinates flickered across the screen, and 'Ihpor started bringing the ship down. There was a lot of turbulence and some flashes as the ship broke in to the atmosphere. Then the ship broke the cloud cover, and landed among a grove of trees, with a lot of humans in black suits and five shorter ones out in front.

'Ihpor landed and headed to the rear troop compartment. Reaching out, he activated the grav beam, which the other Sangheili would use to exit the ship.

As they descended, 'Ihpor glanced to the rear of the compartment and felt his skin crawl on his back. The last one out of the Phantom was a black armored Sangheili warrior, with two Type-2 Energy Swords attached to his legs and a Type-51 Carbine across his back. But his most notable feature was his skin. It was a pale white, and his eyes had a tint of red, giving his eyes a naturally piercing stare. And 'Ihpor knew this particular Sangheili. Most Sangheili knew him.

His name is Autel 'Vadam, the son of the Arbiter, The Healer of the Schism.

'Ihpor sighed, a rare thing for a Sangheili warrior, and went back to the pilot's seat after Autel went down the grav beam.


Wings slapped his modified ODST helmet on, and the HUD flickered to life, first running a quick diagnostic check, then activating Vital signs for him and his team, as well as basic shielding, which worked about half as well as MJOLNIR Mark V armor. It wouldn't stand much, but it would give them a second or two more to get in to cover, and to drop the enemy. He grabbed two M2 Submachine Guns, and his BR55 Battle Rifle. He magnetically attached the SMGs to his thighs, and did the same with the BR across his back. He ended with his service pistol, the SM6Dm which went at the small of his back, well below the end of the BR barrel, easily accessed by his right hand, less so for his left.

After some adjustments to armor and weapons, Phoenix marched out on to the parade ground, where the rest of the combined forces were making ready.

Things between the Elites and humans had been uncomfortable, and even bordered on violence, but so far, everything was safe.

Wings left his team to stretch and wake up some more and reported to the command tent. He was annoyed by how all the ODSTs didn't trust his team to do their part, and yet they still looked up to them.

But still, he was considered the ranking CO of one of three branches of military in the region, so he got to help plan the assault.

The command tent was situated near the edge of the grove, overlooking a cliff that gave an excellent view of the Covenant base. Several high-powered telescopes had been set up, which the Arbiter and Lieutenant Forge were using at the moment.

Wings marched up to the CHT, Command Holo-Table, and saluted. "Spartan D339 reporting as ordered, sir."

Forge and The Arbiter turned, Forge giving a human salute, and the Arbiter curling his enourmous hand in a fist over his heart. Or at least, where the heart would be on a human.
Surprisingly for the Arbiter, D339 responded with the Sangheili gesture. His mandibles clicked respectfully.

Forge gestured. "At ease, Corporal."

Wings relaxed and examined the CHT. Using the most powerful imagers and 3D rendering, it displayed a highly detailed base, which was quite large. He noted the refineries in the Northeast quadrant, as well as the buildings that looked like they might be barracks just south of them.

The Arbiter walked over to a corner of the room and conversed with another Sangheili, a pale one with black armor. Wings decided to meet him later, and turned his attention back to Forge, who had begun explaining what the buildings were. Turned out Wings was right about the barracks and refineries, and Forge pointed out the central command post an the Vehicle and Aircraft Depot.

"We don't have much of a plan as of yet, so any input is welcome. We have 100 Commando Sangheili, 300 ODSTs, and your team, Corporal. And we're up against an unknown mix of about 500 Covenant troops, although we have confirmed that only four Hunters exist, and one Brute Chieftain.

Lights popped up on the map, showing predicted defensive positions and relative strength numbers.

Wings walked around the map, examining everything, and stopped when he reached the refineries.

"We can use these."

"No, we can't, the fuel isn't explosive."

"Arbiter."

The Arbiter turned from his quiet conversation with the pale elite.

"Yes, Spartan?"

"When you were learning about the intricacies of basic Covenant bases, did they ever mention exhaust or drainage for their refineries?"

"No, we were told not to worry about the details of Forerunner technology. Why do you ask?"

"Because those refineries produce more than twice the energy of a Havoc Plant, and all the excess fuel and unused energy has to go somewhere. I propose that Phoenix and a squad of Commando Sangheili find the drainage or exhaust. If its on the exterior of the base, then our job will be much easier."

Forge just looked skeptical, but the Arbiter nodded and turned to the Pale Elite in the corner.

"Autel, take your team with Phoenix, find the exhaust, and help them with whatever plan this Spartan has in mind."

Autel saluted Sangheili style and walked out of the tent. Wings turned back to the table and said:

"Here's the plan..."


Phoenix and the Sangheili's boots splashed in to the toxic waste, and Wings was glad that their toxic filters were working. The damn things had been faulty ever since a crazy training session at a radioactive materials refinery.

They two teams continued their way up the drainage pipe, coming across what must have been the Covenant equivalent of gratings, round plasma shielding. There was no way they were getting through those, so it looked as if they'd be swimming in plasma for a minute.

The end of the pipe finally came in to sight, and the teams saw an intricate system of pipes, with one of them constantly leaking a sickly green, viscous fluid.

"Must be a neutralizing cell, to reduce the toxicity of the drain-off." One of the Sangheili input.

X leaned down and took some in a bag for analysis. "I'd tend to agree, sir," he said to Wings, "The Covenant are known not care too much about their exposure to radiation. Plasma grenades are basically small nukes, just heat and radiation."

There was a sickly gurgling sound, and one of the pipes opened, and both teams pressed themselves against the walls in an attempt to get away from the blue slime that gushed from the opening.

A few minutes later, the rush subsided, and they climbed over the pipes. As the last Sangheili climbed up on the pipes another flood started.

A 90 degree bend upward in the pipe halted forward progress, so they repelled down to an upper catwalk. Looking down, they saw machinery chugging away, and various materials being processed until they finally ended by being pumped up to a large final refinery just below them. Pipes coming from this final stage pumped the fluids out over the base, and the useless, and used, residue was discarded through the drainage pipe they had come in.

Rappelling down off the catwalk to the floor, they exited through the door and in to the main base.

Noise and all different shades of violet surrounded them. Off in the distance, 800 Covenant soldiers moved to defensive formations.

Zero climbed to a ledge while the rest fanned out below her. She snapped the bi-pod out on her anti-personnel rifle and gazed in to it.

Down on the ground, the rest of the team received the video feed in the form of a small screen in the top left of their HUD. While most ignored it and only occasionally took a peek at it, Wings examined it with all of his concentration, examining every pixel as Zero panned across the base.

Wings spotted barracks, depots, even the areas of forest that the combined UNSC and Separatist forces would charge from, but nothing that looked like a reactor or any other power plant.
Dammit. We've got two hours and 7 minutes to shut this place down, and we don't even know what to shut down. Damned religious fanatics...

Wings snapped up straight, and was almost spotted by a passing Brute. Ducking back down quickly, he talked to Zero over muted team-com. "Zero, find the temple."

"Yessir."

The view panned faster until it settled on a small but awe-inspiring building. Its curved architecture lending the rays of the falling sun a frightening beauty. Wings examined the building, amazed at the wasteful design of it, thinking that he could probably design two more buildings out of the extra material. And jutting out of one end and sticking in to the ground were two fluorescent blue pipes.

Wings set them as a way point marker. Purple building ledge over it, impossible to see from satellite. Since no infrared had picked it up, the reactor was either near the surface with extreme cooling, or incredibly deep.

Autel walked over to Wings, knelt next to him, and decloaked.

"This is the target?"

"I believe so. Where else would religious fanatics hide something the base couldn't live without?"

Autel held up a hand, two fingers out. The rest of his Elites moved in to position to make for the temple. A short command from Wings and the Spartans did the same.

Autel examined Wings for a minute. When Wings just stared back, he said, "I hope you're right, human. It will mean many deaths if you are not."


Gaining entrance to the temple was easy. Killing the two dozen grunts inside without raising the alarm proved impossible.

The two teams raced toward the grav lift, as teams of Covenant swarmed in to the temple.

The grav lift caught them and they shot straight down, just as plasma sizzled towards them, slapping on to the glass-like material the Covenant used as windows.

Wings breathed a sigh of relief and fished out another mag for his empty battle-rifle.

As the lift slowed, the team got in to flanking position. The instant all movement was halted, they poured out in to the room and spread out in to cover. Wings relaxed as his eyes adjusted fully and settled on a typical Covenant reactor. He waved X and Itzia forward. X jogged to one end of the large, glowing contusion and starting rigging micro-nuclear charges, while Itzia guarded him, shielding his body with hers.. When set off, these charges would be enough to eradicate at least half the Covenant troops and most of the base.

X finished his work, and stepped back, just as the grav lift let out a soft "bing", and out poured a wave of grunts.

They screamed and fired, several bolts splashing against Itzia's shields, which failed as she fired and rolled in to cover.

Wings just fired in to the oncoming horde of gas-suckers. He aimed for the center of mass, which, unfortunately for the grunt, happened to be right at their heads. If the bullet went high, it would likely hit a methane tank. Low and it would hit a throat or chest, knocking the bastard back the way he came and slowing their advance. The Elite's weapons wrecked even more havoc than the humans. The super-heated bolts over pressurized the methane, causing a large explosion.

So even though the 10-man squad was under attack by around 30 grunts, they mowed them down in but ten seconds.

Autel paused as they headed back for the lift, and turned to Wings. "What now, Spartan? They will undoubtedly be waiting for us where we came in, and even we are no match for several dozen Jirahalhanae." His tone was not one of disrespect, but more of one asking a young student a complex question in a strategic struggle.

Wing's left corner of his mouth twitched upward, behind his mask. "That's why we go up and out."


The faces of the Brutes as they whizzed by were ones of shock and amazement. Wing's lip twitched upwards again. They didn't have much time. X already had the shatter charge ready. As soon as the lift stopped, he threw. It stopped against the wall, paused for a second, then detonated. Shatter charges were specific charges that were preset to cause a material's molecular bonds to shatter, thus causing the material to shatter as well.

The team sprinted across and jumped, ten, twenty meters to the ground, where they promptly hoisted themselves up again.

Wings checked the timer. They had 4 minutes and 42 seconds to get out the way they came in.

And they had less than that, if the Brutes spilling out of the doorway behind them had anything to do with that. The team sprinted across the grounds to the entrance of the silo.
Autel was first, and halted to turn back and spread covering fire over their heads. Wings was last to the door, and he and Autel slipped through and locked it before the spikes and bolts reached them.

They climbed the ropes they had rappelled in on, and raced down the catwalk. Down below them, the door burst open, and Covenant troops poured in. They milled around for a bit before spotting the ropes and checking the catwalks. By that time the Commandos had entered the refuse shaft.

Wings checked the countdown, just as it clocked at two minutes.

He dropped down in to the pipe and sprinted out in front of the rest, Autel just behind him.

They were halfway down the pipe when a loud sloshing noise was heard.

Wings ordered the rest to keep running and turned to observe what was going on.

All the emergency hatches had opened, and a pure acidic tsunami was raging down towards them.

Wings turned and ran, ordering the others to run as fast as possible.

Most of them made it out easily and braced themselves on either side.

Wings felt the liquid bearing down on him and pumped his tired legs even harder, lactic acids dripping through them. He was two feet from the end of the pipe when a three fingered hand reached out from in front of him and grabbed him by the throat.

The hand pulled him out of the tube even faster than he was running and slammed him against the wall. He immediately grabbed a handhold and watched the acid pour out in to a concealed drainage ditch, which immediately overflowed.

X breathed in to the mic, "3... 2... 1..."

A sun erupted on the opposite side of the wall, and an earthquake dislodged the team from the wall and threw them to the ground. One of the Elite's foot dipped in to the acid river, and he pulled it out as fast as it went in, wincing as the acid burned through his flesh.

Itzia and the Sangheili medic rushed to help him, pouring a base solution over the wound and cleaning it before filling it with biofoam and wrapping it up.

Wings gathered his squad. "Report."

Itzia spoke first. "Besides the acid burn, the only other injuries were a minor plasma burn to Zero's back and a twisted ankle on my part. We're both fine."

Wings nodded and turned to Peec, who was coordinating with Forge and the Arbiter.

"Yes, the reactor was successfully blown. Estimate almost 40-50% casualties on the Covenant part. No casualties here."

He looked up and spotted Wing's helmet turned toward him. "Forge wants us to rendezvous at the edge of the forest, via a roundabout route."

Wings nodded, and after confirming the orders with Autel, the combined teams moved out. The elites provided a forward guard, as they had a superior camouflaging system, and Phoenix team followed close on their heels. Before long they reunited with the ODSTs and the Separatists.

Forge nodded as Wings crawled up next to him.

"Teams are in position. We are set to go."

Phoenix hefted their weapons. "Not without us, sir."

"Then get down there and kick some ass."

Phoenix and Autel's teams fanned out and moved to the front, where ODSTs were holding a dogged line at the few remaining Covenant troops. The arrival of two SpecOps squads boosted morale among both of the allied factions, and they fought even more determinedly. Wings led Phoenix team up the left flank, and Autel, the right.

Wings saw a squad of ODSTs come under withering fire, and he forged his way to them. A jackal got in his way, and he reached out and batted the shield away before emptying the rest of his clip in to the creatures abdomen.

Suddenly incoming fire heated up, the enemies recognizing him as a threat worth taking down. Ahead Wings saw a group of ODSTs cowering behind a bunker of rocks.

You've got to be kidding me...

Spartan-D339 sprinted behind a rock as plasma thudded overhead. The squeal of an Unggoy was heard as he fished out another clip for his MA5C and rammed it home. He fervently wished that Commander had been able to get the new Spartans their augmentations in time, but funding was short.

A high pitched squeak made him look up. A grunt was on the rock staring down at him, pistol coming around.

Dammit, dammit, dammit.

He pushed of the rock as a bolt burned the grass where he was not a split second before. He spun and put three rounds in the villains head.

Rising from his position on the ground, he assessed the situation with a practiced eye. He was only 13 years old, but seven years of military training was more than enough to assess danger.

Spotting two nearby ODSTs, he made for their cover.

He rushed over and spotted the Brute hurling a plasma grenade.

"Get down!" He screamed, grabbing the ODSTs pushing them away. The grenade landed behind him, and glowed brighter. There was no time to move.

Hot plasma boiled along his back, cooking skin and flesh, eating him hungrily...


Peec saw his leader go down and radioed over the still open SpecOps mic, which allowed Phoenix, Autel, and Forge to hear everything.

"D339 is down, repeat, D339 is down at the left flank, bunker rocks! Get over there, Spartans!"

Technically Zero was the second in command, but none of them cared. Phoenix team, along with Autel's team, blazed a trail to the Bunker rocks.

Forge's voice came over the radio. "Medevac is on the way, just hold them off and get him stable."

Incoming fire slowed as the eight ODSTs in the bunker joined their fire with the incoming SpecOps, and routed the nearby enemy forces.

Itzia raced to Wings, who was already being treated by the ODST squad medic, and shoved him away, telling him to get back to fighting.

The man began to argue, but the presence of the other three Spartans told him it would be wise to do as the little girl said, and picked up his rifle.

Itzia hurriedly got Wings stable. "He's unconscious, but he'll live, provided we do. She looked around. One ODST was dead and three more were injured, so she treated them as well.

Autel cast a look over his shoulder at the body of the injured Spartan, and asked the "medic" about him as he returned to the business at hand.

"Will he live?"

She let out a small breath. "Yes, if that medevac reached us in ten minutes. If not then his chances fall geometrically. He has burns over 40% of his body, with a high dose of radiation to boot."

Autel growled. He remember his youth, when he watched dozens of young and promising comrades slaughtered. He would make sure this one lived.

He clicked his mandibles and slapped a new cell in to place in his carbine.

Chapter 5: Raised From Ashes

1347 Hours, August 3rd, 2562 (UNSC Military Calendar)

His head exploded in to pain, and he arched his back reflexively, before he realized the pain was in his back.

He lay back flat and listened for a bit.

"That's the seventh time he's done that, I think the burns may be affecting his nervous system."

"Not deep enough, it has to be the radiation."

"Plasma burns can leave odd holes that bore deeper than the rest, especially Covie plasma."

"EEG is changing, he's awake."

"Dope him up."

Wings heard a click, and then relief spread through his body, and he opened his eyed.

The room he was in was a large medical bay back on the Spartan fortress world. He was currently the only patient. No other Spartan team was in active duty, yet.

His eyes fell on the rest of his team, and a corner of his mouth twitched.

Itzia was at the MRI scanner. "Welcome back."

"What's happening?" He asked as he stood and allowed her to slather antibiotics on and get a new bandage in place.

"Nothing much, you've been out for two days, though."

Wings walked gingerly. Most of the pain was gone, but he knew that no amount of surgery, artificial skin, or dermacortic steroids would ever erase the scars.

X was next to speak. "The Sangheili decided to move in. They're setting up camp as we speak. Apparently its to be grounds for one of their own SpecOps training facilities."

Wings stiffened his ankles, and his heels rose off the floor. Dropping down to the floor, then repeating the movement several times to stretch his aching limbs, he replied.

"Good, lets go see what's going on." And marched out the door. The rest followed closely.


There was a small no-mans land between the two camps, which was marked by a ten yard wide stretch of green grass.

Phoenix strode in to the Separatist camp, and examined the odd architecture of the buildings.

Plenty of passing Sangheili, both in and out of armor, gave the humans funny looks, but trusted them enough to not cause any trouble.

They worked their way through the camp until they reached a building resembling a temple, with slightly more decoration and size to it, it managed to stand out among the rest.

The team entered, and inside was what would amount to a public reception hall.

The place was decorated sparingly, and as Phoenix Team examined the few alien artifacts, a door binged open and through it stepped Autel 'Vadam.

He was garbed in a dark blue robe that contrasted sharply with his pale skin, and offset his eyes, bringing out the red even better than his armor. A dormant Type-2 energy sword was magnetically held to his leg.

Wings noticed something that had been impossible to see when Autel wore his helmet: two parallel scars, nearly identical, along his cheek.

Autel clicked his mandibles and approached the Spartans.

He acknowledged them, then turned to Wings. "Would you join me? We must talk."

Wings nodded, and had Phoenix wait for him. He followed Autel in to another room, one more comfortably designed. Autel sat on one of the many chairs in the room, and bade Wings to sit as well.

Picking a seat across the table from Autel, Wings shifted uncomfortably for a second before turning his attention to the strange Sangheili before him.

Autel wrung his thumbs together for a minute, before stating, "You have an incredible ability, Spartan."

Wings was perplexed. No one had ever told him he was in any other way special except that his team was probably the best since Blue Team.

"What is that?"

"You know things. Intuition, I believe the word is in your language. You see things about your enemies that others do not, because you see what your enemies are. You understand them to the point that you could quite literally become them. That is what makes you special, besides an innate ability to lead. Combined, this will make you a great warrior."

Wings thought this over. Come to think of it, he had to agree. After all, no one else had ever found a reactor in a Covenant base before.

Autel bowed his head. "Randall-037, UNSC Service Number 39202-45078-R0."

Wings stared. He recognized that service tag. Searching his memory, he remembered that Randall had been a Class I Spartan II, and had been considered one of the few Spartans to actually be MIA. He queried Autel on this. The Sangheili shook his head.

"Randall-037 was killed in action by six Lekgolo, after slaughtering four other with nothing but his hands and a pole. I witnessed his execution."

Wings deflated somewhat. No one had known what happened to Randall. "When did it happen?"

"In your year? 2551."

"Why are you telling me this?"

"Because he deserved better. He was a seasoned warrior, but far from being past his time. He was tortured and executed because he did what every other human did: fought for the survival of his species. And after I witnessed a mass slaughter of Sangheili recruits by Jiralhanae aboard Stoic Courier, I told myself I would help any warrior I deemed worth the effort.

"You, my friend, are worth the effort."

Chapter 6: Making the Connections

1630 Hours, August 1st, 2562 (UNSC Military Calendar)

Wings mulled over Autel's words in his head. He had learned much from the elite, and he now trusted him with his life. But Autel's reasons for helping him were still not complete.

Phoenix was woken from their thoughts by the PA, ordering them to report to the Lieutenant's office.

They rose and double-timed it across the parade grounds, and entered Ezekiel-254's office. The older Spartan looked tired, shuffling paperwork, but his eyes brightened when they marched in and saluted. He rose and returned the favor. "At ease."

As Phoenix assumed the at ease stance, Lieutenant Ezekiel sat back down and pulled out five readers, and handed one to each member of Phoenix Team.

"We just got the green light for the first round of augmentations. You'll be having one round per year, for six total rounds. Your team is first up. You leave tomorrow at 0800. Dismissed."

This was good news, good enough for Wings to push his other worries to the back of his mind.

Chapter 7: Growth

1000 Hours, October 12th, 2567 (UNSC Military Calendar)

Every Spartan felt their best that day. The final round of augmentations had completed two months ago and their training in the new Mark VII MJOLNIR powered armor. It combined the aesthetics and function of the Mark VI armor with the SPI armor used by the Spartan IIIs. However, the fusion plant on the back could only power shields or the active camouflage, not both.

Ezekiel-254 stood. "Flechette, Lotus, and Tesudo team, come forward."

Twelve Spartans in full gear minus the helmet stood forward, with a great wyrm emblazoned on their backs.

Ezekiel looked them over. "For great commitment to a cause and for great skill, I award each of you the Spartan Honorable Training Decoration."

The Spartans thanked him and went back in to line.

"Hawk team, come forward."

Five Spartans strode to the front.

"For rising to a great challenge and mastering numerous skills, I award you the Spartan Honorable Unit Decoration."

The Spartans thanked him and took their place.

"Phoenix Team, come forward."

Wings stepped forward with the rest of his team.

"For incredible commitment, mastery of skill, and exceeding all possible expectations, I award you the Spartan Top Honors Decoration."

Phoenix thanked him and got back in to line.

Ezekiel-254 looked out at all 3,000 Spartans, each one decked out in the most advanced weapons and armor the UNSC could afford.

"Today you officially become Spartans. But you are not just now Spartans. You became Spartans when you first watched your planets burn, your families slaughtered. You became Spartans when you chose to fight.

"You have been chosen to serve, but you chose to fight. We have made you the best we could make you, but you made yourself better.

"Now go forth proudly, and fight for whatever cause you believe in!"


Wings sat on the Pelican seat, which was inbound to the super-carrier Advent.

It was two hours after the graduation, and already most of the Spartans were being called to duty. Phoenix Team was being transferred to the Advent to meet up with another Spartan team and Autel's Commandos.

"Phoenix, thirty seconds to deck."

"Aye aye."

Thirty seconds later the Pelican settled gently onto the ground and Phoenix Team grabbed their gear and hopped out.

Wings dropped his pack next to another, specially marked Pelican. Another Spartan approached him, the leader of Hawk Team, Spartan D683.

D683 saluted. "Petty Officer Second Class D683 reporting for duty, sir."

Wings returned the salute. "Where's the Captain?"

"On his way down, I believe. I think he's protesting having Sangheili on board."

This was made evident when Autel and his commandos approached the assembled Spartans, when a couple dozen ODSTs around the hangar shifted and fingered their weapons when they spotted the Sangheili.

Autel walked up to Wings, and twisted his fist over his first heart.

Wings repeated the gesture, and for an instant, there was a hint of a smile on Autel's face.

"Greetings, Spartan. I trust you have been well?"

"Yes, thank you. Do you know why we're here."

Autel activated a holo-pad and a planet popped up.

"In your language, this is Alpha-Alpha-Golf. The atmosphere is fair enough for breathing, but the climate is dry, so we will require humidifiers. Terrain consists of flat plains broken up by mountain ranges."

"What's the objective?"

"Get behind the enemy front and disrupt supply lines. Combined Marine and Separatist forces are holding at a small ridge with plenty of cover. They should be able to hold for a long time, but the prisoners don't have a long time. The good news is that the Covenant forces are throwing everything they have at that ridge, forcing extra shipments of energy cells from base. We destroy the cells, the Covenant forces at the front become crippled, allowing our forces to push through to the base and initiate an artillery barrage."

Captain Warren strode up, giving the Sangheili a slight berth, and approached the two Spartan team leaders. The rest of the Spartans were beginning to get acquainted with the Sangheili Commandos, and an argument over blitzkrieg tactics began.

Wings and D683 saluted Warren, who returned the gesture. Ignoring Autel 'Vadam, who's gaze bored in to the back of Warren's head, he questioned the two Spartans about their mission. When D683 finished describing the objectives, Warren leaned in.

"I know you might think these... things are here to help, but don't trust them. Their minds are only on violence. Do you understand?"

Wings and D683 responded in kind: "Sir, no sir."

Warren's eyes flickered, then he harrumphed and marched away.


The Pelican ride down was pleasant enough, with the Spartans and Commando Sangheili continuing their discussion on warfare tactics.

Wings and Autel sat across from each other. They hadn't talked since the Spartans had begun their augmentations, and Wings wanted to talk to him.

The on board channel opened. "Five minutes to dirt."

Wings replied. "Roger that. Prepping for dirt."

The Commandos lept out three meters above the ground and landed, hard. The Pelican dropped down to a few centimeters off the ground, to allow the ground crew to unload weapons and ammo.

Wings made sure everything on him was secure and then stood at attention to greet the approaching Captain.

He saluted. "Phoenix Team reporting for duty, sir!"

Forge returned the favor. "As you were. Its good to see your team again, after Zeta-9. Sergeant Hafsa will show you to your quarters. Once you've stowed your gear, head to the armory, the quartermaster got a special shipment for you."

A plasma mortar sailed over some trees, and silence ensued, until it burst against a trunk, and marines dove left and right. One man got a two foot splinter through his leg, and a medic rushed to help him.

Phoenix followed the Sergeant over to a camouflaged tent, wherein they found the usual military quarters, with small lockers to put their equipment in.

Wings locked his stuff in the locker and left for the armory. He looked up to the top of the ridge, and saw ODST's and a couple Sangheili firing steadily down at unseen targets. The targets were all to happy to return fire, and plasma boiled over the edge and up, but no one even came close to being hit.

The armory was a relatively small affair, and the quartermaster, a grizzled corporal, handed him the package.

Zero looked up as Wings reentered and examined the parcel. It was knew, solid casing, completely bulletproof. He opened up the keypad and typed in his identity, then pressed his thumb to the pad, and it opened.

A chip lay inside, which Wings recognized as a neural interface. He plucked it out of the foam casing and slotted it in to the back of his helmet.

A feeling like cold mercury filled his head, and he instantly felt more alert.

"Mil AI DPO 6183-2 online. Greetings Spartan D339. I am Deep Ocean."


The sneak through the jungle was uneventful, and Wings was given time to examine the numerous green plants. It was odd, all these plants alive, and yet almost no humidity. The plants themselves may be like sponges-

"Here we are."

Wing's head swung forward, and he spotted the obvious signs of hover technology. Flat dirt, not rough like erosion would have made, but flat, unbroken earth.

"How long until the next convoy?"

Autel checked his chrono. "Unknown. Satellites say they move through every 2-4 units, I suggest we rest until then."

"Agreed."


The convoy appeared two clicks out about half an hour later. By that time the ten Spartans and six Sangheili were ready to spring the trap.

The convoy was made up of four Shadows, with a Prowler leading and another following. Jiralhanae filled the Prowlers, and the bellies of the Shadows were carrying blue energy cells.

Wings held up his fist, and the commandos shifted, preparing to dive in to the fray.

The second shadow and Wings activated and tossed a fragmentation grenade in to the driver compartment. A loud scream was heard, then there was a flash, a whump, and gore sprayed out of the sides.

Zero and the two snipers fired, and the Prowler gunners dropped, hanging over the sides.

Another sniper volley and three Shadow gunners fell. By now the other Commandos were up and firing. Wings and another Sangheili concentrated on the fourth Shadow, who fell less than one second after the rest.

The Jiralhanae on the sides of the Prowlers leaped out, along with the driver in the rear vehicle. The driver in front gunned his vehicle, which popped up over the bank to make way for the front Shadow, the others being trapped behind the second one in line. Unggoy struggled to hop out of their seats as the Commandos engaged the Jiralhanae.

Peec sprinted and latched on to the lead Shadow. He clambered to the front, stuffed his SM6D in to the driver's face, and pulled the trigger.

X ducked a spiker blade swings and slammed the butt of his shotgun in to the Jiralhanae's gut, who staggered backward. He fired from the hip and the large gorilla dropped, bleeding from a dozen holes.

Zero whipped out her M7S SMG and fired a sustained burst in to a charging Brute, taking out his shields and riddling him with bullets but not quite taking him down. She rolled right and came up firing, finishing him off.

Itzia was fighting a Brute with her combat knife. She had a strangle-hold on him and was attempting to bring her knife in to his jugular. The Brute, however, wanted to live, and was bucking and kicking, trying to shake the Spartan off.

Wings ran sideways until he had a clear shot and fired in to the Brute, who flinched and allowed Itzia to bring the knife down. She then twisted and made sure the job was done.

The dust settled and most of the Jiralhanae were all dead or dying. An Unggoy attempted to run but was cut down by a carbine shot from Autel.

X got to setting small puncture charges on the energy cells while the rest stripped the weapons off the dead enemies.

The charges set, everyone moved back to watch the fireworks.

Which were spectacular, of course. Each one blew up, and superheated plasma and metal spun off in to the air, while the main bodies of the vehicles shot straight up, split in two pieces.

Once the light show was over, the Commandos moved three kilometers to the next road and waited for the next convoy.

Wings lay prone, ten meters from the next person over, and checked his MA6C again.

Something was wrongs.

His head whipped up, and he checked his vitals.

Impossible.

He began coughing, and twisted over on his back.

In between coughs he managed to gasp out: "Itzia, I need you. Now."

His vision turned black and then he knew nothing.


Itzia flinched, then stood up and started running to Wing's position.

The Sangheili with her was perplexed. "What are you doing? We're supposed to stay-"

She didn't stop. "Screw the mission."

"My squad leader just flat lined."


Bweee

"Clear."

Thump

Ow.

Bweee

"Clear."

Thump

"Ow."

"He's back. Heart rate is holding at 76."

"Good, get him up, the convoy is one click away."

Wings sat up and turned back over on his stomach.

He looked at Itzia, who had her helmet off. Her eyes looked strained. Only one reason a Spartan's eyes looked strained.

When they were scared.


The commandos returned safely back to base camp after destroying the fifth convoy. On their way back they saw Marines, ODSTs, and Sangheili pushing out from the ridge, forcing the Covenant forces back.

Hawk Team and Autel's Commandos split off upon entering the camp.

As Phoenix Team dropped their equipment off in the tent, Wings opened a secure com to Itzia.

"We need to talk."


The plants again caught Wing's attention, and he examined the leaves closer.

Sure enough, the leaves were porous, and they looked very moist.

"Why did my heart stop beating?"

"Drugs."

Wings looked up. They knew all the possible side effects of the drugs. Only one had a possible heart problem, but that was increasing the volume of the heart, not stopping it.

"What drugs do I have in my body that no other Spartan has?"

"Cell QX518-I53PR."

"That's not on the list we were given."

"Because I gave it to you."

"When?"

"When I was treating you after the Battle on Zeta-9. We got you in the ship and I was treating the burns on your back. I found micro-burn holes that went in to your spinal cord. After some basic nerve checking, I confirmed that you had lost all sensation in your body below the second Lumbar."

"So what does the drug you gave me do?"

"It stimulates nerve cells, allowing them to regenerate and function fully. It also happens to increase general brain activity." Here she paused.

Wings felt that tingling at the back of his mind. Danger was looming, again. "What are the side effects."

Itzia shifted her left foot back a few centimeters. "There is a calculated fifteen to twenty percent chance that the patient will develop a randomly rare condition. It seem you have developed one that randomly shuts down an organ at a random time. Today your heart, maybe tomorrow, or next week, or next year, that organ will be your liver."

"Calculated chance?"

"This drug has never been used on a human before, its still experimental today and I gave it to you six years ago."

Wings chewed his tongue. "That was stupid, and you don't have to tell me why you did it. Don't let anyone but our team know. If anyone else were to know, they could execute you for treasonous acts."

"I know, and I honestly don't care if they do."

Nothing more needed to be said. Itzia walked back to the tent and left Wings to muse for a while.

He did, pulling off his helmet, eating a nutri-bar, and examining the leaves.


The Interspecies Union forces pushed through the Covenant lines and made it to the base. Two days after the Commandos arrived, the Covenant were driven off the planet, and the Commandos were on their way back to the Advent.

Wings could tell that there were a lot fewer Marines that were angry at the Sangheili, as they swarmed the Commandos with congratulations.

The taking of the planet had been costly. Wraiths had pounded the ridge, and many Marines and Sangheili had been wounded or killed on it. The Commando's arrival signaled the cutting of a several month long slog in to a three day blitzkrieg. Apparently the Spartans had won the tactical debate with the Sangheili Commandos.

Chapter 8: Side Effects

1638 Hours, October 17th, 2568 (UNSC Military Calendar)

Fira 'Demal stalked the corridors of the Rebirth, a Separatist Cruiser. He toyed with the Energy Sword clamped to his thigh and clicked his mandibles.

He longed to return to the fight, but no. He was assigned to the Cruiser in preparation for a joint operation with humans. Spartans, no less, the ones who had slaughtered many from his line. The 'Demal state was still recovering.

The com implanted in his ear hole beeped, and a channel opened.

"Ultra Fira 'Demal, report to hangar 2. Prepare for arrival of humans and SpecOps Sangheili."

"Acknowledged." He moved off to greet them.


The Phantom glided smoothly in to the hangar, and the side hatches opened. Phoenix dropped two meters to the ground alongside Autel's commandos, helmets off.

Autel smiled and greeted the Silver clad Sangheili closest to the dropship. He was obviously a friend.

Wings stepped forward and learned that the Ultra was a Sangheili named Fira 'Demal, and that he had been Autel's good friend in training.

As he turned back to his team, he saw Peec's eyes locked on to Fira, and an icy cold glint entered them.

Something was definitely wrong, so Wings ordered the team to get the supplies out of the dropship, making sure Peec was away from Fira.


Fira did not miss the ice cold glare from the Spartan, and knew that he had a problem.

His mind flashed to a burning town, his burning blade ripping through human flesh, blood splashing against his feet.

A small child staring up at him, uncomprehending of what was happening to his family.

He remembered hearing the announcement through his com that the Prophets had betrayed them, that the humans were now allies.

And he was stunned, everything he knew came crashing down on him.

And then the building came crashing down on him, and the child was gone.

Now he felt he was staring at the same child, grown to a warrior, one of the best the humans could put forward.

His memories flew back farther, to when hundreds of members of his family met several dozen of these Spartans on the battlefield, and were slaughtered.

He knew the Spartan had a right to hate him.

He just wasn't so sure he deserved to hate him anymore.


Peec slammed his locker door a bit harder than usual, and Wings watched him. His body language told him he was still tense, about as close to blowing up as a Spartan could get.

Peec saw Wings examining him, nodded stiffly, and they both walked out.

The hangar they walked in to was devoid of other beings, and only contained several Phantoms and two dozen Ghosts. Wings walked over, sat on the back, and examined the controls. He'd never used one, and had only studied the control interfaces. He was able to recognize everything, steering, accelerometer, weapons trigger-

"That Elite killed my family."

Wings looked back up at Peec. He was standing straight, legs slightly splayed, arms crossed. His helmet was off, and his head was tilted to the left, face stony.

"And you survived."

"I was about three years old."

"And you only remember it because of the memory boosters we were given with our food."

"Yes."

"And you want to kill him."

"Yes."

"Fira 'Demal, of the Demal lineage. You were the one who researched the Sangheili, do you know about them?"

"No. I researched their culture, economics, physiology. I researched them to understand them, you were the one who researched how to defeat them."

"The 437 Demal members met 36 Alpha Company Spartans on a small moon around 2536. Four Spartans were killed, nineteen were injured. 361 Demal members died, the rest were left injured. About 50 died after the battle while under treatment."

"So he has reason to hate us because our forerunners slaughtered his family."

"Not necessarily."

"What do you mean?"

"When he saw you, and you turned away and left his field of vision, he didn't move. The only reason for doing that is that he remembered the night he killed your parents. He also remembers how the Spartans decimated his family.

"You hate him because he killed your family.

"He hates us because we killed his family.

"His problem is that he's not sure he has the right to be angry anymore."

Peec's arms fell to his sides. "So what am I supposed to do?"

Wings sighed and sat straighter. "Take it out on him before it becomes a problem. It'll keep you sane when you have to save his life."

Peec turned around and began walking away, and Wings went back to examining the controls. "We have four days before we reach the battle zone."

The corner of Wing's mouth twitched up for a split second as he reached for a Nutri-Bar. I'm sure this place will be a battle zone before we reach the planet.


My stomach, for a start. Already feels like a Shiva warhead detonated inside...

"Itzia, I need gastric steroids."

"On my way."

On the plus side, the way he fell left him free to examine the interface on the Ghost. Unfortunately, he was done examining them. He reached his arm up and pushed, twisting on to his back, then pushed against the floor to bring himself up to a sitting position.

The door binged open, and Itzia marched in with a small bag. She knelt next to him and pulled out a syringe.

"Hold still." And she stabbed him.

He felt the liquid drip in to his stomach and stimulate gastric acid production. His stomach hadn't been working for a while now, and had emptied of all gastric acid. The Nutri-Bar had hit his stomach after being chewed and started to cut his stomach, causing massive pain that resulted in a minor blackout. The gastric steroids also caused the lining to grow faster, which would reduce the pain. However, it would still hurt like a son of a bitch for a while, but he could eat again.

"Thanks."

"Don't mention it."

"Have you gotten any new information on why this would happen?"

"Only that the Nerve Growth Factors inherent in the cells injected in to you can concentrate in one area an even higher rate of growth. This increases pressure on other areas, affecting a system that area controls, or increases electrical activity unevenly, resulting in an unbalancing of those systems."

"So nothing yet."

"Unless you want to either try fatal doses of radiation, which would work, but you'd die and I wouldn't let you do anyway, or massive doses of this cell, then no. Nothing."

"Then that doesn't mean the cell doesn't work, it just isn't complete to the extent it should be. The way it works is just like splatter painting. You flick a brush with paint on it and hope it hits right. While it makes the whole canvas appear more colorful, some areas look better and some look worse. What you would need is something that would spread the paint over the entire canvas evenly, like a wide brush. Except I don't know what the medical equivalent of the wide brush would be."

Itzia put the supplies away and looked thoughtful for a minute. Then she got up. "I'll see if I can find out."

Wings got up and followed her out, back to the room, and the team.


0917 Hours, October 18th, 2568 (UNSC Military Calendar)

Fira and Peec saw each other again during the visit to the bridge of the ship.

Phoenix was finishing their examination of the weapons system, and were turning to leave. Peec turned and spotted the Ultra standing guard at the exit to the bridge. He stood stock still, and that icy look came over him. The Sangheili returned the look.

Wings stepped in his way. "Peec. Lets go."

As Phoenix passed Fira, Fira turned his head to examine Peec.

"I wonder if you Spartans squeal like the regular humans."

Peec stopped and turned to face him. "I wonder how many members of your family screamed when they died."

Fira growled, and Peec's jaw tightened. Fira spoke next.

"Now I have another reason as to why the Prophets wanted you dead."

Peec didn't flinch. "And yet it was a human, a Spartan no less, who discovered that you were all being lied too."

Fira didn't flinch either.

Wings put his hand on Peec's shoulder, and the Spartans turned and left.

Up on the bridge deck, Autel folded his arms.


1951 Hours, October 18th, 2568 (UNSC Military Calendar)

Fira clicked the magnetic coil in to place. The Ghost's weapons had been damaged and the entire contraption needed to be replaced.

He closed the casing and clicked the interface.

Green, good, he was done.

He straightened and turned to leave.

The Spartan was standing there, arms folded over his chest, his head slightly bowed.

Fira blinked, and his shields charged to full. He didn't have his energy sword, but he never let his Needler out of his reach. His fingers slowly slid towards it.

"Killing me won't change what happened to you."

The Spartans helmet blocked his face, but Fira knew a Sangheili would be smiling.

"I'm not worried about seeing my family again."

His arms unfolded, and Fira saw the glint of a long combat knife.

"But I want to make sure they can tell me how long you screamed."


Wings and Autel walked down the corridor.

"Peec is not mentally stable," Wings said. "He's been very agitated lately."

"Fira never liked humans," Autel said. "And particularly not Spartans." Wings sighed.

"Fira, your friend, personally killed his family...seconds before the war ended. Right in front of Peec."

"We shall endeavor to keep a closer eye on them," Autel said. "However, I'm sure Fira won't do anything drastic."

"No, but Peec I'm not so sure about."

Something slammed hard into the next room's door, and it split partially, revealing the room beyond.

Wings and Autel exchanged glances, and both dashed towards the door. Debris was strewn about, and Wings saw Peec fly across his field of vision.

Autel strained to open the door. Wings helped him, and saw that Fira pulled a Needler on Peec. The Spartan whipped out his SM6D.

Wings moved fast. He grabbed Fira's wrist and the Needler, attempting to pin the Sangheili Ultra down.

Autel stepped in front of Peec. Peec aimed right through Autel.

"Get out of the way, Autel."

Autel looked down at the young warrior. "I won't let you kill my friend."

A single round discharged, shimmering against his shields.

"Stand down, Spartan!" barked Wings.

Peec reluctantly holstered his sidearm. However, Fira was still trying to get to him. Autel grabbed him by the shoulders, and said, "Stop."

The Ultra ignored him, trying to wrench the Needler from Wings' grasp.

"Stop!" Autel snarled, and for the first time Wings thought he sounded angry. He noticed that the red in his friend's eyes had deepened. Fira growled, but stopped struggling.

Wings released Fira and turned to Peec.

Peec was staring at Fira. Wings followed his line of sight and spotted the knife buried to the hilt in Fira's rib cage. The Sangheili was struggling to breath, and purple blood had started to foam around his mandibles.

Wings looked back at Peec.

"Got it out of your system?"

Peec turned and walked out.


Wings met Autel outside the Med Bay a few hours later.

"How is he?"

Autel turned away from the window to face Wings.

"He lost quite a bit of blood, but his lung is repaired and he'll be able to fight when we get to the destination."

Wings nodded and looked through the window. A Huragok hovered over a naked Fira 'Demal, slowly stitching his rib cage back together.

Autel turned back to the window. "You truly are a good leader."

"Why do you think that?"

"Your Spartan would have killed me before he would have listened to me, but he instantly stopped when you ordered him to."

"He's been trained to listen to me. I would expect nothing less."

Autel looked at Wings. "Have you ever had reason to seek revenge on someone?"

"No."

"I have, and there were only two creatures that could have stopped me from killing the one who murdered my mother."

"Just because he trusts me doesn't make me a good leader."

"He doesn't just trust you, he trusts you implicitly. He won't just put off a revenge killing for you, he'll jump in front of any weapon, fight any enemy or ally, just to make sure you live. That is more than just trust, that is love. He loves you, as do all your teammates, and you love them back. That is what makes you a good leader. The ability to make anyone fight for you because they know you'll get them out."

Wings dropped his chin to his chest and folded his arms, taking this in.

Autel then asked him, "Do you know how many Helljumpers went to help you when you were injured on Zeta-9?"

"No."

"Almost everyone who saw you go down, including about a dozen Sangheili. Because you risked your team, and mine, in the base in order to save hundreds of lives. They owed it to you. While that in itself does not make you a good leader, its one of the qualities of a good leader."

"I know."

"It is always good to hear it from a friend, yes?"

Wings examined the albino Sangheili's red eyes, and the corners of his mouth shifted slightly upward.

"Yes."

Autel smiled and turned back to the window. The Huragok was finishing up and applying antibiotics to the wound.

"Why did you care about Randall?"

This question seemed to surprise Autel, who blinked a couple times.

"I don't know. He looked in to my eyes before he lost his grip and fell to his death at the hands of Lekgolo. I don't know what happened, but he didn't hate me. I think he saw respect, because that's what I felt."

"And he saw that you didn't hate him. You weren't raised like most Sangheili."

Autel clicked his mandibles. "No, I was not.

Chapter 9: Fledgling

0943 Hours, October 21st, 2568 (UNSC Military Calendar)

The Phantom roared down towards the small planet. The Special Forces of the Interspecies Union arrayed inside stood stock still, Sangheili on one side, Spartans on the other.

Peec and Fira's gazes never left each other. Fira looked like he'd be willing to kill Peec at the slightest waver in his stance. Peec looked quite ready to return the favor.

Ipla 'Ihpor opened a com channel to the cargo area of the Phantom. "Excellency, we are approaching the drop-off zone."

Autel replied. "Thank you, 'Ihpor."

The Phantom came to a smooth stop, and the Sangheili went to the grav lift to drop, while Autel walked over to activate it.

Wings walked in to the cockpit. "You're a good flier, 'Ihpor." He gave him the Sangheili salute.

'Ihpor stood and returned the gesture, but looked a little perplexed. He didn't know how to accept this compliment, most especially from a human.

"Uh... thank you, Spartan."

Wing's mouth corner twitched upwards. "Every force needs a good pilot like you."

"I thank you again, but I don't really think I've proven that I'm a good flier at all."

"Nonsense. You will have done so by the time you settle us back down in to the hangar of the cruiser."

'Ihpor could only stare as the strange human turned and left, following the others down the grav lift.


Wings was the last one out of the dropship, and his boots sank in to the jungle floor.

He checked his weapons. BR55, M7S SMG, SM6D. All good.

Zero marched up to him, her footsteps muffled in the undergrowth.

She had her 99D-S3 Sniper Rifle out, an M90 on her back.

"Everyone's set, sir."

Wings opened the team com. "Engage active camouflage and spread out. We've got twenty klicks before we reach the target."


It wasn't long before the IU SpecOps teams reached their target: the rear of the Covenant forces.

"This is where their artillery is. We need to destroy the wraiths to weaken the lines."

Wings crawled on his stomach up the small hill and zoomed in on the five wraiths banging away at the hills.

"The infantry are preparing to charge, we need to get the artillery down fast. X?"

X bent to one knee and brought out some demo charges. "Armor puncture. Based off a bunker buster bomb, but does it with armor. A high heat charge punches the armor, then a shaped charge throws massive amounts of heat and kinetic energy in to the interior of the vehicle. We just need to get close enough."

Wings nodded. "Engage active camouflage, and keep away from any fire, each Spartan takes two charges. Autel, keep your team up here and cover us. We don't want to show up in the middle of them with no shields. Deep Ocean?"

"Yes?"

"Where would be the best place to place the charges?"

"My best guess would be the rear of the Wraiths, just under the reactor core."

Wings focused in on the small spinning reactor on the back of the large purple tanks. "Right there?"

"Yes."

"Well then, let's go."


The Spartans split, ten meters apart, and approached the Wraiths.

Zero reached her designated tank and activated the charges.

Great, how many should she use?

Screw it, She thought and planted both charges.

They activated, and a one minute timer began.

She heard a roar to her right and spun to look.


Wings was slammed forward in to the back of the Wraith, his helmet bouncing off.

He spun and and a massive hand wrapped around his throat

A huge Jiralhanae had him and was lifting him in to the air. His armor was not regular Jiralhanae armor.

It was beautiful, the armor plates melting together, like black obsidian and was similar like the old lava flows on Hawaii, curving in on each other in random patterns. His helm followed the same pattern.

The the left and right Wings saw Covenant forces running towards him and the large Jiralhanae.

Dammit. He activated his shields. He flickered back in to reality as his shields flickered.

The shields forced the brute's fingers off his throat, allowing him to gulp down some air.

A body slammed in to the brute, and Wings and the brute went flying to the ground.

"Phoenix, stay back!"

He and the brute struggled upright, and Autel circled around him.

The brute reached back and whipped out a gravity hammer. He spun and swung horizontally at Autel, who ducked as the crackling head sizzled over him.

The Covenant forces were holding back, not charging like they usually would.

"Ocean, contact Ipla. Tell him we need evac, now!"

The timer on his charges hit thirty seconds.

The brute kept spinning and the hammer almost reached Wings. He stepped forward and slapped his hands against the staff of the hammer.

The brute smiled and hit a button, and Wings was thrown in to the Wraith again.

Well that's new. Manual shockwaves.

The brute was charging him, hammer held high, the head of it crackling again.

Autel jumped in front of Wings, overcharging his shields, the weight of his armor beginning to overcome him.

"No!"

The hammer came down and Autel grabbed the staff. Another shockwave came from it and Autel dropped to the ground, armor smoking.

Wings leapt forward and grabbed the brute. Five seconds...

Heaving the brute around, he threw the giant on the Wraith.

The charge exploded, and the Brute screamed.

A rifle shot cracked out, bouncing off shields. Three more sounded, and yet they still bounced off shields.

What does it take to kill this thing?

The brute was struggling up. Wings bent and hefted Autel's body over his shoulder. Ipla's dropship was settling in to position, the grav lift activating.

He got Autel in to it and returned to make sure the fight was done.

Peec and Fira had stepped forward to fight the brute, and were hammering away at it, Peec with a shotgun, and Fira with his needler.

The brute's shields were still up.

Damn. He opened a channel. "Everyone, fall back! We're getting out of here!"

Fira attempted to turn away but was punched by the brute and went flying.


Peec watched Fira fly through the air and pumped another round of buckshot in to the brute. The things shields disappeared, and the brute leapt away.

Fira was in the middle of a large gang of Unggoy, and was set upon by them, held down and beaten.

Peec was about to turn away, but paused. A strange feeling came over him...

He turned, shoving shells in to his shotgun.

Full clip, he squeezed the trigger, then pumped and squeezed again. Unggoy fell left and right, screaming.

Empty, he tossed the weapon away and waded in, smacking grunts left and right.

He grabbed Fira and slung him over his back, continuing to lash out at the Unggoy.

Zero and Wings, along with the rest of the Sangheili, were holding the evac zone as he jogged in to it, the Sangheili bouncing on his back.

They made it up the grav lift, and Wings told the pilot to get underway.


Down on the ground, the large brute screamed at the receding dropship.

"I am the Judicator! I will come for you, Autel 'Vadam, and you will fall to me and beg for death!"


Itzia finished scanning Autel. "He has massive internal injuries from the energy of that shockwave. Nothing I can do without the proper equipment."

Fira was coming around, blinking his eyes. He looked up at Peec. "You. Saved. Me. Hu- Spartan."

Peec nodded stiffly, then went and sat in one of the seats on the other side of the troop compartment, his back perfectly straight.

Wings turned to Fira. "Do you have the equipment to heal internal injuries on that cruiser?"

Fira shook his head. "No, only basic equipment. We never expected anything like this."

Wings gritted his teeth. "We need to get back to the Advent, they'll have the right medical equipment."

The channel to the compartment opened, and Ipla's voice came through. "Brace!"

The SpecOps leapt to grab on to something.


Ipla spun the control yoke right, jinking the Phantom right and moving it out of the way of weapons fire from Seraph fighters.

"Activate the turrets! Burn them out of the sky!" Ipla roared to his copilot.

The Sangheili powered up the turrets and activated a target lock, opening fire.

Ipla threw the dropship in to a series of twists and spins, dodging incoming fire.

A quick burst hit the underside of the ship, sending it a few meters to starboard.

"We've lost our starboard turret!"

More fire came in from above, melting the armor off the ship.

The dropship screamed in to space, air hissing out several holes in the armor.

The cruiser roared around, and Ipla aimed for the hangar.

The dropship slapped on to the floor of the hangar, and the SpecOps bubbled out of the side hatches.

Ipla and his copilot left, and were surprised to see them carrying Autel out on a stretcher.

Wings approached the pilot. "Told you." And marched off.


Wings opened a channel and told the ship master his predicament, who agreed that getting Autel to the Advent was the best chance for his survival, and they entered slipspace a few minutes later.

It took just a few hours for them to rendezvous with the supercarrier, and were given permission to land.

But, as the Captain told them: "Just the Spartans."

Wings and the others decided that the last sentence had been garbled.


The Phantom alighted a few meters above the deck, and the Spartans with Autel on a stretcher floated down out of it.

The main doors of the hangar slid open and Captain Warren came out with six MPs. "I told you just the Spartans!"

Wings contained himself, but his anger was beginning to bubble over, deciding to try and soothe the Captain's ego first. "This Sangheili needs medical attention, with equipment that their cruiser isn't equipped with."

Warren smiled. "He'll have no such thing. That thing is to get off my ship. If it dies, then that's fine with me!"

Wings didn't budge. "Is that final, sir?"

"Of course it is! Take these Spartans in to custody for insubordination!"

Wings grabbed the front of Warren's nicely pressed uniform

Warren looked confused. "What are you doing?"

"This."

Wings threw him. Warren flew thirty meters through the air and crashed to the deck.

The rest of Phoenix stepped forward, and the MPs backed away.

Wings looked at the other two hundred marines in the hangar with them.

Not a one had moved, and Captain Forge nodded to him, and moved to Warren.

Wings nodded back, and they took Autel to the medical bay.

They made it to the medical bay alright, and collected the proper equipment and Itzia began her work.

When the rest returned to the hangar Forge was standing over Captain Warren with the six MPs.

"Captain, I hereby relieve you of your command under article 15 of the Interspecies Union Agreement. You have been found to refuse aid to an allied species with no evidence that he was undeserving of it. You will be court-marshalled upon return to an allied base."

The corner of Wing's mouth rose. The nearest allied base was a Sangheili one. Warren would get no mercy.

Chapter 10 (Part 1): Scratch

1329 Hours, October 22nd, 2568 (UNSC Military Calendar)

Autel awoke from his short coma a few hours later, having been stitched up by Itzia and the Sangheili medic.

He stood and donned his armor, checking all of its systems. Good to go.

He stepped out of the med bay of the human super carrier.

This ship makes the Covenant Super Carriers look small. He thought as he stared down a seven kilometer long corridor. The largest Covenant Super Carrier had been barely longer than five kilometers.

He walked up to two guards and spoke in fluent, though accented, English.

"Excuse me, humans. Could you tell me where Phoenix Team is?"

The guards were tensed up, but were caught off-guard by the politeness of Autel's voice.

One of them said "Just a sec'" and went to a computer terminal. Autel watched him tap keys, while the other guard watched him. Autel looked at him.

"You didn't ask what unit Phoenix Team is in."

The guard shrugged stiffly. "No need. Who doesn't know Phoenix Team?"

The guard turned away from the terminal. "Hangar 5-B, sir."

Autel folded his fist over his first-heart and thanked them, then walked away as the guards stood awkwardly, not sure about how to respond to this.


Wings looked up as Autel entered. The albino Sangheili warrior nodded at the team and spoke to Wings: "I'd like to speak with you, Wings."

Wings nodded and rose from his crouched position, his helmet off, but the rest of his suit still on.

The pair made an odd sight in the kilometers long corridor, an albino Sangheili walking step in step with a Spartan wearing no headgear.

Five kilometers later they reached the bow, where the observation room was located. Wings was able to look down and see a planet floating several million kilometers below them. To the front, sides, and above them were stars, with two moons floating off to the right.

Autel walked to the window, staring out of it.

"They never had things like this on our ships."

Wings stepped to the right to look at the moons. Strange, one of them seemed to have more craters than the other.

"Our engineers like to do things like this. Its fun to look at right now, but in the middle of a space battle, this would be a prime target for enemy fire."

Autel nodded. "How did you know I was raised differently from most other Sangheili?"

"Well, for starters, you know who your father is."

Autel laughed under his breath, which Wings had no problem hearing due to his augmented hearing, and clicked his mandibles. "And?"

"You are already comfortable with working with humans. I had my suspicions when you first told me about Randall, but it was confirmed when I saw you with us again on Alpha-Alpha-Golf. Even Thel 'Vadam, one who's worked with humans far longer than any other of your race, still shows signs of tensing up, of distrust. You don't. Its like you were ready for something like this."

Autel nodded, his expression somber. Wings couldn't see it. He was still examining the moons. Maybe its the atmosphere...

"It is easy to raise a bigot, a zealot. It is much harder to raise one with an open mind."

"You must've been fun."

"We Sangheili don't play, we train. We learn to fight as soon as possible, learn to respect only fighting prowess and combat superiority. In Sangheili culture, if you attempt a coup on a leader, the worst thing you can do is fail and survive."

"I know this."

"Now add the element of having someone who doesn't respect this. My mother, a Seer of Sanghelios, gave me many words of wisdom. One of these was not to simply accept things on faith, but to always question, for if you don't question your morals-"

"Then how do you know they're right."

Autel looked at the Spartan, who shrugged. "I have a lot of time to think. Its how my brain works."

Autel and turned back to the window, looking down at the sun beginning to fade behind the planet. Wings went back to examining the moons. It had to be the atmosphere, burning up the meteorites before they hit. But maybe it was the gravity well, the more densely pockmarked moon had at least twice the mass...

"Do you believe in God?"

"No."

"Why is that?"

"For many reasons, the most basic of which has to do with the logic that if he had created us the way he did, then why am I standing here? And why are you?"

"I do not know much of your religions, but that is a fairly good answer to my ears."

"You should do some research, then."

Another silence ensued. Yes, it had to do with the mass of the moon. Being farther out, it would draw more meteorites in, and its lack of atmosphere wouldn't burn up the meteorites...

"Why are you here?"

"Because the Covenant killed my family, because I have the right genes to accept physical augmentations, because I'm intelligent."

"Are you happy with that?"

"No."

"But that is the way things are."

"I'm resigned to it, and I like what I do. But I always wonder where I would be, what I'd be doing, and I feel sad that I know it'll never happen."

"You are what was meant to be. Do not become discontent with the way of things."

"If I were content with the way things are then I would let the Covenant sweep over us, planet by planet. I was meant to be what I wanted to be, to forge my own path, but your former leaders took that from me, and now I have only this."

Autel's mandibles clicked. "You do think quite a bit."

Wings nodded. "Just remember, the future cannot affect the past, but the past changes everything."

Autel nodded. "You are a wise head on young shoulders."

Wings let out a single bark of laughter. "Not according to the UNSC. I'm just equipment to them, and that's why I enjoy these talks."

The two friends stood there for a long time, each staring out their respective windows.

Incoming message: Priority One

//Message Decoded//

//Unpacking: 25%//

//Unpacking:50%//

//Warning: Virus detected. Do you wish to proceed? Y|N//

//Proceeding. Please wait.//

//Unpacking:75%//

//Unpacking Complete. Open contents? Y|N//

//Opening. Please wait...//

//Begin transcript//

//To: CO Ezekiel-354//

//From: [X-Ray code required]

This is a direct order from ONI Section Two. It has been decided that the Spartan III project will go public.

All Beta, Gamma, and Delta Company Spartans are to report immediately to the Advent orbiting system Syndicate-5.

Any protests will be formally logged.

//End Transcript//

Chapter 10 (Part 2): Scratch

0700 Hours, October 23rd, 2568 (UNSC Military Calendar)

Wings was surprised to find several hundred Delta Company Spartans in the hangar when he reported to the navy officer just inside the door.

"Sir, might I ask what is going on?"

The officer tapped his pad. "I don't know, I just know you got promoted to Chief Petty Officer. You're now in command of all Delta Company Spartan IIIs."

Wings stood a little straighter. They weren't supposed to talk about the Spartan III program. No one outside ONI was supposed know there was a Spartan III program.

Mystified, he marched over to his team. "Any of you know what's going on?"

Zero shrugged. "I was told that a superior would make an announcement over the speakers. But it looks like we may learn sooner than that." And she tilted her head behind Wings.

Wings turned to see Ezekiel-254 and 10 other Spartans approaching them. He recognized the numbers on their armor. Sabre and Katana Teams from Gamma Company, and Tom and Lucy.

Phoenix saluted, and the other Spartans returned the gesture. Ezekiel spoke. "Congratulations on your promotion, Chief Petty Officer D339."

"Thank you, sir."

"Now you aren't going to like this, but the press is going to be here for this battle."

Wings looked around at the assembled Spartans. "ONI is going public with the Spartan III program."

Ezekiel nodded. "Unfortunately, yes. Even more unfortunate is that there will be a lot of press, and they've already released dossiers on all of us, and guess who's number one on the list."

Wings turned a bit to his team. "Make sure your active camo is working properly, it won't be just Covenant fire we'll be dodging."

X let out a short bark of laughter as he and the other members made sure it was working.

The large screen activated, and most of the Spartans turned to face it.

Ezekiel gestured, and Phoenix, Sabre, Katana, and Tom and Lucy walked in to a nearby Pelican. He followed and closed the rear hatch.

He activated a holo-projector in the middle, and the a planet appeared in the middle of the Pelican. Zooming in, a square battlefield was shown, with a city dominating a third of the field, and a Covenant base another third. "Let's skip the main orders those outside are hearing and get to the planning of this battle. Please note that command expects all Spartan IIIs to be part of this battle."

Wings leaned over the projection, the only light in the compartment reflecting off his visor. "Command thinks we need 3,000 Spartans to take one Covenant base? I could take the Spartans in this room and destroy it."

Ezekiel nodded. "Five protests didn't get me anywhere, so yes."

Wings tensed up. "Look at this battlefield. We'll be too close in, too easy to spot. One good bomb could wipe out dozens of us in a single blast. We need to spread everyone out."

Ezekiel repeated the nodding motion. "You have tactical command of the battlefield. What do you propose?"

Wings walked in to the cockpit. "I'll get used to it, and I'm thinking."


D339 came back half an hour later. "We need to increase our mobility in an urban area. The streets will be packed with civilians going to and from work. The Covenant will most assuredly have artillery fire in the no-man's land."

Ezekiel folded his arms. "So what do we do?"

"Phoenix and Hawk will HALO drop right behind the base, near their artillery. We destroy the guns and front walls. Then the rest of Delta Company charges. We can't risk using nukes, the EMP blast would destroy the city's electrical system. We'll have fifty teams on roofs and in windows to provide sniper support. Twenty will provide anti-air support. Thirty teams at a time will charge the base, ten from each direction. Phoenix and Hawk will hold the front wall until they get there, then we'll push deeper in to the base from there and destroy it. Simple. The largest problem is the HALO drop. Our new augmentations and armor will give us a higher chance to survive than the Spartan IIs above Reach."

The sixteen Spartans in the Pelican pored over the plan, refining it. They finally got all parts of it locked down and left to prepare themselves for the next day's assault.


0630 Hours, October 24th, 2568 (UNSC Military Calendar)

D683 shook his head as the Pelican bumped in to the atmosphere, red flames surrounding it. "This sounds stupid."

Wings didn't move as he grasped the handhold. "Sounds impossible, doesn't it?"

D683 nodded. "Of course. But that's what we do best, eh?"

The pilot opened the com. "All ground teams report successful landing. Get a load of this."

A channel opened on the rear screen, and Deep Ocean fed it onto their HUDs. It was the news, showing a bunch of news crews fumbling around, trying to talk to the Spartans, who didn't respond at all. Ezekiel had ordered that they ignore the press unless they had to, and they did. Whenever a reporter got cocky and stepped in front of one, the Spartan reached out a hand and brushed them aside like one would brush a light layer of crumbs off a desk.

The com opened again. "Fifteen seconds to drop. Good luck, Spartans."

I don't believe in luck, Wings thought as the rear hatch opened, giving them a view of the planet below and some weapon containers as the timer hit zero.

The Spartans leaped out of the descending Pelican, which veered off and out, soon exiting the atmosphere again.

Wings opened the team com. "Remember, over pressurize your hydrostatic gel layers just before impact. Try and land somewhere soft."

"Since we have a few minutes before we hit the ground, would you mind explaining where we'll be getting weapons?"

"That Pelican didn't just drop us off. It dropped those weapon containers."

"Let's hope the troops they land on don't have thick skulls."

Deep Ocean's voice came through their mics. "One minute to impact. I would suggest you over pressurize your gel layers now."

Wings felt uncomfortable as the gel layer expanded. They came through the cloud, and he saw the landing site.

Perfect drop. He thought, five seconds before he hit the water.

The feeling was like what he expected if he would have survived being hit by a MAC cannon, and he nearly blacked out.

His armor pulled him down, and he kicked to the shore, pulling himself up on to the damp sand.

He stood, and his vision cleared.

He was met with the sight of several thousand Unggoy staring at him.

"Fuck."

He accelerated to top speed in a few seconds as the Covenant troops recovered their composure and reached for their weapons.

Plasma splashed on his back as he sprinted for his weapon container. He dove behind it and tilted the holder so he could access it.

The hatch popped open and he pulled out his BR55HB SR2 Battle Rifle and ammo. Next was the M7 SMGs, and finally, his SM6d pistol. The assorted grenades and demo charges went on to his belt. He'd made sure to store a bubble shield and a regenerator.

He stowed everything on to their magnetic strips, except the two SMGs, which he gripped tightly as he wondered how to get out of this.

Plasma cause the titanium armor of the weapon container to boil and slough away, revealing the structure beneath.

Wings sighted a small copse of woods and activated his camouflage. He jumped up and sprinted for the woods, knowing that the Unggoy wouldn't see the rooster tails of sand popping up until they'd passed the container.

He made it safely to the trees as the enemy troops spotted the foot trails and started running for the trees.

"Ocean, can you establish a secure com to the rest of the HALO teams?"

"Done. By the way, that one calling himself the Judicator is here."

Wings nodded as the com clicked on. "Status check."

All lights winked green, and Zero's voice came in over the speaker. "Only minor injuries. Itzia dislocated her arm, and X, his leg. I'm on my way to help them."

"What's your position?"

"About one klick south of you."

Wings looked south, over the heads of several thousand angry Unggoy. "I'll meet you at the artillery. I've got a bit of a problem here."

"Shall we move to assist?"

"Negative, get to the artillery. I'll be there ASAP."

The Unggoy had reached the trees, and Wings clambered up the side of a tree. He dug his hands and feet in to the trunk, knowing that no branch here would hold his weight.

He sat there for ten minutes as the little aliens ran under him. When they disappeared through the trees he climbed down.

Wings ran towards the artillery. Well, at least that's several thousand that we won't have to worry about for a while.

Most of the artillery was already destroyed. The other four members of Phoenix Team had caught the sentries with their guard down and destroyed twenty of the Wraiths and two of the mega-cannons. As Wings ran toward them, he saw Hawk come from the north and hit that end, two of the purple tanks exploding in seconds.

A laser slashed out and destroyed three more. A blue explosion ripped out and destroyed the last mega cannon.

Wings leaped on a Jiralhanae who was bringing a plasma turret around. He stood over him and pumped fifteen rounds in to the brute's face, who jerked and went still.

Wings holstered the SMGs and grabbed the turret.

Ripping the heavy weapon off its base, Wings spun and fired in to a group of five Jiralhanae, who dove for cover.

One wasn't so fast, and his flesh bubbled away as the plasma thudded in to him.

Continuing the spin, Phoenix Team's leader smashed the nose of the turret in to the rear of the Wraith next to him, and fired.

The reactor gave off a small explosion, then a chain reaction occurred within it. Wings dove away in the nick of time as the Wraith exploded, taking six grunts and a Jiralhanae with it.

A Kig-Yar leaped on his back, and Wings grabbed him and tore him off, holding the lizard in front of him like a shield.

Dozens of spikes struck the creature, extinguishing his life.

Tossing the broken body aside, the Spartan ran and jumped behind one of the portable shields the Covenant liked tossing around the battlefield.

Spikes shot out and bounced off the shield.

Wings pulled out his battle rifle and returned fire. Activating a plasma grenade, he chucked it behind the brute's cover. One roared and stood, the glowing blue orb stuck to his breast plate. It detonated, and took out two other brutes.

The last one screamed and charged. Wings waited until the Jiralhanae warrior was about to smash in to him before sidestepping and ramming the butt of his gun in to the brute's back, killing the beast outright.

Wings grabbed a Wraith that was twisting to face him and tore the hatch off. The grunt inside whimpered as he was ripped out of the seat, and Wings ripped off his breathing harness and threw him to the side.

He got inside the large tank and grabbed the controls.

Spinning the tank around, he fired, taking out a column of Jackals and another Wraith. Keeping up the fire, he managed to destroy two more before the enemy troops realized what was going on.

The last two Wraiths turned and fired on his position as he leaped out and ran to join the rest of his team, destroying the vehicle he'd just left.

X had his M7 Spartan Laser out. "Nice moves, sir. Now, if you'll excuse me..."

Wings stood aside and let X walk by him.

Zooming in on the Wraiths, X charged the laser and fired, tearing the two artillery tanks apart.

Wings was already giving further orders. "Ocean, signal the snipers and anti-air. Hawk, start your swing north. Phoenix, let's swing south."


The attack on the artillery had left the Covenant a bit scattered, but they soon regrouped at the base.

The two HALO teams had made it to the west wall, and were setting charges.

Wings finished his and got back, preparing to activate the bubble shield. It had a short lifespan of twenty seconds, and it would take about thirty seconds for the other teams to reach their position. That would leave them in the open for ten seconds.

"Do it."

The charges exploded, and the walls shattered and fell.

The ten Spartans started backpedaling, switching to high-frequency scanners to see their quarry.

Firing in to the smoke, they caught those Covenant troops just recovering with their pants down, dropping them.

It was but a few seconds before they fired back, throwing dozens of grenades.

Four bubble shields were dropped, stopping the incoming fire completely.

Then the thirty other Spartan teams, with Sabre, Katana, and Flechette in the vanguard, hit the base.

The assembled Spartan teams hit the Covenant forces like lightning, moving faster than any foe could move, snapping necks, grabbing weapons, all kinds of close quarters fighting.

The fighting soon became a kind of urban warfare, with teams moving from building to building, clearing out the buildings.

Not half an hour after the fall of the wall, the entire base was clear.

"Slot me in." Deep Ocean said, and Wings pulled her slot out of the back of his head and slid the chip in to the central computer in the citadel.

"I'm in. Disabling counter-intrusion protocols."

Deep Ocean had been based off the Cortana model, built with the best intrusion and intelligence gathering programs that ONI could muster.

"Interesting."

"What is it?"

"I've found some schematics, for some kind of weapon."

"Can you figure out what it does?"

"No, there's not functional parts shown in the schematics. My guess is that this is still just a theoretical weapon, but it looks like some kind of large plasma weapon, almost like an interplanetary weapon."

Wings stared off in to space. If the Covenant were really building and interplanetary weapon...

"This is Ezekiel-254, mission accomplished, all Spartans will return to the field base."

Deep Ocean's voice came through the instant Ezekiel finished. "I'm done, unplug me."

Wings pulled the chip out and reinserted the AI back in to the back of his helmet.


The outside of the camp was bustling with press, and Phoenix Team had to fight their way through reporters. A couple of them realized Wings from his rampage through the Wraiths and tried to move in, but he just batted the cameras and microphones inside.

It took the five Spartans a minute to reach the gates, where six MPs stood, holding the press back as the Spartans pushed their way in to the compound.

Ezekiel marched up, glaring at the reporters. "Vultures. Sorry about that, but command wouldn't allow the Pelican pilots to lift off."

Wings checked his armor for the secret microphones he knew they'd have planted. Running an electrical charge through his armor, he located three little mics, which he quickly crushed.

"Command really wants us to talk to them, for some reason. Like they expect us to act like regular humans."

Ezekiel nodded. "All teams are giving the all clear."

Wings tilted his head. "Its a good thing we weren't able to use nukes as well, sir. You need to see what we found."


"An interplanetary plasma weapon. The Covenant are getting desperate."

Wings was standing with his arms folded. "That's what Deep Ocean thinks. The schematics we have are missing a lot of key components, so its impossible to know what form it will take."

Ezekiel twisted the hologram around, examining it from all angles. "It's certainly quite the weapon. By my guess, given the power supply, you could hit Mars from here."

Deep Ocean appeared, a dark blue humanoid, obviously female, but the only real features were her face. The rest of her flowed and swam, like the waters of a deep sea.

"Aye sire, I thought as much. Although some of the parts do not match what you normally find in plasma weapon systems."

"That just tells us that it's likely some new kind of plasma attack, possibly through slipspace."

Deep Ocean nodded, but looked skeptical.

Chapter 11: High Altitudes

1759 Hours, October 24th, 2568 (UNSC Military Calendar)

"Hey, D339, check it out. You're on the news."

Wings stood and looked at the screen, feeling his fingers start to curl.

The news station was showing his rampage through the Wraith line.

He left the mess hall to go clean his weapons.


No sooner did he leave the mess than he ran slap bang in to a news reporter crew.

The news reporter shoved a mic up to his helmet, the cameraman behind her focusing on him. "Spartan, do you have any comments about your treatment in the Navy?"

Wings bit back a retort and marched marched through the hall to his quarters, the lady bothering him all the way.

"The public has a right to know."

He turned to her as the door to Phoenix's quarters opened. "And I have a right to my privacy."

The door slammed in her face.


Wings slotted Deep Ocean in to the terminal, and he pulled out one of his SMGs.

It had jammed during the fighting, and he had to replace half the firing mechanism.

The door opened again, and Zero stomped in, grabbing her sniper rifle and sitting down with it.

As the door closed again, Wings saw the reporter still outside.

"Damned press." Zero said. "They keep this up and I'll show them what happens when we think we're under attack."

Deep Ocean appeared. "That would be highly inadvisable, as the press are protected under UNSC protocol-"

"Yeah yeah, I know." Zero snarled. "That was sarcasm."

Wings smiled. That was just how Zero and Deep Ocean interacted.


The door to the bridge opened, and Wings marched up to the holo-table, which Captain Forge and Vice Admiral Lash were standing around, saluting.

"You sent for me, sirs?"

The two officers returned the salute, and Lash hit a button. "We found this about an hour ago."

The table activated, and a Covenant base appeared. It was the standard affair, with one new addition.

The large weapon the UNSC had just discovered.

"We need a small team to get in there and grab information on this weapon. We need to know more about it."

"And we can't send in my entire team."

"Right. So we're sending you in with Autel 'Vadam."

The Sangheili entered. "What is it you want with me?"

The corner of Wing's mouth twitched.


The dropship ride was quiet, as was the landing.

A few hours later Autel and Wings were examining the base.

Wings scanned the wall tops. "Got sensors all over those, we can't go in over the walls."

Autel was checking the reactor drain. "Not getting in through the drain this time, either. They've barred it and probably have sensors all over inside."

"Let me see."

Autel shifted over for Wings to examine the drain. Wings focused on the drain, then panned upward. "Nothing above the drains, though."

His Sangheili friend nodded. "Probably think that anyone would see the drain and just use it."

"Ocean, what do you think?"

Deep Oceans uneven tones came through. "There is an overlap in their sensors that you'll have to get over, which can be bypassed by-"

Autel finished. "Jumping from that tree and over the sensor cone."

"Yes."


Autel made it easily, as he weighed far less than the Spartan.

The tree almost toppled as Wings pushed off of it, using all the strength available to him. He landed cat-like beside his friend, who smiled.

"You Spartans weight a lot."

Wings brushed his lapels. "Its the armor, much more resilient than yours."

Autel's smile broadened. "Then you wouldn't mind taking point, would you?"

They made it safely to the wall, and Wings smashed his fist through the metal, creating hand and foot holds on his way up.

He crouched at the top, watching Autel climb up awkwardly. He grabbed the Sangheili's hand and pulled him up.

"You Sangheili have odd legs."

"Yes, I've heard all the jokes."

Wings unwound a carbon fiber rope and magnetic grappling hook. He activated the hook and set it on the inside of the wall, then slid down it.

Autel followed the instant Wings was on the ground, pulling out his M7S SMG, and Autel pulled out his Type-2 Energy Sword.

The two activated their camouflage and set off towards the cannon.

Four hair-raising hours later, they reached the entrance to the complex.

The door was locked, but was soon opened by Autel's swords.

The Unggoy standing guard in the entrance looked up and squeaked as the door opened, and then the large green giant appeared next to him.

Wings grabbed his head and twisted, breaking his neck like a twig.

He knew they were on a timer, so Wings hurriedly installed Deep Ocean in to the computer system and kept moving.

The com opened, and Deep Ocean's voice came in. "I'm in to the system. Take a left at the first corridor."

"Aye aye."

He turned and tripped up a Kig-Yar with his boot.

Autel sprang forward and sliced the Covenant trooper's head off in a blur.

"Hurry, there's guards coming to the entrance hall. Try not to leave a trail of bodies. I've shut down the cameras."

"Do you have the schematics yet?"

"No, I'm infiltrating the core mainframe now."

"Good, we're almost to the core room."

The door slid open, and they were faced with a Huragok.

Wing's silenced SM6D snapped up, and the explosive round took the creature through the head. It flopped to the ground.

Autel looked wary. "Was that necessary? Huragok-"

"Are near uncontrollable. He may have been loyal, he may not have, and by the time we could have figured it out, he could have sounded an alarm."

Autel nodded, and they got to work.

Wings swung his head around, the 3D imaging systems capturing the entire place in high-definition detail. The schematics may show what parts the weapon used, but it didn't show what the interior was like.

Autel was planting plasma charges, directed by Deep Ocean's advice.

They finished, and were about to leave when the alarm went off.

"Ocean, can you jump to the backup?"

He felt the mercury pour in to his head. "Done."

"Right, let's go." He went to a wall and planted a shaped breaching charge on the wall.

Jumping back, he detonated the device, and jumped out the hole and on to the wall.

He and Autel made it safely back to the pick up zone with no further trouble.

Some anti-aircraft fire bothered them on the way up, but Ipla's skills kept them safe from harm as the dropship returned to the Advent.

The pair marched on to the bridge, and downloaded all the information they had gathered on the weapon.

Deep Ocean's hologram appeared alongside the shipboard AI's image. "We were wrong."

Wings looked up from the pictures. "What about?"

"The entire thing. It's not a plasma weapon, its a gravity beam."

Wings straightened. "What do you mean?"

Deep Ocean snapped her fingers, and the blueprint fell apart in to an exploded view. "The weapon used a mass effect device that creates a gravity well. Aimed at the right object, say, a moon, and you can drag almost anything you want to the planet."

This was most surprising. A gravity weapon. "Why would you build such an expensive thing to commit suicide?"

Deep Ocean shook her head. "Wrong again. The components and materials are pretty cheap to make and manufacture, and the Covenant is anything if not rich. It also doesn't take long to build. The planet we discovered it one was in the first stage of constructing the outer shell. Dragging a moon on top of the planet wouldn't just wreck the surface, it would cause the planet to rip itself apart. The planet we just left was the test arena. After subsequent scans we've discovered that there are actually several husks of large cruisers that were dragged to the surface from orbit."

"How long would it take to build one?"

"About one month."

Lash folded his arms. "All the more reason to keep them off IU occupied planets. Autel, imagine what would happen if they built one on Sanghelios."

Autel's hands tightened in to fists, and his mandibles twitched.

Wings looked down at the diagram that was now playing out of a moon crashing in to a planet, tearing it apart. "Earth will be harder to defend from this. They could simply build it in the Uninhabitable Zones, where sensors have more interference, sometimes too much to get a good scan. Whatever leader they have could do with one cannon what another couldn't do with a thousand ships."

Chapter 12: Veer

0914 Hours, November 15th, 2568 (UNSC Military Calendar)

Wings watched the three hundred Spartans in the hangar bay sitting, exercising, maintaining their equipment, and whatever other activities Spartans partake in during down time.. They needed to find something to do.

Thankfully, he was now in charge of all Delta Company. He knew the rule. If command didn't have anything for them to do, find something for them to do.

He sat down and examined the charts he'd been given. Planets all over Interspecies Union space were reporting signs of Covenant troops. Sanghelios was having some more trouble with their outcast faction, The Fallen.

Over the course of the next two hours, Wings wrote up new orders for all 600 five-man teams under his command.


//Unit: Delta Company Spartan III//

//Officer Issuing: Chief Petty Officer Spartan-D339//

//New Orders are as follows//

1.Find and capture any and all information pertaining to any new Covenant Technology.

2.Use any means possible to achieve your first objective, with the following exceptions:

I.Under no circumstances will these means put the lives of civilians or allied forces in danger unless absolutely necessary.
II.Under no circumstances will the Graviton Cannon, or any similar super weapon, be discharged or detonated unless absolutely necessary.

3.Once the information is captured, do not move on to another target until all collected information has been uploaded to ONI servers.

4.Exercise all possible caution at all times.

5.Aid any and all allied forces in the area.

//Dated: 1132 Hours, October 30th, 2568//

//Signed: Spartan III D339, Delta Company XO//


Wings sent off the draft to the bridge, to be reviewed and authorized by Vice Admiral Lash.

He had waited not one hour until he got the confirmation.

The XO of Delta Company sent the signed orders out to all Spartans.


Phoenix Team was first on to their cruiser, all Delta Company teams having signed out for small slipspace capable ships.

They packed the entire thing with as many weapons as possible, from their sidearms to a rechargeable Spartan Laser, and enough ammo to last a lifetime.

Supplies were next, and enough were stored away to last for two years.

As they were packing their armor, Autel and Fira marched up.

Wings stood. "Need something?"

The two Sangheili warriors were carrying plenty of weapons. "Just enough room to set our equipment."

Wings folded his arms and tilted his head to the side. "What makes you think you're coming with us?"

Autel jerked his head towards the interior. "The fact that we're getting as restless as you are, and if you stop us, your engines may... malfunction."

Wings nodded. "Get aboard, we leave in half an hour."


Thankfully the engines didn't "malfunction", and the seven warriors were soon on their way in the small cruiser.

The team's target was a planet outside the border of UNSC space, another one of the testing planets for the Graviton Cannon.

It would take them about four days to get to the planet, then they'd land the cruiser two hundred kilometers from the base with full stealth protocols engaged, and then infiltrate the Covenant city.

Meanwhile they had little to do but talk and find other ways to entertain themselves.

Something Fira and Peec spent as much time not doing as possible.

The cruiser was small, having a grand total of seven rooms and one cargo bay, which took up a third of the ship. This was where most of the equipment, including the Spartan's armor, was kept.

The times that Peec and Fira ran in to each other were tense, awkward moments. Fira felt shamed by how Peec had saved his life, and yet he still felt a festering hate for him. Peec just felt like he may have done the wrong thing in saving the Sangheili warrior.

They never actually spoke, just nodded tensely to each other and kept moving.

Zero, X, and Itzia practiced hand-to-hand combat in the cargo bay, the largest space they had in the ship.

Deep Ocean like playing with physics simulations, often playing the simulations out in full holo, which the crew of the ship always enjoyed.

The four days felt short with the extra company, yet slightly longer because of the feud between Peec and Fira.

The planet they looked down on was a desert planet, and they could see the large gouges that ship and asteroid hulls had torn through its relatively smooth surface.

The Graviton Cannon was visible from a medium orbit, what with the planet being relatively small, about half again the size of Earth's Moon.

"We can use nukes here. They'll have shields, so we'll need to get inside." Zero commented.

"I can get us the important bits of hardware." Peec put in.

Deep Ocean's avatar appeared, a deep fluorescent blue. "I haven't heard about this plan. What do you need it for?"

The corner of Wing's mouth twitched. "All in good time, Ocean."

The AI nodded. "I suppose this means I won't be going with you?"

"Someone needs to pick us up."

"Very well."


The seven Special Forces members jumped off the cruiser as it settled down.

The ship lifted off, and Ocean's voice came in.

"I'll hold the ship in that valley about five kilometers south of your current position. The warhead is armed and awaiting your call."


Getting in to the base was easy. Avoiding all the security turned out to be hard.

X sprayed a small can of water in a mist in front of them, and several more golden beams materialized.

Spraying along them, he found their central housing and got to work.

Wings was starting to get worried. They'd only gotten halfway to this graviton cannon in the time it had taken him and Autel to reach the first one.

"Got it." X was done, having successfully disabled the beams. They didn't want to know what the beams did, and the plan was to not find out.

Unfortunately, they did not one minute later.

Zero stepped in front and began to reach to climb up when she heard a sizzling. She leapt backwards and looked down at her armor.

Two holes had been burnt in to the sides of her armor, but they hadn't quite made it all the way through, having just reached the hydrostatic gel layer. That had been what created the sizzling noise. She looked up.

"My shields didn't block it."

Peec took a look at the holes, then pick up a rock and motioned for X to spray in front. X did, and Peec tossed the rock through, which was promptly sliced clean in half.

He looked back to Wings, who gestured to the apertures, and X set about disarming them.

Once he was done Peec crouched and picked up the rock.

"Good thing our armor's good. Sangheili or a marine would've been diced up."

Itzia looked at the rock. "Good thing a Spartan was on point, sir."

Wings was thinking. "Switch to infrared."

They did, and many light yellow beams appeared in front of them and to either side. Behind them was a dark blue corridor.

The beams directly in front of the team burnt white hot.

Wings observed this. "They probably know we're here, it seems as if they're low heat beams until tripped. We need to move faster. Climb the tower."

Zero pulled out her sniper rifle and ejected the magazine and chambered round, catching it as it flew out and pushing it back in to the mag.

Taking a magnetic grapple shot, she muzzle loaded it and took careful aim.

There was a muffled thunk and the hook attached itself to the tower.

Zero pulled the extraneous firing mechanism for the hook out and began climbing, soon followed by the rest.

Wings pulled himself up and stood on the barracks tower used to house Unggoy troops. Looking around, he saw that the base was just a normal Covenant base, except for the huge cannon.

Then he turned around.

"Shit, run!"

The Scarab fired, the huge beam punching in to the tower as the seven commandos leapt from it to the next tower.

Wings kept running and leapt again.

"Make for the graviton cannon and meet me there. I'll take care of that Scarab."

He began to turn in a long arc, and the scarab followed. Tightening his turn, Wings ducked right under the beam, feeling the heat on his back and putting on a burst of speed.

He pounded his way along the rooftops, always pursued by the huge beam of plasma, getting steadily closer and closer to the huge tank.

He leapt and caught the side, hearing the beam deactivate as his fist punched through a thin part of armor.

Heaving himself up on the walkway, Wings pulled out his shotgun and got to work.


Zero had her hands full. Peec and X had gone back to gather technology and set demolition charges. Why Wings wanted graviton beam parts she had no idea.

The Covenant garrison had become alerted to their presence, and had mounted several coordinated attacks, each time being repelled by Zero, Itzia, Autel, and Fira.

Zero hit the release for her sniper's magazine as she fired the last round and reached for another. Several hundred yards away a brute fell, the bullet having taken him through the eye.

She slapped the next magazine home and took careful aim. An Unggoy head popped up, which she ignored.

Feeling emboldened by this, a brute stood, and promptly took a round down his ugly mouth.

"Good shot, Spartan!" Autel called out as his carbine spat out radioactive rounds, chewing through twenty Unggoy.

Fira smiled as his two plasma rifles pumped out bolt after bolt in to Kig-Yar shields. One went down, swiftly followed by its owner, and he saw something fly through the hole in the shield wall.

The grenade detonated, taking out eight Kig-Yar.

Fira turned to see the Spartan medic, D102, kneeling behind the railing, reloading her assault rifle.

"Good thinking."

Her helmet snapped up to look at him, then she gestured back to the door and rose, snatching a plasma grenade up this time, and throwing it.

The explosive sailed out and latched on to a brute, who roared before being consumed by the blue fire.

Fira laid down fire on the remainder of the Covenant wave.

"I see you guys have been busy." The voice came from right next to him.

D1074 was standing next to him.

"No thanks to you, yes we have." Fira replied, a grating tone entering his voice.

D1074 snorted and pulled out his battle rifle. "Don't get your knickers in a twist, the ship's on the way."

"Knickers?"

The Spartan shrugged. "Phrase I heard our old Captain use one time. Turns out its an old phrase from England."

Fira looked perplexed, but turned back to the fight.

They all looked up and out the atrium's front window to see a massive blue explosion, and purple metal flying through the air.

A howl came up from the remaining Covenant forces as they charged.

"Wings had better hurry it up!" Autel called out to Zero, who nodded and focused on shooting the oncoming forces.

A metal plate dropped from the ceiling, and Wings landed silently next to Autel.

He looked at the albino Sangheili. "Time to go."

Fighting a rear guard action, the seven commandos retreated to the main function room and rose to the top, taking the cart of parts that Peec had collected.

Halfway up Wings nodded to X. "Do it."

The ceiling exploded, and the elevator rose up to what was now the roof.

Ocean brought the ship in close and lowered the ramp, and they piled on.

As the ship roared off, easily avoiding small arms fire from the ground, Wings strode to the bridge.

"Deep Ocean, execute order FDR519."

"Sir."

A missile streaked out, tipped by a single Shiva tactical nuclear warhead.

It struck the center of the base and detonated, annihilating the Covenant presence on the planet.


Slipspace was quiet. Nothing to see or hear, except the constant hum of the ship, and the occasional footstep, or murmur of conversation.

Wings halted as he entered the bridge, hearing one of the oddest sounds he'd ever heard.

It was a deep grunting sound, but higher than the average Sangheili voice. The sound was halting, but there was a constant high pitched tone in the background. It was by no means threatening. It was...

giggling?

Wings spun to see Autel grinning, the noise emanating from deep within his chest.

"What?"

Autel collected himself quickly, long enough to answer.

"You're orange, friend."

"What!?"

Wings stripped off his gauntlet. Sure enough, his skin was a pale orange color. He grabbed a mirror from his belt and checked his eyes. Yellow, damn.

Autel had stopped giggling. "Is something wrong?"

Wings nodded. "Yeah, definitely." And he marched out off the bridge.


Autel entered the medical bay to find Itzia standing over his friend, a large needle in Wing's abdomen.

"What is wrong?"

The female Spartan finished and withdrew the instrument. "He was jaundiced. You saw what happened, so I'll skip that part. It happens to a human when their liver shuts down."

Autel turned his attention to Wings, who was pulling his shirt back over his head. "And why did your liver fail."

The Spartan paused, then went to the doors and locked them. "Perhaps I should tell you..."


The corvette settled in to position in the large hangar, and the ramp began to lower.

Wings turned to Autel. They were all geared up in armor again.

"Why did you judge me worthy?"

The Sangheili warrior turned to him. "We've already been through this."

"You told me it was because of my skills as a leader, but many others have those same skills. So why me?"

Autel got a far away look in his eyes.

"To be honest, friend, I truly don't know yet."

"Then how do you know I'm special?"

His expression returned to reality as the ramp finished lowering, and the others stepped in to the hangar. Autel turned to leave.

"Someone very special to me told me you are."

Chapter 13: Feathers

1042 Hours, December 1st, 2568 (UNSC Military Calendar)

Zero hated patrol duty. She was always stuck in close quarters, where she would be at a disadvantage if anything happened.

But this was just insult added to injury.

The Prius Mall on Syndicate-5 was packed with shoppers the day after Thanksgiving. Signs and screens blared about products on sale, and families wandered, shopping. Couples sidled, conversing. Teenagers meandered, gossiping, and doing whatever teenagers do.

The Spartans were not used to urban assignments, much less ones that landed them smack in the middle of society.

Maybe someone at HighCom had a funny sense of humor.

Still, it was almost entertaining to march right through a group of tourists on her route.

Almost.

Scattering another group in front of her, Zero marched in to the center courtyard. It was a circular area, with an oasis of jungle trees in the center, and a couple paths leading through them. The air around it was warm and humid, which was a nice change from the cold and dry outdoors.

She spotted Wings on one of the paths, examining a plant. To most it looked like he was just standing straight, staring to the front. But she saw the forward tilt to his helmet, and the general weight of his body was shifted slightly to the right.

She approached him, opening a personal channel. "What are you looking at?"

He replied without moving. "Venus flytraps."

Fascinated, she turned to look.

A fly had been caught by the predator plant, and was slowly being dragged in to the jaws and digested.

As the last of the fly was sucked in, Wings dropped his arms to his side and looked at Zero.

"Fascinating plants."

"Yes."

"You done with your patrol?"

"Yeah, now its time for guard duty."

"Eh."

The two Spartans parted ways, not one word of their conversation having been heard by an outsider.


Wings marched over to his designated guard spot, the end of a rectangular garden at the base of two parallel flights of stairs.

The entire area around him was white, almost blindingly so, except for the multiple colors of people moving around.

His motion sensor was next to useless unless someone got right next to him. Being two meters tall, being armed to the teeth, and wearing half a ton of armor sometime had a psychological effect on people.

Suddenly something bumped in to his leg. Wings hesitated to react violently, as no pain ensued and there was no way a Kig-Yar sniper could have gotten past the border guards. Even if it had, it wouldn't have failed to hit somewhere vital.

He looked down, and was perplexed when his eyes alighted on the smallest human he'd ever seen.

The child's head came up to about his knee, and he had to be no more than four years old. His hair was blond, and his grin showed that he was missing his two front teeth.

The child spoke, his words coming out awkwardly. "Spah-tahn."

Wings understood what the child was doing, now. Giving him a hug.

He didn't remember ever getting a hug, and he had no idea what to do now.

Wings was saved by the parents locating the small child, and bustling him away, apologizing again and again.

The Spartan didn't mind. He'd just experienced something he'd never known.

Now he had an inkling as to why Ezekiel had sent them here.

Wings settled back against the wall, getting comfortable for the two-hour sentry.


Locating Zero again was entertaining. As Wings approached her position he saw a few teenagers surrounding the Spartan, who was leaning back against a pillar, seemingly unresponsive.

The teenagers were all female, around sixteen or seventeen years of age. And they seemed to be hitting on the Spartan.

Wings got this immediately. To them all Spartans looked the same, so they figured that they must all be men.

Striding up to Zero, he opened the external mic as the teenagers backed off a couple steps for him.

"Having fun, D576?"

Zero's voice replied dryly. "Screw you, sir." It was obviously a female voice.

The two Spartans marched off before the teenagers could recover from their surprise.


Autel and Fira made an odd sight, striding through the crowds. Everyone gave them a wide berth, and many humans gave them accusing glances.

Wings and the rest of the Spartans met them at one edge of the courtyard. The Sangheili weren't wearing their helmets.

"Greetings, Spartans. You wouldn't believe how hard it is to find out where you're stationed."

"Just follow the teenage girls, they'll lead you to Five-Seventy Six, at least."

Zero smacked X on the shoulder, drawing even more glances to the odd seven soldiers.

Wings saw another group of older teenagers, male this time, giving the Sangheili dirty looks. He turned back to Autel.

"Please tell me the gate guards let you keep your shields."

Autel shook his head. "No, and they took our weapons, as well."

The teenagers had started to move forward, their gazes locked on the Sangheili. They were close, now.

"Well that's not good..."

The one in front reached in to his leather jacket and whipped out an old M4D pistol. Wings reacted with all the speed a Spartan could, bowling in to Autel and taking the round.

The small bullet bounced off his shields, barely kicking him back, and Wings started toward the teenager.

The teenager fired again, yelling. "World-burners!" Citizens screamed and dove out of the way, but the bullets did nothing to stop Wings.

Alone one M4D pistol was not enough to knock down his shields, but the other four teenagers were pulling out pistols as well. Wings knew he had to move faster.

He crouched and threw himself forward, in to them, smashing his fist down on the teen's wrist, shattering it..

Spinning, he grabbed the barrel of another pistol an twisted, dislocating the hand it was attached to.

Continuing the spin he kicked out and broke another teen's grip on his weapon.

The other two chickened and ran, and X gave a short chase, which ended in them being dragged back to the yowling group by their scruffs, pleading for their lives.

Wings saw a small gaggle of girls about the teenager's age standing where the boys had come from, looking shocked and disturbed.

He reached down and plucked the leader from the tangle of bodies as mall security showed up.

"So you thought you'd show off by killing my friend, did you?"

The teen mumbled in between sobs. "They. Burnt. Our. Planets. Killed. Us."

Wings dropped the teen. "I'll have you know that the one you tried to kill has never harmed a human, and the other one with him has atoned for the few lives he took. Find someone who actually deserves to die, next time."

The guards got there and began cuffing the teen as best they could. A medic gave them painkillers.

The guard in charge, a small, pudgy bald man, spoke to Wings, a hint of a grin on his face. "Thanks for that."

Wings just stared at him. "It wouldn't have happened if the Sangheili's weapons hadn't been confiscated and their shields deactivated."

The guard's expression faded. "They're Elites. We can't just-" He sputtered.

Wings folded his arms. "They're protected under the rights of the Interspecies Union Act III. I'm going have my AI reactivate their shields, and I expect their weapons to be brought to them. I'm sure that if they did try and cause trouble, then there are enough armed citizens here to give them a run for their money."

The guard's face was red. Wings leaned in a bit closer. "Next time something like this happens, I will take it as a sign of species discrimination, and an indirect attempt at murder. Whoever was in charge of the gate knew about the feelings against Sangheili."

And with that, Wings marched back to their group, and had Deep Ocean begin to unlock the two Sangheili's shields.

She had been finished for several minutes when a couple nervous guards wandered up, carrying a locked case between them.

It was opened, and Autel and Fira accepted their weapons.

The Spartans and Sangheili went to a secure room, and after checking it thoroughly for bugs, they all stood in the center of the room, near the active holo-table.

Wings looked to Autel. "So, what is this about?" Although he already had an idea of what it was about.

Autel slid a data crystal in to a slot, and the table sprang to life.

"Fira and I have more information about Cell QX518-I53PR. We've found one of the research centers."


0300 Hours, January 1st, 2569 (UNSC Military Calendar)

The month long guard duty at the mall was finally over. The day after Christmas had been worst, with barely enough room to maneuver in the crowded walkways.

Now all five Spartans were crewing two Albatross's, gliding down to the surface.

They were on their way down to the a medical research facility, in the hopes of finding more information on Cell QX518-I53PR.

And they were definitely not following established UNSC protocol.

Wings and Itzia piloted the forward ship, with X and Zero guiding the rear one down. Peec was stowed away in one of the shipping crates, having been chosen to be the infiltrator due to his incredible computer hacking skills. He was the only armored, wearing a tight fitting stealth suit that hid him even better than their Mark VII MJOLNIR armor.

The two heavy drop ships settled down on the platform, and Zero and Wings went down to hook up in to the loader exoskeletons.

The exoskeletons were based off of old Mark II MJOLNIR powered armor, and had been redesigned for lifting and carrying heavy loads.

The suits disguised Zero and Wing's physique perfectly, covering up most of their bodies up to their collarbones.

Grabbing their first load, the two disguised Spartans carried the crates out to the supply pad, where a small detachment of people were moving to secure them.

"Another shipment already!?" One of them called, waving to Wings.

"Yeah! Why not?" He replied.

"We just got one! There's got to be a mistake!"

Wings shrugged as best he could with the bulky, ungainly arms. How he longed to be back in his regular powered armor, in which he could pull off acrobatics no other human could hope to do otherwise...

"We just followed orders, which are quite clear with this one!"

The man turned away, grumbling, and Wings highly-sensitive ears allowed him to hear the man.

"Crazy doctor. What does that Halsey woman want with all this crap, anyway?"

Ah.


Peec crawled through the ventilation systems, knowing exactly where the sensors would be. He's hacked in to ONI servers at a young age and learned all about research facility security devices.

Halting almost exactly one meter and fifteen centimeters from an exit grill, he sprayed a fine mist through the air.

Lasers.

Reaching out to the side wall, he sent a small EMP shock through his gloves, temporarily deactivating the laser devices.

He crawled through and scrunched himself up, to avoid activating the lasers when they turned back on. He sprayed a different liquid on the grating, and acid that quickly ate through the metal.

With a skillful twist and pull, Peec pulled the grating out and slid it in front of him, knowing there would be no traps that would sense its movement.

He lowered himself gently to the floor and found himself inside an apartment housing.

He went to one door and listened for a second. He heard strange sounds coming from behind the door, like two humans...

Peec pulled back from the door, realizing what he was hearing, and exited the apartment as silently as possible.

The hall outside was deserted, and Peec's boots made no sound as he jogged along the hall, until he reached his destination.

The lock was a complex time delay. He carefully cracked open the case and got to work.

The simple thing about time delay locks was that you could find the combination of keys to press, if you knew how to look. What Peec was looking for was not a certain circuit to break, or a wire to cross, but damage. He examined the back of the keys carefully.

Each one was tied to an alarm, which rubbed when pressed. This caused the rubber around the back of the keys to wear down to stubs, so that a sharp hacker could find the keys used.

The problem was putting them in order.

This particular one was a four digit code, with the numbers 2, 5, 6, and 9 used.

Peec knew that 2569 would be the current year and thus too obvious.

So he was left with a whole bunch of numbers that a scientist would use.

So all he had to do was think like a scientist.


Waiting aboard the Albatross was dead boring. The four Spartans were suited up in their own infiltration suits, and were waiting for the men to finish unloading the crates.

They finished, and the remaining members of Phoenix Team rose and pulled the slim helmets on, leaving through the rear of the large drop ships.

The team hurried over to the door and stacked up on either side. Wings opened a secure channel to Peec.

Two clicks came through, and the light above the door turned green.

Wings moved in first, waving the others in behind him.

Peec had made it to the security station and, with Deep Ocean's help, disabled the security systems.

His part was done, mostly, and now it was up to them to get to their main objective.

As the door shut behind the four Spartans, the two Albatross's lifted off the pad and headed out to space.


Peec shut the computer down and exited the security room. The hallway was still clear, so he jogged silently down it to the rendezvous point.

He stepped through the door and ran slap-bang in to the rest of his team.

Wings nodded to him, and the team continued on their way.

They reached the door to the research lab. X reached for the opening switch.

A click was heard, then a shield appeared around the switch.

"Well that's not good." He said. "Now what?"

"We leave." Wings said, and turned around.

He bounced off the shield that had appeared behind them.

"Great. And we don't have anything on us that can get through that." Itzia said.

X shifted. "Sir, why is it that every time we go on a mission without our armor, something goes terribly wrong?"

Wings turned to him. "I don't know, but it does seem like things are starting to get worse on this mission. Apparently someone know we're here, and I have a good guess who..."


The end of the path ended up being about four hundred meters underground.

Phoenix Team had been lead on a path through the facility, blocked by shields and locked doors that they, even tapping all of Peec's skills, could not open.

Finally, they reached a thick Titanium-A door, which slid open as they closed in on it.

"Its not usual for a Spartan team to be infiltrating one of their benefactors own facilities. I suppose there's a good reason for that."

At the far end of the room, behind a solid oak desk, sat Dr. Catherine Halsey.

She was older than the stills they'd seen of her. Her hair had streaks of grey, and she had the beginnings of crows feet at the corners of her eyes.

The heavy door slid shut behind the five members of Phoenix Team.

Halsey sat up in her seat. "I knew that there was a special operations Sangheili team interested in this facility, but I didn't know that the famous Phoenix Team was involved."

The five Spartans stepped to the middle of the room and looked around.

The floor was covered in tables, upon which sat medical and scientific equipment that had functions they couldn't fathom. The walls were decorated with pictures of people that Wings recognized. SCPO Franklin Mendez, Sergeant Major Johnson, Lord Hood, the Spartan IIs, and some of the IIIs.

"We're here about Cell QX518-I53PR." Wings said.

"Direct, I like that." Halsey leaned forward, and tapped a few keys. On the table to her left a hologram appeared of a convoluted cell.

It was not a normal cell. The walls were irregular, and clumps of stuff seemed to be attempting to push their way out of the cell wall.

"This is the cell you're looking for. I'm also going to assume that you know what it does."

"Of course."

"Then what do you want to know?"

"How to reverse it."

"Why would you want to reverse it?"

Halsey didn't know what exactly they knew, but the shifting in body weight to a slightly more defensive posture told her something.

Wings spoke. "Can we see some of the test subjects?"

Her face turned slightly ashen. "We only have one right now."

She showed them in to a second room, which held a bunch of empty cages. A chimpanzee lay on its side in one cage at the center of the room.

The chimpanzee was twitching erratically, and its eyes stared straight ahead, as if it didn't realize they were there.

Itzia let out a small breath. "Late stage spastic palsy. When did it start?"

Halsey checked a small readout at the bottom of the cage. "About ten minutes ago."

"When was he injected with the cell?"

"Twelve hours ago."

A beeping was heard, and the chimp's movements ceased.

Wings turned back to Halsey. "What exactly do you do here?"

"Neural research. Its not just this cell, I have... other projects I work on. This particular is based off the success of superconducting the nerves. You've all had that. The point of this particular research is to combine the acceleration of nerve signals and the incredible cellular regeneration that the Spartans have gained as a result of their physical augmentation. Cell QX518-I53PR is made to allow nerve cells to replicate, so that you can heal from brain damage, among other things."

"So what kind of research is there to stabilize it?"

She sighed. "There is none. We barely have the funds to keep this project alive, and nothing is being done to research the reversal of this cell or stabilization of it. Right now we're just flicking a paint brush at a sheet of canvas, getting a splatter painting."

Halsey couldn't fail to miss the glance that Wings and Itzia exchanged.

She turned to them, folding her arms across her chest.

"You seem to know a lot about this research already. Perhaps you should tell me why you're so interested in its reversal."


"And you were injected when?"

"August 2nd, 2562."

Halsey looked shocked. "And the only side effect has been this 'organ schizophrenia'?"

Wings shrugged. "Besides thinking and reacting faster than the average Spartan, yes."

"That's amazing. Six years ago our test subjects lasted, at most, three hours before being struck by a major cognitive disorder."

"Perhaps its a combination of this treatment and our other physical augmentations."

Halsey started wringing her fingers. "Possibly, but it could also be that the human's frontal lobe is far more advanced than our test subjects. That would help explain why higher though processes aren't affected negatively."

"Yet."

"...Yet."

"So what can we do."

"I don't know. I need multiple scans of your brain, numerous samples of DNA, a white matter biopsy..."

"I'll do it."

"You do know how dangerous this is, right?"

Wings shrugged. "Is it any more dangerous than anything else I've done?"

"Fair point. There's only one more problem..."

"Money."

"Yes."

"We'll fetch, you build."

"Alright."

Chapter 14: Pinions

2200 Hours, February 16th, 2569 (UNSC Military Calendar)

Phoenix Team was fresh out of a recent combat theatre, and had finally gotten the go on their private mission.

HighCom usually didn't approve of private missions, but they approved of Insurrectionists even less. And since they didn't currently have the resources to spend on assaulting the weakened rebels, so they were willing to accept any volunteers.

Infiltrating the base was easy, humans are generally easier to fool than cameras and sensors.

Easier to kill, too.

The five Spartans made it to the central room, where Wings plugged Deep Ocean in.

"Alright, this ought to be-"

Alarms blared, then stopped almost immediately.

"Well that was unexpected." The AI said. "I have encountered a counter-infiltration AI."

"Can you take him out?" Wings said, moving some crates to form a chokepoint, as X and Itzia moved others to block the doors.

"Yes, but it will be easier if I have Peec to help." Then she spoke to the team techy. "Think you can do this?"

Peec stowed his rifle on his back and took a position at the wide mainframe keyboard. "Try me."

Zero unslung her assault rifle, and stared down at it. She wasn't as good as the others at close ranged fighting, and loathed that fact.

X knelt behind a crate, and snapped a G58 HE Grenade Launcher on to his rifle, and popped a round in. The G58 worked like a Roman Candle, each shell in the tube had three explosives. One was fired for each pull of the trigger, thus reducing the amount of reloads needed.

Itzia had an SMG set out on the crate, her SM6D pistol out, and had found a stash of grenades. Wings nodded to her and gave her the thumbs up. She returned the gesture, and set a grenade just inside the door jam at the end of the hallway.

Wings set himself up to the side of the door to their room, checking the ammo in his shotgun. He chambered a round and stood a couple feet back, keeping an eye on his motion tracker.

Red dots gathered at the far door, and he distinctly heard footsteps, then a door slide open, and a bunch poured in to the opening.

Peec's back was to the door, which unfortunately gave the Innies a clear shot at his back. Wings heard the rattle of MA5K assault rifles, and Peec's shields sparked.

With barely a slow-down in his faster than 200 words per minute, Peec tossed a small tear shaped object behind himself. It opened up, and a portable Covenant plasma barrier sprang to life. The rounds from the MA5Ks simply bounced off it.

The next thing Wings heard was the discharge of an SM6D pistol, then an explosion of Itzia's grenade as the bullet made contact with the small exposive.

Six Innies were caught in the blast. Zero's MA6C rattled, cutting down two others.

This set the rest back. However, the Spartan's next rounds bounced off several military grade combat shields.

The team-com was already open. "Hold your fire." Wings ordered.

The three Spartans covering the door ducked behind cover, and bullets riddled the crates.

The Innies carrying combat shields came slowly through the door in to the mainframe room.

Wing's shotgun roared, and one Innie fell.

"Kill them."

Zero popped up, firing a sustained burst in to one of the carrier's now unprotected flank, and he fell.

Itzia came up with an armed grenade in each hand, and threw them both. Being a medic, she'd used both her hands in practice, and had thus trained herself to be ambidextrous.

One grenade blew the last two shield bearers apart, the shrapnel rattling against Wing's shields. The other one flew in to the hallway, in to the ranks behind the bearers. Three more were consumed.

The Innies had made a bad tactical error. Thinking themselves safe from attack due to the shields, they'd packed in tightly. So when the shield bearers were killed, about twenty Innies were trapped in the open hallway, packed wall to wall in their eagerness to kill the Spartans.

Lead poured in to them, and two more grenades detonated. Some fell, the others died, quite literally, standing.

The bodies in the hallway formed a great barrier, but it also provided a small amount of cover for the rest behind them. However, reinforcements were slow in arriving. Over thirty were dead already and had nothing to show for it.

Deep Ocean's voice came in over the coms. "I'm in. Accessing financial databases."

"Why doesn't she just say 'banks account', like most of us?" Zero grunted, dropping down behind cover as several dozen rounds hit her shields, knocking them out.

"Because bank accounts can be-"

"Yeah yeah, just shut up and let me focus on killing these guys, and keeping you alive."

"Technically, I'm not-"

"Just shut up."

Peec turned from the terminal. "I'm done, need help?"

Wings jumped a bit, and landed behind the cover crates. "We're good, but help is always appreciated."

Peec pushed the plasma barrier in front of the doorway. Bullets didn't seem to affect it at all. "How's that?"

Wings let out a bark of laughter as he fed more shells into his shotgun. "Would've been more appreciated five minutes ago."

Several bodies hit the shield. Peec braced himself against it, holding them back.

"How we doin', Ocean?" He said.

"Good. All accounts have been syphoned off. We can leave.

"Like we need permission." Zero said.

"Well..."

"Don't say it."

"Fine. Would someone please give me a pair of legs?"

Wings paused as he reached for the chip. "Do I want you back in my head now?"

"Well, if you want to get out of here with the codes to the accounts I just dumped about 36 million creds in to, then I would suggest it."

"Alright then."

"Huh, now she's getting a sense of humor." Zero said as they turned to the stairs leading to the roof. She paused. "Is that a good thing?"

"We could discuss the moral implications later."

Zero snorted. "Not good with words. Just point me at something to shoot."

Deep Ocean laughed. "There are moral implica-"

"Do you ever shut up?" Zero snapped.


Clearing the rest of the base was easy. Insurrectionist fighters tended to have much more outdated techniques and tech than the standard UNSC soldier.

They had discovered a lot of assets to take back to the UNSC, including a Shiva warhead.

However, they had some "merchandise" that the black market could use more than the UNSC...

Chapter 15: Strike

2200 Hours, February 17th, 2569 (UNSC Military Calendar)

The trip back to Halsey's lab was uneventful, as most travel through slipspace was.

She accepted the creds graciously, and had them leave so she could get to work.

As Phoenix left the building, they were met with Autel, Fira, and a new Sangheili, carrying a particle beam rifle on his back.

Autel saw his helmet turned towards the newcomer.

"This is Tawri 'Antinr. He's our sharpshooter, and a most excellent one." Wings heard Zero twitch a bit.

X crossed his arms. "So what do you have for us to do now?"

Fira shuffled, and Autel turned his head slightly to look at him before looking at X. "The Covenant are making land based pushes at Sanghelios, and our forces are spread thin. We could use your help."

Wings nodded. "We've got time. You have a ship?"

"Of course."


0841 Hours, February 18th, 2569 (UNSC Military Calendar)

Incumbent Wrath was a fair sized Sangheili frigate. Apparently Autel and his team had been "passing" the planet, so he had the Ship Master stop, knowing that Phoenix Team would be there.

This was a new experience. They'd spent a small amount of time before on a corvette, with only a few Sangheili warriors on board. The Wrath was larger, with a wider array of warriors, including those who didn't particularly like humans.

The various members of Phoenix were constantly bumping in to hostile Sangheili.

Peec was the most frustrated by this. More and more his muscles became tighter, every time a Sangheili bumped in to him.

Funnily enough, it was Zero who snapped first.

She was walking down one of the hallways when one of the aliens bumped into her deliberately.

"If you're going to hit me, hit me." She growled. "Prove you're worthy of whatever crap you believe in."

He turned back to her, smiling. "Fine." And he lashed out, aiming for her helmet.

The Spartan just leaned left, letting the elite's fist pass right by. Reaching a hand up, she grabbed his leg and pulled the alien toward her, headbutting him.

He staggered back, shaking his head.

Zero put her right foot behind her, crouching slightly and raising her fists. "Come on, don't tell me that's all you've got."

He crouched, off balanced.

She snorted. He obviously didn't understand what balancing meant. Time to give him a lesson.

He took a couple steps forward, and she brought her right foot swinging around. He made a half-hearted grab at it before it collided. The heavy foot didn't hit him as hard as it should have, but the Sangheili still toppled backwards.

"You guys need to learn how to fight like humans sometime. It's called 'unarmed combat'."

The warrior roared and charged Zero, swinging an incredible left.

Zero just sidestepped, placing the back of her index finger on her left hand along the outside of his arm and pushing slightly. With the other hand she used two fingers along the inside of his mask to push him.

The Sangheili accelerated from this slight push, and slammed into the wall, hard.

He fell to the ground, senseless.

Zero turned to the few spectators who'd gathered.

"Anyone else want a lesson?"


Ship Master Sona 'Demal was not happy with one of his warriors being knocked out by one of the Spartans, but he had to concede that the warrior had provoked the fight as well as swung the first punch.

Wings decided that, in order to prevent any further provocations, it would be good for the Spartans to practice hand-to-hand combat.

The hangar rang with the thuds and smacks of gauntleted hands and booted feet hitting armor plates, each one taking turns with a partner.

It was Peec's turn on the sidelines, and he tensed when Fira approached.

The Sangheili warrior looked at the other two pairs sparring. "Why do you train like this?"

"What if you lose your weapons in a fight?"

Fira looked a bit confused. "Spartans and Sangheili are two of the strongest creatures besides Jiralhanae. Why do we need to be good at fighting with our bare hands?"

Peec nodded towards the sparring pairs. "You saw how Zero kicked that one guy's ass. It's not strength, or sometimes even speed, that matters in a fight. That warrior could have been stronger than any Jiralhanae and Zero still would have won."

Fira tilted his head, watching X floor Wings. "Can you teach me?" His tone was completely humble.

Peec smiled slightly behind his visor. "Be happy to."


Peec knew the most of any Spartan about Sangheili physiology, so he was able to rework a lot of the movements and stances for Fira to fit Sangheili.

Fira was a relatively fast learner, and three hours later, managed to floor Peec, despite being slower and a little weaker than the Spartan.

The Spartan lay on his back. "Very good, you got me, once."

Fira held out his hand to life Peec up. "Thank you." His mandibles worked for a second, then he spoke again. "Spartan."


The city surrounding Vadam keep was enjoyable enough, despite the constant glares from the resident Sangheili.

"I would say the the warriors stuck at home have a less favorable view of things."

Wings definitely had to agree with Itzia's observation. The Sangheili didn't seem to take well to large armored humans walking through the streets of their city.

Autel, Fira, and 'Antinr were guiding Phoenix Team down the central street.

Wings and Peec were the only two who really knew just how misogynistic the Sangheili were, but Wings never really saw it up close.

He walked a bit faster, and caught up with Autel.

"How come there's no females here?"

His friend grimaced. "It's not tradition for females to be in the cities unless they're with child."

"Is that tradition that should happen or tradition that your elders like?"

Another grimace. "What do you think?"

"I think that you miss your wife." Wings muttered.

Autel turned back to him. "How did you-"

The Spartan nodded to his team to keep going. Fira and 'Antinr just kept walking.

"I guessed when we landed. You became silent, avoiding eye contact with your team. That told me that someone you care about more is here, and that they're in danger. Then when asked about the traditions of your species, you became slightly hostile, that tells me you're having trouble being with the one you care about. And since Fira and 'Antinr are here already, and I we know your father is on his way back from another planet, he'll be here tomorrow, so you know you'll see him.

"That leads me to believe the one you want to see is already here. And the only one I know of is your wife, Cyla 'Cazal."

Autel's hand twitched. "How do you even know she exists?"

Wings motioned towards the back of his head. "Had Ocean do some digging."

Autel continued to look surprised, and a little worried. Wings raised his hands, palms out. "And I will never betray her to anyone, not if I was ordered to or tortured for the information. You are my friend. In fact, based on the ONI dossier Ocean found I'd actually like to meet her. She sounds like an interesting character."

Autel relaxed, then turned and began walking away. "How do you do time in your military? I believe it would be 0100 hours on the front steps. Use your active camouflage."


0100 Hours, February 19th, 2569 (UNSC Military Calendar)

Wings left his team sleeping in their room at Vadam Keep and made it to the front steps without being spotted.

A blip on his motion tracker showed Autel was on his way, and the Spartan rose. They nodded to each other, and Autel took the lead. Wings followed him.

The two traveled through the city silently, as ghosts.

Once on the outskirts, Autel turned towards a forest several kilometers away and broke in to a jog. Wings followed at a steady pace, their feet thumping against the hard earth.

The forest was, if possible, darker than the night. The trees grew thick, and roots intermingled, tangling one's feet.

A small grouping of huts was spotted after a few kilometers, only Wings' eye augmentations allowing him to see in the deep darkness.

"That where we're headed?"

Autel nodded. "Yes, follow me, and show yourself to no one."

Together they entered the small village and approached one of the small stone huts.

Autel walked to the door and knocked softly. It opened, and Wings saw a light through the doorway, then a female Sangheili, slightly shorter than Autel, step out.

"Autel, please, come inside."

Autel paused. "I've brought a friend who wishes to meet you."

"Where is he?"

"Behind you."

Cyla spun on the spot, and took a step back from the human who'd appeared there, bumping into Autel. Wings held out his hand, speaking fluent, although accented, Sangheili. "Spartan D339 at your service, ma'am."

She took it, obviously awkward with the formality and being spoken to like an equal. "The honor is mine, Spartan."

Autel stepped inside and closed the door behind them as Wings pulled his helmet off. Cyla lit more candles, and soon the room was bathed in a soft golden light.

She turned to her two visitors. "What is it you wish to talk about?"

"Your culture."

A nod. "What about it?"

"Your culture seems to pride itself on honor. Where does that honor come from?"

She nodded towards Autel. "He can explain that better than I."

Autel folded his arms. "Traditionally, honor is gained through battle, and the slaying of our enemies."

"So why are females not even given a chance to do so?"

Cyla answered this one. "Because we're considered weak, as we're often not able to fight due to the fact that we carry children."

"That seems more honorable to me."

She tilted her head slightly. "You already knew about how our culture works."

"Of course, but it's always good to hear it from the oppressed in that culture."

The Sangheili female nodded, considering this. "Well then, in that case, you should tell me about your culture."

The corner of Wings' mouth twitched up. "Can't say I can tell you much besides what I've studied and only a bit of personal experience, but I'll try..."


0400 Hours, February 19th, 2569 (UNSC Military Calendar)

Wings and Autel had made it back to the keep safely, and were now talking again. Autel seemed to be getting better at asking questions.

"You seem to know how cultures work."

The Spartan nodded. "I have to."

"So can you tell me why the war with the Covenant isn't officially over? We destroyed their leadership and Halo, as well as the Flood. We crushed them. How can they still cling to their beliefs?"

Wings thought for a minute, then marched off. "I'll meet you on the northwest third floor balcony."


Peec looked up from his computer as Wings walked in.

"You have a spare computer I can use?"

Peec leaned back and grabbed one. "Yeah, why?"

"It have Star Wars on it?"

Peec paused, then grabbed another one and tossed it to his squad leader, perplexed.


0630 Hours, February 19th, 2569 (UNSC Military Calendar)

"You humans sure do have fairly old forms of entertainment."

"Old 20th century stuff. 1983, to be precise."

"Now what does this have to do with what we were talking about?"

Wings began tapping on the keypad. "There are five other movies in that series. That was the sixth. It's like our dilemma, the Rebels destroyed the Empire's ultimate weapon, and cut the head off their leadership. But that's not the end of the story."

"There were only six movies."

"Yes," Wings replied. "But explain this."

He turned the screen so Autel could see. There was a list of forty different names on it.

"What are these?"

"This is a list of books that tell stories about the time after the movie. For us, destroying Halo was like destroying the Death Star, and killing Truth was like killing the Emperor. It's not the end of the fight, but it's a turning point."

"I think I understand."

"And now you see what we'll be. We're the ones who'll crack the Covenant, instead of just giving it a kick in the shins. We won't be nearly as famous as the heroes of the war, but we'll be the ones to finish the job."

"You're worried about fame?"

"No, I'm glad right where I am. Ending the Covenant is more interesting to me than photo-ops."


1325 Hours, February 19th, 2569 (UNSC Military Calendar)

The sound of plasma thudding overhead did not omit a response from the two SpecOps teams in the battle. Unfortunately, there were a lot of new recruits who'd never fought a pitched fight before.

Many had gotten excited, looking to gain honor in their first battle, and stood or charged. They were cut down in seconds.

Wings crouch walked his way over to Autel. "We need to punch a hole in their field of fire. 'Antinr almost to his spot?"

Autel opened his com. "'Antinr, you ready?"

"Yes."

Wings nodded, then opened the SpecOps com. "Snipers, punch a whole. Grenadiers, flank right. The rest of us are moving left. Field Master, stay with SPARTAN-D2552."

Fira and X moved right, and the rest went left, alternatively running and crouch walking to their destination.

Sniper rounds flew overhead, and a beam rifle's tracer colored the sky. Zero's voice came over the com.

"Got their attention. Fire has slackened, but it'll be only a few moments before they have snipers in position to tag us."

Wings responded as they reached the left flank. The battle had been evolved in to the relative shape of a moon, with the experienced Fallen warriors on the inside curve, and the IU forces on the outside curve.

"Alright. Mag and move."

"And me, Spartan?"

Wings was pleasantly surprised to hear 'Antinr's voice seeking a suggestion.

"Four to six shots at each position, then pick a new one."

"Very well."

The mic clicked twice, and more rounds flew out.

"Grenadiers, hit them."

Fira and X popped up, with the Sangheili throwing plasma grenades and X firing his G58.

The explosives caused devastation among the Fallen ranks, but they soon turned to face the new threat.

"Up and over." Wings said, and launched himself into the rear of the enemy forces.

The other two Spartans and Autel followed him, and they wrecked havoc among the Fallen.

Some of them turned and ran, but were cut down by the other Sangheili. The snipers forced them to keep their heads down and move slowly, allowing the flanking teams to outmaneuver and outgun them.

The skirmish lasted just few minutes longer as the SpecOps teams let the regular warriors kill the stragglers.

Wings stowed his MA6C on his back and met up with the rest.

"These are the kind of pushes you've been getting?"

Autel nodded. "The only experienced warriors we have are my team and the ones on a dozen other planets."

"Not anymore," Itzia said, looking up.

Following the gaze of her visor, Wings turned his head to the sky. Above them, a carrier and several cruisers had slipped in during the battle.


Thel 'Vadam landed in one of just a few dozen Phantoms.

"Finally, some warriors with an actual grain of sense." Zero said, drawing glares from some of the newer recruits.

Thel was garbed in his Arbiter ceremonial armor, and was slipping two energy sword handles in to place on his thigh plates.

He curled his fist over his first heart. The two Special Forces teams returned the gesture. Thel spoke first.

"How bad are things?"

"Fairly bad." Autel said. "The Fallen have been making pushes all over the city, and we've been losing a lot of young, overeager warriors."

Wings continued. "We've found one outpost serving as a supply depot. I plan on taking it out a little later, with the sunset. That way it'll be easier to sneak up on them and take it out. Destroy that depot and their supply lines will double, at the minimum."

Thel nodded. "I'm with you."

D339 nodded. "We should move out now. The heat will cover any infrared flares we'd normally send up."


1830 Hours, February 19th, 2569 (UNSC Military Calendar)

"Small outpost."

"It's a depot. Why make a large outpost when a small one will do?"

"Only a few guards. Sucks for them."

The Sangheili Special Forces watched the Spartans conversing quietly.

Autel stepped forward. "We'd better get this over with fast. Dust cloud on the horizon."

Wings zoomed in to where Autel pointed, and, sure enough, a large dust cloud had materialized.

"I count five Wraiths, ten Shadows, ten Spectres, and twenty Ghosts, all crewed and running. About sixty other foot soldiers besides."

Wings sighed. "Defenses at the keep aren't strong enough to withstands a constant barrage like that. We need to weaken them." He pointed to the Sangheili. "Stay here. We'll move faster. Stealth is moot at this point, we need that depot destroyed. Then together we'll ambush and destroy some of that convoy. 'Antinr, we could use your cover fire."

Autel nodded as 'Antinr took up a position on the ridge just to their south. To the north lay four kilometers of flat open ground and the small supply depot. The convoy was about twenty klicks away.

"Phoenix, get there fast, and blow it up."

The Spartans leapt up from behind the rocks and accelerated to top speed. Each one was capable of running at just over 130 kilometers per hour, and they crossed the four kilometers in thirty seconds.

However, they began to draw fire about eighteen seconds in. Plasma fire splashed against the ground, and the occasional shot hit their shields. It was ignored.

Several particle beam shots flared over their heads, and four Fallen dropped.

Wings reached back and pulled his assault rifle out, crouched, and leapt.

He soared over the plasma fence, and landed on a Fallen. He fired a quick burst in to his throat, and pushed off again. He twisted through the air and elbowed another one in the chest. The foe landed, and Wings tightened his fist. A blade sprang from his vambrace, and hummed with an intense energy. D339 brought the blade around and ran him through.

Retracting it by loosing his muscles, Wings rolled right as carbine fire zipped towards him. He brought his rifle around and fired a sustained burst, riddling the Fallen with 7.62 mm rounds.

He stood an looked around. All the enemy Sangheili were dead, and Phoenix had gotten to their duties. Wings reached back and grabbed a demolition charge, and found his fuel tank. He planted the charge, and the team left, sprinting back across the plains.

"Any sign that the convoy knows we're here?"

'Antinr's voice came back across the com. "They know something is up, and have picked up the pace, but there are no signs that they noticed you."

"Thanks." He turned to X. "Wait until they're well inside. It'll be mostly foot soldiers inside, so I want all anti-vehicle weapons we have on those Wraiths."

X nodded and hefted his Spartan Laser on to his shoulder, whilst holding the detonation trigger.

Fira had a fuel rod cannon, and Itzia sported a dual-tubed rocket launcher, which she'd grabbed from the stash of weapons the teams had stowed on the ridge.

Zero climbed on to the ridge where 'Antinr was located, and checked her mag.

Off in the distance, the Fallen convoy reached the outpost.


Urei 'Cazal, leader of the Fallen, marched in to the supply depot, his golden armor glistening in the setting sun. He turned up the tint on his visor, keeping the glare out of his eyes.

Behind him twenty Fallen warriors spread out, searching the camp.

A Major Domo ran up to him. "Twenty dead warriors, Excellency. Human and Plasma weaponry."

Urei smiled. "Then the commander was right. Phoenix was here."

He turned around, and spotted something underneath a tank. A red light flashed.

"Fall back! Fall back!" He screamed, throwing himself backwards, out the gate, which was the standard plasma shield.

The Field Master passed through it as the outpost behind him exploded.

He stood groggily, and watched three of his Wraiths explode. A laser, two rockets, and several fuel rod cannons shots tore them to shreds.

The other two turned and fired once, the plasma bombs scoring a great arc through the sky.

Another laser pierced on, and the second was hit by a rocket and a couple more fuel rod blasts.

Damn, all his artillery gone in less than fifteen seconds.

Urei knew the battle was lost, and ordered a swift retreat, telling those that had it to engage their active camouflage. The heat of the plains would mask most sensors the Spartans had.

He hoped.


Unfortunately for him, Mark VII MJOLNIR helmets came equipped with high frequency sensors.

The Spartans were able to see everything going on, and harassed the fleeing Fallen forces, killing most of the ground troops.

The Sangheili weren't able to do much except watch the Spartans send out waves of rockets and bullets.

Wings stood, fitting a new magazine in to his battle rifle and sliding the bolt home. "That's one convoy that won't pick on our forces.

Fira snorted. "Aye, and you did the whole thing without us. So much for equality."

D339 turned to him. "I never said we were done."

Thel tilted his head. "Then what are we doing?"

"Waiting for reinforcements."

"And then?"

"Didn't they ever teach you guys how to track?"


1911 Hours, February 19th, 2569 (UNSC Military Calendar)

Lieutenant, Junior Grade Frederic-104 was first on top of the ridge.

The five Spartans sat behind cover with four Sangheili, talking in low tones.

They all looked up as Blue Team pounded their way in to the small depression, and one, with D2552 stenciled on his shoulder plate, huffed. "So much for stealth."

Fred nodded to him, checking the IFF signals. The CPO was the one with D339 on his shoulder. This must be the leader of Phoenix Team.

"You the one in charge of this?"

D339 nodded. "I was. Now you are."

"You're still in tactical command here."

He shrugged. "Fair enough, take a look over the ridge."

Fred and D339 went to the top of the ridge and looked out at the smoking ruins of the supply depot and Fallen vehicles.

"You guys look as if you've taken care of everything here."

The CPO shook his head. "We just cut their supply lines. That's a temporary solution. We've got to follow them to the source of this, and we do it by following the foot troops."

"I'll trust you with that one. By the way, what's your name?"

"D339."

"No, your name."

D339 turned to look at him. "For us, names are private. We tell them to you if we trust you, and not before. So don't even trying to order us to tell you."

Fred nodded, and they all moved out.


Long treks across wide, hot plains are excruciating. Doing them at night just makes them suspenseful, as the heat dissipated and allowed infrared sensors to pick up their signatures easily.

The mountains the Special Forces teams were racing for were about fifty kilometers away. They followed the reduced dust cloud from the Fallen forces. At about 0400 hours the foot soldiers broke off from the vehicles, heading northeast.

Wings pointed. "We follow them."

"Wouldn't it be more prudent to follow the vehicles, take them out?" Kelly's voice queried.

"Only if you just want to blow up some easily replaceable equipment." Wings responded. "A good leader is much harder to replace."


The sun was coming up as they reached the mountains, and a sprawling forest.

Autel rolled his sore shoulders. "What now?"

Peec bent to examine the dirt. "Stop walking around, first of all. You're disturbing the tracks."

Wings explained to Autel. "We've been trained to track our enemies without the use of sensors. Since the Fallen still use some Sangheili ways, they haven't covered all their tracks. Peec can find them."

"See, there." Peec proclaimed, pointing at a leaf. "Bruised. They're now going Northwest. Follow me."

Now they moved at a much reduced pace, following Peec. Every so often he would stop and examine something, then got them moving. Sometimes the trail ended up doubling back.

When the suns of Sanghelios were at their zenith, Peec halted, holding his hand up, then pointed forward, pulling out his MA6C.

Wings stepped forward, and looked down the hill.

In the valley below them, well over a hundred Sangheili moved about, carrying fuel cells and storing weapons.

Autel joined Wings on the edge as the Special Forces engaged their active camouflage.

"They'll have sensors that can detect us, even without the heat."

Wings nodded. "Just get me to a terminal so I can plug Ocean in. Everyone, spread out along the lip of this hill, ten meter spread. Work your way down when I give the signal."

They spread out, and ten minutes later the signal came in the form of a double click from D339.

All fourteen special forces operatives made their own way down the hill.

It took half an hour to reach the bottom of the valley, and Wings made his way to a terminal, removing his neural chip and sliding it in to a terminal.

Ocean's voice came over the helmet speakers. "I'm in. Sensors are now tricked. Move to the entrance, I'll create a distraction."

They all moved to the entrance as it opened. On the other side of the valley an alarm went off. Every Fallen Sangheili dropped what they were doing and went to check the disturbance.

"It's nothing, probably another small rock slide!" A gold armored Field Master roared. "Back to work!"

He turned to several Major Domos. "Take a watch. We don't want them reaching the leader."

They nodded, gathered some subordinates, and moved off on patrol.


"'Tricked'? That's a new one." Fred said.

"Covenant grade sensors are faulty, but very hard to trick. Deep Ocean has the newest infiltration systems, systems even Cortana didn't have." Itzia responded.

The airlock hissed, and the Special Forces teams moved through.

"For being a central base, they don't seem to have many guards inside this thing." X commented.

"Having a hundred guards outside allows them to slack off just inside." Linda said. "What's the plan?"

"Split in to teams." Wings said. "We can cover more ground, and having smaller teams allows us to move faster."

Fred nodded. "Fair enough."

Phoenix and Blue teams split off at the first intersection, and the Sangheili followed Blue for a while before going off on their own path.


Autel, Thel, 'Antinr, and Fira were making a steady pace through the hallways when they were met with three squads of Fallen going the other way.

"Let them pass." Thel said quietly.

The team split in to pairs and stepped to the walls, in to the shadows.

The Fallen moved by, not taking note at all of the hidden enemies not a meter from them.

They turned the corner and vanished.

Autel stepped forward several paces, and peered around the corner. "It's all clear. Move forward."

He found himself standing on a catwalk above a vehicle depot. Eight Wraiths were arrayed there, as well as many more Ghosts and Spectres.

Thel shook his head. "This is not our destination. We should not tarry here."

Autel held up a hand. "It won't be us to kill their leader here. It'll be the Spartans. The least we can do is give them a nice distraction."

The Arbiter nodded, the shadow of a smile forming.


Zero held back five meters, extending the ranges of her shots. X had suggested this after their last battle in confined quarters.

Peec moved to the doorway. "No pad here, I can't hack this."

"I'll get this." X said, and grabbed a charge.

The rest stepped back. "Itzia, get our six." Wings ordered, and she moved to comply.

X finished setting the explosive, and stepped back, grabbing his rifle from off his back.

"I'd stand back a ways if I were you." He said, and Phoenix moved back a ways.

There was a dull flash, and the charge detonated.

"Clear the room!" Wings said, and they all moved through, firing as they went.

There were three squads of Fallen Sangheili inside, and several of them withered under the concentrated fire as they recovered from their surprise.

Within seconds the room was awash with tracer rounds and plasma bolts.

"Cover the room." And Phoenix split, moving along the perimeter of the room, ducking behind pillars and popping out again, alternating firing and moving.

Wings spun back behind the pillar as boiling plasma bubbled its way in to the rock. He took stock of the room he was in.

It was a high one, multi-tiered. Catwalks were above him, three total floors of them. They were empty right now, which was good. Lighting was all natural, orange sunlight filtering in through cracks in the walls.

Rock?

He turned a bit to face the pillar, and ran his hand along it.

No, this wasn't rock.

His examinations were interrupted by the rattle of two MA6C assault rifles.

Wings swore and grabbed a new magazine for his rifle, and pushed it home.

Sliding the bolt back in to place, he spun the other way and squeezed the trigger. Several rounds punched through a Sangheili's mask and killed him.

Under the intense crossfire, the Fallen were losing fast.

Five minutes later, the room lay silent, except for the soft clipping of new rounds being locked in to place.

Wings was about to move up to the middle of the room when he heard a click.

"Cover!" He roared, and spun back behind the column.

A flare landed and activated, filling the room with light.

The Spartans all heard something land heavily on the floor, and the flare died.

X was about to look when something hit the pillar behind him, sending him forward and into the wall.

"Bastard Brutes were never ones for talk," he said, and grabbed his shotgun.

Peec spun around his pillar and came face to face with the Judicator.

"Awww shit." He muttered, and threw himself to the side.

A hand snatched out and latched on to this ankle.

The Judicator dragged him back and threw him to the middle of the room like he was a twig.

D1074 crashed to the floor, and rolled. He came up firing, the bullets bouncing off the giant's shields.

His squad mates opened up, and the Judicator pulled out a strange looking rifle.

Peec grabbed an orb on his belt and dropped it. The Judicator fired, and the green beam bounced off the bubble shield that activated. It struck the gray pillar behind the brute and exploded.

Wings popped out with his shotgun and let fly. He racked the slide and fired again. The Judicator's shields shields flared from the blast, but they all knew from experience that they were nowhere near to being down.

Everyone pumped rounds in to him, but he just kept coming.

He fired again, just as Itzia ducked back behind her pillar.

Rock exploded, and chunks pinged off her shields. The Brute moved forward, and grabbed his hammer.

He swung it as more bullets rattled off the shields, and Itzia was barely able to get away as the head smashed through the pillar, sending a shockwave through it. The entire pillar exploded.

Sharp rock shards were sent around the room, just as Wings ran out of ammo.

He reached for another buckshot round, but came up with nothing.

Dropping the shotgun, he pulled out his MA6C and squeezed the trigger.

All around him, his team was slowly running out of ammunition.

They were getting slower, too. The Judicator was picking apart their cover, one pillar at a time. More time was spent maneuvering to new positions and dodging his attacks than actually firing.

The last round shot out the barrel, and the firing pin clacked to empty. Wings had no more reloads.

Itzia was in the same situation. She dropped her assault rifle and pulled out her SM6D.

Wings followed suit.

A sniper round shot from the upper balconies, followed swiftly by three more, then a steady stream of assault and battle rifle fire.

The Judicator's shields finally dropped, and bullets began bouncing off his armor. He roared and charged the wall, smashing through it and running off.

Linda landed in the middle of the room, slapping a new magazine home and firing all four rounds.

Three of them bounced off the Brute's armor, but one hit something weak, and lodged there.

"Don't follow him." Wings ordered. "He'll have a trap set up for us. We need to get out before the reinforcements arrive."

Phoenix gathered up some plasma weapons to replace their empty ones, and the two teams moved out.

A rumble shook their feet, and they all heard the far off roar of an explosion.


"That probably got their attention." 'Antinr said as the four Sangheili warriors rushed from the site of their sabotage.

"Yes, they will be trying to recover from that for a couple hours." Fira responded.

They ducked around the corner, nearly tripping over Phoenix and Blue Teams coming the other way.

"You got us covered for the escape?" Fred queried.

"We do. The fires are gaseous, they will spread quickly. We should leave." Thel said, and the rest followed him.

"Did you get the leaders?" Autel asked as they ran.

"We got a couple Zealots." Wings said. "By then the Judicator showed up, and we had our hands full."

"We got a few black armored guys, and some red armored Elite that had shields about twice the strength of a Zealot." John said.

The teams sprinted out of the entrance. The Sangheili in the valley had abandoned their post and rushed inside to help deal with the fire.

They could not help but feel a sense of triumph as the kilometers disappeared underneath their feet, the mountains speeding away.


0800 Hours, February 22nd, 2569 (UNSC Military Calendar)

Fallen pushed on the city had slowed dramatically since the raid on the base. They seemed to be regrouping. Perhaps that red one had been a major leader.

"CPO Spartan-D339?" He recognized the voice.

Wings turned, and noticed the insignia of a Lieutenant Commander. He snapped to attention, and saluted. "Sir!"

"At ease." The Lieutenant Commander said, returning the salute. "Good work on taking out that Fallen base."

"Thank you sir. Was there something you wanted?"

"I wanted to meet you, find out what you're like."

Wings tilted his head. "That's new, if you don't mind me saying, sir."

"I suppose it is."


0100 Hours, February 23rd, 2569 (UNSC Military Calendar)

Autel had told Wings that someone wanted to talk to him.

Wasn't Cyla, she and Autel left almost as soon as they got there.

Wings stood examining the light of the flickering candles for ten minutes before he heard a door open.

A small Sangheili stood in the doorway, garbed in a violet robe. She was about two thirds grown, and had white eyes, infused with red.

Just like Autel.

"You're Vena 'Vadam."

Vena tilted her head. "And you're Spartan D339. Wings."

He twitched. "How do you know that."

"I saw it." She walked across the room towards him, and he crouched a bit, coming to her eye level.

"Really." He said.

The small Sangheili held out her three fingered hand and ran it down Wings' face. He'd taken off the helmet, enjoying the cool night air on his face.

"What did you tell him?" He asked as she pulled her hand back, letting it fall to the side.

"Only that you would be important in his life. And you would only be important if he met you."

She turned and sat in a chair. Wings straightened.

"You're not just what you were made to be, a warrior. You aren't just a weapon that was forged. You're mind is what will touch others, keep them safe, change the course of their lives. Change a culture, even. You have at your hands the power to shape minds, to meld them to your will. Even I cannot possibly see what you will accomplish. You will even shape my life.

"So you see, what makes you special is not your fighting or your leadership. It is what you can do with your mind."

Wings didn't move. "But I've only been trained to fight and lead. How can I be a politician at the same time?"

"You've been given the tools. Now you have to learn to use them. All you have to do-"

"Is be discontent with the way things are."

Vena smiled. "Yes."

Wings stood straight. "Thank you, Vena 'Vadam. I won't forget this."

Chapter 16: Launch

0900 Hours, February 23rd, 2569 (UNSC Military Calendar)

Being discontent is not that hard here. Wings decided later that day.

He had been taken to the Sangheili training grounds, where Nadi 'Andal was training a small horde of young Sangheili.

They were all learning how to use energy swords, following Nadi's movements. To their credit, they were fluent in the ways of moving with it, if a bit clumsily.

"What I have a hard time figuring out is why female Sangheili are held in such low regard. They don't even have the chance to fight."

Nadi had left a hologram running, doing the motions while he spoke with the Spartan.

"They're weak, not fit to fight."

"Of course they aren't, you don't even give them a chance."

"That is why the humans were losing. You let the weak ones help you."

Wings turned angrily to him. "I'll have you know that half of my Spartans are female. Two of my team members are female."

Nadi shrugged. "Maybe that's why you haven't done anything truly worthy yet."

Wings walked out.


0100 Hours, February 24th, 2569 (UNSC Military Calendar)

"You're mad." Autel commented.

"I am." Wings responded bluntly.

"What about?"

"Your culture's misogyny."

"You're not coming with me tonight just to have another small chat with Vena, are you?"

"She said I'd change her life. It's time to start now."


0830 Hours, February 23rd, 2569 (UNSC Military Calendar)

Peec was still typing. Ocean had found some information concerning Fallen political leadership, and needed his help decoding it.

"Sub-parameters good, blue-cell lined up. Can you crack it yet?"

Ocean's hologram flickered to life in the middle of a small cloud of blue cubes. She reached out and gathered them all in to a jumble.

"Just need to do some final arranging, then it should be good to crack."

"Good." He said, and began arranging the strange matrices.

Zero walked in. "How goes the decoding?"

"Fairly well. Now, if you don't mind not talking..." Peec said, tapping as fast as he possibly could, eyes flicking back and forth.

"Matrices are aligned. We can crack it." Ocean said.

The blue boxes were now arranged in to one cohesive cube. Ocean reached out and placed her holographic hands on the sides. The entire cube exploded, but kept its general shape.

"Got. Extracting the information."

The light filtered from the cubes, becoming almost liquid. It all flowed in to a ball, and Ocean waved her left hand, which glowed red. The cubes flew away, out of range of the holograph projector.

The ball flattened, and floated to the screen as writing appeared on it. The flat liquid substance seemed to melt in to the screen, and the writing transferred itself on to the plastic.

Peec leaned back. "Interesting..."


"Interesting." Wings muttered. "This is definitely cultural, but not Fallen culture, or even Sangheili culture."

"Do you know what it is?"

Wings couldn't type nearly as fast, only perhaps 150 words per minute. "I have an inkling."

"Come on boss, you're the one who studied all sorts of cultures and how they work."

"I can't tell you what culture this is because there is little known about it. In fact, I think you and Ocean may have just cracked its largest known database."

"How long until you know what it is?"

Wings turned to look at him, taking Deep Ocean out of the computer and tossing the chip to Peec. "Get out, please."


Spartan D339 did happen to know what culture it was, and he didn't like the ramifications.

//Translation: FAILED, unknown hieroglyphic communication//

//Do you wish to try again: Y|N//

Wings hit the N key, knowing that it would never work. He'd just run the translation protocol to see if he was right.

And he was.

Not having coded a program in a while, it took him a couple hours to get the proper coding, setting it around the proper core.

//Translation: SUCCESS//

"Gotcha."

//Initiating Communications protocol//

'//Quis est tuum muneris , intrusor?//

Wings sat back, a satisfied smile on his face.


Peec was waiting outside as Wings exited, flipping a combat knife around. "So, what can you tell me about it, sir?"

Wings shook his head. "I can't tell you anything, except the 'official' explanation."

"And what is that?"

"That it's from an ancient, unknown civilization."

And he walked off.


Spartan-116 was in the entrance hall to the Keep, examining the carvings when D339 ran up and saluted.

"At ease. What is it?"

"Sir, I had my tech specialist go over some data we found. He got some interesting stuff when we cracked it."

"What sort of information?"

"I think it's best if you come with me."

The two Spartans strode back up to Phoenix Team's quarters, and Wings sat down on one of the specially reinforced chairs.

"I haven't quite decoded the entire thing, but I managed to break through the 'login', I guess you could call it, and retrieve some of the data."

The hologram projector activated, and the galaxy appeared, and zoomed in to a certain sector.

Wings held out his finger, and drew a red globe around one planet. "This is Sanghelios, and if I do this." He touched the small orb, and numbers appeared, scrolling down.

"That happens. It's binary, and I haven't translated all of them, but it looks like slipspace coordinates."

"Why don't you have Ocean translate that for you?"

Wings clicked his teeth together. "Not enough security clearance."

"Well that's bad."

"Sure is."

"Do you know what this is?"

"I'm not sure, but I think it's Precursor."

The Lieutenant Commander stretched his right arm. "Definitely bad."

Wings nodded, and got back to converting the binary. "Sure is."


Wings kept running the binary, and he eventually got a long stream of coordinates.

He checked them, and double checked, and triple checked.

"Impossible..."

The coordinates kept changing. And they lead to something that had been lost for decades.

Chapter 17: Turn

1300 Hours, February 23rd, 2569 (UNSC Military Calendar)

The small corvette skimmed through slipspace, carrying its load of warriors.

Phoenix Team was aboard, as were Autel, Fira, and 'Antinr.

"You still haven't told us where we're going, sir." Zero said, folding her arms as she stood in the doorway to the bridge. Wings sat in the pilot's chair. Checking the coordinates over and over. He'd calculated where the coordinates were changing along, and had plotted a course to bring them right on top of where the coordinates would match.

"I can't tell you until we're there."

"Yeah, haven't heard that shit before." She said, entering the bridge.

"ONI orders. I'm not allowed to tell you unless you find out for yourself." Wings said, tapping a couple keys on the keyboard. "Woops." He stood and walked out, locking the door behind himself.

It was but the work of a moment for her to figure out what Wings had left for her to find.

"Hot damn." She said as the lights from the screen played over her face.


"Are you serious?" Itzia said as they stared at the camera output on the screen as the emergency beacon played over and over again.

"Yep." Wings responded.

"It was declared lost with all hands in 2531."

"Declaring something lost is not the same as it being lost, I think." Autel said.

"You're right there." Zero said.

Wings turned from the monitor, and slid his assault rifle in to place on his back. "So, who wants to be first on board?"

The transmission continued playing as the bridge was deserted, and the ship docked.

"This is Mil-AI SRN 312-4, from Phoenix-Class Colony Ship Spirit of Fire, CFV-88. Requesting aid from any and all UNSC personnel. We have sustained significant structural damage and are in need of assistance. Crew is in deep cryogenic sleep. Repeat..."


The interior of the ship was dark, but Peec and Itzia got the power up and running.

"Reactors are at under 25% power, just enough to keep the lights on while the crew comes out of cryo." X reported from the monitoring station.

"Right, let's thaw them." Wings said.

"Think they'll want a little coffee when they wake up." X said, and moved off.


Jerome-092 was waking up.

His dreams were convoluted. Weapons, small children.

And then the heat came.

He was thrust back in to consciousness, feeling his armor begin to respond.

There was a silhouette standing outside the cryo tube he was stored in.

An Elite.

Jerome didn't know what the bastard wanted, or why he was on the Spirit, but he knew one thing.

That son of a bitch was gonna die.

He didn't have a weapon on him, yet was still confident that he could take him.

The tube slid open, and Jerome lunged out.

He collided with the Elite as it turned, and brought the alien down.

Spartan-092 heard a voice shout "Stand down, Spartan!" as he reached for his combat knife.

Something heavy hit him and bowled him off the Elite.

"Petty Officer Third Class Jerome-092, stand down!"

Jerome let go of the combat knife. Another Spartan, or at least he though it was a Spartan, was holding him easily to the ground. Jerome was much, much stronger than any other regular human, yet this Spartan held him down with a not incredible amount of effort.

The numbers stenciled on the Spartans shoulder plate read D2552. His IFF confirmed him as a Petty Officer Class 2. One rank above him.

"What are you?"

"Spartan III, Delta Company. And you had better listen to the one in charge of this operation." D2552 said.

Alice-130 and Douglas-042 were in similar situations with two other Spartans. The three Elites stood, looking amused.

Jerome dropped the knife, and D2552 collected it and stood.

His armor was different from Jerome's, not quite so bulky, except for his fusion pack. His vambraces were wider, with slits on the ends facing the hands.

He rose from his position on the floor. "Spartan IIIs?"

One with D339 stenciled on his shoulder nodded. IFF confirmed he was a CPO. "Sir. If you'll kindly-"

The rest of the crew was waking up. "Explain? Be happy to. Let's just wake everyone else up. I'm having my technician get your AI up and running and calling in some pickup."


Cutter awoke with a headache, and familiar, pleasant tones ringing through his pod.

"Captain. Wake up. Something has happened."

Captain Cutter's pod opened up, and he was met with the view of a Spartan.

It nodded, standing to attention and saluting. "Sir!"

As his vision cleared he saw that the Spartan was wearing armor unfamiliar to him.

"Petty Officer Second Class Spartan D102, sir. The rest are waiting for you on the bridge." The Spartan said.


Cutter was last on the bridge, and was confronted with the sight of eight Spartans and Anders.

He flinched when three Elites walked on to his bridge, his hand going for the service pistol at his side.

"Sir, they're friends."

"Really?" He said, turning to the helmetless Spartan, with D339 stenciled on the shoulder plates. "Since when?"

The five Spartans in the shinier armor exchanged glances, and the one with D2552 stenciled elbowed one with D102 on her pads.

"Since about 2552, sir. Chief Petty Officer Spartan D339, at your service." The CPO saluted, as did most everyone else. Except Anders, of course.

He returned it. "What year is it?"

Another exchange of glances. "It's February 23rd, 2569, sir."

Thirty eight years. They'd been asleep for thirty eight years.

"So what happened? The war-"

"We won, sir."

Cutter breathed a sigh of relief. Then he gestured to the Elites. "I suppose they have something to do about this."

D339 nodded. "They do, sir. Allow me to explain..."


The story was told three hours later. Cutter, Anders, and Red Team were talking in low tones on the other side of the bridge. The rest of the crew was awake now, and getting about their duties.

Serina's hologram appeared. "Engineers managed to get the reactor hot again. The crew is beginning repairs, and I must say, It's nice to finally hear from the outside world."

"So now what?" Anders said. "Even if they do get the Spirit slipspace worthy again, we don't have a Shaw-Fujikawa drive."

D339 straightened. "I think we can solve that."


The engineers lowered the slipspace drive from the corvette in to place.

Anders was still getting caught up with the new technology.

"Forerunner technology? We've managed to reverse engineer it?"

"Some of it," D1074 explained. "The use of it is limited, but our technology has jumped forward quite a ways."

"How fast can it run?"

Peec scratched his head. "On a ship this size? I'd say... 14 to 16 light years per day."

Anders looked slightly impressed. "From a drive this size?"

"Yep. Our AI will have no problem navigating us through slipspace."

"You have an AI?"

"Yes."

"How old is it?"

"She, ma'am. And about a year and a half."


Wings pulled Serina's chip out of the computer and slotted Deep Ocean in.

Mercury poured out, then back in to his head, leaving him a bit dizzy.

Serina's pleasant tones came over the speakers. "This is something new. I've never been stuck inside a suit of armor, before. But it's still like being in a ship, I wonder what I can do with this..."

"Don't get any funny ideas." Wings muttered as the sensation settled, and he focused on the central holotable.

"Slipspace coordinates plotted to New Quebec, charging capacitors."

"That was fast." Serina said.

"I do that. Engaging drive." Dimensions met, and the Spirit of Fire groaned as it entered slipspace.

"That was smoother than usual." Serina commented.

"Really? The aft section of your fourth deck is always breached when you enter slipspace?"

Cutter spun his command chair around and winced. He was still stiff from the long cry freeze. "What-"

"Don't worry, Captain. Everyone's fine. It was a maintenance room, full of robotic cleaners. No humans."

"Good."

"Sir, reports are back."

"What's the preliminary?" Cutter asked.

"Weapons are shot, it's a good thing we won't be engaging in another knife fight with a Covenant Destroyer."

"And the crew?"

A pause. "Eleven dead in cryo, many more suffering severe stiffness and temporary paralysis."

Cutter sighed. "Very well."

Peec came up from engineering, Professor Anders just behind him.

"Everything looks good sir. We'll be at New Quebec in four hours."


2000 Hours, February 23rd, 2569 (UNSC Military Calendar)

Lieutenant Trisha Randall rechecked the sensors. She didn't even know why the UNSC had her out here. The only thing to check for was the odd ship coming in, carrying another team or two of Spartans.

Trisha leaned back in her chair, eyes drooping.

"'Ey Lieutenant. No sleeping on the job."

She looked up as Ensign Bernard Shepard entered, carrying a couple mugs of coffee.

"Coffee isn't regulation, Ensign."

"I know that. But then, what about us is..."

She kicked him playfully. Well, she reasoned, Only having the two of us on one small station just begs to leave room for fun.

The Lieutenant flinched as a sensor binged. The slipspace probe had caught an unscheduled incoming ship. Again.

Trisha downloaded the data, then stared at the results.

"What is it?" Shepard asked, leaning over her shoulder to look.

Her mouth worked up and down for a few seconds, then she spoke. "It's the Spirit of Fire."

"That's impossible, that ship-" Bernard's mouth dropped as the cam panned to reveal a large slipspace hole.

An old Phoenix-class colony ship shot from it, and settled in a high orbit over New Quebec.

"You have got to be kidding me." Bernard commented.


There were many wounded to be had on the Spirit, so they were the first off.

Lieutenant Ezekiel stepped out of the main compound building to see the sight of several dozen Pelicans bringing wounded Navy and Marine personnel down.

Ezekiel jogged over to where some orderlies were carrying a stretcher out, and gave them some help.

Another Pelican landed, and eight Spartans walked out.

He recognized the Phoenix insignia emblazoned on the backs of five of them. The other three had no symbol on their backs, but one did have red striped around his bicep plates. The armor was old, Mark IV, he guessed. Armor he'd never used. Ezekiel had become a Spartan just after the Mk. V had been developed, then the Mk. VI.

The Lieutenant strode up to the three Spartans. They saluted, and the front one reported. "Petty Officer Third Class Jerome-092 reporting for duty, sir. We're Red Team."

Ezekiel saluted. "At ease. Spartan IIs?"

"Yessir." Jerome said, hesitating for a second. "If you don't mind me asking, sir, are you a Spartan?"

"I am."

"I don't remember you..."

"Ezekiel-254."

"There was no 254 in the Spartan II program."

"No, but there was in the SII Class II program." Alice and Douglas moved off to help the wounded.

"More Spartan IIs?"

Ezekiel gestured to himself. "I'm one of the last few. Class I is what you're probably interested in."

"Yes, who's left?"

"Maria's retired, not sure what she's doing. I heard she had a family on Earth. However, John, Linda, Fred, and Kelly are still active. They're on Sanghelios right now, finishing up some business."

Jerome straightened. "Sir, I'd like to request permission to join Blue Team on Sanghelios."

Ezekiel smiled. "Eager to get back in to the fight, Spartan?"

"Yessir."

"Very well then. But first, you need some new equipment. I won't have any Spartan under my command using outdated tech."

"Sir?"

"You've been asleep for thirty-five years. Things have changed a lot."


The corvette moved through the deepness of slipspace. Wings sat on the bridge with Autel and Jerome.

The Spartan II was still a bit stiff from the long cryo freeze, and refused to sit down.

Jerome was still incredibly tense with the Sangheili around, having fought against them for years.

Autel nodded to him. "I felt the same about humans when we were first asked to make peace."

"And how many of us did you kill?"

"I have not harmed a single human in my life."

"Right."

"Autel is telling the truth, Jerome." D339 interceded.

"Fine." The Spartan growled. He was still just 20 years old. How old was everyone else? Fhajad would be fifty-eight by now, way past retirement. Maria would be about the same age.

And a mother? She must have had help, their surgical procedures had suppressed reproductive instincts.

The only explanation that Blue Team was still active was that they had been in cryo, too.

"It's a bit more complicated than that."

Jerome turned to face D339. "What?"

The CPO held up his hand. "I know how people think, and talking about the war would inevitably have led to you thinking about your training, which would have lead to thinking about your comrades. I know Ezekiel would have answered your questions for you, so you know which ones are still active, and which are not."

Jerome folded his arms. "So, enlighten me. Why is Blue Team still active?"

"I'd be happy to."

Chapter 18: Jink

0800 Hours, February 26th, 2569 (UNSC Military Calendar)

Ezekiel fitted a new magazine in to his battle rifle, and scooted over a bit when Wings came in and smacked down beside him.

"Fallen have this position pinned, sir. I would suggest we move before their artillery hits this area."

Ezekiel smacked Wings' shoulder. "You go right, I'll go left. Hit the ends first."

Wings nodded and rolled over, placing a hand on the ground. "Alright."

The two Spartans shot out from the small foxhole they'd been in, as Wraith mortars started getting closer to them. It was but a moment before the Wraiths began tracking them and lobbing plasma mortars towards the two.

Wings kicked hard off the ground and landed on one of the purple tanks. He smashed his hands in to the relatively thin plating of the hatch and began tearing it away.

A Fallen Sangheili roared up at him, so Wings pulled out his sidearm and put four rounds in to the Elite.

The bullets exploded inside his head, and the Spartan reached down and pulled the body out. Wings wormed his way inside the vehicle and grabbed the control mechanisms.

He spun the Wraith around and launched a ball of plasma in to the one next to him. It was engulfed in blue plasma, but the armor held, although it was now a hot red color.

Wings fired again, and this time the enemy Wraith exploded. Wings grabbed the rim of the hatch and pulled himself up. He shot out of the seat and landed on top.

A plasma mortar slammed about seven meters to his left, and Wings was thrown through the air. He landed right next to Zero, who was feeding a new clip in to her battle rifle.

"Nice to see you, boss." She said, smacking his chest with her fist. The two lay in the new foxhole, keeping their heads down. Plasma fire was blossoming from everywhere, and the plains were madness.

The Fallen had met the Sangheili army from Vadam Keep on the plains, and the battle had kicked up a lot of dust. You were just as likely to hit an ally as an enemy with a long range shot.

"How we doing?" Zero asked. "Things are hot over here."

There was a massive explosion, from the Fallen ranks, then a smaller one from their side.

"You tell me." Wings said.

"Ezekiel radioed in. He's met up with Blue, and they're working their way through the line."

"Great. You go right, I'll go left."

"Got it."

Again, the two Spartans split.

The heated battle lasted two more hours before settling down.

Wings marched up to the Lieutenant Commander, slipping his rifle on to his back.

"Sir, area is clear." 116 had apparently had his shields knocked out, and his left hand had been hit by a plasma bolt. Itzia was holding a bandage to it.

"Damn thing won't stop bleeding." Half the Lt. Commander's armor was off, and he had some burns on his torso.

Wings knelt and examined the wounds. 116's black eyes watched him, betraying nothing. "That virus still got you?"

A tightening around the eyes, but 116 knew better than to try and lie to D339. "Of course it does."

Itzia nodded. "Damn, forgot about that. Hang on, I'll need to find a way... of course."

She opened the first aid kit and grabbed a syringe, tapping it to get the air bubbles out. "Dopamine. Excessive amounts of it cause your veins to constrict. Your wounds are shallow, this will clamp down the capillaries, stop them bleeding."

"How will you open them back up again? Leaving the veins closed will cut blood flow off from my limbs."

"Vasodilators. Once I get some artificial skin and stop the bleeding, those will open up the veins again."

116 grimaced. "More and more of me is artificial now, isn't it."

Itzia let out a bark of laughter. "The artificial skin will degrade in to your body as real skin grows back."

"Sounds good." The Lieutenant Commander said. "Back to the Keep, for now."

The Spartans picked up their gear and began marching.


Blue Team and Red Team were both happy to see each other, and expressed it with the old two fingered smile.

Phoenix Team, Spartan-116, and Ezekiel-254 headed up to an upper waiting gallery, leaving the two teams to get caught up.

"What does this push tell us?" 116 said.

"The Fallen are definitely stronger, gaining strength every day-"

"They're desperate."

Ezekiel looked at Wings, a bit irritated at being interrupted. "Why do you think that?"

D339 held up a plasma rifle. "Examine this." And he tossed it to the Lieutenant.

Ezekiel turned it over. Nothing seemed to be wrong, just a regular battle scarred plasma rifle.

"I don't see anything wrong."

Wings gestured for it, and Ezekiel tossed it back.

The Delta XO turned it over and cracked open a hatch. A small puff of blue smoke came out. His shields crackled slightly as he pulled a small black and golden rod from its center.

"I've been finding fuel cells like this in Fallen plasma rifles for a few days now. I'd pass it out, but it's highly unstable. You see, the most expensive part of this battery is an electromagnetic field focused through a solid platinum barrier. Very costly to produce, but it protects the user from overcharging and radiation. Without the shield, the battery will explode with the force of a grenade if dropped to roughly. That was the cause of most of the explosions from the other side that we saw."

Ezekiel leaned back in the chair, folding his arms. "So they don't have the means to produce stable batteries for their weapons."

"Not anymore, which is why I'm proposing that we strike at the uranium purification facility. It's the main ingredient used in these micro-fusion cells. We get a proton emitter in, plant it, and run like hell."

"But first we need to find them." Zero was quick to point out.

"Sanghelios is home to only a few uranium mines. Most have been stripped bare, but four are still active. Three are under our ally's control, and the fourth is supposedly abandoned. We go there and follow the shipment. It'll eventually lead us to the production facility."

Ezekiel leaned forward. "When do we leave?"


0030 Hours, February 27th, 2569 (UNSC Military Calendar)

Zero watched Wings and Autel run off in to the night, and turned away from the high window.

Peec was tapping away at his computer again. "Got something here."

Zero went and sat down. Itzia was organizing her medical supplies and making sure her flash cloning unit was working properly. X was sitting in a corner table all sorts of explosive materials lying on it. Any one of the bombs would destroy the room, and with it, Phoenix Team.

But Zero wasn't worried, even when something clicked and X swore under his breath. He quickly defused the bomb and tried again.

What she was interested in was what Peec had pulled up on screen.

Yellow boxes were floating upwards, spinning as they went.

"What is this?"

"I don't know. Ocean just uncovered it from that other data we found. She's running the regular intrusion techniques."

The matrices floated from the screen and stretched, becoming 3-dimensional cubes.

Deep Ocean materialized, walking in from behind the screen, muttering something about subroutines and core processing.

"It's not responding to anything."

Zero was mystified. "Responding?"

Peec sat back, gesturing at the computer. "Generally when you're hacking a network, you sent a handshake protocol and tag it with whatever you want inserted. When the computer responds, it has to accept and process the handshake. While it's processing it, whatever you tagged it with is programmed to slip in to the system. What Ocean is saying is that whatever kind of computer this is isn't responding to outside stimuli."

"Does it have to accept a handshake protocol?"

"No, all it has to do is acknowledge my existence, then I could get in."

"Maybe you're not doing it right."

The hacker let out a bark of laughter. "No disrespect, sir, but I'm the hacker here."

"This is old data."

"So?"

"So what if it's an AI?"

Peec nodded, seeing where this was going. "And if it's been thinking for tens of thousands of years, it may think it's actually alive, and wouldn't respond to stimuli from a computer."

Deep Ocean sighed. "Am I going to be shuffled aside again?"

Peec smiled, and took the computer out to the balcony. "Nope, I need you to do some collecting once I get it to open up."


0916 Hours, February 28th, 2569 (UNSC Military Calendar)

X was setting up the proton emitter. It was a complicated piece of machinery, requiring slow, steady hands to activate. The emitter was created to blast an area with protons, which, under certain electromagnetic scanners, would light up elements in different colors. It was usually dropped from a fighter before battles and scanned to find mines, weapons, troops, anything.

Unfortunately the thing was nearly as sensitive as a bottle of nitro glycerin. It was carried carefully in to the production facility by X.

"Emitter's charging, let's get out of here." The demo expert said. "I advise we get out of here."

Wings nodded. "Let's move."

When the proton emitter activated, billions of atoms would split, the energy from the neutrons and electrons would send send the atom's protons speeding away at over 70% the speed of light. The protons could travel for up to eight kilometers. Any biological in that range would have their DNA completely rearranged.

"IT for Instant Tumor." X had commented, setting the emitter down with the smallest of pings.

The emitter only had a range of eight kilometers due to microgravity wells created by the protons passing. The wells sapped the proton's minuscule mass quickly before collapsing, but only affected greater amounts of mass in tiny ways. Say, for example, altering DNA.

Phoenix team sprinted out of the factory, ignoring the surprised shouts of the workers at the purification machines.

They had more than eight kilometers to worry about.

Wings was using the basic principle of nuclear fission. The protons would smash through most material and hit the purified uranium.

It would be the equivalent of setting off four Shiva warheads inside the mountain.

Eight miles would be the least of their worries. The blast was going to bring down the mountain and blast everything inside sixty kilometers with heat and radiation.

There would be no stopping.

Wings had told the Lieutenant Commander himself that his team wouldn't let anyone except themselves go on this mission. He knew that being able to run a third again of what a Spartan II could would make all the difference.

And so Phoenix Team raced for their lives, to travel sixty kilometers in twenty minutes. If one of them tripped, they would die. Wings had insisted they travel light, so they could run faster, and Itzia had doped them all up on twitch stimulants. With them, they could run just over 180 kilometers per hour.

No dropships, no backup.

Just run like hell.


Jerome liked the zoom in his new armor. He clicked it up to 8X and spotted the five dots moving, kicking up a huge dust cloud.

"Holy shit..."

They had to be running at least 170 kilometers per hour, likely more. Ocean had said they'd have to be running a bare minimum of 180.

No Spartan II could run like that. Jerome decided to ask exactly what kind of drugs they'd injected these new kids with.

Hah, kids. These Spartans were his age, biologically.

And they could wipe the floor with him.


Wings checked the timer. Five minutes, and just under fifteen klicks to go. Cutting it close...

The steps became automatic, his legs moved with a rhythm of their own. Only ten seconds until they were out of the blast radius.

Then he tripped.

No, dammit, no. He caught himself and pushed off the ground, regaining his footing.

What? His legs had stiffened some, and he knew the only reason he was still standing was because of the stimulants that Itzia had given him.

Wings pumped his legs, managing to get back up to speed.

One...

He pushed with all his might, and landed safely in the foxhole on top of Peec as the bomb exploded.

Wings looked up and saw the morning rays become a burning furnace.


Jerome looked up from his wrist, where he had been testing the gauntlet knife extension and retraction.

Every Spartan and Sangheili in the city looked out and saw the mountain explode.

First the mountain seemed to fall apart, just for an instant. Then the protons reached the center, where the most abundant sources of uranium were.

The mountain exploded outward, becoming a raging fireball sixty kilometers high and wide. It soon shrank in on itself a bit, and mushroomed up in to a high heat cloud that reached hundreds of miles in to the sky.


Urei 'Cazal felt the rumbling beneath his feet, and ran to the main control room, where the sensors officer was getting slightly panicky.

"Sir, sensors just showed that our uranium mine exploded!"

"What?"

"Everything has gone off the charts. We've lost everything there!" He paused, and gaped at the screen. Other Sangheili were wandering over. This time the sensors officer didn't bother trying to hide his panic. "The mountain is gone! By all the holy gods, the mountain is gone!"

Urei felt shamed as he felt a long pang of fear run through him as he saw the image the satellites were feeding them.

The uranium rich mountain was now a smoking crater twenty kilometers wide.

Another rumble. This time Urei knew what it was.

He grabbed the com and hit the frequency set to talk to the entire base.

"If you value your lives, get out now!" He roared, and all his subordinates fled for the exits.

He stood rooted to the spot as the underground base began to fall around him. There was no hope, this time. No new leaders to elect, no new family to threaten, no recruits willing to shed blood.

There was nothing.

For the last time, the Fallen fell.

The mountain base collapsed.


Ezekiel had set a computer with a holo pad on the railing next to him, making sure it was secure.

Deep Ocean's avatar appeared. Ezekiel liked the strange AI. Her body was ever changing, always making it seem like she knew everything was just a puzzle. "Sir, preliminary calculations say that there are over two million dead Fallen, and many more fleeing away. The uranium facility and mine are completely destroyed. Wings was right, this broke their back."

The Lieutenant gripped the handrails. Finally, Sanghelios was free. The Fallen were lost.

"Alert the Sangheili elders and the Kaidon. They'll want to hear about this."

He ran his fingers through his short hair, and took the computer back in to the room.

Sitting down on a long sofa, Ezekiel grabbed some water and quenched his thirst.

But next time, he thought to himself. Who's back will Wings have to break next?


Wings was seated in a room near the top of Vadam Keep, reading an old book. A very old one, Charles Darwin, The Origin of Species.

The members of Phoenix team were hailed as heroes, to most. Sanghelios had been engulfed in a civil war since the middle of 2558. And in one fell swoop, it was over. Their weapons, their leadership, over half their forces, gone.

And the Spartans had done it. There were voices that came out against them, that they shouldn't have been involved in the first place.

The door to the room opened and Autel walked in. "You got them, Spartan."

Wings looked up. "I did."

The albino Sangheili strode forward. He still had his armor on, minus his helmet, the two purple scars standing stark in the plasma glow.

"We've been fighting them for eleven years. Fighting our own brothers and sisters for almost eleven human years. The Sangheili fought amongst each other longer than we fought the Covenant during the war. And you come here, and in thirteen days it's over."

"Is that a problem?"

"No, it is not." Autel said. His mandibles open and closed a couple times. "The Sangheili will always be in your debt for this, and that is why there are many angry ones. They owe you. Do you realize how many of our young ones they stole from us?"

"No."

"Five hundred sixteen thousand, seven hundred eighty-nine."

"I'm sorry."

"Don't be. They were all targeted. More than half of them were stolen multiple times. I spent countless nights worrying, being where I was not supposed to. All to keep my children safe.

"I came here to thank you, Wings. You've freed us all." Autel placed his hand over his first heart.

Wings returned the gesture. "I'm afraid that the Sangheili won't be so grateful in a few years."

"Why is that?" Autel asked, mystified.

Wings looked out the window, then stood and walked out. "Because I'm going to break some of your most sacred traditions."

Autel thought about that for a few minutes, harrumphed and smiled, then walked out.


0730 Hours, March 2nd, 2569 (UNSC Military Calendar)

The Lieutenant Commander flexed his hand. Itzia saw and commented, "It'll be stiff for a while, sir. The vasodilators are working, but the flesh is still necrotic."

116 nodded and sat, trying to grab a fork. It slipped. "How long?"

Itzia sat and grabbed her fork. "Couple hours, probably. Then then the flesh will have likely softened and regained some nerve endings."

"What?"

"Cutting off the capillaries killed the nerve endings in your extremities. They'll regenerate soon."

"Good." He said, and gingerly picked up the dropped utensil and began eating.

Peec looked over at Wings sitting in the corner seat, tapping away on the computer. Ocean was in the one Peec was using.

"Can you get in to his computer?"

Her voice came from a bud in his ear. "No, he's deactivated the wireless circuitry."

The hacker looked up as the yellow cubes appeared. Wings tapped away at the computer, and mouthed something. If he had said anything, Peec would have heard it.

A couple of the boxes moved, and Wings smiled.

Peec focused on his food. Wings knew something he didn't about that data, and the hacker was determined to find out why.

Chapter 19: Thermal

0900 Hours, April 25th, 2569 (UNSC Military Calendar)

New Quebec was full on in to spring. X like this time of year. The red pheasants were migrating; great clouds of the small crimson birds filled parts of the sky, often blocking out the sun. What sunlight did show through filtered in, illuminating everything the light touched with a reddish tinge.

Swimming was the most fun. The waters of New Quebec had yet to have been polluted, and were crystal clear. When the red light touched them, the whole world beneath the surface was turned a stark shade of transparent crimson.

X dove in and dived for the bottom. He touched it, and grabbed the soft sediment and examined it. X liked this time of year because the red light shining through the water would sparkle differently off certain types of materials.

And X, of course, was looking for the explosive ones.

The demo expert sifted gently through the floor sediment, and found what he was looking for. A gentle silver sparkle, which contrasted slightly with several other types of grains around.

He grabbed a handful and shot towards the surface.

Up top he plopped the sediment in to a funnel. The funnel ran down in to a box, which filtered out the sediment based on weight. At the bottom the explosive sediment was stored in a small container, while the rest was shot to the water's edge.

X scooped up the small container of explosive grains and examined the small tetrahedral shapes through the glass.

Perfect. These grains were the finest. All he had to do was purify them.

Picking up the sifting machine, X walked back the Phoenix's barracks.

Zero was just inside, field stripping her 99D-S3 sniper rifle.

She looked up as X entered, clothed in his trunks and dripping wet from the waters.

"Don't get too much water on the floor."

He grabbed a towel and dried himself off, then threw on his Navy uniform and combed his short hair down.

X sat down on one of the chairs and set down a plastic board on which he did his work and scooped the tetrahedrons out on to it.

Zero slipped the bolt back in and did an action check. It slid in well and stopped where it was supposed to.

X was cutting the tetrahedrons in to very fine sand, occasionally sifting the grains out, separating the larger chunks from the smaller.

The sniper looked over at what he was doing. Having finished cutting them in to a small powder, X was now swishing them around in just one of his thousands of mixtures.

"Get the good stuff?"

He looked up from his work. "Yep, perfectly shaped." And went back to mixing.

Itzia walked on, carrying her armor gauntlet. Peec was sitting in the corner, staring at the yellow boxes.

"Hey geek."

Peec looked up. "You want this 'geek' to do something for you, then don't look at him in that tone."

"Fine." She said, and tossed the gauntlet to him. "I need you to take a look at the auto interfacing sensors. It's been acting up since we set off the emitter."

Peec picked it up and pulled out his toolkit. "How do you know?"

"Because at fifty meters I can hit a ten millimeter target with an SM6D with a 75% accuracy. Just now I only hit 65%."

Peec had the gauntlet apart in a cloth on his lap, and way toying with something.

"Damn. EMP fried your weapon acquisition hardware and accelerometers. It's barely able to sense where the weapon is pointing."

He took out another toolkit from under his bunk and pulled out some new circuitry, and wired it in to the stripped gauntlet. Finished with his task he put it back together and handed it back to the medic. "Good as new."

"Thanks. I owe you one." Itzia left to test it.

The "geek" returned to focusing on his computer, and the boxes popped up again.

"Having fun there?" Wings had walked in, carrying a weapons crate.

Peec looked up. "You know something about these boxes?"

"Yep, they're Precursor."

"And why couldn't you tell us this before?"

Wings made sure the door was locked. He'd had Peec completely change the wiring so that only Phoenix could get in.

"I didn't know if we were being watched or not. Now, you designed our security. What are the odds of anyone outside this room hearing us?"

Peec thought for a second. "Nearly impossible, unless someone could-"

Wings gave him a look, and Peec sighed and ran a scan around the room.

"It's clean."

Wings took the computer and plugged it in to the holo-table. The yellow boxes materialized.

"Say hello to Precursor core data."

They looked at him strangely. He stared back. "Seriously, say hello."

Itzia had come back in. "Uh, hello?"

The cubes moved, and compressed together, then exploded in to a rough human form.

"Hello, Spartan D102. Do you wish to search the data?"

Itzia looked mystified. "Sure."

The cubes blew apart again, and rearranged themselves in to a sphere. At regular intervals a cube would move away from the sphere, so there was about a 2 centimeter gap between the extended cubes and the rest of the rough sphere. It floated towards Itzia.

She held up her hands, and another sphere, as if made of saran wrap, materialized and wrapped around the extended cubes.

Symbols appeared on the outside of the cube, and Itzia pushed one that looked like a spiral galaxy.

The sphere extended at the "equator", and the sphere flattened out. The cubes spread out randomly, and broke in to much smaller cubes. The process repeated until a large disc had formed in the center of the barracks. The cubes began spinning, and began glowing to become stars. Smaller pieces broke off and became planets. The large disc was about five meters in diameter.

"The Milky Way," Wings said, stepping in to edge of the holographic galaxy. "And here we are."

He held his hands half a meter apart in a section about two thirds of the way out one of the arms.

A red sphere appeared the same diameter as his hands, and Wings moved his hands apart. The galaxy expanded until it disappeared in to the walls of the barracks, and the the highlighted section was now five meters across.

Peec stepped in, pointing to different solar systems and planets. "Earth, Mars, New Quebec. It's all here."

Wings stepped forward. "Yes, everything." He zoomed in on New Quebec. Symbols appeared as the planet expanded.

"I'm not sure what these are for yet, but I have a few guesses."

Zero sat forward in her chair.

"I suppose you couldn't explain why Precursor data gave us coordinates to a long lost UNSC ship made tens of thousands of years after this was programmed, could you?"

Wings just shook his head. "No. But I have my ideas."

"Like what?" X put forward.

"Like why the UNSC bothered to train 3000 Spartans and give them new technology when the war is over and funds are scarce. I'm putting in a request to recall all members of Delta Company."


1341 Hours, May 20th, 2569 (UNSC Military Calendar)

Wings watched as the last Pelican came in from orbit, carrying Hawk Team.

He approached the dropship as it landed, but stopped when he saw two Spartans march out, bearing a stretcher between them. A third one marched behind, bearing a large MJOLNIR armor crate.

D683 marched out, holding his helmet under his arm. He saw Wings and marched over, not bothering to salute, just saying. "Sir."

D339 saluted. "What happened?"

Hawk's leader looked back at the three other somber members of his team, and the body on the stretcher. "D5102 was killed, shot by a sniper. It happened about a week ago, just after we got your message."

Wings nodded humbly. "I'm sorry."

The other Spartan stared at him. "Why did you recall us?"

Phoenix's leader watched the body being carried towards the main compound building. "I have a plan. And you'll get to pay the Covenant back for D5102."


0800 Hours, May 23rd, 2569 (UNSC Military Calendar)


//Unit: Delta Company Spartan III//

//Officer Issuing: Chief Petty Officer Spartan-D339//

//New Orders are as follows//

Enter secure code for location and specific orders: [_ _ _ _ _ _]

General orders are as follows:

Seek out any and all artifacts near your location. Retrieve them if at all possible.

Neutralize all hostiles.

Do not interfere with any non-hostile activity.

//Dated: 0800 Hours, May 23rd, 2569//

//Signed: Spartan III D339, Delta Company XO//

Sigurd-D1010 snorted as he read the short orders. This just proved that D339 was nuts. Not that he'd ever say that to Wings' face. The Spartan was also a genius, one that Sigurd could trust implicitly on the battlefield. But D339 was still relatively untested in terms of strategy.

"Look, just enter the code and get it over with." His second in command, Nadia-D5518 said.

D1010 was a skeptic, almost never trusting leader's orders. "This is our executive officer sending Spartans on a parcel run."

"Since when does D339 let us sit here idly?" Cory-D865 said.

"He's keeping ten teams here idle, including his." Sigurd retorted.

"But not us. What's it say?"

Squaring his jaw, D1010 entered his secure code, and blinked as more orders expanded on the screen.

"Oh my..." He muttered, then stood, grabbing his armor. "We've got work to do."


0800 Hours, June 15th, 2569 (UNSC Military Calendar)

"The edge of the galaxy is a strange place, isn't it." D683 stated, looking out the port window.

To starboard the stars of the Milky Way lit space up. To port only the few stars from distant galaxies shown. The small frigate that the Delta Spartans had appropriated was hanging 1200 light years outside the edge of the Milky Way.

"It is." Wings said, looking to starboard.

"Where are we going?" D821, the leader of Flechette team, asked.

Wings pointed. "Right there."

As the frigate slowly moved forward, some of the stars from the Milky Way disappeared, and a space station was silhouetted against the lights.

"Say hello to the birthplace of the technology behind our creation." Wings stated. "Some of the greatest minds humanity has ever had reside here. This is the Dark Space Shipyards. I'm just hoping Forty-nine Spartans are enough to take it, temporarily."

The station was fully silhouetted now. It was massive, fifteen kilometers long and ten wide.


0932 Hours, June 17th, 2569 (UNSC Military Calendar)

Wings had ordered that all regular ammunition be replaced with narc-darts. He didn't want to kill anyone. And since they didn't want ONI to know for sure that Spartans had been the ones to raid the Dark Space Shipyards, so he'd had everyone fitted out with ODST armor. They'd gotten them from the main bases on New Quebec and in the frigate's armories.

"Hawk and Manticore first, Flechette next. The rest of you have your orders. Let's go, Deltas."

Most of the Spartans went down the main hallway. Peec said that the first 500 meters would be unmonitored, and after that they'd have to wait for Phoenix's signal.

Zero and the other five chosen Snipers stayed behind to watch the long corridors. All the station managers knew was that a UNSC ONI frigate had docked, they had no reason to need to know anything else.

And that would be their undoing.


D683 heard the double click over the com and held his hand up. He held his index and middle finger straight together, then pointed forward.

Thirty-nine Spartans moved silently forward. At the first intersection the teams split, and at each intersection they kept splitting until it was just one team per hallway.

The four members of Hawk Team reached their objective first. D683 clicked his mic three times, then got to work.


Wings steadied himself, shaking with the station as it rocked gently. The first three clicks had come five minutes ago, then the rest had answered.

"Time to move, Phoenix."

Zero was just outside the door, making sure the hallway was clear. Everyone was at work, so the main corridors remained empty, for now.

"Not extreme security, I would say." The sniper commented as her four teammates reentered the eight kilometer long hallway.

"It's a thousand light years from the edge of the galaxy." Peec said, pulling out his battle rifle. "You'd only be able to find it if you knew what you were looking for and exactly where it was."

"Or you pull a stunt like we did, just looking for a free floating space object using our galaxy as a back light." Itzia said, checking her SMG.

Wings set his assault rifle for single shot firing mode. "Their security's down. Let's go grab the doctor and get him back to the hangar."


Dr. Roger Hansen carefully inserted the unstable fusion cell into the focusing chamber and stepped back. He spoke in to a recorder.

"Testing of concentrated plasma beam 42. Charging cells." And he flipped a couple switches.

A whirring sound was heard, and the fusion cell began spinning. "Firing in 3... 2... 1..."

And he pushed the firing trigger. A laser beam fired from the fusion cell and was focused and amplified by the crystals. A small beam emitted from it, and hit the opposite end of the firing chamber. A small hole was burned in to it, and the beam went out.

The whole process had lasted two milliseconds, and Dr. Hansen cursed under his breath.

"Process succeeded, but with minimal results. Suggest boosting cell output and decreasing the concentration of plasma."

"You should, by about a thousand times, too."

Hansen was only able to partially turn before something hit him from behind.

Peec grabbed the recorder and tossed it in the incinerator as Itzia checked the Doctor's vitals.

"He's alive and healthy, just cold-cocked." She said, and slung him over her shoulder.


Hansen woke up in a dark room, tied to a chair. Looking around, he saw five ODSTs. Or at least he thought they were ODSTs, they looked larger than the average human.

"Doctor Roger Hansen, PhD in electrical engineering, astrophysics, and theoretical physics. Masters in Quantum Mechanics. Graduated top of the class at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. IQ scored at an average of 190. Recruited by ONI at age twenty-five to research experimental weapons and armor technology."

The Doctor wasn't at all surprised to hear this until the ODST got to the part about his IQ. IQ scores were private scores, only available to those he chose them to be available to. And how did they know he had been recruited by ONI?

Screw that, how did they know about this station?

"A hundred and fifty thousand people disappear and you expect there to be absolutely no one who knows about this station?"

How-

"I know how people work. If you would, Naomi."

One of the ODSTs stepped forward and held up a syringe. By her voice she was obviously female.

"I can't remember what the hell this is called, but it's designation is PA4. You know what it is. Pain amplifier. Putting 2 CCs of this in you will double the amount of pain you feel. Raising our voices would have the same effect as yelling at you and you had a migraine. Unfortunately for you, it's not as easy as just passing out. This will also send your brain in to overdrive. You won't be able to just pass out. So if I were you, I'd answer our questions. Every minute that passes and I'll put one extra CC in you. And if you don't answer our first question, I'll inject the first, then you're on the clock."

"And what would those questions be?"

"You can start by telling us why Delta Company of the Spartan III Program exists.." The first one asked.

"I don't know anything about the Spartan III program."

He felt a sharp pinch, then a small burning sensation as the liquid spread itself throughout his body.

"Awww, shit..."

"Anyone whose seen the news knows something about the Spartan III program, and I know for a fact that you were the one behind the development of the MJOLNIR Mk. VII Powered armor."

"I did." The liquid was burning its way through his body. He knew once it had distributed evenly throughout his bloodstream, it would start to superconduct every nerve in his body. He would be able to move faster, but that wouldn't matter with the ropes pulling on his bodies. They were scratchy, too. That wouldn't be fun once the PA4 kicked in...

"So tell me about Delta Company."

"Delta Company was conscripted in 2553, the year the war ended. Just a few days before, in fact."

"I know that, but why bother?" The first ODST stepped forward. "The UNSC was shattered, there were no funds for it, we didn't have the training available, the human population was at its lowest since before the 1900s. We didn't even have some backwater planet to hide them on."

The burning sensation had subsided, and Hansen knew that the pain amplifiers were going to work on his nerves.

"The Covenant is still active, isn't it?"

Another ODST strode to the middle of the room, the sound of his boot steps grating in Hansen's head.

"Not good enough, doctor." He reached out and pinched Hansen's arm. The doctor groaned as shoots of pain lanced up his body.

"Why would the UNSC need us? They'd just gained the alliance of the entire Sangheili race, and hundreds of ships."

The third ODST reached out for Hansen again, this time for his stomach.

"I don't know."

The ODST slapped him, hard. Hansen screamed as unendurable pain overtook him, and only the fact that the chair was bolted to the floor kept him from falling.

"The selection process was careful," The doctor said, tears of pain running down his face, his voice cracking. "We had to make sure we had the exact right kids for the augmentation process, due to population constraints. We wanted to make sure that we wouldn't lose anyone during the process."

"And why would they do that?"

"We couldn't take any chances. We needed to get as many Spartans out on the field in one go as possible."

"Must've been expensive."

"It would have been, if the UNSC hadn't dropped all fund limits for our research."

"Why would they do that?"

"I don't know, but I do know that it has something to do with some artifacts they found."

"Where?"

"I don't know, but I do know who would know where."

"Who?"

Hansen flinched as the second ODST reached for him, holding the syringe.

"Halsey!" He cried, trying to pull away. She stopped. "Dr. Catherine Halsey, but I don't know where she is!"

The first one who spoke nodded to one of the other two armored ODSTs. "Oh, but we do, Dr. Hansen."

The one who he'd nodded to tossed a datapad on to Hansen's lap, and the second one, the female, cut his hands loose.

"Don't move until we're gone." The first one said. "Once we are, go back to work. You tell anyone about this, we'll come back."

Hansen nodded, and the five ODSTs left, as if they were never there.

He waited for the pain to subside, then grabbed the datapad.

Examining his body, he found no marks. And if he knew his expert infiltrators, no one would ever find the tapes of him being tortured.

Might as well just get back to work.

And boost the cell output on the plasma beam, too.


Wings sat back in the weapons command chair as Cutter tapped away in the command chair.

"Serina, take us back to New Quebec."

D339 looked up as D683 entered.

"You get everything?"

Hawk's leader nodded. "Aye, everything, sir."

"Good, thank you." Wings stood and walked out.

D683 just answered Cutter's quizzical look with a shrug, and the Captain followed Wings.

"What do you happen to be doing, son?" He said, catching up to the Spartan clad in ODST armor.

"I'm working on a project."

"I suppose you can't tell me what it is."

D339 stopped at a hangar door and turned to Captain Cutter. "No sir, I can't."

Chapter 20: Glide

1748 Hours, August 19th, 2569 (UNSC Military Calendar)

Peec snapped the fabricator in to place as Wings entered. The bunker they'd set up had seven centimeters of Titanium-A and one centimeter of modified ETFE, which would block radiation and most signals. The jammer that Peec has set up would block the rest, in or out.

Wings walked in. "It going well?"

The techie looked up. "This is me working, you know."

"Sorry." Wings said, and shrugged off his coat, hanging it up. He walked over and looked at what Peec was working on.

"How far is it?"

"Most of the way done. Just need one more fusion cell, and it'll be good."

Wings reached in to his pocket and brought one of the cells out. "Here you go."

Peec took it, and slipped it in to the proper socket, and flipped some casing shut.

"Shall we give it a go?"

Wings nodded. Peec flipped on some sensors, then went to the machine he'd just finished.

The machine consisted of random parts scrapped together from tech taken from the graviton cannon and experimental blueprints from the Dark Space Shipyards. It was like a cone resting on the wide end, and a clear ball about twenty centimeters across was resting atop a two centimeter hole cut in the top. The sphere was a vacuum, absolutely no atmosphere in it, just like the rest of the machine. Wires ran from it and in to the sensor boxes.

Peec turned on the twenty fusion cores, each one powerful enough to fire a plasma rifle six hundred times. The whirring they created caused a slight din, which only increased when Peec fired up the fabricator.

The graviton focus point glowed, sapping energy from the cells extremely fast.

Just as they were about to go empty, the fabricator fired, and something was released in to the sphere.

The techie checked the sensors, and Wings walked around the table to look.

"Hydrogen detected. It worked." Peec said, the ghost of a smile on his face.

Wings nodded. "Well that just proves something."

Peec's smile faded. "Dammit, that means-"

"Yep." Wings said, and walked out of the room. "Come with me."

Peec stared at the sphere full of hydrogen long and hard, then followed his leader at a swift pace.


Wings and Peec strode in to Ezekiel's office. The Lieutenant was shuffling paperwork, as usual.

"Sir, we've got something to report." The CPO said, as the two subordinates saluted.

Ezekiel stood and returned the salute. "I don't remember asking to see you."

"We didn't, sir, and I apologize for that, but I know you'll want to see what we have to show you." Wings said, as Ezekiel sat back down.

Wings pulled out a computer and activated the holo-pad. The machine that Peec had built appeared. D339 hit a couple button and the parts exploded on to a flat plane.

"We started with these parts here." He said, circling the ones on his left. "We got these from one of the Covenant's Graviton Cannons during a raid. If you want, I can have Peec write up the specs on them, but I doubt that's necessary."

He highlighted the other half of the parts, the ones on the right. "These ones we collected from a UNSC research station."

"Which station?" Ezekiel cut in.

"Honestly sir, you don't want to know." Peec said, standing back by the door, hands clasped at the small of his back.

Wings waved again, and the machine flew back together. "D1074 managed to construct a very interesting machine. Using twenty plasma rifle fusion cores, we managed to create a small amount of hydrogen gas. When we were done, we had thirty CCs of hydrogen and the cells were empty."

Ezekiel sat forward. It was starting to get interesting. "So why is this interesting?"

"The entire machine was devoid of an atmosphere, an empty vacuum. We managed to create mass from energy."

"I have a feeling this isn't good."

"This technology all fits together. As far as I know, the only refitting of any wiring was made to get the fusion cores in place."

"So that means that the UNSC and Covenant are using similar technology now."

"Not just the same technology, sir. Precursor technology."

Ezekiel stood. "I suppose this means you have some crazy plan to find out why?"

Wings nodded. "Yes sir. And I think it has something to do with why the UNSC bothered to conscript Delta Company."

The Lieutenant opened a desk drawer. "Then I suppose it's time you got these." And he pulled out the insignia of a three-chevron with triple rhombuses. "Congratulations on your promotion, Senior Chief Petty Officer D339."

Spartan D339 saluted. "Thank you, sir." And accepted the insignia.


2148 Hours, September 30th, 2569 (UNSC Military Calendar)

"How's your research going, Doctor?"

Halsey looked up from her work at the voice, and saw Spartan D339 emerge from the shadows, his helmet stowed on his back.

"Those funds you sent me helped, if that's what you're asking."

"How much?"

"Extremely. Subjects are now lasting for weeks."

"You already have one that has."

"With respect, Senior Chief Petty Officer, you're not considered a subject."

"For a different test, then."

Halsey paused. "I guess you're right. Albeit one that doesn't exist."

"Good. So how my test going, then?"

The Doctor sighed. "Not well. We've managed to slow it's advance slightly, but not stop it."

"What's missing?"

"I don't know."

"But you'll keep trying."

"Of course, but I can't risk having too many questions asked, Wings."

Wings' jaw tightened. "Just tell them it's a precaution."

"It'll take more than that to stop ONI spooks."

"You'll figure something out. But I have more pressing matters, the kind that destabilize governments."

Doctor Halsey's curiosity was aroused. "Really? Do tell."

The Spartan nodded, and pulled out a computer.

"You already know part of the story," He began.


0630 Hours, October 15th, 2569 (UNSC Military Calendar)

Peec was out running five kilometers from camp when he heard the broadcast in his earpiece, telling him to get back to the barracks.

He was there in five minutes. Running at 60 kph with no armor had its advantages.

The rest of the team was standing in the barracks.

"Found it?"

Wings nodded and smiled. "Found it. Autel and his team is on the way."


1141 Hours, October 25th, 2569 (UNSC Military Calendar)

The Phantom screamed down towards the surface of Sanghelios, carrying a Gauss Warthog and a Spectre underneath it.

"It's about eight-hundred klicks to the structure from the LZ. It's gonna take a few hours." Wings said as the Phantom set down and dropped the two vehicles.

X took the Warthog driver's seat, with Zero on the turret and Itzia riding shotgun, holding a spartan laser. Wings took the Spectre controls, and Peec manned the turret.

Autel was there with Fira and 'Antinr and another Spectre. 'Antinr rode in one of the side pods with a fuel rod cannon, Fira was on the turret and Autel drove.

All eight of them were silent as the three vehicles drove across the hot plains, kicking up a small dust cloud.

They reached the halfway point four hours later, and stopped for a break. D339 walked a ways away, to the top of a small hill.

Wings looked up, and spotted twelve dots in the distance. Zooming in, the dots became thin moon shapes, with large bulbs in the middle. Banshees.

"Mount up!" Wings said over the com, and ran the two hundred meters back to the parked vehicles.

The rest were already in the vehicles and waiting, and Wings pulled the driver cover up and leapt in. Powering up the core, the Spectre lifted thirty centimeters off the ground.

Zero squeezed the firing stud on the gauss turret, and the light round sprang from the end, reaching out to touch one of the Banshees. The purple aircraft exploded, raining bits of metal and flesh in the surrounding area.

Peec and Fira opened up, the lances of plasma reaching out to splash against the closing fliers, or just missing altogether.

A dozen bolts connected with one, and it died and fell, slamming in to the dirt and carving a furrow eighty meters long.

Itzia fired the Spartan Laser, and another one fell.

But now the Banshees had reached firing range, and two of them lobbed fuel rods towards the vehicles.

Wings pulled the Spectre left, towards the oncoming Banshees. The fuel rod shot aimed towards his vehicle exploded, rocking the Spectre.

Peec held on, and spun the turret back towards them, sending a shower of plasma in to one of the fliers.

One bolt hit a gravity pod, and the Banshee rocked and lost altitude. About five meters above the ground the pilot bailed out, and hit the ground hard.

He was immediately run over as the warthog spun to follow the banshees, and another Gauss round shot out, knocking another aircraft out of the sky.

The seven remaining split in to two groups of three, the loner pulling up tight in a split-S and rolling back upright.

Wings spun the Spectre back around and headed relatively towards the left group, aimed slightly towards the middle.

"X, swing around right. Autel, knock out the center."

"Sir."

"Yes, Spartan."

The vehicles reoriented, and the Banshees screamed back in.

Zero fired another round, knocking one from the group on the right out. Peec let loose, and one began trailing smoke. Fira fired a long burst, and another one exploded.

The one trailing smoke slowly lost altitude, and landed roughly on the hot plains.

Zero fired two more times, and two more dropped. One was quickly minced by the plasma turrets, and the last one began fleeing. Zero leapt off the turret and pulled out her sniper rifle.

"That's an impossible shot." Autel said on the team com.

"Shut up." Zero said. She paused, then pulled the trigger. The round flew through the small crack between the hatch and main carapace. It bounced and ricocheted inside, turning the Sangheili inside in to a fine goo.

X pulled the Warthog back over, and Zero climbed back in to place. "Never tell me a shot is impossible." She said to 'Antinr, firing another round in to the eyepiece of the Fallen Sangheili who'd just climbed out of the Banshee's smoking wreckage.

"That was fun." X said, tapping the steering wheel along with some music as the Special Forces got back on track.

"Humans have odd definitions of fun." Fira commented.

"So what's yours?" X retorted.

"What we were just doing."

"Sangheili tend to think with their swords." The Spartan said.

"Better than what most humans think with." 'Antinr cut in, and the com was filled with chuckling for a couple seconds.

The hours went by, and the kilometers disappeared behind them.

About 70 kilometers from their destination, Wings sighted what he was looking for. A shadow on the ground. It was circular in shape and slightly bluer than the surrounding ground.

"That is what we came all this way for?" Fira said disbelievingly as they got closer to the shadow. "A large patch of dirt?"

"Yep." Wings said as he dismounted. The whole circle was about 200 meters in diameter. He scooped up some of the darker dirt and pocketed it for analysis later.

"So what now?" Zero asked.

"If I'm right, then the Forerunners put their tech over the Precursor structures. Meaning only humans can get through."

Wings went to the center of the circle with a telescoping pole and rammed it in to the dirt. It slid right through the smooth earth and struck something.

"About one meter down." He folded the pole up to a shorter width and attached a shovel head. "Best start digging."

The rest of the team grabbed shovels and joined Wings.

About fifteen minutes later Itzia hit something. "Got it."

For the next forty five minutes the eight warriors continued digging, eventually revealing a hatch carved with sharp edged designs.

Fira leaned down to touch the hatch, but was stopped by a field. Examining his feet, the Sangheili saw that he was standing a couple centimeters off the hatch.

"I told you only humans can get through." Wings said, and leapt from the top of the hole down to the hatch. He reached down and ran his fingers along the designs.

"No handles, how do we get through?" 'Antinr said, tossing his shovel away and checking to make sure his carbine was secure.

"I'm thinking. Please stand back." D339 said, and the rest moved off the hatch.

"Stars... moons... That obviously means night time." He muttered. The Sangheili were impressed.

"You understand Forerunner scripture?" 'Antinr queried.

"Studied it during my free time while training. I can also speak more than twenty human languages, three Covenant languages, and I can understand all of them."

"Why bother learning?" Fira said. "Don't you have translators that do that for you?"

"It's better to learn languages than just use technology. I find that members of a species respect you more for using it." Wings said, in perfectly fluent, although heavily accented, Sangheili. 'Antinr clicked his mandibles respectfully.

Wings looked up. The stars were appearing, and the two moons of Sanghelios, Suban and Qikost, were a third of the way to their apex. "Now we have to wait. I suggest we make camp.

The supplies had been stowed in every spare section of space in the vehicles. They dug for another half hour to clear some more space. Together they set up a micro-fusion generator similar to the ones on the MJOLNIR armor, a couple lights and a heater to cook food. While they waited the eight special forces operatives ate and exchanged news of what had transpired during their time apart. 'Antinr and Zero had an argument about what some of the best angles of attack were against numerous enemies.

When they were done, Peec and Fira went to the middle of the depression they'd dug, and began practicing hand to hand combat.

About half an hour in to it, Fira grunted and tripped, hitting the hatch.

Zero looked over. "I'd say that's the cue to get to work." Fira was no longer floating above the hatch, but actually making contact with it.

Wings strode over. The moonlight struck the hatch, illuminating it perfectly.

"I see now." He said, crouching down again, counting the designs, which were arrayed in a circular procession, spiraling in. "Golden Rule."

Itzia nodded. "Yes, they do follow the Golden Rule, but what does that have to do with opening this hatch?"

'Antinr was mystified. "What's the Golden Rule."

"The Golden Rule is a mathematical law found in nature. The constant of this is 1.618. It's found all around, at least in life native to Earth. For instance, the length of my face is approximately 1.618 times the measurement of the width of my face."

Wings began counting the rough spirals. "89 spirals, the twelfth variable in the Fibonacci sequence."

He grabbed a laser measuring tool and laid it in the middle. A small lever popped up, and a red line appeared along the radius of the spiral. The transmitter fed the measurements of each raised edge and each trench. Two of the measurements read 59 and 144, the eleventh and thirteenth variables. Wings ran his fingers along the vertical edge connecting the depression and the raised polygon. There were 8 corners on the raised polygon, the seventh variable of the Fibonacci Sequence.

"There's a crack around the inside of this edge. Give me a hand."

Zero and X knelt to help, grasping the edge and attempting to turn it. The plate shifted a couple millimeters, then stopped.

"Other way."

They switched directions, and this time the plate moved, fairly easily. They kept turning, and the plate slowly rose, then popped free. Itzia helped the three toss it aside.

Autel examined the plate. "I see, this hatch is made of a different metal than the surrounding shell. At night the outside shell shrinks from the cold more, allowing it to loosen enough to be unscrewed."

"Classic bimetallic method." Zero said, peering in to the hole. "Wouldn't expect that from a hyper-advanced race."

"I don't think we were supposed to." Peec said, joining her. "So, who's-"

Wings jumped in to the hole, disappearing with a small rush of air.

"Well, we're screwed. Does that mean we have to take orders from Zero now?" X commented, standing on the edge.

"The com is still open, X." Wings voice said. X swore, and a couple chuckles went around.

"You alright, sir?" Itzia asked.

"I'm fine, it's just a bit of a... wild ride."

Zero leapt in without hesitation. There was no light, but she felt herself being tossed around, but not hitting anything. This was weird, since she was falling diagonally...

The floor came up, and her velocity slowed, then she was floating gently a meter above the floor. Slowly, the Spartan was set down.

Wings was leaning against a wall, staring as the rest came down the grav chute.

X was last. "Well, that was fun. Can I go again, sir?"

"You will when we leave, X." Wings said, and turned, walking down a corridor as he pulled his assault rifle out.

Zero followed, grabbing one of the SMGs clamped to her thigh.

X shrugged, whipped out his shotgun, and pumped a shell in to the chamber.

It wasn't long until they came upon a door, one of the regular old Forerunner doors.

Peec shook his head when asked if he could crack it. "Only Deep Ocean may be able to get that, and she's in no position to do such a thing."

X gently pushed the hacker aside. "Then let me crack it my way."

He pulled out a charge and spread the explosive wires along the central crack.

Reaching for the arming device, X paused. "Was it red green red, or green red red."

"And he's supposed to be the demolitions expert?" Zero said, drawing yet more chuckles from the assembled soldiers. The small charge detonated, and the door was cracked. X kicked it down,

Wings let the others pass, grabbing Autel's shoulder as they entered the next room, opening a private com. "How is she doing?"

Autel glanced at him, and nodded. Wings thumped the Sangheili's shoulder, and the two friends followed their teams.

They walked out in to the cramped hallway. The entire place was dead silent as the eight warriors moved slowly through. Wings got to the front.

"If I'm right, the main atrium will be right ahead."

Deep Ocean sounded a bit put off as she responded. "I've got little in my records on Forerunner architecture, but none of it points to them having any sort of atrium."

"Exactly, you have little records on this." Wings said calmly as they stopped at another door.

"So you've already figured something out?"

"You know me." He said, approaching the door.

"Need me to crack this one?" X said.

"No."

Wings reached out, and they saw that this door was different. It was slightly larger, and more intricate. Again jagged circles ran along the surface.

"Same thing?"

"No, this time it's Pi."

Again Wings pulled out the measuring device, laying it on the floor. The laser popped up, and began feeding more measurements to him. He pointed at each spiral and valley.

"3 millimeters, 1 millimeter. Each on of these raised edges corresponds with a digit of Pi. And if I know Forerunners, they're obsessed with seven, so..." He pointed at the fourteenth digit, 7, and the seventh digit, 2.

He grabbed the two raised edges and twisted sharply. They spun, clicking in to place. The door binged and swung open.

"Finally, a terminal I can use." Deep Ocean said, sounding relieved. "Slot me in."

Wings pulled the primary chip out of his helmet and set it on one of the Forerunner data collection devices.

Her hologram sprang to life, and data began scrolling up and down her body.

"Most interesting, I can't wait to analyze this later. Now, if you're looking for the adytum, you should head down the central tunnel until you reach the main elevator."

They left through the next door, which Ocean had unlocked, and in to the main atrium. The chamber was massive, easily large enough for a Marathon Class Cruiser. Platforms were raised all around the edges of the room, some of them had railings, some of them didn't. It was, however, fairly obvious what Ocean meant by "central tunnel".

Their platform ran down in to a ramp, dipping under the floor and in to a wide tunnel. The two teams jogged down it, until it began sloping upwards again.

The elevator was enourmous, it could easily have fit eight Scorpion tanks on it with room to spare. As they all stood, Ocean's voice came over the coms again.

"I'll take you down, but I'm getting some strange energy readings."

There was a deep clunk, and the elevator descended slowly. About halfway down, a strange machine floated by, with a central eye and three rods.

"Sentinels." Autel said, staring at the floating Forerunner device.

Wings wasn't looking at the machine, he was staring at the dust floating around.

"What is it?" Zero asked.

He gestured around. "Dust is created by dead organic cells."

"So?"

"So why is there so much of it down here?"


The elevator stopped smoothly, and Ocean's voice was heard.

"Take your exit to the north."

Wings turned and began walking towards the door, when he was stopped by Ocean.

"I said north, not east."

Wings double checked his compass. "You all getting a north reading, too?"

He got affirmatives all around.

Turning 90 degrees to his left, Wings started toward the new door. "That better?"

"Yes."

The proper door slid open, and they left through it.

"Which way now?" Wings asked.

"Another elevator, smaller this time. But you'll have to pick me up at the terminal. The primary chip will be there."

It was, and Wings picked the chip up and slotted it in, bracing himself for the sensation of mercury pouring in to his skull.

"I got a lot of data pertaining to the Forerunners. I trust the next section will be just as interesting."

"It better." Peec said as he tapped at the elevator controls.

"The elevator is fairly small, and I'll bet there's a good ambush point at the bottom." Ocean said.

"Thanks. Stay frosty, team."

The elevator descended smoothly, held by a beam of bright plasma. It took five minutes to reach the bottom.

They hurriedly got off, not wanting to be caught in the open in case of an ambush.

Wings took stock of the new room. It was relatively small, compared to the grandness of the main Forerunner atrium, but it's design was no less interesting.

The silver surfaces of the walls moved constantly, but there was always an aesthetically pleasing design. The Spartan reached out and touched the wall. The surface responded, changing to a green color that matched his armor, and flattening. He pulled back, and the surface stayed flat and green for a minute, then returned to it's random waves.

"It reacts to us touching it." Wings said. Autel reached out, and the wall flattened and turned black. It returned to waving when he pulled his hand back.

There was a slight crunching noise down the hall, and every one of them swung to face it.

"What was that?" X asked.

"I have some ideas, could be Flood." Wings said.

"Why would the Flood be in Precursor structures?"

"No idea."

Another crunching was heard, then a gurgle.

"We need to move forward." Wings said, and took the lead, checking the load on his MA6C. He was starting to get annoyed with the old technology. He knew for a fact that the UNSC had developed the MA7 series several months ago, but weren't in wide circulation, claiming monetary problems.

Which did nothing to help explain why they'd conscripted, trained, and equipped Delta Company.

Another door, an odd sphere this time, appeared in the light ahead of them. It glowed faintly, a pale yellow.

"No way to turn this one." 'Antinr said, from his rear guard position. "How do we get through?"

Itzia reached out to touch it, and her hand slid through. "Well that's easy." And she walked right through the sphere, as the material around her rippled like water.

X shrugged and followed.

"Everything clear?" Wings asked.

"Clear." Zero responded, and everyone else moved through.

Wings felt something like static playing along his body, then he was tossed out on the other side. Apparently the door was only a half sphere, the end he came out was flat, in stark contrast with the wall rippling around it.

Fira came through next. He stared back as Autel squeezed through. "That was... interesting."

Wings nodded and turned his attention to the room they were in, having the floor space large enough for two longsword fighters to be placed nose to nose, and high enough for five of them to be stacked on top of each other. All around the room were platforms and stairs. The stairs were most curious, moving like escalators, but still fully connected at the ends to the floor and platforms.

Every surface seemed to be fluid, moving constantly. Even the floor moved, raising and lowering. But when one put a foot near it, the surface flattened, becoming solid.

Wings walked up to the wall and reached his armored hand to touch it, and it flattened, becoming solid. "I wonder..." He muttered, and took his gauntlet off.

"Sir?" Itzia asked. "What are you doing?"

"Analyzing." He responded, and reached his hand out to the wall.

This time the liquid surface didn't flatten, but conformed to his hand. He pulled back, and the surface went back to its random movements. The next time he touched the surface, Wings tightened the muscles in his hand, and he pulled again. This time the wall following his hand out, and when he let go, it stated stuck out in that general shape, but still moving. Wings tapped the off-shape cylinder he had created, and it moved back to its original shape. As it did it almost seemed to become like a small liquid column falling to ground.

"A most interesting substance." Wings commented as he pulled his gauntlet back on. "Wish we had more time to examine it."

Another crunching sound was heard, and he whirled, bringing out his assault rifle in the same movement. All eight moved in to positions covering each other.

"Flood make slithering sounds, not crunching." Autel said.

Wings checked their vitals. BP and heart rate were elevated, but no more than was to be expected.

"Sir, do you have that feeling that the shit's about to hit the fan?" X said, in a flat, emotionless voice.

"No, but I'll let you know when I do." Wings responded.

"Oh, good. Nice to know when shit happens."

There was a central platform halfway up the room, with four ramps leading up to it spaced evenly about it. Each ramp curved upward gently. The platform itself was a large circle thirty meters in diameter, with a hole in the center about four meters wide.

As they approached the central hole something began to hum, and they gathered around it.

Crunch.

Spinning around, the SpecOps faced outward, creating a perimeter around the inner circle.

Something on the motion tracker flared, and Wings spun around. Something shot straight down and in to the hole. It disappeared with a hiss of static and a small flare of light.

"What the fuck was that?" Itzia said, and Wings bit his lip. Itzia never swore.

"I have no idea, but it was fast." X said. "Really fast."

"We've got to keep moving." Wings said. "Two at a time."

He and Autel went first. Static once again played along his body, and this time he felt himself pulled apart on an incredibly small level, then get stitched back together bit by bit.

This new room was smaller than the last, with a similar material to the last couple. However, this material was much darker.

They waited for the rest to come through, then moved on down the only hallway.

The next room was like a maze, cluttered with constantly changing platforms, ramps, and moving stairs.

"This place makes Escher's works look like a child's doodling." Peec commented, looking around the room.

"Who's Escher?" Autel asked, curious.

"M.C. Escher, artist who lived in the 20th century. Famous for his works that appeared to defy the laws of physics. Seen his stuff, interesting work." Wings said, keeping most of his attention on their path.

Crunch crunch crunch.

Wings reacted with all the speed at his command, which was faster than any Spartan he knew, throwing himself forward and spinning.

Something with four legs hit the spot he had just been occupying, and two bladed arms sliced deep furrows in the beautiful metal.

It was and ugly thing, dark browns and tans mottled the body, and four lean, powerful triple jointed legs were folded underneath it. The body was just as lean, and looked built as if for running just as much as jumping. The two bladed arms hung from just above the forelegs, and were long enough to stab a meter in from of the beast. A head turned and stared at him. It had no eyes or mouth, just a nose and huge ear holes.

"Kill it." Wings said, and fired a short burst in to it as X's shotgun roared and Zero's battle rifle clattered.

The beast screamed and leapt, its body straightening out, the blades pointed forward.

Almost like a dart. Wings thought.

It flew fifty meters and landed on an upper platform, turning to stare and hiss at them. The sound of it landing made a slight crunching sound. It leapt again, hitting the ceiling, then almost instantly leapt back down at them.

Crunch crunch.

Zero jumped backward, firing a three round burst at the beast, catching it in the head, and X's shotgun spat more pellets.

'Antinr joined them, and the small radioactive rounds chewed threw the creature's legs.

It landed with a thud, struggling to kick its useless limbs. It hissed as X put the shotgun barrel to its head and pulled the trigger.

Wings knelt down besides the weird body, and pushed against it. A slight crunching was heard.

"It's skin is some sort of thin armor, that's what's making the crunching noise we're hearing.

Crunch.

"Move!" He snapped, and they took off. Ahead of them one of the "darts" landed in their path, then leapt straight towards them, blades held straight forward.

Each warrior slammed themselves against the wall, and it sailed by, landing on the ground, then leaping straight up.

The teams were halfway down the corridor by then, and crunching was all around them. Wings counted no fewer than six Darts leaping about, then he saw a red blur on his motion tracker.

"Right!" He roared, and spun to face the oncoming monster.

It slammed in to him, and his shields were almost completely drained by the impact. It raised one arm and brought it down, and Wings grabbed it, just above the joint where the blade attached to the arm. He was barely able to keep a hold on it, as the skin became smooth, and the Dart began wriggling around.

"Keep going!" Wings ordered as his gauntlet blade sprang from its sheath. He plunged the humming blade through the Dart and twisted. It hissed and ceased its struggling.

Another one had landed on Fira, who activated his energy sword and sliced the offending Dart in half.

The constant crunching increased in volume, and red dots began spilling out from every nook and cranny.

Wings grabbed Fira's hand and brought him to a stand, and they raced after everyone else.

Another door was just ahead, the rest had already gone through. Red dots had filled the area around them, even to the front. Looking up, Wings saw Darts leaping on to the wall above the door, and two landed in front.

Putting on a burst of speed, Wings stowed his assault rifle and ejected both of his gauntlet knives. The two Darts sprang towards him, and he jumped in to them. Their blades met, and he wondered vaguely how their organic blades were able to stop his electromagnetically charged blades, then twisted in the air and ran one through. They landed, and he threw the dead one on to the other, tripping it up. Wings leaned over and beheaded it, then pushed himself through the door.

X had already shoved fresh shells in to his shotgun, and grunted, "Great. Wings: 3. Everyone else: 2."

Wings smiled as he retracted his blades. "Good to know someone's keeping score." He said, and went to the wall, pulling his gauntlet off and beginning to drag the moving material over the door.

"Sir, What're you doing?" X asked.

"Covering our backs, we won't be coming back this way." A blade came through a slit in the covering. Autel punched it, hard. The blade cracked, and was pulled back with a screech. Wings finished covering the opening, and they all heard scratching against it.

"Good thing those organics can't manipulate the material." Itzia said.

"Speaking of 'those organics', would someone please tell me what 'those organics' are?" X said, checking to make sure he had all the explosives he'd brought on the trip.

"I think they're Flood. Maybe this would help." Wings said, holding up his forearms, which were caked in blood and gore.

Itzia wiped some off and pulled out a DNA scanner. It was but a minute before there was a small bing.

"It's Flood." She said.

"Okay, now that that question's answered, want to explain to me how they got the biological material needed to create creatures like that?" X was beginning to sound worried.

"No idea, but we do know that there's a lot of it." Zero responded, pulling out her second SMG.

"They can obviously hide well, but I don't think they'll be in this room for a while. Too much space, and they like to ambush. We can't let them pick the battleground again." Wings said. "The only problem is getting to the exit portal without running in to another maze like that."

"I'll take a peek." Peec said, and pulled out a fiber optic cord and a telescoping stick. Attaching the cord to the stick, he stuck the contraption through the door, the fiber optic cord feeding video directly in to his helmet.

Turning a dial, the camera panned left and right, then elevated up and down.

"It's clear. Just a couple pillars." Peec reported, taking the contraption apart and stowing it back in its pouch.

"Let's move." Wings said, and he stepped through the half sphere.

The room was just as large as the maze room, but empty this time, except for two pillars spaced evenly with the walls. There was a door at the far end of the room.

Autel walked forward, towards the strange "opening". As he passed between the podiums, he felt static play along his body.

Wings stepped through next, and felt the same sensation. "Odd." He heard hissing. "If I were the rest of you I'd get on the other side of these pillars."

Everyone hurried through the barrier and took up positions by the doorway, just as the first Dart form leapt through the opening.

It hissed and leapt, landing right in front of the barrier. Wings stood from his knelt position and stowed his rifle. He stepped toward the barrier. More Darts had come through, and were gathered by the barrier, hissing and striding back and forth.

"I don't want to know what he's doing, but I trust at least he knows what he's doing." X muttered to Peec, who nodded.

Wings stopped right in front of one of the Darts, which hissed and lashed out.

It's bladed arm made contact with the shield, and most of it sizzled and vanished. The Flood Dart leapt back with a shrill scream, and the rest pounced on it, devouring its biomass.

"Well that's not pleasant." Wings said, and marched back to the door. "Outer security system, to keep these guys in here. Must mean we're near the exit."

He stepped through the door, and found himself stepping out on to the plains above the hatch.

Looking back, Phoenix's leader saw Zero step through what looked like a miniature slipspace vortex.

She caught his stare. "What?" Following Wings' gaze, the sniper watched Autel step through another slipspace exit.

"Cool."

Chapter 21: Beak

0930 Hours, February 5th, 2570 (UNSC Military Calendar)

The bunker that Wings and Peec had begun had been expanded and improved upon. There was now more than one chamber under the hill, including anti-electronics packages and several supercomputers.

Zero was temporarily in charge, Wings had stayed at Sanghelios with Autel, working on another one of his "projects".

"Speaking of projects, the UNSC sure does give us a lot of leeway on missions, don't they?" Itzia commented to Peec as they worked on an antibiotic synthesizer.

"I've wondered on that, but Wings has been fairly smart about it. Take note that most of the parts we collected for that," Peec pointed to the mass fabricator. "Were gathered during legitimate missions, and he's always managed to find a good reason to be where he wants. But I would agree, it's like HighCom just took the leash off to see what we'd do." He snapped another electronic piece that Itzia didn't recognize in to place. "However, my only concern is making sure this bunker stays up and running. And that he doesn't have another one of his 'episodes.'"

"Don't worry, Deep Ocean is with him. The only thing that would be lethal would be if his heart stopped, and you're the one who put the defibrillators in his breastplate."

Peec nodded, and set the synthesizer on the table. "He's like our brother, we should be worrying. El, please check the counter-intrusion systems."

The hologram of a man appeared, wreathed in flame. His eyes burned white, and his skin appeared as if it were molten lava. Element spoke, his voice crackling a bit, like that of a wood fire crackling.

"I have been monitoring and testing them constantly, sir. We are quite secure."

Element had been created using a flash clone of Peec's brain, and programmed by Peec himself. The smart AI was quite young, only a few days old, and didn't have its own personality yet. He'd been programmed as a security and base management AI.

"What's travel off and on planet like?"

"The usual, sir. One or two Pelican dropships every couple of hours or so. D339 has not been on any of them."

"Thank you, Element. Back to work."

The AI nodded and disappeared. A vacuum bot whirred right by Peec's legs.

"How you and Wings manage to get the material and equipment for all this I don't want to know." Itzia said.

"Black Market." Peec said. "It's not possible to monitor all traffic in and out of the system. I just happened to find a hole, and he found the smugglers to bring it in. Bribe and blackmail some contractors into letting us use their equipment, and we're set."

"Now, the blackmailing I can get, but the bribing? Military pay wouldn't be able to bribe of all of them."

"Ocean placed a siphoning bug in the Insurrectionist accounts that can move to new ones." He turned back to the holo-projector. "Element, how do our funds look?"

The flaming man appeared again. "Our funds are currently balanced at 15 million credits, and are rising by about fifty thousand per day, sir."

"Thank you, Element." And the AI disappeared. "We've got enough."

"And what if ONI finds out what we're doing?"

"They'll need to get in this bunker if they want. There's enough armor plating planned here to make this place look like the CASTLE base on Reach."

Itzia looked skeptical. "How can you keep this hidden from everyone? Yes, we're hidden from sensors and electronic infiltration, but how can there be nobody who knows about this?"

"About six hundred Deltas and Ezekiel do, as do Red, Blue, and Grey teams. They're the only ones who have access to this base. Wings plans on moving the main base here once the news gets out about some kind of secret Spartan base."

"Does he know when that will happen?"

"He's only human. He can plan all he wants, know all he wants, and make all the perfect plans he wants, but he's not omniscient. So he doesn't have a clue."


0800 Hours, February 20th, 2570 (UNSC Military Calendar)

The Phantom ride to the surface was fairly smooth, smoother than most dropship rides.

It settled down ten meters above the surface, and Wings heard the gravity lift activate. He leaned in to the cabin. "Thanks for the ride, Ipla."

"My pleasure, Spartan." Ipla 'Ihpor responded as Wings floated down to the landing pad.

Spartan-117 was there, and he strode up to Wings as the SCPO landed and saluted.

"Master Chief, Sir!"

The Chief returned the salute. "D Three Thirty-Nine, it's good to finally meet you."

"The honor's mine, sir." Wings said. "Is there anything I can do for you?"

"You can show me the way to get past the press. I haven't figured out how your team gets by them."

"Of course, follow me."


Ten minutes later, the two Spartans were strolling casually through a forest five kilometers from the base.

"I take it you didn't just want to meet me to know how to get past the press."

"That much was obvious."

"You want to know about me, what my opinion on the public's opinion on Phoenix Team is." For months now the press had been hoisting Wings and his team up as the epiphany of Spartans, the best that had ever existed.

"Yes."

"I'm not better than you."

117 stopped. "How do you figure that? You're faster, stronger, and smarter than me."

"That doesn't make me better." Wings said as they approached the twelve centimeter bulkheads. "You managed to stop a war and bring the humans and Sangheili closer without breaking any backs. Even the most bigoted Sangheili had to accept what you'd done and think better of you. I'm going to bring them closer, but there are many who'll hate me for it. That's why you're better."

He tapped in the entrance code, which simultaneously checked his DNA. A red AI appeared. "Greetings, Spartan-D339."

"Looks like D1074 had some fun while I was gone." Wings commented as the door slid open, and he stepped through.

"Good meeting you, Wings." The Master Chief said.

Wings nodded. "Same here, sir." He took off down the passage.


Peec glanced out from where he was working under the main core. "Long time no see, sir. How goes your project?"

"Very well, thank you. How go yours?"

"Well enough. We've gotten most of the plans for the base finalized, and all Delta team leaders have been made aware of its existence. I trust you've already met the security AI, Element."

The holo-projector sprang to life, and the red AI appeared. "Ah, yes. Spartan-D339. We haven't been formally introduced. I am Mil-AI EMT 572-1, Element."

"Good to meet you." Wings turned to Peec. "I trust he's up to spec?"

Peec shot him a glance at him that said "This is me you're talking to."

"He is, and has been monitoring and testing our security systems ever since I put him online. Hold this." He said, and handed Wings something. It looked like a coolant cell.

"What are you doing, anyways?" Phoenix's leader inquired.

"Replacing the coolant on this mainframe. It blew out when I turned it on." Peec said, from where he lay on the floor, his head and both arms stuck in the tangle of wires. Something clicked in to place, and Peec's hand reached out and grabbed a screw gun. It disappeared along with the arm. Wings heard a buzzing as Peec drove the screws in to place.

"Need this?" Wings asked, holding up the coolant block.

"No, toss it." So D339 threw the block in the incinerator.

Zero walked in, carrying a weapons box. "Oh hi, Sir. Nice to see you."

Wings followed her in to the armory, and Zero set the box on one of the many tables. Several other Delta Spartans were there, talking in low tones.

"Get something new?" He asked the sniper as she unclasped the case.

"Sure did. I went through some back channels and got us a shipment of MA7 assault rifles. These are just the samples." The box fell open, revealing five different assault rifles and their attachments.

"MA7A, MA7B, MA7C, MA7K, and MA7T." Zero said, picking up the one labeled "MA7A", and checking it. "The MA7A is the largest and loudest, boasting an eighty round magazine. It even comes with a bipod stand to fortify a held position. The MA7B is smaller, using a 65 round mag. It's still loud, but is lighter than the MA7A. The MA7C is similar to the MA6C, holding 42 rounds per mag. Now, the MA7K holds 32 rounds, and is probably the most accurate of the lot, even coming with a 2X scope for burst fire. Not quite as accurate as the new BR60 that's going in to prototype soon, but still useful at longer ranges in a pinch. Finally, the MA7T. 26 round magazine, fires slowest, but also the largest rounds. Comes with a suppressor."

Wings picked up the MA7C, testing its weight. "When does the first shipment get here?"

"In the next two days, I believe. We'll be getting a thousand of each, except the MA7As. We'll be getting just five hundred of those."

The SCPO slid the 42 round magazine in to the receiver and slid the bolt home. Wings held the rifle up to his shoulder. The ammo count read 42, and the compass said he was facing in a southerly direction. The rifle was well balanced.

"Let's take them to the range." Wings said, and set the rifle back in the box. He hefted it, and together they strode down to the underground firing ranges.

Sigurd-D1010 was already there, firing an SM6D. The rounds landed no more than three centimeters away from each other at a distance of forty meters. He saluted as Wings and Zero strode up.

"Sirs!"

"At ease, Sigurd. We're just here to test some new rifles. Care to join us?"

The Hydra Team leader perked up. "Be glad to, sir." And he marched over, reloading and holstering the pistol.

Zero popped the case open and gave Sigurd the rundown on the assault rifles. He hefted the MA7A and attached the bipod. Picking up the over-sized magazine, D1010 fitted it carefully in and wracked the bolt forward. Wings selected the MA7C, and Zero pulled out the MA7K, slipping a scope on.

The three Spartans spent two hours familiarizing themselves with the weapons. By the end several more team leaders had joined them, all enjoying themselves immensely. Thankfully the MA7 series still used the typical 7.62 mm AP rounds that the MA6 and MA5 series used, so they had a healthy stock of ammunition.

"Can't wait to get the larger shipment, so we can start using them in the field." Sigurd said, unlatching the bipod and stowing it and the MA7A away. "How was the K, Zero?"

"Not much recoil, which is nice. The range is much shorter than the new BR60, but it'd make do in a pinch." She responded.


1500 Hours, February 22nd, 2570 (UNSC Military Calendar)

The shipment of MA7 assault rifles had arrived, and were being distributed among the Delta teams. They were all pleased to get upgrades from their slightly outdated technology, and were all too eager to field test the new weapons.

Along with the four thousand five hundred assault rifles had come a shipment of ten prototype BR60 Battle Rifles. The new design extended the range of the battle rifle to 600 meters, equivalent to that of a Covenant Type-51 Carbine. The rounds were made with new composite materials, decreasing drag in the air and increasing accuracy. Each three round burst now landed a mere 3 mm apart at 300 meters. The rifle was pretty much immune to jamming. Zero dropped it in water, mud, sand, even dropped it out of a two story balcony, and the thing still fired when she picked it up again.

Wings and Zero were striding through the courtyard on their way to the outdoor firing range in the main courtyard when a man in Navy uniform approached, carrying a black briefcase.

"Senior Chief Petty Officer Spartan D339?"

Wings turned to him, and noticed the Lieutenant's insignia. He snapped to attention and saluted. "Sir!"

"Lieutenant Johansson. I need to talk to you." And he began walking away.

Zero glanced at D339, but he shook his head, and she went off to the firing range while Wings followed the Lieutenant.

The ONI officer, he had to be from the way he walked and talked, took Wings to a small, featureless room with two chairs and a table. "Have a seat, SCPO."

Wings sat, and Johansson took the seat opposite the Spartan.

"On November 15th, 2568, you, your team, and several Sangheili destroyed a Covenant base on an unnamed planet, did you not?"

"I did."

"And on June 17th the next year, did you or did you not stage a raid on the Dark Space Shipyards?"

Wings wasn't wearing his armor, but having studied facial expressions and body language for years had allowed him to control his. He blinked, and his eyebrows furrowed, a sign of confusion. Not much by regular human standards, but the right amount for a Spartan.

"I don't know what you're talking about, sir."

"It doesn't matter. Not like I could get you in to court with that one."

The ONI agent rifled through his briefcase, and pulled out some enlarged photographs. "Are these pictures of your team?"

The picture showed his five Spartans on a UNSC corvette, with an albino Sangheili standing by them. "They are."

Johansson leaned back, betraying no emotion. Except smug triumph. Wings thought. If only he knew what I know.

"Then you do not deny that the parts you had on board that ship are parts of a Covenant Graviton Cannon?"

"I do deny it. We never had any such parts, they were all destroyed." D339 said flatly.

"I've just shown you photo evidence disproving that." The agent leaned forward. Time for what he thinks is the killing blow. Wings thought.

"Sir, with respect, faking pictures required little effort in the late 20th century. It is much easier now, and you insult me and my unit by suggesting otherwise." Wings let a bit of an edge in to his voice.

"And so you also deny the existence of a secret Spartan bunker on this very planet, and that you've done dealings with the black market?"

"I do."

"You do realize what charges you would face if I found out you were lying." Johansson said, his voice beginning to grate.

"I'm not under any pressure to tell the truth or lie to you, sir. Is there anything else?"

Johansson lifted his hand to point a finger at the Spartan. Wings was amused by the pathetic attempt to be intimidating. "I'm watching you from now on, Spartan. I know you're up to something, and I intend to find out what it is."

Wings shrugged. "Investigate all you want, sir. I'm not worried, because there is nothing to worry about."

The Lieutenant, Wings doubted he really was just a Lieutenant, sighed wearily. "Dismissed, SCPO."

Wings stood and walked out without saluting.


"Problems, sir?" Zero asked as her leader approached.

"Well, he's not just a Lieutenant, I can tell you that."

She sighted through the battle rifle's scope. "How do you figure that?" She fired a burst. It landed dead center of the target, 400 meters away.

"First off, he walks like he's used to being on a bridge, with the slight vibrations. Tends to make people walk either a bit looser or a bit tenser. Second, he acted like he was used to being in command, and when you're on a bridge it's very rarely that you're a Lieutenant. Third, he had access to photos that are normally above a Lieutenant's pay grade. I'd say he's at least a Commander."

"Three bits of information that are hearsay and disputable, and could easily be explained away." She said. "I like it."

Wings pulled out his SM6D. "Thought you would. Meeting at 1700, by the way. We need to fully brief the rest of the team leaders on our bunker, the Precursor building we found, and the Flood."


0200 Hours, February 23rd, 2570 (UNSC Military Calendar)

Wings, Peec, and Deep Ocean had stayed up all night examining the data the AI had collected from the Forerunner database.

"It seems that the Forerunners are more in to showing off as much of their technology on as grand a scale as possible. The Precursors seemed more intent on making theirs available in small areas. However, none of the rooms we entered seemed to have any real function."

"The only rooms we went to had no purpose. We were just in the main hall, and got lucky enough to not travel deeper in to the complex. The Dart Forms were just guards, not any real threat." Wings said.

"One of them managed to nearly take your shields out with one hit at full pelt." Peec commented, switching to a 3D model of the maze room. The hologram hovered above the computer.

"This is what confuses me." D339 said. "This room had no function that we saw. It was just a whole bunch of stairs and platforms."

"We didn't get that much time to examine it, owing to these guys." Deep Ocean said, striding in to view and gesturing towards one of the Darts.

Wings stared at the model of the room, as if looking for some hint as to its function. "We need to secure that entire complex, and we aren't doing that with just five of us. Ocean, pick our top twenty teams, we're going back."

Chapter 22: Prey

1000 Hours, March 3rd, 2570 (UNSC Military Calendar)

The elders had, of course, erupted in to fits when a UNSC frigate reverted from slipspace above Sanghelios, but were quickly talked down by Thel 'Vadam.

Pelicans made their way down to the planet's surface, bearing their cargo of Spartans and weapons.

If took two hours for all 100 Delta Spartans to be transported to the surface. Phoenix Team was the first in, sailing down the hatch and making sure the Forerunner structure was clear. Then, one by one, the other 19 teams followed. They made their way to the portal that Phoenix had first gone through, and Wings hit the SpecOps com.

"You all know what's beyond this gate. Ocean counted about six hundred Darts in the next room."

He stepped through the door, the rest of his team following hot on his heels.

"Find a good holding spot and overlap your fields of fire!" He ordered, and raced for a platform in the corner. He leapt on to it as the crunching started, still quite a distance off, and his team followed him. They set up a half circle and pulled out their assault rifles. Wings and Itzia had MA7Cs, Peec had an MA7B, X had an MA7A, and Zero had selected an MA7K.

The crunching got louder, and they saw a dozen Darts leaping towards them. Zero let out a burst, and one staggered and tripped. Another one pounced on the thrashing for and extended two strange tentacles. The wounded Dart stopped thrashing as his flesh bubbled away, revealing basic organs and skeleton. The organs degenerated fast as well, disappearing in to the tentacles, followed by the skeleton.

"So that's how they reuse biomass..." Zero muttered, wounding several more Darts. Half the Spartan teams were now in the room and taking up good firing positions, but hundreds of Darts were flooding through the doors. Well more than six hundred.

But they were no match for the withering phalanx of Spartans, letting loose with every weapon in their arsenal. Zero watched a Spartan Laser beam slice through twenty of the leapers before striking a dais. The strange metal shrank from the laser and absorbed it, reforming back to its original state.

One of the Darts paused and began sucking up the bodies.

"That can't be good." Wings said. "Zero, kill him."

She pulled out her BR60 and took careful aim. She triggered a burst, but a wave of Darts leapt up to block the rounds. "I'm not getting a clear shot."

Wings opened a com to all teams. "Focus fire on that Dart in the center. He's doing something with the biomass. Make sure he dies."

Hundreds of Darts had fallen now, but there were still a couple hundred left. They all concentrated around the one absorbing biomass, simply feeding in to it when they died.

Then all the ones shielding it were dead, the absorber started changing. Its body reached a critical mass, and had begun sprouting tentacles, which lashed out at the Spartans. They quickly scrambled to surround it as long blades extended from the ends, and the legs melted together, sinking to the floor. The Dart was now attached firmly, and its head grew upwards to the ceiling, the body becoming wider and more muscular. The head didn't quite reach the ceiling, so the top wriggled freely.

When it was done, the new form represented some kind of giant flesh pillar with scythe-bladed tentacles, lashing out at the Spartans.

"Circle him and put every heavy weapon we have on this bastard." Wings said over the com, slapping a G58 grenade launcher on to his MA7C. He switched it over to secondary fire, which would fire all three grenades at once for maximum explosive power.

The 20 teams had brought 4 Spartan Lasers, all of which were peppering the flesh pillar with hot red beams.

Wings held his fire for a minute, looking for a weakness. Then he saw it, a small corridor that would minimize the time a team would be exposed to the sweeping blades.

"Hydra, you're closest to that corridor at the bottom east side. Take it and get under that beast."

"Sir!" Sigurd said. "Move, Hydra!"

Sigurd and his team rushed headlong down the corridor. He felt the impact of one of the giant blades behind him, but his teams vitals remained green, then he heard it snap around.

Cory screamed in pain as the blade punched through his shields and diced his chest. The Spartan only slowed momentarily, pausing long enough to blow the tentacle in two with a shotgun blast. The blade landed, the tentacle it was still attached to wriggling. The other half still connected to the flesh pillar swung down and grabbed it. The flesh became liquid, then the blade was lifted off the floor, and the tentacle snapped. It was whole again.

"Damn this bitch is tough." Sigurd muttered to himself, glad that he'd turned off the mic. Then he saw something strange. He was under the pillar, and the interior was hollow. The walls have to be five meters thick, he thought to himself.

"Sigurd, what the hell are you doing? Nothing we have out here is scratching that thing." Wings' voice came over the com.

"Found a weakness, sir." Sigurd responded. "There's a centralized brain in here, and we're going to blow it."

Sure enough, a large brain hung above him, electrical impulses playing along it. "Nadia?"

"Sir." Nadia-D5518 said, hefting her Spartan Laser.

"Blow its head off."

He knew she'd be smiling under her helmet. "Glad to, sir." She took aim and charged the laser. A thick red beam lanced out, piercing the brain. A terrible screech sounded throughout the large maze room, and the pillar shuddered, beginning to fall over.

"Out, Hydras!" Sigurd ordered, and they ran back, with Gordon supporting Cory.

The pillar began to fall towards them, so Sigurd led his team down a side passage. He turned a corner and- dead end.

The giant flesh pillar collapsed, trapping them. Cory coughed, spraying blood on the walls. The walls took on a reddish hue.

"Fuck." Sigurd said, and opened a channel to Wings. "We're trapped in a dead end under this flesh, sir. We need assistance. I would advise you hurry, the rest of the flesh looks like it's collapsing slowly, and I don't know what this air will do to our lungs." Not only that, but, seemingly as a last act of revenge, the flesh had grown blades. If it collapsed, those blades would go right through them.

Wings stood from where he'd been crouching, watching as each Spartan team went to the task of healing their comrades. Most of the teams had made it relatively unscathed, and no Spartans had died, but many had been wounded. And now this.

"Let's start digging them out." He said, locating Hydra's transponder signal and sprinting over to it. He faced the wall of meat, mentally calculating that there would be about fifteen meters of Flood flesh to go through.

"Sir, with respect, we may not have time to dig. Cory's hurt, and we need to get to him fast." Zero said.

"I could rig us a charge to blow through most of it." X said, grabbing a charge. Itzia snatched his hand.

"We can't. Blowing through it would send Flood flesh everywhere, in to Cory. He'd die of infection in an even more painful way than now."

Wings stabbed the flesh with his gauntlet knife. "Either we blow through it and save the team, or we go slow and risk losing them all. Only one choice, in my mind." He nodded to X. "Rig the charge." He knew that X would be sullen, but the demolitions expert moved to set the explosives.

"Sir, there's no need for explosives." Sigurd's voice came over the com.

"I'm sorry, Sigurd. But we have to get as many of your team out of there as possible, and I can't risk losing all of you."

"You're not losing anyone today, sir. I'm sending you a video feed."

Wings drew in a sharp breath when he saw.


Hydra had turned their backs on the wounded Cory, looking for any means of getting out. Cory had fallen unconscious a minute ago.

Sigurd spun around as Nadia yelled, and saw silver tentacles hovering over his comrade, and Cory's body was lifted up by a human-shaped pedestal. He stepped forward, but one tentacle pushed him gently back, indicating that it was friendly. "Let's see what happens." He said as calmly as possible.

One tentacle prodded Cory, and turned the same color as the Spartan's blood. Then several more floated upwards and plucked some flesh from the Flood body, and absorbed it. This was when Sigurd realized that silver tentacles were holding the Flood flesh back, preventing it from caving in.

The tentacles that had absorbed the Flood flesh glowed, then spat the flesh back out on to their tips. It looked different, somehow.

More tentacles grasped the new flesh and lowered it gently on to Cory's body. The tentacles then began a steady process of reconstructing Cory using the modified Flood Flesh. They did not so much perform a surgery as sculpt new bits of Cory back on. When one cut was fully filled with the proper flesh, one tentacle flattened itself in to a paddle and sprouted thousands of tiny needles. It flattened itself against the cut, and when it came away the cut was gone, with pink, new skin in its place.

Within minutes the Spartan coughed, and rose to a sitting position. His chest plate had been removed. The tentacles retreated back in to the walls as if they'd never been there.

Sigurd turned and saw that a tunnel had opened, and Phoenix Team stood there. Wings was examining the Flood flesh.

"Most interesting." He muttered, and Sigurd looked, too. All over the dead flesh was being absorbed in to the silver metal.

"So that's why those Darts didn't pause to absorb their dead. They wouldn't have had a chance to reuse the biomass." Itzia said, running a gloved hand over a part of the wall that had been smeared with Flood mass mere moments ago.

"Don't get comfy, Spartans." Wings said over the com as Cory was helped back in to his armor by Sherry-D2941. "We don't know how many more rooms we have to clear, so stay frosty."


1300 Hours, March 6th, 2570 (UNSC Military Calendar)

After three solid days of fighting without a break, the entire structure was declared clear of all Flood contamination.

Wings stood with his helmet off in the center the strange maze room, looking around. Bending down, he pulled off a vambrace and scored a long cut along it with a combat knife. Immediately the tentacles appeared, and sculpted his arm back together. It didn't even hurt. In fact, it kind of tickled.

He hadn't had time to consider what this room could do, but now the fighting was over, Wings could put his mind to work.

But first, he'd need some help.

The Spartans had set up several fabricated buildings on the surface to shield themselves from the frequent dust storms. UNSC protocol forbade setting up camp in the structure, so they had to make do with a makeshift compound around the hatch.

Wings walked to the com room, which was being operated by Cory-D865.

"How you holding up?" Wings inquired.

Cory stood and saluted. D339 returned the gesture. "Just fine, sir. It's like half my ribs were never cut in two places."

"Good. I need to speak privately with someone. Go grab a hot meal, I'll call you when I'm done. Dismissed, Petty Officer."

"Sir!" Cory saluted again and marched out.

Wings made sure the room was secure, locking the door and pulling the blinds over the two windows.

He walked over to the central communications unit and input a code he'd memorized just over a year ago.

The com crackled to life, and a hologram of Dr. Halsey sitting at her desk appeared.

"You have something for me, Wings?" She said, looking up from her work.

"I do, Doctor. I advise you travel with all haste to Sanghelios. We have found technology that is most fascinating."

Chapter 23: Down

1600 Hours, March 13th, 2570 (UNSC Military Calendar)

Halsey arrived midway through the afternoon a week later. Wings met her as she stepped off the corvette. Surprisingly enough, she'd brought Professor Anders with her. D339 knew this was an oddity he might not see again, as Anders and Halsey had been feuding for years.

Dr. Halsey approached him and held out her hand. "Spartan D339, it's good to see you again."

Wings shook the proffered hand. "Same here, ma'am."

Anders followed just behind Halsey. "I never got to thank you and your team for getting us out of cryo." She shook hands with Wings as well.

"Good to see you, too, Professor. I suppose you two want to see the structure?"

Halsey stepped towards the hatch. "Of course."

Wings signaled to his team, and they surrounded the two doctors.

"Sorry, Doctors, but we're not one hundred percent sure the entire place is clear, we haven't explored the entire thing."

Sigurd-D1010 was waiting with his team at the bottom of the hatch, preparing to make another excursion deeper in to the Forerunner area. Hydra's leader looked up and nodded as they passed, then went back to examining some room maps.

Phoenix and the doctors walked through until they reached the maze room again. Wings let Zero, X, and Peec go with Anders a ways, until he was sure the younger professor wouldn't hear him speaking.

"This is the healing room. I've been wondering how far its capabilities go."

Halsey took out a pen knife and scratched the back of her hand. Again the silver tentacles came out and fixed the cut, leaving pink skin in place of the bloody streak. Throughout the whole process the doctor's face didn't change.

"A most interesting room." She mumbled, then rose from her kneeling position.

"It would seem that it knows when an organic is harmed, and can fix it. It may realize that you have the organ condition, but since you haven't had an attack in here, it doesn't realize that it's harmful."

"Makes sense." Itzia said.

"I've called in some ODSTs and a research team in. If you can just make sure this place is clear before they get here we can start testing these structures. Thank you for-" Halsey was interrupted by static playing along the room.

They all looked to the top-most platform, where a hologram of a San'Shyuum had appeared. It extended an arm, pointing at Wings.

"Phoenix Team, we meet at last."

Wings walked up on to the platform, the hologram turning to follow him. Unfortunately he'd taken his helmet off, finding that regular humans connected more with what Spartans were saying when they could see an actual face. And now an unknown Prophet knew it.

"I thought you were all hunted down to extinction." He said, approaching the hologram.

"And we very nearly were, but Forerunner cloning technology is quite amazing, and you seem to have stumbled upon something even more amazing."

"What do you want here?" Wings said, stopping in front of the hologram, standing face to face with the Prophet.

"Forgive my manners. I am the High Prophet of Intuition, the leader of the Covenant."

"Might I ask how you gained control of the Covenant?"

Intuition gestured. "It is not so hard when your followers have been indoctrinated to follow us for a millenia. I'm afraid I do not know where you are, right now, but I intend on finding out. And when I do, the Covenant will take what you have found from your grasp and use it to destroy humanity."

Wings couldn't help but allow the ghost of a smile to appear on his normally neutral features. "You seem awfully polite for a bigot."

"I am no bigot. I know what humanity is, and where it came from. I just have to keep up appearances for now."

"Why don't we work together to bring a lasting peace, then?"

"You know I cannot do that. We would both be destroyed, and any work we would have done would be undone. No, that cannot be. For now, we must continue destroying each other. It may take many years and millions of lives, but I will see this fight finished. But we can never be allies. You know my face, and I know yours, and I know if I do not do this then you will hunt me down and break the Covenant yourself."

"How do I know you'll keep your word?"

Intuition smiled. "I am the only one in this room, and the channel I'm using it one reserved for only myself. I tell you this because I trust you will do what is needed to stop the fighting, and I trust you enough to not kill me. You know I can keep my word, because if I do not, then my species will be hunted to extinction, and I cannot allow that, not while I have the power to stop it. So the best way to ensure my species' survival is to ensure yours." He nodded towards the seven humans, then looked left, to something out of the range of the holo-projector.

"I must go, for now. We will speak again. And when we do, I expect you to be alone, Spartan. May the Light of the Gods reveal your path." The High Prophet of Intuition bowed slightly, holding the tips of his fingers together as a sign of respect, then disappeared.

"He's not lying." Wings said before any comments could be made. "But he's not telling the whole truth."

"How do you know?"

"He does want to ensure the survival of his species, but that cannot possibly be the only reason he wants peace." Phoenix's leader said, heading towards the exit. "Continue here, I need to think."


2300 Hours, March 13th, 2570 (UNSC Military Calendar)

Wings searched through everything he had on San'Shyuum culture, but he could find little suggesting why Intuition might want peace.

It was true that the alien species had been hunted to near extinction, but apparently they'd managed to get a hold on Forerunner cloning technology. And now he didn't have any idea how many there might be. Hundreds, thousands, millions?

Truth had been a zealot even by San'Shyuum standards, but any Prophet was supposed to be willing to die for the Covenant. Maybe Intuition was lying.

But no, as Wing plotted attacks against Interspecies Union worlds, he found that, over the last year or so, the frequency of those attacks had been slowly decreasing, as if the Covenant were consolidating. That could be it. Consolidate their forces for a killing blow against two weakened races.

Or Intuition really was telling the truth. For some reason, Wings felt himself leaning towards that idea.

There was no question. He'd have to find a way to speak with the Prophet of Intuition, face to face.


"And how do you plan on finding him?" Zero asked.

"I don't know. I just know that he'll be somewhere deep in Covenant territory, either sewing the seeds of change or laughing at me for swallowing that lot." Wings said, pulling up the Precursor galaxy map. A tiny portion was highlighted, showing UNSC, Sangheili, and Covenant worlds.

"That is how you plan on finding him?" X said, making yet more explosive charges.

"San'Shyuum are cowards by definition. If I can get access to the holo-projector in the maze room, I may be able to trace it back to a general area in space. Looks like this data will be united with the structure."


Wings carried the data chip down in to the Precursor's healing room. He went to where the hologram had appeared and put the chip on the small dais.

The data chip rose on two small humps, which soon formed in to silver tentacles. Electricity crackled along the tentacles and through the data storage chip. The galaxy appeared again, but more detailed, and a gender neutral voice rang throughout the chamber.

"Greetings, Spartan."

"Are you an AI?"

"No. I am a comprehensive database designed by my creators to be able to communicate through several forms. I can communicate through sound, smell, sight, or telepathy."

"Telepathy?"

"Yes. However, you are not my creators. I am willing to give you the information, but first you must complete a task for them."

"Them?"

"My creators."

Wings sighed. He needed what the database had to say, but the UNSC may not give him leave to partake in this mission, and he was running out of strings to pull. Note to self, do more favors.

"What is it, then?"

"The faction that you refer to as the 'Covenant' are making a prod in to human territory. I have knowledge that you wish to reach a peaceful end to the conflict between the Interspecies Union and the Covenant as soon as possible."

"So you give me information on their whereabouts, I stop them, and you help me again."

"I've been programmed to be overly helpful. The Covenant plan on planting one of their Graviton Cannons on Mars, and drawing the planet's moons in to destroy it. Construction of the cannon will end in two weeks, upon which it will be fired. I would advise you stop them before then."

Wings nodded. "How do you know this?"

"That would be sharing information."

"You already are."

The view of the galaxy had zoomed in on Mars, and showed a Covenant base, no, fortress, being built on the surface. Mars wasn't red now like it had been in the 21st century. The Carbon dioxide had been processed until the planet's atmosphere was almost 100% oxygen. The temperature had been increased as well, due to the increased atmospheric pressure. The crust had been mined since the early 22nd century, turning it a mild brown now. Heavy industry spewed carbon dioxide back in to the atmosphere, feeding plant life, adding patches of green among the dull brown. As humans began migrating to Mars the planet evolved, until it began to look similar to Earth.

"True, but this pertains to your test, which is to destroy the Graviton Cannon before it is deployed."

Wings didn't hear this message so much as know it, like it had just popped from memory instantly. He felt his stomach churn. The Spartan ripped his helmet off and vomited." The hologram looked down with its neutral expression.

"I apologize, but the first few telepathic communications can be jarring for a mind."

Wings straightened, deciding to keep his helmet off in case he felt his stomach try to do a somersault again.

"Is that all you have for me now?"

Chapter 24: Mantle

0500 Hours, March 26th, 2570 (UNSC Military Calendar)

"So we're going to Mars on the information from a computer that's not even an AI, based on what?" Zero said, cradling her sniper rifle as the Pelican shot towards the surface.

"That computer pointed us to the Spirit of Fire." Wings responded, holding the barrel of his MA7C with both hands, the armrest on the floor. "Maybe it know something the UNSC doesn't. From the picture on the hologram, it looked like the Cannon pieces were being shipped in on stealth cruisers and hidden underneath Olympus Mons."

"Still, that's quite the operation, to hollow out a mountain." Autel commented.

"They don't need to hollow out the whole thing, just enough to fit all the components in. The cannon will only need to be fired once, so I'm guessing that the huragok aren't too worried about a buildup of heat."

Peec was tapping away at a computer. "Their right, the cannon will only need to latch on to one of the moons once in order to bring them so far in to Mars' gravity well that they'll collide on the surface. The crust would be penetrated so deep that the planet's rotation would tear itself apart. About 100 million humans would die."

The PA came on. "Phoenix, Badger Team says they're on the ground and waiting for you to RV with them. We'll be hitting dirt in one minute."

"Thank you, Ensign."

The Pelican stopped ten meters above the planet's surface, and all eight SpecOps leapt out, each landing with a soft thud on the ground.

"Welcome to Mars, sir." Nat-D5795 said, marching up and saluting, the other members of Badger Team following right behind. "I hear you're here to save the world."

"We are, Nat." Wings said as Phoenix Team returned the salute. "We've received intel that the Covenant are building a Graviton Cannon under Olympus Mons. And we're all going to take it out."

"Ooh, fun." Peri-D914 whispered to herself, fiddling with her plasma rifles. She was one of the few Spartans that liked carrying plasma weapons as her main weapons, and she was quite the artist with them. Wings always had liked her, the Spartan had a very happy attitude when not in combat, but was just as serious as any other Spartan in combat.

The Spartans of Badger Team were closer than any other Delta Team, which made them an incredibly valuable resource. Phoenix Team were the best, but they weren't as close to each other as Badger Team was, each member of Phoenix being too individualistic.

Of course, the only drawback to that is that if one dies, the entire team would be shattered. Wings thought to himself. I can't let that happen.

"We waiting for someone?" Nat said as she pulled out her assault rifle.

"No, let's move."

Four Warthogs and a Spectre had been parked near the landing site, which was located on the outskirts of the city. As they walked to the vehicles, the Spartans could plainly hear citizens gathering and muttering to each other.

"Hey, that's Phoenix."

"You sure?"

"Course I'm sure, look at the logo."

"Who's the freaks?"

"I hear one of 'em is D339's friend."

"A Spartan being friends with a Sangheili? Get real..."

Wings stopped and stared right at the citizen, who froze and snapped his jaw together with an audible click. The SCPO turned and hopped in the passenger seat of one of the Warthogs, right next to Matt-D2105. Matt was the dreamer of the Deltas, almost constantly in a world of his own. His head turned toward Wings.

"Morning, sir." Matt said, in a flat, low tones.

"Good morning, Matt." Wings said, leaning the seat back comfortably. The Warthog bucked slightly as Eleanor-D2728 leapt on to the gauss turret.

The five vehicles sped off across the bumpy land, passing a copse of trees every now and then. Olympus Mons was so large that it only looks a few kilometers away, but the truth was that the teams would travel a little over seventy kilometers in two hours before they would reach the large mountain.

The team com clicked on, and Nat's voice was heard. "What I'm having trouble figuring out is how the Covenant are hiding such a powerful weapon on the surface without ONI finding it."

"There's always holes in planetary security," Peec said, tapping away at his computer. "The corvettes probably come in about two hundred klicks to the south-east. I think there's a hole there that can be used to sneak in. Olympus Mons itself can hide a heat signature fairly well."

Maurice-D3574's voice came over the speaker next. He was always concerned with security. "Kind of shabby, don't you think? You'd think ONI would actually watch the planet's surface."

"Why would they do that when they think that nothing can reach the surface without them knowing?" Matt said, his fingers tapping out a steady beat on the wheel.

They all fell silent for most of the ride, until they were a mere six hundred meters from the hills.

"Zero, Eleanor, take up sniping positions and cover us."

The two snipers nodded and hopped out of the passenger seats, running off in separate directions. They all knew that the two would follow the rest of the teams as they made their way up the mountain slope. Everyone else ditched the vehicles in a safe place.

"Engage active camouflage and move up the side, ten meter spread." Wings ordered, and they all spread out, with Autel to Wings' left and Nat to his right. Wings heard a humming over the com.

"Keep the com clear, Matt."

The humming stopped. "Sorry, sir." Gentle chuckling was heard for a few seconds, then there was silence again. Matt really was as spacey as they said he was.


2345 Hours, March 19th, 2570 (UNSC Military Calendar)

It had been a long slog, with only a few Covenant patrols to sneak by, but the thirteen special forces operatives soon reached the giant crater.

Maurice crawled on his belly up next to Matt, who was tapping his finger against his shotgun's trigger guard distractedly. "You should see if Itzia will prescribe some Ritalin."

Matt stopped and turned to him. "I don't have ADHD."

"Sure seems like it."

"Matt, Itzia, X, you're in first. Create a diversion for the rest of us."

Matt sighed and racked the slide. "Time to go to work." He leapt up and raced down the slop beside X and Itzia.

A Jiralhanae turned and roared at him. Matt fired, dropping the Brute's shields. The warrior brought his Spiker around, but Matt slapped it away and pumped the shotgun again. He brought the barrel up under the Brute's chin as he pushed the giant over. The Spartan fired, and the Brute's head disappeared in a cloud of blood and brains.

"How do ya like that, motherfucker?" Matt roared, slapping the slide home again, and fed two shells in to the shotgun.

Itzia had two M7 SMGs out. She leapt up and landed on a Kig-Yar, crushing the frail alien underfoot. Three Unggoy fell to three short burst from the her weapons.

X had an MA7B assault rifle, and was firing in short bursts, knocking Unggoy down, spraying blue blood and gore around. A line of Kig-Yar formed up in the middle, shields locked together and facing outward, and the three Spartan's rounds bounced off them.

Several three round bursts from a BR55 sprang down the slope and in to the Jackals, right over their shields. Two shuddered and died, leaving a gaping hole in their line, which Matt, X, and Itzia took advantage of, leaping in to fill the breach.

Four deliberate reports were heard as Wings sprinted down the slope to the fight. That must be Eleanor. She was slower than Zero when shooting. As if to prove the point, four more rapid shots sang out above the din, dropping four Jackals.

A Jiralhanae jumped up in front of Wings and fired a burst from his Spiker. The metal spikes slammed in to Wings, slowing him a bit. The Spartan retaliated by triggering a sustained burst from his MA7C, then lashing out with his fist. His gauntlet knife extended and punched through the Brute's shields. The tip of it stabbed in to his throat, and the Brute dropped, clutching at it, still attempting to let out a primal scream as the blood bubbled up out of his mouth.

Nat was hot on Wings' heels, firing bursts from her BR55. Maurice was halfway down, wielding two SM6Ds and meticulously putting rounds in Grunt and Jackal heads.

The crater was cleared a few hours later. Peri kicked a dead Brute, shaking her head.

"Bastard almost tore my helmet off. Strained my neck muscles."

"Oh, poor you." Zero said sarcastically as she passed Peri.

"Is it that time of the month already?" Matt asked, getting defensive.

"Spartans don't menstruate, jackass." Matt was sure to be opening his mouth to retaliate.

"Enough." Wings interjected, stopping the argument before it got worse. The members of Phoenix Team, especially Zero, were overly proud of their skills, and Badger Team was overly protective of each other. Not always the best mix in a combat situation.

"Sorry, sir." Matt said, reloading his shotgun. Zero just walked to the edge of the depression.

"Now, where's the entrance here?" Nat asked, striding up behind Wings.

"If I know the Covenant these days, it won't be too obvious." He responded. "But it will be consistent. Turn over every single large rock in this area. Stay relatively close to each other."

The Olympus Mons central crater, or caldera, was huge, dropping an impressive 3 kilometers to the bottom, and was 90 kilometers in diameter. Fitting for the largest mountain known to mankind.

The search for an entrance was silent for another hour, until Maurice grabbed the edge of a two ton rock and flipped it with little exertion. Plasma immediately shot out from under it and splashed against his shields. The Spartan dove right and came up with his pistols banging away.

Wings raced over to the spot with the others. "Get some grenades down that shaft!"

Autel and 'Antinr primed and tossed three plasma grenades, adding to the four frags thrown by the Spartans, in to the hole.

Everyone jumped back as shrapnel swept up and blue plasma broiled out. "Get in there." Wings ordered.

X and Matt pushed themselves in, and two shotgun blasts were heard. As Wings marched carefully down the steep hill in to the tunnel, he heard another shot, and dark purple blood sizzled against his shields. X finished feeding another shell in to his shotgun. "Sorry 'bout that, sir."

Everyone else filtered down in to the tunnel, and headed along it.

"Have any idea where we need to go?" Nat asked Wings.

"Straight down this tunnel, I presume."

"Sir, we have a problem." Deep Ocean said, breaking her hours long silence.

"What is it?" Wings said, holding everyone up.

"The Covenant seem to have launched an assault on Mars. One carrier, fifteen destroyers, and forty cruisers just reentered Slipspace above the atmosphere. They've already destroyed one orbital MAC cannon and are targeting the rest. All UNSC forces are being ordered to regroup, and enemy Phantoms are already heading towards Kennedy Space Port. Unless we all went back, the Navy may hold off the fleet orbiting Mars, but KSP will be overrun by ground forces."

So this is your test. You bastard. Too bad you picked the one who's always thinking ahead. Wings thought. "We're getting back there, double time. Ocean, radio for evac, tell them Spartans are on the way. Two dropships."

"What about the Cannon, sir? We don't know how complete it is. This could be a diversion away from it so it can go through the final stages and fire." Itzia said.

"I know it's almost ready to fire, but do you think I'd be the one to save a city but let the planet break up? I have a contingency plan." Wings opened the com. "Hal, it looks like we're going to be distracted. It's your turn to move in. Give 'em hell for Kate."

Wings distinctly heard a bolt slide in to place, then Hal's voice. "Sir."

One Pelican and a Phantom were winging their way towards the Spartans as they exited the tunnel. They rushed up the side and on to the edge of the crater. Zero popped a flare, and the two dropships settled down.

"Sir, how does Hawk Team plan on getting in to the base?" Matt asked.

"They're not. They'll be following us in about five minutes, after they set a beacon for a Kilroy."

He heard a sharp breath. Kilroy tactical nukes were long range missiles designed for bunker busting, with a one megaton payload. It would most assuredly destroy the Graviton Cannon or at least fry it, but the immediate area around Olympus Mons was a National Park. Who knew what the fallout would do?

"Sir, is that wise? ONI will have your head for detonating a nuke on a UNSC planet without proper clearance, and then there's the fact that it was near a protected zone." Zero asked.

"I'd rather get some flak from an admiral than watch 100 million people die because we couldn't destroy one superweapon. They'll come after me, I know, but what can they really do? I do have clearance for that nuke."

"How did you get that?" X queried as they entered the dropships.

"I told Admiral Lash about this, and he authorized a tactical nuclear strike on the target if things went bad. Now all any admiral can do to me is splutter about how we have to protect national resources."

The rest of the trip was quiet. Off in the distance, the Spartans heard the staccato fire of an old MA5B as the dropships landed in Central Square.

"Hawk Team is on their way, as are about eight hundred ODSTs and four thousand Marines. I've also heard you've got ten Delta Teams on the way." The pilot said, leaning to look in to the troop compartment as they exited. "They'll be hear in about an hour."

"Thanks, Lieutenant." Wings called back, and headed towards a skyscraper where the Marines and Civilian Militia had set up a command post. On their way the Spartans and Sangheili passed flocks of civilians heading to fallout shelters. They stopped and stared as the special forces marched by and entered the CP.

Captain Forge looked haggard, the news of his father's death had probably been harder on him than he thought. That and he currently had four thousand Militia, one thousand Marines, and perhaps two hundred ODSTs to protect the small city from a fair sized invasion force.

The holo-table he stood at was showing a few thousand Phantoms making their way towards the outer fringes of the city, and the Carrier above seemed to be attempting to get in to position to begin hot-dropping troops. More small arms fire was heard, way off in the distance.

Forge turned to the thirteen assembled Special Forces as they entered, and commented to Sergeant Major Aqil Hafsa and Gunnery Sergeant Rafael Esquival-Cortez: "Well, there's one stroke of luck." He turned to D339. "We need all the help we can muster up. I've got men out making sure we got every militiamen possible."

"What are we looking at?"

Rafael tapped a button on the table, and the view zoomed in to the oncoming Covenant Phantoms. "Current estimations put incoming Covenant forces at around 10,000 foot troops, with several hundred Wraiths and about a thousand other assorted vehicles."

"You're the planner, Three-thirty nine. What do we need to do to save the most lives?"

Wings walked around the table, examining from every angle. The estimations put the dropships half an hour out.

"All the civilians spread out?"

"Of course."

"Good. The Covenant likes to sweep through cities using this strategy, so they'll focus their efforts on the north, from the direction the dropships are coming at. In about ten seconds the first will land... see?" Wings said, pointing to a dropship that was settling down. "I advise you get snipers to the top floors of the scrapers, and place all the Marines and ODSTs at least two thirds of the way up, armed with long range weapons. These skyscrapers are new, they have extend-able bridges between buildings. We can use them to maneuver without getting in range of the Wraiths. The Navy is on its way, so I doubt that the ships will have time to try glassing the place, otherwise why bother sending troops down? Keep us low, we can move fast enough to keep from getting caught. And get the militia to the east, west, and south sides. Have the civilians move from north to south. Once the Covenant realize that they can't just roll us over, they'll try spreading out."

Forge nodded, and picked up a BR60. "We'll ambush them when they enter the city with launchers and lasers. Where will you guys be?"

"Strike hard, win faster." Wings said. "We'll be right in the thick of it, starting at your ambush. We can't save everyone, but we can hold until reinforcements arrive."

The first sniper round snapped out and killed a Brute, and the first particle beam lanced out from the ranks, exploding on a concrete barrier, and the battle was joined.

Chapter 25: Crown

0915 Hours, March 26th, 2570 (UNSC Military Calendar)

Zero slapped a new magazine in to her rifle as she ran to a new position. Behind her, the small pile of sandbags she'd been behind for ten minutes exploded.

Three ODSTs were behind a fortified position, meaning the wall was high-grade thermal plating with plasma shielding. One ODST was on a mounted turret, and another was firing burst from a battle rifle. The third was aiding a fourth man, who appeared to be down. She recognized the rifle wielder as Sergeant Rafael. The medic turned and waved her closer. Zero opened a com to Itzia, two floors down.

"Got a man down, get up here." She ordered, tagging the wounded man with a nav point.

Zero slid in next to Rafael, who didn't glance over. "Position got blasted?"

The Spartan nodded. "It's like they want to kill me. I'm heading to the roof. I've got our medic coming up, she'll help him."

The ODST whipped back under cover as a particle beam bounced off the plasma shielding, and hastily fished out another magazine for his rifle. "Kind of a waste, don't you think? A huge killing machine wasting her time sewing wounded guys up."

"I wouldn't say that to her face." Zero responded. "See you after the battle." She lightly smacked his shoulder pad. Rafael nodded as she stood and headed towards the elevator, and stood to continue firing down on the advancing Covenant forces. More Phantoms were dropping, and the estimated enemy foot soldier count had reached 15,000.

"Hurry up," He muttered, dropping a Jackal and three Grunts with a quick succession of shots. "We can't do this all day."


Zero bounced on the balls of her feet, knowing that allies were dying outside and she was trapped in an elevator. That and the adrenaline flowing through her blood told her to move, dammit.

The door pinged open, and she ran towards the edge of the roof, where about forty Marines were firing down, four hundred meters, to the Covenant forces. A few cheers went up as the Spartan joined them on the line.

"Welcome to the party, sir!" A young private cradling a sniper rifle said, his boyish features cracked in a grin.

"Save it for the bar, private." She said, firing four rapid shots, taking out a Jackal, two Brutes, and a Hunter. Its bond brother, sister, whatever, screamed in grief and charged towards the main street. Zero rammed a new clip home as she watched a Spartan streak out from a side alley, bowling the Hunter over and firing a sustained bursts of plasma in to its exposed bits. Had to be Peri, she was always carrying those two plasma rifles around.

"Damn." The private said, as he fumbled for a new magazine. "Did those hit anything?"

"You bet they did." Zero said, about a micron away from a nasty comment. She hated is when anyone told her what she could or could not shoot.

The private crouched at the edge of the concrete barrier and aimed. "Gotcha, you bastard." He muttered, and fired. A brute dropped. He fired three more times. Zero had already emptied her clip and was watching him as she pulled out another. He wasn't nearly as fast as she was, but he made sure he didn't miss.

"What's your name?"

He put his back against the wall and grabbed another clip. "Dmitri Zaitsev."

Something clicked in Zero's head. "Any relation to Vassili Zaitsev?"

Dmitri clicked the new mag in to place. "Direct line." He turned to her. "Know him?"

Zero harrumphed and aimed through her scope. "Do I know him..." Four rounds shot out, smashing in to Covenant sitting below. She reached for another reload, and glanced over at Dmitri's rifle. "They gave you a 99D-S2 AM?"

He let off two shots, then ducked back with Zero as some Jackals drew a bead on them. Zero motioned for Dmitri to follow her, and they moved ten meters down the barrier, passing several Marines on the way. One stood and was promptly hit on the nose by a particle beam. His headless body flopped backwards, landing right next to Dmitri.

The young private turned green, then crawled a meter away and vomited his breakfast on the roof. Then he felt someone lifting him up.

"Got to fight, time for that later." Zero said, steadying him as he rose to a crouch. "Come on, let's go pay those Jackals back."

Dmitri nodded, afraid he'd puke again if he opened his mouth. He picked up his rifle and joined the Spartan behind the low wall.

She jerked her head over the wall, and he saw four nav points appear on his eyepiece. "Betcha I can hit 'em all before you get one."

A game. The middle of the battle and a Spartan was playing a game. Whatever. He nodded again.

"One three. 1... 2... 3." They stood together, and he sighted down his scope.

Everything seemed to go in to slow motion, he could almost see the bullets flying through the air. Crack. One Jackal fell.

His reticule settled just below the Jackal's head. Crack. Crack. Now or never.

He fired, and the bullet hissed through the air and struck the Jackal in the neck. The alien's head flopped back on a few leftover centimeters of flesh, and the body dropped.

"Nice shot, Zaichata." The Spartan said.

Dmitri felt like he could open his mouth again. "What's zaichata mean?"

A chuckle escaped Zero, a sound not many heard from a Spartan. "It's Russian. Means 'leveret'. Vassili's students in sniper school were called zaichatas."

Dmitri "Zaichata" Zaitsev thought about that for a second, allowing the Spartan to finish that last round and use another mag before she called him back to work.


X pumped another scattering of buckshot in to the Hunter's back, and the orange monster fell with a weird groan. The things may look tough, but get a weapon in to their flesh, and it was all over...

He was just glad that the Covenant seemed to have little idea about what the term "overlapping plates" meant.

X reloaded his shotgun, crouching down in the alley he was concealed in, waiting for a group of Covenant to pass by. He didn't know the exact composition, but the heavy footfalls there were about five Brutes. And those were the monkeys he cared about.

One passed him, and X made sure he was concealed properly. He'd want to hit the middle one before it activated that shield.

And X hated when Chieftains activated their shields. It made the Jiralhanae nearly invulnerable to small arms fire, and it was incredibly annoying to run from one while it was swinging that hammer at you.

Screw it. X thought, and grabbed a plasma grenade. It wouldn't stick to the Chieftain's armor, but it would stick to the Captain marching to his right.

The battle had become your typical urban warfare, with the two sides hunting each other down in the alleys. Thankfully it was mostly Spartans and Elites doing the hunting, but ten Spartans and three Elites cannot keep hundreds of Covenant troops back. The Marines and ODSTs were, for the most part, stationed far enough up the buildings that only long range weapons like particle beam rifles and fuel rod cannons could hit.

X sprinted from his hiding position, holding the grenade in one hand and the shotgun in the other. He fired it one handed, cutting the Chieftain's shields down quite a ways, then slapping the grenade to the Captain's leg. The Jiralhanae had noticed, and were beginning to turn, but X chambered another round and fired, causing the Chieftain's shields to shut down. X kept running, blowing the brains out of the last Brute in line. The plasma grenade exploded as the Chieftain roared. He, the Captain, and the one closest to where X had started were engulfed in boiling blue plasma. Just one Brute remained. He let loose with a primal scream and leapt ten meters through the air at X.

The Spartan simply sidestepped and let the gorilla fall on his gauntlet blade.

He opened the team com. "Reporting one Brute Chieftain dead, sir."

X heard the rattle of two M7 SMGs in the background, then Wings answered. "Good work. I got two Hunters here. It seems they're bringing in the hard hitters. Keep an eye out for more."

D2552 glanced up, then ducked in to a side alley as a giant beam of plasma struck the spot he'd just been occupying.

"Sir, I would advise we move all troops to secondary holding positions." X said, leaning out around the corner. "The Covenant just hot-dropped a Scarab in."

"Will do, I'll relay that to the Captain."

X looked up to the top of the opposite skyscraper, then shot back to the Scarab, which was aiming upwards. His heart skipped a beat.

"Zero! Get out of there, now!"


"Get back!" Zero shouted, grabbing Dmitri on her right and another marine to her left, and throwing them away from the ledge.

About half of the Marines were able to make it safely away from the ledge when the Scarab's plasma beam hit the building and carved a huge furrow in it.

One Corporal screamed as he fell towards the plasma, and Zero grabbed his arm, but only his top half came back.

"Get to the connecting bridges! Fall back!" She yelled at them as the roof began to collapse.

A Sergeant hit the switch, and the two bridge halves extended towards each other, connecting at the middle.

Zero did a quick head count, and her stomach sank. Only twenty-two of the original forty Marines had gotten away from the blast. On the other rooftops she saw Marines and ODSTs running for the extending bridges, drawing small arms fire from the ground. Things were starting to fall apart.

The Scarab was blasting its way through the buildings, and many Covenant had rallied around it.

Zero turned to Dmitri. "Get across that bridge. I'm going to take care of that Scarab."

He nodded, and turned to leave.

"Zaichata." Dmitri turned at the sound of Zero's voice. She handed him her sniper and a belt of magazines for it.

"I'm not gonna need these down there. Keep an eye on them for me."

Dmitri wordlessly slung the rifle over his back and threw the belt over his shoulder, then raced across the bridge.

Zero ran to the ledge. A Scarab was about 57 meters high, which would make her fall about 343 meters. Assuming she landed on the highest point, the turret. But Zero didn't plan on jumping.

She activated her suit's built in magnetic boots, usually reserved for zero-g, but they were strong enough to hold her to a building. She hoped.

Zero curled her boot over the ledge and clamped on to the side, then pulled her other leg over. The Spartan was now standing horizontally on the building. She pulled out two M7 SMGs, and ran down the side.

The sides were made of concrete, but a titanium web lay underneath to increase their strength. Zero was counting on there being enough metal to attract a magnetic force.

Concrete crunched under her boots as she ran straight down, feeling gravity take over. About halfway down she stopped running and began sliding, coiling her body for a leap.

About 100 meters off the ground Zero pushed off from the building towards the Scarab, right over the heads of several hundred Covenant troops.

Zero tucked and rolled as she hit the deck plating, squashing a squealing Grunt underneath her, and came up firing.

The on deck crew was manning the turrets, making sure no one could get on from the ground. Sucked to be them.

The SMGs burped out dozens of rounds, and Grunts, Jackals, even the few Brutes on the Scarab fell swiftly before her onslaught.

She clamped the SMGs back on to her sides and looked around, realizing a mistake she'd just made.

Zero could destroy the Scarab, but then she'd have nowhere to get to before it exploded. And she didn't know how to work one.

A bullet whizzed behind her and struck something. Whirling around, Zero saw a Jackal that had been crawling towards her roll several times, and followed the bullet trail back up to the skyscraper. Magnifying her view, she saw Dmitri wave. She nodded back. The kid had her back.

Four Banshees swooped low over the Scarab, firing at her. Yes, now she had a way out.

Zero ran in to the reactor room at the rear and pulled off her grenade belt, setting it down near the reactor. She hit the protective shielding several times to bring it down, then planted a remote charge next to the grenades.

That done, Zero ran to the top of the Scarab and waited for another Banshee to pass.

The same four that passed her just a moment ago was swooping back, and Zero prepared to get hit. She leapt as plasma zipped towards her, and hit the front flier, hard. Zero grabbed the starboard wing, and the Banshee dipped as she crawled along it, then ripped the canopy open. The Banshees behind them had realized what was going on, and began firing on her. The Brute piloting the Banshee roared at her as she grabbed him and pulled him out. He flipped end for end, only stopping momentarily when he smashed in to the trailing Banshee.

The Spartan crawled in to the cockpit and closed the hatch. "This is Spartan D576. I've commandeered an enemy banshee. Match my IFF with it."

"Copy. We show you have two trailers. We'll send some SAMs your way." A command operator said.

It was true, the two remaining Banshees were trailing her, twin plasma cannons thudding. Most of the shots missed, but some hit the rear of the Banshee, and the fuselage was beginning to smoke.

"I think I can take care of that." She said, activating the explosive in the Scarab. The flocking troop's war cries turned in to cries of fear as the Scarab settled, and blue flames began erupting from the sides.

Zero pulled the Banshee up vertically and hit the brakes, stopping it in midair. The Brute pilots followed, hot on her heels, as expected. It would be a long fall if she missed this, but she'd worry about that when it came...

She opened the canopy and dropped from the Banshee,, leaving an active and missed the first one behind her. But the second attempted to swerve out of the way, only bringing its wing up in to her torso. Zero twisted around and ripped the canopy open, kicking the snarling Brute out of his seat and replacing him.

The first Banshee rolled out of the way of her old one as it fell, and she went with it, keeping him in her sights.

Zero triggered one of the fuel rod cannons and watched the banshee in front of her explode, then rolled out of the way of the wreckage. As she turned back to the main fight, the operator's voice was heard.

"Damn sweet moves, damn sweet moves. 'Ey, Will! You owe me thirty creds!"

Zero brought the Banshee down to the rooftop, where the group of Marines had dug in. She landed to several ragged cheers, and gunfire stuttered all around.

Dmitri grinned as she stepped up next to him, and handed her back the 99D-S3. "Nice moves, sir!"

"Thanks, Private." She said, checking the magazine, then settling back in for the fight.


Wings and Itzia ran up the stairs, a horde of Covenant on their heels. As they reached the first landing, Wings activated a portable plasma shield, and Itzia pulled a titanium barrier out from around the corner and shoved it in the way of the oncoming enemies.

"Please tell me you got the mines set." The SCPO asked, sliding the bolt forward on his battle rifle. Itzia still had two full clips in her SMGs.

"Of course I did."

"Good. On my mark."

The Covenant reached the bottom of the stairs.

"Mark."

The mines popped up half a meter in the air and detonated. Shrapnel was flung everywhere, and all the Covenant in the room were minced. The two Spartans poured lead in to the survivors, dropping them.

"How many do you think we got?"

"By my current estimates, about fifty-three." Deep Ocean said.

"And total in the battle?"

"No Spartan casualties as of yet, but we've lost several hundred militia, 314 Marines, and 162 Helljumpers. Fortunately our defenses seem to be working. We've knocked out most of the Covenant heavy weapons and killed just over three thousand of them."

"Thanks, Ocean. However, that still means that there's almost twelve thousand to go." Wings responded, putting three rounds in the head of a curious Grunt. One round missed and ended up in its tank. It sparked, apparently, as the tank erupted in to jets of fire and exploded.

"Nice shot, sir." Sergeant Hafsa's voice said from behind them. "We've got charges set to block off this stairwell. I'd advise you get up here."

"No argument here, Sergeant." Itzia said, she and Wings following Hafsa up the stairs.

"Blow it." Hafsa said as they passed a couple ODSTs, one with his helmet off. The trooper grinned and pressed the detonator button. A series of loud thumps came from the stairwell, and Wings distinctly heard a Jackal squawk as concrete blocks crushed it. Now they just had to make sure the elevators still worked.

Wings hit the "up" button, and the doors slid open. Good. The city's AI would be able to keep the elevator from reaching the first floor.

"Get your men up to the upper floors, Sergeant. Wraiths are starting to move in to the city."

Aqil Hafsa nodded and bellowed out an order. The twenty ODSTs squeezed in to the elevators, with Hafsa being the last. He nodded to the two Spartans. "Good luck."

"You too, Sergeant."

The doors on all three elevators closed, and a binging sound was heard as they ascended.

Another Spartan sailed through one of the two story windows. "Damn, is it ugly down there."

"Hey, Carol." Wings said. Carol-D2053 was Hawk's CQB fighter, and a good one, too.

"Sir." The Hawk member said, feeding more shells in to a shotgun. "There's a large group of Brutes moving this way. I could use your guys' help in taking them out."

Wings nodded. "Let's go." He and the other two Spartans rushed to the windows, to see a few dozen Brutes rushing down the street towards their building.

"Energy staves." Itzia observed. "You willing to cover us, sir?"

"Never a better time." Wings said. All three of them leapt out in to the middle of the street, landing easily after the short ten meter drop.

Deep Ocean's voice interrupted as the Brutes snarled and charged faster. They were about a hundred meters away. Wings fired a few bursts, knocking one off it's feet.

"Sir, I'm detecting an energy anomaly from Olympus Mons. It would appear the Graviton Cannon is preparing to fire. The Kilroy is on its way."

Wings gritted his teeth. "Very well." And he dropped another Brute as Itzia and Carol sprinted forward and in to the Brutes.

They both leapt high and came down on the front runners hard. Wings stayed back and shot any who tried to surround the other two. What ensued was a hectic close quarters battle, in which Itzia and Carol were almost overrun several times, but managed to squeeze out.

It was but a couple minutes before all the Brutes lay dead in several heaps, and the three Spartans reloaded.

"That was fun." Itzia said.

"Yes, it was." Carol said, then disappeared in a cloud of plasma.

"No!" Wings roared, racing to her smoldering body. Itzia beat him there, dragging the Spartan's body behind the largest pile of bodies as plasma fire stuttered from farther down the street.

Wings slid in next to Itzia as the medic ran her scans over Carol.

Raising a fist, Itzia smashed it in to the pile of Brute bodies. "Shit, shit shit shit shit shit. She's gone, sir, grenades burned right through the armor while her shields were down. There's nothing I could do." Wings noted the "I".

The Delta Company XO's hands tightened their grip on the battle rifle. "Then let's get out there and make those bastards pay." He keyed the com for air support. Kennedy Space Port had one hundred Hornets and five Vultures, and each one would pack a punch, so long as the SAM missiles kept up the pace. "Hornet Squadron Alpha-Kilo, this is Spartan D339, requesting assistance. Location is marked. Come in hot and heavy."

"Copy, sir. Alpha-Kilo on the way."

Wings then opened a com to all nearby Marine squad. "All available Marine squads within two hundred meters of my marked position, move to cover the skies. Alpha-Kilo is on the way with heavy ordinance. Keep the skies clear of everything purple."

"Copy that."

Something flickered on Wings' motion tracker, and he looked over as Zero thudded to the ground next to him. "Got your call sir... damn." She exclaimed as her eyes alighted on Carol's body. Wings knew that Zero would be setting her jaw square.

Phoenix's sniper picked up an MA7C from a nearby body and grabbed the ammo for it. "You've got anti-air support up there." She said, jerking her head up to the top of the skyscraper. "And a damn good sniper, too."

Wings' raised his eyebrows. "Coming from you, that speaks volumes."

"Oh, let's just kill these assholes."

Twenty Hornets and a Vulture soared over head, and let loose with an arsenal of weapons. Banshees swooped down to destroy them, taking two Hornets down and damaging a third, but SAM missiles screamed up to pay the Covenant back two fold.

The three Spartans on the ground battled long and hard, but numbers were beginning to tell.

Wings emptied the last mag of his battle rifle and dropped it. Extending his gauntlet blades, he lunged at the charging Brute, the two knives punching deep in to the alien's chest. The Brute died with a mad gurgle, and Wings drew the blades out and looked around. According to Ocean, Covenant losses had reached five thousand, with only about fifteen hundred on the UNSC side. Those numbers were beginning to climb faster, though. The humans needed reinforcements fast, or...

"All UNSC forces, this is Rear Admiral Lash of the Super Carrier Advent. Reinforcements and MAC support are on their way. Stand by, we need to finish mopping up the fleet." Lash's voice came over the frequency loud and clear, and Forge responded, sounding relieved.

"Roger that, sir! What's the ETA on that MAC support?"

"Right about... now, Captain." Lash's voice said, then the channel cut off by a burst of static. A Super-MAC round tore through the atmosphere and struck the heart of the Covenant horde, killing hundreds in an instant. Several more followed, and the Covenant army was decimated.

"That's all we can do up here, Captain." The Rear Admiral said as cheers roared throughout the city, emitted from the defenders. "Anything else and we risk hitting you."

"That's all we can ask for, sir. Thanks for the assist." Forge said as the first of the ODST pods landed, and fresh soldiers leapt from them.

Wings hefted a plasma rifle and got back to work. Off in the distance, the summit of Olympus Mons exploded.


1600 Hours, March 26th, 2570 (UNSC Military Calendar)

"This is an outrage! That Spartan deliberately set off a nuclear device on protected grounds!"

"I will deal with that, Agent Johansson. He managed to save both the city and the planet. The National Park will be contaminated for decades, but I would rather have someone walk on it again one day than have it land on Earth."

Lieutenant Johansson fumed, but the Admiral just shook his head. "Dismissed, Lieutenant."

Johansson passed Wings on his way out. The Spartan had his helmet off as a sign of respect to the Admiral. The ONI agent clenched his jaw and straightened, his pace stiffening.

Wings marched up to the Admiral and saluted. "Sir! Spartan D339 reporting as ordered, sir!"

Admiral Andrew Gering returned the salute, then held his hand out. Wings took it. "Well done down there, Chief." Gering said. "If you weren't a ground operative, then I'd have you commanding from a bridge."

"I like the dirt under my feet, sir."

Gering smiled. "Good answer, son. I didn't call you here to exchange pleasantries, however." He turned to a small table and pulled out a small black case. Opening, he pulled out a metallic object. It dangled from a blue ribbon, with thirteen silver stars sewn in to the fabric. The ribbon was attached to a clip, from which hung a golden eagle lifting a star. Around the star was a green circle. The UNSC Medal of Honor.

"I'm not one for speeches, Chief. Needless to say, you and your team have proven time and time again that you can get the job done, and save as many lives as possible in the process." He handed Wings the medal.

Wings took it, having no place to pin it on his armor. "Thank you, sir." He saluted again. Gering returned the salute.

"Now, normally there would be a ceremony, with the press out in numbers and dozens of fellow soldiers, but I doubt you'd want that." A twinkle entered the Admiral's eye.

The Spartan allowed a smile to creep on to his face. "That's the way Phoenix likes to work, sir: in the dark."

"I know that, son." There was a pause. "In addition to the medal, you've been awarded the rank of Master Chief Petty Officer."

"Thank you, sir."

The Admiral nodded. "Dismissed, Chief. Make the UNSC proud."


Wings met Hal-D683 on his way down the hall. Hawk's leader was on his way to meet the Admiral, too. "I'm sorry about Carol."

Hal blinked. "Thank you, sir."

"If there's anything-"

D683 shot Wings a glare. "Don't. You're a great leader, but you don't lead through moral raising speeches or being chummy with your subordinates. You're better than that. You are a great leader because you save the most lives. And in my book, that's all that matters."

Wings stood stock still for a few moments after Hal walked away.


The hangar was much cooler than the station's command room. Phoenix Team sat apart from the rest of the Marines and Navy personnel. Zero looked up as Wings approached.

"Everything go well, sir?"

Wings nodded. "Yes, everything is going well."

X fiddled with his uniform. Out of all of them, he probably hated being out of his armor the most. "Two weeks out of the fight, and no pay for it. But hey, we still got medals and promotions." He said cheerfully.

A Lieutenant, looking visibly awkward, marched up. He handed Wings a datapad. "New orders, sir."

"Thank you, sir." Wings said, exchanging salutes with the Lieutenant, who marched off looking relieved.

As Wings read the information on the datapad, Autel and his two squad mates walked up.

"Something new, Wings?" Autel asked.

"Yep," Wings said, turning the pad off. "High priority volunteer mission, deemed impossible by most company commanders."

"But you're Spartans." Autel said. "You'll get the job done."

"No," Zero said, standing and pointing a finger at the Sangheili. "We are all Spartans. And we'll all get the job done."

Wings smiled for the second time that day. There was always more work to do. And his team would make sure it got done.


Book 2

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