SEVENTH CYCLE, NINTH AGE OF RECLAMATION / HUMAN CAPITAL CITY, “NEW LONDON” (UNSC DESIGNATION)
The night was cool, the breeze blowing off the snow-capped mountains to the north. Tulo suppressed a shiver, less of actual cold and more of revulsion. He longed for the heat and humidity of his homeworld, but he had long ago learned not to complain.
He raised his beam rifle, sighted his target, and pumped off a shot.
The Sentry had been pacing across the entrance to the military complex. Now he crumpled up in a heap, a neat hole between his eyes where the shot had pierced his skull. With a silent wave, Tulo motioned for the troops to move forward.
There were no Unggoy in his Lances. Loud, disorganised things. Twenty Sangheili and two Mgalekgolo pairs followed him as he moved through the gate, dragging the guard into the gatehouse, where it would not be easily found, and pushed forward.
The area was surprisingly empty for a military warehouse complex. Tulo had expected it to be crawling with guards and loaders, but now it was silent. Perhaps they were between shifts? He almost felt they could stroll right in the open and would not be seen.
Still, best not to risk it. They kept to the shadows as best they could – the Lekgolo had difficulty with their huge bulk, but Tulo had picked them because they were relatively small for their kind. Neither he nor they saw that as a drawback – smaller warriors could go where larger ones dared not.
Light poured out of a doorway, and Tulo pushed himself back against the wall, keeping his breath low, quiet and steady, as a human stepped out.
For a moment, Tulo thought it had seen them – that it would raise the alarm, and all their efforts would be complicated. But it cupped a hand in front of it, shielding a cigar as it was lit, took a puff from it, and then returned inside, unaware of its brush with the enemy.
Tulo sighed in relief, and then waved his warriors forward.
Above them, the giant tower of metal and composite materials looked like a pathway to the heavens. It was incredibly thick, seeming to taper off into the distance as it reached out of the planets atmosphere, attached to a station at the end. He was told it was called a “Space Elevator,” and that it was the human equivalent of the massive gravity lifts the Covenant employed. Technologically inferior and almost clumsy in comparison, but it had one asset that made Tulo’s mission a vital one: it was solid.
He glanced behind him, once again checking on the object the Lekgolo carried. That was another reason he had selected them – they were stronger than most Sangheili, and could carry heavy equipment that would otherwise need to be dropped off by dropship. But they did not have that luxury now.
It was elongated at the ends, and covered with metal spikes. Tulo didn’t know what the spikes’ purpose were, and they probably had none, but it made it look like a lethal torture device.
Actually, at its most basic description it was a canister, carrying a small amount of anti-matter suspended in a vacuum. Not exactly the most glorious description, Tulo knew.
More accurately, however, it was a bomb.
Tulo was no physicist, and knew only that when anti-matter and matter reacted, it gave off an extraordinary amount of energy. He wondered why ships didn’t use it as an energy source, but that was not up to him, and their pinch fusion reactors were sufficient. But as a bomb, it was devastatingly effective – portable, powerful, and it didn’t irridate the entire region like human nuclear weapons did.
They could have dropped it from their Phantom, sending it colliding into some of the human fortifications, but it would leave many remaining. And they had managed to haul only one off the ships. So they were using it as a surgical tool.
The actual killing blow would be dealt by something else entirely.
The Sangheili and Lekgolo crept through the complex, eventually finding the entrance to one of the space elevators containers. He was momentarily baffled by a voice asking for his identification, and then inserted a small datapad with stolen human credentials – taken from a dead technician found on the battlefield. With a satisfying click, the doors opened, allowing the team into the tower.
A few hours later, they returned, creeping through the base again but significantly faster. The dropship had settled to a landing a few kilometres away, where there was no chance of being found by a human patrol. Tulo and his team would return to it, and return to the main forces.
They would be returning a little lighter.
Wallace lowered his binoculars, picked up the TACPAD, and typed a few notes onto it. In the distance, the sound of a machinery clanked as the broken Scarab still jerked in its death throes. The Spartans had really done a number on it.
They had been set to monitor the Scarab as it excavated the hill. For weeks, the Covenant had uncovered nothing but dirt and rock, occasionally stopping to take measurements, and then moving to another more promising location. Wallace had wondered what they were looking for, and whether it was even there – had the Covenant got the wrong coordinates?
Perhaps. But ONI was interested in it anyway.
For one thing, it had not contacted the rest of the Covenant over the BattleNet. That in itself was unusual, since it was the only way the Covenant forces kept in contact with each other. For another, it had received no help – no Banshee aerial scouts, no infantry or armoured support, nothing. It was on its own, isolated, probably ignored by the rest of the Covenant.
And lastly, it had been crewed by giant shaggy brutish creatures that ONI had no files on.
That had complicated matters a little. Wallace could usually anticipate Elite tactics – headlong rushes, usually devastating but uncoordinated. But these creatures did not behave like Elites – they were quieter, stealthier. They hid when they could, using thick jungle growth to hide the Scarab as it moved.
But the few times Wallace had seen the individual creatures off the Scarab, he had noticed that they had a similar bearing – powerful, proud, and obedient to what he had designated as their presumed-leader, a tall creature wearing deep red armour and a pointed headdress.
He’d nicknamed them “Thugs.” ONI had codenamed them “Brutes”.
He’d seen them going about other work, work a massive Scarab could not. Constructing huts out of logs lashed together, hunting the forests game. They were good hunters, but they were brutal, using bare hands and eating their meat raw, like animals. Wallace had shuddered every time they hunted, wondering whether someday a human being would be on the receiving end of it.
A few of his squad had had sniper rifles trained on the makeshift camp, using the scopes to make their observations and then, when the order had come, to empty it quickly. Corporal Vasquez and her fireteam had focussed on the Scarab’s movements and checked its progress. ONI wanted daily status reports.
He wasn’t used to this. He was a fighter, not a damned spy.
The ONI operative sat a short distance away, writing up his own report to CENTCOM. Wallace didn’t trust him, but then he didn’t trust many people much. But the operative was cautious, kept to himself, and generally tried to keep out of their way. That was something, at least.
A few meters away, the Spartans were sparring. Kicks, jabs, blocks, grips, flips, tackles – Wallace couldn’t keep up, so he didn’t try to. But even just their practice filled him with awe. He almost pitied the enemies the Spartans had gone up against.
The supplies were dropped off via Pelican dropship, as well as another Warthog. The Scarab had destroyed their own before the Spartans had emerged, and the Labyrinth looked like it was wide enough to fit a tank into its corridors. So why walk when they could drive? Right now, the Warthogs were humming a little way off, and the break in progress was being used to rest, get their bearings, and send back reports.
It had also dropped off the operative. Lieutenant Commander Michael Pomare. The architect behind this whole crazy mission.
He’d heard a lot about him. Most of it rumours and myth, but some of it had stuck. Rumour had it that he’d survived assassination attempts by other ONI department heads for his outspoken criticisms of ONI procedures. Rumour had it that he’d been present at the glassing of four colonies, and that he was the only man to interrogate a Grunt. Rumour had it that he was seven foot tall and could tear an Elite apart with his bear hands.
Wallace grinned at the last one. While Pomare was tall, he certainly didn’t look like a Spartan. But the others were…concerning.
Right now, the Warthogs were humming a little way off, and the break in progress was being used to rest, get their bearings, and send back reports. Pomare glanced up from his work, and noticed Wallace staring at him. He nodded. “Sergeant? If you would iindulge me for a moment?”
Wallace snapped off a salute and moved closer. Up close, he could see what he was working on – a map of the star system, highlighting locations of note. Minorca was highlighted in glowing UNSC green, with patches of red showing Covenant-held areas. There was a small purple area – their location.
He zoomed it out. Now Arcadia, another world in the system, came into view.
“You know, of course, that Minorca isn’t the only colony in this system, Sergeant?”
“Yes sir. Arcadia was glassed in 2531, sir.”
“Yes. And, we had thought, so was Minorca. But it seems that in their haste to glass Arcadia, the Covenant either overlooked or forgot about Minorca. And that is interesting. Very interesting.”
Wallace shrugged. “If you say so, sir.”
Pomare frowned. “You disagree, sergeant? Feel free to speak your mind. I’m not going to bust you down a rank for disagreeing with an opinion.”
Wallace shrugged again. “This is war. Things happen. Things get overlooked. Its best if you don’t read too much into everything, or you end up with too much to consider.”
Pomare smiled. “An excellent suggestion Sergeant, one which I have heard many times. But my job is to read too much into everything, and it has produced some interesting results. Did you know that the Juno Debris Field hinders Covenant luminaries?”
The sudden change in topic confused Wallace. “No sir. Is that relevant?”
“Perhaps. Intel gathered suggests that they use the devices for locating human colonies by tracking human signatures. Its likely they overlooked Minorca because it didn’t register on the luminaries.”
“So why did they come back? Sir.”
“You of all people should know that, Sergeant. You were at Delta Pavonis, as I recall?”
The man had read his file? Damn.
It had been 2549 when the Covenant had invaded the Delta Pavonis system, moving against the single asteroid colony with a pair of frigates. The colony’s Orbital Defence Platform had destroyed one, but not before the pair had launched their troops and fighters. Within hours, the colony was being occupied by the Covenant, its inhabitants waging a guerrilla war in the tunnels that comprised the colony.
The UNSC 30th Fleet had arrived a few hours later, wiping out the frigate and deploying troops to the colonhy to retake it. Wallace had been a part of that, with the rest of the 427th Marine Regiment. The battle for the colonial capital city, Hoffnung, had been bloody and vicious, with tunnels blown up to hinder the UNSC’s progress. But progress had been swift.
Wallace hadn’t been there – his platoon had been too busy capturing a Covenant excavation site, and although whatever relic the Covenant had found was long gone, they had managed to capture the base intact.
He frowned. “The relic? The one they were looking for on Pavo Prime. It lead them here?”
“It would seem so. They had overlooked Minorca before, but now that they realised that they had missed a planet, they returned. And, of course, we were here already and the rest is history in the making. The Juno Debris Field had masked the colonists’ signatures from the Covenant, but it had also masked whatever relic they seek because this luminary,” he said, patting a small device beside him captured from the dead “Brutes”, “is still active.”
“Okay. And that helps us…how?”
It was the ONI operative’s turn to shrug. “I don’t know. I look for patterns, reasons, implications. Not derivations. I’m afraid your guess is as good as mine.”
Wallace sighed, and returned to his seat as the ONI operative returned to typing.
He disliked ONI spooks. They didn’t care about lives, or about survival. The war was a game of numbers to them, and it was their job to balance those numbers, or so it seemed to Wallace.
The Spartan who had been watching the other two spar stood up, nodding to his partners who stopped their match.
“Okay Marines. Lets move it. The Labyrinth awaits.”
Erebus felt pain. It clouded his thoughts, and blood trickled down his face. For a moment he wondered if he had killed something that had sprayed blood on him. It took him a while longer to realise the blood was his.
He reached a paw to his head, and then hurriedly returned it to his side. He had felt the jagged edge of bone, and something soft that he prayed wasn’t brain. By the gods, how had this happened?!
He remembered…Demons. And then sharp pain in his head, and then…blackness.
It wasn’t black anymore. It was the warm purple glow of Covenant metal.
He opened his eyes wider. A figure shifted above him.
“Surgeon, the Chieftain awakens!”
Erebus tried to move, but felt a hand on his shoulder to still him. “Rest, Chieftain. Your wounds are life threatening, and I cannot work on them if you insist on squirming.”
Erebus tried to make a sound, but he realised his jaw was broken too.
“Don’t try to talk. All will be explained once your wounds are patched up, and your injuries are set. Until then, you must rest.”
He felt something inserted beneath his skin, a hypodermic needle penetrating his epidermis…and then he sank blissfully into sleep.
He wasn’t awake to hear the whir of a saw blade, and the small clinking of tools. He felt no pain as bone was readjusted, and a metal plate replaced lost skull. His dreams were filled with Demons staring at him down the barrel of a weapon, and of strange shapes dancing in shadow.
For some reason, he feared the shadows more…