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Terminal This article, SPARTAN-338, was written by Spartan 501. Please do not edit this fiction without the writer's permission.
Connor 338 BSC
Connor-338
Connor
Biographical information
Name

Connor Riley

Spartan Tag

338

Homeworld

Titan-II

Date of birth

May 14th, 2534

Date of death

Late 27th Century

Gender

Male

Height

7 Feet in Armor

Hair color

Black

Eye color

Blue

Affiliation and military information
Affiliation

UNSC

Rank

Lieutenant

Specialty

Sniper

Status

Active

Class

II-III

  [Source]


Connor-338 was a UNSC Spartan II Class III, who served from through the last days of the Human Covenant war up through the last days of the Necros War. Born to a small family, he was conscripted into the Ares Program at the age of six and was trained under the SPARTAN-II super soldier Laszlo-108. Rising through the ranks to become a team leader of his squad, Tan Team, he was highly renowned in the program for his skill with a sniper rifle, quickly becoming the best marksman in the program. After two of his teammates were killed in augmentation, his squad was reformed into a group of three and graduated from the program, deployed straight into combat.

Connor and his team spent the next three years battling Covenant troops almost non-stop, but at a heavy price. After a string of successful operations, one of their members, Lucy-329, was killed in a Covenant ambush, making the war a personal affair for the two remaining members. After several more successful operations, Connor and his remaining squad mate, Mellissa-332, planned and executed three short operations in the thick of Covenant space, before returning to more conventional defense missions. After several more months of combat, Mellissa was tragically killed in a mission gone awry, nearly shattering Connor’s psyche.

The depressed and grief stricken SPARTAN was shuttled around on an ONI prowler for some time, until desperation prompted ONI to deploy him, solo, to a Covenant scarab factory in an attempt to slow down the enemy’s production. The mission put the drive back into Connor, and he successfully destroyed the facility, albeit with some difficulty. After the war ended, Connor was placed temporarily in the position as a sniper instructor to help recondition him, a placement that quickly turned permanent. However, after over a decade of time serving as an instructor, Connor again transferred into active duty, and spent several years as the leader of the security detail of a joint Human-Sangheili prowler, scouting both known and unknown space for habitable planets. After ending his tour about the ship, he was again transferred, this time to the UNSC’s newest campaign, Operation: GREY TEAM, a series of raids designed to slow down the Remnant’s progress at rebuilding.

After several years serving in this theatre, Connor and his unit, the 192nd ODST Deployment Group, was transferred into an anti-insurgency campaign, fighting back against rebels who had revitalized and were threatening the stability of the government. After several years of these operations, Connor was forcibly recruited by ONI Section 0, to serve as a private assassin. The shadowy internal affairs office, which had been carefully monitoring a group of select soldiers for several years, had selected him as best suited for their task, and he was pressed into service for them.

Years of assassinations eventually pressed Connor to the limit, and he was close to revolting when he was unexpectedly transferred again. Shuttled to the planet Arcturas, he was offered a position training the new SPARTAN-IVs, serving alongside Linda-058 as a sniper instructor for the candidates. The assignment suited him well, and he blossomed as an instructor, before eventually taking the position of XO in a company of SPARTANs under Leonid-144, another former Section 0 agent.

The company was deployed alongside the rest of the new battalion, and Connor served with distinction as the XO during such operations as WARDOG, REAPER, HELLFIRE, and DEVIANT. Like the others, he would face his biggest challenge only a few years later, when the terrifying Necros emerged from the unknown and declared war on the UNSC and it’s allies. As the war began, Connor and the others rose to the challenge and fought bravely. Serving with courage throughout the war, Connor managed to survive the conflict and eventually retired, dying late in the 27th century.

Service Record

Career Service Vitae

(as of January 1, 2587)

Connor 338 ARM

CONNOR
LIEUTENANT

  • FULL NAME: RILEY, CONNOR
  • SERVICE #: S-338
  • UNIT: NAVSPECWAR/ARES DETACHMENT/TAN TEAM
  • ENLISTMENT DATE: CLASSIFIED
  • LOCATION: CLASSIFIED
  • GENDER: M
  • BIRTHPLACE: APHRODITE, TITAN-II
  • BIRTH DATE: 5/14/2534

PERFORMANCE:
SMART, FAST, AND TOUGH WITH VARIED ARRAY OF SKILLSETS. CAPABLE LEADER WITH A NATURAL ABILITY TO CONNECT WITH SUBORDINATES AND STRONG TACTICAL AND STRATEGIC INSIGHT. EMPHASIZES DEEPLY WITH SUBORDINATES AND SUPERIORS ALIKE. CRACK SHOT WITH A SNIPER RIFLE, BUT ALSO PASSABLY PROFIECIENT IN CLOSE QUARTERS. OPTIMISTIC NO MATTER THE SITUATION, BUT NEVER ATTEMPTS TO BE COMICAL. SERIOUS IN COMBAT, BUT RELAXES WELL OFF DUTY. VERY AMIABLE.

COMMENTS:
STRONG CONNECTIONS WITH TEAMATES CAN SOMETIMES PROVE PROBLEMATIC, AS HE CAN BECOME EMOTIONALLY OVERRELIANT ON OTHERS, SOMETIMES WITH DISASTOROUS CONSEQUENCES. OCCASSIONALLY EXPRESSES DOUBT IN HIS OWN TACTICAL AND STRATEGIC INSIGHT DESPITE STRENGTH, DUE TO SEVERAL FAILED OPERATIONS. HISTORY OF ANGER, DEPRESSION, AND ISOLATION ISSUES, ALL IN RESPONSE TO LOSS OF TEAMATE. STRONG SENSE OF RIGHT AND WRONG. HAS HAD PROBLEMS IN THE PAST WITH TAKING ISSUES PERSONALLY.

NOTE(S):
RECOMMEND SCREENING FOR MENTAL ISSUES IN THE CASE OF FAILED MISSIONS, OR SUCCESSFUL MISSIONS THAT RESULT IN FRIENDLY CASUALTIES.

History Report

Pre-War

Early Life

Connor was born in 2534 on the planet of Titan-II. His family was middle class, but was not pleasant. His father, an electrical engineer, committed suicide when he was three years old, and it was later determined that the man had been suffering from heavy depression. His mother, who had been succeeding in her career as a graphic artist before the death of his father, soon lapsed into drinking and long stretches of depression herself. Connor grew up as an only child, and had to learn to fend for himself early on, for his parents were of little help. To combat depression from setting in with him, he forced himself to develop an optimistic personality, which, though artificial at first, quickly became a very real part of his identity.

Because of his troubles at home, Connor developed into a very serious child. Isolated from others who did not understand him or his troubles, he was picked on by other children at his school for his large appearance and bookish nature, and had few friends. Nevertheless, he worked hard on social skills, trying his best to learn how groups functioned from the outside. He was smart, and developed an understanding of group dynamics, leadership, and responsibility at an early age, though he often doubted his own conclusions, having no one to compare them with.

Conscription and Training

Connor’s life was forever changed on the day of his sixth birthday. Towards the end of the failing party, his mother was passed out and left him and his few friends alone. At this inopportune moment, his family was visited by an forwarder, wearing a navy uniform. The man stated he was conducting a survey and asked a few questions of Connor, before leaving. Unknown to Connor, the man was Captain Griffin Standoff, a liaison for ONI Section III, who was searching for candidates for the new Spartan II Class III project. Though Connor didn’t know it, his life was about to be irrecoverably changed.

Several weeks later, ONI began Operation: CLOAK AND DAGGER. A flash clone of Connor was created, and Connor was kidnapped in the night, the flash clone replacing him in his bed. He was spirited away aboard a Prowler and sent to the UNSC’s largest colony after earth: Reach. Once on the planet, he, along with 49 other recruits, were introduced to their new lives as they were indoctrinated into the new SPARTAN program. He was told by the Captain Standoff that he would become a new, better person, and would join the ranks of the greatest soldiers in history, the warriors of the UNSC’s collective SPARTAN programs.

Training for Connor was harsh, and it closely mimicked that which was undergone by the original Class I candidates. Connor was just as unprepared as the other new recruits for the rigors of becoming a SPARTAN, but was excited. During the first day, he was put into a group of 5 candidates who would become his teammates throughout training; SPARTAN-332 Melissa, SPARTAN-329 Lucy, SPARTAN-373 Amber, and SPARTAN-348 Jackson. His first exercise with them was the infamous bell and pole drill, and like many other early SPARTANs, it was here that he learned what true teamwork was.

Connor excelled during training. Surrounded by people who understood him and were similar, with his childhood troubles now just a distant memory, he quickly rose to the top as one of the crowing jewels of the new program. He found and honed a sniper ability and a natural talent at leadership, and he became commander of the squad he’d been put in, which now received it’s name: Tan Team. During training, he forged bonds as close as siblings with his teammates, and they became a family. For the first time, he told people of his troubled childhood, and gained confidence.

Tan Team excelled, and grew more and more skilled with each passing week, honing themselves into true SPARTANs. They underwent exercises that had become sort of rituals--drills that the first class of SPARTANs had pioneered which the Class IIIs repeated, such as the wilderness drill and the repeated drillings against a marine company (though this was a different company, naturally). Connor and his teammates learned about many of the tactics of warfare, and were even introduced briefly to the strategies employed by the space and air forces, and Tan Team took a great deal of interest in the naval aspect, unusual for a SPARTAN.

In time, Tan Team began vying for the lead amongst the Class IIIs, neck and neck with teams like Gold and Orange. They pushed themselves harder and harder to overcome their opponents, until they were among the best of the best. During the final honors ceremony, borrowed from the SPARTAN-III program, Tan Team was one of the three competitors, and came in second.

However, unknown to Connor and his friends was that the eight years of training would soon come to an end, and that for more than one of them, the transition would be deadly.

Augmentation and Field Deployments

In 2548, after eight years of intense training, the Spartan II Class IIIs underwent the traditional SPARTAN test--augmentation. The augmentation procedures were the standard SPARTAN stock--enhanced vision, muscle mass, bone density, and reflexes. Unfortunately, they were also of the same stock in the casualties. During augmentation, approximately 40% of the candidates died or were crippled--averaging two per team. In Connor’s squad, SPARTAN-348 Jackson and SPARTAN-373 Amber both did not succeed--Jackson was killed from a heart failure, and Amber’s bones were crushed and pulverized so bad she was confined to a gel tank to survive. Connor in particular was devastated. He viewed the deaths of his teammates as his fault, and bordered on depression. For several weeks as the SPARTANs were recovering, the commanders of the project were unsure if he would be fit for duty.

Ultimately, it was his teammates who brought him out of his rut. Appealing to the still optimistic base personality, they convinced Connor to forgive himself and move on. Connor did so and narrowly avoided an “unfit for duty” tag, and finally joined the rest of his fellow SPARTANs in success. After recovering, it was time for the individual Class III teams to bid each other farewell. They were set to deploy, but command had decided to never use more than two Class III teams on a single mission, to avoid having them all be wiped out in case a naval battle went sour and a planet was glassed with SPARTANs still on it. Most teams were given orders to deploy by themselves, and for many of the SPARTANs, it would be the last time they would see their fellows again. Tan Team was the third team to receive mission orders, and moved out, as per orders.

Operation: APOLLO

Tan Team’s first mission began on September 3rd, 2548. The Atlas colony, which had staved off several Covenant attacks in the past, was now again being assaulted. As the UNSC realized that a victory was unachievable, they ordered all civilians evacuated, and the UNSC military forces were instructed to hold the line as long as possible and aid in evacuation efforts. The UNSC chose the moons around the planet as their strongpoint, as eighteen moons provided a makeshift perimeter.

With resources spread thin, Tan Team was deployed. Using vacuum specific variants of their SPI armor, they were sent to defend the moon Origami. This moon contained a power generator for the planet’s main defense: 3 orbital MAC cannons. With a surface not suitable to deploying the generator, it had been placed on the moon, and was thus a prime target. Connor’s plan was to use automated defenses as much as possible and hold out until the battle in orbit was finished and fire support could be granted.

Tan Team stood on standby as the attack began. Covenant frigates and destroyers attempted to close on the planet, but were stopped cold by the UNSC defenders in a rare space victory. With no clear advantage to be gained from attacking with their naval forces, the Covenant changed tactics. Thousands of infantry units were deployed from dropships or with thruster packs, targeting the generators. The UNSC had prepared for this….but not well enough. Covenant infantry quickly overwhelmed the first generator, on the moon Arrow, and soon, were pressing on to the others.

The Covenant began a simultaneous attack on both generators, using massed infantry. In addition, Covenant frigates began slipping past the defense grid with one MAC down--and unleashed havoc within the small UNSC fleet. With combat lines faltering, the UNSC was pressed harder and harder. Tan Team, limited defensive action and unable to take the fight to the enemy in classic SPARTAN offensive actions, was unable to hold the generator. Overwhelmed by Covenant forces, Connor made the decision to fall back, even as the generator fell.

The Covenant began a press inward with their naval forces, and the meager fleet was unable to hold the line against the superior Covenant force. Tan Team, however, was not done yet. The marines of the 14th Combat Company, a small unit of only 180, had been defending the largest city on the moons when the generators fell. The Admiral commanding the defense force was unwilling to abandon his men, but communications lines to them were down, and the Covenant forces were closing fast.

Connor volunteered Tan Team to be the messengers to the 14th. In classic SPARTAN fashion, they hijacked a Covenant Spirit dropship and headed straight towards the 14th last position. Unfortunately, the 14th had been unable to hold a defensive perimeter outside the city with their limited numbers, and now, were engaged in heavy fighting with the Covenant troops inside the city. Tan Team, intent on fulfilling their objective, fought inward through the city to the command center. There, they made contact with the commander of the 14th, Major Jordan McDougall. After apprising him of the situation, they decided to attempt a retreat, and finally made contact with the fleet, which was now massing near the end of the system in preparation for one last charge to save the 14th.

Operation Apollo 1

Combat in the sealed space city on the Atlas Moons

The 14th began a push to exit the city. Ultimately, it was the stupidity of a Covenant commander that saved them. New and not yet properly acquainted with the humans, he had assumed that they would fight to the last as the Sangheili did, and was caught by surprise by their attempt to flee. His slow reaction bought time for Tan Team to cover the 14th’s exit with their plan. Tan Team placed charges inside the sealed network of structures that made up the city, and detonated them. The oxygen rich atmosphere ignited with explosive force, leveling most of the city.

Tan Team and the 14th rushed to their extraction point, as the UNSC fleet began a drive of it’s own, straight into the heart of the enemy line. In a stunning display of courage, the crew of the UNSC Saratoga, critically damaged and unable to jump, detonated it’s core in the center of the enemy formation, buying vital time for the fleet. Pelican dropships, launched from the fleets lone carrier, descended to the surface of the moon and retrieved all surviving members of the 14th, as well as Tan Team. They were rushed back to the carrier, and the fleet began a withdrawal.

The final rush, however, had cost them dearly. Of the thirteen ships that had been assigned to defend the Atlas Moons, 6 had been destroyed during the main battle. Of the remaining 7, 4 had been destroyed during the charge to extract the 14th. The remaining three ships, damaged and almost crippled, jumped into slipspace on a random vector, then began limping home towards safety. Of these, only 2 actually made it to Reach--one’s engines detonated in slipspace from and overload, and the ship, damaged already, was torn apart upon exiting the transdimension.

Operation: RECIPROCITY

With their first taste of combat behind them, Tan Team had been transformed from eager recruits into hardened war vets. They now also had a thirst for something other than success or awards: revenge. Of the 180 men and women of the 14th, only 36 had survived extraction. Of the 144 casualties, 72 had been sustained during Tan Team’s time with them. The deaths of these fellow marines brought realism and anger to the SPARTANs, who were still overcoming the massive sensory overload of their first engagement.

Their time for revenge came in December 29th of 2548. The system of Omega Indi, a utopian planet of service based industries, came under sudden and violent attack from the Covenant. A taskforce of 9 UNSC warships was sent to aid the beleaguered defense of 2 frigates. Tan Team was placed aboard the Carrier Harriet Tubman, and was briefed en route.

The taskforce arrived to the smoldering wreckage of one frigate and the battered, crippled hulk of another. The two craft had successfully fought off the initial Covenant attack, a trio of light Pickets, but the humans knew it was only a matter of time before the Covenant returned in greater numbers. Evacuation of civilians was put into immediate effect, as the ships off the taskforce set up as best defenses as they could and prepared for a showdown.

On February 2nd,. 2549, the Covenant reappeared in system, indeed in greater numbers. A force of 2 frigates, 1 destroyer, and 1 CCS-Class Cruiser entered the system at extreme range, scanned the UNSC forces, and then jumped in system. Only a fluke allowed the UNSC group to survive. The Prowler that had traveled alongside the fleet had laid a group of Hornet mines along the best path for dropships and ground support ships, in order to destroy as many of the incoming infantry troops as possible. The Covenant fleet, overconfident with it’s advantage, jumped in dangerously close to the gravity well…and also right atop the nuclear minefield.

The commander of the taskforce quickly took advantage of this. The detonation of the minefield caught the fleet with it’s shields down from the slipspace jump, and both the destroyer, the CCS-class cruiser, and one of the frigates were destroyed in the fourteen separate 30 Megaton detonations, critically wounding the Covenant attack. The remaining frigate, badly damaged, launched all of its dropships and ground personnel, shortly before the combined taskforce converged and destroyed the craft.

The battle then fell to the ground forces. The Covenant ground invasion branched out, and employing brutal scorched earth tactics, began inflicting massive casualties. Three separate groups touched down in three separate areas, and began a brutal advance. Civilian forces, caught with no protection, were massacred as the alien infantry moved forward.

The UNSC reacted quickly, but not quickly enough. By the time marine forces had landed, 40% of the planet’s major cities on the eastern continent had been overrun and destroyed. The Covenant forces, knowing that they could not survive the battle, moved quickly, attempting to do as much damage as possible without being bogged down in a single area. When they reached areas with too steep resistance, they simply bypassed them, keeping mobile and remaining in a single area for more than a few hours.

This strategy worked well against the stolid and regimented UNSC forces. When the Marines got a positive location, they moved on it, but by the time they arrived, the Covenant forces had already moved on, and killed more civilians. Several days after the orbital battle, the Covenant armies were still at large, and 70% of the major cities on the eastern continent had been hit. The UNSC knew it needed a new strategy. And an integral part of that strategy was Tan Team.

In order to secure the remaining cities, the UNSC forces deployed there marines to the few remaining cities on the continent, using their numerical advantage to leave larger forces at each area. However, this was only the defensive aspect. The offensive half was designed to combat the mobile Covenant force. Tan Team was deployed to search out the Covenant force, which had linked up into one larger force, then radio the position for a tactical strike. Tan Team, acting as scouts, used the vague Intel provided by orbital scans to locate the Covenant forces. Once they had located them, the SPARTANs attempted to call in an orbital strike without revealing their position. This idea quickly was eliminated.

The Covenant forces discovered the presence of the SPARTANs and rushed to engage them. Tan Team was in danger of being overwhelmed, and found themselves surrounded, but decided that the destruction of the covenant army was more important than their lives. They radioed the position of the army to the UNSC battle group, and received a reply: they had 15 minutes to evacuate the area, at which point the battle group would be in a position to fire and would do so, regardless of their proximity.

Operation Reciprocity

A daring escape, SPARTAN-style

The SPARTANs were struck then by a flash of inspiration. Not ready to die just yet, Lucy argued that they should attempt to use the Covenant vehicles to escape. Connor led the push into the center of the Covenant camp, fighting his way alongside his teammates to escape. After heavy combat, they managed to procure three banshee fliers and escaped with only 3 minutes to spare. At the exact radioed time, the fleet reached firing position, and open fired with their Magnetic Accelerator Cannons. However, these MACs were not the specially designed orbital support MACs carried by ships such as the Spirit of Fire--these were standard, full on weapons.

The massive shells entered the atmosphere at supersonic speeds and slammed into the surface with a force of around 40 Kilotons of TNT--more than some small 20th century nukes. The massive kinetic energy created a shockwave felt around the continent, as the Covenant force was obliterated. Tan Team’s targeting mission had been an incomparable success, and the UNSC forces found themselves the victors of a major engagement, something that was becoming rarer and rarer in the war. Tan Team, glowing in the success of their first mission, returned to the taskforce as evacuation efforts continued, realizing that revenge had no place in the mission of a true soldier.

Operation: CURTAIN OF FIRE

Tan Team’s next mission came far sooner than anyone in the squad could have wished for. Despite being only their third deployment, Tan Team was well on its way to becoming one of the most elite units in the UNSC. They were fast learners, and had a lot of material available. Their next mission was to the Magnos System. The system had come under attack by a small Covenant force, and was urgently requesting assistance. In a distress signal, the defenders described the initial bout with the Covenant forces. They had said that “A curtain of fire launched from the lead ships, burning away our line.”

The taskforce launched immediately, leaving the evacuation Omega Indi to the original force stationed there. During the ride in slipspace, Connor and his team were frozen in cryo, and would remain so until they were deployed. On the 23rd of February, the taskforce entered the system and headed from Magnos Omega. The Magnos system had dozens of planets, though only one capable of supporting life, Omega. They arrived just in time, again missing the first round of the action. As they joined the battle around the planet, they helped drive off a Covenant frigate, and then established a defensive perimeter around the planet.

They quickly learned from the defenders that a major naval battle had just occurred. 15 UNSC ships had faced off with around 6 Covenant craft, though only 4 human warships remained. The battle had been raging for several days, and they had intercepted transmissions from Covenant commanders that had been decoded and were promising bad news: inbound Covenant reinforcements. In orbit, the 13 human ships dug in and prepared for a battle. However, this was not the only problem.

During the initial engagement, Covenant forces had landed on the planet and occupied several areas. UNSC forces were hesitant to use orbital bombardment, as Covenant forces had taken positions near and in human cities, with confirmed civilian populations. The forces that had been stationed in system had neither the troops nor the facilities on the ground to attempt to assault the Covenant forces, and had been unable to root out the invaders.

With the reinforcements however, they now had what they believed to be adequate troops. Tan Team was awoken and prepared for the fight ahead, then deployed with the marine forces of the taskforce. The UNSC forces landed and established several firebases on the northern continent, in preparation for a major ground battle. Their first target was a covenant occupied city of Thebes, which contained munitions dumps and food supplies that had been meant to arm troops and field refugees in the event of an invasion. Covenant forces had apparently figured out the significance of the location, and beefed up defenses on the city.

Capture would not be easy, and again, would require help from Connor and Tan Team. The Covenant had formed a defensive line of trenches, energy shields, and heavy weapons around the city, which rested on a flat prairie. The line was not well reinforced against an air attack, having few AA weapons, but a Covenant AAA plasma turret in the center of the city had a commanding field of fire and enough firepower to thwart any attempted air attack. The General on the ground wanted to invade using a infantry advance aided by sporadic armor rushes and air strikes to take out hardened objectives, but needed the AAA turret gone. Though orbital bombardment could have eliminated the turret, this was ruled out because of extreme civilian casualties.

Tan Team’s time had come. Connor was told by the General to infiltrate the city and have the turret down by 1600 hours on the 24th. Given only maps of the city and no support, Tan Team was left to do their job as the rest of the UNSC forces prepared to mobilize for their assault. Upon reviewing city schematics, Mellissa proposed the idea of a infiltration via the sewer system. After considering several other options, they moved out.

The trek to the city was relatively easy. The use of their SPI photo-reactive panels allowed them to move undetected and gain access to the sewer system. Once inside, they moved quickly. They quickly navigated to the gun battery, but they found to many Covenant in the vicinity to attempt an immediate attack. Instead, they moved to a separate access hole and climbed to the surface approximately one mile from the target. They then entered the buildings and used the network of sky bridges to reach a point at which they had a shot on the gun turret. They discovered after observing the turret that it used a crystal to dump waste heat, which was in it opened state. However, it was decided that Connor’s SRS99C would not have the power to destroy the crystal before it could be retracted. Instead, they made use of a M19 SSM Missile Launcher.

After carefully aiming the launcher, Connor alerted the other UNSC forces of the impending destruction of the AAA turret. At exactly 1600 hours, Connor fired the rocket launcher from the sixth floor of a building 435 ft from the target, and achieved a perfect hit. Minutes later, the attack began.

Tan Team then decided to aid the UNSC forces as they attempted to push forward. Employing their high position and their Sniper Rifles, they provided sniper cover for advancing UNSC troops. After some time, Tan Team descended and began taking part in the street fighting. The combat lasted until 2120 hours, when the city was finally and officially secured. However, this victory was quickly overshadowed by the darker events in orbit.

The UNSC fleet, knowing that they would likely be outgunned and outnumbered during the assault, deployed a Hornet minefield, similar to the one deployed around Omega Indi, in hopes that they would be able to stall the Covenant and buy time for the troops on the surface to liberate as many cities as possible and allow evacuation of those civilians to begin. Unfortunately, the Covenant had tricks of it’s own up it’s sleeve.

Shortly before it’s destruction by the UNSC forces at Omega Indi, the Covenant ship that had survived the initial blast had sent an encrypted communications message to its headquarters, and the Covenant forces knew about the UNSC’s strategy. The Covenant ships jumped in system and completely avoided the mines, brining all 12 of their warships to bear on the 13 UNSC craft. Obviously, the battle did not go well. While the ships were able to stall the enemy somewhat and delay, they were fighting a losing battle. Tactical projections had concluded that the entire fleet would be wiped out by February 27th at the latest, if the UNSC troops stayed and fought.

Unaware of the developments in orbit, the ground forces pressed on. After securing Thebes, their next objective was Niles, the capital. This city provided a unique objective for the advancing human force. Situated on a peninsula near the ocean, and bordered by steep cliff walls on the ocean side, as well as a natural hill at the tip of the peninsula, casualties were projected as high. The UNSC plan of attack called for heavier emphasis on VTOL aircraft like Hornets, Sparrow hawks, and Vultures, to support the infantry, rather than ground vehicles like Scorpions, Warthogs, and Cobras. While the Covenant forces seemed heavily entrenched and with few weak points, the UNSC knew they had to do something to even the odds.

That “something” was proposed by Connor. Upon looking at the strategic map of the area, he advised a paratrooper attack into the heart of the city, to distract the Covenant and eliminate the coherency of their battle lines. As a result, Tan Team, along with elements of the ODSTs, began preparing for their mission.

The idea was simple: Tan Team and the 105th would drop in behind enemy lines inside the city and try and create as much chaos as possible. The UNSC force would move in 20 minutes after the drop, taking advantage of the confusion and driving a wedge into the Covenant lines before snapping it. Aerial units like Vultures would perform close air support of advancing infantry, while Hornets and Hawks moved about in roving patrols, hunting enemy armor and aircraft.

Time in orbit, though, was running out. Even as Tan Team and the 105th were loading aboard their Pelicans, the UNSC fleet was sustaining tremendous damage. The Covenant forces had managed to trap the humans and decimate the majority of their ships, and only 4 badly damaged craft remained. Just as the drop occurred, the admirals in orbit gave the order to fall back. Too late.

Tan Team and the others landed in the city using high altitude drop-chutes just in time to learn they were supposed to be evacuating. Immediately upon landing, they came under heavy fire. Struggling to regroup, dozens of ODSTs were killed, including most of the top leadership. The remaining troops managed to link up inside a parking garage, but were quickly surrounded by Covenant wraith tanks. Before the tanks open fired, Connor assumed command of the survivors and told them to head for the cliffs and the extraction zone, the farthest point on the peninsula, also home to the governor’s house. Soon after, Covenant plasma fire collapsed the garage.

In the chaos, Connor and his squad members were separated from the ODSTs. Fighting their way to the governors mansion, they urgently radioed for pickup at that location. It took them almost 40 minutes to reach the mansion, even moving fast and avoiding most contact. Miraculously, they managed to rendezvous with a squad of ODSTs survivors, under the de facto command of a Corporal named Desmond Blake. They successfully held their position for almost 30 minutes against attacking Covenant forces, before a Pelican dropship conducted a high-risk extraction and picked them up directly off the cliff face.

Their Pelican then maneuvered directly into orbit and rendezvoused with one of the remaining UNSC ships. The other members of the ground force had been evacuated in the time Connor and the others had been evacuating, along with approximately 30,000 civilians, less than 10% of the planets population. With no time left however, the UNSC ships fled, battered and beaten. Transitioning into slipspace and moving on a random trajectory before returning to Reach, they left yet another planet behind to glassing. Before being put into cryo sleep, Connor found himself plagued with guilt over the deaths of the men that had been deployed based on his idea, but once again, was helped to step away from it by his squad mates. There would be plenty of time for guilt and sadness and anger after the war, was the collective agreement in Tan Team. For now, they had to keep fighting.

Operation: MIDNIGHT REIGN

After returning to Reach for a debrief, Tan Team was immediately redeployed. This time, however, they would not be fighting Covenant. For years since the start of the war, the Insurrection, formerly on the rise, had been quietly simmering. ONI was convinced that striking at the rebels now would have a positive effect later, and so when rebel targets were discovered, they were quickly disposed of.

In April of 2549, this became the case. A UNSC Prowler had intercepted a weapons smuggler, who had made a deal and avoided a life sentence by giving ONI the destination of his weapons: an isolated rebel base sitting on the outskirts of the outer colony Titan II--which was acting as a command center for operations all across the sector. Too juicy of a target to pass up, even for the heavily engaged UNSC fleet.

ONI decided to deploy Tan Team on a solo mission to clear out the rebel base. Hoping to eliminate rebel leadership and deal a devastating blow to the Insurrectionists, they loaded Connor and his squad mates aboard the Prowler Dusk to Dusk and briefed them for their mission. It would be the first time Tan Team had ever been ordered to engage and kill fellow humans, a strange and frightening development to the still green SPARTANs. But that was not the only new development.

To augment Tan Team, ONI was assigning the 112th Naval Squadron to their prowler. He squadron was a legend. In service with the same crew since Operation: TREBUCHET and with more than 180 combat missions under its belt, and fast approaching 10,000 kills for the squadron, it was one of the most elite and well known units in the UNSC. The 112th would be providing close air support, extraction, and distraction, while the SPARTANs operated on the ground and attempted to reach the command leadership. Elements of the 112th would also conduct interdiction efforts, shooting down any craft attempting to land or escape.

By the standards set by earlier missions, it was relatively “snag” free. As the newly assembled team of fighter pilots and SPARTANs boarded the Prowler and it’s carrier escort, spirits were high. It was mission time and they were eager to get underway,

The Prowler arrived in the Titan system on April 18th, 2549, at 1600 hours. Earlier that day, at 0800 Hours, the carrier had slipped to the edge of the system and launched the 112th. The fight pilots had spent eight hours en route via sub light engines to the planet, and in order to maintain the element of surprise, were making use of C709/B Gladius Fighters, stealthier variants of the Longsword. Once in orbit, the 112th patiently waited for the “go” signal. Meanwhile, Dusk to Dusk deployed Connor and the rest of Tan Team to the surface with ODST droppods. The three SPARTANs landed approximately 5 miles away, but as soon as they had touched down, Operation: MIDNIGHT REIN had begun.

The plan called for four separate assault elements. The first, Tan Team, was assigned to infiltrate the compound, eliminate the rebel leadership, destroy the hangar bay, vehicle shop, infantry barracks, and then overload the fusion reactor, before proceeding to extraction. The second, six Gladius Fighters from the 112th, would be maintaining low orbit, shooting down or deterring any other space fighters. Element 3 consisted of 4 Gladius fighters reconfigured to carry air-to-ground ordnance, who would provide ground support on request of Tan Team. He final element was 2 more Gladius fighters in standard format, who would shoot down any in atmosphere craft, and who would also provide extraction.

The plan went perfect during the initial phase. Connor led Tan Team on a midnight stroll towards the rebel base. The Insurrectionists had placed dozens of security checkpoints, sentry posts, and barbed wire fences, but the SPARTANs easily navigated these obstacles. Moving slowly but stealthily, they moved further and further into the heart of the rebel operations center. At 2300 hours on the 18th, the SPARTANs reached the actual base. Quietly following a patrol being relieved, they snuck inside. They were in.

In orbit, however, things took a turn for the worst. The second element detected a freighter exiting the system’s shipping station, and upon running it’s ID, confirmed it as an illegal weapons smuggler. The pilots were faced with a dilemma: intercept the ship and blow the ground op, or let it get away and disobey orders? In the end, they did what they had to do. Two interceptors from the second element shot off in pursuit of the rebel freighter, and after a brief attempt to outrun the fighters, the freighter had been shot down with missiles. Contact with the enemy was now an open possibility.

On the ground, the destruction of the freighter did not go unnoticed. The rebels scrambled their fighter squadrons, a group of tattered old Skyrocket fighters, and went on high internal alert. Though they did not think to connect the problem in orbit with one on the ground, they made things difficult for the SPARTANs nonetheless. Increased patrols led to more difficulty moving around, but the SPARTANs had no choice but to continue on with their mission.

In orbit, things quickly escalated. Twelve Skyrocket fighters, space capable variants of the aged Skyhawk, began an attack on the second element. The rebel pilots and the UNSC squadron engaged in a vicious dogfight. A full scale battle was underway.

On the ground, Connor continued with the others to his objective. With a feeling of time running out, the SPARTANs struggled to move quickly while still maintaining their stealth. As they drew closer and closer to the command center, the urgency increased. Time, they felt, was running out.

Training paid off, however. Despite their rush, they reached the command center undetected. Their mission was now simplified to just on more door breach maneuver: blow inside, take out everyone their, extract any intel possible, and blow their way out. Connor fastened a charge on the command center’s central door, a slab of titanium that required a very powerful shaped charge of C12 to destroy. The SPARTANs took up a standard position for them--Mellissa and Lucy on either wall, prepared to flood inside, and Connor in the center, 30 feet back, sniper rifle out and prepared to take out anyone inside that posed a serious threat.

Operation Midnight Rein

Execute door-breach maneuver

The door breach was picture perfect; a flash bang tossed in that disoriented the three guards. Two of these guards were immediately eliminated by Lucy and Melissa, while Connor used his sniper rifle on the third. The sound of gunfire alerted the building quickly, but by that time, it was too late for the rebel commanders. It would later plague the consciences of the three SPARTANs, but without mercy, they cut down all seven rebel leaders in the base with their weapons.

With their primary objective completed, it was time to get out. Connor established a link to Element 3, who radioed a successful atmospheric entry. In the time it took for Tan Team to reload, exit the command center, and move only fifteen feet, the bombers were on station. Four simultaneous air strikes ripped through the rebel compound, buying the SPARTANs the time they needed. As he base transformed into chaos, the three Tan Team SPARTANs rushed to attack the vehicle depot. Entering it, they quickly took down the guards and used motion triggered charges on the transportation assets there, guaranteeing that anyone trying to escape with them would meet and violent and painful end.

Right on time, the third element launched it’s second salvo of bombs, destroying the barracks in it. Though the bombs they were carrying were normally used by Shortsword bombers, the Longswords had had been modified to carry them, along with several hundred 110mm missiles. The SPARTANs then continued onto their objective, reaching the reactor and setting it to overload by removing it’s coolant cores. Then, they made their way to the hangar bay.

The rebels were growing more organized by the minute, and it required fierce fighting to reach the hangar. However, in space, things were going very well. The second element, though outnumbered, had used their superior training and fighters and managed to destroy all the opposing forces. With space superiority achieved, the chance of rebels escaping was negligible. Even as Tan Team fought their way to the hangar, the second element intercepted several escaping rebel craft, destroying each one.

Once at the hangar bay, Tan Team realized that they could no longer extract from the predetermined point. Rebels had finally organized themselves and had trapped the SPARTANs in the hangar, whose only entrance now pumped more and more of the Insurrectionist fighters into the bay. In Mjolnir armor, a charge might have been achievable, but in SPI, it was too much of a risk. As the SPARTANs became closer and closer to being overwhelmed, they realized that even though the extraction zone was cut off, they could still escape.

The hangar they were in was a standard human one, used aboard even UNSC ships like the Halcyon-class cruiser. Their only problem was that a heavy blast door covered the entrance, blocking any ingress or egress. Connor instructed Melissa to hack into the rebel network, and she quickly found the control panel to activate the door and open it up for extraction. Unfortunately, it was highly exposed, sitting on the main Longsword landing pad (or what would have been, if it was a UNSC ship).

Connor performed the extraction task himself. Darting into the open and braving enemy fire, he rushed out into the open and ran for the control panel. His teammates covered him, but despite this, he was hit by six rebel bullets, and shortly after opening the door, fell in unconsciousness. While he slept, element 4 arrived and blasted their way inside the rebel perimeter. Bringing the heavy shipboard weapons of the Gladius interceptors to bear, they open fired with devastating effect on the rebels. While 2 of the ships hovered and provided cover, a third landed and extended it’s hatch, allowing the SPARTANs to board. Lucy broke cover and retrieved Connor, before boarding the fighter. The expansive cabin was nevertheless somewhat of a tight fit for the three SPARTANs and the pilot, a young flight leader named Jace Williams.

The escape, by contrast, was uneventful. Without any space worthy craft, the Insurrectionists were powerless to stop the fleeing UNSC forces. As soon as the extraction element broke orbit, the other 2 formed up. However, 1 interceptor separate from the main flight descended into atmosphere and left a present for the surviving rebels: a Shiva Nuclear Warhead. Not often used in ground operations because its standard 150 Megaton yield was so high, the lack of civilians in the area allowed for it’s use. The extraction element was picked up by the carrier as it jumped in system, and promptly transitioned to slipspace.

Behind them, the Shiva detonated with devastating results. Equivalent to approximately 10,000 Hiroshima bombs, the explosion of the 150 Mt device incinerated miles of land around the base, and the base itself, made of mere concrete and wood, was incinerated and torn to pieces by the overpressure and blast wave. Rebel base Black Hand, was no more. With their second successful mission, the Spartan II Class IIIs of Tan Team returned to Reach, ready for more action.

Aegis Campaign

They did not have to wait long. Their carrier arrived in the Epsilon Eridanus system on May 2nd, 2549, and immediately joined a newly formed fleet of 22 ships, ready to act as a reactionary force against further Covenant attacks. This fleet consisted of 2 cruisers, 2 carriers (including theirs) 8 destroyers and 10 frigates, most veterans of previous engagements. Widely regarded as the best reactionary fleet of the time, Tan Team and Connor felt it an honor to serve with the unit.

The fleet did not have to wait long to go into combat. As the Covenant juggernaut continued onward, the Aegis system found itself under attack. The fleet defending the planet had reported a Covenant attack on them, a force of far superior numbers. Intent on not losing another planet, the Admiral of the fleet, Admiral Seamus Douglas, launched with all his forces to respond.

The fleet arrived on May 17th, prepared to join in a fight. However, when they entered the Aegis system, they found no battle raging--only the smoldering husk of two UNSC frigates and a Covenant battle group 11 strong, preparing to start glassing operations. One tenth of the planet’s surface had already been glassed, and the fleet arrived just in the nick of time…but too late for thousands. The tenth that had been hit had been home to 30% of the planets 6 million citizens….and there were no survivors.

The UNSC fleet, unwilling to stand by and watch a planet be glassed, charged in straightaway, releasing dropships and landers that headed to the surface even as the capital ships rushed to engage the enemy. Though no one in the fleet knew it, this engagement would rapidly grow and become the longest campaign for a single system since Harvest. It would also quickly become the bloodiest. Of the 900,000 ground based combat personnel, only 150,000 would survive. The Aegis Campaign had begun.

Even as the capital ships in orbit began engaging each other, the drop to the surface began. Aboard a Pelican dropship also carrying the remains of the ODSTs that they had saved on Magnos Omega and parts of the 14th they had fought alongside on the Atlas Moons, they moved as part of a massive convoy of albatrosses, pods, and pelicans, heading for the surface at breakneck speeds.

The drop in was not pretty. Despite the best efforts of the UNSC fleet to draw fire away from the convoy, two Covenant ships open fired with plasma torpedoes and pulse lasers, burning away dozens of dropships and transports. Though the incoming orbital fire ceased once they descended far enough into the atmosphere, they soon had another problem to worry about: weather.

The planet of Aegis III, the habitable planet in the system, was considered by many as only barely tolerable of human life. Regarded as a disease infested mud bowl, UNSC forces soon found a new name for it: “Froze Hell.” General Rom Anderson had planned on assaulting Covenant positions only 48 hours after landing, but this quickly turned into an impossible goal. The planet, covered with little vegetation except in the rain forest regions and subject to almost unceasing rain, turned into an absolute nightmare for logistics. Wheeled vehicles were useless in the thick muck, tanks sank into the soft ground, and lightning storms and high winds kept air forces from operating except against extremely short range targets. Practically the only available fighting force was standard marine infantry, and the UNSC realized it faced a long and arduous battle ahead.

The Covenant, by comparison, had their own unique and advantages and disadvantages. Though their armored units, whose gravity drives worked fine in the conditions, were usable, they were at a distinct numerical advantage. It came down to logistics; 11 Covenant ships could not carry as many troops as 22 UNSC craft. To put the Covenant troops at more of a numerical disadvantage, new UNSC craft were arriving all the time in what was quickly turning into a hotspot, to replace casualties and continue the fight. One of the few orbital stalemates in the entire war was going on overhead, and the ground troops were now supposed to act as a tie breaker.

The poor conditions slowed UNSC operations almost to a halt, and it took two and a half weeks to prepare for combat operations. Only on June 4th did the human forces finally prepare to strike. By that time, any surprise had been long gone, and the Covenant forces had dug in for what was bound to be a bitter, horrible struggle.

On June 4th, the UNSC marched out of their bases, heading for the Covenant’s main strong point on the planet. Because of a lack of any major defensible cities, the Covenant had chosen to create their own fortress from which to conduct their forces. A ring of Covenant firebases protected by both a conventional and an energy shield wall blocked entrance, and plasma turrets and hordes of soldiers stood ready to defend the place. However, the slow march of the UNSC prompted the Covenant to leave their hideaway and meet the human forces on the field of battle.

Moving quickly with transports equipped with anti-gravity drives, the Covenant forces rapidly closed on the slowly marching UNSC force. The first skirmishes between the scouts of the two groups occurred between June 6th and June 12th, as both forces marched to reach each other. UNSC forces in orbit were still locked in a bitter stalemate, and the troops on the ground had no hope of orbital support. They were on their own.

On June 13th, the two forces drew within only miles of each other, and took positions. Like a harkening back to the old days of warfare, the Covenant took a position atop a hill and placed artillery units there, as if ordering the UNSC forces to come to them. The UNSC troops failed to take advantage of their enemies fixed position, and instead of splitting their 700,000 man force and sending part to attack the weakened fortress while the other held the numerically inferior Covenant at bay, they hunkered down and began an attack on the enemy.

The ‘Battle of the Hilltop’, as it came to be called, was just the opening move of a much larger and far more expansive struggle. Heavy fighting began in earnest, and within days, the Covenant had pushed forward and spread their line, forming a much wider formation and blocking any UNSC attempts to attack their fortress. The combat along the so called “battle line” was fierce and devastating. The two armies were locked in a bitter struggle, similar in nature to the battles of France in World War I. With armored units out of the fight for the UNSC, trench warfare quickly became the standard yet again. Soon enough, the extended fighting had eliminated the largest targets, the Covenant armored vehicles, and the Covenant reverted to this ancient fighting style too. The fighting lowered in intensity as supplies dwindled, only to spark again and again in waves of combat that would ebb and flow like the sea.

For Tan Team however, the battle was just heating up. The small SpecOps team was out place somewhat in the more conventional warfare of the battle, and were not contributing nearly as much as they had wished. For some time, General Anderson seemingly ignored the team, focusing on the larger strategical picture, hoping to overcome the covenant by sheer tenacity.

What he learned, unfortunately, was that the Covenant was far more determined to hold the line than the UNSC would ever be, and soon, the Covenant showed signs of increasing morale and effectiveness, worrying the General, who’s own troops had plummeting spirits. Thought the numerical advantage compensated for this, the UNSC could not overcome the Covenant resistance with a half hearted force. By the 30th, the lines were still stable, and the stalemate showed no signs of stopping. With the battle in orbit as uneventful as ever, and with the ground battle the so called “deciding factor”, Tan Team was finally called upon to do what it did best.

The plan was simple. The three man SPARTAN team would deploy from a high altitude drop well behind enemy lines, and begin disruption operations. Using guerrilla tactics, they would do as much damaged as possible to the enemy infrastructure, destroying supply lines, outposts, small groups of reinforcements, and any other targets of importance. Resupply would be conducted by airdrops or orbital drops, but support was otherwise extremely limited. Considered extremely hazardous, the General personally sent off the three of them, fearing that he was likely sending them to their deaths. He could not have been more wrong.

As soon as the SPARTANs were dropped, they quickly went above and beyond expectations. Excelling in the small unit surprise and ambush style warfare, Tan Team eliminated four enemy supply outposts, 15 enemy supply convoys, and conducted 27 ambush maneuvers all within a week of touching down. Their deployment had the desired effect, as soon the Covenant forces were literally looking over their shoulder, wondering if the demons might choose them as their next victim.

The drop in Covenant morale showed on the frontlines, as the Covenant forces gradually but steadily lost ground. The UNSC forces had a jump in morale among the ranks, as dozens of units began showing exemplary performance. Meanwhile, Tan Team was having the time of it’s life. Completely in their element, they quickly became the bane of the Covenant commander, and had to evade three separate searches designed to get a positive fix on their location, all of which were unsuccessful.

But even as success on the ground finally kicked off, the situation in orbit was deteriorating. The UNSC fleet was slowly loosing the orbital stalemate and losing more and more ships to the Covenant, and once again, it became clear that the ground campaign, however successful, was ultimately inconsequential when the UNSC lost it’s orbital superiority. Almost four weeks after Tan Team’s deployment behind enemy lines, with the UNSC troops victorious in the battle of the plains and now knocking on the gates of the enemy fortress, the plug was pulled on the mission.

The UNSC forces were told to disengage and retreat on July 23rd, 2549. General Anderson was furious, a feeling shared by his troops. After a month and a half of bloody fighting, and on the eve of victory, they were being pulled out? All because the damned ship drivers upstairs couldn’t do their job? The discontent within the force was palpable, with threats from Anderson to the fleet that he would not leave before the enemy fortess was gone, and that they would just have to hold off the enemy long enough for him to finish. In fact, for a time, this seemed like it was going to be the ultimate outcome. Plans for an invasion of the fortress were drawn up, with Tan Team leading the assault.

This plan was quickly scrapped, however, when tragedy struck. The UNSC fleet, unable to hold the line, let a CCS-class cruiser through, into the atmosphere, and the results were beyond devastating. 20,000 troops, caught in the open and with no way of fighting back, were killed in orbital bombardment by the attacking ship. As this happened, Anderson finally realized that continuing the fight would only end in the deaths of all of his men. Sighing as he did so, he delivered the retreat order.

However, this was an orderly retreat, not a simple break and run. A small force, in which Tan Team was included, was instructed to hold the line while the majority of the forces evacuated. Over the course of the evacuation, the reserve force was battered by numerous Covenant attacks, each time holding on just barely. Finally, after several days spent in near constant combat, the reserve force evacuated, retreating up to rendezvous with the fleet.

The remains of the fleet were a shadow of it’s original glory. Only one of the cruisers remained, along with a carrier, 3 destroyers, and 2 frigates. Of the original force, only 1 cruiser, 1 carrier, and 2 destroyer had survived--the other ships were from reinforcements sent during the campaign. The tattered force fled like many had before, as the Covenant ceased their pursuit and began to glass the planet. This time, it was Connor who kept his teams spirits high, his basic optimism shining through to keep his fellow teammates from the depths of despair. On the way back to Reach, they all stubbornly agreed that he Covenant would pay for the deaths of their soldiers. Forgetting their lesson on revenge from only months earlier, they chose not to cryo, and instead spent the trip formulating a plan, perfecting it, and preparing to deliver it to their commander.

Operation: SLIPKNOT

Tan Team’s carrier arrived in the in early November, and was being given a short shore leave after the intense combat of the previous mission. As part of this group, Tan Team was due to be granted extra leave as well, but resting was not all they had in mind. Connor’s anger at the Covenant over the deaths of so many fellow humans had spread to his squad, and they were all angry and resentful, and ready to strike back at the Covenant. As they would learn, however, was that though revenge might be good of causing casualties, it was a poor formula for ultimate success.

Upon returning to Reach, Tan Team arranged a meeting with the admiral in charge of Group 7, which included their group along with 6 others. Group 7 was also known as the southwestern fleet, named so because of it’s role as the protectors of the southwestern section of UNSC space. The Admiral had the authority to begin entirely new operations, and it was this that Tan Team was seeking to do.

During their meeting, Connor outlined the plan they had been preparing. Though normally the operation would not have been confirmed, the Admiral was also wishing for a chance to strike back at the Covenant, and Tan Team, despite the secrecy surrounding them, had established somewhat of a reputation within the fleet. After only one meeting, the Admiral confirmed their mission as a go.

It was then time to gather a strike force. Tan Team, unaccustomed to large roles, now had inadvertently put themselves in a larger, broader command. With little to no experience in this matter, they turned to the Admiral of their carrier group, letting him gather the necessary troops, materiel, and assets to make their operation a success. The group chose five capital ships for the first phase of their plan, and personally selected the 112th Naval Squadron to operate as part of the second phase. Provisions to acquire the necessary weaponry initially was attempted through official channels, but in the end, they decided to simply take the weapons off the fleet and replace the fleets stock later.

On November 8h, 2549, the southwestern fleet received reports of an attack on the Pearl system. Connor reviewed the system specifications and the combat report, and quickly ok’ed the system for Operation: SLIPKNOT. The newly formed taskforce left only hours later. En route, they quickly prepared all of their craft for the mission. It was time to go to work.

The fleet arrived in the Pearl system on November 15th, 2549. Scans indicated a ongoing battle between UNSC forces and the Covenant--with the UNSC forces quickly losing. The reason was immediately clear: three Covenant Assault Carriers were leading the enemy attack, and the craft were easily decimating the meager UNSC defense. The action by the fleet was critical.

In a seemingly suicidal maneuver, the fleet accelerated straight for the enemy. Their MAC guns inefficiently peppered the shields of a half dozen covenant ships, doing little damage. As the Covenant fleet turned away from the execution of the survivors and turned towards the newcomers, they began heating plasma torpedoes, intent on blowing the UNSC force out of space.

But in the hangar bays of the small fleet, the UNSC had it own trick up it’s sleeve. Before the Covenant fleet’s plasma heated enough, dozens of fighters launched on intercept course for the cruisers. And as they did so, the UNSC fleet vanished--

--into slipspace. The fleet transitioned into the alternate dimension as the lances of plasma launched. The fighters moved in as planned, accelerating straight for the assault carrier. The carriers, annoyed somewhat at the cruisers escaping, primed their weapons and open fired at the incoming fighter wave--just as predicted. It was at that moment that their plan truly began. During the voyage back to Reach from the Aegis campaign, Lucy had stumbled across a contact report filed by SPARTAN-087 concerning the battle of Chi Ceti IV, while researching the SPARTAN-IIs. In it, it had detailed the efforts of the SPARTANs to board the Covenant frigate--and how they had found and exploited the weakness in the energy shields.

Inspired by this, Tan Team had created their plan to take full advantage of this. As the cruisers fired their weapons, an algorithm programmed during the journey calculated the precise time to fire the weapons to reach the ship just as it fired--and the fighters launched a salvo of missiles.

However, these were not the standard ASGM-10 missiles commonly fired by Longswords in space engagements. In order to carry the proper knockout punch, each one of the fighters launched a Shiva-tipped nuclear missile. Though it had drained the stockpile of three stage warheads in the fleet to the lower side of nothing, it had the desired effect. Even as the fighters scrambled to evade the plasma bursts fired by the Covenant warships, their Shiva missiles penetrated the shields of the three assault carriers and two of the other ships, and detonated just as the shields reformed, inside the behemoth cruisers. The Shields reflected the force of the blast back onto the ship, channeling and compressing it, incinerating the five covenant craft in a matter of seconds. Though no one knew it, this maneuver would later be unknowingly repeated in a separate manner by Captain Keyes, at the Battle of Reach.

Unfortunately, there turned out to be some unpleasant consequences for this group. Though not known to the humans, the Covenant, for some time, had been vulnerable to the EMP released by UNSC nukes, even while inside their ship shields. Though they countermanded this effect by hardening the electronics aboard their craft, and later by advancing the shield technology itself, this new shield technology was not introduced until late 2551. So, as the nukes detonated, destroying the enemy craft, the EMP flashed through he ranks of the accelerating UNSC fighters--crippling them completely. Lucy was the first to notice this unexpected side effect, while observing a sensor console aboard the fleet’s command ship, the light cruiser Reginald. She quickly alerted Connor, and he alerted the Admiral and Melissa. Their mission had taken a perilous turn.

Even as Tan Team observed, the Longsword fighters were hit by the EMP and began drifting. The Covenant ships, two destroyers still totally undamaged, open fired on the outnumbered single ships. Half a dozen fighters winked out within seconds as pulse lasers lanced from the ships into the crippled force. If the UNSC force did not act fast, it was a sure fact that soon, all the pilots would be lost.

Under orders from the Admiral, the fleet reoriented from it’s out of system slipspace hop and repositioned for another jump. Transitioning to slipspace twice in so short of a time would drain the ship’s energy capacitates to critical levels, leaving precious little extra energy for the MAC guns and engines, but they had no choice--they couldn’t just leave the pilots behind to die, after such a brave effort on their part. They jumped for the enemy.

In a stroke of luck, they arrived only a few minutes from the battle. The inaccurate UNSC slipspace system had previously positioned the ships at the edge of the system, but this time, dropped them at not the edge of the system, but the edge of the battle. Though normally this would have been considered a blessing, this time, it was most definitely not.

So close to the action, they were immediately engaged by the Covenant, and with no time to recharge their MAC guns, the battle was lopsided. As the UNSC fleet was hammered, it was unable to directly rescue the pilot. The Admiral knew that the fleet would soon have retreat. Unwilling to leave the pilots behind, he deployed Tan Team.

Equipping themselves with EVA enhanced SPI armor, they launched via a Pelican towards the drifting fighters. Followed by a contingent of Extra Atmospheric Boarding Troops, they prepared for a zero-g rescue of the pilots. Their Pelicans launched for a field of wreckage left behind by the five destroyed Covenant craft and the destroyed Longsword. Unfortunately, the Covenant had ideas of their own. As the destroyers fought against the human fleet, dozens of dropships and thruster pack elites and jackals headed for the debris field themselves, intent on executing any humans that had survived the attack on their cruisers.

Over the next hour and a half, a vicious EVA battle ensued. The UNSC forces raced to save as many of the pilots as possible, as the Covenant tried to do the same. Most of the extractions were of the intact fighters that had been crippled by the EMP, but many were also of badly injured pilots whose fighters had been destroyed, who had been forced to eject to escape the enemy. Tan Team, though fighting alongside almost 5,000 EABTs, accounted for a large amount of Covenant casualties and UNSC rescues. Despite the high casualties sustained during the shooting gallery after the EMP burst, the rescuers were relatively successful. Unfortunately, the rescuers had to contend with more and more waves of enemies.

The Covenant, using numbers, launched dozens of assault waves using their dropships. As one wave dropped off EVA infantry, another would return to the destroyers to pick up more troops. So, as the battle wore on, the EABTs were slowly pushed back. However, the UNSC utilized more varied tactics. Darting raids using the full three dimensional nature of space through the debris field attacked the covenant forces, who mostly fought as if on a three dimensional plane. In this, the more advanced training of the EABTs proved effective, and for the first time in their short career, Tan Team fought alongside troops more skilled than them (at least in that particular field).

After an hour and a half of almost solid combat and rescue attempts, all the remaining survivors had been rescued. Under Tan Team’s direction, the UNSC forces evacuated. The battle between the capital ships was not going well, despite the success in rescuing the troops. Three UNSC ships had been destroyed, and the Admiral ordered a retreat as soon as the EVA force boarded the fleet. Hulls pock marked and scarred from plasma bursts, the humans made a hasty retreat, leaving behind a sole Covenant destroyer.

Not long after, the planet was thoroughly glassed by the Covenant. Two million civilians perished on the surface of the colony, as well as a major producer of fuels and resources. However, the efforts of the taskforce had allowed for a stunning 3 million civilians to evacuate the surface. Though the tactics employed were unconventional and would not be repeated, they were nonetheless credited with the escape of so many civilians from the Covenant. As analysts later reasoned, it would have likely taken a fleet of at least 25 to 40 ships to accomplish what the meager 5 had done, even if it had inadvertently resulted in the deaths of dozens of UNSC fighter pilots. Some even reasoned that the fleet would have likely gone on a sort of rampage after the battle, destroying an estimated 20 other colonies before it was projected that the UNSC could gather a force large enough to defeat the enemy. Tan Team’s first entry into naval tactics was both a stunning success and a dismal failure. While they would later give input into space battles, they would never do so as a whole team ever again.

Operation: WET FEET

After Operation: SLIPKNOT, Tan Team returned to Reach, as it had on it’s previous mission. Aboard the damaged fleet, they limped back to the system, but the damaged engines took them weeks to make the journey. By the time they arrived, December had come and gone, and several worlds had been attacked. As soon as the fleet made it home, they were redeployed before they had a chance even to debrief and regroup. Instead, they were immediately sent on their way, to relieve another colony under attack.

After only a day in the shipyards to restock on supplies and meet up with the rest of the force, three destroyers and a carrier, they were assigned to protect the planet of New Australia. The planet, made up almost entirely of water, functioned as a primary UNSC fuel refinery, using water in the oceans and refining it into hydrogen fuel for use in UNSC ground vehicles such as the M12 Light Reconnaissance Vehicle. Vital to the ground effort in the sector, it was not an objective that the USNC wanted to lose.

On route, Tan Team were briefed on their mission. The Covenant were attacking the planet in space, but were also assaulting the hydrogen generators on the ground. Planetary forces were outnumbered, but the fleet was carrying more than enough troops to successfully retake the planet. More worrisome was the major risk of collateral damage during the assault. UNSC troops were being forbidden air support and orbital bombardment, to prevent accidental damage to the generators. To further aggravate the ground situation, the destruction of the satellite network early during the siege had left the defenders without proper navigation--but more importantly, without proper recon.

When the fleet entered the system on January 9th, 2550, the scene was that of the hallmark of the Covenant War. Seven covenant ships had entered the system since the distress signal, and the battle was now a heated one. The taskforce that Tan Team arrived with was actually the second UNSC reinforcement group, but the help was needed greatly anyway. Though Connor and the others were now trying to avoid concerning themselves with the naval battle after their semi-disastrous foray into it earlier, the curious SPARTANs nevertheless observed the battle with great interest.

The fleet accelerated in a classic invasion drop maneuver. Normally, Tan Team would have been loaded into a Pelican dropship, but the lack of a major landmass of enough size to set up a conventional base prompted the UNSC forces into a less standard approach. Tan Team, along with the UNSC force of 50,000 Marines, were loaded into a UNSC waterbase. The waterbase was a prefabricated structure designed to be dropped directly into the ocean by Pods, much like the Firebase used during the Harvest campaign. Designed to be dropped directly into oceans and weather seas up to 50 feet, it was fully self contained and even contained a sealed atmosphere.

To deploy a significantly large force in the oceans of New Australia, six such waterbases were deployed. As the fleets above battled it out, the Pods descended through the atmosphere straight towards the ocean surrounding their first objective--an island chain known as Arika. Though they did not know it, they were quickly heading into a battle that would cover the entire surface of the planet--as well as the site of their first casualty.

The pods dropped the bases into position at 1800 hours. The automated structures quickly transitioned into a combat state, ready for combat operations. The UNSC forces wasted no time, deploying sentries, scouts, and preliminary forces to keep the location secure before he primary combat operations began at 0600 hours, the next day. Groups of marines were sent out via Pelican dropships, towards the last known locations and bases of the planet’s military contingent. The sentries deployed in a 15 mile perimeter around the waterbase cluster, and were equipped with SSM and SAM weapons, allowing of a force projection of 20 miles around the base. A Longsword squadron was put on alert, in case any forces managed to slip past the outer perimeter. Finally, scouts were deployed to begin recon on the first 30 generators around the area--find which were occupied by the Covenant, and which were still free.

Among the scouts was Tan Team. The three SPARTANs had the objective of scouting fifteen generators around the area, and were given only a rigid-inflatable raft and a M247 machine gun, mounted atop it. A tall order, even for the renowned SPARTANs of Tan Team. And sure to have more than one complication at the minimum. Connor was naturally apprehensive.

The assignment at first proved to be mostly routine. Their first 6 recons took only 3 hours, and they encountered no enemies. Their next 4 were similarity easy; even though small pockets of Covenant infested these positions, it was easy work slipping past the sparse, inattentive groups. However, as they pressed closer to the center of the island chain, things began getting more intense. The next two outposts took them an hour each and they encountered what they described as “entrenched positions of medium strength, troop garrisons of at least 800 infantry soldiers, and heavy weapons appearing to be capable of repelling light armored pieces, and possibly larger vehicles such as MBTs and artillery”.

With the assault time fast approaching and command asking for fresh intel, Tan Team continued on to the 14th of their 15 objectives. As they were on route however, Lucy used intel they had acquired, pieced it together with a map and the information gathered by other forces, and formed it into a single, coherent picture. What they found worried them. Of the 27 islands scouted, they noticed an alarming trend. The islands on the exterior of the chain contained little or no defenses, but as further and further to the center, the numbers grew more and more large, and the defenses more formidable. The conclusion was obvious: they were now fast approaching the nerve center of the Covenant forces in their area.

However, a few things were unclear. For one, Lucy was unable to pinpoint which of the three remaining islands was the actual command center. Though initially worried that they were heading directly toward the command center, they relented somewhat upon catching sight of the beachhead. Almost no defenders were occupying the coast, the most logical place to defend. Quietly inserting onto the island, they headed for Fuel Refinery Complex #1. The island they were on, Talik, was one of the largest in the chain--though this was not saying much. Smaller than most islands on earth, a space around twice as large as the cartographer installation on Installation 04, and most of the space was either covered in the all concrete refining stations or patches of tropical forests.

Still, unlike the smaller islands, there was plenty of room to hide. This made Tan Team especially wary as they moved into the interior of the island, navigating through the forest to reach the generator. They gave the facility a quick look before moving closer, making sure that there were no extra guards. They spotted none.

Moving quickly inside, they headed for the control center to certify it had not been sabotaged. Using stealth and secrecy of their SPI system, they successfully evaded the guards, of which, there were only a few. The lack of opposition baffled the SPARTANs, who set it aside in order to complete the mission. They still had a job to do.

However, as they logged into the facilities manifest, a simple error would end up costing them dearly. When hacking into the systems structure, Melissa, in an accident, unsuspectingly triggered an alarm within the base by rerouting the hydrogen tanks being stored on the site. As the alarm blared, the SPARTANs realized that their cover of secrecy had been blown. It was now time to escape.

Things started moving very rapidly after that.

Though Tan Team had not yet discovered them, a substantial Covenant force was present on the island. Though they had out ruled the island as the Covenant control center, it was exactly that, and host to hundreds of troops. Within moments, it was clear that the Covenant were onto them. Tan Team quickly decided to exfiltrate, but arriving Covenant stalled their plans. Six wraith tanks, a scarab, and hundreds of infantry swarmed the area around the beach, covering the beachhead, and their only extraction point, with a devastating amount of firepower.

With their only escape route cut off, they naturally attempted to reestablish it. Connor and Mellissa rushed to draw the attention of the Covenant, activating the generator facilities electronics, effectively sending out a flare of their location to the Covenant. Meanwhile, Lucy moved to the three massive hydrogen storage tanks to manually release the safety cutoff valves and prepare the tanks for detonation.

Ultimately, the Covenant moved too fast. Lucy was able to activate the fail-safes and start a countdown to detonation, but the covenant scrambled banshee fliers and pinned her down. As the Covenant forces rushed her position, she promised to slow them down. Connor’s last sight of her was through the barrel of his sniper scope as she drew M7 SMGs and engaged the onrushing infantry forces in a diversion. Then they evacuated.

Operation Wetfeet

Lucy reloads her M7s for one final stand

As Tan Team sprinted towards the beach, abandoning all notion of stealth, they watched helplessly through their visor uplink’s to Lucy’s suit as she fought her final battle against the Covenant. As the enemy armor arrived, she was cut down in a rain of plasma fire.

Then the hydrogen tanks detonated. The resulting explosion destroyed the entire facility, leveling the enemy armor and a significant amount of the infantry stationed there. The “boom” of the blast was heart reportedly for miles around, and supposedly caused slight trouble for other UNSC scouts as Covenant troops became more cautious. In the chaos, the Covenant troops did not notice the two surviving SPARTANs fleeing in their meager escape boat.

It was hours before the two of them arrived at the UNSC main camp. When they arrived, they found full preparation for the assault underway, but also found new developments in orbit. The UNSC forces had managed to push back the Covenant, and more ground troops were now being deployed. Individual battle groups were each being assigned island chains, and the restrictions on air support were being reduced. The battle, which had formerly promised to be a long and brutal affair, now suddenly became a lot shorter.

The assault began less than an hour later. Though Tan Team did not deploy, they watched helmet broadcasts of the liberating troops as they assaulted each Covenant position. Pelicans performed landings on the beaches and the infantry troops fought their way inland, clearing out the Covenant forces within only 4 hours. The quick assault speed was credited heavily to the excellent intel procured by Tan Team and the other scout units, but the praise only left the somber SPARTANs more bitter. Though they were no strangers to death, dealing with it constantly as part of their professional mandate, they nonetheless were deeply hurt by the loss of their lifelong comrade and friend.

On New Australia, something broke within Connor. He took Lucy’s death all the more painfully as squadron leader, but rather than isolate himself from Mellissa, a more common reaction, he actually grew more detached, showing worrying signs of over attachment. However, with the victory on the water world, his troubles were overlooked by a pleased ONI, who decided one Spartan’s life was worth the “easy” win. And so, the problems with Connor went unnoticed.

One week later, with mopping up operations complete, Tan Team was rotated off New Australia and sent back to Reach to await further orders. The two SPARTANs reportedly changed over the voyage, becoming, as the few naval personnel familiar with them recalled, “far more intense”. For better or worse, Connor and Mellissa now considered the war a personal affair between them, and the Covenant. This point of view would lead to an increasing independences in the SPARTAN unit, and ultimately, disaster.

Operation: WOLFHOUND

Tan Team arrived in the Epsilon Eridanus system in early march of 2550. They were given a one week leave, with a pass throughout the base, but with no social background, they were unsure what to do. However, their leave came to a quick and dismal end. Only two days into the awkward leave, the UNSC’s scouting station in the Arioas system picked up an increase in traffic around the system. Fearing a Covenant assault, Tan Team was deployed along with it’s fleet to the system.

En route, the UNSC’s fears were realized. A small covenant force entered the system on the edge and departed, leaving a menacing message behind. A computer virus took control of the planetary information net and transmitted a warning to everyone on the planet. Images of the planet being glassed accompanied a multitude of threats, and panic spread.

By the time the taskforce from Reach arrived, a full scale system wide evacuation was in affect. The Arioas system had three habitable planets, Arioas II, Arioas IV, and Arioas VII. Surrounding the seventh planet was an asteroid field. High solar activity disrupted communications and sensors somewhat, and the UNSC, knowing it would likely be facing a stronger force, picked a single area to make a stand.

When a Covenant fleet appeared on the edge of the system faced by the asteroid field, this was chosen as the strong point. In order to make use of their ground forces, the UNSC deployed heavy mobile artillery units to the asteroids, accompanied by EABTs, as well as Tan Team. The UNSC fleet’s battle plan was to use the fighters carried in the 4 carriers of the combined force to use darting attacks against the enemy. To support these fighters, refueling and rearming stations were also set up on the asteroids, to allow for more time in combat versus rearming.

On March 16th, the Covenant began their attack. A force of multiple destroyers, frigates, and two CCS-class cruisers moved to engage the UNSC forces hiding in the asteroid field. The tightly packed area was not a true asteroid field per say, as it was much denser and tightly packed, the remains of a small moon destroyed during secret UNSC weapons testing (a nuclear device that would later become the NOVA bomb was detonated inside the moon to determine effects).

The UNSC strategy worked well, and the Covenant force, with only a small fighter escort, was vulnerable to the Longsword bombers of the human fleet, which would lie in wait inside the field and spring traps on the Covenant. The Covenant, frustrated with it’s ineffective force, launched ground troops to the asteroids to the destroy the artillery, but more importantly, to eliminate the supply stations for the Longswords.

Tan Team was deployed to repel the Covenant forces. Rather than fight from a fixed defensive position like the EABT force, they were given more free rein in choosing targets and remained highly mobile. Over the course of three days of hard EVA fighting, they moved quickly through the field using vacuum hardened SPI and attempted to eliminate the Covenant as soon or before they were deployed from dropships.

Their efforts paid off. The Covenant were delayed significantly by the two terrorizing SPARTANs, and were unable to mount a single large, coordinated assault on either the artillery units or the supply yards.

The Covenant, unable to advance through the asteroid field, then retreated, regrouped, and attempted another attack. Looping around on the elliptical plane, the alien warships split into two groups. One, a larger force, sped for the planet on a course designed to avoid the asteroids. Another, two ships, one destroyer and one frigate, headed straight for the field in an attempt to hold the UNSC forces in place while the others glassed the planet and then outflanked the stationary enemy.

The UNSC was not about to let the planet fall. The majority of the battle group retreated from the field and moved to intercept the Covenant forces in an open battle. As the two forces maneuvered to reach each other however, the battle in the asteroid belt was still raging. A single destroyer had been left behind, along with the fighters, to defend against the smaller of the Covenant force.

The commander of the destroyer decided to face the enemy head on, rather than attempt to maneuver and buy time. In a short but intense battle, the conglomerate of the UNSC forces engaged the Covenant. The fighter escort and destroyer focused on the enemy destroyer first, but the majority of the fighters were destroyed in the all out battle. Meanwhile, the UNSC destroyer managed to break the shields of the enemy craft, but was damaged badly and was not able to finish the enemy with Archer missiles or MAC rounds. With the frigate and destroyer ready to execute the human craft, it plunged straight into the heart of the enemy force and detonated a Shiva nuke, along with it’s engines.

The blasts destroyed the destroyer and left the frigate badly damaged. It’s shield generator was disabled, but it was in no danger. With no heavy craft in the area, it had a clear shot towards the planet. It accelerated, speeding through the belt on a course for the world. The main UNSC group was in no position to intercept the craft. The Covenant forces had been defeated, but had managed to lead the UNSC ships halfway across the system. The battle group sped back to the system full speed, but it was clear that they would not be quick enough.

Tan Team saw this. Unwilling to let thousands die in the orbital bombardment the frigate would conduct in the time it took the UNSC ships to reach firing position, they set their own plan in motion. Gathering two platoons of EABTs, they calculated the incoming frigates trajectory, matched it’s speed, and boarded it. Landing on the outer hull, the EABTs and Tan Team departed. Tan Team burned its way inside the ship and boarded stealthily, while the EABTs moved to try and disable the exterior mounted plasma turrets.

While the EABTs were on their mission distracting the Covenant, Tan Team infiltrated the ship. Avoiding and slipping past the guards rather than killing them, they eventually located the bridge. Time was running short before the frigate reached firing position and began glassing the planet, and Tan Team, as they’d done in a similar circumstance more than a year earlier on a far different enemy, set charges and blew their way inside.

The speed and lethality of the attack allowed the two SPARTANs to eliminate the bridge crew before they could set the craft to self destruct. Sealing the doors on the bridge, they vented the atmosphere on every other area of the ship, asphyxiating the Covenant crew. Then, they moved the Covenant craft onto a new trajectory, the all clear signal to the EABTs. The UNSC fleet arrived half an hour later and was astounded by the ingenious maneuver. Victory had been achieved over Arioas VII, with the planet secure. Additionally, the Covenant had no idea that they were missing a cruiser, as no transmission had escaped. By all accounts, it was one of the most perfect victories of the war.

However, unknown to the humans, round two for the battle for the Arioas system was only hours away.

Operation: SHEEPSKIN

After the battle over Arioas VII, the UNSC turned it’s attention to securing the rest of the system. Arioas II and IV were woefully undefended, with only a handful of ships spread over the two planets. Fearing further Covenant attack on the system, they spread their ships evenly over the three planets.

Meanwhile, Tan Team was ordered to perform a thorough search of the ship to determine that no enemies were in hiding, so that a science team could come aboard and inspect the ship. Left in orbit of Arioas VII while the rest of the fleet dispersed, they dutifully went about their task, which was sure to take hours.

However, things quickly changed as another Covenant fleet appeared on the edge of the system, this time closer to Arioas IV. The UNSC fleet scrambled into position around the planet, but without a buffer zone like the asteroid field, their chances looked grim. However, in the rush to defend the planet, it appeared to Tan Team as if they had been forgotten.

The UNSC fleet gathered in orbit around the planet to meet the Covenant, preparing their MAC guns for a salvo attack. The covenant, likewise, prepared plasma torpedoes and pulse lasers to repel the humans and destroy them. As soon as the 13 human ships regrouped, they turned about to face the distant enemy and accelerated straight in. The stage was set.

The battle kicked off at 0735 Hours, forty five minutes after the Covenant had entered the system. The UNSC open fired at long range to get the most fire output, but many of the MAC shells missed badly. The Covenant forces, able to absorb the shells with their energy shields, held their fire for a closer shot.

The UNSC forces continued their charge, bearing down on the Covenant. Finally, at 300 kilometers, practically knife fight ranges, the Covenant released their plasma charges. The time delay proved both an advantage and a disadvantage. The intervening time period allowed the UNSC craft to recharge their MAC guns and release a volley, battering down and eliminating the Covenant shields. However, the Covenant plasma torpedoes had virtually no space for error at the close range. Point blank broadsides slammed into the UNSC fleet, destroying 7 ships, more than half the fleet, in only seconds.

The battle was now clearly in the Covenant’s favor. With all of their ships still intact (though lacking shields) and the human forces decimated, victory was a sure thing. Or would have been, if not for the efforts of the two SPARTANs aboard the captured craft.

When it became clear that the UNSC was going to perform a suicidal charge, Connor and Mellissa took matters into their own hands. They fired their engines and accelerated for the struggle, intent on aiding their comrades. Despite being halfway across the system, the hyper quick engines of the Covenant frigate allowed them to move at almost three times the sublight speed. They quickly closed the gap, and arrived shortly after the Covenant’s plasma launch.

The Covenant had initially ignored the stray frigate, assuming it was a damaged survivor of the original fleet, moving to aid them. However, as it closed, a routine scan revealed an alarming error--only two heat signs small enough to be living creatures were detected, and every bay, hallway, and deck was cold and void of atmosphere. Alarmed, the covenant attempted to establish contact with the frigate, but were unable to do so directly. After being rejected by the server by a supposed “error”, they hacked into the bridge monitoring system, and discovered the two SPARTAN pilots. They quickly targeted the ship.

When the target locks appeared, Tan Team realized they were in trouble. Bringing the shields online, they attempted to warm plasma, but realized with horror that they could not. Hours earlier, the EABTs had been too good--only two pulse laser turrets and seven point defense lasers were still intact, the rest sabotaged by the EVA soldiers as a failsafe in case Tan Team failed to pacify the frigate.

Tan Team’s rash action now left their earlier plan, infiltrate the Covenant line and attack them, completely useless. Thinking fast, Connor ordered Mellissa to overload the plasma core and prepare to detonate it. Meanwhile, he set a course directly for the center of the tightly packed standard Covenant line, while using the few weapons he had to distract the Covenant fleet from their true intentions.

Time quickly ran out for the two SPARTANs. Fully half of the fleet rotated and fired on the ship, but this action unknowingly saved the rest of the human fleet. The break in firepower allowed the survivors to escape, heading for the edge of the system. Unfortunately, it was not so helpful for Tan Team. Their frigate sustained massive damage, barely holding together. It’s course was even changed by the salvo, and it smashed straight into the cruiser leading the attack, burrowing it’s nose in the enemy ship.

Inside the bridge, Tan Team decided it was time to go. Grabbing their gear, they rushed to the hangar bay. Taking control of a dropship, they abandoned ship, as the Covenant prepared for another finishing salvo, with the fleet electing to destroy the captured vessel rather than chase the running humans. They surrounded the ship, packing in tight, each trying to block the shot of another craft to claim the kill as their own. This mistake ended up costing them dearly.

Tan Team had already escaped, and was heading for a rendezvous with the fleet. Before they came anywhere near it, however, their trap was sprung. Deep within the confines of their captured frigate, the plasma reactor exploded, creating a chain reaction. Detonations consumed the frigate, and quickly spread to the interlocked cruiser. A massive explosion of plasma consumed both ships and expanded outward, engulfing the Covenant fleet. Of the 10 Covenant ships, 2 survived. A devastating loss.

However, when Tan Team landed aboard the command carrier, they were surprised to learn that the fleet was pulling out. The remaining six ships, they learned, had been damaged far to heavily to have any hope of succeeding against the two remaining covenant ships, even if the enemy was damaged. Instead, the fleet was retreating back to the planet Sigma Octanus IV, were repairs would be conducted to cure the damage done during the battle. They would return as soon as they were space worthy, but until then, it was decided that the system would have to fend for itself.

Connor protested, even though his teammate Mellissa advised him not to. He angrily pointed out that the planet would be glassed long before they returned, and said they were abandoning the civilians in the system. He asked for permission to lead a space operation to destroy the enemy, but was denied permission. The Admiral gravelly accepted his first charges, but also pointed out that in a losing war, sacrifices had to be made. In response, Connor again asked for permission to lead a boarding action, but was rejected by the Admiral for a second time. His team, the Admiral said, was far too valuable to have their lives wasted on a suicide mission. Accepting defeat, Connor was put into cryo, as the ship and the battle group transitioned into slipspace, beginning the long voyage home.

Operation: PHILOSPHER

The damaged fleet moved slowly to allow the most damaged ships to keep up. The voyage to Sigma Octanus IV took over four weeks, a trip that would normally last days, at most. When the fleet arrived, more delays followed. Several intense battles in the Sector had left dozens of damaged ships in need of repair, and the massive repair station was overwhelmed by the bulk, despite it’s size. After two weeks, the crews finally were able to begin repairs on the ship, but the damage proved even more extensive than previously thought. Complete overhauls of all systems were needed on each ship, no mean feat. Repairs were projected to take at least 13 weeks.

In the end, the full overhaul lasted until only a week shy of five months after the date of the battle. So, five months past in the lives of Tan Team as they slept, bodies remaining neutral, not changing. Most of the crew was placed in cryo along with them, including the Admiral, though small groups were shuttled off at a time for shore side leave and visits with their families.

After the long wait, repairs were finished on August 9th, 2550. It was the longest combat repair job in history that did not involve extensive upgrades to the existing ship systems, and was a superb achievement. However, this was not the worry of Tan Team, for whom repair jobs were not much a concern. The escalating war with the Covenant was their worry.

Upon awakening, they were alarmed to hear that over their five months of slumber, the war had been intensifying. Larger fleets, more frequent and numerous attacks, as well as more destructive and vicious tactics were taking their toll on the human defenders. Previous estimates had projected decades before the war truly came to a head. New ones estimated only years.

As they learned of this, Connor and Mellissa began debating possible ways to take the fight to the Covenant, but they wisely kept their conversations private before it was presentable. Still, six days of R&R gave them plenty of think time, and they were nearing a complete idea when they were abruptly redeployed. The Aristotle system came under attack on August 16th, and the newly repaired taskforce was placed inside a group of 17 ships being assigned to defend it. The planets of Aristotle II and Aristotle I were centers of culture, and more importantly, home to some of the biggest OCS schools outside Sol or Epsilon Eridanus.

The fleet jumped immediately to help in relief efforts, and Tan Team was once again stuffed in the “freezer”. The wait was not long, however, and the fleet arrived in system on August 21st, 2550. What they found was a common site of the war: a planet under siege. Covenant capital ships were engaging the defending fleet, and focusing primarily on Aristotle II, ignoring the other planets in the system.

The UNSC fleet moved to support, and launched ground forces. Tan Team, aboard a Pelican dropship, were one of the first groups down. As the battle in space continued, their mission began.

Their first objective was to secure a landing site for the inbound UNSC fleet. Orbital recon had pinpointed a large plain large enough to support he pseudo city that was a fully operational UNSC base, but intelligence suggested that the Covenant had placed defensive measures near and around it. Working alongside ODSTs of the 105th, and aided by fighter support of the 112th, also serving in the battle, they landed and began securing the area.

Over the course of 6 hours, Tan Team led by example and eliminated 4 Covenant anti-air batteries and several dozen small sentry groups of Covenant. In addition, they provided fire control for air strikes launched by the 112th, 139th, 232nd, and 595th naval squadron, destroying concentrations of enemy armor and preventing a counterattack.

After the area was secured, pods carrying UNSC pre-fab bases dropped their cargo to the surface, and a complex set of defenses quickly was deployed. With a base of operations now established, it was time for more action.

The conventional marine forces were tasked with three objectives: secure the planetary capital and the 5 largest cities, pinpoint and strike the Covenant ground HQ, and of course, defend the base. However, there were several other objectives that were smaller, but none less vital.

Predictably, Tan Team was stuck with the first of these jobs. For their second objective, they were ordered to secure the largest of the three OCS academies on the planet. The school was filled with the next generation of UNSC officers, and with a diminishing fighting force, their extraction was critical. For the mission, they were teemed with a company of ODSTs from the 105th and the 112th, who would be operating in Pelicans instead of their normal fighter craft. Dedicated dropship pilots were requested by Connor, but all were already deployed to aid the conventional marines.

Rather than risk a direct insertion and draw attention to the academy, Tan Team and the ODSTs were flown to six kilometers from the academy and marched the remaining distance. Though slower, it was considered more prudent--anything unusual could attract the Covenant, and stealth was critical for the success of the first part of the mission. They moved on foot to their objective, reaching it 2 hours after landing. Once there, they were surprised and alarmed to find it apparently deserted. However, this nervousness quickly turned to relief when they were nearly ambushed by the OCS students, who had taken their duty to heart and were well armed and ready to defend themselves. After a brief council of war, they determined that a direct escape from the college via Pelicans was too risky.

The students had been observing Covenant movements, and had determined the rough location of a Banshee squadron base. However, Tan Team did not want to risk marching the poorly armored and untrained students through the jungle to reach a safer extraction point. In the end, they decided to extract from the OCS facility, but Tan Team would move out and destroy the Banshee squadron base before the Pelicans came in. Connor insisted that him and Mellissa go alone. The ODST company was put on defense duty, in case the Covenant mounted an attack before Tan Team was able to destroy the banshees.

At 0450 on August 2nd, 2550, Tan Team left the campus and headed for the base. Along the way, Mellissa questioned Connor on how the two of them would be able to destroy an entire base worth of banshees, along with the support personnel and guards. Connor seemingly ignored her. He already had a plan.

Operation Philosopher

An attack on enemy air assets

Him and Mellissa snuck into the base using stealth, and determined the location of the hangar. Then, Connor revealed his plan. They both snuck into the hangar, and hijacked a pair of Banshee fighters. Connor and Mellissa open fired at the base, destroying the banshees, and strafed the barracks and killed most of the support personnel in an ambush. The two SPARTANs then performed a visual sweep of the base to confirm there were no surviving aircraft, and signaled the 112th to begin evacuation of the OCS candidates.

The twelve Pelicans landed and were able to extract all candidates in a single run, by making use of the enlarged troop bay in place of the ability to tow vehicles. The 105th was ordered by the commanders of the unit to move by ground and rendezvous with ground transport, while Tan Team made use of their hijacked fliers to return to base. The OCS candidates were meanwhile flown to a waiting cargo ship in orbit, and evacuated to Reach.

Tan Team returned to base and was deployed almost immediately. Over the course of the next day, they secured the remaining two academies with the help of the 112th and numerous individual units. The other two were extracted directly without any complications, and the ground battle was marked by further success as marines successfully repelled a covenant attack on the HQ, then counterattacked with a separate force and destroyed the enemy base.

However, the space battle, as always, was a very different story than the happenings on the ground. The UNSC fleet determined after several days of hard fighting that the planet was no longer feasible to defend, and that position should be abandoned in favor of a new defensive grid around Aristotle I, which had the added defenses of three ground based MACs as well as a single ODP. Though only 65% of the population had been evacuated, it was deemed sufficient by the brass. They’d done all they could. Preparations were made for a retreat to Aristotle I on August 25th at 0800 Hours.

On the ground, the notice given by the admirals was greeted, as always, with disappointment. General Martin was outraged that the space commanders would abandon so many civilians to death by glassing, but knew that the ground forces were doomed if they did not leave when the ship drivers did. Still, he decided to save as many civilians as he could in the 2 days he had left, even as he withdrew more and more of his forces.

Within only hours of the announcement, Martin launched Operation: PHILOSOPHER. Though the peaceful name was picked by a randomized command protocol, it’s intentions were anything but serene. PHILOSOPHER called for all UNSC forces on the planet to secure the cities, conduct immediate and rapid evacuation of the civilians, and destroy any covenant troops or bases that posed a threat to said evacuation. It promised to cause heavy casualties on both sides, but Martin felt that anything was better than abandoning the innocents there to die.

Tan Team’s role in PHILOSOPHER was to destroy bases that were regarded as a threat to the evacuation. Martin, seeing the streak of independence in the small team as a good motivator, insured that they were supplied with 10 HAVOK tactical nukes and 15 Fury TacNukes, and told them to eliminate anything they saw fit, as long as the blast zone did not include anything within the evacuation area. Using their stolen Banshees for mobility, they gladly followed the orders of the General.

Over the course of the 2 days before evacuation, the SPARTANs left a path of destruction in their wake. Fourteen covenant bases, 7 large troop garrisons and gathering points, and even three atmospheric landers and a light picket were destroyed as the two man wrecking machine carved it’s way around the evacuation zones. Though HIGHCOMM would severely penalize Martin for his “waste” of so many nuclear weapons, he privately thanked the SPARTANs for their effort after the last Fury had been dropped.

Still, the battle was not be decided on the ground, and on the appointed date, at the appointed time, all UNSC forces across the planet retreated from battle and back to the fleet. The fleet then retreated to Aristotle I to lick it’s wounds and watch as the Covenant glassed Aristotle II. Blood ran hot in the short voyage, as anger erupted over what many called a disastrous betrayal of the people on Aristotle II. Still, Martin’s spur of the moment operation had had the desired effect. Rather than only 65% evacuated, PHILOSOPHER had brought the number up to just under 90%.

What no one in the taskforce knew, however, was that though the war had largely left Aristotle II, the battles there were far from over.

Operation: LIFERAFT

The evacuation of Aristotle II and transfer of personnel and ships to Aristotle I was done with blinding speed. The brass estimated a maximum of 3 hours to get into position before the Covenant would finish glassing the planet and attack, and their orders were to have the entire fleet ready and in position within 2. This went unnoticed by Tan Team, however, who were stationed in the hangar of the ship, with no task assigned. They had access to scanner readouts and tactical displays that were available to all personnel, but were not privy to the machinations of the leadership of the fleet.

However, even without a crew of analysts and sensor specialist, they still came to the same conclusion that the admiral had come too after some time observing their view screen. By all appearances, the Covenant were glassing in the standard method and the UNSC fleet would be reengaged within 5 hours.

So, the Admiralty was not the only ones surprised when the Covenant abruptly ceased their bombardment with thirty percent of the surface still unscathed.

At first, the humans thought the Covenant was simply allowing their plasma supply to recharge, and that bombardment would soon recommence. But when fully half of the Covenant fleet descended into the atmosphere and launched ground troops, they knew then that something was up.

The admiral’s cryptologists reported that the Covenant chatter was heavily encoded, and passed it on to the encryption team. The process of breaking the cipher took hours. Still, the Covenant continued their operations throughout the process, and did not continue glassing. Wild theories spread across the ship like wildfire. Some said that the Covenant were stealing the materials and resources of the planet to power their ship. Others said there had been a mutiny. None of these were correct.

Several hours passed before the true purpose came to light. After 7 hours of hard work, the cipher team broke the covenant encryption. Finally, 9 hours after the Covenant had abruptly stopped their glassing, the Admiral knew why. And it frightened him to the core.

Translations from the Covenant chatter revealed that they were searching for “unclean infidels” in the possession of “a library of tainted stars.” The meaning was immediately clear to the Admiral: there were human survivors on the planet, carrying a NAV database, and the Covenant were hunting for them. The nightmare situation had arisen.

The Admiral did not know how or why the survivors had kept the database, nor did he have any idea of their origins or even their location, but was determined to secure the vital collection of data nonetheless. However, he struggled with how to find and secure the people on the ground. The conventional marines had already begun deploying to Aristotle II and were in the process of setting up defensive positions, and withdrawing them now would be pricy in time, effort, and material. In addition, the large force would likely have just as much success in finding the humans in hiding as the Covenant were having, only they would sustain massive casualties from orbital bombardment. Standard troops, it was decided, were not worth the effort.

What then? ODSTs were a possibility, but the Helljumpers were in short supply, and like the marines, already deploying to the surface. That left only one real option: Tan Team. The Admiral summoned them to the bridge and personally briefed them on their mission. Despite the high danger, the admiral asks for volunteers, and two SPARTANs do so. Their only support available was the fleet’s combat support prowler, the Relentless, and three Pelican dropships, which were put on standby. Their orders were short and sweet: find a way onto the planet’s surface, extract the survivors, and get them the hell out of dodge.

Connor and Mellissa, no stranger to operations behind enemy lines or rescue missions, having performed both, drew up a combat plan on the long voyage to Aristotle II. Despite the ship only having to travel through the system and not have to make a jump, it took several days, as the commander of the Prowler struggled to stay dark and maintain speed. The stealth ship arrived on August 27th, 2550, and immediately deployed Connor and Mellissa to the surface by HEV, along with two mongoose ATVs.

The Covenant were concentrating their search efforts in the northwestern hemisphere, and Tan Team deployed there, as it was the only unglassed area. However, on a continental scale, the aliens were prodding only the north area in force, which Connor believed to be a mistake. After carefully examining maps of the area, he decided that the caves of the southwest mountains were the most likely spot survivors would hide in. Him and Mellissa set off on their mongoose cycles and headed west.

It took them three days of travel to reach the mountains. Along the way, they passed abandoned cities and at several times spotted, but did not engage, Covenant patrols. After reaching the mountains, they search for another four days before they caught sign of any survivors. At the end of their first week on the ground, they discovered the remains of a campsite that had apparently been vacated in a hurry. More importantly, it was only three days old. Too recent to have been made before the attack.

Operation Liferaft

Hunting for the NAV data in the mountains

However, as Tan Team grew warmer, so did the Covenant. Realizing that the humans were more likely to flee to the wilderness, they stopped their search of the northern cities and began sweeping south. Tan Team knew that had only days before they would have to contend with Covenant patrols and air raids. Furthermore, if they did not find the survivors and their nav database before the Covenant reached the mountains, it was likely that the hordes of Covenant troops would scour the landscape and find the survivors before Tan Team. The mission took on new urgency.

Connor and Mellissa decided to separate, to cover more ground. Normally hesitant to be outside of support range on missions, especially missions in hostile territory, the circumstances demanded it. Each agreeing on a mutual rendezvous point for the next day, and the day after it should the first be compromised, the bade farewell and headed off.

Disaster and good fortune both struck. While searching, Connor made contact with another Covenant patrol, but this time, failed to avoid them. Trapped in a cave with no way out, he engaged the enemy before they discovered him, and eliminated the entire patrol in an ambush. The fighting, however, was heard for several miles around. Covenant troops set off in the direction of the noise almost immediately.

However, it also drew the attention of Connor’s objective: the survivors. Hearing the gunfire, they cautiously approached the SPARTAN, and made contact. Surprised that the fleet had come looking for them, they were worse for wear after the days in the wilderness without proper supplies.

In their brief meeting, the eight remaining survivors explained they were technicians inside a top secret research base located deep within a mountain of the planet. Though they refused to explain the purpose of this facility, they did explain why they had NAV data in their possession and why it had not been destroyed.

When the Covenant struck, they explained, pre-established protocols went into effect. As personnel save a skeleton crew were evacuated and dispersed, and all AIs and computer records were deleted and scoured clean as per the Cole Protocol, save the central database. Protocol was explicitly clear that the destruction of the research program was not to be destroyed under any circumstance unless in extremely grave danger of being captured. The information was considered super-vital to the war effort. Notes on the developing NOVA project, early research into the Mark V. Mjolnir energy shields system, early forays into plasma weaponry (later refined into the Mythos Mobile Artillery), complete records of all known Covenant planets for use in possible offensive operations, and numerous other vital bits of information was held. Guidelines stated to selectively delete the NAV database and other less vital but potentially damaging records, then transfer the remaining records to a computer crystal and evacuate it at greatest haste.

Unfortunately, the selective deletion was a time consuming process, and no self-operating program had been designed to delete the files, prompting human entry to be required. But this was only half of the multiplicity of factors contributed to the intact database. The station, not hooked up to the UNSC fleet but rather to the civilian networks, was unaware of the attacks until several hours after the battle had begun. In addition, the Covenant discovered the facility using thermal scans soon after the notice was given, and the base’s atmospheric scanners detected Covenant dropships moving to attack them. Unable to delete everything that needed destruction, but with vital information, the technicians copied all of the files from the computer mainframe into a portable storage unit, including the NAV data, and set off into the mountains in an attempt to evade the Covenant long enough for help to arrive.

The Covenant troops landed and entered the facility, killing the few guards brave enough to stay behind in a short struggle. Their own technicians scoured the computers in hopes of some information, but did not find anything. However, with records indicating a transfer to a mobile storage unit, they knew the information was likely still out there, being carried by fleeing humans in a primitive attempt to escape the might of the Holy Covenant. This knowledge, along with (incorrect) reports of human light military vehicles fleeing northward, was what prompted the Covenant’s extensive search days later.

The survivors revealed 14 had originally survived, but 6 had been killed during the weeks in the wild. Without proper equipment, they’d been prey for the weather and for numerous predators. Then, after the Covenant had decided to re-scout the area around the base, reevaluating the combat reports and declaring them unworthy, they’d had to contend with Covenant patrols and flee from the Covenant as the aliens hunted them. They’d managed to survivor only by staying secretive and moving around constantly, avoiding the enemy with more tactical sense than many UNSC marines showed.

Now however, with the weapons fire, their cover had been blown. They initially were very angry at their savior, criticizing his actions before he revealed that he was part of a group sent to extract them. Uneager to stir things up with their ride off the planet, they warily accepted his lead.

Connor then contacted Mellissa on an encrypted radio, using communication systems for the first time since landing for the scouting mission. He apprised her of the situation and asked for her to buy time. She gladly accepted.

Connor and the survivors made their way through the mountains to the pre-set extraction point, signaling for immediate pickup. At the same time, Mellissa launched a surprise attack on a Covenant patrol base, killing several defenders before slipping away on her mongoose. The action, which occurred in a much separate area from the first gunfire, drew the Covenant search parties away. The SPARTANS regrouped 8km from the extraction point, ditched the badly damaged Mongoose, and continued on foot.

In orbit, the three stealth coated Pelicans exited the Prowler and headed for the surface. Unfortunately, the orbital burn was impossible to conceal, and the Prowler, fearing that it would not be able to reestablish stealth, went bright, readying it’s few weapons for a hot pursuit. The Covenant fleet, just eclipsed by the orbital line, fired thrusters to flank speed and moved to engage the human ship. Their ETA was only 12 minutes.

Fortunately, it took less time than that to extract the survivors. As the Pelican descended, it received the landing beacon from Connor and Mellissa and hurried to extract them. They, along with the survivors, and the research data, were picked up a little over 6 minutes after the Covenant began their thruster burn, and returned to the ship. It promised to be a close one.

Slight complications on the flight up kept the time under nominal. It took the Pelican 5 minutes to reach the Prowler, and by that time, it was too late. The Prowler warmed it’s engines for escape, but the Covenant fleet closed too quickly and were soon hot on the tail of the escaping ship.

The captain of the stealth ship ordered full speed on an out system vector, hoping to survive long enough to enter slipspace and escape. Connor and Mellissa, upon arriving on the bridge, convinced him that this would be unsuccessful, as the faster Covenant ships would gain on them, cover their approach, follow them, and then ultimately destroy them when the reactors drained to no energy and the Prowler forcibly exited slipspace. Connor proposed a dangerous but more elegant solution, with typical SPARTAN bravado: trick the Covenant.

The flustered Captain agreed to the plan. Continuing on the out system vector, the Prowler warmed it’s slipspace drive, thought the crew was doing anything but prepare for a jump. The Covenant forces, detecting the rise in power to the slipspace matrixes, engaged their own drives, readying for pursuit of the human vessel and the NAV data they correctly assumed it still carried. They also heated weapons, but did not fire, wishing to board the ship and obtain the information.

As the Prowler reached the edge of the system, it engaged the slipspace drive, and a tear in the fabric of space was ripped open with brute force by the marvel of 22nd century engineering. The ship increased speed, and entered the slipspace rift--and immediately went dark and disengaged the capacitors, yanking the ship out of slipspace. The Covenant scan technicians, still searching for the active energy silhouette that had been the Prowler only moments ago and detecting no such craft, concluded that it had indeed jumped. The Covenant fleet tracked the outbound trajectory and launched in pursuit.

The stunned crew of the frigate wasted little time. Afraid of lingering, they reoriented and fired their own thrusters on full, heading for Aristotle I and the relative safety of friendly forces. The farce had succeeded with eerie effectiveness. The Covenant fleet had left, the Prowler was safe, and as a bonus, the system had been spared. For how long, was anyone’s guess.

Operation: PHILOSPHER II

The Prowler arrived at the UNSC battle group on September 5th, 2550. The fleet, which had observed the operation with long range scanners with anxiety, fear, and finally exhilaration, were somewhat awed at what was considered blatant stupidity on the Covenants part. In truth, it was the mistake of only a few of the alien enemies, but the humans did not care nor would they ever learn of such details. They now had an opportunity unlike any previously given in the war.

They did their best to make the most of it.

The first priority was the transfer of the technicians, their NAV data, and their top-secret research to a light corvette attached to the fleet, and their immediate return to Reach. The second priority was the assessment of the portions of Aristotle II that had survived glassing. Half of the fleet was dispatched to scout the planet, but were saddened to find that though the small area had escaped orbital bombardment, the Covenant had invaded and occupied most of the surviving cities…murdering any poor souls unfortunate enough to have not evacuated. The fleet, after extensive searching and finding scant survivors, was ordered to abandon the planet and return to their defensive grid around Aristotle I.

After this brief stint outside the system, the UNSC remained solidly locked inside the position. They quickly spread into groups of 3 or 4 ships to cover the entire surface, and urgently requested reinforcements, fearing that the Covenant would soon return, and that their force, weakened from the earlier battle, would not stand a chance. FLEETCOMM reviewed the request and responded that further forces would be sent as soon as definitive proof of a second Covenant incursion, but for the time being that they would have to hold the line by themselves. The UNSC fleet was simply too overtaxed to waste ships defending a planet that was not under current attack.

So, the humans “dug in”, conducted repairs to their ships as best they could without a full refit station, began evacuation efforts to get all civilians off the planet, and settled in to wait for the enemy.

However, strangely, their enemy did not readily appear. After over two months of waiting around the planet, and with all civilians evacuated from the surface, the enemy had still not come. On November 8th, the UNSC fleet issued a query to FLEETCOMM on whether they should abandon the system, but the brass was so puzzled by the lack of Covenant action that they actually ordered the fleet to remain in place, in hopes that some clue would be gained as to the delay once the Covenant returned to the system.

In truth, the delay was not by design. After launching into slipspace, the Covenant ships, not detecting an enemy craft, but refusing to believe they’d been duped, assumed that the craft, known to be a stealth frigate, had simply gone dark. So, they continued on their voyage for 3 and a half weeks, hoping to find a trace of the humans. Finally, after 24 days of meaningless travel, they acknowledged that they had been fooled and exited slipspace so that they could reorient and continue their attack--

--and stumbled straight into a rebel outpost by remote chance. The Covenant fleet, by blind luck, exited slipspace on the fringe of human space, and detected a human made station, floating in interstellar space, leaking heat, radiation, radar signals, and movement. Obviously not abandoned--and an easy target. The Covenant fleet, still angry at being made for fools by the humans, took out their anger on the stationary target. They destroyed the unsuspecting rebel station with plasma fire, but precious energy and time had been wasted. It was two hours before they could begin their return trip.

This time, the voyage took more time due to the “eddies” and “currents” of the ever changing slipspace realm. The Covenant fleet, stalled, did not arrive until November 16th, 2550.

The UNSC fleet was somewhat shocked by the reappearance of the Covenant fleet, but the bored troops now had an objective to destroy. However, upon reviewing the situation, the UNSC commanders realized they had a uniquely advantageous tactical opportunity on their hands. The planet, now completely evacuated, did not need to be so vitally protected. UNSC forces could use it as a lure, to draw the covenant ground force in for orbital bombardment, or a shield, to hide hit and run forces for an extended guerrilla campaign.

In the end, both ideas were used. At 1718 Hours on November 16th, as the Covenant fleet drew near to firing range, the UNSC fleet began Operation: PHILOSOPHER II, after the earlier mission that had been so successful. If anything, the name, and the events perpetrated by Tan Team during it‘s precursor, should have been a clue to it‘s intentions.

Rather than engage directly, the UNSC fleet maneuvered at the enemy fleet but accelerated parallel to it, passing it and allowing for MAC fire followed by broadsides but quickly passing out of enemy range. The Covenant forces, annoyed at the UNSC’s maneuver, decided to punish the humans by glassing the planet. They charged plasma batteries and moved at flank speed towards the planet.

This, however, was exactly what the UNSC forces had desired. They had placed a nuclear minefield around the planet, interlocking SHIVA, HAVOK, FURY, and HORNET devices in order to obtain a larger blast and more damage. Too ensure that the Covenant forces did not catch wind of the plot and believed that the UNSC had genuinely made a tactical error, the human fleet reversed course, heading back into the system as if to hopelessly defend their planet.

By the time the Covenant forces scanned the planet for habitation for a good target area and realized it had been evacuated, it was too late. The nuclear minefield detonated and the Covenant force sustained light casualties but heavy damage. This was exactly what the UNSC intended: draw Covenant resources while losing minimal forces. The UNSC ships scattered into their three or four strong battle groups, fleeing to corners of the planet. The Covenant fleet split up as well and began individual chases across the system.

Over the next two weeks, one of the more novel naval battles of the war was fought. The UNSC ships maintained almost constant mobility, running from the Covenant and evading them, before pausing for brief, lopsided engagements against single vessels that had been isolated, before returning to their evasion. Against a normal fleet, the tactics would not have been possible; the faster Covenant ships would have run them down, boxed them in, and destroyed each group individually, in short order. Against the heavily damaged and somewhat weary Covenant force, however, it worked perfectly. The fleet continued their operation well on into December, gradually building up a fully coherent battle plan.

The UNSC ships were mandated to withdraw once damaged to much to be effective, in an attempt to keep all ships from fatal destruction. Meanwhile, they would destroy as many Covenant craft as possible. In addition, EVA missions and raids conducted by EABTs and Tan Team were used to buy time when needed, and the EABTs accepted the high casualties in their unit as the price of inflicting so much pain on the Covenant.

The strategy could only be kept up for so long. In the end, as in all wars, the force was only as good as the men fighting in it, and they began to wear down. Constant stress, little sleep, and intense combat gradually overcame the fleet. Finally, on December 26th, after more than a month of fighting, the naval forces conducted their final jump out of system, finally abandoning the planets they had fought so hard to defend. Though deemed a “loss” because of the destruction of both planets, many considered it a brilliant example of UNSC forces using initiative, superior tactics, and the environment to gain an edge on the more numerous and advanced enemy. It was sufficiently well regarded that even the esteemed Commander Jacob Keyes lectured several times on it during his time at the OCS academy--ironic, considering the OCS facilities that had been fought over during the battle.

During the final battle, Tan Team spent most of their time in the belly of numerous warships, and had plenty of time to think. They saw the success of the battle as due to the changed tactics of the UNSC forces, and decided themselves that an operation was needed that would incorporate a way of thinking about the war. Recalling the ideas that had been spawned and cut off during the voyage to the Aristotle system, some 5 months earlier, they refined the ideas that had been forgotten during the heat of combat and decided to arrange a meeting with the brass once back on Reach, and attempt to gain support for their mission. So, as the fleet retreated and Tan Team was placed in cryo as per procedure, they had powerful ambitions for the months ahead.

Operation: OFFENSIVE MEASURE

The fleet arrived in the Reach system on January 13th, 2551. Christmas and the new year had gone uncelebrated by the crew in cryo, but Tan Team had big plans for the year. Upon the fleet’s return, all personnel were given a shore leave to recover from the months combat, including Tan Team. However, they had no intention of relaxing. Waiting only long enough to write up a report on their plan, create a name, and rehearse, they requested a meeting with none other than Lord Hood himself, bypassing their normal commander, Admiral Rich.

The legendary officer was not their regional commander, but was chosen for two reasons. The first was his rank. He had both the authority to establish new operations and the power to override any orders given by their commander, including orders to not participate in their mission. Second, Lord Hood was known for his deep respect for SPARTANs and his occasional wild side on the operations end. They regarded him as the only officer in the fleet that had the guts to approve the mission and the power to back it up.

The urgent schedule of the Admiral was nonetheless rearranged for the meeting with the two SPARTANs. Though their existence was heavily classified, their legend had been slowly permeating it’s way through the ranks of the officers high enough to know of them. The reason for the meeting “to discuss and establish new operational ideas” intrigued Hood. Ideas from the two man team were bound to be good, considering their record for outlandish but effective solutions.

After the initial pleasantries, Tan Team went straight to work explaining their idea. Giving Hood a report they had written, they began to talk about their plan. At it’s core, it was deceptively simple: strike back at the Covenant. However, there were several finer details. Their idea was based on joint front. One front, a special forces group, would employ hit and run tactics and harass the enemy by sending special forces to eliminate small but highly valuable targets, in raids that would be finished before the enemy could arrive. Tan Team had even taken the liberty of hacking into the UNSC’s database of Covenant systems, and had compiled a list of targets that they viewed as “opportune”.

The second front was more conventional. It called for a fleet of warships to attack other, more heavily defended targets, which also had a correspondingly higher value. A few requirements were needed for candidacy to this attack fleet. For one, all the ships had to have prior combat experience and have survived no less than 2 battles. Two, as a nod to Admiral Hood, all ships had to have crews who could be trusted with the classified nature of the operation.

After speaking on their plan, Tan Team withdrew so that Hood could make his decision. Once alone in his quarters, Hood had a tough choice. He had decided almost immediately that he would approve and support at least one of the two fronts, but which? The UNSC did not have enough resources to be able to field both groups. So it came to a choice: the special forces, or the fleet?

From a promoting point of view, the choice was obvious. Any Navy mission of the type would immediately enhance the image of the branch and, as a consequence, probably deliver new and badly needed funds to the fleet. But the fleet was also needed elsewhere, and sidetracking a full battle group would reveal the operation overnight. Hood knew that the second requirement would not be needed. The information would leak from outside the group long before the inside. Battle groups did not just disappear without question.

The Special forces front however, was manageable. A prowler and company of ODSTs could be hidden. Though Hood knew it would not build his fleet, he recognized it as a much more practical solution. After several minutes of contemplation, he summoned Tan Team back in and gave them his decision.

Tan Team was ecstatic, and over the next three hours, began a skull session, planning alongside Hood himself. The two SPARTANs and the Admiral created a timetable for their deployment, and then selected the first mission. It was determined that the raids would start small and build to a crescendo. In addition, it was decided that Tan Team would be given authority for three missions before being mandated to return to UNSC space to evaluate the effectiveness, and that the later two would be planned just between them. They had taken their first step into the larger world of strategy. And when Tan Team left Hood’s office, the first operation was approved, planned, dated, and named. Operation: OFFENSIVE MEASURES was a go.

Now, with approval from the Admiral, it was time to gather resources. Hood gave them access to a database of units that were available, as well as recommendations for which units. Reviewing the dozens of ships and soldiers, they built up a list of probable choices, then eliminated the unsuitable units one by one. In the end, Tan Team, fulfilling their unexpected role, decided on the Prowler Midnight Shadow, commanded by Captain Donald Marloe, as their transport, the 16th Combat Company of the 105th as their ground support, and the infamous 112th Naval Squadron as their air support. Four Pelicans, four Longswords, two Shortswords, and two boarding craft. The 12 craft strained the Prowler’s meager hangar bay, but the craft removed most of it’s small ship borne weapons to act as a sort of Prowler/Carrier.

It took five days after submitting their unit requests for the Admiral to approve them and transfer the units to the Prowler. It took another nine days to retrofit the Prowler for it’s mission and increased complement, but by January 29th, 2551, they went underway. They exited the Eridanus System on a vector heading straight towards the coordinates provided in the intel reports, and on the way, Tan Team, under the guidance of the Captain Marloe, who had served aboard several combat ships before his Prowler, began drafting up a combat plan for their first objective: codename OCTOBER ZULU.

The Prowler arrived at the objective, a point in interstellar space, but more importantly, a crossroad in the Covenant supply chain. Convoys routinely exited slipspace and reoriented at the spot, so that they could jump into human space. It was the perfect spot for the first phase of Operation: OFFESNIVE MEASURE; a small, low priority convoy that would be the initial test for the team, before they embarked on more serious maneuvers.

From the time the Prowler arrived in the system, February 12th, the stealth ship stayed covert and observed Covenant movement through the system, building a profile for the standard Covenant shipment. They determined the average point of entry and exit, and the most commonly used course transitioning from the two. Tan Team refined their battle plan for the circumstances, and on February 17th, they began deployment. Careful to remain stealth, they moved to the most used route, and place a hornet minefield along it’s length. Then, they moved to just outside the blast radius, and went to full battle alert. ODSTs and Tan Team prepared for boarding action, and the Longsword squadron prepared for an intercept mission. They quietly waited for the next convoy.

It appeared on February 18th, at 0600 Hours. Thankfully, the ships chose the average course, on a straight path for the minefield. At 1612 Hours, the convoy, traveling in a line formation, entered the optimal radius of the nukes.

The convoy, referenced as CS-439 for formal reports, consisted off ten large Covenant supply ships, four medium sized troop transports, two patrol pickets, and a single Frigate. The 16 smaller ships did not have military grade shields, and, not designed for combat, did not have any chance of standing up to the nuclear weapons. The nuclear minefield’s intense energy immediately destroyed the patrol pickets, troop transports, and eight of the ten supply ship. The remaining two supply ships, through sheer luck, survived the blast but were so thoroughly damaged that 90% of the internal decks vented atmosphere and all of the crew was killed. Only the frigate, with it’s military grade shields, survived the blast, and even then it was severely crippled--caught inside the radius of 4 separate mines, its engines, shields, and weapons were destroyed.

The battle plan had anticipated that the military escort might survive, and called for continued stealth and an immediate retreat should the ship still be in fighting shape. Since the ship was crippled however, they decided to go loud.

The frigate’s small hangar bay was intact, and it launched it’s complement of Spirit dropships to inspect damage to the ship. The 4 Longsword fighters in the Midnight Shadow‘s launched and destroyed the Sprits, and soon after, Tan Team and the 16th launched for the frigate in boarding craft. Though under normal circumstances, they would have attempted to capture the ship, their intention of a guerrilla operation did not allow for taking and holding an alien ship. Their objective was far more simple: get to the bridge, download whatever NAV data possible, while another team moved to the reactor, and set it to explode.

Connor and Mellissa decided to split up in order ensure a greater probability of success. Connor would lead the attack on the bridge, taking 36 ODSTs along with him, and Mellissa would attack the reactor along with another 36. After both objectives had been completed, the boarding team would make their escape.

Connor’s team boarded by burning into the hull of the Covenant ship and headed immediately to the bridge. Resistance was stiff, but the group moved quickly and used side corridors and alternate routes to avoid as many engagements as possible. The combat veteran ODSTs even managed to keep pace with Connor, and at 1630 Hours, the team had reached the bridge.

After a short but intense battle to take it resulting in 7 ODST casualties, the team secured the entrances to the chamber and began going to work sifting through the Covenant database. They had just found the navigational database and begun downloading when they received an urgent transmission from Mellissa’s team requesting an immediate evacuation.

Mellissa’s team had employed similar tactics as Connor’s and had reached the reactor core quickly. They’d then disengaged the magnetic latches holding the plasma in place, but inadvertently caused the first major problem of the operation. The reactor, they learned quickly as it began a premature meltdown, had been damaged more than thought during the detonation of the nukes. The result: an early detonation, within no more than 6 minutes. The consequence: time to go.

Connor’s team was forced to leave with downloads of only a half dozen systems, and raced back to their boarding craft. They disengaged from the ship at full speed once all 30 troops were aboard, and fled to a safe distance. Moments after fleeing, the Covenant ships’ reactor went critical, and it detonated with sufficient force to tear the craft in half.

Despite the lack of success in securing the NAV database, the crew was exhilarated by their other successes. They had just performed one of the very first attacks on a Covenant supply base, and many noted their want to remain in place and observe the Covenant’s reaction, including Connor. The Captain Marloe, showing some sense, immediately left the system and transitioned into slipspace towards their next target, this one even deeper in enemy territory.

Operation: OFFENSIVE MEASURE II

The Midnight Shadow, for fear of attracting too much attention, stayed in slipspace, traveling in a loop around their next target while killing time. Though they were eager to continue their war in the heart of the enemy, the Captain was worried about Covenant troops going on higher alert after the ambush, and decided to wait several months, allowing time for the enemy to grow more at ease. Connor fought against this decision on the basis that, while they were looping indecisively around a covenant planet, human worlds were being destroyed. Connor was overruled by the Captain, granting him a sort of wake up call. He realized after the rebuke that he’d let the success of his operation go to his head.

On June 1st, 2551, the Captain Marloe decided that time enough had passed, and that a next operation should begin. They finally stopped their endless looping, going dark upon entering the system and heading in system at sublight speed. Their target was a Covenant Station known as Enlighten Through Might, which hovered in place on the gas giant of Deep Spirit. The facility was a weapons research and testing base, and the UNSC had decided that it was a perfect target.

The first step to the mission, as with any mission, was reconnaissance. For sixteen days, the Prowler slowly made its way around the system, gathering as much information as they could on the base from orbit. However, more important was the information they gathered on the orbital defenses. They found that the planet was protected by an energy shield, but since it was not engaged, Captain Marloe decided that it was likely only activated if an enemy fleet was detected in the system.

To make matters slightly easier, only a single Patrol picket was stationed there. In a pinch, with the aid of the four Longswords of the 112th, Marloe was confident that they could stall the Picket long enough for extraction, possibly even destroy it. However, if possible, they would avoid contact with the light warship altogether.

While Marloe was busy worrying about the station, Connor and Mellissa were wondering what to do about the station. Hovering in the center of a gas giant, it was obvious that anti gravity generators were providing the lift, and they were the primary target. Without them, the station would plunge into the heart of the gas giant and be crushed by the massive pressure.

However, the function as a weapons research area intrigued the small group. Though Connor and Mellissa had told Lord Hood that they would simply destroy the station, Captain Marloe suggested searching it to see if they could learn anything about Covenant science, culture, or more importantly, weapons. Though it complicated the mission, everyone aboard the Prowler liked the idea of potentially stealing weapons designs that the Covenant themselves had not yet finished or deployed. The idea was added to the mission summary.

Over the next two days, Connor and Mellissa planned the operation. They would be counting on the Midnight Shadow and the 112th to keep the orbital Covenant elements off of them, as they moved In to sabotage the station. They would not split up as they had aboard the frigate, but rather move as a single unit. In addition, Connor and Mellissa chose only a small team to drop in with them, 6 ODSTs from the 16th, 4 of which were carrying explosive charges to destroy the reactor (all of which thought to be strong enough to cause an instability in the anti gravity lifts).

They briefed their squad for the mission, and on June 15th, 2551, their mission began.

The Midnight Shadow vectored into a low orbit and launched a Pelican dropship. The craft was small enough to avoid detection, and was to be both the infiltration and exfiltration device. The Pelican, crewed by 112th member Lisa Mills, descended into low orbit above the Covenant research station. The station, a rough purple spear, was barely larger than a dot to the drop team.

On Connor’s signal, all 8 members of the team jumped from the bay of the Pelican. They free-fell most of the way, before finally activating their chutes a few thousand feet above the station. The consequences of failure were dire. If anyone in the squad had missed the target, they would have been doomed. Unable to be picked up by Pelican lest it jeopardize the mission, they would have fallen to their death.

Thankfully, all members of the team performed the drop picture perfect. They landed quickly and regrouped, checking weapons and gear. None of the silenced weapons the team was using had been damaged, nor had any of the explosive charges been compromised. They were now ready to enter the Covenant center. Using C-7 foaming explosive, they carefully destroyed one of the exterior hatches, and entered the base.

The detonation on the outer hatch had cost them the element of surprise, but now that they were aboard the station, it was less needed. The mostly untrained and green Covenant defense force was no match for the SPARTANs and their ODST team, as they pushed deep into the facility, accessed a map, and found the “weapons testing area”. Before word of the human intruders could truly spread, they were already moving, blowing their way through the Covenant guards.

They arrived at the weapons testing area, and found themselves horrified. Not by a new Covenant super weapon, but by something war worse: the mangled bodies of humans. Mellissa was the first to realize the use of the place. In a flash of horror, they realized that the Covenant had been using live humans as test subjects for new weapons. Suddenly enraged, the attack team broke from the plan.

Mellissa hacked into the Covenant network, and found a holding pen for prisoner. Eight decks below, it was actually lower than the anti gravity generators, which were 5 decks down. Connor knew his duty was to destroy the facility, but could not bring himself to abandon the prisoners. He quickly led his squad to the grav-lifts, fighting through increasing resistance as the Covenant grew more alert to the threat within their ranks. Eventually, after 30 minutes of combat, they reached the prison blocks.

The humans there were in heavily traumatized and in a semiconscious state. Fifteen prisoners were recovered, and among them, 5 were completely unresponsive. Some of them had been imprisoned for over 10 years, and had been subject to tests and experiments along the way. The strike team, knowing that they would not be able to fight their way to the reactor with the prisoners, most of whom were civilians, in tow, decided to split up. The ODSTs would escort the civilians to the hangar one deck below, while Connor and Mellissa took the charges and went to destroy the anti-gravity generators.

As the ODSTs passed out M6C SOCCOM Pistols and extra M7S SMGs to the few survivors who were fit to carry a weapon, the SPARTANs departed. Contacting the dropship, they informed their extraction support of their changed plans. They gave the location of the hangar bay and alerted her that Covenant response was increasing.

Operation Offensive Measures II

Eliminating the grav-lift guards

Though neither would admit it, Connor and Mellissa were both glad to be clear of the ODSTs. Despite their excellent combat skills and physical strength, they could not keep up with the two SPARTANs, and slowed them down somewhat. Connor and Mellissa fought their way to the grav-lift generators and planted their charges in half the time it would have taken the normal squad. Then they set the fuse to 10 minutes and rushed to the hangar, signaling for pickup.

In the hangar, the ODSTs were under heavy siege. Trying to defend both the prisoners and themselves from Covenant forces that were now streaming into the hangar, they were pinned in a corner of the room behind a small collection of crates. Just before they were overwhelmed, their extraction arrived, and use the mounted weapons to push back the attackers. Moments later, Tan Team blew their way inside straight through the line of Covenant, and under heavy fire, ran for the dropship.

Once aboard, the group wasted no time in leaving. Flaring out of the doomed station with a long burst of thrust, they headed into orbit to meet up with the Midnight Shadow. Upon arriving, they were immediately told to prepare for slipspace operations. The Midnight Shadow had managed to block the Covenant transmissions, but would never be able to conceal the death of the station. The Prowler went dark and moved out system, staying only long enough to confirm the detonation of the grav-lifts. As soon as this was confirmed, they jumped.

Thousands of miles away, the crew of the research station learned with fear that death was upon them, courtesy of the UNSC. Emitting a brief, frightened transmission, as the few personnel able to make it to dropships escaped by them, the station was pulverized by the intense pressure. Operation: OFFENSIVE MEASURE II was a success.

Operation: OFFENSIVE MEASURE III

Operation: OFFENSIVE MEASURE III was meant to be the final stroke the short campaign, and would be the climax of all the efforts the crew of the Midnight Shadow. The objective, picked out months before by Tan Team during their preliminary efforts to create their operation, would be the most audacious idea and the largest target yet. And as the small crew of UNSC raiders would soon find out, it would also be the most disastrous.

This target was a major Covenant communications outpost on the planet of Righteous Fury, on the edge of Covenant space. It would serve as the final target, and was chosen because of both it’s strategic importance and its closeness to human space. It would be easy to head towards home, and attack the outpost on the way. However, unlike Operation: OFFENSIVE MEASURE and Operation: OFFENSIVE MEASURE II, the objective was far more subtle than simple destruction.

The station acted as a routing stations for all Covenant communications from the front lines to the deep core of their territory. All transmissions from the troops in combat were beamed instantaneously (or nearly so) through slipspace to the station, which then transmitted them to bases in Covenant space, who transmitted orders back to the station, which then correspondingly sent them back to the troops. Centuries of warfare involving careful use of electronic infiltration had taught humanity to use more complex systems than this, but Covenant history had not allowed for it, and the enemy was all the more vulnerable from it.

Though it was true that destroying the base would temporarily bring down all communications to and from the front, which would undoubtedly be a large advantage for the UNSC forces, it was likely that communications would rapidly be reestablished with new stations, and the Covenant would realize the error of it’s thought and begin employing a more protected system. Thus, instead of destroying the station, they decided to use it, to their own advantage.

The plan was simple. A small team would insert, and covertly “bug” the facility--hack into the computers and change small bits of code to add an additional, but hidden, order whenever receiving new message: transmit it to the UNSC listening station and comm outpost on Solstice. The crew, upon learning of the idea during briefings, was dazzled by the idea of knowing where, when, how, and with whom the covenant would strike, whenever they did. The tactical opportunities were almost endless. The beleaguered UNSC fleet would no longer be caught by surprise, and would be able to trap the enemy into deadly ambushes and battles. It was the perfect opportunity.

Unfortunately, implementation would be somewhat difficult. The facility would have to be accessed directly, and possibly from the command center. And so, a groundside team would be needed, not a simple orbital hack, complicating matters. Because of the highly sensitive nature of the mission, and the high danger involved, Connor was somewhat reluctant accept support. He proposed a stealthy raid by himself and Mellissa, without danger to the other personnel.

However, Captain Marloe disagreed. He thought that the SPARTANs would be wise to accept support, in case of trouble. The Captain overruled Connor, but decided on middle ground: the ODSTs would drop in with the SPARTANs and move alongside them to the facility, but would lead the actual infiltration up to the better equipped and more heavily trained Tan Team. Connor, still unhappy with the idea, accepted it as best he could.

The Prowler had been heading for the target ever since the successful conclusion of Operation: OFFENSIVE MEASURE II, and arrived in system on July 8th. Once there, a proper recon mission was supposed to be conducted, but Connor disregarded this mandate. Their orders were to finish and report to Reach by August, for a potential second deployment. Worried that they would be unable to make it to the Reach system on time, he decided, with the reluctant approval of Captain Marloe, to attempt an immediate infiltration.

At 1400 Hours, the Midnight Shadow entered orbit and prepared to drop the team via HEVs. They would be dropping ten kilometers from the outpost, and it was hoped that the scarcely populated world would dismiss the falling objects as a meteor shower. The ODSTs armed for a full combat mission, with assault rifles, light machine guns, rocket launchers, sub machine gun backups, sniper rifles, and even experimental battle rifle prototypes that had been provided for use in the raiding campaign. Tan Team, by contrast, was armed only with M7S SMGs, an M6C SOCCOM for Connor, and an M6D suppressed for Mellissa, befitting of their stealthy role. Combat was a last resort.

The drop was uneventful, and all 12 of the ODSTs, as well as Connor and Mellissa, survived without any deaths or injuries. As hoped, the flaming objects entering the atmosphere were dismissed as meteorites. On the frontlines, such objects would have been shot down in case they were human vehicles, but back inside Covenant space, security would not attack. After all, stealth was the best defense, and what humans could know of the existence of the outpost, much less mount an assault on it? The reports of raids deep within Covenant space did not occur to them as a connection.

The human strike team set out immediately for the Covenant base. It was situated on a low plateau, thirty meters in the air, but the rocky cliffs, ravines, and tunnels below it offered plenty of opportunity for a stealthy approach. Moving slowly, ever alert to the danger all around them, they crept slowly towards the target.

The strike team arrived at 2100 Hours, 7 hours after insertion. Now that they were within range, they split up. The two ODST squads each took up a separate position, one on a rocky bluff 180 yards from the facility, and the other on the flank of the enemy, in a cluster of rocks 30 yards from the target. Combined, the two positions overlapped fire and provided a 360 degree view round the hexagonal structure. Any Covenant assault or defenders would meet a wall of heavy fire.

While the ODSTs were busy scrambling over the rocks to reach their positions, Connor and Mellissa were sneaking ever closer to the base. They managed to evade the enemy guards, but found the entrances unfortunately locked. Unwilling to risk alerting the enemy of their presence through a forced entry, they considered their options. For several minutes they waited, hidden near the entrance, contemplating their problem. Inspiration struck when they found a Covenant guard group shift patrols, opening the door for a brief time behind them as they did so before it automatically closed and locked.

Over the next 3 hours, they observed the Covenant movement. After careful examination, they determined the Covenant guards changed shifts every 45 minutes. They waited, and finally, at the exact marked time they had projected, a new set of guards emerged through the entrance gates, relieving the old ones. It was time to move.

In the most dangerous moment of the mission thus far, they darted rapidly from cover, sprinting silently after the guard shift. Relying on their SPI system to conceal them, they managed to sneak inside in time before the gate closed. Inside the base, they now were able to proceed directly to their objective. Searching for a few minutes, they attempted to hack the communications uplink and introduce their software change, in order to assign the station to manually transmit to the Solstice station.

But as they entered the system and introduced their program, they found that the Covenant were only half the fools that they had believed.

A crude, mimic AI designed from captured human ones had been placed as security in the facility, and it quickly identified the crude attempt to break through it‘s defenses, logged the intrusion, and alerted the base to the presence of infiltrators. In a brief moment, things rapidly changed for Connor and Mellissa.

The Covenant forces rapidly sealed all exits and sounded the alarm. Outside, the ODSTs noticed the alarm, the increased Covenant patrols, and without orders, reverted to their training. They open fired. Heavy gunfire combined with rocket and sniper rifle assaults decimated the Covenant ranks, but aliens had a whole base garrison at their disposal, and an intense battle began as the ODSTs engaged Covenant reinforcements in a pitched struggle. Hearing the gunfire, they realized they were on their own.

Connor and Mellissa attempted to flee the terminal, but the Covenant AI tracked them and summoned help. Before long, enemy forces were converging on them, and a heavy firefight began inside the base between Tan Team and the Covenant guards. Amidst their attempts to survive, as they ran from position to position, the duo realized that only some sort of overarching computer command system could have realized their intrusion, and soon knew that the possibility of “bugging” the base, had vanished. It was time for plan B.

Or rather, it was time to revert to Plan A.

With no chance of bugging the facility, they now had to try to salvage the mission and destroy it, doing as much damage to the Covenant communications as possible. However, the team was carrying no heavy explosives or nukes, and the base, unlike space craft or the research station which had had convenient targets to destroy, had no weakness that would cause catastrophic damage. That meant calling in the big guns.

But they found that their personal radios could not be used to contact the orbiting ship. The Covenant AI had placed a signal jammer on all known human channels, blocking all communication to the outside room. The two SPARTANs found themselves cornered, heavily outnumbered, and with no communications assets. They wondered if death would soon come for them as they had seen it come for countless fellow humans.

But just as despair began creeping in, they realized their mistake. They were inside a base filled with high powered communications arrays, which were to strong to be blocked by the Covenant AI. Their only problem was getting to the array.

Covenant forces, realizing that the humans in their midst were the heralded demons, flocked at the chance to get such an honorable kill. With minimal weaponry, the two SPARTANs were forced to move close in where the covenant’s numerical superiority was less relevant.

Operation Offensive Measures III

Retreat under fire

In the intense hand to hand battle that followed a rush by the two SPARTANs, Mellissa and Connor both were badly wounded. Mellissa’s right calf was burned practically off by the blade of a Covenant energy sword, and a glancing hit to Connor’s side burned and disintegrated the flesh underneath, never mind his armor.

But with superior training, reflexes, and experience, the two SPARTANs managed to punch a hole through the enemy lines and escape. Moving quickly despite their injuries, they hurried to the communications station, evading the Covenant, who had not been able to keep up with their skilled enemy.

Entering the communications room, they killed everyone inside save a single technician. Under gunpoint, they “persuaded” the grunt to help them send a message to the Midnight Shadow in orbit, calling for an immediate air strike on the base. They included no time delay of any sort--the only time they would have to get out was the time it took to scramble the two Shortsword bombers, and the time it took for the craft to deploy their explosive measures. Not long at all.

The signal sent up a flare to the Covenant AI, who, though not able to track the recipient, located the SPARTANs. Covenant forces arrived almost immediately, but Tan Team was able to slip away through an alternate entrance through a heavy crossfire, escaping. With little time left, they ran for the entrance that they’d taken such great lengths to enter covertly less than an hour before, and blew it open like they’d refused to do earlier. Sprinting outside into the battle raging between the ODSTs and the Covenant, they broke through the radio interference and yelled for the ODSTs to take cover immediately. They had no time to explain, however, as across the horizon, two bombers piloted by members of the 112th came streaking in.

Diving to what little cover they could find, they were thrown forward over 20 meters by the force of the explosion. The overpressure would have killed normal humans, but the augmentations and their armor allowed them to survive, albeit badly wounded. The ODSTs were not lucky either. Four were killed, and each was injured--7 critically.

But behind them, the base had been leveled. Smoking remains were all that were left of the vital covenant asset, and though they would find out only later, it’s destruction resulted in an 8 day blackout that reportedly spared six colonies.

Tan Team signaled for extraction, and the 112th arrived shortly thereafter in Pelican dropships. Picking up the battered troops, they headed for orbit, to link up with the Midnight Shadow and escape. Unknown to them, however, was that fate had more in store for them yet.

Before Tan Team had signaled for it’s destruction, the Covenant AI had called for help, and at 0105 Hours, on July 9th, just as the Pelicans were moving to dock with the Midnight Shadow, three Covenant craft appeared in system. Three frigates, light craft, they still packed enough punch to destroy the small craft three times over.

The only acceptable option was stealth and escape, but stealth quickly proved futile. Though the Prowler could have gone unnoticed, the Pelican appeared as a giant target, leading the Covenant craft to the stealth ship. Captain Marloe immediately realized the danger and called for full thrust away and an immediate transition to slipspace, on a random vector.

They were quick, but not quick enough. The Covenant ships all fired pulse lasers, and a single ship managed to score a direct hit with a plasma torpedo. The damage sustained was immense. Fires raged among the lower decks, killing dozens of ODSTs and the escaped prisoners, and badly injuring most of the crew. The Prowler, heavily damaged, was barely able to escape into slipspace.

The ship exited soon after and jumped again, but not for Reach. Massive lists of injured personnel were flooding the bridge, and Marloe realized only a facility was within range that could save the more critical of the patients in time. The hospital ship Hopeful was on a tour around the few remaining Inner Colonies, and was the only hope for some of the more badly wounded soldiers. Not pausing for even a moment, they jumped directly for a rendezvous point with the mobile hospital, putting as many injured crew in cryo as possible, hoping dearly that they would arrive in time.

Defense of the Hopeful

The badly damaged Prowler arrived at the rendezvous point on August 26th, 2551, at 1073 Hours. They delivered a brief request to the ship, and thankfully, were not asked how they had sustained such grievous damage or so many casualties. The crew of the Hopeful, always willing to help the injured, gave them a course for rendezvous and prepared for a triage.

The Prowler linked to the ship soon after, and the swarm of medics rapidly unloaded the ship. They quickly established a triage right in the hangar, rapidly diagnosing and treating the crew based on urgency. Of the 300 personnel aboard the Prowler (180 ODSTs, 2 SPARTANs, 12 pilots, and 106 crewmen), 237 were injured, 23 critically. However, the small army of medics evacuated the entire crew in under 3 minutes, and had those who needed it in surgery in just over 5. Their stellar reputation was not undeserved.

Upon being inspected by the medics, Connor and Mellissa realized their wounds were far more extensive than they had thought. Connor had third degree burns in a thirteen centimeter diameter circle around where he took his hit, and second and first all over his upper chest. Parts of the armor plating in his SPI system had melted and fused directly onto his skin, and had to be cut directly off. In addition, he had a concussion from his head smacking the interior of his helmet during the bomber run, along with both eardrums blown out, sense of balance distorted, and dozens of shrapnel wounds. If not for his enhanced physiology and the emergency cryo, he would have keeled over long before arriving.

Mellissa was hardly better. Her entire right calf had been slashed off and cauterized by a Covenant energy blade, exposing bone underneath. She had similar injuries due to the close range bombing, but had more extensive shrapnel wounds from being closer to the blast. In addition, she had been hit in the shoulder while running from the base in the open, and the explosive force of the homing projectile had blown a hole around her neck and dislocated her shoulder. Though they had been on their feet even with their extensive injuries, they were by far some of the most extreme cases in the entire crew.

Rushed to emergency surgery, the two SPARTANs were separated, sedated, and operated on. During the procedures, medics working on both soldiers noted distinct anomalies in their physiology, which many would later realize to be trademarks of the SPARTANs after operating on the SPARTAN-III Gamma Company a little under a year later. The medics were not unhappy with the modified bodies of their patients. Though slightly more difficult to operate on, they were withstanding stress and trauma that would have killed normal humans.

Despite their problems, Tan Team awoke from the surgery a mere four hours after the event, and a full six hours before they had been expected to regain consciousness. Connor and Mellissa both requested a change of rooms to be able to meet up with each other, and Connor also asked the doctors for a status report on the troops. He wondered guiltily how many fellow soldiers had been killed because he’d wanted to achieve an impossible objective, and soon found out.

The casualty reports were given to him an hour after waking, as he and Mellissa were reunited. Of the 237 injured, 13 had died on the table, and another 4 had died before making it to surgery. 15 out of these 17 casualties were naval crewmen injured during the covenant battle groups attack on their prowler, while the other two were members of the ODST squad that had escorted them on their mission. However, all remaining 220 injured were stable and expected to recover fully.

However, such recovery would not be overnight. The doctors projected at least 3 days for the less critically wounded, and a minimum of 9 for the more badly injured. Their own recovery was estimated a 1-2 weeks, and another week until recovering to full combat strength. The two SPARTANs were not pleased with the delay.

Later that day, they were visited by Captain Marloe. After a brief discussion, they convinced him to take a skeleton crew back to Reach and explain the events of the three operations, in full detail, to Admiral Hood. The Prowler Captain agreed, and departed for the Epsilon Eridanus system at 1900 Hours.

With him gone, the two SPARTANs began the painful and boring phase of recovery. They were given repeated treatments to speed it along, but this did not stall the boredom and frustration of Tan Team. The Covenant was still out there, and they were needed. Other humans were fighting and dying in what should have been Tan Team’s place. The thought greatly distressed them.

However, unknown to them, the clock was counting down to the time that they would have to face their alien enemy, far sooner than they could have hoped for.

On August 30th, 2551, 0900 Hours, Connor and Mellissa had just completed a treatment of recovery drugs when an alert surged through the station. The reason was terrifying: Covenant pickets had arrived in system, and were launching boarding craft towards the hospital ship. Combat was inevitable.

The boarders were inside before anyone knew it. Rapid strikes broke into the hangar, low level decks, and main cargo areas, and intense firefights quickly took off. Before the UNSC defenders knew it, they were being outflanked and pushed back by the boarders, and the bridge and main hospital decks were being threatened. Soon, the defenders around the hospital were killed, and the enemy was pouring in, killing the helpless wounded.

Connor and Mellissa were themselves caught by surprise when a Covenant squad broke into their room, but were not about to be executed like animals. Despite their wounds, they attacked the alien boarding team, killing them at close range with only their hands, saving 12 other injured soldiers who were sharing a room with them.

The reports on the combat inside the ship were scattered and fragmented, but it was obvious that the Covenant were inflicting heavy casualties on both the marine defenders, the injured, and the medics managing the treatment. Connor was not about to stand by and wait while the Covenant killed his helpless comrades. And with the organization of the marine security team falling apart, he knew he’d have to create his own force. Taking weapons off the bodies of killed enemies, he asked for volunteers to retake the ship.

He got 9. The other three were unable to move, but were given plasma pistol to defend themselves. Taking a plasma rifle for himself, and handing out one to Mellissa and another two to the members of his small team, he made sure everyone was armed with at least a plasma pistol. Then, they went on the attack.

The Covenant forces, who had crushed all opposition in the area containing the wounded, had grown somewhat lax. Sweeping through the recovery section, Connor’s small team eliminated dozens of borders, and gained new followers every time they cleared another room. Under his direction, a simple but effective organization was created, and with their concentrated and well coordinated efforts, they pushed the Covenant back in a stunning comeback, clearing their entire section then branching off to secure several other areas, including the bridge and the original points of entry.

Connor and Mellissa led, as always, from the front of the attack, pushing through the enemy and inspiring the injured following them. Without any of their specialized gear or weaponry, and operating with only enemy tech, they still managed to quickly gain the upper hand from the aliens. Using their superior knowledge of the ship to their advantage, they outmaneuvered and outflanked the enemy, drawing them into costly battles by separating the Covenant and then tackling each individual boarding groups with a superior force.

It took three hours, but at 1200 Hours, they finally pushed the last enemies off the ship. Dozens of defenders had been killed, and hundreds of wounded had been cruelly executed, but thanks to the quick thinking of Connor and Mellissa, thousands had been saved. In the aftermath of the surprise boarding, the Hopeful prepared for a retreat when a small UNSC fleet of three frigates arrived in system to support them. One quick thinking technician had sounded a distress signal when no one else had thought too, and though three frigates would have been picked apart by a equal number of similar tonnage warships, they made mincemeat of the lightly armed and poorly shielded Covenant Pickets, which were some of the slowest and ineffective ships in the entire Covenant fleet.

With the crisis finished, the surviving medics, of which there were thousands, set to work helping those that were freshly injured. During their counter boarding attempt, Connor and Mellissa had both avoided injury, but with adrenaline wearing off, they were now feeling the full effects of their not yet healed wounds. Somewhat in the way of the medics, they returned to their quarters, to continue recovery, as if nothing had happened. After the emergency casualties were treated, the SPARTANs were checked out and their treatment plan was revised, but one thing remained rigid: they would still be in the hospital for a long time. So, as fear over the attack passed, they settled in for a wait.

Operation: MATCHBOX

Because of Connor and Mellissa’s strenuous actions during the defense of the Hopeful, their wounds were aggravated and took much longer than projected to heal, much to the annoyance of the doctors. Still, because of their enhanced physiology, they were still out of the sick bay several weeks before any other members of the crew.

When their recovery was finished and they were rehabilitated, they found themselves plagued simultaneously with guilt and with the desire to the prove themselves after their perceived failure in the final mission of Operation: OFFENSIVE MEASURES. Because no transport was available to bring them back to Reach until later in the week, and because few members of the crew knew about them, none of the stringent security procedures guarding their behavior were implemented. For a few days, Connor and Mellissa received what would be their first, and in some cases, last, chance at a semi-normal existence.

The two SPARTANs were transferred to the lower deck, which mainly served as the holding area for the crew awaiting deployment after recovery. It was a hint at the life they had been denied by fate. Clubs, game rooms, movie theatres, sports arenas, and all manner of (UNSC verified) entertainment was available, and in the few short day they spent there, the two SPARTANs received a bit of a culture shock, learning that “off duty” soldiers in the main arm of the military were often quite a bit different from those in combat.

However, on Reach, plans were being made to bring them back to the front. Captain Marloe had arrived and given his report, and the performance of all the involved had surpassed Hood’s expectations. Hood kept track of the two SPARTANs as best he could, developing an interest in them, and when he learned of the attack, and their subsequent increased recovery time, was somewhat disappointed. His rising star team would not be ready to return to the field for another few weeks.

Hood kept track of their status through the reports of shuttles between the Hopeful and Reach. He learned when their recovery was finished, and sent a shuttle straight out, on reports that they were interacting a bit to heavily with the ship’s normal life. Though he felt bad for the SPARTANs in their quasi-slavery, the thought of them learning a bit too much about normal life and possibly deciding to quit was not a pleasing one. He wanted them back as soon as circumstances permitted.

The shuttle to pick them up and return them to Reach arrived on September 12th, 2551. It contacted Hopeful and immediately requested Tan Team to the hangar, but was a little late to save them from experiencing the ship’s nightlife. Too late…by three days.

On the 9th, after finishing recovery and being transferred to the lower decks, the two naïve SPARTANs had been spotted by a pair of very persuasive marine sergeants. Recognizing the smell of fresh soldiers (right in some ways and woefully wrong in others), they descended like a pack of vultures, ready to show the two how to party like real marines.

The SPARTANs were unprepared for what followed. The two 17 year olds, not legal to drink, nonetheless touched alcohol for the first and only time in their lives, leading them to a chain of events that left them thoroughly intoxicated and much more educated, as well as some definitely un-SPARTAN like behavior. The next three days and nights passed in a blur of partying and drinking that would forever leave a mark of shame in Connor’s mind.

The crew of the shuttle arrived, and upon searching the crew decks, picked up the two exhausted and newly enlightened SPARTANs. The crew had not been briefed that their passengers were SPARTANs, only that they needed to be extracted at best haste back to Reach so they could be deployed again. The two decided upon finding their dilapidated charges that they were probably just young combat vets partying off stress in preparation for more combat, and having done plenty of such actions themselves after their first deployments, decided to keep it quiet. No harm done, they figured.

Thus, when shuttle entered slipspace and headed out for Epsilon Eridanus, Connor and Mellissa were given several hours to sober up before being put into cryo, with the crew watching with bemusement. Always the same with enlisted men, they all joked.

The shuttle arrived in orbit around Reach on September 17th, 2552. Tan Team was awakened and were shuttled to the Congress orbital elevator above the planet, then transferred down. They were taken to the HIGHCOMM complex to meet with Lord Hood, fully expecting to be reprimanded and debriefed on their mission.

Connor and Mellissa were hurriedly rushed into a meeting with the Admiral, blowing past three appointments, one of which was UNSC three star general. Their surprise over the VIP treatment was palpable. Had they broken the regulations that badly? Or was their mission debrief of far more interest to the admiral than they had thought? To both of their surprise, it was neither.

Their meeting was quick and too the point. The Admiral made his haste immediately clear. They were being assigned to a UNSC taskforce under personal command of Admiral Stanforth, which would be leaving the system in under two hours. The crucial colony of New Washington, responsible for the production of most of humanities civilian cargo haulers, atmospheric fliers, cruise ships, and other small craft, was under attack, and Admiral Hood wanted Tan Team on it. The Taskforce was not carrying the standard load of ground forces, and the SPARTANs were wanted so that they could “even the odds”.

Surprised and relieved that Hood had not heard of their misdemeanor, Connor and Mellissa decided to do their best and succeed at their mission to put the bad memory behind them as fast as possible. They were flown directly by Pelican to the orbiting flagship of the fleet, the Matterhorn, a Marathon-class cruiser, and stowed their gear and entered cryo only minutes before the fleet jumped. It was time for another battle.

The fleet exited slipspace and arrived in the New Washington system at 1150 Hours on September 25th, 2551. They headed at flank speed towards the planet, receiving a flash transmission from the surface on the status report. Eight Covenant ships had entered the system, and been received by a guarding fleet of 11 human craft. After a short but intense initial battle, the three remaining Human craft had disengaged to draw Covenant forces away. Of the five Covenant craft, 4 had pursued. The fifth was beginning ground operations.

Stanforth’s taskforce headed in straight after the single Covenant ship, preparing to engage. They were hoping that the Covenant would ignore them and they could score an easy victory, but soon found that to be very much the opposite.

Inside the hangar bay, dressed in full combat gear and awaiting the go signal alongside a company of marines, Connor and Mellissa watched with helplessness as the Covenant forces ceased their chase of the three fleeing UNSC ships and reversed direction, straight for the incoming fleet. It was clear that an “easy kill” was no longer possible.

Stanforth considered changing vector, but realized that it was too late. They would not be able to maneuver quickly enough to escape, and in doing so, would lose all chance of launching ground troops. He told his fleet commanders to batter down the hatches and try to weather the oncoming storm.

Stanforth’s taskforce slammed into a wall of plasma fire as it hit the orbital line. Though the majority of the Taskforce was moving quickly enough to avoid some of the fire, the same luck did not apply to Tan Team. As the fleet tried to blow it’s way through, the Covenant forces concentrated their fire on the biggest target available: the Matterhorn. The cruiser was targeted by four individual lances of plasma; more firepower than any UNSC ship could ever hope to withstand. They stood no chance.

To blasts of plasma cut their way through the mid decks, severing power lines, and doing immense damage to the hull. Another buried itself near the fore bottom end of the ship, melting into the MAC assembly and narrowly missing the bridge. The final bolt struck the engines, crippling the Matterhorn’s thrust. The dying ship plunged into the planet.

Marathon class ships were one of the largest ships in the UNSC arsenal, and like all cruisers of the day, not meant to operate in atmosphere as frigates or destroyers could. Still, they carried immense armor and some safety measures to save a planet from a ecosystem killing impact if the ship entered the gravity field. Orienting upwards, the Matterhorn fired it’s engines, slowing it’s speed. The heavy armor saved the crew from a fiery death, and at 1209 Hours on September 25th, the Matterhorn fragmented into several pieces and made it’s landing.

In a miracle that would go down in UNSC shipman’s folklore, almost 40% of the crew survived, 10% unscathed, including most of the combat forces. Among these survivors were Tan Team, who, inside the hangar, arguably the most robust part of the ship save the reactor, were actually unharmed, along with their marine escort.

But the awe of their miraculous survival lasted only long enough to realize the trouble they were in. Their ship had fragmented into a crash site roughly three miles in diameter, with sections stretching as high as skyscrapers. Their engines had been firing until they touched down and were destroyed, and the countryside around them, once a flat plain dotted with small towns and farms, was a charred and blackened cinder. Covenant forces had them located, the fleet was busy upstairs, and the vast open ground would be impossible to escape undetected. They were in a very bad spot.

Connor and Mellissa, upon awakening after a short burst of unconsciousness from the impact, tried to organize the marines with them. Linking up and establishing a chain of command, the two veteran SPARTANs told most of the marines to hold the position and secure it as a fallback point, ordered one squad to head to the highest point they could find and go on watch, and then headed out to look for survivors.

Very few groups were in as good a shape as them, but they found many survivors. They told everyone they met to head for the hangar, while they kept moving, spreading the word. They found and made contact with almost 600 personnel, most of them naval crewmen such as engineers, technicians, and system experts. They found precious few combat personnel.

They gradually made their way through the wreckage, heading for the bridge. They had expected it destroyed, but when they arrived, they found it mostly intact, and more importantly, they found Admiral Stanforth alive. He, along with the entire bridge crew, had all survived, but the Admiral was badly injured. Deciding that they should return to the fallback position, they slung the admiral and other injured over their shoulders and headed out.

They arrived at the hangar and to a happy surprise. Almost 1200 personnel had made it back, either by their own accord, by order from Tan Team, or thanks to second hand orders. A full fledged defensive position was being produced, and the shipwrecked band of humans gained hope for survival. They were not going to lay down and die.

Over the next few hours, rapid organization began. With the admiral to badly injured to command, most of the marines green, and all of the other survivors navy oriented, command of the situation somehow fell onto Connor and Mellissa, frightening the two SPARTANs somewhat. They were mere Petty Officers, and still wondering if their three day bender on the Hopeful had been a sign they were unfit for duty. But with no choice and hundreds depending on them, they took the job.

Connor and Mellissa began organizing their charges into groups. The 300 surviving marines were divided into 6 platoons of 50, and were designated the reactionary force. In combat, it was decided that they would be under direct control of their own leadership, a bright eyed Lieutenant whose superiors had all been killed in the crash. Of the other 900 personnel, only 500 were truly combat fit. These 500 were divided also into 10 platoons of 50, and were placed around the perimeter of the camp as the main defense force. The other 400 injured were kept near the center in stationary fallback positions, in case the main lines were overwhelmed.

Their objective, as it was, was to survive long enough for the fleet to move in and rescue them, and they wanted to achieve this goal as quickly as possible. Connor and Mellissa, in a council of war with the other leaders, decided to take a team to scout for a way to communicate with the fleet and make sure their presence was known.

However, before the mission could begin, a major problem arose. The fleet had managed to blow through and regroup with the other three UNSC ships, and was holding their own in space for the moment, but the lone Covenant ship operating on the surface finished it’s massacre of the civilian population and turned it’s attention to the crash site survivors. To make matters worse, the Covenant caught a fragment of a signal sent by the survivors, and scouts had already been spotted.

They were instantly worried. They had sent several unencrypted signals to the fleet, broadcasting full rosters of the survivors, in an attempt to gain attention of the UNSC ships in orbit. Now, Connor was worried that the Covenant had captured these signals and that they would move in an capture the admiral. And even if not, they would likely have to weather a ground attack; the Covenant, with their absurd sense of honor, would likely feel it necessary to attack the infidels on the ground and kill them in close combat, now that they had shamed them by escaping.

The first signs of trouble began on September 26th, 2552. At 0900 Hours, Marine sentries (in fact, the original sentries assigned by Connor and Mellissa) atop a engine cowling spotted movement in the distance. Over the next hour and a half, the movement continued, but they did not have the correct tools to discover it. Connor and Mellissa waited for an hour after the report, and when it still had not stopped, Connor went up to the sentries position to see what they had found.

Using his SPI helmet’s magnification system, Connor quickly discerned the identity of the movement in the distance. The source filled him with dread.

At a range of just over 19 miles, a massive Covenant force was assembling. All Covenant troops that the surface ship had deployed to attack the cities had been collected and then redeployed to a massive gathering area, and it appeared, even from inspection from miles away, that the enemy had brought out all the stops. Wraith tanks, ghost hovercraft, banshee fliers, phantom and spirit dropships, locust walkers, vampire AA units, air artillery units, legions of infantry, and even a pair of monstrous scarabs were coming together. A force of seemingly impossible strength.

In the wreckage, Connor and Mellissa put their forces on high alert. The mainline forces took positions around the section of ship that the hangar occupied, and the marines prepared to move to help the sections that the Covenant pressed hardest. Tension was heavy in the air.

At 1200 Hours, the Covenant finished their assembly. Then, in unison, the enemy set off. With the infantry aboard Shadow transports, they began a mechanized charge. Moving at the speed of their slowest craft (the wraith tanks), they crossed the plain of ash. The force, comprised of hundreds of vehicles and thousands of infantry, was dead set on destroying the human defenders.

It was a sort of terror tactic, the slow, menacing march, and it worked. The naval personnel, not properly trained for infantry combat, threatened to panic, and Connor and Mellissa had to spend most of their time keeping them from abandoning their post, rather than formulating a plan to stop the enemy. The stage was set for a brutal brawl.

At 1310 Hours, the Covenant forces began their attack. Infantry dismounted from their transports and rushed towards the humans, who were holed up in the very center of the field of wreckage. Covenant aircraft broke ranks and accelerated on strafing runs. Heavy weapons like Locust and Wraiths brought their cannons to bear and began blasting the wreckage, to clear out the hiding spots of the enemy.

The human and covenant forces met in brutal close quarters combat mixed with mid to long range fighting. The wreckage provided a similar terrain to that of a destroyed city, and the humans compensated for their inferior number with superior positioning. Despite their lack of true training, the naval personnel, in positions assigned by the marines and Connor and Mellissa, funneled the Covenant into narrow alleyways and fire corridors, were numbers did not matter as much. The marines, originally envisioned as a force to respond to areas under particularly heavy attack, instead were used as a raiding force, navigating the city of wreckage and striking with the element of surprise at the Covenant troops.

The humans did well for the first few hours, and held their own. Because the Covenant could not navigate their heavy armor through the rubble, and because there was ample cover against aircraft, it was a true infantry war.

However, things soon changed. The covenant had not stood idly by and let their heavy artillery units sit, and Marine scouts soon found what they had been using them for. Remembering their original role as mining units, the Covenant commander was burning his way through the wreckage, tunneling his way in with the searing beam of the Scarab’s main beam. The Locust units were helping to destroy smaller sections of rubble, and wraiths were running cover. Based on their progress already, the marines estimated only a few more hours before the enemy armor broke through.

But without forces to destroy them and with enemies already at their throats, they couldn’t worry about it. The enemy was hammering their defense, and they were now starting to lose ground. Without a major change, Connor was unsure if anyone would survive.

Operation Matchbox

Last stand against the enemy armor

At 1900 Hours, the battle was still raging in earnest. It was becoming more polar now, with UNSC forces losing ground, then taking it back, then repeating, unlike the solid line they had held before. But that wasn’t the problem. The heavy enemy armor finally broke through at 1907 Hours, and the battle became something new entirely.

Without heavy weapons, they could not stop the enemy. They lost ground, and it appeared that their heroic last stand would soon end. And it would have, if not for a series of very fortunate happenings.

Unknown to them, in space, the battle had been actually going in the UNSC’s favor. With Stanforth gone, a young Captain by the name of Ulrich Viezcher had taken command of the fleet, to great effect. A young OCS candidate who had studied under the later famous Captain Jacob Keyes, he had been using the fleet to great effect. With help from reinforcements sent from Reach and several maneuvers of sheer genius, he had achieved the impossible: outfight the Covenant in space without numbers.

Now, with the situation in orbit under control, he turned his attention to the ground. Connor and Mellissa had thought that their distress calls had been missed, but Ulrich had heard it loud and clear. Worried that he was too late, he had his entire fleet hard burn into the atmosphere, and come in for close orbital support.

The sight of the fireballs in the sky at first left Connor worried that it was Covenant glassing, but when the shapes resolved into the recognizable shapes of classic UNSC frigates and destroyers, morale soared.

The Covenant troops panicked. Unused to the notion that the enemy would have orbital support rather than them, they did exactly the wrong thing: fall back, straight into the open. They attempted to flee, and realized their mistake far to late. Exposed on the scorched plains, they found themselves under fire. The UNSC ships fired Archer missiles quite liberally, and the weapons, ineffective as they were in space combat, did devastating damage. Within only minutes, the Covenant force was nothing but hundreds of smoking craters.

The defenders met their saviors with stunned awe. They had been only hours from death, and had been sure they would not survive. They were almost too shocked to be happy. Almost.

Connor and Mellissa, with confidence that they had not lost their touch, began organizing the evacuation. It was a tight squeeze, fitting all the survivors into the already tightly packed fleet, but they managed. The ships exited the planet’s atmosphere and headed upward, pulling back. They had, unexpectedly, claimed a victory.

Operation: KNIFETIP

The celebration did not last for long, however. The UNSC forces were contacted by Lord Hood only a few days after the battle, and were instructed to return to Reach to drop off the survivors for medical attention and prepare for another deployment. The fleet, now 9 ships thanks to the reinforcements during the battle, headed back on a familiar course, back to Reach.

They arrived on October 7th, 2552. They stayed in system only for a short time. Pausing only to drop of the critically injured, which included Admiral Stanforth, and promote Captain Ulrich Viezcher to Admiral, they were told to head out immediately for the Sirius System. The break was so short that Tan Team did not even leave cryo.

They rushed full speed for the system, and arrived on October 15th, 2551. What they found was very disappointing. The system had been glassed what looked like several days ago, but they did not have time to linger. Another distress call reached the fleet, and they took off, without waiting for orders. They arrived on October 23rd, to another, similar scene. But again, they received another distress signal, and again set off.

For the next month and a half, the taskforce moved after several distress signals, rushing to each one…and each time, arriving too late. Athens VI, Nepal II, Constantinople, Yakima IV, on and on the list went. Planet after planet, they rushed to help, but each time, found nothing but ashes. It was not long before morale wore thin.

On December 22nd, after rushing to the Yakima system and finding the only habitable system, Yakima IV, glassed by the Covenant, the fleet received another urgent message from another system under attack. Hoping that they might finally be able to reach the defenders in time, they wasted no time jumping for the system.

The fleet arrived on December 23rd, 2551, in the Mao system. Their hopes had been fulfilled. The battle was not yet over, and there was time for them to do some good. Admiral Ulrich scanned the system, and sent his ships straight in. The UNSC defenders in orbit were being pounded, as a Covenant fleet launched its assault in waves, crashing against the defenders, weakening them, then retreating and doing it again. On the ground, the situation was hardly any better. Covenant forces had landed in a massive LZ and were heading straight for the capital city, the largest population center on the planet. UNSC outposts and defenders in their path were being swatted aside like flies, and there was no force large enough to stand against them.

As the fleet attempted to aid in orbit, the ground troops prepared for battle. Loading aboard dropships and launching well before they reached the planet (remembering the crash and shipwrecking of the earlier battle), they headed for the city to link up with the troops already on the ground.

The landing was a tribute to the skill of UNSC dropship pilots. Despite heavy anti-aircraft fire and raids from enemy interceptors, the dropship wave broke through with minimal casualties. They landed en masse in the capital in public parks and landing pads, along with city streets and atop skyscrapers. On their arrival, almost every available free space was covered with aircraft.

For organizational purposes, Tan Team was placed in a Combat Company 19’s third platoon, squad 5. Immediately after landing, UNSC forces rushed to take up defensible positions around key areas, as well as form a tight perimeter around the city. Tan Team, tagging along with third platoon, rushed to reach one of the cities nineteen power plants, providing vital power to both the remaining civilians as well as the occupying forces. Their plant was naturally, the closest to the projected invasion path of the Covenant force, and also the least defensible.

The two SPARTANs and platoon of marines quickly set up shop and dug in. Within half an hour, razor wire barriers, sandbag bunkers, two M247 General Purpose Machine Guns, an pre-fab observation post, a light AT weapon, and even a small minefield had been set up. After solidifying their own defenses, they then helped with the establishment of a company motor pool, which was placed, to their relief, at only three minutes distance away for the Scorpions, and even less for Wolverine AAA.

With defenses set up, and with definite intel on the location of the enemy (at a minimum, 5 days away) , the focus went from establishing defenses to evacuating civilians. UNSC troops had learned to operate under the philosophy that any civilian caught inside a city or other sort of settlement during a Covenant attack was a definite casualty, and thus placed great emphasis on evacuating as many as possible before combat began in earnest. Tan Team, along with half their platoon, was transferred from the power generator to the cities spaceport to assist in the evacuation of civilians, mostly as guards in case of a riot. The two SPARTANs were slightly irked at this action, feeling that they should be pulling hard duty rather than the “soft” action of protecting a facility that already had over a thousand guards, including armor and air support.

Unknown to them, however, the ground command group was already considering the possibility of commencing an offensive action. The intel they were receiving from their ground based assets was not positive, and their orbital recon boded even worse. The Covenant force was moving quickly, blowing through the meager pickets that were the only thing standing between it and the capital, and did not show any sign of slowing down. It was also stronger than originally expected, and some of the strategists in the command staff had doubts of the humans ability to even hold it off. They needed to weaken the enemy, or they would have only days to survive.

Unfortunately, the options for such action were limited. Their were no enemy supply lines to disrupt; the enemy was being supplied by a airborne supply transport, and the ground forces lacked the air power to take it down, while the fleet was otherwise engaged. The enemy force was not very vulnerable to guerilla warfare; they were moving quickly, with no fixed positions, and sticking close together, not separating, unable to be picked off individually. A standard attack was considered suicidal against such a superior force.

So, without a clear way to accomplish what he wanted, the commander of the ground forces, General Martin, turned to Tan Team for suggestions. After looking at the problem for only minutes, they had their solution. Tan Team proposed using a HAVOK tactical device on the Covenant forces, hitting them at the center of their formation. The UNSC analyst immediately pointed out that there were dozens of UNSC groups within the blast radius, but Tan Team defeated this problem as well. Connor, examining a map, found a deep valley the Covenant would be passing through, which was hopefully large enough to contain the explosion. After examining the valley themselves, General Martin’s engineers confirmed that the valley should be deep enough to partially contain the nuke’s effect. General Martin immediately approved the mission.

The Covenant forces were a day and a half away from the valley, and intel suggested their scouts were already there. Tan Team, hoping to plant the nuke well ahead of the enemy, decided to move out immediately. Martin gave them access to a wide assortment of vehicles, but only the Hornet aircraft he had were fast enough. Strapping the half sphere HAVOK device to one of the landing skids, Connor and Mellissa boarded the VTOL flier and moved out towards the valley.

Operation Knifetip

En route to the target with the HAVOK in tow

By ground, the trip could have taken anywhere from ten hours to three days. By air, it took only six hours. The two SPARTANs arrived at the valley over a day before the Covenant was supposed to arrive there. But in testament to the fact that even SPARTANs make mistakes, they fell into complacency, coming in slowly and not commencing any evasive maneuvers.

They quickly paid the price for their poor flying. A Covenant scout team aboard ghost hovercraft spotted the hornet, and tracked them. Four banshee fliers quickly launched and intercepted them. Their Hornet, one of the poorly armed but faster transport variety, did not last long. Plasma fire incinerated the engines, and the Hornet spun out of control. At roughly 500 ft in the air, the torque of the spin snapped one of the weakened landing struts, and the HAVOK device snapped off.

Their Hornet crashed into the valley, plummeting into the ground below. The valley was home to a large forest, but a large access road snaked through it, allowing easy passage. The two SPARTANs managed to pull out of their dive slightly before impact, and thus were not killed or heavily injured. Still, they were beaten and battered, and their nuke was no where to be seen. With the Covenant hot on their tail, they had no time to stop and plan. The banshees that had shot them down on approach swooped in for a strafing run, destroying the hornet wreckage with fuel rod cannons and attempting to score a hit on the SPARTANs. Though they were not hurt in the attack, they were forced deeper into the forest.

The situation quickly worsened. Advance Covenant teams landed at their crash site and began to fan out, working their way outward in a large circle. Connor and Mellissa were unable to look for the nuke, able only to simply attempt survival. More and more Covenant forces were arriving all the time, and they found that their intel had not been fully correct; instead of over a day left, they had only hours. The main covenant force was well ahead of the original projections, and by all accords seemed to be picking up speed.

The two SPARTANs attempted evasion, but were unable to get away on several occasions. By mapping different points of contact between his forces and the SPARTANs, the clever Covenant commander was able to determine the rough location of the two man team. Before Connor and Mellissa fully realized their problem, Covenant hunter-killer teams were onto them, tirelessly tracking and following them, luring them into a corner were they would have no escape.

Five and a half hours after the crash, Connor and Mellissa had not rested in over a day, and were finally caught up to by the Covenant forces. The enemy surrounded them, and occupied several positions that they had marked as fallback positions. Under heavy fire, and pinned down by enemy attack, they retreated to their final position, a heavily decayed warehouse and processing plant that a human corporation had built in the 2390s.

It was quite clear that they were in an impossible situation. Surrounded and outgunned, with a well known position, they were low on ammo, tired, and injured. But, in a moment of flawed pride, the Covenant commander placed his inexperienced subordinate in charge of the defensive perimeter, gathered a small team, and personally lead the assault once it was determined that they were facing the feared, honored, and hated human demons.

The small team, which would have easily decimated dozens of UNSC marines, met its match. While a large assault could have overwhelmed them, the two SPARTANs were experts at combating other small units, and with their stealthy SPI armor, the elites of the Covenant team met their match. The two SPARTANs ambushed and raided the enemy in the close quarters of the warehouse, and finally, after trapping the enemy in a former meat processing plant, and a close encounter with a Covenant energy sword, brought the entire roof down on the enemy.

Tan Team then attempted a breakout. Rushing from the building, they attacked a small portion of the enemy line, and made it away. Unknown to them, they had the Covenant commander to thank for the easy escape. The inexperienced subordinate tried to anticipate likely escape routes, and clustered his troops together at them, weakening the entire perimeter and creating holes. The two SPARTANs found one and slipped out, and managed to escape undetected. The Covenant forces, oblivious to the fact that their prey had already escaped, rushed into the facility, finding the crushed attack team and their commander, but no demons. By the time they realized that the SPARTANs were gone, they had lost their advantage.

With the Covenant off their back, Connor and Mellissa now quickly planned their next move. They quickly calculated the distance that the nuke could have fallen in, based on their altitude, then guessed it’s most likely fall vector and headed after their supposed target. After another four hours of searching and avoiding sporadic Covenant patrols, they found it.

But they were not the only ones. The same Banshee squad that had shot them down had tracked the falling landing skid, and transmitted it’s location to ground units. A dropships worth of Covenant had landed and secured the skid, and were now in the process of examining it to discover it’s use. Outnumbered again, but with time running out, Mellissa suggested a quick and rough plan, and they immediately enacted it.

As darkness fell, the two SPARTANs began their attack. Connor took up a position inside a tree and covered Mellissa as she advanced, attacking the Covenant forces. Mellissa, using several M9 frag grenades, pushed the enemy back. The Covenant forces fell back after taking heavy losses, but the SPARTANs did not pursue. Instead, Mellissa grabbed the HAVOK, armed it for a remote detonation by either them, the command team back in the city, or the fleet commander overhead, and turned on the timer as a failsafe, setting it to 4 hours, the new projected time in which the Covenant would be moving through the valley in full.

Falling back, they headed for a nearby Covenant motor pool, staged a lightening fast attack, and escaped in a pair of Ghosts, blowing their way out. Streaking through the forest with boosters on, they fled for their lives. Within forty minutes, they reached the steep hills that created the valley, and sped upward on their ghosts. The standard M12 LRV would not have been able to handle the steep cliffs, but the ghosts, with their superior anti-gravity drives, easily muscled their way up. Escaping the valley two hours after they had armed the nuke, they hit open ground and sped back to the city, contacting General Martin inside the command center and informing him of their mission’s success. Then, they handed over control of the nukes to him, appraised him of the situation, and put as much distance between them and their surprise for the Covenant as possible.

Three hours and twenty minutes after arming the device, General Martin activated the nuke. The Covenant force had entered in full, and the supply ship had even descended into the valley as well, flying parallel to the ground forces. Tan Team was 90 miles away, speeding quickly towards the city of flat, rocky plains aboard their captured ghosts. The detonation utterly destroyed the Covenant force, but as predicted, the valley contained most of the blast, channeling it away from the humans. When the dust cleared, all that remained was scorched earth, radioactivity, and the burnt, melted husk that had been the Covenant supply ship. The mission was a success.

Now, everything depended on the battle in orbit. As was the case throughout the war, the UNSC was often the superior force on the ground, but were subjects to the outcome of the orbital combat. In a rare case, the UNSC fleet successfully destroyed the enemy, and though they took heavy losses, the fleet was able to begin immediate extraction of the ground troops. The efforts of Tan Team had not gone to waste, and the UNSC forces took pride in having saved a fully colonized world. They’d had a victory, despite their long chain of defeats.

Operation: SANDBOX

After securing the Mao System, the UNSC forces on the ground began transfer back up to the ships in orbit. Despite their success, there were still dozens more planets under attack, and the UNSC’s forces were wearing thin. A large group like the one Admiral Ulrich was commanding could not afford to sit still, and had to be constantly moving to help out in as many areas as possible. So, as soon as possible, the troops on the ground bid farewell to the surface and were shuttled back up to the fleet. Tan Team was no exception, being flown aboard a Pelican the flagship.

As soon as all personnel were loaded, the fleet jumped to slipspace. They headed not for Reach, but for a routing station in interstellar space. The station was one of many, placed to be close to as many colonies as possible, and acted as a control center for operations. Each sector had one, and each acted as a focal point for communications, organization, and response. The station was more than two weeks travel away from them, and they arrived on January 22nd, 2552. Most interstellar gathering points had repair/refit stations with them, and the fleet, after arriving, took advantage of the one at their area and began refitting their ships and repairing damage. While the fleet was in refit, the ground troops were kept in cryo, not being awoken for anything.

On January 25th, 2552, the repairs and refit of the fleet were complete. Fortunately, the finish came just in time. The planet of New Damascus sent out a distress signal, alerting the interstellar station, and also Ulrich’s fleet, that they were under attack. The situation was not completely clear, but the transmission was urgent, so Ulrich left the station behind and headed out immediately for the system, to reinforce it. They did not know however, that Connor and Mellissa’s nearly insubordinate nature was about to cost the lives of thousands…including someone very close.

Their arrival was a by the book one. Slipping in system on April 18th, 2552, at a range close enough to quickly reach it, but out of weapons range of an attacking force, they assessed the situation, before engaging. The UNSC forces were holding on by the skin of their teeth, as a Covenant attack group hammered their defenses. The outgunned defense fleet was saved only by the presence of a orbital MAC gun, which was allowing them to hold out. Their fleet, upon reviewing the situation, began their approach.

The cities were not yet under ground attack, but the generators for the orbital MAC were all housed groundside, and the buildings were the only area that could house the proper defending force. So, the Pelicans and Albatrosses that launched immediately vectored for the planet, on a vector for the eight largest cities. As they descended through the battle, the invasion troops caught a first hand look of the battle raging in orbit, a first for many of the green marines, who’d served either only on the ground or not at all. Flashing past the burnt and melted husks of spacecraft, flying through fields of dead civilians and naval crewmen alike, they got a horrifying look of the casualties of the battle even before they arrived.

Landing in force, the UNSC forces fanned out immediately to take control of the cities. The troops split up in order to have at least some forces at each city, but some cities received a larger garrison, such as the capital and the two largest population centers. The change in troop amounts was astounding. Two years earlier, during the Aegis Campaign, the UNSC troops had totaled over 900,000. But the war had intensified since then, and less than 40,000 troops were deployed to defend New Damascus. The UNSC forces, which had once actually outnumbered the Covenant on the ground and which had been fairly consistent at beating them in land-battles, was quickly weakening and being overwhelmed.

Tan Team, however, had a different assignment. The orbital MACs that were crucial to the defense of the planet had a major weakness, which the UNSC feared that the Covenant would take advantage of. The power generators, without which the colossal cannon was no better than a communications satellite, were practically undefended. Tan Team was deployed alongside a company of combat hardened ODSTs, some from units that had served with Tan Team in the past. Their mission was to keep the generator safe at all costs, keeping the Covenant from taking down the MAC. The events to come were sure to test them.

After landing, Connor and Mellissa assisted the ODSTs in setting up a standard defensive perimeter. Trenches, concertina wire, automated defenses, and emergency explosive charges were all prepared in case of a Covenant strike. The Pelicans that delivered them to the surface also delivered heavy weapons such as Scorpion Tanks, Cobra Artillery Units, and Warthog LRVs, which would be necessary to repel the large scale armor rush that the Covenant would likely employ. Working double time, they prepared themselves for combat that could begin at any time.

Seven hours after landing, as they continued to place defenses, the outer scout nodes monitoring their eastern sector went offline, without any warning or messages. The Major in command of the combat company quickly realized what was happening, and prepared for the assault. The ODSTs and Tan Team scrambled to defensive positions, boarding tanks, manning mounted weapons, and taking cover in foxholes and trenches.

But without sentries, they had no definite information on the enemy. The Major asked for a volunteer team to scout for the enemy, and Connor and Mellissa, wanting to minimize the risks that the other marines had to take, volunteered. Grabbing only minimal gear, they headed for a low ridge where they hoped to observe the enemy.

It didn’t take long to find them. The Covenant was advancing quickly, and unfortunately for Connor and Mellissa, heading straight for the ridge. The Covenant troops were heavily armed, equipped with Wraith Mortar Tanks, Ghost Hovercraft, and even a few Locust building destroyers, in addition to their standard infantry hordes. Capturing everything on their SPI armor’s mounted cameras and beaming it back to the Major, they waited for their orders.

The Covenant, however, did not give them time to wait. The alien attackers increased speed, heading straight for Tan Team’s position. It was quickly clear what their plan was. From the ridge, the Wraith tanks would be able to bombard the generator and the defenders from afar, and the infantry would have the higher ground no matter how far they advanced. The Covenant force looked to be on estimate of around 600 troops--the ODST combat company, which had only 180, was at a distinct disadvantage.

It did not take long for the battle to begin. All across the UNSC line, the humans open fired. Though the ridge was over 500 yards away, the targets were plentiful. Though the Covenant tanks were well armored, the enemy infantry, without cover, dropped like flies. Cobra units entered their locked down mode, and fired off salvo after salvo, attempting to press the enemy armor back. They were not successful.

The Covenant retaliated, using their mortar units to hurl plasma charges straight into the UNSC lines. The confusion after the impacts as the humans attempted to discover what was happening gave the Covenant an opening, and they promptly took it. Beginning an infantry charge, they headed straight for the hapeless humans.

The ODSTs attempted to drive the infantry back with massed gunfire, but mortar fire kept them pinned. The company’s scorpion tanks fared little better than foot soldiers. Their main cannons and coaxial machine guns sliced easily through the onrushing Covenant, but for every enemy killed, several more took it’s place. Without massed fire, the enemy would be at the UNSC lines, inside the trenches, and slaughtering the ODSTs within minutes.

Tan Team, still on the ridge, had little choice but to sit and watch. Unable to move, lest the Covenant spot the shimmer of their SPI, they held still, watching as the situation fell apart. The Major, along with most of the command staff, were killed from a stray wraith mortar, leaving an inexperienced Captain in charge of the ODSTs. From their vantage point, Connor and Mellissa had a perfect view of the battle, and within ten minutes, knew they were needed.

None to confident in their odds of survival, but without an alternative, Connor led Mellissa down the slope and towards the UNSC lines. Reaching a group of ODSTs who had been in a M12 LRV before it was flipped by a fuel rod shot, they assisted them in getting rid of their attackers, then pressed on. Fighting their way through the crowds of enemy troops, they finally reached the Captain’s location after 20 minutes.

The Captain, they found, was not doing very well. Green and fresh out of OCS, he’d been promoted based on academy merit to replace the shrinking officer corp., and was way over his head. He lacked a plan of escape, and was unsure on how to proceed.

Connor and Mellissa reached him just after a particularity nasty rush by the Covenant. The UNSC forces, stuck in their trenches, barely held the enemy at bay, and took heavy casualties from the Wraiths.

The Captain was not aware of the threat posed by the tanks, and was instead trying to counter the infantry solely. Connor managed to persuade him otherwise, telling him that the tanks were the real threat: if they continued functioning, the ODST company was toast. As Connor attempted to give a crash course in combat tactics and help the Captain turn the battle around, Mellissa lost patience.

Boarding one of the M808B Scorpion MBTs and throwing out the driver, she took matters into her own hands. Driving diagonally towards the Wraiths, and heading for their flank, her actions prompted the other tank commanders to follow suit. The five scorpions followed her in as she swept in and around, blasting wraiths and locusts as quickly as possible. The Captain, shocked by the sudden armor rush, went slightly catatonic, diving to the ground to avoid incoming fire and holding in a semi-fetal position. Connor, tired of the green captain, sprinted for the trenches.

Mellissa’s attack blew the enemies mortar offensive all to hell, and now, the ODSTs in the trenches were no longer pinned in place. With freedom to attack, they popped from cover and attacked the Covenant with massed gunfire. The gentle grassy hill was soon littered with stray rounds, covenant gore, and the blackened patches of grass of explosions. Connor stood, and leading by example, charged the enemy. The ODSTs and him pushed them straight up the hill, but rather than escape, the Covenant ran straight into the tank force commanded by Mellissa. Caught between a rock and a hard place, they faltered, breaking disciple and fleeing. The highly organized ODSTs broke into groups and hunted down the enemies, exterminating them.

With the Covenant force decimated, the force returned to the generator to lick it’s wounds. The battle had been costly. Of the 180 mainline troops, 3 platoons had been wiped out, and practically the entire command staff was gone. The cobra units, which had locked down, had been easy targets in their stationary form for the Covenant mortar groups, and almost all of the warthogs were destroyed. However, despite the heavy damage, their personal losses were far from the biggest worry of the UNSC troops.

Across the planet, things were going to hell. Unknown to Tan Team, the enemy had been steadily isolating and destroying UNSC groups, hunting down the smaller forces placed in the less prevalent cities as they prepared to attack the more reinforced ones. The UNSC forces, outnumbered by a three two one margin, were being overrun and routed in every skirmish on the planet. The few survivors of the Covenant attacks were already pulling back to the capital, and the defense force there was being swamped with injured and frightened troops.

Things took yet another turn for the worst. As the last of the smaller cities were overwhelmed by the Covenant and as the large population centers prepared for an assault, the orbital line faltered. In space, Admiral Ulrich’s force was being hammered, and a Covenant CCS-class cruiser had broken past the fragile human line, vectoring for the planet. Hard burning into the atmosphere at a tremendous velocity, it slowed as it hit cruising altitude and began moving toward the largest population center, the city of Submission.

The ship headed straight in and took a position above the city. Below, thousands of civilians struggled to escape, clogging highways and maglev trains with excess vehicles. The UNSC forces did not dare fire on the enemy ship.

But Connor and Mellissa, tired of watching innocents and fellow soldiers die, were not about to let the Covenant destroy more fellow humans. Stealing an M12 LRV and reasoning that forgiveness was easier to ask for than permission, they floored the gas and sped towards the city, a scant 20 miles away. As they closed, they picked out more details--like how the cruiser seemed to be toying with it’s prey, slowly and ominously charging it’s plasma torpedoes for a salvo.

But as they drew closer, they picked out another detail: dropships, dozens of them, leaving the ship--and heading straight for the generators. At that point, they realized that the Covenant had fooled them--used the city as bait for any generator defenders. Ashamed that they were the only ones to fall for the trick, they did their best to correct it.

On the turret, Connor open fired on the Covenant, hoping to draw attention. The M41 LAAG did not manage to take down any of the incoming spirit dropships, but did manage something else: to draw the fire of a flight of six banshees.

Within moments of open firing, the two SPARTANs were driving for their lives. Weaving through suburban streets and dodging plasma fire from the banshees, they headed straight for the ship. As they dodged strafing runs, the two of them created a harebrained scheme; board the Covenant ship, take control, and shoot down the invasion force with the point defense lasers. Under stress, they did not have time to come up with another plan, and continued straight for the cruiser.

As they entered the city, the banshees seemingly pulled away. Mellissa lessened her evasive maneuvers out of reflex, but when they approached a local bank, ten banshees rose and open fired on them, destroying their hog. Ditching their burning vehicle, they ran for a local shop. Dodging inside, they ran through the 4 stories of stairs, and reached the roof. Before the banshees realized that they should either avoid the building or gain altitude, Tan Team jumped for the roof, boarded the Banshees, and hit their boosters.

Chaos struck with lightening speed. As the Covenant force that they had spotted aboard dropships earlier attacked the generator, the few remaining defenders quickly lost ground and were killed. The Covenant cruiser open fired with it’s plasma weapons, burning the city below it, even as it turned it’s pulse lasers towards Tan Team. The SPARTANs did not attempt to go evasive. They were almost to the cruiser, and were hoping to reach it as quickly as possible.

They were doomed, however. As the other banshees matched their speed, the Covenant cruiser charged it‘s pulse lasers. Connor had only a moment to call for evasive maneuvers before it fired it’s point defense weapons.

The salvo slammed into their fighters, melting their hulls and destroying all of their flight systems. Unable to pull up, they slammed into the surface of the city, even as more plasma fire bombarded it. Plowing crater trails into the concrete, they came under fire again from the banshees. As they ran for the shelter of a nearby UNSC missile base, Mellissa was hit by the fighters. Boiling hot plasma struck her legs, melting her SPI armor to her skin and covering her skin with third degree burns. They kept moving, limping inside the base, but it was clear that Mellissa would soon be completely unable to walk.

Nearby, covenant dropships landed, deploying troops. The Covenant cruiser, alerted to the presence of demons, ceased bombardment on their area, allowing for the ground troops to have the honor of fighting the demons.

As the Covenant headed en masse towards their hiding spot, Connor prepared for a last stand. But Mellissa, sure that she would die anyway, told Connor to leave her. Grabbing her shotgun, she forced him away, before finding a good spot and preparing to meet her fate. Connor burned with shame as Mellissa forced him to abandon her, and fled feeling like a guilty man.

Operation Sandbox

Mellissa’s final moments

In her corner, Mellissa open fired at close range with her shotgun, but was quickly overrun. Fleeing from the combat, Connor heard everything, including Mellissa’s final scream as an elite plunged an energy sword into her. He headed out of the city as the plasma began falling again, and met up with a group of marines who were heading for an extraction point. As he evacuated with them, he learned what had happened.

Without their help and leadership, the generator had quickly fallen to the Covenant, and with the orbital MAC gone, the situation in orbit had deteriorated immediately. The Covenant force rushed the humans, routing their fleet, and was now commencing glassing operations. The human survivors were evacuating to what was left of the fleet. Connor boarded a Pelican dropship, heading for a frigate. As he boarded, the ship launched into slipspace, heading for Reach.

All that remained of the fleet was two frigates and a destroyer. Admiral Ulrich’s flagship had been destroyed, and the ground forces had an almost complete destruction. The flight to Reach was a sober one for all involved, but before Connor could fully realize what exactly had happened, he was put into cryo, keeping him unconscious and unable to think of his team, which was now completely gone. Despite this, that cryo was plagued with nightmares for Connor. Though he could not realize it in his unconscious state, his entire world had just changed.

Operation: BUG SQUASHER

Upon returning to Reach, the full weight of Melissa’s death fell upon Connor. Overwhelmed with rage at the Covenant, he snapped at his commander once on Reach, and brought a board of review upon himself. Without his knowledge, they secretly examined his mental state. The events at New Damascus, combined with the examination, placed him in the “unfit for duty” section, without his knowledge. Fearful that placing him in combat was dangerous to the soldiers around him due to extreme anger problems, ONI saw to it that he remained as far away from combat as possible.

To keep Connor away from the action, they placed him aboard a patrol corvette, which had the perfect job for the SPARTAN that they though was so “dangerously unstable”. The corvette’s sole duty was to patrol human space, and report on the movements of the Covenant forces. Because of the inferior human slipspace drive and the UNSC’s inability to consistently track Covenant forces in slipspace, it was considered by most as a joke.

At first, Connor simply thought that the UNSC was giving him some unofficial leave to cope with the death of his team, and was grateful. After several months aboard the Corvette with no action, however, he realized that something was up. Limitations placed on him further fueled this belief. He was not allowed to use weapon unless accompanied by a senior officer, and more than once noticed that he had a shadow following him, whom he suspected was some kind of ONI spook. For several months, Connor’s life was more boring than it had been in 12 years.

However, this changed after events entirely past his control. In August, Reach fell, putting more and more strain on the UNSC’s forces, who had lost a huge portion of their fleet. Then, in October, the Covenant found earth, and the battle there began. During the battle, the Covenant deployed dozens of Scarabs, and HIGHCOMM noticed an alarming trend: the mammoth Covenant walkers were being deployed both with more frequency and in greater numbers, along with steadily growing weaponry. HIGHCOMM was sufficiently worried that they tasked ONI with finding out a way to stop the supply of the walkers.

In a rare bit of luck, Section 3 cryptologists intercepted and decoded a Covenant transmission detailing a shipment of Scarab parts to a facility on a planet just beyond UNSC space, known to the covenant as Burning Faith. They also noticed that the supply list was growing longer and longer--the Covenant were constructing more and more walkers. Something had to be done.

But what? Asked parts of Section III. The SPARTAN-IIs had been decimated on Reach, and the SPARTAN-IIIs were in engaged in missions or still in training, unable to assist. As far as they knew, they had no strike force in range. Except for one, forgotten individual. It occurred to Section III that Connor was easily in range, and that he could possibly take down the plant. They acted quickly, alerting his Corvette to move towards the covenant planet, stopping only at a UNSC armory base on Delta VII to pick up one very crucial piece of equipment: Mjolnir Mk. IV Armor. Though he had only used SPI, Connor’s bones and musculature was the same as any SPARTAN-IIs, and it would not be hard to train him on the suit.

En route to the armory, Connor received some subliminal training while in cryo, and like the SPARTANs of the classes before him, was able to use the armor quiet easily after a short amount of practice with it. He was then armed up with new weapons, and the Corvette jumped into slipspace, heading for the Scarab facility. During this jump, Connor did not cryo, instead using the time and spending it in the ships armory, getting back up to speed with his combat skills. He assumed, corrected, that they would be vital to the completion of the mission.

When the ship arrived in the system, they found almost no Covenant resistance waiting for them. Descending to low orbit, they placed Connor aboard a Pelican. His orders were quite simple: insert directly to the facilities outer outpost by pelican, blow your way inside, plant the C12 charge we’ve given you on the reactor, and get the hell out. The facility was mostly underground, buried deep inside a mountain, and the only entrance was through an outpost that the Covenant had established on the surface. Surprise was thought of as the best means for entering the tightly guarded manufacturing facility.

However, the cards were decidedly not in Connor’s favor. While descending aboard his pelican, a Covenant AAA outpost caught a radar signature of the Pelican and open fired. Three shots to the side crippled the hull, before a final fuel rod blasted straight in through the cockpit, frying the pilot and damaging the Pelican beyond repair. The crippled craft plummeted past the mountain, smacking into a low lying valley.

The wreck knocked Connor unconscious for several hours, and by the time he awoke, he knew he would have little time before night fell. Without any navigational tools to find his location, he was lost, but he decided to ascend the mountain, knowing that his objective was somewhere at the top. The ascent took him a little over 3 hours of climbing. He was packing light on ammunition and was carrying only one extra piece of equipment: a C12 explosive.

On the way up, Connor noticed a peculiar lack of patrols. Though grateful for the unexpected development, he wondered what it could mean. This became much more clear soon enough. Connor had finished climbing a particularity steep section, and had found an open plain, the top of the flat headed mountain. However, before he could rest, a heavily armed patrol of banshees and ghosts whizzed by, and only sharp hearing and quick thinking kept him from being discovered. He realized that the patrols likely wanted an extremely close perimeter, but only had enough soldiers for a small one. He also decided to follow the patrol, in the hopes that it would lead him back to the Covenant base.

Meanwhile, in orbit, the corvette that had delivered him unexpectedly encountered two covenant frigates, who had been loading up finished Scarab walkers into their holds. Rather than engage in such a lopsided fight, the Corvette jumped away from the system on a random vector, then returned to earth.

After several hours of following the patrol around the mountain, it led Connor to the base. He covertly entered it, unaware he was moving straight into a trap. He rode a Covenant grav lift to the center of the facility, and began searching for a reactor. After narrowly avoiding guards, he located the power source using thermal vision, and placed his charge. However, he realized just at that moment that several things didn’t match up, and turned and managed to shoot a zealot elite who had been preparing to attack him. Following this, he realized that the base was a trap, and attempted to flee. Unfortunately, the Covenant blocked the gravity lift with energy shields, and waves of elites forced him back. He was pushed to the edge of the small artificial island, and was about to be overwhelmed when the reactor detonated. Acting quickly, Connor dove into the coolant surrounding the island and managed to escape the worst of the blast.

When his C12 charge detonated, it started a chain reaction within the reactor, and the intense heat destroyed the entire facility. Luckily, most of the heat was channeled up the grav-lift shoot, exiting at the top at the outpost. Nevertheless, the searing heat boiled even the reactor coolant, and Connor received extensive scars and serious damage to his armor. After the blast, Connor used the thousands of tons of wreckage that had fallen as a sort of path, making his way to an access port in the ceiling.

After escaping, he made his way down the mountain, towards his crash site. Once there, he used the excess materials to fasten together a transmitter, then recorded an audio log of his mission. He routed this log through the listening stations on Io and Solstice, and it was picked up successfully by both. While he waited for help to arrive, Connor used the remaining ammunition he had to attack the few covenant outposts nearby. Using hit and run guerilla tactics, he successfully destroyed three covenant outposts, and blew up the two Anti-Air Artillery Wraiths that had shot his Pelican down.

Connor then settled in too wait. And wait he did. The UNSC had no resources to spare, and could not send aid until after Dosiac was pacified and the peace accords were signed. However, Connor was retrieved by a UNSC Cruiser, in an attempt to show their gratitude. Battle plans, given by the Sangheili, whom Connor warily accepted as allies, revealed that if not for the destruction of the Scarab facility, there would have likely been at least a dozen more employed during truth’s final stand at the citadel, which some experts believed might have been enough to slow down the UNSC force enough for Truth to activate the rings.

Sniper Instructor

Connor returned to Earth, visiting the planet for his first time. Once there, Section III offered him the chance to continue on missions. Connor respectfully declined, and instead was placed at the UNSC Sniper School on Earth, where he became a sniper instructor under an alias of Connor Andrews. Commanding sniper classroom #1201 and sniper instruction field #4320, he had his own personal shooting range and his own collection of raw cadets to train. Many new recruits believed him to be a veteran of some top secret program within the UNSC, though none thought to connect him to the SPARTAN-IIs.

The war with the Remnant had simmered to a low intensity, but rebellions were still a large threat. In need of more and more trained men, Connor’s duty as a sniper instructor became highly valued. Among the Sniper School staff, he became a legend as the best shooter on a range populated by master marksman, as well as a teacher who demanded high performance, but who also taught his recruits to be some of the most precise shooter in the armed forces. One leading instructor took a three week course with Connor and swore he was shooting twice as good by the end of it.

Connor, as a SPARTAN, had many aspects of his biography sealed, puzzling some other instructors who attempted to look him up, and enjoyed only limited freedom on base and was almost completely subject to the UNSC’s bidding. The UNSC attempted to ignore or misdirect questions posed about Connor, but other instructors eventually were able to receive his not sealed service vitae, and learned of the almost two dozen operations and campaigns he had performed in during the latter years of the Great War, though the exact role he played was never revealed to any of them.

The years as a sniper instructor were considered by him as his “retirement”. Despite his restricted lifestyle and limited rights, he enjoyed freedom he had never known. Training new soldiers was both a joy and a curse. Connor enjoyed their bright attitudes and eagerness to learn, but was saddened by the thought so many of them would likely be sent of to die. He struggled to keep from emphasizing to much with his recruits, and it always pained him to see the after-action reports forwarded to him by commanders and sergeants after his recruits were killed in combat, be it with the Remnant, the various rebel factions, or some other cause.

Despite building up a legend at the sniper school, Connor mostly attempted to treat his post as a sort of retirement. He did not allow himself to slack off, but did not push himself to his limits every day as he had done only a few years earlier. Though still a young man with the body of only 23, his mind had been drained by the years of fighting, and it had subtle effects on his body that took years to cure. Rest was the only real medication for his troubles, but eventually, he found himself drifting back into the game. Growing more competitive and pushing himself more and more, he knew his time as an instructor would soon be done and that he would undoubtedly find himself returning to the field.

In 2562, 10 years after taking the post as the sniper instructor, Connor decided to reenter active duty. Unfortunately, he chose a particularity unsuitable time. The human economy, which had been rocky for some time, was stabilizing, and the rebellions were gradually fizzling out, though they would periodically return once every couple of years. Meanwhile, the Covenant Remnant was thoroughly beaten and retreating to the far reaches of space, to lick it’s wounds and piece it’s damaged self together. So, when Connor declared his wish to rejoin active duty, ONI used it as an opportunity to store the valued operator for a time when he would be needed. Unknown to anyone there, that time would be a long time coming.

Operation: CARTOGRAPHER

In late 2562, upon reentering active duty, Connor was placed in Operation: CARTOGRAPHER. Placed aboard the Prowler Shadowed Moonlight, Connor was put into the ships security complement, and consequently, spent a large amount of time in cryo. As the name suggested, Operation: CARTOGRAPHER was an expedition to scout for new worlds for colonization. Though the concept was not new, some of the things that were implemented were. The UNSC forces crewing the Prowler were not alone in their duties. The Shadowed Moonlight was one of the only human ships to be built with the physiology of humans, Sangheili, and Unggoy in mind, as was a testament to inter-species cooperation.

The ship was under command of a Sangheili Captain, and crewed primarily by humans and Sangheili. The reason of the Sangheili Captain was partially to show good faith on the UNSC’s part, but also to give the elites hands-on experience with human ship systems, so that they could better understand the strengths and limitations of the UNSC fleet. For Connor, who had never fought alongside Elites in combat, and who had witnessed both of his teammates killed at their hand, the transition from friend to foe was not an easy one. Though he’d heard all about the alliance with the Sangheili as a marksman trainer, his last encounter with one had been the deadly fight in the Scarab manufacturing facility during Operation: BUG SQUASHER. He was going to have to learn to tolerate the elites, and very quickly.

Though officially for surveying purposes, CARTOGRAPHER was mostly about other things. Behavioral scientists from all three sides closely observed the crew and their interactions, learning about how separate species interacted when they were all on equal turf. For the UNSC, it was also an exercise to familiarize their troops with the Elites and their customs when outside of combat, and in some cases, force troops that had been noticeably racist to the aliens to learn to respect them, so that their intolerance could be corrected. Though this point was part of the reason Connor was aboard, Section III had another idea in mind.

The ship, though utilizing a slipspace drive that had been donated by the Sangheili, was still only so fast. The surveying ship was set to cross the equivalent distance of half of the galaxy, and could only cover so much ground in so much time. So, the crew all spent a great deal of time in cryo freeze. This practice had been virtually forgotten by the Sangheili, who were intrigued and somewhat mystified that the humans froze themselves on long voyages, rather than use other, more advanced forms of stasis. Still, because all the tech on the ship besides the drive was human and not Covenant, the Sangheili, Unggoy, and Humans all went into cryo together.

As a security guard and not a technician, Connor spent even more time in cryo than most of the crew. Awakened for only a few days at each planet, while the rest of the crew was awake for weeks at a time as the ship completed it’s 2 month observation cycle for each planet, Connor barely aged. The ship’s tour was an unusually long one--14 years, 10 and a half of it projected to be spent in slipspace, and thus in cryo, only stopping by a civilized planet every four years. Connor, as a soldier, spent well over 12 years in cryo, as the ship paraded through both known and unknown space, observing dead colonies that had been glassed during the Great War, looking for new, habitable planets, and studying how the crews interacted.

At first, the ship spent most of it’s time at the destroyed outer colonies. The reasons for this was dual fold, both to observe how the glassing had affected the planets over long term, and to force the crew to confront each other over the destruction of the ship in another of the many odd social experiments. Eventually, after months of anger and a near mutiny, the crew put aside their deeper hatreds, forming a deep bond, and giving hope to the scientists that the scars of the Great War could and would eventually fade. Connor, who struck out of a group of Sangheili and Unggoy in anger from the sight of so many destroyed worlds and the memory of his dead team, nearly killing several of them, was eventually able to put aside his hate towards the aliens, and put to rest some of the ghosts of his past. Still, being “friends” with the Sangheili and Unggoy was not something he would be accomplishing anytime soon.

After this, the ship began it’s tour of partially explored space. Their objective was to create more reliable and accurate charts of space, replacing old, outdated maps. The progress on this was slow--painstaking months of scanning every inch of a system, which Connor, much to his thanks, managed to avoid due to his security team status. The rest of the crew was not so lucky, forced to spend weeks at a time examining a single system at a time. The situation was made tolerable only because of the reward that would follow. Their orders after charting the systems was to head for unknown space, and this proverbial light at the end of the tunnel allowed the crew to keep their morale high and more importantly, not go insane with boredom.

After the work was finished, the ship reoriented and headed for unknown space. By this time, the ship had been in the field for ten years, much of it spent in cryo. Connor had aged barely a month, and because he was only awake for short bursts, was not able to spend much time putting aside his differences with the alien crewmembers. The opposite was true for the rest of the ship. The crew, once suspicious and anxious of each other, had bonded into a tight nit community. The men and women of the human crew were forming bonds of camaraderie with their alien allies, and any fears that the three species were incompatible were gone. The ship was now truly unified.

The ship began it’s cycle of observation, searching out planets and testing them for possible life. However, with the added factor of possible colonization, survey teams were needed to go down to the surface, and since the scientists in these groups had little to no military training, they needed escorts. This was were Connor came in. As part of the security contingent, he accompanied every survey team down to the planet. Though he was odd in that he was suspicious of the aliens amongst the normal crew, the other soldiers, who had spent as much time as he had in cryo, had also changed very little. Progress in breaking down the walls of hate and suspicion was slow, as most of the time awake was spent in the field, constantly alert for danger as he protected the survey teams.

Then, in 2674, the constant cycle of observation and cryo hit a sudden and very violent roadblock.

On a routine mission to a potential colony planet known as KL-576-439, the atmosphere displayed an unusual and unforeseen problem. Though it had breathable oxygen at it’s lower levels, a soupy but lightweight mixture of gases hung in it’s upper atmosphere. These gases had another problem--they periodically generated tremendous thunderstorms. While descending, their dropship was caught up in one of these fast moving storms, and their dropship was struck by lightning, overloading the power coils, and destroying all flight systems. With no guidance, they went hurtling off course. Instead of landing on a flat plateau, they landed belly up in a jungle.

Awakening after hours of unconsciousness, Connor was the first up. Rousing the others, he took decisive control of the situation. Creating a medic’s hut inside their upside down dropship, deploying sentries, and helping to begin creating a makeshift transmitter from the Pelican. The others quickly fell in line behind his lead, and worked to get moving. Three days after crashing, the situation did not seem at all perilous anymore--the wounded were all treated, their had been no signs of danger, and the transmitter, Connor’s transmitter, after his experience during BUG SQUASHER, was nearly complete.

But as the days passed, and work on the transmitter continued, ominous happenings began. Disappearances. Screams heard from afar, with no source found when the security teams arrived. Dark shapes in the trees, and the crackling of leaves in the night. The events got on everyone’s nerves--until one day, one of the scientist snapped.

It was three in the morning when a fellow security officer woke Connor from his standard, 6 hour sleep. The emergency alarm on the Pelican had been set off by one of the crewmen, who had barricaded himself inside the cockpit and was busy muttering to himself. This however, was the least of their problems.

The blaring noise quickly attracted attention, and the predators that had been prowling their camp for the last week chose that moment to attack. Dozens of tiger like lizards rushed into the camp, each intent on scoring a meal. The crew, however, was determined not to become one.

Every able bodied man, women, or alien in the group grabbed whatever they could to fight off the predators. Connor, armed only with his M6C SOCCOM sidearm, quickly rallied the others, and led everyone who was still alive to the Pelican. Climbing on top of the dropship, which still rested belly up, Connor and the other armed troops formed a circle around the dropship, firing on everything that came close. Though armed with only a half dozen assault and plasma rifles, along with perhaps eight or so pistols, they held firm for eight hours as the predators attacked. The beasts, though slow moving, were strong and well defended by sheets of armor. As the night dragged on, they continued fighting.

Just after dawn, the creatures relented. The predators had hurled themselves at their supposed prey, but the hundreds of dead creatures attested to the fact that their “prey” was not ready to become dinner. Mangled creature carcasses covered their camp, and the beleaguered crews found themselves awed that they had survived. But with the awe came a new feeling: respect. The soldiers, who had hated and feared each other’s species only hours before, were now bonded and changed by their time spent under fire together. With the newfound camaraderie, they quickly went to work.

With crews no longer focused on their suspicions of each other, but instead on the objective, and with the night before serving as motivation to get off planet, they moved quickly. Most of the soldiers were placed on guard duty to watch for another attack, while another pried open the cargo door of the Pelican, brining out the exhausted and terrified technician who had gone crazy. The final group, commanded personally by Connor, had the vital job of finishing the transmitter. Without it, there was no way home.

Two days later, it was finished. Fashioned with electrical wiring from the Pelican, thermal blankets, an old comm radio from the extra supplies, two fusion coil units stolen from the Pelican’s energy source, a communications headset, and dozens more parts, it was not much stronger than most devices used during the early 21st century, but still sufficient for their purposes. They signaled the orbiting ship, establishing contact with it, explaining their situation, and requesting pickup. The crews left aboard had been anxiously waiting for a response by the team for over a week, and were relieved to be sure that their fellows were all right. Within minutes, a Pelican was on it’s way to their position.

The landing dropship was met with cheers from weary technicians and soldiers alike. Loading aboard the Pelican, they went quickly to work explaining their extraordinary story of survival to the doubtful Pelican crew chiefs, abandoning the Pelican on the surface. They returned to the ship just in time for the slipspace jump out system, and as they left, the honor of writing the report on the planet fell to Connor. He described it as a habitable planet, dangerous. Though this was regulation, neither he nor any other member of the surface team felt that this was extreme enough. Six technicians and two soldiers had died on the surface, killed in the line of duty.

Their ship continued it’s mission across space, but was still no longer fully united. However, instead of species vs. species, things were falling into more classic terms; soldiers vs. squids. The humans learned many traditions from their Sangheili brethren, like the importance of honor and the familial structure of Sangheili communities. In turn, the Sangheili learned many human customs, such as sports, human marriage, and of course, happy hour.

At the end of the mission, in 2576, the ship began a long voyage home. The mission had been an unparallel success, giving new meaning to the term “long-term deployment”. The social experiment had also paid off. The crew of the Shadowed Moonlight was now as close nit group of people as found in any unit, be it Sangheili, Human, or Unggoy. When they arrived back at civilized space, they were met as heroes by their fellow soldiers as pioneers of a new age of cooperation, though media coverage was noticeably vacant.

In the wake of the mission, half the crew signed on for a second tour of duty, and 97% of them requested to be placed in the same unit they had just left. The other half, mostly scientists, resigned their commission, and formed the School of Interspecies Scientific Study, which would rise to prominence in the following years and become one of the most prominent academies in Allied space.

Connor was among those who requested a second deployment aboard the Shadowed Moonlight, and ONI, upon reviewing both his bio and the current state of the UNSC, decided it would be advantageous to approve his request. His leadership during the crash became well known, and it was thought that he was not needed yet, and that saving him was the most prudent thing to do. So, after a three month leave, Connor was transferred back to the Prowler for a second tour of duty. But before the ship could embark on it’s second voyage however, Connor ran into problems.

Operation: GREY TEAM Campaign

The Covenant Remnant, once a thoroughly beaten and subdued force, was slowly returning to power. Though the progress of the enemy towards rearming was slow, it was a sure fact that within 10 years, they would reach a military strength large enough to begin launching raiding attacks, and by 10 years after that, they would pose a major threat to the security of both the USR and the UEG. The UNSC and USR were determined to act and prevent, or at least slow, Remnant advancement.

Thus, Operation: GREY TEAM was proposed. Named after the SPARTAN-II team that had gone missing in the 2550s, it would be a preemptive strike against the Remnant. Ten UNSC Prowlers and eight USR Vigilant-class Stealth Corvettes, it was designed to head deep into the territory of the Remnant and cause havoc for the Brutes. The stealth fleet would be lead by none other than the Midnight Shadow, the prowler that Connor had been stationed on during the OFFENSIVE MEASURES campaign. Newly upgraded, it was on the cutting edge of military technology, designed to be the most advanced prowler vessel ever created.

Armed with powerful shielding, active camouflage stealth systems, integrated laser weaponry, and advanced missile systems, it was far more capable than any previous Prowler. It’s capacity had increased as well. During it’s renovation, it had been enlarged by 25%. It could now carry almost two and a half dozen pelicans and had room for three full infantry companies. Three full combat companies of ODSTs, 540 soldiers, were embarked as it‘s ground element, and the troops, the 92nd Special Deployment Force, had a reputation for excellence.

The ODSTs were experienced veterans, but members of HIGHCOMM still wanted to further augment the craft’s capabilities. The solution was obvious: Connor. Just as the Shadowed Moonlight was about to depart for it’s second tour of duty, Connor was abruptly transferred the Midnight Shadow and briefed on the operation. He was told to prepare for combat, and informed that his tenure as a sideline soldier had come to an end. Given access to a newer version of the SPI system just hitting the most advanced special forces group, he had to adapt his tactics to his new, shielded suit. Misriah had yet to implement it’s “rail” line, so Connor was stuck with his original weapons.

The fleet launched in October of 2577, heading for what remained of Remnant space. It would split into three ship squadrons upon entering the enemy territory, which would each move out to complete separate objectives. Connor, in recognition for his service to ONI, was promoted to Lieutenant, Junior Grade, and then prepared for more combat. The UNSC was at war, and that meant he was going back into the thick of things.

The mission, intended as a debilitating first strike with nuclear weapons and orbital bombardment, did not go as planned. Members of the UEG oversight committee were briefed in by ONI and outraged by the plan. They saw the mission as an attack on a faction that had not declared a war on them, and as such, illegal. Oddly, rogue members on the USR side felt similar, and, facing public and government pressure, both sides agreed to back off their attack.

Instead of the a nuclear first strike, the AUR forces downgraded their plan to reconnaissance and low intensity warfare. In order to appease the politicians, they cut out most of the population destroying attacks, but actually increased the number of and frequency of raids on covert targets. Though the Remnant had been overlooked by the UNSC for some time, as humanity battled other threats such as the Covenant Rebels, Innie terrorists, and Kig-Yar pirates, it was now the center of attention, which meant the hammer of the UNSC forces was about to drop.

Operation: DERLICT

To do the maximum damage possible to the Remnant while employing as few forces as possible, the UNSC HIGHCOMM made the executive decision to make use of a few commando units. However, they also transformed GREY TEAM into a full campaign, hitting numerous targets before advancing to a final, more important objective. As one of the commandos attached to the campaign, it was an inevitable fact for Connor that combat would be frequent and intense for Connor. Paired with three combat companies of ODSTs, the 92nd Special Deployment Force, he would be seeing a lot of action.

The first mission was to the Remnant system of K8-95. The site of a large battle between the USR and a rogue Remnant fleet several months earlier, the system had been retaken by the Remnant, and the enemy was now in the process of recovering, refitting, and reusing many of the crippled or damaged ships. The UNSC, uneager to see the Remnant forces easily regain a fleet, dispatched the Midnight Shadow, along with the frigates Terrence and Stanforth, to deny the enemy access to the ships in any way possible.

The attack group was immediately presented with a number of problems. For one, the Covenant outgunned them severely. With a frigate pair, destroyer, and four pickets in the system, there was little chance of surviving a direct naval engagement. In addition, they had a significant time limit. Intelligence estimates indicated that the Remnant forces were working on their largest vessels first, and the biggest, an Assault Carrier, was projected to be online no later than November 8th.

Connor’s reputation proceeded him, and he was called in by captain of the Prowler to attend a conference between the three ship commanders and the leader of the 92nd. They were all concerned about the mission, and had a sort of brainstorm session, tossing around ideas on how to impede the recovery efforts.

Connor, as well as the ODST commander, was in favor of using the ground forces foremost. All three of the combat companies were trained for EVA warfare, and while not specialists like the EABTs used during the Great War, they had the element of surprise on their side. They advocated a plan where, immediately after dropping out of slipspace, the fleet would rush the recovery site. The frigates would cover the Midnight Shadow as it deployed the EVA forces, which would then attack the largest target, the assault carrier, before branching off and destroying other targets of opportunity.

The ship commanders were more timid. They wanted to come in at the edge of the system, and send the Midnight Summer in for reconnaissance as they drew Remnant forces off. Connor and the ODST commander, Major Tannenburg, feared this plan would ruin the element of surprise.

After an extended planning session, they agreed on a plan, combining aspects of both ideas. On October 23rd, the two frigates exited slipspace outside of Covenant scanner reach, in interstellar space. The Midnight Shadow meanwhile entered the system for recon, heading straight for the recovery sight. They quickly took count of the Covenant forces.

The recovery effort was being staged not only by the battle group, but also by a massive space station, somewhat akin to the UNSC’s own repair and refit stations. The station was just as massive as the Remnant Assault Carrier, and was leading the repair efforts on it. Connor and Major Tannenburg both immediately saw an opportunity.

Tannenburg, an officer who had arrived late into the Great War, but nonetheless studied it intently, and Connor, of course, had lived it, formed a plan. On their first glimpse of the station, they were both reminded of a classic SPARTAN operation, which had almost certainly saved Earth: FIRST STRIKE. The Covenant battle group’s larger vessels were clustered tightly around the station, and both wondered if the Covenant had changed their ways since the Great War. Knowing their dogmatic nature, they both decided it was likely they had not.

They began planning a recon mission, to investigate the possibility of infiltrating the recovery station. Three days into the recon mission, they brought the idea to the commander of the Midnight Shadow, Captain Prescott, ran it by him, and began it.

On October 26th, Connor, leading a small squad of ODST veterans, exited the ship while in the center of the recovery field. Relying on the vast amount of debris to keep them camouflaged, they used thruster packs and headed for the recovery station. Three hours after leaving the Shadow, they grappled onto the surface of the station. They quickly burned their way through the hull and entered, heading for a computer terminal. Once inside, they quickly made their way to a computer terminal, accessed the reactor schematics, and downloaded them to a memory chip. With the schematics in their possession, they returned to their hull breach and headed back into the debris field.

After another harrowing 4 hour EVA trip, they linked up with the Midnight Shadow and delivered the data. Onboard, technicians analyzed it, looking for weaknesses to exploit. After poring over the schematics for days, the technicians found a fault in the reactor matrix cooling system that could be used to destabilize the reactor, causing it to detonate. Technicians were confident the blast would be enough to eliminate the shields of the enemy ships in the vicinity, if not destroy them outright, which was likely enough to give the frigates the chance they needed.

The information was relayed to the Terrence and Stanforth, who replied that they believed they would be able to finish the enemy should the boarding party be able to take down the shields of enemy. They quickly rushed to prepare themselves for the mission. Fearing time was running out, they scheduled the operation for November 2nd, less than two days away. The ship commanders wanted a more extensive recon, but they were fast approaching the deadline for the Assault Carrier becoming operational.

On November 2nd, 2577, at 0300 Hours, the mission began. Connor and 2 combat companies of ODSTs launched in EVA gear in the center of the debris field, heading for the repair station. Meanwhile, Major Tannenburg personally led the other combat company as they left the ship, branching out, separating by platoon, and heading for six other disabled Remnant craft, including 4 CCS-class cruisers and 2 frigates. Meanwhile, the Stanforth and Terrence warmed shields, weapons, and slipspace drives in anticipation.

At 0600 Hours, Connor and his two combat companies arrived at the repair station. Knowing it impossible, they did not make an attempt to enter stealthy, and instead of burning through the ship’s thick armor plating, a time consuming process, they went for the easy in. The boarding party jetted into the hangar, blowing away the defenses in a fierce battle.

While three platoons waited in the hangar to secure the exit, Connor led the remaining forces towards the core. Fighting their way through repair bays, vehicle shops, and even the occasional recreational park, they kept moving, blowing away the surprised and ill-equipped Brutes. By 0700 Hours, they had arrived at the target. While Bravo Company provided perimeter defense, Charlie cleared out the reactor chamber then proceeded to overload the core.

The overloading process begun, they then made their escape. Projections declared that they would have at least 55 minutes before the actual explosion occurred, but Connor pushed everyone to get out in half that. Moving through the enemy ship, they made it back to the hangar at 0737 Hours, linked back up with the other half of Charlie, and made their escape.

As the exited the hangar, they signaled the Midnight Shadow, reporting the reactor mission successful. The moment they did, the Midnight Shadow sent it’s own signal to the Terrence and the Stanforth--calling them in. As the raiding team rocketed into space away from the recovery station, the two frigates on the edge of the system jumped. As the reactor detonated, the fleet emerged from slipspace, right on top of the weakened Covenant force. The blast of the reactor stripped the shields of the destroyer and one of the frigates, utterly incinerating the other craft. The human ships fired scores of missiles and let loose with their MAC guns, blowing the Covenant opposition away.

Mere moments after the arrival of the Stanforth and the Terrence, it was over. The remaining Covenant pickets, knowing themselves to be vastly outgunned, waited only long enough to scan for survivors before jumping into slipspace. However, despite the lack of opposition, the operation was not over yet. Even though the Assault Carrier, recovery station, enemy fleet, and six other derelicts had been destroyed, there were still almost two dozen enemy craft in the area in a recoverable state. All of these had to be rendered completely inoperable before the operation could be complete.

Over the next two days, the human forces began a systematic destruction to eliminate whatever disabled craft were in the area. Whenever possible, they overloaded reactors to vaporize ships, but not all of the crippled ships had functioning fusion drives, and the fleet had to make use of their limited nuclear stockpile to destroy whatever craft were left. Over the course of the two days, Connor led numerous expeditions into the ruined ships, placing nukes or overloading reactors. Despite the lack of enemies, EVA missions were inherently dangerous, and Connor insisted on leading several of the missions himself.

On November 4th, the operation was officially finished. Almost thirty drifting enemy capital ships had been destroyed, preventing recovery permanently. The fleet, satisfied with their success, sent a transmission to HIGHCOMM on their status. Several hours later, they received their response and they’re new orders, and quickly transitioned into slipspace. Even though one operation had been finished, there were plenty more in store in the months ahead.

Operation: DRY DOCK

On November 18th, the Terrence, Stanforth, and Midnight Shadow exited slipspace in the Gilgamesh system, back inside human space. Once there, their orders were to link up with seven other UNSC craft that would comprise the brand new Taskforce Omaha. The Taskforce was being created with one sole mission in mind: the destruction of Remnant space operations.

The Midnight Shadow and her compatriots were only being paired with the taskforce for one mission, but nonetheless were quickly adopted into the ranks of the force. Taskforce Omaha had a prestigious record of service dating back to the Great War, but was noticeably lacking a stealth ship, making the introduction of the Midnight Shadow somewhat of a cause for celebration.

Taskforce Omaha and the Midnight Shadow remained on station in the Gilgamesh system, waiting for combat orders. Gradually, more and more ships arrived, swelling their combat group larger and larger. By November 27th, the original force of ten had swollen to almost thirty assorted ships, including 10 assorted cruisers and 5 assorted carriers, in addition to numerous frigates and destroyers. The force received an unofficial name change to “Battlegroup” Omaha, but received no orders from command on how they should proceed.

Despite the massive influx of ships, the Battlegroup received no orders from HIGHCOMM save for the repeated message to stay on station and await deployment. Aboard the fleet, speculation on the mission ran rampant, as everyone form the lowliest crewman to the ship commanders speculated on the reason for assembling the fleet. Only the commander of the force, Admiral Johnson, was privy to the mission, and he kept his lips tightly sealed. Connor went out on a limb and made his own personal inquiry, but was courteously rebuffed by HIGHCOMM.

Finally, on November 28th, command gave the go-ahead, and Johnson revealed their mission. The secrecy was well reasoned—their mission was a surprise attack on a Covenant Remnant orbital shipyard. They wanted no chance of leaks. Not just any random target, this shipyard was the third largest in Remnant space—and above that, was the most active and the most heavily defended. It’s destruction would hopefully send a clear message to the Brute leadership—cease your drive to rebuild your forces or be destroyed.

The fleet, under orders from Admiral Johnson, transitioned into slipspace at 0900 Hours. Tension and excitement filled the air in the fleet as more and more details about the operation came in. The shipyard, an orbiting installation floating around the planet K9-42, known to the Remnant as Undaunted Majesty, was a prime target but similarly very well defended. Protected by a massive shield generator, two orbital guns, and a fleet of almost 25 warships, destruction of the shipyards would not only be a crippling blow to the enemies ship production effort, but also be a significant reduction of the already thinly spread Brute fleet.

Because the shipyard was protected by the shield it was critical that they take it down quickly. Section 2 intelligence had confirmed that 4 Brutes Battlegroups, each at least 10 strong, were in nearby systems. Once word got out about the battle, it would be mere hours before Remnant reinforcements descended on the system. The Battlegroup could not afford to linger.

The shield generators, the primary target, were protected not only by the fleet, but also by a division of Covenant troops. Reinforcing these troops was an armored unit, brining with them not only tanks and IFVs, but also a heavy artillery unit. The shield generator’s was long and rectangular, giving ample room for heavy weapons. The ground forces complicated an already dicey mission. While the infantry were of little worry to the ship commanders, the armored units worried them somewhat. The enemy armored units, mostly wraiths, would be of no threat to the fleet, but the heavy artillery units packed a significant amount of firepower.

Between the heavy artillery units on the field, the enemy orbital guns, and the enemy fleet, damage estimates for the fleet did not look good. If the fleet tried to split it’s firepower, it would surely be ineffective at eliminating any of the targets. If they concentrated all of their firepower on one target, the other would surely call in for backup or simply attack them while they were unable to fire back. They needed a way to deal with both at the same time. The solution was obvious enough.

The shield generator was large enough to deploy an army, the reason for the presence of the Covenant artillery in the first place. Battlegroup Omaha was home to 15,000 Marines, ODSTs, and EVAT troops, all equipped for vacuum combat. None of the infantry forces were green, and most were part of prestigious, well respected units. Though the Covenant had slight numerical superiority, such logistics were of no worry for the plan Admiral Johnson had in mind. The ground troops would be earning their pay for sure.

Battlegroup Omaha entered the system on December 12th, after three weeks in slipspace planning the attack. The Covenant fleet acted predictably, forming a cautious perimeter around the shipyards and the shield generator as they awaited the UNSC fleet’s opening move.

Admiral Johnson ordered his fleet into a tight cylinder and accelerated in system on a curved vector, circling in towards the Covenant line in a maneuver designed to avoid long range barrages. The Covenant fleet held it’s position stubbornly, not ready to reveal their plan. Finally, as Battlegroup Omaha closed to firing range, the Covenant fleet fired off a salvo of plasma, before accelerating away from the shield generator, leaving it behind in an obvious lure.

It was at that moment Omaha revealed it’s own plan. Peeling off from the generator, it rocketed off in pursuit of the Covenant, but not before deploying hundreds of dropships. The Covenant artillery and orbital guns open fired on the inbound invasion force, but the small, agile targets evaded the barrage of plasma with ease, darting towards the surface at breakneck speed. The Covenant infantry inside the station dawned EVA gear and rushed into the void to repel the incoming UNSC troops on the surface of the shield generator, eager to prevent the humans from reaching the interior.

As human dropships decelerated to a bone jarring landing and marines, ODSTs, and EVATs in vacuum armor pored out, a vicious EVA battle began. UNSC and Remnant troops clashed in open combat all along the stations hull, engaging in both bloody hand to hand combat and long range shootouts. On the mostly bare surface of the hull, without proper cover, losses on both sides were severe. The Remnant forces, with their numerical superiority, were more than happy to let the human forces whittle themselves away trying to fight them in vacuum.

However, the human ground attack was far from the unorganized hodgepodge assault it appeared to be—it was part of a much greater plan. As the dropships headed for the surface of the shield installation carrying the infantry attack force, they were discreetly followed by the real attack team—three companies of ODSTs, led by Connor and Major Tannenburg. While the larger force drew out the Covenant defenders, Connor and the ODSTs, using thruster packs, covertly found an undefended supply port and burned their way inside, infiltrating the inner workings of the installation as the others bought time for them.

The shield generator was powered by a standard plasma reactor typical of Covenant construction. Unfortunately, it used a stabilized magnetic field generation system, making an overload much more difficult and much less effective. Their mission had a single task in mind—destroy the generator to take down the shield. Permanent destruction of the generator station was not needed. As soon as the three companies were inside the station, they began their mission. In a surprise attack, they brutally massacred the enemy, which mainly consisted of a few isolated security checkpoints and a large group of technicians. Connor, leading one of the companies while Major Tannenburg led the other, was assigned not to detonate the reactor, but to instead target enemy personnel.

Rushing through the station, Connor and the others in Alpha Company broke into the control quarters—a bridge but increased in size for the complex operational needs of a space station. The attack had two roles: distraction, and confusing the enemy by denying them of their leadership. Blowing in the entrance to the massive, reverse theater like area, they let loose on full automatic, cutting down the defenseless Brutes and Jackals with ease. After only seconds, and without a single casualty, the ODSTs had slaughtered over 150 critical command personnel.

Meanwhile, Major Tannenburg’s Bravo and Charlie companies had arrived at their targets, easily eliminating the single squad protecting it. While most of the ODSTs established a perimeter, B2 platoon separated and moved in, placing charges on the reactor. Once set, they sent out a notice of their status to Colonel Gregorio, the commander of the forces fighting on the hull. At the same time, Connor and Alpha Company moved out, heading for the supply chute they had burned through earlier. Tannenburg and his forces also retreated into their exit, keenly aware that the timers were ticking down on their explosives.

On the surface, the marines began a mock retreat. Pelican dropships, which had hovered in a tight group just outside the range of the Covenant orbital guns and artillery, dove for the surface, again avoiding heavy enemy fire. As the surface forces fell back, the Covenant, sure of it’s victory, relented, thinking the battle won and uneager to sacrifice hundreds of their troops attacking heavily armed dropships without cover in vacuum. There was an odd lack of combat for a pickup that many felt should have been much more dangerous, and though the escape was filled with evasive maneuvers by the dropships to avoid enemy AA fire, the entire battle seemed very anti-climactic.

Then, without much warning, they gained their spectacular finish. Deep inside the space station, Bravo Company’s explosives, a pair of VINDICATOR nuclear bombs, detonated. The twin 1.5 Kiloton explosives tore a massive hole in the space station, incinerating hundreds of personnel and flushing even more into space. Simultaneously, the shield around the shipyard flickered once, twice, and finally shuddered and died.

During the battle, the Covenant fleet had split into three sections, each heading off on a separate vector, trying to lure the UNSC fleet into attacking one or two and allow the last to slip away. Admiral Johnson responded by breaking his own fleet into three, each chasing down a separate group. The Covenant fleet, outnumbered and outgunned, could only maneuver for so long before the human craft caught up to them and destroyed them. After forty five minutes, the Covenant fleet had been smashed.

Almost immediately, the infantry forces completed their mission. Admiral Johnson, noticing the power drop on the shields, reformed his fleet and accelerated for the shipyard. The flagship, a Zeus-class Super carrier, the Ark Royal, broke from the other ships and headed for the planetary guns, letting it’s heavy shields absorb a massive amount of fire. Once close enough, it fired both it’s turreted MAC and it’s heavy MAC, one round at each defense platform, destroying the weapons.

Connor and the other infantry members watched with awe from their Pelicans and thruster packs as the Battlegroup moved into the heart of the shipyards, devastating it with hundreds of missiles, MAC shots, and nukes. For two hours, the fleet moved methodically through the shipyard, laying waste to hundreds of partially constructed craft ranging from pickets to assault carriers. Finally finished, the fleet left the burning shipyards behind, picking up the ground forces and their transports.

As the fleet accelerated out of the system, the Covenant reinforcements finally arrived. Thirty assorted enemy ships arrived in system, but the UNSC fleet, already about to enter slipspace, was well out of range. The Covenant fleet was forced to watch impudently as the victorious humans left the system, leaving behind a melted and destroyed shipyard. HIGHCOMM’s message had been most definitely received. But unfortunately, the Remnant had it’s own message: come and get us. We’ll fight you to the last breath.

Operation: PEGASI

On their way back to the Gilgamesh system, the fleet, still exuberant from their victory , received encrypted orders from FLEETCOMM at Gundark. Admiral Johnson, accessing the orders, was surprised to find two separate deployment orders. He was even more surprised, however, to find that only a single craft was being separated.

Aboard the Prowler, Connor, Major Tannenburg, Captain Prescott, the ODSTs of Alpha, Bravo, and Charlie companies, along with the rest of the crew, were given their notice that their time with Battlegroup Omaha was over. Upon returning to the Gilgamesh system on January 2nd, Battlegroup Omaha transitioned into slipspace and headed towards Gundark, but the Midnight Shadow did not follow. Spinning it on it’s axis and orienting back to face Remnant space, it jumped into slipspace, heading out on it’s next mission behind enemy lines.

Their objective was a target deep in enemy space. Operation: PEGASI, a hidden tribute to the sacrifice paid by Beta company during the Great War, was an attack of similar nature. Conceived by Section III working with CENTCOMM, it would be the third operation in the campaign designed to put the pressure on the Remnant. A Covenant refueling station in the KR-51 system was helping the Brutes to expand their operations and conduct more frequent raids on USR borders, annoying both the UNSC and the Sangheili. The planet home to the refueling station was a barren desert punctuated only by seas rich in tritium and deuterium, used to refuel the plasma in Covenant reactors.

The plan was to hit the ground in HEVs deployed from at low altitude by the Midnight Shadow. They would hit the enemy fuel refineries before extracting, avoiding as many enemy forces as possible. Midnight Shadow would remain on station throughout the mission, going dark to avoid detection and standing by as a relay station between the ground teams and command, staying ready in case of a need for emergency extraction. While a dangerous mission to be sure, it had a potentially high reward. Destroying the fuel station would put a damper on the Remnant’s long-range operations and lengthen supply lines, limiting fleet movements and resupply convoys, further stalling the Brute rebuilding efforts and giving the USR a much needed breather.

The Midnight Shadow went dark and entered the system on January 29th, heading out immediately. After a quick orbit to make sure no enemy craft were in system or hiding in the planet’s atmosphere, it descended through the atmosphere to the drop zone. Aboard the Prowler, Connor and Alpha Company readied themselves for a combat drop. Alpha would be dropping first to clear a landing zone for Bravo, and Charlie would be staying aboard the Midnight Shadow as emergency reinforcements or a distraction if needed.

On landing, Alpha’s first job was easy. Surprised and scattered Covenant forces were easily dispatched, and no distress signals were sent. With the area secured, Bravo descended in stealth coated Pelican dropships. HEVs would have been used and negated the necessity of the entire first part of the mission, but the Midnight Shadow unfortunately did not have enough in it’s inventory. Once on the ground, they quickly divided into platoons and moved out. Operation: PEGASI was underway.

After several hours of marching, a quick meal break, some recon, and a brief prep time, the first attack was initiated. At 0100 Hours, Connor, leading Alpha Company, took positions on the high ground and led a sniper attack on the Covenant defenders. Under the cover of Alpha companies heavy weapons and sniper rifles, Bravo advanced, hopping from cover to cover. The Covenant perimeter forces, caught completely by surprise, were blown away in moments.

Rushing into the facility, Bravo pressed towards the center reactor. Covenant fuel refinery technology hadn’t changed much in 50 years, and the maze of pipes, steam stacks, and coolant reserves was much the same as encountered by Beta Company in 2545. Inside, dozens of surprised and disoriented Remnant troops awaited Bravo company. Bravo responded to enemy resistance by outflanking, using their numerical superiority to flood every area possible with soldiers and completely surround and overrun the enemy. After only half an hour, the refinery had been completely cleared.

Planting of the charges was done with the utmost care. Though the source material was classified for secrecy’s sake, every member of the three companies was briefed on how dangerous the magnetic field fluctuations were, and how they could trigger electronic based charges (much as they had done to SPARTAN-B174 Min during Operation: TORPEDO). Extremely basic, liquid fuel and manual fuse charges were used to avoid accidental detonations, and the process of placing all the charges took an hour before it was completed. Finally, after the last careful placement of a demo charge, Bravo evacuated.

The simple destruction of the facility was much less powerful than overloading the core, merely collapsing the refinery, rather than vaporize it and the surrounding area. Still, Bravo and Alpha both evacuated to a safe distance before the charges detonated, knowing very well that the destruction would have far reaching effects, almost none related to the actual explosion.

News of the battle traveled relatively slowly, much to the thanks of the ODSTs. At first, only confused reports and frantic distress signals from the refinery were broadcast, and the situation was very unclear. The Remnant leadership, stationed at the central and largest refinery, was very confused, wondering what was going on. After the station dropped completely out of communication and finally vanished altogether from the grid, the Chieftain of the planet’s forces dispatched a squadron of banshee fighters to scout the area. Once they discovered the refinery had been destroyed, they quickly realized that they had a serious breach in security. Four more squadrons of banshees were scrambled, and a full scale hunt for the intruders began.

But the UNSC forces were not about to become the prey. After scouts spotted a squadron of banshees on the horizon, they made preparations, knowing it would be only a short time before they were discovered. Alpha dug into the crags in a rocky hillside with good elevation as Bravo headed towards the squadron as scouts. At 1900 Hours on January 30th, Bravo open fired at extreme range at the banshees with their heavy machine guns and rifles, quickly attracting attention.

The enemy fliers radioed the contact and accelerated for a strafing run as Bravo fled for the hills. The ODSTs tried to retreat to the hills, as the plan called for, but no plan was perfect, and the Banshees, flying on heavy winds, reached the company quicker than expected. Plasma fire raked the defenseless ground troops as they scrambled up the hill towards Alpha.

As soon as the banshees came into range, Alpha open fired. M19-B missiles streaked from hidden launch teams in the hills, striking down half the enemy aircraft in only seconds. The remaining six banshees dove for the launchers, hoping that their low angle would keep the missiles teams from another salvo. But as they dropped to low altitude, they found that Bravo, who they had been strafing moments before, now had the drop on them. With a lower place on the hill and a close proximity to the enemy, Bravo gladly distributed it’s fury with missiles and heavy MG fire. By the time the Banshees streaked over the hill, only two were left.

As the enemy aircraft boosted away, Alpha and Bravo continued firing. As the banshees fled, one was hit with a M19 and careened into the ground, leaving a single damaged enemy fighter to limp back to the enemy HQ on half thrusters. 5 ODSTs had been killed by the enemy strafing runs and 18 were injured, though only 2 badly. 7 ODSTs for 11 enemy fighters. Though Connor, who had helped plan the ambush, mulled over the deaths of the soldiers with guilt, Major Tannenburg saw it a fitting sacrifice, if a hard one.

There was no time to linger. The enemy fighter would reach it’s home base soon enough, and another ambush would have a much lower chance of success. The two companies continued east, heading for the second refinery.

In orbit, the situation also had bad news on the horizon. The Midnight Shadow, which had kept dark and observed the system, noticed a Remnant shuttle breaking orbit and jumping into slipspace, heading on a vector for the K9-06 system, a known garrison for enemy infantry. There was a very real possibility for enemy reinforcement.

On the ground, the slog was getting increasingly difficult. The enemy aircraft were searching their area specifically, and it was hard work to stay covert and keep to the mission’s timetable. Moving at night and making extensive use of camouflage cloaks and other stealth devices, they did their best to stay out of contact with the enemy. Moving in a very broad formation covering over a mile, they stayed spread apart to keep the enemy from finding the entire two companies at once. Though they did their best to stay stealthy, there were still several skirmishes between perimeter troops and Remnant scouts.

On February 1st, at 2300 Hours, after two long nights on the march, they arrived at the second generator. The situation was much different than the first assault only a few days before. Alert and heavily armed squads of Covenant soldiers patrolled all around the refinery, and inside, the enemy was far from the sleepy, unprepared force. Though they had a similar sized garrison defending the installation, the Remnant was definitely better prepared.

The mission was on a tight timetable, and so the preparation and planning was greatly abbreviated. At 2400 Hours, the attack on the second fuel refinery began. This time, surprise and subterfuge were downplayed in favor of sheer force. Major Tannenburg was hoping to hit the Covenant so hard and so fast that even their preparations would be useless. A simple plan, and hopefully a successful one.

In the dead of night, the two companies of ODSTs quietly snuck their way towards the factory. Then, as they neared the outer perimeter of enemy patrols, they open fired.

The Covenant troops, who had been on edge and awaiting attack already, were stunned for only seconds before they retaliated. Moments after the ODSTs fired their first shots, a full scale firefight began. The ODSTs had prepared for heavy resistance, but we’re surprised nonetheless. The Covenant troops fought with vigor and viciousness to put some of the best units in the Great War to shame, and stubbornly pushed the ODSTs back.

Both Connor and Major Tannenburg were worried by the lack of progress. If they did not reach the refinery soon, they would be without cover from air attacks. With the enemy on high alert and four banshee squadrons ready to scramble and close by, it would not be long before the enemy started strafing them. They were running out of time.

Connor, who’d been hanging back and using his sniper rifle, was the one who ultimately allowed the ODST force to proceed. While firing on the enemy, he spotted a hole in the enemy defenses where the fortifications were weak and the troops undermanned. Radioing Major Tannenburg, he told him of this potential opening.

At this moment, things began to change in favor of the ODSTs. Connor, leaving behind his sniper role, rushed to the front, leading Alpha Company forward and pressing in on the opening. Within moments, Alpha broke through and was pouring behind the enemy lines, outflanking them and using their own fortifications against them.

The Remnant forces suddenly found themselves surrounded, and realized that they might be doomed. They had overextended themselves, leaving no force in reserve, and caught between the enemy, were without cover. They were spared by fate however. The ODSTs, looking to conserve ammo, hemmed the enemy into a small area, containing them, and then divided into two forces.

As Bravo kept the enemy contained, Alpha moved to the facility. Racing to the center, they began placing charges. The careful demo of only a few days earlier was now replaced with rushed, hurried placement as Alpha struggled to place the explosives quickly.

Fifteen minutes later, the demo placement was finished. Evacuating and regrouping with Bravo, they rushed away from the refinery. The Remnant troops were kept under suppressive fire as the two companies fled from the area, heading into the hills towards the next objective.

Behind them, the enemy air support arrived just in time to see the refinery detonate. This time, the ODSTs had staged not just a collapse but a partial overload, and the resulting cloud of superheated plasma scorched the whole area and knocked half the enemy air support out of the sky.

Taking cover in the rocky recesses of the hills, Alpha and Bravo watched the explosion with tired satisfaction. The days of hiking and fighting had worn on them both mentally and physically, and they knew they still had a long road ahead until victory. Despite a desperate need for rest after days without sleep, the disciplined ODSTs kept moving under orders from Major Tannenburg. The Major wanted to get clear of the battle site as quickly as possible in case Remnant troops descended en masse to it. In addition, word of the problem in the system would be reaching the rest of the Remnant soon, and Tannenburg wanted to finish off the final refinery and extract before enemy reinforcements arrived.

As morning dawned on the final day of Operation: PEGASI, the ODSTs of Alpha and Bravo Companies continued their bleak march towards the final refinery. Connor, with his enhanced body, barely felt the several days spent without sleep, but the ODSTs, even Major Tannenburg, were near collapse. At 1300 Hours, after almost half a day of hiking, they arrived at the outskirts of the final refinery, only to be filled with despair as they caught the first site of it.

Hovering over the refinery was a Remnant destroyer, it’s oblong hull shining brightly in the noon sun. It’s massive gravity lift deposited hundreds of soldiers, aircraft, and heavy weapons onto the surface, joining the defenses of the refinery. Major Tannenburg and Connor were both gravelly worried. The assault would be near suicidal against those odds.

But more worrying was something entirely different. The Midnight Shadow, holding in orbit, was supposed to be watching the system for signs of enemy movement. They had received no word from the Shadow on the presence of the enemy destroyer, no word in fact since almost 8 hours before. Worried and confused, they realized that the Shadow might be cut off. They could not contact HIGHCOMM and ask for clarification for what their mission should be with the new developments, meaning they would have to follow the original orders as best as possible. And those orders were to assault the factory.

Still, many of the ODSTs were very concerned over the presence of the enemy destroyer. Major Tannenburg in particular was frantic, raving about how suicidal their mission was and spouting wild theories on the disappearance of the Midnight Shadow. Connor, asserting more authority than he actually had, confronted Tannenburg. Doing his best to straighten out his superior, he snapped him back to reality.

With Tannenburg back into control, they began to approach the problem logically. Grabbing the two company commanders and several of the most talented NCOs and officers while the majority of the force grabbed a bit of quick rest before the final assault, they began an emergency skull session, brainstorming a way to assault the generator.

The inclusion of others was Connor’s idea. Major Tannenburg hadn’t made much use of his officers or NCOs besides Connor during the previous engagements, which had worried Connor somewhat, fearing for the Major’s sake that it might be isolating him from his men. Indeed, the officers had become slightly jealous of Connor being the only one to speak to the commander, and were very surprised at the invitation to the skull session.

For the first few hours, very little progress was made. Though there was no arguing or bickering, they were all stumped as to how to reach the refinery. All the plans they came up with were either suicidal or too ridiculous to be considered. After four hours of planning, they began drifting off topic, talking about home or sweethearts and reminiscing together about the past. One of the more attentive officers, a Lieutenant named Nathir, noticed that Connor would not discuss his past and avoided questions about it, and undaunted by the scarred and mean looking manner of Connor, asked why.

With the group asking why, Connor tried to avoid the question, not exactly eager to divulge his origins or his true identity as a SPARTAN. When Nathir asked if he was a SPARTAN, he denied it, but they pressed on. Then, out of nowhere, one of the NCOs, who’d kept silent during most of the meeting, asked Connor if he’d served with the 14th Combat Company. Connor was so taken aback by the question, so far out of the past, that he answered he had.

Then, much to Connor’s chagrin , the man explained who Connor was and what he had done during the Great War. He explained that his older brother had been an ODST in the 14th, and had served with it for several years, being saved on several occasions by Connor and Tan Team. His brother had fought alongside Connor, Mellissa, and Lucy, and had been one of the few soldiers chosen for Operation: OFFENSIVE MEASURES. Connor, without much of a choice, confirmed the Sergeant’s story that he was a SPARTAN.

Lieutenant Nathir, a history major before joining the military to serve after his brother had been killed, wondered aloud if Connor had ever flown a Covenant dropship before. Connor told him that he had, unsure why the Lieutenant was asking. Nathir became immediately excited, much to Connor’s confusion. As Connor began asking why, Nathir explained that on the way to their current position, his platoon had spotted and scouted an enemy airfield, home to one of the enemy fighter squadrons, but more importantly, almost a dozen enemy phantoms.

Over the next hour, a plan began to take shape. By 1800 Hours, the makeshift council of war knew what they had to do to finish the mission. With a deadline to meet, preparations began immediately. By 2000 Hours, all the equipment was set, the troops (somewhat rejuvenated from their brief rest period) were briefed, and a formal mission outline had been drawn up. It was time to rock.

At 2100 Hours, the mission began. As Alpha and Bravo companies headed quietly towards the refinery, Connor and a select two squads of soldiers moved out to their own separate objective. As the companies moved excruciatingly slowly to maintain stealth, Connor and his team moved quickly, heading not for the tightly guarded refinery but instead the opposite direction.

At 2122 Hours, Connor’s team arrived at their target. They quickly skirted around the perimeter to the pre-determined point, and began laying breaching charges. Their target was the hangar, but more importantly, the Phantom dropships inside of it. They were critical to the risky plan Connor and the others had devised.

With the breaching charges in place, they blew their way inside. Using thermal tape, they burned through the thin metal quietly and poured inside the darkened hangar, weapons up and ready. Dispersing through the hangar, they took note of the situation. Surprisingly, the hangar was very poorly defended. The brutes had pulled troops out of almost all of their outposts to better defend the refinery, and had left the hangar undermanned. Only a half dozen Covenant were in place at the hangar, all tired from extreme shifts and none alert. The team easily evaded detection then quietly eliminated them with silenced weapons.

Then, with the hangar secured, they set to work. As Connor entered the dropship, reaffirming himself with the controls, the ODSTs set charges on the other aircraft, twelve banshees and 5 Phantoms. Finally, as Connor lifted the dropship off, the two squads entered, stowing themselves away in the transport. Though somewhat of a tight fit, it was necessary for the next stage of their plan. As they left the airfield behind, they headed for the destroyer and began broadcasting a distress signal.

As they told the Brute comm. officer that they were filled with wounded and fleeing from a human raid, they detonated the explosives, giving some authenticity to their story. Saying they needed immediate medical care that only the doctors aboard the ship could provide, they were granted immediate landing clearance. Inside the dropship, the boarding team reloaded their weapons and prepared themselves. The easy part of the mission was over. They were heading straight into the heart of the enemy, and they all realized that not all of them would be coming back.

As they landed in the bay of the destroyer, they all watched through the dropship’s external camera as brute and jackal medics and doctors rushed towards them with medical gear. Connor found himself strangely guilty, about to essentially murder doctors and nurses, or the alien equivalent. But with a job to do, neither he nor his team had a choice.

As the doctors gathered around the dropships rear door, Connor pulled the hatch release, and the doors swung clear. The insertion team opened fired, cutting down the stunned and defenseless enemy doctors, then quickly left the dropship behind, heading towards the bridge.

Since the alliance with the USR, all UNSC troops had been trained in the inner layout of Covenant ships. Because the Remnant often copied designs from USR craft, marines were able to train very effectively at learning the inner layout of enemy craft. Thus, Connor now followed the others instead of leading. Though he had been aboard Covenant craft before during the Great War, he had not received the special training and had never been aboard an enemy destroyer. Still, with the expert ODSTs as his guide, he was not about to get lost.

Lost no, but attacked definitely. Making their way to the bridge, they were forced to fight their way through ever increasing enemy resistance. While initially light, only sporadic patrolling crewmen or infantry soldiers, after the news got out of the boarders the team faced increasingly long odds. Arriving on the bridge and securing it, they inserted an ONI infiltration package and set up shop.

The Remnant troops aboard located their position and launched a massive counter attack. Forced to wait as the infiltration software fought it’s way into the enemy computer system, the small combat team fortified the bridge and stood firm, using the long hallways and doorways to their advantage, pinning the enemy into narrow choke points and holding them off as much as they could. After five minutes, the software was in, and Lieutenant Nathir, the platoon CO for platoon from which the two squads had been drawn, a partial tech expert, began plotting a position directly over the enemy lines.

The enemy attacks continued as the ship moved slowly into position. As ammo became a concern within the defense team, Nathir primed the weapons systems on the destroyer and crudely targeted the enemy ground forces. Just as the ground teams realized something was amiss, they came under fire. Lieutenant Nathir opened up with the pulse lasers and plasma torpedoes, incinerating scores of Covenant troops.

As the enemy lines fell into confusion and terror, Major Tannenburg chose the time to strike. Leading Alpha and Bravo companies forward, he rushed into the fray, heading for the factory. The enemy forces, surprised and confused, put up no meaningful resistance, and the Major’s forces plunged straight through the heart of the enemy defenses without almost any casualties, receiving covering fire from the destroyer. Inside, they cleared out as many enemies as they could and planted the demo hyper quick, risking themselves but thankfully not having any charges go off prematurely.

On the bridge, Connor and Lieutenant Nathir gave the order to retreat. Nathir left an auto-targeting program on to fire at the enemy ground teams and hacked the system to tie the shut-off to the automatic initiation of the self-destruct, hoping to buy time. Then, they fought their way out of one door, and headed back towards the hangar.

On the way back, resistance was even heavier. Five ODSTs were killed as they fled to the hangar. As they arrived and sprinted for the dropship, another two were cut down, including Lieutenant Nathir. Piling aboard the dropship, Connor ran for the control console and took the dropship out, diving for the surface. Landing several miles away at the point the Midnight Shadow was scheduled to pick them up from, they were now forced to wait.

Inside the refinery, Major Tannenburg and his men finished their demo placement and retreated from the refinery. Above, the destroyer continued to fire on the ground troops, and the damage it did gave his companies the help they needed to fight their way through the enemy. Still, the two companies suffered several killed and dozens wounded as they fought their way out of the midst of the Remnant. Just after they left the main body of the enemy, the destroyer stopped firing, but it almost immediately afterwards exploded, taking with it a good sized portion of enemy troops.

Alpha and Bravo companies headed double time to the pickup zone, but the remaining Remnant forces, bent on revenge, followed them. They reached the extraction point at 2300 Hours and linked up with what remained of the insertion team, but realized they were still staring a 800 strong Covenant army in the face. So, they dug in and awaited the enemy.

At 2321 Hours, the Remnant army reached them and began an attack. With nowhere to run, they held the line as best they could, but they all knew that it would not be long before they were overwhelmed. Finally, as the enemy was just about to flank and destroy them, help arrived.

From orbit, the Midnight Shadow dropped in, fire streaming off the hull from reentry. It’s weapons, a few archer missiles, some pulse lasers, and some 50mm auto cannons, which were ineffective against other capital ships, were more than enough for 800 Remnant troops. With precise gunnery, they were able to do far more damage in seconds than Lieutenant Nathir’s targeting protocols could, even with inferior weapons. Missiles, cannon fire, and laser shots scorched, perforated, and fried the advancing Covenant, stopping their attack cold. With no cover and on open ground, it was a peace of cake.

The Prowler dropped down to low over the two companies and commenced immediate pickup. Half an hour later, the ODSTs had all been loaded aboard and the Midnight Shadow broke for orbit, reaching it just a little bit after midnight. As the ship left the planet behind, it accelerated, heading on a vector towards the Gilgamesh system. New orders had come in, and they needed to return to get a full brief and some repairs to the radar ablative panels. Transitioning to slip space at 2452 Hours, Connor and the others were glad to receive their first genuine rest in days.

Operation: JERICHO

As the ship returned to Gilgamesh, most of the crew was placed into cryo after a brief downtime period. During this period, while most of the ODSTs were relaxing, Connor and Major Tannenburg were debriefed. Recounting the entire struggle of Alpha and Bravo companies took several sessions, and as a result, neither officer got much of a chance for freetime.

Several days into the slipspace voyage, the entire crew was put into cryo to conserve consumables and the ship continued on it’s way back to the system. After several weeks in transit, the Shadow arrived in system on March 3rd, and reached the space docks soon after. While it was undergoing repairs and rearmament, the crew received it’s next set of orders.

While connected to the shipyards, Connor, Major Tannenburg, and Captain Prescott were ordered to report to the ONI liaison office there. Once there, they were briefed in about their next move.

Operation: JERICHO, their next mission, was a change of pace from the previous ops. Previous battles had focused mostly on denying the enemy material or facilities, but this operation was somewhat of a change. ONI Recon had confirmed a meeting between several top Brute Chieftains and Kig-Yar pirate lords over a more permanent alliance between the two, and was determined to make the best use of the intel. The Midnight Shadow was being instructed to travel to the system as soon as it was repaired and eliminate the enemy leaders, who were confirmed to be meeting on the 16th of April.

Two days later, repairs were completed and the Midnight Shadow departed the shipyards, heading for the target system, K6-72. The crew was placed into cryo as usual, as they waited for their arrival in enemy space. On April 11th, the Midnight Shadow arrived in the system, already cloaked to avoid suspicion. The system was deep inside enemy lines, near the speculated Brute HQ, and was densely populated with enemies. Both deployment and extraction threatened to be potentially problematic, but ONI had solved this problem as well.

For some time, the Jiralhanae Alliance, tired of being mistrusted and annoyed at being thought of as inferior by other Alliance races, had been seeding Remnant populations with their own forces. These troops had mixed in with the local populations, masquerading as civilians and creating terrorists networks, which had resulted in some key victories in the fight against the Remnant. The Jiralhanae Alliance had offered the use of it’s extensive terror network for the mission, and the entire network on the planet would be at the disposal of the Midnight Shadow. They even promised to provide transportation from a remote drop site to the meeting place, and back again. It was too good of an offer for the UNSC to pass up, despite old biases.

With this problem solved, the crew turned their attention to the problem of how to exactly execute the mission. ONI had not specified any distinct perimeters, other than the extract and the ultimate objective, and that left a very wide space for personal preference. The discussions on how to conduct the mission began almost immediately after the jump to slipspace.

Captain Prescott gathered Major Tannenburg and Connor for a private mission brainstorm in his private quarters. Over some whiskey (Connor requested water, but was goaded into it somewhat by his fellow officers), they sat down to discuss what they could do to take out the assemblage of leaders.

As the discussion wore on, the opinions of the three leaders became clear, with Connor and Major Tannenburg the leading contributors. Though they agreed that the attack had to be quick with a lightening fast insertion and extraction, they disagreed heavily on how it should be performed. Connor, expecting the mission to be high risk, and wanting to expose only himself to danger, advocated sending him in alone on a stealth mission. He wanted to land solo on the surface, covertly make his way into the building were the two sides were holding their conference, place a VINDICATOR nuke in the building, and then covertly extract, with the weapon on a time delayed detonator.

Major Tannenburg disagreed. He felt that such a method risked to much on the assumption that the talks would not change place, and on the stealth of Connor. He made a point to remind both Connor and Captain Prescott that should Connor be discovered, he would be almost immediately swarmed with enemies, and that the mission would be irreparably compromised, not to mention that he would likely be killed. Tannenburg advocated a more conventional approach. He wanted to drop in all three companies of ODSTs and attack via the ground, citing the success of Operation: PEGASI as proof that the ODSTs could get the job done. Though Tannenburg was too young to have experienced the worst of the rivalry between the ODSTs and SPARTANs, and was not against Connor’s option simply because it was a SPARTAN’s plan, he felt genuinely that his plan was smarter and ran a lower risk of failing.

At the end of a multi-hour skull session, a consensus had still not been reached. The crew was put into cryo as was standard protocol, and Connor and Major Tannenburg elected to continue the discussion when they were closer to the system and rest their minds on the subject for a bit. Connor was placed in cryo as the rest of the crew was, and the ship continued on course for the target, speeding through slipspace.

On April 15th, the Midnight Shadow entered the K6-72 system, all onboard systems dark as usual. On the bridge, Connor and Major Tannenburg had been waiting with the Captain, still unsure of how to conduct the mission. Opinions were still divided on how to execute their orders, and they had decided to do an orbital pass and make contact with the Jiralhanae resistance team on the ground, in hopes it might give some inspiration.

The Midnight Shadow cruised at 20% speed towards the planet, staying dark as interstellar space. As it arrived in orbit, it began it’s recon. They quickly discovered the enemy, and did not like what they found. Twelve Covenant ships and 23 Kig-Yar craft were in orbit, any number of which could have pasted the Shadow in a heartbeat, and the combined ground forces carried by the fleet could flatten the three ODST companies dozens of times over. An all out assault, as Major Tannenburg advocated, would be completely suicidal. Stealth was the only viable plan.

Still, there was more division. Though Connor’s idea of a more stealthy approach had been approved, Tannenburg felt that his “lone man” insertion idea was nonsense. He wanted a team of ODSTs on the ground as well, unwilling to let someone else do the work he felt that was his troop’s duty. Captain Prescott sided with the major, feeling that a stronger infiltration team was preferable, as long as it made sure to keep covert. Connor, defeated, bowed to the Captain’s judgment. Then, with the personnel issue decided, they began trying to contact the Jiralhanae resistance ground team.

Contact was made with them at 0900 Hours, after their second orbital pass and dozens of tries. The bridge team were all surprised by the civility of the Jiralhanae, as well as their frankness. They treated the humans with the utmost respect but did not pull punches on speaking about the animosity between their two species. For Connor, they gave a new and somewhat unwanted humanity to the aliens he had considered enemies and slaughtered without a single pang of guilt for some time.

Despite the pleasantness of the conversation, however, it caused yet another upset in the mission profile. During the conversation, the topic of transportation came up. Too Connor’s relief and the Major’s dismay, the Jiralhanae revealed they only enough transportation capability for one individual. They told the crew how they had painstakingly worked out the mode of transport based on a requirements transmission from ONI Section III. It was of course immediately clear to the bridge crew that ONI had an even larger hand in the operation that previously thought, unsettling everyone, including Connor. No one trusted ONI much after their experiences.

Still, they knew the mission had to come first. Putting aside their private worries, they hurriedly began the preparations for the mission, already scheduled to go off at 1600 Hours. Connor and a single squad of ODSTs were prepped for the operation, though the ODSTs knew they would be staying at the LZ and not participating in the actual infiltration. The small team hurriedly suited up, grabbed supplies, loaded ammunition, ran a quick simulation, and attended a briefing at 1400.

Finally, at 1550 Hours, it was go time. Connor and Alpha 2 Third squad entered their HEV pods, as the Midnight Shadow dropped lower into the atmosphere than it had gone before during the mission. Risking stealth to deploy the small team, they sacrificed a tiny bit of shipboard camouflage to give the team a stealthier landing. Orbital drop was conducted at 1553 Hours, and soon the team was hurtling towards the ground in their SOEIVSVs, camouflaged, stealthier variants designed to permit covert orbital drops. At 1610 Hours, after a long, slow, uncomfortable drop, the team landed at the LZ.

A small clearing surrounded by Alpine mountains and forests, the LZ was to remote for any Remnant activity. However, waiting for the drop team was not just abandoned forest. A small group of Jiralhanae terrorists, their contacts, had arrived already, and had been eagerly awaiting their visitors. Though most resistance members were traitors recruited by Jiralhanae Alliance operatives, the team met by Connor had to be completely trustworthy, and thus only controller operatives were used. For many it was their first time meeting humans; these Jiralhanae, though hailing for the JA, had lived most of their lives undercover inside Remnant space, creating terror networks to combat the Covenant, and had been born to late to see action in the war alongside or against humans.

After a brief discussion, Connor boarded an enclosed cargo vehicle provided by the resistance fighters. Stowing away in a specially made false plasma coil, it was a perfect hiding place. Leaving the ODSTs behind to build a small camp and some fortifications in case they had to extract under fire, he began his trip out. For the next 11 hours, Connor was trapped in a cramped, small crate, unable to move or to find out any information on the mission status. Tense and unable to sleep, he endured the small ordeal in silence. Finally, at 0300 Hours, on April 16th, the trip was over. Stopping at the equivalent of ten blocks away inside a warehouse with owner’s sympathetic to the JR, Connor was unloaded from the truck, and rushed into the mission. Given a map of the location of the talks and a quick briefing, he was unceremoniously dispatched, being told to return when the job was finished.

In the early pre-dawn light, Connor made his way alone through the city, sticking to the shadows and letting his SPI armor keep him hidden. The experience was new to him. Though he had visited a Sangheili city before during Operation: CARTOGRAPHER while stopping for refueling, the design between a Sangheili city and a Jiralhanae one differed greatly, and the entire infrastructure was strange and confusing to him. The working day, a tradition oddly enough shared by the very different Human and Jiralhanae races, had not yet begun, and there was a distinct lack of activity on the streets. An eerie quiet permeated the city, unsettling Connor somewhat. Though he only encountered half a dozen contacts on his way to the building, mostly early morning workers or guards, Connor was on high alert by the time he reached the building.

Arriving and slipping inside, he encountered almost no defenders as he headed for the designated planting site, a wind duct redirection system control suite. The two parties were not expected to arrive until 1100 hours, and the guards on permanent duty there were enjoying a lazy morning before the hundreds of soldiers, negotiators, and general useless functionaries arrived for the talks. Connor easily avoided the pathetic security and arrived at the target area at 0357 Hours.

Using a portable plasma torch, he burned away a small section panel off of the wall and inserted the VINDICATOR nuke into the space between the wall panel and the opposite wall. Setting the timer on the nuke for 12 hours, Connor replaced the wall panel and exited the room. Slipping out and returning to the warehouse, avoiding the increasing amount of civilians, he nonetheless was more at ease, knowing the hardest part of the mission was over. Arriving at the warehouse, he told the waiting resistance members it was time to escape. He was hastily loaded aboard the truck again and they set off, heading back towards the extraction point.

Across the city, a signal went out to other resistance fighters of the impending nuclear detonation. They carefully packed their possessions, and telling no one, evacuated to areas outside the blast zone. In a city of just under 3 million, the evacuation of a few hundred went completely unnoticed. Connor, once again crammed into a cargo container, this time managed a fitful sleep. The transport made better time on the return trip, and they arrived at the extraction zone at 1500 Hours. There, he met with the ODST squad and radioed for pickup.

In orbit, the Midnight Shadow received the signal and dispatched a stealth coated Pelican dropship to the surface. Connor and the ODSTs dusted off at 1537 Hours, leaving behind the resistance fighters, who would continue the battle against the Remnant forces. They were quickly shuttled up to the Midnight Shadow and docked with it at 1551 Hours. Connor swiftly dismounted and made his way to the bridge, arriving at 1558 Hours, just in time to watch the fireworks.

From the bridge, they would not be able to see the actual explosion, but the effects would be quite clear enough. At 1601 Hours, the exact calculated time, the nuke detonated and a massive domino effect began. The three dozen odd ships in orbit all stopped on their patrolling vectors, and a large radiological signature was detected on the planet. Then things got truly interesting. The Kig-Yar pirates, thinking the blast had been of Jiralhanae nature, open fired in retaliation. In response, the Brute fleet fired back, and soon, a full fledged space battle was underway.


The crew watched in stunned satisfaction as the two enemy fleets were consumed in the fratricidal warfare. They’d done far beyond what was needed for the mission. Not only had the two groups of leaders been eliminated--each side was blaming the attack on the other and they were quickly destroying each other. The crew remained in system for three hours, watching as the two groups destroyed each other. Finally, at 1930 Hours, the battle ended, and the Jackal fleet, which had been decimating the Jiralhanae force but been smashed when Remnant forces arrived, fled from the system with only two ships intact. The Midnight Shadow, more than satisfied that it’s mission had been completed, jumped into slipspace, heading back to it’s home port in Gilgamesh.

Operation: DANGER ZONE

The Midnight Shadow arrived back in system on May 14th after several long weeks of cryo and repair. Upon returning, they were expecting, after four long operational deployments, to have at least a brief period of shore leave before their next deployment. No one, not even Connor, believed that command would give them another mission immediately. They were wrong.

Only seconds after leaving slipspace, they were told to rendezvous with the destroyer Tribute, enact a transfer of supplies, and stand by for immediate orders and redeployment. The entire crew was furious, angry that the UNSC would give them another mission so soon in a very un-professional display of frustration. During the Great War, with humanity stretched to the brink, it would have been accepted without question. But on a low pressure campaign against a weakened and inferior enemy, it was a much different atmosphere. Even Connor was slightly miffed.

In the end, it was the most level headed of the crew, Captain Prescott, who calmed his crew and kept them on track. He reminded them that the extra deployments were only a sign of HIGHCOMM’s confidence in them (not to mention a genuine lack of combat veteran troops in the post war UNSC military). They all quickly remembered how important success was. No one wanted a repeat of the Great War, and if the Remnant regained it’s strength, they all knew it was likely that they would become offensive again. They had to be stopped, and if that was not possible, at least delayed.

At 1219 Hours, the Midnight Shadow docked with the Tribute and began a resupply of expended ordnance and materials, mostly things like HEVs, fuel for dropships, and ammunition for infantry troops. By 1407 Hours, the resupply was complete, and the Shadow was disconnected from the Tribute and headed onto a neutral vector, awaiting orders. These came in at 1609 Hours, and soon, the Shadow was heading on an out system vector, preparing for a jump to slipspace. Orienting towards the planet Malchalo, they entered the alternate dimension and headed off.

The mission, Operation: DANGER ZONE, was another new variety in the GREY TEAM campaign. All of the missions thus far had been to worlds, if not deep in Remnant space, then inside the clearly defined area of Brute control. Malchalo was not such a world. On the edge of enemy space, it was home to an independent colony of Unggoy who were not a subsidiary of the official Unggoy government nor the USR, and thus had complete independence at a cost of economic sanctions and no protection by the Sangheili. The Remnant, eager to expand it’s territory, had invaded the small world six months before. The UNSC had received multiple distress signals from the colony, but because of the political sanctions against the world, could not overtly intervene to help the populace. A standard fleet and invasion force could not be used.

Instead, the UNSC contacted the Unggoy resistance to the occupation in secret and began coordinating a plan with them. The occupation was mostly ground based, with only a single Remnant picket in orbit. The Unggoy revealed that they had an able fleet of single ships and gunboats, but also said they were trapped in their spaceport, under heavy guard from the Brutes. This was one of two major enemy strong points on the planet, the second of which was the Brute HQ. Both would have to go to get the occupation force out.

The Unggoy resistance outnumbered the Brutes by 200 or 300%, but unfortunately, relied on mass infantry tactics, lacking any sort of special units. The Brutes, knowing this, had based their defenses on this weakness, and this was where the Unggoy required the help of the UNSC. The Brutes had established a shield generator around the spaceport, and their HQ had a massive defense cannon designed to tear the inevitable Grunt charge to pieces. Taking both targets would requires some sort of genuine special forces unit to disable the defenses, something the Unggoy lacked. Once these defenses were disabled, the Unggoy could attack the enemy en masse, but until then, they were unable to mount the assault needed to free themselves. The UNSC, analyzing the situation and looking over it’s available assets, deployed the Midnight Shadow.

The Shadow entered the Malchalo system on June 6th, 2578, cloaked as usual. They quickly detected the Covenant picket and plotted it’s position, armed its weapons, vectored close to the planet, then promptly ignored it; it was almost no threat to them, lacking the scanners or weapons to effectively detect of fight them. The Shadow could have destroyed the picket if pressed, but ONI wanted to keep the UNC involvement in the mission quiet, and thus it was spared. At 0940 Hours, the Shadow entered orbit, and quickly began circling the planet, heading towards it’s objective zone.

Inside it’s HEV bays, Connor, Alpha, and Bravo Companies entered their pods, preparing for a hard drop. The standard HEVs had been transferred onto the Tribute, and in return, the Midnight Shadow had received stealth variants, in actually larger quantities than they held before, giving them enough pods to drop all three companies. At 1100 Hours, the drop order went out. The plan was simple: get to the surface, link up with the resistance fighters, form a plan, and take down the enemy defenses. Charlie company was being kept in reserve to keep some caution in what was otherwise a hasty but necessary quick deployment. Several million Unggoy citizens were desperately counting on them.

Both companies touched down at 1130 Hours, landing on target in an isolated valley. After regrouping, they began a quick march to the meeting zone, an Unggoy resistance base. At 1240 Hours, they were contacted by Unggoy scouts, and quickly led back to the well camouflaged camp. There, they were given a small section of the base for use as a barracks, then Connor and Major Tannenburg were given a meeting with the Unggoy commander, Felipa Transp. Transp’s long name was not the only thing unusual about the Unggoy.

A combat veteran of the Great War who had defected to the Separatist side, he had held the distinction of being a member of the special forces and surviving several Great War battles against both Humans and Brutes, a rarity for an Unggoy. An able leader who had been uncomfortable with the post-war relationship between the Sangheili and his people (namely, the almost complete lack of independence for the latter) he had started the colony of Malchalo on his own and managed it’ affairs for year as it’s permanent ruler, in proud Unggoy tradition. After the Brutes invaded, he had been ousted and fled in exile. Transp had been a natural leader for the resistance, and was thankful to the UNSC for the help reclaiming his world.

Connor and Tannenburg met with Transp at 1500 Hours, as the ODST grabbed a bit of rest before moving out. Transp outlined the situation very clearly. Almost twenty two thousand able bodied Unggoy capable of infantry action had volunteered to fight, and the resistance had slowly been withdrawing the local populations and replacing them with warriors as a means of covertly massing their forces at the enemy strongpoints. Another thousand pilots were on standby, waiting for the infantry to take the spaceport and give them access to their ships. The Brutes had roughly eight thousand troops on planet; six thousand clustered tightly around their strongpoints, and another two thousand on patrol in smaller areas (largely of no threat or strategic importance to the resistance).

The enemy troops had massed around the shield generator and their fortress-like desert command center, patiently awaiting the inevitable battle with the local population. Both positions had fixed emplacements critically important to their defensive integrity, which also served as a significant deterrent for an attack, as casualties would be uproariously high. Once the defenses were down, the plan for the resistance was to rush both positions en masse, using old Great War tactics and overwhelming the Brute’s with their numbers. The defenses around both positions were the only real impediment, and the burden to take them down was on the humans.

Transp provided the engineering plans for the spaceport, old, mostly useless relics from it’s earliest construction, to the humans, as well as the speculated location of the shield generator, but was otherwise little help with intelligence. They had no information on the command center save the exterior defenses and limited troop ideas, making the interior a mystery. The command center was an obviously bigger problem, and so Connor and Major Tannenburg decided to solve it first, and were soon creating their plan.

Because the ultimate objective was to disable the defenses, they set that as their goal. Basing the layout after their own prior experience with the Covenant and their architecture, and cross referencing it with information on the exterior, they reasoned that the main target, a reactor giving power to a massive plasma cannon which revolved around the center of the base, would likely be based nearby to the controls for the cannon, which would obviously be in the command center. Basing off the standard layout for a Covenant ship or base, they reasoned it would be close to the center. With a good guess on the location, they turned their attention to how they would insert. The command center was located atop a small hill surrounded by flat, rocky ground. The Remnant had bombarded the surrounding area, leaving it completely barren, and giving the fortress cannon a clear view of the surrounding area for miles around. Advancing unnoticed by ground to the command center would be nearly impossible.

Though they did not want to use the Midnight Shadow much, they realized that to ensure success, they would have too. An HEV drop would be the best insertion method, allowing the strike force to arrive quickly and avoid an extended march over open ground where they would be vulnerable to both discovery and enemy fire. Reviewing the situation, they decided to extract Major Tannenburg and Alpha Company, bring them back up to the Midnight Shadow by Pelican, and then drop Alpha and Charlie companies straight onto the target. They would drop onto the top of the fortress and fight their way to the plasma cannon, disable it, then hold position and keep the Covenant from reactivating it long enough for Transp’s forces to charge the fortress and assault it.

With a plan for the first target, they started work on one for taking back the spaceport. Because Alpha and Charlie companies were both already being used, Bravo would be conducting it’s mission solo. Though arguably a simpler mission, the numbers issue would undoubtedly make it the more challenging of the two.

The objective, of course, was to disable the shield, allowing Unggoy fighters to swarm the spaceport and retake it. Unfortunately, the shield meant merely getting inside could pose a serious problem. The shield generator emitted a constant, solid field, and covered the entire spaceport. It’s only entrance was a single small hole in the shield, heavily guarded by Brutes with armor, emplaced weaponry, and numerous Unggoy prisoners, who would be used by the Brutes as living shields in case of an attack. In addition, if an assault force lingered to long, the Brutes could simply activate the shield over the entrance, trapping Bravo company uselessly outside.

Ultimately, it was the plans provided by the Unggoy leader Transp that gave them their plan. Going over the schematics of the hangars and looking for potential weaknesses, Major Tannenburg discovered the existence of an old sewer system, dating from the early days of the colony, that ran all the way under spaceport. Alerting Connor, they examined them with interest. The sewers, no longer used for their original purpose, looked to be large enough for people to move through, and apparently led straight into the spaceport complex, directly under the Brute position. This option had to be carefully examined, in case the enemy might know of it. Any route into the base was sure to have heavy guards or be sealed if the Brutes knew of it’s existence.

To find out if it was know, Connor and Major Tannenburg carefully examined numerous sets of blueprints of the spaceport. To their relief, they realized in the newer, updated plans, the ones that the Brutes would have access to, the sewers were omitted. Cross referencing numerous plans to ensure that they had an accurate picture of the sewers, and coordinating with Transp, they carefully planned the route Bravo company would take. Several factors, such as noise reduction, space for movement of large groups, and point of entrance were looked at.

The battle plan came together in full at around 2200 Hours, and Connor and Major Tannenburg returned to the ODST barracks to marshal the troops. After only a few hours of rest, they were moving out again. This time, however, they went separate ways. While Alpha Company began a march back to the former LZ for pickup, Bravo was loaded aboard a group of Shadow transports left over from the Great War, and sent on their way to the city housing the spaceport, Malchalo’s capital, Umbra.

On June 7th, at 0002 Hours, Alpha Company received pickup and was shuttled back up to the Midnight Shadow to prepare for the drop. By 0700 Hours, Bravo had arrived at the city and was covertly making it’s way beneath it through the sewers, heading for the emergence point, a drainage cover inside the walls of the spaceport. By 0835, all three companies were in position. Connor transmitted a “ready” signal to the Midnight Shadow, the Shadow sent him one in return, and then, like clockwork, the battle began.

At exactly 0839 Hours, the thirty six ODSTs of Bravo Companies first platoon, led from the front by Connor, burst from the drainage cover with their weapons blazing. Emerging into an open courtyard surrounded by Unggoy gunboats on elevated landing pads, they found themselves smack in the middle of a half dozen Brute packs, and soon, as more and more ODSTs poured into the mix from inside the sewers, a frenetic firefight began. Amid the confusing array of landing pads, control buildings, and storage warehouse, fierce, chaotic, close quarters combat began. Bravo was to caught up in the battle to even begin to think about heading for the shield generator. Survival was their number one priority.

Meanwhile, in orbit, the mission had begun for Charlie and Alpha companies. At the same time Connor was leading the emergence, the Midnight Shadow dropped into low orbit and released over six hundred HEVs, sending the two ODST companies towards their targets. That many HEVs burning in on a direct line was to much to camouflage, and at 0842 Hours, defensive anti-aircraft fire began in earnest. 3 minutes into the mission, Alpha and Charlie had the honor of encountering the first real “snag” of the op--though it would certainly not be the last in what would become the riskiest operation yet in the campaign.

As enemy fire pelted the incoming ODSTs, both Alpha and Charlie took dozens of casualties. By the time they slammed into the enemy HQ, they had lost a full three platoons, more casualties than even in Operation: PEGASI, all in only the stretch of two minutes. The ODSTs, disoriented and disorganized, lost their shock factor almost immediately. Rather than a quick in, quick out spec ops raid, the mission had transformed into a brutal slugfest. The ODSTs eliminated the miniscule enemy resistance on the roof relatively quickly, but as soon as they entered the actual fortress, they were fighting for every inch of progress as they battled towards the control center for the cannon

Back at the spaceport, Connor desperately tried to coordinate Bravo platoon and get them to advance to their objective. At 0853 Hours, Connor had still not managed to, and the ODSTs encountered a new problem. Ironically, it would also be their salvation. As the ODSTs pressed the Covenant troops around the hangar, a new threat arrived. Advancing on it’s four spider-like legs, a Remnant Scarab entered the fray.

It’s massive plasma cannon immediately inflicted mass casualties. Raking the beam across coverless ODSTs, scores of Helljumpers were cut down. Bravo Company, with just a bit over half of it’s troops left, pulled back, retreating into a small building which had served as an administrative office before the invasion, on Connor’s orders. He did not, however, join them. Making his way to the elevated walls of the circular hangar, he fired off a captured fuel rod gun to get the Scarab’s attention. As it turned and fired on him, Connor took a note from the infamous exploits of SPARTAN-117 and thinned the defending crew of the Scarab, before jumping aboard. Using an M7, he quickly cleaned the surprised pilots and entered the command port. The scarab, and older model dating back to the very beginning of the Human Covenant War, was manually controlled and did not have Lekgolo pilots. Using training provided by the Sangheili, he took command of the armored behemoth.

Finally the mission showed it’s first signs of reversal. With Connor at the controls, the massive plasma cannon now turned against it’s masters and bombarded the Covenant troops, covering the remains of Bravo Company as it left the building and headed for the shield generator. The Remnant troops, who had been an insurmountable obstacle not long before, now retreated in earnest before the UNSC advance. By 0906 Hours, Bravo Company had arrived at the structure housing the generator and began infiltrating it, as Connor stood guard in his Scarab. At that moment, the Remnant chose to counterattack, hurling dozens of Wraith tanks, ghosts, choppers, and Prowlers at the human controlled Scarab. Connor was forced to guard the Bravo Team troopers as more and more Covenant troops attacked.

He was successful, breaking the back of the Covenant force, but in the process, the Scarab was destroyed. At 0913 Hours, Bravo Company blew the generator, completing the objective. But now, with the Scarab lost, trapped in an indefensible position, with the Remnant forces outnumbering them 100 to 1, they realized that in a full assault, they would have no chance of survival. So, bunkering in as best they could, they hoped and prayed that the Unggoy resistance fighters would begin their attack.

They did not disappoint. A 0916 Hours, just as Remnant forces were about to launch a massive surge, resistance fighters from throughout the city, clad in whatever armor they could find and armed only with basic weapons, rushed forward. Thousands upon thousands of Unggoy warriors descended, and a pitched battle began. As the fighting spread into the city, Connor and Bravo Company took advantage of the confusion and fought their way back to their emergence point, hoping to escape into the sewers.

At 0906 Hours, after over twenty minutes o fighting through the fortress with minimal progress, Alpha and Charlie companies encountered a serious problem. ODSTs who’d been paving the way were startled to find a major barrier: a manual shield wall had been deployed to stop any progress made by the humans. Major Tannenburg, unsure of how to proceed and certain that his forces would not have be able to shut the cannon down by the pre-established 1030 Hours point, radioed the Unggoy resistance leader, telling him to hold his troops back and not begin massing them. Unfortunately, interference from the energy shields and the fortress jumbled the signal, and the commander, not well educated and versed very poorly in the human language, interpreted this as the sign to attack.

On this signal, the ten thousand plus resistance fighters, not yet amassed into neat, orderly units, began an all out, confused charge. A dust cloud hundreds of feet high rose into the sky as the force charged across the open desert towards the isolated fortress. On the midsection of the fortress, the massive plasma cannon swiveled to face the Unggoy force. Plasma torpedo shots bombarded the charging mass of soldiers, wiping out scores of resistances fighters. The cannon, when running on full power, could fire twice a minute. With two miles of ground to cover, losses would be severe. But rather than attempt a retreat, the commander of the Unggoy realized that such a maneuver would be slow, confuse his troops, and make the sacrifices paid by the soldiers in the initial charge worthless. Knowing that a retreat would cause even more losses than the charge, he continued his assault.

Thankfully, firing the cannon also had an unexpected and, for the Remnant, unpleasant side-affect. As the cannon drained power to keep up it’s incessant barrage, it drew energy from stores throughout the fortress, and the shield walls were left without power. The barrier lowered, and the ODSTs suddenly had a second chance. The Covenant forces, overconfident in their defense, had relaxed and were left completely vulnerable as the humans rushed them. With determination and surprise on their side, the ODSTs smashed the resistance, shattering the enemy line and pushing through it quickly. Pressing in with lightning speed, their tenacity quickly overcame the enemy, and the battle turned in their favor. At 0916 Hours, ten minutes into the Unggoy charge, the two ODST companies, now weakened to less than a single full unit, arrived at the command center for the cannon.

Once inside, they made quick work of the unarmed targeting officers. Setting the cannon to offline, they locked the doors and watched the Unggoy attack. The resistance fighters, who had taken heavy casualties from the cannon, still outnumbered the Brutes almost three to one. Reaching the entrance to the fortress, they charged inside, scouring the interior of any living Brute. At the spaceport, the other force did largely the same, and in both locations, the Brutes were unmercifully massacred. By 1030 Hours, the dust of the battle had mostly settled. The surface was mostly secure, and the resistance called in it’s pilots from out of hiding, who took command of the gunboats housed in the hangar and launched.

The hundreds of tiny craft swarmed the lone picket in orbit, destroying it in minutes. By 1100 Hours, the system was, for the most part at least, secure. Connor and Major Tannenburg were shuttled up to the Midnight Shadow, as what remained of Alpha, Bravo, and Charlie Companies gathered in the capital for pickup. Upon returning to the Shadow, Connor and Major Tannenburg were both debriefed. The mission had been successful, but at a painful cost. Almost 230 Helljumpers had lost their lives, notably from Charlie Company, which had been almost completed eradicated. Unggoy casualties had also been high. More than 2,000 resistance fighters had been killed, many from the charge on the fortress. Malchalo had been freed, but not without a cost.

Operation: FALLOUT

The remains of the three ODST companies were finally extracted on June 7th, 2578, at 1938 Hours. They had spent more than ten hours on the surface, being shuttled up to the Midnight Shadow aboard Pelicans in waves. As the last of the ODSTs arrived on the ship and the prowler accelerated on an out system heading, Connor and Major Tannenburg had a brief conference with Transp, who agreed to keep quiet about the UNSC involvement in the operation. Their duty fulfilled, they entered slipspace, returning to Gilgamesh for orders.

For most of the crew, the trip back was spent in cryo, frozen and asleep. But for Connor and Major Tannenburg, the pressing issues of troop reassignment and organization kept them awake. With more than a company and a half of soldiers lost, massive reorganization of the unit was needed. While it was technically not of Connor’s concern, as he was not a official officer of the unit, he still felt a need to help Tannenburg with the difficult task. The return trip took three weeks, and they worked the entire time. In the end, they combined the remaining ODSTs into two units, Alpha and Bravo, reassigning the few remaining Charlie soldiers into either company. Still, they were a bit short of two companies, so they knew they would need some replacements.

The Midnight Shadow arrived in the system on June 30th, 2578, at 2300 Hours. With five missions under their belt and a string of successful engagements, they were finally granted a brief respite. The Prowler docked with the Gilgamesh’s orbital facility and the crew was shuttled off for a two week R&R session. Connor, at a loss for something to do, was invited by Major Tannenburg to meet several of his fellow ODST commanders, who were on planet as well. Though a bit wary, he was intrigued, and followed.

Two weeks went fast in good company, and Connor enjoyed himself, something that, with a bit of experience about the outside world, he was able to do better than some SPARTANs. But as the shore leave came to a close, he had to return to the Shadow, and meet the challenge of rebuilding his forces. Of the 540 ODSTs in the original three companies, only 312 remained, and with his and Major Tannenburg’s plan, that meant finding 48 new soldiers, all of who had to be ready for the grueling missions they would have to endure. With Major Tannenburg’s help, he spent the last two days of his leave creating a roster.

Gilgamesh was not a major military outpost, and was mostly ignored by most of the UNSC (it’s overlooked location part of the reason for it’s use as a base for the GREY TEAM campaign), and thus finding any replacements at all, much less elite soldiers, was a difficult task. The only ones on hand with the necessary skills were all already part of different units, so Connor had to pull major strings with Section III to get them transferred to Bravo Company. It delayed their leave by three more days, but they were finally able to get the replacements they needed, most of whom were pulled from various NAVSPECWAR teams and other ODST units.

Finally back up to strength, they were ready for their next mission. The ODSTs were pulled back onto the Midnight Shadow, which headed on an out system vector as HIGHCOMM transmitted orders. They oriented quickly towards the target system, K8-69, and jumped. Two weeks of downtime had done the troops good, and they were focused and ready for a fight. Their target was a sort of back to basics mission.

Remnant forces, reported ONI, had set up a major position in the K8-69 system, on the planet known as Gloriously Bright. Located only light-years away from the Sangheili front, the Brutes had constructed a plasma refinery to refuel their ships on raiding missions. It’s close position to Elite space allowed Brute ships quick rearming points, which they were using to great effect. The UNSC leadership had been persuaded by the USR to launch an attack on the facility, and Connor’s group, which had by far the best record of any of the small raiding teams, was chosen for the mission.

The mission would hopefully be very simple. The plasma refinery was a large facility located near the mid latitude line of the planet, a simple, routine target. It was made somewhat more difficult by the presence of a domed energy shield around it, but intelligence pointed to it being relatively low powered, made for resisting bombardment from fast moving orbital weapons but letting slow moving objects through. The plan was to land just beyond the shield covertly, then slip inside, disable it, and extract, allowing the Midnight Shadow to a launch a nuke from orbit and level the whole reserve. Simple, time tested, and dependable, just the sort of plan that Connor and Major Tannenburg enjoyed.

The Midnight Shadow arrived in the system on August 12th, 2578, at 1100 Hours. Though the standard clock indicated that it had to be just before noon, on Gloriously Bright, it was already dark, and they moved quickly, hoping to deploy that very day and end the mission as fast as possible. Connor, along with two platoons of ODSTs, was loaded aboard a trio of Pelicans, while the remaining forces stayed aboard the Midnight Shadow, able to be deployed if necessary to aid the remaining troops. The shadow had not been able to restock all of it’s HEVs at Gilgamesh, so only half a companies worth were onboard; the rest of the ODSTs would have to rely on Pelicans to get them on the ground.

At 1200 Hours, three Pelicans departed the Shadow and headed for the surface. Gloriously Bright, while not a full colony, did have some sporadic settlements besides the plasma reserve, so the insertion had to be slow going to avoid detection. It took them three hours to complete reentry at their speed, but they managed to get to cruising level undetected.

Or so they thought.

Unbeknownst to them, their attempts at stealth were in vain. The Remnant had been expecting an attack on the system for some time, and had stationed a stealth craft of their own in the system to await the moment. The actual discovery had been on mere chance--the detection of an electric outburst the Midnight Shadow had erroneously emitted just after exiting slipspace--but the result was the same. When the Shadow launched dropships, the Brute ship had alerted the groundside defenses, and a trap had been set.

As the dropships closed on the base, Remnant forces, using hidden anti-aircraft installations, opened fired. Laser fire peppered the three dropships, and one was destroyed. The other two, badly damaged, crashed landed.

Only half of the troops aboard Connor’s vehicle survived, and he realized that they had to move quickly before enemy troops arrived and attack them. Gathering anyone who had survived the crash, he contacted the other dropship and ordered them to advance to the target. They had crashed several miles short of their designated LZ, in a particularly vulnerable position. Though the plasma reserve itself was located in a rocky set of hills, most of the rest of the surrounding surface was flat, open fields and gently rolling hills. The only cover for miles was a small forest about seven miles from the target, and two from them. With enemy aircraft no doubt soon hunting the skies, it was crucial that they got to it quickly.

The survivors made for the cover of the forest as half a mile behind them, Covenant forces arrived and began searching the crash site. When they discovered that it was empty, they quickly began a search of the area. Narrowly avoiding detection, Connor’s team made it to the forest and tried to link up with the other survivors.

They weren’t able too. Before they could make it to the cover of the forest, Covenant forces found them and attacked. Connor’s team had to watch as the others were strafed by enemy aircraft, then surrounded by infantry and slaughtered. Their long range com systems had been lost in the crash, and now, without any way to contact the Midnight Shadow, they were utterly and completely alone.

With eight soldiers, no support, and an enemy actively looking for them, success looked like a slim prospect. Considering their chances, they decided to bunker down and wait. Hopefully, Major Tannenburg and the Midnight Shadow would realize the mission was compromised, and deploy the rest of their forces. Then, if things went well, they could meet up with the friendly forces and extract, try the mission again, or just call in for a larger force and let them take care of it.

They quickly dug in as best they could, making a small camp. They bunkered down and tried to get as comfortable as they could, but they were unprepared for a long mission, equipped with only the bare essentials for their mission. With only enough provisions for two days, they decided to wait on eating until it was absolutely necessary, and so they settled in to sleep with empty stomachs--a necessity, but hard on morale.

They assigned two man watches who would take sentry duty while the others slept, and Connor, knowing that the later shifts would be the hardest, elected to take third, assigning two ODSTs for the first shift. He warily went to sleep, rifle close by, keenly aware that he was deep in enemy territory.

Two hours later, he and the others were awoken by the urgent whispers of the sentries.

Their plan had was no longer possible. The Remnant troops, sure that there were still humans to be found, had started a full scale search of the forest and were rapidly closing on their position. Any hope of bunkering down and waiting for reinforcements was gone. It was time to run.

Connor realized that they could not hope to hide from the enemy, and that they could not rely on the Midnight Shadow to save them. If they were to survive, they would have to defend themselves, and with a numerically superior enemy, that meant going on the offensive. Sitting around or trying to hold a single position was suicide.

So, as the Covenant closed on them, Connor decided to continue on with the original mission.

They knew that searching the forest would take the Covenant time, and give them a few hours with less robust patrols around the base. Crossing the open plains to the enemy fortress would be tough, and they knew that their best chance would be when the Remnant troops were distracted. Connor led the eight man squad toward the target, a seven mile march that they had to try and make in under three hours, in full gear. It was grueling.

Normal marines might not have managed, but ODSTs and a SPARTAN took the challenge on and managed to succeed. Triple time marching across the plains, they trekked all night across the open terrain. It took the Covenant three hours to finish searching the forest, enough time for Connors team to make it to just outside the enemy facility. Taking cover in a cave close to the facility, they decided to plan their next move: getting inside the refinery.

The original plan called for a rapid attack on the refinery, using surprise and the skill of the elite ODSTs to get just far enough inside that they could destroy the shield generator, then immediately exfiltrate. However, the old plan was based around a seventy soldier force, and though numbers had never been the defining factor, it was still necessary to rethink their approach. They realized that going in guns blazing with little more than a single squad was a very fast way to end up dead.

What then? The ODSTs were equipped with standard issue drop armor, not SPI, making a stealth entrance extremely difficult. They had no support to call on to give them aid. To top things off, the enemy was aware of their presence and actively searching them out; surprise was totally absent and they did not have much time. They were genuinely stumped on how to proceed.

Seeking inspiration, they left the safety of their cave to try and observe the Covenant, hoping to find some weakness, some flaw they could exploit. This saved their life. As they filed out of the cave, they narrowly avoiding a pillar of superheated waste plasma that scorched the tunnel, shooting out into the air. Shocked and more than a little worried that their hiding place could have as easily been their incinerator, they realized that it might also be their salvation.

The tunnels, they figured, were vents for excess heat. The plasma refinery had been built straight into the foothills of an extinct volcano, and the caves must have been some sort of lava chute from it. Connor figured that the Remnant had stumbled on them while building their facility and decided to repurpose the chutes as vents for the excess plasma that was superheated during the refining process. If so, then they would likely lead straight into the enemy facility.

They had two major problems to work out before they decided on it as their entrance. First, they had to confirm that it would actually lead into the facility, and not some area on the other side of the planet. Second, they had to check the intervals between heat dumps to make sure there was enough time to make it inside without being cooked alive.

One of the ODSTs had managed to grab a reconnaissance drone from the Pelican after the crash, and they deployed it, sending it up the tunnel to see what it could discover. They were very pleased with the results. The drones battery life was short, but they managed to get it close enough to confirm that the tunnel led somewhere into the base (though they could not identify where exactly). With positive confirmation that the tunnel was a valid route inside, they had to decided whether or not it was a safe one. Hiding outside in the tunnel, they timed the period between each blast. The tunnel was 5 miles long, over uneven terrain, and they had to be sure that they would have enough time to get inside. They recorded the time elapsed between each heat outburst, and found it was just over 55 minutes. Enough time…barely.

It would be tight, it would be close, and it would be dangerous, but they were all out of options. They had no other way inside the refinery and no support to call on, not to mention a rapidly slimming window of time before the Remnant forces hunting them found their location and descended on them en masse. They had no choice.

Loading up what gear they had, they waited till darkness fell, then for the refinery to vent heat. When it did, they readied themselves, then took off down the tunnel as soon as it stopped, running for their objective. They moved as fast as possible, always aware of the timer slowly counting down until the next plasma shunt. They covered the five miles and reached the drone’s last known location within forty minutes, running eight minute miles in full gear, but as they reached the target, they discovered something was wrong. Very wrong.

The tunnel indeed led into part of the Covenant base--straight into a reactor. There were no doors or entrances to the rest of the facility, no way inside that they could find. They were stuck in the tunnel, with less than fifteen minutes left to get out. They could blow their way inside with explosives, but an explosive breach in the walls of a critical heat vent would be like a signal flare to the Remnant troops advertising their location.

But to stay was to die.

Connor and the ODSTs set breaching charges on the wall, retreated to a safe distance, then detonated them. The blasts tore into the walls, breaching the refinery and creating an entrance. Connors team infiltrated as alarms began to blare, announcing the breach. With stealth and numbers both no longer in their favor, they had to move quickly, using the element of surprise while it still remained. Sprinting through the halls towards the main plasma reserve, they gunned down any enemies they had a chance to, and simply avoiding the others.

This strategy worked, but not without a price. As they rushed through the refinery, they took several casualties from enemies they did not have time to engage, and the squad had been narrowed to four members by the time they reached the plasma reserve. With their explosives already used blowing their way out of the tunnel, they had to rely on more intuitive methods to trigger a detonation. As two ODSTs covered the hallway outside the door from the rapidly growing enemy forces, Connor and the other two overrode the safeties on the heat vent system and closed off the tunnel.

The next time the refinery tried to dump heat, it would send it straight into the reserve, hopefully triggering some kind of detonation that would destroy it. Then, just before evacuating, they used their single explosive charge on the main vault door. The vault door was a slab of reinforced metal containing the plasma reserve, and the charge barely dented it, but they hoped that it would leave the impression with the Covenant that their objective had been to breach the door, and that they had failed, buying time before the Remnant troops began analyzing other damage.

They managed to clear the hallway outside with several grenades and their final explosive charge, which had been meant to be used to blow open an escape hole, but was pressed into service when the enemy rushed them. Sprinting out of the room and heading towards the main exit, they accidentally stumbled into a communications center. Clearing it as quickly as they could, they sealed the exits and took a quick breather. Knowing time was of the essence, they rapidly assessed their situation.

By Connor’s count, they had a little over half an hour before the next plasma heat shunt. It had taken them forty out of fifty five minutes to get to the end of the tunnel, another five to realize it was a dead end, then five to set and blow the charges to get inside. They had immediately infiltrated the refinery and the next heat dump had happened five minutes later. It had taken them ten minutes to get to the target, so they’d been five minutes into the next heat dump. Reconfiguring the heat vent and faking a distraction had taken another five, then fighting to the comm center had been a little less than twenty minutes.

This meant they had 25 minutes to escape through what had to be easily a quarter mile of enemy infested territory. A squad of MJOLNIR clad SPARTAN-IIs might or combat company of ODSTs might have pulled it off, but their weary squad of four was no such force. Weighing their options, they realized they might have some sort of chance after all. The comm center they were in was a standard Remnant sort, based off technologies used by the USR and Brutes alike. The Midnight Shadow, a state of the art Prowler designed to be able to communicate easily with friendly Sangheili forces, might be able to read their signal.

Connor quickly assigned one of the ODSTs to hack it, and within two minutes, they had full control of the terminal. Pinging a priority signal to the Shadow with Major Tannenburg’s personal access codes, Connor got a solid signal with the orbiting Prowler and quickly explained his situation and plan. Neither Major Tannenburg and Captain Prescott understood the situation, but both trusted Connor enough to deploy their forces as he had asked for.

Connor and the ODSTs left the communications room almost immediately, heading outside and continuing towards the exit. But they were stopped quickly by heavy Remnant resistance; now aware of the threat that opposed them, the Brutes converged on the humans and held them back. Their survival was now entirely in the hands of Connor’s plan.

In orbit, Major Tannenburg scrambled the ODSTs of Alpha Company into HEVs. Five minutes after Connor’s call, 180 ODSTs were hot-dropping to the planet, ready for combat. They landed just outside the shield, in front of the main entrance, and immediately began an attack. The combat company quickly annihilated the front defenses and pushed towards entrance to the refinery. The Remnant tried to seal it, but the ODSTs simply blew it open with explosives.

It was then that the Remnant troops realized their mistake. They’d spread their forces dangerously thin, grouping all their infantry inside the base to attack Connor’s force, and leaving their air forces on patrol to search for other survivors of the crashes. The perimeter was left unfortified, and the ODSTs quickly broke into the base and began an attack. The Covenant forces were left in a vulnerable position as Alpha Company swooped around behind them, putting them in a corner and slaughtering them. The ODSTs broke out and attacked other areas, crippling or assaulting key positions like the shield generator, barracks, and command center. The Remnant forces had no choice but to turn their attention to the ODSTs, reassigning their troops to defend the base or simply attack the humans. Their losses quickly slowed, but this, oddly enough, was the exact intention of the human troops.

With the Remnant troops distracted by the fighting throughout their base, Connor’s team pushed forward yet again, and a small, heavily armed group of the best ODSTs from Alpha pushed a wedge straight into the Covenant lines, reaching Connor’s team and securing them. Then, with their real objective accomplished, Alpha Company pulled back. Retreating full speed from the Remnant forces, they gave up the ground they had just taken and ran for the outside. Less than 5 minutes remained on the mission clock before the next heat vent.

Connor’s team was the last to exit, being the farthest in enemy territory. They escaped with a mere thirty seconds to spare after sprinting through the refinery with the enemy close on their heels. Racing as far from the facility as they could, they flung themselves into whatever cover they could find (usually used SOEIV pods) as the timer hit zero.

For a few moments, they wondered if their plan had failed, if the heat vent was not sufficient to detonate the plasma, or if, more likely, their modifications had been noticed and corrected. Then, the plasma reserve detonated, roasting the base from inside out. Connor and the ODSTs kept under cover as best they could, and were thankfully far enough away that they took no casualties.

There was no time to revel in the success of the mission. The enemy air forces, though unable to assault the ODSTs, were now closing on them, and though the ODSTs could have likely defeated the banshee force, it was not necessary. There had already been significantly more casualties on the mission than intended, and both Connor and Major Tannenburg did not want to lose troops fighting a pointless battle. Pelican dropships were scrambled from the Midnight Shadow to pick up the ODSTs, and the troopers rapidly gathered gear and prepared for dust-off.

The dropships arrived 15 minutes after the explosion, and the troops were embarked within five minutes. As the enemy forces closed on them, they accelerated out of the atmosphere, leaving the atmospheric based craft far behind. In orbit, they rendezvoused with the orbiting Midnight Shadow, as the system’s home defense units closed on them. Engaging the slipspace drive and heading onto a random vector, the Shadow jumped into slipspace.

Operation: AVALANCHE

The opening minutes of their flight back to the Gilgamesh system was a frantic surge of activity as troops were unloaded, injured were tended to, and ordnance stowed. Within half an hour however, the activity had slowed to a crawl, and most of the ODSTs went back into cryo storage for the journey home. Though the engagement on the ground had burned through relatively little ammunition and supplies, the Midnight Shadow had almost depleted it’s HEV tubes and Pelican dropships, and would need a thorough resupply before it was combat ready again.

The return trip took a little under four weeks, and the Midnight Shadow arrived in the Gilgamesh system on September 13th, 2578. The Remnant had begun recently to step up some of it’s operations, which ONI interpreted as a response to the GRAY TEAM campaign, so the Shadow would need to be deployed as soon as possible to strike at the enemy. Because of the rushed deployment, there would be no time for anything except for the basics. Arriving in system, the Shadow rendezvoused with a supply ship 30 million kilometers from the outer planetary range, and spent six hours transferring supplies. HEVs, Dropships, Ammunition and numerous assorted supplies and munitions were all replaced, loading the Shadow to full capacity. There was no time to transfer in new troops to fill the slots left open by the previous mission, so the Connor and Tannenburg were forced to settle for a weakened unit.

Just as they finished the resupply transfer, the ship was contacted by command with it’s new orders. Wasting no time, command transmitted coordinates for the location of their next mission and an encrypted mission summary, that would be opened only once they were en route. Disconnecting from the supply ship, they entered slipspace with a vector plotted towards their target. The few personnel that had been retrieved from cryo were placed back into stasis, in storage until they were needed. Connor, Major Tannenburg, and even Captain Prescott were all chilled down for the voyage.

The target system was at least a months travel away, even at full speed. The target planet, K7-47, was an icy moon orbiting a gas giant. On the planet was a Remnant sensor station, used to launch slipspace probes that would observe UNSC and USR fleet movements. The Remnant had used the intelligence gathered by the station to great effect in the last few weeks, performing unusually well in combat thanks to their recon. Though the engagements had only been small skirmishes with minimal importance, both the UNSC and USR were worried about the possibilities of larger battles going awry. ONI and USR intelligence agencies both believed the station to be a prototype facility, with it’s designer still present at the station. With any luck, this meant a pinpoint strike would be able to permanently eliminate, or at least severely delay, the Remnant’s ability to deploy more sensor stations.

Three days out from the objective, Connor, Captain Prescott, and Major Tannenburg were revived from cryo to prepare for the mission. Prior reconnaissance conducted by ONI scouts had placed the sensor station at the crux of a small mountainous hill, with heavy anti aircraft defenses placed to defend against attack. These defenses would shred the ODSTs if they attempted to drop straight into the site; an air strike would not be possible. Unlike some of their earlier missions, however, the solution was simple, though it was bound to be far from easy.

The mountain had heavy anti-air defenses at the crux, but the area around of it’s base was relatively undefended. The AA defenses were placed high on the mountain, and while ideal for shooting down an approaching air assault on their own level, they could not incline enough to fire down on the mountain’s base. Remnant troops had bored deep into the mountain to create a passage for a gravity lift, and maintained several small garrisons at the base to supervise the movement of supplies and troops. Examining the intelligence reports, Connor and Major Tannenburg searched for the smallest of these garrisons. The plan was uncomplicated; launch a lightning strike, eliminate the outpost, and ride the gravity lift up to the sensor station. They had minimal intelligence on the layout of the interior, so they’d have to wing it from there.

Unfortunately, several problems assailed their plan. The garrisons at the mountain base didn’t have access to the gravity lift controls, but the troops at the top did, and after years of fighting UNSC troops, they had learned to deactivate the lifts at the first sign of trouble. To complicate matters further, a Remnant Battlegroup had been spotted nearby. The nearest UNSC support was light-years away, and weren’t even aware of their mission. Like usual, they were on their own.

The Midnight Shadow arrived in the target system on October 11th, 2578, more than a year after the first operation of the GRAY TEAM campaign. Cloaked as usual, the Shadow moved in system, giving the Remnant defense group, two pickets and a frigate, a wide berth. Proceeding in system, the Midnight Shadow entered geo-synchronous orbit over the target, miles above the surface. In the launch bays, Alpha Company boarded their HEVs and prepared to drop. They would secure the mountain base and clear the route for Bravo Company, who would arrive by Pelicans.

At exactly 2200 Hours, the Midnight Shadow emerged from stealth and vomited the 180 ODSTs of Bravo Company. Connor and Major Tannenburg, again leading from the front, dropped with them as they entered the upper atmosphere, burning their way towards the sensor station. The Remnant defense group reacted with typical sluggishness, and before it was able to target the Midnight Shadow, the Prowler had already re-cloaked and slipped into invisibility.

Meanwhile, the anti-aircraft emplacements on the sensor station opened fired on the ODSTs, but with minimal effect. The ODSTs dropped well clear of the station, and with their distance and extreme angle, the AA was unable to successfully target them. The moment they hit the ground, they were in motion, heading for their targets. While Major Tannenburg took command of the first four platoons, Connor assembled the fifth platoon and moved ahead of the main force.

The Covenant outpost had been built straight onto the side of the mountain, and the gravity lift was located in a chamber near it’s far back wall, fully inside the mountain. A thin cylindrical passage burned straight through the ice, it was their only way up. The rest of the fortress was built in a more conventional manner, with an outer wall equipped with heavy weapon emplacements defending the interior. A small motor pool housed a pair of Wraith tanks, and based off aerial intelligence pictures, ONI and the USR Intelligence Agency both estimated around 300 troops, mostly enslaved grunts and jackals for hire with very few Brutes commanding them. The right side of the fortress was a natural wall of thick ice, permeated with tunnels. The Remnant had sealed the tunnels on their own side, but Connor and Major Tannenburg had a plan to deal with this.

Connor’s platoon diverted from the main force and entered the tunnels, heading towards the entrance the Covenant had sealed off. Meanwhile, Major Tannenburg’s force began their attack. Moving straight in towards the walls, they surprised the defenders with rocket fire, destroying several of the heavy artillery weapons and reaching the wall before they could respond. The ODSTs had only moments to gain a foothold however before the Remnant forces retaliated. Grunts and Jackals surged from the barracks and attacked the defenders en masse, who took positions high on the wall and fired down on them. The two Remnant Wraiths attempted to flush the ODSTs out, but they managed to keep the tanks suppressed with rocket fire.

It was then that their gamble paid off. Just as the ODSTs began to push the Remnant troops back, reinforcements arrived from the gravity lift, dropping down the lift and pressing the ODSTs back. Far from disappointed, however, Major Tannenburg radioed Connor and advised him to begin the second phase of their plan. His response was immediate.

Using portable plasma torches, Connor’s platoon burned their way through the ice and broke into the heart of the Remnant base. With well over 400 Covenant troops and armor on their flank, they had only seconds to put their plan into motion. Sprinting across the open ground, they made a bee line for the gravity lift. The Remnant forces, absorbed in their fight with the main force, didn’t notice the ODST force until it was too late. By the time they realized the problem they faced, the ODSTs had made it to the gravity lift and reversed it’s polarity. Plasma fire bombarded the chamber, collapsing the entrance, but they were already gone.

Exiting the gravity lift nearly a mile and a half up, Connor’s platoon eliminated the surprised defenders and headed towards the anti-aircraft emplacements. Smashing their way through the startled guards, they split into squads. Each squad attacked an anti-aircraft gun, eliminating the weaponless gunnery technicians and fastening explosives to the guns. After moving to a safe distance, they detonated the charges and opened a hole in the defense grid.

As they did so, the Midnight Shadow uncloaked and revealed what it had been up to. Hanging in the sky less than a kilometer from the sensor station, it deployed Bravo in Pelican dropships and opened fired with it’s ship borne weapons on the remaining anti-air defenses. The AA units open fired on the Shadow, but with their reduced number, it’s shields were able to hold long enough to destroy them. Turning it’s precision weapons toward the infantry assaulting Alpha Company, it rained laser fire on them. Alpha Company, who’s line had been on the verge of snapping, pulled back, heading for open ground to extract.

As Alpha retreated and the Midnight Shadow covered them, Bravo Company landed on the sensor station and deployed. Immediately after dropping the ODSTs on the edge of the station, they headed towards Alpha Company, landing and extracting them ten minutes later. Within five minutes, Alpha was aboard the Midnight Shadow, offloading and finished with their role. Bravo, however, was far from over. Moving methodically through the station, they cut down any resistance and reached the command center within ten minutes. With Connor in the lead, they broke their way into the chamber and killed any resistance. Just as they’d hoped, the Remnant scientists were still present, and after a brief scuffle, they managed to subdue, bind, and tranquilize them.

While one platoon escorted the captured Brute scientists towards the nearest open area for extraction, the remaining troops pressed on. Fighting their way towards the station’s center, the slipspace probe storage area, Bravo Company broke into the launch area and attacked the troops there. As a fierce firefight broke out, Connor and one of the ODST squads planted a HAVOK tactical nuke and initiated the timer. As the Remnant troops began to reinforce from their base garrisons, Connor initiated the retreat. Falling back towards the cliff edge with the Remnant troops in hot pursuit, they arrived at the cliffs just as the Pelicans returned from the Midnight Shadow. Under heavy fire from the base defenders, now fully alerted and ready, the pelicans landed and extracted the ODSTs. Pushing their engines to the maximum, they returned to the Shadow.

Docking with the Prowler, they offloaded even as the Shadow made it’s break for orbit. The Remnant defense group had thankfully stayed on the system edge, expecting the prowler to be a precursor to a full fleet, and were still outside weapons range. As the force headed in system to attempt to cut off the escaping Prowler, the Captain Prescott detonated the HAVOK nuke, destroying the sensor station. While the ODSTs secured the Brute scientists in more sturdy restraints, the prowler activated it’s slipspace drive and jumped out of system.

Operation: FREEDOM

Just as in their other missions, the initial moments after their jump to slipspace were a flurry of frantic motion. As the Shadow plowed it’s way through slipspace, Connor and Major Tannenburg quickly began the debriefing process. Wounded were tended too, equipment was stored or repaired, debriefing interviews were conducted, and combat reports were filed. These actions were conducted with efficiency borne from over a year of continuous fighting, and soon the situation had calmed itself.

While a small contingent of technicians made sure the restraints on the Brute prisoners were adequate, the ODSTs were chilled down for the journey. Connor and Major Tannenburg were thoroughly debriefed by Captain Prescott, then were promptly placed in cryo with their troops. They were under orders to return to Gilgamesh with the prisoners, a long journey, even with the advanced slipspace drive on the Shadow. A long journey, and plenty of time to rest.

The Midnight Shadow reentered the Gilgamesh system on November 20th, 2578. Entering the system, they were contacted by the members of ONI Section III, operating out of a prowler in the system. The Midnight Shadow proceeded in system and docked with the Prowler, ready to enact the prisoner transfer. Four squads of ODSTs escorted the heavily sedated and restrained Jiralhanae scientists, who despite their civilian role, were still treated with extreme caution. ONI took possession of the prisoners at 0900 Hours, two hours after the shadow had entered the system, and promptly disconnected with the Shadow and headed out system, transferring the Shadow’s new orders just before jumping.

Connor and Major Tannenburg were both revived from cryo and summoned to Captain Prescott’s private quarters to review their orders, which were addressed to all three of them. Just like the missions that had preceded them, this new operation would be far from easy.

A small contingent of UNSC forces assigned to the GRAY TEAM campaign had recently been ordered to assault a Remnant shipyard, with disastrous results. Their plan had run into problems when unexpected Covenant reinforcements had arrived, and they had been quickly pinned down and isolated from extraction. Their home ship, the Prowler Constance, had been attacked by multiple Remnant frigates, and forced to flee with heavy damage. Another Prowler had been followed up with a reconnaissance mission, and discovered a small group of marine survivors being held in a prison camp.

From what they could tell from their limited orbital recon, conditions on the ground were dire, and the marines were running out of time. The Midnight Shadow, the closest ship, was being redeployed immediately without so much as a resupply run. Their orders were simple: get to the marines, and get them the hell out of the Remnant camp. The Shadow entered slipspace without delay, a course plotted for their new target.

Travel time was two weeks, and they were spent in constant preparation. Because they had not had the chance to resupply properly, the ODSTs were low on everything from ammunition to fuel for Pelicans. They knew they were going to need all the supplies they could get their hands on, however, and under Major Tannenburg’s direction, the ODSTs began scavenging anything they could from nonessential parts of the ship. Grenades were replaced with hand built IEDs. Bodysuit armor was patched with melted and reshaped piping. Fuel was siphoned out of scorpion tanks and refined for use in dropships. Combat knives were replaced by thoroughly sharpened kitchen knives. Parts were recovered from any spare HEVs to help keep the other ones operational. One technician even fashioned a makeshift factory in the hangar and began producing ammunition, albeit in very low quantities. Across the ship, the ODSTs were revived from cryo to help with the rearmament effort.

Connor, however, had a different task. While Tannenburg led the rearmament process, Connor was put in charge of creating a battle plan. Holing himself up in his quarters for days at a time, scarcely taking time to eat or drink, he worked around the clock to devise a strategy. Poring over aerial snapshots, force strength estimations, and marine bios, he struggled to find something that could help them.

After a week and a half, Connor emerged from his quarters, a preliminary plan ready. Over the next two days until arrival, he refined his idea into a fully fledged mission strategy. Running it by Captain Prescott and Major Tannenburg, they gave him feedback and attempted to attack the plan from the Covenant’s point of view. After a day and a half of work, they were ready. The troops had managed to refuel all of their dropships with extra to spare, they had replenished 25% of their ammunition, and most of their equipment was patched or jury rigged into functionality.

The Midnight Shadow entered the target system on December 4th, 2578 at 1500 hours. What they found was not surprising, but nevertheless disheartening. The Remnant, anticipating a follow up attack, had stationed a fleet in the system, and the three frigates had been reinforced by a destroyer pair and a carrier. Intelligence by ONI indicated the Brutes didn’t realize the UNSC was aware of the prison camp, but even with that to help them, their mission was going to be very strenuous. Even running on a skeleton crew, those Covenant ships still had enough troops to paste Alpha and Bravo company to the wall in no time flat.

Connor, however, had planned for reinforcement. As the Midnight Shadow moved in system, it went full cloak and headed for the target. Taking up a geosynchronous orbit, it laid down a minefield of nuclear warheads. Keeping careful cloak, it spent almost five hours carefully deploying it’s payload, threading the line between speed and stealth. After several tense hours, the last mine was placed. The space above and around the target site was now armed and dangerous.

Their Pelicans lacked stealth capabilities, so the ODSTs were forced to rely on stealth coated HEVs. Unfortunately, the Shadow was still low on them, leaving only enough space for three platoons. Because staying stealth was of critical concern, the rest of the ODSTs would be forced to stay up on the prowler.

Connor volunteered to lead the excursion to the planet below, but wasn’t the only one who wanted to go. Major Tannenburg revealed he had several close friends in the marine force that had been captured, and wanted to travel to the surface with him. The ODSTs, however, needed a commander on the ship to organize them in case things got hairy. The ranks of the senior NCOs had thinned greatly since the start of the campaign, and no one but Major Tannenburg or Connor really had the necessary leadership experience. Still, Connor’s superior training, equipment, and musculature made him indispensable on the ground.

In the end, Captain Prescott managed to convince Major Tannenburg to stay aboard the Prowler, but not without a fight. The scuffle was more proof that despite the low intensity of the missions compared to the Great War, the pressure was still there. For Connor, it was a non to pleasant reminder that the ODSTs around him were getting closer and closer to the breaking point.

The ODSTs deployed from the Midnight Shadow at 2030 Hours, dropping to the planet in their HEVs at full speed. They made landfall at just after 2037 Hours, slamming into a field on the edge of a vast forest. The field was a Remnant farm, so they had to move quickly to camouflage their drop pods. By 2100 hours, they were en route to the prison camp, quietly approaching it through the trees.

Progress was slow but consistent. They’d made landfall just over 15 miles away, and were forced to move gradually to avoid detection. Disguising three platoons of ODSTs on a hostile occupied planet was no mean feat, and they had several close brushes with discovery. Finally, however, after avoiding Covenant checkpoints and patrols, they arrived at the observation point for the camp.

While most of the ODSTs took up hidden positions within the forest, spreading out and camouflaging themselves to stay hidden, Connor and a small recon team began observing the camp from afar. The camp was a crude complex of prison houses, guard towers, and barracks, all surrounded by high walls and patrolled by numerous Remnant. It was built with a hill to one side and open terrain to the other; Connor’s team took up a position on the hill. Brutes had never been prone to treating human prisoners well, and the camp was no exception. Connor’s team observed for little more than a few minutes before spotting their first execution.

They knew time was short, so the observation was kept short and on task. While the rest of the ODSTs prepared for combat, Connor’s team took careful note of the guard placement, prisoner locations, and potential entrance points. Memorizing the layout as quickly as they could, they ended their reconnaissance after only two hours and began immediately planning their attack. They knew that they longer they waited, the fewer prisoners would remain to save.

Their attack would have to be quick and to the point. They would have the element of surprise on their side, along with training and technology, but they were vastly outnumbered. They had no chance of surviving a prolonged engagement. They would have to get in and get out without any delays.

Given the odds against them, it would be a tall order, even for the veteran ODSTs. With no Major Tannenburg to fall back on, Connor was forced to devise a plan himself, and had his own private doubts about it’s quality. Nevertheless, they proceeded onward. There was no other alternative, besides letting the prisoners die. They were quickly running out of time.

At 0615 Hours, Connor and the ODSTs emerged from hiding and began their attack. Their plan was straight and simple: blast their way in and get out before the Remnant knew what hit them. At 0617, First Platoon, based up on the high ground where they had observed the base, open fired with all of the heavy weapons the ODSTs could muster. Precision timed rocket strikes slammed into the guardhouses and destroyed them, and were quickly followed by heavy machinegun fire and sniper attacks.

At the same time, Connor and the second two platoons rushed towards the camp, breaking into two groups and each heading towards a preplanned breaching point. Placing charges on the (theoretically) weakest points, the ODSTs waited to see how accurate their short surveillance had been. They quickly found out.

As their charges exploded, one section of the wall crumpled inward…while the other simply slagged and melted, half destroyed but still impassable. One of the weak areas had been correct, but the other had been greatly off. Connor’s group, trapped behind a half destroyed wall, could only watch impotently on third platoon’s HUD monitors as they streamed into the base and began their mission.

Rushing into the base, they caught the first Brutes by surprise, swarming in on them, but the success quickly ended. The plan had hinged on multiple attack angles, flanking the enemy to provide mutual cover and coordinate an advance. Without second platoon, third platoon floundered. As they pushed forward, they came under attack from multiple directions as Brutes flanked them. Even with supporting fire from first platoon, they took several casualties.

Connor, watching from his HUD, realized that the mission was doomed if things continued as they were going. Opening a comm channel to his platoon, he ordered them to use every scrap of ordnance they had an blow down the wall. But before any of them could place a single explosive, however, he left them. Making a running jump for the wall, he used his armor and physical enhancements to vault himself over. Landing on the other side, he headed towards the center of the complex, determined to do whatever he could to help third platoon.

Plunging headfirst into the base, he gunned down any Brute that got in his way and headed for the base’s power generator, a miniature plasma reactor at it’s center. Low yield and low power, it could still be overloaded like any other Covenant power generator. As third platoon’s advance finally slowed to a stop, he arrived at the generator building and fought his way inside. Sweeping it quickly and eliminating the few surprised personnel defending it, he dumped the plasma reserve and began the overload process.

As he fled the building and headed towards third platoon, second finally made it inside. Detonating all of the ordnance they had available, they blew a hole in the thick Covenant walls and moved to secure the prisoners. The brutes had sent most of their troops to deal with third platoon, and were spread thinly around the prisoners. Overwhelming the guards, second platoon swept from room to room, clearing the jail cells one at a time. In several cases, they arrived just in time to see the prisoners finishing off their captives; some of the captives had staged a revolt when the raid had began.

As third escorted the prisoners out of the complex, third platoon attempted to retreat. The Remnant troops however, realizing that it was too late to secure the prisoners, focused even more heavily on them. Moving behind them, the brutes took up positions around their entrance hole and cut off their retreat. With no escape possible and few other options remaining, third platoon took cover in a half destroyed barracks and prepared for a final stand. But just as the Remnant troops closed in on them, help arrived.

Connor, brandishing a captured fuel rod gun, open fired just as the reactor detonated. Confusion spread through the Remnant ranks--just long enough for third platoon to punch a hole in the Brute line. With Connor and first platoon covering them, they beat their way through the enemy and evacuated out of second platoon’s entrance. They’d lost more than half their troops, but they had broken away from the enemy.

As second platoon retreated through the wall, first platoon open fired with the rest of their explosives, drenching the compound with RPGs and rocket fire. As explosions rocked the camp behind them, Connor led second and third platoons towards first platoon and urgently called for extraction. But in the distance, first platoon spotted dropships and banshees, inbound to the camp. The ODSTs had dropped in without any anti aircraft weaponry, and caught in the open, would be sitting ducks. With no other choice, they headed for the woods.

Connor continued requesting extraction and support, but the Midnight Shadow had problems of it’s own in orbit. The remnant forces had gone on high alert as soon as word of the raid had reached them, and were maneuvering for geo-sync orbit, to deploy troops. Captain Prescott and Major Tannenburg both realized that if the ships were allowed to deploy their troops to the surface, the raiding force would be crushed. Thankfully, they were well prepared for the problem.

Meanwhile, the ground team continued retreating into the woods, away from the enemy air support. In the trees, the banshees and phantoms would be unable to fire on them, at least without groundside gunnery targeting. The phantoms had ground troops however, which they had deployed and which were now in hot pursuit. Connor ordered the ODSTs to keep moving at all costs, telling them not to engage the enemy. He knew that while the ODSTs might be fine, the battered marine prisoners would likely get caught in the crossfire. Their only chance was to stay ahead of the brutes long enough for the Midnight Shadow to clear the space above and drop support or extraction.

That was exactly what Captain Prescott and Major Tannenburg intended to do. Keeping as stealthy as they can, they headed for the Remnant Battlegroup as fast as they could. As the Remnant force entered geo-sync orbit and prepared to deploy their forces, Captain Prescott gave the order to detonate the nuclear mines in orbit. Moments later, a new sun appeared in orbit for a few brief seconds. Fifteen 30 megaton nuclear mines filled with space and enveloped the Remnant ships.

When the dust cleared, the Remnant force had been decimated. The carrier’s shields had been drained and it’s hull was scorched and melted, it’s engines destroyed. Two of the frigates had been vaporized, and the third had been split in half. One of the destroyers listed and burned, while the final one, caught on outskirts of the blast, had it’s shield overloaded.

As the surviving Covenant craft reeled in surprise, the Midnight Shadow decloaked and plunged into the battle headfirst. Open firing with it’s hull mounted laser batteries and missile pods, it charged the damaged enemy fleet head on. In any other circumstances, a single Prowler against a destroyer and a carrier would have been suicide, but now, it was a massacre. The destroyer was drenched in missile fire, it’s overloaded shield providing no protection, and it listed and burned like it’s partner. The carrier managed a plasma torpedo, but the shields on the Midnight Shadow managed to hold. The badly damaged and immobile ship was covered in fire and it’s already strained reactor detonated, vaporizing the craft.

As soon as the situation had cleared, they dropped reinforcements. Bravo Company, loaded into standard HEVs, dropped straight for the now decimated prison complex. Just as the Brute forces closed in on Connor’s troops, Major Tannenburg attacked from behind. Ordering the damaged second platoon to continue retreating and cover the prisoners, Connor and the other two platoons turned to face the enemy. Despite superior numbers, the Remnant forces were decimated. Caught by surprise between the two ODST groups, they took heavy losses and tried to fall back. But Bravo cut off their escape route, slipping behind them and raking their flank with machinegun fire and rockets. By the time the Brutes realized they were cut off, they were doomed. Bravo massacred them.

In orbit, the Midnight Shadow launched dropships to the surface, while Alpha Company prepped for drop in case they were needed. Seraph fighters from the surface attempted to attack the Shadow, but it swiftly shot them down with point laser fire. The dropships expedited their entry, burning through the atmosphere at rapid speed, and reached the ground troops within six minutes. At 0739 Hours, the dropships arrived, and Connor and Major Tannenburg organized the boarding. Within 5 minutes, Bravo Company, the raiding force, and all sixty of the prisoners had boarded the transports and were heading for orbit. A squadron of banshees dropped onto their tail, but ,missile fire from one of the Pelicans blew them out of the sky. By 0750, the dropships had docked with the Midnight Shadow and were offloading personnel. The Midnight Shadow broke orbit at flank speed and transitioned to slipspace five minutes later.

Operation: PASTURE

The first priority once they jumped to slipspace was stabilizing the prisoners, many of whom were in bad shape. Conditions at the camp had been predictably horrific, and many of the prisoners were on the verge of death. The brutes had tortured, starved, and even eaten some of the prisoners, and many of the marines were traumatized in addition to numerous physical problems. The brutes had deliberately targeted the prisoners during the escape as well, and many of them had recent battle injuries.

A triage was immediately set up in the hangar, and the most critical cases were immediately rushed to the cryo chambers to be frozen. By the time fifteen minutes had passed, the majority of the cases were stabilized, but they’d lost fifteen marines. The rest were in for a long recovery. Most had serious, permanent injuries, and those who weren’t permanently scarred still had long lasting problems.

By the time the marines had finished with the prisoners, almost two hours had passed. While the raiding team and the reinforcement group were debriefed, Connor supervised the storage of the bodies of those they had lost. His old problems with attachment, which he had worked so hard to control, came back in earnest. He viewed all of the casualties as his personal failing, and nearly descended into a pit of despair. Before he could, however, Major Tannenburg found him and managed to snap some sense into him, just as he had done for him on Operation: PEGASI.

The Major’s pep talk wasn’t a cure all, but it was good enough for the time being. With a little help, Connor managed to take control. After finishing tagging and identifying the bodies, Connor helped the other ODSTs store and catalogue their equipment. After his own personal debriefing, he was put in cryo for the journey back to Gilgamesh.

The return trip was slightly slower, with the Midnight Shadow running at normal speed. The journey, which had taken two weeks on nearly overloaded engines, now took three. Human slipspace technology was advancing quickly due to forerunner discoveries, and the state of the art sensors on the Midnight Shadow had detected several slipspace anomalies that they would have to avoid, slowing them down. To conserve supplies, Connor and the other were placed into cryo and chilled down for the return trip as usual.

The Midnight Shadow entered the Gilgamesh system on December 30th, 2578, slightly behind schedule. The addition of the prisoners was the only variation on the otherwise familiar routine, and after months of practice, the crew had the process down to a science. As the ship eased out of slipspace, the Midnight Shadow headed in system, scanning for communications. Connor, Major Tannenburg, and the rest of the 92nd were slowly revived from cryo, along with the prisoners stable enough to safely be revived.

Heading in system, the Midnight Shadow was contacted by the medical corvette Compunction. It was under orders to dock with them and receive the prisoners, and then pass along their next orders. The Midnight Shadow docked with the Compunction at 1500 Hours and began the transferring the stable prisoners first. Once the stable prisoners were transferred, the cryo tubes containing the critical cases were detached and brought aboard as well.

As the final evacuees were transferred, the Captain of the Compunction asked for a conference with Connor, Major Tannenburg, and Captain Prescott. The three of them were somewhat confused, as to why a medical corvette captain would need a meeting with them. However, they quickly found out why.

The commander of the Compunction was accompanied by an ONI agent, and, more importantly, an Unggoy representative. Surprised and confused, the crew of the Midnight Shadow questioned them why they were accompanied by a grunt. The ONI officer explained, even as the commander of the Compunction left the meeting and returned to his ship. The two of them would be members of the crew for the next mission.

The ONI officer, Colonel Karol Traviss, was an expert in Unggoy culture and internal politics. She had spent years in Unggoy sovereign territory after the war, performing everything from peace talks to espionage to conducting hits on troublemakers that the Unggoy government could not afford to touch publicly. She’d been immersed in Unggoy culture to help think like one, and that alone told the crew of the Midnight Shadow something. Connor could guess their next move.

The briefing was short and to the point. The Unggoy accompanying her was a representative of the fledgling anti-terror division of the small Unggoy defense forces. Trained by the USR, he was an expert in counter terrorism, or at least as close to one as the grunts had. After Traviss introduced him, he explained the situation.

Two years earlier, a small element of the Unggoy population, apparently haven forgotten the tyranny of the Covenant, had established contact with the Remnant and had run for office. After being soundly defeated, they stepped up the pressure with increasingly violent measures. Bombings, raids, assassinations--the small group was dangerously close to sparking something bigger. They wanted to merge the Unggoy government with the Remnant, and were close to destabilizing the government. If that happened, a coup as inevitable. The Unggoy counter terrorism division had tried everything they could to find an eliminate the terrorists, but to no avail.

So they turned the to UNSC for help. HIGHCOMM reviewed the situation and analyzed the danger posed by the Unggoy terrorists. They quickly came to the same conclusion as the Unggoy: if quick action wasn’t taken, a catastrophic coup was inevitable. To deal with the situation, HIGHCOM dispatched ten ONI recon teams, experts in counter terrorism who had tracked Insurrectionists and rebels for years and were arguably some of the best in the galaxy.

After ten months, the ONI team had results. They had located the Unggoy terrorists, whose primitive organization was easy pickings, and pinpointed the main commanders and their bases. The ONI teams, however, were intelligence officers, not soldiers, and could not carry out the hit themselves. The Unggoy had the troops, but few of them were trained well enough for a complicated mission like this one. That was where the Midnight Shadow came in.

HIGHCOMM had reviewed the performance of the numerous units in the GRAY TEAM campaign, and the top units were the 92nd and a group of EVATs, the 21st EVAT Group. Both units were being deployed on the next mission, codenamed Operation: PASTURE. The grunts would provide support where necessary, but Colonel Traviss had overall command. It was ONI’s baby now, not the Unggoy’s.

The 21st were still in slipspace, returning from their most recent mission, and so the Midnight Shadow had time to prepare itself. The ODSTs were given a week and a half of shore leave on Gilgamesh, on the condition that none were informed about the nature of the mission, which Connor and Major Tannenburg warily agreed to. A small skeleton crew returned early to the Prowler to supervise the resupply efforts. The ODSTs had no desire to repeat the in-flight resupply of the last mission, so they took great care to resupply everything remotely necessary. Everything from cryo pods to pelican fuel were replaced and replenished, and within three days, the Prowler was back up to full combat readiness. The 92nd had taken relatively few casualties on their last few missions, but they still had slots they needed to fill, so Connor helped supervise the recruitment of new ODSTs for the crew. All there was to do now was wait.

The 21st’s Prowler, the Twilight Sun, entered the system on January 15th, 2579. They had just returned from a raid on a Remnant docking station, targeting enemy fighter support in preparation for a larger raid conducted by a USR fleet. They had been highly successful, destroying over ten squadrons, but were now low on supplies. They had not yet been briefed on their mission, Colonel Traviss ordered Captain Prescott to dock the Midnight Shadow with the Twilight Sun so she could transfer over.

While Colonel Traviss briefed the Sun’s crew, the Midnight Shadow continued to wait. The Twilight Sun hadn’t depleted it’s supplies as fully as the Midnight Shadow had, so the wait wouldn’t be as long, but it was still lengthy enough to stir boredom with the crew. By the time the Twilight Sun finished it’s resupply efforts, the Midnight Shadow’s crew was getting antsy. They were ready for their mission.

The Twilight Sun finished it’s resupply on January 17th, 2579, and promptly docked with the Midnight Shadow. Colonel Traviss wanted to be able to brief both crews face to face while in slipspace, so she ordered them to dock via ship borne hard points and enter slipspace in tandem. It was slower, but time wasn’t a pressing issue. The ONI agents had conscripted Unggoy and infiltrated the rebel network, and could track them easily.

The briefing was held aboard the Twilight Sun at 1400 Hours, on January 18th. Transit time was likely to last almost a month, so Colonel Traviss wanted to brief the commanders before they entered cryo. The troops would be briefed on their individual assignments shortly before deployment, to reduce the possibility of leaks. ONI trusted no one, something Connor could hardly blame them for.

Connor, Major Tannenburg, and Captain Prescott followed Colonel Traviss onto the ship, and were greeted by a very different atmosphere. Prescott, a very regimental commander, ran a very tight ship. The commander of the Twilight Sun, Captain Stroud, was much different. A former naval fighter pilot, she was regarded as one of the best, and one of the most unconventional, prowler commanders in the navy. Salty and less strict on protocol, her command style showed. While the Midnight Shadow was kept neat and tidy even during the thick of combat, the Twilight Sun was a mess and the personnel were just as rough looking. Balanced against this was the fact that the ship had one of the best records in the navy.

After meeting the EVAT commander, Major Mataki, a well regarded soldier with links back to the old EABTs, the briefing began. The mission, Colonel Traviss explained, was to eliminate three targets: the resistance command center, located in a large space station orbiting the planet; the bomb making complex, located deep in the rolling tundra of the planet’s poles; and the main garrison, the holding place for the troops who were training for the upcoming coup, located, ironically enough, in an underground cavern just outside the city limits of the capital. Three separate groups would assault the targets simultaneously, hitting them in tandem and eliminating the terrorist threat in one fell swoop.

The first target would be assaulted by the EVATs, while Connor and Major Tannenburg would each take a company of the 92nd to eliminate the other ones. Colonel Traviss would be providing intelligence from the Midnight Shadow and directing the operation. Connor and Major Tannenburg, along with Major Mataki and Captain Stroud, were all a little taken aback. They’d been planning and executing their own missions with minimal oversight almost the entire campaign. Having a new commander injected into their structure was jarring.

Fortunately, the mission was projected to be simple, if not easy. The explosive compound was a set of large pre-fab structures hidden in the recess of two large ice sheets--a good hiding place, but no defense against ODSTs dropping from the sky. The garrison was an underground cavern with multiple entrances, many projected to be under defended. If worst came to worst, they could always bore their way in and create new entrances. The EVATs had an especially good deal--the space station had been designed as a docking port for groundside shipping vessels and larger interstellar transports, and was teeming with docking ports. They could breach in vacuum suits, flush the atmosphere, then re-pressurize and kill any survivors.

As the assorted crews quickly found out, Colonel Traviss had a taste for simple, basic plans, and she thought much like an infantry soldier. After the briefing was finished, Connor did some digging, and found she had served at Reach, Earth, and several Inner Colony liberations as an officer, gaining an almost impeccable service record before being recruited by ONI.

Once the briefing ended, Connor and the other officers were frozen for the voyage. The rest of the troops had already gone into cryo, iced up for the month long trip. Chilled down intro cryo, they felt none of the time that passed.

The Midnight Shadow-Twilight Sun hybrid exited slipspace on the edge of the target system, a Unggoy colony that the terrorists had operated exclusively on, on February 13th, 2579, at 1200 Hours. Dropping out of the extra dimension, the ships quickly set to work preparing for deployment. Troops were unfrozen and outfitted, officers were briefed, and supplies were gathered. Their mission was imminent.

General briefings took place at 1330 Hours, with each group leader consulting their troops on their mission. Connor was put in charge of Bravo Company, who were set to travel to the surface in dropships and attack the enemy garrison. The EVATs were tasked with command center and Major Tannenburg and Alpha Company were given the bomb making facility. ONI had given precise intel to the EVATs and Alpha Company, but intelligence on the garrison was scarce, so Bravo would have to wing it. All they knew was the location of the cavern, four of the entrances, and the rough strength of the enemy troops.

The briefings concluded at 1415 Hours, and the Midnight Shadow and Twilight Sun disconnected and prepared for stealth. Running dark, they both activated their slipspace drives for a short hop in system to the target. Fifteen seconds later, they dropped out of slipspace and headed towards their targets.

While the Twilight Sun split off to head towards the space station, the Midnight Shadow headed for the planet. Bravo Company were loaded into stealth coated dropships and launched from high orbit, and no sooner had they cleared the docking bay than the Midnight Shadow had departed, heading for geosynchronous orbit over the bomb making facility. As Bravo headed for the surface, inside their cloaked and stealthed dropships, Alpha loaded into their HEVs. The battle was about to kick off.

At 1430 Hours, Bravo’s Pelicans arrived at the surface and deposited them in a forest clearing a mile and a half away from the target. Working closely with ONI had it’s advantages, and the ODSTs had been granted use of new SPI suits, fully shielded and cloaked armor systems that were much more advanced than their previous body armor. Connor, who’d been using the system since the start of the campaign, suddenly was just on more cloaked figure in a crowd of many.

Making their way towards the cavern entrances at a brisk pace, Bravo hurried to get into position. Avoiding scattered Unggoy civilians and terrorist sentries, they moved silently towards their target. At the same time, the Midnight Shadow loaded Alpha into their drop pods and targeted their vector. As Alpha prepared to drop, the EVATs on the Twilight Sun exited the ship in thruster packs and jetted towards the target. The station had been abandoned by civilians months earlier, so traffic was light, making a stealthy approach difficult, but the 21st managed. Their reputation apparently existed for a reason.

At 1446 Hours, Bravo Company arrived at the entrances to the cavern. Fanning out across the countryside, they spotted four additional entrances, several of them with fewer guards. Dividing into platoons, Connor chose the four least heavily guarded entrances and ordered a platoon to advance on each, then pinpointed the most heavily defended one and sent his heavy weapons platoon to advance on it as a distraction. As the ODSTs took cover and laid up nearby the entrances, Connor sent the ready signal to the orbiting prowlers.

As soon as he received the signal, Major Tannenburg relayed the signal to Major Mataki and transmitted his company’s ETA to the bomb making complex. It would take them approximately seven minutes to drop onto the target while maintaining stealth, and they wanted to coordinate their operations as closely as they could. Major Mataki responded with his own in position signal, and Colonel Traviss gave the order to drop.

At 1453 Hours, Major Tannenburg and Alpha Company dropped from the belly of the Midnight Shadow on a beeline course for the bomb making facility. Accelerating into the atmosphere, they let their pod’s stealth mechanism do their job while they prepared for combat. Outside the cavern entrance, Connor and Bravo Company waited anxiously. In orbit, the EVATs attached themselves to the docking ports and readied themselves for breaching.

Seven minutes, three seconds, and a lifetime later, it began.

Alpha Company punched through the low lying clouds over the bomb making complex at 1500 Hours, streaking towards the ground and evaporating the snow around them as it drifted downward. The Unggoy terrorists barely had time to take in the situation before the 180 ODSTs landed in their midst and attacked. At the same time, Bravo, situated around the entrances, open fired. Rockets streaked from M41 launchers and blew away defending grunts as the ODSTs rushed forward, pouring fire onto the defenders. Fifth platoon, the group in charge of distracting the larger force, took half of them down with rocket fire within seconds and promptly raked the survivors with machinegun fire, cutting down scores of Unggoy terrorists.

In orbit, Major Mataki’s EVATs simultaneously breached almost 200 separate docking ports, the 360 EVA troops pouring in and slaughtering anything in their way. The Unggoy inside never stood a chance; the EVATs, hardened veterans, made mincemeat of the amateur soldiers, blowing them away and reaching the atmospheric controls in minutes. Moments after they arrived, they dumped the atmosphere from the station, suffocating anything without a vacuum suit.

On the ground, the ODSTs were doing just as well. Major Tannenburg’s combat company landed in the midst of the Unggoy terrorists, instantly sowing mass confusion and massacring anything in their way. Several drop pods smashed into bomb making huts, crushing the weak structures with their kinetic energy and pulverizing anyone inside. They quickly divided into platoons and spread throughout the camp, methodically clearing it of any Unggoy. Colonel Traviss had made it clear that taking prisoners was a secondary objective. Dead was just as well.

On Connor’s front, his ODSTs were facing much steeper resistance, but without much effect. Fifth platoon had wiped out the large group and had moved onto the groups defending the remaining three entrances, peppering them with heavy gunfire and bombarding them with their remaining rockets and RPGs. The other four platoons pushed into the cavern at breakneck speed, gunning down anything in their way and chasing the terrorists deeper into the depths of the hollow. After several minutes, they finally emerged into the main chamber, and found what they were looking for. Hundreds of Unggoy terrorists awaited them, outfitted with primitive weapons but plenty of numbers. As the four platoons entered the cavern, the resistance fighters charged en masse.

In orbit, the EVATs waited for the atmosphere to fully vent then re-pressurized it and moved through the station, looking for survivors. Whereas the 92nd might have simply sought out the reactor and overloaded it, blowing the whole station, the 21st was more thorough. Moving deck by deck, they swept the entire station, executing any Unggoy they found. It was time consuming, but more definite, and Colonel Traviss didn’t care much as long as the job got done.

At the poles, Major Tannenburg’s force was also finished with their main assault and were mopping up. The Unggoy terrorists there had been poorly armed and had had no chance to react, easy prey for the ODSTs. Securing each section of the camp one at a time, Major Tannenburg ordered Alpha Company to plant charges throughout the camp and then move out for extraction. In orbit, the Midnight Shadow deployed Pelicans, which dropped towards Alpha Company’s position.

Connor’s force, however, was in more trouble. The grunt forces were poorly armed and still surprised, but there were hundred of them, and less than two hundred of his ODSTs. As they rushed madly for the entrances, the ODSTs open fired with all they had, blowing holes in the mass of grunts with rockets and cutting down scores with massed gunfire. Still, they kept coming, getting closer, and the ODSTs weren’t carrying enough ammo to kill all of them. Fifth platoon had finished up with the rest of the entrance guards and rendezvoused with them, but they’d burnt through most of their heavy weapons and were down to their assault rifles and side arms.

As the resistance fighters closed on the ODSTs, Connor realized they couldn’t hold their position. He understood, however, that letting those grunts escape wasn’t an option either. Contacting the orbiting Midnight Shadow, he dropped a targeting beacon and called for an immediate air strike on his position. The somewhat bored Captain Prescott was only too happy to help them out.

As the ODSTs began to fall back, the Midnight Shadow descended from orbit and open fired with it’s ship borne weapons. Priming a volley of missiles, Captain Prescott rained destruction on the surface where Connor had dropped the beacon. But as the missiles impacted, however, they did far more than scorch the surface.

Below the ground, Connor and the ODSTs shed their gear and sprinted for the tunnel exits as the roof began to collapse. The hollow cavern buckled under the barrage of missile fire and finally collapsed, the ceiling breaking apart and raining down on the grunts inside. Racing against the collapse, the ODSTs made it to the surface just as ceiling behind them fell in. As Bravo Company desperately tried to catch their breath and watch for stragglers, Connor calmly signaled for extraction.

Across the field, the op was wrapping up nicely. The EVATs finished their sweep, finding lots of bodies but few live terrorists, and finally planted a tactical nuke at the center of the station before exiting the station and jetting back to the Twilight Sun. The dropships Alpha had called for arrived at their position and promptly picked them up, returning to orbit. The Midnight Shadow dispatched another way of transports to Connor’s company, picking them up and returning them to the Shadow as it broke for orbit. They rendezvoused at 1545 Hours, and by 1600 Hours, Connor’s company had returned as well. The EVATs returned to the Twilight Sun and the two Prowlers rendezvoused at the edge of the system, docking together once again and preparing for the slip back to Gilgamesh. Just before they entered, they triggered the charges in the bomb complex and the nuke in the space station. Twin explosion rocked the system, and the duo jumped into slipspace for the return trip.

Operation: SCURVY

As the trip back to Gilgamesh began, the ODSTs and EVATs finally found a good icebreaker in the success of a mission. It may have seemed to easy, but any mission you came back from was a good one. Collective morale was high, even facing the possibility of a long cryo sleep back. They’d taken less than fifteen wounded and hadn’t lost a single soldier, a great execution.

But Connor and the other officers were worried. Traviss hadn’t seemed very excited about the mission’s success, and they suspected there was more to the mission than just wiping out a few grunt terrorists. None of the missions in the campaign had been that easy. Something was up.

As the ODSTs and EVATs were frozen up, it became apparent what that was. The officers were ordered to a private briefing while the others were being set up for cryo freeze, to discuss the mission. Connor smelled trouble immediately but kept his mouth shut. They’d find out about their next move soon enough.

Traviss yet again proved herself to be straightforward, informing both crews of the situation they were in. Normally, two highly regarded units like the 92nd and the 21st wouldn’t have been deployed on such an easy mission, but it was a test of sorts. The GREY TEAM campaign had become more of a success than anyone had dared to imagine, and ONI Section III saw opportunity in the success. For years, the UNSC military had been caught up fighting small groups, and while the chance to rebuild was more than welcome, it meant that it was much harder to assess the effectiveness of the military. With such easy duties, it had been hard to pinpoint the best units in the service, creating a shortage of qualified special forces units for ONI to make use of.

With the GREY TEAM campaign, this problem had found an easy situation. The campaign necessitated using small special forces groups for the majority of the missions, and Section III used it to cull the best groups from the ranks of the mediocre. The strategy had worked, allowing ONI to narrow the candidates down to four groups. Knowing they’d need more than one group, they’d paired them together in duos and assigned them relatively easy but simple missions.

The test had worked, and the 92nd/21st combo had been proven to be the best group in the GREY TEAM campaign. Now ONI had bigger plans for them. They’d culled the ranks because they wanted a group they could use to perform their own specific missions (inside the larger campaign), which they would direct. While the two respective crews were none to happy about being told the last two years of sacrifices had been an experiment, they were somewhat elated knowing they were the best team in the campaign.

That elation, however, did not last long. Now that they were under the jurisdiction of Colonel Traviss, their schedule would be even more rigorous and the missions more complicated. They would be going into the thick of things more often and with much more potential danger.

However, before they could deploy, they still had a long trip back to Gilgamesh to resupply. As the ship sped toward the planet, the crew was chilled down once more, slipping into deep sleep to conserve supplies. The two Prowlers were still connected, so the return trip again took close to a month. They exited slipspace on March 12th, 2570, at 1400 Hours. Vectoring in system, they headed for the network of orbital station. Colonel Traviss had arranged for a resupply, but also had another surprise waiting for them.

As they docked with the designated supply ship and began transferring equipment and provisions, Colonel Traviss ordered Connor, Major Tannenburg, and Major Mataki to come with her off the ship. She led them to Section III’s private section aboard the station and introduced to the newest (temporary) member of their crew.

Dek Le’yar was a former Kig Yar pirate who ONI had bought out with a substantial sum of money. After they’d extracted him, he’d become a consultant on the pirates and their motivation, tactics, and mindset, and was ONI’s principal advisor on most counter piracy missions. Colonel Traviss explained that he would be aiding them in their next mission, codenamed Operation: SCURVY by some smartass in Section III.

Their briefing would be conducted later, in a more secured environment, but Le’yar’s presence told them everything they needed to know. They were going up against the pirates once again, a none to thrilling prospect. Devious and cunning, the Kig Yar pirates were just as much of a threat as the Remnant, if not more. Going up against them would not be fun.

The Midnight Shadow and Twilight Sun finished their resupply runs at 1700 Hours and disconnected from the station. Heading for the edge of the system, Colonel Traviss again ordered the two Prowlers to dock via hard points and prepare for slipspace. Once they were docked, she distributed the coordinates of their next target and they jumped. Their target was the outskirts of the K8-93 system, or more specifically, the asteroid field that orbited the outermost planet.

As they headed for the planet, the crews were again chilled down in cryo, while the officers were kept awake and briefed early. The mission, like they had predicted, was being conducted against the Kig Yar pirates. The Trek-La clan, a particularly vicious group, had been responsible for numerous raids on USR and UNSC territory, but they really pissed ONI off when they’d attacked and looted a transport carrying Section III personnel. After that, it had been just a matter of when and how they would retaliate.

Unfortunately, the base was far from an easy target. The Trek-La pirates were estimated to have thousands of pirates at their base, and had a network of sensor stations throughout the asteroid field. Though they made no attempt to camouflage their base, they would be able to detect any large force as soon as it arrived and scatter. A direct strike wasn’t possible, unless a grossly large amount of ships were used to blockade the system. But at the same time, only a direct strike would have the kind of firepower needed to beat the pirates in open combat.

The solution, naturally, was unconventional warfare. Colonel Traviss had been assigned to create a plan to eliminate the pirates by her superiors, and had been hard pressed to find a solution. Trying to find an idea, she had read the reports of the numerous GREY TEAM missions, hoping for a spark of inspiration. She’d been stuck, with a deadline approaching--and then she read the report for Operation: JERICHO. She examined the report of Connor’s actions on the surface and was inspired.

The plan, Colonel Traviss explained to the officers, was simple but risky. The pirates, living in an asteroid base, depended on recycled water. Every drop of liquid was utilized and recycled to be used again. This, Traviss felt, was a weakness. What little intel they’d been able to gather indicated the pirates were running on whatever technology they could loot or steal. Because their targets mainly consisted of small civilian targets, that meant they most likely did not have advanced filtration equipment. Colonel Traviss planned to exploit that.

The briefing concluded at 1900 Hours after an hour and half of planning. Connor and the others had been thoroughly briefed in the plan by Colonel Traviss, and any flaws had been ironed out. The remaining officers returned to their ships and were frozen into cryo. The two ships plowed through slipspace, heading for the pirate system.

The Midnight Shadow/Twilight Sun hybrid entered the outskirts of the target system on April 19th, 2579 at 0200 Hours. They dropped out of slipspace outside of sensor range, just beyond the system limits, and the crew was unfrozen and briefed on the mission. The majority of the forces would be staying on the ship as backup in case things went to hell, but everyone prepared for combat nonetheless. It never hurt to be prepared for the worst.

The briefings concluded at 0300 Hours, and the Midnight Shadow and Twilight Sun disconnected and prepared for another slipspace jump. Going fully stealthed, they entered slipspace and headed for the outskirts of the asteroid field. The two Prowlers exited slipspace a minute and a half later, fully cloaked. The pirate base was at the center of the asteroid field, and they would have to navigate the field cautiously. Even the smallest impact could break their cover and spook the pirates.

Reaching the pirate base undetected was a daunting task, and it took time. Moving slowly and carefully through the rolling field, it took them over two days to get into position. They reached the drop off point at 1200 Hours on April 21st, 2579, and began the next stage of Colonel Traviss’s plan.

In the number three airlock of the Midnight Shadow, Connor donned a vacuum suit, thruster pack, and a camouflage cloaked and eased out into the vacuum of space. Aboard the Twilight Sun, a squad of EVATs followed suit, jumping into the darkness and jetting towards a preplanned rendezvous plan. Strict radio silence was needed to escape detection, but no communication was needed. They all knew the plan.

At 1221 Hours, Connor and the EVAT squad met up at the planned rendezvous point. Attaching direct line communication cords, they quickly communicated their status and pursued the next stage of the plan. Jetting silently towards the pirate base, they landed on it’s surface and headed for the hangar bay.

The hangar was nothing more than a magnetic field covering a hole in the asteroid, but it was open and patrolled by pirates. Stealth systems would be required to enter undetected…and the EVATs weren’t equipped with such systems. The camouflage cloaks that had allowed them to get to the station were not strong enough to get them in undetected. The plan, however, had already taken that into account.

The EVA troops spread out around the exterior of the hangar bay and bunkered in in the craggy recesses of the asteroid. Meanwhile, Connor, in his SPI armor, activated his active camouflage systems and moved inside. Narrowly avoiding the guards, he moved deeper into the base, looking for a specific target: the water reclamation system. He was carrying the key to the whole mission: a new bio agent ONI had developed.

Making his way silently through the facility, he avoided the pirates inside, made his way to a computer terminal, and hacked inside. Breaking into their security system, he downloaded a map of the base and pinpointed the water reclamation system. After narrowly avoiding several patrols, he arrived and inserted the bio agent into the water supply. The agent, a biological weapon designed by ONI for use against the Kig Yar during the war that had gone unused. ONI had cancelled use of the agent because it was too slow acting, taking days for symptoms to appear. And while it killed soon after, it was not practical for use on the battlefield.

For Colonel Traviss’s purposes, however, the agent was perfect. After deciding on a plan to deal with the pirates, she’d had ONI scientists revive the project and craft a special waterborne variant. It would disperse throughout the water of the station, and a week later, every Kig-Yar who had had a sip of the water would be dead. Analysts guaranteed almost 100 percent lethality.

Colonel Traviss had briefed Connor personally on the effects of the agent, at his own request, but had left most of the gory details absent from the other briefings, even those of the other officers. Despite this more detailed knowledge of it’s effects, which were none to pretty, he still treated the mission like any other insertion: get in and get out as safely as possible. After placing the bio agent, Connor wasted no time contemplating his actions. Making his way back to the hangar bay, he avoided the patrols once again and exited the station. Regrouping with the EVATs, they headed towards the preplanned extraction point.

The two Prowlers quietly maneuvered towards the pickup point, and the small groups returned to their respective airlocks. Sealing themselves back into the ship, they began their debriefings as Captain Prescott and Stroud turned away from the pirate base and headed out of the field. After another harrowing two day journey, the Prowlers cleared the field, dropped a reconnaissance probe, and engaged their slipspace drive. They jumped without a single look back.

Operation: GUARDIAN

As the two Prowlers began their long voyage home, the crews couldn’t help but celebrate the successful mission. Two missions, without a single casualty? No one had had a string of victories like that in the whole GREY TEAM campaign. They were doing better than anyone had expected.

Colonel Traviss, however, was far from celebratory, and her dark mood worried Connor. Something bad had to be coming if she was still dark after two successful missions. He decided to watch her closely, because her mood was the only indicator he had of their next mission. If something bad was going to happen to his troops, he wanted all the warning he could get.

The two Prowlers stopped briefly to dock with each other, then entered slipspace and headed for Gilgamesh at top speed. Because so few personnel had been used in the operation, most of the crew were frozen right away, without the need for debriefings. The EVATs who’d participated had had a minimal role as well, and thus their debriefings went quickly. Connor, however, had a much longer examination ahead of him.

Usually, the Midnight Shadow’s debriefings were conducted by it’s onboard crew of naval psych officers. The UNSC was going out on a limb with the barely legal GREY TEAM campaign, and wanted to make sure everything was properly documented in case their activities came into question. Colonel Traviss’s abrupt seizure, however, had changed things up. When she’d take control of the Midnight Shadow and Twilight Sun, she’d brought her own crew of ONI officers, replacing the original debriefing crew, who were reassigned to a new unit. The new arrivals had been much more thorough and detail oriented, and this time, Connor faced what almost amounted to a board of inquisition.

Delivering a deadly biological agent into an enemy’ water supply was far from the normal duties of a soldier, even an elite commando like Connor, and ONI were interested in the effects it could have on a person. Unbeknownst to Connor, elements of ONI were still very interested in him, seeing possibilities for a future agent. Compared to many other SPARTANs, Connor was more ‘normal’; the death of his comrades had shattered the delicate bubble of his shielded existence, and he was far more comfortable with normal troops and related better to them than many other SPARTANs. It was essentially an extension of his problems with emphasizing too deeply with others, a weakness, but ONI saw potential to turn that weakness into a strength if manipulated properly. But first they had to know if he had what it took to perform the duties they would need him to do.

Though the principal reason Connor had been chosen to deliver the bio agent was because of his superior training and skill, it was also a convenient test. During the debriefing process, Colonel Traviss brought in the entire psych crew as a makeshift board of review and performed an extensively comprehensive review. Connor dismissed it as worry about him having moral issues with planting a bio agent, and was not far from the truth. But the board wasn’t worried about whether he was conflicted over doing it; they were more interested in if he would be able to do it again without a second thought. If the answer was yes, they could begin to groom Connor as an agent. If the answer was no, they would need to find someone else.

After a long examination, the debriefing board released Connor and allowed him to enter cryo with the rest of the crew. But despite the long interview, they still were not satisfied. Connor’s psyche was a tangled mess, and they weren’t yet sure if he was the man they were looking for. He didn’t seem to have any guilt or doubts about delivering the agent, but the board was decided it was likely because the operation had been performed on aliens, and were unsure if he would be able to do similar things to humans. He was one of their better prospects however, and they elected to continue observing and testing him. They would figure him out eventually.

The trip back to Gilgamesh was another month long voyage, an extensive time spent in slipspace. The GREY TEAM campaign forces were eliminating the closer targets one by one, and now they were being forced to move against targets deeper and deeper in Remnant space. The Midnight Shadow and Twilight Sun entered the Gilgamesh system on May 14th, 2579, and headed towards their normal spot for resupply. Colonel Traviss was tight lipped on their next move, and the crew were all anxious with wondering.

The Prowlers docked at 0700 Hours, and Colonel Traviss surprised everyone by giving the entire crew a two day leave. She said they were waiting for something, but wouldn’t elaborate on what it was. The crew didn’t complain; leave was far more frequent than it had been during the Great War, but it still seemed to be far to little. Major Tannenburg managed to drag Connor and Major Mataki down to the surface for a few days of relaxation, and Connor used some of the back pay he had accumulated to pay for two days of extravagance. It was a rare moment of peace for the battle weary troops.

Two days flew by however, and the crew were recalled back to the Prowlers as quickly as they had been released. On May 16th, they were gathered aboard the ship and ordered to report to cryo. They had another mission. Heading out of system, supplies once again replenished, they engaged their slipspace drives and prepared to jump. Colonel Traviss once again provided the target coordinates, and the Prowlers jumped into the alternate dimension, heading for a small system deep behind Remnant lines.

While most of the crew were being frozen into cryo, the officers were once again gathered for a briefing. A definite pattern had appeared, and not everyone was happy with it. Major Tannenburg in particular objected to their system. He felt that by only briefing the troops right before the mission, they were eroding the confidence of their force. How could the troops be expected to trust them, he asked, if they weren’t straight with them?

Colonel Traviss mostly ignored the objections, sticking to the strict security measures, and continued with the briefing. The two prowlers hadn’t docked together, so the briefing was conducted by comm, a departure from Traviss’s earlier predilection for face to face conversations. Her trust had expanded somewhat, but not much.

But when they heard the details of their next mission, however, the officers could hardly blame her for being secretive. The Remnant, she explained, had been mining one of the moon’s of their outer colonies, and discovered a cache of forerunner technology, untouched for millennia. ONI had learned of it shortly thereafter from intercepted transmissions, and though they couldn’t pinpoint it’s purposes, they could discern one thing: the relic was extremely important to the Remnant. They were scrambling hundreds of science personnel and were preparing a fleet to protect it. Given the track record of forerunner artifacts, ONI was worried the new relic might have some insidious purpose.

The Remnant fleet was already en route, and the science teams had already arrived. ONI realized that they had to act quickly, if they wanted to deny the Remnant the artifact. And denying them it, unfortunately, was the only option; with the GREY TEAM campaign in full swing, the UNSC fleet was spread thin between launching raids and defending the colonies. They had no forces with enough strength to secure it that could be there quickly enough. But if they couldn’t have the technology, neither could the Remnant.

The Midnight Shadow and Twilight Sun were to two closest ships, and it just so happened that they were the craft ONI had the most control over. Some of the more cynical crew, including Major Mataki and Major Tannenburg, suspected it was more than a coincidence, but it really was just blind luck. And lucky it was; if the Midnight Shadow and Twilight Sun hadn’t been in position, ONI likely wouldn’t have had time to deploy a ship crewed by their own personnel to the system. With a mission this sensitive, that meant they may have not been able to send anyone at all.

Colonel Traviss, however, was unconcerned with the internal politics and suspicion of the crew, and had just one goal in mind: deny the Remnant the artifact at all costs. If that meant crashing both Prowlers into the surface, she would have done it. Serving on Earth, she’d been a front view witness to the problems Forerunner technology could cause when she’d accompanied the UNSC force to the Ark. With time running short, she ended the briefing early and got to work designing a plan, while the officers prepared for a brief cryo stint with the rest of the crew.

But the Colonel no longer had the luxury of time to plan her missions; flying by the seat of her pants, she had to have an adequate battle plan by the time they arrived at the system, a mere six days. After only a few hours, she realized she would need help. She realized that Connor, Major Tannenburg, and Major Mataki, who were used to developing plans on the fly or in transit to a mission, were her best shot.

Connor and the others were called in and they immediately got to work. Latest ONI intel indicated a relatively small garrison on the moon, with another base on the main planet about twice it’s size. Intel estimated no more than five or six hundred Remnant personnel in the system, but they were rough estimates and wouldn’t matter anyway if the fleet arrived before they extracted, carrying it’s thousands of troops.

To make matters worse, a Remnant scout group was projected to arrive before them, carrying the science group. The science group consisted of nothing more than two or three Remnant pickets, but even two pickets could ruin the ground troops day. Their intel on the inside of the mine was far from complete, so they would have to wing it. They’d have to adjust to new developments on the fly.

With the four of them brainstorming together over the next five days, they managed to form a rough strategy, but they were all unsure if it would hold up and most of them expected it wouldn’t. Things could just as soon explode in their face as succeed, and they were taking a big chance, never a comforting thought for special forces troops. It was the best they could do, however, and they were out of time.

The crew would have to be ready to deploy the moment they dropped out of slipspace, so six hours before they arrived, the ODSTs, EVATs, and assorted naval personnel were thawed from cryo and briefed on their mission. To their credit, most of them took the news in stride. As the clock ticked down, the crew scrambled to make the ship combat ready. The ODSTs and EVATs donned their armor and grabbed their weapons, and ran quick simulations of their roles. Pelican pilots warmed their dropships and kept them ready for immediate takeoff. In the drop pod bays, Alpha and Bravo Companies loaded into their pods and strapped themselves in. Aboard the Twilight Sun, the EVATs crowded into Pelican dropships, ready to launch with the ODSTs an help them on unfamiliar territory, the ground. Both Prowlers prepped their missiles and warmed their lasers. Things were about to hit the fan.

As the crews waited in nervous anticipation, the clock ticked down to their arrival. Everyone felt nervous. Even the staunch Captain Prescott and reckless Captain Stroud seemed on edge. Oddly enough, of all the personnel, Colonel Traviss seemed the most calm. Unbeknownst to the rest of the crew, she’d been in contact with her superiors and they had confirmed a NOVA bomb was ready to be deployed in case they failed.

Finally, after several minutes of tense waiting, the two Prowlers dropped out of slipspace in the thick of the system at 1240 Hours on May 22nd, 2579. This time, they made no attempt to disguise their presence---they were going in hard and fast. There was no time for anything else.

Intel had been off, but that was not unexpected. Unfortunately, the magnitude of the breach was more than a little debilitating. Intel had indicated there were no more than three pickets--an even fight with two larger, more advanced, more stealthy Prowlers. Instead, there were six. They’d been in system only seconds and the plan had already derailed.

Captain Prescott and Captain Stroud realized they couldn’t fight off all six pickets. They could take four and likely both survive with heavy damage, but three to one was impossible odds. They had one big asset, however: the EVATs.

As the Pickets maneuvered to place themselves between the moon and the new arrivals, Captain Stroud announced to Major Mataki that there had been a change of plans. The EVATs wouldn’t be riding down to the planet in Pelicans to help the ODSTs. They’d be staying where they belonged, in space, and doing what they did best. There were two Remnant pickets with their names on them, and they were just begging for company.

As the EVATs rushed for their deployment airlocks, the Midnight Shadow and Twilight Sun readied targeting solution. They were going to have to beat their way through the pickets to get to the planet, where they could deploy the ODSTs. Getting them on the ground was critical; if intel had been wrong on how many Remnant craft were in system, it might have been wrong about the fleet arrival time as well. The enemy could show up any moment.

As the two Prowlers closed to max range, they open fired. Jets of red laser fire crossed the night and stitched the enemy shields, blinding them for a few precious seconds. When the Remnant ships recovered, they were greeted by a major surprise: two nuclear missiles jetting towards them, heading for the center of their formation. They had no time to maneuver. The blasts engulfed the entire battle group, draining their shields and vaporizing one craft. Now it was an even fight. As the nuclear fire cleared, Twilight Sun launched it’s payload of deadly troops.

The EVATs launched en masse, jetting towards the two least damaged pickets in a blaze of thruster pack exhaust. The Midnight Shadow and Twilight Sun launched archer missiles and another round of laser fire, trying to cover the inbound troops. Point laser fire stabbed into the UNSC formation, detonating archer missiles and vaporizing EVATs. The pickets readied plasma torpedoes, and each let loose with all they had--six jets of blue flame jetted for the inbound Prowlers. The shots slammed into their shields, three apiece, and dropped them.

Inside their HEV bays, Connor and the ODSTs shifted nervously. They had no idea how the battle outside was unfolding, and could do nothing but pray that Captain Prescott was good enough to get them through the mess. Connor reacted like most SPARTANs. Frustrated and anxious, he could hardly bear the battle. He wanted nothing more than to be able to attack the enemy, defend himself---anything. Being stuck in a pod while the ship rattled and shook from enemy fire was not comforting. Even the vacuum of space would have been better.

Meanwhile, the Midnight Shadow and Twilight Sun headed straight towards the Remnant craft, practically on an intercept course. The pickets hadn’t had enough time to recharge their plasma torpedoes, but they pummeled the prowlers with pulse laser fire. The prowlers retaliated in kind, burning at the enemy craft with their CIWS lasers. A volley of shots slagged the Midnight Shadow’s FTL housing, crippling it’s slipspace capacity. A retaliatory volley perforated the hull of a picket, opened it to vacuum, and drained the atmosphere, leaving it drifting in space. Another picket went up in flames as archer missiles broke through it’s weakened shields and covered it’s exterior in fire.

Meanwhile, the EVATs surged ahead and split into two combat companies. Delta Company headed for one picket, while Charlie vectored towards the other. They latched on as the Twilight Sun took a volley to the gut, melting it’s hangar bay and trapping it’s dropships inside. The EVATs blew through the hull instantly and broke into it’s inner decks, streaming inside. The astonished Picket crews barely stood a chance; each company pressed to the bridge and had control within minutes. Their engineers, who’d had experience with Remnant craft, immediately took control. They quickly turned their weapons on the enemy craft.

The remaining picket, left alone, realized it was outnumbered, charged the two prowlers. It’s plasma torpedo recharged as it diverted all power to weapons systems, and it let loose with all it had on the Twilight Sun. Point laser fire battered through whatever shielding had managed to recharge, and then the plasma torpedo impacted, burning through the hull like tissue paper. Captain Stroud scrambled to evacuate the atmosphere from the burning sections, but the damage was still extensive. Superheated plasma breached the number two reactor, crippling it.

But as the Twilight Sun reeled from the blast, the Midnight Shadow and the captured Pickets retaliated in full force. Missiles launched en masse and plasma fire engulfed the enemy destroyer, overloading the reactor as it breached the core chamber. Blue white plasma from the overloaded core enveloped the ship, incinerating it. The burning, gutted hulk emerged from the flames moments later, utterly destroyed.

The victory, however, had been costly. The Twilight Sun was badly damaged; it’s hull was pitted and scorched, it was running on 50% power, and the hangar bays had been melted shut. Both ships had depleted almost half of their missiles and their shields were drained completely. Their laser weaponry would be offline for some time from overloaded use.

The mission, however, was just getting started. The space crews had done their jobs. Now it was time for Connor and the ground troops to earn their pay. With the way cleared, the Midnight Shadow pressed on ahead. As the Twilight Sun headed towards the captured Remnant ships to consolidate their presence, the Shadow swooped low into the atmosphere and passed over the estimated location of the mine. There was no attempt to hide their presence. Any ground troops would have known they were coming anyway.

As the prowler hit geosynchronous orbit, Alpha and Bravo companies initiated their final preparations and dropped. Plummeting out of the Midnight Shadow’s HEV bay, they burned straight towards the target. Their would be no attempts at subtlety here, no complex plans or maneuvers. They were going in fast, hard, and with maximum force. Connor and Major Tannenburg had briefed them with everything they knew, much to Traviss’s chagrin. Everyone knew how high the stakes were.

The three hundred and sixty drop pods hit dirt at 1343 Hours, slamming into the ground directly on target. Heavily armed ODSTs poured out into the open terrain and headed for the mine. The Remnant miners had bored directly into the side of a mountain, digging outward and stripping the interior of anything useful. The entrance was a gaping opening embedded in the mountain’s flank. Remnant troops had been in the process of fortifying the entrance, but had only had enough time to place a few Shade turrets. There was no gate.

The Remnant troops had known they were coming and were prepared, but even that wasn’t enough. The 92nd had known going in to expect heavy resistance and had planned accordingly. Outfitted with assault rifles, rocket launchers, and light machine guns, they attacked the Remnant troops without restraint, a solid wall of determined, professional killers. As the ODSTs slammed into the ground, the plasma guns open fired, spraying heavy fire at the landing troops. The ODSTs didn’t pause a beat. Rushing the guns and dotting from cover to cover, one rock to the next, they poured heavy machinegun fire on the infantry and smashed the guns with precision rocket strikes.

The Remnant troops held their ground, refusing to back down even as the ODSTs cut them down and advanced, but managed to take several of them with them. A squad of ODSTs went down from a volley of fuel round guns, but they pressed on. As the ODST reached the entrance to the mine, they finished off the last of the survivors and took a head count. They’d lost six ODSTs and had several wounded, not bad for assaulting a fortified position with forewarning of their arrival, even if it was only a scout team. Major Tannenburg took command of Alpha Platoon and ordered them to form a perimeter, giving Bravo to Connor and telling him to get in and get rid of the relic by any means possible.

The ODSTs had landed with three tactical nukes, to ensure at least one got through. They figured one should have been enough, but three was sure to do the trick. And even if the nukes failed to destroy the relic, they would at least collapse the mountain and delay the Remnant long enough for a more permanent plan to be crafted. As Alpha spread out along the perimeter, entrenching themselves and disposing of the enemy casualties, Bravo grabbed the nukes and headed into the depths of the mine.

The mine was a crude, blunt job, one massive tunnel spearing straight into the heart of the mountain. The Remnant had no patience for working around useless rock; anything not useful was simply vaporized. This worked in the ODSTs favor, as they followed the tunnel downward. Most of the combat forces had been killed on the surface, and Bravo encountered few contacts beyond unarmed technicians. The ODSTs showed no mercy, mowing down anyone they saw. Each brute was a potential hazard and might have knowledge the Remnant could utilize.

Sprinting down the tunnel, it took Bravo only ten minutes to reach it’s end. Arriving at the lower level of the mine, they eliminated the small guard who’d been stationed there and branched out to search for the artifact itself. The Remnant had discovered the artifact using their luminaries, but the device, old and in disrepair, had been far from specific. To find the artifact, the Remnant science team had dug dozens of tunnels at the lower level, trying to stumble onto the artifact.

Now, the ODSTs were faced with a multitude of routes, and were forced to split up and attempt to navigate the tunnels to the artifact. But in orbit, the situation had gone from bad to worse. As the small fleet of damaged prowlers and hijacked pickets rendezvoused

Operation: CARETAKER

Operation: CLEANER

Operation: FOUNDRY

Operation: HARVEST

Operation: SNAKEHEAD

Operation: ERIDANUS Campaign

Operation: BUM RUSH

Operation: EPSILON

Operation: PROSECUTOR

Operation: CAMPTOWN

Operation: SETBACK

Operation: WELCOME MAT

Operation: RIOT HOUSE

Operation: PAY DIRT

Operation: MISSED CONNECTION

Operation: REVERSAL

Operation: ACROSS THE UNIVERSE

Operation: PONDER

Section 0

Governor Gregorio Martinez

Agent OSIRIS

Major Holly Nuremburg

Captain Jacob Miller

Romeo Company

Lieutenant Brandon Heron

Doctor Reginald Niles

David Wellesley

Professor Maria Wakes

Private Aaron Thomas

Representative John Ryan

Operation: SAVIOR

SPARTAN-IVs

Recruitment

In 2596, the UNSC Security Council and ONI Section III, after reviewing the loss of four colony worlds and the resurgence of the Covenant Remnant, ordered the creation of a fourth SPARTAN program. Originally headed by SPARTAN-038 Melanie, and later augmented by SPARTAN-IIs who had been involved in OPERATION: SAVIOR, the program was an undertaking unlike any before it. A unit of thousands of SPARTANs would be created, all at once, and with so many trainees, ONI needed all hands on deck.

Section III quickly got to work procuring DIs to train the candidates, gathering them from all over. Sangheili, Marines, ODSTs, SPARTAN-IIs, SPARTAN-IIIs, SPARTAN-II Class IIs, and even some of Connor’s fellow SPARTAN II Class IIIs were all recruited to help in the mammoth undertaking. While scanning deployment files of the Connor’s group for more possible trainers, one Section III officer stumbled upon Connor’s existence. After reviewing his service vitae in full, the man was astonished to find that he was onboard a Prowler, drifting around a now vacated former Remnant system, and immediately recalled the ship, as well as Connor, to UNSC space.

Connor was awoken from slipspace as the flight towards UNSC space began, and kept awake throughout the journey, so that he could get up to speed on the developments of the past 20 years. New weaponry, the political state of the galaxy, everything he needed to know to help train the new SPARTAN-IVs. When he arrived on the training planet of Arcturas, Connor was still heavily disoriented, but was nevertheless placed immediately into the training of the recruits.

Sniper Instructor

Only hours after his arrival on Arcturas, Connor was driven by a pair of MPs to the firing range. Once there, he received his orders. Due to his experience as an instructor, as well as his own personal skill, Connor was being placed in the sniper instruction area of the SPARTAN-IV compound. On his first day, he met the SPARTAN-II that had inspired him, as well as almost all of the other SPARTAN-II Class III snipers--Linda-058. The legendary marksman was in charge of the firearms training of the raw recruits, and before Connor was allowed to help her, he had to pass her personal inspection.

On the regiment firing range, Connor, fresh out of a 20 year cryo stint, and who had not seen combat in fifteen years (from his point of view), was forced to test himself against a firing range conceived by Linda. Eight 500 meter targets, 4 1000 meter targets, 2 1500 meter targets, and 1 2000 meter target all had to be hit, within 3 minutes. Unknown to Connor, Linda had designed it as an impossible course that a sniper was intended to fail, as only she and a handful of others on Arcturas had managed to complete it. This however, did not stop Connor. Using the standard SRS99G Sniper Rifle, Connor executed the challenge in a time of 2:59, stunning the veteran SPARTAN-II, who had not taken her new assistant as a veritable marksman. Connor, ashamed that he had come within a second of losing the challenge, did not know of Linda’s plan, and would not be told until some months later. In fact, it would quickly become a practical joke.

After proving himself, Connor quickly took his place beside Linda, teaching the new recruits, who were only weeks into their training, the proper way to fire. Finally, for the first time in years, Connor was in his element, surrounded by people just like him, people he could trust and people he could relate to. Within days, Connor was thriving at his new position. He worked hard to train his recruits, and worked even harder to make a name for himself in the small, tight nit, and harshly fair community of the SPARTANs. Connor met with other members of the Class III program, reconnecting with his old rivals, Gold Team, and learning about their whereabouts since he had last seen them, many many years ago.

Connor slowly made a name for himself, becoming a respected member of the SPARTAN community. Under Linda’s tutelage, his own skills improved, and he in turn passed on her teachings, as well as many of his own, to the new recruits. Connor worked hard to gain both the respect and admiration of his recruits, and was well liked by the young SPARTANs as a fair and level headed instructor. Though no slouch, he was not one to punish unfairly, and he emphasized well with the young SPARTANs, remembering his own time as a candidate.

Years passed, and the SPARTAN-IV group grew in size and skill. As Linda continued to train the larger group of soldiers, Connor branched off, selecting supremely skilled students and training them intensely to be the dedicated snipers of the regiment. He treated each dedicated marksman as an individual protégé, and his one on one efforts made the candidate snipers grow in skill and precision with each passing day. By the seventh and final year of training, Connor was no longer Linda’s assistant for primary marksman education, but now educating an elite group of students, who would become some of the finest marksmen in the 117th Special Operations Regiment.

During his time, Connor made close friends with many other SPARTANs. Connor and the Gold Team squad became very closely connected, and it was with them and them alone that he shared the fate of his team. The SPARTAN-III Gamma Company and many of the SPARTAN-IV candidates noticed that Connor and Gold Team were from the same class, and asked what had happened to Connor’s squad, but the wounds of their deaths still ran deep within him, and he never once shared his story outside of his own class. To the credit of Gold Team, word of the story never leaked.

As training drew to an end, the SPARTAN-IV candidates were sorted into groups based on their skill sets. Much to Connor’s delight, every single one of his personal protégés became a marksman, and most of them, in honor of him, used the SRS99G, even when weapons such as the M1091 and the M99C Stanchion were more readily available. Though few understood his liking for older styled and somewhat inferior weapons, they did it to honor him anyway. At graduation, Connor stood tall with the other DIs, proud, just as they were, of his recruits. They would soon be augmented, and after that, they would be true SPARTANs.

Company XO

When augmentations were finished, a brief training period followed. During this period, the troops were placed into their final companies, which would be their actual combat units. Connor was placed in Lambda Company, under the command of SPARTAN-144, Leonid. His assignment worried him somewhat. Leonid was known to be somewhat of a psychopath, a cold and emotionless killer that had served in the Great War not as a mainline SPARTAN, but as the personal killer for ONI Section 0. Still, orders were orders, and he had to follow them.

Connor became Lambda Company’s XO, the second in command of the company. Serving under him as First Sergeant SPARTAN-363 Matt, the leader of the former Gold Team, and as Gunnery Sergeant, an ONI agent named Seamus Jackson. In addition, all of Gold Team was present as platoon commanders in the company, and three SPARTAN-IIIs of Fireteam Romeo filled the other platoon leader slots. As second in command, Connor was Leonid’s right hand man, carrying out his orders.

After a few training exercises, Connor quickly realized his fears of Leonid were unfounded. While indeed cold and emotionless, as well as psychopathic, Leonid was an excellent tactician and a skilled sniper, both things that Connor appreciated. After only a few days of training, Connor and Leonid developed a system for command. Leonid, mores skilled at plans, but not the most likeable of commanders, would develop plans, which Connor would pass down to the troops. Though somewhat unconventional, their system worked well, and soon, Lambda was fighting on a level that surpassed the coordination of even the SPARTAN-IIIs, but with more firepower and defenses. This was true for all the companies, and soon the entire regiment was functioning flawlessly like a well oiled machine. Deployment would come very soon, and no one wanted to wait. They were ready.

Operation: DEVIANT

Their opportunity came several weeks later. In late 2610, the 117th Special Operations Regiment was mobilized for their first live fire mission. Connor and every other member of Lambda, as well as the other SPARTAN-IVs, was loaded aboard a transport and put into cryo, until they reached the target.

Once 16 hours out, all personnel were revived from cryo and briefed on their mission. Their target was a string of Jackal bases, which had been created in the asteroid field and single habitable planet of the Jaguar expanse. The Jackals had created a nest of pirate and slaver bases in the eighteen asteroids, as well as a major command center on the planet, and the UNSC wanted the bases destroyed. The operation would be the first test of the SPARTAN-IV program’s effectiveness, and though it was not explicitly stated, the future of their regiment was on the line. Should they fail, they might be decommissioned, but if they were to succeed, they would prove themselves in the eyes of HIGHCOMM.

After briefing, Connor helped organize Lambda company for their deployment. The battle plan called for Lambda to be deployed to three of the asteroids, and no one wanted to fail with the whole regiment watching. They loaded up in preparation for their launch, and formulated their strategy.

The company was deployed to the asteroids and split into three groups, one for each asteroid. Leonid-144 commanded the first, while Connor headed up the second, with Mathew-063 controlling the third. In the weeks prior, training as a company, the SPARTAN-IVs had been influenced greatly by their commander’s combat style, and they were now one of the most stealth oriented groups in the regiment. In all three teams, Lambda’s personnel deployed with speed and silence, using silenced weapons in the close quarters combat of the asteroid field and moving like shadows.

The stealthy attack group moved quicker than word of their arrival could, cutting off communications between the Covenant and hunting them down individually without mercy. Connor’s group had the esteem of having the highest kill count, though this was also due to having the largest amount of enemies. Of all the casualties sustained by the jackals, less than 10% were inflicted during open combat, proving that their stealth approach was truly effective.

With the asteroid bases neutralized, the 117th Regiment turned it’s focus to the planet. Without stopping for a moment, the SPARTANs continued their whirlwind assault. Half of the regiment went to the surface as an advance team, and Lambda was part of this half. Given the task of reconnaissance and sabotage, they were perfectly in their element. They moved with speed and lethality, destroying enemy positions and spying on dozens of enemy bases, providing precise intel with which the other members of the regiment would destroy the jackals.

Operation Deviant 501 Custom

A local Kig-Yar warlord meets his end with some help from Connor and the SPARTAN-IVs

But several hours into their stealthy advance, they intercepted a rogue transmission detailing the whereabouts of a local Kig-Yar warlord. Connor, acting on initiative, grabbed a squad of SPARTAN-IVs, some of which had been in his elite marksman group, and moved to head of the leader. Using M99C Stanchion sniper rifles, the group was able to assassinate the jackal leader, adding one more advantage to the SPARTANs.

Several hours later, the rest of the regiment arrived and began an attack. Supported by armored units and acting as a regular force, they drove an assault straight into the heart of the Jackal force, massacring them. Within three hours, the Jackals had either retreated or surrendered, and not a single SPARTAN had been killed. Operation: DEVIANT had been a stunning success.

Operation: WARDOG

However, the true baptism in fire was yet to come. Though Operation: DEVIANT had been a success, it had been almost too easy for the SPARTANs. Their next deployment would be far more demanding.

Some time after the successful completion of DEVIANT, the world of Hannibal III was invaded. The invasion was the largest operation conducted by the Covenant Remnant since it’s fleet had been smashed three years earlier at the Battle of Kanna, an audacious move on their part. News of the invasion slowly filtered through the ranks of the SPARTANs, who had returned to Arcturas and were continuing training, honing their skills. The UNSC fleet was having a hard time reaching the planet, due to constant Brute raids, and many in the regiment wondered if they would be used.

Following an attempt to hack into the HIGHCOMM database, this was confirmed, and the SPARTAN-IVs were given notice that transportation was on it’s way to deliver them to Hannibal III for an extended guerrilla campaign. The regiment was told to pack it’s gear and prepare for their deployment, and were given a little over a days notice. Connor, always one to pack light, grabbed his standard combat load, then as company XO, assisted wherever he was needed to make sure Lambda was ready for the trip.

The voyage was not a long one, and did not require a cryo sleep. No one slept during the tense flight towards the Hannibal system aboard the transports, on their way to what could perhaps be their place of death. Despite their earlier success in combat, their superior training and technology, they were all wary. Combat was never completely care free, especially for Connor, who feared, more than anything, losing a soldier.

They arrived in the Hannibal system as winter was sweeping the planet, and after a brief burn in system, dropped into the atmosphere. Jamming enemy communications and inducing a blackout, they let the shields of their ship take the massive heat as they plowed into the atmosphere at tremendous heat. Then, from the moment they hit cruising altitude and started their descent, things moved very, very quickly.

Lambda, from the moment of touchdown, was a sea of silent movement. They had drilled dozens of times on simulated landings just like this one, and were moving as soon as they were off the dropship. In under an hour, the pre-fab base dropped in by covert units was fully functional and running, and the SPARTANs were taking positions all over the base, without any verbal exchanges. Connor oversaw the creation of the emplaced defenses and sentry posts around the bases.

However, when a Brute patrol ventured a little to close to the camp by accident, and Leonid took a small team to head them off, Connor was left in command. Thus, when orders to attack came in from command, it was he who received them and began organizing the first raid for Lambda company. By the time Leonid and his team had returned from their hunting expedition, Connor had a plan prepared, and the company mobilized. They quickly began their attack.

Operation: REAPER

Operation: HELLFIRE

Necros War Begins

Character Report

Mental Characteristics

While not a classic “head case”, Connor has displayed some irregularities during his life. After augmentation, Connor suffered from severe depression from the deaths of his teammates, and recovered with the help of his remaining squad mates, barely avoiding an unfit for duty tag. Later, after the death of his squad mate Lucy, he displayed signs of dependence on his remaining squad member, Mellissa. After Mellissa was killed in 2552, he had severe anger problems and was prone to bursts of rage. He was taken out of duty while evaluated by ONI, and their conclusion was that he was too unstable to serve in combat around others. Unfortunately, circumstances later on prompted ONI to deploy him, but because of his problems, he was deployed alone. His rage was misinterpreted by ONI as mental instability, when in fact it was a desire for revenge, which he fulfilled on his mission.

Personality

Connor has a optimistic if somewhat serious personality. He is not one to joke on missions, but is very optimistic, a mental defense mechanism he created during his childhood to shield himself from his toxic home environment. Connor has a habit of emphasizing too closely with his teammates and even non-Spartan personnel, which he imbued somewhat in his team. In addition, after Operation: WET FEET, he, along with Melissa, regarded the Human-Covenant war as a personal affair, and became far more independent. This translated into both a growing recklessness and an eventual disregard for orders, but also prompted him to seek out combat alone or with just Mellissa at his side, frequently forbidding marines or other personnel from accompanying his team on dangerous combat missions that he deemed “his fight”. Connor also had a strong conscience, a very clear sense of right and wrong. Though this was somewhat different than most peoples due to the necessities of a soldiers life, Connor had very clear limits and rules in his moral values. During the years following the great war, Connor would be loaned from Section III to Section 0 and used for assassination work, greatly troubling his conscience, and highlighting some of his personal ethical values.

Physical Characteristics

Connor, like all SPARTANs, has an intimidating physical presence. In MJOLNIR armor, he stands over 7 feet tall, but even without it, is an impressive 6’8. Connor weighs 248 pounds--somewhat light for a SPARTAN, but this is because of his sniper specialty. Regardless, Connor still has enormous physical strength, and in armor, can lift approximately 11 times the body weight of a standard human. He has black hair, somewhat at odds with his Irish ancestry, which is cut regulation short, and was so even during his time as a civilian. He has several prominent scars on his chest from the Battle of Titan-II and his encounter with an Sangheili Zealot, and sports burns all along his back from the explosion of the scarab manufacturing facilities fusion core during Operation: BUGSQUASHER. Connor, despite his discipline, was known to occasionally favor a strong Gilgamesh vintage whiskey, a habit passed on to him from his co-commander, Major Tannenburg.

Abilities and Traits

Connor’s most potent ability is his skill with firearms. He has demonstrated on numerous occasions his steady hand in combat, and is a skilled sniper. However, he has also been known to use weapons like sniper rifles in mid range or even close quarters, and is known to be able to hit targets very accurately even while mobile. In addition, he has some small skills with explosives, and, though he does not readily admit it, has a talent for leadership, quietly inspiring troops to their best.

Quotes and Conversations

Quotes
"So, you do know how to drive one of these, right?"
―Joke with SPARTAN-332 during Operation: SHEEPSKIN.


"My job, marines, is to teach you how too shoot. So do me a favor, and try not to shoot me."
―While as a sniper instructor after the Great War


"Never give up, never surrender, and never lose hope. An old friend told me that on her death bed, and it’s the best meaning for this mess we call life that I’ve ever heard."
―When asked on the meaning of life


"I haven’t been on active duty for a while, so please, humor me, and stop with the technical horseshit and tell me how good is shoots."
―When introduced to the next generation weaponry


"Am I the only one who thinks less is more? Whatever happened to simplicity?"
―Jokingly replying to taunts about his old fashioned weaponry


"With respect sir, you need to shut up and get your goddamned act together. Those are real soldiers out there, and they need real leadership from you right now! They need you to show them a good example, how to act in the face of almost certain death. They need you to inspire them. They need you to lead them. They need you to be an omnipotent god who has the answer for even the worst situation, not a lunatic without a clue! They need a leader sir."
―Exchange during Operation: PEGASI


"A night drop? Behind enemy lines? Sure. What could go wrong."
―Thinking aloud on Operation: JERICHO


"We’re rescuing Brutes? So they can help the UNSC fight off the other Brutes? Does this strike anyone else as ironic?"
―Opinion on Operation: CARETAKER


"General, I’m a man of simple tastes. Sniper rifles, assault weapons, good officers, and simple plans. Is it really all that hard to give me all of those?"
―Exchange between Connor and a superior officer


"I expect you to work here, recruits. I expect you to master everything I give you and more. I expect you to give me 110 percent all the time, and will never, ever, ever, settle for less, because in the field, in combat, any less than the best gets people killed."
―Introduction as aide to sniper instructor with the SPARTAN-Ivs.


"A common mistake, recruits, is to dehumanize your target. To think of him as less than human, as an animal. As a sniper, such an action is not acceptable if you are to excel. To truly become an excellent sniper, you must not only be an excellent marksman, but must also come to know your enemy through the sole medium of your scope. Observe him, analyze him, and learn what makes him tick. Then you must put yourself in his shoes, become your target, know his reactions, and then, only then, will you be able to execute the perfect shot on him no matter what the conditions."
―Private lesson with his elite “sniper group”


"Is there any CO in this regiment whose not a psychopath?"
―Private confinement in Lazlo-108 after a verbal altercation with Leonid-144


"Sir, about twenty years ago I had a commander without a clue of how to lead his troops. I had to show him what to do, and I was a friggin Junior Lieutenant. I don’t need another one of those. Figure out how to lead these kids sir, and do it quick. And scaring the shit out of them most definitely does not count as leading them."
―Exchange between Connor and SPARTAN-144 during training


"Luck is a fickle bitch."
―Favored saying when missing a target


Conversations
Melissa: "So, Connor, whats the plan?"
Connor: "What plan?"
Melissa: "You don’t have a plan to get to those banshees? What the hell are we doing then?"
Connor: "Improvising."
―Connor and Mellissa during Operation: PHILOSOPHER
Bob: "Its an order, Connor."
Connor: "No, its not an order, it’s a death sentence. What did they do to deserve death?"
Bob: "They betrayed the UNSC Connor, that’s what. Do you feel remorse for rebels you kill when they shoot at your teammates, at your friends? No? Then don’t complain and do your job."
Connor: "Its not right. It’s a civilian. Its just like murder."
Bob: "Yes, it is. Now get on with it."
―Exchange between Connor and his Section 0 Controller Bob on his first mission.
Connor: "I quit."
Bob: "You can’t “quit” Connor. Your not done."
Connor: "Yah? Watch me."
Bob: "You don’t get it, do you, you pompous son of a bitch. You don’t quit. There is no out, not until we say there is. So be a big boy, Connor, and suck it up."
— Exchange between Connor and his Section 0 controller.


SPARTAN-IV: "Sir, orders just came in from command!"
Connor: "Spit it out Private."
SPARTAN-IV: "Sir, brute command chieftain moving from one encampment to another, in the open. Brass wants us to head them off. What are our orders sir?"
Connor: "We’re mobilizing."
— Exchange between Connor and a SPARTAN-IV soldier.


Weapons Report

Great War

Sniper Rifle System 99 Series

The SRS99 was Connor’s primary weapon during most of the Great War. Performing the role of designated marksman within his squad, he was almost never seen without the long barreled weapon. Connor mainly made use of the SRS99C, but also used the newer SRS99D during Operation: BUGSQUASHER and his time as a weapons trainer afterwards, though he began using newer weapons once he returned to active duty. He has also been known to use variants of the standard sniper rifle, including but not limited too: suppressors, extended magazines, alternate ammunition, and enhanced optics.


MA5 Assault Rifle Series

Despite being a sniper, Connor was just as unlikely to be caught without his MA5 as he was without his SRS99C. Connor used the MA5 as a backup weapon in most instances, when his sniper rifle was out of ammunition or when it was not properly suited for the situation. For most of his early career, Connor used the MA5B and MA5K systems, though he preferred the MA5B. However, after his extended leave in 2552, he used the MA5C for Operation: BUGSQUASHER. Connor continued to stay current with the MA5 until he reentered active duty, at which point he switched to the newer, more modern assault rifles.

M6 Sidearm Series

Connor, like most UNSC servicemen, made use of the M6 sidearm. While during Operation: APOLLO, Operation: RECIPROCITY, and Operation: CURTAIN OF FIRE, he was issued the standard M6D sidearm, and was relatively happy with it, he was introduced to the M6C SOCCOM during Operation: MIDNIGHT REIN, and it quickly became his preferred sidearm. During Operation: BUG SQUASHER, the M6C SOCCOM was unavailable, and he made use of the M6G Sidearm, though he noted his disliking for it compared to the SOCCOM. After retiring from active duty and becoming a weapons instructor, he decided to stay current with the SOCCOM. Though his beloved pistol was replaced by the newer M6 pistols when he reentered active duty, he patterned his attachments for his new pistol after his SOCCOM’s default arrangement.

Armor

Connor, as with all other Spartan II Class IIIs, initially used the standard Semi Powered Infiltration system. During most of his early career, he made use of the SPI armor and it’s variants, most notably using special vacuum enhanced versions on missions outside an atmosphere. Connor was an exception to the rule of the Spartan II Class IIIs however in that he also made use of a Mjolnir system. During Operation: BUGSQUASHER, ONI was worried about his chances of success, but unwilling to send other troops in alongside Connor, who was viewed as unstable. To held improve his chances of survival, Connor was issued a spare suit of Mjolnir Mk. IV armor that had been vacated when the SPARTAN-II Class Is transitioned to the Mark V. This system was heavily damaged during Connor’s escape from the Scarab plant and his time fighting as a guerrilla on the planet, and upon returning to UNSC space, he no longer used it, instead reverting to SPI armor.

Other Equipment

Like all SPARTANs, Connor made use of specialized and unorthodox equipment. Somewhat of an explosives expert in his team, Connor was familiar with C7 and C12 explosives, as well as all UNSC Nuclear Weapons, from Fury TacNukes with a yield of a little over 900 Kt to HAVOK warheads with yields of 30 Mts.

Post Great War

MA6A Assault Rifle

Upon reentering active duty, Connor was introduced to the modern weapons of the UNSC military. Of the new weapons, one of his favored was the MA6A Assault Rifle. Filling the niche that the MA5B, MA5K, and MA5C had previously filled as his support weapon, Connor used the MA6A as a backup for situations were his sniper rifle was not suitable. Though his attachment-friendly teammates and subordinates often chided him on it, Connor did not attach any attachments to his MA6A besides a UV flashlight and the occasional suppressor.

M6L Pistol

Connor, somewhat of a traditionalist and fond of the successors of the original UNSC weapon, also preferred the M6L PDWS over weapons such as the M33, M57, or M98 Compact. Connor also had fond memories of the M6C SOCCOM from his early career, and patterned his M6L after the special ops pistol, attaching a suppressor, laser sight, and the traditional M6 KFA-2 scope.

SRS99G-S3

Replacing the SRS99D used by Connor in previous missions was the new and improved successor of the rifle. Connor’s true primary weapon was the SRS99G-S3 Sniper Rifle, which was similar to the SRS99D with a few improvements. Much like his MA6A, he did not place very many attachments on it, using only the standard Augur Scope, capable of 5, 10, and 15 time magnification.

Armor

When Connor returned to active duty, he began making use of the Mjolnir Mk. VII system. This suit was a huge advancement from his previous SPI suit, while offering all the advantages of other suit such as camouflage.

Other equipment

Though Connor no longer played a role as an explosives expert, he now had other duties. Connor would frequently make use of extensive communications and planning devices, acting under his superiors and issuing their orders to subordinates.

Teammate Report

Tan Team

SPARTAN-329

Lucy, Tan Team’s electronics and midrange combat expert, along with their best tracker, played a pivotal role in the development of Connor’s psyche. During training, she was the first in Tan Team to reach out to him and include him, and was his earliest friend. It was with Lucy that he shared the memories of his ugly childhood, and it was with her whom he held the closest bond during training. Once in the field, Lucy was Connor’s most trusted subordinate, and tricky or tough jobs often fell to her. Shortly before her death, Connor ordered her on one of these “tricky” jobs, modifying the fail-safes on a hydrogen fuel storage facility, and it was this mission that led to her death. Guilt over the order would haunt Connor for years, and during the rough weeks following Melissa’s death, Connor would frequently hallucinate the image of his dead friend.

SPARTAN-332

Mellissa, the close quarters, EVA specialist, also played an important role in Connor’s life. During training, they were not as close as some other members of the team, but in the days following augmentation and their first field operations as a team, they bonded quickly. After Lucy’s death, only Mellissa’s presence prevented a breakdown from Connor, though he became over dependent on her and had bouts of anxiety about simple things when she was not around. When Mellissa was killed during Operation: SANDBOX, the delayed effects of Lucy’s death along with Mellissa’s own threw Connor into a state of depravation, and he spent several months out of duty recovering from the intense mental trauma.

SPARTAN-IVs and Fellow Commanders

Leonid-144

SPARTAN-144, Leonid, was Connor’s commander in the SPARTAN-IV Lambda Company but also recruited him into Section 0. Enigmatic and mysterious, Connor had difficulty understanding the older SPARTAN, a problem shared by nearly everyone who met the man. Ironically, they both came from similar, fractured families, but Leonid’s personality made him more alien to Connor than the Covenant. Still, despite his occasional misgivings about his commander, he respected him for his combat skills and tactical ability.

Gold Team (Spartan 501)

Gold Team, another three man squadron of Spartan II Class IIIS, became Connor’s subordinates after he joined the SPARTAN-IV Lambda company. Gold Team had a “history” with Connor. During training, they were fierce competitors, each trying to pull ahead, and so naturally, Connor and Tan Team considered them better than Gold Team whether they really were or not. After augmentations, the two squads went their separate ways, and did not see each other again as full groups. When Connor joined the SPARTAN-IV Lambda company, he was surprised to find other Spartan II Class IIIs in the program. They took their earlier competition as children and teenagers with good humor, and reminisced about training, and about the war. The four became good friends, but deep down, it was hard for Connor to not envy Gold Team, who had not lost any soldiers throughout the war.

Fireteam Romeo

Fireteam Romeo, a three person squad of SPARTAN-IIIs, were an unknown element to Connor when he joined the SPARTAN-IV company. Connor had never encountered SPARTAN-IIIs before, and had only learned of them after returning to active duty with ONI. Once he got to know them, he treated them courteously, but they were not friends. After a close call in Operation: WARDOG, Connor was saved by Scott-G145, and made a conscious effort to get to know his fellow commanders better.

SPARTAN-IV Subordinates

Connor, as XO, was well liked by his soldiers. Compared to the icy and detached Leonid, Connor was engaging, often personally debriefing the new SPARTANs and spending time teaching them the finer aspects of warfare. They responded to him well and he became the primary molder of the team. Under Leonid, Connor would often put the battle plans of his commander into action, using his superior leadership ability to implement the superior tactical ideas drawn up by 144.

Trivia

  • Though never credited for it, SPARTAN-338 had an indirect effect on the deactivation of both Installation 04 and the collective halo rings on the Ark. The development of the Mjolnir Mk. V armor that allowed Master Chief to keep the Covenant from activating Alpha Halo would have been set back years if not for the actions of Tan Team during Operation: LIFERAFT. Furthermore, the actions of Connor during Operation: BUG SQUASHER likely allowed the UNSC forces on the Ark to stop Truth in time. Without the destruction of the scarab manufacturing facility, ship inventory manifests showed that an additional 11 Scarabs would have been available during the Citadel Siege, which would have likely slowed the Master Chief down significantly enough to prevent the death of the Prophet of Truth and the subsequent deactivation of the Halo Rings.
  • Connor, unlike most of his Spartan II Class III brethren, made use of not only SPI armor, but also Mjolnir Mk. IV Armor and Mjolnir Mk. VII armor.
  • Connor was among a select few Spartan II Class IIIs to possess the same genetic markers as the original Class I.

Behind the Scenes

  • The article, originally conceived as a short 1-2 page summary of the character used in the author’s comic based around Operation: BUG SQUASHER, eventually evolved and grew to be the longest and largest single writing project conducted by the author.
  • This article, as of July 2009, is the longest actual article on Halo Fanon, discounting RPs and stories. Behind it is the Myrmidon Detachment, Kimberly Ivy Blackburn, UNSC Ordnance, Ares Facility Archives, Acumen Science Laboratories, and in seventh place, Leonid-144. In addition, it is also the third longest article on the entire site.
    • EDIT: As of July 2012, three freaking years later, it's still the longest actual article on the site. Oh, and second longest overall. Damn. Straight.
  • The image representing Connor was originally meant to represent The Cyborg from the Marathon series, before being repurposed for use depicting him.
  • Colonel Karol Traviss, Captain Prescott, Captain Stroud, and Major Mataki are all obvious references to the Gears of War book series written by the author Karen Traviss

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