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PROLOGUE

The UNSC Marine looked around and saw nothing but the ugly remains of death and destruction. Blood from both sides painted the ground purple and red. Debris from vehicles and dead corpses littered the Godforsaken place.

The marine limped and hobbled with his assault rifle by his side. His gear was torn, ragged and stained with blood. He wondered if it was his or from one of his comrades. He didn't know-he couldn't remember. Combat left him traumatized and without recollection of any memory.

Suddenly his injured leg buckled and caused him to stumble. He fell onto his stomach, pain washing over him and causing his vision to darken. He coughed up blood. He rolled himself onto his back and decided to live his final moments in pain and looking up into the war-torn sky. He expected a featureless horizon, but instead saw oddly shaped ships descending over him. The hull of it was colored in a purple hue and was a circular shape. Stars started to dance in his line of sight and the marine lost consciousness.

CHAPTER ONE: INTO THE UNKNOWN Edit

UNSC PROWLER Black Panther

IN SLIPSPACE

NOVEMBER 2530

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"Situs lll," the ONI officer's hologram told the crew,"has been an unlisted priority for a while."

"What do you mean?" Gunnery Sergeant Vasco asked with a Portuguese accent.

"After the Covenant launched their attack on the Colonies, a small fleet of UNSC cruisers tried finding planets that were near some of their home worlds  to construct bases on. One of them we mistook to be Situs lll. They relayed their mistake to us and was supposed to rendezvous at Earth. However, their last transmission was a distress call from a sudden enemy ambush."

"So? It may be tragic and unfortunate but we can't waste time investigating a crash site that had no special cargo," stated Master Chief Petty Officer Derek.

"My thoughts exactly," agreed the British ONI officer. "When I asked intelligence they showed me the location of the planet in the Galaxy."

The hologram vanished and and was replaced by another showing three star systems, both almost forming a triangular shape with one being particularly far away. "The outside star system is where Situs lll is at. We have no information on any Covenant based planets there except the other which is closest to ours."


"So their presence there didn't have much of a strategic sense, let alone their defense of the planet," observed Lieutenant Luke.


"Correct," the ONI officer replied, reappearing back as a hologram. "For three years, we were never able to get any Intel on the incident. So now we're tasking this black operation to you. We'd prefer this to be strictly SR, but without much information the ROEs are clear and simple: you see a hinge head, you're clear to engage."


Staff Sergeant Matt grinned. "Oorrah."


The ONI officer smiled. "Of course the ODST is happy. Report all Intel and status every twelve hours once you reach the planet. Once compromised, the callsign is Firetrail. Good luck Task Force 7."




PERSONAL WEAPONS ARSENAL

48 HOURS TO DESTINATION



Everyone gathered in the arsenal. Hundreds of UNSC weapons lined the walls and shelves. A marine would look in there and think he died and went into heaven. In the middle of the room were tables that had Task Force 7 lined at, all holding different weapons making modifications:


There were the ODSTs. Gunnery Sergeant Vasco, Staff Sergeant Matt, Sergeant Hawk, and Sergeant Toby.


There were the ONI agents. Lieutenant Luke, Sergeant Rook, and Lieutenant John.


And there were the Spartans. Chief Petty Officers Derek, "Turbo", Marl, and Nick.


Matt whistled and held up his sniper rifle. "The SRS 99.... Gotta love it."


"So how long have you two been dating?" Toby asked Matt in a light Italian accent. Everyone chuckled.


"Make sure you get a suppresser for that, mate," John told him in thick Australian accent. "SR mission or not we need those on every weapon,"


"What should we be taking anyway?" Hawk asked. "Strictly DMRs or get some MA5Bs and M7s?"


"We don't know what's out there so get a few of each," Derek said.


"Only thing I hate about this job," Rook muttered in his heavy voice. "No *stang support or enough Intel. For all we know we could be running into a blockade."


"That's why I was looking for this," the Spartan called Turbo grunted, hefting a large weapon on his shoulder from the shelf and lying it on the metal table. "The M6 Grindel?" Asked Luke. "Don't know man. A little to explosive for this op."


"Like the black spook said," Turbo told him grinning, "We don't know what's out there. Why not blow all those *chakarres to their special place with a laser?"


"Considering Turbo's logic," Nick said laughing, "I agree."


"We only got one," Marl told him, "maybe get an M41 rocket launcher while we're at it?"


"Yeah," Vasco answered. "Might as well."



56 HOURS LATER

SITUS lll


The Black Panther rested on a plain of grass surrounded by a few miles of dense forest. The weapons and gear were unloaded from the ship set up from under tarps that were held up. Dusk settled over the planet.


"Alright, we're seventy two miles from the Covenant area. Hawk, Matt, you two are our primary sniper-spotter team. Take the mongoose, but once your ten miles away you dismount. You engage only if you're spotted or one of them nears your position. If that happens, retrieve the bodies and come back ASAP. You will broadcast all findings through video feed. Move out."


The two ODSTs left the vehicles behind a few bushes and trudging forward, nearing enemy territory.


Matt lead the way, carrying the sniper rifle while Jason walked behind him carrying a suppressed DMR. Soon it was no longer dusk and the night settled in, concealing the troopers as they trudged through long grass. "Remember Matt," Hawk called, "next time I have the rifle."


"Whatever dude," Matt replied. "If it stops making you whine."


"Shut up."


A sudden rustle from the forest behind them made the two freeze. Jason turn around immediately and raised his DMR in the direction. A creature prowled slowly in the shadows on all fours. "Just an animal," Hawk told him. "Not sure if it's hunting us or some thing else, though."


"Shoot it, we'll carry it back to camp when we're done."


Hawk aimed and pulled the trigger. The suppressed bullet shot into the night and killed the animal, all in silence.


Hawk turned around and caught up with Matt who started climbing a hill. Lights shined in the distance. "Snake eyes to base camp," Matt whispered, "we're in position. Stand by for live video footage."


"Copy, snake eyes," Luke replied over comms.


Matt and Hawk belly crawled until they were on the top of the hill. Covenant constructed buildings were every where. In the middle was a tower that had liquids being transported by a gravity repulsed lift. Above it was a large cruiser. On the ground were hundreds of grunts, brutes, and elites. "*Osik," Jason murmured. "Is this a mining facility?"


"I don't-" Matt was caught off when Hawk placed a gloved hand on his helmet. He looked over at him, watching him place a finger to his visor and then using his two fingers to point below them. Matt looked over and saw two brutes who we're oblivious to their presence, looking over the area.


Matt pointed to his helmet and out toward the tower, letting Jason know they needed a few more minutes of footage. He nodded in acknowledgement. Matt continued looking over the Covenant operation. After three minutes, he turned the camera off and tapped Hawk lightly on his armored shoulder.


They both unsheathed their knives silently and readied themselves to pounce on the two brutes. Seconds passed and suddenly the two ODSTs jumped onto the backs of the creatures and stabbed the heads since they were too strong to be killed by attacks to the neck. They put their gloved hands on their mouths to muffle their roars of pain and anger. They thrashed wildly. Finally, both collapsed.


The two ODSTs struggled but managed to carry the huge beasts back to the mongoose. They left the animal, finding it already being eaten by decay feasting insects. They tied up the brutes to the back and dragged them on the ground behind the wheels as they drove for miles.


Hours passed and it neared the time right before daylight when the rest of Task Force 7 saw the headlights. Most we're already asleep, except Derek, Nick, Vasco, and John who stood watch. The mongoose parked to a stop at the the tents where Jason and Matt dismounted.


"*Stang," Vasco chuckled as he walked over to them in armor. "Nice catching but we already got food."


"I wouldn't want to eat them anyways," Nick said with Vasco in his hulking, white Spartan suit. "They sit in their *osik all day."


"Aside from the lovely qualities of the brutes," John began, "they need to be hidden. There's a deep pond over there where you can just drown them."


"Wonderful," Hawk muttered, kneeling down with Matt to carry one of them. "Carrying these *stang pieces of *osik and fur is wonderful. Derek, Nick could you help?"


"Yeah."


"Luke, do you have the footage downloaded?" Vasco asked.


"Yes, Gunny," he answered from under the tarp. "Trying to get a good signal to report our findings to that spook."


Vasco removed his helmet and walked with John over to Luke. After a few minutes of waiting, the ONI officer appeared back as a hologram. "Evening, lads. Sitrep?"


"We have live footage downloaded from our recon teams," Vasco said. "They saw what we think so far is a mining facility. Sending recordings to you now."


The officer paused, watching the footage. "I'll have to agree with you on that. Sending your teams in there would obviously be suicide. I'll take this up with command and let you know what do afterwards, however they might actually want you to a covert operation. I will let you know in the next twelve hours. Until then, stand by."


The holo vanished once again. "We can't infiltrate in one of those buildings for data," Luke said.



"It will have to be that cruiser," Vasco murmured. The two ONI agents looked at him with confused looks. "Think about it. They transport whatever resources they are mining to some sort of base that will be near planets that have UNSC troops ready for deployment. We can effectively destroy one of their chains of supplies."


"You're not wrong," John told him. "But either way we'll more than likely be compromised and be forced to deal with hundreds of hinge heads."


"The ONI officer will tell us tomorrow," Luke said. We'll have some thing planned by then."


TWELVE HOURS LATER

SITUS III


"Command wants you to board the cruise and obtain any data that you can," the hologram told them all. "If not possible then they'll want you to destroy the facility."


"We cannot conduct a covert op," Derek said. "We're too outnumbered and we'd be compromised within minutes."


"Very well. Once you're done, get out ASAP and RV to one of the Colony worlds. Good luck."


* * *


A team of Spartans stalked the perimeter of the Covenant facility like wolves spying on prey.  The Night Hawk was concealed a hundred yards from where they were.


"All clear," Marl told every one. "Turbo, fire when ready."


"Always," he replied.


All of a sudden a bright, red laser seared through the night toward the tower. The outside and inside exploded, sending debris crashing down. "Fire rockets," Derek ordered.


A wave of propelled rockets soared and impacted the buildings. They rumbled and collapsed, creating fires and sending the Covenant forces into complete and utter  chaos.


A few saw where it came from and started firing. They were immediately cut down by Matt's silenced sniper rifle. "Let's move!" Derek shouted, seeing some of the elites bounding toward their position. He fired a couple rounds from his suppressed DMR and raced toward the Night Hawk with the others.


They hopped onto the ship which then shot into the sky and into orbit. Right before leaving the atmosphere, however, a tracking beacon launched and attached itself to the Covenant cruiser.

CHAPTER TWO: THE GOVERNOR Edit

IN ORBIT AROUND SEPIA

UNSC PROWLER Black Panther

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"The first Colony world we chose," Marl said, "has Insurrectionists inside their government and is keeping the governor hostage?"


"Correct, I'm afraid," the ONI officer said. "Sepia has had political conflicts for years, however this past one blew it to *stang. In 2526, Governor Sarah Arden managed to organize their Guard and get rid of most of their Insurrection supporters. However, terrorist activity dramatically increased and Governor Arden was forced to give power to the Guard, which ended up being corrupt. In late October they staged a coup and succeeded, having the governor in prison and has left the planet in anarchy."


"Was this governor spineless?" Toby asked


"Actually no. She had ideas that would've fixed every thing, but her people we're corrupt *kriff heads."


"Ah. So how do you want us to to do this?" Derek asked.


"Gather Intel anyways you can and help the Governor stabilize their government after you rescue her afterwards. If all blows to *stang, we'll get marines on the ground and get you guys out. OPSEC is regular: sealed lips sinks ships. Once you get the governor out we will send a small fleet and send a battalion of marines."


"Understood."


The ONI officer nodded and vanished. Everyone filtered out of the pilot section of the ship. "John, Rook, and I will socialize with the public and try and get info," Luke said.


"We could sell some of our weapons to the black market to get some attention," Toby said.


"Once we get the intelligence we need we'll infiltrate and take out the terrorists," Vasco said.




THE NEXT DAY

CAPITAL CITY OF SEPIA




Rook, John, and Luke walked down the streets of the capital. Insurrectionists  with black market MA5Bs and M7s guarded the streets. A few wore Guard uniforms. Trash and waste littered the streets and filled the air with an overwhelming stench. People walked around wearing dirty clothes and had hollowed eyes and almost smelled almost as bad as the streets.


"This really is a *stang hole," Luke murmured.


"I think I just stepped in some *osik." Rook said in disgust. "I bet this city looked beautiful and now look. All because some corrupt *chakkares couldn't do the better thing."


"Maybe. That's why we're here," John said.


Suddenly they heard yelling and the sound of a body being beaten from an ally. They all stopped and peered in where they saw a terrorist beating a middle aged man with a battan.


"I got an idea," Rook whispered. He walked out into the ally toward the terrorist. He looked up just in time to be meant with Rook's fist. The man scrambled up and ran away while Rook fought with the other. As planned, his buddies came out and started to beat Rook and eventually had him subdued. "Son of a *chakkare," the terrorist snarled in a Russian accent. "You'll be taught what happens when you prevent the enforcement of the law."


They dragged Rook out the ally way and toward one of the buildings while John and Luke watched from the distance. Later on they walked back to the Black Panther. They walked inside where everyone else waited. "We heard what happened over comms," Turbo said. "What the-"


"Relax," John reassured him. "He's an agent. And," he pulled out a data pad and turn it on, showing the buildings out the side of some thing. "There is a microscopic camera in his ear piece-we can get early access inside one of the buildings. However I can't guarantee that he'll end up near the politicians and governor."


John laid the data pad down and set it to where everyone could watch. They sat for an hour when suddenly the position of the camera changed. It showed jail rooms with bars lining the walls. In front of Rook's room was a woman with black hair and blue eyes in regular civilians clothes. Rook turned the camera to face him and mouthed the words "Governor."


"That's her," Vasco announced. Rook placed the camera down and started writing some thing his finger in the dirt. He picked up the camera and showed them and it read "Three floors. North east of the city."


The camera was immediately placed back in his ear. "Nick and I can monitor for the time being," Matt said. Derek nodded. "We might need some marines for this mission," Luke said. "We could be endangering the civvies if we break the governor and the others out."


"He's right," Toby agreed. "We can't hold the public together by ourselves  if we manage to rescue all the officials."


"They have far more bigger problems though," John reminded them.


"Yeah but these are the civilians they are protecting," Toby argued.


"We can't discuss more boots on the ground," Marl said, interjecting. "That's the entire point of this task force-to do the dirty work so that those men and women could deal with actual enemies, not *stang shadows."


The ship went silent in a quiet agreement. "Let's plan our rescue then," Derek said.



SEVEN HOURS LATER


CAPITAL CITY OF SEPIA





The Black Panther flew in the air, invisible to scanners and silent in the stormy night sky. Toby flew it in the direction toward the jail houses. "How much farther?" He asked over the intercom system to the bay where all the Spartans were. "About two miles," Turbo answered. "Once we get there, have it hover at least five hundred meters above the roof."


"Aye."


Meanwhile Vasco, John, Hawk, and Luke jogged through the water clogged streets with suppressed MA5Bs while Matt watched the streets with his sniper rifle on a water tower. The four of them stopped, hearing a vehicle near them. "Convoy," Matt warned them. "Hide, I'll take out the one that is trailing farthest behind."


The ONI agents and ODSTs ducked into two nearby allies while Warthogs drove down the street. The four of them waited until Matt fired, shattered the glass window and killed the driver of the farthest Warthog. It swerved to a stop with the gunner and passenger climbing out. Luke and Hawk ran out into the road and fired at the two. Both were hit and collapsed, dead instantly.


In silence, they quickly got the three bodies and dragged them into the ally. John, his clothes and hair soaked in water, walked around to get into the driver's seat. Vasco climbed into the passenger, Hawk manned the gun, and Luke sat beside him. Vasco punched the rest of the glass out with his armored hand and John drove the team toward the jail house.


"Black Panther to wolves," Toby said over comms, "we're over the DZ. Alpha is waiting for the signal to to go."


"We are almost there," Luke told him. "ETA five mikes."


"Roger."


John pushed on the gas and raced toward the jail house. "There it is," Hawk said.


John slowed the Warthog and parked it near the building. Everyone climbed out and ran to the entrance, weapons raised. "Stack it," Vasco said. The four of them got into either side of the entrance with Vasco and  Hawk at the front. Hawk pulled out a flash grenade it and threw it into the room, shattering the glass in the door. People yelled in confusion and then pain when it went off.


Vasco broke through the rest of the door and fired his MA5B into the crowd of terrorists with Hawk doing the same alongside him. Once they were all dead they both peered through the two adjoining hallways and saw nothing. "Clear," Hawk announced. Luke and John  stepped through with Luke going to the front desk. "Cameras in all the jail rooms, just like we said," Luke told them, looking at the computer screen. "Give me a few minutes."


"Snake eyes to wolves," Matt said over comms, "I have visual on incoming hostiles that are heading to the jail house. There must have been a silent alarm in the system you guys need to move."


"*Osik," John hissed. "Delay them any way you can."


"Roger."


"Wow," Luke said. "Easier than I thought. All surveillance is down."


"Wolves to Alpha team," Vasco said over comms. "You're clear to engage."


"Copy," Derek replied.


"Luke and I will take the left," John said. Vasco nodded and he and Hawk ran to the right.


Meanwhile, the Spartan team jumped through the Black Panther's bay doors and into the rainy night. Their armored bodies descended down on the roof top. "Activate jet packs in three," Derek told them. The seconds passed and their jet packs roared to life and propelled them forward a little bit, allowing the speed of their drop to not kill or injure them. They let themselves drop the reset of the forty meters.


"Marl, Nick, keep over watch here to help Matt in delaying the terrorists," Derek ordered.


"Aye," Nick replied while laying down with his suppressed DMR aimed at the streets.


"Turbo, with me." The two Spartans ran to the side of the building, drop the jet packs, kneeled over and punched in a demolition sequence on them and then attached them to the wall. They ran back as a deafening explosion boomed in the night. Debris flew out, leaving a large entrance. Without a word the two Spartans ran with their MA5Bs and into the hole where they were met by prisoners and guards.


The guards opened fire instantly, their rounds missing by inches. Turbo aimed and fired, dodging projectiles and killing a few terrorist. Derek immediately barreled roles inside and shot and killed the rest. The prisoners looked at them all in awe and fear. All except Rook, who was grinning ear to hear. Derek walked over to him and tore the bars away. "Are all of them politicians?" Turbo asked. Rook nodded. Derek turned to where he remembered the Governor being and was met by an empty cell. "*Stang it," he hissed. "Turbo,  is our target over there?"


"Neg," he answered while freeing the rest of the prisoners. "Don't worry," John said over comms. "She was in the interrogation room, we got her. Is Black Panther set?"


"Almost, Toby replied, who was positioning the ship in front of the entrance. "All section three material is locked and the ship is Civvie proof."


Live firing rounds was suddenly heard outside. "Hostiles are near the front office," Marl said. "We gotta move."


The the other team raced up the stairs with the rest of the prisoners while the Black Panther's bay doors lay rested inside. "Up into the ship, let's move!" Luke shouted. All the politicians ran up the ramp. "*Osik, their inside!" Nick yelled. Both teams leaped up into the ship with Marl and Nick jumping inside last. "Matt get out of there and send coordinates near by your location to pick you up," Vasco said.


"Aye."


The Black Panther locked her bay doors and flew away from the wreckage and into the night.





THE NEXT DAY


BLACK PANTHER'S BRIDGE



"Did you retrieve the rest of the prisoners?" The ONI officer asked.


"Yes, sir." Toby replied. "All accounted for and all innocent."


"Good. How is Governor Arden?"


"Fine," Luke answered sheepishly. "We found her slightly injured from interrogation."


"Fine. A fleet is on it's way. Once it arrives you are to board with one of her cruisers and drop the Governor off and then meet with The Swan and her fleet."


"Understood," John said. The ONI officer nodded and vanished once again. All of them filtered out the bridge where they were met by Sarah Arden. "Oh, I'm sorry," she told them in a clean voice. "I just came to thank you all for your service. I'd imagine it's difficult work for black ops people like yourselves."


"We're not-" Matt started to say.


"No problem, Ma'am," Luke said, smiling. "Just another day for us."


Sarah smiled and said, "Is it alright if I look around the place,"


"Yes, I'll show you around," Luke told her, walking swiftly and guiding her through out the ship.


"Ten bucks says we find them making out in the weapons arsenal," Nick said. Everyone laughed.

"Let em' be," Matt said.

"Yeah. Work will come soon anyway."

CHAPTER THREE: GHOSTS Edit

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The Swan FLEET

UNSC PROWLER Black Panther

DECEMBER 2530

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Everyone laid asleep in their cabins. Two, full months of non stop deployments left them all exhausted.  The time read 1:30 AM. All eleven of them didn't have to get up for work for the next four hours.


However, this time was different.


The alarm for the ONI officer's call blared all of a sudden, causing all the operatives to shoot up in surprise. Quickly, they all got into working fatigues and raced to the bridge. Most of them got there fast enough to see Marl press on the transmitter.


The ONI officer appeared as a hologram, uniform pressed and clean with arms behind his back. "Good morning gentleman," he greeted. "You gotta be *kriffing kidding me," Rook breathed. "It's-"


John put a hand up to stop him. "What's the mission?"


"A few weeks ago, we had a large scale invasion on Avlera IV. Their ships broke through the Covenant blockade and sent marines down. A team of Spartans went with them to take out high targets and do reconnaissance. One day, they were scouting ahead when the marines suddenly lost contact with them. They were about to investigate when enemy reinforcements arrived and destroyed most of the fleet. For this deployment you have two objectives. The primary one is to locate the missing team of Spartans. If that cannot be done, you are to help the marines take over Covenant areas or get them out when the time comes."


"What do you mean most of the fleet?" Turbo asked.


"They were forced to retreat. Most left the system while the rest went down to the surface."


"OPSEC?" Toby asked.


"They've already seen section three material so you are clear to say what unit you are part of, however, agents, use an alias."


"Understood," Luke said.


"If you're between a rock and a hard place, I won't be able to help you. You are to initiate the Cole Protocol. Good luck." The hologram vanished.


"I did not like how he worded that," Derek muttered. "First it was referring to Spartans as 'material' but what made me more worried was when he mentioned the Cole Protocol."


"So?" John asked. "He's reminded us of it plenty times of it before."


"But remember when he did though," Hawk said. "We lost Spike, Whiteman, and we nearly got killed on Cyron."


The room went silent. "Although that has happened," Vasco said, "we have a job to do. We have listed MIAs and marines that are alone and depleted. Even though he said our primary objective was to find those Spartans," he looked at Derek, "we will find those marines first."


Derek nodded in agreement. "Let's move," he said.





THE NEXT DAY

AVLERA IV SYSTEM



The Black Panther rested in a concealed area of odd looking vegetation. Some of the plants glowed and were colored in light hues of green and blue.  The trees were abnormally tall and dense. The bark of the trees stood out the most: it felt soft and leathery like skin but was still hard.


The task force trudged through with two columns and the Spartans up ahead. "Nothing on scanners," Nick told them. "Toby, are you sure you  read the device right?"


"Affirmative," he answered. "Should be a few miles up. Just keep moving."


For the next several hours the teams marched through the forests until Turbo raised a fist. "Heard a noise, checking it out," he whispered as he crouched and slowly moved upwards. Derek made gestures with his hands and the rest of the Spartan team spread out to form a line right behind Turbo while the rest of the team  crouched and readied themselves.


"Friendlies," he announced. Everyone stood up and jogged toward him where they saw vast numbers of men and women in UNSC marine armor.  Tents laid everywhere and about three hundred yards from it was a battered UNSC supply ship. The task force walked down, not being noticed for a few minutes. "I don't think this many people will be able to take over bases," Matt observed. "We might have to pull out."


"Quality over quantity, staff," Vasco told him.


Soon, some marines walked toward them.


"I'm Captain Marshall," greeted one of them. "My men call me Slammer. I'm Bravo Company's officer."


"Is this all of you?" John asked. "As for as we know, yes. Three battalions were sent down here. We last heard that the 5th Battalion 11th Marines had control of a Covenant base. The other failed to report their status. However, we managed to get a weak signal from the 5th Battalion but not strong enough to establish communications."


"Then they must be alive," Marl said. The captain shook his head. "The hinge heads some times like to get ahold of our devices and learn from the connection where our position is. That happened to the platoon that was investigating the disappearance of our Spartan team."



John and Luke exchanged a look. "We were sent down to find them," Luke told Marshall. "That and to continue the campaign."


"We can't," Marshall said in a tired voice. "Most of the men and women you see walking are wounded. The rest are in the infirmary tents which we have kept isolated. Sending us on another assault would be suicide."


"We will speak with command," Derek said through his visor.


ONE HOUR LATER


TACTICAL OPERATIONS COMMAND TENT



"Hmmm," the ONI officer went. "Giving up the campaign would be a strategic loss. Avlera has been one of the Covenant's biggest supply systems. I will speak with command. For now, you need to locate the missing Spartans, call sign 'Ghosts'.


"Understood."


The ONI officer nodded and vanished. "This will be *stang hard," Nick muttered. "Scanning and sending large numbers is not an option."


"Agreed," John said. "I say we send two of our ODSTs and all Spartans while the rest monitor comms and scanners."


"Sounds good," Vasco said. "Toby and I could go."


John nodded. "Let's get to work."



* * *




Darkness enveloped the planet as the Spartans and ODSTs traveled the forests on mongooses. With some work on the engines and motors, the vehicle didn't make much noise.


"TOC to Seeker Actual," Matt said, "you are nearing last known location of marine platoon, over."


"Roger that, dismounting," Toby said as they all stopped. They swept their weapons up and down, looking for any signs of the enemy. They slowly walked forward, making sure not to step on any twigs or branches. Turbo sniffed. "Smell that?" He asked. "Smells like some thing burning," Marl said. "Move up quietly," Vasco warned.


They all formed themselves in a long line and silently creeped up a small hill. Everyone stopped to a halt as they all saw a raging fire with Elites surrounding it. "Seeker Actual to TOC," Nick whispered, "we have a group of hostiles that only seem to have energy swords. Engage?"


"Your call, Seeker," John said.


"We're engaging," Toby growled. "Those *chakkares are burning marines."


"Circle area," Derek ordered. Everyone slowly trudged quietly to where they surrounded the Elites. "On my mark. Three....Two...Now!"


Suppressed shots from their MA5Bs and DMRs seared in the night. The Elite's armor seemed to shimmer as the bullets hit them. "*Firefek, they have shields!" Vasco yelled. The Elites roared and ignited their energy swords. They all charged toward them with only a few dropping dead. "Move in!" Derek shouted. Once the Elite neared him he shot a few more rounds and punched him in the jaw. The Elite stumbled, roaring louder and swung his energy sword. Derek grabbed his wrist midway and kicked him in the stomach, destroying his shield. The Elite dropped on his back and Derek shot the rest of his magazine, killing him.


"*Osik, I'm jammed!" Vasco yelled in frustration. An Elite tackled him from behind and pinned him to the ground. Vasco struggled as he roared into his blue visor. Suddenly some thing dropped behind on the Elite's back and a knife jutted out between its neck, causing purple blood to gush outwards and onto his helmet.


That some thing pulled the corpse off Vasco. He wiped the blood off his visor, looked up, and saw a black, steel armored body loom over him holding a drenched knife. His cracked visor stared at Vasco. "After two *kriffing weeks of being stuck in this *osik hole of a planet," the Spartan began, removing his helmet, "I thought I'd never be found."


He helped Vasco up. "Thanks, Helljumper." The rest of the team was now with them. "Seeker Actual to TOC," Marl said, "we found a Ghost."



* * *



"I'm Rainer," the Spartan said. "I was providing outer security with one of the other Spartans of my team while the rest were taking an outpost. It was just about secured when Covenant troop carriers had been deployed. We were stuck in an eight hour firefight. We started getting casualties and soon became overrun. My teammate and I were forced to make a run for it and had gotten separated. I last had contact with one of them ten miles north east of here."


"Toby, take Rainer back to the TOC. We'll continue searching until sunrise," Vasco said.


Three hours after they found one of the missing Spartans, the rest of the team was beyond exhausted. They were sleep deprived and ravenous for food. But they continued searching for the lost soldier.


Derek was just about to tell everyone to stop for a ten minute break when he noticed imprints on the ground. He held up a fist to signal their small convoy to a halt. He hopped off and crouched down, inspecting the foot print. "What is it?" Vasco said, walking up to him. "It's a big *shebs footprint," Derek observed. "And there's hair." He stood up. "We're following some Brutes."


Vasco looked up and saw billowing smoke in the in the distance. "And another camp, about a mile or so."


"We should just dismount and walk from here to not cause much noise," Nick told them. Derek nodded. "I'll take point."



The five of them trudged carefully through the forest and stopped when they neared another camp fire. This time the group of Brutes had a body tied up in front of the flames. "*Stang," Turbo whispered. "I think we found the other Ghost."


"Seeker Actual to TOC," Vasco said, "we found another enemy camp with possible target as hostage, over."


"Copy Seeker," John replied. "Proceed with caution."


"We could avoid another firefight," Derek told them. "Anyone have a smoke canister?"


Turbo pulled one out and shook it. "Good. Move up,"


All of them silently jogged into position with weapons raised. "Smoke out in three," Derek whispered. "Hold," Marl suddenly said. "That's not our's. Look closer."


In both shock and revulsion the others soon realized it was yet another mutilated body of a marine. "God I hate this place," Vasco hissed. "Move in."


Shots sprung out from the forest and conjured on the camp, killing Brutes and causing others to bellow out war cries as they brought out Covenant weapons and war hammers. The five of them moved up. The last one was racing toward Nick when a final plasma bolt to the head brought the Brute crashing down at Nick's feet. Everyone looked up in shock as a black armored Spartan loomed over the fire holding a Covenant rifle. Suddenly he trembled and collapsed. "Firefe-" before Derek could murmur the rest of his sentence a roar sounded in the distance. "They heard us," Marl said. "Get the body let's move!"


Turbo ran to the Spartan and slugged him over his shoulder and ran with the others with difficulty. Plasma bolts soared past them as they mounted their mongooses. The motors hummed now louder, being forced to almost impossible speeds. "Oh, *osik," Nick breathed. "They have revenants!"


A cannon ball of plasma energy soared in the air and exploded against one of the trees, sending it crashing down. "*Firefek!" Derek shouted. Suddenly a revenant was beside them. Before an order or a word could be said, Nick and Marl jumped off their mongoose and onto the covenant vehicle, shooting and killing the two Brutes that manned it. "*Kriff, this," Nick hissed.


"What the *firefek are you doing!" Derek roared.


"Get out of here!" Marl yelled back. Without another word, Nick and Marl fired back at the enemy with their plasma cannon, allowing the rest of the team to get back safely.




* * *



It was an hour after dawn when the mongooses pulled up at the Black Panther. The rest of the task force waited expectantly with tired eyes. In silence, Turbo carried the body into the medical bay while Derek told John what happened.


"We have to go back," Derek said. "Marl and Nick are still out there."


John stopped him. "Sorry, chief, we have to move."


Derek stared at him with an almost withering glare. "What?"


John sighed. "After reporting you found one of the Ghosts, Marshall had gotten on to comms telling us that a Covenant warship had reached the system."


"We have time," Derek argued. "No we don't," John replied tiredly. "That warship is equipped with a sonic plasma repulser."


Derek's eyes widened. "Their going to glass the planet."




SIX HOURS LATER


SLIPSPACE


UNSC PROWLER Black Panther



"I'm Master Chief Petty Officer Hunter."


Half of the crew had gone into the medical bay to meet the Spartan they rescued from Alvera. Her raven black hair rested at her jaw line and a scar traveled down from the right side of her fore head to the tip of her mouth. Her grey eyes examined every thing with precision.


"Hunter, what the *kriff happened?" Rainer asked. "You were in the middle of that firefight."


"I ran with Sam, Amadeus, and Iron," she said. "Not knowing where you or Alex went we rendezvoused with a marine platoon that had been searching for us. We were getting ready to travel back to their base when a contingent of Brutes and Elites ambushed us. They killed Sam and Iron and all the marines. Amadeus was injured badly. I found a Warthog, but before I could drive it Amadeus died from too much blood loss. I buried him, and then had to walk. After a while I soon realized that the Brutes were hunting me down. Too tired and weak I had gotten slow and they found me. I killed only a few but eventually they had me unconscious."


Hunter said all in a far away glance and without emotion. She looked back at Rainer. "Was Alex with you?"


"For a limited time, yes," he sighed. The medical bay went silent.


"I'm sorry for your loss," Hunter told Vasco.


"Don't beat yourself up about it," he replied, arms crossed. "Welcome aboard the Black Panther."





CHAPTER FOUR: INFERNO Edit

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Hunter's and Rainer's gear

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UNSC PROWLER Black Panther

UNKNOWN LOCATION IN SPACE


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"I know you all are tired from your last mission," the ONI officer said, "but others are too occupied. Now," he began, "After you left Situs III, some of ONI intelligence tracked that Covenant cruiser. We decided to take note at each of the systems it stopped. Each one was confirmed to be Covenant based. Once we had enough Intel, we discussed full  assaults on all the systems. However," he paused, grimacing, "at the same time, that same Covenant cruiser and an entire armada arrived at an UNSC based world, Nicord, and had all human inhabited locations glassed within four days."


"*Stang," Turbo murmured. "When was this?"


"During your operation on Sepia and the time you were on leave. Fortunately, though, intelligence discovered that a Prophet was with the Covenant forces."


"How is this 'fortunate'?" Toby asked.


"Not only do we know that the Covenant are planning full scale invasions on UNSC FOBs, we now know where all they are being staged."


"Command wants us to to take out this Prophet?" Vasco asked.


"Affirmative. Without the Prophet, all Covenant forces will be leaderless. While you're deployed, a fleet will be on stand by and will arrive with a platoon of ODSTs and two battalions of marines. You will participate in the campaign and leave orbit once the planet is under UNSC control. However, if you are compromised, we won't be able to send support. You'll have to evade Covenant forces as long as possible until help arrives. Your primary agenda is to eliminate The Prophet of Knowledge, confiscate any available data, and neutralize nearby Covenant compounds. This will be filed as Operation Inferno. Good luck."


The hologram vanished. "Our team was once tasked with a similar mission," Hunter said from the back, arms crossed and leaning against the wall in fatigues. "Did you have to fight some hinge heads?" Matt asked.


"Some, but overall it was a textbook assassination. Our sniper just go into his FFP and took the target out while we surrounded the entire enemy AO."


"Let's just hope it'll be just as simple," Derek muttered.





THREE DAYS LATER

PLANET NICORD

COVENANT BASE




"Chalk One to Alpha," Hawk said, "we're in position, over."


"Roger Chalk One. Ghosts, sit rep?" John asked.


"No sign of HVT. This looks like an outpost," Rainer told them.


"Copy. Call sign Snake Eyes, you there?" Luke asked.


Static rippled in response over comms. The night had settled in and shrouded the teams into darkness, creating them all into shadows. The Black Panther stayed hidden in the distance.


Finally Matt responded. "I read you. You're clear to engage."


"Roger. Chalk One, waiting on your signal."


Vasco pulled away from comms and looked at Toby who held the M6 Grindel. He nodded and in silence, Toby hefted the laser cannon, aimed down at the vehicles, and pulled the trigger.


A string of red light ignited and hit the Covenant vehicles. It exploded in a mess of shrapnel and debris while  also creating a domino effect with the others. A massive fire collected outside the main buildings with some Grunts, Elites, and Brutes sprawled on the ground, leaving the others in confusion.


Matt took aim and fired at the survivors while everyone else moved inside the defenses with charges in hand. All four Spartans went into the smaller buildings individually, searching and downloading data.


Hunter just finished downloading when a sudden roar made her turn around at the exit. A massive, armored Brute stood in her way. She quickly brought out her suppressed M7 and fired, causing, to her dismay, the Brute's shield to shimmer. Before she could destroy it, the Brute charged inside with a War hammer. As he began to bring it down on her she caught the shaft of it, pulled it out of the Brute's grasp and emptied the rest of her magazine into his face.


"Ghost Two, get the *firefek out of there," Hawk said. "Quit haulin' *shebs."


Hunter raced out and back into the forest, plasma bolts being shot from behind. They suddenly ceased from Matt's sniper rifle. Once she was clear of the Covenant area, an explosion boomed. The outpost was consumed in flames.


"Nice work," Turbo said. All the teams met up and traveled back to the Black Panther while Banshees circled the area.



Once they arrived, dawn approached. The ODSTs and Spartans detached some of their gear and removed their helmets while the agents and Toby retrieved the stolen data and plugged it in to the ship's review system. "What did we get?" Vasco asked, peering inside the room.


"A lot, some of it irrelevant," a light, British voice said. "Overall a great start." A hologram formed and Vasco soon realized it was an AI in a heavy, dark coat.  "I'm Spector," he greeted. "Hello, Gunnery Sergeant Vasco. The Office of Naval Intelligence programmed me into this ship before you bunch boarded. But about eight years ago they wiped my memory and I couldn't operate her until Sergeant Toby discovered me and had it all fixed"


"He's a pain in the *shebs once in a while but he's a great little AI," Rook told him, never taking his eyes off the screen.


John walked inside then. "Okay, people. What do we have?"


"Locations, dates of shipments, ship's IDs, officer names, almost every thing we need," Luke told him. "Nothing on possible POWs, landing bays, or our target."


"How many locations are there?"


"Four. One is an Air Force base, an bunker, an outpost, and another I'm guessing is their main fortress of operations. Our Prophet can be any where."


"Hold on, Agent," Spector said. "Look here."


The AI pulled up an article filled with Covenant symbols, having them all translated to the right. "These are lists of convoys," Luke murmured. Derek walked over and took a look. "One's packed full with Wraiths, Revenants... *stang, even a few *kriffing Phantoms."


"Where were they heading?" Derek asked.


"I don't know," Luke answered. "They could've turned back after our attack."


"With their Prophet, no," John said. "Hinge heads aren't stupid. They should have brought him some where where it's not easy to detect."


"One of their bunkers?" Vasco offered. "That is a start. Luke, where's the nearest from that base?" John asked.


Luke went back to the last piece of data. "Thirty miles,"'he answered.


"We should probably do a silent reconnaissance mission," John said, turning to Vasco.


"I'll get 'em," he said, turning and exiting the room. He went inside where Rainer, Hunter, Hawk, and Matt were. "Matt, Hawk, get some sleep. Spartans, you too. You all have an SR mission in six hours."





12 HOURS LATER


52 MILES AWAY FROM Black Panther


COVENANT BUNKER




The two ODSTs crawled up the tall hill in the night until they had a large view of the bunker and the Covenant forces surrounding it. Hawk unshouldered the sniper rifle while Matt had the suppressed MA5B ready. "In position," Hawk whispered. "Ghosts, you all have visual?"


"Affirmative," Rainer replied over comms.


"Heavily protected as predicted," Matt observed through his enhanced binoculars. "Looks like-oh *osik!" He suddenly gasped. "Hawk, far left."


Hawk moved his rifle to the left and saw the Prophet of Knowledge speaking with one of the Elites. "Death Wish to TOC, we have eyes on HVT I repeat we have eyes on HVT over," he said quickly.


"Copy. Take him out and get your *shebs back here ASAP."


Hawk lined his sights up, took a deep breath, and pulled the trigger.


The sniper rifle boomed for miles and the bullet soared. It struck the Prophet, causing his head to rear to the side and having purple blood gush every where. "Confirmed hit, let's move!" Matt shouted.


Hawk attached his rifle to his back, got out his suppressed DMR and sprinted toward the the gun less Warthog. As they ran, Brutes and Elites suddenly appeared in Revenants and on foot. The Elites charged with energy swords sparkling while the Brutes stood and fired plasma rifles with only a few charging with war hammers.


Matt threw a frag grenade, exploding and killing only a few as they continued running. "*Firefek, Hunter, where-"


The sound of a vehicle motor humming could be heard. Suddenly a Warthog drove in, veered, and slammed into a few of the Elites while at the same time Rainer jumped out spraying a full suppressed magazine from his assault rifle into the platoon. The Revenant fired at the Warthog, causing it to explode in a fiery rage of heat and metal.


They all roared in fury and confusion, shooting at the Spartans. Matt fired a few of his rounds. "Hawk get to the Warthog!" He yelled.


Hawk sprinted off into the darkness at full speed, getting closer and closer to their ride with the two Spartans and Matt covering him.


Hunter aimed and shot a few rounds from her MA5B. The Revenants went else where, searching for Hawk. One of the Elites charged forward with an ignited energy sword in hand. She tried firing at him but found that her magazine was empty. Before reaching down for her M6 pistol the Elite tried grabbing by her neck in an attempt to choke her.


She brought up her armored knee to his stomach, causing him to cough up purple blood. Hunter grabbed hold of his arm, swerved him around and had him pinned. She kicked him down and then quickly brought out her pistol and emptied the entire clip into his body.


Meanwhile Hawk was almost to the Warthog when a Revenant floated in front of him from his right. "*Osik," he muttered. The Revenant fired its plasma cannon, exploding behind Hawk only a couple yards. He kept running at full speed with the Revenant unsure what to do. Suddenly Hawk jumped onto the hood of it, emptied his magazine into the driver and jumped off the back and then finally found their vehicle. He jumped into the driver's seat, keyed the ignition, and drove the vehicle toward the others.


Matt covered the two Spartans as they all leap frogged from the Covenant forces. "I got the Warthog," Hawk told them over comms. Matt looked over and saw the Warthog parked with its trailer facing them. "About time. Smoke out!" Rainer yelled as he hopped into the back with Matt and Hunter while dropping a smoke canister.


"Death Wish to TOC," Hunter said, "We need to go dark to hide from enemy scanners. Did you get the fleet?"


"Yes. Waiting for you at the Black Panther."


"Roger, going dark."


The four of them turned off all armor systems and removed their helmets. Matt noticed some thing glimmer on Hunter's belt and realized it was the hilt of an energy sword.  "Did you steal one of their energy swords? Matt asked.


Hunter unclipped it from her belt to show him and Rainer. "It may sound awful, but I've always found these fascinating."


"Hey Matt," Hawk said from the driver's seat. "Once I took a Brute's war hammer."


"Yeah, I remember."




THE NEXT DAY


UNSC PROWLER Black Panther


12 HOURS SINCE THE ASSASSINATION OF THE PROPHET OF KNOWLEDGE




UNSC Long Swords soared through the sky. Pelicans were every where. All of Task Force 7 waited outside Black Panther for one. After a while, a Pelican came into view and descended over them.


The bay doors opened and revealed a marine pilot. Everyone stepped up inside. "I'm Corporal Archer," the pilot greeted, shaking hands with John. "Lieutenant Jake," John said, using his alias. "Where are you taking us, Corporal?"


"COP Foxtrot, LT," he replied, heading to the pilot's seat. "Their gathering all the platoons up for an assault. That reminds me." He turned around and looked at the ODSTs. "Head shed told me to keep you guys and transport you to one of the cruisers."


"What for?" Toby asked.


"You're doing a drop with the rest of the ODST platoon behind enemy lines. Everyone else is at the front."


Without another word the marine pilot transported the Task Force to the combat outpost.




* * *



It was still afternoon and the battalion of marines and a Scorpion tank were traveling down toward the Covenant base while three others like them were doing the name on the other parts of the planet, trying to retake the world.


Turbo, Derek, Rainer, Hunter, Rook, and Luke traveled ahead in separate Warthogs. "Been a while since we've done an assault like this, eh Derek?" Turbo said.


"Yeah. Indis. That was fun," he said, smiling from under his visor. "You two do any thing like this?"


"Neg," Rainer replied. "Too many *kriffing covert ops. The closest we've been is one of our simulations on Reach."


Hunter stayed silent, monitoring all the comm channels. "Luke," Rainer said, "I noticed the picture of that girl. What's the story?"


"You *kriffers really are ghosts," Luke muttered.


Rook laughed. "Brother that's a long story. See, we were doing a hostage rescue on Sepia when a Governor Sarah Arden was taken from some innies. Those two fell hard for each other and have been in a relationship ever since."


"We caught him singing her to her once," Turbo said chuckling. They all laughed.


"Covenant base is one click ahead," Hunter interrupted. "They want us to barrage them with the two chain guns for a while and then go on foot."


"Rog."




Meanwhile all the ODST marines were preparing for an orbital drop. "Get ready, Jar Heads!" Barked the platoon's staff sergeant. "Let's move! Time for another hell jump!"


"Oorah!" Roared all the marines as they prepared their weapons and fitted the rest of their gear.


"This brings back some memories," Hawk said, slipping on his helmet.


Vasco laughed. "I miss them." The platoon's staff sergeant walked over to Vasco. "Hey gunny," he greeted, shaking hands with him with a firm grip. "I'm Staff Sergeant Shade."


"Vasco. This is Matt, Hawk, and Toby."


He nodded. "See you on the ground," he said as he walked away to his drop pod. The rest did the same and tried to get comfortable. "For some reason I was never a fan of these," Toby muttered.


"Don't worry, I'll hold your hand," Matt said, grinning.


"Shut up."


"Orbital drop in ten," one of the marines said. The pod's doors slowly closed and was sealed tight. The seconds passed and suddenly every thing went dark. Then, all the ODSTs rocketed down to the surface.


"All units check in," Staff Sergeant Shade yelled once they were half way to the ground. Ranks and names were heard over comms.


"Once we land in the DZ surround the base. I want FTs Alpha and Bravo infiltrating inside with the rest neutralizing all hostiles."


Down below, everyone could see the Covenant structures and the hundreds of Jackals and Elites around it.


The pods landed with a deafening thump. Matt, Toby, Hawk, and Vasco kicked their's open and sprinted toward the base's entrance while the rest of the ODST platoon fought with the rest of the Covenant forces


"Snipers, twelve up!" Toby yelled as he fired his M7 at nearby Elites. Matt took aim with his DMR, saw the needle rifle carrying Jackals, shot and killed each one. An Elite started to charge up two Vasco. He emptied the magazine in his MA5B, putting the hinge head to death. "Where's Bravo?" Hawk yelled as they all stacked on the entrance. "Alpha to Bravo, do you copy?" Toby said, trying to connect to their comm channel. Static crackled in response. Finally a voice came through. "This is Lance Corporal Blaze," the ODST coughed. "I'm wounded, the rest of Bravo is down."


"*Osik!" Vasco hissed. "What's your post-"


"Don't," the ODST said. "I'll get a corpsman later." The connection was caught off.


Toby slammed on the Covenant base's wall. "We have to move," Matt said. "Frag out!"



* * *


THREE DAYS LATER


UNSC PROWLER Black Panther


SLIPSPACE


"The campaign was a success," concluded John. "We managed to download hundred of Covenant data and files."


"Excellent," The ONI officer said. "Because I have another mission."


"What?" Luke exclaimed. "We have been on call for the last five, *kriffing, months! We were supposed to be on leave last week even! Where the *stang are the other task forces?"


Luke continued to yell profanity. No one stopped him-they knew he had every right to be furious. After all, he had a life to get to. The rest didn't.


Finally Hunter went through everyone. "That's enough Lieutenant," she said. She looked at the ONI officer. "What's the mission?" She said carefully.


"A hostage rescue."

CHAPTER FIVE: SHADOWS Edit

PLANET VERETH


LOCATION UNKNOWN


LATE NOVEMBER 2530





The marine woke up in sweat and alarm. He gasped for air. Another nightmare.


He dreamed he was back on Calexo, in a Pelican with his platoon and beside his fiancée, Kathy, who he proposed to even though they were both active service. Out of all the horrible scenarios he dreamed this one was the worse: a Covenant Seraph bombed the hull, creating a large, gaping hole while they were still in the atmosphere. Kathy was being sucked in and was holding on for dear life by his arm. She screamed his name, begging him not to let her die. He lost his grip and she was pulled in through the hole with the others.


Then, as always, he was back on the battleground-his last, actual recollection of what really happened. He trudged through the carnage, weak and wounded. He collapsed and turned over and looked into the sky. And that's when he woke up.


"Finally," a voice said in the dark corner of the room, "you are awake." The voice sounded as if it had a difficult time pronouncing human words, especially English. "Wh-what, do you want?" The marine stammered. For the past month he had been starved and interrogated for information. Now, he was up to his breaking point.


The source of the voice walked out of the shadows and loomed over him. "Are you ready to work with us?"





* * *



PLANET VERETH



SECTOR "KILO"

FEBRUARY 2531



DAY EIGHT OF DEPLOYMENT




"Breaching in three...two...one!"


The door swung ajar with two Spartans rushing in, guns firing into the crowd of hostiles. They all piled up into one bloody heap, save for one who stood defiantly with his M7 raised. Turbo snatched it away and slammed the man onto the table. Derek removed his helmet and walked over to Turbo as he held the person down.


"I'm not going to waste any time," Derek growled. "Talk or get shot."


"You wouldn't," the man snarled.


Without hesitation, Derek calmly reached for his M6 pistol and shot the man in the foot. He yelled in pain as blood quickly poured onto the floor. "Okay, okay!" The man pleaded. "I'll talk!"


Turbo released his grip to let him stand up. Once off the table, he punched the man toward the temple with his gauntlet hand, causing him to collapse and go unconscious. "Ghost One, did you find any thing?" Derek asked after slipping his helmet back on.


"Negative, Alpha," Rainer replied. "Not even Intel. We're RV-ing with the marines on the street."


Derek sighed. "Roger that. We have a prisoner to take with. We'll meet you down there in five."


"Eight days and still nothing," Turbo muttered, slinging the man onto his shoulder with ease. "Getting real tired of this."



Derek grunted-he was too. ONI and the high brass of UNSC in Sydney had tasked them with investigating the disappearance of a marine sergeant major that was suspected to be giving the Covenant vital information. They were working with the battalion that the missing marine was from. For the past eight days, they had been providing security while some of Task Force Seven would clear buildings that they thought would contain their hostage.


The two Spartans  walked out into the street with the body. A few of the marines eyed them as they walked over to the Pelican where Rainer, Hunter, Matt, and Hawk waited. "This is Ghost Two," Hunter said. "We're RTB with Intel, over."


"Copy, Ghost Two," one of the marine's operation officers replied. "Sierra One Niner and Actual will escort you back to Silver Crow."


"Roger, Ghost Two out."


The Pelican lifted into the air with all six of them and took them back to command. "Finally," Matt said. "One *chakkare that doesn't kill himself."


"Don't jinx it," Derek told him. "Remember the *sheb'ese we took from Sector Charlie?"


Hawk laughed. "How could we? He jumped out of the *kriffing Falcon."


After an hour, all six of them felt the Pelican descend. The bay doors slowly, crept open, revealing the Silver Crow's hangar. Sailors and other crew members bustled about.


The man they captured stirred. "What...where," he muttered as he gradually regained consciousness. "Alright, wake up," Rainer barked, picking him up by the shoulders and shoving him out toward the ramp. The man stumbled and dragged himself out, mumbling.


Everyone removed their helmets except Rainer as they walked toward Task Force Seven's command room. A conversation could be heard from the outside before Derek opened the door.


John and Vasco were talking with a woman in a Naval officer's uniform with Rook, Toby, and Luke behind them. Marines stood guard by the door.


The conversation came to a halt once the six of them had entered. "How was the raid?" John asked.


"Uneventful," Turbo replied. "Except we bagged that little *chakkare. Thought he might have Intel."


"Ah. This is Captain Mercy by the way," he introduced. "Officer of the ship." She walked over to them to shake their hands. "It's a pleasure," she told them, smiling. "I came down to let you know that some of the battalion's COs are conducting a massive invasion into Sector Zulu unless you find our HVT in the next two weeks."


"Sector Zulu?" Hawk said. "That's clear across the other side of the continent-we haven't even surveyed that part yet."


"They've already deployed three recon units. But this is not the only reason why I came down here."


She let out a sigh before finishing. "Before getting on to their troop transport, a couple marines spotted an onlooker in one of the buildings. Five of them went up to investigate and reported nothing except a plasma pistol."


"So it's black market merchandise?" Toby said.


"You would think, but the rest of the planet is swamps and  forests. None of the sectors have black market networks."


"*Stang," Vasco muttered. "With these guys and the Covenant it's going to be a *kriffing mess."


"Because of this," the admiral went on, "I have given you clearance to execute, engage, or investigate any being and location. In other words, any collateral damage or any thing that some stiff politician or REMF will use will not be reported."


"Isn't this operation classified?" Toby asked.


"It was, until the marines had gotten involved," she explained. "The government began sticking their noses into this and started demanding all information regarding it all. Once it was given, it spread faster than a wild fire. *Osikky lawyers trying to make a buck started their own investigations on any civilian casualties and started making cases. All of that cannot happen unless I report all incidents of the matter."


"In that case, thank you, Ma'am," Matt said.


"Any time," Mercy said, walking out. "Just get those *stang hinge heads."






PLANET VERETH


THREE DAYS LATER


"ECHO" SECTOR



"General Vau," the Sanghelli captain greeted. "There are human recon units to the west. Should we deploy our mercenaries?"


"Yes," Vau replied. "Supply them with all black market UNSC weapons."


The captain nodded and walked away. The general himself went in the other direction to gaze out the widow of the building, which he found awful. He always regarded human architecture as dull and too barbaric, unlike the elegant work on his home world on Sanghelios. Of course, that's what happens when the gods do not even give you the resources to make them, he thought.


Ever since Vau's career changing siege on Calexo, he and the other officers have interrogated the human worm they captured. Much to his surprise, the marine resisted all there works of torture for weeks, granting a small, twinge of respect from Vau. But, like every warrior, he had his breaking point.


He wanted to dispose the ugly creature after he gave them valuable information, but one of the Prophets ordered him to continue their work. This irritated Vau deeply along with the rest of his command. They were infantry, not special operations after all. They managed, gathering humans as supporters who some how hated the UNSC more than the Covenant did.


Vau was lost in thought for a few moments when the familiar sound of a rotor came to his ears. It was light, almost undetectable from the tattering of the rain outside. Cautious, he walked up the stairs that led to the rooftop and looked up into the stormy night sky. As water poured over his Sanghelli white and red armor, he noticed the distinct shapes of Falcons and a Pelican in the distance. Vau cursed and raced back inside, knowing that one of the Covenant's most valuable assets is now endangered of being found.




* * *




The ODSTs, marines, and agents flew across the city in the darkness of night on their Falcons and Pelican. Lightning striked in the distance and the rain poured down.


"CAT Bravo One and Two is inbound to LZ," John said over comms. "Marines, get ready to fast rope on your drop zone."


"Copy on last," their team leader replied.


The Pelican turned and flew to the designated spot and hovered over one of the rooftops where the marines fast roped on to it. Meanwhile, the Falcons continued their course. "What's the scoop on Sector Echo?" Hawk asked.


"Not much, a little sketchy though," Luke told him. "Other than possible Elites in the area. Not much proof to verify, so we're not sure."


"Over LZ," the pilot announced. The Falcons slowly descended and rested near the building. Both teams exited, scanning up and down for targets. "Area clear," Rook yelled over the rotor wash. "Delta One Six and Five Two, you're good to go."


"Roger, Bravo," one of the pilot's replied. "Good luck." The Falcons rose back up and left the two teams of ONI agents and ODSTs. "There are two entrances to the place," Vasco told them. "We'll go ahead and move to the back. Let us know when to engage."


John nodded. "Let's move."



The next few minutes was spent bounding and moving from cover-to-cover, trying to reach the eastern entrance as safely as possible. Finally, the ONI agents reached and stacked onto either side of it.


"Vasco, we're in position, over," Luke said.


"Same. On your mark, spook."


"Three, two, one, go!"


John kicked the door wide opened while Rook threw in a flash grenade. It went off and the two agents flooded in, M6 and M7  raised.


The entrance had led them into an empty warehouse area with stairs leading to the next level. "All clear," John called out. "Bravo One, we're staying off comms until emergency."


"Roger. Gunny out."


"Nothing here," Rook said, looking around. "Getting next door."


He jogged up the stairs with Luke and John behind him. Slowly, he opened the door and swerved his weapon inside, finding nothi-


"Contact!"


He retreated backwards as a flurry of plasma bolts hit the door, missing Rook by inches. "Grenade out!"


The agent reached for a fragmentation grenade and tossed into the room. The all too familiar roar from an Elite was heard right before the grenade exploded. Once it did, the agents raced inside with Rook going first.


One towering Elite was still left standing and was taken out shortly. Luke quickly checked the pulse of the other on the floor behind a table and signaled that he was dead. "Bravo Two to all callsigns," John said when the room was cleared, "Covenant presence is confirmed, I repeat, Covenant presence is confirmed. Requesting immediate support in the air, over."


"Copy Bravo Two. Air support will be up in ten mikes."


"You alright, Rook?" Luke asked.


"Yeah, I'm-"


Suddenly, the next door slammed open and a plasma grenade was thrown out in front of Luke. Rook sprinted, shoved Luke out of the way, and took most of the explosion. The room shook and glass shattered as a couple Elites moved in with carbines raised.


John flipped the table and sprayed his M7 into the squad of hostiles. Luke lied dazed, confused of what happened and struggling to grasp full consciousness. The Elites collapsed in a pool of purple blood.


John went over to Luke and shook him awake. "Come on, mate, wake the *kriff up."


Luke widened his eyes and sat up, seeing Rook beside him, his protective plating seared and smoking. "Rook!" He yelled.


Rook lied motionless and unresponsive.


"Bravo Two, we heard the explosion, is everyone alright?" Matt asked.


"Neg, Rook is down," John replied. "Rest of this building is set up with tangos every where and we can't risk continuing on."


"Copy that."


John connected back to the operation officers. "This is Agent John, I need MEDEVAC in Sector Echo three hundred meters from our AO, over."


"Rog. Foxtrot Actual is available and is on it's way."


"Thank you. Agent John out. Marines," he said, "This is Bravo Two we are coming out of target building for extraction, have us covered."


"Aye."


Without a word, Luke slugged Rook onto his shoulder and went down to the entrance with John covering them.


Meanwhile, the ODSTs were on one of the last levels of the building and were stacked up on a door that lead to a large room.


Hawk cracked it open slightly and tossed a flash grenade inside. It popped and he and Toby rushed inside, hearing the angry bellows from the Elites. They fired their weapons, killing all the blinded Covenant soldiers. "Clear," Toby called. "Moving to the next-"


He was caught off by a sudden firefight outside. Chatter immediately broke out on comms.


"*Osik! Move!"


"Cover fire!"


"Augh, *stang it!"


"Support Group Romeo to command, fire mission!"


The ODSTs froze, the panicked and pained voices roaring in their ears.


"Rooftop, let's move," Vasco barked. The four of them rushed through the stairs to the roof of the building. They ran up where they saw Banshees flying and swooshing above the rooftops, spraying rounds from their plasma cannon on to the squad of marines.


"Seraph inbound!" Matt yelled, causing everyone to instinctively duck.


To the west of them a Covenant Seraph flew and hovered slightly below the building. It's engines roared over the the sound of the circling Banshees. They all got up once they realized where it had gone.


"Get to the hostage!" Vasco yelled as they all sprinted over. They then saw a group of Elites escorting a man who was nothing but skin and bones dressed in ragged clothing. The ODSTs fired, trying to shoot precisely so to not kill the hostage. The Elites roared and covered their comrade as he hoisted the prisoner upwards, who tried to struggle but was too weak compared to the Elite's strength.


Some thing caught Hawk's eye and he looked over. "*Firefek, get down!" He shouted as Banshees flew over, raining plasma bolts on to the rooftop. Everyone stumbled and leaped away from the side.


Toby fired the rest of his magazine at it in full auto with his assault rifle to cover the others. He then turned and began to sprint over when he suddenly felt a sharp, agonizing pain on the side of his chest. He yelled in anguish, the force of the bolt causing him to trip and fall as the Banshee flew off.


"Toby!" Vasco cried, rushing to the side, but was too late.


The ODST struggled to breathe and his vision darken. He closed his eyes, knowing that this was the end as he continued descending farther down to the surface below.


The Seraph was long gone, now flying out into the darkness of night.


"This is Bravo One," Matt muttered. "HVT is gone."





COVENANT SERAPH


BORDERING SECTOR "GOLF"




I am Lance Corporal Nathan Ackinson of the Third Battalion, Sixth Marines.


Long before he heard the rescue teams, Nathan Ackinson could barely remember any thing, only the nickname his friends and fellow soldiers gave to him: Nick-he wasn't even called that most of the time.


For a while he felt like he was under water. Always unable to breathe, all his senses and thoughts drowning and muffled. Then once he heard the familiar popping of rifles they all suddenly melded back together-on the surface once again.


Now he was thinking his way out and he just had a plan.



* * *



Vau stood at the head of the bridge, speaking with the Prophet of Determination.


"This is unsettling, general," the Prophet mused, again getting on the Sanghelli's nerves. "Giving your experience I would think you and your warriors could handle a simple period of interrogation without being compromised.


"I'm sorry, Great One," Vau said. "The humans were tracking us and one of our mercenaries gave them our location. We must rendezvous with a fleet."


The Prophet grunted, seeming bored in his holo transmission. "I have set you my coordinates. Your failure is greatly disappointing, General Vau." With that, he vanished.


The Seraph suddenly shuddered, causing them all to trip and fall. "What was that?" Vau snarled.


"The engines are down!" Yelled one of the lieutenants. "How?"


"There was an explos-"


Half of the bridge was swept by a raging fire, causing the crew to be engulfed into it as they began descending down on top of the buildings.



* * *



Nathan stumbled from the wreckage of the Seraph. Morning began to appear over the horizon, causing the puddles of water on the streets to mirror the rising sun. Every thing looked calm and peaceful, other than burning Seraph.


He looked back at the debris and the bodies of the Elites. Good riddance, he thought, turning back.


He looked up, hearing the sounds of a Pelican near him. He smiled-he was found.


The Pelican came into view and hovered over one of the intersections. It's bay doors opened and a group of marines fast roped down. One, Nathan saw, looked to be a woman and seemed familiar to him.


The squad swept their rifles up and down, scanning for any survivors while the Pelican rested. The woman saw Nathan and called some thing out to her team. Her blue eyes met his and sparkled, as if recognizing him. He gasped. Kathy.


Ignoring all the pain, he ran as fast as he could toward her. Kathy did the same, dropping her assault rifle to the side. They embraced each other, slamming hard into each others arms. Tears streamed down Nathan's eyes. The pain, the suffering, the fear-it was over.









UNSC PROWLER Black Panther


SLIPSPACE


THE NEXT DAY



"During the operation on the target building in sector Echo," John reported to the ONI intelligence officer, "Sergeant Rook pushed Lieutenant Luke out of the way when a group of Elites ambushed us. His protective plating was scorched and his chest was covered in third degree burns. Not being able to continue, I called in evac while Gunnery Sergeant Vasco and his team cleared the rest of the building."


The officer held rested his chin on his hand while listening. "Vasco," he asked, "what happened to Sergeant Toby?"


John stepped away while Vasco took his place. "When we got to the roof, a Banshee provided enemy air support on our position. To cover us, Sergeant Toby fired at it and was sadly shot and fell from the rooftop."


"Have the bodies been recovered?"


"Yes."


"Good. You lads are now off leave until May." The transmission was cut off.


Everyone looked relieved. For months it had been from one deployment to another. It was tiring and they prayed for a few days off.


The Black Panther continued to go off in slipspace, it's crew resting.

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