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Halo: Mercy Kill
Halo Mercy Kill Cover.jpg
''Do what is necessary. Nothing more.''
Protagonist Ash Mitchell

Elena-071

Author Brodie-001
Date Published Started September 24th, 2011

Finished April 6th, 2012

Length 15 Chapters (Roughly 19,213 words upon initial completion.)
Author's Rating 16+, Some harsh language and violence
Next Story Departure

Halo: Shrike

Story Series Sigmaverse
[Source]

Plot Summary

The Great War has ended. The storm has passed.

Not yet.

In 2554, after receiving a hostile message from a man who had long since been thought dead, the Office of Naval Intelligence decides to send one of it's top field agents, accompanied by a small team of elite ODST's and a former team mate, to eliminate the problem. Facing memories of her past and an old friend turned foe, SPARTAN Elena-071 must carry out what she sees as a mercy kill. However, things are not what they seem on the scorched world of Schönheit.

Dramatis Personae

Prologue

1420 Hours, April 3rd, 2554

UNSC Point of No Return, Sol System


The elevator doors slid open. SPARTAN-071 stepped out, accompanied by a grey-suited naval officer. Whatever this was that ONI had called here here for, it was big. crewmen and technicians stepped aside, staring, as she walked calmly past. It must have been unusual for them to see a black-armoured giant like her in their line of work. Most SPARTAN-II's had either gone missing or were killed in the final years of the war. Of course, 'Missing in Action' would be the official cover for all.

The officerled her to a door, and swiped a keycard. An amber light shone on the pad, and a small, blue-lighted camera protruded from the console. It regarded them for a few seconds before retracting. After a series of metallic clicks, the door opened. Rion saluted the Spartan, and walked off.

"Not high enough clearance, huh?". She stepped inside. It was a large, circular room, dominated by a large table. Four men sat on one side. She removed her helmet and sat down; the chair creaked slightly. After a few seconds, the door closed again. No one spoke a word until it did.

"Commander Elena-071, SPARTAN-II, formerly of Sigma-Beta Team?" asked the oldest, a man with thinning black hair..

"Yes sir," she responded.

"I am Admiral John Hawkins." He gestured to his right. "This is Vice-Admiral Joseph Harris, Captain Ryan Samson and First Lieutenant Richard Mack Junior".

They nodded in turn. Elena noticed that barring Mack, whom she had met before, they seemed all quite young for their ranks. She'd heard of Samson by way of rumours circulating around ONI, though the other two were completely unknown to her. Hawkins slid a datapad over the table to her.

"We have a very sensitive assignment for you." She picked it up. "Operation: ASHES. We already have a small team picked out for this assignment. You are required to lead and carry out the primary objective. Turn to page 11, please."

Elena did so. As a Spartan, she had been trained from a young age to conceal her emotions, and years behind a visor had honed that skill. Even so, she worked hard to keep a neutral face, wishing that she had kept her helmet on. Elena's eyes widened at what she saw. It was a planet, or rather, it had been until the Covenant had showed up. There were half a dozen pictures on the screen, first of the colony, Schönheit. Despite it's harsh-sounding name, the planet was named Beauty by it's Germanic settlers. Not that it resembled anything beautiful any more.

The following pictures were of the Covenant attack. Elena knew what had happened that day; she had been there. She had barely escaped the burning planet with her life. Eventually, Schönheit was nothing but a ball of glass, another testament to the destructive power of their alien foe. That had been ten years ago. It was the final pictures that shocked the usually calm and collected Spartan. It was of life.

"These were taken from high orbit from our spy probes in high orbit. They also managed to intercept a looping transmission."

"When?"

"Two days ago. Since then, we've had several of our top AI's look over both the images and the transmission, and they have confirmed our worst fears."

The final picture was of several dozen figures, undoubtedly Covenant, following a single man in black armour. A Spartan. There were also several distinct circular purple structures around them.

"Do we have a positive identification on who it is, sir?"

Hawkins nodded. "Page 14, please."

It was him. The page listed the Career Service Vitae of Pierre-127: All his campaign records, missions, armour and weapon requests. Everything had been unclassified for this file and this file alone. Elena noticed that his status had been changed: From a yellow MIA to a white AWOL. Ten years ago, Sigma-Beta, their team, had been sent to Schönheit to recover data from a scientific team there on new MJOLNIR Armour. She, Pierre, and Hank-136 had managed to extract the data, but at a cost. Hank had been hit in the torso by a Hunter's fuel rod blast that sent him off into the canyon that sat at the side of the facility, and Pierre, who had been covering Elena as she made a run for their dropship, had offered to stay behind. Elena had managed to escape to the Prowler waiting for them in orbit as Schönheit was glassed.

"Can I hear the transmission, sir?" she asked. Hawkins pressed a button, and a voice came through a small set of speakers.

"This is a message, to all who may hear me. UNSC, Covenant, I don't give a damn. I am...I was, SPARTAN Pierre-127, of Sigma Beta Team. Not any more, though. This message is a warning to stay the hell away from Schönheit. This planet, is mine. The weapons here, are mine. Only death awaits those who come here."

The transmission began to repeat. Hawkins switched it off. That was Pierre. His voice sounded slightly hoarse, but it was him. A rogue SPARTAN-II.

"What do you want me to do with him?"

"Kill him." This had come from Vice Admiral Harris. "He has declared himself an enemy of the UNSC, and is apparently sitting on a stockpile of unknown weapons. This Spartan is a huge threat."

Elena nodded. She really wished that she had kept her helmet on. She was still working hard to keep a neutral face. "Who am I going in with?"

"I've had Lieutenant Mack here pick out a team of seven ODST's to accompany you."

"That's it?"

"We also have another SPARTAN-II waiting. He's already been briefed."

"Copy that sir. When do we leave?"

"We'll deploy you from the Hammerhand, one of our stealth frigates." Hawkins took the datapad and deactivated it. "Admiral Harris will arrive shortly after to provide extraction and fire support aboard the UNSC Grievous. Dismissed."

Elena stood up, placing her helmet on as she did so. The door slid open, allowing her to exit before sliding shut, leaving the officers in their secure conference room. Her fists clenched. She really, really wanted to punch something right now, but this was her duty. If Pierre, her friend, who had sacrificed himself to save her, had gone rogue, then so be it. If she had to kill him, then she would. Doing what was necessary was not always doing what was right. She had accepted this as a simple fact in her years working for ONI.

"Hey," a voice came from her right. Master Chief Petty Officer Kane-098 leant against a nearby wall.

Elena's visor depolarised. she gave a weak smile. "He must have gone mad, right?"

Kane turned away. He rarely took his helmet off. "It's a mercy kill. Nothing more, nothing less."

Chapter One

1524 Hours, April 4th, 2554

UNSC Hammerhand, Hurst System


Mission top secret, destination unknown. Typical.

For an ODST though, this was almost always standard procedure. Lieutenant Ash Mitchell knew this better than most. Three years ago, he had been one of the first troops to hit the ground on the Ark. Of course, ONI had hushed it up, but the few surviving troopers of that battle knew what had gone on.

Mitchell, then a Sergeant, had been one of three survivors of his 12-man platoon that had dropped onto the construct. Though he had never personally seen the Spartan who had won the battle for the UNSC there, he had done his part. Three years on, and it was like nothing had ever happened. Humanity may not be on the brink of extinction any more, but the missions were still the same. The elevator door opened, and he stepped out into the troop bay where the rest of his team were waiting.

Six Orbital Drop Shock Troopers sat around the room. Three were playing cards. One appeared to be asleep, with two others going over the weapon racks.

Mitchell cleared his throat. "Let's move boys!".

That seemed to snap them out of their relaxed state. They changed visibly into what was generally called 'battle mode'. One of the troopers approached him. His armour was visibly scarred and dented; Orange stripes adorned his bulky shoulder plates.

"Ash Mitchell?"

"Yeah?"

"What, don't you recognise me?" He removed his helmet, revealing a grinning, scarred face.

"Mal?!" Mitchell hadn't seen his old friend since the end of the war. "Haven't seen you in a while! Hell, I thought an old timer like you would've bought it by now."

"Don't think so, Ash. I ain't easy to kill."

Mitchell nodded in agreement. Roberts had been in training with him when he first joined the Helljumpers, nine years ago. The two had saved each other's lives more than once.

"Good to see you here, Mal. Too many rookies these days." replied Mitchell, gesturing to the three younger troopers, who were squabbling over who got the shotgun. Eventually, another familiar veteran wrested it from their grips, and walked away without a word.

"Form up!"

The troopers got into line, putting on their helmets as they did so. Mitchell began walking slowly past them, listing them off as he walked past.

"Corporal Roberts, Sergeant Cross, Sergeant Angelo, Private Calzaghe, Private Green, Private Maxwell..."

Each trooper saluted Mitchell as he checked their names off the datapad. Usually a special operations unit would consist mostly of NCO's, but a lack of veteran ODST's with escalating conflicts throughout the rebuilding colonies meant that this was all ONI could find at short notice. Still, all Helljumpers had at least a couple of years worth of experience under their belts, so he could rely on them in battle. He paused for a moment, looking at the S-1 Recon helmet one of his men carried.

"Angelo, what unit did you come here from?"

"ODST Pathfinders, Sir. Twenty-nine jumps."

That was good enough for Mitchell. For a moment he worried that they had sent an ONI agent in with them. That would mean they were heading into all kinds of mysterious and classified crap. Still, he had a good feeling about this mission; you could usually tell how good a Helljumper was at their job just by looking at the armour, he'd found.

Angelo spoke up. "Lieutenant, do you know where we're being sent? ONI wasn't very forthcoming."

Okay. Definitely not a Spook. Good.

Mitchell turned and shrugged. "Nearest I can tell, Sergeant, is that It's some kind of torch and burn op. Covvie remnants, probably."

Angelo sighed. Maxwell groaned. "I thought we'd won, sir. We did win, didn't we?"

Mitchell shrugged again. "ONI points, and we shoot. That's what Helljumpers do."

Roberts joined in. "Well, ell-tee, at least it'll be quick, right? The seven of us go in, blow shit up, and leave. No Spooks interfering, no complications, no-"

He stopped. Mitchell could see his smile falter behind his depolarised visor. He turned around. Two SPARTAN-II Commandos, clad in jet black MJOLNIR armour, stood behind him.

"Good work Lieutenant, I see the fireteam is ready for the drop. Let's get this mission done."

It was a female voice. Her identification listed her as having the rank of Commander. The other held the enlisted rank of Master Chief Petty Officer, though some part of Mitchell doubted that he'd be able to order a Spartan around on this operation.

He snapped to attention and saluted. "Yes ma'am!".

The other ODST's immediately headed for their pods. The other Spartan, armed with a sniper rifle and a standard issue BR55, took the end pod. Right next to his. The Commander headed for a pod in the middle. Mitchell noticed that she carried two submachineguns and a MA5B assault rifle.

The Lieutenant clambered into his pod and clamped the door shut behind him. He secured himself within his seat as it sealed, and spoke over TEAMCOM to the other ODST's.

"Troopers, we're green. I'll see you in five!"

The nine HEV's dropped through the atmosphere toward the ruined planet.

Chapter Two

1531 Hours, April 4th, 2554

Schönheit, Hurst System


"Ten seconds people, look sharp!"

The pod shook and juddered as it headed towards the designated landing zone. Mitchell activated manual control, attempting to steer the pod as it descended. The female Spartan's voice came in calmly over the COM.

"Everyone all right?"

Affirmatives were grunted back to her. In his head, the Lieutenant counted down the seconds as his pod approached the ground. It slowed slightly as the breaking rockets engaged, and the ODST gritted his teeth before the pod smashed into the dirt, along with eight others.

The pod door flew open, landing several meters away. Mitchell pulled himself out, grabbing his battle rifle as he did so. The ground was covered in ash; a jagged sea of desolation stretching out as far as he could see. There was no life here. This was an empty, desolate world. Around him, the others were getting out of their pods. Everyone seemed to be fine. Mitchell had known several ODST's who had ended up 'digging their own graves'. Elena-071 walked next to him. Her visor was depolarised. She looked round, taking in the dead world. The only sounds were that of the wind.

"Welcome to Schönheit," She whispered.

The Lieutenant noticed the tenseness in her. She immediately brought out her datapad. The others gathered round. The rookie, Green, had thrown up after he fell out of his pod. He looked a little shaky.

Kane made a sweeping motion with his gauntleted hand. "Echo, move east, two metre spread."

A waypoint appeared on the ODST's HUD's. It was about half a mile away. The group slowly began to move forward, trudging through the ashen waste in silence. The Commander took point, while Mitchell remained near the back, with Private Green.

"You all right?" he asked.

The Private nodded. "I'll be fine for the mission, sir."

"How many drops have you done?"

"This is my third combat drop."

Either the kid was something spectacular on the ground or the UNSC was truly running short on Helljumpers. For a mission like this, he would have expected veterans. Green unslung his SR99 rifle.

"You any good with that thing, Private?"

Green checked the sights. "Damn good, sir. Top marksman in training. You know one time we-"

He dropped down, raising the rifle as he did so. The commander had held her hand up, and had gone into a prone position. Edging forward, he found that the ground beneath simply disappeared a few feet ahead, dropping into a chasm. How had they not seen it earlier? The constant swirling dust and ash must have obscured their vision, and looking down, Mitchell could see it swirling around his knees. Had he been standing, he wouldn't have been able to see his boots. Elena glanced over the edge.

"It's not too steep. We should be able to rappel down without a problem. Then we move on to the main objective."

That seemed fair enough. Not that they knew what their mission was. The Commander was keeping quiet about that. Is she a Spook or a Spartan? he wondered. During the war, there had been a lot of tension, even rivalry between the Helljumpers and the Spartans. Some incident had happened years back, before Mitchell's time.

Without warning, Elena jumped over the precipice and into the chasm below. There was a thud as she hit the ground. How do they do that without breaking their legs? He wondered.

"Looks good. Lieutenant, you first. Kane will go last."

Mitchell took out a length of rope from his pack, and handed it to Kane-098, who began tying it to a nearby boulder. He gave Mitchell a thumbs up. The male Spartan hadn't said a word so far. Affixing the rope to a clip on his belt, Mitchell backed towards the cliff edge, and, taking a deep breath, jumped.

"Easy does it," Elena muttered over the COM as Mitchell hit the rock wall, steadying himself as he slowed his descent.

"I'm fine, Commander."

"Just making sure."

Within ten minutes, Mitchell and the other ODST's had all made it down safely. The Commander had been waiting patiently, sitting on a rock at the base of the crevice. The moment the last man hit the dirt, the rope was untied and tossed into the crevice. Kane landed with a loud thump seconds later and tossed the rope towards Mitchell, who stored it in his pack. Elena began to walk away, still heading east. Fireteam Echo followed in her tracks, looking around warily. According to the local clock in his HUD, it wasn't even 4pm, but the sky overhead was getting dark. They continued in silence, carefully stepping over rocks. Eventually, they came to an opening. Elena stepped through first, Mitchell close behind. He froze.

"I don't believe it."

Below them, at the base of the rocky valley, was a large metallic structure, partially buried. Two long prongs extended into the sky. A thin river snaked through the base of the valley. The Commander put two fingers to the side of her helmet, activating her camera recorder. The other ODST's stood by. Green unslung his sniper rifle, and began to survey it at range.

Elena tapped on her datapad. "This wasn't here on the scans yesterday. There has been some serious seismic activity in the past 24 hours."

"Commander, I've got eyes on possible hostile forces," said Green, a trace of worry in his voice.

The soldiers drew their weapons at this. Kane immediately crouched down next to Green, attaching a large suppressor to his rifle. Such things were very rarely seen among marksmen in UNSC forces, though they were often needed. He passed one to Green, who began to awkwardly affix it to his own. Then, he spoke.

"Six Jackals. Beam rifles. Patrolling in threes on two separate towers. Right?"

"Seven."

Kane seemed surprised. He glanced back again, speaking in his low voice. "I'll find him. Permission to fire, Commander?"

"Granted."

Muffled shots rang out from both the rifles. Mitchell couldn't see the targets. Elena beckoned for the others to follow her as she began to run down the rocky slope into the valley. Kane's surprised voice came through the COM.

"So there were seven. I'm impressed."

Green chuckled. "Told you. I aimed to hit through two at once."

"Right. All targets down."

"Copy that," she replied. Elena crouched down by a rock. The fireteam gathered round her. "Okay, it's about to get hot, so I'm going to give you the overview. Our operation is to assassinate a rebel dissident who is currently allied with Covenant forces"

Is that all? thought Mitchell. He'd done assassinations before, and though this one may be a little strange, it was nothing they couldn't handle.

"The target is a rogue Spartan, Pierre-127. He is well trained, dangerous, and likely insane."

Oh fuck.

Chapter Three

The Jackals had been taken out before they could react. This was still a silent op. The ODST's were nervous, there was no doubting that. No one had said anything since Elena had informed them of their target. Kane and Green rejoined them at the base of the Jackal lookout tower at the entrance to the valley. She glanced towards her comrade.

"Kane, get up to those cliffs and scope out the area."

The other Spartan nodded, jumped half a dozen feet towards the cliff, and began scaling it. Again, Mitchell was amazed, watching half a ton of black-coloured armour scale the mountainside towards their target. Elena took out her MA5B and slid down a rocky embankment to the base of the valley. Mitchell and the ODST's followed her, keeping an eye on their surroundings. Kane's voice came through again.

"I've sighted the enemy encampment. At least a dozen buildings around the unknown structure. Confirmed more Jackals walking around, grunts too, I'm guessing at least a few hundred judging by the size of the compound. Orders?"

Elena kept walking. As she walked, the dirt below their feet slowly gave way to fresh grass and several young trees came into view. "How is this possible?"

Sergeant Angelo asked, reaching out to touch one. "This place was glassed, wasn't it?"

Elena remained silent. The squad turned to the Spartan. There was no sound other than the faint howling of the wind in the ashen cliffs above. Without warning, she dived to the side, a burst of heat occupying the position she had been standing in.

"Ambush!"

Plasma bolts sizzled through the air as the soldiers dived for cover. Elena fired several bursts from her rifle, dropping several incoming grunts. Mitchell, Angelo and Maxwell had taken up a prone position, while Green and Roberts fell back to get a better angle. There was a shout of pain as Calzaghe was hit in the leg. He dropped to one knee, drawing his magnum as he did so. Several more grunts were blown away by his fire as Cross, blasting away with his shotgun, began to drag him back towards the others.

Angelo ran forwards, grabbing Calzaghe's left arm. The Commander had disappeared, though gunshots could be heard from within the treeline. A crack of sniper fire from the cliffs above signalled Kane's arrival. The smaller aliens fell back, shrieking, under the hail of gunfire from the team. Calzaghe had been injected with a painkiller, and was attempting to shoot back from behind a nearby rock. Within another minute, the area was clear. Mitchell signalled for Cross and Roberts to take point while he went to check on Calzaghe.

"How are you doing?"

The ODST had removed his helmet. Maxwell was checking his wound. It had been a solid shot, and had obviously been very painful. Beneath his armour, his skin was scorched and blistering. Thank God for painkillers. Mitchell had been hit three times with plasma, twice in the chest, and once in the arm. He had also taken a brute spiker round through the arm during fighting on the Ark. He'd survived that, and seen others take worse. This was nothing fatal.

"Can you stand?" Behind him, Green was clambering onto one of the rocks, his rifle scope scanning the treeline beyond the dozens of grunt corpses. Calzaghe pulled himself to his feet, shakily. He tested the weight on his right leg. He winced for a moment, gritted his teeth and put his helmet on.

"Ready to go, Lieutenant."

Mitchell nodded. He activated his COM.

"Commander, what's your location? We're ready to move."

Elena's voice came back after a few seconds. She was breathing heavily. "Mitchell, I'm under heavy fire, there were more of them than I thought. Get your team into a defensive position, you've got-"

Static cut through and the COM went silent.

The ODST slammed a fresh clip into his rifle. "You heard the lady, boys. Angelo, take Roberts and scout out those foothills to the west. We need-"

"Ell-Tee, on your six!"

Mitchell span round, instinctively firing a burst from his rifle. The air in front of him shimmered as a huge alien sprang towards him, a blade of red energy sizzling in each hand. The impact slowed the Elite's momentum, causing it to roll to the side and roar in frustration. Several more warriors had also circled round them, swords ready. Another leapt at him, and was struck in the neck by two sniper rounds. Green reloaded. Everything seemed to travel in slow motion. The Elites moved as one, jumping at the ODST's. Cross was kicked to the ground, and as his attacker moved in, it's neck sprouted a knife, courtesy of Private Maxwell. Three of them moved in on Green, who had been the first to fell one of their own. He jumped down from the rock, rolling as he hit the grass.

Mitchell noticed another shimmer to his left, and begun firing as it charged. The Elite's shields dissipated feet from him, the fifth burst penetrating it's helmet, splattering blood and brain matter into a tree. Drawing his SMG, he began firing at his right, towards one attempting a stealth approach. It rolled under his fire, raising its fist as tried to swing his rifle round.

Oh shit-.

The fist connected, cracking his visor and propelling him backwards into the dirt, mere meters beyond the lush, green land that had sprung up. The ODST's head swam as he attempted to raise his SMG. He had dropped his BR in his short flight. The Elite stalked towards him, his energy sword held low. As his vision blurred in and out of focus, he could see the rest of Fireteam Echo fighting for their lives. Calzaghe was sprawled on the floor, either unconscious or dead. Green was fighting two at once; a rifle butt smashing into one, before he dived under the legs of another.

They were fighting bravely, like true warriors. No wonder they had been hand-picked for this mission. The Elite, clad like the others in maroon-tinted armour, was getting closer. If I can just get a few shots in.... The SpecOps Elites were notorious for their stealth ambushes, but in general had weaker shields.

Just...a few...shots...

Mitchell's hand shot to his holster, drawing out his Magnum. As he levelled it, the Elite picked up speed.

Blam

Blam.

Blam.

Shields down.

Click.

Click.

Jammed. Fuck.

The Elite roared in triumph, raising it's sword in anticipation. It was only feet away. Mitchell groaned.

Death by shitty malfunction. I survived the damn war for this?.

There was a blur of black as the elite crumpled to the ground. A Spartan, crouched, both feet on the elite's neck. In each hand she held a SMG. A head raised. The visor of the CQB helmet depolarised for a second, revealing a pale face, and two firey eyes. He gave a weak thumbs up. Commander Elena-071 nodded, the visor polarised, and with a final snap, she backflipped off of the elite, landing gracefully before darting towards the other aliens. He watched her cutting through them like butter. Everything seemed to hurt. He rolled over, and struggled to his knees. His rifle was still on the floor feet away. To his left, the tall grass parted, as if moved aside by an invisible force. Invisible.

There was a final, quick blur of motion. Ash Mitchell blacked out.

Chapter Four

2340 Hours, April 4th, 2554

Unknown Location, Schönheit


Ow.

Mitchell lay face down on the cold, metallic floor. His armour had been removed, and a pair of manacles held his arms behind his back. There was a faint hiss of energy from them. These must have been used for Covenant prisoners, not that they took many human ones during the war.

The Lieutenant rolled over, and sat up, his vision clearing as he took in his surroundings. They appeared to be in some kind of cavern, the metal walls blending seamlessly with the rock around them. He was in a cell of some kind. A Covenant energy barrier blocked the door. Two others sat slumped nearby: Maxwell and Calzaghe. The latter was still unconscious. Maxwell was against the wall. His face was heavily bruised. He looked up at Mitchell. The area around one eye was puffy and swollen; the other one seemed undamaged, save for a jagged cut below it.

"Wakey wakey, ell-tee." Maxwell grinned despite his injuries.

"What happened?"

"They knocked you and Calzaghe out, dragged you off. I tried to pursue, but the big one that had you beat the crap out of me and grabbed me too. We've been here for hours."

Mitchell was surprised at the young man's tenacity. Last he had seen, he was stabbing an elite in the back. Maxwell looked towards the door.

"They just threw me back in a few minutes ago, looks like they weren't too happy about my knifing skills. They were pissed at Green too, but they couldn't touch the kid. I swear, he coulda been a Spartan."

"What about the others?"

"When the Commander and Kane got back, they ran for it into the forest. Last I saw, they were still fighting the grunt reinforcements."

The sound of footsteps grew louder outside. The door shield deactivated and three of the elites stepped in, their plasma repeaters trained on the troopers. The largest, in red SpecOps armour, spoke in guttural English.

"With us, humans. Now."

Mitchell stood up. Compliance would be the best option at this point. Maxwell did so as well. Calzaghe groaned, and one of the Elites picked him up, dropping him on his feet.

"Move".

The three troopers began to walk out, Calzaghe shuffling behind Mitchell. Maxwell seemed unafraid of the aliens. He had probably never fought Elites before today. He probably thought that they would be diplomatic, maybe willing to barter their release with the UNSC. Right. Chances were that they'd get a quick death if they were lucky; best possible outcome, the Commander would help them. The red-armoured Elite led them down from their cells, through the main cavern. Around them, the diminutive grunts were chipping away at the rock around them. Looking around, there was no visible exit.

The Elite chuckled throatily. "There will be no escape, human. Your comrades are being hunted down as we speak. You have achieved nothing."

Mitchell knew better than to answer back. Elites took offence easily, as he had learned years ago. An old plasma wound attested to that. They came to an elevator. The two guards stepped to the side while their leader activated it. Calzaghe had kept quiet so far;he was still limping due to his wounded knee. Mitchell inclined his head towards him.

"You all right?" he asked.

The look in the young trooper's eyes said it all. "Hurts like hell sir, I doubt I'll be running again. Probably gonna have to join the Colonial Militia or something..."

Mitchell nodded. He'd known veterans who had their careers ended by a stray bolt. Come to think of it, he thought. I know a lot of people who've gone through serious shit. I guess I'm one of the lucky ones.

As the elevator slowly descended, Maxwell nudged him with his boot. When Mitchell glanced over, he flicked his eyes downwards. Making sure their captors were not watching, he chanced a look downwards, and saw a noticeable bulge at the top of Maxwell's boots. The private grinned.

Either he's the most optimistic person ever, or he's crazy.

Either way, they had a chance.

***

It had been far too long.

When the first arrived, years ago, it was a momentous occasion. His wounds were healed, and he had, in time, gotten stronger.

There was, however, a problem.

He had no way of removing his <C2 EQUIVALENT>, and so the facility was inoperable. The other, sadly, had perished.

No matter. More were coming. He had been correct. They were on their way, brought by those who served. The preparations were almost complete, he had increased output to the maximum possible level in anticipation.

It was good to have purpose again, after so long. This place was changing. Keeping the visitors nourished was the first priority, and even with minimum operating capacity, everything was going according to plan.

Ah. They had finally arrived. Reclaimers.

***

The elevator finally came to a halt. They had been travelling downwards for several minutes. My Mitchell's reckoning, they were several miles beneath Schönheit's surface. This would probably explain how anyone had survived the planet's glassing, but one question came to mind: How could anyone survive nine years underground?. A large door slid open as they approached.

Oh.

A huge circular room was spread out before them. Most of it was covered in plants, a carpet of grass on the lowest level, before a large pool of fresh water. There were several dozen trees, most of them bearing fruit. The Elites led the captured troopers down a large ramp, leading to the centre of the chamber.

The smile had gone from Maxwell's face, replaced with a look of grim determination. The large Elite motioned for them to stop, and looked around warily. He said something to one of the others in his incomprehensible language, causing his subordinate to grunt an affirmative, and raise his plasma repeater. The guards began pacing about, while the leader pushed the ODST's to the ground. Something was wrong.

"Looking for me, Sangheili?"

The Elites turned as one towards one of the largest trees. There was a loud thud as two feet of armoured SPARTAN-II landed in the grass, rolling, and stopping before the Elite leader before standing to face him. The Elite growled, one of his hands going for one of the deactivated swords at his belt.

"You and I both know that you would be dead before you reach your blade." The voice was slightly hoarse, with a hint of an accent that Mitchell couldn't quite identify.

The Major grunted, and stepped back from the Spartan. He gestured to the three ODST's kneeling in the grass. The Spartan nodded. "About time. Leave us." The Elite took out a small device and handed it to the Spartan, and began to walk away, obviously infuriated.

The moment the doors closed behind the aliens, the Spartan removed his helmet, letting it fall to the ground. From Mitchell's view, it looked like a heavily modified Military Police helmet. His armour, in some ways, looked remarkably similar to the Commander's. His shoulder pauldrons (or pauldron, as one had been apparently torn off) was the same as Elena's. The rest of his armour, however, was vastly different, obviously an older model than what the other Spartans were equipped with. It was badly dented and scratched, and the black paint had been scraped off in several places, the armour's default grey showing in many places.

"I'm Pierre. Spartan One-Two-Seven. Pleased to meet you."

He pressed a button on the device the Elite Major had given him, and the manacles deactivated, falling to the ground. Mitchell stood up, as did Maxwell and Calzaghe. He had absolutely no idea what to do. They would never be able to overpower the Spartan, and only Maxwell was armed. Two plasma pistols were attached to Pierre's armour.

Before he had worked out what to do, Maxwell's hand had shot to his boot. Pierre stood impassively as he pulled the concealed pistol out and began to raise it. Suddenly, faster than Mitchell's eyes could track him, Pierre had drawn the twin plasma pistols, and unleashed two shots at the trooper's knees. Maxwell fell to his scorched knees, screaming in pain. He tried again to raise his gun as Pierre moved forward. His knee came up under Maxwell's chin. There was a loud crack, and the valiant trooper fell back into the grass limply.

"That was a bad idea," Pierre said simply, stepping back from the ODST's body, sighing.

Well, we're screwed, Mitchell thought. The Spartan had killed one of their number in a heartbeat. They'd need the other Spartans to even stand a chance! Pierre picked up his helmet. "So much for pleasantries, eh?" he said, a trace of humour in his voice after his killing. There was a low whine in the air. Mitchell looked around, and saw a small metal orb flying through the air towards them. It had a single blue 'eye' that looked from person to person, before coming to rest on Maxwell's corpse.

"Oh dear! This one has ceased to be. Most unfortunate. Are these the ones you predicted would arrive?"

"Yeah, Reppy. I was right after all."

The orb hovered up and down, apparently nodding, before turning to Mitchell and Calzaghe, speaking in a tinny voice.

"I am 037 Repentant Observer, the overseer of the Eden Facility. Welcome, Reclaimers."

Chapter Five

0032 Hours, April 5th, 2554

Cliffs above enemy compound, Schönheit


"See anything, Kane?"

"Returning patrols, guards, workers. Grunts and Jackals mainly."

"Mitchell and the others?"

"No sign whatsoever."

Kane stowed his rifle behind his back, and made his way back to the makeshift camp. Elena lingered a few seconds more, looking over the base that had seemingly sprung up overnight. How had orbital scans not picked this all up?

The battle had ended not long after the two Spartans had returned. After killing several of the elites, and a small army of grunts, they had been able to fall back to a defensible location. Kane had made use of his almost supernatural sniping skills to eliminate any who chased them, dropping the cloaked elites as they followed them up to the cliffs.

It was nothing short of a miracle, in Elena's opinion, that no one had been killed. Cross, Roberts and Angelo, whom in Mitchell's disappearance had taken command of the ODST's, had backed up against the cliff walls in a defensive formation, blasting anything that came close while Green, despite being the youngest in the group, had fought off several in close quarters combat, holding his own until Elena had introduced them to her combat knife.

The ODST's were currently huddled round a thermal heater, checking their equipment and eating ration bars. Cross was on lookout, sitting slightly away from the others, cross-legged, his shotgun in his lap. Elena approached them.

"Are you boys all right?" she asked, trying her best to sound kind. After years of working for ONI, she had adopted a formal 'Spook' tone when talking to non-Spartans. She hated it.

The troopers looked up sullenly at her. They had taken off their helmets, leaving them on the ground by them. For Elena, who preferred to keep her helmet on and polarised most of the time, even when not directly on the battlefield, this was a brave thing. As a Spartan, she could keep her emotions hidden most of the time. The helmet helped.

Does that make them more human than me? she mused, a much-loathed subject sparking up in her mind. Doesn't matter.

Angelo spoke first. "We're fine, Commander. Just a little shook up about the others is all. You don't need to be concerned about folks like us."

He turned away from her and began to unwrap a ration bar. Another ODST, one with bulkier shoulder pauldrons, looked between Angelo and Elena, and sighed.

"Really, Vince? You gonna start that 'Spartans are freaks' thing?"

"That ain't what I mean, Mal," Angelo scowled.

"Oh yeah, tell me what you mean then, boy scout!"

Angelo turned back to Roberts. "What I mean is, we can't trust her," he hissed, jerking a finger at Elena, before facing her. "No offence, Commander, but I get pulled out of my unit, dropped onto some scorched hellhole without a single word of info, and freaky shit like this happens! Aren't we supposed to be buddies with the elites now?"

Angelo put on his helmet, and stood up, walking over to change places with Cross on lookout. Elena didn't say a word. Roberts shook his head, and passed a ration bar over to Cross, who sat down without a sound. He hadn't spoken at all for the entire mission. Elena stood still for half a minute longer before Roberts looked up again.

"I'm sorry ma'am, about the Sergeant. He's not too happy about this mission, and the fact that three of our guys were dragged off is getting to him. He just wants to get back to Earth to see his kids, y'know?"

The ODST looked back down, and continued eating his meagre meal. Green, who had obviously been listening to every word, hadn't looked up from cleaning his sniper rifle.

"No, I don't know," Elena replied before walking away.

Roberts had glanced up when she had spoken. Her voice had sounded...different. Cross finally removed his helmet. He rubbed his eyes and yawned.

"Tired, Bill?" Green asked, in a very transparent attempt to start a conversation. Cross nodded, and chewed thoughtfully on a ration bar for a few seconds before speaking.

"D'you think Mitchell and the others are alive?" He asked.

Green shrugged. Roberts, on the other hand, grinned, sighing as if reliving an old memory. "Listen" He began. "I know Ash Mitchell, and it would take more than a couple of split-lips to take him down, believe me."

Green finally put down his now very clean rifle. "You know him?" The rookie seemed to be genuinely interested.

"Yeah, back in '52, me, him and our unit were dropped onto Tribute, covering a civvie evacuation. Guy took a plasma bolt to the chest, kept running, punched the alien bastard that did it in the face, and stuck a knife in it's throat. He kept going 'til we got pulled out with the last transport. The way I see it, he's either a prisoner, or he made it very hard for the split lip executing him."

Green, who had been listening intently the whole time, leant back. "Woah, I've gotta admit, he's pretty badass."

Cross chuckled at this. "Put your eyes back in, Mike. Believe me, the LT is one heck of a soldier, but I don't do the hero worship thing, not even with Spartans. Saw a few die on Reach."

The other two shuddered involuntarily. "That's crap," Roberts responded. "I'm not dumb enough to believe in the whole 'Spartans never die' thing, but I heard that if one dies, their armour explodes, takes everything in a mile with it."

Cross shook his head. "It's true. I was stationed in New Alexandria, evacuating VIP's out of a building during the day. Covvies were storming the place, and a group of Spartans came in to help us."

"Lucky you. What happened?"

"Well, this one guy, some ONI man, name of Roe, orders us to get the hell out onto his pelican. Next thing, the guy blows the building up, Spartans inside".

Roberts crossed his arms, still looking unconvinced.

"Doesn't prove they were dead," he said defiantly. Despite his evident realist attitude, even the veteran ODST held onto some belief in the Spartan's invincibility, whether he said so or not.

Cross shook his head slowly. "I'm not done yet," he muttered. "Well, Roe gives us coordinates to some ONI base in the mountains, so we end up flying north. Then, we start getting hit; three falcons behind us, which we all thought was our escort, had chased us out of the city, and the lead one was firing, trying to hit an engine. Eventually, we land and Roe starts ordering the AA guns to fire on the falcons. One gets taken down, and most of the crew bail out before it crashes. Then, I see the Spartans heading for the front gate. Two of them head to the crashed falcon. I saw them drag another Spartan out of the cockpit. He, or she, never got up."

The other ODST's stared at Cross for a few seconds more. His story seemed bizarre, but they couldn't see any trace of a lie in his eyes.

"What happened then?" Green asked.

"One of the Spartans yanked the shotgun out of my hands, chased Roe inside, and shot him. I think I nearly crapped myself. The guy came out of there covered in blood, throws my shotgun at me, and goes to the others."

"Why did he shoot him?"

Cross shrugged. "The guy must have killed the Spartans in the building, and pretty much ordered the death of the other one. Revenge, probably. We got pulled out pretty soon after though, Covvies attacked the base and we got the hell out of there while the Spartans stayed behind. I got my ass off of Reach before it burned."

The three troopers sat in silence for half a minute, each thinking about what had been said. The fact that not only could Spartans be killed, but people would be willing to sacrifice them, and that they would avenge the fallen was disturbing. Roberts put on his helmet and checked the local time. "Woah, it's past 3am, better swap with-" He stopped, staring into the darkness by the cliff edge, just outside of their light. His helmet's VISR had outlined a human shape. A Spartan shape.

Kane-098 stood up slowly, and walked between the three sitting ODST's. He looked back for a second. Even with his helmet on, it was obvious that he was looking directly at Cross.

"We did what we had to," he said softly, before disappearing again into the darkness.

"Shit," Green exclaimed, accurately summing up what the other two were thinking as well. Roberts stood up, and went to take over as lookout from Angelo.

***

"I take it you heard everything?"

"What are you talking about?"

"Don't play dumb, Elena, it doesn't suit you. I remember you placing wire taps in Roe's office when you were ten. You're nosy, sorry."

"I'm a superior officer, Lieutenant, I could have you demoted or worse for-"

"Oh, and the powerful ONI agent act doesn't suit you either, not at least around me."

"I'm that bad, huh?"

"I know you too well, sorry."

"You thought I was dead for twenty years. Things change."

"True, but old habits die hard."

"Damnnit Kane, you were always too smart for me. At least I could argue properly with Marco."

"He probably knows you better than I do, Elena."

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"You guys were inseparable in training, and let's face it, the most skilled, along with Fenn and Jack. You know he cried when he thought you had died?"

"Stop it. You can be cruel sometimes, Kane."

"And there we have it. A chink in your mental armour, and the emotions come out. I bet it killed you just as much as it killed him."

"You killed Doctor Roe."

"Incorrect. Marco did. All those years of insults and berating. Humiliation for the slightest errors in training. You and the others, too. All that pent up rage and aggression he used on the Covenant, was also used to shoot Calvin Roe in the face with that trooper's shotgun. I was more preoccupied with the SPARTAN-III that died in the crash."

"You know, I should report this to ONI. Marco should be put on trial for murdering a well known scientist and asset. So should you, for covering it up."

"I'm sure you've had your cover-up stories while being a Spartan Spook. We had our secrets, what happened to Jack, for example."

"What?! You found him?"

"Talk to Marco. He was there, not me. So, are you going to report us?"

"No."

"Good. Look, for what it's worth, I'm sorry."

"Yeah."

"Yeah?"

"Yeah. We'll talk after the mission. Right now, we've got an attack to plan, some troopers to save, and a mercy kill to make."

Chapter Six

0401 Hours, April 5th, 2554

Eden Facility, Schönheit


Mitchell and Calzaghe had been escorted back to their cells for the time being. The Elite leader, who had been identified by Pierre as Major Sur 'Ranak, had asked to speak with him, and the very cheerful 'Monitor', who had placed Maxwell's body into some sort of capsule, similar to a cryo-tube.

"How's your leg?" he asked Calzaghe.

The younger trooper shrugged. He wasn't in pain any more, but he still walked with a limp. He was lucky that the plasma bolt had cauterized the wound, or else there may have been a risk of infection. If they were going to escape, however, then running for it would be out of the question. Mitchell looked around their metal cell. There was no way out. The only weapon they had been lost in Maxwell's suicidal attack.

A familiar whining sound interrupted the muffled noises of the grunt labourers outside, and the monitor flew into view, just outside the energy barrier. Two pairs of heavy footsteps were not far behind, and both Pierre-127 and Sur 'Ranak strode forward. 'Ranak deactivated the barrier, and beckoned the two men forward. Both of them walked out without a word.

"Excellent news!" the Monitor announced cheerfully, flying in circles around the Sangeheili's head. "We convened, and finally came to an agreement about your usage."

"Usage?!" Mitchell replied. This didn't sound good.

"What Reppy here means is that the two of you will be doing something amazing that will benefit this planet greatly." The Spartan's harsh voice sounding slightly hopeful. The look of his helmet made him look as if he was grinning, though it was anyone's guess what emotions played over his face behind that opaque silver visor.

"Come," he said, turning on his heels and striding towards the elevators. The elite grunted and inclined his head, motioning for the troopers to follow. Calzaghe was able to keep up with Mitchell, barely. The chirpy little monitor hovered slightly above them, humming to himself.

As they walked, the crimson-armoured elite finally spoke. He walked with his head held high as he did so, looking at the labouring grunts and patrolling elites in the facility as if it were his kingdom.

"You have no idea how lucky you are, humans." He pointed toward Pierre, who was several paces ahead. "Were it not for your-" He struggled with the word- "Spartan's council, I would have had you killed and your corpses fed to the Jackals."

Both men winced at such a suggestion.

"But," he continued. "Both he and the oracle believe that you are the key to restoring this planet, and rebuilding it's defence."

They reached the elevator. It was a different one to what they had been brought to earlier. It began to ascend. Mitchell remained silent. He had a million questions. Calzaghe looked slightly sick, his mind probably still on the Jackals.

Pierre cocked his head to one side in thought. "Reppy, when this activates, what will happen to the facility?"

"Why, the Spire will rise, of course, and the Eden Facility's true potential will be unlocked. Within a week, this planet will be alive again, and all systems will be fully operational."

The Spartan nodded. "Excellent" he said softly. "Major, what of your beacons? You said you would signal your brothers who are sympathetic to our cause. The UNSC will react when this attack fails."

'Ranak smiled (or at least, his mandibles extended in what could have been an imitation of a human smile). "Fear not, Spartan. They are aboard my ship, ready for activation. There are many on Sanghelios who still support me. One of my blood brothers will come, I am certain."

The elevator came to a halt. The room around them was dimly lit in comparison to the seemingly natural lights on the walls of the facility below. What appeared to be windows were blocked with solid rock. The monitor flew towards the centre of the room, and a holographic panel popped up. The largest 'button' was spherical in shape. It glowed brightly as they approached.

"Place your palm on the sphere," Pierre said.

Mitchell looked around. The three others were obviously very excited. Calzaghe was standing further back, on the elevator pad.

"Why?" He asked simply. Whatever they wanted him to do, it wouldn't be good.

"Do it," Pierre hissed with barely concealed emotion. "It's for the good of the planet, trooper."

Mitchell found himself hesitating. Fighting would end in death, but he couldn't give in to the demands of the enemy. I really, really wish the Commander was here right now...

He took the tiniest of steps back, and the Elite lunged forward, grabbing his palm and forcing it against the holographic sphere, which instantly lit up.

"So begins the revival of this world, and the awakening of its weapons!" he roared.

Oh fuck.

The whole room shook as panels lit up across the walls. The monitor flew in dizzy circles. "Success! Success! Success!" he shrieked in his little tinny voice. Mitchell noticed a tap on his shoulder. He turned his head. Calzaghe was on the lift, his hand hovering inches away from the button. Pierre, 'Ranak and the Monitor were stood slightly in front of them, gazing in awe as the rock began to crumble, shafts of sunlight permeating through and flooding the room.

Mitchell backed away onto the elevator as Calzaghe pressed the button. It silently began to descend. It took half a minute before the inevitable scream of rage from the elite echoed down the shaft. Their journey seemed to take longer than before; Repentant Observer had mentioned something about a 'Spire rising'.

***

"Oracle, recall the lift. They cannot escape!"

The elite prowled above the elevator shaft, his two red energy swords ignited. Pierre, who had been calmly observing the new panels, glanced back at him and sighed. His anger had always been a problem.

"No, I'm afraid that's quite impossible," responded the Monitor. "Once the spire has fully ascended, it will be available."

The red-armoured Elite grunted in annoyance, and deactivated his swords, returning to the Spartan's side. The Spartan glanced up at him.

"Don't worry, Major. They won't go far without being captured or killed. They have exceeded their usefulness anyway. Now we merely wait for the activation process to be completed, wipe out whoever the UNSC has sent to stop us, and restore this planet. Simple."

037 Repentant Observer, who had been idly hovering, suddenly began flying in circles around the heads of the two.

"It's complete! Yesyesyesyesyesyesyes!" 'Ranak batted him away with one hand, and immediately stalked towards the elevator shaft. He pressed the panel, and the elevator began to rise from below. Pierre watched him, leaning back against a pillar.

"Didn't I say not to worry? We've won."

The Elite rounded on him angrily. "Spartan, maybe you would let your quarry escape, but I have honour. I will not give up the hunt until they both die by my blade." He ignited his crimson blades once more as the elevator reached it's destination.

"On my honour, I will destroy those who threaten this project. We shall not fail."

Pierre waited a minute for the elevator to descend, and sighed. "Y'know, Reppy, these Elites really do have a thing for dramatics, don't they?"

The Monitor seemed to mull this over for a few seconds. "He is going to hunt the reclaimers down, isn't he?"

"Probably. Those ODST's are the least of his worries."

"Why?"

The Spartan walked over to the viewing panel, which, with the spire extended, now gave him a view over the whole valley. The plantlife was extending at a surprising rate since the previous day. According to his helmet's HUD, it was 4:27am. The sun would be up soon. He yawned. Even Spartans needed sleep.

"Because there is something out there much more dangerous, maybe even more than me. Is the factory operational?"

"Yes. The spire's reactivation has given it power once more. It is currently on standby."

Below, on the perimeter of the Covenant encampment, an explosion lit up the area. Pierre could see flashes of plasma fire as grunts and Jackals ran to investigate. The Major was probably keeping his soldiers back within the Eden Facility, just in case.

"Activate it."

Chapter Seven

0435 Hours, April 5th, 2554

Eden Facility Outskirts, Schönheit


"Go!"

The explosion from the C12 charge would give them enough time to get into the enemy encampment. Angelo and Cross were through the perimeter fence within moments, followed by Elena-071, Roberts and Green. From the mountainside came the suppressed cracks of sniper fire from Kane. Jackals and Grunts were dropping like flies before they knew what hit them.

"Angelo, Roberts, Green, I want you clearing this place out. Fire and Manoeuvre. Cross, I want the rest of those charges set up by those Grunt methane houses, give us a nice little fireworks display!"

"Yes ma'am."

"Got it!"

Elena kept moving, hugging the outer wall of the encampment. Most of the enemies seemed to be coming from a cave entrance further in. Since that large structure had risen, breaking through the rock and showering the area with debris.

The black-armoured Spartan darted from cover to cover, keeping in the shadows. This is what she had been trained to do. Stowing her SMG's away, Elena levelled her Battle Rifle as her radar picked up a flurry of red dots heading her way. The vague shimmers of SpecOps elites came into view, hurrying toward the battlefield, where the ODST's of Fireteam Echo were still fighting.

They were lucky before. Now though, they wouldn't stand a chance. Not without help.

"Troopers, Kane. Activate VISR, you've got SpecOps incoming!" Elena waited until the final elite had passed before springing out of cover. She fired several bursts, hitting two of the elites and disrupting their active camo. The fourth burst penetrated the helmet of one, dropping the alien to the floor. She waved cheerily, span round, and sprinted into the cave, four of the angered elites in hot pursuit.

***

"Just like old times, eh Mal?"

Angelo and Roberts stood back to back, cutting down swathes of grunts as they charged, screaming, at the troopers. Most of them were unarmed. Roberts reloaded his SMG and raised it once more, scanning for targets.

"Damn right Vince. Keep an eye out for SpecOps."

The two ODST's activated their helmet's VISR. Immediately, the area became lit up as the low-light mode activated, outlining enemy structures, corpses, and the surrounding cliffs. Private Green edged towards them, keeping his sniper rifle raised. Last time they fought, the elites had been very determined to kill the young trooper.

"Cross, how are those explosives coming along?"

It was a few moments before the gruff veteran's voice came through. "Last charge is in place, Sarge. Reminds me of Fargad back in '47. There we-" Angelo cut him off. "We'll hear about it later Bill. We're going to rendezvous with you at the waypoint, out."

Angelo may have been unenthusiastic about this mission, but he knew how to take charge, even with Mitchell and the others missing. He activated his NAV, and placed a waypoint near the centre of the encampment. It would pop up on the rest of the team's HUD.

The three troopers moved slowly, watching eachother's backs. Without VISR, they would have no way of telling where an attack would come from. Angelo and Roberts had seen many men killed by camo-using elites, and weren't taking any chances.

"This is Cross. I'm at the RV point, grunts are damn near everywhere". Cross' voice never seemed to differ from his neutral tone. Angelo could hear shotgun blasts not far from their position.

"Okay, double time, Echo!"

Angelo, Green and Roberts sprinted towards the rendezvous, hoping that they would outrun the inevitable Elite attack. They rounded the corner to see Cross, his shotgun held like a bat, smashing grunts in the head as they attempted to rush him. Three bursts of fire put the rest of them down. Cross span his shotgun round and started reloading.

"You allright?" Green asked. Cross nodded, looking around warily for elites. Suddenly, he pointed his weapon at Angelo.

"Down, now!"

The Sergeant threw himself to the floor as Cross fired. A shape behind him shimmered into view as the shotgun blast dissipated energy shields. Robert's SMG finished it off.

"We've got more!"

The elites seemed to appear out of nowhere. Even with VISR, they had managed to get the jump on the squad. Two decloaked, running straight for Cross. They both crumpled to the floor, their heads hit by sniper rounds.

"This is SPARTAN-098. I've got your back."

The SpecOps elites were in trouble. Taking cover behind whatever they could to protect themselves from the Spartan's rifle, they switched to plasma repeaters, unleashing a flurry of shots towards the troopers. Green hit the floor, rolling to avoid the deadly plasma.

"Lieutenant, we're pinned down!"

"I noticed. I'll be there in two."

Angelo took two hits to the chestplate. He grunted in frustration, reloading his Battle Rifle as he fell back. They were outnumbered here. As two more of the aliens advanced, a green ball of light hit the ground near their feet, killing them in the ensuing explosion. A second one scattered several more. Plasma fire from an unknown source hit the elites. They began to fall back.

"Sound off!" Angelo shouted, brushing the cinders of a plasma shot off his chestplate.

Everyone seemed to be okay. They looked round for the source of the shooter. If it were Kane, it would have been from his sniper rifle. Two figures stepped over the remains of an elite. Lieutenant Ash Mitchell held the fuel rod gun in one hand. Calzaghe stood behind him, hefting a captured plasma repeater.

"Gentlemen, It's time to bring the fight to them."

Chapter Eight

0509 Hours, April 5th, 2554

Eden Facility, Schönheit


Elena had found over the years that for all the Elite's supposed tactical prowess and skill, they would run at you like a suicide grunt if you provoke them. The four of them laying dead at her feet, defeated by a combination of close quarters combat and bullets were a testament to that fact.

She looked around. The ODST's would be fine. If not, then at the very least, they had given her an opening. The cavern was empty, barring a few grunts running to the entrance. Elena pressed herself to the outer wall, hoping to gain as little attention as possible. The walls on the other side were metallic and shiny; they didn't look like they had been buried in rock for years. It wasn't that fact that worried her.

She had seen them before.

"Kane."

"Yes ma'am?" came the reply.

"October, 2552. Remember where we were?"

"Yes."

"I think we have a similar situation here."

"Oh."

"Just a heads-up. Keep an eye on the troopers, okay?"

"Will do. Good luck with Pierre, I'll try to reach you too."

The COM link cut off. There was a clunk as something moved not far from her position. Elena took cover behind a fallen rock as a black-armoured figure emerged from a side passage. Him. Her Spartan training kicked in. She'd done assassinations before, some of which she would never be proud of. That had been back with the team. It had been like having two brothers to watch her back. Both were gone now, in one way or another.

Pierre-127 walked calmly towards another passage on the other side of the cavern. Behind him, two grunts pushed a rectangular object behind him. It floated inches above the ground. After a few seconds, a small, spherical machine whizzed out of the passage, floating above Pierre's head. Zooming in, Elena saw that it was not a sentinel, like those she had fought several years before on a similarly classified mission. It also seemed to be talking.

The Spartan took out her Battle Rifle, and levelled it. She had the edge here. Pierre was using battered and outdated Mark IV armour. One shot to the back of the head or neck should do it. Elena sighted the weapon as Pierre stopped. She took a deep breath, closed her eyes, and fired three bursts.

After a second, she opened her eyes. Pierre was standing four feet away from her, very much alive. Two miniature sentinels hovered around his shoulders. One appeared to be generating an energy shield around his armour. The other one was a small sentinel, it's red tracking laser pointed directly at her.

"Hello, Elena. It's been a while."

She stood up. "How the hell had he covered that distance so quickly?!"

The spherical Monitor bobbed over his head. Its glowing blue eye surveyed Elena.

"Greetings! I am 031 Repentant Observer, monitor of the Eden Facility. Welcome, Spartan!"

It knew what she was. Elena lowered her weapon. There wasn't very much she could do. After almost a, a chat was the last thing she wanted with the man she had been sent to kill. He removed his helmet. Elena noticed that the energy shield generated merely adapted to flow round his head. Pierre looked different. His face was a lot more lined, and there were streaks of grey in his dark hair. It was his eyes, however, that looked different. Before, they had been filled with energy and vigour, ready to get the job done. Now, there was something else. He seemed driven, with a purpose. Insane.

"Hi Pierre. You look like shit."

***

"Maxwell's dead?"

The six ODST's of Fireteam Echo had regrouped in the centre of the compound, and were bunkering down. There were still outnumbered a hundred to one, and wouldn't last long if the enemy brought in tanks or fliers.

"The rogue Spartan killed him. He was just too fast Vince, there was nothing I could do."

Sergeant Angelo nodded. Most of the team had lost enough squadmates during the war to accept that fact. Green seemed the most affected by Maxwell's death. His visor depolarised, revealing the look of anger across his face.

"Where is the damn Spartan?" He hissed, not even hiding his rage.

Lieutenant Mitchell held up a hand. He'd seen rookies get like this before. They become consumed with anger, and go out for revenge on the guys that killed their friends. It generally never ended well.

"Let the other Spartans deal with him, Private. We need this place wired to blow in five, then we can exfil and get off this godforsaken planet."

Green shook slightly, eventually taking a deep breath and sitting down, his sniper rifle across his legs. Cross was ensuring that there was a secure link between the explosives he'd planted and his remote detonator. There was no way he'd be going in to detonate them manually. Angelo was crouched beside Calzaghe, who couldn't manage more than a limp at the moment. Roberts had given them communicators so they could stay in touch with the rest of the team; Mitchell and Calzaghe's equipment had been lost when they were captured.

"Lieutenant-" Mitchell wasn't sure what to call Kane. '098' didn't sound right. Why didn't they have last names? "Lieutenant, this is Mitchell. We've regrouped and are waiting for further orders, what's your position?"

Mitchell looked around, half expecting the black-armoured Spartan to jump down out of nowhere, like he usually did. Kane replied after a few seconds.

"Good to see you alive. I'm changing course. I need your team to locate and destroy any enemy ships. We cannot allow anyone to escape from the planet. Out."

The ODST's stood up, preparing to move out. Cross tossed a small detonator to Mitchell. "Here LT, you have the honours." He smiled, and pressed it, looking on in delight as the enemy barracks lit up in a fiery inferno, the shrill screams of grunts and the explosions of methane tanks filling the air. He breathed in deeply, savouring the moment of victory. Angelo motioned towards a narrow path leading into a smaller canyon. The greenery was flourishing there, in the midst of the planet of ashes.

"Sergeant, take point. Calzaghe, stay with Cross in the centre. Roberts watch our six. Green, you're on left flank, I'm on right". The troopers moved into formation, slowly making their way through, weapons raised. Their attack had crippled the enemy forces, whoever survived wouldn't pose much of a threat anyway. The sun began to rise over Schönheit.

Mitchell raised a hand to shield his eyes from the rays; he had been underground most of the night. The other ODST's visors merely polarised slightly to adjust. Angelo held up a hand, halting the squad. They immediately got into position. Angelo's battle rifle scanned the orange rocks in front. He fired four bursts, the third dissipating the shields of an elite. A quick shot from Green put the alien down, it's body slumping over the rock it had been perched on, dropping to the dirt before the soldiers. Angelo kicked the body over.

"Anyone recognise this guy?"

The dead elite was clad in unfamiliar, silverish armour, and armed only with a plasma pistol. One of his hands held a small device. Angelo picked it up and handed it to the Lieutenant. From what Mitchell could tell, it looked like a recording device of some sort. He passed it back to Cross.

"Bill, you've seen a lot, recognise this?"

The veteran ODST examined the device, raising it to eye level and holding it like a camera as he looked around.

"Battle recorder. Saw one back in '47, Fargad. Caught a split-lip sneaking around the boat we were on and took him down."

"You were on a boat?"

"Fargad was a big fight. Wet Navy got involved. The point is, I'm pretty sure that this is some kinda rare Elite 'Spook' of some kind. Monitors rather than fights. No idea why, boss."

Cross stowed the recorder in his backpack as Mitchell turned to Angelo, who was reloading his rifle. The Sergeant glanced at the sun, groaned in annoyance and deactivated his VISR. As useful as the system was, it was nearly useless in the daytime. Roberts' visor depolarised as he walked forward, using his helmet's zoom feature to look into the next canyon. There was a glint of purple there.

"Got something. Probably our Covvie ships."

"You wanna blow them up?" Mitchell asked his old squadmate.

"I'd love a smoke right now, Ash, but I'd settle for some more explosions."

The ODST's stood up and began to move. Angelo kicked the dead elite once more.

"Stupid bastard. They shoulda realised by now that we're best with the sneaky shit, they fly around and burn people. Damn split-"

His helmeted head hit the ground a second before his knees.

A large elite, clad in ornate crimson armour, decloaked before their eyes. His crimson swords were crossed in his massive hands. The alien's mandibles split into what would be considered a huge grin on a human.

"One down," he said, speaking in low, guttural English.

Chapter Nine

0515 Hours, April 5th, 2554

Eden Facility, Schönheit


"Is that all you have to say, Elena? It's been so long, I thought you of all people would have something on your mind."

The two Spartans stood meters apart, their gazes locked. Elena depolarised her visor, but kept her helmet on. Pierre's shield was being generated directly from the mini-sentinel hovering behind his right shoulder.

This was awkward.

Her eyes darted over his armour, taking note of his weapons: twin plasma pistols, and his old combat knife. The energy shield would give him a slight advantage, but like any shield, it could be broken. The other mini-sentinel, the one with the red light, would almost certainly be a problem.

"Do you know why I'm here, Pierre?" she asked. The other Spartan cocked his head to one side quizzically for a moment.

"You're here to kill me Elena, aren't you?"

He had to make it sound like that. Normally, her targets wouldn't talk at her like some kind of bad movie villain, they were generally dead before they knew what had hit them. Elena had to buy some time.

"Not necessarily. We could bring you back. Reunite you with the other Spartans. Be a unit again. Surely you-"

At that moment, four sniper rounds hit the side of Pierre's shield, inches from the left side of his face. They dissipated harmlessly, barely causing a ripple. There was a brief flash of white light, and Lieutenant Kane-098 appeared a metre away, halfway through reloading his rifle. Glancing at him, Pierre replaced his helmet.

"Hello Kane. I see thirty years haven't caused your aim any harm, eh?" He drew his pistols. "No deal, old friend. Time to dance, as they say."

Well, at least the awkward part was over.

***

"Vince!"

"You split-lip fucker!"

The huge Sangheili disappeared as the five ODST's opened fire. Mitchell grabbed Angelo's fallen Battle Rifle and fired several bursts at the retreating alien. He felt naked without his familiar helmet and HUD. Shit, I should have been on point... was his first thought.

The elite had gone. Roberts was crouched next to Mitchell, scanning the rocks around them for the unseen attacker. Private Green strode forward, reloading his sniper rifle. He was pissed.

"Come out you bastard!" he roared, walking off on his own towards the Covenant ships. Cross raced over and grabbed his shoulder.

"Mike, calm down. We lose our heads, we die."

Green seemed to heed the veteran trooper's words. He moved back to the group surrounding Angelo's body. Mitchell had to admit, he admired the young man's bravery, but his temper at the death of teammates would have to be controlled. He could remember a time when he was similar, until he became used to war, used to death. There were only a handful of people left that he could remember from more than a few years ago, Roberts being among them when they had taken their ODST training. He had to take command.

"Echo, we have to keep going without him, grab those ships for the Commander. We're double timing it over there. Roberts, you have demolition. We grab one, and-"

The rest of his sentence was punctuated by a large explosion in the adjacent valley. The ships lit up in a blaze, pieces launching high into the sky as fire scorched the once-burned rocky walls around the area. The troopers dived for cover before hunks of burning alien metal rained down upon them. After half a minute, they emerged slowly.

"Well, crap," said Roberts, accurately summing up what everyone else was thinking.

***

That was foolish.

Sur 'Ranak crawled out from the crevice he had dived into. Things were not looking good for the Sangheili Major. Almost his entire force, including the P'Roro Warrior Crèche, had been slaughtered by the humans and their Demon allies.

He had been stalking the humans, the two who escaped in particular, since the explosion of the barracks. Following them had been easy, they had moved directly into his ambush point. However, he had not suspected the Ossoona to arrive, not yet at least. He knew that the ruling factions on Sanghelios had suspected here for some time. It was one thing off his mind then, to know that the spy, likely Vadam-hired, was dead.

Looking up, 'Ranak saw what had destroyed his ships. They were small, metallic creatures, left behind by those who came before: The Forerunners. Once, he had worshipped them as Gods. That was before the schism, of course, from which he carried scars. A fresh one, too he growled in anger. The young human had shot through his shields and hit him directly. The wound was being dealt with by the combat harness' internal systems for now.

Leaning against a boulder, he watched as the massing sentinels were joined by more every few seconds. His 'collaborator', the Demon-no-Spartan, Pierre, had probably betrayed him. This was not unexpected, 'Ranak had intended to have him killed the moment the Eden Facility was fully up and running. In the lower valley, saplings were already half-grown by the ancient technology. It was time to leave.

Looking into the abandoned glasslands, Sur 'Ranak activated his emergency transmitter, and strode out into the ash-covered desert to await collection by his younger brother. Hopefully, once he had made it back to Ranak Keep, he would be forgiven by his older brother, the Kaidon. Hopefully.

Chapter Ten

0539 Hours, April 5th, 2554

Eden Facility, Schönheit


Teleportation. Well, that was new. And unfair.

Elena span round as Pierre disappeared in a flash of gold light, managing to jump back as he reappeared just behind her. He blocked several punches from Kane, who remained silent as he drew his combat knife. Several missed slashes later, and Pierre was on his right, kicking him down.

Even with his defunct armour and years of isolation, he was still a match for both of his former comrades. Kane jumped up and, in unison with Elena, launched another attack. While Kane relied on fast jabs and crosses in an attempt to floor his opponent, Elena made use of rapid kicks, driving him back. One of his mini-sentinels fired it's laser. It was not nearly as powerful as the ones they had encountered several years before, it slowly drained their energy shields.

Kane dived away, shields flashing, and drew his sniper rifle. Pierre ran at him as he quickly lined up his sights and fired three shots. The sentinel exploded and fell to the ground in pieces. The Spartan turned faster than any normal human could, expending his last bullet on Pierre's helmet. As before, the round had no effect, and a kick sent Kane sprawling. Elena leapt at Pierre once more, only to have him teleport again. She helped Kane to his feet.

"You know" he said, the first words spoken to his old friend in three decades. "That's really starting to piss me off."

Pierre shrugged. The other sentinel was floating just behind him, occasionally peeking over his shoulder as if frightened. "Reppy, go outside and get the sentinels organised. I want 'Ranak's forces wiped out, and the troopers they brought with them." At this, the monitor, who had been observing from a safe height, turned and sped off, humming cheerily to itself. Pierre raised his fists again.

"Well Kane, you've got the shiny suit and the big gun, and the skills that, as I recall, have only gotten better since training. I've got to have some perks if I'm fighting a lopsided battle against you and Elena."

Kane snorted. His visor depolarised, revealing a small grin. This was very odd for the usually introverted and stoic Spartan. "Do you know how many people died while you were sitting pretty here on this rock?" he asked. "You know who's left of us? I'll tell you. Me, Marco and Jax. That's it."

If Pierre was surprised, he didn't show it, or at least kept it all behind his visor. "I'm not apologising for anything, Kane. It's sad to learn of the deaths of old friends, I know. You were friends with Jacob, yes? How was it to have him killed, eh?"

Pierre was doing almost exactly what Kane had done to Elena earlier, the stark difference being that he knew how to manipulate people, what buttons to push. For the first time in living memory, Elena witnessed Kane lose it. He charged at Pierre, launching a flurry of attacks. Pierre fell back, quickly. He used his trick again, this time appearing to the right of the black-armoured Spartan. However, he was ready for it this time.

Kane dived at Pierre, striking him as he reappeared and knocking him to the ground. Pierre rolled, righted and landed a punch on Kane's chestplate as he charged once again. His hand was grabbed, and with one swift movement, Pierre was thrown over Kane's shoulder and flat onto the ground. He then turned to the small sentinel, floating where Pierre had stood only moments before. It gave a shrill note of alarm as Kane grabbed it. He held it in his hands for a moment, and crushed it.

The energy shield surrounding Pierre's armour dissipated. From the floor, he groaned. "Aw, crap."

Kane unholstered his M6D Pistol, and strode over to Pierre. He tried to get up, only to have a foot land on his chest. Kane pointed the pistol at his fellow Spartan's head.

"Sorry, I'm not one for witty one-liners. Jax's job. Goodbye, Pierre."

He fired his pistol. There was nothing there. As he turned, a fist struck his visor, propelling him several feet backwards onto the cavern floor. Elena drew her SMG's and opened fire on Pierre. Odd blue lines traced over his armour, and he was moving faster. Too fast.

She braced herself as she was struck. The blow sent her skidding back, but did not floor her. She attacked him once more, only to have each and every blow blocked or countered. There was a crack, and a grunt of pain as Pierre jumped away. Kane was crouched several feet away, his rifle smoking. Pierre ran from the other Spartans, his hand clutched over his chest. He would teleport a few meters, then keep running.

Elena ran to Kane, and helped him up. His helmet fell to the ground. The badly cracked visor fell apart. Kane's face was badly bruised and cut.

"Shatter proof my foot..." he remarked, before checking his rifle. "Sorry, last round. Got the right side of his chest. Might have punctured a lung. Look, I didn't mean to fly off the handle like that, It's never happened before. I-" Elena put a hand on his shoulder, silencing him. The cold, calculating and intelligent Spartan seemed to have become a scared trainee again.

"It's okay, Kane. We're going to kill him." The words sounded strange, coming from her mouth. She glanced towards the side package, where Pierre had ran to. There were noticeable bloodstains by it. She activated her COM.

"UNSC Grievous, this is Commander Elena-071. We are in need of immediate assistance. I am enacting the HAMMER Protocol as mission leader. Send in your Evac birds. Give us half an hour, then MAC this place to hell."

The reply came after a few seconds. It was Vice-Admiral Joseph Harris, one of the planners of Operation: ASHES. "Copy that Commander, are you sure?"

"Yes Admiral. The troopers are outside. Get them picked up. If we aren't out of there by the time of pickup, assume both me and SPARTAN-098 as Missing in action."

There was a much longer pause. "We're on our way, Commander. Complete the objective, and get to extraction. Good luck, we can't afford to lose you." There seemed to be genuine concern in his voice, unusual for someone working under ONI.

Kane, who had put on a communicator in place of his helmet, said nothing. He seemed to accept the fact that if they weren't fast enough, they would be obliterated by their own side. Elena opened a second COM channel. "Mitchell, are you alive?"

"Just about, ma'am" came the reply. "I'm afraid that Sergeant Angelo is KIA."

"Copy that." Another dead trooper. "Get your team to the extraction zone ASAP, and pop green smoke. We've got half an hour until HAMMER. Over and out."

The two SPARTAN-II's were alone in the cave. In unison, they started sprinting towards the passage. The mission would be finished soon, one way or another.

Chapter Eleven

0550 Hours, April 5th, 2554

Eden Facility, Schönheit


"So, they're gonna blast us into oblivion?"

"Yeah. Looks that way."

"We running Ash?"

"Yep."

Green, Mitchell and Roberts stood up. Calzaghe and Cross were watching either side of the wreckage-filled canyon. Above them, the Sentinels were patrolling in increasing numbers. The Elite that had attacked them hadn't been seen since the Covenant ships had been destroyed by combined beam fire.

"Well," Mitchell heaved himself up. They had less than thirty minutes to get the hell out before the Grievous reached them. "We're moving, Echo. The Commander gave us orders, and I'm following them." He looked around for a few moments, and began scaling the nearest cliff face. The others followed suit.

It wasn't a long way up, and soon the troopers had returned to the ash-swept glasslands that covered most of Schönheit. According to Mitchell's TACMAP, which he had borrowed from Cross following his escape, their extraction point was on a small ridge half a kilometre away. As they set out, Roberts jogged alongside the Lieutenant.

"This remind you of anything?" he asked.

"What do you mean?"

"Where were we nine years ago?"

"Oh."

"I'm just saying Ash, I don't want this to end like Draco III."

"What? Forty of us got jumped into that mess. We walk out just you and me, nobody else. Right on top even as everything went to shit."

A sudden cough from Cross snapped the two out of their reminiscing. "Oh, and you were there too, Bill" Roberts called back. Cross grunted in acknowledgement and kept on walking. Green, who was helping Calzaghe, seemed, as younger soldiers often did while around veterans, curious.

"What happened on Draco III?" he inquired.

"Shit," came the eloquent reply from Roberts, who had snapped back into combat mode. He had never been one for conversation. According to the device, they had reached the 'ridge'. It barely passed for a hill. The troopers moved to the top, and Green threw down some flares.

They sat in silence for several minutes until Calzaghe piped up. "Boss, we moving or what? Rather not get wasted by my own side, thanks." Mitchell checked the TACMAP again. This was the spot.

"Get into defensive positions in case of attack. Roberts and Green at the summit, Cross and Calzaghe with me around the slope. Fire at anything that isn't us."

"Just like McNair..." Roberts remarked. Mitchell didn't bother replying. It was old news.

"Contact!" Four guns turned to Calzaghe's side of the hill. Through the obscuring ash, a little blue light was slowly approaching.

"Hello! How nice to see you again!"

***

Elena-071 and Kane-098 had been running for several minutes after Pierre. Despite the various passageways leading off, it hadn't been difficult to track the Spartan down. All they had to do was follow the bloodstains, which were becoming more frequent as they went on.

Eventually, they came to a large, high-ceilinged room. The walls were adorned with scrolling Forerunner glyphs. At the far end, a glowing, circular structure sat, three metallic prongs protruding from it. Every few seconds, a sentinel would rise from it, and fly upwards through a vent in the ceiling. Kane edged forward. He was still bleeding from his facial cuts, but was ignoring the pain, keeping his rifle raised. He motioned to the cryo-tube shaped object in the centre of the room.

"Grunts were moving it when we attacked. Must be important."

Elena began to move towards it. "Stay back, could be a trap" she replied, glancing around. Pierre was nowhere to be seen. She approached the pod, and glanced inside. She gasped and reeled back. Kane moved forward towards the pod.

"What is it?" He asked, before peering in.

"Kane..." Elena struggled to speak. Wounds long since forgotten were being reopened a lot on this mission.

"Kane, it's Hank."

Within the pod, lay a SPARTAN-II. His armour was jet black, the same as Elena's, though it was very badly scorched and burned, around the torso area in particular. His helmet, an old 'Grenadier' variant of the Mark IV, lay at his feet, the visor cracked. His arms lay folded across his chest. His pale, slightly scarred face, cropped brown hair and crooked nose, broken in a fight years ago, was visible through the glass.

Elena moved a hand over what she believed was the glass. It shimmered at her touch, but did not yield. The Spartan could have been sleeping. Elena had seen him taking an emerald green bolt to the chest with her own eyes during the planet's fall, tumbling over the rocky edge and into the abyss that was now this valley. Kane's facial expression, usually that of calm, somewhat snide, superiority, had softened somewhat.

"How did he...?"

"Hunter blast to the chest. Never stood a chance."

"Okay."

That was that. Kane looked around the room, at the sentinels that continued to rise. As Elena dragged her vision away from her old friend's body, there was a blur of movement. She leapt backwards, drawing her SMG's as she did. A hose of bullets sprayed the area where Pierre had stood a microsecond before. He reappeared next to the pod, and disappeared again as Kane fired. He's faster...

The two Spartans continued firing at their constantly-teleporting enemy. As Kane began to reload, his sniper rifle was yanked out of his hands. He ducked as a fist smashed through the air. Those strange blue lines glowed along Pierre's battered armour. Elena leapt as the shimmering golden light enveloped him once more, landing on his back. There was a flash of white before her eyes, and she reappeared on top of him. Without thinking, she drew her combat knife and plunged it into his shoulder.

Pierre yelped in pain, and kicked her off, only to have another sniper round hit him in the stomach. He teleported as Elena rolled and jumped upright, aiming her weapons. Now, he stood in front the sentinel constructor, panting. Blood dripped from his badly wounded form. He stood up and cracked his knuckles.

The blue lines vanished.

Pierre blinked several times in surprise, and slumped forward to his knees.

"...Knew it," he muttered. "Reppy's fucked me over."

Chapter Twelve

0553 Hours, April 5th, 2554

Eden Facility, Schönheit


"What the hell is that?"

Mitchell motioned for Green to lower his weapon as the spherical monitor bobbed closer to the group of troopers. 037 Repentant Observer regarded the others with a glowing blue eye.

"More reclaimers! That is good. Need to tie up loose ends. Do you see the spire?"

He swivelled to face the direction of the monolithic structure, which extended high into the skies of Schönheit. Sentinels were filling the skies around it. It's presence made Mitchell feel ill at ease.

"What does it do?" asked Cross.

"I'm glad you asked! My makers created the Eden Facility for the purpose of restoring nature to planet ravaged by the war. As far as I am aware, several of these facilities were created, though my knowledge of their whereabouts was limited in case of capture. With the Spire raised, this world shall be teeming with life again within a few days!"

This seemed too good to be true. A glassed planet being restored in days? If the UNSC could gain this technology, so many planets could be reclaimed. Draco III. Harvest. Reach.

"Why are you working with the Elites then, and the Spartan?"

"Oh, working with them?" His blue eye began to flicker slightly as the troopers backed off. Roberts nudged Mitchell. "I've seen enough horror flicks to know that robots that do that are crazy."

"I never worked with them, I used them to get me what I needed. 100,000 years of solitude, alone. Do you know what that is like?!" Observer's eye turned red. Roberts swore under his breath and reached for his missile launcher.

"This planet is mine!" A beam of energy, much stronger than that of a sentinel's, shot out. Calzaghe pushed Green to the floor as the beam struck him squarely in the chest. He screamed for a moment and slumped backwards into the dirt. Green rolled away as the beam scorched the ground by him.

Seeing his chance, Mitchell ran at the monitor and leapt onto it, attempting to drag the little machine down. He was instantly thrown off by some kind of orange-tinted force field.

"A hundred thousand years of abandonment!" The monitor screamed, "All this time and your kind come to claim what my creators left for you. You don't deserve it!" The machine blasted another energy beam towards Cross, who was running for cover. Roberts raised his missile launcher and fired twice. The two rockets struck the monitor dead on target, but had little effect other than to madden him. He zoomed towards the ODST, firing his beam once more. Roberts cried out in pain as the beam cut down through both his weapon, and his arm.

"Mal!" Mitchell grabbed his friend and began to drag him away. The arm lay in the dirt, still clutching the barrel of the weapon. The wound had been instantly cauterised by the blast. Suddenly, Repentant Observer froze, turning to the Spire.

"Nononononono, can't let them do that, all this time, got to stop him..." As the little monitor rose, shrugging off rifle rounds, he glowed for a moment.

"Oh and, kill the interlopers, please."

He vanished.

Cross tossed Mitchell a painkiller to give to Roberts. He injected it into his shoulder, and the trooper relaxed slightly.

"My arm..." he hissed, staring at his missing limb. "Cut off my fucking arm..."

Cross' visor depolarised as he crouched by the wounded trooper. "Sorry Mal, we'll get you out of here" He looked up, as if hoping for an immediate airlift. Green sighted down his scope. In the spire's direction, there was a growing number of black dots slowly getting bigger.

"Uh, Lieutenant? We've got a mass of hostiles incoming."

"Good. I want to kill something right now." Mitchell's voice was low and unnaturally gruff. He picked up his rifle and reloaded.

***

"He's what?"

Elena ran over to where Pierre now lay, in a expanding pool of his own blood. She unhooked a can of biofoam, inserting the nozzle into a port in his battered and broken armour. Pierre gasped in pain as the expanding foam hardened, sealing up his wounds. She pulled off his helmet, uncovering his scarred, pale face. Pierre raised himself up on his elbows for a moment, before falling back.

"The Monitor..." He said, his voice now quite weak. "Used the technology to sustain my suit and enhance my strength with the facility's power supply. He's coming to kill us, I knew he would, he's always been-" His head darted to one side as Kane-098 reloaded his sniper rifle, and pointed it at his head.

Elena jumped up, grabbing the barrel of the rifle. "Kane, No!" The male Spartan's face was impassive. Cold. "We need to complete the mission. The target must be eliminated."

"The target?! This is Pierre, Kane! We trained together, we grew up together! Are you seriously telling me that you would kill him like that? If you are, then in my books, you're no better than one of those damn sentinels!"

These words seemed to impact Kane as if she had hit him. His grip sagged on his rifle. His mouth opened and closed several times before he hung his head. He holstered his weapon and crouched beside Pierre.

"I'm sorry." He seemed like a small child, being forced to apologise for an act of wrongdoing.

"Pierre" Elena crouched on his right. "Why did you send the message after all these years? Why not straight away, and why did you leave the threat about the weapons?"

The only reply was a small chuckle from the gravely injured Spartan. "Ah, I love this part of the story. The villain explains his plans in great detail to the heroes before his death. It's like the old vids we used to watch as kids. Well, It's quite simple. As Schönheit burned, I leapt into the chasm that Hank had fallen into. Turns out, that the whole reason ONI built a base over here was because of this facility. The bombings awakened Repentant Observer-Reppy, and he found me dragging Hank's body inside. He put Hank in that tube, and took me into the chasms. I spent months down there living off of the berries and trees that the facility artificially grew, before it was safe to go up."

Pierre gestured to the Sentinel producing machine in the far corner of the room. "Those are the 'weapons' I spoke of. One is produced every six seconds. We only got it working recently. A year ago, Sur 'Ranak and his forces landed, and we made a deal to restore the planet. In return, he would gain Forerunner technology to return to his people. His men helped to excavate the ruins while I helped to power up the facility. One problem though, was that a 'Reclaimer' was needed to activate the spire, which would increase the regenerative radius to the whole planet. I couldn't do it, for some reason. Couldn't remove my armour, so we needed a regular, unarmoured human to do it, one of your ODST's. in this case. Simple as that."

Elena and Kane seized Pierre by the arms, and stood him up. He walked over to Hank's pod shakily. He had lost a lot of blood. He leant against it, peering through the transparent surface onto his old friend's face.

"You can still save Hank." His voice had dropped to barely a whisper. "With certain medical tools and equipment, you could revive him once he's out of stasis."

"We're getting you out as well Pierre, don't you die on us." This had come from Kane, who was looking much more resolute and confident with a clear objective. "We haven't got long though, ships are coming to blast this place into dust."

Pierre nodded. "I understand. Elena, I need to remove some armour to move faster, could you activate the override on my suit? Code is 678452056."

"Sure," Elena flipped open a tiny access panel on the back of Pierre's MJOLNIR Armour, and typed in the digits, entering the command key. However, instead of the armour pieces de-attaching themselves and falling off, his suit began to beep. Pierre grabbed Kane and Elena.

"I'm surprised that worked, really. Suit Fail-Safe system.If you get Hank back, tell him I tried to do some good."

Elena realised what he was doing. "Pierre-"

There was a large flash of golden light enveloping the two Spartans and Hank's pod as Elena cried out. Pierre was left standing alone in the room. Stepping over his discarded helmet, he limped towards the Sentinel manufacturing machine as fast as he could, and began climbed up to the edge, leaning back as another sentinel was pieced together in front of him.

"SPARTAN!"

037 Repentant Observer whizzed into the room, and straight towards Pierre, his eye pulsing bright red. The monitor stopped just before he reached the Spartan.

"I demand that you cease your activity at once and surrender! Your death will be made as quickly and efficiently as possible."

Pierre snorted with laughter. "Sorry Reppy, my number's up, as is yours."

He fell backwards into the machine as the monitor's synthetic voice howled in rage. Barely a second later, the still-functioning fusion reactor in his MJOLNIR armour detonated, sending tendrils of fire racing up towards the monitor as it attempted to flee. The ground rumbled as below the Eden Facility proper, the Sentinel manufacturing plant consumed by the fire.

***

"-No!"

On a nearby cliff, Elena-071, Kane-098 and the pod containing Hank-136 materialised in a final flash of golden light. Seconds later, the valley containing the Eden Facility, and the partially-restored area of Schönheit, crumbled as explosions from below ruptured the ground, causing it to fall inwards.

"Elena, he's gone" Kane stood still, one hand on the stasis pod. Elena looked around in desperation, as though she could pull Pierre out from the dirt. Eventually, she looked down in defeat. Kane sighed and leant against a rock, his expression unreadable behind the opaque visor.

"Let's go," she muttered, before checking her mission clock. The time was 7.02. They had five minutes before the UNSC Grievous blasted this area into dust.

Chapter Thirteen

0602 Hours, April 5th, 2554

Glasslands, Schönheit


"Last mag, make it count!"

The three ODST's left fighting were crouched behind rocks, firing bursts at the incoming sentinels. Calzaghe's body had been dragged into cover next to where the wounded Roberts lay, clutching the stump of his right arm. Mitchell slammed the last magazine into his rifle, and aimed down at the incoming sentinels. Dozens of smouldering metal husks littered the dirt in front of them.

"Bill, how long have we got?"

"Five minutes until HAMMER comes down!"

"Crap. Keep firing."

This wasn't good. There had been a large explosion coming from the direction of the Eden Facility not long before, and the Sentinels were no longer swarming them, but they were still massively outnumbered and outgunned. Mitchell took down four more sentinels before his weapon clacked empty. "Well, this is it" He thought to himself. "I survive Draco III, Reach, Earth and the whole damn war just to go down like this"

7.03

"Ammo out!"

Green threw his rifle at an approaching sentinel, knocking it back slightly, before diving behind the rocks with the others. His armour, newly-issued and unadorned at the beginning of the mission, was dented and scarred, not to mention covered in dirt.

"Nothing left?"

"Just a grenade."

"Never thought I'd go out like this..."

Cross glanced over the rim of the rocks, and ducked as another deadly beam blasted towards him.

"Well, anyone have any ideas that aren't suicide?"

"We run out and take them down with our knives?"

"I said ideas that aren't suicide, Mike."

"Well, let's see you-" Green stopped, and held up a hand. "Listen!"

There was a sound, audible over the sound of the beam weapons and the howling wind. Something that the ODST's recognised. Rotor Blades.

"Get down!" An amplified voice boomed through the air. The troopers lay down as two Falcon helicopters came into view, machine guns blaring as they dropped sentinels out of the air like flies. Mitchell grabbed Roberts, helping him to his feet as one of the Falcons landed. Several troopers leapt from the side doors and opened fire on what remained of the incoming foes. Cross and Green picked up Calzaghe's body, and began dragging their fallen comrade to the extraction vehicle.

"Lieutenant Mitchell?" A massive figure jumped from the second Falcon to the floor. He was covered from head-to-toe in tan coloured MJOLNIR armour. Another Spartan. Mitchell nodded as he helped Roberts onto the awaiting vehicle.

"Chief Petty Officer Marco-035. Where's Elena?"

He was obviously referring to the Commander. "She went with SPARTAN-098 to finish the mission, we haven't heard from her since. There was an explosion a few minutes ago, not sure if she made it out."

Marco nodded solemnly. He turned away towards the other Falcon as Mitchell climbed in his with the other surviving troopers. Cross and Green finished loading Calzaghe's body and got on board. They immediately began to rise.

"We should have gone back for Angelo," Green muttered. They had left the trooper's body where it had fallen back in the canyon.

"Nothing we can do for him now," replied Cross, emotionless as ever. High above them, they could make out the massive bulk of the UNSC Grievous coming into orbit. Mitchell glanced down at Roberts. The meds had taken effect, and he was quite delirious. "Damn, I need a smoke," he muttered, and promptly passed out.

"This is Elena-071 to any UNSC forces. I need extraction NOW! We have a tier one asset that needs transporting, and we don't have much time. Is anyone out there?"

Mitchell put his hand to his communicator, but was cut off by the new Spartan, Marco.

"Elena, it's Marco? Where are you, We're coming to get you out!"

"Marco? Me and Kane are on the cliffs to the west, I'm activating my transponder now."

The second Falcon veered off to the left, while Mitchell's kept going. Peering out over the edge, he could see Marco's Falcon touching down, something being loaded onto it, then taking off again. He shouted out to the pilot.

"Where are we going? The Grievous is right above us!"

The pilot kept the Falcon on course, heading away from the valley.

"Look, we really don't wanna be here when those MAC rounds hit, I've been on enough HAMMER runs to learn that buddy. Just wait a while."

Mitchell sat back in his seat. Cross removed his helmet and took a breath of fresh air. Moments later, there was a deafening crack as the Grievous' main gun fired, the Magnetic Accelerator Rounds blasting through rock and metal, obliterating most of the rejuvenated valley. The trooper lay his head back against his seat, and closed his eyes.

Chapter Fourteen

0959 Hours, April 5th, 2554

UNSC Grievous, Schönheit orbit


The three Spartans stood around the stasis pod, arms crossed.

"I can't believe it's him," muttered Marco. It had been thirty years since he had seen his old friend. It was not exactly the best situation, as Hank had been clinically dead for a decade.

"I spoke with the Admiral. We're heading back to Earth. We've got the best medical facilities money can buy there, they should be able to revive him, even with the extensive wounds and trauma he suffered." There was a faint note of hope in Elena's voice. At least something had been gained from this mission. Three ODST's dead, and another in the medical bay missing an arm. And Pierre. She wondered what drove him to these actions, why he had even sent out a message in the first place. Surely someone would have come along sooner or later, but no, he had deliberately sent out a threat to the UNSC, one that he knew would be answered with force.

"Are you sure his mind will be intact?" asked Kane. "He could have been dead for over an hour by the time he was placed in the pod."

Elena shrugged, and brought up another file, one she had requested from the Admiral. "Well, we have a similar case from back in '52, on Reach." The mention of the planet caused Marco and Kane to involuntarily twitch. They had lost a lot of friends back there.

"Who?"

"SPARTAN-058. Linda. Not one of ours. She was clinically dead for a while before being put in cryo. She was later revived after a while and was straight back into the fight."

This seemed to put the other Spartans at ease. Marco allowed a small smile to appear on his usually stony face. He turned to Elena. "So, what about Pierre?"

"Dead. Took the whole place down with him. Saved us, too." She opened and closed her mouth, as if to continue, but fell silent. Marco didn't pry any further. She placed the datapad on the table, and went for the door. "I'm getting some food. Coming?"

She walked out, closely followed by Marco. Kane watched them leave together, and shook his head, smirking at the pair of them. It had been a tough mission, he had to admit. He picked up the datapad, and started going over the profile of the other Spartan, who had been clinically dead for some time before being resuscitated. If they could do that in the middle of a war, then they had a chance at reviving their old comrade.

He glanced over at Hank, pale and unmoving in the stasis pod. "We'll get you back."

No one was around to hear, but it made him feel better all the same. Kane walked out looking over the information on the other SPARTAN-II. Looking over her skills, he noticed that she, like him, was an expert marksman. He felt a sudden urge to head down to the ship's shooting range. Something about the description of 'expert marksman' bothered him. He grabbed his rifle and helmet from the table, and stalked off, eager to prove himself against someone he had never met.

***

Lieutenant Ash Mitchell stepped out of the elevator into the ship's Medical Bay. He had changed into some fresh clothes and sent his armour to the armoury for repairs. Walking down the corridor, he passed Cross, who was striding along, a smile on his face as usual.

"Looking for Mal?" He asked, a little too brightly considering what had occurred over the last 24 hours.

"Yeah," replied Mitchell. He hadn't slept properly, and being knocked out didn't quite count in his books. "You seem happy, what's up?"

Cross breathed in the ship's recycled air, still smiling. "Well, I'm alive, that's good enough for me. I know we lost friends down there, Ash, but I'll deal with it my own way. Been dealing with it for over ten years, no sense in letting it get me down now."

Mitchell remained silent. He'd known Bill Cross for a long time, and had always felt slightly uncomfortable around the permanently cheery ODST. Most troopers in the regiment were generally grim, almost soulless at times; accustomed to killing and slaughter. Mitchell had felt himself switch off while fighting Covenant as well as Insurrectionists.

"Well," Cross continued. "Mal's through to the right. I'm off to see the chaplain. I'll see you later Ash."

Mitchell waved him off, and continued to Roberts' room. The one-armed trooper was arguing with a doctor over the issue of him being allowed to smoke.

"-Look, I don't care what you boys do when you get shot at planets, but in my med bay, we do not smoke!"

"Hey, I just got my fucking arm cut off, lady. I think that I for one, deserve a goddamn cigarette!"

"Look, stop whining, and if I catch you sneaking out again, I'll take your other arm. There's painkillers there if your boo-boo hurts. I'm leaving!"

The doctor, a middle-aged, tired looking woman, stormed out, pushing Mitchell out of the way. On the bed, Roberts sighed and tried to reach across with his remaining arm to the pitcher of water before be noticed Mitchell.

"Hey Ash."

"Hey Mal, still alive?"

"Barely. Y'know, when I signed up I had a vision of having my wounds tended to by someone a little more attractive, not that damn monster. I'd rather go for round two with the bastard split-lip that killed Vince."

"Right. What are they doing about the arm?"

"Getting a robotic one bolted on. They say I won't be able to tell the difference, and It'll be much stronger than before. Then I'm retiring."

"You're what!"

Roberts shook his head sadly. "I'm forty one, Ash. I joined up because the covvies burned my home, and as far as I'm concerned, we've won. I'm out. Got enough pay saved up to last me a while, and I'm heading off to the colonies."

Mitchell had to admit, he was surprised at this. He'd known Roberts since he had volunteered to become an Orbital Drop Shock Trooper. "Why the change of heart Mal? I thought you loved your job."

This provoked a chuckle from his friend. "Hey, I won't lie, some of the best years of my life were spent fighting covvies, but I'm a bit sick of our employers, if you catch my meaning. Putting down crazies and suicide bombers is one thing, I'm not cut out for beating down guys for holding up placards. That's how it's gonna end up now we've got the aliens beat. Right back tot he old ways."

From the usually supportive and somewhat Earth-patriotic Roberts, this was an odd outburst. "Come on Mal, you and I both know that's not true. You'll always have some guy spewing that baby-killer crap."

"We're not exactly the good guys, Ash."

"Hey, better us than some fundamentalist or a group of anarchists running the place. You watch those old movies. No one ever got everything solved by sticking to the rules all the time."

Roberts nodded. "You've got a point, but I'm out the moment I get a shiny new arm. You staying in the service?"

Mitchell had never really considered leaving the ODST's. He'd joined, like thousands of others, at a time when humanity was in danger of extinction. Now, thinking about it, he wasn't exactly sure what to do. He still had a home on Earth, and some family. He could start a new life.

"I'm not really sure, Mal. Might stay on for a little while. I'll think about it. Anyway, I'd better be going. Good luck getting your smokes."

"Yeah, see you whenever, Ash."

Before he exited the room, Mitchell turned back to his friend. "Oh, and I didn't forget the remark about McNair back there. I've got the personality, but you get the robo-arm."

Mitchell left the room as Roberts swore loudly at the comparison to their long-dead mentor, who had beaten them into ODST's. He headed for the elevator. Honestly, Mitchell wasn't sure what to do now. Going to see Green would probably be the best course of action, the young trooper had been adamant about personally delivering the condolences to Angelo's family back on Earth when they got back.

Y'know he thought to himself. Maybe seeing the ship's chaplain wouldn't be such a bad idea. Mitchell had never been the religious type, but right now, he needed some kind of advice on what to do with his life right now. Maybe it was time to start living for himself.

Chapter Fifteen

1248 Hours, April 9th, 2554

Ranak Keep, Sanghelios

"Welcome home, brother."

Sur 'Ranak walked slowly down the long hallway of the main throne room, looking slowly left and right. Sangheili warriors sat around, watching him making his way towards the central table, where his brother, the Kaidon, sat.

After being picked up from Schönheit by his younger brother, Rol 'Ranak, Sur had been contemplating his failure. Over a year had been spent attempting to acquire Forerunner technology, and now he was returning home empty-handed.

Felo 'Ranak stood up. He was wearing his ceremonial golden armour, signifying his status as Kaidon of both the keep and their clan. He gestured to a seat. Sur took it without a word. Rol sat opposite him. From the looks of things, nearly all of the clan was gathered in the hall for his return. Felo sat down, not taking his eyes off his younger brothers.

"Well, do you have anything to say? You have been absent from our hall since the Great Schism, leaving no evidence of your whereabouts. Some-" he inclined his head towards several Elders, sitting on a side bench "doubted that you were still alive" Sur said nothing to his brother. The weight of his failure weighed down heavily on him.

"Why-" Felo's voice rose sharply "-is it that all the information on your whereabouts was given to me by our brother?" He leaned towards Sur, who bowed his head, partly out of respect, partly due to shame. "Well?!" boomed the Kaidon's voice.

"Brother, I have spent many cycles collecting the technology of the Gods, technology that would surely benefit our clan."

"Is that so? Well, is that why the Ossoona, the spy, I dispatched on your trail reported that you were working with a Human? A demon, nonetheless."

Sur shivered. The Kaidon looked at him in disdain, a look of superiority on his scarred face. He then addressed the hall as a whole "As many of you know, I feel that diplomacy is the way forward with the humans. The lies and heresy practised by the prophets blinded us, forced us into war with a race that we could have worked with. I know that many do not agree with me, both within and outside this keep. The score of slain assassins stands as testament to that!"

Felo 'Ranak grabbed his brother, heaving him to his feet. "Brother, we have fought alongside each other on many worlds, trained as children. All I ask is that you tell me the truth."

Sur took a deep breath, his two hearts beating wildly. "I...failed, my brother." He could see the assembled warriors muttering to each other. "When I arrived at the facility, the Demon was already there. I worked with him in order to obtain the technology stored there, to bring it to help our clan. However, we came under attack. Several demons, along with other soldiers, attacked, and destroyed everything there."

Felo crossed his arms, and grunted in acknowledgement. "You speak the truth. The second Ossoona witnessed the attack, and I have viewed the recordings in detail, including how you allowed the first to be slaughtered by humans before fleeing, as no true warrior should. Your instinct for self-preservation outweighed your own honour, brother. What do you say about that?"

Exposed. Sur saw that there was no way out. The moment his older brother glanced away, he activated the energy daggers in his gauntlets. The Kaidon jumped back, his reflexes honed by years of war and attempted assassinations. Instead, he slowly drew the blades to his throat. Felo leapt at him, grabbing his arms and forcing them away from his neck. Several honour guards leapt up, grabbing Sur as he writhed on the floor. Felo stood up, looming over his brother.

"Ah, I see you still retain some amount of honour. However, I forbid you from taking your own life. You are to be remade, brother. I have further use for you, both as a warrior, and a representative for Ranak. Begone." He turned away, striding back to his throne. Sur 'Ranak stood up, growling at the warriors around him before walking away, head bowed. Turning into a side corridor of the stone keep, he leant against the cold, hard wall, breathing out a long sigh of relief.

"That was a lucky escape, brother."

Rol 'Ranak stood behind him, arms crossed. "I'm not interested in your so-called 'truth', Sur. The destruction of the humans is all I am concerned with. Our Kaidon's word is law, and I shall follow it, as will you, but in my opinion, he holds a very outmoded point if view."

Rol, who in the war had served as part of Felo and Sur's Special Operations group on many campaigns, was seen as something of a fundamentalist in Sangheili politics, part of a faction that still wished for the destruction of humanity, while the ruling group on Sangheilios, led by the Arbiter, wished to build relations. Sur himself had preferred to stay out of the political arena, though he, like his younger brother, opposed this 'new era' of beliefs that had been imposed on his people.

"What would you have me do? Our Kaidon knows that my honour is sullied, as did everyone else within the Keep. I cannot work for anyone but him now, lest I be turned away as a warrior!"

Rol shook his head. "Perhaps both of you hold slightly outmoded beliefs. I can make use of you too, brother. The humans possess groups that wish to undermine their governments, people that we could work with" This was a surprise to Sur. The last time he had seen his brother, he was all for an all-out assault on the Human homeworld. He had obviously been away for too long.

"You wish to work with humans?"

"I wish to destroy their military leaders, their politicians, the Demons. Those who have wronged our race. The destruction of their species as a whole would be inadvisable."

"Well, who is it that you know?"

"He is a human rebel. He is unlike the rest of his species in manner, intelligence, and tenacity, with power to equal even our 'great' Kaidon. I believe that he will prove useful to our cause."

Sur nodded, listening intently to his younger brother. He hoped that Rol was not exaggerating this claim; Felo was one of the most powerful Kaidon's on Sanghelios and not one to be taken lightly.

"What does he call himself?"

"Magnus."


The End.

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