Terminal.png This article, Halo: The Hunted/Act I, was written by KingOfYou115. Please do not edit this fiction without the writer's permission.

Act I of Halo: The Hunted, known as Arrow Flight, includes chapters 1 through 21. They have been tweaked for grammar and content from the original RP's 23 chapters. Notable changes being the removal of some minor characters, the rearranging of chapters for better flow, the correcting of major grammatical mistakes, and some minor modifications to dialogue and actions.

Act I — Arrow Flight

Chapter 01

1945 STANDARD TIME (UNSC STANDARD), 07 DEC 2551

Location: Bridge of the UNSC Arrow Flight

“This is Captain Julius Bruening of the UNSC Arrow Flight; We are adrift without power and Covenant are boarding the ship. I'm left no other choice; We must abandon ship.”

The broadcast went silent; Julius could hear fighting directly outside the bridge. He grasped his sidearm, checking the ammunition. Even if we could get the power back on, that cruiser would burn us out of space…


Metal snapped and blood dripped from Harald’s hands as the broadcast ended. He turned his head slightly to the two ODSTs that were accompanying him. “You two, watch my six. I’m getting this door open.”

He didn’t wait for a response. The Spartan tossed the lifeless Elite to the ground and turned his attention to the bridge’s blast door.


Julius readied himself, he could hear the prying on the door. Slowly it creaked open, only wide enough for for him to see the blinking red light be blotted out by an immense figure; a blinding light flashed in his face. He recovered quickly, sighing in relief.

“Harald.. Just the man I needed to see. We don't have time for chit-chat, so I'm getting straight to the point. This ship's going down one way or the other; I need the reactors overloaded. We're scuttling the ship.”

Julius let out a light sigh as he eyed the two young ODSTs behind the Spartan. “You two will join him.”

The male ODST turned to his squadmate. “Looks like we're babysitting again, Amelia.”

The Spartan backed away from the crack in the door he made. He gestured for the two ODSTs to take point.

“It was nice to see you again, sir. Good luck.”

He grasped the door as he finished speaking, slowly creaking it shut. As the Spartan disappeared behind the metal, Julius muttered something under his breath.

“Good luck to you too, Spartan. Make it back in one piece.”

Chapter 02

1942 STANDARD TIME (UNSC STANDARD), 07 DEC 2551

Location: Cryobay 04 aboard the UNSC Arrow Flight

Lieutenant Commander Aleksandra Zaytseva stumbled out of her cryopod, falling to the floor and coughing up the surfactant that had been protecting her lungs. Standing up and getting dressed in the light shirt and pants stored next to the pod, Sasha frowned. The ship felt still, the dull humming of the reactors silent. That, combined with the hasty manner of her awakening and the awakening of the people around her led to only one conclusion: main power was offline.

Just as she came to that conclusion herself, Sasha's suspicions were confirmed as the PA system crackled to life and Captain Bruening's announcement filled the air.

«This is Captain Julius Bruening of the UNSC Arrow Flight; We are adrift without power and Covenant are boarding the ship. I'm left no other choice; We must abandon ship.»

Listening closely, Sasha headed to get into her flightsuit, grabbing one of the additional armor sets for protection against the Covenant she would inevitably be facing. Grabbing a sidearm, she holstered it and moved to the weapon rack of one of the empty pods, grabbing the BR55HB and several magazines of ammunition for both of her weapons.

Sasha turned to the various flight deck personnel in her cryobay.

“Alright, everyone. Captain's ordered evacuation, and that means we get to the hangar, clear it out of those alien bastards, and load up the Pelicans with supplies, fuel, and any crew and marines who show up.”

Various acknowledgements went up as she finished her short speech and turned to the door of the cryobay. Motioning to a few of the marines who had been present in the cryobay with the flight crew, she directed them to the door to place a breaching charge and cover the hole when it opened.

Getting into position, she raised her rifle, shouldering it, and thumbed the button on the detonator.

Chapter 03

1948 STANDARD TIME (UNSC STANDARD), 07 DEC 2551

Location: Cryobay 03 aboard the UNSC Arrow Flight

“Alright ladies, you heard the old man, we're evacuating the Arrow Flight!”

Master Sergeant Mike Sanders yelled across the cryobay that contained a few dozen cryopods, most of them previously occupied by some of the ship's marines. He placed his helmet on his head and fastened it, completing his battle dress uniform.

“I want every marine combat ready in two minutes, and I want to see those who aren't marines with either a gun in their hands, carrying supplies, or hauling ammo.”

He moved past a few marines that were checking their weapons one final time and over to weapons rack. He grabbed a MA5D from the rack and as many clips of ammo as he could carry without hindering his mobility. He clipped two frag grenades and a M6C to his hip and thigh.

Now fully loaded and ready for battle, he turned to his men and the few non-combat crew members.


“The Covies are swarming the ship, so we're making our way to the hangars and get the hell off this overpriced tin can. Now, get moving!”

The marines roared their acknowledgement and formed ranks right behind their Master Sergeant, weapons held high and ready to bring death to anything and everything that stood in their way off the ship. The few unarmed people in the group formed up the rear and held onto their packs filled with weapons, ammo, food, and other supplies.

Pulling the emergency handle on the door out of the hall filled with cryopods, Mike was the first out, heading straight for the hangars, praying to any higher powers that it wouldn't be overrun by the time they got there.

His prayers, however, fell on deaf ears and only after a few corridors away from the cryopods struck misfortune. Mike had nearly run into a just-as-surprised Kig-Yar when he had turned a corner. Luckily for him he had reacted first, and a burst from his assault rifle almost threatened to tear off its head.

“Hostiles!”

Mike jumped back around the corner just in time as bolts of plasma and crystal shards smashed into metal that stood between him and a gruesome death. His marines pushed themselves up to the wall, readying themselves for a fight while the non-combat members of the group pushed, covered their heads, and screamed in terror.

“We'll have to fight our way through here or we'll never make it to the hangar in time.”

He dared a quick look over the edge before pulling back again. He pointed at two marines to get up beside him.

“I didn't see any Split-Jaws. Only a few Chickens and Grunts. You two will bring down some covering fire while I and two others cross the hall for better firing positions. Alright?”

The two marines nodded and got into position, ready to spray down the hallway at the Covenant soldiers. Mike forced himself to clear his mind and calm down.

“Three…

“two...

“one...

“Now!”

Chapter 04

1949 STANDARD TIME (UNSC STANDARD), 07 DEC 2551

Location: Armory behind the bridge of the UNSC Arrow Flight

“We need to move, Captain, there's no telling the saboteur - or whatever brought us out of slipspace - may still be around.”

The captain clicked his flashlight so he could see who was addressing him. In the darkness of the room stood Corporal Žagar, saluting the captain despite being blinded by the light. He lowered the flashlight slightly, out of the corporal’s eyes.

“At ease, Corporal.” He eyed Žagar for a second. “It's too late to worry about that now. They're probably already onboard.”

Breuning checked his ammunition one more time, making sure to stuff as many magazines he could find into his pockets—not many, considering they were in the small armory behind the bridge. Upon strapping on the hefty should-plate onto his bicep, he waited as the corporal was done tightening the straps for the ODST armor—clearly one which wasn't his. After donning his helmet and grabbing a nearby rifle, he nodded his head to let Bruening know he was ready.

“Alright, Let's move!”


Bartolomej Žagar attempted to follow—clumsily as he was in his forty kilos of armor—and tried to quickly check each corner, despite often being a fare distance behind his superior. The reduced gravity was throwing the ODST off.

“Captain, I've been hearing radio chatter; Quite a bit of chaos is going on in the maintenance areas.”

The captain slowed his jog a tad, getting ready to turn a corner into another the corridor.

“There's chaos everywhere right now, Corporal. We're in a giant piece of metal on a crash course. I've got a pair of Spartans on my ship and only one of them has made any contact,” He stated blatantly as if it was obvious. He stopped as he reached the end of the corridor, and looked down with envy on the soldier beside him.

“I wish I had some of that armor, and something stronger than this pea-shooter. You're a lucky one, Corporal.”

Bart smiled slightly, unpolarizing his visor in the process.

“If it makes you feel any better, sir, I left a gift for the Covies in the bridge.”

As the Captain prepared to continue towards the lifeboats, the corporal tugged at his uniform.

“Sir, wait! We can't leave. When we came out of slipspace, the emergency power for some of the cryotubes didn't come up. We need to help them, or they'll be sitting ducks for... whatever may be here."

The captain never got the chance to agree or rebut him, as at that moment a figure uncloaked at the far end of the hall. Seemingly smiling towards its stranded prey, the Zealot grabbed something from its hip as its armor lit up the corridor.

“Humans…”

The luminous monster activated its energy sword, walking towards them with purpose. It dragged the blade across the floor, leaving orange marks in a way which intimidated the two worms before the Zealot. It suddenly stopped halfway through, however, raising its sword in the process. It made a sound as if it was disgusted, or annoyed; Bart couldn't tell.

“Not Demons.....who are you?”

The captain took a step closer, raising his pistol—not that it would do much good against this split-lip. He responded immediately. Strangely, he wasn't scared, instead seething confidence in a way which defied Bart's understanding. With his left hand he gestured subtlety for Žagar to stay back.

“Demons? You mean Spartans? I'm the captain of this ship, you split-lip bastards have ignorantly boarded.”

But no matter, I'm not stupid, Žagar thought as he rolled in front of his commander. He brought his MA5 to bear, watching the rounds be powerlessly absorbed by their foes shields. Stopping as soon as it became clear it had little effect on the elite's stride, Bart pulled Julius back, trying to lead him towards the escape pods. Bruening struggled to stand his ground as Žagar pulled him away, shouting sharply as he was dragged away by his subordinate; Bart made no effort to stop.

“Stand down, Corporal!”

“Sir, I will not have you dying today!”

To his satisfaction, the captain suddenly relented, perhaps acknowledging it would be pointless for him to die right now.

“Alright, Corporal. We've gotta move then.”

The pair brought back up to a running pace down the corridor; there was chatter, getting louder as the two drew closer to the escape pods. He worried that the Zealot was catching up to him, but didn’t dare check.

Bart stopped as he ran out of breath, and turned around to fire on his attacker—to see nothing. Surprised at this, yet still worried that the attacker was on his tail, the pair continued to the escape pods, jumping into the one with the most passengers. He whispered something as the doors closed.

“Welcome to yet another day in hell, Captain.”

Chapter 05

1947 STANDARD TIME (UNSC STANDARD), 07 DEC 2551

Location: Hallways of the UNSC Arrow Flight

Abandon ship.

Oh god, they were abandoning ship.

Youssef knew what that meant. Not just that the Covenant attack was succeeding, nor that they were fleeing blindly into space, but that without the Arrow Flight, they’d be without a slipspace drive. Even if a life-sustaining planet happened—against astronomical odds—to be within range of the escape craft, without the ship itself, they wouldn’t be seeing home again for a very long time, if ever.

As the Arrow Flight’s deck chief, Youssef had been part of the skeleton crew already awake when the ship first shuddered unexpectedly out of slipspace and shrill klaxons started blaring in his ears. With the fighting ground force defrosting, Youssef had felt compelled to help—still did—while they readied themselves, but knew if Captain Bruening had given the order, it was already too late. So, knot of regret in his gut or not, he’d turned and followed a handful of groggy-looking Marines funneling through the ship’s corridors to the escape pods.

Several times, he almost stopped. Even if they safely cleared the ship, it was pointless. In open space, the teardrop-shaped Covenant Seraphs would just hunt them down one-by-one as nothing more than target practice. But Youssef shoved the feeling of hopelessness back down each time, silently scolding each time that the slim chance in a life pod was better than no chance on the ship. He owed it to far more than himself to keep going, and did, even if he slipped to the back of the Marines’ group.

The Marines turned one final corner, and as Yousef followed, he caught the welcoming sight of a Bumblebee’s open door across from where the hallway ended. Just as the last of his despair fell away, an explosion rocked the floor out from under Yousef’s feet. He sprawled to the deck, banging his side through his jumpsuit’s thin, gray fabric. He sucked air through his teeth, then realized the Marines’ bootsteps hadn’t slowed.

Pain forgotten, Yousef’s head shot up to see the Marines already reaching the pod and buckling in. One had slipped into the pilot’s seat at its nose.

“Hey!” Yousef cried out. “Don’t leave me!”

The last man had just reached the end of the corridor. He glanced over his shoulder, and looked as if he were about to double back—but the hesitation cost him. From around the corner, a hail of slim, neon-pink crystals flew into view and embedded themselves in the man’s back, then exploded in a cloud of gore and glassy fragments.

Yousef stared in open-mouthed horror at the corpse, thrown to the bottom of the opposite wall, then noticed the next-to-last Marine doing the same from where he stood in the frame of the Bumblebee’s hatch. The man’s face had gone white with fear.

They locked eyes for just a moment, and Yousef knew calling out again would do no good. The next, the life pod’s airlock closed, and Yousef heard the reverb of its rockets blast the Bumblebee clear, putting meters of cold, empty vacuum between himself and it.

Heavy footsteps echoed from around the distant corner. His eyes locked to it, Yousef thought of the bend behind him. He could jump up, scramble behind it to safety—but it would take seconds, every one of which an alien could turn the corner, spot, and kill him with the pull of a trigger. The promise of it filling every instant of indecision, Yousef played dead, freezing where he lay with one eye upturned to watch the hallway’s end. He prayed the corpse there would be enough to fool whatever was coming.

A hulking biped strode into view, hairless purple skin showing between plates of blue armor. Its multi-jawed head sat above the top of the airlock’s door, and a sleek plasma rifle was clutched in its four-fingered hand. Yousef watched its mandibles curl to sniff the air, his eye dry and stinging as he dared not even to blink. A second creature slipped out from behind the wall, much shorter and more gangly, but just as tall as a human. Feather-like spines grew from the back of its avian, beakish-jawed head.

The tall one, mercifully, passed without a glance down Yousef’s corridor, but the slitted eyes of its companion focused on the Marine corpse, pooling blood where it lay. The alien prowled nearer, hunching, and placed its claw in the ragged hole in the body, heedless of the crimson stains made on its orange scales. The callous way it seemed to assess the body reminded Yousef of the butcher in his hometown on Aleria appraising meat.

Then the cat-like eye flicked to Yousef. He couldn’t move if he’d wanted to, now—and he desperately wanted to move. He wanted to jump up and sprint the other way down the corridor, even if all it would get him was a Needler in the back.

Then a gurgling growl sounded from beyond the corner. The creature twisted, straightened, and followed after without a look back, slipping behind the corner and passing from Yousef’s perception of the world as it did.

Yousef sucked in a breath, feeling the sweat he’d shed for the first time and marveling how the larger creature hadn’t smelled him immediately. Ahead, he could hear the blast of plasma grenades, and could guess at once what the aliens were doing—destroying the remaining escape pods to trap the humans still aboard. There was only one other way off, and that was the dropship compliment in the hangar. And the capacity of those handful of ships were far short of what the seven hundred crew of a Charon-class frigate needed to evacuate.

He weighed his options—and the escape pods just a few meters ahead weren’t among them. He couldn’t fight off the Covenant soldiers destroying them, and no one else was likely to get there soon enough. With them gone, even if the Marines managed to save the other banks of pods, they’d need the Pelicans to have any hope of getting everyone evacuated, and he was Deck Chief. They’d need him to get those ships flight-ready, which meant he had a job to do.

Reluctantly, Chief Amir turned from the nearby promise of safety and, unarmed, back into the uncertainty of the compromised ship’s corridors, plotting his route to the hangar bay.

Chapter 06

1954 STANDARD TIME (UNSC STANDARD), 07 DEC 2551

Location: Hallways of the UNSC Arrow Flight

“We should have gone for the pods,” gasped a marine as the group pounded down one of the Arrow Flight’s corridors. They had already run into three Covenant kill groups and already the rag-tag squad was looking like a band of men walking to their deaths.

At the front of the group, Flight Officer Fletcher O'Hara tried to keep a cool head. Inside he was having the same internal battle that the others behind him were having, to turn back for the sure safety of an easy escape pod or to keep moving forward and brave the uncertainty of the ship in the hopes of making it to the hangar.

Looking down at the pistol he gripped in unsure hands, he tried again to steel his soul against thoughts of turning back. He was a pilot first and he didn't much like the idea of being stuck in a metal cylinder to be blasted apart by a Seraph. No, if he was going to die then he was going to do it where he was at his best. And at least if he was in a Pelican he could dodge a few shots.

“If you wanna turn back you can,” replied Fletcher, keeping his eyes forward,”But I'd rather be in a bird that can take off again.”

No one replied, which Fletcher was silently thankful for; He was lucky enough to have dragged these guys along so far and didn't relish the idea of taking this trip on his own. He shrugged off the images of Covenant needles digging into his flesh, trying instead to picture his Pelican's cockpit, the smoothness of the controls in his sure grip. Yes, that was where they were headed.

So they ran on, down corridors of blinking red lights and up dark stairwells. Around them the ship echoed with the sounds of death, screams of the dying rolling through corridors like their spirits were trapped in the metal of the ship they had died in. Fletcher tried to block them out, focus on his ship.

His salvation.

After what felt like an eternity of running through the ship, they were just a minute away from the hangar. Fletcher could almost smell the sweet scent of fuel from the drop ship's thrusters. But then one of the marines at the back yelled out a warning and it all went to ruin.

“Contact rear!” shouted a marine as he spun around the fired back down the corridor they had just passed through.

Fletcher never saw what happened to that marine, he was suddenly tackled to the ground and forced behind the safety of a bulkhead. Looking back he saw a torrent of plasma fire, blue and green bolts of energy that zipped across his eyes like will-o-wisps. Next to him the marine sergeant was kneeling by the bulkhead, his assault rifle firing a staccato of bullets back down the corridor.

“Get to the hangar and get that bird operational,” shouted the sergeant, his voice somehow overpowering the noise of battle not a few feet in front of him. “I didn't drag my men on this god forsaken trip just to have us all die here.”

Fletcher didn't wait to reply, not even to thank the man who may well be selling his life for his own. Ahead of him was the door to the hangar, oddly calm in comparison to the corridor he was now trapped in. Waiting to pick his moment, Fletcher bolted from his hiding place and dove into the hangar.

Without taking in the rest of the hangar, Fletcher focused his eyes on a Pelican situated about twenty meters from him. It was still black marked and scarred from his last mission run and he prayed that also meant it was still ready to fly.

Behind him he could still here the marines fighting it out with the oncoming Covenant. At least he'd got his wish. Chances were he was going to die in that Pelican before it even made it out of the hangar.


The human's head slammed into the metal wall of its simple ship, the weak skull below its soft flesh splintered. Tal let go of the corpse, letting it slip to the floor. He moved onward, scanning the open room for a sign of another unfortunate victim to kill. Around him, the rest of the Black Lance carried out the same sentence.

They surged through the room, moving between the tables and chairs like predators seeking prey. It was the first time the Lance had been let off the leash in a few cycles and they were out for blood. Behind them paced their Warden, Tharkis. A fearsome splinter rifle gripped in his meaty fists he paced after the Lance, ever keeping them in his sight.

Tal stopped by a door, sniffing the air like a hound zeroing in on its target. He smelled sweat and the sweet taste of fear. His mandibles bunched up in a smile. Prey. He moved into the dark little hideaway, eyes open for movement. He caught a glimpse of something, a glint of light off something shiny. It glimmered at him from inside a box, the door open just a bit.

Tal wrenched the door from its hinges with little effort, casting it to the side he looked inside to find a human. It had a gun raised, a tiny pitiful weapon. The human roared a wordless outcry of anger and begun to fire, the tiny rounds impacted Tal's shields and sent shimmers across his armor. By the time it had finished firing, the massive Sangheili's shields had only dropped halfway.

Tal huffed and grabbed the little creature by its throat; To its credit, the human struggled in Tal's iron grip as it tried to pry one of Tal's fingers from its throat. Walking back to the main room, Tal called to his fellow reprobates.

“I've found a live one, seems to have a bit of spirit left in him.”

As Tal walked back into the room, some of the Lance turned from their pursuit to see his prize. Two Kig-yar slithered over to examine it, poking and hissing at the human as it bucked in Tal's grip.

Without a word, Tal threw the human into the center of the room. A metallic bang resounded across the room as the human collided with a metal column. The two Kig-Yar pressed in early, clearly looking to have some fun with this unfortunate man.

As the scavengers closed in, a large, superheated spike suddenly shot across the room to embed itself in the human's chest. Tharkis suddenly shouldered his way past Tal and glared at the Kig-Yar.

“We aren't here for sport. Go.”

The two criminals slunk off to find other humans. Tharkis turned to Tal and glared at him, a glare that Tal returned.

“Move forward reprobate. We are headed to the hangar.”

Tal huffed back at Tharkis and followed the Warden’s orders.

Chapter 07

1955 STANDARD TIME (UNSC STANDARD), 07 DEC 2551

Location: Hallways outside Cryobay 04 aboard the UNSC Arrow Flight


A small detonation echoed down the corridor of the ship as the shape charge blasted a hole through the previously sealed door. Sighting down the hallway, thermal activated, Sasha spotted a cluster of cold spots in the hallway, grouped around warmer areas.

Moving her reticle to cover the closest of the surprised group of Grunts and Jackals, she squeezed the trigger, sending a quick three round burst through its body, dropping the alien. As she heard the gunfire around her from the Marines, Sasha moved to the next target, killing it in the same manner as the first. The combined firepower of the group and the surprise of the blast through the door, the shrapnel of which had killed a fair portion of the aliens before the shooting even started, quickly cleared the hall of the invaders.

Motioning to run into the hallway, Sasha followed quickly behind the leading two marines. They were covering the front of the group, leaving two others behind the flight officers and pilots, who themselves were armed with pistols and awkwardly fitting armor.

Meeting relatively little resistance as they made their way down the short stretch of corridor, through the various bulkheads, the group quickly made their way to the hangar. Rounding the corner, Sasha barely ducked back into cover as a blue blast of plasma screamed past her face, sending a heat over it even from a few feet away.

“Contact! Covenant around the corner, looks like Marines as well. Flight crews, you're getting to the hangar. Get fuel, supplies, weapons onto those birds. I'll be right behind you. Marines…”

Sasha paused to look at the sergeant in command of the small fireteam of marines that were with the group, getting a nod, confirming that the Marines would do what they enlisted to do.

“...Give 'em hell. Clear the corridor, but don't die trying. Hold as long as possible to keep the path to the hangar clear for evacuation, but if you need to fall back, get into the hangar. There's some cover in there, and the Pelicans' guns will provide support, once we get them up and running.”

With that, the sergeant turned, barking an order to the other three marines behind him, before rushing between cover to join the team already in the hallway in defending the entrance to the hangar.

Popping around the corner, Sasha opened fire with her BR, covering the flight crews as they dove into the hangar, before doing so herself. As the door closed behind her, Sasha looked around, spotting an IFF tag in one of the Pelicans, a Flight Officer F. O'Hara.

Running to her bird, she climbed into the cockpit, sitting down next to her copilot and started the checks, plugging her helmet into the console to connect the keyboard on the Pelican to the helmet built in comm system. She turned to her copilot.

“Complete the checks, I'm getting a message out. Make sure you get those guns working.”

Sasha turned back to the console, tapping away at the Pelican's keyboard, typing out a few text-only messages. She sent one directly to O'Hara's bird, before typing one for the crew left on the ship.

«O'Hara. You've got a flight crew again. Get your bird up and running, guns first. We're no use in the evacuation if we leave before we have to. I'm calling anyone who's cut off from the bumblebees here, so we'll be keeping the route open.»

As she hit send, Sasha hoped that this “O'Hara” understood his duty enough to stay as long as possible. If any one of the Pelicans left early, that would be that many more people left behind. She started tapping out the message to the rest of the crew, hoping enough marines were left that they could spread the word as it arrived on the helmets' HUD's.

«Crew and passengers of the Arrow Flight, a group of marines is holding the port corridor to the hangar clear, and we've got birds powering up to take people who need to be evacuated. If you're cut off from the escape pods, but can make it here, we'll be waiting. Supplies, fuel, and weapons are being loaded. Good luck.»

With that, Sasha tapped send, returning to her checks. Seeing the gun controls up and running, she grabbed the control stick, aiming the nose gun on the dropship towards the hangar door. Seeing the Marines backing into the hangar, and plasma quickly following, Sasha waited, gently closing her finger on the trigger, ready to fire should any Covenant swarm in.

Chapter 08

2001 STANDARD TIME (UNSC STANDARD), 07 DEC 2551

Location: Flight Deck Ops Room aboard the UNSC Arrow Flight

Yousef had managed to avoid the thunder of rifles and slash of plasma fire with long and often claustrophobic detours, squeezing through dark maintenance accesses with his breath held as the chirps and grunts of Covenant boarding parties reached him from the other side of very thin wall panels. But as he neared the hangar, firefights sprang up in every corridor, until he was forced to dash through a hail of deadly shots to at last reach the flight deck ops room.

Stumbling through an open bulkhead, he threw the door shut behind him, sealing out the flashes of the battle behind to leave him in the darkness of a long, narrow room. The control center for the Arrow Flight’s hangar didn't feel nearly as cramped as it was, thanks to the wall made up of sloped windows looking down on the hangar floor, two stories below. Yousef could see the fighting had already spread there, as marines fell back from a hasty defense of an entry corridor. As they scrambled to take up cover, the nose gun of a berthed Pelican suddenly sprang to life, a withering cone of lead spraying down the entryway to shred steel plate and advancing alien soldiers alike. It would need someone to get Arrow Flight’s doors open.

He turned his attention up to the dashboard controls to find a pair of ensigns standing anxiously over them, staring wide-eyed like deer at the Chief Petty Officer instead of coordinating the evacuation.

“Hey!” Yousef barked, snapping them into attention the way only an angry superior could. “Where's the flight ops manager?”

“Splattered all over the wall in compartment C12, sir,” one of them answered. Her eyes didn't quite meet his, unfocused and distant as she recalled the sight. Yousef couldn't let either of them think about it now.

“Alright. I'm taking over,” he stated, and got no argument out of either junior officer. He pushed past the closer to lead the woman to a chair. “Get the airlock ready to open, my authorization. Do we have a comm line?”

“Here, sir,” answered the other. Yousef turned, accepted the headset, and slipped it over his head while surveying the hangar below.

Only eight of the Charon-class frigate's berths for Pelican dropships were filled, part of its complement lost during the battle they'd fled from, and the Arrow Flight had never carried Albatrosses in the years Yousef had been aboard. Given what he could see of the fighting, it might be enough to evacuate the passengers and crew who'd converged on the hangar, but they'd have to act fast. Fortunately, it seemed like pilots and crew had already started boarding and running flight checks on their birds.

Unfortunately, there was an unavoidable bottleneck: human ships didn't have the Covenant's energy barriers, so deploying ships usually meant depressurizing the whole hangar. But with Marines fresh out of cryo engaged all across it, they'd have to use the vehicle airlock at the hangar's aft, which could only launch one Pelican at a time.

Resigned to his task nonetheless, Yousef keyed the headset's speaker as the ensign gave him a thumbs-up, patched into the pilots' line.

“Attention all Pelicans, this is Flight Dispatch. Activate ship IFF transponders and standby to disembark.”

Control screens flickered to life immediately, displaying line after line of text identifying pilots, dropships, and their supply levels as each ship checked in. Yousef knew most of the names from both the alert and reserve pilot lists, and wondered how many of the primary pilots hadn't reached the hangar—or never would. Yet, he set it aside and took the data in with one glance.

“Alright... Pelicans, standby for new designations. We'll have to use the shuttle airlock, so you'll go in sequence on my mark. Zaytseva, designating you Alpha Zero-Zero-One. O'Hara, Alpha Zero-Zero-Two.” Yousef repeated the process for the other half-dozen names, up to Alpha-008, and took a momentary pause, analyzing the list. He had to decide who went first, and logically, it was fastest to send whatever ship was readied first. But sitting and waiting would take nerves made of something stronger than even most Pelican jockeys had, and Yousef had to consider their ability to stay calm. With a deep breath, he made his call. “Alpha Zero-Zero-Seven, you'll be the first out, once you've reached crew capacity. Zaytseva, your berth gives you the best position to cover, so you're out last, copy?”

Instead of a verbal acknowledgement, a burst of text scrolled across Yousef's screen: «Set for the long haul, Dispatch.»

Satisfied, Yousef muted the headset and glanced to the ensign who'd handed it to him. “Can you get me those marines?”

Nodding shakily, the ensign adjusted the frequency feeding to him, and patched him in to a non-com starting to take command of the makeshift defense being rallied. “Master Sergeant, I'm setting a waypoint on Pelican Alpha Zero-Zero-Seven. That's our first bus out of here, I need you to start falling back your people in sets until each fills up, over.”

The gruff voice of a soldier answered him. «Copy that, Dispatch. Don't you keep us waiting long!»

With a second's hesitation, Yousef added, “Anyone have eyes on the Captain, yet?”

«Not us so far, Dispatch, but we'll keep you posted. Over and out.»

With the transmission clear, Yousef had the ensign transfer him back to the dropships' line, just in time to release Alpha-007 from its docking clamp. Each Pelican was hung from a hydraulic lock, with a rail system which could maneuver them carefully into the recessed berths just barely large enough for each one. The other young officer took control of the crane, carefully shifting Alpha-007 onto the main deck, then rotating it so its open boarding ramp faced the defending marines' backs, and its nose faced the aft airlock. Then, with a button press, the clamp released, and Alpha-007 caught itself on already-ignited thrusters to gently touch down and await passengers.

Crewmen and marines alike rushed to the safety of the waiting dropship, even as Yousef noticed several of the deckhands of his own crew rush away from it, moving to ensure the next bird was fueled up and its guns loaded. He let a brief rush of pride steel his chest against the fear he himself felt. He'd need it. He'd be staying even longer than most of them.

«Dispatch, Alpha-Five here,» one of the dropship pilots reported, «I'm stuck here half-done loading supplies. Shouldn't Seven be carrying a little of this?»

Yousef caught a tremble in the pilot's voice. Jumpy, afraid, and jealous as he watched Alpha-007 finish boarding and take off, slipping gently into the shuttle airlock. The ensign at Yousef's side hit its release, and the interior doors rolled closed to seal the lock. Normally, they'd take time to depressurize the lock and conserve air, but the Arrow Flight wouldn't need it much longer anyway. Yousef let the ensign handle overriding the exterior release and devoted his attention to the pilot.

“Negative, Five, not enough time to get all the camping gear together. Take what you've already got loaded, but leave the rest. Alpha Zero-Zero-Six, you're up next.”

As the next dropship's own automated rail tram began ferrying it out to the landing pad, a bright green blob streaked out through the doorway Zaytseva's chaingun was covering—a fuel rod shot. The cannon round, miraculously, missed the suspended Pelican and slammed into the wall. It just so happened, however, this was the wall in front of Alpha-005.

«Fuck this!» the pilot shouted, «I've got supplies and my flight crew. I'm full up and getting out of here!»

“Hold it, Five!” Yousef shouted, even as the connection buzzed and died. Looking frantically at the controls, Yousef looked for the control to lock down the docking clamp, but too late. Red advisory warnings alerted him the Pelican had already engaged its docking override and broken free. All Yousef could do was glance up and watch the disaster happen.

Just as Alpha-006 set down and began taking on passengers, -005 made a haphazard, clumsy attempt to escape from its berth, wings scraping and rebounding the ship from one wall to the other. The last hit came too hard, and at the wrong moment. The pilot overcorrected, dipped its nose—and ploughed right into its fellow vessel. Both Pelicans crumpled, -005's cockpit disappearing as reinforced glass sprayed like blood from a broken nose. It crashed heavily to the deck, belching thick, black smoke. Tongues of flame began to sprout from both ships, and the frightened ensigns at least had enough presence of mind to engage emergency fire control systems, venting the haze out as fast as they could manage.

Yousef would've cussed out the dead pilot if he'd had a second to spare. As if the loss of the Pelicans wasn't bad enough, their wrecks were now preventing any of the other five dropships from coming forward on their cranes. The delay would mean lives.

Seizing the headset tightly, Yousef switched to an open channel for pilots and marines alike. “Attention all hands, we need that flight deck cleared! Get those fires out, drag them clear, something! And see if anyone survived inside if possible!”

Chapter 09

While the chaos of the evacuation was going, several figures stalked through the hallways in a far corners of the ship, their claws itching for blood.

The hunt had begun.

The Zealot placed one hand on the doorway, prying it open. Inside, he peered through the dim light. Several flashlights shined in his face, and he raised a hand. There came screaming, and he began to make out the small, lean figures running around, panicking as they did. He activated his sword, glowing blue. Before him, he could see several faces, terrified and confused, as far as he could discern. He snorted. Typical for humans. His brothers in arms moved to take place behind him, drawing their swords and rifles. From his side, he heard several guns being drawn on him. A squawking voice came through his COM.

«Ten armed….forty unarmed…it would be too easy.»

He turned his head slightly, seeing the hunchbacked figure in the doorway they came through, staring through a pair of purple goggles at the room.The Zealot knew that Juk could see straight through him with those things. He didn't like it.

The Elites stood in front of the gathered crowd, seemingly waiting for a response. The humans didn't move, apparently thinking that if they stayed still long enough, they would become invisible. The Zealot snorted in amusement at the thought. But he had had enough of waiting. He had Demons to hunt. He activated his sword, raising it. His men moved to do the same. The few armed men in the room readied to fire.

“Wait!” A man moved forward, holding his hands out. From what the Zealot could tell, he was thinner and more scraggly than the rest. An elderly. The fact that so many humans lived and rotted away on their feet instead of dying in battle disgusted him. The man spoke.

“Most of us aren't armed. We have…wounded, women, children here….running from the planet you burned. We're without a home or a people, and we're scared and defenseless...you’ve already taken everything from us. Tell me, where is the honor in killing us? We are dead to the galaxy.”

The Elite snorted, waiting for several moments. The room hung silent, and everyone held their breath, waiting and praying. A child's whimper broke the silence, but his mother silenced him. Through the COM, Juk spoke again.

«No Demons...just more of them...the few survivors from the world we glassed…»

Survivors. The Zealot couldn't allow that. He spoke.

“There is no pride in stomping out rats, but you can still take pleasure in it.”

The man's eyes went wide, and he held out his hands. “Wait, no-!”

The Elite drove his sword through the man's gut and lifted him upwards, letting him slide down. He watched the life seep from his eyes and laughed.

His men waded into the crowd, tearing through them with swords and plasma. Screams overtook the room, soon replaced by gunfire. The Zealot laughed as the bullets bounced harmlessly off of his shields, and he peeled the man's body off the sword, tossing it to the ground. He waded back into the crowd, slashing through flesh and bone. After several moments, nothing was left but smoldering hunks of flesh. Silence took the room once again.

The colony’s legacy had been extinguished.

The Zealot motioned for his men to leave, shaking bits of gore off of him.

“We won’t be caught in the crash, or vaporized if the humans reach their reactors. It is time to leave. Message Tharkis and tell him and his men to abandon ship. We’ll need them for the hunt when it reaches the planet below. We’ll track whatever survivors flee to it, kill them there. Maybe I shall get another chance with their leader…”

His men nodded and stepped out of the piles melted flesh, walking for the exit. Juk hobbled sideways to let them pass. As the Zealot followed them. Juk extended an elongated, deformed claw to him as he passed.

“Sir, what about...the rest of...the men?”

The Zealot snorted derisively, and stopped walking. “They get an honor that they goes have yet denied us...to die in the glorious fires of the hunt. You may join them if you wish.”

The Zealot began to walk forward once again, and grinned silently to himself as he heard the uneven steps and pained gasps of the deformed Jackal as it rushed to catch up with him.

Chapter 10

2006 STANDARD TIME (UNSC STANDARD), 07 DEC 2551

Location: Arrow Flight's mess hall, en route to the reactors

This is suicide.

Amelia Hope and Jet Thompson, two of the three remaining ODSTs of their squad, were on their way to the ship's reactors. They were to assist a Spartan, Harald, in scuttling the ship to prevent it from falling into Covenant hands. Only problem, they don't know how long they'll have to escape after they set the reactors to explode.

We could have only a few minutes to escape, or even just seconds.

The corporal looked back at Jet, and through his unpolarized visor Jet's expression indicated that he was thinking the same thing. Now that Amelia was the new squad leader, she had to worry about their next move. If she didn't, then another squadmate could die.

The group was stopped in their tracks as two elites came through the doorway opposite of them, weapons firing. Their shots impacted the Spartan, but his shielding was able to withstand them as he flipped a table to use as cover. Amelia and Jet slid behind the table as two more split-jaws and a trio of jackals entered through the door behind them.

They were surrounded.

“Spartan, Jet and I will cover your rear while you handle those two dinos.” Amelia pointed in the general direction of the first pair of elites, still pinning them with plasma. “Sound good?”

Before Harald could respond, two more doors to their right burst open to reveal a pair of hunters. Before Amelia could even register what just happened, Harald had already stood up and engaged them.

Amelia looked around for better cover, and noticed the serving bars to their left. She nudged Jet, who was still fixated on the hunters, and pointed to the bars. Jet nodded, and they sprinted towards them. Amelia vaulted over one, using a chair to gain height, and Jet followed with a dive.

She popped her head out from around the side and opened fire on the jackals. She could see on her HUD that Jet had engaged the elites opposite, and she assumed that Harald was still occupied with the hulking colonies of worms. Why the Covenant would send such powerful assets to board their ship was beyond her. Don't they know that we're gonna crash?

She lifted herself from behind cover, laying a hail of bullets at the elite minors, killing one of them. Then she caught a green glint out of the corner of her eye.

The mess hall shook violently as the fuel rod directly impacted an elite, snapping his shields instantly and melting various parts of him to the bone.

I didn't know those things could miss so badly. She turned her attentions to Harald, who was standing on top of one of the hunter's corpses. She called to Jet, “Well, that's one down.”

“I've seen a Spartan fight before, but not up close. Did I ever tell you that?” Jet had already finished clearing his side now, and turned towards the chickens that Amelia hadn't killed yet.

“And I guess Isaac seen one too. You guys are always with each other.” Amelia managed to get one of her shots to miss a jackal's shield and hit it in the eye. “But that has its benefits. If I find one of you, I find both. Where is Isaac anyway?”

Before Jet could answer, Harald came crashing into the serving bar the two of them were using for cover; His shields snapped completely as he rolled to the floor. Amelia and Jet fell backwards on the floor from the enormous impact Harald created, nothing either of them weren't used to. Amelia, stunned, shuffled to her feet in time to see Harald roll out of the way of a thunderous blow from the Hunter's two ton shield.

“Fuck!” Jet yelled as he picked his gun back up. “Amelia, you help Harald, I'll deal with the crows.”

“Too scared?”

“Very funny.”

Harald used a table to pull himself back up, bending it in the process. Amelia was glad she didn't offer to help him up, valuing her arm. The hunter swung its free arm towards Amelia as she slid behind the table. Its swing missed, although the momentum managed to free its shield from the bar. She stood back up and opened fire, her shots only keeping the hunter distracted so Jet can move.

While the Hunter was preoccupied, Jet laid a burst of fire down on both of the jackals, killing one as the bullets managed to avoid its shield gauntlet.

Harald took the advantage and mounted the Hunter, his rifle was gone but he had managed to salvage a grenade. He pulled the pin and shoved the grenade into the exposed orange worms in the hunter's back, but he was thrown backwards onto another table, breaking it in half.

As the hunter exploded, Amelia could see that Jet had grabbed the last jackal by the head and snapped its neck. She spotted Harald's gun on the ground, next to what was left of the serving bar.

“Spartan, I think you dropped something. This yours?”

She picked up the gun and tossed it to the Spartan, who caught it out of the air.

“Let's keep moving, we don't have much time.” Jet said as he reloaded his rifle. He pointed in the direction of the reactors. “I'll take point. Amelia, you okay being in the back?”

“Just don't run into anymore ambushes, and I'll be fine.”

Chapter 11

“93 bottles of beer on the wall, 93 bottles of beer, take one down, pass it around, 92 bottles of beer on the wall!”

The chorus paused as Ariana put the bottle to her lips and chugged, tilting her head back. A round of cheers went up from the various drinkers. She threw the bottle over the bar, where the bartender caught it before it smashed against the wall, chuckling. Ariana pulled her stool out, climbing on top. She wobbled at first, feeling the full extent of her inebriation, and the stool wobbled beneath her, as she felt the legs threaten to tip and push her into the waiting crowd. They gasped slightly and some held their hands out as if to catch her, but she held her arms out, stabilizing herself. Her head stopped its incessant spinning and she stood still, staring out at the waiting crowd. She spoke, loud and booming, although her state bled through into her words quite a bit, and she resisted the urge to start laughing at herself.

“17 years! That is how long we’ve -*BURP*- kept this community going. 17 fucking years!”

The crowd cheered again.

“And….and as your Governor, I can say, from the bottom of my heart, I am SO fucking proud of you. I have watched all of you turn this place from an alien hellhole into a place where we can grow crops, make goods, build towns, and let our children play, free from the Oonskies and their goddamned wars. We have lived, we have thrived, we have prospered on Gotha. And -*hic*- it would not be possible if not for you wonderful-*hic*-people.”

The crowd began to jeer her, obviously not believing her to be sincere. That wouldn’t do.

“Listen-Listen, motherfuckers, I am serious here! I’ve watched you people scratch a life out of the dirt, and even if I’m harsh on you sometimes, do-don’t think I’m ever not proud of you for it. You know what, fuck it, I am blessed.”

The crowd devolved into a mixture of light jeers and cheers.

“Yes, I am blessed to be the Governor of Gotha! Sure, we may have come here as a group of drunken cowards and whatnot, but now….” She laughed. “...now we’re a bunch of drunken pioneers!”

More cheers.

“And I am fucking blessed to have seen it. I am blessed to have led it, to have watched our children grow, play, start their own lives with the sweat of their brow, rather than be raised under a facist grip and then sent to die. I know….I know life can seem hard here sometimes, but just...look into their faces, and remember that it’s worth it.”

The crowd paused for a moment, becoming silent, and then raised their glasses, starting a chorus of “Hear”. Ariana nodded, feeling proud. She outstretched a wobbly hand and pointed it out to the end of the crowd, towards a man sitting near the back, sipping a bottle in the corner, seemingly only paying slight attention to her speech.

“And I am especially thankful for you.”

The crowd turned to look at the man, and he half-heartedly feigned confusion.

“You, Sheriff Clarent, the one who has kept us warm and safe all these years, and under whose shelter we have prospered.”

There was definitely a mocking tone in her voice, but it wasn’t malicious. The man raised his hands, accepting the praise, and then fired back.

“Oh, but I’m nothing without your ever-present guidance, Governor Clarent.”

The crowd erupted into jeers and mock “awws” once again, and Ariana laughed. He was always quiet, but after 16 years with him, she knew better than to assume he couldn’t snark. Several men, which Ariana recognized as his deputies, walked over to him and started patting him on the back and making all manner of “henpecked” jokes at his expense. She smiled at the sight, and decided to give a final word.

“So drink up, you lousy ingrates! To 17 years, and to 17 mor-”

“Governor Clarent!”

Ariana looked to the source of the voice that had cut her off, feeling rather annoyed. Even in the middle of uncharted space, she couldn’t escape hecklers.

She found it. In the doorway to the pub stood a boy. The local runner, a teenager by the name of Ricardo. That was strange, he had always been polite towards her.

“Ricardo, we’re kind of-”

He held his hand up to cut her off, and stooped over to catch his breath. Ariana stood on the stool looking like an idiot, and the crowd began to quiet down as the looked between the pair, trying to understand what was transpiring.

“Ricardo, what’s going on-”

“Oonskies!”

Dead silence. Everyone in the pub was staring at the boy.

Ariana searched for a response, thinking to herself. Please, God, tell me he’s pulling some sort of dumb prank.

But Ariana could see in his his drained, frightened face that he was telling the truth. She needed more.

“What do you mean?”

Ricardo took a deep breath, picking himself up to speak.

“Sensors picked up….a UNSC frigate….heading straight for the planet...could collide any minute…”

The crowd began to murmur, working itself up, saying what Ariana was already thinking. So the UNSC had finally found them, had they? Hell, it was bound to happen sooner or later, why not right now? Ariana pushed the sinking feeling she had down into her gut and prepared to give the full alert order. But the boy wasn’t done.

“There’s more!”

She’d had enough of this.

“Spit it out, then!”

“Behind the frigate, there was...something bigger. Something weird, following it down. A lot bigger, ma’am.”

Bigger? Wha-...

Oh shit.

Oh, shit!

Ariana felt the color drain from her face. She looked to her husband. He nodded, understanding, and he and his deputies moved forward, pushing towards the door. The crowd was in a frenzy now, all trying to make sense of the situation. There was only one route left at this point; Ariana decided to take it.

“Everyone to their stations! We’ve all drilled this before! This isn’t going to be the end of us! Code Red, people!”

The crowd began to flush out of the bar, frantic and scared.

Nothing to do now but wait. Ariana hoped it wouldn’t be too long.

Chapter 12

2004 STANDARD TIME (UNSC STANDARD), 07 DEC 2551

Location: Arrow Flight's Hangar Bay

Fletcher had made it to his Pelican relatively unscathed, a couple of slowly fading burns on his side flared a little as he twisted in his seat. His hands flew across the controls with practiced ease and soon his Pelican was coming online. He left the initial rundown to the computer systems, letting it all run in the background of his neural link with the ship.

Heavy footsteps in to troop bay behind him alerted him to his copilots arrival. Finally, he thought to him. Turning slowly in his seat, wincing as the burns flared up again, he saw Olympia Domaska as she stumbled into the cockpit.

“Your late,” said Fletcher, turning back to his controls with a grin. “Was thinking you'd left me for another pilot.”

“And miss watching you crap yourself as the Covenant overrun your precious Pelican?” she replied, slipping into her seat behind him. “Not a chance!”

Fletcher chuckled to himself, he was lucky to have a copilot the shared his sense of humor. The final system checks flashed across the main screen, green across the board. Reaching over for the gun controls he begun spooling up the bird’s main gun.

“Please, what self-respecting pilot would I be if I let the enemy take me lying down? Besides, I've got them outgunned.”

Casually moving his targeting crosshairs over one of the hangar doors, Fletcher unleashed a withering hail of fire down one of the corridors, tearing into the aliens as they pushed forward. He could almost hear the pops as a group of grunts were caught full in the face, their back tanks exploding like little walking grenades.

Suddenly, Fletcher's comm link burst into life. “Attention all Pelicans, this is Flight Dispatch. Activate ship IFF transponders and standby to disembark.”

Behind him, Olympia begun tapping away at her own console, preparing the necessary commands.

“I don't like this,” she said as she worked away. “There's no way we're going to be able to get us all out quick enough.”

“We'll make it,” replied Fletcher, not a single iota of doubt covered his voice.

“How can you be so sure?”

“Because I just know, mainly because you're too pretty to die here.”

Behind him she snorted but made no other reply. Before Fletcher could continue, Yousef crackled through the comm link again. “Alright... Pelicans, standby for new designations. We'll have to use the shuttle airlock, so you'll go in sequence on my mark. Zaytseva, designating you Alpha Zero-Zero-One. O'Hara, Alpha Zero-Zero-Two…”

Yousef continued wittering down the list of Pelicans in the line, Fletcher waited until he was finished to send his reply. A green acknowledge light was sent to Dispatch, letting him know he received without needing to say a word.

He flicked off the comm and refocused on the oncoming aliens. Their Pelican was one of the last ones to be leaving, not something Fletcher relished but it was the cards he'd been dealt. Time to make the best of a bad situation.

“Olympia, I need you to go out there and start fixing up that Warthog to the rear clamp.”

“What?” Olympia's shocked voice actually surprised Fletcher, she rarely got rattled.

“We've got some time to kill and those boys down there are doing a pretty spellbinding job of holding those aliens back. Now I don't know about you, but I feel like I owe them something for that.”

Olympia didn't respond. Fletcher turned away from his console to look at her.

“Look, wherever we are dropping down when we get off this ship, we'll be locked there for a long haul holdout. Having a Warthog will do us a world of good.”

She looking down at him. Fletcher watched with pride as her face turned to steel once again; It was another reason he was lucky to have her as his copilot. She nodded and began to move out of the cockpit.

“I'll activate the magnetic clamps. Get the hog in the place and get back in as soon as you can!” Fletcher called to her as he begun work on his console again.

“Don't worry, it's not like I'm gonna be hanging back to take pictures.”

Fletcher liked that he and Olympia could joke. It made the world easier to swallow when you could poke fun at it. But as he looked out of his cockpit and saw -005 make its haphazard escape attempt, Fletcher was reminded that there were some things he couldn't joke about.

“Bitseach!” he breathed as the two ships slammed onto the deck.

“Fuck me sideways, Olympia!” Fletcher pushed himself out of his seat and headed toward the back of the Pelican, ignoring the burns on his side flaring up. “Screw the Warthog, I need a Scorpion!”

“What? We don't have the time to get that fixed up,” she replied. “What the hell just happened out there?”

“Some idiot just tried to make a run for the airlock and now his bloody corpse is blocking the way. Only way we're moving that is with a tank.”

Olympia shook her head. “Do you even know how to drive a tank?”

“Its pedals and gears, how hard can it be?”

“According to you, not hard at all.”

“You have a better idea?” He moved past her and looked to where the two smoking wrecks were sitting on the deck. Some crew were already running forward and trying to get what they could clear.

“No,” she said. “Come with me.”

Olympia set off running, Fletcher close on her heels. The pair headed for the back of the hanger where the motor pool was kept, but, as they ran across the deck, Fletcher realized he'd have to drive the very large tank over a lot of open ground before he even made it to the wrecks.

Olympia thumped the door release with the back of her hand and the pair quickly stepped in. Inside the motor pool there were lines of vehicles all in neat rows: Mongooses, Warthogs, Scorpions. Even an Elephant just barely fitting at the back. Briefly, Fletcher wished he could use it, but the Scorpions were blocking it from moving.

Shaking the thoughts out, he moved toward the tanks. Olympia was already keying open the main door. Reaching the nearest tank, Fletcher pulled himself up onto its treads before moving to the driver's seat, looking down into the tight compartment. He suddenly didn't like the idea he had planned.

“As soon as I get moving, go back to the Pelican and prep that Warthog.”

She nodded as the bay door begun to open. Fletcher nodded back and grinned at her, hoping that if he still looking confident he'd feel a bit more sure of himself. She just give him a little smile and disappeared through the door.

Slipping into the driver's seat, he tried to familiarize himself with the controls, internally praising the marines for keeping their tech simple. It really was just gears and pedals. As his neural interface linked to the tank’s systems, Fletcher opened a comm link to Yousef.

“Chief, I’m rolling out one of the tanks to clear the debris. I'll try get them out of your way as soon as possible.”

Without waiting for authorization, Fletcher slammed his foot down on the pedal and the tank jumped forward. In the driver's seat Fletcher grinned, he'd always wanted to try driving one of these.

The Scorpion rumbled across the deck, heedless of the little patters of plasma fire that sounded on the hull. He hoped there weren't anymore fuel rod guns hiding amongst their ranks.

«Looks like you’re not doing so bad,» said Olympia over their comm link.

“I told ya it couldn't be that hard.”

Somehow Fletcher made it across the deck. Popping the hatch, he jumped out and ran across to one of the deckhands trying to sort the wreck out.

“I need a cable from the wreck to that tank; I'm gonna try and pull them out of the way.”

For a moment the crewman was stunned. “You dragged a tank out here to pull those pelicans out? Wouldn't it be better covering our asses?”

“It probably would, but last I checked you’re not immune to explosive decompression.”

The deckhand didn't respond, he just ran over to the wreck and begun organizing the crew. Meanwhile Fletcher jumped back into the tank.

“This is either going to be my best plan or my worst,” he said as Scorpion came to life.

A minute later the deckhand popped his head over the cockpit. “Cables hooked up, where’re you driving this thing?”

“I'm gonna pull it back into the bay. It's the only place we can put it.”

The deckhand gave a non-committal nod and leapt off the tank. Fletcher gave it a few seconds to let everyone get out of the way before throwing the tank in reverse. Slamming his foot down on the pedal, Fletcher begun pulling the wrecked Pelican away from the airlock.

Chapter 13

2004 STANDARD TIME (UNSC STANDARD), 07 DEC 2551

Location: Arrow Flight's Hangar Bay


Zaytseva tapped at her console, sending her acknowledgement to the control bay: «Set for the long haul, Dispatch.»

She'd just been told she'd be the last one out. She was in the best position to cover the doorway into the hangar. Her hand gripped the chaingun controls in front of her, the silver of her cybernetic left hand contrasting the white knuckles of her right. While she didn't show it to her copilot, being the last to leave certainly gave her a certain amount of anxiety, even with the years of experience in both the Marines and Navy. No matter.

The Covenant forces started running through the door again, and Sasha's focus immediately shifted to them, rather than her twitching right leg. Swinging her reticle over the heads of the marines holding their ground, she focused her sights on the aliens streaming through the door, squeezing the trigger, sending waves of lead back out towards the boarding party, once again deterring a full on assault into the hangar. She briefly caught sight of the marines loading the Pelican farthest from her, before she heard the sound and felt the vibration of ship as Pelican Alpha-007 started its engines, heading for the airlock.

Quickly returning her attention to the door, Zaytseva cursed under her breath that she'd let herself get distracted, rather than covering the door. Spinning up her guns again, she squeezed the trigger down, filling the aliens that'd shown up in the entryway to the hangar, tearing through them. However, having focused on the Elite Rangers leading the group first, another Elite, wielding a weapon almost as large as its grunt allies, had managed to sneak under her fire. As she focused her attention onto the determined alien, she saw it shoulder the weapon. Pulling the trigger again, waves of lead streaked towards the creature, but not before a green blob of energy left the muzzle of the Elite’s oversized weapon, arching through the air towards Alpha-006 as it slid along its rail. Cursing louder, this time, drawing the attention of her copilot, she kept her eyes flicking between the door and the green blob of energy. However, catching another wave of aliens rushing the door, Sasha turned her attention back to her defense, grimacing as she heard the explosion of the fuel rod shot, but not willing to risk another look away from the door.

It wasn't until she heard Alpha-005's voice over the comms, followed by the creaking and groaning of a breaking docking clamp, that she suspected something had happened, shortly confirmed thereafter by another shaking explosion through the hangar and Yousef's voice through the comms.

«Attention all hands, we need that flight deck cleared! Get those fires out, drag them clear, something! And see if anyone survived inside if possible!»

Cursing again, Sasha looked to her copilot.

“Take the guns, I'm getting on the comms. Sounds like they need some help out there.”

She looked back to her console as her copilot gave her a nod and took over the guns. Thumbing the comms, she spoke into her headset, her Russian accent streaming out over the PA system and helmet comms in the hangar bay.

“Okay, pilots, marines, this is Lieutenant Commander Zaytseva. We've got a wreck to clear up, and not much time to do it. With the fact that the we're even abandoning ship to begin with, that the power's out, and that there are alien's swarming the ship, it seems we're going to be crashing sometime in the very near future. With that said, I'm going to give three minutes to get that wreck clear if we want to be able to cycle out the remaining five Pelicans before all of us are dead.

“So, this is how it's going to go. When this call is over, I'll put three minutes on the mission clock. When the countdown reaches one minute, anyone not in a vacuum suit best start heading to the Pelicans. Once the timer's out, anyone left will either maglock, get on the Pelicans, or already be there, assuming the wreck is clear.

“Chief, assuming you're listening, once the timer's out, we'll either be in luck, and have the wreck cleared and leave your way, or we'll get everyone locked down magnetically in V-Suits, or in the Pelicans, and we'll have to use the main exit. Depressurize the hangar and leave the main way. I'll get the rear of my bird to the control center so you can hop on once you've got the countdown to depressurization started, assuming we go that route. If we don't do this, everyone left on the ship is screwed, so get to work.”

With that, Sasha clicked off her transmitter, still listening in for the response, but activating the mission timer on the working display screens throughout the ship, and any connected helmet feed throughout the system. Looking out over the hangar bay, she smiled as she saw marines and deck crew running to take care of the fire and wrecks as her copilot fires away at the doorway.

Chapter 14

2007 STANDARD TIME (UNSC STANDARD), 07 DEC 2551
Mission Timer: 2:43 Seconds Remaining

Location: Hallways just outside of Arrow Flight's Hangar Bay

Mike looked at the horrible sight that was the corridor he and his men and just cleaned of hostile Covenants. There were multitudes of different colored blood splatters decorating the metal walls as well as bullet holes and scorch marks from plasma based weaponry. Turning his grace back on the few people that were still able to stand he counted at least four of his troops had died in the battle, as well as two others critically wounded from either crystal shards too deep in their flesh to be removed safely for now or third-degree burns from the insanely hot plasma.

He signed to himself at having lost even more men, some of them even close friends, but added on a more somber note that none of the non-combat crew in his group had been hurt, his men had done their job well even if it had cost them their lives. He had put those who were shaken from the battle to gather the ammunition and weapons from the fall, as well as retrieve some of the fallen Covenant soldiers equipment. The Jackals’ energy gauntlets and whatever plasma grenades there were around were to be looted and distributed among the soldiers for extra defense.

Mike adjusted his own gauntlet on his left arm a bit before he drew his magnum and beckoned for his group to get up and moving.

Mike pressed his right-hand index finger to the side of his helmet, pressing the tiny button, that opened for his comm to the same frequency that Dispatch and the pilots had used. The sounds of heavy machine gun fire was ringing louder and louder through the corridors as they advanced on the doorway to the hanger.

"This is Master Sergeant Mike Sanders, I got my squad of eight marines along with eleven maintenance crew members and engineers with me. We'll be there in a minute." He almost yelled, trying to overcome the noise of the fighting ahead.

With a few hand signals over his back he commanded his eight remaining marines to form a reversed V formation at the front of the group. Turning a corner he was meet with the sight of a three-way junction. The wall to the hanger was constantly being sprayed with lead and the occasional colored sprays of alien blood.

Looks like someone is eager to hand out some serious pain in there, thought Mike to himself as he saw what must have been the shredded remains of an Elite's bloody guts and fleshy bits fly against the complete destroyed wall. Mike once again pressed the button on his helmet and tried not to raise his voice too loud over the screaming volleys of death.

“Sanders here. We're just around the corner to the hangar. We'll roast the aliens' asses from the rear, so watch your fire over?”

Sanders pushed himself up to the wall again near the corner and retrieved a small mirror from one of his pockets. While his tactical eyepiece covering his left eye allowed him to see all friendly IFFs in a radius of around twenty meters, it didn't have any motion tracker. He had learned to rely on simpler tools to get the edge over his enemies. Slowly his angled the small piece of glass around the corner, getting a clear view of the many aliens, making a mental note that one of the Elites had a fuel rod gun over his shoulder, and had taken cover up against the walls to avoid getting torn to shreds by a Pelican's chaingun.

«This is Pelican Alpha-001, we read you loud and clear Sergeant. Switching to burst fire.» Mike guessed that it was Zaytseva's co-pilot since it hadn't been her who had responded. He then turned around to face his men.

He turned to address his fellow marines. “Alright men, this is it. We'll give those alien suckers one hell of a surprise. We'll cover the engineers and the maintenance crew so they can see about getting that downed Pelican out of the way.”

His men nodded their heads, some with more resolve and determination than others.

Mike turn around yet again, counted down from three, and then charges around the corner, shield gauntlet held high and his magnum blazing at the nearest ugly alien in sight. His marines were right behind him, their own weapons firing at the unsuspecting aliens. Before the Covenant forces even had time to realize what had hit them, they had already lost around a dozen, only the large Elites seemed untouched due to their powerful energy shields.

Holstering his sidearm, Mike primed a plasma grenade before throwing it at the Elite with the fuel rod gun. The large alien reacted almost on instinct and threw itself out of the grenade's path. This, however, had forced it out of its cover and had now become easy pray for Alpha-001's chaingun. The nose-mounted death machine quickly turned towards the exposed alien and let out a burst of fire that tore the unlucky alien apart, blood and bones spraying everywhere.

Ignoring the spray of blood that hit him all over his front side, Mike deactivated his energy gauntlet and drew his assault rifle.

“Get into the hangar! Now!” he yelled at his group as the engineers rushed past him and through the makeshift barriers the marines inside the hangar had hastily set up. He turned around just in time to see the final Elite being brought down by the combined fire of four of his marines. They had peppered it with autofire until it stacked backward and into the open, only to be turned into a mix of fine and crude mist from the chaingun just like so many other of its brethren had been.

Allowing himself a moment to relax, taking a few deep breaths to calm his anxious nerves, he steeled himself, focusing on the tasks ahead. There might be more Covenant on their way and maybe in greater numbers than what they had just dealt with.

“Men, take as many supplies as you can and get them on the birds.” he yelled as he walked at a fast phase towards the barriers in front of the doorway. “When you're done, form up with the defense line, hand out spare ammo to those who need it. We'll leave when dispatch or a bird orders us to leave. Understood?”

He received a round of “Hooah!” from his men.

He jumped over the crude barricades, giving a “thumbs up” and a smile to the pilots in the hovering Pelican that still aimed its chaingun down the hallway leading into the hangar. He then turned to see how the engineers he had brought with him quickly got to work with fire extinguishers. He noticed that some of them were trying to assist a Scorpion in pulling the two wrecks away and into the hangar's motor pool. Mike had little time to speculate over why they were using a freak tank for that when it could have probably done more with supporting the defense lines with its powerful machine gun or simply have blocked one of the entrances to the hangar with its hulking body.

“Look sharp! More Covies incoming,” yelled a marine suddenly, his voice shaking with fear of more battle with the aliens that had already killed so many on the ship. Mike turned just in time see the first few Grunts make their way down the hallway, plasma pistols and needlers in hand. Mike shook his head and threw himself down behind one of the blockades and aimed down his rifle's barrel, ready to open fire at the incoming aliens once more.

“No rest for the wicked it seems,” he mumbled to himself as he let loose a burst of fire towards the genocidal aliens.

Chapter 15

2008 STANDARD TIME (UNSC STANDARD), 07 DEC 2551
Mission Timer: 2:11 Seconds Remaining

Location: Arrow Flight's hallways, en route to the reactors


Taking point, Jet rounded another corner and was immediately greeted with plasma fire. In front of him was a squad of Jackals, Grunts, and a couple of hinge-heads, all of them pointing their guns at him. No, behind him. Jet instinctively dove into an open doorway to his left, and saw Harald take the shots as he shifted behind a crate. Meanwhile, Amelia took cover behind one of the bulkheads and returned fire with her MA5B. The Spartan peered out of his cover and joined in with a few bursts of his rifle, a sight paired with the sound of Grunt screams and Jackal rasps.

Jet wondered what kind of trouble Isaac would have gotten into at this point. Well, it couldn't be worse than being left behind to scuttle the ship. He just hoped that Isaac would be able to escape the ship in time; he didn't want to lose another squadmate this week. Actually, forget Isaac, he'll make it. He's survived worse. I just hope the corporal and I can.

“Push up!” Amelia called to Jet, motioning with her free hand towards the hostiles. “What are you waiting for?”

Jet leaned back into the hallway, and opened fire on one of the Elites. The force seemed more focused on Harald than him, so he took the risk and moved up to a more exposed, but much more advantageous, position. Amelia pushed forward as well, taking cover where Jet just was, inserting a new magazine into her rifle. Harald followed suit, taking the lid off the crate and using it as a shield to get up in one of the split-jaw's faces, followed by a punch and a kick to take the Elite down.

Why here? And why a single cruiser? Where is the rest of the fleet?

Jet reached for a grenade on his explosives belt, pulled the pin, and tossed it at the last Elite. It dove out of the way, but a Jackal and the rest of the Grunts were still caught in the blast. The Elite roared something he didn't understand, and the remaining Jackals followed it back down the hallway. But before Jet could get up to chase after them, the Elite fired a couple bursts from his plasma rifle, forcing the ODST to take cover again.

Jet cursed under his breath as he glanced over towards Amelia. She was firing over Jet towards the hostiles, who's shots were continuing to pin him. The timer that appeared on his HUD almost two minutes ago continued ticking down.

Ok, I have a minute left. But a minute for what? Is that when the ship will crash, or when the charges should be planted and set off?

Then suddenly the plasma fire stopped.

When Jet looked back up, the aliens were gone, and Harald tossed his impromptu shield on the ground.

“Some of them got away. An Elite and two Jackals to be specific.”

“We'll worry about the numbers later,” Hope replied from behind Jet. “Let's keep moving, reactors should be just around this corner.”

Chapter 16

2009 STANDARD TIME (UNSC STANDARD), 07 DEC 2551
Mission Timer: 0:45 Seconds Remaining

Location: Arrow Flight's Hangar Bay

Zaytseva sat in her chair, keeping her eyes on the entrance to the hangar bay. The Covenant had seemed to slow down, once they saw the tank start rolling, but she expected them to round the corner any second now. Taking a glance at the mission timer, she frowned. They were cutting it close. She steadied her grip on the joystick, waiting for the next Covenant head to pop around that corner.

Suddenly, her copilot's voice caught her attention. It wasn't coming over comms, but directly next to her.

“Commander! They've got the wreck cleared, we can start getting out of here again.”

Sasha smiled, thumbing the control on her console, deactivating the mission timer. They'd made it twenty seconds before the cutoff point. Tapping at the console, she activated comms to the flight control officer, opening a line.

“Chief! The wreck is cleared. Start getting birds in the air again. Try to make it quick. We've made it in time, but we're cutting it close.”

Switching the channels, she sent out a comm to the marines in the hangar, her Russian accent filling their helmets.

“Marines, we've got the wreck cleared, start loading up the remaining Pelicans. This is going to be a fast departure, so let's get moving.”

Satisfied, she looked back to the door, settling her finger on the trigger. Just as she focused on the door, she saw plasma fire erupt from the entrance, and squeezed the trigger, once again filling the air with lead. Hovering the reticle over the door, she covered the scrambling marines and deck crew, holding their position. She was the last one out, and she was going to defend that entrance until it was her turn to get her bird in the air, or the ship went down with her still on it.

Chapter 17

2009 STANDARD TIME (UNSC STANDARD), 07 DEC 2551
Mission Timer: Cut off at 0:20 Seconds Remaining

Location: Arrow Flight Hangar Control Center


"Get back, get back!"

Amir hurled one of the deck officers' chairs into the wide observation window, absolutely shattering it. The shards and chair plummeted to the deck far below as the last of marine fireteams withdrew to the Pelicans. Amir stepped up to the open sill, boot brushing a few last shards over the edge. Without the barrier, the gunfire and discharge of plasma was deafening. He held the headset loosely to one ear, microphone close enough to shout into.

“Alpha Zero-Zero-One, copy on the wreck! The bay's set to depressurize, but we can't get down to you! Any chance you can lift off for a pick up?”

A blast of rotary cannon fire, lighting up a solid line between Alpha-001 and a doorway was the only answer, and it was all he needed. Covenant making another push meant Zaytseva was needed to provide cover, meaning he and the ensigns were stuck unless—

«Rest easy, Chief,»” Fletcher O'Hara's voice filtered through the headset as a blast of jet exhaust made Amir's eyes water. «We'll make this a snatch-and-grab.»

Amir emitted something between a laugh and a sob—Alpha-002 had maneuvered free of its moorings itself, and risen adjacent to the flight control center. At best, Amir had dared to hope he and the officers would have to jump atop a Pelican and clamber down to the troop bay, but O'Hara was keeping his Pelican level less than a meter below the ceiling, back flank near the open window to bring the door as close as possible. A marine leaned out over the blood tray's lip, waving to them with a free hand.

“C'mon already!”

They needed no other prompting. Amir made the jump first, the marine grabbing his arm mid-jump to pull him aboard. He stood back quickly to allow the first of the ensign deck managers on behind. Her foot missed the blood tray's edge, but the marine caught her arm and Amir helped pull her in. The young man, however, had drawn the short straw.

Before he could jump, the bulkhead behind him opened in a flash of blue fire, and a plasma bolt struck him in the side of the head. Brain melting away, the ensign plummeted from the window and was lost to Amir's sight. Digitigrade figures filed into the control center. Amir punched the troop bay door’s control and turned his head toward the cockpit as it shut.

GO!

Chapter 18

2009 STANDARD TIME (UNSC STANDARD), 07 DEC 2551
Mission Timer: Cut off at 0:20 Seconds Remaining

Location: Arrow Flight Hangar

Mike Sanders looked over his cover once more as a spray of bullets from the pelican's rotary cannon torn another alien apart. Looking back into the hangar, he was surprised to see that the two crashed Pelicans had been moved out of the way. With a short groan his pushed himself into a low crawl to get to the other sergeant that defended this entrance to the hangar.

“Seems like the Alpha-001 can take care of things here for now,” he said as his sat down beside the other sergeant. “I'll be taking my men and some other guys on Alpha-003 and get the hell off this rust bucket as soon as flight control gives us the green lights.”

The sergeant nodded, determination in his eyes. “Roger that, Sanders. See you planetside, then.”

Sanders nodded his head shortly before getting back on his feet, tapping his throat mic to get in touch with what remain of his soldiers.

“Listen up guys, the others can handle the Covenant for now, so we're going to board Alpha-003 and our asses off this ship in but a moment.” He said, taking long strides to cross the hanger to the waiting Pelican as quickly as possible without running. He spotted a few non-combat personnel that looked like they were about finished with filling the dropship with as many supplies as possible without sacrificing room for the passengers.

“You guys about done with filling the bird?” Sanders yelled to them. One of them looked up a gave him a thumbs up.

“Splendid, you guys grab your gear and get on the bird with us, we're leaving ship shortly.”

Just as he said that, the windows of flight control high above them exploded outward, shards of glass raining into the hangar below.

Sanders turned to look at what happened while his men filed into the dropship. That can't be a good sign, he thought to himself. Not long after, a Pelican, Alpha-002 if he guessed right, flew up to the shattered windows, its ramp dropped open.

“Definitely not good,” he mumbled below his breath. Just then, one of his yelled from atop of the ramp of Alpha-003.

“Sir, the pilot says that flight control have set the hangar to depressurize. We should hurry up and get the bird prepped for takeoff.”

Sanders nodded to his soldier and headed inside the dropship, pressing the button for the ramp to close up and seal the bay. He then sat down and strapped himself to a seat and switched his mics frequency to that of the pilot's com-system.

“We're ready to go when you are.”

Chapter 19

2009 STANDARD TIME (UNSC STANDARD), 07 DEC 2551
Mission Timer: Cut off at 0:20 Seconds Remaining

Location: Arrow Flight Hangar

The window crashed open, and Chief Amir's voice streamed through her headset.

«Alpha Zero-Zero-One, copy on the wreck! The bay's set to depressurize, but we can't get down to you! An...»

Zaytseva grabbed the gun controls as a blast of plasma rocked her Pelican, an alarm ringing in the cockpit. Squeezing the trigger, she filled the air between her bird and the hangar door with lead, pinning the alien's again. Taking a moment to look at her console, she saw that her comms were down. Must've been the plasma.

Transferring the gun controls over to her copilot, she looked back into her blood tray, seeing it filled up. Sighing, she closed her Pelican's rear hatch, looking out over the hangar briefly, seeing the remaining marines rushing towards the Pelicans, knowing they couldn't all possibly fit. Banishing the thought from her mind, she focused on her job, running one last check on her ship's systems, then lifting off the ground slightly.

Suddenly, a proximity alert sounded out as the cockpit was overshadowed. Dropping down a few feet, she looked up, and saw the underbelly of Alpha-002 right above her. Seems Fletcher’s picking up Amir. As she hovered there, holding steady for her copilot, a flash of blue drew her attention up to the control room again, and she saw the corpse of a Navy man fall in front of her, hitting the floor with a dull thud. Cursing, she looked around the hangar, making sure everyone had cleared away from the door. With so few seconds left before the entire room depressurized, she took a risk and, pressing her thumb down on the firing button, launched a missile at the hangar door, clearing the remaining Covenant troops from that side of the hangar. Spinning around to face the now unobstructed control room, Sasha lined up the guns, and her copilot took out the Elites filling the room with precision, stopping any attempt at them preventing the depressurization of the hangar.

Spinning back around forward, Zaytseva leveled her Pelican with the back of the hangar just as she saw the doors open up and, avoiding the loose gear and debris flying past her into space, she gunned her bird forward, rocketing out of the plummeting vessel into space, pausing briefly to make sure the other Pelicans made it out and, knowing she wouldn't be much help in locating escape pods with her downed comms, turned towards the planet below, diving to the surface. Hearing the mumbling of the marines in the back of her Pelican, she released the breath she hadn't realized she had been holding, and focused straight ahead, preparing to settle down on the surface, following the crashing frigate down.

Chapter 20

2012 STANDARD TIME (UNSC STANDARD), 07 DEC 2551

Location: Arrow Flight Hangar


Fletcher was forced to focus all his attention on keeping his bird level; If he dropped even a little he'd be going down right onto -001. There was enough of a mess of the bay without two more Pelicans clogging up the area. Needless to say that neither crew would survive. The sounds of plasma bolts slapping against his hull was another gentle reminder of how much danger he was in.

“Rest easy, Chief,” called Fletcher over the comm link, surprised by the carefree tone in his voice. “We'll make this a snatch-and-grab.”

Dropping the rear hatch Fletcher did everything he could to keep the dropship steady. Behind him in the troop compartment he could heard Amir and his fellow deck jockey's climbing aboard. Internally, Fletcher prayed there weren't too many of them as the tense moments clicked by. He gave thanks to whatever higher powers there were that his Pelican didn't take a fuel rod round.

Suddenly there was a flurry of noises behind him. The sound of plasma rounds, the rear door closing and Amir screaming at him.

“GO!”

Trying to avoid the urge to gun the throttle and escape this mess before their luck finally ran out, Fletcher gentle eased his Pelican forward to the massive cargo bay doors. As he spun around to face the exit, he saw -001's Pelican finally rise up from its moorings and prepare it's own escape.

“Come on, Chief, no one likes a backseat driver. You lads better strap yourselves in, I'm about to punch outta here.”

As if on cue, the bay doors finally opened, unleashing the unforgiving vacuum of space into the bay. Debris begun to shoot out of the ship like a rocket and, for a second, Fletcher had to fight to keep his ship level as the doors inched their way open.

“Here we go,” said Fletcher, more to himself than anyone else.

Reaching over for the throttle controls, he slammed the lever forward. There was the brief sound of the afterburners firing and then the Pelican blasted out of the bay. Fletcher sincerely hoped he'd vaporized some of the aliens still in the bay.

With a white knuckled grip on his control sticks, Fletcher pulled the Pelican into a deep shift, pulling left to avoid a large piece of wreckage as it screamed down towards whatever planet the ship would soon be turning into its grave. As another piece of white hot wreckage burned its way past the Pelican, Fletcher chose to pull forward, hoping to reach the edge of the debris field to lay low.

A proximity warning blared in his ear and Fletcher pulled hard up, coming just short of being smashed apart by what looked like a chunk of the frigate’s aft section. He forced the sticks down again and pushed his ship harder.

Slowly the dangers lessened and Fletcher eased on the controls, pulling back on the throttle to avoid slagging his afterburners. Slowly they cruised away from their dying ship. Leaning back, he looked at his copilot, her face now obscured by her helmet. He could just make out her mouth, slightly agape.

“Told you we'd make it.”

“Just,” she replied. “Only just.”

“Please,” replied Fletcher, turning back to the controls and looking for a place to hide for a second. He soon found what he was looking for, a cluster of wreckage that had been torn away early in the fight—now settling into its decaying orbit.

“They never stood a chance of getting us.”

Olympia just huffed and said nothing else. Truth be told, Fletcher was planning all manner of “thank you”'s to whatever had just saved him from certain death. But that wasn't for other people to know, he had to still at least pretend to know what he was doing.

The sound of footsteps from the blood tray alerted Fletcher to another's arrival. As he set the Pelican into position within the wreckage, he turned around to see Chief Amir,—looking a bit green around the gills, but still standing—step into the cockpit.

“What's our status?”

“Alive,” responded Fletcher, smiling a bit as he turned back to the forward view screen. “Your welcome for that, by the way.”

“What are we doing?” said Amir, choosing to ignore the jib for the moment.

“Taking cover. I didn't want to chance a Seraph flight pulling us down when we dropped planetside. Figured we'd stay up in the black, have a look around for survivors and then head down after the rest of the ship.”

Fletcher knew as well as anyone else that it was unlikely much of the lifeboats and escape pods had escaped the Covenant's notice. But he wasn't about to leave good men and women to choke to death if he could do anything about it.

Chapter 21

2011 STANDARD TIME (UNSC STANDARD), 07 DEC 2551
Mission Timer: Cut off at 0:20 Seconds Remaining

Location: Arrow Flight's hallways, just outside of the reactor room


The timer on Jet's HUD had hit 0:20, stopped counting down, and disappeared from his HUD seconds later. With no idea what it meant, Jet half expected to die at any moment. But nothing happened. He hoped that was a good thing.

The trooper watched as Harald pulled the panels of the door to the reactor room apart. First thing that he noticed was that the room was pitch black, apart from the occasional streak of red from an emergency light. He activated his VISR and looked back at Amelia and Harald.

“Spartan, does that helmet of yours have low light vision?”

“No need, I have low light vision.”

“Showoff.”

Hope spoke up. “Can we just get this done? Jet, you first.”

“What ever happened to 'Ladies first?'”

Jet stepped through the doorway and checked the room. He looked for any red on his VISR, and when he was sure there was none, he called back to Amelia. “Clear!”

“Copy, Jet. Harald, you take care of the reactors, we'll watch the door.”

She turned back towards the door, gun raised. Jet watched as Harald just stood there, staring at the reactors. Jet could tell that he was thinking.

“Need an explosive?” Jet offered to the Spartan.

“What're my options?”

Jet checked his belt for something explosive enough to destabilize the reactors, and grabbed the C-7 canister and a breaching charge.

“Pick one.”

Harald grabbed both and examined them as Jet turned his attention to Amelia and the door. It was times like these that he wished Amelia had a helmet cam, just so he could tap in and see what she saw while doing his own thing.

I mean, Isaac and I have helmet cams, why doesn't she?

But this wasn't the biggest concern at the moment. Jet was still fixed on the mission timer, which inconveniently lacked a description. It could've been anything from how long until the air vented completely in a hallway to an evacuation timer, telling everyone aboard to get the hell of the ship.

Please let that not be an evac timer. There better still be a way off of this ship, there has to be.

“Hey, Spartan, how long until you get those explosives set? 'Cause the ship isn't gonna wait. The planet is getting closer by the minute, and we still need-”

Jet was cut short as he saw an orange “environment” outline shift off to his left. He guessed Amelia noticed too, as she narrowly dodged the outlined silhouette as it swung it's illuminated sword at her head. She rolled off to her right, towards Jet and Harald, as Jet opened fire on the camouflaged elite.

“Spartan, we got company!” she cried as she got back up.

Jet heard the shifting of power armor behind him, and saw the green-outlined blur sprint off to his left. As Amelia got up to open fire, two more crates shifted as another pair of camouflaged split-jaws vaulted over them. Harald froze, pistol raised, standing halfway between the split-jaws and the troopers.

The room was nearly silent, with neither side willing to make the first move. For the most part, three stealth elites were just as difficult as three normal ones to an ODST using VISR, the only real difference being that VISR incorrectly identifies a cloaked enemy as "environment." This makes them the same color orange as the rest of the shapes around them, and makes the ODST's job slightly harder.

This just gets better and better. What next? Drones? Or something more explosive? There are Hunters aboard, I wouldn't be surprised if these guys lured us into another ambush.

But both sides just stood there, weapons raised. It was clear that the elites knew the troopers could see them, but they didn't make an effort to deactivate their active camouflage. Only the center elite, the one that almost got Amelia, was wielding a sword; the other two pointed their rifles at Harald. Jet fixated his rifle on the elite on the right, and Amelia had her gun pointed at the one on the left.

Amelia shot first, stunning the leftmost cloaker. Jet pulled the trigger, getting a lucky shot that made his target drop its gun, which his VISR automatically outlined in blue as it hit the ground. Harald used the opening and charged at the center elite, grabbing its right wrist to prevent it from swinging its sword in defense. As Harald and the commander wrestled to gain the upper hand, Jet turned towards Amelia's target.

The leftmost elite had recovered at this point, and started spraying plasma in Amelia's general direction. Amelia ducked behind a control panel, and the elite roared as its rifle vented its excess heat.

Jet pulled his rifle's trigger three times, watching the ammo counter go from 9 to 6, then to 3, before running out of ammo. The shields on the armed elite flickered as his VISR outlined it in red, indicating that its active camouflage had depleted.

Jet ejected the empty magazine and reached for another one. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see that Harald had been able to wrestle the sword out of the leader's hand and was now on top of it. As Harald reached for his combat knife, the elite that Jet disarmed shoved him off of the commander, only mildly stunning the Spartan as opposed to the hit from the Hunter before.

As Harald recovered from being thrown off balance, the weaponless elite activated its two energy gauntlets, glowing bright. Jet aimed at the new threat, as the gauntlets were just as deadly as a handheld energy sword. But before he could pull the trigger, a streak of plasma flew past his eyes, even brighter with his helmet's built in low-light vision.

Jet took two steps back and opened fire on the still-armed lizard, hitting its recharged shields with another three bursts of his rifle. The split-jaw rolled out of the way before Jet could land a headshot, taking cover behind a control board, the same console Amelia was behind.

Without hesitation, Amelia vaulted over the panel and tackled the elite, drawing her combat knife. But the elite was simply too strong to stay down, and pushed Amelia off of itself and into the console.

Fuck!

Jet fired four more bursts from his rifle, taking down the elite's recharging shields and landing a fatal hit. He ran over to Amelia and helped her up. She gave Jet an “okay” sign with her hand as she grabbed her gun off of the ground. Setting her rifle to semi-auto, she fired another bullet into the dead elite's head, ensuring that it won't be getting back up. Jet looked to Harald, who was on his back, unarmed, with the elite standing above him.

Harald rolled to his left, dodging as the elite brought its gauntlet's blade down and into the ground. As Harald rolled into a crouching position, he pulled his knife out of one of the slots in the floor paneling and swung it behind him. The elite dodged out of the way, burning a small line into the floor where his blade still touched the ground.

“Thompson, help Harald!”

“What are you gonna do?”

“I'm gonna—Jet, duck!”

Almost instantaneously Jet dove to the right, turning around just in time to see Amelia attempt to block a flaming sword of plasma with her rifle. The energy sword cut straight through the rifle, slicing across Hope's chest.

“Amelia!”

Jet grabbed his battle rifle, which he dropped as he dodged the sword, and fired the remaining five bursts at the leader, who he'd forgotten about up until now. As he ejected the empty magazine, the leader swung its sword in Jet's direction, who was lucky enough to be just outside of the elite's reach. He could tell now that the leader was wearing a variant of their Infiltration harness, something that he had seen more than once before (from afar).

Well, that's to be expected from a SpecOps officer.

Jet ducked under another swing of the officer's sword. He payed attention to the fighting styles of the squid-faces he fought, making it a little easier to predict the officer's next few swings. But he wasn't ready for the kick from the leader, which sent him flying backwards towards Harald and his combatant, sliding along the floor until he was next to them.

Okay, gotta remember the kick next time.

“Jet?” the Spartan spoke without missing a beat.

“Sir.”

Looking back to the leader, he could see that it was charging towards him. Jet rolled in between Harald and the gauntlet elite, emerging on the other side with his pistol in hand. Harald, hearing the sound of the officer's footsteps as it ran towards him, ducked under a quick but powerful stab from the officer. Jet looked up, seeing that the officer had just accidentally stabbed his own soldier through the chest. The officer spoke, in English:

“Demon, you will not walk away from this alive!”

The officer swung its sword around, cutting the impaled elite in half as it sliced across the Spartan's chest. Based on Harald's reaction, Jet could tell that the sword had only just grazed the suit of armor, and didn't come close to actually causing Harald any harm.

Jet fired six rounds of his M6C/SOCOM into the elite's side, before the red outline swung his sword towards him. Jet dove behind Harald and the sword sliced another control panel in half. He emptied his pistol's magazine, watching as the elite's shield flickered but remained active.

The elite swung its sword towards the Spartan's neck, but Harald leaned fast enough to allow the sword to pass right in front of him. Jet reloaded his magnum and fired another dozen rounds at the officer.

Harald caught the officer's arm as it made another attempt at his head. Blocking a punch from the elite's free arm, Harald kicked the officer in the shin. Jet reached for his combat knife on his back.

He ran up behind the elite and climbed onto its back. The leader tried to shake the trooper off, but Jet was just too quick. Before the elite could get Jet off of him, he had already driven the knife through the elite's face, killing the split-jaw almost instantly.

The officer fell to the ground, and Jet removed the knife from its head. Both Harald and Jet looked down on the now uncloaked SpecOps Officer.

Fuck, what am I gonna tell Isaac? "Oh, Isaac! Hope died because she was too busy saving my ass to save her own. But I'm completely okay, and that's what matters." Ugh, I'm not looking forward to that discussion.

Jet was the first to break the silence. “Do aliens go to Hell, or do they have their own underworld that they go to? 'Cause I don't want to see these fuckers again after I die.”

Harald's head perked up for a second. At first, Jet thought that Harald failed to hear him. But it was followed by another jerk, as if he was listening to something that Jet didn't hear. Jet decided not to interrupt and instead walked over to Amelia's body, looked around it, searching.

They've gotta be somewhere.

He removed her right shoulder pad, and a set of shiny yet old dog tags fell to the ground. He picked them up, inspecting the lettering pressed into the tags. they belonged to Sergeant Samuel Hope, Amelia's father who died against the Covenant and inspired her to join the Marine Corps. Jet had promised her that if anything were to happen to her, that he would bring the tags back to Earth in one piece.

He put the tags into one of his many pouches, and put his rifle away. He reached for her helmet, which had fallen off and was sitting at her side, so he could give her an ODST's funeral when he regrouped with Isaac. But before he touched it, he heard Harald yell from across the room:

“Move!”

As Jet turned, he saw Harald running towards him. Before the trooper could react, Harald had already grabbed him by the shoulder and dragged him back through the door. He felt the sudden pain as his back smashed into the floor, and Harald braced himself on top of him. Jet tried to say something, anything, but he couldn't find the words. The ODST managed to do a quick gear check before he finally lost consciousness from the increasing g-forces.

The ship was falling. Crashing. And it was doing it fast.

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